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All posts for the month November, 2018

In the summers of 1995-1997, I spent three amazing, magical, life-changing long weekends in Los Angeles. In October of 2018, once my memories of LA were old enough to get drunk there, I returned.

These are the stories of my return to the City of Angels.

And the sudden drop in temperature.

But First, a Flashback

I hadn’t been sunburned in years when I came to LAFF ’95. Once in all of high school, after an ill-advised hike through the suburbs from one side of Nose Hill and back again. That all changed on the day I joined a group trip to Venice Beach.

Not that there was any question that going to Venice Beach was the right call. First, it was pure fun, second, either right before we left the hotel or right after arriving at the beach, Peri, one of the female FOLCs in my age range, emerged in the bikini her friend (and now ours) had convinced her to buy.

“Look at what Diane is making me wear,” she complained. “Is it too skimpy?”

I have worked, in the last two decades, to be a better feminist ally, a great work that has had some stumbles, and which I see as never truly finished. That said. If you are not a blood relation, it is highly improbable I am ever going to say “Yes” to that question. I certainly didn’t that day.

(Even if I did know where my photos of that trip were I wouldn’t be putting one here, ya jerkbags. If you need to see a cute brunette in a bikini allow Google image search to see to that.)

There was lounging on the sand, there was splashing in the waves, and wandering the boardwalk. There was a group photo, where the fit FOLCs of the beach trip formed a kickline in the water and I’m sort of just behind them waving at the camera, because actually joining the kickline felt, it felt way too presumptuous. Yes, I was part of the group trip, but that doesn’t necessarily make me part of the group, just because this was a weekend of bonding and fellowship doesn’t mean I can just assume I’m welcome in group photos, that’s just, it’s just...

It is… a challenge going through life afraid to take up space.

Anyway. That afternoon on Venice Beach was one of the weekend highlights, so of course I returned for LAFF ’96, a beach day I recall as The Day I Accidentally Learned How to Flirt.

It’s a special place, that beach. So naturally, a nostalgia trip to LA would require a return visit. But there were a couple of stops to make along the way.

The Holy Quest

Either you recognize this diner or you need to keep reading.

I’ve talked a lot about the nostalgia aspect of my LA visit. Like, right above. A paragraph ago. But that wasn’t my entire to-do list. I wasn’t just going to places I’d been during one of three LA FOLC Fests.

No no no. I was also visiting places from stuff I watch.

The first thing, the very first thing I thought of to do when my parents asked me to join the Disneyland trip (other than “Yay Disney!”) was “I need to go to the Cracked After Hours diner.”

For those unfamiliar, back in the halcyon days before the YouTube bubble burst, killing channels some of us really loved, the most popular video content Cracked.com put out was After Hours, in which four of their funniest people… Michael Swaim, Daniel O’Brien, Katie Willert, and Soren Bowie… hung out in a diner dissecting pop culture until their topic was ruined for all time.

Example.

Better days…

It’s gone now. Been over a year since Cracked.com shut down its video department, as YouTube algorithms and Facebook interference and generally realizing there’s less money in YouTube than we thought led to mass layoffs. But even if that hadn’t happened, After Hours was still wrapping up. Soren and Swaim had both left the site. A series finale was filmed but never released, since the person in charge of post-production was fired before it “aired.” That fact angers me to this day. Anyway.

The bulk of the series filmed in Los Feliz Cafe. My path was then clear. If I was going to LA, I would have to make a pilgrimage to said Cafe. Get their table if I could. Get Daniel O’Brien’s chair if possible, because Daniel O’Brien is a comic treasure and of all the personae they played in this and other Cracked series, I connected most to his.

The second most popular Cracked series was apparently Honest Ads. That baffles me. It wasn’t nearly as good as Daniel O’Brien’s Obsessive Pop Culture Disorder. People. They confuse me.

As a bonus, the map I checked seemed to indicate that the cafe was right next to Griffith Park, another entry on my to-do list, and a not-terrible distance from Venice Beach! What a fun day that would be!

Turns out I had some lessons to learn about trusting the apparent distance on Google maps of LA. Nothing is that close to anything. Regardless, I made it.

Although I did forget to pack three friends to argue pop culture with.

And all the other chumps grabbing lunch there were sitting outside, on the patio, in the sunshine, like suckers. Leaving me free to grab the Cracked gang’s table!

Probably.

Look there’s every chance they moved tables around for filming purposes but just let me have this.

Lunch completed, it became clear that hiking up to Griffith Park Observatory was not an option. Yes, Griffith Park was more or less right there, but it’s also entirely large hills of loose soil and scrubland. The walkable path to the observatory was an hour, mostly through neighbourhoods, and then really, really uphill for a while.

I opted to Uber. It was my driver’s first day on the job but we managed to find our way up.

Up High

Get your space science on!

Next stop, Griffith Observatory. Why Griffith Observatory? It’s a famous landmark. It’s one of the best views of the city. It’s chock full of space science. 

And, yes, now that you mention it, it was home to a couple of key moments from BoJack Horseman. In one of which they point out the flaw in a classic movie…

And the other the endpoint for a lengthy bender between BoJack and an old friend, which I’m not posting anything from, because those who know don’t need a reminder, and those who don’t shouldn’t be spoiled watch BoJack damn your eyes.

But, you know… the other stuff. Mostly. Space science.

And there was so much space science.

One room. There were many rooms.

And all of it free. Well, except for the planetarium show, a giant-dome-screen tour of the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, and the history of our understanding of all of these things. Which confirmed my theory that “dark matter” and “dark energy” are science speak for “We don’t know what’s doing this but it has to be goddamn something.” An impressive spectacle with just one minor tragic pop culture connotation.

“…Sarah Lynn?”
(I lied about not reminding you.)

That wasn’t free. It was a whopping seven dollars. I made it fit my budget, somehow.

The other advantage of the observatory being free of charge is that if there’s a bunch of other things you want to do before sunset and it’s already like 2:30 and everything in LA is so goddamn far from everything else in LA, you don’t feel guilty about maybe just browsing a few of the exhibits.

Upon arrival, my Uber driver told me that there was a hiking trail from the observatory right to the Hollywoo(d) sign. That sounded neat. So for the first time that week, I put water in the water bottle I’d been carrying around for three days, started towards the trail sign… and saw exactly how long a walk it would be to the sign. Four miles. In the fairly hot sun (high 20s, near 30 Celsius?). And this was not meant to be my last stop before sunset. I was still hoping to hit the beach, which was an hour drive from me because everything is an hour drive urban sprawl is a nightmare.

So, a hike through the hills of LA to stand near a sign, or Uber to the Santa Monica pier while it was still a lovely day out?

The answer, as it turned out, was “neither.”

Down to the Sea

And the pier full of fun.

Ha! “Highs and lows” referred to geography, not a blend of discovery, triumph, and the crushing realization that the past can never be recaptured, time’s arrow relentlessly moves ever forward, and those golden days on Venice Beach feel so far away it seems like another life for a reason!

Yup. Just geography. The only highs and lows we’re covering.

My plans for the beach were two-fold… see the Santa Monica Pier, which I never had before, and then maybe try to find the spot on Venice Beach where the FOLCs and I once hung out for two wonderful, burn-filled afternoons.

(LAFF ’95 I didn’t bother with sunscreen, foolishly thinking myself invulnerable. Burned. LAFF ’96 I remembered sunscreen, even found someone to do my back, and then forgot about my entire face. So burned. LAFF ’97 I and two others went to Catalina Island, not Venice Beach, I remembered sunscreen, I had a fiancee to help me with it, put it everywhere… but it wasn’t waterproof. Worst burn yet.)

And I suppose also lounge on a beach, if possible? I did pack a swimsuit just in case. So, three-fold, I suppose.

I’d picked Saturday for all of this because while a Saturday afternoon was, to my estimation, the worst possible time to be at a theme park, it seemed a great day for people-watching on the beach. The sun was shining, the Uber ride was under $20 despite the distance, everything was set for a great day at the beach!

And then as soon as I hit Santa Monica clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped ten degrees. In one car ride I went from hot and sunny to grey and very nearly chilly. I damn near regretted wearing shorts that day.

