LA To Vegas

LAtoVegas

It’s no secret that I’m always on the lookout for an entertaining new comedy. Thankfully, the quality of new television programs is higher than ever before. However, the flip side of this is that many sitcoms now have a mere 10-16 episodes per season rather than the classic 26. So if you’re a binge watcher, it doesn’t take too long to get through an entire season. Which creates a need for more high quality programs.

Fortunately, funny people are indeed filling this need. My discovery this week is LA to Vegas, a Fox sitcom that ran only for a single season. It’s not the best or the brightest of shining stars, but the premise is familiar yet unusual.

Each episode begins with the statement that many people fly regularly from LA to Vegas over the weekend. This leads us to Jackpot Airlines, a low-budget outfit that is based in Vegas and to a sitcom standby, the workplace comedy. The workplace in this case is a small aircraft with a crew of four. Rounding out the cast are three regulars on the flight: a gambler, a stripper and a long-distance dad. Additional plot material is drawn from other passengers who are not recurring characters.

In a way, this premise is not much different from your typical workplace sitcom. There are the staff members who we see each episode and there are customers who appear only in a single episode. But the feel is unique, moving from LA to Vegas, sometimes being in an airport, sometimes in a strip club for a children’s birthday party. The revolving cast of characters creates a wide variety of comedic situations and the fact that Vegas is the destination means, well, anything goes.

In the greater scheme of things, I would probably not rate LA to Vegas in the top tier of comedies. However, the jokes are clever, the actors are talented and the situations are amusing. All in all, not a bad way to spend a binge day.

Sadly, the show ran for a mere 15 episodes, as has been the case with many recent highly-entertaining comedies. So the crew and passengers will remain trapped in this small yet amusing world until time immemorial…

But I digress.

With the wide array of platforms currently creating programming it’s hard to keep up with what’s out there, so keep your eyes peeled for new TV shows at Everett Public Library. And please, remember to return your seats to an upright position.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

You Are an Obsession

Nowadays, openly proclaiming your obsessive allegiance to a beloved pop culture item is not only considered normal but celebrated. Be it a book, movie, TV show, graphic novel, album or almost anything, you can feel safe in declaring your intense admiration for it. As someone who in his youth had to hide his love of Star Trek (definitely team Spock), The Thing (the John Carpenter version thank you very much) and tactical board games (care for a game of Midway?) from the ‘norms,’ this is a welcome change.

But even today, some might argue that certain individuals take it a bit too far. While it is definitely subjective, since one person’s beloved hobby can be another person’s time wasting succubus, it is hard to deny that there is a line between really liking something and being obsessively, perhaps destructively, devoted to it. Here at the library, we have several newer books that examine both the objects of hyper devotion and the people who love them, and let you decide. Read on to learn more.

Superfans: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom by George Dohrmann

We’ve all seen them. In the panning shot of the spectators at a sporting event there is always at least one person in full body paint and no shirt screaming their support for the team. While many love the home team, some really, really, really love them. George Dohrmann sets out to discover what motivates a person to become a ‘superfan’ and how it affects their lives and the lives of those around them. While there definitely is a lot that is bizarre and funny here, the author does not exploit his subjects. Rather he genuinely tries to understand what motivates obsessive sports fans and conveys their humanity to the reader.

Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why by Benjamin Errett

Rather than focusing on one object of pop culture desire, this work tries to create a framework for understanding why we like certain things so passionately. The author cleverly equates our cultural likes to the sense of taste, breaking our passions down into Sweet (ex. Cozy Murder Mysteries), Sour (ex. Mad Magazine), Salty (ex. True Detective), Bitter (ex. Tim and Eric) and Indescribable (ex. Gilmore Girls). While this might sound highly regimented, it is actually quite fluid and a fun way to look at the cultural artifacts we so adore.

Furry Nation: the True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture by Joe Strike

This is not a critical examination of ‘furry fandom’, a fascination with anthropomorphic animal characters, but a celebration of the culture itself. The author is a longtime participant and well placed to report on its history and the many forms it takes: from well-known cartoon characters and sports mascots to individuals creating their own works. He also argues that the desire to emulate animals, and see them as equals, can be seen in the human species from early on in the form of cave paintings and ancient rituals.

Your Favorite Band is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden

The interesting premise of this book is simple but effective: a person’s true devotion comes out when threatened. Steven Hyden demonstrates this by exploring nineteen musical rivalries that prompt fans to defend ‘their band’ to the bitter end. All the classics, and some you may not know about, are here: David Lee Roth vs. the Van Halen brothers, Oasis vs. Blur, Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West, Dr. Dre vs. Eazy-E and many more. Hyden does not try to declare any winners, however.  He is more interested in the choices fans make and what that says about ourselves and what we choose to love.

People Like Us: the Cult of the Rocky Horror Picture Show by Lauren Everett

Perhaps one of the first groups that could be considered superfans, as well as cosplayers, devotees of the Rocky Horror Picture Show get the lovingly crafted photo-essay book that they deserve here. This work is a celebration of those who like to dress up as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Riff Raff, Brad, Janet and, who could forget, Magenta as well as other characters and attend midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show all while shouting back at the screen. While primarily made up of photographs of the participants, this work also touches on why people choose to participate and what they get out of it.

Not only will you get an appreciation for other people’s passions after reading these books, you just might feel better about embracing your own.  Don’t dream it, be it, as they say.

Music and Pictures

Lately I’ve discovered some new-to-me cable TV shows that have amazing soundtracks filled with songs I’ve never heard, and I’ve heard a lot of songs. This has caused me to ponder the purpose of soundtracks, the effects that movies and TV have on songs that already exist. At the minimum, soundtracks can expose one to music that one would not otherwise encounter. And this can be exciting.

One trend I’ve noticed in recent-ish television programs is that the soundtracks are made up of songs that are not particularly well-known. Somebody out there is spending a lot of time finding quirky hidden gems of music. But the brilliance doesn’t stop there. The songs are used skillfully to create moments that the visuals or text or music could not create alone. This leads seamlessly to my philosophy of soundtracks.

Songs enhance movies, movies enhance songs.

It’s a simple philosophy but one that I think about frequently. I’ll use Tin Cup, one of my favorite movies, as an example. Its soundtrack is made up of music that I would not typically listen to or enjoy. Yet, because of the songs’ associations with the beloved movie, I enjoy them. The songs make me picture scenes from the movie, remember funny lines. The two art forms are more powerful together than each is alone.

US of Tara

United States of Tara examines how a family copes with the mother’s dissociative identity disorder (known as multiple personalities for many years). The show is part funny, part traumatic and all excellent. The closing credits are always accompanied by a different weird-ish song that somehow relates to the episode. Thanks to Al Gore’s interwebs, it’s possible to quickly find out song titles and performer names. For a musically curious guy like me, this creates a Christmas-like situation where I can discover enjoyable music that’s new to me.

Here are a few of the artists used in United States of Tara:

Billie Holiday is one of the all-time greatest purveyors of vocal jazz and blues. Not a new listening experience for me, but a noteworthy one.

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Bon Iver is an indie folk group that has enjoyed critical acclaim and success. Acoustic-ish, using some unusual instrumentation, often quiet, worth a listen.

Chairlift delivers sparse and delicate synthpop with amazing vocals.

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Hanni El Khatib is my favorite find from the United States of Tara soundtrack. His style is all over the place, but his music is always energetic and engaging. Acoustic guitar in a rock format, well worth the price of admission.

Weeds

Another show that has led me to fabulous music through its soundtrack is Weeds. A recently widowed suburban mom tries to make ends meet by selling marijuana. She quickly learns the depths of her naiveté and attempts to turn her business into a steady income, all while raising two teenage boys who bring their own problems into the mix.

Here are a few of the artists used in Weeds:

Malvina Reynolds was an American folk singer and political activist. Her song Little Boxes, an examination of the conformity that swallows suburbia, was used as the theme song for Weeds.

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Sufjan Stevens writes in a variety of styles, focusing on lo-fi, sparse indie folk. His music runs the gamut from the overly-precious to the sublime.

Abigail Washburn is an old timey banjo player who delivers haunting ballads as well as upbeat knee slappers.

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Flogging Molly performs a brilliant brand of Celtic pop rock. If you like Irish folk music, check out this group.

So it’s two for the price of one, brilliant television series as well as fun musical discoveries. All courtesy of the library! Take a chance on something new, dare to be pleasantly surprised.