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.

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!

13th Dec2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 12/13/19

by Will

In a rare family moment, we all sat down to watch The Grinch last weekend. My wife had actually taken our oldest to see it in the theater last year, but the kid fell asleep during the second half. In all, it’s a cute little movie, if not a bit short. I don’t really make a tradition of watching holiday stuff every year, so I haven’t seen How The Grinch Stole Christmas in forever. I do know that most of this Cindy Lou Who stuff was new, ’cause you’ve gotta do something to fill 85 minutes. I didn’t realize Cumberbatch was The Grinch until my wife looked it up, and then it was obvious. He was using that same “normalized” American accent that Hugh Laurie used as Dr. House. And I loved Kenan Thompson as Brinklebaum. I do have questions, though. If The Grinch isn’t a Who, then WHAT is he? And why is he green? Is this explained in some other part of the Dr Seuss Shared Universe? I didn’t grow up on those books, so someone enlighten me. Anyway, other than It’s A Wonderful Life, we don’t really have Christmas viewing traditions, but I could easily watch this again in the future.

So, this week saw the start of the highly anticipated 5-part Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover on The CW. The first 3 parts aired over Sunday through Tuesday night, with the final 2 parts slated to air in about 4 weeks. Clearly a love letter to fans of DC Comics, the event pulled characters and actors from all over, including Burt Ward (Batman ’66), Robert Wuhl (Batman ’89), Tom Welling (Smallville) and more. Those cameos were woven into the ongoing stories of the individual Arrowverse series, much to the crossover’s detriment in my opinion. I really wanted to like it. I mean, I truly did. That said, it really felt like a cheap fan film –  probably because the costumes of ancillary characters look like bad cosplay (looking at you, Vibe). Here are my random, SPOILERY thoughts, in no particular order:

  • I can’t imagine this was accessible to newcomers. I’m the most casual of Arrowverse fans these days, and I probably only understood about 30% of the non-Crisis stuff going on.
  • Speaking of not being able to follow things, Tom Kavanaugh is on, like, his 4th character in this franchise, right? Is he some producer’s uncle or something?
  • There was WAY too much Supergirl drama going on in Part One to really be able to focus on the fact that the world was ending.
  • I haven’t seen Supergirl since season 1, but that Braniac dude is obnoxious as Hell. I know they represent “the audience”, but why do these shows always have that grating fanboyish character who has to explain everything to the “noobs”?
  • I’m sorry, but I didn’t watch 12 seasons of Two and a Half Men to accept Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor. He’s just hammy in the role, and not in that “good” way. I just can’t take him seriously.
  • I’ve never watched Batwoman, and after Ruby Rose’s performance, I don’t see myself starting any time soon.
  • Ya know, for all the fanfare about Batman: The Animated Series voice actor Kevin Conroy starring as Batman, he didn’t really SOUND like Batman.
  • All the deaths were corny, from Oliver to Bruce to Flash ’90. They were without emotion, and made soap opera deaths look Oscar worthy.
  • Man, I thought I disliked Erica Durance as Lois Lane in Smallville, but I REALLY don’t like the Arrowverse Lois.
  • I always liked Brandon Routh as Superman, and felt he just got shafted with a bad movie. It was great to see him back in the suit here, but, as Clark, it looked like he was wearing his father’s ill-fitting suit.
  • Seeing Hoechlin next to Routh really drove home just how much of a Great Value Superman the Arrowverse has.
  • I love they pretty much had to come up with a “He gave up his powers” excuse to justify Welling’s midlife, lumberjack body.
  • More happened in the Batwoman ep than the Supergirl ep, and that’s still not saying much. Meanwhile, did you know that when this aired in the UK, they had to skip the Batwoman episode because no broadcaster in the UK has the rights to the show? Womp womp.
  • Who did the Gotham producers piss off that Lucifer got a cameo but no one from their show did?
  • So that it doesn’t seem like I’m completely shitting on the whole enterprise, it is cool how they pretty much wove a tapestry of everything that came before and after Arrow into the Multiverse. I know we’re not supposed to talk about it anymore, but it’s basically HyperTime. “Everything counts”.
  • The best acting, and actual genuine emotion, came courtesy of Jefferson “Black Lightning” Pierce. Never thought I’d type that sentence!
  • Speaking of Black Lightning, we got the Black Guy Head Nod between him and Diggle. Let that sink in for a minute, though. We do it because we’ve been through the same shit, and are acknowledging that with each other when we meet. But, in this case, it means in MULTIPLE universes, we STILL go through the SAME shit to make the nod even necessary. Slavery, Inequality, The Struggle. Except the Earth with Black Superman. That’s heavy.
  • Did these episodes really need a Kevin Smith-hosted aftershow to break down what we just saw? I get that DC/WB wanted us to think this was EPIC but the product they delivered fell short of that.
  • That was NOT an ending that’s gonna keep me on my toes for the next 4 weeks. Everyone swore this would have some amazing cliffhanger, but they were wrong.

At the end of the day, it’s a cool experiment, but I was mostly bored. It couldn’t hold my attention most of the time, and had I watched it nightly, instead of in one fell swoop in one night, I probably would’ve dropped it after Part One. It’s got 2 more episodes to stick the landing, but I’m not holding my breath.

Trailer Park



Wonder Woman 1984

Remember last week, when I said that the Black Widow trailer really didn’t move the needle for me? Well, along came this trailer, which basically said “Hold my tranquilizer”. I love “Blue Monday” and the 80s aesthetic. Gadot is great in the role, and I love Kristen Wiig, but I didn’t walk away from this, just needing to see this movie. And Steve is just…back? Was he frozen in ice for 40 years? I was kinda hoping they would be brave, and take a page from the Wonder Woman TV series, saying that this is actually Steve Jr, played by the same guy (like Lyle Waggoner in the series). Instead this seems to be Steve Sr? I dunno. I know we’ll get at least 2 more trailers, so I hope they’re better than what we got here.


Like A Boss

This seems like it should be funnier than it is. I’d like to think they saved the best stuff for the movie, but that’s not how these trailers work. I know she’s polarizing, but I watched this and couldn’t help but think “Melissa McCarthy could’ve saved this movie.” Keep Haddish, because I know she’s the new hotness in Holywood, but replace either Rose Byrne or Salma Hayek with McCarthy, and this would probably be a good movie. As it stands, it doesn’t look like much.


Free Guy

Fun trailer, and who doesn’t love Ryan Reynolds? That said, I’m not enough of a modern gamer to truly appreciate what’s going on here. Back in my day, a Non Playable Character was a damn turtle, or a dog that laughed at you. I never immersed myself into the GTAs and CoDs enough to really “get” what’s going on here. Plus, Reynolds has joined the ranks of actors, such as Bruce Willis and Vince Vaughn, where he’s cultivated a character that he now plays in every comedic role. You could say he’s been doing it since Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place, but it’s been refined over the past 20 years to where he doesn’t really have to try anymore. He struck gold by cranking it up to 11 for Deadpool, and now he can easily coast on a 7 if he has to. Yeah, I’ll catch this one when it hits FX.



Nora from Queens
(Comedy Central)

Speaking of polarizing, apparently some folks don’t like Awkwafina. I’m not one of those people, however, so this looks good to me. I know we’re losing an Asian-American sitcom when Fresh Off the Boat ends this season, and while this won’t “take its place”, it’s still another option in the marketplace.


Stargirl (DC Universe/The CW)

Yay, another Arrowverse show. I think I’m beginning to feel about the Arrowverse the way those Snyder Cut fanatics feel about the MCU. Enough already! Still, this actually looks kinda cool, but I look at Luke Wilson and think “How’d you end up on The CW?” Then I remember it’s not exactly true. You see, this show was developed for the DC Universe streaming service, but since that service seems to be on its last legs, an interesting deal was struck: episodes will debut on DC Universe, and then air on The CW the following night. This trailer, however, doesn’t seem to want the stink of DC Universe on this show, so they just cleverly forgot the whole “The CW is actually airing reruns” aspect. Anyway, as far as demographics go, this should fall right into The CW’s sweet spot, as it will appeal to Arrowverse fans AND teen girls.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Apparently the sequel to SHAZAM! is slated to be released on 4/1/22. Ya know, if this isn’t some long-range April Fool’s joke.
  • Speaking of release dates, it was announced that the 4th Matrix movie and John Wick 4 will be released on the same day: May 21st, 2021.
  • Batista and the nWo have been announced as members of the 2020 class of the WWE Hall of Fame. I had a great conversation on Twitter about whether or not Batista is really a Hall of Famer.
  • William Shatner, 88, filed for divorce from his fourth wife after 18 years of marriage. How bad is your marriage when you file for divorce at 88?! It’s a wash by that point. You going back out on the prowl? You really don’t want her eulogizing you? What is it?
  • In the Year of our Lord 2019, Nick Cannon is still poking the bear with Eminem. It’s funny that Nick’s still trying to defend the honor of a woman who doesn’t even want his ass anymore.
  • At last night’s Game Awards, the XBox Series X was teased for a Fall 2020 release. With a name like that, I can only assume it has more boobs, and maybe a little bush.
  • Though the writing was on the wall with the announcement of Jeph Loeb’s departure, it was announced this week that Marvel Television will be folded into Marvel Studios, with Marvel Chief Creative Officer Kevin Feige taking over.
  • ABC is doing another Live In Front of a Studio Audience special next Wednesday, this time tackling episodes of All in the Family and Good Times. The All in the Family cast is the same as last time (Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei, etc), while the Good Times cast is new, including Viola Davis and Andre Braugher.


I’ll bet you were looking for it in Trailer Park, but it’s actually got the coveted spot this week. You see, growing up, I was hardcore into Ghostbusters. You wouldn’t know it now, because that part of my brain has been occupied by Power Rangers trivia the past 26 years and, in the age of the Internet, TRUE GB fanatics arose, making my fandom look like nothing.

The thing is, however, I wasn’t ever really into the things that modern day fans feel were “Peak Ghostbusters“. For example, I don’t really revere that first movie, and I kinda prefer the sequel, if only because local Fox affiliate, Channel 5 (shout out WTTG!) used to air Ghostbusters II about every 8 weeks when I was growing up. I’ve just seen it more than the original recipe, so it came to mean more.

No, my fandom was based primarily in the toys and the cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters. In fact, it was that very cartoon that sort of stoked my love of continuity when it actually acknowledged that Janine’s look had changed over the seasons, and provided an in-story reason for that besides chalking it up to “The animators were getting bored”. My love was reignited in ’97, when Extreme Ghostbusters hit syndication. I watched every episode while getting ready for *high school* every morning, and I squeeed during the series finale 2-parter, when the original team came back to meet the new team.

As for the toys, I had the proton pack, the trap, the firehouse, Ecto-1 – all of which I still have to this day. I never really lost my love of the franchise, but I kinda didn’t really feel “worthy” around folks who can quote the movies word for word (and keep in mind, the movies aren’t *my* Ghostbusters). When it comes to live action, I’m still waiting for something to come along that piques my interest. There was Ghostbusters 2016, with the female team, which should’ve been right up my alley, as I love the cast AND the director. Still, I’ve owned it for years, but have never taken the time to watch it, since public sentiment towards it is so negative. We saw a lot of the worst sides of the fandom then, and I think it’s what made me shut down the containment unit for good.

Then this trailer popped up, and brought it all rushing back. What, exactly, was I watching? This wasn’t the theatrical Ghostbusters I’d grown up on, but that wasn’t a bad thing. I HATE movie speculation, but I immediately found myself on a Facebook thread with some friends trying to decipher what we’d seen. How was Egon old enough to have grandkids? Does this movie retcon Ghosbusters II? Is Paul Rudd no longer playing Dana Barrett’s grown kid, Oscar, which is a role that had been rumored for years? Are we sure it’s even Egon we’re talking about here? I mean, sure, his actor is no longer with us, but moving to a farmhouse with the Ecto-1 sounds really “Ray” to me.  And is the world in Ghostbusters basically like the Marvel Universe, in that everything happens in NYC, and doesn’t really affect the rest of the world? I mean, 30 years ago, there was PROOF OF GHOSTS, and now it’s just forgotten about in Middle America?

Anyway, it’s safe to say that I’m interested and on board. I’ll acknowledge that it didn’t do it for everyone, as a lot of folks complained “They got Stranger Things in my Ghostbusters!” Sure, I get that there’s a kid element to this film, with Finn Wolfhard, but we don’t yet know that they save the day. For now, we just know they go for a joyride, and play with a thrower that they totally don’t understand. I’d find it kinda hard to believe if they end up taking out the ghosts with no real guidance or training (even the Extreme Ghostbusters had training), but I feel like there’s a lot they can’t show us yet, so I’ll trust in the process.

Move over, “Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?”, ’cause there’s a new question on the block: Was Ghostbusters a Comedy? Bigger fans than myself have pointed out that it was apparently never intended to be a comedy, but rather a horror movie with comedic elements. Meanwhile, there’s the camp that swears it’s one of the greatest comedies of the decade. I haven’t really taken a side on that one because, as I said, I prefer the sequel, and it was clearly a comedy. I think its clear comedic approach is why folks don’t think it’s a worthwhile successor to the original. I guess it needed to be a bit more nebulous in its intentions.

In any case, I’ve got a fever, and the only cure for it is new Ghostbusters. I’m cautiously optimistic, and longtime readers know it’s a lot easier for me to shit on something that be optimistic, so I’m trying here. That’s why the Ghostbusters: Afterlife trailer had the West Week Ever.

06th Dec2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 12/6/19

by Will

So, did everyone have a good Black Friday? I didn’t post, ’cause y’all weren’t gonna read it anyway. There were deals to be had! I did my typical spree on physical media that I’ll probably never watch:

  • I already own both Deadpool movies, but I got this Blu Ray 2-pack for $1.96. I COULDN’T leave that behind!
  • Yes, I know Dark Phoenix sucks, but I still haven’t seen it, and I own all the others, so I had to complete the set.
  • Booksmart always kinda looked like it was basically Girl Superbad, which doesn’t sound like the worst thing to me. Hope I’m right!
  • I didn’t read anything good about Rocketman, but Elton’s my favorite artist of all time, so I’ve gotta see it.
  • Yes, everyone who’s seen Holmes & Watson has wasted no time telling me it’s horrible, but I’m a sucker for that comedy duo, plus it was $3.

The rest of my haul came in last night. These online orders were my “Wait for Black Friday” babies that I’d passed up over the course of the year:

  • Was not fan of Captain Marvel, but I’ve got all the rest, and it was just $7.99, so…
  • I know this is sacrilege, but I enjoyed Venom. Hell, I enjoyed it more than Captain Marvel, which is why it’s here.
  • SHAZAM! was fun, and deserves to be revisited. On the flip side, I never saw Aquaman, but feel it deserves a fair shake.
  • Can’t wait to watch Cooper and Gaga’s Not Relationship play out in A Star Is Born!
  • Everything else here I’ve never seen (Yes, that includes Jingle All the Way and 3/5 of the Transformers films), so they’re New to Me.

I’m convinced that I’ll be the key to the physical media infrastructure after The Collapse, so I guess there’s that.

Trailer Park

No Time To Die

I like to think I’m a James Bond fan, but my favorite of the franchise is Moonraker, and I’ve never seen a Daniel Craig Bond film, so I guess I’m just kidding myself. This looks fine for the folks who are true fans, but that ain’t me. I feel like I’m missing some backstory here or something, but maybe it’s just how the trailer is edited. Yay for Black 00 agent, but she’ll probably die ’cause she’s way too cocky (ugh at the thinkpieces that’s gonna trigger), and Bond never dies. He’s got no time to die! I’ve got nothing against this film, but I’ll probably never see it.


Crisis on Infinite Earths (The CW)

I get that this is supposed to be EPIC, but I also feel like I’m missing something by not being All In on the Arrowverse right now. In fact, I feel like those novices who were like “Can I see Infinity War/Endgame if I haven’t seen the other Marvel movies?” I realize that Flash has been building to this since its pilot, which is why it’s kinda odd to me that, somewhere along the way, this became an Oliver Queen story. In the original 80s comic series, the big deaths were Flash and Supergirl, but I can’t help but feel that basic knowledge of the TV industry kinda puts the kibosh on that happening here. I mean, there are contracts in place. You kill those 2, what are you gonna do for the back half of each of their seasons? Meanwhile, Arrow only has, like, one episode left after this crossover, so… My point is that, while this has become quite the smorgasbord/clusterfuck mishmash of DC properties that some folks have always wanted, I can’t possibly imagine anything they could throw at me that would blow my socks off. And I’m not trying to be difficult here. I stopped regularly watching Arrow when Lian Yu got blown the Hell up, so I’m 2 seasons and change behind. It’s just that I feel really detached from those shows right now, so I’m probably just not the target audience they’re trying to reach. Crossing my fingers that it’s good, though.


Mulan

I’ve actually never seen the animated feature (I know, I know), but that might work in this one’s favor. I’ve made no secret that I’m not a fan of Disney’s recent “Let’s ‘live action’ that bitch!” initiative they’re applying to all their past animated hits. I feel like, outside of Pixar, Disney’s recent films are stagnant, and they don’t really know what to do next. People like to rip on the MCU for being formulaic and lacking stakes, but Disney Proper really isn’t taking many risks these days. Sure, it’s not “easy” translating a lot of these things to live action, but why do it anyway? Just because? Anyway, this looks pretty amazing, and I’m prepared to watch the Hell out of it. Also, it looks like the kind of thing best seen on the big screen, and that’s not something I do for just any movie. But I’m picking up what you’re putting down, Mulan, and I’m ready!


Troop Zero

“As a father of daughters”, I find this looks cute. I’d never pay to see it, and I’d never rent it. However, it’s perfectly placed on Amazon Prime, where I can watch it at my leisure without ever living my house. Ain’t The Future grand?


Black Widow

I’m not completely dead inside yet, but this did absolutely nothing for me. I’m trying not to let the whole “She’s a dead character/Endgame was the perfect coda to the MCU” mentality creep in. All that aside, this movie is a day late and a dollar short. Regardless of the stuff I just mentioned, this should have been ensconced in Phase 2 and NOT all the way in Phase 4. Will I watch it? Sure. Am I excited about watching it? Not at all. This would be like if they said “Hey, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is gonna have a movie”, which is another property that could’ve benefited from some early theatrical love. Widow is not my favorite Avenger, but you say that shit on Twitter, and they’ll cancel ya for hating women. No, I just don’t care that much for how she’s portrayed in the movies, despite the fact there’s been some great comic stories with her (like Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s recent Black Widow series). I know they’re just calling this a teaser, so I’m sure Disney is hard at work on an official trailer, chock full of footage that won’t be in the actual movie.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Almost 2 years after Hasbro’s purchase of the property, the “Saban’s” prefix will finally be removed from the Power Rangers logo in 2020. While Haim Saban had acted in a consultant role on the brand, his future with it is now uncertain.
  • After debuting just last weekend on the DC Universe streaming service, the premiere episode of the animated Harley Quinn series is set to air on TBS this Sunday night. While the worst words will be censored, a move like this is still enough to make folks question why DC Universe is even still around, as far as original programming is concerned.
  • Speaking of animated shows, it’s been reported that the showrunner and writing staff of the Tigra & Dazzler animated series, set to stream on Hulu, have been let go. There are reports that it’s undergoing a “creative overhaul”, but I doubt those Hulu shows ever see the light of day. They were Jeph Loeb’s babies, and his departure was announced during my most recent blog break. Everyone knows the new boss throws out the old boss’s shit so they can do their own shit. I don’t care if Kevin Smith and Chelsea Handler were attached to that planned animated universe, it ain’t happening.
  • In the “Get Yo’ Money, Playa” move of the century, tortured Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best is returning to the franchise to host the Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge game show for Disney+
  • There are reports that Disney is looking to revive the Planet of the Apes franchise in some capacity, as it is seen by some as the most viable property in the recently acquired Fox portfolio.
  • Since John Witherspoon’s passing, there are now reports that actress Jenifer Lewis is interested in portraying Granddad’s sister in the upcoming Boondocks revival.
  • If you’re like me, in thinking that The CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths could probably stand to be more than 5 parts, then you’ll be glad (or mad) to know that DC felt the same way. This is why they’re releasing a 2-issue Crisis comic series that will be part of their 100-Page Giant series sold at Walmart. These comics, co-written by original Crisis writer Marv Wolfman, will feature the Arrowverse characters, and fill in some of the blanks that won’t make it to the screen. Issue #1 will be out 12/15, with #2 out on 1/19.
  • Justin Timberlake has publicly apologized to wife, Jessica Biel, for being spotted holding hands with his film costar, Alisha Wainwright. He’s blaming it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol, and swears nothing happened. This is such a juvenile non-scandal that I half expect him to go public with his Cootie Test results.

  • At long last, we’re finally getting full-fledged DC Comics characters in the next series of LEGO Minifigures blind bags! I’m SO glad I won’t have to buy full sets to get some of these characters now.

Since we skipped last week, we never got a chance to talk about E.T.’s grand return. You see, during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC, 80s pop culture icon E.T. came back! No, he wasn’t a parade balloon, nor was he in the booth with Hoda and Al. I wish I could say it was a trailer for a long-awaited sequel, but I can’t say that, either. No, the folks at Xfinity decided to dust him off to tug at nostalgia to help them sell bundle packages.

11 million views later, and I’m left here with a lot of questions. I mean, just think of all of Elliott’s therapy that was done by this return! And why wasn’t his wife more frantic? What’s SHE hiding? And where’s Gertie? Please tell me Gertie’s OK! It couldn’t have been easy growing up knowing what she knew.

It’s a cute ad, but luckily E.T. doesn’t hold much of a special place in my heart, so I wasn’t over here weeping like some Evangelical listening to “The Christmas Shoes” for the umpteenth time. No, your trickery didn’t work on me, Xfinity! Plus, I already have your services, so you have nothing left to sell me right now.

I could get used to this, though. Maybe next year, they could do Weird Science with a CGI Kelly LeBrock. I’d LOVE to see Wyatt and Gary try to explain that to their wives and/or husbands. “Um, we created her…for science!”

It’s a cheap ploy, but nostalgia is an instant warp zone into the hearts of many. They used a day meant for family to showcase E.T. being reunited with his own. Well played, Xfinity. Anyway, it’s safe to say that E.T. had the West Week Ever.

22nd Nov2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 11/22/19

by Will

Not a ton to talk about this week, so it’ll be a short one. Yay?

In a somewhat surprising move, Warners announced that the upcoming DC Comics series Stargirl will debut on the DC Universe streaming service, with episodes, then, airing on The CW the very following night! If they’re gonna be doing this, then what even is the point of DC Universe going forward? I mean, they’re already moving a lot of their development slate to HBO Max (which is where Doom Patrol will air in addition to DC Universe), and it’s starting to make DCU look obsolete. Of course, DCU subscribers are mad because they wanted some sort of exclusive content from the app, when they’re only getting the first dibs on it by a very small margin. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a quiet announcement that DCU is being absorbed into HBO Max by year’s end.

 

Speaking of The CW’s DC shows, it only just now occurred to me that we’re not getting all of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event in one week. In the past, these crossovers were contained to the same week, but here we’re getting the first 3 parts (Supergirl, Batwoman, and The Flash) starting December 8th. Meanwhile, the final 2 parts (Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow) air January 14th. Now, I know they’re trying to get some mileage out of this Arrow “victory lap”, but that is a momentum killer.

A Twitter friend pointed out that at least it’s better than the year folks had to wait for the conclusion of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths comic series, but that’s no consolation to me. The first parts will air, there’ll be some shocking cliffhanger death, which will promptly be spoiled on Twitter, and then folks will speculate until January 14th. Yeah, I’m probably just gonna wait and watch it all in January.

I know we live in this whole world of the “fall finale” now, but most of these are so forced that I hate that it’s even a concept now. It used to be understood that shows simply went on hiatus in the winter because folks had better stuff to do than watch TV, like drunkenly hit on their secretaries at office Christmas parties. But now we have no more “secretaries” and no more drinking at the office parties. Thanks a lot, Harvey Weinstein! So, now we have to break it to folks that their beloved shows need a rest, by introducing the fall finale. It’s like saying “Don’t worry! We promise to finish explaining how one does get away with murder, but we need a bit of a production reset.” It just feels so unnecessary.

It looks like the 4th Star Trek film, set in the “Kelvin Timeline”, is back on! Noah Hawley, of Fargo and Legion fame, has been brought on to direct. They’re saying Chris Pine is coming back, but it’s unclear if this is the same Kirk Meets His Father story that they’d been pitching when Chris Hemsworth was still on board. I guess this is good news. I mean, I still haven’t seen Star Trek Beyond, but I’ve heard it’s better than Into Darkness. That said, I thought the Kelvin Timeline wrapped up as a nice little experimental trilogy, but I’m ready to get back to the “prime” timeline, in a medium that’s not a subscription-based television show.

Tesla introduced the Cybertruck, which is a hideous, pixelated-looking vehicle that shouldn’t even exist. It looks like something from the syndicated 1-season wonder Team Knight Rider, or those later seasons of Viper when the Defender had an off-road mode. God, I miss Saturday afternoon syndicated shows! Even more than Saturday morning cartoons. Here, let’s watch some videos of those 2 shows:

 

So, I hear you’re looking for some of them “Baby Yodas”. Well, you’re not alone! Debuting at the end of the premiere of Star Wars: The Mandalorian, this little critter is all anyone can talk about! It’s not actually THE Yoda, but that doesn’t matter, since Yoda’s race and homeworld were apparently never named. So, “Baby Yoda” it is!

Now, the race is on to see who’s gonna pump out the first Baby Yoda merchandise first. At first it was believed that nothing would be out in time for the holidays, but now I’m hearing that’s not the case? Well, good luck with that! I’m still over here, waiting for KB Toys to open all those stores they’ve promised us the past couple of years.

I still haven’t seen The Mandalorian yet, but I feel like I’m already quite familiar with this character, as I’ve known about it since TMZ spoiled the appearance Friday morning 2 weeks ago. I go to TMZ for celebrity gossip, not space baby spoilage! I guess they saw a winner and ran with it. Can’t really fault them for that…even though most folks hadn’t seen the episode yet. Then, when last week’s episode rolled around, the spoiler moratorium was over, so folks just let their adoration fly. So, look out Porgs, as you’re no longer the belle of the ball! Just like when a sitcom brings in a new, cuter kid when the youngest enters their “awkward period” (my favorites include Billy from Who’s The Boss, Sam from Diff’rent Strokes, and Seven from Married…with Children), Baby Yoda is here to knock Porgs off the block. Let’s just hope little Baby Yoda isn’t horrifically wiped from existence like those cute replacement kids I just listed. In any case, Baby Yoda had the West Week Ever.

15th Nov2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 11/15/19

by Will

HELLO?! IS ANYBODY HERE?! *echo*

 

I feel like I go on hiatus way too much because I find myself apologizing for having done so way too much. This year, West Year Ever is gonna be pretty easy to compile since I took off, like, 1/3 of the year. Seriously, I even considered switching the format to West Month Ever for a while.

So, where have I been? That’s a great question. Long story short: I had nothing to say. Or, better yet, I had nothing positive to say. And you know the saying, “If you can’t say anything nice…” Sure, there was plenty of stuff to rant about, but I couldn’t balance it out with anything I *LIKED*, and that was a problem. The internet is toxic enough, so I really didn’t feel like feeding into that. So, I spent my time catching up on Power Rangers: Beast Morphers episodes, and trying to clean up my basement. There were times when I was on the verge of posting something, and then life would throw a monkey wrench into my plans. One week, I was working at the work site that has my site blocked, so no posting then. Another week, I was in a car accident and had my car battery die (resulting in a 2.5 hour wait for AAA), all in the same Friday. So, I guess I was just supposed to skip the month of October.

This week, though, couldn’t be skipped because just TOO much happened, and it felt like the perfect time to make my grand return.

In the movie realm, I got around to watching White Chicks the other day. No, I’d never seen it, even though I know it’s a guilty pleasure for a lot of folks. At the end of the day, I didn’t love it. I mean, it’s problematic in a way that only a movie from 2004 could get away with, but I also didn’t find it to be that funny. It could be because we’ve sort of left the era of the socialite behind. Sure, the Kardashians are always considered “famous for being famous”, but they’ve built a business empire upon that. Outside the Hadid girls, we don’t really have the Paris & Nicole Simple Life era socialites anymore, even if we still have spoiled, rich White girls. To be honest, though, I probably would’ve preferred a movie about the Dominican bodega owners that Shawn and Marlon are disguised as in the beginning. I’ll also note that I watched this thing on TV One, so it was probably edited for television with all the good stuff taken out. For you fans out there, is it worth revisiting in, say, an unrated DVD sort of way?

One thing that took the past week by storm was the McDonalds Happy Meal 40th anniversary promotion, and BOY do I have thoughts on that! Designed as a limited run from November 7th through 11th, the promotion first leaked from some YouTuber posting about it. Then, Matt from Dinosaur Dracula tweeted about it, at which point he said McDonalds “kindly” asked him to take down the tweet. Then McDonalds formally announced it: for 5 days only, they would be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Happy Meal by releasing reproductions of some of their most iconic toys. Oh, and in blind bags.

Let me tell you a little bit of my own history with McDonalds Happy Meal toys, as I was once something of a superfan. This is where my collecting lifestyle began. When there was a new promotion, it was my weekend mission to get my mom to drive us all over town so I could complete those sets. This went on from about Kindergarten to maybe 8th grade. I got to a point where I was modding Happy Meal orders to come with Big Macs and Quarter Pounders with Cheese (I was a “husky”, hungry child) until some employee eventually told me “You know, you can just BUY the toys.” That’s when I moved the to the Extra Value Menu, occasionally shelling out an additional $1.89 for Happy Meal toys. So I had the originals of everything in this anniversary promotion. I would have liked a proper tribute to those old toys, but this wasn’t it.

OK, so here’s the first problem: why reproductions? I know you’re all not like me, spending all your free time in thrift stores, but lemme tell ya something: McDonalds toys are NOT hard to find. Plus I feel like there’s got to be some sort of McDonalds Area 51 with a stockpile of old toys they could’ve drawn from. Even if this doesn’t exist (prove me wrong, cowards!), they could’ve really made this special in other ways. Maybe team up with the American Pickers guys, and have them go out and find some dead stock for them to use. It’d make a great special episode of the show, and it would look like some kind of effort went into it. It could’ve been a yearlong buildup, with webisodes and whatnot. Instead, we get this lame promotion that was shoehorned into a week that McDonalds needed to fill between the Hello Kitty/Pokémon promotion and the Frozen II promotion.

Next problem: blind bagged, though numbered. Why act like it’s such a surprise about what you’ll get when everyone knows there are 17 in the US (#9, believed to be a Barbie, was pulled from the promotion before it began), and the numbers are right there on the polybags? It’s not “blind” if you can read numbers. And I’m not talking some sort of secret Braille code, like the LEGO minifigures use. I’m talking a clear as day number, right on the front, that corresponds to a checklist that most social media influencers posted online after they received a promo shipment from McDonalds. When I didn’t get a special box from McDonalds, that’s when I knew I wasn’t shit.

When the toys actually hit, the third problem became apparent: cheap, inaccurate reproductions. The new toys weren’t as well made as the originals, and they all had 2019 date stamps so as to not confuse folks into thinking they were the vintage toys. A lot of strange decisions had been made. The Changeables burger was no longer a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, as both the cheese and sesame seeds had been removed from the mold. And the one that really grinds my gears: the Red Power Ranger. It’s bad enough McDonalds included this thing when the Power Rangers figures were NOT Happy Meal toys (they were add-on items that you could buy for $1.99 each when the original movie was in theaters), but this Red Ranger they’d included only had one arm and one leg that moved, while the opposite limbs were fixed. Why?! Then they included Bugs Bunny from Space Jam, which was odd because A) I wouldn’t call that promotion “iconic” and B) the gimmick of that toy line was that the different characters were on pieces of basketball court that you assembled into something akin to a train. One toy from the line was kind of boring, but to have them all was sort of special. Here, you got one toy. It’d be like if they had just given you one piece of the Inspector Gadget build a figure promotion. What the Hell are you gonna do with ONE piece?!

Anyway, I found myself on the wrong side of history on this one because the nostalgia bloggers were eating it up. I, however, didn’t get it. Surprisingly, even my wife was like “We’re gonna get Happy Meals every day!” I understand the nostalgia factor, but it just felt so poorly executed. Since the promotion was only 5 days long, restaurants got limited stock and a lot of them seemed to have depleted that stock before the 11th even hit. Plus, I can’t believe that McDonalds contracted factories all the way in China to make such subpar repros for this promotion, especially when the marketing department seemingly screwed the pooch. If you enjoyed it, great, but something just felt rushed and disorganized about the whole thing. Here’s hoping they do a better job for the 50th anniversary, but we’ll be so “woke” by then that Happy Meals will be a salad and a toothbrush.

In the world of comics, there was a lot of hubbub about Jonathan Hickman becoming the new architect of the X-Men line. Everything kicked off in the companion series House of X and Powers of X, which were released weekly over the summer. These led to the release of a new X-Men #1, which I grabbed at a midnight release party (Thanks, Third Eye Comics!).

Now, I had read House of X #1 and thought “Interesting start, but I’m not paying $6 a week for this story.” So, I skipped those minis and dove right into the first issue of the ongoing. And my verdict? These aren’t my X-Men. I like the X-Men who are hated and feared, but always recharge after a huge battle by playing baseball at their school in Westchester county. Hickman’s X-Men, however, has too many moving parts, and I’m not on board with a lot of it.

In a lot of ways, Hickman’s vision is basically just a remix of what Grant Morrison brought to the line when he took over “adjectiveless” X-Men and it became New X-Men. Both share the premise that mutants now have the upper hand, causing frightened humanity to go to desperate measures to prevent their own extinction. It’s an interesting viewpoint, but it’s one where I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. With X-Men, sometimes that takes years (see: Emma Frost), but to paraphrase Karl Mordo, “The bill comes due. Always.”

I have always felt that the life cycle of superhero comic fandom is about 15 years, because audiences cycle in and out, but that’s about how long it takes for Been There, Done That to set in. I feel like I’ve seen this before, and that just might be a sign that my time with Charles Xavier’s mutants is up. Maybe folks are into that sort of journey, but I don’t wanna stay on this ride.

While I was away from blogging, I was still keeping busy, running my mouth on a few podcasts. First up, I recorded a look back on Batman ’89 with my pal Chad at the Horror Movie BBQ back over the summer, and he never told me that the episode was posted. I’d been over here, stewing for the last 5 months, that he had yet another unreleased episode with me (We recorded an Adam West tribute a while back that devolved into chaos and has never seen the light of day), meanwhile it had been on his site the whole time. So, sorry about that, Chad. It was a good discussion, though, as I talk about my Bat Amnesia and more, so check it out!

Next, I joined the guys over at Nerd Lunch for the final “Ned Lurch” episode. As they prepare to “sunset” their show, they’re taking one last stab at some of their themes, and Ned Lurch is a guy whose friends and advisors are constantly giving him bad business advice, in an attempt to see him fail. In our episode, Ned is talked into launching the worst action figure line ever. Check it out, as I give the worst improv performance you’d ever expect from me, but it was a fun show. Speaking of improv, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned how I actually auditioned for the improv group in college. Yeah, there was a period of time when I was bored with a cappella and wanted to try something different. The problem with that plan, though, was that group was led by my girlfriend’s ex boyfriend. At least I made it to the final round, though…

Finally, get ready for the Christmas season by listening to me talk about everyone’s favorite “That’s Not a Christmas Movie!” No, not Die Hard. Instead, podcast extraordinaire, Michael May, had me on his Sleigh Bell Cinema show to discuss Iron Man 3. The same way you’ve got to look at Superman III as “Hey, it’s a Richard Pryor movie, featuring Superman”, you’ve got to do some mental gymnastics with this one, as well. What do I think about Tony Stark’s final solo outing? Take a listen to find out!

Trailer Park


Sonic the Hedgehog

I can’t deny that he looks better now, but I loathe the precedent this movie set. In case you don’t remember, the original design for Sonic had fans so outraged that the backlash to the initial trailer led the studio to delay the film and retool Sonic’s look. On the one hand, folks are like “Great job for listening to the fans!” Meanwhile, I’m over here, like, “Ugh, you listened to FANS!” Half the time fans don’t know what they want, and they tend to stick to the familiar because they hate change. That’s fine. I also dislike change. That said, this movie was never going to be a blockbuster, but now folks feel guilty that they have to support it since they raised such a stink. But you see, the internet is full of folks who love a good fight with no vested interest. A lot of the people the most upset about Sonic’s design were never going to see the movie in the first place. So, was the redesign worth it or in vain? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


SCOOB!

Is this basically a reboot of A Pup Named Scooby Doo? ‘Cause I was ALL about that era in the 90s when everyone got a “Lil” version of their franchise. The Flintstone Kids, Life with Louie, Hell, even Little Rosey (who’da thunk they would’ve given a cartoon to Roseanne?! But they did). I won’t be seeing this in theaters, but I’ll totally grab it on Black Friday for my girls.


Holiday Rush

This looks kinda cute. You don’t get a ton of Black Christmas movies, and I’m a fan of Romany Falco. The beauty of this is that I’d never go see this in a theater, not even if the tickets were free, but I can watch dude hit on First Officer Michael Burnham, while sitting at home in my underwear? Sure, I’ll buy that for a dollar!


Harley Quinn

Looks fun. Still not signing up for the DC Universe service. There’s got to be a plan to rehome these shows on HBO Max going forward, as the existence of DCU is making less sense by the day. They could repurpose that site to be a purely comic hub, like Marvel has Marvel Unlimited, but it doesn’t make sense to keep the shows on there, especially when Warner Media is trying to brand HBO Max as THE streaming portal for their catalog. So, I’ll watch this when I eventually cave and get HBO Max, since Rick & Morty will probably be exclusive to that service by 2025 or something.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • John Legend was named People‘s Sexiest Man Alive, and even his wife, Chrissy Teigen, is like “Huh?” I mean, he seems nice enough, but kinda soft. Then again, he’s a former collegiate a cappella kid, so I guess I’ve gotta support him in this endeavor.
  • Not content to stand on the sidelines of the upcoming Streaming Wars, Nickelodeon has signed a deal with Netflix to develop movies and shows based on their properties. Personally, I can’t wait for Are You Afraid of the Black Mirror?
  • The sand might be running out of the hourglass for one of your grandma’s “stories”, as the entire cast of Days of Our Lives has been released from their contracts. Many feel this is a negotiation tactic by the show’s producer, Corday Productions, as they head into contract negotiations. Worst case scenario is everyone is fired and they all get recast. Best case scenario is everyone is rehired, but now at a lower, take it or leave it, rate negotiated in new contracts. Despite the fact that soap operas are a relic of the past, NBC seems committed to providing a home for Days for the foreseeable future.
  • For a brief moment this week, folks thought that Ecto Cooler’s return had been confirmed, coinciding with the release of next year’s Ghostbusters film. That shit turned out to be fake, though. Ya know, until it’s not.
  • As if Constance Wu’s Twitter rant last Spring was going to be forgiven so easily, ABC confirmed that this season of Fresh Off the Boat would be its last. Cute show, but everyone seemed ready to move on, and they’ll all be fine. I know the show was symbolic as the longest running Asian American sitcom, but there will be others. One day. Hopefully.
  • Rick & Morty came back to Adult Swim this week, and I…didn’t love it. Probably because I hadn’t seen this episode 37 times like I have the others. No, seriously, it airs daily and there are only about 30 episodes. It only takes a month to run through the existing 3 seasons. I’ve seen this show more than anything else on TV and I’m not even a superfan. Maybe I’ll grow to love this season.
  • Three year after his death, George Michael’s estate released “This Is How (We Want You To Get High)” for the Last Christmas soundtrack. I’m a sucker for both George Michael AND songs with parentheses in their names, so this song is a hit to me!

  • After it was first announced, like, 10 years ago, The Rock’s Black Adam movie finally got a release date: December 22, 2021. Too bad it’s never gonna happen.
  • I know y’all claim you don’t like country, but I know some like Halsey, and here she guested with Lady Antebellum on one of my favorite songs of the year at this week’s CMA Awards.

  • Screw it. Here’s another amazing performance from the CMAs, from Dan + Shay:

  • Music industry supervillain Scooter Braun recently purchased Taylor Swift’s back catalog, and won’t allow her to perform a medley of her past hits as she receives an achievement award at the American Music Awards. Dick move, but a powerful move.

Well, you couldn’t swing a dead cat online this week without hitting something having to do with Disney+. The anticipated streaming service launched Tuesday, and it’s all anyone can talk about. The launch, however, wasn’t without its hiccups. For one thing, they didn’t allow you to download the app until launch day, so there was no testing to make sure all your ducks were in a row before the big day. Also, a lot of people got error screens when trying to watch their desired selection. That said, it’s a repository of a HUGE amount of Disney programming – from Star Wars to Disney Channel Original Movies – and all for a mere $6.99 per month.

I am not a Disney evangelist, so this wasn’t exactly the Second Coming to me that it was for some folks. Regular readers know I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Fox buyout, but I’ve got kids, and kids like Disney, so I got Disney+. In fact, I have TWO accounts! You see, I signed up on Monday to make sure we were good to go, but then I remembered that, as an unlimited data Verizon customer, I actually get a year of the service for free. So, we had my wife sign up that way, and then I just need to remember to cancel my trial before they charge me on Tuesday. Hell, I probably should be doing that instead of writing this. I need that $70! Oh well, I said I wanted to live dangerously…

Despite the minor gripes that folks have had, including series episodes being out of order and the constant error screens, I feel the roll out could’ve been MUCH worse. I think the demand for the service exceeded even Disney’s expectations (with a reported 10 million sign ups), I think things settled down rather quickly. Folks online began to post the “true” viewing order for episodes, and the error screens decreased.

Another pseudo controversial aspect is that they’ve added disclaimers to properties, like Dumbo, stating that they contain outdated views and representations. Some folks feel like those programs shouldn’t be on the service at all, but I disagree. At least Disney is owning up to its past, and making it something of a teachable moment. With the disclaimers, they can have their cake and eat it, too. That said, it’s just gonna rile up the “Where’s Song of the South?!” crowd even more. Personally, I think Disney handled this the right way, but you can’t please everyone, and you can barely please anyone in 2019.

The biggest show at launch was undoubtedly the Star Wars spinoff, The Mandalorian. I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about it, and it clocks in at only 38 minutes. Score! Hopefully I’ll get to it this weekend. Meanwhile, everyone else on social media was posting about the first thing they watched after setting up the service. I’ve got a big audit at work today, so didn’t have time to play around with things myself. My oldest, however, watched Frozen, like we don’t already have 3 copies of that thing around this house somewhere. I’ve got to remind myself that it’s just $6.99, and not a total waste of money. Wait. It’s free. Whatever. She can watch Frozen all day long, ’cause that ain’t costing me a dime!

Anyway, after my long hiatus, I think I can dust off the title, and present it to Disney+, which clearly had the West Week Ever.

27th Sep2019

Kickin’ It Old School at Retro Con 2019

by Will

That’s right, folks – we’re putting West Week Ever back on the shelf this week for me to, instead, regale you with my trip up to Oakes, PA two weeks ago for Retro Con 2019. Now, this was far from my first trip to Retro Con, as it’s been something of an almost annual excursion for me since around 2012. Oh, wait. You haven’t heard of Retro Con? Well, the official website describes it as a pop culture and memorabilia show catering to anything considered “retro”, especially the 80’s! Transformers, Star Wars, GI Joe, Ghostbusters, He-man, classic video games, etc.. We’ve got 215+ tables of collectibles and art for sale, special guests, video games, a costume contest, raffles, a trivia contest, panels, replica props, and much more! Basically if you answer “yes” to the questions “Do you like old toys” AND “Do you wonder what happened to that character actor who was on The Fall Guy that one time?”, then Retro Con is the place for you!

I’m not trying to knock their guests, but they certainly are not the draw for this show. The guest list tends to be comprised of voice actors from classic 80s cartoons, and they had a couple of guys from The A-Team last year (ya know, the ones who either aren’t Mr. T or dead). Throw in an old school WWF wrestler who never really held a belt (in the past, Sgt Slaughter; this year, Hacksaw Jim Duggan), and you’ve got the Retro Con guest list!

No, if you’re making the trek to Oakes, PA, then you’re headed there for the TRUE stars of the show: the collectibles! The show never disappoints, and it is THE destination for anyone looking to fill some holes in their vintage collection. While you’ll still find convention mainstays, like Funko Pops and seriously overpriced vintage comics, you’ll also find guys with bins who’ll practically say “Make me an offer ’cause I don’t want this shit in my garage anymore.” I will say, though, that the sliding timeline of what it means for something to be “vintage” sort of changed the makeup of what was available for sale. For one thing, there were fewer G.I. Joes and Transformers, and a LOT more Power Rangers. While there were recent Rangers, the sweet spot of what was there were the toys from Mighty Morphin‘s peak, around ’94-’95. Also, the bootleg video guys have upgraded to Blu Ray, which is somewhat puzzling, since that just means their substandard rips are just gonna look like shit in High Definition. Still, there was cool stuff to be found on the showroom floor, so sit back and take a gander at my award winning* cell phone photography!

As the original 8′ Mighty Morphin Power Rangers figures were almost impossible to find for most early collectors, the 5.5″ Auto Morphin line (disgustingly referred to as “Head Flippers” by some Troglodytes) became the line that most people flocked to. Flick the morpher on their belt, and the human head would flip into the figure’s chest to reveal a helmeted head. I always thought that was a concept that had originated with Bandai of America for the US line, and had no idea that Bandai of Japan had used the same feature on the figures for Chouriki Sentai Ohranger (which would be later adapted here as Power Rangers Zeo).

They don’t make playsets like this anymore! Despite the fact that you can get Playmates Star Trek figures for essentially pennies on the dollar now, that’s less true for the playsets and vehicles. Galoob had designed an Enterprise bridge playset for their own Star Trek: The Next Generation line, but it never made it to retail. This Playmates one, then, became one of my grail pieces while I was still into that line. If I had the room for it, I probably would’ve tried to swing a deal. I mean, I’ve still got the figures, and I currently have the Transporter playset sitting in the middle of my basement floor, waiting to be tested.

There was once a time when kids WANTED to dress up like a disgruntled Vietnam vet with a penchant for urban terrorism. Yet they say THESE are the end times we’re currently living in! Pfft!

I’m not sure what’s more interesting to me in this pic: the fact that the Burger King predates my recollection OR the Rambo villain who looks like Vladimir Putin cosplaying as Die Hard‘s John McClane. “Yippee Ki-Yay, Comrade!”

I love those M.A.S.K. boxes so much! And there were toys in them, too!

Whatever’s happening with Slimer here, he’s clearly having an amazing time!

Sometimes you see things and wonder “Where has this been stashed for the past 30 years?!” This is one of those things.

Things of which I am a huge fan:

  • Batman
  • Super Powers
  • The condition of this packaging

Things of which I am NOT a huge fan

  • These prices

I know @DorketteTweets will get a kick out of this Spectra stuff they had.

It ain’t a convention without old lunchboxes, and I would love to meet whomever owned that Fame lunchbox, merely to commend him/her/them for their bravery.

Just look at the condition of this box! This is an almost 30 year old toy! Looking back, I probably should’ve just thrown the $10 at it.

This figure brought back fond memories as to how I’m bad with money. You see, this was the first time I ever overdrew my checking account, buying this figure at a Spencer Gifts when I was in college. I didn’t really know how “balancing checkbooks” worked yet, and this $5 figure ended up costing me about $35. That was a quicker financial lesson than Suze Orman could’ve taught me!

I actually really like the simple packaging design of vintage Barbie, and I’d never heard of Dazzle until that day. I guess it’s an equestrian line?

Ya know, John Rambo deserves to treat himself every now and then!

In hindsight, this was an amazing concept and design. I think we took it for granted at the time, but they managed to shove entire games into a shell the size of a “regulation” cassette tape! It deserves to be in the Toy Hall of Fame!

They were selling their vintage $400 Fireball Island around the corner from the Kickstarter $70 repro Fireball Island. So, um, yeah. Good luck with that…

G.I.Joe charitable group had a nice U.S.S. Defiant on display.

Another HTF vintage piece in BEAUTIFUL shape!

I don’t care if it’s 90% complete. I’m more fascinated by the fact that the box survived this long and doesn’t look any worse than it does!

I was late to Ghostbusters toy fandom, so I missed out on the original suit Real Ghostbusters. These guys here were more my speed, with their track suits and their wacky action features.

While not a “vintage toy”, this was a cool 3-D collage that someone created using parts of the recent Fisher Price Imaginext line, as well as panels from the Boom! Power Rangers comic series.

As a huge Baywatch fan, I’ll admit that it was a little hard leaving this guy behind.

Plus, it’s not a modern-day pop culture convention without cosplay, and the following folks did not disappoint!

So, there ya have it: Retro Con 2019. While it’s always cool to see all these random toys, the best part of the weekend is that it has become something of an annual meetup between my online friends. This year was no exception, and it was great seeing Dean, Jordan, [REDACTED], Jason, and Wyatt!

Oh, we also can’t close out without showing what I got. I’m proud to say that I played it cheap this year, and didn’t pay more than $5 for a single thing you see here. That’s how you con!

Anyway, thanks for taking this look back with me, and be here next week, when West Week Ever returns!

*No actual prizes have been awarded to Will for his photography, but it’s 2019 and people don’t fact check shit anymore, so…
20th Sep2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 9/20/19

by Will

So, my whole two weeks on, two weeks off schedule went off the rails last weekend, but there’s been a lot going on in my world, so forgive. Or not. Whatever. You own me. Anyway, I better get all this out before Tekashi 6ix9ine flips on me for the crew that I rep!

About a month ago, I cared absolutely nothing about the Rambo franchise. I’d never seen any of the movies, despite the fact that it was this FORCE in 80s action movies. Still, I have a lot of pop culture blindspots, and most action “classic” action movies fall into that category. So, I was probably the wrong person for my buddy @michaelmaycomix to ask to guest on the Rambo episode of his Nerd Lunch: Fourth Chair Army Invasion! Podcast. Still, I saw this as a challenge, and proceeded to binge the Rambo franchise over Labor Day weekend. We won’t get too into my thoughts here, as you should definitely go check out that episode, which dropped last week. All this is to say that I walked away from the experience with a newfound respect for those movies, and the 5th installment – Rambo: Last Blood – went from a movie that wasn’t even on my radar to one of my most anticipated movies of the fall. So, I found myself in the Alamo Drafthouse last night, with my buddy Brock, watching a Rambo film on OPENING NIGHT. I only do that shit for things with Stan Lee cameos, but I guess we’ve entered a brave, new era.

I know that not everyone can see a movie on Thursday night, and I know this movie isn’t a priority for most folks, so I won’t spoil anything here. I’ll just say it’s something of an uneven film, which doesn’t even feel like a Rambo movie until the second half. Still, it does a lot with its 89 minutes, with not a single one of them wasted. As I said on Instagram, if you’ve ever thought to yourself “I wonder what a Home Alone remake would be like, starring an old man seeking revenge”, then THIS is the movie for YOU! In the end, I totally enjoyed the film, but I also kinda think there’s a schism in the franchise that occurs around the 3rd film. While the first 3 are about Vietnam vet John Rambo, forgotten by his country, used as a tool of warfare, the last 2 are about a stoic old man who kills the shit out of his enemies with EXTREME prejudice. Even the gore of 2008’s Rambo made sense because it took place in the middle of Burma’s civil war, but the battle here takes place in Arizona, and there’s no real excuse or precedent for that level of violence.

Anyway, if you’re a Rambo fan, maybe check this out. If you’re a fan of Taken/Death Wish, definitely check this out. Oh, and make sure you stay through the first round of credits. There’s a nice montage of scenes from the last 4 movies, and then they sneak something in where you’re like “WHAT?!”

Whew, boy! It’s been a shitshow in Studio 8H, as it’s been a tumultuous few weeks for Saturday Night Live since last we met. First, there was the news that Kate McKinnon – whose deal had expired in the Spring – would actually be returning to the show. Meanwhile, Leslie Jones would not be coming back, with folks wondering if she’d been fired. Well, not even 2 days later, it was announced that she would be hosting (and serving as executive producer of) a revival of the game show Supermarket Sweep. As she put it on her social media, she wasn’t leaving but merely “graduating”, which was a nice way to look at it. I know a lot of folks who’ve left SNL over the years, however, who couldn’t say that.

Next, the show announced the new Featured Players for this season, and there was much rejoicing as Bowen Yang was hired as the first Chinese-American/third openly gay cast member on the show in its 45 seasons. They also hired Shane Gillis, a comedian who just might happen to dislike Asians and gays. Womp womp! If it weren’t for the fact that it’d probably cause a toxic work environment, this arrangement would make for a FIRE reality show! You see, Gillis has a podcast where he’s said some juvenile and inappropriate things about Asians and gays, and those recordings surfaced just as the news broke of his hiring. Then it turned into this whole thing about free speech vs cancel culture, as comedians felt he should be able to say whatever, and “civilians” wanted him fired because his hiring hurt the integrity of SNL. Immediately, Gillis issued a non-apology, saying he’d apologize to “anyone who was actually offended”. Gotta say, it was a shit statement, but I kinda commended him for not going with the boilerplate insincere apology. After a week of unrest, however, Gillis was fired from the show last weekend. His statement after the firing was still on brand, where he said he was disappointed, but was “always a MADtv guy anyway”. I’m sorry, but he kinda had the last laugh with that burn.

Here’s my take: Lorne and everyone else knew about this dude before hiring him, and any attempt to say otherwise is a lie. You know how I know that? The past 2 weeks, everyone is like “Who is this guy? I’ve never heard of him.” Well, I’VE heard of him. See, I’m a big fan of The Bonfire, which is a SiriusXM show hosted by comedians Dan Soder and Big Jay Oakerson. Gillis is a frequent guest, so I already knew his humor. He’s that doughy goof from high school who was always trying to be the class clown. He’ll just say whatever he thinks will make you laugh. No filter. It’s not hard to find his material, so I refuse to believe SNL fell asleep at the wheel in the vetting process like they’re saying. They saw his stuff, and didn’t care, because they didn’t expect it to blow up like this. You see, SNL still likes to believe that they’re this subversive Bad Boy of Comedy that consistently has edge, but that hasn’t been true for a LONG time. No, they’re a very important brand to Kabletown, and corporate, like the house, always wins. Plus, it leaked that Lorne only hired Gillis to court conservative viewers, but look how that turned out. In the words of DJ Khaled, “Ya played yourself!” SNL can’t play both sides against the middle. Having one Affirmative Action conservative hire is not going to open up this untapped fan base waiting to see themselves onscreen. Meanwhile, they just did a bunch for Gillis’s career, as he’s now a household name, even if he’s infamous instead of famous. I never really saw him breaking out of Featured Player status, so it’s probably for the best all around.

So, NBCUniversal revealed that their upcoming streaming service will be called peacock. One of the first shows announced for it sounds like a fever dream. They announced a revival of Saved By The Bell, where Zack Morris is the governor of California and he’s closing all of the low-income schools. As a result, those kids are going to be bused to more affluent schools, like Bayside High. Huh. That seems kinda heavy for the format. Even more odd to me is the casting. While Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tiffani Thiessen reportedly weren’t even contacted, Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley are expected to appear. That last one is the one that gets me: I mean, Berkley did Showgirls to distance herself from that show, and now she’s going back? Has there even been a precedent for this kind of return? Has anyone ever done a kids show, done something risqué, and then RETURNED to the kids franchise? I mean, I remember when Jessica Biel took those nudes at 17 so she’d be released from her 7th Heaven contract, but that wasn’t nearly as revealing as Showgirls was for Berkley. Is this show even considered for kids? I have so many questions! I mean, it’ll depend on the execution, but this doesn’t exactly sound *fun*. Just sounds like class warfare, but what do I know?

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • There’s a rumor floating around that Marvel Studios is considering going with an actor of color for Magneto when the X-Men are introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This quickly turned into “DENZEL WASHINGTON IS GONNA BE MAGNETO!” I will say that I don’t totally hate the idea, mainly because it’s becoming increasingly unrealistic, just from a timeline perspective, for Magneto to continue to be a Holocaust survivor when the MCU doesn’t have the same established rebirths and resurrections that he’s experienced in the comics in order to make that possible. Plus, there are other genocidal conflicts that could stand in, just as Tony Stark’s origin has slid to more modern conflicts. Still, I don’t wanna live through the online shit storm such a move would trigger, so I’ll gladly pass.
  • Speaking of Marvel, word on the street is that the New Warriors series (ya know, which was gonna star Milana Vayntrub, AKA Lily The AT&T Girl, as Squirrel Girl) is basically dead because it couldn’t find a home. It’s a crying shame when a Marvel show “can’t find a home”, and Disney’s got a whole damn streaming service coming. That’s what it gets for being from Marvel Television and not Marvel Studios like the other shows. Sucks, though, ’cause I was looking forward to it.
  • Across the aisle, it was announced that Tom Welling and Erica Durance will reprise their Smallville roles as Clark Kent and Lois Lane, respectively, in the Arrowverse “Crisis”. I say Clark Kent because, true to Welling form, it hasn’t been confirmed that he’ll be in the Superman suit.
  • After 4 seasons, TBS has cancelled The Detour. It was a really good show that I, for whatever reason, dropped after S1. I need to catch up, but now I’m like “Should I?”
  • Netflix announced that GLOW has been renewed for a fourth and final season. I need to give that show another chance, but it’s in the middle of a very long To Do list right now.
  • My good online pal @thesurfingpizza masterminded the Taco Bell Quarterly literary zine which is such an insane undertaking that I can only look on with awe. If you love Taco Bell AND the arts, then you can’t do better than this collection. I wish I had some kind of connection to that brand to have contributed but I was a latecomer to Taco Bell. My mom always felt that tacos “don’t make no sense”, so…

I’ve got a confession: so, I went to Retro Con last weekend, and was going to do a whole recap post for it. Then, as time dwindled, I was like “Eh, I’ll just give it the West Week Ever” and kill two birds with one stone. Then I started writing this and it got pretty long on its own, so I started thinking it should have its own post again. So, long story short, Retro Con would have had the West Week Ever. Instead, I’m giving it to something else that has brought me joy since we last spoke.

When I first heard Taylor Swift’s Lover, I wasn’t impressed. I thought it was an album of vanilla Muzak that you’d hear while shopping in a Target – fitting, since Target has a massive display for the album, as they’re selling 4 (!) different special edition versions of it. It was a relatively quick listen, though, so I let it loop. And I kept it on loop. And then I fell in love with, basically, every song on that album. I considered doing a track by track review, like I’ve done with some boyband releases in the past, but my target audience doesn’t care what I think about Taylor Swift (then again, y’all didn’t care about Backstreet Boys, and I still did that, so…). So, I’ll spare you the nuanced “I see what she did here” review, and just point out some MUST HEAR tracks:

Cruel Summer

The Man

Cornelia Street

Death By A Thousand Cuts

Soon You’ll Get Better (feat. Dixie Chicks)

False God

ME! (feat Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco)

Daylight

Honestly, I love the whole album, but those listed above are the best of the best. I spend so much time griping and bitching about stuff I don’t like that it’s nice to share something that I did truly enjoy. I know it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re just looking for a good, pure pop album, you really can’t do better than this. This might go down as my album of the year, but time will tell. In any case, for all these reasons, Taylor Swift’s Lover had the West Week Ever.

 

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