Granny’s Peach Tea: The DCEU Revisited – Man of Steel (2013)

In 2013, Warner Bros. released Man of Steel, the much-anticipated reboot of the Superman franchise. While not confirmed until later, it ended up as the start of the DC Extended Universe. To say that DC and Warner Bros. have experienced a few bumps along the way would be an understatement. DC’s attempt to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a disaster, stumbling over critical and financial roadblocks. In light of the recently released Justice League, I’ve decided to go back and re-watch them, to answer the question of whether or not the films of the DCEU are really as bad as we’ve all come to accept. Are they all jars of piss, or are some of them actually granny’s peach tea? Let’s take a look.

Man of Steel (2013)

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The DCEU has become something of a joke in the film community. Between the messiness of the films themselves, the critical reaction, and the fan reaction to said critical reaction, the films of the DCEU have become the targets of much ire, some deserved, and some not. It seems as if we’ve been mocking these movies for ages, but the DCEU is actually a fairly recent development. In 2013, the DCEU was nothing but a dream in the minds of DC fans everywhere. It wasn’t until July of 2013 that we knew that Man of Steel was the start of something larger, and while it was not without its detractors, it was far from the mess that we’ve come to expect from DCEU films.

There’s a lot to like in Man of Steel. I honestly think that it’s a decent movie; it may even be a good one. The film looks fantastic, the effects hold up, and the cinematography is kinetic. Henry Cavill is actually a pretty damn good Clark Kent and the rest of the cast is equally superb. Michael Shannon plays Zod with conviction, and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is a better female character than you’ll find in most Marvel films. The action is great and the soundtrack is fantastic. So what’s the problem? As I said, I honestly think that Man of Steel is a decent movie; it may even be a good one, but what it’s not is a good Superman movie.

When people ask me what my problem with Man of Steel is, I can direct them to one scene – the scene in which Clark Kent stands by and watches his father get consumed and killed by a tornado. The film’s reasoning is this: Pa Kent feels that the world isn’t ready for the existence of Superman. He believes that humanity can’t handle it and that if Clark reveals himself, people won’t accept him. He does this out of love, because he wants to protect his adopted son. I get it. I can almost understand where that character is coming from. What I can’t understand is why Clark Kent would stand by and watch his father die, even knowing that his father wouldn’t want him to save him. That’s not the Superman that I’m familiar with. The scene drives me insane every time I watch it. Pa Kent runs into the storm to save a dog, and as he limps away and Clark goes to react, he shakes his head. Clark obeys, and he stands there and watches as his father is swept away. Putting aside the fact that Clark could use his speed to get in and out without anybody seeing him, I still don’t accept it. It’s his FATHER. How many of you respect your parents enough that if their life was in danger and you could easily save them, you’d let them die simply because they told you to do so? Even if you think you WOULD do that, the fact remains that you’re not Superman. Superman should be better. Superman should save his father. Superman WOULD save his father. The problem is that this isn’t Superman.

That’s not the only point in the movie in which it’s clear that this isn’t the Superman we all know, but it’s the one that stands out to me the most. Yeah, Superman kills Zod, and destroys Smallville and Metropolis, but it’s his FATHER! I just can’t suspend my disbelief over that plot point. I’ve seen a lot of defenses written of the DCEU, the most common being that the story being told in these films is the story of a world which isn’t ready for heroes. That’s the main idea that Pa Kent’s sacrifice was meant to illustrate. Humanity is flawed, and therefore so are its heroes. That’s all well and good. I think that there is merit to that story. The problem is that that isn’t the story that anybody wanted. When Man of Steel was announced, we thought we were getting a Superman movie. What we got instead, was an extension of the themes Zack Snyder worked with in his Watchmen adaptation. Maybe if we had known this fact going in, people would have been more receptive to Man of Steel – as things stand, I think what people wanted was something that more closely resembled a classic Superman story. We already got a Watchmen movie; we didn’t need “Superman through the lens of Watchmen”. Unfortunately, that’s what we got – a movie in which an alien from another planet crash lands on Earth and is raised by someone who believes that he should hide who he is, even if it means the deaths of others. It’s the story of a super-powered individual who doesn’t know how to be a hero yet, as illustrated by the swathe of destruction he carves throughout the entire movie. If that’s the story you’re going to tell, then be up front about it. Come out and say “Hey, this isn’t the Superman story that you’re expecting”. In that situation, I’m probably fine with the movie we received in Man of Steel – I’m all about alternative takes on superheroes. The mistake here was in using this take on Superman to launch the DCEU – they started a superhero universe with a movie in which heroes don’t seem to exist.

