Thoughts, notes, observations on the everyday nonsense of American Pop Culture from one of the most not-hip people on the face of the planet...

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


What a stupid move on the part of Fox this weekend to pre-empt its new episodes of “Family Guy” and “American Dad” for the Indy 500.

I, like thousands of others that night, was appalled when I got home from Memorial Day celebrations to find that the only good TV on anymore was preempted by a sport that nobody watches. My Tivo was so lonely en empty.

I daresay there are more FG fans than there are Indy car fans these days. I say the race should have been cut off when it went over. But then again, that would start a dangerous precedent. God knows this summer and fall, we’ll all be wishing for some particularly horrible baseball games to just end already.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A TV series worth bringing back...

This week is a momentous week in the world of DVD releases. No – it’s isn’t because of the release of “The Aviator” or even season 3 of “Chappelle’s Show.” No no. This week marks the DVD release of the first two seasons of “Newsradio”. Oh hell yes. The show that NBC had no idea how to schedule or promote lives on. And thank God.

Just in time for the summer of reality suckage, we can all enjoy one of the best big comedy ensembles ever assembled for a sitcom. It was a supergroup even before there was such a thing on TV, featuring SNL’s Phil Hartman, Kids in the Hall’s Dave Foley, standup acts Andy Dick and Vicki Lawrence, future ER cast members Khandi Alexander and Maura Tierney, not to mention “Office Space” standout Stephen Root as the Best Corporate Boss Ever - Jimmy James. Oh…and Joe Rogan. But no one cares about him.

The writing was always spot-on, the electricity between the cast members palpable, the gleeful journalism in-jokes (for those of us who’d get them)…it’s hard to believe NBC never did right by this show in the four years it managed to somehow survive. But then again, that was back when “Seinfeld” and “Mad About You” were the top priorities. But there was so much to love about the crazy crew at WNYX news.

Let me count the ways:
-Bill and Catherine’s on-air pleasantness belying deep hatred
-Dave and Lisa’s illicit office rendezvous
-Bill’s constant torture of Matthew
-Joe’s conspiracy theories
-Jimmy’s confusing, often multi-tangeted stories at staff meetings
-Pretty much everything Beth ever did

Ah. I can hardly wait to get it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


It never fails. A new Star Wars movie opens and late night talk show hosts make fund of these alleged losers who go see it. You think the joke would be old by now.

It doesn’t even make sense to ride the joke out as long as they have. Maybe 30 years ago, it’d be easy to dismiss Star Wars fans as virgin nerds….but it’s grown so much since then. It’s become a cultural phenomenon that goes far past high school AV students and the chess club, but apparently Leno, Conan and Letterman haven’t realized it. At the showings I’ve seen, there have been all sorts of people attending: Kids, teenagers, moms, businessmen, black people, white people, geeks and fratties alike. A large majority of the U.S. population will go to see these movies, but I guess it’s still funny to some to pretend they don’t.

Last night, almost a week since the movie’s opening and a month after they started making fun of those lining up, Conan and Leno both were still going strong with their bias. At one point, they sent a cute blonde girl to ask the moviegoers if they were virgins or if they lived with their parents or had jobs and, of course, to say stupid things about the movie. How ridiculous. I mean, I saw it opening night and I don’t fit that stereotype. Neither do the majority of geeks from the 70s, who grew up to be responsible adults just like everyone else. Some of the guys she went after were so obviously not the sort they were hoping to find.

These are jokes made by ignorant writers who wear their biases on their sleeves. So, can we cut it out already?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Follow up

Amazingly, not a single person has commented on my Star Wars essay/review/homage. I guess it freaked a lot of people out that I'd get that into thinking about the underlying themes of a sci-fi franchise. Others just made fun of me.

But I wasn't alone in my grandiose thoughts and cheesenormous love for ROTS, it seems Big Daddy Times agreed with MandyJ on this one.

Most of the verbal abuse of ROTS comes from people whose views on movies I in no way respect. Anyone who says any movie has "too much story" is automatically an ignorant caveman in my book.

I gotta say, upon a second (and soon to be third) viewing, I think ROTS is better than both "A New Hope" and "Return of the Jedi". So there. Let the flaming begin.

PS: I also have to admit that at my second viewing, I was taken aback at just how outrageously attractive Hayden Christensen has become. I realize he's not really "growing up" (as we are about the same age), but for some reason this time around, the girly girl in me got a little drooly towards the end of the movie (much to my embarassment). Mmmm. I never knew evil could be so delicious.

