Monday, June 10, 2013

From the Archives: King of All the Wild Things

Good Afternoon,

Have you Googled anything today?  If you've visited Google, you'll have noticed a special animated celebration for what would have been Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday.  The animation begins with Max venturing off into Where the Wild Things Are, proceeds through the Night Kitchen, and ends in the Bumble-Ardy birthday party.

Early subscribers will recall that one of the first long-form Reports, sent over a year ago, was a celebration of the life of Maurice Sendakfollowing his death on May 8, 2012.  I have reproduced that Report below in a special "From the Archives" edition of the Report.  It's one of my favorite pieces, and whether you're reading it for the first time or revisiting it from its first distribution, I hope you enjoy.

Today's report also focuses on a legendary figure of children's literature, as we reflect on the passing of Maurice Sendak.  Though Sendak wrote and/or illustrated over 100 books during his career, readers no doubt remember him most for the classics Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. Anyone familiar with my wardrobe or bookshelf will know that I am a huge fan of Where the Wild Things Are, owning three t-shirts based on the book, the book itself, and two copies of Dave Eggers' novel adaptation  (One fur covered, one not).  For today's report, I felt it would be appropriate to compile some of my favorite Sendak (or tangentially related) web items.

First, a trailer for the Spike Jonze's film adaptation.  I admit it, this is what sparked my resurgence of Sendak enthusiasm.  I also admit that I have watched that trailer more than any other movie preview ever in my life.  Furthermore, I think it might be better than the film itself, though the film has some beautiful and poignant moments that don't make the two minute cut.  Still, the wondrous visuals, the Arcade Fire soundtrack, and the "Inside All of Us" tag-line led to months of giddy anticipation.  And as long as I'm admitting things, I went to that movie alone at 11:00 AM on opening day, after having stayed up all night writing an English paper.  That's how much the trailer worked on me.  (And as long as we're doing tangential stories, Max Records, who stars as Max, is also featured in the opening of Rian Johnson's phenomenal The Brothers Bloom, an opening that can really stand as it's own short film.)

Spike Jonze wasn't the first one who saw screen potential in Sendak's famous book, though.  Disney once owned the adaptation rights to the book, but never brought it to theaters.  The idea was used, though, in some very early testing of 3D computer animation.  This 1983 test animation was spearheaded by none other than John Lasseter, now Chief Creative Officer at Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, and director of Pixar's first three films.  It is no coincidence that a writer and artist that so respects the children that are viewed has his primary audience once inspired the early work of a filmmaker whose studio does the same.

Finally, some interviews.  Of course, Stephen Colbert's highly entertaining interview in two parts is worth a view.  As is this 2004 interviewwith Bill Moyers.  The real great ones, though, are on NPR.  Throughout his career, Sendak had several conversations (they can hardly be called interviews, they are so comfortable) with Terry Gross, and NPR has conveniently compiled them on one remembrance page. His reflections here are beautiful, but I advise against listening to them at work, unless you are comfortable with your coworkers seeing you cry.  (This is especially true for the most recent interview.)  If there is any quote worth pulling here, though, it is one NPR has already pulled and bolded:  "I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more... What I dread is the isolation... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."  I find comfort in knowing this.  We ate him up, we loved him so.  And as one reader of the report has observed, that may mean he's still alive.

And, having eaten him up, may we be like Maurice:  Creative, honest, perseverant, and respectful of children...

And may we also be like Max:  Unafraid to make mischief, courageous enough to sail off through night and day, and brave enough to tame our wild things...

And when we grow lonely and tire of the wild rumpus, may we always have a place to go where someone loves us best of all...

And when we get there, may we find our supper waiting for us... still hot.

Til tomorrow, reporting from the desk where the filed things are,


"I wish you all good things. Live your life, live your life, live your life." - Maurice Sendak, in a 2011 interview with Terry Gross

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Capitol Book Share

We're back now with regular reporting following the five report blast that was the Final Countdown.  Some of you responded with delight at the refresher on all your favorite Arrested Development characters, moments, and jokes.  Others did not understand the reports and did not respond.  But now, back to a more standard Report.

You may recall that several weeks ago in the Report "Reading By Flashlight," I solicited quick book recommendations from any interested contributors.  Several of you contributed your suggestions, some serious, some less so.  Regardless, with summer reading season upon us, I thought I would send out these recommendations now.  

