jonathan strange & mr norrell, episode 6: the black tower
WARNING — If you think that criticism is disreputable, and that there should only be one opinion upon English Magic, you should skip this post.
BBC America’s broadcast of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell made it to #94 out of 100 original cable programs last Saturday, and lost almost half of Orphan Black’s already-small audience and over 65,000 viewers versus last week’s episode, for a total of 275,000. It was again thrashed by infomercials, Fox & Friends, and many different (and terrible-looking) anime shows.
What do you think is up next for darvey? Do you see them getting together eventually? Or is Harvey just gonna move on? Also do you think he could hook up with his shrink?
If they have him moving on then I think it’s a huge waste of their throughline since at least the end of season 1. But, if they have them move on then I’d like them to be back working together. I’m not sure how that could work. But I think that Jessica hit the nail on the head, when even she pointed out that he wouldn’t come back to the firm without her.
She means something to him.
I think she’s his talisman.
What I’d like is for him to realise the whole thing, tell her. Them sleep together once, but then they decide to make ‘an agreement’ of sorts about the future. I think…
As for the shrink, that’s bit ridiculous. I think it’s just rumour because it’s heavily unethical.
“Cinco Insurance advertises their “Balls Insurance” plan. Eric sends Tim an ornamental hot dog after finding out he is dying of “Limp Lip”. Channel 5 celebrates Steve Brule’s 10 year broadcasting anniversary. Pierre teaches children how to dance. Tim and Eric write a jingle for Rolos.”
JOSH: There are two three-parters in this episode, the one that the wiki calls “introduction” and the story of Tim’s Limp-Lip. Even though “introduction” is the one that actually opens and closes the episode and gets us into the credits, I think that “Limp-Lip” is really the throughline here. “Introduction” has basically nothing to it but bronzer and squandered potential.
HARRISON: I agree that introduction doesn’t really hit the right notes. It has a lot of things that I think Tim and Eric really capture splendidly later in other places. The sweaty gleaming skin, the faux austere music and intro, the empty dialogue to the point of saying nothing. It’s all just a tepid send up of Hollywood ritziness.
JOSH: But “Limp lip” is the sketch that ties the episode together. On the DVD commentary Tim mentions that this is their first foray into making sketches that don’t look bad on purpose - he points out the dolly shots, the lighting, etc. This is a format that they’ll dip into with varying success over the course of the series. It ends with a perfect tie-in to “Doo Dah Doo Doo” with Pierre appearing in a PSA about not letting meat go bad.
I love “limp lip” because of the third-act turn that Tim is faking his limp lip just to rake in the free sympathy snacks. It doesn’t really end up bringing us anywhere important, but it is a nice development.
HARRISON: You mentioned that they didn’t want to make this sketch look bad on purpose and immediately upon watching it I noticed the 16:9 ratio. A big change as for quite a while in the show, everything is 4:3.
JOSH: It’s gotta be “Doo Dah Doo Doo.” Right? Nobody could argue that anything else is funnier or better.
HARRISON: I do love Pierre so I do have to give it to “Doo Dah Doo Doo” but I also think Brule really found his stride so quickly that it’s at least a tie.
JOSH: Fair, but I think you could argue that “Doo Dah Doo Doo” is one of the series’ Top 10 funniest sketches. Maybe it’s too early to make that claim, but “Think about your dad” is absolutely still part of my lexicon. I don’t think Steve Brule’s sketch is even a top-10 Brule moment.
HARRISON: “Whore’s Milk” is pretty awful and overstays it’s very short welcome. It’s not that it’s gross, it’s that it just doesn’t carry much behind that idea of being gross and intentionally uncouth.
JOSH: I know it’s dangerous territory to make this kind of evaluative statement, but “Whore’s Milk” is more gross than funny. Tim and Eric in general, and “Awesome Show” in particular, have a complicated relationship with gross-out humor. They often go for grossness but approach it where the joke goes beyond just something being disgusting. “Whore’s Milk” absolutely does not go beyond just listing awful-sounding features of milk and ending it there. Compare that to other gross jokes, even from this episode. I’m thinking particularly of the nasty hot dog that Eric sends Tim. There’s some disgusting stuff going on there, like Eric smearing relish on his palms and applying it to the hot dog by hand (not to mention the whole concept of mailing someone a cooked and fully loaded-up hot dog) but the joke there isn’t just how gross the hot dog looks, it’s the absurdity of lovingly crafting someone an ornamental hot dog as a symbol of friendship. Whore’s Milk doesn’t do anything besides being gross.
