Chad’s Favorite Fifteen of 2016

I’m ashamed that my list isn’t very esoteric. Every film on here was a fairly mainstream release and all of them have received some level of praise and success. But I didn’t find any hidden gems this year. I’m sure there were some. If you found them, let me know. But here’s my list of my favorite films of 2016, as usual broken into 3 tiers: I. Masterpieces, II. Great Films, and III. Very Good Films.

I.

ARRIVAL (Denis Villeneuve)

Sicario was my favorite film of 2015 and now here’s Villeneuve’s latest, at the top of my list once again. Needless to say he’s becoming one of the world’s premier filmmakers. I normally wouldn’t be too excited about new Bladerunner and Dune films, but with Denis at the helm, I’m now actively looking forward to them. I’m not talking about the actual film too much. I don’t want to give any of it away. Yes, it is a film about a couple scientists trying to communicate with alien visitors. But that is just one layer of this beautiful gut-punch of an onion, and I’d rather you peel it for yourself and cry your eyes out. Lois Lane, Hawkeye, and Saw Gerrera are all great but it’s Eric Heisserer’s screenplay and Villeneuve’s confidence and grace behind the camera that make this one of the best science fiction experiences ever put to film.

THE HANDMAIDEN (Park Chan-Wook)

Park’s best film since Old Boy, The Handmaiden is not at all what it seems. The poster and title and production design and costuming would leave you to believe that you’re about to watch a “serious” period drama, a Korean “Downton Abbey” or something. But The Handmaiden, while having those trappings, is a crazy-as-fuck double-and-triple-cross forbidden-lesiban-love-story con movie. It is fun and hysterical and sexy and entertaining and, shot through Park’s unique eye, a visual treat that I can’t wait to revisit. It’s not a film for everyone, I guess, but it’s definitely a film for me. Villeneuve and Park. Two of cinemas boldest voices. Right here at the top of my list. Who’d have thought?

OJ: MADE IN AMERICA (Ezra Edelman)

The flat-out most compelling thing that I watched all year. There was some debate over whether or not Made in America was a feature film or not, but, despite its 7 hour plus run time, and the fact that most people saw it on TV, it has been nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars and that makes it a movie. And what a movie. I was a young man as the O.J. saga unfolded, and, like most of America, I was fascinated by it, but Edelman’s documentary is so much more than just a recounting of the “Trial of the Century”. The first part alone, which covers the historical relationship between the police and Los Angeles’ South Central black communities, is an Oscar-worthy piece that seems even more relevant today. Don’t know anything about O.J. Simpson or his trial? Watch this. Don’t know anything about the history of police brutality by the LAPD? Watch this. Still angry that O.J. went free, don’t understand how an obviously guilty man was found not guilty in front of the entire world? Watch this. You will understand. Filled with a dozen stunning “what-the-fuck-did-he-just-say?” moments, each episode will propel you into the next and you won’t be sated until it’s all over. This is not some exploitative true-crime documentary. This is a work of art, a film about so many things, and one of the best films of 2016.

II.

MOONLIGHT(Barry Jenkins)

Nothing I can say about Moonlight that hasn’t been said by its reviews and its run through awards season. Achingly delicate film, anchored by 3 strong actors all playing the same character, with a big assist from this year’s breakout star, Mahershala Ali, in a film that may win him an Oscar, Jenkins delivers a film that will stick with you for a long time.

LION (Garth Davis)

I knew nothing about Lion when I saw it, and I’m glad. A true story about a young Indian boy who is separated from his family and adopted by an Australian couple, this is the year’s best “uplifting” film, and if you can get through the end without crying, I welcome you as my new robot overlord.

SILENCE (Martin Scorsese)

I am admittedly a Scorsese fanboy, him being our greatest living director and all, and I think Silence is a masterpiece, the third and most likely final of his overtly religious works (Marty tends to revisit certain topics three or four times, then give them a rest), Silence is a deeply meditative, slow, quiet, and even-handed film that should appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike. I think over the years, this film my creep farther up my list. Like most of Scorsese’s films, I will watch it many more times over the course of my life.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Tom Ford)

Fashion designer Tom Ford released A Single Man in 2009 and I loved the shit out of that movie. Nocturnal Animals isn’t as strong, or as emotionally resonant, but it is a work of somber fiction that matches my sensibilities well. IMDB summarizes the plot as “A wealthy art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale.” I guess that’s true. Come for the story, stay for the Adams, the Gyllenhaal, the Shannon, and the Ford.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Kenneth Lonergan)

Speaking of somber fiction, Manchester is driven by a challenging screenplay by Lonergan but will remembered because of the power of Casey Affleck’s soon-to-be Oscar winning performance. It’s an incredible bit of screen acting. And don’t overlook the often-overlooked Michelle Williams. She’s only in a few scenes but she fucking kills it. Not a date movie. Not a movie to watch if you want to get anything else done that day. But a movie you should see nonetheless. Although I’m not sure you’ll want to see it twice.

III.

HELL OR HIGH WATER (David Mackenzie)
Great modern western featuring great modern actors. Nice to see Chris Pine playing a character and not just relying on his Kirk charm to get him through (coughchrisprattcough).

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (Richard Linklater)
Not a sequel to Dazed & Confused like people wanted, but this film is classic Linklater: there is very little story, it feels like nothing happens, it meanders, and I love it all the more for it.

MOANA (Ron Clements & John Musker)
Moana Will forever have a special place in my heart (it was my oldest daughter’s first movie theater experience) but it is also the best Disney animated film in years (including Pixar). And with songs by Hamilton’s Lin Miranda, I can’t even complain when my daughter wants to listen to the soundtrack over and over.

ROAD TO BUSAN (Sang-ho Yeon)
Snowpiercer with zombies. What else do you need? Go rent it now.

FENCES (Denzel Washington)
Two of the world’s best actors yelling and crying at each other for two and a half hours? Count me in. Washington does very little to “open up” this August Wilson play, but he and Viola are such pure fire you won’t care.

ROUGE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (Gareth Edwards)
It feels good to have a Star Wars film on here. And it deserves it. It was so much more Star Wars literate than The Force Awakens and I felt so much at home.

HIDDEN FIGURES (Theodore Melfi)
A film about three truly inspiring women told in a fairly uninspired way, it’s impossible to deny the importance and power of Melfi’s film, even if I wish he had found a more compelling way to tell it. But these women, though, and these actresses. Man. Worth it just for them.

Just for fun, here’s my list of the BEST TV OF 2016. No particular order, no details. Just a quick list. We all know TV is better than movies these days. Pretty soon these lists will merge as the walls between media crumble.

 

 

 

 

 

LUKE CAGE, ATLANTA, BETTER CALL SAUL, STAR WARS: REBELS, GAME OF THRONES, SILICON VALLEY, BATES MOTEL, WESTWORLD, LAST WEEK WITH JOHN OLIVER, and, yes, STRANGER THINGS, although I didn’t love it as much as everybody else did.

Did I just fall off the face of the earth, or what?

I’ve never heard a Beyoncé song (that I know of.)

I haven’t seen The Walking Dead.

It’s been at least a decade since I bought an album anyone reading this article has heard of.

I can’t remember the last time I read the news, tried craft beer, or understood a hashtag cause.

Anyone else feel me?

Every day that goes by, I’m lost deeper and deeper in an ocean of information. My friends ask if I’ve seen or heard the latest ______, and I’m a deer in the headlights. I’m like, “Huh?” And my friends are like, “Duuude.” I haven’t seen the latest show, heard the new kickass song, or kept up with whatever the Kardashians are up to. (Are they still famous?) I feel like I should ask for help, reach out to friend, or crawl out from under the rock I’ve apparently been living under.

Nah.

“Huh? Whaaaa…?”

Look, you probably think I’m about to start a big rant against modern culture and all its evils. Nope. I don’t have enough data to make a case for or against whatever the world has become. The only rant I could dream up would be an essay arguing the infinite darkness of social media. But whatever. That’d be pretty hypocritical, wouldn’t it? Especially since I’m about to post this commentary on Facebook and Twitter.

What I do wanna know is: how the heck did I get here?

I’m not that old.

I don’t have an ‘our generation is better than yours’ complex.

I don’t tell stories about wading through the snow to get to school and eating rocks for dinner.

You’d think having a son would compel me to brush up against modern culture now and then. After all, he’s at that age when Justin Bieber must start to seem cool. Or when the latest ‘thing’ must be purchased. Or when we just have to watch some crazy new show. But no. All junior wants to do is hang with his weird dad (me) and roast marshmallows in the fire pit, play board games all night, and watch movies that haven’t been famous since the 80’s (Gremlins, Willow, Sword in the Stone, et cetera.)

Anymore, I’m not sure whether I’m rubbing off on him or his indifference to modern stuff has reinforced my own.

And I’m not really sure it matters.

What started this thought process? Well… I’m glad you asked. Just the other day, I overheard some friends chatting it up about the Grammy awards. (And yes, I know what those are.) At the big Grammy celebration, some pregnant lady killed it with her performance and everyone thought she was a queen. Not just any queen, but THE Queen. Turns out the Queen was Beyoncé. (And it turns out the program I’m using to write this knew to put a ‘ over ‘e’ in her name – which is really weird to me.) Also, the guy from Metallica’s microphone failed, prompting Lady Gaga (whom I know of via her Super Bowl gig) to save him. And lastly, some blonde lady (Adele?) gushed so loudly about the aforementioned Queen some people questioned her sincerity.

Ok, cool, I thought. Sounds pretty entertaining.

Wait. No it doesn’t.

To all of this, I listened wide-eyed and confused. And then I realized that although I’m not terribly old, my tastes are pretty much ancient. It’s almost as if my love of music, culture, art, and books stopped somewhere in the late 80’s – early 90’s. And I can’t explain it. It’s not as if I don’t want to find new music to love. It’s not like I find modern music disastrously boring on some random whim. And life sure would be more fun if I had any inkling to enjoy The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and ________ <—- (insert superhero tv show here.)

Does anyone else experience this?

Anyone?

What the F does this meme even mean??

If I think about it, I don’t particularly miss the cultural era in which I grew up. The 80’s were straight up strange, with all the long hair, horrid pop music, and low production television. The 90’s might’ve been even worse, dragged into despair by depressing grunge music and not-quite-awesome-yet video games.

But I guess I didn’t realize my situation until the new century rolled in and forcibly stopped me from caring.

I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point all the music on the radio turned me off.

Until I stopped listening entirely.

Next came TV.

And here’s the whole story behind that.

More recently, the wave of superhero movies and bombastic action films flew right over my head.

Leaving me almost alone in the theater watching this.

I guess I can’t really complain; living under a giant rock has its benefits. I have tons of extra time. Peace and quiet are my domain. And then of course there’s all the money I save by not having cable and never going to a concert starring anyone famous. But the drawbacks are…well…I’m not sure. I’m left out of discussions regarding politics, news, movies, television, et cetera. And while I don’t particularly mind sitting in my quiet corner, it tends to halt conversations when I admit I don’t know a damn thing about whatever’s being talked about.

Me. As in my face. Always.

It’s almost intentionally ignorant, right?

It’s cultural abandonment.

It’s a willful disregard for humanity.

And now, after all these years, I still have no idea what happened.

Do you?

J Edward Neill

Builder of better coffee tables.

Under-the-rock artist.

Black Mirror, Season 3 Review

Last year I sat down and watched this show that’d I’d somehow read about on some random blog somewhere (that internet rabbit hole again). The key phrase for me mentioned “Modern Day Twilight Zone” – at which point I said “I’ll be the judge of that blasphemy.”

black-mirror-netflix

So I watched and reviewed the first 2 seasons here.

For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.

That phrase Modern Day Twilight Zone was closer to the truth than not. In fact, I only had 2 problems with the show: Episode One wasn’t a favorite & that there was only SEVEN total episodes to even partake. You see, those lovable Brits sometimes do “seasons” where you only get a couple of episodes of the THING you love. They get in and get out before you even know what hit you.

As an American, only having SEVEN episodes was a bit maddening. Were there going to be anymore? Why not do more? Is everyone across the pond lazy when it comes to their TV!?!

Netflix then is my savor. They got Charlie Booker to reach into the dark recesses of his mind to provide us with SIX more trips beyond the Mirror.

EP 1 – Nosedive

How many Facebook friends do you have? Twitter followers? Instagram? Tumblr?

What if your entire world was based on not only who your “Friends” might be, but how everyone rated you? This is the question before us in Nosedive. You see, if your rating (from 1 to 5) is high enough, then there are no doors not open to you. Let it slip and it might mean not qualifying for that loan, not getting into the best restaurants, and possibly not allowing you to even work a job.

The best part about the concept behind this episode is how it applies in virtually all aspects of your life. When you were High School the “pecking order” certainly existed. Who you hung out with, who you talked to, and maybe who you made fun of would slot you into your clique. For better or worse.

And like all of us who want to be liked, who want to have a better life… maybe we have to put on a face which isn’t exactly the one our true self would recognize. What would you do in order to get in with the “cool kids”.

EP 2 – Playtest

Black Mirror hasn’t really done horror… it might be horrific situations the characters get shoved into, but not the typical scary movie style. Well, at least they haven’t until this episode.

Playtest is about virtual reality. It’s about a game that digs into your brain to find the exact things which scare YOU. Hate spiders? Then you’re going to deal with spiders. Don’t like being alone? Get used to it.

And if that was all this episode had going for it, that would have worked. But you have to dig a little deeper than that. Past the arachnophobia or acrophobia and into the depths of your soul. What is that thing you won’t tell anyone else? What is the one bit you don’t want to dwell on.

What are you REALLY scared of?

laptop-camera

EP 3 – Shut Up and Dance

The fact that this episode follows Playtest is appropriate as it, too, deals in fear. Yet, this is about being exposed for something very real. We’ve read the articles about people hacking into our laptops and gaining control of our cameras there in order to watch us when we’re vulnerable.

Let’s say that happened to you, and being a teenaged boy, you might have been using the internet to… expand your knowledge of the female form… well, that might be something you wouldn’t want everyone in school seeing. And unlike American Pie, this isn’t a comedy where everyone is just going to think it is funny.

Given the chance to ensure the genie stays in the bottle, how far would you be willing to go?

EP 4 – San Junipero

You’re going to guess at this one and only be partially right. Set in the 1980s, our lead character seems to be out of place, visiting… on vacation in a different time. She’s getting married in a few weeks and needs to experience something (anything) before that day comes.

Unlike so many of the other episodes, even the somewhat sweet “Be Right Back” from the 2nd season, this really is more about what we could do with technology to help those people who need release the most. But really strip away all of that and it is about a girl who falls for another girl.

It is sweet. But the performances by the two leads (Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Mackenzie Davis) will have you believing and hoping for them to find a way to be together.

EP 5 – Men Against Fire

Warfare pushes technology forward more than almost anything else. And when there is a new technology developed outside of the war machine, they try to find a military use for it. Heads Up Display isn’t a new idea. Watch Iron Man to see it put to some of the best use. However, if it was a neural link? If the display was in your head? How much more effective of a soldier might you be if you could use tech to see where your enemies were inside a house with infrared vision?

What could possibly go wrong with such technology when you are fighting a war for the very future of the human race?

aggression

EP 6 – Hated in the Nation

A perfect bookend to this season. After “Nosedive” dealt with attempting to garner popularity, this episode looks at the other end of things. And given how the internet loves to hate things almost as much as it loves Cat videos, what happens when a serial killer suddenly is using the “most hated person” on the internet to determine who their next victim is.

If you go to the comments section of ANY article on the web, odds are high you will find some level of hate bestowed on either the original writing or perhaps the manner in which someone has said they liked the original thing. It’s not a simple “You’re wrong”, but more of a “Burn in hell, nazi!”

How do you stop people from hating? Can we be nicer online? Or does the invisibility of the process make any ideas of being better people a pipe dream?

Are there any punishments for the haters?

 

Black Mirror, Season 3… in our rush to conquer the future, we might be providing the very method of our downfall.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

My Top TV Moments of 2016

Atlanta, Legends of Tomorrow, and House of Cards

Atlanta, Legends of Tomorrow, and House of Cards

I love watching television. It started with  Batman: The Animated Series, progressed into my teenage years spent watching Homicide: Life on The Streets, and has coalesced now into me now having no shortage of quality programming to choose from, in between my writing.

I’m a firm believer in the saying that we’re currently living a golden age of television. A time where whatever your tastes are, you’ll find at least a couple of television programs that will fill your palate.

Netflix. Hulu. Amazon. Crackle. Heck even You Tube. All of these streaming providers, and more offer a great staple of original programming. Add to that such cable networks as Starz, USA, FX, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and you’ve got an infinite amount of things to watch.

So with everyone doing their own “Top TV List of 2016” list, combined with my television watching enjoyment, I thought I’d put together a short list of some stand out moments from TV land. These are the moments that held the most impact for me, ranging from mouth open in an “ohmigoddidthatjusthappen” reaction, to getting a little choked up at a particular moment.

And can I say as a writer, I also enjoyed the superb craftsmanship that was on display with each of the below moments. This guy was taken to class in a few instances, while also enjoying the work as a fan.

ALSO BE WARNED:

spoiler_alert_300_w2

 

My “Laughed Out Loud Throughout The Entire Episode Like A Madman” Moment:

Atlanta/ FX/ Season 1, Episode 7, B.A.N

I’m going to start by saying this: WATCH THIS SHOW.

Now.

Next to Stranger Things, this series was my favorite new series of the year, and every episode is solid.

Basic premise: two cousins try to make their way up in the Atlanta rap scene and hilarity ensues. Believe me when I say, my weak description does nothing in the way to prepare you for how solid Atlanta is.

The writing on this series is sharp as hell, the satire is extremely on point, and just watching Earn (Donald Glover), Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Heny), and Darius (Keith Stanfield) just trying to make it within the Atlanta music scene is great to watch.

One particular episode that stood out for me for how against the grain that this show is would be episode 7 titled “B.A.N.”. Paper Boi appears on an Atlanta talk show called Montague, and finds himself subjected to an interview that’s going nowhere fast.

What works extremely well about this in addition to Paper Boi’s deadpan reaction to all of the ridiculousness that’s taking place around him via the host and other guest, is how the episode is formatted.

As you’re watching B.A.N there are fake commercials mixed in with the actual Montague episode, creating this weird cross section of fake narrative and real life. Mixed into the talk show are some really creative news spots (the Trans-Racial segment deserves an Emmy nod on its own) that are hilarious and had me rolling.


My “No Honey, I’m Not Crying. There’s Something In My Eye Excuse” Moment

Game Of Thrones/ HBO/ Season 6, Episode 5, Door

In a season of Game of Thrones that had no shortage of great moments, this one stole the show for me.

In the most heart-wrenching, gut punch, kick in the nether region way possible.

Hodor (Kristian Nairn) has been the Bran Stark’s lovable big guy protector for all 6 seasons that we’ve watched Game of Thrones, and to see him taken out by the White Walkers was hard to watch.

When the famous catch phrase “Hodor” was explained, as a fan I was hit pretty hard. As a writer/ creator I silently stood up and did a slow clap for the creators of this show.

Masterful and impactful storytelling at its best.


My “I Was Smiling and Feeling All Types of Hyped” Moment

Legends of Tomorrow/ CW/ Season 2, Episode 7, Invasion

The CW Arrow-verse (Supergirl, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash) is like getting a fanboy Christmas every Monday through Thursday night.

You get a great helping of all of the DC characters that you know and love, and its not just pandering special effects laden theatrics being presented. Sure there have been some weak episodes and seasons for a few of the shows, but speaking from the perspective of a guy whose watched this universe grow from the earliest days of Arrow, these shows are fun and deserve to be checked out.

In the seasons before we’ve had small crossovers involving the crews from Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tommorrow. With this being the first year of having Supergirl at its proper home on the CW network, the creators of the universe decided that an ultimate crossover was in order.

If you’re a fan of comic books crossovers are a regular thing. Its nothing to see Spidey web-slinging across the Manhattan skyline with Iron Man skyrocketing pass him, or to see Batman doing his ole’ scowly face routine as he, Wonder Woman, and Superman team up to take on a world destroying despot.

