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Aw, it thinks it’s people! The eternal issue of narrating nature docs.

Aw, it thinks it’s people! The eternal issue of narrating nature docs. (photo)

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Just in time for Earth Day, here comes “Avatar” again….wait, I mean, here comes “Oceans,” the second installment in the newly rebooted Disneynature series. As AV Club critic Scott Tobias pointed out, “For consecutive years, Disney has honored land (EARTH) and water (OCEANS) on Earth Day. This strikes me as short-sighted. What next?” Indeed.

When Walt Disney kicked-off the True-Life Adventures in 1948 — first as two-reel doc shorts, graduating to features with 1953’s “The Living Desert” and rounding off with 1960’s “Islands of the Sea” — he spread it out between micro-focused locals: desert, prairie, the wilderness in winter. As it happens, Disneynature has a plan (including the delightfully titled “African Cats: Kingdom of Courage”) for one nature doc a year.

After the Disney True-Life empire collapsed, the nature documentary was for years the province of TV with sporadic exceptions. Presumably Disney was inspired to reinvigorate the genre after the 2005 success of “March of the Penguins,” which leaves us with a problem — one of sober narration. When “March of the Penguins” had its original release in France, the penguins narrated from “their perspective”: one adult male (Charles Berling from “Summer Hours,” no less), one adult female and one baby penguin. For English release, however, we were given a portentous voice-over by Morgan Freeman. I’m guessing the intent to strip away charges of gratuitous cutesiness, but with its assumptions of parental love and nobility, the English narration was just as condescending in a different direction.

04222010_wasp.jpgThe main complaint in reviews of “Oceans” is that Pierce Brosnan’s po-faced voice-over doesn’t really bring anything to the party. This has always been an issue with nature docs — it’s always tempting to either be ponderous or reduce animals to character types people can more easily relate to.

Frankly, if you’re going to anthropomorphize the animals (something that annoyed Werner Herzog so much he gave us the world’s first suicidal penguin in “Encounters at the End of the World”), there’s not much wrong with the unrepentently for-your-entertainment approach of the old True-Life Adventures, which — whatever their faults — made no attempt to conceal the fact that they were actively Disneyfying nature. Take 1953’s “The Living Desert,” which — in its most infamous sequence — starts with basic footage of a scorpion mating dance and runs it forwards, backwards and pretty much any which way in time to an unbelievably cheesy square-dance vocal. It’s ridiculous, but at least it’s entertaining and more straightforward than trying to pretend animals have the same psychology as people. (The True-Life series, while shot by veteran photographers, was sculpted into shape by veteran animator James Algar, best known for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” — raw footage was the grist for the Disney sensibility.)

Here it is, the scorpion square dance. It’s not quite KittehRoulette, so tread carefully. In fact, if you’ve seen “Twin Peaks,” the owl bobbing its head in time to music might scare the hell out of you:

[Photos: “Oceans,” Disneynature, 2010; “The Living Desert,” Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 1953]


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.