HARRISON: I’ll say that the Married News Team / Brule moment has some really great edits between when he runs out of the shot and when Jan tells the crew to cut it on the graphics. This technique is shown in the first one and is something that becomes really important to Steve Brule is as a character. Yes, it’s a rip on public access and and the amatuer nature of it, but I think it’s a bit more. It’s pure frenetic uncertainty. This sketch as well as every Limp Lip intro has a lot of the picture in picture walking or flipping away. All the little animations / After Effect smudges, which in my head I always associate with Doug Lussenhop, bring me back to how much of Tim and Eric is just screwing around. Whether it’s After Effects or some other video manipulation software there always seem to be countless options. A lot of the time some sketches are ended with what really turns out to just be an option from a dropdown menu. For me, it’s almost like an inside joke for video nerds.
JOSH: You mention it in passing above but I want to give special attention to the transitions from sketches back into “Limp Lip.” Each time we return to “Limp Lip,” the previous sketch shrinks down into a small picture-in-picture box and that box interacts with the exterior shot of the house in some way. They’re all brilliant but particularly the one where the previous sketch jumps off the roof. That stuff isn’t just an After Effects default animation, it’s put together frame by frame, and it totally works.
JOSH: We already get our second encounter with Steve and the Married News Team. They feel more established in this episode than in the first one, with Steve’s exquisite panic attack after having his world turned upside down by Jan and Wayne’s trick. I really would have liked to see Steve’s full report on cool cars.
HARRISON: The way Jan and Wayne sidle up to Steve is also perfect. Are they super close to the screen and need to slide in behind Steve? Do they always move like this? Much like the guy who spins after he punches the man in the “Balls Insurance” sketch at the top, these weird moves are really special. Whether scripted, directed, or just an acting choice those moments are entirely bizarre and throw everything off. We also just get a hint of Steve’s affection for Jan.
JOSH: I don’t agree with that - in fact, I noticed that Steve gives an uncharacteristic amount of love to Wayne in this episode. As the series goes on, Wayne becomes primarily an obstacle in the way of Steve’s romantic pursuit of Jan. That three-way dynamic is one of my favorite series-long arcs.
HARRISON: I’ll also use this section to point out that this episode has our first Jon Mugar sighting. Jon is a producer on the show who sometimes shows up when they need a quick shot of an everyman. Here he’s got hot dogs in his mouth. I find his natural resting face pretty hilarious. One time I saw Jon where I was working and I awkwardly approached him and I think I just asked if he worked with Tim and Eric. He kindly just said yes and I left it to that.
JOSH: This might just be wishful thinking, but those kind of look like Tofu Pups to me. We see another soon-to-be-familiar face with Ron Stark, the exceedingly normal-looking guy (“Prance Stuard”) who takes the punch to the nuts from the tornado dwarf. He’s one of Awesome Show’s heaviest-hitting background faces.
HARRISON: Well, I never thought I’d see the phrase tornado dwarf in my life so I can die happy now.
JOSH: The show experiments here with a pretty different style than what we saw in “Dads.” There are a bunch of 5-10 second blackout interstitial sketches here that, in my opinion, totally don’t work. “Balls,” “Bloody balls,” and “Whore’s Milk” overstay their welcome, which is saying something for jokes that are 3 seconds long. Which is interesting because I have a very distinct memory in high school of watching the episode on my computer so that I could take a screenshot of “Balls” and set it as my desktop background. Knowing where the show will go from here, though, these jokes feel lazy and “OMG Random!” to me.
HARRISON: I think what makes a lot of the “Balls” so “OMG Random” is that they don’t ever really tie back into Cinco Balls Insurance. Cinco has so many great products so it is odd that they don’t advertise their Balls Insurance more.
Also it’s been almost a week since I watched this episode for the write up and I still have “Rolo Tony Brown Town” stuck in my head so take that for what you will.
JOSH: I agree - missed opportunity with the Balls Insurance. Luckily for us, the show quickly moves away from this tone and from that style of humor. Even more luckily for us, “Rolo Tony Brown Town” is just the beginning of catchy T&E music.
Stuff changed from the original version: - Originally, I was trying my best to be faithful to the comics and include Snowbird as a character. Unfortunately, once I cut all the terrible/racist canon stuff, there wasn’t much left to her. Instead, this time I put Heather in that spot, which gives her more to do (besides having awesome joke t-shirts). I think Heather’s great, so this tactic should be more fun for the story.
- I am not pulling any punches this time about epilepsy. I added a fair bit of material to (I hope) get this across better.
- a little more elaboration/throughline on the topic of anarchy/nonviolence. X-Men has always been a very rich ‘verse for exploring themes of how violence and activism do or don’t fit together, most iconically with the Xavier/Magneto divide. I wanted to muddy those waters by depicting some more extreme views (full-on pacifism, for one) and treating all the angles with as much sympathy as possible.