American Horror Story: 5 Reasons to Love It

American Horror Story continues to gain viewers and attract more crazy people who can’t help but get sucked into the story – no matter how messed up.

And that’s what I love about it and one of many things that inspired this week’s post.

If you haven’t seen the show, it may not be your thing, but if you value a good story (as we often talk about here) and great acting it may be worth your time. Aside from the wicked stories and awesome acting, there are some special things I enjoy about the show:

1. It changes every season. New characters, new plot, new time period, and setting. It’s quite remarkable, and Entertainment Weekly revealed there is cross over, which only makes me want to watch it more, so I can put all the pieces together. It’s thoughtful, creative, and refreshing when things feel a little overdone in Hollywood.

2. The acronym. If you Google AHS, you will find American Horror Story. I love that. It wasn’t on purpose and just happened. When I text, “watching AHS,” that person knows exactly what I’m talking about. Not many shows develop a natural acronym.

3. Giving actors/actresses work. Before the show, I hadn’t seen Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange, or Angela Bassett in ages. There are several people who want to work in the industry but simply don’t fit into the “popular” crowd of today’s Hollywood. And these people are more talented than the ones getting work. It’s a shame, but that’s what I love about AHS. This show gives them a place and purpose, and they can create a following of their own.
This season also (Freak Show) even more to work with featuring stars and acts from freak shows and characters based on real-life “very special people”.

4. Horror at its best (by modern standards). Some people complain that it’s too disturbing, slow, gory, dark, etc. Well, the horror genre is not a happy place. It is not rainbows and unicorns. The horror genre takes your worst nightmares and discomforts and slaps you in the face. AHS does that, and only true horror fans can appreciate the dark and often disturbing tone of the show.

5. Respect to the genre. With that said, the writers and crew pay homage to many real-life horror stories and work them in. They also use angels and visuals that pay respect to the greats like Hitchcock and Carpenter. The score creeps you out during the opening credits, and who can’t help but love this week’s cover as Come As You Are. Last season, a scene was so deep, it made me cry. The show evokes emotions, makes you think, and can rip your heart it. AHS defines modern horror in the most beautiful way.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and what you think of the show. Share and feel free to comment below!

Off the Edge: Lots of Pretty, Pretty Ones…

Off the Edge

I recently went on a BBC TV binge. I watched a lot of great, strange shows that seem to come out of the UK. I went back to one of my favorites, Spaced, and while on my Frost and Pegg marathon I found the show Hyperdrive and became incredibly addicted to that, even though, like Spaced, it’s a very short series.

While watching both of these shows it occurred to me that these kinds of TV shows would never be made in the same way in the states… Nick Frost, while a great lead and a terrific comic talent, just doesn’t seem like the kind of show runner they like in the states. Nick is a husky guy with irregular teeth. The female lead, Miranda Hart, is a very tall woman, also pretty husky. The other male lead, Kevin Eldon, is a thin, balding man. I started to wonder how this show would be cast if it had been made in the US. Replace Nick Frost with Matt Bomer, Miranda Hart with Nina Dobrev, and Kevin Eldon with Misha Collins. The comedic timing and talent of the original cast replaced by people more pretty and photogenic performers.

The three principles in the BBCs Hyperdrive

The same goes for Spaced Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes replaced with Josh Lawson and Sara Rue younger, sexier people. Despite the fact that the original story of Spaced kind of had them as 20-something losers.

The Cast of the UK Spaced

Watching those two shows made me wonder where all the regular people are in US TV and films. I know a lot of people who watch shows or go to movies just because they like the way the actors and actresses look. It got me thinking, where are all the “normal” looking people in TV shows and movies? Of course “normal” is very subjective but few people would consider Zoe Saldana, Jennifer Aniston, and Kate Beckensale as “normal;” all of them definitely holding firm positions on the “extremely attractive” to “absurdly attractive” on the physical appearance scale. Shows like Burn Notice, True Blood, Arrow, Supernatural, they may all be great shows with good performances…but are just full very un-normally “pretty people.” Grizzled soldiers, hardened prisoners, brilliant scientists, and slacker losers are all the same chiseled-jawed guys and slim fit girls.

