Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lessons learned from licensed comic books

When your comic book adapted from a popular film, television program or toy has been around for some time, you may be unaware of certain deficiencies which have crept into the comics.

Here are three warning signs to bear in mind.

HAS YOUR CAUCASIAN PROTAGONIST...

  1. ...Begun growing his blond hair into a mullet?
  2. ...Been wielding ridiculous, giant firearms?
  3. ...Taken to wearing a bandanna around his head?

If you answered "yes" to all three of these questions, then you are publishing either...

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

...Or Star Wars.

When this happens, you are certain to be cancelled soon after.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Amazing Race 21-11 recap: "Take Down That Million"

Last Sunday evening, the season finale of season 21's Amazing Race aired, compressing the last two legs of the Race into a two-hour programming block. After a series of clips which recap the season up until now (notably omitting Natalie & Nadiya stealing James & Abba's money), we launch into leg 11; our final four teams are young dating couple Trey/Lexi, Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James, life partners Josh/Brent & twin sisters Natalie & Nadiya.

We're still in Mallorca, Spain with Trey & Lexi receiving their first clue, directing them to travel back to Barcelona by plane, then travel via train to France's Loire Valley. close behind them are Jaymes/James, who remind viewers about how they hope to win the prize money to help Jaymes' cancer-stricken father and for James' mother who works with special needs children. Josh/Brent depart next and Josh notes he can speak French, granting them an advantage in the upcoming leg. Having been near the bottom of the ranks for so long, the couple acknowledge what a big deal it would be for them to reach the final leg. Natalie/Nadiya, formerly one of the strongest teams, have fallen to the back and have to complete a Speed Bump during this leg. They are at least pleased to be running alongside two friendly teams (Trey/Lexi & Jaymes/James).

During the train ride, Natalie/Nadiya begin a discussion about Josh/Brent with the other two teams, similar in nature to their earlier discussion about working together to eliminate Abbie/Ryan. The twins opine Josh/Brent are "taking up a spot and we want it way more than them." They quiet down when Trey notices Josh/Brent nearby (in fact, Josh/Brent have overheard some of the conversation); Jaymes invites Josh/Brent to join them. Josh/Brent do, but in a later interview Josh discusses how "demoralizing" it is to have "these people who are so nice and really friendly are actively working to get you out of the Race." Josh isn't too wrong in describing this as "high school all over again," at least in the case of season 21.

As the train pulls to a stop, the teams race out to find cars waiting for them: the new Ford Escape. Much like last season's barely-concealed commercial for another Ford product, this time teams are required to use the Escape's kick-activated lift gate to fill the back of their vehicle with eight baskets. The teams quickly set about this and seem to enjoy the kick feature. Jaymes/James description of the feature is virtually a commercial. Next, teams to have journey to Chateau de Villandry and find a stone dog. Josh/Brent decide to simply follow the other three teams since they all require directions. En route, James describes how his mother doesn't have a car and hopes he can win a Ford Escape for her (Amazing Race legs with product placed cars usually award the vehicles to the first place winner). Natalie/Nadiya notice Josh/Brent are simply following them, which they describe as "sneaking from behind." Brent notes, "It's kind of flattering because all this time we've presumed they didn't think we were a threat and boom, all of a sudden we are." Having noticed how anxious the twins can become, Brent hopes they can seize an advantage over them. Natalie remarks, "Nadiya and I masterminded this plan to get rid of Abbie & Ryan, we never thought the gays would be a threat to us." Get used to "the gays" now, because you'll hear it a lot tonight.

When the caravan pauses at one moment to check directions, Natalie calls ahead to the other teams to "lose these boys behind us." Obviously, Josh/Brent can hear them. "At this point, I don't care, I'm willing to be a bitch," saith Natalie. Arriving at Chateau de Villandry, teams begin searching for the stone dog but have difficulty because they don't know the language. Josh startles the other teams when he begins asking for "la chien." They all receive directions at about the same time and wind up running through the vineyard; Brent sticks his arms out to keep one of the twins from passing him, remarking "you startin' to sweat a little bit?" Yes, the head games have begun! Teams are also a little flustered to see how easily Josh manages running, since he injured his ankle two legs ago. The next clue tells teams to find da Vinci's final resting place, but it's up to them to figure out what the clue means (which makes this a very good clue). However, the twins can't proceed to this clue - it's time for their Speed Bump. Brent mocks the twins about the Speed Bump.

Brent: "Hey, if they can dish it, they gotta take it."

Josh: "No, that's not nice."

Natalie & Nadiya must find a woman wearing a traditional 18th century dress and help her don her corset. During the long run back through the vineyards, the twins ask Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi to lose Josh/Brent and not let them follow them, with Josh/Brent present to hear this. "Play nice, don't listen to these bitches," is Brent's counter argument (well, Natalie did claim she was going to be a bitch). Josh thinks Brent is being a poor sport, while the twins think Josh must have faked his ankle injury. "Don't let them ride on your coattails! They're just using you guys!" Thus saith the most manipulative team since... man, Rob & Amber, I think. After the twins loudly claim Josh is faking his injury, Brent has Josh confirm the injury aloud, then Brent calls out "Have fun at the Speed Bump!" as they head back to their cars. The twins' Speed Bump isn't too difficult, but they grouse how the other teams "should have just waited for us," somehow believing Josh/Brent would... just get lost, I guess. It's true, Josh/Brent haven't been great at navigating, but Josh's French skills are a major advantage here, yes?

As it turns out, once Natalie/Nadiya are out of sight, Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi have no qualms about working with Josh/Brent. Together, they discover da Vinci's resting place is the chapel found at Chateau d'Amboise. The teams decide to let Josh lead the caravan now, figuring his French will be a major asset, although Lexi notes they "aren't very good with directions." Elsewhere, Natalie/Nadiya finish the Speed Bump and must return to the stone dog. Josh gets lost and has to stop for new directions, which frustrates the two following teams. Natalie/Nadiya receive the clue at the stone dog and set out again, hoping "the gays have a flat tire." By now, the caravan has promoted Trey/Lexi to leadership; they've certainly come a long way for teams to entrust them so readily! En route, Jaymes accidentally calls Leonardo da Vinci "Leonardo DiCaprio," to James' amusement.

Trey/Lexi park in a different spot near the chapel than Jaymes/James & Josh/Brent. Trey/Lexi turn out to have picked the best parking spot and reach the chapel first: it's time for a Detour: "Chow" or "Plow." In "Chow," teams must carve up scraps of meat to be fed for hunting dogs, removing all bones then measuring out kibble for the meat.

In "Plow," teams must lead a horse-drawn plow and plow four lines through a field. However, only two teams at a time may perform this task. Both Detours are at the same location in Cheverny. Jaymes/James & Josh/Brent arrive at the chapel while Trey/Lexi are still there. Josh/Brent are drawn to "Plow" because of their farm experience, but because of the limited spots choose "Chow." Trey/Lexi also decide on "Chow" so they start out together, but naturally have parked in different places. Jaymes/James head to "Plow." Lexi's competitive side kicks in as they wait for Josh/Brent and she finally decides they should head to the task without the other team. Why, it's almost as though they're in a race!

As the first three teams leave, Natalie/Nadiya reach the chapel. They head to "Chow" because they have experience making meals for dogs. When Trey/Lexi near the Detour, they decide to seize "Plow" instead; "this is why we stay by ourselves, babe: we're rockin' it," Lexi sagely observes. They begin working with the plowhorse with Lexi leading, Trey pushing the plow. Lexi notes "I have horses on my ranch." She's a rancher? Or do all Texans have ranches? Trey tries to keep them in a straight line and also complains about horse farts; the Amazing Race: keeping your entertainment highbrow.

Jaymes/James & Josh/Brent both get lost searching for the Detour and help each other with directions. Natalie/Nadiya reach the Detour location next, having saved themselves a lot of time! They're tempted by "Plow" when they see just Trey/Lexi there, but decide it would be too hard and stay with "Chow." Jaymes/James & Josh/Brent arrive just after the twins and are a little unnerved to see how close the Race is now. Josh/Brent & Natalie/Nadiya work side-by-side to prepare the dog food. "We're competing against goat farmers who use their knives for a living: stabbing people in the back!" declares one of the twins, evidently forgetting which of them is the team who masterminded a theft and a U-Turn strategy. They still refuse to believe Josh's ankle was injured. "The nice gays became the evil gays today." Brent calls them "evil twins" in return, but the twins aren't fazed: "we've always been evil, we've never been nice." The twins explain Josh/Brent became "evil gays" because of Brent's attempt to block them back at the vineyard; Brent explains he did this because of the twins insisting the other teams leave them behind. "Evil gays are going down," one twin predicts.

Jaymes/James begin "Plow," which occasions the start of many statements from James about what a toll this task is on his forearms. At "Chow," we learn Josh/Brent are well ahead of the twins because they have a strategy, placing priority on meat which doesn't need to be deboned . During it all, this conversation erupts:

Josh: "By the way, you guys have the worst poker face in the world."