That’s… that might not be accurate. I remember thinking “Well the weather sure turned on me” but not “I am actively cold.” Even after wading into the water by the pier, because I did not come this far to not at least set foot in the Pacific.

A phrase known to Canadians everywhere… “It’s warm, once you get in it.”

Didn’t attempt any rides. Maybe buying ride tickets individually made the roller coaster and similar pier rides seem more expensive than they were. Maybe four straight days of theme parks made the pier rides seem less appealing. Whatever the reason, I just looked around and got an ice cream before starting my walk south along the boardwalk, in search of our old spot.

Which was a pipe dream and I should have known it was a pipe dream. The thing, right, the thing about Venice Beach is that there is miles of it and it all looks like beach. Meanwhile, the boardwalk is a series of essentially identical stores selling the same slightly risque t-shirts and underwear. I only sort of remember some of the people who were with me those days, what chance did I have spotting one stretch of beach?

I guess I remembered being near one of those muscle beach gym areas, and thought that if I could find that, I’d be in the general area. But the sun began to set, the night began to shine fall, my feet began to protest, and my priority shifted to finding a decent-looking place to have dinner while I waited for Uber prices to drop down from rush hour surge rates.

The place I found was attached to, and themed after, a second-hand bookshop. So, decent choice.

The Final Nostalgia

On my last day in LA, having weighed my options, I came to a conclusion. That conclusion was “No more hour-long Uber rides, they’re adding up.” I had not considered going back to Catalina Island until late Saturday, too late to book a tour with a shuttle to the ferry.

But Disneyland was right there. I could see the Incredicoaster from outside my room. And if I stuck to one park, it was not much pricier than round-trip Ubering to the far side of LA and paying admission for… whatever. Or for a ferry ride to and from Catalina. And so back I went.

But there was one final burst of unexpected nostalgia. As I made my way through not-terrible Sunday crowds, using the app to acquire fast passes (I paid the extra ten bucks to be able to do that, well worth it), I couldn’t help but think back to the previous week, when I was here with my family. Lining up for Space Mountain, I remembered how much Dara loved it. Riding Alice in Wonderland, I wondered if she’d have enjoyed it as much as the 100 Acre Wood. 

It was still fun. I had a good time. The sandwich place in Downtown Disney where I got dinner as I said goodbye to the park was very tasty.

It just all felt a little bit hollower without Mom and Dad and Dara there with me.

I guess the happiest place on Earth is no place to be lonely.

That’s a decent end-line but it’s kinda bleak for a trip that was overall very fun and several different brands of good time. Too much BoJack in this entry, that’s the problem. Think, man. Final upbeat anecdote. We can do this…

The Trinity of Simpsons Snacks

Okay, so, back to Universal Studios on this one. As I may have mentioned, one of the areas they crammed into what real estate the park section is allotted is Springfield, with Simpsons themed restaurants and attractions, the most notable being the 3-D ride. Among the restaurants were three Simpsons brands that, like butterbeer at Harry Potter world, demanded to be tried…

  1. Krusty Burger. Bonus points for including the ribwich, a couple of points deducted for not including “The One With Ketchup.” But, fine, they all have ketchup, they couldn’t actually make Krusty Burgers as comically unpleasant as the show sometimes suggests. It was a decent fast food burger. A Carl’s Jr level burger.
  2. Duff Beer, available at Moe’s or Duff Gardens. For an American beer served at a theme park, it was a passable beer. Not too hoppy, not too weak, it wouldn’t be my go-to if it were available here but perfectly drinkable.
  3. Lard Lad giant donuts. This… this was a bridge too far. The donuts were the size of a pie. This was a donut to be split among four people. Certainly not a donut to be tackled solo not long after a fairly filling lunch. I’m not even convinced I ate any of it at the park. I just threw it in my bag, hoped it would survive the trip back to the hotel, and saved it in my hotel fridge as an end-of-day treat for the remainder of the trip.

Never did finish that donut damn it this isn’t cheery enough okay, parting thoughts on LA…

  • The Universal backlot tour was supposedly “hosted” by Jimmy Fallon… meaning he recorded two videos of a combined length of about a minute and a half. One intro video where he threw things over to the actual guide, and one black and white video of him supposedly juggling, to play when we drove past a hot set and had to be quiet. The Warner Bros. tour, on the other hand, featured multiple video appearances by Ellen Degeneres. Sure she was clearly in front of a green screen but she “hosted” the tour/museum experience in a way Jimmy Fallon couldn’t be bothered to. Or maybe they just cut all of his material? Either way it’s a weird choice.
  • The hosts of Lucha VaVOOM kept up the audience’s energy with call and response: any time they shouted “LUCHA!” we were to respond “VAVOOM!” They would also do this any time one of their jokes flopped.
  • I misjudged who was the face and who was the heel at least once during Lucha VaVOOM, but in my defence, the intros were in Spanish, and if someone’s entrance/ theme music is the opening titles to Doctor Who, I’m gonna assume I should root for them.
  • I visited the Toon Town area of Disneyland for the first time on that final Sunday. Don’t… don’t actually have much to say about it. The ride was okay. I forgot it on the list earlier. Maybe that’s its review.
  • Night one of Disney we caught their big show Fantasmic, in which Mickey Mouse goes on a tour of imagination, aka every property they can wheel out, be it through projections or puppets or actors doing dances or acrobatic pirate battles on the river. It shouldn’t be that easy for a pirate ship to sneak up on someone.
  • Dara wanted to know who Jack Sparrow was fighting pirates with in Fantasmic for her journal entry. Mom felt that “gestalt generic female lead” wasn’t a good answer, so I said “Just say it’s Elizabeth Swan.”

Next time… we begin to shift from LA to NYC.

In the summers of 1995-1997, I spent three amazing, magical, life-changing long weekends in Los Angeles. In October of 2018, once my memories of LA were old enough to get drunk there, I returned.

These are the stories of my return to the City of Angels.

And the moment of pure joy.

But First, a Prologue

There are moments. Simple, perfect, magical moments, moments you know are fleeting but will live on as treasured memories. Sometimes they sneak up on you, like the moment when Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher stepped through the doors of the Daily Planet to greet us back in ’95. Some you get to see coming. In the Heracles tour of 2004, when we reached Edmonton we started playing to full houses, which meant that the curtain call would involve about 100 people cheering for something I wrote, directed, and had just starred in, and man I devoured that rush each time.

That’s all you can do, really. Live in that moment as hard as you can. Drink in every detail. Savour every second of this perfect moment you’re given, for time’s arrow moves ever forward.

No I’m not done with BoJack Horseman references. No I’m not going to explain my BoJack Horseman references. It’s all on Netflix, you only think you have better things to do.

The Tour Begins

When we last left off, I was on my way to the Warner Bros. Studio, home of great memories from LAFF ’95 and ’96.

There was no chance this tour was going to live up to my previous tours. I knew that. Obviously I knew that. I wasn’t here with dozens of like-minded fans, something that was made clear to me when our guide polled our group as to what WB shows we enjoyed. “Who here likes Friends?” he asked us, receiving a round of applause and cheers. “Gilmore Girls?” Less applause but not none. “Big Bang Theory?” enough applause my eyes rolled. And then the one I’d been waiting for.

“Lucifer?”

“WOO!” I reply. Alone. I look around at the silent tourists surrounding me. “Just… just me, then?” I ask. “Okay, but y’all are missing out…”

So no dozens of fellow fans. No camaraderie, as I don’t exactly excel at bonding with strangers. But more to the point, no pop-ins by the cast like in ’95, no producers doing Q&As like… all three years. (Even in ’97, the summer after Lois and Clark was cancelled, writer/producer Tim Minear, who you might know as the co-creator of Firefly, came to hang out with us at LAFF.)

But I could hope. Hey, I follow Lucifer’s Aimee Garcia on Instagram, they run into tours sometimes, and season four was mid-filming when I was there.

It did not, however, take us long to reach what was once known as Stars Hollow, home of the Gilmore Girls.

Luke’s Diner no more, as another show has taken it over, but I’d know that town square any day.

We saw the strip of grass, about ten or fifteen feet long, backed by trees, that doubled for Central Park anytime the Friends headed that way. Visiting Central Park itself a couple of weeks later, I did not spot much similarity, but hey, the illsion works.