Natalie Portman: Your typical Scientist…

Of course British TV isn’t better in every case, and I don’t watch much TV in general, but I’m hard pressed to think of a US TV show that isn’t chocked full of American Apparel models with Blue Steel expressions and full, pouty lips. Almost universally. Even when a show is built around a personality the rest of it is cast with hot eye candy as friends and family.

Gerard Butler as Attila the Hun…who was likely of Mongol Origin… That’s authentic…

The entertainment industry has become an almost entirely visual medium. Yes of course music is an auditory art, however since at least the advent of film, if not the advent of public performance in general, the visual impact of a performer is often significantly more important than their musical talent…and we all pretty much know it.

As someone who considers himself to operate essentially on the “normal” side of the physical appearance meter it struck me how little of “normal” we see and makes me wonder how much talent goes untapped in the market due to a performer’s appearance. Every piece of our entertainment is now designed wholly to appeal to the attractiveness of the individuals involved. I’d like to see a “return to normalcy” in media. Where talent, personality, and ability makes a show great. The last time I can think of a show not fully stocked with the beautiful people it was Roseanne; a show that started in 1988 and ended almost 20 years ago! I’d say we’re long overdue for a move away from all the beautiful people.

Sources of Creativity: Buffy and The Zeppo

Like most dorks I’m a fan of Joss Whedon’s 90s moderns fantasy horror show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What’s not to like? Great characters, good acting, clever stories, creative story-telling, some nice eye candy, and tongue-in-cheek campiness.

Whenever one Buffy fan talks the show with another the topic of “favorite episodes” comes up (along with least favorite episodes but let’s keep it positive!) There are a few that are on everyone’s favorite list and I have two favorite episodes: One, Season 4’s Hush is almost universally in everyone’s favorite episode list. My other favorite, Season 3’s The Zeppo, has been catching on, though many fans seem to decray it’s goofy tone.
The plot is simple, with Buffy’s “Scooby Gang” all filling specific roles (Willow and her witchcraft, Giles and his knowledge, Buffy’s slayer-ness, etc) perennial mean girl Cordelia tells regular Joe, Xander, that he is useless. He takes up space. He’s the eponymous “Zeppo” referring the Marx Brother straight man. Xander then goes on an independent, relatively low-supernatural adventure on his own, whilst the rest of the gang saves the world off screen. So why has this episode, that not only follows a non-story arc event but also lampoons the series’ more series elements, achieved such popularity? Here’s why:

Xander’s World-Saving duty: Get the Donuts

1.) Creativity: It’s hard to tell a new story. Most stories have been told. One way to add new life to your stories is to tell them in a new way. Buffy and crew had “saved the world” several times by this episode. While it was always done with high drama and often with personal impact to characters, we had seen it before. We hadn’t seen a story telling the tale of what one member of the crew not involved with saving the world spends his time when he’s not “on camera” during a more traditional episode. So Xander goes on his little journey, sometimes crossing paths with the rest of the team, always catching them halfway through something important, and interrupting their melodramatic events. It’s great to see Xander ask for help from Buffy and Angel as she tearfully tells Angel she can’t lose him, while Xander blunders in…then says he can come back if it’s a bad time, to their awkward silence.
2.) Perspective: After the intro sequences you see events only through Xander’s eyes. The hellmouth opens, we see it only as he scampers by in terror. Demons are battled, we see these events only when he crosses paths with more “important” characters in their world-saving quest. Perspective is a very important creative element often overlooked (too many stories are given ubiquitous third person omniscient) in favor of being informative or simplicity. First person, or even semi-first person can give a known world a whole new feel and make events, even small events, all the more personal.

Xander’s Undead Adventure Companions: All good and interesting characters on their own.

