Tag Archives: terrible reviews

Pareidolia, Foie Gras, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2: A (sort of) Terrible Review


Have you ever been in the midst of a dream, and then realized that you were dreaming? You’re there, and you’re standing naked in front of the class, or you’re taking the stage and you’ve forgotten your lines, or you’re soaring in the sky with psychedelic dolphins or whatever, and it clicks: this isn’t real. It can’t be real. The world doesn’t work this way.

Suddenly, the dream is a lot less convincing. Probably you wake up. Or maybe you turn into Neo and you’re able to change the dream to suit your whims or something. Either way, it’s like one of those pareidolia images of faces in everyday objects: once you see it, there’s no unseeing it. You can’t ignore it and go back to believing that the dream was real.

pew-pew-pew

What’s all this about, then? Well, the wife and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last night. And about halfway through the film, like Neo in The Matrix, I woke up. Not that I had fallen asleep — no, as is Marvel’s wont, the action is cranked to eleven in this offering. Rather, I looked around. Noticed the seams on the walls, the jagged edges at the periphery, the hidden patterns in the carpet. And the spell was broken. I wasn’t just watching a movie anymore, I was in a world that I knew had been crafted deliberately, created to work surreptitiously on my subconscious.

(Spoiler note: This isn’t exactly a review, and there’s nothing explicitly spoiler-ific here. But if you’re planning on seeing it, and want to be able to immerse yourself fully, you might want to don your peril-sensitive sunglasses now.)

Now, sure, movies are designed to do this to you anyway. Hell, so are stories. Creators craft these things to manipulate your brain from top to bottom: telegraphing some story elements to invite you to make predictions. Playing to well-known tropes to help you find your footing in a strange world.

And GotG2 does that. But this isn’t that. I wasn’t discerning the hand of the creator in the brush strokes. Rather, I was discerning the hands of the studio execs molding the story externally as it was crafted. A whole new matrix within the matrix.

Here’s what I mean: Marvel’s using a pretty simple formula these days. Stories get bigger and bigger. Crazier, wilder villains (see: Doctor Strange doing battle with a god). Savvier, snarkier self-satirizing heroes (see: the entirety of Deadpool). And a sequel is always measured against the yardstick of the original.

And how do you make a sequel better than the original? Easy, you take the same characers, craft an entirely new storyline that plays to their developing relationships and strengths that tests them in all new ways, encouraging more growth, more development, more feels from the audience. Right? HA HA HA no. The way you make a sequel that plays as well as an original is you take everything the original does well and you do it more.

Don’t sweat the storyline so much: you’ve already got viewers baked-in. Just ratchet up the things they loved about the first movie. Give the funny characters more funny. Make the romantic tension a little more taut. Make the explosions even more explodey.

What made GotG1 so much fun — what audiences loved about it — were a few things. The old-school music soundtrack laid over a futuristic world. The irreverence. The niche-ifying of every character (there’s the snarky central guy, the badass no-nonsense chick, the brick-joke, doesn’t understand sarcasm or interactions in general dude, the jerk-store a-hole raccoon, the mute monster with a heart of gold. See also: Five-Man Band.)

And about halfway through the film, I realized that this film wasn’t actually doing what a sequel should do. There was very little new development. Not much added to the larger universe of which this story is a part. Instead, this movie was focus-grouped to make me want to watch it by giving me more of what I liked about the first one.

Let me not drive this into the ground: a few examples will prove the point.

Musclebound Drax, whose brick humor was the cornerstone of his character development (what, again, does he actually contribute to the team?) is tossing out even more deadpan sarcasm-proof jokes here, at what felt like a ratio of twelve-to-one over the original.

Angry little ball of sentient fur Rocket, in GotG1, made his place by throwing out sarcasm and lashing out when people called him a raccoon and just general dickery. His character development here: he’s a total a-hole to everybody, with at least two characters specifically pointing the fact out to him along the way.

