According to the servants of truth and accuracy over at Wikipedia, the phrase “jumping the shark” refers to ” the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery” and/or “a particular scene, episode or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of ‘gimmick’ in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.” If the expression is used, happy days are not being had. It’s usually also a signifier of a program long outliving itself, but in a few select cases is a sign of having utterly incompetent people at the helm (and in even rarer cases, can be an amazing tool which brings about brilliance, much in the case of the greatest vampire program of all time, ANGEL, and it’s best season, S05).  In the curious case of the government employed misfits from Pawnee, IN, no exact situation seems to aptly fit the still somewhat humorous wipeout this show has been rollerskating toward with manic aplomb, and yet this is no longer the same show, the same set of characters, or even a plausible world in which to exist, as a fictitious group of coworkers or as couch spuds. “Shark Week” no longer just applies to that annual event on the Discovery Channel or your monthly flow of raw meatloaf blood, ladies- it’s that thing of when you’re marathoning PARKS AND RECREATION and catch the tail of season three and all of season four within a span of seven days.

Supposing we use Occam’s razor to figure out where the derailment first occurred, one has to look only so far as Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, a slave to ambition so blind she may as well be a headless chicken wearing a race bib. The current deputy director of the parks and recreation department, Leslie has been so gung-ho about anything, everything she happens to feel passionately about that she often finds herself with a foot in her mouth and a problem in hand, there to be saved by her dedicated coworkers. Unlike the show’s network counterpart THE OFFICE, where the boss was a psychopathic sociopath named Michael Scott, who occasionally had moments of sensible clarity and morality, Leslie Knope has always been a well-meaning fighter for justice, comradeship, and playground slides with amble wood chips at the base. And through her meaning well, the hijinks of living in the third fattest city in the nation (which notably has almost no obese people anywhere in sight, ever) and accomplishing the hard tasks have gone to display that despite the dysfunctions of her entire team, they’re good people who know what is important in work, in personal endeavors, in life itself. So why it that Leslie is in a relationship more unhealthy than the one she yearned for with the sorely missed Mark Brendanawicz? Why is Ron Swanson so willing to compromise his beliefs and ideals at every drop of a wildly strewn canopy of hats? Why do these people go to work less often than the characters of FRIENDS? Why is any of this happening?

To answer my own questions, I’d first like to inform you that you are completely wrong when you say that Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt (I’m still profoundly perturbed he deserted his own starring vehicle, the excellent PARTY DOWN, for this) is right for Leslie, that Leslie is right for Ben, or any other insane rumblings you may have because Mary Sue is your life coach. These two characters literally have no direct connection to one another, no mutual attraction to the other person, and are quite literally denying all higher brain functions to be with one another. If you get honest for a moment, they coupled because Ben, tired of traveling so much, felt like an orphan, and came to love the city of Pawnee, for it being comprised of people as mentally disturbed and broken as he is. Leslie Knope, as it just so happens, loves Pawnee to such a horrifying degree that she embodies the city, thus Ben loving Pawnee means that Ben loves Leslie. That’s it. They didn’t connect over some shared series of experiences or by simply thinking the other was sexy- Ben fell for a city out of dysfunction and Leslie fell for the next guy to show her any level of attention (that isn’t Sewage Joe) out of desperation. Hell, Ann and Tom, who have no business even being in the same room together, make more sense than this cockamamie catastrophe. It’s not cute.

Ron Swanson, the mustachioed man with, once upon a time, the muster and might of a missile, may as well be a sentient teddy bear now. In the three seasons prior, his cool, calm, collected demeanor and unwaveringly desert dry wit made his character a cult icon and a veritable poster-boy for all things masculine. So why is he now willing to drop $10,000 to rent a few vans for a few hours, serving both the political ambitions of another, and thus, given the stipulations of Bobby Newport winning, his own, and sinking so low as to line the pockets of someone who means to extort him? Because his mother’s name is Tammy, his first wife’s name is Tammy, his second wife’s name is Tammy, and so is, apparently, every single person in the show’s writers room. You can say the words “character development” until you’re blue in the face and know even less of what it means than you already don’t, but he has completely turned around from his core foundation, all in the service of the writers’ moronic need to make the campaign the season’s primary focus, instead of it being Leslie’s personal arc which others occasionally come into. The Leslie/Ben thing is just wretched writing, but Ron, to cater to the awful writing, is his own shark jump. That man may resemble Ron Swanson, but it’s not him. It hasn’t been him for a long time, my friends.

