The Prisoner Review: “The Chimes of Big Ben” (Episode 5)

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Well, at least we now know that Six would actually win the art aspect of a Robolympics, no matter what the topic may be.

“You really are the limit, Number Six!” – Number Two, pretty much summing up the protagonist of this really surreal adventure.

Airdate: October 6th, 1987

Written By: Vincent Tilsley

Plot: New to the village is a woman, simply with the name of Nadia. The new Number Eight, Nadia is just as hellbent on escaping the village as Six has been. However, her torture is much more direct when compared to Six’s. Staggered by this, Six offers to horse trade – in exchange for protecting Nadia, Six will participate in an upcoming crafts show. However, that is just a cover for the two escapee-wannabes to formulate their escape from The Village.

Review:

Much has been made of the idiosyncratic order that The Prisoner operates on. If one was to watch the episode in the order that the episodes were sent out by ITV, many fans would argue that the viewer would end up more confused than ever before. Which, considering what I’ve seen in the past four episodes, is quite an impressive feat.

Yes, you could argue that this show is more episodic than the television that we here in the 2010s are used to. But the point still stands, there existed this conflict between network and production. Possibly, this tied to reports suggesting that the network having to relent on a limited number of episodes – 17 instead of their recommended 26 or 36, which would’ve made the show an easier sell to CBS (given the length of our TV seasons here in the States.)

Anyway, this episode is the second one to be produced. What would’ve made this episode stand out as a second one? What sent it back to fifth? And, most importantly, is it any good? Continue reading

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Stephen Hillenburg: 1961-2018

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Image found on Wikipedia.

An architect of many of our childhoods has died.

Stephen Hillenburg, the marine biologist whose artistic creation SpongeBob Squarepants became the dominating force in animation for well over a decade (if not still being so today), has succumbed to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis at the age of 57. Across the internet, there is a simultaneous sense of mourning and gratitude, sadness at the loss of Hillenburg, but gratitude at the sheer impact that he yielded on the cultural scene.

So much will be said over the next day of the impact that Spongebob has yielded over our lives. And I will be getting to that in a bit. But I have to say, Stephen Hillenburg is one of the best examples of how one can combine two seemingly separate passions to create something truly iconic.

After all, it was his lifelong passion with the water that led him to study marine biology. And it was his adult interest in art that led him to go to CalArts and enter the animation industry. Combine that with his work on the surrealistic slice-of-life cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life, and you have the perfect recipe for the show that would become SpongeBob SquarePants.

To this day, I consider those first three seasons of SpongeBob SquarePants to be amongst the most brilliant in animated TV history. It’s protagonist was the well-meaning everyman that children, teenagers, and adults could relate to, engaging in beloved hobbies with his somewhat dimwitted best friend, trying to get a rather uptight neighbor to lighten up, befriending a newcomer who can run laps around him physically and intellectually, trying in vain to get his license to drive (much to the chagrin of his exasperated teacher), all while working in a field he loves for a rather parsimonious boss. And those are just our protagonists – the side characters, and even the occasional antagonist (“I WENT TO COLLEGE”), all provided us with an insight into our daily lives in the goofiest yet most brilliant way.

In short, the appeal of SpongeBob was vast. And this translated to the comedy – some of the most perfectly timed laughter that I have seen, to this day. From slapstick, surrealist humor, character comedy, and even occasional forays into intellectual humor, the show managed to create a world of laughs that still managed to feel natural, all in the world of Bikini Bottom that felt so vibrant.

I would argue that, right next to The SimpsonsSpongeBob SquarePants was the most influential animated TV show of the post-Simpsons era. While South Park gave us humor that really broke the standards of good taste (and then managed to send it back around again to make it brilliant) and Avatar and Adventure Time increased the serialization present within, Spongebob gave us the ability to use a wide range of comedy, all to create bright and memorable worlds beyond what we could imagine, all while never really losing that sense of innocence and wonder within. We still see that attitude today in some of the most acclaimed and popular animated shows on television, from Steven UniverseStar Vs. The Forces of Evil, and so on.

No matter what your thoughts on the show – whether we think there was a decline and for how long, our opinions on certain characters and which way the show’s tone should go, how many times the network has aired the show, all of it… the impact that SpongeBob SquarePants has had on our lives is hard to measure. There’ve been two movies – even The Simpsons only got one. A Broadway play? A fungus named after the titular character? And twelve seasons – and hey, it seems like, after the more controversial middle seasons, Mr. Hillenburg’s return to the show four years ago gave the show a second wave of critical popularity.

Wow.

All that from a man who managed to chase both of his dreams, and worked to make them a reality. To this end, once diagnosed, he declared that he would work on the show for as long as possible.

Today, I do mourn – such a brilliant life coming to an end too soon. But ultimately, I thank Stephen Hillenburg. I celebrate the impact that he and his creation has had not just on my life, but the lives of so many others.

Thanks for SpongeBob SquarePants.

We’re all Goofy Goobers, now and forever.

Steven Universe Review: “Hit The Diamond” (Season 3, Episode 5)

Before I begin, I would like to celebrate a meaningless milestone – 400 posts on this blog! First off, I just want to thank everybody that’s continued to read and comment on my blog over the past few years. I can’t thank you enough.

Now, here’s the dealio. For my 100th, 200th, and 300th posts, I took on a Star Trek movie – Wrath of Khan, Final Frontier, and Generations, respectively. While I did initially intend to tackle Star Trek (2009) for the 400th, I’ve ultimately decided to push the Trek 09 review towards the Christmas season, given that a) it’s a monumental movie, in terms of the Star Trek franchise, b) there is a lot to unpack with that movie, and c) it would bring the movie just a little bit closer to the decade of its debut in American theaters.

In effect, this review will be a bit more muted. For reasons that I will talk about in the review, though, this subject still reflects something of a memorable moment in the Steven Universe franchise.


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“Alright, it’s the bottom of the ninth. We’ve got Lapis on second, but one more out and the game’s over for us. We need to hit a home run.” – Steven. The counterargument, as per Moneyball, get on base. Boom – hit it far enough to get Lapis to third, and get somebody that won’t be distracted by the Ruby to send two of the home team, well, home.

Airdate: June 2nd, 2016.

Written By: Jeff Liu and Joe Johnston

Plot: A quintet of Rubies has crash-landed in Delmarva, and they’re not happy. Neither is Peridot, thinking that this is the end of the line for them all. While Garnet un-fuses to get Ruby to play with the quintet’s… absent-mindedness, Amethyst’s recommendation that Steven have a baseball bat ready to go leads him to strike a deal. The Homeworld ship can search the barn if, if, they win a game of baseball. This seems easier said than done, especially since two participants on opposing teams are infatuated with one another.

Review:

Let’s just get this blast of admiration out of the way.

I love baseball.

There’s the tension between the pitcher and the batter, as the former tries to outwit the latter and protect his lead, all while the batter could very well have the scoring opportunities of three men on the line. There’s the utter thrill of watching a ball fly in the air, hoping that it becomes unreachable to the opposition outfield to secure every run possible. Likewise, watching a pitcher throw a no-hitter (or, maybe, a perfect game) manages to demonstrate the sheer power of strategy on top of arm strength. The dichotomy between the defensive side and the offensive side makes each half-inning starker than any other sport (except for Cricket, I think). How every single play, every single strike, every single movement matters – any team can theoretically come back in the bottom of the ninth. And the parity in the MLB is virtually unparalleled, with teams often rotating between rebuilding periods and periods of dominance. The appeal, in my opinion, is ceaseless. For those that like action? There are sluggers across the league. Stats? Nothing less. Strategy? A pitchers duel is right up your alley.

Beyond that, the sport stirs up feelings of nostalgia in many an American (and even quite a few fans from other countries.) Baseball, to me, is permanently intertwined with the seasons of Spring and Summer, as well as the memories within (although the MLB always climaxes in autumn). Kicking back on a spring or a summer night, unwinding, and watching the sunset as our icons take the field. This is triply true for those that are lucky enough to see a game, especially at the highest levels.

Now, I could go on, but I’m going to keep myself brief. Baseball might be my favorite sport, and if it’s not, it’s very close to soccer. I mention my admiration of baseball because that’s the driving force between today’s subject – the Steven Universe episode “Hit The Diamond”.

…and if you’re not a fan of Steven Universe but like other sci-fi shows, a chill ran down your spine. Why didn’t it do the same to me?

And for our Steven Universe fans, why are others that are stumbling across this review freaking out? Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Missionary: Impossible” (Season 11, Episode 15)

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Fair play to Homer – this show has become more insane than The Flinstones. No, I am not having a yabba-Dabba-do-time.

If you watch even one second of PBS without contributing, you’re a thief! A common thief!” – Betty White. To be fair, PBS didn’t take the greatest show on television, drive it into the ground, and keep digging for twenty years afterward. I might slide them some cash.

Airdate: February 20, 2000.

Written By: Ron Hauge.

Plot: Homer’s excitement over PBS’s airing of laddish Britcom Do Shut Up is doused by one episode being interrupted by a pledge drive for $10000. Homer, naturally, fake-donates the money to try and get the episode back on the air. However, PBS merely uses this as an excuse to film him handing over the money… and chasing him down when he can’t come up with it. Facing certain death at the hands of the Sesame Street muppets (…yeah…), he manages to get driven to safety by Rev. Lovejoy. The cost, however, is that he must do time as a missionary in the Pacific Islands. As you can tell from the above screengrab, it goes over well.

Review:

Last time on Scullyfied Simpsons, I was left floored at the greatest bit of television incompetence I’ve seen ever.

No, seriously – barring some sort of anti-miracle, I honestly think that with “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily”, the Mike Scully era of The Simpsons officially bottomed out. For every bad episode that follows, nothing will be quite as destructive to what was once the greatest TV show of all time as Ian Maxtone Graham’s utter debacle of a half-hour that sent Maude Flanders off in the most humiliating way possible. Between that and “Saddlesore Galactica”, the show’s characters and reality have formally collapsed into an element of nothingness.

What I’m trying to say is that virtually anything, anything would have represented an improvement over the disaster area that has been the last two-three episodes of The Simpsons. Yes, even if the episode consisted of a test pattern all while the audio from Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue aired.

So, what about “Missionary: Impossible”? Can this possibly surpass my rock-bottom expectations? Or at least, come close? Continue reading

The Prisoner Review: “Checkmate” (Episode 4)

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“Psst. If it’s any help, I’ve been studying his tactics, and there’s a pattern emerging. Every time you make a move, he makes one, too!” – The Cat, describing to Holly the intellectual pursuit that is a chess match, Red Dwarf (“Queeg”. Guess who he’s playing?)

AirdateNovember 24, 1967 (ITV)

Written By: Gerald Kelsey.

Plot: Turns out, there’s more entertainment in The Village. A game of chess goes on, controlled by a chessmaster who manages both sides. The rare errant rook is sent to a mental facility. Concurrently, Six tries to formulate a coalition of possible escapees, based on their behavior. But is he being monitored for errant patterns of behavior, as well?

Review:

We are a mere four episodes into our seventeen episode look at The Prisoner, and we have not abated on the insanity within. In fact, the last episode might have cranked it up to insane levels – and no, that’s not really a redundant statement, even given what we’ve seen so far in the village.

Going into this episode, therefore, I had to conclude that anything, anything, would be toned down compared to the “Dance of the Dead”. In effect, the question now becomes… was I right?

Well, let’s get one fact down – this episode deals with a game of human chess.

Literally.

Continue reading

Not Another Top (X) List: Top 7 Treehouse of Horror Episodes

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Hello, everybody, and welcome to yet another edition of…

NOT ANOTHER TOP (X) LIST!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s just around Halloween time! And what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at one of the longest-running traditions in American television… sort of. Maybe.

Let us enter the Treehouse of Horror, courtesy of our friends at…

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Every autumn since 1990, The Simpsons has broken the rather realistic aura of its setting and the rather satirical tone within in favor of a carnival of bloodbath and freakiness. The Treehouse of Horror serials have become almost legendary within the series itself, often elevated above most other episodes in the eyes of many fans. They’re often that memorable. To this day, even as the show’s ratings continue to atrophy, the Treehouse of Horror episodes tend to land more viewers than most other episodes in a particular season – indicating that fans that have largely let the show go by the wayside (if not actively rejecting it) have come back for this event. (Season 29 bucked the trend by only getting 3.66 million viewers… make of that what you will.)

What makes it work, again, is that (particularly in the earlier seasons) the show broke free from the constraints of the universe and basked in the morbid, the alien, the absolutely silly… and still managed to maintain a certain hilarity within.

So in the spirit of the season, I present to you my takes on the first seven Treehouse of Horror episodes. This is effectively a ranking of those first seven, but I think it really puts in perspective just how great these segments were during the show’s classic era. It’s not the most comprehensive analysis of every episode – just how I feel they stack up against one another.

(And all frames come from Frinkiac, for those wondering.)

In effect, X=7. This is…

THE TOP 7 TREEHOUSE OF HORROR EPISODES! Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Barn Mates” (Season 3, Episode 4)

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Can two stateless women share a barn without driving each other crazy?

“We’ll find a home together, and sleep there every night.
There’s a time and place for most things – this time, we’ll get it right.
You may not always love me; I may not care.
But intuition tells me, baby, there’s something we could share if we dare.”
– 
“Why Don’t We Live Together”, Pet Shop Boys

Airdate: May 26th, 2016.

Written By: Hilary Florido and Jesse Zuke (Credited as Lauren Zuke)

Plot: Steven’s best-laid plans for having Peridot and Lapis room together fall apart. Apparently, being kidnapped, interrogated, and left to the devices of a brutish general did not bode well for Lapis’s view of Peridot. Frustrated, Peridot tries to demonstrate that she’s not the same gem that did those pesky little traumas. Hilarity Ensues.

Review:

Well, “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” got me a bit riled up, huh?

I mean, wow was that bad. It was a disaster on every single level that I have seen in anything that I have reviewed. Honestly, I can single-handedly say that, given everything involved, it will likely be my single least favorite subject that I have ever reviewed. It angered me that much. If I had been reviewing The Simpsons from moment one, that would’ve very likely been the moment I pulled the plug and walked away. There is virtually nothing left of the show.

God, I don’t think I can find an appropriate parallel to my face when I watch episodes from that point on. If only I can find something, anything, to represent how I feel when I was watching… that… if only…

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NAILED IT, ALL HAIL OUR BLUE TRAGIC WATER GODDESS.

In the last Steven Universe episode, “Same Old World”, Steven tried to introduce the idea of Lapis Lazuli living in the city by relying on some good old TV cliches about Big American City life. Amongst the tropes was the idea that Lazuli could crash with a wacky roommate. It was meant to reflect a strange duality – that the world of Earth was more open to a diverse set of life experiences than the homogony of Homeworld, all while Steven cribbed these ideas from shows akin to The Big Bang Theory (which is a nerdy LA take of “straightlaced guy with a wacky roommate” sitcoms.)

So, plot twist, this episode has Lapis Lazuli paired up with a wacky roommate. Her name is Peridot. She used to work for Homeworld, but a series of rather tragicomic events drove her away. Amongst said events included a failed capture of the Crystal Gems… where she once held Lapis Lazuli prisoner as an informant, before bailing out of the crashing ship.

Well, as long as nobody gets knocked off of bleachers by a barrage of T-shirts, I’m good.
Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” (Season 11, Episode 14)

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Full disclosure: every screencap here is taken from Frinkiac.

“Homer? You are the worst human being I have ever met.” – Ned Flanders, “Hurricane Neddy”. Give it three seasons, Flanders.

Airdate: February 13th, 2000.

Written By: Ian Maxtone Graham.

Plot: A trip to the nature preserve results in the Simpson clan encroaching on a racetrack. At a race later that day, they meet the Flandereses on the top deck of the bleachers. Unfortunately, a rather tragic series of events unfurl, and Maude winds up knocked off the stands to her death. Ned has to cope with the loss of his beloved… which he does with the help of a man.

A certain man.

That caused his wife’s death.

Review:

The debate over the decline of The Simpsons has often lied in the sentiments and degree of said decline? Not only is it often debated how long the show entered the rough spot (if it hit said spot at all), but there’s also the debate of how far the show sank. As I mentioned in my review of “Saddlesore Galactica”, there are plenty of fans that do watch the show to this day, and argue that while there has been a decline, that the fans that call for the show’s cancellation rely on hyperbolic sentiment.

They argue that the golden years were so illustrious, that nothing, short of nothing, could match them. These fans argue that the Dead Homer Society faction of fans – in effect, the #WengerOut of the Simpsons fandom (and that’s neither a complaint nor a compliment) – are either relying on rose-colored glasses or have such impossible standards as to ruin a perfectly good show for themselves and others.

And you know what?

That’s fine by me!

If you want to enjoy new episodes of The Simpsons, that is absolutely cool. I disagree with your argument that it’s particularly good (or even watchable) television, but again, that’s my opinion. Even Zombie Simpsons – a blog with probably the most thorough analysis of the show’s decline out on the internet – argues that their visceral reaction to the show’s current state is only exacerbated because the golden years (seasons 1-7, according to them) were, in their eyes, so brilliant as to be part of the American canon.

To a cynical select few, it might come off as being part of the #WengerOut-esque bandwagon, this idea that we should kill off this institution of American television because a few nerds on the internet are angry. Which, alright. It’s the internet. You don’t have to go far to find insolent jackasses.

To those few, I want to disclose that what I am about to say, and my rationale thereof, is only a very slightly hyperbolic take on my own personal beliefs. Very slightly, in fact. Yes, I know this is just a show, but it revolves around my all-time favorite TV show. And therefore, where I am coming from is pretty clear.

Here we go…

“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” is the single most infuriating piece of fiction that I have covered or very likely will ever cover on The Review Nebula. Continue reading

The Prisoner Review: “Dance of the Dead” (Episode 3)

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“If our torment is to end, if liberty is to be restored, we must grasp the nettle, even though it makes our hands bleed. Only through pain can tomorrow be assured.” – The Mysterious Radio Broadcast.

Airdate: November 17th, 1967

Written By: Anthony Skene

Plot: Carnival has come around to The Village. It’s another day of democratic frivolity, where people are allowed to bring their partners to dance. Lucky Six – he just got out of a brutal round of torture. Contemplating it after another escape attempt fails, he stumbles across a radio on a dead man. Taking it, he hears a distinctly libertarian message, quoted above. With a new gravitas, and warned by an old comrade of his, he decides to take part in the carnival. But is it the frivolity that it appears to be at first glance?

Review:

“Dance of the Dead” is a rather interesting episode of The Prisoner, based on how one can put it in the lineup… or rather, how it should go in the lineup. Despite airing 8th on the UK’s ITV Network, Patrick McGoohan has suggested that this episode should go second in a chronology of “important” episodes – seven episodes that are said to best enhance the plot and character development within the show. The order, according to him, reads…

  1. Arrival
  2. Free For All
  3. Dance of the Dead
  4. Checkmate
  5. The Chimes of Big Ben
  6. Once Upon A Time
  7. Fall Out

The Six of One appreciation society – the order that I am using for my review series –  agrees with that order, but includes the other ten episodes omitted by McGoohan. I mean, after all, there might be some hints within those ten episodes to the true state of Number Six’s situation, new characters, and how to best build the world around our protagonist.

However, McGoohan only wanted to do seven episodes, rather typical for a British drama. To sell the show to the states, however, the producers wanted 30 episodes. They settled on 17. Hence, the debacle of new fans watching The Prisoner to this day.

Based on the order that I’m watching the episodes in, not only does Number Six find himself trapped on the island, but the next episode took the concept of Democracy that he was so used to and destroyed it right in front of his face, absolutely crushing him and his spirit.

So, now what?

“Dance of the Dead”, the third episode I’m covering so far, is probably the silliest episode so far… as well as the most insane.

And that’s saying something. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Same Old World” (Season 3, Episode 3)

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“Take me out tonight.
Where there’s music, and there’s people, and they’re young and alive
Driving in your car, I never, never want to go home
Because I haven’t got one anymore…”
 “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”, The Smiths

Airdate: May 16th, 2016

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff

Plot: Having been rescued from the clutches of Malachite, Lapis is trapped in a conundrum. Given what transpired between her and Jasper, returning to Homeworld is out of the question. Yet, she is still adverse to staying on Earth – her past still lingers in her mind. To try and convince her to stay on the planet, Steven offers to take her on a tour around the northeastern United States. Said tour makes Lapis more aware of the world around her… and makes Steven more aware of Lapis’s past.

Review:

Well, after the insanity of Jockey Elves that have a weakness for Hefty Bags, it’s time to bring ourselves down to Earth just a little bit. And what better way to do so then by focusing on a tv episode that revolves around a flying water lady and a half-human fourteen-year-old who acts like a twelve-year-old?

See what you did, Tim Long and Mike Scully?

Anyway… welcome back, Lapis Lazuli.

Many a commentator on Steven Universe has remarked on the transformative nature of Lapis Lazuli’s character. It was, in fact, her appearance that marked Steven Universe‘s transformation from a goofy slice of life comedy with occasional tragic elements, straight into a science fiction space opera-styled comedy-drama. With her appearance, the show begins to embrace the greying of morality from both ends of the spectrum – no character is completely depraved, and no protagonist (not even Steven, occasionally) is free of character failings.

Caught in the center is Lapis Lazuli. She has found herself a captive of both the Crystal Gems and Homeworld forces – the former holding her in the back of a Five Below mirror, the latter manipulating her into a fusion that she immediately drove into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. In many ways, she is probably the show’s most tragic character. Sure, Pearl’s lust over Rose has generated some of the show’s biggest tearjerkers (and, in my opinion, four of the show’s all-time greats.) But while Pearl’s is a deeply romantic tragedy, Lapis Lazuli’s drama centers around the idea of being a stateless woman – unable to return to Homeworld, unable to trust the Crystal Gems or the planet they defend, she is a Gem without a home.

The episode that first peels away at her character is “Same Old World”. And ironically, though this episode may focus on a character that deeply begrudges the Earth, I don’t think that any episode of Steven Universe is as big of a love letter to the planet we inhabit as this one. Continue reading