The Worst Movie Ever?

(Originally posted at The Scribblerati)

Last weekend a few intrepid friends and I sat down to my husband’s stellar waffles and watched what some folk call the Worst Movie Ever. This was not my first experience with a movie that had laid claim to that disreputable title; I have sat through many a Worst Movie Ever in my day.

Brave, you say? Not really. I can’t make it through one of these cinematic dingleberries without the help of the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or one of their current incarnations (RifftraxCinematic Titanic). Take away the constant humorous riffing from those professional Bad Movie Watchers, folks with much stronger constitutions than yours truly, and I’d be rendered a quivering pile of goo, all sense of beauty, truth and artistic integrity forcibly drained from my very cells.

But I digress.

In this particular instance, the Worst Movie was Troll 2, an experiment in, let’s for the sake of argument call it ‘filmmaking,” that fails so extraordinarily in its efforts to be remotely good that it ends up being bizarrely entertaining in its own right. We watched the Rifftrax version. A few highlights:

  • It’s a movie called Troll 2 that not only is not subsequent to a Troll 1, but also contains no trolls.
  • It features one of the hammiest performances in the history of the universe, in the form of the actress playing the goblin queen. Even if the film had been made on Planet Pig, with sets carved from pure Cumberland Gap spiral bone-in ham, she’d still be the hammiest thing around.
  • And speaking of ham, the makers were clearly anti-vegetarian, or at least anti-eating your veggies, because the goblins (not trolls) turn all their victims into trees or vegetable goop before consuming them – and our young hero saves the day (spoiler alert!) with a double-decker bologna sandwich. That’s right. You heard me.
  • And then there’s the PG sex scene featuring a young man and the goblin queen both biting a corncob, which then (presumably due to the heat of their encounter) explodes into popcorn. The scene, incidentally, has no relation whatsoever to the rest of the story, except perhaps a tenuous tie to the fact that the goblins do love them some veggies. Even in the boudoir, it seems.

Here’s a sample: Troll Clip

And of course, there’s a documentary about it.

Truly awful? Yes. But I have to say that Troll 2, popcorn sex notwithstanding, is a little too snappy and cheery to honestly deserve the Worst Movie trophy.

So then, what constitutes a truly awful movie?

The obvious: Bad writing. Acting so terrible it barely counts as acting, and actors that are inherently unappealing. Incompetent directing. Abysmal, laughable special effects. Lack of continuity.

But what constitutes the Worst Movie of All Time? To qualify, the movie has to have that certain something extra. In my mind, it’s a pervasive atmosphere of oppressive creepiness: not the creepiness derived from good horror writing and cinematography, but that icky, dirty feeling you get when you realize you’re witnessing actors as puppets, forced to perform the director’s particular twisted proclivities for his own titillation. (Honestly, I get this feeling from Tarantino’s films too, although in every other respect they’re exceptionally well done).

Ed Wood’s films fit this profile, except there’s something so gleefully innocent about his strange quirks (not the least of which was his desire, against all reason, to be a filmmaker), that I don’t feel that deep. soul-besmirching uncleanliness that only the worst of the worst can bestow upon its viewers. 

There are two movies that I feel might qualify for Giant Turd Trophy (I just made that up, but I think it needs to happen) and both have been given treatment by Mystery Science Theater 3000. The first is Eegah – a picture from the 60s featuring Richard Kiel (Jaws from the James Bond franchise) as the last surviving caveman, and a pie-faced squishy, greasy, whiney young male ‘star’ (the director’s son, natch).

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What’s the opposite of sex appeal? Sex repel? Well, you’ve got it, Mister! 

Eegah contains a truly repulsive sequence, in which the young hot female lead is trapped in Eegah’s cave with her father, played by the director, where she performs a series of humiliating tasks, including sitting on her daddy’s lap and shaving him. *Shiver*

The second, and probably champion, is Manos, Hands of Fate (or, translated, ‘Hands, Hands of Fate”), a dank and depressing devil story, in which an entirely incompetent family is trapped in a desert hotel by a big-kneed manservant. The movie features a scene where dead, ensorcelled gossamer-clad devil slave ladies have a big old pile-up girl fight accompanied by ghastly saxophone music. The scene goes on and on and on. And on. Also, the female lead gets repeatedly (and very awkwardly) pawed by Torgo, he of the big knees.

