26th Feb2021

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 2/26/21

by Will

 

This post is a bit of a bait and switch, as it’s not going to follow the format of a typical West Week Ever post. It’s really more of a thought exercise, but I’ve trained y’all that Fridays are for West Week Ever, so here we are. Full disclosure: I’ve been playing fast and loose with meds lately, so this is probably just a chemical imbalance manifesting itself. Oh well.

So, I just watched the pilot for the Punky Brewster revival on Peacock, and BOY do I have thoughts! If you’re not a child of the 80s, Punky Brewster was a 1984 NBC sitcom about a quirky young girl, named Penelope “Punky” Brewster, who’s taken in by an old man after she’s abandoned by her mom at a grocery store. That’s the most bare bones description I can give the show, but it also tackled the problems with the foster care and adoption systems, as well as the fact that when you adopt someone, they’re saving you as much as you’re saving them. While it skews sorta dark on paper, it was a nice, feel good 80s sitcom, as Punky got into typical childhood hijinks with her friends Cherie, Margot, Allen, and her dog, Brandon. It even got a cartoon spinoff, It’s Punky Brewster, where those animated hijinks included the alien, Glomer.

As a self-professed “student of television”, I’ve always gravitated more to NBC history than other networks. While The Cosby Show was the king of the hill at the time, I always felt that Punky Brewster had NBC in its blood. So, it’s a nice sentimental choice for NBC to use it to bolster their streaming library. As the story goes, the Punky character was based on a childhood crush of then-NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff. Meanwhile Punky’s dog, Brandon, was named after Tartikoff himself.

In recent years, ABC has taken over as the Family Sitcom Network, but before Seinfeld and Friends, this was the kind of thing NBC really tried to make happen – usually with little success. Sure, Family Ties was a hit, but for every Family Ties there was It’s Your Move, The Tortellis, and The Torkelsons just waiting in the wings to fail. Try as they might, NBC just couldn’t get the nation to buy into their long line of positive family sitcoms. Hell, even Punky didn’t work out, which is why it was cancelled after the second season, but revived in first-run syndication for another 2 seasons. I say all of this to ask Who thought bringing back Punky Brewster was the right thing for 2021? And if it didn’t really work out then, why would it work out in an even more cynical era than the generation that birthed it? They simply don’t make TV like that anymore, for better or worse. As an 80s kid consumed with nostalgia for underdog projects, I’m probably tailor made to be the audience for this thing, yet I did not want it.

News of sitcom revivals makes me feel anything along the range of “Why?” to “Morbidly curious”. But Punky Brewster had been a NO for me from the moment it was announced. Maybe it’s because George Gaynes, who played her adoptive dad, Henry, is dead, or the idea that I really didn’t think a character like Punky would have much to say about the world in 2021. Whatever it was, I was never filled with confidence about this project. As news started to trickle out about it, I started to waffle. They got Cherie Johnson back as Punky’s best friend. Yay! They also cast Freddie Prinze Jr as her ex-husband. Boo! Then there was the synopsis, explaining that Punky’s now a single mom, struggling to raise 3 kids while dealing with residual feelings for her ex-husband. I know the original series had a bit of adversity, but I was kinda hoping to see Punky in a setting where she wasn’t “struggling”. Hadn’t she been through enough? This isn’t Grace Under Fire! Anyway, we’re still in a pandemic, I’m stuck at home, and Peacock Premium is free with Xfinity, so I decided to give it a chance when the whole season dropped this morning.

I don’t remember the last time a pilot was this much of a rollercoaster ride. It starts out ROUGH, added to the fact that I was caught off guard by it being a multi-cam, canned laughter sitcom. It’s clear it’s not a real studio audience, and it’s always queued to pop whenever Punky says something she would have said in the original show, like “Holy macanoli!” (Why a 40 year old woman would say that is completely beyond me). It feels like they’ve thrown a ton of TV tropes into a blender here, just to see what shakes out: Free spirited, slightly immature mom; Smart teenage daughter who’s more levelheaded than mom; possibly gay son; and the list goes on and on and on. After they shake off the cobwebs, though, something special starts to emerge.

It turns out Punky isn’t exactly struggling the way the press release had implied. She had actually been a successful photojournalist – having learned photography from Henry. So, it’s nice that she’s carrying on that legacy. The only reason she changed careers is because she wanted to spend more time with her family, so now she focuses on weddings and parties. Over the years, because of marriage and “momming”, she has lost her sense of self. No longer is she the quirky girl who wears different colored shoes. Now, she’s a mom, a business owner, and an ex-wife. That all changes, however, when a young foster child named Izzy comes into her life, who just happens to remind Punky of herself at that age. Through her interactions with Izzy, Punky starts to remember who she is. The confidence comes back, as do the mismatched shoes. By the end of the episode, Punky decides to take Izzy in, and you get the impression that the arrangement will be just as beneficial for the two of them, as it had been for Punky and Henry. I hate the phrase “the feels”, but I had ALL of them by the end of that episode. Oh, and it ends with something that is totally telegraphed halfway through, but still manages to hit you when it happens.

The cast is great. Luckily, Soleil Moon Frye never had a bigger role, so she IS Punky. It’s not clunky, as if they recast her, but you’re also not left seeing her as some other character she’s played. It’s nice to watch her sort of “rediscover” herself. For whatever reason, I’ve never been a Prinze fan, but he’s good here. I really like him. He’s almost too good. Like, “Y’all got divorced why?” And the kids are really strong. They’ve been saddled with some pretty cliché tropes, but I’m curious to see what they do with them.

I’ve been ranting a lot on Twitter lately about the fact that networks seem to have abandoned their on air counterparts for their streamers when it comes to series development. Most new series announcements lately are for Peacock and Paramount+, but what of NBC and CBS proper? People like to think network television is dead, but it doesn’t have to be. In my mind, the streaming networks should be for the experiments that wouldn’t necessarily fly on network television. Take A.P. Bio, for instance – NBC saw something special in it, but the ratings weren’t there. Instead of canceling it, they sent it to Peacock, which sort of felt like it was being “busted back down to the minors”. Maybe that’s an unfair thing to say, but that’s how it came off, which weren’t necessarily the best optics for a new streamer trying to make a name for itself.

Right now, ALL Peacock really has going for it is that it’s the exclusive streaming home of The Office. As far as original programming, they’ve got the Saved By The Bell revival and Punky. As they taught us in Sunday School, “The foolish man built his house upon the sand.” Let’s just say that I don’t have the most faith in Peacock, which saddens me as a member of Team NBC. That said, if streaming exists to give shows like Punky Brewster a chance, then I get it. I’m here for it. Network TV would eat this show alive, as there’s no place for it on a 2021 schedule. It skews more Disney Channel than network; the only difference between this and Raven’s Home is the lack of psychic powers. I don’t want networks to forget about their on-air obligations, but if they want to use streamers as time capsules and incubators, then have at it. Fill them up with reboots and revivals. Punky Brewster is a special show, and it was going to take special circumstances to get it made. On paper, I didn’t understand why this show needed to exist, but after watching it, I see what they’re going for. 30 years later, NBC is still trying to make the feel good sitcom happen, and you’re damn well gonna watch it (…if you have Peacock) because it’s all they’ve got right now. TL;DR, the Punky Brewster revival is a special show, with a lot of heart. It’s gooey, cheesy fun, and you don’t find a lot of stuff like it anymore. I mean, not every show has to be Breaking Bad. I know I’ll definitely be watching the other 9 episodes. So, with that, Punky Brewster had the West Week Ever.

09th Feb2021

A Farewell To Farms: Bidding Adieu To My FarmVille Empire

by Will

I’m not much of a “gamer”, which has left me out in the cold as my oldest daughter has gotten sucked into the worlds of Roblox and Among Us. Every evening, she tries to tell me about that day’s exploits, and I just have no clue what the Hell she’s talking about. Who cares? Who gets that obsessed with an online world? I just don’t get it. Then I took a look in the mirror, and realized I didn’t recognize who I had become. You see, while I was never really into video games, I did have a stint where I was totally immersed in the world of social gaming, in the form of FarmVille.

Launched by Zynga in 2009, FarmVille was a Flash-based browser game that you could play via Facebook, which somehow made the world of agriculture seem exciting. And I was OBSESSED! If you were a Facebook friend of mine at that time, I undoubtedly asked you to send me some crops at one point or another. In fact, seeing as how the game tricked users into thinking their friends were active players of the game, these crop requests probably came across as harassment, and you most likely unfriended me because of it. Still, I didn’t care – I had candy canes to grow! While the game has somewhat been forgotten in recent years, I can’t stress how big FarmVille was for this brief moment in time. There were 7-11 tie-ins, with Farm Cash and Slurpee cups! For 2 years, it was the MOST popular game on Facebook. Do people even play games on Facebook anymore, other than “Spot the Q-Anon” or “How’s Your Racist Aunt?” A different time, I guess!

Like a real farmer, I used to start and end my day tending my farm. I’d milk the unicorns and pick the starfruit, while planting a bunch of carrots to pick later that night (If I’m not mistaken, carrots were one of the faster growing crops, with a decent ROI). Yeah, unicorns and starfruit. If you were looking for realism, I guess you could’ve gone that route, but FarmVille basically had a “climate be damned” mentality to it, where you could grow stuff that never should have been grown on a midwestern farm. As the game went on, they added new farms for you to add to your agricultural portfolio. At one point, I had a base farm, a farm at the North Pole, and I had a farm in England. Digital Me was jetting back and forth to tend to these multiple farms, and that’s when the cracks started to show. It was hard enough with one primary farm. I mean, you celebrated the successes, but you also felt the losses, like when you didn’t come straight home from work, only to find your crops had withered and died.

I wasn’t an immediate convert, though. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) was into it, and I was just kinda condescending about the whole thing. “Oh, you’ve got to get home to tend to your farm?”, I’d ask, dripping with sarcasm. I’m not sure what finally did it for me – maybe it’s because our relationship was still new, so we were still willing to lie to each other, kinda like how she pretended to like comics – but I eventually gave the game a shot, and never really looked back. She would soon get bored of it, but I was ALL IN. I’d beg her to log in, just to send me crops, but her heart was no longer in it. It didn’t matter, though, as I tracked down every FB friend who was an active player, and proceeded to beg them for crops.

Don’t get me wrong, though – it wasn’t all begging. It truly was a communal experience, where you helped each other out, like good “neighbors”. As I said before, though, the game had a habit of making you think some of your FB friends were active players, when maybe they had just opened the game once in the past. Didn’t matter to FarmVille; this person was now your neighbor, and fair game for asking for shit. Yeah, I rubbed some folks the wrong way because of that. To quote Wedding Crashers, “We lost a lot of good men out there.”

Anyway, as big a part of my life as FarmVille had become, one day it all just…stopped. Like I said, it was becoming too time-consuming managing 3 farms in different parts of the “world” (No, really. When you moved from farm to farm, you’d actually board a little plane that would fly you across the ocean!). It also didn’t help that there was no mobile counterpart for the game, unless you had an Apple product, so it pretty much demanded you be in front of your computer at designated times. Then I started hearing rumblings about a FarmVille 2 on the horizon. A NEW GAME?! But what about my current farms? My crops? All my investments? Nah, son. It was time to get out of farming. I would go on to channel all that time and energy into Twitter instead. I got married, had kids, worked some jobs, and never spoke of my farming days again.

