No spoilers here, just (hopefully) a succinct bit of word-garbage.
BARRY’s premise initially seemed a little too sweaty and off-putting to me. It was as if creator Bill Hader got high and turned to his friend Alec Berg and exclaimed: “Now, now, now! Hear me out! I have the best idea! An ex-soldier turned hitman wants to be an actor! Do you want in?!”
I was thrilled to find that it was far more considered and thoughtful than that.
BARRY was stylish without being showy — long shots whenever action became intense (technically harder to pull off!) — and comedic without undermining the drama.
It’s worth noting: Hader loves film. He loves everything about film. Just read this New Yorker interview with him and he comes across as a young(-ish) Scorsese — someone who knows how to write, direct, and shoot films, even down to the lenses he wants to use.
So, it’s a shame that BARRY’s series finale was completely over-shadowed by SUCCESSION’s (brilliant) finale, as it was a thunder-blast. Some found the last season to be treading water, but I didn’t; it was a reckoning and meditation on what it takes to come to terms with your past.
Also, goddamn, the set-pieces. BARRY is very, very good at solitary and dramatic moments, but it absolutely kills (no pun intended) when it comes to action sequences. Absolutely nothing like it on TV now and, sadly, probably won’t be for a while.
Lastly, I’d be remiss to neglect to mention the cast. Everyone here is amazing, but especially the chaotic energy of Anthony Carrigan, Stephen Root (who goes through an amazing transformation), Sarah Goldberg who is revelatory and was really put through the wringer, and oh yes, Henry Fucking Winkler. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
It’s been rare for me to identify with a fictional comic book character. (Yes, I know Harley started off in the animated Batman TV series. That’s not my Harley.) Aspects of ‘em, sure, but fully? No, not at all. (Silver Surfer came close, though!)
While BIRDS OF PREY and the animated Harley Quinn series is essentially an ensemble action/adventure tale, it’s mostly about Harley Quinn — an ex-psychologist who has been consistently hypomanic since her acid bath — coping with a toxic, bad, breakup from a terribly abusive relationship and finding a quality support network.
I’ve been through enough shit to relate and I stumbled off of the ride each time and hated myself after. I won’t go into the details — they’re boring to anyone but me, and I will note that I’m not nearly as much fun as Harley but I do love to throw myself around like she does. Related: when I was tasked to pen my trauma list, it was far longer than I expected.
What’s different about Harley than other tales of this sort is: she doesn’t want to be normal. She wants to be Harley, not Dr. Harleen Quinzel. She wants to be weird and lean into her wants and literally finds herself as a transformed person. She doesn’t want to return to her old self; she can’t, not after what she’s been through.
That’s what I appreciate about her, because so many stories about trauma are about restoring what most consider normalcy — attempting to be the person you were before your traumatic experiences — and that’s simply not going to happen. Harley’s experiences fundamentally changed her, and she’s not capable of going back (although she realizes she needs to reel certain facets in a bit).
As you might have surmised, I’ve been seeing a trauma therapist. Upon our initial meeting she asked me: “What do you expect from seeing me?” I responded: “I honestly don’t know. I can’t forget what I’ve lived through. I am the person I am today because of those experiences, and I’m just here, trying to get help and trying to continue to exist.”
Harley Fuckin’ Quinn provides a balm. Is her story a fictional superhero redemption fantasy? Sure, but fictional stories and characters constantly prop people up — it’s part of why I write — and she’s a damn inspiration for me, obviously mostly due to the amazing team of writers who have made her the person she is today.
Which leads me to this very stupid endeavor. I have no tattoos. (Yeah, again, I am a misfit but while you might think I’m covered in ink? Nothing. Not even a self-inflicted ankle ankh.) For my first (probably not last) tattoo, I opted for Harley’s wraparound-arm. (See above.) I even got a temporary tattoo, just to test it out — because I’m taking this seriously, oddly more seriously than I normally treat my skin — and I couldn’t stop glowing and staring at it.
I’m thankful that my wife has patiently listened to me hash this out — she even found me the temps — and has been very accepting, as she’ll have to see it quite a bit and I feel better talking about potential body modification with a partner than solo. Also, I am middle-aged dude who will be wearing a tattoo that mostly teenage girls identify with so, uh, I know that’s not great. However, I’ve made my peace with that! I just know that I would regret not attempting this task, as inane as it may sound.
