I would have words…

Lately I’ve been watching the show ‘Spartacus’ on Netflix. I’m thinking about writing a fantasy book set in Bronze Age-type book series once I finish IDYLL Book 3, and a sword-and-sandals saga seemed somewhat similar to the setting of my story. (Sibilance!)

spartacus batiatusQuestionable research techniques aside, I’ve been enjoying Spartacus. Yes, it’s cheesy at parts, but I think the first season was very well done for what it is—a bloody, lusty soap opera with lots of good twists and over-the-top characters.

To help convey a sense of Old-Old-Worldiness, the ancient Romans talk in a sort of overly formal, faux-Shakespearean phrasing. That’s probably better than having them talk in the original Latin! And the writers have done a good job of using that style to make the simplest lines of dialog sound interested.

For instance, “We need to talk” becomes “I Would Have Words…”

The overwrought language can also seem surprisingly colorful and visceral. As in “You will do as commanded, absent complaint, or see flesh stripped from bone.” Or “There are many words I would use towards your description. ‘Fool’ lives not amongst them.”

The problem for me is that I think that style of speech is slipping into my writing. My characters are speaking a little too formally.

I find my characters saying things like:
“This all that remains.”
“Granted, it was a poor choice.”
“I’m pleased to hear it.”
And granted, my characters are sci-fi cowboys, but still this style is too anachronistic, even for them.

This isn’t the first time that some sort of media I enjoy has seeped into my writing style. I’ve found I can’t read a present-tense book while I’m doing my first draft, or I’ll write whole passages in the wrong verb tense.

How about the writers out there? Are there any writing styles or tropes that unconsciously slip into your writing based on what types of books, shows, or music you’re enjoying in your free time?

Favorite funny shows of 2015

In the last five years or so, I’ve heard people bemoan the state of comedy series on television. The days of mega-comedies like Seinfeld and Friends are long gone. The Office, 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother are off the air. The Simpsons and South Park are both (debatably) past their prime. And no new comedy has established itself as being that widely popular show that you wouldn’t feel slightly embarrassed to admit you watch.

But to anyone who says that comedy is dead, I say, ‘Look harder!’ There’s some very funny stuff out there, based on premises or perspectives that never would have seen the light of day before TV’s age of segmentation. Here’s five of my favorites:

rickandmorty_crop Rick and Morty (on Adult Swim)
Imagine ‘Doctor Who’ cut down to a pithy 22 minutes—with higher production values, and a zanier feel to smooth over some of the implausibilities in the plot. How do you do all this? By turning it into a cartoon! In this case Rick Sanchez is the irrepressible, dimension-hopping genius—but tinted with streaks of nihilism, misanthropy, and alcohol abuse.

This show, co-produced by Community’s Dan Harmon, offers some sharp new angles on some classic sci-fi tropes: alternate timelines, mind control, false memories, and lots of other mind-benders that would make our favorite Time-Master (or the Twilight Zone) proud. Rick and Morty was the most fun show I watched all year, and more than one episode hit me with a thought-provoking jab that stuck with me for days afterward. Oh yeah, and I still have ‘Get Schwifty’ stuck in my head.

whas_crop2Silicon Valley (on HBO)
Mike Judge… is there anybody better at finding what’s funny and fascinating about the most mundane parts of life? Add to that a great, geekly joie de vivre, and also what feels like a very authentic look at a segment of our economy where bros working out of garages can fight toe-to-toe with mega-corporations for their own piece of the American Dream. How great is this show? It mixed a penis joke with programming jargon and compression algorithms—and it earned an Emmy nomination for it.

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Nathan For You (on Comedy Central)
Now on it’s third season, I still don’t understand how this show isn’t more of a cultural phenomenon. Nathan Fielder (who graduated business school with ‘really good grades’) travels the country (well mostly southern California) ‘helping’ real business owners with his unique brand of ‘helpful’ ideas. Granted, this reality spoof/prank show isn’t quite as hilariously funny as it was in its first season (even Da Ali G Show only ran for 2 seasons), but it definitely serves up some moments that will have you cracking up—and cringing.

whas_cropWet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (on Netflix)
J.J. Abrams isn’t the only writer/director who resucitated a decade-old property with a golden balance of nostalgia and newness. Michael Showalter and David Wain revived their 2001 cult hit movie by giving us a 8-episode prequel that perfectly brought back the schlocky humor of the original while adding some new wrinkles (pun intended) to create a fresher, deeper storyline.

anotherperiod_cropAnother Period (on Comedy Central)
How did this show ever get green-lighted? I’m guessing the pitch mentioned two enigmatically successful pop-culture phenomenons: Downton Abbey and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. That’s basically what we’ve got here. A group of filthy-rich aristocrats in 1910s Rhode Island, behaving obnoxiously, interspersed with jokes about women’s suffrage, Spanish Flu, and the Lindberg baby (too soon?). How DID this show ever get green-lighted? I don’t know, but I’m glad it did.

Ken Doll Crotch = Evil

rocker_strainIf there’s one thing that popular media has taught me in the last 10 years, it’s that you can’t trust a man who is anatomically incorrect. Recently this universal axiom was exposed again on Guillermo del Toro’s FX series, The Strain.

Here are a few other examples of genital-free villains:

dynamicman_twelveDynamic Man – “The Twelve”
Spoiler: If you made it to the end of this comic series (12 issues were published over a span of 58 months), you were probably too numbed to care that Dynamic Man turned out to be a sexless android.

 

 

carver_niptuckThe Carver – “Nip/Tuck”
I won’t completely spoil this serial killer plot from 2005. Let’s just say that a Ken Doll Crotch is involved

 

 

julie_yourhighnessJulie – “Your Highness”
Ew, gross! Toby Jones plays a spy whose mean streak isn’t revealed until he does some streaking of his own.

 

ken_toystory3Ken – “Toy Story 3”
I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning the granddaddy or glandlessness, who took a villain turn in the last Toy Story movie.

 

 

Putting Toy Story 3 aside, I wonder why the Ken Doll Crotch seems to be such a popular  scare tactic? Is it the fact that it plays on the Freudian fear of castration? Or just a profane way to shock an audience while implicitly maintaining a PG-13 or TV-14 rating? And when will this trend stop? Won’t someone please think of the poor special effects teams that have to mold and apply these fake crotches? Someone should call the union!

Best actor in a suppurating role

I’ve always felt some sympathy for the actor Jack Gleeson because he plays such a iconically unsympathetic character. King Joffrey is the most despised, most irredeemable villain in all of the Game of Thrones series—and that is obviously saying something. There’s no reader or viewer that doesn’t want to slap the shit out of that kid. Even Joffrey’s own family members can’t stop slapping him, and he could probably have all of them executed.

Because Gleeson is so good at the role, it’s disconcerting to see outside the context of the show. I feel a little disturbed by photos of him smiling at a premiere party. What’s he smiling about? Is there a prostitute bleeding to death, just off frame? Somebody sweep the area for decapitated heads!

Among the ranks of teenage actors who became (in)famous for playing towheaded terrors, it seems clear to me that Gleeson has already surpassed the kid who played Draco Malfoy. I guess only time will tell if he will become this century’s Billy Zabka.

But let’s put aside the taint of eternal, vicarious hatred that is likely to cling to Gleeson/Joffrey for decades to come—I’m still not sure that Gleeson is the actor who’s career has been most injured by GOT’s casting directors. Consider which of these would be the most insulting:

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