Category Archives: columns

A Qualified Defense of Fuller House

Originally posted at Smash Cut Culture.

I intended to watch only the first episode of Fuller House, treat it as a reunion special, and stop there. But the unexpected happened—whenever one episode finished, I found myself clicking on the next one.

Why? It’s not good. Critically speaking, this Full House sequel/spinoff is a bad show. It’s cheesy and predictable, loaded with unsubtle “wink wink, nudge nudge” references to its late ‘80s/early ‘90s heyday, not loaded with any kind of original comedic style, and occasionally downright dumb. (There’s a wrestling episode whose climax is the height of ridiculous stupidity, or perhaps “nadir” is the more appropriate term.) The show’s 31 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes comes as no surprise…and yet, neither does its 81 percent audience approval rating on the same website.

fuller-house-01Despite Fuller House’s legion of faults, it’s actually kind of nice. It’s the television equivalent of catching up with old friends you haven’t seen since grade school. Sure, on the surface level, you’ve grown apart during the intervening decades, but you’re still peers with a shared history that leads to a sort of unconditional acceptance. A new show with new characters could never get away with all these flaws.

If the show chose to focus on the original adults, then this probably would have felt like nothing more than a cheap rehash, and it would have gotten old very quickly. From what we see, none of them have changed since the ‘90s. Danny’s still got a clean streak. Jesse’s still vain. And Joey’s still clinging to his man-childness.

But the focus wisely shifts to the girls who have grown up since the original series. Yes, it’s absolutely contrived that the premise is a gender-reversed version of the original show, with recent widow D.J. raising three boys with the help of sister Stephanie and best friend Kimmy, and yet it feels appropriate, even without youngest sister Michelle. (I certainly can’t blame the Olsen twins for not wanting to re-utter their old catchphrases that pre-date their memories. The show has a little too much fun picking on them about it, though.) Continue reading

Doctor Who Series 9 Ranked From Worst To Best

(Originally posted at Smash Cut Culture.)

SPOILERS ahead.

My previous ranking of every modern Doctor Who episode had become out of date…until now. Series 9 wrapped up earlier this month, and this year’s Christmas special was the last new episode until probably next fall. Time for an update.

I’ve inserted the new episodes into the overall worst-to-best rankings, which debuted in four parts early this year:

I’m Sorry, I’m So Sorry

Are These Good Episodes?

These Episodes Are Cool

Fantastic!

But if you just want to focus on the newest season, I’m including the Series 9–only list below (same text I’m inserting into the full list). Note that this was a more serialized season than previous years. It featured a mix of conventional two-parters (The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, Under the Lake/Before the Flood, and The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion) and episodes that directly continued into each other while each maintaining its own flavor (The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived and Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent). The episodes in the latter category are separately ranked because their different flavors merit individual attention.

This was an excellent season on the whole, a big improvement over the past few years, with no real clunkers in the mix. But, as always, some are better than others.

Again, SPOILERS!

Continue reading

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe from Worst to Best

Originally posted at Smash Cut Culture.

The Internet clearly doesn’t have enough lists, so here’s another.

Many have attempted to rank the movies comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fewer have dared to add the four complete seasons of MCU television and Netflix series into the equation. I shall somehow rise to this challenge to ensure the Internet does not experience a shortage of lists. This was not easy, Internet. I swear, the top six were all neck-and-neck, and it came down to a photo-finish.

This ranking is from worst to best, not horrible to great. I’ve enjoyed all of these to varying extents, and the “varying” is what I’m measuring. None are bad. Conversely, none are works of towering artistic genius either. But it’s all damn fine entertainment worth revisiting.

SPOILERS ahead.

So, with that warning out of the way…

Here…we…go! Continue reading

Super Comics: Hawkeye #1-5 (2012)

Hawkeye-Clint-Barton-Kate-Bishop-Trick-ArrowsNew post at Smash Cut Culture!

After the first Avengers movie came out, Marvel wisely promoted Hawkeye into a solo ongoing series. It’s not the first time this has been attempted, but the series that launched in 2012 is easily the most successful and critically acclaimed outing for a lone Clint Barton. Well, not entirely lone.

The series only lasts 22 issues before getting a reboot with a new creative team, and there’s nothing wrong with stopping while you’re still ahead. The place for readers to start, of course, is the first trade paperback, My Life as a Weapon, which collects Hawkeye #1-5, (plus a superfluous Young Avengers Presents #6, which is okay but we’ll just ignore it here).

These short stories show how delightfully entertaining comic books can be when they’re not muddled with intricate continuity or crossovers or big events.