I am not proud of it, but I feel the need to hold onto the symbols and icons that aid a life’s journey, as pseudo-spiritual as that may sound.
“I’M THE ONE THEY SHOULD BE SCARED OF! NOT YOU! NOT MISTAH J! BECAUSE I’M HARLEY FRICKIN’ QUINN!”
I avoided METROPOLITAN for quite some time. I watched writer/director Whit Stillman’s follow-up THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO shortly after it was released on DVD and thought: his candor and approach is simply not for me.
I eventually got around to METROPOLITAN more than a handful of years later — before he completed LOVE & FRIENDSHIP, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s posthumous novel PERSUASION — and did appreciate it but didn’t fall in love with it the way others had. I could feel the Woody Allen influence and had a hard time reckoning with that. (I admit, ANNIE HALL still impresses and MANHATTAN looks gorgeous.)
However, the other night I fell asleep watching Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which happens more often than I’d like to admit, and woke up about twenty minutes into METROPOLITAN and it suddenly snapped into focus for me: yes, the Allen influence is there, as it is a film composed of vignettes about upper-class wanna-be Manhattan intellectuals who spend most of their time talking instead of taking action, but the real influence is Jane Austen and I just never realized it, despite the fact that Austen is referenced more than a few times in the film, especially PERSUASION.
An aside: I came along to Austen late in life, after I had first watched METROPOLITAN. While I wish it had been sooner, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed her novels as much as I did when I first read them as someone older. I haven’t read everything by her; I have a copy of LADY SUSAN and PERSUASION in my daunting to-read stack. I was at a wedding last year and lit up when someone at our table started talking about Austen and — to the visible frustration of her date — peppered her with Austen questions, including whether I should read PERSUASION first or watch LOVE & FRIENDSHIP. (She essentially responded: “They’re both great! There’s no wrong way to enjoy them!”)
METROPOLITAN is comprised of a number of chapters in rich socialites lives, mostly viewed from the point-of-view of lower-middle class nerd Tom Townsend (Edward Clements). Well-to-do Nick Smith (Chris Eigeman, who you may recognize from GILMORE GIRLS) takes a shining to him and guides him into his inner social circle, teaching him how to present as one of them. One of the women in the group, Audrey (Carolyn Farina), develops a crush on him but is too meek to do anything about it and watches as Tom pines for Serena (Ellia Thompson) while Serena is involved with an overly-confident, pony-tailed man named Rick (Will Kempe).
In other words: it’s all about repressed emotions and manners and presentation and social navigation, which Austen is very well-known for.
The primary allure here is the dialogue and interplay of characters, and the performers step up perfectly. There’s a rapport and tension between all of them that feels absolutely engaging. I’ll note that it’s shame that, apart from Eigeman, few of them have appeared in many other works.
For Stillman’s first film, he has a remarkable command over pacing and editing. While scenes often end abruptly via a fade-out, it manages to feel naturalistic. Additionally, the blocking is exceptionally handled, as well as John Thomas’s framing. Everyone is exquisitely laid out in ways that speak magnitudes of their character and conflicts, and Mary Jane Fort’s costume design fits perfectly for this world. (I’ll note that it was her first endeavor, but unlike most of the actors, she’s had a long career fashioning for film and TV.)
I will admit that the score is often overly-repetitive, but suits the film.
This is one of the fantastic facets for me as to having TCM constantly running in the background: it’s consistently about revisiting films, sometimes as comfort, but also often for re-evaluation, and I’m glad I did so for METROPOLITAN when it’s doubtful I would have otherwise.
“They’re doomed; they’re bourgeois; and in love. They’re all so … Metropolitan.”
I ignored the DCU TV efforts when they first launched. I had no interest in signing up for yet-another streaming service, much less one solely focused on rehashing works like DOOM PATROL that I had already read and loved and didn’t want a watered down distillation.
“What is this place?”
Now that all of the DCU TV efforts have been merged into Warner Bros/HBO, it’s far easier to watch them, and holy fucking shit, they’re all amazing, all swing-for-the-fences efforts that somehow have managed to chug along for the entirety of the pandemic.
