Podcast of the Month: Harmontown

Harmontown barged into my life like an unwanted guest a few months ago and took up residence. Despite my resentment, every week when the time comes, I download the next episode.

harmontownBeing a huge Community fan (with the exception of the gas leak year, obviously), I have been aware of Dan Harmon for some time. I, like most people, largely thought of him in terms of sitcoms and the incident with Chevy Chase. Then Harmontown (the documentary about the podcast) came onto Netflix and I watched it out of desperation on New Year’s Eve (I was psyching myself up to go out. I really hate NYE) in the hope that I would catch a few lingering shots of Joel Mchale, ideally shirtless.

So far as a shirtless Joel was concerned, I was left wanting, but what I found instead was a drunken idiot I was equal parts intrigued and disgusted by (Harmon). Watching that movie, I experienced for the first time the strange feeling of rooting for someone and wanting his girlfriend to break up with him simultaneously.

Harmontown (the podcast) is a live show featuring Harmon himself, obviously, comptroller Jeff Davis, dungeon master Spencer Crittenden (although they never really do that anymore) and (usually though not officially) Rob Schrab, Dan’s screen writer friend.

What it’s about is a little difficult to define.

Nerd culture plays a big part. Despite my frustrations with Marvel, I remain the sort of person who can listen to people get passionate about super heroes. Other times – the times when I start to wonder why I’m listening, incidentally – they talk about Dan’s Porn Hub addiction (the girlfriend – then wife, actually – did break up with him), and his thing with mannequin legs…

Schrab can always be relied on to do something ridiculous.

At its heart, though, Harmontown is its audience. It’s a community of weirdos in a safe space being weird together, and that’s reflected in the fact that Harmon doesn’t hesitate to pull audience members on stage for an interview if he thinks they might say something interesting. And – at least as far as I can tell – they are more than happy to oblige. Some of the time the conversations Harmon strikes up with adoring strangers are just silly, but other times the moment takes a turn into something more sincere. Sometimes he’ll talk to someone who’s chronically depressed, or someone he recognises as having had the same sort of childhood he did.

It’s part comedy show, part therapy session.

Sometimes part TMI.

But all the moving parts of this show connect into something generous, weird, and funny.

It’s a strange new obsession for me, this one.

Dorothy Must Die

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero.

But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. But I never expected Oz to look like this. A place where Good Witches can’t be trusted and Wicked Witches just might be the good guys. A place where even the yellow brick road is crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy.

My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, and I’ve been given a mission.

Remove the tin woodman’s heart, steal the scarecrows brain, take the lion’s courage.

And then – Dorothy must die.

dorothy

I had really high hopes for Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige. They were partly a result of the title – which I still think is awesome – and partly because this was the first book I purchased on the way out of my flat broke stage.

At the end, my feelings are decidedly mixed. While the story, though initially problematic, engaged me, the writing style irritated me throughout. In fact I spent pretty much the whole time I was reading expressing to anyone nearby that this woman seriously can’t write.

But then I reached the end of the thing and found myself wanting to know what happens next. As I get further from it the chance of my losing interest increases, but right now at least, I think I probably will be continuing with the series.

So let’s talk about what I liked:

I really enjoy adaptations like this that take a world that is so familiar – and The Wizard of Oz is one of those stories that has been following me around since childhood, in various forms – and transforms it into a frightening version of itself. The bright and colourful Oz from the movies is faded and grey upon Amy’s arrival. The munchkins that greeted Dorothy are nowhere to be seen. It’s apparent from the outset that something is very wrong with Oz, but with only a bottomless pit behind her and no obvious way of getting back home, Amy has no choice but to walk forward on the yellow brick road, toward whatever the future has waiting for her.

Another aspect of this book that I really liked was the doubt cast over each side of the Oz-ian civil war (if you can even call it that yet).

Dorothy is the dictator who is draining Oz of its magic because she can’t bear not to feel powerful. That she’s evil is without question, but it’s an interesting story regardless, considering her background. The Dorothy of the original was powerless. At some point she decided that was not going to be her story any more, and the subsequent search for power consumed her like an addiction. I’m hoping that Paige will explore Dorothy a bit more in the subsequent books, but in the limited world of this one she was a scary and satisfying villain. There are a couple moments when she truly disgusted and upset me.

Of course, Dorothy is the dominating force of the book, but working against her is the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked (who Amy falls in with for most of this book), and this group of wingless (ex) flying monkeys – exactly who they are working with remains unclear, but toward the end of the novel it turns out they have a couple major players on their side, but I’m not saying who cause spoilers.

Both these groups have very different visions for the future of Oz, and what the path to it looks like. The witches Amy is working with throughout claim to have a plan, but are very vague about the details. The only thing Amy can be sure of at any given time is that she doesn’t have all the information, and further into the book we get, the more suspicious that becomes. The monkeys do nothing to soothe Amy’s (and our) concerns. They don’t like the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, but, much like the order themselves, are very vague as to why.

All of this left me with a lot of unanswered questions and mysteries I am actually interested in getting to the bottom of.

What I didn’t like:

The writing style. I found it clunky and irritating. The whole time I really wanted to explain to Paige the notion of show don’t tell. The atmosphere that I knew she wanted us to experience was often lost in her telling of it. A lot of times, rather than having Amy actually discover something and go through the steps it would take in order for her to do that, she would just have her realise it out of nowhere. Every time Amy met someone new she would jump to massive conclusions about their history and personality. It made the story fall totally flat in a lot of places and is the kind of thing I always thought that editors existed to delete.

There is also a lot of info dumping in this one. Huge sections of character development are pretty much skipped over. Characters are introduced and killed within a couple of chapters and all Amy’s relationships are fast-tracked. I didn’t particularly care about the majority of the characters in this book because Paige didn’t give me the time to. She said I should care about them and then left it at that.

There were also, unfortunately, parts of the book that made my inner feminist squirm. Hard. The female villains are highly sexualised. Dorothy and Glinda the (not so) Good Witch are always wearing really revealing clothes. Paige makes the point (multiple times) that they are all low cut tops and short skirts. Obviously there is nothing wrong with wearing revealing clothing – people’s bodies are their own business – but connecting female sexuality with evil is a misogynist trope and can we please just stop with this stuff already? Having boobs and showing them off really has nothing to do with being an evil dictator who has an army who melt the occasional munchkin. It turns out that being a hero really isn’t affected by length of your skirt or how many guys you’ve slept with.

Do better, YA. I’m begging you.

Has anyone else read this one? I would love to hear your thoughts.

YA on Twitter

Lately I have been trying to get more into Twitter. While generally speaking, I still have very little to say for myself, I am gradually finding some young adult fiction-related goodness on there that’s too good not to spread around. 

Because if there’s one thing we always need more of, it’s possibilities for procrastination!

(I really, really don’t need more of that at all). 

Here are a few of my favourites: 

I wish I had thought of doing this.

I’m sure most of you will know this girl already. She is a wonderful book blogger and vlogger and her Twitter is the home of the much loved #ukyachat. A few weeks ago it was about feminism. Obviously I love it. 

She wrote Only Ever Yours and Asking For It and her Twitter account is a constant stream of feminism and cultural criticism. Right now it’s a really great place for all things Beyonce. 

What are some of your favourite bookish Twitter accounts? Recommendations please.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Things I learned from Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris.

davidsedaris

Sometimes life is just dumb

Sometimes your sister will jokingly refer to you as a rapist in front of a subway car full of people you will be forced to travel with for the next fifteen minutes with, alone. Either that or the heiress you work for will try and make you catch a pigeon because she’s convinced it’s the missing parrot she saw posters up about earlier. There’s a reward for the missing parrot. Living in New York isn’t cheap, after all.

Other people’s parents are weird

Lou Sedaris ate his hat one time. Not figuratively. He actually did it.

Amy Sedaris is doing life better than you

When she was a kid she prank called her father, pretending to be a friend of her mother’s (her impressions were already on point) and came onto him. Her father didn’t go for the affair (luckily) but did start setting the unsuspecting woman up with many men in years to come. Amy never told him the truth.

She also wore a fat suit home one time, just to freak her father – who has always been obsessed to the pointing of insulting about the physical appearance of his daughters – out. Another time she had her face made up to look battered and bruised for a photo shoot and kept the look on all day.

She’s doing her own thing.

At least there are some embarrassing things you did not do

David went through a pretty intense performance art stage.

It happened concurrently with the perhaps more intense Amphetamines stage.

Everyone should move to a foreign country

The first time David went to France with his boyfriend, Hugh, it was purely for the shopping, Unfortunately, Hugh’s French holiday home was in the middle of nowhere in Normandy and did not yet have installed electricity or hot water. There were few shops and the only word David knew how to say in French was “bottleneck”.

When they moved a few years later it was to Paris. Paris was a lot better because of all the cinemas showing films in English. He likes it fine apart from the times he has to do things like explain to French people the picture of Jody Foster they’ve seen carrying along a bag of dog shit.

Everyone should move to a foreign country.

 

 

 

My OTPs

Last week, I wrote about OTPs that I hate. I was in that sort of mood.

This week, I am going to write about the romantic pairings that have played a big part in making me the TV obsessive that I am.

 

Leslie and Ben – Parks and Recreation

LESLIEANDBEN

When I started watching Parks and Rec (during the unfortunate Mark Brendanawicz phase), I was pretty sure it was impossible that they would ever produce a boyfriend for Leslie who could match her awesomeness in any way.

Then Ben showed up.

Leslie and Ben are such wonderful partners for each other. They respect each other’s talents and missions and even when they argue they still manage to be adorable.

TV is so full of fraught relationships, it’s rare and surprising to watch a couple who are simply best friends.

I love every moment of it.

Matt and Karen – Daredevil

mattandkaren

Throughout season 1, no matter how much I liked them individually, I really struggled to get into this ship. Karen’s crush was entirely built on some notion of hero worship, and that’s a dynamic I’m just not into. Then she murdered someone and went all undercover journalist, and everything shifted.

Matt and Karen are basically the same person. They would realise this if they didn’t spend all of their time lying to each other. They both have seen the horrifying underbelly of the world, and no matter what they do to distract themselves (make out, usually), they can’t look away.

The sooner they start working together (and making out again, now the whole Elektra fiasco is (at least temporarily, by the looks of things) over and done with) the better.

Caroline and Klaus – The Vampire Diaries

klausandcaroline

They are my guilty pleasure ship.

But whatever. Klaroline were a beautiful moment in TVD history.

So, to get one thing straight, the whole good girl/bad boy thing is one that often makes me uncomfortable. It can become co-dependent and weird, and if you want an example, I need only point to Damon and Elena (love me or I’ll start murdering random strangers isn’t half as attractive as you might think, Damon).

What I loved about Klaus and Caroline is that they are both total alphas. At no point in time did Caroline’s life become consumed by Klaus. Rather than obsessing about him ( like Cami does, freaking constantly) she actually kept him at arms length most of the time.

They challenged each other’s world views through their differing stances on what it takes to feel powerful.

Plus Klaus saw Tyler off, a move that came as a huge relief to everyone.

Ultimately, I don’t know that I actually think that these two should be together. Caroline is a highly functioning lady with plans for her life, and I would hate for those to be derailed by Klaus’ never ending daddy issues. But hey, vampires lives a long time.

So I guess you never know.

 

 

Unbecoming

‘Three women – three secrets – one heart-stopping story.

Katie, seventeen, in love with someone who’s identity she can’t reveal.