And of course, the soundtrack is just as jarring in its strange setting, but there feels like even more of it, and it even becomes a focal point of the story itself: the central villain spins one of the songs into a metaphor for his own development. It’s well done, mind you. What at first seems like this big, romantic yen about wanderlust morphs into a twisted, sociopathic rejection of humanity (and all lifeforms in the galaxy, actually — readers of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will hear echoes of the denizens of Krikkit in the villain’s desire to wipe out everything in the universe that isn’t him).

There’s nothing wrong with any of the above. But once you hear the voice in your head — the voice that says “OH YOU ENJOYED THIS THING ABOUT THE ORIGINAL MOVIE? HERE HAVE MORE OF THAT THING” — you see it everywhere in this movie. Douglas Adams wrote brilliantly about humor that what makes it so lovely is its rarity. In the midst of a hot summer, you run out into a surprise thundershower for the joy of splashing around in the puddles, for the sprinkle of the rain on your face, because these things are rare and not happening every day. But when humor is everywhere — when it’s been raining for weeks and weeks, each day like the last, with no hint of the sun — the rain is a little less magical. GotG2 is like that: it’s a week-long deluge when what I really want is the surprise afternoon shower.

Put another way: they make foie gras by force-feeding geese until their stomachs explode. Having watched GotG2, it feels that I’ve been force-fed in the single aim of extracting more dollars from my wallet. And my stomach is near to bursting.

I say all that to say this: GotG2 is good fun. It’s perfect summer fare — lighthearted, action-packed. If you liked the first one, well, you’ll probably like the second one; not least of which for the reasons I’m talking about here. But if you miss the movie? Well, you’re not missing much.


Terrible Review: The Girl On The Train


I don’t have a ton of time for reading. Does that shock anybody? So my wife and I have had this one on our shelves for several months. Meant to read it — something came up. Meant to read it — wanted to read something else first. Meant to read it — got distracted with a flashy app on the phone.

Well, I finally read it, and I’m mad at myself for putting it off so long.

Here’s the obligatory part of the post where I warn you that I’ve read the book, and it’s hard to talk about the book in depth without spoiling some aspects of it. So: Spoiler Alert. Within I’ll be speaking (not at length, and unspecifically when I can) about characters and developments within the book. If you’re a purist and want to be shocked by everything, this is probably the part where you should stop reading.

What’s Awesome about it?

  • The Buildup. The book starts off slow — almost too slow — but once the inciting incident happens, the tension ratchets up after just about every chapter and never really slackens. The end result is that I ended up reading the last hundred pages of the book in twenty-minute sessions stolen during the same twenty-four hour period. I just couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next.
  • The Characters. The story revolves around the (not quite) alternating viewpoints of three women. None of these women is particularly likable, but each of them is undeniably recognizable. Their motivations, their hangups, their insecurities and their suspicions make perfect sense, and I found myself rifling through all sorts of feelings toward each of them. Sometimes I pity them. Sometimes I hate them. Sometimes I can’t believe how stupid they are. But always I’m compelled to see what they’re going to do next. That’s maybe the most important part of all this: each character has a very clear role in driving the story forward. Nobody is tacked on or just blowing in the wind like a useless confederate flag.
  • The Conflict. Something terrible happens and our central narrator (Rachel) fears that she may have been involved in it somehow. Problem is, she was blackout drunk the night in question and has no recollection of the events in question. This snarl adds another level to the mystery that’s already unfolding, and of course is a tremendous source of strife for the narrator. I’ll acknowledge that selective amnesia as a plot device would feel like a cop-out, but the blackouts aren’t present merely as a convenience: the narrator is as unreliable as they come. She’s a binge-drinker, and it becomes clear through the course of the story that the crucial blackout is not the only one in her life; rather, they happened to her several times in her life, and were also directly responsible for her shattered relationship (the falling apart of which is the backdrop to the whole story).
  • The Ending. I won’t spoil it, but the end sets you up for such a delightful one-two punch of betrayal and then vindication, it’s almost overwhelming. My wife was getting frustrated with me because I kept gasping and then exclaiming reading the last few pages while she was trying to work. I couldn’t help it. It was that good.

What’s Not-So-Awesome?

  • The Structure. Maybe it’s me, but the novel is awfully preoccupied with dates and I don’t know if it needs to be. Each chapter and sub-chapter is marked meticulously with the date and the time of day (August 13, 2013, Morning), a device which is certainly intended to build together a timeline of events. This becomes “necessary” since the narrative jumps around in time; we have the murdered woman telling swatches of her story after she has already died in the timelines of the other two narrators. Now, I understand that the dramatic tension and reveals achieved this way are a big payoff for the book, and I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is the fact that with all the dates heading each chapter, I feel like I should have been taking notes for a test at the end of the book. I don’t know that the events of the story — especially when viewed through the lens of a less-than-reliable, sort of drifting-aimlessly-through-life narrator — call for such specificity.  But maybe that’s just me. End result: I pretty much ignored the dates and I did just fine piecing together the story without them.
  • Red Herrings and Such. At its heart, the book is a mystery novel, so there have to be false leads, misinformation, overlooked clues, and all that. But the main suspect for much of the book is just so obviously not the guy. Over 150 pages are spent trying to convince us that he could be the guy, but he’s obviously not. It felt taxing after a while, to still be going through the motions of investigating this guy who was obviously not the guy. And then the guy who turns out to be the guy, well, it feels a little out of left field, a little too easy, a little too neat. But again, that might just be my cynicism acting up.

What’s Hard to Quantify?

  • There is no hero. Yeah, we’re in the age of the anti-hero, where the protagonist has to do horrible things to win the day. And while I’m not saying there’s nobody to root for — clearly we hope that Rachel manages to pull through her troubles — it’s hard to get behind any of them. Rachel’s a drunkard and a total sad-sack living in the shadow of a broken marriage. Anna’s an adulteress who’s overly hateful of the woman she wrecked home on, and becomes increasingly suspicious and distrustful of her adulterating husband. Megan’s perhaps the easiest one to like, until you find out that SPOILER ALERT she’s responsible for the death of her own child. I just find it hard to hope for good things for any of them, though it does get revealed that Rachel’s problems were not entirely of her own making (as she seems to believe toward the beginning of the book).
  • Moral Ambiguity. It’s hard to say if Rachel causes the events of the book or if she just blunders through them, but what’s clear is that the story wouldn’t have happened if the narrator had kept to herself. Since her own life is in the crapper, she lives vicariously through the anonymous people she sees on the train, and that’s what sets things in motion. Whether the novel suggests this is a good thing or not is unclear: the murder gets solved because she sticks her nose in, but she also causes a world of hurt (for herself and the other characters — up to and possibly including actually playing a role in the murder herself) by sticking her nose in. The moral of the story is, then, either get involved in the lives of those around you, or don’t. I think you could make a compelling argument either way.
  • Looking inside the heads of women. I would need to hear from female readers on this, but if women in real life think the way these women do, then it would benefit guys to read this book. Because wow. The way they draw connections between events, the way they read between the lines of everything that’s said, the way they think about the men in their lives… men are toddlers, living among evil geniuses.

Okay, so, this review is by no means exhaustive, and I don’t want to spoil the book any more than I have to, but suffice to say, I got through it in four days. That’s pretty fast for me, and it speaks to the readability of the book. The tension is there; it hooks you and yanks you along like a guppy on the line.

All that said, the book does a brilliant job of romanticizing the everyday. The book is centered around trips back and forth on a train — a more mundane premise you could not imagine. But what’s mundane, just like in real life, quickly transforms into something much bigger, much more consequential. Things, in other words, always mean things. It accomplishes all this, however, with very straightforward, unembellished language. No purple prose here, no artful application of metaphors and comparisons or allegories. The writing is simple and straightforward, which, again, makes it very easy to read.

I pointed out some good and some bad, but who am I kidding: I read the book in four days, which is almost unheard of for me. The bad stuff, I feel, is largely subjective, and what bothers me might not bother you. The book is solid. It’s surprising. It’s satisfying.

You should read it.


Terrible Reviews: Activity Tracker Edition


At some point in the past several years, trackers have gone from the stuff of spy movies and government conspiracies to the latest tech-slash-fashion-slash-fitness-slash-self-absorption craze. Being somewhat concerned with fitness, consistently fascinated by tech, not at all interested in fashion, and supremely selfish, I decided over the holidays that I might want one of these.

And I didn’t get one.

But that’s why God invented gift cards, innit? So a few days after Christmas, I had done some research with my wife looking over my shoulder, and we went and bought a Jawbone Up Move for each of us.

I’m pretty sure I hate the name. “Jawbone,” meh, whatever, that’s the name of the company, and I think they made headsets or something originally, so that gets a pass. “Up” is the name for their line of trackers (they make enough models to consider it a line now). I can’t say I endorse using an adverb as your product identity. Adjectives, sure. Speedy! Flamboyant! Hoopy! But an adverb? As an English teacher, I can’t say an adverb stands well on its own. Then there’s “Move”, which I don’t really have a problem with, as that’s what the gizmo is designed to get you to do. Plus, it’s in that authoritative imperative mood, so it sounds like an angry gym coach shouting at you to GET UP THAT ROPE COSTANZA. But you put it all together — Jawbone Up Move — and it sounds a little ridiculous. But you have to put it all together; you can’t just say “Up” or “Move” on their own because Google doesn’t know what you’re talking about, and other humans look at you funny or punch you. I’m just going to refer to it as the “JUM” herein, because that sounds a little like gum, and who doesn’t like gum?

In a world of Fitbits and Garmins and wrist straps and belt clips and skull implants and constant satellite monitoring, (you didn’t get the skull implant and satellite monitoring with your soy half caff? [I have no idea what a soy half caff is]) why the JUM? I’m not gonna lie, it was one of the cheapest options available, but it still boasts access to the Up app, which was highly favored by a slew of online reviewers, and which, after three weeks, I’m pretty fond of. What the JUM lacks in visual appeal and features it makes up for in simplicity and battery life — unlike most of these gadgets, it runs off a watch battery and doesn’t have to be plugged in every few days. Considering the veritable snakepit of little dongly things choking the drawers in our kitchen, this was no small selling point.

Look, it’s not my goal to actually review the thing, as I’m not an expert. All I really want to do is talk about my experience with it, which is equal parts insightful, amusing, and hilarious, and I imagine this experience would be more or less the same for any of these trackers.

Let’s start with insightful. The JUM perches quietly on your wrist or in your pocket or at your waistband or clipped to your earlobe or embedded in your spine (technology pending) and it counts your steps.

No, really, that’s about all it does. Like a sweatshop gnome hunched over an archaic adding machine with the tape spilling out onto the floor and his knobby knuckles hammering at the “+1” over and over again, it logs your steps throughout the day. More correctly, it counts step-like-movements, which can be gamed a little bit by swinging your arms around while you talk on the phone, for example. It also purports to track your sleep by the same metric (tracking movements while you lay in bed under the premise that you hold exceptionally still while asleep). That sounds cool, but I have my doubts about how accurate or reliable that information can be.

In short, all of this is built around the premise that 10,000 steps a day can help you lose weight and get healthier, which is probably true, because as it turns out, 10,000 steps is actually rather a lot.

But it’s more impressive than just counting, because it also syncs with your phone to track the time you took all those steps. So it can tell you, for example, that from seven-thirty AM until eight-fifteen AM, you took 300 steps as you milled around your apartment getting ready for work, from nine until five you took thirty steps as you parked your donk in your cubicle all day, and from five-after-five until five-twenty, you took seven thousand steps as you chased down and murdered your co-workers with an axe. The JUM then aggregates this data for you and pushes it at your face through these bright and cheerfully colored graphs.

So you’re left with collections of numbers and pages upon pages of graphs that describe what you were doing and when and for how long, which probably has useful implications in case you’re ever questioned about all the suddenly axe-murdered employees at your job. And that’s interesting and insightful because it allows you to pinpoint the times of day when you are active and the times of day when you could use a bit more chasing and stabbing and digging and burying to get your heart rate up.

It’s also where the JUM becomes amusing. Because, if I’m honest, I don’t need the step counter to tell me that between 5 and 9 pm I don’t move that much, or that I get a bunch of steps in every day at work without even really trying. But the amounts are amusing. Turns out I walk about 2-3 miles daily at work, most of it in a thirty foot square classroom. And while that 10,000 step goal seems lofty and hard to reach on some days, on other days (and especially on my weekend long run days) it gets shattered. I put in (checks a big orange graph with a smiley face) 16,000 steps last Saturday, which brought my daily step average up to a little over 12,000. So the app now thinks that I need a challenge and it wants me to do 13,000 steps a day. And maybe I could do it, but the app slides it my way like a high-roller palming a twenty off to the valet, like it’s no big deal.

Then there’s the sleep tracking. The JUM supposedly tells you not only how many hours you sleep, but how long it takes you to fall asleep and how many times you wake up in the night. This is well and good and cool as long as you take into account that the thing isn’t measuring your brainwaves or anything, so it doesn’t actually know you’re sleeping or not; all it knows is that you weren’t moving very much, and this it interprets as sleeping. But my wife and I have kids. Two of them, under three years old. They wake up in the night, sometimes often. (Don’t talk to me about how nonsensical the phrase “sometimes often” is. I stand by it.) As a result, when we view our sleep data, we wind up with these deep canyons of orange (wakeful activity) in between the scattered cliffs of blue (various “stages” of sleep). Like a river-carved monument to our ongoing sleep deprivation.  The amusing part is the concept that I might need the app to tell me I woke up in the night. As if the raccoon eyes and the fact that I can’t keep my head upright during the day would let me forget. (And the centripetal force from my wife’s eye-roll just literally knocked me from my chair.) (She wakes up with the kids WAY more than I do.)

Speaking of my wife, that’s where the JUM gets hilarious. We try to be health-conscious: it’s the whole reason I started running, and I think the JUM feeds that in a quantifiable and productive way. And if the aim of the product is to get people off their butts and moving their feet in an attempt to better their health, I think that’s admirable.

But now, things have taken a whole other turn. My wife and I have both hit 10,000 steps every day for almost three weeks now. That doesn’t, however, mean that we’ve each had full, active days every day. It means we’ve managed to place our feet on the floor in an alternating pattern 10,000 times every day. It’s not an uncommon sight to find my wife walking laps around the living room or the kitchen, listening to podcasts while the kids are napping or asleep. I’ve jogged in place in my pajamas next to the bed on a couple of occasions to get a final 1000 steps in. Even now, my as I type, my wife is stomping a moat into the carpet around our coffee table while my son chases her in advance of his bedtime. We’ve become walking robots. This little gizmo on our wrists has made us competitive to the point of absurdity, which I suppose means the product is working as intended, though I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel like an idiot a lot of the time.

All told, the JUM (and, by extension, probably just about every other tracker on the market) therefore falls into the category of wholly unnecessary but nonetheless delightful little devices that are now a part of my life, next to my keyless entry for the car, my smartphone, my bluetooth earpiece (say what you will, I know they’re douchey as all get-out, but I love that thing for the car and while doing chores around the house), my GPS watch, and any number of laptop peripherals. This is one of those things that if you think you’ll enjoy it, you probably will, and if you think you won’t, well, there are certainly better things to spend your money on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I somehow have to find 3000 more steps before the bedtime my JUM has set for me at 9:57.


Surreal Cereal


Man, I just love cereal, don’t you? The way each individual froot loop tastes exactly the same as every other froot loop in outright defiance of the concept that the colors represent different froot flavors. The way Cap’n Crunch leaves the roof of your mouth with wicked road rash. The way that Corn Flakes literally taste more like cardboard than cardboard (and honestly, who in their right [or wrong] mind would eat corn in flake form?).

Yep, cereal is awesome.

What’s that? Oh. OH.

This post is about Serial. No, no, don’t get up. I’ll save you the trouble and deduct ten points for opening my post with that terrible joke.

