Culture

Halloween Horror Nights

FX’s smash hit horror series American Horror Story is finally coming to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights

For fans of Halloween and live scares, Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights is as good as it gets. Held at both Universal’s Orlando and Hollywood theme parks in the United States, the annual event kicks off in mid-September. And for fans of American Horror Story like me, Universal’s recent announcement that Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology series would join this year’s lineup on both coasts provided the bloody cherry on top of a very awesome sundae.

Held until the last possible moment, the American Horror Story announcement comes after months (years) of speculation as to when Horror Nights would tackle the ratings and awards giant. The AHS house will contain scenes from three seasons of the series: Season 1’s Murder House, Season 4’s Freak Show, and Season 5’s Hotel. For those familiar with the event, the possibilities seem endless. Imagine being chased by the Rubber Man into the basement of the Murder House. Imagine the gory and grotesque freaks on display as Twisty the Murdering Clown pops out at you around every corner. Imagine the incredible set design as you attend Hotel‘s season-closing fashion show. Okay, maybe not that, but you get the idea.

Halloween Horror Nights features a combination of mostly pre-sold intellectual property and new scares. Universal spends millions of dollars assembling “houses” on its soundstages filled with actors trained to spot the weak and easy prey to scare the living shit out of them. It’s bloody, scary, great fun if you’re of the right persuasion.

In addition to American Horror Story, Universal Orlando’s lineup includes nods to KrampusThe Texas Chainsaw MassacreHalloween, and The Exorcist among others. Universal Hollywood’s event will include largely the same intellectual property plus Freddy vs. Jason.

For more information on both events, please check out the Orlando and Hollywood websites.

Man Seeking Woman

Both FXX’s Man Seeking Woman and the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deal with mental illness. But one does it better.

Early on in the pilot of CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) is shown dumping her prescriptions down the sink of her West Covina house with a smug smile on her face. I remember watching this moment with hope the show would explore more character complexity like this and not be reduced to a one-note musical.

Instead, after watching more than half a dozen episodes, I discovered the show to be the overly-attached-girlfriend meme come to life.

fxx man seeking woman

While the show does make great strides when it comes to diversity (Filipino love interests, bisexuality), the show does little for the “crazy” behind its female lead. It’s mostly hard-to-watch episodes of Rebecca humiliating herself, supporting a stereotype without much depth (although Clarence lauded her “You Stupid Bitch” scene as a watershed moment).

Just around the time I bought my ticket out of West Covina and Rebecca Bloom’s story,  I started watching FXX’s Man Seeking Woman. Starring Jay Baruchel, Eric Andre, and the fantastic Britt Lower, MSW follows your run-of-the-mill dating and 20-something Millennial storylines, but through funny goggles. For example, in the first episode of the series, Josh’s sister Liz sets him up with a troll. For real. What I love about this show is that despite its highly absurd moments, it feels like a more accurate depiction of modern dating and, compared to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, mental illness.

Granted, none of the characters in MSW claim to be crazy or suffer from anxiety or depression, but so much of the show feels like it’s shot through that lense. When you have anxiety, everything feels heightened as do-or-die. You immediately think the worst, and each week holds a Soup-Du-Jour worry of the moment. That’s a little bit like MSW. Each week is a new episode with a new, outlandish, ultimately insane situation. In the past, Josh has been surgically conjoined to a girlfriend, been bullied to couple up, and attended a wedding, literally, in hell.

fxx man seeking woman

In February 10’s MSW episode titled “Honey,” Josh discovers that his office crush is dating none other than Jesus Christ himself (played affably by Fred Armisen). Non-anxious people would feel pretty crappy about their crush seeing someone else, but through ultra-uptight spectacles, the stakes are even higher. Your crush isn’t just dating a great guy, she’s dating the best great guy of all time. In this case, there’s no way Josh can match Christ (on the reverse, one of his exes also dated Hitler, who he, too, could never live up to).

While it’s doubtful creator Simon Rich designed this show as a spot-on, comedic representation of mental illness, I suspect that he based it on another idea: That dating can make people nutty, and with 50 percent of the population being single, that makes most people fit to be medicated.

When favorite TV series end, the most fervid fans often ask themselves this question: “What other show can I latch onto to fill this void?”

We’re in the Golden Age of television, so even though cultural phenomena like Mad Men ended this year, there’s surely another great drama just around the corner (or already on television, Hulu, Netflix, whatever).

The same cannot be said for E!’s The Soup. When the network revealed in late November that they would not be bringing back Joel McHale and company for episodes in 2016, I asked myself what show I could watch to supplement my weekly dose of reality television and snark, and nothing came to mind.

Sure, there have been copycats (remember Danielle Fishel on Style Network’s The Dish or Chris Hardwick on Web Soup?), but none of these shows lasted because they deviated from what was most crucial to the success of The Soup: biting commentary on the ridiculousness of television. For even though we are in the Golden Age of TV, we also live in an age where Keeping Up with the Kardashians has aired more episodes than critical darlings like 30 Rock (150 to 138).

In many ways, The Soup was a part of the checks-and-balances of the TV world. The networks were the “lawmakers,” or the ones that would greenlight crap like Bad Girls’ Club and Wives with Knives, while The Soup was part of the judicial branch, the people to shake our shoulders and remind us that we had just watched a two-hour block of shows about storage units.

While reality television isn’t as potent as it was 10 or 15 years ago, when Survivor dominated the ratings, it’s more superfluous now. If you do have cable, you can’t change the channel without coming across some sort of reality programming, and The Soup crawled these channels for the worst (Finding Bigfoot), the so-sexually-suggestive-you-can’t-look-away (Gold Rush Alaska), and the blink-and-you-miss-it moments (Spaghetti Cat?).

Tosh.0 may be the closest thing to filling the void, but it doesn’t have the heart of The Soup. After all, when The Soup was supposed to air the night of the Paris terrorist attack, they canceled. In 2008, when Heath Ledger died, they told the paparazzi to leave him and his family alone. For as much poking and prodding as they did to celebrities, they also were respectful of reality.

The Soup was also the one show on E! to keep the network legitimate and real. If you’ve ever caught E! News, you know that it really should be called Kardashian News or Why is this News?. The Soup was the one show that never pandered to the aura of celebrity. Now, without this show on the network, E! has officially cultivated a world of vapid men and women and botched plastic surgery. There’s no counterbalance. Even Chelsea Handler is gone.

I suppose that The Soup was going to end soon anyway, especially since most people don’t have cable anymore, and if you don’t have cable, you’re not able to know these reality TV references or even watch the damn program on E!. So maybe the end of The Soup is the end of an era.

Unfortunately, we’ll still be overrun by unnecessary reality shows. We just won’t have anyone to dish with about it.

American officials are worried that 50,000 Russian troops being massed near the Ukraine border and within Crimea, the pro-Russian peninsula recently annexed by President Vladimir Putin, aren’t there for just a training exercise

Despite Russian reassurances that Moscow’s troop buildup along Ukraine’s eastern frontier is for a military exercise, its growing scale is making U.S. officials nervous about its ultimate aim.

President Barack Obama on Friday urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to pull its troops back to “de-escalate the situation.” He told CBS that the troop buildup may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that [Russia has] additional plans.”

Pentagon officials say they believe there could be close to 50,000 Russian troops bordering the former Soviet republic and inside Crimea, recently seized and annexed by Moscow. That estimate is double earlier assessments, and means Russian President Vladimir Putin could order a lighting strike into Ukrainian territory with the forces already in place. The higher troop count was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“We continue to see the Russian military reinforce units on their side of the border with Ukraine to the south and to the east of Ukraine,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday. “They continue to reinforce and it continues to be unclear exactly what the intent there is.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf played down the notion that there are as many as 100,000 Russian troops now bordering Ukraine, as Olexander Motsyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., said Thursday on Capitol Hill. “I hadn’t actually seen the hundred-thousand number,” Harf said. “There are huge numbers of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. … We are concerned about Russia taking further escalatory steps with whatever number of tens of thousands of troops they have there, and have called on them not to do so.”

Washington got those assurances that the Russian troop buildup was only an exercise from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu a week ago. But no one in the U.S. government knows if Putin agrees — or if the Russian leader has changed his mind as the West has debated what level of economic and political sanctions might be imposed if Moscow takes an additional chunk of Ukraine beyond Crimea. “They made it clear that their intent was to do exercises and not to cross the border,” Kirby said. “Our expectation is they’re going to live up to that word.”

There is no plan to involve the U.S. military in what is happening in Ukraine, even if Russia takes more territory. Ukraine borders Russia, and Ukraine does not belong to NATO, where an attack on one member is deemed to be an attack on all.

“Should the Russians continue to move aggressively in that region and in the Ukraine, what does that mean—and NATO would have to respond, for example—what would that mean for the United States Army?” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, asked the Army’s top officer Thursday.

Three people have died in clashes in the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday, according to medics on the site, in a development that will likely escalate Ukraine’s two-month political crisis.
Inna Goodman
Senior Writer

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