Vice Principals

Jody Hill & Danny McBride

Anyone who tells you Vice Principals is their favourite show is probably lying. They’re a contrarian, or they’re young, or they’ve been trapped in a cult for the last thirty years and this is the only TV show they’ve ever seen but, most likely, they’re lying. Because while Vice Principals is a great TV show, and it really is a great TV show, it’s not a show designed to be anyone’s favourite. I’d be surprised if it’s the creator’s partners favourite

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Danny McBride & Groundlings alumni and the person who should be getting offered every comedy part in the world, Edi Patterson.

show.

 

Yet it is great! And in only 18 episodes split over two seasons. In this short run it creates a town, and a school, it has a murder mystery, the rise and fall of an empire, the growth and destruction of multiple characters ambitions and hopes and, in the process, it sees characters move from good to evil and sometimes back to good while others become eviller and others sink down into a quiet malevolent grey area. It is a comedy but also a show which at times makes you question whether you should watch on. Taking characters, you think you love, or at least like, into dark repugnant places while also submitting them to the same pain and heartbreak they caused to others and yet, all the while, still being funny and entertaining.

It’s nobody’s favourite show but it should be the benchmark for what television can aspire to, even in comedy, especially in comedy. Bespoke, twisted visions of chaos,

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Walter Goggins as Lee Russell

violence, heartbreak, triumph and revenge which can come from organic places, origins as seemingly petty as wanting to move from vice-principal to principal.

 

Unlike other short run shows which have attracted a cult following (such as Deadwood, Freaks and Geeks or Firefly) Vice Principals wasn’t cancelled but designed from the outset to be a flash in the pan. It was a show based on innately American subject matter but presented with the brevity and finite arc of most English comedy.

The shows main attraction and a good part of its restrained marketing campaign was that Vice Principals seemed to be either a follow-up or tangential to Danny McBride’s previous series Eastbound and Down. Similarly, to the Eastbound character of Kenny Powers McBride plays his character here, the vice-principal Neal Gamby, as loud, crude and wilfully ignorant. Gamby, like Powers, is a character trapped in a state of arrested development, a mix of juvenile reactivity and conservative defensiveness. Unlike in Eastbound McBride isn’t required to do all of the heavy lifting and is more restrained. He is the protagonist, sure, but also the straight man to Walter Goggins’ brilliantly maniacal co-vice president Lee Russell. McBride plays the perfect patsy to Goggins’ fey, manipulative, crazed yet poised, joker-like teaching bureaucrat.

Meanwhile the solid acting of the supporting cast provides a realistic grounding while

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Busy Phillips & Shea Whigham

also often helping with the pivots and setups for some of the show’s best comedic moments. It’s, again, testament to how much this show achieves that it uses McBride in such a way that the tone can shift so easily and so often. Busy Phillips and Shea Whigham as McBride’s estranged wife and new partner could, themselves, be the basis for a whole show about family. In the very next scene Groundlings alumni Edi Patterson might be chewing the scenery as the simultaneously crazed lover of McBride’s Gamby and the conniving foil to Goggins’ Russel.

 

If this show had transposed the occupation of its character from Vice Principals to federal politicians, it would have probably won every single Emmy. It would have blown House of Cards out of the water and made them bury that crippled horse rather than try to keep it racing beyond the fall of it’s main character. It is the fact that Jody Hill and Danny McBride can mine so much from these base characters, these small stakes and local locations that makes what they produce so special.

 

 

Hollywood & Levine

Ken Levine

Hollywood & Levine is a podcast by Ken Levine. He is/was a show-runner, screenwriter, radio-presenter, playwright and author. Over the course of three decades his writing credits include, but are not limited to, Mash, Cheers, Becker, Frasier and guest spots on many other hit TV shows. He has written several books, worked as a sport presenter, radio DJ and, recently, written plays. Even the side notes of his career warrant mention; for example, he wrote what I would consider two of the best episodes of The Simpsons (Dancing Homer & Saturdays of Thunder). His life has created or helped to create some of the western worlds most loved entertainment.

Levine’s podcast is based on his critically acclaimed blog, By Ken Levine. With such a massive career there is plenty to cover. He provides advice on comedy writing, self-deprecating stories about his bad fashion sense, being bored at award shows, early dating efforts in sixties Hollywood as well as often brutally honest insider accounts of Hollywood culture and the changing face of television.

