Home Upcoming Reviews About
Ethos and Riddles talk about video games...
            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

Mr. Sunshine – “Heather’s Sister” Review

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

What a great episode.

Mr. Sunshine had a solid pilot and has since delivered two excellent episodes; each one better than the last. Tonight’s episode perhaps was less fun during the climax than it was during the ride to it, but it was the most I’ve laughed out loud while watching television in a long time.

Surprisingly, the best character of the first two episodes, Crystal, was played down this time and Roman got his turn to bring the biggest laughs.

Well, check that, biggest laughs tied with the very most awkward and hilarious blind date I’ve ever seen on television.

In fact, I was giddy almost the entire episode. Heather’s ability to put Ben on edge with her combination of being incredibly sweet and creepy is continuously amusing. Alice’s ambition plays off Alonzo’s sense of superiority well, and Crystal is just always just insane enough to provoke laughs.

I was mildly annoyed that they didn’t really seem to wrap up the fact that Heather was supposed to be leaving last episode along with the fact that Roman set a golf cart on fire. Maybe we were supposed to connect a few dots on that one, but a small reference would have been nice.

Still, Heather’s Sister was a fantastic episode with a great guest to play Ben’s blind date. If Mr. Sunshine continues like this, it is shaping up to be the best comedy this year over the not-as-impressive-as-season-one Modern Family.*

SCORE: 9/10

*Of course this doesn’t count Community, because Season 2 of Community will forever go down in history as one of the greatest seasons of any television show in existence. How have I not reviewed an episode of that show yet?

Scatter Storming. Issue #044

Friday, February 11th, 2011

It took until the horrible month of February, but Scatter Storming is back! Let’s see if I remember how to do this.

I Caved and Bought StarCraft II

Yup, it finally happened. Of all the eSport-worthy games I’ve watched Pogo play – CounterStrike, Warcraft 3, Modern Warfare 2, and StarCraft II – this is the one that got my attention enough to make me want to play it.

Yes, I’m aware that MW2 is too broken to be called an eSport-worthy game, but I’d seen too many hours of it to not count it.

Anyhoo, I’m really trying to watch my cash when it comes to games for the next little bit, but I have no regrets. Just means the 3DS will likely have to wait; it’s definitely the least urgent of the upcoming goodies.

The point is that I’m horrible, but the game is very fun. And very stressful. But it’s satisfying to feel like I’m getting better. Very slowly, sure, but mastering something is one of the finest and most satisfying experiences in life. I’ll keep you guys posted once I exit the practice league and enter the real online ladder.

Ethos’ Confession #3:

Despite being a Zelda fanboy, I have never completed a console Zelda game released prior to Ocarina of Time, and have never completed a handheld Zelda game released prior to Phantom Hourglass.

Modern Family: “Bixby’s Back” Review

Just saw the most recent Valentine’s Day-theme episode of Modern Family, so I thought I’d do a quickie review.

It started off quite weak. Some poor acting, contrived writing, and a non-compelling scenario. I’m glad I stuck it out though, all four stories wrapped up very nicely, and the episode finally started delivering a lot of laughs past the halfway point.

It’s great to see Mitch and Cam continue to drop the “let’s not offend each other” shtick and have some of the better moments. But once again, Gloria wins moment of the episode with her equally oblivious and poignant ridiculousness. Even if the “twist” was a little expected, the delivery was excellend.

I’m a little tired of Phil’s fool/stud/fool rotation. I think this season is missing more interactivity between the families. At least we got Manny with Haley.

The summation? Good save with this episode.

SCORE: 6.5/10

Ethos’ Confession #4:

I’ve never properly played a Resident Evil game.

Ethos’ Confession #5:

I never beat any optional bosses or got Knights of the Round in Final Fantasy VII. Hell, I didn’t even get Vincent.

New Trophy War

The Trophy war I had with Abe80 ages ago obviously died out. Plus, I’m destroying him. But a new challenger enters! Eric J., another former Lusipurr.comian and I have started a war of our own, and it seems to be a much more heated battle.

He best sums up how it started on his site, but now we’re in the midst of coming up with a prize for the winner and/or a punishment for the loser.

We toyed with the idea of the loser moving to the other’s location, but that ended when I came to terms with the fact that I would never move to Michigan. Also that he’d be getting the way better end of that deal. Toronto is a world class city. But we still want a significant prize/punishment. Ideas?

That’s it for now! It feels good to be back. This year is going to be fucking insane for us gamers. It is the calm before the storm.

Mr. Sunshine – “Pilot” Review

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

These people are a LOT crazier than they look

I can’t really say “Matthew Perry is back!” because he was never really a force to be reckoned with before. He was the best part of the lukewarm smash hit Friends, and a general failure at the box office after that.

