Let’s hear it for mediocrity!

Like many busy people, I spend roughly 40 percent of my waking life wasting time on the internet. The problem: The many commentators and reviewers who pollute the internet only ever talk about good TV shows and movies. Nobody wants to talk about the mediocre ones!

It’s a challenge, and I accept it.

“Apollo Gauntlet” (Adult Swim, 2017)

This defiantly stupid Canadian import began as a YouTube series and was picked up for a six-episode test run, a bit like “MDE Presents: World Peace,” but with less alt-right transgressions and more dumb pop culture references. Myles Langlois’s vision was a parody of the detritus of 1980s D&D culture, sort of resembling the infamous CD-based “Zelda” game cutscenes but with choppier animation. Upgraded for a mass audience, it even more closely evokes those “Zelda” comes, some of the most immediately hate-watchable entertainment of my generation.

The show itself is… fine? Langlois himself plays Paul Cassidy/Apollo Gauntlet, whose fortuitous discovery of magic talking gauntlets transforms him into the superhero for a generic fantasy world. His delivery is one of the best things about the show, lazy and distracted. It’s a bit like “One Punch Man,” a much, much superior show, in that the humor comes not from setbacks but from a hero laconically conquering every challenge he comes across.

I enjoyed the randomness of everything else, and the voice acting owns; Betsy Sodaro, a UCB veteran with a voice like a clogged paper shredder, is particularly good as the most competent member of the adventuring crew Gauntlet stumbles into leading. But too often, the jokes consist of out-of-place references and little follow-through. One example: When Gauntlet teams up with Dr. Benign, the James Urbaniak-voiced villain who sent him to this word, Benign suggests a plan that will be “just like ‘Shadow of the Collossus.'” It’s a video game, get it?

The punchline, delivered by Gauntlet: “Nobody understands your pop culture references.”

That’s it. Fine stoner entertainment, but not much more. Binge-watching will get you maybe through half an edible.

“I’m Dying Up Here” (Showtime, 2017)

My favorite hate-watch of 2017, a deeply flawed show packed with enough funny performances that I keep turning it on and suppressing my groans. Based loosely on what’s supposed to be a very good book about the alt-comedy scene in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, the show’s set largely in the fictional Goldie’s, owned by — get this — a woman named Goldie, played by Melissa Leo with dramatic chops and a lot of corny dialogue. Goldie’s is basically The Comedy Store, which, fortunately for set designers, has not changed since the 1970s.

Goldie presides over a sophisticated comedy slave trade, where comics work for no pay for the right to hone their acts and maybe catch the eyes of producers. The plotlines that don’t resolve around personal drama usually focus on the workability of this scheme, which, in the pilot episode, is complicated by a comedian (Sebastian Stan) getting a big break on “The Tonight Show” and then killing himself, because there was nowhere to go but down.

God help me, I was compelled to keep watching, mostly because of the performances that anchor the b-plots. The a-plots are often excruciating, usually involving Bill (Andrew Santino), Nick (Jack Lacy), and Cassie (Ari Gaynor) battle their egos — and in Nick’s case, every drug available in 1975 Los Angeles — to Make It. But the b-team of actors are funny in a way that overcomes the occasional drab script — Clark Duke, Erik Griffin, Jon Daly, and Al Madrigal as a comedian who is, correctly, mocked for making every single joke about Mexicans. There’s a throwaway scene in which Duke and Daly argue over whether the drowning death of Daly’s father makes any sense as an analogy that’s one of my favorite things all year. (Another favorite: A hanger-on comedian played by Dom Irrera walking absent-mindedly into a fight, kicking a sleazy radio producer on the ground, and only then asking “hey, who we kickin’?”)

Also, to be fair, it’s damn hard to make fake “comedy” work, as the people who suffered through “Studio 60” can attest. “30 Rock” usually got past this problem by making its show-within-a-show completely surreal; “I’m Dying Up Here” does a good job manufacturing stand-up that sounds like it was delivered by people who haven’t quite made it.

“House of Cards” is Terrible and You’re All Bad People

On the way out of the Senate yesterday, I heard tourists talking about House of Cards, the popular Netflix show that has supplanted The West Wing as the preferred pop culture window into Washington. My chief problem with the show is that it is terrible — clunkily written, drunk on cliches (name a female journalist on the show who doesn’t end up schtupping a powerful man), hammily acted.

Two examples of why I loathe it so.

1) Season two and the first half of season three spend some solid time building up Senator Hector Mendoza, a Latino Republican who is elevated to majority leader over the course of the series. He’s powerful enough to be invited to a quasi-State Dinner where foreign dignitaries recognize that he probably will be elected president soon.

Yet in episode eight, he is written off — literally. President Underwood greets the House and Senate leaders. Mendoza is not there.

“What happened to Hector Mendoza?” Underwood asks viewers, through the fourth wall. “Well, you don’t declare a couple of speeches as income, and — boom! You’re no longer in Congress, and certainly not running for president.”

And that’s it. A scandal never previously mentioned, hinted at, or foreshadowed took out a key antagonist. There’s not even a wink at Underwood or his operatives pulling the strings. It just happened.

2) In that same episode, a novelist named Mickey Doyle, hired to write a campaign memoir of President Underwood is finishing an opening chapter about how, as a young man, he tried to swim from the shore of Charleston to Fort Sumter. The story is fake, but in the House of Cards universe, no journalist ever uncovers a story, so this can slide. No: The problem is that Doyle, a troubled but talented rake, is pounding out some of the shittiest prose this side of a Cliff Bar nutritional panel.

“He’d reached the point of no return,” writes Doyle, narrating as he punches keys. “Turning back was no longer an option.” Later: “One thing can’t be denied, however: What others saw as impossible, he refused to believe as such.”

Several scenes later, Doyle meets with Underwood to deliver some pages. The president reacts as if he was just handed a first draft of The Corrections. Doyle confidently pronounces it “the best thing I’ve written in years.”

Bobbing along in our barrels

While muddling through the last week of deadlines, deadlines and more deadlines, I watched through the 2004 FOX series “Wonderfalls.” Here was a show slated to debut in 2003, delayed until early 2004, and then only aired three times even though 13 episodes had been filmed. It was produced by Bryan Fuller of the worthless “Dead Like Me” and Tim Minear of the quite worthwhile “Firefly.” I didn’t know what to expect – was it going to be unbearably “different” like Fuller’s work? Was it going to make the most of its fantasy hook like Minear’s? Was the apparent overacting of its stars, as seen from the promos, going to drive me insane?

Roll call: Yes, yes, and yes.

“Wonderfalls,” as you’ve forgotten by now, was the story of 24-year old slacker Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), a clerk in a Niagra Falls gift shop, who suddenly starts communing with the hideous chatchki she sells. Wax lions, teddy bears, and snake decals on T-shirts start giving her cryptic messages like “Save him from her!” and “Give him heart!” She (overactingly) talks back to them (out loud, for some reason), and after finding that nothing good comes of disobeying them, does whatever they say.

This is all written and filmed with a Costo-sized supply of cheekiness. The writers make every character sarcastic and witty (even the rubes are witty in a deadpan way). Oddly, they make all the female characters irksome and all the male characters flawless. This becomes a problem when Jaye meets Eric (Tyron Leitso), a newlywed whose wife was giving head to a bellhop in their honeymoon suite when he walked in the door. Eric went AWOL from his marriage and his life in New Jersey and settled in Niagra to bartend, and he’s absolutely saintly and perfect and characterless. He is immediately interested in Jaye; there is no downside to dating him; even though he’s funny and you enjoy watching him flirt with Jaye, one of the three stools of the show’s plot becomes completely predictable.

After a few episodes, after I watched Jaye extend fairly mundane problems into 43-minute sagas, I watched one of the features on this DVD set and learned that the show’s producers and writers provide the voices of the chatchkis. So I figured out the mystery of the talking animals – they are the disembodied spirits of lazy writers. When Jaye’s family’s French-Canadian maid is deported, the chatchkis don’t warn her about that. They tell her to ask the maid to make breakfast, which delays her so the INS has time to arrive and arrest her. Then they tell her to “bring her home,” and direct her to the house of her actual parents, who loathe her. So they tell her again to “bring her home,” and she arrives back to the Tyler household after some bureaucratic wrangling… which could have been dealt with originally if the chatchkis had, you know, told Jaye to file her maid’s citizenship papers.

The gimmick fades after a few episodes… it’s a little like “Scrubs,” which cut down on its fantasy sequences just when they were getting tiresome. And when we’re left with Jaye and her not-boyfriend and her family, this is a kitschy (was there a special on fishbowl lenses?) but cute series. It probably didn’t deserve its fate; it’s at least worth renting.


One of the first sites in California that I had to see was Sunnydale High School – aka the real world’s Torrance High. I didn’t just see it. I conquered it.

Like the caption says, CJ photographed me with the stair rail in the foreground. Yep – the rail that Xander skateboarded into in Season One, Episode One “Welcome to the Hellmouth.”

Tonight’s “The OC” finale

Wow – it’s rare you get to see a show jump the shark so definitively, isn’t it? (Assuming you don’t think it jumped with the crazy depressive guy in season one. Which is a valid theory.)

UPDATE: Upon reflection, I just noticed that Seth got a late acceptance to the Rhode Island School of Design. He’ll start in January, not August or September. I think the producers are aware “Gray’s Anatomy” is going to eat their lunch and they’ll get pulled midseason for Untitled Norm MacDonald Project. A sad end.

More Degrassi

I’m 2/3 of the way through season three of “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” and I can safely say this is the point when the series surpassed the original Degrassi shows. The abortion episode “Accidents Will Happen” – still unaired in the US – is many degrees sadder and more powerful than the Spike arc on DJH or the Heather (was it Heather or Erica?) arc on DH. And the foreshadowing you can see on these DVDs, with knowledge of what the characters will do over the next few years (Craig’s bipolar disorder, JT knocking up Liberty), really speaks to the talent of this writing staff.