Liz Tells Frank What Happened In… is a lot of things:
- A live show and podcast!
- A series of books, ranging from best-of collections to the ever-popular Skip It/Watch It Guides.
- A blog going back years, that covers everything from Arrow to Zardoz.
The one common thread: Saving people, most especially including Liz’s friend Frank, from some of pop culture’s most ridiculous moments. Enjoy!
Let’s just get this out of the way — when you and I last got together to talk about the world of Dune, a young man named Timothee Chalamet was at that point best known as the actor who played the teenage version of Casey Affleck in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. That’s why we never dig into Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal work in the latest installment of Liz Tells Frank Live! — though, to be fair, David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation gave us plenty to discuss!
As you and I get ready for the first-ever digital Liz Tells Frank Live experience(!!!!!!!), it’s a thrill to look back at how much fun these were to produce in meatspace. Special thanks to producer David Nett, live-tweeter Jason Merrell, guest introducer Jay Bushman, the live studio audience for attending, and as always, you for listening!
PS: Again, did I mention that Liz Tells Frank Live is coming back?! That feels important to mention again! May 1, 2021, 5 PM PT! Live on YouTube!
Five years ago, in a much more sane time, you and I got together in front of a live audience to talk about the Mad Max films! It was a really long night! We had a lot of fun! The James Bond movie Goldeneye came up a lot more than expected! And you can now relive the magic, with the audio recording here!
So much material was featured in this recording, and I am so honored to finally have the opportunity to share it! Special thanks to producer David Nett, Nerdstrong Gym for hosting, live-tweeter Megan Westerby, our bell-master Aimee Jones, guest introducer Meredith Berg, the live studio audience for attending, and as always, you for listening!
Hello! This installment was originally written for the first volume of “Liz Tells Frank What Happened In…: The Book.” But as that was published in 2012, it feels like it’s been long enough to warrant resurfacing. (Does it warrant actually covering seasons past Season 7 in the future? That’s a mystery not even BONES could solve.)
As you remember, in 2006 the first thing I ever told you about was an episode of the now-long-running crime drama Bones — in fact, I told you about a large percentage of the first season of Bones, because you asked nice.
But at the end of the first season, I became convinced that the show was too wary of the Moonlighting curse (AKA “They can’t get together — it’ll ruin the show!”), and stopped watching it. I did, however, pledge to pick it up once again if its main characters started banging: Since that day, the people I appointed to tell me if I should re-add it to my DVR never alerted me to a change in this circumstance. So today I delve into the bowels of Wikipedia summaries and episode guides, to see what we’ve missed since I stopped telling you what happened.
To remind you, Frank, Bones is about a forensic anthropologist (nicknamed Bones) who, with her team of lab techs, helps solve gross murder crimes with Angel from Angel (nicknamed Beau in my original retellings, because apparently that’s David Boreanez’s real nickname and it made me laugh).
To make things easier, let’s take this season by season, starting with Season 2, where these appear to be the big things that happened: Read the rest of this entry
This was originally published in the 2013 ebook “Liz Tells Frank: The Skip It/Watch It Guides”, but it’s been a few years and people are still out there watching “Buffy” and “Angel” on Hulu with no idea how to do so properly, so what the hell. It’s almost Christmas. A perfect time to check in with these two iconic series.
It still astounds me that there are people in the world who haven’t watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I mean, what were you doing in the late 90s and early 00s? Not watching one of television’s great complex achievements? For shame.
It is less shocking when I find out that people haven’t seen Angel. “Vampire private detective” might sound like an easy pitch, but the show was always a weird nut, and never got the recognition Buffy did, despite hitting some magnificent highs over the course of its five season run.
While the two shows eventually took on separate paths — even eventually airing on separate networks — Buffy and Angel, much like their titular heroes, remain forever connected.
This guide attempts to capture not only which episodes are best avoided when watching both series, but how the two shows interacted during their initial airing — the one thing binge-viewing can’t quite capture without a little guidance.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was just simply too much television out there for one human being to watch. Specifically, it was the year 2005, and there were easily dozens of new shows airing weekly on broadcast and cable channels! Not only that, but thanks to Blockbuster Video and DVD subscription services like Netflix, you could catch up with DVDs of older shows you might have missed! Man, it was a wild and crazy time.
And that’s when you and I hung out one night and watched the pilot episode of a new Fox procedural called “Bones,” and while we both liked it, you weren’t sure you’d be able to keep up with each new episode. So, you said, “Liz, if you keep watching, can you just tell me what happens each week?”
I said sure, and that was the beginning of me telling you about things, a hobby that I have thoroughly enjoyed ever since. However, in recent years I had to stop doing so on a formal basis, because since then, um, the media landscape (and my involvement in it) changed to a degree.
But Frank, while this blog being dormant has not kept our friendship from being a lively vibrant thing, I have missed getting to tell you about stuff a great deal. And also FRANK what the fuck you mean you haven’t seen “Breaking Bad” FRANK WHAT THE FUCK???
So let’s get into it. As I write this, I have yet to figure out how much I’m going to spoil you for what actually happens over the course of Vince Gilligan’s game-changing drama. The honest truth is that I know what kind of world we live in right now, and how daunting it can be, to take on five seasons of a dense drama like this. I know there’s a reason why you have yet to dig into it.
At the same time, here is the thing about “Breaking Bad”: It’s a difficult feat, trying to capture in words just what makes this show so special, because so much of what makes it special lies in the execution. Anyone who isn’t Vince Gilligan, trying to make this show, would have totally blown it — and there’s evidence of this, because in “Breaking Bad’s” wake, so many white male anti-hero dramas flared out after a brief run. (One of the worst things about great TV is how it can help get shitty TV greenlit.)
This is because one of the worst things about “Breaking Bad” is that a lot of dudes (dudes in this case meaning men, yes, let’s be clear, I’m gendering this) never really understood the point of the show. Though I suppose at this point I should probably get around to telling you what actually happens in it…
Creator Vince Gilligan’s initial pitch for the series was simple: “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface.” The more involved version: Walter White, a seemingly meek high school chemistry teacher turns 50 with a wife, a disabled son, a baby on the way, and a lot of debt. He seems relatively content with his life, though — until a fatal lung cancer diagnosis turns his life completely upside down.
Two facts lead to what ultimately becomes a very tragic series of events: Walt’s not just a chemistry teacher, but a pretty skilled scientist, and his brother-in-law is a DEA agent who exposes him to the fact that being a crystal meth manufacturer in Albuquerque can be pretty lucrative.
Thus, Walt is like, cool, my life might be over but I can make a little meth and sell it to make money to leave to my family once I’m dead (STEALTH COMMENTARY ON OUR GARBAGE SOCIETY ESPECIALLY ITS HEALTH CARE SYSTEM). But really, that initial Vince Gilligan pitch manifests as the story of a guy whose decades of repressed anger get unleashed in the face of death — cathartic for some viewers, horrifying to others.
My first exposure to “Breaking Bad” came courtesy of my dad, whose taste in pop culture has always been exemplary; during a visit home at some point when Season 2 was airing, he asked me if I was watching, and I said no. He thus proceeded to fire up his DVR and show me the following clips:
I didn’t immediately hop on the “Breaking Bad” train after that, but this clip is, in fact, a pretty good pitch for the series, based on what it captures — the mundane and the criminal, blended together for one of the most nuanced character dramas of all time. And that’s without getting into the side characters, most especially our sweet baby boy Jesse.
Really, Frank, the best way to understand “Breaking Bad” is to approach it as the world’s most fucked-up love story — albeit a love story that’s always platonic, because Walter and Jesse’s bond exists on another plane of existence. It’s a trope I’d honestly love to see happen more in pop culture: unlikely friendships are fun! Especially the relationship that ends up developing between Walt and his former student, now operating as a low-grade meth cook despite flunking Walt’s class.
