Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Two State Solution for the U.S.

I wrote EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED in 2009.  It was a time when I thought the United States was more fractious than I had ever dreamt possible.  Everyone seemed to agree that the Bush years had been a great big fat eight-year detour off the path for America.  But the country seemed to be literally torn in half about which was the correct way forward.  It was not lost on me that the recent election of the first black president was a progressive milestone of epic proportions, one even people my age never thought would happen in our lifetimes.  Neither was it lost on me that the backlash against his election was unleashing (or perhaps simply laying bare) a white-hot conservative anger that harkened back to the Cold War in invoking the specter of socialism and to even darker times in its implicit racism.  The United States was, somehow, at once both in Star Trek times (remember when "black president" was shorthand on TV shows for a vaguely defined date in the near future?) and in antebellum times.

EKD was my nightmare tongue-in-cheek vision of what two American states would look like.  The idea is nothing new - certainly Harry Turtledove covered similar ground in GUNS OF THE SOUTH and the follow-on series - but it was probably the first time in my life that I believed a divided America was a genuine possibility.  I had long heard of the supposed "right" of Texas to secede from the union as a historical quirk, a Jeopardy answer, a footnote in the history of our union.  Now, I was hearing people talk about it legitimately.  The governor of Texas, even.  Republicans, who, ten or twenty years before had been the dull, gray-suited defenders of the bureaucratic status quo were talking about armed revolution - in some ways fomenting it, although they all immediately disavowed every act of domestic terror that followed in their ideological wake.

I chose 2016 as my "point of departure" which is a term usually reserved for alternate history, but since I knew EKD was taking place shortly in the future, I like to use the term as well.  Although never explicitly spelled out in the text, I heavily implied that a Democrat being elected in 2016, which seemed like all but a certainty then (and even more of a certainty now) would lead to actual revolution.  My thinking was that conservatives hate Obama so much, and want him out of office so much, that the idea of a third term with a Democrat in power would drive them to sheer madness.

Now it is 2016.  Not quite November yet, but that'll pan out however it does.  I do want to know, though, what do you think about the future?  Do you think we can go on the way we're going?  Sad to say, but the idea of a "two state solution" which was always a term used to refer to Israel and Palestine splitting up in some sense, now seems to be a possibility for the U.S.  Do you think there's a peaceful way to dissolve the union?  Will revolution be necessary?  What will those two (or more) states look like?  Economically, can we afford to break up?  Politically, can we afford not to?

EKD was my attempt to answer just some of these questions.  What are your answers?  And what did you think of mine?  Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Re-Animated #9: Home Movies

In the late '90s UPN was in a similar position to Fox in the late '80s.  A new-ish network, it hadn't found its voice and didn't have a built-in audience.  From the '50s through, let's say, the '70s, the fact that a television network was broadcasting meant that some people were going to watch it.  By the '90s, cable was de rigeur and the last few Johnny-come-latelies to the broadcast scene were trying to figure out how to compete with the networks, who had monolithic audiences for their generic pap, and the cable stations, which could specialize and reach a core audience of fanatics.

I can't say exactly where "Home Movies" fit into UPN's plan.  It was never going to be a tentpole show.  It might have been a scrappy cult classic punching above its weight, a la "South Park."  Certainly by this time in history everyone had figured out that a clever animated show smart enough for adults but inoffensive enough for kids to watch could become a success.  "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," and "Futurama" were already hits, and "South Park" was something kids weren't supposed to watch but did anyway.

"Home Movies" was an obvious attempt by UPN to tap into that market.  UPN brought Loren Bouchard, the executive producer of "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist" which had run on Comedy Central, as well as H. Jon Benjamin, one of the stars of "Dr. Katz" in to make "Home Movies."  Presumably the main appeal of this creative team was that their shit was cheap, but amusing.

"Dr. Katz," which, the more I think about it, probably deserves its own entry in the Re-Animated series, but I'll have to get to that, utilized a rather unique premise for an animated show: it was improvised.  Essentially what it had consisted of was comedians coming in to sit on Dr. Katz's couch and give their standup routines.  A mild plot about Dr. Katz's family, including his son Ben (played by H. Jon Benjamin) served as essentially interstitials.  The whole script was basically improvised, then animated with the off-putting but extremely cheap "Squigglevision."

Squigglevision consisted of static images which appeared to suffer from palsy, giving the illusion of animation.  No one ever really moved, which was fine for a show about a therapist who sees comedians.

"Home Movies" used the same retroscripting process and the same Squigglevision (I hesitate to use the term) "technology.  In addition to H. Jon Benjamin, it brought in relative newcomer Brendon Small as a precocious eight-year-old filmmaker.  In the early episodes, the children made movies which were bookended by the family struggles of Brendon, Jason (Benjamin's essentially orphaned and maladjusted child character), and their friend Melissa, an overachiever with bad self esteem.

Unfortunately, movies are pretty much by definition an active art form, and while Squigglevision worked on "Dr. Katz" it seemed to be a detriment to "Home Movies."  The show was clever, but it was just damn ugly, and it never quite found an audience.  UPN cancelled it after airing five episodes.

Why, then, does "Home Movies" have its very own entry in the Re-Animated series instead of being rolled up into a post about weird failures and flukes of the '90s?   Well, my friends, you're about to hear a story which we're going to hear repeated, in generalities if not specifics, quite a bit throughout this series.

Remember last week's entry on "Futurama?"  Or two weeks ago's "Family Guy?"  Well, then, get ready to...not be surprised at all.  adult swim swooped in to save the day.  Really, "Home Movies" was the first show adult swim saved from the network ash heap, which is one of the reasons why writing this blog series is so difficult.  Where do you jump in?  When a show is at its prime or when it begins?  How much history do you need to dive into a show on its own merits?  Just writing this post I'm already sort of regretting not giving "Dr. Katz" its own entry, and writing "King of the Hill" made me feel like I should have done "Beavis and Butt-Head" first.

But such is the burden of all important historians talking about cartoons such as myself.  So, we shall proceed.

"Home Movies" was the first non-original show to air on adult swim.  In a way, its utter cheapness was its saving grace.  UPN didn't much give a shit about a show it had aired for less than two months in 1999 and had cost peanuts to make.  But adult swim was very much interested in a show that, if you could see past the ugliness of its design, was very clever and had a shitload of potential. 

Fortunately, between the era of "Dr. Katz" and "Home Movies" moving to adult swim, animation technology had moved by leaps and bounds.  Squigglevision had been a cheap method for making a show seem animated.  But by 2002, Flash animation was just as cheap as Squigglevision had been and you could have a product that was genuinely animated.

adult swim aired the eight UPN episodes of "Home Movies" and I suspect if that had been all they had it never would have caught on.  But after that, it began airing original, Flash-animated episodes.  No longer headache-inducingly painful to watch, the scrappy little gem that was "Home Movies" finally had a chance to shine.

H. Jon Benjamin - who we'll learn much, much more about in coming installments - is something of an improvisational and voice acting genius.  Originally "Home Movies" was supposed to focus on the kids and their attempts to build a surrogate family out of their various broken homes.  In the very first episode of the series, Benjamin voiced a character who I have always believed was meant to be a one-off, or at a minimum a background character, the churlish alcoholic soccer coach John McGuirk.  McGuirk briefly dated Brendon's mother and caused much chaos in Brendon's life.

Luckily, the show's creators realized what they had in McGuirk: a character even more juvenile than the eight-year-olds who meant well but could never quite get his shit together enough to be a good father figure for Brendon.  Instead, McGuirk stood out as a ridiculously bad male influence in Brendon's life: an indebted, misanthropic ex-con with a terrible job, a wreck of a life, and no prospects.  But, damn it, McGuirk was there!  He was always there for Brendon and the kids, and in a perverse way that made him one of the most loveable characters in television history.  The Platonic ideal of a deadbeat, and yet, he was always present in his surrogate son's life, McGuirk stood in stark contrast to Brendon's actual father, a lawyer with money, a good job, all the requisite life skills to be a decent parent, and yet he was a more-or-less complete absentee from his son's life. 

