Geek Punditry #8: The Magic Candle

The digital revolution has made it easier than ever for people to make movies and TV shows. You can do virtually every job that’s absolutely necessary to make a film with nothing more than a smartphone and the right apps, and people have begun to do so. This does nothing to increase the talent of the people involved, of course. Even that doesn’t seem to be a hard obstacle, though, if the YouTuber my son watches called “Granny” is any indication. (She’s a nutcase who puts on a wig and a muumuu and rides an adult tricycle to fast food joints and orders food in a horrifically cloying voice. Although I do not advocate this behavior, I guarantee you she’s gotten a lot of saliva in her food.) What’s more, there are thousands of avenues to share the content – dozens of streaming services, almost as many social media platforms. For an entire generation, consuming media in bite-sized tidbits on your phone is not only the norm, it’s the preferred method of being entertained.

God, do I hate that.

Pictured: Evil.

I know I’m going to sound like a crotchety old man, but there’s a good reason for that: I am a crotchety old man. I don’t like watching stuff on my phone, not when I’ve got a perfectly good television. And I don’t like 30-second bursts of “content.” I’m a storyteller, and when I watch something I want to watch a story. And while telling a satisfying story in 30 seconds is certainly not impossible, it is tremendously difficult, and there are very few people on TikTok who have proven themselves up to the task. No, while my students may swarm around a clip of someone sending a pizza to the wrong house and giggle as though there’s something clever about that, I’d rather watch ten episodes of a science fiction epic telling a serialized story that gives time to develop character, theme, and an entertaining arc. 

Even a television is not the optimal way of viewing a story, though, although that’s how I do most of my viewing. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, especially in this day and age when your home system can have an amazing picture and stereophonic 4-D quantum sound, if you’re the kind of person who has the sort of money to burn on such a system. But that doesn’t do it for me – nothing does it for me – like sitting in a movie theater. 

Optimally with these guys.

I know all the arguments against going to the movies, of course. Yes, it’s expensive (and just getting moreso, with AMC’s recently-announced scheme to charge more for better seats). Yes, the concessions are overpriced. There are frequently rude people in the theater as well: people who talk during the movie, people who come in late or trip over you while spilling their popcorn, people who (and this should be a criminal offense) turn on their phones, the glare blinding you at a critical moment of the narrative. And damn it, you can’t pause it to go to the bathroom. There are dozens of very solid arguments in favor of watching movies at home instead of in a movie theater.

My point is: I don’t care.

All of those complaints are true, valid, and they annoy me as much as anyone else, but the long and short of it is that when I’m excited to see a motion picture, there is no better environment in which to do it than in a darkened room with minimal distractions surrounded by other like-minded people who are there for the same thing. The first movie houses were just vacant vaudeville theaters with a screen put into place, but from the very beginning they found the perfect way to experience a film. When you watch a movie at home, it’s far too easy to get pulled out of the world of the story. The sun is coming in through the window, you’re getting Facebook notifications and text messages, your child keeps handing you his magna doodle and telling you to draw a picture of the Burger King logo. Those things don’t happen in a movie theater – or at least they shouldn’t, if you turned your phone to “do not disturb” like a civilized human being. 

What’s more, no matter how great the home theater experience becomes, the “home” part will never be able to match the thrill of being in a theater with hundreds of other people who are there for the same thing as you. Think about the first time you saw Avengers: Endgame. When Thor’s hammer lay on the battlefield and was picked up by a mysterious figure, the room grew silent. Moments later, when it smashed Thanos in the face and returned to Captain America’s hand, the theater exploded. I have never experienced a simultaneous eruption of joy in a movie theater to rival that moment, and I don’t know that I ever will again. 

A moment this awesome cannot be replicated at home.

Think about Attack of the Clones. It is, if I’m being honest, my least favorite Star Wars movie, but I will always treasure the memory of the midnight screening I attended and how the fans roared when Yoda took out his lightsaber for the first time. Even bad movies are made more fun with an audience. Nobody is going to argue that the Green Lantern movie was great cinema, but there was a load of fun to be had in my New Orleans-area screening because the movie was filmed in our area, and we all laughed together as we saw familiar streets and landmarks that they tried to pass off as being in California.

I’ve seen a lot of great movies in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of them at home. But every great movie experience I can remember happened in a theater. It’s like being in a more benign version of Plato’s cave, a magic candle shining excitement on the screen. You can’t do that at your house.

Movies serve as landmarks in my memory, too. I remember, as a child, going to the movies with my parents, my brother and sister, and each time considering it a treat. I know that I saw Ernest Goes to Camp, Santa Claus: The Movie, Batteries Not Included and Masters of the Universe that way. I remember seeing Forrest Gump with my dad in a sadly-defunct dollar theater the week before I graduated high school. I wish I knew what the first movie I ever saw in a theater was, but unfortunately my memory isn’t that good.