While I did walk away from the game,  I never completely forgot about it. I had a morbid curiosity about the sequel game, but never enough to play it. I also wondered if my old farms still existed. I actually romanticized a blog post where I would “go back to the family farm”, and see what sort of emotions it would trigger in me. If nothing else, it would make for a good excuse to fire up the game again, and it seemed like it would be a funny post. I wouldn’t get that chance, however, as Zynga announced last September that the game would close up on December 31st, 2020, to coincide with the retirement of the Adobe Flash Player, which was integral to the browser-based game. September to December seems like enough time to get something like that done, right? Too bad I didn’t read about it until December 30th 2020. Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to revisit paradise before it was paved to put in a parking lot.

I’d like to say I made a bunch of friends playing the game, but I never really broke out of my circle of “knowns”. I’d love to say I gained a newfound appreciation of farming, but I know it’s a much harder industry than clicking a 4×4 plot of land. No, I didn’t really grow as a person from the game, but it gave me something to look forward to at a time when I needed it most. I haven’t transitioned very well to The Real World. I spent my college career singing every weekend, while dressed like some kind of waiter. Sounds kinda dumb now, but I thought I was cool. So it wasn’t easy to go from that to being a 9-5 cog in various jobs that didn’t depend on any “specialness” that I brought to the table. So FarmVille gave me something I could control. I could see the fruits of my labor. I got just as much back as I put into it. For that, I’m thankful. There are a ton of social media influencers who’ll tell you that people and things come into – and leave – your life for a reason. I guess I now have a better understanding as to why FarmVille came into mine. As an extension, I can also understand why Roblox has come to mean so much to Evie. Here she is, a 5 year old, starting school in the middle of a pandemic, and having to do Kindergarten over the internet. These games are the socialization that she needs right now, even if she can’t read, so the Among Us players keep ejecting her for being “sus”. It’s nice to see her really excited about something, which isn’t an easy feat in this day and age. So, I’ll try to be more understanding, knowing that this, too, will pass. Plus, I’ll probably look back one day and long for the innocence of this time, compared to what will come. I just wish I could have have shown her the family farm. I think she would have liked that.

22nd Jan2021

West YEAR Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 2020

by Will

I wasn’t gonna do it. I mean, who wants to actually reflect on 2020? Nothing really major happened in pop culture, as it was the year the pop culture world stood still. I managed to eke out a few posts, but nothing consistent. The more I thought about it, though, there was someone who had an incredible year. We’ll get to that in a bit, though. Don’t worry – I’m going to keep this rather short and sweet, ’cause y’all don’t like reading anyway (What? I check the site stats!).

Movies I Watched in 2020

  1. Moana
  2. The Jerk, Too!
  3. Wreck-It Ralph
  4. The Kill Squad
  5. Wonder Woman 1984

That’s it. You’d think after a year like 2020, I would have been knee deep in movies, but that’s all I got around to watching. I did, however, binge a ton of shows, including:

  1. Love Is Blind
  2. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
  3. Star Trek: Picard
  4. Schitt’s Creek
  5. Gary and His Demons
  6. You’re The Worst
  7. Saved By The Bell (2020)

Plus, I discovered Kim’s Convenience, as well as consumed A LOT of 90 Day Fiancé and its various spinoffs.

Top Posts of 2020

Due to the “disposable” nature of West Week Ever posts, I try to create a few “evergreen” posts that will hopefully be enjoyable no matter when you read them. Here’s what I cranked out this year:

Thrift Justice: I’m SO Board!

The Driver

Ain’t No Lie: 20 Years of *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached

That Time I Drunkenly Emailed American Pickers

The WBW40 – Will’s Top 40 Songs of 2020

West Week Ever Recipients of 2020

3/6/20 – FX Networks

3/13/20 – Love Is Blind

4/3/20 – Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness

4/24/20 – The Nerd Lunch Podcast

5/22/20 – Zack Snyder’s Justice League

7/24/20 – Jeopardy!

11/13/20 – Alex Trebek (West Life Ever)

12/31/20 – Wonder Woman 1984

Back in the early ’00s, I tried to dip my toe into the anime craze that was taking America by storm. I couldn’t really get into Dragon Ball or Neon Genesis Evangelion because they just seemed like too much was going on there. One that appealed to me, however, was a short series called Golden Boy. Based on the manga of the same name, the 6-episode series followed Kintaro, a smart guy who skips out on graduating from college, despite having all the credits to attain a law degree. Instead, he decides to just live life as it comes, moving from town to town, odd job to odd job. And usually each town brings a new woman who’s trying to sleep with him. They usually think he’s some sort of hapless loser in the beginning, but by the time he gets ready to leave town they full on wanna bone.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, when I really think about it, that’s sort of the same thing that’s going on with the new Jake from State Farm. Debuting the night of Super Bowl LIV – February 2, 2020 – Jake II surprised the world by taking over for the original Jake, who had really only starred in one commercial to date. Little did we realize at the time that State Farm was trying to create their own Progressive Flo. He would resurface in more commercials, each time in a new setting, with someone who seemingly wouldn’t mind having him check their policy between the sheets. There’s the non-binary pizza delivery person, the Great Value Nick Offerman, the hipster butcher, the beekeeper and more. They all think Jake’s pulled some strings to get them a policy discount that’s unique to just them. He reassures them that they’re just benefitting from State Farm’s typical low rates, but they refuse to believe him, instead offering him some sort of perk from their job. Like Kintaro, Jake moves from setting to setting, changing lives and making some folks question their sexuality.

Over the course of just 2020, Jake appeared in EIGHTEEN different commercials. I can’t even begin to explain how much of an oversaturation of marketing that is. While we were all locked down, State Farm was releasing a NEW Jake commercial roughly every 3 weeks. State Farm cranked out more original content than most studios last year! Meanwhile, I’ll bet Original Jake is PISSED he never got this kind of exposure. Do you know how lucrative commercial residuals can be?! In any case, Jake was the hardest working man of 2020, and he’s one of the biggest “success stories” of the year. That’s why Jake from State Farm had the West Year Ever for 2020.

 

04th Jan2021

The WBW40 – Will’s Top 40 Songs of 2020

by Will

Welcome to the WBW40! To say that 2020 was a “challenging year” would be an understatement. That said, there was a silver lining in the form of music. A lot of great songs came out this year, and I just wanted to take a look back at the 40 that I enjoyed most. Some of these songs weren’t necessarily released in 2020, but they made the greatest impact on pop culture during that year. If you’re new here, a guiding principle of this post is “Genre Is A Social Construct”. A lot of these blur the lines of classification, and are sometimes ghettoized because they are played predominantly on one radio format over another. All I ask is that you try to go in with an open mind, and maybe you’ll find your new favorite song!


40. Britney Spears feat. Backstreet Boys – Matches

There’s something about this slot on the countdown that tends to skew “Retro”. Last year’s #40 was Backstreet Boy AJ McLean with “Boy and A Man”, and he’s back with the rest of his squad this year, featured on a Britney track. This is the closest thing to a participation trophy as you’ll find on this year’s countdown. The song is here due to my unabashed love of late 90s bubblegum pop, but there’s nothing really great here, and the collaboration is about 20 years too late. Considering this is the first collaboration between the former powerhouse franchises, I’ve gotta say that I expected more.


39. Parmalee & Blanco Brown – Just The Way

This is Blanco’s second time on the year end countdown, as his song/dance “The Git Up” was #38 last year. I like this song because it’s something of a modern-day reinterpretation of *NSYNC’s “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You”. with a dash of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”. It’s got the same basic message of “What you perceive as imperfections are the things that make you who you are”. Plus, Blanco serves as something of a South of the Mason-Dixon Line T-Pain here, which works when it totally shouldn’t.


38. Parker McCollum – Pretty Heart

This song appealed to me because it sounds like something we would’ve gotten in the late 90s from The Wallflowers.


37. Niko Moon – Good Time

This is just the most laid back song, and Moon comes off sounding like a country Jack Johnson.


36. Trey Lewis – Dicked Down In Dallas

This song…wow. I had already come up with the list for the countdown when my good friend Marcus Dowling introduced me to this song. It’s crazy because it’s the last thing you’d expect from country, even though it follows the “I lost my woman” trope common for the genre. No, the problem is that Lewis went balls out on a song that can’t get mainstream radio airplay, nor do I think CMT is rushing to play the video. I mean, just listen to that chorus! The song basically JUST came out, but once we get clear of COVID and folks turn their attention to it, I think you’ll be hearing a lot about this track.


35. Rascal Flatts – How They Remember You

The farewell song from one of the biggest acts of the past 20 years. Their farewell tour was cancelled, so this is pretty much how they’ll go out: with a song that grapples with how one leaves a legacy behind. I gravitate toward meta stuff like that. For a lot of folks, Rascal Flatts will probably be remembered for their cover of “Life Is A Highway” from Cars, which is a shame because there was so much more to them than that, but that was the song that crossed over the most for them.


34. Rina Sawayama – XS

I kinda cheated here, as I had never heard of the song or the artist until I saw someone else’s year end list, and I immediately fell in love. It’s got that early 2000s pop sound that I love. I’ll definitely be checking out more from her.


33. Thomas Rhett – What’s Your Country Song?

The basic gist of this song is that there’s a country song for everyone out there, and you just have to find it. The driving force behind it, though, is the fact that Rhett drops little references to classic songs here. I like corny stuff like that. It’s not a number 1 song, and it’s sort of odd that a star at TR’s level would waste a single slot on a song that everyone on his team had to know was a #2 song AT BEST. It’s a cute little ditty, but this is why it’s so low on the countdown.


32. Lady A – Champagne Night

What a year they’ve had, huh? Things haven’t been great for ol’ Lady A. First they decide it’s time to change their name, as the old one (Lady Antebellum) conjured up images of the slavery South. So, they chop their name down to Lady A – without doing their research. Turns out there’s already a blues singer named Lady A. So, both sides sue each other, which is still ongoing. Seems like that drama affected the music, as they dropped from #2 last year to #32 . The song is serviceable, but I think I like the chorus here most of all.


31. Darius Rucker – Beers and Sunshine

I think I’m always going to be a Rucker fan, mainly because I’m impressed that he figured out a way to lengthen his career by changing almost nothing about his act. I maintain that Hootie Rucker and Solo Rucker are the same dude, but he just started sending his songs to different radio stations. The sound, however, is the same. This isn’t one of his better tracks, but it’s got a catchy little beat. Would’ve been a nice summer song, had we all actually experienced a typical summer.


30. Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

That voice! This is a man who’s seen some stuff, and felt some things. While I don’t love this as much as I did his “Broken Halos”, it’s still a great song. I’m not alone in thinking that, as it made Barack Obama’s end of year playlist, as well.


29. Conan Gray – Heather

This year there were two songs that stood out to me as telling a story of a love triangle. First, there was Taylor Swift, with “betty”, which wasn’t initially clear as to what it was about. Was it a lesbian anthem? Was Taylor the “boy” there? I had to look it up to find out what it was about. Well, this is the other song, where Conan is in a love triangle where the person he loves is in love with Heather, causing him to develop a somewhat irrational hatred of Heather for getting in his way. Even without all the backstory, though, I think you can agree that it’s a beautiful song.


28. Matt Stell – Everywhere But On

This is Stell’s second time on the countdown, as his debut, “Prayed For You”, came in at #24 last year. I honestly like this song more, but that just goes to show how great the songs are on this year’s chart.


