Monday, March 31, 2014

Good and Bad: 'The Walking Dead' (3/30/14)

Season 4, Episode 16: “A”
 Plot: And we’re back at the prison again. The season four closer gets going back in simpler times. Glenn, Maggie and Rick are coming back from a run. Herschel has almost all of the body parts he came into the world with still attached to all the right places.
                Then we immediately cut to a present day blood-splattered Rick, and for a lack of a better phrase, the man looks like he’s seen all of the shit. Not just some. All of it.
                After the credits we time slide again to meet up with a perfectly-healthy Rick, Michonne and Carl, hanging out in the woods, trying to catch a rabbit, letting a strange dude get his eyeball torn out by a pack of zombies. The use.
                The gang high tail it the bush out of there, set up camp for the night and then are promptly ambushed by Joe’s crew. They’re still not thrilled at Rick for strangling their buddy and they’re looking to not so much even the score, but blow up the stadium and the surrounding parking lots so no one can ever play there again.
                Joe’s crew vows to rape both Michonne and Carl and then, when all is said and done, kill Rick. Because escalation? Right around that point Daryl shows up and is all “Umm … not cool, you guys.” This starts a brouhahas that climaxes with Rick tearing Joe’s throat out with his teeth because escalation!
                This understandably breaks the spirit of Joe’s remaining crew and they are all promptly and brutally killed. Escalation.
                In the aftermath of the fight (the blood-splattered Rick we saw earlier in the episode), Rick and Daryl share a tender moment, well at least as tender as a moment can be when you’re busy picking pieces of a guy’s windpipe out of your teeth.
                The Grimes gang eventually reach Terminus, and sneak in the backdoor. They meet up with some hipster-looking folks in a radio room who direct them to the welcome area we glimpsed briefly last week.
                Once there, Rick notices some familiar-looking stuff: Glenn’s pocket watch, some body armor from the prison. Everybody flips out, Rick’s gang starts running around Terminus seeing all sorts of stuff that looks like evidence of cannibalism but is definitely creepy, the locals shoot at the gang’s feet, funneling them in one direction and cornering them.
                The episode ends with the Grimes gang getting locked in a rail car with everybody else from the prison who's still alive save for Carol, Tyreese and Beth.       
                Oh yeah, and all the while, the episode cuts back to the days back at the prison where Herschel teaches Rick and Carl the fine art of being gentlemen farmers.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sporting Event Survival Guide: What's the deal with sports fans?

I think there’s one thing we can all agree on: A live sporting event is just about the most frustrating thing you can spend money on that doesn’t require hand tools.
                Fun too, sure. But also that other f word.
                For one thing, there’s a 50/50 chance that you paid good money to watch your favorite team lose. In my case, it usually feels like those odds look more like 90/10 in favor of losing, but I’m sure everyone feels that way, expect for those awful people cursed with sunny dispositions that you run into on occasion.
                Beyond the whole losing thing, there’s also the part of going to a game where you’re forced to interact with other fans. You’re all there because you share a common love of sport, but in most cases that’s the only overlap in your Venn Diagrams.
                Other fans can be a giant pain.   
                My girlfriend and I made the trip to a live sporting even last week. Our team lost. Shocker. On the way home, she fell asleep in the car. Also, shocker.
While she was asleep, it gave me the chance to ponder fandom and in particular the ways people chose to pass the time when they’re locked in a stadium with 30,000 total strangers for a couple of hours.
                So now, in my best Jerry Seinfeld (“What is the deal with sports fans?”), here are the most common types of fans you’ll encounter in stadiums:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Good and Bad: 'The Walking Dead' (3/23/14)

Season 4, Episode 15: “Us”

Plot: For the first time in a long time, we have very nearly everyone left over from midseason’s big prison showdown in the same episode. Glenn and Tara are still teaming up with Rectangle head, Danny McBride and Latina Sarah Connor. They’re following the messages Maggie left for Glenn in walker blood along the route to Terminus. Eventually, they come to a dark and scary tunnel that sounds like it’s full of walkers. Rectangle head don’t play tunnels so everyone decides to split up. Tara and Glenn head to tunnel town, while the other three are back off to Washington. Trouble ensues in the tunnel, things are looking bleak for  Glenn and Tara when BAM! Reunion time. Maggie, Bob, Sasha and Rectangle head’s gang show up from the other end of the tunnel and mow down some walkers.
                Elsewhere, Daryl is palling around with Joe’s crew of delightfully unhinged survivalists. Daryl’s there but not for the long haul. There are some disagreements over claiming stuff – the term the gang uses for marking their territory on stuff they want. At first Daryl resists, but by the end of the episode he’s claiming all sorts of stuff. Has Daryl found his new Merle? Late in the day, Daryl finds out that Joe’s crew is also on the way to Terminus. Not for shelter, but because they’re tracking some guy who was hiding in a house and killed one of their buds. (Whisper: It was Rick!)
                Rick, Carl and Michonne make a cameo appearance in a cute little scene where the latter two are playing games for candy bars on the way to Terminus.
                The episode ends with Glenn, Maggie and all the rest of that crew showing up at the massively undefended Terminus, walking right in the front door and meeting Mary, a mysterious hippie gal who may or may not be the leader of Terminus, its only resident and/or completely insane. Who knows?

