Deadshirt Is Watching…is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: Steven Universe, Vice Principals and The Tick!
Kayleigh Hearn is watching…
Season 4, Ep 3, “Buddy’s Book”
Summer reading lists suck, even if you’re a particularly nerdy middle schooler like I was. No one wants to write book reports over summer vacation, and assigned reading like Island of the Blue Dolphins never felt as fun as the books I discovered for myself on the library shelves. So as summer is winding down, it feels appropriate for Steven Universe to dedicate an episode to Steven and Connie discovering a special book at the library—a book full of secrets about the Crystal Gems.
The titular “Buddy’s Book” belonged to Buddy Buddwick, one of the original settlers of Beach City, who traveled the world and documented the mysterious locations left behind by Gem colonizers, including the Sea Spire and the Kindergarten. The episode isn’t the exposition dump some fans might have hoped for—Steven Universe loves a slow burn—but it’s full of amusing callbacks and tantalizing details. Steven fancasts his actor friend Jamie as Buddy, giving his scenes with the Crystal Gems a funny, melodramatic flair. (Of course a book character is played by a younger, hotter actor in the TV adaptation!) In its own gentle way, Steven Universe uses Steven and Connie to show the delights of reading books and writing your own stories, without ever feeling like homework.
Episode Highlight: The Crystal Gems in Revolutionary War-era clothing is already a gift to cosplayers, fanartists, and people who sing the Hamilton soundtrack at office party karaoke, but the sight of Pearl and Garnet wheeling away on a penny-farthing is an instant classic.
Tyler Austin is watching…
Episode Six: “The Foundation of Learning”
Vice Principals, or as I like to think of it, “White Privilege: A Comedy,” continues to mine the darkness of the two leads to further depths and expand it’s weird little world.
The show’s line between dark comedy and emotional drama is more of a high wire act that could fall one way or the other from moment to moment. These moments, along with the intensely character-driven storytelling, gives it the feeling of something Bob Rafelson or Michael Ritchie would’ve directed in the ’70s.
However, that doesn’t mean it scorns the advantages that the television medium brings. They constantly jump point of view from episode to episode, and this week starts with Ms. Snodgrass. She’s enjoying the morning with the hunky, cool guy history teacher, who summarily rips out her heart because they no longer have the same prep period. She gets this changed by helping Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) out with his motocross problems, only to find her man has moved on to the new TA. That’s human nature on this show. Fickle, messy, and ironic.
In the main plot, Gamby and Russell have tricked Dr. Belinda Brown into a fight she can’t win with one of the school’s favorite teachers. Again and again, Dr. Brown proves herself to be smart, capable, and resilient, as she falls right into the manchildren’s trap. A trap that she figures must have been set for her. Russell, trying to divert, offers to fetch her special afternoon coffee. It’s special the same way his wife’s tea is special, which is to say, full of spit, and that’s exactly what Dr. Brown walks in to see. Leaving our “heroes” in a precarious spot.
Perhaps, the most interesting choice though, is to have that reveal intercut with Neal and Ms. Snodgrass holding hands on the way back from the motocross track. Neal’s deeply embarrassed himself in front of his daughter, ex-wife Gail, and the relentlessly kind Ray another time, and he’s clearly stung. Ms. Snodgrass clearly feels the same after her day and to let these two share a little connection, even if Gamby is kind of a monster, is sweet.
So, all in, this show bounces between society’s funhouse mirror, dark comedy, and melodrama without ever a missing step.
Episode Highlight: The highlight, as always, has to be the performance of Shea Whigham as Ray. He’s so thoroughly a genuine, delightful person in the face of all Neal’s awfulness that every time he’s onscreen is a joy.
Joe Stando is watching…
Season 1, Ep. 1, “Pilot”
The new take on The Tick is here, and it’s fun in some predictable ways, as well as a couple surprising ones. Amazon’s new series posits a post-superhero universe, where an unstable young Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman) is investigating the possibility of supervillain activity when he encounters The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz), an enormous, super powerful and idiotic hero. As Arthur is drawn into the mysterious world of superhumans, Tick badgers him to “answer destiny’s call,” which ultimately leads to him donning a costume of his own.
It’s an interesting take on the Tick mythos because it’s both more grounded and dressed down than the comics, as well as somewhat intricate itself. There’s a stark contrast between The Tick’s antics and the more serious story of Arthur’s childhood trauma and his efforts to cope with his obsessive and possibly schizophrenic tendencies. The show pulls back from suggesting The Tick is entirely a figment of Arthur’s imagination, but there’s clearly a sense of unreality to the more superheroic aspects that drives home how strange and damaging they can be. It’s a show where a superhero’s jet falls on a young boy’s father and then the boy reacts in a psychologically realistic fashion. The juxtaposition is reminiscent of a lot of creator Ben Edlund’s other projects, from Supernatural to Gotham, and it’s a good fit here.
My only major complaint with this show is that it looks pretty cheap at times. Scenes with bullets bouncing off of the Tick get by on charm and goofy lines from Serafinowicz, but even some of the establishing shots of the city look corny. I totally understand a limited budget, but there are elements here that probably shouldn’t even be attempted. Less is often more, especially when working (compared to a network show) on a shoestring budget. That said, the Tick’s effects are always pretty good, and what little we see of Arthur’s Moth outfit is serviceable. Hopefully they’ll either get a better grasp on what they can pull off visually, or the show will become such a smash hit that the budget grows and grows.
Episode Highlight: The little bits of mythos we get with all the dead superheroes is fascinating, almost like the world of Wanted or Watchmen. I could definitely see some Venture Bros.-level intricacy developing before long. The highlight, though, has to be the over-the-top superhuman performances, from Serafinowicz’s giddy lunacy to a scene-stealing bit from Jackie Earle Haley as an archvillain. These guys are caricatures of superhero cartoons, and watching them stomp around a world otherwise populated by normal folks is a treat.