27. Thomas Rhett featuring Jon Pardi – Beer Can’t Fix

“Ain’t nothin’ that a beer can’t fix.” This song came out the second week of 2020, and the year replied “Oh, really?” What would’ve just been a run-of-the-mill country drinking song took on new meaning in the quarantined existence of 2020. This is TR’s second appearance on this year’s countdown, and I doubt he realized just how necessary this song would become in the months ahead.


26. Sam Smith – Diamonds

I love Sam Smith, and this song is a good example as to why. It’s the kind of thing you hear in a department store and instantly have to Shazam so you can download it later.


25. Luke Bryan – One Margarita

Poor Luke Bryan! He had what was probably meant to be THE Spring Break (and possibly Summer) anthem about relaxing at the beach. The problem? He released it March 13th – the day the world stopped. It’s a fun bop, but it was marred by the fact that you couldn’t really relate to the song unless you were blatantly breaking COVID travel protocols. Oh, what might have been…


24. Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande – Rain On Me

This should have had more of an impact than it did. Chromatica was supposed to be Gaga’s return to the Weird that built her career. She’d spent the past few years acting and singing with Tony Bennett, and this was supposed to be a return to her “roots”, so to speak. Well, it came out, and then sank like a rock. I still haven’t listened to the whole thing, but this song was inescapable, as it was used in ad campaigns all over television this year. It’s no “Bad Romance” but, really, what is?


23. Luke Combs featuring Eric Church – Does To Me

Why isn’t Eric Church a bigger deal? Does he not play by the rules? I get the feeling he might be difficult. Anyway, it’s odd that a relative newcomer like Combs has a feature from Church rather than the other way around. To be honest, Church puts in a serviceable verse, but it doesn’t make or break the track. It almost feels like a waste of his time. Still, I love the song, and it’s got a catchy hook.


22. Dua Lipa – Break My Heart

She’s an artist I’d heard by name all throughout the year, but it was much later when I could actually name one of her songs. This is such a great song, as it reminds me of a UK sound that doesn’t typically float over here. I’m glad to see it caught on and that she’s experiencing the success that she is.


21. Mickey Guyton – Black Like Me

You may not know this, but there is a Black woman fighting her way through the White world of country music. She gets almost no airplay, but she’s still nominated for awards, so the folks that matter have noticed her, even if the general public has not. This is a great track where she tries to convey to her audience what it’s like to be Black like her. I’m not really surprised this isn’t getting a ton of spins, but could you imagine what would happen if it did? It might feel more genuine than Jimmie Allen thanking Charley Pride every time someone hands him a mic…


20. Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion – WAP

OK, we’re into the top 20 now, which is where the titans come to spar. I’ll admit that this isn’t necessarily a “Will song”, but it was hard to ignore, especially on social media. I’ve seen way too many videos of moms rapping to it, moms reacting to their daughters rapping to it, etc. You couldn’t really escape this song this year, and it sparked a lot of dialogue as to whether folks were comfortable with women being so up front about their sexuality. I’m sure there’s some college course discussing it next semester


19. Eric Church – Stick That In Your Country Song

Oh boy! Eric Church is back, and now I can understand why he’s not a bigger name. He does NOT play by the rules. This song is a full-on pro-BLM, your country isn’t as great as you think it is, ANTHEM. He’s basically taking the country music industry to task for ignoring what’s going on in America, and I am HERE FOR IT. You’ve got to blast this song to get the full effect. Crank that thang up to 11!


18. Keith Urban featuring P!nk – One Too Many

P!nk is a freaking chameleon. She started out with her whole party girl R&B routine, then she morphed into “What If Gwen Stefani Actually Grew Up?” In recent years, however, she’s dipped her toe into the country world. Her first collaboration was with Kenny Chesney on 2016’s “Setting The World On Fire”, which predates the WBW40 but certainly would’ve been on there. This track actually had to grow on me, but I think the chorus is what really does it for me, with the backing choir. This is a great song with a lot of crossover appeal.


17. Shawn Mendes – Wonder

This is such a great power ballad, which was inescapable if you’d set foot in a Target this year. I don’t know a ton about Shawn Mendes, as I tend to confuse him with Charlie Puth sometimes, but I know he’s dating Camilla Cabello. This is just a top notch soundscape, which has me wanting to check out more of his stuff.


16. Dua Lipa – Levitating

Is that disco I hear? Is Dua Lipa helping to usher in a new wave of disco? Just close your eyes, and you’ll be teleported back. This song is “The Sex”. Do kids still say that? Did they ever say that? Let’s get that going!


15. The Chicks – Gaslighter

I love how, all these years later, they’re STILL not ready to “make nice”. This was the year that country radio seemed to finally forgive The Dixie Chicks – a mere 17 years after they were blacklisted for their views on then-President George W. Bush. This song was never really in heavy rotation, as it peaked at #36 on the US Country Airplay chart. When I put these posts together, I tend to opt for the lyric video as opposed to the official video, as I don’t want the visuals to take away from the song. In this case, however, I love how the song and visuals are woven together to get across the warning against propaganda.


14. Brad Paisley – No I In Beer

Well, first of all, Paisley clearly doesn’t know German. I shouldn’t like this song. It’s corny, It’s a little too “retro country”. All that said, I LOVE it. It was one of the first songs put out after the lockdowns, in the spirit of “We’re all in this together”. He crafted a drunken singalong for the Zoom generation, and it doesn’t get more 2020 than that.


13. HAIM – The Steps

I LOVE HAIM. They didn’t make it onto last year’s countdown, but they made it the year prior. Seriously, the only time they’ve ever disappointed me was on their collab with Taylor Swift, “no body, no crime”. “The Steps”, however, is reminiscent of Sheryl Crow at her All I Wanna Do-est, which is my favorite Sheryl Crow.


12. Morgan Wallen – More Than My Hometown

This is SUCH a country song. Small town couple has the whole town rooting for them to make it, while her big city dreams are in contrast to his love of small town living. Ultimately he chooses to stay because, well, he can’t love her more than his hometown. Wallen became a household name this year when his Alabama maskless makeout sesh got him booted as the SNL musical guest, for violating COVID protocols. He would be invited back on later, at which point he would NOT perform this song – what I considered a misstep, since this was his biggest song of the year.


11. The Weeknd – In Your Eyes

I should just cut and paste what I end up writing about The Weeknd’s songs every year: WHY DON’T I LISTEN TO MORE STUFF FROM THE WEEKND?! Seriously, I am absolutely in love with his sound, with every hit sounding like What If Michael Jackson Had Leaned More Into Synthwave? This isn’t the last time we’ll see him on this year’s chart.


10. Miley Cyrus – Midnight Sky

The 80s are BACK, baby! Seriously, between Miley, Dua Lipa, and The Weeknd, I have to constantly make sure I wasn’t sucked down a warp zone back to 1986 or something. I was saying on Twitter the other night that it’s a shame that Miley has so much baggage because I don’t think we give her enough credit for her talent. Just the sound of her name conjures up memories of “The Climb” and “Party In The U.S.A.”, when it should make you think of her cover of “Edge of Seventeen” or THIS song right here. This song is so damn good. I can’t wait to hear this entire album.


09. Blake Shelton & Gwen Stefani – Nobody But You

This is the kind of collaboration that I feel should be avoided. Sure, they’re a high profile couple, and they’re both judges on The Voice, but I feel like recording a song together is the music industry equivalent of tattooing your spouse’s name on you. Kiss of death. And these two gumps went and released TWO duets this year! Still, this is by far the better of the two, and it grew on me pretty quickly.


08. Jake Owen – Homemade

I feel like Jake Owen came almost out of nowhere. I mean, he’s been on the countdown in the past, with “Down To The Honkytonk”, but before that he really wasn’t a “name”. With this song, he just kinda knocked it out of the park. Like Morgan Wallen, it’s another song about loving your small town existence. It’s funny I love these songs so much, seeing as how I can’t really relate. I guess it’s that part of me that wants to live on a farm, where my nearest neighbor is “down the road a few miles, past the old Coke sign”.


07. Blackpink featuring Selena Gomez

I have to admit I missed the entire K-Pop boat. I knew it was happening, but I didn’t know where to enter, who were the hot groups, etc. The girls of the world were screaming for BTS, meanwhile I was introduced to Monsta X on an episode of We Bare Bears, and I thought I was doing something. This song, however, is AMAZING. This won’t be the last K-Pop entry on the chart, either.


06. Sam Hunt – Hard To Forget

I was scared we’d heard the last from Sam Hunt. He had that Alanis Morissette career trajectory, where his debut album, Montevallo, was huge, but his follow up stalled out of the gate. He was the first male country solo artist to have 4 songs from his debut album go to #1. Then he released “Downtown’s Dead”, which did nothing for anyone, peaking at #96 on the Hot 100 chart. He seems to have gone back to his roots with the wordplay, which makes him something like a southern Jason Mraz, and he hit pay dirt with this song.


05. Gabby Barrett – I Hope

This song is SO good. It’s hard to believe she’s only 20, as this sounds like it’s coming from someone with some miles on them. She’s one of the rare success stories from American Idol 2.0, as she came in 3rd place in season 17 of the show. There’s a crossover remix that was sent to pop stations, making it a duet between Barrett and Charlie Puth, but I feel the solo version is the superior edition. I can’t really explain it but it almost sounds like a spiritual cousin of Alannah Myles’s 1989 hit “Black Velvet”.


04. Brett Eldredge – Gabrielle

I wrote about this song before the earth stood still, but it has stayed with me the whole year. To me, it’s the best song that Bruce Hornsby never wrote. You might only know Hornsby and The Range from “The Way It Is”, but between that and “Mandolin Rain”, I’m definitely hearing some Hornsby here. And ain’t nothing wrong with that!


03. BTS – Dynamite

I told you there’d be more K-Pop! How many of them are there? I feel like I’m watching the Boyz12 episode of American Dad. At least 2 of them are girls, right? They’re breaking all the boyband “rules”! But I don’t care because this song is so damn catchy. I’d heard it in commercials before I finally sought out the source, and I was not disappointed. This is the kind of fun pop that the Britney/BSB collab SHOULD have been, but wasn’t. I couldn’t ask for anything more in a pop song. This song delivered.


02. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights

This is a first, as we have a holdover from last year’s countdown, and it has jumped from #22 to #2. In case you’re just skimming the list, let me remind you that I LOVE THE WEEKND. When they were trying to say he was snubbed by The Grammys, I didn’t really think much of it at the time. I’m here to say, however, that he was totally snubbed by The Grammys. This song was inescapable due to Tik Tok challenges. During the earlier days of lockdown, families were going viral to dances they’d choreographed to the song. All that aside, it’s just such a great song. The synthwave makes me want to just go speeding down a dark highway.


01. Dan + Shay – I Should Probably Go To Bed

Another amazing song that didn’t get the airplay it deserved. iHeartMedia does this thing, where they debut a song and play it at the top of every hour for the whole day. They gave that treatment to this song, and then I basically never heard it again. I don’t know if program directors hated it, or if there was some other conspiracy against the band. Maybe they flew too close to the sun with their Justin Bieber collaboration last year. I don’t know what it was, but radio did not love this song, which just made me love it more. I’d find it in the weirdest places, like how they bought a YouTube ad which was the entire music video. I wish I could take credit for this assessment but I think it was Billboard that said it sounded like something off the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and that’s a perfect description for it. It’s got that Wall of Sound all over it, and it’s just such a beautiful, enveloping song. I’m about 17 years removed from a cappella, but I immediately thought “This would make an incredible arrangement.” I know this is the first time a lot of you are experiencing it, so I hope you can understand where I’m coming from, as this was, hands down, my favorite song of the year.

