Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Overtime Edition

Today feels like it should be Friday since I’ve already logged a lot of hours in the office this week. Monday I put in a whopping 15 hours, leaving around 11 pm to return a mere eight hours later. It’s been both physically and mentally exhausting and this week feels like it is dragging on.

Luckily I got a jump start on the roundup over the weekend, so despite the long hours I still can deliver a heaping dose of pop culture goodness on time. So while I hope to see life outside the office more this week, get yourself caught up on all the pop culture that you might have missed.

Television

Movies

Trailers

  • Stranger Things 2:

 

  • Black Panther:

 

  • She’s Got To Have It:

 

  • Blockers:

 

  • Godless:

 

  • SMILF:

 

  • All I See Is You:

 

  • The Alienist:

 

  • Michael Jackson’s Halloween:

  • Thoroughbreds:

 

  • Mayhem:

 

  • The Work:

 

  • Bad Lucky Goat:

 

Music

Books

Stand-up

Theater

Odds and Ends

Mashups and Supercuts

  • Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, and The Lonely Island play “I’m On a Boat” with classroom instruments:

 

  • The team behind Angry Birds are apparently fans of Iron Maiden:

 

  • Puddles Pity Party covers “The Sound of Silence”:

Fish in the Dark – Cort Theater (New York, NY), 7.2.15

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It’s not really possible to be as big of fan as Seinfeld as I am without also being a fan of Larry David. Not only is he the co-creator of the show and one of the writers for most of the show’s run, but he personally served as the inspiration for the character George Costanza. This is more than apparent if you’ve ever watched David’s brilliant HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm; George is not a character that was created from the ether, but an amalgam of David’s behaviors and things that have happened to him. In a lot of ways, Jason Alexander’s great performance as George was really an impression of David that was just slightly tweaked.

So I knew that when I heard that David had written a play for Broadway (Fish in the Dark) that I would have to go check it out; he had some fun skewering being in a Broadway show during Curb and since his series has been on indefinite hiatus for the last few years I’d really missed his brand of humor. Larry David originally starred in Fish in the Dark, but I didn’t get around to checking the play out during his run. What actually sealed the deal for me purchasing a ticket was when who they announced David’s replacement – none other than Jason Alexander! Since I’m on a quest to see all four of the leads from Seinfeld live and in person at least once in my life, this was a golden opportunity. Besides, who is better qualified to take over for Larry David than the guy who basically played Larry David for years? I was already going to the city on July 2nd for a matinee performance of Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors, so I decided to double down and purchased a ticket for an evening performance of Fish in the Dark. That’s a lot of theater in one day, but I felt that I was up for the challenge.

I was so geared up to see Fish in the Dark that it wasn’t until I was sitting in the Cort Theater that I realized that I had no idea if this was a musical or a play. I was leaning toward a straight play, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if David had tried his hand at a little musical theater. I also realized that I had no freaking idea what this play was even about; I’d done zero research and was spending my hard earned money on name recognition alone. It turns out that Fish in the Dark a) is in fact a play, not a musical and b) is a comedy about a family and how they react to a death in the family (surprise – not well). The dysfunctional family dynamics in play as well as some hidden family secrets are mined for laughs; the writing and comedy beats will be familiar to anyone who is a fan of Seinfeld. In a lot of ways, Fish in the Dark is almost like an episode of Seinfeld; it’s not hard to imagine switching out the characters of brothers Norman (Jason Alexander) and Arthur (Ben Shenkman) with George and Jerry without having to do many re-writes. The play is littered with questions of etiquette and minutia that could have easily been addressed on an episode of Seinfeld: should you bring a date to visit your father in the hospital? Do you tip doctors? Did the 14 year old who gave a better eulogy than you have help writing it? Fish in the Dark is clearly from the mind of Larry David; it has his fingerprints all over the production.