Catering to My Interests

Another thing our guide asked about was who liked Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and I think we know my answer was “I do!”

Back in the 90s, I was on a very famous as the tour kicked off, the costumes for Batman Forever were proudly displayed. And I remember thinking “Wow but Robin’s codpiece looks bigger than it could possibly need to be.” This style of costume showcase has only expanded since then, as our tour stopped by a two-story reliquary, which I thought of as The Hall of Franchises Warner Bros is Choosing to Remain Proud Of, Despite Some Diminishing Returns on Recent Entries.

In other words, the DCEU and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts.

Yee!

Yes, fine, Justice League underperformed, and 2 Fantastic 2 Beasts was a pile of world-building in search of a plot, but it was still super (sorry) neat to see all of the costumes and props from the DC and Wizarding World movies… also two costumes from an upcoming entry that might… MIGHT… not let me down.

Come on, guys, you can do this. Don’t let this burst of optimism age badly.

I did not bother getting a photo of Cyborg’s “costume” from Justice League. That was not anybody’s costume. Ray Fisher wore a motion capture bodysuit and we all know it.

We also saw the Hall of Batmobiles, where I got to switch on the Bat-Signal.

It’s not “Flying the Tardis” awesome but it sufficed.

All of this was fun and cool and put a smile on my face.

But it wasn’t The Moment.

Stage Sixteen

That one there.

In between Franchise Hall and the Batmobile Garage, we pulled over. Our guide was going to try to get us into a sound stage. Not just any sound stage, but Stage 16, the tallest on the lot, one of the tallest in the world. So that’s neat. He made no mention of what was in it.

A chant began in the back of my head. A focus of will, of hope, a plea to a universe that normally turns a deaf ear to my requests.

“Lux. Lux. Lux,” the chant went. Lux is, of course, Lucifer Morningstar’s nightclub on my beloved Lucifer. “Lux. Lux. Lux.”

As our guide confirmed that Stage 16 was good for a visit, I tried to brace myself for disappointment. It could be anything. Not Mom or… whichever reality show films at the WB, we passed those stages earlier. But it could be something from The Big Bang Theory, or All American, the only CW show I can think of that doesn’t film in Vancouver. That one certainly came up a lot. In fact the only cast member we saw on the tour was from All American, or so I assume, because even with the Halloween event taking over chunks of the lot there can’t be that many reasons someone would walk from a sound stage to a trailer dressed as a cheerleader.

I don’t know who it was. Don’t ask me. I don’t watch All American, I couldn’t pick the non-Taye Diggs cast members out of a lineup.

Anyway. While the guide explained the rules… absolutely positively no photography of any kind, if we’re caught taking pictures they’ll all but factory reset the phone to delete the photo… I kept telling myself not to get excited, and just appreciate wherever we end up. As much as possible. I do not care about All American.

But even as I did that, the chant continued, trying to will hope into reality… “Lux. Lux. Lux. Lux. Lux. Lux.”

We stepped through the door. My eyes adjusted to the light.

Didn’t even need to see the sign at first. I’d know that bartop anywhere. And those couches. And that balcony. The sign just confirmed everything, erased all doubt.

I didn’t take this. The rules were clear. In fact I was on the other side of the room from here.

“So,” asked the guide, “Where’s my Lucifer fan?”

I responded with all of the calm and poise of Buddy from Elf being told Santa was coming out.

“Lux. This is Lux. We’re in Lux.” I was beaming as I surveyed the room, drinking in every detail. The guide described the filming process, how each scene is shot repeatedly from each angle, but I was just… being here. Being present. Savouring every second that I was in Lucifer’s nightclub, the room where Lucifer met Chloe, the very spot where Cain and Amenadiel fought, right near the spot where Lucifer caught his mother dancing on a table.

You live in the moment as hard as you can, for as long as it lasts.

The guide felt that the filming process would be best explained with two volunteers representing the actors, so he could describe how the lights and camera would be perfectly positioned for one of them, then they’d reset and film, say, the Chloe close-ups. I was volunteer number one, being the group’s Lucifer fan, and a girl there with her dad was volunteer number two. After explaining the lighting set-up, the guide turned to me expectantly and said “Action.”

I did the only thing that made sense.

I slipped into my best Tom Ellis impression, saying “Well, Detective, I hardly see how that’s relevant to the case. May as well relax and have a drink!”

I am… very grateful no cast member was anywhere nearby, because we shouldn’t be assuming that my “best” Tom Ellis impression was, you know… good in some way.

After that was the Batmobiles, and then the lot museum, with displays on how green screens work, clay models from Corpse Bride, costumes and props from Beetlejuice, Jack Warner’s phone book, all sorts of stuff from all sorts of WB projects…

Even the gift shop has CW superhero costumes on display.

But it was hard to top those few minutes in Lux. 

Good day. Great day. Not even those mixtape pushers or the long drive back to Anaheim could compromise it.

And then I ended up watching Netflix or something instead of using the hotel pool. Look, in my defense, I’d been waiting since the previous June to finish off The People Vs. OJ Simpson. Given how little I cared about that trial when it was happening, I got weirdly into the TV show based on it…

I came for the nostalgia, but I received a gift.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the only thing I did that week inspired by a TV show I watched. We’ll discuss the other two next time.

In the summers of 1995-1997, I spent three amazing, magical, life-changing long weekends in Los Angeles. In October of 2018, once my memories of LA were old enough to get drunk there, I returned.

These are the stories of my return to the City of Angels.

And the jags with the mixtapes.

But First, A Quick Summary

I’m kind of skipping over a day of the trip, here, ’cause, well, it was two things that either require no explanation or utterly defy it.

In the afternoon I made a trip to Universal Studios, which I had visited in both 1983 and 1997, so, yes, this qualified for the “nostalgia tour” portion of the trip. The rides were decent, the crowds a fraction of those at Disneyland (I got into the biggest marquee ride in about five minutes, and that was with stops to watch videos by the Harry Potter cast), but as theme parks go, it’s still just a shadow of its younger sibling in Orlando. But that’s not entirely fair, since Universal Studios Orlando can spread out and be as lavish as they want, while Universal Studios Hollywood is a mini-theme park latched onto a working film/TV studio, so there’s really only so much space.

Rides and restaurants based on Harry Potter, the Simpsons, Transformers, Despicable Me, and a little bit The Mummy were fun, the Waterworld stunt show was impressive, but then there’s the studio tour, which now includes two 3D experiences based on Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the Fasts and Furiousesand also the exact same animatronic shark from 1983.

I suppose realistic sharks aren’t on-brand for the Jaws movies.

I guess some things are just institutions. 

That evening I made my way downtown… and isn’t rush hour LA traffic just a joy… to meet up with friends also in LA for a show called Lucha VaVOOM

There is little point in trying to blog about that experience. I have only words. And words cannot do it justice. So here’s this.

GLORIOUS.

Anyhoo. Our top story this entry.

Back When: LAFF ’95

Why is it that I’m devoted enough to comic book television that last season I watched and ranked 22 different shows, some of which were excruciating to get through? Because there was a time when seeing superheroes I loved on television was a rarity. Something rare and special to be clung to, no matter how dumb the villains could be. And so it was that I spent four years religiously watching, taping, and rewatching Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

As good as it got in 1993.

I came to this show right before I started exploring these newfangled things my friends were on about called “email” and “webpages.” And so did I join an online community devoted to the show, the Fans of Lois and Clark, or “FOLCs.” A group that existed through email, because while discussion boards very obviously existed and had done for quite some time, the email list was less troll-infested, flame-war free, and a more positive experience. 

Positive enough that in the summer following season two, many of us agreed to all meet in Los Angeles, see the Warner Bros. studio, and have ourselves a big, nerdy party.

It was a weekend of non-stop fun, where people who had been names on a screen became the closest of close friends, even if only for a few days. Groups of us hit Disneyland, went to Venice Beach. We had a costume party and a big fancy dinner attended by K Callan, who played Superman’s mother on the show. And of course, the Warner Bros. studio tour.

I’m next to the traffic light. In an Edmonton Fringe graphic t-shirt. Thanks for dressing up, Young Me.

