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.

13th Mar2020

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

by Will

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

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

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

Trailer Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06th Mar2020

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

by Will

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

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

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

Trailer Park

SCOOB!

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

Connected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03rd Jan2020

The WBW40 – Will’s Top 40 Songs of 2019

by Will

With another year behind us, that means it’s time to look back on some of the music that made an impression over those 365 days. If you remember the past WBW40 posts, then you pretty much know what you’re in for. If you’re new, I should preface this by saying I have the musical taste of a 15 year old White girl from Norfolk, Virginia. I hate genre, so a lot of these would blur the lines of certain classifications. Still, it tends to skew to what’s typically played on country stations, with some pop sprinkled in. In fact, there’s more pop this year than in recent years, so that should make a few of you happy. I’m also proud to say that we had such a full deck that nobody made the countdown twice this year. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in, shall we?

 


40. AJ McLean – Boy and A Man

Yes, it’s THAT AJ McLean, of Backstreet Boys fame. He’s taken a few stabs at solo work in the past, but nothing has really stuck. Then, in a weird roundabout way, he decided to record some country music, as he felt that the genre was more aligned with the stories he wanted to tell at this stage of his life. Still, while he debuted this song on country radio, it’d be right at home on your adult contemporary station that airs Delilah.


39. George Strait – Every Little Honky Tonk Bar

I just like this little ditty. I’m not even really a George Strait fan. I know he’s the “Elder Statesman of Country Music”, but he’s never really done it for me. In fact, I think I drunkenly walked out of his concert a few years ago. Don’t ask me how I got there… Anyway, it’s just a fun song about dive bars. Garth also released a song about the same thing this year, but this one is far superior to his!


38. Blanco Brown – The Git Up

You’re already familiar with this one, as I introduced it to my readership earlier this year, swearing it was gonna be THE family reunion line dance of the summer. Now, I can’t confirm if that was true, as I didn’t have a family reunion this year, but I’d like to think my prediction came true, somewhere out there.


37. Jon Pardi – Heartache Medication

I buried a lot of the REAL country at the bottom of the list, but since you’re reading it as a countdown, I’m probably alienating you at this point. Oh well. I like Jon Pardi because he knows what works for him. He’s either singing about hearts or boots. His big single was “Dirt on My Boots”, then he followed that up with “Heartache on the Dance Floor”, followed by “Head Over Boots”, and then he gives us “Heartache Medication”. Somebody needs to let him know there are other words in the dictionary. Anyway, it’s got a catchy chorus.


36. Justin Moore – The Ones Who Didn’t Make It Back Home

So, I actually kinda hate this song, but I thought it would be disingenuous to leave it off the list. You see, this is an example of shrewd business by Moore’s management. To use a wrestling analogy, Justin Moore is what you’d consider a midcarder in the country industry. He’s not really groomed for a championship shot, but maybe he wins the Intercontinental title on a fluke, right? So, what does he do? He releases this patriot-bait song that would make it a crime for him NOT to get the #1 song on the country charts, because that simply wouldn’t be American! All of a sudden, he’s now moved from the midcard, and is a serious contender – all because of this one, heavyhanded song for soldiers/first responders. I’m not even the most patriotic, but it can bring a tear to my eye if it catches me on the right day.


35. Jimmie Allen – Make Me Want To

I love Jimmie Allen, as I know it can’t be easy for him as a Black man trying to make it in country music. It’s not like Darius Rucker has taken him under his wing or anything. Shit, I bet when they’re at the same event, it’s like the party scene from Not Another Teen Movie. Anyway, I LOVED Jimmie’s debut single, “Best Shot”, so it pains me that this song isn’t anywhere near that song’s level of beauty. This is a fun enough song, but nothing too special. It’s the kind of thing that would’ve been buried in the middle of a late 90s boyband album. I’m not even talking *NSYNC or even 5ive. I’m talking BBMak or LFO.


34. Thomas Rhett – Remember You Young

Rhett started the year with “Look What God Gave Her”, where he pretty much just bragged about his wife and her haters. I’m so tired of him singing about his wife. We get it. You’re in love! So, he ended up making the countdown with another love song that’s not so obviously about the mother of his children. Nothing groundbreaking her, but it’s a pretty song.


33. Billie Eilish – Bury A Friend

Couldn’t have a 2019 music countdown and NOT mention Billie. I’m sure most folks would have expected “Bad Guy”, but I simply liked this one more. I’m still not entirely in love with her sound, which is sorta like if they let Harley Quinn make beats while she’s locked up in Arkham. That’s why she’s so far down the list. But I’m gonna keep an eye on her, ’cause she’s clearly going places.


32. Zac Brown Band – Someone I Used to Know

I like Zac Brown, and there’s something about this that just hits right for me. That’s pretty much it.


31. Marshmello & Bastille – Happier

I’m ashamed to say that I know this more from Kidz Bop than the actual recording, as my oldest tends to walk around singing the chorus. That’s as juvenile as this countdown will get, though, since I took “Baby Shark” off the list (What? It hit the Billboard chart this year!)


30. SHAED – Trampoline

They’re actually a local band, but I didn’t know that when I discovered the song. I like its vibe, but it’s also the kind of thing where we’ll probably never hear from them again. It’s got One-Hit Wonder quality to it. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong, though.


29. George Michael – This is How (We Want You To Get High)

I already blogged about this earlier in the year, as George’s sister and father released the song. Then she died on Christmas – 3 years to the day that HE died. Ain’t that crazy?! Anyway, it seems like it would’ve been right at home on his Ladies & Gentlemen album from ’98.


28. Russell Dickerson – Every Little Thing

This was a great summer song, with its whistles and happy beat. And it was so much nicer to hear Russell sing about something other than his blue truck.


27. Mitchell Tenpenny – Drunk Me

Weird name for an artist, but a great song. Seriously, “Mitchell Tenpenny”? Is he an accountant? Or an actuary? I’ll be he’s an actuary. Anyway, I feel like this song could’ve worked just as well sung by an R&B artist.


26. Dan + Shay w/Justin Bieber – 10,000 Hours

What a surprising collaboration! I already love Dan + Shay because they’re not really country. If anything, they’re the second coming of Savage Garden, and the only reason they’re on country radio is because of the low barrier to entry. Their roots are NOT in country, and they work so well, vocally, with Bieber on this track.


25. Lauren Alaina – Ladies in the 90s

I also blogged about this one earlier in the year. Just a fun song about Lauren’s female singer role models while growing up.


24. Matt Stell – Prayed For You

You’d think that he was a Christian artist, but you’d be wrong. Sure, the song is kinda straddles that contemporary Christian line, that’s not what pays his bills. We do have one of those artists coming up, though.


23. Ingrid Andress – More Hearts Than Mine

I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it, as Ingrid is warning her boyfriend that he shouldn’t get too attached, as their potential breakup would end up hurting more people than just her. My wife hates that sentiment, as she said it’s not the guy’s fault if her family’s all clingy and gets attached to him. Still, as someone who’s been in that situation, I completely understand where the song’s coming from.


22. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights

Every time I listen to The Weeknd, I ask myself “Why don’t I listen to more stuff from The Weeknd?” So much of what he puts out sounds like it was unearthed from an 80s time capsule, and that’s right up my alley. This one doesn’t disappoint in that department.


21. Ryan Hurd – To A T

Oh, such great wordplay in this song! I was afraid that Hurd was just gonna end up being known as Mr. Maren Morris, but I’m glad to see he’s carving out a niche of his own. There’s a clear Jason Mraz influence here, and I like it.


20. Miranda Lambert – It All Comes Out In the Wash

Somebody needs to bring that Dixie Chicks fire that’s been missing from the boys’ club of country music, and this single from Miranda does just that.


19. Blake Shelton – God’s Country

Blake’s in an interesting place in his career, where he just kinda tosses out singles every few months just to remind folks that he’s more than just a coach on The Voice. Some of them never really even chart, but he does it to keep his country dues paid up. Every now and then, one of them actually has something to it, and this is one of the best. I love the chorus, where he pretty much takes us right up to the church door without leading us in. Still, it’s like you can hear the choir from the other side of the doors.


18. Luke Bryan – Knockin’ Boots

Speaking of reality show judges, America has gotten to know Luke Bryan as a judge on ABC’s American Idol reboot, and I don’t know if that’s been the greatest thing for his career. I say that because it’s almost like he’s changed songwriters now that he’s in the spotlight, and his song choices just ain’t that great lately. That said, I like the swing of this track. It’s hokey, and kinda like the joke of how all American fads reach Europe late, here you wonder why country music is just picking up on “knockin’ boots”.


