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“Documentary Now!” Review – Life After SNL

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Predicting the career trajectory of SNL cast members after they leave the show is all but impossible.* Many of the cast members with the most successful post-SNL careers, A-listers like Ben Stiller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Robert Downey Jr., all had (at best) forgettable stints.

Even more frequently, many former stars of the show never seem to find their footing once their tenures end. For every Will Ferrell success story, there are two or three Joe Piscopos (or Dana Carveys**, or Chris Kattans, etc.). Keenan Thompson, who is fantastic on the show, is the most likely candidate for this type of post-SNL career flame out.

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, cast members for 14 and nine years, respectively, are prefect examples of that third type of SNL alum. Much like Jenny Slate and Will Forte, (who are both having very deserved moments right now), Armisen and Hader parlayed their time at SNL into smaller, often indie-skewing careers. They will likely never reach the heights of some of their more famous cast mates, but their ability to consistently deliver in a variety of projects has endured them to a small, but dedicated, fan base.

Armisen, who has already created one cult classic in IFC’s  Portlandia, teams with Trainwreck star and prolific voice actor Hader in Documentary Now! (also on IFC), which just released it’s second season on Netflix. Much like Portlandia, “Documentary Now!” is as funny, as it is incredibly polarizing. You either consume seasons in a single afternoon or find them so incredibly dull and unwatchable that you can’t get through one episode. In fairness, even I had to bail on episode five of the second season.

As a huge Armisen fan, I am of the former opinion but it’s very easy to understand the latter. It’s not just comedy you have to ‘get’…it’s comedy you have to want to get. The show’s format is a series of 30-minute satires based on documentaries (some well-known, some a bit obscure) all staring Armisen and Hader. It’s not always requisite to have seen the documentaries that the episodes are based on (struggling door-to-door globe salesmen returning to a hotel and finding that their arch rival had pooped in their beds can be funny without a lot of background info) but having a familiarity with the source material definitely adds something to the experience.

The seven-episode season features four episodes written by John Mulaney, easily one of the 10 best standup comedians working today, and two written by Late Night host Seth Meyers, both legitimate comedy heavyweights. The direction, handled by Rhys Thomas & Alex Buono, is absolutely superb as they are able to re-create the tone and look of a new and entirely different style of documentary film making in each episode. I’d never seen the documentaries “Grey Gardens” or “The Thin Blue Line”, the basis for episodes “Sandy Passage” and “The Eye Doesn’t Lie” in season one, but the episodes are so good and so bizarre, I couldn’t help but look up the originals.

For the uninitiated looking to get into the show, I’d recommend starting with season one, as the episodes tend to be a bit more accessible.  If you start with season two, I’d recommend beginning with the second episode “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” (based on “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”). You’ll know within the first five minutes if you’ll be going back for more.

Documentary Now is now streaming on Netflix, with limited episodes available at IFC.com

* The nerds at FiveThiryEight.com have an interesting piece on post-SNL careers here. It’s a good read and really solidifies how absolutely gigantic of a movie star Eddie Murphy used to be.

 

** Do yourself a favor and go watch The Dana Carvey Show on Hulu, which is absurdly loaded with talent. Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK, Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman, Dino Stamatopoulos and Jon Glasser all contributed as performers and/or writers on the short lived show. It’s not great, mostly because there’s just too much Dana Carvey, but it’s as weird as network TV has ever been and worth your attention for an episode or two.

 

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Caesar’s Reign Comes To The Big Screen With New Trailer For Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes

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Director Wes Ball breathes new life into the global, epic franchise set several generations in the future following Caesar’s reign, in which apes are the dominant species living harmoniously and humans have been reduced to living in the shadows. As a new tyrannical ape leader builds his empire, one young ape undertakes a harrowing journey that will cause him to question all that he has known about the past and to make choices that will define a future for apes and humans alike. “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” is directed by Wes Ball (the “Maze Runner” trilogy) and stars Owen Teague (“IT”), Freya Allan (“The Witcher”), Kevin Durand (“Locke & Key”), Peter Macon (“Shameless”), and William H. Macy (“Fargo”). The screenplay is by Josh Friedman (“War of the Worlds”) and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (“Avatar: The Way of Water”) and Patrick Aison (“Prey”), based on characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, and the producers are Wes Ball, Joe Hartwick, Jr., p.g.a. (“The Maze Runner”), Rick Jaffa, p.g.a., Amanda Silver, p.g.a., Jason Reed, p.g.a. (“Mulan”), with Peter Chernin (the “Planet of the Apes” trilogy) and Jenno Topping (“Ford v. Ferrari”) serving as executive producers.

