Funny Stuff on the Box

I am a person who thrives on comedy. When choosing movies, television shows or books I always gravitate towards humor. And now that Seinfeld is rumored to be cancelled (pause for laughter), I’m always on the lookout for new sitcoms. What with cable and streaming services, the new offerings are more numerous than ever before. Here are a few newish shows that I have come to treasure.

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Fresh off the Boat is the story of a Taiwanese family that moves from Washington D.C. to Orlando so the father can open a cowboy-themed steakhouse. As so many Taiwanese dads do in Florida. The family consists of parents, three boys, and grandma. In addition to typical sitcom plotlines the Huangs are faced with culture shock while attempting to mix seamlessly with the Orlando way of life. What makes this show stand out is the superior acting of all parties and the clever writing. The “sit” part of the sitcom is pretty typical, but the “com” is a cut above the rest.

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But perhaps you’re the kind of person who’s looking for proof of alien abductions in your television comedies. Fear not! People of Earth is just the ticket for you. The cast includes a group of abductees trying to make sense of what’s happened to them, a reporter trying to write a story on the group, and three aliens of different species (one of whom is named Jeff) trying to conquer earth. Ozzie, the journalist, is not a believer but the more he investigates the more it appears that the group’s claims are true. He even begins to suspect that he himself is an abductee. Meanwhile, the aliens halfheartedly attempt their conquest. One of the freshest and funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time, but be aware that TBS quite suddenly pulled the plug on it, leaving a cliffhanger that will never be resolved.

AngieT

Finally we find Angie Tribeca, a police comedy strongly reminiscent of Police Squad!. The show’s focus is the LAPD’s infamous Really Heinous Crimes Unit. Sight gags, one liners and general silliness prevail whilst the officers attempt to solve cases. If you enjoy this exchange from Airplane! then you’re dead-certain to love Angie Tribeca.

Rumack: You’d better tell the Captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

These are just a few of the truly superior comedies available for your viewing pleasure at Everett Public Library. So get out your banana peel, couch and VHS player and settle in for a long, funny Spring.

Bill Murray Stories

Everyone has a story about Bill Murray, whether it be something he did in a movie, on a talk show or during his run on Saturday Night Live. My Bill Murray story might be his appearance on the first episode of Late Night with David Letterman in 1982. It was a rather crazy bit of television and I later found out that Bill and Dave were both drunk at the show’s taping. Or perhaps it would be the many ways in which his dialogue from movies has permeated my life.

Caddyshack
caddyshack
“So we finish 18 and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ … So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

This completely improvised speech came from the lips of Carl Spackler (Murray) in Caddyshack regarding the time he caddied for the dalai lama. Now I frequently think to myself, “I’ve that going for me.” Which is nice.

Stories

But not everyone has a story about how Bill came to their birthday party and sang or served them a drink in their local bar. And this is precisely what the movie The Bill Murray Stories is about. Apparently, many people tell of encounters they’ve had with Bill Murray. It’s even become an internet thing to post these tales. Tommy Avallone, the film’s director, sets out to determine if these stories are true or simply urban legend. And as Bill Murray is notoriously difficult to contact (he has an 800 number that goes directly to an answering machine and he seldom returns calls) Avallone does this without going to the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Stripes
Stripes
Oh, it’s not the speed really so much, I just wish I hadn’t
drunk all that
cough syrup this morning.

So Avallone begins tracking down people who claim to have had serendipitous encounters with Mr. Murray. Stories range from Bill washing dishes at a house party to Bill playing kickball with strangers in the park. In each case, the stories’ purveyors are able to provide photographic proof of the incidents. More than just legend, it appears that the Bill Murray stories are true!

Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters
“Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”

This wonderful movie continues on to dissect Murray’s philosophy, his way of life. As this aspect of the story is somewhat mysterious and surprising, I’ll leave you to explore it on your own. And I highly recommend that you immediately check this film out so that you too can be in the know.

Prolific actor, funny guy, bringer of joy, he is… Bill Murray.

Fame Adjacent

Something weird happened to me when I was a kid. I was on a TV show, and afterward, everyone on it became famous except for me.

This is how Fame Adjacent by Sarah Skilton begins. What appears to be a monologue in front of a live studio audience slowly reveals itself to actually be Holly Danner’s introduction in group therapy. Like many former child actors, as an adult Holly has found herself in rehab. She’s an addict, but it’s not what you think. Holly isn’t addicted to painkillers, alcohol, or gambling.

Holly is an internet addict.

That’s right. Internet addiction is an acknowledged and treatable problem in this book. Patients’ phones, tablets, laptops, and smart watches are locked up upon arrival. There’s no television, because television is likely to remind patients what they’re missing during their internet withdrawal. Patients are encouraged to participate in group therapy, play board games, and generally relearn how to unplug, connect with other people, and most of all get a good night’s sleep. There are no devices, and no online connections.

Withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to conquer. There’s the paranoia that the whole world is going ahead without your knowledge or permission. Swiping on unswipable things, like the view out a window, are common causes of crying breakdowns. Restless hands don’t know what to do with themselves, so talismans like stones are offered as a way to keep busy hands occupied.

And patients’ focused addictions are varied. One patient is addicted to popping videos–that would be YouTube videos of pimples being popped, cysts being lanced, etc. Another patient is obsessed with comparing her life to other moms’ seemingly perfect lives on Instagram, to the point of extreme depression and withdrawing from her real-life family. These addictions all got so huge they ruined the patients’ lives and make them take refuge in rehab.

Holly isn’t just addicted to surfing the internet, or using a specific app. She has recently become obsessed with her former castmates’ lives and telling the world that she was a part of their success, even if no one has ever heard of her. Best known for her role in the early 90s kids’ show Diego and the Lion’s Den, Holly was never able to replicate that success. She eventually faded into insignificance while everyone else went on to be super-huge mega stars.

What sent her into this tailspin was the announcement of a 25th anniversary reunion show with the entire cast. Everyone, that is, except for Holly. You see, Holly wasn’t invited–and something inside of her snapped. No one ever uses the phrase “psychotic break” but I read between the lines. After she lost her job, Holly’s family staged an intervention, which is what gave her the wake-up call she needed to seek professional help. But the timing is perfect. She figures she can go to rehab for the recommended six weeks, “get cured,” and still make it back to San Diego in time to crash the reunion show to set the record straight and give her former best friends a very large piece of her mind. On national television. Why not?

Then she starts making a connection with a fellow patient, Thom. He’s the whole reason she staged her introduction as a nightclub act. He tells every new patient in group therapy, “Pretend it’s your nightclub act,” but she’s the first person who actually took him up on it. He won’t tell Holly what his specific internet addiction is, but she realizes it truly won’t make her think less of him if she finds out what it is. That’s because she’s starting to realize she cares about him as more than just a fellow patient.

Thom completes his rehab and is released at the same time Holly discovers that the date for the reunion show got changed. Now she’s got less than three days to get from Ohio to NYC with no car, no credit cards, and no prospects. Except for Thom, who refuses to take her–or does he?

What starts out as a fascinating look into the world of internet addiction, mega-celebrity, and friendships gone wrong takes a drive into romance and that great American favorite–road fiction! Yes readers, we have ourselves a book that’s one part rehab, one part road trip, and 100% hilarious, heartwarming, and introspective.

Choices will be made. Hearts will be broken. But one thing is uncertain: will Holly get to the show on time? And if she does, what is she actually going to tell her former BFFs and the millions of people watching live at home?

I sadly identified with Holly a bit. Like Holly, I went through a period after high school where I broke it off with some friends who I felt only used my friendship when it was convenient for them. Holly and I are also the exact same age, so all of her cultural touchstones really hit home with me. And then there’s her voice. The snarky comedian who tends to put others before her. Sound familiar? I became emotionally invested in seeing Holly through to the very last page.

If you want to find out how Holly handles being on the sidelines of stardom, you’ll want to place a hold now so you can read Fame Adjacent when it comes out on April 9th.

Until then, I’m going to try to cut back on my internet time and increase my face-to-face time with the people I love. After all, no amount of Reddit AMAs or YouTube videos can ever come close to in-person conversation and making memories.

Get Shorty, Now!

It’s 9th grade English and we are reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I enjoy the book tremendously and soon the crafty Ms. Franklin tells us that we’re going to watch the Oscar-winning movie of the same name. I like watching movies in class as much as the next guy so I eagerly await this golden opportunity. And… I am sorely disappointed. The book is so very much better. To an older and wiser person this is no surprise, but to an impressionable teen… well, it was a surprise. And so I became interested in the relationship between books and movies based on books.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard is unusual in that the 1990 book spawned a 1995 movie and a 2017 TV series. Let us look at these gems in the same order in which I discovered them.

Movie

The movie version of Get Shorty is one of my all-time favorites. Featuring a cast of John Travolta, Gene Hackman (who at that time was in every movie made), Rene Russo and Danny DeVito, as well as a funky soundtrack by John Lurie, this fast-paced glance into the world of organized crime and Hollywood phonies is simply brilliant. Travolta plays a Florida thug with mob connections who, while on a job in L.A., decides to become a movie producer. The rest of the plot is too complex to explain with any clarity, but there are twists and turns galore, surprises and shocks, scream queens and egg-white omelets.

Book

Some years later I decided to read the book to see how the movie compared to it. 9th grade English all over again! But this time both book and movie were excellent. Never having read Leonard before, I wasn’t sure if I would like his prose, but his words were like butter to my soul. There seems to be this school of writers who focus on kooky capers in Florida (Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Tim Dorsey), and Leonard is, if not their king, at least their vice-chancellor. And having seen the movie first, there was the added bonus of hearing the soundtrack in my head while reading.

TV

When the television version of Get Shorty arrived I was highly suspicious. Although the cast of Chris O’Dowd and Ray Romano is solid, it seemed that a “remake” of the movie could do nothing but fall short of the mark. The first episode did nothing to dispel my suspicion. See, the movie has such a specific feel created by the soundtrack, pacing, editing and acting. To my mind, the story and this feel are one and the same. The TV version could have chosen to imitate the movie’s feel, but it does not. And as much as I love Chris O’Dowd, I was disappointed.

Eventually I moved on to episode 2 and I felt that there might be hope. Trudging on, I began to respect and enjoy the show, its soundtrack and pacing, its somewhat different telling of the story. And by the time I finished season one I was loving it.

So here we have a rarity, a book that became a movie that became a television series, and all three versions are fabulous yet distinctive. I recommend checking out each version of this story, in whatever order you like. Just jump in your Cadillac minivan and drive on down to the library. Tell ‘em Chili Palmer sent you.

On the Road with David Sedaris

David Sedaris brings you into his life and adventures with his 9th and probably best book yet, Calypso.  The 21 stories and personal essays will amuse, shock and lead to an understanding of the family and brilliance of Sedaris.

He’ll take you to Tokyo where he and sister Amy buy absurd clothing (clown pants with suspenders, a trio of hats meant to be worn together) that ‘refuse to flatter.’

He’ll show you what he goes through in his attempt to make a wild fox his friend.

He’ll take you to the post-dinner dining room table of his youth where he and his 4 siblings would vie for their chance to either light their mom’s cigarette or tell her their daily story. Mom Sedaris would give helpful notes to each (“lose the part about the teacher….” or “cut to the chase here…”)

You’ll go with him on his Fitbit-induced walks from his countryside home in Sussex. By the time he works up to 60,000 steps a day, he’s sporting a grabber in one hand and a big garbage bag in the other. He imagines stories to go along with each piece of interesting garbage. Neighbors report to his long-suffering boyfriend, Hugh, such things as “We saw David in Arundel pick up a dead squirrel with his grabbers” or “We saw him outside Steyning rolling a tire down the side of the road.”