Which is fine but, of course, there are a thousand podcasts presented by Hollywood types, so why should anyone care about this one?

Mainly because Levine seems to understand what many other podcasters don’t, that podcasts are often really fucking boring. That they can, and often should, be crafted rather than free form discussion. Podcasts aren’t an absolute good just as radio wasn’t an absolute evil. Hollywood & Levine as a podcast is a creative pastiche self-aware enough to foreground the radio experience of its host and playfully combine both mediums. The show has a jingle and Levine jokingly throws to commercial breaks even though, at least at time of writing, the show doesn’t have or seem interested in getting sponsors (though surely the mattress and stamp sellers of the world will soon try to come knocking). Each episode usually runs for less than twenty minutes but never feels constrained by such brevity. Levine hams it up by seamlessly affecting a traditional radio voice only to subvert it by swearing or carefully steering stories into darkly honest places. He splits episodes into segments and there is a tightness and sense of fun to the show even as the tones shits as sweet reminisces are book ended by his snarky takes on people, shows, or phenomena. For those used to the carefully masked diplomacy of the usual Hollywood celebrity podcast this will be confronting, perhaps even off-putting. This too is the beauty of Hollywood & Levine, that it can roller coaster from sweet to sour, that it’s host is capable of luring in the listener with his sweet tales of teen dates in sixties Disneyland and interactions on the sets of Cheers and Frasier but just as easily turning them off as he skewers all and sundry in his annual reviews of the Oscars. For all of the radio gloss, the jingles and the crafted segments, Hollywood & Levine is unashamedly honest, personal, entertaining, and often vulgar, in short, a podcast done well.

Fist Fight (2017)

Richie Keen

Jillian Bell takes the Michael Fassbender award: for not just turning up, not just matching the token effort of all around, but for owning every single scene so hard that you start to wonder if she (like him) knows what film she is in.

 

Charlie Day playing a Charlie Day type and Ice Cube playing an Ice Cube type (complete with NWA quotes he somehow doesn’t visibly wince at).

The jury is still out as to whether Charlie Day can pull off being a leading actor as there’s not much in this movie to work with. His character is boring and weak and, by films end, has only evolved into someone slightly less boring and weak. The central idea of a teacher fight is fine, I guess, within the film but barely believable with a bunch of half-hearted obstacles and hinderances and character motivations. As with every middle of the road American comedy the worst part is the sign-posted heart felt character arc and

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Jillian Bell: A showoff

ending where everyone and everything ends in a sort of mediocre fairy tale. They all get to keep being teachers. That sucks.

Kumail Nanjiani and Tracey Morgan are ok in supporting roles though it feels like they didn’t really know what they were doing. Meanwhile poor Christina Hendricks is way off in tone and it perhaps her character lost a lot of lines or scenes or she was given the wrong script, either way, her character, her approach to it is strange.

Meanwhile Jillian Bell steals every scene with the best lines, perfect timing, and what feels like a genuine interest in being in the movie and being the funniest person within it. Jillian Bell is has been criminally underrated for a while and, I think, is one of the best comedic character actors working at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to hear that everyone else in this movie hates her now because she overshadowed everyone so hard.  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she is a complete dick who went out of her way to show everyone up. I don’t think believe either is the case (I would of Fassbender), I’d hope and assume she is awesome and she is much better than this movie deserved and makes it much more deserving or watching on a long plane trip than it may have otherwise been.

 

Logan Lucky (2017)

Steven Soderbergh

Is movie Universe creation approaching a possible saturation and breaking point? We’re deluged with content on the movie and television screen and the market leader, Marvel, is fast approaching the point where newcomers could be too intimidated by the breadth of their universe. Meanwhile the other studios are racing to reach that same breadth with mixed success.

So, it is tempting, though not necessarily correct (yet) to claim there is a sort of reaction going on whereby established filmmakers are interested in making standalone stories. Examples include Shane Black’s hilarious and madcap The Nice Guys, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver and, this, Steven Soderbergh’s return to the heist film. There is also growing speculation that DC might capitalise on this idea by making standalone films out of their properties (i.e. the rumoured Scorsese Joker origin film).

Like with Wright in Baby Driver, Logan Lucky feels like an act of escapism for Soderbergh. It is essentially a return to the well that was Ocean 11 overlaid with a different setting, target and cast of character tropes.

