Ian Thomas Malone

Monthly Archive: June 2014



June 2014



Orange is the New Black Searches for Balance Between Plot and Character Development

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Is it possible for Orange is the New Black to simultaneously be one of the best shows on TV and overrated? Season two of the prison comedy-drama solidified the show’s status as Netflix’ flagship program. The hype was certainly big, which isn’t very surprising considering the complete lack of anything else happening on TV in the month of June. But does it deliver?

This season takes much of the focus away from Chapman. The acting has always been OINTB’s strongest attribute and the cast rarely misses a beat. Kate Mulgrew and newcomer Lorraine Toussaint are responsible for the season’s meatiest moments while other characters make the most of their more limited screen time.

While the cast excels with whatever they’re given, the show suffers from a lack of direction. There are plenty of plotlines, but none of them feel as developed as they could be. Flashbacks and unnecessary scenes involving Jason Biggs, the show’s sole rotten egg performer, waste precious screen time that could be better dispersed elsewhere. Chapman’s breakup with Larry was a perfect opportunity to get rid of Biggs and yet the show missed a perfect opportunity to shed the 90s has been. There’s no good reason to keep him on the show when other characters are given nothing to do for the whole season.

The show also doesn’t utilize its ensemble cast to its full potential. For the most part, they’re completely separated from one another by individual plotline with very little overlap. The quirk feels a bit toned down when the characters are separated from one another and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The season as a whole feels a bit incomplete when it’s all said and done. Most storylines are left unresolved and the payoffs are less rewarding than they should be. It’s okay for OINTB to put its focus on character more than plot, but the balance is a bit lacking. The flashbacks aren’t needed in every episode anymore and the show would do well to recognize that. The same problem plagued Lost in its later years when the flashbacks were no longer necessary. Format changes are okay.

The wasted time affects the season’s most interesting storyline involving contraband smuggling and the subsequent power struggle between Mulgrew, Toussaint, and Selenis Leyva. The plotline is never dull, but it never reaches its full potential either. Hints are made that it could have prison wide ramifications, which would be the natural progression and yet the show hesitates to make this the center of attention. It feels like a slightly extended subplot that is naturally the big attention grabber as it’s the easiest talking point.

Chapman’s storyline is the biggest mess of them all. She starts off the season being duped by Alex, then paints herself as some kind of badass, followed by a highly unrealistic/unnecessary furlough, and finally settles for some Stockholm syndrome. Fun right?

Season two is often a mess and yet it’s a fun mess. The cast is a treat to watch and the concept lends itself well to binge watching. It’s no different from having regrets about eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting though no matter how fun it is. The acting is immensely satisfying, but you’re bound to question what it was all for.

The bar in theory should’ve been raised for this season coming off such a successful debut. It delivers on the acting front, but when it comes to creating a season with a beginning, middle, and end, the show fails to figure out how to make it all come together. That’s the problem with a show that only airs new episodes one day a year. You burn through the episodes fairly fast without stopping to examine the flavor.

Which is fun, but it isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread (or Phish Food, whichever came first). OINTB is a very enjoyable program, but much of its praise should be taken in context. It doesn’t need to be better than anything else on TV, because the competition is hibernating when it comes out. The show entered itself for Emmy consideration as a comedy, a move that’s been tried by hour-long comedy-dramas like Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, and Glee to mixed results. I’d be surprised if the show didn’t win Best Supporting Actress for either Mulgrew or Uzo Aduba, but voters have been reluctant to reward dramatic series for exploring genre loopholes.

This post has been oddly hard on a season that I did enjoy, but it’s somewhat unsatisfying when you consider the lack of growth that the show took in its sophomore offering. That’s hardly the slump that many other shows have struggled with, but it does preclude it from true contention as TV’s best program. OINTB is a show that settles for the status quo because the status quo works without trying to see if things could be better.



June 2014



Toronto Needs to Find a New Home for the Argonauts Soon

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It’s a good time to be a CFL fan. With the new collective bargaining agreement ratified, the notion of a strike is safely squashed. Preseason games have started and the Ottawa Redblacks play their first regular season game in just a few weeks. The vast majority of the league has seen new stadiums or renovations help modernize the sport. Things are going well.

Except for the Argos.

One of the first things I noticed when I visited Rogers Centre to see the Blue Jays play was that the rafters were devoid of any reference to the stadium’s cotenant. The gift shop also lacked any Argonauts merchandise. Given the scarcity of Argos’ memorabilia in the States as well as the city of Toronto as a whole, I was disappointed that Rogers is purging its association with the football team years before its lease is up.

The Argos find themselves in a precarious position with their stadium woes. Rogers Centre will be shifting to an all grass field to accommodate the Blue Jays in a few years. Given most baseball players’ disdain for turf fields, this move is certainly a smart one for baseball. It is however, unfortunate, that the move was not made in conjunction with a permanent location for the Argos, who will not be able to play on the grass field.

A deal with BMO Field, the home of MLS’ Toronto F.C., was expected to happen before the project hit a snag with funding. The proposed changes would expand BMO Field’s regular capacity by 5,000 seats for soccer and potentially 40,000 for football, concerts, and other noteworthy events. Given TFC’s popularity, this seemed like a win/win for everyone involved.

The project’s cancellation creates a big mess and one that doesn’t appear to have an answer. The BMO Field funding issue means that a separate stadium built exclusively for the Argos would be highly implausible. The University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium isn’t big enough to accommodate professional football. There aren’t really any spare stadiums lying around, especially now that Maple Leaf Gardens is a grocery store. BMO Field is pretty much the only option.

Canadian football is never going to be as popular in Toronto as it is in other cities. Toronto has plenty of other sporting/entertainment options to ensure that Argos fans will never get behind their team in quite the same fashion as Roughriders’ fans. And that’s okay.

What isn’t okay is the notion that the Argos might not have a home in Toronto in just a few years. While their lease with Rogers doesn’t expire until 2017, this is a problem that needs to be dealt with now. Construction isn’t exactly an easy thing to do.

The CFL doesn’t need the Argonauts to be the most popular team in the league, but a league with Canadian in its title shouldn’t have a team in the country’s most populous city as its black sheep either. The CFL should be embarrassed that a fan cannot find a single piece of Argos merchandise in the city of Toronto. The Argonauts are the only team in the league with a new stadium or a serious renovation in the past five years.

The Rogers Centre lease situation is nothing out of the blue and yet nothing has been fixed. The CFL, the Argos, and the city of Toronto should all be embarrassed about that as well. The league has dealt with threats to its prosperity admirably and it should treat the Argos stadium issue with the same level of importance as the player’s unrest over the collective bargaining. Keeping up appearances is important.

BMO Field is the solution. Ontario needs to iron out the problems in the funding for the expansion of the field. Finding $120 million is easier said than done, but an outdoor field would do wonders for the Argos and might actually elevate them to actual relevance in the city of Toronto. The CFL should do everything it can to keep Canadian football in Toronto.



June 2014



The Case for Strong Belwas

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

As Ser Jorah took his leave from the service of Daenerys Targaryen, I found myself weeping for a reason unrelated to the fate of the exiled knight. With Grey Worm’s expanded storyline to include a peculiar and implausible romance with Missandei, it’s clear that the show has deviated from the books in an effort to expand the appeal of Daenerys’ supporting characters. Which makes the exclusion of one of her most interesting companions all the more puzzling.

In the Song of Ice and Fire books, Strong Belwas is clearly one of Daenerys’ better retainers. The massive eunuch former gladiator provides comic relief in a storyline that’s often desperate for it. And yet the show excludes him even though its elevated the humor in characters such as The Hound and Bronn.

The problem is that the show didn’t have a natural point for Strong Belwas to enter the fray. In the books, Strong Belwas arrives in Quarth in season two along with Ser Barristan, who is disguised as his squire. It’s hard to fault the show for doing away with Ser Barristan’s disguise given that it’s rather unnecessary in the grand scheme of things and would be hard to pull off on television. Introducing Strong Belwas alongside Ser Grandfather wouldn’t have been impossible, but it wasn’t entirely necessary either. Remember, the books have much more downtime with the Targaryen plotline than the show does.

That doesn’t mean that Strong Belwas couldn’t join the show at any given point. His association with Illyrio Mopantis gives him a fair bit of leeway to join the show far later than he did in the books. The show could simply have him come at the bequest of Mopantis. This of course could easily be worked into the show next season when Tyrion Lannister makes his escape from King’s Landing.

The big reason I think that the show doesn’t want Strong Belwas around is that he’s a eunuch. The show has two eunuchs already and has explored the horrors of that practice with Varys and Grey Worm. Strong Belwas is largely a comedic relief character who mostly wants to eat and kill things. He doesn’t care about being a eunuch. The show would care though.

The show has cut back on the importance of Daenerys’ party as a whole. Her Dothraki bloodriders and Brown Ben Plumm are absent from her storylines, choosing instead to focus on Ser Jorah, Ser Barristan, Grey Worm, and Daario Naharis. Given the fact that the show has limited time to devote to Daenerys, this isn’t surprising and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.

Strong Belwas isn’t a character who needs a lot of time devoted to his development. In the books, he doesn’t do much that isn’t involved with the aforementioned gluttony and lust to commit homicide. He doesn’t have a lot of depth. And yet, he’s a fan favorite.

It’s unclear as to how much of a void Ser Jorah’s departure really creates. But his absence is one less character involved with Daenerys that we care about. Given the slow pace of her story for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t have improved her storyline.

