Big Steps For Small Children

No Small Children (circa 2015)Although I’m enjoying Drew Barrymore’s new zom-com Santa Clarita Diet, I’m trying to eke it out and only watch one episode a week… and I haven’t gotten around to the new all-female Ghostbusters reboot yet, because frankly I was never that big a fan of the original… which means I’m rather tardy in discovering a band called No Small Children, whose music has played out over the end credits of both those productions. Formed in 2012 by three moonlighting school teachers, this toothsome trio write funny/thoughtful lyrics, play multiple instruments, and rock harder than Klingon calculus. As ever, I’m terrible at writing about music that I really like, so all I can say is that they’ve become one of my new favourite bands, practically overnight… and I have a fictional flesh-eating realtor to thank for it!

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Harley-volution (Pt. 4)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains circling flies and SPOILERS!!!]

Next up we have two radical re-imaginings of our beloved clown-girl, both voiced by Tara Strong, but targeted at very different age-groups (and pitches):

Harley Quinn (aka "Harlequin") in "Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles" (ep #1.3)Justice League: Gods and Monsters – Chronicles (2015) was a three-episode animated web-series, intended to prepare the way for (and promote) a straight-to-video feature of the same name, set in an alternate universe and starring very different, darker versions of the three headline Leaguers: “Batman” is ‘Dr. Kirk Langstrom’ (Michael C. Hall), an ailing scientist who’s turned himself into a blood-thirsty vampire in a bid to “cure” his cancer… “Wonder Woman” is ‘Bekka’ (Tamara Taylor), a New God who fled to Earth to escape her family’s despotic killing spree… and “Superman” is ‘Hernan Guerra’ (Benjamin Bratt), the test-tube offspring of ‘General Zod’ (Bruce Thomas), who was raised by Mexican migrants after being rocketed away from an imploding planet Krypton. The movie itself seemed to be a dumbed-down take on Alan Moore’s Watchmen (i.e., there’s a conspiracy afoot to frame/murder a dysfunctional group of violent costumed-antiheroes, in order to make the world a “better” place)… but if you can put those comparisons aside, and overlook the slightly patchy plot, it’s an enjoyable adventure, with cool action sequences, some good jokes, and impressive animation/direction.

The Chronicles are also a lot of fun, even if they’re aching to be expanded into longer stories. Each of the three episodes focusses on a single character, following them on a little mini-mission prior to the events of the movie… and the first instalment (“Twisted”) saw Batman tracking down a super-cute serial killer named “Harlequin”, who was kidnapping and killing innocent civilians, in order to pose their corpses in a mock sitting-room set, as the perfect nuclear family. Aw. It’s a credit to director/co-creator Bruce Timm, that she manages to retain her humour and charm, despite the grimness of her actions… and I really like the red-and-black hair she sports here, even if her “costume” does seem unnecessarily skimpy (unless she’d just got back from a “Rocky Horror” showing when Batsy dropped in on her?).

Bumblebee, Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn a la "DC Super Hero Girls"Meanwhile, our unsuspecting villainess was being rudely rehabilitated, in order to join the ranks of the DC Super Hero Girls, an action-figure line aimed squarely at the tween dolly demographic, which also spawned an ongoing web-series and a couple TV-movies (including 2016’s Super Hero High). As soon as I heard the opening theme song for this ill-conceived abomination, my heart began to sank, and the bile began to rise: “Get your cape on, And let’s take flight! You can do anything, We can be who we like!” Blerg. The image you see attached to this paragraph is a genuine example of the promotional artwork that was released to promote this pablum, and while the cartoons themselves aren’t all quite as insipid as that, I think it gives you a fair sense of how far removed this marshmallow-light series is from the more sophisticated retro-noir of Batman: The Animated Series (not to mention the psychotic sexiness of Harley’s “Suicide Squad” shenanigans).

Harley Quinn and Supergirl in "DC Super Hero Girls"Now, don’t get me wrong… I don’t have a problem with cuteness or girliness, per se… I’m a big fan of the (original) Powerpuff Girls, for instance… my issue with this series is that it’s taken so many strong, smart, complex, distinctive super-women and reduced them down to petty, interchangeable, touchy-feely bimbettes, with barely anything between their ears but a warm breeze. For example, ‘Wonder Woman’s (Grey Griffin) main story arc in the first season involves her designing a new costume to wear (because Textiles seems to be the only class she cares about at SHH)… and one episode of the second season (ep #2.3) shows ‘Supergirl’ (Anais Fairweather) and ‘Batgirl’ (Mae Whitman) using their powers/gadgets to full-on fight each other over a slice of cake! Feh. It’s also completely divorced from any sense of established comic-book continuity, completely glossing over (or just straight-up ignoring) the various characters’ rich and diverse backstories, as everyone happily attends school in costume, and they constantly refer to each other by their “super” names, as if they were just born that way.

