Remaking a tv show or movie shouldn's simply be a rehash of the original; it should bring something fresh and different, offering more than just a rerun of the source material.  Mockingbird Lane succeeds at breathing new life into The Munsters, in no small part due to the whimsy, enchantment, and dark humor of writer Bryan Fuller (who was also behind the amazing show Pushing Daisies).
While the original Munsters had a family of monsters who thought they were a normal family, Mockingbird Lane has members of the Munster family who cover the whole spectrum of awareness of their monstrosities.  The show begins with the Munsters moving into their new home after young Eddie Munster (Mason Cook) turned into a werewolf on a Wildlife Explorer camping trip.  Herman Munster (Jerry O'Connell), a patchwork patchwork of body parts, wants to shield his son from knowing that he's a lycanthorpe.  Herman's wife Lily (Portia de Rossi) is a loving wife and mother -- and vampire - who's fine with her abulities but doesn't want her son thinking she's a freak.  As in the original show, Lily's niece Marilyn (Charity Wakefield) is the black sheep of the family for not being any sort of monster. And Grandpa (Eddie Izzard) is part vampire, part gargoyle, part mad scientist, and all about embracing monstrosity, whether turning the neighbors into his blood slaves or wanting to kill Wildlife Explorer Steve (Cheyenne Jackson) to replace Herman's failing heart.
Much like Pushing Daisies, Mockingbird Lane features an impressive blend of the light and the dark.  There's an almost artificial brightness to the suburban neighborhood, contrasted with the magical world of the Munsters.  There's a very wicked sense of humor through the show -- when a realtor warns "There may be dead homeless people in the walls!" Marilyn calmly answers, "Then they found a home after all" -- and a good family dynamic that includes tension with the in-law and fitting in when you really stand out.  The cast is excellent (especially Izzard, relishing the role of unrepentant bad guy) and the show is amazing.

Alas, Mockingbird Lane only had a pilot episode made, shown and passed on by NBC.  (This is surprising, as it would be a perfect fit with their fantasy show Grimm.)  Since this show has some magic and humor sorely missing from most television programs, I hope Mockingbird Lane finds new life elsewhere.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch



Ah, the clip show: Both a way to introduce new people to something and to make something "new" by re-releasing older material.  The 100-plus episode webseries Red Vs. Blue tackles this challenge with The Best Red Vs. Blue DVD Ever.  Of All Time by having the cast present their "best of" moments by hosting an awards show.  In some ways, this is as juvenile as the series -- and just as funny.

Red Vs. Blue has nothing to do with politics.  Instead, it's all created by folks in the Halo videogame, as the Red Team and Blue team are stuck together in Blood Gulch Canyon; the Blue Team controls Blood Gulch Outpost Alpha, while the Red Team occupies Blood Gulch Outpost Number One.  In theory, the two sides should be trying to kill each other and take the other's outpost.  In practice, that virtually never happens.   Instead, the members joke, bicker, blow stuff up, hurt themselves, and occasinally fight everyone but each other.

The cast includes: Sarge (Matt Hullum), a tough-as-nails dtill seregant who never gets around to attaxking the enemy; Grif (Geoff Lazer Ramsey), a fairly intelligent soldier in yellow armor ("It's not yellow.  It's gold") who's too lazy to do anything useful; Donut (Dan Godwin), stuck in pink armor; Tucker (Jason Saldana), always ready to follow anything vaguely sexually suggesting with "Bow chicka bow wow"; and Caboose (Joel Heyman), a compete idiot.  ("I don't want to be dead!  I want to be alive!  Or a cowboy.")  There's also freelancer Texas "Tex" Alison (Kathleen Zuelch), a kick-ass fighter who can outshine everyone else (and who tends to hit Grif in the nuts), and the Meta, a nigh-unstoppable creature.  And don't forget Andy the Bomb and Sheila the Tank!
The Best Red Vs. Blue... has almost the whole cast at an Oscars-type show, giving awards for everything from funniest lines ("You will fear my laser face!") to best action scenes to best episodes from each season.  The full-length episodes and scenes stretch the dvd out to over two hours, but it shows a surprisingly exciting side to the series at times.  Of course it's hard to take a series about men in futuristic armor and heavily armed bickering and falling (not to mention calling each other "you cockbiting fucktard!"), but The Best Red Vs. Blue... is filled with laugh-out-loud moments -- and a good overview of the series (if you don't mind spoilers).  It's a very entertaining clip show/award show.
Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch




What's the best way to learn about new and different games?  A web series watching people play and having the rules explained helps.  So do celebrities -- including Wil Wheaton as host -- and a loser's couch and reusable trophy for the winner.  This is the setting for TableTop, a web series that is a pretty good guide to and review of many good geek games (quite a few of which were also reviewed here).