As the intro says, “Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, became the greatest sharpshooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger. That’s all you need to know.”

Read the rest here, please…

Every modern Doctor Who episode ranked from worst to best, part 4 of 4: “Fantastic!”

And here we are at last—the top 25 episodes of modern Doctor Who. If you missed the earlier installments, you can start at the bottom with “I’m Sorry, I’m So Sorry,” then progress up through “Are These Good Episodes?” and “These Episodes Are Cool.” Or, if you want to focus on the positive, see below.

Remember: Spoilers!

Without further ado, Geronimo!

“Fantastic!”

The TARDIS comes equipped with blankets for when you visit winter.

“On the bright side, we now know the TARDIS has blankets. Unless this is the dream.”

#25 Amy’s Choice: A dream-based episode where the stakes feel real. The set-up is intriguing with the characters not knowing which of the two realities is the dream, and it’s all grounded by a strong emotional core. I’m not sure how Amy fell in love with Rory back in these pre–Hitler-punching days, and that does mar the episode just a tad, but great stuff otherwise.

#24 Last Christmas: Another dreamy episode, but a totally different one: Doctor Who does Inception, guest starring Santa Claus. It’s one of those ideas that could easily have gone so wrong and yet somehow finds the sweet intersection of Christmas and sci-fi.

#23 Midnight: I wouldn’t want every episode to be like this, but this is a wonderfully tense change of pace, and one of very, very few Doctor Who episodes that could conceivably be staged as a play. All that repetition is unsettling, but it’s a good unsettling. Continue reading

Every modern Doctor Who episode ranked from worst to best, part 3 of 4: “These Episodes Are Cool”

Now we’re getting into the good stuff, and we still have the best stuff to look forward to. How lovely. For anyone just tuning in, I started this worst-to-best ranking of modern Doctor Who two weeks ago with the weakest episodes in “I’m Sorry. I’m So Sorry,” continued with the middling ones in “Are These Good Episodes?” and here we are now in the penultimate entry:

(Spoilers!)

“These Episodes Are Cool”

"Quick -- where's my ruby-quartz visor?"

“Quick — where’s my ruby-quartz visor?”

#50 42: What should’ve been a wonderfully tense, 24-style thriller winds up being merely pretty good. Trivia as security questions? What?

#49 Tooth and Claw: A decent romp with a werewolf, ninja monks, and Queen Elizabeth. Not an all-time classic, but kind of fun.

#48 The Vampires of Venice: One that falls squarely in the “good dumb fun” category. The plot about fish aliens wanting to repopulate their species (while coincidentally resembling vampires) is kind of so-so, but the episode’s high on adventure and the Doctor makes a memorable entrance at Rory’s bachelor party. Continue reading

Every modern Doctor Who episode ranked from worst to best, part 2 of 4: “Are these good episodes?”

And we’re back for more fun with numbers as I continue ranking every modern Doctor Who episode from worst to best. I scraped the bottom of the barrel last week, so now we move on to the middling episodes. That sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? Even though I’m being critical here and these are flawed doses of the Doctor, they’re perfectly entertaining ways to indulge in 45-minute breaks from the world, but maybe only if you’ve grown tired of re-watching the best episodes too many times. I’d still take any of these over much else we find on television these days.

Now remember – Spoilers!

“Are These Good Episodes?”

Wokka wokka!

Wokka wokka!

#75 The Bells of St. John: The introduction of the “real” Clara (Clara Prime?) includes great bits, including nice scenes with the Doctor and his soon-to-be-companion plus a brief trip aboard a crashing plane. The sexism with the monks isn’t so great, nor is the idea of presenting Clara as a mystery to be solved rather than a fully formed character in her own right. And the plot about people getting trapped in wi-fi is pretty basic.

#74 The Name of the Doctor: Some cool ideas, like the Doctor visiting his own grave (the one place a time-traveler is never supposed to go—aside from pretty much anywhere in his or her own past, right?) and some incredibly poor payoff—namely, learning that Clara’s many lives existed just to keep the Doctor safe. The story feels like it needed more fleshing out for everything to work properly. Great final scene with River, though, that addresses the troubling end of “Forest of the Dead,” even if it doesn’t fix it.

#73 Gridlock: I have a heck of a time buying the premise that people would spend years in traffic traveling meters per day. A little more world-building could have clarified why they’re desperate enough to resort to travel that’s slower than walking. But the ending is wonderful, especially when the Doctor tells Martha about Gallifrey. And it is fun watching the Doctor jumping from car to car while trying not to choke on exhaust. Continue reading

Every modern Doctor Who episode ranked from worst to best, part 1 of 4: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

doc10openingThe Internet likes a good list, doesn’t it? A nice comprehensive, frivolous ranking of a beloved something or other?

