Tag Archives: netflix

Writing Choices – Orange is the New Black and Polarizing Social Issues

Hey 3.5 readers.

BQB here with another installment of “Writing Choices.”

If you’re like me, you look forward to OITNB’s return in June every year on Netflix.  It’s been a guilty pleasure for me for a long time now.  Hard to believe the fifth season started streaming yesterday.

I have only watched the first episode of the fifth season so I can’t give you any new spoilers and would appreciate you not giving me any.

That’s ok because I actually want to talk about the last episode of Season 4.

Police shootings and/or fatalities in police custody have been in the news a lot lately in the past few years.  This topic is often polarizing.  One side usually says something like, “There’s no excuse when people die in police custody so throw the cops in jail!”  and then the other side is all like, “You have no idea how hard it is to be a police officer, what with the split second, life or death decisions that they have to make every day.  You could never do it yourself so stop being so hard on the police.”

Is it possible that there are times when an accident happens and no one is at fault?

Case in point, and LOOK AWAY BECAUSE A BIG SPOILER IS COMING, at the end of Season 4, dies while being pinned to the floor by CO Bayley.  We’re never really given a clear explanation as to how the death happened.  Basically, he holds her down and after a short time, she’s not moving or breathing anymore.

Tragic.  Sad.  The public demands someone to blame.  The company that oversees the prison immediately wants a scapegoat to present to the public.  At first, they demand Warden Caputo get on TV and portray Poussey in a negative light, that she was a bad egg, out of control, etc.

Caputo won’t do that so then the company shifts gears and demands that Caputo throw Bayley under the bus.  They find an old photo of Bayley dressed up as Rambo for Halloween and want to portray him as some kind of violent, militaristic nut job.

Caputo refuses to do that either.  Instead, he goes on TV and gives his take – that the prison is overcrowded, understaffed, and that a young officer who was barely trained was thrown into a situation he had no idea what to do with and a tragic accident happened.

Caputo’s explanation satisfies no one, especially a public that tends to see issues as black and white and demands that a villain be strung up anytime something goes wrong, but he is convinced he made the right call.

In a flashback episode, we see CO Bayley and Poussey at an earlier time, before they ended up at Litchfield as an officer and an inmate, respectively.  Bayley is a recent high school graduate and a total doofus who has just been fired from an ice cream parlor job for giving free ice cream to girls he likes.  Poussey is young and care free as well.

Bayley and his buddies and Poussey and her friends go on an outing to New York City.  In one fleeting scene, Bayley and Poussey pass each other on the street, neither noticing the other because they had yet to meet and had no reason to recognize each other but the point was clear – life may seem great now but you never know when it will take a turn for the worse.  You’re out there today, trying to live your life, trying to make the most of it but then, wham, it could all come crashing down in an instant.

But the other meaning behind this scene – they were both young, dumb kids.  Poussey was doing her best until she made a mistake that landed her in prison.  Bayley was trying to do his best, getting a job at a prison in the hopes of supporting himself, restraining an inmate as he was ordered to do except he did it wrong…life is good, until you screw up, and then it isn’t.

Poussey never set out to become a convict.  Bayley’s life long dream wasn’t to kill someone.  Somehow, shitty things just happen and shitty results happen.

Overall, I felt Season 4 of OITNB handled this very polarizing issue in a way that was fair to all sides.  Perhaps there are times when a tragedy happens and there isn’t someone who can be clearly pointed to as the villain.

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Movie Review – War Machine (2017)

War!  Bureaucracy!  Red tape!

BQB here with a review of Netflix’s new film, War Machine.

Based on the book, “The Operators” by Michael Hastings, this film is a dark comedy, satirizing the sheer absurdity modern warfare, not to mention the unenviable positions of those whose efforts to win are backseat driven every step of the way.

Brad Pitt plays General Glenn McMahon, a fictionalized version of General Stanley McChrystal, whose own efforts to cut through a sea of red tape eventually culminated in a Rolling Stone article that proved to be his undoing.

In 2009, McMahon is put in charge of Afghanistan.  The dirty secret no one speaks about or is even willing to admit is that he is expected to maintain the status quo and lose gracefully.  In fact, at the start of the film, McMahon is brought into a room of DC bigwigs who urge him to do a tour of the country and provide them with an assessment of what is needed but then within the same breath, they tell him he’d better not find that he needs more troops.