We not only saw all of the usual tour stops, they let us into two of the soundstages: Clark Kent’s apartment, and the Daily Planet.

Gathered in the bullpen.

Where we were met for a Q&A/meet and greet with the show’s producers, K Callan… and to our surprise, Dean Cain, Teri Hatcher, and Justin Whalen, the second Jimmy Olsen. Which was bold, because the recasting was not met with the openest of arms. Justin made himself some die-hard fans that afternoon.

It was a magical three days that not even a sudden case of stomach flu or maybe food poisoning on the last morning could spoil. There was no question about going back the next summer, or the summer after that. I think they may have kept it going until 2000, or maybe that was just a reunion. And maybe the studio tour was never as awesome as that first trip, but each Los Angeles FOLC Fest remained magical. Each time was a reunion with treasured friends, and a chance to make new ones.

Friends I lost track of as the show ended and we drifted apart. This was the 90s. Social media was a decade away. Keeping up with people in other cities was a challenge. It was like summer camp… or what TV tells me “summer camp” was like, since all I have to personally base that comparison on is a drama camp called Artstrek I went to a couple of summers in high school–

I just admitted to going to a convention for fans of Lois and Clark. Thrice. You think you can shame me over drama camp? Bring it.

Anyway, you go to summer camp, you meet other kids, you promise to write each other, and then you don’t. Except in this case you wrote each other a lot, talked about a TV show, swapped fanfics– you’ll never prove I wrote one– but then the show ended and you just kind of… stopped. Most of us. The community never died completely, there’s still an active message board… including a thread on Supergirl, so hey, still active… but by and large, it’s just a treasured memory. Even if all I have are a handful of old photos that are… somewhere? Maybe in my house? I honestly don’t know.

But those three weekends were the heart of the nostalgia driving large chunks of this trip. Outside of Disney with Dara, almost everything I did in LA was connected to something I did at one of the Los Angeles FOLC* Fests.

And while it might not have been first, the most notable was a return to the Warner Bros. Studio.

Road to the WB

You don’t need to be part of a convention to get a tour of the Warner Bros. lot. You just need to show up and pay for the tour. Or, in my case, have your travel agent book it for you, and also include a shuttle because the studio is in Burbank and that is not close to Anaheim, nothing is close to Anaheim, but your hotel was picked for proximity to Disneyland so here you are.

The drawback, in my case, is that the shuttle was not taking us directly to the studio. First, there was a stop in Hollywood, for some individual sightseeing by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, right in the heart of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I’d never been to the Walk of Fame. Not… not 100% due to lack of interest, because back during LAFF ’95, the OG LAFF, there had been talk between me and another attendee about trying to catch a movie at Grauman’s, which technically would have meant going to the Walk of Fame (the best Walk real estate is within a block of that theatre), but it is mostly from lack of interest.

Because Hollywood is kind of a dive.

It’s not even the heart of the movie industry if we’re being honest. Warner Brothers and Disney’s studios are both in Burbank, as Universal might be if they hadn’t declared themselves to be a separate division called “Universal City.” And all of that is a ways from Hollywood. But there was 90 minutes before my shuttle would depart for the studio, so I decided to explore.

The Mix Tape

The vast majority of the Walk of Fame is not exactly glamorous. It’s people’s names on stars in front of small car dealerships and apartment buildings and fast food joints. Really, there’s just one block that’s really noteworthy and touristy. It has Grauman’s, the theatre where Jimmy Kimmel records, two rival wax museums… can we agree that it was a dick move for Madame Tussaud’s to move in down the street from the Hollywood Wax Museum? All that city and they just…

And because all the tourist spots were right there, so were the Scavengers.

You know the Scavengers. They lurk in Hollywood, Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, downtown Havana… they wear pop culture costumes and pose for pictures in exchange for tips. In cities where they can get away with it, women wear as little as possible and offer pictures with them. They dress as Yoda or monks and pretend to hover or balance on a pole. On the Walk of Fame, they’ll put your name on a blank star and let you pose by it with an Oscar statue, and yes people did that in my presence, so I guess there’s a demand.

But the worst, to my current estimation, are the jags handing out their “mixtape.”

Sure, some of the costume folk don’t have the best outfits… some are downright unsettling… 

Filthy Elmo is a haunting sight.

…but most of them let you come to them. Sure they’ll wave and encourage you to come over, but they won’t chase you down. Probably? Damn, shouldn’t have put the image in my head, gonna have nightmares about Filthy Elmo loping after me… 

The Mixtape Hawkers, on the other hand, will come right at you and all but shove a CD they claim contains their music right into your hands. Putting aside that this is the exact method a Chinese hacker army used to compromise a security company on Mr. Robot, they’re peak annoying because of that aggression. When the second hawkster approached me outside Grauman’s, I sighed and took the CD, thinking that maybe this was a Fringe artist handing out fliers situation, that he just wanted his music Out There. No. Oh no.

“Sir! Sir? Sir! Sir!” came his voice as he followed after me. “Want me to sign it for five bucks?” I did not, and told him so. “Sir! Sir? Sir!” He assures me he’s not a bum, he’s an artist. I try to keep walking. “Sir! Sir! Sir? Sir!” Will I share his music with my friends? Yes, I say, as I absolutely have friends I’m willing to torment with some mamaluke’s shitty rap CD. “Sir? Sir! Sir!” I turn back one more time, saying “I would really like to move on with my day now.” He asks for a tip. What he gets is his CD shoved back into his hands, and I depart.

I have learned the best defense from his ilk is a brisk walking pace. Don’t break your gait, don’t make physical contact with the CD, don’t make eye contact, don’t acknowledge them as people. Which led me, weeks later, to text my brother saying our father could no longer be allowed to walk Times Square unaccompanied. Without some combination of my brother, myself, and our mother, his genial and outgoing nature would leave him a target for the Mixtape Hawksters, who need only a friendly word to lock onto you with their pitch. And my dad has a friendly word for everyone.

I did not inherit this. I take after my more suspicious mother. Or perhaps eight years of dealing with bullies left me with a wary eye to outsiders. Who knows? Our lives are complex tapestries. Anyway.

The Exploration

To avoid this mope and his nonsense, I move away from Grauman’s for the next chunk of my mandatory 90 minute exploration of Hollywood. I follow one side of the Walk of Fame as far west as it goes, to see who’s on the end. The answer is no one. The western terminus of the north side of the Walk of Fame is a blank star. Can’t blame modern celebrities for not jumping at the chance to claim it, it’s basically by just a minimall. The last name, right before this blank star, is Spanky McFarland.

Calm down. He was a Little Rascal.

I suppose I could have seen how the other side of the street ended. Not sure why I didn’t.

I note that Lloyd Bridges is flanked by both of his sons, and that Charles Schultz is right next to his signature creation, Snoopy. A courtesy not extended to Walt Disney, a few feet from Mickey Mouse, or Chuck Jones, who is separated from Bugs Bunny by Lurene Tuttle.

A character actress and acting coach who went from Vaudeville to being known as the
“First Lady of Radio,” and someone thought her worth remembering.

From there I headed north, wanting to catch a glimpse of the Magic Castle, because I think it’s neat that place exists. I don’t know what one has to do to score an invite to a show there, but if the Netflix series Love is correct, part of the process is “wear a suit jacket,” and I did not pack one.

I went to a Walgreen’s to buy water and contact lens solution. That’s not exciting, it’s just something I did. I was worried about running out. Look, not everything is an adventure.

And finally, I paid homage to my first WB Studio tour. On the way back to the hotel, someone in my carpool said they were craving a milkshake. Within seconds, we all were. I don’t know what every other car was doing, but we pulled into a 50s diner down the road from the hotel for burgers and milkshakes. It seemed fitting, then, to seek one out now, since it was lunchtime and there was a Hard Rock Cafe near the Grauman’s hub, because of course there was.

Chocolate, frosty, and delicious.

I didn’t succumb to either wax museum, lacking both time and interest… I once loved wax museums, for reasons that I recall only vaguely, like a half-remembered dream, but lost interest in 2011. I didn’t pay anyone for a photo with them or a fake Hollywood star. And I didn’t take advantage of an offer our tour shuttle provided, a free gift with any purchase (presumably over a certain, unspecified amount) at the large souvenir shop across from Madame Tussaud’s. Because I couldn’t see one thing among the chintzy souvenirs, t-shirts, coffee mugs, or obligatory Funko Pops that I’d want to bring home and display. Or give as a gift. There is no one in my life who seems like they need a miniature director’s megaphone or a coffee mug with “Hollywood!” written on it. Or a tiny statue of a Walking Dead character with a giant, rectangular head.

I don’t really get Funko Pops. Yes I own three of them but not by choice. 

And so, eventually, it was time to wait for my shuttle to the Warner lot… where a moment of utter joy awaited me.

Which we’ll discuss next time.

Complaining about the jag with the mixtape took up a lot of space.

God he was a jag, though.

In the summers of 1995-1997, I spent three amazing, magical, life-changing long weekends in Los Angeles. In October of 2018, once my memories of LA were old enough to get drunk there, I returned.

These are the stories of my return to the City of Angels.

And the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth.

Dara’s First Disney

The motivation for the trip, the reason for the season, as it were, was that when my parents were babysitting my niece Dara while her parents were in Seattle for a conference, my father seized the opportunity to take Dara on her first trip to Disneyland, now that she’s old enough to appreciate/ remember it but my parents aren’t yet too old to go with her. Which… was a tricky needle to thread. This year was kind of The Window.

More enthused than she looks, I assure you.

Still, they felt some backup would be useful, in the form of their other son, who refuses to admit he hasn’t been 27 for some time, and thus is 100% ready to go on every ride with young Dara.

Except for It’s a Small World After All. I drew a line at that earworm nightmare factory. Which turned out not to be necessary, because it was closed for refurbishmentScore.

Silent as the grave it belongs in.

We arrived late afternoon on Monday, with three-day park-hopping passes that would allow us to Disney our hearts out until Wednesday. So while I had other things I wanted to tackle in Metropolitan LA, Monday until Wednesday were devoted to Disney. And also, as it turned out, the following Sunday, when it became obvious to me that getting anywhere else from Anaheim and doing something there would easily be as expensive if not moreso than just going back to Disneyland.

I could attempt a blow-by-blow summary of our visit, but instead, here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m going to walk you through the rides we hit along the way, ranked in order of how badly they need an upgrade, least to most. And where there are stories, there’ll be stories.

Haunted Mansion

Okay this one’s probably cheating. Because while Disney was celebrating Halloween, the entire Haunted Mansion ride was remodeled into The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was awesome because I love that movie. Dara… didn’t get the reference, but this ride typically had the second longest lines of anything in either Disneyland or the California Adventure (after that Cars ride that we didn’t go on due to long lines, with Space Mountain a competitive third), so clearly celebrating Nightmare’s 25th anniversary by taking over the Mansion was the right call. And while a Left 4 Dead Disneyland mod had had me nostalgic for the classic ride, it was a thrill seeing so many familiar faces brought to crude, animatronic life.

Jack!

Sally! (Who blinked.)

Mr. Oogie Boogie says that trouble’s close at hand…

This is Halloween!

Including the clown with the tearaway face! Here in a flash and gone without a trace!

So I would say “No update needed.” And frankly the ghost effects they hadn’t changed basically hold up. So… no need for an update, shame they’ve probably changed it back. Or will after Christmas probably? I don’t actually know.

Side story… since Halloween was approaching, and both parks were celebrating it, the all-seeing eyes of Disney Security laid down arms on the whole “no costumes” rule. So it was like being at Disneyland and Comic Expo all at once. Super neat.

No I don’t have pictures. Don’t take cosplayers’ photos without their consent. Comic Expo 101.

Huh? Well why didn’t YOU just ask them for a photo, if you’re so damn smart? Moving on.

The Incredicoaster

Hint: It isn’t the Ferris wheel.

Located on Pixar Pier, one of their attempts to jazz up the less-popular California Adventure park, the Incredicoaster is one of the more thrilling rides in either side of Greater Metropolitan Disneyland, themed after the Incredibles franchise. It’s another ride that I suspect just received an upgrade, based on how much Incredibles 2 there was in it, and one of the two rides visible from our hotel just outside park grounds. The premise, because we’re in Disneyland so rides need a premise, is that baby Jack-Jack has gotten loose and the entire Parr/Incredibles family is out to catch him. The coaster goes through a series of tunnels, each of which contains a few Incredibles statues, with voice-overs from the cast playing through the back of your seat.

It’s a fun experience, and the only ride in either park where you end up upside-down, and Dara loved it. My only real uncle-failing in those three days was not going with her a second time, wanting instead to head back to Disneyland proper for Indiana Jones and maybe another go-round on Haunted Mansion. I don’t know, maybe the next window for Fast Passes* on the Incredicoaster was too far away. Pixar Pier is trying its best but there’s only so much to do there while waiting for your Fast Pass window.

Anyway, the Incredicoaster is basically perfect, change nothing.

*Those wanting to skip longer lines for the more popular marquee rides can get Fast Passes, but they’re for specific times, they only give out so many per time slot, and after you’ve gotten one they make you wait a while before you can get another. A decent way to make shorter lines possible for all without making the express line as long and slow as the regular line.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout

I suspect this was formerly the Tower of Terror, but has now been re-modeled into the Guardians of the Galaxy, likely as a first step into reclaiming Marvel-based rides from Universal Studios Orlando. Stark Industries fences surrounding the area behind this ride imply more might be on the way.

Anyhoo, on a visit to the collection of Taneleer Tivan, an animatronic Rocket Racoon enlists our “aid” in springing the rest of the Guardians from their display cases, which we saw in a video featuring the full cast (save for Mantis or Nebula and whatnot) that played in the lineup area.

This is my one complaint about this ride. The lineup area was so entertaining that it was the only time that week I felt a lineup went too fast. I kept not noticing it had moved because I was watching the video or getting a photo of an Ultron drone.

The ride boils down to being flung up an elevator shaft to a video of the Guardians, then dropped, then repeat a few times, also once instead of the video it was a camera for a souvenir photo. Pretty fun, though Dara enjoyed it somewhat more than me and much, much more than her grandmother.

Nothing to change here.

Star Tours

Security droids at work.

Before this trip I had only ridden Star Tours in French. My first trip to Disneyland it didn’t exist. My second trip was three days before it opened. My third… must have been closed for repairs? July hardly seems like the time for ride maintenance, but I know for a fact that until last month I’d only ridden Star Tours at Eurodisney, where an excitable French droid flew us through a few familiar sights and into the trench of the Death Star. I knew enough french at the time to follow what he was saying (he assured us that it was okay to be nervous on your first Star Tour flight, because hey, it was his first time too), but it wasn’t the same. And so on day two I stayed in the park after everyone else had left for the hotel because I knew on day three we were at least opening with California Adventure and by God I was riding Star Tours in English.

Was the ride always “flown” by C-3PO and R2-D2? I don’t know. I only know that in 1994, outside of Paris, it was some French droid.

Anyway, I was briefed by friends back home that Star Tours now has a variety of locations that shift from ride to ride, so despite thinking it was still out of date (my first ride took us to Hoth circa Empire Strikes Back and Coruscant circa Revenge of the Sith, which is already an update from the 90s), later rides hit scenes and featured characters from both Force Awakens and The Last Jedi… which no doubt angers the worst kind of Star Wars fan but screw them. Toxic fandoms are why we can’t have nice things.

Sorry, got distracted… ride’s great, change nothing.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

It’s fast, it’s fun, it doesn’t hinge on characters that aren’t popular anymore, what’s not to like? Dara loved it and so did I.

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

Dara’s ready to see some sights.

As our second day of Disney began (the first started in the late afternoon, since we all had to fly to LA and be driven to the far side of it from LAX before Disneying), we monorailed into Tomorrowland, where I was eager to settle a 35-year-old score. When I was a small child, I wanted to ride the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride, which had a giant squid in it, but my brother had gotten lost and to my great annoyance my parents insisted on finding their misplaced first born before we could go on any more rides.

