I’m usually a little bit behind the release dates when it comes to appreciating pop culture. I rarely see movies in theaters, watch shows live, or pre-order books. But the next few weeks are very exciting for me because several bits of culture that I’m hyped to experience — in real time! — are clustered to be release within a couple of weeks of each other. To celebrate this rare occurrence, I thought I’d go through go through these causes for my excitement, item-by-item.
All the Wrong Questions, Book 4 (September 29)
If you know the name of author Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), it’s most likely from A Series of Unfortunate Events, a thirteen-part series of middle grade books that blend gothic horror and postmodern comedy in a way that earned rave reviews and a panned adaptation.
I confess, I never managed to get hooked on the series. I always liked the idea of Unfortunate Events: intelligently-written stories for children than borrows from classic literature while remaining accessible and creative. Something didn’t click, though: Between the tongue-in-cheek comedy, bland villains, and formulaic plot structure, I found myself bored by part 3 of 13.
And when I read Snicket/Handler’s contemporary teen standalone, Why We Broke Up, I decided that the author probably was just not for me.
I was startled a few months ago, then, to find I absolutely adored the first book in his latest series, All the Wrong Questions, a young adult comedy-noir mystery story. The characters and winding plot and brilliant audiobook voice acting by Liam Aiken had me entranced. I quickly devoured parts two and three, only to realize the fourth and final entry in the series, Why is This Night Different From All Other Nights?, is due out in late September.
The series deserves a more thorough post of appreciation, which I plan to write some time after I finish and have had time to reflect on the fourth book. But I can’t remember the last time I was actually counting down the days until a book release. Maybe Harry Potter 7? Wow.
Archie #3 (September 30)
I’ve long been intrigued by the Archie comics: The seriously long-running series has been riffing on teen comedy for seventy years, specializing in one of pop culture’s longest-enduring love triangles: Archie, Betty, and Veronica. I never made the plunge, for a few reasons.
One hesitation simply the daunting scope of the series’ history: With seventy years and dozens of running series, I never could quite figure out how to approach the series. Another was the series’ reputation for gentle, congenial comedy and lack of serial plots. Why waste my time and energy on a series that would never challenge or reward me? Lastly was the hammy visual style, which evoked a bygone era — perhaps I could enjoy it in small doses, but I feared I’d never be hooked.
And yet, despite my reservations, I remained vaguely curious about America’s longest-running, perhaps most-iconic, institution of teen misadventure comedy.
Thus, I was delighted to hear about the Archie reboot. Riverdale High’s iconic hero would be given clean slate, as he’d be reinvented and reintroduced exactly for people like me: people daunted or bored by the style and sheer volume of the original. At the helm of the reboot would be perhaps the award-winning writer and artist, Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. (They just won the Harvey Awards, respectively, for Best Writer and Best Artist for their work on Daredevil and Saga.)
So I decided to give the new series a try, reading a preview of issue #1 of the new Archie. And… it’s awesome. Really, really good. The art is gorgeous, sharp and fresh and engrossing. The characters are immediately well-crafted and compelling. And while the tone is still gentle and nostalgic, it is in a warm, charming way. Like many of my favorite teen comedies, there’s an inviting vivacity, joy, and — forgive my schmuckiness — heart to the series.
I read parts one and two, and became hooked. I’ve since subscribed to the monthly issues and will be checking my mailbox all week.
Gauntly Halloween (October 1)
Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain, a public access horror host show by Earn This’s very own Brian (that has been occasionally attended by yours truly), always has something special in store for Halloween. Rumor has it that he’s pulled out all the stop for this year’s Halloween episode: a trip to Salem, MA, a snake, a musical guest… and, since it’s a special Gauntly, of course some disgusting food is involved:
As always, tune in to FPA, channel 10 if you wish to be bid pleasant nightmares. (The episode should show up on YouTube eventually, too.)
