In the world of superheroes, few things may be as well known and as polarizing as the 1966-1968 Batman television series.  To some, this represents the silly fun that made Batman a household name; to others, this series trivialized the character and reinforced the belief that comic books are juvenile.  Edited by Jim Beard, Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the Batman TV Series Matters approaches the series from several angles, with writers who both enjoyed and hated the series.

There are some common themes through most of the essays in Gotham City 14 Miles: The series was camp; Frank Gorshin returned the Riddler from comic-book obscurity; Julie Newmar brought sexuality to Catwoman; "Batmania" was a commercialism/product craze that swept the country when the show began; and the third season was the worst and reflected the decline that led to the show's cancellation.

Beyond that, the essays focus on, and treat with different attitudes, a wide variety of aspects of the show.  Bill Walko's "POW!" Batman's Visual Punch" discusses the influence of the Pop Art movement on the tv series, relating the show quite convincingly to cultural trends led by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein; on a similar theme, Timothy Callahan's "Notes on Bat-Camp" is as concerned with Susan Sontag's essay on camp as on the show itself.  Jim Beard's "Such a Character: A Dissection of Two Sub-Species of Chiroptera homo sapiens" exhaustively compares the Batman character in the tv show and in the first eleven issues of the comic book.  The show's feminism and sexism are explored in Jennifer K. Stuller's "The Best-Dressed Women in Gotham City," youth culture is looked at in "Michael D. Hamersky's "'Holy Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor!'  Youth Culture in Batman," and the technology on the show is examined for both silliness and historical precursors in Michael Johnson's "Gotham City R&D: Gadgetry in Batman."  There's the show's music (Michael S. Miller's "May I Have This Batdance?"), it's decline (Will Murray's "Jumping the Bat-Shark: The Demise of Batman"), and, of course, the show's lasting impact (Paul Kupperberg's "Some Days You Just Can't Get Rid of a Bomb: The Legacy of Batman").  The essays also cite numerous other books on the show and interviews with many of its stars and behind-the-scenes people.

I wasn't a fan of the Batman tv show as a kid, and seeing it in syndication recently did nothing to alter that opinion.  But Gotham City 14 Miles gave me more respect for what the show wanted to do (appeal to adults with its campy humor, and kids with its traps and battles) and what it succeeded in doing (becoming a fad show (amazingly successful for a short time) and impacting pop culture today, for good or ill).  The essays aren't all good -- Callahan's essay is too distracted by Sontag to focus enough on the show, while Becky Beard's "Aunt Harriet's Film Decency League" simply lists the film and movie credentials of the show's famous guest stars and villains -- but whether the writers loved or loathed the show, most are intelligent and give intriguing views of the show.

2014 saw the first official release of the full Batman tv show, bringing it from convention bootlegs to retail and online stores.  Gothan City 14 Miles is a worthwhile look at the series, from what it did then to what it means now.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



This past Thursday, the final episode of The Colbert Report aired on Comedy Central.  It's been a long, strange, amusing ride.

The Colbert Report began on The Daily Show as a fake tease for a fake program, with Stephen Colbert as a hyper-aggressive conservative commentator snarling that his opponents didn't have the balls to take him on.  Some time later, that fake persona got his own fake news show.

The Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report was something of a caricature.  As Stephen Colbert explained (on other shows), his persona wasn't just making fun of conservatives; he was making fun of all the television pundits who thought speaking the loudest meant they were right.  The fake Stephen Colbert wasn't evil or mean -- he'd just decided he knew everything he needed to know, and ignored and dismissed any facts or opinions that got in the way of those beliefs.  And he was always bombastic in his statements, even when they didn't make sense: "Just because the Pope is infallible doesn't mean he can't be wrong;" "I think fine art is like pornography: I know it when I buy it."  And he created the word "truthiness," reflecting something you feel in your gut mattering more than facts.

Of course, The Colbert Report mocked plenty of Republican people and positions, usually through Stephen's blind, vitriolic agreement with them.   Regular features included the Threatdown (Stephen Colbert's biggest dangers to the nation -- often, bears), Even Stephen (where Stephen would debate himself), Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger (where Stephen praised or trashed news items), Better Know a District (falling far short of every district in the U.S.), the Word (where written comments often contradicted what he was talking about) and fake medical items from Prescott Pharmaceuticals.  Stephen had lots of interviews (where he always pretended to be more popular than the person being interviewed), a crush/stalking of someone named Charlene (which was dropped in the first few seasons), Captain America's shield on his desk and Michael Stipe on a shelf.

So how did it all end?  There was a musical performance of "We'll Meet Again" with massive amounts of previous guests on The Colbert Report, from Jon Stewart and Bryan Cranston to Henry Kissinger and Big Bird.  Stephen killed Grimmie (the show's Grim Reaper) and became immortal, leading him to a magical sleigh ride with Santa, Abraham Lincoln, and Alex Trebek.  And in the end, it all looped back to The Daily Show, where Colbert had often been a correspondent before getting his own show.

Next up, Stephen Colbert will be taking over The Late Show from David Letterman in 2015.  Some writers have already expressed concern that Stephen Colbert the person won't be as engaging or interesting as the combative, idiotic Stephen Colbert from The Colbert Report.  But it's Stephen Colbert the comedian that made The Colbert Report such a success for nine years, bringing the same character to the viewers over and over again and drawing us back every time.  I'll miss The Colbert Report, but I think Stephen Colbert will bring his talent to whatever he does next.

And that's the Word.

Written by James Lynch



There are many ways to celebrate the December holidays, but scantily-clad supermodels walking down a runway gets my vote for the best tradition.  The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2014 is the latest hour-long commercial for the nation's largest lingerie company -- and it's as, er, entertaining as ever.

For this show,Victoria's Secret got 47 of their models - including Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Karlie Kloss, Joan Smalls, Lindsay Ellingson, Shanina Shaik, Doutzen Kroes, Candice Swanepoel, and Behati Prinsloo -- and flew them to London to display the latest in lingerie, haute couture, the Pink line of, er, college-aimed lingerie, and lots and lots of wings.  There were also short features (like an interview with photographer Russell James and the making of all those wings), the multimillion-dollar fantasy bra, and musical performances by Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, and Hozier.

Except for the LED catwalk showing plenty of images to match the show's segments, not much has changed with the shows.  The models and outfits/costumes look spectacular, the music is a club-type mix of assorted current popular songs, and mishaps have been edited out (like Ariana Grande getting knocked down by some angel wings).  Oh, and during the commercial breaks there are commercials for Victoria's Secret: They're like the fashion show, but with products you can buy in the stores.

Yes, it's that special December magic that has Angels dressing as angels, a Fantasy Bra that costs $2 million, and Taylor Swift in not one, but two sexy outfits:

Life... is good.

Written by James Lynch


Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, CHEEK TO CHEEK (deluxe version)

I suppose if you shock long enough, you can eventually shock by not shocking.  Lady Gaga has supplemented her music with bizarre costumes, provocative music videos, and outrageous stage performances.  So it's surprising that for her latest music project, she skipped controversy for classics of big band and jazz -- and teamed up with Tony Bennett to do it!  Cheek to Cheek (deluxe version) is the result, and it's a very satisfying collaboration.

Cheek to Cheek has the duo singing well-known songs from such artists as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter.  The two mostly sing together (though each have two songs they sing by themselves), backed by the Tony Bennett Orchestra.  It's no surprise that Tony Bennett excels at this sort of music: He's been singing it for decades.  But Lady Gaga is a revelation here.  She manages to keep up with Tony Bennett in almost every song, managing longing love songs and up-tempo jazz riffing with equal skill.  She also does well singing by herself on "Lush Life" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

I'm normally not a fan of jazz, but Cheek to Cheek was quite enjoyable.  It's as good hearing Tony Bennett in his comfortable genre as hearing Lady Gaga switch out pop for jazz and do it with passion and style.  And the Target deluxe version (disclaimer: I work for Target; even more close to Christmas) has two extra songs for jazz fans.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


U2: Songs of Innocence

U2 has been one of those bands with staying power that has gone on for decades.  Since their first album, "Boy," in 1980, they have evolved with the times, with their own unique sound.  At least in my mind, their best work was the albums "Achtung Baby," "The Joshua Tree," and "Rattle and Hum."One could argue they went off the rails a little bit (that may be an understatement) with their technopop sound in the 90's, but they worked their way back to their original sound.

That brings us to their current album, "Songs of Innocence."  Up front, two things made this album already revolutionary: the first is that it was released 5 years after their last album, and the second is that it was released on iTunes- for free.



Christmas is a season that, for many children has come to incorporate  Santa, toys, family, and cheer and good wishes for all.  It's also led to Christmas movies that vary from timeless classics to terrible ones.  And then there's the 1959 movie Santa Claus -- a truly awful one that, among other things is a poorly dubbed Mexican with mixed mythologies and a surprisingly racist opening.  In other words, it's perfect fodder for making fun of -- at Rifftrax Live: Santa Claus delivers.

For this holiday movie special, Mike Nelsion, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett (dressed as an elf, or "North Pole Person") have plenty to work with.  Following the fake preview items ("You sold your ears to get me these slippers?  I sold my feet to get you these earrings!" -- Eli Roth's Gift of the Magi) and a short about making Chrismtas ornaments out of sugar, they dive into Santa Claus.  This movie has Santa and his multi-ethnic and stereotypical workshop of children, plus Merlin and a shirtless blacksmith.  On the other side, there's Pitch, Satan or a demon or a devil or something out to destroy Santa and therefore Christmas (and dance awkwardly).  There's a girl who wants a doll, a rich kid who wants a brother, artificial reindeer who'll disintegrate in the sun, and Satna's tendency to gas people.

As often the jokes come fast and furious, whether it's pop culture references (from The Honeymooners to Inception), calling the movie out on its stereotypes, or referencing the deity "Craig."  (The latter makes sense in the movie.)  There are numerous laughs, and it's a nice contrast to the usual Christmas sentimentality; and if you're tired of Christmas songs and specials, the source material will make anything look good by contrast.  Rifftrax Life: Santa Claus is another funny celebration of a terrible movie -- this time, with curly shoes!

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Taylor Swift vs. Spotify

Taylor Swift is one of the biggest music performers today, and is currently touring -- but is she big enough to defeat a musical streaming service?  She recently opted to pull her music from the Spotify service, and she hasn't held back about why.

In Time and The Wall Street Journal, Swift has argued that artists should value their art and be certain that people are paying enough for it -- and she doesn't see that happening through Spotify.  According to Swift, Spotify lacks any settings or qualifications for who can get what music, which for Swift means anyone there can get her music without paying for it.  Swift still has her music available for purchase through many other avenues: iTunes, Beats Music, Rhapsody, even physical cds, such as the Target exclusive version of 1989 with bonus songs and material.

But can Taylor Swift have a substantial impact on Spotify -- and other music suppliers -- all by herself?  Quite possibly.  As I said at the start, she is one of the biggest musicians out right now.  Her album 1989 sold over a million copies in its first week, and her fans have followed her almost without question as she moved from country to crossover to pop.  And if they'll follow her wherever she goes, many of them will avoid what she says to avoid.  I don't think Taylor Swift will cause Spotify to immediately collapse -- but I wouldn't bet against her, or her massive fan base, either.

Written by James Lynch