Carnival Row – A Review

Carnival Row is a series now available to stream on Amazon. It’s a fascinating concept that, for the most part, kept me totally enthralled.

The idea is that a major city known as the Burgue has taken in war refugees from ravaged lands that are home to such fanciful creatures as fairies, centaurs, and fauns. However, the humans in the Burgue don’t accept these creatures in need and will only tolerate them as servants, laborers, or prostitutes. Furthermore, they must know their place and live on Carnival Row, away from civilized society.

Sensing a real-world correlation?

Orlando Bloom plays a police investigator trying to solve a series of grisly murders. Cara Delevinge plays a fairy newly arrived in the Burgue. Their paths cross, and we soon learn that they have a complicated past with one another.

Carnival Row explores their mutual history, but it also ventures deeply into political intrigue, social justice, interpersonal complexities, and, at its heart, the mysterious murders.

The show looks beautiful. Each episode feels like a miniature movie, and the site of fauns and fairies mixed in with humans did not strike me as jarring at all. In fact, for the most part, the practical effects and make-up are seamless. There are moments of CGI that I would say look very good overall–much like you would see in a film. However, when the CGI is bad, it’s very bad. For example, I don’t think they ever really depicted the fairies in flight all that well.

Everything in the Burgue is grimy, time-worn, and appears to have existed for centuries. In other words, this world feels fully realized. Perhaps too realized, in fact. There are small, passing comments that makes the viewer understand that this world has so much more to offer than just what is being shown. This is brilliant in regards to guaranteeing the show’s longevity, but frustrating to those of us who want to know everything about the world this very instant.

For example, they have churches and effigies devoted to “The Martyr.” This is a figure who looks an awfully lot like Jesus Christ. However, instead of hanging from a cross, The Martyr is depicted as being hung by the neck with his hands bound. This religious icon is not explained at all. It’s just there to whet our appetite for more story.

As you can see, with Carnival Row, you are quite literally coming in right in the middle of things, and you can’t trust your own conception of reality to inform your interpretation of this world.

Shall we talk about the acting? Orlando Bloom is wonderful. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’ve ever liked him as much as I do in Carnival Row. His character is the strong, silent type, yet Bloom conveys quite a bit of emotion through his eyes. I found myself very much invested in his surprisingly complicated backstory.

Cara Delevinge, unfortunately, did not quite win me over so handily. Starring opposite Bloom, Delevinge plays her character rather flatly. I did not connect with her whatsoever. To be fair, I found her character underwritten. Her character is certainly strong and capable, but just not that interesting. We’ll see if that changes over time.

Thankfully, many of the supporting actors are fantastic. Tamzin Merchant’s initially unlikable Imogen is quite an evolution to behold. David Gyasi simmers with restraint yet steals every scene even as he has horns glued to his head.  Karla Crome’s charisma leaps off the screen what few scenes she’s in. Honestly, I could go on and on. These may not be famous names, but these are extremely talented actors.

Be warned, Carnival Row is  little bit of a slow burn. I particularly groaned at a bad special effect in the first ten minutes and almost turned it off, but it got better and better and better with each episode. In all seriousness, the final episode had me on the edge of my seat.

Interestingly enough, Carnival Row also seems to be saying something. Though it takes place in an gritty, alternate reality, I think you’ll find many of its themes both timely and resonant.

As you can probably tell, I recommend you give Carnival Row a try.  Let me know what you think of it.

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Enjoy the review? Visit my short story of the week.

Dan Le Batard, Alexa, and Me

Alexa and the Amazon Echo always kind of freaked me out.  Amazon is pretty direct in admitting that the Echo is always listening for “Alexa,” its activation phrase.  And then, about a year ago, stories started circulating that people could hear a faint laughter emitting from it.  This unsettled me to the point that it inspired a horror story.

However, some family members recently bought a few Echos for their house and, admittedly, they were super cool.  My kids loved asking Alexa questions and, personally, I found the option of just asking about the weather or any other kind of information without having to run to my phone or laptop pretty enticing.

Unfortunately, the idea of that thing always “listening” still gave me the creeps.

I bet you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Dan Le Batard.

If you’re not familiar with Dan Le Batard, he co-hosts a program called The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio.  I discovered these guys a few years ago and I listen to them almost religiously.  Dan is a former sports writer who ventured into TV and radio as he foresaw the decline of print.  I find Dan’s sense of humor clever, but he’s also very insightful and, in my opinion, often calls things correctly.  He recognizes the ridiculousness in sports and isn’t afraid to contradict popular talking points.  Half of the time, he doesn’t even talk sports even though it’s technically a “sports” show.

Stugotz is every boneheaded sports fan to have ever existed, and we love him for it.  He speaks in cliches, he wins arguments by making you prove him wrong, and if you haven’t done anything for him lately, then what have you really done for him?  Jon Weiner is playing a character with Stugotz, but mostly in the same way your teacher plays a character.  Stugotz is Jon Weiner, and Jon Weiner is Stugotz.  I imagine that Stugotz is just Weiner enhanced and unfiltered.  The guy is so popular, he has his own army.

