So long, Mr. Stewart

I remember watching Jon Stewart as the final guest of The Daily Show​ with Craig Kilborn, a show I’d only recently become aware of. Craig made his share of short jokes, but it seemed like a heartfelt handoff. Jon had a charm to him, and I wondered how the series would do under new leadership, with a new cast of correspondents.

I remember Indecision 2000, when the Daily Show with Jon Stewart really took off. The live election coverage, the confused frustration that they didn’t have a result to announce, and best of all, the next day’s episode, based around the idea that everyone had been covering the election for 24 hours straight without a break, and were nearing (or past) the breakout point.

DS 1

I don’t recall what the segment was supposed to have started as (or what they claimed), but I remember Beth Littleford, one of the few remaining Kilborn correspondents, getting Jon and us hooked on Iron Chef with her coverage of Morimoto’s thrilling victory.

In 2001, I recall Topher Grace blowing off plugging Traffic to tell Jon all about this movie he watched last night, the Wild Wild West.

When Even Stev/phen, the Carrell/Colbert point counterpoint segment, did the best coverage of Elian Gonzalez. A role-play session into Steve Carrell’s issues with his own father leads to a powerful breakthrough, causing Steve to reverse his position and say Elian should be with his father, only for Colbert to turn on him, embody the angry father, and break his spirit completely. Even Stev/phen was always the best.

DS 2

I remember being sad that Colbert wouldn’t be appearing on the Daily Show anymore, because he’d be busy on the Colbert Report, but loving his new show all the same.

Or the time when Jon Stewart got Crossfire cancelled by pointing out how it was toxic. Demanding to know why a CNN anchor wasn’t holding himself to a higher standard of journalism than a guy whose lead in was puppets making prank phone calls, only to be told “Well, you’re not very funny.” And replying, from his own show, “On Monday I’ll be funny again, and you’ll still be an asshole.

DS 3

For years, when I worked down the road from home, I’d spend my lunch hours watching the Daily Show and as much Colbert as I could before I had to go back to work. I thrived on Jon Stewart’s take on the week’s events.

I remember the writers’ strike, when Jon (like many talk show hosts) reluctantly came back to work sans-writing staff so that the crew could still earn a living. Jon Oliver became his main correspondent, possibly (as he jokingly, but maybe seriously claimed) because if he walked the picket line with the rest of the writers, he could be deported. That may have been when Jon Oliver began to eclipse such past favourite correspondents as Mo Rocca, Vance deGeneres, Steve Carrell, Ed Helms, and others.

And I will always remember having the privilege of watching a live taping back in September of 2006: Jon talking about the time his older brother had to fire him from a department store before the show, asking Pat Buchanan how he can possibly believe latino immigration is a plot for Mexicans to take back New Mexico, or talking about the Shofar horn with Stephen Colbert. (“It’s made from the horn of a yak, did you know that?” “Tastes like it, Jon. Must be Jewish illegal to clean all of the yak out of that thing.”)


I haven’t watched the Daily Show on a regular basis in a while. But I always liked knowing that I could. That’s over now.

So long, Jon. Thanks for everything.

And we’re back: How’s Marvel doing?

If you ever start a blog, there are some productivity-sucking pitfalls you should avoid. I may, in the past, have mentioned how long stretches of depression can make it hard to write anything: slightly more problematic than that is when you have way more writing projects than you have time for, meaning keeping up a blog becomes challenging as you have to pour your energy in another direction. Also it doesn’t help when Netflix drops Sense8 and the second season of BoJack Horseman in rapid succession. “I’ll just watch one Sense8 while I eat lunch,” you say. Poor fool.

Oh, Riley the Icelandic DJ. Could you be more adorable?

Got lost for a second there, where was I?

Right. Anyhoo, with the first draft of my first ever pantomime script submitted for review, and the first few scripts of Writers Circle‘s second season knocked off (that is to say, the easy-to-write ones), I finally return here.

So, what’s been happening? Right, yes, superhero movies.

Marvel’s first flaws?

Critics everywhere were eagerly watching Ant-Man’s performance, because between the obscure character and the late-hour firing of Edgar Wright, everyone was champing at the bit to write their “Marvel’s first bomb!” articles.

Not me, though. First off, I’m not a critic, I’m some guy with a blog. But mostly I maintain their first bomb was Incredible Hulk; it’s just that when Marvel Studios was only two movies in, and two years away from their next release, critics didn’t care. This was 2008, and the big news in comic book movies swiftly became The Dark Knight.

Ant-Man is making Phase One (ie. Iron Man through to the first Avengers) money, which is fair, because it’s a Phase One movie: a perfunctory origin story. Its domestic gross will likely end up around the first Thor’s. Lower than Captain America: The Winter Soldier, higher than Captain America: The First Avenger. Respectable, if on the low end for the studio, certainly lower than anything else in Phase Two (Iron Man 3 to Ant-Man), but by no means a bomb. Ant-Man’s grosses aren’t a sign of Marvel’s inevitable collapse: they’re a preview of Marvel’s business strategy going into Phase Three. A big movie to earn the serious coin (as Age of Ultron did and Captain America: Civil War almost certainly will), a smaller movie to introduce a new character (like Ant-Man or next year’s Doctor Strange). The sequels and team-up movies will earn Marvel their big paydays, allowing for more modest hits featuring new characters. Even if Doctor Strange does bomb worse than Incredible Hulk, Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will keep the studio running.

So no, Ant-Man’s grosses don’t spell trouble for the Marvel machine. It’s Ant-Man’s villain that does that.

The Justin Hammer test

Following Ant-Man, I came up with a new way to express my distaste in Marvel’s ability to write villains: the Justin Hammer test. It’s similar to the Bechdel test, which judges female representation by asking if a movie a) has at least two female characters, who b) have a conversation that c) is not about a man. It’s similar in that passing the Justin Hammer test does not mean you have a good villain, just like passing the Bechdel test doesn’t magically result in positive female representation. It’s about setting the bar drastically low in order to call attention to how many films still can’t clear it.

The test is this: if you replaced the villain of this Marvel movie with Justin Hammer, the evil industrialist played by Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2, would it affect the plot?

The success rate is not good.

Every Iron Man movie fails the test, because their villains are so similar as to be basically interchangeable (I could have called it the Ezekiel Stane test, but chose Hammer because he’s the shallowest of the evil arms dealers who hate Iron Man). Iron Man 3’s big “twist” was to reveal that the villain wasn’t Tony Stark’s comic book nemesis the Mandarin, but instead yet another evil arms dealer who wanted to steal Tony Stark’s innovations and sell weapons, and… that’s about the entire depth of their characters.

Loki passes, as no amount of scheming is likely to place Justin Hammer on the throne of Asgard, nor is Thanos likely to loan him the Mind Gem and an army of Chitauri to conquer the Earth. Dude probably has trouble even getting government contracts these days.

Winter Soldier’s Alexander Pierce… gray area. I could buy Justin Hammer as a high-ranking Hydra agent, certainly one who could get access to their Winter Soldier. Don’t buy him being given control of SHIELD, but then the idea that anyone but Nick Fury was in charge was new information at that point.

Guardians of the Galaxy passes. Justin Hammer has no opinion on the planet of Xandar, and as established, isn’t exactly on Thanos’ speed dial.

Thor: the Dark World passes, but only proves that passing the test doesn’t get you a good villain. Malekith was shit.