In fact, since I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld a bazillion times, I even picked up on a few lines that I’m pretty sure were actually used in Seinfeld. There is a discussion in Fish in the Dark about dying from an odor, which is also covered in “The Smelly Car” episode of Seinfeld. As soon as the actor said it on stage, I knew it was familiar. Actually, all of Fish in the Dark felt familiar, in a good way, because of the amount of time that I’ve spent with Larry David-related projects. It was comforting, like discovering a lost episode of Seinfeld or Curb that I never knew existed. I was at home with the comedic beats and ludicrous plot points almost immediately.

Of course, having Jason Alexander delivering David’s dialogue only served to give me a greater sense of déjà vu while watching the play. Alexander is so well versed in the art of being Larry David that it’s almost probably second nature to him and that comes through in the performance. He is relaxed and really becomes the character of Norman, which is really an extension of the character of George, which is really just an extension of Larry David. I have zero regrets about seeing the show with Alexander, but I can’t help but think what a treat it was to see David in his element on stage. He’s not really an actor, but if he’s doing some version of himself he can sell the hell out of it.

The rest of the cast of Fish in the Dark was great as well. Glenne Headly was very funny as Norman’s wife Brenda and Ben Shenkman played well off Alexander as brother Arthur. Jayne Houdyshell manages to almost steal every scene that she’s in as family matriarch Gloria and Rosie Perez was a pleasant surprise as family maid Fabiana (I’m not normally a big fan of her work). I didn’t realize it at the time, but Fabiana’s son Diego was played by Jake Cannavale, the son of actor Bobby Cannavale. It’s a smaller, but important, role and he does a nice job; it doesn’t hurt that he’s inherited some of his father’s good looks. The cast as a whole adapted quite well to the inherent weirdness and lunacy that is Larry David and hit all the right comic beats and sold all the bickering and obsessing. The only downside of Fish in the Dark is that because I am so familiar with David’s specific brand of comedy, some of the jokes and material felt a little like self-parody. The play is very funny overall, but occasionally some of the plot points or arguments felt a little too Larry David, even for me. That was the exception rather than the rule and the audience that I saw Fish in the Dark with laughed uproariously throughout the entire play.

I’m definitely glad that I was able to see Fish in the Dark, especially since it was a limited run production. If you don’t like the writing on Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, this isn’t the show for you, but it was ideal for someone like me. He cast was solid and the play was very funny in the expected Larry David-sort of way; he has a very specific voice and vision and if you connect with it, Fish in the Dark is right up your alley. For me, seeing the play was kind of like going to fantasy camp and seeing a live read of a Seinfeld episode. Larry David isn’t breaking a lot of new ground with Fish in the Dark, but even if it’s a little familiar it was still very funny and enjoyable. For Larry David’s first attempt at writing a Broadway show, Fish in the Dark is “pretty, pretty good.”

Fish in the Dark closes August 1st.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee webseries

If you know me well at all, you’re probably aware of my obsession with all things Jerry Seinfeld. It’s not something that I hide very well. I’m fascinated with everything that the guy does. Seinfeld is one of my all-time favorite television shows; spend more than twenty minutes with me and I’ll probably drop some Seinfeld reference into the conversation, though some of them are pretty obscure.

When I was a freshman in college, we didn’t have cable in our dorm rooms and DVDs and the internet were not a part of everyday life yet (wow – that sentence made me feel OLD). So I couldn’t count on seeing episodes of Seinfeld regularly – if another group claimed the TV in the common room, I was out of luck. To get me through these dark times, my family would record Seinfeld episodes on the VCR and then send the tapes to me. Primary responsibility for this fell to my little brother, who was thoughtful enough to manually record the episodes so he could take the commercials out.  I think it was his way of thanking me for moving out of the house – he was finally an only child for all intents and purposes.