The first season throws an ever-building series of awful, insane events at Walt and Jesse as their entry into the world of drug-dealing does not go smoothly. By the end of those episodes, though, they’ve formulated an intense bond — one which will push them to acts of great evil.
Here, out of context, is just some of the fucked-up shit that happens because one day, a guy decided to cook some meth with his former student:
- Ruined marriages
- The mass manufacture and distribution of a life-destroying drug (seriously, doing meth does not seem like a fun time in the long run)
- Seriously, a lot of murder
- Including the attempted murder of a kid
- Multiple building-destroying explosions
- Danny Trejo’s severed head on the top of a tortoise
- White supremacists
- A perfectly good pizza wasted on a rooftop
- Seriously, a lot of murder
It’s worth noting that “Breaking Bad” wasn’t the most violent TV show ever — it was just that when it did choose to dish out violence, it did so in ways so unconventional yet also so grounded that the memories are haunting.
This is the sort of show where, in Season 1, they make sure you know that a drug dealer likes the crusts cut off his sandwiches before he gets brutally killed. And one time, Walt didn’t technically murder a girl, but he did let her die, and her grief-stricken father, it turns out, was an air traffic controller who didn’t prevent a massive mid-air plane collision and SO MANY people died as a result.
And that was just Season 2! Walt had only really just begun the process of ruining his family’s lives and the lives of everyone associated with him! It’s a semi-constant theme of the entire series, though the most important aspect of it wasn’t necessarily the destruction he caused: It was the point at which Walt shifted from being a seemingly passive instigator to the man who became infamous in the Albuquerque drug scene as Heisenberg.
Heisenberg was such a good choice of nickname for Walt, not just because it drew directly on his science geek roots, but because of everything represented by the popular understanding of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (the popular understanding, Wikipedia now tells me, is largely incorrect, but fuck off Wikipedia, a point is here to be made).
It’s just fascinating, how Walt’s story falls into the category of “wow, things change so fast with just the right sort of nudge.” The Uncertainty Principle is about how observation changes the path of a molecule; that doesn’t explicitly apply to his descent into becoming a violent force, but it does speak to the ways in which he felt like he was driven towards this path, because of his circumstances.
I feel like I’m beating up a lot on Walter White here, perhaps unnecessarily so. He definitely makes some terrible choices and causes a lot of pain over the course of the series, but is he a fundamentally bad person? The answer might honestly be no, which is perhaps the truly chilling part of the show; that he did all these things for so many different motivations — pride, greed, fear, anger — and all of them were so very much understandable, to a wide audience.
Frank, “Breaking Bad” is a show worthy of your attention, if only because of how brilliantly it serves as a mirror for its audience. Creator Vince Gilligan served up a universe of fascinating characters, and who you end up sympathizing with most can end up saying a lot about you.
Beyond that, it was a ride that changed the world of TV, and revealed how much a focus on details and nuance could create world-building on a level that Syfy series strive for. “Breaking Bad” felt like a real place, one that was terrifying to live in. But also one that you’ll sink into, with legitimate pleasure.
Which is why, you may have noticed, I didn’t really spoil all that much. Frank, this is one where you really will want to discover what’s in store. Just get ready for the ride.
Okay. So. This guide, officially, has been available in eBook form (along with others!) for a little while. But now was the time, with the revival coming towards us like a freight train, and with friends making an effort to rewatch hung up on misadvised installments, to release it to the people. Because now is the time, for the people to know that they maybe should not watch (or rewatch) all 201 episodes of “The X-Files” that have already aired. That maybe, just maybe, this seminal show, this series of delights, had some rough patches over its nine-season run.
Also, allow me to preface this guide with the following disclaimer: This guide is subjective. This guide is heavily influenced by my personal history with this show. This guide has a crush on Mulder and little patience for Reyes. This guide is at least 70 percent focused on identifying all the super-flirty episodes, and 30 percent focused on avoiding the really stupid stuff. This guide will be ignoring the existence of The X-Files: I Want to Believe.
This guide is here to help. Read the rest of this entry