Weekly Web Series Review: The Handlers

Be sure to check out our most recent interview with Bryan Cranston, the star of “Breaking Bad,” where he discusses “The Handlers” and a host of other topics!

The absurdity of political maneuvering is ripe for comedic satire, and the Comedy Central original web series “The Handlers” takes full advantage of this. our most recent interview with Bryan Cranston, star of TV’s best show, “Breaking Bad,” plays Jack Power, a state senate hopeful with a team of spin doctors (or “handlers”) watching his every move in order to spin his blunders to the campaign’s advantage. Sarah (Andrea Cansler), Miles (Matt Braunger), Tim (Josh Dean) and Goodman (Gary Anthony Williams) are experts in the field of bullshit, and when they’re not busy covering Jack’s ass, they’re twice as hard at work covering their own.

The series starts strong with its first episode, “The Focus Group,” in which Jack’s boring speech delivery style is hurting his poll numbers as well as his team of handlers watching the speech from campaign headquarters. However, when Jack experiences a slip of the tongue pronouncing a certain state name, his polls soar, and the handlers land on a brilliant strategy for the campaign. Ending with a jaunty theme song briefly introduced at the beginning, this episode nicely sets the tone for what’s to come, and the series continues strongly with a similar idea in its second episode, “Prostitute.” An innocent mistake in which Jack tries to help a woman in need, only to be railroaded by the media when she turns out to be a hooker. Perhaps the best moment of the episode comes when Jack asks his handlers, “Is a good person helping out a stranger so hard to believe?” and the answers comes back as a resounding “Yes!”

After the third episode, “Poster,” which features a really well-done sight gag at the end, the series takes a slight dip in quality. The fourth episode, “Mustache,” is well-played but basically just builds to a very predictable joke, and the same could be said of the fifth episode, “The Announcement,” which is even weaker. This is sort of the problem with the web series format, at least for this series; the characters and situation are strong enough to build an actual, full-length sitcom from, but the two-to-four minute episode format of the web series only leaves room for essentially one joke per episode. Some of the jokes work better than others, but Cranston and company always give it their best, and “The Handlers” is worth a look, especially in its first three episodes.

  

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The Light from the TV Shows: “Breaking Bad” is about to do some more bad-breaking

If you’ve frequented any pop-culture website or picked up an entertainment-themed publication at any point in the past week or so, it’s highly unlikely that you’re ignorant of the impending return of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” I’m not saying you’re necessarily a fan, but you’d be hard pressed to be unaware of the fact that the show’s coming back, since every TV critic and their brother wants to make sure they get in a story or three about the fact that this is the last season of the show…except it really isn’t, now that they’ve decided to split the 16-episode final season into two eight-episode seasons instead. But, hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to, a story’s a story’s, whether it’s 100% accurate or not, am I right?

Regrettably, it’s unlikely that I’m going to be blogging each and every episode of this season I have over the course of the past couple of years, but that’s not to say that I won’t still be offering up the occasional piece about the show. I mean, after all, I meant it when I said – repeatedly – that it’s the best show on television, so I’m rarely without something to say about it. Indeed, having been fortunate enough to check out a screener of the Season 5 premiere, I thought I’d devote this week’s column to desperately avoiding saying too much about what goes on while still giving you as many reasons as possible to make you want to tune in.

But first, AMC’s official look at what’s ahead:

Now that you’ve watched that, prepare yourself for a list of 20 things that you probably won’t want to read if you want to go into the episode being as surprised as possible. Trust me, though: although arguably all 20 things qualify as spoilers on some level, I really haven’t told you much of anything…which you’ll realize after you’ve watched the Season 5 premiere on Sunday night. Once you have, I hope you’ll check back in. I’m curious to know what you think.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Brace yourself for…”The Aquabats! Super Show!”

Even if he’d left the world of show business behind after hitting his twenties, Christian Jacobs would still deserve a certain amount of respect from pop-culture obsessives, having acted his way through his childhood and teenage years, serving as a regular on the “All in the Family” spin-off “Gloria” (he played Gloria Bunker Stivic’s son, Joey), making one-off appearances in episodes of “V,” “Married…with Children,” and “Roseanne,” and turning up in such films as “Gleaming the Cube” and, most notably, “Pretty in Pink,” where he plays the kid in the record store who Annie Potts’ character comes within half an inch of hitting in the eye with a staple. In the ’90s, however, Jacobs shifted careers, focusing on music and eventually helping to found a rather colorful band known as…The Aquabats!

Music alone couldn’t keep the coffers filled, alas, which forced the Aquabats into second position in favor of a gig that actually paid the bills with more regularity, so Jacobs returned to TV, this time working behind the scenes. In doing so, he was responsible for co-creating one of the most successful kids shows in recent years: “Yo Gabba Gabba!” Flush with the excitement that success brings, Jacobs and company have used a combination of creativity and show-biz connections to simultaneously kick-start a new series for the youth of today and fulfill a dream.

Ladies and gentlemen: The Aquabats! Super Show!

Bullz-Eye: Having seen the first two episodes of “The Aquabats! Super Show!,” it seems safe to suggest that Sid and Marty Krofft have been a major influence on you guys.

Christian Jacobs: [Laughs.] Definitely! I’m glad you caught that point of reference, for sure.

BE: So what are the origins of this “Super Show”? Was the idea of doing an Aquabats TV series always in the back of your mind, or was this a recent development?

CJ: No, it’s always been there, really. I mean, you know, it’s one of those things where…we started the band in ’94, and at the same time, I was doing video production, making music videos and skateboard videos, so I was in production already. And I grew up working in television as well, so we started the band, just for goofing around, but pretty much within a year I was, like, “This could be an amazing kids show! We could incorporate all those fun things we used to watch that were weird and trippy and action-packed…” We were influenced by shows from Japan, too. Those were there right away. So we started to incorporate them into the band, and from there we immediately set out to try and start a TV show…and this was, like, ’95 or ’96. [Laughs.] So it’s taken some time to finally happen, but it was one of those things where, right away, we were telling people, “We’re gonna make a TV show!” And it started to feel a little bit like that book The Carrot Seed, where there’s the little kid and no one believes the carrot’s gonna grow, but the kid does, and he knows the carrot’s gonna come up at some point. I feel like that was us a little bit. It was just up to us to stick it out and keep trying and keep trying and keep trying. But, yeah, it was definitely something that we always wanted to do.

BE: When did it first look like it was going to become a reality? Certainly the success of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” couldn’t have hurt.

CJ: Well, I think that’s what finally took us over the hill. But back in ’98, you know, we did a pilot for this studio, and then in ’99 or 2000, we did another development deal with a different studio, and…it was one setback and weird thing after another. And then we had pitched it to all of the networks by 2002 or 2003 – we pretty much ran the table, so to speak – and no one was biting, so it just seemed like a dead project. But in the back of our minds, we were, like, “I know this can still be a great kids show, but let’s focus on something else.” And that’s when we came up with a bunch of ideas, and one of those ideas was “Yo Gabba Gabba!” And just from pitching the Aquabats so much around the industry, we had some contacts, so we started pitching “Yo Gabba Gabba!,” and we immediately realized that we were going to run into the same problem unless we just took matters into our own hands and independently did it ourselves. And that’s really where the ball started rolling, and we realized, “Hey, if we’re going to do this, then we’re just going to need to go and make it on our own somehow.”

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Breaking Bad 4.13 – Lily of the Valley

In last week’s blog, I wrote of Walt sitting poolside, “We see a man who’s spinning both his firearm and his wheels, waiting to figure out how little future he has left. When the pistol spins toward one of the potted plants, however, it’s clear that Walt has gotten an idea.” If only I’d recognized that plant as a Lily of the Valley, I could’ve been a hero among my peers. Damn my insufficient knowledge of botany! Damn it all to hell!

Ahem.

When we first see Walt this evening, he’s making a mad dash through the parking garage to remove the bomb from the underside of Gus’s car, which he promptly carries into the hospital and up to the waiting area. It’s an unabashedly slapstick moment when the magnet on the bomb sticks to the elevator door, followed by a hilarious back-and-forth between Walt and Jesse about the decision to bring the bomb with him (“What, was I supposed to leave it on his car?”), but things get serious immediately thereafter, with the ABQ police showing up and requesting an audience with Jesse about his statement. As the boys with badges walk away with Mr. Pinkman, Walt looks positively pale. Is it just from being in close proximity to the cops?

The conversation between Jesse and his new friends is predictably tense. “We’re just talking.” “So if I get tired of talking, I can get up and leave?” Sure, that’s how it always works. Jesse’s being seriously grilled over the fact that he offered up a very specific poison as what was causing Brock’s illness. His explanation? “I musta seen it on ‘House’ or something.” Awesome. Time to call Saul, but there’s so much shredding going on that his secretary can’t hear the phone when he calls…or when Walt calls, for that matter, as we discover when he busts through the bottom pane of the front door in a desperate effort to find Saul. It’s an unexpectedly hilarious scene between Walt and H.T. (as Saul dubbed her last week), particularly when Walt is initially completely oblivious to the fact that the $20K pricetag for the repairs ain’t nothing to do with repairs. Okay, so it was a little slapstick-y when Walt left the office the same way he came in, but that didn’t keep me from laughing, anyway.

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Breaking Bad 4.12 – No More Prolonging the Inevitable

To call last week’s episode of “Breaking Bad” intense is to undercut the utterly traumatizing effect it had on the show’s regular viewership. This week attempts to start off with a similar level of tension, showing a pair of vehicles pulling up outside the White house without immediately identifying them. Within seconds, however, we confirm that what we’re witnessing is the arrival of the DEA agents who’ve come to put Walt, Skyler, and Walt Jr. into protective custody.

Wait, scratch that: Walt’s not going.

“All that matters is that the rest of you are safe,” Walt tells Skyler. “And that’s why I’m not going with you. I’m the real target.” Ever the naïve one, she can’t quite grasp that being under the watchful eye of the DEA isn’t enough to keep everyone protected, but Walt knows better, just as he knows that he and his family are only being included in the DEA’s protective of Hank because Marie has demanded it.

“There’s got to be another way,” sobs Skyler.

“There isn’t,” Walt says, matter-of-factly. “There was. But now there isn’t.”

And so Walt steps outside and calls Hank, playing his brother-in-law like a fiddle with the suggestion that Marie has a history of overreacting, and assures him that somebody’s got to keep the car wash up and running. Hank isn’t thrilled, but he doesn’t sound suspicious, even when Walt’s voice cracks with emotion as he tells him to keep his head down. The look on Walt’s face as he says goodbye to his infant daughter is heartbreaking, if only because we know that, in his mind, he believes this could well be the last time he ever sees her…but, y’know, you can’t really blame the guy for thinking that, can ya?

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