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Monday, May 30, 2016

Like/Don't Like: May 22 - May 28, 2016

Like/Don't Like is a little late this week.  I'm sorry.  This Memorial Day weekend has been chocked full of pool parties, fine Italian dining, Disney musicals and a hot air balloon festival (which my wife cleverly and accurately nicknamed the 'Fuquay-Varina Festival of Failure') that ranks amount the worst events I've ever had the misfortune of attending.  So, yeah, I've been busy.  But that doesn't mean I've stopped 'liking' and 'not liking' stuff.  I 'like' and 'not like' stuff all the time!  So, this Memorial Day (which I've cleverly and accurately nicknamed 'Who Loves the Troops the Most On Facebook Day'), fix yourself a freshly grilled wienie, pop open a Pineapple Fanta, sit back, relax and enjoy this late edition of GEP's wildly popular new feature Like/Don't Like!

Like:  I dropped off the M. Night Shyamlan bandwagon in 2004.  I haven't seen any of his films post-The Village.  In fact, a handful of months ago, I revisited The Village, just to make sure my full-scale shunning of the director and his work was justified, and I can say without a shred of doubt that I made the right decision.  I've trusted the criticisms of accomplished film critics and bad movie podcast hosts since then, avoiding things like Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender and everyone's favorite celluloid punching bag, whether they've seen it or not, The Happening.

When the trailer for 2010's Devil came out, I remember reading stories about people laughing and groaning when the credit "from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" flashed across the screen.  I remember my own reaction to the Devil trailer quite explicitly: "Oh, good.  Don't hafta to see that one."  This was most likely followed by fistful of popcorn straight to the mouth hole.  But that was where we were at in America.  We were all fed up with Shyamalan's shenanigans, and, unbeknownst to us all at the time, it was only going to get worse.  Way worse.  After Earth worse.

That's maybe why I didn't watch Wayward Pines when it first came around.  That and the fact that it looked like a blatant Twin Peaks rip off.  I can report now, having watched (i.e. binged, fistful of popcorn-style) season one, that Wayward Pines is in no way a Twin Peaks rip off (however, the author of the books on which the series is based points to the David Lynch program as inspiration), and Shyamalan's presence hasn't spoiled the proceedings.

I understand why Shyamalan would want to be involved with Wayward Pines.  It's got a helluva twist!  But it's a twist we learn about early--first or second episode as far as I remember--and then from there, we get an amazingly solid sci-fi mystery show.  I described it to my father as such: "It's like they saw the mistakes they made with Lost, and fixed it."  I don't know who "they" are in the above sentence.  I had just eaten a torta the size of a toddler's head filled with barbacoa, so I was flying on a pretty significant Mexican sandwich high, but you get what I'm saying.  Wayward Pines succeeds where most, if not all, other weirdo sci-fi mystery shows fail.  And best of all, it's 10 episodes long, which I think is the most essential part of it's greatness.  You drag something like this out too long (see again: Lost), and you end up with a soggy newspaper falling apart in your hands, Foxtrot virtually unreadable.

And since Wayward Pines is only 10 episodes long, I refuse to describe its plot to you.  You have no excuse not to watch.  You can watch 10 episodes of something, you bum.  What else are you doing?  Working a job?  Raising kids?  Sharing your feelings with your significant other?  That can wait.  Fire up the ol' Hulu and get watchin'.

Don't like: One of my favorite things about animals is their lack of religion.  Which is why these videos of dogs being made to pray before they eat make me, um, less than enthused. That's the nice way to put it, I guess.  The videos actually make me angry, but a lot of people, possibly even yourself, think they are cute, so I'll crank my fiery rage down to an easy-to-handle don't like.

Praying dogs is just another example of how religion ruins everything.  We already expect our pets' undying love and devotion, now we're going to require them to adhere to our religious superstitions and copy our weird rituals before they are allowed to dine on the crummy slop we plunk in their food bowls every day?  I say, if you've decided to require your dog to pray before he eats his kibble, you, as the dog's owner/guardian, are now required to set your dog a place at the table, complete with napkin and utensils.  If you are going to treat your animal like a human being who can fully grasp concepts like God, then said animal gets a seat at the dining room table.  The nerve of someone who makes his puppy pray before eating and then serves puppy's dinner to him ON THE FLOOR!!!  