“It’s a safe place for you to heal. You, and others like you.”
I should have known better. DC doesn’t micromanage their TV creatives the way Marvel does. And DOOM PATROL is amazingly devastating.
Unlike Harley Quinn, I’ve actually been very familiar with DOOM PATROL for years. I have read the entire Morrison run twice over. Shared it with my wife. While I probably should have read it when the original issues were rolling out while I worked in a comic book store, reading them in my late twenties was good enough.
“DON’T TOUCH ME!”
Unsurprisingly, as someone who has been diagnosed as having anxiety, hypomania/bi-polar/whatnot and PTSD (yeah, I’m a fucking shitshow), ‘Crazy Jane’ with her 64 mindsets is the character I identify most with. Diane Guerrero portrays that sort of mental whiplash perfectly.
“Ooooh, please touch me…”
(I’ll note that I have no idea how many appleboxes they have to use to block scenes with Diane Guerrero, but it has to be more than a few. However, her performance has a ferocity that measures her above every one of her co-stars.)
This show is immaculately cast and paced and costumed. April Bowlby is perfection as aloof and fallen Hollywood star Rita Farr, and the extremely form-fitting attire is an amazing narrative nod. Brendan Fraiser’s voice-over work for robot Cliff Steele is astoundingly vulnerable, and the physical effects for him are so tactile. Matt Bomer’s queer confliction as Larry Trainor +1 is so well-penned.
I have no idea how they talked Timothy Dalton into this, but he’s the best Chief you could ask for, and the house they’re shooting in? I want to go to there. It’s all rich Victorian wood and feels old and lived in and haunted. (I actually think I have been, as it looks like one of the WB lot houses, but they did a lot of great work with it!) Also: CIint Mansell provides the score! Alan Tudyk is Mr. Nowhere!
Everyone involved knew what they needed to do, and they did it to perfection, even if they were doing it in service of a bunch of misfits unfit for society.
I am shocked at how good it is, although it is not a subtle show. This isn’t ‘just good’ for a comics adaptation, or ‘just good’ for a genre TV series — it’s a great show, full-stop.
It’s the first show to remind me of SENSE8 in a long time, despite the fact that it is a pretty sexless show. It’s all about misfits trying to come to terms with their realizations and reckoning with them, and we do not have enough of that.
“Do you remember what it felt like? […] To be normal?”
This post contains spoilers for THE LAST OF US S1, the video game THE LAST OF US, and mentions of queer death.
Upon watching the season finale, I exclaimed to my wife: “I can’t wait to quit this show!”
See, I’ve played the game. I know where this story goes — although perhaps they’ll tune it, but I doubt it considering the adaptational fidelity they’ve taken on. (And I admit, goddamn, they did a brilliant job with that!)
The game, but especially the show, is just wall-to-wall trauma and I hate it. I’ve said it before, but I’m very over nihilistic media, and this is abso-fucking-lutely bleak and, apart from the LEFT BEHIND ep, I really wanted nothing to do with it.
I told my wife: I’m watching for LEFT BEHIND and I’m not even sure it will show up this season. Then it aired, and I absolutely glowed.
While neither Bella Ramsay or Pedro Pascal resemble their gaming avatars, they absolutely inhabit the roles. There’s not a single casting misstep here. Every character is amazingly portrayed to an astounding degree. It was utterly delightful to see Anna Torv (FRINGE) back on the small screen again. And the production design? They understood the assignment and A+ to all of them.
When LEFT BEHIND did pop up, as stated: I fucking glowed. I’ve noted this in prior posts, but more and more as I get older, I just want to see people be happy, and LEFT BEHIND is all about giving Ellie a joyful bit of reminiscence about a sliver of queer joy in her life. I realize that narratively, that often isn’t the most enthralling thing, although TALES OF THE CITY threaded that needle quite well.
I will note: I was immensely frustrated by the third ep. Was it a sweet, well-handled episode? Yes, yes it was. However — and I’m trying to not step up on a soapbox here, but it’s hard — it felt to me like yet another display of patriarchal bullshit:
“Oh, the male queers get to have a long, serene life (until it isn’t), but Ellie essentially has to kill her queer best friend not even an hour after her own personal queer awakening? That is some fucking horseshit right there.”
