What You Watching? April 2013

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For a web log that was originally supposed to be detailed and thorough reviews of romantic comedies, I have not written about a television show or a movie in over two years. To correct this, let us discuss some great things you can watch on television or the internet or wherever RIGHT NOW. Today we will discuss the wonderful Awkward., the hilarious Nathan For You, and the mind-exploding Primer.

Best show on TV?

Awkward.

I have asked friends for NetFlix née Quickster recommendations and was advised to watch Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, Louie, and Mad Men. Instead of listening to those recommendations, I decided to watch an MTV series about teenagers. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, you want to come home and watch entertainment that is bright and fun. Then, you watch twelve hours of this show in one night and become too invested in the lives of a group of fictional high school students, some parents, and one guidance counselor.

Most high school shows get formatted as hour-long melodramas, but the most successful current high school shows are comedies (these shows are Suburgatory and Awkward. and they are great). Shows can more easily jump from the absurd parts of growing up to the serious parts instead of taking everything seriously, forcing things forward drenched in gravity, and attempting to switch to lighter fair in an effort to balance. Awkward. recognizes that growing up is scary and frustrating but if you take a step back, things are pretty funny. Time wounds all heels, as they say, and we can joke about those heels after everyone stops talking about it in the hallways.

Awkward. is about a teenager named Jenna Hamilton. She starts a clandestine relationship with the popular Matty McKibben, who for a variety of reasons does not want to let others know about their relationship or arrangement or whatnot. When she returns home, Jenna receives an anonymous letter accusing her of living a cowardly life. Jenna accidentally chokes on some aspirin, falls down in her bathroom, and is knocked unconscious. When her parents find her, the evidence points to an attempted suicide, even though Jenna was just trying to get rid of a headache.

The story then picks up as she attempts to navigate her negative notoriety. I did not watch the show when it started, but MTV’s promotions made it seem like a story about a girl whose arm was cast in traction. The image of Jenna walking around with a permanent high-five is a funny hook, but of course does not give a real feel for the show. This sounds grandiose, but Awkward. tells the story of Jenna developing courage in order to discover and form herself.

That description is also boring, which Awkward. rarely is. The cast’s comedic timing is wonderful. The cluelessness of authority figures is something that echoes Steve Carell’s best years on The Office. The plot moves at a nice pace while taking care that the characters’ pasts inform their decisions. Season one moves better than season two, but season two has a love triangle and I am a SUCKER for love triangles. I read something that the creator of Awkward. was going to stop with the love triangle stuff, which is fair. But if the show ever wants to focus on the entertainment whims of a customer service representative from Long Island, love triangle is the way to go (Sidebar: there is a new character and if they set up a new love triangle there, I might write some letters).

The show finds a way to emotionally teach without becoming a parable. Matty and Jenna have sex, but there’s not an imminent threat within it, aside from the emotional one (and they enjoy DOING IT! which is refreshing and something  I can’t remember seeing a lot in popular teenage culture recently aside from Juno). People react within character and also continue to evolve as characters.

Awkward never tries to be cool. It lets its characters be themselves. Jenna’s friend Tamara creates ridiculous language that catches on in Palos Verdes, and it never seems unbelievable. Sadie Saxton’s meanness is not excusable, but at least a bit understandable given some of the glimpses we have been given at her vulnerability. No one is perfect on Awkward. and that’s fine. Please watch this show when it comes back this spring so I can talk to someone about it!

SUCH A GOOD SHOW!

Nathan For You

Lots of good comedians have television shows now. Congratulations to television for recognizing stellar talent and allowing it to develop creatively! However, these shows are either sketch shows or monologue-based shows. I just gave you a compliment! The least you could do is vary the formats of your shows. Nathan Fielder is a comedian, but his show is neither monologue-based or a sketch.  Nathan For You is the funniest show on television.

Each episode of Nathan For You has Fielder taking hare-brained ideas to small businesses. Through a combination of manners and kindness, most of these business owners let Nathan try his ideas. Fielder also fills the show with other bits that address some of his character’s insecurities, like facing his fear of women by creating a fake reality show called The Hunk or risking becoming a registered sex offender in “The Claw of Shame” to simply prove his convictions.

Through all the escapades, Fielder never makes the other people on the show the butt of the joke. Most of the worst things and interactions happen to Fielder.  Things get strange, but never mean-spirited. There’s a lack of control that Fielder’s show has when interacting with businesses and people. The things that Fielder controls are hilarious and sometimes intricate, but the genuine reactions make the show work.

The season finale of Nathan For You airs tonight. Please watch it.

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Primer

I saw Primer on the recommendation of my friend, Coleman. He was a bit upset because there were literally no obstacles preventing me from watching this movie. Once his rage subsided, I started watching the movie. He said he was available for questions and comments, so I went on my way with this movie. It is essentially about boxes, birthday parties, time travel, the stock market, and auterism. Essentially.

The first thing I realized about time travel is that regardless of how it functions in a movie, it makes people assholes. I definitely lost my way during this movie, but at one point, after time travel is established as a THING, everyone becomes an asshole. There’s shoving and shouting and covert listening to secret future walkmen. You know, asshole stuff. Let’s dig a little deeper. Theres a little bit of asshole once everyone starts time traveling in Back to the Future. If we weigh the times he’s nice to the times he is a dick, Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day mostly comes out on the asshole side. I know Dr. Who is an alien or some shit, but he does kind of act like an asshole.

Primer lasts about 70 minutes. So, you go into it thinking, “I will focus. I will watch. I will absorb. I will get this.” Nope! Sorry. Not how this works. You will have to watch this movie SEVERAL times. I am on one-and-a-half times watching it, so I’m almost there probably. 

The director/ writer/ actor Shane Carruth seems like a nice enough guy and from the perspective of the zeitgeist, it’s pretty cool to have this guy who just sort of went for it with making movies and stumbled on something engrossing, captivating, and successful. Carruth won’t make studio stuff, but he will make what he wants and inspire other people. That’s pretty cool. Definitely not something a time-traveling asshole would do! Shane Carruth is not a time-traveling asshole.

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