Try Listening to Kenny G, Harley Quinn, Elden Ring, and Batman: The Long Halloween

Kenny G reclines on a sofa, playing soprano sax

Hello. I hope you didn’t feel like we’d abandoned you. It’s been a couple of weeks. Sorry about that. We should be here for you every week from here on out, rain or shine, like Kevin Costner in The Postman, if that reference makes sense (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie). Regardless, each week we gather to provide you with recommendations of things to watch, read, listen to, and otherwise consume. They won’t always be new things, though sometimes they will be. Timeliness doesn’t matter so much as what is worth your time. This week, Clay is digging Harley Quinn, Lor has been playing Elden Ring, Hawk enjoys Listening to Kenny G, and Tim is excited about Batman: The Long Halloween after finding an early printing on eBay.

TV Recommendation: Harley Quinn

Clay Dockery: Before last Friday, I had never seen nor read anything with Harley Quinn in it. Despite being right in the prime age range and demographic, I have never watched any of the animated Batman series from the ’90s and, while I once avidly read every issue of the Batman comics I could get my hands on, I had long ago stopped reading them by the time Harley was introduced. I had been a huge fan of the Tim Burton Batman movies, the Michelle Pfeifer Catwoman in Batman Returns specifically, and the idea of exploring these characters again has always been something I’d intended to do.

But, despite my love for the Burton movies, I’m also not all that into comic book movies in general. So, while I have watched, and even enjoyed, many of the Marvel movies, I haven’t seen any of the movies in the DC universe since The Dark Knight. (No I never even went back to see The Dark Knight Rises.) I do love a good animated TV show but I had no reason to think the DC Universe series Harley Quinn would be one. But I was bored and I had heard that “fanboys” hated it—which is always a huge plus for me—so I decided to flip it on and give it a shot, especially since DC Universe stopped being a thing and it is now available on HBO Max. And I loved it.

Having no context for how she is presented in other media—though I know a lot of people love Margot Robbie’s version in The Suicide Squad (the James Gunn one) and Birds of Prey—Harley Quinn herself, as voiced by Kaley Cuoco, is great in this show. I love how the first season really tries to delve into her horrible, toxic and destructive, relationship with the Joker (Alan Tudyk). Getting the tone of that relationship right is crucial. The Joker is horrible and abusive, of course, but Harley can’t be so taken in by him that she loses her own agency. Over the course of the season, through many pitfalls back into his trap, Harley learns to break free from him. Leading to a spectacular confrontation at the end of the season that I think is well worth the buildup. Without giving much away it involves a giant—building-sized—Jack-in-the-box, vats of acid, the phantom zone, and a 50-foot tall Poison Ivy.

The relationship between Poison Ivy (voiced by Lake Bell) and Harley is the core of the show. Over the two seasons, they develop deeper and deeper feelings and it affects all of their decisions and the way they interact with the world. After things go a bit off the rails in Season 2, Harley starts to embrace her darker villainous side because, as she says, “I’m impetuous, I kiss people at random!” The fact that her impetuousness manifests as a world-destroying, Darkseid aided, murderous rampage is what makes the character feel different and gives the show a sharpness around its character drama-based center.

The other characters in Harley’s crew are also great as I love the comedic takes on Sandman as a struggling actor and King Shark as a big goofy do-gooder who just happens to occasionally bite off people’s heads for the fun of it. J.B. Smoove is also amazing as Ralph, who is really just J.B. Smoove but as a carnivorous plant. Even Jason Alexander’s Sy, the old man Cyborg who starts as Harley and Ivy’s landlord but eventually joins the crew, grows on you after a while. The core of the show though is the amazing story of Harley and Ivy and how they can lift each other up. For all its blood, gore, death, and dismemberment, Harley Quinn is a love story. And that’s how it got me.

Game Recommendation: Elden Ring

Lor Gislason: Like many others, I have been sucked into the world of FromSoftware’s Elden Ring and it’s frankly been difficult to do much else. I will sit down to play for an hour, maybe two tops, and find the entire day lost to the Lands Between. The scale of this open-world RPG is ridiculous and most of my playtime has simply been exploration: discovering dungeons, hidden nooks with items, weird field bosses and NPCs, and filling out my map. I’ve had a moment where the game transports you to an entirely new area and the realisation that, no, actually the game is twice as big as I thought. Thankfully to aid in traversal you get a horse named Torrent, who can even double jump. Fast Travel points are also well spaced so you’ll never be too far from where you died.

While FromSoftware games are notorious for being extremely difficult, it never feels impossible to me. I’m not saying I don’t have “dumb deaths” where I fall off a cliff or get smashed into the ground by a giant, but more often than not I can see my errors and attempt something different. Controls are fully customizable, which is great. I ended up altering mine a little and it helped me get past some tough fights. In fact, only a handful of bosses are mandatory and you can just run past anything you don’t want to deal with. A mutual on Twitter has played for 30 hours and only beat one boss. Others have already completed the game several times. I’m sitting at 90 hours and feel I am close to the halfway point—but I honestly don’t want to beat it. At least not yet! I’m not ready to say goodbye.

A dark figure on a ladder above a scary face on the ground below in Elden Ring

Documentary Recommendation: Listening to Kenny G

Hawk Ripjaw: Documentary enthusiasts owe it to themselves to explore the work of Penny Lane, one of the most entertaining documentary filmmakers working today. She’s responsible for, among other things, the eclectic goat-testicle snake-oil cure Nuts! and one of my favorite documentaries of all time, Hail Satan?, about the operation of The Satanic Temple. Lane has an ambitious and tactful approach to her work, discovering the humor and life in the topics she explores. Her latest, Listening to Kenny G, part of HBO’s Music Box docuseries on HBO Max, is a lively and lovely feature.

