Sunday, June 4, 2023

Rock On!

They is, am, are, and be,
they who is and are known as

THE ELECTRIC MAYHEM!

Electric Mayhem - The Muppets Mayhem
Album Cover Art by Matt Taylor


I apologize for how long its taken me to cover the recent Disney+ Streaming Series The Muppets Mayhem, a ten episode series featuring the Muppets legendary rock band, The Electric Mayhem. 

Let me start by saying WOW! I absotively posilutely lovified this streamificated narrative of musical proportions. Heheh, channeling my inner Dr. Teeth there. Truthfully though, I am happy to say I really enjoyed it.

The Muppets Mayhem does a lot right. I would even go so far as to say it does what it sets out to do better than some of the previous attempts to 'modernize' the Muppets. How? Well, at the heart of what makes The Muppets Mayhem not just a great series but a great Muppets series is that this series embraces the fact that the Muppets are Muppets.


I...um...Say what now?


The laws of physics and other basic facts about our world change when the Muppets are around. They themselves can instantly change clothes, make items appear out of nowhere, get squashed, stretched, and of course, survive massive explosions. When Humans enter the presence of Muppets - and vice versa - the normal people become part of the Muppets' extraordinary reality. Forget that, ignore that, and you lose a great deal of the magic of the Muppets. The Muppets Mayhem doesn't shy away from this but rather embraces it. 


Well All Right!


On to a full-on Barking Alien-a-rific review...


SPOI-LERS! SPOI-LERS! SPOI-LERS!
Ha-Ha-Ha.


The GOOD

So much! The element that stands out the most to me is, as noted above, the Muppet-ness of the band and how the band interacts with the world they're in. It is both subtle and apparent and happens throughout the series. It isn't focused on but rather just happens as an aside to the scenes the Muppet characters are in. Clearly there are things that occur in the series solely because Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem are Muppets.

Another thing about the series that I loved was the detail and depth given to the characters. Each and every member of the band, including 'new' member Lips, is given time to shine and has some great moments dedicated to them. While not every character gets heavy character development, all the characters get the chance to stand out, to be distinct, to be funny, and to make the viewers feel like we got to know them. A very impressive feat given an aspect of the show that I'll discuss below (The BAD). 

I liked the Human characters, although I feel that not aspects of them were as well thought out as the personalities and traits of the Muppet characters. The thing is, if I came to the Muppets Mayhem series for the Muppets, the real life Humans had better be highly entertaining to warrant their presence in the show. I personally think that the Humans were handled quiet well in that respect. I liked when they were on screen and I really liked how they interacted with the Electric Mayhem. 

I liked the new Muppet character of Penny Waxman a lot. Not only is she a classic character type, a trope of the heyday of the 60s and 70s Music Industry, but she was also given enough unique quirks to make her memorable. I also really liked her design. 

The overall story was quite good, with the subplots given to the individual Mayhem members even stronger in many cases. Getting new reveals and realizations about these characters, some of which are nearly 50 years old, was extremely fun for a long time, die hard Muppets fan like myself. 

Finally, it was funny - REALLY FUNNY! Oh man, I found myself laughing out loud so many times throughout the season. The best part about the humor is that it wasn't all from cameos  or nostalgia - it was from the context of the narrative and the characters. That is amazing to see in modern pop culture entertainment. Yes, it had Easter Eggs. The series definitely made references to past Muppet works. All of that was simply icing on the cake. The cake definitely had a great flavor all its own. 


Oh, fer sure. Like, totally.


The BAD

There really wasn't anything I would deem bad but there were a few things that seemed off and it largely revolved around the Human characters, specifically the lead.

Nora Singh (played by actress Lilly Singh and that's not confusing) is the main Human protagonist, the assistant to Penny Waxman, owner of Wax Town Records. Her major character trait and focus seems to be her love of music, imparted to her by her father. According to references made during the show, including a specific one made by her sister, music has been Nora's life since she was little. This is why she got a job in the Record/Music Industry and why she want to make a name for herself and Wax Town Records by getting the Electric Mayhem to cut their first album. 