Verdict: 60% Granny’s Peach Tea/40% Jar of Piss

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Movie Review: Justice League

I didn’t hate it.

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That may seem like an odd way to begin a review, so let’s back up for a second. I have long been what you might call a “DCEU hater”. I openly mock most of the films and constantly question the decision-making going on behind the scenes. I’ll admit, it’s fun to pile on, especially with the way DCEU fans react every time a new DC film gets bad reviews. Most of the time I’m just trolling, but I’m also legitimately frustrated with the state of DC’s cinematic universe.

Many people think that I’m just a Marvel fanboy. I’ve been a Marvel fan my entire life and I legitimately see the Marvel Cinematic Universe as one of the most impressive cinematic achievements of all time. They’ve created a 17-film universe (with 7 more on the way) while managing to maintain a consistent level of quality. Furthermore, the universe has spread onto the small screen, with 200 episodes of related television (and much more on the horizon). Questions of quality aside, that’s pretty damn impressive – unprecedented, even. Marvel has set the standard for what it means to have a shared universe, and while it’s true that I prefer them, I also love DC and their characters. The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I’m a big fan of what the CW has been doing with their DC shows. Comics-wise, DC has been kicking Marvel’s ass ever since their “DC Rebirth” initiative last year. All-in-all, I like DC only slightly less than I like Marvel, which is where the frustration comes in. I would love to see an amazing DC Extended Universe. If at times it seems like I’m rooting for these movies to fail, it’s only because I want them to get better. While Justice League makes some improvements on the formula of past DCEU films, it’s not the “better” that I’ve been hoping for.

Like all of the DCEU films before it, there are things to like in Justice League. The characters are, for the most part, very well done. Batman and Wonder Woman, who both shone in Batman v Superman, are dependably good here, although they’re not quite as compelling as they’ve been in the past. This time, it’s the newcomers who really shine. Ezra Miller’s Flash and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman serve as the film’s comedic relief, although they fulfill this role in completely different ways. Miller’s Flash is the awestruck, excitable team member who’s constantly putting himself in awkward situations, while Momoa’s Aquaman is, for lack of a better term, an aloof “bro” who openly mocks the other team members. Both of these character’s sound kind of awful on paper, but it works surprisingly well in the movie. If nothing else, I can say that I’m excited to see where both of these characters go in each of their upcoming films. Superman also makes a strong showing, as he’s finally allowed to become the hero we’ve always wanted him to be. The real surprise, however, is Cyborg. If you’re anything like me, you saw Ray Fisher in those trailers and thought “yuck”. While his CG armor still looks pretty bad, Ray Fisher infuses the character with a ton of humanity, and in many ways he becomes the beating heart at the center of the film. You may or may not know that Cyborg was originally a member of the Teen Titans, and it wasn’t until DC’s “New 52” reboot in 2012 that he became a founding member of the Justice League. I agree with what I’ve seen some others say: this film is the first time in which it has felt like Cyborg actually BELONGS on the Justice League. I wish that supporting characters like J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon and Amber Heard’s Mera had bigger roles to play, but I suppose it’s only fitting that the focus was put on the Justice League itself. They are by far the best part of the movie. It’s too bad they couldn’t have faced a more fitting villain.

If the Justice League are the best part of the film, then their adversary, Steppenwolf, is the worst. If you have no idea who Steppenwolf is, you’re not alone. I’ve been reading comics my entire life and I barely have a clue who Steppenwolf is, and after seeing Justice League, I’m still unsure. He’s your shallow, run-of-the-mill CGI villain whose sole role is to be strong enough and menacing enough that these strangers have to team up to defeat him – in other words, he’s a glorified punching bag. It’s truly a shame that they didn’t launch this team with a stronger villain – DC’s Avengers could have really used a Loki. Say what you will about Michael Shannon’s Zod, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, and Jared Leto’s Joker, but at least they tried for something less generic. Steppenwolf is just lifeless. He’s so bad that Joss Whedon (who directed a significant portion of this film, but we’ll get to that) favorited a tweet asserting that Steppenwolf is the worst comic book movie villain of all time. When the co-director of the movie thinks your villain is bad, you’ve got a problem.

By now you’re probably wondering, “Okay, so the characters are good and the villain is bad. You just described most Marvel films. What makes this one worse?” Well, that’s a very good question, and the answer is kind of hard to explain. The DCEU, with the exception of Wonder Woman, has been a complete mess up until this point. I’ve seen all those movies numerous times, and while watching, I’m constantly trying to figure out what exactly DC was going for. My current “theory”, which is backed up by, well, other people’s theories, is that Zack Snyder attempted to tell a story about super heroes in a world that wasn’t ready for them. They weren’t trying to copy Marvel, they were going for a more grounded, cynical approach. It was the story of powerful, flawed men learning to become heroes in a world that didn’t want their help. I don’t know why we expected anything different from the “visionary” mind behind the Watchmen adaptation.

