The Conversation Continues…

A year. A lot can change in a year.

A year ago, for Bell Let’s Talk Day, I told my story. It was long, rambling, discombobulated, and inconclusive – in other words, it was an accurate representation of my life. I don’t know if it actually helped anyone, but at the very least it allowed me to express things that I had been feeling and dealing with for a very long time. More than that, however, it managed to change the course of my life and set me down the path I’m on today. As to whether or not that’s a good thing, well… the jury’s still out. On my mental health journey, it seems that every “answer” is accompanied by a load of new questions. I’ll warn you right up front – this year’s entry doesn’t have any more of a conclusion than last year’s. A lot can change in a year, but as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.


The piece I wrote last year was met with overwhelmingly positive response and I was pleased to find that it struck a chord with some who read it. Afterward, a number of people reached out to me, and in typical Andrew fashion, I read what they had to say and then never replied (this is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for me). If you were one of those people, I’m sorry. Know that I appreciated what you had to say and that it was never my intention to ignore you. It’s just something I do now. To everybody.

And now, before we continue, a short detour, because I want you to have an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works – it is currently 2:42 AM. I have typed roughly 250 words and I started this piece over an hour ago. I’m having trouble focusing, and when I do focus, I can feel my perfectionism creeping in. I have to pause after typing out every single sentence to go back over what I just typed in order to add or remove words in order to help elucidate my thoughts. I literally just did it. I just added the word “just” into “what I just typed”. I’m now currently reading back over this entire paragraph. I just changed “because this is an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works” to “because I want you have an accurate representation of how my screwed up mind works”. I am not making this up. This is what it’s like for me to write things. It is driving me crazy, but I’m determined to get this written. If you notice any instances of odd pacing or sentence structure from here on out, know that it’s because I’m actively fighting my instincts to get this piece finished so that I can go to sleep. I have now read over this paragraph four times. I am not fucking kidding. But I digress…

A short while after writing the piece, I was contacted by my uncle, who happens to be a psychologist. He wanted to take me out to dinner for my birthday. My parents told me that they had forwarded him my story, so I was aware that it would most likely be a conversation topic at dinner. What I didn’t expect was for him to ask me whether or not I had ever considered that maybe my depression stemmed from other underlying issues – namely, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Of course I had never considered that, because ADHD is that thing that every kid I went to school with was over-diagnosed with, right? Kid won’t stop talking in class, so you pump him full of Ritalin, right? It seems like I was woefully misinformed on the topic. ADHD is most commonly associated with children, but it’s also present in many adults. It’s often first diagnosed when a child is struggling in school, but I had never really struggled in school, so why would my parents have suspected anything? I mean, sure, I was a hyperactive kid who never shut up, particularly when I was supposed to be listening in class, but schoolwork was never a problem, at least not in any way that affected my grades. And yet all throughout my life, the thing I heard over and over again was, “If you just applied yourself, think of what you could do”. Because here’s the thing – sometimes, symptoms of ADHD can be masked by intelligence. This may seem like a humble brag, but trust me, it’s not. My entire life, throughout all of grade school and university, I was able to get by by doing, well, the least amount possible. Because it’s true – I WASN’T applying myself. And I never really understood what that meant. I always had a hard time studying and getting my work done, but the stuff I WAS able to do was always good enough. Which means that yeah, I’m smart. It also means that in my entire life, I have most likely never lived up to my potential. Nothing I have ever done has been as good as it COULD have been. And I think that a part of me knew this, and I think that part of me attributed it to a lack of effort on my part. And don’t you think that you might get depressed and develop crippling anxiety and self-esteem issues if, deep down, there was a part of you that thought that you had never truly tried and succeeded at anything? Every failure in your life, every bad grade, every bad job, every lost friend – it was always because you didn’t “apply yourself”, because you didn’t try hard enough. Unmet potential. Lack of fulfillment. Inability to complete tasks to the best of your abilities. It all seemed like a surefire recipe for depression to me.

