Don’t You Dare Skip HBO’s ‘Clear History’

Larry David is always hailed as a genius when it comes to television: Seinfeld and the later, filthier Curb Your Enthusiasm are universally beloved TV series of such incisive power that it’s hard not to feel like you’re living the shows yourself (except you aren’t as financially comfortable as the characters). So why does David’s 1998 movie, Sour Grapes, have a 23% on Rotten Tomatoes—consigned, at best, to cult favorite status? Guarantee you it’s funnier than the last ten comedies you shelled out $14 bucks to see on the big screen.

The same could be said for Clear History, which isn’t even coming to a theater near you. The HBO film premiered quietly on Saturday night, ahead of Breaking Bad season premiere hoopla and whatever the hell ridiculous thing happened on Dexter. And it is truly, devastatingly hilarious. With a cast that includes Michael Keaton as a grizzled, bomb-happy New Englander named Joe Stumpo, not to mention the band Chicago, on hand to wistfully recall groupie sex, how could it get any better?
 
Clear History, written by David along with Seinfeld and Curb vets Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer and David Mandel, turns the usual revenge narrative on its head: the original offense is all the Curb-like protagonist’s fault, and the scheme he hatches ten years later is perfectly ill-conceived, practically designed to backfire. Setting the story in Martha’s Vineyard is a great move—where coincidence in New York or L.A. can stretch credulity, the pettiness and nosiness of a small island community make every confrontation all too plausible. David’s comedic chemistry with Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson, Danny McBride and Eve Mendes alike is outstanding.
 
Look, I’m not sure how to get Clear History if you don’t have premium cable—probably pirate it, since they won’t allow you to buy just an HBO GO streaming package. But figure out something, for god’s sake, because it’s raining like a bastard today and you don’t really want to see that Ashton Kutcher movie about Steve Jobs, do you? Okay, just checking.   

Martin Scorsese Making ‘Gangs of New York’ Into a TV Series, Because Why Not?

Television programs based on movies are usually hit-or-miss (actually, usually miss—for every M*A*S*H* there are a thousand My Big Fat Greek Lives), but if Martin Scorsese thinks he’s got an idea here, it may be worth listening. Gangs of New York was hyped like crazy before and upon its release but fell short of expectations during award season. It’s not his best movie by any means, not his most memorable, and maybe not even the best fodder for a TV show. But with the diverse history and dramatic tensions of mid-19th-century New York City, Scorsese saw an opportunity to revisit the world of Amsterdam Vallon and Bill the Butcher, and he’s working with Miramax and GK Films to make Gangs a TV series. As he writes

“This time and era of America’s history and heritage is rich with characters and stories that we could not fully explore in a two-hour film. A television series allows us the time and creative freedom to bring this colorful world, and all the implications it had and still does on our society, to life.”
The show, according to the Deadline report linked above, would focus on the advent of organized crime in America, not just in New York, of course, but in other major story-rich and scandal-rich cities like Chicago and New Orleans and Atlantic Ci—oh wait, he already did that one with Boardwalk Empire. Obviously, this show would be best as a varying-location ensemble sitcom, in the style of Seinfeld. Can you imagine this scene with a little slap-bass action behind it? 

Stars’ Torquil Campbell on Touring, Loving and Hating New York, and the Cult of Larry David

“Ask away,” says Torquil Campbell casually to me on Monday after our long distance call is connected. Ultimately, the lead singer of Canadian indie pop band Stars proves disarmingly entertaining. Between his tweets and his demeanor during interviews (at least ours), there’s no lack of laughs. A few questions in, the line cuts out. Upon being reconnected, he teases, “I just gave, like, a ten-minute answer and, at the end of it, there was nobody there. You missed some amazing shit, man. Never to be repeated. That’s too bad. That’s it.” I like this guy. (And, for the record, I got some other “amazing shit,” so not to worry.)

The forty-year-old singer-songwriter and actor, perhaps best known for his membership in Stars, but also other notable ensembles such as Broken Social Scene, is gearing up to tour pretty consistently through most of next month. He and his fellow bandmates—comprising Chris Seligman, Evan Cranley, Amy Millan, and Pat McGee—who released their seventh album in September, kicked things off on Wednesday and make their way to New York City today. Catch them in Brooklyn, to be exact, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, where tonight and tomorrow they’ll split the bill with L.A.-based band Milo Greene.