Ant-Man fails completely. Darren Cross is trying to steal Hank Pym’s creation in order to sell it as a weapon. Take out “Hank Pym” and plug in “Tony Stark” and it’s literally any Iron Man plot. Darren Cross isn’t just a bland, generic villain; he’s a bland, generic villain that we’ve already seen in at least three of their earlier movies. And with arms dealer Ulysses Klau being set up as the potential villain of Black Panther, they seem weirdly committed to trotting out the exact same villain plot at least one more time.

This is what spells trouble for future Marvel movies. They’ve almost never been good at writing villains, but Ant-Man can make you wonder how hard they’re even trying.

Ultron show cracks

Let’s be clear: Age of Ultron did not fail. It made a crap-ton of money and most people who watched it liked it plenty. So nobody is talking about why Age of Ultron failed. But it did earn less than the original, and was less universally beloved, so people are talking about why it was a little disappointing. How after Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, it was a bit of a letdown. Part of that has to do with the fact that it can’t regain the “holy crap, they’re really doing this” sensation of bringing the characters from these five very different movies together for one adventure. But that being said, getting to skip the first movie’s second act of “Boy howdy, they surely don’t get along” and very little else, and go straight to the Avengers running around Avenging together should have carried us through that. The problem is, Age of Ultron was missing something else kind of key.

The first Avengers movie was the capstone of Phase One. It was the victory lap. Not only did the characters of the first five movies come together (albeit with a new actor playing Bruce Banner), the plot points and supporting casts of several films also played a role. Iron Man’s arc reactor, Captain America’s Tesseract, and Thor’s jerk brother Loki all came together to create the big crisis of the third act. It really was the culmination point of everything Marvel Studios had done that far, with the mid-credits reveal showing that something bigger was still to come.

The problem is that “still to come” is taking a little longer than we expected.

The mid-credit reveal of Thanos as Loki’s benefactor, as we now know, was not to set up the next Avengers movie, but to set up 2018/2019’s two-part Avengers: Infinity War, which will serve as the big payoff for a decade’s worth of Marvel Studios movies, as everyone who’s dealt with a kind of bland villain trying to rule/destroy their world with an army of faceless minions and a magical space rock come together to fight Thanos, who will have an army of no-doubt faceless minions and six magical space rocks. So that is the big plan, as we’ve known since last year when they laid out their entire Phase Three roadmap at a special panel.

Which, you know, wasn’t necessarily because Warner Bros. had just revealed their plan for DC movies and was dominating the geek news, but, well, the timing is suspect.

But to return to my point, this puts Age of Ultron in an awkward position. How can it be the capstone of Phase Two when we now know that the real narrative push is leading to Infinity War? It can’t, not really. And a lot of its drama and tension is drained by knowing that most of these people will be back in a year for Civil War. Age of Ultron wasn’t a victory lap for Marvel Studios: it was just another cog. Forced to spend a chunk of its screen time setting up future movies by revealing that Loki’s sceptre was another Infinity Stone (which just adds to the appearance that Thanos is really, really bad at his job, but that’s another rant), creating the Vision to wield it, and having Thor go on a vision quest to make it super clear that Thor: Ragnarok is going to be super important in setting up Infinity War, seriously you guys, don’t skip Thor: Ragnarok even though the Thor movies are the weakest ones.

At least that’s how I read the whole “Thor needs to go stand in a pool and have a vision” thing that ate up a surprising amount of the second act.

To conclude

Marvel Studios is unquestionably popular, and the most consistently successful movie studio on the planet. They made themselves this by adhering to a formula, a formula that reliably produces hits ranging from “adequate” to “massive.” Some critics have become so enamoured with the Marvel formula that they lash out at any comic book movie that dares to break from it. Yes, okay, the Amazing Spider-man films deserve every dis they receive, and I have no reason to believe that Fantastic Four (or Fant-four-stic, as the title reads) is in any way good (a full hour before they get their powers? BOOOOOO), but the X-Men films have still been more hit than miss (and if they pull off Deadpool and Apocalypse, that shifts the needle considerably), Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy didn’t quite stick the landing but still holds up, and when you’re so enamoured with Marvel properties you actually believe Agents of SHIELD is better than Arrow or its superior spin-off The Flash, you need to step back and reassess.

Drifted from my point.

Fox is trying to keep the X-Men gravy train going, and based on First Class and Days of Future Past they’re not doing terribly, except when they give Wolverine his own movie.

Seriously, not cool, Netflix.

Warner Bros. is trying their own thing, with a more serious tone (ugh) and less rigid control over their filmmakers. They have some rules, sure (or else why would they be on their second Wonder Woman director), but still less micro-managing. They’re aiming to be the studio of “auteur” superhero movies, like Nolan’s Batman trilogy. “Here’s our sandbox,” they say, “Come play in it.” Hidden message: “We wouldn’t have fired Edgar Wright.” Which, come on guys, we don’t know that, you fired Joss Whedon off Wonder Woman back when, we haven’t forgotten.

There are those who say the only “auteur” superhero movie in recent memory is Guardians of the Galaxy, which… maybe, but it still fit the formula a little too much to give it full credit.

Will it work? We don’t know. Their only entry thus far was the divisive Man of Steel, a qualified success at best. We’ll need to get through Zach Snyder’s Batman V. Superman and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (by which point there’ll likely be a Comicon trailer for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman to dissect) before we can begin to judge.

Yes, it’s true: DC’s approach removes the safety net Marvel’s formula has provided them (“I’ve never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but hey, Marvel movies rarely disappoint”), in that liking Suicide Squad is no guarantee that you’ll enjoy Wonder Woman. But on the flip side… Marvel’s formula is showing its cracks. If they can’t start writing better villains, or at least stop writing the same villain, and make some more movies that stand alone rather than as prelude to something else… I can envision people starting to get tired of it.

But I am often wrong.

Writers Circle Confidential: Stonebluff Road

I walk on Stonebluff Road, only road that I have ever known…

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that our sound designer, Patrick Murray, is incredibly proud of his choice of ring tones for Becky this week. So there that is.

Let’s talk!

Unexpected twists

This was one of the last episodes written. Partly because it’s one of Keith’s, and Keith took his time producing scripts. Of course, at the time we were writing scripts, Keith had a full-time job, a wife, and two children*, and I had… let me think back, that was 2013, so… nothing. I had nothing. Nothing but time. Time, some rehearsals, and replays of the Mass Effect trilogy. So of course I could crank out episodes five times faster. “Nothing to do” is my superpower. I mean, I’m still going to make fun of him for not matching my output, but it wasn’t without reason.

It was for the best that Keith insisted on taking this one himself, because he took in directions I hadn’t thought of.

The basic pitch for this episode was “Becky asks Jeff and Zoe for help critiquing her friend’s terrible movie.” Seemed like a fun interchange that would get Zoe involved. Since we started breaking the season (“breaking” being an industry term for “figuring out what the hell we’re going to write”) within an hour of creating Zoe, I had some concerns about how to fit her in. We had the “Phil” episode (Deconstructing Phil), we had big episodes for Becky and Jeff, and I knew how to bounce those three off each other. Writing Phil/Jeff banter is second nature to me at this point. But how to ensure we were giving Zoe her time in the sun?

Keith took this episode. He was actually pretty insistent about that. And so it came to be that the premise of the episode, Becky’s friend’s movie, only ends up taking about a third of the screen time. The back half returns to the brewing Becky/Zoe rivalry we glimpsed last week. Only this week, Becky starts to get sick of Zoe’s shit. It was a bit of a left turn from the premise we’d set out, but it gives the episode some meat, which is kind of important this late in the season.

