Hello and Happy Sunday, folks! I’m writing to you, once again, from the uncomfortably warm atmosphere of a Maryland Summer.
It’s absolutely astounding to be writing here with a literal less than one percent positivity rate for COVID in my state.
A child of the 80’s and 90’s, my adolescence and adulthood has been marked by surreal chapters. Terrorism, economic imbalance, the strangest series of elections possibly ever, but no event has loomed larger than the virus which has taken the past year of our lives. And now, almost like a pair of fingers had been snapped, we’re starting to emerge on the other side, just as the virus felt all the more suffocating and dangerous. It’s a surreal moment to live in. Have we really done it? Or is this the eye of the hurricane? Not everywhere is as lucky as we are, but it sure feels like the world is heading in this direction, thankfully.
All I know is, I’m taking a card from the Brood X Cicadas which have emerged in a parallel path to us humans this Summer. I’m running out, screaming, and hoping for the best.
I hope you are too.
That said, I do have another open ended question for you here:
What one thing from the pandemic will you maintain, and not wish away?
Now, onto the things…
So, I admitted before that I was a child of the 80’s and 90’s. In turn, it probably comes as little surprise that my teen years were filled with my friends and I obsessively watching and rewatching Johnny Knoxville and the boys of Jackass.
What wasn’t to love? A group of counter culture weirdos doing insane and ridiculous stunts, usually in the public. Sure, we had our own level of mischief, but this was simply awe-inspiring.
Smash cut to 2021. The now silver haired Johnny Knoxville is 50 years young, and rallying the troops (with one notable exception) for one last hurrah, Jackass 4.
Sam Schube at GQ gives us a look at Knoxville and his mindset, as he learns in real-time, that while the mind may be willing, the body may not.
The thing about Knoxville’s adventures and mishaps, though, is that they render some of his most vulnerable moments public. “I feel like the injuries, I share with people,” he said. “Because, I mean, they kind of happen in a public way.”
He’s been offering up his pain in this fashion for 20 years, ever since he first flung himself, human-cannonball-style, into the center ring of the great American pop-cultural circus. Jackass, the stunts-and-pranks television show that he co-created and starred on, ran for only three seasons on MTV, but with time it came to occupy an unusually influential position in our collective consciousness—an improbable achievement given what the show consisted of. It was whimsical: The cast donned costume armor and jousted while riding BMX bikes. It was also grotesque: They lit firecrackers held in their butts. And it was bafflingly, horrifyingly brave: They stood in front of walls while jai alai players whipped oranges at them and faced off with a famously ornery bull named Mr. Mean. Though the show could have been expected to amount to very little, it nonetheless spawned spin-offs and led to three blockbuster movies, bringing wealth and fame to the eccentrics who populated the cast. And stranger still, this once seemingly frivolous spectacle that emerged from the margins of entertainment seemed to predict where a huge chunk of our culture was headed.
Folks, if there’s one reason to sign up for Apple TV+…it’s Ted Lasso. (New season, July 23!)
But if there’s two reasons, the other is Mythic Quest. Co-created and starring It’s Always Sunny…’s Rob McElhenney, I wouldn’t blame you if you described it as “What if Silicon Valley, but video games?” You’re not wrong. On paper, that’s very much what the show is.
But with its clever cast, and bold writing team, Mythic Quest has decided to be a little bit more. Starting with a unique episode in the middle of Season 1 (which doesn’t involve any of the cast or characters we’ve known so far), continued by what will probably be remembered as the one good Pandemic special, and underlined in this season’s 1-2 punch of last week’s bottle episode and this week’s brilliant flashback episode, the show has underlined that despite its easy to define elevator pitch, Mythic Quest can be — and is — so much more than the sum of its parts.
Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer breaks down why, and while the article does include spoilers, it’s the best write up I’ve seen for why you should give this show your time. And you really, truly, should.
If “A Dark Quiet Death” or “Backstory!” had aired without warning on a network decades ago, viewers might have wondered whether they were watching the wrong channel or had tuned in at the right time. In the streaming milieu of 2021, though, the amorphousness of Mythic Quest mirrors other recent attempts to reshape an ambitious and malleable medium: Twin Peaks with “Part 8”; The Righteous Gemstones with “Interlude”; Atlanta with “FUBU”; Master of None with “Parents”; The Leftovers with its cold opens. “There are no rules to this,” McElhenney says. “Just because it used to be a certain way doesn’t mean it has to be that way now. Which is of course the way I used to think at 26, but at 44, it becomes a lot harder to think like that. And you have to force yourself out of the rut that we all find ourselves in from time to time.”
Mythic Quest has given both McElhenneys opportunities to stay on their creative toes. “What Mythic Quest keeps asking me to do is ‘Write some comedy, but then break people’s hearts while you do it,’” Katie McElhenney says. Apple hasn’t yet clarified how long Mythic Quest’s fans can expect to keep laughing and crying. Two of the streaming service’s other well-received originals, Ted Lasso and For All Mankind, were renewed for third seasons before their second seasons aired, but Mythic Quest’s creators are still awaiting word of its fate.
If Mythic Quest gets a “game over” screen soon, its audience can take solace in a satisfying end to its second season, and a legacy (if not a large library) of episodes that made risky, rewarding decisions in depicting its characters’ potential to choose a happier path. “That’s 100 percent what we talk about, which is just the cyclical nature of human interaction and human relationships and how it takes people, individuals, to break those cycles,” McElhenney says. Now he’ll hope his show can break another cycle itself: the one where good series get canceled while they still have something to say.
I remember vividly when we first got cable, growing up.
While the deluge of channels had it’s joys — WWF on USA, WCW on TBS, a network “just for me” in Nickelodeon, the wall-to-wall musical extravagance of MTV — the network which truly shaped me was Comedy Central.
I’m not sure what let them do it, but my parents let me watch almost all of it. Sure, it was supervised, but through them I experienced countless standup specials, re-runs of Saturday Night Live, and so many other comedic perspectives which shaped me, not just as a creative, but as a person.
And, now, Defector’s Drew Magary gets to do the same with his son. And all I could do was feel the parallels.
We lived in Chicago. I was no older than 8. In the TV room, we had a top-loading VCR, with a remote that had a cord you had to plug into a jack along the bottom. One night, my parents rented Eddie Murphy: Delirious on VHS. I still remember the font on the tape’s label. I could recognize all of the VHS label fonts back in those times: for Paramount, Orion, Vestron Video, and for myriad other studios and production houses, only a few of which remain standing today. My folks popped in Delirious, sat us down in front of the TV, and I became captive audience to a run of profanity so abundant and so masterful that I didn’t even understand what I was hearing (in the case of Delirious’s most dated material, this was probably a good thing). All I knew was that my parents were fucking DYING the whole time. And then I laughed because they laughed. Their laughter was all the permission I needed to dive deep into filth flarn filth and never look back.
A few years later, I owned a copy of the Delirious performance on audio cassette, titled Eddie Murphy: Comedian by the record label, and had it fully memorized. I would recite the bits to myself, both out loud and in bed. Murphy was hardly the only comedian I worshipped. I collected tapes from all of them, including Richard Pryor, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Kinison, Dennis Miller, Robin Williams, even Howie Mandel back when blowing up latex glove over your head was a signature Howie Mandel bit. The dirtier the comics were, the better. They were speaking in a language I knew wasn’t for me, which was why I wanted to hear that language over and over again. The more they cursed, the greater the rush I felt.
It’s 2021 and, against all odds, we still have swear police out there who remain shocked—SHOCKED—anytime they encounter an F-bomb on the internet. These people never fail to amuse me. That’s true even when, after all these years of being online, I know, with a disappointing intimacy, that profanity and honesty don’t always directly correlate. But they sure fucking FEEL like they do, and that emotional magic trick still works wonders on my eternally pubescent psyche.
Stay cool, gentle readers! We’ve got a week of low 90’s, high 80’s here, so I know I’m going to be very very happy we upgraded our HVAC system last year. Grab yourself a cool drink, a good read, and relax.
Have a great week, and I’ll see you here next week!