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Masterchef Is Back! For Halo Season 2

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A quick recap – Halo is set in a war-torn 26th century, where humanity led by the United Nations Space Command or UNSC and their supersoldiers known as Spartans, fights against the onslaught of the alien conglomerate known as the Covenant. The full dust-up of Halo Season 1, can be found here. Onward into the introduction of Halo Season 2!

It’s been six months since the forced separation of Spartan Masterchief John (Pablo Schreiber) and Cortana (Jen Taylor), and the Silver Team has been sent on a mission to evacuate residents of the planet Sanctuary before the Covenant glasses the whole thing. This comes with its own set of challenges, given the resistance of the planet’s inhabitants, and it doesn’t help that Masterchef starts seeing things right in the middle of trying to save some marines. Or is he? Those energy swords the squad of Elites were carrying looked worryingly real.

Back on Reach, the Silver Team is entirely dismayed to learn they have a brand new Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) representative come in as the new boss, to finally replace the traitorous Halsey, James Ackerson (Joseph Morgan). And of course, Ackerson manages to immediately get under Masterchief’s skin, by not only expressing far too much interest in John’s relationship with Cortana but also apparently disbelieving of John’s report of his encounters on Sanctuary. That just means Masterchief has to go around, if not entirely over, Ackerson’s head.

Elsewhere, Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) is trolling the slave markets in his boredom, only to stumble across a soon-to-be indentured servant who claims he knows the whereabouts of the UNSC’s most hunted human, Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone). That should bring a huge bounty, but really, Soren should’ve known better by now.

Halo Season 2 premieres Thursday, February 8th, 2024, and will continue to air every Thursday, only on Paramount+!

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Reborn as a Vending Machine I Now Wander the Dungeon’: I look forward to your next use!  

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If the title of this delightful little isekai anime entry didn’t give it all away, our nameless protagonist is a vending machine fanatic who, after being killed by a vending machine, gets reincarnated in another fantasy-style world as one! 

Japan has a tendency to give birth to all sorts of crazed fads that can last for decades, and no one does better when it comes to the vending machine industry, too. These days there are vending machines that will serve you sushi you can actually eat, hot pizza in the box, wagyu steaks, freshly popped popcorn, and a whole mind-boggling array of tasty treats, and other non-edible but still useful items! Umbrellas! Condoms! Oxygen masks, sterile bandages, shoes, and emergency clothing! Actually, far more things that we use on an everyday basis, could be considered as technically a vending machine, and the anime explores that beautifully. Into the world of vending machine fanaticism, we dive! 

So our poor protagonist never gave a name, and inevitably when he’s discovered by his first official friend the starving hunter Lammis, she dubs him “Boxxo”. Like many isekai that seem to take inspiration from video games and RPGs, Boxxo discovers he ways he can communicate, level up his existence, and even evince magic-like powers and attack and defend against monsters and enemies. Though in the beginning, and as an underlying theme throughout the show, Boxxo is primarily concerned with providing unique never-before-tasted-in-this-world food and drink to the amazed folk, human and otherwise. 

Boxxo’s prices are entirely reasonable and hey, he can even choose to give out his wares for free on occasion, so his popularity immediately skyrockets. Lammis with her awkward charm and prodigious strength blessing, introduces Boxxo to other friends of Clearflow Lake Village and associates along the way – Director Bear, an actual bear-monster who’s the head of the Hunters Association; Lammis’ friend Hulemy, the insane genius magic item engineer; the Bearcats Suco, Pell, Short and Mikenne, cheerful hunters with astronomic appetites; even suspicious Kerioyl, leader of the Menagerie of Fools party. 

The show approaches the practicality and versatility of the true vending machine with amusement, but also with the love true fans display for things they’re passionate about. Certainly, things like a brothel needing a condom vending machine exist in our world, but to toss them into a potentially more innocent other-world isekai is a welcome and often hilarious treat. The show celebrates the cheerful idiocy and devotion of the fans to their chosen fandom, in this case, yes vending machines, but also the spirit of the lonely otaku finally finding their Tribe! 

Pay your coins to watch ‘Reborn as a Vending Machine’ on Crunchyroll now! 

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