So the first thing I pitched on day two was the submarine ride, which has already been upgraded. Instead of cruising past sea creatures and lost Atlantis maybe, the submarine now brings you through a hologram-filled summary of Finding Nemo. Which, yes, based only on how well Jungle Cruise holds up (it doesn’t), is a distinct improvement over the old version.

Dara may not have been thoroughly impressed by the experience, especially since I don’t believe she’s seen Finding Nemo either. I suspect this because we got off the ride and she said to me “…That’s the ride you wanted to go on twice?”

Still though… entertaining.

Space Mountain

A mountain in space. Could not be more clear.

After the submarine ride, the plan was that Dara and I would check out the Matterhorn Bobsleds while my parents figured out Fast Passes and got us some for Haunted Mansion, then we’d all meet back in front of the submarines.

Well, the Matterhorn was also closed for refurbishment. Maybe it’s getting a facelift, maybe it just needed maintenance before the holiday rush, I don’t know. But we returned to Tomorrowland, to the agreed upon waiting spot. When we arrived I looked around, and thought.

“This is the spot,” I said to Dara. “This is the exact spot I had to wait until Grandpa found your dad. Well. This won’t do at all. Want to go on Space Mountain?” She did, so we did.

Ready for space!

It was one of her favourites. Sure, they’d added some spooky space ghost videos along the way to Halloween it up into Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy, but it would still be fun without them. This one Dara got to do again, and was not having any protests from her grandparents about not joining us.

I could have put this over Finding Nemo Submarine but the stories flow better this way.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

It might not be fast but you get to shoot things.

You get a car you can spin around, and lasers to fire at Buzz Lightyear’s nemeses. Dara and I did it twice at least, and I tried to beat my high score each time. She didn’t notice or at least chose not to comment on the fact that I was much better at shooting targets.

Frankly, I feel that their score chart has some unrealistic numbers on it. I shot targets like a mo’fo’ and sometimes the ride stopped but you could keep shooting, but still only made it to the third ranking. I call shenanigans.

I guess if you rode it enough to know where all of the highest scoring targets are you could get higher. I feel that takes devotion.

Indiana Jones Adventure

Various safety signs and the video featuring a John Rhys-Davies impersonator claimed this was a ride like nothing we’d experienced. Okay. Maybe in the early 90s, when it debuted, but that claim has gotten less credible.

I swear this one used to be a multi-track ride, where there were multiple ways it could go. Not so now. I could see there was only one track.

It’s fast and fairly fun, sure. In the 90s they must have known they’d have to move past slow rides where you drift past recognizable characters (or pirates or ghosts) in order to keep up with Six Flags and the increasingly aggressive push into the theme park business from Universal Studios.

Dara didn’t care for it, though. She kept her head down because the safety video said not to look at the eyes of the big idol and she took that very seriously. Also there were a few sections where it was just dark and kind of slow, and when I went back on my solo Sunday trip I confirmed that in at least one case it was from something not working. Specifically the giant boulder missed its cue. Should have just taken her on the Incredicoaster again.

This one doesn’t need an update so much as some repairs and maybe fewer dark corridors.

Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, that stuff

A car takes you through a series of animatronics based on a popular Disney story. There’s a bunch of them. None of them have Fast Passes as far as I know. They’re fine. Dara went on the 100 Acre Wood ride twice in a row, so clearly the kids still like them.

Soarin’ Around the World

You get on a big bench that raises into the air, then watch an IMAX video of swooping past or over famous landmarks from around the world, ending quite coincidentally at Disneyland of all places.

It’s… fine. A little overhyped but not boring. Don’t exactly know what they could do to improve it, short of Star Tours-ing it somehow.

Also don’t know why Patrick Warburton does the safety video, but there he is.

I guess he is a little less successful than I think he is…

Pirates of the Caribbean

Now we get into the old-and-busted, people.

This ride has changed twice since I saw it last. First, I’m positive all the dead-pirate stuff used to be at the end of the ride. Like, the pirates looted and pillaged and, yes, used to be kinda rapey, and then they all died and we had a bunch of skeleton pirates pantomiming pirate life or just near treasure. Now the skeletons are all at the front. So the people in the restaurant that overlooks the start of the ride might have to listen to the booming voice saying “Dead men tell no tales” more often than the Geneva Convention should allow.

Second, the pirate voice-overs have been changed so that pirates occasionally utter complaints about or threats against Captain Jack Sparrow. And, yes, there is at least one, possibly more, robot Jack Sparrows scattered around, most notably one at the very end of the ride sitting on a pie of treasure and giving C-grade Sparrow monologues.

The issue is, they don’t want to replace all of the decades-old pirate robots for a more modern kind of animatronic… if such a thing exists… so the Jacks Sparrow are all designed to look just as old and jerky as the rest of the pirates.

Has this affected the popularity of this ride, based around drifting past pirates not lifelike enough to even approach the uncanny valley? Well, the line was rarely over 30 minutes and it wasn’t eligible for Fast Passes, so you tell me. It’s clearly beneath Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain… all the mountains, really…and instead on par with Peter Pan’s Flight and Alice in Wonderland.

And Dara didn’t care for this one at all. Can’t say I blame her. The pirate ship battling a fortress was pretty cool, with the Barbosa-looking captain at the helm (I suspect Geoffrey Rush was made up to resemble this robot, rather than vice versa), but this was the one time I rolled my eyes at the tacked-on Jack Sparrow references.

You are in a cannon fight with a fortress, dude. Maybe Jack Sparrow’s location and current schemes aren’t your biggest problem right now.

I’m as shocked as anyone that Pirates of the Caribbean is still a movie franchise, but it is, so maybe this ride could use an overhaul to be a little more exciting.

Jungle Cruise

Soon to be a movie starring DwayneTheRock Johnson (just “Dwayne” if you’re feeling familiar), I suspect this one might be due for an upgrade… but based on how little Pirates of the Caribbean changed, I’m probably wrong.

The problem here is that the fifty year-old animatronic animals aren’t as impressive as they were when the park opened, and there is no getting around this. They’re statues that move slightly, and that is not competing with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey over at Universal. So their method of making the ride more entertaining for attendees is to give the guides a series of jokes to tell along the route. Example… when we passed under a stone arch, our guide said this:

“Does anyone know what these two things that hold up the arch are called? Yeah, I don’t know what you column either.”

Stuff like that.

So it could probably use a new take. I worry that moving it away from “Slowly drift past robots older than disco” might be too much effort.

Splash Mountain

“Uncle Dan is trying to be cool,” Dara said. “Uncle Dan IS cool,” I replied. Also I promise you Dad is both alive and awake.

Okay. So. Splash Mountain. Where it seemed my job was to act as human shield between Dara and the titular splashes. I got very wet. She did not. So it seems she got her way on that one.

It’s an institution, clearly, so you can’t just get rid of it, but the problem, right, the problem is that in between splash descents, it’s all Brer Rabbit scenes. Brer Rabbit hasn’t been a thing in so long that even I can’t name most of what’s happening on this ride. Shenanigans from a movie that they’ve hidden from the public since the Reagan administration.

Maybe having a ride partially based on a movie they won’t even put out on video anymore isn’t the best plan? This one has clearly been coasting on the splashing.

Yes Dara liked Splash Mountain. But did she like the ride, or did she like the fact that Granpa and Uncle Dan got very, very wet? Because I suspect the latter.

Overall, though, Disneyland sure has its charms. Yes, the streetcar that made its way through the California Adventure playing “California Here We Come” over and over seemed like an unendurable hellscape for the poor staffers who had to ride it and wave to people, but the band on Pixar Pier that played upbeat versions of songs from Pixar movies (including this old favourite) was fun. Sure not every ride is a thrillfest, but the ones that are don’t hold back. And Dara certainly had a great time overall. In fact, she wants to go back soon, and when I heard that, I could only say…

“She wants to go back in July? She’s mad. Mad, I tell you.”

Next time… the nostalgia tour begins. Or continues? Not like Disneyland was free of nostalgia…

Oh hey guys. What’s up? Been a little while. Plenty to talk about. I have a nostalgia trip to wax poetic about, stories to tell about the Big Apple, and since by the time I’m done my Doctor Who rewatch series 11 will be done I guess I may as well write it up… but before I get to any of that, there’s just oooooone little thing I need out of my brain.