TableTop begins with Wil Wheaton introducing a board or card game, then sitting down to play with three other people.  Players include actors (like Felicia Day and Colin Ferguson), reality hosts (Grant Imahara from Mythbusters), internet stars, gaming professionals (Steve Jackson, who created Munchkin, joins them to play Munchkin), and even Wil's wife Anne.  During the game various rules and strategies are explained, sometimes play fast-forwards, and within 22-25 minutes there is a victor.  The losers sit on the Loser's Couch, while Wil interviews the victor (if he wins, a cardboard cutout of himself; if the game wins, a copy of the game), and (temporarily) gives them the trophy of victory.

TableTop is a terrific way to introduce people to some terrific games.  The folks gathered together get very competitive, very profane (lots of curses bleeped out), and often very silly.  My only complaint is that sometimes get the rules wrong (though I suspect Steve Jackson did that because he knew no one would question the man who made the game they were playing); while it's possible this happens to streamline ganeplay for the introduction, it's still a little misleading.  Except for that, though, TableTop is a terrific way to show not just how to play games, but how much fun the games are to play.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

(And be sure to check out 23:05 in the clip below for every gamer's worst nightmare)


"That's about the time that she broke up with me/No one should take themselves so seriously/With many years ahead to fall in line/Why would you wish that on me?/I never want to act my age."  These lyrics from "What's My Age Again?" by Blink-182 sum up the band's pretty consistent message, and that comes through pretty clearly on their 2005 Greatest Hits album.

Blink-182 has always straddled the line between pop and punk.  On the one hand, their songs feature aggressive percussion from Travis Barker mixed with snide vocals from Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge.  On the other hand, their music includes catchy guitar hooks and mostly songs about women and dating.  It's appropriate that their first really big hit, "All the Small Things," works just as well as a parody of boy band music as a song very much in the style of boy bands.

This mix may keep Blink-182 out of the roughest, unpolished, edgy punk arena, but it's also pretty appealing.  The songs have a funny, often self-depricating side ("My girlfriend takes collect calls from the road/And it doesn't seem to matter that I'm lacking in the bulge") and even manage some serious songs (the pre-suicide "Adam's Song" and "Staying Together for the Kids") while trying new sounds with "Feeling This" and "I Miss You."

The biggest problem with this Greatest Hits collection is what's missing.  While there will always songs that can't fit onto a collection (I wish "Anthem Part 2" was here), there are only two new songs here; and while their cover of "Another Girl, Another Planet" is very good, it first appeared on an MTV show.   There are no rarities or live tracks here that would have offered more than what's on the albums.

Blink-182 Greatest Hits is a ptetty good sampling of some kick-ass music from a semi-punk band.  I'm sorry there wasn't more new or rare music here, but this is still a good collection of kick-ass songs.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Everything old is new again, as Kylie Minogue reinvents her old hits (and new single "Flower") on her new album The Abbey Road Sessions.  This has her not simply collecting songs for another greatest hits compilation, but departing from her pop-disco stylings to give these songs a new feel that is quite beautiful.

While most of the songs here began as pop fluff -- from Kylie's teen beginnings to most recent album, Aphrodite -- Kylie reinvents them by focusing on her vocals, supported by everything from piano to violins to acoustic guitar.  The result is amazing, as Kylie transforms from a top 40 diva to a crooner who would be just as comfortable singing in a piano bar or in front of an orchestra.  The Abbey Road Sessions also provides a nice amount of musical variety, whether it's the '50s-sounding "Locomotion," the lovelorn-ballad approach to "Hand on Your Heart" and "Never Too Late," or keeping "Can't Get You Out of My Head" a fast-paced song not with steady synthesizers but with violins rushing in.  (It's also nice to have Nick Cave singing with Kylie again on "Where the Wild Roses Grow.")

Songwriting has never been Kylie Minogue's strength, and even the very nice redoings here can't conceal the sometimes-clunky lyrics.  Apart from that, though, The Abbey Road Sessions is a stunning album that shows a side of Kylie that has seldom been seen but is quite seductive musically.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch


Facebook seems to be everywhere these days -- but what if it was everywhere for all of history, from the creation of the universe to, well, Lady Gaga's time as a baby?  Let There Be Facebook by Travis Harmon and Jonathan Shockley is a comic take on what would happen if the omnipresent social site had always existed.

The format for Let There Be Facebook is pretty simple: Take the biggest people in history and have them post on Facebook -- along with pictures, responses, and Internet slang to their comments.  The results include God and the Big Bang discussing the creation of the universe, Alexander the Great's friends thinking he may have an addiction to conquering, Davy Crockett getting many comments about his hat by someone who may be a raccoon, and Wilbur Wright discussing the first flight while Orville complains how few babes there are at Kitty Hawk.  There are also newsfeeds (such as the one for World War 2), likes and dislikes, and attending/not attending stats for different events.

Let There Be Facebook is a one-joke book -- but it's a joke that's done well.  It's easy to imagine what historical folks would say on the site, but it's pretty funny when those veer into unexpected territories, like the fake proposed works of Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, states talking on Facebook about letters a Pony Express rider is struggling to deliver, or Babe Ruth avoiding a dying kid's request that the Babe lose some weight.  Let There Be Facebook is a quick read that's good for quite a few chuckles.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Can a person transcend their destiny to become more than what they're expected to be?  Or, in simpler terms, can the bad guy in a 8-bit arcade game become a good guy?  This is the basis for Wreck-It Ralph, a cute trip through video games that was surprisingly made by Disney, not Pixar.
In Litwak Arcade, a world exists that's a blend of Toy Story and Tron where the video game characters are self-aware.  When the arcade closes, the characters relax and -- traveling through power cables -- mingle together.  Characters are discouraged from game-jumping into new games (since if they die in a different game they don't regenerate) and fear a character "going Turbo" (named after a character who left his game to jump into a new, more popular game and got them both removed).  Video game characters can see outside the games to the real world, and their biggest fear is getting permanently unplugged.  (Homeless characters like QBert sit around in-between games.)

It's the 30th anniversary of the game Fix-It Felix Jr., a game where Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) damages an apartment building, Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) repairs the building, and the residents throw Ralph off the roof.  But Ralph feels completely unappreciated -- Felix gets pies and parties, while Ralph has to sleep in a garbage dump, isn't invited to the anniversary party, and attends a villain support group -- so he leaves the game to win a medal, after which Gene (Raymond S. Persi) promises that Ralph can live in the penthouse.

Ralph winds up in a first-person shooter called Hero's Duty, where he annoys the tough-as-nails leader Calhoun (Jane Lynch), battle robotic bugs, and earns his medal.  But he soon winds up in a saccharine-filled cart racing game called Sugar Rush and the medal is lost.  A cute racer called Vanellope von Schweetz can get Ralph his medal back if she wins the race -- but she tends to glitch at inopportune times, doesn't have a vehicle, and doesn't know how to drive.  Further, the game's ruler King Candy (Alan Tudyk) is determined to keep Vanellope fro racing.  Felix goes searching for Ralph (since without him, their game gets the dreaded "Out of Order" notice), as does Calhoun, who thinks a bug that escaped with Ralph will wind up destroying Sugar Rush.

Wreck-It Ralph is a fun, light piece of entertainment.  There are plenty of elements there for those who remember when video games were outside the home, from numerous characters from the '80s to the shooter requiring eight quarters per play.  The visuals of the movie are impressive, as characters from different games mingle together (such as Calhoun being three times as tall as Felix).  The voice talent in very good: Reilly brings a rough-but-vulnerable side to Ralph as the tough guy who just wants to be loved, Silverman is the perfect brat with a heart of gold, McBrayer is perfect as the goody-goody hero (and a perfect contrast to Lynch's always-angry soldier), and Tudyk does nice comedy as the silly ruler.

Wreck-It Ralph doesn't offer many surprises (except for one plot twist) or emotional highs that mark the best animated features, but it is often funny and visually stunning.  This is an enjoyable little movie for both little kids and adults who used to plop quaters on an arcade machine to get the next turn.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Taylor Swift, RED (deluxe version)

So, is Taylor Swift still a country artist? On her new album Red (deluxe version), she eschews most sounds of country music to create an almost pure-pop album. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that...

Red (deluxe version) has Swift singing mostly about her favorite topics: love and boys. She can be quite optimistic about love, whether it's the teen fantasy night of "Starlight," the goofy romance of "Stay Stay Stay" or the hopeful new romance of "Begin Again." Conversely, Swift has plenty to say/sing about her exes, from bashing an ex in the first single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" to old loves in "All Too Well" and "Sad Beautiful Tragic." She veers off romance a few times -- the we're-young-and-partying "22" and thr fame-is-rough "The Lucky One" -- but Red (deluxe version) is all abour romance, whether it's finding it or remembering it.

While Swift sings as well as ever, the writing here suffers from repetition.  Swift has an annoying habit of either "stuttering" part of a word over and over in the chorus, or using the same word several times in a row; this happening so often in "Stay Stay Stay" doesn't help.  As for the music behind the vocals, Red (deluxe version) sounds a bit less distinct from standard top 40 pop on the faster songs.  When Swift slows down for the ballads, she can be genuinely moving.  And the deluxe version of Red, from Target (disclaimer: I work for Target -- but I play for keeps!) has demo and acoustic versions of the first three songs on the album, plus three new songs.

Red (deluxe version) isn't a bad album, but it lacks the memorable sounds and variety of Swift's last album, Speak Now.  This time around Swift feels like she's doing more crowd-pleasing music than challenging or growing.  I hope that Swift tries for more country in her next release.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch