Category Archives: television

Rick; Morty; Story

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That’s Rick, that’s Morty, and that’s… hm.

Reduced to an emotionless husk after Game of Thrones’ “Rains of Castamere,” I embarked on a quest to discover and consume my soul animal, a goat with cataracts high atop the Pidurutalagala in Sri Lanka. After being granted shelter by a chapter of Buddhist monks, I underwent months of “legit” Buddhist hazing rituals, which included drinking whatever mixture Pat made at lunch (mostly hot dog water), cock fights, and much more opium than I’d been accustomed to (some opium).

Turns out I took a bad nap after ingesting some expired baby carrots that I’d found under the couch sitting out on 42nd street. That’s called a K-hole. I read about it in a book that also said it’s a common problem for intelligent people.

Firmly on the mend, I cast off the Snuggie, put the Snuggie back on, and swallowed a Denny’s Grand Slam like I always do when feeling less than fresh. Then I wrote a regrettable, come-to-Jesus personal essay.

However, when it’s not busy apologizing, single/hand/clap is a “blog” (byte level onanism fer gadssakes) where I write about things. Sometimes those things are TV shows. This is one about a TV show called Rick and Morty, specifically an episode called “Meeseeks and Destroy” which you can either watch or live vicariously through me.

I thought the episode was especially neat. I don’t get around to touching the B-story, which is a clever inversion of the A-story: Rick’s family chooses to embrace their chaotic lives while, in the A-story, Morty learns to value the safely-contained thrills of a story rather than experience the terror of choosing his own adventure.

Anyway, here’s a review or something?

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It’s not often that a stinger on a TV show, let alone a stinger on an Adult Swim animation, resonates with its episode’s theme. Even “theme” is a tall order for a programming block born of absurd classics such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force (although there is Venture Bros.). Further, that it happens on Rick and Morty, a show which began as a copyright-infringing YouTube short largely concerned with scrotal-lingus, is particularly surprising.

Or maybe it’s only natural.

After all, co-creator Dan Harmon has culled a lunar cult around the thematically rich Community. Harmon and Justin Roiland, Rick and Morty’s other half, immediately established their new series as an interstellar action-comedy based in cruelty and triteness that is distinctly Earthling in origin. Every week, Morty and his family are trapped within sci-fi, late-night sushi caliber nightmares that either play on their weaknesses and uncertainties, or it’s an episode about cybernetically-enhanced dogs. Even super-scientist Rick’s cunning has been called into question. Harmon and Roiland’s ensemble isn’t as thoroughly (or bluntly) treated as, say, that Halloween episode of Buffy,  but it might just beat Angel most weeks.

We’ve located the program on the Whedon Scale. Great.

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Despite heavy promise, Rick and Morty simply hasn’t had the time to mature into a showpiece of character growth. In five episodes, however, it has demonstrated a knack for explosive, imaginative stories to which Morty and his kin feel satisfyingly essential. Those familiar with Community’s stranger side know that Harmon and his writers love to toy with fiction tropes. Harmon’s oft-mentioned “story circle” is a method of story-breaking honed from Joseph Campbell’s tropes-a-poppin’ hero journey (which I used to justify my disproportionate affection for a Nintendo game). The creator’s loftier experiments in rearranging the building blocks of story have resulted in many of Community’s best episodes, and Rick and Morty’s latest episode, “Meeseeks and Destroy,” shares the same Lego Freestyle Bucket. The episode has an easy joke in its title, but it poses a difficult question. Specifically, amid all the fairy tale merriment, Morty attempts to answer the episode’s most prominent query: is it possible to mold life into narrative? What is a “good” story, if you’re the one living it?

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Perhaps it’s due to his limited mental capacity or any of the various injuries he’s suffered in the name of his grandfather’s science, but Morty, granted passage by Rick to any location in time and space, hazards a classic guess: he and Rick enter a “fantasy-type” world where giants hoard gold up in the clouds and peasants treat to their ye olde blemishes down below. After a quest-giver turns the duo on to treasure and the opportunity for heroism, Morty is convinced: outsmarting a giant, absconding with his gold (which, in this universe’s sick logic, probably turns out to be crucial funds for a lifesaving operation or tuition for Giant State University), and spreading the wealth to an impoverished kingdom are, in his opinion, three easy story beats for crafting his own, living epic.