But it appears he has taken that exact sentiment and transformed it into a very promising concept for an off-kilter single camera sitcom.

Perry plays Ben Donovan, the manager of operations for a second-tier entertainment arena. He hits his 40th birthday surrounded by an insane boss, Crystal, a friends-with-benefits co-worker, Alice, and an appropriately diverse set of minor characters for Perry to bounce off of.

In terms of shows currently on television, Mr. Sunshine seems to be stylistically and thematically most similar to 30 Rock. It has snappy dialogue, a setting in which pretty much anything can happen, an eccentric boss, a moderately successful main character in their 40s starting to realize their own pitiful existence, and a potential for sincerity among all the complete weird.

For a pilot, I was particularly impressed with how well the episode introduced the premise, characters and their relationship to Ben so quickly and efficiently. Sometimes pilots can feel too calculated or introductory, but Mr. Sunshine worked at a brisk pace. It was able to set everything up and have its own sitcom-worthy plot.

There are the usual staples of two people destined to be “just friends”, but otherwise the dynamics seem relatively fresh. Even the comparisons to 30 Rock are largely superficial.

I mean, you’d never see Jack Donaghy sing a song with the lyrics, “all the blacks, the whites, and the asians” to a group of children before hurling one into a crowd of clowns with axes. And I have a feeling that Crystal Cohen is just getting started and might be the real star of the show.

We’ll see how the season develops, but it’s a promising start, and the setting of an arena means that there are many, many possibilities for crazy shit to happen every episode. We’re already promised lingerie football, so…

SCORE: 8/10

It’s Always Sunny Season 6 – Retrospective

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Ah, but isn’t it Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Sorry, I really couldn’t think of a better way to kick this off. If I think of something later, I’ll change it.

But for the last six years or so it has been quite sunny in Philadelphia, thanks to a certain gang of nutjobs we’ve all grown to love. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been one of my favorite sitcoms since I first discovered it earlier this year, and with the recent conclusion of Season 6, I’m happy to report that the show remains in good form.

Granted, the formula behind Always Sunny isn’t terribly complicated. Essentially, it’s about five awful human beings who own a run-down bar in South Philly. And when I say “awful,” I mean the worst; self-absorbed, bigoted, poorly-adjusted scoundrels. Yet for some reason, we love ‘em. Why? Well, they’re funny, first of all. And there’s just something undeniably appealing about the show’s unforgiving lack of decency. We almost wish we had the balls to act like these guys. But then we remember that if we did, we’d be morons and nobody would like us.

So, with a formula so simple, the question must be asked: does it wear thin during Season 6? The answer is yes, occasionally. The season’s first two episodes, entitled Mac Fights Gay Marriage and The Gang Gets Divorced are proof of this. The premise had promise – Dennis, ready to be done with the single life, compulsively marries his childhood sweetheart Maureen Ponderosa (Catherine Reitman). Meanwhile, Frank and Charlie wonder if a marriage between the two of them wouldn’t make things easier. There are some laughs involved, particularly when a jealous Mac uses the bible to condemn his now-married tranny Carmen. However, the story progresses weakly and doesn’t capitalize on what it sets up. Dennis, predictably, despises married life and gets a divorce. Very little comedy actually emerges from the Frank/Charlie marriage situation, which is both odd and disappointing. In all, they’re enjoyable – particularly on a second viewing – but hardly the best the gang can do.

The season then made a decent almost-recovery with an obvious, but worthy premise: The Gang Buys a Boat is pure slapstick, and exemplifies the show in its most basic and effective state. The gang (wait for it) buys a boat, and by the time the episode ends, the boat is sinking to the bottom of the ocean in a fiery ruin. Need I say more?

Mac’s Big Break continued the upward trend with an episode focused on everyone’s favorite badass with insecurity issues. After correctly answering a radio trivia question, Mac finally gets his “big break” – the chance to take a shot on the ice where the Philadelphia Eagles play. Meanwhile, Dennis and Dee start a podcast, which triggers the reappearance of some favorite recurring characters, such as The Waitress and Cricket the homeless minister-turned-crack addict. Cricket is hilarious as always, and hearing him raspily proclaim Dee a “whore” is still hilarious. The episode’s focus is Mac, though, and it’s great – Mac makes a proper fool out of himself, and the episode ends in the only way it could.

Mac and Charlie: White Trash was an equally strong offering, telling the tale of the gang’s dividing efforts to beat the heat. After being refused entry at a members-only swimming pool, Mac and Charlie set out to fix up an abandoned diving pool. They get stuck in the pool. Hilarity ensues.

Mac’s Mom Burns her House Down was where the season finally came unto its own. Razor-sharp writing, timing, and delivery characterize what’s probably the funniest and best episode of Season 6. Mrs. Mac makes her first appearance of the season, and it’s her best episode yet. After burning down her house with a cigarette, Dennis hatches the plan to move her in with Charlie’s mom. To smooth the process along, Charlie and Mac spend a night at the house with the two of them. It’s great stuff, and once again showcases the great dynamic between Mac and Charlie that Season 6 uses so often.

Meanwhile, Frank tries to score brownie points with Dee so she’ll take care of him when he’s older. His efforts are weak at first, but then Dennis lends his twisted mind to the situation, and things get quite a bit funnier. Dee, once again, gets the entirely shitty end of the stick – the episode ends with her tied to a bed, missing a concert by her heartthrob idol Josh Grobin.

Who Got Dee Pregnant? introduces the pregnancy dynamic. Kaitlin Olson actually became pregnant during the production of Season 6, so they decided to incorporate her roundness into the show. The result? Not quite as half-ass as you might assume, and it gave rise to a few hilarious episodes – such as this one. In an episode written by Charlie Day and Rob McElhenny, the gang tries to piece together a hazy Halloween party-night to determine who, exactly, got Dee pregnant. The incestual whackjob McPoyles make their first appearance since Season 3, which was enough cause for me to glee considerably. It’s a good appearance, too – you will laugh. I did.

The Gang Gets a New Member and Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth composed another pseudo two-parter that kept the laughs coming. I call it a “pseudo two-parter” because only a few threads carry over between the two episodes. It all starts when the gang seeks out a former member of their group, “Schmitty,” despite Charlie’s reluctance. It turns out there’s not enough room in the gang for the two of them, and Charlie leaves to work as a janitor at a local high school.

At this very high school, Dee is trying to re-connect with her former theater teacher, who’s long lost his will to teach. Somehow or another, this results in Dee becoming a substitute teacher and forcing a classroom filled with apathetic high schoolers to put on an in-class musical production of Frankenstein – in which Dee plays the green-skinned monster.

While Charlie becomes far too involved in his role as the school’s janitor (“please don’t bathe the students,” the principal is forced to ask at one point) Mac, Charlie and Dennis try to determine how and if Blackface can ever be pulled off tastefully in a modern cinematic production. Their solution? Show their movie, Lethal Weapon 5, to Dee’s class. Yes, Lethal Weapon 5. Mac paints his face black in an attempt to look like Danny Glover, and there’s a gratuitous (and weirdly graphic) sex scene prominently featuring Frank. If nothing else, it’s proof that the show isn’t out of ideas yet, however ridiculous those ideas might be.

Charlie Kelly: King of Rats is an interesting episode, in that it ends up being about the gang doing something nice for someone – or at least trying to. When they notice that the daily task of rat-slaying has gotten Charlie down, the rest of the gang set out to throw him a nice birthday party. Charlie’s the obvious favorite for a lot of Always Sunny fans (myself included) and episodes like this are precisely why. The scene where Dee takes Charlie to a movie to keep him distracted is pure awkward hilarity, and Charlie’s trip to the spa fully clothed is sure to bring a chuckle or two. Again, though, it’s a little odd, but also pleasantly surprising to see the gang showing a little decency. It’s the only episode of the show I’ve ever seen that ends on a legitimately warm (if slightly twisted) note.

The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods is another high point for the season. On their way to an animal rights convention, the gang wrecks their car on a backroad deep in the woods. Charlie and Dennis hitch a ride out with a bicurious trucker who’s convinced that they’re both truckstop whores. Mac, Dee and Frank stay behind and bond with the wildlife in a variety of ways. It’s funny, I promise.

“I thought maybe we could slip into a room… and the two of you could check my oil.”

One of the best lines of dialog from the season.

And the season draws to a close with the inevitable baby episode, Dee Gives Birth. Now, if you’re worried about Always Sunny going mushy on you, or changing up its tried-and-true formula, then put your mind to rest. Dee’s birth is handled in classic Always Sunny style, with barely a shred of decency showing through. But there is a shred, though – Dennis remains at Dee’s side during her entire hospital stay, helping in whatever hurtful ways he can. Meanwhile, Frank, Charlie and Mac are dead-set on discovering who the father of Dee’s child really is – and you get to see a lot of familiar faces. In the end, Dennis, Mac, and Charlie all arrive at the conclusion that they want to be the father – only to realize that, guess what, Dee was acting as a surrogate mother.

Might have seen that one coming. Especially since it turns out to be for tranny Carmen and her husband. A bit of an anti-climactic way to handle the kid after so much buildup, but I suppose it’s better than keeping the thing around. I’m not sure a baby would have fit well into the show’s general dynamic.

Oh yeah, they cheaped out and aired the year-old Always Sunny Christmas special as the final episode. Disappointing, no?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 6 is sure to please fans of the series. If you’re looking for some sort of evolution or exciting shake-up to the formula, you won’t find it – hell, I’d say the show will probably die before that happens. But for now, the formula’s still working. And I mean, hell – if Seinfeld made it nine seasons, I’d say we’ve got some time left on this one.

Modern Family – “Mother Tucker” Review

Friday, November 26th, 2010

It’s a relief to see Modern Family picking up the slack after a largely lackluster start to its sophomore season.

“Mother Tucker” surprisingly reuses some situations and even exact lines from last season, and I’m sadly getting a little sick of Mitch and Cam’s rinse-and-repeat dynamic this year, but despite those complaints it’s a great episode with a lot of genuine laughs.

The main plot follows Haley’s apparent final breakup with Dylan and the subsequent mixed emotions for Haley that come with having to face moving on from your first love. Of course, the situation is almost as distressing for nutball father, Phil, which is still funny, but I was disappointed to hear him reuse his “What? No!” line in response to the news when it didn’t seem like an intentional nod to his hilarious delivery last season. In any case, I’m really enjoying the show’s focus on Haley this season. It’s adding layers to her previous “dumb teen” personality and setting her up for great dynamics in the future. It may come at the cost of diminished screen time for already-complex middle child, Alex, but she’ll get her due.

Mother Tucker

Phil's "I wrote a song" joke is funny too.

Digressions aside, it was nice to see Haley and Dylan mature from daily “breakups” to a – admittedly still highschool – breakup that actually caused some real introspection from both parties. Also, after some great and not-so-great parenting moments from Claire this season, Phil took over the role perfectly by hanging out with Dylan behind Haley’s back yet coming through and being a great Dad when Haley truly needed him.

In other families, Mitch and Cam have been riding the “Mitch and Cam don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings” train far too hard this season, and it’s getting very tired. The show even seems to recognize this slightly by giving the couple the most number of guest stars in the disappointing Nathan Lane appearance and tonight’s passable introduction to Cam’s mom. I miss when the two would interact more often with other characters. Mitchell and his father was hilarious in season 1 as was Cam’s episode with Gloria. At least Mitchell and his sister had a scene with their consistently strong dynamic, but the rest of the couple’s storyline was cookie cutter and gimmicky at worst and pleasantly amusing at best.

But back to things that this season has been doing well, namely Jay and Gloria. Last year was all about the family’s reaction to their age difference and the cultural clashes they faced with their son Manny. Now that the couple isn’t so new, it’s more about how they actually get along as a family, and their stories have often been the high points of every episode. “Mother Tucker” saw Manny and Jay indulge in some mild internet hypochondria while Gloria called them pussies. Instant recipe for laughs. One of the things Modern Family does best is not place too much importance on predictable plot twists, and even if the plot goes the entirely expected way, the show opts to find humour in the characters’ genuine reactions and not the “unexpected” ending or twist.

I’ve been breathing a sigh of relief the past few weeks as Modern Family has been sinking back into a consistently funny and well-written show that grows with the characters. I’m worried about Mitch and Cam, despite their excellent performances. They were often the strongest part of the first season and they’ve gone downhill fast.

SCORE: 8/10

South Park Season 14 Retrospective – Overview

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Surprise, surprise! Remember when we said Riddlethos was gonna start talking about TV? We weren’t lying.  As so, allow me to welcome you to our first semi-in-depth TV-centric feature: a retrospective of South Park’s recently concluded 14th season. I’m Oliver “Riddles” Motok, and I’ll be your host throughout this epic multi-part journey.

So without further ado. Let’s begin by doing the obvious: talking about Season 14.

South Park Season 14 is a strong, crowd-pleasing season that keeps the laughs coming. Dud episodes are a rare thing for the show, but Season 14 in particular is impressive in that I enjoyed every episode, for one reason or another. The season also contained a landmark in the form of the 200th episode, as well as some startling reveals – such as the identity of Cartman’s father, and an actual explanation for Kenny’s immortality. Season 14 may be short on the sort of sharp, insightful messages that the show is apt to deliver – be it by choice or not – but it’s funny enough to compensate.

Season 14 kicked off with, perhaps, its weakest episode - Sexual Healing, which parodied the then-recent controversies surrounding Tiger Woods and his infidelity. The episode was clever in its timeliness, though not particularly biting or memorable. Props, however must be given to the unflattering portrayal of Elin Nordegren, Tiger Wood’s Swedish trophy wife. The crossover with EA’s PGA Golf game series was a nice touch as well.