17. Luke Combs – Beer Never Broke My Heart

Remember the midcarder conversation about Justin Moore? Well, sometimes someone comes out of the developmental territories, and you just know that’s gonna be The Guy. That’s Luke Combs. It’s clear that the industry expects big things from him, and everything he touches is a hit. Now, he did release “Even Though I’m Leaving” this year, which I thought was something of sappy low point for him, I LOVE this song. The chorus is just built for drunken singalongs.


16. Lee Brice – Rumor

Ooh, the blues influence here is incredible, and I’m glad to see that Brice has this kind of range in him. More like this!


15. Harry Styles – Adore You

This was something of a late entry, as Harry’s album just came out a few weeks ago, but this song really left an impression on me. It reminds me of the kind of stuff we’d get from Timberlake before he had a kid and lost all of the sexy he’d painstakingly brought back.


14. Michael Ray – One That Got Away

This is just a fun singalong song. I don’t know what else Michael has in the chamber, but I hope it’s more like this.


13. Maren Morris – The Bones

Maren’s really got the crossover appeal, thanks to Target featuring her in a lot of their ad campaigns. Her biggest song of the year was probably “GIRL”, but this is my favorite song from the album of the same name.


12. Chris Young – Raised On Country

Yeah, I know I know. Y’all hate country, but this song speaks to me. You see, I, too, was raised on country. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, as my mom listened to the blues, but from the age of 4 to 11, I listened to nothing but country. I think Ace of Base was what ushered me into the world of pop. So I can relate to this song.


11. Lizzo – Juice

I was late to the Lizzo train, and I’m still not fully aboard, but I’m thinking of buying a ticket. I heard this in Target and it stuck with me. Immediately came home to hear it again.


10. Backstreet Boys – Chances

If you weren’t looking for it, you’d probably never know that the Backstreet Boys released an album last year. In fact, it was released during such a new release drought that it debuted at #1 – their first #1 album in 19 years! Still, the whole thing was kinda terrible as, for whatever reason, they didn’t work with Max Martin, who was responsible for basically every one of their hits. So, this is probably the best song from that album, which shows they’ve still got vocal chops.


09. Lauren Daigle – You Say

Remember when Debbe Boone would sing about God but you thought it was about a lover? Well, get a load of this, as Lauren here is actually a Christian artist, but the song gets play on adult contemporary stations as a love song. It works both ways, but it just drives home the fact that contemporary Christian music has some of the best melodies out there.


08. Old Dominion – One Man Band

On the production side, this is a simple song, but it hits in all the right ways.


07. Jonas Brothers – Sucker

I was never a JoBro fan, but this song got a ton of airplay earlier this year, and it was impossible to escape it. While I never got into their old stuff, I dig their new sound. Marriage has done them some good!


06. Chris Lane – I Don’t Know About You

I love the picture this song paints. “What’s your wrist tattoo Bible verse say?” That is SUCH a type!


05. Panic! At The Disco – High Hopes

I kinda stumbled into this song because I think Panic!’s Brandon Urie sounds a lot like Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. So, I thought Stump had a new song when it was actually Urie. Still, I love that sound, so the song stuck with me.


04. Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved

I had heard this song, and I had heard the name Lewis Capaldi, but I didn’t realize this song was BY Lewis Capaldi. Great ballad here, and I need to check out more of his work.


03. Morgan Wallen – Whiskey Glasses

I am SUCH a Morgan Wallen stan, ever since “The Way I Talk”, followed by “Up Down”. The play on words here is great, and this ended up being one of my favorite songs of the year.


02. Lady Antebellum – What If I Never Get Over You

If we’re doing the genre thing, this was my favorite song by a country artist. It was ALMOST my favorite of the year, overall, but we’ll get to that. It’s just got such beautiful harmonies, as Lady A brought their A game to this one.


01. Taylor Swift feat Brandon Urie of Panic! At The Disco – ME!

It was hard to narrow down to just ONE Taylor Swift song to put on this countdown. Her album, Lover, was my favorite album of 2019, but it’s also not really fair to boast about that, as I didn’t listen to a ton of albums. What really made it stand out, however, was the fact that I loved pretty much every track on that thing. It’s got everything from peppy pop like this one to vaporwave tracks. Ms. Swift really outdoes herself on that album, but the standout to me was this song because it’s just so FUN. Not to mention the fact that Brandon Urie, from Panic!, shows up with his Patrick Stump soundalike vocals. That just sealed the deal for me.

So, there you have it. My favorite songs of 2019. Which were your faves? Did you discover anything new here? Leave a comment below!

18th Dec2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – I Love The 80s REMIX!

by Will

As we head into the holidays, I know fewer folks will be online (especially those avoiding Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker spoilers), so I thought I’d give you an early treat. Now, I briefly considered a West Decade Ever, but I really don’t have that in me. Instead, I kinda wanted to dabble in something different. You see, I don’t really get too musical on this site because I have the musical taste of a 15 year old White girl from Norfolk, Virginia: just enough pop knowledge, with a heavy dose of Tim McGraw sprinkled in there. Since I can’t attract that demographic without ending up on some sort of watchlist, I keep most of the music to the WBW40 post at the end of the year. That said, most of us here are Children of the 80s, and if Stranger Things has taught us anything, we eat that nostalgia shit right up! So, I thought I’d mix a little then with the now, and showcase some amazing 80s remixes I found of recent-ish songs. Some of these might not be new to you, but cut me a break, as I’ve been listening to Darius Rucker and Florida Georgia Line the past few years. This year, my holiday gift to you is a musical trip through time, where hopefully you’ll discover something that knocks your socks off as much as these did mine.

In my albeit brief research, one of the kings of this 80s remix movement seems to be a guy named Johan Olsson. If Max Martin, ABBA, and Ace of Base taught us anything, it’s to never rule out the Swedes when it comes to an earworm. He doesn’t do much to the existing songs, but what he does is SO spot on to the era. He basically isolates the original vocals and puts them over a standard 80s synth beat, but the end product sounds like something that actually charted 35 years ago.  Here’s a few of his best tracks:

“Helena” – My Chemical Romance

This was actually my introduction to this whole scene, when a friend posted the link on Facebook (See, Facebook isn’t ALL evil these days!). This could totally have been a hit by Breathe (of “Hands To Heaven” and “How Can I Fall?” fame). This has got “Awkward Slow Dance at Homecoming” written all over it, which is saying something since you can’t really dance to the original. And that sax solo! I thought it was a perfect homage already, and then that sax kicked in. And then the overlay of the sax on the final chorus? *Chef’s kiss* I would totally do this for karaoke if it were an option.

“Sugar, We’re Goin Down” – Fall Out Boy

If you’re new here, then you don’t know much about my love of California Dreams. An early staple of the 90s TNBC Saturday morning lineup, it was basically Saved By The Bell with a band (a REAL band, and not that Zack Attack crap). I would go so far as to say that I love California Dreams MORE than Saved By The Bell, primarily because of the music. Now, even though the show debuted in 1992, much of the music had that laid back, beachy sound that gave it something of a late 80s vibe. This rendition, right here, is a California Dreams song. Hence, I LOVE it. I already loved Fall Out Boy since their album Infinity On High. Loved them even more when they were part of the Teen Titans Go! The Night Begins To Shine special. With this, I don’t think it’s possible for me to love them more. Sure, they didn’t have a part in the production of this, but they provided the main ingredient, and that’s enough in my book!


“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” – Green Day

This has that dark, pulsing beat of a Pat Benatar song. If it were used in a movie, it would most definitely be during a driving sequence through the “bad part of town”. Maybe 80s Times Square, before Giuliani came and supposedly cleaned up the streets.


“Dani California” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

I can’t help but feel like this version would’ve been a great song to use in Beverly Hills Cop, just as Axel arrives in California. They could just use a bunch of standard California B-roll, with bikini girls rollerskating down the sidewalk and beautiful people playing beach volleyball.


“Side to Side” – Ariana Grande feat Nicki Minaj

Coming to a shopping mall near you is this new hit singer, Ariana Grande, and her bouncy hit “Side to Side”! This version puts a happier spin on the song, as the original sounds like snake charmer music. I will say that the Nicki verse doesn’t work as well with what Olsson is trying to emulate, but he kills it on the Ariana parts.