3.) Playin’ it Straight: As I said in my Lampreys review, satire is funnier when those participating don’t act like they’re making fun of anything. The rest of the cast plays the episode as though it IS one of the most poignant and emotional of episodes. Buffy and Angel’s encounter mentioned above is as powerful as ever, only given a new feel due to Xander’s oddly timed interruption. A run down at the end of the episode where the characters refer to all the exciting world-saving events we didn’t see is similarly effective. Even Xander’s antics aren’t comedic or goofy, he stays true to his character as the in-over-his-head friend of heroes, his exciting odyssey being marginalized only by the fact that it is occurring while demons are being unleashed on the world just out of frame…
4.) Character Growth: Shows like Buffy go through “season arcs” that tell one long story over the course of a season with a few non sequiturs here and there. Many of these are one offs that might be referred to in passing later but don’t have a lasting impact. This episode does. Xander’s feelings of never being useful come up in the season finale with definite poignancy. His encounter with Faith is brought up again, with similar important story elements coming out of it.
So why spend time talking about a show that’s almost a decade old? As a writer I can attest it can be painfully difficult to write a story that feels fresh. Even worse is writing a piece and going over it and feeling it is entirely derivative… Seeing creative work really does give you hope and, even better, ideas. Much like the Sliding Doors format a lot of shows would later take (many not terribly effectively) it provides a format of experimentation. Follow a lesser known character. Write it from their perspective. Tell a story backwards (see Seinfeld’s “The Betrayal” for that one!) Do whatever you can to gain inspiration. I know I need whatever I can get to gain inspiration, especially for stories I’ve lived with for years, but knowing it CAN be done goes a long way!

Tattoo Nightmares

“…if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

Reality shows aren’t my thing usually, but I’m hooked on Tattoo Nightmares, which follows Ink Master. Tattoo Nightmares features three clients an episode who need cover-up tattoos, and with reenactments and storytelling, you learn why. If you have 30 minutes, love a good story, and want to laugh, you should check it out.

Here are the best things about the show:

Changing Lives – When most people think about good deeds, they think of volunteer work and monetary donations, but this show proves you can change lives in creative ways. The artists use their gift as tattoo artists to cover up something that causes pain or trouble in someone’s life. Some clients cry, some celebrate, and most episodes end with hugs all around – even the guys. On a recent episode, Jasmine said, “They show us the worst, and we have to do it. We have to do it.” The artists make it their mission to make a difference.

The Stars – Each artist has a distinct style and personality. You can see they really care about their clients and want to do the best they can. The artists are genuine and some of the nicest people I’ve ever seen on T.V. They laugh and have fun, and they interact like a little tattoo shop family. In an age where drama and shock value sells, it’s refreshing to see three people getting along to help others.

Stories – It’s a reality show, so it’s hard to know what’s real and fake. I’d like to think most of the stories are true, but sometimes they’re so unbelievable you shake your head. Some stories can be heavy, and the client needs the cover-up to erase the experience and get a fresh start. Others are believable because some people really are that stupid, and those can be very funny. Personally, the stories have been a great deterrent to getting a tattoo. I’ve learned to never get a tattoo for a significant other, while partying, or to impress friends. It never works out.

Reenactments – The show cuts to reenactments of the clients’ stories. The actors portray an exaggerated version of what happened with some humor added. The reenactments add a special charm to the show because they’re entertaining and tell the story in a fun way.

Art – Even though I don’t have a tattoo, I’ve always liked them and respected good artists. I can’t imagine tattooing someone and the amount of steady, precise skill one needs. The cover-ups these artists create blow my mind, and you can’t see the old one. The artists replace the old one with what the client wants, and they’re truly works of art. It almost makes me want a bad one just so they can cover it up – a small one of course!

A Love Letter to Psych

I received some bad news this week. To most, this may seem silly or dumb, but to me this was momentarily Earth shattering. Wednesday night, Psych announced this would be the last season. Five episodes left, and they’re done.

I cannot express how much this hurt. I have followed a show since day one, and I wasn’t even sure I would like it. It originally followed Monk, which was a hard show to follow. I loved Monk, and Psych looked a little too goofy for me. Oh, was I wrong.

I’ve wanted to review Psych or at least talk about my favorite episodes for awhile, but it never felt right. I hold it so close to my heart that it’s hard to put into words. I never felt that I could express why this show is so awesome or why it means so much to me.

Therefore, I’m writing my love letter to Psych. I can’t write this after the final episode because I will be a bumbling mess, and sometimes you have to ram an issue head on and never look back. I hope you enjoy what the show means to me…

  • It always makes me laugh. Unless you know me well, this isn’t easy. Psych never lets me down, and it always cheers me up. I have rewatched every episode dozens of times, and I laugh every time. There’s no rhyme or reason to it – sometimes it’s a facial expression, sometimes a one-liner, or even a nickname for Gus. The show isn’t afraid to be silly, and it embraces randomness. We need to laugh often, and Psych brings me happiness in the darkest times.
  • It’s my escape. I’m a full-time everything and work a lot. I seldom have free time, much less undisturbed alone time. Psych is that for me. I don’t want to be talked to or interrupted; that’s my hour to lose myself and relax. I binge watch to get lost and go to a place that’s simple and familiar. I can shut out the rest of the world and not think.
  • It speaks to my generation. So few shows aim at my age group, and the ones that do are very nichey. Psych covers everything from horror movies to wrestling to 80s movies to 90s pop culture. It’s almost impossible to get every reference, and you can rewatch them and pick up new ones. My favorites are the tributes to horror movies (Tuesday the 17th, The Devil in the Upstairs Bedroom, Here’s Lassie, etc.), and I’m not ashamed to say I have watched Tuesday the 17th every Tuesday the 17th since the episode aired, no matter what.
  • It’s love. When you truly love something, you should show it. I have a pillow, hoodie, two sets of PJs, slippers, bobble heads, two pineapples, etsy models, all seasons on DVD, and a shirt. Most of those were gifts, but my friends and family know that Psych is a straight path to my heart. I’m mildly obsessed and proud of it.

Psych pillow

With that said, I will miss the show terribly, but I will always cherish it. Psych has made me laugh, cry, and scream for joy. I want to thank the cast and team who made a great show – one that I have looked forward to for the last eight years. I wish the cast and crew all the best, and hope they continue to brighten up the world. It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye, but as Chaucer said, “There is an end to everything, to good things as well.”

RevPub Christmas Special Favorites: Part 2

Merry Christmas from Revenant Publications!

If you’re reading this, you must have needed a break from the chaos and holiday cheer. I’m happy to help! In the spirit of the season, here’s my continuation from yesterday’s Christmas specials list:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): I’m mean like Lucy and think Snoopy is the most smart-ass dog ever, so of course this is on my list. This is the only Peanuts special I really enjoy, and it’s message is very sweet. In fact, James even found a “tree” that reminded me of the one the kids took home and loved. The music is fun, too, and it’s a heart-warming little special that delivers a great message.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966): My amazing grandmother used to read this book to us all the time. It’s a terrific story and probably my favorite Christmas special. The Grinch and I are a lot alike: our shoes are too tight, our hearts are two sizes too small, and we hate the whole Christmas season. And like the story goes, our hearts grow, we see the meaning of the season, and have the twinkle in our eye. The TV special comes alive with wonderful, catchy songs and colorful images, and who can forget the Grinch’s evil grin?

Wings – A Terminal Christmas (1990), Twas the Heist Before Christmas (1995), All About Christmas Eve (1996): Wings is one of my favorite shows ever, and I don’t get to work it in nearly enough! The Christmas specials are fun and quirky and real. There’s not much fake Christmas cheer – it’s like watching a group of people deal with the holidays with jokes and lots of sarcasm. Families annoy them and people freak out. Of course, shenanigans occur but everything works out in the end, in its own way.

Spongebob – Christmas Who? (2000) and Fairly Odd Parents Christmas Every Day (2001): Being a parent rocks most of the time, and I’ve enjoyed these gems with my son for years. Once Spongebob learns about Christmas, he tries to bring it to Bikini Bottom. Squidward is the Scrooge character, and it is a fun episode with lots of good songs and sweetness. In Fairly Odd Parents, Timmy wishes every day is Christmas and the repercussions of that wish are awesome. His parents become slugs, the other holidays riot against Santa, and the fairies lose their powers because they have to give them to Santa. The people are exhausted as they sing, “On the 15th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” Both shows are great for kids and adults.

Psych – Gus’ Dad May Have Killed an Old Guy (2007), Christmas Joy (2008), The Polarizing Express (2010): It’s hard for me to pick a favorite from these three; they’re all good for their own reasons. If you haven’t seen Psych and enjoy random fun with a little crime fighting, you should check it out. These specials stand alone, and all are SO funny. One of my favorite consistent themes is the competition between Shawn and his dad to guess what they got for Christmas. There’s nothing like a little game to spice up the holidays!

We hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday! Eat lots of food and laugh – it’s almost over!