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You can’t see his knees here, but sufficed to say, they’re whoppers.

There is something so horribly weighty and depressing about Manos, that after watching it, one is left with a sense of ennui that lingers for hours, much like that feeling you get after waking up from a really oppressive, really stupid dream.

So then, now that I’ve thought it through, I highly recommend throwing a Troll 2 party (Rifftrax style): sure it will hurt your brain, but feed your friends waffles and plenty of mimosas, and eventually they’ll forgive you. After all, it isn’t actually the WORST movie ever made.

Tweeting “Teen Witch”

The other day, I live tweeted Teen Witch. If you don’t know, Teen Witch is a glorious film from the 80s, one that I somehow managed to miss back in the day, despite the fact that I was definitely its target audience. The title tells you pretty much everything you need to know. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

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Also, it is the most Eighties thing to happen ever. More Eighties than Reganomics. More Eighties than a Members Only jacket. More Eighties than The California Raisins. It is so Eighties, you guys. So. Very. Eighties.

So. I live tweeted, and I’m sure at least 3 people saw one or two of my comments. You feel left out, don’t you? Never fear. I’ve compiled the commentary in an easy-to-read fashion. (You read top to bottom instead of bottom to top. THE FUTURE IS NOW!)

This Twitter thread is for everyone. You can read it if you’ve seen the movie. You can read it while watching the movie, and try to figure out where each comment belongs. (Fun!) Or, you can save yourself the trouble of ever having to sit through the exquisitely painful Eightiesness of it all, and just read the tweets. They stand on their own, I swear. Oh, but watch Teen Witch’s opening credits no matter what. Because wow.

So then. Enjoy. TEEN WITCH TWEETSPair with: an Original New York Seltzer (vanilla creme), out of a Gizmo thermos. $_35

It’s a Wonderful Life Trivia Answers

If you missed the quiz, it is HERE. Go take it! But be forewarned –  I’m a tad bit obsessed with the film. So it isn’t particularly easy.

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So, then. here are the answers!

