Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E01: “The Comedian”

A stand-up comedian gets advice for advancing his career, which works out about as well as you can expect… in The Twilight Zone.

Here it is — my first in a series of reviews of Jordan Peele’s TWILIGHT ZONE! I’ve purposely avoided having too much information about this series. The only things I couldn’t avoid gleaning were (a) there are homages galore to Rod Serling and the original series and (b) the show intends to shy away from direct remakes of old episodes. Fair enough. Here are my impressions…

  • The first thing I thought of when I saw this episode’s title was, of course, the PLAYHOUSE 90 special of the same title that Serling did in 1957. Hey, if Mickey Rooney can play the role of a comedian dramatically, why can’t Kumail Nanjiani?
  • Tracy Morgan upholds the tradition from classic TZ episodes like 1961’s “A Game of Pool” where comedians like Jackie Gleason play creepy.
  • I thought the episode went a little overboard with the camera work, but probably no more in 2019 than was considered overwrought in the 50s and 60s.
  • I wish the original series was this sweary.
  • I loved the reference to 1962’s “The Dummy.”
  • I forget how simple the old Twilight Zone-y elements are, but this episode leans on that simplicity: a comedian who wants to open his mouth and change the world…
  • …which of course, in this case, leads to the classic TZ trope of someone abusing the messed situation they’re in.
  • The episode was a little padded, IMO and I totally called the ending. Still, though, an awesome start!!

The Jack Elam Score for “The Comedian” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

#Weeknotes S02 E08

Well, whatever Andromeda Strain I was fighting off for the past two weeks knocked me out last Thursday and Friday. Stayed home from work because I wasn’t capable of doing that much else except sleeping. I did get some writing in when I could; it was only a little bit but more than I’ve managed in awhile.

Still waiting to hear on an iron that’s been in the fire for a few weeks now. Added another iron in the form of a writing-adjacent submission. I don’t expect anything to come out of that one, but you never win unless you play, right?

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 4 days with 5 writing days total!

On track for my basic, ultra-low bar of “just write more days in February than you did in January.” Because that’s where I am right now. It’s keeping my fingers warm, looking over old projects, adding a little here in there just to keep myself writing. The important thing is to keep doing it daily. And I know, “You must write every day” seems prescriptive and ableist, and it is if you mean it as general advice for everybody, for all time. Still, I’m compelled to keep trying for that goal. The only difference is not judging myself as weak if I fall off the horse.

FEEDING MY HEAD
I forget exactly how I stumbled onto the Backstory Cleveland newsletter, wherein editor and writer Matt Winkam reads his way through every novel set in Cleveland. That alone made me bookmark the link. I have some of the material he lists, and I’m curious to see this take on it.

FEEDING MY EARS
Wrote up a little thing on WEATHER, the latest album from Huey Lewis & the News

I’m also finding myself diving into my collection of Chick Corea Elektric Band albums, and hearing things now that there’s no way I could’ve comprehended when I pretentiously got these albums after college. I’ll probably distill some thoughts on them soon.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

IN THE WILD

I’m ashamed that despite being the hard core TWILIGHT ZONE fan that I am, I didn’t shell out for CBS All Access to watch this, and so I missed out. But I’m rectifying that now! Episode reviews coming soon, rated with my customized “Jack Elam Score,” in honor of the actor in my favorite Twilight Zone episode ever, “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS! CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!”

Quickie Review of WEATHER by Huey Lewis & the News

MTV actually did what everyone was afraid it would do to a 10 year-old child in the 80s, such as myself: lure me into The Devil’s Music. I saw this concert on cable TV late one weekend night, and that was it. Jesus — I mean, Satan — those harmonies! That harmonica! The Tower of Power! The end-of-concert tag line that I got to hear when I finally caught them live — “I’m Huey Lewis… and you just heard the News!!”

Fast forward mumblemubmlemumblesomething years later, and what else could I say about this quote from ESQUIRE except, “It me.”