Her mother, Caroline, uptight, worn out and about to find the past catching up with her.

Katie’s grandmother, Mary, back with the family after years of mysterious absence and ‘capable of anything’, despite suffering from Alzheimers.

As Katie cares for an elderly woman who brings daily chaos to her life, she finds herself drawn to her. Rules get broken as allegiances shift. Is Mary contagious? Is ‘badness’ genetic?

In confronting the past, Katie is forced to seize the present. As Mary slowly unravels and family secrets are revealed, Katie learns to live and finally dares to love.’

unbecoming

You know how I made that vow to avoid YA contemporaries for a while? I slipped and read Unbecoming by Jenny Downham.

It was a bad choice.

I was intrigued by the concept. Three generations of women in a family working shit out sounds like a book that could have been written for me.

As it turned out, not so much.

It has been a while since I loathed a protagonist quite as much as I did Katie. She is everything that I am sick and tired of reading: a whiny solipsist barging through a narrative that rewards her for epic self-absorption.

To be clear, it’s not that I didn’t buy into Katie’s problems. She’s recently moved to a new area with her mum after her parents split. Her mother is really overbearing and Katie feels like her entire existence revolves around a predetermined schedule as a result. She kissed her best friend, Esme and now none of the girls at school will talk to her. Then her Alzheimer-ey grandmother she’s never met is suddenly living with her and her already difficult mother becomes even more closed off than ever.

Anyone would be stressed.

But, honestly, she just didn’t have to be such a dick about it.

I found Katie’s relationship with her mother to be totally unrealistic. Downham painted Caroline as every bit the villain of the piece. Caroline doesn’t want her mother, Mary living with her. They have a complicated relationship. To put it simply, Mary abandoned Caroline when she was a kid, and Caroline, as a result has some pretty time-hardened feelings of resentment toward her.

Fair enough.

Katie knows this, and yet still somehow spends the entire book demonising her mother for her feelings. Even when Caroline shares stories from her childhood that were upsetting – stories in which Mary is absolutely to blame – still, Katie shows her no sympathy. She engages with the grandmother she’s never met on a deep level pretty much instantaneously and yet she refuses to acknowledge her mother’s pain. I found it so frustrating to read.

Oh yeah, and Katie had this disabled brother who conveniently disappeared whenever the plot needed to move forward. This move – something I am seeing more and more in YA (looking at you, Isla and the Happily Ever After) pisses me right off. FYI, authors, using minorities as accessories isn’t helping anybody.

The other relationship in Katie’s life that made me want to tear my hair out, was with this girl called Simona. She’s the year above Katie at school and gay. As such, Katie decides to use her to experiment with her sexuality. Simona is a totally flat character. I’m pretty sure the only thing we find out about her throughout the entire novel is that she likes old movies. Her only purpose is to be the ‘experienced’ one for Katie to use and discard and she pleases.  While she’s messing with Simona, she also starts dating some guy who is so boring and irrelevant that I don’t even have the energy to check what his name was. Katie doesn’t really deal with any negative consequences as a result of all this.

Katie has no respect or regard for the feelings of other people. In her world, they aren’t even a consideration. When fundamental revelations come toward the end of the book, revelations that she spends a good 200 pages pushing for, she barely acknowledges them. It’s really bizarre. It’s not that she feels the revelations are disappointing – though they totally are, btw – she just doesn’t think about them at all, instead once again redirecting the situation so the centre of attention is once again on herself.

Additional unacceptable Katie moments:

  • Deliberately frightening her grandmother into doing what she wants her to. She tells her that if she goes into the old people’s home Caroline found then she won’t be able to see the ghost of her dead partner anymore. Messed up, right?
  • Drawing a rainbow in a park as a declaration of her sexuality – it made me cringe hard and it came out of nowhere.
  • Literally telling Simona “teach me” – everything about this book made me cringe, now that I think about it.