Hey, True Detective is Back!

It was August of 2015 the last time True Detective was on, so its season 3 return requires a bit of commentary on television, the history of the show, and some other things I’d want to touch on before I shift into a more reviewing/recapping/investigatory gear regarding the two-episode premiere last Sunday. Just in time for episode 3, which I will be reviewing night-of or on Monday morning, it’s time to talk about True Detective. 

The first season of the show might be one of the most lightning-in-a-bottle instances of TV in history. Although HBO has undeniable cultural reach, I don’t think anybody had any idea how magnetic Matthew McConaughey would be in the role of Rust Cohle investigating cult murders in Louisiana with a cynical Woody Harrelson. The Yellow King/Crooked Spiral story came from a novel several years in development and it showed in the plotting, characterization, and dialogue.

r5zlja0It also came out at the same time as Rick & Morty‘s debut, and there are a lot of similarities between Rust and Rick as characters. Drunk, misunderstood genius white men, previously fueled by a passion towards their work acting as a mask to hide the personal tragedies that really drive them. Vulnerable nihilists just waiting for a little prodding to drop the facade, abusing substances, engaging in ultraviolence, and detaching themselves from meatspace’s reality to hide from their feelings.

They’re two characters that I feel get interpreted wildly differently depending on who is watching it, sometimes for the absolute worst, but for people with similar characteristics and outlooks, it was damn near jarring the sudden level of representation of not just the misanthropic outlook and behavior, but the philosophical frame of reference. Big-N nihilism is not something you see on television very often. “Losing your religion” without a church being involved, as both Rust and Rick have, and watching the fallout of failed idealism, self-destruction, the second-guessing, is something that I think hit the “No Child Left Behind” generation pretty hard. The bleak, post-Katrina Louisiana landscape, framed so well by season 1 director Cary Fukunaga, underscored why I think the series resonated with that coveted 18-35 demographic at the time. Despite the age difference and throwback to the early 90s as a setting, people saw a lot of Rust in themselves, or at least they thought they did.

To have to follow that up a year later was going to be a struggle. You’ve reinvented an actor in a way nobody this side of Tarantino can and ushered in a whole new phase of an underrated but arguably typecast career that they had to call it “The McConaissance.” Season 2 is met with middling reviews. Colin Farrell, in almost a rebuke to the soused superhero Rust Cohle, is even more broken, but not in a way anyone would want to identify with. Rachel McAdams, a good protagonist, channels the same coldness as the first series’s wife but it’s obvious creator Nic Pizzolatto might have listened to criticism that the female characters were too foil-y and thin (Taylor Kitsch is also the boys do cry anti-machismo CHP war veteran) and she’s (rightfully) criticized as a Mary Sue due to some hamfisted arc plotting. Vince Vaughn, running neck-and-neck with Farrell for the breakout, career-redefining role, comes across as wooden, but it’s integral to the story and character and I feel like he was unjustly panned.

It’s sophomoric and seems a little rushed, but once it ties together in the end, it felt a little unfair from a critical perspective. The week-to-week mystery solving pacing wasn’t there, Los Angeles didn’t have the swampy, nearly Eldritch-horror atmosphere of Louisiana, and a story about railway zoning, a dead city manager, and institutional corruption didn’t hold a candle to The Yellow King. It shouldn’t have had to, but with season 1 making such a splash, it was inevitable that in an anthology series, that second season had to be really strong. They tried to do something different with it, likely in an effort to prove they weren’t a one-narrative-gimmick show, and it fell flat with audiences. Standing alone, it’s very much watchable, well-acted and directed, but lacked the iconoclastic, page-turning clout that carried the first season.

Season 3 episode 1 & 2 spoilers after the jump!

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Huge Pay Disparities Mean Denver Public Schools Should Strike, Too

As the first teacher’s strike in 30 years kicks off in LA today, Denver Public Schools looks poised to strike as well if a deal isn’t reached by this Saturday after narrowly avoiding a strike last year. Like most teachers around the country, most cannot afford to live in the districts they teach in and one in five DPS teachers work a second job. Long-standing issues in funding, particularly in regards to property taxes, mean school funding and teacher pay is an obvious issue of racial discrimination and class warfare.

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Administrative and executive salary documents

District salary documents circulating on Facebook detail a massive pay disparity between the average DPS teacher and administrative officials. While a first-year teacher makes less than $45,000 a year, a rate the union is fighting to increase by up to 10% and with the rapid rising costs of living in Denver amounting to basically an inflationary wage raise, executive directors are pulling nearly a quarter-million dollar salary. Anyone that has ever worked within a school system could tell you the teachers are being hosed. The distribution of labor between even a school principal, making upwards of $85,000 per year, and that of a teacher is astronomical: pouring through the documents, DPS has one administrator to manage every 7.5 teachers, yet one teacher for every 40 students. Couple that with the fact that teachers pay hundreds of dollars per year to supply their own classrooms, work countless hours of unpaid over-time grading papers and preparing lesson plans, and without a doubt spend the most time educating and supervising children, it’s no wonder DPS teachers are ready to form picket lines.

Despite initial record profits and promises that the legalization of marijuana would provide an influx of funding for school districts across the state, that is largely not the case. Construction projects (notoriously nebulous processes) and programs like substance abuse prevention or adding counselors are funded through grant programs from marijuana sales taxes, however, teacher’s salaries aren’t addressed because the grants are not a consistent source of budgetary income for the schools and districts. While voters in Colorado likely had issues like this in mind when voting to pass Amendment 64, the nuts and bolts of the funding limitations mean teachers, one of the last widespread unionized professions in this country not connected to health care or law enforcement, get the shaft. Continue reading →

The Contractually-Obligated-by-Blog-Law Lists of Shit I Enjoyed in 2018: Television

Oh wow, really dropped the ball a little bit on finishing this year-end-review shit before the end of the year, didn’t I? I got in the music and film pieces in under the wire but here we are, two days in 2019, and I’m still talking about old news TV from 2018. I’m generally pretty diligent about my television writing, offering seasonal reviews and previews for fall and winter as well as spring and summer. I also try and keep track of stuff I’ve been rewatching, so this should be quick and dirty, a little critical summary of what came out this year that I think was notable. Continue reading →

An Autopsy of the Denver Bronco’s 2018 Season

Roughly three years ago, you probably could have floated a ballot initiative in Colorado about renaming Denver International Airport after John Elway. After wining the Superbowl with a crippled Peyton Manning and one of the most historically lethal defenses ever seen in the NFL, Elway was riding high, going on to sign long-term deals for Von Miller, maybe the best pass-rusher since Lawrence Taylor, and Emmanuel Sanders, the league’s most underrated and consistently productive wide receiver.

That goodwill is long, long squandered.

Today, Elway finds himself without a head coach, having fired Vance Joseph after months of presumptive anticipation. There was some speculation last night, after losing to division rivals the LA (SAN DIEGO) Chargers by a score of 23-9, that because Joseph was allowed to speak to the press and state that he wanted to return next year to “make things right,” that Elway might hold off on his termination after all. The logic behind this is actually pretty sound and definitely what was parroted by a lot of people last year after calls for heads to roll went unheeded: it’s very difficult to attract coaching talent to a franchise if the GM could throw you out after a single losing season. Nobody wants to relocate their family, teach their playbook, and develop a staff if you’re a few bad games away from the chopping block without being given any real time to gel within a franchise.

That said, Joseph was proven to be absolutely abysmal at clock management, timeout strategics, and calling for challenges. Basic game management skills eluded him and penalty flags were called constantly based on his ineptitude. Vance, despite being a basically affable guy, well liked in the locker room, that seemed willing enough to take risks and had a playbook that seemed to work for a Broncos team shedding veterans and rudderless without a stable quarterback situation into at least losing games by a closer margin that the blowouts of 2017. After a short winning streak, it even looked like he might have locked down the job for next year, but then they lose to both of the Bay Area’s sorry offerings and shut down by Phillip Rivers, villainized by Bronco fans everywhere. Vance had to go. It’s the third non-interim head coach in eight years, but he had to go. That’s not great for any franchise.

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Beto O’Rourke is a Catspaw for the Establishment Democrats

As the New Year approaches, the 2020 race to see which Democrat gets to take the blame for Trump’s disastrous policies is starting to reluctantly take shape. The field will only get weirder, surely, as the imperiled incumbent administration continues to shed support in the face of further legal turmoil and a continued shut down of the government. Nobody has actually declared yet, but obvious early frontrunners are emerging and a bitter feud is already starting to bubble over between the starry-eyed backers of Texas congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, fresh off a narrow loss for Ted Cruz’s senate seat, and the more jaded supporters of 2016 Democratic nominee runner-up Bernie Sanders from Vermont.

While Beto and Bernie aren’t publicly trading barbs, making this entire debate that has subsumed the political corners of the internet even odder, their respective bases have turned vicious against one another and exposed fractures in the party. O’Rourke, a moderate congressman from Texas who largely tread water with a middle-of-the-road voting record, may have had some promise to left-leaning Democrats as a more progressive senator, but that was dashed during the mid-terms and he’s since been floated as a kind of “Great White Hope” Barack-Obama-second-coming type by the establishment seeking to capitalize on any kind of excitement. Beto got liberal Texans energized, sure, but after seeing the middling job that a compromising but charismatic centrist did from 2008-16, most nationwide progressives are looking for a cadidate with more drastic solutions, ready to tackle crises and shift paradigms.

The Bernie wing has reason to close up ranks a little bit. The party establishment, largely stacked with Clinton acolytes, very obviously anointed Hilary with the 2016 nomination and then took for granted the energy a new generation of democratic socialists had for Sanders. The superdelegate system was an absolute sham, the primary system so obviously a First-Passed-the-Post system clearly designed for a party-favored (and moneyed) candidate, and mechanisms that saw every bit of dissent towards this process snuffed out or outright sneered at. They went onto lose to a game show host and real estate con artist after failing to close an enthusiasm gap, having not learned their lessons from 2000 or 2004, and ineptly handling basic campaigning, messaging, or maneuvering around manufactured scandals from the right-wing with a candidate that has literally spent forty years doing just that. Continue reading →

Parsing the Leftist Outrage Over the Syrian Pullout

Last week, Donald Trump unilaterally ordered for the US military to withdraw from the Syrian’s civil war theater. Coming as somewhat of a surprise to the Pentagon, this prompted the high-profile resignations of both Secretary of Defense James Mattis and anti-ISIS coalition envoy Brett McGurk. A bipartisan condemnation ensued, accusing Trump of abandoning allies and setting a dangerous precedent for future military excursions.

This also enraged the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces primarily responsible for waging the lion’s share of the war it took to dislodge ISIS from control of vast swaths of Syria, largely with the help of coalition air support from the United States and Russia. Some 2,000 US military personnel on the ground, training SDF forces and providing targeting information over the last several years, were reportedly deeply unhappy as well with the order to abandon the SDF’s mission.

While ISIS isn’t quite, as Trump declared, extinguished in Syria, the idea that they would regain significant territory or pose a threat beyond guerrilla terror actions is a slim chance. Assad, as his father before him did, has endured the war and will likely seek Russian-guided mediation with the remaining fractured rebel groups. The NATO proxy now abandoned, reconciliation between the SDF and Assad also seems likely as the two rarely fought during the war.

On paper, this seems like a tidy end to what has been a devastating, terrifying conflict for the region. Supporters of Donald Trump attracted to his isolationist foreign policy rhetoric cheered the move and chided Democrats that otherwise normally encourage reductions in US military involvement in foreign lands as flip-floppers, even accusing them of being in line with the neoconservatives so reviled by so-called libertarians and anti-war liberals alike.

Some anti-imperialist internationalist “far-leftists” decried the pull-out too, eyeing the social revolution in Kurdish Rojava (a presently semi-autonomous zone carved out during the war, seen as an opportunity for a Kurdish homeland) and its vulnerability to being crushed by an imminent invasion from Turkey, citing elements of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) operating within or controlling entirely the YPG/YPJ (People’s Protections Units, largely Kurdish militias that spearhead the SDF) as casus belli. Other anti-imperialist internationalist “far-leftists” praised the move, citing that a reduction in US military imperialism as more important than a burgeoning revolution, likely still bitter that an ostensibly anarcho-communist influenced militia made the frankly pragmatic move to accept US military support in exchange for not being completely wiped out by ISIS at the peak of their strength just a few years ago.

There’s a lot going on here, it’s extremely confusing, there’s a lot of acronyms, and making sense of the various viewpoints and ideological axes to grind is tough to do.

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The Contractually-Obligated-by-Blog-Law Lists of Shit I Enjoyed in 2018: Music

One down, three to go, everybody.

Next up on the yearly review is music, and all the releases I kept up with despite, in a Spotify-estimated 35,000+ minutes this year, mostly listening to old Frank Zappa albums, the first four records from The Mars Volta I’ve memorized since the age of 13, and Run the Jewels 1-3 on repeat. It’s been a banner year for a lot of different artists, and this is what liked, not necessarily what was culturally relevant enough to be the Album of the Year. I’m not going to jerk off the (excellent) Black Panther soundtrack, rank dead or imprisoned Soundcloud rappers, pontificate on the artistic and social importance of Janelle Monae’s brilliant ongoing oeuvre, express my complicated, conflicted feelings about Greta Van Fleet, or argue about Turnstile (it’s good).

Also, as a guy not (often) paid for criticism or reviews, there’s probably tons I’ve missed or overlooked. Just like I haven’t seen Widows or The Favorite because nobody pays me to go to the theater, or sat my ass down to watch The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Sorry to Bother You yet (all films very much on my radar), I simply haven’t had enough time or energy to devote to pouring over every release that’s piqued my interest or came out from an artist I like. I’m also getting old, and so a lot of what The Kids™ are into or whatever is probably irritating to me (Cardi B holds absolutely zero sway over my life) and I’d rather listen to Cursive’s Domestica for the six-hundredth time. This is also in no particular order, lightly segregated by a loose sense of genre, and if I had to guess, it’s probably going to come out to like ten with maybe a few honorable mentions. If you have Spotify, there’s links for everything! Continue reading →