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Rick, unsurprisingly, takes a more cynical stance. Morty’s insistence on vapid setting and saccharine altruism, as well as the lack of potential for any real scientific discovery, leaves him nonplussed and irritated. He’s probably read it before in Hero with a Thousand Faces. For starters, we have the strange land, the crossing of the threshold, and the encounter with the guardian. “Meeseeks and Destroy” plays a familiar song, but it’s “Sk8r Boi,” slowed, reversed, and layered with Sylvia Plath from inside a basement wall, delivering a muffled one-woman performance of the Satan scene from The Adventures of Mark Twain. As Morty’s story continues, Campbell’s hero tropes are warped into moments of disappointment, terror, and repulsion.

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Even after the adventure stops “going so smoothly and adventurously”– meaning after the giant suffers a fatal head injury and seizes to death, after the two are charged with giantslaughter by giant Serpico-style dics,  after their case is thrown out by a giant Atticus-esque defense attorney who literally speaks up for little guys, and after they are left to descend the courthouse’s gargantuan steps– Morty stalwartly defends his adventure. Rick repeatedly states that Morty need only “say the word” and his portal gun will instantly deliver them from danger. Morty declines, asserting that “adventures have conflict,” but forgetting that conflict is rarely under the hero’s control.

The thematic kernel of “Meeseeks and Destroy” is how very little reality shares with the dramatic arcs of fiction. Morty has access to Aesop’s entire suite of fables, plus staircase-shaped people to boot. Unfortunately, the classic fairy tale strokes are muddled by the chaos and consequence of real life. When Morty realizes that he cannot be both author and protagonist of this realm, he’s sent tumbling down a very dark slope.

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Very dark.

In the episode’s most potent encapsulation of theme, Morty is nearly raped by a jellybean man– and thankfully, despite the inherent silliness in those last few words, the situation is not played off as a joke. The jellybean’s sexual assault is captured in jarringly fluid animation. Moments after the attack, Morty trembles, shudders, and attempts to conceal his trauma from Rick out of shame. The tone of this scene and the details of Morty’s PTSD are real enough to mirror scenes of sexual assault captured on film such as Stoker or TV shows like that other episode of Buffy. The only differences here are the medium of animation and, of course, that the aggressor is made of candy. Jellybean people are comically absurd to imagine, but assuredly would not be as satisfying when fully realized and standing before you, a universal fact. To find amusement in reality, a layer of separation between the observer and the observed is necessary. A zoo gorilla is fascinating until it shatters its glass; a Velociraptor is rad until it opens a door.

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That’s what Harmon and Roiland are attempting to convey in “Meeseeks and Destroy.” If jellybean people existed, some of them would be rapists. The inherent sadism in fiction, that protagonists suffer for the entertainment of the audience, doesn’t translate to lived experience. Real adventures, what Morty seeks, are either tragedies or near-tragedies and never glorious. Even the stair-shaped people know that. So, after Morty and Rick reach the foot of the steps via the magical flight of a mucus man, and after bequeathing cash unto the villagers, and after the king of the grateful peasants is revealed to be none other than the jellybean rapist, and after Rick and Morty escape, but not before Rick fires a laser through the sex offender’s jelly-filled skull– after all that and the credits– we’re left with a stinger:

A man we can only assume to be some kind of police chief (a Commissioner Gordon, given this scene’s similarities to The Dark Knight) is presented with a box of explicit photos. He is told the photos belonged to the freshly deceased King Jellybean; we can imagine their subject. The commissioner winces and delivers an order to his subordinate.

“Destroy it. Our people will get more from the idea he represented than from the jellybean he actually was.”

The morals, motifs, and themes we attach to stories are literary fabrications, lies told with optimism. When the truth is devoid of meaning, teaches nothing, and comforts no one, what’s wrong with a bit of artful embellishment?

The camera zooms out. Behind the two officers looms the stone effigy of Jellybean, his fingers curling over the shoulders of a beaming child.

American Dad comes on.

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Hold the Whipped Cream: Feeling Good About Feel Bad Fiction

Due to the oh-so-timely nature of single/hand/clap’s triannual posts, pop culture bits of the here and now are subject to be spoiled at any time. Unless the spoilery feature in question is inspired by wheat beer, however, I’ll try my best to offer a warning. This is that. If you haven’t seen last Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode “The Rains of Castamere” and don’t truck with that study about spoiled stories being more enjoyable, I would recommend coming back later. Please, come back.

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No, but for real, though? Really?

This week in internet rage, once-mild-mannered Walgreens cashiers throughout the Midwest leveled pyroclasmic paragraphs at Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, hoping their sweaty words might banish his corporeal and ethereal forms from the extant realm. Of course, these are folks, like me, who hadn’t read the books and as a result lacked the hindsight and conditioned, Zen-level self-restraint of readers who had no doubt drafted the same livid letters on Windows ME, a dozen years earlier. I get it. I was gutted, too. The red wedding of “The Rains of Castamere” gives the show’s fans about as much quarter as it spares for its blindsided guests. It’s going to take a lot of Tide to save those tablecloths.

If you sense a shade of twisted glee in my words, you’re not mistaken. Fiction without misfortune is a game of Twister without sexual tension. Discomfort, grief, and pain provide the bursts of euphoria that many readers, viewers, and video game players, myself included, continue to chase in their pop culture diet. “The Rains of Castamere” is one of only a handful of wedding episodes I’ll defend to Internet Death (this season’s hard-earned Parks and Rec union being another). I don’t donate hours upon hours upon hours of my life to make-believe bullshit just to experience fleeting happiness spurred by a protagonist’s easy achievement. Success in fiction is the necessary relief of tension before plot can resume. Stories need conflict like Batman needs Joker, like Maher needs Coulter; otherwise, where’s the beef?

Okay, so I hope Bill Maher isn’t Batman; forgive the squeaky metaphor.

My favorite part of David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, outstripping Trent Reznor’s grinding compositions and James Bond’s best performance since that time he went gambling, is the trailer. As the camera creeps toward an icy manse, propelled by Reznor’s torturous static, the tagline boldly asserts itself as “THE FEEL BAD MOVIE OF CHRISTMAS.” Okay, we’ve all seen a handful of other films that are arguably feel-worse: Stoker and Sucker Punch both come to mind for two completely different reasons (guess which one I hate). Considering books, the selection of spirit-eroding fair expands to an incalculable list. For a novel to be considered Real Literature, an element of Total Bummer seems mandatory. When the commercial yang of Real Literature has the Happy Ending covered from every sun-soaked angle, however, a reprieve in the shade is refreshing.

Ooh, I hope it's a wedding! (screenshot courtesy of Chad Concelmo and Destructoid)

Ooh, I hope it’s a wedding! Mother 3, a prime example of storytelling laced with heartbreak.(screenshot courtesy of Chad Concelmo and Destructoid)

I’m not a sadist. I’m not fixated on the battered adjectives “dark” and “mature.” I don’t obsess over the character studies of Neon Genesis Evangelion or blare Smashing Pumpkins in my black bedroom with a skip-protected Sony Walkman. In my experience, however, the day-to-day of a human being doesn’t feature much closure. The tidy, satisfying, “agreeable” narrative is a human invention, born out of a distinct lack of poetic justice on Earth. To support that claim, here’s a repulsive anecdote plucked straight from my own, pathetic day-to-day. It’s no red wedding, but it’ll do just fine.

A few days ago, I drove past the local strip mall and settled at a stop sign. A young woman standing at the sizzling street corner grabbed my attention. Her clothing–a brown knit cap, a green hoodie, dark jeans– struck me as somewhat insensible given the weather, the humidity being one step above swamp and one step below Swamp Thing’s anus. She pivoted her ragged cardboard sign, a prop of hardship nearly as iconic as the plaid knapsack and bindle, to appeal to passing traffic, to appeal directly to me. I only read as far as “Out of —–” until I was overcome with a volatile mixture of shame and selfishness that pinned my eyes to the intersection ahead.

Some psychological defense mechanism buried in the reptilian region of my shitty psyche prompted the following rationalizations:

She might be a crook. She just wants money. I could be robbed. Even if she doesn’t rob me, she’ll probably just waste my twenty bucks. 

Causeless suspicion gave way to an inflated sense of futility.

I could give her less but then I’d have to go all the way to the ATM (a whole quarter-mile away). Anyway, there really isn’t any room for me to pull over (except for the nearly empty Arby’s parking lot on the corner) and I don’t have time to talk to her (the iced coffee I had left for being the far more urgent matter).

And then, because it was inevitable, the washing of my hands entirely:

Someone else will come along.

Deep down, I knew she wasn’t a thief. If I had actually suspected her, I wouldn’t have arrived at the weak conclusion that her knight would come along with his twenty bucks and fulfill the destiny bequeathed unto him and certainly not me. I wrote that happy ending as a psychological tool, a rusted shovel to bury the nagging, inconvenient truth in its tiny coffin.

So I kept driving, obviously. My glance only wavered toward the rear view mirror a few times on that long stretch of road between Sonic and my secret shame. Once I tasted the needless cream whipped atop my deliberately chilled, chocolate-flavored coffee, I had nearly forgiven myself for my valiant failure. Then, I turned back onto Washington.

Is she still there? Oh, please let her not be.

She was, of course. As I approached that contentious corner, a spontaneous burst of neurosis froze my hands to the wheel and my foot to the pedal. I drifted on for three blocks, detouring. She probably hadn’t even noticed me pass; thank god for that. I’d have felt way worse if she’d made eye contact or if, like, I’d spotted a single, tiny tear crawling down her cheek. Or if she slowly mouthed “why” and fell to her knees in my rear view. Good thing I didn’t look.

You want whipped cream on that? You do, right? Of course you do. What? Under your fingernails? I'll get the pliers. And more WHIPPED CREAM.

You want whipped cream on that? You do, right? Of course you do. What? Under your fingernails? I’ll get the pliers. And more WHIPPED CREAM.

Back at my lot, I rattled a coffee-bereft Sonic cup and peered in at the remaining pile of ice, unrecognizable as such having been completely transformed by whipped cream.

Maybe they won’t know it’s just frozen water if we fucking murder it underneath this sugary cow shit. 

My left leg dangled from the car door, not ready to commit to pavement.

I should go back.

I spent about fifteen minutes deliberating, swinging my foot like a pendulum, weighing my guilt against my willingness to be inconvenienced.

I should do it. I’m going to do it.

As I doubled back to satisfy my conscience, a Hallmark Original Movie premiered inside my head, without commercial interruption. I was already doing it.

I smile as I see her leaning against the stop sign, still doing her thing. She wipes beads of exhaustion from her brow until the sweat overwhelms her hands, runs down her face, from the creases of her hazel eyes. I coyly slip into Arby’s and emerge after five short minutes, carrying a large sweet tea.

“I hope you like sweet tea,” I say sheepishly as I approach with drink outstretched. It’s a funny thing to say because that’s exactly what I brought. My joke isn’t lost on her.

“Doesn’t look like I have much of a choice,” she laughs, flashing her whites. Somehow the single gold tooth only enhances her charm. She’s a tramp with a heart of gold and a tooth to boot. I hold her bindle while she accepts.

Voracious, she empties the cup in moments and pries open the lid to scoop out whipped cream. While we chat, she swirls gobs of the stuff onto her finger and into her mouth. I’m tantalized by a speck of white hitching a ride on her dimpled chin. Soon, I can’t resist the temptation to dab gently at the cream with a thumb. I’m surprised; I had no romantic intention, just an unwavering sense of humanism and a few bucks to lend, but now it seems that my measly twenty dollars is the least pressing matter on both of our minds. Her false tooth testifies with a sensual glint. Using my opposite thumb I tap her button nose affectionately while the same hand’s pinkie finger tucks a few adorable strands of dirty blonde hair behind her ear, with some effort. As I lean in to impart her with a taste of my altruism,

she crosses her eyes,

grunts like a caveman,

and takes a frothy dump, right on the dry grass.

She was gone. The street corner had been vacated.

As fantasy disintegrated, disappointment faded into a vapid smile.

Someone else came along. That’s great.

After pulling into Arby’s and ordering a large sweet tea, I counted the change.

Damn.

I’d had to break that twenty.

Schoolhouse Rock tells us that Necessity is (literally) the mother of Invention. With fiction, that’s true in a couple of ways. The sunny tales we tell our children, those were invented of the necessity to explain a reality so incomprehensible and frightening in its totality that it needed to be divided into verdant meadows and creaking forests. The grass of the idyllic meadow is soft and inviting; provocative fairies and vaccinated animals drink from dinky acorn tea cups and recline against La-Z-Boy mushrooms. There will always be time for excursions to the meadows, but be wary: the tea cups brim with high fructose corn syrup. A protracted visit will leave you fattened, sluggish, and entirely devoured.

Pictured: Labyrinth, a film ostensibly intended for children.

Pictured: Labyrinth, a film ostensibly intended for children.

If you can crawl away, do so. Pull yourself up, careful not to tip over, and let that momentum carry you stumbling into the sanctuary of the abyssal forest. The sun of the meadow cannot penetrate the forest’s thick canvas. Slivers of light skip across the suggestions of a world primordial. Your eyes slowly adjust to the hue of obsidian. Rustling leaves are drowned in the ringing of ears are drowned in perfect silence. The thrill of fear urges your limbs forward.

George R.R. Martin’s squat outline leans against a mossy rock. He lives here, apparently, and listens as the trees whisper tragedies. You wave but he evades eye contact and turns his head affectedly. He’s thinking of killing someone. You attempt to conceal your bruised ego with a cool-looking shrug before carrying on.

The forest can never be fully learned. Its trees uproot and shift with each visit. However, the mementos you return with are precious. They inspire further exploration. As you continue, you note that the forest has another constant: this land is at an incline.

You ascend into new darkness, pioneering the black, and begin to feel good about feeling so bad.

Yeah. Just don’t kill Arya.

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Art, Again: Revisiting the Bebop and Exploring the Value of Reacquaintance

In a previous post (alternatively, five posts ago; it’s a bit dated. Remember what you were wearing back then? Hilarious.), I touched lightly upon the importance of Cowboy Bebop in terms of its influence on my early, gestating taste in entertainment. After recently devouring Shinichiro Watanabe’s sophomore Samurai Champloo over an embarrassingly brief period, my id turned its ravenous gaze toward Bebop. Before it decked my super-ego, yoinked my debit card and hopped on Amazon to buy the box set, I had a moment of hesitation: did I really want to defile a childhood sanctuary? After all, excluding Cabin in the Woods and pizza, nothing is better the second time around. The diminishing return is a fact of life, so we might as well all tie off and assume the fetal position until death delivers our haggard husks to that big, ol’ Womb in the Sky, right? Should I have left Bebop in the same keepsake box where All That and Space Jam gather dust? Do I believe the Bebop can fly?

Come on and slam; if you want to jam. But do you really?

Yeah. It soars. It sputters somewhere short of the dizzying heights from my memory, but that in itself is an interesting avenue: how does our reverence for old favorites warp with time, and how can returning to a treasured piece enhance our appreciation in new ways?

