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DID YOU READ

Documentary rehab.

Documentary rehab. (photo)

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Writing about the upcoming documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” Jeffrey Wells notes that the film — a loving profile — has rehabilitated Rivers in his mind from “‘uh-huh, whatever’ status” to someone who’s a “highly admirable paragon of toughness and tenacity. Plus the doc deepens and saddens our understanding of who Rivers is, was and continues to be.”

That’s a win-win scenario for anyone who sets out to rehabilitate a person who’s become a punchline — or worse — in the public imagination, something that happens less often than you’d expect in an era when the unlikeliest people can be reclaimed from the pop-cultural dustbowl (say, Rick Astley’s transformation from ’80s artefact to YouTube “rickrolling” phenomenon and winner of “Best Act Ever” at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2008).

Many quality documentary profiles choose to take either a highly ambivalent take on their subjects (because it makes for good drama) or even an attack-dog one — a tricky act to pull off when you need the cooperation of your interview subject, but it can be done. Witness Barbet Schroeder’s “Terror’s Advocate,” in which interviewee Jacques Vergès doesn’t seem to understand that the more he explains his reasons for defending Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, the deeper the hole he’s digging becomes. Schroeder’s a past master at hanging with morally objectionable people and letting them hang themselves (see also his documentary on the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin); why people cooperate to let themselves be hung is unfathomable, but good for him.

A more ambivalent — and shockingly persuasive — example came in the form of “The Fog of War,” in which Errol Morris performed the unlikely task of letting Vietnam policy mastermind Robert McNamara plausibly present himself as a person who actually feels guilty about his past policy work rather than as the cold-blooded architect of one of America’s great traumas. It’s a tough-minded but oddly generous balancing act.

04082010_eyes.jpgFor straight-up celebration, though, politicians are almost impossibly problematic. It’s safer to stick to pop cultural figures, like Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s unlikely celebration of Tammy Faye Bakker, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” — from fraudulent televangelist to gay icon — or “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.” In both cases, a too-easy pop cultural punchline (the latter long-forgotten) is given their dignity back, a kind of mutual-interest collaboration which is easier to do without crossing ethical boundaries when no serious moral offenses have been committed.

But here’s an example of a political figure given an unlikely rehabilitation, at least for 23 minutes. Ernesto Samper is the controversial 37th president of Columbia, who was investigated for having drug cartel money donated to his campaign — a scandal never definitively resolved, but which (among other things) led to his visitation visa for the US being revoked, effectively banning his presence.

In this hilarious short, which you should watch if you have 23 minutes to spare (and, with taxes due in a week, who doesn’t), Samper simply sits there and watches TV with running commentary — Fox News first, but then he starts channel-surfing out of sheer boredom, which is when things get fun. At one point, watching a telenovela, he groans “This is awful! And I’m responsible! I privatized TV!”

[Photos: “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” IFC Films, 2010; “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Lions Gate Films, 2000]

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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.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.