  1. When a guy taunts the young man to open the pool beneath the gym floor, he says, “What’s the matter, ___________, jealous? (Fill in the blank. It is a joke, but it also happens to be the character’s last name.)  Othello
  2. The actor who played the young man in the above question was way more famous for another role. What was that role?  Alfalfa (Little Rascals)
  3. When young Mary says “You like all the boys,” how does young Violet respond?  “What’s wrong with that?”
  4. What is Sam Wainwright’s catchphrase? “Hee Haw!”
  5. Young George Bailey’s druggist boss almost poisons some children by accident. What disease do they have? Diphtheria 
  6. Uncle Billy is drunk after the party celebrating Harry Bailey’s marriage. The true story is that after Thomas Mitchell (the actor playing Uncle Billy) exited his scene with Jimmy Stewart, a set hand accidently knocked over a whole props table, making a huge clamor. Mitchell improvised a line from off camera, and the whole thing stayed in the movie. What is that line? “I’m all right! I’m aaalllll right!” (A phrase you can hear in my household anytime someone drops something in the next room.)
  7. Uncle Billy has some unusual pets. Name three of them. Squirrel, owl, monkey, crow, and various other birds. And a dog – but not a 3-legged space dog or anything. Just a dog. 
  8. When Mary Hatch asks George whether or not he likes Harry’s new wife Ruth, a grumpy George replies “Of course I like her, she’s a ________!” Peach!
  9. George steals a football uniform for himself after he falls in the pool. What number is on the jersey? 3
  10. What is Mary Hatch’s brother’s name? Marty
  11. When Mary loses her robe, what kind of bush does she hide in? Hydrangea 
  12. What is Clarence the Angel’s favorite book? Tom Sawyer
  13. What does George’s dad die of? A stroke (Which, according to George, was indirectly brought on by Mr. Potter. Stupid Mr. Potter.)
  14. After his experience with Clarence, what three things indicate that George Bailey is back in the real world? It is snowing, his mouth is bleeding, Zuzu’s petals are in his pocket.
  15. What two Muppets are named after characters from the movie? Ernie and Bert after Ernie the taxi driver and Bert the cop (although some say this is just a coincidence)
  16. Mary makes a picture that says “George Bailey Lassos the Moon.” In the course of the movie, what else does she say he lassos? Stork! 
  17. What is George’s dream job? Architect – city planner – “building things”
  18. After Nick kicks George and Clarence out of his bar, he rings his cash register repeatedly, and says what? (6 words) “Get me, I’m givin’ out wings!”
  19. What award does Harry Bailey receive? Presidential Medal of Honor
  20. What is the name of the Bailey’s housekeeper? Annie
  21. After the run on the banks, how much of George and Mary’s money is left? 2 dollars
  22. Potter offers George Bailey a yearly income so large it makes George drop his cigar. What is the amount? $20,000/year
  23. When George comes home in despair after Uncle Billy loses the $8000, his daughter is playing the same carol over and over again on the piano. What is it? “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
  24. George and Mary’s son is writing a Christmas pageant. What decidedly non-Christmasy character has a part in his play? Frankenstein (‘s monster)
  25. What is the name of Zuzu’s teacher whom George abuses over the phone? Mrs. Welch
  26. According to one of the head angels, Clarence has the IQ of what? A rabbit
  27. What is the name of the house George and Mary move into? The Old Granville House
  28. (Two parts) Who discovered a mostly-unknown Gloria Grahame, the actress who played Violet Biggs? What major musical role did she go on to play? Jimmy Stewart / Ado Annie in Oklahoma
  29. Frank Capra had to fight the censors, because the ending of the film wasn’t up to code. What didn’t he do to one of his characters that was against the rules? (And which character?) Mr. Potter goes unpunished for stealing the $8,000. According to the Hays Code, all criminals must pay for their crimes. 
  30. Name 2 of the 3 buildings George says “merry Christmas” to at the end of the film. Movie House, Emporium, Building and Loan.                                                                                                                                      So…. How did you do?

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The Ultimate “It’s A Wonderful Life” Quiz

It’s the most Wonderful time of the year!

Join me, won’t you, in celebrating that fuzziest of holiday movies, It’s a Wonderful Life. I will give the answers in a later post. For now: Guess in the comments – and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

It’s a Wonderful Life Trivia (Pretty difficult.)

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  1. When a guy taunts the young man to open the pool beneath the gym floor, he says, “What’s the matter, ___________, jealous? (Fill in the blank. It is a joke, but it also happens to be the character’s last name.)
  2. The actor who played the young man in the above question was way more famous for another role. What was that role?
  3. When young Mary says “You like all the boys,” how does young Violet respond?
  4. What is Sam Wainwright’s catchphrase?
  5. Young George Bailey’s druggist boss almost poisons some children by accident. What disease do they have?
  6. Uncle Billy is drunk after the party celebrating Harry Bailey’s marriage. The true story is that after Thomas Mitchell (the actor playing Uncle Billy) exited his scene with Jimmy Stewart, a set hand accidently knocked over a whole props table, making a huge clamor. Mitchell improvised a line from off camera, and the whole thing stayed in the movie. What is that line?
  7. Uncle Billy has some unusual pets. Name three of them.
  8. When Mary Hatch asks George whether or not he likes Harry’s new wife Ruth, a grumpy George replies “Of course I like her, she’s a ________!”
  9. George steals a football uniform for himself after he falls in the pool. What number is on the jersey?
  10. What is Mary Hatch’s brother’s name?
  11. When Mary loses her robe, what kind of bush does she hide in?
  12. What is Clarence the Angel’s favorite book?
  13. What does George’s dad die of?
  14. After his experience with Clarence, what three things indicate that George Bailey is back in the real world?
  15. What two Muppets are named after characters from the movie?
  16. Mary makes a picture that says “George Bailey Lassos the Moon.” In the course of the movie, what else does she say he lassos?
  17. What is George’s dream job?
  18. After Nick kicks George and Clarence out of his bar, he rings his cash register repeatedly, and says what? (6 words)
  19. What award does Harry Bailey receive?
  20. What is the name of the Bailey’s housekeeper?
  21. After the run on the banks, how much of George and Mary’s money is left?
  22. Potter offers George Bailey a yearly income so large it makes George drop his cigar. What is the amount?
  23. When George comes home in despair after Uncle Billy loses the $8000, his daughter is playing the same carol over and over again on the piano. What is it?
  24. George and Mary’s son is writing a Christmas pageant. What decidedly non-Christmasy character has a part in his play?
  25. What is the name of Zuzu’s teacher whom George abuses over the phone?
  26. According to one of the head angels, Clarence has the IQ of what?
  27. What is the name of the house George and Mary move into?
  28. (Two parts) Who discovered a mostly-unknown Gloria Grahame, the actress who played Violet Biggs? What major musical role did she go on to play?
  29. Frank Capra had to fight the censors, because the ending of the film wasn’t up to code. What didn’t he do to one of his characters that was against the rules? (And which character?)
  30. Name 2 of the 3 buildings George says “merry Christmas” to at the end of the film.

