Inside Family Guy: An Illustrated History by Frazier Moore
Family Guy, is celebrating being on television since 1999. If you look it up for a basic description you get a “sick, twisted and politically incorrect animated series featuring the adventures of the Griffin family.” That’s a good place to start. It’s one of those shows that may or may not have been on your radar and, if it did catch your attention it could leave you loving it, hating it, or scratching your head. And that’s okay since that is apparently what creator Seth MacFarlane had in mind when he first conceived of the show back in college. Twenty some years later, it a good time to take stock of a pop culture icon with the release of Inside Family Guy: An Illustrated History by Frazier Moore, published by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
The family at rest.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind about Family Guy: this is the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, a young, talented, ambitious guy with a certain point of view with a subversive edge. If you don’t care for his idea of satire, then this show may not work for you. If you revel in his particular sense of humor, then this show may work for you without a problem. It’s one person’s vision of crossing the line. That has so much to do with what Family Guy is all about. You’re looking at an unrelenting pursuit of crossing the line, much in the same vein as South Park. In this regard, this book does a great job of presenting the ins and outs of such a journey, warts and all. It also does a fine job of providing an in depth look at how a major network animated series in put together covering ever detail from drafting a script to post-production.
The notorious un-aired abortion episode, “Partial Terms of Endearment,” from 2009.
The book’s author, Frazier Moore, makes no secret about being a superfan of the show no matter what. What makes for the most interesting section to this book is when Moore explains the controversial history of Family Guy, a mashup of kooky family TV tropes and explosive content. It is in-your-face humor and that can be quite a bumpy ride for all involved. The best case in point is the notorious abortion episode, “Partial Terms of Endearment.” The justification from Moore for a Family Guy episode on abortion is that Norman Lear wrote about it for Maude in 1972. Well, let’s just say that this justification is quite a stretch. The way Family Guy handles the subject is to have the main character, Peter Griffin, engage in a variety of acts of torture to induce his wife, Lois, to have a miscarriage. Towards the end, Peter begins to have misgivings but, at the very end, matter-of-factly, Lois has an abortion. So, yeah, not exactly Norman Lear. That said, a typical episode of Family Guy is pretty impressive and just what you can expect from a show that is upfront about its goal of being “sick, twisted and politically incorrect.” This new book honors the eight-time Emmy Award-winning show and proves to be an essential guide.
Inside Family Guy: An Illustrated History is a 256-page fully illustrated hardcover, published by HarperCollins, available as of May 14, 2019. For more details, go right here.
The Twilight Zone reboot hits the ground running by finding a way back into what made the original series work and trying to avoid adding and tweaking more to it and messing up a good thing. Just one more thing tacked on can be like playing a game of Jenga where you tear down an otherwise neatly put together structure. Without spoiling anything, if there is one criticism to the show, it is that it needs to keep to this golden rule. For the most part, it does that and that bodes well for what it shaping up to being a lively and compelling return to a classic. This series comes to you from CBS All Access and is hosted by Jordan Peele.
What would Rod Serling think of viewing Twilight Zone on a phone?
I will fast forward to the second episode as it is an example of how this series is finding its feet. We immediately start with a fresh look at something not directly referencing an iconic episode as is done in the first episode. We’re at a comedy club, which is an ideal Twilight Zone setting if ever there was one: in the darkness, the audience as well as the performer are looking for some catharsis. Our main character, comedian Samir (Kumail Nanjiani), is stuck on speaking truth to power but he’s not connecting with his audience. Then he has a talk with a veteran comedian J.C. (Tracy Morgan). The main bit of advice: Don’t try to make points; Go for the laughs by keeping it personal–but beware that once you take from your life, it’s out there and you can’t get it back. Samir goes against his better judgement and makes a detour that gets him the laughs.
Jordan Peele channeling Rod Serling
“The Comedian” is not a direct reference to any particular TZ episode, not like Richard Matheson’s monumental airplane nightmare. But it is a sly tip of the hat to Rod Serling nonetheless, just a sweet little Easter Egg (there are others, as in names used for some characters) as it refers back to one of Serling’s landmark teleplays prior to TZ. It is that sort of deep dive that will send a nice chill of recognition for diehard fans. The scirpt’s writer, Alex Rubins, would certainly be aware of that. So, we’ve got a character in crisis: Samir has made some devil’s bargain. All is set up for the chilling fun and it is delivered. In this case, a little editing somewhere in the middle to tighten things up would have been ideal. As for the end, it is spot on.
