Author: Jen Krueger

Jen Krueger: Fan to Fan, or Performing Doctor Who for Fellow Whovians

Doctor Who Live at ComikazeThinking about my favorite of the Doctor’s adventures, one that immediately comes to mind is his journey to Tudor England. Crossing paths with an aging Henry VIII on the verge of a final marriage, the Doctor stumbles on a Dalek plot to kill him while companion Brianna is killed by the King’s Guard. Resurrected by the Pope, Brianna saves the day by brokering peace between Henry and the Catholic church, and using her love for the Doctor to melt the Dalek in disguise. If you’re a fan of Doctor Who but don’t remember this episode, that’s probably because this adventure was presented for the first and only time in Los Angeles for a single night in September of 2013. Also, it technically wasn’t an episode of Doctor Who. It was an installment of Doctor Who Live!, an improvised version of Doctor Who that I perform in twice a month.

As a Whovian for several years and an improviser for even longer, I was really excited when I was invited to join a group that would allow me to bring together two of my favorite things. I thought doing a show that would let me transform the things I wish the Doctor would do from idle thoughts into reality (albeit reality limited to 45 minute non-canon installments) would be a blast. After all, every fan has opinions on how the object of their fandom could be improved or expanded upon, but how often does any fan get the chance to actually play out those opinions by dictating what their favorite fictional characters will see, say, or do? Almost never, at best. I was pumped. So, so pumped.

And then, the pressure hit me. Because the more I thought about how cool it was going to be to make up and play out an episode of Doctor Who, the more I realized how difficult that would really be. Walking on stage with nothing more than the TV show’s conventions as a bare foundation on which to build comedy with twelve other people means there’s as much of a chance for failure as there is for success. I’m strictly a 2005 and on fan, so there are decades worth of episodes that I know nothing about yet, our audience may expect to see references from. Thankfully, a lot of the cast knows classic Who, so I can count on them to catch me up quickly in the wings if the audience’s suggested title for our episode contains something I don’t know much about, like the Sea Devils (and man, does our audience love to bring up the Sea Devils).

But my worries about representing Doctor Who faithfully went beyond just nailing the right references. Knowing how strong my feelings about the TV show are, it seemed fair to me that our Doctor Who Live! audience could hold us to the same standard they have for the real thing. We promise an improvised episode of the TV show and the TV show is phenomenal, so we’ve set an incredibly high bar for ourselves and have to figure out how to clear it. Before my first performance with the group, I was a bundle of nerves thinking about falling short of that bar. I wanted the show to be perfect because I didn’t want to disappoint myself or the audience. And with all this worrying going on, I was overlooking a very crucial fact: in that theater, we’re all fans.

After all, while it takes an awful lot of fandom to put on an improvised episode of a TV show, it takes even more to watch an improvised episode of a TV show. And Doctor Who Live! isn’t just lucky enough that there are big enough fans of Doctor Who to make doing our own version of it viable, but luckier still to have fans of our own. We have wonderful audience members who come regularly, encourage our silliest bits, and even let us be part of their birthdays by celebrating at our show. If we didn’t all love Doctor Who, none of that would be possible. I have to admit that despite regularly performing in front of audiences in various forms of improv for the last five years, it always feels weird to me to be recognized for a show I’ve done since improv is, by nature, so fleeting. But I’m starting to enjoy getting recognized for Doctor Who Live!, because being remembered as part of that group is, by nature, being recognized as a fan of Doctor Who, and usually leads to conversations about the real show. Now what kind of Whovian would I be if I didn’t like that?

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Jen Krueger: Who Is The Most Intersting Character on “Shameless”?

While certain aspects of Showtime’s [[[Shameless]]] have been hit or miss, there’s a character on it who’s had such a remarkable arc over the show’s four seasons that he’s become one of my favorite characters on TV. With a father who’s barely a father, and a poverty-stricken upbringing in a bad neighborhood in Chicago, he’s had to resort to violence and scheming to make ends meet. His romantic relationships are fraught with conflict because he’s never learned how to communicate well enough to tell someone he really cares, yet even if he could find the words to say how he feels, they’d still catch in his throat because showing vulnerability to anyone is so antithetical to what his life experiences have taught him it means to be a man. And while all of these things could probably also be said about one of the show’s protagonists, Lip Gallagher, I’m actually talking about Mickey Milkovich, who started off as one of the show’s tertiary characters.

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Jen Krueger: Checking in to The Grand Budapest Hotel

Sometimes living in L.A. has great perks, and one of the most recent I’ve enjoyed is the fact that of the four theaters in the U.S. that had The Grand Budapest Hotel on limited release this past weekend, one was just a few blocks from my apartment. I know Wes Anderson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as someone who’s been a fan of his films for more than a decade, I find myself increasingly annoyed by the most frequent criticism of his work: he’s making the same movie over and over again. The most common things cited to support this complaint are the look and themes of his films, but I don’t find either of these to be valid arguments. (more…)

Jen Krueger: Forgoing the Gold

Jen Krueger: Forgoing the Gold

This year is the first time in my life that the Winter Olympics and the Academy Awards have fallen in the same month. Because I grew up with a great love for watching both figure skating and movies, it seems like 2014 should be a banner year for me to tune into the events that represent the highest level of competition in these two pastimes. Instead, 2014 is the first year that I watched neither. (more…)

Jen Krueger: The Little Things

DW & GPK 014A few weeks ago, I was idly browsing a store that carried everything from as-seen-on-TV products to Halloween costumes on deep discount. I didn’t really expect to find anything worth purchasing, but just as a bored salesperson mumbled in my general direction that everything in the store was 30% off, I came upon an aisle with [[[Doctor Who]]] merchandise and figured a quick perusal couldn’t hurt. It was all stuff I’d seen before, mostly TARDIS hats, scarves, lunchboxes, and keychains, but then a rack of random packs of micro figures caught my eye. I already had two such micro figures on my desk at home, a Centurion Rory and a Tenth Doctor that had both been gifts, and I liked the idea of getting an Eleventh Doctor or an Amy Pond to join them. But as I thought about making my first micro figure purchase, I realized that despite my vast love of Doctor Who, I hadn’t actually bought much merchandise related to the show. Wondering how that could possibly be true, I grudgingly admitted to myself that my merch buying experiences haven’t been very good.

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Jen Krueger: Breaking Down the Breakdown

shia-labeouf-and-stunt-double

Shia LaBeouf claims that the other guy is a stunt double and that he’s the one being copied here. We don’t believe it either.

By spending six days last week wearing a paper bag emblazoned “I am not famous anymore” on his head as part of an art installation entitled #IAMSORRY, Shia LaBeouf became the latest celebrity to very publicly seem to have…let’s see, how do I put this gently…”lost it.” The installation itself is the culmination of nearly two months of behavior questionable enough to make people wonder if the actor is in the midst of a mental breakdown, yet it conveniently also began not long after LaBeouf came under fire for plagiarizing a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, and is apparently only ramping up as the release of LaBeouf’s latest (and most controversial to date) movie draws nearer. It’s this timing that makes me think every bit of the bizarre behavior is entirely calculated for publicity purposes, which happens to be my default reaction nowadays whenever I hear about any celebrity acting remarkably strange.

Maybe I should blame my skepticism on Joaquin Phoenix. (more…)

Jen Krueger: What’s In A (User)Name?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Like most people, my Twitter username isn’t my actual name. I have no compunction about identifying myself by my real name on Twitter, and would’ve taken @jenkrueger if it had been available when I signed up. But even as far back as my first tweet in August of 2008, scoring my real name as a handle wasn’t possible.

Last week, an article entitled How I lost my $50,000 Twitter username caught my eye because the title made me wonder how a Twitter handle could possibly be worth so much, and what exactly constitutes losing it. Don’t get me wrong about the first bit: I’m no stranger to the idea that certain domain names and usernames can have a monetary value beyond what amount, if any, the customer pays the service provider to register the account. Businesses that care about their brand (read: almost all businesses) want to have control over the web address and social media profiles bearing their name, both for the obvious utility it provides their company, and perhaps even more importantly, to prevent anyone else from having that control. In the hands of someone other than Coca-Cola, the domain cocacola.com is dangerous; the site could speak well of a Coke competitor, poorly of Coke, or of unrelated topics that don’t necessarily harm Coke’s brand yet dilute it by not helping it, either.

So a $50,000 Twitter username didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. It just seemed out of the realm of possibility today. Years ago, I’d heard of businesses offering upwards of $100,000 a pop to the enterprising early registrants of domains bearing the names of major companies. But the market for these transactions seemed to dry up fairly quickly as most businesses bought up their names. And since the value of a company owning its own name online became evident before social media became the behemoth chunk of the internet it is today, many businesses have been savvy enough to defensively grab usernames on burgeoning social networks over the past decade.

Every once in a while though, I still come across a story about someone that has managed to lay claim to a domain or username coveted by a company. But now these stories rarely end with a big payday. In 2010, Tumblr came under fire for turning over pitchfork.tumblr.com to Pitchfork magazine despite the fact that an individual had a personal blog at that address. Tumblr claimed the account had been dormant and the user hadn’t responded to an email inquiry about it. The user disputed these claims, but regardless of whether or not the account was wrongly released, there doesn’t seem to be any dispute over the fact that the incident began with Tumblr receiving a request for the URL directly from the magazine. It seems this bypassing of the account owner is the standard corporate play in these situations now, and whether or not a company can wrench a desired domain or username from someone else’s grasp is in the hands of the host of the desired site or service.

All these factors combined, then, made me assume the lost username in question was a company moniker acquired by corporate coercion after the account owner turned down a (rare by today’s standards) $50,000 offer for the handle. Then I read the article and was very surprised at how wrong both of my assumptions were. The lost username is @N, and its loss had nothing to do with a company. It was, for all intents and purposes, stolen by a hacker.

At first, I couldn’t reconcile this information about the target or the thief, but a few moments of mulling on social media made it click for me. Easy to remember and taking up the smallest possible amount of character real estate in tweets directed at them, short usernames are a virtual commodity on Twitter. Since there are only 26 possibilities for single character usernames, those are the most unique possible handles on the service. The incredibly vast internet user base today has combined with the exponentially expanding importance of online identity for individuals and companies alike to make uniqueness nearly priceless. When I look at it this way, I’m not at all surprised a hacker would want to seize one of the rarest usernames out there. Now I’m just surprised it isn’t happening more often.

Though I couldn’t get my real name as a Twitter handle, I see now that it must’ve been released and snagged by someone else shortly after I’d joined, as the inaugural tweets on my account and @jenkrueger’s are only 10 days apart. And since @jenkrueger’s only activity is that inaugural tweet in 2008 and a reply to another user six days later, I suppose I could email Twitter support to inquire about getting the username released to me. I could, but I won’t. After all, then I’d have to give up the Twitter name I’ve been using for the last few years, and I’d be seriously bummed out if someone else swooped in on it.

Jen Krueger: Down Another Rabbit Hole

Krueger Art 140204A few days ago I decided enough was enough. My rig was light on hardware, but I had a few good programs and some decent resources at my disposal, so it seemed time to take on Jinteki Corporation, whose work in the biotech sector I can only assume is more sinister than the public realizes. I made a run at a few of their servers in the hopes of scoring some of their secret agendas, but it wasn’t long before they’d lured me into a trap that put an end to my attempt at hacking them. Then again, I’m sure I’ll make another run at them in the near future since all of this happened in Android: Netrunner, a card game I’ve recently become enamored with.

Prior to six months ago, I hadn’t played a tabletop game in years. This is probably not very unusual for an adult; but even as a kid, I didn’t play them often. My infrequent interaction with board and card games probably had something to do with the fact that I’m an only child who wasn’t particularly socially skilled, meaning a group of playmates with which to play games wasn’t a given for me. But it was probably also partially due to the fact that most of the board and card games I was exposed to never struck me as particularly unique or engaging. Sure, a game of Scrabble here or a hand of Uno there could be fun, but I never found myself jonsing for another round of either, or any of their ilk.

Then what happened six months ago, you may ask? A friend of mine introduced me to a slew of new titles over the course of a two-day gaming marathon. They ranged from card game Dominion, to storytelling game Fiasco, to the Game of Thrones board game, to name a few. Over more than 15 hours of gaming, I found that I liked almost every game we played. A couple more get-togethers after that turned into me introducing other people to some of the titles I’d enjoyed most, and I realized that as quickly as I’d started wanting to play a board or card game once a month, I’d moved on to wanting to play one once a week. When my gaming Sherpa introduced me to Android: Netrunner a few days ago, it only took a single playthrough for me to immediately want my own set of the game.

But how was tabletop gaming able to suck me in so fast? The larger selection, greater uniqueness, and higher quality of titles today are certainly big factors. And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that a lot of my friends are into tabletop gaming now too. Of course the combination of more engaging games and a circle of friends to play them with will make the experience of gaming now much better than my childhood experiences. Ultimately, I don’t think my status as a tabletop game convert can be entirely credited to the games themselves, or the people I play them with (fun and lovely as both are). Like many other things in my life, my gaming geek outs can be traced back to a pretty simple fact about me as a person:

I am a fangirl.

When I get into a new TV show, I move incredibly quickly from pilot viewing to binge watching. When I like a book that kicks off a series, I don’t wait to finish the first installment before buying the rest of them. And when I started doing improv, I was going to at least three shows a week before I’d finished my level one class. But this behavior doesn’t come from a conscious decision on my part to get more into the things I like. And I’m also not a fangirl of things like Doctor Who and the Mountain Goats because something about them made me love them exponentially more than other shows and bands, respectively. I’m a fangirl because (for better or for worse) anything I love, I love intensely. My favorite movies and comics may bring out signs of this propensity, but the trait itself is ingrained in me independent of any specific work. Trekkie or Browncoat, Gaimanite or Potterhead, I think all fanboys and fangirls have this in common. We couldn’t keep ourselves from nerding out about the things we like if we tried. Then again, who would bother trying? Embracing my status as a fangirl makes it easy to unabashedly delve headlong into anything I think is cool and have a great time doing it.

Speaking of which, I’ve got some reading up to do on Android: Netrunner expansions, because new packs of cards are released monthly so you can keep customizing and honing your personal deck. How cool is that?!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold

THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil

 

Jen Krueger: Apparently I’m Kermit

Krueger Art 140128Of the myriad of characters that exist in Westeros, apparently I’m most similar to Tyrion Lannister. When it comes to the cast at Hogwarts, I could stand in for Hermione. And in a galaxy far, far away, I’m interchangeable with R2-D2. All of these results were drawn from online quizzes, but I probably didn’t have to tell you that. Your Facebook feed is likely as full as mine of results to the same (or similar) questionnaires.

The first memory I have of a “where would you fit in the world of (insert pop culture reference here)” quiz is one featuring the Hogwarts Sorting Hat placing the user in one of the school’s four houses. I recall seeing it online shortly after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone became a huge hit in theaters, and my reaction to it was, How cute, I bet little kids will get a kick out of doing that. Today though, this bite-size pop culture personalization is a daily occurrence amongst my adult friends. With so much of ourselves represented in social media, it’s natural to want our interests in entertainment reflected there, but lately I’ve been wondering why that expression now comes so commonly in this quiz form.

I’m sure some of the draw is in the unique style of fan service these quizzes offer. They encourage geeking out by breaking down shows and movies in a way only fans would understand, and do so in an interactive and personalized manner. Obviously anyone could take a quiz to learn which companion they’d be if they found themselves in the TARDIS, but only a Doctor Who fan would appreciate the difference between being told they’re a Donna or an Amy. This active invitation to the user to move beyond simply thinking about the property’s world and into thinking of themselves as part of the property’s world is hard to replicate in other things aimed at fans. And since fancying yourself similar to a character you love is obviously going to be flattering, it’s no surprise the bulk of these questionnaires are aimed at telling people which character they’re most like.

So the impetus to take the quizzes makes sense. But why post the results on Facebook? Sure, sharing our favorite entertainment with friends is nothing new, but proclaiming I love the BBC’s Sherlock is very different from posting that I got Sherlock Holmes in a “Which Sherlock Character Are You?” quiz. The former reveals one of my pop culture touchstones, but the latter takes things a step further by letting me define a bit of myself with that specific touchstone acting as a yardstick. And silly as it might be, I have to admit it’s actually possible to tell things about people based on their results.

This week, a questionnaire telling the user what Muppet they would be was particularly popular amongst my friends. Looking at which Henson creation everyone got, I saw a correlation between the traits of their designated Muppet and the traits those friends prize in real life.

Is this a shallow way to think about people? Yes. But, weirdly, it works, at least to a certain extent. It also explains something I hadn’t ever understood before: people answering the questions in a way they think will yield a particular result, or re-taking a quiz until they get their desired answer. If we put enough stock in the results to be pleased when aligned with a favorite character, and we find other people’s results to the same quiz to be generally accurate, then I suppose it stands to reason that receiving a result comparing ourselves to characters we don’t like would be undesirable.

At the end of the day though, the lifespan of the results of these quizzes is the same as that of the quizzes themselves: extremely short. Accurate or not, today’s Downton Abbey questionnaire will be replaced by one about The Hunger Games tomorrow, and both will be forgotten by next week. But maybe this actually contributes to the popularity of these quizzes in a way; they’re quick bursts of fandom made no less fun for their brevity. If movies and TV act as pop culture meals, then these questionnaires are pop culture amuse-bouches. And they fulfill that role well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can get someone other than Lady Edith on this Downton quiz.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold

THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil

 

Jen Krueger: Cream Rising to the Top

Krueger Art 140121I’ve been a fan of Top Chef for years, and this season has me particularly hooked. I like the New Orleans setting, the accompanying season of Last Chance Kitchen has been stellar, and I’ve found a few of the challenges to be some of the best the show has ever done, mostly because they manage to be surprising despite the show being in its eleventh season. But the biggest surprise to me about this season of Top Chef has nothing to do with the content of the show; it’s the sheer fact that I’m watching it.

Frustrations with my cable provider reached a breaking point last summer when I was overcharged by more than a hundred dollars in a single bill, and since most of the shows my roommate and I watch regularly are available through the combination of iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu Plus, we decided to call it quits with cable. Saving money was the obvious perk, but I was also more than happy to cut down on extraneous TV watching borne out of getting sucked into a show coming on after something I’d intended to watch, or worse yet, the time-wasting passive intake of crap I’m not even interested in but end up watching just because the TV is on.

On the other hand, while almost all of the scripted programming I enjoy is available through multiple outlets besides broadcast TV, most of the reality shows I liked seemed to be available only through iTunes, if anywhere at all. I’d always found the idea of buying episodes of reality shows silly since I don’t see any rewatch value in them, competition shows for the obvious reason that knowing the winner and loser of an episode takes away most of the point of watching it, and documentary-style shows because so many of the ones I watched tend to be of little to no substance. Even at just $1.99 a pop, I couldn’t imagine myself paying for them, so I figured they’d simply drop out of my viewing rotation altogether and was kind of bummed out at the thought.

Then I started tallying up the reality TV I’d been regularly watching. One iteration of Storage Wars, two shows about persnickety interior designer Jeff Lewis, three MTV shows about teenagers having kids, four sets of Real Housewives, and five food competition shows later, I wasn’t close to done but was sufficiently embarrassed at the volume of reality TV I’d been consuming. Ugh, I can totally live without this stuff, I thought. And I’ll save hours each week by not watching garbage!

But lumping together all reality TV as garbage isn’t really fair, is it? The first reality show I remember ever getting hooked on was Project Runway, which was innovative and entertaining while showcasing genuinely unique talents in an industry I knew little about (at least in the first few seasons of the show). Before morphing into a sensationalized and formulaic show on Fox, Kitchen Nightmares was Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on Channel 4 in the U.K. and documented sincere attempts on the host’s part to save restaurants in much more detail, meaning insight on everything from how to cook specific dishes to how to best run meal service to how to create a local customer base were all offered on camera by Gordon Ramsay. And though it was short-lived, Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover showed me more about the real local cultures of both cities I know well and cities I’ve never been to than I think I could’ve gleaned through hours of my own research and experiences.

I realized the black-and-white view I’d taken on reality shows in a cable-less household was entirely and arbitrarily self-imposed. I decided that by culling the quality reality wheat from the trashy reality chaff, I could still get my competition and documentary-style fixes without losing hours to the empty albeit entertaining morass that previously clogged my DVR. Last but not least in sealing the deal, I tallied the costs of an iTunes season pass for the few gems like Top Chef that I decided were worth keeping up with and found it comes to less than the cost of two months of cable. With a bargain like that, it suddenly seemed silly not to buy the handful of reality shows I like most. And after all, in any season of Top Chef, the Restaurant Wars episode alone is always good for at least $1.99 worth of entertainment.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold