Monday, August 31, 2020

What does a 14-year-old autistic kid think of the new Phineas and Ferb movie?

Coinciding with the end of summer vacation, Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe was released on Disney+. (But really, with the quarantine, summer vacation was waaaaay more than 104 days!) I watched this awesome little film with my family, and we really enjoyed it. It had all the requisite Phineas and Ferb staples: amazingly funny songs, breaking the fourth wall, creative use of catchphrases, non sequiturs that make sense in the end. Yes, Perry kicks some serious butt and is the unsung hero of the show. (Though now that he has a song about being an unsung hero, is he still an unsung hero?) And yes, Doofenshmirtz has the best lines of all the characters and steals the show in every scene he's in. If you like Phineas and Ferb, you'll like this movie. And if you don't like Phineas and Ferb, what are you doing reading this article? And if you don't know what Phineas and Ferb is, go check it out, I'll wait.

But as I was making some notes about this show, I was listening to my 14-year-old making comments in the peanut gallery. This is a kid who used to watch Phineas and Ferb when they were younger, and loved it. Jamie is autistic and enjoys the show's creative use of repetition and some of the goofy, crazy things that happen in the series. And of course they love Doofenshmirtz because the Doof transcends neurodevelopmental disorders! So I decided to write down what this amazing 14-year-old kid was saying. Here are Jamie's comments, with absolutely no context. Enjoy.

"Oh, she's going to need some serious therapy after this.”

"Man, her phone must have some seriously high resolution.”

"The flossing dance? Ack. Not cool, Disney. Not cool."

"Bwa ha ha ha! I was NOT expecting them to just randomly interrupt their own song! That's perfect."

"What?! They had to create a specific sound effect just for that scene. That's crazy!"

"How long is this bit going to go on for? IT'S AWESOME!"

"They just need to kill that chicken."

"Of COURSE his axe-inator has a self destruct button."

"Well if that wasn't the definition of nonchalant, I don't know what was."

"Holy cow, why did he just have that in his pocket?!"

"Okay, this is going to be a not funny thing where she makes a big speech, but her big speech doesn't work. Classic."

"Dad, imagine there was just a chicken somewhere else."

"That list was kind of silly ... but I really relate to that last one."

I'm raising the quirkiest movie critic ever. Welcome to my world, people. I love it.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Love on the Spectrum

I have a child who is autistic. (And yes, I purposely didn't use "people-first language" because my kid doesn't want me to. They're proud to be called "autistic".) I teach sixth grade and have probably taught hundreds of kids with autism over the years, and probably many more who haven't yet been identified. Autism is close to my heart (I previously wrote reviews for Loop and Float, two Pixar shorts themed around autism). So it's no wonder that when Netflix released Love on the Spectrum, several friends suggested I watch it. Don't worry, I was already on it!

Love on the Spectrum
 sits boldly somewhere between a documentary and a reality show. It bounces between cast interviews, and following the cast as they interact with their families, as they get coaching advice from a dating expert, and as they go out on actual dates. At times the show can be heartwarming, lovely, and endearing. Other times, Love on the Spectrum can be cringy, maddening, and frustrating. What it is NOT is vapid. It's not exploitative. It's not just another reality series that tries to make light of its subjects. No. This show treats its subjects with dignity and respect. It's never condescending, never preachy. It works hard to present its people -- and their struggles -- in as real a light as possible. So the end result might have you cheering, hoping, praying, and celebrating. The end result might also simultaneously have you getting awkwardly angry, fidgeting and cringing in your seat, and even cursing at your screen. It's a beautiful mess. But isn't that what life is?

You'll fall in love with Michael, which is fitting since his main goal in life is find love. Michael will be an excellent husband, will treat his wife like a queen, and will debunk his proclamation that "a lot of people our age are not interested in commitment -- they are only interested in intercourse." Michael's interactions with his parents is a highlight of the show. These two people have instilled such an inspiring confidence and sense of love in Michael that it's infectious. Michael is easily a favorite, and you will root for him to find somebody. I mean, is Dawn Wells available? They seemed to hit it off! 