From the moment I moved to Chicago, I’ve always lived in queer spaces because they felt safe; they felt welcoming. (I’ll note that I do not identify as queer, but queer-adjacent. I’m just a weirdo, a misfit who has no real place, but this is as good as it gets.) And that’s a lot of what THE LAST OF US is about: aspiring to find a safe space and living normal, happy lives without feeling threatened.
However: I do keep having to move because these areas inevitably end up overrun by male toxicity, which has sucked. We currently live in what was formerly known as ‘Girlstown’ and it used to have one of the oldest lesbian bars, and it is the home of the show WORK IN PROGRESS, but thanks to capitalism it has mostly become ‘elder Boystown’ and it is frustrating because dudes — even queer dudes who have been inevitably been bullied in the past — apparently love to bully folks, even older weirdos like me.
It is a finely crafted show, but fuck. I’m so tired of miserabilia, I’m so sick of protagonists being pursued and having to run, and I’m especially aware of this very specific type of miserabilia. I first wrote: “It’s not you show, it’s me” before realizing that it shouldn’t be on me. People deserve better than this, escaping into fight-or-flight scenarios, real or imagined. People deserve comfort, and it’s disheartening that this is what culturally lights us up, even if it is representative of the constant fears of a fragmented society.
This post contains major spoilers and sensitive details.
SUCCESSION follows in the footsteps of 80s privileged potential inheritors such as DALLAS and DYNASTY, but has a higher gloss and elevated interest in character dynamics that matches what you’d expect from an HBO series. It’s the story of four children of Logan Roy — basically a Hearst/Rupert Murdoch stand-in — trying to find their way in life, and appease their father. (Their mother left them far early in their formative years.)
There’s Kendall, the eldest brother who routinely relies on drugs and has repeatedly tried to kill himself; Shiv, the alpha woman who is perpetually unsatisified with her life, Conner, the half-brother who is way too over-confident, and lastly Ronan who has an extremely filthy mind and temperament but actually cares about people.
There’s a lot to talk about the series, but I want to focus solely on ‘Conner’s Wedding’, the third episode in the final season. So, if you aren’t caught up: I implore you to do so now.
The episode opens in a normal SUCCESSION way: a lot of corporate back-and-forth, as well as Kendall and Shiv giving Ronan grief about texting their dad (Logan, amazingly encapsulated by Brian Cox) as they’re trying to undermine him, because they’re pissed off about how he’s done the same to them all their lives.
Ronan visibly feels harmed by these accusations and tries to defend himself.
Then they get a call that Logan is undergoing cardiac issues on a plane, and it does not look good.
To be fair: this didn’t come out of nowhere. The first season set up his health issues pretty succinctly, but showrunner Jesse Armstrong played the long con and let the show go on long enough to allow that fact to sink away; it really wasn’t brought up again after the first season. Logan just seemed like an immortal force of nature!
We spend at least twenty minutes watching the siblings on the phone with Logan’s PR crew, and watch as someone persistently applies chest compressions — I’ll note that it seems a bit too long and too extreme, but I’ll accept it — and see how everyone handles the news.
I’ll note: my parents are still alive, but I’ve seen a lot of death in my day and, consequently, seen how family members handle the news.
This is a very exact display of the myriad of ways folks react to familial death.
It is a brutal episode, one of which I’ve already seen spoken of along the lines of BUFFY’s “The Body” (which I never want to rewatch). It’s not at all what I thought I’d deal with this Sunday night, and I was not prepared for. Truth-be-told, I spent most of the episode weeping. (Again, I’m over-emotional, so make of that what you will.)
However: it’s an exceptional climax to four seasons of build-up; not just with the death, but the character work. This is an astoundingly crafted character drama, and for it to pull the rug out from under the audience this soon in the final season is amazing.
This is an episode of TV that will be talked about for years to come, and is a grand accomplishment. They built up to this moment and then underplayed it, but it paid off ten-fold. It’s an amazing achievement, and one I’m happy that I watched the night of.