We love to love him.

Episode 2 showed improvement with The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs – dismayed by the tameness of J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, the boys set out to write a more vulgar, offensive book. Butters ends up taking the credit, though, and what follows is a solid, if unamazing Butters-themed episode. It’s impossible not to love the little guy in general, an it’s nice to see him stick it to Cartman, Kenny and the gang instead of the other way around. “The four of you can just suck on my wiener!” is one of the more memorable Butters moments. The episode is no Butters’ Bottom Bitch, but it’s charming enough. Also, I enjoyed the commentary on our culture’s tendency to read non-existent themes into art – it’s a phenomenon that’s always interested me personally, and South Park hits the nail on the head.

With Medicinal Fried Chicken, the guys at South Park attempt to comment on a certain modern-day issue. That issue? Medical marijuana. The commentary? The sort only South Park can provide. When he finds out a Cannabis dispensary has opened in South Park, Randy intentionally contracts testicular cancer in order to get a doctor’s referral for medical marijuana. Meanwhile, a certain Cartman is furious that the dispensary took the place of the only KFC in South Park; recently passed laws have outlawed KFCs in low-income neighborhoods, which forces Cartman to enter into illegal trafficking of the fried chickeny goodness he craves. If you’re bright, you can probably see the parallel, and the commentary that the show is trying to deliver. But, ultimately, the episode doesn’t go far enough in driving its point home, and the commentary gets a little lost amidst the scenes of grown men bouncing about on their cancerous testicles. (Which, don’t get me wrong, is hilarious to see.)  The final moments of the show miss the opportunity to really argue against the ethereal nature of laws regarding marijuana and its limited legality. I feel like the guys at South Park, especially, could have put together a better argument for the legalization of pot.

Would *you* facebook friend this kid?

Would *you* facebook friend this kid?

Episode 4 provides perhaps the most biting commentary of the season, relating to a subject we can all get behind – Social Media, or in particular, Facebook. in You Have 0 Friends, Stan is forced to get a Facebook against his will, and then is forced to rigidly follow the many Facebook non-rules of etiquette that so many of us know too well. Eventually, this culminates in, of all things, a Tron spoof. Throw in a fantastic new character in the form of Kip Drordy, the socially retarded nerd who finally acquires a singular Facebook friend in the form of Kyle, and you have one of the season’s best. But it was only a warmup for what was next.

With its landmark 200th episode, as well as episode 201, (known simply as 200 and 201) South Park made a big splash in more ways than one. After inadvertently insulting Tom Cruise at a fudge factory, Stan incites the actor’s litigous wrath – as well as the wrath of all the hundreds of celebrities that South Park has insulted over the years. To keep the town from being sued dry, the boys must give in to the demands of the celebrities, and hand over none other than Muhammad himself – so that the celebrities can extract his “goo,” and acquire his power to be immune to all insults. Countless familiar faces return, shocking revelations are made, and the epic meter goes off the charts. 200 and 201 are fantastic episodes… which is why it’s a damn shame that we weren’t able to see them all.

For those unaware, after episode 200 aired, quite a few feathers were rustled over the show’s portrayal of Muhammad. And not just any feathers – Islamic Extremist feathers. Like, real Islamic Extremists. An organization based in New York known as Revolution Muslim actually posted threats on their website, claiming that violent retaliation against Trey Parker and Matt Stone “will likely happen.”

Guess who's in the bearsuit

Guess who's in the bearsuit

However legitimate the threat may have been, it was enough to scare Comedy Central. 201 was heavily censored against the will of Trey and Matt; all imagery of Mohammed was removed, and even the word Mohammed bleeped. The traditional ending monologues are all, inexplicably, entirely, bleeped out. Sounds like weaksauce, right? That’s because it is. I’m still waiting for an uncensored episode 201, guys. Make it happen. I know it wasn’t your fault in the first place, but make it happen anyway.

Hot off the heels of controversy saw the return of South Park’s best bad character: one of my personal favorites, Towelie. No longer satisfied with merely smoking weed, Towelie has gone and acquired a meth addiction, a crack addiction, and an addition to cans of compressed air. And he has a kid. Say what you want, but any episode with Towelie is an instant win for me. Crippled Summer is goofy slapstick humor and nothing more, which is precisely what we needed after the previous two episodes.

After the traditional Summer’s break, the show returned in a funny, if slightly subdued style. Poor and Stupid, as well as It’s a Jersey Thing are episodes short on insightful commentary, as well as the unapologetic humor the show is known for. A notable exception is the Al-Quaeda bits near the end of It’s a Jersey Thing; props to the guys for that, especially after the episode 201 shitstorm.

