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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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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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