I got older and my friend Jason and I started going to the movies almost every weekend, sometimes two or three movies a week. Jason ran a video store back when those still existed, so it was market research for him, but we both just loved the experience of going, of watching, of holding out our thumbs to indicate approval or disapproval for the trailers that flickered across the screen. It was with Jason, watching the wrestling movie Ready to Rumble, that I started to think about superheroes being run like the WWE, a germ of an idea that eventually led to my first novel, Other People’s Heroes. Thanks, awful movie! 

If you love my writing, thank this movie. If you hate my writing, blame this movie. I do.

I know the first movie Jason and I saw at the local Palace Theater the weekend it opened (The Lost World: Jurassic Park.) I know the first movie I saw with my girlfriend Erin (Madagascar), the movie we saw the night before I asked her to marry me (Skyfall), the last movie we saw before our son was born (The Dark Tower) and the first movie we left Eddie with a babysitter to watch (It Chapter One – my history with Erin is inexorably tangled with the works of Stephen King, a story which will probably be its own column at some point). 

All of this is to say that on Tuesday I added another memory to the cinematic roadmap of my life: the first movie we took our child to see in a theater.

I need to explain a few things to help you understand just how significant this is to my family. I don’t know that I ever really believed I would get to be a father. It just wasn’t something that I thought was in the cards for me, and I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Being Eddie’s dad is the greatest thing in my entire life. But it hasn’t been free of challenges. Some time after Eddie turned one year old and he still wasn’t talking, we started to get concerned, and we eventually managed to confirm that he’s on the autism spectrum. Any child comes with challenges, but his were different from many others. He started reading early and he’s terribly smart (this is not just a proud parent talking, we’ve been told this by numerous doctors and teachers), but he also tends to fixate on things like logos and clocks. His obsession with time in particular is perplexing to me. And of course, there was the talking, which for the longest time he simply was not interested in doing.

He talks now, he virtually never stops talking now, but there are a lot of milestones in his life that have come later than usual. It’s terribly difficult to get him to sit still, he has trouble with disruption to his routines, and sometimes he has trouble with extreme stimuli. When he was two years old, for instance, we took him to my niece’s Christmas pageant at school. As soon as the audience applauded at the end of the first number, he began to scream in terror. I had to take him out in the lobby and sit with him there until the show was over. (Jason was actually there too, keeping us company, as his wife was one of the teachers at that school.)

So we were nervous. I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to deal with crowds and the stimulation of a movie screen, which would have made me terribly sad. Like I said last week, I don’t want to force my fandoms on the boy, but from the moment I knew we were going to be parents I wanted to share the things I loved with him.The idea that it might not be possible was heartbreaking.

But he’s older now, and he’s dealing with things better than he used to. He’s no longer scared of fireworks, for example, and this school year we brought him to another Christmas pageant and a band concert with no problems. So this week, with Eddie and I both out of school for Mardi Gras and assuming it wouldn’t be too crowded, we decided to finally try our hand at taking him to a movie theater. 

The only kid-appropriate movie playing was Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, so we got our tickets, which with my Stubs membership and the “discount Tuesday” promotion meant  the three of us got to go to the matinee for less than $20. This, Erin said, made it easier to accept the fact that if Eddie wanted to leave, we’d have to just eat the ticket cost. What bothered me, though, was less the ticket price and more the fact that I have never walked out of a movie in my life. No matter how atrocious the film may be, I soldier on so that I can sound informed when I call it a piece of crap. It’s a matter of honor.

But for my son, I would take that risk.

Eddie’s first theater experience.

Anyway, we got to the theater, we bought the boy some Sour Patch Kids and an apple juice, got a bucket of popcorn for the family, took our seats, and crossed our fingers.

I haven’t seen all of the movies in the “Shrek Cinematic Universe,” but The Last Wish is far and away the best of those I have seen. I never would have expected it from this movie, but the film turned out to be a serious meditation on aging and mortality with a positive and uplifting message about the importance of family and living life to the fullest. It was deep and meaningful, but without sacrificing moments of genuine comedy. The animation was gorgeous as well. Rather than giving us the plastic CGI that early Dreamworks movies sported, Erin pointed out that director Joe Crawford was borrowing visual cues from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with the same sort of staccato motion and faux-painted look to the imagery. It was lovely to look at and fun to watch.

More importantly than any of this, though, is that Eddie watched the whole thing.

He doesn’t always “watch” things at home. We’ll put on his cartoons and he’ll laugh and dance with the music, and his ability to pick up on a tune is wicked sharp, but he is easily distracted (even without text messages coming in) and wanders around the room, bouncing from one toy or activity to another, often oblivious to the entertainment on the screen. Here, with the lack of distractions, he kept his eyes on the film most of the time. He laughed at some of the funnier bits. He smiled a lot (I know this because I was watching him as much as the screen). And yes, he got a little antsy, looking at my watch frequently, although that is as much because of his obsession with clocks and time as it is anything else. He did ask “How much is left on the timer?” three times, but he never complained.

