I Love a Horse(man)

It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve talked about TV. I guess that’s partly because my viewing habits have changed so drastically over the past year and a half or so. Once upon a time I wrote a post giving 3 Reasons Why Man Can’t Live on Netflix Alone. Oddly enough, reading back over it, I still agree with most of what I said there.

That being said, I’m now a cord-cutter, and while I do miss the ability to mindlessly surf channels like a lobotomized sloth, I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t imagine being without my dear, sweet Netflix. I originally got the free trial just so I could binge watch Breaking Bad, but (of course) I ended up keeping it. Then back in February I ditched it for Hulu for the sole purpose of watching 11.22.63, but I ended up keeping it for a while so I could catch up on Broad City, plus I got hooked on the Hulu original show, Casual. But I had to go back and get Netflix again, mostly for one solitary reason: a dickhead anthropomorphic horse.

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 I first started watching BoJack Horseman on the recommendation of fellow blogger Dylan at Hooray for Movies!(whose opinion I respect a great deal), who wrote this post about the show after binge watching its first season in 2014.

How do I put this without resorting to hyperbole? Bojack Horseman is one of the best shows on television, and in just 3 seasons is already one of my favorite shows ever, joining the ranks of The Sopranos, the aforementioned Breaking Bad, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whether you like those shows or not, I realize calling it one of the best shows on TV is a bold claim. After all, we are experiencing a bit of a golden age for television. Why would I make such a statement? Let me break it down for you:

First, let’s talk about the cast. BoJack is voiced by the always awesome Will Arnett of Arrested Development, and his freeloading friend/roommate Todd is played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.  Then there’s BoJack’s feline agent and on-again-off-again girlfriend, Princess Carolyn, voiced by one of my favorite people in the known universe, Amy Sedaris. Rounding out the main characters we have Community’s Alison Brie as Diane Nguyen, the writer assigned to help BoJack write his autobiography, and her boyfriend, golden retriever Mister Peanutbutter, voiced by comedian Paul F. Tompkins.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the talent in the supporting cast is absolutely insane. Here, you know what? Let me bring in a visual aid.

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I’ll spare you any gushing about the amazing cameos throughout the show by the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Greg Kinnear, Candace Bergen, and oh so many more—other than to say that this show has raised the bar on cameos so high that I don’t know if another show will ever match it.

But wait, you may be saying, what’s this show even about?

BoJack is a washed up 90s sitcom star. He was on a show called Horsin’ Around, where he was a single horse raising three kids. Think Full House, but with a talking horse. The show made him very rich, and he…well, he doesn’t do much but party. He drinks, does drugs, and screws whoever will let him. Diane is hired to ghost write his autobiography, and her boyfriend is BoJack’s arch frenemy (and fellow 90s sitcom star) Mister Peanutbutter, and the show takes off from there.

The thing is, the show is about so much more. This show goes deep and gets real in a way few shows can manage. It’s astounding how real and three dimensional these characters are, a feat made all the more remarkable since many of them are animals, but the feelings they have are distinctly human. I attribute that to the incredible writing.

The storylines, character arcs, and dialogue are all among the best I’ve ever seen. Certain lines of dialogue can alternately make me laugh, gasp, or leave my jaw hanging open. They’ll spend nearly an entire season setting up a joke, or subtly reinforcing a punchline over and over without you even being fully aware of it (For anyone who’s watched the show, I’m referring to the ‘What are you doing here?’ line woven throughout season two). I feel like all writers could benefit from watching this show; it’s a true master class.

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A little meta humor for the Aaron Paul fans out there.

Ultimately, it’s a show about depression and how people seek validation and happiness in their lives. BoJack is not a very likable character—to call him an anti-hero is much too nice. He’s a toxic asshole who destroys everything he touches. The thing is, he knows he’s toxic, and he wants to be better, and to be happy. At least, he thinks he does, but he manages to sabotage himself every step of the way.

As I was trying to think of how to explain the type of character BoJack is, I found myself looking back at a show I mentioned earlier, The Sopranos. In a lot of ways BoJack reminds me of Tony Soprano, in that they’re both selfish, manipulative narcissists, and yet you find yourself still liking them (to a degree, at least) in spite of that.

Lest we forget, however, that in all the talk of the dark, bleak themes, the show is still a comedy. And there are so many joke. So. Many. Jokes. Silly animal puns. Clever jokes. Smart jokes. Stupid jokes. Vincent Adultman, for Christ’s sake—two children stacked on top of each other inside a trench coat pretending to be an adult, dating Princess Carolyn who is completely oblivious. The show practically requires repeat viewing just to catch the jokes you missed the first time around.

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So why aren’t more people watching?

I mean, it has its (very devoted) fans, but this show deserves the adulation (and ratings) of Mad Men, House of Cards, and the like. I think it suffers from two problems.

1) the first impression it makes. A lot of people simply don’t want to give an animated show with talking animals a chance, period. They’ll write it off as another Family Guy wannabe, which really couldn’t be farther from the truth.

2) The show requires some investment. The  first few episodes are funny, but it’s not until you learn more about the characters and some of their true (and very dark) colors come out that the show really gets its hooks in you.

Look, what can I say—I love pretty much everything about this show. It’s damn near perfect.

And I haven’t even mentioned the incredible opening and closing themes, composed by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and Grouplove, respectively.

So here’s what I ask of you:

Give the show an honest chance. At least 5 or 6 episodes. You may already enjoy it by then, but that’s when the show takes its first dip into darkness, and that’s when it really got my attention.

And if my urging isn’t enough for you, there’s this: Time magazine just announced its list of the best TV episodes of 2016, and none other than BoJack Horseman’s  underwater-set (and largely dialogue free) episode Fish Out of Water was named best television episode of the year. What more recommendation do you need?

Do yourself a favor: watch it. You won’t regret it.

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The Books of Jobe Not-Really-A-Book Review – Born Standing Up, Steve Martin

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There are a select few people out in the world who I consider to be flat-out awesome. Call it what you will – my idols, my favorite people, the people I know would be best friends with me if we could just meet, whatever. It’s people like Ray Charles; Martin Scorsese; B.B. King; Stephen King (no relation to B.B.); but perhaps more than anyone, Steve Martin. He’s  a musician, songwriter, actor, writer, and up until just a few years ago when Dane Cook broke his record (really? Dane Cook?), he had the highest-selling comedy albums of all time.

I tell you that so you understand this is not an unbiased book review. To be honest, it’s not going to be much of a book review at all. But I’ll get to that.

As a native of Southern California, it was fascinating to read about young Steve getting his first job at Disneyland right after it opened. He was all of thirteen and would ride his bike there everyday after school to work at the magic shop inside the hallowed grounds. He quickly became fascinated with how the more experienced magicians (the adults) would get laughs from the customers and learned everything he could from them.

The small magic shop couldn’t contain his performing bug, so he eventually moved up the road to the Birdcage Theater inside Knott’s Berry Farm. If you’ve never heard of it, Knott’s is a bit like Disneyland’s little brother. He worked there for a few years before leaving to attend college and begin working on a stand up routine.

That is merely the tip of the iceberg, and I would highly recommend the book to anyone who enjoys Steve Martin, stand up comedy, show business, the L.A./Hollywood scene of the late sixties, or tales of the pursuit and achievement of one’s dreams turning out to be different than imagined. He explains why he quit stand up never to look back, and I found it quite interesting.

The real reason I wanted to discuss this book, however, is this: as I was reading, he was discussing how excited he was about pretty much everything going on in his life in his early twenties – his thirst for knowledge, his never-ending quest to perfect his stand up, and his willingness to jump at any chance to learn something or do something new. At one point during a road trip to New York, he wrote his girlfriend a postcard about how he’d had a breakthrough regarding the direction of his comedy routine and made broad proclamations as to what he was going to do about it. Then there was this line:

“Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.”

That line stuck in my head with such force that the next few sentences I read didn’t even register. I had to stop reading for a minute and go back and read the sentence again.

“…there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.”

Truth be told, it came as quite a relief. Since I started trying to take my writing more and more seriously, I’ve been constantly trying to keep myself grounded. I’ve known from the get go the chances are slim to none I’ll ever make money writing, but I would still find my mind wandering to magical lands where my books were published and some people even paid money to read them. What’s more, they actually liked them.

I tried not to dwell on such thoughts; the way it seems to be spelled out is as follows: writers write, edit, rewrite, edit, revise, edit, edit their edits, submit, repeat. Success could happen but you couldn’t worry about it, you just keep writing.

I understand that philosophy, and I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with that. But for some of us, you’ve got to allow a little leeway to daydream some. You’ve got to believe there’s at least some chance you could be hugely successful someday, and thanks to Mr. Martin I know it’s okay to picture myself doing readings and book signings once in a while.  Who knows, with enough commitment, dedication, and hard work, someday some of it may not turn out to be a delusion after all.

PS – If you enjoy comedy and haven’t seen Bowfinger, check it out. I’d say it’s one of the most underrated comedies of all time.

PSS – I’ve added another (very) short story titled Blue Skies to my Readwave page. You can check it out, as well as my other short stories, here.

C is for Comedy – Why I Love Stand Up

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Does this picture make you smile? Does it make you groan? It’s OK either way, there’s no wrong answer. I love to laugh, so it makes sense that I love comedy. Who wouldn’t? Besides, laughter is good for you. People way smarter than me have proven it, so if you don’t believe me, visit a search engine near you.

I love all forms of comedy: sitcoms, movies, sketch comedy, satire, the Kansas City Royals. But the one I have the utmost respect for is the one I wanted to talk a little about – Stand Up.

One of the most universal fears people have is public speaking. But most people’s public speaking is giving a short presentation at work or school, maybe some sort of speaking engagement at a conference, something like that. I guess that’s not necessarily easier than being a Stand Up, but in most cases if you just suffer through those in that one instance, you’ve succeeded. Imagine the added pressure of having to be funny and entertaining the entire time, doing it night after night, and being judged an utter and complete failure if you’re not.

I feel Stand Ups are unsung heroes. Once you attain a certain level of success, you can travel a lot more comfortably (like maybe Chris Rock or those Blue Collar guys), riding in rock star buses from town to town, taking your family with you if you want. But like a lot of other artists, the up and coming spend a lot of time struggling and starving. And in the case of comedians, they do it alone. Driving a beat-up car from city to city and state to state, wondering if you’ll be paid the amount you were promised (or paid at all), not knowing if you can afford a decent place to stay for the night, and wondering if you’ll have a good show. Will they like you?

I’ve heard comedians say that they are generally a self-loathing, hateful group of people. I would tend to believe that (which is what makes some of them so funny), but thankfully, as with all other forms of comedy, it’s not true across the board. You can find something for almost every mood, every point of view, and age level. It’s not all mean-spirited, cynical and vulgar. But if that’s what you like, there’s plenty of that out there for you. If you prefer something a little cleaner and family friendly, that’s out there, too. You may have to search a little harder for that, but I think it’s worth it. It reminds me of music. There may be a lot out there you don’t like, but when you find something that really connects, it’s totally worth the effort.

Now, I understand some people just don’t like comedians, and that’s OK. I’m not trying to force anybody’s hand out there. But I feel like not enough people appreciate what these people do, and just wanted to encourage everybody to look up some clips on YouTube, buy a CD on iTunes, or, better yet, go catch a comedian live. Have some laughs; it’s good for you.

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