“Perfect” – Ed Sheeran

Know what’s funny? If this had come out in, say, 1986 Sheeran would’ve probably been a One-Hit Wonder, but this song would still be played at Black family reunions to this day. Instead, in the wacky world of 2019, he’s been named the Artist of the Decade! Not Olsson’s strongest offering, but he makes it work. This is actually one of his earliest remixes, so you can contrast this with “Helena” to see just how far he’s come in only a year at doing these.


“Symphony” – Clean Bandit feat Zara Larsson

I actually wasn’t familiar with the original in this instance, so I discovered TWO songs in this case. Immediately took to the Clean Bandits song, especially with that powerful music video that accompanies it. Still, I really like what Olsson does here. It’s understated, but could easily play over the end credits of some 80s thriller about a dystopian future. Anybody ever see that Tom Selleck/Gene Simmons movie, Runaway? Yeah, that movie would’ve been perfect for this. Again, this is one of Olsson’s earliest, but he stuck the landing on it right out of the gate.


“Poker Face” – Lady Gaga

Rest assured that Olsson isn’t the only one out there, doing the Lord’s work, and some artists just lend themselves well to the 80s remix treatment. One such artist is Lady Gaga, and this mix by D.A.M.I.A.N is pure perfection.


“Wrecking Ball” – Miley Cyrus

GK Starwalker turns in this “1987 Version” of Miley’s hit, which fires on all cylinders from the first beat. Nothing crazy is really done here, but it’s a great alternate take on the haunting song. A good, by-the-numbers 80s conversion.


“We Found Love” – Rihanna feat Calvin Harris

I really love what Rath Remix did with his one, and I’m a big fan of the original. I love how the synth comes in at the pre-chorus. This kinda sounds like Saved By The Bell music in a weird sort of way. It even ends like a TV theme song.


“I Want It That Way” – Backstreet Boys

I’ll close things out with one everyone knows. Here, Mohamad Shaxi delivers the song you hate to love, but can’t help but sing along to. You could almost call this the “GTA Mix”, as I feel like it would play in the in-game car, as you’re going to collect money from your bitches. It’s a standard synth beat, but it works. Back when I used to buy maxi singles, I could totally hear this being one of the remixes on there. After all, there wasn’t a ton of difference between late 80s pop and early-mid 90s European disco.

Well, there ya have it – 11 songs you didn’t know you’d hear when you woke up this morning. I fell down quite the rabbit hole, and I thank you for coming along with me. Which were your favorites? Do you know of any good ones I need to check out? Do you want posts like this in the future? As they say in my kids’ YouTube videos, leave a comment below! In the meantime, have a Happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas, and a Kickin’ Kwanzaa!

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.

23rd Aug2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 8/23/19

by Will

 

Do we have to talk about the Spider-Man/MCU thing? ‘Cause I really don’t wanna talk about the Spider-Man/MCU thing. Let’s do it Lightning Round style, shall we? OK, imagine Michael Pena’s Luis going through all this, as it’ll make it a lot more entertaining.

*Deep breath* Prior to the establishment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, long before Disney even purchased Marvel, Sony acquired the Spider-Man film rights. This deal gave us 2.5 good movies with Tobey Maguire and 2 movies starring Andrew Garfield that nobody really talks about. Then came the MCU, and it was good. So, Marvel Studios was able to strike a 5-movie deal with Sony that allowed them to use the character in their universe. It started with Captain America: Civil War and ended with Spider-Man: Far From Home. Everyone assumed a renewal of the deal was a foregone conclusion, but two things happened: 1) Venom, a Spider-Man spin-off NOT connected to anything the MCU was doing with Spider-Man, somehow made close to $1 billion worldwide and 2) Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse animated feature (without any major input from Marvel Studios) won Best Animated Feature Academy Award. So, now Sony’s shit don’t stink.

Fast forward to this week, when it was reported that Sony and Marvel couldn’t come to a deal, and that the character’s involvement in the MCU was most likely over. This spawned so many questions: How do you explain anything about this Spider-Man without the MCU stuff? Would Tom Holland still play the character in Sony’s standalone films? Did Tony Stark die for nothing (like Zordon did in Power Rangers In Space)? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS – which spawned SO MUCH NERD ANGER. OMG! It was nothing but hashtags about leaving Spider-Man in the MCU, and everyone took a side: Disney/Marvel’s being greedy because they don’t deserve a 50/50 split (later reported to be closer to a request of just 30%), while Sony’s being dumb because Disney/Marvel did all the heavy lifting to make the character worthwhile, so Disney/Marvel deserved anything they were asking for.

Listen here, young person! Come close, ’cause I’ve got something important to tell ya: There are no heroes here. These are both multi-billion dollar companies that have you crying crocodile tears for them. People want to start throwing around how Disney is a growing monopoly – something nobody cared about with the Fox deal, but now that their precious MCU is in danger it’s suddenly a concern. Well, I hate to break it to ya, but it’s not a David and Goliath story. Sony isn’t some little upstart studio like A24. And the problem with a David and Goliath story in 2019 is that everyone wants Goliath to win, and luckily for them, this is Goliath vs Goliath. Ya can’t lose. And, really, you can’t because this will shake down one of two ways: 1) Sony does their own thing, without Disney’s assistance, and you’ll still go see it OR 2) The two companies strike a deal, and you’ll still go see it. At the end of the day, you’re gonna see whatever it ends up being regardless. And if you all could just calm the fuck down, you’ll realize this is more than likely going to end up in your favor. In the meantime, I ask that you have some decorum, as you’re making those #ReleaseTheSnyderCut people look good.

So there’s a Variety article this week about podcasts that has ruffled some feathers. You see, after only 30-something weeks in the mines, Conan O’Brien has been crowned the new golden boy of podcasts. And the folks who have been podcasting for years are feeling some kind of way about this. I totally understand why folks would be upset, as it’s a poorly-written, somewhat naive, piece that acts like podcasts are these newfangled things that just hit the streets. If this were Parade Magazine, I’d understand this kind of take, but this is Variety! I’ve been guesting on podcasts for TEN years. They are NOT new. Still, like most things, a celebrity endorsement gets it in front of more eyes, and celebs are turning to podcasts in order to “diversify their bonds”. It also doesn’t help that Conan was a reluctant host, who basically told his staff “I have a TV show. Why do I need a podcast?” whenever the suggestion would come up. Meanwhile, there are folks putting their blood, sweat, and tears into shows and aren’t blowing up anywhere near as much as Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend has in the past year. So, it’s more than just “sour grapes”.

At the same time, though, there were some folks who were just never going to listen to a podcast. They just weren’t. It’s like me with videos. With very few exceptions (and you know who you are), I am not a YouTube guy, and there’s very little chance of me becoming one. Believe it or not, that’s how some folks feel about podcasts. But then someone they enjoy, like Conan, comes along and introduces them to the medium. Next thing you know, he’s served as a gateway to other podcasts out there, possibly even yours. “A rising tide lifts all boats”, right?

Then again, it’s like being the best football player in Baltimore circa 1994, but it didn’t matter because there was no professional team. So, you toil away in some shitty after work/weekend league only for the Browns to sneak into your city under the cover of darkness (That really happened!). A lot of folks had these dreams that their shows might grow and become these breakout hits, and now they’ve been knocked down a few pegs by celebs who see the medium as a way to supplement their income. I mean, Conan even has a bit on his show when he does ad reads, saying that he’s doing this to pay the mortgage on his expensive beach house. So, it might rub some folks the wrong way because Conan sometimes doesn’t come off as genuine, even though the show is enjoyable. It’s just it feels like he’s not doing it for the “right” reasons.

In any case, I think this might serve as a reality check for some, while it might inspire others. I’m not really sure which way the wind is gonna blow here. Some pods are packing it in, while 5 more have popped up to take the place of each. It’s so 2019 to have a podcast now. You listen to a podcast, and every guest is like “Oh, and listen to MY podcast, which is yadda yadda yadda.” The problem with the rising ships thing is that every show IS competing for the listener’s time. With only 24 hours in a day, choices must be made, as well as sacrifices. Anyway, as someone who weathered both the rise and fall of blogs, I only offer this piece of advice: stay away from Hulk Hogan’s penis, and you should be fine.

Trailer Park

Bombshell

This looks SO good, but it doesn’t feel like a theatrical release. No, this feels like something that would premiere as an HBO Original Movie. I hope they follow Megyn up to her time at NBC just so there’s chance of us getting Aisha Tyler as Tamron Hall.


