How a show about nothing changed everything

Seinfeldia:
How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything ★ ★ ★ ★

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Simon & Schuster, 2016

seinfeldiaA free copy was provided through Netgalley in exchange for review.

 

“Everybody’s doing something. We’ll do NOTHING.” ~George (Seinfeld)

 

I think anyone who picks up this book is most likely going to be a rabid Seinfeld fan, and I’m no exception. We are in the midst of PeakTV — a new heralded Golden Age of Television — and there’s a very persuasive argument to be made that it all started with a small show about nothing, that did in fact, change everything. Despite the avalanche of remarkable and groundbreaking TV that’s hit our small screens since Seinfeld exited stage left in 1998, it still remains one of my favorite shows of all time. I’ve never stopped watching it in syndication, it continues to make me bust a gut laughing on a regular basis, and I’ve yet to encounter any situation in life that cannot be captured by applying a Seinfeld quote.

Seinfeldia is a fun book, and a totally immersive experience into the bizarre, unexpected and meteoric rise of a show that probably should have been cancelled after its first season. But after a rocky and uncertain start, the show got traction with fans and critics. As its influence spread, it was clear to see that Seinfeld was bleeding over and breaking the Fourth Wall on a regular basis, blending fact with fiction in an original and inspired way and not just becoming part of the zeitgeist and popular culture but seemingly birthing it out of thin air. The catchy phrases and neurotic dialogue uttered on the show were quickly absorbed by television audiences and recited in everyday life as if we had always been saying such things.

Or here’s what I think — we had always needed these words to describe both the inanity and absurdity of life, and it was Seinfeld who gave them to us.

larry-david-1024

Larry David

The author takes a nice even-handed, well-researched approach describing the “making of” the show, offering a behind-the-scenes analysis of early working relationships, early scripts and the jockeying for power and position between the actors, writers and directors. At the helm of course was Larry David — perhaps the first instance where we really see the genius that can result when a showrunner is given complete creative control over his/her product. And David wielded that power like Thor’s mighty hammer. The only other creative force welcomed into the inner sanctum was not surprisingly David’s right hand man, Jerry Seinfeld. Together, these two gentlemen mind-fused into a comedic entity where the sum of their brilliance far exceeded their individual talents.

The book also has fun dipping into the “bizarro” aspects of the show — how it carried the Midas touch for a lot of struggling actors who would go on to great careers after their stints on Seinfeld, no matter how brief or fleeting their appearance. Probably the most notable here is Bryan Cranston — the inimitable Dr. Whatley — a dentist who Jerry is certain converted to Judaism strictly for the jokes. Even regular people who never acted on the show got pulled into its gravitational belt for better and for worse.

The real people counterparts to the fictionalized versions of themselves on the show would reap financial rewards and a fame by proxy —
1. Kenny Kramer’s Reality Tour is still going strong in New York City;
2. Ali (“Al”) Yeganeh is the real “Soup Nazi” and continues to sell his soup today (and curse Jerry Seinfeld for giving him an infamy and notoriety he never asked for or ever aspired to);
3. and Larry Thomas, the actor who played the “Soup Nazi”, continues to appear at fan conventions and speaking engagements, and has even written a book! Rather than fight against it, the actor has made peace with a role he will never outlive and embraces the benefits with grace and humor.

veep_poster_p_2013The book also addresses the backlash against a show that had become so popular it attracted haters and critics who believed it to be insufferably smug and overrated. The author also talks about the controversial finale episode and how it disappointed many fans and critics (it’s not my favorite episode by any means, but I found things to love about the finale). Then there was the fate of the four leads post-Seinfeld and the various trajectories their careers took, the strangest and most disappointing being Michael Richards and his public breakdown of racist rage. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has always been my biggest girl crush and I’ve been over the moon to watch her role as Vice-President Selina Meyer only get better over five seasons of VEEP. And for Jerry Seinfeld fans you can catch him now doing Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee which just got an Emmy nomination today. I haven’t seen this yet, but I do plan on checking it out at some point.