For casual fans of the recent glut of super hero movies/ television shows, crossovers such as these are something new, as presented in the growing cinematic universes of Marvel Studios and DC Comics/ Warner Bros.

The same applies for the Arrow-verse. So after a 4 night crossover event,  for casual and long time fans of these DC properties, seeing the rooftop battle against the DC heroes and the invading alien Dominators was awesome to watch.

Some folks are definitely right to draw comparisons between this and the epic airport battle in this years Captain America: Civil War, but it was still fun to watch nonetheless. And I’ll also admit the Dominators were kind of on the cannon-fodder status for the heroes.

But dammit, what we got was an epic/fun scene of kick butt action, with a little bit of saving the day thrown in.


My “WTF. Did That Just Happen?” Moment

House of Cards/ Netflix/ Season 4, Episode 13, Chapter 52

The Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright) are probably some of the worst people on Earth. They lie, they cheat, they manipulate, and they kill to get what the want.

And like Vic Mackie (Michael Chiklis) in The Shield and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad, the audience loves to root for them. In Mackie’s case I wanted him to get caught for the entirety of the series, but watching him duck and dodge the system was fun to watch, in a twisted sort of way.

In the final few minutes of Chapter 52 the Underwoods have taken their viciousness to a new level, having found themselves backed into a corner where there is no escape.

As result they decide to use their power as President and First Lady to set the country on a path of “fighting terror” in a total war type of fashion to deflect attention away from their troubles. The fact that it begins with a “sacrificial lamb” moment, with the death of an unfortunate character makes it all the more worse.

I don’t want to give away the whole story here of how things have led to this point, because the season deserves to be watched. This moment stands out as this year’s WTF moment for me.

Giving Thanks for Gilmore Girls

Let’s face it, I am not the demographic CW (then the WB) had in mind when they launched this little New England drama about a mother and her teenaged daughter in the Fall of 2000. I imagine that they cast their net for a slightly different group consisting of the other 50% of the population and hoped for the best.

Yet somehow I am not only a fan of the Gilmore Girls, but I have been since almost the very beginning and up until the very end.

gilmore-girls-summer

Normally that might have been the end of my relationship with the show. However, something else happened. My wife bought the first couple of seasons. I’d come home from work, and they’d be running almost non-stop (well that and Veronica Mars) in a weird/obsessed fandom. And so while the show was over and done, it still was a part of my life. Without even realizing it, we’d watch 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5) episodes in a night. Episodes we saw when they originally aired. Then later, episodes we’d seen once or twice (or three or four…).

I’m not sure how it is in your house. Maybe you play music in the background while you cook dinner or clean up or play games on your phone or even nap. In college, my roommate and I had Clerks and Mallrats running non-stop as the soundtrack to many a late night Duke Nukem playing.

For my wife Gilmore Girls playing in the background is her music.

When she wakes up far too early, but can’t (chooses not to) go back to sleep in the bedroom, she puts it on. As a result I can only imagine half of her dreams exist within Star’s Hollow.

When Netflix got ahold of the show, the dvds were no longer needed.

Then the news came about a revival. We’d done the Kickstarter for Veronica Mars for the movie, and honestly if they’d needed a Kickstarter for the Gilmore Girls Netflix show, we would have ponied up for that as well. Since that wasn’t necessary, we’ve instead been on countdown ever since they told us the premiere date. And this Friday evening the two of us will be in the midst of the episodes. And for someone who doesn’t stay up late very often, I can foresee a very late night to make sure we watch them all.

And I fully expect to wake up the next day to that familiar “Lalalala” echoing through the house.

***

When fellow Guildmate, Chad Shonk, was on his movie festival tour with Dakota Skye, a movie from a teenage girl’s point of view, he often was asked how he could write for such a character. His reply was that anyone who knew him, also knew that deep down he was a teenage girl.

While I don’t think I’m a teenage girl, it certainly isn’t a bad thing to try and tap into some of that.

Here’s the thing about Gilmore Girls… it’s just a well-written show. The dialogue, carries a rhythm of its own. There is a music as Lorelei and Rory move through their lives, but when it really comes to life is when the two of them are verbally sparing. The rest of us may not understand every piece of the shorthand (and longhand), but they wield words with a dexterity only matched in an Aaron Sorkin production.

Considering anything Sorkin writes makes me want to break my fingers as it is nearly impossible to attempt to duplicate… this is high praise from me.

babbling-gilmore

***

So with it being Thanksgiving week –

Things to be Thankful for with the return of Gilmore Girls:

1 – “Luke. The Town’s Luke.”

He’s the character we (at least in my house) wanted Lorelei to get together with. The Sam and Diane of the show who if they could only get their shit together at the same time everything would just work out.

With Star’s Hollow being a collection of crazies (eccentrics), he’s probably the only grounding force within town limits… something which causes all sorts of great moments throughout the show. Yet, he’s sucked in regardless.

2 – Rapid paced dialogue that dizzies the rest of the cast.

I’m hopeful that it won’t feel like we’ve taken a break from our Girls. That they’ll just flow right into it with no hiccups, as if they never left our sides in the first place.

3 – More bits of random goodness.

“Copper Boom.”

“Monkey, monkey… underpants.”

I need more.

3-gilmore-women

4 – Seeing how the three Gilmore women deal with the huge absence in the room.

When Edward Herrmann passed away a couple of years ago, I was both saddened by his loss, but happy that one of his final testament existed within this show. As Lorelei’s father and Rory’s grandfather, he exuded an affection for both that were as different as the sun and the moon, but I never doubted its existence (even if Lorelei might have).

The return of the show has a very big hole in it with his passing. I have no doubt it will be addressed with love and care and probably a little humor when appropriate.

I also think that it might get a little “dusty” in my house the first time it is referenced.

5 – New Episodes

As I alluded to above, we’ve seen all the episodes, multiple times. Season have been watched and rewatched in order. Random (to an outsider) episode paths have been followed. Lesser favorites skipped only to be found on a future watch (and wondering why it was on the skip list in the first place).

Finally, we’ll get to see a bit more of where their lives went after they departed from the air. Does my own ideas match what they’ll end up showing? The unknown story still lies ahead of us… and isn’t that why we watch these shows?

To find out what happens next.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

So Little Time… for Time Travel TV Shows

I love TV Shows. Much like I love movies and novels, I want to see a good story develop. Doesn’t matter the format whether it is in a podcast or some old book. As I told Chad the other night, I don’t know if this is still the new Golden Age of TV, but’s it feels like it gets better an better every year.

However, I normally don’t jump into a new show with my whole body. No, I’ve been burned far too many times where I’ve invested in a story line and characters and by about episode 5 or 6 the networks have made a decision not to order an additional half season (Flashfoward, Terra Nova, Journeyman, Brimstone just to name a few). Or maybe they get through that first season, but then don’t get another season.

Those are the shows I can do without at this point. Last year I waited on Lucifer, to see if it got renewed or not. So it sat on my DVR until finally they announced it was coming back this season. It was only at that point that I started watching (by the way if you tried it out but decided that the first couple of episodes weren’t your thing – it genuinely improves with every episode – I was pleasantly surprised). I realize that this is counter productive in a way, as if everyone did this then nothing would make it, but I feel like my one vote of viewership isn’t going to tip these particular scales.

This season, someone must have downloaded another piece of my brain, because no less than 4 shows have to do with Time Travel, and now I’m wondering if my rule of waiting on the shows may have to be reevaluated given my love for such things. I knew about two of them, and had added them to my list:

frequency tv

Frequency (CW)

October 5 at 9:00 PM

Look, the movie was amazing. This idea that a son could talk to his father some twenty years earlier, and throughout the movie they suddenly realize that the case the son is working on (he’s a cop) is the same killer who murdered his mom years ago.

I don’t want to say anymore, but it is worth watching.

This is a remake of the movie, switching the son for a daughter, and from the long trailer I saw, it seems like the Butterfly Effect is in full… effect. If this show is half as good as the movie…

Like I said, this was already getting the full add to the DVR.

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Timeless (NBC)

October 3 at 10:00 PM

This appears to be more along the lines of agents working to fix time because someone else is screwing things up for all of history. If you’ve seen the trailer, it looks like much of the pilot is centered around the Hindenburg Crash. I’m hopeful that this one has some legs, as being on NBC means that it’s going to have the potential for more eyes, but the last time I watched a time travel show on NBC it was Journeyman, which was AMAZING, and lasted all of 1 season.

Fool me once? Who am I kidding, I’ll be watching this one from the word go.

The other two are mid-season replacements:

Time-After-Time

Time After Time (ABC)

Sundays at 9 PM

Apparently this is based on the movie/novel about H.G. Wells (yes, the author of the Time Machine) who is chasing Jack the Ripper through time.

I must admit, this is one of those movies that I keep meaning to watch and have just never gotten around to doing so. It’s one of those, that whenever I see it on tv it’s always half-over.

What I do know is that this is a Kevin Williamson tv show, so it goes on the list of one to at least give a try.

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Making History (FOX)

Sundays at 8:30 PM

A comedy, about time travel… hmm, I’m not entirely sure how this one is going to work. Basically, a teacher/professor has a time machine that he uses every week to go back to the 1700s where he has a girlfriend and apparently the British haven’t been kicked to the curb just yet. I watched the trailer for the show and thought there is a possibility for some funny stuff, so this gets a…

I’m at least checking out the pilot when it comes on. It looks like it may be paired with Last Man on Earth, which can only help.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

A Tale of Sliders and Tow Trucks

Life has a way of repeatedly kicking you in the nether regions at times.

Like, repeatedly.

Case in point: about a couple of weeks ago the head gasket on my car went caput, with a giant C. Smoke and/or steam began spewing from the hood, my car began making a weird sucking/ popping sound, and only by the skin of my teeth was I able to make it out of rush hour traffic to an empty driveway to wait for a tow.

A reenactment of Robert's descent into madness

A reenactment of Robert’s descent into madness

Car was taken to a shop, shop said it would take 5 days, maybe 7 max to repair.

Cool.

7 turned into 8, 8 turned into something else, new days of completion were provided, patience was provided by yours truly, and then those days were missed.

Patience began wearing thin, other missed days were promised, terse conversations followed, and FINALLY the car was repaired. Head gasket was said to be in tip top shape, and I was back on the road.

So fast forward to 6/30 (remember, this whole thing began on 6/15) I’m driving along, listening to Collider Heroes Podcast, maxin’ and relaxin’, enjoying the AC, and then I notice my temperature gauge is running hot.

And then guess what happens?

Smoke and/or steam began spewing from the hood, my car began making a weird sucking/ popping sound, and only by the skin of my teeth was I able to make it out of rush hour traffic to the side of the road to wait for a tow truck.

So there I am, sitting in the car, ticked beyond comprehension after getting off the phone with the repair shop. Told them I wasn’t paying for a repair that should’ve been handled correctly before to which they agreed, and they said to have my car towed to the shop again to be checked out.

Another reenactment of Robert losing it on the phone. Note: notice that my cell phone appears to be modeled after an old landline phone. That's so retro!

Another reenactment of Robert losing it on the phone. Side note: notice that my cell phone appears to be modeled after an old landline phone.
That’s so retro!

What to do? Stew in my anger as traffic whizzed past my immobile vehicle?

Heck no!

This situation called for something epic, something that would get my mind off of the fact that I was slowly roasting even with the windows down:

A live reaction session via FB for the first episode of that 90’s cross dimensional hopping sci-fi adventure, Sliders, through the Netflix app on my phone.

Below is the insanity that flowed from my fingers as I waited for rescue.

Enjoy.

 

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The OG’s of Cross Dimensional Travel, a.k.a The Fab Four

Screenshot_20160630-204818 Screenshot_20160630-204832 Screenshot_20160630-204839 Screenshot_20160630-204847 Screenshot_20160630-204852 Screenshot_20160630-204900 Screenshot_20160630-204910 Screenshot_20160630-204919 Screenshot_20160630-204924 Screenshot_20160630-204929 Screenshot_20160630-204933 Screenshot_20160630-204937 Screenshot_20160630-204941 Screenshot_20160630-204946 Screenshot_20160630-204957 Screenshot_20160630-205000 Screenshot_20160630-205007 Screenshot_20160630-205016 Screenshot_20160630-205022 Screenshot_20160630-205031 Screenshot_20160630-205037 Screenshot_20160630-205049

 

Epilogue: The car got repaired the next day and is rolling along a bit better.

Thanks Sliders for getting me through it all.

Bonus: Here’s a little diddy from the Crying Man himself, Mr. Rembrandt Brown.

 

The Best of Mean Tweets

First, allow me to give you a primer on ‘Mean Tweets.’

Perhaps not everyone has heard of Jimmy Kimmel’s infamous segment. For those not in the loop, Jimmy frequently invites celebrities and athletes on his show, and asks them to read aloud funny (and usually pretty nasty) tweets directed toward the celeb.

Past ‘Mean Tweet’ readers have included Steph Curry, Lebron James, Matt Damon, and even Barack Obama.

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Most of the tweets are rude.

Others are ironic.

Still others are vulgar and borderline stalker-ish.

In any event, they’re usually hilarious.

And these are some of the best:

*

Michael Strahan

*MTI4ODIyMzI5OTUzMjg0MDY2

Selena Gomez

Selena

Iggy Azalea

Iggy

 

Stephan Curry

Steph Curry

Kevin James

33792143

Larry King

Larry

John Goodman

Goodman

Kristen Stewart

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Britney Spears

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Tony Parker

Tony

Sarah Silverman

Sarah

Kid Rock

Kid Rock

Jason Biggs

Jason

Adam Sandler

adam-sandler-mean-tweet

And finally…

Barack Obama

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*

Have a great day, m*therf**kers!

J Edward Neill

Author of funny stuff

And deadly serious things

Why I gave up watching television

I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I had to walk away.

One way to murder your creativity is to spend all your time embracing other people’s creations.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

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I can’t really remember when it started. Maybe when I moved out of my house as a teenager. Possibly even earlier. Some of the big shows of the early 90’s were stuff like Law and Order, The Simpsons, Full House, Martin, Coach, et cetera. There was nothing wrong with any of these. They were funny and engrossing, mostly. I watched plenty of them, and I enjoyed myself when I did.

But even back then, a thought process had begun to grow within me. It was subtle, but it was there. It itched, but not bad enough to apply any cream.

It went kinda like this: I begun noticing things about our culture. Small things. How people’s sense of humor seemed to start and end with whatever they’d seen on a little flashing box. How families set up their schedules in order to catch certain shows. How more and more channels sprang up, specialized channels, catering to every possible desire. How news and journalism felt engineered, not discovered.

Now this isn’t to say the shows themselves weren’t entertaining. Of course they were. Hell, The Simpsons is still funny (and Martin Lawrence still isn’t.) And yet it seemed every year more and more of each TV time-block became commercial time. An hour-long show was really only a 37-minute show. My friends’ conversations changed from being about the shows…to being about the funny new commercial, the hot new car, or the news clips they’d caught only a few seconds of but wanted to discuss as if they’d actually been on the scene.

Months went by.

Then years.

I still watched TV, but less and less. It wasn’t really a conscious decision. It was more like I wandered off. Like I’d forgotten.

And then I got married.

And TV came back into my life.

I can’t remember how that happened either. The TV coming back…or the getting married thing. Whatever. If there was a part of me that rebelled against watching TV, it got shoved aside. Suddenly I was watching game shows, sitcoms, Seinfeld, and some show about six douchebags I’d probably murder if they were my Friends. It wasn’t the wife’s fault. She was just doing what most Americans did: go to work, get home, and flip the TV on until bedtime. No biggie.

Except I hated it. I didn’t even know I hated it, but I did.

During those years, I didn’t paint much. I wrote books at a glacially slow pace. A full third of my conversations with everyone on the planet could be Kevin Baconed in two steps back to whatever show we’d mutually seen. My creativity felt stifled. My dreams were dulled. The situation wasn’t life-threatening, but even so. There was something about it that sucked. A small, dull suck. But definitely a suck.

And then one day I ‘forgot’ to pay the cable bill. The TV went off, and I awoke from a decade-long hibernation. At the time I didn’t put two and two together. I just felt…liberated. I didn’t know why. I guess I probably didn’t care. And when the wife ‘fixed’ the situation and got the TV back on, it stopped being a thing for me. Stopped dead. Shows I used to watch came on, and I walked out of the room. I heard laugh-tracks in the background, but I tuned them out. Entire wars in the Mideast came and went, and I missed the newsfeeds entirely. I’m sure this probably contributed to friction with the wife; after all, TV time had once been together time. But it didn’t matter. Not anymore. It was more than cold turkey. It was as if a surgeon had come into my bedroom one night, carved out the part of my brain that wanted anything to do with parking my ass on a couch for 2-3 hours every night and not creating, and left without billing me.

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Now it’s true this little renaissance came with its share of problems. Friends I used to talk to would start chatting about TV, and a voice inside me would say, “If you say one more thing about American Idol or Bones, I’ll kill you and all your offspring.” Coworkers I liked would hit me up for my opinions on world news, and the first thing I’d think was, “When can I slap the shit out of you?” And naturally, whenever any TV would flicker on anywhere, I’d have to check myself so as not to judge the people watching it. It wasn’t easy. I suddenly had this asshole living inside my mind who thought judgy, nasty things about totally normal people. I didn’t like this asshole. But it’s clear he wasn’t going anywhere.

And so there I was, partnered with a huge inner-jerk. Sometimes I resisted him. Other times I’d completely give up on friends because of their talking-about-TV habits. And I get it; that’s not cool. But it’s what happened. I’d shut down whenever people talked about their fav show. Or when they talked about their TiVo lineup. Or programming their DVR. And after my divorce, I’d immediately rule out any girl who mentioned ‘Netflix binging’ as an acceptable date-night. (Actually, I still stick to this rule.) Harsh, right? But like I said, the asshole wasn’t leaving. He and I had to coexist. No getting around it.

During all of this, my last island of TV-interest lay in sports. Specifically baseball, hockey, and football. I still watched them once in a while, and I hated myself a little for doing it. Look, it’s true; I love me some Chicago Cubs, Blackhawks, and Bears. And for many years I justified watching them over sitcoms, reality TV, and news. “They’re different,” I convinced myself. “Sports aren’t like other shows.” “They’re real.”

But wait a second.

How does a 60-minute NFL football game take 3 hours and 15 minutes to watch?

How many commercials will I endure if I watch even half of my beloved baseball team’s 162-game schedule?

And why the fuck isn’t hockey on TV at all?

Holy shit.

And now here I am. For the last two years, I haven’t had cable. Or satellite. Or Netflix. Or whatever the fuck Hulu is. I rarely even watch sports anymore. If there’s a huge event I have to see, I call a friend and go to the bar…and usually completely ignore the TV in favor of drinking Long Island ice teas or Balvenie 17. It’s utterly freeing. I’ve no urge to ever watch anything. I save hundreds of dollars and thousands of minutes every year. And let me tell you; my creativity has never been more alive. Removed from the electronic influence of other people’s humor, stories, and art, my imagination is free. The time I once spent watching TV is now spent creating. Hundreds of hours per year…reclaimed. Just. Like. That.

And better still, the inner-asshole is gone. Dead. Deceased. The only time I even remember him is when someone starts talking about The Walking Dead, a show approximately 900% of my friends adore.

I’m kidding. I don’t hate people who love zombies.

Mostly.  🙂

Love,

J Edward Neill

Speaking of undead, here’s something WAY worse than zombies.

And speaking of ruthlessly invasive entertainment, here’s something WAY, WAY worse than TV.

Interview with Brandon Easton, screenwriter for Marvel’s Agent Carter, Part 1

In an exclusive collaboration with TesseraGuild.com, BlackSci-Fi.com presents the first part of a 2-part interview with screenwriter, and comic book writer Brandon Easton on his work on “Marvel’s Agent Carter” upcoming season 2 episode, “Monsters”.