Although I really dig the design of Harley’s costume and hairstyle here, and quite enjoyed some of the slangy dialogue she was given, there was something extremely off-putting about Strong’s delivery, as well as the character’s whole screechy-fangirl attitude. This is by-far-and-away the worst version of Harley I’ve witnessed to date… though, to be fair, all of the characters here are the absolute worst they’ve ever been. I also think it’s kinda weird that she and ‘Poison Ivy’ (voiced by Ms. Strong, again) aren’t even friends in this universe, despite that being the one thing that the writers could have easily imported in from their established incarnations, to sate/service the fans. Tch!

Harley Quinn in "DC Super Hero Girls"Although the series was relatively painless to get through (in small doses spread out over several weeks), the extended Super Hero High spin-off was a serious chore… a soul-crushing mire of mindless, mawkish mush, with pat emotional beats, rote character arcs, and predictable plot beats. Feh! It also threw up so many unanswered questions, it almost gave me a headache: How come Superman gets to be a full-grown adult (depicted in statue form), while his Justice League colleagues are still feckless teenagers? Why do they suggest that ‘Barbara Gordon’ is called “Bat-Girl” simply because she likes bats, rather than as a tribute to a pre-existing vigilante-fella? How come the school can afford a fancy-schmancy combat simulator with lasers and slime-guns, but can’t afford a couple CCTV cameras to guard its most dangerous/valuable room? How come ‘Principal Waller’ (Yvette Nicole Brown) didn’t do a proper background check on ‘Granny Goodness’ (April Stewart) before hiring her as the school’s librarian, despite being well aware of the planet Apokolips and the threat its inhabitants might pose to Earth? And, on a more technical note, I’d love to know how they managed to record the movie’s vocal-track and FX over the sound of Jack Kirby spinning in his grave. Did they use a special filter, or just muffle his coffin? The short-shrift given to ‘Big Barda’ (Misty Lee) was particularly reprehensible, considering how awesome she is, and how touching her story is in the comic books. Dammit!

Harley Quinn (aka "Harlequin") in "Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles" (ep #1.3)Sigh… I know it’s not the show’s fault that I’m a masochistic completist, forcing myself to watch something that clearly wasn’t aimed at me in the first place… so, I apologise for being such a dick about it… but I’m reeeally not looking forward to the feature-length instalment that’s lurking a little further down the checklist… GAH!!!

Fun fact: Every time someone says Giganta’s name, the “Gigantor” theme song (as performed by Helmet) starts playing in my head… even though they’re completely different characters, and their names are spelt/pronounced differently. Tch!

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Fresh N’ Thorne-y

Courtney Thorne-Smith as ‘Ann’ in “Fresh Off the Boat” (ep #3.13)Just the other day, I was writing about Courtney Thorne-Smith’s voice-work for the animated “fan-film” Batman: New Times, and wondering what she’d been up to lately… only for her to crop up in this week’s (excellent) episode of Fresh Off the Boat! Technically, this isn’t her first appearance in the series… she made her debut all the way back in April of last year (ep #2.19), but that was just a winking in-joke cameo, coming at the end of a Melrose-Place-themed episode that also incorporated vintage footage of her from that show… whereas this time around, her character (‘Ann’) has been properly fleshed-out as a recently-divorced working-mother with a misanthropic son (who goes missing shortly after the formation of a Neighbourhood Watch group, from which ‘Jessica’ (Constance Wu) is cruelly excluded). I can’t help thinking that playing a minor supporting role here is a bit of step-down for Thorne-Smith, considering the prominent parts she’s had in past comedies such as Ally McBeal and According to Jim… on the other hand, this has been a really strong season for Fresh, and she makes the most of her meagre screen-time with some very funny two-handers, so there’s no shame in that.

I also have to give a shout-out to ickle Ian Chen, who’s absolutely killing it as the adorably-precocious ‘Evan’ (his debt-collection sub-plot here was a fantastic runner, with a brilliant pay-off)… though obviously Wu remains the show’s powerhouse MVP, bless ‘er.

