animation

Snow Job: The Terrible Ethics of Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rankin/Bass’s classic Christmas TV special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer airs for the fifty-second time tonight on CBS. That means it’s also time for the thirteenth annual posting of this essay, possibly the most popular thing I’ve ever written. It originally appeared December 4, 2004 on my defunct ethics site TheDo-Gooder.com.

Hermey and RudolphWednesday night marked the fortieth annual broadcast of the “classic” holiday television show, Rankin/Bass Production’s Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I tuned in for probably the twenty-fifth time (but the first in many years) expecting to find a rudimentary moral lesson tucked amongst all the holly-jolliness and evil-looking puppets. Instead I had the frightening realization that, for forty years, RtR-NR has been cramming several sleighloads of bad ethics down our chimneys. In this holiday nightmare, nearly every character demonstrates a distinct lack of moral integrity bordering on turpitude, and none other than Santa himself comes away as the worst of the bunch. Here’s an ethical play-by-play.

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Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 4 – TV

2015 was more about the shows I intended to watch than the ones that I actually did. That list is far longer and probably far better. But, no one cares about the buildings Christopher Wren only intended to build, and if there’s a reason I do these lists, it’s to compare myself to Christopher Wren. So here are 10 shows I enjoyed this year.

ArcherArcher (FX)
After last year’s failed experiment of Archer: Vice, Adam Reed et al. returned to format with the show’s funniest season yet. I love how, hiding behind the dick jokes, this show secretly strives to succeed as an animated action-adventure (and does).


Blunt TalkBlunt Talk (Starz)
I’m cheating by including this one because, not having Starz, I only saw the first two episodes, but they were so remarkably hilarious that it would make the list even if the other 18 were dogs. I sincerely almost shelled out my monthly Lexapro money to Time Warner so I could see the rest. The excellence of SirPatStew aside, let’s talk about how Executive Producer Seth MacFarlane uses his clout to get other people’s great ideas on the air.


Brew DogsBrew Dogs (Esquire)
This year’s winner for my favorite little known, digital cable, unscripted series, Brew Dogs follows a couple of Scottish microbrewers around America, drinking and creating regional beer. It succeeds by conquering the two elements that usually conquer similar shows: rather than comprising eight minutes of interesting stuff orbiting in 36 minutes of dark matter filler, each episode of Brew Dogs is crammed with interesting and inventive content, guided by likable hosts who can actually handle the material the producers hand them.

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Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 3 – Movies

Looking at the list of movies I enjoyed the most in 2015, it occurs to me that it’s a list my 12-year-old self would’ve carefully curated in his imagination as some kind of unattainable ideal. 1Even more so when considering that I also bolted out the door to see a new 007 movie this year. As a Very Mature Adult, that makes me a little disappointed in myself, especially in light of the mass societal infantilization that befell America as Star Wars approached. But the writer Mark Leyner once said that it’s the responsibility of artists to provide joy, so I’ve decided to happily accept a year of joyous, purely cinematic movies about how we become better individual humans.

ChappieChappie
Yeah, that’s right; I’m picking Chappie. This movie became the butt of so many jokes that I’m not sure anyone actually saw it. I can’t blame them, since no one could look at the trailers and posters without thinking, “Number Five is alive!” I wouldn’t have seen it myself it hadn’t shown up in the $2 theater on an afternoon when I was feeling particularly sad and sorry for myself and needed to step out of my life. Chappie turned out to be the perfect remedy, because it’s designed to remind us that being an adult necessitates understanding and dealing with our emotions in hard ways that most of us are unwilling to tackle. The moment when Chappie finally becomes a grown-up is the most touching one I saw this year, and I sat alone in the dark and cried.



Inside OutInside Out
Speaking of movies about dealing with adult emotions. Maybe the most impressive thing about Inside Out is that someone thought to produce it– to create a movie not just to induce feelings in children but to make them recognize and begin to understand their feelings. As an adult struggling with my own mental health, my psychiatrist told me something that I’d wished I’d figured out decades earlier: that one’s goal shouldn’t be to live on a plane of eternal happiness, but instead to experience the normal range of emotions that humans require. Luckily kids now have an experience as enjoyable as Inside Out to get them started on that idea.

