Terrible Reviews: The Night Of

Let me make up for the fact that I never wrote about Stranger Things (which was awesome) by jumping in and saying some things about The Night Of while it’s still fresh.

This review will be spoilerific. How could it not? The show just ended, and you can’t talk about what’s awesome and awful about it without talking about the ending. So — spoilers ahead. Seriously. Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the ending (if you care about that sort of thing).

The Night Of is one of those shows my wife and I tried on a fluke — she’s a fan of that unsolved murder stuff, and I’m rather a big fan of John Turturro — but we were hooked before the end of the first episode.

Well, the finale was this weekend, and I’m still thinking about it. We watch a fair bit of TV, but it’s rare that we have a show that we get excited about watching. We were excited about this one every week. It’s dark. It’s depressing. It’s hard to watch at times. But it’s the most compelling thing I’ve seen in recent history.

Here are three things that made it awesome:

  1. You don’t know who to root for. Nas, the protagonist who finds himself accused (and possibly guilty) of murder? Jack, the grizzled, lives-for-the-job ambulance-chaser lawyer who takes Nas’s case on a spark of something like goodwill? Box, the nearly-retired detective trying to close one last case? Every character is flawed. Every character has moments of I LOVE THAT GUY interspersed liberally with moments of ARE YOU KIDDING WHAT A TERRIBLE IDEA. Every character fluctuates between being adorably naive and soul-twistingly stupid. In the end, there’s nobody we were tired of seeing, because every character was a deep well of still water with inky-black creatures of darkness swimming in its depths.
  2. Everybody gets boned. Not in the good way. A down-on-her-luck girl is murdered. Parents lose their son to prison and all their money to his defense. One lawyer loses her license, another loses a case that she had no business losing. Prisoners get coerced into some truly horrific acts. Innocents become complicit in trying to help out their loved ones in prison. Everybody gets their hands dirty. Everybody is diminished. None are spared.
  3. Even in victory, there is no victory. Nas is acquitted of the crime, but he’s spent months in prison. He returns to the real world addicted to drugs and covered with tattoos that will forever mark him, not to mention the emotional scars of his trauma. Lawyer Jack notches a win (kind of), but not exactly a windfall, and the very next day, he’s back to his grind of chasing down plea deals for criminals who don’t stand a chance. Detective Box clears his conscience on Nas but opens the can of worms that is chasing down an entirely new suspect, and that without his badge (he’s retired) and having taken on the truly crap job of campus security to keep himself busy. And Nas’s parents, who mortgaged everything — literally and figuratively — to fight for their son, learn that the man they rescued from prison is no longer their son at all. The ending can’t even be called bittersweet. There is no such thing as a win, here. (Except, possibly, for Jack and his new cat.)

Those actually all sound like bad things, but they’re not. The show is eminently watchable, and it’s due in no small part to the fact that we couldn’t wait to see what awful thing was coming down the pike for these characters next.

On the other hand, nothing is perfect. Here are three things that made it not so awesome:

  1. The ending is a bit too abrupt. The trial — which seems like an absolute slam-dunk for the prosecution, and which is described as such by the defense lawyer (“you just convicted him” — spoken with scorn to his fellow attorney) turns on a dime with an oddball hesitation by the DA and the traditional impassioned speech from the beleaguered defense attorney. Suddenly it’s a mistrial, and in the blink of an eye, Nas goes free (kind of). But there was no hint as to what the jury were feeling, virtually no time spent suffering in deliberation with a deadlocked jury. Just, wham, it’s over. Which is, I’m sure, not an accident — trials are sometimes abrupt like that — but the mistrial and dismissal just seemed a little too clean in the end for me.
  2. Jack’s eczema. The show has run its course, and I am still asking myself the same question I was asking after two episodes, which is: what is the deal with Jack’s eczema? It plagues him, no doubt. It makes even harder his unenviable life and career, not least of which because he has to enter the arena of $300 dress shoes and fancy suits wearing open-toed sandals and bags of vaseline on his feet. And sure, his condition flares up on the night of the big closing, and he has to deliver his speech covered in sores and sleep-deprived from a night in the ER. But he doesn’t overcome it. It’s just a hassle without any resolution or grounding or payoff. Strange. Gross.
  3. Kapoor. This woman takes such a remarkable and idiotic swan dive from her place of grace, it basically defies credulity — except that it doesn’t. First, she takes the job representing Nas against the advice of her employer. Then she ends up falling for him, kissing him during one of their meetings in prison (caught on film, of course), which seems absolutely out of nowhere, unless you just chalk it up to the Florence Nightingale effect. The next thing we know, she’s smuggling drugs into the prison for him (in her “body cavity” as the show so delicately puts it), to level him out so that he can take the stand — even though Jack has, rather convincingly, told her that he should by no means take the stand. Of course she’s caught, fired, and likely disbarred. And why? For love? I wanted really badly to like this character, for her to be the shining beacon of light in the neverending night that was The Night Of, but it was not to be. I can’t tell if her downfall is so disappointing it’s insulting, or so common and simple that it’s perfect.

The show gets too much right (and maybe terrifyingly right), though, for its shortcomings to keep me from watching. It’s excellent, even if it turns your stomach as you gulp it down.

The verdict: Four and a half out of five infected prison tattoos.

The King and I (are basically the same)

Over the past several months, I’ve been working my way through Stephen King’s On Writing. I’d heard it roundly described as one of the best books on writing, ever (in fact, that’s one of the blurbs on the back cover: “The best book on writing. Ever.”), and hey, you know, that guy’s been pretty successful at this whole writing gig, so why not?

Why so long to get through the book? Well, there’s a lot of wisdom in it, and wisdom is kinda like a pork shoulder. You can’t just saw through it, slap it in the oven for thirty minutes, and call it dinner. It needs time to marinate. Time to cook down, time for those sweet, sweet mental juices to permeate the meat of the thing. It’s best consumed in small bites and given plenty of time to slow-cook throughout the day.

That and it’s basically been my bathroom reader during that time. One or the other.

Anyway. The book is fabulous; as good as could be hoped for. None of the hippy-dippy “writing will solve all your problems if you let it” crap that has made me put down books on writing in the past, never to pick them up again. Nor either the gut-punch, Formula-One paced blitzkrieg of penmonkey chops served up by one of my other favorites, Chuck Wendig. King’s approach is a little more thoughtful, a little more broadly appealing, a little bit … I don’t even know. It’s at times erudite and dirt-simple, oftentimes on the very same page. In short, it’s great.

And I’m not here to write a full review of the book. I will say that if you’re thinking of writing fiction in any capacity, it’s worth a read. The advice there is as suitable for flash fiction as it is for epic 5- (or 15-) novel sagas.

Rather, I’m here to gush a little. Because in the closing pages of the book, he relates a few thoughts on the craft in general, and some of those thoughts are thoughts which have passed through my very own brain, and phrased them in almost exactly the same way. Which of course means that Stephen King is my long-lost authorial twin soul.

To wit:

On some days … writing is a pretty grim slog. On others … I feel that buzz of happiness, that sense of having found the right words and put them in a line. It’s like lifting off in an airplane: you’re on the ground, on the ground, on the ground … and then you’re up, riding on a magical cushion of air and prince of all you survey.

Which I basically wrote just a few weeks ago (long before I read that passage from King, honest!)

And then this, as he describes his first return to writing after a months-long hiatus caused by a near-fatal accident:

There was no miraculous breakthrough that afternoon, unless it was the ordinary miracle that comes with any attempt to create something … I’d gotten going, there was that much. The scariest moment is always just before you start.

Right? Ordinary miracles? The hardest part is the starting? I mean, these could be subtitles (or sub-subtitles) of this very webpage for how often I spout them.

I’ve not read a ton of Stephen King; I’ve only recently become a fan. But there must be something to the fact that the same sorts of ideas seem to be kicking around in both our heads.

Except for the religion thing. Turns out he’s a big god guy. Which surprises me a little. But nobody’s perfect.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Press Your Luck

There was this show, pretty big-time in the 80s, called Press Your Luck. My dad absolutely loved this show, and so did I: it was basically a run-of-the-mill pure luck-based game where you spin a wheel to win cash and prizes. No skill involved as I remember (except for that one guy who memorized the pattern of the game board and won literally tens of thousands of dollars before they booted him). Just push your button and take your chances.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why we loved this show so much, except for one thing: the Whammies. Every game show of the era had its way to rob you of everything you had won in a moment’s bad luck — the bankrupt slice on the Wheel of Fortune, the wager-what-you-will spots on the Jeopardy board. Press Your Luck had the Whammy. Now, the Whammy took your money, but it was worse than that. The Whammy was this little turd-looking gnomelet in a banana-colored superhero cape who, when you hit the wrong square on the board, would swoop in and take your money. Not because he was a thief, but because he was an idiotic asshole. He’d drive a car in, lose control, and wipe out, taking your cash with him. He’d fly in from the sky, come in too hot, and punch a hole through the ground, and your cash would drain out.

But there was no great equalizer to this game. You couldn’t rely on trivia knowledge to save you from the Whammy. No amount of literary or linguistic savvy would ward him off. (Come to think of it, the show had female Whammies, too — which was actually rather gender-conscious of them for the time, though having a female turdlet character is a dubious gain for the women’s movement). If you wanted to win, you had to brave the Whammy.

I never realized what a perfect metaphor for life this show was. As prepared as you might be, if you want to achieve anything, you have to brave the Whammy. You could write the best book, be the most talented actor, paint the best picture, or, to quote a certain presidential hopeful, “have the best words,” and no small part of your success is still going to hinge on luck.

The Whammy of the real world might not take your money, but he (or she!) might very well take your dignity, your hope, your self-esteem, your dreams.

Luckily, the real world is not Press Your Luck, and we have our pockets literally bulging with free spins and re-spins — if we only have the guts to press the button.



This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

Terrible Reviews: Batman vs Superman

Superhero movies have been pretty good lately, right? The latest Batman flicks have been pretty stellar, right?

Despite the (negative) hype, my wife and I figured we’d give this one a try. Shoulda believed the hype. I don’t even know if I can use my typical format for reviews on this one; I need a new format.

Spoilery-type things ahead, though I don’t know that that will deter you at all.

Phase one: I have no idea what is happening

Does this movie draw upon the previous Superman movies (which I didn’t see) for all their exposition? The first hour of this movie jumps around like a caffeinated flea. We’re in Gotham seeing Batman’s parents gunned down (AGAIN). We’re in Metropolis watching Superman and some big bad wreck the city, including a building Batman owns (I think?). We’re in the desert watching a sting-gone-bad end with Superman rescuing Lois Lane (more on that later). Now we’re in Lex Luthor’s building and Batman is tapping into Luthor’s server for … reasons? Something something we both hate Superman?

I mean, my wife and I were having a bit of wine while we watched, but I don’t think I can blame my disorientation in the first third of this film on that. It’s everywhere all at once. There’s very little substantial dialogue. I felt lost, and not in that ooh I bet this will all make sense later kind of way, but in that I’m drowning in flash and spectacle but I don’t know what any of it means kind of way. It doesn’t help that entirely too much of the film is spent in Bruce Wayne’s trippy dreams, which constantly snap you right out of what little narrative there is, here.

Also, there’s a dark-haired, femme-fatale-ish woman running around dropping little turdlets around the plot (she steals Batman’s computer-info-stealer, and then gives it back to him, because why not), but no, her presence isn’t explained either.

Phase two: I am confused at everything that is happening

Luthor is a criminal mastermind, I get that. And I know it’s canon that he superhates Superman, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why, in this movie, he’s out to get Superman, outside of a vague indignance that Superman is literally a god among men and he has an ideological problem with that. But okay, he puppet-masters Batman and Superman into fighting each other, though he doesn’t seem to have a dog in this fight (he hates Batman too, seeing as Batman stole all his kryptonite for the fight). Then, hallelujah, Batman and Superman throw down, and hey, howdy, this is pretty awesome, but then all of a sudden the fight stops. Why? Because it turns out Batman and Superman have the same mother (okay, their mothers share the same NAME, but it would have been way better if they shared the same mother), and for some reason Batman stops an inch short of turning Superman into a kryptonite shish kebab when he learns this. I mean, a moment ago I hated you and everything you stood for, but now I don’t, because we both have manpain?

So the feud between these guys — the feud which serves, not incidentally, as the title of the film — lasts all of about twenty minutes in this 150-minute spaghetti-plate of a movie, and then they team up to take revenge on Luthor, because c’mon, good guys are good guys and bad guys are bad guys and there is NO OTHER WAY TO BE (just kidding, Marvel’s Civil War shows us a good way to have good guys fight each other which totally doesn’t suck). And it’s a good thing they did team up, because Luthor, realizing that his two nemeses have teamed up against him, spawns a terrifying demon (how he knew how to do this is another thing that the film won’t be bothering to explain, because fargo you for asking), which really looks like one of the orcs from Lord of the Rings, except that it can belch fire.

Never mind that Luthor doesn’t actually seem to have any control over this thing, nor does he seem to care. What does he expect to happen after it kills Superman? What would stop its rampage? Does Lex Luthor just want to destroy the whole world?

Who the hell knows.

Phase three: I no longer care what’s happening

Batman should be dead as hell. The Orc from Hell punched Superman through some buildings and shot Batman’s plane down with a laser beam from its mouth, and then it comes crashing in for the kill, but NOPE, it’s Wonder Woman-ex-machina to the rescue.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Wonder Woman is pretty badass here. But once again, this movie drops the ball by letting things happen which should never happen. She goes toe-to-toe with the baddie — arguably as well as Superman, for that matter. Her shield can fend off its mouth-laser, and her sword can actually draw its — blood? lava? whatever — it’s so effective, in fact, that she lops the thing’s hand off. Now, maybe it’s me, but if your sword can lop the Orc from Hell’s hand off, then it can lop off his other bits and pieces too — like, I dunno, his head — but no, she stands back and lets the thing grow a new hand (and for all the world, as it re-grows the hand, it looks like he’s giving them all the finger. If that’s not a perfect metaphor for this movie, I dunno what is). And it takes — guess who — Superman making a heroic sacrifice by wielding a kryptonite lance of Longinus to take him down.

In short, Wonder Woman is in this movie to save Batman’s life, and that’s about it, which raises the question — couldn’t the movie have just been fifteen minutes shorter and removed her entirely? It’s not like they let her have the killing blow against the big bad or anything. She seems wasted.


I mean, Lois Lane in this film is single-handedly working to set back female characters by decades. The central issue (I think) that starts the whole film off is her getting duped into playing along with a CIA sting that goes sour, from which Superman has to save her. Then, Batman realizes that the way to get to Superman is to go through his girl, so he tosses her off a building — and Superman has to save her. Finally, they go to fight the big bad, but it isn’t working. They need the kryptonite Excalibur, which Lois thoughtfully chucked into an indoor pool. So she dives in after it, but then the building collapses and traps her in the pool — AND SUPERMAN HAS TO SAVE HER.

It’s like the filmmakers wanted to earn some feminist street cred by including Wonder Woman and legitimately letting her kick some ass in this kicked-over anthill of a movie, but then they ruin it by punching themselves in the nuts with all the ways they made Lois Lane suck.

At the end of all this? Superman is dead WAIT NO OF COURSE HE ISN’T and this fools exactly nobody in the viewing audience, so what’s the point, really?

The Verdict:

I heard the negative buzz circling around this thing and I took it with the proverbial grain of salt. Like the recent Ghostbusters, it seemed that many people had made up their minds to hate it before it ever premiered. A lot of that was due to Ben Affleck assuming Batman’s mantle, and, well, I have no brand loyalty, so I didn’t care about that. Films owe us nothing, after all. But the stink on this thing is legit, and it’s not even Ben Affleck’s fault.

This movie is bad. I wish I had a more creative way to say it, but I already feel silly having taken all this time to write about it (originally I thought this review would be about 300 words, but it turns out, there’s a lot to dislike about the movie).

You want your Batman fix? Go back and watch The Dark Knight again.

I give this movie one-and-a-half burning Batman brands in your forehead.

The film and its characters and all the lovely images above are property of DC comics and Warner Bros. Pictures, and are obviously not created or owned by me.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Expiration Date

Consider a tree. Nourished and nurtured and planted in fertile soil, it can flourish and tower and bear remarkable fruits. Neglected and sheltered and forgotten about, it withers and crumbles and gets overrun with ivy or tree cancer or tree-eating beetles or something horrifying like that.

Just so with the creative brain. Given room to grow, freedom of expression, and a steady diet of inspirational art, the brain grows stronger, desires to create for itself, and spawns incredible creations. Left to fester, the brain shuts down, gives up, stops trying.

Creativity must be tended, just like a tree, or that crappy vegetable garden my wife and I tried to plant a few years ago. We didn’t know anything about anything when it came to growing actual food, and figured, you know, the human race has been handling this gardening thing for millennia; how hard can it be, right? Bloody hard, as it turns out; not to mention the fact that neither of us actually has the patience or the drive to actually maintain the thing. What, you mean it takes more than a sunny spot, a few holes in the ground, and some foolish optimism to grow food in your backyard? To hell with that!

But of course it does. You’ve got to monitor that crap. Track the pH levels in the dirt. measure the amount of water in the soil. Pull weeds. You know. Effing work at it.

And if not tended properly? Those fruits wither on the vine, or worse, they shrivel up and die before their tiny little seeds can even germinate.

And so it is with creativity. Ask any writer or artist or whatever where their ideas come from, and their answer will probably be something like: it’s not finding the ideas that’s hard, it’s deciding which ones are worth my time that’s difficult. I’m not even that much of a writer, and still the thought will cross my mind at least once a week — sometimes once a day! — hey, I should write a story about this or that would make a really cool turn in my novel or man, I wish I’d had that idea three months ago on that other project.

But these ideas are like the produce at Aldi: they have an expiration date measured in hours, not days. Your brain serves them up from wherever ideas come from. (The black hole in the back of your brain? The quantum tunnel that connects your brain to every other brain in the world? Narnia?) They land on the shelf where your conscious mind peers at and ponders over them like an aging bachelorette on a diet. And whichever ideas don’t get put in the cart? Whichever ones don’t get spun pretty quickly into tonight’s dinner or slapped into the deep-freeze of your ever-expanding Evernote file? They go brown, they turn spotty, and they end up in the dumpster out back.

Age, Bacteria, Bio, Biology, Bread, Breakfast, Bug

Which is fine and natural (not the exorbitant amount of food waste in our country, of course — but the life cycle of ideas). A few bananas go bad — it’s no big deal, the grocery store knows it’s gonna sell more bananas. But those kiwis? Those mangoes that look so good but taste so bad? The more they rot, the less the store wants to put them on the shelf.

But your brain works the same way. It serves up these fantastic ideas day after day, week after week, and the more you don’t do anything with them? The more they expire, unused, on the shelf?

The less your brain is going to serve them up.

This is why I try to write, at least a little bit, every single day. The more I write, the more I notice my good ideas when they crop up — and the more, it seems, I have to choose from.

Your creativity — your good ideas — they have an expiration date.

Waste not, want not.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.