No Time To Die

Formerly referred to as “Bond 25”, there’s not a lot to chew on here. Why’d they use the font from The Love Boat? Is this movie gonna be set on The Love Boat?! Anyway, that’s probably the only way I would be excited for this, as I’ve actually never seen a Daniel Craig Bond film. He just always seemed humorless, and every time I see him, it’s like he’s still just playing his character from Layer Cake.


The Morning Show (Apple TV+)

Sure, looks good, but it’s not what I was expecting. We all know Carell has range, but I was hoping for something humorous instead of an SVU-esque retelling of the Matt Lauer saga. I’d watch it were it on Netflix, Amazon – Hell, even HBO, but – and mark my words – there is no way in Hell I’m subscribing to this service. And I don’t particularly have an axe to grind with Apple, but I’m also not a devoted disciple that partakes in all of their products. I just see no draw to this service other than this show.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • After 11 years of cohosting The Country Music Association Awards with Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley has seemingly been ousted, as this year’s awards are being touted as a “Celebration of Women”. Underwood, will instead, be joined by Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.
  • It was an expensive week for Hasbro, as they revealed they had acquired the Ghostbusters license from Mattel, and they also became the new owners of Peppa Pig and PJ Masks by paying $4 billion in an all-cash deal for studio Entertainment One. Bet they kinda with The Hub was still around now, huh?
  • Original cast member Brandon Routh will be leaving DC’s Legends of Tomorrow after its upcoming fifth season. Guess he’s gotta free up some time for all those conventions he’ll probably end up doing…
  • The show that nobody besides Elizabeth Warren admits to watching, Ballers, will be ending after its upcomign fifth season. I really hope The Rock’s been saving his money, ’cause it’s not like he’s in every other movie that comes out these days.
  • Most of the gang’s going back in the goo as a fourth Matrix film, starring Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, was announced. This makes me wonder about the status of the rumored Michael B. Jordan-starring Matrix film which sounded a lot more interesting to me.
  • Move over Monday Night Wars, as Wednesday is about to be the new wrestling battleground when WWE moves their development show, NXT, to USA in September – opposite All Elite Wrestling (AEW) on TNT, which will debut a few weeks later. Damn, that was a LOT of letters!
  • Speaking of USA, all the shit going down with Chrisley Knows Best, and USA hasn’t even hinted at cancelling that show. Surely the ratings can’t be THAT good, right?
  • If you’re a fan of the He-Mans, there’s a whole lot of He-Manny goodness coming your way out of last weekend’s Power Con. First, there was more info about the Masters of the Universe Origins figure line, which will be updates on the classic figures at retail for $14.99. Then, it was announced that Kevin Smith (yup, THAT Kevin Smith), would be working on an “anime” MOTU series for Netflix, set after the original 80s cartoon.
  • Dancing With The Stars skipped a cycle because they felt the show was broken when “dark horse” Bobby Bones wrangled his radio fan base to help him win. They ain’t seen nothing yet, as former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has joined the cast in a controversial move, He doesn’t make it past Week 1.

Alright, y’all – this chicken sandwich shit has just simply gotten out of hand. Last week, I declared that the Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich had the West Week Ever, but I had no clue just how crazy things would get. The memes! The pics of Chick Fil A employees eating at Popeyes! The other chains, like Wendy’s and Shake Shack, trying to “Catch that smoke”, as the kids say! There are lines out the door at Popeyes locations, and many have sold out of the sandwich until the weekend. It’s kind of hard to believe. And then, at the same time, it isn’t.

I don’t want to go all “preachy Hotep” on folks, but Black people are going crazy over a chicken sandwich. In the year of our Lord 2019, my people are living out a racist caricature. Sure, folks will chime in “Just let people enjoy things”, but surely you’ve got to acknowledge the optics of this whole thing! It looks horrible, and it’s all for WHAT? Even HIGHER blood pressure than we already have? As I joked on Twitter, if you turn these Popeyes locations into polling places, then we might actually be on to something. Put that energy into something constructive. And this isn’t me judging someone for their hobbies or extracurricular activities, No, this is me judging you for acting like you’ve never had a damn chicken sandwich before!

Anyway, I can’t act like anything else took the pop culture world by storm this week quite as much as Popeyes so, once again, *sigh* the Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich had the West Week Ever. PLEASE let something amazing happen next week, ’cause I can’t keep doing this. Then again, we’re only about a week away from finding out that Popeyes is the exclusive food vendor to ICE agents, and this shit will all blow over.

19th Jul2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 7/19/19

by Will

Howdy! I take so many breaks that I’ve run out of clever ways to announce my return. I swear this is supposed to be a weekly thing, but it’s been a little over a month since I last wrote something. I’d say that nothing really happened in pop culture during that time, but it wouldn’t be the truth. The truth is that I didn’t really want to talk about what was happening in pop culture. There’s been a shift lately, and I don’t like what I see.

On the one hand, you’ve got the political stuff, which just seems to get worse by the day. Just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. I don’t really do a lot of politics here anyway, so there’s no real value about talking about kids in cages. You already know about that, and you’ve already made up your mind as to how you feel about that. On the other hand, though, there’s a HELL of a lot of regression going on. There’s this retro movement that I can’t really get on board because, if we’re being honest, a lot of that stuff was really bad. I get why it’s happening: things are so bad now that you’d rather retreat back to a simpler time when things didn’t seem so bad (Psst! We were in the middle of the Cold War, and Radon was threatening to kill you in your sleep every night you laid down your little head). I get that whole “safe haven” approach, but it’s become something of a crutch. A lot of folks are going so retro that they have no real ties to the present, and that’s dangerous.

On top of that, it feels like there’s some unspoken competition to see who has the most raging nostalgia boner. It started out as posts about Ecto Cooler, but somewhere along the way it has evolved (or devolved) to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone tweet “I traveled back in time and sucked New Coke out of Mac Tonight’s dick while ‘Sledgehammer’ played on my Pocket Rockers.” It has gotten THAT bad. If you don’t realize it, then you’re in the thick of it, and part of the problem.

Now, a lot of this comes from the place of me not being able to relate, as I don’t have a soft spot in my heart for a lot of the stuff folks hold dear. So, when something like Stranger Things comes along – a property that relies on the nostalgia of an age I’d prefer to not relive – I’m just left thinking “Come the fuck on! There are important things that need your attention.” But that presents another problem: not everyone needs to worry about the “important” things because many of them aren’t informed enough to weigh in. So, my whole stance the past month was basically “I can’t make you care, but I sure as Hell don’t feel like playing into Little Mermaid race hysteria when it all seems so stupid.”

Also, there are various versions of the above meme floating around social media which I just find to be abhorrent. Sure, your dad used to beat you, and your mom had a drug problem, but it’s the fact that you didn’t watch ThunderCats that your childhood sucked. Got it. That’s the problem with nostalgia: the oversimplistic notion that everything was right in the world because these random things existed. If that’s all that equated a “great childhood” to you, then you’re a lucky SOB.

There is a problem with living in the past. Things change, people change, the world changes. Take music for example. I strive REALLY hard not to be that “Music sucks nowadays” guy. There is still good, NEW stuff out there, even if you have to work a little harder to find what you like. I don’t want to get stagnant, even though age and life would like to say otherwise. Nostalgia is the easy way out. And it may make you feel good, but it also, somewhat unknowingly, disconnects you from the present. Everything is fine in moderation, but from what I see online, “moderation” is a concept that 2019 stabbed through the heart.

Anyway, this isn’t a “subtweet” about any particular person or site. There’s just too much goddamn retro/throwback stuff. Some do it better than others. All I’m saying is I’m seeing more of the past than of the present, and I know there’s some good, modern-day stuff out there so I’m going to try really hard to find it and bring it to this column. Fondly looking back on the past every now and then is fine, but stop using nostalgia as a crutch. Life was not necessarily better just because Knight Rider and ALF were on the air. There’s a great episode of Teen Titans Go! that kinda slams things like the aforementioned Stranger Things in its title alone: “Nostalgia Is Not A Substitute for An Actual Story”. Words to live by.

So, I saw Spider-Man: Far From Home a few weeks ago, but it was the first MCU film in years that I didn’t see on opening night. Maybe back to Thor: The Dark World? Anyway, I really enjoyed it, even though I’m burnt out on the MCU. There’s pre-Endgame and post-Endgame, and the world seems a bit less magical post-Endgame. I don’t have a ton of gripes about it, except for the fact that it does not, in fact, set up the multiverse. I mean, I don’t doubt that there is one, but this movie was sold as “The Snap introduced the concept of the multiverse”, and that was not true. Plus, I need to watch it again because the end credits (not the mid credits) scene kinda changes how you look at the movie. It answers some questions while posing a few others. I love the actors and the characters, though, and I don’t really have many fanboy nitpicks about the film. I may have been more passionate about it 2 weeks ago, but that’s the stuff of hot takes, so I’m glad I got to sit on it a bit before writing about it.