In the half-hour allotted to talk, Campbell didn’t hold back, opening up about making music, growing up, picking battles and taking revenge. From his distaste for touring to his stance on fame, his love of Larry David to his dream of limo driving, this Vancouver-based artist bears all, including the fact that this path is not technically what he wanted.

Did you approach The North differently than past albums, or is it sort of a consistent process?
It’s both. After 13 years and so many records, we definitely have a method and a system that works. It changes a little bit every time, but now I think we’re pretty set on the way we do it together. In terms of the methodology, it wasn’t that different. But every time you make a record, you choose different gears, different places to record, and different things are happening to you in your life. You’re a different person. So, those three things always inform the same methodology and that’s what changes: the filters through which the work passes. Sometimes they bear a striking resemblance to the last time, but, this time, I knew it was 180 degrees [different]. This was definitely the most fun, least painful project ever.

The most fun and least painful?
After 35, or after you have kids, it’s like, “Well, who really gives a shit, ultimately?” Am I really going to go to war with this person I love and lose sleep and have fucking anxiety attacks just because we can’t figure out what bassline works? As a young band, it’s the only thing that matters to you. Then, time passes, and so many other things mean so much more. It’s not that the work isn’t important; it’s just that it’s in the context of the rest of your life. You learn how to calm down and get on with it. So much of life is learning that you lose about seventy percent of the battles you choose to fight. That’s the average. There’s no point getting upset about it.

Going back to your time together, what’s that kind of longevity like? And what do you foresee for the future?
It’s amazing. I think it’s something we’re all very proud of. We’re proud of the music, but I think we’re prouder, in a way, of this co-existence we’ve built together. All the things we’ve been through together. [Laughs] It’s an endless parade of bad decisions and big mistakes, and yet nobody pulled the plug. Nobody ever did that. At one point or another, every single member of the band has had a right to do that or been the cause of someone else having a right to do that. And yet we haven’t. In that respect, it’s a lot like marriage. It’s hoping for the best. [This is the point at which we were disconnected.] As for the future, we’re going to keep going and probably play fewer shows.

But you love shows.
Oh yeah. I love playing shows. If everyone could just come here, to Vancouver, I would play, easily, 300 shows a year. No problem at all. But, I think being on the bus and being away from my family and that aspect of it, it’s fun for, I don’t know, let’s say ten years. And then, after that, it’s like, “Okay. This is a fuckin’ ridiculous way to live my life. I’m spending an hour-and-a-half looking for my sock. Where am I going anyway? Why do I need socks? It’s not as if anybody knows whether I’m alive or dead, until 9 PM tonight. So, why don’t I just not wear socks?” It’s just a pointless way to exist. And then you play a show and you’re like, “Oh, life means something and, god, I love my job and it’s so great and aren’t we lucky to have people cheering for us?”But, then you wake up the next day and you’re in the middle of nowhere without your family. So, that aspect of it is getting old, for sure.

I hear that. Makes sense. So, how do you feel about fame?
Ever since I was a kid, people have been telling me I’m going to be famous, all my life, and I never have been. I’m not famous at all. Nobody knows who the fuck I am. I’m nobody. First of all, obviously—it goes without saying—I’m in a tiny indie band [that] nobody gives a shit about. But, even people who give a shit about us, I’m just some forty-year-old guy. The only time I’m famous is when I’m singing those songs. Other than that, I give myself a solid 4.7 out of 10 on the human impact scale.

If you say so! How do you like returning to New York?
Well, I lived in New York for ten years and the band started in New York. I like coming to New York like a New Yorker likes to come to New York. There’s a part of me that loves that place and it’s very deep inside me. To this day, my wife still says that, even though I was born in England and I grew up in Canada, I act like a New Yorker. That was where my personality came into full fruition, where I found 11 million assholes just like me. [Laughs] I feel very at home there. On the other hand, I hate New York. Like everybody does. New York is a reflection of you. It’s whatever you imagine yourself to be. On a bad day, New York is a bitch. And, on a good day, New York is an angel, I think. I like coming to New York and having something to do. I like the fact that I come to New York and play shows and people come to the shows. There’s an element of revenge I enjoy. I think a lot of people end up living in New York to try to get revenge on New York for all that New York has done to them over the years. People are motivated by revenge. I feel that. It’s satisfying to come and get a little revenge on New York every once in a while.

Revenge, huh?
It’s about my personal relationship with New York. The experience of ten years trying to make it work there. Sometimes it did work, but a lot of the time it doesn’t work. New York is so tiny and there’s so many people doing amazing things; if shit isn’t going your way, it’s very palpable, and you feel very much left out of the shit that is going right. It can be a cruel place. I love it.

Ditto. What do you get into when you’re here?
Well, we work most of the time. I’m a person who just goes to the same place, no matter where I am in the world. In New York, I still go to the bars I went to in 1996. I have no idea what’s happening in New York. I just go to New York and I recreate 1996.

In another interview, Amy Millan claims Stars is like Seinfeld. She says, “If you really looked into the deep psyche of Stars, it’s like Seinfeld, but Larry David is actually in Seinfeld instead of behind the scenes writing it. That’s my life. I swear to God we are a Seinfeld episode in normal life, like there’s the glamorous aspect of getting up on stage and writing amazing music, but then there’s the daytime stuff that’s pure Seinfeld.” Can you speak to this?
[Laughs] All I can say is, I think Larry David is a big person in all our lives. I have a t-shirt with his face on it. That’s how much I love Larry David. I suffer from anxiety. When I’m in the throws of anxiety attacks, I don’t have a prescription for Xanax—I just watch Curb Your Enthusiasm. Or sometimes I just listen to it on my headphones. I’m obsessed with Larry David and the work of Larry David and I think everyone else in the band is pretty obsessed with Larry David. The thing about Larry David is, he’s a dark motherfucker. Like, he doesn’t care how dark it gets, as long as it’s funny. I think, in Stars, that’s the kind of people we are. We really don’t care. There are things we would never say in public, obviously, but there are jokes made in our band that are truly morally reprehensible. But, if they’re funny, everybody has a good laugh. At least half the reason we’re in the band is just for jokes, just to hang out and wait for punch lines. The one thing we all have in common is, we share a fucked up sense of humor. And our cult leader is Larry David. We would follow him anywhere. We’d do anything for him. We worship him. We think he’s fucking genius.

Same.
Oh, we’re not alone. We’re among the legion.

What would you be doing if not this?
The only job I can think of that I would actually be able to do would be driving a cab or, like, driving people to the airport in a limo. I could do that. And I would like to do that. I really would. People think I’m joking and I’m not joking. I think it would be awesome. You just put on the soft rock station. You have water bottles—my car would be fucking awesome. Like, I’d have Evian bottles in the back, maybe a couple of newspapers to read. If you want to talk we can talk. If not, I’ll leave you alone. It’s fine. We don’t have to talk. And I would drive very smoothly. If you’re in a rush, I’ll drive fast, but I’m not going to go crazy. I’d be really good at that. Wouldn’t that be a great job?

[Laughs] Can you please make a music video where you’re the limo driver and the rest of the band’s in the back?
That’s a great idea! Actually, that’s a very good idea. Yes, we can. I’m going to do that for you. I’ll get right on that. I’m going to steal that from you.

Yesss. [Laughs] Lastly, have you always wanted to make music and act?
No. I’ve never wanted to. I’ve never wanted to act and I’ve never wanted to make music. I just had to. I couldn’t do anything else. I didn’t want to do anything else. So, by elimination, that’s what happened. That’s what I am. It’s what everybody in my family is. It’s what my father was, what my mother is, my brothers, my sisters, my wife, my child. Everybody in my life is obsessed with art and is a performer of one kind or another. There’s not a single person I love who isn’t in that field or doesn’t have that within them. Even the people I’m close to in my family who are not performers, that’s our religion. We’re fundamentalists. I was raised in a house where groceries were bought [with] money made from art. Art was the Bible and art was the devil and art was everything in between. I was told art could change people’s lives and you could change the world and you could start revolutions with it. That’s my fate. I have never wanted to. It’s what I am. 

Photo by Kevin Barnett

Influx of ‘Seinfeld’ Nostalgia Continues With Soup Nazi Food Truck

Either it’s some anniversary, there’s something in the water or this is all part of viral marketing for Jerry Seinfeld’s new web series, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, but it seems like there’s been a bit more Seinfeld nostalgia than usual recently. Last week, the New Yorker‘s caption contest featured a cartoon the gang attempted to caption in a late-season episode (the pig at the complaint department, whose wife Kramer believes is "a slut."). Now, fthe show is rolling out its own food truck, and there will (groan) be soup for you, so long as you don’t enrage Larry Thomas himself.