It’s warming my heart. Because again, I don’t want to force him to do things he doesn’t want to do, but if he enjoys going to the movies, I’m going to take him as often as I can. Sure, not as much as I went to the movies back in the day, I mean…I’m not going to take him to see Scream VI no matter HOW big a fan he is of Courtney Cox. But when there’s a movie for him, I want to bring him. He seemed into the trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, coming in April. Pixar’s entry this summer, Elemental, looks cute. Heck, by the time Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse hits this fall, he may even be ready for that.

These were the things that went through my head as we watched the movie, of course. The real litmus test would be how he felt after the movie was over.

After we walked out of the theater, I asked him if he had fun. He said he did. I asked if he liked the movie with the cats. He said he did. He often agrees with random things, though, so I wasn’t sure if he was happy about it until later when asked to recap his day.

“What did you do today, Eddie?” we asked him.

His face beamed like it was washed with the light of that magic candle and he proudly proclaimed “I went to AMC Palace! I went to the movies!”

“That’s so great! What did you see at the movies?”


Okay, so he’s still got some learning to do.

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. He promises that this column won’t be about his kid EVERY week, but…hell, it’s gonna be about his kid whenever it feels appropriate. It’s his blog, after all.


Geek Punditry #7: Sharing the Love

Italian really is the language of love…and billionaire ducks.

Earlier this week, some of my students asked me what I got my wife for Valentine’s Day. They seemed to approve of my answer (tickets to a concert she wanted to go to) and then asked what Erin gave me. At that point, I paused for a moment, trying to decide how to answer the question. The answer was wonderful – my wife went on eBay and found the recently-released 3500th issue of Topolino, the Italian Disney comic book series, which came bundled with a figure of my favorite Disney character, Scrooge McDuck. The thing is, how do I explain this to a group of high school seniors without coming across as a gigantic nerd?

Then I got over myself, because…hell, just look around. On one bulletin board in my classroom is a collage of superhero and sci-fi images clipped from magazines and catalogs. There is a shelf of Superman-family Funko Pops, a set of Eaglemoss Enterprise models, several magnets from the LEGO Minifig of the Month Club, and a Star Trek: Lower Decks calendar on the wall. There is literally no denying my heritage as a geek. It is, in fact, something I have long since decided to embrace.

I challenge you to come up with an adequate definition of “Geek” that does not apply to the person in this picture.

That’s part of what being a geek is, really. Sure, the dictionary may say something about biting the heads off chickens, but in the modern context I propose the following definition for the term. “Geek (noun): One who loves a particular fandom to the extent that it becomes an element of their personality.” You should note that this definition passes no judgment, nor does it specify the type of fandom. It can be a movie, a TV series, a comic book, or a video game. It can be music or sports or science or history. You can be a geek about pretty much anything you love, so long as you love it wholeheartedly. Nor does it imply exclusivity: one is fully capable of being a geek about multiple things. In truth, I think almost everyone is a geek about something. It’s just that those of us in genre fiction have chosen to fully embrace the term.

Geekery is contagious as well, spread through casual contact. It happens when you tell your friend how much you liked a movie, when you walk around in public wearing a T-shirt for your favorite band, when you get in someone’s car and they’re listening to a podcast, or when enough of your students are carrying around the same book that you finally break down and read it to find out what all the fuss is about. And like any germ or virus, the longer you are exposed to any particular strain of Geekery, the more likely you are to begin exhibiting symptoms yourself.

Which brings me to my five-year-old son, Eddie.

Any kid of mine would, by virtue of the fact that I’m there, have grown up in a house full of comics and books and movies, watching cartoons and seeing superhero T-shirts almost any time I’m not dressed for work. And when kids are very young, before they start exhibiting their own preferences and fandoms, we as parents have a tendency to dress them in our own. From the beginning, my kid had onesies and pajamas featuring superheroes and spaceships, his plates bore the likenesses of characters from the cartoons that we liked, and he had pacifiers featuring the logos of both the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers. And our friends and family just fed the monster – two of the gifts we received at Erin’s baby shower included a Batmobile walker from some of my aunts and uncles and a lovely toy chest handmade by our friends Jason and Andrea, decoupaged with panels from Superman comic books. 

What I’m getting at is that Eddie never had a chance.

Eddie’s favorite part of every episode.

In my defense, though, it’s not just my geekery that he’s been exposed to. I may be the reason he jumps up and giggles at the sweeping vistas of outer space in the beginning of every Star Trek episode, but my wife is the reason that when he started learning to identify shapes he could pick out the circle, the square, the triangle, and the Millennium Falcon. Erin is a geek too, you see, and fortunately the Venn diagrams of our respective geekeries have a lot of overlap. We both love genre movies and TV shows, we both enjoy musicals, we both like sitcoms. That concert I got her Valentine’s tickets for? It’s the music of John Williams. We blend.