Diddy (is that what he’s going by this week?) announced on Instagram that music reality show Making The Band would be returning. If you don’t remember, the show gave us such chart-topping acts as O-Town and…O-Town. In fact, there were 2 eras of MTB: The original ABC/MTV version, produced by Lou Pearlman, which saw the creation of boyband O-Town, and then the Diddy/MTV version, which gave us hip hop group Da Band, R&B male group Day26, solo artist Donnie Klang, and girl group Danity Kane (There must’ve been some contractual thing that every group had to start with “D”). Looking at that list, I think you can figure out which era was more successful. So, excuse me if I’m not too excited to see what Diddy’s got cooking for this revival.

Elsewhere in the TV world, it was announced yesterday that next season would be the last for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. As one of the biggest cheerleaders of the notion of “Guys, this show is really in the MCU!”, I have to say that it lost me when it refused to acknowledge the events of Infinity War/Endgame. Yes, I understand that they weren’t sure when ABC was going to air this season, but that’s not good enough for me. In a perfect world, this season of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have been set during the five year post-Snap world. It would’ve been interesting to see S.H.I.E.L.D. as the main line of defense in a world that has lost all hope. Instead, they decided to do their own thing, thereby establishing a different timeline for the show. So, as far as I’m concerned, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ended last season, with Coulson and May on the beach together. I haven’t even given it a chance since then because, good or not, I’m a guy who only likes to invest in things that “matter” in the grand scheme of things, and AoS no longer fits that description.

Speaking of shows ending, it caught me by surprise a few weeks ago to learn that the episode of The Amazing World of Gumball that I’d just watched was actually its series finale. To make matters worse, Cartoon Network had failed to promote it as such. I only realized it after the creator tweeted some art, thanking the crew, and a little Googling later, I found out that was it. The End. I figure, considering that Gumball is about 40% of their schedule, Cartoon Network can’t really afford to make it known that there’s nothing left in the tank. Still, while people complain (rightfully so) about Cartoon Network’s scheduling practices, I stand by the opinion that Gumball was one of the smartest shows on television. There’s a great episode about privilege and the “glass ceiling”. There’s a scathing episode about homeschooling flat earthers. There’s even a House of Cards parody. For all of its wackiness, there was a lot of heart and intelligence in that show. The episode “The Choices” is just as emotional as the opening of Up! It also doesn’t help matters that the episode was a cliffhanger, insinuating that something bad was headed to the town of Elmore. There are talks that a movie might happen, which would tie things up, but I’ve learned not to put much stock in the “wrap up movie” promise. So, let’s pour one out for Gumball, Darwin, Anais, Mr Dad, and Nicole. May you forever live on in reruns.

Out in the toy world, we got our first looks at 2 high-end products that require fan input to make them a reality. For those not in the know, Hasbro has a concept called HasLab, where they run a crowdfunded, Kickstarter-like model to fund products that wouldn’t normally make it to stores, either because of size or price point. The first HasLab item was the Star Wars Jabba’s Sail Barge, which clocked in around $500. Despite that price, it was pretty popular amongst Star Wars toy collectors. Well, last week, Hasbro debuted the next HasLab item, which took folks by surprise: a $300 Cookie Monster doll. While it seems they’ve nailed the googly-eye tech, it’s surprising that there aren’t any animatronics given the price tag. As you can probably imagine, this didn’t sit well with “hardline” toy fans, so they had their day this week, when Hasbro also revealed the Titans scale Transformers Unicron, which will cost about $575. That mother is HUGE, and most of my timeline is all “I wish I could afford it…” There’s even a hole on the back in which I’m CERTAIN some fans will be inserting their penises. However, as I said on Twitter, for $575, I’d be disappointed if you DIDN’T fuck it!  I’m just glad HasLab focuses on properties I don’t care about. It’ll be a different story when they’re like “Here’s a 6″ scale Avengers Tower.” Then you’ll see me on the news, after I’ve robbed a check-cashing joint.

Trailer Park

The King’s Man

Originally called Kingsman: the Great Game, this is the prequel to the Kingsman franchise, and I’m pretty excited. I loved the first movie, though still haven’t watched the second. This one, however, seems to be playing it more straight than the past 2 installments, as I don’t see the same brand of humor in it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as some of the humor was really distracting in the first one (the whole bit about Eggsy “buggering” the blonde at the end comes to mind). Not sure I’ll see this one in the theater, but we’ll see.


Legend of the White Dragon

Former Power Ranger Jason David Frank just can’t give up the ghost, so here he is, trying to fund a Kickstarter for what’s basically Mighty Public Domain Rangers. It was one thing when it was just JDF, but now there’s a cottage industry of former Rangers who just can’t seem to shake the morpher. And they’re ALL in this film. Now, I don’t do Kickstarters anymore because I’ve been burned too much, but I’ll definitely watch this if it’s funded. It’s apparently a “movie”, but I’ll bet it’s one of those things that’s gonna clock in at an hour when all is said and done. That’s not a movie. That’s a “special”. If a movie is an LP, this thing will be an EP.


Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans

Yeah, I know this was teased at the end of Teen Titans Go to the Movies, but I’m left wondering: Who’s this for? I find there is very little crossover between audiences for both shows, and this certainly isn’t the “return” that Teen Titans fans were expecting. If I were a fan of the original Teen Titans show (which I’m not), I’d kinda find this whole enterprise offensive. Hell, as a fan of Teen Titans Go! I find the whole thing offensive. I also find it interesting that it’s straight to DVD. It’s not like it’s worthy of a box office release, but considering it is the “return” of that incarnation of the team, I figured DC/WB would’ve found some special way to debut it. I no longer buy those DC direct to DVD movies, so I don’t know how I’m ever gonna see it unless Cartoon Network decides to air it one Saturday (which wouldn’t be that much of a surprise).

Jay & Silent Bob Reboot

“Daddy, put me in a movie! A real movie. Not some shit like Yoga Hosers!” Man, I’m old enough to remember when Harley Quinn Smith was born, and now she’s in her dad’s vanity project. It’s funny how all the “stars” from the last Jay & Silent Bob movie are has beens now. I guess that’s the joke, huh? And please don’t make me have to look at 2019 Shannon Elizabeth! See, this is what I was talking about earlier, about digging up the past! Anyway, I’ll see it, but not in a theater unless I somehow decide to try to go to that traveling roadshow thing they’re doing.

Top Gun: Maverick

Does this movie hold the record for longest amount of time between sequels, featuring the original star? It’s GOT to, right? Anyway, I have no real affinity for the original, but this kinda got me curious. I always thought Top Gun 2 was gonna be about Maverick instructing the next generation of flyboys. Instead, it’s just about some 50 year old dude who doesn’t know how to land the plane. I guess you’d pretty much have to see this one on the big screen, with all the planes doing plane shit and stuff.

CATS

Um, so many confusing and conflicting emotions inside…

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Netflix has decided to remove the controversial suicide scene from season 1 of 13 Reasons Why, which I guess would be 1 reason why I’d not want to waste my time watching this series, seeing as how that’s what the whole thing is about.
  • Comic writer/artist/Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld will be doing a G.I. Joe Snake-Eyes comic, so queue up all your “He can’t draw feet” jokes!
  • “Mumblecore” screenwriter Greta Gerwig is reportedly writing Margot Robbie’s Barbie movie that’ll never be made.
  • Controversial country star Lil Nas X came out as gay to cap off Pride Month, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knew that he was kicked off Twitter back in the day for violating the terms of service with a Nicki Minaj stan account.
  • Hasbro is apparently preparing to reboot the Power Rangers movie franchise with an entirely new cast from the one that starred in the underperforming 2017 outing.
  • Black UK actress Lashana Lynch will reportedly play 007 in Bond25, which will require Daniel Craig’s James Bond to come out of retirement. And the folks, of course, are losing their shit. Or so the Russian bots would lead us to believe!
  • Call up your alcoholic uncle, because his favorite show, Nash Bridges, is being revived with Don Johnson for USA Network!
  • Someone needs to rein in America’s White Trash Food Scientists as, between Burger King’s $1 tacos and KFC’s Cheetos Sandwich, the nation’s colons don’t stand a chance!
  • This is 5 years old, but I just discovered it yesterday, so now you have to join me on this adventure:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in an ICE cage), then you couldn’t get through this week without coming into contact with the FaceApp. Somewhere, on one of your social media feeds, you saw someone laughing along to a pic of them looking like some elderly ghoul. I say that because nobody looked *good*. I hate to break it to you, but you’re all gonna age poorly, looking like Miss Jane Pittman. I didn’t join in the fun because it just seemed too…easy. You’re just letting this random ass app access your photo for…what? To see what you’d look like as a baby? I already have baby pics for that. To see what you’d look like as a woman? Yeah, I’m not about to catfish anybody any time soon. So, it certainly didn’t come as a surprise to me when it was revealed that the app was developed by our good friends, the Russians.

