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.

24th Apr2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 4/24/20

by Will

Not a whole lot to talk about in the world of pop culture these days, is there? I mean, besides moved movie premiere dates, and truncated TV seasons, the uncertainty around everything makes it hard to really plan for the future. Sadly, it feels like we’re in an era of endings more than beginnings right now. For a lot of the things that bring us enjoyment, we’ve either found ourselves saying “See you later, some day” or even “Goodbye forever”. Some of it is related to everything going on, while some of it was just coincidentally timed. Regardless of the reason, though, it’s a difficult time to lose something that brought you enjoyment. No, I’m not talking about the Will & Grace 2.0 finale (You only get ONE series finale, guys!). I’m here to talk about the finale of the Nerd Lunch podcast.

If you’ve been coming to the site for a while, you’re already quite familiar with the show. Hosted by Carlin Trammel, Paxton Holley, and “Jeeg”, Nerd Lunch was a weekly exploration of the world of geek pop culture. Whether it was an episode where the gang came up with restaurant menu items based on popular films, or a thorough analysis of the most recent Star Wars offering, you always knew they’d cover it with enthusiasm and respect. When recommending it to friends, I often referred to it as “kind of like a geeky NPR”, as it was always so engaging and informative. I know some folks have an aversion to things like NPR,  but I like how civil it is, with folks being given an equal chance to speak, without being talked over. That’s just the kind of experience you got when listening to, and guesting on, Nerd Lunch.

Speaking of guesting, Nerd Lunch is the show that’s had me on the most times as a guest. As you can see, I love rambling about pop culture, so it was nice to have the chance to have real discussions, instead of just the one-sided thing that I do here. Starting all the way back in 2012 on episode #52, where we discussed DC Comics’ strategic plan for their films, I was a guest on Nerd Lunch proper, or one of it’s various spinoffs, over 10 times. As podcasts came and went, they persevered for NINE years, and eventually became my go-to spot for guesting. We discussed TV series finales, created a Nerd Lunch University, and created toy lines. On their spinoff shows, I taught them about the myriad world of Power Rangers in their Down The Rabbit Hole show, and I was introduced to the world of the Rambo films in their 4th Chair Army Invasion show.

My favorite memory of guesting was probably that Power Rangers episode Rabbit Hole, as I was both impressed and ashamed of all of the knowledge that I imparted to a panel that probably didn’t care, yet was still respectful LOL. If you never listened to a Rabbit Hole episode, it went like this: you’d fire up Wikipedia (or a specialized genre wiki), and you’d link hop after a short amount of time, with the goal of trying to get from one point to a specific final point. It was almost like a timed Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, where it’s more about the journey than the destination. I knew I had a group with me that knew almost nothing about the franchise, and they probably couldn’t have cared less prior to recording, but I dangled just enough items to elicit a few “WTF?” moments, that I think they actually kinda got into it. I was spreading the Gospel of Zordon!

In any case, I know that my Tuesdays won’t be the same after this week, when they dropped their final episode. As with all good things, Nerd Lunch came to an end, which is such a weird feeling for me, as they’ve been a regular part of my life since 2011 – longer than my marriage, older than my kids, and a couple of jobs ago. Through all of that, I knew it was Tuesday because it was Nerd Lunch Day. I’m going to miss them, but probably nowhere near as much as they’re going to miss the show. They put their blood, sweat, tears, and dilithium into that show, week in and week out.  There was a clique of us that were sort of brought together, either through the League of Extraordinary Bloggers, or as members of the 4th Chair Army (what they call the guests of the show), and it sort of feels like that era is coming to an end. Sure, we’ll all stay in contact, but it just won’t be the same. In any case, I’d just like to thank CT, Pax, and Jeeg for having me on so much over the years, as well as for the conversation and the friendship. By extension, I also want to thank Michael May for wrangling the 4th Chair Army into its own show, and thank Corey Chapman for having me on his The Chap Report podcast, which also aired on the Nerd Lunch feed.

I always knew this day had to come, but I had hoped it would be much further down the road than it is. In any case, the Nerd Lunch Podcast has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my time on social media, and a part of me goes with it (I guess I’m a semi-retired podcast cast now!). Anyway, they did well, and they deserve a break. If you’ve never given them a chance, there are nearly 600 hours of programming just waiting for you! With this week’s final episode, they went out on top with a great series finale (a hard thing to achieve), and that’s why the Nerd Lunch podcast had the West Week Ever.

03rd Apr2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 4/3/20

by Will

I tried. I really did. I wanted to give you entertainment without mention of COVID-19, but at this point we’re in the New Normal, and it’s kinda hard to ignore it. So much for all that quarantine productivity I’d been looking forward to! In the two weeks since I was last at work, I’ve read nothing besides blogs and Twitter, and the only movie I’ve watched is Moana. It was good. That’s honestly all I have to say about that movie.

Meanwhile, everything in pop culture has been either cancelled or postponed. Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been moved to next March, the Black Widow film has been postponed indefinitely, and the fabled San Diego Comic-Con is still hoping it can take place in July (I don’t see it happening). The TV season has been cut short, before many shows filmed their season and, in some cases, series finales. Right now, America Ferrera’s departure from Superstore will no longer happen this season, it’s unclear how the Supernatural series finale will be handled, and Fox is using Empire‘s 18th episode as its premature series finale, as the true finale will not be filmed.

Still, it’s not all gloom and doom, as networks and studios are finding ways to keep going. Several current movies have been prematurely released to be purchased on digital, such as Bloodshot, The Hunt, and The Invisible Man, so that they can find an audience among the captive homebound viewership. Shows that have episodes in the can are splitting up them up so they’ll last longer. Soap operas are airing “flashback” episodes, while other networks are coming up with things on the fly, such as Fox’s iHeart Living Room Concert for America, which gave us this gem:

Yup, the Backstreet Boys performing their hit “I Want It That Way” from 5 different locations. I wish I could’ve posted the whole thing, but it appears Fox has been snatching all the links since the special is going to have an encore broadcast next Monday. By the way, I found out my wife’s favorite Backstreet Boy is Kevin. Friggin’ Kevin?! The one who looks like Jesus got a haircut and Botox? Man, who did I marry?!