Twilight Zone on CBS All Access
I think the challenge for this reboot is satisfying an audience that is happy to take things further, like a kid in a candy store who risks a stomach ache. The first episode, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” makes that mistake by pushing a bit beyond what would have been a perfect ending. And the second episode makes that mistake by packing it bit more background that drags an otherwise excellent story. There’s a very good reason that Serling and the rest of his writers concluded that the sweet spot for the show was the original half hour format. With streaming, the restrictions are lifted and so the creative team (a producing team that includes Glen Morgan, Greg Yaitanes, Simon Kinberg, and Jordan Peele) needs to be mindful of being disciplined storytellers. That said, my guess is that you can expect this reboot to indulge in providing viewers with a deluxe director’s cut excess. That could be very good news for some fans. Then again, who knows, maybe adjustments will be made and we’ll get this reboot refined to perfection.
As someone who is putting together a graphic novel that is directly related to The Twilight Zone, I am particularly intrigued by this reboot. I see the minor blemishes too. But, overall, this is a series that has its ducks in a row and I feel confident that Rod Serling, given a chance to process where we are today, would grin and give the show his blessing.
Charles Forsman is a wonderful independent cartoonist. I have had the privilege to review his work. Mr. Forsman creates work that is usually intended for a relatively small audience. That is the nature of comics, especially niche comics. But things can get turned on their heads. Just imagine, a highly obscure copy of an underground comic is sitting in a trash bin when it’s picked up by a movie director and he’s so thrilled by it that he’s compelled to move heaven and earth to turn it into a hit television series. That’s what happened with Forsman’s The End of the F***kingWorld, now available on Netflix. And it’s happened again. This time without any trash bin. The news it out that Forsman’s I Am Not Okay With This is coming to Netflix.
‘I Am Not Okay With This’ by Charles Forsman
There’s something about the fresh and quirky goodness of independent alt-comics that can catapult them from obscurity to crazy full-on stardom. It won’t happen to most of the self-published comix out there but it happens. So, don’t try this at home unless this is a labor of love first and foremost. Otherwise, it won’t work. Painfully honest stories have a greater than average chance of getting attention. That’s part of it. The rest is just the right mix of hard work and a bit of good luck. While you wait to enjoy I Am Not Okay With This, check out The End of the F***king World now on Netflix:
I Am Not Okay With This follows the misadventures of Sydney, an unassuming 15-year-old freshman with telekinetic powers. Be sure to visit Charles Forsman right here. I Am Not Okay With This is a 160-page graphic novel published by Fantagraphics Books.
Desperado Miller (Abby McEnany) rallies the troops.
I love quirky stuff and this hits the spot: a comedy about inept ghost hunters. Ghost Squad is a new project by Andy Kushnir, a staff writer for the popular game, Cards Against Humanity. Kushnir recently directed and co-wrote with his writing partner, Carley Moseley, this mockumentary pilot which releases to the public on October 1st.
Our story begins with a lead-in narration by head paranormal investigator, Desperado Miller (Abby McEnany). You can think of her as Michael Scott, the manager from The Office, played by Steve Carell. McEnany is hilarious as the ill-tempered and insecure psychic detective. Her ragtag team of misfits are either out for themselves or too self-absorbed to be of much help.
Zorba Dinkel (Jo Feldman) in search of chips and salsa.
One scene, to give you a taste, has one of our misfit investigators, Zorba Dinkel, (Jo Feldman) entranced by a vibe that leads her to a cupboard. She is transfixed by a pulsing energy that leads her to a bag of chips and, ultimately, to a jar of salsa! She has made quite a tasty connection with the other side. Very funny stuff.
This series gets to juggle a variety of tropes: office sitcom, reality-tv, and a touch of horror. The results are pleasing. Ghost Squad is definitely something to watch this October which, of course, is the kickoff to our cavalcade of holiday season entertainment.
Ghost Squad is the creation of Andy Kushnir and Carley Moseley. I look forward to more of their collaborative work.
Fred Rogers did it right and we can gain from his sage advice and guidance. I’ve always admired Mister Rogers. Is it really that difficult for a man to be gentle and sensitive? I am certain a lot of us don’t think so. The age of Trump, with its unkind and insensitive mindset, is a travesty. There is nothing courageous about it. And then you take a look at what can be accomplished when you listen to a child and do something positive.