True to form, Listening to Kenny G is another resoundingly entertaining documentary that operates primarily with the artist sitting across from Lane and discussing his journey. It’s refreshingly candid 90-ish minutes as his passion and excitement shine through his accounts of his rise to fame, and how the world responded to him. G also overflows with passion in such an endearing way. His work ethic and how he internalizes the concept of the rewards of hard work and practice are infectious. Love him or hate him, his ingredient for success is nakedly evident in his absolute drive, which is excellently conveyed in Lane’s exciting filmmaking. At the end of a monologue about practice, G smacks a golf ball in his little practice setup, and says, “I still haven’t hit one I like yet.” His enthusiasm is infectious.

In certain circles, there’s almost a trendiness to disliking Kenny G. It’s cool to hate Kenny G for how he disrupted the status quo of jazz music. Reactions to G come from a place of preconceived notions about what jazz should be, while he was doing what he wanted to do and what felt most natural without playing into the cultural expectations of the genre, or even the expectations of music theory in general. He liked his studio edits and was disinterested in the improvisational nature of jazz. He recognizes that the “jazz police” will hate what he does, in each inventive iteration of his own brand of music, and he’s prepared for it.

It’s perfectly understandable that enthusiasts would reject this new face in the genre. One of the most interesting moments in the documentary involves G breaking down his editing process and showing where within a note or chord he’s done a studio edit. This is straight blasphemy for a genre that, for the majority of its lifetime, has lived off of playing directly from the soul and reacting to the moment. G approaches his music like he does anything else: he wants to get good at it, and he’s going to get good at it, through perfectionism, a sort of scientific approach to refining the craft, and a healthy appetite for discovering whatever new sound is going to excite him the most.

Listening to Kenny G is a delightful little documentary that feels like an escape both into a conversation with the legendary instrumentalist and into the history of jazz itself. By seeing how G shook up the scene with his new approach, it invites a perspective into how it was shaped before he showed up. My mom was huge into Kenny G when I was growing up and by proxy, I had a lot of exposure to his music. I never really had a problem with the guy, but even as a much older adult with a stronger understanding of music theory, learning about his creative process here and getting to know him better just makes me like him more.

Batman: The Long Halloween

Timothy Glaraton: After walking out of Matt Reeves’ excellent The Batman a couple of weeks ago, there was only one thing on my mind: revisiting Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s masterpiece, Batman: The Long Halloween.

Batman: The Long Halloween is—for my money’s worth—the greatest Batman story ever told, full stop. It’s equal parts Godfather style mob drama, Sam Spadesque noir, harrowing murder mystery, Greek tragedy, and Batman: The Animated Series. Told over thirteen issues—one Halloween to the next—The Long Halloween tells the tale of what might be the most important year in Batman’s crimefighting career.

Just as Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent form a pact to take down the crime families that control Gotham City, a serial killer known only as “Holiday” begins killing mobsters on each holiday, leaving behind only a .22 pistol and a trinket to commemorate the occasion. Suddenly, Batman is left scrambling to try and track the killer’s identity before he strikes again, all while dealing with a newly resurgent gang war between rival mob families and the rising problem of the colorful villains who he would clash with again and again throughout his career.

There’s a lot going on here, but Jeph Loeb manages to keep an almost impossible number of different story elements moving without any of them feeling shortchanged: the Holiday killer’s identity, the tragic origin of Two-Face, and Batman’s efforts to take down the mob are all given ample depth, with each holiday marked by an encounter with a different member of the Batman rogues gallery: Joker on Christmas, Poison Ivy on St. Patrick’s Day, and Solomon Grundy on Thanksgiving just to name a few. And we haven’t even gotten into the artwork yet: Tim Sale’s haunting, gorgeous art style, full of widescreen panels and huge splash pages, brings Gotham City to life in a way few other comics can while perfectly complimenting Loeb’s tightly written story.

On top of all this, The Long Halloween is also a story I can point any newer comics reader towards and say, “You want to know why Batman rules? This will explain all of it.” Other stories might do certain aspects better, but everything awesome about Batman is on full display here: Batman the detective, Batman the ass-kicker, Batman the symbol, Batman the hero. It’s no coincidence that the two best Batman films of the modern era are heavily inspired by The Long HalloweenThe Dark Knight borrows the tragic origin of Two-Face and several other key elements, while The Batman basically feels like a modern retelling of The Long Halloween with Riddler in place of Holiday—it’s just that well done.

Batman holds his cape as calendar dates fly and there is a jack-o-lantern along with drawings of villains on the cover of Batman: The Long Halloween

The only issue I have with The Long Halloween is an entirely personal gripe: the newer printings feel vastly inferior to the earlier ones. Tim Sale’s stunning cover art is replaced with a painfully generic piece of Batman art. Jeph Loeb’s introduction, serving as both backstory for how The Long Halloween came to be and as a tribute to legendary editor Archie Goodwin, is replaced by an interview with Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. And worst of all, the original paperbacks were printed on gorgeous matte cardstock that gave the book some heft and gave it even more of an old detective novel feel, but later editions are printed on glossy paper that somehow feels less fitting than earlier editions. Thankfully, eBay came to my rescue and I managed to track down an early printing still in surprisingly good condition, but even my gripes with later printings don’t take away anything from the actual story itself—one that I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of here. However you can get your hands on it, Batman: The Long Halloween is a story that no fan of Batman, comics, or just really really well-written stories should be without.

Written by TV Obsessive

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *