TV: Adventure Time [season 1]
Books: Detroit: An American Autopsy
Adventure Time [season 1]
I saw season one of the surreal animated adventure show by Pendleton Ward.
I wound up watching this because a lot of twentysomethings I know have been raving about it, so I figured I would see what the young people of today are into. And it's interesting: I'm at a point in my life now where I'm older than many showrunners. And in this case, this means I can look at the show and not only spot its influences, but remember when those influences first started.
The show occasionally indulges in 8-bit music, and I remember both when 8-bit consoles first appeared, and when the resurgence of "chiptune" music became a thing. I remember when the rage-comic memes that inform some of the artwork showed up. I remember the fancy, shaded, stylized title cards that first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series. I remember the start of Calvin and Hobbes, which informs the central relationship between Finn and Jake. And we can all remember when twee ukulele tunes suddenly became an omnipresent thing.
And on and on and on. I kind of love that I've finally lived long enough to see (from my perspective) recent cultural trends recombined into the groundwork for a whole TV show.
The show itself is pleasant and fun. I admit, I don't yet see why people rave about it so, but maybe it gets stronger with later seasons. As it is, it's a cheery little lark.
The ten-minute running time per episode works really well for it. A ten-minute duration keeps the plots simple. And since it's telling simple, tiny stories, its flashes of out-there, left-field stoner-logic don't sink the show. An hourlong story filled with something whacked-out and 'random' happening every few minutes would quickly get un-followable and unbearable to any sober person, but in a ten-minute wisp of a story, it's just good fun. And for all the wackiness, they're still staying within a consistent world. If this is the world where the Ice King has a staff of servant-penguins, well, then, that's how this world works, and in the future, there shall be penguins.
John DiMaggio, who voices Jake the Dog, does amazing work here. To oversimplify, it's like Bender voicing Hobbes, and it's lovely to hear that same vocal instrument hit all sorts of new notes. It's strange, and surprising, to hear that familiar, slurred growl convey wonder, or joy, or affable banter. It seems like no matter what they write, Mr. DiMaggio nails it.
I also liked how specifically they home in on that jumpy, excited, tween-age-boy vibe. Now, I myself can't remember feeling like that (I suspect I was clinically depressed when I was Finn's age), but a lot of kids are like Finn, and I love how specifically they capture that age. Of *course* Finn is excited that he can solve a problem by having a wrestling match with a giant monster. Ah, youth.
Eventually I'll get back to the remaining seasons. I admit, I'm not in a huge hurry -- okay, now my curiosity regarding "what is Adventure Time?" is satisfied, I can move on to other things -- but it'll be pleasant enough to get back to.
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff
This is the book of reportage about current conditions in Detroit.
Sometimes you *can* judge a book by its cover. In this case, the cover of Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff shows us... Charlie LeDuff. The city sits blurred and out-of-focus in the background, while the foreground focuses on Mr. LeDuff himself, holding a cigarette, wearing sunglasses, jeans, and a vest, and presumably trying to look hard.
I didn't like this book because I came to it with the wrong expectations. I expected some analysis of the city's decline -- some vast historical perspective on the forces that eventually wrecked the city. Basically, I was hoping for something like The Death and Life of Great American Cities, only applied to this one awful object lesson in horrid municipal mismanagement.
What I got was a gonzo-eye view of the current conditions in the city, with chapters that were as much about LeDuff himself as the city he lived in. I kept getting distracted by the picture LeDuff was trying to paint of himself. There's a scene where two black men try to rob him at a gas station until LeDuff pulls a gun out of his glove compartment -- I know it's trying to show me firsthand how crime-infested the city is, but instead I'm thinking, "Oh, so the writer wants to show me what a badass he is. Okay, good for him."
And so it went, throughout the book. He depicted corrupt politicians, sure, but those sections seemed to be just as much about Mr. LeDuff, as he told us how dogged he was, how combative he was, how morally righteous he was in figuring out who was embezzling from the city. He talked about race relations throughout Detroit's history, but it felt like it was more about LeDuff telling us the story of how he discovered that he was himself black, owing to some great- (or great-great-) grandfather of mixed race.
And all of this was delivered in prose that was so constantly full of 40s-detective-story swagger -- combined with an audiobook narrator that got 100% on that same wavelength -- that I found myself laughing out loud sometimes at the hilarious mansplain-iness of it all. And it sneers at everybody who's educated, and everybody who doesn't make things with their hands, and everybody who doesn't drink hard liquor -- so basically the book hated me, and I had to put up with that as best I could.
All that said, it's not a bad book, it just wasn't the one that I wanted to read just then. If you're expecting Jane Jacobs and you get Hunter S. Thompson (or perhaps Mickey Spillane), it's a bit like drinking orange juice when you're expecting milk. But I can still recognize how specifically it captures the feeling of living in a collapsing city, I was still astounded by the criminal shenanigans of the last decade or so of city politics. Still, I went into the book with a question -- "What happened to Detroit? Why did it fail?" -- and I came out with the exact same question.
For next week: I'll finish re-watching season one of Community with Lindsey -- we might start Spaced next. Meanwhile, I'll probably watch the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson, followed by a TV season -- I'm thinking season one of either Cougar Town or True Detective.