Lastly, while everyone is talking about Jeremy Strong as Kendell and Sarah Snook as Shiv, please direct your eyes to Kieran Culkin as Ronan, who is doing the bulk of the work in this episode, and frankly deserves an Emmy for all of it. His over-eager, over-sexed platitudes glossed over his humanity in the prior episodes, and we see all that armor fall away in this episode, and it is astounding work.
I recommend the following links, if you feel so inclined:
This was the last film I saw in a theater with my wife prior to COVID lockdown and we were enthralled by it. Before this, I hadn’t really experienced much of Harley Quinn apart from a handful of early BATMAN ANIMATED eps from my youth.
For reasons previously touched on, I’ve stupidly identified with Harley Quinn over the past few years, and this was the first glint of that.
Director Cathy Yan’s vision here is extraordinarily vibrant, extremely well-edited, features a pitch-perfect ensemble, an amazing Marilyn Monroe dissociative recreation, and absolutely nails the dubious nature of hands. Seriously, watch for that visual motif. (It’s not subtle! But the subtext works so well!)
I’d be remiss to mention Margot Robbie, who basically willed this production to life and is astounding in the role as Harley. I can’t imagine a better live-action Harley. There’s a physicality here that perfectly exacts how Harley would move.
(Also, I desperately want all of the live-action spin-offs: BLACK CANARY; Renee Montoya THE QUESTION; THE HUNTRESS! A pre-BATGIRL!)
I find it extremely upsetting that it was so rejected at the box office — to the extent where producers truncated the film’s title — because it was so well-done and, culturally, we need more of this.
“Do you know what a harlequin is? A harlequin’s role is to serve. It is nothing without a master. And no one gives two shits who we are beyond that.”
I also really, really want an inverted version of her self-emblazoned shirt.
I endlessly rewatch this trailer (and film, when I have the time); it’s my filmic comfort food.
“I’M THE ONE THEY SHOULD BE SCARED OF! NOT YOU! NOT MISTAH J! BECAUSE I’M HARLEY FRICKIN’ QUINN!”
This is one of the most spectacularly fucked-up comic book adaptations of all-time and I am 100% here for it. Apart from a bit of a rushed third act, I have no notes. Fuck all of you Nolan-lovers — this is the real deal.
This was the episode that clarified what this show was going to be for me, and also crystallized a lot of feelings for me, while still making me endlessly laugh.
I don’t love that my personal emotional emblems are the women of Gotham, because I am a middle-aged dude. It’s not a great look, I admit, but I can’t help it.
HARLEY: “Okay, here it comes; here’s when that piece of shit pushes me in the acid.”
IVY: “Woah, woah, are you okay?”
HARLEY: “This whole time I thought he pushed me, that it wasn’t my choice. But it was!”
That said, this episode did a lot of self-reflective good for me. Being Harley Quinn is 100% trauma therapy, and exactly what I needed when I watched it. It is an absolutely perfect depiction of disassociation and also of repair.
Seriously, and sadly, the entire ep is an encapsulation of my youth:
HARLEY: “Oh, I wasn’t sweet at that age — or any age, really. I was a total shit back then.”
HARLEY: “Hey Ive, I think there’s something really screwed up about me.”
IVY: “I want to say this in the most loving way possible, but there’s no way this is just occurring to you now.”
IVY: “You know, in a way, it’s almost comforting to know that you’ve always been this fucked up.”
HARLEY: “Yes, isn’t it? I’m starting to realize why my mother recycled so many wine bottles back then!”
And the B-story! Gilda and Sy trying to dispose of everyone’s inert bodies is fantastically hilarious. I’d love to get a flashback to their spy days, but sadly, seems like they’ve been cast away from the show.
All of that said, you have my wife to thank or hate for this post, as she commissioned a surprise gift to me of Harley’s reckoning from one of my favorite artists, Dijana Granov — who also illustrated an astounding recreation of Catwoman’s creation from BATMAN RETURNS that gives me me endless comfort — which spurred me back to revisiting HARLEY QUINN S1. (See the featured image above! No that is not a screenshot!)
I’ll briefly note: I fucking hate feeling like this. It is unrelenting and terrible, but I am who I am, and I can’t pretend to be anything different and to do otherwise would undermine the positive work I’ve done towards getting better.