Even in those places where the overlap isn’t perfect, there’s enough that we enjoy what the other is bringing to the table. She’s a little more into horror movies than I am, I’m a little more into comic books than she is, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t each appreciate the other’s fandoms as well. We just, like any two individuals on the planet, lean a little more in certain directions than the other, and that is reflected in our parenting. When Eddie was a baby the joke was that you could tell who dressed him on any given day based on whether his clothing featured the Grateful Dead or Spider-Man.

“No, it’s…you know what? Close enough.”

Over time, he started to express his own love for our things in various ways. For example, when I turn on the FreeVee app, he begins to sing the theme to Night Court. He’ll walk into the comic book shop with me and immediately identify the logos for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Superman, Batman, etc. At only five years old he sings along to the opening themes for Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax, a feat that Albert Einstein himself never accomplished in his entire lifetime! And if you ask him what we watch on Saturday night, he will proudly exclaim “Svengoolie on MeTV!” (Actually, he pronounces it “Svengoofie,” a misarticulation I believe Rich Koz himself would greatly approve of.) 

I couldn’t let the fact that this should not exist prevent me from getting one.

It’s not that we want to force our geekdoms on our child, it’s just an inescapable byproduct of having us as parents. Even once he got old enough to express his own preferences, ours tended to creep in. For instance, when he was two or three years old we learned that Eddie loved cars, and since then he has amassed a Hot Wheels collection that would make Jay Leno jealous. And although he is not picky about what cars he gets, with us as parents it is inevitable that assorted Batmobiles would work their way into the fleet, to say nothing of things like Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine, vans with Justice League murals on the side, and the occasional USS Enterprise (which is Hot Wheels brand even though it has no wheels. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I bought one for Eddie and one for myself.) If you go through his books (which he loves) you will see an extensive library dedicated to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Bluey, and trucks, but also a Little Golden Book starring the Universal Monsters and an alphabet book based on Jaws

The job of a parent is to teach their child how to be a kind and functional adult, even for those of us whose own functionality is questionable at best. Part of that, I sincerely believe, is being able to choose those things that you love, and that you love them without fear. And sure, sometimes that may result in your kid latching on to something you don’t like. This is especially true when your child is very small and they discover something like Blippi. (For those of you fortunate enough to not know what I’m talking about, “Blippi” is a guy in orange suspenders who prances around indoor playgrounds in a manner that any reasonable judge would consider grounds for a restraining order, then puts videos of it it on YouTube. Blippi is the opposite of entertainment. He is like a bad Saturday Night Live parody of a children’s show host. His videos run on an unending loop in the darkest level of Hell. My son loves him and he is now a millionaire.) 

But that’s okay. Because it’s his thing, so I suck it up and tolerate it and even read the stupid Blippi alphabet book when Eddie asks me to, because I know that once I’ve washed my hands of it he’ll come back later with something like his Ghostbusters Little Golden Book, and that makes it better.

The way I see it, if my son grows up able to demonstrate his love for a fandom in a healthy way (read: not on Reddit), I’ll have done my job.

And as long as he knows that Saturday night is for “Svengoofie,” so much the better.

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. In addition to the Uncle Scrooge figure, his wife also gave him the idea that led to this week’s column. If it weren’t for her you may have just read 1500 words lamenting the Ultraverse or something. Thanks, Erin!

Geek Punditry #6: Seeking Sitcoms

The show that is indirectly responsible for everyone you know that can quote an episode of Rick and Morty verbatim.

It’s Desi Arnaz’s fault. As the story goes, when Lucille Ball got pregnant during the run of their legendary sitcom I Love Lucy, it was Desi who suggested to the network that they run some older episodes again to fill in the weeks when she would be out of work. The idea was bizarre. Run episodes again? Re-run them? Who would want to watch an episode of a TV comedy that they had already seen?

The answer, as it turned out, was everyone. There’s a comfort in returning to something that made you happy the first time you watched it, like finding an old friend or reminiscing about the good old days. It’s something that we all need at some time or another. 

The rerun became a standard television feature and changed the landscape of entertainment. Not only could they run the same show for an entire year without having to make quite as many episodes or skipping a week, but this eventually led to the concept of syndicating reruns of old episodes to show outside of their original timeslot. And it is syndication, I believe, that has allowed TV shows to become iconic parts of our culture. Think about it: were it not for syndication, if the shows were not still available after their initial airing, would anyone today still know the theme to The Brady Bunch, or be able to tell you how many castaways were stranded on Gilligan’s Island? Who would remember the man named Jed, a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed? Could a gentle whistle  conjure up the image of Andy Griffith and Little Ronnie Howard carrying their fishin’ poles down to the fishin’ hole?

And although it isn’t a sitcom let’s not forget that Star Trek (arguably the font from which all modern fandom springs) is only remembered today because people kept watching the reruns after the series was canceled. It was in syndication that the show’s popularity truly boomed, syndication that led to things like Star Trek conventions, merchandise, novelizations, comic books, and fanfiction…and it was those things that fueled the fire and ultimately led to the revival of the franchise. That’s huge even if you’re not a Trekker, because the fandom of virtually every major franchise since then has followed that template.

I’m not saying it’s the greatest sitcom ever made, but I won’t argue if YOU say it.

When I was younger, I would get home from school and gorge myself on a diet of sitcom reruns. Shows like Cheers, Night Court, or Mama’s Family were staples for me. The 90s came and Home Improvement, Seinfeld, and Friends joined my education. And no matter how many times I watched any given episode, I faithfully watched them again, to the point where I can remember minute details of ancient TV shows better than I remember things like the current whereabouts of my social security card. Because of syndication, I can throw out an obscure joke or comment about virtually any topic, then watch my wife roll her eyes at me when I tell her it’s a classic Simpsons reference.

The streaming revolution has changed things, of course. Once, these reruns were a way to fill time on the air before new series start. Today, fewer and fewer people are using “air time” in their television viewing at all. With the exception of sports, weather, and Svengoolie on Saturday nights, I virtually never watch any live television anymore.

This does not mean the end of reruns, of course, it just means that you have to seek them out instead of turning on whatever Channel 26 was showing at 5 p.m. In fact, for many people seeking out these older shows has become a lifestyle choice. Whereas once someone would have to content themselves with the seventeen or eighteen episodes of The Big Bang Theory that TBS shows on any given weekday, now the option exists to literally watch it 24 hours a day on HBO Max, and you can choose any episode you wish. If you go to a Bob’s Burgers group on Facebook and ask what shows the fans watch when they aren’t watching Bob on Hulu, you will be greeted by several quizzical faces that fail to comprehend such a time could exist. There are people who watch The Office on constant repeat, people who never turn off Family Guy, and folks who will spend their entire lives immersed in Pawnee, Indiana with Parks and Recreation.

There are a few too many people who don’t understand this character was meant to be a cautionary example.

I’m not entirely sure this is a good thing. Oh sure, it’s great to be able to go back and revisit your favorite shows, but I think it’s making it more difficult to find new shows, especially comedies. There’s plenty of talk about “prestige” television, but most of the time this refers to genre shows like Stranger Things or dramas like Yellowstone. The conversation doesn’t really center on blockbuster comedies the way it used to. Would it even be possible, in the current TV climate, for a show with the level of cultural penetration as Friends or Seinfeld to come into being?

As much as I love the sitcoms of my youth, I’m also the sort of person who is constantly on the lookout for new characters, new stories, and new worlds to explore. Even now, I sometimes feel a strange guilt if I watch something I’ve already seen, faced with the knowledge that I could be using this time on new entertainment. I get over it, though, and since streaming really took off in force there are many classic comedies and shows of my youth that I’ve gone back and watched in their entirety: Cheers, Frasier, Wings, The Office, Head of the Class…part of it is because I like to watch new shows with my wife (hi, Erin), and I used to go back to older shows as something to watch while she’s at work. That didn’t quite work out, though, as she would get home while I was in the middle of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, she would get into it, and I then I had to wait to watch the old shows with her too. Now I just make her tell me explicitly which shows I am and am not allowed to watch without her to avoid confusion.

How legendary is Ted Danson? His picture is in this column twice.

Anyway few years ago, I realized it had been quite some time since I found a new comedy that I really got into, and I made it a point to start seeking them out. I began with The Good Place, which was both a wonderful choice and also completely antithetical to what I was trying to do. If you’ve never seen it, The Good Place is about a kind of scuzzy woman (played perfectly and adorably by Kristen Bell) who dies and, through a sort of cosmic clerical error, winds up in Heaven, which turns out to be run by Ted Danson.

I refuse to say any more about the story because to do so would rob new viewers of one of the most sublime television series ever made, but I will say that I never thought I would see a show that could blend together philosophy, spirituality, religion, and deep, complex contemplations on the meaning of life and the nature of existence itself with a fart joke and make it all seem utterly perfect. It is both hilarious and one of the most profoundly thoughtful and emotionally-compelling TV shows I’ve ever seen. And it’s for that reason that it’s not a show I can re-watch too often, because there are only so many times you can cry on a random Tuesday afternoon.

So The Good Place is an excellent show and I urge everyone to watch it immediately…but it wasn’t the sort of thing that made me want to put it on constant repeat the way I could Frasier. The search would continue.

The most scientifically accurate television program since SeaQuest DSV.

