I’m Moving to New Zealand!

Or, I suppose I ought to say “we.” Greg (alias G.), that initial that sometimes hangs out at the bottom of my posts and takes credit for my photos, is going to New Zealand, too.

In early September we’ll be flying to LAX and then straight on to Auckland. We’ll likely (I say “likely” because we’re chronic procrastinators with a distaste for concrete plans) stay in a private room at some Aucklander’s house for a week or two before either finding more semi-permanent accommodations or moving on to a smaller, less expensive city. We’re going to be in full-fledged tourist mode for that first fortnight, so if you’ve ever been to Auckland (or anywhere in New Zealand) let me know what I can’t miss!

Now, onto the questions that we’ve already fielded numerous times…

Sunset Flight

1). Why?

There are many ways to answer this question. It sounds corny, but we are driven primarily by our desire to seek out and integrate ourselves within a healthier society — or at least one not as psychotic as the United States’. While being born, raised, and educated in the U.S. has been a tremendous privilege, its disturbing characteristics are growing too obvious for us to ignore.

The United States was founded and shaped by the co-operating principles of capitalism (i.e., avarice) and independence (i.e., a twisted form of disaffected individualism), and the collusion of these two euphemisms has produced a staggeringly wealthy, yet also profoundly unequal and mentally distressed, country. Thoughtful criticism is frequently drowned out and delegitimized by excessive, extremist noise. Growth, work, and success via material gain are prioritized over everything else, creating a breeding ground for manipulation, low self esteem, and “corporate culture.” Reckless mindsets on education, health, social welfare, finance, and authority prevail, to the detriment of not only Americans, but the rest of the world. To take one simple, particularly salient example: It’s astonishing that in 2014 someone can break their arm and be denied treatment. Access to medicine is a right, but in the United States it’s traded like a consumer good. One should not profit off of others’ misfortunes.

Depending on your opinion of the United States, you might think that Americans either won the citizenship lottery, or scratched off a very, very unlucky ticket. Either way, it’s not anything that you chose. Do we expect New Zealand to be a utopia? No. It would be the height of foolishness to expect that moving to another country would magically eliminate all of the societal grievances we have. But at least moving there is an active choice, and it’s a choice that not many have the privilege to make.

2). Ok. But why New Zealand?

Honestly? A big part of it is because they speak English. Shameful Americans that we are, we can’t speak any other language fluently. I spent time in Argentina and while I enjoyed it, not being able to communicate effectively left me feeling severely disenfranchised. Plus, it’s supposed to be freakin’ GORGEOUS, and the country’s quite a bit more socialist, and hopefully significantly less materialistic, than our own. I’ve heard that TV shows/cereal/basic consumer goods/fashion trends take a looooooong time to reach New Zealand. I hope that’s the case. We’ve had enough of this race-to-get-the-latest-version-of-the-iPhone mentality. It also has a lot to do with the availability of a working holiday visa (see below).

3). Do you have a job lined up?

No, neither of us does. We have year-long working holiday visas — emphasis on holiday. We’re primarily supposed to be tourists, but we’ll likely hold a variety of short-term, minimum wage jobs. Many apples on many organic farms will be picked.

4). So… how are you paying for this?

Answer: We saved. Though we will have to work while we’re there, of course. You’ve also got to keep in mind that 1) we don’t have cars, 2) we don’t own a home, and 3) marriage strikes us as a quaint (not to mention expensive!) institution. We don’t expect any of these things to change when we are in New Zealand.

5). Why now?

Why NOT now? Seriously, the timing could not be more perfect. I’m 23, Greg’s 24, and if we don’t go now, then it’s highly likely that we’d NEVER go. And that would be sad indeed.

6). Be serious. Is this just because you’ve watched too many episodes of Flight of the Conchords?

Not really. No, no. Well, maybe. A little bit. Yes.

In all seriousness, I’m incredibly excited. So much so that I’m already having trouble sleeping. We’re planning to see as much of the country as we possibly can, and, if all goes well, I might go on to graduate school in New Zealand (big hypothetical!!). I’m planning to post LOTS of pictures and stories about our travels right here on this blog. There’s a new “New Zealand!” category in the right sidebar AND a page just under the header where all of the posts will be archived. I hope that all of you will follow along! Cheers.

Kiwi higher res

Cloud photo by Greg. Kiwi logo designed by Christopher T. Howell for The Noun Project.