Deviations from the source material are to be expected, but those deviations should serve to improve the experience as it’s translated to screen. Excluding a beloved fan favorite doesn’t serve anyone. There’s simply no reason not to utilize the talents of Strong Belwas on Game of Thrones. The mother of dragons knows it and so do we the people.



June 2014



Dunkin Donuts’ Blueberry Cobbler is Delicious, but Bad at Being a Donut

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Dunkin Donuts has made some questionable decisions over the past few years. It’s understandable that the company would want to expand into the sandwich market as there’s clearly a demand for it, but products like the Eggs Benedict Sandwich (complete will Hollandaise flavor) and the Tuna Salad on a Croissant don’t seem like the kind of things Fred the Baker would’ve gotten up extra early to make. The rapid fluctuating lunch menu suggests that there are some growing pains with that whole plan.

Dunkin still excels at their two main areas of interest. The coffee and donuts are consistently good provided you don’t order them at 11 o’clock at night. The donuts might be freeze-dried, but alas, these are things I simply cannot care about.

Every now and then, Dunks decides to tamper with its donut lineup. Most of the time, these new creations are about as short lived as AfterMASH, Qwikster, or a Kardashian marriage, but you’ve got to give them credit for trying. I’ll give them more credit for the new blueberry cobbler donut.

The blueberry cobbler donut is simply delicious. The filling to donut ratio is perfect, the frosting tastes like something you’d find on a birthday cake, and the cinnamon streusel topping is both decorative and flavorful. This donut does everything right. Problem is, something doesn’t feel right about the blueberry cobbler donut.

Donuts are versatile pastries. They can be breakfast, dessert, or a snack. The problem with the blueberry cobbler donut is that is tastes too good. It’s overloading and excessive, even though it’s a fine balance of donut, filling, frosting, and streusel. It won and yet it lost.

The blueberry cobbler donut should strictly be viewed as a dessert item for fear of inducing a food coma. You can’t possibly expect to be productive after consuming it. The same cannot be said for a chocolate frosted, glazed, or even a jelly donut. The donut sugar rush is supposed to aid you, but this isn’t a rush. It’s an avalanche.

Which presents the question, what good is this donut? It tastes great, but it’s a dessert served at a place you don’t go to for dessert. Going to Dunkin after dinner is a surefire way to get a subpar donut. If it was served at ice cream parlors, that’s one thing. But the blueberry cobbler donut is served at a coffee shop.

This donut is a treat without a function. It might taste better than the other donuts, but you wouldn’t pick it over them. Those other donuts know how to be donuts. The blueberry cobbler donut doesn’t.

A bakery might want to adapt this concept into a pastry people might bring to dinner parties. People don’t bring Dunkin Donuts to dinner parties though. Dunkin Donuts doesn’t serve cannolis, cakes, and pies for a reason. People don’t go to Dunks to be overwhelmed by pastries. Ambition doesn’t always lead to success, even if everything goes right. Such is the tragedy of the blueberry cobbler donut.




June 2014



Getting Rid of the Star Wars Expanded Universe Sort of Matters

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Ever since it was announced that Disney would purchase Lucasfilm in 2012 with the intention of creating more Star Wars films, it was only a matter of time before something drastic changed within the Star Wars canon. The Star Wars Expanded Universe has played a big role in the lasting popularity of the franchise and is far more beloved to many fans than the prequel trilogy or the Clone Wars TV series. When Disney announced in late April that the EU would be rebooted in conjunction with the seventh film’s release in 2015, reception was expectedly mixed.

Timothy Zahn’s Grand Admiral Thrawn Trilogy is widely considered to be the EU’s finest work and was the catalyst that gave credibility to the medium. Since then, there have been well over a hundred entries into the EU with varying degrees of popularity. In addition to Zahn, writers like R.A. Salvatore and Michael A. Stackpole contributed noteworthy works that kept the EU’s popularity up in the time since Heir to the Empire made the New York Times’ Bestseller List. .

The fact that there were hundreds of entries into the EU perfectly highlights the main reason why something needed to happen. Lucasbooks has taken its own continuity very seriously, employing fact checkers well versed in the canon to help writers with their own entries. Outside of those fact checkers, I can’t imagine there are that many who possess a full spectrum of knowledge on all of these books. There’s no reason to expect future films to adhere to continuity so strict that no one would be able to catch deviations in the first place.

More importantly, the popularity of the EU has been on the decline for over a decade now. The New Jedi Order series began with the killing of Chewbacca in an odd matter that’s even confusing to explain coming from someone who actually read Vector Prime. That started a sequence of events that lead to the killing off of many of the EU’s most cherished characters including Anakin Solo, Mara Jade, and finally Jacen Solo who turned into a Sith Lord in a manner that served to emulate his grandfather’s decline.