Since the creation of Iron Man in 2008 Marvel Studios has continued to grow their shared cinematic universe through film and television. Pulling from a wide array of licensed characters found within the pages of Marvel Comics, they’ve stretched from the farthest reaches of the galaxy (Guardians of the Galaxy), to the seedy streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York (Daredevil).

agent-carter_612x816

Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Image Credit: ABC/Marvel TV

On both film and television the studio has found critical and commercial success, and shows no sign of stopping. This is further exemplified by such television series as ABC network’s, Marvel’s Agent Carter.  The television show follows the story of the Strategic Scientific Reserve’s (SSR) finest and most brilliant secret agent, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Introduced in Captain America: First Avenger, Peggy Carter has become one of the MCU’s (Marvel Cinematic Universe) most prominent characters, fighting evil in World War II ravaged Europe, and now in late 1940’s Hollywood, CA.

The show is in its second season, and this coming week will air two episodes on 2/16/16: Life of The Party (Episode 6), and Monsters (Episode 7).

Adding another notch to his ever growing portfolio of work, Brandon Easton joined the writing staff of Agent Carter in 2015, on the heels of his acceptance into the 2015 Disney/ ABC Writing Program. This has culminated in the upcoming 2/16/16 premiere of his addition to the MCU, with an episode that he wrote, the aforementioned Monsters.

Easton’s body of work continues to grow in the arenas of comics, animation, and now live action television with such standouts as his creator owned Shadowlaw comic book series, his documentary Brave New Souls: Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of the 21st Century, his work on the Glyph Comics Award winning/ Eisner nominated Watson and Holmes, WB Animations ThunderCats, and the recent Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics nominated Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven.

In an interview with BlackSci-Fi.com, Easton spoke about his time spent in the Disney/ ABC Writing program, his work on Agent Carter, his writing career, what he’s learned during his time in Hollywood, along with other topics in this two part interview.

“It’s a really long story, to really get into it. I had a really up and down 2014, between family stuff, and career stuff,” Easton said speaking about his acceptance into the Disney/ ABC Writing program. “I was nominated for an Eisner in 2014 that I didn’t win. But the very week that I didn’t win the Eisner I’d also lost out on two really important jobs. Well maybe not important, but two lucrative jobs that would’ve kept me alive throughout the end of 2014. Things got really bad.”

BrandonEasterheadshot

Brandon Easton

“If I didn’t get into the ABC/Disney Writing Program I honestly don’t know what this past year would’ve been like for me. I had no idea what would’ve happened to me. So to make a long story short it was an incredible feeling.”

“I was one of 8 people selected in the program. Halfway through the program they try to get you staffed on any show in the ABC family, and the ABC Family networks. First, getting into the ABC/Disney Writing Program which is damn near impossible, that was amazing. Then when they said “we have an opening on Agent Carter and a couple of other shows”, and they sent me out, it just happened that Agent Carter really was the best fit.”

Gaining an inside track of sorts into the inner workings of the executive side and development branch of the ABC network, Easton was able to utilize his time spent with the ABC/ Disney Writing Program to expand on his knowledge of what it truly takes to put together a television program.

“The program puts you in a very unique position. You get to meet with development executives within ABC the studio, and the network, which are two different things as I found out.  You get to spend time with people that you would never get a chance to meet in any other capacity,” Easton explained.

“And you learn things about the business that don’t get reported anywhere. You learn things like who’s actually in charge. You learn about the people that actually make the decisions.  There’s no class in the world that will tell you that. So the ABC program puts you in the unique position to really understand the business side of it, because all the people who complain 24/7 every single day, whining and complaining about this and that, very few people understand the business side of it.”

“I learned so much about how things actually work that it changed the way I thought as a creator.”

Easton provided an example of such insight which involved a scene that he wrote for his upcoming Agent Carter episode. It was here where he found how the business of the network can affect the scripting process, while also informing how he’d write future scripts.

“To give you an example, I wrote a couple of night scenes. I also wrote a scene in the desert. When you’re shooting a night scene you’re actually going to be outside. A typical TV recording/ shooting day is anywhere between 12-15 hours. That’s typical. Sometimes you’ll go onto 20 hours. I didn’t know that,” Easton explained.

“So I was writing a bunch of night scenes and I wrote some scenes in the desert. Next thing you know we start shooting at 6pm, we’re out all night until 6 am. We were shooting in the desert and I’d never spent any time in the desert.  I’m from the East Coast, from Baltimore, what the fuck do I know about a desert (laughter)?”

“We go out in the desert, and it’s like, did you see The Martian by any chance? There’s a scene in The Martian where the red dust of Mars is blowing across the landscape, and you can’t see shit. The spaceship is falling over. I felt like I was in that position. We were in the desert at 5 am the wind is like 90 mph, sand is cutting through everything, and I realize in the future I’m no longer going to write any scenes in the desert.”

“I’m going to make sure I don’t write too many night scenes either because you have to realize everything you write that they can physically achieve, you’re actually going to have to be there for the entire shoot. And that’s something I didn’t really know and nobody can prepare you for that.”

BEBANNER2

Brandon Easton’s comic book work including Shadowlaw, Watson and Holmes, and Andre the Giant: Closer To Heaven

As the new recruit on the Agent Carter writing team, Easton explained that though the experience was an irreplaceable one, being the new kid on the block wasn’t necessarily the best feeling.

“It didn’t feel great,” Easton explained. “And this is nothing against the people that I worked with because they are really good people, and I learned a lot from every single one of them. But I came in on a show that had already had a season.”

“It’s sort of like transferring from one school to another as a sophomore. You come in and the relationships are already made. You weren’t there for the freshman year to build those relationships. I often felt like the odd man out, I was the only black person there, and that wasn’t always fun, but that’s the reality of the business.”

“So at the same time you’re also there to learn because you’re new. And you try to find a way to make yourself useful to the people. You don’t want to make your bosses’ day harder than it already is going to be. I learned a lot, I had some good teachers, so I really can’t complain.”

WYNN EVERETT

Wynn Everett as Whitney Frost, Image Credit: ABC/Marvel TV

Easton’s work in the writers room, his years of screenwriting, and the ABC/ Disney writing program culminated in an episode which he’s called “The Empire Strikes Back” of this season. The writer explained that the episode focuses on this seasons’ archenemy, Whitney Frost (played by Wynn Everett), who deals a major blow to Carter and her team. Throughout the season, Carter and Frost’s struggle has risen in a tense and exhilarating fashion, and it seems that Monsters will possibly bring this conflict to its climatic and destructive head. Adding to the growing pantheon of complex MCU villains, Frost seems to be on a path to test Carter in a way that she hasn’t encountered before.

“I can’t wait for people to see her performance (Wynn Everett). She really brings it. She brings it hard,” Easton said.

“It was fun (writing an episode featuring a villain). My episode is a Whitney Frost episode in a way. A lot of the episode is dealing with something that Whitney Frost is working on. The way that the episode works you have to have some bad things happen in order for the heroes to come back. My episode is sort of like the Empire Strikes Back episode of Agent Carter.”

Easton further explained that he was able to have a hands on experience with the filming of his episode. Being able to be on set when Monsters was filmed, Easton explained was an invaluable experience, as he gleaned more information into the development of his story from script to screen. In addition to gaining this experience, Easton found another perk of being a screenwriter on a major network series: you become a go-to person for those in front of and behind the camera.

“In TV the writer is basically number one. On set, the director knew I was new, the producer who was with me on set knew I was new. So I was really observing and learning how it goes.  Also, no matter how good you think what you wrote is, some actor somewhere is going to say there’s a problem with it, and ask “can I say it this way?”, Easton said.

“Whatever you’ve got to get (in terms of filming) that day you’ve got to get. So a lot of times actors will have ideas, the directors have ideas, and sometimes you listen and sometimes you don’t. More often than not there are good suggestions but you don’t always get the flexibility to make changes.”

“I was on set, I was participating, I had a say in things, and if I didn’t like something I’d let them know, but more often than not I liked it. You don’t want to be saying shit to just say stuff. You want to make sure that if you’re saying something it actually makes sense.”

Marvel-Television-SeriesAt the end of the day Easton explained that his experience writing the Agent Carter episode was an important one, that he appreciates on both a writing/ creative front, and as a fan of the MCU.

“As a fan, that’s a good question. I can’t even figure out where to begin,” Brandon said.

“I was working with some ridiculously creative, talented people. And knowing that every word I write is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because Agent Carter is in the Captain America films, she was even in Ant Man at the beginning. So she’s a part of that world, so everything that happens in any episode of Agent Carter also occurs at some point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

“It hasn’t hit me yet because it hasn’t aired. But trust me when I say once it airs, and particularly with the type of stuff that I deal with in my episode, its really going to hit me hard then.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of BlackSci-Fi.com’s interview with Brandon Easton which will be available with the 2/27/16 relaunch of www.blacksci-fi.com.

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Episode 7 of season 2 of Agent Carter,”Monsters”, premieres  2/16/16 on the ABC Network, at 10 pm EST. Check your local listings for exact times.

Many thanks to the fine folks of www.tesseraguild.com for this great collaboration opportunity.

 

 

Black Mirror Review

I’m always looking for the Twilight Zone. Not the actual place, no, I wouldn’t survive there for very long. I’m talking about a show which captures my imagination in a way the original show did the first time I saw it on my tv when I was a kid. The idea there was someone who could ask these weird and strange questions, or present dilemmas I couldn’t have imagined, or even just watch the characters try to figure out how to save themselves from the nightmare worlds they were trapped in…

And while not every episode was a home run, the ones that were (and they had more than their fair share)… classic is the only word which does them justice.

So, I’m always hoping. Always on the lookout. Whether it is the Outer Limits, Monsters, Tales from the Darkside, the updated versions of the Twilight Zone… I’m going to give them a try.

Black-Mirror-DVD-black-mirror

Black Mirror is one of those I gave a try… and I almost didn’t get to realize what a good show it was/is… but since it is only 7 episodes at this point (though more are on the way according to Netflix). Now, this will be a mixed review. Mostly I wanted to give the impression I had while watching or the impression I was left with. I’m going to do my very best not to spoil anything, as I’d like you to experience it the way I do.

EP 1- The National Anthem

As I’ve told everyone who I talk about this show with… skip this episode (or at the very least, wait until you’ve watched the other 6 episodes). I’ve looked around online and it has its fans, but I do not count myself as one of them. And the reason is quite simple:

It isn’t realistic.

And this is coming from someone who will buy into a lot if you convince me your world requires/needs/whatever it. And this just didn’t do it.

The very basic plot is that the Princess of the Royal Family (this is England after all) has been kidnapped and won’t be returned unless the Prime Minister does something… unseemly with an animal. And the question throughout the episode becomes one of how do they get the Princess back, and also, what happens if they don’t.

I live in the U.S. Maybe that’s why I didn’t buy the conversations, but I remember watching the episode thinking – “This just would never happen.”

EP 2 – Fifteen Million Merits

So after such a thrilling start to things, I might have given up. But something told me to press on. Surely a show that I’d heard such good things about would redem itself. And we get to a good start with the 2nd episode. Take all our (well not mine, but yours perhaps) love for the reality tv shows, the American Idols and Kardasians and all manner of Real Housewives, and then make that the only thing anyone ever aspires to. Set it in a future where you gain funds by exercising (it seems like a man-made power with money being the reward). When you get enough, you can pay to try out for those shows.

And maybe, just maybe your life of being a living battery might end and you could be famous!

Why not? We’re all doing it. We’re all wanting things to be a little (a lot) better. It’s just all in how you define “better”.

EP 3 – The Entire History of You

This is the reason to watch the show. It is my favorite episode, and it is based on the most basic idea:

What if everything we saw was recorded? And then we could review those recordings whenever we wanted? And then we could let other people see our memories. What if there was never a forgotten moment again?

It’s one of those ideas I wish I’d written. So simple in how it works, but then so dark how things can be twisted. How two people can watch the exact same thing and come away with two very different impressions of a moment. That happens every day. It’s no fun to go to a movie or concert by yourself, you need someone else to share in your experience… in your excitement. And even then we disagree on various things about those events.

Or maybe it is interactions with others. I can only imagine replaying moments with friends while in high school. Did that girl like me? Really? Let’s check the tape.

EP 4 – Be Right Back

Loss. The best stories are defined by growth and loss. Can you survive something bad happening to you? How does it change things (i.e. YOU) in the aftermath? And can you pick up the pieces later… become a better version of you?

My second favorite episode is one where LOSS is at the very center of everything. Can you be ok when someone has to leave you? Can the hole be filled by someone else?

And should it?

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EP 5 – White Bear

Terror. That feeling of the unknown. Where am I? Who am I? What’s happening?

That’s this episode in the first 5 minutes.

It’s something out of our nightmares. Some mixture of the Running Man mixed with a heavy dose of deja vu.

But FEAR. Who can you trust? How did you get there? Where are you going to run to? Where are you supposed to hide?

And why won’t anyone help?

EP 6 – The Waldo Moment

Every election season we are, in the immortal words of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, choosing between a Giant Douche and a Shit Sandwich. And we long for a real choice. Or at the very least someone to shake up the status quo for even the briefest of moments. This thing we do is supposed to be VERY IMPORTANT (notice the capitals?), but instead more people end up caring about American Idol’s victor than who won the real world election.

So shake it up with the most absurd idea ever: let a cartoon character into the debate. If it really is as silly and stupid as we say it is, then won’t such a character merely raise the level of discourse?

This episode is all of those things: absurd, strange, intriguing, stupid, and somehow more realistic to me than EP 1 (see, I really didn’t like that 1st episode).

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EP 7 – White Christmas

Two men, the edge of the world, snowstorm coming down outside their window. And Christmas morning. Nothing to do but talk about the moments and ideas which led you to being in this little piece of Hell.

In some ways this one feels like the most Twilight Zone of the entire group. Yes, the technology still plays a large part in the twists and turns, but this one deals so much with loneliness. Being alone even while surrounded by so many people. And if you go back and watch those old Twilight Zones, you’ll see that same theme time and time again.

Am I alone?

I’m unsure of myself.

I’m unsure of my place in the world.

Help me.

 

Black Mirror… a dark reflection of yourself? Or maybe just the same old reflection you’ve been avoiding eye contact over all these years…

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Best Works Featuring “Regular Folks with Super Abilities”: Part 1

2016 is going to bring no shortage of superheroes and super-villains on both the large and small screens. We’ve got Batman vs. Superman, Daredevil: Season 2, The Suicide Squad, Luke Cage, Agent Carter: Season 2, Captain America: Civil War, and the list goes on and on.

I’m personally a huge fan of such stories, in all mediums, and as a geek/ fan of pop culture I think that we’re living in a golden age of comic book storytelling, both on and off the pages of comics.

What I’m also a huge fan of are those stories of everyday people blessed/ cursed with awe inspiring abilities who don’t necessarily decide to put on a cape and tights to save the day. Folks who find themselves caught up in a set of crazy circumstances, while trying to continue to live their lives.

Pay the bills. Deal with relationship issues. Keep a job.

Now I’m not saying that these stories don’t eventually go the way of your typical tale of super heroics, but most of the one’s that I’ve become a fan of haven’t necessarily gone this route. As in the case of comic books, there’s a huge amount of action and adventure, with a smattering of some of the best elements of great science fiction.

Sometimes some of these examples start off as solid science fiction, but wind up playing within the spectrum of  the “regular folks with powers” sub-genre.

At the root of most of these works is a focus on how the characters involved decides to work with the abilities they’ve been either blessed or cursed with. There’s no immediate call to save the day, though we eventually get there in some of these cases.

For a while there have been a number of really notable examples of movies, novels, television programs, and comics that have played within this arena. There have also been some that have been not so stellar.

This will be the start of a list that I’ll try to add on to as I come across more examples of what I think is a pretty interesting sub genre of the tights and fights area of fiction.

4400

The 4400 (Television Series)

The USA Network for me was always the home of comedies like Psych and marathon broadcast sessions of dramas like Law and Order: Criminal Intent. It wasn’t a network that delved too much in the fantastical, at least at the points where I had cable.

So color me surprised when The 4400 dropped. I’m planning on doing another post that will go into detail on the awesomeness of the television series. Needless to say USA surprised me in a very good way.

The 4400 told the story of a group of 4400 individuals who disappeared worldwide over the years, beginning in 1946. In 2004 they are brought back to a Seattle, Washington beach and a division of US government agents are tasked with figuring out what happened to them, why they’ve been brought back, and to basically watch over them.

What is soon revealed is that a large amount of these individuals have abilities, and the show then becomes a mixture of X-Files meets X-Men. For the first season we follow a pair of agents, Agent Diana Skouris and Agent Tom Baldwin who tackle a sort of “ability” of the week story line, while we also watch how this plays out on the larger story being told.

The show ran for 4 seasons, with an abrupt cancellation in the last season. There have been four novels set within the continuity of the TV show which builds the world even further that should also be checked out.

Though the show focused on the concept of people with abilities, as mentioned before, these individuals weren’t trying to be superheroes. You have people who abused their abilities for selfish gain, saw the abilities as a blessing, or even tried to use them for committing disturbing acts.

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For example there was one episode during the first season where one returnee attempted to use his ability to simply save his neighborhood, after seeing the state of decay it had experienced in the years that he’d been away. But even then, you see the effects of what happens to an untrained individual who, though they had a set of “super” abilities, paid the consequences of the harsh reality he’d attempted to change, good intentions be damned.

The story grows in scope over the later seasons as we see the true purpose for these individuals being brought back, and definitely throws in a large amount of sci-fi elements. But at the core of this larger story we always come back to how these abilities are affecting these normal, everyday folks who are in essence caught out of time.

Chronicle (Film)

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Simple synopsis of Chronicle: A group of teens at a party find a glowing rock, investigate, experience nose bleeds, black outs, and develop telekinetic abilities.

And everything else afterwards is f&^%$ing awesome.

What works about this movie is this simple synopsis. Only towards the end of the flick do we get some obligatory, grandiose hero vs. villain fight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome, but that’s not the strongest part of the flick.

No, before then we simply get a tale of kids gaining super abilities, and just being kids.

They get a handheld camera, and just do what teens nowadays would do: show off, and have fun with these new found abilities. Whether it’s pulling pranks at a grocery store, or just flying through the Washington state skies, the teens are just enjoying these awesome abilities.

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We have the popular nice/ intelligent dude (Steve/ Michael B. Jordan), the middle of the road likeable guy (Matt/ Alex Russell), and the sympathetic outcast (Andrew/ Dane DeHaan). Through the gifting of these abilities an unexpected friendship organically grows between the three, and makes you enjoy these characters even more.

In addition to this focusing on the budding friendship between the trio, we also get a really good example of something that I’ll tackle in Jumper: a focus on what a person who has been physically/ mentally abused might do with such a set of abilities.

One of the strongest, and depressing character arcs that we see in this movie is Andrew’s, played masterfully by DeHann. He’s the butt of everyone’s joke at high school, he’s the kid with the alcoholic father who verbally and physically beats him down it seems with every single day.

Imagine what a kid like that might do if granted god like abilities? Put on an outfit and fight crime?

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Nope, he’d be more inclined to probably F’ ‘ish up, as he lashes out with a huge well of pent up pain and frustration that’s been building over the years.

Andrew probably should’ve seen a counselor in the years before the events that play out in Chronicle, but that’s not the case. Even as his new friends try to intervene and help him to see the awesome guy that they see, it’s too late.

That’s why this story works extremely well for me. You have a kid who doesn’t go the typical route that teenagers endowed with abilities might go in the world of super heroic tales of do gooders.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit the dude gets a bit too super villain-esque at the end, but the build up to that, and even the final fight make up for this.

Chronicle is a great movie, featuring a believable take on teens gaining super abilities that shouldn’t be missed.

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 Jumper by Steven Gould (Novel)

First, let’s start with this: get that movie out of your head. The one featuring that guy who played the whiny Anakin Skywalker, and Samuel L. Jackson with yet another weird wig.

The movie was fun in spots, bad in others, but got too convoluted and grandiose in the story that it was trying to tell. Nice special effects, but kind of “blah” at the middle.

