Author: Jen Krueger

Jen Krueger: A Mislabeled Meltdown

krueger-art-140114-150x132-9234258At least three nights a week, I do long form improvisation. Sometimes I do this in a blackbox theater for a handful of other improvisers, and sometimes I do it in a hall at the Staples Center for hundreds of comic book convention attendees. Either way, I get in front of my audience, take a suggestion, and spend the next 15 to 60 minutes pulling things out of thin air in the hopes of making that audience laugh. I’ve been doing improv for almost five years now, and though I’ve sharpened the skills associated with it, that doesn’t mean it is (or ever will be) easy to get in front of people and make something up.

I’ve also done my fair share of working with something written. Whether it be public speaking or performing from a script, I’ve gotten in front of a group of people with the objective of delivering some manner of copy more times than I can count. While some people find a script to be a comfort when speaking or performing, I definitely do not. There are hundreds of ways improvisation can go well or poorly, but having scripted lines means all you need to do to get it wrong is flub one of those lines. I feel pressure to be faithful to what’s been written and it makes this endeavor at least as challenging as improv, if not moreso. But whether dealing with improvisation or something scripted, it’s a pretty universal human feeling to be nervous in front of an audience since no one wants to look bad or mess up.

So why is everybody giving Michael Bay so much shit about the Samsung CES press event?

Look, I get that some of Bay’s works are so big and silly that they’ve been the source of many punchlines in the past. I’m sure I’ve even made a Transformers 2 joke or two myself at some point. So when I saw tons of tweets and Facebook posts about Bay having a “meltdown” on stage, I figured someone moved beyond good-natured ribbing and into mean-spirited mocking of his work to his face, prompting the director to lose his temper and storm off. Curious, I watched a video of his supposed “meltdown” and (god help, I’m going to sound like a Buzzfeed headline) I was amazed at what actually happened.

Bay later explained on his blog that after he accidentally skipped one of the lines of the host speaking with him onstage, the teleprompter feeding them both their copy tried to compensate for the jump and went on the fritz. Watching the video, the moment the script is lost is clear even before Bay tells the host that he’s lost the prompter, and it’s this moment that made me feel bad for him. The nerves jangling as he tries to continue after that are palpable, and it’s not long before he’s simply unable to continue and walks offstage with an apology. The clip I’d thought might give me a chuckle actually ended up making my skin crawl because it and the way people have been labeling it made me so uncomfortable.

Admittedly, there are better ways Bay could’ve handled losing his place in his copy. He could’ve vamped for a moment while the teleprompter operator got the script back on track, or taken a deep breath to shake off the prepared text entirely and fully committed to winging it. I’m sure the fact that he’s a hugely famous film director means many people assume he’s used to speaking off the cuff, but the difference between speaking from a script and improvising is the difference between having turn-by-turn directions to get somewhere and just going out for a drive. When you’ve left the house with turn-by-turn directions, losing them suddenly is nerve-wracking, no matter how many times you’ve been behind the wheel. So what exactly is it about Bay’s response to this script flub that bears labeling what happened a “meltdown”?

Nothing. There was no yelling, no veins bulging, no expletives or accusations laying blame. Bay left the stage calmly and quietly to save face when he knew the snafu had unnerved him beyond the ability to continue, which is a fairly tame reaction when all things are considered. I suspect Bay’s preexisting status as a pop cultural punching bag is the only reason he’s being mocked over this. If the same thing happened to a student in a high school play or a scientist giving a TED Talk, the reaction from those witnessing it would likely just be sympathy. Personally, I’ve never gotten so flustered on stage that I’ve had to walk off, but I hope that if I did, I’d handle it as gracefully as Michael Bay.

Wait, did I just use “Michael Bay” and “gracefully” in the same sentence? There’s a first time for everything.

Ba dum ching!


THURSDAY 2:30 EST USA: Tweeks!