RIP "Jack and Bobby"

So the networks have given us the list. The verdict is in: "Arrested Development" gets a reprieve…but "Jack & Bobby" was cancelled.

Ignored by critics and under hyped by the WB, last season’s best new show (in my humble opinion) wasn’t given the shot it deserved. Every entertainment magazine and TV show was too busy stalking the cast of Desperate Housewives to notice a nice little liberal show on the WB.

And its a shame it had to go, because the cast of newcomers (Logan Lerman is quite a find as Bobby) and veterans (Christine Lahti chews scenery better than anyone), was one that "clicked" well with viewers. The show was nominated for a Golden Globe, a SAG and won a number of critical awards. It also had a number of fan websites and message boards tittering despite being a poor performer in the ratings. Go ahead and google "Jack & Bobby" and see what you find. Too bad the WB thought it would be better to add some other schlocky trash than keep its best original show since "Smallville" started.

"Jack & Bobby" had a great new concept and refreshing approach to storytelling that may lend itself better to a finite series. The show’s dual storylines, one told in the present and another told through snippets of a documentary about the future presidency of the now-13-year-old Bobby, were always compelling as they revealed bits of the future each week.

Though the “present day” storylines of the future heroes as teens are far from original, they provide the grounding to move the future plot along. In those future segments, we found out how older brother Jack grows up to be a hero in a future war with Latin America and later a popular Congressman. Only after Jack’s tragic death does his younger brother Bobby, a preacher, go into politics to eventually become president. But by the end of the season, the audience had learned so much about the future that there was little reason to show the present anymore. The final episode, seemingly aware of its own mortality, brought both storylines full circle, which made for a far more definitive and fitting end than the series finales of most longer-running television shows.

So, as much as I personally loved the show, I think it was for the best that "Jack & Bobby" lasted only one season. I don’t know if the series’ producers assumed they were getting the axe or not, but the entire season ended up having a definitive beginning, middle and end; so much so that it really ended up being more of a miniseries. A miniseries that, on DVD, would be giving its story more justice than the WB ever did.

All in all, I’m miss this show, but I honestly don’t see how that kind of careful storytelling could have lasted past one season anyway. So as a bit of remembrance of my short-lived favorite show, I give you the five best things about Jack & Bobby, may it rest on DVD soon.

1. Liberalism. In the same vein as “West Wing” (with which it shares a co-creator), the show was unabashedly liberal in how it presented its stories. In the world of “Jack & Bobby,” abortion is an option, religion is not an absolute and sex is out in the open. People are flawed, the middle class is oppressed and the Left is right. In this new burst of conservatism in TV dramas, it is refreshing to see a show stick with what is widely considered “dangerous” and “unpopular” territory.

2. No one ideology is considered wrong. Though Jack and Bobby’s mother, Grace is the driving voice of the show, her rabid liberalism is often presented in a negative light. As often as she pokes fun at the conservative and the religious, she is just as often proved wrong in her own blind belief in a cause.

3. Parents aren’t perfect. The most annoying thing about TV is how unrealistic most families are. They are either horrible or perfect, with little in between. The two parents most often featured on “Jack & Bobby”, Peter and Grace, aren’t the best parents, but they certainly aren’t the worst. They are selfish and driven, occasionally ignoring their children’s needs, but they still show their love without resorting to "7th Heaven"-style declarations and over-the-top support. They know what sort of hijinx their kids are up to…but they let them go with a few well-placed words of advice. Consider these parents the opposite of the aw-shucks Waltons.

4. Over-the-top teen drama coupled with future history. Consider the present day storylines to be the entirety of “Beverly Hills 90210”, set in the Midwest and crammed into one season. We had a teen pregnancy, a drunken driving accident, a sports injury, a mugging, lots of sex and betrayal…and sex. We all have our guilty pleasures….and this show had them in spades. But, on the flip side, it managed to tell a fascinating story of America’s future without any overbearing lessons for the present. The two storylines always had some recurring theme that usually, by episode’s end, had me sitting back and saying, “Ohhhh…..I get it.”