You'll also meet Olivia, the woman who belches without shame and collects tons of cat toys, all named Duchess. There's Andrew, who does the most unique James Bond impression, and will teach you his multistep process for making his favorite drink. You'll watch Kelvin receive dating practice from Jodi, the coach who is just as helpful as she is wonderful. I want Kelvin to be successful and to find somebody. Kelvin's dating practice was enlightening, and I walked away with some socializing tips! And then there's Ruth and Thomas, who are so adorkably cute and awkward and in love and perfect for each other. Keep an eye out for Ruth's amazing business card collection. Chloe is down to earth about finding her own path for love. Maddi is extroverted and has a really hard time hiding her boredom, but she also rocks a Batman outfit! You'll be impressed by Mark's paleontological knowledge, and you'll find yourself wanting and wishing and hoping he finds the right person. 

And then there's Sharnae and Jimmy. It's endearing to watch Jimmy correct Sharnae when she makes mistakes, because it's not from a place of putting her down, but from a place of making sure she feels empowered and just pure love for Sharnae. Watch Jimmy in the the fifth episode (and the Season One finale) as he struggles with having the right socks to match his outfit, and how he uses breathing techniques and a Rubik's cube to cope with his stress. At first I thought it was a quirk from his autism. But as I kept watching, I realized that he was under possibly the most stressful situation of his life, one I can relate to empathically and directly. Bring some tissues for that episode. You'll thank me later.

My only gripe about Love on the Spectrum is that they only depict autistic people dating other autistic people. True, some of the people spotlighted on the show prefer dating people who are also on the spectrum. But many don't. And unfortunately, only showing dates with people who are not neurotypical has the undesired effect of saying "These people are different and separate from the world." But whatever dating preferences these people have, the Love on the Spectrum shows each person as an individual, a unique creation with strengths and weaknesses. It's inspiring to see people face the complex world of dating and socializing, and how to navigate the tricky waters of nonverbal cues and making small talk. Love on the Spectrum is engaging, fun, disheartening, enlightening, vexing, satisfying, moving, funny, aggravating, and stimulating, all at once.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Community Workout

Human Beings! It's time for another year at Greendale Community College! Or whatever school you go to.

Community hit Netflix in April and now people are beginning to appreciate the show that I've loved for years. I'm in desperate need of another re-watch. But in the meantime, I wanted to share another workout for it. Rules are the same as before, Greendale Human Beings. Turn on an episode and follow the workout plan. Special thanks to one of our previous bloggers T.J. for helping me put this together during his full watch-through of the show. (PS Check out his post about character development in the show)

Disclaimer: While I am a licensed physical therapy provider, I am not a personal trainer or a medical practitioner. Partner as necessary with your doctor prior to engaging in any diet or excise programs. If any of these exercises cause increased pain, stop the exercise immediately.
    ***Exercises updated January 2024 to account for what I've learned practicing physical therapy. This workout is intended to work without any equipment, but feel free to add small dumbbells or bands as you're safely able.

    Monday, August 24, 2020

    Highlights from the DC Fandome!

    With LA Comic Con, E3, Salt Lake FanX and D23 all being cancelled for the year, it was a delight to find DC Comics was going to put on an online event for fans to hear what the company is up to and give us all a momentary likeness of our favorite yearly events. The show overall was spectacular, featuring interviews with people from across the industry, from film makers to comic artists, all answering fan questions and giving us what we need: something to look forward to in the years to come. Here are a few highlights from the show.

    Gotham Knights
    What was the Arkham video game series missing? All the sidekicks in co-op of course! Gotham Knights allows players to step into the shoes of Batman's loyal sidekicks after his death, leaving Batgirl, Red Hood, Nightwing and Robin to defend Gotham. Can they stop the mysterious Court of Owls? Will they be able to fill the Dark Knight's boots? Will this thing be available on PS4 so I don't have to buy a new system? Time will tell.

    The Suicide Squad Reveal
    A lot of talk has been floating around the Suicide Squad sequel (Reboot?) titled The Suicide Squad, and Fandome gave us the full cast lineup with who they're going to be playing. Reprising the roles of Harley Quinn, Rick Flag and Amanda Waller are Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman and Viola Davis, respectively. The rest of the cast is full of familiar faces including Nathan Fillian, John Cena and Idris Elba, playing villains for the covert Task Force X. We still don't have who will be the official villain yet but with James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy onboard, we know we're going to be in for a treat. 