In other words, the days when great warriors like Eisenhower and Patton could write a check that DC would cash are over.  The warriors aren’t really in charge now.  The whole operation is second and third guessed by bureaucratic bean counting civilians who’ve never seen a battlefield in their entire lives.

With an almost Colombo-esque style of disarming charm, McMahon attempts to cut through the red tape that is slowing him and his team down.  Along the way, he steps on many a toe, but comes across as so humble and down to earth that the bigwigs whose toes were stepped on aren’t sure it was unintentional.  McMahon tapping aimlessly on his keyboard, feigning incompetence with technology in order to avoid listening to a DC bureaucrat’s orders via Skype come to mind.

This is a big role for Brad Pitt.  Hollywood’s quintessential leading man, an actor that has spent his life maintaining a top of the line physical appearance, playing parts that make the ladies swoon, gets a douse of McMahon style humility himself.

This is the first time I’ve seen him play someone with gray hair, someone who is admittedly older and too busy to hide the fact with an army of stylists.  Pitt plays McMahon as a gruff and grizzled old soldier, a man with a hand that has been mangled, who walks as though his body is in pain from years of being pushed to the limit.

Even more surprisingly, Pitt’s character has an age appropriate wife, Jeannie (Meg Tilly). Seeing Pitt snuggle up to a gray haired woman who is light years from looking like Angelina Jolie is nothing I thought I’d ever see on film.  Yet, in doing so, Pitt pulls off some of the best acting of his career, namely, convincing us that he could love a woman his age.

This is also a big film for Netflix.  The Internet streaming service spent $60 million on this film and it shows.  The result is a movie that could have been screened in movie theaters across the country had they chosen to go that route.  Brad Pitt is, by my best estimate, the biggest star Netflix has ever recruited for one of its original productions, thus proving that this company is in the movie game to win it, and the future of film is streaming.

For me, that’s a dubious prospect as I love the experience of going to see a film in a theater, though lately I wonder if saving cinema is not a cause as lost as Afghanistan.

Overall, the film asks a lot of questions and paints modern warfare in a not so rose colored light.  Bottomline – these days it sucks to be a man in uniform.  You’re expected to win, but you’re also told by bureaucrats to lose, except they don’t use the “l” word.  They won’t come right out and tell you they want you to lose, just that you should not ask for all the things you need to win.  You should essentially rubber stamp their losing plans and act like you can’t tell their plans are going to lose.

Meanwhile on the battlefield, soldiers are torn between their inner need to, you know, shoot at people who are shooting at them in order to live another day.  Yet, DC has made it clear that screw-ups (i.e. accidentally shooting a civilian) will not be tolerated and punished severely.

Ultimately, the film lampoons the idea of counter-insurgency, or the idea that men from a foreign land with guns can somehow talk the locals into siding with them against the bad man with guns that are already there.  In one heartbreaking scene, McMahon addresses residents of a territory that US forces have taken control of that he’s there to help build roads, build jobs, to protect them and so on.  A villager informs the General that all sounds great, but he has no doubt the US will eventually cut and run and when they do, the bad guys will destroy all the infrastructure that was built and punish the villagers for cooperating with the US troops.

Between desk jockeys trying to manage something they can’t comprehend, the media turning real stories of war into trashy tabloid TV and a clash of cultures (is it really wise for America to assume that they can turn third world wastelands into smaller versions of America?), the film leaves the viewer with the sad feeling that modern wars may, in fact, may never be winnable again.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.  Stream it on Netflix.

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Season 3 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is Here

What’s your favorite Kimmy Schmidt moment from the entire series?

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TV Review – Staying Alive – Tracey Morgan Comedy Special (2017)

Tracey Morgan is alive and doing his best to stay that way.

BQB here with a review of Tracey Morgan’s big comeback to standup comedy, now available on Netflix.

We often try to pretend like tragedy and comedy don’t go together but honestly, they do.  The best comics are people who have waded through a sea of bullshit only to make it safely to the other side.  If life has always gone your way, then it’s doubtful you’ve ever had a chance to develop the sarcastic nature needed to point out all of life’s foibles with a sense of humor.

