by Adam Esquenazi Douglas
Hey, Unrealtors! Time for another entry in The Jackie Brown Effect. You can find my first entry in the series here.
For those unfamiliar, in this series I take the (arguably) perfect pop culture property and compare it to its follow-up to see whether or not it exceeds, equals, or fails its predecessor.
Ready? Let’s talk about nothing.
SEINFELD VS. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
If I could actually come up with something new and revelatory to say about the most famous sitcom of all time, I’d start writing my thoughts in stone rather than on my laptop. You all know it. Everyone loved it. It was the number one show on television, spawned countless quotes: “I’m king of the castle,” “He took it out,” “Mulva?”, “I’M COSMO KRAMER, THE ASSMAN!” amongst soooooo many others, and was a complete revolution in terms of what could be done with televised comedy and tv in general.
I’ve seen every episode. Twice. And I still laugh my balls off.
The unsung hero of the series was a neurotic comedian that, at the time, was relatively unheard: Larry David. While making the occasional cameo here and there (and unforgettably voicing George Steinbrenner), David staying mostly behind the scenes with pen in hand and a shockingly tight understanding of effective story structure. Through the confluence of precision storytelling, sublime comedy, and arguably the best main cast in television history, lighting was stuffed deep into a bottle and the world was a better place when you turned on the tube.
When you go out number one, more often than not whatever you follow up with is a big ol’ number two.
Well, curb your enthusiasm to cast Larry David’s follow-up into the trash.
Curb Your Enthusiasm starred Larry David playing a fictionalized version of himself awash in a world of misunderstandings and general discomfort. David translated his airtight story structure skills to the show and what resulted was what we always wanted from Seinfeld but never could get due to network television restraints.
The argument could be made that the constraints of NBC forced the Seinfeld team to work even harder and thus their efforts are more commendable, and certainly that would be valid. But still, the unfiltered version of Seinfeld we got out of Curb is still just so scrumptious. Seinfeld managed to make Frogger funny. Curb got laughs out of the Holocaust. That’s skill, folks.
While Curb is certainly not the sensation that Seinfeld was in terms of power and viewers, you must remember that TV was still pretty primitive in terms of available content. Curb came out in a world where cable was common, and services like Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube were on the horizon, further dividing up viewership.
But hey, that doesn’t take anything away from the quality of the show, and Larry and co. (and especially Leon. Oh, Leon.) deserve to share the spotlight with the best that Kramerica Industries ever put out.
I watch Seinfeld when its on. I seek out Curb.
DEXTER’S LAB VS. SAMURAI JACK
While now a definite powerhouse in terms of cable entertainment, there was a period when Cartoon Network was still a scrapping youngster amidst a sea of struggling stations trying to find their way in the world of airwaves.
These were pioneer days, and while not every Mike, Lu, and Og or I Am Weasel were able to make it all the way to Oregon, several saw the light of the west coast in bright, beautiful rays.
And in my opinion, none deserved the honor more than Dexter’s Lab.
Dexter’s Lab was a quirky (quarky? Given the science of it? Hello? Where you guys going?), madcap misadventure smorgasbord featuring (inexplicably European-accented) child prodigy Dexter, his unstable sister Dee-Dee, a super-powered monkey named Monkey, and a laboratory as endless as it was imaginative. The show was presented in a vignettey style with each episode broken down into three easily digestible, totally bananas, and absolutely hilarious adventures with Dexter and family and sometimes branching out into fan favorites like the previously mentioned Monkey and, my personal favorite, The Justice Friends.
The show was a pretty rapid departure from most current cartoons. There were no morals or lessons or, to be perfectly honest, safe behavior presented. Instead the show was fun, funny, and was there to entertain through and through. It brought to mind the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes. With a lot of network cartoons taking a more soft-edged, Disneyesque approaching, it was wonderfully refreshing as a kid to have a cartoon be a cartoon.
Dexter was a hit and lasted many seasons and taught an entire generation the true fun of the phrase “Omelette du fromage.”
When Dexter’s Lab creator Genndy Tartakovsky revealed his next project the response was…a bit muddled.
Samurai Jack was a stoic, dark, and often epic cartoon featuring a quiet protagonist lost in time and known throughout the dystopian lands as simply Jack. The show was known for extended, thrilling action sequences with Jack showcasing deft swordsmanship against the cybernetic and alien allies of the series antagonist: Aku. While lighthearted at times, for the most part Samurai Jack was an austere, thoughtful, and, like its protagonist, meditative program.
There certainly wasn’t a hyperactive blonde girl in a tutu mucking things up.
If you go into Jack expecting another Dexter, you’re in for a disappointment. If you go into Jack expecting another groundbreaking, purely entertaining, and not-at-all pandering piece of cartoon entertainment, you’ll not just be happy, you’ll be happier.
Samurai Jack is one of my absolute favorite examples of an artist’s maturation process. You can see so clearly everything Genndy (man, that’s an odd name) learned from his time experimenting in the laboratory realized so viscerally and thrillingly in Samurai Jack. The best of the best episodes of Dexter’s Laboratory were all jam-packed together in this new show not just once or a few times, but every time.
Samurai Jack showed us that lightning can strike twice and also not just be more of the same. Samurai Jack showed us that talent is always the safest bet, and that artists who prove themselves deserve to be trusted. Samurai Jack showed us that cartoons can do so much more, and be as animate as any of us.
IRON MAN VS. IRON MAN 2
Like The Avengers? How about those Nolan Bat-flicks? How about the whole comic book movie movement in general? You got one dude to thank: Tony Stark.
I hear you, don’t worry. Blade paved the way! And the first X-Men movie! And Batman Begins came out firrrrrrrrrst! I know, guys. I know. But look, I liked those movies, too, and think they’re great, but love did not blossom for the movie going population at large, and then later created Marvel Studios and then led to this comic-to-film phenomenon we’re all in the middle of until RDJ became Shellhead. Sure, I enjoyed Bale’s Bat and Hugh’s Logan, but I loved Rob’s Tony.
Iron Man paved a lot of ways in terms of moviemaking and comic adaptations, and has spawned quite the cult of personality. The Avengers really should’ve been named Tony and Friends, with Iron Man stealing all the scenes, and, hell, he saves the day in the end. It was a hit, its spawned hits, and, of course, it had a sequel.
Iron Man 2 continued the adventures of an open-to-the-public Tony Stark happily showcasing his new gig as superhero prime of planet Earth, jet-setting in red and gold across the globe, smiling at every camera flash. But somewhere far and dark and cold away, Ivan Vanko found a way to replicate the much-coveted arc reactor technology and become an iron man for hire. Or so we think, at least.
We all saw the movie and we all know that the real Men of Iron win the day. But what about the movie itself? It was certainly much less traditional. Tony spent way more time out of armor than within, and with all the typical origin story tropes out of the way, the film got to spend a little bit more time spreading its iron wings and going down sidestreets of storytelling most super-flicks shy away from.
But while it was still super fun and pretty super funny, Iron Man 2 didn’t feel as sturdy as its ferrous predecessor. While I’d love a whole movie with Robert Downey Jr. just playing Tony Stark without so much as a bit of repulsor beam, the films more loosey-goosey approach left us with a different, sure, but less effective flick. It’s unique and experimental, but sometimes such science leaves us with unintended results.
Iron Man 2 isn’t a bad sequel by any means, but there’s a reason it wasn’t as universally loved as the original flick, or as financially successful as its follow up. They were trying something, which I applaud. But sometimes you just never forget your first.
And that’s it, Unrealtors. Agree? Disagree? Suggestions for the next entry in the Jackie Brown Effect? Let’s hear it! SERENITY NOW!
Adam Esquenazi Douglas is a playwright who was born in Texas, grew up in Arkansas, was raised by a Jewish man and a Cuban woman, and, somehow, he doesn’t have an accent.
He is co-host of two podcasts, The JimmyJew Podcast Extravaganza and Schmame Over, which can be found at http://jimmyjew.libsyn.com/ and http://schmameover.libsyn.com/ respectively, as well as on iTunes. He is a contributing writer to www.GamersSchmamers.com.
He currently lives in Brooklyn where he drinks far too much coffee.