    Wonder Woman 1984 

    Several panels focused on the sadly pushed back Wonder Woman 1984, reminding fans that it is still on its way. Along with an interview with both Gal Gadot and Linda Carter, we got a new trailer giving us more on the villains of the movie, The Cheetah and Maxwell Lord, plus more cameos from Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. The two have not lost their chemistry although speculation as to how he's come back and why he wasn't around for Justice League is still going strong. 

    Speaking of...

    Justice League: The Snyder Cut
    Fans have been begging for this since Justice League came out in theaters to underwhelming reviews. While The Snyder Cut was not announced at Fandome, a new trailer dropped with more hints as to what was removed in the theatrical release. We see more of Batman's vision from Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice with a destroyed Hall of Justice in the devastated city and more hints that Darkseid will be the big villain the League will take on. While I'm personally excited for this cinematic event, I'm still waiting to see the original cut of Suicide Squad. Call me biased. 

    Speaking of my bias...

    Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League
    As an avid Harley Quinn fan, I was incredibly excited to see Margot Robbie come back as the Joker's Favorite Henchgirl. My squee came again when it was announced that the Suicide Squad was getting their own Arkham style video game where they need to take out the Justice League. We don't know much about game play, the idea is enough to keep me intrigued until it comes out in 2022. 

    The Batman
    I could go on with little anecdotes from interviews and other fun things that made the long lived DC fan inside me squee, but this is a highlight post so it's time for the biggest drop. We got a trailer for the upcoming Batman movie starring Robert Pattinson, and it looks amazing. Like, Dark Knight amazing. You've gotta check it out. 

    What was your favorite part of DC's Fandome?

    Wednesday, August 19, 2020

    Taking off the Video Game Nostalgia Goggles

    Like most Steam owners, I have a massive library full of games, more than I could ever play in a reasonable lifetime. I picked up the games for the usual reasons: they were on sale, someone recommended it, I was left unsupervised with a credit card, it existed... But there's a small group of games I have that I bought because I used to play them when I was younger, and computer advancements being as they are Steam is the only way I can play them. Recently while playing something from this list and I thought: "Why am I playing this? Why did I like this as a kid? How did I ever think that this was fun?"

    The Issue with Nostalgia

    Video games have a lot of components that contribute to making them a favorite. Gameplay, story, graphics, but I think most important factor is who you are when you play the game. Twenty years ago wanting to to be a roller coaster tycoon or march an army in the age of empires (You see what I did there?) would've been incredible. Hours spent perfecting a roller coaster feel like incredible creative freedom for a 13 year old, and it's remembered as having a wonderful time. 

    However, years and pounds later, creative expression in a wonky finance sim with a tiny number of rides every level and no way to speed up time even though you ALREADY HAVE THE REQUIREMENTS to BEAT THE LEVEL so you have to SIT THERE AND WATCH THE STUPID AI GUESTS WANDER AROUND AND COMPLAIN ABOUT THE LITTER THAT THEY LEFT just doesn't have the same energy it once did. 

    I'm not still angry.

    So in short we remember the games we played as kids as being these wonderful experiences and try to play them now only to find them lacking because we've developed taste and have no tolerance for grindy nonsense. 

    Good Nostalgia Use

    The best use for nostalgia is to remember what you liked about the games you used to love and see if you can find modern interpretations of it. One game genre I loved was the Dungeons and Dragons based RPGs, like Baulder's Gate. However, Baulder's Gate was about as forgiving as deleting the ending of a loopy roller coaster to watch the riders crash because you've been playing for four straight hours and you're bored to tears. A few years ago the game Pillars of Eternity came out with all the best mechanics from Bauler's Gate but was easier to grasp and easier to get through, which makes it more accessible to all players. Nostalgia fueled the idea but the ideas of today helped make it better, creating a far better experience. Nostalgia should fuel innovation but not pull us back into the same things over and over. 

    Lesson Learned

    So now I've been reexamining all my Steam games looking for the ones I bought just for nostalgia sake, and the ones I bought because they reminded me of games I used to love. The list of inspired games is longer than I would've thought, showing that while the old games might not hold up their influence certainly does. If you're like me with piles of unplayed video games on your Steam list or other platform of choice, it might be worth going through some of the ones you bought for nostalgia sake and what it is you liked about them and see if some new games might fill that same gameplay need, but maybe with some much needed tweaks. 


