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“Veronica Mars” Season 4: Part of Our Dark Summertime Binge

Veronica Mars!

Are you there, God? It’s me, the annoying tiny blonde one.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: 2014 saw the release of the Veronica Mars movie, an unexpected follow-up to the acid-tongued detective show that undiscerning Nielsen families treated as persona non grata during its three-season run on UPN and The CW. The movie was made possible through a Kickstarter campaign made wildly successful by a fan base eager to see more, more, more. Honestly, every second of VM beyond the first season has been a sort of gift. Back in the day, shows with its kind of shaky ratings were often stood before a firing squad in five episodes or less. Fans appreciated the film as a Happily Ever After that we needed after season 3’s funereal cliffhanger, but we also assumed it was The End. We moved on, so sure that life in the complicated oceanside town of Neptune, CA, would remain copacetic forever as long as we all agreed never to look back again.

Apparently like Orpheus, someone must have peeked. Thanks to the magic of Hulu and a reunion of principals — creator Rob Thomas and some of the original writing staff, as well as stars Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, and quite a few more — the titular teen detective and her equally-detective dad Keith Mars are back with an eight-episode fourth season that, of course, once again has Neptune in chaos, death at hand, and Happily Ever After wrested away from more than one beloved cast member. Though Hulu had announced a release date of July 26th, they uploaded it a week early amid the fun and busyness of San Diego Comic Con. It was either a pleasant surprise or a shocking downer, depending on whether or not you actually watched it this weekend.

With several weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife and I sped through all eight episodes on Saturday, because free time abounded for some of us who’ll never get to attend SDCC. Over the past few weeks we’d been bingeing a few other shows, each of which had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. We set all those aside for one day and, by the end of said day, realized Veronica fit right in with all that bleakness.

Courtesy warning: spoilers ahead for thoughts after some 400+ minutes of viewing. Not everything is revealed here, but several tidbits yearn to be explored. The spoiler-free capsule-review version is: season 4 is far better than season 3, possibly better than season 2 (I need more time to evaluate this), and definitely not here to deliver more of the movie’s too-eager-to-please fan service.

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“Kung Fu Panda 3”: Eats Yaks & Leaves

Kung Fu Panda 3!

“Dad, do you think they’ll let me present an award at next year’s Oscars? Or at least the Kids Choice Awards?”

It’s post-Oscar season movie time! That inevitable season when the major studios helpfully fill up theaters with numerous counterprogramming choices, by which I mean flicks that will never, ever win quality-based awards but might just make a buck or two off those moviegoers who couldn’t care less about the overwrought film-award pomposity. Usually when you see an animated release on the post-Christmas slate, it’s one that was made overseas for twenty bucks that would’ve gone to straight-to-video if the studio weren’t desperate for some first-quarter earnings on their P&L sheets.

So I was surprised to see Kung Fu Panda 3 dumped into a wintertime slot. I barely remember anything about the second one except an impressive ship crash and Gary Oldman’s lame evil peacock, but the original was an eye-popping martial-arts spectacular that proved to be one of Jack Black’s best-ever vehicles and one of my top five Dreamworks Animation films to date. I was hoping the third would be more like the first.

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“Whiplash”: Bang on the Drummer All Day

Whiplash!

I was in band for all three years of junior high. I was in the last group allowed to audition. By then all the cool saxophone slots were taken, I couldn’t make flutes or any brass instruments work, clarinet reeds tickled my mouth to distraction, and my rhythms were judged inadequate for their percussion needs. By process of elimination they assigned me to the bass clarinet, an instrument that’s like the love child of a clarinet and a saxophone that lacks the clout and pizzazz of either of its parents. The mouthpiece and reed were a larger, better fit for me than the normal, socially acceptable clarinets. I liked the sound, loved the foghorn rumble of the lower register. Higher octaves were like fingernails raking across my brain, and our parts were usually boring. The percussion-section runt who played the triangle frequently had more interesting measures to play than we did.

When my high school years approached, I was relieved that the art classes I’d dreamed of taking left no room for band class anymore. After I turned in my tenth-grade schedule, one of our conductors sat me and a few other quitters down for a Serious Talk, as if our decision to opt out of the grueling rigors of high-school marching band would ruin our lives and resumés, possibly turn us into dope fiends. It didn’t work. I was free.

I was surprised and saddened when quitting cost me a few friends. I wasn’t a virtuoso, but I wasn’t last chair. I do miss the elation of nailing complicated pieces, which were maybe 5% of my lifetime playlist. I’ve never regretted walking away from the monotony of dwelling among the second-string rabble cursed to play nothing but “BOMP. Bomp. BOMP. Bomp. BOMP. Bomp. BOMP. Bomp.” It would be inaccurate to joke that my parts could’ve been replaced by a machine, because that would imply my parts were essential enough for music scientists to consider them worth replacing.

The experience taught me a lot about music-making firsthand, about the importance of dedicated practice sessions, about sheet-music literacy basics, about inequality between instruments, and about my apparent unsuitability to this career track. I haven’t held a bass clarinet in twenty-seven years, but some of the old songs and the vocabulary still bounce around my head and resurface on occasion.

A lot of the lessons that I’d forgotten since then, Whiplash brought vividly back to mind.

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