Episode 145: Propinquity, Fecundity

The Overthinkers tackle unlikable characters.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, John Perich, to overthink second tier cities, unlikable characters, and movies about wealth in the midst of recession.


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26 Comments on “Episode 145: Propinquity, Fecundity”

  1. Brian #

    On missing something by tv binging The Wire; I watched all 5 seasons on dvd for every waking hour for two weeks, and I have no idea what the show is about or why you guys gush over it so much. All I remember is some bald dock worker afraid and pissed that giant robots are invading his dock.


    • Lee OTI Staff #

      What, there are giant robots in “The Wire”? Why hasn’t anyone informed me of this until now? I guess I’ll actually watch it now, as opposed to make vague statements about how I plan on watching it…eventually…you know, when I have a lot of free time.


  2. cat #

    “Lost in Austen” is great…in a way…maybe not a critically objectively good way…but good in a charming, melodramatic way… Pete, why do you keep mentioning things I love?

    Wrather’s answer to the weekly question…annual geography lesson. Or however long it was since the last discussion on locations of things in California. :)

    I don’t think archetypal characters need to develop throughout a story or series for it to be good, but personally I prefer stories with development because it’s something I’ve been brought up on and taught to strive for…personal improvement, elevation by merit and intelligence and study, etc. etc.


  3. Chris #

    Detroit as a second tier city? Detroit’s population has plummeted since the 2000 census. They fell to 18th in population amongst cities in the United States. They lost a quarter of their population. Only New Orleans fared worse, and they had a hurricane. I don’t know if Detroit qualifies as a second tier city anymore. Wings will still win the Cup, however. Go Wings!

    There is no I-60.

    I’m a big fan of Always Sunny, but I don’t like the episodes when the gang succeeds. I can deal with the characters being awful people, but when in spite of, or due to, their awfulness they have success, it disappoints me.


  4. Edvamp #

    I am also in the phase of watching TV shows in blocks, usually from buying the DVD box sets (I haven’t gotten around to subscribing to Netflix). I got spoiled because one of the reasons I enjoy TV on DVD is the added audio commentary. Some shows like Robot Chicken and Futurama provided audio commentary for every single episode, while most shows would only do it for one episode per disc. When I got the entire series of Futurama on DVD I spent a weekend watching every episode in a row, then went and watched them AGAIN with the audio commentary on.

    Watching shows in blocks also helps when shows use a main story arc that is developed in every episode such as Lost, Fringe, Heroes, The Event, etc. where if you miss an episode it is that much harder to follow the story.


    • Gab #

      Nathan Fillion’s commentary on both Firefly and Castle is/are fantastic. Highly recommended.


      • Edvamp #

        My sister is a Firefly fan, I might pick that up for her.

        I really like getting older movies where they bring the cast back to do commentary years later. I picked up the Aliens Quad pack and it included commentary for all four movies. Ghostbusters and Star Trek II had only a scrolling written commentary at the bottom of the screen which was very annoying. It had interesting information, but was distracting.


  5. Timothy J Swann #

    With Daggett: Gateway to Barstow and the Karate Kid Overview, we’re almost back to the heady days of A Map of Los Angeles.

    Weirdly, I don’t remember talking about the neuroscience of addiction, but given I did study it for finals, maybe I did. What I’m fascinated by now is the response of the dopamine and the endogenous opiate system to box sets… that feeling as you finish an episode that almost requires you to put on the next one in shows that are suitably snackable (which I think may come from show structure – i.e. House, which has the same structure each week, is not as snackable as a show which unveils a bit of plot at a time in the highly serialised dramas which basically don’t have episodes so much as breaks in one continuous narrative) seems to me like it could be like the cravings found in the alteration of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system by cocaine. Maybe.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      So this is very interesting to me, and one of the things I tried to cope with in the notes on snackability I put on OTI before.

      I think there are different kinds of TV bingeing, and maybe not one mechanism that explains them all. Viz.:

      This is a wonderful show and I’m hooked on the plot or characters: The Wire, Mad Men

      Though I recognize flaws in this show, something about it keeps me coming back: Weeds (about drugs, appropriately enough).

