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Morality Shock

Morality Shock (photo)

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The underwater city of Rapture, the setting of 2007’s Xbox and PC hit “BioShock” and its just-released sequel “BioShock 2,” is aptly named. Few video game worlds are as thrillingly conceived as the alt history utopia gone awry of 2K Games’ fantastic franchise. But if the locale is what immediately immerses players in the series’ vigorous first-person shooter action, it’s the storytelling that’s the true lure. As so many critics and fans have proclaimed, the original “BioShock” is a rousing work of game design on both a narrative and gameplay level, marrying form and content in a way that few titles have dared to even try.

That, in the end, the game didn’t wholly achieve its lofty goals was a minor letdown, but its ambition and inspiration were stirring. Rarely has a game tried to reflect the ideology of its storyline through its gameplay construction, and it’s even more rare that a game use that storyline to comment on the medium of gaming itself while also confronting players with direct moral dilemmas. Falling just short of greatness may be “BioShock”‘s lasting legacy, but in the process, it offered a window onto a new, exciting, attainable future.

“BioShock”‘ fully realized, self-contained narrative could have made its follow-up seem like an unjustified cash-grab. But “BioShock 2” makes it clear that that grown-up gaming future is now even closer at hand.

02262010_BioShock2-2.jpgBefore delving into this surprisingly superior follow-up, let’s take a moment to reconsider what made the franchise’s first installment such a unique near-masterpiece. In “BioShock,” you’re Jack, a blank-slate avatar who survives a plane crash and discovers Rapture, a submerged metropolis built by an entrepreneur named Andrew Ryan who believed — cue Ayn Rand — in the supremacy of the individual over the collective.

Ryan built Rapture, a gorgeous Art Deco city brimming with iconic “Fountainhead” slogans and statues, as a place where man could reach his full potential, a belief that led to genetic modification via superpowers called Plasmids that were generated by ADAM (enhanced stem cells) and fueled by chemical ammo known as EVE. Ryan championed individual gain above all else, which led the population to abuse ADAM to the point of mutation, eventually resulting in a civil war that left Rapture in ruins, as you find it when the game begins.

Throughout, you’re guided on your amnesia-addled path by a mysterious figure known as Atlas, who wants you to kill Andrew Ryan. To do this, you have to upgrade yourself with Plasmids, destroy various enemies dubbed Splicers, and confront giant monsters in diving suits known as Big Daddies that are charged with protecting mutant girls called Little Sisters who harvest ADAM from corpses. The Little Sisters are the vehicle for “BioShock”‘s moral conundrum — you’re given a choice to kill them and selfishly harvest their total ADAM, or save them and receive a lesser amount. Unfortunately, it’s not much of a conundrum, since the game — subscribing, shrewdly, to Andrew Ryan’s “every man for himself” ethos — compels you to fully power Jack up during the course of the action, meaning that the only logical choice is to harvest the Little Sisters for your own gain.

02262010_Bioshock2-3.jpgThough the Little Sisters “choice” was an inherently loaded one, there was something bracing about the melding of the game’s design and themes, with Ryan’s objectivist beliefs mirrored by your own focus on enhancing Jack’s abilities to achieve an end goal. Here was a game striving to have its construction and story be one and the same. But, as game developer Clint Hocking so astutely pointed out at the time, “BioShock” is at odds with itself, encouraging you to both adhere to objectivism (by doing what’s best for you, to advance) and simultaneously discard it by forcing you to help someone else (a directive that’s the opposite of helping yourself), and furthermore, to help a man (Atlas) who directly opposed Ryan’s philosophies. It’s an irresolvable conflict, one in which the gameplay and themes were at once in harmony and disharmony, resulting in an experience that — for all its positives — came off feeling slightly muddled.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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