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Let’s Watch Some Goofy TV | @curaffairs

Let’s Watch Some Goofy TV from @curaffairs
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I am grateful for the existence of Netflix. Undoubtedly I will end up regretting this fondness before too long. Like all tech giants, Netflix is hungry to learn our longings and fears, and to then use its knowledge to blackmail us into submitting to all kinds of indignities. But for the moment, at least, there are things to like about online streaming services. Plenty of articles have been  written about how streaming services have offered a distribution mechanism for TV shows and films that networks and mainstream film studios would be unlikely to touch. The thing I like best about Netflix is that it gives me access to TV and films from all over the world. In the distant past When I Was A Child, there was no easy way to watch films or shows made in another country, unless the library had it on videocassette, or if you had the income or savvy to hunt things down on eBay. Sure, you could go on a message board, find some nice person who owned the thing on DVD, get them to mail the DVD to you, and then see how many times you could change the regional settings on your DVD player before it got stuck. Or you could haunt a likely Usenet newsgroup until someone decided to post a heavily pixelated version of the film with slightly out-of-sync audio. Neither of these were great options: as a child of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, I was strictly taught that giving out my name or address to anyone on the internet would result in my instantaneous kidnapping and rape, and that downloading anything whatsoever from the internet would cause my parents’ computer to explode.

These days, it is very nice to be able to find almost everything I could possibly want to watch available on an internet streaming service. When I want to see unsuspecting victims elaborately assassinated in sleepy English country villages, there are dozens upon dozens of available options. And Netflix’s wealth of telenovelas and other Spanish-language programming is the entire reason I am able to speak any Spanish at all, since I never studied Spanish before law school. Netflix is always offering up tempting-looking options to me, which I rarely have time or energy to watch, but still, it is comforting to know that this surfeit of entertainment is always waiting.

That said, with the rise of streaming services, and the ability to quickly locate the exact thing you want to watch (or have a pretty likely option offered up to you by algorithm), there is a certain kind of serendipitous TV viewing that has been somewhat lost. With limited options—the dubious offerings at the local video rental store, the channels available on your hotel TV—you sometimes found yourself, out of boredom or curiosity, deciding to watch some entirely random crap. It was under these circumstances, in the past, that I was most likely to find specimens of that rarest pleasure: Goofy TV.

What do I mean by Goofy TV? Goofy TV is not Good TV, but it is, I think, taxonomically distinct from Bad TV. Bad TV I would define as TV that actually gives the viewer what they secretly want to watch—“guilty pleasures” like high-octane drama or fantasy sex—things that tend to be watered-down or over-contrived in more critic-conscious television. Goofy TV is something totally different. When watching Goofy TV, your prevailing thought should be not “oh, I know this is silly, but I still like it,” but rather, “who the hell made this?”

In its perfect form, I contend, Goofy TV is the single purest form of entertainment yet devised by human beings. But, like most intense pleasures, it can only be enjoyed infrequently to retain its full potency. The discovery of a magnificent specimen of Goofy TV in the wilds of basic cable was always like the sighting of a rare, brilliantly-colored bird: thrilling to you in the moment, extremely boring to your friends as you excitedly recounted the experience in far too much detail.

I am not doing a very good job  defining the parameters of what constitutes Goofy TV, so here I am going to try to nail down the concept in more detail:

1. The defining characteristic of Goofy TV is its ability to make its viewers laugh at regular intervals throughout the entire film. And here I’m not talking about the voluntary titter we all do—whether in conversation, or while watching television in the same room with other people—to signal that we are aware that something is a joke and that we approve of it. Calculated laughter is such a common social tool, like smiles deployed to project friendliness, that we sometimes forget how different the real thing is. Goofy TV inspires whole-body laughter: Sore abdominal muscles are a bare minimum. Very few actual scripted comedies are capable of doing this, at least not more than a handful of times in a single film or episode. All items that follow this point are in some sense merely attempts to describe how Goofy TV achieves this difficult feat.