So, there ya have it: my top 40 favorite songs of 2020. How many of these were on your list? How many were new to you, but you kinda dug? Let me know in the comments below!

31st Dec2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 12/31/20

by Will

Yeah, I couldn’t let this godforsaken year end without one last post, could I? I know it’s not Friday, but hopefully you’ll all still be hungover/still drunk tomorrow morning. It’s been a somewhat busy week for pop culture, and I didn’t want this stuff to get lost in the shuffle of year end wrap ups.

 

First off, Alec Baldwin’s been helping his wife “Rachel Dolezal” us all for the past decade. You see, HILARIA Baldwin is actually HILLARY Baldwin, née Hillary Hayward-Thomas. Yes, the whole time she’s been in the public eye, she’s been faking her accent and Spanish heritage. I can’t even believe this is real. What commitment! Even Sacha Baron Cohen is like “Son of a bitch!”

Baldwin has claimed she came from Mallora, Spain, but she actually grew up in Massachusetts and went to a pretty exclusive private school. It’s her former classmates who helped blow the whistle on the whole thing. Apparently, her parents now live in Spain, so she felt that she could just kind of appropriate the culture through them somehow. She went on to post some halfassed explanations on Instagram about how she is, in fact, “a White girl” who grew up in Boston, and her connection to Spain is that her family used to vacation there every year.  She believes that the assumption that she was Spanish is the result of other people misrepresenting her. She insists she’s done nothing wrong (though she has been profiled in Latinx publications due to her assumed heritage), and she’s raising her kids bilingual, so we should just leave her alone. As I said on Twitter, it feels like Tina Fey is behind this, as it’s exactly the kind of storyline she would’ve written for Jack Donaghy to deal with on 30 Rock. It’s not like anything is gonna happen. Alec will probably punch a couple of TMZ photographers, as he is wont to do, and it’ll be quietly settled in court. We’ll have all forgotten it by the time Miley has her next breakdown.

A few weeks ago, I hunkered down and binged the new Saved By The Bell in a day. It’s only 10 episodes, so it’s not a Herculean task or anything. I’ve gotta say that I didn’t really love the pilot. Written by Tracey Wigfield, who has 30 Rock on her resume, it felt like a parody of Saved By The Bell. For the first 3 episodes or so, I really struggled to figure out who the audience for this show was supposed to be. It wasn’t for today’s teens, as it wasn’t their style, but it also wasn’t necessarily for a grown audience. No, it was clear that this show was meant for those of us who grew up on the original series, and have had 30 years to cynically reflect on what we watched. That might make for an interesting special, but could an entire series be built on that assumption?

If you haven’t had the chance to fire up Peacock to watch the show, here’s what it’s about: Picking up 30 years since the premiere of the original series, professional schemer Zack Morris is now the Governor of California. What started as him refusing to pay a $75 parking ticket set into motion a series of events the led him to becoming governor. He’s still married to Kelly (Yeah, right. Even original series producer Peter Engel has said that marriage probably didn’t last), while their old friends Slater and Jessie work at Bayside High, as the athletic director and school counselor. I won’t spoil the surprises surrounding the 2 friends I didn’t mention.

Anyway, to make room in the state budget, Governor Zack shuts down the poorly performing schools in the underprivileged neighborhoods, and buses those kids to more affluent schools, like Bayside. So, while Zack’s son, Mac, is a student at Bayside, he is not our protagonist, as he’s just like his father, and we’ve had 30 years to realize Zack Morris is trash. No, instead, we follow Daisy, a Latina honor student from the other side of town, who just can’t fathom how rich and privileged everyone seems to be at Bayside. Along for the ride are her best friend (and football star) Aisha, and Devante, a musically-inclined kid who has a history of schemes himself. They’re paired up with Bayside Buddies, in the form of the aforementioned Mac Morris, Jessie’s son, the bumbling athlete Jamie Spano, and trans reality star/cheerleader Lexi. The kids scheme against their parents and principal and get into misunderstandings, while a group of concerned White parents are doing everything in their power to get the bused kids sent back to their old schools.

It’s not a terribly original concept, as it loosely adapts a lot of Saved By The Bell: The New Class (which is no longer considered canon by this team). While the first two seasons of that show were basically “How can we reuse old scripts with new kids?”, at the beginning of the 3rd season, Bayside rival Valley High is shut down, and its students transfer to Bayside, including street smart Latina Maria Lopez, blonde schemer Ryan Parker, and musically-inclined RJ. That show would last another 4 years on that premise, so I guess they were on to something.

Here’s how I watched the new series: I watched the pilot when the whole season debuted the day before Thanksgiving, and thought to myself “This is fast-paced like 30 Rock“, and it had been a while since I’d been in that headspace. I was missing jokes, as they were coming at me in a rapid fire sort of way. Luckily, E! aired a marathon of every episode of 30 Rock that same weekend, and watching that kinda helped me recalibrate to that “type” of humor. Then I revisited the Saved By The Bell pilot, and it was a much more enjoyable experience. I know not everyone else has the time to go through all that, but I definitely needed to “get my mind right” to fully appreciate the show. After all, I’m something of a TNBC purist. I watched Saved By The Bell, California Dreams, Hang Time, City Guys, etc. I know the formula as to how that kind of show works, and that sort of show only lives on Disney Channel these days. So, no, this revival wasn’t what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it as its own thing.

Anyway, if you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on the first season of the new Saved By The Bell, check out this podcast I did with CJ of 3BlackGeeks.

Trailer Park


Coming 2 America (Amazon Prime)

I can’t tell you how glad I am that this is coming out on a streaming service, as I probably wouldn’t have seen it in a theater, even without COVID being out there. I have a morbid curiosity, but it just feels like a cash grab. And can someone explain to me how those barbershop guys are still alive? They’ve got to be around 100 years old by now. Anyway, the original is a classic, and I’m getting shades of Anchorman 2 from this…


Superman & Lois (The CW)

If this teaser was meant to get me excited about this show, it failed miserably. They’re really playing up the family angle here. Is it Superman or 7th Heaven? I couldn’t tell ya at this point. Anyway, I never watched any of his appearances on Supergirl, so I doubt I’m the target audience.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Ray Fisher has seemingly left his role as Cyborg in the DCEU, stating that he wouldn’t participate in any DC films as long as DC Films President Walter Hamada still has a job. I will admit I don’t know the whole situation with Fisher, but as you can imagine some are applauding the decision, while others are saying “Ray WHO?”
  • Determined to mine every 80s hit NBC had, it was announced that Peacock is working on a Night Court revival, focused on a returning John Laroquette, as well as Judge Harry Stone’s daughter.  Call me when the cowards get around to a MAGA-inspired The Torkelsons reboot.
  • New streaming service Discovery+ launches on Monday, and it will be the streaming home of the 90 Day Fiancé franchise, as well as whatever else Discovery airs. Dr. Pimple Popper and all those morbidly obese and little folks will be there, too. Maybe Discovery will hook me up with a free sub for the plug? Wink wink!
  • In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Karate Kid spinoff Cobra Kai season 3 goes up on Netflix tonight, so I know what a lot of y’all will be doing this weekend.
  • Brace yourselves for Menopause and the City, as there are talks of a Sex and the City revival, without Kim Cattrall, for HBO Max. I’m fine with this, as I’d rather not see Samantha Jones become Blanche Devereaux.

Warner Bros made the announcement that they’d be dumping their 2021 film slate onto HBO Max in the US, where the films would be released at the box office, with a 30 day window on the streaming service. Of course, this was announced after they had already decided to do this with Wonder Woman 1984, which I guess would serve as a test drive to see if the model could work. Well, the movie was released on Christmas day, and it appears to have been a success, as it has made over $85 million internationally, on top of the streaming views – well enough that, earlier this week, Warner Bros announced plans for a 3rd WW movie starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins.

Despite all this money news, anyone who popped on social media last weekend would swear that everyone hated the film. I mean a LOT of people were disappointed by it, and made their displeasure known. For the first few days I didn’t really have a horse in that race, as I hadn’t seen the film, and wasn’t really raring to see it. Finally, with a Saturday night with no new SNL, I decided to see what the fuss was all about.

I liked it. It’s not a perfect movie, but I enjoyed what I saw. It’s a little long at 2 and a half hours, but it didn’t drag as badly as I’d heard. The “84” is more than just a setting, as it *felt* like an 80s movie. A lot of stuff folks love from that era is the same, but clouded by nostalgia. Since folks don’t have that same nostalgia here, it leaves them looking for plot holes and whatnot. The old women in my family have a saying that “Man has become too smart for his own good”, and I feel that sentiment certainly applies here. We’ve come to expect certain things from our comic book movies and our shared universes, but the 80s were a much simpler time.

Sure, I have my nitpickety issues. ***SPOILERS*** I don’t understand how the framing device of little Diana cheating at the Amazonian Games tied into the overarching plot of the movie. Sure, Themyscira is cool and all, but I could’ve done without all that. Why did Steve Trevor come back in another man’s body? And what happened to that dude’s consciousness/soul while he was being occupied by Steve? If Diana hadn’t renounced her wish, Steve would’ve just kept on wearing another dude’s face, sexing her with another dude’s penis? The gold armor was useless. Someone just picked up a copy of Kingdom Come and thought “Hey, that looks cool.” Why did Barbara turn into an actual cheetah? I mean, Lord was into wish fulfillment, not genetic tampering. And what happened to her at the end? Would she have gone to jail? All she really did was beat up some inept White House security guards. And what happened to Lord? While I’m glad they didn’t go for the controversial neck snap from the comics, I probably would’ve bought that more than the idea that everyone on Earth selflessly renounced their wishes for the good of humanity. As I said on Twitter, It’s really hard watching a movie where the fate of the world depends on the underlying goodness in people. Especially in 2020. People ain’t shit. Still, that’s all seen through 2020’s eyes. Try watching it through 1984 eyes, and none of those thoughts will even occur to you.

Whether you liked it or hated it, chances are you were talking about this movie this week. That’s why Wonder Woman 1984 had the last West Week Ever of 2020.

Well, that does it for this dumpster fire of a year. Come back Monday for the annual WBW40 countdown of my favorite songs of the year. Then, come back later in the week as we look back on 2020 to find out who, or what, had the West YEAR Ever!

 

23rd Dec2020

That Time I Drunkenly Emailed American Pickers

by Will

It may be my birthday, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a gift, as well! I’ve alluded to this over the years, but I’ve never shared the full story. I was cleaning out my email a few days ago, in an attempt to achieve “Inbox Zero”, and I ran across an email I sent to the History Channel show American Pickers one drunken Friday night a few years ago.  First, however, some backstory.

