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The Friday High Five
On Flexing New Muscles, Stretching Old Ones, and Getting Pumped Up
Every Friday I share 5 things I enjoyed this week. Also, high fives are inherently cool, and I think we can all agree Friday is the bestest day. Hence the Friday High Five. 🙏🏻
Suddenly it’s November and 2024 is peeking through the blinds like a deranged Jim Halpert.
Time always seems to speed up this time of year. I don’t know if its the inertia of a year already 80% gone, or the fact that the two biggest U.S. holidays are squeezed into the last 5 weeks of the calendar, but time really does fly.
Lately I’ve been using a bullet journal to track my days. Busyness is usually the reason I misplace time. The practice of pausing at the beginning of the day to reflect on what I’d like to do that day, even for just a few minutes, helps slow things down.
Not to get all new-age feely, but it’s about being more intentional and mindful.
Quick observations about last week’s ‘Favorite Steve Rogers’ poll:
Nobody likes scrawny geeks. Who knew?
Glistening Steven Rogers is the closest Marvel comes to porn, which people seem to like.
I guess the bad boy archetype exists for a reason.
I honestly thought the guy at the end of Endgame would win. Instead he tied for 3rd. With the geriatric.
There’s a new poll lurking somewhere in this post. Consider this a really lame version of Where’s Waldo.1
Have a great weekend!
5 Things I Enjoyed This Week:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Narrow Road Between Desires
National Novel Writing Month
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Captain America trilogy rewatch continues.
I am of the opinion that The Winter Soldier is the top MCU film. It includes the best versions of Steven Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, and Nick Fury, and probably Sam Wilson, too. Think about that for a second—the 4 leads put in their finest work in this film, including the guy who is the heart of the MCU. As a character, Bucky is far better in Civil War; as a villain, he’s an absolute unit in this film.
For a series that inevitably devolves into people punching each other, The Winter Soldier is somehow a step above. It includes many of the best action scenes in the entire MCU. The ship infiltration and hostage rescue. Nick Fury’s vehicular chase. The elevator scene. The freeway chase that ends in Steve and Bucky going mano a mano, and includes incredible bits of choreography, like this casually awesome knife flip.
Then there’s the fact that The Winter Soldier has the most nuanced storytelling in the MCU. I realize that’s a bit of an oxymoron—the movie ends with three flying aircraft carriers set to kill millions before turning the guns on themselves and crashing into the Potomac River—but it remains true. The geopolitical machinations and the cloak and dagger stuff is a step outside the comic book movie norm. A powerful organization being corrupted and taken down from within is real life. ‘Hail Hydra,’ seems like a comic book absurdity, but it almost happened to America.
But for all the explosions and intrigue, The Winter Soldier is really about saving one man. The film’s climax hangs on a bloodied Steve telling Bucky, “I’m with you till the end of the line,” and it freaking works.
The Narrow Road Between Desires
I’m currently reading a book that isn’t even out yet.
This is not totally unheard of. People get ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) all the time. People do. Not me.
I was all excited because Patrick Rothfuss has a new2 book3 coming out in his Kingkiller series, which is basically Harry Potter + D&D + music + sometimes sex. Did I mention Rothfuss is a killer writer? His prose is the kind that makes me stop and just consider the words, and despair a bit.
The upcoming release is not book 3, alas, and it doesn’t involve the main character from the books. Also I’ve read the story this new release is based on. None of that could dampen my anticipation. Such is fandom. The heart wants what it wants.
I was all ready to preorder my copy when I realized maybe I could just, like, ask the publisher for a review copy.
National Novel Writing Month
Most of you know me for my pop culture writing, which I came to somewhat dishonestly.
5 years ago, I was a self-published novelist looking to grow my readership. I started writing about the stuff I enjoy—Star Wars; D&D; Skyrim; Timothy Olyphant, eventually. The hope was it would be nerd catnip to my ideal readers, drawing them near and driving them slightly mad with desire for more, a condition that could be alleviated with a conveniently-placed link.
Sweet summer child.
I did find some readers for my fiction, but it turns out people who read your articles are mostly interested in more articles. Which is how I came to create Fanfare, and eventually write this newsletter. I really enjoy writing about pop culture. But like most writers, my heart belongs to fiction.
In the past two days, I’ve written about 2200 words of new fiction, which is 2200 more words than I’d written in 6 months. And it’s actually pretty good?
He sat on a high iron stool, leaning over the workbench, his face a mask of intense concentration. A battered old lamp squat on the corner of the desk, throwing long shadows beyond the work area. The roar of the engine was inescapable, but so unnoted as to be inaudible.
The disassembled innards of a crank assembly spread across the table like the mockery of a puzzle, a riddle without a solution. Jarvis idly rolled a gudgeon pin between his fingers, neither seeing or feeling it.
I also came up with a pretty good fart joke a few paragraphs later. So I’m checking all the boxes.
I’ve already completed a long-unfinished chapter and am halfway through another. At this rate, Clockwork Scoundrels 3—my steampunk fantasy based on Firefly, because everything I do ties back to pop culture somehow—will be finished in a week.4
I randomly threw on Seinfeld this week because I was looking for something light to watch after a grueling day of work. It dawned on me that I’ve never actually watched Seinfeld, completely, in a front-to-back sense. I jumped on somewhere midway during its initial run, probably season 3 or 4.
‘In medias res’ is a Latin phrase that translates as ‘in the middle of things.’ It’s used in story structure to denote when we enter the story. Goodfellas starts with someone already in the trunk, and goes back and forth from there. In medias res is often how we watched TV in the pre-streaming era. If you missed the original airing, you missed it. The only thing you could do was get on in the middle and piece together the story as you went.
It helps that sitcoms usually didn’t bother with overarching stories. Apart from the romantic entanglements of Ross and Rachel, and Chandler (RIP Matthew Perry) and Monica, every episode of Friends is basically interchangeable. Modern comedies like Ted Lasso and Schitt’s Creek are more cohesive. You could enter one of these shows midway, but why would you? You’d miss all the best parts of the ongoing narrative. Even traditional comedies like The Conners now have season-long (and often series-long) narratives.
Seinfeld aired toward the end of the TV sitcom era, and is famously about nothing—which is sort of a meta encapsulation of the genre—and is therefore the most sitcomy sitcom. I probably caught some of the early episodes as re-runs on TBS, but the scattershot nature of such broadcasts meant you were never really sure where in the continuity the episode fell. And that was totally fine. You actually didn’t care about continuity. It never occurred to you to wonder. But if I started Community from the middle, I’d probably be driven mad with the nagging suspicion I was missing something vital, and would quickly go back to watch from episode one.
It’s been interesting watching Seinfeld with such a mindset. Even though I know the linkage between episodes is weak at best, I’m still looking for things that might come up again. Sometimes this pays dividends—in episode 2 or 3, George invents an architect named Art Vandelay, a name I recognized immediately—but mostly Seinfeld is who I thought it was.5 And that’s kinda great, actually. I can just enjoy it for what it is, here and now.
Season one is only five episodes and it’s a bit rough. There’s too much stand-up and not enough Elaine or Kramer. But it’s still worth watching.
One of the episodes included this incredible bit of observational humor about Superman. Jerry argues Superman must have super-humor, since he has super-strength, and super-hearing, and all the rest. The punchline is essentially: Since the yellow sun affected every other part of Superman’s body, why wouldn’t it also affect the part of his brain that controls humor?
I think he’s got a point.
Netflix released this 3-part series about Arnold Schwarzenegger several months ago. I immediately added it to my watchlist, but held-off on actually watching it. Sometimes I just let something marinate in my queue until the time feels right.
The time felt right this week, so we fired up Episode 1: Athlete. It’s all about how Arnold became the greatest bodybuilder of all-time. Expect plenty of gratuitous shots of literal slabs of meat in itty-bitty shorts.6
What I didn’t expect was the unflinching look at his background and upbringing. It’s actually the best part. Arnold is honest about who he is and where he came from. It’s really inspirational.
I’m personally looking forward to Episode 2: Actor, for obvious reasons. Which brings me to this week’s poll.
Apparently, it’s called Where’s Wally in England, where the series originated. I wonder how long they considered publishing the series of children’s books as Where’s Willie?
It’s an expanded version of The Lightning Tree, which he originally published in the Rogues anthology.
It’s more of a novella, really.
The first draft will be done, Mom. I still need to revise a bunch of it, and add additional fart jokes. Maybe you’ll have it in time for Christmas. I won’t scrap half of it and rewrite it again. Probably.
This is a reference to the famous Dennis Green, ‘They are who we thought they were,’ post-game rant. It’s meant for my brother, but all can enjoy.
Those of you who voted for ‘the glistening, post-serum hunk’ in the Captain America poll will find plenty to like in Episode 1 of Arnold.