Let’s talk Daredevil.

Daredevil Season Three: Fall and Rise

Daredevil season three dropped not so very long ago, making 2018 the first year that Marvel Netflix released a solo season for each of the four Defenders… and, given that it came on the heels of the cancellation of both Iron Fist and Luke Cage, the last.

(Also, real quick, gonna cram in another blog topic I’m probably unlikely to get to.)

(Ahem. Dear Iron Fist. You were pretty shit in your first season, and you dragged down the first and only season of The Defenders, making this whole Marvel Netflix connected universe feel like a let-down. But damned if you didn’t at least try to bounce back. You took some of the big problems of season one… Danny has no personality beyond being the Iron Fist, Danny is bad at being the Iron Fist, Colleen was more interesting as a lead… and made them into your narrative arc for the year. Clever move that made for a better show. The show still wasn’t perfect… I never had any sympathy for Joy Meechum as a character, Colleen’s subplot got put on hold so many times I kept forgetting what it was, and your A-plot boils down to two five-episode slogs to two plot points of interest… but hey you were trying. Shame you left so much on the table for a third season that isn’t coming, but you were no longer Marvel’s worst TV show, not even the worst this season.)

(Look, I’m sorry if you disagree, but Cloak and Dagger had some goddamn flaws and maybe we could just admit that.)

So. Yes. Daredevil. A few spoilers will result, there’s really no way around that if I’m going to discuss this in any detail, and I mean to do just that.

First off, the basics, in which Daredevil has fallen but the Kingpin is on the rise. We pick up a couple of months after Defenders. Matt, presumed dead by his pal Foggy Nelson but merely missing by still-not-his-love-interest Karen Page, is in the church where he was raised after the death of his father, healing from having a building fall on him, and spiritually crushed from the whole business with Elektra. Wilson Fisk, meanwhile, begins to enact a plan to get himself out of prison and back into the heights of high society, while building a new crime empire. Matt, Foggy, and Karen each search for ways to get Fisk back in prison, but he’s worked hard to be untouchable, sets out to destroy Matt and the very name of Daredevil, and begins grooming a new chief enforcer in Ben “Dex” Poindexter, an FBI agent with lethal aim and severe borderline personality disorder.

Yes, I know exactly which comic character he is, thanks, but I’ll call him Bullseye when they call him Bullseye. Until then he’s “Dex” or “Fake Daredevil.”

It’s the follow-up to Daredevil’s great first season that season two failed to be, the Fast and Furious to season two’s 2 Fast 2 Furious. Season two, in fact, is all but scrubbed from memory. There are some lingering effects… The law firm of Nelson & Murdock remains broken up, we address what happened immediately after the season two cliffhanger of Matt confessing his other identity to Karen (through a flashback, since all of Defenders happened since then), Fisk seeming to have figured out Matt’s secret comes into play, and Elektra gets mentioned exactly once, but otherwise season two is forgotten. We just pick up on everything that’s been dangling since season one and try to pretend the Hand didn’t happen.

Which is for the best. Marvel Netflix fucked up the Hand so thoroughly there’s no real redemption for it now.

So how’d it turn out?

Good. Pretty good. Couple… couple of problems I want to get into, but first let’s cover what they did well.

The cast is stellar. Charlie Cox does solid work as the spiritually lost Matt Murdock, turning his back on his old path and considering breaking his no-kill rule to keep Fisk from hurting anyone. Vincent D’Onfrio remains excellent as Fisk, now adopting the name Kingpin (leaving him off the Best Villains list three years back remains my biggest blunder in comic TV rankings… also I seem to be the only Flash fan who liked Tom Felton as Julien Albert, but that’s another issue). Deborah Ann Woll is riveting as Karen Page. She’s been doing great, subtle work conveying Page’s guilt and torment over killing Fisk’s right-hand man Wesley back in season one, but this year it finally comes to a boil. Wilson Bethel kills it (excuse the expression) as Dex, and newcomer Jay Ali is great as FBI Agent Ray Nadeem. And Elden Henson (Foggy) doesn’t whiff his big moments as badly as he did in season two.

A more centralized arc makes for a stronger season than… most Marvel Netflix seasons. The focus on Nelson, Murdock, and Page against Fisk and Fake Daredevil means no third act collapse like early Luke Cage or season two Daredevil, and no games of villain roulette like early Iron Fist. All without spending six episodes getting to the point like Jessica Jones’ second season.

There is, however, one large problem. Let’s discuss it.

The Problem With Kingpin

In last season’s rankings, the silver medalist for “Worst Trend” was the all-knowing mastermind, and that one’s all over Daredevil this year.

Okay. Let’s assume that you, reader representing all readers, don’t watch as much comic book TV as I do. This seems highly probable because I don’t actually know anyone who watches as much comic TV as I do. So based on that, let’s further assume that you haven’t done this dance with Prometheus, Cayden James, Ricardo Diaz, Shadow King, Hiram Lodge, and lesser versions like the Thinker. That your reaction isn’t “Jesus, not this again.” Kingpin being five steps ahead of Daredevil and pals all season still doesn’t really work. Allow me to explain.

Yes I have to get into spoiler territory. I’ll try to avoid specifics but I have to talk about the season as a whole, yeah?

For twelve episodes Kingpin can’t be touched. For twelve episodes we learn again and again that his influence is worse than we knew, that he has leverage everywhere. For twelve episodes every single move Matt, Karen, or Foggy makes fails completely.

It is one thing for Ethan Hunt to be playing defence for an entire Mission: Impossible movie. Over two or two and a half hours, with action movie pacing, it’s thrilling. Over 13 hours, it’s a slog. When you’re ten episodes deep on a show, and the heroes haven’t had a win yet, and there are three episodes left, it can make pushing through a challenge. And it’s repetitive. It’s a slog and it has no levels. Daredevil’s first season managed this so much better, with Fisk’s criminal cabal of international stereotypes acting as minibosses, giving Matt a sense of progress as the season played out. Now it’s just Fisk winning more and more and the audience thinking “I don’t know, maybe Matt does need to kill him.”

And the other issue is, when Team Daredevil hasn’t managed a win in twelve episodes, it makes the wrap-up super forced and very unearned. There isn’t a thing they’ve been able to do to get Fisk one step closer to prison the entire season, their one big chance collapsed at the finish line in episode 12 because Fisk is that good, and then in the finale, they topple his entire operation with two phone calls and a viral video. Poof. Mission accomplished in one afternoon, with time to grab a slice downtown before dark. Fisk was a brilliant mastermind, constantly five steps ahead, able to counter any gambit, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t and his whole life fell apart (literally, thanks to the big final fight). That’s weak writing. Maybe if over the course of the season Team Real Daredevil had actually made progress, whittled down some of Fisk’s infrastructure and support system (like they did in the superior first season), the ending would have felt more earned. But they didn’t and it felt forced. They reached a mega-happy ending that would make a decent series finale so fast that it’ll give you whiplash. Of course, if the Marvel TV purge that brought down both Iron Fist and Luke Cage hits them next, we’ll be glad for the closure, but still.

Agent Nadeem

At first, towards the end of the premiere, when all the characters we knew disappeared and we shifted to some guy we’d never met having a party for his kid, it was a little throwing. He’s Special Agent Rahul “Ray” Nadeem, and he’d had to foot the bill for his sister-in-laws’ cancer treatments, which makes him ineligible for promotion because he’s seen as a criminal recruitment risk, or so they tell him. If you’re like me, when he takes up maybe a third of the premiere, you might think “What’s up with this guy?”

But do it with genuine curiosity in your voice, not annoyance, because he works pretty damn well.

Agent Nadeem puts a human face on Fisk’s ability to control people. The way he creates a need, provides a solution, and then leverages that to control his target. Ray’s a good guy, but he’s forced into a bad place, because that’s what Fisk does. Were it not for Ray, Fisk’s growing influence would have been even harder to choke down as a long arc, but viewing it all through Ray’s increasingly troubled eyes makes it almost work (again, all-knowing masterminds are just… they’re not as interesting to watch as people think).

And as I said above, Jay Ali sells the hell out of it, especially as he tries to dig his way back out.