Natalie: "Why?"

Josh: "Because of the alliances."

Natalie: "Why should we hide alliances?"

Nadiya: "That was an alliance from the start!"

Josh: "I have one question for you, though."

Natalie: "Yeah?"

Josh: "We're like, totally the weakest team so far..."

Natalie: "No! You're not!"

Nadiya: "Weaker than Abbie & Ryan!"

Suddenly, the twins realize amidst this conversation, they've become distracted and haven't cut their meat correctly. Just as Brent predicted, the twins can be flustered; who'd have thought meek little Josh would find the chink in their armours? Eventually the twins realize Josh/Brent are intentionally messing with them and refuse to keep talking to the "evil gays." Their own arsenal has been turned against them! Josh/Brent finish carving their meat and start measuring kibble.

Trey/Lexi finish "Plow" and receive the next clue: travel to la Cave des Roches in Bourre. They're very pleased with their Detour choice, which was indeed the quicker of the two options, as we see when Jaymes/James finish just behind them. Jaymes kisses his horse goodbye as they depart, because he's quirky. Josh/Brent finish preparing their kibble and receive their clue while the hungry dogs make short work of the meal. "The gays bloody beat us," Natalie grouses.

In Bourre, Trey/Lexi discover it's time for a Roadblock: one team member must venture into the caves and fill a basket (from the baskets they loaded into their Ford Escapes) with 10 mushrooms of three different varieties, then present them to the local shop owner. The clue specifies Brent, Jaymes & Lexi must choose the task, which gives you an idea of how many Roadblocks are in the final leg (Natalie/Nadiya have skipped a Roadblock thanks to their Fast Forward). Lexi finds it tricky to recognize the mushrooms in the dark. Jaymes/James arrive right after them and Jaymes joins the hunt. Elsewhere, Josh/Brent are struggling with directions again, while Natalie/Nadiya finish "Chow."

At the Roadblock, Lexi collects her mushrooms but can't find her way out. Jaymes collects mushrooms and exits first, but the shop keeper tells him he made a mistake; after checking the sample pieces of mushrooms, Jaymes heads back to the cave as Lexi heads out. Lexi has the correct mushrooms and receives the next clue, directing her to the Pit Stop: "the Castle of the Ladies," which they must discover is the name of Chateau de Chenonceau. Jaymes gets the Roadblock figured out correctly on the second attempt and departs to the Pit Stop, just barely behind Trey/Lexi. However, Trey/Lexi received some bad directions and wind up at the wrong location.

At the Roadblock, Natalie/Nadiya arrive next with Josh/Brent just behind them, but the twins run well away from where the clues are, placing Josh/Brent ahead of them. Brent heads into the caves as the twins realize their error and head back. Natalie takes the Roadblock.

Jaymes/James reach the Pit Stop first and Phil awards them the two Ford Escape vehicles, just as James had hoped; they are also confirmed as racing in the final leg. James is elated to have won a car for his mother. Trey/Lexi arrive next and are confirmed for the final leg. Trey hopes they don't lose any friends over the final leg.

At the Roadblock, Brent becomes a little anxious as he searches for the mushrooms. Natalie is more focused, for once. Nadiya opines being beaten at the Detour was "adding insult to injury." Natalie finishes the Roadblock first and the twins head to the Pit Stop. Josh keenly notes, "If he comes out soon it's just gonna come down to a race between us and the twins to get to the Pit Stop. If he doesn't come out soon, it's gonna be a leisurely drive back to the Pit Stop." Brent finishes about 10 minutes after the twins, but they remain hopeful something might happen in their favour.

Brent: "Unless they all of a sudden have navigation issues, there's no way we're gonna beat them."

Josh: "They've had navigation issues in the past, though."

Brent: "...But not today. They're on a hot streak."

However, this is exactly what's happened: Natalie/Nadiya have driven in the opposite direction of the Pit Stop and lose a lot of time before turning around! It's still impossible to tell who's leading because there's a road closed and Josh refuses to follow the detour signs, which seems like a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, it's Josh/Brent who arrive at the Pit Stop in third place, giving them a shot at the $1 million prize! "More and more, I believe we can win this race," Josh declares, which is quite a change to see in the man who really felt they were finished two legs ago!

Natalie/Nadiya finally reach the Pit Stop, where Phil eliminates them. Natalie sums up their performance by saying, "If we can take anything from this race it's that we need to harness what we have into a more positive reaction instead of only crazy, y'know?" We're given a quick montage of their adventures through season 21, then the first half concludes with the top three teams psyching themselves up for the final leg: "This leg has to be our first and only win," Josh notes.

The second half opens as Jaymes/James receive a clue telling them to fly to New York, New York. A postcard is included of Coney Island with the words, "wish you were here." They recognize Coney Island, but can only guess what they're looking for when they reach the location. Trey/Lexi depart next and we learn they didn't even know what "customs" was before the race began; babes in the woods, these two. Lexi feels their relationship has been strengthened by the experience, which certainly bucks the usual Amazing Race trend of breaking up couples. Trey is wearing shorts with the U.S. flag design for this leg, which conjures up images of Rocky Balboa. En route to the airport, Jaymes recalls Josh/Brent & Natalie/Nadiya are both New Yorker teams, so regardless of who the 3rd team is, they'll be racing against locals. Josh/Brent depart last and we hear how they hope to win the $1 million so they can pay off the mortgage on their farm. At the airport, Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi are surprised to see Josh/Brent are the last team and greet them with hugs. The atmosphere is certainly lighter without Natalie/Nadiya's barbs. Trey/Lexi don't feel intimidated by Josh/Brent, having been matched with Jaymes/James for several legs now. Before leaving for the USA, Jaymes/James get rid of their bags to spare themselves having to carry them around again, a tactic many teams employ in the final leg. "Someone's gonna end up with some nice, stinky Chippendale's clothes," says Jaymes. Now that the final leg has arrived, the sharing of information which has marked... man, every leg prior to this! has ended and teams are finally standing on their own.

In New York, the teams quickly obtain taxis and head to Coney Island. Jaymes/James reach the Coney Island boardwalk first and start looking for a racing flag, but can't see one. Trey/Lexi arrive with Josh/Brent a little behind them, but they're also stymied by the postcard clue. Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi both walk through the gate to find a flag and wander about, confused.

Trey/Lexi finally realize the clue is included on one of the posters seen on the Coney Island boardwalk ("the Amazing Houdini") - it directs them to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As they write down the information, Josh/Brent spot them and realize the clue is near, soon discovering it for themselves (not without Brent sniping at Josh, "I told you to look at the signs!"). Both teams run off, leaving Jaymes/James behind, terribly confused as they see the other teams have clearly discovered something. Trey is concerned by Josh/Brent copying them, but Lexi reminds him Jaymes/James are their "real" competition. Jaymes finally spots the poster and they bolt for their taxi. En route, Lexi reveals she doesn't know who Houdini was.

At the Navy Yard, Trey/Lexi find the next clue: Roadblock! One team member must duplicate an old Harry Houdini escape trick by being suspended upside down in a straight jacket. First, they'll have to remove the straight jacket, then the suspension rope will become a bungee cord for one last good fear-based task. Lexi nominates Trey for the challenge, which has to be the right decision, but Trey takes it poorly; for the first time, I noticed his voice crack (Trey has a distinctively mellow voice) as he's a little terrified by heights. On the other hand, Brent isn't afraid of heights so he takes the Roadblock. Jaymes also arrives to take the Roadblock and is actually pumped at the idea.

Lexi tries to encourage Trey: "You get to experience New York in a way no one else has, babe - upside down!" To get out of the straight jacket, it seems you just have to lift your arms over your head, so it's simply a matter of keeping your cool as the blood rushes to your head and you recall the terrifying bungee jump in your future. Trey does manage to complete it and receives the next clue: find New York's first pizzeria, which is yet another very well-designed clue. Of course, by simply asking a local with a smart phone, they learn they're looking for Lombardi's pizzeria and head there in a taxi. Lexi worries she'll have to eat some pizza, perhaps thinking of a task from season 6's final leg.

Brent finishes the Roadblock and he & Josh figure out they need to locate Lombardi's thanks to smart phones. Jaymes finishes the Roadblock, but he and James don't have a taxi waiting; they learn they're headed for Lombardi's, but have to wait for a new taxi to arrive.

At Lombardi's, the owner presents Trey/Lexi with their next clue: deliver ten pizzas to three locations by memorizing the orders - no note taking allowed. Trey/Lexi begin, while Josh/Brent begin the task and use their knowledge of New York to choose the nearest addresses. Elsewhere, Jaymes/James finally have a taxi.

Trey/Lexi finish their deliveries, return to Lombardi's and learn they performed the task correctly; the owner gives them the next clue, which is simply the UN symbol. However, Trey/Lexi have no idea what the symbol is (oy) and have to ask a local. They head to the UN Building via taxi. Jaymes/James arrive and begin the pizza task just as Trey/Lexi leave. Josh/Brent return to Lombardi's only to discover they made two incorrect deliveries and will have to redo them. Brent does not take this well and again snipes at Josh for the errors. As my mother would say, "the important thing is to assign blame." Jaymes/James observe all of this and are at least heartened to realize they could be closer to 2nd place.

En route to the UN, Lexi supposes the task will be a memory-based challenge about the entire journey (usually a staple in final legs). Lexi believes she's ready for such a task. Josh/Brent finish their deliveries and return to Lombardi's, where they receive the next clue. Brent asks for some pizza and the owner promises they can have some when they return. Josh/Brent recognize the UN symbol instantly. However, Brent is still grousing over Josh's mistakes with the pizza, reminding him they couldn't afford any mistakes; Josh apologizes and asks Brent to drop the matter. As they leave, Jaymes/James finish the task and... they have no idea what the UN symbol means. Man, this is why the Amazing Race needs these non-written clues, it really points out the strengths and weaknesses of some teams. After learning they need to find the UN, Jaymes/James head out in a taxi.

At the UN Building, Trey/Lexi find their next clue: it's a second Roadblock. This means season 21 had double Roadblocks for the first and final legs of the year, which definitely increases the overall difficulty. This means Lexi must perform the Roadblock, which is to raise flags containing the words meaning "hello" and "goodbye" beneath the correct country's flag; when all the countries they've visited have the right phrases in the correct order, they may raise the UN flag, which will lower the next clue. Over the years, Racers have learned to pay attention at the Pit Stops because something there is usually involved in the memory-based challenge. In this instance, they did hear the words for "hello" and "goodbye" all season, but none of the teams realized the significance (neither did this viewer). Lexi has to perform this Roadblock and can only really recall the words from France & Spain. For the others, she begins to guess. Fortunately, the judges tell her after each flag, so it doesn't her to guess which flag combinations are right and which are wrong.

Josh is very excited about being able to perform a task at the UN, having lived in New York for so long. Josh begins the Roadblock, but isn't much more confident about which phrases he knows than Lexi. Brent isn't quite as supportive of Josh as Trey is of Lexi, sarcastically remarking, "You know, you are in a race for a million dollars," when he thinks Josh is dawdling. Jaymes/James arrive and James begins the Roadblock; he's about as well-versed as Lexi & Josh are at the task. Jaymes recalls how Phil would explain "that means hello" and "that means goodbye" when the greeters spoke to them at the Pit Stop but, "I just thought they were being cordial!"

Meanwhile, Lexi is growing flustered by the task because she doesn't know the answers and there are too many variables. At one point, a flag drops and hits Lexi in the head (the flags have plastic frames) and she bursts into tears. The tension of knowing they were in first but are now faltering is too much for her: "This is just so crushing," Lexi sobs hysterically. While Lexi is coming undone and Brent squabbles with Josh, Jaymes/James remain super-relaxed.

James: "'Merhaba'"

Jaymes: "That sound like a sandwich. Makin' me hungry."

James: "Can I get a foot long Merhaba, please? On wheat?"

Josh finally comes up with a plan to use math as a means of eliminating the wrong answers. "All right Josh, don't take too much time celebrating," is Brent's ever-joyless reaction. Of the greeters, James recalls, "I remember the person, clear as day, what they were wearing and then they bowed and said soblobblobblob."

After 2.5 hours, the teams are still struggling! Josh finally gets his last one, proving his method works! Lexi congratulates Josh and he replies, "Thank you! Keep goin', hon!" which is a nice reminder of how sweet Josh was to Abbie/Ryan earlier in the Race. Josh raises the UN flag and receives the final clue: travel by taxi to Gotham Hall and run to the Finish Line! "So disappointing!" Lexi sobs, realizing she can't have first place now. Josh and Brent head out to find a taxi, although their driver seems uncertain about Gotham Hall's location.

James finishes the Roadblock soon after Josh and heads out with Jaymes to get a taxi. En route to Gotham Hall, Josh/Brent worry that Jaymes/James might still pass them, "like they did every leg of the race," which isn't quite accurate but... more or less, yes. Jaymes/James are proud to have run the entire race, regardless of how it plays out.

At Gotham Hall, it's Josh/Brent who come running to the Finish Line surrounded by the eight eliminated teams (arranged in order of elimination from Phil's right to left) and you can see their friends Abbie/Ryan flipping out as Ryan leaps in the air.

Phil confirms Josh/Brent have won the Amazing Race and $1 million. They kiss (each other, not Phil). "We were underdogs and what I hope this proves to people is whether they're minorities or they're out of work or losing their house or whatever, if they just keep going and just keep working as hard as they can, people will help and that at some point, you will win," is Josh's speech. They note the race has brought them together again, as they normally work in two different cities. The eight eliminated teams cheer for Josh/Brent's victory.

Jaymes/James arrive and claim second place; they congratulate and hug Josh/Brent. Jaymes does look very sad at the Finish Line, probably because he's thinking of his father. James is still pleased to have at least won a car for his mother. "Maybe the world will have a different view of Chippendale's now. I don't know if it's better or worse..." Jaymes jokes.

We don't see Lexi solve the final Roadblock, so perhaps she was let go from the task when Jaymes/James checked in? She and Trey race into Gotham Hall to receive third place and exchange hugs with the top teams. "I think we are definitely ready for that next step, it's just a matter of when Trey is ready for that next step," is Lexi's cagey way of hinting how badly she wants him to propose to her; I expect we'll hear about it before too long.

All 11 teams and Phil exchange hugs and pleasantries. We also hear from Rob (of Rob/Kelley), who remarks of the winners, "The Beekman Boys changed my life dramatically, opened my eyes to see, hey, look, it's not for me to judge anybody on their lifestyle, or who they are or what they do." I suppose Rob had some prejudices concerning goat farmers to overcome.

With that, we complete season 21 and this series of recaps. When season 22 comes around in early 2013, I will be on an international adventure of my own - living the Amazing Race, if you will - so I won't be covering season 22. I may or may not recap Amazing Race: Australia season 3 in the summer (assuming it airs).

However, I'm also a little embittered towards the program. This season had some decent people, some teams which really surprised me, especially the dark horse winners, Josh/Brent, who were very likeable despite being reality TV stars. However, the breaking point for me was when Natalie/Nadiya stole James/Abba's money. Not only has production downplayed this event (compare to season 14 and how many times we had to rewatch the footage of Luke running into Jen) and didn't penalize them for, you know, taking another team's property, which is against the rules every other time it happens... but Phil didn't so much as raise his eyebrow at them. It isn't behaviour I want to see on this program or any other. If the future of the Amazing Race is to reduce the program to a series of alliances of manipulations, then it's not the program I started out with four years ago - it might as well be Survivor.

I hope you've enjoyed this series of recaps, even if you only came to admire my amateur screencaps. If you return for season 22 then I hope you enjoy the experience!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Across My Desk: "Are Comics Better or Worse?"

My work as a librarian occasionally leads me across some fascinating detrius in the history of comic books... such a post is this. From the August, 1955 issue of Parents Magazine, I offer you this 3-page article:

If you're familiar with your comic book history, then you know this was published a year after Frederic Wertham had helped spur on the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings and only shortly after the Comics Code Authority shield began defacing comics on the racks. The CCA resulted in tepid, lifeless comic books because of the restrictions on what was considered "in good taste," as though crime, horror and funny animal comics should each play according the same rules for the same audience. The stigma generated against comics by the hearings and CCA is still felt by comic book fandom today.

In another sense, this is all in the past and thus safe for us on the other side of history to look back and guffaw. Certainly this article's criteria for judging comic books is baffling. The "No Objection" list includes much of what Archie and Dell were publishing at the time - in fact, the list is almost entirely comprised of teen humour comics, funny animal comics and romance comics. And yet, what grants Superman No Objection but Action Comics & Superboy Some Objection? Why does the Lone Ranger warrant Some Objection while the spin-off comics Silver and Tonto are clear?

There's also practically no daylight between the Riverdale teens of Archie and the company's Katy Keene, yet Katy is Objectionable! It ranks a "2," which... hm, let's check the standards... Moral Area... ah, yes, "The portrayal of drug addiction or excessive use of alcohol."

Actually, Katy and the similar Millie the Model were probably written up over "Any situation having a sexy implication" and/or "Persons dressed indecently or unduly exposed; costumes not appropriate to the occasion." Yet how was Dan DeCarlo's Millie substantially different from Dan DeCarlo's Betty & Veronica?

