My favorite running gag on a current TV show isn’t a genius one-liner or a clever turn of phrase—it’s a costuming decision. At the end of Fresh Off The Boat’s second season premiere, Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) and his friends show up for the first day of seventh grade intent on impressing their classmates with rip-roaring summer vacation anecdotes and flashy back-to-school clothes. Eddie sweats his way through a lie about hammerhead sharks, Trent (Trevor Larcom) dons a Cleveland Browns Starter jacket, and Dave (Evan Hannemann) holds his broken arm in the best way to display the cast’s lone, gigantic signature: “Buzz Aldrin.” And then, the kicker: Brian (Dash Williams) jumps into frame wearing a canary yellow zoot suit, shouting “Smokin’!” and other dialogue from The Mask. It’s a painfully resonant scene for anyone who wasted the ’90s trying to gain the approval of their peers by aping Jim Carrey, but it’s also the first instance of a surprisingly resilient Fresh Off The Boat sight gag. Like the Browns jacket—which Trent has worn all season, even when it was in danger of camouflaging his extreme Janet Jackson fandom—The Mask costume keeps on turning up: Its appearance in the show’s Halloween episode was a given, but its inclusion in a slo-mo intimidation montage set to “Regulate” in a later episode wasn’t. Entertainment set in earlier decades lives and dies on its commitment to period wardrobe, but this is tweaking onto a whole new level: costume as catchphrase. Kudos to Fresh Off The Boat for seeking out methods of telling jokes that don’t involve the literal telling of jokes. It is, in a word, ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssmokin’! [Erik Adams]
I’m not a big Doctor Who fan. I like it in theory; the long history, the big ideas, the weird characters. But I’ve always found the show’s pre-revival material too slow, stagy, and old-fashioned, and the new series too supremely satisfied with itself. Having established my Who-curmudgeon bona fides, then, I want to do an about-face and stump for the best Doctor Who book I’ve ever read, despite the fact that it was never legally allowed to carry that name on its cover: Lawrence Miles’ The Book Of The War. Part of Miles’ Faction Paradox imprint (an unofficial spin-off of the Doctor Who novels, whose convoluted publishing history I won’t bother to bore you with), The Book (which is full of little nods to the wider Who universe, but blissfully unburdened by the need for continuity) is presented as an encyclopedia of an ongoing war between “The Great Houses” (i.e., The Time Lords), and an unnamed enemy, with various side players, including the Faction—renegade time traveling voodoo priests whose founder may or may not be a time-lost version of The Doctor—watching from the sidelines.
In case it wasn’t clear, this is a crazy book, a meta-fictional piece of beauty on par with John Hodgman’s Complete World Knowledge almanacs or the oddness of The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide To Eccentric And Discredited Diseases. The narrative shifts from entry to entry, forcing the reader to bounce around as they follow the 10 or so story threads that make up the bulk of the book; it’s essentially hypertext fiction done in an analog format, a neat trick that wouldn’t be half as interesting if the stories it sketches out weren’t so full of rich, meaty ideas. There’s The City Of The Saved, the heaven-like, nigh-infinite metropolis that all of humanity wakes up in after the end of the universe; the story of the Faction’s attempt to go Hollywood, complete with macabre rituals and a literal Production Hell; and even a living entity, The Shift, that grabs control of the narrative any time the reader’s interest flags. And while the book offers little in the way of conclusions (it’s meant as an introduction to the wider Faction Paradox universe), that just makes the breadcrumbs even more alluring, offering up a sense of wonder, and weird, brilliant cleverness that a million sonic screwdrivers or references to fezzes couldn’t match. [William Hughes]
When it came time for me to look for a job and start interviewing after years of freelancing and part-timing, I had to up my game. New shoes, outfits, haircut, manicure—and my everyday bag was in really sad shape (beaten up, stained, holes). Fortunately, the shops in my neighborhood carried a line of bags by Matt & Nat, which came in a variety of colors in versions that were roomy enough to fit all of my many belongings (like my laptop, and several copies of my resume). I went with a sky-blue saddlebag that is somehow still neutral enough for me to use almost every day. And I just recently discovered that this wonderful line of bags is vegan. The sturdy outside looks like but is not actually leather, and the lining that I now know is made out of recycled plastic bottles does not have a single hole after more than a year. I’m not going to say that the bag got me the job but… here I sit, typing away, my lovely Matt & Nat bag at my feet, looking as good as the day I bought it. [Gwen Ihnat]