Metalocalypse: Season One
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"The Curse of Dethklok," "Dethwater," "Birthdayface," "Dethtroll," "Murdering Outside the Box," "Dethkomedy," "Dethfam," "Performance Klok," "Snakes n' Barrels," "Mordland," "FatKlok," "Skwisklok," "Go Forth and Die," "Bluesklok," "Dethkids," "Religionklok," "Dethclown," "Girlfriendklok," "Dethstars," "The Metalocalypse Has Begun"
The Lair: The Complete First Season
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by Ian Pugh I never understood the appeal of Brendon Small's "Home Movies", a show I've always found more frustrating than anything else. Besides being hard on the eyes (its characters evolving from garish preschool squiggles to sharp-yet-shapeless Flash monstrosities), it gathers together a lot of smart, funny people to meander aimlessly through three or four of the same maddeningly droll scenarios. Teamed with "Conan O'Brien"/"TV Funhouse" alum Tommy Blacha, Small finally has a purpose to go with his aesthetic. Following the daily activities of death metal band Dethklok--idiot vocalist Nathan Explosion (voiced by Small), self-loathing bass player William Murderface (Blacha), balding Midwesterner Pickles the Drummer (Small), "the world's fastest guitarist" Skwisgaar Skwigelf (Small), and Norwegian naïf Toki Wartooth (Blacha)--"Metalocalypse" certainly allows its characters to ramble incoherently, but its premise demands such focus that even the incoherent rambling has to lead somewhere.
Bigger than Jesus and The Beatles combined, with revenues that rival most countries' gross national product, Dethklok enjoys the epitome of creative control, which often results in situations that go madly awry. The band frequently indulges in extravagant, homicidal stage shows attended by millions of fans all too willing to be exploited, mangled, or killed if it means a brief brush with this aggressive cultural force. As wild and exaggerated as this premise may be, Dethklok claws its way to the top tier of "fake" bands for its concerted effort to create quality music. Surpassing the masturbatory silliness of Tenacious D while stopping just short of the overt satire of "Grand Theft Auto"'s Love Fist and "Homestar Runner"'s Limozeen, Dethklok and their songs may parody popular personalities and conceptions of real-world metal (such as "Fansong," a lament for "a bunch of banks that I'd like to rob"), but everything is backed by a genuine sense of dedication, and it becomes impossible to see it all as anything other than a reflection of the (real and fictional) artists and their attempt to embody metal in its entirety. "Metalocalypse", then, is a bit more earnest than what a surface reading might indicate. Indeed, brief cameos from recurring character Dr. Rockzo, the Rock n' Roll Clown (a shrill amalgam of Gene Simmons and David Lee Roth ("I do cocaine!")), directly point to the creators' unwillingness to reduce everything to a series of pop culture point-and-laughs, creating a successfully hilarious avatar for such desires and leaving it at that.
Most of "Metalocalypse"'s humour, in fact, derives from the band's inability to do anything that doesn't involve the realization of their dark, brutal art: they're completely incapable of performing the most menial and automatic of tasks. (Skwisgaar fails an on-the-spot test given him by Pickles: "Quick: name something that doesn't have to do with the guitar!") The world wilfully plays along as the band reshapes cultural institutions they can't comprehend in their own image. Comedy (1.6, "Dethcomedy"), religion (1.16, "Religionklok"), film (1.19, "Dethstars"), and, yes, other genres of music (1.14, "Bluesklok") fall before Dethklok's violent tinkering--and suddenly you realize that the conspiratorial tribunal that monitors their actions represents a complex reaction to the double-edged sword that is art's influence on society. "Metalocalypse"'s comfort with every aspect of itself eventually throws the burden of examination back on us: it poses how much we really "know" about our artistic idols against what we expect from them and considers how much slack we're willing to cut them when they don't live up to our expectations.
On the other hand, you've got the gay-themed here! network's "The Lair", a softcore vampire enterprise that never seems comfortable with its own half-hearted exploration of gothic horror. My first encounter with infamous schlockmeister Fred Olen Ray, though not necessarily the last (the sheer prolificacy of his work would appear to make that statistically impossible), "The Lair" more or less encompasses everything you've ever heard about the man's work--awful acting, improbable dialogue, and lots of shoehorned-in sex--but aims it at a gay audience. While nosing around an ever-growing number of John Does popping up at the bottom of a ravine, small-time reporter Thom (David Moretti) stumbles on a coven of vampires operating out of the titular nightclub led by the charismatic Damian (Peter Stickles of Shortbus) and his lieutenant, Colin (Dylan Vox). Thom's boyfriend (Jesse Cutlip) also becomes embroiled in the ensuing investigation.
"The Lair" struggles to strike any sort of balance or compromise between its stabs at supernatural mystique and its skin-flick sensibilities (odd, considering the painfully obvious analogies that link vampirism to sex), but it's particularly careless with any other kind of metaphor as well. Plot-lifts from The Picture of Dorian Gray, "The Cask of Amontillado", and Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" are introduced and acknowledged but have no apparent direction; meanwhile, the application of popular gay concerns (equal rights, depression, suicide) is so obvious and slight that "The Lair" never moves beyond preaching to the choir. The series does, however, manage a spark of interest once it pauses long enough to form a cohesive thought. Damian comes to believe that Thom is a reincarnation of the man who turned him into a vampire, and "The Lair" flirts with ideas about seeking forgiveness for sexual inexperience--ideas that could almost prompt someone (including those outside the target demographic, like yours truly) to follow this show past its ridiculous cliffhanger. (A second season is due in 2008.) But because "The Lair" pads out the six episodes that comprise its first season with a lot of groan-worthy detritus and generally atrocious filmmaking, I must stress "almost."
Warner's [adult swim] label presents the premiere season of "Metalocalypse" on DVD in 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. The show is produced in Flash, and while it translates to disc well, the image falls prey to a few pitfalls--namely, the occasional blur and jitter in smaller objects. It's tempting to complain that "Metalocalypse" does not offer DD 5.1 audio, but since the natural response to these songs is to turn it up to eleven, I fear that any soundmix would feel inadequate; as it stands, the Dolby 2.0 stereo sound is wonderfully assaultive in and of itself. The two-disc package claims to be "loaded with exactly one cubic metal ton of hidden Murder features," meaning, essentially, that all of its supplementary material is consigned to Easter egg status; you could probably gauge your tolerance for the set's extras based on that revelation alone.
On Disc One's main menu, start by hunting around Dethklok themselves to reveal sketches related to the members in question: Skwisgaar's eyes lead to a fairly amusing guitar lesson on how to play the solo from "Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle"; Nathan Explosion's eyes reveal an illiterate, twenty-minute (!) stumble through "Hamlet" (an extension of a subplot in 1.15, "Dethkids"); and William Murderface's moustache will send you to an extended version of the opening of "Birthdayface" (1.3), wherein Murderface plays the bass with his junk. More special features are accessible via the Dethklok logo itself: select the central ornamental wheel to see "outtakes" from the video for "Thunderhorse," wherein Skwisgaar casually ignores direction in the middle of a rather awkward position. The thorn to the left of the wheel leads to tribunal member Cardinal Ravenwood attempting to play his acoustic guitar per Skwisgaar's instruction; and the thorn on the right leads to Murderface playing "Wheelchair Bound", an arcade game with an interface similar to that of "Paperboy". ("Fifty thousand more points, I get my legs back.")
The majority of Easter eggs on Disc Two's main menu (the links to which are once again embedded in the Dethklok logo) follow the band, interviewed in one-to-two-minute segments about "Disasters," "Family," "Fans," "Education," "Food," "Future," "Insects," Politics," and "Women." These shorts essentially rework the basic themes of several episodes through the unfiltered improvisation that made "Home Movies" so irritating. A similar problem plagues a tour of the band's mansion, Mordhaus (selectable through the "o" of the logo)--although "Facebones," the loud, terrifying mascot/narrator, sure does keep one at attention. (Incidentally, the character's grating voice further exemplifies the audio's sturdiness.) Similar to the "Guns Don't Kill People" Easter egg on the "Robot Chicken: Volume Two" set, selecting the rightmost axe in the logo leads you to a five-minute montage of nearly every act of violence committed during this season of "Metalocalypse"--without any context, though, the piece crosses the line between funny-psychotic and just regular psychotic.
More scenes await you on the Episodes menu: select the horn of the devil statue on the left to find a dramatic portrait of Tribunal head Mr. Selatcia, in what I can only assume is a teaser for things to come in "Metalocalypse"; the horn on the right houses the uncensored version of a scene from "Murdering Outside the Box" (1.5) wherein Toki mistakes a strap-on dildo for a codpiece. The bloodstream from the statue on the right takes you to the menu for in-show T.G.I. Friday's pastiche Burzums, complete with obnoxiously sedate Muzak--something that seems more tailored to "Tom Goes to the Mayor"'s down-home sense of humour. Another uncensored scene--the breast-laden opener to "Girlfriendklok" (1.18)--hides in the stream on the right. Finally (I think), highlight one of the stone grapes below the statue to uncover a scene from Pickles's stint with his former band, Snakes n' Barrels (8 mins.), in which he mumbles through a drug-induced haze.
Liberation Entertainment brings "The Lair: The Complete First Season" to DVD in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that does little to disguise the series' cheapo-soap opera genesis but remains impressively sharp all the same. The Dolby 5.1 audio sounds pretty artificial (sound effects enter and leave the back channels with little trace of nuance), something I'm willing to attribute to Ray's dubious talents as a filmmaker. A very light helping of bonus material resides on Disc Two: "Backlot" (24 mins.), apparently an episode of here!'s behind-the-scenes program featuring too many clips from the show, too much back-patting among cast members and crew, and the dubious misspelling of Fred "Oler" Ray's name; a reel of who-cares-whatever "Bloopers" (3 mins.); and a "Photo Gallery" (3 mins.)--really a selection of screen captures. Also available are "Trailers" for "The Lair" as well as here!'s original film Dante's Cove and its spin-off series--the latter two apparently a witchcraft-based precursor to "The Lair" and described as "Gay America's favourite guilty pleasure." I have no idea what to think of a property that identifies itself as a guilty pleasure. A promo for here! cues up on startup of the first platter. Originally published: November 28, 2007.