5. Great guest stars. In the segments of the McAllister documentary, the narrators were most often familiar faces. We have Tim Robbins as the voice of the future president, and Gore Vidal, Carrie Fisher, Norman Lear, Paul Sorvino, Neil Patrick Harris and John Heard as future players in the McAllister presidency. It was always exciting to see who would appear each week and in what future/past role.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars ends by giving back the magic

Eds note: There are two kinds of Star Wars fans in this world: The ones who appreciate the films for their campy action, swashbuckling adventures and well-worn characters; and the ones who deeply appreciate the epic, allegorical tale within the tale. While Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is a film to more than satisfy both sorts of fans, this review may be best suited for the latter, because the author is an admitted freak about these movies.

Say what you will about George Lucas. Go ahead and say Star Wars was just a kids’ story. Say he writes bad dialogue. Say that episodes I and II were no more than marketing ventures. Then go see Episode III. Only then does a filmgoer truly realize Lucas, over three decades and six films, has created a timeless epic. A story for the ages about the simplest themes of family, duty, religion, politics and above all, mortality.

Revenge of the Sith does so much more than simply tie the two trilogies together; it, in a sense, plays out the theme of the whole story in such a way that it irrevocably changes how one views the other five films. Suddenly, the little tidbits of information in those movies prove themselves to be brilliant foreshadowing, adding some subtle context.

The story picks up in the thick of the war between the Republic and the Separatists. In many ways similar to modern times (Lucas’ nod to the anti-war movement, perhaps), the Senate, in its fear of buckling in time of war, has given nearly absolute power to the duplicitous Chancellor Palpatine. Meanwhile, Anakin Skywalker, now the brightest and best of the Jedi, is struggling to serve both the Republic and his secret relationship with Padme Amidala.

In these twin paths, both the Republic and Anakin are doomed to fall. After all, how stable is a power, no matter how immeasurable, if it is poured into a cause solely out of a fear of loss?

All of the grumps of the first two movies are hardly seen, or at least not as noticeable, in this final chapter. The dialogue is much better, particularly any sentence uttered by Yoda or Palpatine. The acting too, especially on the part of Hayden Christensen (as Anakin), has improved to a point where one finds it difficult to root against anyone. And, of course, the special effects, from an opening space fight scene to the final battle in the volcano, are jaw dropping (admittedly, I’m still geeking out about most of it). The movie, taken by itself in the series, just might be the best (though darkest) of the lot.

But above the quality of the movie itself, the crowning achievement of this film lies in its completion of a story that is a perfect dichotomy to the original trilogy; a chillingly circular story of a father and a son choosing two divergent paths on the same road.

Throughout the original trilogy, Anakin Skywalker is a man who seems more like myth. It’s impossible to believe that a creature as seemingly purely evil as Darth Vader could ever have been good. Then, he proves us wrong. Similarly, in the prequel trilogy, we meet a young man whose heart is so big, his mind so powerful, his future so bright, that it seems impossible to believe that he would be capable of turning into such a monster. He too, proves us wrong… only this time it is heartbreaking as a fan to see how unexpectedly young Anakin was and how pure his intentions were when he met his doom.

In the first trilogy, Luke Skywalker learned through his Jedi learning that hate is a path to the Dark Side. But on the flip side, it seems…so is love, which makes Anakin’s fall so painful for the other characters and the viewer.

It hardly seems fair that Luke had to choose between justice and revenge, whereas his father, decades before, has to find himself choosing between love and duty. Anakin’s love for Padme is rooted deeply in his psyche, going far back into his childhood, so far that he chooses to love, and possibly to lose, than to live life without it as a Jedi. Hate didn’t twist him at all, as we’ve thought all these years…love did, or rather, the fear of losing that love. Note that even as he desired more power, Anakin (as Vader) above all did not want to rule alone. He asked both his wife and son to rule the galaxy with him, but when they both refused, Vader was left to rely on Palpatine to give him the love he desperately craved.

Anyone who has seen the other five movies can feel a sense of foreboding at knowing what is to become of all of the characters, but nothing can emotionally prepare a follower of this story for the death of the Jedi Order, the fall of the Republic and the cruel fate of young Skywalker.

Ironically, that sense of inevitability is the very lesson that holds the entire series together, and makes it such a tragedy to behold. Because as inevitable as all of events of the final three chapters seem, Anakin is the only one to realize, long after it is too late, that inevitability doesn’t exist. All of it: the rise of the Empire, the deaths of the Jedi and Padme, the future that we would all see play out, hinged on a choice. The wrong choice. His choice. And that realization is what completes his fall from grace, but what also harbors the last vestiges of his great humanity (which we see play out in Return of the Jedi).