Anyway, the stay at home orders in 90% of the country haven’t been great for some industries. While Target and Walmart are considered “essential”, restaurants and smaller businesses are having to subsist on carry out and delivery options to keep the money rolling in. Another industry that’s been heavily affected is the comic book industry. Diamond Comic Distributors, which is North America’s largest comic book distributor, announced two weeks ago that last week’s new shipment of comics would be the last for the foreseeable future. Once the Coronavirus curve has been flattened, they’ll resume distribution, right? Well, that’s what we thought until Monday, when it was reported that the company wouldn’t be able to pay its vendors this week, due to lack of stable cash flow.

A lot of folks have taken this news to either predict the worst for the industry, or start writing Diamond’s obituary. If you’re new here, I was a brand manager at Diamond for about 2 years, so I’m something of a Diamond apologist. I have an understanding of the distribution model that most folks don’t have, instead listening to their local comic shop owner bitch and moan about how Diamond “screwed” them again. Since Diamond has exclusive contracts to distribute comics from the biggest publishers (Marvel, DC, Image) to comic and specialty shops, people have taken to calling Diamond a “monopoly”. The company has beaten this accusation in court due to some tricky interpretation of language, but at the end of the day, Diamond is kind of the only game in town. If you want your book widely distributed throughout the country, then you’re going to have to go through them. So, imagine folks’ fears when the only road to Oz is under construction?

Tuesday night, there were rumblings of “HUGE NEWS” that would be a positive change for the comic industry. Sadly, it was expected to be revealed on Wednesday – April Fools Day – so a lot of people weren’t going to take it too seriously. When the news finally hit, it might as well have been a joke, because it just made me laugh. Let’s see if I can break this down to its key components. Like with BOOK books, you can buy print or digital comics. Comic shops kinda hate digital, though, because it takes away foot traffic from their stores. In a perfect world, a digital book would be something like $1.99 compared to the $3.99 that printed comics cost, as there are fewer costs involved to production. Unfortunately, digital comics cost the same as print because brick & mortar retailers would shit a brick if they felt they were being undercut by the digital side. Nowadays, when you buy a Marvel or DC comic, it usually comes with a digital code – kinda like when you buy a Blu Ray. That way, the retailer gets his money, and you still get the comic in 2 formats. Well, this point of sale product called Comic Hub was the “big news”, where customers would essentially pre-buy their comics, benefiting the retailer, but would be able to read the books digitally instantly and then receive a print copy once distribution resumes. The pro is that it helps the retailer’s current lack of cash flow, while also gets new product into the marketplace. The con is that something like this ain’t really gonna work. Smarter people than me have chimed in about it, but at the end of the day, it’s an ambitious goal. TOO ambitious.

Here’s the thing I always say about Diamond: nobody can do what they do, nor does anybody want to. Like, retailers and consumers would love a replacement, but no company is actually stepping up to the plate. Having been on the inside, I can say that even Diamond doesn’t want to be the lone wolf in this game. For a little history lesson, this all goes back to the late 90s, when Marvel tried to handle their own distribution through a company called Heroes World. It was a colossal failure, leading into the Marvel Bankruptcy Era, and Diamond kinda swooped in to sign the big guys to exclusive contracts to make sure the industry kept going.

It’s kinda like wrestling. There used to be a lot of smaller wrestling promotions, just like there were smaller distributors. Vince McMahon came along and rounded up the smaller promotions under his WWWF umbrella (later the WWF, then WWE), and Steve Geppi did the same with comic distributors. The problem, however, is that Diamond is now so entrenched in the process that I don’t know if you could extract them if you wanted to do so. The hobby is a lot smaller than it was in the go go hologram cover 90s, and it has sort of collapsed around the load bearing wall that is Diamond. At this point, they’d probably welcome the competition – especially to take away some of the small press publishers that barely make them any money (small press publishers are NOT exclusive to Diamond, but their best shot at mainstream exposure is through Diamond’s Previews catalog).

People come along and say stuff like “To Hell with Diamond!”, but they really don’t understand that there’s nobody else vying for the crown right now. As the kids say, “You don’t want that smoke”. There’s no AEW, ROH, or even TNA to Geppi’s WWE. And it’s not like Geppi is really that hands-on with the company anyway, as it’s currently being run by some former Pepsi executive.

Comics are a weird business, as it’s the only one I can think of where the consumer is trained to hate the distributor. You don’t know who distributes the eggs to your local Wegman’s. You probably didn’t realize that Lash Tamaron distributed your toys to Toys “R” Us back in the day. But with comics, the first time you stepped in a comic shop, you most likely heard an employee bitching about Diamond to anyone who’d listen. And I’m not saying that Diamond is perfect, because it has a LOT of problems. But most of the problems that the consumer knows about are actually *retailer* problems or *publisher* problems, but not distributor problems. The same retailers bitching about how it’s insane for a distributor to have pretty much exhausted its cash flow after a 10-day shutdown are the same ones who should be wondering how they exhausted their own cash flow in the same amount of time. There are VERY thin margins in comics, from the distributor on down. I know we’re talking about some people’s livelihoods here, but it really is going to be a case of “Survival of the fittest”. The cutting edge shops are innovating, through things like Third Eye Comics’ Battle Bonds program, where you can buy a gift card that accrues valuable perks over time, while also giving you access to future VIP events. It’s going to take “outside the box” thinking to weather this storm, but Comic Hub ain’t it, champ.

When last we met, I mentioned a secret project I’d been involved with, and it’s been released to the public: I was a guest on episode 7 of Wizards: The Podcast Guide to Comics! Adam and Michael are basically doing a deep dive of each issue of Wizard: The Guide to Comics from the very beginning. Wizard was a huge part of my teenage years, and was the bible of my comic collecting heyday. It was a blast taking a trip back to 1992, which was such an exciting time for comics. The Image guys were about to strike out on their own, and there was a new X-Men comic on the scene. Anyway, those guys are doing a great job reigniting my love of the hobby, so if you, too, were buying comics in the 90s, then you should definitely be listening to this show!

Speaking of podcasts, my good friend Kevin just launched a new wrestling podcast over on The Retro Network (which is also the home of the Wizards podcast). The House Show will take a look back at WWF’s In Your House pay-per-view promotions of the 90s. Originally launched as a way for the WWF to have premium pay-per-view events in between the tentpoles, like Wrestlemania and SummerSlam, In Your House was a staple of late 90s WWF programming. Funny story: I remember seeing ads for the promotion, and I thought they were actually going to be wrestling in people’s homes. So many questions ran through my head: How would they find homes big enough? How would they fit a ring in a house? Would there be an audience? Sadly, my interpretation wasn’t correct. It’s a shame, as I would have loved to see Tatanka wrestle I.R.S. in a McMansion. Anyway, be sure to check out the debut episode of this great podcast!

What a difference a week makes. Had I written a post last week, then Star Trek: Picard totally would have had the West Week Ever. I swore I wouldn’t buy into CBS All Access’s cash grab (and I feel even more foolish now that they’ve made the series free to view for the next few weeks), but I signed up for the service the week Picard debuted. And then I proceeded to not watch it. And I continued to not watch it. All the while CBS was gladly taking $5.99 out of my account every month. Well, with the season finale planned for last Thursday, and a premature announcement of a season 2, I decided there’s no time like the quarantined present to finally see what was what with ol’ Jean-Luc.

Like with most things in today’s fast-paced world, I heard a lot about the premiere, and then didn’t hear much else. Sure, I heard rumblings that it was a wildly uneven show, but nobody really seemed to know how they felt about it. They were torn, as they were glad to see Picard again, but they weren’t sure if this felt like Star Trek. I, too, would echo those sentiments. On paper, Picard was everything I’d been wanting since the end of Voyager: a show that focuses on the present-day, post-Dominion War status of Starfleet. We’d had SO many prequels, between Enterprise, Discovery, and the Kelvin Universe, and I just wanted to know what Starfleet looked like NOW. And here it was, and I, too, wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

For one thing, the state of humanity didn’t really match up to what we’d been led to believe in The Next Generation. In that series, humanity was said to have moved past material things and money, and everyone was kind of stiff and, for lack of a better word, sterile. Meanwhile, Picard‘s timeline is dirty, and money is very much a thing. Were it not for the fact that the star is a 94 year old Picard, I’d almost think it was another prequel. The Earth-based stuff doesn’t feel that futuristic, and I almost felt like I was watching Gene Roddenberry’s redheaded stepchild, Earth: Final Conflict.

Also, I know they do this in Discovery (which I have yet to watch), but I still can’t get over swearing in Star Trek. I mean, I guess it makes it more “realistic”, but I’m just so used to how the most shocking thing about The Next Generation was how they got away with so much underboob in that one episode. You know the one. While I’m sure there were moments in “The Best of Both Worlds” where Riker would loved to have said “Fuck you, Locutus!”, you weren’t getting away with that in syndication. In Picard, though? They totally would’ve gone there.

The interesting thing is that the series is almost designed to serve as a resolution to Star Trek: Nemesis, which is a movie I barely remember, and did not enjoy. I had forgotten so much about that movie, especially the destruction of the Romulan homeworld. So, now that race is a bunch of refugees spread out across the galaxy. And Picard, through a series of events, is basically their fallen Moses. It’s an interesting take, and not necessarily how I imagined Picard’s final days in Starfleet would have looked.

I binged it over 3 nights, in preparation for last Thursday’s finale. I definitely feel it’s a show to be binged, as it would have seemed uneven in weekly installments. I don’t really want to discuss plot points, as it gives too much away. There are some great cameos, as well as some interesting callbacks to other Trek shows. At the end of the day, Picard creates a new crew out of a ragtag group of broken people who become something of a family. Meanwhile, it explores just what it means to be “human”. A friend pointed out that it’s a great bookend to the TNG episode “The Measure of a Man”, and that’s an apt description. I’d love to talk more about it once I feel more people have watched it, as I have a lot of questions about that finale. It ends with something that I don’t think Picard would’ve been cool with, but he just sort of brushes it off. As I said earlier, a second season has been formally announced, so hopefully it will tackle some of those questions that I have.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • NBC announced a Dick Wolf-produced Law & Order spinoff, starring Chris Meloni’s Elliot Stabler character from Special Victims Unit
  • HBO is making several of their hit series and documentaries free to view to ease the quarantine blues. Starting today, the content is available for a limited time to anyone who downloads the HBO Now or HBO Go apps
  • During Adult Swim’s April Fools programming, it was revealed that the second half of Rick and Morty‘s 4th season would premiere Sunday, May 3rd at 11:30 PM.
  • One door opens, while another door closes, as Netflix has cancelled the freshman series V Wars, Messiah, and The October Faction.
  • After 7 years and 180 episodes, Steven Universe came to an end last week. The series is currently available to watch in its entirety on the Cartoon Network app.
  • This great Vulture article spoke with the showrunners of some of your favorite shows to see how they would’ve handled an episode about the Coronavirus.

You probably saw this coming from a mile away, but it had to be done. You probably watched the documentary, but you’ve definitely seen the memes. This week, everyone was talking about the “Tiger King”, Joe Exotic.

The subject of the 7-part Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, Joseph Schreibvogel is a gay redneck zoo operator who goes by the name “Joe Exotic”. Specializing mainly in big cats, he ran the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. This, of course, garnered the attention of animal rights activists, who didn’t feel that Joe’s “zoo” was the right habitat for those kinds of animals. Joe’s biggest critic, however, was a woman named Carole Baskin, who ran the Big Cat Rescue in Florida. Baskin wasn’t without her own shadiness, as her rescue was basically being run by money she inherited from her wealthy second husband – who happens to have disappeared without a trace. So, to antagonize Baskin for coming after his livelihood, Joe started floating the notion that Baskin had killed her husband and fed him to the tigers at her animal rescue. And so began a years-long feud. It involves hired killers, a thruple, a Prince Albert, swingers, runs for political office, and amputation. It has it ALL! I don’t want to say anymore, because you really need to just watch it unfold in front of you, and I promise it doesn’t feel like 7 hours.

For anyone who has watched the documentary, I highly recommend you check out this thread on Twitter from Robert Moor. He had created a podcast about Joe long before the Netflix doc hit the scene, and he adds a bunch of additional context to the major players in the saga, as well as gives updates on a few of them.

It’s been a busy week for Joe Exotic. First, everyone seemed to watch the documentary over the weekend. Then TMZ uncovered footage of Joe being upset that he can’t use the “N-word”. And just last night it was reported that Joe had been placed in COVID-19 isolation, as he had been exposed to the virus via an inmate at another prison. Man, life comes at ya fast! In any case, it goes without saying that Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness had the West Week Ever.

13th Mar2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 3/13/20

by Will

I may have taken a break from blogging, but I did spend the past few weeks running my mouth on various podcasts. First up, my good friend @ShowNuffDaKing and I recorded a Toy Fair preview episode of his M.A.G. Nerd Podcast. We tried to predict what would be revealed by the big companies at the then-upcoming New York Toy Fair. Stay tuned, as we’re going to eventually record a follow up to see how many of our predictions came true!

Next, I joined Michael May and some other members of the Nerd Lunch 4th Chair Army to create an Expendables style spy movie. While I’ve never seen The Expendables (I know, I know…), I still know the general concept, so it was a lot of fun putting together a spy team, round robin style. I’m particularly proud of the spinoff that I named, but you’ll have to listen to the episode to find out what I’m talking about.

Finally, there’s a 3rd, secret project that I can’t talk about for a few weeks, but you’re gonna love it when it comes out.

Trailer Park

Black Widow
I will commend this thing for giving us a good 85% of new footage, when most trailers would just slightly expand on what we’ve already seen. They managed to do this without giving away any twists, so I’ll give them that. That said, I’m still not even remotely excited for this film. And if Disney refuses to move it, due to the fact that every big movie is being pushed back, the low box office take it’s gonna have is going to need an asterisk.

This week, I have been OBSESSED with the Netflix dating show Love Is Blind. My love for dating shows goes all the way back to the mid 90s boom, when we got things like Bzzz! and Change of Heart. That said, I really didn’t want to watch this show in the beginning. The premise was kinda janky, but Lindsay was into it and really wanted me to watch it. After watching the first episode, I was HOOKED!

Hosted by Nick & Vanessa Lachey, the concept of the show is to test the notion of whether love is truly blind. In order to do this, they took a bunch of guys and girls (I honestly don’t know how many they started out with) and put them in some kind of a luxurious bunker. The guys and girls would basically go on speed dates with each other every day, all day, but there was a catch: they couldn’t see each other, and the dates would take place with each party in a “pod”, where they could just communicate through an opaque screen. So, they’d have to judge one another by the sound of their voice, as well as the quality of their conversations.

A lot of interesting stuff happened in this process. First of all, there seemed to be only one Black guy, and his name was Carlton. We’ll talk more about him later. As for Black women, there were at least 3, but only 2 of them found matches they wanted to pursue. There were no Asians represented. The show was set in Atlanta, so I don’t know if that affected the casting process any.

Anyway, after 10 days, the expectation was that, if you met your match, you’d propose to them – sight unseen – with your wedding to follow in 4 weeks. That’s right: you were getting ENGAGED to be married FOREVER* to someone you’ve NEVER SEEN. Here’s where that whole concept gets a little janky. You see, nobody in the experiment was what you would call “unattractive”. Sure, they might not have been your preferred physical type, but they certainly weren’t uggos. This is the problem with modern day reality shows, in that they don’t represent “normal” people. Remember how The Real World used to actually have ugly people until the Vegas season? I miss that. There are enough shows about hot people dating, and if they really wanted to test their theory, then they should’ve set up the homecoming queen with some neckbeard.

After the initial 10 days, we were left with 6 pairs: Amber & Barnett, Giannina & Damian, Mark & Jessica, Carlton & Diamond, Kenny & Kelly, and Cameron & Lauren. After the proposals, they were allowed to see one another, and then whisked away to a group vacation in Mexico. This is supposed to be awkward, as they had all dated each other in the pods before settling on the one person with whom they felt they had the best connection. The idea, now, was to see if a physical connection could be built upon the prior connection that they had. We also got to learn a bit more about the couples during this time.

Once the week in Mexico was over, they were sent back to Atlanta, where each couple would have to live together in apartments provided by the show. This was to see if they could still manage in close quarters after the “honeymoon phase” was over. Basically, the show took a regular relationship and truncated it down to a MUCH shorter timeline. They met each other’s families, they talked about where they’d live after the wedding, and they got fitted for wedding dresses. At the end of the 4 weeks, they all showed up to the wedding, and during the vows, we found out if they were going to say, “I Do”, which would prove that the experiment worked, and that love was truly blind.
Let’s take a closer look at the couples, shall we?

Amber & Barnett: Amber is WILD woman who used to be a tank mechanic in the Army. You know this because every time her name was onscreen, it was accompanied by “Ex Tank Mechanic”. What this basically told me was that she was a stripper. Why do I say that? Well, everyone else listed their current job, but her most reputable thing she could put was that she used to work on tanks? Nah, her attitude, combined with her fake rack, confirmed to me that she was somewhere on the Hooters Girl/Stripper spectrum. In the reunion show, we found out she was a “cocktail waitress”, so I’m still gonna say I was right.

Meanwhile, Barnett is as close to a down home boy as you were gonna get on this show. An engineer, he was more frat boy than redneck, but he was a flirt who had all the women wrapped around his finger. He’d led Jessica to believe that he was going to pick her, but then, in a major heel turn, he chose Amber.

Amber & Barnett together are like a bad country song just waiting to happen. She would constantly remind him that he was stuck with her forever, and she’d joke about how she’d put a tracking device in his wedding ring. I’m kinda surprised we never saw her kirk out and throw something at his head during the show. She made it clear to every other girl that Barnett was hers, and that she was confident they were going to be together. Barnett, however, had his doubts as she started rattling off the list of debt she had, including student loans that she hadn’t made a payment on in years. Was this who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with? He wasn’t sure…

Giannina & Damian: Their relationship was SUCH an emotional rollercoaster, as Giannina was a fiery Latina who LIVED for drama. It’s like she thought she was in a telenovela. She admitted that she tended to self-sabotage, so she fucked up when things were going well. Her job is kinda vague, but it seems like she’s a social media influencer.
Damian, however, was kind of a bore. I mean, it was sometimes hard to distinguish between him and Kenny, because Atlanta just seems to be the hotbed of boring, bearded White guys. And neither was unattractive, but they just seemed to lack a real SPARK to them. But I digress. We don’t really know much of what Damian did, except that he might lose that job because he had taken more time off than he was allowed in order to do the show.

Giannina is beautiful, but she’s also kinda young, and still damaged from her parents’ divorce. She’d go from “I love you so much” to “Motherfucker, listen to me!” in the span of about 5 minutes. You could understand how it frustrated Damian that he never knew which Giannina he was going to get. Oh, and she told him he was bad in bed, so that didn’t really help things, either.

Mark & Jessica: Mark is a 24 year old fitness instructor, who’s actually Mexican but comes off really Italian. Like, he could’ve popped up on Jersey Shore as long lost cousin Vincenzo or something. He has a hard time meeting women because he’s short and women like tall guys. Almost immediately he falls for Jessica, a 34 year old regional manager (paging Michael Scott!) who never met a glass of wine that she didn’t like.

Mark pretty much locks in on Jessica early on, not really even giving the other girls much of a chance. He decides “This is MY woman.” This would be romantic if not for the fact that Jessica is also getting really close to Barnett in the pods, while still leading Mark on. In fact, she only accepts Mark’s proposal after Barnett basically tells her that he’s not sure he wants to marry her after all. So, Mark was basically Jessica’s consolation prize.

The entire process, she keeps Mark at a distance, while he just insists that they’re meant to be, and goes to the ends of the earth trying to make her happy. Plainly put, she’s not attracted to him. In this case, love was NOT blind. This is made even worse when she finally sees Barnett in Mexico, and he turns out to be exactly her type. So, at this point, she basically gets drunk at every social gathering, and tries to steal Barnett away from Amber, meanwhile Mark is across the room trying to convince everyone of how great things are going with him and Jessica. It’s really sad, and you go from pitying Mark to just being angry at him for being so oblivious to what’s going on RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM!

Jessica tries to use the age difference as a crutch. What would people say about their 10-year gap? Mark would just say things like “I’m a man, and I know what I want.” In the next breath, he’d say something like “You remind me of my mother, because you’re both strong women.” And this would cause a fight because drunken #Messica would launch into “I don’t want to be your mother, nor do I want to be compared to her, because that’s not a comparison I could win. I’ll never be your mother, nor do I want to be your mother, so just stop.” And this would be a fight that Mark would have to diffuse, not even realizing how he’d gotten here in the first place. I’d say, “Poor Mark”, but he really did it to himself.

Carlton & Diamond: Cue up the Ric Flair “Woo!” ‘cause it’s gonna be necessary here. Carlton is a flamboyant social media manager who seems to be ALL about Carlton. And did I mention he’s flamboyant? When I first saw him, I sort of wondered if he was on the wrong show. The lone Black guy of the finalists, he knew he was there for his African Queen, ‘cause he didn’t give any of those White girls the time of day. He found her in Diamond, who’s a professional basketball dancer. Before y’all start cheering on “Black Love”, let me just tell you the shit hit the fan in Mexico.

I’ve been coy about who makes it and who doesn’t, just in case you want to watch the show. I don’t care about spoiling this, though, as it really doesn’t affect the show that much. What we come to find out about Carlton is that, in the past, he has dated both men and women. He says he’s attracted to the inside and not the outside. Perfect candidate for the Love Is Blind experiment, right? WRONG. See, he doesn’t tell Diamond that he’s gender fluid while they’re in the pods. He doesn’t even tell her when they meet face to face for the engagement. No, he tells her in Mexico. He wants to get the weight off his chest, but he’s not exactly thrilled with Diamond’s reaction, which causes him to get hella defensive, where he calls her a bitch and starts talking about how bad her wig is. She throws her drink at him, walks away, and they both leave the resort alone. Womp womp.

Kenny & Kelly: These 2 are the ones you think have the best chance of making it, as they are both run-of-the-mill folks. Like I’d said before, Kenny is just a boring bearded White guy. I don’t mean that in a bad way, necessarily. It’s just that there is absolutely nothing exciting about him. He is a wonderful man, who you know is there for Kelly, but he lives his life at a 5.

Kelly, meanwhile, is working through some stuff. Currently a “health coach” (I swear, she better not be selling BeachBody!), she used to be overweight and has lost a bunch of it. She also has a history of dating the wrong men for her. Anyone who says “The FriendZone isn’t real” hasn’t met Kelly, as that’s where she has put anyone who wasn’t a bad boy with dark hair. And despite the amazing connection she’s found with Kenny, she won’t sleep with him. It’s not a moral thing, nor is she a virgin. She just “[doesn’t] want to ruin what we have created here.” Um, OK. Good luck with that, Kenny!

Lauren & Cameron: Here’s the couple that everyone’s rooting for, which is why I left them for the end. Lauren, a content creator, is a strong African American woman who’s all about Black Girl Magic. She is really involved in the struggle that Black folks go through in this country. So, it really throws her for a loop when she ends up engaged to Cameron, who’s, you guessed it, another bearded White guy.

Cameron’s not boring, though. Soft-spoken and unassuming, Cameron is a great guy who worships the ground that Lauren walks on. He’s also no stranger to interracial relationships, as he dated a Black woman for 5 years in the past. So, the onus is all on Lauren. Cameron is ready to jump that broom, but can she reconcile her love for her people with her love for a White man?

This show was ALL I could think about this week. Since Lindsay got me started, we had to watch it together, which wasn’t always easy. I never understood the concept of “binge cheating” until this week. Between episodes, I’d go to sleep, and dream about the couples, adding new drama to their stories. Once we finished the series, I couldn’t wait to see the reunion special, just to be able to catch up with them now and see how the experience had affected them (filming of the series took place over a year ago). I don’t think I’ve been this affected by a series binge since Breaking Bad, and that is why Love Is Blind had the West Week Ever.

*Forever is only valid in the lower 48 states, no purchase necessary, void where prohibited.

06th Mar2020

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 3/6/20

by Will

Welcome to the first West Week Ever of 2020! Yeah, you read that correctly. I’m gonna level with ya: I had one foot out the door. I was pretty much done, even though I didn’t necessarily want to be. It’s just that the world is a dumpster fire, and there wasn’t much happening in pop culture other than folks arguing about Star Wars headcanon or fighting over which old man director was gonna trash talk the MCU next. I didn’t feel like writing about any of that, and the whole enterprise was starting to feel like a chore.

Plus, I kinda fell off the pop culture wagon for a bit, and I’m not caught up on all the Mandalorians and Picards you kids are raving about. So, I sat on the bench. You still got West Year Ever, and I’ve cranked out a post here or there, but for all intents and purposes, West Week Ever was done. The problem with that, however, is that I don’t know how to quit anything. So, here I am. I’m not gonna make any promises. I could disappear quicker than your dad did that time when he went to get cigarettes (too soon?). I’m gonna try to give you something weekly, but only if I feel like it. Only if it’s fun. So, let’s try to capture some fun again.

The Dixie Chicks are back, with “Gaslighter” – their first new song in over a decade. I like seeing that they’ve still got that “Not Ready To Make Nice” fire in them. I’d call this a strong Feminist anthem, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to do that as a man. That said, the visuals of this video are really strong, driving home the message they’re trying to convey. I love this song, and I love them. I just hope they get some kind of airplay because I don’t think country radio is quite ready to make nice with them yet, even though it’s been almost 20 years.

Trailer Park

SCOOB!

This looks cute, even though I’ve never really been a Scooby fan. I won’t see it in the theater, but it’ll totally end up on Cartoon Network within 16 months of its release and I’ll just watch it then.

Connected

OK, I was already on board when it was just the story of a dad trying to reconnect with his daughter. Then there’s the twist around 1:45 where I was SO in. This looks great, and I plan to actually go see this in the theater. I didn’t know this was in development or anything until the trailer dropped this week, and it just seems so refreshing to have an original idea that looks great. This is when someone tells me it’s based on some YA novel or something :-p
Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • We got our first look at the Batmobile from the upcoming Matt Reeves film. It’s different. I like it. I know folks get all passionate about these things, but if it’s a Batman movie, I’m gonna see it, so just bring it on already.
  • The first Hollywood casualty of the Coronavirus that’s sweeping the world is the upcoming James Bond film, No Time to Die. Due to concerns about the virus (and the desire for that Chinese box office), the film’s release has been moved to November.
  • Speaking of Coronavirus, a lot of musical acts have postponed the Asian leg of their tours. One of these artists is Avril Lavigne. There are reports that Asian children are writing letters to the virus, thanking it for sparing them from Lavigne’s music.
  • She may have kissed a girl, but she clearly banged a man, as Katy Perry announced that she’s pregnant with her first child.
  • America Ferrera is leaving Superstore, which doesn’t come as a surprise if you watched their SDCC panel last year. Felt like there was some tension there.
  • I know some of y’all enjoy my Thrift Justice feature, which made its return this week, with me showcasing some board games I’ve picked up.

I don’t know if y’all realize this, but FX is cranking out some pretty good stuff over on basic cable. I mean, I’ve been a fan of their original programming since Nip/Tuck, but it was You’re The Worst that really showed me what you could get away with over there. And, of course, there’s It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The same way film snobs love anything by A24, I’ve pretty much decided to give most FX shows a shot when they debut. I was scared that the quality might change after the Fox studios were sold to Disney, but boy was I wrong! This week saw the debut of 2 great, new shows on sister network FXX.

First up there’s Martin Freeman’s Breeders, which spoke to me in a way I didn’t really expect. It’s about an early 40s couple, struggling with the challenges of raising their two young kids, as well as being in a position where they now have to care for their elderly parents. Freeman’s character is 45, but I could relate to all of that at 38. The whole notion of “Remember when we had lives and dreams?” Yeah, I felt that. But this isn’t supposed to be a downer, and I’m supposed to be selling this to you! Since it’s a joint UK production, Freeman is the only actor I recognize, but it’s got a strong cast, and there’s great chemistry between him and Daisy Haggard, who plays his wife.

The show debuted Monday night with two episodes. If you’re going to give it a shot, I’ll say that the second episode is stronger than the pilot. It’s got an excellent cringe moment, where you think “These might not be great people”, conveyed in a way that only an FX show could do. I don’t follow many shows these days, as my TV is pretty much always on Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, but Breeders is now destination television for me.

Next up, there’s Dave, starring rapper Lil Dicky. I’ve got to admit that I’d never heard of Dave Burd/Lil Dicky prior to the show, but I guess he’s an internet rapper? Anyway, this show feels like FX stumbled upon a particular formula and tried to replicate it here. It’s a show about an awkwardly named rapper trying to make it big. They should’ve just called it Whitelanta and called it a day. Burd is an interesting character, as he’s basically a neurotic Jewish guy who just happens to have an amazing freestyle. For a show about a rapper, though, there’s not a lot of rap. It definitely follows the “Less is more” philosophy, so that when he finally does rap, it really hits you hard. You’re like, “Shit! This dude is talented!” Imagine a young Jewish rapper who finds himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm style situations, and you’ve got Dave.

In the pilot, Dave wires $10,000 to a stranger because a random guy he met at a recording studio put a random number in his phone for a producer who’ll get rapper YG to guest on his track, “Girth” (there’s a LOT of penile stuff in the show). Anyone with street smarts would question this, but nebbish Dave goes right along with it, and withdraws his Bar Mitzvah money to do it. In the second episode, Dave’s first public performance is slated for the memorial service of a kid who loved both him and Macklemore. Yup, Macklemore, which will come into play in a big way.

It’s an usual show, and it has its cringe moments. Still, those are what FX shows do so well, and Dave is actually an endearing character. You wonder if he might even be on the spectrum, but you get where he’s coming from, and you feel sorry for his naivete. The rap game is gonna eat him alive, but it’s gonna be a riot watching it all go down.

So, between Breeders and Dave, FXX is my new favorite channel. That’s why FX Networks had the West Week Ever.

03rd Mar2020

Thrift Justice – I’m SO Board!

by Will

I’m not a board game guy. I didn’t grow up playing them, and the idea of a “game night” makes me want to tear my eyes out. That said, I know that there are plenty of folks out there who do love board games, and the right games can net you a pretty penny on the resale market. Why do I dislike games? Well, I’m an only child, and there weren’t a ton of kids in the neighborhood when I was growing up. I used to play The Game of the States with my grandmother, but I never played any of the “staples”, like Monopoly, Candy Land, or The Game of Life. In fact, I’ve still never played a game of Monopoly outside of the annual McDonald’s sweepstakes. I didn’t learn Candy Land until about a year ago, because my daughter was playing it.

Board games are a blessing and a curse when it comes to thrifting. If you find the right game, and it’s still sealed (score!), you could make a good deal of money. For example, I made about $100 a few years ago when I sold a vintage copy of Ghettopoly. It’s hard to find because it’s offensive as Hell, so it wasn’t on the market long. Meanwhile, some opened games can also net you some good money, but you’ve got to count the pieces to make sure they’re all present. That step right there is why I hate board games. You’d be surprised how many board game instructions don’t expressly list the count of all the pieces. Do you know how much time I’ve spent online trying to find the total of each denomination of Monopoly money that should be in every game?!

Check these groovy contents!

Anyway, despite my disdain for board games, every now and then one will catch my eye, and I just have to take it home. Today we’ll look at a few games that fell into that category.

I don’t know anything about The Magnificent Race, but the box art had a weird, Beatles cartoon-esque vibe to it. Supposedly, the players are chasing someone named “Dastardly Dan”, who seems like he’s a Great Value Dick Dastardly. Apparently it sells pretty well, too, but board games are such a chore to ship, as the shipping alone on a “standard” board game box is about $20. USPS even has a board game shipping box for these things, but I don’t know if there’s enough “meat on the bone” here to make it worth even trying to sell.

A lot of the games I pick up have a nostalgia bent, where they’re based on something I used to love, but I still don’t feel like seeking out 1-3 more people to play. So, they end up being collectibles more than things to actually play. Growing up, I LOVED The Beverly Hillbillies, so I jumped at this one when I found it at the thrift store. I still don’t know how to play it. A quick glance at the rules says that players are trying to fit the Clampetts’ old belongings into their new mansion, but is that it? Am I looking for “black gold” or “Texas tea”? Am I trying to keep Mr. Drysdale from stealing my money? No clue, but I also don’t see myself getting rid of this any time soon.

Children of the ‘80s will remember M.A.S.K., aka Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, as the line of quick change vehicles that came with 2-inch, helmeted figures. Where else could you find a Camaro with gull wing doors that allowed it to fly?! So, of course all of this fun would translate well into a board game, right? Right? Wrong! You see, the beauty of the toys was the transforming nature of the vehicles, which is completely lost when translated into a 2-D board game. It’s the age-old battle between good and evil, but there’s no way this is as fun as playing with the actual toys. I grabbed this for 2 reasons: 1) I didn’t want anyone else to have it and 2) I was drawn in by the box art. I’ll never play it, and I may even release it back into the wild, but for that very moment, I had to have it.

Because I love all things Saban, I used to be a big fan of the Sweet Valley High TV series (and not just because the original Green Ranger made a few cameos. OK, that was the main reason). So, I snagged this board game based on the adventures of the Wakefield Twins. I’ll be honest here: I got this and Mall Madness simply to resell to that “disposable income” crowd. I’ve done an inventory of it, and everything is here. Since it’s based on the books, and not the show, it’s missing some of my favorite characters, like Andrea Savage’s “Renata”. The problem I found here, however is the box is LARGE. Shipping this thing would be a bitch, so I’m probably gonna throw this one back to the thrift store.

Speaking of Power Rangers, I got this game from my Secret Santa last Christmas. I’ve actually owned it a few times over the years, but never had anyone to play it with me. I’m drawn to the fact that it features King Sphinx who, according to early MMPR merchandising, was apparently an important character. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t! You’d think he was the Big Bad, or at least one of Rita’s henchmen, but he appeared once. Still, he’s got a great agent, as he’s all over the first year Power Rangers merch. I haven’t felt this let down since the Star Wars “Black Jedi” marketing of Finn! Damn it, I’m gonna make somebody play this with me!

Finally, we’ve got King Kong, where the famous gorilla scales the World Trade Center. Ehhhhhhhhh… Sure, when it was made, nobody ever thought that it would be the site of one of America’s greatest tragedies. They just knew the dude liked climbing tall buildings, and the WTC was two for the price of one! I’ve been sitting on this particular game for about 5 years, as I didn’t know what to do with it. The previously sold prices on eBay are all over the place, plus this box had a bunch of tape on it and I didn’t feel like ruining the box art trying to get it all off. So, I finally opened it up the other night, only to find that it’s basically incomplete. I mean, most of it’s there, but it is missing a player piece, so it can only be played by 3 people instead of 4. I guess I could part it out, but is there really a market for a cardboard cutout of the World Trade Center? I’ll probably end up throwing this one back.

There ya have it. I don’t wanna keep this too long, as I know nobody’s got an attention span anymore. In the comments, let me know some of your favorite board games. Am I missing out?

06th Feb2020

The Driver

by Will

The red Jaguar speeds up to the curb, narrowly missing my foot. I open the back door on the passenger side, to assist the student in getting out of the car.

“Good morning”, I utter.

I glance at the driver, who adjusts his leather gloves and merely grunts at me. The child scuttles out of the back seat.

“Have a good day!”

He doesn’t directly acknowledge me, but there’s enough of a pause to let me know that he heard me. He just chose not to reciprocate the sentiment.

I take my cue to close the door, and he speeds away from the curb, to whatever life he leads that’s more important than I can probably imagine. At least in his mind.

17th Jan2020

West YEAR Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 2019

by Will

I won’t say 2019 was a complete dumpster fire, but it certainly wasn’t very noteworthy. It was a year that many are glad to have behind them, and we’re looking forward to a better 2020. As you probably know, I took about 1/3 of the year off from posting because, well, there wasn’t a whole lot worth talking about. It was just such a Meh year. However, this is the time when we look back, so let’s see how the year shaped up, shall we?

I remember back in an early West Year Ever, I watched about 70 movies that year. This year I landed on unlucky number 13. Comic Book movies and Rambo films were the name of the game in 2019. The Rambo thing, however, was a fluke, as I did a Rambothon to prepare me for a podcast appearance.

Movies I Watched
1. Captain Marvel
2. SHAZAM!
3. Avengers: Endgame
4. Spider-Man: Far From Home
5. Barbershop: The Next Cut
6. First Blood
7. Rambo: First Blood Part II
8. Rambo III
9. Rambo
10. Rambo: Last Blood
11. White Chicks
12. The Grinch
13. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: I never wrote about this, because I feel like people should be more willing to say “I don’t know enough about this topic to have a strong opinion”. I mean, I enjoyed it in the theater, but it’s got fan service out the ass, and feels like it panders. Still, the lifelong fans seem to love it, so I guess “mission accomplished”? I will say that I’m disappointed in Finn’s character arc. Sure, I was one of the fools who initially fell for “Whoo hoo! Black Jedi!” Even when that didn’t come to pass, however, they never did anything with him. He’s such a blank slate that he’s come to be known by his relationships. That’s why everyone’s constantly trying to ship him with Poe Dameron. EVERYONE Finn encounters becomes a potential love interest. Rey, Poe, Rose, Jannah. He can’t meet someone without catching feelings. I don’t know if that’s because he was snatched as a child so he never had any real nurturing, or if it’s simply bad writing. But they didn’t do my man right.

Top Posts of 2019

While my West Week Ever posts are somewhat disposable, as they don’t mean much once the week has passed, every now and then I write something that I feel is sort of “evergreen” and can be read at any time. 2019 saw the return of my fan favorite segment Thrift Justice, with a heavy focus on physical media I acquired over the year. Then there was also a healthy dose of nostalgia. Check out these posts:

Thrift Justice: Operation Kondo
Thrift Justice: Let’s Get Physical! Physical! Media!
Thrift Justice: Physical Education
The Great Sitcom Fires of the 80s & 90s
Kickin’ It Old School at Retro Con 2019
West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – I Love The 80s REMIX!

Things You Might Have Missed This Year

  • We bid adieu to HarassmentWatch(TM), as #MeToo seemed to have calmed down.
  • All Elite Wresting debuted, finally giving WWE some competition
  • My pals at the Nerd Lunch Podcast announced that their show would be winding down
  • The latest incarnation of Power Rangers, Beast Morphers, debuted
  • The X-Men film franchised limped to the finish line with Dark Phoenix
  • Aunt Becky got caught cheating to get her daughter into USC
  • The Bat Penis made an appearance in Batman: Damned #1
  • The public outcry following the debut of the Sonic: The Hedgehog trailer caused Paramount to go back and change the character’s design.
  • Taco Bell Quarterly took the literary world by storm
  • Adam Levine left The Voice – ya know, that show that has never made a household name
  • We celebrated the 30th anniversary of 1989’s Batman
  • DC Comics shuttered the critically acclaimed Vertigo imprint
  • One of my favorite shows, The Amazing World of Gumball, came to a sudden end.
  • A bunch of y’all crowdfunded a $600 Transformer, so there’s that.
  • The X-Men comics got a major overhaul by writer Jonathan Hickman
  • Verizon, which paid an estimated $1.1 billion to acquire Tumblr, offloaded the site to WordPress’s parent company, Auttomatic, for a mere $20 million. At least the porn’s back.
  • Avengers: Endgame unseated Avatar to become the highest grossing movie in the world.
  • Sony opted not to renew their agreement to allow Spider-Man to be used in Marvel Studios films. And there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. And then they changed their mind.
  • Get ready for the purple pill, as a fourth Matrix film was announced
  • SNL made history by hiring an Asian guy, but they also hired a guy who liked to make fun of Asians. And hilarity ensued! Not really. They fired that second guy.
  • NBCUniversal announced their own streaming service, peacock, which will carry the NBC library, as well as revivals of older shows, like Punky Brewster and Saved by the Bell
  • Taylor Swift released my favorite album of the year, Lover
  • McDonald’s celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Happy Meal, with a strange 5-day promotion that featured shoddy reproductions of old toys.
  • John Legend was named People‘s Sexiest Man Alive, and even his wife, Chrissy Teigen, is like “Huh?”
  • Disney+ showed up on the scene and changed the streaming game. It’s a wonder Disney makes any money on it, though, as it seems like there are about 6 different cheat codes to get your first year for free.
  • I counted down the top 40 songs of 2019, as decided by moi.

West Week Ever Recipients of 2019
1/11/19 – Marie Kondo
2/15/19 – HardRockNick
3/1/19 – Star Wars: Always trailer
3/8/19 – Power Rangers Beast Morphers
3/15/19 – Captain Marvel
4/5/19 – SHAZAM!
5/3/19 – Avengers: Endgame
5/17/19 – Fox Network
5/24/19 – Live In Front of a Studio Audience
6/21/19 – Blanco Brown
7/19/19 – FaceApp
7/26/19 – Marvel Entertainment
8/16/19 – Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich
8/23/19 – Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich
9/20/19 – Taylor Swift: Lover
11/15/19 – Disney+
11/22/19 – Baby Yoda
12/6/19 – Xfinity’s E.T. commercial
12/13/19 – Ghostbusters: Afterlife trailer

 

So, normally we get to this point, and I add up how many things got the West Week Ever more than once, and the West YEAR Ever recipient becomes sort of obvious. That’s not the case this year. While the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich did get the WWE twice, I refuse to consider 2019 The Year of the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich. No, some special math is needed here.

If you notice, Disney made the list 5 different times (I’m not counting the Star Wars: Always entry, as that was a fan project). Disney was behind the 2 most anticipated films of the year, they tied up the Thanos Saga of the MCU deftly, and they introduced the character of the year: “Baby Yoda”. On top of those successes, they closed to deal to acquire 21st Century Fox, bringing several other franchises, such as X-Men and Alien into the Disney fold. Ya hear that? Ellen Ripley is a Disney Princess now!

So, even though those sandwiches had folks lined up around the block, they eventually lost momentum and now you can just get one whenever you want. Disney, however, is still making moves to increase their vast empire. Some think they’re evil. Some say it’s “just business”. Whatever it is, it’s hard to deny Disney’s success, which is why they had the West Year Ever in 2019.

There you have it. We can finally close the book on 2019 and start focusing on what 2020 has to offer. There’ll also be some changes on the site, but we won’t get into that too much right now. As always, thanks for reading, as Lord knows there are 1,000 other things vying for your time these days. I truly appreciate it!

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