Hugh, seemingly in permanent eye-roll mode, has a lot to contend with when the rest of the Sedaris clan are around. And they’re around a lot after Sedaris buys a beach house off the coast of North Carolina. The vacation home, purposefully without any TV, gives Sedaris and his 90+ year old father Lou, brother (plus sister-in-law and niece) and four sisters a place to be together on holidays. The four sisters become three in the aftermath of the youngest one’s suicide. This fact is dealt with off and on throughout the book in the inimitable fashion of Sedaris.

Sedaris finds his always critical father has been replaced by a nicer more agreeable one. And while Sedaris admits it makes a better story to hang onto the cantankerous Dad he remembers from his youth, he still makes a good case for holding a grudge. David is the only one taken out of Dad’s will after a particularly spectacular argument.

Sedaris writes beautifully about the moment the two found common ground. “Just Listen,” his dad commands the 15 year-old, as he goes about playing John Coltrane’s ‘I wish I knew” and Betty Carter’s “Beware My Heart.”  I won’t spoil it for you by quoting the ending here. You’ll just have to read the book for yourself. And, when you get to page 141 and 142, you might want to que the music and JUST READ!

Hidden Comedy

I am a lover of comedies. Sure, dramas can be dramatic and westerns might feature exciting horse brawls, but comedies speak to my soul like an impoverished artist panhandling for paint money in the Ben Franklin parking lot. But I digress.

While it’s easy enough to be aware of mainstream comedies, many films fall through the grapevine cracks (or gracks) and spend their golden years on the shelves of your local public library, waiting for some kindhearted chappie to take them home, give them a spin, perhaps entertain guests…

But let us remain on point. Many spectacular comedies you might not have heard of await you at Everett Public Library. And here are six of them.

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The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975) starring Gene Wilder and Madeleine Kahn
There is a certain type of comedy set in 19th century Europe that’s filled with costumes and frolicking and chaos. This is one of those. Here we find Professor Moriarity attempting to steal vitally important documents, Sigerson Holmes trying to stop him, and various people singing, dancing, and acting in myriad screwball ways.

The Big Picture (1989) starring Kevin Bacon and Teri Hatcher
From time immemorial artists have struggled with the dilemma of making art vs. making a living. The Big Picture tells the story of a young film student who wins a competition, is wooed by studios, tries to maintain his artistic integrity and eventually sells his soul. This depiction of Hollywood is hilarious yet sadly accurate.

Mystery Men (1999) starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, and Janeane Garofalo
Not all superheroes are created equal. Some can melt matter with their eyes, others emit foul odors or lob bowling balls at the bad guys. The Mystery Men fall into the latter category, featuring the Blue Raja who throws cutlery at people and the Shoveler who wears a hard hat and fights with a shovel. When Captain Amazing is kidnapped by the evil Casanova Frankenstein, the Mystery Men set out to save him. And much hilarity follows.

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The Big Year (2011) starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson
Some people like to count birds. Sometimes these people spend an entire calendar year keeping track of the number of species they see. This is called a big year. Our movie finds three strangers who each secretly set out to break the record for most birds counted in a year. The film is rather quiet, slow and charming, delving into the lives of the birders as well as documenting their searches for rare birds.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) starring Tina Fey and Martin Freeman
Based on a true story, Tina Fey plays a journalist who goes to Afghanistan to cover the war. Initially unhappy with this assignment, she gradually finds herself feeling more and more at home. Not a typical comedy, somewhat slow-paced, this film transports its audience to a lifestyle that few have experienced.