Good luck!

Its-a-Wonderful-Life-Sequel

You guys, I watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Elysium last night, and they’re the SAME MOVIE.

So.  I watched 3 movies last night, and 2 of them were the strikingly parallel Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Elysium.

Stick with me, here, for a moment. (And also, SPOILERS.)

Ahem.

It is a story about a follicularly distinctive man, whose greatest desire is to land his dream job /  not die a hideous death from radiation poisoning.

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ElysiumMattDamoncrop_0

 

 

 

 

In order to achieve his goal, our hero must embark on a dangerous mission to a beautiful place … FoodAnimalJungle 2013-08-09-elysium_interior_concept_art

with a technical MacGuffin in tow.

BSUSB_by_Chster_V     Elysium-2013-Movie-Poster

                                                                              BSUSB                                                                                   Brain-downloady-thingy

Our hero has a ragtag group of allies, and a love interest with an adorable daughter / strawberry. This daughter / strawberry’s life is threatened by the evil corporation / government.

MV5BNTcwNzI1ODYxOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzEzNzM5OQ@@._V1_SY317_CR9,0,214,317_AL_    Cloudy-with-a-Chance-of-Meatballs-2-Barry-the-Strawberry

DAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW

The evil corporation / government has robots. Big, scary, strong robots to do their bidding.

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The only way to take on these robots is to become somewhat of a robot yourself.

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Meanwhile, our hero and his friends are dogged by a violent and unpredictable Sharlto Copley / fast food staple.

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There is a president who is eventually betrayed by his right hand woman: Jodie Foster / an orangutan named Barb.

2   barb2

However, our hero’s priorities are muddled, and eventually he realizes that his own goal isn’t as important as the future of humankind / sentient produce and friendship.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd SCENE.

Oh, and the third movie I watched was Philomena. I’m still working on how to tie it in with the other two films. All I’ve got so far is that the evil nuns = killer robots.

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Cheers!

Q

Alternative Universes and Time Travel and Witches, Oh My!

I  pretty much stopped reading children’s and YA fiction when I discovered Lord of the Rings at the age of 11. Then it was all Epic Fantasy and Science Fiction and American Classics and Gothic Romance and even a little Kurt Vonnegut. 

I, like everyone who actually peruses these posts, was reading “at a college level” (whatever that means) before I hit puberty, and I had very little interest in fluttering back to the YA nest once I had spread my wings.

I read Anne of Green Gables when I was in my mid-teens, but other than that, I can’t recall one children’s or YA novel I read between the ages of 12 and 30. Sure, I’d peruse an Edward Gorey or Shel Silverstein book here and there, but none of the fantastical kid’s novels I’d enjoyed as a child.

Then J.K. Rowling came along and ruined everything. Heh. I tease. She made everything awesome again. Much as my experience watching Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time in the theater shot me straight back to the unadulterated thrill I got when I first saw Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry Potter made me feel like I was 8 again, reading under a bedspread tent with the aid of a flashlight. (Lumos!)

I devoured the Harry Potter series; I adored them; I speculated online, between books, about where the plot was going; I read them again and again – even out loud, twice, to friends, in their entirety. But then they were done, and I could never read them for the first time again.