2. The humor is almost entirely unintentional: The writers should not be trying to be funny; this usually spoils the whole thing. The best Goofy TV comes from screenwriters who were either a) were earnestly attempting drama and misfired badly, or b) wrote their script in extreme haste, possibly having never seen a movie before, or indeed interacted with another living human being. The talent and commitment of the actors may vary. Bad acting can contribute to the goofiness, but so can a good actor’s sincere attempt to engage with baffling material.

3. The plot consistently fails to make sense, without lapsing into total incoherency: The relentless pace of the humor relies on constantly confusing the viewer’s expectations. A bad film made up entirely of well-worn clichés may be mildly amusing, but it usually becomes boring quickly. (Likewise, a nonsense plot that’s too intricate to follow is also dull.) Most Goofy TV employs stock tropes, but there must be something surreal about the way these storylines play out; an advanced piece of Goofy TV will create the sense of a fully-formed alternate universe where human motivations are subject to totally different laws than our own. 

4. Some element of the movie or show is strangely compelling: At least one character or storyline must be sufficiently likable and/or so mind-bendingly bizarre that the audience is invested in seeing the story through to the end.

When I think about Goofy TV, I am sometimes reminded of the Calvin & Hobbes strip where Calvin tries to imagine what on earth the evolutionary purpose of laughter could be: “When you think about it, it’s weird that we have a physiological response to absurdity. We laugh at nonsense. We like it. We think it’s funny. Don’t you think it’s odd that we appreciate absurdity? Why would we develop that way? How does it benefit us?” Hobbes, his tiger friend, responds: “I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.” I am not sure I agree with Hobbes’ evo-psych diagnosis, because I feel as though I am regularly inundated with things that don’t make sense, and which don’t make me laugh at all. There are many kinds of absurdity that give rise to very different emotional reactions, like sadness and rage. But there is also a special kind of absurdity that gives rise to delight. Thinkers looking to put their finger on what makes our species special (for whatever that effort is worth) often point to our appreciation for beauty. But I think our appreciation for humor is perhaps even more mysterious. As with beauty, humor is something we love to create, but we also have a special, separate longing to find it, in a natural and unselfconscious state: rougher around the edges, perhaps, but somehow all the more magical for having arisen independent of any human intention. Great Goofy TV is to humor what, say, the Grand Canyon is to aesthetics. We must honor these natural monuments.

Goofy TV, I think, is in some ways becoming harder than ever to find. History Channel documentaries desperately stringing out some bullshit about Nostradamus for a full hour, padding the time with low-budget costume reenactments; SciFi channel original movies about elite Special Forces units being eaten by mutant bats—this used to be the kind of Goofy TV you could stumble upon just by flipping through the channels. But with the rise of the internet commentariat, the executives of the History Channel, Discovery, SyFy (as the SciFi channel was renamed), and Lifetime have realized that a significant subset of their audience is watching for lulz, and now they’re deliberately hamming it up, attempting to manufacture Goofy TV by formula. Playful self-parodies like Discovery’s mermaid documentary, SyFy’s Sharknado series, and Lifetime’s A Deadly Adoption (starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig) simply aren’t funny the way their truly goofy antecedents were. In attempting to find goofy Hallmark Channel Christmas movies this year, I had a tedious time sorting through the “bad” movies, the wink-wink ironically silly movies, and the truly goofy candidates.

But even as the convenience of widely-available online content has reduced the need to go scavenging for entertainment, it has, in theory, increased our access to the great global repository of all the world’s Goofy TV. Goofy TV from a part of the world whose cinema you are less familiar with sometimes has (at least at first) a fresher and fuller goofiness, because you aren’t yet wise to the typical narrative tropes.

I feel compelled to catalogue a particularly magnificent example of Goofy TV, which brought true joy into my life recently, which is a trilogy of Indian sci-fi films made in the early-to-mid 2000s. I am very much a newcomer to the world of Indian cinema, which is dauntingly huge and diverse—when I told a friend of mine that I was starting to explore the “Bollywood” options on Netflix, she immediately a) informed me that there were many more film industries in India besides Bollywood, and b) amassed me a massive Spotify playlist entitled “90s-00s South Asian Pop Songs In 6-7 Languages,” of which I’m still not sure I’ve made it all the way through yet, despite listening almost every day.

