To start with the big news of the weekend: The Escape, the only undefeated, longest-running serial in the program’s history (this is the one scripted by a five-year-old), was dethroned in a shocking upset. The show seemed to have the momentum vote in the bag, and it was certainly a crowd-pleaser at the show I attended, but it apparently wasn’t enough (though the vote was reportedly close).
The other show that won’t be returning with a new episode next week is Pirates vs. Ninja: Episode IV. It’s interesting that these were the ones that failed to make the cut, as they were the most manic, staging about 10 scenes in the allotted time (or about a scene per minute). Perhaps this says something about the best way to utilize a short format? Later this week we’ll talk to one of the featured playwrights, who will address the limitations and benefits of working in a short and serialized format, so watch out for that.
Pirates vs. Ninja: Episode IV, written by John Russo (episode one).
As the name implies, the episode was an extended riff on the original Star Wars, with pirates and ninjas subbed into the famous roles (the ninjas as imperial forces, pirates as Jedis/rebels). As with that film, Pirates began with the kidnapping of a princess and went on to a young hero’s gallant attempt to rescue her. Along the way the show had fun with some of the tropes of the genre—like how these heroes are always obsessed with absent fathers—as well as a variety of uses for the term “booty.” In the end—spoiler alert—she is saved, and the episode ends with heroic pirates receiving medals for bravery. At this point, however, it deviates from the source material as an alien bursts out of a character’s chest, in a nod to another famous science fiction classic.
– I wonder how the show would have played had the different teams switched sides; the idea of heroic pirates flies in the face of my most cherished childhood beliefs.
– At one point the audience helps the outnumbered pirates by throwing balled-up scraps of newspaper at invading ninjas. My scrap was a Tribeca Trib obit of Anne Compoccia, a former chair of Community Board 1, which I used to cover during a dark professional period. Though Compoccia was after my time and by most accounts a good advocate, I did find it awfully cathartic to destroy anything related to CB1.
– I assume that had the show moved on it would have become a parody of Alien rather than Empire Strikes Back. I wonder if picking different source material would’ve been a more successful target for parody since A New Hope doesn’t take itself all that seriously to begin with. This is also the basis for my belief that Spaceballs is way overrated. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid for life!
– If I’m not mistaken the alien was played by an inflated NYC condom, but since I’m a little perturbed by my evident ability to identify inflated condom brands from 20 feet away, let’s just say it was a balloon or latex glove.
UnFuck Yourself, Rhys Bauer!, by Josh Barrett (episode two).
This edition of UnFuck begins with a massive monologue that details all of the ways in which Rhys is fucked. It takes a couple of minutes, the poor sap. In the episode, while some progress is made on Cap’n Crunch: The 3D Movie (the plot of which will revolve around “adventures that are crunchy”), the gun-toting brother of Rhys’ girlfriend arrives demanding money, and while he is intrigued by the possibility of playing the good Cap’n in the film (Hollywood stardom has such benefits as “women, blow, cars and residual checks,” we learn), he nonetheless demands Rhys’ loyalty to his sister. Unfortunately, this demand is made just as Rhys’ mistress, an anchor for the Hollywood Reporter, shows up with an ultimatum of her own. Broadcasting live from his office, she announces she is pregnant with his child and commands a show of loyalty to her.
– Among the five, UnFuck seems the show most developed with the serial format in mind. Others end with a reset, clearing the slate for the next adventure, but UnFuck actually feels like a part II awaiting a part III. As the show will be returning next week, it will be interesting to see whether it shows any signs of a narrative arc. If Rhys stays in a perpetual state of being fucked, with new problems continually compounded onto old ones, it may run a risk of too many balls in the air. But I can’t imagine him ever actually unfucking himself, since that will mean the show takes itself out of the running.
– After attempting suicide, the screenwriter walks around looking like Dana Carvey’s old Massive Headwound Harry character. When told a new project is afoot, he muses that it’s either a script for a snuff film, or a sequel to Ghost Dad.
– According to the show, Cap’n Crunch tastes like “sugar, gravel and hairspray.” That sounds about right.
The Connectors, by Musa Bacon, Seth Moore and Donaldo Prescod (episode four).
Connectors narrator C.S. Lewis begins this episode by telling us that though this is the fourth episode staged at the Flea, it is actually episode seven in the story’s timeline. He opted to skip parts 4-6 due to their “wanton display of sexuality and bestiality.” This chapter picks up with connectors looking to avenge fallen comrades, Sam Spade-style. The investigation takes them to the lair of a pimp and his “sugar pussies,” one of who is a Rhode’s Scholar. There’s also a doppelganger of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, who at one point says he is camouflaged in “peacock feathers and sunbeams,” assuming my notes are correct. They may not be; the idiosyncratic dialogue is spoken at such a breakneck pace that transcription was virtually impossible. At one point I believe someone is insulted in a line that includes the phrase “fungus-walking.” In context it made perfect sense.
– Stray thoughts: The noir premise is filtered through a 70s exploitation movie style, with outlandish characterizations and action. Think Black Dynamite or Pootie Tang.
– This episode ends with a cliffhanger (and a Warriors reference), but given the show’s propensity to jump around on the timeline we may not learn what happens when it returns next week.
– With this victory Connectors becomes the new juggernaut #serials. Another victory will give it a sixth episode, eclipsing the newly fallen Escape series. It was quite a crowd-pleaser, judging by the audience’s reaction, so I wouldn’t rule it out, but then I was never going to rule in a loss by The Escape, so don’t listen to me.
The Escape, by Isaac Kruger (episode five).
As in pervious installments, siblings Jack and Isabel are captured—this time by a scheming leopard and her snake—until a conflicted monkey helps them escape. Since the monkey lured them into the trap to begin with, it’s clear that the five-year-old Kruger has an instinctive feel for complex characterizations, as well as archetypes that are just on the right side of being outsized. The breakout character of The Escapist, the title of this episode, was to my mind the Sea God, who takes the kids’ aunt out on a date before realizing, halfway through dinner, that the babysitter was a monkey (“I think I saw something on his butt.”). This arouses suspicion in him, but he’s not so quick as to avoid capture himself, though when freed he decapitates the snake in song.
– The show has a narrator who comments on the action in a way that’s rather self-referential. I wonder if the company or Kruger’s handlers added this, since it’s an awfully sophisticated narrative device for a five-year-old to come up with.
– As promised, the show presented the script “without condescension,” though there were a few times when the actors had to stifle laughter. Much of the humor was mined from such unpolished lines as, “This is a nice guide, his name is Guide” and “I’m his slave, that’s like a servant.” There were a couple of moments where Kruger’s uneven grasp of grammar showed through (a snake bite will “put poisonous in you”), but I didn’t notice much that would’ve outed the kid’s age had I not known about his background beforehand. That’s either incredibly impressive on Kruger’s part, or a sign I watch too much Nickelodeon.
– I was fully expecting The Escape to continue its domination, given the crowd’s reaction and its past success. The fact that it didn’t means I can’t use all the stuff I was preparing on the author’s age and how it ties into the nature of art and so forth. Thanks for nothing, voters.
O’Hare, by Alena Smith (episode one).
Two co-workers idly kill time on a day when their boss is out, debating whether the ingredients of fruit salad have changed over time and discussing a podcast about an ongoing modernization project at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The project was started before the recession, but in the wake of the crisis none of the airlines want to pay to finish it, even though completing it would provide a short-term stimulus to the area (“this is a long problem that’s boring to think about,” they note). Meanwhile, a third employee, a woman, taunts them lasciviously and makes overt sexual advances (“feed me your banana, or feed it to him while I watch”). Her aggression intensifies and she bares her breasts just as the show goes to black out.
– Of all the episodes of the evening, O’Hare is the only one that’s more of a mood piece than plot-driven. Given how little time each serial has, it was pretty bold for this one to begin with a solid minute of a character eating in silence.
– Notable also was the dialogue, which was both absurdist and realistic in a way I described as “arch-banality” in my notes. It walked a fine line between sounding Beckettian yet not a million miles from the kind of bored chitchat I find myself making during the slow office hours of my day job, which is only rarely interrupted by sexual advances.
– I have my theories on the meaning of the title and podcast they discuss, but I’ll leave those until next week to see if they hold water.
– The ending could’ve served as a satisfying resolution, whereas other shows kept things open-ended. It will be fascinating to see where the show goes next week. Will the mood be maintained? Adjusted? Will there be a greater narrative bent? Stay tuned to for a Q&A with the author, Alena Smith, who will discuss some of these very issues.