The Martian (October 2)
If there’s one medium I’m particularly tardy on, it’s film. Despite professing myself a film fan, I only make it to theaters a few times a year. I’ve seen a whopping one of the most recent slate of Best Picture nominees (though Grant’s been bugging me to see Whiplash).
One of the few things that will bring me to theaters is a promising adaptation of a book I love. And The Martian by Andy Weir is one such example. It’s an excellent story of sci-fi survival. Its premise is fairly simple: In the near future, a manned mission to Mars is aborted in a dust storm. Astronaut Mark Watney is struck by a piece of flying debris and presumed dead, left on the planet while the other astronauts depart. But he survives, now stuck on a planet by himself with just a few limited resources, no easy way to contact Earth.
The book is immensely enjoyable. Rather than evoking a sense of “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream,” it’s a fairly lighthearted read for the intellectually curious, filled with technical specificity and splashes of comedy. The story is sturdy but episodic, as Watney is faced with one survival challenge after another.
So the adaptation of The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott and featuring an incredible cast, will be the third movie of 2015 to earn my admission money thanks to its impressive literary counterpart (also Paper Towns and Me and Earl). The story is cinematic — though the characters fairly simple — so I’m optimistic it will translate well to a blockbuster, and early reviews are encouraging, as it sits at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.
Red Oaks (October 9)
The last of these five is also the one highest on my hype-o-meter. But to understand the hype, you also need to understand Amazon’s TV publishing paradigm. Approximately once a year, they debut a set of pilots of original TV shows. Everyone can stream the the pilots for free online. The company uses the feedback from viewers (as well as the ratings) to decide which shows to pick up.
This type of platform has some strategic benefits: Unlike networks who develop shows and order seasons months before their debut, Amazon has a large amount of concrete data to determine what shows will be picked up: Reviews by critics, reviews by viewers, number of viewers, etc.
There are some downsides to this approach, too. The biggest one, from fans’ perspectives, is that we have to wait about a year to see the shows: The rest of the episodes still have to actually get made. Think about the psychology of that: After watching a pilot, you immediately have to wait twelve (or more) months to see any more of it. It’s why I avoid Amazon pilots, ironically: I’m worried I’ll actually like them.
This has happened to me exactly once, just over a year ago: Red Oaks, a show about a teen who works at a country club for the summer during the ’80s.
Oh man do I love the Red Oaks pilot. It’s almost it’s own little movie that’s derived from the best of the raunchy teen comedy genre. There’s a little bit of above-average John Hughes in it, but the closest comparison I can think of is Fast Times at Ridgemont High — though, unfortunately, Spicoli is nowhere to be seen. Fast Times‘ ensemble focus, tone, and unsanitized depiction of teenage shenanigans (and life lessons) are just as much in Red Oaks‘ DNA. Since this is Amazon, they don’t have to hold back with language or nudity.
But it’s more than an homage to a style of movie I happen to love. It’s also just a well-made piece of television. The characters are strongly defined from their first frames. The look is bristling and feels authentically retro: there’s an immediate sense of setting. The cast is bonkers-good: Craig Roberts stars, Jennifer Grey and Richard Kind play his parents, and Paul Reiser plays the club owner.
Speaking of the adult actors, perhaps the biggest surprise of the pilot of this teen comedy is that the adults are just as interesting and believable as the kids. In this way, Red Oaks is more in line with The OC than ’80s teen comedy: the grown ups aren’t just bad guys; they’re charming, often hilarious, characters who seem to have their own arcs.
The fact that the pilot radiated so much joy and made me so damn giddy has made it basically impossible to wait to see more of it. I spent the past year Googling weekly, hoping to get a concrete release date and more details (which Amazon is sparse with). It’s like waiting for a sequel to a movie you love, but knowing you’ll get nine sequels on release instead of just one.
About a month ago, Amazon let slip the first season’s release date. Finally, at long last, we’ll see all of Season 1 of Red Oaks on October 9. Thank God.