Pro-incumbent fever swept #serials this past week, with neither new show garnering enough votes to move onto the next round, whenever that is. I am both startled and a little dismayed by the results; I thought both newcomers were fascinating and creative and I wouldn't have been disappointed to see either of them return. While I'm halfway tempted to throw up a Citizen Kane-style FRAUD AT POLLS headline on this sucker, I must accept the will of the drunken late-night people and move on. It certainly isn't as though the week's winners weren't worthwhile too.
In other news, Teen Girl Scientist Monthly was Saturday's kick-ass musical guest, further reinforcing my belief that whoever is booking these bands deserves a raise. I couldn't find TGSM on iTunes and federal agents burst my door down the second I started Googling "teen girl" but you can download their latest album off their site for $5. Anyway, enough blabbering. Onto the shows!
Bacchus, by Eric John Meyer (episode one).
The (fictitious) governor of Utah begins to get national buzz for his "family value" platforms, but advisers tell him that with the extra scrutiny that will bring, he'll have to give up his secret extracurricular activities. It isn't said aloud, but from the promotional material we know his secret is "weird sex with hookers." (Weird because he leaves his socks on, I guess) Meanwhile, his adviser's engaged daughter is broached by a mysterious man who identifies himself as Dionysus, the god of "debauchery, drunkenness and death." (Not sure that that last part is mythologically correct.) A seductive presence, Dionysus lures her away from her fiancée and the episode ends as she gives into sensual temptation with another woman.
- Despite the cramming I did before the show, I didn't see too many parallels between this and Euripides' Bacchae. There weren't even apparent connections between character names (Gov. Alan Brinks of Utah v. King Pentheus of Thebes). Perhaps the source material was too obscure? The audience seemed to like it, but maybe the story would have been clearer with more familiar references (make him Satan rather than Dionysus, say).
- The script set up a lot that presumably wouldn't have been tackled until further episodes down the line. Interesting to see a group try such a long-term view; I wonder how future audience members who don't attend week to week would've reacted to that.
- I loved the way Dionysus was portrayed (by Ian Quinlan). In voice and dress he suggested a more sinister Mr. Lies from Angels in America. In a small wardrobe choice that paid huge dividends, he wore sunglasses with only one lens, suggesting the skewed way he views the world, and how his motives can be seen as both light or dark depending on your perspective. Since the hypocritical governor was supposedly the villain's piece, I wonder how we were supposed to view Dionysus. Is the enemy of our enemy our friend, or were there no heroes here? At any rate, he was a badass. At one moment he snaps his fingers and someone offstage slides a box out for him to rest his foot on. It must have taken ages to get the timing of that little moment right, but it was so unexpected—and executed so flawlessly—that the audience went nuts. I'm really shocked this show isn't moving on.
- For obvious reasons related to budgets and time constraints, most of the shows aren't that notable for their production designs, but Bacchus did some incredible things with lighting and shadows, which contributed to the atmosphere tremendously. The bold colors of the costumes contributed to the rich, cinematic feel of the show. Excellent work by director Luke Harlan.
UnFuck Yourself Rhys Bauer!, by Josh Barrett (episode four).
Ol' Rhys Bauer starts this episode in a rare stated of unfuckedness, with the cheerful news that a foreign company is interested in hiring him, his once-suicidal writer, and buying the rights to Brown River Dreams, the bombtastic film that started this whole mess for him. But of course this wouldn't be UnFuck Yourself Rhys Bauer! if Rhys Bauer wasn't fucked, and trouble returns with his old intern, who was serving time for distributing cocaine bought on Rhys' order. She pulls a gun on him before immediately crumbling like a two-card house of cards. "Ever since San Quentin I've been having mood swings," she notes, as Rhys delicately takes the gun away. Soon the screenwriter arrives and is happy at the news of the overseas deal, but of course the universe cannot keep Rhys unfucked and the gun goes off and the writer slumps over dead. There's a brief Weekend At Bernie's-style bit as Rhys' mistress arrives and the intern puppets the corpse nodding and shrugging. Soon more people come, including another studio executive—who, based on Cap'n Crunch: The 3D Movie, proposes other tie-ins, including an Aunt Jemima biopic—and a Libyan general representing the foreign studio Rhys was dealing with. When they discover that the body is dead, Rhys desperately points an accusatory finger at the intern.