Jumper, the novel was much, much, much more in terms of a sci-fi story about a kid who discovers he has the ability to “jump”, or teleport. But David Rice, the stories protagonist, doesn’t do this for the sake of fighting crime, or saving lives (at first). For a large chunk of the book this kid is running from an abusive relationship.

David’s mother left him when he was a kid, fleeing the abuse that her husband was tossing out. Rather than eventually be continually hurt by him, or worse, she decides to leave the household, unfortunately leaving David to be the sole receiver of David’s ass-hat of a father’s abuse.

So when David discovers that he can teleport, he becomes the ultimate runaway kid. And you do nothing but root for him the whole time that he does this. Imagine being able to wondrously get away from a person who does nothing but berate you, hit you, psychologically just break you down to the point where you just want to die.

That’s where David is at in the book, and we see his growth into a stronger individual as the story plays out, the further away he gets away from his father.

Later on in the story David does use his abilities for good, but this is only after he suffers a personal tragedy of sorts. Throughout the book he’s constantly escaping the crappiness that life had heaped on him, and it makes for a compelling story.

Just as Jessica Jones focused on what someone with super abilities who had been psychologically and physically abused might deal with that, I think Jumper does the same in telling a science fiction based story of a runaway who is trying to simply escape a set of crappy circumstances.


 

That’s it for this round. I’ll add more in upcoming weeks to this list. Thanks for checking it out and happy viewing/ reading.

Star Wars : My Thoughts Before We Wake

featuring art by the late great Ralph McQuarrie

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I’m writing this from the past.

All the way back on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

Because today, Friday, December 18, is a big day. For me. For a lot of us. I wanted to write this post ahead of time. Before today. Before it happens. Before we see it. Before the Awakening. Before the results of all this hype and hope and speculation and excitement are known. Will we be disappointed today? Will we be thrilled? Will our prayers be answered? I don’t know and for the purposes of this post, I don’t want to know.

So I’m writing this from the past. star_wars_r2d2_c-3po_ralph_mcquarrie_desktop_1920x1080_hd-wallpaper-1054461

Last night (for me, here in the past), The Force Awakens had its premiere at the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Which means that people have seen it. A large group of people, a lot of them famous, a lot of them on Twitter. And, while I trust that none of them are going to run and tweet “Oh my God! Han Solo is just Dexter Jettster wearing a Mission Impossible Mask!”, I have deleted Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any other social media app off my phone; deleted the bookmarks in Google Chrome. From Monday until Saturday, I am in as much of a media blackout as is possible in this day and age.

Because I don’t want to know.

I’m not a spoiler-phobe. I actually find that trend more than a little annoying, as I wrote about a while ago HERE. Do I want to know the story? The surprises? The ending? Fuck no. But mostly, I don’t want to know what people think about the movie. I don’t want to read Kevin Smith tweeting “HOLY SHIT STAR WARS IS SO GOOD!” or Patton Oswalt saying “Bad news guys…”. I don’t want to know what the critics have to say. Not a single fucking one. Not because I don’t like critics, but because I have no interest in what other people think about the movie.

I only care about what I think about it.

Two reasons for this:

1. There are at most a dozen people in this world whose opinions on film I actually respect. Who I can talk movies with in a way that satisfies me. Whose praise or condemnation of a film can actually sway my desire to see it. Does this make me a snob? Fuck yes. I embrace being a snob. I don’t care what most people think because I think I know better. It’s an ugly truth about me but a truth all the same. I feel that way about all movies; with Star Wars I feel it tenfold.

2. Knowing the general consensus on a film’s quality undoubtedly taints your experience in watching it for the first time. If the praise is effusive, often times you are disappointed by what you see because it was merely “good”, not “amazing” as every keeps saying. For me, I call this the Something About Mary effect. Conversely, if the word on the film is bad, if people are ripping it, if the cursed Rotten Tomatoes (boy do I hate Rotten Tomatoes) rating is low, you go into it expecting bad and you look for the bad. All you can see is the bad. And you don’t want to feel like an idiot for liking something that everyone else hates. Or you can go the other way. You’ve heard the film is bad, you go see it, enjoy it, and think “That was much better than everyone is saying. I don’t get it.” That happened with me on The Dark Knight Rises. The word wasn’t great on it but when I saw it I enjoyed it. Looking back, I realize those low expectations inflated my opinion of the film. I bought it on blu-ray the day it came out and haven’t been able to watch it all the way through even once. I find it mediocre and disappointing.

star-wars-mcquarrie3I don’t want to walk into the theater today with that baggage.

I’m bringing in enough with me as it is.

Because, well…

I love Star Wars more than you.

Since I don’t know who you are, dear reader, it’s understandable if you find that statement laughable.

But I love Star Wars more than you because Star Wars is my thing.

And it has been since 1980.

When I was four years old, my parents let me stay up to watch the network television debut of Star Wars. It was hosted by Billy Dee Williams (which is how I know it was around 1980), from a badly mocked-up version of what I would later learn was the Mos Eisley cantina. (Did you know it was owned by a Wookiee named Chalmun? Of course you didn’t. No reason you should. But I do. Because Star Wars is my thing.)

Like so many people, the first time seeing George Lucas’s Star Wars changed my life. I was never the same after that. I had, at the age of four, fallen truly, madly, and deeply in love.

I obviously don’t remember every detail of that night, but I remember enough. I remember the opening shot of the Blockade Runner (the Tantive IV) and the Star Destroyer (the Devastator) coming over the top of the screen and thinking the child’s equivalent of “holy shit!”. Being terrified of Darth Vader. I remember the cantina, obviously. Ben cutting off Ponda Baba’s arm. Meeting Han Solo. Seeing the Falcon for the first time. I have very strong memories of the trash compactor and, after that, the image that probably stuck most in my mind: Luke and Leia swinging across the chasm in the Death Star. Of course, the getaway fight with the TIE Fighters was amazing (“Don’t get cocky!”).

But what left an indelible impression on me was the final assault on the Death Star, later known as the Battle of Yavin. It enraptured me in a way I had never experienced. Starting with the scene in the briefing room where they break down the plan (I have this thing. Don’t know what it is, but my favorite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark is when Indy uses the chalkboard to explain to the guys, one of them the actor that played Jek Porkins in A New Hope, how the Staff of Ra worked. Don’t know why that is.) and then of course the visuals, the action. It was so damn exciting and tense. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had seen very few movies, so it never occurred to me that of course the hero was going to save the day. I was four. I didn’t know that it was an automatic thing in movies like this. I was terrified for Luke every step of the way. He’s just a kid from a farm! This is so dangerous! How is he going to make it out alive?

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Ships crash. People die. Darth Vader starts mowing down Y-Wings in his funky looking fighter (TIE Advanced x1). It was all too much.

Then Luke switched off his targeting computer.

I stopped breathing.

Then, it happened. The moment that brings me chills every time I think about it, let alone see it. Seriously. Right now, seeing it in my head, I’m getting that feeling.

Just when it looked like Vader was going to shoot Luke down. Just when the Rebellion was about to be blown to oblivion, a miracle happened.

“Yahoo!”

The Falcon came down out of the sun and saved the day.

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They came back! Han and Chewie came back! If you were an adult, you probably knew it would happen. Because that’s how movies work. The cynical loner always grows a heart and comes back to help. But as a child? I had no idea it was coming.

And when it did, I felt it for the first time.

The jolt. The shiver. The surge.

For all I knew, at that moment, 35 years ago, it was The Force Itself.

That feeling, you know? The potent injection of emotion that seems to shoot up your spine when you see, hear, read something that just hits you in a place you never knew you had. It’s the white soldiers cheering “give ‘em Hell!” to the 54th Massachusetts as they leave to die attacking Fort Wagner. It’s a brave vampire slayer leaping to her death to save both her sister and the world (“She saved the world. A lot.”). It’s the “Ode to Joy”, when that damn chorus comes in and the bliss crackles like electricity under your skin.

I was paralyzed with… I don’t know what that feeling is. It’s a cocktail of emotions, universally known but undefined. Just that… rush. That feeling.

It was the first time I had felt it.

It was riding my first roller coaster.

It was losing my virginity.

Drinking my first beer.

I have George Lucas to thank for that. And I thank him, as all fans should, for giving us this gift.

I also wanted more.

star_wars_movies_atat_ralph_mcquarrie_fan_art_1280x800_wallpaper_wallpaper_2560x1600_www-wallpaperswa-comThe first Star Wars trilogy was an enormous hit. Millions and millions of people are fans of the films. Made Lucas a brand of his own, the most successful independent filmmaker in history. The original trilogy is beloved the whole world over. Especially The Empire Strikes Back, nearly universally considered the best of the films.

But my love affair didn’t stop in 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released. I didn’t think “Well, that cool thing is over. On to the next thing.”

I was in love. I still wanted more.

And to get more, I had to dive deeper. And there wasn’t a whole lot there.

I’ve seen the two pretty-awful Ewoks TV movies more than a dozen times each. Why? Because they were Star Wars. Same with the “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons. I read the seven available Star Wars spin-off novels, including the very enjoyable Han Solo and Lando Calrissian series. I read the lackluster Marvel comics.

But between 1983 and 1991, it was slim pickings for a kid who wanted more of his favorite thing.

But in ’91, a novel was published. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. It took place 5 years after Episode VI and heir-to-the-empire-coverstarred all of the original characters, and introduced a few new ones, including one of the great Star Wars villains (hell, characters) of all time. Soon after, in the world of comic books, Dark Horse got the Star Wars license and released “Dark Empire”, which took place a year after Heir to the Empire. It was a bleak story about Emperor Palpatine rising from the dead to take one last stab at conquering the galaxy.

With those two pieces of fiction, the entity that would eventually be called the Expanded Universe was born. It would live and grow for almost a quarter of a century.

And I experienced all of it. Every novel. Every comic book. Every video game. Every role-playing game. Every encyclopedia. Star Wars became much more than three movies for me.

Even through the Special Editions and the Prequels, the Expanded Universe thrived. The novels and comics kept coming. Some were great. Some sucked. Most were in the middle somewhere. But the Star Wars galaxy continued to grow outside of the movies. In the case of the prequels, it often times eclipsed it in terms of quality. When 2005 was over, and Revenge of the Sith had come and gone, Star Wars wasn’t over for me like it was for so many others. I hadn’t abandoned it because of the quality of the prequels. Because to me it was so much more than six films. The movies were the most important aspect, sure, but I enjoyed the prequel era. While Lucas’s movies were bad (at times horrible), with several great moments, they spawned so many interesting stories between the cracks. In comics. And fiction. And in the spectacular “Clone Wars” television show.

I can imagine losing faith in Star Wars if all you know is the films. I don’t begrudge anyone for being done with the franchise after the prequels. Nor do I blame people for hopping back on in hopes that The Force Awakens is awesome. Please, come back to Star Wars. But also understand that some of us never left. Not out of blind loyalty, but because we’re fans. Not fans of the Star Wars movies; fans of Star Wars as a whole, the entire multi-media giant it has grown into.

MCQ-dagobah

Now George Lucas is out. Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan, and J.J. Abrams are in. The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi.Everyone is excited to see what things are like, what’s happened, what’s going, three decades after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. So am I. Except, I’ve already seen it. The novels hit “30 years later” a long time ago. In the (now defunct) Expanded Universe, a lot happened in those years. Weddings. Births. Deaths. New villains. New heroes. Wars. Adventures. Tragedies. Triumphs. A fully fleshed-out timeline that has been built upon that first wonderful Timothy Zahn novel.

None of this has any bearing on The Force Awakens. This is a new timeline. A new vision. One that only includes the films and animated TV shows as “canon”. And I’ve come to terms with that. It’s fine. It’s all make-believe bullshit anyway. But it will be impossible for me to not bring all that (fictional) history with me. That knowledge is in my DNA. It’s part of what makes me me.

J.J. Abrams is without a doubt a Star Wars fan. But, if I had to guess, not the same type of Star Wars fan as I am. He loves Star Wars and I think he is going to make a film that represents it well. Except, his Star Wars is not my Star Wars. My Star Wars galaxy is so much bigger than most people’s. The question is really going to be, for me, is “is what J.J. loves about Star Wars the same thing I love about Star Wars?”. Maybe, but maybe not.

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What do I want this new movie to be?

I want it to be a good story.

I want it to feel like Star Wars.

I want the Kurosawa screen wipes between scenes instead of dissolves and cuts.

I want Harrison, Mark, and Carrie to be Han, Luke, and Leia.

I want Rey and Finn and Poe to be great characters that I will enjoy watching carry on the saga.

I want it to feel old and new.

I want someone to say “I have a bad feeling about this.”

I want John Williams to make me bawl like a baby.

I want it to pay homage to George but not be an homage to George. There’s a difference. Ask Bryan Singer.

I want Kylo Ren to be badass.

I want Captain Phasma to be badass-er.

I want it to be its own movie but also earn the title “Episode VII” and feel like part of the greater saga.

I want it to be good.

I want it to be great.

I want to love it.

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What do I not want?

I do not want Luke Skywalker to be evil.

That is the one thing that could turn me off of Star Wars for a very long time. Make me lose faith in the new regime. I think it would betray the original films, the films that everyone behind The Force Awakens say they are trying to do right by.

“Where’s Luke?” has been the refrain as the hero of episodes IV through VI has been absent from the poster, the trailers, the TV spots, and the toys. “Where is Luke?!?”

There could be many reasons why they haven’t shown Luke Skywalker in any of the promo material. Maybe he’s not in it that much. Maybe he’s only in scenes that are later in the film and they don’t want to spoil anything. Maybe his entrance into the movie is so motherfucking Orson-Welles-in-The-Third-Man-awesome that they want to hold onto it. Make us wait for it. Because when I see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker, 32 years after he did it last, I’m going to cry. The quality of his reveal will determine whether I just get misty-eyed or curl up into a sobbing ball on the floor of the theater. I want his entrance to floor me. I want to feel like a kid again.

He could also be a bad guy. That would be a legitimate reason not to reveal him until we see the film, as some have speculated. I really hope that’s not true.

Because I don’t know what I’d do. They would have to do it REALLY well to keep me watching.

They could have Jar-Jar and Wickett talk about midichlorians for two hours and I’d still be there for Episode VIII. But making Luke the bad guy…?

Let’s hope not. MCQ-emperor

As this posts, 1:20 pm, EST, I am sitting down with my father and brother at the Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station theater in downtown Atlanta to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. The last time I saw a Star Wars film in the theater with these two people that I love: 1983. So that, in itself, will be special.

If you are reading this within two and a half hours of me posting it, I am currently sitting in a darkened theater with an appropriately StarWarsian mix of hope and fear. I don’t need this movie to be good. If it’s not, I’ll still be a Star Wars fan tomorrow. I’ll be sad Star Wars fan, sure, for a while, but I’m not walking away. When my baseball team has a bad game, a bad season, even a bad decade, I don’t stop wearing their caps. I don’t stop rooting for them, watching their games, going to see them when they come to town. And even if the last year was horrible, I still start the next season with hope that they’ll get it right this time.

I feel the same way about Star Wars. In all of pop culture, there is nothing that is nearer to my heart. That’s why I wanted to write this before seeing the film. To express my undying love. No matter what I am experiencing at this very moment, I will be a Star Wars fan tomorrow.

As for my opinions on The Force Awakens, I will express them. On Saturday I will be recording another episode of the NEEDLESS THINGS podcast where we will have a round table discussion about the film. The episode will be available online soon after the film comes out, if you really want to hear me talk about it. I’m sure I’ll have one or two or five hundred things to say.

I may even let the other panelists talk. If I’m feeling generous.

Thank you, George.

Good luck, J.J.

It’s time. You psyched? I’m psyched.

Let’s do it. Here we go.

Punch it, Chewie.

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May the Force Be with You,

Chad J. Shonk
December 15, 2015

A Few of the Million Things I Should Have Written

We all those moments where we see something or read something or hear something and the only response is to slap our foreheads and exclaim “How obvious! Why didn’t I think of that?”

I mean it could be as simple as the Pet Rock or the windshield wiper on the back of your car, but for me it tends to take form in the movies and TV I watch or the books and comics I read. So here are a few of the culprits that have me shaking my head at myself.

Ready Player One

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A newcomer to this list, the book is the crazy quest set in a future where everyone effectively has checked out of the real world and lives the majority of their lives online. That’s what the book probably says on the back cover (I’m too lazy to double-check, but take my word for it).

That’s not what the book is about. It is about being a love letter to everything good and holy from the 1980s. Hey, did you like War Games (the movie with Matthew Broderick)? Random Japanese monster movies? Dungeons and Dragons? Joust!?!

Then this is the book for you.

And guess what… I loved all those things. Constantly as I read there would be some reference to something I not only recognized, but flat-out LOVED. In many ways it was like my subconcious wrote the book and then gave it to this guy so he could slap his name on the thing.

Damn my subconcious!

The Walking Dead

Walking-Dead-AMC

Hey, I liked zombies before they were cool. In that between time where they had become a joke. Long after Romero had become a name only a few people might have known. I was watching those terrible movies and the good ones and everything else inbetween.

But The Walking Dead… that could have been me. And it isn’t just the idea of printing money with the release of the tv show or the comics or the spinoff or whatever may be next. No, the problem is that now, no matter what you do in “zombie” comic fiction, you can’t be better that The Walking Dead.

The frustrating part is that it took one guy to realize we all liked the story of survivors. We like the idea of a world trying to destroy us. And we love a story that isn’t going to end anytime soon.

The zombie movie that continues after the credits begin to roll.

So obvious!

A Game of Thrones

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Again, not because of the TV show, but because this is a book (series) which has finally managed to bring Fantasy back to the forefront. Sure the Lord of the Rings films helped put the spotlight on the genre, but it wasn’t until the better part of a decade later that the world stood up and noticed.

I mean, fantasy novels are mostly what I read in middle school and high school. But the main problem with much of those pulp/D&D novels were that they derived from the same original source… Tolkien. Everything was really just a riff on those core ideas. Elves are mysterious. Dwarves are grumpy. Hobbits are called Halflings because we don’t want to be sued. Goblins and Orcs and Dragons and…

You get the point.

Game said that you could choose a different path. Something more realistic, less magic based and still be lauded for it.

Sadly, it may have done its job too well. It might be the new standard, and a new stand-in for Tolkien… instead of breaking the old rules it merely created a whole new set of them.

Cabin in the Woods

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The movie I certainly could have written. Especially in light of Scream being one of my all-time favorite movies (not just horror movies, but overall). The deconstruction of the genre by that movie is really taken to the next possible level here. In Scream you ask What are the Rules?

In Cabin you ask Why are their Rules?

It is an important difference, but one that I think I’ve been trying to find for a while. Something that might look at the horror movies of the 70s through today and anticipate what the next trend might be.

Cabin asks the questions better than I could have thought.

Damn it!

Let the Right One In

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At a time when Vampires were not really the creatures of the night of our youths. Heck, they weren’t even the mysterious creatures from Anne Rice (they must have a decent publist). Let the Right One In gets back to both the idea of the unknown… this otherworldly THING who must be feared, and combines that with the idea that lonelyness is not just a human trait. That our need for connection with someone, with something will always triumph over everything else.

And that true friendship is one of the most important concepts in the world. So why not be friends with a vampire!

It’s like, how do you write a Monster horror novel with heart? Well, this is the way.

 

Well, that’s just a taste, but really, I need to go and try to write something so that my brain doesn’t forget to write the next one of these “obvious” ideas.

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Gotta Get Back In Time…

The season finale to The Flash was last night. While I’m going to try and avoid the BIG spoilers, there are some things that peeked my inner time-travel/butterfly effect interest.

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The basic dilemma in the show was this:

Barry Allen (that’s the Flash to me and you) has the opportunity to travel back in time and save his mother’s life (she was murdered by his arch-nemesis when he was a child – hey, superheroing is complicated business!). Throughout the episode much of the thought process is on whether or not he should even try. Whether he should literally rewrite history. And he struggles with this, to undo one great act of evil will could then unravel time so that any good things which happened afterwards might never happen.

And here’s the thing, Barry is a hero. He’s spent the last year since becoming the Flash saving people.

What happens to those people? Will that one guy get pancaked by the truck… heck, will he even be in the same place at the same time as the truck?