These tapes were on constant rotation in my dorm room and made me very popular with the guys in the building, which was an unforeseen benefit.  But if you walked into 426 Alumni Hall at any point in 1994-1995, you were bound to see an episode of Seinfeld on our TV. Thankfully, my roommate Jenn was cool with this and she probably knows more about Seinfeld from osmosis than she ever wanted to. Once we finally got cable in the dorms and at the sorority house, I continued the practice of taping the episodes so I could re-watch them multiple times. The tapes were played so often that they were starting to wear out. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say I have seen many of these episodes 100s of times. I consider it no coincidence that Seinfeld ended its run only a few short weeks before I put on my cap and gown. The show was an integral part of my college experience. Even though I have all the seasons of the show on DVD now, I only recently threw out the tapes. I had a sentimental attachment to them.

My affection was not limited to Seinfeld the show – one of my pop culture goals was to see Jerry do his standup and I’ve been fortunate enough to do that twice. The first time I think I would have been happy if he just stood there silently for an hour. I was just thrilled to be in the same room as him. Fortunately, his stand-up lived up to my anticipation and I really enjoyed both shows. There was surprisingly little overlap of material in the shows I saw; Seinfeld is not a comedian that relies on a set routine and he develops all new material for every tour (as does his friend Louis C.K.).  One of the things I respect about Seinfeld is his work ethic and the obvious joy he gets from doing standup. He clearly doesn’t need the money, but does it because this is what he loves to do. I don’t think that there is an off-switch for him – he’s just naturally very funny. It is a testament to how bad The Marriage Ref was that even I, one of Jerry’s biggest fans, couldn’t sit through the show. Too much Tom Papa, not enough Seinfeld.

So it was all but a given that I was going to be a fan of Seinfeld’s newest venture, an aptly titled webseries, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, where he goes out to coffee with his comedian friends and has free form conversations. Only one episode has been posted, but I’m already all in.

The premise is really as simple as stated. His first guest is Larry David, which was a smart idea as Jerry and Larry have been friends for a very long time and have fantastic chemistry together. They balance each other out well and they make each other laugh; it’s no surprise that Seinfeld was as successful as it was with the two of them at the helm.  They clearly delight in each other’s company. Hopefully Jerry will have the same rapport with his upcoming guests; I think the key to this webseries is familiarity with the participants. An awkward conversation between strangers wouldn’t be as much fun.

Larry and Jerry have exactly the kind of conversation you would expect them to have – essentially about nothing and with funny observations about aspects of life. It was like the perfect mash-up of the great qualities of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry is just as neurotic as the character he plays on Curb, discussing how he believes that his decision to switch from drinking coffee to tea contributed to the deterioration of his marriage. They have a really funny and surprisingly insightful discussion of the difference between smoking cigarettes and cigars. It’s also the first time that I’ve seen a legitimate unscripted spit take happen. They just crack each other up. It was two masters, doing what they do best and I loved every minute of it. I’m convinced this is how they got Seinfeld greenlit at NBC – they just had executives watch them interact with each other. You can’t help but walk away from it thinking that this is a great premise for a show.

I’m by no means a car person – when people ask me to describe someone’s car, I give them a color rather than a make and model – but the car that Jerry is driving in this episode (1952 VW Beetle) was pretty cool. It was in gorgeous condition and I was particularly impressed with the Semaphore turn signals. I would totally drive a car with those. It was a nice touch, since Seinfeld is very much a car guy. He used to rent out an air hangar in California for his Porsche collection.

I’m very much looking forward to the next episodes. Based on the trailer for the series, future guests include Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin and Michael Richards. I’m hoping that Chris Rock and Louis C.K. also are eventually included, as Jerry is very good friends with them as well.

If Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee maintains the same level of comedy as the first episode, this should be a very popular webseries, though I imagine your feelings about his guests will dictate how much you enjoy individual episodes. If you think Ricky Gervais is annoying, you probably won’t enjoy their conversation as much as others. The webseries is very personality driven. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has solidified one truth that I hold to be self-evident: Jerry Seinfeld and I would get along famously. If he ever does a series called Unknown Bloggers in Cars Getting Coffee, sign me up!

Episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee can be found on the series website and on Crackle.com. New episodes will be posted every other Thursday.