For those new to this site, I sometimes do a feature called Thrift Justice, where I showcase the crazy finds I come across at thrift stores and yard sales. The posts are few and far between these days, but it used to be a pretty frequent thing. Anyway, at its height, I found myself also becoming engrossed in TV shows like Storage Wars and Pawn Stars, where everyone was hoping their next find would be their ticket to retirement. Of course, those shows were staged, and I kinda drifted away from them once that all came to light. However, there seemed to be one bastion of honest treasure hunting still on the tube: American Pickers. If you’ve never seen it, it follows Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they travel the country looking for rare finds to add to their shop. They’re “pickers”, who typically receive a tip about some old hoarder back in the woods, who ends up giving them access to his property to find artifacts to buy off of him. Game knows game, and it’s the same with pickers. Most of them have been doing it for decades, and there’s something of a feeling of pride when another picker comes along and wants to pick through your wares. It means you’ve got some good, rare stuff!

I watched the show for YEARS, and the formula was the same: Mike and Frank would drive down some back road, noticing things along the driveway, like rusted out rollercoaster cars, or old oil company signs. They rarely cold called, as when they did, the old codgers were less than enthused about having them on their property. No, most of these tips came from networking, so the people already knew ahead of time that Mike and Frank were coming. Mike or Frank would call Mike’s shop, Antique Archaeology, and tatted up assistant Danielle would relay the tip to them. They’d end up picking through the yard, or a nearby barn, and then they’d start haggling. The property owner would always say something like “Well, I know you’ve got to make some money off of it, so how about X?” That was always peculiar to me, though, as I wondered why the salty codger would care about Mike & Franks cash flow. He should be more concerned that he was going to make HIS money. Anyway, that was the formula, day in and day out. Driving around, back roads, old White dudes.

As long as I’ve thrifted, I’ve always been worried about supply drying up. You see, I do it for fun now, but it used to be something of a side hustle. In fact, I really threw myself into it to help pay for my wedding, and after that I became more of a hobbyist. The thing is, when I first started, thrift stores were still exactly that: thrifty goods for economical shoppers. The landscape has changed, however, as now EVERYONE is scanning the items as they go down the aisles. Everyone’s a reseller, so thrifting ain’t so special anymore. As I’m always looking to the next thing, I wondered if I could be a picker. I mean, it sounds fun, and you can uncover some nice, rare vintage artifacts. One big problem, though: I’m Black. It’s not like these dudes I saw on the show seemed like the kind who’d just welcome me with open arms. Sure, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, but most of the covers on these dudes fell off decades ago. The more I noticed that a certain “type” of guy tended to be a picker, the more it started to bother me that there was this frontier that was closed off to me. One night, after a drink (I believe it was one gin  & tonic – yes, I’m a lightweight), and an hours-long American Pickers marathon, I’d had enough, and felt compelled to take my issue to the source. I found the email address for American Archaeology on their website, and I fired off the following:

Question Regarding Diversity In Picking

Hi Mr. Wolfe,

First off, I want to say that I’m a big fan of the show, and it has inspired me in my own treasure hunting. Keep making those episodes, and I’ll keep watching!

I’m writing because something has been on my mind for quite some time. As a thrifter of color, I’ve often wondered why we don’t see more pickers/collectors of color on the show. Since you’ve been at this for quite some time, I guess I’m wondering this: ARE there pickers of color? I’m at a point where I feel like they either don’t exist OR they don’t cooperate with the filming. Otherwise, we’d have seen them by now, right?

I know that I wouldn’t be able to just go on someone’s property and ask to look around the way that you and Frank can – especially in some of the parts of the country that you guys explore. In your travels, have you come across fellow pickers who happen to be minorities, and have they shared any of their stories with you? I’d love to know what their experiences are like, and to see how they differ from yours and Frank’s. It might even make for a good special episode, maybe in February 🙂

Anyway, like I said, it’s been on my mind, so I felt it was probably time to go to the source and ask your take on things. I hope I’m not overstepping any bounds, and I thank you for your time.

Best,
William West

Rereading that now, I’m struck by how friendly and articulate it was. I mean, keep in mind that I was DRUNK, but that’s what came out. I guess I was going for “killing them with kindness”. I mean, I was pretty sick of seeing the Jaspers and the Walters, and I just wanted to see a Leroy. Representation matters and all that. I don’t know if I expected a response or what, but it felt good to get it out, and taken to those in the know. According to the email, I sent this October 4th, 2005 at 1:40 AM. They HAD to know I was drunk. The only things sent at 1:40 AM are drunken emails and “You up?” texts. So, imagine my surprise when, just two days later, I received a response:

Hello, William!
Thank you for the email and the great inquiries!
We’re glad to hear you enjoy the show.

I’ve met quite a few pickers/collectors from a wide variety of minorities here in the shop, though I’m not sure how many Mike and Frank run in to in their travels. I’ll forward your email to the guys so they can possibly answer your questions! They’re currently on the road, meaning it’s a bit harder to hear back from them.

Thanks again,
Antique Archaeology Le Claire

As you can see, it’s a little better than a form letter, but still didn’t really answer my questions. I was pretty giddy that this was probably written by Danielle, but I never did hear back from Mike & Frank. Maybe I was supposed to do some back and forth. A “Thanks for the response, and I look forward to hearing from them!” I dunno. I suck at follow-up. I didn’t send that response so it all died on the vine. I’ll tell you this, though: I never watched the show again after this exchange. It wasn’t out of spite or anger. Honestly, it just stopped looking *fun* to me. It was kind of like a dream deferred. The silence seemed to be its own answer. I mean, if they really wanted to clear things up, and they had dealt with pickers of color, don’t you think they’d be pretty quick to defend themselves in that “We’re not racist!” way that folks resort to when asked these sorts of things? No, I feel like they didn’t want to make things worse by admitting it’s a pretty White pastime, so they just brushed it aside. That is, IF Dani ever gave them them message in the first place. Either way, it was a good ride, and I hear they’re still picking down those back roads. I’d love to be able to live that life, but I’d rather not get shot. I guess everything ain’t for everybody.

13th Nov2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 11/13/20

by Will

I’ve come to realize I’ve now entered the Britney Spears era of my blogging career. No, I’m not trying to get out of a conservatorship. It’s just that I’m so inconsistent with releases that every new post is billed as a “comeback”, and then I disappear for an extended period of time afterward. Looking at my records, it’s been about 4 months since my last confes…post. A LOT has happened in the world since then. No, we won’t be talking about it. Well, not all of it.

Since we last met, I did a rewatch on the FXX series You’re The Worst. Regular readers might remember I talked about the show quite a bit while it was on, but I missed the last 2 seasons during its original run. Instead of picking up where I’d left off, I decided the best course of action would be to start at the beginning. Everyone has their show that they can watch all the way through countless times. For some, that’s The Office. For my wife, it’s The West Wing. For me, it’s probably You’re The Worst. I love the writing, the characters, everything. And it probably has one of the most appropriate-for-its-characters finales that I’ve seen in a long time.

If you’ve never heard of it, You’re The Worst follows Gretchen and Jimmy – two horrible people – who end up hooking up after a wedding, and then navigates their developing relationship, as they insist that they’re not “Relationship People”. It’s really more of an ensemble show, though, as their best friends, Edgar and Lindsay, figure into their antics, as well as supporting characters like Vernon, Becca, Paul, and “Shitstain”. I highly recommend it, and it’s been a bright spot in this crazy world recently.

I was right there with y’all on the front lines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but whenever I hear an update now on something like WandaVision, my immediate thought is “We’re still doing this?” Say what you will about the quality of the films, what they pulled off, with a commercially successful interconnected universe, was incredible. And it shouldn’t be attempted again. I don’t wanna get on that ride again. Ready to move on.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think the MCU will ever really recover from COVID, and there’ll be tons of thinkpieces about what REALLY “brought down” the MCU. If you look at Phase 4, they were really counting on goodwill built up from Avengers: Endgame, which has dissipated by now. No heavy hitters. Phase 4 is chock full of unknowns. Eternals? I don’t even know who the Hell they are. Shang Chi? Gonna be hard to get it right without coming off as Orientalism. Thor 4 was the biggest bullet in the chamber. Even Black Widow was about 7 years too late. The entire phase is just a mixed bag of Meh. No Black Panther 2, no controversy generating Captain Marvel 2. No Guardians Vol 3. You’ve just got Dr Strange and Thor doing the heavy lifting.

Five to ten years from now, I think the MCU will still be a thing, but it’ll be looser, less interconnected. Probably more like what DC is doing now, especially if they introduce the Multiverse.

At the end of the day, Money is always going to win out. Doesn’t mean, as an audience member, that I can’t feel a bit of ennui about the whole thing. Anyway, this is a long, drawn-out way to announce that WandaVision will be premiering on Disney+ on January 15th.

In the time since I’ve been away, I joined TikTok. I only have one video up now, but I think it’s funny. I don’t really know what to do with that account, as I’m not an egirl with an OnlyFans, so I’m open to suggestions.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Fox’s primetime schedule is imploding when it comes to anything not featuring Ken Jeong. They’ve cancelled L.A.’s Finest, Filthy Rich, and Next, but all 3 will finish their original orders, as there’s nothing on the bench to replace them with.
  • There were rumors that country chart toppers Florida Georgia Line were cruisin’ for a breakup, due to differing politics. Left-leaning Tyler Hubbard and his wife unfollowed bandmate Brian Kelley on Instagram, and Kelley’s wife responded with a salty post about how we live in a democracy and are entitled to a difference of opinion. Supposedly a refollowing has occurred, but this is how we fight in the year of our Lord 2020.
  • The Weeknd will headline the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Ya know, for whatever teams aren’t sidelined by COVID by then.
  • The Friends talking heads “reunion”, which nobody really asked for, has been rescheduled to March for HBO Max
  • John Mulaney has joined Late Night with Seth Meyers as a staff writer, so I guess I’ll have to start watching that show now.
  • As a result of their contentious divorce, Johnny Depp was asked to resign from the Fantastic Beasts franchise, yet Amber Heard will still reportedly star in Aquaman 2. Huh.
  • Reportedly, the new Blumhouse film Freaky will debut on VOD only 17 days after its theatrical release today. That’s good, ‘cause I wanna see it, but I won’t be going to a movie theater anytime soon.
  • The Undertaker’s “Final Farewell” is set for Survivor Series, which makes this around his 3rd retirement.

Ugh, this is really hard to write. It’s odd that the very last time I wrote this column, I gave Jeopardy! the West Week Ever for captivating me with a reairing of Alex Trebek’s first episode, and here I am, talking about the show again, but for sadder reasons. If you didn’t already know, Alex passed away on Sunday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. While everyone knew he was sick, as his fight had been documented the past 2 years, I don’t think anyone really thought he was as close to the end as he was.

I’ve written before about my dream of competing on Jeopardy! It, and Alex, have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. He and the show also touched other facets of pop culture, popping up in shows like Cheers and Mama’s Family. After meeting Stan Lee and Adam West, I always boasted that I had met everyone I’d ever wanted to meet, but that wasn’t entirely true, as I never met Alex, and now I never will.

To me, and many others, Alex Trebek WAS Jeopardy! and he had some pretty big shoes to fill. If I’m being honest, my dream of competing sort of died along with him. There’s some petition going around to get Levar Burton as the new host, but I think we’re all kidding ourselves if we think that job’s going to anyone other than Jeopardy! GOAT Ken Jennings. They have clearly been grooming him for it, even bringing him aboard in a producer and regular on-air capacity this season.

Based on everything I’ve watched and read this week, no one can seem to say a bad thing about him, which is refreshing in this day and age. They say “Don’t meet your heroes”, for fear that they’ll disappoint you, but it seems like former contestants loved meeting him, and he was described as a consummate professional. Over the course of 37 seasons, Alex hosted more the 8,200 episodes of Jeopardy!, surpassing Bob Barker who previously held the record for most number of hosted game show episodes. His last day in the studio was just 2 weeks ago and, at the time of his death, he still had 35 episodes that had yet to air.