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1. Even more so when considering that I also bolted out the door to see a new 007 movie this year.

The Peanuts 3D Movie Should be Allowed to Exist (For Now)

There’s little in my life that more influential to me or beloved by me than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (see here, here, or here), so the news of a new 3D-styled (and 3D-projected) Peanuts movie had my finger hovering over the trigger of the doomsday device. Thanks only to my restraint, the first trailer debuted today, and it’s… not bad!

The Snoopy/Woodstock stuff is adorable, and the World War I flying ace sequence captures the right tone. 1Though it of course can’t compete with the classic scenes of Snoopy behind enemy lines in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. The closing movie-theater bit wrongly turns Charlie Brown into a stereotypical buffoon — we can argue whether Chuck’s a schlemiel or a schlimazel (or their Lutheran equivalents), but he’s not a klutz. I’m hoping that sequence was a rush job to fill out the trailer in time for Christmas release. We have to wait until Christmas next year to find out.

 

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1. Though it of course can’t compete with the classic scenes of Snoopy behind enemy lines in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.

Cosmos Animation Producer Kara Vallow Talks to Me About Fending off Anti-Science Wackaloons

A moment in ancient  Mesopotamia, from an upcoming episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
A moment in ancient Mesopotamia, from an upcoming episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

For my very first job out of college I worked as an associate producer for the science radio series Pulse of the Planet, and for my very first assignment I was sent to interview the newly appointed director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson. We talked about another new guy, Hale-Bopp, a recently discovered comet that eventually appeared so brightly in the sky that one night from the light-soaked streets of Manhattan I watched it blaze beside the peak of the Empire State Building. This week, 18 years later, Dr. Tyson spoke to me about comets again, though he was simultaneously talking to four million other people via the third episode of my new favorite show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on Fox. His description of our ancestors watching comets transform the sky into omens of doom was accompanied by startlingly beautiful animation of flaming death’s heads ripping through the night.

That animation was developed and produced by my pal Kara Vallow. Kara’s a TV cartoon guru and executive producer of Family Guy and American Dad!, but I first got to know her from her blogs Teen Sleuth and The Haunted Library. A few years ago I raved about her relentless curiosity, though she’s better known for her relentless progressivism. Kara’s notorious for her readiness to rip into politicians and ‘Mericans who trade intelligence and reason for willful ignorance and self-centered asshattery–the type of people who tried to refute Cosmos’s explanation of evolution, who called the show anti-Christian leftist propaganda, and who, when the next great comet swings by, will likely have Americans digging hidey-holes to shoot AR-15s at it from behind stacks of Lunchables and Vitamin Water.

With that in mind, Kara kindly exchanged a few emails with me about the rise of anti-science.

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2013: A Year in Media Absorption, pt. 4 – TV

It’s becoming harder and harder to tell if I watch particular TV shows every week because they’re really good or if I watch particular TV shows every week because I watch them every week. These 20 I’m sure are the former.

Archer (FX)
Archer (FX)
Archer stood out this season not only by pushing the limits of smart-assery but also by pushing the limits of its minimalist animation to create legitimately exciting action scenes.
Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
The thing with Bob’s B’s is people either love Gene or hate him, and I love him. Which of course is completely irrelevant, because in the show’s fourth season the best thing about Bob’s has surprisingly become Dan Mintz’s Tina.


The Cleveland Show (Fox)
The Cleveland Show (Fox)
I’m sorry to see this underappreciated prize meet its end. But with the Brown family returning to Quahog, Family Guy will only get better. 1In case you’re wondering, I’ve always understood the joke that Cleveland’s name is “Cleveland Brown” and definitely didn’t just get it yesterday.
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Apologies to everyone I know who writes for other comedies, but Colbert is indisputably the funniest show on TV, the only one that makes me literally (literally) double over in laughter.


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1. In case you’re wondering, I’ve always understood the joke that Cleveland’s name is “Cleveland Brown” and definitely didn’t just get it yesterday.