The No Soup For You! food truck is an official Seinfeld-related promotional vehicle touring seven cities across the country over the next couple of weeks, with the next appearance at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach this Friday. In addition to the opportunity to meet original Soup Nazi Larry Thomas, the truck will be doling out "iconic Seinfeld food," which according to reports from the truck’s Huntington Beach stop, consists of the Soup Nazi’s mulligatawny, Twix, Junior Mints, muffin tops, Snapple and black and white cookies. The idea of eating soup on a beach doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, but hey Seinfeld fans, enjoy this influx of fanservice activities while you can, we guess. 

Is it time to watch the Soup Nazi in action? Yes, I think it is. 

‘Weeds’ Celebrates 100th Episode

It’s not every day that a cable show reaches the ripe old age of 100 episodes, but ever since I first laid eyes on the polished, pristine lawns of Agrestic and their pot-loving, MILF-appreciating inhabitants, I knew was hooked. The cast and crew of the 8-year series celebrated with cake and champagne after an on-location shoot in Los Angeles. Actress Mary-Louise Parker, the show’s protagonist, grew a bit emotional as they toasted the series’ new centennial status. Sure, Weeds is in its final season with only two more episodes remaining, it’s still quite the accomplishment

Here is a roundup of shows that have truly stood up to the test of time… 100+ times!

If there were ever a contest for longest-running animated TV show, then The Simpsons would win, 4-fingered yellow hands down. The 23-year-old show has been supplying America with “D’ohs!” and “Ay Carumbas!” for a colossal 508 episodes, and counting. Since its debut in 1989, the series has gone on to inspire and define the style of countless other shows (ahem, Family Guy, we are looking squarely at you), has its own full-length movie, video game franchise, action figures and even it’s own goddamn rollercoaster ride. Not bad for a donut-loving, minimum-wage, nuclear power-plant employee, huh?

Clocking in at an impressive 456 episodes, Law and Order has been around for 20 years. Since it’s debut in 1990, the much-loved courtroom drama has been adapted to a TV film, video games and crossovers. Its also inspired multiple spin-offs: Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, and LA. Looks like people just couldn’t get enough of that criminal justice system!

Be honest: if you were a child of the ’90s, you were most certainly tuning in to the many idiotic teenage antics of Brenda Walsh and the rest of the gang on Beverly Hills 90210. The often imitated, never duplicated 296-episode series defined what it meant to be an American teen and covered numerous issues like abortion, date rape, alcoholism, domestic violence, gay rights, and eating disorders, making it both entertaining and relatable for viewers. Its 10-year reign ended on May 17, 2000, but multiple spin-offs, including the current CWTV remake and Melrose Place, confirms the original impact of the acclaimed series. Beverly Hills forevs!

What other show begins with a self-deprecating disclaimer, contains a record number of penis, shit and vagina references and even has its own dedicated snackfood product (mmm, Cheesy Poofs)? The 15-year-old South Park has had 230 episodes and is wildly successful phenomenon that is slated to keep on thundering on till 2016. Never one to be a shrinking violet, the series often unabashedly discusses touchy issues like racism, homophobia, politics, religion, and poverty (and always finds new ways to send Kenny into the afterlife). All hail Mr. Hanky!

Often referred to as the greatest television program of all time,” Seinfeld followed the antics of four close friends, Jerry, George, Kramer, and Eliane, as they discussed immensely important topics such as fake nose-picking, Festivus, being spongeworthy and regifting (I still have yet to decide between a Bro or a Mansiere). The much-loved show is still in syndication and has spawned the spin-off Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is still running. I can also say without shame that I do own a Seinfeld Monopoly board game set. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Here’s Your Chance to Prove You’re A Better Cartoon Captioner Than Elaine Benes

Two of the greatest cultural signifiers of New York for people who live outside New York, together again for your amusement. The New Yorker‘s cartoon caption contest has been the subject of many confused diatribes, pllotlines in various media and millions upon millions of unsuccessful submissions, and this week, readers have the opportunity to upstage one of its most famous failed attempts at a caption. 

This week’s cartoon, which features an anthropomorphic pig filing a grievance at a complaint department, was the same cartoon Elaine submits in a late-season episode of Seinfeld, where the gang tries to come up with a punchline akin to the sometimes less-than-obvious (or nonexistent) caption one-liners. Elaine draws the concept with the caption "I wish I was taller," an inadvertent rip-off of a Ziggy comic, while Jerry offers a more obvious pig pun and Kramer, the cruder and perhaps more memorable "My wife is a slut." 

So yeah, here’s your chance to prove you are funnier than Seinfeld. Get your submissions in by July 22nd and watch this classic brainstorming scene from the Show About Nothing. 

To Irony’s Delight, Larry David Gets Stuck in Parking Garage

Here is a very, very silly story: TMZ has procured a video of Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Larry David getting stuck in a Los Angeles parking garage after being unable to feed his ticket into the gate so that he could go home. You see, this is funny because David once wrote an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and the gang find themselves trapped in a parking garage because they can’t figure out where they parked. Hence, irony. This is only in the general vicinity of the same thing, but it’s close enough. If you want to split hairs, just pretend like it’s an IRL episode of Curb.

 

A word of advice: When somebody asks you for help, screaming "I love you!" is not a proper response, even if that somebody is a celebrity. Below, the only clip from "The Parking Garage" that YouTube will let me embed.

Sitcom Veteran Wayne Knight Defends the Laugh Track

You’ll likely recognize Wayne Knight while flipping the channels at night, or even when passing an ad for his new comedy The Exes. And you’re also likely to squint your eyes and whisper, "Newman." The role of Jerry’s nemesis is definitely Knight’s more regonizable characters, but those unfamiliar with Seinfeld (and who are you?) will remember him from his other famous role as the nebbish computer programmer Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park. You know, he gets spit on and then eaten by a dinosaur.

Knight’s new show The Exes is another multi-camera sitcom just like Seinfeld. In the age of single-camera, closed-studio shows like 30 Rock and The Office, there seems to be a lot of TV fans who are rejecting the sounds of laughter from a studio audience (or, more likely a laugh track assembled from the loudest guffaws from a mostly bored audience). But Knight thinks that the aversion to multi-camera shows, which come packaged with audible cues indicating when the home audience should laugh, is actually silly! He tells Vulture

There are people being born every day who actually have no idea that there aren’t real people laughing. You know, there’s a whole new crop of young people who really need a laugh track. You cynically put down the laugh track, but there are people who have no laughs in their lives unless they’re false laughs. God bless them….I have a laugh track at home in my bathroom, which I use frequently. It makes me comfortable. I like to punch up moments in my life that I feel are just a little thin, you know?

Ugh, I don’t think I want to live in a world where Newman is dropping truth bombs left and right. Having said that, multi-camera sitcoms like Cheers, Soap, Friends, Roseanne–and countless others!–still remain ridiculously funny. Would those classic comedies be as funny without the laugh tracks? Should we all get off our Community-loving high horses and embrace the return of the laugh track? 

Barney Frank Doesn’t Like ‘Seinfeld’ or ‘Will & Grace’

Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank is the subject of this week’s Media Diet on the Atlantic Wire. It’s mostly straightforward; Frank reads the New York Times, the Economist (which is “the one publication where the ideology has no impact on the information that’s presented,” apparently), and Politico. He also watches TV in his free time, especially re-runs of old, mediocre sitcoms like Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond. He doesn’t like Seinfeld, though, because of Kramer — and he hates Will and Grace just as much, because of Jack.

I don’t care for Seinfeld. I’m bothered by the character of Kramer. I find it hard to watch shows where there is one character that is so obnoxious that no one would hang out with him. That’s also my problem with Will & Grace. I don’t understand why Jack was his best friend. He’s unpleasant and dishonest. Why would anyone want to put up with a Jack or a Kramer? It’s discordant for me to think about.

Unfortunately, Barney Frank seems to misunderstood these two shows a little bit. That’s okay! He’s a busy man. But sitcoms usually have one annoying character as comic relief, Barney, otherwise they are boring. And with the case of Will and Grace, is Jack really “unpleasant and dishonest”? He’s kind of the heart and soul of that show, right?

Either way, Frank should give these shows another shot. They’re miles better than Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond. And probably more entertaining than something called River Monsters, which Frank watches with his partner and is about God-knows-what.