AKA: Don’t Be a Dummy
I fell in love with the girl at the Puppet Show
We open on a PoV shot backstage during a talent and puppet show rehearsal as a creepy voiceover says, “I will be whole.” On stage, we have one very off-key Cordelia Chase singing The Greatest Love of All and an exasperated Giles dismissing her. Kind of rude of him, because she hadn’t even gotten to the sparkler portion yet.
Our trio walks in to rib Giles about his assignment as Talent Show Coordinator. Mr. Snyder, the new principal (RIP Mr. Flutie) wants him to interact with students more. Snyder overhears this student-teacher interaction and decides that Buffy, Willow, and Xander also need to be more integrated with the school. As such, they will be required to participate in the talent show. He explains that Principal Flutie was too touchy-feely for his liking, and Sunnydale will neither touch nor feel on his watch.
We also learn that Buffy is wigged by puppets as Sid, our titular puppet, takes stage for his rehearsal slot. He is actually talking, much to the shock of the puppeteer Morgan. The rest of the rehearsing students believe this to be an actual ventriloquist act.
In the locker room, we get the creepy voiceover once more as he attacks a student: “I will be flesh.”
Leave your heart on the stage
Chaos abounds at an additional rehearsal. Willow has decided that a dramatic scene is the easiest talent they could do. Sid the puppet starts sexually harassing Buffy and Willow, and he allows Morgan to take the fall. Or, at least, he partially takes the fall. Buffy does threaten to turn Sid into a Dura-Flame log.
Principal Snyder and Giles talk about all the misfortunes Sunnydale High has endured recently. While he would prefer to blame our Scoobies for it all, his current plan is to run a tight ship. Then a scream comes from the locker room.
Emily, the dancer seen at rehearsal, was found dead with her heart removed. Giles says some demons will remove hearts, but typically with their claws and teeth. Emily’s heart was neatly cut out. All but Buffy assume a simple human murder, until our Slayer reminds them of the Hellmouth of it all.
The Scoobies interview everyone in the talent show in an attempt to trace her last steps. Everyone says they saw Morgan with her last. They also describe Morgan as “always rubbing his head and moaning.” Our sweet Cordy is devastated, because “Emma” was her best friend and the murder could’ve been her. Never short on an existential crisis, that one.
Buffy talks to Morgan. He rubs his head a lot. She eventually yells at him after Sid tries to end the conversation. Morgan makes a half-hearted attempt to explain before giving up and leaving.
The Slayerettes are all too willing to blame Morgan, but Buffy says being a weirdo doesn’t necessarily correlate with being a murderer. Giles cautions everyone not to rock the boat with Principal Snyder. They cannot afford additional scrutiny.
It’s the Puppet Show, not Puppet Tell
Buffy artfully breaks into Morgan’s locker by slamming the lock out of the door. It is after hours, though, and Principal Snyder does not condone loitering, heart-removing murders, and smoking. Before Buffy is forced to leave, she sees Sid the puppet’s case is empty.
Backstage, Morgan and Sid are arguing. Morgan does not want to “do it.” Sid says he must, because Buffy is clearly the one. She will be the last one before he is free.
That night Joyce tells Buffy she is excited to support her at the talent show. Buffy tries to direct her away from doing so. Her mom tries to dig deeper at what’s bothering her, but eventually encourages her to get some sleep.
And sleep Buffy does – until she wakes to something in her covers. Joyce rushes to check her room, only to find the bed empty. Buffy is clearly stressed, and her mom tries to calm her. Joyce also recommends she not go to sleep with the window open. Buffy murmurs that she didn’t.
Cordelia is arguing with Giles about her placement in the talent show. Her song is sad and sappy, but a rock band is before her. The mood will be all wrong. Giles stares at her for a moment before saying something about her hair, prompting her to run off in horror to check for herself. Apparently Xander gave him this tip.
Buffy tells the rest of the gang that she thinks Sid was in her room last night. Xander assumes it was a cat, and Giles and Willow are inclined to agree because Buffy has admitted to a fear of puppets.
Investigation isn’t for dummies
Buffy wants to get Morgan away from Sid so she can talk to him. Giles has found information about demons that collect body parts to take a human form. Morgan doesn’t quite fit this theory, though, because he keeps getting weaker while this particular brotherhood of demons are preternaturally strong.
Sid is with Morgan in class, and he is staring at Buffy. He is also answering the teacher’s questions and causing class disruption. The teacher puts the puppet in a closet, but he is still talking. She believes Morgan to be a very talented ventriloquist. After class she tries to check on Morgan, because he has been acting off lately. When she opens to closet to retrieve Sid, he is gone. Morgan said Sid knew to wait for him.
Xander reveals he took Sid so Buffy could talk to Morgan alone. Xander beats Sid against a desk to prove he isn’t real to a still-wigged Buffy. While she looks for Morgan, Willow and Giles research re-animation and organ harvesting, respectively. Xander babysits the dummy.
The dressing room is creepy and mostly abandoned, except for Principal Snyder. He does a harbinger-esque bit about Buffy not being safe on her own with everything going on lately. She assures him she can take care of herself.
Willow finds some information on possessed toys that harvest human organs. Now they want to believe Buffy. This is unfortunate timing, because Xander stopped watching Sid long enough to do some homework. When he realizes the puppet is gone, he yelps and jumps on a table. Willow and Giles do some yelping as well once they learn of the situation.
Buffy, meanwhile, has found Morgan… without his brain. As she reels back in horror, a chandelier drops on her and pins her down. Overhead we see the scurrying of tiny, wooden feet. Buffy works on getting free while defending herself from a knife-wielding Sid.
She escapes and manages to pin Sid against the wall. Then they each accuse the other of harvesting organs in order to become human. It turns out Sid is a demon hunter. He got turned into a puppet years ago. The demon he is hunting only needs a heart and a brain to remain human for another seven years. It is the last in a line of seven demons; Sid has already killed six.
The group figures if they can find out who is missing from the show they will know who the demon is. Sid has a plan: Giles will form the Power Circle to hype up the talent show participants while Buffy observes to see who is not there. Sid comes with Buffy to harass her some more. What is with these ageless dudes hitting on a fifteen year old? Sid also reveals that he will die once the last demon is dead, and he is relieved by this.
Cordelia is not relieved, because she is hit with stage fright. Giles suggests she picture the audience in their underwear, though they both agree it might be best to leave Mrs. Franklin out of that.
No one (who is still alive, anyway) is missing from the Power Circle. While Giles gets the show started, Buffy tries to find Willow and Xander. Sid has disappeared while she was gone, so she must find him as well. She feels a mysterious dripping when backstage and upon investigation discovers Morgan’s brain. The demon body rejected it.
Take a bow
Willow searches Morgan’s file. Though he was one of the smartest kids in the school, his attendance record was shoddy. It turns out he had brain cancer (hence the headaches). They believe the demon will go for the next smartest kid in school – Willow Rosenburg.
Marc the magician asks Giles for some pre-show help. His assistant is a no-show, and he needs Giles to pose in his guillotine.
Our trio determines that the demon could still be in the talent show, since it still needs a brain. They also realize Giles is a very intelligent person.
They arrive backstage to see Giles strapped in to the guillotine. Marc has his head positioned so his “brain can just fall right out.” Giles asked what the trick is, and Marc says there isn’t one. Buffy tries to fight Marc the demon while Xander frees Giles. Sid reappears and helps everyone get the demon strapped into the guillotine and cut off its head.
Sid says the heart needs to be taken out as well to truly end things. He stabs the demon’s chest then slumps over. Buffy picks up the dummy with some reverence just as the curtains rise. Principal Snyder looks at the scene and asks if the puppet show is avant-garde.
In our only concurrent-with-credits scene of the series we see Buffy, Willow, and Xander struggle with their Oedipus recitations, to a smattering of laughter in the audience. Willow runs off frightened.
“All I could think of was Mr. Marbles.” – Trav’s one sentence review of this episode.
I have a lot of fun with The Puppet Show. It’s a monster of the week with a huge ick factor and some fun plot twists. We also get the introduction of Principal Snyder, who is a fantastic side character. (5 / 5)
American Horror Story Delicate, Multiply Thy Pain
American Horror Story Delicate began last night, Killer Queens. And it was, well, a complicated episode. This makes sense because this season is about a complicated topic.
Just in case you didn’t know, this whole season is based on the novel Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.
Anna Victoria Alcott is an actress who just got her big break. She was in a horror movie that no one can stop talking about.
Except Anna herself. Because this career success couldn’t have come at a worse time. She and her husband Dex are in the middle of the difficult IVF process. It’s expensive, time-consuming and painful. Ironically, so is trying to win an Oscar.
But Anna has other things to worry about. Someone is messing with her. Several women are watching her in public. Worse, someone appears to be getting into her home, slashing notes she leaves for Dex, and removing her vital IVF medication from the fridge so it spoils. Her calendar is hacked to move her doctor appointments around so she misses them. Worst of all, someone broke into her home and crawled into bed with her.
Of course, no one takes any of these concerns seriously. Her agent, Siobhan, is focusing on getting her an Oscar. Her husband, Dex, doesn’t seem to give a shit about her except for when it comes to having a baby. He’s frequently dismissive of her concerns and only seems to want her around when it’s convenient for him. He goes so far as to kick her out of his show opening because she’s on edge.
You know, maybe because she’s clearly being stalked by someone who is trying to keep her from having a baby.
AHS Asylum had a lot of dark and important things to say about mental health care in America. AHS Coven had a lot of dark and important things to say about race and gender relationships.
Last season, AHS NYC wasn’t so subtle. Yes, there was a killer. But the real historical horror of the AIDs epidemic in the 80s was the focus of the season. And that worked very well.
This season, the story is clearly about female body autonomy. Anna is a woman struggling with so many issues that modern women face. The balance between our careers and our families. Feeling like growing old is the most unforgivable thing a woman can do. And of course, the fact that our bodies often feel like they don’t belong to us.
I was also pleased to see some AHS alumni. Denis O’Hare as Dr. Hill was delightful. Leslie Grossman and Billie Lourd will be involved soon, and they never bring anything less than their A-game.
This episode also did something I never thought could happen. It managed to scare me with a calendar notification. That was a special moment for me as a horror fan and calendar-obsessed person.
What didn’t work
Here are some things I didn’t love. First off, the main character Anna is a pushover. She can’t say no to Dex, Talia, Dr. Hill, or Siobhan. No one gets a no from this woman!
Anna didn’t act like that in the book. She stood up to everyone all the time, it was great. She wasn’t getting any support, but she was advocating for herself! That was such an important part of her character, and I’m sad to see that she’s lost that here.
I also hate the changes made to Siobhan and Talia. Now, please understand that this isn’t me complaining that the book was different. That’s not my point. Siobhan was a kind, loving woman who supported her best friend even while dying of cancer. Talia was a smart, business-oriented woman who was still kind. She was trying to start a family with her transgender husband, and bonded with Anna over their IVF journeys. These were vital characters in the story.
I feel like they’ve been railroaded.
All that being said, this was a decent start to AHS Delicate. It’s not the best start of a season we’ve had. But it’s okay. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season is going to bring. (4 / 5)
Wheel of Time, Strangers and Friends
Episode two of Wheel of Time, widened the divide between the show and the books. Things are happening out of order, people are acting out of character. Whether this is to the detriment of the show, however, has yet to be determined.
One character missing from episode one was Rand. You know, our main character. But we finally catch up with him now.
He’s living in a city with a woman named Selene. They don’t have what I’d call a super healthy relationship. She spends a bit too much time talking about her ex.
Yes, for those of you who didn’t read the books, this is going to be important.
Rand is also working at an insane asylum. He’s kind and patent with his charges, but not all of his fellow caregivers are.
Meanwhile, Lan and Moiraine are recovering form their Fade attack from last episode. Rather than taking the time to actually heal, Moiraine decides to head out to find Rand. Her team comes with her, which seems to really bother her.
While that little hissy fit is taking place, Nynaeve is causing issues. Not by anything she’s doing, but by what she’s not doing. As none of the regular novice teacher have been able to get her to use the One Power, Liandrin offers to try. No one, including me, is thrilled with this. But, the Aes Sedai are desperate. They know that The Dark One is around, and they need Nynaeve to be ready. So, they let the person who’s driven other students to their deaths and actively committed multiple hate crimes take over.
What could go wrong?
The special effects in this episode were really well done. I especially liked the dead fade nailed to the wall.
I was also pleased with the introduction of Elayne. Ceara Coveney is playing her, and doing a fine job. She’s warm, kind and sweet. I am thrilled that she’s around.
One of the greatest things about Wheel of Time is the friendships between the characters. Rand, Perrin, Mat, Nynaeve and Egwene legitimately care about each other. Elayne seems to care for Egwene right away. I really love that.
What didn’t work
One thing that bothered me in this episode, and frankly the last episode, was Liandrin keeping Mat in prison. I feel like this wasn’t adequately explained. Why does she have him? How did she trap him? What in the hell is she trying to get from him? Perhaps I simply missed something, and please let me know in the comments if this is the case. But it feels like some poor writing to me.
I also don’t love how Moiraine is portrayed in this episode. Really, in this season so far.
I get that she’s never exactly been a warm person. She’s not personable, open, or kind. Some (most) fans of the book would likely agree that she’s kind of a bitch.
But she’s not a bitch for no reason. She certainly isn’t the sort to lash out at the people who love her because she’s in pain. And that’s what she’s doing through this episode. She’s taking her pain out on Lan. And that’s just out of character for her.
It feels very much like a lot is being skipped over from the Wheel of Time books. But, so far at least, I don’t feel like anything vital has been missed. It feels more like the story is being streamlined.
Yes, I understand how this might go horribly wrong. I think we’ve all seen that. But as of right now, the changes make sense for the switch in mediums.
Now, let’s see if it stays that way.
(3 / 5)
Fantastico Disasterpiece Theatre: Francois and The Unicorn Review
Gringo Fantastico is a troubled luchador presenting Troma films from the safety of a derelict recreation center nestled in chaotic Tromaville. He is tortured by the French-Canadian Demon Piñata Francois who trash talks and hurls abuse throughout the episodes. This week’s special guest is Jonah Ray Rodrigues. New episodes release on the first of each month on Troma NOW.
Roll the Tape!
Welcome back to Tromaville for Chapter Dos of Fantastico Disasterpiece Theatre! Gringo Fantastico (Nate Turnpaugh) returns to the screen with guest Jonah Ray (current host of Mystery Science Theater 3000) to proudly host Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). Turnpaugh espouses his love for the movie in our most recent interview and credits his friends with helping him to discover it. “They kept trying to get me to watch it, and one day I finally did.”
On a totally unrelated note, the Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines libel as “a written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression.” For no reason at all, I choose to immediately correct the record and inform you that Fantastico actually hosts Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981).
We once again begin with grainy VHS footage of an interview from the luchador’s past. Much like the previous episode, Fantastico becomes upset at the prodding questions being asked of him. As this ongoing narrative continues to build, it is becoming obvious Fantastico is coming close to a breaking point.
These segments, while short, work to highlight Turnpaugh’s screenwriting ability. They feel authentic and demonstrate a solid understanding of wrestling culture. Crafting a compelling story can be difficult when it is broken into parts and spread across significant time. However, he creates bite-sized pieces of lore that manage to both satisfy and leave the audience craving more.
A Piñata by Any Other Name
Before the movie can start, Fantastico has to deal with the usual shenanigans from Francois. When it is time to bring out Jonah Ray for his interview from the Satellite of Love, Francois outright refuses. The interview must come at the cost of Fantastico’s soul. Fearing for the worst but desperate to continue the episode, Fantastico agrees to a one-day-only loan of his soul.
Enter Francine. She’s a sassy yet loving unicorn who only wants the best for Fantastico. She is complimentary and eager to help, offering her kind words in a sugary sweet voice. For all intents and purposes, she is the opposite of Francois. And yet, she is Francois. At least, she is Francois after consuming Fantastico’s soul.
Turnpaugh continues the ongoing theme of addressing his PTSD within the episode. He explains it as, “the whole concept of self-worth with the PTSD and things like that because that is a problem that I’ve experienced. When people are constantly negative towards you and you constantly have to defend yourself and you constantly be on edge and finally something happens and you don’t have to do that anymore. But you’re so guarded when that happens that you don’t know how to act.”
Throughout the episode, Fantastico chafes against Francine’s presence. He is unsure of what to do when someone speaks affectionately to him after suffering Francois for so long. The only punishments she doles out are rainbows that make you laugh. It’s unsettling and a little uncomfortable and is exactly what working to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk feels like.
The Satellite of Love
The interview segments with Jonah Ray feel like listening to old friends banter. Turnpaugh tells me he first met Ray at the Malco Drive-In Theater last year where they both attended Joe Bob’s Jamboree. He admits to being caught off guard when Ray knew who he was and was familiar with his work.
Fame and the mental games it causes one to play ends up becoming a large part of the interview. When asked by Fantastico when he felt like he had made it, Jonah Ray responds “I don’t think there is a there, there.” He likens the fame game to climbing a ladder. “You’re […] looking up […] but you rarely look back down.”
One of the best portions of the interview is when Jonah Ray goes full meta and begins roasting the ego necessary to take on the role of a media host. It’s hard not to laugh when you remember this is coming from the mouth of one host straight into the ear of another. It is important to note that both men are playing characters as hosts, which according to Ray changes the dynamic.
New Place, Same Thing
Jonah Ray also spends time talking about the difference in production having moved away from Netflix and onto Gizmoplex. He says it has been a lifelong dream to host MST3K and the move has allowed him space to better bring his vision of hosting to the screen. Netflix, while important in bringing MST3K back, seems to have sucked some of the soul out of the show. He believes moving to Gizmoplex helps with delivering the level of quality fans expect.
Turnpaugh is familiar with format shifts, having moved his show from YouTube onto Troma Now. I ask how this has changed things in terms of production and he says while he has never felt more supported, he has started placing more pressure on himself. “The pressure is never from Troma.” Lloyd Kaufman clearly believes in the show, as he’s recently started giving it top-billing on the site.
Back to Basics
The end of the episode brings back an extremely confused Francois. It seems consuming Fantastico’s soul didn’t go exactly as planned. Turnpaugh promises that audiences have not seen the last of Francine and that some answers may be coming sooner rather than later. You’ll just have to tune in next month to see what insanity happens next in Tromaville.
My rating for the episode: (4.6 / 5)
Follow @realfantastico on the platform formerly known as Twitter to join in with the rest of the Fantasticats as they live-tweet each episode the Friday after release. Episode three features special guests Toby Poser, John Adams and Lulu Adams.