Wireless Lab is the Russian company that created the app, and Lord only knows what’s going to happen from that. It’s been reported that it accesses your entire camera roll and not just the pics you’re editing. And take a gander at the terms of service:

You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you. When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public.

Some folks thought the app would be used to hone facial recognition software, but this seems far worse. You’ll notice I haven’t included any pics with this entry. Yeah, I’m not gonna be a party to that. I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that I don’t believe in privacy. It’s why all my screennames are my real name. Anyone can get anything they want about you if they try hard enough. I recognize this, but I’m not going to make it easy for them. We live in a world where folks will record an entire sex tape on their phones, willingly give access to the camera to a random ass app, and then get surprised when their sex tape “leaks”. Not so good at the math, are we? We complain about “privacy”, but we have open mics in our homes just to turn on the lamp ’cause, well, “it’s way over there”.

A friend online mentioned that there are other apps with far worse ToS than FaceApp, but that they weren’t getting nearly as much attention. That may be true, but that doesn’t make it right. Plus, the other sites probably give you an experience to make it worthwhile. I always say Michael Jackson got off all those years because he gave the world Thriller. Same situation here. Facebook’s ToS are pretty bad, but it at least allows me to stalk strangers and look at pics of my enemies’ ugly kids. To me, there’s a worthwhile trade-off there. Not with FaceApp.

If there’s a pic of me floating around out there it’s because someone uploaded one, but it sure as Hell wasn’t me. If the Russians want my secrets, they’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned way: get me into a motel room, and film me being peed on by one of their whores as a means of extortion. It won’t be from FaceApp. Still, can’t knock the hustle, so that’s why FaceApp had the West Week Ever.

Also, before we wrap up here, this week marks the 16th anniversary of the site. While I know that absolutely none of you have been along for the ride all 16 years, I appreciate each and every one of you who has jumped on along the way. If we’re being real, it only got “good” about 10 years ago, but there’s some good H&M drama in the early days if you’re into that sort of thing. Either way, this started as a means to pass the time when I got my first boring ass job. And here we are, many boring ass jobs later, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. Sure, I’ll take the occasional break – either when pop culture fails to produce OR I fear I’m about to burn some bridges – but I always come back. As long as there’s at least one of you out there, I’ll always come back. And probably even after that last one of you gives up. This is because I don’t know how to quit. So, this is my way of saying you’ll never be rid of me. Muhuhahahahahahahaha! But seriously, thanks for giving me something to look forward to every Friday.

21st Jun2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 6/21/19

by Will

Hi! Are you there, readers? It’s me, Will. Yeah, I took a month off. I just wasn’t that excited about anything in popular culture, and you know the saying “If you can’t say anything nice…” I mean, it felt like folks were losing their shit over upside down Whoppers and a re-release of a soda that was universally hated, and I just didn’t understand why. Still, if you say anything, you’re a “hater”, so I decided to “just let people enjoy things”.

So, what have I been up to since I’ve been gone. Well, I’ve been rewatching NBC’s Superstore from the beginning. I usually don’t understand how folks have time to *rewatch* things in this day and age when there are always about 6 shows on everyone’s To Watch List. This came down to logistics. I’ve been trying to clean my basement, and I don’t have cable down there. I do, however, have a Fire Stick and the NBC app, so that led me to Superstore – a show I’ve always loved, but seemed to have missed some episodes here and there. Anyway, if you’ve ever worked retail, it speaks directly to your soul. Plus, I hung out once with Ben Feldman – the actor who plays Jonah – because he’s a friend of a friend from college. Yeah, I’m namedropping. I figure when I’m done with Superstore, I’ll double back to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s something to do until this season of The Good Place hits Netflix.

Another thing I’ve been doing is watching a lot of teen sitcoms. If you’re new here, then I should probably let you know I was obsessed with TNBC growing up. I’m that rare person who loved California Dreams more than Saved by the Bell, and I prefer The New Class to SBTB original recipe. I watched all those Saturday morning shows, and I miss them the way other folks miss Saturday morning cartoons. That said, Nick and Disney Channel stepped in to fill that void, but it’s a little weirder because those shows skew younger. TNBC was all high school stuff, but Disney and Nick are middle school aged, yet applying the same “weight” to storylines as the high school shows. It’s kind of funny because everyone knows that nothing in middle school matters. It’s MIDDLE SCHOOL! Still, they drop a smoothie on their fanny pack, and somehow get a 22-minute plot out of it.

Now, before you think I’m some kind of R. Kelly, I’m watching these shows because I’m a terrible parent, and I let my 4-year old choose her own entertainment. She has no idea what’s going on. She just likes watching tweens do shit because she’s dying to grow up. Last night, she came into my bedroom and said “This place is SICK!” I was like “Do you even know what that means?” And she was sheepishly like “I dunno.” Anyway, since I want to know what she’s watching, I end up watching too.

When did live action kids shows become so convoluted?! When we were younger, it was enough to say “These kids are in high school”. That was it. That’s all you needed to know. California Dreams came along, and it was “These kids are in high school, and they’re in a band.” Fine. But then Disney Channel came along and just kinda lost their minds. It really all goes back to That’s So Raven, back in 2003. If you never saw it, Raven-Symoné played Raven Baxter, a regular high schooler – WHO HAD GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE! HUH?! Yeah, Raven would have these half-assed psychic visions, but not really know the context of them. And hilarity would ensue! I guess kids loved that shit, ’cause it lasted 5 seasons, and it’s even back as the sequel series Raven’s Home.

One show my oldest is really into right now is Some Assembly Required, which was a Canadian show that is now considered a “Netflix Original”. A 14 year old kid sues a toy company when a defective chemistry set blows up his house, and he wins the toy company. So, it’s a teen sitcom about him and his friends running this toy company, while the former owner schemes to get it back from him. I really like the show because it combines my love of dumb TV with my love of toys. Still, though, I’m like “When do these kids go to school?” and “What are the legal ramifications of something like this?” Meanwhile, my daughter is all “Look, they’re dressed like cupcakes!” It’s the little things.

Another one we’ve watched is Sydney to the Max, on Disney Channel. Sydney is a tween who lives with her widower father, Max, and grandma, played by Caroline Rhea. Its so sad to see Sabrina’s thicc aunt now playing grandma roles, but time marches on. Sydney and her friend Ava get into wacky adventures, and they’re contrasted by flashbacks to 1992 where her dad and his best friend Leo get into wacky adventures. On paper, it’s meant to show how certain things are timeless, regardless of the generation. However, in the episodes I’ve watched, the Sydney/Ava stories have very little to do with the Max/Leo stories. It’s kinda interesting to see a show lose its way during its first season. I get what they wanted to do, but the execution doesn’t really work. Still, it’s an enjoyable show, and a few episodes have been directed by Topanga herself, Danielle Fishel.

There’s one Disney Channel series, though, where I was like “OK, you’ve finally gone too far.” Officially premiering this week, Just Roll With It is a show about an interracial blended family. Black Dad with son marries White Mom with daughter, and the kids have to learn to embrace their new existence as siblings. This could’ve been an interesting premise, and considering the strides Disney made with gay representation in Andi Mack, I was curious to see how/if they’d tackle the interracial thing here. Sure, Andi Mack is a drama, and this is a sitcom, but laughter is a good “foot in the door” for an agenda. Well, they threw out any sort of seriousness with the show by adding a certain conceit: there are certain scenes where the audience gets to decide what happens to the family. The story is just moving along, and then this air horn goes off. The audience is, then, given 3 choices of what they want to happen in the scene, regardless of what the scene is about. In the premiere, it was a heartfelt scene where the kids tell each other they’ve got their back, as they’re now siblings. Meanwhile, the audience decides that this should happen during an earthquake, so the set rocks back and forth, throwing the cast from side to side as they try to deliver their lines. I get that it’s this “Anything Can Happen!” improv vibe, but it’s so dumb that I actually HOPE they avoid anything with meaning. I don’t want a very special episode where dad gets pulled over by the cops, and then the audience decides that everyone should speak in Pig Latin.