I listen to these men virtually every night as I cook and wash dishes.  Their radio show ends around noon, but they strip the morning program down to it’s best moments with a podcast available on ESPN.com.  You can find their archives here: http://www.espn.com/espnradio/podcast/archive/_/id/9941853

So what does this have to do with Alexa and the Amazon Echo?

Often, when I’m doing dishes and enjoying the show, one of my children comes into the kitchen and asks me a question.  Because I listen to it loudly enough to overtake the sound of water, pots, and pans, I have to dry my hands, go to my phone, and then hit pause.  After I deal with whatever they need, I then push play again and go back to my dishes.  This typically happens a few times a night–night after night.

I got to thinking … wouldn’t it be nice if I could just say “pause” or “volume down” instead of going through that whole process?  There was just one problem.  I didn’t think ESPN entertainment would be available through Alexa. I kind of figured the whole Amazon and Disney competition would render that an impossibility.

However, I did a little research, and it seemed that because The Dan Le Batard Show With Studgotz is available through many podcasts outlets, it should be generally retrievable by Alexa via the internet.

There was only one way to know for sure.

The next time I was at my family’s house, I approached their Echo.  I said, “Alexa, play The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz.”

A half second passed.

It felt like a century.

And then … I heard that wonderful music coupled with Papi’s introduction.

I ordered my Echo that night.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Why the Amazon Show Fleabag Deserves Your Attention   

I first heard about the Amazon comedy Fleabag from Glen Weldon during NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.  Weldon made a point to let the listening audience know that Fleabag is so much more than it seems.  He referenced in particular the final episode, which, according to Weldon, proved especially poignant.

What can I say?  Weldon’s praise captured my interest.  Best of all, the first season is only six episodes long, with each episode averaging not quite half an hour.  That’s the sort of fleeting commitment I adore in a show.

I introduced the possibility to my wife.  I sold it to her much the same as Weldon sold it to me, and she also seemed interested in the concept of the show.  Plus, we agreed that if either of us didn’t care for the first episode, we would jettison it from our lives and move on.

We obviously both liked it or I wouldn’t be writing about it so exhaustively and, perhaps by the time you’re done reading, exhaustingly …

The show features a British woman in her early thirties in England.  She is never mentioned by name, but the summary of each show refers to her as “Fleabag.”  Yes, “Fleabag.”  Only as “Fleabag.”  She has a habit of speaking to the camera with brief asides and explanations, letting us in on a particular joke or an integral piece of information.  When we first meet her, she is having sex with a man while offering us a play by play of the activity and even adding in a few predictions of what’s to come.  When the man rolls her over in order to use a different <ahem!> … orifice, “Fleabag” reacts unexpectedly, hilariously, and in such a way that we learn everything we need to know about her.

Or so we think.

The actress playing “Fleabag” is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and she is absolutely charming, which is astounding because she’s playing a character that should be utterly unlikable.  Her little quips to the camera are typically biting, but it’s her facial expressions that won my wife and me over.  She will deliver the most amazing joke with nothing more than a lift of her eyebrow.  She will let you know exactly what she’s thinking with a quick glare.  Honestly, Waller-Bridge entertained to no end and enriched a character that really wouldn’t work if played by someone else.

Be warned, though, this is a raunchy show.  There are many sexual situations, loads of suggestive dialogue, and ample visits by sex toys.  The language is rough, very rough, with “f-bombs” galore.  However, I wouldn’t describe it as a “dirty” show.  There is virtually no nudity by actual human beings.  If I remember, there was an errant breast coming out of a shirt and a few shots of men’s rear ends.  The most explicit things on camera were often, again, the sex toys (which were not actually in use).

So while this is a comedy, it slowly revealed itself to be something far more, just as Glen Weldon said.  I want to offer caution here, because while I will not explicitly spoil anything past the second episode, you will more than likely be able to connect a few dots.  It’s just that I can’t really address what moved me the most about this show without getting into a few specific details …

You learn early on that Fleabag (I’m dropping the quotes from here on out) is fairly amoral.  She’s not necessarily out to purposefully hurt anyone, but her impulsivity and lack of forethought to both word and deed often upsets someone in her immediate vicinity, whether strangers, friends, or family.  Actually, she doesn’t have any friends.  More on that later …

She has no qualms in taking advantage of someone to meet her own agenda, nor does she mind being taken advantage of so long as that also ultimately suits her base desires.  I wouldn’t call her a master manipulator, but she is a manipulator, to be sure.

Fleabag sleeps around, steals, drinks too much, curses, degrades people, and cuts corners whenever possible.  It’s no wonder she’s friendless.

But she hasn’t always been.

In fact, we learn through flashbacks that Fleabag had a wonderful friend, one whom she loved dearly.  They opened a café together.  Sadly, though, her friend died, leaving Fleabag with the failing café, no other real friends, and a spiraling case of depression that becomes more and more obvious as the series progresses.