Different doesn’t necessarily equate to better. There are going to be paths taken and not taken such that the world he comes back to may not exist in any form he recognizes.

What if he comes back without any powers? What if he comes back and his father is now the one who died rather than his mother? What if his life has gone completely to hell? The death of his mother shaped his life in a way that he can’t begin to comprehend.

And all of that is just a taste of what could happen if time is malleable in any way. What if that isn’t the case? Maybe time a stream that can’t really be altered? If you throw a rock into a stream, sure you’re going to get ripples, but the stream will continue on unabated. Meaning he could save his mother only to have her killed by some other random incident.

Is that what we’re dealing with?

And what if you back a dump truck of rocks to block the stream?

In fact, the last time he managed to change much of anything time didn’t seem to like it very much and made his “updated” life twist and turn such that it would have been better never to have changed anything.

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Throughout media whenever we are given these glimpses of the way things could be (or the way the characters contend they SHOULD be) it isn’t always the way we really wanted. Much like the wish from the Genie of the Lamp or the Deal with the Devil there is just too many variables and not enough constants to ensure that you are going to get exactly what you want.

The movie version of HG Wells’ The Time Machine (the one with Guy Pearce) had time such that the past could not be changed. It would self-correct almost immediately. And no matter how many times he went back to save his true love, TIME ensured that he could not.

Then again, perhaps Barry gets to have the Marty McFly treatment. His life was certainly changed for the better (at least after the original Back to the Future). His brother and sister are both employed (no longer layabouts), his parents are more in love than he could have hoped for, and Biff is relegated to a car washer.

Heck he even gets a brand new truck out of the deal!

However, Marty didn’t have a choice. In fact, he was simply trying to return things back to normal so that he wouldn’t cease to exist completely. The good stuff was a happy accident you might say.

Will Barry be that lucky? Could he be that lucky to get the perfect life? And even if he does, is it worth everything he knows. Because all those connections with his surrogate father, and his crush Iris, and his new-found friends and… and… and…

So many unknowns.

So many strings that could unravel.

Is it worth it? Is it worth it to play the ultimate What If Game?

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

All My Futures…

I’ve become obsessed in the last week.

On one of my various adventures down the rabbit hole that is the internet I somehow found myself staring at this page for a collection of short stories from a couple of years ago. No biggie, I end up at various projects from time to time, but this one stuck in my head.

Since then I’ve been reading these shorts during lunch, trying to squeeze in one more where possible before my lunch break ends.

The Machine of Death (a collection of short stories edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki)

machine-of-death-cover

The premise is simple enough. At some point in the not so distant future some scientists managed to stumble upon a machine which will, through a sample of blood, tell a person how they are going to die.

That, in and of itself is interesting enough for me. But then they take it one more level. Let me give an example:

Guy comes in, gets his death slip given to him and it reads: Old Age.

Great, what an excellent thing. I know I’m going to live probably another 50-60 years. And then he steps outside and gets run over by a car driven by a senior citizen.

Old Age.

Yes, it is cutesy, but there is also a lot of room in there to play with. I believe the good ideas are ones that get you thinking regardless of whether they are your ideas or not. They are the ones that you slap your forehead (hopefully, not too hard) and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “That is so obvious, why hasn’t anyone ever thought of that before?”

More than all of that, I like the dilemma it provides. If you had knowledge of what caused your death (not the when or the where, just the How) would you want to know?

Think about it for a second… what if you get Car Crash? If you live in any city, anywhere, then you are completely hosed. So you stop driving, you move to the country where the only cars that might come anywhere near you are the mailman and the occasional delivery you have. You live your days like a hermit until, at some point, the prediction still comes true. Because that’s the kicker: you can’t change your fate. Maybe you can delay it, maybe not.

What about the idea that knowing your future will actually cause you to end up on that path? Maybe you get Car Crash, but because of that prediction you embrace your fate. You live as hard as you possibly can until finally you die in a street race (hey, Furious 7 just came out so it’s on my mind). Who’s to say that had you never gotten your reading, maybe it would have gone differently for you?

That’s the things I love though. These simple ideas which cause me to spend hours on the drive to work trying to figure out what I would do. How I might try and game the system. What type of story would I tell in this strange world.

I’m reminded of the old Twilight Zone episode “Nick of Time” where William Shatner and his wife end up with a broken down car in Small Town, USA. They go to the local diner which has this little fortune teller on the table. You feed it a penny, ask it a question, and it gives you a sorta Magic 8-Ball style answer. But the thing is that this couple gets to the point where they are asking it questions about their future at first, and then that becomes almost asking it permission (When can we leave?). They become paralyzed by this little machine.

nick of time

And maybe that’s because knowing what is to come removes much of the mystery from life. Even if it is a good future told to you, it may still be years away. You may just miss the journey if you’re not careful. You could not live your life because you are too busy waiting for something good to happen. We spend our times clocking into our jobs, waking up at the same time every morning, doing the same things day in and day out because of the idea of what the future might bring. Sometimes you just have to make the decision to embrace things as they are and make the change. Don’t wait for the fortune teller, whether it is a Machine of Death or a a strange woman behind a crystal ball.

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

The Walking Dead returned a couple of weeks ago.

But I’ll get to that in a second. And actually this is not specifically about the Walking Dead, it is just one of the latest “things” to get this treatment. I’m probably going to be all over the place with this post. Apologies in advance.

I want to talk about this thing that we all do. Well, I’m not 100% on that stat, but let’s say a fair number of internet people do and it drives me nuts.

The people who want to say one of the following:

“This show is not as good as it used to be.”

“This show isn’t as good as everyone says it is (effectively saying you are all sheep who are watching it).”

I know it is human nature to compare something to something else. We do it because it helps us identify things. Comparing helps us understand what it is we are watching. We think – this is kinda like X thing, and I really liked X thing, so I’m probably going to like this Y thing.

I do it too. There are certain shows, movies, books, songs, etc. that I am much more likely to enjoy than someone else. Time travel, zombies, anything dealing with alternate worlds, and Groundhog Day style movies/TV shows are all in that wheelhouse for me. If you have some aspect of those things I’m going to probably check you out.

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Back in college I didn’t necessarily go to see every movie that came out. I’m not saying this as a statement of pride or anything else. It just was a fact. Even without going every week I saw a good number of movies. But by trying to narrow down a little bit, be a little bit discriminate meant that I missed a lot of bad movies. And I know this to be the case because if you’ve ever been up at 2 in the morning you see plenty of the “Bad” movies on HBO or TBS or TNT or… The flip side of that was, of course, I also missed out on a lot of good movies. That was the trade-off I was willing to make because I KNEW if something was really good a friend would let me know. And if something was only “OK”, well maybe I didn’t need to see that one.

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Choosing that path meant that I saw movies that, most of the time, I didn’t have much bad things to say. Oh, maybe I wasn’t floored by the latest Tom Cruise movie, but it wasn’t necessarily a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination. As time went on, those bad movies got forgotten or just relegated to the status of “Eh, it was ok I guess”.

Not the strongest endorsement, and I’m sure I had friends who thought that there were no movies I hated, but they didn’t realize I’d already done some level of weeding before I ever entered the theater. I mean, unless you are watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, there is little reason to watch a bad movie (note, however, I do not say there are no reasons – get enough people together and the worst movies can be the best experiences).

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But what I don’t understand is this need to tear down things that other people like. That other people enjoy. Those people who are just waiting in the weeds… they want to tell you why something sucks or that Season 1 was soooo much better, the first movie was better, book 3 was the best and everything after those things were just absolute garbage.

Note, this isn’t about discussions where something isn’t exactly to another’s tastes. I love to talk about and dissect various movies, books, tv shows, etc. A back and forth about how maybe one thing was a little bit better than something else. A talk in which you are thinking about the things you liked and the things that you didn’t like.

As a writer I love trying to figure why something was done a certain way. As a fan of the form(s) I love to think about what might have worked better from that angle as well. Sometimes those things line up and sometimes they don’t.

I’m not stupid, I know that not everyone likes everything they see.

Why do we need to tear something down? Why do we have to nitpick things?

I notice this more due to the Internet forums. And yes, I understand I should just avoid bothering with them, but I’m clearly a glutton for punishment. And I’m always floored by venom being thrown at certain things because other people like them.

When do you just get to enjoy it?

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Everything we consume has some kind of flaw. Nothing is 100% perfect. But why nitpick every last detail?

It seems like the only time this doesn’t apply is with shows that most people come in late on. Something like Breaking Bad. These things are done or almost done and we’ve consumed them in a way that maybe doesn’t allow for complete introspection. To put it another way, when you are binge watching something, you are more worried about getting to the next episode more than wondering why Walter White reacted in the way he did.

By watching a character arc in a matter of hours instead of weeks or years, everything has more weight and less weight at the same time. It means that maybe those tweaks and changes seem a bit more flawed than they need to be… because that true time to watch over the course of years is no longer needed.

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Case in point: LOST. I am unapologetic about my love for this show. Is it perfect? No, of course not, but I’m willing to live with a few warts for one of the better shows on the tv screen (at least as far as I’m concerned).

Lost-season1

So many of the genre shows sometimes take the brunt of it. I remember that when Lost was heading towards the end of Season 1. Mysteries were being laid out, shit was getting real, and I remember reading a blog where the guy said that he’s not watching Lost because he feels like it is going to do to him what X-Files did to him (not solve the mysteries they laid out). Hey, that’s fine don’t watch, but then when don’t sit there and tell everyone else why they are dumb for watching and enjoying.

Because you know you’ve seen it. That sadistic glee where someone says they aren’t going to bother with something because of some reason. But then spends the next X number of years bashing that TV show because it can’t be any good (if it was, they would like it).

But this is Season 1 we’re talking about and you’ve condemned it, without having watched, because you don’t trust the writers to answer all the questions they are asking (it is an entirely different blog post that would be needed to answer what did or didn’t get answered).

I guess what bothers me is it feels so much like the crap that we are supposed to be over. We’d rather complain about something versus just turning the channel. We sit around and hope to be right about something being bad. What the hell kind of sense does that make? Does the ability to tell someone “I told you so” outweigh everything else in your life? Is that the only bit of joy left to you is to take away someone else’s joy so that they can join you in the pit of despair?

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I’m not sure what part of the human condition this belongs to, but it has always bugged me. I don’t understand people who watch a TV show, read a comic series, and to a lesser extent watch movies or read novels who seem to take pleasure when something popular gets taken down a peg.

And don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily a critique of when a show has jumped the shark. We’ve all seen that happen, and many times I realize it and still watch because of the investment in the characters outweighs some of the BS.

I’m talking more about those people who lay in the weeds to tell you “haha! I told you it was terrible and now you have to think it too!”

Maybe this sensitivity comes from being a writer and trying to see where something might have went wrong is a part of the process, but when you are giving feedback you are supposed to give “Constructive Critiques”. The people I’m talking about wouldn’t know how to do much more than “It’s stupid and so are you!”.

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Why do we need to hate something? Wouldn’t it just be easier to love something different? Why can’t we change the channel?

Of course the flip-side to all of this is that desperate want for someone to agree with you that something is the BEST THING EVER!

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This phenomenon is something I see mentioned in conjunction with the Walking Dead currently. It gets these monster ratings and that only seems to enrage certain people out there. But it isn’t the only thing.

Doctor-Who-logo

I decided to get into Doctor Who this season. Yes, I realize that there have been 25+ seasons and 11 Doctors, but with a new incarnation I thought this would be the best time to maybe give it a try. So imagine my horror when everyone was talking about ending their own viewing of the show with the demise of Matt Smith’s Doctor. So many people were on Facebook talking about stopping, and I wanted to write each of them to say “Hey, I’m finally ready to fall in love with something you love and… hey where are you going?”

Why does it matter? Why does it matter to me that everyone who was watching (and I assuming loving the show) still continue with the new Doctor? What does it matter to me? And why would I even allow it to possibly affect my own enjoyment of the show?

It doesn’t. And yet, just tonight I read a blog post where the writer just had a passing slam about the new version of the show. Literally 2 sentences in a blog completely unrelated to Doctor Who in any way possible. Talking about how this version is just terrible.

And then it occured to me. That little shot at something that I like, without any explanation, feels like (whether it is or not) a personal shot at me. That by me saying “I like this thing” anytime someone else comes along and says “Well I hate that thing” it must mean that they hate something about me. And I’d rather not be hated, but somehow there is nothing I can do about it.

What is wrong with me? Why should I care?

I wish I knew.

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Darryl Problem

<Potential Walking Dead Spoilers to follow.>

Walking Dead has been back for a couple of weeks now , and I’ve been reminded of a conversation I’ve had about the show… and about the idea that the best thing the show could do is kill Darryl off.

Because he’s too popular.

Because people would lose their minds if you did it.

Because no one would expect it.

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And for the most part I don’t believe any of those things are good reasons to kill a character off the show. Though, I’m also not completely on board killing off a character because everyone hates them, but I have seen that.

Let’s put aside that we’re talking about a show that kills in the ratings in a way I (a reader of the comic from issue 7 onward) would have never guessed could have happened. And that some of the decisions they have to decide on are as much about business, and perhaps not rocking the boat with such things.

Here’s the thing about killing characters off in novels, TV shows, movies, etc., once you’ve pulled that trigger you almost never can undo the deed.

Yes I realize in comics that characters come back all the time… that’s actually a different problem.

Dead is dead.

In the Walking Dead comics I believe that Shane is dead by the end of the 1st story-arc, issue 6. That means we really only got about 5 issues out of the whole dynamic of Shane vs. Rick for leadership, and Shane vs. Rick for Lori. Not really all that much time.

You notice that in the TV show Kirkman didn’t repeat that mistake. He milked that story for every bit of juice he could (some might say he stretched it out a little too long). He had a chance to change what he’d done in the first go around for the better.

In comics we see these things all the time where a new writer comes onto a book and in order to “shake things up” they kill a character off so that the rest of the cast can react to whatever happened. And they proceed to write those stories and everything is fine, until the next writer shows up and wants to write a story with the character you’ve already killed. So in order to use him/her again their choices are flashback, dream sequence, doppleganger, or just undoing the death in the first place. They put a couple of pieces of duct tape along the edges, wave their hands over the narrative, and hopefully the reader will be so happy they won’t care about the truck-sized plot holes.

TV is a little bit of a different problem. And this show in particular… as far as I know the only way you get to come back after death is as a zombie… so that fix is out.

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Darryl is an interesting case as I think that the original plan wasn’t for him to become the “fan favorite” character. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers thought he’d be killed off early in season 2. But something happened… people liked him. They saw him as not just a redneck like his brother, but someone who might be able to become a hero… maybe someone we can root for… or maybe he was just the opposite of Shane, someone we saw was headed towards a confrontation with Rick sooner or later.

Whatever it was, the writers used that feedback and by this point in the story he certainly is one of the more important characters on the show.

I feel like when you are enjoying a story, no matter what form it takes, that the characters are there to serve the tale, but the tale is there to serve the characters as well. Many articles and interviews with authors have talked about a magical moment where the character starts dictating what is going to happen to them. That is the moment when those plans of killing off a character sometimes hit the biggest snag. Suddenly they aren’t going to go down willingly, they are going to fight and claw for every moment of their lives.

But in the end, I think that when you make the decision to kill a character, regardless of their popularity, that it isn’t something to do just to get a shock out of the fans. Because the shock will eventually wear off, and suddenly that character you wanted to tell one more story about is no longer around for you to do that much.

That’s a lot of generalities, but let’s assume that you were going to write Darryl’s death… wouldn’t you want his story told? His character arc finished? And would you have him go out in a way that is uninspiring and forgettable (or laughable even?)?

I would offer that he deserves… no, he’s managed to earn a quality death. Probably doing something to save the others in his group at the cost of his own life. You have a situation where you not only need to do right by the fans and what they’ve come to love about the character, but also do right by the character himself.

And it shouldn’t be as a lark.

And it shouldn’t be as a “I’ve run out of ideas” thing.

And it shouldn’t be as a reaction to him being “unkillable” because the fans love him too much.

No, it should happen because that is the next story you want to tell. And the ones after that one no longer need him to be told.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Previously on…

I have a saying that I picked up from somewhere (perhaps Warren Ellis’s email blog years ago) after I watch or read something that I feel is just so damn good that it makes me wonder about my own place in any future writings that I might do:

“It makes me want to break my fingers.”

Because, when you’ve seen the top of the mountain and know that it is probably impossible to get there, well, what else can you do but end your suffering?

I’ve been reading the Dark Tower series and King has managed to make me exclaim that a couple of times. Portions of Breaking Bad managed to make me feel like that as well when we were binge watching it.

That being said, the man who does that to me more often than not (that’s an odd sentence) is Aaron Sorkin.

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We’re watching the last season of the Newsroom, and I know that every time I see a new episode that I am going to have that feeling all over again. And I know that when this season is over and the show is done I won’t know what to do with myself because it will be another show that was taken away too soon that had his name on it.

I don’t know when I knew about Aaron Sorkin. I mean, I get that he wrote A Few Good Men and The American President, both of which I had watched. But I don’t think I put those things together until Sports Night came on.

A little something about Sports Night. It is a show that should have been on tv for 5 years. It should have been this show that everyone understood and loved and we could all talk about how well written it was. It should have been that show that had it all, great actors, great writing, great characters, and it was tied into the world of sports.

And yet people didn’t watch it. It was cancelled in 2000 after only 2 seasons and 45 episodes and I still don’t know that I have forgiven all of you who had TVs and didn’t watch the show. You gotta make time for stuff like that (sadly I read that it had over 10 million viewers and still got the ax because 14 years ago 10 million was not good enough – today ABC would kill for those weekly numbers).

sports night

I think it may be the only thing I’ve ever watched multiple times all the way through. About every other year I pull out my DVDs of the show and start consuming them. And little by little I’m reminded of how good the show really was.

Luckily, he’d also come up with this little show at the same time called the West Wing, which helped alleviate my loss. Weirdly, I haven’t actually watched that whole show… I’m still working through it on Netflix as I’ve seen about 3 seasons worth and then I think life got in my way (Don’t judge me! You didn’t watch Sports Night!).

Something about the way that the worlds seem to fly out of his character’s mouths. How even when they are saying terribly complicated things that are probably over my head, he manages to ground it in some way or another. He makes his characters complex, living creatures. They show who they are with their words, with how they interact with others. There is never a better feeling than when a monologue is about to begin. They seem to dance in the air, only to be replaced by the next word, next turn of phrase… and somehow, when the moment has passed, I can only sit in my seat and say “Damn.”

west wing

Watching his current show, The Newsroom, I probably say that at least three times an episode. And sometimes it is some bomb that he’s dropped, but many times it is because of a subtle moment… a joke that is told… or even where he’s poking fun at his own style (having characters talk about monologuing and the like). It comes off as… well, maybe not exactly the real world (I’ve never worked on a tv show or in the White House or at CNN), but a world I wouldn’t mind hanging out in. Though I think I’d need a script to keep up with the rest of them.

And as much as I like the man’s movies (The Social Network was all kinds of amazing), I think I love him most when he is killing himself to write all the episodes of some of these TV shows. It is nice to get 2 plus hours, but I’d almost rather get the 10 a season I’m getting now, even if I have to wait a week at a time. It may mean that I’m being greedy. And I know I should be happy with whatever I get… but I am greedy. I do want more.

So don’t think of me as a stalker if I happen to hang out on his IMDB page and read about the next thing on his agenda.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Fastest Man Alive

The Flash is my favorite DC comic book character. If I had the chance to write a DC comic (aka The Dream) it would either be the Flash or Firestorm (more on him another time). So when they announced the new Flash tv show what do you think my reaction to it was going to be? Excitement? Marking it down on the calendar… making sure I took the day off?

No. I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all.

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Let me clarify that for some of the non-comic people out there with a little history lesson. There have really been 3 people to wear the Flash costume for any length of time (yes, comic book people, I am aware there have been more than 3 – but I’m just going to talk about the Big 3, ok?).

Jay Garrett – Jay was the first Flash way back in the 1940s. I’ll admit that most of my knowledge about Jay is entirely based on comics written in the 90s and the 00s (my collection only goes back so far). What I will say is that in the later years Jay has been treated as both the elder spokesman for the entire Flash family as well as held a leadership role in the Justice Society of America.

Garrick_ross

Plus his costume is kinda awesome.

Barry Allen – This is the one you’d most likely be familiar with if you read comics pre-1986 or watched the live-action show in the early 90s. Barry Allen. And this is the man the new TV show will be focused on.

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This is where I have a little blasphemy.

I gotta say, Barry is boring to me. In the comics he’s the CSI scientist who is a bit bumbling and wears bow-ties and is always late to everything (get it – he’s late, but yet he’s the fastest man alive – ugh). I always thought that the best thing that Barry ever did was give his life for the universe (see Crisis on Infinite Earths for more on that story – in fact, if you haven’t read that one then you should do so immediately. It has everything a superhero story is supposed to have – high stakes, heavy losses on both sides, and it changed the way comic events were looked at). A character who seemed to accomplish more by being dead than being alive. He could be something that all other strove to emulate. He could be this thing that showed the true merit of a hero.

There is one good thing about Barry – his villains. Behind Spider-Man and Batman, I think that the Flash has the best villains. Mirror Master, Captain Cold, Heatwave, Weather Wizard, Professor Zoom, Abrakadabra, Gorilla Grodd… and all of those come straight from Barry’s run as the Flash.

Wally West – This is my Flash. You may know this version of the Flash from the Justice League cartoon.

When I started reading comics – this was the current Flash. And as I read I began to understand where this character came from. DC has built itself over the years by being a company all about legacies. Those ties from the 30s and 40s which stretch to the 50s and 60s and then end up in the 80s and 90s.

3 generations of heroes.

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But it was in Wally West that this idea was really fulfilled. Years before Dick Grayson (Robin) would become Batman (after Bane broke his back), Wally shed the Kid Flash costume and adopted his uncle’s. But it wasn’t a comfortable change. For years he struggled with the idea of living up to the legacy of a man who sacrificed himself for the entire universe.

Wally wasn’t as fast, wasn’t as smart, and maybe he wasn’t supposed to be anything more than Kid Flash.

He just wasn’t Barry.

Until a writer named Mark Waid took over the book and saw in Wally something more than his uncle Barry. Yes, he lived in the shadow of greatness, but that did not preclude him from being great. Maybe he could be better than any other speedster had ever dared. He just needed a little push.

He became The Flash.

So maybe you can understand why I wasn’t over the moon about the Flash tv show. It wasn’t going to be “my” Flash (which I knew it couldn’t be, but still). And I like the fact that Arrow is pretty grounded – this was going to throw it all out of whack. I made up my mind to begrudgingly watch it, but it would be under protest.

Then I saw the first teaser… hmm…

The I saw a trailer for it… uhm, that looks pretty good…

And now that the moment is almost here… well, I might be getting excited about it.

***

Bonus – My Top Flash storylines:

terminal velocity

Terminal Velocity (The Flash #96-100, vol. 2) – Wally West realizes that he is going to die very soon, consumed by the very energy he uses to achieve great speeds. So he does the only thing that he can, he passes his legacy onto a new Flash… all the while trying to stop a madman from blowing up his city.

Terminal Velocity was the comic that brought me back to the Flash after having stopped picking it up for about a year. It was also the comic that made Wally West my Flash. The beats in each issue builds to the point where you’re legitimately not sure how things are going to turn out.

race against time

Race Against Time *The Flash #112-118, vol. 2) – Wally is caught in the timestream, his memory swiss cheese… the only thing he has that can keep him from disappearing into the Speed Force is his love, Linda.

Of course, this trip through time leaves a different sort of Flash back in the now. And he and Linda seem to be getting a bit close…

Time travel and the Flash go hand in hand. Two of his villains are from the future. He has a treadmill that can let him travel through time (don’t ask). But mostly I love this story because of one moment where Wally’s world comes flying apart. I remember having my friends wait for me to finish reading the issue so that we could all share in the WTF moment.

flash 76

The Return of Barry Allen (The Flash #74-79, vol. 2) – What happens when the man whose legacy you are trying to uphold returns from the dead? And what happens when you realize that he is not happy that the world has moved on to a new Flash.

Somehow this was the first Flash storyline I ever read. I barely knew who everyone was, but I devoured these comics. And maybe it was the fact that I didn’t know everyone and ever moment of history in the book, but I did not see the ending coming.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is currently in week fourof its 6-part release. Each episode is only $0.99.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Sliding Back Down Memory Lane

Way back when, in 1995, I did what all the cool kid’s did on Friday nights.

I ran the streets, hung out at the local movie theater, chopped it up until the wee hours of the night at Waffle House, and eventually crept into the house shortly before the roosters did their morning call.

Ok, now that we’ve got the obvious lying out of the way, let’s talk about what my Friday nights were really composed of.

Homicide: Life on The Streets, and Sliders.

Sliders Logo

Homicide: Life on The Streets deserves its own multi-part epic post, as being a trend setter for cop dramas which have come since.

And no, I don’t mean that flashy, pop song laden drivel known as CSI.

I’m looking at you Caruso. Take those goofy sun-glasses off, and stop with the tasteless murder scene quips.

Nope, this post will be dedicated to reminiscing about one of my all-time favorite sci-fi television series’, Sliders.

Let’s travel back to a far off time, when sci-fi/ fantasy/ genre network television shows, were kicking butt, and  fairy tale creatures, vampires, or werewolves were nowhere to be found.

In the wake of X-Files, it seemed to a young kid growing up in Decatur, GA that network television was something of the shiznit when it came to providing a platform for fun, dark, and in some cases cheesy sci-fi/fantasy.

The Fab Four: Sliders Edition

The Fab Four: Sliders Edition

X-FILES. Millennium. Space: Above & Beyond. The Lone Gunmen. M.A.N.T.I.S. The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. SeaQuest DSV. Hercules. Xena. Star Trek: DS9. Star Trek: The Next Generation. These were a few shows that rounded out my weekly immersion into the awesome depths of genre storytelling.

But for me Sliders, stood out a bit from the pack.

(Separate nerdy note: both Sliders and DS9 were my two favorite sci-fi shows of the 90’s, but today’s Sliders time to shine.

DS9, I got you, homey. Best believe it.)

01-001

Dude, where’s my dimension?

The show told the story of Quinn Mallory (Jerry O’Connell), a San Francisco based grad school physics major, who in his attempt to create an anti-gravity machine, stumbles upon something even more amazing.

Quinn unlocks an ability to travel to different worlds, or alternate dimensions. Parallel Earth’s.

See why a geek like me might get excited by this? Or even why the writer in me loved this series?

Imagine a mirror universe of our own, where due to a small change in the course of that world’s history, technological advancements, etc., these parallel Earths might have taken drastically different routes than our own.

The possibilities are endless in terms of storytelling, and viewing potential.

Without giving too much away about the pilot (which I think still holds up even today), Quinn is joined in his MultipleEarths-300x200adventures to different worlds by his friend Wade Wells (Sabrina Lloyd), his mentor and teacher, Professor Maximilian Arturo (John Rhys-Davies), and the once famous R & B singer, Rembrandt “Cryin’ Man” Brown (Cleavant Derricks) who is accidentally caught up in the wake of Quinn and company on their first “Slide”.

When Quinn attempts to test his “Sliding” machine for the first time, he and his partners wind up whisked up in a 5 season dimension hopping jaunt. Unfortunately, due to a malfunction of the Sliding device (the timer) during the Slide, the group is caught up in a possibly never ending trip to get back home.

Sliders-Ice-World

Ice, ice baby. Too cold, too cold. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

Starting with this solid premise, the original “Fab Four” traveled to such places where the Soviet’s won the Cold War, women were the ruling sex, the British Empire triumphed in the Revolutionary War, American’s were migrant workers who were traveling to Mexico for work, global warming had run it’s calamitous course, and so forth, and so forth. These awesome “what if’s” were what had me coming back episode after episode every Friday.

That, and the growing camaraderie between Quinn, Wade, the Professor, and Rembrandt. Though thrown together by forces beyond their control, these actors seemed like a far flung Swiss Family Robinson of the cosmos. Every actor brought their A-game to this series (even in the face of sometimes questionable writing). This made it all the more nerve racking to wonder if they’d ever get home, as I found myself caring about these folks with every subsequent episode.

A never ending quest to get home.....

A never ending quest to get home…..

Added to both these factors was a fun and healthy sense of comedy, edge of your seat heroics, and adventure which all coalesce into why this series was at times awesome.

Now to say that the show sometimes, or in later seasons didn’t keep the same quality storytelling as in the first two seasons, would be a lie. At one point it seemed as if the screenwriters were just pulling from whatever popular movie was at the local Cineplex. Don’t get me started on “Twister” world, “Jurassic Park” world, “Species” world, or even “Zombie” world (actually, that was an awesome, though silly concept for an episode, but I’m kind of biased, being a zombie nerd).

And there were often times where the possibility of meeting your evil doppelganger happened way too many times. I understand that on a parallel Earth, there might be a douche-y version of yourself, who hates everything. But when you use that trope one too many times, it gets a little tired.

There were other episodes or storylines where I was left scratching my head, in certain instances as “Mad Max/ No More H20” world, “Magic” world, or even the storyline that would dominate seasons 3-5, the rise of the Kromagg empire.

The Kromagg’s were in simplest terms, evil, humanoid primate Sliders who were hell bent on the domination of all parallel Earths.

I'm going to pouty face you to death.

I’m going to pouty face you to death.

Yup.

So, don’t get me wrong, as with any show, this one had its minuses, in addition to the numerous plusses to be found. Some sources chalk it up to corporate interference by the FOX bigwigs. Others say it was the behind the scenes favoritism/ in fighting amongst the cast and some of the producers of the show that caused a dip in quality.

Definitely do the homework, and you’ll find some doozies in terms of the behind the scenes drama of the show.

But ultimately, as a kid of the late 90’s who wasn’t inundated with all of this extra info, and plopped himself down in front of the TV to watch the latest escapades of the Sliders, the show was a godsend. Cheesy or formulaic though it might have been at times, there were a host of episodes which kept me entertained, enthralled, and just overall enjoying some good sci-fi.

sliders2I simply enjoyed the idea of a group of travelers jumping from one different dimension, to another dimension, week after week, with the simple goal of getting home always in tow. Add to that, you’ve got some fun action/ adventure elements added to the mix, and the 13 year old Robert was satiated.

So if you’re looking for a fun sci-fi show to binge watch, check out Sliders on Netflix, Hulu.com, and other streaming providers.

Enjoy the Slide.

TV Casualty – Please Don’t Feed My Television Screen

This is how it goes come September. Our DVR is relatively clear. Sure, perhaps there is that one lingering show from last year we just haven’t quite gotten around to watching… but otherwise we start fresh.

That lasts for all of about 2 weeks.

tv_addiction

We scan through the new shows, looking through Entertainment or online or even TV Guide flagging those shows which catch our eye and ensuring there are no conflicts with any existing shows. Slowly that DVR fills up. Shows become endangered species as the capacity approaches. 5% left and now the easy decisions get made:

We were never going to watch X show… let’s just delete it. That buys us, what? 3 days?

My wife sees the numbers of episodes click ever upward. Her palms begin to sweat. She’d rather not bother with the show if the number gets too high (Heaven help you if she finds out that pilot is 2 hours – she might go screaming from the house). So now I become a Vaudevillian performer with my spinning plates, ensuring that everything survives as long as it can (or until we make a decision about locking it in for the rest of the year.

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Maybe this is beginning to change though. We’ve certainly joined into the binge watching affairs during this last year. 2 seasons of Orange is the New Black, all of Breaking Bad, and even the new run of 24. And each one of those had a number beside them that was at least 12 long, and in some cases many, many more than that.

And then last year, even though Sleepy Hollow looked right in my wheelhouse – I waited. I recorded the episodes, but didn’t watch them. Had I not been burned time and time again by these shows? And this one looked like the type that begged to be cancelled 4 episodes in. Plus it was on FOX, so there was little doubt.

Imagine my surprise when they were picked up for a full season well before Christmas. Somehow a genre program which walks that line between goofy and serious has turned into the little show that could.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge this year’s newcomers?

We may still be in the Golden Age of TV… I don’t know for sure. I do know that for superhero “stuff” on TV, this next year is above and beyond anything we’ve ever experienced before. It’s an all you can eat buffet.

I just wanted to look at the comic shows debuting this Fall:

Gotham – If you haven’t listened to Kevin Smith’s “Fatman on Batman” Podcast, you are missing out. He typically does these epic 2 + hour conversations with the various creators, voice actors, animators, etc. who have worked on something Batman related. But it was one of his conversations with Paul Dini where they discussed a potential Batman show done where he was much younger than anything we’d ever seen before. How you could focus on Gordon when he was a much younger man trying to make his way in the world. How you could slowly introduce many of his villains.

The tangent probably lasted 20 or 30 minutes, but I was in. Gotham seems like it sprang directly from that talk (though it was developed entirely separate). But, yeah, I’m in on that one.

Flash – I actually have a blog post coming up in a couple of weeks about the Flash. Sufficed to say I will be watching it.

Constantine – I think I have about 6 comics with Constantine in them. I never have read Hellblazer (it is on my list). I didn’t see the Keanu Reeves movie from a few years back (though that might be a blessing). Assuming I do check this one out, I’m pretty much going into it blind. I know there will be demons and magic and that’s about it.

I check this one out, but I need to be wowed quickly.

Agent Carter – I wonder if this concept has enough “juice”. I like the general idea of exploring the early days of SHIELD and the Marvel Universe, but I worry that once the gimmick runs its course, the show won’t have much more to stand on. There is definitely some opportunities for them to universe build, but it could easily turn into the show winking at the audience every week with some random comic easter egg (which Agents of SHIELD did a few times to mixed results).

The other worry is that it took SHIELD half a season to get to where they should have started. Now, don’t get me wrong, by the end of the season it was running on all cylinders, but if Carter fails to get out of the gate in the same way, I wonder if the leash will be quite so long?

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3 from DC and one more from the Marvel movie universe. My best guess is that Gotham and Flash survive, Constantine doesn’t finish the season. Agent Carter gets 1 full season and then it is done (and maybe they end up saying that was the idea all along).

But aside from these, what shows should I be checking out (no guarantee they get added, but I know I’m going to miss a few somewhere in there).

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, I’m not talking about Christmas… that’s still months away. No, I’m talking about that special week that only graces us once a year. That certain something which tells me summer still has about 1 solid month left. That week that informs me that I’ll always be a little scared to go back into the water.

Shark Week.

shark-week

Oh, yea!

Next week I’ll begin filling my DVR up to the brim with any and everything shark related. And then, over the next month I’ll watch it in little pieces here and there (cause I know how to party, clearly).

I’ve said it before, but I truly believe that had I not seen Jaws I might have been a marine biologist. Maybe those were just the dreams of a ten-year old John, but I’m not so sure. I do know this, Jaws scared me more than any horror movie I’ve ever seen: because it changed my thinking of the ocean (it may be fitting that it is currently running in the other room as I write this).

My family goes to the beach every year. We have since I was about 13 or 14. Typically the beach of choice is Destin, FL, but it does change from time to time. The reason I bring this up is that my mom knows to find a place with a decent pool, because that is where I’d rather go swimming. Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting under an umbrella and feeling the salty breeze on my face, nose buried in some book. If that was my life every day for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be too upset.

But to get into the water? I guess, if you force me to. And I’ll enjoy myself for a little while.

But always I wonder what is beneath me. What’s in the water that I cannot see? Where is that instrument of destruction that could tear me limb from limb?

hammerheads

You may scoff. Say it is an irrational fear. You’re not entirely wrong. It is what it is.

So why, in the name of all that is sane, like shark week so much? Do I get some sort of sick joy from scaring myself mere weeks from when I might find myself face to face with one of them? I certainly don’t want to look into those black, “doll eyes”.

It is because I am fascinated by what they show. I am floored by the documentaries they put on each year. And yes, I know there are a fair number of repeats, but some of those I missed the first time around anyway.

Mostly, I think that kid inside me, who wanted to be a marine biologist all those years ago is exerting his will. Maybe if I had seen the Air Jaws doc instead of Jaws first… who knows?

 

Bonus:

Top 5 Shark movies –

1 – Jaws – Obviously. No brainer. The first, the best, and one of my top 5 all-time favorite movies. I’m amazed by the way we don’t see the damn shark for most of the movie. We see things from its perspective. We see the chaos it has wrought. But until it pops out of the water that first time (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”). The end of the movie. The moment where father and son are at the dinner table and the kid is mimicing his father.

But more than anything it is the scene where Robert Shaw tells his story about the Indianapolis. That kills me every time. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

2- Jaws II – Flawed, yes. But its biggest flaw is that Jaws I exists at all. You cannot compare yourself to one of the greatest films of all time. That’s just silly. The scene where the sailboats are tied together and the shark is hunting them. That’s just a cool scene.

3-Open Water – Not exactly a shark movie as much as it is a movie about being stuck in a bad situation… and then there are sharks later. This maybe my second worst nightmare put on the screen (the first being buried alive).

4- Deep Blue Sea – Sam Jackson gets eaten by a shark. Nuff said.

Actually this movie is horrible because why would you develop a smart shark? I get the study to help against Alzheimers, but why wouldn’t you make them without teeth or something. Everyone deserved their fates in this movie.

5- Sharknado – I mean, if by #5 I mean a train wreck that I can’t turn away from. At the time of this blog I have yet to see the Second One (that should have been called Electric Boogaloo), but I am sure it will be all sorts of awesome (and by awesome I mean really horrible).

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

TV Shows that Ended Too Soon

I was thinking about cancelled tv shows the other day, and it occurred to me that there are a handful of them that I loved when they came on, but just didn’t grab the audience they needed to survive. All of these either had 1 or 2 seasons, and while there are plenty of shows that maybe only got 3 seasons (Veronica Mars – I’m looking at you!), at least they got 3 seasons.

Also, I’m not going to put Firefly on this list, but only because it is a no brainer, and probably the biggest tragedy when it comes to cancelled shows. That said, so many other people have written that article/blog, that I’m just not sure what I could really say. Yes ,it was awesome. Yes, I thought so from the very first episode. And yes, I wish they’d do more episodes at some point down the road (why not an animated show? Then the cast only needs to show up for the voice work!).

So here are 3 shows that were ended too soon:

Nowhere_man_promo

Nowhere Man (1995-1996) UPN – I wasn’t actually watching a lot of tv during this phase of life. I was entering my second year at Georgia Tech, but somehow I saw an ad for this show about a man who has his entire life erased (because of a photo he took years earlier). That woman who was his wife no longer recognizes him, none of his accounts work, and there seems to be someone trying to kill/get him. Each episode followed him as he tried to figure out who was behind ruining his life and why. He’d travel from town to town, mailing the negatives to himself over and over (so he wouldn’t have them on him if he got captured). And each episode he’d learn a little more about the organization behind ruining his life.

Paranoia was the largest piece of this show. Our hero trying to figure out who it was that was ruining him, while at the same time trying to stay a few steps ahead of them when he could. But more than anything, I love the idea that everything we have could be stripped away from us at a moment’s notice. That if we aren’t careful about creating and maintaining real relationships out in the world… well, who will be there to vouch for us when it all goes sideways.

In the days before DVRs, I made sure to either record it or probably watched it live most of the time. And when it got cancelled I was scouring the fledgling internet for any news I could find on it from fan sites and the few interviews the creator (Lawrence Hertzog, RIP)Sadly, I actually never got the see the series finale (and it only just now occurs to me that I might be able to watch it out in the internet jungle… hold on… yep. Well, I know what I’m going to be watching sometime this weekend!).

brimstone-show

Brimstone (1998-1999) Fox – It is a deal with the Devil story!

I don’t think you heard me. It is a Deal with the Devil STORY!

The basic gist is that this cop’s wife is raped and the rapist manages to get away with it. So, our hero (Zeke), ends up tracking the guy down and murders him. Sadly, it is not that long afterwards that his own life expires and without additional time to get his good/evil scale back on the side of angels he ends up in Hell.