The best comedians have not only experienced tragedy but can turn tragedy into comedy.

Case in point.  Comedian Tracey Morgan of SNL and 30 Rock fame was chilling in a party bus one night when a damn Wal-Mart truck hit the vehicle he was in, leaving him with all sorts of physical damage.

I mean, WTF?  The dude goes from being able to name whatever film he wants to be in to  having to learn how to walk again.

Some people might get so jaded that they just give up on life altogether, but not Tracey.  Not only does he come back with this Netflix special, he pokes all sorts of fun at Wal-Mart as well as the resulting problems the crash caused him.

From the opening scene where he walks around New York wearing John Travolta’s signature 1970s white disco suit with the black shirt and high collar, pulling out wads of cash from a Wal-Mart shopping bag (presumably, his lawsuit settlement in physical form), you know America’s favorite retailer is in for a vigorous haranguing.

But Tracey doesn’t stop there.  Alas, he tells us that all sorts of family members have been crawling out of the woodwork with their hands out.  So many family members are demanding that he pay their children’s college tuition that Tracey laments he might have to go out and get himself hit by a Fed Ex plane.

Throw in all the conversations he claims to have had while he made a brief appearance in Heaven and you’ve got a great comedy special, one where a notoriously funny man took a tragedy and turned it into a comedy.

It’s clear that Tracey is not done with comedy yet and it will take a lot more than a Wal-Mart truck to keep him off the stage.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Stream on Netflix.

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TV Review: Norm MacDonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip and Trickery

Norm.  Normy.  The Normster.

He was a staple of 1990s SNL.  A former Weekend Update anchor, he developed a following based largely on his incredibly dry, deadpan delivery.

Half the time, what Norm has to say might not even be all that funny coming out of the mouth of a regular person but when Norm says it in his sardonic monotone, it’s comedy gold.

When I was growing up, there was a divergence of opinion vis a vis Norm, or at least there was one amongst the people I knew.  Some, like me, found his droll wit hysterical.  Others didn’t get him at all.

The people who didn’t get him tended to be squares.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Norm has always struck me as a comedian that a lot of people probably told him to not get into show biz.  He’s not flashy.  He’s not stylish.  He’s not a hunk that all the ladies want to be with.

In his early days, he tried his hand at movies.  “Dirty Work” is a cult classic and depending on who you ask, they’ll tell you it’s garbage or hysterical.  I fall into the latter camp, but I also know someone who actually walked out of the theater twenty minutes into the movie.  There just doesn’t seem to be a happy medium with the Normster.  People either love him or hate him.  Personally, I love the guy.

No, he never became the “It” guy that Hollywood would tap for box office gold.  Far from it.  Even so, he often shined as supporting characters in comedy films.  Despite it all, he found a following and a long career thanks to a fan base of nerds who got him.

The man’s an inspiration to every nerd who ever tried his hand at comedy, wasn’t universally loved by anyone, but essentially said, “Eh, screw it.  I’m here now.  What else am I going to do?”

No, the man’s not a show horse.  He’s a work horse.  But hey, let’s face it.  That horse pulling a cart is a lot more respectable than that pretty horse that just shows up to get his picture taken for the cover of “Horse Magazine.”

In many ways, I think if I were ever to become a stand-up comedian, I’d be a lot like Norm.  “Hey everyone, here are my jokes, let me muddle through here and you’ll find the most comedy in my delivery, so let’s get this over with.”

And it was never lost on me that the best impressions he ever did were of people who had similar dry, “This is me, take it or leave it” personalities.  Burt Reynolds.  1996 Presidential candidate Bob Dole.  Larry King.  Yikes.  Blast from the past there.  I know my high school buddies and I would walk around doing Norm’s Larry King impression, based on Larry’s USA Today column where he made incredibly obvious statements – “You know gang, when it comes to rape, I’m against it!”

Love is the name of the game with this comedy special, now available on Netflix.  Ironic, because Norm never struck me as the sentimental type.  But, as he points out, dogs are better than humans when it comes to love.  They love their owners unconditionally, no matter what.  Even Hitler had a dog that loved him.

It’s a little tough to see Norm has gotten older.  It feels like it was just yesterday I was a teenager trying to explain to some stuck up girl why Norm MacDonald was funny.

Long story short.  She didn’t get him…and I didn’t get any.

:::Pulls out my Norm MacDonald style mini-tape recorder:::   “Note to self.  Learn how to pick battles.”

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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

“It’s all in the reflexes.”

BQB here with a review of the action/comedy/martial arts fantasy, Big Trouble in Little China.

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Like Escape from New York, this is another film I got through my 1980s childhood without seeing until now.  Also like Escape, it features Kurt Russell being directed by John Carpenter.  However, while Escape’s Snake Plissken was a gruff man of few words, Big Trouble’s Jack Burton is a boisterous big mouth, thus allowing Russell to show off his versatility.

Our story begins with Burton, an overly confident truck driver who refers to himself in the third person via a radio show of sorts that he performs on CB radio, pulling into the Chinatown section of San Francisco.  After a long haul, he meets up with buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) for a night of rowdy drinking and gambling.

When Burton gives Wang a ride to the airport to pick up his fiancee who’s about to arrive from China, said fiancee is kidnapped by brutish kung fu thugs and the adventure is on.  As Jack and Wang follow the trail, they end up in a world of martial arts, monsters, and magic, culminating in an epic battle royal with the vile sorcerer Lo Pan (James Hong aka the old Asian guy in practically every movie that requires an old Asian guy.  Hell, he even voices the goose that adopted Po in Kung Fu Panda).

Along the way, Jack and Wang team up with good sorcerer Egg Shen (Victor Wong aka James’ Hong’s longtime rival for the part of old Asian guy in every film that requires one).

Jack even finds a love interest in Gracie Law, a lawyer who, I don’t know, is investigating the trouble in Little China.  It’s not really explained that well.  All I know is that it was nice to see a young, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Kim Cattrall in this movie, long before she became jaded, unapologetically slutty Samantha on Sex in the City.

And yes, the character’s name is “Gracie Law,” because the writers really wanted you to know that she is a lawyer, but “Briefcase McCourtOrder” would have been too obvious.

I had a buddy in elementary school who gave me rave reviews about this movie.  He kept those reviews up long into adulthood, often telling me I needed to check this out.

I checked it out and…hmm…how to explain.

I don’t want to call it the worst movie I’ve ever seen, because it is far from it.  In fact, I can picture a 1980s audience full of big haired, big shoulder padded people being blown away by this film.  It has a lot of heart and there is a definite intent to entertain.  Even some of the cheesier moments of the film can be laughed off by remembering this movie isn’t just an action film, but it’s also an action comedy.

My main criticism is with the overall story, or rather, the film’s storytelling abilities.  Not much of an overall explanation is given about why this magic world of martial arts magic exists.

Instead, Jack, like the viewer, is thrust into the story face first,  He, and you, the viewer, learn bits and pieces of what is happening along the way.  Oddly enough, every Asian person in the film knows everything there is to know about this magical martial arts world, as if it has always been around and only dumb honkies like Jack are oblivious to it.  Even Wang, a restauranteur by trade, displays some off the chain, bad ass kung fu moves, yet there isn’t really any explanation as to why this guy who cooks food by day knows how to fly through the air with a sword at night.

I’m very, very far from politically correct, but I suppose the modern day social justice warriors have brainwashed me into thinking, “Huh.  This film seems to suggest all Asian people are kung fu masters.  That doesn’t seem very woke.”

But then I just tamp down social justice vibe down deep and eat a cookie for fear I’ll become some kind of gluten sucking, fedora wearing hipster.  Boo…hipsters.

Bottomline, it’s a fun romp and there some great scenes.  I just wish a little more work had been done on the story.  Then again, someone wiser than me might say that throwing Jack headfirst into the action and letting him catch up is a great storytelling device all on its own.

After all, how many times in your life has anyone really sat you down and told you everything you ever needed to know about a given situation?  That rarely happens, if ever.  Like Jack, we rush in, put on a brave front full of false machismo, and hold onto our butts, all the while hoping we’ll figure it all out before it’s too late.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.  Watch it on Netflix.

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TV Review – Mystery Science Theater: The Return (2017)

Lousy old time science fiction movies!  Snarky robots!

BQB here with a review of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.

Big time nostalgia factor for me here, 3.5 readers.  When the original MST3K film came out in the 1990s, my buddies and I watched it over and over again.  Oh, how we laughed and laughed.  We used to run around quoting lines like, “Science!  Men with screwdrivers!  Twisting things…and turning them!”

Ahh, you had to be sentient in the 1990s to get it.

Hmm…now I think I realize why I ended up as a lowly blog proprietor with only 3.5 readers.

Anyway, if you’ve never checked it out before, now’s your chance.  It’s back, this time with a series on Netflix.  Oh, Netflix.  Is there anything you won’t green light?

The premise is basically the same as the original.  A human is trapped in a space lair of some sort, forced by an evil villain to watch terrible old science-fiction movies for hours on end, supposedly as part of some study of how the brain operates while watching crappy movies.

The majority of the show is devoted to the human, Jonah Ray (Jonah Heston) and robot sidekicks Crow and Tom Servo, watching these horrendous films and busting on them with reckless abandon.  When you watch, you’ll see the film in your screen, with just three little shadows of the hecklers in the lower right hand side.

The movies are awful, old, poorly thrown together, devoid of any kind of decent plot, and usually suffer from a combination of laziness and a lack of special effects technology, because, you know, they were made a long time ago.  Also, they’re often foreign.  At any rate, there’s a strong chance that but for MST3K, you would have never have even heard of any of these films, that’s how bad they are.

The movie is broken up with Jonah and his bot buddies in various segments, doing interesting, wacky things.  Noted Internet nerds Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt star as Kinga Forrester and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (crazy name), the villains who are keeping Jonah and the bots captive.

The segments are produced with low quality, low budget effects, assumably to mock the films that are being watched, but more likely because the studio didn’t want to shell out the cash.

I can’t quite put my finger on it.  It may be that when I was younger, I had a less discerning sense of humor.  Or maybe the original movie was great and then other versions, i.e. the 1999 show, the web show, or this Netflix show, are just attempts to recreate the glory of one very awesome film.

Maybe the 1990s were just a happier time where people weren’t as jaded and thus they laughed easier.

Maybe the big joke behind the concept was original then, but now it’s sort of played out.

I’ve only watched part of the first episode, Reptilicus, thus far.  In this one, the boys heckle what is essentially the 1960’s Dutch version of Godzilla.  It’s about as 1960s as you can get, complete with male scientists being surprised that women might know anything about science.

Much to my surprise, Erin Gray, aka Kate Summers aka Ricky Schroeder’s step-mom on the 1980s sitcom Silver Spoons, has a cameo.  I know.  I am ashamed of myself for knowing who she was.  Still, for a broad in her late sixties, she looks pretty good.  I would watch shitty movies with her anytime.

Overall, it’s a fun distraction and something to put on when you want to be entertained but don’t want to expend a lot of brain power.  It’s also a fun exercise to see what movies used to be and how far along they have come.

Moreover, it’s a tribute to the olden days, a time when networks would actually try to keep you entertained between commercials.  Local TV stations would often run a movie, then have some kind of weird character introduce it and talk about it between the commercials.  I mean, so I’ve heard.  I’m not that frigging old.

At some point we learned that the movies should not suck of their own accord and that a host shouldn’t have to keep the movie interesting.

STATUS:  It’s fun.  One issue is that the movies are, you know, long movies, so the episodes often run like an hour and a half.  That’s a big time commitment but hey, in true Internet style, if you put it up there, someone will check it out.  3.5 someones in my case.

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Movie Review – Sandy Wexler (2017)

The 1990s are alive again!

BQB here with a review of Adam Sandler’s latest Netflix comedy.

 

It’s the last decade of the second millennium and Sandy Wexler (Adam Sandler) is the worst agent in all of Hollywood.  He’s a bumbling, incompetent boob with a wacky voice, big window pane glasses and all sorts of disgusting quirks.  He lies constantly, makes weird outbursts and can’t eat anything without getting it all over anyone in his vicinity.

His clients stink too, ranging from a stunt man who can’t stop destroying himself (Nick Swardson) to one of the creepiest ventriloquists of all time (Kevin James).

All that changes when Sandy discovers singer Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson).  She quickly becomes Sandy’s first client with talent ever.  As her career blasts off, Sandy ends up going through the ringer of a town known for chewing people up and spitting them out.

This movie is a celebration of all things 90s.  The funky neon shirts, the cars, the popular products of the day, the styles, the pop culture, it’s all on full display, coming across as Adam Sandler’s love song to the decade that made him big.  Believe it or not but there was a scene that made me miss Fruitopia.  Mmm.  Fruitopia.  Do you remember Fruitopia?  It was actually pretty good.  I want one right now.

The whole story is narrated by a plethora of 1990s era celebrities.  Pauly Shore, Jewel, Lisa Loeb, Downtown Julie Brown, Arsenio Hall are just some of the big names of yesteryear that pop in, making me depressed that the decade I came of age in is so far gone now.

Oh well.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Jennifer Hudson’s beauty and singing skills are the best parts of the film, leaving me to wonder why she is so underutilized in Hollywood.  She makes the film great but there was a part of me that thought, “This poor, classy woman.  She’s so much better than this.  She should be headlining major films.”

Oh well.  Maybe Hollywood will get the message on J-Hud sooner or later.

There’s a divided verdict out there on Adam Sandler.  If you were born in the 80s or before, you probably love him.  If you were born in the 90s or after, you hate him.  All of his movies usually involve him embracing a zany character and then following through on the character’s quirks to an eventual conclusion.

Personally, I love Adam Sandler, but if I’m channeling my movie critic side, I’d have to say that his two best films were Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison.  He had one great comeback with Don’t Mess with the Zohan and then it has been choppy waters ever since.

Thus, I think Adam has found a good home on Netflix.  Streaming allows his fans like me to find him without drawing the ire of millennials who take a look at the Sandman without being completely baffled about what he’s up to.

Then again, sometimes I’m baffled about what Adam is up to.  Hell, I bet even Adam is baffled.

Why is this man funny?  The world may never know…but he is….sometimes.  He’s kind of like your home team.  He wins some.  He loses some.  You root for him because you have fond memories of when he won some and you’re waiting for him to win some again.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.

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TV Review – Louis CK 2017

Louie, Louie, Louie, Louie…

BQB here with a review of Louis CK’s Netflix comedy special, Louis CK 2017.

Louis CK’s still got it.  For some reason, he’s out of his standard black T-shirt and in a business suit.  I’m not sure why.  I noticed he was wearing a suit when he hosted SNL too.  Is he retiring the black shirt?  Is he becoming more square as he approaches fifty?  Who knows.  If he wants to wear a suit, let the dude wear a suit.

I don’t want to give too much away.  You want to hear Louis tell his jokes, not me.  Highlights include his take on abortion, the Christian calendar, and how he’d be gay if it didn’t require him to take a you know what up his you know where.

As usual, Louis has a unique ability to take the most cringeworthy subjects and make them uproariously funny.  Check him on out on Netflix.

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TV Review – Ali Wong: Baby Cobra

Sex, feminism and trapping a man.

BQB here with a review of Ali Wong’s stand-up comedy Netflix special, Ali Wong: Baby Cobra.

I consider myself a comedic historian and to the best of my knowledge, this special marks the first time that a comedian took to the stage while seven months pregnant.

With her baby bump on full display and not slowing her down a bit, Fresh off the Boat writer Ali Wong makes all manner of freaky sexual jokes that might offend your virgin ears, puts political correctness through a meat grinder, dishes on all the hilarious methods she used to “trap” her Harvard Business School graduate husband, and even sends up feminism (all women had to do was stay home and some bitch had to go and ruin it).

Her words (paraphrasing), not mine.  Different comedians are definitely able to say different types of things and get away with it in today’s politically correct age.

I’d never heard of Ali before and just watched her special on a lark but I was glad I did.  The one thing I notice is she speaks with almost a devilish charm, like she’s trying to come across as evil to make the jokes work yet you are also left with the impression that she isn’t half that evil off the stage.

Then again, how would I know?  I never asked her trapped husband.

 

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