I know a part of my daily routine is changed forever, and weeknights at 7:30 just won’t be the same to me. I guess I’ll have to really get into Access Hollywood or something. Anyway, Alex Trebek was like a member of our family, coming into millions of living rooms every night. It’s like losing a really smart uncle. I guess I’m just rambling at this point, but I’m still processing it. In a year in which we’ve all lost so much, this was just another blow to the gut. In any case, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Alex Trebek had the West Life Ever.

24th Jul2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 7/24/20

by Will

I couldn’t let Taylor Swift be the only one with a stealth drop today! These sure are some crazy times, ain’t they? I guess you’re wondering where I’ve been. Well, ya see, it all just got to be too much. I haven’t blogged since May, I haven’t tweeted in 2 months, and I’ve just been kinda sequestered over on Facebook and Instagram. Who’da thought there’d come a time when Facebook was the most civilized form of social media?! I guess it’s because I’ve curated my timeline to the point where I’m not in a position to be surprised by anything I see over there. Still, with the state of the world, it was too much. And the stuff I was seeing was maddening. Like, there were folks with Black Lives Matter posts, when I’d had some racially dicey episodes with them in the past where my life clearly didn’t matter much to them. Anyway, I figured I should probably make use of this “brand” until Kanye comes along to claim it, so I felt it was time to dust it off and see if there’s anything left in the tank.

So, what have I been doing while I’ve been gone? Well, I’ve been watching a lot of 90 Day Fiancé and Say Yes to the Dress. Oh, and I, too, cheated on Will Smith and revealed it on my podcast. We jokingly call him “The Fresh Simp of Bel Air” behind his back.

I watched some movies. Wreck-It Ralph was cute, but not very memorable. Maybe it’s because Jack McBrayer as Fix-It Felix kept taking me out of the film. I kept wanting Jack Donaghy to yell “Get back to work, Kenneth!” I also watched a 70s action movie called The Kill Squad. It’s on YouTube if you’re interested. I’m not gonna talk about it this week, though. I think I’ve got something better in mind for it.

Speaking of McBrayer as Kenneth, I watched that 30 Rock special on NBC last Thursday, and boy was it terrible! Unlike the Parks & Rec special, which came together for a good cause, and was a sweet, albeit “long in the tooth”, return to old friends (It ran out of steam quickly, and why was Adam Scott so wet?!), the 30 Rock special was just a one-hour infomercial for NBCUniversal networks. This is why it didn’t even air in more than half the country, as the network affiliates saw it as advertising for the competition, namely the Peacock streaming service which is designed to take viewers away from network television. For one thing, I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember where those characters ended up in the finale. Liz has a Black child? Where was Dot Com? Did I really need to see Jonathan, when that time could’ve been devoted to a Queen of Jordan update so I could see D’Fwan?

Also, it was the kind of project not meant for consumption by the general public. It’s an inside baseball kind of thing for the network television industry. If you’re not new here, then you know I do a network upfronts post most years, which is where the networks reveal their fall schedules. The 30 Rock special would’ve been right at home as NBC’s presentation to ad buyers, because these kinds of things are commonplace in that setting. I mean, it would’ve made even more sense if 30 Rock was still airing on NBC, but I digress. As its own special, designed to reunite you with old friends, however, it fell short. It was corporate synergy at its worst, and was almost as jarring as that weird Microsoft Windows 95 video starring members of the Friends cast. No me gusta, Liz Lemon!

Speaking of Peacock, it launched, but I don’t have much to say about it. I’ve had it since April, as Xfinity customers got a “sneak peek”, but it’s an odd duck. First of all, it’s “free”, but it’s probably best described as “Freemium”, as there is a paid tier that you’re gonna need if you want ALL of the upcoming content. Right now, however, you can keep yourself entertained with the Saturday Night Live library, as well as some other random stuff. For example, I used it to watch the pilot of The Greatest American Hero one night (Fun fact: The Greatest American Hero doesn’t have a superhero name throughout the entire series). Another weird thing about Peacock is, like HBO Max, it hasn’t yet struck deals with Amazon or Roku, so you can’t really cast it. If I didn’t have it integrated into my cable box/package, I wouldn’t even use it.

Anyway, if you want a GOOD COVID-19 reunion, then look no further than this Happy Endings special. It starts off kinda rough, but they’re fully back in character by the 5 minute mark. I didn’t know how much I needed this in my life!

Another thing I did while I was away was participate in a film directed by CT from the Nerd Lunch Podcast. He and his family filmed a “making of” documentary surrounding a fictional comic strip called Macaroni & Please. Since all scholarly retrospectives need an expert, I was honored that he invited me to play the role of a pop culture expert and Macaroni & Please superfan. Somewhere along the way, I got some sort of “bad boy of Twitter” kind of reputation, but at the end of the day, I’m a joiner, and I like to be invited to things. It really meant a lot to me that they asked me to a part of it, and I think it came out great. If you could watch 7 hours of Tiger King, you can watch this!

I also participated in the Nerd Lunch spinoff, AfterLUNCH, Magnum P.I. season 2 breakdown episode. I was actually invited to be part of the Magnum Panel back when they discussed season 1, but scheduling conflicts kept me off the episode (Look at me, sounding all busy and important!). Anyway, it was fun revisiting Magnum, TC, Higgins and Rick, and I had a lot of fun on the episode, which you can listen to here.

During my hiatus, I believe it was revealed that the next season of the long-running Power Rangers franchise would be Power Rangers Dino Fury, taking its footage from the 2019 Japanese series Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger. Considering we basically JUST had a dinosaur-themed season, with Power Rangers Dino Charge (wow, I guess that WAS 4 years ago), it feels sort of soon to be returning to that well. Anyway, I’m still probably gonna watch it, mainly because it’s rumored this might be the final live action season of the franchise. Apparently, Hasbro, which purchased the Power Rangers brand from Saban Brands in 2018, has ended their relationship with Toei, Inc, which has supplied the Japanese fight/zord footage for that past 27 years. It’s unlikely that Hasbro would go it alone, as producing that in-house would be more expensive than what they’re paying Toei. So, if this is true, it’s unclear how the franchise could survive without Toei’s involvement.

Trailer Park


Woke (Hulu) 

This looks like a series that FX passed on, by way of Bamboozled. It seems like it would make an interesting movie, kinda like Sorry To Bother You, but a whole series? I dunno, man. Plus I tend to forget that I even have Hulu, so I’m not sure this is going on the list.


Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)

I know there are folks who’d kill me for saying this, but there is such a thing as TOO MUCH Star Trek, and I think we’re entering that era. Not once have I ever wondered “What would Star Trek look like through the lens of Rick & Morty?” And is it supposed to be funny? Because I didn’t laugh once during this trailer. Here’s my problem: CBS All Access is too dependent upon Trek offerings. They’re counting on this to join Discovery, Picard, Strange New Worlds, and the Section 31 show in propping up the service. Seriously, the only other thing on All Access that folks watch besides Trek is The Good Fight. This is not a recipe for success. I understand CBS/Viacom knows they’ve got a valuable goldmine they’re sitting on, but less is more. Star Trek used to *mean* something, and I feel like that’s not really the case anymore. However, your mileage may vary.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Brett Eldredge’s “Gabrielle” is the best song Bruce Hornsby never wrote.
  • Ego Nwodim might be about to be the only Black cast member left on Saturday Night Live, as Chris Redd has just joined Kenan’s sitcom, while Michael Che just inked a deal for his own sketch show on HBO Max. In both situations, it’s unknown if these deals will affect their involvement with SNL, but I think it’s highly likely, especially in Che’s case.
  • Speaking of HBO Max, the Harry Potter films are slated to leave the service next month – less than three months after they were added for the service’s launch.
  • I’d give you some Quibi news, but who are we kidding? Nobody watches Quibi.
  • Black actress Javicia Leslie will be taking over the lead role in Batwoman, and I immediately got off the internet when I saw the news, ’cause my poor heart couldn’t take what was surely soon to accompany that news.
  • Let’s be honest – Dancing with the Stars has never recovered from country radio personality Bobby Bones mobilizing his fanbase resulting in his stunning upset win, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise when ABC announced that Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews were out, as the show was going in a “new creative direction”. What was surprising, however, was when Tyra Banks was announced as the new host.
  • Great news for Anglophiles, as Netflix has actually added an additional season to The Crown‘s farewell run.
  • Kidding has been cancelled at Showtime, just in time for Jim Carrey to rail against COVID-19 vaccines!
  • I was gonna mention how Tenet has been delayed indefinitely but, Hell, all movies are delayed indefinitely. It’s not like I was dying to see Black Widow, and now I’m certainly not DYING to see Black Widow.
  • Speaking of delays, Marvel’s Falcon & Winter Soldier won’t premiere on Disney+ this August as originally planned. I guess we’ll get it when we get it.
  • Lots of name changes in the news, based on the recent political upheaval. Lady Antebellum are now Lady A – or, they will be if they win their lawsuit against the Black woman who already performs as Lady A. The Dixie Chicks are now just The Chicks. And Psych‘s James Roday is now James Roday Rodriguez. No, I’m not joking.

 

My favorite game show of all time is Jeopardy!. I’ve been watching it as long as I can remember, and I used to play it over the phone with my friend Brock every night in middle and high school. I’ve taken the test a good 5-6 times already, but still haven’t cracked the code to acing it (the Jeopardy! Test is MUCH harder than the actual show). While this whole virus has been a handful in many ways, everything tends to have a silver lining. The show usually takes a break around this time of year, but they had even fewer original episodes in the can, as production was forced to shut down. So, they decided to go into the vault and show us some classic episodes from the show’s history. On Monday, they kicked things off by airing Alex Trebek’s very first episode from 1984. I had watched a LOT of Jeopardy!, but I don’t think I’d ever seen this episode.

It was amazing to see how much had remained relatively the same over the past 36 years. Sure, the dollar amounts hadn’t doubled yet, but the gameplay was the same. Well, there was ONE important difference: you see, at this point, they still allowed players to answer before Alex had finished reading the clue. This might not seem important, but in the pilot, it led to an energetic round of Double Jeopardy! that proceeded at a breakneck pace. Third place Lois, who didn’t have a very good first round, rocketed to second place through a series of rapid response answers. I swear, when that round was done, I needed a cigarette!

Alex Trebek has been in the news a lot lately, due to his new book and his regular cancer updates, but I think it’s easy to forget that he’s been at the helm of this ship for THIRTY-SIX YEARS. That’s almost my whole life! The man is an icon, and I only hope that one day, when all of this bad stuff is behind us, I can finally take the stage and shake his hand. Ya know, if we’re back to shaking hands in the New World. Anyway, for being my most enjoyed entertainment this week, Jeopardy! had the West Week Ever.

