Category Archives: TV

#TeamDuncan

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

Today kicks off Veronica Mars Week at SportsAlcohol.com. It was never our intention, but all of our feature weeks to date have been about little-seen genre films. It’s exciting to cover a movie we think will actually be good for once.

As fans of the show, we will post  a variety of thoughtful, well-written pieces throughout the week. There will also be multiple posts by yours truly on the topic of shipping. Marshmallows, as fans of Veronica Mars are known, have strong opinions about who Veronica should be involved with romantically. With the characters being revived for a movie, these debates have been renewed in full on the internet. Fans have taken to social media declaring themselves #TeamPiz or (more commonly) #TeamLogan in support of their favorite paramour for Veronica. They are even selling shirts.

Not Pictured: Teddy Dunn, who could use the work
Not Pictured: Teddy Dunn, who could use the work (Source: Instagram)

Absent from this debate almost entirely is Duncan Kane, Veronica’s first boyfriend. Being written out of the show in season two, there were no shirts for him (until the fans made some). This makes very little sense, as Duncan and Veronica are great together!

[From this point down, there will be a lot of SPOILERS. Consider yourself forewarned.]

Continue reading #TeamDuncan

The State of the Modern Vampire

Maggie is a for-real writer. We're kind of surprised that she would lend her name and her words to SportsAlcohol.com, but we're certainly not complaining. Her first novel, The Cost of All Things, can be ordered here.
Maggie
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Bona fides

By day, I am an editor of young adult fiction. I have read all the Twilight books (including the unreleased 100-page version of book one from Edward’s perspective), seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and attended a midnight singalong of “Once More With Feeling”), and I am straight-up OBSESSED with The Vampire Diaries and how BADASS AND AWESOME it is. I have read what feels like thousands of paranormal unpublished and published books. I have a working familiarity with all popular vampire lit, in that, if pressed, I could plausibly fake having read/seen them at a cocktail party. (Super cool cocktail party, bro.)

Caveats

I have not read the Vampire Academy books or seen any of True Blood. I was never in to Anne Rice.

Context

Let’s throw out some dates: Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran from 1997-2003. The first Twilight novel was published in 2005. True Blood and the first Twilight movie premiered in 2008; The Vampire Diaries premiered in 2009 (based on a novel published in the early 1990s). Anne Rice wrote about Lestat for decades before any of this—starting in 1976. Count Von Count has been enumerating since 1972. Bela Lugosi did this shtick for a long, long time. And of course Bram Stoker was on the cutting edge of the repurposing-folktales trend with Dracula (1897).

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So young!

Vampire Academy the book series became popular on the heels of Twilight—the first Vampire Academy book came out in 2007—but it’s more a descendent of Buffy than Bella. (Which from a publishing perspective makes sense. Books take a long time to write. It’s extremely unlikely Richelle Mead had read Twilight when she wrote her book.) Unlike Bella, Rose kicks ass and is sarcastic as a Guardian—a role similar to Giles’s Watcher. Unlike in Twilight, romantic complications are secondary to a mystery plot. These vampires are “different,” like Twilight vampires, but each vampire story must distinguish itself from the previous ones in some way, and the time was right for more vampires of any stripe.

In tracing the popularity of the books, it doesn’t hurt to add in a dash of being sent to “special school,” a la Harry Potter—but it’s also, I will self-righteously note in a futile attempt to get everyone to stop comparing everything to Harry Potter, one of the foundational tropes of children’s literature forever and ever, from What Katy Did to A Wizard of Earthsea to Sideways Stories from Wayside School and beyond.

So that’s the world that brought us these books. The zenith of vampire hype. Readers were desperate for more, publishers scrambled to fill the demand (see the resurgence of The Vampire Diaries, a 20+ years old series), and a great rush of books filled the void. The world into which this movie was released is very different than the 2007-2010 vampire heyday. We’re inundated with them (see first paragraph). Twilight is over, and we’re looking for the next Hunger Games instead (see future SportsAlcohol.com post on Divergent). Vampire Academy feels out of its time from the get-go, from its straight-up title to the slightly-but-not-quite parodic tone.

Secrecy

Part of the fun of the classic vampire story is the process of learning that vampires are, in fact, real. There’s a period of creepy suspicion, where things might be normal-ish, and then the fangs come out. That’s 80% of the first Twilight book. It takes Elena around six episodes to piece things together on The Vampire Diaries (and it is so satisfying to see her ask sensible questions and not allow Stefan to get away with half-answers). It’s the thrill of arriving in that creepy old house and wondering what secrets your host is hiding.

Once the information is out, the story automatically becomes much more complicated. Are there other vampires? How do you become a vampire? Are vampires people, or are they some sort of other? Do they have a conscience/soul? Why doesn’t everyone know about them? Do they have enemies? (Often the natural enemy of the vampire is the werewolf [Twilight, TVD]. Which can lead to things like Underworld making a tiny amount of sense. Note: There’s no such longstanding tradition of gargoyle/Frankenstein conflict.) How do you kill them? Sparkle in the sun: y/n?

For the most part Vampire Academy dispenses with the thrills part of this formula and starts answering the questions, thus leading to Jesse’s complaint that the movie is all mythology. But I see this less as a complaint with the actual movie but a problem with the medium of this particular vampire story. After a while, things get complex in every story, if the story’s going to remain interesting, and books and TV shows have a lot more time to develop their rules and backstories than movies do. The Vampire Diaries has one of the most dense and complicated backstories I’ve ever experienced. (For example, here is how you become a vampire: 1) ingest vampire blood, 2) die, 3) re-animate, 4) grapple with your life choices and bloodlust, and 5) ingest human blood. The process can take days and there are multiple opportunities for interruption. Narratively, it’s a goldmine.) AND YET all this mythology is also amazing and flawless in every way. They can afford to feed us the mythology a morsel at a time. A movie doesn’t have that luxury, so it’s straight to spelling things out in voiceover and on-screen text.

the-vampire-diaries
Flawless

In most of the vampire stories I’ve mentioned, the vampires have some interaction with the outside world. That’s where the primary tension comes from: Who knows/who doesn’t, who’s hiding/who’s hot on their trail, which innocent people are likely to be slaughtered if our heroes don’t get their acts in gear. Vampire Academy, with the exception of one scene in a mall, does not feature with normal people at all. This means that the story has to rely on the mythology and the politics of the world for tension.

Granted, stories like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries and Buffy eventually, somewhat inevitably due to the murderous nature of vampires and the danger of their worlds, dispense with “normals” and become just as internally-focused as Vampire Academy. Twilight is taken over by the Volturi. The whole world fills with Slayers. There’s like one normal human being left in The Vampire Diaries and even he’s been possessed occasionally. But again, that’s a more understandable place to end up when we’ve seen hundreds of hours or read hundreds of pages about these people.

The Soul

What makes a person “good”? This is an essential question of most vampire stories. Vampires must drink blood to survive, and certainly, cutting people open tends to lead to their demise. But it doesn’t have to. There are plenty of ways to feed without becoming a killer: stealing from blood banks (questionably moral, but not intentionally murderous), animal blood, synthetic blood, and just taking a sip.

For most vampires, though, it’s not that simple. The state of being a vampire and needing blood to survive is often physiologically (and metaphysically) different than you or I saying “I’m hungry and would like a sandwich.” I’m talking about bloodlust, the extreme desire for human blood. Deeper than a craving, and uncontrollable, and definitely sexual. Moroi in Vampire Academy don’t appear to have bloodlust, but Strogoi definitely do. And Strogoi, not coincidentally, seem to have been stripped of their soul.

rose-lissa-vampire-academy-st-vladimirs
Kitty!