While Snyder’s approach had its proponents, critics and general audiences vastly favored Marvel’s fun, colorful, humorous universe. Additionally, while the films of the DCEU were ambitious, two of them were a complete mess; neither Batman v Superman nor Suicide Squad felt cohesive. They’re shattered fragments of a whole that have been stitched together by the studio into something vaguely resembling a film. Snyder and Ayer both faced an enormous amount of studio meddling and neither was able to see their vision fully realized on the screen (although I’m sure the Extended Cut of Batman v Superman comes close). Warner Bros. heard the cries of audiences that wanted shorter, funnier, and lighter films, but they were unable to rework their directors’ visions into something that resembled a Marvel film. With Justice League, they’ve come closer than they ever have before, but all of the backdoor meddling has lead to a film with a debilitating identity crisis.

Justice League, in many ways, feels like a soft reboot of the DC Extended Universe. It’s a far cry from Snyder’s first two films: the color palette is lighter, the characters crack jokes, and the heroes are finally allowed to behave like heroes. I believe this is due, in large part, to the involvement of Avengers director Joss Whedon. As the story goes, Snyder was dissatisfied with the first cut of Justice League, so he brought Joss Whedon in to help punch up the script for reshoots. During this process, Snyder and his wife Deborah, herself a producer on the film, suffered a horrific tragedy: on March 20th, 2017, their daughter Autumn died by suicide. The Snyder’s attempted to return to work on the film before making the decision to step away completely in order to process their grief. At this point, the completion of Justice League became Whedon’s responsibility.

There are a lot of thoughts and conspiracies out there regarding Whedon’s involvement, none of which are verifiable. One commonly held belief is that after Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. was dissatisfied with Snyder’s handling of their properties and had been looking for a reason (or excuse) to separate him from the DCEU. It makes sense – Batman v Superman made money, but it didn’t make the kind of money that a film featuring Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman together for the first time should have made. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has taken off while DC’s is still floundering and a large amount of that blame has been placed squarely on Snyder’s shoulders. It is, after all, his vision that audiences don’t seem to be connecting with. I don’t know if it’s a matter of misplaced expectations or unfair comparisons, but Snyder’s ambitious, unconventional approach has never been met with widespread acceptance. It seemed as if Justice League was Snyder’s last shot to win audiences over, and it was widely reported that the film was going to be lighter and more optimistic than his previous films. Whether or not that was true, we may never know, because the Justice League that has been released in theaters is not Snyder’s film.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that WB was secretly relieved to have Snyder off the film, one thing can’t be denied – Justice League is as much Whedon’s film as it is Snyder’s. While most blockbusters undergo planned reshoots, Justice League’s were more extensive than usual. A reported $25 million was spent on two months of reshoots, all of which had been written (or rewritten) by Whedon. If this post from someone claiming to have worked on the film is to be believed, Whedon was more involved than anybody initially suspected. His fingerprints are all over this film, for better or worse. Justice League LOOKS like a Zack Snyder film, but it doesn’t feel like one – it’s a fractured whole, the product of two very different visions. It often feels at odds with itself, and what results is a sometimes surprising, often underwhelming film. It’s both bad, without being awful, and good, without being great. For all of its triumphs and failures, it’s mostly just… there, and that’s kind of incredible in a sad sort of way. Also incredible in a sad sort of way are Justice League’s box office prospects.

It’s looking like Justice League will finish its opening weekend with a gross of $96 million, which is a pretty dire amount. It sounds like a big number, but within a certain context, it’s not. Check out the opening weekend totals of the five other comic book movies that have released this year while keeping in mind that Justice League reportedly cost $300 million to make (everything else on this list cost between $100-200 million):

$146,510,104 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

$122,744,989 – Thor: Ragnarok

$117,027,503 – Spider-Man: Homecoming

$103,251,471 – Wonder Woman

$88,411,916 – Logan

Justice League will be coming in above only the R-rated Logan. Justice League, the film debut of DC’s premiere superhero team, starring three of the most popular, long-lasting characters in history, will have a lower debut than movies starring a talking raccoon, a sentient tree, and a Kiwi rock-man. Justice will be opening below Wonder Woman, Man of Steel, Suicide Squad, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Justice League’s opening weekend would rank 10th when compared to the opening weekends of films in the MCU. Make no mistake – a $96 million opening weekend is nothing short of disastrous. This movie should be DC’s Avengers, which holds the record for the 3rd highest domestic opening weekend of all time with $207,438,708 – Justice League isn’t even going to make half that amount.

