The Flame Of The Furious

Vanessa Hudgens as ‘Emily Locke’ in “Powerless” (S1)Back in the day, I was a big fan of DC’s comedy titles, like Justice League International, Lobo, and The Heckler (all co-written by Keith Giffen, oddly enough), so I was intrigued when it was announced that NBC was making a sitcom set in the same universe as these fondly remembered books that brightened up many a boring school lunch-break/field-trip. Powerless stars Vanessa Hudgens as ‘Emily Locke’, a rather naïve country-mouse who’s travelled to Charm City to take up the position of “Director of Research & Development” at Wayne Security, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises that produces gizmos to help civilians survive the crossfire between rampaging supervillains-and/or-heroes. I couldn’t help noting the similarity between this show and Better Off Ted… and it’s not a very favourable comparison, because Ted had much more satirical bite to it, owing to the fact that the featured corporation (Veridian Dynamics) was straight-up evil, and snidely proud of its soulless greed, despite the best intentions of some of its more sympathetic, lower-level staff members. Here the corporation is genuinely trying to make the DC universe a little safer and more secure, despite the indifference, cynicism, and selfish pettiness of the main characters… which isn’t as funny or as subversive, when you think about it.

That said, Hudgens is doing some fine work in the lead role, deploying her doe-eyed-idealism (and killer karaoke skills) to maximum effect… and I was happy to see A to Z’s Christina Kirk snarking it up as ‘Jackie’, the long-suffering personal assistant to their spoiled-rich-boy boss ‘Van Wayne’ (played by the always-hilarious Alan Tudyk). Fun fact: Although I assumed he was an original character created for the series, Van actually made his first comic-book appearance all the way back in 1962! (Batman #148)

Natalie Morales as ‘Green Fury’ in “Powerless” (S1)Still, my main reason for sticking with the show this long is the addition of Green Fury (aka Beatriz da Costa) as Charm City’s go-to guardian-gal. I’m pretty sure she was known as “Green Flame” back when she first joined the JLI, and set my pubescent pulse a-racing, before eventually rebranding herself as “Fire”… but Wikipedia informs me that “Green Fury” was her original moniker, when she made her comic-book debut back in 1979 (via Super Friends #25). Whatever she calls herself, she’s a feisty Brazilian firebrand with bright green hair and awesome powers, and I’m really loving the way she’s portrayed here by Natalie Morales (who I like to think of as the Latin Anna Chlumsky, because I’m strange/racist like that). I should also say her costume looks fantastic, and the FX they’re using to depict her fiery powers are top-notch… especially considering they must be on a fairly tight budget, and she isn’t even a main character. Although this is a sitcom, she isn’t being set-up as a clownish “joke”… her badass attitude and heroic agency are being respected, while much of the humour derives from how a sexist and superficial media focus on her physical appearance and personal relationships, rather than her life-saving acts of derring-do. The gossip-mongers even attempted to misrepresent her budding friendship/workship (?) with Emily as a lesbian fling… which wouldn’t be totally out-of-character with how Fire was portrayed in her post-JLI comic-book appearances, but probably isn’t on the cards for this show (no matter how much pervs like me might fantasise about it).

Natalie Morales as ‘Green Fury’ in “Powerless” (S1)Sadly, Powerless isn’t exactly bringing in big ratings (or any critical acclaim), so I doubt it’s going to help Fire break-out into the mainstream consciousness… but for me, her inclusion here was way more exciting than the announcement of a Wonder Woman movie. In fact, whenever I think of WW, I remember the way she was portrayed in the old JLI comics, as a flawless alpha-female, who all the men were mooning over, and Fire kept calling a “bitch” under her breath. The thing I liked about those comics was that they (mostly) focussed on the second-string heroes and underdogs, rather than the headliners, so the fact that Powerless has done the same (first with an Americanised version of “Crimson Fox” (Deanna Russo), and then with Fire) is a big plus in my book. Even the dismissive name-dropping of “Justice League Europe” made my fanboy heart skip a beat! I wonder if there’s any way the show’s writers could be convinced to slowly bring in more JLI characters, and retool it as a Super Buddies series, with Van taking the place of Maxwell Lord…?

