Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Manafort Destiny: Earth S2016 E33

Once more real life takes a toll on the plot. As we've all heard by now, the actor playing Paul Manafort had a little issue with driving into a lamp post while drunk off his ass, and the producers dumped his ass like an empty candy wrapper. This has happened  numerous times throughout the show's history, most notoriously back in Season 1963 when the actor playing JFK got caught with a couple underage girls. But the people writing Earth in season 2016 don't have a twentieth of the talent of the writers from 1963, which is arguably the last great season the show ever produced. Oh, the current writers clearly adore S1963. We can see it all over recent episodes with the resurgent Russia and the return of high-stakes spy shenanigans. But suddenly outing Manafort as a Russian agent and having like five news organizations make major revelations about him in a single episode ... I mean, come on. (Yes, I know there was some foreshadowing of Manafort's foreign ties before this, but the way it was revealed was as subtle of a sledgehammer).

Of course the sudden change of course left the producers scrambling to find a new campaign manager for the Trump campaign. Personally, I wish they'd bring Lewandowski back. His odd-couple relationship with Trump and the wacky shit Trump said at his assistance was the highlight of the last season. But instead they bring in the Breitbart guy, and Roger Ailes, and Sean Hannity, which, again, heavyhanded. By the time we get to the election, Trump and his staff are going to be goosestepping around in Nazi uniforms. Lewandowski at least kept everything farcical. The current direction of the show seems to indicate that we're supposed to take Trump seriously as a villain, which ... no. I'm sorry, the guy playing Trump isn't nearly a good enough actor to convince me that he has fanatical followers. (The actors playing his followers aren't much better. I mean that scene with the lawyer on CNN demanding "What polls?" was painful. I can believe these twits would follow an idiot like Trump, but I can't believe that Trump is in the position he's in when these are the best followers he's got.)

And to top it off, the end of the episode doesn't even make sense. If you're going to bring in these crazy whackjob characters to run Trump's campaign, you can't go and have him suddenly start acting reasonable and apologizing for hurting people's feelings and walking back his position on immigration. It's one or the other -- he's going to go more extreme, or he's going to start playing at being a real candidate (and it's about twenty episodes too late for that). Having him do both at the same time is nonsensical writing.

And in the middle of all this, we have the conclusion of the Olympics arc. I'm glad they pushed it down to a B-pot this week and didn't focus on any stupid sports, but the subplot where the athletes break a door and lie about it and get arrested ... were the writers trying to be funny? That's the only thing I can think of. If they wanted to be dramatic, surely they could come up with a better crime (though I suppose having one of the athletes get into a drunk driving accident was off limits due to the Manafort business). Having Brazil arrest the guys over something so minor is a real eyerolling moment.

NEXT WEEK: A Clinton scandal. Exactly what nobody in the viewing audience wants.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Gold Record: Earth S2016 E32

I hate sports episodes. Let's just get that out of the way up front.

I hate the annual Super Bowl episode. I hate the March Madness arc. I hate the World Cup storyline. They all bore me.

But above all, I hate the Olympics. It's always the same storylines over and over. Oh look, somebody broke a world record. Again. Then in the next episode it's going to turn out at least one of the record breakers was doping, and it'll be a huge scandal and blah-blah-blah. We've seen it all before. Writers, it's time to move on. Come up with a different plot line.

I mean, it wasn't always like this. Used to be the Olympics were world shaking events -- remember season 1936 when they were set against the backdrop of the Hitler arc, and Jesse Owens humiliated the Nazis in the heart of their empire? That was great writing. Or remember the Olympic boycotts and how they came just as the Cold War arc was at its most exciting?

That's how you do something like this.

But the last few years, it's all been lackluster. The 2014 arc could've been something, coming right at the start of the Ukraine storyline, with Putin cracking down on political dissidents in the background, but the writers completely blew it. And this year, the big plotline they came up with was the Olympics taking place in a city with shitty water -- literally. And it hasn't even played a part in the plotline.

But my big problem with the Olympics is the writers' stupid insistence on making them coincide with the American Presidential elections. This was a dumb move from the get-go, but it's become more so in the last few seasons as the American election arcs go on longer and longer. Here we are at the most exciting point in the story, and we're taking time away for a two part sports story.

The writers had a chance to fix things when they decided to stagger the Summer and Winter Olympics. The smart thing to do would've been to move the summer games, since those are the ones that occur right before the election climax, but instead they shifted the Winter Olympics, which used to take place right before the primaries. So we're stuck with the Olympics reducing the American elections to a B-story.

And what a lame B-story. I don't think the writers were even trying this week. Trump's statements are getting more and more ridiculous -- rants about rigged elections and suggestions that someone should shoot Hillary -- but we're still supposed to believe that Ryan, Priebus and McConnell are supporting him? No rational politician would stick by this guy, especially with his polls tanking. There better be a revelation coming that he has pictures of the Republican leadership committing sex crimes, because the current direction this story is taking has broken by suspension of disbelief.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I'm Not There Right Now: Earth S2016 E31

After last week's horrible episode, the series tries to get back on track ... with yet another Trump controversy.

Really? We've had like five thousand of them this season. Some of them have been fun, but we all know at this point that they aren't going to stick. The writers are just throwing them in to stir up drama because they don't have any real ideas about how to advance the plot. Worse, the Khan thing is a rehash of Trump trashing McCain last season -- if that didn't bring him down, why are we supposed to believe that suddenly this is a major crisis for his campaign?

Likewise we have Trump's crashing poll numbers, but we know he's not going to flame out quite yet. There are a dozen more episodes before the election. The writers have to keep the tension up. They played this card before, with the Mexican judge episode, and just when it looked like Trump was about to implode, they had the FBI announce their conclusions on Clinton's email screwup. Clearly, the writers are going to do the same thing again -- probably be Wikileaks this time releasing some dirt on Bill.

On top of that, suddenly the writers are setting up a potential coup d'etat within the Republican party. We're supposed to take this seriously now? For the last twenty episode we've been hearing how there's no way to stop Trump once he gets the nomination, that the convention was the last chance to do something.

Don't get me wrong, I like the fact that what finally pushed the Republicans over the edge wasn't any of the egregious things Trump said, but the fact that he wouldn't back Ryan. The expression on Trump's face when he said, "I'm not there yet," was classic -- as always, the best part of this season has been seeing the Republicans get their comeuppance -- and I loved that whole, "Why is this guy still here," reaction to Priebus.

The real problem with this plot line is twofold.

First, the writers are having some Republicans defect for Hillary, but they're only minor characters. I mean, when Meg Whitman is the big name you throw out for shock value, you've got problems. Come on, why not Romney or the Bushes. If they went over, that would be shocking. Whitman, not so much.

But second, at the end of the episode, it looks like Trump is finally cowed and he endorses Ryan and McCain. Come on now, does anyone actually buy that? It's a cheap cliffhanger that's going to be forgotten within a couple episodes. I guarantee you, two episodes from now, Trump's going to be back to his old antics, Priebus will be wringing his hands again, and it'll make exactly zero difference to the ongoing plot, if it's even mentioned again.

NEXT WEEK: The show puts the election storyline on hold for ... a sports episode?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Shattering the Ceiling - Earth S2016 E30

This will teach me not to get my expectations up. After last week's awesome episode, I had high hopes that the series was finally getting back on track, but, no.

Hillary's always been a problematic character. Her first introduction back in season 1992 was exciting -- at last, after the dismal failure of Margaret Thatcher, the writers were going to give us a real, strong woman in a central role. Remember how excited everyone was when she said that voting for Bill would be a two-for-one deal?

So what did the writers do? Right out the gate, they had her fail in passing healthcare reform. There we were with what was supposed to be a revolutionary presidency, and they kneecapped it right in the first season!

And if that wasn't bad enough, the ratings started to tank right after that. Now anyone with a brain could figure out the problem was the end of the Cold War arc. The Persian Gulf War had been good, but that was over in a single season, and the whole Balkan subplot was too confusing for anyone to follow. But rather than building up a new conflict, what did we get? Billy gets a blowjob from an intern. The single dumbest plot in the show's entire run. Three seasons of story revolving around an affair.

And to make it work, the writers had to neuter Hillary. They turned her into a good wife who stood by her man through thick and thin. For me, that was the moment when the character lost all credibility.

Honestly, Hillary should've been written out of the show at that point and the writers could've tried again with a more credible female character, but instead they brought her back as a Senator from New York. (Why New York? Who knows! She had no connection to the state before season 2000, but the writers waved their magic wand and suddenly she was a New Yorker.)

And immediately after that, the writers made her look ridiculous by having her get duped by George, Jr. (George, Jr!) into supporting the Iraq War. Seriously? What happened to Hillary, the strong female character who was going to be Bill's co-president?

After that, of course, we got the Obama arc with Hillary promoted to Secretary of State. Given the mess George, Jr. left the show in, you'd think this would, finally, be her time to shine. But no. First thing to happen, she gives a reset button to Russia, even though it's blatantly obvious to everyone watching that Putin's being set up as the second coming of Stalin. Yet again, the writers undermined her character by letting her get duped. Then the show got mired with these stupid subplots about Benghazi and her emails -- subplots that are still going on, even though nobody gives a shit. It strains credibility that characters in the show actually think any of this stuff is a major issue. But they do.

By this point, the writers should've given up on the character. She's been nothing but a trainwreck. They've undermined her at every turn. And the character's pushing 70. But instead of letting her and Bill retire quietly, now they're pushing her as a Presidential candidate?

I don't get it.

I just don't get it.