The soul! The thing that makes us “human” and “not murder-y.” In The Vampire Diaries, the cleverest show that ever was, vampires can choose to switch on and off their “humanity.” If they switch it off they do not give a fuck and will murder you where you stand, and it takes a ton of convincing to get them to turn it back on again. In Buffy, vampires (with two exceptions) don’t have souls at all, so it’s usually okay to dust them.

In Twilight, the lines aren’t as rigidly drawn. Vampires who drink human blood tend to be more soulless and cruel than those who only drink animal blood, but the red-eyed ones still have a full range of emotions, and they’re able to decide not to murder whenever they want. And even the animal-blood “vegetarians” are totally ruled by bloodlust—they’re doing their best to repress their desires, but they can’t change who they are.

It’s not just the vamps that enjoy bloodlust. I don’t know what the word is that would be equivalent to bloodlust, but there’s something definitely… enjoyable… for humans getting their blood sucked. They never cry, they never seem to be in pain. They seem quite content (wink wink). Vampire Academy uses this idea to talk about slut-shaming—a good dhampir would never ever let a moroi feed off her. Though Lissa saying the words “slut-shaming” in a public speech makes this subtext way too obvious, it’s a pretty interesting idea–how do we get these ideas of morality and purity? Do they make any sense?

(As a [long] side note, romance with a vampire is pretty much always disturbing when you consider how young a human is compared to a vamp, and Edward’s constant bloodlust makes Twilight’s romance even more chilling. At least in Buffy, Angel isn’t seconds away from ripping Buffy’s head off. Without bloodlust, the non-blood-drinking 24 year old falling in love with the 17 year old in Vampire Academy seems positively tame, though it gave me an icky feeling at the time.

It’s become a cliché to pile on vampire stories for their icky age issues, and that’s all true, but I think it’s important to be able to define why it is that people enjoy watching vampires and humans fall in love in the first place. It’s not simply some weird obsession that only silly teen girls fall for, and to pretend that there aren’t real and interesting reasons for the popularity of these stories is to discount something potentially interesting about why we keep reading and watching these stories:

1) The vampire must change his life for her and go against his nature to be with her
2) The vampire has known hundreds of women over hundreds of years and this one is special
3) The vampire is mysterious (see section on Secrets)
4) The vampire is very handsome

twilight3lg
Kiss or murder?

Look at that: Vampire Academy has none of this!)

The obsession with the soul and what it means to not have one shows up in a lot more than vampire fiction. Why else are there so many TV shows about serial killers? As a society—maybe as a species—we’re deeply afraid of a creature as smart as us (or more so), as attractive as us (or more so), but who have no conscience, and who really, really want to see us dead. Because you can’t tell by looking at someone if they’re evil. And that’s true of everyone, not just vampires.

At least in Vampire Academy, everyone’s role is very clearly designated. It’s comforting to be able to assign rules to psychopathy, and to be able to identify and fight psychopaths with your personal guardian (or slayer or witch or werewolf). That might be the true appeal of vampire stories, beyond the sexy sparkliness of it all: They give evil a reason for being, they invent backstory to understand cruelty and loss, and they tell us how to fight it.

I was going to write an “In Conclusion” header but I have no conclusions, just more random thoughts, and this is a million times tl;dr, so I’ve got to stop now.

Recommended Reading

For unusual takes on sex/death, bloodlust, love, psychopaths, rules, and more.

Holly Black, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Robin McKinley, Sunshine

Scott Westerfeld, Peeps

A. M. Jenkins, Night Road

Maybe just don’t watch The Super Bowl?

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

The Super Bowl this year looks really good. Like really good. As Nate Silver noted on Colbert earlier in the week, this year is only the eighth time the two best teams have faced off against each other. He called it a pick ’em. In addition to statisticians, sports books and video game simulations think it’s going to be a very close (and therefore exciting) game. We even have some lovely apps in our app store to help you enjoy the game better.

That being said, I’m nothing if not difficult. I think I’m going to probably skip out this year. Maybe you should join me. Here is why:

Continue reading Maybe just don’t watch The Super Bowl?