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Two Times A Lady

Taskmaster returned for a fourth series on Wednesday, and this time around they’ve doubled the number of female participants to TWO!! Specifically, actress/presenter Mel Giedroyc and actress/comedian Lolly Adefope. Sadly, they’ve also decided to stick with an unwieldy total of five contestants, meaning that once again the teams will be uneven if/when they’re split into a-pair-and-a-trio for certain challenges… which I still find quite unfair/irritating, even though this is a comedy show, and they’re not really competing for anything of serious value. Tch!

Mel Giedroyc and Lolly Adefope ala “Taskmaster” (S4)Meanwhile, this series is inadvertently (?) bridging the gap between the BBC’s original Great British Bake Off (as represented by Giedroyc), and the upcoming Ch4 reboot, which will be co-presented by Noel Fielding. By a curious coincidence, they’re also the only two contestants to have brought overalls to wear for the challenges, rather than regular clothes (Noel even went to the trouble of personalising his yellow hazmat suit with black skeleton bones, which would have won him extra points for style if I’d been in charge of the scoring). Personally, I’m willing to give the new version of Bake Off a go, out of curiosity… though I’ll most likely record it so I can skip the commercial breaks. I do think it’s sort of hilarious that Ch4 spent so much money on filching the show without checking that the on-camera talent would be part of the deal… rather like buying a house based on a photo, and then discovering that it has no internal walls/floors/fittings. All they really ended up owning was the brand-name and the tent… and, imho, the tent is the stupidest part of the whole format, considering how often it ruins people’s bakes by getting too hot on sunny days. I’d much rather see them based in a proper kitchen, with air-conditioning keeping the room at a consistent temperature… though I guess that would take some of the drama/fun out of it for some viewers…?

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BRB-ing B99

[Contains cute-but-confusing photocopiers and SPOILERS!!!]

Chelsea Peretti as ‘Gina Linetti in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (S4)Back in January, Brooklyn Nine-Nine bowed out for a mid-season hiatus with an aggravating and seemingly arbitrary cliff-hanger, involving ‘Gina’ getting hit by a speeding bus at the end of the episode. It felt like such a cheap, attention-grabbing “gotcha” moment, that it made me seriously consider giving up on the show altogether… but then Chelsea Peretti announced that she was with-child, and I realised that there were extenuating circumstances behind this rather ham-fisted plot-twist. As strategies for covering up an actress’s growing baby-bump go, Gina’s new “halo” head-brace thingy is actually pretty ingenious, and is certainly preferable to the insufficient array of cushions and large purses that are often utilised in similar straits. I was worried they were going to confine her character to a hospital bed, or write her out entirely for a couple months, but thankfully she’s still lurking around the station-house (for now), as full-of-herself as ever, despite the short-term memory loss. Phew! Weirdly, this season has seen her evolve into the squad’s eccentric-but-wise voice of reason (“Gina Knows Best”, indeed!), which is a long way from where she started as an incompetent and corrupt kleptomaniac, so I hope they keep her in the mix for as long as physically possible, because the show would/will be a lot less fun without her.

Anyhoo, mazel tov to Peretti (and hubby Jordan Peele), and welcome back B99! I’m sorry I got so mad at you…

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The Big Bat Theory

Melissa Rauch voicing ‘Harley Quinn’ for "Batman & Harley Quinn" (2017)Obsessively checking Harley Quinn’s IMDb character page finally paid off this week, with the appearance of a new official title: Batman & Harley Quinn (aka “Hits and Giggles”), a straight-to-video animated feature co-written by Bruce Timm, co-starring Kevin Conroy as Batsy, and introducing spanky new Harley-voicer Melissa Rauch! I’m still not entirely clear on when and how it will be released, but there is a great extended-trailer/behind-the-scenes-blab on YouTube, and Empire have a short-but-sweet interview with Rauch concerning her accent. Apparently, the plot involves The Caped Crusader once-again recruiting our beloved clown-girl to help him foil a fiendish doomsday plot, which leads her into direct conflict with former gal-pal ‘Poison Ivy’ (voiced by Paget Brewster)… Oh-noes!