As Anakin assumes the role and the suit of Darth Vader, the epic comes full circle with an overpowering sense of comfort in knowing that The Boy Who Would Be King may fall…but he doesn’t die. It may take him twenty years, but the Chosen One fulfills his destiny and someday, somehow, atones by remembering the lesson learned here…and making the right choice.

So thank you, George Lucas, for showing us humanity in the most unexpected of places and for giving American pop culture your own vision of the universe as a better place.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Late night TV goes Gen Y

These days, night owls have a lot of good TV to choose from (if they have decent cable, that is). Between midnight and five a.m., those of us who do not sleep have the TV world as our own. Thanks to the advertisers trying tentatively to reach our elusive "Generation Y", late night TV is now desperately seeking our new young professional money. Late at night.

As a result, we've got Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, actual videos on MTV and VH1, Nick at Night (with the Fresh Prince, Full House and Cosby Show), TV Land (with Cheers), TBS/Bravo/TNT for random movies...and Noggin.

Yes, Nick, proving itself again as the oft-forgotten late night mogul, has another awesome network for early twentysomethings.

A network for kids and tweens by the day, by late night, Noggin is the smartest network on TV, featuring, get this: Moesha, Daria and My So-Called Life. Shows that we loved but forgot, shows that were cancaled before their time...either way, Noggin has three programs that bring back some good old days for this 24-year-old with shows everyone else neglected.

The media and advertisers have only just started to focus on my generation, falling somewhere bwtween the enigmatic Generation X and the latest batch of teens. We were in high school when a Democrat was last in office. We had Seinfeld and the X-Files. We had Biggie and Tupac. We had Jem and Thundercats. We hate everyone.

But the're starting to get us. Kudos to cable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The King vs. Vader

This may be the best commercial ever made, in my book.

The Burger King is one of the coolest and creepiest ad icons ever. He brings me so much joy. How can you not love his utterly monstrous, non-speaking, non-human movements? His plastic, date rapist smile? His cheesenormous sandwiches? The invention of the word "cheesenormous"?

Seriously, BK should be commended for creating an ad campaign that I actually still watch with the Tivo on because I love them so much.

And adding Darth Vader tot he mix? Priceless. A pop culture geek's dream.

(By the way: I say the King beats Vader if it came to a fight. If he can operate a grill, he can operate a lightsaber.)

Friday, May 13, 2005

The lessons of Hot Topic, trends and teens

Hot Topic used to be one of my favorite stores back in the day. I liked having a place to buy clothes I could never get away with wearing today: Spiked belts, bondage pants, chains, arm warmers…the works.

But in taking a stroll through one today, I noted how horrifically trendy it has become. I used to be intimidated by how the clerks were so much more awesomely goth than I was…but now, I see that they’re wearing what they sell and I shake my head at how much they’re willing to spend to look like everyone else who thinks they’re indie in high school.

It used to be a store for fat, flat chested, nerdy and goth kids to find weird clothes to freak out the popular kids. Now, it’s a store for those popular kids to spend their daddy’s money on the latest flash-in-the-pan trend. (I saw “American Dad” gear, for God’s sake. That show will be lucky to be on a network in weeks, let alone have enough shelf life for retail)

Today, a pseudo-goth girl was standing next to me looking through the Napoleon Dynamite-inspired t-shirts, armbands and backpacks. She held up an armband that had a very, very minute reference to the film and showed it to me. “Omigod. Isn’t this the coolest?”

Oh, the things I could have said ran through my head, to be sure. All I managed to stammer out was, “Um…I didn’t really like that movie.”

In hindsight, I should have given her a piece of advice from someone a little older and wiser. I should have taken her over to the clearance rack, where she could see the trends that were omigod-so-cool about six months ago that now are nearly forgotten. They had Osbournes t-shirts, Viva La Bam armbands and tons of Spongebob gear.

I should have told her that in six months, there will be some other stupid phenomenon she’ll shell out money for, and then she’ll look at her “Vote for Pedro” shirt and wonder why she ever bought it. I’ll tell her I once did the same thing, only then it was flannel shirts like Kurt Cobain's, MC Hammer pants and hypercolor t-shirts. Then she’d look at me like I’m retarded.

I guess that’s something she’ll have to figure that out for herself. I did.