Also, it gives us another glimpse at the complicated relationship between Becky and her victim boyfriend Ted, as well as introducing the fact that he has a sister. That’s gonna be important in a bit.

*Don’t worry, he still has all of those things. Keith does okay.

Echo Chambers

The initial thrust of the episode, that of the titular Stonebluff Road, is a subtle commentary on something that writers everywhere need to be wary of: the dangers of getting stuck in an echo chamber.

Everyone likes to hear that they’re special and talented and wonderful. Why wouldn’t we? It’s a kick. Well, it’s a kick until your lifetime of insecurities and anxieties kick in and you wonder why this person keeps saying nice things about you oh god is it a prank are you being pranked find an excuse to leave–

Sorry. That got away from me a little.

The point is, that being surrounded by people who do nothing but compliment you and your supposed brilliance is like eating nothing but Cadbury Mini-eggs and Twinkies. It’s delicious, and great while you’re doing it, and then you die of malnutrition. Because while you were gorging on what you want, you weren’t getting anything you need. And what you need are people willing to tell you when you’ve screwed something up. And this is something Becky’s friend sorely lacks.

Call it a cautionary tale. Create in an echo chamber, and someone out there is reacting the way Jeff does.

Dawn of Super Fun Happy Good Times Week

This was the second of only three episodes that were shot in one go. And the first that actually took. Deconstructing Phil was the first, but needed reshoots; last week’s Favour For a Friend was third, because finding two days to cram the four of us into that car would clearly have been insane. Stonebluff Road represents the opening of the first and longest day of Super Fun Happy Good Times Week. Our merry band spent something like 13 hours in that room, shooting this and the bookend sequences of Love is Blind. It was also the first day that all four leads were in the same room.

Which always leads to calmness and order, not shenanigans.
Which always leads to calmness and order, not shenanigans.

That did happen… slightly ahead of schedule. Not, like, wickedly ahead of schedule, but by a few hours. No, wait, the schedule was right, but we were… possessed of an unwarranted optimism as to how fast we’d get Stonebluff shot. As such, Ryan’s call time was unfortunately premature. We were still hip-deep in Stonebluff by the time Ryan arrived on set. So for about half of this episode… probably the Jeffless half… picture Phil somewhere in the corner, staying out of sight, staying quiet, just hoping nobody notices him and drags him into this.

Shit. Why did we not just film that. Why did we not end the episode by panning over and revealing Phil at the table. Right, yes, because “Nobody notices me” is Zoe’s bit, and… the other thing that will become clear next week.

Ryan was a trooper about it, though.

Next week… Phil returns, and his banter with Jeff gets real as we ramp up towards the finale in Jeff’s Head.

Prologue to Writers’ Circle Confidential

So, remember all those times I mentioned working on a web series?

Well, it’s here! It’s live! It’s waiting for you to fall in love with it! All currently released episodes can be found at our website. At the moment, that includes our pilot, The Vicious Circle…

And our deceptively named but even funnier second episode, Funeral for a Friend.

Check ’em both out, we’re pretty sure you’re going to like them.

But the reason I’m here… visitors to Tales From Parts Unknown will soon be getting bonus content. Every Friday, here at Parts Unknown HQ, I’ll be doling out backstage tales from the making of each episode.

So here’s what you should be doing: every Thursday morning, head to our YouTube channel for the newest episode. Watch it, laugh, learn to love again, share it with your friends, use it as an icebreaker to make conversation with your crush*, watch it again… then on Friday afternoon, stop by here for stories of how it all happened. Slightly modified to make me sound more handsome than my co-execs.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to kicking it in Hawaii. Writers’ Circle Confidential starts in three days!

*Not a guarantee. Affiliation with this series has resulted in zero makeouts for myself or Ian. Keith, we’re not sure about. His wife was somewhat pre-disposed to make out with him now and then already.


So I finally, after an uncharacteristically long period, have caught up on the eight series of Doctor Who. Which got me thinking thoughts about the Doctor, his companions, their various relationships, and why I’m drawn to some more than others. And what that says.

The early days

In the beginning (of the new series, I have not the time, inclination, or frankly knowledge to go through all of the first eight Doctors’ companions), there was Nine and Rose. The Doctor had just left the endless horrors of the Time War, had just regenerated after wiping out both his own people and the Daleks (he thinks) to end the war while some of time and space was still standing. After years of being alone, a soldier in the war, not even the Doctor as far as he was concerned, something in his new head (possibly a subconscious recollection of the events of Day of the Doctor) told him it was okay to be the Doctor again. Okay to try and connect with people once more. Okay to travel with a companion again. Rose turns to the Doctor for adventure, for a life that a a simple shopgirl could never have, and the Doctor… the Doctor heals. His rage passes. His compassion regrows. And when he’s put in a familiar position at the end of the first series… wipe out the Daleks at the expense of the population of Earth… he refuses. And not long after that, he becomes a literally new man: a warmer, kinder, faster to smile man.

It’s a good story, a solid beginning, but a hard relationship to connect with. After all, how many of us have freshly returned from a war in which we were forced to commit genocide? I haven’t. I feel most of you haven’t either. I suspect it would have made the news. Well, some of the news.

Rose and Ten? Now that’s a different story. Ten was always less cold than Nine, faster to embrace people, even in his lowest moments. And not too hard on the eyes, either. How could Rose not fall in love with the dashing superhero her companion had become? And the Doctor was starting to fall for her as well, but refusing to acknowledge it since a relationship between a 20-year-old human and a 900-year-old Time Lord is… problematic.

Again, not something I really relate to. Even if I do occasionally have feelings for someone younger (not 900 years younger, but when you’re not an ageless god a decade-and-change age gap can feel just as difficult), those feelings are rarely, if ever, returned, so the age thing doesn’t really come into play.

Rose left, breaking not just the Doctor’s heart(s), but hearts all throughout the fandom.

Quickest way to break a Ten/Rose shipper
Quickest way to break a Ten/Rose shipper

And in came Martha Jones to replace her. Now, the Doctor thought he was just doing what he always does when he meets someone interesting, clever, and capable (cute and female also seems to be a plus): offer to show her all of time and space, to save him from running alone.

But what he was actually doing, even if he didn’t realize it, was trying to fill the void left by Rose. Martha, despite being more clever, more useful, and never once tearing a hole in time with her daddy issues, was never more than a replacement Rose to the Doctor, and as she fell in love with him, she was forced to admit that was no way to live, and that she had to move on.

More relatable, sure. Not necessarily to me… well, okay, sure, even I’ve been oblivious to someone else having feelings for me, so I get the Doctor’s side there…

Donna Noble just wanted a greater life than she’d come to expect she was capable of living. She wanted to wander the stars with the Doctor forever, just as friends. Strictly friends. She may well be the best of the Tennant companions, and certainly has the most heartbreaking conclusion, and, yeah, I’ve had friendships with women where we spent an odd amount of time assuring people we weren’t a couple, but where I really began to feel drawn to the Doctor/Companion relationship was…

Amy Pond

The dawn of the Moffat/Matt Smith era had my attention by making the new companion a cute Scottish redhead in a miniskirt, I’ll admit that. But here’s what Amy and Eleven is to me.