Her sister, Claire, humors Fleabag as best she can.  Claire is also a complicated person, though, with issues of her own.  Though very successful, Claire cannot seem to relent control to anyone, cannot navigate a dubious marriage, and cannot achieve enough introspection to glean what she really wants from life.  She has much in common with Fleabag, but she manages normalcy in the outside world far more productively.

Her father has remarried after the death of Fleabag’s mother due to breast cancer.  His new wife is actually the sisters’ godmother, a family friend since their childhood.  The stepmother is the portrait of passive aggressiveness as she makes the sisters feel unwelcome all the while with a smile plastered across her face.  The sisters hate her, she hates them, and the father seems too meek to confront either situation.  In the process, Fleabag appears, though she never gives voice to it, to feel as though she’s lost her father as well as her mother.

The show achieves originality when you slowly begin to realize that Fleabag’s abysmal behavior is absolutely the byproduct of guilt, anger, depression and low self-esteem.  It never crosses over into cliché, it never dives into pop psychology, but it does become very apparent that she only feels of value when someone sexually craves her.  She uses sex as therapy for all of her issues, but never realizes the promiscuous sex is only compounding her problems.

Yeah, pretty deep territory for a comedy.

Furthermore, we can relate to her.  I think we’ve all done something we wish we hadn’t in the hopes of acquiring someone’s approval or favor.  She’s a likable person doing very unlikable things, and I know I personally can say I’ve been there as well.  Haven’t we all in some facet or another?

This character has lost her best friend.  Her sister doesn’t trust her.  Her father will not stand up for her.  Her stepmother detests her.  She’s losing her business.  She can’t pay her bills.  She has every reason in the world not to give a shit about anything.

Which she doesn’t.

Until … she does.

The beauty of that sixth episode is what happens when she does finally care.  How will her family react when she actually tries to engage them meaningfully?  How will she respond when she finally faces the truth of her friend’s death?  What happens when she gazes within and attains a manner of self-realization?

Comedy!

Honestly, Fleabag is hilarious, but it doesn’t shy away from these profoundly important moments.  It never feels heavy even as it’s dealing with incredibly troubling material, and it always prompts an uncomfortable chuckle, an awkward giggle, and an inappropriate laugh at just the wrong time.  It is a serious show wrapped so deeply within a comedy that it’s not until you think about each episode afterwards that you realize its gravitas.

Glen Weldon, you were right.  Fleabag is definitely worth a watch.

P.S.  I know I didn’t discuss her timid boyfriend, whom she pushes away at every opportunity.  I’ve written over a 1,000 words at this point, and frankly, he would require another 1,000, and I won’t be presumptuous enough to believe I deserve that much of your attention.  Plus, it’s late.  And, I’m tired.  Good night.

Halloween Is the Perfect Time To Read The Dr. Nekros Series

I can’t think of a better time to read all eighteen episodes of the Dr. Nekros series.  It’s got humor, drama, action, adventure, and best of all, I like to think it can be downright creepy.  Follow the address to find links to the entire saga.

https://scottwilliamfoley.com/dr-nekros-occult-aficionado-e-series/

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Over My Dead Body – A Humorous Halloween Tale

I have a humorous Halloween tale available to download.  It’s entitled “Over My Dead Body” and originally appeared in the October, 2008 issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.

In this short story, Preston, Jared, Reggie, and Dale thought they’d be the first to successfully pull a prank on their math teacher, Mr. Washington. But when Mr. Washington catches them in the act, he runs down his front porch, takes a terrible tumble upon his front walk, and doesn’t get up. The boys soon discover their Halloween prank won’t be unraveling as planned.

Read your copy by visiting this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Over-My-Dead-Body-ebook/dp/B00FTQO1HS/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1381628327&sr=1-2

 

Childhood Demons – A Halloween Short Story

I’m pleased to announce that I have an original short story available for your Amazon Kindle or Kindle App.  Never before published, “Childhood Demons” is a disturbing tale to help you get in the Halloween mood.

Here is what you can expect …

“Henry Mansell must return to his boyhood home to handle some unfortunate business. Henry brings his wife and four year old son along, and when Henry reads his child a bedtime story in the bedroom from his youth, old demons arise.”

You can download your copy now by visiting the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Childhood-Demons-ebook/dp/B00FS1Z57E/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1381524178&sr=8-2&keywords=childhood+demons

Dr. Nekros: Monstrosity’s Dawn (Volume II, Episode I)

In the year 1923, Zaffin Scribner and Crispin Vadenburgh are partners intent upon exposing mediums and spiritualists for the charlatans they are. But when Mardella Webb enters Zaffin’s life, that partnership is rocked to the core. A deadly confrontation occurs, and its ramifications influence the coming decades in ways inconceivable.

Check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Dr-Nekros-Monstrositys-Episode-ebook/dp/B007T25KYS/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1334281273&sr=8-7

Remember, this series is exclusive to the Amazon Kindle, but if you
don’t have a Kindle, you can still read it on a Kindle App.  Each
episode is only $00.99!

Sincerely,

Scott