Or maybe videos of dogs "praying" before dinner is cute.  You're allowed to think that.  You can like whatever you like.  Or maybe you think the videos are harmless.  That's fine too.  I think they are a symptom of a greater sickness that has infected American culture.  Maybe I'm overreacting.  Maybe it's because I'm a cat person, and cats, as we all know, are godless followers of Satan.  Maybe my cat wrote this because he hates dogs and his sole desire is to mock all canine-kind, all the time.  It could happen.  McWorld!!!

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Like/Don't Like: May 15 - May 21, 2016

America's new favorite feature is back, baby!  Like/Don't Like has taken the internet by storm.  The perfect storm.  The kind of perfect storm you might think George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg won't survive, but then they do.  Cloons makes it to the end of that one, right?  Granted, it's been a long time since I've seen The Perfect Storm, but there's no way they kill off Cloons, right?  I mean, yeah?  Anyway, here's something I liked and didn't like this week.  #RIPClooney

Like: The Sword and Scale podcast is a true crime podcast that takes you so deep into the minds of the weirdos and degenerates whose stories it highlights, you may find yourself at the end of an episode--brain in a haze, stomach in knots--questioning why you just voluntarily subjected yourself to a full hour of depravity.  The show can be a horrifying, scary, depressing, engrossing, vile, fascinating and mind-altering experience, but one worth trying.  Maybe.

Remember when the first season of Serial came along, and you listened to every new episode the moment it appeared in your podcast app because the story was so interesting and twisty and it felt important sorta?  And then remember when the second season of Serial came along, and you realized while updating your blog one Saturday night that you were roughly seven episodes behind, but you didn't care because Serial didn't feel essential anymore?  Well, Sword and Scale is like the first season of Serial, only shorter and sicker.  And better.

I can't listen to every episode of Sword and Scale.  I had to turn one episode off when during the cold open a detective was heard describing his arrival upon a grisly murder scene in which the victim had been decapitated and then had his head replaced on his spine in an unnatural way.  Even a horror fan like me can't stomach stuff like that these days.  Plus, I don't particularly enjoy serial killery stuff, so, I skip those episodes, but most of the stories host Mike Boudet chooses to tell, while undeniably upsetting, are engrossing in the way a good episode of 20/20 used to be, you know, when you didn't go out on Friday nights and watched 20/20 crime stories instead.  Remember that?  We all did that high school, right?  Chose to stay home and watch glossily produced "news" stories about homicidal pastor's wives and angry teenaged parent murderers?

I'm currently taking a small hiatus from Sword and Scale to catch up on the live Comedy Bang! Bang! tour episodes, because as a new and enthusiastic listener to the podcast, I kind of overdosed.  I listened to a few too many stories about murderous husbands and vicious killers who post their deadly handiwork on social media for all the world to witness, and I found myself a little dizzy and disconnected.  It was the two-part episode about Luka Magnotta (Episodes 33 & 34)--the Canadian psychopath who ruined New Order's "True Faith" FOREVER!!!--that made me step back for a second and take a much needed breather.  The show is that intense.

If you'd like to take the plunge and check out Sword and Scale, something I do recommend, but only if you like this sort of thing, I recommend starting with Episode 62, which recounts the story of Jenelle Potter, a severely sheltered young woman who somehow convinced her parents she was a CIA agent and encouraged them to murder a couple in town she'd had a series of social media altercations with.  It is one of the strangest stories I have ever heard, and it's made all the better by having the district attorney who prosecuted and wrote a book about the case as the guest.  I also enjoyed the two episodes highlighting incidents of "Satanic Panic" both here and abroad (Episodes 47 & 51); a nearly two hour episode about cult leader Jim Jones (Episode 50), which includes most of the infamous "Jonestown death tape," which is so deeply depressing and something I regret listening to so much of; Episode 49, which is one of the craziest stories I've heard in my life, but one I cannot even begin to explain here; and Episodes 45 & 46 about the Carnation Murders.

Don't like:  Look, I don't know what you call it--The AM Sausage Crunchwrap; The Breakfast Crunchwrap w/ Sausage; The Tortilla Filled With Breakfast Shit--I just know it sucks.

I love Taco Bell, but I have been avoiding Taco Bell's breakfast menu for years, convinced they'd give it up eventually, like Wendy's before them, and return to what they do best: late night eats to soak up the booze.  But, nope, Taco Bell has hung in there, wrapping breakfast meats and scrambled eggs inside tortillas, and serving it to the public without a second thought.  They should be ashamed.

The Taco Bell Breakfast Crunchwrap tastes how I imagine those protein bricks in science fiction stories about dystopian societies taste: bland, rubbery, possibly made out of people.  The Crunchwrap, for those of you who haven't tried one, consists of a fried hashbrown square (think McDonald's hashbrown, only devoid of all flavor), topped with the blandest sausage patty money can buy, which is itself topped with college-cafeteria-grade scrambled eggs and shredded cheese made of some variety of space age polymer that doesn't melt.  This tower of meh is then wrapped in a tortilla, crisped up somehow, and served in a paper sleeve for easy consumption while commuting to work.

It is important to note that I was eating the Crunchwrap while driving to work, so I was unable to apply any of Taco Bell's wide variety of sauces to it.  Perhaps with the application of a packet or fifteens-worth of "Hot" sauce, the Crunchwrap becomes more palatable, but that's bullshit, because the Crunchwrap is clearly designed to be eaten while driving.  There's no mess since everything is contained in a tidy, edible package.  So, arguing that the flavorlessness of my Crunchwrap is my fault is a notion that I wholly reject.  Maybe some people feel comfortable tearing sauce packets open with their teeth while driving to the office, but I don't, and I refuse to run the risk of being pulled over by a police officer or cause a horrific multi-car accident killing thousands of commuters that might one day be a story featured on Sword and Scale just because I want to add a little pizzaz to my gross, fast food breakfast pouch.  Put some salt on the hashbrown or toss some pico into that tortilla before you panini press it, and give me something that tastes good in my mouth, not a brick of sawdust wrapped in paper towel.

Taco Bell should just serve their entire menu all day.  In fact, that's what every fast food joint should do.  I could care less that McDonald's serves breakfast morning, noon and night now.  Let me order a Quarter Pounder with Cheese Value Meal on my way downtown in the morning, and you've got a customer for life.  I don't want breakfast tacos, well, ever, really, I want a good old Doritos Loco taco for breakfast.  I want to roll into the office with my fingers stained orange and my ass ready to explode.  Because that's how I like to start a morning dammit!

(I think you can get steak in your Crunchwrap rather than sausage.  I haven't decided if that's worth giving Taco Bell a second chance yet.  Stay tuned.)

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Like/Don't Like: May 8 - May 14, 2016

Welcome to Like/Don't Like.  Every Saturday, I'll take a look back on the week that was, and find one thing I liked about it, and one thing I didn't care for much.  It's as easy as that.  It might be the laziest regular segment I've ever come up with, which means it'll probably stick around for a good long time.  Anyway, here's the first one.

Like: This week I finally caught up with Hulu's The Path, which is absolutely not about Scientology.  It is, in actuality, a fictional television program about a made up religion, called Meyerism, that involves praying to The Light, strapping electrodes onto your forehead from time to time and making your way up a mystical ladder, which was revealed to Meyerism's founder during an ayahuasca trip.  Defectors of the faith are hunted down and intimidated, members who "transgress" are expected to participate in a program that looks a whole lot like imprisonment and the de facto leader is megalomaniacal secret alcoholic who has definitely murdered someone.  See, no relation to Scientology at all.

