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“Al Franken: God Spoke,” “Hacking Democracy”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Al Franken: God Spoke,” Docurama, 2005]

The new doc from the makers of “The War Room” and “,” “Al Franken: God Spoke” can be easily dismissed as bleeding-heart hagiography, just as Franken himself, like Michael Moore, can be a divisive figure even among our nation’s liberal democrats. But there’s more to that assessment than meets the eye: an integral but semi-hidden aspect to the bipartisan cultural wars is that celebrity and punditry are admirable goals for conservatives — because conservatives by their very definition represent capitalistic greed, might-is-right and power-mongering. Liberals, in the abstract, represent the opposite — community intercourse, sharing the wealth, justice and peace — and so the very act of attaining fame and ubiquity as a talking head can be condemned as hypocrisy. It’s one of the Republicans’ many ideological dance steps to which there is no logical counter-step. If liberals like Franken and Moore are going to try to use the media to speak truth to power, the very attempt can be seen as a violation of the principles they’re trying to espouse, and, therefore, mere naked vanity.

But no one ever accuses Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly of rampaging egocentrism; it’s self-evident, and in keeping with their philosophies. In the neo-con world, bald-faced megalomania is the state to which we’re all supposed to aspire. (And do as a nation, in terms of foreign policy, and it has an official think-tank name: “American exceptionalism.”) The presumptions behind this liberal-hypocrite reasoning are all lies, of course, to use Franken’s favorite qualification — it’s akin to denouncing a freedom fighter for battling an invading force in defense of his own country. (They do that as well.) The arena for the cockfight is what it is, and everyone has an equal right to step into the sawdust and starting pecking.

Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus’s film captures Franken, before and after the debut of Air America, at his most glorious (making royal public sport of the confident prevarications uttered by the Orwellian mole people at Fox News and elsewhere) and at his most dubious (depressed after the 2004 election, playing with his dog). It’s not a freestanding movie so much as a brickbat tossed in a larger battle — continuously being fought between the lying liars and the rest of America. (Notice I didn’t say “Democrats,” though Franken might’ve.) One more equation is evident, once you realize that our movie theaters and video shelves are thick as a brick with progressive documentaries and boast virtually no films selling a neo-con perspective. Integer #1: The mass media keeps things unquestionably simplistic and dumb (which is why Air America has a more difficult time finding listeners than Limbaugh et al.). The real political world is complex, but it must be boiled down to bytes and visceral exhortations if you expect busy, wage-stagnated, double-employed Americans to listen before they pass out on their couches.

Integer #2: Everybody’s afraid to say it, but it’s scientifically demonstrable: conservative ideology absolutely depends on the ignorance and miseducation of its populace in order to be successful. Education is its enemy. Every substantial tenet of the neo-con agenda is based in economic disparity, carelessness for your fellow man and the transformation of honest tax dollars into corporate profit; so, it all must be masqueraded and sold, duplicitously and loudly, as monosyllabic playground morality. Sum total: that conservatism, possessing by necessity the blunt public edge of a battle-axe, sells best on TV and on the radio, and liberal reasoning, which by definition aims to be fair and responsible and attentive to actual and complicated facts, does not.

Inevitably, then, the liberal messages gravitate toward feature-length movies, where the force of reality can be brought to bear on government malfeasance or the true breadth of Wal-Mart’s societal damage or Bill O’Reilly’s Stalinesque judgments and dishonest leaps of presumption. (As evidenced by the Republican Party-distributed Moore-rebuttal film “Celsius 41.11,” released in 2004, neo-cons can’t maintain common sense for the length of a feature film, much less be entertaining about it; in fact, the prolonged exposure made Charles Krauthammer and Michael Medved seem like vampires left outside too long at daybreak.) Doob and Hegedus’s film only goes so far in contributing to this dynamic, but as another body on the pig pile, it’s welcome.

As is Simon Ardizzone and Russell Michaels’s “Hacking Democracy,” a terrifying HBO doc about the slow ascension of computerized voting machines, and how much rank dirt has been dug up in the process about how ineptly they’re programmed and how much outrageous political skullduggery gone into the deal, leading to inevitable accusations (let’s make that “criminal charges”) about the degree to which machine-makers like Diebold had been conceiving of these modern miracles as election-stealers from their very inception. Sometime before the primaries begin, the movie should be seen by every client of American democracy.

“Al Franken: God Spoke” (Docurama) will be available on DVD April 24th; “Hacking Democracy” (Docurama) is now available on DVD.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.