I don’t want it to seem like I’m piling on the film because enough people are already doing that. I just wrote 2000 words on the film and I didn’t even mention Superman’s fake upper lip (Cavill was filming Mission: Impossible 6 during reshoots and Paramount wouldn’t let him shave off his mustache, so almost all of his scenes needed to have his mustache digitally removed, resulting in a stunningly odd effect). I don’t think Justice League is awful; I had fun while sitting in the theater. It’s just that the whole thing feels like an incredible missed opportunity. This was WB’s chance to usher their biggest franchise into a new golden era – it should have been a victorious film that left people excited for the future of the DCEU. Instead, you’ll leave the film feeling mildly unsatisfied. You can tell that something didn’t quite work, but you’re not entirely sure what. You’ve laughed and had fun, but it feels somehow hollow. It feels too short, too anticlimactic almost. I can’t tell you if Snyder’s original vision would have been better or if WB should have simply turned to Joss Whedon in the first place. All I know is that while not an unqualified disaster, this is not the Justice League film we’ve all been waiting for. It feels like a placeholder, but for what, I don’t know. As I look to the future of the DCEU, I’m genuinely not sure what to think. Justice League definitely changed things; I’m just not sure they’ll be the changes that we, or WB, were hoping for.

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PS. The first post-credits stinger is really good, but the second post-credits stinger is even better. It’s been a long time since I’ve been surprised by something that I saw at the end of the credits, so kudos to DC for beating Marvel at their own game

The Pilot Project ’17 – The Brave (NBC)/SEAL Team (CBS)

The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…

THE PILOT PROJECT (Fall 2017 Edition)

The Brave (Mondays on NBC)/SEAL Team (Wednesdays on CBS)

This is going to be a bit of an unorthodox installment of The Pilot Project. Unlike past entries, this time I’m reviewing two pilots at once, because I literally cannot imagine reviewing each of them separately. The two shows are NBC’s The Brave and CBS’ SEAL Team, and they share so many similarities that I can’t speak about one without speaking about the other.

The Brave

The Brave follows an elite special forces unit, led by Captain Adam Dalton (Mike Vogel). His team receives its orders from Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche), the Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Campbell and her intelligence analysts identify threats and Dalton and his unit take them out.

SEAL Team

SEAL Team follows an elite group of Navy SEALs, led by Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason Hayes (David Boreanaz). His team receives its orders from CIA analyst Mandy Ellis (Jessica Paré). Ellis and the CIA identify threats and Hayes and his unit take them out.

It may seem like I’m oversimplifying this, and I kind of am, but I’m also kind of not. These shows share a lot of the same DNA. They’re both military procedural dramas, with lots of guns, uniforms, screens, and drones. Both units feature one token female member. In fact, the plots of both pilot episodes feature a conflict between taking out a high-level terrorist target and rescuing a blonde, American female hostage. I’m not exaggerating. Both episodes feature that exact plot. It’s actually kind of ridiculous how much these two pilots have in common.

And yet, the two shows feel nothing alike. I know that that sounds weird considering how I’ve stressed their similarities up until this point, but it’s true. Despite everything that these two shows have in common, they feel different.

One of the biggest things that sets these two shows apart is the characters. While each features the requisite military stereotypes, I felt that SEAL Team did a much better job in distinguishing its characters and making them feel like real people. One of the aspects of SEAL Team that I like is that there is a focus on the effect that this line of work has on these characters and the people in their life. Boreanaz’ character Hayes is often shown in mandated therapy sessions, where his therapist delves into the trauma that he experiences on his missions. The Brave, on the other hand, seems to be focused almost exclusively on the weekly mission. There’s a chance that this will change in future episodes, but I haven’t seen future episodes.

SEAL Team is actually more interesting than I initially gave it credit for. I went in expecting it to just be a “generic military procedural”, but the writer’s willingness to explore PTSD gives me hope. The Brave, unfortunately, is the “generic military procedural” that I was expecting SEAL Team to be. Neither show is awful, and people who enjoy this sort of thing will probably find stuff to like in both, but for the sake of the Pilot Project, I’m only going to recommend one. Unless you’re a dad. These are both dad shows, so if you’re a dad, then by all means, watch them both. I know you’re going to anyways.

The Brave Recommendation: Skip It

SEAL Team Recommendation: Try It

Reputation

Drew Stew’s Definitive Ranking of Taylor Swift’s “Reputation”

Listen, I love Taylor Swift as much as the next guy, but sometimes she is just so irritating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater – I genuinely love pop music. I WANT Taylor Swift’s albums to be good, but after hearing the first single off Reputation, it was hard for me to remain optimistic. “Look What You Made Me Do” is legitimately awful; bad enough to make me, a guy who paid to see her in concert, not want to listen to Reputation. I was genuinely expecting a disaster of epic proportions. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded – the album is nowhere near as bad as “Look What You Made Me Do” would have you believe. It’s actually quite good in fact, but make no mistake – there are some duds on there. That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to provide this handy ranking for Reputation skeptics, starting with the worst song on the album and working on down to the best. Enjoy.

Reputation

  1. Look What You Made Me Do

It’s so awful. What was she thinking? I know that artists like to stretch themselves and try new things, which would be fine if the new thing didn’t sound like a bad cover of “I’m Too Sexy”. This song is what the next song is actually about.

  1. I Did Something Bad

Get it? The bad thing she did was write “Look What You Made Me Do”. Or maybe it’s autobiographical, because this song is also trash. I don’t like the lyrics, I don’t like the production, I don’t like Swift’s vocals. It’s actually a miracle that this isn’t the worst song on the album. Maybe if it had been released as the first single instead of “Look What You Made Me Do”, I’d hate it more. Hard to say.

  1. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I know that feuds have been a part of music for as long as music has existed, but I feel like there’s a proper way to address those things in your music – this is not that way. The three worst songs on Reputation all have something in common – they’re petty, and I can’t stand the pettiness. They’re filled with juvenile lyrics relating to Kanye, Kim, and probably Katy Perry as well. They’re whiney and overly produced. They’re filled with Swift’s signature “this is the part where the song stops and I make a snarky comment” thing. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” is the best of the three, but they’re all infuriating to listen to. Like, get over it. Focus on what you’re good at, which is… not whatever this is. These three songs are Reputation’s “Bad Blood”, except all 3 of them are worse than “Bad Blood”.

  1. …Ready For It?

I wouldn’t call this a good song, as a good 50% of it is pure garbage, but I actually think that the chorus is pretty catchy. It’s a shame it’s surrounded by this weird, thumping, electronic, beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on something like Yeezus. I don’t think it suits Swift, nor does it complement her voice, and it just ruins what would otherwise be a decent song. Still, as the album’s second single, it’s a step up over “Look What You Made Me Do”.

  1. Don’t Blame Me

I’ve heard this song described as Taylor Swift’s “Take Me To Church”, and now I can’t get that description out of my head. It sounds like something that would be featured in the trailer for “The Great Gatsby”. Don’t ask me where that came from. It doesn’t particularly sound like “Love Is Blindness”, but that’s what comes to mind when I listen to it. There’s nothing wrong with this song, per se, I just think it’s kind of… there. Whatever.

  1. End Game

I should hate this song. Everybody else seems to hate this song. I just… can’t. I actually like the “big reputation” part of the song. It’s different, but it works. It’s a better different than “Look What You Made Me Do”. I could take or leave Future’s verse, but I actually… think that… uh… the Ed Sheeran rapping… is… it’s uh… it’s alright? Like, I don’t hate it. I know I’m supposed to. But It’s… totally fine. I dunno, maybe my expectations are just screwed up because of some of the other songs featured in the first six tracks of Reputation.

  1. Gorgeous

I actually think these next nine songs, starting with “Gorgeous”, are all good. Each one of them could have been slotted into 1989, and that’s a good thing, considering the overall quality of Swift’s last album. This is what saves Reputation – five of the first six songs on the album are not great, but the back nine are strong enough to make up for it. “Gorgeous” is my least favorite of those back nine (not counting “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” of course), but it’s still pretty catchy and it gets even better if you subscribe to theory that the song was actually written about Karlie Kloss (more on that later).

  1. Call It What You Want

This song is pretty good. It’s a solid Taylor Swift song. I don’t really know what else to say about it. It’s good. Just good.

  1. King Of My Heart

I initially liked this song a lot more than this, but as I listened to more and more of the album, it’s gradually fell down the list. I still really like it. It’s my favorite of the more “dance-flavoured” songs on the album. Once again, if more of the album had been like this, I probably would have appreciated it. I just don’t think those grungy EDM beats fit Taylor’s vocals. This is as far as I’d want her to go. Does this make any sense? It’s probably telling that my favorite part of the song is when the acoustic guitar peeks through the electro-cloud.