OK, cool, I'm on board. Except...the writers are very inconsistent about Nora's relationship with music. In an inverse version of 'Show don't tell', we are repeatedly told that Nora loves classic rock n' roll (especially her dad's favorite song by Joe Cocker) but then gets the words to a famous KISS song incorrect, doesn't seem overly familiar with the Electric Mayhem, their history, inside info about the industry she's in, and has few if any contacts within the music business. I get it, she's young, struggling, an underdog to be sure, but she either knows music or doesn't and it's unclear which of these defining things is true. It repeatedly threw me off and I found it distracting. 

Maybe that's just me.


Huh?


The GROOVY

The music! It's actually good and some of it is very good but you don't get to hear many of the songs in their entirety in the episodes. You need to check out The Electric Mayhem - Muppets Mayhem album, available on Spotify as well as for purchase ON VINYL! Vinyl baby! 

I am particularly fond of Rock On and Gotta Be. 

Man, I am so inspired by this series to do something to honor it with my RPG, The Googly Eyed Primetime Puppet Show. Not sure what yet. Any ideas?


Mahb du da rit up oul da band stas 'em pote dem ere?


Lips, that's it! You are a genius brother. Thanks.

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Hey everybody, one more thing before I split...

Could really use some help and support to keep the creative works coming as well as just get through the Summer months, which can be very tough for me and my business. If you like what I do and can lend a hand, check out my Ko-Fi at https://ko-fi.com/barkingalien 

Thanks all. I really appreciate it. 








Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Lower Decks and Behold

Looking back over my blog I feel like I have been woefully negligent. I haven't given nearly enough attention to the glory that is...




Star Trek: Lower Decks is, simply put, my favorite incarnation of anything Star Trek to have come out since 2005 (the end of Star Trek: Enterprise). 

Like The Orville, Lower Decks is simultaneously irreverently funny and absolutely in line with the finest elements that make Star Trek Star Trek. The show has a powerful sense of adventure, a wealth of science fiction ideas, and surprisingly well developed characters. In my opinion, this series approaches the range between serious Sci-Fi Action/Adventure to goofball Sci-Fi Comedy by leaning more heavily on the humorous side just as The Orville has progressively leaned in the other direction.




I personally find that awesome! It is a refreshing take on the Star Trek universe, which can sometimes take itself too seriously. Additionally, there have been numerous Sci-Fi Comedies, Sci-Fi Dramas, and Sci-Fi Dramedies but when it comes to the latter, it is very difficult to land successfully right down the middle. To make a quality entertainment media product, it's best to figure out which way you want go - more funny, more pathos, by what degree, and in what way?




It took three seasons for The Orville to realize where it wanted to be, partially because of Fox Studios and partially due to the usual growing pains most TV show go through early in their run. Star Trek: Lower Decks' creator, Mike McMahan, apparently had a very clear idea of where he wanted to and Paramount was willing to run with it. 

Even so, Star Trek: Lower Decks keeps getting better with every season. We keep learning more about the crew, their mission, the ship, new characters, new worlds, and old favorites from the previous series and films. What happened to the Betans after Kirk's Enterprise left? How did the Ornarans and Brekkians fare following Picard's visit? Easter Eggs to pretty much all of Star Trek abound in every episode and every single example is a loving homage to the show's in-universe history. Combine this with the bang-on comedy and you've got, dare I say it, 'The Best of Both Worlds'. A truly funny, truly good Star Trek.

I fell in love with Lower Decks so much my first thought was, of course, 'how do I game this'! I wanted to run a Star Trek: Lower Decks game so badly that...well...I did. I ran them badly. A few times now. Each time it kind of worked. They were nearly great. None were awful but...yeah.




In each attempt I focused on the 'Second Contact' idea from the show that I mentioned in this post. What I didn't do was center the games on low ranking officers, a key component of the Lower Decks series. I've never run a game where the PCs weren't the Command Crew and I find it hard to do so. For the most part I find it difficult to come up with a way to make that dynamic interesting. Not only have all the previous shows been about the Captain and other high ranking officers but I am against taking agency away from the players. The decisions as to what a Starship and its Crew do should be made by the players in my mind, not forced onto them by NPCs in command of your PCs. 