Flash forward about 18 years and there is a prison breakout of Hell. 113 souls have escaped back to earth. So the Devil makes Zeke an offer: track down these errant souls and at the end he’ll get a second chance at life.

All that would be enough, but then add John Glover as the Devil and you have a masterpiece. No, seriously. His portrayal of the master of darkness was such that whenever he came on the screen he took total control of the scene. Whether it was simply “annoying” Zeke with cryptic words or tying a sleeping bum’s shoelaces together for a laugh, he nailed the role.

This show had the misfortune to come onto Fox during a time when they were blind to anything that didn’t do X-Files type ratings on Friday night. Of course, they forgot that X-Files wasn’t a juggernaut immediately and was allowed to become the top-notch show.

Do I think that Brimstone was ever going to be the end all be all for Fox? No, I think, at best, it would have maybe gotten 2-3 seasons and the fans would have been happy with it. As it is we got 13 episodes that, to these eyes, only got better and better as time went on.

Oh, and Peter Horton (Zeke) always gets extra point from me by appearing in the greatest Volleyball film of all time: Side Out (look it up, you won’t be disappointed… well, you might be disappointed, but not this guy).

werewolf

Werewolf the Series (1987-1988) Fox – A show that owes as much to the Incredible Hulk as it does American Werewolf in London, Werewolf was one of those shows that I remember being excited about seeing, even if I never knew exactly when it was coming on. The thing is, I’m not sure it does much reinventing of the genre or anything. At its core it was a very standard werewolf story. Guy gets bit, guy tries to fight the urge to change, and then guy doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to live with this curse.

Except this had special effects that rivaled the Howling and American Werewolf in London. And they did give Eric Cord a goal with one twist on the legend: if you kill the head of your bloodline then you will be human once more. So much like the Fugitive, he’s tracking down his maker while avoiding his own pursuer, a bounty hunter named Alamo Joe (much cooler than it sounds).

I must confess that I’m not 100% on how well this one might hold up to today’s standards… I haven’t really sat down with it in a long while. But I remember watching as a 12-13 year old and thinking that it might be the coolest show I’d ever seen. It probably (most likely) is the reason I love werewolf fiction.

Honorable Mentions: Roar, Sports Night, Journeyman, Friday the 13th the Series. Rome, Deadwood, Awake, and many, many others.

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

New Studio Assistant

 

These week I hired a new studio assistant. She knows nothing about brushes, paints or Photoshop but I’m sure she’ll be a quick study. Drusilla is eager and full of creative drive. I met her at the dog groomers over the weekend and I knew then she’d make a perfect edition to the creative family. She’s already begun learning about colored pencils and of course, brushes. I’m going to have to watch her with those–she keeps trying to munch on them.

Drusilla MakepeaceDid I fool you?! Probably not. If you follow me on the web anywhere I’ve been posting photos of this little angel almost non-stop. She’s just too precious!

And, she looks just like Shadow. It was a little surreal when I walked into the dog groomers Saturday morning and saw her sitting near the door. My heart clenched and I tried not to look at her. It must have been fate. She’d been found inside a car engine and she has the scars on her nose to prove it. The small, very friendly kitten, was also severely underweight. I brought her home and within days she was gaining weight and running around the studio.

Up until yesterday, we were not positive on whether she was actually a she and that was partly due to her weight and overall scruffiness. The Veterinarian confirmed yesterday we indeed have a little girl and except for some tummy bugs, she was in good health.

I can’t take credit for the name, but I also didn’t need any convincing. Drusilla was my mother’s suggestions. And yes, she is named after that Drusilla. 😀

Drusilla is already taking after Shadow. She likes to sleep right up near my face and she lunged and hissed at the dog yesterday. She’s a fighter and a survivor, but also incredibly loving. I still miss Shadow terribly but this little look-a-like warms my heart. Before long she’ll be sitting in my lap, snoozing as I paint.

Drusilla

For fellow Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fans, you may be interested in my videos from Dragon*Con 2012. I have two videos from a panel with actors Juliet Landau (Drusilla) and Spike (James Marsters). Here’s Part 1, check my profile for Part 2.

Three Badass TV Shows (From a guy who never watches TV)

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 I’ve been slacking. No skulls for several weeks now. I must be losing my touch.

This week’s skull is symbolic. He’s a Cro-Magnon, this guy, and damn handsome if you ask me. He lived tens of thousands of years ago, and in a way I identify with him. Like me, he didn’t catch much TV. He didn’t have cable. He never got to watch his favorite shows. Such was life in the Ice Age. He probably had a wicked DVD collection, but also like me, couldn’t watch it because his Xbox had long since died. Must’ve sucked some days being a prehistoric guy.

Before we get too deep, I’ve a disclaimer: I strongly dislike TV. I haven’t watched a show regularly in decades. I don’t know who’s hot, what’s funny, what awesome new song came out, or who in the business got caught banging who. When my friends talk to me about Breaking Bad or Timothy Olyphant or Doctor Who or Desperate Housewives of Tijuana, I lose all sense of the conversation. I’m Cro-Magnon in my ignorance. I’m an imposter nerd, so desperately out of touch with all things hip culture.  I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing, wandering in circles infinitely more TV-savvy than I’ll ever be. Thank goodness for that.

That said

 It so happens that even without a clue, I stumble onto the ocassional show. Whether by accident, being at a house party with a tv on in the background, or by virtue of no football, baseball, MMA, or halfway-decent porn occupying the ole’ boob-tube, I’ve chanced onto a few programs. Most lists on the internet are five, ten, or a hundred long, but not this one. Three is all you’re gonna get. I reckon if these three can shake a savage like me off the TV-hating mountain, chances are they’re pretty good.

And so

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# 3. Big Bang Theory

My first mildly-liked show is probably ancient history for you, but new for me. I don’t care that it’s about nerds who remind me of dudes I knew in high school. It’s not important that Penny is somewhat cutish. The reasons I like Big Bang Theory are its brevity, its punch-and-run brand of funny, and it’s brutal sarcasm (or in Sheldon’s case, the lack thereof). If ever I’m in need of 27 minutes of commercially-interrupted stupid, I watch this show. It’s usually good for a laugh or twenty.

 

 

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#2. Game of Thrones

Ok. Admit it. You saw this one coming. On the low-low, I stopped reading near the end of book four. Mr. Martin’s fiction is a lot too sluggish for me, and that’s saying something for a guy (me) who writes Tolkien-length epic novels. But the show, ah…the show. It’s just long enough, and despite my bitching, tends to hit all the major plot points with a nice, sharp edge. Now, it’s true I haven’t seen any of Season 4 (see the aforementioned lack of cable) but I will, and that says a lot. In the realm of television shows, I seek out almost nothing. But for GOT’s brand of death, murder, and betrayal (all of done with swords instead of guns) I will journey out of my cave long enough to watch. My list of characters I’d like to see dead: Cersei, Sam, Margaery, Jaime, Dany….ok pretty much all of them except Arya and the Others. Did I mention I like bad guys?

 

Cosmos

#1. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

First, ever notice how the Cosmos main logo looks a bit Sauron-y? I mean; that’s reason enough to love it right there. But ok, the real reason: Neil deGrasse Tyson is a modern day science rock god. Is it possible someday someone will prove his assertions incorrect? Yes. Entirely. But does he knock home run after home run regarding the truth as we now know it? Yes. Absolutely. I love his use-a-scalpel-not-a-hammer approach to explaining science. Being somewhat a space-dork myself, I’m mostly familiar with much of what Cosmos has to say. Doesn’t matter. It’s all in the presentation. Elegant. Vivid. Gutsy. And most importantly, true! If you haven’t watched this show yet, get on it. Cancel your hot date. Give your kids a sedative (or better yet, make ’em watch it with you). Shows like this remind me just how crappy most other programming is. Thank you, maker of Family Guy, for making something I can actually show my son.

So there. Likely my only television-related post ever. Time to get back to skulls, books, and general gloom and doom. To disavow today’s nerdiness, I’m punishing myself with a few hundred chin-ups, and I’m chasing it with a giant slab of angel food cake. And yes…I’m completely serious.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

The Deep, Dark Hills of Eastern Kentucky

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(note: This post lists many, many television shows. I am usually a stickler for punctuation and ideally each title would have quotation marks around it. But that would drive me insane and I’m not going to do it this time. I’m sure it will bother me way more than it bothers you. -chad)

The Sopranos started a revolution.

The Wire transcended television and became high literature.

Breaking Bad was an incomparable example of quality, integrity, and sharp, bold storytelling.

Sherlock brought us both the Cumber and the Batch.

Game of Thrones leaves people who would never pick up a fantasy novel salivating every week for more sex, swords, and devastating character deaths.

True Detective was (is)… so mind-bendingly good I’m still not sure if it really happened or if it was a dream.

Mad Men. Six Feet Under. Dexter. The Walking Dead. Rome. Entourage. True Blood. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Band of Brothers. Sons of Anarchy. Girls. Treme. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Lost. Louie. Community. Bates Motel. Hannibal.

We all know it. Several have said it. It’s not the point of this post, but it’s important to say:

Over the last decade plus, television has surpassed film in both cultural relevance and quality.

Most of these shows air or aired on cable, basic and premium, but not all. We are, if you can look past the pile of shit that is reality TV, past the umpteen-million Star Search clones that clog the networks every year, in a Golden Age of TV. An age that could never have been foreseen by Philo Farnsworth and his brother-in-law Cliff (that’s for the Sports Night fans out there – “I can make glass tubes.”)

Tonight, one of my all-time favorite shows is having its fifth season finale. Next season will be its last. It doesn’t get a lot of press or awards (it has won a few) and its final episode won’t generate anything close to the hype surrounding the last stand of Walter White.

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But Justified is my favorite show on television.

I admit it’s not the best show, but it’s definitely my favorite.

Because Justified is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of cable TV.

And I love me some peanut butter cups.

In order to explain that (the metaphor, not my love for the candy), I have to briefly mention two amazing shows that I purposely left off the above list.

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Deadwood. This HBO show had a lot of things that made it difficult to find an audience: it was a western, it deliberately paced, sometimes complicated, and written by David Chase with an almost Shakespearean style of dialogue that was at times impenetrable. I fucking loved it.

It was great to have a full-on, serious Western on TV. A dirty, violent, sometimes sexy, somewhat-based in history, western in which the great Ian McShane claimed the word “cocksucker” as his and his alone for all time.

In ran for three season and ended in a less-than-satisfying way, because they were not 100% aware they were making a series finale when making the season 3 season finale. When it ended, we were promised a TV movie or two to wrap things but, but they never materialized.

Deadwood was so good, but I have never revisited it. Because I know it doesn’t pay off. I know I won’t get any more satisfaction getting to the end than I did the last time. It’s a real shame.

Deadwood went off the air in 2006.

One of the stars of Deadwood was an actor I had already been a fan of for years, ever since his turn as the “good” drug dealer in Doug Liman’s Go. The character he played was real-life Deadwood lawman Seth Bullock.

The actor’s name is Timothy Olyphant.

We’ll call him “chocolate”.

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The Shield. Due to the well-deserved supremacy of The Wire and The Sopranos, the other great crime/cop show of the last decade has been largely forgotten. But The Shield was grade-A amazing damn television. Michael Chiklis’s Vic Mackey was Walter White before Walter White. As a crooked cop who always ended up doing the wrong thing even when trying to do the right thing, he didn’t break bad: he broke worse. And worse. And worse.

It was a boundary pushing show. Taking a cue, I think, from NYPD Blue, it tested the limits of what you could say or do on (cable) television. Watching the pilot, I couldn’t believe the language they were using, even so far as talking about a guy’s “cock”. (And yet, they still never said “fuck”. Censors are weird.) The violence, the all-around moral bankruptcy, it was astounding.

The Shield also aired the most single harrowing scene I have ever watched on television. If you haven’t seen the show I won’t give it away, but, near the end of its run, it does something that is so heartbreaking, so unexpected, and so utterly painful to watch that it kept me up at night. Fuck the Red Wedding. Fuck Buffy’s mom dying. This moment… oh man I wish I could get into it but it would take so much setup… just thinking about it hurts me deep.

The Shield was a hit, especially for FX, and lasted 7 seasons. The finale was quite good.

The last episode aired in 2008.

One of the stars of that show was an actor I had never seen before. He played Shane, a cop that teeters over the edge and becomes a monster that even his mentor, Vic, a monster himself, can’t control. He is the center piece, actually, of that harrowing scene I mentioned above. You may have seen him in the last few years in films like Lincoln, Cowboys & Aliens, and Django Unchained.

His name is Walton Goggins.

We’ll call him “peanut butter.”

Two years after the end of The Shield, Justified debuted on FX. Centered around two Elmore Leonard characters -Raylan Givens, a deputy US Marshall forced to go home to Kentucky where he grew up, and Boyd Crowder, a white supremacist, arsonist, criminal hillbilly scumbag- it is a crime show with a western feel to it.

Who play these two men?

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Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

Two great tastes that taste great together.

An actor from one of television’s best westerns and an actor from one of television’s best crime shows starring in a show that is both a western and a crime show.

I was hooked before the pilot even aired.

Dickie_Bennett_infobox_3I could go on and on about the great qualities of Justified but if you haven’t seen it, I want you to experience it yourself. The dialogue is razor-sharp, very much in the vein of Elmore Leonard’s style. In fact, before he passed he said it was his favorite adaptation of his work. The story lines, while not groundbreaking, entertaining as hell and always pay off in satisfying ways. The show runner, Graham Yost, also has an unbelievable eye for guest stars, for bringing in faces you recognize but never feel like they’re stunt casting. Margo Martindale (who won an Emmy for her role). Jeremy Davies. Jere Burns. Mykelti Williamson. Neal McDonough. Patton Oswalt. And, this season, Alicia Witt, Amy Smart, and Michael Rapaport, turning in his best performance since Dick Richie.

But, really, the number one reason to watch Justified is that it’s fucking cool.

Olyphant as Raylan is just fucking cool.

Goggins as Boyd is just fucking cool (in a scary way sometimes but still).

The rest of the supporting cast is fucking cool (especially the great Nick Searcy as Raylan’s put-upon boss).

But they’re more than just cool. The dynamic between Raylan and Boyd is a lot like Alan Moore’s vision of the Joker/Batman relationship (nerd alert!). Or, okay. Both their fathers were criminals. Let’s say, instead, that they were alcoholics. Now. Most children of alcoholics (and other addicts) that I have known go one of two ways. They either eschew the fire water entirely, doing whatever they can to not turn out like their parent, or they fall the same way, losing to the genes that carried down the terrible disease.

Raylan is a man determined to not be like his father. Boyd, on the other hand, has chosen to continue the family legacy. But neither are that far from the other. They both walk a very delicate line and that balancing act is the heart of the show. A good man who sometimes finds himself doing bad things and a bad man who I think sees himself as righteous, even though deep down he knows he’s damned.

Have I mentioned I love this show?

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When they announced Justified would be ending after season 6, I was at first sad because I don’t want to see it go, but then was grateful. Because I still enjoy tuning in every week. It’s the first thing in my Tuesday DVR recordings that I go to. And if it can go out providing the same amount of entertainment, without collapsing like The Office or Six Feet Under or, let’s face it, most shows, then I’m all for it ending.

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So I guess this has just been a plea for folks to watch my favorite show. I’m sure I haven’t done a great job selling it, but trying to sum up 5 years of a show without spoiling stuff and trying to keep my word count down is nearly impossible. I would rather the uninitiated see for themselves.

I know Game of Thrones just got back. I’m stoked too. And Silicon Valley looks very promising. Veep is great. And Hannibal? Hannibal is about to get real damn interesting. But, after sweeps, after the season is over, if you haven’t watched or caught up on Justified, I cannot recommend it enough. There’s plenty of time to get through the first five seasons before the final one airs next year.

Enjoy this Golden Age. A time when television has never been better. When television is, and I’m speaking as a film nut, a more satisfying experience than nearly any film that hits cinemas. It may not last forever. Hollywood has a habit of fucking up good things (see the indie film boom of the early 90s).

Like I seem to be doing lately, I leave you with a song. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” is not the theme song to the show, but it is its soul and they often use it to end their seasons. It’s been recorded by many, but here is Brad Paisley’s version, the version I heard first. Not normally my kind of music, but it sums up the spirit of the show more than any words I can conjure.

A Long Time Ago… We Used to be Friends…

My wife is obsessed.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you were a writer and you happened to know a Chemist, the best thing for you when you need to insert a generic scientist into your story MIGHT be to make that character a Chemist. I mean you have the access to that knowledge (so your story can be a little more authentic). It just makes sense.

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With the TV show Veronica Mars, I have access to an expert as well.

Now I’m not 100% on this, but I’d be willing to bet that she’s watched the show (3 seasons and 60+ episodes) more than anyone else on the planet (at the very least she has to be in the top 1% of Veronica Mars fans when it comes to watching episodes) (which probably means I’ve watched every episode 6 or 7 times). We own the DVDS and she’s manged to wear 2 of the seasons out from the repeated play (yeah, I didn’t know that could happen either with DVDs). When the SOAP Network (RIP) began showing the series in order during a 2 hour block every day (and then on the weekends as well) there was many a day I would come home from work to find V-Mars playing on the TV. Think about it, she’d watch episodes with commercials in them because she loved it so much (well, maybe there was a bit of laziness in there as well, not wanting to hunt down that particular episode).

A little obsessed…

So when Veronica Mars had a chance of returning to the world through a movie with their Kickstarter Campaign about a year ago, it was never a question of IF we’d be supporting the project. The only question was “how much would we pledge”. And when they passed 2 million dollars she squealed like a teenage girl. Then the countdown was on, and on March 14, 2014 at 7:15 we sat in a theater, about 1/2 full, and watched Veronica appear on the screen for the first time in about 8 years.

We also have a digital copy of the movie. Don’t ask how many times she’s watched it (I ran out of toes and fingers counting).

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Then when Veronica Mars was announced as being a part of the Amazon Kindle Worlds program, whether we were going to do a project was secondary to who the story would focus on, when to place it…

For those that may not know, Kindle Worlds is a way for you to write Fan Fiction in a world in a more legit manner. They license the properties and open them up to anyone to contribute. Whatever your opinion of fan fiction might be, it still strikes me as a kinda cool way to be more apart of the world(s) we all know and love.

With this opportunity and this particular World, my wife and I had to do something.

And that led us to Mac.

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Mac is Veronica’s friend. She’s sorta the Q to Veronica’s James Bond. And since we weren’t going to write about Veronica directly she jumped out at us.

Collaboration is always tricky when writing comics or prose or whatever, but collaboration with your spouse… well, it was actually fairly easy. We spent a couple of weeks after the initial announcement in early February just talking about plot lines, possible angles to take. Which characters would appear? Which season would we set things? And so on. Then once we had the rough beats for things I started writing and over the course of about 2 weeks pounded out the first draft. She read it in 2 parts, the first 3 chapters and then the last 3 chapters. I then took her edits and did another pass on the story with her sitting beside me to really go over any places I had questions about.

The final step, after multiple drafts, was to read it aloud. I’ve read about other writers who do this in order to make sure that the sentences aren’t too awkward. The idea being that if you stumble over it as you read it aloud, then it probably needs to be rephrased. I gotta say, that after doing it I not only noticed more than a couple of odd sentences, but also caught a couple of simple errors, double words, that sort of thing.

So maybe there is something to this technique.

Anyway, we hit submit on the novella Sunday evening and last night I got the email from Amazon that it was now live! Right Here!

That’s right, you can now read a Veronica Mars story by me and the wife, if you happen to be into that sort of thing. And you should be, especially if you were ever a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon appeared in the show and at one point said it was his favorite show on tv (at least while it was on the air). So that’s gotta count for something, right?

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This guy likes Veronica Mars, you should too.

And now a little exert from the novella (just a taste)…

Get away from Beaver. Now. He’s a killer. I’m in the lobby.

The words scream at me from my phone. Veronica’s attempt to help me. To save me.

