Christopher Farnsworth

Author of Blood Oath, The Eternal World, and Killfile

Category: TV (page 2 of 4)

My Latest Favorite Things

1. The Feedback column in New Scientist. It is a rich vein of nerd humor with  wordplay like “Freddie Hg” and readers who send in the many illogical, incorrect and unscientific uses of scientific-sounding language in the media and the world. “Radioactive peanuts” is the punchline to one of these jokes. (I won’t spoil it for you.) For a few minutes every week, I get to imagine what it’s like inside the skull of a much, much smarter person.

2. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from DC. Back in the 60s, the THUNDER Agents were superhuman peacekeepers for the Higher United Nations — presumably the counties that actually make the decisions, rather than Lichtenstein — who got their powers from advanced technology that also had the unfortunate side effect of being lethal with repeated use. Several companies have tried to reboot the idea since then, but it’s never really worked by now. Written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Cafu (as well as big names like Howard Chaykin and George Perez), this comic succeeds in creating an addictive look at a cold war fought with superhumans. It neatly incorporates the old characters from the previous series — who are more upright and generally heroic than their modern-day counterparts — and creates a new twist on the idea of a secret spy agency out to rule the world. Really fun, smart and kick-ass stuff. Every issue is too short, and the wait between them is getting too long for me already.

3. Community on NBC. I am growing embarrassed by my crush on this show. Really. It’s like a master class in comedy performed in the tightest confines of budget and time. What’s best about it, for me, is how the show has managed to maintain the emotional resonance of its characters despite increasingly absurd set-ups. In a just world, this would be getting American Idol‘s ratings.

4. Kohort. No idea what this thing is. Could be some offshore spam e-mailer. And yet, I reserved my username because I’ve been on every social network since sixdegrees and I’m not about to break my streak now.

5. Monkey Knife Fight Pale Ale. I was out at dinner the other night and saw this on the menu. I would have ordered it for the name alone, but it turned out to be the best pale ale I’ve had in a long time. Smooth, full-flavored and zero bitter aftertaste. Simply great beer, which is getting harder and harder to find these days.

6. Ten days and counting to the release of THE PRESIDENT’S VAMPIRE. The New York Post has kindly added it to its “Required Reading” list. And it’s jumped up to #55 on the Amazon bestseller list for horror.


I can tell I’m approaching brain-death when I’m too fried even to blog. So in that spirit, I’m going to offer a short post containing a few pop-culture heresies that will make my friends cringe, but which I nonetheless believe. It may not be fashionable to admit any of the following, but deep in your hearts, I suspect you harbor the same nagging feelings.

  1. “Friends” is funnier and holds up better than “Seinfeld.”
  2. Cargo pockets are useful, dammit.
  3. The remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) is better than George Romero’s original. (1978)
  4. The vast majority of grunge was repetitive, atonal crap. And nobody looked very good in flannel.
  6. *I don’t care what Frank Miller thinks. I don’t care how much time you give Batman to plan. I don’t even care about that stupid Kryptonite ring. Yes, Batman is the smartest, toughest human being on the planet. Superman, however, is a godlike being from outer space. He could roast Batman to ash with lasers from his eyes while floating in orbit. Check out Mark Waid’s “Irredeemable.” The first thing the Superman character does is kill the Batman character. And it takes him about thirty seconds. True, he does take the Batman character out first because he rightly considers his former friend the greatest threat to him. But it’s not because of any physical threat. And the Batman character has to get his revenge from the grave, which doesn’t do him a lot of good. So, to sum up: Superman wins. Batman dies.

Where "The Simpsons" Went So Very, Very Wrong

I am a fan of “The Simpsons” in the way the severely mentally ill are fans of anti-psychotics. Which is to say, it’s less a TV show than the thing that keeps the bad voices at bay for me.

All this week they’re doing “Classic Simpsons Week” at Splitsider, and it’s a perfect excuse for me to indulge my neurosis.

Even though “The Simpsons” has gone downhill in the past decade or so, I still keep injecting the episodes through my eyeballs into my brain. And there are bright spots that cause me to actually Laugh Out Loud, as opposed to just typing the acronym.

