Sunday, April 29, 2012

When I'm 24: HBO’s Girls Brings A Smart New Voice To Comedy

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on April 29, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.  

Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet star in Girls on HBO

I recently sat down and watched the first two episodes of HBO’s much-publicized new comedy series Girls. Since I had been studiously avoiding most of the press, all I knew going in was that people were excited by it. I didn’t really know why, and I honestly did not know what to expect. Earlier this year, HBO cleared the way for Girls and for Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Veep by letting go of How to Make It in America and Bored to Death, two other Brooklyn-centred comedies which I already miss dearly. But if Girls is really the result of those casualties, it is just possible that those serious losses may not be quite the end of television as we love it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wizard World Toronto Comic Con: Where Subculture Becomes Community

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on April 18, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.  

Comic Cons: fun for the whole family (Photo by Krystle Burkholder)

I’ve long wanted to attend a Comic Con, but the prospect of going to San Diego has always been too expensive, and Toronto’s epic Fan Expo runs in late August when I am invariably out of town. So when the opportunity came to attend Toronto’s Wizard World Comic Con this past weekend, I jumped at the chance. But I have to confess that – despite my long-standing desire – I had little idea of what the event might actually be like.

When I first found out that I was going to Wizard World, a friend of mine described to me his experience of Fan Expo as being like “a party at the end of the world.” I haven’t had the chance to ask him precisely what he meant by this, but the description immediately called to mind the last episode the most recent season of Doctor Who which aired this past September. In that episode, we find The Doctor stranded on Earth at a point when time itself has collapsed and flattened, resulting in a scenario in which all of history is essentially happening at once: Winston Churchill and Cleopatra hold high-level summits and Roman centurions have to negotiate with flying dinosaurs. In my mind, this is what the Con promised – a world without boundaries, a place of all things and all times, all at once. And on that level Wizard World didn’t disappoint. I wandered the floor of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre amidst Imperial Stormtroopers having cigarettes with Warrior Princesses, Ghostbusters and pirates standing in line for pulled pork sandwiches, and an array of tiny Darth Vaders and Iron Men drinking apple juice from their sippy cups. The feel on the floor – among the kiosks selling an endless assortment of Big Bang Theory t-shirts, Star Wars figurines, graphic novels, and medieval weaponry – was of an unapologetic and unselfconscious celebration of all things nerdy. Fandom, without prejudice. And, to be honest, it was awesome. After all, how many places are there in the world where you can bring young children and buy a broadsword?

Photo by Mark Clamen
But in one significant way my friend’s description didn’t quite hold, and my weekend was all the better for it: this convention – unlike the 80,000-plus population of Fan Expo – was less like a party at the end of the world than a "meet and greet" at the end of the world. There was all the content but little of the overwhelming chaos I actually expected to find, and which I honestly wasn’t looking forward to. (I’m no fan of crushing crowds, and even less of interminable lines.) And if the experience didn’t rise to that intensity, it is to Wizard World’s credit. They organized an event large enough to do justice to the full scope of all the overlapping subcultures (from comic books, to classic television, video games, and film; from the subtle and elegant artistry of the comic industry, to the giddy pleasure of faux medieval battles and pillowed swordplay) without losing the humanity of all involved. There was an intimacy to this weekend’s event that was as much a draw as the celebrity headliners.