    Monday, August 17, 2020

    The End of SHIELD

    I started watching Agents of SHIELD back when I was working grave shifts in 2015. I’ve rewatched it twice since (once before Infinity War and once last year to get my wife up to date). It’s bittersweet to see the series come to an end this month, so i wanted to do some Top 5’s for the series. I’ve tried to avoid any specific spoilers from the series finale, but tread lightly.

    MCU Cameos
    Especially in the early days of SHIELD, we got MCU heroes and villains crossing over into the television universe. I’m excited to see this again with the Disney+ shows, but there was something special about it happening during Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, tying the universe together. So here are some of my favorites.

    1. Agent Sousa
      It was a privilege to see Sousa return after so many years and put his straight-arrow attitude to work with the present-day SHIELD team.
    2. Fury and Hill
      SHIELD Season 1 was the only to feature the present-day SHIELD in its original form. As such, you can’t do the original SHIELD without Fury and Hill.
    3. Peggy and Howling Commandos
      Flashbacks gave us a glimpse into post-WWII Hydra and Cap’s team taking them down (or so they thought). You can never have enough Agent Carter.
    4. Lady Sif
      Back before she dropped off the face of Marvel, Lady Sif made a couple appearances, allying herself with Coulson’s team. Those were the days.
    5. Malick
      It was a small appearance in The Avengers, but before he was the Season 3 big bad, he was on the security council ordering a missile to hit NYC.

    Favorite Story Arcs
    After seven seasons, not every story arc is going to shine bright. But I still enjoyed them. Sometimes it was because it was so action-packed. Sometimes it was because the story was so intriguing.

    1. After SHIELD’s fall (S1)The race against time to take down Garrett and Ward after SHIELD fell, it was the best part of Season 1. In some ways it was a bigger SHIELD vs Hydra story than Winter Soldier was. Instead of lasting a few hours during the big battle, this one lasted for days.
    2. Time travel (S7)The last season felt a lot like Legends of Tomorrow to me. There’s just something enjoyable about time travel shenanigans. Not every episode or time period was that great, but overall I loved how the time travel adventures turned out.
    3. Agents of Hydra (S4)The Framework was intense. We got evil Fitz and conspiracy-theorist Coulson. And again it was a race against the clock as SHIELD tried to stop Hydra again, with cameos from old friends and foes.
    4. Hive’s Inhumans (S3)How creepy was zombie Daisy? With her being my favorite character I was going crazy waiting to see how this all played out. I think her deception and betrayal is what made this arc amazing for me. Didn’t see it coming.
    5. Dystopian Future (S5)I’m not a fan of how this played out in the present-day, but SHIELD against the Kree was a fun match up for me. It was different than any other arc that SHIELD had done and you never knew where it was going to go.

    Characters to Keep
    I’m honestly not sure how they’d do this, since the timeline from Agents of SHIELD doesn’t directly line up with how Infinity War/Endgame did things, but I’d love to see some of our Agents pulled into the movies and/or Disney Plus series.

    1. Quake
      She may be off in space now (maybe working for SWORD?) but Daisy Johnson was my favorite in SHIELD. And I loved her in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I’d love to see her as part of the Secret Avengers in the MCU.
    2. Ghost Rider
      He was supposed to have his own show (it’s since been scrapped) but Ghost Rider would be an interesting story for the MCU. And you could use another incarnation of the Rider too, not just Robbie.
    3. Mockingbird
      I was so bummed that Bobbi never came back. Even Lance came back for an episode after their send off. Like Daisy, I’d love to see Bobbi come back for Secret Avengers or something.
    4. Agent May
      It’s hard to imagine Melinda May as a teacher, so I would love to see Fury pull her out of “retirement” for a new adventure. Maybe once we see what’s up with the Skrulls?
    5. Agent Sousa
      It could kind of be implied that I want him back, since he's off astronaut-ing with Daisy. But honestly I'd just love him coming back period. Besides Peggy he was my favorite in Agent Carter and I loved getting him back in SHIELD.
    In many ways, villains make a show what they are. They test the heroes. They make the plot intriguing. And SHIELD had no shortage of interesting villains to choose from.

    1. AIDA and the Doctor
      It is NEVER a good idea to have robots think for themselves. Every movie proves that. But not only did AIDA go crazy, but she took Fitz with her. I swear my heart stopped when Fitz shot Agnes.
    2. Sybil and Nathaniel
      I thought we were done with the Malicks, but then Nathaniel’s death was prevented and he started his big villain plan. Throw in there a time-traveling psychic robot and it gets really crazy.
    3. Hive
      Ever since he appeared on Maveth, Hive was freaky. And then bringing Ward’s body back to life and brainwashing Inhumans. And then his Watchdog Putty Patroller guys. Creepy.
    4. Jiaying
      It’s hard to get freakier than a mom who’s ready to finish her daughter in order to preserve her way of life. Her final battle was an intense one and I loved how Daisy’s anti-hero dad stepped in to save her.
    5. Raina 
      I was disappointed with her story’s ending in Season 2, but in Season 1 while working with Garrett, Raina was mysterious and creepy in the best possible way. I was sad to see her story dissolve.

    I’m going to miss our little SHIELD team. It changed over the years, but I’m glad they got a solid send off. I can only hope this won’t be the last time we see them.

    Friday, August 14, 2020

    Friday Creature Feature - Stitch

    He’s cute and fluffy, but he’s destructive. So don’t give him caffeine.

    Of course I’m talking about Experiment 626, better known as Stitch. If you haven’t watched Lilo and Stitch recently, do it this weekend. It’s good family fun with a dash of sci-fi. But for now, we’re gonna talk Stitch

    As one of Jumba’s illegal genetic experiments, Stitch has lots of special abilities. In some ways he’s a fuzzy blue superhero. His durability is outmatched; he’s fireproof, bulletproof, and shockproof. He’s also super smart; he can think faster than a supercomputer and his language acquisition skills are amazing. Physically he’s also super strong (up to 3000 times his weight) and super fast. He can climb walls and see in infrared, x-ray, and night vision. His biggest weakness is honestly that he’s too dense, so he sinks in water.

    Stitch was originally created to be destructive. But when he ended up in Hawaii with no cities to destroy, he quickly mellowed out.Throughout the course of the movie, he becomes part of Lilo’s family. In the spin-off movies and TV series, he and Lilo find Jumba’s other 626 experiments (we can talk about those in another Creature Feature post). Stitch and his family rehabilitate and recondition his “cousins” and they become loving members of their community (more than I can say for myself some days).

    If you’re planning a trip to a Disney Park in the future, you can meet Stitch when you’re there. The easiest place is Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. He’s got his own little alcove where you can meet him pretty much any time. If you’re headed to California, I haven’t found him in the park before, but you can get tickets for a character meal at Disney's PCH Grill. When I met him in California, it was called the Surf’s Up breakfast, but the name may have changed in years since.

    I think the reason people love Stitch is that we can relate to him. We all want to be loved and we all want to belong, but we have all made mistakes. But like Stitch we can grow and improve to become the best versions of ourselves. Lilo and Stitch also showed us that we can find family in the people we meet. We're all flawed, but we’re all ohana.

    And ohana means family. And family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2020

    DC Superfan vs CW's DC Universe

    I was born in DC. I grew up in DC. I didn't like Marvel until I was a man.

    Okay I'm not that bad.

    Honestly I did grow up with everything DC. I love DC comics. I don't just like Robin, I have a favorite Robin (Tim Drake, obviously). So when the CW started churning out superhero shows I of course hopped on board and after 8 years I have some... Critiques.

    Beware they're be spoilers.

    Also they're be catty remarks.

    The Good
    Let's just get out of the way that they're are plenty of parts of the Arrowverse I do like. I was invested for a while before giving up (we'll get to that later). I love seeing superheroes on TV, and more importantly being part of the common dialogue rather than confined to comic book stores and certain friends. I get that they couldn't be 100% true to the comics, they were telling their own stories and for the most part the changes were fun. The shows were able to expand on the stories of the heroes that are rarely if ever told. Green Arrow's origin story usually takes about a comic book panel, and here it was elegantly woven over seasons. The Flash usually works alone but here he has his own Scooby gang to help him out. I love most of the story beats they added.