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Harley-volution (Pt. 3)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains pesky spine-bombs and SPOILERS!!!]

Harley Quinn in "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" (ep #2.18)Our crazy-cute clown-girl got a bit of a make-over in Batman: The Brave and the Bold (ep #2.18) (2010), where she slapped on some grey-face slap, and dressed up as a monochromatic “flapper”, so she could blend in with the rest of ‘The Joker’s (Jeff Bennett) gang, who were all styled after old-timey silent comedians. Although this (at one point literal) muting might have designated her as little more than a disposable hench-wench, she actually got plenty screentime to herself, made a couple good gags, and feistily fought her corner (even landing some sucker-kicks on ‘Batman’ (Diedrich Bader) for good measure, tee-hee!). Although the overall plot was pretty outlandish, with interdimensional imp ‘Bat-Mite’ (Paul Reubens) accidentally granting god-like magickal powers to the J-Man, Harley’s arc was a classic retelling of her all-too-familiar self-negating cycle: When her boyfriend/boss is ignoring or abusing her, she realises she can do better and strives for independence… but then when he (inevitably) gets taken down by Batsy, and expresses the slightest need or fakes (?) some affection for her, she goes running back to his side, to play the nurse-maid-moll all over again. Gah! This time around, her voice was provided by Meghan Strange, who did a great job despite being silenced for a significant portion of the episode… though this was her one and only crack of the whip, sadly.

Harley Quinn in "Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite"Harley made her first transition into CGI-brick-toy form* via a direct-to-video animated flick with the rather cumbersome title of Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite (2013), which was apparently based on (and featured recycled footage from) the video game Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. Despite the fact that ‘The Joker’ (Christopher Corey Smith) is one of the two main antagonists (along with ‘Lex Luthor’ (Clancy Brown)) in this story, there’s no actual interaction or explicit connection between him and Harley here, as she’s just one of many villains who make a nuisance of themselves in the second act, before being cast aside and forgotten, like… well, yesterday’s toys. She’s voiced by Laura Bailey, who also plays ‘Poison Ivy’ and ‘Wonder Woman’… which would be quite an impressive achievement, if those three characters actually had more than a couple lines of dialogue each! ‘Catwoman’ (Katherine Von Till) fares a little better on the screentime and agency fronts, but still wouldn’t qualify as anything more than a very minor supporting character. Overall, it’s a very cute and enjoyable little cartoon, and I don’t regret watching a second of it… but it really came up painfully short in the lady-person department.

Cassidy Alexa as 'Harley Quinn' in (sort of) in a teaser-trailer for "Arrow" (ep #2.18)According to Wikipedia and IMDb, Harley’s next appearance was a so-called “cameo” in ep #2.16 (2014) of The CW’s live-action Arrow series… but all you see of her is the side of her (blurry) head, while she delivers a single line of dialogue, dubbed in by Tara Strong. Apparently they intended to bring her back for another short scene in the season finale, where you could see the rest of her head-and-shoulders… but that got cut for time, and never appeared in the actual episode. Note: The screen-cap I’m using here is from a highly misleading teaser trailer, which got fans very excited about the possibility of Harley joining the series as a recurring character… though sadly they saw more of her in that brief promo clip, than they ever did in the show itself! How’s that for false advertising? As it stands, the producers should have saved themselves the money and just put a blonde wig on a wobbly mop, rather than going to the trouble/expense of hiring an entire actress (Cassidy Alexa (née Darling)) to “play” her on-screen. Meh!

Harley Quinn in "Batman: Assault on Arkham"That episode also featured (and took its title from) a shoestring version of the “Suicide Squad”… which leads us rather neatly on to Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014), a direct-to-video anime-style flick about a bunch of super-powered baddies being press-ganged into service by ball-bustin’ agency director ‘Amanda Waller’ (C. C. H. Pounder), to recover vital stolen intel from an inmate at the eponymous asylum. As this release was targeted at a much older audience than most of her previous shows, Harley (Hynden Walch) is a little more psychotic and sexed-up here, cheerfully biting people’s ears off and repeatedly shedding her clothes (while artfully concealing her nipples, because apparently the powers-that-be still believe that boobs are awesome but nips are dirty and evil and wrong!), but she’s also a lot funnier than she’s been in some of her kiddy-friendly appearances, so that balances it out pretty nicely.

Harley Quinn in "Batman: Assault on Arkham"I’m beginning to realise that one of the drawbacks to watching so many different Batman-related shows/movies from several years apart, is that they often reboot and retell the same basic stories over again for what they assume is a new audience, which can get kinda samey if you’re stupid enough to try chugging them all down over the course of a couple weeks, for the sake of an ill-considered series of blog posts. Ack! Here again we see ‘The Joker’ (Troy Baker) become very jealous of Harley’s new-found fun-buddy ‘Floyd Lawton’/’Deadshot’ (Neal McDonough), and possessive of his so-called “property”… but then once he has her back under his spell, he quickly (and violently) casts her aside again (again). Actually, I couldn’t really see any good reason for him to suddenly spurn her the way he does here, beyond the writers suddenly remembering that it’s an established part of his M.O., and deciding to throw it in there for old times’ sake.

Harley Quinn in "Batman: Assault on Arkham"Frankly, the whole flick is riddled with plot-holes, and inexplicable character choices… such as the bizarre decision on the part of the morons running Arkham to keep ‘Bane’ locked-up in costume, with all his tubes attached to a large enough supply of “venom” to send him rampaging off through walls and gates, should anyone ever accidentally/intentionally press the button that activates the pumps! Doy! Still, as I say, the jokes are pretty solid, and the action scenes are exciting, and Walch did another fine job voicing Harley, and they gave her a sexy-cool costume to wear (most of the time), and it’s good to see Waller looking like a stout bulldog type again rather than a stick-thin pretty-girl (even if they did make her unnecessarily eeevil), and I was impressed by how often they killed off name-villains to underline the team’s disposability, so overall I’d have to give this one a hearty thumbs-up (as well as a spot on my ever-growing “must-buy-eventually” list).

———–

Harley Quinn in "Batman: New Times"* Unless, of course, you count an animated “fan film” called Batman: New Times (2005), which was produced by students of the Digital Animation & Visual Effects School (aka “DAVE”), based on Asylum Art’s “Minimates” line. I’m not sure exactly how official that production was, but they did manage to recruit a stellar line-up of vocal talent, including Adam West as ‘Batman’, Mark Hamill as ‘Joker’, and Courtney Thorne-Smith as a very credible ‘Catwoman’! On the downside, Harley (voiced by newcomer Chrissy Kiehl), was little more than a grenade-lobbin’ obstacle that Bats had to negotiate in his pursuit of the perfidious Joker, and her dialogue was distinctly blah… so we’ll have to call this one a “miss”, even though the short itself is quite entertaining.

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Gemeleon

Gemma Whelan as 'Chastity Butterworth' in "The Chastity Butterworth Show"A while back I wrote about the dissonance and disbelief that resulted from seeing Gemma Whelan playing vastly different characters in concurrent episodes of Game of Thrones and Upstart Crow… and I felt a similar effect this week, when I listened to the pilot episode of Whelan’s cheeky comedy chat-off The Chastity Butterworth Show, just a couple days before seeing her in gritty true-life crime drama The Moorside. In the former she plays a saucy socialite, hosting three celebrity guests at her cosy country house, while in the latter she plays the increasingly-suspect mother of a missing child, living on a poor-but-proud housing estate… and, like the supremely versatile and talented actress she is, Whelan managed to shapeshift seamlessly into each role, while investing them both with a little of her own natural charm and humour.

As for the show themselves… Chastity (which Whelan also wrote) was a lot of frothy fun, and it was particularly pleasing to hear her interview fellow-Throner Charles Dance, and allude to her own part in the HBO hit without ever actually breaking character. Overall, it was a very pleasant and amusing way to spend half-an-hour, and I’d love to hear/see more… assuming busy-bee Whelan has the time to make any more episodes, in between all her other projects, that is!

Gemma Whelan as 'Karen Matthews' in "The Moorside"Meanwhile, only the first half of Moorside has aired so far, but it seems to be a solid and suspenseful drama, with the occasional chuckle thrown in to keep the gears greased. Personally, I have strong reservations about “dramatising” the lives of real people… especially when those people are still walking around in the world, with the same names as their on-screen simulacra… so I have a great deal of sympathy for everyone depicted/mentioned in this programme, regardless of how positively or negatively they’re portrayed. Still, I can’t deny that it’s compelling viewing, and provides a great showcase for Whelan, who was straight-up chilling here as the story unfolded, and the shocking truth began to seep out…

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Harley-volution (Pt. 2)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains heart-shaped hand-grenades and SPOILERS!!!]

