Recommendations, 2/1

Jane Hu

Nick Kroll’s Kroll Show was renewed for a second season this week, and if you aren’t watching it, it’s probably because you haven’t yet been inoculated into the glorious world of Kroll’s comedy. Known especially for his character work, Kroll has created a new cast of personas in Kroll Show, while also embodying previously established roles, such as Fabrice Fabrice and Aspen (played alongside John Daly’s Wendy) of “Rich Dicks.” My recommendation on Where To Start With Nick Kroll, however, would be with Bobby Bottleservice, aka BobbyB. Of all the sketch comedians that ever did character work, Kroll’s BobbyB might be the most accurate in portraying a type:

Internet ladies, wassup! Like, umm, can I axx you a question? Umm, do you date me? Because like um no offense, but like you’re very beautiful. I mean no disrespect because I respect you.

Here’s Bobby (real name Robert Bruscha) videochatting with Farley (Chelsea Peretti): 

But there’s more where that came from.

Darryl Campbell

Seattle’s police department had a gun buyback event where they exchanged over $68,000 in gift cards for just over 700 guns. Plus one Stinger anti-aircraft missile launcher, gently used.

I can just feel it: this is all a grand metaphor. Maybe for the American fascination with guns. After all, it featured vendors hanging out on the edge of legality, a police department that leaned heavily on public and corporate cooperation to do its job, and, it must be said, one poor guy with a genuine interest in military curios who got caught in the middle of it. Or maybe just for Seattle, in the way that this whole incident played out politely and many Amazon gift cards exchanged hands.

In any case, I for one am happier knowing that there is one less Stinger launcher out there in the streets of Seattle.

Jonathan Gourlay

This week I have been trying to figure out why action RPG knock-off Torchlight II is so much better than the real-deal, Diablo III. I wanted to do a fresh comparison, but Diablo‘s copy-protection scheme involves having a profile on battle.net. Trying to log-on to battle.net after an absence of nearly a year is as tough as getting back with an ex-lover while simultaneously doing your tax return. Authentication required remembering the name of my second pet. As a child, I had a string of budgies, hamsters, and fish who croaked with gruesome regularity and so which one I think of as my “second” changes upon the whims of an aging memory. So I had to create a new battle.net profile to play my old game. All told, it took me twenty minutes just to start playing and in the process I lost the character I originally slashed through the story with (so long Basilikiss the Barbarian.) I’m no copyright radical, but it is true that a pirated version of Diablo III would have been more consumer friendly than the one I shelled out $60 bucks for. So here’s what’s great about Torchlight II: it works. It’s a quality genre exercise that loads and plays in under a minute with no fuss. There are spells, classes, treasure, familiars, quests, and a skippable plot that lets you get right into the “click-click-click run-away and heal” action. Plus, Torchlight II costs one-third of the list price of Diablo III.

My experience with battle.net dowsed some of the joy I felt in play testing the beta of Electronic Art’s new iteration of SimCity. I’m happy to say that the game mechanic feels both fresh and familiar. (Yes, there are llamas.) However, SimCity requires a player account in EA’s authentication/data-mining service Origin and a constant internet connection. So your experience will depend upon EA’s servers not getting clogged with players (and of course, your own wifi.) EA was recently voted worst company in America, so what could go wrong? Somewhere, SimCity originator Will Wright is spinning in his piles of money.

Nick Martens

I thought Instagram was dumb when I first saw it, so I’m not gonna guess whether Vine will take off or not. But that doesn’t really matter because the most important thing about Vine is that it’s genuinely innovative and super fun.

Made by some Twitter folks, Vine is an iPhone app that lets you take and post 6 seconds of video. The capture interface is designed to make trendy quick cuts simple, giving the videos a slick stylistic identity.

Here’s why I love Vine: for as easy as the videos are to make, they’re surprisingly creatively satisfying. Once I got what the cuts were all about, it instantly spun up the storytelling part of my brain. I’ve never shot videos before, but just from a lifetime of exposure, the patterns of filmmaking are imprinted on how I think. So when I saw three nearly identical Camrys parked next to each other at work yesterday, in a second I knew how to stitch four shots together into a cheesy setup/punchline bit (which I apparently can’t link to unless I tweet it, so thumbs down for that). I’m not saying it was a mindblowing short film or anything, but it turned out exactly how it looked in my head, and that pleases me.

If you check out Vinepeek (the spawning of which may be the greatest thing Vine ever accomplishes), you’ll see lots of other people following the storytelling instinct. I watched one where we saw a shot of a chipotle menu, then several quick takes of ingredients being added to a burrito bowl. It was an utterly mundane slice of life, preserved so perfectly.

I think they’re onto something with this one.

Kevin Nguyen

I’ve read Wesley Morris’s Grantland essay on 30 Rock‘s subversive identity politics twice now. It’s an extraordinary piece of criticism that explores how the show consistently and intelligently confronts race, submits a broader survey of disappointly “post-racial” television, and also functions as an homage to the show:

In one of the all-time best half-hours of television, Liz assumes that Tracy can’t read. But he’s actually just exploiting her white liberal guilt to get time off work. When she tells Pete (Scott Adsit) that Tracy’s either illiterate or slacking, he calls her a racist. But she knows Tracy is working her white guilt, which is only to be used for “tipping and voting for Barack Obama.” Part of the show’s innovation was the way whiteness was as much up for discussion as blackness. Jack Donaghy doesn’t see the color of his skin as a race so much as a class. He grew up Irish-Catholic in the slums of Boston, went to Princeton and Harvard Business School, and arrogantly votes Republican. He’s come into his whiteness just as John Houseman in those old Smith Barney ads would have wanted him to: He’s earned it.

Ben Bateman

I began watching Women, an LA-based sketch group without women, after getting sucked in by their latest opus, “Look at Allen.” I was instantly charmed by their absurdist anti-comedy.

Comedians always fights fatigue from user over-consumption. Once you’ve inundated yourself with enough sitcoms, standup sets, podcasts, and movies, their structures begin to feel obvious and dull; even a half-attentive listener knows that a setup on the first beat necessitates a punchline on beat two. While the expectation doesn’t always kill the humor, it dulls the edge and can leave a viewer bored. Comedians have to work hard to reach consumers who effectively immunized themselves, and the best do so with completely new material or a radical approach to the old.

While Women doesn’t always hit this high note, its best sketches are hilarious because they go to these weird places. If you were to break down the premise of any given sketch, it would seem just off-putting. But the execution somehow gets the job done. Take “Interiors,” in which 3 men have sex with a house, or “Cancer,” which is as dumb as it is hilarious. The surprising strength of these videos is a reminder of how effective it can be to abandon a form rather than working to perfect it.

I am going to go to bed and cry now.