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“Greenberg,” a W.C. Fields for our time.

“Greenberg,” a W.C. Fields for our time. (photo)

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He called himself “The Great Man,” and — especially in the ’30s — W.C. Fields was just that. In a series of misanthropic comedies, Fields repeatedly professed his dislike of children and wives and his love of booze. There was more to him than that, of course — 1934’s “The Old Fashioned Way” is a rare tender crack in the facade, and one of his best vehicles — but that’s who he was on-screen most of the time, and audiences loved him for it.

He was, in short, an “asshole.” As is Ben Stiller’s “Greenberg,” in the charge most commonly levied against Noah Baumbach’s fantastically empathetic portrait of the misanthrope as self-defeating, self-depleting maniac. There are meaningful differences, of course: the contours of Fields’ movies always put him in the right, the lone sane voice in a wilderness of ninnies and hysterics.

This isn’t how “Greenberg” works. As in “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot At The Wedding,” Noah Baumbach isn’t inviting us to titter in approval — something that should’ve been obvious to most viewers. And yet there are complaints left and right that we’re being invited to watch someone so repugnant he isn’t worth the time of day. Which isn’t right.

03252010_greenberg.jpgThe real Fields wore himself out: his nose got bigger and redder, the DTs started kicking in, and he died of a stomach hemorrhage at age 66. “Greenberg,” it’s true, is softer: Stiller does not look like he’s been knocking back the whiskey as often as he does on-screen. Much of what he says is biliously hilarious — but almost all of it is bilious, if not outright hateful.

But there’s no indication that we’re supposed to admire this or adopt his worldview; to anyone that’s not an angry teenager, it’s perfectly obvious what’s going on here. Much of the critical response, though, proves something else entirely: the role of beloved curmudgeon simply isn’t an option anymore in America. You have to undercut it with an essentially good-natured vigor (like Vince Vaughn) or really commit to it in such a way that you go from making people uncomfortable to just shocking them into laughter (like a lot of Billy Bob Thornton’s grumpy roles). But try to empathize with the asshole (even as you acknowledge he sometimes has a point), and watch out.

[Photos: “The Man on the Flying Trapeze,” Universal Home Entertainment, 1935; “Greenberg,” Focus Features, 2010]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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.