Mia Sara as 'Dr. Harleen Quinzel' in "Birds of Prey"In theory, the character’s live-action debut came via The WB’s short-lived girl-powered superhero series Birds of Prey (2002), where she was portrayed by Mia Sara… but since she doesn’t actually look, sound, or behave anything like the crazy-cute clown-girl we all know and love here, I have to call “shenanigans” on this shameless co-opting of her name. As far as I could see, she was little more than a generic criminal “mastermind” type, concealing her underworld scheming behind a seemingly respectable veneer as a fancy-schmancy therapist… though, I have to admit, I couldn’t actually bring myself to watch more than the first couple episodes of this show, because it was causing me so much aggravation. Besides messing up their portrayal of Harley, the writers also seemed to favour the misbegotten magickal-feline-metahuman version of Catwoman (posited here as the mother of series lead ‘Helena Kyle’/”Huntress” (Ashley Scott)) that was created for the widely-panned Halle Berry movie, rather than the crafty-human-cat-burglar that everyone from casual TV viewers to hard-core comic-book nerds would expect and accept as the “real thing”. So, if you’ll pardon my Anglo-Saxon, bollocks to all that! Fun fact: Apparently, in the original (un-aired) pilot, their faux-“Harley” was played by Sherilyn Fenn instead… but, considering her previous roles, I highly doubt that her take on the character was substantially different to Sara’s. Meh.

Harley Quinn in "Justice League" (ep #2.22-3)After that, Harley returned to two-dimensional form, for a pivotal-but-embarrassing cameo in “Wild Cards”, a two-part episode of the animated Justice League series (ep #2.22-3) (2003), which saw the eponymous super-hero team attempting to foil ‘The Joker’s (Mark Hamill) latest caper. The “Clown Prince of Crime” had somehow managed to conceal multiple time-bombs (and a slightly implausible array of hidden cameras) across the city of Las Vegas, and challenged the caped crusaders to defuse them all, while filming their endeavours for a live TV broadcast. Their progress was repeatedly hindered by The Joker’s own amped-up accomplices, “The Royal Flush Gang”, whose preternatural powers make them a serious threat to the show’s stars. Incidentally, the scene introducing these new villains includes one of the most egregious examples of “the male gaze” you’re likely to find in a (supposedly) modern children’s cartoon: During the initial roll-call, the three male team-members are shot from the waist up as the camera tracks along them… only to dip its “eye” down to centre on the female member’s crotch, before eventually panning up to her face. Feh!

Likewise, Harley is depicted as little more than a brainless love-sick side-chick, who ‘Batman’ (Kevin Conroy) easily dupes into betraying the location of her boss/boyfriend’s secret hideout, by preying on her jealousy at all the fawning attention that The Joker was giving to creepy hypno-girl ‘Ace’. Ironic (?) fact: This supposed usurper was played by Hynden Walch, who would in fact go on to replace Arleen Sorkin as the voice of Harley herself! Harsh. Overall, I thought the storyline for this episode was pretty solid, but the script was totally witless (especially when it came to the dialogue spouted by The Joker and Harley, who should be able to provide a little comic relief, at least), and the writers clearly had no sympathy for our casually-abused anti-heroine, so I can happily consign this guest-spot to the rubbish bin, along with BoP.

Dr. Harleen Quinzel in "The Batman" (ep #4.08)Besides the recasting mentioned above, Harley was also given a (minor) make-over and a whole new origin story for The Batman (ep #4.08, “Two of a Kind”) (2007), courtesy of her original co-creator Paul Dini. In this revised version, Harleen Quinzell is the ditzy host of a Daytime TV talk-show, dispensing pop-psychology and highly dubious dating advice to her viewers, with little-if-any concern for the consequences (at one point, she cheerfully encourages a male suitor to “never accept no for an answer” from the object of his affection!). However, when she makes the mistake of embarrassing millionaire-playboy ‘Bruce Wayne’ (Rino Romano) live on air, by ambushing him with an aggrieved ex-girlfriend, the network suits fire her on the spot… much to the chagrin of her long-time fan, and frequent caller, “Mr. J.” (Kevin Michael Richardson). Spotting an opportunity for mutual exploitation, The Joker sets Harley up with a costumed secret identity, so they can go whoop it up around town together (in a jaunty musical montage, natch!), while she profiles him for a potential best-seller which will restore her sullied reputation. Of course, things inevitably take a turn for the criminal, and pretty soon her true identity has been revealed, prompting another TV psychologist to profile the nascent-villainess on his own show, after snagging her old time-slot. The looney lovebirds stage a full assault on the studio, but are thwarted (as ever) by that pesky spoilsport in the Bat costume, along with his wise-acre wards ‘Batgirl’ (Danielle Judovits) and ‘Robin’ (Evan Sabara).

Harley Quinn in "The Batman" (ep #4.08)The most striking thing about this iteration is that The Joker seems to be much more besotted with (and sexually attracted to) Harley, than she is with him… I mean, sure, he stills throws her under the Bat-Bus whenever his self-preservation instincts kick-in, but he’s also the one who initiates their courtship, and brings her (stolen) bling to encourage her interest in him… while she seems far more blasé about the whole affair, treating him as a means to a self-serving end, rather than worshipping him as her one-true-love. And though he does raise his hand to threaten her when she starts ordering him around, she isn’t the same delusional punching-bag that we see in some other depictions of their toxic, twisted relationship. This show took a lot of heat from fanboys/girls for the reputed dumbing down of its stories and dialogue, and the radical redesign of its characters… and I must admit I felt the same way when I first saw it back in the day… but now I kinda like the way it looks (despite my abiding aversion to cartoon/comic-book characters without proper noses). If I were to be a bit nit-picky, I’d probably nix the reflective red stripe on the dark side of Harley’s costume, but otherwise I think she looks very striking here… and I’d happily buy a T-shirt with this incarnation of the character on it! I also think Walch did a good job of impersonating Sorkin… and if they weren’t already aware that there was a different woman behind the microphone, I’m not sure how many viewers would have noticed the switch…

Harley did make one other appearance over the course of this series, popping up in ep #5.08 (“The Metal Face of Comedy”) (2007), as the J-Man’s sleepy, superfluous side-chick in a ridiculous yarn about magickal “nanobots” that basically turn him into a poor man’s version of “The Mask”! Tch! As I say though, she’s barely used at all here, and literally snoozes thru one of the big heists… making me long for the good old days when she and Ivy used to beat up Bats on the regular. Sigh…

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A Dash More Lemon

Jane Krakowski as 'Jenna Maroney' in "An Evening With Kenneth" (aka "Kenneth the Webpage") (ep #1.6)For some inexplicable reason, the powers-that-be decided to release the first season of 30 Rock (2006) on DVD in this country without any of the extras that were on the original U.S. release… but this year, I finally got around to buying a copy from “across the pond”, to complete my collection. And I’m glad I did, because there’s a lot of fun stuff on that third disc, including a 13 minute long “blooper reel” that was prepared for the cast/crew wrap party, and two behind-the-scene set tours hosted by Jack McBrayer, Judah Friedlander, and Lonny Ross (both as himself, and in character as ‘Josh Girard’… who I still kinda miss…).

I was a little wary of the “An Evening With Kenneth” (aka “Kenneth the Webpage”) section, fearing it would be some sort of off-brand webisode thingy like those crappy “Jack Donaghy” cartoons they bundled with the later seasons… but these turned out to be properly funny (and Emmy-nominated!) slices of strangeness, starring major cast members, on a par with the parent show. The basic conceit is that ‘Kenneth’ (McBrayer) records his own little YouTube talk show at his page desk, after (almost) everyone else has gone home, and he somehow manages to rope in ‘Frank’ (Friedlander), ‘Tracy’ (Tracy Morgan) and ‘Jenna’ (Jane Krakowski) as his guests. Although I loved Jenna’s increasingly vamped-up rendition of “Turkey in the Straw”, the highlight of these skits for me would have to be Kenneth’s sax-playing alter-ego “Doctor Funk” (who may or may not have been “doing the pot”).

Tina Fey goofing for the camera, on the set of "30 Rock" (S1)Other than that, I also enjoyed Tina Fey‘s commentary track for “Black Tie” (ep #1.12)… which included the revelation that ‘Prince Gerhardt’s’ (Paul Reubens) tiny left hand was (in universe) carved from ivory and given to him as a child, presumably when he lost his real hand, which is why it’s so small. That doesn’t make it any less bizarre to look at, of course, but it’s kinda nice to know there was some logic behind it, at least. Fey also praised the intensity of special-guest-star Isabella Rossellini, and observed that supporting actress April L. Hernandez has “sweet jugs”. Of course, as a feminist I find that sort of objectification deeply offensive… but she ain’t wrong!

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