Review: The Characters – John Early

The Characters Netflix series is a series of short specials that features one sketch comic per episode and John Early’s episode we see Early as four wildly different characters.

In other episodes, such as Kate Berlant’s, the different characters stories intertwine whereas Early’s characters had nothing to do with each other.

Early began the show as an unsettling youth pastor with a middle part. The walls and speakers are orange and every time that character comes back the same orange tone is present. In the first scene we see Jason, the youth pastor as a teen with braces sitting silently in an all orange room with hundreds of pictures of men cut out from magazines taped to the mirror. This was an insightful opening scene because it set up the awkwardness of the character of Jason. Jason’s next scene is him in an orange restaurant with a redheaded woman. When asked his favorite food he said, “Lasagna…. If I’m being honest: pizza”

Another character that Early played was Vicky, a loud, Southern stand up comedian who based her entire set around looking for her denim. Most of her scenes take place in the green room with two other female comedians. She is wearing a purple silk shirt and matching eyeshadow. She keeps smoking in the room even after the production assistant tells her she really can’t smoke there.

The most intriguing character of the show was John, a dramatic financé who was throwing the engagement party for him and his husband. In this sketch, John gets in his head that the paid staff might actually be slaves so he spends most of the party trying to do all of their work for them and making the staff go out and enjoy the party. Other telling aspects of this character was his inability to let his husband speak. It went so far that when his husband was giving the toast, he pretended to faint and then opened one eye to see who was fawning over him.

The final scene of Early’s episode of The Characters showed three men in navy suits sitting on clear stools on stage. They were all lip synching to a soulful tune and their gestures made the performance much more captivating. There was a women on the corner of the stage who pretended to play both the flute and the trumpet. Although the it felt a little tangential, it was a goofy and satisfying way to end Early’s special.

The Characters is a unique show. There has been a surge in popularity in stand up comedy in recent years. It’s incredibly common for a new hour long specials to come out each month and Netflix produced a shorter show called The Stand Ups that is kind of similar to The Characters in the way that comedians are showcased a different comedian each episode. Sketch comedy is a little harder to find in mainstream media. The only other places that come to mind for watching sketch comedy is Saturday Night Live, Portlandia or Comedy Bang Bang. Being able to see a different element of comedy is refreshing.

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New In Town Review

John Mulaney’s first Netflix special, “New in Town” came out in 2012 and is still relevant five years later.

Mulaney starts his set off with a series of bits about his childhood. He stated that although he filmed this special at age 29, he still just looked like a tall child. His unique tone of voice and lanky limbs give him the look of a puppet and make the jokes about childhood extra poignant. He talked about his lawyer parents, his voice and the harshness of thirteen year olds. He stated that he will still cross the street to avoid walking past groups of eighth graders.

The transition to adulthood happened with Mulaney through doing a bit about driving and how bad that he is at it. After telling a story about a particularly dumb driving move, he said the other drivers on the highway were looking at him like they were “expecting a hundred year old blind dog, texting while driving and drinking a smoothie.”

The next set of bits centered around crime television shows and movies. Starting with Ice T and “Law and Order: Special Victim Unit.” He commended Ice T on how, no matter how long he has been with the SVU, he still is just as confused as day one on the force. He moved on to “Cold Case” to talk about how easy it would be to get away with crimes before science was involved. He said that all robbers had to do to not get caught was just to not be there when the cops got there.

Mulaney has many clever bits throughout his hour long sketch. One of the most relatable was his experience with Delta Airlines. IN this bit, Mulaney explains the lengths to which, Delta will go to ruin his life, ending with them framing him for murder. The moral of the bit is to show how life was better with his girlfriend ( she just suggested checking Sun Country).

Mulaney ends his first Netflix with the story of his first prostate exam. He leaves the audience with the advice:

“If you have been nervous your whole life, you should ask your doctor about Xanax because if you lie to him. he will stick his finger in your ass. And if you do suffer from frequent urination, you should keep it to yourself.”

Mulaney, as always, had incredibly strong writing. This is not unusual given his history writing for Saturday Night Live. His various voices and expressive movements made the already clever content even more vivid and engaging.

 

Review: The Characters – Kate Berlant

At 36 minutes, the Kate Berlant episode of The Characters was shorter than the most of the specials that Netflix runs. But The Characters is less of a Netflix special and more of a sketch style vignette of a specific comedian’s character work.

In this episode, we see four different characters played by Berlant: Brian, Denise St. Roy, Rachel and Youtube Host. The stories of these four different characters intertwine and intersect throughout the episode.

The focus of this piece is an eccentric modern artist, Denise St. Roy. Throughout the show she teaches a college class, gets interviewed by a critic and reveals her latest work. The other characters played by Berlant revolve around St. Roy. Rachel is her art manager whose gallery was bought for her while he was in law school. Brian is her husband who is possibly the most energetic and over the top softball coach, he opened his huddle with “God bless these girls, they know not what they do.” For one scene, St. Roy is watching a quirky nerd girl Youtube host and really connected as an audience member by laughing hysterically alone on her large couch while eating the largest bowl of mashed potatoes in the world.

The Characters was a really unique show. There has been a surge in media, especially on Netflix, of stand up in recent years. It’s incredibly common for a new hour long special to come out each month and Netflix produced a show similar to The Characters called The Stand Ups that focuses on a different stand up comedian each episode. Sketch comedy is a little harder to find. The only other places that come to mind for watching sketch comedy is Saturday Night Live or Portlandia. Being able to watch a different form of comedy is refreshing.

Berlant’s episode of The Characters was so well done and clever. Each of the character that she played were so specific and thought out that even though they were caricatures, they almost felt like someone anyone could know. There were such specific details that truly made the show.

The gallery manager, Rachel, behaved in a way that stereotypical young rich girl does. She have long platinum bang hair with straight across bangs and she was always correcting her staff on how things should be done and how things really are. In the unveiling at the end of the episode she said a very millennial phrase – “You’re my mom. Even though you’re not, you are.”

Denise’s home was covered in self portraits. When a pregnancy shot was shown, it was revealed that as a social experiment she named both of her twin daughters Jenny to see if they could develop separate personalities despite being recognized as only one entity. She then made a sharp noise and when only one of them jumped she pointed out the difference in their “fear mechanisms.”

Kate Berlant’s episode of The Characters embodies the madness of creativity, captures the soul of Youtuber culture and shows of the variety of work that Berlant is able to excel at.

Winter Break Reading!!

As a college student, reading for pleasure has fallen by the wayside with the stress of tests, homework and extracurriculars. Luckily for me, I have had time during this winter break to get back in the saddle and knock some books off of my TBR list. Because I am reading, and am planning to read, some pretty fantastic books, I figured I could show case my list and share it with the entire internet. For convenience sake I have bolded the books I have finished already.

NORTHANGER ABBEY – JANE AUSTEN-  I decided to kick off break with a classic. Jane Austen is a woman and writer that I admire and every once and awhile I like to read another one of her books just to keep her in mind. Northanger Abbey is a gothic parody (or said to be) about Catherine, a young lady who goes to visit friends in Bath and ends up having some excellent adventures and of course falls in love, but not without some misfortune.

CUCKOO’S CALLING – ROBERT GALBRAITH- Robert Galbraith is not who you think he is, unless you happen to think that he is J.K. Rowling in which case you are right and I shouldn’t even need to tell you why this was on my reading list. Cuckoo’s Calling is about a private detective (Cormoran Strike) and he accidental assistant (Robin). In this adventure, the duo is investigating a supermodel whose brother believes that her death was not the suicide it was classified as. Honestly this series has had me very focused for most of break, it’s a thriller I could not put down.

HOW TO BE PARISIAN WHEREVER YOU ARE – ANNE BEREST- You may recognize the name of this book from my summer reading list because I have been waiting just that long to get to it. This book was a nice little break from the high speed world of crime that Jo Rowling has gotten me so deep into. This is just a few style tips and life lesson after the influence of the French. If only I wasn’t so gosh darn bad at language classes maybe I’d be a more successful Parisian.

ASKING FOR IT – LOUISE O’NEILL- WOWIE this book was Intense. I was drawn in by the cover and the title (yes, I judge), but I stayed for the whole ride and boy was I glad I did. Asking For It follows Emma through some regular high school trials and through a party that changes her life and not for the better. The reason I liked this book was that it felt raw and real and honestly a little bit terrifying and you don’t always get that in YA Lit. Although the ending was a little ambiguous, I think this book is worth the read and I’m going to be looking out for more by Louise O’Neill in the future. TW RAPE

THE SILKWORM – ROBERT GALBRAITH- Well if I read the first one I have to read the next two, now I am invested. The Silkworm is again about Robin and Strike, but this time they are hired (well really they take this client for free) to find an author that stormed out on his family. One thing leads to another and Strike spends most of the novel trying to tie together the clues that the author left behind. I can’t say too much because no spoilies but I can tell you I went straight to the bookstore after I finished it to pick up the next one (Career of Evil) which I will be reading promptly.

THE NEW JIM CROW – MICHELLE ALEXANDER- I have never read anything by this author but I am really looking forward to this read. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sheds a light on how the racism isn’t gone, it’s just been redesigned. Looking forward to the next four years, I think education on the social issues is more important than it has ever been.

HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE – JENNIFER NIVEN- As many of you know Jennifer Niven’s debut novel is one of my favorite books, All the Bright Places stole my heart. Because of All the Bright Places, Holding Up The Universe automatically made it’s way on my list. From what I understand two out of place teens are going to find themselves and each other and high school will probably suck less for both of them because of it. But Niven has taken high school scenarios to completely different levels before and I’m really counting on her to do it again.

THE STORYTELLER – JODI PICOULT – Lastly, (for this post, my TBR list is longer than my lifespan) I chose a Jodi Picoult because she is reliable and I can trust her to tell a great and emotional story. The Storyteller happens when a young woman befriends an old man and one day he asks her to kill him. Were the mistakes of his past worth ending his life as an old man? I don’t know yet but I am certainly going to find out!

PSA WE FOUND A GREAT SCARY MOVIE ON NETFLIX

Have you ever just really been in the mood to watch a scary movie? If you are anything like myself or my little sister the answer to that is absolutely. Many, many times Netflix has disappointed me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Netflix. It fills all my comedy sitcom needs but there is a lack of quality scary movies to stream. It’s a serious downfall, but it just may be that the scary movie draught is over.

My dear friend Tessa and I were presented with this conundrum on a rainy Saturday night. Like many deep thinkers, we did not discover the solution right away. We first tried streaming a movie called Stonehearst Asylum but a half an hour in we could tell it wasn’t our cup of tea. It wasn’t freaking us out or holding our attention and those are important factors in a movie. If it doesn’t catch my attention in the first half hour it doesn’t deserve my attention for the rest of the time. When we returned back to the browse horror section our eyes caught on something we previously missed. Hush (2016) was the first movie recommendation and it had good ratings on Netflix. We decided to give it a shot and prayed that we could last more than a half hour with this one.

Hush_2016_poster

This story is about an author who is blind, deaf, beautiful, and alone, the perfect equation for a scary movie. The movie starts with a visit by the author (Maddie’s) friend. But it really picks up after the friend has left when the friend runs back to the home pounding on Maddie’s door. From then on the Maddie, played by Kate Siegel, fights to find a way to survive the man in the mask outside of her house.

Of course there are many scary movies about being trapped in a house, but this is one of the first that I felt was different. A definite extra element was added because of Maddie’s inability to hear or speak. It made the movie much more complicated and suspenseful and interesting. This movie held my attention the entire time. Another nice thing, if you’re one of the scary movie commentators like Tessa or I, is that while we were working things out out loud, everything made sense. It wasn’t one of those where the characters do something that is almost certain to get them killed. It also has amazing special effects, there is one moment where her hand gets injured and boy is that a sight to see. I was so impressed.

Although the special effects were great and the whole movie wasn’t predictable, my absolute favorite part was Kate Siegel’s character, Maddie. I have never cared so much about a character in a horror movie, mostly because a majority of them die. But I would even consider this fictional character a role model, I was hardcore rooting for this woman. She was also #relatable. When her text message popped up on my computer I thought it was mine. I just really loved her.

The next time you have an evening you want to spend with Netflix, I suggest Hush. It was interesting, scary, and fun. I hope you have as good of a time as Tessa and I had last night watching it.