The Jim Norton Show
Some Genius Is Kickstarting a ‘Breaking Bad’ Sequel Starring Val Kilmer and Slash
Did you recently waste money on an ironic Kickstarter campaign to make potato salad? Well, first, Paypal used the money you apparently can’t wait to get rid of. Secondly, fuck irony. There are people out there with actual, worthwhile goals that need help funding.
For instance, a Van Nuys–based producer’s bold project to make a Breaking Bad sequel series starring Val Kilmer and Slash as the cops who recovered Walter White’s body. No, he doesn’t have the rights to Breaking Bad, nor has he received a commitment from Kilmer or Slash. But when Lawrence Shepherd saw the series finale, in which two cops drag Walter White’s body away, he knew that he was the guy to tell those cops’ story. All the other pieces will fall into place.
It’s a pipe dream, sure. (Not least because only $143 of the $500,000 goal has been raised.) But, still! What’s the value of life without dreams? Who gives a shit about the second season of True Detective when there’s the (remote) possibility of Val Kilmer and Slash tracking down a not-dead Walter White?
We called up first-time producer Lawrence Shepherd to learn more about his Breaking Badspinoff, which he’s calling Anastasia.
VICE: The show has an intriguing premise, to say the least. Where’d the idea come from?
Lawrence Shepherd: For the last six years or so, I was getting very critical of the writing on shows. Then I saw one of the last episodes of Breaking Bad—remember when Jesse came into Walter White’s house with the gasoline can and he was going to burn it down?
There was a sequence when Jesse looks down the hallway, and the two doors were closed. I thought, Junior’s in there. Junior’s in there with the baby, he’s going to come out, wrestle with Jesse, and something’s going to happen. Junior’s the only one who hasn’t broke bad in the whole show. It didn’t happen, and I was a little disappointed.
I like the way Breaking Bad ended, but I think they could have done better. That’s when I just started writing.
Seems like you’d have to worry about copyright issues…
Of course. You have to watch the uniqueness. Remember the last episode, the machine gun rotating back and forth in the Cadillac? Very unique. I can’t use it. The dead guy in the recliner chair going up and down? Very unique, couldn’t use it.
But other than that, nothing there is copyright or trademark available. A guy dead on the floor? My God, that’s been done a bazillion times. Police responding to an issue? It’s been done a bazillion times.
We’re not going to be confrontative with Sony and Vince Gilligan if they say no. We are filming the pilot independent of Breaking Bad, so if they do say no, we’re ready to go with our own show.
Remember last year when VICE on HBO was nominated for an Emmy? Well, this year season two managed to scoop up three nominations at the premier award ceremony for American television excellence: Outstanding Informational Series or Special; Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming; and Outstanding Sound Editing for Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-Camera).
We would like to congratulate the cast and crew on an excellent season, and the renewal of the show for seasons 3 and 4. If they keep going at this rate, who knows what to expect next year. Is it too early for a lifetime achievement award?
A Visit to the Little Shop Where Hollywood Buys Its Dead Bodies
On the face of it, Dapper Cadaver looks like any other windowless storefront underneath the landing pattern of Burbank Airport, just outside LA. Its sign advertises “Props Rentals, Sales, Halloween,” and something called “Casualty Simulation.” Google Maps helpfully tags it “Death Related,” and “Horror Movie,” in case that’s what you’re shopping for.
If it’s not Halloween, the people regularly shopping for “Casualty Simulation” are the prop masters of your favorite movies and TV shows. Sure, as a high-paid art director, you could make your own corpses from scratch, and many do. But when there’s a shop that offers medically realistic dead bodies, not just of humans, but of all creatures great and small, you may as well go retail.
Law and Order is a frequent shopper, as were Breaking Bad and Dexter. Think Game of Thrones' top shelf gore is too classy to be store-bought? Think again. The severed heads of certain major GOT characters were custom orders.
How Kohnstamm Got the Beach House – New Fiction by David Mamet
Above: Untitled (Beach), 2012, © Whitney Hubbs, Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles.
David Mamet wrote the screenplays for American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Wag the Dog, among many others. We’re honored to feature his writing in this year’s Fiction Issue.
It was near morning. Margaret and Mel sat, alone, on the couch.
“The weekend the power went out at the Bel Air may have been the most restful of my life,” Mel said.
“As you grow old, various things fade—appetite, I find, increases; but I think this places me in one of two camps.”
“What is the other?” Margaret said.
“They grow thin, as they age,” Mel said. “But both, I believe, find a diminishment of sexuality. Perhaps the thin, though, less. I don’t know. You would know, how would you know, you’re half my age.”
“Not exactly,” Margaret said.
“I am ten months your junior,” she said.
Miss Cleo on Her Fake Accent and Getting Ripped Off by the Psychic Friends Network
If you looked at or were ever near a television in the late 90s or early 2000s, you’ll remember the buoyant and boisterous television psychic Miss Cleo.