Good: Danny McBride talking about zombie dinosaurs. More and more I’m starting to get the idea that “Walking Dead’s” Danny McBride is as much a scientist as the real Danny McBride. But as long as he keeps coming up with zombie-based theories on dinosaur extinction, whether or not he’s actually furthering the show’s big picture will be completely meaningless to me. In fact, it’s probably better if he doesn’t actually do anything. Four seasons in and this show could use some real comedic relief.

Good: Rectangle  head and Tara talk missions. Pretty sure this speech was crucial to Rectangle head’s character. I’m convinced this idea of needing a mission is the reason why he’s ignoring the fact that purported scientist Danny McBride seems like wouldn’t know a beaker from Beaker from The Muppets. He needs something to do and right now that’s getting a mulleted weirdo to Washington to talk to the President or something. Huzzah.   

Good: Joe. There’s a slight Charlie Manson vibe to this guy that is just awesome. He’s reduced the world to an incredibly simple concept: If you claim it, it’s yours. Done. Sure, there’s not any thought being given to if whatever’s being claimed is on board, e.g. a lady type. I guess that’s the least delicate way I could put that. But anyway hey, rebuilding society takes time. I’m sure he’ll get around to that whole equal rights stuff soon, right?

Good: Carl and Michonne. No doubt making Carol interesting last week as an achievement, but it still pales in comparison to making Carl a tolerable character. Props belong to Michonne for doing a lot of the heavy lifting as far as this chore went. Turns out all he needed to come out of his irritating shell was a mother figure who wasn’t a gigantic wet blanket and who knew her way around a katana. That simple.

Bad: Joe tracking Rick. I don’t want the finale to be all about resolving this minor angle that’s only had time to gestate for one episode. I’m way more interested in Terminus. You know, that thing we’ve been building up to all half season? Let’s focus on that instead.

Bad: The reunion. Glenn and Maggie are back together. Showing up out of the blue and gunning down a bunch of walkers at the last second? Meh. Didn't do it for me. Glad they're back together though.

Bad: Almost everything that happens involving Glenn’s crew that doesn’t involve Danny McBride. Everything he has a hand in, awesome. The rest of it, I had a hard time caring about. Glenn trading his armor to keep the band together for some reason, Tara hurting her leg, getting trapped in the tunnel. All seemed like a lot of filler. Didn’t care. More dinosaur  talk from the guy with the mullet please.

Good: The tunnel. Cool setting. Wasn’t used all that well, and a better example of the exact same sequence can pretty much be found in “The Stand,” by Stephen King, but oh well. The dark is always scary.

Good: Terminus. Just walked right in the front door. No locks, no walls. Just a lady at a grill. Hmm. Didn’t see that coming. I’m underwhelmed, but unlike the end of season three, this feels like it’s in a good way.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

From zombies to jellyfish: The many pop culture-inspired deaths of yours truly

I must be getting old because all I can seem to think about these days is death.
Yeah this is going to be another one of those entries, so if a rambling diatribe about mortality isn’t what you’re looking for in a weekend, you might want to duck out now. It’s fine. I’ll just tell myself you’re going to the bathroom and you’ll be right back.
So I’ve been reading “The Hunger Games” recently and watching “Six Feet Under.” Come to think of it, maybe the reason I’m thinking about death so much isn’t because I’m getting old and gray, but because of my pop culture selections.
Maybe I need to spend some time with The Wiggles.
Anyway, so reading “The Hunger Games” in particular got me thinking about how I would go out if I were squaring off against 23 other tributes in a politically-orchestrated fight to the death.
And that quickly spread to how I would die in a variety of other pop culture scenarios.   
                One common theme? I’m pretty sure I’ll almost always die in the least glamorous, noble or interesting way possible. In a way that no one will remember or write songs about.
                If they do remember it, it will only be because the way I died was so stupid and pointless that parents will use it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of mediocrity.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Good and Bad: 'The Walking Dead' (3/16/14)
Season 4, Episode 14: “The Grove”

Plot: The episode follows the mostly unlikable team of Tyreese (the sole reason for that mostly), Carol, Baby Judith and the two blonde sisters, who from this point on will be known by their Christian names: Older one and Younger one.
                The gang finds a farmhouse to hole up in, they putz around for a bit, Younger one refuses to kill anything that isn’t a walker. Older one refuses to kill walkers because …  she thinks they’re still people? She thinks there’s a cure? It’s unclear. What is clear is that she definitely won’t kill them.
                Except she helps gun down a bunch of crispy walkers that have escaped from the giant forest Daryl and Beth apparently set a few weeks back. The price of catharsis.  
                But other than that one time when she really didn’t have to kill them because there were three other people already killing them, she absolutely positively will only sign off on killing walkers sometimes.
                Later, Carol and Tyreese head out into the woods around the house to find food or something, they have a heart to heart where Tyreese unknowingly takes a giant dump on Carol’s soul: she killed his sick girlfriend back at the prison to protect everyone. Tyreese is unaware of this.
                When they arrive back at the farmhouse, they find that Older one has killed her sister and was ready to off the baby next.
                This doesn’t sit well with the adults in the group, they misdirect us into thinking Carol is going to take Older one somewhere away from people – because of that whole murder thing – and she eventually sort of does.
Sometimes around here, we also learn the answer to one of the show’s longest running mysteries:  Older one was the person feeding rats to the walkers at the prison, which led to them overwhelming the fence.
                Carol takes her into a clearing, tells her to look at some flowers and then shoots her dead.
                Later that evening, over a puzzle, Carol tells Tyreese she’s the one that killed his girlfriend. Tyreese considers ripping Carol apart and presumably eating her – I’m basing this off of his body language – but goes a different road and forgives her.
                So yeah, not much happened when you really think about it. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The high-risk, high-reward world of horrible parenting

We should probably get this out of the way right off the top. Parents of the world: I have no interesting in kidnapping and/or murdering your children! None!
But if I did (and I don’t), I can assure you, you made it very easy for me.
I volunteer at a cat adoption center. Basically, I clean cages, let cats run around in this little room and just have fun with the kitties for a few hours every weekend.
The adoption center where I volunteer is located off to the side of a large, chain pet store, but I’m not affiliated with said pet store in any way. I wear no uniform or name tag while I’m there.
One side of the room is all large cat cages, the other side is almost all floor-length windows, so shoppers can look in, see the kitties and hopefully find one to adopt.   
How does me being nothing short of an animal-loving hero tie-in to me not kidnapping and/or murdering children?
In my two plus years volunteering there, I’ve noticed one thing: Parents all secretly hate their children and want nothing more than to get away from them, even if it’s just for a few minutes – even if it means sticking them with a complete stranger in a mildly isolated tiny room.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s where I come in. Meet the complete stranger.
I can’t calculate the number of times parents have dumped their kids in the adoption center with me and then just plain disappeared for huge chunks of time. Hell, why pay for a babysitter when a weird, uniform-less, name tag-less, greasy-haired guy in a pet store can totally do the same thing for free?
I mean, that’s just good business. Miserable parenting, but awesome business.
I’ve had parents knock on the glass to be let in, send in their kids and then watched the adult vanish like a teen-aged runaway, leaving me to entertain the kids.
Incidentally, this phenomenon is significantly more common around Christmas time, which I guess makes sense because if your kids are dead in a ditch somewhere, you don’t have to buy them Christmas presents.
So again, business.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good and Bad: 'The Walking Dead' (3/9/14)
Season 4, episode 13: Alone