This show is like catnip to a cult/religion enthusiast like me.  I find it endlessly fascinating.  And the cast is amazing, from Aaron Paul as the onetime lost soul who just happened to marry into the most intense and influential Meyerist family around, but has started to have doubts after his own journey down the ayahuasca highway; to Michelle Monaghan, who plays his wife, whose devotion to the Meyerist movement is both inspiring and terrifying; to Hugh Dancy, who plays Cal, the sociopath left in charge while the founder is, um, elsewhere, who can't seem to keep his temper in check or his dick in his pants.  Dancy is truly frightening in his role as a man whose hunger for power, history with alcohol and penchant for horrifying violence has turned him into a demigod capable of commanding unwavering loyalty in his followers, but a lax attitude toward maintaining an even temper when it comes to the bloody work of maintaining his position of power.

The Path is a great show, and one I wish was on Netflix, only because Hulu makes you wait every Wednesday for a new episode.  I started late, so I was able to binge the first 8 episodes, which I did in three days.  There are only 2 episodes left, and things are really ramping up.  I recommend you give it a try.  Just remember: It. Is. Not. About. Scientology.

Don't Like: Without any hesitation, I am able to say Wendy's is my very favorite fast food chain.  I enjoy those wacky square burgers oh so much, and their fries, well, don't get me started.  And as far as I'm concerned, Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich is the greatest innovation in fast foodery since the drive-thru window.

That said, I hate when Wendy's thinks outside the box.  Whenever Taco Bell introduces a new tortilla-based goodie, I'm front and center, my fat man beard dripping with taco grease before I'm even halfway home (On my list of noteworthy fast food items, the Doritos Loco Taco comes at #2 right behind Wendy's Spicy Chicken).  But when Wendy's trots out something new--like pork barbecue or a gouda burger--not only am I not interested, but I'm usually actively disgusted.  Wendy's has got a good thing going.  Nothings broken, so nothing needs fixing.  The 4 for $4.00 combo is great, so, just stop there.  You're King of Grease Mountain, Wendy's!  Revel in it!

I lied.  There actually was a limited time only sandwich Wendy's released one time that I LOVED: 2007's 4-Alarm Spicy Chicken sandwich.  If you were lucky enough to cram one of these tasty creations into your mouth 9 years ago, you'll remember how truly special it was.  I believe I enjoyed 3 total before they disappeared into the ether forever and ever.  And nobody remembers these things.  I bring the 4-Alarm up all the time--I always refer to it as either the 3-Alarm or 5-Alarm Spicy Chicken sandwich--and people stare at me like I'm some kind of headless freak talking out of his tooth-lined neck hole.  The 4-Alarm did exist, but like everything beautiful and perfect in this world, it was destroyed by society's indifference and condemned to the warehouse of forgotten foods, along with IHOP's International Burrito, the discontinuation of which is truly the worst tragedy in chain restaurant history.

But Wendy's is back with another riff on the spicy chicken situation, and, guess what, it sucks.  The Jalapeño Fresco Spicy Chicken sandwich is a joke; a damp sack of lies between two pieces of disgusting bread.  

First, the "ghost pepper sauce" that covers the requisite spicy chicken filet like a scum-slicked pool cover is as bland as a Trump Tower taco bowl.  The ghost pepper is pretty high up on the Scoville heat scale--about three rungs down from actual pepper spray--but somehow Wendy's ghost pepper sauce tastes like nothing.  The only heat comes from the diced jalapeños trapped within the viscous yellow sauce, and it's not a pleasant heat.  It's aggressive without being tasty.  I like spicy foods a lot, but if they aren't also tasty, I've got no time for them.  I'm not competing on Fear Factor hosted by Joe Rogan, I'm eating dinner.  That said, I wouldn't mind the ghost pepper sauce, if they fished the jalapeño bits out and called it what it actually is: cheese sauce.

The bun has jalapeños baked into it, I guess.  I saw no proof of this.  It sucked.  Its consistency was slightly gummy, kind of like Play Doh, only less flavorful.

It was also covered with raw onions sliced into very thin rings.  I liked that quite a bit.

Wendy's needs to bring back the 4-Alarm, and shove this monstrosity back into the pits of fast food Hell where it came from.  You're still my boy, Wendy's, but we've really got to talk about where your head's at.

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