The next comedy that really got my attention was Abbott Elementary. Upon the suggestion of friends of mine from work (I am, in case you didn’t know, a high school English teacher), I checked out the first few episodes of the show, then I stopped and made my wife sit down and watch them with me, because it’s so good. On the surface, it feels like one of dozens of Office clones – a faux documentary set in an American workplace, this time an elementary school. There’s a wacky boss! There’s a new guy in the first episode to act as the audience surrogate! There’s a will they/won’t they couple that the audience is clearly supposed to root for! All the fingerprints are there!

What sets Abbott apart for me, at least, is the authenticity. There have been a number of TV comedies set in schools, but the majority of them have focused on the students (Saved By the Bell), or on the class of one influential teacher (Welcome Back Kotter, Head of the Class). This is the first show I’ve ever seen where the faculty are the stars of the program. What’s more, it’s the most realistic show set in a school I’ve ever seen. You’ve got the young teacher (played by show creator Quinta Brunson), eager to please and determined to be the best that she can be. You’ve got the grizzled veteran teacher (Lisa Ann Walter) who does what she wants and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. The awkward teacher (Chris Perfetti) who is determined to be thought of as cool despite the fact that he clearly is not. The teacher who has been at that school forever (Sheryl Lee Ralph), is perfect in everything she does, and is both intimidating and nurturing to everyone around her. I’ve taught with every one of these people. I have been many of them at some point or another.

It also shows the repercussions of events in a school in a way that most shows don’t. Budget cuts, classroom size, getting adequate parental support – all of these are issues that have turned up on the show in a realistic way. Well…semi-realistic. It is still a TV show, after all. Count the number of times in Saved By the Bell students are left in a classroom with no adult supervision, and know that every one of those offenses could (and depending on the severity of that episode’s hijinks, should) have resulted in somebody getting fired. Abbott actually shows consequences to even well-intentioned mistakes, (the Egg Drop episode is a wonderful example of this) and does so with relatable, enjoyable characters. Best of all, it doesn’t reduce every teacher to a useless buffoon. In fact, unlike most shows in a school setting, every faculty character — even Janelle James’s seemingly-useless principal — has moments where they show their worth as a teacher, as a friend, or as a mentor. It is the first school-focused TV show I’ve ever watched that didn’t make me ask if anyone involved had ever set foot in an American school in their lives. It’s really lovely.

It’s not perfect. The teachers do seem to have absurdly long lunch periods and planning times where their students are in someone else’s care, but I accept that as a necessity when you’re telling stories about the adults and not the kids. Those minor problems are easy for me to get past when I go back and put the show on repeat…which is where I stumble, since we’re only in the second season, and with modern TV the first season had a measly 13 episodes. While I eagerly await each new episode, there’s not enough Abbott for a good binge…not yet.

So I keep looking for more comedy.

There are two shows about dead people on this list, and I don’t know if that says more about me or about society.

The most recent show to get my attention, like Abbott, is only in its second season, but it has a few more episodes and I haven’t quite gotten through them all yet. I started watching CBS’s Ghosts on the advice of my brother (which I mention mainly because if he should happen to read this he will immediately jump in the comments and demand credit for it), and I’m enjoying it a lot. Ghosts, a remake of a British show of the same name, is about a young couple (Samantha and Jay, played by Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar, respectively) who inherit an old mansion from a distant relative, unaware that the ghosts of numerous people who have died on the property are trapped there. In the first episode, Sam has a near-death experience and wakes up with the ability to see and hear the ghosts, and the sudden connection between the ghosts and the “livings” changes things for all of them. 

It doesn’t sound like the premise of a wacky sitcom, but it’s really great. The ghosts cover a wide range of character types, from someone who died 1000 years ago (a Viking exploring the Americas played by Devan Chandler Long) to a dudebro businessman who died in the early 2000s without any pants on (Asher Grodman). The premise allows for characters with a variety of perspectives from different time periods, which makes for a fun blend of types: the former mistress of the house (Rebecca Wisocky) has attitudes about women’s roles stuck in the 1800s, while the hippie who got killed trying to hug a bear in the 1960s (Sheila Carrasco) tries to help her break out of them. The scout leader who was killed in an archery mishap in the 1980s (Richie Moriarity) wants to be best friends with Sam’s husband Jay, but it’s tough to be pals with someone who can’t see or hear you. 

The first season of the show is a fun one that sets up the premise very well, but the second season is even better as it starts to explore the world more fully. Sam encounters more ghosts beyond her own property, we get more information about the lives of the deceased, and an ongoing plotline begins to build around the 20s songstress Alberta (Danielle Pinnock), who always claimed she was murdered. Her insistence that she had an exciting demise was considered just a symptom of her hubris until evidence starts to accumulate that suggests she may be right. There’s even a great meta joke in the second season where the ghosts learn they cannot pass through the walls of a vault in the house and Jay quips that he appreciates the expansion of the mythology.

The only problem with Ghosts is, like Abbott, there’s just not enough of it yet. I’ve only got four more episodes until I’m caught up, and then what?