Riker's Beard! I wish there was an official, Modiphius sourcebook for Star Trek Adventures that could help me figure out how best to pull this and other aspects of the show off properly. Wait...What's this now?




Yes, my dream has come true! Pre-Orders for the Star Trek: Lower Decks Campaign Guide will be live very soon, with a PDF of the book immediately available with your Pre-Order. The physical book should be out for GenCon 2023. I am seriously excited about this and will very likely do a few posts on my thoughts on the book when it comes out. 

What other Lower Decks book could hope to be as cool as this? Huh? No way...




Holy Horta its raining AWESOME! Titan Books is putting out the Star Trek: Lower Decks USS Cerritos Crew Handbook in October of 2023! A book of advice from Mariner, Boimler, and their crewmates giving helpful inside info to new personnel assigned to the California Class USS Cerritos. 

I really hope it gives a more boots-on-the-ground description of what Support Fleet Ensigns do on the day-to-day. I think this kind of book could add a lot to a Lower Decks campaign, almost functioning as a companion text. 

The mix of Star Trek and humor is something perfectly up my Jefferies Tube (phrasing!). I've run sessions of The Orville and a Galaxy Quest campaign. I just need a little assistance with this one to get past my deeply dyed-in-the-wool views on how to run Star Trek. 

Season 4 of Star Trek: Lower Decks should be released in the late third or early fourth quarter of 2023. Season 5 has already been greenlit. There will also be a live-action crossover between two of the Lower Decks characters with Captain Pike and the Enterprise crew as depicted in Strange New Worlds. Wow. That's just wild.

What are your feelings on the series? Are you interested in the Star Trek Adventures sourcebook? Do you put comedic elements in your Star Trek missions? Let me know. 

Live Long and All That.

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Barking Alien







Friday, May 26, 2023

I Hope Your Hungry

Yesterday was a special day for fans of Delicious in Dungeon and I am very sorry for getting this out a day late.

What's that? What's Delicious in Dungeon?!?


Why, it's only the best Comedic Action/Adventure Manga about Fantasy heroes exploring a Dungeon in which the Adventuring Party cooks and eats the Monsters to survive! Duh. 

Also known by its Japanese title 'Dungeon Meshi' (literally translating to 'Dungeon Meal'), the now 12 volume Manga series was created, written, and illustrated by Ryoko Kui and published by Enterbrain in Japan and Yen Press in the United States. It was announced in August of last year that the Japanese Animation group Studio Trigger would be producing a television adaption and yesterday, May 25th, 2023, a trailer was released. 

Check it out!



I am incredibly excited! This is one of my most anticipated, well, ANYTHING for this year but it does come with a catch; it isn't actually coming out this year. The PAIN!!! Along with the trailer was got the release date, January of 2024. 

Yikes! I just finished reading Volume 12, the latest one released, and I was so hoping the show would come out for the 2023 Fall TV season. It's OK though, I believe I will manage. I think there is one additional Volume coming out later this year that might even be the finale. The Anime would debut after the series concludes in that case which is sad but likely to be awesome as well.

Man, I do NOT talk about this series enough. It's funny, warm, charming, and has some of the coolest Fantasy world building I've seen in a long time. I highly recommend checking it out. 

Oh yeah, speaking of animation...

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May 25th was also the 46th Anniversary of the original release of Star Wars, the film that started the franchise way back in 1977. It also marked the 40th Anniversary of the third movie in the classic trilogy, Return of the Jedi, which came out in 1983. May the Celebration Be With You!




On a far more somber note: the Acid Queen, the Ruler of Bartertown, Private Dancer, The Queen of Rock n' Roll herself, Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock) has passed away at the age of 83'. My Mom is a tremendous fan of Turner's and I grew up listening to her music and becoming a fan myself. My heart is heavy with her departure. She was, to quote one of her songs, 'Simply the Best'. Rest in Peace. 





 


Monday, May 15, 2023

VISIONS Quest

After watching Star Wars: VISIONS Volume 2 I had some thoughts and ideas for Star Wars role playing that are a little different from what I've done in the past. Well, sort of. I'll clarify in the post.




The biggest revelation I had after watching the VISIONS Volume 2 is that Star Wars' canon is hurting it more than helping it.




That may be a strange conclusion to come to in the minds of many, especially given the fact that VISIONS Volume 2 - much more so than Volume 1 - features a number of episodes clearly set in the period of the Galactic Civil War. The forces of the Imperial Empire are front and center as antagonists in at least four of the nine episodes.




Still and all, only one of these, 'The Spy Dancer', directly refers to The Rebellion. None of them address Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, the destruction of the Death Star, or the seemingly ever present desert world of Tatooine.

The creatives behind the various VISIONS installments can go virtually anywhere and do anything, adding brand new characters, worlds, species, droids, and a whole host of other elements and ideas to the increasing familiar Star Wars setting. 

Some of the most interesting episodes in the second 'season' are those not directly (or at least clearly) connected to the established canon of the Star Wars universe. You could certainly place any of the episodes somewhere in the official timeline with little difficulty but it isn't necessary. In fact, one of the things that makes episodes like 'Aau's Song' or 'Journey to The Dark Head' so great is that they can easily be taking place long before 'The Phantom Menace' or long after 'The Rise of Skywalker'.




They could also be happening somewhere outside of established Star Wars space/time. Star Wars is not, as I always attest, a traditional Science Fiction setting. It isn't a What If? exploration of our own reality. It is a Fairy Tale in Space. It's Science Fantasy. Its depictions need not keep an 'accurate' chronicle as one would for real life current events. Star Wars is for spinning adventure yarns and spreading legends of a time long ago, in a far, far away galaxy.

VISIONS tells stories that are both very Star Wars and generally separate from the events and people that make up the fictional history of its universe as we the fans know it. That flexibility and freedom, IMHO, is what Star Wars live action and gaming has been missing. Be assured first and foremost that you are telling a great story and that the story feels like Star Wars. Whether it fits into the overall timeline should be a tertiary concern.  

The VISIONS series (Volume 1 and 2) has inspired me to start working on yet another crazy side project that I definitely don't have time for. More details will be forthcoming once I have a handle on exactly what it is I'm doing but the basic idea is:

A great Star Wars RPG feels like Star Wars. If you want to create a different feel, use a different system and apply its vibe to Star Wars. For example, using Traveller to play Star Wars (as I've tried in the past) adds a level of detail,  texture, and (dare I say) realism that makes the atmosphere of the setting more Science Fiction-y. 

My thought is, 'How do I add more of a mythic, legendary quality to Star Wars?'. I want to focus on the fairy tale aspect I mentioned above. To assist with this I think I need a Fantasy RPG but one that's more interested in emulating folklore and focused on narrative than the typical War Game/Tactical Combat descended games.

What game is that? I've said numerous times in the past that most Fantasy RPGs don't feel particularly fantastic to me. D&D and its ilk, for example, come off as technical, almost scientific, most notably in their names and terminology and the 'naturalistic' way they describe monsters. Not what I'm going for. 

Hmm. I think I might have something...

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Saturday, May 6, 2023

Fourth VISIONS

May the Fourth Be With You! Happy Star Wars Day everybody!

Except that...oops...it's already the 6th. I've running behind dang it! That makes me angry and anger leads to


Hey out there in a galaxy far, far away! Welcome back!

My favorite Star Wars production of the past few years - beloved more than The Mandalorian, Andor, and...well...what else was there to enjoy really? I guess Bad Batch was OK. Hmm. Where was I? Oh yes! - my favorite Star Wars thing has been the Japanese Anime Anthology series called Star Wars VISIONS.

Now we have a Volume 2 and it hits different!


This time out, we're going global

For VISIONS Volume 2 Lucasfilm has assembled a Jedi Order of animation studios from 9 separate countries. Nine individual episodes by studios from Chile, England, France, India, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, and Spain.  

Check out this line-up:


This is a staggering collection of talent and the results speak for themselves. Be that as it may, I'm going to speak for them anyway! What follows is a mostly 'Spoiler Free' review of each of the episodes by yours truly, pointing out particular elements I found particularly worth noting for one reason or another.

I say mostly Spoiler Free because I will likely mention some basic plot elements of each. If that's too much of a Spoiler for you I totally understand. Go check out the series for yourself and take a look at this after you're done.

Cool? Great! Let's continue on then shall we?

I will be doing a follow up post that will DEFINITELY contain Spoilers in the form of key episode details and how they can be applied to Star Wars tabletop gaming. There was a lot of great world building material in these shorts as well as some other stuff that really has the turbines spinning. 

Like I did for the first Volume, I will post my personal rating next to the title of each episode. The rating goes from 1 to 10 where one is Very Bad and ten is Totally Awesome. A 5/10 means it's Meh; it was OK but particularly likeable or unlikeable. 

Title: “Sith” (8.5/10)


Studio: El Guiri (Madrid, Spain)

Writer/Director: Rodrigo Blaas

I loved this one and in some ways it is my favorite of Volume 2. Like 'The Duel', the first entry in Volume 1, this is a visually dazzling tale that centers around a Sith protagonist. I find it interesting, perhaps even odd, that both Volumes of VISIONS open with such distinct, artistic shorts. It is very cool don't get me wrong and gets your attention right away but it handicaps all the ones that follow. The rest of the series rarely meets or tops the pure aesthetic spectacle of these first installments. The remainder all get compared to the first ones and since they're so bold in style and color the others can pale in comparison. An odd choice of placement in my opinion.

That said, I found the character and her story very intriguing. I would love to see more of her and that is high praise indeed.

Title: “Screecher’s Reach” (8.5/10)



Studio: Cartoon Saloon (Kilkenny, Ireland)

Writer: Director: Paul Young

Another one I very much enjoyed was this homage to Irish folklore with a Star Wars twist that I did not see coming. Whereas 'Sith' scores more points for visuals, 'Screecher's Reach' gets brownie points for having an excellent story. Furthermore, it's an excellent story well told. Great voice acting and direction. The art is quite charming and the animation is good this one is really about the narrative. 

The ending, which I will not discuss here (just go watch it) is definitely one of its great strengths and drummed up thoughts in me that I go into in greater depth in a follow up post. Most profound. 

Title: “In the Stars” (7.5/10)



Studio: Punkrobot (Santiago, Chile)

Writer/Director: Gabriel Osorio

An intriguing aspect of Volume 2 is that many of the entries seem to take place around the time of the Galactic Civil War and battle of the Rebels against the Empire. This is definitely true of this episode and yet it seems to take place in a timeless period of desperation independent of the greater Rebellion. This story occurs in that eternal dark place of struggle between indigenous peoples and greedy foreign invaders.

The art style, a form of Stop Motion/Claymation is a cool choice and the designs are awesome but in the context of the overall series I found it peculiar how many of the episodes used this sort of art. It made the episode feel, at least to me, less unique and special than it could have, though still excellent. 

Title: “I Am Your Mother” (7/10)



Studio: Aardman (Bristol, England, U.K.)

Director: Magdalena Osinska

As a huge Wallace and Grommit fan I was ecstatic to learn that Aardman would be participating in this new season of VISIONS. The episode itself was charming, humorous, and even a bit irreverent. I liked it very much. At the same time, I can't help but feel it wasn't as great as it could have been. I hate to feel this way but there is just something missing from the episode that could have put it over the top. I can't put my finger on what. I almost feel like they should have leaned even harder to everything that did but shortened each sequence making it all funnier and punchier.

Some of the background alien and droid designs are really cool and I wish we'd gotten to see more of them up close. Overall a positive and hard-warming short worthy of a few chuckles.

Title: “Journey to the Dark Head” (7.5/10)




Studio: Studio Mir (Seoul, South Korea)

Director: Hyeong Geun Park

The entry that most resembles the first Volume in both its look and narrative is 'Journey to the Dark Head'. The art, animation, and narrative are cool but the dialogue, voice acting, and character development were a tad weak and as such the episode wasn't executed to its fullest. I would what the original Korean dub sounded like if indeed there was one. 

One thing I found intriguing about this short was its setting, which seems like it could take place in canon or perhaps a bit beyond it. It postulates an interesting 'era' of the Star Wars universe, possibly one akin to the Old Republic. It could also be taking place further into the past or far into Star Wars' future (like Volume 1's 'Ninth Jedi').

Title: “The Spy Dancer” (8.5/10)




Studio: Studio La Cachette (Paris, France)

Writer/Director: Julien Chheng

'Sith' may be my favorite episode but the one that impressed me most was actually 'The Spy Dancer'. A well crafted and suitably melodramatic work of espionage fiction (Spy Opera?) that I must say felt quintessentially French. 

The look of it, the characters, the plot were all engaging, exciting, melancholy, and practically perfect. The pacing was spot on and the ending just magnificent. It also feels like you get a lot of it for its runtime. Another entry to Volume 2 that I would very much like to see continue. There is definitely room for more of this story. 

It doesn't hurt that the main protagonist reminded me of my friend Lynn's character, Kashpa

Title: “The Bandits of Golak” (6.5/10)



Studio: 88 Pictures (Mumbai, India)

Director: Ishan Shukla

It is a difficult to give a review of this one. I found myself wanting to like it more than I did and make no mistake, I thought it was interesting and quite well done. The look of it is beautiful, with a fascinating depiction of the culture of a far off planet inspired by Indian history, fashion, mythology, and architecture.

Unfortunately, the design and CGI animation are remarkably similar to the latter seasons of the Clone Wars, especially in the way they depicted some of the technology and alien species. Almost a little too much so. The villain of this one is one of the most menacing I've seen from a design standpoint but he didn't amount to being especially dangerous.

The biggest weakness of this episode for me is the young girl character. She is portrayed as either much younger and less mature than images makes her out to be or she's simply very foolish, bratty, and even dumb. Her personality and attitude made the finale feel undeserved. It was as if the dim and self-concerned were rewarded with enlightenment while the steadfast and pure-hearted is left behind, which didn't feel quite right for an Indian folktale. It just didn't work for me. 

Title: “The Pit” (6/10)


Studios: D’art Shtajio (Tokyo, Japan) and Lucasfilm Ltd. (San Francisco, California, USA)

Writer/Director/Executive Producer: LeAndre Thomas and Co-Director: Justin Ridge

My least favorite of Volume 2, this short simply didn't make a lot of sense to me. I mean I got what they were going for, what they wanted to say but too much of it is just 'Assume this all works the way we say it does, OK?'.

A lot of the episode shows how terrible the Empire is, how they don't value Human life, and how little they care about those who they used to achieve their ends. Then in one sequence a group of Stormtroopers with Blasters don't open fire on an incoming rich people attempting to free the mistreated because...unknown. None reason is given for this. The episode has a lot of that. You can't climb out of the titular Pit until...one guy can. Why? He can. 

The art and animation on this one was fine, a bit underwhelming actually, but the real issue is the writing and direction. Maybe it was rushed.

Title: “Aau’s Song” (8/10)




Studio: Triggerfish (Cape Town, South Africa)

Writer/Directors: Nadia Darries and Daniel Clarke

The final short is the extremely endearing 'Aau's Song', which I really liked a lot. It's just the kind of story that is very much in my wheelhouse. It doesn't have a villain, doesn't feature any battles, but it has wonderful world building, a breath-takingly beautiful setting, great character designs, and shows what can be done with the Star Wars universe without wars and stars. I mean, I love me some stellar battles but its nice to focus in on a distant world doing a neat thing every once in a while to say, "this too is Star Wars".

Another Stop Motion Animation project, this one distinguishes itself with its puppet-like figures, brilliant colors, and amazing backgrounds. I want to play a Korbian in a Star Wars game now. 

Korbian? Korban? Korbaian? Oh well.

Those are my reviews, such as they are. Excited to share further thoughts and ideas brought on my this series.

See you soon,

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