Grendel by John Gardner - A crash course in philosophy from the perspective of one of the Western canon's most famous baddies.

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad - A book about politics, terrorism, and the politics of terrorism written a century ago but still, especially in light of the Boston Marathon bombing, painfully relevant.

The Old Testament - This first of an exciting and controversial trilogy is jam-packed with familial violence, familial sex, and plain-old conquering, with a little bit of legal mumbo-jumbo thrown in.

The Talmud - Really fun, if you can get past the ancient Hebrew.

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pulman - Whether or not you love or hate the glaringly apparent religious over and undertones (that only became apparent to me later in life), at a young age this trilogy taught me unforgettable lessons about imagination, fantasy, love, loss, and the power of storytelling. I've returned to it every so often ever since.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys - Simply and clearly drawn, with a quiet magnetism, it follows a teenage girl and her Lithuanian family as they are deported to a Siberian work camp at the outset of World War II.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls - It made me more furious than any other book.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - One of the most beautiful books I've ever read. I cannot think of how to describe it and except to say READ IT.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace - A sprawling, difficult, and dense novel about tennis, addiction, and entertainment, but ultimately worth the work, rewarding readers with humor, heartbreak, and an unbelievable sense of accomplishment.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides - The tragic and fascinating story of the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters, told from the reflective and collective perspective of the boys who loved them. 

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon - A perfect summer read, particularly for recent graduates, as it tells the post-graduation summer adventures of Art Bechestein.  Chabon's prose isn't as polished here as it is in his later work, but the web of character relations more than compensates.

And if any of those recommendations don't satisfy your literary interests, feel free to make use of the Summer Reading Flowchart to decide on a book.  Remember to choose carefully, though.  As these profiles in the New York Times indicate, your summer reading choice could change your life... Or at least serve as a potent source for nostalgia later on.

Read on!  And let me know what you choose!

“When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another's skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness - and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments." - Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Friday, May 24, 2013

Final Countdown Day 5 - Real Shoddy Narrating

The Great Experiment concludes!  This is the series finale of our 5 part Final Countdown to the Arrested Development Season 4 premale.

Whereas Day 3 of the Final Countdown focused on minor characters, our finale focuses on an actor who, while he only appears in one episode, is a vocal presence in every episode of the series.  Child star turned teen star turned successful film director and producer, Ron Howard holds the vocal reins of Arrested Development as the show's narrator. Whether he's correcting GOB or criticizing the narrator of Scandalmakers, Howard gets some of the show's best jokes. And some of these reference previous points of Howard's career.

In the Season 1 episode Public Relations, for example, Ron gets to make a crack about his time on The Andy Griffith Show. When Jessie the publicist pejoratively refers to George-Michael as Opie, Howard's narration warns that "she had best watch her mouth."  Howard, of course, started his career playing young Opie on The Andy Griffith Show. Andy Griffith earns another shout out when the Bluths try to hire him as a fake lawyer given his work on Matlock, but leaves suspecting the Bluths are making fun of him with their cabin-car. The narrator stresses "No one was making fun of Andy Griffith."

But his influence on the show extends far beyond his voice and jokes about his childhood stardom. Ron Howard plays the nepotism card. For starters, there's conservationist and tree-dweller Johnny Bark, played by Ron's own brother! But that's just a one episode part. For more significant parts, we turn to Howard's former Happy Days co-stars. Most prominently, there's Barry Zuckercorn, played by Henry Winkler, famous for the Happy Days character Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli.

Arrested's writers take advantage of the Fonz's fame plenty, too. Most obviously there is the moment he strikes his iconic "no-comb-required" pose in a bathroom mirror. Then another iconic Fonz moment gets recreated when the Bluths track down the shark that ate the flipper of the seal that ate the hand of Buster. After discussing the situation (that the seal itself was still missing), Barry jumps over the shark, referencing the most infamous scene in Happy Days history.

The final joke about the Fonz is actually delivered by a character who isn't Barry Zuckerkorn. In Season 3, the Bluths family replaces Barry with the law-blogging Bob Loblaw, played by Scott Baio. Baio originally came into stardom on... You guessed it, Happy Days, where he was brought in as the Fonz's cousin Charles "Chachi" Arcola in the show's fifth season (actually just two episodes before the Fonz jumped the shark). Chachi quickly earned positive reviews from young teenage girls, basically replacing the older Winkler as the show's young heartthrob. Loblaw references this when he tells the Bluths "Look, this is not the first time I've been brought in to replace Barry Zuckerkorn. I think I can do for you everything he did. Plus, skew younger. With juries and so forth."

In the end, Ron Howard does finally make an appearance... as Ron Howard!  The series finale features one final "On the Next Arrested Development," this time called "On the Epilogue of Arrested Development." Here, Ron Howard plays himself as a film executive hearing Maeby pitch the story of her family.  Howard's response has been talked about by fans for years:  "I don't see it as a series... Maybe a movie."

Those ten words have kept fans hoping for years that an Arrested Development film would be released.  And on May 26th the wait is over... Only unlike Ron Howard, we see it as a series.

Enjoy it!  It's Arrested Development.

"He was actually found in a hole near the house, but this inattention to detail was typical of the laziness the show's narrator was known for." - The Narrator, Arrested Development

Final Countdown Day 4 - The Most Lavish Party

Another entry in the Great Experiment, in which we release all of our Arrested Development reports at once, Netflix style!

Up to this point, we've refreshed our knowledge on running jokes and minor characters.  With that refresher course, you're just about ready to host your Arrested Development Season 4 Party.  The only thing left to plan is the party itself.

There's no shortage of sites right now that will give you all the party planning advice you need.  VH1 is in on the action with the most basic list.  "Booze, banners, balloons," to start things off almost sounds like a Schrutian reference to another recently concluded sitcom.  Their friendly reminder to have guests show up is also a nice way to revisit the one time in 53 episodes that you sort of feel bad for Lucille. has a pretty solid list that covers attire, food, and activities.  Buzzfeed even helps you out with making some of the less appealing Arrested food items a little more palatable, modifying the recipe for that Bluth family favorite, Hot Ham Water.  The Huffington Post also has great food suggestions, while Brightest Young Things riffs on the characters names instead of the show's menu.

To save you some time exploring all the different party suggestions, here's a rough outline of what to expect when I finally get around to holding mine.  (It's gonna be a re-viewing party a couple weeks after the premiere.  Mark your calendars, book your flights!)

You'd better be wearing one.  I'm not asking you to blue yourself or find something that says "Dad loves leather," even the slightest costume will do.  Toss on some cut-offs and glasses and come as Tobias.  Tie some scarves together, clutch a knife in your teeth and you're a magician called GOB.  Put on your high-fastening pants and slide your hand up your sleeve, boom, you're Buster!  And finally, an excuse to whip out theSLUT t-shirt you've had tucked away in your closet all these years.  Just don't wear the elephant broach -- you don't want to invite the comparison.

First of all, the banner is a must.  While "FAMILY LOVE MICHAEL" is nice, I'm partial to "You're killing me, Buster." Ambitious hosts can turn their stairs into a staircar and build a model home homefill warhead to put in the secret room.  Disguise your bathroom as the Aztec Tomb!  And be sure to clean the attic in case anyone goes up there to have pop-pop.

Sure the highlight of the night will be 15 new episodes of Arrested Development, but you probably want to warm-up a bit.  Sandracing and marksmanship are good group activities, just be sure to have the proper awards.  A rousing game of "Pin the Eyebrow on Stan Sitwell" makes for good fun, too.  And if the urge to dance hits you, might I suggest the chicken dance?  Karaoke is always good family fun, too.

Here's what's going to make or break your Arrested party.  You've got plenty to choose from, choose wisely!
  • Candy Beans - Make sure you have an extra bowl, just in case something goes wrong with Sitwell's eyebrows.
  • Frozen Bananas - Obviously.  But remember, 10 cents gets you nuts.  And watch out for Mr. Banana-grabber.
  • Ice cream sandwiches - Go ahead, have a love affair with one!
  • Hot Ham Water - Served watery, but with a smack of ham.
  • Cornballs - For a danger-filled activity, invite guests to make their own cornballs.
  • Fried cheese and other dippable food items... With club sauce.
  • Skip's Scramble - Don't order the Skip's Scramble.
  • Cereal - Serve in an ash tray.
  • Mayon-egg - Step 1. Take a packet of mayonaise... It's so cute.

Here are a few character-based beverages you can offer your guests.  Just be sure to finish all the bottles before the night ends so the booze doesn't go bad.  You're guests will leave tipsier than Lucille Austero!

On the Next Morning Report: We learn more about the one narrator who had the voice to keep them all together.

"Michael, you haven’t heard why I want it. To throw the most lavish party this town has ever seen for my birthday." - Lucille Bluth, Arrested Development

Final Countdown Day 3 - Them?

The Great Experiment continues!  Like Netflix, we're distributing all of our remaining Arrested Development Reports in one go!

While it's the "family who lost everything" that keeps Arrested Development moving forward with their quarrels, neuroses, and huge mistakes, some the greatest laughs of the series come from their interactions with the show's supporting characters.  Buzzfeed has put together a great rundown of their 30 Greatest Arrested Development Guest Stars which should refresh your memory about the show's many smaller characters, from Annyong to Zuckercorn and every letter in between.

The problem I have with this list, though, is that it pits one or two episode characters like Cindy Lightballoon against characters like Lucille Austero, who appear in nearly a quarter of the series.  So, I've taken to ranking my top five supporting characters based on how long they spend on the show, from small (1-3 episodes), medium (4-9 episodes), and large (10 or more episodes) arcs.

Honorable Mentions:  Edna W., Ms. Barely, and Nazhgalia
5.  Uncle Jack - Martin Short as a paralyzed man carried by his goon Dragon has the best single episode appearance in the series.  "Swoop me!" 
4.  Tony Wonder - This magician played by Ben Stiller could produce Hanukkah cookies and subway club coupons from his body and appear from nowhere (or a dumbwaiter) just at the word "Wonder."
3.  Cindy Lightballoon - Who but this great redwood of a whore, played by Jane Lynch, could have gotten Lucille to say "It looked like you were tweaking her nipples through a chainlink fence."
2.  Gene Parmesan - Though he's far from the best, whether he was a fireman or some idiot with balloons, he always got us again.  
1.  J. Walter Weatherman - Though only appearing in two episodes, the life lessons ("That's why you always leave a note") of this one armed man influence the whole series.  It's too bad they killed him when they left the door open with the air conditioner on.

Honorable Mentions: Marta, Stan Sitwell
5.  Tie: Bob Loblaw and Wayne Jarvis - One is an alternative to double-talk and keeps a law blog.  The other was once called the worst audience participant Cirque du Soleil ever had.  (He did not find their buffoonery amusing.)  These two attorneys give Barry Zuckerkorn a run for his money and keep the laughs coming.
4.  Wife of GOB - First you've got the biblical allusion and the double-joke that she was played by Will Arnett's then wife Amy Poehler.  Add to that her seal sales and love for pastel sweaters and Dr. Funke's 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution and you've got a woman any man would be lucky to marry in a series of escalating dares.
3.  Rita - Sure not everyone likes the For British Eyes Only arc, but what can I say, I'm crazy for the little dullard from Wee Britain.
2.  Maggie Lizer - In one arc blind (NOT!), in one arc pregnant (NOT!) Julia Louis-Dreyfus made a great prosecutor.
1.  Kitty Sanchez - Judy Greer does an Sure last time we saw her we thought it was "the last time," but I have a feeling we'll be saying goodbye to these ( . )( * ) again in Season 4.

Honorable Mentions: Annyong, John Beard (the news anchor)
5.  Lupe - For her holiday sweaters and her dustbustering, we'd give her an Onion and a ball of foil for her son any day.
4.  Steve Holt! - Sure he doesn't even know who his father is, but we love him just as much as Maeby does.  
3.  Ann Veal - Her?
2.  Lucille Austero - Her relationships with multiple Bluth boys (with club sauce) and her vertigo gave Liza Minelli plenty to play with in creating Lucille 2.
1.  Barry Zuckerkorn - He's the worst f*cking attorney, with a questionable social life, but his Fonz references and ability to recognize close-up photos of balls make him worth keeping around, even if he can't take the time to read plea bargains.

Hopefully we'll be seeing some of these characters returning in Season 4!

On the Next Morning ReportYou can't have a party without ICE.

"And that's why you don't teach lessons to your son." - J. Walter Weatherman, Arrested Development

Final Countdown Day 2 - Hotcops and Candybeans

While there was no Report yesterday, I'm going to try something out to make up for that fact.  In the spirit of Netflix releasing all 15 new episodes of Arrested Development at once on the 26th, I'm distributing all of the Final Countdown reports at the same time (or within a few minutes of each other... I'm not a machine).  Will you read them all at once or spread them out throughout the remaining days?  Or perhaps you will ignore them all!  Let the great experiment begin!

Not so much in the spirit of Arrested, though, I'm going to follow-up on what was promised "On the next Morning Report" by actually including the promised deeper analysis in this issue, something Mitch Hurwitz and the gang rarely did.  As any fan of the show can tell you, many of the jokes in Arrested are incredibly complex and referential, which is a major part of what makes repeat viewing so rewarding.  There is always something new to find.

First, there are the jokes that recur throughout the series.  The staircar and the Cornballer; Annyong, Steve Holt!, and Ann Veal (her?); Les Cousins Dangereux and Pop-Pop in the attic... The list goes on and on and stretches across the show's 53 episodes, making for some great re-viewing.  For instance, try to pick-up on how early hooks and missing hands start showing up!  Or have someone else do the work for you, like NPR has done here in an incredible guide to all of the show's recurring jokes.  While some are scattered throughout, others last only for a story arc (e.g., For British Eyes Only).  Most interesting of all, though, are the ones that appear as nearly straight lines across the entire series, specifically the staircar and Tobias being gay.  DC resident Adam Cole put the piece together for NPR and described his process and inspiration in an interview with Poynter.  He claims not to be a "superfan," but the infographic begs to differ.

Not included in Cole's graphic, though, are the subtle non-repeated jokes, most of which are nods to the world outside of the show.  Splitsider has captured not only 53 of these subtle jokes (that they claim you "Probably Missed," but I bet a lot of you have caught a lot of them -- you're smart people), but also 53 MORE of them!  I'm a huge fan of the stills they've captured of the articles, websites, and letters, which I've always been too lazy to pause and read myself.  And the "Make-up artist for freckles" credit has always been one of my favorites, as well as Tobias posing to match the photo of George-Michael.

There are tons of others that I love that didn't make the cut in those 106... Apparently the folks at Splitsider are not also Happy Days fans... But we'll get to that later.

On the Next Morning Report: Frightened Inmate #2 gets some company as other supporting characters take the lead.

"Annyong." - Annyong, Arrested Development

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Final Countdown Day 1 - It's Arrested Development

Take a look at banner, readers!

The "T" looks like a staircar hop-on, the "I" is an idiot on a scooter (it's gotta be GOB), and the sun just blue itself.  Most of our readership will probably recognize these banner changes as signs that the Report is gearing up to countdown to the May 26 return of Arrested Development!

So apologies to the readers who haven't seen Arrested Development before, as the next few issues of the Report won't make much sense to you.  They'll be chock-full of references (Allusions! References are something a book makes for copyright purposes.) like that parenthetical.  So, while you could just ignore the Report this week, I would advise you to correct the huge mistake you've made by avoiding this show and find a way to watch it!

Over the course of this week, I'm going to use my (at least) five viewings of the series and the Internet to offer up a veritable Skip's Scramble of Arrested clips, quotes, trivia, links, and more, all leading up to the Season 4 premiere/finale (premale?) on Sunday.  Because with all 14 episodes going online at once, you're lying if you say you don't plan on watching them all in one go.

Today I'm just going to ease into things with some video compilations of classic moments from the show.  I don't want to prematurely shoot my wad!  (There are just so many poorly chosen words in that sentence.)

First, Arrested Development's 200 Greatest Quotes according to... Whoever made this video.  No doubt they missed some of your favorites, and some of the punchlines are presented without set-ups or vice versa, but I'm sure you can fill in the blanks there.  My favorite made the cut, though.  What is it?  "I don't understand the question, and I won't respond."

Those 200 Quotes are already pretty heavily dominated by two characters, but here's some clips of two fan favorites:  First, the Bluth family matriarch, Lucille.  Captured here and not in the quotes are her amazing winks.  Then, of course, there's Tobias, known for the many lines in which he puts his foot in his mouth.  (Or maybe it's those meaty leading man parts he's putting in there...)  Once again, some physical humor that should not be overlooked is included, specifically the water cooler and Mrs. Featherbottom prat falls.  

That's all for today!  

On the Next Morning Report:  Evan offers up some deeper analysis of the shows jokes and references.

"And now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together... It's Arrested Development." - Ron Howard, Arrested Development