Anyway, I also joined my buddies @chapmanrunner and @HorrorMovieBBQ to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Batman (1989). It was a fun podcast, where you might learn a dark secret about me! Give it a listen here.

So, that’s where I’ve been. Guess we ought to look at some pop culture news, huh?

Trailer Park

Bad Trip

I actually love everyone in this, but there’s no way I’d pay money to see it. This is one of those things where you end up watching it on MTV at 1 AM and hope they haven’t edited out the best stuff.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • In its quest to unseat the undeserving Avatar, the majestic Avengers: Endgame will be re-released in theaters with additional footage.
  • The Today Show celebrated 25 years in Studio 1A, but in their video package Matt Lauer was retconned from existence.
  • A Daily Beast article reminded the world that piece of shit Max Landis is still a piece of shit.
  • Fresh off the cancellation of Fox’s The Passage, Mark-Paul Gosselaar has been cast as the dad in ABC’s Mixed-ish, after Anders Holm was let go after the pilot was picked up.
  • DC Comics confirmed the rumor that the Vertigo imprint would be going away, with all imprints moving under the DC Comics brand, with age recommendations
  • After speculation ran wild that Marvel would be adapting Sam Raimi’s script for the unmade Spider-Man 4, in comic form, the announcement was actually something less interesting: J.J. Abrams, and son Henry, will be writing a 5-issue Spider-Man miniseries debuting in September. I know we’re supposed to be excited about this, but it really just feels like Successful Director Uses Connections to Secure Job for Son.

By now, everyone has heard of Lil Nas X and his song “Old Town Road”. Hell, I even wrote about it. Well, the Black invasion of country music didn’t end there. As I said on Twitter, we’ve cracked the code. We took the White House, and we’re coming for the Waffle House! The next artist you should familiarize yourself with is Blanco Brown, whose song/dance The Git Up is about to invade your family reunion.

I heard an interview with Blanco this week, and he seemed like a real cool dude. Plus, he can SANG! Seriously, if you hear him sing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, you’ll wonder why he’s doing novelty songs like this. Anyway, you’ve got to find your joy in life, and this brought me joy, so I’m giving Blanco Brown the West Week Ever.

03rd May2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 5/3/19

by Will

Well, would you look at this! A whole post dedicated to recent happenings in pop culture! Been a while since we’ve had one of these, huh? I took last week off because I knew a lot of folks had gone dark so as not to have Endgame spoiled for them. And the week before that, I took you back to some of the great fires in sitcom history (and the stats showed me you care for stuff like that WAY more than this post! Guess I ought to do something about that). Anyway, I’m back to pop culture because, honestly, I need the practice. My annual TV network upfronts post is coming in 2 weeks, and I’m actually pretty scared. Not only am I somewhat out of touch, but it’s looking like this was a terrible pilot season. How bad was it? Well, The CW cancelled NOTHING. That…that just doesn’t happen. This means there was nothing in development that they felt was strong enough to join their schedule. The CW. So, if things are this bad for them, I can only imagine how bad it’ll be for the big boys. One doesn’t simply walk into an upfronts post – especially in a year full of dogs. So, I’m here to brush off the cobwebs.

Didn’t really expect to spark the CGI Furry Civil War this week, but it almost happened. Late last week, I tweeted that I didn’t really understand for whom Detective Pikachu was made. I mean, sure, it’s an engaging world where Pokémon are just regular creatures, but there are certain choices that don’t make sense to me, like Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu. Did Tara Strong turn them down or something? Reynolds is not the voice I’d imagine coming from Pikachu, so it makes me feel like they’re going for that Deadpool sardonic wit as opposed to cutesy. Anyway, after posting that, a bunch of 40 year old men came to the movie’s defense, like “This movie is for ME!” Okie doke.


So, imagine my surprise when there was such backlash to the release of the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer this week. The world that had embraced Detective Pikachu with open arms was shitting all over Sonic. I mean, I get the complaints. He looks weird, it’s a tired “CGI character in the real world” plot, it looks nothing like the games, and then there’s the reemergence of 90s Jim Carrey. It’s a lot. But you’d think the trailer jumped out of the computer and shot folks’ grandmothers in the face. Some Poindexter online tried to argue that Pikachu was clearly a universe crafted with care, where the characters are accepted residents, while Sonic is just lazy by throwing him into our world in a tired battle against the military. I told this person they sure knew a lot about a movie that wasn’t even out yet. Got blocked.

My argument is, at the end of the day, it’s the same shit. It’s all part of a new “genre” that you might as well call “CGIve Action”, and there’s a spectrum. You can have CGI creature in human world, like these two movies, and it runs all the way to Disney’s upcoming “live action” The Lion King. This is just the world we live in now. But to argue if one furry property is better than another just seems stupid. It’s really just a popularity contest. In 2019, Pokémon is more popular than Sonic. It’s really that simple, though folks will come up with all sorts of reasons as to why I’m wrong. It’s a lot like the concept of harassment. It’s “harassment” if you’re not attracted to the harasser. Otherwise, it’s simply “courting”. Everyone wants to be “booed up” with Pikachu, while Sonic is the ugly girl they hooked up with at camp but won’t acknowledge when they’re all back in school.

Anyway, the Let People Enjoy Things! crowd is real vocal until it comes time to shit on something they don’t like. I got response after response from strangers with anime avatars about how lazy Sonic looked, while so much care had clearly been put into Detective Pikachu. I just stopped responding after a while because life is short and I was never gonna get back that time I was wasting. I thought that would be the end of it, until last night, when reports started coming out that Paramount was going to “fix” Sonic’s design.

Like the movie, hate the movie, this is a terrible decision by Paramount. A project was changed due to audience backlash. Whatever happened to creative and artistic vision? For all we know it was a very vocal minority. Sure, you might support this decision because it’s for something you didn’t like. However, remember all those folks who hated Rose Tico? Or the Release the Snyder Cut folks? This just emboldens them. Seriously, whoever made this decision at Paramount needs to be fired, because this gives hope to every Fuck Star Wars or Fuck Captain Marvel psychotic out in these streets. A studio bowed to the pressure of a vocal minority who’ll swear they were the majority. I can’t even begin to fully capture how horrible a precedent this sets, yet here we are. The funny thing is, though, there simply isn’t enough time to fix anything. Even if the VFX team works overtime, it just means they’re screwing over all the licensees, as Sonic’s appearance will no longer match any of the movie merch that’s already been created. Paramount should’ve just taken the loss and moved on to the next thing. To be honest, outside of their cable channel that no one watches, I didn’t even realize Paramount was still a thing. If they keep making decisions like this one, they won’t be for much longer.


Burger King was trending on social media for this video yesterday. There’s been a lot of chatter online about their new marketing campaign addressing mental health. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety (“Not YOU, Will!”), the campaign speaks to me, but probably not in its intended fashion. You see, when I was in 7th grade, it was my lone year in public school. I remember that someone put snot on my locker in much the same way the “skank” finds gum on hers. I’m sure it was one of the kids who routinely called me “faggot” that year. Ain’t kids a buncha stinkers?

Anyway, I feel like the commercial would’ve worked without the associated boxes. Instead, like my pal @thesurfingpizza said, I just wanna collect the boxes. Can you choose a box or is it at random? Can I just go up and order a DGAF Meal? Plus, it feels kinda juvenile. Case in point: the wife and I toured a preschool over Spring Break, and they had this thing where the kids come in and put a clothespin on the emotion board to show how they’re feeling that day, so the teachers will know how to approach them. This feels like that. Like, if I come home with the PISSED Meal, and slam it on the table, the family is gonna go “OH SHIT!” and scatter immediately. Actually, that might be kinda cool…

Trailer Park

The Righteous Gemstones (HBO)

This show is sure to ruffle some feathers when it premieres, but it looks SO GOOD. The only people offended will be the folks who need a wake up call from megachurch-owning televangelists, but it’s also gonna give cynical atheists quite a bit of ammunition. I don’t even have HBO, but I love everyone in this, so you’d better believe I’m going to find some way to watch it.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 6 (ABC) 

I just can’t get excited about this show anymore for 2 reasons: 1) the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are pretty much a big “Fuck You” to this series (I’ll get more into this later) and 2) the show’s inability to let go of actors is really starting to grate on me. I love Clark Gregg as much as the next guy, but let the dude go. This whole “He only looks like Coulson, but isn’t Coulson” is just the Ward saga all over again. I don’t feel like sitting through that again. Plus, it can only end one of two ways: he truly is evil and gets defeated in some ambiguous manner (he totally gets defeated ’cause the show has already been picked up for season 7) OR he’s redeemed somehow. Knowing the show, and the Whedon DNA in it, I’d bet on option #2. I know folks say last season was great, but I didn’t even make it through the 2-hour season premiere. I’ve fought long and hard about “No, guys! This is the show that actually matters to the MCU!”, but I no longer see how that’s possible. I feel like it’s overstayed its welcome at this point, and if everything truly isn’t connected, then I’m ready to get off this ride.