Not surprisingly, the brains and soul and passion behind Seinfeld, creator Larry David, has had the most enduring and critical success with his show Curb Your Enthusiasm (which ended in 2011 after eight seasons, but it’s just been announced the show will return for a season nine).

To wrap things up (and leave on a high note, with hand), I’m gonna take a page from Dan who in his review listed his ten favorite Seinfeld episodes. For anyone who has ever watched and loved the show, you’ll remember just how packed each episode became, routinely following four sub-plots for each of the four leads — Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer. David’s singular purpose and desire was to strive to have every episode end with the four sub-plots intersect by the ending. And he almost always succeeded. In no particular order (it was too hard to pick just ten, let alone rank) here are some of my favorites.

Mild spoilers ahead for the Seinfeld virgins.


“The Chicken Roaster”:
Jerry and Kramer switch apartments when the searing neon red light from the Kenny Rogers Roasters sign across the street starts disturbing Kramer’s sleep. And who can forget Mr. Marbles.
parkinggarage

“The Parking Garage”

 

“The Parking Garage”:
The gang gets trapped in an underground parking garage when none of them can remember where Kramer parked his car. Highlights: Elaine wanders helplessly holding a goldfish in a plastic bag of water waiting for it to perish. George and Jerry get arrested for urinating in public.

 

“The Chinese Restaurant”:
The penultimate episode of the second season which takes place entirely in a Chinese restaurant while the gang waits to be seated. It remains a fan and critical favorite of Seinfeld’sgroundbreaking approach to comedic storytelling — an episode about “nothing”.

 

“The Bubble Boy”:
The gang travels upstate to stay in Susan’s father’s cabin. Susan and George stop at the Bubble Boy’s house to get directions and play a game of trivial pursuit. Moops!

 

“The Opera”:
The most memorable “Crazy Joe Davola” episode. Elaine and Jerry are trying to enjoy a night out at the opera when Joe turns up dressed as the clown from Pagliacci.

1-seinfeld-the-contest

“The Contest”

 

“The Contest”:
The gang bet each other to see who can hold out the longest from self-pleasuring themselves (the word masturbation is never used in the episode considered too “adult” for prime time television). Part of the fun is all the euphemisms used to avoid saying the actual word, and what eventually makes each character crack.

 

“The Puffy Shirt”:
Jerry unknowingly agrees to wear a puffy “pirate shirt” on the Today Show. George gets discovered as a hand model.

 

“The Marine Biologist”:
After faking and lying about various jobs and careers, George is finally called out and forced to become a marine biologist when confronted by a beached whale in distress. “The sea was angry that day my friends.”

 

“The Fusilli Jerry”:
Kramer starts making figures of his favorite people out of pasta shapes that best suit their personality. Jerry is “silly” so his is made from Fusilli. Highlights: “the move” (David Puddy, my favorite recurring character, starts using Jerry’s sex move on Elaine; Kramer becomes “the Assman”; and Frank Costanza ends up at the proctologist’s office after impaling himself on the Fusilli Jerry. This is also the episode where we get Frank’s move of “stopping short”.

facepainter

David Puddy “The Face Painter”

 

“The Face Painter”:
I love David Puddy and this (along with the “Jesus Fish” subplot from “The Burning” episode, is his best stuff.

 

“The Soup Nazi”:
It’s the Soup Nazi! No soup for you!”

 

“The Little Kicks”:
Two words: Elaine dances. Also, Jerry becomes a bootlegger and we meet Brody.

 

“The Merv Griffin Show”:
Kramer finds the set of the Merv Griffin Show in a dumpster and sets it up in his apartment. Highlights: Jerry is dating a woman with collectible toys from his childhood (that she won’t let him play with); George runs over a squirrel and is pressured by the woman he’s dating to save its life, which the vet informs him will be costly and require the use of “special, really tiny instruments.”

 

“The Slicer”:
Kramer gets a deli slicer and starts slicing meat. Elaine and Kramer conspire to short circuit the power in her neighbor’s apartment only to find out there’s a cat trapped inside starving because its food dispenser no longer works. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — there’s so much hilarity stuffed into this episode that often gets overlooked.