Illustration by Devika Chitale

But is it even worth watching any more movies after these?? The Krrish trilogy are perhaps the greatest movies I have ever seen, and I would like to be suspended forever in the experience of watching them for the first time. It is an approximately nine-hour epic. That’s about the same length as Lord of the Rings, in case you were wondering. For those of you have nine hours to spare, I demand that you put down this magazine and go watch it immediately. For the rest of you, I will try to convey something of the experience of watching the Krrish trilogy here, though it will be but a poor shadow.

PART ONE

A HOT GUY’S STRUGGLES

Koi… Mil Gaya, made in 2003, begins with the story of an Indian astrophysicist working at an institute in Canada, who’s building a machine in his attic that’s capable of contacting alien life. When he tries to tell his Canadian colleagues what he’s done, they are real white supremacist assholes about it. (As a U.S. American, I appreciate that this film highlights the true wickedness of our Canadian cousins, who are always tricking the unwary with their duplicitous self-effacery!) While the astrophysicist and his pregnant wife are dejectedly driving home, the aliens that he has previously contacted attempt to land a spacecraft on the road, and end up accidentally flipping over the family car. The astrophysicist dies, and his wife gives birth to a baby, Rohit, who has mental and physical disabilities due to the accident.

Flash forward a couple decades, when Rohit and his mother are back living in northern India. Adult Rohit is played by Hrithik Roshan, a man more beautiful than the sun itself. (Now, an important non-humorous sidebar: there is a real representation problem in cinema the world over, in that actors with disabilities struggle to find work, while neurotypical and able-bodied actors are frequently cast to play characters with disabilities. Koi… Mil Gaya is one such film, and there are definitely many questionable aspects about the way disability is presented by the screenwriters. That said, the protagonist’s disability is not played for laughs in this film; we are probably at about a Forrest Gump-level of disability awareness here, I think.) Rohit is essentially portrayed as a child in an adult’s body, as signaled by the fact that he wears a school uniform at all times. He also clearly has JACKED arms that are straining the seams of his shirtsleeves, but we never once see him working out. This is, perhaps, the biggest plot hole in the film.

Rohit spends most of his time badgering his loved ones to drink some kind of Indian Ovaltine called Bournevita, I assume due to a product placement contract, and tootling around the mountain paths on his razor scooter. The moral universe of Koi… Mil Gaya is simple: good guys ride razor scooters, bad guys ride motorcycles. Rohit and his scooter club, the rest of whom are all middle-schoolers, have frequent violent confrontations with a biker gang led by the local police chief’s dickhole son. Apparently, it is totally normal in this town for grown adults to just beat the fucking shit out of children and people with disabilities in broad daylight. Breaking up this ongoing carnage, there are musical interludes.

Rohit and Cop Failson eventually end up competing over the same girl, and, to impress her, Rohit shows her his father’s old computer, accidentally summoning an alien spaceship in the process. The spaceship quickly returns to outer space, but inadvertently leaves behind an alien, Jadoo, who is then discovered, hidden from the authorities, and introduced to Coca-Cola by Rohit and his friends.

From this point forward, the plot is just the plot of E.T., but as recounted by someone who is slowly succumbing to delirium tremens. As a thank-you to Rohit, Jadoo decides to “heal” Rohit’s cognitive delay. (Yes, as I said before, there are some very, very questionable aspects about this portrayal of disability). For some unexplained reason, Jadoo’s gift also gives Rohit super-strength. Rohit goes to school, dazzles his cruel math teacher with his genius, punches one of Cop Failson’s minions right across the courtyard (why is he hanging out at Rohit’s school? no one knows), and then literally flexes so hard he bursts right out of his shirt.

Having been gifted with these extraordinary powers, Rohit decides that the best way to win over his lady-love is to a) invite her to a club and force her to watch his sick new disco moves, and then b) challenge Cop Failson and his motorcycle goons to a basketball match. The basketball subplot is itself a fully-formed underdog sports movie about a scrappy group of children beating a team of trained athletes through the extremely unsubtle telekinetic intervention of a captive alien. 

Things then proceed along standard E.T. lines, complete with sinister scientists and bicycle chase scenes, until Jadoo is safely returned to his spaceship. Rohit loses his superpowers for long enough to confirm that his girlfriend loves him without them. After this respectable period of mourning, the superpowers are miraculously returned.

PART TWO

ANOTHER, STUPIDER HOT GUY’S STRUGGLES

Smash cut to the beginning of the 2006 sequel, Krrish, where we soon find out that the romantic leads of the previous film are DEAD. They’re DEAD. Remember all the cute musical numbers where they danced in the rain and threw flowers at each other and whatnot? That’s right—those people both PERISHED HORRIBLY. Rohit was engulfed by a fireball in his laboratory and his wife Nisha died of grief days later. Buckle up, bitches, because this sequel is about to get raw as hell.

Thankfully, Rohit and Nisha had a son together right before they died, named Krishna. Krishna is also played by Hrithik Roshan and is 100 percent identical to his father, his only genetic inheritance from the maternal side apparently being his haircut, which is pretty similar to his mom’s. Because Rohit was exposed to alien sun magic or whatever, his son Krishna is also born with superpowers. These superpowers seem to mostly consist of being able to run really fast and sort of… jump between things?

Krishna’s grandmother, fearing that the world is not yet ready to accept Krishna’s extreme parkour skills, raises him in a secluded mountain location. Thanks to his isolation, Krishna grows up to be crazy hot and dumb as a brick. If you have ever wanted to watch a movie where an extremely fit adult man sobs to his grandma about the fact that his only friends are animals—and you FUCKING SHOULD—then this is the film for you.

Everything changes when Krishna meets a cute girl named Priya, who is in the mountains on some kind of group sports outing. He rescues her from a parachuting accident, and then decides that the best way to impress her is to elaborately gaslight her into believing that he’s a sinister mountain ghost only she can see. (This is, like, some string-theory-level negging.) Krishna trolls Priya continuously for what, I am pretty sure, amounts to an entire fourth of the film’s running time. Eventually she learns, to her relief, that Krishna is not a ghost after all, but a living, breathing idiot. However, Priya is a Busy Career Woman with a budding career at a TV station in Singapore, and she’s not really interested in playing Jane to Krishna’s Tarzan.

Upon returning to Singapore, Priya learns that she has been fired from the TV station, and needs a Big Scoop to get her job back. Deciding that maybe Krishna’s superpowers are newsworthy, she lures him to Singapore by calling him on the phone and pretending she wants to get married immediately. This seems totally reasonable to Krishna. However, Priya’s stealthy attempts to monetize Krishna all go horribly awry, because he is always unintentionally thwarting her through his Pureness Of Heart. (In one particularly surreal scene, she tries to film a climbing contest between Krishna and an orangutan for a TV program, but Krishna locks eyes soulfully with the orangutan, who then, instead of climbing the tree, walks over and gives Krishna a tender, prolonged hug.) Krishna also keeps pulling Manic Pixie Dream Girl shit with Priya, interrupting her job to drag her to the circus and force her to watch his choreographed dance routines.

On one such excursion, a fire breaks out at the Hero Honda™ Great Bombay Circus, and a bunch of children are trapped inside a burning tent. Krishna wants to rescue them, but, remembering his grandmother’s warning that he should keep his powers a secret, cunningly disguises himself by a) turning his coat—which inexplicably has a leather lining—inside out, and b) donning a mask that covers approximately 20 percent of his face. When one of the sooty children asks Krishna for his name, he tells her “Krrish,” because knocking one syllable off your real name is totally how pseudonyms work. (This would be like if Peter Parker went by the superhero name “Pete” and also his superhero costume was just a leather jacket.)

A lot of the rest of the movie consists of Priya trying to uncover this hot new superhero Krrish’s identity, and the length of time this takes her tells you everything you need to know about why she was originally fired from her journalism job. There is also a running side-plot about an evil businessman who is trying to build a supercomputer that can predict the future, using blueprints developed by Krishna’s dad Rohit. It then turns out that Rohit is NOT dead after all, but is being kept in suspended animation by the evil businessman, because only his fingerprint will unlock the unfinished supercomputer! (The other engineers were apparently smart enough to rebuild the fucking thing but NOT smart enough to figure out how to reset a password.)

Krishna eventually finds out his dad is still alive and, as Krrish, kicks a bunch of henchmen to death before revealing himself to his now-aged father. Since Rohit is played by Hrithik Roshan in a wig and age makeup, we get to enjoy a beautiful moment where two Hrithik Roshans cry over how much they love each other.

PART THREE

THERE’S NOW AN DODDERING OLD GUY WHO’S ACTUALLY JUST A HOT GUY IN MAKEUP AND HE IS THE ONLY FICTIONAL CHARACTER I WILL EVER CARE ABOUT AGAIN

By the third installment, Rohit, Krishna, and Krishna’s now-wife Priya are all living together in Mumbai. Rohit is really leaning into his Mad Scientist persona, working on a device that can harness solar energy to bring things back to life. So far, all he’s managed to do is jury-rig a bunch of mirrors to focus the sun’s rays into a powerful laser beam that lights dead houseplants on fire. Meanwhile, his stupid, beautiful son Krishna keeps trying to get entry-level jobs as a waiter or a security guard, but is continually getting fired from them, because this is a world where handsome men actually experience consequences for their incompetence. I would watch a TV show about this father/son duo for an approximately infinite number of seasons. 

The antagonist of the third movie is an evil genius named Kaal who keeps secretly releasing virulent viruses into developing countries, then “discovering” vaccines and selling them for exorbitant prices. This Shkreli-style villainy verges close enough to real life that it almost takes you out of the goofiness of the film! Kaal is also a quadriplegic who can only move his head and two of his fingers (what is the DEAL with these movies and disability?), has telekinetic powers, and dresses like a sinister vicar. He has also genetically engineered a bunch of shapeshifting animal-human hybrids, which the subtitles routinely refer to as “Manimals.” 

Kaal gets suspicious when Rohit manages to manufacture an antidote to one of his plagues, since normally the only antidote is Kaal’s own DNA. (Science!) Like every Charles Dickens character, Kaal has never known who his real parents are, and begins to suspect that maybe there is some MYSTERIOUS CONNECTION between himself and Rohit. Kaal kidnaps Krishna’s pregnant wife Priya and replaces her with a sexy shapeshifter, who then proceeds to fall in love with Krishna. (This was definitely just a ploy to get some new babe in this movie without having to kill off the previous one Bond-girl-style.) It still takes the shapeshifter the entire movie to realize Krishna and Krrish are the same person, showing that the one-syllable disguise continues to be nigh-on impenetrable, even though she’s presumably living in the same house where he keeps all his leather jackets.

We eventually build to the big reveal: Kaal is actually a clone of Rohit manufactured from his DNA while he was being held in captivity during the last movie. Why a clone of Rohit would be played by a totally different actor, when his regular son is played by the same actor, is a medical mystery. Kaal manages to use his clone-dad’s blood to cure his paralysis (more science!) and then proceeds to beat Krrish to death. Distraught, Rohit tries to use his mirror-laser to bring Krishna back to life, but at first only succeeds in lighting him on fire. Then he realizes that the sunlight is TOO POWERFUL and superimposes his own body between the laser and Krishna. Krishna then comes back from the dead, and Rohit literally explodes. I immediately lose 99% of my investment in the plot because watching Hrithik Roshan putter around in a flat cap with a fake pillow-gut stuffed down the front of his sweater was the main reason I was even watching this film, and probably my main reason for going on living, if we’re honest.

The rest of the movie gets a D- for goofiness because it is just a ripoff of that scene in every Marvel movie where the hero and the villain smash up an entire city (in this case, Mumbai) for about 30 minutes too long. Eventually, Krrish wins, and Priya gives birth to a magical floating baby. THE END.

And there you have it, friends. Cinema has peaked, and cannot be bettered. Going forward, magazines are the only frontier in media.

Treasured readers, please do yourself the favor of introducing some goofiness into your life this week. After the nights when I watched each one of the Krrish movies, I woke up with a strange, active feeling in my belly—my heart rate seemed faster, my thoughts were more energetic. At first, I thought I was getting sick. Then I realized that what I was feeling was actual happiness. And you, too, deserve to have moments of happiness in your life!

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Originally posted by Current Affairs on 2019-08-01 15:45:21

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