Born Youree Dell Harris, Cleo was the ostensibly Jamaican frontwoman for the Psychic Readers Network who became a cultural touchstone thanks to her colorful outfits, which exuded Afrocentricity, her occasionally questionable patois, and her memorable “Call me now!” exhortation. Miss Cleo’s commercials were outlandish (Cleo: “He’s getting frustrated with this [relationship].” Caller: “He told me that.” Cleo: “Well, [that’s] because you have sex with your eyes closed. You’re scared to death, mama.” Caller: “You hit the nail on the head, perfectly”), but they were always powered by an overwhelming feeling of warmth and levity. Cleo became a ubiquitous mainstay of early millennial television.
Then, in February of 2002, the bottom fell out. The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Cleo and the Psychic Readers Network, alleging that they made over $1 billion by employing a host of shady tricks, including misrepresenting the nature of the “free” readings offered, failing to make required cost disclosures in ads, and threatening to report negative information to credit bureaus should a caller refuse to pay, among other misdeeds.
Much of the resulting media attention focused on Cleo, though she was little more than an employee and spokesperson for the company and was quickly dropped from the suit. (PRN’s owners, Steven Feder and Peter Stoltz, later settled the suit out of court, to the tune of $500 million.)
Save for her appearance in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and coming out of the closet tothe Advocate in 2006, Miss Cleo has stayed away from the spotlight in the past decade. After several years away, she’s re-emerged as a key component of an intriguing new documentary called Hotline, which examines the history of telephone hotlines, and what role they play (or don’t play) in our increasingly digital world.
I met up with everyone’s favorite hotline psychic in Toronto earlier this week to discuss her history with voodoo and mysticism, what actually happened with the Psychic Readers Network, and the tricky business of her controversial accent.
VICE: Were you into hotlines before you start appearing in those infomercials?
Miss Cleo: I was a very well-known psychic in the United States on a hotline for two years out in public, and about two to three years just on the hotline itself.
How did you get into the business?
I come from a family of spooky people. I don’t know how else to say it. I come from a family of Obeah—which is another word for voodoo. My teacher was Haitian, [a mambo] born in Port-au-Prince, and I studied under her for some 30 years and then became a mambo myself. So they refer to me as psychic—because the word voodoo scares just about everybody. So they told me, “No, no, no, we can’t use that word; we’re going to call you a psychic.” I said, “But I’m not a psychic!”
Then they would take me somewhere to do an interview, and as soon as I’d say, ‘I’m not a psychic, and I don’t own the company,” the handlers would say, “No, no, no. Tell her to shut up.”
Tell me about the mechanics of the operation. Did you work in a call center?
Well, most of us worked from our homes, not one big room. I was doing television, they had me touring everywhere, and I was always bothered by the fact that, you know, people took the “Call me now” quote very earnestly.
I was at Best Buy one day, and a gentleman said, “Miss Cleo, aren’t you supposed to be on the phone?” I said, “Honey, do you really think that I do that while I’m traveling and doing press?” I said, “You have a better chance of talking to me right here than you do if you called.” I still remember my extension number, though. My extension was 16153.
What separates Martin’s books from the pack is that his made-up world of Westeros feels more “real” than other made-up worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Brooks’s Shannara. There’s very little magic in the series, and when something supernatural happens, everyone is freaked out and confused. The characters have sex (mostly sex that would be illegal today), get tortured, betray one another, and die incredibly easily and often for very little reason—just like real people involved in a medieval war would have. One of the first plot points is a child getting thrown off a ledge and crippled after he witnesses some nasty-ass incest; one major character gets killed on the toilet and shits all over the place as he dies. So the books are earthy, you might say. More importantly, anyone in Martin’s world who strives for nobility, honor, or any other trait lauded in traditional fantasy novels inevitably ends up impaled on a spike or crippled and humiliated by the amoral crooks who always come out on top. Like I said, this is more realistic than most epic fantasy.
Naturally, a show based on a series of books that’s full of plot twists, reversals of fortune, bloody battles, and scheming villains is gonna be a slam dunk. Throw in HBO’s typically high production values and strong performances (and lots of nudity) and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty fucking sweet franchise, son. You mentioned that you don’t appreciate the “scope, escapism, narrative skill, and subtle humor that fantasy fans eulogize,” but there’s nothing subtle about Game of Thrones’s appeal. It’s all, “OH SHIT HE’S GETTING KILLED WTF” and “AWWWW DAMN THEY’RE CUTTING HIS DICK OFF!!” If you refuse to watch that because—what? It’s set in a vaguely medieval world? There are dragons in some of it?—I don’t know what to say to you.
Yesterday we ran a piece by a writer in the UK called “Please Shut the Fuck Up About Game of Thrones.” Today VICE US editor Harry Cheadle responds: "No, Why Don’t YOU Shut the Fuck Up About Game of Thrones.”
This Week in Racism: The #CancelColbert Debate Is the Funniest Thing to Ever Happen
-If there’s one thing I believe the human race can totally agree on, it’s that comedy only gets better the more you dissect it. For instance, the classic joke, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side,” surprises the recipient of the joke with its literal, non-punchline. It’s a pure form of anti-comedy, the “Nick Cannon in whiteface" of one-liners. Isn’t that joke so much funnier now that I’ve explained it? I thought so.
Last week was a real golden age of comedy, thanks in no small part to the#CancelColbert controversy. Like with all the best art (textbooks, CliffsNotes, the Transformers movie series), the meaning needs to be super clear, or it’s not good. That’s not a suggestion. That’s, like, a rule.
Writer/activist/excellent comedian Suey Park and TV personality/white person Stephen Colbert both learned this powerful lesson through the course of last week’s controversy over Colbert’s joke about the Washington Redskins’ Native American outreach foundation. The Twitter account for The Colbert Report tweeted an out-of-context quote on the subject that contained a racial slur against Asians. That caused Park to create the #CancelColbert hashtag and blow up the internet for a few days. Conservative pundits, often the ones getting accused of racism, jumped at the chance to give their hybrid-driving competition a taste of their own medicine. You go, Michelle Malkin! You’ve really earned it.
Eventually, Colbert went on his show and explained that what everyone was upset about was a joke, specifically a satirical dig at Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s insistence on his football team having a racially insensitive nickname. At that point, the joke took off, growing from a mildly amusing larva of social commentary into a full-blown comedy butterfly. And yet… something was missing. What if there was yet another layer of sarcasm at play here? What if… Suey Park was just kidding the whole time too?
Shit’s about to get real.
In an interview with popular comedy blog Salon.com, Suey Park explained—in agonizingly funny detail—how she’s actually a fan of Colbert and that she was merely trying to point out how white people are allowed the benefit of context, but minorities don’t receive the same privilege. Allow Ms. Park to explain further:
"A lot of white America and so-called liberal people of color, along with conservatives, ask, “Do I understand context?” And that’s part of wanting to completely humanize the oppressor. To see the white man as always reasonable, always pure, always deliberate, always complex and always innocent. And to see the woman of color as literal. Both my intent behind the hashtag and in my [unintelligible] distance, is always about forcing an apology on me for not understanding their context when, in reality, they misunderstood us when they made us a punch line again. So it’s always this logic of how can we understand whiteness better, and that’s never been my politics. I’ve always been about occupying the margins and strengthening the margins and what that means is that, for a long time, whiteness has also occupied the margins. Like, people of color get in circles with no white people in the room and we see that whiteness still operates. So I think it’s kind of a shock for America that whiteness has dominant society already, it also seeps into the margins. What happens the one time when the margins seep into the whiteness and we encroach on their space? It’s like the sky is falling."
I’m not sure who’s being misunderstood, who’s lacking context, or what “margins seep into the whiteness” means (maybe a Sarah McLachlan lyric?) What I do know is that the above block of text is very, very funny. I encourage comedians everywhere to explain themselves more. Based on the media’s fixation with this story, it seems like a sure way to up your Klout score. HILARIOUS
The World’s Largest Christian TV Network Has a Lot to Hide
Trinity Broadcasting Network (or TBN) is the largest Christian TV network in the world. Its shows are currently available in 95 percent of American homes.
TBN has its headquarters in Costa Mesa, California, in the modest building you see above. The network offers free tours to the public, so I headed down to check it out.
This guy (above, right) was the tour guide for my group, which was made up of me and a visiting Boy Scout troop. I’m not sure if he was new or something, but he left A LOT of the company’s history out of his tour, so I’ll be filling in some gaps for him as I go.
Our tour began in the grand entrance hall. As we walked through, the tour guide explained to us that TBN was started in the early 70s by married couple Jan and Paul Crouch in an effort to spread Christianity to as many people as they could.
What he failed to mention is the church’s reliance on what’s known as “prosperity gospel.”
If you’re not familiar, prosperity gospel is a system in which you’re told that the more money you give to the Lord, the more blessings the Lord will give to you in return. In this instance, “the Lord” refers to “Trinity Broadcasting Network.”
They gather these donations by holding telethons in which they promise viewers miracles in exchange for donating money to TBN. And being poor isn’t a problem: The network tells viewers that God especially likes it when people who are poor or in debt donate money they can’t afford. ”He’ll give you thousands, hundreds of thousands; he’ll give millions and billions of dollars,” Paul Crouch once told his viewers, according to the LA Times.
The company is reported to bring in tens of millions of dollars in tax-free donations annually. It is unclear if God held up his end of the bargain to those who donated.
Next, we were taken around a small museum area that featured various old copies of the Bible, some of which were more than 100 years old.
What You Can Learn from the LA’s Abandoned Street Couches
Archaeologists have long known you can learn heaps about a culture from its trash, and the Los Angeles street couch is no exception. These artifacts say more about us than just laziness. They tell stories of butts and passion and bad television, maybe even birth and death.
Pay enough attention, and you’ll start to realize these couches fit into certain categories, even though they won’t fit into your compact car. Pay enough attention, and a taxonomy appears.
The Cushionless Couch
This is the most common species of Los Angeles street couch, and all sofas without attached cushions meet this fate within a few hours. Those cushions might as well be currency for the homeless, and once they’re stripped, the couch is guaranteed a long life on the curb without any takers.
The Whole Living Room on the Curb
Nothing quite says “forceful eviction” like an entire living room chucked onto the sidewalk. Unlike your regular street-couch sightings, which tend to happen toward the end of the month, the whole living room on the curb can be seen almost any time.