Every episode this season, I've been expecting some twist to come up that would make Bernie the nominee. Or better yet, the writers would find some way to make Elizabeth Warren the candidate. Anything but four more seasons of bad writing for Hillary.

My biggest fear right now is the writers are setting her up for a fall. They want Trump to win and shake things up, so they've positioned the worst candidate on the Democratic side -- the only candidate who might believably lose to that shithead. (The fact that she picked Tim Kaine as her running mate supports this -- if the writers were plotting some shocking twist that would elevate the VP to the Oval Office, surely they would've gone with Warren, or anybody more interesting than the piece of cardboard that Hillary picked.)

(And while we're on the subject, can we take a moment to discuss the decision to recast Chelsea Clinton? I know the actress who played the teen Chelsea has run into some problems in life. It happens. I wish her the best. But when the producers decided to bring a new actress in for the role, did they have to make her such a babe? I feel that totally undercuts the original Chelsea's character arc, where she learned to value herself for her intellect and personality and to ignore what Rush Limbaugh had to say about her looks. All that's been thrown out now so the new, super hot Chelsea can stand in counterpoint to Ivanka. But think of how much more of a contrast she'd present if she still looked down to earth and a little frumpy, more of an everygirl character.)

So now I guess I have to discuss the elephant in the room -- the Wikileaks twist.

What a clusterfuck.

As I said last week, I understand there've been problems between the producers and the actor who plays Assange, and that's why he was written out of the show with that rape plotline even though he was an immensely popular character. Fine. But to bring him back and ruin his character like this?

It doesn't even make sense. The last time Wikileaks was a major plotline, the Republicans were up in arms about the group and wanted to hang Assange. But now, suddenly, he's working for them to destroy Hillary under orders from Vladimir Putin? WTF. Are we supposed to believe he's been a Russian agent this whole time? Way to retroactively ruin one of the most interesting plot lines from the last few seasons. Throw in the part where the Republicans are suddenly against NATO, and the terrorists are targeting France instead of the USA, and I have to wonder, are the writers even watching the show anymore? Nothing makes sense. They're coming up with random plot twists for no good reason. The way this show's going, they might as well make Trump president and have him start WWIII, that way the show can go out with a big bang and we can finally be done with it.

NEXT WEEK: The return of Harry Potter. Wow, I guess they really are desperate for ratings.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

EARTH S:2016 E: 29 Cruz Control

Like a lot of people, I've been down on the current season of Earth with its ridiculous plot contrivances and inconsistent characterization, but I have to say, last week's episode was a real return to form.The show hasn't hit one out of the park like that since the early days of the Al Qaeda arc.

The ep started a bit shaky. We all knew the #NeverTrump campaign wasn't going to succeed, but we still spent an inordinate amount of time on it, and then it's followed up with a comic subplot about Trump's wife plagiarizing her speech -=eyeroll=-. With all the strong female characters on the show recently, it's a shame for it to take a step backwards with such a stereotypical character. If the writers actually make Trump President, I hope they write Malania out in favor of Ivanka, who already looks to be a more interesting character. (Though did you catch the way her dad patted her ass? I really hope the writers aren't going there -- we get it, Trump's evil. No need to make him any skeevier than he already is.)

But the real meat of the episode was in the second act. Ted Cruz has never been one of my favorite characters, not least because the actor who plays him sucks giant red donkey dick. Everytime he opens his mouth, he comes off as a smarmy little kid who thinks he can put one over on the adults. For a character who was introduced as this diabolical genius, the acting never matched up. But here, in what I can only assume is Cruz's swansong, the show actually made me feel bad for him. Sure, his motivation for dissing Trump was purely personal, but that actually made it more compelling than Romney or Kasich who are just standing on some generic principle. (There are the Bushes, of course, but after everything George, Jr. did, it's hard to respect Jeb and Papa George for standing by him. Rafael and Heidi, though we never saw much of either, are far more sympathetic characters.)

Still, Ted's always been a jackass, so despite the pathos, there's more than a little schadenfreude with him getting booed by his own party. I've got to hand it to the writers, as much as I hated the whole Tea Party arc, their handling of Cruz and especially Christie this season has been outstanding. Now if only they find a way to get Huckabee his comeuppance, everything will be right with the world.

Of course, we also have to talk about that cliffhanger. Oh my god! Can you believe it? After all this time, they're finally bringing Julian Assange back? I know he popped up briefly for that Sony hack subplot a couple seasons, but this is the first time he's played a major role in the story in years. (A lot of people seem to think he had a falling out with the producers, hence the ignominious way he was written out, but I guess if there was an issue, it's been taken care of.) And what a way to make his grand re-entrance! After Bernie's constant accusations of Democratic double dealings -- boom! -- we have total proof. I did not see that twist coming. I thought he was just paranoid. If Assange and Sanders team up, this is going to be so epic.

NEXT WEEK: A Hillary episode. Kill me now.