    Most notably is Felicity Smoak, the quirky hacker of Team Arrow. Invented just for the show she was later incorporated into the comics like my favorite hench-girl Harley Quinn. Felicity was a fun opposite to Oliver's dark and broody personality, bringing light to the show without overshadowing the deeper story lines. Felicity is a hero without having to put on a cape, being a support to her super hero friends by using the skills she has to feed them the information they need to get the job done.

    The Bad
    So what did I hate? Let me take a moment to explain a storytelling trope: The "Will They/Won't They". The trope introduces two characters who have chemistry together and a romantic tension but for some reason don't get together right away. As a garnish to a story these can be fun, like Firefly's Mal/Inara, or if it emphasizes the main overarching story like the Buffy/Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer which pitted Buffy's wants vs her need to be the Slayer.

    Where this goes bad is when it overshadows the main story. A superhero story can of course have romance, but when it becomes a will they/won't they then we lose the epic superhero story and fall into soap opera territory. Green Arrow has three or four he goes through, including the aforementioned Felicity Smoak. What's worse was the Flash romance which isn't even a will they/won't they, revealed when we first see the newspaper from the future showing us that Flash and his love interest will eventually get married, so the will they/won't they became old fast.

    By the time Flash's romance was getting old, Arrow was on its third will they/won't they with their main character, with piles of mini romances throughout the side characters. I wouldn't mind romantic storylines being woven into the main thread but here it started to feel as though superhero stories were being woven into the romance, like flipping to Batman The Animated Series during commercials while watching As the World Turns.

    The Not-So Ugly
    In the end my petty issues were enough to turn me personally off of the CW DC lineup, to the point where I haven't been interested in newer shows like Batwoman, but I get why people like them. The characters are strong despite being overly-focused on their relationships and the stories themselves are the same WWE with superpowers that are found in the comics, but it wasn't for me.

    Now if you'll excuse me I have to get back to watching Sailor Moon. Oh I hope this is the episode where Usagi and Mommaru get back together....

    Monday, August 10, 2020

    Umbrella Academy is Bonkers and Nonsensical and Emotional ... and Totally Fun!

    Spoilers for Season Two below. Read at your own risk!

    When you sit down to watch The Umbrella Academy, you don't watch it for internal consistency or a sci-fi accurate portrayal of superpowered heroes. You're not looking for a deep cinematic essay getting to the heart of what it means to be special and set apart from the world, or the existential crisis faced by those called to be heroes. Nah. When you watch The Umbrella Academy, you set aside some of the basic rules of superhero entertainment, and you just enjoy the ride. When people who haven't seen The Umbrella Academy ask me what it's like, I tell them, "Think Marvel, but totally bonkers." It has a similar set of compelling characters, spellbinding storytelling, presentation of powers, and amazing action ... but it's weird. SO WEIRD!

    Okay, so minor spoilers from here on out, okay? Okay. We're talking about an organization run by a body with a fishbowl head. A main character who is revealed to be an alien wearing a skin suit. All those agents wearing silly giant animal masks. And Luther still has the body of an ape -- is nobody recognizing this fact? I'm still trying to figure out what that white stuff was that the Swedes were drinking. Bonkers, I tell you. BONKERS!

    Okay, bigger spoilers ahead. Listen, The Umbrella Academy doesn't always make much sense. Why did Five only have 90 minutes to gather his family? And if he can time travel, why did it matter how much time he had? And why did Lila only use her powers in the very end of the season -- it's a great reveal, but it doesn't make much internal sense. And why keep the fishboss alive? But all that and 43 other nonsensical questions aside, you don't watch The Umbrella Academy for the logic. Most people watch it because it's fun, it's strange, and it's a well-produced story with an engrossing story (emphasis on the "gross" sometimes). And of course you can watch it for the eclectic music. ("Dancing With Myself" and the Swedish version of "Hello" were my favorites.) But I have to say I watch The Umbrella Academy for the heart. Here goes.

    Klaus is hands down the best character in the series, if not one of the best written characters on television ever. His love story with Dave is compelling and moving, and his relationship with his siblings is complex and always relatable. Plus the dude is just funny. Number Five is a pretty kickbutt little dude (okay, yeah, he's the oldest of the group, I know), and Aidan Gallagher does an amazingly nuanced job with the role. I'm not always a fan of Ellen Page, but Vanya really shone this season -- especially her heartbreakingly earnest story with Sissy. Allison is always powerful and moving, and her civil rights story with its BLM undertones was somehow more topical than a story set in 2020 could have been. And Ben! We really get to see Ben shine this season. And his final monologue really spoke to me on a deep level. "Maybe you have a right to be pissed off and sad and messed up, but it's a [terrible] world full of [terrible] people sometimes. You aren't a monster. You aren't alone at the table anymore."

    More than anything, the sibling dynamic was the star of Season Two. If the first season was about how siblings can still accomplish big things even if they don't get along, then the second season was about how people who don't get along can learn to heal their wounds over time, and can learn to get along despite their differences. More than get along, they can learn to truly love each other. And that's a message that I think we can use, whether it's 1963 and you're trying to stop the apocalypse, or it's present day and you just want to find some common ground with the guy across the street who is planning to vote differently than you. So when you watch The Umbrella Academy, enjoy the bizarre trip you're on, and take in each moment as it comes to you. But don't look too hard for logical consistencies, because they will only last about as long as a fart in the wind.

    Friday, August 7, 2020

    Why Choose to Be Good

    (Guest Post by Tyler)

    Why choose to be good? What is the point of helping other people or doing the right thing if there’s no reward? Or to put it in the words of Eleanor Shellstrop , “I was a good person for six months. That’s like 5 years. And it felt okay, but not as good as I thought it would. And what did I get for it?” (Season 2, Episode 12)

    For those who aren’t familiar with it, The Good Place tackles a variety of questions that have been debated for years. Is goodness something you are born with or something you learn? What does it take for someone to change? And most importantly, can one woman play over 10 characters in a TV show without fail (the answer to the last one is an overwhelming yes! D’Arcy Cardon is an amazing actress; more on that in another article). One of the most important questions it asks and attempts to answer is why choose to be good.

    At the start of the show, we find the original version of Eleanor, self centered, manipulative and only worried about keeping herself out of The Bad Place. Along the way, she enlists the help of Chidi, her soul-mate and a moral philosophy professor, to help her become better. But it’s not till Chidi and her other friends are put in danger that she puts her instinct for self preservation aside and makes the right choice so that Chidi can avoid going to The Bad Place.

    Throughout the next 3 seasons, we see time after time this concept unfolds. The main factor that helps people to change and become good people is their relationships with other people. In the third season, over the course of the third episode, we see various events of the course of a year as the group studies ethics. Many of these events show Eleanor going against what she said in earlier seasons, the main one being birthday parties for other people. “This way, I don’t owe you anything, you don’t owe me anything.”

    Over the course of the series we get to see Chidi’s thesis of “why choose to be good” illustrated by the interactions between our six main characters. More to come on exploring those relationships. Chidi sums it up the best.

    “So why do it then? Why choose to be good, every day, if there is no guaranteed reward we can count on now or in the afterlife? I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.” (Chidi, Season 2 Episode 13)

    Wednesday, August 5, 2020

    SCP - The Modern Horror

    In times when people are becoming so divided it's nice to see when people come together, like a drive-by birthday parade for folks who are in quarantine, or a graduation party held on Animal Crossing: New Horizons for seniors who couldn't have the traditional graduation, or a group of people making up terrifying horrors beyond the realms of sanity. Community building is really the key to getting through these difficult times, so with that in mind I'd like to discuss my latest obsession: SCP

    SCP is a series of short stories and case files documenting the exploits of the fictional SCP Foundation, whose function is to Secure, Contain and Protect mankind from dangerous unexplained entities and phenomenon. Based across the globe the SCP Foundation captures and studies these bizarre happenings, from a pill bottle full of pills that can cure any known disease, to a door that leads to an ancient godlike entity that when unleashed will end the world.

    The stories themselves are a collaboration of thousands of different writers from around the world who all take turns adding to the mythos of the SCP. Some add new entries in the massive catalog of documented events, others write short stories centered around the creatures, locations and objects others have created. To add to the lore one must only follow the rules of submission before submitting your work. The platform supports stories, videos and artwork of the mysterious world, so let your imagination run wild with what you want to create. The theme is urban horror but I've seen it stretched to fit any number of themes and genres depending on the author's taste. 

    While certainly a rare event, collaborative writing like this is not unique. The father of mind-bending horror, H.P. Lovecraft, loved collaborating with other authors to expand his world and monsters. Most of what we know of Azathoth, the King in Yellow and Cthluhu himself are from contributions made by other writers into the mythos. This is a strong departure from the usual one author to rule them all model that prevails most entertainment we see today. 

    I was only partially joking when I said in the beginning that building community based on horror was what we need right now. Horror, especially the creepy cosmic horror of Lovecraft and the SCP just isn't everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine. For those who do like an escape from these fearful times into a place where fear comes not from uncertainty of the world but from a giant hulking lizard monster or a lake that constantly spews out monsters, this might be the place for you. 


    Monday, August 3, 2020

    Before They Were Heroes (and Heroes Reborn)

    I'm finishing up with my re-watch of LOST and it's making me nostalgic for shows I watched back in the day. One of those shows is Heroes and I swear I still see those actors showing up every once in a while (like Mohinder showing up in The Flash this year). But for now I want to flashback to before Heroes (and its sequel, Heroes Reborn) aired and to what some of our heroes were up to before they were heroes.

    Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli) - Gilmore Girls
    Long before he was Jack on This Is Us, he was Peter on Heroes. Before he was Peter, he was Jess on Gilmore Girls. When my wife had me watch Gilmore Girls, I absolutely hated Jess. That being said, his character development is one of the most intriguing. He's actually one of my favorite characters from A Year in the Life because his development seemed so natural and flawless. Just goes to show how great of an actor Milo is.

    Jack Coleman (Noah Bennet) - Cow Belles
    Before he was the senator on The Office or the mysterious company man on Heroes, he was on a Disney Channel movie: Cowbelles. My wife stumbled across this appearance when we were binging Disney Channel movies. He's definitely got the loving dad character down.

    Hayden Panettiere (Claire Bennet) - Remember the Titans
    "Save the cheerleader, save the world." It's the catch phrase that got us hooked on Heroes, right? But before Claire was a cheerleader, she was an avid football fan. You may or may not have recognized her though, because of how young she was, but she was Coach Yoast's little girl Sheryl. We love this movie in our house, so it makes it even better than she was in it.

    Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura) - Scrubs
    Besides being a master of time and space, Hiro (in another life) was a lab tech at Sacred Heart Hospital. On Scrubs Masi played the snarky (often manipulated) lab tech that plays a recurring role throughout the adventures of JD and his colleagues. It was kind of a small role, but it was very different from Hiro, which made me happy for some reason.

    Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman) - LOST
    So as I was starting to watch Heroes, I'd barely started watching LOST. So two shows in a row I had Greg Grunberg showing up as a pretty important character. He was the pilot Captain Norris on LOST (plane wouldn't have crashed without him) and the he was the mind-reading cop Matt Parkman when he started appearing on Heroes. Loved his character!

    Cristine Rose (Angela Petrelli) - Friends
    She does such a great job playing angry, pretentious rich ladies. She was on How I Met Your Mother, Gilmore Girls, Heroes, and Friends. Every time she was stuck up and I loved it. I chose to single out her appearances on Friends because she played Paul Rudd's mom and I absolutely love Mike Hannigan on Friends. Also she was great being drugged up at Mike and Phoebe's the wedding.

    Zachary Levi (Luke Collins) - Tangled
    He didn't appear in the original series, but in the reboot/miniseries he appeared as a new hero. Though at first he was a bounty hunter for powered individuals. That's what a change from where we've seen him before. Previously he'd played one of Thor's comrades in The Dark World and Ragnarok. However, my favorite he's been in: Tangled. Who doesn't love Flynn Rider? Disney prince and superhero (twice over if you count Shazam). If you ever get a chance to see his panel at a Comic Con, do it. You won't regret it.

    Robbie Kay (Tommy Clark) - Once Upon a Time
    Another newcomer for Heroes Reborn. Although he played one of the twin heroes here, he was one of my favorite villains on Once Upon a Time. He played Peter Pan and wow he's menacing. I had my critiques of the Neverland arc of Once Upon a Time, but Robbie's portrayal of Peter Pan was the best part of that storyline.

    Who were your favorite actors on Heroes? Writing this post has definitely made me want to pull out my Heroes DVDs and start binging it again. If you like Heroes, don't forget to check out the post Ryan did about the series.