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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Random Thoughts

A couple of days ago, I saw a movie that was so bad it will show up right behind "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" on my Worst Of 2015 list. I can't tell you what it is yet because of an embargo, but when it opens, I'll post a full review here.

I've been invited to a screening of "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" tomorrow night, but after seeing Alex Gibney's Scientology documentary "Going Clear" on HBO earlier this year, I just can't look at Tom Cruise on screen the same way. Sure, I've known for a long time he's a Scientologist, but the documentary showed an evil side of Cruise that I can't get out of my mind. I wonder if enough other people share my view of him to impact the movie's box office reception.

I've given up on Jim Gaffigan's sitcom after two episodes. I like Gaffigan, and have seen him perform several times, but his TV Land show makes one fatal error. The premise starts with Gaffigan following the lead of Jerry Seinfeld and Louis CK in playing a version of himself as a standup comedian. Like real-life Gaffigan, the TV version has a wife named Jeannie and five small children, all living in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. The problem is that the plots pit Jim against Jeannie. She wants him to do something, he doesn't want to do it, he tries to figure a way to weasel out of it, he ends up lying to her, she catches him, he looks silly, etc. etc. etc.

We've seen umpteen versions of this marriage dynamic on sitcoms, from "I Love Lucy" to "Everybody Loves Raymond" to "King Of Queens." But instead of making the husband the protagonist and the wife the antagonist, it would have been so much better if Jim and Jeannie were always on the same side, fighting against the absurdities of the rest of the world. Don't make the supporting characters pick sides, let them be the other side and allow Jim and Jeannie to make fun of (and plot against) them. That would have been different. But the version they have on the air now offers nothing new.

I just finished reading Judd Apatow's book, "Sick In The Head," a compilation of interviews he's done with comedians dating back to 1983, when he was a teenager carrying around a bulky cassette recorder and convincing Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and others that he was doing a show for his high school radio station (WKWZ/Syosset, which still exists). He asked them a lot of good questions about how they got started, how they wrote jokes, and how they made a living. This was at a time when comedians weren't often offered the opportunity to talk about their craft, so even when a 15-year-old kid showed up at their door, they were willing to sit down and open up.

Also included are more recent conversations Apatow has had with Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Roseanne, Harold Ramis, Louis CK, Chris Rock, Jeff Garlin, and Garry Shandling. Many of them veer from talk of comedy to very personal subjects, but it's the professional insights that I found most fascinating. My only complaint is that Apatow left in his repeated explanations of how the project began -- imagine reading the previous paragraph over and over. It's the sort of thing that a good editor should have taken out, but we know from the length of Apatow's movies (which regularly run past the two hour mark) that cutting is not his strength. Still, I enjoyed his book.

Sorry to see "Key and Peele" coming to an end. The episodes that are airing this summer on Comedy Central were actually finished last fall, but there was no announcement that this would be their last season until this week. Not only has the show been funny and tackled issues that no other sketch comedy series has, it also had the best hair and makeup effects I've ever seen on a comedy show. Those guys must spend half their day with someone working on their heads. The final episode will air in September. Can't wait to see what they do next.