Plot: The episode opens with something I never thought we’d see: a musical montage starring Bob and his backstory. And what a backstory: Bob wanders alone in the woods, getting drunk off of what I can only assume is cough syrup and basically courts death until Glenn and Daryl find him.
                Back in the present day, Daryl and Beth take shelter in the funeral home. Inside the place is spotless and well-supplied with food – if that’s an accurate term for pig’s feet. There are also a nice collection of walkers wearing suits, all laid out nice and pretty as if for a funeral service. But no living humans can be found, raising plenty of questions. Who lived it and kept it so well-stocked and spotless? More importantly: Where did they go?
Daryl sleeps in a coffin, Beth sings and plays the piano because how could that possibly go wrong? There’s a brief run-in with an adorable one-eyed dog. Eventually the funeral home is swarmed by zombies – who presumably don’t like piano music. Daryl tells Beth to run outside while he leads the zombies on a merry chase through the house. But as he leaves the house, he sees Beth’s backpack on the ground and a car pulling away. No actual Beth, though.
Because he’s awesome Daryl spends the rest of the episode running after the car that has long since left him in the dust. He collapses and is found by the psychotic gang that we know tormented Rick a few weeks back. Daryl doesn’t know that, so he joins up with them.
While all of this is going on Maggie abandons Bob and Sasha because she doesn’t want to get them killed if Terminus turns out to be another Woodbury.
Bob is insistent on keeping the band a three-piece so he drags Sasha along after Maggie.
Maggie kills walkers and uses their blood to write messages she hopes will lead Glenn to Terminus.
Bob and Sasha do lots of talking and even kiss, but that’s not enough to keep them together. At the first sign of a building, Sasha announces she’s staying put and once again is on his own. Just so happens the building Sasha takes residence in has a window overlooking where Maggie has decided to nap. A zombie fight ensues and the pair strike off after Bob.
They find him, there’s a happy reunion and so it goes.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Creepy bunny-tigers hybrids and the wireless router of doom
Office life can be boring.
                I spend the hours of 8:30 and 4:45 (or so), Monday-Friday, sitting in a cubicle that’s a shade of grey which can only be described as soul-sucking, staring deep into the heart of my computer screen.
                It’s not all bad. I can see a window from my seat. And, you know, there’s the whole thing where I have somewhere to go from 8:30 to 4:45 (or so) every day and someone gives me a paycheck for being there. So that’s pretty good.
                But that hardly makes it an exciting existence. Due to that, my senses are always primed, on the ready to overblow any situation. Like people fist-bumping me when my hands are wet.
                Another case in point: Friday afternoon I was walking from my desk to the kitchen to microwave my lunch when I noticed something was different.
                Hanging on the wall near the mailboxes was something that looked like an upside-down dinner plate, or more simply, a right-ways Frisbee.
                Now, when you spend a few years working in an office, you not only become acutely aware of even the slightest change, you also become highly suspicious of it.
                No matter how small it may be, it turns you into a confused native trying to make heads or tails of a Coke bottle.
                What is this thing? What is its purpose? Should I hit it with a stick?
                My lunch forgotten, I was in the process of using a rock to sharpen another rock to throw at the mysterious plate-like Frisbee when an email came through informing me that it was some sort of new wireless router thing.
                Crisis averted.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Good and Bad: 'The Walking Dead' (3/2/14)

Season 4, Episode 12: “Still”

Plot: When we last left our huggable band of survivors, Daryl and Beth (formerly: Herschel’s blonde daughter) were tracking an unknown party towards the mysterious settlement called Terminus. Well, we knew the party they were tracking was Tyreese and his harem of irritating white women, but Daryl and Beth didn’t know that.
                This week, we find Daryl and Beth in a rather harrowing state. They seem to have given up on tracking and struck off on their own … or something. They’re wandering around in the woods, food is scarce, walkers are plenty and worst of all, one of Daryl’s crossbow bolts breaks. That’s called symbolism, yo.
                At a certain point, Beth gets sick of walking around in the woods like a hobbit, and decides that now, right smack in the middle of the end of the world, is the perfect time for her first drink. So they set off to find her some booze.
                Their search takes them to a walker-infested golf course clubhouse which also features some hanged folks and some rather menacing-looking scrawled messages. It also contains a bottle of peach schnapps, but Daryl and his discerning pallet won’t allow that to be Beth’s first drink. Instead, he takes her to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for some moonshine.
                They drink, they play “Never have I ever,” Daryl gets belligerently drunk, urinates in doors and then tortures a zombie … It’s basically a post-apocalyptic Katy Perry song about Friday nights.
                Once things settle down, Daryl finally shares the grand secret of his pre-walker life to Beth: he was a drifter. Right around then, the time seemed right for some catharsis, so they set the cabin on fire, flip it the bird as one does and head out into the night.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

World War S: The dead-and-buried art of helping your fellow man

Rest easy, friends and loved ones. There’s more snow on the way.
                In just a few short hours, Mother Nature will begin dumping even more of rain’s awkward cousin from the North on my part of the world.
                It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve had a snowfall of absolutely apocalyptic proportions, and I think I speak for everyone in the area when I say “What’s been the holdup?”
                After all, it just doesn’t feel like winter if I’m not outside using a shovel and a bag of salt to fight off giant menacing snowmen and snowwomen.
                Because inclusion and all.
                Anyway, the forecasters seem to have settled on the 4-8 inch range for how much snow is coming. Although, yesterday it was something like 8-12, so who knows?
                The only things that are certain are that we will get snow and that it will be somewhere in neighborhood of a light sprinkling to enough to make a wooly mammoth burn a personal day at work.
                There’s actually one more thing you can count on when the snow starts to fall in any low-to-moderate amounts: people marking their parking spaces.
                This drives me crazy. Now, it doesn’t happen in my neighborhood, since, for one thing, we all have driveways. But I’d like to think that even if we didn't, we wouldn't all go out and start marking our territory at the first sign of trouble. I guess I just like to think that my neighbors are human beings and not families of wolves or alley cats.
                And it looks like the City of Philadelphia has decided to do something about these deadbeats and their chairs, too.
                I don’t understand the twisted animal logic behind saving a spot. You dig out your car, but before you leave, you get to drag a chair down to the street and leave it there? Then that spot just becomes yours for a couple of days? And if some god-fearing American comes along and moves that chair, as one should do, you get to feel some misguided holy validation when you key that person’s car or slash its tires?