      I keep watching this show despite the fact that very little about it is new each time: Law & Order, House

      I keep watching this show despite its crapitude and despite my mounting sense of self loathing: [insert guilty pleasure here]

      In all cases the behavior is the same: Compulsive pressing of “Play” on the next episode… but is it one mechanism operating or several?


      • Gab #

        I keep watching this show despite its crapitude and despite my mounting sense of self loathing: [insert guilty pleasure here]

        That’s me and Glee lately, although supposedly Jesse St. James is coming back, as is Kristen Chenoweth’s character, so there may be hope.


      • Timothy J Swann #

        My inclination is to suggest the same one working in slightly different ways, because they all bring you that compulsion to click. The pleasures, I suppose are different. Some shows are exhilarating, some comforting (I think of the structured ones this way), some trigger our sense of empathy/sociality (i.e. character-driven), but I’m still convinced, admittedly only on instinct, that we push the button because these all feed into something compulsive. A one-more mentality.


  6. EZ #

    One of the funniest things about Always Sunny to me is how after the first season Dee stopped being the moral foil of the show and just became one of the jerks.

    I stopped liking Family Guy after the first cancellation as well. I think the difference for me is that Peter is such an incompetent, callous, unrepentant character that never learns his lesson, and yet the other characters treat him like he’s not. And there are other main characters in that world that are just better at life than him, and yet he’s still central to every story.

    In It’s Always Sunny all of the characters are equally clueless and horrible, everyone in the “normal world” treats them as such, and they treat each other as such. It’s not OK that they’re horrible… they are just horrible. They aren’t forgiven for it, and in fact are often punished for it.

    It’s the difference between watching terrible people fail terribly and watching terrible people succeed despite their terrible-ness.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      I also lost interest in Family Guy after the relaunch, probably because I watched those DVDs with Belinkie a ton and got tired of it.

      But the other thing about Family Guy is everything is so out there and bawdy – there lacks a certain intimacy and subtlety – moments of discovery, when you figure out what’s really going on with the characters.

      Even characters who are unrepentantly bad people become more sympathetic if they have some small sincere aspect that shows their underlying humanity.

      I’m not necessarily saying they have to be “three-dimensional” – more thant they show moments that give you hope for them or reasons to want to like them.

      It might not be that way, because I hardly watch it, but I got the sense from the relaunch of Family Guy that it just felt flat, that too much of the characters was just way out there in front of you – you didn’t see much in Peter and Lois’s relationship over time that led you to think they really liked each other that much – he just treated her poorly and they always made up and forgot about the other stuff.

      The thing about the jers on It’s Always Sunny is that they are always hating on each other and going after each other, but there’s also a surprising amount of tenderness and love in the show, too – little moments where the characters look more sympathetic.

      I originally wrote a bunch more here, but I’m going to save it for a post.


      • Maddy #

        Re: Family Guy — It’s worth noting that Louis occasionally treats Peter terribly as well. (For example, the episode where Lois cheats on Peter with Bill Clinton struck me as horrifying rather than hilarious.) Like many comedy shows that last more than a few seasons, the characters have slowly transformed into exaggerated parody versions of their former selves. For example, Quagmire has become a rapist (more examples abound). The writers kept exaggerating his character’s misogyny and predatory nature until turning him into an actual rapist was the only place left to go. Obviously other characters have suffered from over-exaggeration as well, but I think Quagmire probably got the worst of it.


  7. Gab #

    Two ideas for show locations: Fort Wayne, Indiana, first. Think of the jokes you could have about former mayor Harry Baals. Heck, make that the name of the show, even. Or there’s always my college town, Walla Walla, Washington. Call it “W Cubed.” Use the song “Walla Walla” by The Offspring (about the state pen there) as the theme song for that one. I could think of a lot of plucky antics on the part of the residents- and the students could be a good contrast/enemy for them to be juxtaposed against.

    I’ve never been a fan of A Clockwok Orange because the main character is so terrible (and his “change” is not real). I think Arrested Development’s characters still had an underlying sense of sincerity and humanity that made them likable, even if you had to think about it after/ for a (long) while. However selfish they all were, deep down somewhere in there, they all loved each other and would (eventually) feel some twinge of guilt, however fleeting, when they hurt someone else.

    This is a sort-of well, actually, about Dean Martin: Depending on who you ask/what source you go to, he may or may not have been drunk onstage. Some sources say he had apple juice in his glass, some say he was sloshed, and some say he may not have been drunk but was not sober, either. But he was unarguably pretty self-controlled, at least- he’d call it a night before the rest of the Rat Pack. And whether he was actually drinking (either lightly or heavily) or not, he sold the lovable drunkard as his act for years- so what that says about personal versus societal values is quite interesting. He was moderate (although he did get worse after the death of his son), but he portrayed himself as an extremist. For all the condemnation and finger-pointing about morality, he made a lot of money off of acting like he was plastered.

    About the original Arthur. I don’t really prescribe to the idea that it’s about money, per say. Money is an important part of the movie, but it only plays a role. Its presence or lack thereof is a tool for the character arcs, and the social structure in which the characters are all operating takes precedent over actual dollars. The cynic in me thinks the remake was conceived for the last reason Wrather gave (that remakes are “safe”), but the conspiracy theorist in me thinks it was to try and make rich people look good in the face of the financial woes of the majority of the country. Sort of to say, “See? Not all rich people are bad, look at this lovable rich dude! And he doesn’t even want his money! Not all rich people are greedy, conniving, backstabbing- d-bags!” The remade character is a proxy for Wall Street (although I haven’t seen the sequel of that one…), with the goal of humanizing the demonized.

    My life always feels better when any of you sings. Can I get an encore?


  8. TimH #

    Isn’t that one of the points of Clockwork Orange though? It’s quite some time since I read it, but it’s partly anti the concept of using brutal punishment to try and change people. And then in any event the protagonist gets bored and stops being so awful in the last chapter. Not sure if we’re talking book or film (which I’ve not seen) but I recall that the film adapts only 20 of the 21 chapters.


    • Gab #

      Oh, I’m talking about the movie, sorry. And I get that one of the points is violence is not a good response to violence. I agree with that completely. But just because I understand doesn’t mean I have to enjoy or like it. I understand the cultural and potentially political significance of the movie, I just don’t like the movie itself. And no, I haven’t read the book, so this is, again, based on just the movie. Although I too have heard the movie is quite different, so maybe I should read it some time… Hm…


  9. Chris #

    Also, I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but they do have Bob’s Big Boy in Michigan at the very least. Although, it’s not called Bob’s Big Boy but instead Big Boy’s. It’s got the same logo and the same menu with the same Big Mac knockoff, however.


  10. Nat #

    Having watched the first 2 seasons of Mad Men in a binge, and the second 2 as they aired, I have to admit that they create two different viewing sensations. Viewing them as a binge kind of puts you in awe of the masterful story telling and character development of the show, as you can put all the pieces together much more quickly as they happen and get a good feel for the greater picture. However, watching the show as an episode a week gives you a greater appreciation for all the little pieces of gold that the writers and actors throw in there, because you absorb so much more from each episode as that’s all you’ll have for a whole seven days. I’m in great mourning for the show until 2012.

    I’m still refusing to watch the wire out of sheer protest to all the people who keep telling me how great it is. It kind of fits into my theory that the more heavily advertised a movie is, the more terrible it will be. I’m supported in this by the ‘Hop’ ads that have taken over London.

    As for British accents, having lived in England for several years now, I’ve found that the opposite of what Wrather said is true for me. There are some types of English accent which just sound intrinsically stupid to me and I can’t take them seriously, even from say a university lecturer. I guess it might be similar to a Southern/Midwestern accent for the US, but feel freee to correct me if I’m wrong.

    Great show this week, although I may have dozed off in the middle being unfamiliar with It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      We’ve seen the American Office, American Coupling, American Being Human, Big Brother, America’s Got Talent, all these British shows remade with American versions. And I guess we’ve seen Law and Order U.K. I guess.

      What we really need is a ported-over British version of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Bunch of cranky people doing awkward and unpleasant things to one another? I feel like it’d be a hit with the British audience.