Amy Pond was the first face the Eleventh Doctor saw. The first person he met after a prolonged period of self-isolation. Sure, Ten still had his way with people, but he refused to take on companions. All the losses he’d faced, including losing Donna and Rose (again) in one day, were too much. He couldn’t take it anymore. The Doctor who loved and embraced people more than most couldn’t stand to be around them long term. But Amy came to him right as he regenerated into a new man, a man who shared Ten’s love of common people but not always his charm.

Eleven’s more awkward, as we see in his stubborn belief that bow ties and fezzes are cool. And despite being played by the youngest actor ever to take the role, more than most he carried the full weight of his nine (later twelve) centuries of life. An old soul with a young face.

The Doctor and Amy aren’t in love. Amy might be a little hot for him in the beginning, something the Doctor (rightfully) suspects has more to do with an all-too-real reaction to intense and dangerous circumstances–see, the brain releases dopamine, which is also involved in infatuation, and–anyway. Amy loves the Doctor, sure, but she’s in love with Rory. Much as the Doctor is actually falling for River Song rather than Amy. But just because they’re not in love doesn’t make what they have less special. Amy’s not the woman the Doctor loves, or at least not the woman he marries, but she’s important. For centuries, she’s the most important person in his life, the person he can never stop running to.

Why wouldn’t I fall for that relationship? This was 2010/2011. In 2010 and 2011, I was as close as I’d ever been to… well, her. Younger, like Amy. Someone I cared for dearly, like Amy. But not someone I was likely to ever be able to date. But we were close all the same. Very close, those years.

So why wouldn’t I connect to this era? To the Doctor whose charms were muted by an awkward nerdinesss, who was great with a speech but terrible with emotions, and whose best friend was girl he’d always love but never kiss? Why wouldn’t I want that relationship to make sense?

But like Amy, a day came when she disappeared forever.

And like the Doctor… I shut myself off for a while. Because the loss hurt too much to want to feel like that again.

Clara Oswald

For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC put out a series of prints: the silhouetted profiles of the first 11 Doctors, and in their profile, key friends and foes from each Doctor’s run. For Patrick Troughton, Jamie and the Brigadier. For Tom Baker, Romana and K-9. And for Matt Smith, Amy, Rory, and River.

Not Clara.

In fairness, Clara was new. By the time the Matt Smith print came out, she’d been in one episode, went by Oswin, and died at the end.

But eventually a time came when Clara not being on the poster made sense. Because she wouldn’t belong in Matt Smith’s profile. She’d belong in Capaldi’s.

Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is a harder, colder Doctor. And yet Clara has become the most important person in his life, in a way she never was before his last regeneration. Because after 900 years of defending Trenzalore from his worst foes… the Doctor is afraid of himself. Of what he might be. A Dalek sees into his soul, and finds only hatred. Ex-soldier Danny Pink immediately recognizes him not just as a fellow soldier (something the 12th Doctor despises), but even worse, as an officer (possible, we only know what the Doctor did at the very end of the Time War). Clara… Clara is his lifeline. He can believe that he’s a good man if Clara can believe it, even a little, and when she begins to doubt, it crushes him. But no matter what, he still has her back.

Even towards the end. Clara turns on him, betrays him, tries to threaten him into breaking time itself for selfish purposes… and is then shocked to find he’s still willing to do the impossible to help her. He sums it up with one question:

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

And man, I dig that. That says so much about several key friendships I have or have had. The people I would do anything for. And yeah, a few of them would do anything right back, but… there are definitely a few Claras out there. The people who make me believe I matter because I matter to them. And so even if they hurt me from time to time, I still find myself willing to walk through fire for them.

Because sometimes you love someone you can’t be in love with. But that’s okay. That’s good. Even when they don’t feel the same. Because while that might hurt… as Amy Pond said, it’s kind of a good hurt.

Thanks for bearing with me. If you did. Something more fun and less introspective next time, yeah?

Oh, hey guys. Long time.

So, hi. Been about a month. That’s… that’s my bad right there. Allow me to explain.

I’ve been too busy writing to write a blog.

“Hm,” I would think to myself. “It’s been a while since my last blog post. Maybe I should–”

And around this point my freelance tech writing gig would drop me an email, needing two to five hours of work done. Which is totally fine because I likes me that paycheck. Well, that direct deposit. The money. You get me.

Now, that’s not every day… if it were every day, I’d have earned enough to hide in Australia for the winter… or at least bug out to Mexico for a few weeks. But there have been other things. Let’s take a stroll and catch up on all things Danny, shall we?

No, come on, don’t leave, I’ll attempt to be funny and stuff…

New play? Check!

I have also been hammering away more earnestly at my latest play script. Which has been… odd. The past year I’ve been branching out into other media, like the impending web series and some… not-yet-successful TV projects. Returning to playwriting after all that feels almost odd. Like visiting an old friend who’s look has changed completely. Plus I decided to take on something extra challenging: a farce. A genre based on precision mishaps and carefully choreographed chaos, all of which is meant to end up maximally hilarious.

So if it isn’t funny, that’s the ballgame.

It probably is. Probably. My last farce was, something we’ll be looking at when Danny Writes Plays resumes. And we’ll talk about this one more when I use it as an excuse to get back to the Writing a Play series I was pondering back before the first draft took six months to finish.

See? Two series I should be continuing. And I’m on it, I’m on it.

Web series? Coming along!

Few things have occupied more of my attention in recent months than Writers’ Circle: the Series, an adaptation of one of my older (but not old enough to have hit the blog yet) scripts. Principal photography is complete(ish). Post production is underway. And you can get all the latest news on our brand-new website,

Coming soon. You're gonna love it. OR ELSE.
Coming soon. You’re gonna love it. OR ELSE.

Creating this show has been incredibly rewarding, and has involved some people who already were or have now become my favourite people on Earth. Well, my favourite people who aren’t Karen Gillan.

Some day, Pond... some day... (painting by Alice X. Zhang)
Some day, Pond… some day… (painting by Alice X. Zhang)

Anyway… I imagine this, too, is something we can discuss later. And repeatedly, since I’ll be ranting about it constantly come January.

Geek news round-up!

Since my last posts were all about the surge in geek news, I guess I should touch on some things. Or more accurately, I guess I’m going to. Here goes. Keeping it brief.

Agents of SHIELD: They did all that I asked. They picked up the pace. The kept the higher stakes. Ward is still interesting. If anything, they’re wrapping up stories too fast. Sadly, their ratings have not recovered, so just when they’ve finally become interesting, they may face cancellation. They lose viewers if they’re off the air for a week, and are about to go on a two-month (at least) hiatus. If their tie-in show, Agent Carter, isn’t a big enough hit to maintain viewer interest and avoid the hiatus ratings dip… well, it gets ugly. Fingers crossed for you, Agent Coulson. Which is not something I’d have said a year ago, after that misstep that was The Well.

Flash: Stay the course, gang, you’re doing super. I am especially a fan of their Captain Cold. He was note-perfect. Not insane, not manic, not out to destroy the world… just a stone-cold (they avoid puns as best they can but there’s no getting around that one) career thief who sees the arrival of Central City’s super-fast guardian as a sign he needs to up his game with stolen weapons. If the rest of the Rogues are this well done, I’m happy as can be.

Marvel’s big announcement: Well, they shut me up about Civil War. And shut up everyone who was pointing out that Sony and now DC both had female-led (and POC-led in DC’s case) movies in the pipeline, and yet nothing from Marvel about rumoured Black Panther or Captain Marvel movies. Here they both come. What struck me as odd about the big announcement? It’s like they were saving all of this for San Diego Comic-con, instead of stealing some of Age of Ultron’s thunder by discussing what comes next. But Warner Bros. forced their hand with their big announcement, so Marvel threw their own Hall H panel-style event so they could have a room full of screaming fans while they laid out Phase Three instead of a room full of Time Warner shareholders. Which, really… is kind of a baller move. So I’ll give it to them.