Andrew Small (played by a pre-gigantic blowup Louis C.K.) wasn't a terrible father, at least when he was around.  He and his son bonded over some pretty generic commonalities, like a shared love of pizza and hatred of golf.  But mostly it was blood that kept them tentatively in one another's lives, for a time at least, and by the end of the series, even if it's never explicitly stated, Brendon learns that family is what you make of it.  He stops pining for the father who, even when well-intentioned, just kind of isn't very good at parenting, and starts accepting the terrible, terrible paternal influence who is always, always there for him.

At its heart, "Home Movies" is all about family.  It's about broken children trying to come together as siblings.  It's about broken adults trying to figure out how to raise those kids.  And everyone, as my wife always enjoyed pointing out, was terribly miserable.  Their lives, making movies, playing soccer, and everything else, was just about distracting themselves from how miserable they all were.  The show had a raw, exposed heart and absolutely dripped with pathos.  And was never on the nose with what it was doing.  It never battered you over the head with its themes.  If anything, the themes of family were so subtle that it's only in writing about it now, in the wake of four seasons of damn hilarious television, that I can really analyze what the "Home Movies" people were doing.  You laughed out loud at the show because of the hilarious improve.  But you loved every single one of those damn, miserable people trying to scrabble to make it in this world.  It just was never that far off from how you feel about you own life.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Peanut Butter and Privilege

It's a joke in my family (sadly, still) that I never liked peanut butter.

Often's the time at family functions where will we reach that point in the evening where the time has come to remind my sister and I of all of our childhood shames.  And then, inevitably, my mother or father will declare, "And you never liked peanut butter."




Here's the story in brief.  Odd as it may make me for an American kid growing up in the second half of the 20th century, I never liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Every day for lunch we either got tuna fish or peanut butter and jelly.  (Even worse was when we got peanut butter sans jelly, because the jelly was the only part that made a PB&J tolerable, but I digress.)  Whenever I got tuna, I was quite pleased.  Whenever I got peanut butter I choked it down because, you know, it was that or starve.  Because I was eight.

To be quite frank, we never discussed the matter.  Again, because I was eight.  As far as I was concerned, my paper bag of lunch magically appeared each morning and the lunch leprechaun or whoever either smiled on me with tuna or frowned on me with peanut butter.  What child has the wherewithal to engage with their mother about her shopping habits?

Then, one day, we did discuss lunch.  I believe we were discussing what I should have on a Saturday or a summer day or something.  It was outside of the general scope of school lunch discussions.

And my mother said, "How about peanut butter?  You love peanut butter."

And I looked at her aghast.  And I said, "No, I hate peanut butter."

My mother and father both looked at me like I had a tentacle growing out of my forehead.

"You've always liked peanut butter."

"No, I never liked peanut butter."

And to this day either the idea that a young American boy never liked peanut butter, or that I ate it for years without complaint, or some combination of the two, is apparently a point of hi-fucking-larity to my parents.

Or perhaps it's the fact that I still, to this day, find it so goddamned frustrating.  My wife can't stand mushrooms.  One of her friends refuses to eat any kind of seafood.  Not liking certain foods is something so banal I can't believe I'm even wasting the internet's finite resources devoting space on my blog to explaining the concept.

I never asked them to give up peanut butter themselves.  I never asserted that nobody likes peanut butter.  I never asked them to believe peanut butter is inherently bad.  All I asked was that they accept, at face value, my personal opinion when I gave it to them.  That doesn't seem so unreasonable, does it?

And yet, they refuse.  They refuse to find my tiny little assertion of individuality, my insistence that this is my truth, anything but hilarious.  It is literally laughable to them.  And to me it is so frustrating that I could just scream.

And here's the other thing: if I even try to assert that they're upsetting me, that this petty little thing hurts my feelings - as I've done many times before - they think it's even funnier.  Because I'm not being a good sport.  Because I'm not taking their belittling behavior with good cheer.

You've probably guessed by this point that I'm not really here today to talk about peanut butter.  I mean, the peanut butter story is true, but it's just a metaphor for a broader point here.  When someone tells you their truth, whether it be "I don't like peanut butter" or "I don't like being told I'm well-spoken for my race" or "I don't like when people ask to touch my hair" do you take that statement at face value or do you insist that they're not being a good sport?

The thing is, my peanut butter story is petty.  It is.  It's utterly petty and it affects my life like, once, twice a year tops.  And yet, just thinking about it while writing this blogpost makes my gorge rise.  It is so goddamned frustrating to be told your feelings don't matter, or, even worse, they're in some sense untrue.

And I have to extrapolate (because that's all I can do is extrapolate) what it must be like to be told every day, multiple times a day, that your feelings, your truth is invalid.  That you're not being a good sport.  It must be so goddamned infuriating that you could just fly off the handle any minute.

And that's what minorities in this country have to deal with.  How often, honestly, as a white male in this country do I get told what I think doesn't matter?  That I have to be a good sport and accept abuse with good cheer?  Very rarely.  So rarely, in fact, that you can see from the temper tantrums of self-important men online how rarely they have to face up to even a modicum of criticism, let alone abuse.

Kids, privilege is a real thing.  I know it's a sticky issue.  Conservatives don't want to accept that it even exists, because it runs counter to all their ideas of rugged individualism and personal responsibility.  Even liberals find it kind of icky because it means somehow squaring the fact that you can be a good, non-racist person and still benefit from racist institutions.  To be honest, to be 100% honest, I think the concept of privilege is going to be transformative.

I know it was transformative for me.  It made me go from that happy-go-lucky liberal who said, "well, I'm not racist, so the problem's solved on my end" to someone who realized that bias is all around, that it's a constant fight.  Electing Obama didn't end racism, and legalizing gay marriage didn't end homophobia - as we were all too painfully reminded last week.

If, my friend, you can walk around without being told that your feelings and your responses to the behavior of others are invalid, then you are indeed deeply privileged.  So try to bear that in mind the next time you're considering telling someone they're being too sensitive, or that you're not PC, or any of that other insensitive bullshit.  Imagine what it would be like to be told you should damn well like peanut butter.  Except it's not peanut butter, it's the abuse you have to take for being who you are. 

Friday, June 17, 2016


My friends, scant hours remain in the Goodreads giveaway of my latest novel, EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED.  Did I purposefully wait to tell you about this until the last minute to artificially inflate your sense of urgency?  Or, rather, did I merely forget about it until it was nearly over?  The world may never know.  But the truth remains: enter by midnight EST tonight or miss your chance for a free signed, personalized copy of EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED forever*!!!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Every Kingdom Divided by Stephen Kozeniewski

Every Kingdom Divided

by Stephen Kozeniewski

Giveaway ends June 17, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

*or until you see me at a signing or whatever, NBD

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Re-Animated #8: Futurama

I once read a biography of St. Francis of Assisi that tried to place the reader in the right context.  "St. Francis," it said (or words to this effect), "Lived a thousand years ago in medieval Europe, which seems to us like he was closer to the time of Christ.  But bear in mind that the church was already a thousand years old by then.  As old as medieval Europe seems to us is as old as the time of Christ must have seemed to Francis."

That always struck me because we do tend to think of things as either "old" or "recent" rather than really contextualizing them.  It is perhaps why we find historical fiction so perpetually fascinating: the constant push-pull of "look how much they're just like us" vs. "look how much they're totally different from us."

Consider now, if you will, the context of the world in the long, long ago of 1999.  "The Simpsons" was already ten years old - far older than any other adult cartoon.  It must have seemed at the time as though "The Simpsons" had been on forever.  Now, of course, we're even further from "The Simpsons" of 1999 than 1999 was from 1989.

And Matt Groening, the creator of "The Simpsons," it seemed, was restless.  Or, at least, wanted more.   He went to his Fox overlords with an idea for a new show, a funny little sci-fi focused show taking place a thousand years into the future.  Millennium fever was in full swing, no one quite knew if the Y2K bug was going to destroy us all, and at a minimum the year 2000 sounded amazeballs.  Taking a look at a perceived year 3000 was a brilliant way to send up all the millennial hysteria.

And Fox naturally said, "Yes, of course" to their golden goose.  With conditions. 

Ten years had gone by since "The Simpsons" had put Fox on the map.  And the scrappy young network of the '80s had evolved into a corporatocracy.  Creators didn't get to just put shows on the air.  Executive oversight was de rigeur

"This is how we do things now," Fox said.

"Oh," Groening replied, "Well, the old way is the only way I make cartoons."

And Groening packed up his pitch and left.  Which left the executives fumbling.  "The Simpsons" was still a hit.  "King of the Hill" was doing surprisingly well.  Sunday night seemed to be turning into a place where adult animation could not only survive, but thrive (more on that in future installments, my dear friends.)  Groening's proposal - which you've probably guessed by now is what would turn into "Futurama" - was probably going to succeed on the strength of his reputation alone.

So, the Fox executives recanted and allowed Groening to do things his way.  Which turned out to be one of the wackiest, nerdiest, weirdest blends of highly sophisticated math/science and lowbrow slapstick imaginable.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

Deliberately, aggressively nerdy, "Futurama" was never going to be for everyone.  The viewer surrogate ( a certain extent) and point of entry is everyman Phillip J. Fry, a down-on-his-luck pizza delivery boy who finds himself single, underemployed, unloved, and with nothing going for him on the dawn of the new millennium. 

Adding insult to injury, a prank call finds him celebrating the new year in an empty cryogenics lab with a pizza he'll have to pay for.  Bob's your uncle, and a thousand years later he wakes up, the last relic of the Stupid Ages.  After Fry meets his new robot best friend, Bender Bending Rodriguez, and on-again/off-again cycloptic love interest Turanga Leela, he ends up working for his dottering old great-great-grand nephew Professor Farnsworth and his delivery crew: Amy Wong (the richest girl on Mars), Dr. John Zoidberg (a squid-like alien with a questionable knowledge of human anatomy), and Hermes Conrad (a Rastafarian accountant.)

One of the earliest criticisms leveled against "Futurama" was that it lacked heart.  Essentially a workplace comedy about robots and aliens, with only one (relatively) grounded character it played more as a pastiche of "Star Trek," "Star Wars," "Logan's Run" and any other number of sci-fi forebears.  Without the family that formed the core of "The Simpsons" what was there to love?

"Futurama" quickly and ruthlessly eviscerated those critics with a handful of intensely emotional episodes, including one where Leela discovers the truth about her parents and all-time series standout "Jurassic Bark" about Fry's relationship with a stray dog.  "Jurassic Bark" has the power, nearly 15 years later, to still reduce my wife and I to quivering tears - and we're not dog people.

In its years on the air, Futurama had peaks and valleys, some execrable (or, perhaps worse, forgettable) but for my money there is perhaps no better single half hour of television than "Roswell That Ends Well."  What "The Simpsons" accomplished with "Last Exit To Springfield" - a seemingly flawless episode where every single joke landed and the story was still second-to-none - "Futurama" achieved with "Roswell."

I could go on and on about the vagaries of "Futurama's" quality, but it's worth noting that much of that is due to its many, many incarnations.  "Futurama" originally aired on Fox from 1999 to 2003, alongside "King of the Hill," "Family Guy," and its forebear "The Simpsons."  Then, like "Family Guy," it found new life on adult swim.

As we discussed last week, "Family Guy," via the vehicle of adult swim, opened the door for the resurrection of beloved series which had found new life (and new advertising revenue) on cable.  And "Futurama" followed in "Family Guy's" to speak.

Rather than a full resurrection, "Futurama" was granted new life as a series of four direct-to-DVD movies in 2008 and on.  Changing the format from a half-hour series to a full-length movie came with mixed results.  Sometimes what was a tolerable level of silliness for a half hour became unbearable for two.  Sometimes the chance to tell a longer story, with more time for characterization and foreshadowing, paid off.
Whatever the case, Comedy Central decided when adult swim's contract with "Futurama" was up to pick up all of the old Fox episodes plus the movies - which would then be sliced and diced into half-hour segments for air.  Then, in 2010, Comedy Central began airing new seasons of "Futurama" as a television show - effectively resurrecting it a second time - before cancelling it again in 2013 (for good?)

Oh, and then in 2014 "The Simpsons" aired "Simpsorama," a "Futurama"/"Simpsons" crossover.

Perhaps befitting a show so focused on time travel, "Futurama" has had effectively six (if not more) series finales.  "Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV" was the original proposed series finale for Fox, which posited a meta-story where Bender gets a television show and then is cancelled for being inappropriate.  The story was considered too acerbic for a series finale, so "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings," a sweeter, more open-ended story was used as the original finale instead.

During its first resurrection as a series of movies ("Season 5") "Into the Wild Green Yonder" was meant to serve as a finale, where the entire crew escapes to some far off universe, allowing for possible future adventures but also to serve as an ending.  Then, when resurrected a second time, "Overclockwise" was originally intended to be the finale, but, again, was considered unsuitable, and "Meanwhile" served as the show's least, until "Simpsorama."

I doubt I'll believe that "Futurama" is over until everyone who worked on it is dead and buried.  But, then again, Channukah Zombie has been known to work miracles...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Rural Pennsylvania Author Expo or Bust!

Do you live anywhere near Dubois, PA?  It's an easy drive from Erie or Pittsburgh.  And if you do, you can stop by the Rural Pennsylvania Author Expo today and tomorrow, the 10th and 11th of June, to meet me, Brian KeeneMary SanGiovanni, and many, many more.

Here's the location:

Bradley's Book Outlet - Dubois
5522 Schaffer Rd
DuBois, Pennsylvania 15801

I'm very glad they'll be hosting us and looking forward to meeting all of you!  I'll have all four of my novels for sale and autographs, as always, are free.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Re-Animated #7: Family Guy

Seth McFarlane today is a bit like Jay Leno was in his prime: ubiquitous, obviously hugely popular, and absolutely scoffed at and despised by the chattering classes.  Certainly, McFarlane has become elevated in the last two decades into that rare class of creators like Quentin Tarantino who are just as recognizable on camera as off, something scum-dwelling writers like myself no doubt all aspire to. 

I don't know that it's fair to say that McFarlane sold out or even bought his own hype.  If anything, I think he is genuinely delighted to be an entertainer, with his love of old-fashioned musicals and vaudeville, and a huge grin perpetually plastered to his face that doesn't seem to have an ounce of guile oiling it.  His Achilles' heel is, in my estimation, the same as another famous creative, Charles Schulz, who it was said found it utterly impossible to say "No" to anyone who offered him a tie-in, endorsement, or spin-off of any type.

But McFarlane's status as a titan of animation is a later development that we'll be addressing in quite a few future "Re-Animated" installments.  In the late '90s, he was just a cartoonist who had done a few one-offs about a man and his talking dog for Cartoon Network.  That show, " & ," evolved considerably into "Family Guy," which debuted on Fox after the Super Bowl in 1999.  "Family Guy" indelibly changed the face of adult cartoons - whether for good or for ill, we'll take a look at a bit now.

At the time of its premiere, and still to this day, "Family Guy" was largely derided as a "Simpsons" clone.  That's partly par for the course, as basically any adult animated series is going to be compared to "The Simpsons," but in the case of "Family Guy" there were also some major cosmetic similarities.  The main character, Peter, is a big fat dummy, a terrible father and husband, who can sometimes be goaded into showing some heart.  There are three kids: a son, a daughter, and a baby.  And Lois, the mother and wife, is longsuffering, a dutiful housewife whose common sense makes her not much more than a stick-in-the-mud.

Beyond that, though, "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" are so different in tone they might as well come from different planets.  "The Simpsons" was witty, sometimes with jokes only the intelligentsia could understand, and, at its best, always had genuine heart and sympathy for its characters.  "Family Guy" was (and is) a joke machine, with all the advantages and drawbacks that implies.  Possessed of an acerbic, nihilistic sensibility, it also gleefully crawled in the gutter, at times even more so than "South Park," whose creators have made no secret of their disdain for their erstwhile peer.

"Family Guy" is crass, almost constantly racist, sexist, homophobic, and demonstrates just about every kind of un-PC attitude imaginable.  Its target demographic (as the show is often quick to point out) are mindless frat thugs.  Many "Family Guy" episodes have been pulled from the air or even shelved due to content, and its creators are open about their glee in pushing every button imaginable.

Did that last paragraph seem unkind?  Perhaps it was, but it's also true.  Which is not to say that I dislike "Family Guy," although I liked it a lot better in its early years.  The flip side of it being a joke machine was that the show was just goddamned laugh-out-loud hilarious.  If I could boil down "Family Guy's" essence to a single thesis it would be something like, "Anything, as long as it's funny."

This led to the show's signature device, cutaways, often to outlandish situations that made no sense in the context of the episode, but were funny for a one-liner.  The cutaways are just the tip of the iceberg, though.  "Family Guy" has never ceased to be a laboratory for comedy, experimenting with every imaginable variation of jokes and entertainment.  They routinely break the fourth wall, cut into the animated show with live-action clips, defy the laws of science and nature even within the world, all in pursuit of the laugh.  There's something pure and admirable about that.  And for a solid three years, "Family Guy" was putting out some of the funniest shit on television.

Then it got cancelled.  In 2002, ratings were not up to snuff for Fox to continue the series.  If that was the end of the story, this blog might be far more laudatory, a lament for a show cut down in its prime but remembered fondly by those of a certain age, like "The Critic" or "Duckman."

But the saga of "Family Guy" is far from over...

We'll be delving into this more (much more) in the coming weeks, but in 2001, Cartoon Network began executing a plan for a late-night block of comedy for stoners and college students called adult swim.  (Yes, I know, it's stylized with brackets, but I can't use brackets on my blog thanks to the html Nazis.)  adult swim had something of a surprise success by repurposing old Hanna-Barbera cartoons which Cartoon Network owned the rights to as absurd, post-modernist shows. 

The block was a success, but adult swim just didn't have enough programming, so they quickly began picking up other failed adult-oriented cartoons from other networks - most of which we'll be covering in future installments - to keep their audiences amused.  They purchased "Family Guy" for a song, and it instantly became the most popular show on adult swim and turned the weird, experimental sub-channel into a powerhouse practically overnight.

Re-runs of "Family Guy" in the middle of the night were getting better ratings than some network shows.  And the "Family Guy" renaissance on adult swim led to huge DVD sales.  It seemed that there had always been an audience for the show, it had just never discovered it at 8:30 pm on Fox.

And so, for the first time in television history, a cancelled show...was uncancelled.

(If you know of an earlier example, please let me know in the comments.  I know, at a minimum, it was an extraordinarily unusual occurrence at the time.)

Saying this today almost seems like no big deal.  Between Netflix, network jumps, crowdfunding, and all the powers of fandom on the internet, series being saved from oblivion seems to happen all the time.  "Arrested Development" came back.  So did "Community."  "Jericho" got an abbreviated extra season.  "The Mindy Project."  I could keep going.

But in the dark days, the long long ago, of 2005, networks were pretty much in charge and did whatever the hell they wanted and never resurrected a cancelled show.  "Family Guy" opened up those floodgates.  At the time, demanding that a show be brought back on the air was about as likely as an incompetent, racist reality show host being nominated by a major political party for president.

For a triumphant year or two, "Family Guy" came back.  And it ushered in that grand era of McFarlane ubiquity in animation I alluded to at the beginning of this post.  Of course, all good things and all that.  "Family Guy's" weak points began to show, and it wasn't much longer before a straw broke the camel's back, and more or less everyone agreed that "Family Guy" had become a soulless, clattering, misanthropic vehicle for jokes without a hint of a story to be found.  Of course, "Family Guy" had always been that way, but now the sheen's worn off, a bevy of imitators have surpassed or at a minimum diluted the brand of the original.

"Family Guy" joking about "prom night dumpster babies" was pretty edgy in 2005.  But now when I watch a blistering "Rick and Morty" dialogue about when and how it's okay to use the word "retarded," I can't help but think that the zeitgeist has passed "Family Guy" behind.  And maybe that's okay.  I'll keep watching it.  But, then, in case you couldn't tell from this series, I can't not watch cartoons.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Longest Day...

Today, is, of course, the 72nd (!) anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, also known as the D-Day landings, perhaps the finest hour not only for our army, but also the British, Canadian, and the free forces of many of our allies in World War II.

For those of you who are young, or maybe just not history buffs, in the early 1940s Germany had conquered the bulk of mainland Europe and had even run off the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkerque, France, in 1940.  With the exception of partisans (notably in Yugoslavia) and resistance forces (notably in France, but every occupied country had some form of organized resistance) mainland Europe had become what Hitler referred to as "Fortress Europe."

The British Isles remained unconquered, as did most of the Soviet Union, but by December of 1941 the Germans had invaded the Ukraine and western Russia as well.  For the western Allies the war was taking place in north Africa, the Italian isles, and, by 1943, mainland Italy as well.  For the Soviets, an existential war was taking place on what the Germans called the Eastern Front. 

Stalin was not satisfied with the contributions of his American and British allies and consistently demanded the opening of a second European front against the Germans.  ("Second" front is, I suppose, a bit of a misnomer, considering the Italian campaign.)  Remember: for us, World War II is history and its outcome is assured.  During the war, though, no one knew how things were going to turn out, and it was terrifying.  The Allies discussed sending expeditionary forces into Russia to aid in the warfare there, but Stalin continued to insist on a second front in France.

The Germans, for their part, were terrified by the idea of a second front as well, and tried to take steps to make Fortress Europe unassailable.  Their expectation was that the western Allies would cross the English channel and attack France, so they began laying in booby traps and strengthening their armies in France in preparation.  Common wisdom in the German High Command was that the attack would come at Pas de Calais in clear weather.  Pas de Calais was the closest point between continental France and Great Britain, and while reason would always suggest to undertake an amphibious operation in clear weather, the Allies had also demonstrated in the past an almost dogmatic obsession with landing in clear weather.

A third expectation was that Patton, who the Germans viewed as a sort of boogey man, would lead the invasion.  The Allies stationed Patton across from Pas de Calais, along with a false army of cardboard tanks for the viewing pleasure of the Luftwaffe, thus solidifying  in the minds of the German High Command all three of their false assumptions.

The rest, is, as they say, history.  Montgomery and Bradley, not Patton, led the invasion, which happened at Normandy, not Pas de Calais, and in a patch of not ideal weather.  The story of D-Day itself is fascinating, and well worth taking the time, if not today, then at some point, to read one of the many books or watch one of the many movies on the subject.  My personal favorite on both counts is THE LONGEST DAY by Cornelius Ryan, and its big screen adaptation, quite possibly the greatest war movie ever made.  If there aren't a bunch of movies about D-Day playing on TCM and AMC today, I'll eat my hat.

What about you?  What are your favorite D-Day books and movies?  And did I bolo up any of the history?  I was just doing it from memory, so I may well have, and if there's one thing history buffs like, it's noticing mistakes.  Let me know in the comments!
Enter your e-mail address in the box below and click "Subscribe" to join Stephen Kozeniewski's Mailing List for Fun and Sexy People. (Why the hell would anyone ever want to join a mailing list?)