Television: A Definitive Guide to What You Should (and Shouldn’t!) Be Watching

I realize that this post is ENTIRELY subjective, and that different people have different tastes. Which is ok! But since I’ve had a Netflix subscription (ok, my parents have had a Netflix subscription) for the past 6+ years, and I’ve intermittently had access to HBO Go, I’ve watched a fair number of the hyped-up shows. I also like to joke that I’m a serial quitter… get it? (Strained laugh). So I’ll tell you about both the shows that I love as well as those that I either couldn’t stand right away or that took a couple of seasons to go sour on me.

In general, this post is organized from Best → Worst. For my top recommendations, read the first portion, and to discover which shows I utterly loathe, skip to the very bottom.

My #1 TV show of all time: The Wire
The Wire
My opinion here is nothing unique; The Wire has been praised countless times as the best show that’s ever appeared on air. Set in Baltimore, this gritty police drama is an incredibly accurate and depressingly realistic portrayal of inner-city life in contemporary America. I never felt like I was wasting my time when I was watching this show; on the contrary, I always felt like I was learning something. Each season has a unique narrative arc and thematic focus; colloquially, they are referred to as  Season 1, drugs; Season 2, unions; Season 3, politics; Season 4, schools; and Season 5, media. Fair warning: there is an inordinate amount of cursing in this show. I’m 100% OK with foul language, but the pilot episode still managed to shock me. Just power through episode one, accept that Bunk is a hilarious character, and make it over the “season two hump” (the only slightly weak season in the whole series), and you’ll be extremely grateful to yourself.  Just wait until you meet Omar and his shotgun!

The Other Incredible Drama: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad
Like many people, I was initially skeptical about Breaking Bad, not least because my parents told me I had to watch it. Well mom & dad, you were right: It is phenomenal. I’d been watching it for a couple of years when, suddenly, somewhere around the end of season three/beginning of season four, the show exploded in popularity. I was both astonished and extremely pleased that this amazing character drama was finally getting the recognition it deserved from critics and mass audiences alike.

You’re probably all familiar with the story by now: lovable and kind high school Chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with lung cancer. Understandably, he panics at the thought of dying and leaving behind his pregnant wife and disabled son. Mr. White puts his Chemistry knowledge to the test and quickly becomes an accomplished methamphetamine cook. He recruits his former student and general low-life Jessie to be his partner. Though some people complained that the show took a long time to establish itself, I’ve never been fussy about pacing, and thoroughly enjoyed the first two seasons. Others claimed that the show took a deep dive in quality midway through; I couldn’t disagree more. Every single episode in the last season ends on a cliffhanger. Waiting an entire year to see Hank’s reaction was excruciating! It’s another show that I can’t recommend enough.

The Fabulously Funny Shows

I thought I had more entries in the drama category, but I guess not. Of the eight shows I’d call “incredible,” six are comedies (well, I suppose Louie is about half-and-half). I’ll just run through these quickly, as you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Flight of the Conchords

Flight of the Conchords is a campy, fabulously corny, and quirky to a fault. Created by New Zealand comedy duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, each episode features two or three outrageously bad, and therefore outrageously funny, song spoofs. My favorite? The pseudo-rap “Hipphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros.”
Another show that has me rolling on the floor, but which I think is comparatively less well-known, is Extras by Ricky Gervais. It’s chock-full of celebrity guest stars making fools out of themselves. The main character, played by Gervais, is an unlucky, slightly porky, middle-aged actor who’s never caught his big break—and thus has resigned himself to always being cast as an “extra” in TV shows and films. When he finally gets the fame he craves, he manages to do an excellent job destroying his entire life.

Arrested Development

Arrested Development is a cult classic at this point. It’s about a rich white family that has become stupendously backwards after years of living like parasitic beings. Michael Bluth is the only reasonably sane one, and even then he’s constantly making bad decisions. The show can be frustrating, but it’s also witty, incredibly entertaining, and dizzyingly self-referential. My favorite subplot is the multi-episode arc starring Charlize Theron as a British spy.
Louie is probably the most depressing comedy out there. But it’s amazing, in part, for precisely that reason. Louis C.K. has a biting sense of humor and a solidly unhealthy outlook on life. Peppered with bits from his standup routines, Louie is a show about a normal guy living a lonely, divorced life in New York and struggling to make it through the everyday absurdities that seem to affect him more than most.

The Boondocks Chappelle's Show

And now for the comedies infused with social criticism. The Boondocks, created by Aaron McGruder and based on his comic strip of the same name, is the only animated show on this list. Narrated by Huey, an intelligent and well-reasoned African-American boy growing up in a wealthy, predominately white suburb, The Boondocks is sharp, shocking, and satirical. Likewise, Dave Chappelle’s enormously popular Comedy Central show Chappelle’s Show has attained legendary status because of its unforgiving skits about racism, sexism, and pop culture figures. Famously canceled after just two years on the air, it’s well-worth investing in the box set.

Worth the Hype

Orange is the New Black

Yes, it really is as good as everyone says! Don’t let the first couple of episodes turn you off, because they are the weakest episodes in the series’ two-season run. Women, prison, relationships, drama, corruption, racism, empathy, and lesbian sex galore. It has it all.
Game of Thrones
With incredibly high production values, complex characters, a medieval setting, and incredible actors, Game of Thrones is just as good as everyone says. See My 5 Reasons for liking the series.

Office, House of Cards, Parks and Rec

Also deserving of the popularity that has been lobbed their way: The Office (a shockingly accurate portrayal of the sluggish corporate lives that many Americans lead), House of Cards (dark, ruthless, and twisted), and Parks and Recreation (cheesy, quirky, and substantially better starting with season 2).

Honorable Mentions

Coming directly after the “Incredible” and “Worth the Hype” categories are the TV shows that are still very, very good, but not quite great.

Treme is set in post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans. While I sometimes get tired of the excessive “city pride” that saturates the show, it’s an amazing way to learn about the city’s unique music scene. It took me a few episodes before I was hooked.
True Detective
True Detective became a smash hit almost instantly. I was enamored of the first few episodes, but thought the series ended on a weak note. Nonetheless, the cinematography is gorgeous, and if you want an eerie, haunting look into the psychoses of the American South, then HBO’s latest crime drama is a solid choice.

Shows that Started Strong / Shows that are Decent

TV that went sour

You know how I said that I tend to give up on TV shows? Well, I loved all six of these shows at one point, but after a while they just weren’t worth watching anymore. Seasons 1 & 2 of Mad Men contain some of the best TV that’s ever been produced; season 3 was still good, and then Megan appeared in season 4 and it was all downhill from there. The West Wing has amazing characterization, but the unquestionably patriotic overtones get old very quickly. The first two seasons of The Walking Dead are absolutely terrifying, but then it starts deteriorating — just like the rotting zombies. I watched House, M.D. religiously in high school, only to realize that it was making me slightly depressed. Scrubs was the lighthearted medical show that went bananas around season 5/6. And finally, Boardwalk Empire was excellent for the first two seasons, before descending into an aimless bloodbath in season 3. Basically, the bottom line here is that many TV shows only stay good for the first 1-2 seasons. To quote Batman: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”

Also in this category, but weren’t as good to begin with: Bones, Glee (though past season two it’s pure tripe), True Blood, and Weeds.
Ok shows
This next group of shows I consider decent. They aren’t masterpieces by any means, but they have their quality moments and you don’t need to feel embarrassed to admit that you watch them. The Middle is about an utterly average family of four and their amusing monetary woes. I think everybody knows about Modern Family by now; I don’t really watch it much anymore because the Sofia hype got to be a bit much, but it had some genuinely funny moments in the first couple of seasons. Downton Abbey is ridiculously dramatic, but somehow quite addicting, and I feel like the actors do a surprisingly good job considering the material they’re given to work with. Finally, Bored to Death is a funny little show starring Jason Schwartzman as a cowardly pseudo-detective. Utterly unrealistic (there are never any consequences), but that’s part of its charm. I almost forgot 30 Rock and South Park! But they belong in this category, too.

The shows I just didn’t get along with

Shows I didn't get along with
And then there are the shows that just didn’t sit well with me, for whatever reason: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Homeland, Veep, Doctor Who, Heroes, Curb Your Enthusiasm, American Horror Story, The Big Bang Theory, Law & Order, How I Met Your Mother,and Portlandia. Some of these shows are considered classics; others could probably be placed in the “Disgustingly Terrible” category (see below). Then again, I don’t think these shows necessarily deserve condemnation, but I do think that you’re wasting your time by watching them since there’s much better stuff out there.

The Disgustingly Terrible Ones that You Should be Ashamed of Yourself for Watching


Long subtitle, but I obviously feel strongly about this. My most-hated TV show of all time is Girls, followed closely by The Vampire Diaries and Sex and the CityGirls makes me ashamed of my generation. The show is an exercise in sloppy nepotism, and none of the characters have any redeeming qualities. That’s right; they aren’t “complex” or “realistic” because they “have problems” (Oh, woe is me, I live in New York City in my early 20s!); they’re simply spoiled, foolish, and, as a result, bordering on misanthropic.

Sex and the City
My dislike for Sex and the City also knows no bounds. It’s supposed to be a show about female liberation, when really it’s a textbook on corporate feminism (see: Sheryl Sandberg). Independence, intelligence, utility, and femininity do not depend on one’s ability to pop into Saks and pick up a pair of Manolo Blahniks. And for all of the credit that the show gets for supporting the concept of friendship, there’s an astonishing amount of inconsistency, detachment, and even manipulation among the four so-called friends. (Imagine if one of them suddenly couldn’t afford to dine out for brunch anymore. Would she still be included in “the circle”? I think not). Don’t even get me started on the show’s dysfunctional attitude toward relationships.

The other shows in this category are just… bad. I reserve special vehemence for Girls and Sex and the City mostly because they often get praised for being something they’re not: feminist. The same goes for Scandal. (See my full review of that shameful show here). The remainder of the shows — Vampire Diaries, Nip/Tuck, Little Britain, Pretty Little Liars, Drop Dead Diva, 2 Broke Girls, Supernatural, and Alphas — are the kind that actively kill your brain cells as you watch. Please, do yourself a favor and watch something that makes sense. Even Downton Abbey is miles better than this detritus!

Shows I Want to Watch / Shows I’ll Probably Never Watch

There are some canonical TV shows that I’ve never watched for one reason or another. These include: Seinfeld, Lost, The Simpsons, 24, Everybody Loves Raymond, Entourage, The Sopranos, Sherlock, and Family Guy. I’ve already decided that I probably won’t like these shows, with the possible exception of Sherlock. So… don’t bother trying to convince me.

The Good Wife

As for shows that I would like to start watching… Masters of SexNathan For You, Hung, The Good Wife, and Pushing Daisies are currently on the list. Is there anything else that I’m missing? Something that would appeal to my extremely high standards? Let me know in the comments below!

And this, ladies and gentlemen, concludes my thesis.
THANK YOU for reading, and congratulations if you made it all the way through!

The Oddball Tour

Two weekends ago I ventured to the nowhere-land south of the city to listen to the likes of Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords. Since the comedy tour was organized by Funny or Die, most of the comedians were mainstream (Flight, Dave, and Demetri have all had their own shows, while the others have been widely featured on the big and small screens).

In between birthday-cake-flavored Oreos (which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend – it’s that really odd fake cake flavor that you’ll find at Baskin Robbins & etc.), I laughed at Jeff Ross’s lewd jokes, gaped at Kirsten Schaal’s “Flashdance” performance, and snuck to the bathroom during Demetri Martin’s set (sorry, Demetri). Dave Chappelle was insightful and hilarious, as expected, and Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement were just as quirky as their “characters” on Flight of the Conchords, though I found myself missing the visual antics of the HBO show.

The standout of the night, though, was Hannibal Buress. His set was so hilarious and unexpected that I can’t remember much about it except that he wore MC Hammer pants (which he promptly made fun of, calling himself an astronaut) and pointed out several times that he was from Chicago. As depressing as Chicago can be, especially during the winter, I’m not surprised that the city has produced some fantastic comedians. Oh, and Buress yelled. A lot. Which actually had the effect of amplifying his jokes. I highly recommend checking him out.

Another standout from the night was Jemaine’s musings about the audience members seated in the “boxes” high above the stage. It went something like this (not exact quotes):

Jemaine: Do you suppose those people up there in the boxes are the poor people or the rich people?         Bret: I dunno.                                                                                                                                                                               Jemaine: Well, they’re either the rich people, because they can afford to stay away from everyone else, or they’re the poor people, because they have to stay away from everyone else.

So there you go, a little bit of class humor for ya.

All said and done, the tickets only cost $33 for lawn seating, and it was a great value for the price considering the length of the show and the number of comedians who performed. And a tip for future attendees: arrive fairly late so that you get a spot at the back of the parking lot near the entrance.

I considered making this post a summer humor roundup, but didn’t want to advertise a bunch of things that have been, well, advertised already. So I thought I would limit it to my favorite summer movie, book, and show:

At World’s End: Currently in theaters. I didn’t think that the British duo who made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz could produce anything funnier, but here it is, with am amazing and completely unexpected twist to boot.

Obama’s Blackberry: I bought this used at a public library book sale and thought it would probably be a hack. I gave it to a friend for Christmas and we started reading it, only to realize that it was insanely funny. Granted, it’s nerdy political humor, so it might not be for some. But people on either side of the aisle would enjoy it, I think.

Louie: This one probably needs the least recommending, since Louis C.K. is a national phenomenon now and his show is regularly lauded by critics. I understand that some people won’t care for the show because it’s on the slower side, but the humor is honest and rarely feels contrived. Plus, it’s streaming on Netflix.

What are your comedy favorites from the summer?