Will’s Jukebox


“More Hearts Than Mine” – Ingrid Andress

The gist of this song is to not bring anyone you’re dating home to meet your friends and family. Why? ‘Cause if/when y’all break up, they’ll be breaking more hearts than just yours. Actually, the chick in the song is pretty resilient, ‘cause she’s like “I’ll get over it, but you’ll be hurting these other people.” It’s more about protecting your loved ones than the other way around. I just found it an interesting angle for a song. And I know folks think I skew too country, but I’d say this song is without genre. Seriously, in the early 00s, there were all these artists like Jem and Nellie McKay and Rufus Wainwright who really didn’t fit standard “genres”. I loved all of them, and I’d put this in that club.


“Late Night Feelings” – Mark Ronson ft. Lykke Li

I liked Lykke Li’s “Little Bit”, which is now about ten years old. Damn. And in ten years, she still hasn’t really become a household name. That’s really a shame. In any case, on this song, she sounds like she’s vying for the Gaga Belt, which Stefanie vacated when she went off to bang Bradley Cooper. I love the vintage feel of this one, but I wonder if I’d love it as much without the visuals of the video. Seriously, she even kinda looks like a Gaga impersonator here. Anyway, it’s actually Mark Ronson’s song, and I’m convinced he’s a goddamn Time Lord. He has mastered these long gone genres that don’t really get a lot of play these days. Remember that Amy Winehouse’s 60s-tinged Black to Black was pretty much masterminded by Ronson. I swear that, without Ronson, she would’ve died an unknown. Or she might still be alive, struggling along, ‘cause she wouldn’t have had the fame she got following the success of Black. Want proof? Check out her Ronson-less debut, Frank. Anyway, with this song, I see Ronson’s managed to move up a decade.


“Me” – Taylor Swift ft Brendon Urie

I haven’t really fucked with Taylor since 1989. I only saw this video because it auto-played as an ad following another video I watched. That’s shifty! Or is it SWIFTY? Anyway, this song is saccharine but does little for me. Honestly, in this pairing, I’m here more for Panic at the Disco dude than Taylor. Such an odd choice to have him here, but it works. This is the kind of song that will be a hit merely because it’s Taylor, but isn’t really a “hit song”.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Did you know that great storytelling doesn’t rely on gimmicks and can’t be ruined by “spoilers”? No? Then you clearly haven’t tweeted this week with someone who self-published a fantasy novel!
  • So, get this: Hulu has picked up 2 Marvel series, including Ghost Rider and Helstrom. To even put the cherry on top, Gabriel Luna, who played Ghost Rider on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be starring in this show. HOWEVER, this show will not be related to the character he played on AoS. HUH? Meanwhile, Helstrom is the Son of Satan, so I can only imagine they’re trying to tap into that Lucifer fanbase.
  • At some point during my hiatus, retro channel MeTV started airing their first original program, Collector’s Call. Hosted by Lisa Whelchel of The Facts of Life fame, each week focuses on someone’s strange and interesting collection. I don’t think MeTV even airs in the DC market anymore, but you can watch past episodes on the channel’s website.
  • The -ish empire is growing, as not only has Black-ish been renewed for a 6th season, but its prequel, Mixed-ish just got the greenlight from ABC, which will focus on Tracee Ellis Ross’s Rainbow growing up in the 80s/90s.

Links I Loved

This used to be a regular part of West Week Ever, but y’all weren’t clicking the links, so I killed it. Still, there’s so much great writing out there that needs to be shared, so let’s give it another shot.

Avengers: Endgame. What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Or felt? By now, most of you have seen the film, so we can now relate to one another on that level. Sure, it wasn’t the best movie ever made, but considering it was the endcap to 11 years and 21 movies, it was a friggin’ masterpiece! So many moving parts, so many characters to showcase. And it did the damn thing. The way I see it is, if you never really cared for the MCU (I see you, James, Jenn, and Chad), this movie ain’t gonna be the one to convert you. However, if you’ve been a fan for most of this journey, then you’ll be pretty satisfied by what Endgame delivers.

Since everyone and their father has opinions on this film, I’m not gonna review it, per se. Instead, I’m just going to share the thoughts that went through my head following my two viewings of the film:

  • Hated Smart Hulk. Was really expecting a moment where he would forego that and truly HULK OUT
  • Not a fan of John Slattery as middle-aged Howard Stark. I know they don’t like to reference the TV shows much, but I feel like Dominic Cooper should’ve reprised the role, as he was Stark on Agent Carter, during this phase of Howard’s life. Plus, they had TV’s Jarvis! It just would’ve made sense.
  • Speaking of TV, we’re on a 24 timeline now. Despite the fact that 24 lasted 9 seasons, the seasons were set some distance apart – some as little as 18 months, while some were around 5 years. That means that the 24 timeline, once said in done, spanned about 17 years. What I’m getting at is Where does this leave Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Since it seems to take place in “real time”, and premieres in about a week, is it now set in the post-snap 5 year period? And, if they are gonna acknowledge that aspect of Endgame, how are they gonna explain how NONE of the team got dusted from The Snap?
  • I thought it was a bad move to just bring everyone back in the present day INSTEAD of backing up the clock 5 years. That leads to so many problems in the “real world”. Did insurance companies go bankrupt from all the payouts from The Snap, and did they get that money back when everyone returned? So, Peter Parker is just gonna go back to school, with a bunch of kids who were in elementary school when he disappeared? Think of all the folks who died during that period of time, either through suicide or natural causes, who still won’t see their loved ones again.
  • Great character work from Thor
  • So, a lot of the Timey-Wimey stuff didn’t make a lot of sense. We start with time travel, then we move to predestination paradoxes, and then we get to branch off into alternate timelines. In standard science fiction, Present Day Nebula would’ve disappeared when she killed Past Nebula because killing herself in the past would prevent her from existing in the present. This, however, was not “standard science fiction”, and I guess all of our time travel knowledge truly was shaped by Back to the Future.
  • As cute as the A-Force scene is, can we admit that Hope Van Dyne is hopelessly outclassed in this fight, and probably should’ve died on the battlefield? What makes it even funnier is how she’s the one with the most swagger as they’re slow-walking into battle.
  • Um, Clint murdered a LOT of people. Sure, they were “bad” people, but he straight up murdered them. Is he not gonna pay for those crimes?
  • Howard Stark says that he rarely chooses the greater good over self interest, and that shows in Tony, as well. Think about it: the only reason he doesn’t want to turn back the clock is that it would erase Morgan from existence. He told Cap and co that he had too much to lose from the time heist, but let’s be honest that there’d be a lot fewer questions to answer had they just reconstituted the universe at an earlier point in time or some shit, instead of just bringing everyone back to life five years later. Sure, his sacrifice is selfless, but the timeline, man, the timeline…
  • The Morgan stuff really got to me, since my oldest is her age. I’m not about to go die to save the galaxy, but it was still like “Huh, Tony Stark and I have something in common.”
  • I said this on social media, but it’s still true: In the MCU, after his Winter Soldier programming is broken, Bucky’s characterization can best be described as “Older brother, just home from rehab, who really hopes the treatment sticks this time”.
  • It’s interesting to see what Steve Rogers will look like when he’s addressing an empty chair onstage at the 2024 Republican National Convention.

Anyway, all these thoughts aside, it was such an amazing experience. It’s also a film that you MUST see in the theater. Now that the spoilers are out, I’m not sure if it’ll have the same effect, but it was transformative sharing those emotions and twists and turns with a room full of strangers. I had never given much of a shit about the “movie-going experience” until I saw this film. It just… *chef’s finger kiss*. As you can probably figure out by now, Avengers: Endgame had the West Week Ever.

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