Would that our actual lead was quite as well realized. However.

Matt’s Moral Code (Or Lack Thereof)

The ethics of killing are always, always a talking point in Marvel Netflix shows. The Defenders take a much harder line against bloodshed than the cinematic Avengers ever have. The morality of killing was the point of contention between Daredevil and the Punisher in the good part of Daredevil’s second season, and between Danny Rand and Davos in the second season of Iron Fist (although Davos’ willingness to kill his enemies proved to be slightly less of an issue than how quickly he was willing to classify someone as “enemy”). A desire to prevent deaths was Luke Cage’s only contribution to the main story of his second season. Jessica Jones is tormented by every death on her hands.

Of course this branch of Marvel TV also has The Punisher, a story driven by dozens of justice murders, which is kind of a mixed message, but anyway.

So the big question facing Matt this season is whether or not he’ll break his moral code and kill Wilson Fisk, assuming he can even get an opening to do so. They certainly try to make the stakes on this as high as they can, but… this hard and fast “no killing” rule they’re talking about hasn’t been hard or fast for a while. The second season, which they might want to forget but definitely happened, already established that while Daredevil doesn’t kill, if someone else is killing his enemies to help him out, that’s just fine by him and God, I guess. In the second season finale, both Elektra and Frank Castle killed a bunch of Hand ninjas right next to Matt and I didn’t see him complaining.

Man. Remember when the Hand actually had ninjas? We didn’t know when we were well off.

At first, Matt just wants to get Fisk back into prison, where the Albanian gang he betrayed to set his plan in motion can kill him at their leisure. That seems to fit with Matt’s moral code thus far. He isn’t killing Fisk himself, he’s just arranging for someone else to do it on his behalf, like Frank sniping all those ninjas so Matt could throw Head Ninja off the roof and Stick could cut his head off. Like that but less colourful and more prison-stabby. But something changes after Plan A goes awry with the arrival of Fake Daredevil. From there, Matt becomes determined that he must kill Fisk himself.

Him and him alone, it seems. Because upon arranging matters to put Fisk’s life in mortal peril (those two phone calls I mentioned), Matt then saves his life so that he can do it himself? That seems unnecessary. I guess not wanting to sully anyone else’s hands with the act seems like Matt’s endless martyrdom all over on paper, even if the hands he’s keeping clean are already drenched in blood, but letting someone else do his killing for him actually is Matt all over based on his actions in season two.

Man but season two has a lot to answer for. No wonder they’re trying to forget it happened so hard they gave Punisher a second origin.

And there’s a second failing on Matt’s part. His sin, as the Operative from Serenity would say, is pride.

Standing Alone

Despite having just made three super-powered pals (four now, with Colleen), and having a potential new friend inside the NYPD in the form of Misty Knight, Matt decides to take on Fisk’s nigh-infinite resources and unstoppable muscle all by himself, only begrudgingly turning to Foggy and Karen for help.

When Sister Maggie, the nun who raised him (and comic fans know where that’s going), asks why he doesn’t focus on healing and ask any other powered hero to take point on this, he just says “It’s not their fight.”

That is just the laziest goddamn excuse.

I’m not saying this should have become the defacto second season of Defenders, the way Captian America: Civil War was essentially Avengers 2.5. That isn’t how these things work, and ultimately it’s too easy. The real reason he never calls Luke Cage for help, even when he finds himself needing to be in two places at once, is that they needed Fake Daredevil to win his first two rounds against Real Daredevil, and Fake Daredevil wouldn’t have lasted five minutes against Luke Cage, given that being able to throw a pencil with lethal precision won’t matter to someone with bulletproof skin and super strength. But they really needed a better excuse.

Outside of the annual crossover, the Flash almost never comes to save Green Arrow, and vice versa, and nobody ever thinks to ask Supergirl to pop by and solve all of their problems (Earth-1 in the Arrowverse has maybe four villains who aren’t laughably outmatched by Supergirl). This doesn’t happen because “The Hero Bravely Asks Someone to Solve Their Problems” might sometimes be the right play, but it isn’t narratively satisfying. But at least there are reasons why this doesn’t happen. First and foremost, these are episodic shows that air simultaneously, so we can always see what the Flash is busy with that’s keeping him from popping over to Star City when Green Arrow’s stretched thin. And if necessary, they come up with other reasons. Such as in this year’s Flash premiere, when they have a time travel problem, and someone actually thinks to say “Hey, why don’t we ask that spaceship full of time travellers we know for help?” and then they do (off camera), and we’re given an explanation as to why they can’t fix everything. A made-up-science explanation but still an explanation.

Marvel Netflix shows drop months apart from each other, and we’re often shown they happen sequentially (Iron Fist season two clearly takes place after Luke Cage season two, although it’s anyone’s guess when Jessica Jones’ second season is in comparison). So while Danny Rand is probably out of town, Jessica, Luke, Colleen, Misty, and Frank freaking Castle aren’t, and I have no idea what they’re doing that’s so great they can’t take an interest in the return of Wilson Fisk. Hell, Fisk’s plan should absolutely be of interest to the new King of Harlem. And while I can’t see Matt asking the Punisher to come and help him do a murder (as we discussed above, he became really weirdly insistent on doing it himself), I can certainly see Karen Page turning to her super-violent friend for backup, or at least protection.

Not to mention Punisher vs. Fake Daredevil would be a fight to see. But the Punisher isn’t even mentioned. Jessica Jones at least had her name dropped once, if not in a flattering light.

No, all we’re given is “It’s not their fight,” an excuse so hollow it becomes a weakness of character, Matt’s pride not letting him reach out to his new friends, even if they could have tipped the scales before he suffered some hard losses. I mean come on, Matt, at least let them know you got out from under that building.

(Also why did none of them come poking around when Fisk made Daredevil public enemy number one? Stubborn idjits, all of ’em.)

Stray Thoughts

The more I think about it the less I’m on board with Matt giving up the Daredevil costume to go back to those black pyjamas from season one. His whole thing was giving up being Matt Murdock to focus on being the Devil (I know I say this a lot but this time for sure, can we be done with “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” please? At least they only said it once that I remember this time), but why go all the way back to his first outfit? Sure he mumbled something about turning his back on what the costume represented, but it’s not like he completely changed methods and tactics when he put the red suit on. He’s the same hero in red he was in black, and going back to the PJs simply means less protection. Daredevil loses one of his fights with Fake Daredevil for only one reason: Fake Daredevil is wearing body armour and Matt isn’t. Matt was landing way more blows, but Fake Daredevil’s armoured suit could take the punishment better than Matt’s sweatshirt, something I could swear he learned back in season one when that ninja sliced him up like lunch meat. It feels to me like somebody decided the Daredevil suit is a little too comic booky, and that’s the mindset that turned the Hand from a ninja death cult to a multinational corporation of diverse businesspeople who also do crimes sometimes, and that’s the worst thing Marvel Netflix ever did other than hire Scott Buck to write a TV show, so to Hell with that approach. In the event that Daredevil survives the apparent Marvel TV purge, ditch the PJs and get him back in the suit.

Dex is never called Bullseye because he isn’t Bullseye yet. This is meant to be his villainous origin, with Fisk pulling him into the dark he’s spent his life trying to avoid. I just… I never really thought of Bullseye as needing an origin. And since the whole lethal aim with any object thing turns out to go back to childhood, it still kind of isn’t an origin? That skill is never explained. It’s just something he can do.

For the second time, Stephen Rider is credited as a series regular as District Attorney Something-or-Other. Beats me why. He is a minor recurring character, plain and simple, and should just be a guest star.

No Claire Temple, no other Defenders, not even Turk. I don’t know that any Marvel Netflix show has skipped a Turk appearance.

Okay so this is about the actual final climax

I disagree with the AV Club on one thing. I thought that the big final free-for-all between Daredevil, Kingpin, and Fake Daredevil was at least thematically sound, as it involved literally destroying the home Kingpin had spent the season piecing together. It provided a physical representation of Kingpin’s downfall, the collapse of everything he’d built.

[collapse]

Grade: B

A lot of people are doing talented work, but there comes a time when the writers have to figure out that 13-hour TV shows need more dynamic arcs than two-hour movies.