I’m lucky enough to have a supportive partner and friends and I have my therapists to aid with it, but goddamn. It does not get any easier. I’d be lying if I said it did. That said, it’s not getting harder, and I’m still fucking here, just like Harley Fuckin’ Quinn.
POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING is — like JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS — a criminally underrated cult film about pop music and musicians. I could write forever about it, but instead, I stupidly want to focus on the deleted musical number FUCK OFF, which isn’t even in the film proper.
You might want to watch it first:
I have no idea why they filmed this. The lyrics alone — which apart from the FUCK OFF anthem also features the line ‘you think I look like a punk, when your face looks like an elephant’s c**t’ — automatically guarantees an NC-17 rating. (I especially appreciate the cut-away to a youth singing along to the lyric.) They spent a lot of money and a lot of time on this one weird number that — checks notes — well, it has almost nine million views, so maybe that’s why.
This song is wall-to-wall filth, pretending to be pre-teen-friendly, which is in-and-of-itself absolute perfection. I swear like a fucking sailor and even I was astounded by this song. (In a good way, though!)
Even better, it is visually perfect, featuring amazing choreography and eye-popping colors, crop-tops and Britney schoolgirl skirts and screaming audience members, all moving in-sync. It’s a perfect encapsulation of coming-of-age youth stadium shows.
My favorite incredibly stupid detail is the one audience member brandishing a GameBoy Color standing in as an iPhone.
It is a gloriously dumb-smart bit that was too good for the world, relegated to the bin of DVD extras, but is definitely worth your time if you have the stomach for it.
I hope you get butt-fucked in prison! Be good to each other — peace!
My apologies in advance for posting yet again about HARLEY QUINN but I will never, ever shut up about this show.
It is not only a paragon of comedic entertainment, with a joke-per-minute count that puts ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT to shame, it features some of the most thrilling and cartoonishly squeamish scenes that would make Sam Raimi jealous, it dives head-first into some of the thorniest depictions of trauma — seriously, the first season’s Bensonhurst should be on every screenwriting syllabus — and it has one of the best penned romances of television time. (Suck it, Jim & Pam.)
And it does all of this under the umbrella of the scattershot DC universe somehow.
I’ll note that the show has radically changed over its three seasons: the first season was fundamentally about Harley separating herself from the abuse of the Joker and finding a supportive network. The second season was about her finding herself and reconciling her history. The third kind of blew up her support network, but also (finally) found her living her best queer life with her love Poison Ivy.
That’s a lot for a show to tear off, much less do well, and manage to do so in gut-busting way.
A bit of a sidenote: I think a lot of people get a tad too hung up over ‘being Harley’ or ‘being Ivy’, in the stupid way everyone in the 90s felt the need to label themselves as a Seinfeld or Sex and the City character. (I still don’t understand why anyone would want to self-identify with those hateful people, but it’s not for me to judge. Well, maybe a little, unless you’re a Samantha.)
What I love about the series — and what makes this special so very special — is that the characters are far more complicated than base archetypes. I can’t help but identify with both. I’m the filthy over-eager people-pleaser that Harley is, but I am also frequently misanthropic and want to do nothing but watch my stories and retreat from the world because I also hate everyone and everything. (Nothing personal!)
However, they make it work. They’re loving, but also have to be constantly mindful of each other’s needs.
That’s one of the great things about this show: it’s one of the first non-John Waters works I’ve seen that celebrates horniness, even against a culture that actively tries to beat it down. (Pun intended.) This episode is wall-to-wall horny in a celebratory way, in the way that I wish sex was more popularly portrayed. It’s mostly about Harley buying drugs to give Ivy the best orgasm of her life — which leads to one of the best lines of the show: “Oh you cannot possibly be mad about me wanting to get you off too good. THAT IS NOT A THING!”
Even us damaged folk want to get our freak on, and this show helps to normalize that.
And then there’s Bane! Kaiju Bane, fucking every building he sees because he took some bad drugs! Literally laying waste to the world, and it’s hilarious.
This show is bonkers, but also manages to be one of the most grounded works out there. I’m so tired of seeing poorly-penned 20-something relationships in media, and HARLEY QUINN gives us something meaningful and substantive, while also being narratively interesting!
I’d like to note that Alan Sepinwall is also extolling the show’s virtues (or, err, lack there of?) so I’m not alone: