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The joys of Wikipedia plot synopses.

The joys of Wikipedia plot synopses. (photo)

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Sometimes I contribute reviews to “Sight & Sound,” a British film magazine that includes a complete synopsis before each review. This practice frees up valuable space for actual criticism (although some people — coughStephen Holden — who are under the delusion that “reviewing” is “summarizing” would probably not dig it). Because of this, and because I can be pretty bad with plot, I take a lot of scribbled notes in the dark.

Lately, though, I’ve discovered that, more often than not, a complete synopsis of even the dumbest movie is soon available on Wikipedia — sometimes before the damn thing even opens. I’m not sure who this group of synopsizers are and what drives them, but they’re very, very dedicated.

Sometimes, these admirably detailed synopses are laced with sly commentary. Whoever wrote up “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” was alert enough to notice that the bad guys “appear to know parkour.” And sometimes they make weird interventions. Whoever summarized “Obsessed” decided it was a two-act film, as they announce in bold headings.

Not all movies receive such treatment — the further back they recede in time, the less likely they are to have detailed information, no matter how important. So Max Ophuls’ “La Ronde” is noted as telling “a series of stories about love affairs or illicit meetings involving a prostitute, a soldier, a chambermaid, her employer’s son, a married woman, her husband, a young girl, a poet, an actress and a count. At the end of each encounter, one of the partners forms a liaison with another person, and so on.” Fair enough.

The best synopses combine a fastidious attention to detail with language only vaguely reminiscent of English. One of my favorite is actually for a TV series, the eternally banal “Everybody Loves Raymond.” It takes the show’s bland quirks with great seriousness: “Ray and Debra constantly have marital disagreements, with Debra frequently denying Ray sex and Ray preferring to watch sports television instead of talking to Debra about matters important to her.” Later, it notes that “a recurring theme on the show has them having a long interaction each night while in bed, just before going to sleep.” A theme!

But the monster epic of them all is the entry for “Garfield: The Movie.” One of those disapproving flags sits at the top of the page, warning that “This article is written like a personal reflection or essay and may require cleanup. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style.” I disagree. This is the greatest synopsis in written history.

01182010_garfield.jpgThe opening sentence is as grammatically adventurous as Gertrude Stein: “It begins when Garfield is a fat lazy cat (voiced by Bill Murray) who lives with Jon Arbuckle, wakes up from a good night’s sleep and awaits a tasty breakfast.” Over the course of 12 paragraphs (!), we learn that Garfield is angry about his visit to the vet because he “previously thought he was going to Chuck E Cheese’s, Wendy’s, Taco Kitty or Olive Garden,” and that is he is “(needless to say) not very happy now that a dog is running amuck in the house.”

By film’s end, “Garfield learns friendship and love, and they live as a big happy family… But all that changes when he intentionally pushes Odie off his chair over and over again. The film closes with Garfield singing and dancing to James Brown’s ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’. He does a split and can’t get up.”

Wikipedia is an invaluable reference updated by all manner of people — the knowledgable, the pedantic, the fans, the trolls. But entries like that — somewhere between stoned tour-de-force, ESL and the completely inexplicable — are the things that please me most.

[Photos: Wikipedia entry for “Obsessed”; “Garfield,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2004]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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