''Serial'' (podcast) logo.png

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Serial is a spinoff from This American Life which focuses on a murder trial from 1999 Maryland. When I first heard about the show, I thought it was a fictional piece stitched together to look (or rather, sound) and feel authentic, but it’s not. It’s an actual case which has actually been tried. Headlined by This American Life’s Sarah Koenig and following the trial of Adnan Syed for the murder of Hae Min Lee, Serial has done for podcasts what The Daily Show did for news, which is make you give a damn about something that you were tired of.

As is the requisite with any sort of review post, I should disclaim that there are spoilers ahead, but they are minor. Essentially I’m only going to spoil the ending, which sounds like the worst thing I could do, but if you listen to even a couple of episodes, you will probably have an idea of how the thing will end, and you will probably be right. I’d also remind you of the ridiculousness of getting upset at having a series that’s over a month old spoiled for you. It’s out there. It happened. It’s over. It is not our fault if you get the ending spoiled for you at this point. So, SERIOUS SERIAL SPOILERS AHEAD.

I’ll start off with the effect that the show (I feel compelled to call it that, even though ostensibly it isn’t, but whatever) had in my household. I heard about Serial and silently filed it in a “to do one day if I ever get around to it” folder. It sounded interesting, but nothing I couldn’t put off. Then my wife heard about it, and since she’s finished her Masters’ program and is looking for things to do with her newfound free time, she loaded it up and had a listen to it while out for a run one day.

Then she got home from that run but kept her headphones on to listen to episode two while puttering around the house. She asked me if I’d heard of this Serial thing. I said I had, but I didn’t know much about it. She put her headphones back on and went in for another episode.

By the next day, when she had her headphones on again, I was feeling a little put out that my wife was spending more time with her podcast than with me, and she was dying for me to get on board, so we both listened to the first episode (she for the second time). I heard it. I processed it. I resisted.

She asked me what I thought, and I tried to get into this whole metatextual analysis of whether or not the format is right for what they’re trying to do, and why this is any different from any existing true-life crime show. Hemming and hawing about how I had kind of enjoyed it but didn’t really see what the big deal was, I excused myself. Later that night, she tried to say good night to me, but I didn’t hear her, because I had my headphones on in bed, listening to episode two.

For the next two days, we didn’t share much conversation at home aside from “What’s for dinner?” and “What episode are you on?” while we both poked around the house listening to Serial on our headphones. Finally, yesterday, we both finished (and I’m ashamed to admit that I finished ahead of her thanks to my work commute and some stolen time on a lunch break) and resumed normal human interaction.

I’ll say this. There’s nothing particularly novel about the show, or even the case it examines. If you’ve watched any true-crime show, it’s pretty much like that, minus the crime scene pictures and mugshots. The host shares her thoughts on this or that aspect of the case, then there’s a cut to an interview with a witness or an audio playback of a police interview or courtroom testimony, and then it’s back to the host. Nothing special.

And (here’s your spoiler) the ending is entirely unsatisfying. Koenig spends 12 episodes of anywhere from 30 to 55 minutes each agonizing over whether Adnan is guilty or not, and at the end of 12 she’s no closer to a concrete answer than she is at the end of about three episodes. Which is to say, he was probably wrongly convicted (based on the overwhelming dearth of hard evidence of his involvement in Hae’s death), but he is also probably not completely innocent either (there are too many coincidences and too many things people know that they couldn’t possibly know for him not to have been involved at least in some way). To sink in the requisite hours to listen to this thing and then not have a big climactic reveal at the end feels like a terrific let-down (a sentiment the host herself admits having misgivings about). Koenig and her team put in all this work — we the audience put in all this time listening — it seems like everybody deserves an answer, and the show doesn’t offer one. (They offer theories in the ultimate episode, but for each theory, they also offer perfectly feasible rebuttals). It’s frustrating.

But. (There is always a but.)

For some reason, when I was listening, I just couldn’t stop myself. I’d go back like a rat in a maze for the next tidbit, sneaking in five or ten minutes between meetings at my workday on Monday, kicking back during my lunch hour, listening on the way to and from school, just to hear the next piece of the puzzle. It establishes some sort of hold on you, like a leech suctioning itself to your thigh, and just won’t let go.

I’m not sure exactly why I found it so compelling.

Each episode focuses on one particular aspect of the case: there’s one episode, for example, where Sarah and an assistant drive around the town trying to recreate various possible sequences of events for the day the murder was committed. This microscopic rather than macroscopic view gave me the feeling that there was always something else to know, something just out of sight to be covered in the next episode. The soundtrack is quirky and sparse, never getting in the way but cleverly accentuating the feelings of doom or doubt that creep in as certain bits of evidence are revealed. The host’s certainties echoed my own as she learned more, but every time she seemed convinced, there was a new piece of evidence to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. I was personally convinced of his guilt and innocence about four or five times over throughout the series. And finally, the case has so many moving parts and entangled elements … well, it’s easy to see why the producers chose this case to build the series around. The (alleged) killer and his victim were from overbearing families that didn’t want them to see each other. There’s a friend who gives up the killer to police with a story so improbable it seems impossible to make up, but wait — he’s a drug dealer and social misfit who’s not exactly trustworthy in the best of times. Friends at school alternately can’t believe Adnan was involved in the murder or aren’t shocked in the least, depending on whom you ask. And at the center of it all is Adnan himself, whom Sarah interviews regularly on the phone. He’s charismatic and charming and intelligent and eminently likable, and somehow the show introduces and entertains both possibilities: that he’s a good guy who’s been the victim of the worst luck in the world, and that he’s an insanely smart psychopath who plays the nice guy so well it’s impossible to detect the snake lurking under the surface. Oh, and this all happened about fifteen years ago, so everybody Sarah talks to has a memory like a bag of potato chips (mostly empty, and even the solid stuff at the bottom isn’t really good for you).

And as for the series not giving you any sort of resolution for the story it’s told… well, that’s life, innit?

Like I said, the series poses no answers, for all its trying. But I think the swings between certainty and doubt, between liking Adnan and hating him, between trusting the evidence and not believing a shred of it, are themselves evidence of a narrative that’s been masterfully crafted to rope in readers and keep them listening week after week. (Heck, it roped me, and I thought I didn’t like it after the first episode.) You need only google “serial theories” to find yourself in the midst of entire communities of people arguing, sometimes vehemently, about the case and why Adnan is irrefutably guilty against people who fervently believe he is untaintedly innocent. Granted, that’s arguing on the internet for you, but the fact remains: people across the country have had their lives consumed with this thing.

As for myself, the unabashed cynic and hater of all things popular, I didn’t want to buy the hype. I thought it’d be, as so many other stories that take the nation by storm are, like ice cream: delicious and sinful and in no way having any depth or beneficial to your health. But there’s something more to Serial. I have to say it’s worth the time it takes to experience it. I might even say it’s brilliant. Certainly it’s well done and compelling. However it holds up as a story, it certainly holds up as a podcast. And, love it or hate it, millions of people are talking about it, which basically puts it on the same level of pop-culture import as Kim Kardashian. Probably higher of late if she hadn’t done that thing with her butt. Without hesitation I can declare that anything to do with Serial is a better use of your time than anything to do with Kim Kardashian or her butt. It hasn’t just left a mark in the landscape of podcasts, it’s left a smoldering crater. Serial, I mean; not Kim’s butt. Incidentally, “smoldering crater” is the end I’d picture for Kim Kardashian.

And her butt.

 


Follow Me Over This Cliff (Or, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’s Fading Star)


Last time I did this was fun.  Let’s have another terrible review of a terrible entertainment option.  Today’s target?

The Following.

Spoiler Alert, etc, etc.  Here I’ll be talking about the show, its characters, its plotlines, up through the current episode.  If that’s troubling to you, this is the point at which you should turn off your computer and rethink your life, because if you’re able to be significantly upset by prematurely learning some vague details about a show that you’re watching after the party, perhaps the decisions that brought you to this point were not the best ones.  (Though if you’re still watching the show, I doubt if there’s much I could spoil for you, as the show spoils itself by virtue of running headlong into virtually every cliche in the suspense/crime procedural/gritty hero/criminal mastermind genre simultaneously.)  That said, if you don’t watch The Following, there probably isn’t very much here for you.

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