 Eek! Expelliarmus! Stupify!

So, I started searching for Harry Potter Withdrawal Novels. I found some good ones too, among the best – Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. (The former is considered YA, the latter is not)  But years passed, and the more I tried to dive into an exciting YA series, the more disappointed I became. The Hunger Games was ‘meh’ to me, Twilight was unreadable.

I was almost ready to give up, when I discovered Diana Wynne Jones. The mistake I’d been making was looking for new fantasy fiction. Diana Wynne Jones wrote a lot in the 80s, and once more, it’s clear that she was a very strong influence on J.K. Rowling.

(Also, Jones wrote Howl’s Moving Castle, which was made into a lovely film by Hayao Miyazaki.)

The first books I read of Jones’s were the Chrestomanci Series. The order in which you’re supposed to read them is not the order in which she wrote them. Here’s a handy guide:

CHRESTOMANCI series

You could actually read any of the books in this series at any time – they are each stand-alone novels, essentially, but the whole picture becomes clearer if you read them in order. And why wouldn’t you? The series takes place in multiple, parallel worlds, so each of the books inhabits very different settings. The one character who appears, to some degree or another, in every book, is the Chrestomanci himself, an extremely charismatic, powerful, and dandy-ish enchanter.

And that’s all I’ll say, except her books effortlessly balance some very complex ideas, and at the same time they’re funny and charming. Also, she captures the awkwardness and awe of adolescence very well. But the original cover art is often atrocious. What can I say – YA fantasy in the 80s.*

Since the Chrestomanci series, I’ve read The Homeward Bounders and A Tale of Time City, both good. Fire and Hemlock, which seems to be a fan favorite, is rooted deeply in the heroic classics, and yet it is a modern, romantic tale. Terrific.

I just checked out 6 more of her books from the library today.
Packing them into my backpack, I felt that thrill of being a kid again.

*The art for newer additions, however, is lovely.

Veronica Mars and the Case of the Kickstarter Kerfluffle

So then. Veronica Mars. I just wrote about the virtues of that very show in my last blog, Small Screen Gems – and lo and behold, a short time later, it’s become the Show that Made History – that is, creator Rob Thomas gathered, on Kickstarter, as of March 16 at 3:12 PM Central Time, $3,517,129 toward making a Veronica Mars movie. With 27 days to go.  Sure, there are some big money donors in there, but for the most part, we’re looking at a lot of folks donating smaller amounts… last I heard, the average donation was $61.

There’s been some backlash. Let’s take off the table the idea that maybe this money could be better spent on more humanitarian causes, and stick to the subject of artistic projects, specifically.

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Plus – cute as a bug in a Snuggie.

The argument, from one section of the virtual roundtable, is that fans’ enthusiastic response to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign sets a terrible precedent for the way movies are funded, the future of independent cinema, etc. I’m not going to get into that. For a good article on the subject, check out Sam Adams’ piece in Slate.

What I will get into is this: There are two sentiments I’ve heard repeated most often… 1) “What’s next.. a movie version of ____?” <–fill in your choice of marginal TV fare. Clever, albeit snarky folks are hating on the VM. I honestly believe that most of them have developed a perception of the show, and have never actually given it a fair chance. Because it’s decidedly not marginal fare.  And 2) “Why can’t people just let go? How about funding something NEW?”

Manimal

Hmm. It’s true. We geeks don’t like to let go. This is, essentially, why the film Serenity got made. And certainly, Hollywood is not the best purveyor of Things New – and this often goes very badly. Look at every movie version of a 70’s TV show designed to pander to Gen X viewers, every ill-begotten ‘re-imagining’ or sequel (Bruce Willis Dying Hard yet again), and the poster child for Not-Knowing-When-Enough-Is-Enough-Already, George Lucas. I’m often frustrated by these trends as well – and I love the rare book or film that is truly original, truly Something New.

Next up, Manimal the movie!   

Also, sometimes an author or auteur needs to understand that the story is, in fact, done, and trust the imagination of their readers and viewers. For instance, the final chapter of the Harry Potter books. I freaking adore that series, but I’m not a big fan of the way we’re handed a neat little package of an ending, a peek into the future of our favorite surviving characters – instead of being allowed to imagine all the possibilities. The crux (or horcrux, amirite?) of the story was complete one chapter earlier, after all.