The EU had nowhere left to go and with dozens of entries that were widely panned, it didn’t made sense to keep that timeline in the fold. Comic books do this all the time. Rebooting the EU might be frustrating, but it needed to happen.

It didn’t need to happen in a way that erased the entire universe though. We don’t know many of the details surrounding the seventh film, but it’s safe to say that Mara Jade and the Solo children will not be in it. Chewbacca is alive again, but the message was sent that the EU no longer matters moving forward. That could be a mistake.

The EU worked. More importantly, the prequel trilogy didn’t work. It’s one thing to reboot what happened, but by going in a completely different direction, Disney is failing to capitalize on what could’ve been a smart goodwill gesture to the fans. Choosing to ignore it completely disregards the fact that the EU kept the franchise alive at a time when nothing else was going on.

If Star Wars: VII is a bomb, you can bet that people will point the finger at the decision to ignore plotlines which were readily available and proven to be more successful than Jar Jar Binks and the midichlorians. As they should. Only time will tell us the full extent of the ramifications of flushing the EU away like Taco Bell twenty minutes after it’s been eaten.

I don’t mourn the loss of the EU. Rebooting the series to a time where the Yuuhan Vong and Darth Caedus never happened is fine by me. The EU gave fans more than twenty years of material to read. Anyone who has gone through all of that material is probably ready for some new books to read. Whether or not that’s the new Star Wars books is up to them.

J.J. Abrams’ new film will face a ton of scrutiny. The idea that there could be a new Star Wars film every year for the rest of eternity all but guarantees that somewhere down the road there will be a valid reason to bash the series. Rebooting the EU isn’t necessarily one of them, but wiping away so many cherished storylines and characters isn’t a great idea either.



June 2014



Netflix’ Derek Continues to Be TV’s Oddest Offering

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The first season of Netflix’ Derek was a peculiar one. Largely marketed as a comedy, the new offering from Ricky Gervais largely steered away from the material commonly found in all of his other series. Derek’s tone was much darker than anyone could’ve expected from the co-creator of The Office, Extras, An Idiot Abroad, and Life’s Too Short. While the results were mixed, a strong season finale had me excited about the prospect of another season.

The biggest problem with Derek is that it doesn’t appear to have much of an idea of what it wants to be. Season one had a few funny moments, but this was a drama that also wanted to explore the meaning of life. The fact that Gervais was channeling existentialism while portraying a seemingly mentally handicapped character oddly reminiscent of Father Dougal from Father Ted made matters complicated. Season two does a good job of fleshing out Derek’s character to a point where he finally makes some sense, but it doesn’t do a great job of following up on his growth from the season one finale.

Season two doesn’t really go anywhere. The six episodes are largely dedicated to exploring the main cast with minimal involvement from the actual residents of the old age home. Karl Pilkington, who plays the handyman/bus driver Dougie, departs after the first episode and the show suffers without his wit, but the rest of the cast steps up in his absence. The acting is elevated drastically in season two and the strong performances provide perhaps the best reason to watch the show.

There’s too much of the same in season two. This season dedicates more time to character than plot, but the destination is exactly the same. Each character is a flawed mess trying to make it through the hard road called life, but we knew that already. Life season one, there’s an episode that stands above the rest, but the majority of the season is largely forgettable. Familiar themes repeat themselves and the characters are mostly restricted to one notable event a season. With a collective run time of a little more than two hours, that’s not exactly surprising. Derek has more of an ensemble cast than any of Gervais’ other shows, which leads to an elevated feeling of inconclusiveness when the season abruptly ends. Though it’s hard to call brevity a deterrent, as I don’t think I could put up with a full season of the show.

It’s hard to imagine where Derek will fit in when it comes time to evaluate Gervais’ career as a whole. As of now, it makes more sense to compare it to Stephen Merchant’s first solo effort, Hello Ladies, which was a far more disappointing effort that received the boot from HBO after eight episodes. Derek represents a transitional series for Gervais, where he steps away from the pitiable narcissists roles in favor of more developed, if not equally flawed, characters.

Does that make it worth watching? Yes and no. If you’re a fan of Gervais’ other work or British television, then the simple answer is yes. Derek is the kind of show that needs its viewers to drop all preconceived notions of what it’s supposed to be. It doesn’t know and in small doses, that’s okay. But it’s a show with quality acting and enough tearjerker moments to merit its brief run time.

Season two struggles to deliver on the good will garnered from the season one finale. There’s a few new things to say, but the season as a whole feels like it didn’t need to happen. There’s been no news on the future of Derek, but it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be at least a wrap up special. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen.

Derek is a drama that people want to think is a comedy that’s also largely a meandering mess with a few heartfelt flashes of brilliance. That’s hardly a glowing recommendation, but I think it’s certainly worth watching. Ricky Gervais used Derek to grow as a performer and I had fun watching him work