It’s been two weeks, and I’m not sure exactly what those words mean.

Oh, I understand the big things. The newspapers had part of it, and Veronica filled me in on the rest. Beaver was the one who killed all those people on the bus. Beaver tried to set Veronica up. And that night, he tried not only to kill her, but almost killed her dad with the bomb, which blew up Woody Goodman’s plane.

Get away from Beaver. Now. He’s a killer.

The words are in English, and yet they make no sense. Nothing about that night makes any damn sense. Try as I might I can’t wrap my head around it. What was supposed to be a special night became a nightmare. Since then, the days have been the better part of a blur. So I sit here at Java the Hut and stare at my cell phone, hoping through sheer force of will the phrase will make a little sense at some point.

I’m not holding my breath though.

He’s a killer.

What does that even mean?

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

am.

The Tribe Has Spoken

I don’t watch reality TV. It’s not that I think it’s beneath me or anything, I just prefer to watch truly scripted shows (and I’m not getting that confused with many, many of the reality shows that clearly are scripted… you know what I mean). But there is one that I do watch and have watched since the first time it aired: Survivor.

Now I know what you’re saying… “that show sucks now”, “all they do is keep bringing back people who played before”, “there is nothing new to the show”, or maybe even “that show is still on?”.

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To you I say: I don’t care. Courtney and I love that damn show. We’ve watched pretty much every season with each other missing 1 whole episode (it didn’t record, it’s not our fault) over the 27 seasons. And I think the reason is because we like the game aspect of it as much as the “reality tv drama”. Those evenings when we start to go through the episode there are always frequent pauses as we discuss the strategy being used by Player A or Player B. And this isn’t just a matter of “Oh that was stupid, I hope they lose”. No, we analyze it like you might look at a chess board trying to figure out things 5, 10, 15 moves down the line. We’re trying to out-think the players (with the added benefit of doing from our comfortable couch and with the tv edits, but hey, we’re also not winning a million dollars).

The thing is our love of the show pretty much ends though with the show. We don’t search out fan-sites or strategy boards. And I’m normally pretty nerdy about stuff like that.

That being said we have come to our own conclusions about not only the show, but the strategy certain people use within the show. Now I’m not saying that any of them are sure-fire and if one of us got on the show we’d be a shoe-in for the million because there are tons of variables (heck there are 19 other players to start with), but some things you keep seeing time and time again and you have to wonder whether that contestant had ever viewed the show before.

So given that a new season started up last week – here are Courtney and John’s strategy for winning at Survivor (if any of you ever find yourself on the show perhaps these might help).

I believe that the game is really a sub-game of 4 levels. Different things happen at different levels and there are some overlap between moments and strategies one might employ, but in general I like to think about the game as the Early Game, Pre-Merge, Post-Merge, and the Final 3.

Early Game

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For us the early game is pretty much from the moment you get the call that you are going to be in the game, but it probably should start even before then. This is the time to brush up on your boy scout skills (building shelter, fire, water, etc.). Why wouldn’t you try to come into the game with as much knowledge as possible? Now maybe they don’t tell them until very close to the time to begin, but I gotta think that people who have jobs aren’t in the position to just take off at a moment’s notice and would need some kind of heads-up.

Anyway, that Early Game lasts through about the 3rd Immunity challenge and corresponding Tribal Council. It is during this time that the majority of the big mistakes are made.

The Puzzle Gambit  (better known as “I’m a liability in challenges”) – These include those who are normally older or just not as fit, but it is also can include the clumsy. In those first couple of tribal councils people are looking at who is going to cause them to lose the next challenge. You manage to screw up in one of these, you may never get a chance to prove yourself later on. Really, though, this means that you need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and try and position yourself to play to your strengths as best you can. If you can’t swim (well first, why are you out there) then you need to find a spot in the challenge where your running or strength can be shown.

And for God’s sake, don’t volunteer for the puzzle unless you are REALLY sure you are going to nail it. So many people run the Puzzle Gambit and then find that when they can’t perform (even when they have a 3 minute lead) the vote will quickly turn against them.

The Annoyance – These come in a few flavors. There is the talker, the loud-mouth, the know-it-all, and the lazy person. People are going to be hungry and they are going to be tired. They don’t want to be annoyed. Too many times there is this person who decides they aren’t going to change who they are for sake of the game… but who they are annoys the crap out of everyone on their tribe. Suddenly your torch is snuffed and you’re wondering where it all went wrong. Maybe you should have listened a little more.

The Alliance Junkie – This is the person who goes around and tries to make deals with every person on their tribe. And on one hand it seems to make sense. If you have an alliance with everyone, then your name can never be written down. The problem is that other people are comparing notes in those early days. They are the ones who see you talking on the side with Player B and soon enough they are going to figure out you’ve promised everyone final 3. That math just won’t add up and Jeff ends up saying your name one too many times.

The Leader – This actually can work to the player’s advantage so while there is risk, there can be great reward. However, most of the time this person puts the target square on their back and it backfires. But if they are likable or they have some star power (maybe they are a returning player on a tribe of newbies) then they have a shot to take complete control of their tribe and set up their Pre-Merge Game. It probably has failed as much as it has succeeded, but if you look back at past winners many of them are going to fall into this category.

Bringing up a name – At this point you should be happy whenever your name is not being brought up. Now is not the time to throw Leader under the bus because he said something bad to you and no one else. Now is the time to go with the flow. There is a saying in Baseball that you cannot win the Division in April, but you can lose it. In Survivor I think that means that you need to keep your head down and vote with however the rest are going… remember, there will be plenty of time later to make your move.

So in the Early Game what is the best strategy? I think it is being the Worker Bee. This is the person who never complains, who works just hard enough that no one thinks twice when they do need to take a break. Listen, you’re not pushing things to make others look bad (see The Annoyance above). You want to be a part of the crowd and blend in. You need time to see how things are shaking out and maneuver yourself into the proper alliance. And this is the other reason I think the Worker Bee is a good one, they are the type that get into an alliance with a group and are seen as “solid”. Again, you’re not trying to win the game, you’re just trying to survive to the…

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Pre-Merge

The game has been going on for at least 3 votes by this point and alliances have certainly been made. You’ve lost 1 or 2 or, lord forbid, 3 players. Hopefully you’ve found an alliance where you are comfortable with the people and can “trust” them.

The Numbers Game – This is more having to do with the challenges themselves. You need to find a way to win because, yes, you don’t want to go to tribal council, but more importantly, you need to have the majority when it comes to the merge. At worst you have to get things to even. So these are the votes where you make the big decisions of friendship vs. might or alliance vs. weakness. Choose wisely here because if you vote out the strongest guy because everyone hates him… he might have been the one to run just a little faster in that next challenge. These decisions many times are the undoing of a tribe as one bad choice rolls into another and suddenly you’ve lost the last 3 challenges.

Pecking Order – Don’t tell someone where they truly sit within your alliance. People need to be reassured that they are your best friend. That you and them are going the whole way. If you don’t reassure them eventually they’ll figure out that they are 5th best in your alliance and look to deal your fates for a better offer once you  make the merge.

Strengthen Your Core – During this phase of the game you should be getting a decent feeling for who you can trust and who you can’t. Moments like revealing a hidden immunity idol to a teammate can help cement their relationship. I really feel that this is where you need to take the time to get to know the people in your alliance so that you build that bond with them. It is much harder to write someone’s name down who you genuinely like.

Post-Merge

Merge-Ahead

So you made the Merge and feeling pretty good about yourself. You can already see the final votes where you win the million dollars, but not so fast! This is the point of the game where those old lines begin to blur a little bit. For every tribe that just systematically votes out the other tribe until they finally start fighting it out on their own, there is those tribes who have people flip and the blindsides begin to come fast and furious. You’re a King and then you’re a Pauper. What happened?

Threat – You won the first 2 individual challenges and now everyone sees you as a threat. I’m not saying not to win, but you always need to have an idea of how you are viewed in the game. If everyone is suddenly worried that they may not be able to beat you then they are going to vote you out on their first opportunity.

Mover and Shaker – This is the person who wants to shake up things with every vote. They love the high of the Blindside and want to relive it over and over again. When the rest of the people realize that you aren’t a person of your word then they are going to turn on you… before you can do it to them.

Reward Conundrum – You fought a good battle and won the immunity necklace and now you get to not only eat a feast, but also invite a couple of your friends. You choose A and B to come with you and those 4th and 5th members of your group suddenly realize the Pecking Order. When you get back you will find they may have flipped on you. So you need to have these talks with your group beforehand. Maybe a simple “I’ll take A & B if I win… if you win then take C & D” could go a long way to helping you remain in the game.

The Final 3

The End Game

Despite the name, the Final 3 probably begins at about 5-7 people left. This is where you should be looking to see where you are in not only the Pecking Order, but who is going to get who’s vote. You allow yourself to dream of sitting at the end and who you think you can beat.
Make a Move/ Don’t Make a Move – Are you number 4 in your group? Are you sure that your partners want to sit with you at the end? This is where you need to not only do the math, but figure out who you can beat in the end. Too many times someone is so focused on just sitting at the end they delude themselves into thinking they can win and vote the few people out who they might have had a chance against. You need to weigh everything now and put yourself in the best position possible… and that may mean taking a chance for top 3 if a move succeeds, but then top 7 when it fails. Go big or go home!

Did you Make Enemies – If you are the Leader, then you definitely have and there is no getting around that. Your goal now is to remain true to your alliance and hope they feel the same way because the only way you are derailed is if they think they can’t beat you OR you flip on them and lose the jury’s respect (I think loyalty goes farther than almost anything else in the game. When you flip on people that helped get you to the end it doesn’t sit well with many people because you get cast as the Villain.

The Villain – You’ve betrayed people, you’ve lied and stolen from people, you are a snake and yet no one would vote you out. If you make it to the merge sometimes the Villain is the best play IF you are happy with 2nd place. People don’t like to be lied to, but more than that they would like to think the person getting the million dollars is a decent human being outside the game. If you didn’t convince them of at least that much…

The Right-Hand Man/ Coattails – “You just were riding his/her coattails” may be the most damning statement a jury member can say to one of the final 3. There is almost no coming back from that one. So what if you were in on every decision with your alliance, if the perception is that you just coasted along while everyone else took all the bullets, then you’re not getting the votes at the end either. People want you to have earned it and to have made the tough choices. The Coattails never has to do that (at least in their eyes).

Who wins? It seems the people who win are those who stick with their alliances. The ones who got a couple of lucky breaks. And the ones who make their moves at the correct time. But mostly, they are the ones who don’t beat themselves. They may stay under the radar at the beginning only to make a run towards the end. Or they could be the Lead Dog the whole time leaving very little in doubt.

Those aren’t even all of it. Heck, when I started this blog way above I wasn’t sure how much I would really have to say about this. Now I’m thinking I could have went on for at least double this (I will spare you from that… this time).

This one is for you, Courtney Regan McGuire. Thanks for talking silly tv show strategy with me all these years. I wouldn’t want to watch it with anyone else.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

How to Improve the Oscars (for me)

Gold Trophy

I used to love the Oscars. Some of my favorite memories of my life in Los Angeles involves getting together with my friends, anywhere from six to ten to fifteen of them, grabbing junk food and booze, firing up the TiVo, ordering a pizza, filling out our ballots to gamble on the winners and losers, and watching the show designed to celebrate everyone in the room’s favorite art form. We’d have a good time bullshitting, laughing at the good jokes, tearing apart the bad ones, arguing over who deserved to win what, getting real competitive over the stupid pool, and getting hammered enough that by the next morning we had already forgotten who won Best Picture.

That group of friends, though, is now scattered to the winds. Those get-togethers, at least at that scale, are a thing of the past. And every year I have enjoyed the ceremony and the show less and less. This has little to do with which films are honored. There have only been a few times when a particular film winning has elated me and a few more times when a particular film winning enraged me. In general, they pick fine films that are not always my favorites of that year, but are quality nonetheless. (With some exceptions, of course. <cough> Crash <cough> .)

My lack of enthusiasm about the Academy Awards has been created by, over the last 20 years of caring about film and chasing my Hollywood dreams, witnessing the cycle of sameness and lameness from which they seem incapable of escaping. It’s wearing thin. They do the same thing every year, make the same mistakes, and, on the rare occasion when they do something edgy, usually involving a “hip” host, a few people complain the next day and they immediately respond by at least three consecutive years of safe, uninspired hosts that offend absolutely no one because they are incapable of doing it if they tried.

Some of my friends still enjoy watching the Oscars and that’s great. I, less so. So, being a selfish, selfish, man, here is a quick list of the things I would change about them to make me like them better. Just me: a film lover, film expert, and filmmaker. Some of these things may only satisfy me, but I know some would be welcome by others as well. But I don’t care about them. This is all about me. What I’d change. For starters, I’d…

1. Dump the outdated and time-consuming “Best Song” category. This award is a remnant from the days when musicals were a viable genre and for some reason we’ve kept it going. There are two major problems with this category. Firstly, it is not about film. It is about music. And it’s often times not even about music in a film. So many of the nominated songs don’t even appear in their respective movies until the end credits. Most of the rock songs are ones not good enough to put on the respective band’s album. If they could find five songs a year that are actually used IN the movie, in a meaningful and artful way, then maybe I could see keeping it, but they never do. It’s usually two songs like that and three by famous musicians that you probably only heard if you’re one of those people who stays for the whole credits, like me.

Problem number two, of course, is that this category is a horrible time suck. Because the producers feel the need, every year, to have the nominated songs performed during the ceremony. With five songs, plus the actual giving of the award, you’re looking at maybe 20 minutes that could be cut from a 3 ½ hour show. Now, I don’t really care about the length of the show, but I’m a movie geek and I live on the West Coast. But for those in EST, that half hour is a big deal, especially since the awards are always on a school/work night.

Also, this makes “Best Song” the most important award of the night, proportionately. “Best Director” takes up maybe four minutes total, but “Best Song”? It’s 10% of the show! Seems like a lot of time wasted on something that really has nothing to do with making movies.

2. Speaking of wasting time, let’s cut the short film categories. I know this sounds harsh and rather un-filmmakery of me, but let’s be honest. No one cares about these awards except for the nominees and their loved ones. But this show is an entertainment, meant to celebrate the glamour and art of Hollywood, and, to use last night as an example, STEVE MARTIN received an honorary Oscar off-screen in a previous, untelevised ceremony while the winners of “Best Short Documentary” got to speak on TV. I know, I know. Let these folks have their moment. I get that and I understand. But, again, this show is supposed to be entertaining and I know very few people that don’t use those awards as an excuse to use the bathroom. We don’t have to cut them entirely, just lump them in with the technical awards, the ones they do earlier on that celebrate the stuff that they don’t want to bore you with on TV. That’s where they belong. Sorry.

3. Restrict the host to just… hosting. I like Ellen DeGeneres. I thought she did a pleasantly bland good job Sunday night, with a fairly decent ratio of hits to misses. Thought her opening monologue was good and safe, which is fine, and several of her interjections here and there were good for a laugh. My problem is with the sketches. Especially when we get into hours two and three. The costume changes. Going into the audience to get Meryl Streep to take a selfie or make Martin Scorsese eat pizza. It makes the show too much about the host and not about the films. And I just don’t find them funny. The pizza bit last night just made me feel uncomfortable and awkward. That far into the ceremony, sketches like that just make the whole thing seem unnecessarily longer. I want my host to have a monologue to greet us, then spend the rest of the night introducing presenters, throwing in jokes here and there to make us smile. But that’s it. I don’t give a flying fuck if they “broke Twitter” with their group photo.

4. Diversify. Apparently Oscar voters are 94% white, 76% men, with an average age of 63. And boy does it show. Both nominee Julie Delpy and my friend Bob Ray pointed this out in the last few days. Are those numbers representative of Hollywood in general? Yes, and it’s one of its great shames. And it’s nowhere more apparent than in an Oscar broadcast. It explains the same people being nominated year after year. I mean, Meryl Streep is a great actress but not every film she makes is worthy of recognition. They refuse to acknowledge the work of Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings and Scarlet Johansson in Her as “acting”. They have one category reserved for “quirky” films, “Best Original Screenplay”. Nearly every year it is given to the year’s “weirdest” or “edgiest” film as a consolation prize, because there’s no way we’ll ever give Pulp Fiction or Lost in Translation or Her or Django Unchained or Eternal Sunshine “Best Picture.”

Two words sum up to me why the Academy needs a demographic overhaul:

Bette Midler.

I mean, what the fuck?

“Wind Beneath My Wings”?

Are you shitting me?

I’m sure some people loved it but it just showed me how out of touch these people are. You choose to honor the dead (including Phil Hoffman, who was not mentioned by anyone except for the In Memorium montage) by having her come out and sing a song that was corny as hell five minutes after it came out three hundred years ago?
Felt so lame to me. But just to me. Again, this list is all about me.

5. Drop the “Themes”. The last several years, each Oscar broadcast has chosen a theme. Last night’s theme was “Heroes”. Never mind the fact that 90% of Hollywood Films are about some sort of hero, therefore making the theme of the night “movies”, it is the reason we got three uninspired montage-tribute things that were just a bunch of shots of “heroes”. They had no narrative to them, no energy. They served no purpose other than for people to go “hey, I’ve seen that!”. I just thought they were horrible. I haven’t seen any of these “themes” really work, but this year’s was so boring and vague. Again, wasting time.

6. I know I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: Seven songs were performed and three short films were given awards, but the Lifetime Achievement awards, given to real Hollywood legends, have been pushed off the broadcast into the same purgatory as the tech awards. Wouldn’t you have rather heard Steve Martin talk than listen to Pink sing “Over the Rainbow”?

7. Have them earlier in the year. This may not be possible, but one of the bummers about the Oscars these days is that all of the major categories are decided well before the ceremony. Sunday night it felt like all four actors had already won and were just showing up to collect their trophies. There was absolutely no suspense last night until “Best Picture” and even that was only between two films. With the Globes and the Spirit awards and the countless critics’ awards, it has started to feel like the Academy awards are simply reactive. That the members vote based on what has already won other things. I think the inevitability of the awards this year was the key factor in me not being excited. They have to do something to bring in some suspense. Because there wasn’t one minute last night that I found to be compelling or surprising.

8. My last point is probably untenable and stupid but I couldn’t help thinking about it last night. I think the Oscar broadcast would be a whole lot better if it went…

Live to tape.

“Live to tape” is what shows like the “Tonight Show” and “Daily Show” do, which is record a show like it’s live, with commercial breaks and everything, but then air it later. Very little TV that look live is actually airing live.

What this does, in addition to not making the creators of these shows live like vampires, is give them the chance to make little tweaks. Ever notice on “The Daily Show” when there’s a weird cut in an interview? You notice it, it’s weird, but it means the conversation went long and they had to trim it down to get to their network mandated runtime.

But it gives them the chance to have the interview and, if it goes over, cut it down to the parts they think are most interesting.

In the age of Twitter and the internet, I don’t think this is a possibility, but I would love the Oscars to do the same. Go live to tape the afternoon of.

Think about it. Record the whole thing, including letting the damn winners give full speeches and not playing the less famous ones off in 30 seconds. Then, once it’s on tape, the producers can make decisions. “Okay. Spike Jonez’s speech went long so let’s cut the pizza bit. Oh, that montage didn’t go over to well. Let’s cut it.”

They could deliver a fat-free entertaining broadcast if they could have five hours to make some cuts. And they could get it down to 3 hours, easy.

Problem is, of course, that the winners would get out into the interwebs before the show ever aired and no one wants that. But, to be fair, for years the West Coast (where the Oscars are held) got the whole show on a tape delay every year so that it fell in primetime. It’s a recent development that it airs here live at 5:30. And we dealt with it. If you really, really care, there are ways to avoid knowing what happens.

I just think it would make a better show.

But it will never happen.

So those are some things that would make the Oscars more enjoyable for me. As much as I bitch, I still do love the Oscars. I will watch them next year and the year after that. But I am consistently disappointed by their resistance to change. One can mark it up as “tradition”, I suppose, but to me it’s just stale.

Signing off,

your resident grumpy old man,

chad