So of course I had to pick up their newest album WEATHER. I have the rest of the catalog, so why not? Anyone’s opinion of a Huey Lewis & the News album will depend one’s opinion of the band. If you don’t like them, there’s nothing for you here. If you do, WEATHER is solid stuff, because it’s always solid stuff. I’ve never met a fellow fan who was like “X album sucked, compared to the rest of them.” (Not even their 1980 debut.) WEATHER maintains the groove from PLAN B (and the last 4 tracks of their TIME FLIES compilation, except a little more stripped down and not as “produced.” A couple of tunes like “Her Love Is Killin’ Me” have a little bit of hints of the 80s, but not enough to call it a retread by any means.

Now because of Huey’s current struggle with Meniere’s Disease, there could be some truth to the hype that this “could be their last album.” Now I thought of Johnny Cash’s AMERICAN sessions while I listened to this and thought I was being a little overwrought. No one was dying while this was being recorded. But then I heard the last track…

If WEATHER really is the last album we’ll get from Huey Lewis & the News, I’m really going to be sad.

#Weeknotes S02 E07

It’s gonna be a short one this week. Last week was a struggle. I got hit with something — not 2019-nCoV but some other nasty thing going around work. I managed to get through my workweek, though. All I had to do was sleep 9-11 hours per night as soon as I got home. Hey, if nothing else I’ve banked more time off that I can theoretically to go 4th Street Fantasy maybe.

I was thinking of maybe skipping, but I realized that this weekend marks the second Boskone in a row I’ve had to miss for money/logistical reasons. As if it didn’t suck bad enough, I find this piece of nostalgia on their website this year. I miss you Boskone. I WILL RETURN! (Well, gods willing and the creek don’t rise.)

Bet you can’t find me in this picture!

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 1 day.

I’ve decided that for February at least, it’s not so much about the chain, as much as getting more links in my calendar than I did in January. If I can do that much, then I won’t feel quite as bad. Maybe. At least I can accomplish that, though.

FEEDING MY HEAD
Inspired — okay, guilted — by 12 Books from My Backlist I Swear I’ll Read in 2020, I’m going to come up with my own list this week.

I’ve taken just as much artistic advice from musicians as from writers, even in matters of writing. A lot of it is really applicable. Case in point, Chick Corea’s 16 Pieces of “Cheap But Good Advice for Playing Music in a Group” (1985)

9.Guide your choice of what to play by what you like–not by what someone else will think.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
Because Dot’s always been an inspiration.

#Weeknotes S02 E06

I was in the mood to listen to the kind of music you’d hear on a lazy weekend day wandering through the type of hipper-than-thou record store that sells the “For Tobacco Use Only” paraphernalia behind the sales counter. So right now I’ve got Jefferson Starship’s BLOWS AGAINST THE EMPIRE in my ears. Mmm, I can smell the packaged incense in the air.

In other news, it looks like I have another serious shot at another potential job opportunity. More to report when there’s more to report!

Other than that, it’s been a rough week. Lot of craziness this week, what with everyone in my day job field worried about 2019-nCoV. Which didn’t leave me with much energy after the 9-to-5 to do much besides read a bit and idly kill things in DESTINY 2.

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 1 day. And that was the only day I wrote this week. I suck, I know.

FEEDING MY HEAD
I did go through some of the books on my TBR pile, but I discovered these pieces that I missed the boat on when they first came out…

I’d never heard of the surrealism of photographer Grete Stern, but I plan to look for some.

…Stern produced a photomontage that recreated some aspect of the reader’s dream. These illustrations usually depicted women struggling to free themselves from the oppressive patriarchy of Argentinian society.

I’m always curious about artistic beefs, especially in music and literature. From a NEW YORKER piece on writer Joanna Russ

Privately, to mutual friends, Russ accused Le Guin of being accommodating to men, of refusing to write as a woman. In some ways, Le Guin conceded the argument—she claimed to write under the influence of her male “animus”—but in other ways she resisted. After all, wasn’t her freedom not to write “as a woman” precisely the point?

Not that I ever could imitate George Saunders, but there are some tips in this piece in THE PARIS REVIEW

…one of the most important aspects of the Saunders aesthetic is something that might be termed “bonelessness.” A boneless story doesn’t begin with an idea for a central conflict, or with an outline, or with any other structural design. A boneless story has no skeleton. That doesn’t mean that there’s no action. To the contrary, Saunders’s stories are packed with incident. But the stories accumulate beat by beat. As a general rule, Saunders doesn’t conceive of plots in advance, but rather tries to write one funny, interesting moment, and then another funny, interesting moment, and so on. A Saunders story grows like a fungus.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
On the price of being an early adopter…

IN THE WILD

If only I could….

#Weeknotes S02 E05

Unlike Anderson .Paak, I’ve never had The Best Teef in the Game. I had a minor dental emergency this week. Parts of a back molar around a filling I’ve had since I was a child started falling off. No pain or anything, but it did bring me to a dentist for the first time in, well, a long while. I’ll have to go back in a couple of weeks, but in all likelihood it’s just due to the inevitable bone loss that comes with age. No cavities! (I generally don’t get cavities, not since I had those fillings when I was a child.)

The tooth will likely have to be extracted. If it does, I’m going to ask to keep it as a shank. Maybe tie it to the end of a pole, like a spear.

Oh well, at least my back is doing better!

I’ve been tapped to be part of a task force at work that I really can’t talk about. Not “I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you” top secret, but I’d rather not be another angle someone looking for more information thinks they might be able (inappropriately) pursue. That’ll make my next week interesting.

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 2 days, but 4 days overall!

Not really a lot of a lot of progress on revisions for Short Story 01, but I’ve worked a lot developing a couple of fresh ideas. Better than being stuck, I guess.

ROTTING MY BRAIN
I wanted to like the film 1917, I really did. Just wasn’t for me, though. I didn’t really glean anything that I hadn’t already seen in BLACKADDER GOES FOURTH, the DOCTOR WHO episodes “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood”, and series two of DOWNTON ABBEY.

Caught up a little bit more with THE EXPANSE. I’m 3 episodes away from Season 3. I’m still a little taken aback at the show’s plot scope and intricacy!

FEEDING MY HEAD
Kit Reed’s STORY FIRST: THE WRITER AS INSIDER is, in the first three chapters, a pretty succinct distillation of the sort of writing truths that most other writing books tend to start talking about halfway in. I’d only ever met Kit Reed in passing before she left us, but I did see her do a few convention panels. So I can actually hear her voice in my mind as I read…

I should say at the outset that if any of you are going to make it in show biz, that is, if any of you are going to write fiction that pleases anybody besides yourself and possibly your most doting relative, you are going to have to develop the habit of rewriting.

So yes, stuff I’ve seen before (i.e. rewriting) with nuggets that are new-to-me sprinkled in (i.e. writing as show biz).

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

(Okay, maybe having Crumb actually would open one up to demonic possession….)

IN THE WILD
Fjallraven Kanken No. 2 backpack I love it when retail therapy dovetails with actual, practical need. I decided I needed a lighter load to carry on days when I have chiropractic appointments after work. It wouldn’t be bad if I had a car, but I’m a bus/walking person, which you can be in the town I live in.

I still needed a smaller, lighter back for my Ultraportable EDC-In-Exile but slightly bigger than the STM bag I was using, that was simple enough that I don’t leave essentials behind when I need my full loadout, yet something that would still be kind to my back while I’m going to a chiropractor twice a week.

I’ve had my eye on this particular Fjällräven Kånken No. 2 bag for awhile, and decided I had nothing to lose by trying it out. It’s been a week and so far it fits the bill completely. I’m still not giving up my Filson, though!

Quickie Review of 1917 (2019) – Not Really for Me

Definitely one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen in a long time, even if most the beauty is in the grittier details of the horror and death of World War I. If you thought director Sam Mendes’s Bond films were good, you’ll really be impressed by this, I think. What impressed me the most was the single shot feel which felt completely different from what Alejandro Iñárritu does.

Personally, it wasn’t for me, though. And I tried. I wonder if it’s because I was in “Writer Head” the whole time, at the end of a very long work day.

Writer Head couldn’t find a reason to be invested in the characters. Writer Head checked off each perfunctory stiff upper lipped British soldier whose accent got more RP the higher their rank. Writer Head thought that every artfully placed corpse, every peaceful encounter, every act of violence appeared exactly when it needed to to keep the story moving.