Time to watch the British original, I suppose.

The point is, I’m still on the lookout. The great sitcoms of the past aren’t going anywhere, and thank goodness for that. I know I can turn on Cheers or Everybody Loves Raymond or Night Court any time I want, and I frequently do. (In fact, I haven’t started watching the Night Court reboot yet because Erin and I have to finish our binge of the original series first.) But I still crave new entertainment. So I’m open for suggestions, friends. What are the current comedies that are worth watching? 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. He’s also a big fan of Star Trek: Lower Decks, but he doesn’t consider that a sitcom so much as a way of life.

Geek Punditry #5: Fandom: Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I set a goal for myself about a month ago, to use this new Geek Punditry column to get back to writing about the movies, books, TV shows, and comics that I love. I felt like spending time on those things that bring me joy would reignite my writing chops and, just a month in, I feel like I’ve been successful. I’m looking forward to writing this each week. I’m excited to write this each week. But as early as week 3, my focus began to shift. What started as a celebration of things I love has already evolved, with the past two installments focusing on problems that I think need to be addressed. I bring this up because I’m going to do the same thing this week. I’m going to point out a problem that I think is perhaps the most insidious in all of pop culture. I mean, of course, fandom.

The Antichrist, according to Reddit User u/DeeSeeBlows42069

Earlier this week, James Gunn released a video announcing the new plans for the reinvention of the DC Universe in movies and television, and when I heard the news, that’s what I thought I would be writing about today. I figured I’d give you my feelings on what he has in the works for Superman, for Green Lantern, for Booster Gold (Booster freakin’ Gold!) and tell you why I’m excited and optimistic about it. But within hours, the excitement I felt was already being chipped away by people who, if you asked them to their face, would claim to love the very things they had begun whining about. But for people who say they’re acting out of love, their words painted another picture – venomous, vitriolic, and sometimes just plain nasty. Fans can be great, but every time a new movie is released, a new comic book creative team is announced, a new television series premieres, it becomes more and more clear that fandom can be absolutely toxic.

I’m not saying that criticism is bad. In times past, criticism itself was a legitimate form of literary discourse. But that was reasoned criticism, informed criticism. What we get today is a knee-jerk reaction that declares everything is terrible before it even sees the light of day, souring the joy for everybody. One need only look on any social media outlet, any of hundreds of Reddit pages, and one will find post after post, meme after meme, of people railing in anger against something they have not even seen. In fact, for the most part it’s criticism of things that do not yet exist. And while it’s true that the other extreme also exists – people who are happy about things they have not seen – that other extreme is a minority, and seems to me to be far healthier and joyful (or at the very least less pessimistic) and therefore is the side I would prefer to join.

Not pictured: A film that should be used as a medieval torture device.

Social media allows for no nuance, though. Everything is either the greatest thing ever made or (far more often) the worst thing ever made, with no degrees in-between. Last year’s Morbius movie is a good example of this. The film underperformed badly at the box office, even after a meme-inspired rerelease, and it has become a punchline. But this damage was not done by people who had watched the movie. The internet declared the film a failure long before its release – online hatred of Jared Leto combined with several COVID-related delays seemed to doom it before a single frame was released to the public. When I finally watched the movie, my response was, “That was okay.” It isn’t great, mind you, but it’s okay. Jared Leto is all right, Matt Smith seems to be having fun playing the bad guy, and the vampire effects – I’ll say it – were actually pretty impressive. But if you mention the title on Facebook you’ll get an avalanche of “IT’S MORBIN’ TIME!” posts and people slandering the movie, most of whom have never even watched it.

People who delight in someone else’s failure are nothing new, of course. It’s good old-fashioned schadenfreude (and thank the Germans for having an appropriate word for this), it’s as old as civilization itself, but the internet has given it voice that it didn’t have in ages past. The insidious thing is that this voice is not simply celebrating failure, but generating it. What’s worse, as the louder voices on the internet start to pretend that volume is consensus, too many people are starting to accept consensus as fact. I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard a few months ago between two of my high school students about the most recent Halloween movie. One student was declaring, in much the same voice you or I might use to declare that the bathroom is down the hall to the left, “It sucks. He’s barely in it.”

“Have you seen it?”

“No, but everyone says so.”

You’re not allowed to shout at your high school students for their opinions about movies. I looked it up.

Full disclosure: I didn’t particularly care for Halloween Ends, but A) my issues with it had nothing to do with the number of minutes Michael Myers appeared on screen, and B) I formed that opinion after watching the movie myself. 