      For some reason I feel like it ought to take place in Scotland or Wales, to translate the sense Philadelphia has in America of being this weird really big deal for everybody who lives there but not really a big deal on the national level. Maybe “It’s Always Sunny in Swansea?”


      • Chris #

        I know it’s the largest city in Scotland, so maybe it wouldn’t have quite the right feel, but I think “It’s Always Sunny in Glasgow” would be better, especially with Scotland’s propensity for rain. Also, Scottish accents are slightly more intelligible than Welsh accents, or at least that’s the case for me.


      • TimH #

        Well actually. Big Brother is Dutch in origin – on behalf of Britain I’m refusing to take the blame for that one.

        Is Rab C Nesbitt anything like this Philadelphia programme I’ve never seen?


        • fenzel OTI Staff #

          Sorry about blaming the UK for the lowest of the Low Countries.

          Having watched a couple of YouTube videos that seem representative, there are some similarities between It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Rab C Nesbitt, but a lot of differences.

          There’s minimal regional or ethnic affectation to the way the characters in Sunny are portrayed – the setting is just a little bit of extra color and theme and provides random details for the episodes.

          There’s also almost no mutual affection in biological families. The only family that actually does love each other is repugnant and openly incestuous. Well, I guess Charlie and his single mom love each other – but when she tells him she tried to abort him, but he survived, it’s pretty raw.

          Also, none of the characters are in long-term romantic relationships; the households are all “bromances” between single men living together. Two of the main character are brother and sister, and I guess they are fond of each other, but they do a lot of mean stuff to one another.

          I haven’t watched any actual episodes of Rab C Nesbitt, but it seems to me it has at its center a family unit that hangs together despite anger at one another and the people being very eccentric and socially awkward.

          Also, Rab seems to be comfortable with being lower class – the Gang in Sunny spend most of their time in denial about how unsuccessful they are and think of themselves as the next big thing.

          “The Gang” in Sunny doesn’t really work that way – it’s a loose group of a couple of individual friendships – the show isn’t about confirming them as a unit.

          The big similarities seem to be the black comedy, the lower-class focus, the attitude toward authority, especially petty authority, and the similarities in some of the characters – especially between Rab and Charlie, who both seem to enjoy living in squalor and talking crazy nonsense, but in the end have big hearts.


  11. Peter Tupper #

    The US Office had an interesting evolution in terms of the likeability of its main character and the social dynamics of the group he’s a part of.

    Initially, Michael was a highly unpleasant, greedy, scheming person, not unlike the jerks of Always Sunny.

    A lot of the humor comes from Michael attempting to apply classic “workplace as surrogate family sitcom” tropes to his company. You get the impression his single mom parked him in front of a TV as a child and he grew up watching “Taxi” and “Cheers” instead of having a social life. Instead, his employees are forced to tolerate him, but they also don’t particularly care about each other (Jim and Pam being the exceptions). They’re also non-gimicky characters.

    In the middle period of the series, Michael becomes child-like. He’s selfish and does hurtful things, but its partly ignorance and partly because he’s horribly lonely and has no social skills. His employees work around him and treat him as a slightly slow child, and a variety of workplace romances and other entanglements blossom.

    In recent seasons, the office starts doing things like going to weddings and working together to make song and dance videos. Just recently, Michael fell in love with a co-worker and proposed, and the entire office pitched in to make it a huge event. This is completely antithetical to the show as it began, when the whole premise was, this is the anti- “workplace as surrogate family” sitcom, and Michael would never find the connection and intimacy he yearned for in corporate life.

    Naturally, it’s hard to keep a thoroughly unpleasant individual going for multiple seasons. Even David Brent in the UK Office softened in much the same way, shifting from cruel and privileged to clueless and vulnerable. And wasn’t there a similar progression in Homer Simpson?

    Maybe this is the way we prefer to explain why people are jerks: they’re just neglected kids who didn’t grow up properly. Or maybe it’s just TV can’t handle the idea of a person who’s truly irredeemable. Basil Fawlty could be an unrepentant jackass and petty tyrant with a loveless marriage for twelve episodes, but any more and they’d have to do something with him.


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