Saturday, October 04, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #53

"Trapped by the Porcupine!" by Stan Lee & Dick Ayers
(March 1964)

There really is part of me that wants to like the Porcupine; he's an angry old man in a suit that looks like a rough draft of the Predator, and the suit is that fun kind of cheesy because it has everything a writer can decide they need to put in it, like a full body version of the TV Batman's utility belt.

The more interesting element of this story to me is its momentary focus on a Giant-Man & Wasp fan club. Still not a thing I'm sure would exist (Giant-Man is just always going to be kind of lame), but it's an early look at Marvel addressing fandom. Just two issues ago Hank & Jan were bothered by a fan club at Hank's lab, but they were a bunch of nicely-dressed college kids. The fans in this issue are actually cosplaying. They don't call it that, of course, but they're all dressed up like Giant-Man's villains.

Alexander Gentry, the Porcupine, infiltrates this fan club, asking if they'll accept an old man in their group. The response is kind and welcoming--"If you're a fan, you're a fan!"--so it's pretty shitty that Gentry takes advantage of them by dressing in his Porcupine costume, following them to the gym where Giant-Man works out, and then attacking him with knockout gas. Those poor fans all get gassed, and we never hear from them again. But they're okay, right?

The Porcupine is back for revenge, and after failing to knockout Giant-Man, he captures the Wasp, through the clever ruse of asking her to get something out of his car. She shrinks down to wasp-size to do it, and falls into his trap of not being able to get out of a locked car. Also knockout gas. Seriously, Jan, you couldn't have just walked down to the car? When you start using your powers for every simple task, that's just sloppy, and sloppiness apparently breeds being able to fall into ridiculous traps.

The Porcupine then arranges for Wasp to escape, so he can send some kind of radio transmitter tracking arrow flying after her, and that leads him to Hank Pym's lab, even though roving groups of college kids have no problem finding it, but whatever. Porcupine traps the Wasp in flypaper and then tries to fight Hank, who switches sizes a couple of times. Porcupine swallows a bunch of Pym's growth capsules, intending to become giant, but instead shrinks and, because he's taken so many capsules, just keeps on shrinking until he's the size of a microbe. Will he shrink forever? Did he shrink into nothing? Can matter be destroyed this way? Will Porcupine wind up in the Micro-World of Doctor Doom? Will these questions ever even be answered?

Who knows. I'm not exactly on the edge of my seat there. So far, the Black Knight is the only villain Hank Pym has fought that I've ever wanted to see a second time. You're still at the bottom, Hank.

Stray observations:

:: Much of this issue's attempts at suspense revolve around Hank's ankle. He broke it in a fall while putting on a show for some orphans, and now he has to stay Giant-Man until the bone sets or else he'll shatter it completely. Interesting idea--the semblance of scientific thought went into it--except that they throw it out as soon as the plot requires it, and during the final fight with the Porcupine, Hank shrinks to Ant-Man size.

:: I do find it kind of dorkily charming that the fan club is carrying a big sign that just says "Yay, Giant Man..."

:: This issue, in addition to the knockout gas and firing a flypaper pellet (and the radio transmitter tracker thingy), the Porcupine's quills also contain sneezing gas, jets and a suction cup with an unbreakable steel cable. The unbreakable steel cable I believe, but not that a suction cup will stick to a brick wall. Also, he uses a concussion blast to break down Hank's door. I bet it wasn't even locked!

:: "He's far more dangerous... far more powerful than when I first fought him!" Not really, Hank. In fact, the first go-round was much more believable.

:: Hank is quite melodramatic this issue. After a frustrating day of the ants not being able to find Jan, she escapes the Porcupine, causing Hank to exclaim "I never realized I could miss anyone so much... worry about anyone so much... need anyone so much!" Not even Maria Trovaya, the Hungarian woman you were married to, and whose death behind the Iron Curtain is what motivated you to become Ant-Man, and who is the reason you can't bring yourself to openly express your feelings for Jan?

Just curious.

I wonder if Maria ever gets mentioned again, even as a plot device.

Next time: Magneto returns, brings friends. (Also, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.)