- I'd love to see Harvey Keitel make a cameo next installment as his Wolf character from Pulp Fiction, but that's probably unlikely. Incidentally, the next installment looks like it should be called "UnFuck Yourself, Rhys Bauer's Intern!"
- Though I didn't care for Weekend At Bernie's, believe it or not, I did like the bit of slapstick with the corpse here. After the initial nods and shrugs there's a sequence where Rhys' very pregnant mistress decides that the hell with Rhys, she's going to screw the writer right there. So she grinds on him while the intern makes the corpse's hands fondle her. It was weird.
- As much as I enjoy UnFuck, I can't get past the idea that a Cap'n Crunch movie isn't outlandish by modern Hollywood standards. Iconic logos have more character than your average blockbuster hero, and I certainly wouldn't hesitate to watch a film starring the Honey Nut Cheerio bee. Certainly this seems more reasonable than basing a movie off the Rubik's Cube, which is happening. Of course an Aunt Jemima film is ridiculous; Hollywood doesn't make movies starring middle-aged black women.
- The Libyan says that Muammar Gaddafi considers Brown River Dreams the pinnacle of cinematic excellence. Hitler was famously a fan of Snow White and King Kong. Just FYI.
- Wow, I can't believe it took me this long to get the joke. This is a serial about cereal. I'm an idiot.
The Loo, by Chat Beckim (episode one).
This is a series of vignettes set in a corporate bathroom concerning a new employee named Ralph, who throughout his first day attempts to pee in peace while other employees make awkward conversation ("ever had the clap?"), offer him food or stage dance parties. Everyone makes vague, ominous undertones about how "you'll have to get better at this" as he squirms out of trying to socialize there. During a bathroom party, he meets a young HR rep with similar toilet socialization problems, and the two agree to help each other out and start dancing with each other.
- Not to keep beating my "serial or not?" drum, but the resolution at the end seemed to limit where this show can go. I only bring this up since the episode missed a good chance to end on an intriguing note by going on for 30 more seconds. Had it gone to black when the two agree to help each other, we'd wonder what form their new partnership will take. But by having a resolution that feels like the end of the story, it writes itself out of a cliffhanger. That said, I would've been curious to see how it would go past its apparent ending.
- I get that it's awkward to socialize in the bathroom, but really the place only seemed to suffer from an excess of friendliness. Since there wasn't much hostility, it didn't seem an especially insurmountable obstacle for Ralph to get used to the situation. I'd like to learn more about what's at stake if Ralph doesn't get better at things.
- One character tells Ralph that he looks more like a Spencer than a Ralph, and he's absolutely right. I don't blame the other characters for getting his name wrong after that.
- Ralph is asked whether he's an elephant or an aardvark, which I believe is a reference to whether he's circumcised. In my day the choice was between elephants and mushrooms, and after looking at pictures of aardvarks I think my generation is right.
- The men's room as the seat of corporate power reminds me of In the Company of Men. One of the characters here even looks like Aaron Eckhart's loathsome Chad.
- One frequent bathroom go-er is a woman who taught herself to urinate standing up because the men's room "is where shit gets done." There are two levels of meaning in that line, but no further insight into corporate America's gender politics or whatever.
- I don't mean this to sound as critical as it does; I quite liked The Loo. Much like Bacchus, it has impeccable technical qualities. The bass line used as ambient sound does a great job of establishing the atmosphere, while there's also clever use of the performing space with the alcove serving as a stall and staging it such that it appears the actors are peeing onto the crowd. This is something I'm praising.
The Connectors, by Seth Moore and Donaldo Prescod (episode six).
I was remiss in my duties last week when I neglected to mention that the stoner character Gibson was helicoptered away by the bad guys. That was important to know, since much of this episode revolves around the team attempting to save him. Eventually they do find him, but he's a changed man; he's sober for the first time in years ("I haven't touched anything in two weeks, ‘cept myself."). Out from under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he reveals that he has the power of telekinesis, lifting rocks with his mind to crush oncoming villains. This is a power he's willing to give up for a taste of sweet, sweet illicit substances, until he's convinced by the remaining Connectors to rescue another fallen member from an even more vile sect of nemesis group Disconnectors known only as the Brooklyn Disconnectors. Based on their introduction here, they're a combination of N'Sync, Michael Jackson and one of the West Side Story gangs.
- The episode starts out with a clever audio flashback sequence and later has an effective moment when Gibson, using his now-viable ESP powers, channels the missing Connector's voice through his mouth (like Singing in the Rain). This was a good week for technical achievements and moments that must have been hell to get right (the sliding box in Bacchus, the synching here, which to my eyes appeared seamless).
- The Connectors, which started out as a private eye-esque story about solving "missed connection" ads on Craigslist, has become a full-blown kitchen-sink homage to everything grindhouse. There's even a Shaolin master of the sort that every kung fu film requires. That "anything could happen next" vibe is probably what the fans so enjoy about it (the crowd goes nuts when the show is announced), but at the same time it seems so far away from the original show's roots that it feels somewhat like cheating. Is it really a serial when there's so little structure? The guy sitting next to me in the audience seemed to sum it up: "This thing has gotten so fucking weird these past weeks." He likely meant it as a complement, but still.
- The subtitle to this installment was "Fists of Midnight." I didn't get the reference, but then, it is hard to see at midnight.
- Didn't the Brooklyn Disconnectors move to L.A.? (Ducks fruit.)
The Rump of Folly: The Bachelor UnBachelored, by Patrick Barrett (episode two).
Many plotlines aflutter in this episode, as notorious womanizer Alistair attempts to deal with an increasing number of rivals and conquests. Judge Bradford, whose wife is a secret lover of Alistair's, boasts that thanks to the man's advice he has seduced an actress (as if that's hard, Alistair scoffs), while Flooply, a gay man whose flamboyance reaches hitherto-uncharted heights, has his own designs on Alistair. Meanwhile Rump's own Casanova has his sights set on Delinda, a beautiful young lady. He makes a date with her, not realizing that the Judge has made one of his own.
- Forgive me if that plot summary is difficult to follow, with screwball work like this the only way to explain everything that happens would be to essentially give you the script.
- Speaking of which, while I continue to enjoy Patrick Barrett's exuberant dialogue, I think there are a few times when it makes less sense than it sounds. An idiot is described as being as "sharp as a bag of kittens," but I've stuck my hand into such a bag and there are no end to the pointy claws and teeth therein. This episode feels more like a parody of the genre than homage. However, the judge at one point describes an aroused woman as "afloop," and that cannot be improved upon.
- In addition to Alistair dismissing how easy it is to seduce an actress, he also scoffs at a woman bedding a playwright. These asides are amusing, but feel a little too inside joke-y for me. Incidentally when #serials returns I have plans to interview every single female Bat.
- Most every character is played to the hilt; this serial may not contain the best acting of the production, but it certainly contains the most acting, if you get my point. I go back and forth on how critical I'm being in saying that, since that kind of ACTING acting is typical for this genre. But whereas UnFuck grounds itself with a straight man surrounded by chaos, this is all chaos. Flooply is not a straight man.
- One thing I feel we're missing from Rump so far is a demonstration of Alistair's fabled seduction abilities. We've seen him in the act, but mostly his reputation is hearsay. I can't imagine many women being seduced by someone as untethered as he appears here (most women are attracted to a softer, more intellectual type known as "the Theatre Critic" anyway). Perhaps female audience members feel differently, but to my eyes he's no Javier Bardem in Vicky Christina Barcelona or Mickey Rourke in Diner.
- Soon we'll be posting an article that details how the abbreviated production time of #Serials impacts the creative process. For that I attended a Rump rehearsal, so more in-depth considerations of this week will appear there.
Well that's about it. Stay tuned to this space for the Rump rehearsal report and an interview with the program's co-producers. We'll be back when cycle three begins, but until then I want to thank the Flea for its graciousness and openness; Alena Smith, Sarah Wansley, Tiffany Abercrombie and Dominic Spillane for taking the time to speak with me; Stephen Stout for the yeoman effort he put into answering my questions and ensuring things ran smoothly for me; and to you, readers, for voting back this coverage each week.