But what about those artists and authors who can’t let go… of a world, a character, a story, and the result is something great? I defeat the haters’ argument with 3 examples: Evil Dead 2, Lord of the Rings (books), and The Jeffersons. BOOM! Not to mention Cape FearFrasier, Updike’s Rabbit books, Godfather 2, The Colbert Report, several terrific Jane Austen movies and miniseries, Legend of Korra, many mystery series, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Clueless, Moulin Rogue, Angel, Nosferatu, the occasional Batman show or movie, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and let us not forget Gremlins 2. And here’s the deal… sometimes we viewers are not ready to say goodbye to beloved characters or worlds, and we relish in the idea of closure, or a peek into their future.

Veronica Mars is such a show. Due to network manipulation, and some floundering on the part of the writers, season 3 wasn’t all it should have been, and we were left with a bit of a cliffhanger, not to mention a lot of question marks where characters’ lives were headed. It’s a show that deserves more, and Veronica is unquestionably someone whom I want to meet at age 28. Rob Thomas created an interesting world packed full of complex characters, some beloved, some nasty as hell, many deliciously in the middle- and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing them all again.

I plan on donating at the $25 amount, so I can get the t-shirt.

Cheers,

Q

PS. If you haven’t seen Kristen Bell’s sloth meltdown, you need to watch it. It might just make you want to fund her movie.

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You’re Welcome.

Small Screen Gems

Remember the days when movie stars would never soil themselves by downgrading to the little screen? It wasn’t all that long ago. Now they are all clambering to star in their own series. Likewise, for an actor to make a successful leap from the TV to the cinema used to be a singular event. I remember being surprised when Neve Campbell scored the lead in Scream. And when David Caruso so famously left television because he wanted a film career… well, we all know how that turned out.  Now it’s only natural for your favorite actors to flit back and forth between mediums. Look at your Kevin Baconses and your Dennis Quaidses and your Claire Daneses.

I attribute this A) to the desirability of consistent employment that television provides, and B) a noticeable increase in the quality of television over the past decade, decade-and-a-half. “Chickens and eggs,”  you could say. Did TV improve because of the quality of actors they started employing, or vice versa? I say the latter. The Sopranos just may have been the vanguard of the new, improved TV experience, and no one on that show was very famous when they were cast. Now TV shows are pulling in Bill Paxton, Kerry Washington, Alec Baldwin, Steve Buschemi and Sean Bean. Granted, we’re not talking Angelina Jolie or Will Smith here, but these are established movie actors with impressive resumes.

Sean+Bean+Boromir

Mmm… Sean Bean…

So, TV has improved, but also, there’s just a lot more of it. So, naturally, some worthy shows get less attention than they should. Here are a few you might want to check out – all of them have crossover stars. I’m skipping Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I already harped on about it in a previous post, and no doubt will go on and on about it in the future.

Veronica Mars

If there’s one show you take away from this list, let it be this one. There are three seasons in total, and season one, I can say without hyperbole, is some of the most engaging TV I’ve ever seen. The second season is not as good as the first, but it’s still pretty great TV. The third season is the weakest of the three, but by that point you’ll be hooked, and you’ll watch it anyway. Veronica Mars lives in the town of Neptune, and she is the daughter of disgraced ex-sheriff Keith Mars (the absolutely wonderful, you’ll-want-him-to-be-your-dad Enrico Colantoni), who is now a private eye. Veronica occasionally does sleuthing work for him, and often investigates mysteries of her own. Don’t be fooled, she is no Harriet the Spy, no Nancy Drew. She is, if anything, the cold hand of justice – ruthless in tearing down those who do her, or the underdog, wrong. She’s so smart and capable, in fact, that she’s almost like a super hero – her cleverness is just a little bit beyond believable – thus, much like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, she’s a joy to watch in action.  Season one’s big mystery is the murder of Veronica’s best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried {Cosette, No!}). Veronica’s also investigating the whereabouts of her deadbeat, alcoholic mother, and her own rape, which happened at a party where she was dosed with Rohypnol. So, yeah. Definitely not Nancy Drew. All of these mysteries are introduced in the first episode. There are also shifting alliances, lots of romance, a nasty sheriff, a software billionaire, a movie star, and a biker gang. Plus, two Buffy alumni, and a cameo by Joss Whedon (a fan) himself.