The DC slate: I’m at a point where nothing DC has announced between now and 2020 has me more excited than Suicide Squad. A group of villains brought together for a high-risk Dirty Dozen-style mission? From the guy who wrote Training Day? I’ll take that, thanks ever so. But what I would like is an official announcement as to cast. Rumours and reports have Jai Courtney (who was pretty good in the underseen and underestimated Jack Reacher) as Deadshot, Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street) as Harley Quinn, Will Smith (the hell?) as Captain Boomerang (the HELL?), Tom Hardy as their boss, Rick Flagg… and also Jesse Eisenberg reprising Lex Luthor and, most surprisingly, Jared Leto as the new Joker.

Now this raises many questions. Is the writer/director being pressured to include more A-list villains? Lex is an odd choice for the Suicide Squad, let alone the Joker. Would the Joker be part of the Squad, or just a cameo to establish Harley Quinn and get him in place for future Batman movies? Will Smith’s one of the last truly bankable stars, what’s he doing playing Captain freaking Boomerang? And I’d love to tackle those questions, or talk about the sometimes wonderfully awkward and strained relationship between Lex Luthor and the Joker, but…

None of this is confirmed. Not a single WB executive or actor’s publicist has said that any of this is official. Not to the best of my knowledge, and I think we all know that my knowledge is… well, as good as anyone with zero industry connections but lots of time and internet on his hands can be. So… average? Around there?

I can’t speculate on how Zach Snyder’s going to do with the Justice League until I see how Batman V. Superman turns out. I have nothing new to say on Wonder Woman until a script is actually written. And I want to be excited for Suicide Squad, but I need to see Fury (same writer/director, similar set-up) and get some official casting news first.

Next time… less than a month’s wait.

Geek TV part four: Arrow

Green Arrow first turned up on television as a rare bright spot in the mostly problematic sixth season of Smallville (well, problematic if Lex Luthor and Lana Lang hooking up gives you the jibblies, as it should). Two years later, he was added to the main cast, as the show adjusted to its post-Lex identity.

In the months that followed Smallville calling it a day, rumours began to circulate that the CW network was looking to fill the Smallville-shaped hole in its schedule with a show about Green Arrow, since the Smallville fans took to him so well.


This would not be a spinoff of Smallville, they made clear. Justin Hartley would not be returning to the role. This would be about Oliver Queen’s early days, in a world without other heroes (at first).

I’d been a fan of Green Arrow since Kevin Smith relaunched the character in 2001. That he might get his own TV show seemed astoundingly improbable: that it would actually be legitimately good seemed miraculous. And yet here we are: Arrow is the gold standard for comic book TV shows.

Sorry, I meant LIVE ACTION TV series.
Correction: LIVE ACTION TV shows.

Which isn’t to say the show is flawless. It is not. But as season two improved on the freshman year, so too can season three build on that momentum. Here’s some thoughts as to how.

Challenges: don’t get sucked into old habits

No series embraced “the illusion of change” like Smallville. This is a storytelling trick familiar to anyone who reads superhero comics: you change things up in a major way while still leaving the door open to put everything back the way it was when you need to. Examples include the Death of Superman, Bruce Wayne getting his back broken in Knightfall, Dr. Octopus taking control of Peter Parker’s body in Superior Spider-man, or introducing a new, more diverse Avengers line-up that totally won’t be tossed out the window when the classic line-up hits movie screens in May.

Only two of these people are in the next movie, and one is the guy they've made even whiter.
Only two of these people are in the next movie, and one is the guy they’ve made even whiter.

But Arrow… Arrow is at its heart a show about evolution. In the flashbacks to Oliver’s time on (or nearish) the island of Lian Yu, we see how he changed from spoiled playboy to the deadly vigilante, known as “the Hood,” we met in the pilot. And in the main storyline, we watch Oliver grow from murderous vigilante “the Hood” to would-be legitimate hero “the Arrow,” and presumably from there to Justice League member Green Arrow.

So this is a show that embraces change. In the vein, here’s some tropes from Arrow’s first two seasons that maybe we could tone down a little.

1. Someone is insufferable

Mostly Thea. I know, you’re on the CW, and the network of Gossip Girls who keep Vampire Diaries about the Next Top Models seems to require a certain percentage of YA melodrama. Thea Queen, Oliver’s younger sister, takes the brunt of this, making her the first season’s least likable character, including the guy who’s master plan was “kill all of the poor people.” Sometimes she improves, but she keeps falling into that “angry pouty brat” place. And when she isn’t? When she’s actually likable? Laurel or Roy just take her place. Someone always seems to be irrationally pissed at the world, especially the part of the world that’s Oliver, and maybe this could be fixed by a five minute conversation, but that just brings us to the next issue…

2. Felicitous interuptus

Any time Oliver has to have an important personal conversation, be it an attempt to salvage a relationship, protect his company, or prevent his family from collapsing under the weight of the latest soap opera twist, you can bet that one of his team, Digg or Felicity, is going to show up with news about this week’s villain. And he’ll have to miss another fundraiser/board meeting/intervention to go shoot arrows at Count Vertigo, because he’s a hero and responsibility and all that.

Guys… I’m your biggest fan. I absolutely am. But even I think it’s getting old. Whatever your lead, Felicity, I’m sure it could have waited five god damned minutes.

3. Oh no! The team’s collapsing!

Again, YA melodrama demands a certain amount of tension between the leads. But elsewhere on the network is Supernatural, which really only has two leads. And let me tell you… Sam and Dean splitting up and getting back together (as a demon-slaying pair of brothers, don’t get ideas) once per season is getting tired.

I’m not saying Oliver, Digg, Felicity, and Roy have to stay best of friends every week, but… there’s a middle ground. Community found it back in season two, when they buried “the gang splits up” as a possible threat once and for all.

Opportunity: get weird

You’ve done something you never did before. You’ve added something that was never there. And it’s something that’s a guarantee against going stale.

With the debut of the Flash, super powers now exist in the Arrowverse. The line was sort of crossed with the introduction of mirakuru last season, but now there’s people who can run faster than sound and control the weather. Sure, most of that’s currently happening in Central City, but that’s no reason not to let it bleed into Starling.

How would Oliver deal with legitimate super powers? He had enough of a struggle with mirakuru, what would he do against someone legitimately bulletproof? In a world with the Flash, Firestorm, and the Atom, is a guy who’s good with a bow still relevant?

Which is exactly what I wanted to see last year, but couldn’t, because that would have meant connecting Arrow to Man of Steel, and that’s been declared as off the table. But now that we have open talks of seeing Firestorm on Flash, and Brandon Routh talking about having seen concept art for his Atom costume, we are clearly off to the races.

Go ahead and work the non-powered villains like Cupid, Komodo, and Captain Boomerang. Bring in non-powered heroes like Wildcat, Manhunter, and Katana. But remember that your big bad this year is an immortal, and your sister show is filling itself with people who have or will have super powers. So go nuts. Embrace the larger world that Flash has opened up, and then shoot arrows at it.

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap this up with a look at the last man to the party (in terms of airing dates), John Constantine.