The movie is heavily stylised but feels a little too bright. There is no hint of the southern gothic which often makes southern texts much more interesting and unique.  Beyond the accents actors adopt this movie could, really, have been set almost anywhere in America fb395191b8e3d830ce8a4096994298d0(or even Australia with a few changes), the setting is horribly underutilised. There is not quite enough of anything, not quite enough car racing or stunts, not quite enough stakes, not quite enough character, and not quite enough reveal at the end. Unlike in Oceans 11 players in the heist are essentially all amateurs. They have no established set of skill and so the heist is almost unbelievable and somehow anti-climactic. There was an extra motivation in Ocean 11, revenge, which helped explain the film whereas the characters of Logan Lucky avoid and decry any sort of motivation.

Adam Driver and Channing Tatum could perhaps have been playing opposite roles to have suited their acting abilities better while, Daniel Craig is fun because it’s fun seeing him ham it up and it works in this movie but is part of the problem as much as it is a boon. Soderbergh avoids easy beats and the painful American movie second act interpersonal conflict and, for all of this movie’s problems, many also shared by Baby Driver, it is still fun simply going to see a well-made film not connected to another movie or necessitates staying around after the credits for a preview of what is to come.

 

 

The Hangover 3 (2013)

Todd Phillips

I’ve watched this film twice. It was ok first time around albeit confusing. Did anyone ever think this was a trilogy series? Want it to be? Need a third film to provide closure to events? NO! The first Hangover movie was a massive success. The second hangover movie was a copy of the first set in a different location and with a few tweaks but still a success, and an ok film. With that trend established it seemed safe to assume the third hangover movie would be more of the same.

But it’s not. Not at all. Same actors, same director and to an extent the same setup but much different result. No longer is there a hangover as plot device towards a reveal detective story. I don’t think this film even has a hangover in it and I liked that they broke from the formula but found myself guiltily missing and yearning for it a third time.

The second time I watched the film and without preconceptions I enjoyed it. It was easier to cast aside what I knew from the previous movies and watch this as a standalone story. I’m almost certain that once upon a time the script for this film was had a different title but that the easiest, or only way, to get it made was to overlay the character template of the hangover films. Either that and/or the director, Todd Phillips, wanted to showcase his action movie credentials so that he could branch out in the future. This second theory is semi-confirmed with his follow-up War Dogs where Phillips puts to work all the flashy bro-comedy action he seems to have rehearsed here. In the meantime, Hangover 3 has some good duel antagonist work from John Goodman and Ken Jeong and strong duel straight men in Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper to the crazy of Zach Galifianakis. It’s an ok watch but only if you can pretend it’s not a sequel to two unrelated films.

 

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The trilogy no one expected? Although this poster is pretty representative of it’s action over comedy tone.

 

 

 

Born Standing Up (2007)

Steve Martin

An impressingly well-crafted autobiography which, though brief, is an almost perfect splicing of Martin’s upbringing, pivotal biographical moments, evolution as an artist, encounters with fledgling and established celebrities, and struggle with the heights of his fame.

Martin is modest throughout the book but even within his humble recollections it becomes evident just how formative and influential he has been on modern comedy. It is this evolution of his distinct style which is the most interesting aspect of the book. Much of his stand-up and movies seem dated now, I think, but given the context of this book it is possible to understand just how truly unique Martin’s comedy was in its time. Iyoung steve martinf his comedy seems dated now it is because his inventions have since been so often copied and built upon.

I am always interested in reading about the evolution of an artist but have never read anything which provides such a clear understanding of how the evolution occurred. From a young age Martin is interested in performing and this book meticulously plots the twists and turns of his interest in comedy, development of style, interest in ‘doing it new’ and the subsequent struggle and then rise to mega-stardom. Along the way he performs with member of The Eagles before they are The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac before they are Fleetwood Mac, and even meets and is complemented by Elvis.

I would say that a failing of the book is that at times it is too modest, too glib and refuses to ever truly revel in the achievements or success of its author. I could have read much more on Martin’s film work and encounters with the SNL cast. When he does write about the peak of his fame, performing stand-up to arena’s full of tens of thousands of fans, he is still analytical of his act rather than congratulatory of his success. I would have welcomed more detail but will settle for a book that is, like the author, continually entertaining.

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