Perhaps the most baffling Objectionable comic to me was Rin-Tin-Tin, who earned a "3" for Morbidly Emotional (as did the similar Rex the Wonder Dog). How could Rin-Tin-Tin differ much from the clean-as-a-dog's-mouth Lassie? Perhaps the objection was over "Kidnapping of women or children, or the implication of it," but that must be the most unhelpful criteria ever invented. The "implication" of kidnapping? Who determines when kidnapping is implied? How? What is a super dog like Rinnie supposed to do for a living if he's not allowed to rescue women and children in peril? Is he only allowed to rescue adult men? How emasculating for them.

As a fan of Atlas Comics, it's interesting to note how few Atlas comics listed under "No Objection" - just Patsy & Hedy, My Own Romance & Homer the Happy Ghost. None of their adventure comics made the cut, while DC at least scored with Superman and Tomahawk. It's strange to see the various Atlas fantasy books listed with different objections as their content was virtually identical and all of it rather bad; that's the really galling part - even after cleaning up their horror comics into fantasy comics, Atlas was still told their material was too "morbid." Check out this from the article (emphasis mine):

"Horror and crime comics are less numerous and somewhat less offensive according to this year's review than formerly: yet a new subtle type of mystery story has appeared on the scene. To some parents it might seem even more objectionable than the obviously fantastic and weird stories of other years. These new mystery stories present arson, walking dead, and even in some cases horribly disturbing incidents that seem a threat to civilization."

I would love to understand what the bold type refers to. "Seem a threat to civilization?" What, like a science fiction story about the end of the world? Was two-year old Alan Moore already publishing stories which promoted anarchy?

How about the wild "Crime stories unless they relate to folklore or classical literature." So, that's fine for Classics Illustrated, but what is a "crime story?" Wertham considered any comic involving crime (even in Looney Tunes) to be a "crime story," so what's their definition? Superman certainly seems exempt, despite being a crime fighter.

Some titles on the Objectionable list hit the coveted 3-in-one in culture, morals and morbidity! These are Authentic Police Cases (St. John), Blue Beetle (Charlton), Crime and Justice (Charlton), Crime and Punishment (Lev Gleason), Don Winslow (Charlton), Mad (EC), Outlaw Fighters (Atlas), Outlaw Kid (Atlas), Piracy (EC), Rugged Action (Atlas), Straight Arrow (Magazine Enterprises) & T-Man (Quality). DC doesn't list a single title under all three, although it's interesting to see Batman came close, missing only on culture. I suppose Robin's shorts won them a moral objection for "costumes not appropriate to the occasion."

It's a small wonder to see EC's Mad on the list, although they were already headed to their magazine format by the time of this article. What is surprising is to find Charlton's Mad rip-off Insanity considered clean!

In other "EC can't catch a break" headlines, Valor is written up for culture and morbidity. Again, a company tried to clean up their content into something less sensational with decent values, only to be slighted.

In all, a portrait of the times; the US public eventually tired of poking their nose into people's comic book habits. They retain an insatiable appetite for intruding in people's religious, political and sexual background, however.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Amazing Race 21-10 recap: "Not a Well-Rounded Athlete"

Last night's Amazing Race didn't feature the most exciting route or outrageous incidents, but demonstrated some surprising strengths and weaknesses amongst the four remaining teams.

We resume where we left off: Randsdorp in the Netherlands, near Amsterdam. Twin sisters Natalie/Nadiya resume in first place and their clue directs them to fly to Barcelona, Spain, then travel by ferry to the island of Mallorca. As the twins head to the airport, we're reminded how they have a decent lead on the other teams (they used a Fast Forward last leg). At the airport, they do a terrific job of lining up a flight and are en route to Barcelona before the next team has even begun!

Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James are next to depart; they U-Turned their friends Abbie/Ryan on the previous leg but don't actually know whether Abbie/Ryan were eliminated. Young dating couple Trey/Lexi leave soon after them, but they don't catch up at the airport. In fact, the teams each wind up on separate flights, just like last leg.

In Barcelona, Natalie/Nadiya head via taxi to the ferry port, but find the location is closed and won't open for... 13 hours! Oh my gravy. At this point, life partners Josh/Brent have only just begun the leg, more than six hours behind the leaders. "We have to be doing something right, I don't know what it is, but... it seems like we do everything wrong." Josh muses. He notes they've been in either last or 2nd to last for quite some time (since leg 5, if you can believe it). At the airport, they discuss Josh's ankle injury from the previous leg:

Brent: "Can you practice your Lamaze breathing?"

Josh: "I'm not pregnant."

Brent: "Breathe, breathe through the pain."

Josh: "...I'm breathing."

Brent: (heavy breathing)

Josh: "What was that?"

Brent: "I'm breathing through the pain for you."

Josh: "Thank you, it still hurts."

When it comes to his anxiety and sardonic remarks, Josh does remind me of Zev (from seasons 15 & 18). Josh remarks, "There's always that one team that somehow stays in to the end and you're like, 'how and why are they still here?' Rarely do they win, but, occasionally they have," which sums up he & Brent pretty neatly. They board a flight to Barcelona, ever hopeful.

Back to Barcelona: Jaymes/James head to the port where they find Natalie/Nadiya waiting; they're extremely excited to be reunited and the twins share what they know about the ferry. Not much later, Trey/Lexi arrive (confirming how they used the U-Turn last leg) and all six Racers perform a group hug. "Final three!" is shouted many times. With hours to kill before the ferry arrives, they switch to their swimwear and lounge about on the Barcelona beach; they've come a long way from Bangladesh! As time for the ferry draws near, they return to the ferry terminal and find Josh/Brent waiting. Overjoyed to see it isn't Abbie/Ryan (but instead, a team no one feels threatened by), they happily hug the duo. It probably hurts Josh/Brent a little to hear the teams express how proud they are of their U-Turn strategy, considering the bond Josh/Brent forged with Abbie/Ryan. Still, Josh/Brent are pleased to have caught up to the leading teams after being behind for so many legs.

The ferry finally departs with all four teams aboard. In Mallorca, teams choose taxis and drive to a cathedral in Palma where a group of men dressed as devils/demons and playing with fire have their next clue. Josh/Brent get lost in the shuffle as they can't find directions to the cathedral, but the other three teams stick close together. At the cathedral, Jaymes/James, Natalie/Nadiya & Trey/Lexi search the devils together until Trey finds the one with their clue: it directs them to board one of the cars waiting nearby and drive to Centro de Alto Rendimiento in Manacor. This must be the first time teams have been allowed to drive themselves since the opening trip to the airport in leg 1! As they depart, Josh/Brent arrive at the cathedral and obtain the clue.

The leading trio agreed to travel together, but the cars are manual (something which often comes up on Amazing Race) and Natalie/Nadiya fall behind the others. Nadiya trained to use manual before the Race, but only took one class because she thought it "seems easy;" not so, indeed. Natalie/Nadiya fall terribly behind the others. Natalie winds up backseat driving, even though she knows less about manual. Josh/Brent make up some time because they're good with manual and directions (they seem to be the one team who bought a map).

Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi arrive together at Centro de Alto Rendimiento where they learn it's time for a Roadblock: these are the tennis courts where the world's #1 tennis player Rafael Nadal plays; now one of them must enter the court and return 20 legal serves from a tennis ball machine before the machine runs out. Trey & James take the task (it's surprising, considering James has a wounded ankle). Trey, on the other hand, plays tennis for recreation. The balls come fast, but Lexi advises Trey to strike every other ball, which sounds like a decent strategy. "They're definitely makin' him run for it, which I like to see," says Lexi. Jaymes notices how well Trey is doing and supposes "when you wear the Andre Agassi headband, you play like Andre Agassi." I don't know who that is, but it is nice to see someone pointing out Trey's ever-present headband. James struggles but keeps his humour up declaring "that was a home run!" after one hit.

Trey easily smashes out his 20 serves (the ringing noise when he succeeds sounds like a Price is Right effect) and receives the next clue: drive to the Campanet caverns and listen for music to find the next clue. James has to make a second attempt. En route to the court, Josh informs Brent how his ankle feels much better and when Brent presses the issue, confirms his ankle is "not an excuse." Nadiya continues to fumble with her car. Back at the court, James hits his 20th ball on the second attempt and sets out with Jaymes to the Campanet. Josh/Brent pass them in the parking lot as they exit. "I am not a well-rounded athlete, if you haven't noticed," James laughs (and titles this episode). Josh agrees to play tennis because of his supposedly improved ankle, but once he starts playing on the court, he quickly revives the injury. Josh seems both hapless and hopeless as he struggles at hitting the tennis balls. Despite this, Brent can't help a snarky remark on hearing Josh's vocal exertions: "Sounds like Monica Celes on the court." Again, I don't get the reference but it sounds funny! Brent notes how Josh needs to control his anxiety, but since Josh hasn't done this after 42 years of life, it's unlikely he'll figure it out on the Race. After failing his first attempt, Josh collapses and Brent wonders if it's even possible for Josh to succeed.