All right then. Let’s do this. Let’s rank every episode of modern Doctor Who from worst to best in four weekly installments: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” “Are these good episodes?”, “These episodes are cool,” and “Fantastic!”

I tried not to agonize over the exact rankings, because I wanted to be done this century, so assume a margin of error of plus or minus a few. If I did this a year later, the order would likely turn out differently. It’s all just my opinion, and I respect that you’ll likely disagree. (I know—how dare I rank that episode that low and that episode that high?) This is just for fun, a way to reflect on what’s been a great science fiction series overall.

I love Doctor Who even though not every episode is a winner, and I appreciate how hard it is to write for television. Both showrunners, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, have given us brilliant episodes, and both have been guilty of failing to rein in their excesses. Nevertheless, the show remains great on the whole, and I’m thankful for the many wonderfully entertaining hours both writers and their teams have given us.

But none of us are perfect. So in this first part, let’s get the misfires out of the way:

(Spoilers!)

Allons-y!

“I’m Sorry. I’m So Sorry.”

The Doctor as you never wanted to see him.

The Doctor as you never wanted to see him.

#97 The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords: It would’ve been much higher if I hadn’t separated “Utopia” from this three-parter. But no. That wonderful first part doesn’t deserve to be saddled with this train wreck. Both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have been guilty of mythologizing the Doctor, which is the wrong approach, but RTD gives us the most egregious example here. Martha travels the world convincing people to Tinkerbell the Doctor back to health, which results in a Jesus-like resurrection. No, people. He’s a runaway from a race of haughty time-travelers, not a Christ figure. And the Master’s insanity could be subtler.

#96 Love & Monsters: It benefits from an ELO soundtrack. And pretty much nothing else as our guest protagonist stalks Rose’s mother and a needlessly icky alien kills some nice people. And that girl’s really okay living as a cement face? Continue reading

Super Comics: The Walking Dead #1-6 (2003-04)

New post over at Smash Cut Culture!

Walking-Dead-1You might have heard about this little show on AMC called The Walking Dead that’s based on a comic book series of the same name, which has been going strong for something like 138 issues now.

For now, let’s just look at those first six issues, which are collected in the Days Gone Bye trade paperback, and compare them to the first season of the AMC show, which also happened to number six episodes. SPOILERS ahead (but just for that first season/first TPB).

Though they are different beasts, the similarities don’t end there.

The comic was created by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore. Kirkman has written every issue of series, though Moore left after issue #6, and Charlie Adlard has kept things going from then on. The television show was brought to life by Frank Darabont of Shawshank Redemption fame (though he’s no longer the showrunner), and Kirkman has written some of the episodes.

That short first season of television is a mixed bag. The pilot episode is masterful. The second episode has some great tension. And then it’s a steady slide into mediocrity from there. The comic is more consistent in its quality level, though reading the first issue after watching the pilot makes the source material feel like the abridged version. An hour-long television show simply has much more room to breathe than a 20-or-so-page comic.

Read the rest here, please…

Super Comics: The Amazing Spider-Man #121 & 122 (1973)

New post over at Smash Cut Culture!

Amazing-Spider-Man-121-CoverSpoilers for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ahead!

Don’t read if you’re still planning on seeing it! Avert your eyes!

The Silver Age of comic books arguably ended with a two-part Spider-Man storyline from 1973 titled “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.”

Written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, the story delivers exactly what the title says—though, to Marvel’s credit, they didn’t reveal the title until the end of the first part. Unlike in today’s spoiler-filled world, Gwen Stacy’s death came as a shock to ‘70s readers.gilkane-amazingspider-man-122

In the comics, Gwen was Peter Parker’s first love, first appearing way back in The Amazing Spider-Man #31 in 1965. Mary Jane Watson, whom Peter would eventually marry, was introduced as a romantic rival in #42. But Mary Jane wound up being the livelier character—a vivacious young woman who initially came across as shallow and flighty but was simply masking her true heart. Gwen, on the other hand, was just a nice girl.

So, to prevent Peter Parker from marrying a one-dimensional woman, the folks at Marvel decided to kill off Gwen.

It was one of, if not the first time the hero failed to save the girl—and not just Spider-Man, but super-heroes in general. Sure, they’d screw up from time to time, especially the Marvel ones, but outside of their origin stories, they seldom or never experienced irrevocable failure.

The rest can be found here.