  1. Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Okay, I take it back. THIS is my favorite of the more “dance-flavoured” song on the album. I honestly have no idea what I’m talking about. I keep saying “dance-flavoured” as if means anything. I’m not at all against electronic pop music, I just prefer it to be, you know, electronic pop music, and not “Taylor Swift attempts to rap over dubstep”. Whatever. This is a good song. Get off my back.

  1. So It Goes…

Love the chorus on this one. LOVE the chorus. It could arguably be higher, but I’ve got a soft spot for “Delicate” and “Dress”, and I’m unwilling to dethrone my top two tracks. But yeah, this is my jam. I love the production on this one.

  1. Delicate

I love this one. I’ve debated as to whether or not it’s better than “Dress”, but I don’t think it is. I don’t THINK. But I really like this side aspect of Taylor’s voice. It’s the lone bright spot in those first six album tracks.

  1. Dress

This song is very good. That falsetto chorus accompanying the synth is heavenly. And this song is TOTALLY about Karlie Kloss. There’s a contingent of Taylor Swift fans who profusely believe that Taylor is in love with Karlie, either consciously or subconsciously. There are two distinctly different ways to read the line “I don’t want you like a best friend, only bought this dress so you could take it off”. See, if you’re going to make coy songs about unnamed people, THIS is how you do it. Not the obvious Kanye references on “Look What You Made Me Do” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”. If you want people talking and theorizing, THIS is how you do it. It’s mysterious, sexy, and most importantly, not petty.

  1. Getaway Car

This song is almost the best. ALMOST. I actually think that the subject matter and lyrics are kind of laughable, but the song works. It’s totally goofy and silly, but this is Taylor Swift we’re talking about. This song is Reputation’s “Out of the Woods”, but better. I’m going to have this song stuck in my head for a long time.

  1. New Year’s Day

Initially, “Getaway Car” was my favorite song on the album, but “New Year’s Day” is just so damn good. It’s the most classic Taylor Swift song we’ve received in years. It’s not quite country and it’s not quite pop. It’s completely stripped down and softer than anything else on this album (or 1989), and I love it. It’s super cheesy, but that’s kind of Taylor Swift’s bread and butter. After this foray into a darker, more electronic sound, I’d be completely fine with an entire album of this. In fact, I’d be overjoyed.

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So there you have it. If I was going to put this album together, I’d scrap “Look What You Made Me Do”, “I Did Something Bad”, and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” entirely. Out with the petty. It would make for a more mature, balanced album, and it would also cut away some of the bloat. Then I’d structure it like this:

  1. …Ready For It?
  2. Getaway Car
  3. Gorgeous
  4. End Game
  5. Don’t Blame Me
  6. King Of My Heart
  7. Dancing With Our Hands Tied
  8. So It Goes…
  9. Call It What You Want
  10. Delicate
  11. Dress
  12. New Year’s Day

For the record, I have no idea how to put together an album. Whenever I make my own playlists, I tend to favour slotting similar songs together. I’d rather have an album take me on a sonic journey with smooth ups and downs than to bounce around between tonally incompatible songs. It’s why I hate Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars” so much – it has no place on a mellow, haunting album like Ghost Stories. It’s jarring. No more jars.

“…Ready For It?” is up first because I honestly can’t think of any other way to open the album. It’s probably the most questionable entry on this list, but honestly, none of the other songs sound right as an album opener. I don’t LOVE “…Ready For It?” but it serves a purpose. From there, I decided to keep things relatively upbeat and “dance-y”. With “Getaway Car”, I wanted to put one of the album’s best songs right up front, since the actual first third of Reputation is such a slog to get through. While I initially had “Gorgeous” showing up much later, I decided to bump it up since it’s too upbeat and cute for the latter half of the album. I ended this first third of the album with “End Game”, as it signals the end of the “fun” songs.

I envisioned my Reputation in thirds – upbeat and fun tunes, followed by darker ballads, and ending with the more stripped down, sensual songs on the album. “Don’t Blame Me”, which many have compared to “Take Me To Church” signals the beginning of the darker, more somber songs on the album. At this point you’re probably thinking that 1) I’ve put too much thought into this and 2) that the songs I’m picking don’t necessarily fit under the descriptions I’m using. “King Of My Heart”, for instance, isn’t necessarily a somber song. Honestly though, I just don’t pay enough attention to lyrics. More than anything else, I’m constructing this track listing around how the songs make ME feel. So “King Of My Heart”, “Dancing With Our Hands Tied”, and “So It Goes…” round out this third.