Just to compound Josh's anxiety, Natalie/Nadiya have finally caught up. Noting they're "the same in tennis," Nadiya takes the Roadblock. We soon learn what this statement means as the twins hated playing tennis while growing up and at school would douse themselves in water to avoid being allowed on the tennis court. Nadiya has to ask Natalie whether she's left-handed or right-handed, which is about the most ridiculous question I can imagine (then again, if anyone could answer, it would be your twin sister). "It's not bloody badminton!" is one of Natalie's many pointed remarks. Josh finally rallies his strength and fights back, while Natalie just criticizes Nadiya for holding her racket "really weird, like a cricket bat." Josh finishes the Roadblock, but Natalie/Nadiya aren't too far behind as Nadiya finishes the Roadblock. The twins ask Josh/Brent if they know where Campanet is, but they don't.

Nadiya: "He has a map though."

Natalie: "How do they have a bloody map in this place?"

Nadiya: "I don't know, they're super-prepared, they're gay."

At Campanet, Trey/Lexi & Jaymes/James arrive close together and agree to help each find the next clue. They wander through the caves carefully, listening intently for music. As Trey/Lexi find the musicians first, Jaymes encourages Trey/Lexi to take the first clue; they do, and simply hand it to Jaymes/James!

It's now time for the Detour: "Spin It" and "Bull It." In the former, teams journey to Sa Pobla and help attach two windmill blades to a windmill; actors dressed as Don Quixote & Sancho Panza will deliver their next clue.

In "Bull It," teams drive to Muro and perform a mock bullfight in an arena; dressed as a pantomime bull (the rear team member providing the eyes from the back while the front half can't see), they must correctly navigate eight matadors, then strike a bull's eye next to a mannequin matador, all of this within 2 minutes. Both teams agree to try "Bull It" and head out of the caverns to continue assisting each other. As Natalie/Nadiya drive on, Natalie laments, "We suck! Everybody's hours ahead of us, I feel! If we'd just kept up with everybody from the start we'd have been straight."

Out on the road, Jaymes/James choose a different direction than Trey/Lexi when they head for the freeway. The latter team are confident in their directions and keep going without them. In fact, Jaymes/James seem to be on the wrong path but chance to happen upon the "Spin It" Detour. They decide to stop and build the windmill instead.

Jaymes: "Workin' at Chippendale's, we may have seen a construction outfit a time or two."

James: "Yeah, I may have swung a, y'know, styrofoam hammer here and there."

The duo actually seem to be doing well with this other Detour, simply attaching the fan blades in the same manner as the samples provided. "This might've been the fun one after all," Jaymes concludes. In contrast, Trey/Lexi arrive at "Bull It" and dress up in the bull suit with Trey guiding from the rear while Lexi wears the horns. You know, over the years Amazing Race has dressed up its cast as all manner of cows and kangaroos. It does wonders for their sense of dignity. They navigate the course very well, but they charge the bull's eye with too much force and knock it over. Not only does it mean they have to redo the task, but Lexi injured her finger in the tumble.

Back at Campanet, Josh/Brent locate their next clue; they choose "Spin It." Speaking of which, Jaymes/James finish the windmill and receive directions to the next Pit Stop: Castell de Bellver, a castle in Palma. Elsewhere, Natalie/Nadiya find their clue in Campanet and decide to try "Spin It." Back at "Bull It," Trey/Lexi switch parts of the bull and try the task again; on the second attempt, they succeed (the bull's eye makes another Price is Right noise) and receive a clue directing them to the Pit Stop. Josh/Brent start work on "Spin It," just as Natalie/Nadiya arrive, but have some trouble parking the car. Josh remarks how seeing the twins gave him strength because he knew he & Brent would be better at the task (having worked together on their farm) and having seen how Natalie/Nadiya were already having a troublesome time. In fact, the windmill reminds Josh/Brent of the wind turbine on their farm. Meanwhile, the twins struggle with the tools; one team is in their comfort zone, the other is not.

Trey/Lexi arrive at the Pit Stop in first place, which seems to indicate their Detour was nearer. At the Pit Stop, they're met by Phil and a greeter dressed as a headless person (why?). Phil awards them a trip to the Riviera Maya. Jaymes/James arrive in 2nd place; they declare they're the most motivated team on the Race because of how badly they want to help their families' health troubles.

Back at "Spin It," Josh/Brent complete the task, collecting their clue from Quixote & Panza. "I guess the two of us are better than each of them separate," is Brent's assessment of their besting Natalie/Nadiya. Natalie grouses, "This is why we're supposed to look at everything ahead of time, not just, Nadiya, just pin the tail on the damn donkey every time." Josh/Brent claim 3rd place at the castle. "It's just hard to kill us, I think," Josh remarks.

Of their performance, Nadiya notes "there was no master plan against us," seemingly a reference to Abbie/Ryan's fate last week. "We did this all by ourselves, to ourselves." They finally complete "Spin It," and head to a last place finish at the Pit Stop, where Phil informs them it's a non-elimination leg (which they seem prepared for - it had to be an NEL this leg or the next and the producers tend to prefer four teams in the penultimate leg). Thus, the twins still have a chance to win the Race, but will have to endure a Speed Bump in the next leg.

We remain with the same four teams as before:

  1. Trey & Lexi: I really did expect them to get lost while driving, given the problems they had making decisions in earlier legs. Lexi's injury didn't seem to cost them any time as they hammered out tasks as efficiently as usual. I wouldn't have predicted them as contenders back at the beginning, but they've been extremely reliable throughout.
  2. Jaymes & James: With so many of the formerly powerful teams gone, these two have stepped up to become a true powerhouse in the Race, handily besting a Detour which didn't seem like the better choice. They seem like obvious contenders for the $1 million prize and will probably please the largest possible portion of Amazing Race's fanbase if they succeed.
  3. Josh & Brent: Never give up the ship! I didn't expect to find these two in the Race for very long, certainly not long enough to develop any affection for them. I'm glad to have been proved wrong as despite their previous reality show experience, they are very down-to-Earth and keep the program grounded. Regardless of how the remainder of the Race pans out, their performance is a major statement to future teams on how far you can go by simply refusing to give up.
  4. Natalie & Nadiya: I'm still irritated with these two for stealing money earlier in the Race, but it was interesting to see them fail and only blame themselves (which I can't help but contrast against Abbie/Ryan last week). Their various remarks about Josh/Brent's sexuality were probably meant to be funny, but I think they've lost a few fans over it.

Next week: the final two legs of season 21, meshed together into a two-hour finale; first, teams will race to learn which of them are the final three, then it's a 3-way race to $1 million! Based on the footage, Trey/Lexi seem to be definitely in the finals. There's also some amusing footage of Brent spreading out his arms to seemingly prevent other team members from outrunning him. Thus, I'll conclude my recaps of season 21 a week from today!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Amazing Race 21-09 recap: "Fishy Kiss"

Last night's Amazing Race featured another round of intense airport drama plus the most protracted waffling over a U-Turn in years!

We resume in Moscow, Russia with Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James in first place. Their first clue provides them with a flag and they have to determine for themselves which country it belongs to, then book a flight to the nation's capital. I love this, it's the type of clue which helps us viewers see how the Racers compare at problem solving. The dancers borrow an ipad from a hotel and using it, quickly learn it's the flag of the Netherlands and they should be booking a flight to Amsterdam. During this, we hear how Jaymes' father has cancer and he wants to win the $1 million to help pay his father's bills. Jaymes/Head they head to the airport in a taxi to begin the search.

Young dating couple Trey/Lexi depart next, close behind the dancers. A man at a hotel guesses the flag is that of France and Lexi excitedly prepares herself to visit Paris. Arriving at the airport, they spy Jaymes/James and the latter team quizzes them: "where do you think we're going?" Lexi replies "Paris," but Jaymes quickly corrects her and provides the correct information. "Thank God y'all saw us," Jaymes declares, having apparently taken these two chicks so well within his folds that he's forgotten they're his competition.

Twins Natalie/Nadiya are more than an hour behind the other teams, so while they seemed to make up some ground last leg when they used their Express Pass, they still hadn't worked off all they lost from two legs ago. Natalie also assumes it's the flag of France, but the staff of the same hotel Jaymes/James visited corrects them. Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi work on getting a flight together, but the earliest flight they find only has enough room for Jaymes/James. Natalie/Nadiya arrive at the airport and learn about an earlier flight which connects through Rome, but has only one hour for the connection. The booking clerk refuses to let them book this flight, but they beg and plead with her until she lets them. Normally on the Amazing Race when someone makes a risky connection, it doesn't pay off. Hm. Because the next flights don't depart until the following morning, the top three teams are in danger of being caught up to by the latter two teams.