As my uncle and I continued to talk, and I learned about more of the symptoms of ADHD, I saw myself in them. There were so many things that I had just accepted as part of myself – fidgeting, restlessness, lack of focus, short attention span, difficulty making decisions, difficulty starting things, difficulty finishing things, difficulty controlling emotions, wandering thoughts, divergent conversations, forgetfulness, poor time management, poor money management, excessive talking, constant interruptions, chronic procrastination – the list goes on and on. And ADHD often presents alongside depression or anxiety. It fit. After years of wondering what was wrong with me (and, frankly, hoping there WAS something wrong with me), it seemed like I had unlocked another piece of the puzzle. My uncle told me that ADHD ran in his side of the family and that he had always suspected that I had it. When he brought it up to my parents, their response was basically, “You know, now that you mention it…” I must confess, it felt good to once again feel like I had an answer, but I was wary of getting my hopes up, because every other time I felt like I finally had my answer, I ended up more lost than when I began. At the time, I couldn’t have predicted how right I’d be. This was just the first step in a long, frustration journey.

About a month later, in April, I had made plans to return to Calgary for Easter. I wanted to stay for a while to enjoy the Calgary Flames in the playoffs (lol, R.I.P.), and my parents made an appointment for me to see a doctor that had been recommended to them. The appointment, of course, wasn’t until the end of the month. I don’t know why I thought that any part of this would be simple or easy. Even after all I had been through, I was naive. I thought I’d go into the doctor, he’d confirm that I had ADHD, he’d give me some meds, and I’d be on my way, back to Langley in May to continue my burgeoning career in standing in the corner of a TV set pretending to do something while a C-tier actor solved a crime (for the record, I absolutely loved working as a background actor and would encourage anyone else to do it). I would end up never returning to BC, apart from a brief trip over the Canada Day weekend to pack up my belongings.

My first appointment with my doctor was a letdown, because it was my first indication that things weren’t going to move as quickly and definitively as I was hoping (Once again, I have no idea why I thought that this was something that could be handled quickly and easily. That is not the way anything involving mental health ever works. Sorry.). I explained my situation to the doctor and before doing anything else, he wanted me to get blood tests done. Which I did. I filled out questionnaires and forms pertaining to ADHD, anxiety, and depression. I was tentatively diagnosed with ADHD and mild-moderate anxiety and depression (apparently an official ADHD diagnosis is a long, difficult, expensive process), and I was eventually put on the lowest dosage of Concerta. Eventually, the dosage was bumped up. Eventually it was bumped up again. And again. And again. I attempted to make lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, drinking more water, eating better, and sleeping better. I even bought a FitBit. Some areas improved. Others stayed the same. I started seeing a free counselor at my doctor’s clinic. Throughout all of this, I had never once felt any different from the Concerta, and it was my understanding that when ADHD meds kick in, they KICK IN. At one point my doctor and counselor decided to shift to treating my depression rather than my ADHD (which may or may not have been real, since I had never received an official diagnosis from a clinical psychiatrist). It seemed to me that the theory was that maybe I merely had symptoms resembling ADHD that stemmed from my depression and anxiety. My doctor started me on Escitalopram, in conjunction with the Concerta (of which I was now taking what I was told was the maximum dose). Days passed. Weeks passed. MONTHS PASSED. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

By June, it was evident that this was something that was not going to have a quick or easy fix. It was decided that it would be best if I moved home for the duration of this process (my things had been sitting untouched in my room in Langley for almost 3 months by this point). So off to Langley we went. Drove up Friday, packed up Saturday, drove back Sunday. It was a shitty weekend (To all of my friends in BC that I haven’t spoken to in 7 months, I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye to you. I hope you’re doing well. Love, Andrew). Upon returning home to Calgary, I continued to take my medication, and drink my water, and walk, and sleep, and eat. And yet, a funny thing happens when you do a bunch of stuff and see literally no results – you stop doing them. I didn’t have much money. My EI ran out in May and I used up my final cheques from background jobs. I was regularly paying for high doses of medication that wasn’t doing anything. I was going longer and longer between visits to my doctor. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement. I had basically given up my whole life to pursue this treatment. I left friends and work behind to get “better”, and what did I have to show for it. I eventually discovered that if I missed taking my medication, it didn’t affect me at all. So I stopped. Cold turkey.

I returned to the doctor a week or two later. I told him that I stopped taking my meds. He told me he didn’t want to prescribe me anything further until they had a better grasp on what was actually wrong with me. They put in a request for me to see a psychiatrist for an official diagnosis and encouraged me to continue seeking counseling. I did. For one session. On a good day, motivation is… hard to come by for me. When nothing is working, motivation is… well, it’s non-existent. It was now August, and here was, living at home, broke, unemployed, and no closer to finding a solution to any of my problems. If I’m starting to sound like a broken record, imagine what it feels like to BE that broken record. I think by this point, I had even begun to doubt that I had ADHD. Once again, it felt like I was simply looking for an excuse to explain my own personal inadequacies. And then I ran out of money.

There’s this thing called car insurance. How it works is that I don’t know how it works I’m not an adult all I know is you can’t drive without it and one day my payment didn’t come out of my account because there was no money in my account and now I had to borrow money from my parents so that I could drive again. I needed money and I needed it fast. So guess what happened? Can you guess? I called my old Starbucks and asked if they needed help. I had officially hit my version of rock bottom. After graduating from high school, I had worked for a Safeway Starbucks, quit, worked for a real Starbucks, quit, worked for another Starbucks, quit, worked for a third Starbucks, transferred to a fourth Starbucks, and then quit that one. Now here I was, asking for my old job back, the same job that I had quit on THREE. SEPERATE. OCCASIONS! 30 years old, with a diploma, living with my parents, working at Starbucks for a fourth time. It was the most depressed I had been in quite a while. For the record, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with working for Starbucks, just that I felt like there was something wrong with ME working for Starbucks, again, at this point in my life. It was humiliating and frustrating and seemed symbolic of so much in my life. Starbucks, to me, had come to represent failure. Failure as a university graduate. Failure as a part of the work force. Failure as a person. If you work at Starbucks and you’re reading this, this is not a judgment on you. It was a judgment on myself. And it sucked.

The days were long and boring, yet somehow stressful. If you’ve ever worked at Starbucks, you know that there’s always drama, and my Starbucks was no exception. We were in the midst of a change in management, and things were not transitioning smoothly. Furthermore, I found that in light of my newfound knowledge, working at Starbucks this time seemed to make glaringly obvious the ways in which my ADHD inhibited me. I was slower than everyone else. I found myself jumping from task to task while leaving each one in an unfinished state. I would hyperfocus on certain things, unable to let them go. I was constantly double-checking things, unable to trust my own memory, or my counting. None of this was new. This was how I always was as a barista previously, it’s just that this time, I felt like there might be a reason why.

It was around this time that I started seeing a psychologist, at the urging of my parents, in an attempt to get at some of the root causes of my issues. I also returned to my doctor, to check back in on things. I was told that the psychiatrist I had been referred to had declined to work with me until I had what they considered a “normal sleep schedule”. Unfortunately for them (and me), I was now working at Starbucks again, which meant that I would never again have a “normal” sleep schedule for as long as I live (it is currently 5:04 AM). At the urging of my psychologist (who DID believe that I had ADHD), however, I talked to my doctor about getting put on some new meds and I was prescribed Adderall. At first, I didn’t notice anything. Then one day, I took 30mg, and… something? Maybe? If I had to explain it, it was like… I had a good day. It wasn’t the mind-blowing experience that some people have on Adderall or other stimulants. It wasn’t definitive or drastic. It was subtle, but it was there. It was like I was finally able to get through the day without too much hassle. Up until this point, every single day I had ever worked at Starbucks, the time flowed like molasses. I used to struggle to make it through 5-hour shifts. Every second seemed to ddddrrrrrraaaaaagggggggg oooooonnnnnnn fooooooorrrrrreeeeevvvveeerrrrrrrrrrrr. For the first time, I understood what someone meant when they said “this day has gone by quickly”. Is this what everyone else felt when they worked a shift at Starbucks? Is this what people were talking about when they said things like “the busier it gets, the faster the day goes by”? Because I had never in my life found that to be true. It wasn’t necessarily the result I was hoping for out of the medication, but it was enough. I was encouraged.

Unfortunately, it never really got better than that. Since then, my dosage has been increased twice and I haven’t really noticed any other effects. To be truthful, I was hoping for a lot more, but as literally everyone has reminded me, the point of the medication isn’t to give me super powers (although I’m so jealous of the people who get them), it’s to level the playing field so that I’m at the same place as everyone else. So maybe this is all I can expect from any medication. I still find myself struggling with many things on a day-to-day basis, it’s just that now the day is a bit easier to get through. At least, they were.

In December, after a combined four years of experience as a barista, I finally made the jump to shift supervisor. Higher pay, more responsibility, and a boost to my resume. I figured it was about time. I figured that it would be a fairly easy transition. I could not have been more wrong. I have worked 22 shifts as a supervisor, and every single one of them has been a struggle. I find myself hyperfocusing on tasks I don’t need to do, while forgetting about tasks I do. From the start of my shift to the end, I’m constantly juggling multiple different tasks and responsibilities, and I’ll often have difficulty prioritizing which ones are most important and need to get done first. I find myself getting overwhelmed on a daily basis. My perfectionism kicks in and I’m unable to let go of a task until it’s done to my standards, and I have difficulty delegating tasks for fear (or certainty) that they won’t be done to my standards. I have this innate need for things to be counted properly and for all the numbers to “match up”. I’ve been known to recount entire tills because they were 5 cents over or under. I frequently find myself counting and recounting inventory, because I don’t trust myself to do it right the first time. I’m overly precise when sorting through our weekly tips, to the point where I find myself unable to proceed if my calculations aren’t exact enough. I find it difficult to move on with my shift if the freezer isn’t organized in an efficient and logical way. All of that stuff is bad, but worst of all are my time management abilities. I’ve seen it described as “time blindness” – “According to the experts, people with ADHD are fundamentally bad at understanding the passage of time. They easily lose track of time, underestimate how long stuff will take, or try to do just one more thing before they get out of the door. They call this ‘time blindness,’ and it can also be due to problems with willpower.” (Buzzfeed, of all places, has a really good, if simple, article on what living with ADHD is like). I’m constantly finding myself showing up to work a few minutes late because I lose track of time when I’m in the shower, or I underestimate how long it’ll take me to drive to work. Even when I draw up a plan for my shift, I find myself running behind on my tasks and sending people for breaks late (if I remember to send them at all). I frequently find myself starting tasks that I don’t have time to complete, thinking that they won’t take me as long as they obviously will. I have never finished a closing shift on time, some nights staying as late as 70 minutes after close. I was always slow as a barista. I’m even slower as a shift supervisor. It is incredibly frustrating and stressful, and I feel like I come close to panicking every single day. And the reason I don’t talk about it is because I’m embarrassed and ashamed. I feel like I’m making excuses. “It’s not me, it’s the ADHD. I swear!” But honestly, at times, it really feels that way. It’s like I have this compulsion that I have no control over. Which brings me to…

The fact that some of the things that I just described in the above paragraph aren’t necessarily symptoms of ADHD. More and more, I’m realizing that I have obsessive compulsive tendencies. I always have, but I attributed them to “I’m just particular”. And yet there I am, counting tills out by hand because I know that our cash counter isn’t calibrated properly and I can’t stand the fact that our tills might not actually be balanced properly. That’s not a common behavior for someone with ADHD. It IS a common behavior for someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (which is separate from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Symptoms of OCPD include an excessive need for perfectionism and control, preoccupation with details and lists, excessive devotion to work, an inability to get rid of items without value, difficulty making decisions for fear of making the wrong one, inability to delegate because another might perform a task incorrectly, and a belief that one’s way of doing things is the only correct way. SOUND FAMILIAR?! But wait, it gets better. I also exhibit some minor OCD symptoms, including almost every single Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior that they have a name for. For those unfamiliar, BFRB’s are impulse control behaviors that involve compulsively damaging one’s own body and appearance. Dermatillomania (skin picking)? Check. Dermatophagia (skin nibbling)? Check. Morsicatio labiorum (inner lip biting)? Check. Onychophagia (nail biting)? Check. Onychotillomania (nail picking)? Check. Trichotillomania (hair pulling)? Check. Not enough for you? Here’s the kicker – all of those BFRB’s are also linked to ADHD, and OCPD and OCD are often misdiagnosed as ADHD, and while I have way more OCPD symptoms than I do OCD ones, one of the major things separating OCPD from OCD is the fact that people with OCPD often don’t see anything wrong with their behaviors, whereas people with OCD are fully aware that their obsessive compulsions don’t make sense! Furthermore, stimulants meant to help with ADHD can actually exacerbate symptoms of OCD and OCPD, and while there are studies saying that all these disorders are linked, there are also studies saying that they’re more different than we realize, and here I am, presenting with possibly one, two, or maybe some degree of all three of them! Or maybe none of them! I don’t know! Nobody knows! Aren’t mental health disorders fun?!!?!?!

Sorry. That last paragraph kind of went off the rails. It’s 6:24 AM and I’m starting to ramble. Maybe I’m being too open and honest here and I’ll regret all of this when I wake up later today. Here’s my point:

A year ago, I was a slightly depressed, overly anxious 29-year old living in a condo in Langley, BC, working (sporadically) as a background actor. Today, I’m a 30-year old shift supervisor at Starbucks, living in my parent’s house in Calgary, AB, struggling with ADHD and all manner of obsessive compulsive tics and tendencies. My living situation has changed drastically, yet it doesn’t really feel like anything else has. I may be farther along than I was before, but all of the problems I had a year ago still exist – I’m just now more aware of the ways in which they manifest themselves, or at least I think I am. All of the weird habits and impulses I’ve had my entire life simply have new names now, which I suppose is progress, in a sense. But am I any closer to having definitive answers? Am I any closer to a solution? Will I ever feel “normal”? Will I ever feel properly equipped to succeed in life? Will I ever even feel properly equipped just to get by in life? I honestly don’t know. In the last 6 years, I’ve seen 3 doctors, spoken to 5 mental health professionals, and taken 4 medications, and I feel like I’m still no closer to any sort of definitive answer as to what’s wrong with me (if anything). I have been told that I have depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and I’ve also been told that I don’t have those things. I have exhibited symptoms of all 3 and I think there is a good case to be made for at least an OCPD diagnosis, if not an OCD diagnosis. There is nothing fast or easy about any of this. It is a daily, life-long struggle and I have no idea when, or if, I will ever have any of this under control. As I sit here, right now, writing this, I can feel myself losing hope. The lack of answers, the dead ends, the constant circular motion that this journey seems to take… it’s exhausting and frustrating and most days, I just don’t want to think about it or deal with it. I’m tired. I am exhausted. And it feels like it will never end. Much like this blog post.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “No. There’s absolutely no way this is how he ends it. Where is the HOPE?! Where’s the INSPIRATION!? It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day for crying out loud!” Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is all I have to give. Truth. Honesty. I’m sure for some, Bell Let’s Talk Day is about hope and inspiration, but for me, it’s about stigma. It’s about all of these things that we, as a society, feel we can’t talk about. It’s about all of these things that are left unsaid or unexplored, due to fear or shame. I’ll admit it – I’m ashamed of ALL of this, but maybe by sharing, someone will see something in here that they recognize, and it’ll encourage them to talk to someone about it, and maybe in a hundred years, enough people will have shared and talked about mental health enough to fully eliminate the stigma. I don’t know. But one can hope. There. THERE’S YOUR HOPE! Enjoy it. It’s all you’re getting from me tonight. I’m going to sleep.


P.S. And if you want to talk to me, you can. Text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – my DM’s are open. I promise that I’ll try to do a better job of responding this time.  

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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?

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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