Finally, we reach the last four tracks. “Call It What You Want”, which is noticeably slower than the previous three songs, starts us off. From there we move onto “Delicate” and “Dress”, two songs which I think complement each other well. I think that “Dress” would actually make a good album closer, but that last song has to be “New Year’s Day”. Think of it as a coda. Maybe I’d even throw it in as a hidden track, so that both it and “Dress” can sort of serve as album closers. “New Year’s Day” actually doesn’t sound like anything else on the album and it feels kind of out of place, but it’s also the best song, so… it makes the most sense right at the end. If “Dress” is the denouement of our journey, “New Year’s Day” is the post-credits stinger.

Anyway, I just typed over two thousand words about an album I didn’t even think I’d like. How’d you spend your weekend?

1800

The Pilot Project ’17 – Me, Myself & I (CBS)

The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…

THE PILOT PROJECT (Fall 2017 Edition)

Me, Myself & I (Mondays on CBS)

Me Myself and I

One of the best things that I can say about Me, Myself & I is that it doesn’t feel at all like a CBS sitcom. CBS is known for 3 things – procedural dramas, reality shows, and traditional multi-camera sitcoms. They’re the home of The Big Bang Theory, Kevin Can Wait, Man with a Plan, 2 Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men, Mike & Molly, and King of Queens. Me, Myself & I is nothing like those. Like Young Sheldon, it’s a single-camera setup, and it’s the sort of high-concept sitcom you’d find on a network like NBC.

Me, Myself & I stars Bobby Moynihan, Jack Dylan Grazer, and John Larroquette all play inventor Alex Riley. Grazer plays young Alex Riley in 1991, whose mother movies him from Chicago to LA to live with his new stepfather and stepbrother. Bobby Moynihan plays middle-aged Alex Riley in 2017, who lives in his best friend’s garage with his daughter after catching his wife having an affair. John Larroquette plays old Alex Riley in 2042, after he’s just retired from his position as the head of his own company. Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. It’s not that confusing in the actual show, I promise. It’s a fun premise and I enjoyed seeing the little things that echoed across the three different time periods.

It would have been a problem if I wasn’t genuinely interested in what was happening in the three different stages of Alex Riley’s life, but thankfully that’s not the case. I enjoy all 3 actors immensely. Grazer was one of the best parts of It, I’ve always enjoyed Moynihan on SNL, and Larroquette is always dependable. Also, Jaleel White plays middle-aged Alex’s best friend! If the answer to “Did I do that?” is “You made me keep watching Me, Myself & I”, then yes Steve Urkel, you DID do that. Well, that was a bit of a stretch.

I have no idea how sustainable this premise is – as fun and unique as it is at the moment, there’s always the issue that you basically know the outcome to two of the three stories. You know that middle-aged Alex will never have any real success with women, since older Alex is still single. Hopefully they can come up with creative ways to keep the viewer on the toes. Apart from that, I can’t think of much that I disliked about it. It wasn’t all that funny, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think most sitcoms are all that funny; they’re more like television comfort food – they don’t require much of a commitment and they’re pleasant and easy to watch.

It’s my hope that one day, when you tell me that you watched Me, Myself & I, I’ll be able to reply with a hearty “Did I do that???” (I’m going to keep experimenting with this joke until I find a version that lands).

Recommendation: Watch It

The Pilot Project ’17 – Young Sheldon (CBS)

The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…

THE PILOT PROJECT (Fall 2017 Edition)

Young Sheldon (Thursdays on CBS)

Young Sheldon

I hate The Big Bang Theory. I absolutely abhor it. I hate most of what Chuck Lorre creates, but I have a special hate for The Big Bang Theory, I think in part because of how much everyone else seems to like it. I don’t think it’s funny. I don’t think it’s clever. As a self-professed geek and lover of television, I find it downright insulting. And most of all, I hate Sheldon.

So here’s the thing about Young Sheldon – it’s actually not bad.

Young Sheldon is not at all what you would expect from a prequel to The Big Bang Theory. First off, it’s not a multi-cam sitcom like its parent; it’s not shot in front of a live studio audience on a soundstage, and there’s no infuriating laugh track. Whereas The Big Bang Theory seems to both celebrate and vilify the idea of “nerds” in equal measure, Young Sheldon is more about what it’s like to grow up different, surrounded by people who don’t understand you. It’s a common sitcom trope, but that speaks as much to its effectiveness as anything else. Many family sitcoms have used utilized this idea well, such as The Goldbergs, Fresh off the Boat, and Speechless, just to name a few currently airing examples. What makes Young Sheldon different is that, well, it’s a spin-off of The Big Bang Theory, and frankly, I think that hurts it.

I’m not sure how much of an overlap there will be between people who like The Big Bang Theory and people who would like Young Sheldon. The shows are very different, not just in style, but also in humor. The Big Bang Theory goes for cheap laughs whenever it can, whereas Young Sheldon doesn’t even feature that many jokes. It’s as much a family drama as it is a comedy. The writers have replaced punchlines with amusing observances. These characters aren’t so much telling jokes as they are just relaying their experiences. It’s impressively subdued for a show called Young Sheldon. My concern is that the people who would actually appreciate this show are going to be driven away by the fact that it’s associated with the more over-the-top, abrasive Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Every time I felt myself being drawn into the show, Jim Parsons’ voiceover would come on and I’d immediately be reminded of what this show has been marketed as.

It’s too bad, because Iain Armitage is great as a young Sheldon Cooper, as are Zoe Perry and Lance Barber as his parents. The real standout to me, however, was Raegan Revord as Sheldon’s twin sister Missy. She delivered all the best lines in the episode and got the most semi-amused smirks from me (I rarely actually laugh out loud at television – sitcoms make me smile, more than anything else), and she’s probably the reason I’ll check out episode two.

If you’re looking for something that is not at all like The Big Bang Theory, or you’re looking for a nice, comforting, surprisingly poignant family sitcom, then maybe give Young Sheldon a try.

Bazinga?

Recommendation: Try It

The Pilot Project ’17 – Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)

The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…

THE PILOT PROJECT (Fall 2017 Edition)

Star Trek: Discovery (Sundays on CBS All Access)

Star Trek Discovery.jpg

Online streaming: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Discovery. Its five-year mission: to keep CBS All-Access afloat, to help CBS compete with Netflix, and to meekly get cancelled once CBS abandons CBS All-Access.

Much has been made about the fact that Star Trek: Discovery is being created exclusively for CBS’ All Access streaming platform, but I live in Canada, and I can watch it every Sunday on Space, so that doesn’t affect me at all! I do think that ultimately, airing on a streaming service will hurt the show. I think CBS’ is overestimating how much people are willing to pay to watch a single show week-to-week when there are easier, free alternatives. But what do I know? Not much.

Usually when I’m working on the Pilot Project, I try not to watch past the pilot episode of each show before writing about them. The whole point of this project is to judge each show based solely on its pilot. I’ll make an exception when a pilot is specifically branded as a two-parter, but Star Trek: Discovery’s pilot was not. At least, that was my understanding. It appears I may have been wrong. The reason for this is that over the course of the first episode of the show, you never even see the USS Discovery. It’s never even mentioned. You don’t meet its captain or its crew. So I can’t tell you how any of that stuff plays out, or how Jason Isaacs or Rainn Wilson are, because I haven’t see them yet. Could I stop writing this review right now and watch the second episode? Yes. Am I going to? Probably not. This is the kind of quality coverage you can expect from the Pilot Project!

Speaking of quality, I watched the pilot for Star Trek: Discovery immediately after watching the pilot for The Orville, so all I could think while watching it is how much better it looked than Seth MacFarlane’s show. The sets, the costumes, the makeup, the effects – everything is just top notch. An argument can certainly be made that aspects of The Orville are intentionally made to look cheesy, but the point still stands – Discovery is a good looking show (as well it should be, considering that each episode costs between $5-8 million, making it one of the most expensive shows currently being produced).

Apart from looking great, Star Trek: Discovery also carries the weight of being the first Star Trek series to air in 12 years, and that makes it something of an event. I obviously can’t speak to what I haven’t seen, but I was encouraged by the episode that I did watch. It feels like Star Trek, which is probably all anyone could ask for. This first season is going to cover the events of the war between the Klingons and the Galactic Federation, which feels a bit more serialized to me than Star Trek has been in the past (full disclosure – I am not a Star Trek superfan, so this statement could be false, but when I think of Star Trek, I tend to remember self-contained episodes). I’m a fan of serialization, and these seem to be the seeds that were planted by Bryan Fuller before he left the show, so I’m excited to see what comes next (although I’m still disappointed that we’ll never get to see Fuller’s Star Trek anthology series that covers different time periods every season).

Another big change is that for the first time, the series’ lead isn’t a captain of a starship. Sonequa Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham, a first officer, which lends the series a bit of a different perspective than what we’re traditionally used to. It’s an interesting change, and I’m excited to see how the show explores the different dynamics among Starfleet employees.

Have you zoned out yet? Listen, if you’re not already sold on Star Trek, Discovery probably isn’t going to do much to change your mind, but if you’re itching for some good sci-fi action, then I’d encourage you to boldly go ahead and watch this show. Do you… see what I did there?

Recommendation: Watch It