Geek TV Part 2: Gotham

Continuing my look at challenges and opportunities facing geek TV shows, we move on to one that I spoke out against in the past, yet now find myself weirdly excited to watch.

I am more excited to watch Gotham, the Batman show without Batman, than I am to watch the new Kevin Smith movie. I don’t even recognize myself. And yet everything I’m hearing says that the pilot nails it. I did not see that coming.

So apparently Gotham is lurching from “show I’m going to watch every week but hate myself for it” to “show I might authentically enjoy.” But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some pitfalls ahead. And not just over the fact that Bruce Wayne is only 12 in season one, although they continue to get a little mocked for that. But let’s talk specifics.

Challenge: We all know where this is going


The biggest challenge with prequel stories is that there aren’t a lot of surprises to be had. We know Anakin Skywalker will become Darth Vader. We know the tenuous peace between man and ape can’t last in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, because it isn’t called Dawn of the Planet of Apes and Humans Getting Along in Harmony.

So we know, going in, what’s going to happen here. Oswald Cobblepot will graduate from henchman to sadistic criminal overlord. Edward Nygma will become the Riddler. Jim Gordon will be appointed Commissioner. And eventually, Bruce Wayne will be Batman.

The challenge, then, is making the road to these inevitable destinations worth watching for however many years you run. And this is no simple matter. Let’s consider Smallville, you and I.

Smallville had no plan. Year after year they’d have hints and allusions to Clark’s greater destiny. Year after year Lex Luthor slipped a little further into darkness. But without a clear end date in mind, they had no idea how long they had to stretch this out. When should Lex cross the line from Clark’s best friend to his greatest enemy? When should Clark get into journalism? What season arcs can we have that SEEM to advance these plots but don’t? Or at least, only advance things in a way that we can undo with a Red Kryptonite episode?

Smallville's "Get out of character development free" card.
Smallville’s “Get out of character development free” card.

Eventually, they started pulling the triggers on the big moments because they were in their seventh season and had nowhere else to go. Also, Lex and Lana didn’t renew their contracts.

And this meant that by the last two seasons, what we had was a Superman show that was just afraid of saying “Superman.” Clark worked at the Daily Planet, with Lois Lane, who he was dating, while fighting crime on the side in a costume with a code name. It’s just that his costume was more of a red leather jacket and his code name was “the Blur” because he moved too fast to be clearly photographed, only leaving a red-blue blur in the image (later just red). They were Lois and Clark with less camp and better villains, but still asked us to believe that there were still steps left between Clark and becoming Superman.

And this is the problem you face, Gotham. At one point are you just doing whatever you can to keep the balls in the air? Six to five and pick ’em, if Gotham lasts long enough, Gordon’s going to lose his badge. Suspended, demoted, something, the corruption in the GCPD will overwhelm him, and we won’t really care because we know it can’t last. At one point, Bruce Wayne will reconsider his plan. Maybe when he starts liking girls. But that too can’t last, because there’s Batmanning to be done.

But therein lies your opportunity.

Opportunity: Gotham is an epic tragedy

There is one area in which knowing the outcome doesn’t hold you back, and that is in proper, deep, Shakespearean tragedy. We know from the prologue that Romeo and Juliet aren’t going to grow old together (or at all); Troy is going to fall by the end of the Iliad; and as I said before, we know that Caesar, leader of the apes, will be betrayed and his peace with the humans will crumble. This doesn’t have to rob these moments of their power.

James Gordon is fighting to save Gotham, a city collapsing into crime and corruption, while trying to pull young Bruce Wayne back from the brink of darkness. And the thing is, he can’t. Sure, he will be Commissioner, he will begin to at least reduce the corruption of the GCPD, and he might even put Fish Mooney behind bars (although I doubt it. Five bucks says she meets an umbrella-related end at the hands of her lackey Oswald Cobblepot), but he can’t save the city. Because if one good cop could save Gotham, Gotham wouldn’t need a Batman. And it will. In the end, it will.

So Gordon will ultimately fail, or at least be only partially successful, in his efforts to redeem Gotham, but his failure to “save” Bruce Wayne will accomplish what he couldn’t: creating the man who will be able to stand up to the Riddler, the Penguin, the Joker, and the rest.

And there’s still fun to be had. Who does Gordon convert? Who will his allies be? And how does he manage to rise above the corrupt heads of the department? There’s definitely narrative meat on those bones.

Plus, can I just say this, Gotham? In the right hands, Edward Nygma is fascinating. Read any Scott Snyder story featuring the Riddler. So be those hands. Show us that the Riddler is more than Jim Carrey overacting in green tights.

You had my curiosity, Gotham. Now you have my attention. Don’t waste it.

Tomorrow, my favourite super-hero show gets a spin-off. What do I want from the Flash?

Geek TV Part 1: Agents of SHIELD

We rumble ever closer to the dawn of the new TV season, which will feature no less than six TV shows based on or connected to comic properties, some of which won’t even get cancelled between now and Christmas.

Obviously I’d prefer none, but life has been really drilling in the message that I can’t have everything I want lately.

So to try and keep the number of geek TV cancellations down (and pave the way for the rumoured Supergirl and Titans series I’m hearing about), here’s the first of several posts as to what I see as the challenges and opportunities for some of the key players.

(No, I don’t have any sway over the various showrunners, but when I wrote one of these two years ago about dos and don’ts for Arrow, they did nearly everything on my list, so what the hell.)

Agents of SHIELD: don’t spin your wheels (any more)

Not my actual advice.
Not my actual advice.

Okay. It was a bit of a close call, but Agents of SHIELD is back for season two. It’s possible that the corporate synergy of Disney-owned ABC running a Disney-owned Marvel show made renewal more assured than we thought, but the second season pick-up came awfully late.

Challenge: pick up the pace

When we last left you, Agents of SHIELD, SHIELD had ceased to exist and Agent Coulson (who appears to have a hint of the space madness due to his life-restoring possibly Kree blood transfusion) and his merry band were tasked with rebuilding it from the ground up. Also Agent Ward, the blandest character on a show whose overall characterization could be called lackluster, had finally become interesting when they revealed he’d been a Hydra sleeper agent all along.

The last six episodes were legitimately good, with actual stakes and actual tension and real uncertainty about what would happen. And Patton Oswalt, which is always welcome. It didn’t pull your ratings up, but the fans you still had surely appreciated it. You need some more of that to kick off this new season. Because the fact is, you don’t have enough viewers left that you can afford to lose half of them in your first seven episodes again. And the most important thing you can do to avoid that? Don’t spin your wheels for half a season.

When season one kicked off, we had three big mysteries: how did Coulson come back from the dead after Avengers, what’s the secret in hacker Skye’s past, and some people called Centipede were trying to make their own super soldiers out of a witches’ brew of Marvel movie references.

And then all three plots just sat there until Christmas.

Once per episode you’d remind us something was up with Coulson (and name-drop someone from the movies, which was 95% of your connection to the Marvel cinematic universe for a while). Every once in a while you’d say “Ooo, Skye’s past is mysterious,” or have Centipede pop by and continue being crude knockoffs of the bad guys from Iron Man 3. And so it remained for your first dozen episodes, while you hemorrhaged viewers and good will.

So don’t do that again. We’ve now had a few hints at Skye’s past and Coulson’s resurrection, go somewhere with it. Get into what freaky alien stuff is happening in Coulson’s head, let us know who Skye’s dad is, and have a season arc that doesn’t take 16 episodes to get out of first gear.

Also, Ward’s finally interesting. Don’t let what I assume is going to be a big redemption arc push him back towards bland and dull.

Opportunity: stand on your own

Real talk, Agents of SHIELD. This season? Your biggest weakness is also your greatest opportunity.

Last season, you had two big Marvel movies to tie into: Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: the Winter Soldier. Now, for all the hype about having an episode directly tied to Thor, what we actually got was The Well, an episode which featured vague glimpses of Ward’s childhood (at the time, Ward was still as interesting as drying paint) as the team fought the most one-dimensional, least inspired villains of not only the whole season but of the entire Marvel cinematic universe, in a plot based around Asgardians with zero connection to Thor, Loki, or any of the events of either movie.

The villains from The Well made this guy look like Hannibal Lecter in comparison.
The villains from The Well made this guy look like Hannibal Lecter in comparison.

Then, in April, Agents of SHIELD was kind of forced to respond to the events of The Winter Solider, since they left SHIELD in ruins. And suddenly everything kicked into action. The stakes were high, Coulson’s secret was (partially) out there (even if it only raised further questions), Deathlok had been introduced, and you finally, finally, had a villain who was any fun to watch.

The argument by pro-Marvel pundits (I’ll refrain from calling them apologists) is that you couldn’t do most of this plot until after the Winter Soldier. And that’s true. But guess what, team? There’s nothing to wait for this year.

Guardians of the Galaxy came out a month ago, and while it’s still popular, there is really no way for you to tie it into Agents of SHIELD beyond Coulson’s Kree-blood space madness. It’s not like we’re expecting Star Lord to pop by and explain what Coulson keeps writing on the wall. He’s busy protecting the people of Pawnee. And the next Marvel movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, isn’t until May. By early May, you’ll need to be ramping up to the finale. You won’t have time to throw an Ultron-based monkey wrench into everything.

So on the one hand, you won’t have Marvel movie tie-ins to boost ratings. But then that only worked once. The bait-and-switch Thor “tie-in” led to a two-week ratings spike, but the Winter Solider had no real effect. Well, as Mr. Peanutbutter said… “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, fiddle-dee-dee.” No, wait, that’s not right… David Cross, what’s the expression?

Sorry, got sidetracked there… my point was, you can’t count on the movies to boost your ratings, but you’re also not beholden to them in terms of story. You don’t have to do a half-assed episode about Asgardian whatnots because Thor 2 just came out (seriously, Hawaii Five-O consistently writes better villains than the ones from The Well). You don’t have to schedule all of your interesting plot developments around Age of Ultron. You can tell a proper season story.

Joss Whedon’s name is still on this thing. I know you know how to make a seasonal arc worth watching with villains not pulled out of the NCIS reject drawer. So do that.

Tomorrow: Gotham had my curiosity. Now it has my attention.

Backlashing against backlash

At the risk of slipping into “cranky old man” mode here… what exactly is so great about cynicism? No, hang on, that isn’t even old man mode… my generation was defined by cynicial detachment not so long ago. We embraced it the way the 50s embraced mistaking patriarchy-driven nuclear families for values and morality. But I’m here today to tell you… it is getting out of hand.

We are cynical about everything now. A thing happens, and people across the internet jump up to stomp it down. And I don’t understand what the appeal is. What is so great and noble about responding to an idea with “That’s stupid” and nothing else? What is backlash actually accomplishing?

I put it to you that internet backlash accomplishes nothing. In fact, it’s about as far from accomplishing something as you can get without a warp drive and a time machine. Here’s some reasons why.

Backlashers aren’t contributing anything

Casefile number one: the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It was July when the ALS ice bucket challenge went viral. Dump a bucket of ice water over yourself to spread awareness of ALS and encourage donations. It was mid-August before I became aware of it, thanks to Stephen Amell of Arrow. And his co-stars, Colton Haynes and Emily Bett Rickards, stressed the need for donations on top of spreading these drenching videos. And like all things, it’s drawn its share of internet backlash. People accused this trend of just being the new internet meme, slagging it as hashtag-slacktivism. Just one problem with that label.

The challenge works.

Thanks to the ice bucket challenge, the ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million dollars in one month, five times what they raised in the entirety of 2012. It’s a viral campaign that achieved results, doing more for ALS awareness than naming the disease after Lou Gehrig.

If that’s “slacktivism,” what else is? Movember? The Ride For the Cure? Anything shy of picking up a test tube and trying to cure a disease yourself?

And even if it were, “slacktivism” actually can serve a purpose: it creates a sense of community. Check out this article, written by someone suffering from ALS, for a more insightful look, but the basic premise is that things like Movember or the ice bucket challenge make a person feel like they’re part of something greater when they donate or participate, something that merely giving money quietly and anonymously doesn’t do, and that generates momentum like nothing else.

Others point how few people actually die from ALS as compared to cancer or heart disease. Well, okay, sure, but the fact is that’s partly why the ice bucket challenge was necessary. Because ALS affects such a small percentage, it receives far less funding from governments, and pharmaceutical companies don’t take much interest because the profit margin would be too small. So they need something like this to gain awareness and raise funds, because however few people it affects, they all die, and right now we don’t know why and there is nothing we can do about it. The person dying from ALS doesn’t matter less than the person dying of heart disease, so don’t tell me that fighting this disease isn’t important.

And some say “But it wastes so much water! And hundreds of millions of people desperately need water!” Okay, point taken. Clean, drinkable water is our most precious resource, because we need it to live, there’s only so much of it, and we can’t replace it with something else, unlike oil, coal, or gold. But when it comes to wasting water in North America, the ice bucket challenge is barely, excuse the expression, a drop in the bucket. That fountain outside the Bellagio hotel, you know, the one in the middle of a freaking desert, wastes more water than ice buckets. We could and should do more to conserve water, and on that note, here’s how Matt Damon completed the ice bucket challenge while making a statement for his own charity,

Feel free to throw them some money if you’re opposed to the ice buckets.

And that’s ultimately my point about cynically discarding something like this because you spot a fault. What are you actually accomplishing? What is complaining about ice buckets doing to make the world better? Not a god damned thing. Blind cynicism is actually worse than slacktivism. At least slacktivism is encouraging people to do something. Trying to tear down causes for being too trendy, or too viral, or for not doing enough for what you define as the right things, is attempting to stop people from doing something good.

Don’t like the ice bucket challenge? Donate to Plant a Tree For Groot. Eat less meat. Volunteer at a shelter. Do something. But if all you’re doing is mocking a cause because you don’t buy into it, well, you’re just… this.

The cloud hears you. The cloud don't care.
The cloud hears you. The cloud don’t care.

Moving on.

Backlash hurts progress

Casefile number two: Solar roadways.

It boils down to this, if you choose not to click the link or watch the video: the inventors of solar roadways developed a plan to replace the asphalt that covers roads and parking lots with solar cells, that could be used to power cities. That’s the basics. They could also be fitted with LEDs, allowing them to light up in specific ways, such as adaptable, customizable traffic lanes or parking lot layouts or basketball courts or basically whatever.

The fact is, we need a solution to fossil fuels and we need it soon. Electric cars? Great start, except for the fact that the electricity that powers the cars currently comes primarily from coal. We need solar, we need wind, we need some sort of renewable energy that doesn’t change our climate and turn cities into smog-choked hellscapes like Beijing or LA. The solar roadways team thinks they’re onto something that can power and light up our cities, revolutionizing civic infrastructure, and they successfully raised over $2 million through crowdfunding.

