Red Dwarf Review: “Officer Rimmer” (Series XI, Episode 4)

Merry Christmas, everybody! The reviews of Series XI, I guess, will serve as my Christmas Spectacular Thing. It’s gonna go into January (I think), but given that it feels like stores have begun selling Christmas goods in August, what’s the problem with going a few extra days?

A first lieutenant must keep his priorities in order, prepare for any sort of danger. Truly, Rimmer is the MacArthur of his fleet.

“Things are about to get a whole lot more Rimmery!” – Rimmer.

Airdate: October 9th, 2016
Written By: Doug Naylor
Plot: As the title suggests, Rimmer becomes an officer. He does so by saving a JMC officer that was printed out by a 3D printer. After getting this promotion, he uses the printer to make several clones. Unfortunately, like real-life printers, this one encounters some errors… a few of which are deadly.

Review:

The idea of cloning somebody isn’t necessarily a complex idea. How this episode deals with it, though, is by analyzing the style of DNA reproduction by making temporary copies in a printer. It’s rather horrifying, especially given that the printer is connected to a network of individuals whose genomes are available for anyone to use, regardless of their intent.

Red Dwarf, like most sci-fi tropes it takes on, puts a comedic spin on it by tying it to one of the main plot threads present in the show – Rimmer’s utter failure to reach what he feels is the next class level.

On that note, anybody remember Series VIII’s “Only the Good”?

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Red Dwarf Review: “Samsara” (Series XI, Episode 2)

Lister’s hair is not food. Repeat – Lister’s hair is not food.

“They’re dead!” “Hey, the medical reports aren’t in yet. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions.” – Rimmer and the Cat, discussing the bodies of Col. Green and Prof. Barker. Second time Rimmer’s introduced himself as a captain to dead people, by the way.

Airdate: 29 September, 2016

Written By: Doug Naylor.

Plot: The crew investigate a ship that crashed on an oceanic planet, as well as a pod that contains two deceased (read, dissolved) crew members. On that ship, they discover that the Samsara contains a karma drive – one which praises virtues and punishes callousness. The four split up – Lister has to deal with the Cat, while Rimmer and Kryten team up.

While this is happening, we learn more about the dynamic duo, who were locked in an affair with each other… and who’s reaction to getting caught may have damned the ship.

Review:

My thoughts about “Twentica” was that it was a rather solid opener to the series. While not ranking among my top 10 episodes of the show, it still managed to please me for 30 minutes. It was rather unique, but more of a way to establish something of a tonal shift. “Samsara” takes the tonal shift a bit further – rotating between two stories, past and present. Does it work? Well, let’s take another analysis at this.

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Scullyfied Simpsons: "Lisa Gets an A" (Season 10, Episode 7)

This grade is wrong, but not for the reason you might think…

Airdate: November 22nd, 1998

Synopsis: Lisa falls ill after being stuffed in a freezer to try and get some ice cream (no prizes for guessing who did it). Rather than study, she gets sucked into a video game, “Dash Dingo”. She gets so hooked into the game, she forgets to read The Wind in the Willows… and comes back to a quiz on the book. (“Game over, mate!”) Bart gets Nelson to hook her up with test answers, and she passes the test at such a level that the state no longer considers the school absolutely pathetic, and is willing to give them money.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned fridge-stuffer gets a pet lobster at the same supermarket. By “gets a pet”, I mean Homer prevents Marge from cooking Pinchy, a lobster that the family brought for dinner.

Review (SPOILERS): Lisa Simpson is one of the more divisive characters in the Simpsons canon. This stems from the trend during the “double digit” seasons to have Lisa as the mouthpiece for the generally leftish writers, with little reasonable dissent or critique of said positions. While I see where they come from, my opinion of Lisa stems from the early seasons of the show – as it should. And while she did have moments where she seemed overtly opinionated, they were just part of her role as a wiser, more mature eight-year old, who still fell victim to the same weaknesses that eight-year olds have.

“Lisa Gets An A”, surprisingly, has her fall victim to a trap that students tend to face – that of cheating. Not a bad idea, although does this episode execute it well?

Almost.

The idea itself isn’t exactly original, per se (“Bart the Genius”, anybody), but the proper tools can make something that seems cliche at first glance come off as rather well-done. This isn’t just an average kid deciding to cheat because of his or her laziness – this is Lisa Simpson (read, girl who only got one B… so far) getting so sucked into Dash Dingo, that she outright forgot that she had a homework assignment.  While one would question this lapse in judgement, I think it works to show that even Lisa isn’t infallible from everyday life. She’s eight years old – she’s going to have those moments where her judgement lapses.

It also fits into her perfectionist tendencies. When she got the aforementioned “B” in “Kamp Krusty”, she almost had a meltdown. (Yes, I am aware that The Simpsons has a wonky continuity.) Fearing that failing a test would have her banned from Harvard and sent to Brown fits in very, very well – Lisa isn’t the most pragmatic person out there. When push comes to shove, she’s willing to throw her ethics out the window… albeit not willingly.

Of course, episodes that focused on characters having to wraggle with themselves on their own failings have been done quite a few times – “Bart the Genius”, again. This episode decides to shift the focus somewhat from “Lisa cheats” to “Springfield Elementary is a cesspool”. Admittedly, this is a bit of a swerve in focus, but it does force Lisa to swallow her ethics even further.

The third act is kind of interesting, speaking from the keyboard of an aspiring teacher. The focus on Springfield Elementary’s finances is brought in again – episodes such as “The PTA Disbands” touched on it before. This time, there is an analysis of how financial grants and funds are spent. Springfield Elementary was doing so poorly in terms of grades that they were denied assistance from the state – seemingly keeping the school in a cycle of pathetic academia, technical lag, recreation decay, and funding drought.

Yet, when the school gets the grant – $250000 – Skinner proceeds to blow it on scoreboards, outdated tech (even by 1999 standards), and, most damningly, liquor for the teachers. The grant is thus kind of self-defeating, and at best, only serves as a short-term ailment to grave problems Springfield Elementary faces.

This actually raises quite a few questions – should education funding be punitive, or should there just be grants for better schools? Should there be more oversight on how the schools spend their funds? Are private resources in schools dubious? “Lisa Gets an A” does a good job at putting these ideas down on the table.

Here’s where the episode gets a little wonky. First off, the fact that Lisa’s A+++ managed to get the school a basic grant is a bit out there. It could work to show just how bad the rot is at Springfield Elementary, but the out there-ness stands. Secondly, there’s the entire concept of how the school was able to pull off a second awards ceremony to throw the State Education Comptroller.

Also, the first act of the episode seemed a bit light on the laughs. Not bad, but when you’re focusing more on comedy like Scully seems to be doing, you kinda need the laughs.

Before I go… the B-plot. It’s stupid, has Homer as a bit of an idiot… and I love it. It’s actually a very fun, cute plot, what with Homer coddling his pet lobster and treating it like a dog. That, and the end of that plot is one of the best examples of dark, tragic comedy in the show’s history.

After a rather rough start to the season, we seem to be getting back on track. Two good episodes in a row? Maybe Season 10 won’t be so bad after all…

Tidbits:

  • For the uninitiated, Dash Dingo is a send-up of Crash Bandicoot, a PlayStation game which is actually set in Australia. And yes, there are quite a few Australia jokes in Dash Dingo. Thing is, I can’t help but feel that this was the start of the show’s transition from parodying concepts for the sake of mocking and deconstructing them to simply referencing them with a few word changes. (Mapple? Really, Jean?)
  • Oh, wait, there is “Ken and Harry’s”. So, yeah, anytime you catch newer Simpsons episodes using “Mapple” and “Funtendo Zii”, this episode has some blame.
  • Gil reappears. This seems to be all his sthick is – just a down-on-his-luck salesman who needs to go take business classes. I mean, I don’t hate him, but that may be from nostalgia – The Simpsons: Hit and Run and the ability to buy stupid cars off of him. Still, I don’t think he’ll ever be as brilliant as Lionel Hutz. (I think he gets a lot of scorn because his first appearances came when the show was in the midst of a decline – that, and he starred in the widely disliked “Kill Gil” episode.)
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 – the third act is a bit stupid, but otherwise, not too bad.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2 – the point is mainly for sticking his daughter in the freezer to get some ice cream, plus the borderline neglect of his kids once Pinchy comes into the picture.
Favorite Scene: I loved seeing how utterly decrepit Springfield Elementary is, but the gold moment has to be Mrs. Krabappel using a periodic table provided by Oscar Meyer.
Least Favorite Scene: Did we really need to see the entire second grant presentation?
Score: 7.5. Would’ve gotten an 8, but the relatively joke-free first act brought it down a bit.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "D’oh-in’ in the Wind" (Season 10, Episode 6)

Airdate: November 15th, 1998

Synopsis: While tracking down his middle name, Homer comes across a farm run by two former hippies, Seth and Munchie. Upon learning his middle name, and learning more about his rebellious mother and her interactions with said hippies (she painted a mural with Homer’s full name), Homer takes an interest in the carefree lifestyle of hippies, and becomes one… not understanding that Seth (Martin Mull) and Munchie (George Carlin) have moderated their practices, even embracing the capitalist aspects of the 90s.

Review (SOME SPOILERS, POSSIBLY FOR OTHER EPISODES): In hindsight, maybe the 60s counterculture was too good to be true. Intended as an anti-establishment movement meant to get humanity more in touch with Earth and the fellow man, as well as generate social reforms, ironically, not only has it become the defining image of the 60s (to the point of cliche), but arguably became absorbed and moderated by the mainstream itself. Not that this was a bad thing, though. However, there is an irony here.

In many regards, The Simpsons was a counterculture in and of itself, or at least represented a counterculture. After the seemingly conservative, politically and socially stolid 80s, where American morals and archetypes were reinforced, came this show that managed to lampoon (if not subvert) every single aspect of Americana. Unfortunately, episodes like “When You Dish Upon A Star” seemed to represent the show becoming mainstream. Here’s where the absorption of the counterculture in the mainstream proved to be detrimental – modern Simpsons episodes seem to run on cliche plots and hackneyed dialogue, attempting to be trendy and cool, and just coming off as a pathetic show that needs to be axed. Soon.

Now that that’s out of the way, “D’oh-in in the Wind” is, in all honesty, quite an improvement over the aforementioned last episode. (That’s not a hard feat, but still.)

Homer here is certainly a bit bombastic in how he decides to take up the hippie lifestyle, but there’s actually a method to his madness here (contrast with his fawning-turned-betrayal of Basinger and Baldwin.) His appreciation of the perceived layabout lifestyle of the hippies seems to harken back to the days of “Homer Goes to College”, when Homer’s perception of party colleges conflicted with the more academic reality of Springfield U.

In this case, Homer’s perception of the 60s counterculture is based in stereotypes – belief in pseudo-communism, utter degeneration of his hygiene, and calling out dissenters as “narcs” and sellouts. (Insert your own Tumblr joke here.) However, the radical counterculture never seemed to mesh with reality, and the hard-leftish aspects of hippiedom transformed into an arguably liberal (or possibly libertarian) direction. Seth and Munchie are just trying to survive in the capitalist 90s, and simply implemented their hippie personality into their job – making organic juice.

Even further, it’s Homer’s attempts to maintain the supposedly lax attitude that represented the counterculture that caused more harm in the first place – his frisbee laid waste to the shipment. I can’t help but think that this is a symbol of how some elements of the hippie counterculture may have proven detrimental to the lives of those who followed it to the T, but who knows. Maybe Scully and Co just needed an excuse to create conflict in the plot.

Actually, I think that this episode could be an analysis of what the 60s counterculture started off as – an even stronger desire to respect your fellow man, no matter what. Here, Homer’s role as a hippie starts out as just a self-serving expression of the stereotypes. Upon realizing the negative effects of his carefree actions, he takes it upon himself to try and make things right. However, not having the knowledge to run a farm business, nor a knowledge of plants, he messes up. Royally. Even then, facing down a bunch of cops ready to bust them all on drug charges, he still understands what happened… and the end result is hilarious, if a bit abrupt.

So, that looks like a sizable amount of praise for this episode. Was there anything actually wrong with it?

Well, there were a few things I didn’t like.

My first complaint is more of a nitpick than anything. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Steven Universe‘s construction of secondary and tertiary characters, but I really couldn’t get any noticeable difference between Seth and Munchie. They worked as representatives of how the 60s evolved into the 90s, but apart from that, they really didn’t get too much development. They worked, but I have a feeling that an opportunity was missed.

More of a major complaint, though, is one I mentioned earlier. Homer’s execution of his hippiedom comes off as a bit bombastic for my tastes. It seems like Scully’s view of comedy (and Homer) is just loud and bombastic. While not a bad thing, in my recent review of “Steven’s Lion”, I argued that what makes Steven Universe work is it’s restraint in how it executes it’s comedy and character expressions. To a lesser extent, that also made classic Simpsons work – while it did have slapstick and bombastic comedy, it balanced it out with subtle character comedy and dramatic moments. At least the reaction to Homer’s loutish behavior was more realistic here than it was in… the last episode.

Otherwise, this episode isn’t too bad of an outing. Definitely not gonna measure up to the classics, but for what it was worth, it was still a pretty cute episode.

Tidbits:

  • Burns seemed a tad bit off at the beginning of the episode. I can see him running a commercial on the cheap, as well as his old fashioned tastes and utter weakness. However, there doesn’t seem to be the machiavellian zest that he once had. You could argue that he was humbled by having a trillion dollars taken from him by Fidel Castro, but even then, said loss was caused by his own idiocy. 
  • I loved the inclusion of “Uptown Girl” as Homer’s “hippie song”. Not only does this seem to reinforce Homer’s more 80s-centric mentality, but the song itself is a throwback to the sounds of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – from the 60s.
  • The theme at the end of the episode was performed by Yo La Tengo, an indie rock band from New Jersey. Honestly, I never heard of them until now. Their cover was pretty cool.
Favorite Scene: Homer singing “Uptown Girl” during the standoff. It was a bit cheesy, but I just loved it all the way.
Least Favorite Scene: Homer’s initial demonstrations of his hippie lifestyle seemed a bit too loud and out-of-character.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5. Nothing too outlandish here, actually, although the standoff might raise a few eyebrows.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2.5 – his behavior during the first two acts of the episode, again, seemed a bit too arrogant and “in your face”. The third act toned it down, but still.
Score: 7.

Steven Universe Review: "Cat Fingers" (Season 1A, Episode 6)

If you think this screenshot is creepy… AVOID THIS EPISODE AT ALL COSTS. In fact, avoid this review. Or keep reading, whatever.

Airdate: November 25th, 2013

Synopsis: Amethyst manages to impress Steven with her shifting into a cat. Shocked by this, Steven wants to know how he can shape shift, despite Pearl’s objections. Amethyst teaches him to trust his id, and Steven… manages to create a cat out of one of his fingers. Unfortunately, Steven’s own id takes over, and he’s unable to get rid of the cats once tired of them.

Review (SPOILERS): Glad to know what my nightmares will be about for the next month or so.

Ah, yes – “Cat Fingers”. This was the creepiest episode of Steven Universe amongst fans for quite a bit, and has only been surpassed by the likes of “On The Run”, “Keeping It Together”, “The Return”, “Jailbreak”, “The Message”, ah, hell, the fact that this was scary at one time shows just how slow this show was to really start burning the oil.

Still, this episode is incredibly creepy – surprisingly so, even. Let’s put the obvious aspect of the creepiness this way – cats aren’t supposed to be scary. They’re supposed to be cute, huggable, and relieve any situation of any stress present. This episode… doesn’t use any of those aspects of the “kitten” cliche. Not by a long shot.
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Steven Universe Review: "Together Breakfast" (Season 1A, Episode 4)

The Together Breakfast – so awesome, it defies physics! (Image screencapped from the Steven Universe wiki.)

Airdate: November 11th, 2013

Synopsis: The short story: Steven makes breakfast for himself and the trio. Hilarity ensues.

The long story: Steven makes breakfast since all the other Gems aren’t around. He manages to construct what is, in his mind, the perfect breakfast – literally well balanced, in fact. However, nobody really wants to (or is able) eat it with him – Garnet has to torch a poster, Pearl wants to be alone to fix up her room, and Amethyst just wants to gulp it all down. Kinda strange, then, when said breakfast comes to life and threatens to destroy them.

Review: Show of hands – who wants IHOP now? Second show of hands – who has a fear of IHOP now?

OK, really… just to let you know, this review is going to be somewhat shorter than usual, partially because this isn’t the most memorable of episodes. It seems inconsequential at first – Steven cooks breakfast, tries to talk to the other gems, and said breakfast tries to destroy them all. In fact, it almost seems like a Regular Show episode. (Worth noting, I don’t really watch that show, so no, that isn’t getting reviewed anytime soon.)

And let’s be real here – this episode’s plot is pretty “color by numbers”, with not a whole lot of real twists. Steven wants to please the Gems, and almost dies doing so. So, not a whole lot of points for originality.

However, within the plot, there’s actually more than a few things in here that help build the overall show even further. Continue reading

Gravity Falls Review: "Roadside Attraction" (Season 2, Episode 16)

Airdate: September 21st, 2015

Synopsis: The Mystery Shack gang (bar Wendy, plus Candy and Grenda) go on an RV trip to sabotage competing tourist traps. While on the trip, Dipper tries to get over Wendy by “honing his craft” on other girls. (And no, he doesn’t use the “mesmer-stare”, thankfully.) This does not bode well when Candy confesses that she’s developed a crush on the geek… and only gets worse when Stan gets kidnapped by a giant spider who led him on… that he tried to lead on.

Review (SPOILERS): Back in February, “Northwest Mansion Novella” aired. Given that there was something resembling ample notice regarding the controversy (i.e. the promo containing the two relatively close together), I was able to post an editorial regarding the somewhat controversial ship, and comment on the episode’s effectiveness as a launcher afterward. In the former, I made a comment regarding the fact that Candy and Dipper (or CanDip) had no traction, and didn’t seem to have chemistry… mainly because none of the writers really put the two together outside of quick gags.

Here, CanDip is set sail… in an episode that, in deep contrast to “Northwest Mansion Whozawhatzit”, is a deeply lighthearted episode… and far less consequential to the overall plot. In fact, I think it’s the episode most separable from canon since “Boss Mabel”. Continue reading