THURSDAY 5:00 EST USA: Mike Gold

FRIDAY: Dennis O’Neil, Martha Thomases, Michael Davis

Jen Krueger: Surviving the Fall

krueger-art-130107-138x225-2905200When we last saw the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, he watched from afar as John Watson beseeched, “Don’t be dead,” to a headstone bearing Sherlock’s name. Watson does this at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall” after seeing Sherlock seemingly leap to his demise, and I thought it bold of series creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat to tackle this update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem” in their second series. A faked death on a show is as logistically tricky as a real one, and if there’s one thing that almost always creates a make or break moment for a TV show, it’s dealing with a major character’s death.

For a lot of shows, it’s a break moment. Perhaps some of the problem comes from the fact that a character’s death is often prompted by an actor’s exit from the show. When Dan Stevens decided to leave Downton Abbey at the end of his three year contract, his character Matthew Crawley was killed in a car crash that struck me as a spiteful way to explain his forthcoming absence in series four. Aside from the fact that the crash itself didn’t look severe enough to be fatal (I mean, how fast was he going, 30 m.p.h.?), it also felt like an afterthought to the 2012 Christmas special, as if the episode had been scripted to end in the preceding scene and the death was tacked on once it was official Stevens wouldn’t re-up. This was particularly disappointing from a show that had so recently served up an amazing character death by killing off Sybil Crawley mid-season. Even if I hadn’t hated her character (we get it, you like irking daddy by playing blue-collar), I would still have been pleased with her demise because of the way it affected the other characters on the show. Watching her parents, sisters, and husband deal with their grief was more interesting than Sybil herself had ever been, yet asking viewers to watch the family hit the reset button at the top of series four to mourn Matthew is grating.

But perhaps worse than the character deaths that are forced are the ones I don’t believe even within the world of the show. When Peter Bishop stepped into the doomsday device at the end of season three of Fringe, I didn’t for a second buy him exiting the show. His character was too important, and the circumstances of his disappearance too obviously pointed to a return for me to believe I’d never see Peter on the show again, which seemed to be what the writers hoped I would assume. Instead, watching became a waiting game centered on his return, and one that wasn’t concluded quickly or satisfactorily enough to justify his unbelievable disappearance in the first place.

That’s not to say shows can’t kill important characters successfully. When Boardwalk Empire concluded its second season by offing Jimmy Darmody, the character who’d served as the audience’s entrance into the (under)world of the show, it was wonderfully stunning. Even though the drama had blossomed into a sizeable ensemble by the time Jimmy was eliminated, he was still the most frequent point of view character, which meant his death irrevocably changed the show’s direction. But Boardwalk Empire had managed to build to Jimmy’s death in such a way that it seemed inevitable, and created plot momentum that carried forward into even the most recent season finale.

Of course, the holy grail of TV character death is the surprise demise. Four episodes into its third season, Southland unceremoniously killed detective Nate Moretta on the job. The disturbingly quick and brutal death was shocking in and of itself, but it also demonstrated no character on the show was safe regardless of their rank, skill, or narrative importance. From that moment on, I watched Southland with my stomach in knots every time a character I liked was in peril because I truly didn’t know if they’d emerge from it unscathed, or at all.

Though the titular character of Sherlock didn’t actually die in the series two finale, his faked death was just as striking to me as the most successful of these actual TV character deaths. The charade has the same effect on Watson as the real thing would have, meaning the audience still gets the emotional payoff of a pivotal character death, while how Sherlock managed to pull it off is a mystery fans are as eager to solve as they are any of the eponymous detective’s cases. Which, of course, is precisely the point. American audiences will get their answers in the series three premiere on January 19, but having already seen it myself, I can say “The Empty Hearse” sated my curiosity and I’m very glad that, as this prequel minisode promises, #SherlockLives.





Jen Krueger: Finite Possibilities

Krueger Art 131231With the bustle of the holiday season and the craziness that inevitably accompanies the end of the year, it wasn’t until this week that I was able to get to the final installment of Locke & Key. Joe Hill has been penning this amazing comic since 2008, but I didn’t start reading until 2012, so by the time I came to it there were only seven issues left to be published. For a lot of people, this would be disheartening. For me, it was thrilling.

Comics can be daunting. Spider-Man has been around since 1962, Batman made his debut in 1939, and Superman had them both beat by first hitting the scene in 1933. For a completionist like me, picking up one of these comic book staples would mean starting at the very beginning, and that seems downright impossible. Superman had 716 issues before a relaunch in 2011 brought another #1 around, and this doesn’t even take into account other titles in which Superman appears. Assure me all you want that there are acceptable jumping in points for long-running comics that don’t require me starting from day one, but I’ll never be able to shake the sneaking suspicion I’d understand them better, and therefore like them more, if I did indeed start at issue #1 and work my way forward.

Superman: Red Son, on the other hand? Love it. Mark Millar’s three-issue mini-series exploring what Superman’s life would have been like if he’d landed in the Soviet Union is well written, unique, and managed to get me to crack its cover despite the fact that its titular hero has decades of history behind him because in this particular volume, he actually doesn’t. By standing completely on its own, Superman: Red Son was accessible to me in a way no other Superman comic ever has been. And yes, I realize there are other stand-alone volumes out there, but even with something self-contained like Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, I find myself held at arm’s length because there’s still an assumption that I know more about Superman when I start than I actually do.

Yet the years of backstory aren’t the only reason long-running comics feel impenetrable to me. The fact that they’re continuing their adventures into the future with no end in sight is equally discouraging, if not more so. How formidable can a villain be when I know there’s always another waiting in the wings? How high can tension run toward a climax when it’s understood there’s always another around the bend? And most importantly, how can a hero truly best his inner demons when his story is expected to carry on indefinitely?

Locke & Key is the best comic I have ever read. A large part of what makes it so amazing is not the fact that there’s a whole world in its pages, but that its pages contain its whole world. Whether or not Hill had the entire saga in mind when he wrote the first series, Welcome to Lovecraft, by the last frame of Alpha there is no stone left unturned. I came in knowing nothing of the story or characters, and that was perfect because I didn’t need to know anything of them.

The sole thing I knew from the outset was that I’d only have 39 issues to spend with the Locke family, and because of this, I appreciated each moment with them more than I could have without their end in sight. The characters travel an arc that is more moving in its fixed breadth than it could ever be were that arc just part of a larger ebb and flow. Their story is exactly complete, and so too is my enjoyment of it.





Jen Krueger: I Love This Show, Please Kill It

Krueger Art 131224When I watched the recent season finale of Homeland, I was left speechless. If you’re not caught up on this Showtime thriller about the CIA and terrorism, don’t worry; I won’t give anything away. Confining myself to spoiler-free praise, I’ll just say it struck me as pitch perfect and was satisfying to a degree that television shows achieve rarely, if ever. I loved it so much, in fact, that as the credits rolled I found myself hoping the show would get canceled before any more episodes air.

It’s almost impossible for a TV show to stay great from pilot to series finale. I know, I know, Breaking Bad proved it can be done, but Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece is the exception that underscores the rule. There are just too many things to ruin great shows, and an executive hitting the cancellation button even isn’t first on the list. Simply being left on the air too long is more than enough to take the wind out of the sails of something once lovable, whether it’s because the show starts stretching into weird new territory like on Fringe, or because intended end points keep being passed by in the hopes of squeezing out another lucrative ratings year, like with Dexter. And of course there’s the plot and punchline recycling that can occur when a show’s left lingering, making episode formulas uncomfortably obvious (*cough cough* Simpsons).

Outside circumstances rearing their heads can be damaging too. With many shows, a featured actor leaving would minimally rock the boat, and some end up capsizing altogether rather than recovering. Just hearing that Topher Grace was leaving That ’70s Show was enough to make me tune out, and leave me completely unsurprised when I heard the first Eric Foreman-less season was also the show’s last. The 2007 Writer’s Guild strike took down its fair share of TV, from amazing shows immediately unable to sustain themselves through it like The Riches, to shows that pushed through but hobbled on forever changed, like Heroes.

But while there have been plenty of shows that have gone downhill in front of my eyes, there are of course many others cancelled before their time. If you’ve never seen the 2008 BBC show Survivors, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s an amazing yet little known sci-fi drama that follows a small group of people who lived through a widespread virus wiping out most of the population, and it’s the best treatment I’ve ever seen of the “band of survivors must start anew” premise. The caveat that comes along with this recommendation is the fact that the second season finale ends on a cliffhanger so amazing that I was literally yelling at my television when I realized the show hadn’t been renewed for a third series. Then again, maybe letting sleeping dogs lie is best; Arrested Development‘s fourth season didn’t live up to the first three by even the most generous standards.

Yet even on the rare occasion that a show manages to go out gracefully under the pall of cancellation, I still can’t help being sad for it. The writers for the criminally under-appreciated Terriers knew there was a strong possibility they’d never see a second season, and deftly handled their finale in such a way that viewers could interpret the episode as teeing up another major story arc if renewal did come through, or as a beautiful farewell if the hammer fell, which it sadly did. Going out so skillfully even though they hadn’t gotten their narrative due was impressive, but oxymoronically reinforced that they should’ve been given another season to find a bigger audience.

So if it’s so hard for shows on TV to stay great and for great shows to stay on TV, why do I want one of my favorites off the air? Because, intentionally or not, the writers served up a season finale to Homeland this year that put the perfect cap on the show. Yes, there are some signs about what season four will entail, and yes, the writers of this particular show have proven time and again that they’re capable of taking the story and characters into increasingly compelling territory even when it seems they’ve already struck a narrative critical mass. But the way this finale wrapped up a major story arc (again, no spoilers!) left me with the rarest of my potential reactions to a TV show: content. I could walk away from these characters now and be happy to leave them because I know they’re all right where they should be.

Of course, I realize I could preserve this feeling of contentment by choosing not to watch the fourth season of Homeland when it debuts. But I’d be lying to myself if I pretended to have the willpower for that. I mean, did you see how amazing the third season finale was?!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis (maybe)

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold (definitely)


Jen Krueger: Pre-Hype Hype

krueger-art-131217-150x78-8279015On November 15, Reddit users discovered a mysterious website called Survivor 2299 that had cryptic text, messages buried in its code, and a clock counting down to December 11. With clear aesthetic references to popular post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland video game series Fallout, gamers got excited. It’s been more than three years since game publisher Bethesda released the previous installment in the franchise, and all signs pointed to Survivor 2299 being a precursor to the fervently anticipated announcement of a Fallout 4 release date. But on December 6, I was among a number of gamers disappointed as Survivor 2299 was revealed to be a hoax. Dashed hopes aside though, I was left wondering how a community that’s generally considered quite savvy was fooled by (or at the very least, enticed to seriously consider) a hoax that lasted almost a month. The answer I’ve landed on: we’re steeped in pre-hype hype.

Naturally, the debut of a major product or entertainment property is going to be preceded by marketing efforts to make consumers excited for its release. To get the best day one numbers possible, Apple and Warner Bros. spend a considerable amount of money making sure everyone and their brother know exactly when the latest iPhone and Batman movie come out. But while these companies and others like them may’ve once been content to start their marketing push just a few months before a product launch, they now begin tantalizing consumers much earlier, and with much less information.

I blame the teaser trailer. A few quick shots strung together or fifteen seconds from a single scene may not be enough to communicate what a movie is about, but it’s more than enough to make people start tweeting about how badly they want to see something. And if boosting anticipation is the goal, releasing a teaser weeks or months before the full trailer accomplishes that goal handily.

But the pre-hype hype hasn’t stopped there. A movie’s teaser trailer may be the first advertising general audiences encounter these days, yet within recent years studios have caught on to a way to create buzz for films even earlier, and amongst a more targeted demographic: the San Diego Comic-Con panel. Movies don’t have to be completed for studios to start talking them up to crowds at the show. Heck, some films are even promoted there before going into production, with simple information like casting announcements taking the starting position in the hype parade once occupied by the teaser trailer.

Not surprisingly, this mentality of conventions being the place to start generating hype goes beyond movies. Video game companies reveal far-off game release dates to fans at E3, the event that is to the gaming world what the San Diego Comic-Con is to comics. And of course, Apple’s new tech announcements are so anticipated that their press conferences are treated with the reverence of a convention, complete with save the date cards and the promise of live streaming for those who can’t make it. With an already assembled crowd representing the people most likely to enjoy a forthcoming product, why wouldn’t companies capitalize on the fact that a tiny tidbit is enough to get die-hard fans eagerly anticipating things they won’t be seeing for months?

Actually, to be fair, I should point out there is a movie studio that wouldn’t start up their hype machine at Comic-Con nine to twelve months in advance of a film release like so many others do. Marvel Studios starts even earlier. By announcing titles in the third phase of the plan for their cinematic universe, they’ve managed to create hype for films that are still years away from theatrical release. And though it seems unnecessary to start parceling out information years in advance like this, I have to admit I’m already pumped for Ant-Man and will probably only get more excited about it with each hype-bolstering move Marvel Studios makes until the movie’s 2015 release date.

Now if only Bethesda would take a page from Marvel’s book and give me a real Fallout 4 date to look forward to, even if it’s not in this decade.




Jen Krueger: Perils of the Group Watch

Krueger Art 131210Hello ComicMix readers! My name is Jen, and I’m really excited to be joining the fold here so I can expand the arenas in which I nerd out about comics, movies, TV, books, and any pop culture ephemera that strikes my fancy. I host a podcast to dive into stuff that’s under the radar, take a look at how things in popular culture now got there, and muse about where trends may go in the future. But exploring pop culture in the written word is another beast entirely, and it’s one I’m pumped to tackle! So let’s get to it!

My favorite TV show is Doctor Who. I embrace every opportunity to talk about it, and have maybe, possibly, sometimes (read: definitely, absolutely, often) turned conversations about entirely unrelated things toward the Doctor, and why the person I’m talking to really should give him a shot. In fact, I’m such a big Whovian that I’m part of a show that does an improvised episode of Doctor Who twice a month! All this being said, I’m sure you can imagine that I had no shortage of invitations to viewing parties for “The Day of the Doctor,” my beloved series’ 50th anniversary special. Yet I didn’t say yes to a single one. Because I hate the group watch.

In the past few years, “event TV” has been making a concerted effort to regain the time-of-broadcast viewership it lost to DVRs. And of course, the fear of encountering spoilers on Twitter or Facebook before getting to view an anticipated show has also helped to draw audiences back to consuming TV at broadcast rather than after the fact. With more people consuming event TV as it airs, maybe it seems natural that viewing parties would become more common. If we’re going to be watching something we enjoy, and our friends are going to be watching the same exact thing at the same exact time, why not do it together? A lot of people I know not only embrace this philosophy, they take it a step further: if we all love Doctor Who or Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, then why get together only for the anniversary special, or last episode, or season finale? Why not group watch every episode to maximize the amount of shared enjoyment?

I’ll tell you why not: because other people are distracting! I don’t want to sit next to a fidgety person while I’m trying to keep the myriad of characters in Westeros straight. I don’t want to miss the second step of one of Walt’s plans because someone in the room with me starts commenting on the first step. And I definitely don’t want to pause for someone to go to the bathroom just as things are getting really timey-wimey. When I love a show, I become pretty OCD about preserving the dramatic flow and catching every detail, and I just haven’t found these things to be possible in a group watch environment.

That being said, the distraction of other people isn’t even the largest deterrent to the group watch for me. The biggest reason I don’t like to view my favorite shows with other people is the fact I tend to react… let’s be generous and just say strongly to the shows I love. “The Red Wedding” made me cheer loudly (feel free to call me a monster, but I think they had it coming), it’s hard for me to think of an episode of Doctor Who that didn’t make me cry, and the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad filled me with a mix of emotions so intense I was literally shaking. I love that TV shows can move me to such extremes, but I’m not exactly dying for other people to see that happen, nor do I want to struggle to hold in my reactions for the sake of not embarrassing myself and distracting people around me.

So for the sake of everyone involved, I’ve gotten in the habit of declining invitations to group watch. But even though I don’t like viewing parties, I still feel bad turning them down. After all, I like my friends – I just don’t want to watch TV with them. Conveniently, I spent the day of “The Day of the Doctor” traveling, so I could truthfully say I wasn’t able to watch with anyone rather than having to fess up to the fact that I wouldn’t want to even if I could. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced my dislike of the group watch is defensible. If my friends like a show enough to get together to watch it, I don’t think they’ll blame me for liking it so much that I want to relish every second of it. After all, they already know what an OCD nerd I can be.

And now you do too.