I Am Not That Into Sherlock’s “The Sign of Three,” Because I Am a Monster Who Has No Heart

Gripes
There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

N.B.: This post will hypocritically complain about Sherlock spoilers while simultaneously containing Sherlock spoilers. Away with you if you haven’t seen up to the second episode of the third season.

COMMUNITY -- "Geothermal Escapism" Episode 504 -- Pictured: (l-r) Danny Pudi as Abed, Donald Glover as Troy -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

Before We Get to Sherlock, Let’s Talk About Community

 

Hmm, this seems like an unrelated topic. I wonder where I’m going with all this.

But hear me out: Community is a fine show, to be sure. But it’ll never work its way into my (cold, possibly absent) heart the way the best of its NBC brethren (i.e. 30 Rock) has. Why? Because it insists on being a comedy with heart, only it keeps hitting the same emotional beat over and over again. Far too many episodes boil down something threatening the friend group, and the group deciding that, yes, their friendship is more important than whatever was threatening it.

This was effective in the beginning, where there really was a transition from a randomly assembled study group to a real circle of friends. But a couple seasons in, they were still affirming their relationships. And a couple seasons after that, they still are.

Think I’m wrong? Take this season’s premiere. The Community characters are not even a study group anymore. They’re people who legitimately know each other outside of school. And yet, something threatens their friendship: Jeff manipulates the rest of the group into suing Greendale. And he almost gets away with it…until he decides that, yes, their friendship is more important than his professional success. (Have we seen this episode before?) And instead of suing the school, he convinces them all to re-enroll in it, and re-form the study group.

It just gets emotionally repetitive.

Sherlock-Bench

Now, to Complain About Sherlock a Little

 

I’m still not talking about “The Sign of Three” yet. Just go with it, because you love my roguish qualities.

I watched the previous two seasons of Sherlock on Netflix. I saw the first episode of the first season while Jesse was out of town, and decided it was so good that I’d wait for him to come back, make him watch it, and continue the season with him. The second season came and went on the BBC, and then came and went on PBS, and then finally came to Netflix, where we watched it at our leisure. At no point was I subjected to spoilers.

Sometime in between the second and third seasons, something changed. Now there are bits of Sherlock information floating around in the ether, ready to spoil me at a moment’s notice. Not only that, it seemed like everyone downloaded the episodes as soon as they hit the BBC, so I had to be worried about being spoiled for a show that hadn’t even aired in the United States yet. My choices were these:

1) Be like everyone else and download the episodes, and either watch them on a screen of sub-optimal size or on my regular TV but of the sub-optimal watching-a-web-video-on-my-TV quality.

2) Watch the episodes on PBS, and cross my fingers that a) the downloaders won’t spoil everything and b) PBS didn’t cut the episodes down, as they did the previous two seasons.

3) Wait until the season comes to Netflix, where I can once again watch the uncut episodes at my leisure. Resign myself to knowing everything that happens before I get to watch it for myself.

I went with Option No. 2, and it seems to be working out. The episodes don’t look like they’ve been shortened, and I’ve only been spoiled for minor things. But, obviously, I resent having to make the choice. We only get three Sherlock episodes a season, people. After they’re done, who knows when Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will be available to shoot another season together? I wanted to spread the episodes out and make the season last as long as possible. Instead, I feel pressured to blow through the entire season in three weeks, and wait however long to blow through the next season in three weeks, and so on.

This is just another example of how…

Sherlock-Moriarty

Fans Are the Worst

 

I should be more specific. When creators listen to their fans, it’s the worst.

Not to go off on yet another tangent, but the big, archetypical example of this—at least around the SportsAlochol.com office—is the Veronica/Logan relationship on Veronica Mars. They’re so much more interesting apart than together, and yet fans somehow bullied the show into keeping them together for longer than was useful.

For a more relevant example, think back “The Empty Hearse,” the season premiere of Sherlock. What was the worse thing about it? If you’re like me, your answer probably has something to do with Anderson—especially his little club of people speculating about how Sherlock is alive. I’d say the worst moment was the imagined Sherlock/Moriarty kiss. It was an elbow-to-the-ribs kind of joke, and it was so, so cheesy. The club is clearly a stand-in for Sherlock fans, and the kiss was total fan service. Did that moment deserve a guffaw, a laugh, or even a chuckle? Sherlock should be better than that.

Sherlock-DrunkDeductions

Which Brings Me, Finally, to “The Sign of Three”

 

I know—I took a roundabout way of getting to the point. Kind of like Sherlock’s interminable wedding toast in “The Sign of Three.”

I’m not saying I hated the episode. All Sherlock episodes are good. I enjoyed the lighter tone of “The Sign of Three” (“the elephant in the room”), along with the clever way the seemingly unrelated cases he mentioned all came to bear at the wedding. I especially adored Sherlock’s drunken deductions. (“Egg? Chair? Sitty thing?”) My problem wasn’t even with the notion that the cases hinged on two people not feeling fatal stab wounds, though I found that kind of unbelievable.

No, my problem was with the excess of gooey emotion between Watson and Sherlock. (I know, I know: monster, no heart, etc. Send all hate mail to rob@sportsalochol.com.)

The idea that Sherlock is a damaged sociopath who is only redeemed through Watson’s love is one that should be used in the show very sparingly. In “The Sign of Three,” it was overused. So many moments were there just to make you go “awww.” We get the mushy parts of Sherlock’s Best Man toast. We get the flashback to when Watson asks Sherlock to be his Best Man, and thus affirm that Sherlock is his best friend. We get Sherlock’s heartfelt violin-playing for Watson and Mary’s first dance. We get Watson saying, “She has completely turned my life around. There are only two people who have ever done that.” (Clutch your hearts, non-monsters who still have them!) And we get the sad way Sherlock slinks out of the wedding, even though he loves to dance, because he has no one to dance with—despite the fact that people don’t really dance exclusively as couples to fast songs at weddings, and no one was dancing with Mrs. Hudson. Manufactured emotion, Sherlock!

If all of these “awww” moments weren’t enough, it all comes after a season premiere that ends with a big, cathartic speech about Watson’s feelings for Sherlock—a speech that starts with Watson saying how hard it is to talk about his feelings for Sherlock. To me, it seems like he actually can’t shut up about them.

It’s not that I’m totally disinterested in these kinds of emotional scenes. I found the end of “The Reichenbach Fall,” the last episode of the second season, to be hugely moving. Watson’s speech at Sherlock’s grave got me, man. I had Feelings-with-a-capital-F. I still do when I think about it. But I only found it so effective because scenes like that, up to that point, had been so rare throughout the series. I’m afraid I’m going to become numb to them.

That might be the goal for some people. It’s clear that, for some fans, reveling in the Watson/Sherlock relationship is the main appeal of the show. But Sherlock should resist, because giving fans what they want is the quickest way to ruin something. If Sherlock pauses every episode—possibly multiple times an episode—to reaffirm that the friendship between Watson and Sherlock is more important than whatever is threatening it (Moriarty, marriage), it’ll stop being great. It’ll be Community. (Look! All the threads came together, just like I planned from the start.)

Conclusion: The tenderness of the Watson and Sherlock relationship is like salt. A little bit of it brings out the flavor of the entire thing. Too much leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Maybe just don’t watch the Grammys?

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

You are messing up my twitter

2014 Grammys are evilFor the reasons outlined below, I’ve already decided not to watch the Grammys. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to check in on my social media at some point. People are always using the internet to post things I’m not interested in, but I was taken aback about how many people care about the Grammys in this day and age. I don’t need to hear about how Macklemore is overrated or underrated.  I don’t need to hear pretty much anything about Taylor Swift ever again. I have nothing against these people, but I hear more than enough than any person needs to about both of them by virtue of the fact that I’m an American with an internet connection. The night of the Grammys, I’m somehow getting extra Macklemore & T Swift in my life.  All I wanted was to check the news and I was just flooded. I come into work the next day (the in person version of twitter and facebook) and everyone is still talking about it. I can’t escape.

Sherlock was on!

Sherlock The Sign of ThreeThe night of The Grammys was the American broadcast premiere of the one where John gets married. I don’t care if you were one of those people who used Dirty Internet Tricks to watch the episode beforehand or one of those people who doesn’t care about Sherlock. IT WAS THE ONE WITH JOHN’S WEDDING. The shortest stag party ever. The best best man’s speech ever. Sherlock thinking his morning tea just appeared. That hug! Mrs. Hudson’s hat! Molly’s bow! And yes, there was also a clever mystery of some sort. Something so much better was on TV for the whole land to see, even if you were seeing it for the second time. I also watched Downton Abby and it was maybe the best episode of this lackluster season, but I wouldn’t fault you for not watching that.

Why were you surprised there wasn’t a real Lou Reed Tribute?Metallica at The 2014 Grammys

One of the things that people complained about was the lack of a true  tribute to Lou Reed beyond whatever weird thing Metallica did. Lou Reed was a true rock iconoclast. His work was dedicated to deconstructing all that came before and building something new from the wreckage. His influence was greatly responsible for the garage, punk, post-punk, alternative, and indie movements (among others). He was basically the godfather of all the recording industry was against in the 70’s and 80’s before they figured out how to profit off of it. There’s nothing the Grammy’s could have done to properly honor his legacy, especially paying him tribute. I’m not interested in the Grammys because they are structurally unable to appreciate Lou Reed.

If you have an opinion about this, it is meaningless

Just look at this list.  Eighty-Two Categories! How can you get mad that “Royals” lost Record of The Year when it won Song of The Year? Do you even know what the difference is? Scroll farther down and see how ridiculous some of those categories are. Don’t forget that there’s also a Latin Grammys on top of this. If you created an award show you cared about, is this how you would structure it? In some ways, all awards shows are meaningless. The Grammys seems to elevate this meaninglessness to new heights. I want to be upset about how much crap gets honored over what I like, but it’s nothing to get worked up about. 

It’s not even fun

This structural issue also means that you can’t easily do a Grammy pool. Think about it. Do you know anyone who has a Grammy party like people have Oscar parties? In my cantankerous old age, I have soured on awards shows in general (obvious, I know). That being said, I can understand the fun of an Oscar party.  I think a Grammy party is my version of hell.

Feeding The Beast

The Grammys are like Tinkerbell: they only exist because you believe in them and clap real hard. Maybe we should demand something better. Instead, this wave of social media I was inundated with perpetuates them. In a day and age when DVRs should help us from staying up late on a Sunday, people instead watch awards shows live for the express purpose of live tweeting and interacting with other live tweeters. This creates trending topics in social media and breathes new life into events that should be passing by the wayside. The internet was supposed to give us the tools to create and explore what we wanted on our own without corporate interests gatekeeping. Right now, we’re stuck in a feedback loop and it’s painful.

This is the 21st Century

I don’t think that technology killed music, but it did deal a mighty blow the music business. The Grammys are just a leftover of a bygone era. They have tried to adapt by downplaying the actual awards and promoting the types of performances other ceremonies have been doing for years. Some of them are even enjoyable. But why sit through hours of acceptance speeches and stuff you don’t care about to maybe catch something inspired when I promise you it will be online the next day, even the dope commercials.

Death to the record industry!

Home Taping is Killing MusicI’m sorry. I know how this last part makes me sound, but it’s a pretty inescapable truth. The Grammys never are and never were a celebration of music. They are a celebration of the recording industry as it existed in the previous century. At some point, their business model shifted from exploiting artists to protecting the intellectual property those exploited artists generated. For decades major record labels leveraged their recording, distribution, and promotion resources to create a system where they profited much more than the actual music makers. In an era when all of those activities can be done to some extent in a bedroom with a personal computer, we should question what value the corporate music industry provides and why we would want to celebrate that.