South Park couldn’t let the season go without spoofing the summer’s biggest film; Inception gets its workover in the form of Insheeption. The spoof is good enough, but what’s even better is the first-time look into the childhood of none other than Mr. Mackie. Seeing Mackie as a child is priceless, and it makes for one of the better episodes of Season 14’s second half.

A rare occasion in which you can actually understand what the fuck Kenny's saying.

And then out of nowhere, the guys at South Park hit us with an ambitious three-part story revolving around Cartman’s costumed alter ego, The Coon, and the world-destroying actions of the BP Oil Company: Coon 2: Hindsight, Mysterion Rises, and Coon Vs. Coon and Friends. Seeing The Coon again was an unexpected treat, and it wasn’t the only treat to be found in this epic arc. Mysterion is revealed to be none other than Kenny, and he has a for-real superpower. Care to guess what it is? He can’t die. Yes, after 14 seasons, South Park actually acknowledges Kenny’s apparent immortality. In fact, they even kinda explain it. (Though they leave it open for further exploration.) The episodes are high on action and drama, and surprisingly short on laughs, but in all it’s one of the more unique and experimental South Park stories I’ve ever seen. The ending was a bit of a disappointing cop-out, but, at the very least, it leaves things open for more. I sincerely hope we see the Coon & Friends again, as well as a certain Captain Hindsight – who is undoubtedly one of the best new characters of the season.

The season closes perfectly with Creme Fraiche. It turns out that Randy has an extreme food fetish, and in fact, masturbates to the Food Network. If that’s not hilarious enough, just wait until you see the hot new phallic exercise device, Shakeweight! Randy has a lot of fantastic moments in Season 14, and Creme Fraiche is probably him at his best. Pure, clever comedy is always a great way to end a season.

If this season is any indication, South Park isn’t going anywhere soon. There are undoubtedly highs and lows to Season 14, but it’s enjoyable from start to finish. In an increasingly mad and dangerous world, filled with religious extremists, oil spills, increasingly dehumanized social norms and what have you, it’s nice to know South Park is still there to make sense of it all. In its own demented way.

My final take? 8.5/10

Stay tuned. It’s not over. Get ready for lists.

Modern Family – “Halloween” Review

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Before saying anything else, I should mention that I’m generally apathetic about Halloween and I’ve been a little underwhelmed by Modern Family this year overall. Last year I would say with confidence that Modern Family was the best show currently on television, but I’m more inclined to give that narcissistic honour to Community which has made leaps and bounds from last year. More to the point, however, despite the focus on the holiday, “Halloween” thankfully follows in the footsteps of the premiere and previous episode to make me remember why I love the show.

As usual, the show follows three storylines from the three sub-families, and two of the plotlines are excellent. First is Claire’s obsession with Halloween countered by Phil’s growing paranoia of suddenly being left by his costume-crazy wife. Claire is at her best when she’s stressed, and she’s actually been a surprising highlight of this season by depicting more realistic fights with her two teenage daughters. This episode is no different as Claire’s stress level rises the more things don’t go according to plan, and her reactions to Haley’s slutty costumes and Alex’s reluctance are very amusing.

The sarcastic hardened ol' "Gargle"

Her usually ever-helpful husband ends up being a thorn in her side, however, as their neighbour is devastated by his wife leaving him and this is apparently a novel thought for Phil. Phil and Claire have always been such a secure couple that it was nice – and hilarious – to see Phil have legitimate concerns for the security of his marriage. Not only are his clingy antics and self-fed paranoid rants really funny, but the show does a good job of actually making you bite your nails just a little bit as you can relate to Phil being terrified of being alone and losing the family he loves so much.

Next was Jay and Most Improved Character, Gloria. I remember thinking that I would hate Gloria when I first started watching the series, but she slowly went from annoying to amusing to completely hilarious, and she’s been the best part of season 2. “Halloween” does not disappoint in the Gloria department as she’s at her ridiculous and defensive best when she discovers that she’s not quite as well understood as she thought under her thick accent and dramatic yelling.

The episode – like the season so far – under-uses Manny, but Jay’s attempts at diplomacy with his much-younger wife provides enough laughs for the storyline. I’m also appreciating that Jay and Gloria seem more like a loving couple this season with the honeymoon stage wearing off and the two being forced to make understanding compromises.

The final storyline was the most disappointing. Mitchell and Cameron are usually the most consistently hilarious, but I did not enjoy their plot at all. Mitchell thinks his new workplace encourages wearing costumes – which he adores – but it ends up that only losers dress up, and the boss really hates it to boot. While Mitchell sneaking around in a Spiderman costume is amusing, and I’m reminded of great moments from Arrested Development when he’s forced to wear his suit over the costume, the story seemed gimmicky with no real resolution.

More disappointing, however, is Cameron’s trauma over Halloween. I know that Cam’s a drama queen, but his reasons for abandoning Halloween seem contrived even for Cameron standards. Especially considering that this would be a holiday the writers could have ridiculous amounts of fun with for his flamboyant character.

Despite those disappointments, this is a promising episode with some fantastically hilarious and well-written poignant moments that the first season made the show known for. Coupled with last week’s strong offering, I’m hoping that those other three episodes were just growing pains as the writers need to find new conflicts for the lovable, funny, and believable characters.

SCORE: 7.5/10

South Park – “Insheeption” Review

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

So, how many of you have seen Christopher Nolan’s summer blockbuster, Inception? Quite a few of you? Good, because if you haven’t, much of the humor found in the latest episode of South Park will be lost on you. As you know if you follow the site, I loved Inception. I loved it a lot, and anyone who dares spoof it better do a damn good job. Thankfully, South Park did a damn good job.

The episode begins as a spoof on “Hoarders.” Or that’s what I read after the fact, at least. I’d never heard of Hoarders, so I had no idea a spoof was even taking place. Our friend Stan is outed as a Hoarder, and after a hilarious scene where he tries (and fails) to clean out his locker, he’s sent to talk with the school counselor – Mr. Mackie.

Mr. Mackie doesn’t often get the spotlight, but boy do I ever love it when he does. It turns out that Mackie is a hoarder as well  - when Stan questions him about a month-old empty milk carton, he explodes into rage and shouts at young Stan that he will “rape him in the mouth.” (The scene is as hilarious as it sounds.)

So, a specialist is brought in. The theory is that a buried emotional trauma from the past is what is causing Stan and Mackie to have the tendency to hoard things. Oh, and there’s also a sheep herder who gets dragged into the counseling session. I’ll say it again: Sheep “herder.” The joke is pretty obvious. The Sheep Herder hangs around for the entirety of the episode. Gimmicky as he may be, I found his defeated, confused presence rather amusing.

And then the Inception spoofing begins. During the therapy session, Mackie begins vividly dreaming of his childhood – so vividly, in fact, that both Stan and the Sheep Herder are sucked into his dream. From that point, the episode becomes an intriguing – and hilarious – look into Mackie’s childhood. And, yes, a young Mr. Mackie is every bit as hilarious as it sounds.

And that’s not all. Soon, practically the entire cast from Inception appears to save the day. And, of course, to explain all the awesome complexities of what’s going on. South Park takes a shot at Inception’s admittedly convoluted plot, here. After listening to cartoon Leonardo and friends explain all the intricacies of dream levels, Mrs. Marsh exclaims “just because something is needlessly convoluted and complex doesn’t make it cool!”

I still love Inception, though.

And, because I can’t bear not to mention it: Randy Marsh. After heroically diving into the dream to save his son, Randy manifests in the dream as…. a butterfly. After listening to Stan’s plea for help, Randy responds: “butterflies have no concern for such things, Stan! I’m gonna go find some butterfly poon!”

Priceless.

The episode contains only a single comedic fail, and that’s in the form of Freddy Krueger’s superfluous appearance late in the episode. The scene where the specialist attempts to recruit him is kinda amusing, as is seeing a cartoon Freddy Krueger with a hillbilly beard. Still, it’s not funny enough to justify how entirely pointless he is to the story. After the recruiting scene, he has maybe 20 additional seconds of screentime.

The scene where Mackie finally finds and confronts the trauma that caused his hoarding disorder is appropriately disturbing, just as we’d expect from the guys at South Park. You’ll be laughing and feeling bad for it, which is more or less the reason why I love South Park so much. Of the three new episodes, Insheeption is definitely the strongest.

SCORE: 8.5/10

South Park – “It’s a Jersey Thing” Review

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

It’s good to have South Park around again. And not only because it provides ample topics of conversation with my co-workers, but because Season 14 is continuing on quite strongly. This week, the show takes on New Jersey, all the stereotypes contained therein, and a few trashy Jersey-themed shows such as The Real Housewives of New Jersey and (to a lesser extent) Jersey Shore. The result? Once again, it’s nothing terribly deep, and doesn’t offer much in the way of social commentary – but “It’s a Jersey Thing” does bring back some of the irreverent, in-your-face comedy that the previous episode lacked.

The episode begins as a fairly standard (though humorous) spoof of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. The Marshes make the mistake of inviting their new neighbors from Jersey over to their home, only to have their dinner ruined when the Jersey wife flies off the handle as only Jersey housewives can. The residents of South Park soon come to realize that there are Jersey-ites all over their town – and if they don’t do something to stop it, South Park is doomed to become “West Jersey.”

There’s some funny stuff here. I particularly liked the attention given to Sheila Broflovski (Kyle’s mom.) After shouting down a bunch of raging Jersey whores in hair salon, it’s revealed that Mrs. Broflovski was originally from – you guessed it – New Jersey. In fact, she wasn’t even called Sheila back then, but rather, “S-Woww Tittybang.” No, really. Sheila doesn’t tend be a character of any real significance, so it was nice to see her given a role, and a hilarious one at that.

Any episode that features Randy Marsh to any extent usually wins with me, I won’t lie. But damn it, there’s just something about the guy. Everything he says and does makes me laugh, and this episode was no exception. When the town of South Park rises up against the so-called Jersey invasion, they are led by none other than Mr. Marsh. The scene where he stands atop a massive barricade, waves an anti-Jersey flag and shouts “FUCK YOU NEW JERSEY!” is priceless and will go down as one of his finest moments.

One of the strengths of this particular episode is that almost every main character is utilized. While Randy leads his bloody campaign against the invading New Jerseyans, Kyle is forced to come to terms with the fact that he has Jersey blood running through his veins. Predictably, this is a fact that a certain Eric Cartman won’t put to rest. Especially after Kyle roughs Cartman up in true New Jersey style, which hilariously reduces Cartman to tears. Stan and Kenny are there as well, though they’re supplementary. Still, it’s good to see the entire gang given a part to play.

After fifteen minutes or so of mostly harmless spoofs, “It’s a Jersey Thing” takes an entirely unpredictable turn for the controversial. To say nothing of the ridiculous. Desperate for help against the invading hordes, and after having been refused by both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Japan, Randy turns to Al-Quaeda. Osama Bin Laden makes his return, as does the grossly irreverent and offensive subject matter that the show hasn’t seen in a few episodes. Al-Quaeda does, indeed, come to South Park’s aid – but I’m not going to tell you how they do it. Suffice to say, it’s fucking hilarious, and beyond inappropriate. But if you’re the kinda guy who watches South Park, I doubt you’ll get your panties in a bundle.

As a South Park fan, I’ve been quite satisfied with Season 14’s return thus far. Looks like the boys are on a roll, let’s hope they keep it going.

SCORE: 8/10

South Park – “Poor and Stupid” Review

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Ah, yes. It’s that time of year again. Cooler weather, brighter colors, musty smells, and the triumphant return of South Park. One of the many reasons why Fall is my favorite season of the year.

But I digress. South Park has indeed returned to resume its 14th season. “Poor and Stupid” won’t go down as a classic, but it has some genuinely funny stuff and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Especially if you like making fun of Nascar.

Yep, South Park goes after Nascar this time around. It’s kinda hard to believe it’s taken them this long to take aim at such an obvious target, when you think about it.

Eric Cartman is the star of this particular episode. It begins with young Cartman crying, lamenting the fact that he’ll never be poor and stupid enough to be a Nascar driver. However, with an unintentional shove from Stan and Kyle, and with the help of the easily-manipulated Butters, Eric decides to follow his dream – by becoming as poor and stupid as he possibly can.

What ensues is some cleverly written chaos. There are no deep themes or meaningful social satire to be found, but it’s South Park at its slapstick best. The dynamic between Butters and Cartman is fantastic as always, reminiscent of classic episodes such as The Death of Eric Cartman and The China Problem. The hilarity truly begins when the two of them steal Vagisil, which Cartman then drinks in hopes of killing brain cells and becoming stupider. They then proceed to hijjack a Nascar vehicle which Cartman drives – and wrecks. Again, nothing too brainy, but it’s hilarious to watch.

I liked Kenny’s part in the episode, as the devoted Nascar fan who becomes enraged when Cartman begins to bring a bad name to the sport. The episode briefly touches on the legitimacy of Nascar as a sport – Kenny represents the sensible fan who resents the stigma, and Cartman represents the unbearable hicks who create the stigma in the first place. It doesn’t go much deeper than that, but maybe it doesn’t really have to. I mean, it’s Nascar.

There are plenty of other laughs to be found – Cartman produces a racist video blog and puts it on the internet, and there are some hilarious scenes with the creator of Vagasil and his wife. But, there’s no point spoiling them here. If you’re a South Park fan you’ve probably seen the episode already, or you soon plan to. If you aren’t a fan, why the hell are you reading this?