Roughly ten hours (!) behind the leaders, dating couple Abbie/Ryan begin the leg and they're not even in last place! Ryan guesses the flag is France, but when Abbie disagrees he guesses it must be the Netherlands. As they head to the airport, we hear how they fear a U-Turn might be coming up and knowing neither Natalie/Nadiya nor Trey/Lexi like them, they might wind up being U-Turned; Jaymes/James are the only team they aren't worried about because they're friends (they worked together on a Roadblock back in leg 4, if you recall). In fact, there's a conversation about the U-Turn between the top three teams at the airport. They note how Abbie/Ryan would probably most wish to U-Turn Natalie/Nadiya and vice versa. This is where Natalie prompts the others on "the plan:" the first team to the U-Turn should strike Abbie/Ryan, while the 2nd team U-Turns the 1st team, thus preventing Abbie/Ryan from using the Double U-Turn to keep at least one team behind them. A cunning strategy, but Jaymes isn't quite down with it. Natalie/Nadiya & Trey/Lexi worry how Jaymes/James "better not be nice guys" and participate in the plan. Because James is more sympathetic to the plan, Natalie demands he be "in charge." Jaymes expresses a desire not to "hurt anybody's feelings," but Natalie retorts, "that was cute when there were eleven of us." Nadiya adds, "get with the program." Jaymes feels while they're a front-running team, they shouldn't have to worry about U-Turns. "Why lose a friend if you don't got to?" Jaymes asks.

Once again, Abbie/Ryan research their flight on their own and Ryan finds a beauty of a flight which connects via Frankfurt. This prompts clips from two episodes ago where they were trapped in Frankfurt for about nine hours after missing a connection there. Despite their past history, they decide on the Frankfurt connection, then book multiple flights in advance to be certain they aren't trapped there.

Finally, more than 12 hours behind the leading team, life partners Josh/Brent begin the leg; we haven't seen a gap like this (especially with multiple teams) since season 11, I think. Josh/Brent started last leg 4 hours behind Abbie/Ryan, yet now are about 2.5 hours behind them; considering they went last leg at a gentle pace, pausing to enjoy themselves, Ryan must have bled a ridiculous amount of time on the leg's Roadblock. Brent correctly identifies the Netherlands flag instantly. Josh believes they should be safe from the other teams because they're not seen as a threat; certainly they've spent most of the Race in the back.

Ultimately, we wind up with five teams on five different flights, which is quite a development. This means some of the teams have only a hint of an idea as to where their competition are located. Amazingly, Natalie/Nadiya's flight arrives in Amsterdam without incident, despite the one hour turn around time. They board a train at the airport and head to the Amsterdam Centraal railway station, where they find the next clue; it includes a Fast Forward clue, so the sisters decide they'll try it. It directs them to find the Van Gogh Cafe and board a bus called the Floating Dutchman. As they set out, Jaymes/James arrive in Amsterdam, about 45 minutes behind the twins.

At the Van Gogh Cafe, the twins board the Floating Dutchman and set off. "I'd eat poo for a Fast Forward," one claims. Elsewhere in Frankfurt, Abbie/Ryan arrive to make their connection, but they're denied entry despite having about 30 minutes leeway because they weren't checked in. They decide to switch to the 2nd flight they booked. "I hate Frankfurt. I hate frankfurters. I hate Frankenstein," Ryan claims. However, the 2nd flight suffers mechanical troubles and is left sitting on the tarmac; the plane can't be fixed and they have to switch planes.

In Amsterdam, the Floating Dutchman reaches the river and drives itself through the water, to the surprise of the twins; the real task of the Fast Forward is now reevaled: they must consume five herrings within seven minutes. Jaymes/James find their next clue and decide to try for the Fast Forward, supposing they might be in the lead; they set out for the Van Gogh Cafe and wait for the bus.

Before the clock runs out, Natalie/Nadiya finish their herring and Nadiya gives their waiter a "Fishy Kiss," thus titling the episode. They are now free to journey on to the Pit Stop: the home of Rembrandt's mistress in Randsdorp. When the bus pulls up at the stop, Jaymes/James see Natalie/Nadiya disembark and the twins confirm the Fast Forward has been completed. While the twins look for a taxi to the Pit Stop, Jaymes/James head on foot to the Amstel river. In Frankfurt, Abbie/Ryan are on their replacement plane, while Trey/Lexi have just arrived in Amsterdam. Jaymes/James find their boat and set down the canal, enjoying the sights as they travel. "Enjoy the calm before the storm," both agree. Trey/Lexi find their next clue and start out to the river.

In Randsdorp, Natalie/Nadiya have already found the Pit Stop; they perform a dance with their shoulders for Phil, explaining to their bemused host that it's a "number one dance." Phil grants the twins first place and a cash prize of $5,000 each. "All the clothes we've wanted," Nadiya remarks.

On the river, Jaymes/James find a marked floating poffertjes stand, whose staff present them with the next clue: it's time for the Detour: "Back in Time" or "Organ to Grind." In the former, teams must journey to a museum, don costumes and arrange themselves and actors in the same pose as Rembrandt's painting the Night Watch, to the satisfaction of an actor dressed as Rembrandt.

In "Organ to Grind," teams must choose an organ on the street and while one member cranks the organ's music, the other must collect money from passerbys until they have 30 Euros. Jaymes/James choose the latter Detour. Noting the "U-Turn ahead" comment on their clue, Jaymes suggest when they find it they should "run right on past it." Trey/Lexi have begun setting down the river themselves. Jaymes/James quickly locate what appears to be a busy corner and set to work, James cranking while Jaymes solicits money. This is obviously the best arrangement, not only because Jaymes is more extroverted, but because having learned of James' wounded ankle last leg, it makes sense that he'd get the less mobile work. Trey/Lexi find the poffertjes stand and also decide on "Organ to Grind;" Lexi worries about whether Jaymes/James will U-Turn Abbie/Ryan: "I will be so mad with them if they didn't," Lexi opines.

When Jaymes reaches 14 Euros, he finds the trade has slowed down; to pick things up, he & James remove their shirts and put on their Chippendales cuffs & collars. This definitely draws a crowd! Some gawkers even stop to photograph Jaymes. Jaymes notes, "It was funny 'cause all the dudes were comin' over..." Finally, a grandmother comes by with her grandchildren and presents Jaymes with 10 Euros, exactly what they needed to finish the Detour! Jaymes/James receive the next clue: travel to the Museum Geelvinck.

At the Amsterdam airport, Abbie/Ryan arrive only just ahead of Josh/Brent, the same team they were tied with two legs ago. "You've still got us behind you," says Brent by way of encouragement; what an odd sentiment to hear from one's rival. Josh is aware of this: "It's an odd thing that Ryan and Abbie and we have been the last two teams and yet, we're not competitive with each other and yet we both know one of us is gonna have to lose." The two teams decide once again to join forces and run the leg together, which might at least help them to power through tasks quicker or find directions faster. Ryan notes, "there's not a threat with them, they seem resigned to the fact that they've gone as far as they realistically could go." Ryan is extremely dour, yet Josh/Brent keep trying to perk him up.

At Museum Geelvinck, Jaymes/James find the U-Turn board waiting for them and it's a Double U-Turn, as the teams expected. "I don't wanna play dirty, I don't wanna play mean," Jaymes objects. Jaymes was even hoping Natalie/Nadiya & Trey/Lexi would reach the U-Turn first and keep them from having to make a painful decision. Ultimately, Jaymes rationalizes, "what means the most to me is to be able to go home after this and take care of my family." Thus, Jaymes agrees to the plan: they U-Turn Abbie/Ryan, declaring "we need it more than you guys do." The next clue directs Jaymes/James to travel by bus to the village of Randsdorp.

Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent find their clue at the station and head for the river together. Trey/Lexi begin the Detour with Trey cranking the organ while Lexi extorts Euros, which unfortunately means hearing Lexi scream an awful lot.

At Ransdorp, Jaymes/James discover it's time for the Roadblock and it's a familiar sight (to series fan Jaymes): this is the season's "Switchback" task, a recent addition where the series revisits popular tasks from the show's past. In this case, it's the season 12 Roadblock where one team member must pole vault across a ditch of water without landing in the water (a clip shows grandfather Donald performing the task, which was easily the most memorable moment of the episode); their next clue is printed on a pair of wooden shoes at the opposite side. Strangely, James volunteers, despite his wounded ankle. James completes the vault in a single try and returns with his shoes, directing he and Jaymes to the Pit Stop.

Trey/Lexi finish the Detour and head to the museum. As Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent travel down the river, Abbie/Ryan talk about how encouraging it's been for them to travel with Josh/Brent, who have brought them out from being "down in the dumps." Jaymes/James arrive at the Pit Stop in 2nd place; as Phil starts talking to them about using the U-Turn and Jaymes starts to react, the nearby church bell begins tolling: "sign from God," Jaymes believes. Jaymes tells Phil he already sent a card to his family saying he'd be coming back with $1 million and he has to "be a man of my word. I'm sorry, but my parents are more important than Abbie & Ryan."

On the river, it's begun to rain in Amsterdam; Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent decide to take the "Back in Time" Detour and finish it together. Seeing the U-Turn warning upsets Abbie/Ryan a little, knowing they're such likely targets; their one hope is to U-Turn their own allies, Josh/Brent. At the museum, Trey/Lexi discover Jaymes/James used the U-Turn, so they use their U-Turn strategically by voting for Jaymes/James, thus denying Abbie/Ryan the opportunity to save themselves. Lexi is pleased to find the other team "stuck to the plan." They set off for the bus to Randsdorp.

Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent walk out of the rain and into a church where "Back in Time" is being hosted; they carefully arrange their models and props. In Randsdorp, Trey takes the Roadblock at Lexi's insistence: "Hurry, I'm cold!" She also extorts him to use his hips to cross the ditch; Trey performs the task right on the first attempt. Back at the Detour, both teams finish the task and continue on to the museum. Trey/Lexi come in 3rd place at the Pit Stop. At the museum, the teams discover the Double U-Turn board and see Abbie/Ryan have been U-Turned, but they can't U-Turn Josh/Brent. "We're done," is heard for about the 150th time. "If it had been Trey & Lexi or the sisters, we would've been, hmm, called it! But these guys? I was blown away," Abbie admits. Josh/Brent give them a goodbye hug as Abbie/Ryan head to the other Detour, but Josh really doesn't want to abandon them; he forces Brent to step aside for a moment to discuss the matter, suggesting they help Abbie/Ryan finish the Detour. "Somebody's gonna have to step on the mat first. Do you think they're gonna say, 'no, you guys go ahead of us?' They're not gonna do that because they're here to play the game." This persaudes Josh.

Abbie/Ryan begin "Organ to Grind," with Ryan cranking the organ while Abbie dances; at least it's another opportunity for Abbie to use her dancing skills... but with the rain falling, she's not too chipper. Because the buses to Randsdorp aren't running, the later teams are allowed to take a taxi, which should be a time saver (but money burner). Josh is still upset about leaving Abbie/Ryan behind.

Josh: "Everybody wants them out of the Race because they want to keep us in the Race because, y'know, we're not the strongest competitors."

Brent: "Well, then we should just prove them wrong, then. Can you prove them wrong?"

At the Detour, Abbie has collected most of the money she needs, when one woman stops to dance alongside her, prompting Abbie to wonder how much she'll receive. In fact the woman declares, "I'm gonna make it so you're done," then presents Abbie with the last 6 Euros she needed to finish. They both hug the woman, then Abbie hugs her a second time, crying. In Randsdorp, Josh takes the Roadblock and, improbably, crosses the ditch on his first attempt (albeit spraining his ankle while crossing the field); perhaps Josh is a strong competitor? They head to the Pit Stop.

Abbie/Ryan return to the museum and receive their next clue, directing them to Randsdorp via taxi. En route, Ryan ponders Jaymes/James' actions: "It speaks volumes about them and how they'll establish relationships and friendships and stab you in the back." Perhaps all this time amongst the gregarious Josh/Brent has skewed Ryan's perspective vis-a-vis the Race. At the Pit Stop, Josh/Brent are given 4th place, but they're pretty glum. "Would you like me to eliminate you...?" Phil begins to ask, but they quickly declare no. "We're going hard all the way to the end," Brent promises.

Abbie/Ryan arrive in Ransdorp, where Ryan takes the Roadblock, still amidst the rain. Surprisingly, Ryan has difficulty with the pole vaulting and it takes multiple efforts for him to succeed; perhaps his heart isn't in it. Obtaining the shoes, he and Abbie head to the Pit Stop, where Phil informs them they've been eliminated. Abbie is too choked up to speak; Ryan finally pipes up and declares, "You never get a chance like this," which unfortunately reminds me Ryan is already a veteran of reality TV; some of us don't get such chances, but Ryan's already on his second chance. Perhaps one day he'll find the right reality TV show? "The Chippendales cost me $2 million. Just thinking about how much money that really is, it is life-changing. It sucks, it's a bad feeling. It was brutal. I don't feel like we accomplished what we set out to accomplish and it just feels wrong, it doesn't feel right." What's really unfortunate is poor Ryan comes off as caring only about the money he lost, not the adventures which have been withheld or the recognition of winning the Race; certainly he cared a lot about winning around leg 4 when 2nd place was emotionally trying for him.

In the past, I've felt teams who considered themselves hard done by whoever U-Turned them as having done a poor job at making friends. However, in this instance it wasn't anything personal - it was a strategic U-Turn, the type of which we've seen many times before. However, the U-Turn is always personal to the one on the receiving end, which Jaymes certainly seemed aware of. I hope it didn't cost him his friendship with Abbie/Ryan - he did it with the best of reasons... albeit, only after two other teams manipulated him into the option.

And thus Abbie/Ryan have gone from starting with a bang to finishing with a whimper. It's strange to see how many of the early strong teams have faltered as the season progresses. From here, the final three teams seem almost a given: Josh/Brent are well behind the leading three teams and have never been a serious threat; next episode is sure to be a non-elimination which will spare Josh/Brent but cause them to fall further behind and be eliminated in the following episode, so the final three were basically decided two legs ago when we still had six teams! Of course, I could be totally wrong - perhaps we'll see a major upset before the climax.

And thus we have our final four teams:

  1. Natalie/Nadiya: I can't muster up the same love I had for them before they stole James/Abba's money, but they're certainly a gutsy team with good heads for strategy even at manipulating other teams to do their dirty work.
  2. Jaymes/James: It's good to see them at the top; I feel they made the right choice U-Turning a powerful team, but admire Jaymes for his mixed feelings. They have good morals, a strong friendship, a terrific sense of humour and a fine spirit for adventure.
  3. Trey/Lexi: These two still seem to muddle along, weighing in near the top despite what seem to be inferior traveling skills.
  4. Josh/Brent: I'd like to see these two make a comeback and race to the end, but it's probably not in the cards. Their willingness to stay by Abbie/Ryan was practically suicidal, but admirable.

Next week: Teams head to Spain, where Josh has trouble playing tennis because of his ankle injury and Lexi appears to injure herself while bullfighting. Clearly, these are the two extremes of the country.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Amazing Race 21-08 recap: "We Was Robbed"

Last night's episode of the Amazing Race was easily the most intense of the season; it presents some new dilemmas for long-time viewers and hints at how these will inhibit future legs. A turning point, let us say.

We resume where last week ended: rock 'n roll industry friends James/Abba lost the taxi containing Abba's passport (with their luggage). Phil refused to check them in at the Pit Stop so they have no choice but to keep trying to find the passport through the police and embassy. Elsewhere, life partners Josh/Brent are still trying to finish last week's Detour, having selected the synchronized swimming task because the other Detour was closed. Dating couple Abbie/Ryan have finished the Detour, but remain to watch Josh/Brent in a show of friendship, believing both teams have fallen so far behind they have little hope of getting back into the Race. Finally, the swimming pool has to close. Josh/Brent are given one last chance, but still don't finish the task; they're given the next clue but informed they have a 4-hour time penalty. Still pledged to aid each other, Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent head out to the next location: the Trees of Love, where the Roadblock awaits.

At the Roadblock, Abbie and Josh choose the task for their teams. Josh learns the trick of finding the right keys to open the locks which have fastened their next clue to the tree, but Abbie struggles. By the time Josh has the task complete, Abbie is lying on the ground in tears; Josh picks her up, hugs her, then shows her how to finish the Roadblock. They all engage in a group hug when the task is complete, Ryan being especially warm to Josh for helping Abbie. Both teams travel to the Pit Stop, the Bolshoi Theatre. At the Pit Stop, Phil informs them neither has been eliminated: Abbie & Ryan are checked in at 4th place, with Josh & Brent in 5th, but will face their penalty at the start of the next leg. The foursome are overjoyed by this, Ryan even kisses Josh on the head. With all the teams checked in, James & Abba are brought back to the Bolshoi, where Phil reveals they're on a non-elimination leg. They're still allowed to continue the Race without Abba's passport, but will have to face a Speed Bump on the next leg and must have a passport for any international travel. "Where there's breath, there's hope," offers Abba.

With the debris of last leg cleared up, we finally begin leg 8, with young dating couple Trey/Lexi in the lead. Their first clue directs them to the Agricultural Academy so they set out in a taxi, but the cab brings them to the wrong location. They obtain a second cab and resume the quest. The second cab driver wears a pinkish shirt, spotted tie and argyle jacket; what a fashion plate! Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James depart next and quickly find a taxi driver who knows the way to the academy. Jaymes/James, having finally reached the top of the heap after spending much of the Race at the back, hope to remain there. Trey/Lexi's 2nd cab brings them to the wrong location; they start searching again. While driving around the rainy streets of Moscow with a window open, they get a good splash in the face from a passing car.