 

“The Reverse Peephole”, “The Frogger” and “The Bookstore”:
For anyone who ever challenges you that Seinfeldstayed on the air too long, or wasn’t as funny once Larry David left, I give you these three episodes which contain some of the funniest sub-plots the show covered in its nine season run. Highlights:

George’s overstuffed wallet, and keeping the massage chair for himself
Jerry is forced to wear a fur coat
Puddy buys an obnoxious leather jacket with a giant 8 on the back, Elaine is mortified
George must enlist the help of Kramer’s electrician “friends” to move Frogger game to safety
Elaine starts eating Peterman’s $29,000 Royal wedding cake purchased in an auction
Jerry can’t break up with a woman because he’s too afraid of “The Lopper” serial killer
Newman and Kramer try to set up a rickshaw business
Jerry gets Uncle Leo arrested, not knowing about his previous “crime of passion”
Jerry finds out from his parents “it’s not stealing if it’s something you need”
George takes an expensive book into the Brentano’s bathroom and is forced to buy it. He tries to return it and discovers it’s been “flagged”.

cast1I could keep going. Seriously, I feel like I’m just getting started. I haven’t even mentioned “Moviefone”, “shrinkage”, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”, “Delores”, “George’s desk naps”, yada yada yada. It would have been a much shorter list identifying the odd sub-plot or moments that can no longer make me laugh. There are far fewer of those. After all these years and repeated viewingsSeinfeld has more than stood the test of time. If anything, it’s ageless, or like a fine whiskey, keeps getting better with age as it thrives (and finds new audiences) in syndication. And while some outstanding comedies have appeared in the years following its finale — It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia andParks and Rec to name my two favorites — they all owe a debt to Seinfeld and for a show that continues to make me laugh out loud, I owe it a debt too.

And because IT STILL makes me tear up watching it even now — I did have the time of my life. Thanks for asking.

 

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I’m Thinking of Ending Things ★★★★
by Iain Reid
Simon & Schuster Canada, 2016

Available: June 14th!

endingOooooh, this is a tough one to review, because it’s not going to be for everyone, and I also don’t want to give too much away. It’s a slim volume that packs such a WALLOP! that creeps up on you, it would be super easy to spoil it for someone if you weren’t careful.

Many people have this filed as ‘Mystery’ or ‘Psychological Thriller’ and it’s sorta a blend of those, but way closer to ‘Psychological Horror’ for me than anything else. It’s an unsettling, paranoid mindfuck that at first appearances seems pretty slow-moving and innocuous. There’s a young couple on a road trip to visit the guy’s parents at their secluded farmhouse, and the girlfriend is “thinking of ending things”. In her head she’s ruminating on the course of their courtship and mulling over the nagging feeling that it’s time to pull the plug on a relationship whose expiration date is past.

endingthingsBut she also has a secret. Dun-dun-DUUUUUN.

But the boyfriend — who starts the novel normal and quite nice — starts to appear odd and off kilter as soon as we get to the farmhouse. Then things inexorably creep to majorly weird and unsettling with the parents by the time we get to dessert.

And just as you’re processing what’s happening in that farmhouse and freaked the hell out because you don’t know where the threat is coming from (or if whether there’s even a threat at all), the book will move to its final act in a deserted high school.

This isn’t a book about what happens. It’s one of those how we get there. It’s a book of atmosphere and tension and a narrator who absolutely takes the cake on unreliable. It’s a paranoid chant in places, and I was literally gripping the book as I was reading it because everything started to feel so portentous, so HEAVY, that the most horrible thing could happen at any moment. All bets are off. As a reader, when I am in the hands of a writer like that, and at their complete mercy, there is no other place I would rather be.

It was horror god Nick Cutter who brought my attention to this book first when he tweeted this about it:

“Creepy as hell. You owe me a few fingernails, Reid, because I’ve bitten them off reading your book!”

When Mr. Cutter endorses a book like that I will do just about anything (and I do mean anything people) to get my hands on a copy. Fortunately, I didn’t have to kill anybody (and lose precious reading time getting rid of the body since my woodchipper is in the shop). The publisher provided a review copy for free, no violence required, no cleanup in aisle four. Thanks Simon and Schuster Canada!

I want to compare this short read (which you should do in one sitting for maximum impact) with other great stories of the same ilk, but I don’t want to risk spoiling anything. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is psychological, subtle, mind-bendy, and utterly unnerving. I can’t wait to read this one again to enjoy its construction and appreciate even more the flawless execution of its moving parts.

Iain Reid, you are on my radar.

You can connect with the author here:
Twitter: @reid_iain
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4112760.Iain_Reid
Website: http://iainreidauthor.com/

The hush at the end of the world

Good Morning, Midnight ★★★★
by Lily Brooks-Dalton
Random House
Available: August 9th 2016

goodmorningGood Morning, Midnight is the quietest apocalypse book you’re ever likely to read. From the stark, icy silences of the vast Arctic, to the soundless black infinity of outer space, this introspective book is about loneliness and isolation, not bombs, or germs or zombies and fighting like a dog over the last can of beans.

If your reader’s desire is to immerse yourself in a well-constructed and deftly explored end of the world scenario then you just might be disappointed here. Getting into the nitty gritty details of an apocalypse — the whys and wherefores — that’s not this book.

Instead what we have here is a thoughtful and poignantly written contemplation on the ways humans can cut themselves off from other humans, can so easily become trapped in their own inability to connect and build lasting relationships, moving through life untethered — on the outside of everything, apart from everyone. The two vividly described settings — the Arctic and outer space — are perfect metaphors for our disconnected protagonists to move in. Our genius astronomer Augustine is stationed at the top of the world in a remote Arctic research station when the world ends. Our intrepid female astronaut Sullivan (or Sully) is on a round trip back to Earth from the outer reaches of Jupiter, confined in tight quarters with the rest of her crew.

Each is struggling with a loneliness they can’t quite define, a torment that only becomes amplified and more crushing as the terrifying realization begins to crystallize that the world might just have ended. From space, Sully and her crew are disturbed at the utter hush of zero communication coming from Earth. What sort of cataclysmic, inexplicable event could have happened to the home planet they are speeding toward? Augustine’s Arctic life is just as silent, save for the company of a mysterious young girl left behind after the research station is evacuated.

The real strength of this book (especially considering its modest length) is the striking descriptions (at times breathtakingly rendered) of life in space and in an Arctic research facility. The attention to detail put me RIGHT THERE, I could see, taste, touch everything. I lived on the Aether and experienced the excitement, the boredom, the claustrophobia, the anxiety, the fear. The challenge of meals, and going to the bathroom, and sleeping, and staying in shape. I came to know the frigid wind of the Arctic wanting to rip my face off, and the despair of feeling swallowed up by a white frozen landscape void of humans and seemingly hope. Until the sun rises. And the descriptions — often eloquent — are not plodding or heavy. No word is wasted. The prose is so sharp and so observant.

Our protagonists Augustine and Sully — though they keep themselves busy and strive for ways to normalize a far from normal situation — will have a lot of time on their hands, empty hours that will torment them, and force them to confront painful truths about themselves and the life choices they’ve made. What lies on the other side of the apocalyptic silence is a mystery that won’t be solved, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers to be found.

An advanced reading copy was provided through Netgalley.

Book Review: All The Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls ★★★
Megan Miranda
Simon and Schuster Canada
Release Date: June 28, 2016

missing_girlsHeaded to the beach or cottage this summer? Got a long plane ride ahead of you? Just hanging out by the pool with a pitcher of margaritas? Yeah, this is the book you’ll want to have with you. It’s one of those unreliable narrator psychological thrillers that once you start it, you will be utterly compelled to keep turning the pages until you get to the end to find out what the hell really happened? As these kind of books go, it’s a satisfying resolution. There are enough sleights of hand, and red herrings, to keep a reader on their toes and guessing until the last page is turned.

The author is trying something a little tricky with her narrative too; she tells the story backwards over the course of fifteen days. This is a neat little fun trick, but really, at the end of the day, I don’t think it added much to the tension of the novel, or its structure. Had she just adhered to a straight linear narrative approach I don’t think anything would have been lost in the overall impact and delivery of her story.

There are also a few scenes that genuinely had me feeling creeped out and uneasy, because for most of the novel you’re really not sure where the threat is coming from (and even if there’s any threat at all). Miranda conjures up a heavy and pressing atmosphere that’s practically claustrophobic at times, always welcome in a book like this. The setting is suitably small town and insular, carrying its secrets and guarding them closely to the peril of those who wish to turn over the mossy rock and expose the dank underbelly to the glaring sun.

None of the characters are very likeable, but I think because out of necessity, Miranda has to create an impenetrable distance between them and the reader to keep us off kilter and guessing. At their core however, most of their motivations are very relatable and when you finish reading and put the book down, you’ll find yourself questioning what you would have done in the same circumstances.

I would like to thank Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy to review.

New Nick Cutter book is a mad mélange of literary ingredients

The Acolyte ★★★★
Nick Cutter
Chizine Publications
Available May 5, 2015

The Acolyte (2015), Chizine

The Acolyte (2015), Chizine

Maybe there’s a God above,
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not someone who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah

~ Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen

I don’t know how to describe the mad, dark, mash-up genius contained in the pages of Nick Cutter’s upcoming release The Acolyte — but I’ve found myself in a similar state of speechlessness with other titles released by the incomparable ChiZine Publications. Their motto is Embrace the Odd and embrace it they do with abandon. ChiZine’s book covers alone are enough to send this bibliophile into paroxysms of delight. Here are a few of my favorites:


ChiZine has also recently gotten into the graphic novel game and I adore this cover too:

Let me wrap up the fangirling over cover art to conclude that ChiZine is a wickedly weird and dangerous publishing house ruthlessly seeking out unique voices in speculative fiction. There is nothing safe or sanitized or boring about them. And while I’m not always in the mood to enter into the wacky landscapes they pimp, I’m very grateful that they exist, and very proud that they are Canadian.

Craig Davidson (aka Nick Cutter)

Craig Davidson (aka Nick Cutter)

Nick Cutter (a pseudonym for Craig Davidson) blasted onto the horror scene in 2014 with The Troop — the book Stephen King declared scared the hell out of him. For the record, it scared the hell out of me too. In January, Cutter followed up with an equally gripping and richly written sci-fi horror novel The Deep.

Fans of either or both of those books should not expect the same kind of story in The Acolyte. I’m not surprised it was ChiZine who published it for him because it is an odd, intense mixture of horror, police procedural, dystopia, and noir. It is violent, contemplative, thematic, and disturbing. It’s not a book you ‘enjoy’ or ‘savor’: it is one you endure and survive.

And that’s all I’m going to say about it. Read the plot summary if you want, but it’s not going to help prepare you for what lies in wait in its pages. If you are feeling adventurous and brave, and want a taste of something not so mainstream that will take you off the beaten path into a darker part of the forest, then by all means take The Acolyte home with you.

An advanced reading copy was provided by the publisher for review.

Check out more horror from Nick Cutter:

troop-usthedeepcutter

A new chilling vision of Hell

devils detectiveThe Devil’s Detective: A Novel ★★★1/2
Simon Kurt Unsworth
Doubleday | March 2015

All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

I picked up this book with the initial impression that I was in for an urban fantasy piece in which Hell (and angels and demons) would play a role, but that some of the story would inevitably take place in a concrete, corrupted human city. But no. This is full on, 24/7 Hell, all the time Hell, everything Hell. There is no reprieve. And very little hope. The hope is so miniscule you need a very expensive microscope to see it.

So yeah. Hell. In as much technicolor, cinematic horrorscape that you probably can’t handle. Seriously, it’s brutal. Claustrophobic and suffocating. Unsworth’s painstaking, meticulous world-building of this feared and unknown domain is

impressive to say the least. He spares no detail and isn’t shy about unleashing buckets of effluvia, viscera, despair and derangement. This isn’t your paranormal fantasy version of Hell where the Demons are sexy anti-heroes brooding about looking for bodices to rip open. Noooooo. These are deformed, mutated, merciless beasts seeking out any hole of any body to violate, and throw in some torture on the side for good measure.

Unsworth creates a Hell populated by innumerable species of Demons of varying size, hierarchy, power and cruelty. In this devilish brew, forsaken humans doomed to suffer Hell’s torment, must co-exist. They are Demon slaves. Mere chattel. With meaningless jobs and tasks to perform in the ever present threat of Demon violence.

Thomas Fool is one of those humans, and one of Hell’s Information Men. Normally, Fool’s job consists of looking the other way — of NOT investigating Hell’s crimes. But when a human corpse shows up with its soul entirely gone, Fool is pushed into an investigation he is not ready for. He must learn his Detective’s trade fast before whatever is consuming human souls turns its appetites on all of Hell itself.

This is a book extremely dense with description, and understandably so because the author has cut himself out a big job to build Hell and its fiery inhabitants from scratch missing no detail, no matter how small. There is A LOT of narrative exposition to move the story and action along too. Dialogue is minimally used. And that means the book can read heavy and slow in parts. You have to be patient with it and soak up the landscape. Let it unfurl in your mind and agree to stay with it until the tale is done.

Now that the book is done, and I’ve laid it aside, I find flashes of it continuing to haunt me — certain scenes appear to be burned onto my retinas. I can’t unsee them. This is a dark book, but for those seeking a dark fantasy set in the darkest and most fearful place, then you might want to give this one a go.

A free copy was provided by NetGalley in exchange for this review.

It’s waiting for you in The Deep

The Deep ★★★★
Nick Cutter
Gallery Books, Jan 2015

thedeepcutter

Save your last breath to scream.

I’ve been a lifelong fan of horror and the older I get, it seems to me the harder it’s getting to scare me and to get my hands on the good stuff. One positive thing about this sad development is that it’s forced me to venture out into other genres and try new things and find new loves. My first love however — my one true love — will always remain horror. It’s in my DNA (literally probably because my parents were huge fans of things going bump in the night). I was weaned on the stuff, and on the stuff I shall die.

Why am I rambling thus? For a fan with such an unquenchable appetite for these matters, discovering newcomer Nick Cutter is the equivalent of venturing to the end of the rainbow and having a leprechaun hand you over his pot of gold. I’m so gobsmacked and excited by my good fortune (our good fortune) that I’m still in a bit of a dizzy fangirl spin. The only thing that could make this any better would be if this discovery heralded an ushering in of a whole new Golden Age for horror the likes of which not seen since the ’80s. Yes? Please? C’mon now!

Well, whatever the case, Nick Cutter is doing his part penning two terrifying tales in two years, written to make grown women scream and grown men wet their pants. He’s got the horror cred down; you don’t have to read him too closely to see that he too was weaned on the stuff and inside his writer’s heart beats the heart of a horror geek.

Reading The Deep I was put through quite the mental and emotional ringer. Between its covers some of my most vulnerable pulse points of fear were ruthlessly exploited. I was reminded of Sphere, The Thing, Event Horizon, and Alien. There’s body horror that’s going to remind you of early Cronenberg. And just when things start to feel familiar and you think you have a handle on it all, Cutter veers the story off into an angle of Weird that’s psychologically trippy and very Lovecraftian in execution. And while this story is going to remind you of a lot of other things, it is still going to shock you and lay you down and have its way with you.

Nick Cutter is a pseudonym for a talented author who can write a mean literary novel and win prizes for them. But I’m selfish and insatiable. Now that he’s ventured over to the dark side I want him to stay here and to play here forever, and ever and ever. Yeah, I’m a smitten kitten alright.

*Look for The Deep coming in January 2015 from Gallery Books*

A free copy was provided through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Check out my review of Nick Cutter’s not-to-be missed debut fright fest — The Troop.
I also shared a Q&A with the author. Check it out here.
Follow @TheNickCutter on Twitter and Goodreads.
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