Most of all, Writer Head told me that the film didn’t add to what any of the depictions I’ve experienced in TV, film, and literature (especially British TV and film) had already taught me about WWI. All the horror and trauma and death just to move trenches another six inches forward, yeah — World War I really sucked. We get it.

People are people so why should it be…

Before anyone goes all “Stereotypes!” on me, let me say that yeah, it is a little different when a group points out things about its own members than when an outsider does it. And yes, it can still be problematic in those instances (though I’m not saying anything below is or isn’t). And I’m not implying any joke stealing in either direction.

I’m just saying here’s another example of how people can be more alike than different that works on multiple levels that one can examine at their leisure.

#Weeknotes S02 E04

I spent the majority of my writing time this week engaged in some writing practice, which is to say “the practice of writing.” I’m surprised I had time at all; for a short week it sure didn’t feel like one at work. But I got myself caught up, so maybe just having a lighter psychic weight paid off. Carrying a lighter physical weight might be helping too — my back, at least. Unfortunately, I haven’t followed through on the process of letting go of old tech, but it’s on the list!

No, it’s not you. Just diddling around with the formatting a bit for this post. Might keep it. Might not.

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 1 day; but 3 writing days overall. That’s progress, right?

Revisions on Short Story 01 continue, but I’m also spending that writing time “sketching” so to speak in my notebook. You can thank Lydia Davis and some of the things I read in ESSAYS ONE.

ROTTING MY BRAIN
As promised, I did a Quickie Review of KNIVES OUT. It was so good!

Much like my To Be Read pile, I decided, Fuck my To Be Watched queue and took in the first couple of episodes of something deep in the backlog, season 3 of WYNONNA EARP. And after that, I plan to catch up with THE MAGICIANS.

The next few things on the list:

  • A couple of weeks of DOCTOR WHO Series 12
  • Season 2 of THE EXPANSE
  • A couple of weeks of the HARLEY QUINN cartoon
  • The first episode of STAR TREK: PICARD

FEEDING MY HEAD
Just picked up a bunch of things in a curated Write Now! Story bundle. And I’m starting with Kit Reed’s (may she rest in peace) STORY FIRST: THE WRITER AS INSIDER. I knew it was a good choice when I came upon this passage…

You don’t have to be a hatchet murderer to write about one. At some time in your life you’ve had murderous feelings. Use them.

Also, the aforementioned ESSAYS ONE.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

I remember writing an entry on an old blog that didn’t seem to make it over to this one about Jim Lehrer. The man helped build and maintain a PBS institution and still managed to get writing done. And that’s always fascinated me. A novel a year for twenty-someodd years? I haven’t read a single one, but if you assume for the sake of a thought experiment that they were all bad, just getting them done on top of everything else is quite the accomplishment!

IN THE WILD

My bag is sinkin’ low and I do believe it’s time…

This past holiday weekend, I went around with what I call my “Ultraportable EDC-In-Exile.” It’s smart to go with a lighter load every once in awhile, but one thing it does is introduce room for error. In this case, making sure everything I put in there gets back into my real EDC bag, my monster of a Filson 258.

Which, come Tuesday, I didn’t. Which then triggers all of my unresolved control issues and a rant of “Shit fuck goddammit, this is why I should never switch bags, one fucking bag is all I need, I don’t care how heavy it gets, I need everything, every day, all the time, why am I so fucking lazy??”

There’s that old organizational saw that says a weakness is an overused strength. It is a strength that I’ve condensed the gear I need to carry on a daily basis such that I have a good 99% of all essentials with me at all times without much thought. Who can argue with that logic? Certainly not a control freak. And, that’s a problem; not just for my spine, either.

I’m never giving up my Filson. It’s the bag I’ve always wanted, I don’t care how big people say it is! But… maybe I just don’t need every damn thing every damn day. And maybe, just maybe I might benefit from actually choosing (Gasp!) to be okay with going without every once in awhile.

I just need to remind myself that it’s okay to take a load off…