 

Before we go, two weeks ago marked the 17th anniversary of this site. Though it’s gone through several incarnations over the years (after all, it didn’t start out as WilliamBruceWest.com!), it’s pretty much been the same vibe since the beginning. Sure, there were those years of “Write like no one is reading” because, well, no one WAS reading. However, that all changed with social media. I got into a groove with things like Thrift Justice and West Week Ever, and readers started to come around. So, I just want to say I appreciate y’all for reading this all these years, as every click and share does not go unnoticed. Especially the shares. I love when that happens. Anyway, here’s to 17 more? Yeah, even I don’t know about that, but I’ve got nothing better to do, so…

22nd May2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 5/22/20

by Will

 

I considered renaming this thing “Joy Sparkers”, but I was scared Marie Kondo’s people would come after me. You see, there’s just so much negativity in the world right now, and I thought I’d just focus on the things I’d been enjoying lately. The problem is that “positive” doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. So I kinda abandoned that idea, but I’m still gonna give it a try.

If you’re a regular to the site, then you know that this is usually the week of my annual TV upfronts post, where I take a look at the shows slated for the networks’ fall schedules, and give my opinion on whether or not they had a fighting chance. Unfortunately, due to the events in the world, the networks cancelled their upfronts. They were going to do them online, but nothing major really materialized outside of a few press releases and announcements. I’m kinda glad, as I really didn’t have it in me right now. As you know, there’s usually Bloody Friday the week before the upfronts, when the networks cancel a slew of shows to make room on the schedules they’re about to announce. Well, since all productions have ceased, they didn’t really swing the ax too much this year. As I write this, here’s where we stand with cancellations:

Fox:

Outmatched

Almost Family

Deputy

ABC:

Single Parents

Bless This Mess

Emergence

Schooled

Kids Say The Darndest Things

CBS:

Broke

Man with a Plan

God Friended Me

Carol’s Second Act

Tommy

As for upcoming shows, there’s pretty much nothing I’m excited about, mainly because a lot of networks, like The CW, aren’t starting their seasons until 2021. So, I guess I’ve got time to catch up on all the great Netflix shows I’ve been missing!

One of my favorite movies of all time is Steve Martin’s The Jerk. I remember my mom and I had watched it on TV when I was little, and both thought it was hilarious. So, she decided to rent it so that her 80 year old mother could watch it – not knowing about all of the jokes in the original, unedited film. Jokes like “I think next week I’ll be able to send some more money as I may have extra work. My friend Patty promised me a blow job.” Ah, good times! Anyway, if you’ve never seen it, The Jerk stars Steve Martin as naive idiot Navin Johnson – a White man raised by a poor Black family who has to eventually leave the nest and go out into the world. With all the things that end up happening to him, you could almost say it’s a wackier Forrest Gump. Well, I was yesterday years old when I learned that there was actually a “sequel”, called The Jerk, Too, which was released in 1984 as a made for TV movie. I put sequel in quotes because it’s more of a reimagining of the original film instead of a story that takes place afterward. So, I fired up the YouTube and got to watching.

In this movie, Navin was played by Mark Blankfield, a cast member on Fridays, which was ABC’s short-lived take on Saturday Night Live. Whereas the original film had Carl Reiner and Steve Martin involved, this one clearly did not. While serving as producer, Martin was nowhere near this thing and, after watching it, I can understand why. There’s no real heart to it. Martin’s Navin really came off as a sweet guy who did dumb things, while Blankfield’s Navin comes off as a dumb guy who does sweet things. In the original movie, Navin had occasional flashes of brilliance, as shown by many of his inventions. This version, however, just dumbs it down to “He’s really good at cards”. In the original film, Navin leaves home because it’s time for him to become his own man, while in this movie, he’s just going to Los Angeles to attend his pen pal’s wedding. Oh, and can I mention that Pearl from 227 was in this thing, and looked just as old as she always did? The same way Tom Cruise is a vampire who was bitten at 35, Helen Martin was a vampire who was bitten in 1972, at the age of 76. She would be 76 until her death in 2000.

Anyway, Navin’s good at cards, he links up with some hobos who take advantage of him, and then there’s a love story. It’s almost like a pilot, in that it sets things up for the next chapter in Navin’s life, and I kinda would like to see where it goes. I just think it’s sacrilege for them to tie the legacy of The Jerk to whatever it was they were doing here. On its own, though, it’s a predictable, yet serviceable, 80s TV romantic comedy.

 

On the TV front, I discovered a new show that I immediately fell in love with, and have been bingeing all week. First off, though, did y’all know that SYFY has their own Adult Swim clone on the weekends, called TZGZ (it’s just SYFY adjusted by one letter)? At the moment, this programming block includes the Harley Quinn animated series from the DC Universe streaming service. It also includes a little one-season animated Canadian show, called Gary and His Demons. Now, I don’t know how this thing only got one season, but it is excellent.

Gary and His Demons focuses on a demon hunter who is the Chosen One, and he dropped out of high school to do a 15-year stint with the Demon Ministry. Since they haven’t been about to find his replacement, he’s now a 45 year old man, in his 2nd stint, and he’s been talked into doing one more. He hates his life, as his one true love was killed 20 years ago by a demon, and he’s just tired of the life. On paper, it wouldn’t be my type of show, but I ended up watching an episode after Harley, and I was hooked. Since the show is over, Comcast has them all On Demand, and I’ll finish it up after I put the finishing touches on this post. It’s got QUITE the Rick and Morty meets South Park vibe, without being up its own ass as much as R&M has been lately. Seriously, that show has gotten TOO meta for me the past few weeks. Anyway, I’m hoping it sticks the landing, as I’ve loved everything I’ve seen so far. Plus, like a true Adult Swim clone, the episodes are only about 11 minutes long, so it’s a quick watch.

Trailer Park

The Old Guard

This is apparently “based on the acclaimed graphic novel”, but I’ve never read it. Heard of it, but never read  it. Looks pretty good, although it feels like Charlize is carrying this thing on her shoulders. Still, it’s on Netflix, which means I already pay for it and won’t have to go anywhere. Sold!


The Last Days of American Crime

If you can believe it, I’ve been waiting over ten years for this movie. You see, when I was working at Diamond, a new publisher came on the scene, called Radical Studios. Radical was basically an IP farm that used comics as testing ground for movie ideas. Their comics were pretty much illustrated screenplays. That was done quite a bit at the time (Remember Cowboys vs. Aliens?). Anyway, one of the miniseries they published was The Last Days of American Crime, which I really enjoyed.

If you couldn’t tell from the trailer, it’s about the near future, when the government emits a signal that prevents anyone from committing crime. So, this guy decides to go on one last heist before the signal goes out. Funny thing is I don’t really remember many of the details right now, other than the fact I thought it was good. So, watching this trailer, I can’t tell you if it’s faithful to the book or not. Apparently Sharlto Copley is in this thing somewhere, but I didn’t see him. Other than that, I don’t know anyone else in this film. Also, considering Radical was also behind the Dwayne Johnson Hercules, well, I’m not exactly holding my breath for quality. But, like with The Old Guard, I can watch it at home in my underwear, so that’s good enough for me.


Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

This is less of a trailer, and more of a truncated music video. Still, it combines my love of the Eurovision Song Contest and Will Ferrell, so it’s a no-brainer. In case you’ve not familiar, the Eurovision Song Contest is like the Olympics of music on the European stage. Started in 1951, it’s an annual event (except for this year, of course), but the US can’t compete in it ’cause we just had to break away from England.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • This week saw the 20th anniversary of the release of the second album from Britney Spears, Oops!…I Did It Again
  • CBS All Access announced they were developing Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, a spinoff of Discovery, focusing on the original crew of the Enterprise.
  • It was revealed that the next season of Power Rangers would adapt Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger, and would be known as Power Rangers Dino Fury. Personally, I feel like it’s too soon for a return to dinosaurs, but whatever. I’ll still watch it.
  • Many viewers thought they were witnessing Ryan Seacrest having a stroke on Sunday night’s American Idol. Apparently, he started slurring his words and his left eye was trying to close. His people claim it was just “exhaustion”, but he didn’t show up to work at Live with Kelly and Ryan the next morning.
  • FX has renewed two of my favorite new shows for a second season: Dave and Breeders
  • In a surprising move, The CW’s Batwoman and star Ruby Rose have parted ways after just one season. While it was initially posed as Rose’s decision, word on the street was that it was a “mutual parting of ways”, as she was unhappy on the show, which resulted in a difficult set.

So I made a vow to myself that I wasn’t going to discuss this on social media and, for the most part, I’ve kept that vow. Remember, I’m trying to be more positive, and I didn’t really have good thoughts about it. Still, it’s a pretty big deal this week, so I guess we’ve got to dive into it.

Justice League was released three years ago, in the fall of 2017, to great expectations. As it was inevitably going to be compared to what the MCU had done up to that point, it had a lot going against it. Directed by Zack Snyder, who’d already helmed Man of Steel, as well as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the movie was actually completed by Joss Whedon after the sudden death of Snyder’s daughter. The result was a passable, yet mediocre, movie that should have been so much more.

After its release, Snyder fans swore that there existed a “Snyder Cut” of the film that was a masterpiece, and that Warner Bros was conspiring to ensure that it never saw the light of day. Snyder, himself, fueled the fire by saying that he filmed 4 hours worth of movie, so there’s bound to be a lot missing that could have strengthened the film – as well as some stuff that could have definitely been cut, like that Russian family. Seriously, what was that all about? Anyway, a #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement started to grow. And this wasn’t exactly peaceful demonstration. The Snyder Cut fans were some of the most obnoxious, overbearing fanatics on social media. You mention a comic movie, and they’d jump into your mentions to tell you Guardians of the Galaxy was garbage, but somehow Batman v Superman was this jewel of a film. And before you say “Not ALL of us”, let it be known that *enough* of you fit that description. I mean, the DCEU fan is already in a special, yet unfortunate, situation because they feel like they’re constantly the underdog to what Marvel accomplished with the MCU. “Why can’t people see what Snyder was trying to say instead of fawning over these films made for children?!” I feel bad that they feel that way. Why can’t the two just coexist? No, this Marvel vs DC rivalry has been going on before there were even movies of the characters, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I just sort of hoped the discourse would be a bit more civil.

Anyway, one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood was that Snyder was hosting a watch party for Man of Steel, where he was going to reveal that his version of Justice League would finally be released. And, sure enough, it was announced – but there’s a twist. You see, there IS no Snyder Cut. At least, not yet. Doesn’t exist. But it will. Warner Bros, needing new content for HBO Max (seriously, they shelled out all that money for Friends, but didn’t invest in new shows?!), is going to pump $20 million into developing Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which doesn’t even have a true format yet. Will it be a 4-hour movie? Will they break it into “chapters”, as they’ve been batting around? Who knows? Won’t know til 2021, and I don’t know about you, but I kinda don’t look forward to anything more than a week out these days.

Here’s where I’m conflicted. You see, on the one hand, this feels like another case of toxic fandom getting its way. I was never really on board with the changes demanded on the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, because I felt it set a dangerous precedent. Like it or not, all of this stuff is “Art”. Now, while art can be interpreted by the public, it really shouldn’t be influenced or directed by the public. That’s when art becomes fanfic. We live in this culture where everyone has to have it their way, when life isn’t Burger King. I feel like we don’t teach that enough, but it’s probably because we also live in a time when you pretty much can get what you want, when you want it. Hell, Amazon will get it to you in 48 hours. Fo’ free! So there’s this unrealistic notion of ownership and privilege that just shouldn’t exist. If you like something, become a patron of it. If not, keep it moving, but don’t try to change it to fit your whims. Justice League came out, it was what it was, and WB spent the next couple of years cutting ties with it. A better version of the film doesn’t exist. It’s not like it was in the water tower, being guarded by Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. Plus, I know some people who LIKED the film for what it was. You don’t get do-overs in Hollywood, until they decide to remake your movie in 20 years. What other studio is gonna say, “Hold up, if you let us pump another $15 million into it, we can get you a better version of ________”? Instead of rebooting the Fantastic Four, what if Disney just did that on the Josh Trank movie? It was 2/3 of a decent film, so it’d work. But no, it doesn’t work like that.

In the middle, I kinda don’t care because I don’t know if it’ll be drastically different enough to matter. It would be nice if they explained a few things, and maybe actually showed Darkseid instead of leaving Steppenwolf as the Big Bad. It was a movie made by committee, so it might benefit from a singular voice, especially if WB is hands off in the process.

On the other side of it, this is something of a redemption story, and everybody loves those. They say you can’t change anyone’s mind on social media, but I’m here to say someone changed mine. Someone pointed this out to me: Snyder had to step down at probably the worst time in his life. He had a vision for this entire DCEU, and it all ended at that moment. So, from an artistic vision standpoint, this is something of a triumph. Like I was saying above, THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN. Studios don’t care about “art”, and they take their losses and move on to the next thing. So while I am afraid of the precedent this sets, I’m glad to see that Snyder will actually get to see his vision come to fruition. And who knows? Maybe they can actually salvage the DCEU through all this. I mean, Wonder Woman ’84 and SHAZAM 2 still take place in that universe. Who am I kidding, though? We’ll probably all be dead by then. See? I told you I don’t do “positive”.

In any case, for making dreams come true, Zack Snyder’s Justice League had the West Week Ever.

13th May2020

Ain’t No Lie: 20 Years of *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached

by Will

In these uncertain times, it’s sometimes hard to remember important milestones as the days just blend together. That’s why I completely forgot the 20th anniversary of one of the most important albums of my youth, *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached. Released on March 20th, 2000, this record-setting album sold 2.4 million copies in the US in one week – a record that would stand for 15 years, until Adele’s 25 was released. This was something of a crossover album for the group, as its R&B leanings showed that boybands didn’t have to adhere to such a bubblegum sound. Before we get into the album, though, let’s talk a bit about the group itself.

*NSYNC was formed in 1995 by boyband impresario Lou Pearlman, who’d already experienced success forming the Backstreet Boys. Pearlman was the first cousin of Art Garfunkel, which gave him a window to the music industry. As the story goes, the New Kids on the Block chartered a few flights via Pearlman’s Trans Continental Airlines, and Pearlman thought to himself “I could do that.” By the time the Backstreet Boys were formed, America was already over the New Kids, so Pearlman shipped them off to Europe, where they became a huge success. Seeing if lightning could strike twice, Pearlman decided to create another boyband, as he had pretty much gotten the process down to a science by that point. This second group would be comprised of Justin Timberlake, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, Jason Galasso, and JC Chasez – and the group would be called *NSYNC, created by the last letter of each of their first names. Jason quit early on, as he didn’t like the vocal direction of the group, so Justin’s vocal coach recommended Lance Bass as a replacement, and for the group name to still work, promotional materials said Lance’s nickname was “Lansten”.

Originally, *NSYNC was basically the Pepsi to Backstreet Boys’ Coke. They shared the same manager (Johnny Wright, former manager of NKOTB), songwriters, and producers. They also shared the same shady business structure. You see, in both cases, Pearlman assumed a membership stake in the group, so all proceeds were split six ways, with him as the “sixth member” – this was on top of every other way he was swindling them (This would actually become a common Pearlman tactic. One of the best episodes of the original Making The Band is when Pearlman’s latest group, O-Town, is about to sign their record contracts on the very day news broke about *NSYNC’s lawsuit. Like, they’re watching the news break, with pens in their hands). The Backstreet Boys were the first to realize his sixth member status, and filed a lawsuit while recording their Millennium album. *NSYNC, meanwhile, found out about it while recording their second album in 1999, and the resulting lawsuit delayed its release. Once they settled for an undisclosed amount, the album was named No Strings Attached to signify that they were no longer the victims of their corporate puppeteers. They severed their ties to RCA, and quickly signed with Jive Records, who slated the release of that album for March 20th, 2000.

With a new lease on life, *NSYNC wanted to make sure they sounded different from everyone else on the scene. They were content to work with the same producers as their “rivals”, but they didn’t want to sound the same as them. So, in addition to pop hitmakers Max Martin and Kristian Lundin, they also brought in Teddy Riley for his R&B pedigree and 80s balladeer Richard Marx. For the US market, this all resulted in the 12-track No Strings Attached.

Now, what effect did this album have on me? Well, let’s take a step back, as I wasn’t always a boyband fanatic. I grew up listening to country until about the age of 12. And then it was Ace of Base that really brought me into the world of pop. This means I missed the entire New Kids on the Block movement. I mean, it wasn’t “cool” for boys to be into that stuff anyway, but I’ve since gone back and don’t really think NKOTB were great vocally (Sorry, not sorry). I can see the appeal of harmony and dance moves – Hell, those qualities launched Motown – but I find very little to like about classic NKOTB. So that means I wasn’t exactly a guaranteed audience when Backstreet Boys hit the scene. While they didn’t get a ton of regular airplay, they did get played on Radio AAHS, which was this kids radio station I could sometimes get if the weather was nice and the antenna was pointed the right way. I remember their debut single was NOT “Quit Playin’ Games”, but was actually “We’ve Got It Goin’ On”. When that single failed to land, Pearlman shipped them off to Germany, they became huge, came back to America with “Quit Playin’ Games”, and the rest is history. I didn’t immediately glom onto them, though. They didn’t pique my curiosity until “As Long As You Love Me”, and by the time “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” hit, I was in it just like everyone else.

Since Lou learned from his BSB launch mistakes, he launched *NSYNC in Germany instead of trying them out here first. So, their debut US single was “I Want You Back”, which came out around the time of “Backstreet’s Back”. They’re similar songs, due to the fact they’re both written by Denniz Pop and Max Martin, and I was a fan of both. However, I didn’t sign my soul over to *NSYNC fandom until “Tearin’ Up My Heart” came out. I don’t know what it was about that song, but I kept it on repeat for about 2 years. My mother can attest to this. I DEVOURED their self-titled debut album, from “Thinking of You (I Drive Myself Crazy)” to their cover of the Christopher Cross hit “Sailing”.

If you don’t remember the Pop Renaissance of the late 90s/early 00s, then you probably don’t remember that it was constantly building. You were on the edge of your seat to see who would do what next. BSB hit the scene, then there was NSYNC, then we got Britney, then we got Christina. BSB set the one-week bestselling record with Millennium selling 1.1 million copies. It would go on to sell 9.4 million copies, making it the bestselling album of 1999. Then, all eyes were on *NSYNC, and they delivered when No Strings Attached sold 2.4 million in one week. It would become the bestselling album of 2000. When the ball was back in BSB’s court, following their own legal battles, they released Black & Blue, which sold a respectable, but not record-breaking, 1.6 million copies in its first week. It was at this point that folks started to realize the bubblegum era of pop was coming to a close, meaning that the release of No Strings Attached was pop at its peak.

As I was caught up in the anticipation, I’ll admit that I was more hyped about everything going on than the actual album that was delivered. The thing to remember is that you pretty much knew what you were gonna get from Max Martin around this era. They were all chart toppers, but it got to the point where he was using the same synth progressions, and the lyrics were interchangeable. Half of these albums were filler garbage – usually any songs not written by Martin and the rest of the Cheiron Studios crew. Backstreet Boys had actually made the first foray into R&B tinged pop when they released “Larger Than Life”, a song I dislike for a myriad of reasons. So, when No Strings Attached came out, I wasn’t exactly surprised to find that it was just an album of “Larger Than Life”. After all, everything we were getting was just building on what had come before it. So, at the end of the day, I only really enjoyed 6 of the US edition’s 12 tracks.

For an album as big as it was, it’s somewhat surprising that No Strings Attached only generated 3 official singles in the US: “Bye Bye Bye”, “It’s Gonna Be Me”, and “This I Promise You”. This is one less than their self-titled debut album, but it should also be noted that they toured and performed those debut album songs for 3 years before releasing No Strings Attached. Meanwhile, the group would release their 3rd and final album, Celebrity, just a year later in 2001. So, for as successful as it was, its shelf life was somewhat truncated by the release of an album I like even less than this one. As most of y’all were around in 2000, I won’t waste time explaining the cultural significance of those three singles. I mean, “Bye Bye Bye” was EVERYWHERE, and meme culture has immortalized “It’s Gonna Be Me”. Meanwhile, “This I Promise You” is the best song by Richard Marx that you didn’t know what written by Richard Marx.

As with most pop releases of the time, however, I gravitated to the UK Edition of the album. No, I didn’t have some sort of European CD hookup, but seeing as how these were the halcyon days of file sharing, it was pretty easy to track down. You see, the European market always gets the songs that they don’t think will make it in the US, and that just happens to be the sound that I LOVE. Two of my favorite songs made the UK edition: “I’ll Never Stop” and “If I’m Not The One”.

“I’ll Never Stop” was actually released as the second single from the album in the UK, and it was accompanied by a simple tour video. I hate tour videos because they’re cheap, and don’t really show much more than “Here’s a bunch of crowded shows, and fans going crazy over us”. No, I prefer the artistry of a real video, even if it’s just the band made up like marionettes, escaping from a toy store. Remember how I said Martin’s songs pretty much ran together at this point? This is just “Tearin’ Up My Heart: Part II”, but I ain’t mad at it.

Meanwhile, “If I’m Not The One” would eventually be released in the US at McDonald’s, of all places. It was included on the Your #1 Requests…And More! CD sampler, which had 4 *NSYNC songs and 4 Britney Spears songs. Backstreet Boys would later have a similar promotion at Burger King, so this was merely a custom of the time. Written by Swedes Fredrik Thomander and Anders Wikstrom, it’s clear they were students of Martin, as they delivered that Euro pop sound I’d come to love.

The inclusion of these songs on the US version would have made it an overall more enjoyable experience for me, but I can understand that they represent a sound that the group was trying to move away from in this market.
*NSYNC would delve even deeper into R&B with their next album, Celebrity, of which I’m not really a fan. If CDs were comic books, Celebrity would be the #0 issue to Justin Timberlake’s solo debut, Justified. He’s front and center on Celebrity, and it really doesn’t feel like a group effort. That would be the last time that all 5 members recorded together.

It’s hard to believe that 20 years since *NSYNC told us “Bye Bye Bye” which, come to think of it, probably would been a bomb ass final song from them. Imagine going out on that note! Anyway, it was a farewell to their label and the old way of doing things more so than them telling the audience they were leaving. Still, it was the era of TRL, low-rise jeans, and doing it all for the nookie. I was a freshman in college, and those were the days when anything was possible. Back then, the sky was the limit. Now, however, the limit is the sky. I may not love the entire tracklist, but it’s an album that always takes me to my happy place – a place of possibility, filled with smooth harmonies and a bumping baseline. Plus, I even managed to get my a cappella group to let me solo on both “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “This I Promise You”. So, let’s raise a glass to Justin, Chris, Joey, “Lansten”, and JC for giving us this pinnacle of the 90s/00s Pop Era. Sure, since then we’ve had One Direction, BTS, and more, but with the current state of the music industry, it’s hard to believe there’ll ever be another album this big.

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