But some people didn’t agree with solar roadways as the silver bullet to fix our energy future. And their complaints are actually fairly valid here.

  1. What about the light pollution? All those LEDs add up, especially on highways.
  2. Sure they’re designed to melt away snow, but what about the heavy snowfalls we get up here in Canada? Can it handle them?
  3. Who’s maintaining the solar panels on rural highways?
  4. How are we connecting these panels to the power grid? Wouldn’t conventional solar panels be easier?

Like I said. All of these are valid questions. But the problem is they were all held up as ways that solar roadways were doomed and shouldn’t be backed by Indiegogo patrons. But the way you find answers to these questions is to fund the project.

As a better writer than I once said, in the history of everything that works, there was a time when it didn’t. The light bulb, the telephone, the Tesla electric car, they all faced hurdles and challenges, and had prototypes that didn’t quite work. But with time, effort, and money, they got there. And maybe so can solar roadways. Or maybe they’ll be one more crowdsourced project that took a bunch of people’s money and didn’t do anything with it. But I hope not.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that no idea arrives fully formed. There’s early drafts and experiments and attempted solutions that don’t work out, and all of those have to happen, and most of them require money. So when people see this new idea and say “But they haven’t accounted for northern snowfall, so don’t support them,” that is harming progress. Don’t just tell me not to support that idea, point me to the idea that will work. Show me how to kickstart more solar farms, but until then, maybe let’s give the people trying to accomplish something a chance.

And you don’t want to be the guy who’s shown the future and screams “Burn the witch.” That is helping precisely nobody. In fact, maybe you should think about what your backlashing is saying about you…

It puts you on the wrong side of things

Now let’s really court some controversy. Casefile 3: Kony 2012.

Remember this? The group Invisible Children put out a video whose goal was to make everyone aware of Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, and specifically his tactic of indoctrinating children as soldiers. The video went viral, kits were sold for people to spread anti-Kony stuff around their towns, and a huge “poster everything” event was planned, with the hope of wallpapering the western hemisphere with anti-Kony posters.

And then came the backlash.

Much like ALS above, out came the accusations of slacktivism, and this time they were well earned, since while the end goal of Invisible Children was, in principle, the arrest of Joseph Kony and an end to children being used as soldiers, the only tangible result that Invisible Children were able to create was awareness. Which is, at best, a good first step. Invisible Children never seemed to manage the second.

People picked at how Invisible Children spent its money (primarily travel and video equipment, which isn’t that weird for a company whose primary activity is travelling the world to champion a cause with videos). People said “But Kony isn’t even in Uganda anymore” in an attempt to dismiss the video’s entire message. Which had just two problems as a nitpick: a) the video said he wasn’t in Uganda anymore, and b) in exactly which country is it okay to commit atrocities with child soldiers?

And then the public face of the campaign went a little nuts and was caught masturbating in public and that was about that.

Sure, if the Kony 2012 campaign is remembered at all, it’ll be as a definitive example of slacktivism: shit-tons of awareness raised, nothing actually accomplished. But there was one thing about all the backlash that bothered me.

While they did take an incredibly, soul-crushingly complicated issue, specifically the political realities of post-colonial Africa that allow rebel warlords like Kony to exist, and try to make it far too simple (share this link to save the world!), Invisible Children’s goal was to end a horrifying practice, that being child soldiers. It was Invisible Children vs. Joseph Kony… and Kony didn’t end up as the bad guy. No, according to internet backlash, Invisible Children were the enemy because they weren’t doing enough.

My question is this. If it was child slavers vs. slacktivists, and internet cynics decided to take up arms against the slacktivists… are they not, in some way, picking the side of the child slavers?

No, think about it, nobody was saying “Invisible Children isn’t doing enough, so let’s take the awareness they raised and run with it,” they just said “Why are you spending so much money making videos” or started parody Kickstarters. They weren’t trying to solve the problem Invisible Children wasn’t able to solve themselves, they were just mocking Invisible Children for speaking up.

Kony’s still active, FYI. And the African Union is trying to catch him exactly as hard as they were before. So conrgrats on that, internet backlash. You and Invisible Children finally have something in common: neither one of you has done anything to stop child soldiers.

Ugh. This is getting heavy. Let’s end with something lighter.

It’s just mean

Casefile four…

You know who you are.
You know who you are.

The fact is that all of these internet backlashes, whether they’re sort of defending a war criminal or accidentally announcing “We do not care about people with ALS” are small potatoes. Even Occupy Wall Street will pale in comparison to the day they finally cast a new Iron Man.

You know I’m right. Nothing makes the internet explode more than casting news on geek-targeted movies. A day will come when Peter Capaldi steps down from Doctor Who or Daniel Craig films his last James Bond movie, and when that day comes, we will once more be drowned in Tumblr/Twitter posts decrying the TV/film industry as racists for not casting Idris Elba as the new Doctor/Bond, as well as posts from a much worse group screaming bloody murder over the mere suggestion of casting Idris Elba as the new Doctor/Bond. We saw the social justice crew go nuts over another white male (worse, an old white male) being cast as the 12th Doctor, we saw internet racists (who claim they’re not racists, they just care deeply about character canon) go berserk over black actors playing a Norse god in Thor and the Human Torch in next year’s Fantastic Four movie… and that’s not even what I’m talking about here.

I’m not calling out racism or misogyny or those who campaign against them. I’m instead calling out the nerd rage crowd, the ones who shouted that Heath Ledger could never be a good Joker, or that called Daniel Craig “James Bland,” or who now throw around the term “Batfleck” as a pejorative. Because putting aside the fact that these nay-sayers have been wrong far, far more than they’ve been right (have they ever been right?)…

It’s just mean.

Take Ben Affleck as Batman. Ben Affleck started strong, with an Oscar for writing and a string of action hits. Then he dated Jennifer Lopez, made a few bombs, and was damn near run off the planet because of it. So he pulled back, took some time off, and slowly worked his way back into Hollywood, starting as a director and ultimately returning to the Oscar victory podium as the director and producer of Oscar champ Argo. And for this, for this hard-fought return to respectability, he was rewarded. Warner Bros., the studio he won an Oscar for, gave him one of their most high-profile gigs: he was the next Batman.

And the internet reacted with all the grace and dignity of a prison riot.

Peter Capaldi has been a fan of Doctor Who longer than I’ve been alive. Longer than most current fans have been alive. He watched William Hartnell, the first Doctor, in the role when he was a kid. And now he gets to take on the role himself.

And the internet either shouted “Too old!” or acted like casting another white man was a return to Jim Crow days.

Ben and Peter, lest we forget, are real people with real feelings. Maybe Ben was excited to be trusted with this role. Maybe he was excited to get another spin as a superhero in a (hopefully, please gods let it be) better movie. Maybe Capaldi was thrilled to get a chance to fly the Tardis. And maybe they don’t need jerks on Twitter saying their casting is terrible news because one of them was in Gigli over a decade ago and the other isn’t diverse enough.

In conclusion. You won’t agree with every trend that hits Facebook. Not every viral campaign will speak to you, and some will downright annoy you, but maybe think it through before you decide to tear it down. Ask yourself: what am I actually accomplishing here? Is there a more productive way I could express my disagreement with this cause? Who else is on my side of this argument, and do any of them enslave children? And, most importantly, am I being a jerk? Or, to put it simply…

Seriously, though… go plant a tree for Groot. Before someone starts complaining about that one too.