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If you are even considering buying Madworld, rent the tedious, infantile thing first.

I played it for exactly 38 minutes before I got bored. Less than 24 hours later I’m trying to sell it at no more than a $30 loss.

Unless the definition of ‘fun’ for you is “plotless murder in ‘god-mode’,” you won’t get anything out of it other than aesthetics…

Please stop killing all the characters.

Thank you.

To get this out of the way now, this will be pretty much non-stop spoilers, so don’t read it if you care about such things…

In short, I actually quite like this. Yes it’s too long (or at least doesn’t have enough humor for the running time), yes it’s different (due to a lack of a laugh track, no Holly, and no Kochanski), and yes it is kind of a rehash of an old story. But I think the positives really outweigh the negatives here.

For starters, I have no issue with the lack of a laugh track. Granted, the style of writing for this show has always worked well with a laugh track. But Lister cries twice in this episode, and both times it is extraordinarily well done and graceful. Such a thing would not have been possible with a laugh track. So the trade off is totally justified.

Second, this is actually an extremely clever rethinking of the old ‘despair squid’ idea. One of my favorite elements of Red Dwarf was its ability to turn an typical idea or a classic story into its opposite, especially when that transition resulted in a story that was ultimately pacifist and optimistic. For example, the concept of ‘positive viruses’ was an idea on par (both artistically and philosophically) with anything Douglas Adams ever wrote. This is much the same. The idea that “giving you an Indian head massage or an aromatherapy nail treatment,” as Rimmer put it, might be a brilliant defensive maneuver in a life or death fight is the kind of tacit pacifist statement I really admire. The kind of thing the ‘despair squid’ episode was really lacking, upon reflection.

Also, some occassionally bad writing/performance aside, we have a real return to form here from a structural perspective as well. Though I do somewhat like seasons 7 and 8, the show had really gotten away from its roots. In this episode, if one replaces Holly with Kryten, we have returned to the show’s initial premise – a cat, a computer, a dead man, and the last man alive encountering and dealing with problems in their own inimitable, bumbling and at times downright amoral way. (Rimmer pushing the other hologram nonchalantly in front of a car after first getting her to justify her own death is a work of pure inspiration.)

I also really like the basic idea behind this. At its heart, this was basically just a reunion show – nothing more, nothing less. It was a return to Red Dwarf, ten years later, to give it one last go round. As such, designing a plot that incorporates fandom, meeting one’s creator, trying to write oneself out of oblivion, etc, is also a stroke of genius. I have to say, I can think of no ‘reunion show’ in previous memory that has ever attempted to be this clever.

My only real critique is that it is very apparent that this was a slightly longer than two-part story expanded to a full three. There’s some serious dead space in here, and some moments that really needed a second pass for humor – and only part of that can be attributed to the lack of a laugh track. There are without doubt some classic bits: the Rimmer doormen, the four-man ‘piloting’ of a small car, Lister’s glee at forcing all the others to beat themselves up… But, when one thinks back on it, there are very few real laughs spread out over these 90 minutes. I wish there had been more.

All in all, though, I’m far more pleased with this than I expected to be. Lister and the gang walking off into the ship, chuckling about all of us in the real world being effectively in ‘the matrix,’ and carrying on as they always have been is a far more satisfying conclusion than the unfinished cliffhanger at the end of season eight. For that reason alone, there should be no grousing about the quality level here.

A few things

1. I have a broken left hand. Let’s just say that part of my fall on the tennis court was extraordinarily graceful; the part that involved my left hand, less so.

2. “I Love You, Man” is a pretty solid bromance. It made me miss my male friends. So I’ll say hello to Keith, as he’s the only one that reads this.

3. As it’s all official now, I can reveal that Jennifer has a job at Young Harris as of next fall. It’s nice that one of us is finally out of the insufferable, underappreciated, slave labor that is grad school. (Speaking of: there’s a side character in “I Love You Man” who can never hang out because he’s always grading papers; he also doesn’t seem to have a family; that’s a nice joke for a very specific audience.)

4. There was something else, but I’ve now forgotten it…

Have added photos for most of my Dorothy Phillips card and ephemera collection to the “Phillips/Holubar” page.