This phenomenon is perpetuated online thanks to sites like Rotten Tomatoes, which is a brilliant example of a good idea gone horribly wrong. Rotten Tomatoes gives a movie two scores: a percentage based on film critic scores and the percentage based on viewer scores. The site has no authority, no personal judgment inherent in its functionality, but people have begun using that algorithm-generated number as if it were some sort of benchmark of quality. I can’t say this often enough, my friends: consensus does not equal quality

How many movie trailers have you seen declaring a movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score the way they used to tell us that Siskel and Ebert gave a movie two thumbs up? The difference is that Gene and Roger were actual critics, people who watched a movie first and then gave intelligent, nuanced critiques of the film. If they gave a movie a thumbs-down, they could explain to you why they disliked it. But if a movie gets a 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, all that means is that only 35 percent of the trolls on the internet had something positive to say. When I hear that number, the only response that makes sense to me is, “SO WHAT?” I accept the numbers as a consensus of the people who have posted to Rotten Tomatoes, but why in the hell should I care what they have to say? I disagree with random people all the time. I disagree with professional critics even more. Why should I accept their numbers instead of forming my own opinion? When they started to tease the upcoming announcement of a film’s Rotten Tomatoes score, I thought my brain was going to explode and squirt out of my ears like a Looney Tunes character, who would then get anxiety over its own upcoming Rotten Tomatoes score. 

I’m telling you, it’s okay with me if you like this movie.

And you know, I wanted to like Halloween Ends. I’ve never understood the concept of “hate-watching.” There are so many things I want to watch that I know it’ll be impossible to get to them all – why should I waste time watching something I expect to dislike? Will it happen sometimes? Of course. But that’s not my goal. And more importantly, if I decide not to watch something because I expect to dislike it, I don’t declare it bad, I declare it unseen. For instance: I didn’t care for the first James Cameron Avatar movie. (Yes, I know, it made all the money. I don’t care. Consensus does not equal quality, remember?) Because I didn’t care for the first one, I haven’t watched the second. So here’s a pop quiz: when someone asks me about Avatar: The Way of Water, what is the correct way for me to reply?

A: It sucks, James Cameron sucks, water sucks, everyone sucks.

B: I haven’t seen it.

If you answered “A,” please disconnect all of your devices from the internet immediately and never talk to anyone again.

The other thing that stokes this particular flame is an “us vs. them” mentality that pervades the internet. It’s as though if you’re a fan of Property A, you are beholden via blood oath to despise everything associated with Property B. You must hate the movies, you must hate the books, you must hate the fans, and if an actor happens to jump from one to the other they are a traitor and must be dealt with possibly with bamboo shoots no later than Tuesday afternoon

My God, is there any attitude in fandom stupider than that one?

Superman is my favorite superhero. He’s a DC character. Somehow that means I’m not allowed to say how great Spider-Man: No Way Home is? If I love Star Trek, is it a betrayal to express joy for The Mandalorian? If I’m a fan of Lord of the Rings, I have to hate Wheel of Time?

Shut up.

Pictured: Fandom

Storytelling isn’t sports. When I’m watching the New Orleans Saints play the Atlanta Falcons, the nature of sports means that I want one team to win and one team to lose. This is normal. But that same rule does not apply to movies, to TV shows, to books, to comics. In sports, somebody is gonna lose, but in storytelling, everyone can win. When I say that I want James Gunn’s Superman: Legacy to be a blockbuster movie, that is not the same thing as saying I hope Captain America: New World Order is a disaster. I firmly believe that great art of any kind will inspire great art from others, and that when one franchise I love is enjoying success it’s not an obstacle to anybody else. If anything, it’s a carrot to lure them to be better themselves. I think the people who make these properties understand this. It’s very common to see actors, directors, writers, or artists jump back and forth between publishers and studios and IPs and have positive things to say about all of them. It’s only the fans that view it as a competition. (Well, the fans and the corporate executives, but that’s a whole other conversation.)

This is not to say I’m blameless in this, of course. I certainly shared my criticisms of the original Avatar online, and lord knows I posted a “Morbin’ Time” meme or two, but as fandom has grown more toxic I’ve made a deliberate effort to pull back on that sort of thing. I’ve never been the sort of person who would get on Twitter and threaten an actor because I didn’t like a movie they were in, but I realize now that in the current internet climate even well-meaning criticism may sometimes give fuel to that sort of horrific person, and I don’t want to do that. The point of Geek Punditry is to talk about things I love, not things I hate. 

I’m not saying not to criticize. I’m just asking that criticism be informed, that it be based on the work itself and not because you hate somebody’s previous movie or because you’ve chosen lines in a meaningless civil war. And most importantly, that it be respectful, both to the people you disagree with and to those whose work you are criticizing. Nobody intentionally makes a bad movie, with the possible exception of the Sharknado franchise, so even if you don’t like the work, give credit for the effort that went into it. The only people who lose when you speak respectfully are the people who refuse to speak respectfully.

And go ahead and be respectful to them, too.

Drives ‘em crazy. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure seriesOther People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. If, at any point during this column, you thought to yourself, “Blake is talking about THOSE people,” that probably means he’s talking about YOU.