The Little Hours (2017) starring Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and John C. Reilly
Loosely based on stories from The Decameron, this medieval comedy is set at a convent filled with nuns and novitiates who talk like sailors, enjoy sex and, in one case, worship the devil. The juxtaposition of stereotypical millennials with a 14th century setting creates a unique and entertaining viewing experience.

The Nerdiest Murder Mystery Ever

What do you think of when you read the words Comic Con? Do you think of ECCC, the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle? Do you think of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, or Star Wars? Indie comics artists, fandom cosplay, and merch galore? How about murder? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

A result of a power partnership between two veteran comics geniuses (writer Fred Van Lente and illustrator Tom FowlerThe Con Artist is more than just a hilarious mystery where a slightly washed-up comics artist is blamed for the death of his bitter rival. The whole book is set up to mimic a written police statement, recounting day by day and hour by hour what exactly happened at Comic Con. Here’s the opening note:

Due to ongoing litigation, many names of the companies, trademarked characters, and real people in the statement of Michael “Mike M” Mason have been changed upon the advice of the publisher’s counsel. However, none of the artwork has been altered in any way; it has been reproduced exactly as it was found in the sketchbook confiscated by the San Diego Police Department.

So let me tell you more about Mike. He had some limited success years ago as a comics illustrator, but is mostly known for his run on Mister Mystery, a popular long-running comics series owned by one of the industry’s most lucrative publishers. In the last few years, he’s become essentially homeless. He flies from convention to convention often giving up some or all of his appearance fee in exchange for a longer hotel stay. He’s running away from permanence, from the possibility that he’s now a has-been and he doesn’t know how to enter the next phase of his life. He’s also running away from a breakup and betrayal that did a tap dance on his confidence and smashed his heart into a tiny million pieces.

But back to the con! After arriving at the airport in San Diego, Mike is immediately swept into the madness that is the world’s biggest and most well-known comic convention: SDCC. It’s not long before he eases back into the norm of con life, the signings and parties, only to be slapped with the news that his comics mentor has died. Everyone thinks it was natural causes, but Mike starts to wonder if maybe someone got to his mentor before he could secure the intellectual property rights to one of his biggest creations.

To make matters worse, Mike’s mortal enemy is also at Comic Con. And who’s on his arm? None other than the ex-love of his life, the one who betrayed him and tossed his life into chaos. Mike tries to keep his cool, but after a well-publicized fight at an after hours Comic Con party, his rival winds up dead and Mike’s the San Diego PD’s prime suspect.

Mike knows he didn’t murder anyone, but he has to convince the police that he’s innocent. He starts his own investigation knowing that serving up the real killer on a silver platter is the only way to completely remove suspicion from himself. But then other people start turning up dead and it becomes a race the clock for Mike. Not only does this need to be wrapped up before the end of the con, but the killer just might decide to kill Mike next.

It’s important to note that both the author and illustrator are seasoned comics veterans and that really shines through the pages. I’ve only been to one big comic con (ECCC, big but not nearly as big as SDCC I know) but I relived some of my experiences (lines! getting to meet rad artists in Artists’ Alley! awesome cosplayers!) while reading this book.

In getting the con experience right, and in highlighting the details that only the people on the other side of the table (comics professionals) would experience, the author holds up con culture, nerd culture, and the entire comics industry for scrutiny. Pay attention to the social commentary, especially surrounding the darker side of comics where artists’ original intellectual properties often become absorbed by mega publishers and where no health care is to be found for these artists and writers who brought so much joy to children and adults through their staple-bound pages.

The text is lightly peppered with sketches from the main character’s notebook and I figured there would probably be clues in them that the reader should try to interpret to determine whodunit. Mike occasionally recalls a clue from one of his sketches, but once or twice he recalled details I could not discern from the sketches I saw. It helped prolong the unmasking of the killer’s identity for me, which added to the suspense.

Thanks to our book vendor for sending us an early copy from the publisher, I was reading this book while in line at Everett Comics for Free Comic Book Day back in May. If that’s not meta I don’t know what is. Nerds, read this book and rejoice!