Fred Rogers managed to do quite a lot of good in his day, don’t you think? Well, this upcoming documentary, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, appears to offer up a lot to be joyful and inspired about. As is the case with many documentaries and books of this nature, the timing is perfect. 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS.
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? will be in select theaters as of June 8, 2018.
As cannabis steadily moves from counterculture to mainstream, the time is perfect for 420TV, the new hub for cannabis news and entertainment, set to launch in early 2018. One of the new shows on 420TV will be a first-run animated series from long-time director of “The Simpsons,” David Silverman. Created for mature audiences, “SUPER SLACKERS” is a comedy about a group of lazy friends unwittingly thrust into the life of superheroes.
Another distinctive feature of this show is that it will be voiced by a a veritable “who’s who” of social influencers whose combined following tops 35 million. “SUPER SLACKERS” features hip-hop artist/actor Jerry Purpdrank; video/music producer & infamous slap-cammer Max Jr.; martial artist, dancer & comedian Dan Nampaikid; professional soccer player-turned-actor, director & content creator, Jon Paul Piques; Smosh YouTube star Olivia Sui; stand-up comedian/writer Arantza Fahnbulleh; and traditional actor/comedian Mickey Gooch, who was recently featured in the hit movie “How to Be Single,” and the indie comedies “Clapper” and “Deported.”
The animated series’ six-episode first season follows a group of friends who discover they have superpowers after their weed is switched with a new strain being used in a government experiment. When a Professor Xavier-type shows up to train them, they have no interest in saving the world. They agree to move into a rent-free government compound, but all they want to do is watch TV and play video games. The Professor is convinced he can turn them into the heroes that the world needs — but can he do it before their infectious laziness spreads to the rest of the agents?
“SUPER SLACKERS” is created and directed by David Silverman (“The Simpsons”), written by Joelle Sellner (“Sonic Boom”) and animated by Mike Blum (Pipsqueak). Executive Producers are Mickey Gooch (Skit Bags Entertainment), Warren Zide (“American Pie”), digital entertainment manager/attorney Ash Venkatram and entrepreneur Ranajit Chaudhury. Usman Shaikh is Co-Executive Producer. The series was introduced to 420TV by talent manager Leanne Perice.
SUPER SLACKERS on 420TV
“‘SUPER SLACKERS’ is the first original animated series from a director in the traditional space that leverages the talents and audience of household digital stars,” said Ash Venkatram. “By choosing a racially diverse cast and throwing them into the culture of cannabis, we hope to give viewers a refreshing change from the vanilla content they normally consume on linear television.”
“420TV is thrilled to be offering the latest animated comedy created by David Silverman, a wonderfully gifted animator who has a long history of producing tremendously successful shows. His new, first-run series, which will make its global premiere on 420TV, is equal parts funny, twisted and cool. ‘SUPER SLACKERS’ is also a perfect complement to our lineup, as we look to create and secure cannabis-friendly content for both the converted and the curious,” said Alex Nahai, a partner in 420TV.
Added David Silverman: “I couldn’t imagine a more fitting home for ‘SUPER SLACKERS’ than 420TV, with its appeal to a very open-minded, socially connected audience.”
Debuting in early 2018, and initially available through 420TV.com and its mobile applications, 420TV is a premium 4K video-on-demand network devoted to all things cannabis. It will deliver original programming produced exclusively for the multi-platform channel, in addition to acquired long and short-form entertainment. Content categories in development include news, information, food, fashion, comedy, music and animation, as well as acquired feature films, documentaries, music and live streaming events. 420TV was developed by 420 Entertainment Group, comprised of OWNZONES Media Network, Genesis Media and Alex Nahai Enterprises. For more information, follow www.420TV.com.
“Maybe she is right. Maybe nobody is interested in another science fiction story about the paradoxical nature of time or the mystery of existence. Maybe all they want is a simple love story with a happy ending.
Fantasy and science fiction doesn’t really exist unless it has a reader.
He has come to believe he will have a reader, so he has always tried to make his behavior justifiable, and as a consequence he spends a large part of his time explaining himself to an invisible judge he calls, “Your Honor,” becoming verbally adept at defending himself.”
— George Clayton Johnson, from “Every Other War”
I am really thrilled to own this book. It is a book that you, dear reader, will likely never own. It is hard to come by. Originally published by Subterranean Press in 1999, it has long since gone out of print. But prove me wrong. Seek it out! In fact, I do hope that will change some day. I strongly recommend that Subterranean Press or some other publisher, say Penguin Random House, create a new version of this 450-page collection.
Keep in mind that the author of this collection, “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories,” is George Clayton Johnson who wrote the first episode broadcast of the original Star Trek series. “The Man Trap” first aired on 8 September 1966. That first broadcast is what marks the 50th anniversary of what has become one of the most iconic television series in history. What was it about George Clayton Johnson that earned him that distinction? This was someone born into abject poverty at the start of the Great Depression, an 8th grade dropout, forced to leave home at age 15, and yet he would go on to great heights.
For those of you who faithfully keep up with my writing, you know that quite often the source of my various tangents goes back to my first meeting George Clayton Johnson some years back. When I found out about all the pop culture franchises he was a significant part of, then found out about his life, and then found myself charmed my the sheer decency of the man himself, I started seriously considering creating some sort of book about him. I was able to tell him about it as well as show him some of it before he passed away. He gave me his blessing. I told him, at the time, that I was still figuring out how to best present the issue of cannabis, as that was very important to him. He listened. He talked. He said to follow my passion. The meeting with him, in his home, in December of 2014, would be the last time I’d get to see him. I had gone to see him again, in December of 2015. I’d been invited and he still sounded hearty and joyful. But it was too late. He had been moved to hospice by then.
“I told you the other night how I’d re-read ‘All of Us Are Dying’ and how much I enjoyed it. When I came to the end of this story and read the last lines, I got goose flesh on my neck. What greater tribute can I offer you? Thanks for the neck bumps.”
George hung on until Christmas. George died on Christmas Day. His great mentor, Rod Serling, was born on Christmas Day. There certainly seemed to be some cosmic and poetic thing going on. And then you add George’s favorite subject, Mr. Death, the defying of death, the taunting of death. George, no doubt, left this world on his own terms. And here I am telling you yet again about what has become quite a subject for me: George and all things related to George. Yes, this is how creative people such as myself think. And, dear God, there will be a final resolution as I do intend to put the book out as soon as possible. It will be in a graphic novel format with plenty of room for the art and plenty of room for the text. They will need to trade places from time to time. Anyway, all this leads to my getting my hands on this particular book. I dare say, it is something of a Holy Grail for some geeks such as myself. My copy is a Publisher’s Copy and was from the library of writer Stanley Wiater. Stanley, if you wondered what became of your book, I’ve got it now, mate.
George Clayton Johnson with Robert Redford on the set of “Nothing in the Dark”
Each story in this book will tug at you. Take the story of two boys, George and Abraham. They just figured they’d make great friends, with great prospects, considering they each had the best of presidential first names. This was during the Great Depression when these two reveled in each other’s company. Neither of them had a cent between them. Then one day, they thought about how much they’d love to own a bicycle. If only they had a bike, the roads would be free for them to explore at will. They decide upon buying a beauty in flaming red enamel that they spot in a shop in town. The price of twenty-two dollars and ninety-five cents seems out of reach. But they find various odd jobs and their goal becomes attainable. They while away the time by mostly doing things that don’t cost them anything like listening to the radio perched on the windowsill of Abraham’s bedroom. George would be at that very same windowsill as he sits in vigil for his friend dying from scarlet fever. And so the friendship, the bicycle, that time and place make up this short story, “A Bicycle Like a Flame.” This is just one of the many gems to be found in “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories” by George Clayton Johnson.
“All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories” by George Clayton Johnson
Fans of the original television show, The Twilight Zone, will readily come to see which of these short stories in this collection would have made for another great teleplay by Johnson. But, as this book makes abundantly clear, you don’t need any prior Twilight Zone knowledge to enjoy Johnson’s work. How about “The Hornet,” a story of man versus insect with the insect seeking justice? Or perhaps “Dealer’s Choice,” a story about soldiers endlessly playing cards in order to avoid death? Or “The Freeway,” a story set in the future when cars mostly drive themselves and contribute to much less alert humans. Johnson wrote some of the most memorable Twilight Zone episodes thanks to the show’s creator and main contributor, Rod Serling, taking a chance on him. Johnson’s first accepted story submission was “All of Us Are Dying.” Serling bought it and did the necessary reworking to have it better fit his vision, including changing the title to, “The Four of Us Are Dying.” Johnson always maintained that it was a great lesson in how to write for Serling. But, in the end, he liked his version best and thus the title to this collection. In both versions, it is essentially a shape-shifter story: a man who can change his face. In Serling’s version, there’s this specificity about the man attempting to exploit his gift. In Johnson’s version, the man is all the more vulnerable, not in control, and all the more universal.
As this book demonstrates, Johnson’s overriding plan was simply to create the best work. In later years, he went on to create more inventive work with the same care and precision as when he first started out. There’s the short story “Thorndyke,” for example. A couple argue at a party. It is a male and female. The female has been badgering the male all night. She wants to know why he won’t sleep with any of the other females. Thorndyke insists that he isn’t interested. Finally, at his wife’s insistence, he goes to see a psychiatrist about his disorder. It is determined that Thorndyke has a severe case of manogomy. And, as it turns out, these characters are actually rabbits. Thorndyke is the rebel seeking to remain faithful to his wife.
Check out the amazing cover art by Burt Shonberg, 1957.
Wow, what do you think of the book’s cover art? That’s by Burt Shonberg, 1957. George would have been around 28 years-old when that portrait of Frankenstein playing a saxophone was first created. George and Burt and Doug Myres (the Gateway Singers) together ran a little shack of a cafe on Laguna Beach called Café Frankenstein from 1958–59. Burt created various Frankenstein art for the cafe. Apparently, he always favored a Frankenstein motif and, in his own way, so did George.
The most unusual work in this collection is “The Edge of the World,” a screenplay commissioned by Sid and Marty Croft for quite a quirky movie. It is an ambitious and colorful romp of a tale with Christopher Columbus transported to modern day New York City. What a movie this could have been! It’s fun to read such a sprawling and loose work. Johnson manages to get Columbus down into the bowels of the NYC subway system where he makes friends with a tough motorcyclist named, Cheyenne. The two get along and share a joint. This is significant subtext as it brings in references to Johnson’s home state and his lifelong support for cannabis. It also cues the reader to the building conflict, and irony, of Columbus interacting with Native Americans.
Like a rocket, Johnson’s career blasted off with his co-writing the novel that was the basis for the Rat Pack classic movie, “Ocean’s Eleven.” Johnson was only 30 years-old in 1959, when he became part of the TZ writing team. By the mid-1970s, he had written for the original Star Trek TV series and co-written the novel, “Logan’s Run,” the basis of the blockbuster 1976 movie, the most lavish sci-fi film of its day, only to be surpassed the following year by “Star Wars.” Johnson kept on writing. He even created a show ahead of its time, “A Man’s World,” where women are in charge and maintain a male figurehead for appearance’s sake. While Johnson’s show was rejected, a similar show would subsequently get the green light, “Charlie’s Angels.”
“George Clayton Johnson continues to write what he believes in regardless of the marketplace. He is the real deal. He is what other writers mean when they point to someone and say that he is a writer. He is a fellow traveler in search of the Greater Truth, of a kind of unified field theory for the human condition. For this is the true subject of his writing and the abiding core that gives it such weight and strength.
–From the Afterword by Dennis Etchison
The case of George Clayton Johnson is unique in that this was a writer who was most concerned with quality and originality. His worst enemy, Johnson was prone to say, was a meddling producer eager to copy the latest hit show. Johnson was attracted to a challenge, something unusual. A perfect example is his flash forward narrative for an episode of “Kung Fu.” Instead of a conventional flash back, the main character to this story is dependent upon something happening in his future. It is this desire to strive for the most inventive, and most immersive, storytelling that is a hallmark of Johnson’s work. This brings me back to the above quote. For those who knew George Clayton Johnson, they know he was quite a jovial and energetic defender of his work, and deservedly so.
Reading “All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories”
You can always look up video of Johnson’s work for Star Trek, Ocean’s Eleven, Logan’s Run, and, of course, The Twilight Zone. Here is a quote from “Kick the Can,” one of the most iconic TZ episodes and one of the four that was later to be showcased in 1983’s “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” directed by Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante, and George Miller.
“Maybe, the fountain of youth isn’t a fountain at all. Maybe, it’s a way of looking at things – a way of thinking.”
–From “Kick the Can” (Episode aired 9 February 1962)
As Johnson describes in his short autobiographical novel, “Every Other War,” he had been struggling to sell short stories he knew in his heart would find a buyer–and yet did not. That includes the above mentioned, “A Bicycle Like a Flame.” Things looked very bleak at the time. “Kick the Can” was still in its early drafts. It would prove to be one of Johnson’s best works.
What I want to leave you with, the goal of my own book on George, is to celebrate an individual who fought for the integrity of his work and went the extra mile to be insightful, poetic, and heroic. Take a look at his teleplay for Route 66 and you see an unusual story of playing the game of life. Take a look at his teleplay for The Law and Mr. Jones and you find an offbeat path to seeking justice.
Boil it all down, and George’s favorite among his work is his Twilight Zone teleplay, “Nothing in the Dark.” And his favorite lines are delivered by Robert Redford with all the grace one could ever hope for.
“You see. No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end is the beginning.”
–From “Nothing in the Dark” (Episode aired 5 January 1962)
George was definitely attracted to the theme of death. It was H.P. Lovecraft who famously said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Death is the ultimate unknown. Lights out. What now? It’s the only game in life where, in the end, you’re guaranteed not to come out alive. It’s just a question of what you do while you’re around. George lived his life to the fullest. He won.
Fasten your seat belts, you can expect a wild ride starting this September and rolling on to the following September as Star Trek fans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the original “Star Trek” television series. The first episode broadcast was on September 8, 1966. It was “The Man Trap,” written by George Clayton Johnson, known for his iconic episodes on “The Twilight Zone.” If you are looking for a true guidebook not only to the Star Trek phenomena, but also to a deeper understanding of the dynamics to the show, then you’ll want to seek out “Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures,” published by Rowman & Littlefield, edited by Douglas Brode and Shea T. Brode.
“Wagon Train,” first aired in 1957, became such a hit on TV that it symbolized the popular Western of the small screen. By 1962, NBC, sensitive to new trends, cancelled the show, still number one in the Nielsen ratings. Gene Roddenberry, a promising new writer, pitched the future to NBC: “Star Trek, a Wagon Train to the stars!” Old frontier meets new frontier! Space cowboys! The Final Frontier! It was the space age ahead: JFK’s promise of a man on the moon before the end of the decade! And so NBC could hardly resist, although Star Trek would endure a bumpy existence during its three season run.
Only in retrospect, would Star Trek gain the recognition it richly deserved. Douglas Brode kicks off the recurring themes in the book in the introduction. Brode dissects the creative connective tissue running throughout Star Trek: 1956’s sci-fi classic movie, “Forbidden Planet” and its connection to The Twilight Zone and so on. Star Trek is forever appealing because of its idealism and optimism. That is clearly demonstrated in this insightful collection of essays. The Wild West gives way to the Space Age while, at the same time, the old frontier is consistently subverted, deconstructed, and used as metaphor.
“Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures,” published by Rowman & Littlefield, edited by Douglas Brode and Shea T. Brode
In H. Bruce Fanklin’s essay, “Of Television in the 1960s,” we follow the evolution of Star Trek’s reaction to the Vietnam War. In two episodes, there are stories that suggest the war could be a necessary evil. However, once the war proves futile, there are two episodes that suggest the fatal consequences of a quagmire. An emboldened anti-war sentiment is clear in the episode, “The Omega Glory” (March 1, 1968). Kirk and his crew observe a planet that has been ravaged by war between the Kohms and the Yangs. Closer observation reveals that the Yangs, now reduced to savages, are actually Yanks, from a parallel Earth, losers in a war with no victors.
In John Wills’s essay, “Wagon Trains to the Stars,” we focus on the fantasy of the Hollywood Western in contrast to reality. In the episode, “Spectre of the Gun” (October 25, 1968), Kirk and his crew will only survive a reenactment of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral once they accept it is artifice. In the episode, “The Paradise Syndrome” (October 4, 1968), we see the problems with stereotypes inherent in the standard Western fantasy. All things considered, one has to wonder if NBC would have gone along with the more ambitious and unconventional content on the show had it known that when the first pitch was made that Star Trek was to be a “Wagon Train to the stars.”
As I say, Star Trek is hitting the Big 5-0. You can expect more about Star Trek coming to you from various directions. CBS is launching a totally new Star Trek television series in January 2017! There will be numerous seminars and celebrations in 2016 and 2017. For example, CBS Consumer Products announced a global Star Trek speaker series in celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary, Trek Talks. Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle has an exhibit, “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds,” on the Star Trek phenomenon, its enduring impact on our culture, and how Star Trek has inspired people to imagine, explore, and create.
“Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Cast Adventures,” is a 236-page hardcover published by Rowman & Littlefield. For more details, go here.
Nic Pizzolatto, the showrunner for HBO’s “True Detective,” deserves credit for creating and writing a genuinely entertaining show. There was a certain amount of controversy over Pizzolatto borrowing from other writers, notably cult favorite Thomas Ligotti. At this point, that literary baggage is part of the show. This is not what Nic Pizzolatto would prefer given his backtracking on any connection to Thomas Ligotti to where you wonder if he’d like to claim to have never heard of Ligotti. At first, he readily acknowledged the Ligotti influence. Later, he disavowed it.
But Pizzolatto did more than know about Thomas Ligotti. Pizzolatto enbued one of his main characters, the otherworldly Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) with a Ligottian charm and turn of phrase. The Rust Cohle character says: “I think about the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence into this meat … Force a life into this thresher.” While Thomas Ligotti, in “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race,” refers to people being “stolen from nonexistence,” and says “we are meat.” I’ll tell you something, it all works on this show but you really have to thank Matthew McConaughey’s stellar performance for sealing the deal.
Anyway, at this point, Ligotti is as much as part of the first season of “True Detective” as Matthew McConaughey is a part of the first season of “True Detective.” There is no other way. To be honest, it was the best, and only, way that I got through my binge-viewing of all eight episodes. I kept looking forward to what else Pizzolatto would do with his Tarantino-like borrowing from various sources. If he’s going to do it, then he needs to own it, so to speak, and not backtrack. That said, this pastiche technique is intriguing. What may be less intriguing is how much this series resembles any other police procedural. Pizzolatto does save us from something too obvious by giving us a couple of quirky leads in this decidedly character-driven drama. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey are the dream team and they do not disappoint. I especially like how Harrelson’s character Marty Hart, a no-nonsense detective, is not going to put up with another of his partner’s nihilistic soliloquies. Marty tells Rust to just button it.
Much of our story is about these two guys and their nearly twenty years together, off and on. There’s a very long off period but highly unusual circumstances bring them together. No doubt about it, this is both a credible mystery and thriller. And it makes for quite a compelling study of two men’s struggles to exist on their own terms with dignity and purpose. Marty Hart seems like the simple straight shooter but he is just as vulnerable to go completely off the rails as Rust Cohle who seems to be the one with only a weak link to reality. That proves to not be the case at all as Rust is far more capable than given credit for. But no one ever said that life is fair, certainly not Rust Cohle. Part of what drives Cohle and Hart is to seek out a little fairness. It is one of the oldest stories ever told and this is a good one.
I happened to get Season Two of this series by mistake. I knew when it started out with Colin Farrell driving his nerdy son to school, that I’d taken a wrong turn. That is the thing with this show, each new season is a whole new story. Apparently, Season Two left fans cold. And it looks like this quirky series will not be moving forward much longer. Rumor has it that Season Three has been cancelled. And so I come full circle with the Ligotti connection. Had Pizzolatto chosen not to distance himself from his use of Ligotti that could have led this show down some interesting paths. It would have been roads less travelled sharing in the true spirit of the dark world of Thomas Ligotti. For more of Ligotti, all one need do now is go to the source and read Ligotti along with other masters of weird fiction.
I’d been reading one of my favorite dark fantasy/horror writers, Dennis Etchison, when I took to watching the new season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Now, this show may appear to simply involve wacky hijinks but the connection to the likes of Etchison is significant. Kimmy Schmidt, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, is a show of high quality in more ways than one may expect. Etchison’s short story, “Inside the Cackle Factory” is quite fitting. Ostensibly, it is about how TV sitcoms get approved. However, the veil of secrecy keeps slipping to reveal sinister underpinnings. And so it is with Kimmy Schmidt: the veil keeps falling.
Ellie Kemper and Amy Sedaris
Now, I’m only suggesting a touch of horror. We know it can be a short distance between comedy and tragedy and that horror need not require a drop of blood. Another dark comedy on the same track is the now classic, “Strangers with Candy” (1999-2000) starring Amy Sedaris. This is the show about a 46-year-old former drug addict and prostitute trying to get her life together by literally going back to high school. This is so key to what I’m saying that I’m doing cartwheels right now. “Strangers with Candy” proves that dark comedy is often the best comedy. It had Stephen Colbert and David Letterman involved. And, the cherry on the top is that Amy Sedaris plays an ongoing character on Kimmy Schmidt!
Ellie Kemper getting her Kimmy Schmidt on!
Amy Sedaris plays the role of Mimi Kanasis, best pal to Jacqueline Voorhees (now Jacqueline White as she is newly divorced from her cheating billionaire husband). If this sounds like a lot of plot development going on with this show, you’d be correct. But it all makes sense. In one respect, the show is sort of spoiler-proof as it is broad comedy on one level, just fun satire like you got from “Seinfeld.” However, it does want to have it both ways with investing in character development. This, odd combination of edgy whimsy and heart-felt exploration of character tends to work out pretty well in this case.
Without giving anything away, consider a scene that can be read as a faux pivotal moment. It seems that a certain train departure is significant and may very well interrupt a “boy-meets-girl” connection. But, hey, no worries, the train is running two hours late! “Wow, what a break for that couple meeting up! You guys are running two hours late!” yells Kimmy to an Amtrak train conductor. He smiles and says, “And you thought we were just a train company. Far from it! We make love connections happen!” It is a funny and silly scene but it also does involve an authentic connection, sans irony, between characters. You can say that is a Kimmy Schmidt trademark. As Jerry Seinfeld has famously said of his show, it is devoid of any “very special moments.”
Tituss Burgess as Titus Andronicus, no…Titus Andromedon!
The reason for the tension between broad comedy and authentic connection on Kimmy Schmidt is that this show, as opposed to Seinfeld, is about something instead of nothing. It has a pretty heavy premise and the showrunners carry that as a badge of honor: young woman survives fifteen years hidden away in a bunker and now tries to rebuild a life in New York City. It is a premise very much in the spirit of Strangers with Candy. It’s not pure comedy but it provides some of the biggest laughs you’ll find. And it’s definitely NOT a typical comedy-drama, infamously known as a “dramedy.” It is coming from another place. That is why I think the touch of horror is so important: this is a show that is meant to make you laugh as well as unsettle you, take you out of your comfort zone. And, in that regard, it is doing a bang-up job.
Carol Kane (Lillian Kaushtupper) and Jane Krakowski (Jacqueline White)
It is because Kimmy Schmidt resides some place other than a typical sitcom that the show becomes this broad venue upon which masterful writing can discuss various themes. With the character of Lillian Kaushtupper (played by Carol Kane) we explore the conflict between old urban neighborhoods giving way to gentrification. Lillian doesn’t always have the best responses but she offers a compelling portrait of someone who finds herself being pushed out in the name of progress. With the character of Jacqueline White, we have a latter-day “The Awakening” story by Kate Chopin. Jacqueline comes to realize in middle-age that her whole life has been a sham of social climbing in Manhattan. She makes various awkward attempts to be true to her Native American heritage. Then we have the character of Titus Andromedon (played by Tituss Burgess) who is forced to do more and live more after having come out gay. Originally born Ronald Ephen Wilkerson in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, Titus Andromedon experienced his own awakening that led him to live in New York City. However, in the intervening years, he has frittered away much of his promise as an aspiring actor/singer.
Tina Fey as Andrea Bayden on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Finally, we come back to Kimmy Schmidt. Who is she and what does she want? Well, as she learns from stumbling into a friendship with a psychiatrist, Andrea Bayden (played by Tina Fey), she has a lot of work to do on her own personal baggage. For starters, she is too helpful. Again, without any irony, Andrea suggests that Kimmy is an “enabler.” Kimmy, the good doctor points out, is too busy trying to help others, perhaps more than for their own good. And, on top of it, Kimmy is avoiding helping herself. She, after all, was kidnapped and lost fifteen years of her life huddled in a bunker with three other women. The cult leader abused the women. Pretty dark stuff in the background that keeps coming up to the surface like PTSD. Ah, but if only the good doctor could take her own advice. It’s not like Andrea is in the driver’s seat, especially with her having Kimmy as her own personal Uber driver. Very funny, and very touching, stuff. It takes formidable comedic, and general writing, chops to pull of a show that has bite as well as provides a hug. See for yourself. If you have not already, go on your merry way to Netflix and get all caught up on Season Two of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”