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Daily Reads: How ‘Seinfeld’ is Modern Comedy’s Biggest Influence, Dylann Roof Missed the Point of His Favorite Film, and More

Daily Reads: How 'Seinfeld' is Modern Comedy's Biggest Influence, Dylann Roof Missed the Point of His Favorite Film, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. “Seinfeld” is Modern Comedy’s Biggest Influence. The legendary 90’s sitcom “Seinfeld” hit Hulu yesterday and TV critics are celebrating the show’s lasting influence. In fact, Vulture’s Jesse David Fox argues that “Seinfeld” is the biggest influence on modern comedy today.

The irony to all of this is Seinfeld’s actual stand-up comedy is not particularly influential anymore. (And this has nothing to do with the whole p.c. thing, as Seinfeld’s act was never particularly politically incorrect in the first place.) His style of polished, tightly written, hyper-observational comedy is not at all en vogue, as comedians are expected to be loose, improvisational, and personal. You go to a comedy show in the back of a bar in New York or the back of a comic-book store in L.A., and you’ll see Louis C.K.’s influence, Sarah Silverman’s influence, Mitch Hedberg’s influence, Chris Rock’s influence, Janeane Garofalo’s influence, Dave Attell’s influence, but you won’t see much Seinfeld. The exception being John Mulaney, the beloved modern stand-up who has a way with metaphors similar to Seinfeld (though his act does tend to be more personal). But he was criticized for being retrograde when his “Seinfeld-ian” sitcom, which was also about a comedian and his friends and also started with a comedy monologue, “Mulaney,” debuted on Fox, and was canceled soon after.
This isn’t necessarily a knock on Seinfeld — in many ways, he spurred this shift away from himself by establishing a comedian-fan relationship with “Seinfeld” that has grown more and more intense in the 17 years it’s been off the air. (A relationship Seinfeld himself has tapped into with “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”) “That show helped mutate comedy into the hyper-personal, whole-picture, inner-demons, recent-divorces, biggest-fear, sexual-failure arena that it’s in now. It’s not better or worse,” [Comedian Pete] Holmes explained. “It’s just more raw and real.”

2. Wesley Morris Blasts Seth MacFarlane’s  “Ted 2.” 
Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted 2” explodes into theaters this Friday and many critics have lambasted the film for MacFarlane’s classic button-pushing humor, including his penchant for racist comedy rooted in his insecurity. Grantland’s Wesley Morris explores the ugly racial politics of “Ted 2.”

You never expect a movie to hurt you. Disappoint? Dismay? Depress? Fine. But when a movie has a field day asserting the humanity of a fake toy bear at the expense of your own, it hurts. I was led to believe, in part by the posters, that I was getting a movie about a character who’d be masturbating or urinating with his back to us. They should’ve turned Ted around since the emissions are aimed at the audience. It’s tricky. MacFarlane would seem to identify as progressive, but he uses his liberalness conservatively, to berate what he thinks is normal or safe or established in American culture. His tolerance is tinged with intolerance.

3. How Charleston Terrorist Dylann Roof Missed the Point of His Favorite Film. 
In his racist manifesto, Dylann Roof, the terrorist responsible for the deaths of nine African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, cited the Japanese crime film “Himizu” as his favorite film. But The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato contends that Roof didn’t understand the film at all.

Prolific provocateur-auteur Sion Sono (“Cold Fish,” “Love Exposure,” “Tokyo Tribe”) adapted “Himizu” from the manga of the same name but made one vital, timely change. After the devastating Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan on March 11, 2011, killing over 15,000 and displacing and traumatizing thousands more, Sono wrote the national tragedy into his script and filmed scenes among its ruins. As a result, “Himizu” is at once a film about the sins of past generations wreaking havoc on the future, and a condemnation of Japan’s historically violent relationship with nuclear power. Not the most likely fave film of an American white supremacist millennial, to say the least. Roof, in his many racist rantings against African Americans, Jews, and Latinos, seems to give the Japanese a pass. But he clearly also misses the point of films like “Himizu,” which use violence and angst to highlight characters in need of help, not glory. Lauded by critics upon its Venice Film Festival premiere mere months after the Fukushima disaster, “Himizu’s” moral compass clearly points toward hopefulness instead of hatred.

4. Martin Scorsese on Carol Reed’s “The Third Man”. 
Carol Reed’s 1949 film “The Third Man,” will be re-entering theaters with a new 4K restoration starting June 26th at New York’s Film Forum. In honor of its re-release, Martin Scorsese discusses how “The Third Man” influenced him and why it’s a timeless classic.

I saw “The Third Man” for the first time on television in New York, with commercial interruptions. I think I was about 15 years old, maybe 16. I saw “Citizen Kane” around the same period. I remember that I wanted to see the film on its first release, but was unable to do so, which created a mystique about the film. The theme was a radio hit, but my first viewing was on TV, around ’56 or ’57. But even with commercial breaks on a 16-inch screen, the power of the picture, the surprise, the entertainment, the film-making itself… a revelation. Expressive style, virtuosity – I became fixated, obsessed. I couldn’t wait to see the film again, but I had to wait until it was shown on television, maybe four or five months later. It wasn’t the optimum viewing condition, I still lived in a small apartment with my family, so it was difficult to find the concentration and quiet I needed to figure out why the picture affected me so much. I was becoming aware of film-making itself around this time, about storytelling, about extraordinary cinematic experiences.

5. 1970’s TV Drama “The Senator” Courted Controversy in an Age of Escapism. 
“The Senator,” a political TV drama starring Hal Holbrook as Senator Hays Stowe, aired only nine episodes from 1970 to 1971. During its short time on the air, the series trafficked in serious issues, mainly the Kent State massacre which was the subject of a two-part episode. The A.V. Club’s Stephen Bowie examines “The Senator” and its brief history of embracing hot-button issues.

“A Continual Roar Of Musketry,” as “The Senator’s” Kent State two-parter was called, was a standout moment in the history of quality television, amid a period when escapism ruled. Although “relevance,” a buzzword that was used interchangeably with “quality” in those days, rarely won the ratings, prime time had always made room for a few socially engaged dramas like “The Defenders” and “Naked City.” But by the late ’60s, as race riots, political assassinations, and Vietnam pervaded the news, relevance was a headache that advertisers and network executives were eager to avoid. Of the top 25 shows in the 1970-71 Nielsen ratings, only “Laugh-In” addressed topical issues on a regular basis. The Emmy nominations for best drama during the late ’60s were dominated by genre shows — some inspired (“Mission: Impossible”), some insipid (“Ironside”), but all apolitical. In 1969, the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series went to an obscure public television anthology, and during the subsequent decade three of the winners would be British imports that aired on PBS.


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