Sort of.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The walking joke that is Lil Jon

It's good to see that Lil' Jon has accepted his place in the world: Punchline/sound effect.

After he was constantly imitated, nee duplicated, on season 2 of "Chappelle's Show" Lil' Jon's persona has skyrocketed in popularity. But not Jon's popularity as a singer so much as his schtick of not knowing any words except "yeah", "ohkay" and "whaaaaaaat?"

People don't care if the man coined the word "crunk" or that he's a actually a decent producer. No no, they just want him to make noises.

And that is his role in his profitable (and I'll admit enjoyable) "guest appearances" in the last year. The latest - "Okay" by Nivea - is the end-all be-all of Lil' Jon's self-orchestrated punchline campaign.

And it is my secret addiction.

Why? Because I can't stop laughing when he pops up in an otherwise unrelated chicks-having-fun song repeating his Chappelle schtick. I defy any Comedy Central fan to keep a straight face through this song.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

50 Cent's unwarranted comeback

Is 50 Cent really making good songs, or are booty-shaking white girls just getting more and more influence on radio airplay?

On this week’s Billboard top 50, 50 Cent is involved, in some fashion, with five songs…three of them in the top 10.

I like rap, quite a bit actually…and I can honestly say that these five songs all sound the same to me. How did 50 do it? It certainly isn’t African-Americans driving his success. They actually know the difference between "good" rap and what 50 peddles (I call it hip-pop).

We all know what drives top 40 radio. It’s 17 to 21-year-old white girls on spring break who squeal and take their tops off at clubs when the sort of tripe 50 Cent makes is played. So it begs the question: Is 50 Cent making better music? Or are white girls’ tastes just getting worse?

Unlike the usual, I don’t feel that I have a trustworthy answer. For I am a white girl, and I am admittedly not immune to the overwhelming power of pointless lyrics and overwhelming bass. So maybe I’m not the best one to ask.

But 50 Cent dominating the top 40? Where the hell is bubblegum pop when you need it? Thank God for new White Stripes, DMB and Weezer albums coming out in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

NBC's got that God-loving feeling...

NBC may be trying to convince you otherwise, but its new miniseries “Revelations” is actually quite a riveting watch.

Though NBC’s marketing people obviously told them evangelism is all the rage in the red states, this series doesn’t provide fodder for the overly righteous to masturbate themselves to a holier-than-thou orgasm like a certain popular book series I feared this show was based on. Thankfully, those of us that sleep in on Sundays can also get quite a jolt out of Wednesday nights.

More “X-Files” than “Touched by an Angel,” “Revelations” is steeped in end of days dogma, but doesn’t feel the need to preach. It has plenty of scripture, but its used in such a way to give viewers the heebie-jeebies instead of guilting them back to the pews.

In terms of Biblical fright, the gang’s all here. There’s a possible Christ missing on Earth, a cult of Satanists led by a child murderer/Antichrist figure, wild miracles, Catholic iconography, shady priests, bodily possessions, etc. - all backed by ominous church choir music and a bunch of spooky lighting. Oh, and there’s Fred Durst (as a token Satanist). His presence is nothing short of a sign of the apocalypse, in my book.

But, like the “X-Files”, we don’t know if this is all for real, or just some bad guys, camera tricks and a bunch of wild imaginations run amok. We even have a designated Mulder and Scully, this time in the form of non-believing doctor Dr. Richard Massey (Bill Pullman, as wooden as ever, but hell, its TV) and the slightly insane believer Sister Josepha Montefiore (Natasha McElhone).

Simply put, the nun thinks the end of days is here and the signs are all around to prove it, whereas the good doctor, who just lost his daughter to said Satanist sicko, doesn’t believe her, but seems eager to prove her wrong and potentially get laid. So they jet all over the place, talking in various languages to various religious figures trying to find evidence of Christ on Earth as the Satanist dude apparently keeps on thwarting them.

The storyline is straightforward, but manages to be suspenseful. It wasn’t named after the most exciting boo of the Bible for nothing…this is prime time entertainment. NBC even pulled out all of the budget stops to get “Revelations” above average television special effects. It’s like watching good sci-fi, only the people who actually believe this stuff is real aren’t regarded as nutjobs anymore.

Though some might say this is meant to whip the Religious Right into a frenzy about the current state of our nation…I say, “So What?” It makes for good TV. Give it a shot. You never know, maybe you’ll be a believer. The Truth is Out There, yo.