But if there’s a moment the show jumped the sharkif I had to name just one — I’d go with “The Principal and The Pauper.” The second episode of Season Nine, it was the first Simpsons ep to crumple all the accumulated love and goodwill of the show and toss it in the trash for the sake of a not-very-funny joke.

Harry Shearer, who voices Seymour Skinner (and many other characters), has said he didn’t know what the hell the writers were thinking when they decided Skinner wasn’t actually Skinner, but someone named Armin Tamzerian. Many fans agree. Showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein defended the episode as “an experiment,” and have said that it’s not really meant to be taken as canon.

There’s an argument to be made about what constitutes the “real” continuity of the fictional lives of a bunch of cartoon characters, but frankly, it’s the effect on the franchise itself that’s more interesting to me.

Todd VanDerWerff of the Onion has a great essay on the two types of sitcoms: the anything-for-a-laugh sitcom, which uses the characters as joke delivery vehicles, with little or no concern for their long-term development; and the character-driven sitcom, which tries for laughs based on the people and the stories rising from their cramped little worlds. Think of it like this: Type 1 is “30 Rock.” Type 2 is “Community.” (That’s at the high end, of course.)

Up until “Principal, “The Simpsons” was a Type 2 sitcom. Even as surreal as it could get — the man falling off the bridge while in line for Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie who screams “I regret nothing!” on his way down  — I’d argue its core was always the interactions between the family members. This provided some of the best laughs, but also the genuinely touching moments.

Then, with “Principal,” the show shifted gears into a Type 1 show with such a lurch that its transmission was left in pieces all over the asphalt.

Whatever the intention behind the episode, it broke the show. After “Principal,” the series was a Type 1 sitcom — and that’s something that just does not have the same kind of vital, beating heart as character-based fiction to me. Any interplay between Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie is just another gimmick now. It’s nothing that arises from a sense of them as a family. It’s simply what needs to be done to wrap up the plots and jokes in time for the credits.

You can go from a Type 2 to a Type 1 sitcom; it happened after too many seasons on “Cheers.” But once you break the heart of the story like that, you cannot go back to being Type 2. It would be like Charlie Sheen’s character suddenly asking his mother why she never loved him on Two and a Half Men.

I watch Type 1 sitcoms the same way I read plot-driven novels or watch special-effects tentpole movies — to see what happens. I rarely ever watch them again, because once that question is answered, there’s no reason to go back for more.

But with shows like “Firefly,” “Sports Night” and “Venture Bros.,” I replay them again and again, and not just because I missed some of the jokes while I was laughing. I catch new stuff, see scenes in new ways and discover little hidden meanings in the margins.

Yeah. I need to get out more.

But look back to “The Simpsons” 100th episode and you’ll see what I mean. Another Skinner-centric story, “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song” — written by Oakley and Weinstein, by the way — shows the principal getting fired from his job due to Bart’s dog getting loose in the school’s ventilation system. He and Bart actually become friends in the outside world. Of course, everything has to go back to normal at the end of the ep, but it’s not done in the ham-fisted, meta-commentary way of “Principal.” Instead, Bart places a “kick me” sign on Skinner’s back when the two hug after Skinner resumes his job. And Skinner puts a sign on Bart that says “teach me.” It’s an undeniably sweet moment.

And it’s one that the show could never pull off today.

I still love “The Simpsons.” But it’s never going to feel like that again.


Halloweek, Day Three: The Weird Nostalgia Of Zombies

Halloween Night will feature the premiere of “The Walking Dead,” which will no doubt scare the crap out of millions of people. Just from the trailer, it looks fantastically engaging and well-made.

AMC is going all out to promote the show, including sponsoring a “zombie invasion” that hit several U.S. cities yesterday.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The Zombiepocalypse still ranks as one of our most persistent nightmares, and shows no signs of dying — Ha! Wordplay! — any time soon. All the other apocalypses waiting in the wings still can’t match the terror and spectacle of the idea of the dead rising to feed on the living.

But I’m struck by the shift in tone in the tales of the zombie hordes these days. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was an intense, moody, claustrophobic film. The ghouls were a relentless tide against the humans stuck in the house, and the film’s stark black-and-white matched the inevitable conclusion of death and despair. Put simply, nobody was having any fun inside the movie.

That changed with Sam Raimi’s bleakly funny Evil Dead 2. The Deadites in that movie might have been ravenous beasts of a hellish necroworld out to devour the flesh and souls of the living — but that didn’t mean they weren’t occasionally hilarious. And the fact that they were defeated by a retail clerk with a chainsaw was a pretty cheerful sign. It said the Zombipocalypse might be lethal, but it would at least be interesting.

That’s part of the reason I love two of my favorite zombie stories, World War Z and Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead. Both WWZ and DOD get weirdly and deeply specific about spread of the plague, like a PowerPoint on vectors of zombie infection from the CDC.

There’s also something inconsequential about all the zombie hordes. In DOD, I was terrified for the safety of a dog sent as a messenger through a crowd of the undead — but laughed out loud at the survivors driving golf balls at the undead heads in that same crowd. This might be due to the fact that I’m just kind of a sick bastard, but I know I wasn’t alone when I was laughing. As in Shaun of the Dead, the zombies are meant to be shuffling targets; you could do whatever you wanted to them. (Only in Romero’s movies, as cheesy as they can be, do I get an idea of the undead as victims who are as unlucky as the human survivors.) It’s Us vs. Them at its most basic.

There’s a weird kind of hope in the zombie movies as well. It’s almost like a sigh of relief once the planet has been wiped nearly clean of humanity; as if we can look at Armageddon finally arrived and say, “Well, thank God that’s over.” Another imperfect metaphor: it’s like ripping off the band-aid in one quick swoop. Sure, it’s painful, but it beats hell out of that slow, torturous peeling. And hey, look — underneath, that’s fresh clean skin. My friend Glenn pointed out I Am Legend — which features Will Smith roaring down the deserted streets of Manhattan in a brand-new Mustang — actually makes being the sole survivor of the end of the world look sort of fun. In World War Z, the planet is inarguably better off after the zombie war — everyone is a little sadder but wiser and more compassionate. There’s even cream soda in the new world, so it’s not all bad news. It’s the idea of a fresh start after a horrible, lingering illness — that just happened to end with rotting corpses walking around chomping on friends and neighbors.

There’s a lot of this sentiment mirrored in our culture right now. People talk about a coming revolution, or the attack of the New World Order, with teeth bared in a too-wide smile, as if they can’t wait for the shit to finally hit the fan. It’s an understandable impulse. When things are uncertain and scary, it feels good to have an identifiable, clearly evil enemy.

But it seems like that’s yesterday’s news in zombie evolution now.

I’ve read the first volume of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, on which the AMC series is based. I admit, I’m not very far into the book, and haven’t even seen the show yet, but it seems different, despite all it has in common with its predecessors. Unlike previous zombie tales, there’s no joy in smashing zombie skulls; one of the infected is even allowed to turn quietly in a hopes of a kind of reunion with his undead family. There’s also no real joy in the rebirth of the world. Everyone looks around at the ruins of civilization with the dazed expression of a driver after a car crash. The protagonist, Rick, a former small-town sheriff, is a perfect lens to view the end of the world. Decent and pragmatic and uncommonly brave, he focuses on what’s in front of him. Most important, he is resigned to the fact that the old world is gone and it’s not coming back.

That’s the thing I feel most strongly when looking at the abandoned skyscrapers, the dead tank in the city streets, the discarded and empty cars on the road: regret. The dead might be up and walking, but this world is still in mourning. And I can’t help but wonder what that says about us, right now. I wonder what it means that we’re already rehearsing the funeral for the world where we live.

Life Lessons From B'Wana Beast and others

1. A dad uses Batman to teach his son about death. I’m not crying. You’re crying. Shut up.

2. A glossary to the terms used on “30 Rock.”

3. Reaction to David Carr’s great story about the decline and fall of the Tribune.

4. In praise of Blackadder. If the only way you know Rowan Atkinson is for “Mr. Bean,” oh, man, you are missing out.

5. Charlie Huston is a great fucking writer. Read this. Right now.

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