Because of Trey/Lexi's fumbling, Jaymes/James reach the Academy first and discover the doors to the room they need won't open until 8 AM; they're surprised to be the first ones in line, Jaymes noting "We never get to places and can't find anyone because we're first! We get to places and can't find anybody because we're last!" At this point, I notice James is growing a travel 'stache. Jaymes/James ask their cab driver to wait around for them, which he seems happy to do (no doubt intrigued by the cameras); he's a little stunned to learn his fares are "both James." Trey/Lexi head to a hotel and get someone to translate directions to their driver. They finally reach the Academy where they find Jaymes/James waiting. "This is the most miserable morning we've ever had," says Trey; there are at least three teams having a much more miserable time right now.

At 8 AM, the academy finally opens its doors to reveal the Speed Bump sign for James/Abba and that this is a Roadblock: one team member must correctly answer a quiz about the time zones of Russia, using a provided time in Moscow and two maps which display city names and time zone differences. A very sardonic professor will judge their answers and they must have at least five cities correct. Jaymes & Lexi take the Roadblock and sit next to each other to assist one another on the quiz. The information vanishes from the screens so quickly that they don't have time to figure out the answers and have to try again. And again. Etcetera. "This Roadblock is like that nightmare of being in school and you showed up forgot there was a test and you didn't study for it," says the ever-gabby Jaymes. Elsewhere, twin sisters Natalie/Nadiya begin the leg. They still have the Express Pass they won on leg 2 and it expires on this leg, so they know they'll use it.

At the academy, Lexi & Jaymes start sharing information systematically. Lexi finally realizes because Moscow is itself affected by the figures, they should have been adjusting Moscow's time. "I'm so glad I'm doin' this with the smartest person on the Race right now," Jaymes compliments Lexi. On the next attempt - their 12th - they successfully pass the Roadblock together. "I'm really sorry, but you win!" the professor states. The next clue directs teams to the Detours; "Movers" or "Shakers." Both Detours lead to the National Hotel, with "Movers" requiring teams to correctly perform a Russian military dance in unison.

In "Shakers," teams visit a cocktail party populated by actors dressed up as famous figures from Russian history. They must correctly identify how many copies of each person is present at the party, then present their figures to a judge (dressed as Alexander Pushkin). Both teams choose "Movers." Jaymes/James retrieve their taxi driver (who's having coffee & a danish), but Trey/Lexi dismissed theirs. As an act of kindness because of Lexi's help on the Roadblock, Jaymes/James help Trey/Lexi get a cab before continuing on. "Even though it's a race, you can still form friendships," Lexi observes.

Natalie/Nadiya's driver gets a little confused and thinks the twins want to find a McDonald's (possibly because they'd been talking about finding directions). They quickly correct the problem and one twin remarks, "No McDonald's, we're too fat." At the National Hotel, Trey/Lexi & Jaymes/James dress up in military clothing ("Do I look legit or what?" James asks). As a cheerleader, Lexi is suited to the task and promises to help Trey. Obviously, Jaymes/James have an advantage as professional dancers, except we learn back in the first leg, James sprained his ankle and the dance moves cause him no small amount of pain.

James struggles with the practice so they decide to skip ahead to the judging so they spend less time working on it. However, they miss a step and they have to try again. Trey/Lexi also miss a move on their first attempt. Back at the academy, the twins arrive and after seeing the Roadblock, decide to use the Express Pass to save time, allowing them to move ahead to the Detour.

On their 2nd attempt, Jaymes/James complete the dance correctly: the next clue directs them to the Pit Stop: Sokolniki Park! While they get ready for the trip (James still in massive pain), Trey/Lexi finish the Detour. Outside the hotel, Jaymes/James get a taxi then wait to help Trey/Lexi, but the latter couple go wandering off to find their own cab, so Jaymes/James depart (Jaymes: "Guys! We can't help each other if you run off!"). Natalie/Nadiya pull up as Trey/Lexi look for a cab, but the twins naturally refuse to give up their cab. The twins begin to practice dancing, but Natalie splits her pants open... twice! She finally changes her pants.

Elsewhere, Abbie/Ryan are only just beginning the leg! They set out to the academy while Josh/Brent & James/Abba are still waiting to start. En route, we hear from Ryan how much they "appreciate" their position, having flirted with utter elimination. Noting Ryan's strengths, Abbie opines "If this has anything to do with numbers or science, this is, this is my guy today," indicating Ryan.

At Sokolniki Park, Jaymes/James run to the Pit Stop, where Phil awards them first place and a trip for two to Costa Rica. Trey/Lexi arrive at the Pit Stop in 2nd place. At the Detour, Natalie/Nadiya finish the task on the only attempt we're shown; they head to the Pit Stop.

At the academy, Ryan elects to take the Roadblock. When he sees the time zone task, he's immensely confident in himself and quickly turns in his answers, even rising up and starting to walk away; however, he's wrong and has to start over. Soon, he retakes the test again and again, failing to realize his mistake; he tears up his answers at one point when told to submit them for marks.

As Natalie/Nadiya run to the Pit Stop, Nadiya trips and falls over; notwithstanding, they are still in 3rd place. Josh/Brent finally begin the leg and head to the academy. James/Abba begin next, but still have to find Abba's passport so head out to phone the embassy & police for help before beginning the tasks. You'd think during the 12 hour Pit Stop that they'd have made some progress.

At the academy, Ryan keeps getting the quiz wrong; Abbie thinks Ryan is overthinking it and has even guessed how to solve the puzzle, but can't assist him. He even gets upset with the professor after about 22 attempts:

Ryan: "The map is contradictory. It says 'Moscow +4,' yet you're giving me the time in Moscow. It doesn't make sense."

Judge: "Try to relax."

Ryan: "Thank you for your help."

Judge: "I'm on your side."

On attempt #25, Ryan realizes how to solve the puzzle. He yells "I'm so stupid!" a half dozen times, then gets the quiz correct. Ryan gives the judge a hug as he heads out to the Detour with Abbie, having chosen "Movers."

Josh/Brent head to the academy next and Brent takes the quiz; he apparently gets it right on the first attempt, allowing them to make up a little bit of time. They choose "Shakers" and are heartened to realize James/Abba will be delayed by the Speed Bump at the academy. James/Abba have only just given up on locating the passport and resumed racing.

At the hotel, Abbie finally steps into the spotlight and gives Ryan orders, taking advantage of her background as a dance instructor; they appear to get the Detour on their first judging attempt, so she must have some skills. Deciding to enjoy themselves, Josh/Brent head to "Shakers" and begin counting up party guests. They also take the time to dance with the actors and perform in a swordfight! They submit the correct answers to Pushkin then move ahead to the Pit Stop. "Lively, for a dead crowd," says Josh of the actors. Abbie/Ryan arrive at the Pit Stop in 4th place; Josh/Brent arrive in 5th place.

We don't actually get to see James/Abba's 8th leg; there are brief clips of them performing the Speed Bump, which seemed to involve escorting a Russian priest. We don't see their Roadblock or Detour attempts and simply fast forward to them arriving last at the Pit Stop, where, of course, Phil must eliminate them.

James: "It's like the old boxing coach said, 'we was robbed.'"

Abba: "Literally, yeah, we were."

It's disheartening to lose James/Abba as they were the one team who were fiercely competitive yet friendly; they didn't make alliances nor denigrate their opposition. They really ran this Race by themselves and for themselves and while I usually enjoy seeing teams become friends, it's getting a little ridiculous to be at leg 8 and still see teams waiting around for someone else before proceeding. Of course, this looks to change next week...

We are down to just five teams:

  1. Jaymes/James: From near-elimination on the first leg, these two have crept to the top; considering all the problems in the back half of the teams, it's hard to give them credit for being the best, but they do seem to be learning how to run a better Race as they go. They're also immensely fun (and in Jaymes' case, quotable).
  2. Trey/Lexi: Their difficulty at maintaining their lead reminds me how these two aren't great leaders; then again, as they quickly finished the Roadblock and Detour, I was reminded how consistent they are at tasks. I could see these two lasting to the end, although they aren't the most compelling Racers of the year.
  3. Natalie/Nadiya: I was surprised at how little these two had to do this episode; even with an Express Pass, they couldn't close the gap between themselves and the lead teams. They're perhaps the most cunning players of the season, so we'll see where that lands up.
  4. Abbie/Ryan: Although I wasn't especially interested in these two at first, adversity does make them more compelling, especially when seeing Ryan express genuine fondness for his competition. These last two episodes have actually done a lot to make me warm up to them.
  5. Josh/Brent: I'm also very pleased with Josh/Brent for keeping a positive attitude throughout, making a real bond with Abbie/Ryan and stealing a few moments to enjoy the experience of being on the Race. I imagined these two would be canon fodder early on and yet they keep surviving... heck, I'm fine with them reaching the top three.

Next week: The Race heads to the Netherlands! Abbie/Ryan once again miss a flight - could this be a fatal blow? Also, Jaymes/James discuss U-Turning one of their allies. Both developments sound like good reality TV material! And will the gap between the top 3 teams and bottom 2 remain or be demolished at the airport...?