HALLOWEEN: Tumblr Finds

Friday, October 03, 2014


So far, my favorite new show this season is Black-ish, the ABC sitcom starring Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross as well-off suburban parents. I didn't love the pilot the way a lot of critics did--I felt it was solid and likable, but like a lot of modern ABC sitcoms I thought the pacing was too frantic when I wanted it to slow down a little more. But it can be hard to judge a show by its pilot (it naturally has to be a pitch reel), and I was glad to see the second episode slow things down a little and do what Modern Family does, which is translate classic sitcom plots and gags into modern TV language.

It wasn't the retread a lot of critics are complaining it was--yes, we've all seen the episode of the sitcom where the uncomfortable dad tries to have The Talk with his curious son, and we've all seen the episode of the sitcom where mom is so desperate to be part of her daughter's inner circle that she tries too hard and forgets to listen. But I think it's perfectly legitimate to take old tropes and reframe them for a modern audience, because there are some parts of family life that are never going to change and which are easy to relate to. And actually, I think it's important that Black-ish went there.

See, I have a real problem with this modern trend where a lot of media outlets review every episode of a TV show, every week, as it's airing. I think it breeds a sort of impatience for answers. Even when you have a series as short as True Detective, there's some critic frustrated by the lack of constant answers. Dude, it's a mystery. Why would you complain that a mystery didn't show you its hand until the final episode? Also, some things that seem like needless departures on one episode of television only become clear in the context of later episodes. The AV Club, in particular, tends to attract a certain sort of critic who acts insulted if a show isn't constantly reinventing the wheel with each successive episode, constantly topping itself over and over. It's why I try not to read any of their TV criticism anymore (aside from Alisdair Wilkins' retrospective reviews of Farscape, which I really, really hope continue through the show's fourth season).

I especially get annoyed at the AV Club's criticism of black shows and movies, and I wanted to talk a bit about that. I've spoken before about their weird lack of empathy when it came to Fruitvale Station; in the review of the film about a young black man getting killed by police, their critic was very cynical and asked something along the lines of "In this day and age, do we really need a movie to tell us that it's sad when a young black man gets killed?" Again, this is a movie that was released at the same time a Florida court was literally trying to decide whether or not George Zimmerman murdering Trayvon Martin was, in fact, a crime. (This kind of attitude also bleeds over into their coverage of Saturday Night Live. When a black person hosts, it's like their critics are just confused by jokes and gags not aimed at white dudes in their 30s. It's the same reason so many men say women comics aren't funny; what they really mean is that they can't relate to the material and they're angry about feeling left out because white guy humor is "mainstream" and "universal.")

Anyway, this morning I happened to catch the first paragraph of their review of the second episode of Black-ish, and I think the reviewer missed the point. Here's the entire paragraph:

The biggest concern after Black-ish’s very good and unique premiere was whether the show would maintain its dedication to intelligently remarking on cultural diversity while putting race at the foreground or would it instead fall into the trap of becoming nothing more than a simplistic family sitcom (albeit one that makes the stray reference to a prominent aspect of black culture). Because it’s only the second episode, it’s still too early to make a strict judgment but it’s fair to say that “The Talk” is a slightly disappointing step in the wrong direction.

I found that comment a bit disappointing, because I think it comes from this sort of thinking that it's revolutionary in 2014 to have African-Americans on network TV. The sad thing is that that might be true. At the very least, it's become disappointingly unusual. Network TV has backslid a long, long way since the days of Good Times or The Cosby Show or even The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That show was a generation ago. When was the last time ABC actually had a black sitcom on the air? My Wife and Kids? It's like the networks decided to leave all of the black shows to UPN and the WB, and when those almost networks decided to chase almost exclusively after teenage girls, the networks didn't think it was worth their time to feature shows about black people. And now here we are with Black-ish, which has the potential to be quite a good show but which apparently also has to shoulder the burden of somehow proving that black people can carry a network sitcom? Did the last 50 years of television just never happen?

I saw some reviewers who were breathlessly surprised at how "normal" and "relatable" the show was, as though it was a revelation for some that a black guy knew his own father and didn't speak exclusively through gangsta slang. And it's depressing to realize that those attitudes are what this show is up against.

The AV Club reviewer seems disappointed that every episode isn't going to be The White Person's Guide to Modern African-American Culture. But that dehumanizes the characters and turns them simply into avatars of modern blackness and sets "black" as their defining characteristic. That's not the point. The show can and should deal with race, but not exclusively. There is and should be more going on on this show than the Black Problem of the Week. It's also about a family. About people. About people who have more going on in their lives than contextualizing blackness for a white audience.

It deeply bothers me that we've basically erased all of the cultural gains made by The Cosby Show and a well-off suburban black family is suddenly a big mystery again, and too many white critics can't relate to it if Dre isn't trying to get the family to out-black themselves every week. (By and large, the black critics I've seen are relieved that the show seems to be going in the direction it's going in, rather than shouldering the burden of symbolically translating Unsolved Black Mysteries every week.) I think there's a real social concern in every black form of entertainment being a litmus test on whether white people are "ready" to relate to black people. Apparently we're never ready!

Jeez, it's only the second episode!

Anyway, I'm enjoying the show. I think it's fun and funny, Tracee Ellis Ross is as much of a goddess as she was on Girlfriends, and Laurence Fishburne is easily my favorite part of the show, because of course the grumpy and aloof patriarch is my favorite character. (He had the funniest lines on the second episode; first about how adults don't need to value talking to their kids because "Show me one place in the Bible where a kid talks," and then a line where he explicitly states that his generation could have made talking with their kids a priority but chose not to.)

This new season so far just isn't that hot. I don't even care about catching 95% of the new series, and I've already given up on some of the returning shows I've been watching for a couple of years (The Big Bang Theory finally went, and I just didn't care about returning to Nashville). But this one has got me.

If Black-ish gets canceled before Selfie, I'm going to be pissed.

HALLOWEEN: Peanuts, 1970

Note: I am going to put up Peanuts Halloween comics once a week, the way I have for the last couple of years, but I find it interesting that these are from 1971, while last year I posted the years 1964-1968. That means that for two years there was no Great Pumpkin reference in the comic strip. You could tell that after It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown aired, Charles M. Schulz was getting a little tired of it and felt obligated to throw the character in. But from here on out, there won't be big story arcs concerning this Great Pumpkin business as often.

Also, a Halloween update: I mentioned orange-filled Hostess Cupcakes a couple of posts ago, but actually they're Twinkies, and I grabbed some yesterday. They're filled with "Orange S'cream" filling, which is a very bright shade of orange, and tastes very orangey. They're surprisingly good, but I won't find myself buying any more this year, probably. I haven't liked Twinkies in a very, very long time. But this is a nice little throwback that tastes fresh. Good memories coming back!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

HALLOWEEN: Bill Cosby and the Muppets

Here are the last 11 minutes of an episode of The Cosby Show, "Cliff's Nightmare." In the episode, Cliff eats a sausage sandwich late at night and, trying to sleep with an upset stomach, finds himself in a Muppet-filled nightmare hospital. I remember being very, very surprised by this episode when it aired; I had no idea Muppets were going to be on the show!

This was produced as part of the fifth season of the series, but didn't air until the middle of the sixth season. Some of the Muppets you'll see in the clip--such as Kevin Clash's Leon (the guy who hustles Cliff out of his money) and Dave Goelz's wonderful, gone-too-soon character Digit--were characters who premiered on The Jim Henson Hour. That was a short-lived NBC series, which was pulled off the air pretty quickly. There was a thought that this episode might serve as cross-promotion. His duties on that series are why Jim Henson doesn't perform in this sequence (and why Bill Cosby appears in the balcony substituting for Waldorf with a cranky Statler).

You'll also see Sweetums, Doglion, Beautiful Day Monster, Luncheon Counter Monster and the Great Gonzo--and sharp-eyed hardcore Muppet fans might even catch Boo Monster in the operating theater, from the even-more-short-lived-than-The Jim Henson Hour Saturday morning show Little Muppet Monsters.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

It's October 1st!

And, as I often do, I'm going to be peppering my blog with spooky and autumnal stuff until Halloween arrives.

This morning was a nice fall morning, too; sunny, but crisp. After therapy, we went to the diner for breakfast and had some more of that wonderful pumpkin french toast, only my second time having it, and what a treat. Warm, gooey, filled with cream cheese, topped with whipped cream and pumpkin spice... with some very hot coffee and some thick, crispy bacon.

I love the Halloween season. The mundane becomes wonderful, and it's more socially acceptable to be, you know, childlike.

Already, I've mentioned the delight of seeing Halloween commercials. I finally did see the Party City commercial, but they've changed it, with a remix of "Thriller" and more of a focus on Marvel Super Heroes, which is fine and all, but I admit, I miss the laughing devil baby that used to end the commercial.

Ah, well. Halloweens past; still, seeing Party City advertising their Halloween stuff instantly made it feel like Halloween is just around the corner and not in another four weeks.

I love when brands go the extra mile and put out special Halloween food items, too. This year, I've been alerted to the existence of Hostess Cupcakes with orange filling. Not just orange-colored, but orange-flavored, so I want to see what that's like. Also, I've already had a bowl of Cap'n Crunch Halloween Crunch, and if my body was telling me anything afterward, it's that I'm not young enough to do that anymore. Stick to the General Mills Monsters, bud.

My favorite Halloween food so far this year has been a surprise: Cheetos. I do not like Cheetos. But then they put out something they're calling the Bag of Bones, where all the pieces are made to look like various skeleton parts.

There's a skull. They taste wonderful. Apparently when it comes to synthetic cheese dust on puffed air, white cheddar is what my body prefers. Also, a secret reason I love Halloween food--especially new for this year Halloween food--is that it all tastes fresh. It doesn't taste like it's been sitting in a warehouse for a year. It's why the only time of the year I ever eat Oreos is when the Halloween editions with the orange filling comes out. (Why bother eating it any other time, eh? They've skimped so much on the filling that all you're left with is a begrudging smear.) I haven't tried the pumpkin spice Oreos, and I'm not sure if I will. Anyone have them yet?

I tell my wife in no uncertain terms: Halloween edition foods are not a luxury, they're a holiday celebration. A celebration of the greatest holiday.

I'm feeling very Halloween-festive this year.

Here's a song to kick things off: "Scream and Scream Again," by the great Amen Corner, from the movie of the same name. Don't care for the movie, but I love this damn song.

Let's have a great month!

L Is for Lenny the Lizard

Once again, I'm cheating a bit with this week's entry, but it's because I wanted to show another classic Jim Henson sketch.

Lenny the Lizard is just one of those utility characters who fills out a scene but doesn't really become a full-fledged character. I think the only time he was actually even named to the audience was in a sketch in season 2 of The Muppet Show, where he auditions to replace Kermit the Frog as emcee. (It was the episode hosted by Steve Martin.)

But Lenny's legacy, for me, was that he got to perform one of Jim Henson's recurring sketches. As we've seen, he took a lot of sketches that he had performed on Sam and Friends in the 50s and on various talk shows in the 60s and 70s and did them for the final time on The Muppet Show, a show he owned, perhaps as a way to finally lay them down permanently and move on to other endeavors. (He was getting a bit tired of comedy by the time the series ended, moving right off into dark fantasy.)

The bit in question is sometimes called "Inchworm," and sometimes called "Glow Worm." Jim Henson first performed the bit with Kermit the Frog on the November 20, 1964, episode of The Jack Paar Show. (Embedding is disabled on the YouTube clip, but you can go and watch it.)

Jim (and Kermit) performed the bit on several other talk shows through the next few years: The Tonight Show (1965 and 1969), The Hollywood Palace, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show (all in 1966), and That's Life in 1968. But my personal favorite version was the final time Kermit himself did it, on the Muppets' classic 1971 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show.

(This clip is a little on the loud side.)

The sketch wasn't repeated again until 1977, when it appeared on the second season episode of The Muppet Show hosted by Rich Little. In this final performance, Kermit the Frog and Big V were replaced by Lenny the Lizard and Gorgon Heap.

As a utility player, Lenny didn't really have a regular performer. In the above sketch, he's performed by Jim Henson. In his emcee audition, Lenny is performed by Richard Hunt. Before that, he had made filler appearances performed by Dave Goelz.

Since I cheated him a little bit, here's another sketch he appears in, where he's performed by Jerry Nelson. This is from the first season episode, where he kicks off Florence Henderson's performance of the Turtles' "Happy Together."

How is the weather?

ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #51

"The Sinister Scarecrow" by Stan Lee & Don Heck
(March 1964)

I can't decide if the Scarecrow has real potential, or if he's a buffoon with a ridiculous concept.

We first meet the man as the Uncanny Umberto, an escape artist and contortionist who helps Iron Man catch a thief when their fight spills into the theater where Umberto is performing. Iron Man is grateful and pays Umberto an empty compliment. It goes something like this.

Iron Man: "Good skills! Glad you're on our side!"

Umberto: "You're right, I should become a super villain!"

That is the whole level of reasoning. That's all it takes for Umberto to decide, that second, to just quit and become a bad guy. He steals a Halloween costume on the way home, steals, er, trained crows from another act, and just decides to become the Scarecrow, master thief.

And the first person he robs? Tony Stark. Tony and Happy Hogan actually walk in on the Scarecrow ransacking the apartment, and poor Happy gets Worfed. The guy's gonna keep getting Worfed, isn't he? (The reference here is from TV Tropes, "The Worf Effect," where the new villain easily throws the toughest guy in the room to establish what a threat he is; when it's used too much, you end up with Worf, who is apparently a badass, but who can be perceived as a weakling because we mostly see him getting his ass handed to him by every villain who needs his physical prowess shorthanded.) As if that weren't insulting enough, Iron Man is easily defeated by three trained crows, some cord, and a curtain.

The Scarecrow makes off with some defense plans, then offers by phone to meet Tony at the harbor and let him buy the plans back. Predictably, the Scarecrow double crosses Tony, taking the money and the plans, and heading off to a rendezvous with a Cuban gunboat with the plans and the intent to defect. Tony has the briefcase full of money bugged, and Iron Man follows the Scarecrow out to sea, there's a brief fight, and Iron Man uses a drill attachment to sink the Cuban boat.

Scarecrow, amazingly, gets away... I can't describe it, you need to see it.

Those are some powerful crows. Of course, given what the Scarecrow does physically in this story, he's apparently got no bones and weighs approximately nothing pounds. Or he's just made of liquid, I don't know.

Anyway, Tony's recovered the plans and just calls it a draw.

Stray notes:

:: The Uncanny Umberto stops that thief early on by rolling himself into a ball and bowling the guy over. Then he says, triumphantly: "Strrrrike three! You're out!" It just seems like a weird time to use a baseball phrase when he's just acted like a bowling ball. Come on, man, you sound stupid.

:: There's a whole subplot in here where Pepper Potts tells a couple of lies to keep Tony from being able to date a blonde woman called Veronica Vogue. She gets her comeuppance, I guess, when Tony gives Pepper the Broadway tickets he had for his date and tells her and Happy to have a good time. I kind of hate that Happy Hogan, who seems like a decent guy, is treated like the booby prize just because he's not rich and hunky and glamorous. And can there be something--one thing--anything--more to Pepper than just being jealous and desperate for Tony Stark?

And speaking of Tony and women, he's not a cad in a cute way, although Stan Lee thinks he is. Tony knows right away that Pepper sent Veronica packing, but it's not big loss, because "she was becoming a bore, anyway!" So, not only are women disposable to Tony, he also sets Pepper and Happy up to teach her a lesson. Haha, now you have to date Happy, he's horrible! Ugh.

Well, that issue was kind of fun in its silliness. The Scarecrow isn't the Mandarin, but he's kind of fun in that bad Saturday morning cartoon sort of way. We'll see if we see this guy again.

Next Marvels: speaking of cheesy villains, the Porcupine is back.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Song of the Week: "Better Things"

Some of the best modern funk/soul going. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, 2010.

The Summer 2014 TV Season

Basically what I did back at the end of May; a little personal report card of the TV shows I watched, since I don't talk about TV anymore as much as I used to. Here are the shows I watched that (for the most part) have ended and that aired over the summer or in the last month. I know, I'm kind of late with this, but it's not like I'm turning this in, right?

Almost Royal: Surprisingly funny show that just sort of showed up on BBC America. It's two improv comedians touring America under the guise of being visiting royals who are supposed to be 74th and 75th in line to the British throne. So, Borat, basically, but not as cutting or extreme. The cringe factor is there, but not as highly as you'd expect. It's interesting to see how locals react to these two clumsy people. I think probably my favorite bit is when they were asked to appear in an improv show as a courtesy... it was kind of meta watching the two of them derail an improv group in character, where they were basically winning improv by pretending to be bad at improv in order to throw off people who were actually quite bad at improv. There's some kind of comedic genius there, I'm just not articulating it. B+

Bring It!: This was one of those things where Lifetime broke up the first season with six or eight weeks off in the middle. It means a lot to me to see people be supportive of one another, particularly parents who are supportive of their kids, and it honestly surprised me when it came back that I had become so emotionally involved in the people on the show. A reality show about hip hop majorette dancers never seemed to me like something I would watch, but I got wrapped up in it. I got wrapped up in whether Sunjai would ever make cuts, or if Kayla is going to make it to college. When a bunch of white cops closed one of the competition events at the sight of so many black people milling around in a church parking lot, I got angry. And it makes me feel good to see parents who are divorced putting aside their differences to do everything they can for their daughters. It's an emotionally involving show for me, and it's proof that you can be tough with kids in a way that builds them up rather than chipping away at their self-esteem. A-

Californication: I have no idea why I watched this show for so many years. The final season was more of the same bumbling bullshit from the somehow infallible Hank Moody, stumbling his way through the same problems he always has, never getting his shit together, and I guess at the end we're meant to assume that this is the time his dumbass gesture of selflessness finally fixed everything. Whatever. At least this season had my darling Heather Graham on it. (Though seeing her with a 21 year-old son just made me feel old). D-

Dance Moms: This one is having its finale this week, and I admit I'm a little bit edgy about who gets a solo at nationals. (Can't Kendall and Nia both get one?) I have a feeling we're about to dump one of the other major toxic elements this season, so that would be kind of great. I don't know what it is about this show. I still wish there was more of the dancing and the competitions, rather than the personality politics (as a former teacher, a lot of what goes on in the classroom makes me cringe), but this has basically become my football team. Some people are obsessed with the Chicago Bears; I have the ALDC, and Maddie Ziegler is my Walter Payton. (Kalani was my Willie Gault, but she sadly got pulled off the team by her mother during the break.) B

Defiance: I'm really enjoying this sci-fi (er, Syfy) series. This second season really tied a lot of the loose threads from the previous together, and pulled some real mindfucks (particularly the return of Kenya Rosewater). I can't wait to see where it goes from here. This is one of my summer treats. As long as I have one science fiction show to enjoy, I'm happy. B+

Derek: Wow, the people who have an opinion on this show are really polarized. (A lot of that, of course, has to do with how polarizing Ricky Gervais has become.) I think the balance of sentiment and comedy was awkward when the show first started, but I've come to really love the way the show stands up for people who aren't overly valued by society--the elderly, the mentally handicapped, those who sacrifice everything they have to care for others. I think the balance works just fine. I like sentiment if it's genuine, and here I think it is. A+

Devious Maids: This show is silly as hell, but it's sexy and soapy and I love it. The second season stumbled a bit with its overt attempt to do something Hitchcockian, and it'll never rise to the heights of the trashy glory of Desperate Housewives, but I love this stupid show. B-

Dominion: I watched the premiere episode of this Syfy series, but then I dropped it. Not my kind of thing, although I enjoyed just how much it seemed to be ripping off Dune. Feels unfair to grade it since I didn't stick with it past the premiere.

Extant: I was really enjoying this show at first; then I missed an episode and never went back to it. Maybe I'll catch it all one day, but when I went into depression mode this summer, I became pretty disengaged, and this one didn't feel like a priority to catch up on. (There were also TiVo and Comcast issues through much of August and September, so things got lost in that.) C

Garfunkel and Oates: It's okay. I think they're funny, but I think the show meanders. C

Hell's Kitchen: I can't even remember watching it now. I'm finally done with this show. It's been a matter of course for some time that the executive meddling is patently transparent, but it's also become more or less impossible to care about anyone competing, and they don't really show enough of the actual cooking anymore to get caught up in it. For a few seasons now, the producers have clearly decided to just cast the biggest assholes they can and hope that no one gets along with one another, and it's goddamn boring to watch. We're done, show. I'm not watching another one. (In fact, it's actually on right now and I'm not watching it. Or remembering it's on, really.) F

Hotel Hell: Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares, but for hotels. It's okay. I'm never clamoring for it, but I prefer the "rehabbing a business" kind of show over Hell's Kitchen. C+

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Still excellent. A+

The Leftovers: I wanted to stick with it and give it the benefit of the doubt that it was going somewhere, because it really does have a talented cast, but it was so unrelentingly depressing that I just had to stop, particularly in August when my depression got way out of hand. It's just unfocused enough to be frustrating, anyway. C-

Married: Another show that got lost to cable and DVR problems. I was enjoying it, but not enough to catch up with the last few episodes, I guess. Jenny Slate is adorable. B

MasterChef: This was an absolutely terrible season. It was insufferable because the eventual winner, Courtney, was so clearly basking in the glow of obvious favoritism. (It was so obvious that when one contestant, Ahran, openly accused the judges of it, Joe Bastianich practically screamed at her. Magically, Courtney ended up in the bottom three on that episode. Even more magically, she survived and went on to win the show.) I got tired of the constant praise, and I got even more tired of the way Courtney ran with it in true Teacher's Pet fashion. We all know that person who does something well, and when they get praised for it they decide it's because they're special little snowflakes, not because of what they did. It was a drag to see her then win the show; it was like a fait accompli, and there was no suspense there. There was no drama. It was 17 weeks of the Courtney Show, and the final few minutes, where Elizabeth's concession "Courtney deserved it" was so obviously, blatantly dubbed in, was pretty insulting.

So much executive meddling this year, and no attempts to hide it. Leslie's accidental substitution of salt for sugar in his final dessert was clearly false. I'm not buying it. Gordon Ramsey eats a piece of cake where salt has been substituted for sugar and instead of coughing it up and drinking water, he merely looks a little confused? Bullshit. Total bullshit. I bake cakes, that is a huge mistake and it would yield something totally inedible. Hell, I put a quarter-cup of water too much in my cake the other day and it changed the composition; I ended up with a very moist cake that crumbles easily. Give me a break,

And watching the judges be so much harder on everyone else, so direct in their aggressions against the non-Courtneys of the world, was hard to take. There were times when I thought Gordon was going to strangle Cutter just for being so damn Southern. This season it was much harder to take--and it's always hard to take--the self-importance and hypocrisy of the judges. This is literally a show that purports to find the best amateur, home cook in America, and then angrily holds them up to exacting professional standards. Team challenges? Running a brigade? Tag team cooking? Somehow I don't think those are going to come up in the process of Courtney writing a cookbook.

This was a terrible season that centered on the worship of an insufferable asshole who won. It made it very, very hard to want to watch another season of this nonsense. D

Orange Is the New Black: I think this is an incredible show. I don't know what else to say. There's been a lot of backlash I'm not really keen on addressing. I thought this season was excellent. A+

Pretty Little Liars: The problem with this show is that it's always erasing half of the gains it makes. It's frustrating, because sometimes it's like the show can't decide whether its characters or smart or not. It can sometimes make for frustrating viewing, but once this season got going, I was along for the ride. There was a death this season that I'm really pissed off about, and the timeline has suddenly become extremely problematic, and there were a couple of elements that were really problematic, but I'm too far into this to stop now. And I really don't want to. This season and the last have started to really go full "Twin Peaks for Teens," and I'm done apologizing for watching just because it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous in a sublimely weird way. B+

Raising Asia: Disappointing. I had to stop watching it. This show is about Asia Monet Ray, one of the most talented dancers on Dance Moms last year. Her mother, Kristie, pulled Asia out of the show at the end of the 2013 season, which really sucked. Remember, the Abby Lee Dance Company is my team, and losing one of our most talented players was shitty. So I was kind of happy to see her with her own show, because I love watching her dance, but the show is so uncomfortable to watch that I only made it two weeks (four episodes) in. Where Kristie Ray was tough and confident on Dance Moms, she now comes off as a paranoid, anxious stage mom, and so much of the show is about that and the strained relationships in the family dynamics. That's difficult to take, so I'm out. C-

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History: I spent this week watching all fourteen hours of Ken Burns' newest documentary on the PBS website. It's excellent. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt are two of my favorite historical figures, and I really appreciated the in-depth look at their personalities and their presidential histories. I'm glad Burns didn't shy away from the faults of both men. Theodore's (to me) most shameful moment as President--the dishonorable discharge of 167 African-American soliders (without pay) during the Brownsville Affair--is confronted head-on. FDR himself didn't do very well for black civil rights, either. (Don't you ever get frustrated with American history in that respect? Every time is never the right time for black equality to be addressed; it's always something for "later generations," who then balk at the challenge. The fact that it's even a challenge is so fucking frustrating.) Burns also can't back away from FDR's affairs, and doesn't. There's a good lesson here that everyone is a human being, subject to the flaws of being one. It's hard to admire people; it's easier to admire deeds and accomplishments. Of course, an equal amount of time is given to Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy's niece and Franklin's wife (and fifth cousin), who really emerges as a fascinating, likable, even heroic figure. She was my favorite part of the entire series. Just beautifully done, a portrait of flawed people who genuinely believed in altruism and in doing the right thing. A+

Space Dandy: I'm not predisposed to like anime, but I love this series. It's like a rockabilly Heavy Metal. Couple of misfires here in the second half of the season, but when this show sails, brother, it truly soars. A-

Storage Wars: Stop trying to turn it into a sitcom, A&E. C

The Strain: Interesting pilot--it was like Dracula from the point of view of the health inspector who encountered the Demeter--but eventually the only thing it strained was my patience. C

True Blood: Another show I'm not sure I really enjoyed enough to keep watching it the way I did. The final season just rambled on forever and forever, contorting itself to contrive happy endings for everyone. My major problem with this show is that all the vampires we're supposed to be so sympathetic to have been murderers at some point, so I wasn't really invested in their happiness. Jessica murdered three fairy children because she couldn't control herself, but yeah, let's redeem this character. It's not complex, it just doesn't care. I will say, though, that Bill's big, dramatic assisted suicide in the final episode was utterly hilarious. It's so serious, and then he's staked, and there's a pause, and he pops like a zit. That was fucking funny. That made the whole season for me. And it's played straight, as a serious moment! Wonderful! (Oh, and Rutger Hauer made another appearance. It's always so funny when they get a real actor on that show trying to compete with Anna Paquin being so overdramatic and panto.) Eh, at least Jason's happy. He's the only one who earned it. C+

Vicious: Another show that got really mixed reviews, but which I quite enjoyed. Maybe because the whole "affection only shown through coarse insult humor" is basically how I was raised. I dug the way it was done in a stagebound, 70s sitcom type of style; the throwback to that was valid, I thought, since they were basically making something along the lines of Steptoe and Son, but with a gay couple. Besides, Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi are always wonderful, and seeing them trade barbs was a highlight of my week for six weeks straight. I hope when the announced second season airs, it doesn't take a whole year to get it on PBS as it did the first. A-

The Wil Wheaton Project: It was The Soup for genre fans, hosted by a guy who genuinely loves all things skiffy, horror, fantasy and game related. Wil's enthusiasm for the genre is infectious, and seeing him each week was like a renewal. I don't hang out with groups of genre fans anymore because so much of it has devolved into name-calling and griping and fights over what a "real" fan is. With Wil, it was like being a younger man again, before the internet made me so jaded with fanhood. It was just being enthusiastic, all of the jokes were good-natured, and even if some of them made you groan, it was still fun just to groan. I loved it. So, of course, Syfy canceled it. That's it, Syfy, just keep crying about how you want geeks to love you again and then keep canceling everything aimed at us. I say this as a former employee: fuck you. I say this as a Farscape fan who has never gotten over being burned by its surprise renewal-cancellation: fuck you. I say this as someone who loves science fiction: I'm ashamed of you. Stop pandering to me. You only want me when you don't have enough people tweeting about the newest Sharknado. Wil, you get an imperfect but enthusiasm-heavy A.

You're the Worst: Like Married, I was enjoying it, then missed the last few episodes and don't feel put out by that. Aya Cash is pretty wonderful, though. B