A few episodes prior to the season finale, coming next week, we saw Aubrey Plaza’s April Ludgate at the office, poorly performing the job of Leslie, who cannot be bothered with her own employment because she’s an egomaniac and is resembling Michael Scott more and more with each passing episode, but is that enough? The show is titled PARKS AND RECREATION, but, as this article title implies, that’s not really the case. Aside from the debacle at the animal shelter, I cannot recall a single instance this season where anyone has done their job or dealt with the problems that made the city of Pawnee a character itself the first three years, whereas it’s now merely a backdrop to dealings and proceedings that have nothing to do with anything to do with the show or it’s premise, but for the fact that these things are inexplicably occurring. Going back to the reference I made earlier, a PARKS AND RECREATION where the main character doesn’t work for the parks and recreation department and no one else even shows up for their job is like FRIENDS being about a group of mortal enemies who would sooner go to prison for murder than be made to socialize with the others. Irony is for Shakespeare and that one hipster loitering your local shopping mall, two distinct levels of people this show isn’t good enough to pander to in it’s current state.

Why is this happening? I don’t know. I don’t work for the show, the network, the studio, nor do I know anyone involved in it’s production. If I had to guess, though, it’s because being creative is considerably more work than being easy, and going off on a tangent is remarkably simple, be it on paper, on screen, or in a classroom where you have to fill ten minutes of a time with the four minutes of an actual presentation you prepared. How can it be remedied? This I know! To be succinct, Leslie must lose the election. If she loses the election she, as a character, will be forced to feel an actual emotion for the first time in a year, the fallout of the loss to Newport will change the landscape of the parks and recreation department, it’s employees, and creates a new focus for not just doing the job they have been charged with in the first place, but in getting things back to how they were before. In this, the show is breathed new life and Leslie can still come to sit on the city council; Bobby Newport could take a trip to wherever he goes with the beautiful girls and boats, and simply disappear, giving Leslie the title, the power, and all the juice she needs for her camera testimonials to be as stupid as they have been as of late. Don’t think that’s a viable way to get her political career jump-started? Is it not realistic enough? Well, that big, lavish campaign bus with custom graphics all over it which she used for but a single day wasn’t either, and you didn’t seem to mind.

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SYNOPSIS: In Tokyo, when fifty-four high-school students commit a collective suicide, jumping from a platform in Shinjuku Station, the police force leaded by Detective Kuroda has no clue to follow. Then he receives an e-mail from a young woman, The Bat, advising that there is a site where red dots mean the number of persons that died. [IMDb]

REVIEW: Conceptual, philosophical, and gruesome, writer/director Sion Sono‘s first of two films delving into… well, madness, delivers on it’s force and standing as a contemporary cult classic, but not without it’s share of hiccups and happy coincidences.  Jumping styles and breaking it’s own narratives for forays into pop-culture dissection and musical excursions, the film is held together not by it’s story, but the questions it has the viewer asking early on.  Incredibly ambitious and competently acted, the cast, helmed by Ryo Ishibashi, Rolly, Yôko Kamon, and Sayako Hagiwara, carried a heavy burden in creating relatable and sympathetic characters in a film highlighting the ugliest side of people possible.  Asking “Are you connected to yourself?”, the film traverses untrodden lands within people usually pushed to the limits with the question, “You sure you follow the plot?”, and whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the individual viewer.  Like a film in 3D, you’re either getting twice as much as you paid for with this askew yarn, or only half of what you bought, thinking you ordered up a mindless bit o’ gore, and getting something so far beyond the concept of bones that go crunch that you may feel lied to.  For me, the fib is in denying what a landmark film this is, not just for a dying breed of blood squirting flicks, but as a work of art the likes of which Andres Serrano would get off on.  If it sounds like my head is in the clouds with this one, you’re almost right, and it’s because my head can be there.  It shouldn’t, because the film should not work, on any level.  It shouldn’t be cogent, with every bizarre spectacle having a definite place in the miles thick text and subtext, but it does, almost miraculously.  This kind of absurdity cannot be planned out to this level of competency, making the sum of the parts not nearly as great as the finished result.  It’s magical.  Why would so many people kill themselves, and happily?  More like, why in the world wouldn’t they?

If you’re the type of cat who Frisbees discs from your couch to the open tray on the DVD player, the greatest service to yourself here is to avoid this film at all costs.  Watching it mindlessly will be a hollow, aggravating experience, highlighted by the fact that you’ll be rooting for everyone to die, something that may or may not actually occur.  If your sensibilities are tender, avoid this blood bath at all costs.  If you are expecting something heavily polished with incredible effects and sleek production, you will be left wanting much more, and that thing probably isn’t Japanese.  If you watch television and film for the story of a group of characters, this film will be a disappointment to you.  Wonderful they may be, but merely a means to an end here.  Extremely polarizing, yes, but like all similar things in life, it’s the mark of big risks and big rewards.  Really, there is almost too much that is wrong or a distraction here, but “almost” doesn’t take us the distance.  We’ll get to an occasionally kitschy, often campy place, but that’s okay.

THE SCORE: Perhaps rougher on it than I should be overall, and almost certainly a bit too forgiving, this film’s score dictates both that you pay it some attention, out of respect and wonder as a passionate viewer, all the while keeping your expectations non-existent, because even staring at it without so much as a blink won’t permit you to see what’s coming.  If you keep an open mind and an open heart, you may find the film’s dark charm causing you to cough up membership dues for the club.


SYNOPSIS: A teenager called Noriko Shimabara runs away from her family in Tokoyama, to meet Kumiko, the leader of an Internet BBS, She becomes involved with Kumiko’s “family circle”, which grows darker after the mass suicide of 54 high school girls. [IMDb]

REVIEW: The latter of Sion Sono’s two films of a proposed trilogy (it’s highly unlikely the third will ever be made, sadly and bizarrely) surrounding his circle of suicide, NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE doesn’t just expand upon the strange world he created, clarifying it, and even perfecting it, but creates a film so sharp and brilliantly written that it joins BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY and others in the exclusive club of sequels that blow their predecessors out of the water (c’mon, I’m being serious here!).  A hypnotic, sobering, and massively touching tale and exploration through feelings of inadequacy and resentment told almost completely through narration, the words lining this film from beginning to conclusion are sublime poetry, the feelings behind them portrayed perfectly by the titular Noriko, actress Kazue Fukiishi, and joined in harmony by Tsugumi, Yuriko Yoshitaka, and Sanae Miyata.  Following each of the main characters at points, allowing their tales to be told from their own perspective, is expertly implemented, which is where the film, in the role of sequel, really shines.  Taking place before, during, and after the events of SUICIDE CIRCLE, motivations are learned, and these scenes, from the makeshift PR statement to the foundational brainstorm, are so simple that it’s almost deceptively contrived, and I mean this in the best way possible.  Simply said, as an aspiring storyteller myself, this is pornography to me, and anyone who claims to be a true fan of the visual and written arts should not have dissimilar feelings. Really, I cannot express enough just how brilliant and fully realized the motifs are, how painstakingly haunting and harrowing the beauty and ugly are, or how it is that this near flawless work of art isn’t mandatory viewing in every film class held since it’s release. That said, the flip side of the coin here is the same as the first entry in the series.

Again, what you’re asking for in watching this film is a mental challenge dripping in ruby red DNA that fans of contemporary horror may not be able to handle.  This is a lot more than a maniac killing teenagers, but arteries spray just the same, and the emotional subject matter here is heartbreaking.  Visually the film improves upon SUICIDE CIRCLE, but the effects are still on par with what you’d expect from even the higher budget films of Japan.  Not convincing in of itself, the theatrics of it provide a healthy balance and stark contrast to the abundance of non-grisly events that unfold, many of which are more horrific than mere death.  Other than these minor quips, this is a true gem in every sense. A blood diamond, if you will.

THE SCORE: Speechless from the moment the credits hit, I’m sure your reactions may be the same.  Shakespearean in nature, and uncompromising in execution, the table is set for a mental and emotional feast in Sion Sono’s thrilling, underrated masterpiece.  This is literally one of the three greatest films I’ve ever seen. Be you a lion or lamb, you can’t escape the jaws of this beast.

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