Drunken Shriek

For the sake of having an actual blog post of some length, I will devote a tiny amount of my break to reviewing Duncan Sheik’s new album Whisper House, as I can think of nothing else in particular to talk about at present.

I had the pleasure of seeing Duncan play about half of the songs on the new album at a concert in Atlanta at the end of last year (and purchasing an EP which included three of them). So I came into this album with some warning that it would be a ‘musical theater’ piece and that the story might overwhelm the music. (For those not in the know, it is a story about a kid talking to ghosts.) In fact, he foregrounded the story so strongly in the performance that they were actually hard to like on that first night.

However, with the recordings in hand, I have been pleasantly proven pretty much wrong on that score. The lyrics are generally poetically vague enough that they work both as story and as metaphor, if one chooses not to focus unduly on the tale.

The first track, “It’s Better to Be Dead,” is the one which most strongly suffers from ‘story-ness,’ as it spends the first minute or so introducing all the characters. However, once you get past that part, the song itself is actually quite good. Far darker than Duncan usually writes (witness the title), but plot-wise it works. The same could be said for Track 10, “Take a Bow,” though the verses are pretty repetitive; its biggest failing is that it also names all the characters. “The Tale of Solomon Snell” is the only other track that really feels like a showtune, but that’s because it is, by itself, a story of a particular character. I’m not often a fan of that type of lyric (unless it’s by Sufjan Stevens), so I don’t much care for this song. So only three out of ten are extremely tied, lyrically, to the story.

The rest of the album is kind of a split beast. Some of the more ‘rockin’ tunes stand out as the best and the least impacted by the story-telling. Track 2, “We’re Here to Tell You,” is a wonderful song – probably the best on the album, and probably should have been the single; it works equally well as metaphor for the past coming back to haunt you. (“We’re here to tell you / ghosts are here for good / if this doesn’t terrify you / it should.”) Track 7, “You’ve Really Gone and Done It Now,” works similarly. Track 6, “Play Your Part,” is slightly weaker than those two, but fits in here.

The first single – Track 5, “Earthbound Starlight” – is indicative of the other half of the album…slow, ‘adult-contemporary’-esque tracks. These are often less successful, as they tend to be more meandering and have less ‘pop’ music structure. “Starlight” itself is fine (though it shouldn’t have been the single), but some of the others are pretty poor: for example, Track 8, “How It Feels,” which to me is ungodly boring, though while listening to it I’m hard pressed to tell you what particularly is wrong with it. My favorite of the slower songs is probably Track 9, “We Don’t Believe in You.”

All told, the album works well as a late meditation on the depressing, war-weary Bush era (of which Duncan was overtly not a fan). This is not surprising, as the story itself, with its war references, was probably consciously written as a reflection of that era. (Try this lyric sequence from “Play Your Part”: Here are your lines / Now stick to the page / Like the wise man said, “all the world’s a stage” / And don’t forget, you have a role to play / You can’t improvise / You can never stray.) So for those of us who are lefty liberals coming out from the past eight years of less-than-pleasantness, several of the individual songs here are nicely structured allegories for recent feelings. As I said, it is certainly far darker than Duncan’s previous fare, but is so in ways that are still eminently relatable. (It’s certainly not the snarling dark twist that hit Cat Stevens on “Catch Bull at Four.” More of a depressed darkness.)

It doesn’t really hold up as an album quite as well as some of Duncan’s previous work (certainly not Daylight, which is still his strongest album from beginning to end), but the high points are quite good. The ‘musical theater’ thing does seem to have reinvigorated him and sent him into profitable new directions. I only wish he’d take care to pull specific character names out of the lyrics, as that is the one thing that ties these songs too strongly to a story that listeners may or may not care about.

I’d probably give it a 7 out of 10 if I was pressed to give it a numerical rating.

I must admit, however, that I hope the future brings the more optimistic and happy Duncan back to us. He seemed pretty down during his performance late last year, and this album as a whole is pretty downbeat. That’s not the Duncan I know and love. Come back to us, Mr. Buddhist man.

For those not in the know, I’m far less excited about the final few David Tennant Doctor Who episodes, and the Torchwood ‘miniseries,’ than I am about this:

http://www.reddwarf.co.uk/news/2009/02/13/red-through/