If you’re unacquainted, the conceit of Cowboy Bebop is this: in the year 2071, space is a young frontier. Efficient space travel technology has enabled the human race to spread to every corner of the solar system. That means colonialism and capitalism tag along, too: the boundless mystique of Bebop’s universe is thanks to a vision of the future that’s never excessively futuristic. Building and vessel design can be conservative, rustic, cheap, traditional or even tacky, but it’s never sleek. While the year 2071 gets closer and closer and the innovation of the warp gate is still squarely in the realm of sci-fi, the plausibility of Bebop’s world is what keeps us invested when we discover that the protagonist’s name is Spike Spiegel, that his crew mate, Faye Valentine, like a sensual Doug Funny, really does wear that ridiculous outfit every episode or that the enigmatic antagonist is a man named Vicious who wields a katana and an imposing, black parakeet. Yeah, for every few moments of brilliance in Bebop, you’ll have to make a couple of concessions. This was Adult Swim’s flagship anime title when it launched in 2001: there is a deliberate injection of pulpy “whoa-dudery” to seal the deal on the 12 to 18 to 24 nerd demographic. That doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome, though.

Because leaning against walls is cool.

Plot-wise, our first meeting with the kernel of the Bebop crew, Spike and the comically-monikered pilot, Jet Black, blasts into action with little background information supplied to the viewer. It’s a true example of in medias res, starting the story after the story starts, and more than that: it’s smart writing. Like many anime dubs, Cowboy Bebop occasionally leans too heavy on expository dialogue (dialogue that plainly explains plot; telling rather than showing) when it comes to rolling out the microcosmic narratives of each stand-alone episode, but the histories and motives of Spike, Jet, Faye and Ed are handled with a minimalist touch. For example, the first episode, “Asteroid Blues,” winds up with a short, stylish mélange of monochrome images from Spike’s past: a poignant music box tune underlies flashes of gunfire. The tension between muted sensory input (sound, color) and violent action perfectly summarizes Cowboy Bebop’s style in a matter of seconds: this is a show unafraid to take Zen-like pauses between furious bouts of chaos, that trusts its viewer to assemble pieces that aren’t always connected or even provided. It’s a show that may seem superficial and often is, but consistently challenges the viewer to dig beneath its thick layer of “cool”: the show’s living embodiment of “cool,” Spike, may move and speak with the fluidity of water, but there is a gritty bed of history underneath his collected exterior that promises to surface; one day, that stream is going to dry completely.

Growing up, I only caught obscured glances at that riverbed. Mere intimations of Spike’s past combined with breakneck action and artful direction were enough to fascinate my adolescent (and admittedly, completely superficial) mind. Spike was the kind of empowerment fantasy I could get behind: he isn’t a musclebound hero, he doesn’t always triumph, but he’s wry and intelligent; he’s the sort of guy I probably hoped to become, as a nerdy kid full on A’s but low on athletic or social skills. That’s the appeal of Cowboy Bebop for many. It’s always cool and we usually aren’t.

In “Mushroom Samba,” even blaxploitation gets a send-up.

Fortunately for adult viewers, Cowboy Bebop isn’t satisfied with just being cool. After the breathless “Asteroid Blues,” I didn’t expect that the proceeding 25 episodes would be packed with significance. Genre pastiches, direct homages, potent social themes, loaded imagery, existential philosophy: Bebop deftly combines these subjects and more in a  performance that is constantly refreshing and feels, like the best jazz, miraculously improvised. “Toys in the Attic” takes cues from Alien, playing out its absurd situation with surprising suspense; the shootout in “Ballad of the Fallen Angels” lovingly mimics the choreography of a John Woo film; “Hard Luck Woman” finds orphan Ed abandoned once again by her absentee father; “Sympathy for the Devil” is haunted by the demons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; “Brain Scratch” draws a clear distinction between intellectual skepticism and bitter nihilism.

I didn’t understand, in 2002, that the story Jet tells to Spike in “The Real Folk Blues Part One” is actually “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway. It’s a story concerned with reflection. In Hemingway’s story, a big game hunter in South Africa succumbs to gangrene and looks back on a life spent wandering. Despite his concise retelling, Jet admits he doesn’t care for the story, finding the idea that a man only thinks “about [his] past right before [his] death, as if [he is] searching frantically for proof [he is] alive,” ridiculous. Jet may have missed the mountain for the rocks here, but he has a point. We’re always reflecting; every time we seek to improve we are subconsciously evaluating the past. If art imitates life, we should display the same discernment with the pop culture we consume. Dig deep into art, excavate meaning and discard the meaningless. Sharpening your skill as a critic will only increase the joy you extract from worthwhile entertainment.

Broaden your interests. Never stop learning. Never be passive. Maybe watch Cowboy Bebop if you haven’t.

In the immortal words of R. Kelly: believe you can fly.

Bang.

Jiffy Pop Culture: Chew Your Food

Immediately following a week-long Samurai Champloo bender, I remained seated in front of my TV for several minutes, attempting to process the 26 stylish, hilarious and heartrending installments I’d chugged so ravenously. I doubt I formulated any thoughts in that recliner; instead, a primal, gaping absence inside ached for a 27th episode. Indigestion was bound to occur: I’d completely assimilated Champloo’s universe in the time it usually takes to watch, deconstruct, and read several other nerds’ opinions on a new episode of Community. When stripped of weekly viewing constraints, a television show ceases to really be television (after all, isn’t the traditional distinction between film and TV the size and delivery of its portions?); what we have instead are extra-long, episodic films. On top of that, Hulu and Netflix allow more consumers to descend upon a larger selection of entertainment than ever before. It’s increasingly easy to consider the “television experience” a slash-and-burn operation. We, the consumers, are an all-devouring maw from some Lovecraft book I haven’t read. That maw dines and ditches. That maw doesn’t give a shit.

Kanjuro Shibata XX, Enso ca. 2000

In my tender teens, Cowboy Bebop (which is, although I didn’t know it, another Shinichiro Watanabe joint) spent years defining much of what I would come to expect from entertainment. Cowboy Bebop is, like Samurai Champloo, a brief, 26-episode jaunt. If you’d have asked my fourteen-year-old self how many televised adventures he thought Spike Spiegel had, the answer probably would have been an irritatingly exasperated sigh followed by, “I dunno, like a hundred, maybe?” Just last week, I could have sworn the answer was 52. So why was I seeing double if Cowboy Bebop is supposedly such a lucid inspiration? The reason lies in portion control. Dieting. Samurai Champloo can go toe-to-toe with any episode of Cowboy Bebop, but the truth is that Champloo will never occupy the same place in my memory as Bebop or even Community. By the time Champloo aired in the United States, that nostalgic, golden era of all-night anime marathons with my sister had mostly given way to the artificial gravity of high school affairs. I would occasionally catch an episode here and there, as evidenced by fleeting bouts of déjà vu over the past week, but the adventures of Fuu, Mugen and Jin, in my mind, didn’t conclude until now, seven years after the finale’s airing. Subconsciously, I’d been savoring a small sampling of Samurai Champloo for over half a decade; the characters had lived on in some dusty, mental recess. They lived until last week, when I scrambled in filthy, half-naked and desperate for sustenance, smacking my lips and sweating like a hog, and devoured them whole.

To this day, I’m not sure if I’ve ever completed an entire run of Cowboy Bebop–certainly not sequentially. I would anticipate the next week’s episode with bated breath, never sure if the unpredictable higher programming powers would bequeath a new episode, re-run or deem me unworthy and yank the show entirely. Due to the once rigid constraints of television viewing, Bebop had to spread itself thin across years of my adolescence. Single episodes such as “Toys in the Attic” would parasitically dominate my thoughts for weeks. I anthologized my favorites on VHS tapes. I lived in 2071; Spike, Jet and Faye were my first roommates.

I can’t claim as much intimacy with the vagrants of Samurai Champloo. I accompanied them for an eventful week and gleaned a few memorable images–opium-addled revolutionaries, Kamakura zombies, the earliest and deadliest incarnation of Japanese baseball–but the journey is finite. That’s the Zen philosophy that Champloo offers: don’t waste your life expecting denouement; don’t treat your friends or your TV shows as a means to an end. In today’s streaming age, the option to binge on pop culture is feasible and tempting. Do yourself a favor, though: don’t rush. Don’t be the gluttonous maw. Take time to smell the sunflowers on the way to the samurai; the end is hardly ever the best part, anyway.

Or maybe just don’t invest so much in fiction.