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Get’cha Ass On The Road

Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel a la “High School Musical: The Concert” (circa 2006)Working my way through the third season of Glee got me in a musical sorta mood… so when I saw multiple DVD copies of High School Musical: The Concert (2007) going for 50p in a local s-hand shop, I snapped one up and gave it a spin. Personally, I was never particularly taken with the songs from the original movie, I just enjoyed the jokes and the performances and the upbeat attitude… and I straight-up adored Ashely Tisdale, whose introduction seemed to get the biggest cheer from the audience here (unless my biased ears deceive me?). Considering the size of the crowds, and the coverage of the tour (more on which later), it seems kinda cruel that budding pop-star Tisdale and her screen-brother Lucas “Ryan” Grabeel were required to recreate their super-cheesy choreography so faithfully on-stage… but I’m sure that’s what the fans expected, and I still got a laugh out of the schtick, so fair play to them. Thankfully, Tisdale, Vanessa Hudgens, and Corbin Bleu were also given the opportunity to showcase some of their solo material, and get a little cross-promotion going, between the more familiar material. To be honest, I fast-forwarded through the bits where Tisdale wasn’t on-stage/screen, but considering how little I paid for it, I definitely got my money’s worth!

Ashley Tisdale a la “High School Musical: The Concert” (circa 2006)I also found the short behind-the-scenes featurette to be quite an eye-opener, as Grabeel cheerfully talked us through the punishing schedule that the cast were committed to… performing a full two-hour show every evening, then spending another hour-or-so meeting fans afterwards, before driving through the night, and crawling into a hotel around midnight, only to get dragged out of bed again early the next morning for local promo interviews! Just a soul-crushing grind of late nights, early mornings, cramped busses, and “craft service” tables. Based on my limited experience as a movie extra, I suspect I would have gone stir-crazy after the first couple weeks… but Wikipedia reveals that the North American leg of the tour ran for two straight months, including most of the Christmas/Hannukah holiday, and comprised over 40 separate shows across the country! Considering how many times they must have rehearsed/performed those routines for the movie, then again for the DVD’s “learn the moves” featurette, and again for this concert tour… whatever you may think of the actual music, you have to admire that level of dedication and fortitude. Like I say, I would have been climbing the walls (or reaching for a bottle) after the first fortnight of adrenaline-crashes and road/cabin-fever, so the fact that they all seem to have survived the experience with their sanity and smiles intact, is just awe-inspiring to me.

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Quasi-GothWatch: Rachel-Berry-As-Tina-Cohen-Chang

Lea Michele as ‘Rachel-Berry-as-Tina-Cohen-Chang’ in Glee” (ep #3.20)I didn’t bother blogging about the second season of Glee, because I didn’t really feel I had anything new to say about the show, despite several gush-worthy guest-stars. To summarize: There are scenes that make me laugh (hard), there are scenes that make me cry, there are scenes that make me swoon, there are scenes that make me yawn, and scenes that make me cringe, all randomly jumbled up together so I never really know how I’m going to feel from one moment to the next… like a game of emotional roulette. It’s addictive, but also extremely frustrating, and generally leaves me wishing I could slip into an alternate universe where there was a firmer hand on the tiller, keeping the show on an even keel.

The only constant is my abiding and unquenchable crush on Lea Michele, which spurred me on through the third season (circa 2012), and was amply rewarded in ep #3.20 (“Props”), when a disgruntled and neglected ‘Tina’ (Jenna Ushkowitz) tripped head-first into an ornamental fountain, knocked herself unconscious, and dreamed about swapping bodies with the show-choir’s star performer, ‘Rachel’… leading to the brain-mashing reveal of Michele glowering away in Tina’s abandoned goth-y clothing and make-up. It was the perfect overlap of my interests/obsessions, and I loved every second of this weird (and disappointingly brief) reverie… not least because it finally gave Ushkowitz an opportunity to step up and shine, staking her claim as the show’s heiress-apparent. It was also fun to see Michele playing a more timid and gawky sort of character for a change, though I much prefer her in full-on “cannonball” mode, given the choice. Don’t tell her not to fly, dammit!

Lea Michele as ‘Rachel-Berry-as-Tina-Cohen-Chang’ in Glee” (ep #3.20)I’m really behind the curve here, and have no idea what actually transpired in the three seasons that followed the core cast’s graduation… though I do know that they followed Rachel to New York, so I won’t be dibbing out in that department, thankfully. Is there any chance that living in the big bad city convinced her to give up her much-loved show-tunes, and rock-out more often? Probably not… but I did get to hear her covering a (slightly censored) Halestorm track in ep#3.14, so that will have to satisfy me for now.

P.S. Oh, I also want to give a shout-out to Vanessa Lengies, who joined the supporting cast this season as ‘Sugar Motta’, a totally spoiled (and tone-deaf) brat, who somehow managed to convince her indulgent father to found a rival show-choir for her to rule over… which was a completely ridiculous and implausible plot-contrivance, but it did give the show an excuse to bring back Idina Menzel as choir-coach ‘Shelby Corcoran’ (hotcha!), and Lengies was very funny (and strangely adorable) as Sugar, despite the offensiveness of the words coming out of her mouth, so yay for all of that!

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“Does Your Rear-End Make Noise?”

Jennifer Tilly as ‘Amy Hopkins’ in “Moving Violations”The first/last time I watched Moving Violations (1985) was back in the video-rental days, and while I’d forgotten pretty much everything else about the movie (which involves a group of suspended drivers having to attend a series of road-safety night-classes to earn back their impounded vehicles), one “joke” has stuck with me through the intervening decades: Two men are discussing a ditsy driving school classmate, and one comments that “she’s no rocket scientist”, just before the lady herself reveals that she works for NASA as a literal “rocket scientist”! Now, it isn’t a very good joke, but it was backed up by the visual reinforcement of her showing the male lead around a fancy control centre, before making-out with him in a zero-gravity-simulation chamber (the scene ends with their discarded clothes mimicking their off-screen love-making, via the magic of stop-motion animation, which was kinda cool)… plus the fact that the gorgeous geek-girl in question (‘Amy’) was played by none-other-than Jennifer Tilly, which is why I chose to revisit the movie this weekend…

Considering how crass some of the other disparate-group-of-people-in-training-to-do-stuff comedies were during that period, I was a little worried about how cringe-worthy this relic would be when viewed through my 21st century, thirty-something eyes… but it’s actually pretty inoffensive, compared to the higher-profile Police Academy series (with which it shared two writers). I mean, I wouldn’t say it was going to win any awards for character depth and nuance, but Amy isn’t exploited as a sex object, or made the butt of any stereotypical “bimbo” jokes either… she’s just slightly scatty, in an Einstein-forgetting-where-he-lived sorta way… and the sarcastic edge that Tilly adds to some of her line-readings makes the role a lot more interesting than it might have been “on the page”. That said, she’s still a pretty minor “obligatory love interest”, with the lion’s share of the screen-time awarded to her suitor, a smug smart-ass rebel played by John Murray, doing a shameless impersonation of his older brother, Bill. I didn’t realise they were related until I started researching this post, but it was pretty obvious that the role had been written with Bill in mind, and that their second-rate substitute was desperately trying to fill the great man’s shoes… which was pretty pitiful to watch, and seems even sadder in retrospect, knowing that it wasn’t just some random actor aping the man/legend, but his own flesh-and-blood, trying to sell himself as the comedic equivalent of tofurkey.

Jennifer Tilly as ‘Amy Hopkins’ in “Moving Violations”Overall, though, I quite enjoyed this movie, despite its juvenile sensibility, and perfunctory plotting. It builds to a sufficiently chaotic crescendo, and there are plenty of fun visual and verbal gags along the way, delivered by a (generally) solid cast that includes Fred Willard, Wendie Jo Sperber (as a strangely compliant hypochondriac), and Sally Kellerman (as the kinky/conniving judge who sets the whole thing in motion). I doubt I’ll ever bother watching it again, but I think Tilly’s fans should appreciate it as a one-time window into her acting past… if only to see how she looks with chunky glasses and a “period” perm!

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