Friday, July 22, 2016

8 Sitcom Characters Who Are Supporting Trump

At the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump trotted out some of the biggest stars of Hollywood -- Scott Baio! Antonio Sabato, Jr.! Angelina Jolie's skeevy dad. With a roster like that, it's no surprise that many people got left off. So here are profiles of eight sitcom characters who've come out in support of the Donald:

 STEVE URKEL

The transformation of Steve Urkel from lovable dweeb to one of the Internet's leading Men's Rights Advocates has shocked many people.

"I knew him since he was a baby," Harriet Winslow says. "He was a sweet boy. A little trying at times, yes, but sweet. The way he is now ... it's like I don't know him anymore."

Her son Eddie agrees. "Steve was a handful, but you could always count on him to do the right thing."

Not everyone who knew him shares that view, though. "Steve was a creeper as long as I knew him," Laura Winslow says. "I was always telling my dad not to let him come over, but daddy wouldn't ever listen."

"I was wrong," her father Carl admits now. "I always thought Laura was being overly sensitive. As annoying as Steve could be, I always encouraged her to get along with him. Help him to not be so highstrung. Hang out with him at the mall instead of our house."

That all came to a head one night not long after Laura started college. "I was living at home, commuting to campus. One night I woke up, and there was Steve standing at the foot of my bed, just watching me with that creepy grin of his. I screamed for dad, and he kicked Steve out of the house, told him to never show his face there again."

After Laura finally took out a restraining order against him and her dad threatened to shoot him if he ever came near their house again, Steve gravitated to the world of Pickup Artists, but he soon became disillusioned after discovering that bedding random women didn't fill the loneliness in his heart.

Instead of learning his lesson and becoming a better person who could handle relationships with women as equals, however, he gravitated to the dark side of the PUA scene and became a Men's Rights Activist. Over the next decade, his life entered a tailspin. He dropped out of grad school and ended up working a low-paying tech support job. He was arrested when he tried to crash Laura's wedding, and was later investigated for making death threats against Anita Sarkeesian.

When Trump announced his candidacy, Steve didn't give it much thought at first -- he'd enjoyed The Apprentice, but he figured Trump was pulling a publicity stunt. But after listening to Trump's rhetoric, he came around. Now Steve sees Trump as a way to save American masculinity from the insidious forces of feminism.

"Trump wants to make America great again. That means returning us to traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. A country where women know their place in the world and don't go slutting it up at bars unless they want a man to make a move on them. None of this, 'Oh, I'm just here with my girlfriends for some fun.'"

"That kid," Carl sighs after hearing about Steve's views, "he's got a mind but he don't know how to use it. No wonder he sees himself in Trump. God help us, but so do lots of people."

CLIFF CLAVIN

To the occasional visitor to Cheers, Cliff was a lovable scamp, always sitting at the end of the bar, entertaining people with odd bits of trivia. But the staff and regulars knew better. His friend Norm Peterson says, "Yeah, by closing time on a Saturday night, Cliffy was a different man. Get too many beers into him and ... it was bad." Says Sam Malone, manager and sometime proprietor of Cheers, "Early afternoons, he was okay, but late at night it'd be, 'It's a fact Sammy, the Jews control 90% of the wealth in the Jew-nited States.' It was sad watching him get that way, but at least he was here with friends who knew not to take him seriously."

But when Cliff retired from the Postal Service in 2011, things took a turn for the worse. Unable to afford drinking out every day, Cliff took to staying home with a case of beer and watching The Gameshow Network. He also found Internet chat boards where he felt uninhibited in sharing his views.

"2013, that's when he really changed," Peterson says. "On the occasions when he showed up to the bar, he'd just go on and on about how Barack Obama is a Kenyan with a fake birth certificate."

"We had to kick him out a few times," Malone admits. "He was riling up customers. Yeah, I guess you could say it got ugly."

Even before Trump announced officially, Cliff was a supporter. "That dingleberry, he loved Trump for saying Obama weren't no American," waitress Carla Tortelli recalls. "He said he'd vote for Trump if he ran for President. What a jerk."

Since Trump's announcement, Clavin's worked his way up in the campaign organization, becoming the manager for Boston, where he's widely credited for Trump's stunning primary victory, one of the few times that Trump polled above 50% in a contested state.

MALLORY KEATON

I know it's shocking. You were expecting her brother Alex to be the Trump supporter.

"Yeah, that's not happening," Alex says from his brokerage in Manhattan. As he explains it, "Look, I'm a believer in Milton Friedman and monetarism. I think free trade has made our country so much better. And I think cheap immigrant labor is fantastic. Trump is anathema to the Republican Party that I grew up with. The fact that so many Republicans today are willing to go along with him ... I don't get it. I'll be voting for Gary Johnson come November."

But his sister Mallory is another story entirely. In 1991 she married her on-again-off-again boyfriend Nick, a struggling artist. "We knew it wasn't right," her mother Elyce says. "It was horrible. We didn't want to be classist or anything like that, and it should've been good for her. Mallory was always so materialistic growing up, so putting that aside for love ..."

"But there were problems from early on," her father adds. "She'd come home after spending the night with him and insist upon wearing these big, goofy sunglasses and putting on heavy makeup even at breakfast."

"I didn't realize what was going on until later," Alex says. "I was young, stupid and naive. I didn't recognize the signs. If I had, you bet I would've sent that punk to the hospital."

Mallory's marriage to Nick didn't last, and they separated in 1995 after having two kids together. Working as a single mother proved tough, and Nick rarely made his contribution to child support. "There were a couple years there where I paid her rent five months out of twelve," Alex says. "I think mom and dad covered three or four more."

But Alex and his parents discovered that the money wasn't going to food and shelter. Instead Mallory, working as a receptionist for a plumbing company, had become addicted to methamphetamine. When her kids' school became concerned over signs of neglect, Child Welfare stepped in. Mallory lost custody of her son and daughter, who went to live with their grandparents.

"We love little Tina and Mike," Elyce says, "but we wish they could be with their mother."

But over the next few years Mallory developed a persecution complex, coming to believe the government was out to get her. "She felt that social services were some kind of conspiracy," Alex says. "A plot to destroy the American family. I think that's a lot of the reason she supports Trump now. The last time she felt happy in life, it was the 1980s. She thinks Trump will bring that back. She's deluding herself, but what can we do?"

JOEY GLADSTONE

Life was good for Joey Gladstone in the first decade of the 21st Century. His standup career finally took off, thanks largely to his ability to do spot-on impersonations of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. His "Bush and Dick" routine won him guest appearances on Letterman, The Tonight Show and The Daily Show, and at one point he had a sitcom in development at ABC (the network rejected it after the pilot proved unpopular with urban audiences).

"Man, I couldn't believe it. After twenty years bunking in my attic, Joey finally got his own place out in Petaluma," Danny Tanner says.

But success came with a dark side.

"He and Uncle Jesse always kept a pot stash in the house," DJ Tanner tells me. "Me and my friend Kimmy would sneak some buds all the time. They never realize it. They'd blame each other and get in these huge fights, but when my dad came home, they'd have to make up some silly reason for their argument -- if dad knew they were smoking up in the house, they would've been out on the street."

"I've got no comment," Jesse Katsopolis says.

But, like so many comics before him, after finding success on the stand-up circuit, Joey gravitated to harder drugs. "Mainly uppers," says Kimmy Gibbler, who dated Joey briefly. "Coke and speed were his faves. He needed a way to maintain that high energy on the road. He'd have me hanging out in local bars during the show trying to score drugs for him."

The drugs, however, made Joey's act erratic. "He couldn't get the big clubs like before. More and more he was playing Indian casinos and little bars in college towns," Gibbler says. "Obama becoming President certainly didn't help."

The nadir came in 2014 when video surfaced showing Joey breaking off his routine halfway through to launch into a racist tirade against black comedians. "How come they can say 'n***er' but I can't? And I'm the privileged one here? Fucking bullshit! Fucking bullshit!" Joey screamed as he hurled a drink at the audience.

"Joey had dumped me by that point," Gibbler says. "He was going on with this toothless crackwhore he'd picked up in Ft. Lauderdale. I only saw the video when it went viral. I can't say it surprised me, though. That was how he talked in private."

After the video showed up on TMZ, Joey's bookings dried up completely. He blamed African-Americans for his misfortune. "He called me up one night," says Michelle Tanner, "and wanted to talk about this cabal of black comedians who secretly control the American comedy circuit."

After Trump announced his candidacy, Joey quickly came out in support on Twitter. "@realdonaldtrump will end the tyranny of political correctness that is destroying our culture."

"It's pretty sad," Danny says. "This is a guy who voted for Mondale and Dukakis. He even went with Nader in 2000 because Gore wasn't liberal enough."

Joey wouldn't respond to requests for interviews, however his Facebook page contains this explanation for his change of heart:

After thirty years of being duped by lying liberal politicians, I feel this country needs a revolution. I don't agree with everything Donald Trump says, but I believe he will demolish the secret powers who've neutered our nation. They know who they are, and they're quaking in fear right now. Good. That's how it should be."

CARLTON BANKS

The son of famed Hollywood lawyer Philip Banks, Carlton grew up in privileged circumstances. "When I first moved in with the family, Carlton didn't even know black people were oppressed," his cousin Will says.

"That's an exaggeration," insists Philip Banks. "Mostly."

Nonetheless Carlton has always been further to the right than anyone else in his family, even his father. "I remember in elementary school," his sister Hilary says, "he started a Black Republicans club. He was the only member."

"He was the only black student in his school" Philip says.

Whatever the case, Carlton has remained a staunch conservative, serving in the Schwarzenegger administration as senior fiscal advisor. "I couldn't have been more proud of him," Philip says.

But with the emergence of the Tea Party in recent years, a rift developed in the family. "I can't condone what the Republican Party has become," Philip says. "It's been hijacked by the worst part of the American people and turned into something I don't recognize." Philip, who served as state treasurer for both Mitt Romney and John Kasich's campaign, formally renounced his party membership this last April after it became apparent Trump would win the nomination. "I don't want to vote for Clinton, but at this point I see no honorable alternative."

His son, however, remains faithful to the party. "This is an historic opportunity. We're seeing poll data that indicates that Trump has a chance of winning by a landslide in the inland portions of the state, which are vastly more conservative. If we can leverage that, we might be able to flip the state for the first time in decades. The carry-on effect in state offices would be monumental."

"I think Uncle Phil shoulda smacked that boy more," Will says.

Asked if he's done anything to persuade Carlton away from Trump, Will says, "I went to Costco a couple weeks ago, bought the biggest thing of Oreos I could find and sent it to him. He texted me a thank-you note."

OPIE TAYLOR

Opie Taylor left his hometown of Mayberry, North Carolina in eighth grade, but he returned in 1981 to set up legal offices. When he arrived, he found the town greatly transformed.

According to Arnold Bailey, "When Opie's father was sheriff, Mayberry was notorious as a sundown town -- no black folks permitted within the city limits after dark. There were a few families that lived just outside town in rickety shacks that dated to the 1920s, but most blacks steered well clear of Mayberry."

That changed in the late 1960s after Sheriff Taylor relocated.

"Publicly, the Taylor's moved because Sheriff Andy was getting married and took a job with a life insurance company in Raleigh," says Ellie Walker, "but the truth is, he was under investigation by the Justice Department. He agreed to step down in exchange for them not charging him with Civil Rights violations."

At first Taylor's successor, Sheriff Fife, tried to continue his predecessor's policies, but as African-Americans moved to town in greater numbers, his political power slipped away. In 1974, the county elected its first black Sheriff, Tyrone Pendergast.

"The town suffered mightily from the economic problems of the 1970s," Bailey recalls. "White residents blamed the blacks, especially for the drug problem that started to creep into town. When old Mr. Campbell OD'd on smack, everyone said it was one of the new black employees at the furniture factory that got him hooked."

Racial tensions in town rose, and in 1977 there was an attempted lynching of a black high school student who was dating a white girl. Sheriff Pendergast arrested five men for their involvement, but charges were eventually dropped due to a lack of witnesses willing to testify.

When Opie Taylor returned to town in 1981, the situation was bleak. The furniture factory, which employed 60% of Mayberrians, had shut down the year before and attempts to lure new industries were failing. The welfare rolls were at record numbers.

Taylor ran for Sheriff in 1982 on a platform that many critics described as "race baiting" and won by a substantial margin. He set about modernizing local law enforcement, applying for federal grants that allowed the department to upgrade its equipment. Over the next quarter century, the department expanded from a sheriff and one deputy, to twenty-five officers, complete with a SWAT team -- something that would've been unthinkable in the elder Taylor's day, when Deputy Fife wasn't even allowed to carry his revolver loaded.

The black community accused Taylor of focusing his enforcement on them, but he insists that he was merely directing his forces at problem areas. "Look, we had a drug problem in the area. It wasn't on Elm Street or Maple. It was in the new Section 8 apartment complexes off Route 7. That's where I put my men. If that happens to be where the blacks live, what am I supposed to do? Ignore everything?"

The situation festered in Mayberry for decades before finally popping in 2014 when Deputy Timothy Fife, son of the former sheriff, shot an unarmed black man in the town square in the middle of the day.

"It was a tragic accident," Taylor insists despite numerous witnesses who describe the act as cold-blooded murder. "Tim's always been a little shaky with firearms. He once shot himself in the foot while sitting at his desk with the gun in its holster."

But Black Lives Matter protesters weren't so willing to write the incident off. Mayberry erupted in massive protests, which turned to rioting when Sheriff Taylor ordered his men to break up the demonstrations. Eventually Governor McCrory had to call in the National Guard to restore order.

"I stand by my actions," Taylor insists. "There are elements in this country who want to undermine law enforcement -- the very government itself -- and they're using these minor incidents as an excuse to stir up trouble. I have my suspicions about where they're getting orders from -- you can't think this is a coincidence, how all this started after we elected an African Muslim as President, can you?"

As for the Presidential election, Taylor says it's no contest. "Trump's the only candidate who fully stands by the police. If we elect Hillary, she's going to pass laws saying it's not a crime for black men to shoot law enforcement officers. She's going to pack the Supreme Court with liberals who'll make it impossible to get criminal convictions. We've got to stop her. We've got to crush her. It's not a choice -- if we don't, there won't be an America four years from now."

WAYNE ARNOLD


"I don't even know why we're bothering with an election," Wayne Arnold says from his home in New Jersey. "Hillary Clinton is a criminal. She shouldn't even be allowed to run."

Arnold, who grew up on Long Island in the 1960s and '70s, describes Clinton as everything wrong with '60s liberalism. "She sounds like my brother. Always whining, whining, whining. Vietnam, Civil Rights, women's rights, now it's the f*****s and t******s. What's next, dog fuckers? Jesus. I don't know how anyone can look at America and think we're going in the right direction. We've been going the wrong way almost my entire life -- I guess that's why libtards like f*****s, they're always sticking their dicks in the wrong way."

Wayne's younger brother, Kevin, says he's not at all surprised that his brother is voting for Trump. "Wayne believed everything Trump says he stands for before he stood for it. He was the sort of guy who thought our mistake in Vietnam was not being tough enough."

Sister Karen is even more damning, "Wayne was a damn fascist, even when he was a kid. I remember him seeing a story about Martin Luther King protesting somewhere, and he said the cops should just arrest him for making problems."

MICHAEL SCOTT

In a nondescript house in suburban Colorado, Michael Scott runs his latest business venture -- professional Pokemon guide. "It's just an idea I had. Lots of people want to play Pokemon Go, but they don't know where to look. I take them out to the best hunting grounds."

How's the business going?

"It's a growth industry. Yesterday I saw two prospective clients. They were seven and could only pay me with a piece of gum they dropped on the carpet, so I had to turn them way."

This is the latest in a long line of startups that Scott has run since leaving Dunder-Mifflin. "Yes, I also run a service for people who need to create fake Facebook pages for job interviews. I tried to start a 3D print shop, but there were problems. My lawyer says I'm not supposed to talk about it. Oh, and I install gardens on balconies for people who live in apartments."

When asked why he's throwing his support to Donald Trump, Scott replies simply, "He's going to win."

"You don't want to throw your vote away by supporting a candidate who has no chance. Voting for Trump is the only possible choice."

Asked how he can be so sure of Trump's victory, he explains, "I've been in sales for twenty years. I know a thing or two about the art of the deal -- in fact, I picked most of them up from Mr. Trump. Fantastic writer, you know. So what I'm seeing in this campaign in the perfect pitch. You know, this is how you do it. You show your audience that they have a problem, then you tell them your product is the solution. First you get people to think that they're losers -- everything's going wrong with their life, the rest of the world is laughing at them -- then you introduce your product and explain how it'll make them into winners. For instance, when I was selling paper, I'd tell people that anyone can have a website. Anyone can send an email. You can do it out of your basement. You can do it in your bathroom. Nobody will know. But paper -- high quality paper -- that's something special. If you want to distinguish yourself in the world of business, you still need paper. Even if nobody ever looks at your catalogue, the fact that you have it says, 'I'm not just some guy working from home. I'm a real business.' And people bought it."

"Trump's brilliance," Scott continues, "is that he's not selling a product. He's selling himself. America's got problems, and he's the solution. Nobody can resist a pitch like that. He's going to win, and if you want to win too, you've got to get on board with him."

Friday, July 1, 2016

No, Whitewashing Isn't the Same as Diversification

The long gestating American adaptation of Death Note is finally moving forward as a Netflix original movie. The main cast includes Keith Stanfield in the role of genius detective L. For some reason this has triggered an adverse reaction in certain corners of fandom.



I can't imagine why.

This comes on the heels of the Ghost in the Shell movie casting Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi.


This decision was also highly controversial, but in entirely different circles. Apart from people who think any Western adaptation of anime or manga is inherently doomed, there's very little overlap in people upset at these casting decisions, which has led some people who dislike Stanfield's casting to cry, "Hypocrisy!" (Nevermind that nobody on either side is particularly upset about Nat Wolff playing the other main character, Light, unless they happen to hate Wolff as an actor. Ditto Margaret Qualley as the female lead.) But there's nothing hypocritical here. Though the issues may seem similar at a glance, there are actually key differences.

Americanization vs Whitewashing

Whenever Hollywood makes a movie based upon foreign source material, it's fairly standard for the setting to change to the United States unless the source material contains an appealing "exotic" locale, or is set in some historical period. Hollywood does this to movies from Europe just as much as anywhere -- look at Insomnia, which changes the original movie's Norwegian setting to Alaska, or The Vanishing, which changes the Netherlands to middle America. While one can argue whether there's any need to remake foreign films (especially in the case of The Vanishing, which butchered the original), if it's going to be done, it's natural for the studio to want to do it in their normal filming locations, not halfway around the world. This is simply Americanizing the movie.

Whitewashing, on the other hand, is the process of eliminating jobs for minority actors, either by changing the character's ethnicity (changing real life Asian-Americans to white guys in 21), or casting a white guy in the role and hoping nobody will notice (Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan Noonien Singh).

Obviously any time Hollywood adapts source material from Asia, Africa or Latin-America and relocates it to the United States, character ethnicities are going to change . That's something that most people accept as the cost of doing business. Preferably the filmmakers will keep at least one of the main characters as their original ethnicity (Death Note is doing this by having Paul Nakauchi play Watari) and cast more than white people in the other roles, but it'd be pretty weird to set a movie in America and have everyone be Japanese or Brazilian, or even Norwegian.

The problem with Ghost in the Shell is that it's not following Hollywood's normal pattern of Americanization. Instead of making a cultural adaptation, everything so far indicates that the story is still set in a cyberpunk Asian city in the nebulous future. Most of the announced cast is Asian or Pacific Islander. But the main characters, with one exception, are white people. Even more disturbing, there are reports that the studio tried to use CG to make the Caucasian actors appear more Asian.

White Tokenism

We normally think of tokenism as actors of color being cast in minor roles so filmmakers can say, "See, we're being inclusive and diverse." But there's a flip-side to this phenomenon -- the casting of white actors in major roles in films about people of color. This is especially common in movies about the Civil Rights movement where studios assume that white audiences (and most filmmakers can't imagine any other kind) won't be interested in the struggles of black people unless there's a white person for them to identify with. And so when Hollywood makes a movie about a regiment of black soldiers in the Civil War, the main character is played by Matthew Broderick; when they make a movie about Stephen Biko, the focus is on a white journalist played by Kevin Kline; and when they do a movie about the murder of Civil Rights activists in Mississippi in the 1960s, the heroes are a couple of white FBI agents played by Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman.

But this problem crops up elsewhere. When Hollywood makes a samurai movie, it's not enough to make a movie about samurai. No, there has to be a white guy in there somewhere, because apparently samurai aren't cool enough on their own. Sometimes there's an historical basis for this, sometimes the filmmakers have to twist actual history to make the white guy fit into the story, and sometimes. They. Just. Don't. Care.

GitS fits this mold. The white characters aren't being included because there's any logical reason for them to be there, as would be the case if the setting were transferred to a futuristic American city. They're there because the studio doesn't trust the audience to care about a world full of people of color if there aren't any token white people driving the plot. Diversity is only okay as long as we recognize white folk are the only ones who can be the center of a story.

Opposites and Symmetry

Of course those who are upset at Stanfield playing L will argue that there's a double standard here. When there's a white person taking on an Asian character, that's bad, but when a black man takes on a white role (L is British in the original manga) it's no big deal. This argument has become more frequent of late as there's been an increase in actors of color being cast in roles that previously would've defaulted to white actors -- Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in the new Harry Potter play, Idris Elba as Roland the Last Gunslinger -- and there've been calls for the next Doctor Who and James Bond to be black.

But people who make this point fail to understand that just because two things are opposites, that doesn't mean they're symmetric.

If a director sets out to make an Oscar-bait melodrama about life in the suburbs, the reflex is to look for white actors for the main roles. Ben Affleck will get considered. Tom Cruise. Kevin Spacey. Will Smith ... probably not. Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne ... not likely. The role of a suburban family defaults to white unless the story is about race. A film about a black family living in the suburbs can't be about life in the suburbs as far as Hollywood is concerned. It's about being black in the suburbs, something totally different. And once a movie becomes about being black, it's no longer seen as being of interest to general audiences (i.e., white people).

Black actors at least can hold down lead roles in action films, no problem, these days. But of course action films aren't prestigious. If they want to be taken seriously as actors, they need to get roles in dramas, and those are often only open to them if the film is something like Twelve Years a Slave or Straight Outta Compton. Other minorities, though, are less lucky. Asian (especially South Asian) roles are in short supply in any genre, as are Hispanic parts. One can almost imagine a movie like American Beauty getting made with Will Smith and Halle Berry, but not Daniel Dae Kim and Ming Na. The idea that Asians might live in the 'burbs and have interesting problems has barely registered in the minds of Hollywood executives.

So when there's a role out there that's actually designed for an actor of color and the part gets changed to a white character, or the director just casts Johnny Depp in the part without making any changes, it's taking away from a limited supply of roles.

On the other hand, when somebody makes an updated Sherlock Holmes with Lucy Liu as Watson, they're creating diversity where none existed before. Such a casting choice has virtually zero effect on white actors, who still have numerous opportunities.

Imagine you're trying to balance a set of scales. The left side has five kilograms of sand, but the right only has three. Obviously the way to do this would be to scoop sand off the left side and add it to the right. If somebody came up to you and said, "Hey, you're not being fair. You should be taking sand from the right side and adding it to the left, too," you'd think the guy was a complete moron. But that's exactly what people are arguing when they say that casting Stanfield as L is no different from having Johnny Depp play Tonto.