Crossover Stars: Kristen Bell, Amanda Seyfried

Pair With: A cafe latte with a shot of cinnamon. 

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Supersleuth!

Firefly

And speaking of Joss Whedon. The cancelation of Firefly still causes the geeks of the world to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, drenched in cold sweat, hearts thumping. Hell, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory brings it up every chance he gets. The thing is this… it’s really, really good. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before – so I’m not going to get into details. In fact, let me try a fresh angle… the cast is crazy attractive. Seriously.

Crossover Stars: Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin

Pair With:  A shot of Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey

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Hi! We’re in space and we’re good looking!

Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies is charming, storybook, bonbon of a show. About death. Lee Pace (The Hobbit, Lincoln) plays Ned, The Pie Maker, a man who can touch a dead thing and bring it back to life. Touch it again, and that thing dies again, forever. Fail to touch it a second time, and something of equal size (and intelligence, I think, although that’s never exactly clear) dies in its place. Whew! So what does Ned do? He pairs up with a private detective, Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), to bring murder victims back to life, ask them who killed them, and then touch them again, leaving them forever dead. (They never really get a straight answer from the victim, just a clue or two.) But then Ned comes across his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, dead in a coffin. You can probably extrapolate what happens next. The candy-colored, unreal settings and the storybook narration give Pushing Daisies a fairy tale feel. At times, the relationship between Ned and Charlotte, his sweeetie, can get a bit twee, but that is nicely tempered by the cartoonishly grotesque talking dead people they encounter, the sharp and hilarious Kristin Chenoweth as Olive Snook, a waitress in Ned’s cafe, Swoozie Kurtz and Ellen Greene as Charlotte’s recluse aunts, and especially McBride, who is gut-bustingly funny as the droll Cod. Sketch comedians Key and Peele joke that every black best friend in a show has to utter the line “Oh helllll no!” – and McBride does just that, many times, but I swear he makes an art of it.

Crossover Star: Lee Pace

Pair With: Pie! (Duh) – If you can get your hands on it, the banana cream pie from Norske Nook in Osseo, WI.

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Key and Peele

And speaking of Key and Peele… This is a newish, cable sketch comedy show, starring comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. It’s not for everyone – it’s definitely R rated. What I love is the unique point of view that Key and Peele bring to the comedy stage. They are each children of one black and one white parent, and much of their comedy is about what it’s like to belong, and not belong in both worlds. That tack could’ve resulted in a very narrow viewpoint, but instead, their comedy speaks to anyone who has ever put on poses in order to fit in. Which is… pretty much everyone. Oh, and also? They’re just really funny.

Click here for a short, PG13-rated sketch from them.

Okay, no crossover stars… as of yet.

Pair With: Whatever Liam Neesons or Bruce Willeys would drink.

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Leverage

I admit: this is kind of a dorky show. When my friends Julie and Claire were trying to convince a bunch of us to watch it, the conversation went something like this:

J&C: Okay, so, Timothy Hutton plays this guy who used to have a job catching criminals, but then he was screwed over by the insurance company that he worked for, so he changed to the other side of the law.

The Rest of Us: That sounds kinda like The A-Team.

J&C: But wait. So he hires one guy who’s the muscle, one guy who’s a computer hacker, a woman who’s a catburglar (she’s kind of crazy), and a woman who’s a grifter, and they steal stuff and pull off cons…

The Rest of Us: That still sounds kinda like The A-Team.

J&C: But wait. Get this. They only do jobs for altruistic reasons. They take down the man!

The Rest of Us: That definitely sounds like The A-Team.

Well, it turns out, in the DVD extras, the creators and the stars say that everyone tries to compare them to Oceans 11, but what they really are like is… yes, The A-Team. The hacker character, in fact, played by Aldis Hodge (the real standout in the cast), owns a van with which he is obsessed, ala B.A. Baracus. Leverage is as light as air — a nice little floofy bit of fluff-tastickness. In fact, there are only two problems with this show. One: When they try to get too serious, which, fortunately isn’t very often, it doesn’t work. Two: There’s some terrible male hair going on. Terrible. But mostly, it succeeds, because it’s super fun. Watch it as a sorbet for Breaking Bad or Homeland, when you just can’t take the stress anymore.

Crossover Star: Timothy Hutton

Pair With: Irish Whisky, but stop long before Nathan does.

the-a-team Who doesn’t love it when a plan comes together?

Fringe

For many years, folks have been crowning this show and that show “The Next X-Files.” (Alias, Lost.) In my mind, Fringe is the true heir. It, like many shows before it, took to heart the most important lesson X-Files had to teach us, which was “Don’t let your mythology get out of control.” As groundbreaking as the X-Files was, it got incredible frustrating after a while. Not so Fringe. That is not to say that the show’s mythology is simplistic. It’s very complicated – but it’s also clever and consistent. Season one is eminently watchable, but it’s not until season two that Fringe really finds its footing. I don’t want to give anything away, sufficed to say that it’s great science fiction, and you’ll have a hard time not clicking on that next episode, and the one after that.

Crossover Stars: John Noble and Leonard Nimoy

Pair With:  Johnny Walker Black (Olivia’s drink of choice), with a shot of Cortexiphan.

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The Mentalist

I like detective shows that have a sense of humor. I like Castle, The Closer, and before it jumped the shark (which time, amiright?), Bones. I’ll pretty much watch any show of this ilk if it’s at all good – it doesn’t have to be singular or even great. All I ask for is some decent acting, interesting mysteries, a good, quirky main character, and the satisfaction of catching the bad guy at the end of the episode. The Mentalist is all those things in seasons one and two – but in season three, I’m not even sure why, exactly, I got seriously hooked. I think it has something to do with the fact that Simon Baker is so stellar as the enormously clever and severely damaged Patrick Jane – and in season three we started to get more and more flashes of his dark underbelly. I like his back story.  I like that he’s unpredictable. I like that he’s always smiling and it’s almost never genuine. Plus – easy on the eyes. Oh! And Cho. You’ve gotta love Agent Cho. (He’s totally the real-life Cornfed from Duckman.)

Crossover Stars: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney (The Craft!)

Pair With: Lapsang Souchong tea, preferable pilfered from someone else’s cupboard.

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Handsome McVesty

Avatar, the Last Airbender/ The Legend of Korra 

The first of the two series, Avatar, the Last Airbender, very, very unfortunately did cross over onto the big screen. It was put in the dubious hands of M. Knight Shamalan (a sort of anti-Midas. Everything he touches turns to ca-ca), a move guaranteed to ensure that anyone who hadn’t yet seen the animated original would never, ever seek it out. Which is too bad, because it’s great fun. Forget the horror show that is the movie. Pretend it never happened, and go stream Avatar, and then Korra after.

In a fantasy world akin to mid-19th century Asia, there are four nations, one for each element. There are special folks called ‘Benders,’ who can manipulate either air, water, earth or fire. Into every generation is born The Avatar, the one person who can control all four elements. The Avatar is entrusted to bring/maintain peace between the nations. Ang is our Avatar, and he is woefully underprepared to take on the despotic Fire Nation. With the help of a couple of Water Nation siblings, Ang travels throughout the land to gain the knowledge and skill he needs to lead. There are many obstacles in his way, of course – and he encounters a great number of enemies and allies. There’s terrific humor, adventure and surprising complexity in the story.

Even better, in my opinion, is The Legend of Korra – the titular Korra is the next Avatar after Ang – and, since it’s 70 years later, now we’re in a world more akin to the roaring 20s. The animation is superior to the original, and the action is nail-biting. Very pretty to look at, very fun to watch. Plus, Pabu, the fire ferret. FIRE FERRET. I want a fire ferret. A second season is in the works.

Crossover Stars: J.K. Simmons, Mako  Iwamatsu.

Pair With: Japanese tofu noodle bowl, and a perfectly brewed cup of genmaicha tea. 

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Want. One.

Cheers!

Q