Friday, July 29, 2011

Recommendation: Cartoons

Cartoons for adults are by no means a new phenomenon. As we all know, The Simpsons has been on the air for 73 years, and Family Guy, South Park, and Futurama enjoy wide-spread popularity. So I'm not going to talk about those shows. This week, I want to recommend some cartoons you may not have heard of yet but that you definitely check out. Each of the following is pretty unique, so hopefully everyone will enjoy at least one of them.

1. Ugly Americans (Comedy Central)
Ugly Americans is a show about life in the Big Apple. Living in New York is never boring, even more so because the world of the show is populated by both humans and monsters. Protagonist Mark Lilly is a social worker whose job is to help immigrants assimilate into American culture. And yes, those are immigrants of both the human and monster variety. His roommate is a zombie named Randall, and he has an on-again/off-again relationship with Callie, his boss, who is also the half-human/half-succubus daughter of the Devil. This is a recipe for comedic gold, my friends. The show also features a cast of wacky supporting characters. One of my favorites is Doug, a giant koala that never speaks and is usually crying. He's precious.

Ugly Americans currently airs on Comedy Central Thursday at 10:30pm after Futurama.

2. Archer (FX)
Archer has been described by its creator as Arrested Development meets James Bond. Not surprising, since three of the actors from Arrested Development (Jessica Walter, Jeffrey Tambor, and Judy Greer) do voice work for the show. Stirling Archer is an agent for ISIS, which stands for International Secret Intelligence Service. He works for his mother and alongside his ex-girlfriend Lana, her boyfriend Cyril the Comptroller (voiced by Chris Parnell), and a cadre of support staff with varying degrees of competence. Archer is pretty terrible to all of these people, particularly his butler Woodhouse, which gives the show a great deal of its comedic value. Stylistically, the animation is pretty minimalist (some might say, lazy)* and features styles and technology from a variety of time periods. For example, the clothing and hair styles tend toward 1960s fashions, and they use very outdated computers, but the characters also have access to cell phones and laser sights. Hilarious.

*A friend of mine once called the animators lazy after watching a scene that was simply several minutes of a shot of a door while the characters talked in the background. Maybe that was a stylistic choice. Or maybe they were being lazy. I'll let you decide.

Archer airs on FX and will return in September. You can watch the first season on Netflix Instant.

3. Regular Show (Cartoon Network)
This is a new one for me, and so far I've only seen a few episodes, but I think I'm a fan. While all the shows on this short list are bizarre in their own ways, Regular Show is probably the strangest. Its protagonists are a blue jay named Mordecai and a raccoon named Rigby, two 23-year-old friends who work as groundskeepers at a park. Their coworkers include a living gumball machine, a yeti, and a man shaped like a lollypop. The humor and animation style are reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy or Beavis and Butt-Head, and the show can get pretty surrealistic at times. But the episodes are short (only around 11 minutes each), and myself 23, I feel a sort of kinship to our heroes. Give it a shot. If you don't like it after three episodes, you've only wasted about 33 minutes.

Regular Show airs on Cartoon Network. The start date of the third season is currently unknown, but several episodes can be viewed on the YouTube.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Recommendation: Julie Slonecki

This week's recommendation is a tad late, but cut me some slack. It was just released Friday, after all.

Friend-of-the-blog (and friend-of-the-blogger) Julie Slonecki is a gifted singer-songwriter who has just released her third self-produced album, Act Tough.

Act Tough has a little something for everyone. Slonecki's influences range from rock, folk, and country to jazz, big band, and even rap. The album features diverse instrumentation and a mix of upbeat and down-tempo tracks that you will find yourself humming long after the songs have ended. What's more, Slonecki's sultry voice, tight harmonies, and ability to record and mix her own albums show that she's more than just a pretty face.

Most of all, Act Tough demonstrates Slonecki's brilliant lyricism. Her words speak to feelings and experiences we all can share. In the album's first track, "Scary Song," she sings of the bitterness of a love that has been lost, not suddenly, but as a result of neglect and mutual apathy. However, in the folksy second track, "Terrible and Great," she reflects on the joy that comes with simply sitting with friends on a porch in western Virginia, finding home with people who make the minutes worthwhile. She sings of the concern that time passes too quickly but also determination not to let life pass her by. And when life gets too hard, she reminds us to act tough and push ahead.

You can buy Act Tough on iTunes and soon on and And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Slonecki's first two full-length albums, Borders and Arguments for Love. You can sample a few tracks here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recommendation: The Judge John Hodgman Podcast

Part of my goal with this blog has always been to share with you the reader things that I find funny, interesting, or otherwise enriching for your life. Therefore, in an effort to give the blog a little more structure (and to make sure that I continue to post regularly), I am introducing a new feature to the blog: Weekly Recommendations. Once a week I will review something I think is cool. It could be a book, a movie, an album, or even, like today's offering, a podcast.

You may know John Hodgman from his work on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart or as PC from the Mac and PC commercials. He is also a humor writer, former professional literary agent, and renowned fake judge.

The Judge John Hodgman podcast is a production of that invites real people to let John Hodgman mediate their disputes. Anyone can submit a dispute via email, and a few are selected to argue their case in front the Judge, swearing to abide by his ruling "no matter how odious it may be."

Listeners have brought forth cases that range from "Is the White Album good?" to "Which roommate should get the big room in the apartment?" and beyond. Several episodes of the podcast have featured disputes between married couples, but JJH has put a ban on such cases because he was accused of hosting a podcast version of The Marriage Ref.

In each of these cases, John Hodgman uses his natural eloquence, his immense intelligence, and his considerable fake expertise to reach a decision that is both fair and hilarious. He is joined by Bailiff Jesse Thorn, host of The Sound of Young America, and all 30 episodes of the podcast can be downloaded for free from iTunes. I have embedded one for your listening pleasure.

This case finally settles the age-old question: Are machine guns robots?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I should buy Happy Meals more often

Earlier this week I got a Happy Meal from McDonald's. I could go into detail and try to justify this questionable culinary decision, but just suffice to say that I was hungry and I bought a Happy Meal.

When I ordered this meal, they asked, as they always have, whether the meal was for a boy or girl. Despite the fact that I could have gotten a Pokémon card if I had said "boy," I went with my natural inclination and said "girl." Now, as everyone knows, girls LOVE Barbies. So it makes sense that the girl toy for the Happy Meal would be Barbie-related. It does not make sense that the "Barbie-related toy" was this:

This is a Barbie styling bust. Or as I like to call it "Disembodied Barbie Head." The idea is that you use this comb to style the Barbie's hair.

Except, note that the Barbie doesn't really have enough hair to style in any significant way. And even if she did, the hair would go right back to the way it looked before anyway. You can't even change the side on which her hair is parted. You could put it in a tiny ponytail, but that would reveal this unfortunate aspect of Barbie's hairstyle:

The shaved underside of the hair is not a great look for her. But really, that pales in comparison to the horror that is her face, specifically the eyes and forehead.

The eyes have this sort of jeweled quality designed to make them look like real human eyes, something I really don't want my toys to have. It's a little too Chucky-esque in my opinion.

Then there's the fact that she has this terrible scar across her forehead that makes her look like a scalping victim. Or Chucky again, if you prefer.

What I'm saying is, I really think McDonald's and Mattel should have thought this through a little more. Because maybe I'm over-thinking this, but I think something like Deluxe Scalped Disembodied Child's Play Barbie Head could have a negative effect on little girls, when all they wanted was something fun to play with while they enjoyed their tiny cheeseburgers.

Not to mention the jealousy these girls are going to feel when they see their male counterparts having the time of their lives with those Pokémon cards.