26th Apr2011

So, That Was Beetlejuice…

by Will

Yes, I know you’ve come to rely on me as your pop culture lifeline, but there are gaps in even my education. I can’t watch/read/play everything, so I’ve missed a few things that might surprise you. For example, I’ve never seen Titanic. Yup, I’m that guy you’ve always heard about. Never seen it, nor do I have plans to change that. I’ve also never seen an episode of Lost. Sorry, but I felt that some dude in his mom’s basement had a better ending in mind than what the audience would get. From what I’ve heard from fans, I was probably right. I’ve also never seen Beetlejuice. This was rectified the other night.

Now, I know most of you have probably seen Beetlejuice, but maybe it was when you were younger. If you’ve seen it recently, how do you feel it has held up over time? Maybe I would’ve felt differently had I seen it when it came out, but these are the thoughts I had while watching the movie:

1) Why is it even called “Beetlejuice“? I mean, he’s not really in the movie as much as his billing would imply. If they release a Blu Ray anniversary edition, it should be called The Skinny Adventures of Dead Jack Donaghy.

2) My God is Beetlejuice annoying! Most of what he says/does shouldn’t even be considered “funny”. They say Tim Burton wanted Sammy Davis Jr for the role, but Keaton came highly recommended. As he ended up as Batman, this clearly didn’t kill Keaton’s career. I just feel like this thing would’ve had Jim Carrey written all over it had they gone into production a few years later.

3) Who felt that this movie would translate well as a cartoon, and are they legally allowed around children? I mean, Beetlejuice was going to force teenage Lydia into marrying him. According to some reports, the original script had him just raping her. Now, I’d never seen the movie, but I’ve seen a good 70% of the animated series. Sure, there were times when Lydia & Beetlejuice’s relationship seemed a bit..odd, but the movie puts it in a whole new light. It’s got a similar juxtaposition as The Real Ghostbusters: in the movies, Slimer’s an elusive pest, yet in the cartoon, he’s their pet/mascot. In the Beetlejuice cartoon, an otherworldy pervert becomes a rainy day pal to a bored goth girl.

4) Has anyone ever posited the idea of a “Beetlejuice Curse”? I mean, sure, it’s a stretch, but let’s look at the what happened to the cast: Jeffrey Jones became a sex offender; Winona Ryder “liked” the five finger discount on the facebook of life; Alec Baldwin got fat and has only recently been forgiven for straight kirking out on his daughter on an answering machine; Catherine O’Hara kept leaving her kid at home, yet never seemed to attract the attention of Child Protective Services; Glenn Shadix died after falling in his home; no one’s seen Geena Davis since 2005. If the Beetlejuice Curse isn’t a thing, it ought to be.

5) The effects were good. A lot of them felt almost wasted, but I like the whole claymationy/practical effects thing they had going on. In today’s world of blue screen, it’s nice to see how things used to be done.

6) No one in the movie is likable. I know I’m supposed to be rooting for Jack Donaghy and Commander-In-Chief, but they kinda suck at life. And at death. Why should I want them to save their house. This was an 80s movie, back when greed was “good”. Fuck them and their house. The Deetzes were a bunch of vapid yuppies, so fuck them, too. Does anyone ever root for the goth chick, except for other goths? Get over yourself and add some color to your wardrobe! So, Lydia’s out. And Beetlejuice is just an asshat. I think I was probably rooting for the sandworms.

7) Kenner had quite the toyline based on this movie, which now seems to be just as fucked up as the fact that they turned it into a cartoon. I remember a lot of those toys (thanks to old Kenner Action Toy Guides), so my favorite part of the movie was identifying all the scenes that had inspired the various action figures.

So, there you have it. If I just pissed in the Corn Flakes of your childhood, I apologize. I just don’t get this movie. I’m also not really a Tim Burton guy outside of the Batman movies, so maybe I’m just not cultured enough to get his work. Considering Beetlejuice came out during a year that saw the release of such classics as Die Hard, A Fish Called Wanda, and Emmanuelle 6, I’m kinda surprised it was as successful as it was. I just don’t know if those same fans would look as fondly upon it now as they did back then.

07th Apr2011

So, Which TV Network Are You?

by Will

I’m not sure if this is obvious to some, but the “television experience” has changed a LOT in just a few short years. Once upon a time, people were concerned about airdates and antenna positioning, however, the prevalence of DVR and cable have pretty much done away with all of that. The aspect which has experienced the greatest change, however, is that of network branding. Currently, networks no longer really have a specific identity, instead choosing to let their shows speak for themselves. This can be confusing, though, as what does it say about a network when its most successful shows involve crime scene semen or anti-social nerd caricatures? This wasn’t always the case. There was a time, not that long ago, when networks not only promoted their programming, but also their identities. This was true from the biggest network affiliate to the smallest local syndicated outlet. For example, Channel 5 used to show the same reruns of Mr. Belvedere, Three’s Company, and Who’s The Boss?, but for the summer of ’92, they expected you to refer to it all as “Camp Teeheehaha”. Sure, you’d seen the shows before, but they were taking advantage of the American experience of going off to summer camp in an attempt to rebrand the shows. That’s some Don Draper shizz right there! Networks did little things like this to show that they supported their series; after all, they’d already paid for the syndication rights, so they might as well get their money’s worth. Nowadays, all we have are court shows. If you miss one, another will be on right after it. There’s no real need to promote, as there’s no real difference: sassy black woman judge, sassy white woman judge, sassy might-be-Latina judge, etc. The shows have changed, but so has the promotion of said shows. So, where am I going with this? Well, growing up, I used to think about which network I’d want to be on were I to have my own series. As I grew from boy to man, in what was (to me) a golden age of television, I noticed certain things about each network that made me want to park myself on their prime-time lineup. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

ABC

This one is pretty much a no-brainer, as anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s knows where I’m going with this. ABC had a bunch of shows which made them seem like The Touchy-Feely Network, whether it was the family drama of Life Goes On, or the generational experiences of Thirtysomething. Judith Light starred in the riveting TV movie of The Ryan White Story, and families loved gathering around to watch dads across America get hit in the crotch on America’s Funniest Home Videos. All of those shows, however, had NOTHING on the powerhouse known as TGIF.

I’m not going to go into the history and lineup of the TGIF block, ’cause most of y’all were there. Maybe it’s the comic fanboy in me, but what I loved most about TGIF was the shared universe. I guess I’m always looking for a sense of community, and I loved how the early series tended to be related to each other in some way: Mark Cooper (Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper) subbed for Michelle Tanner’s (Full House) class, while Harriet Winslow (Family Matters) was the elevator operator at Larry & Balki’s job (Perfect Strangers). Steve Urkel (Family Matters) did a science project with Mark Foster (Step By Step), while Dana Foster (Step By Step) gave love advice to Cory Matthews (Boy Meets World) at Sea World. With all of this crossover action, it was kinda fun trying to imagine where I might fit in. Maybe I’d be friends with Eddie Winslow, like Weasel and Waldo Geraldo Faldo. Or maybe Karen Foster would reject me before her character oddly disappeared to pursue a country music career. Or maybe I’d be the black friend that Cory and Shawn used to have when Minkus was still around. The possibilities were endless!

One of this biggest perks of a perch on the TGIF lineup was that you also got to host the Saturday Morning Preview special. These are relics of days gone by, but back when networks still had Saturday morning cartoons, they always kicked off the season with the Saturday Morning Preview one Friday night in September (Sure, NBC had one, too, but those were usually hosted by Cosby kids or those awkward kids from ALF or The Torkelsons). The TGIF ones were great, as everyone was (usually) still in character and they genuinely seemed excited about dreck like Hammerman and Little Rosie. Everything was awesome in TGIF Land! As an added bonus, once Disney bought ABC, every show was pretty much required to do a stint at Disney World, so free vacation!

CBS

Growing up, I can’t ever remember wanting to be on CBS. That’s not to say that I didn’t watch CBS shows. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Up until the dawn of the CSI Era, CBS got a bad rap as The Old Folks’ Network. Yes, they had programming like Murder, She Wrote and 60 Minutes, but I never saw it like that. If anything, I always felt that CBS shows had a sense of maturity that couldn’t be found on other networks. I grew up watching Murphy Brown and Designing Women – both shows that spoke more to my experience of being raised by strong, single women from the South. So, I never wanted to be on CBS, as I felt I was already there. Next!

NBC

While ABC was courting me with TGIF, NBC had another acronym waiting in the wings for my affection: TNBC. By far, the most successful NBC branding of that era was “Must-See TV”, but I couldn’t really relate to that. I enjoyed the shows, but they all took place in Manhattan, as the protagonists seemed to have these fantasy jobs that paid for their massive apartments. As much as I love New York, I wasn’t gonna be on “Must-See Thursday” unless I sold a joint to Theo Huxtable or got transferred to Hillman College. Then, along came TNBC as a world of possibility for young black guys. Sure, Lisa Turtle didn’t do much for The Cause, but California Dreams came along and showed me that I could be a drummer. And there was that black dude on The Guys Next Door – sure, no one remembers that show, but I remember he was there. Then, we got Saved By The Bell: The New Class, which always seemed to have a slot for a hip, dancing black guy that needed to be filled. And Hang Time – a show about basketball! C’mon! As a teenager growing up in the late 90s, nowhere felt like “home” as much as TNBC. Yes, I realize that those shows were basically created for girls, but I still kinda felt like those characters were my people.

The BIGGEST perk of being on NBC, however, is one of these:

I don’t know if it’s contractual or what, but if you’re on an NBC show, you are pretty much guaranteed to film one of these public service announcements. A lot of PSAs just come off kinda clunky, but The More You Know has gained a special place in the annals of pop culture. Most PSAs are lame, but I always saw these as some kind of badge of honor. I’ll take one of these over those Truth.com kids ANY day!

Fox

Oh, Fox! It’s amazing how an entertainment network can be so edgy, while its news wing is so conservative. Fox was founded on Married…with Children, so that has colored its identity. While ABC was the Touchy-Feely Network, Fox was on the complete other end of that spectrum. Besides the early reality fare like World’s Greatest Police Chases, there was a “Fox Show” model: the aforementioned Married…, Top of the Heap, even Herman’s Head. Generally, if you wanted to make middle America uncomfortable for about 6 episodes, and your show wouldn’t work anywhere else, then Fox was the place to be. Even to this day, I’m surprised by how much Fox Standards & Practices allows on the air – the entire Seth MacFarlane franchise is a good example of this.

I’ve admired Fox because they are willing to take chances. They still carry shows that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else, and they miss more than they hit. The beauty of the network, however, is that it lives by American Idol alone. The show airs 5 months of the year, but the ratings are high enough to make Fox the #1 Network for the entire season. Growing up, all they had was The Simpsons, but the attitude seemed to be the same as it is now. Sure, reality programming has evolved, and Fox has taken advantage of that, but it’s still the same old Fox. I’d want to be on Fox ’cause they’ll promote the Hell out of your show during NFL and MLB games, but you’re still gonna get cancelled after they move your show to Sundays at 7:00 PM.

UPN

Has there ever been a network with more of an identity crisis than UPN? It’s remembered as The Black Network, but that’s not entirely accurate. Sure, the network had a lot of horrible black shows, like Homeboys in Outer Space and The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, but there was so much more to it than that. The oddest part of UPN was the it’s prelaunch reputation didn’t match what ended up on the screen. Here’s the pre-launch promo for the network:

As you see, it’s relying on the reputation of the shows that had been developed by Paramount in the past, yet doesn’t really go into detail as to what we should expect from the network. Were they just going to rerun all those shows they just mentioned? Should we be expecting new stuff? Classical music! Rock music! Then, the network launched, and we were introduced to DiResta, Marker and Platypus Man. When your network is bolstered by shows starring a Mad About You costar and Richard Greico, you’re in trouble. Yeah, there was Star Trek: Voyager, but it could also be said that UPN was the nail in the Trek coffin, as both of its offerings were reviled by fans. Early UPN was the television equivalent of the Dot Com Boom, as they really just threw around a lot of ideas to see if they’d stick. Richard Dean Anderson as a cowboy. A Love Boat reboot. A bunch of shows NBC had knocked off their schedule because they apparently weren’t “New York” enough. Through all of this, there was one spot where I could see myself.

Around the time the NBC’s TNBC block was at its peak, UPN started toying around with a similar concept for weekday afternoons. Comprised of reruns of Sweet Valley High and a new teen show called Breaker High, the network adopted the slogan “UPN is U’pn”, which was pronounced “oo-pin”. Sure, it made no sense, and to say it aloud sounds like something you’d hear in a commercial for Dunkaroos. Maybe they were implying that UPN was moving up? Maybe UPN was jumping? I don’t know, but where there are teen shows, I’ll be there. Anyway, Breaker High was about a bunch of kids who were in a semester-at-sea program. It had everything you’d come to expect from teen shows, but starred a charismatic Ryan Gosling and Tyler Labine. I loved the Hell out of that show, even though it didn’t even last an entire season. The U’pn block ran for about 3 months on a daily schedule until it just disappeared one day in November, as the timeslot was given back to the stations. Breaker High finished up its run on Sunday mornings, but the only time I ever saw anything worthwhile in that network was the 3-month U’pn Era.

The WB

OK, I already covered the fact that I’m drawn to things that give off a sense of community, and no network exemplified that as much as The WB. When it first launched, the network’s promos revolved around the image that all of the stars hung out on the Warner Bros backlot. Going to work seemed like it would be a ton of fun, as you’d see Nikki Cox on the elevator, and run into Tia and Tamara Mowry on the way to the set.

Plus, I was entering a point in my life where I really kinda wanted to be in a boyband. While girls my age were pining for heartthrobs, I wanted to be one, and nobody developed teen stars quite like The WB. The stars of those shows kept the teen magazine industry in business for the better part of a decade. If you were under the age of 20, and wanted to make it big, you either needed to fly to Orlando and audition for Lou Pearlman, or you needed to get yourself on a WB show.

Even though it’s a bit of a joke in some circles, The WB did more for pop culture over a decade than people realize. I explored this once before, and my feelings haven’t changed. For that reason, The WB is where I’d want my show to air. You can thank them for Buffy, even if you blame them for Katherine Heigl. To top things off, I think they had a really classy send-off video. A network hadn’t folded since the DuMont Network, so I had no frame of reference for these things. However, if you’ve got to go out, this is the way to do it:

28th Mar2011

Why Starfleet?

by Will

Yes, this began as a late night Twitter rant last week, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized a full blog post would give me a reason to play with MS Paint.

As some of you may know, I’ve been a Star Trek fan for most of my life. Back in middle school, my friends and I had the Star Trek Encyclopedia, as well as any tech guide or manual that Simon & Shuster decided to put out. We were the ones watching all those Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns that used to clog up Channel 20’s schedule. As I got older, however, my pallet began to prefer more mature tastes, such as Power Rangers and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I gave up the ghost during Voyager, and I’ve only seen a handful of Enterprise. That said, you can take the boy out of Trek, but you can’t take the Trek out of the boy. My brain’s still full of a lot of useless 24th century knowledge, and every now and then I find myself trying to make sense of it. During an usual bit of insomnia last week, I found myself wondering why, exactly, a human would even want to join Starfleet.

For those not in the know, in the Star Trek Universe, Starfleet is the “Space NATO” to the United Federation of Planets’ “Space UN”. Its members are predominantly human, and it is headquartered in Fort Baker, California. While Starfleet’s primary mission is to explore and seek out new life, things can get pretty tense out in space. Between wars with Cardassians, or lethal electrical feedback, there’s no shortage of danger for a Starfleet officer. Based on current economics and world affairs, I find myself wondering what would inspire a human to join an outfit like Starfleet, as the risks seem to outweigh the rewards. Let’s take a closer look at a few things.

Money: In today’s society, a big reason that people enlist in the Armed Forces is money. Whether they want to provide for their families with their signing bonus, or get in on some of that G.I. Bill money, the financial benefits entice many into joining the service. This, however, isn’t true for the Starfleet cadet. You see, the 24th century is based on what has been called “The New World Economy”. For all practical purposes, Earth has done away with poverty and hunger, but it has also done away with currency. As a sidebar, I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. Whenever I’m looking for work, people always ask me “Well, what would you want to do if money weren’t an issue?” I HATE this question because money is ALWAYS an issue. I just can’t wrap my head around that not being the case. I know that there are people who can, and God bless ’em, but that’s just not me. So, that’s why I have a hard time understanding why you’d want to go out in space, and risk getting tubes shoved in your ass and ear holes by a bunch of space zombies if there’s no financial gain. That’s too much danger to just write off as “the cost of exploration”!

Sex: Could the lure of Space Pussy be enough to get you to join up? But could you imagine the STDs out there? Or will a hypospray just clear that right up? Also, note that I said Space Pussy and not Space Dick, because the future doesn’t seem too bright for women – utopia be damned. If you’re a young, single woman in Starfleet, you’ll end up phasing through the floor or being killed by a large sentient oil spill. And don’t even try to be a gay male! Over the 40 year franchise, we’ve seen men in miniskirts (the “skant”) & go-go boots, but we were still led to believe that they liked the minge. Have they ever shown a homosexual on Star Trek? The closest they got was that androgynous race, and Riker still couldn’t help himself from giving one of them a bunch of confusing urges. Otherwise, the only gay icons of the 24th century were Major Kira, Tasha Yar, and Harry Kim. No, they never confirmed this, but c’mon…

Technology: If you’re a tech geek, then Starfleet is probably a dream come true. You could join Starfleet Engineering and test out all of the gadgets that you used to read about on your PADD before mandatory lights-out at the mining colony where you grew up. There’s a lot of leeway for experimentation, and there’s no battle for patents and ownership ’cause there’s no money to be had. The worst part, however, is when that technology backfires on you. I’m going to go with the simplest case here. You see, during space battles, the ships are protected by shields. When those shields are struck, it results in electromagnetic feedback that sometimes shoots out of the ships consoles and control panels. Many a Starfleet officer has been killed while simply sitting at his station during the wrong battle. When you graduate from the Academy, they might tell you to watch out for The Borg, but you’ll find that you risk your life just by simply walking down the hall. Observe (the fun starts at 01:18):

Meeting New Races: It might sound exciting to meet a new race of beings, but some of them have some crazy beliefs that you have to put up with. Sure, we’ve got the Scientologists and the vegans, there’s one 24th Century-era race that will KILL YOU IF YOU STEP ON THE FLOWERS! Did I also mention that they worship a giant space chandelier? Aside from little quirky things like that, sometimes you just deal with some straight up, fucked up shit:

Supporting Your Government: OK, I get it. There’s no money to be had, you’re not that into green chicks, and you don’t really mind phasering giant space slugs. Then, what is your incentive? Oh, maybe you’re just really patriotic. After all, your government (which now commands a network of planets rather than just Earth) has created a society in which you are taken care of, and given a chance to be a tool of discovery. Why wouldn’t you want to support a governing body like that? Well, maybe it’s because the United Federation of Planets is just as shady as today’s governmental bodies.

First off, there’s Section 31, which is The Federation’s version of the CIA. Nobody talks much about them, as very few people know that they exist. Not only do they exist, but they’ve had their hands in everything from the Temporal Cold War to the outlawed genetic enhancements that were performed on humans, like Dr Bashir. You may think everything’s well and good, but your government still doesn’t trust you, even in the 24th century. Also, their tactics are questionable, as they engage in full-scale, Jack Bauer level torture. They ended a war by eradicating an entire race. For Section 31, no one is off limits, so they might come for you one day.

On top of that, there’s all the shady stuff that the Federation does to coerce non-member planets into joining. The sheer existence of a bunch of space hippies like the Maquis proves that not everything that the Federation does is liked by all. Sure, you can’t please everyone all of the time, but the Star Trek Universe is based on the assumption that you not only can, but you have. So, why are The Maquis so mad?

So, I know it’s science fiction, and I really shouldn’t overthink it, but I’m just starting to think that the Star Trek Universe posed more questions than it answered. When I was 5, I used to weep at the fact that I’d never live to see the creation of Starfleet. I mean, even if I did, it would’ve been the crappy, Kirk-era Starfleet, and I don’t get down with The Original Series. After some careful thought, however, I’ll take capitalism, with its non-exploding walls and curable-by-penicillin-STDs, any day! The future’s just not for me, but I hope my great, great, great grandson, Hyperflex Westion IV, is a better man than I am, and will find a reason to beam up.

09th Mar2011

Peter Engel’s Forgotten Children: Obscure Teen Sitcoms Part I

by Will

I’ve never made a secret of my love of bad teen television. My love for the TNBC franchise is only second to my Power Rangers obsession. That said, I watched that lineup from its inception to its demise at the hands of Discovery Kids. What some people may not know is that the bulk of the TNBC offerings were the work of one Mr. Peter Engel. Primarily a television producer, Engel’s professional journey has been somewhat unorthodox.  He got his big break producing teen sitcoms, primarily for NBC. Later on, he became Dean of Pat Roberson’s Regent University. Once that ended, he somehow found himself producing NBC’s Last Comic Standing. What I love most about Engel is that he found a way to build an empire by recycling the same tropes. We’re all familiar with the hits, such as Saved By the Bell and California Dreams, but I want to focus on the shows that never reached the same level of success as those shows, despite being cut from the very same cloth.

As I said before, we already know the bigger shows: Good Morning, Miss Bliss (which we now refer to as Saved By The Bell: The Junior High Years), Saved By The Bell, and its spinoffs The New Class and The College Years. Mixed in there was California Dreams (basically “Zack Attack: The Series”), which also had a lengthy run. Now, if we’re going chronologically, Hang Time would be next, however it’s not technically an “Engel Show”. Go watch the first season – it’s not even really a sitcom. Engel came onboard during the second season, and basically changed it into Saved By The Bell: The Basketball Team. No, even Hang Time isn’t obscure enough for what we’re here to do. I want to talk about USA High.

USA High was a Peter Engel show that aired, appropriately enough, on USA Network, from 1997-2001. It has been said that it was originally developed for TNBC, but it somehow became a companion show to Saved By The Bell: The New Class reruns when USA Network acquired the rights to them. At its core, USA High was Saved By The Bell: The Paris Years. Basically, it was all the SBTB adventures you’d already seen, only now they were set at the American Academy boarding school in Paris, France.

Oddly enough, it felt like the whole Paris thing was added as an afterthought, as there are no European qualities to the show whatsoever. The dorm where the kids live is just the Saved By The Bell: The College Years set reused. They hang out at Cafe USA, which is really just the American Chain Restaurant for Tourists version of The Maxx. There’s an outdoor nighttime set that they used for date episodes, but it was just some cafe tables next to a window. Honestly, the show could’ve been set anywhere, as the locale never really factored into anything that took place.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the characters, many of whom you’ll recognize. First up, there’s Jackson Greene (portrayed by Josh Holland), who’s our resident pretty boy schemer. Of course, most of his schemes are just attempts to date All American, albeit flatchested, Lauren Fontaine (portrayed by Elena Lyons). Oh, did I mention that Lauren is a waitress at Cafe USA? Next, we had our musclebound German heartthrob, Christian (portrayed by Thomas Magiar). Here’s where you might say, “Well, he’s German, so that’s European, right?” It might’ve been special if Saved By The Bell: The New Class hadn’t added a German kid to their cast the previous year. Then, there’s goody two-shoes honor student Ashley Elliot (portrayed by Kristen Miller), who traded in Jesse’s feminism for a cute British accent. In the “annoying little guy” role, we’ve got Bobby Lazzarini (portrayed by James Madio). Rounding out the cast is probably the biggest change from the SBTB formula, which was the role of Winnie Barnes (portrayed by Marquita Terry). While Lisa Turtle was originally a Jewish character (what? you didn’t know that?), it’s clear that Winnie was black from the get-go. She’s stereotypical enough that it wouldn’t be surprising to hear “I’ma cut you!” come out of her mouth. Switching things up, it’s Christian who’s madly in love with her instead of Lazzarini. All of their adventures happen under the watch of bumbling Headmaster (and Ashley’s father), Mr. Elliot (portrayed by Nicholas Guest). In the second season of the show, Lazzarini’s written out, and replaced by California Dreams alum William James Jones in the role of “Dwayne ‘Excess’ Wilson”.

Anyway, I’m always surprised that more people haven’t seen USA High, as there were a total of 95 episodes compared to Saved By The Bell‘s 86 episodes. I understand it never had the network/syndication exposure of Saved By The Bell, but I’m sure people just stumbled across it and said “What’s this show?”, without really knowing what they were watching.

Where Are They Now?

Most of the cast of USA High have faded into obscurity, as teen sitcom stars are prone to do. Engel’s really good at “keeping it in the family”, as shown by his decision to hire Jones from California Dreams. Josh Holloway went on to play a date rapist in City Guys (another Engel show), while Marquita Terry went on to join the cast of Malibu, CA (yet another Engel show). Elena Lyons appears to have gotten a boob job, and can be see in Broken Lizard’s Club Dread. Kristen Miller went on to costar in That’s My Bush, as well as She Spies. James Madio went on to appear in HBO’s Band of Brothers, and has a steady career in voice acting.

Engel Extra!

While USA High was cranking along on USA Network, Engel got One World added to the TNBC schedule. Basically, the show followed a couple who had taken foster kids into their home. It was heavier stuff than typical Engel fare, but it was still teen-focused. Honestly, the fact that it was on the TNBC schedule was a testament to how much the television landscape had changed by that point. Ten years prior, the show would’ve aired in the same primetime slots as ALF or The Torkelsons. As primetime got edgier, “family shows” were now being seen as kid’s fare. Anyway, the most recognizable cast member was Alisa Reyes, who had grown up as a cast member on All That. Apparently, she’s a DJ for Playboy Radio now. Oh, and it had that kid who starred in all those Johnny Tsunami Disney Channel movies. Anyway, One World tackled those hard hitting questions, like “Do foster kids hook up with each other?” No, seriously.

Join us next time, as we tackle City Guys, and a little known gem called Malibu, CA.

18th Feb2011

The Digital Revolution Is Being Televised

by Will

I like to think of myself as an informed person. By no means am I a genius, but I like to think of myself as “Jeopardy Smart” – I know a little about a lot. There’s one thing, however, that I know a LOT about, and that’s television. I’m not just talking about shows and actors, but the behind-the-scenes aspect of television. I’ve studied the biography of Brandon Tartikoff, I’ve read everything I could about the Late Night Wars, and I recognize there’s more genius to Peter Engel than we give him credit for. So, with all this focus on TV, I’m always taken aback when something fails to make any real sense. One such occasion was the broadcast switchover from analog to digital. While we were given plenty of warning (and even an extension), it was never fully explained as to why the switch was taking place. For non TV folks, I’m referring to the fact that you can no longer watch TV with a simple antenna, but are now required to have a digital box in order to catch an over-the-air TV signal. Some explanations suggested that it would free up the analog airwaves to be used for emergency purposes. According to some accounts, the government plans to auction off the vacated analog spectrum. For whatever the reason, it was never clear, and it was a huge headache for the elderly population. Most of the folks reading this have cable, so y’all never noticed any real change. I, however, grew up without cable and I was raised by the Black Golden Girls. Preparing them for the switchover was akin to prepping them for potential missile attacks from the “reds”. What truly came as a surprise, however, was that the switchover would open a door to the past that I never dreamed possible.

It was like this, but picture them black

Here’s a little full disclosure for you: I’ve never had cable. My mom finally caved and got it once I moved out, but I have never lived in a place that had cable. To make matters worse, I have a basement studio apartment, so getting any kind of over-the-air signal was a bit of a challenge before the switchover. I’ve never minded a little static, though, as I grew up watching Baltimore TV through the static because their Channel 54 had better shows than our Channel 20 (syndicated Punky Brewster, son!). Nobody told me, however, that digital airwaves would do away with that ability! Now, if you don’t get a signal, the screen just goes blue or you get a “No Signal” message. Another part of my childhood gone. That damn digital box ruined my life, as it pretty much eliminated the ability to watch any local station. What it did provide, however, was a link to the past. You see, I now only really get 3 channels, but those 3 channels have turned out to be more awesome than I could have imagined. I tend to suffer from a pretty bad case of seasonal affect disorder where pretty much any condition makes me depressed. Yeah, I should probably see a professional about that, but my home remedy is regression. That was a big deal back in college: “Hey, it’s Finals Week, so come to RPU and join us for comfort food and your favorite cartoons!” It’s a remedy I still employ to this day, and it works. Apparently, “everything old is new again”, and the 3 digital channels that I manage to get actually do a pretty good job recreating my childhood. Let’s take a closer look at what we have here, shall we?

As I said, none of my local network channels seem to work any longer, but most of those channels have additional digital channels that the stations seem desperate to fill with programming. For instance, our local NBC station has a digital channel (4-2) that played nothing but old beach volleyball matches. Our local ABC affiliate, however, has something I actually enjoy. You see, they carry the Retro Television Network (Channel 7-2). In what could be considered a “Poor Man’s TV Land“, RTV focuses on showing hour-long dramas from the past. Stumble across the channel, and you’ll find yourself watching I, Spy or Magnum, P.I. The true beauty of the station, however, is that it shows Knight Rider and The A-Team every glorious night. It’s like I’m 3 years old again, and I ain’t complaining! Sure, those shows haven’t aged all that well, but I simply don’t care. Forget How I Met Your Mother 5 times a week – I’ve got the DVDs; when I’m rushing home in the evening, it’s to travel back to a time when bullets didn’t kill and a talking car was a rarity.

I first discovered RTV last winter when I was unemployed, and I pretty much thought that was as good as the retro television scene was going to get. Then, everything changed on January 1, 2011, when the local CW affiliate started carrying Antenna TV on one of their digital channels (Channel 50-2). While RTV is more of a TV Land clone, Antenna TV is more of a Nick at Nite clone. It hearkens back to the days when Nick at Nite used to play actual classics, and not The George Lopez Show and Roseanne. We’ve had a ton of snow days recently, and during that time I’ve seen shows that I haven’t seen in years – things like  Too Close for Comfort, The Monkees, and Gidget. What really put a smile on my face was when I read that Antenna TV would also be adding Three’s A Crowd to their schedule. I know it’s a terrible, formulaic show, but I’m a Three’s Company fanatic. It has always bothered me that spin-offs Three’s A Crowd and The Ropers aren’t a part of the syndication package. Antenna TV will be showing the entire franchise. I don’t care if it’s 4 in the morning, I’ll be watching.

I’ve been familiar with qubo for some time, mainly due to the fact that the qubo programming block took over the NBC Saturday morning timeslots formerly occupied by TNBC and Discovery Kids. My biggest gripe with qubo was that they focused on thinly-veiled Christian CGI cartoons, like Veggie Tales and 3-2-1 Penguins.  I actually enjoyed Penguins, but I felt they were hitting kids over the head with the Morals of the Week. So, when I realized that there was a qubo digital channel (66-2), I wasn’t exactly rushing home to watch it. Sadly, I get the strongest signal from that channel, so I find myself watching it more than I would like. Well, imagine my surprise a few months back when I caught something called qubo Night Owl. Apparently, qubo acquired the rights to the Filmation cartoon library, so starting around 1 AM, they show He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Bravestarr, and (the “unreal”) Ghostbusters, with the gorilla. It’s not award-winning television, but it’s pretty cool to watch if you’re drunk and/or can’t sleep. You might, however, find yourself wondering if She-Ra’s skirt was always that short…

So, while I still can’t explain the reasoning behind the digital switchover, I found a way to turn a negative into a positive. I kinda proud of myself, as I tend to like to just complain about stuff. In any case, I’m just like you. I can drive a car and hold a job. I just can’t watch television shows when they air. Oh well, thanks to the internet, I can just watch them the day after. While you’re consumed with your DVR and your On-Demand, I’m taking a trip back to a better time. Everything old is new again, and I’ve got a front row seat. Don’t you wish you could be me? Ok, you can stop laughing now. Come on, that’s not cool. Stop laughing!

*channel numbers based on Washington, DC viewing market. Check your local listings for your own damn digital channels

10th Feb2011

What The Hell is THIS?!!!

by Will

So, I was checking my email yesterday, and something caught my eye. You see, I set up a Google Alert for “Will West” so that I can track comment replies that I receive on blogs that don’t send email notification of updates. Sure, this might sound vain, but I learned the trick from someone online, so I’m not the narcissist who thought it up. Anyway, this system rarely works, as the alerts I receive usually have headlines like “Will West Virginia Win The Title?” Thwarted! So, imagine my surprise when I saw “Random House acquires ‘Will West: The Epic’ by Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost“! A blurb found here contained the following info:

The trilogy is a mystery with paranormal elements (in other words, classic Frost) and follows a sheltered boy who’s been told by his parents to avoid the limelight. After Will West lands an unusually high score on a national exam, he is recruited by a little-known prep school and also realizes he is being followed.

Huh?! What?!

After some Google detective work, I found this:

Frost’s Will West combines a sophisticated mystery with furiously-paced action and a twist of the paranormal. In the novel, the title character has spent his entire life trying to avoid any attention at the request of his parents. Then by sheer accident, Will scores off the charts on a nationwide exam and is recruited by an exclusive and somewhat mysterious prep school, the best school no one’s ever heard of, with technology the likes of which no one’s ever seen. At the same time, coincidentally—or not so—Will realizes he’s being followed by men in dark hats, driving black sedans who pose a terrifying threat to his family. What follows is a series of events and revelations that places Will smack in the middle of a millennia old struggle between titanic forces.

How did they find out about my life story?! Who told them?! Better yet, why am I not getting royalties?!

There was no cover available, but I can only assume that it won’t look as cool as this:

01st Feb2011

My History with the Power Rangers

by Will

Every now and then, over the past 18 years, there have been certain points where I felt I had reached an age/level of “cool” where I probably shouldn’t bother with Power Rangers anymore. That said, you really can’t forget where you came from, so here I am talking about them again. While I don’t write about it often, I am a 29 year old Power Rangers fan. If you knew me growing up, you probably came to my house and saw my “shrine” of PR toys and collectibles. I know my love for Power Rangers isn’t natural, but it’s still there, and I’d like to try to explain why it exists.

Bouncing around the internet, I’ve found that I’m not alone in my love for the Power Rangers franchise. Allow me to say this, however: I’ve been involved in a LOT of fandoms over the course of my 29 years – from Trekkies to comic fanboys to a cappella nerds. Out of all of that, no one group scares me more than adult Power Rangers fans. This is probably why I don’t wear it on my sleeve like some. I’ve never posted on Rangerboard nor have I written fanfic to fill-in those missing years where Tommy apparently earned his PhD. I’ll admit that a part of me is probably jealous of their dedication. I mean, some of them track down the original Japanese shows and watch them with subtitles. Even yet, some learn Japanese just so they can watch *without* subtitles. A lot of what I’m mentioning could also be said about anime, but that’s still seen as this “fringe” thing, while we tend to think of PR as simply a “kids show”.

So, I can admit their dedication scares me. At the same time, they also tend to be some of the most socially awkward people I’ve encountered (and I worked in comics). A good example of this is the episode of MTV’s True Life which was called “I’m A Fanboy” (full disclosure: I actually applied for this episode, not even for Power Rangers, but for comics. After watching, I’m SO glad they didn’t deem me worthy). There, we met Jason, who was a 26 year old Power Rangers fan. I was so happy that I wasn’t alone! That is, until he met this sweet 16 year old at a convention, and then things got creepy. All of a sudden, he was trying to convince her to be his girlfriend, while she was telling him that she was too young and didn’t want to be tied down. You haven’t lived till you’ve seen a grown man get turned down by a geeky minor!

True Life: I’m a Fanboy from Punched in the Head Productions on Vimeo.

Sure, that’s just one scenario, but the point is that I haven’t seen many positive public depictions of adult PR fandom, so I’ve kinda kept it to myself, outside of a few tweets and the occasional blog post that I figure no one will read. They’re not all like him, though. as I’ve still got good friends from my Toys “R” Us days who enjoy a good Ranger conversation AND I don’t mind being seen in public with them!

Anyway, I find my interest in PR spikes whenever a new series is about to premiere. It’s like when your girlfriend gets new clothes, and you suddenly think, “Where have YOU been hiding?!” I tend to lose my connection with the franchise, but I always find my way back. It wasn’t always like this, though. Back in the early days of the internet, I believe I was one of the foremost PR experts in my age category. Yes, I’m audacious enough to say that. I mean, I was already on the cusp of being too old for it when it began, so I had this adolescent obsession driving me to learn more. I dunno. I remember I used a LOT of my school’s paper supply to print out anything and everything I could find about Power Rangers. I still have binders filled with printouts of old Geocities and Xanga sites. What can I say? When I get into something, I tend to go ALL IN.

Through all of this breaking of the ice, however, we still haven’t covered the “why” of my PR obsession. Mainly, and I’m not ashamed to say this, I like bad television. Sure, you’ve got your TV snobs who lament the loss of Arrested Development and Sports Night but that’s not me. I enjoy guilty pleasure TV. Hell, if Baywatch Nights was still on, I’d still be watching. I’m still waiting for Team Knight Rider to come out on DVD. I’m not looking for Shakespeare – I just like good escapist television. That’s what Power Rangers was in the beginning. Over time, however, the story actually got…good. Most people gave up after early Mighty Morphin’, so they wouldn’t know about this.

(As an aside, I’m a bit of snob when it comes to my hobbies. With comics, if you tell me that you love Batman, I’ll ask you “Who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents?” If you answer “the Joker”, we have nothing else to discuss. The same could be said about PR. If I mention Power Rangers, and all you can say is “Man, it was messed up how the black guy was the BLACK RANGER!”, I already know the extent of your Ranger knowledge.)

Anyway, for those of us who held on, the storylines got really good. Power Rangers in Space was more suspenseful and dark than many primetime dramas. Power Rangers RPM was set in a post-apocalyptic world, where most of humanity had been destroyed by a computer virus – and that shit was from Disney! Anyway, I guess you could say that I came for the schlock, but I stayed for the story.

I made a promise to myself that I would keep watching Power Rangers as long as they kept making it. I mean, who knew it would last this long?! As time went on, internet connections got faster, I went off to college, Power Rangers moved to cable, and my obsession somewhat waned as other fans began to outpace me. I was raised, however, to never make a promise that you can’t keep – for this reason, I don’t make many promises. I had made that Power Rangers promise, so I had to make good on it.

In college, do you know how hard it was to watch Power Rangers?! Kicking drunks out of the Common Room on a Saturday morning so that I could watch Lightspeed Rescue? Being laughed at by the Walk of Shame strumpets?! I held on, though, til Saban sold the franchise, along with the rest of Fox Kids, to Disney. Not only was it harder to find on the air (ABC affiliates tended to air it at odd hours), but Buena Vista TV had a mad on for going after piracy, so links were taken down almost immediately. As far as I was concerned, I had upheld my end of the promise: I was trying to watch, but Disney was thwarting me. So, I took a few years away from Power Rangers. Sure, I checked in when I could (how the Hell did Tommy ever become a doctor?!), but there are some incarnations that I’ve never even seen (I’m sorry, but Mystic Force just sounded dumb).

As for the toys and memorabilia, it really comes down to the fact that I’m a speculator. Sure, there’s no baseball card market anymore, and comics are just glorified toilet paper, but I didn’t know any better growing up. As far as I was concerned, I was gonna be a fucking Rockefeller in the world of collectibles. I jumped on every bandwagon that came along, and Power Rangers was no different. To be perfectly honest, I was like most of you in the beginning. I thought the first episode was kinda lame (“Day of the Dumpster” was dated even by 1993 standards), but I had seen some of the toy ads in the Fox Kids Magazine, and thought they looked kinda cool. Little did I know that they would reach Cabbage Patch/Tickle Me Elmo heights of popularity. They were THE toy of Christmas 1993, and my mom, for all of her fretting and evangelical ways, has always supported my pursuit of hard-to-find stuff. So, I got my first batch of Power Rangers toys as “an investment”. She made me keep all the boxes, since they might become “collectors’ items”. Over time, though, speculating gave way to sheer enjoyment. If you’ve ever enjoyed playing with Transformers, then you’d enjoy playing with Zords. It’s pretty much the same thing. Eventually, however, my collecting got out of control. I finally weened myself off of the toys once I went to college, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still have a shit-ton of Saban-era Power Rangers toys. And all their original boxes.

So, what’s the reason for this trip down memory lane? Well, as I mentioned, my interest spikes when the debut of a new Ranger series is upon us. Next Monday, Power Rangers Samurai makes its debut on Nickelodeon. When I first heard that Haim Saban had bought the franchise back from Disney, I felt that he was really just going to sit on it for the licensing money. Instead, it seems like he’s really putting a lot of effort into Samurai. It’s being heralded as a back-to-basics approach, as he has gotten the old band back together on the production side. Plus, not only is the theme a remixed version of the original “Go Go Power Rangers”, but they’ve even got Bulk back for comic relief! While young kids may just see it as a fun action-packed show, it’s really almost a homecoming for those of us who remember the early days of the franchise. Something that really should’ve been a flash-in-the pan fad has become something of a multigenerational franchise. It has reached that age where parents are watching with their kids, saying “I used to watch this when I was little”. Whether you like the show or not, that’s still an accomplishment worthy of applause. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, as Japan is still cranking out the source material.  Anyway, I’ve spent a LOT of time and money on what most people consider to be “a dumb kids show”, but I’ve gotta say…I’m kinda starting to look forward to the day when I share it with my kids.

03rd Jan2011

Man, I’m Becoming THAT Comic Blogger…

by Will

Power Girl, in 3D. That is all. (Courtesy:Comics Alliance)

20th Dec2010

RePlay: The Christmas Experiment

by Will

So, in the DC area, WASH (97.1) becomes the all-Christmas station at this time of year. In recent years, it’s been almost a race to see how soon they’ll make the format switch. It used to occur on Black Friday, but now it happens about a week before that. Many people hate this, and groan “Let’s take care of Thanksgiving first”, but I LOVE it. I love Christmas music. I love the season and everything about it.

Now, I’ve already discussed how there aren’t any modern Christmas classics being released, so I thought I would try a little experiment. I decided to just let WASH play, and then write up a little blurb about the feelings I got from the songs played during that stretch of music. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Any): Winter time Date Rape at its finest

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (Jackson 5): Bitch better not let Joe catch her!

Last Christmas (Wham): A wonderful ’80s classic. I keep this in my rotation year round. I’m actually surprised Diddy never got around to sampling this beat.

Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Band Aid): Those poor savages. I’ll bet they don’t have calendars.

All I Want For Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey): As far as I’m concerned, Love Actually Girl beat Mariah for the championship on this song. No, not really, but I love the Hell out of that movie.

White Christmas (Bing Crosby): If you listen closely, you’ll realize this used to be a Klan propaganda song. As Uncle Ruckus would say, “Look how perfect and white these nice folks is, smellin’ like lemon furniture polish!”

The Christmas Shoes (NewSong): This song takes on a whole new meaning when you realize the kid is just trying to con the store out of a fresh pair of Jordans.

Christmas Through Your Eyes (Gloria Estefan): You realize this is sung from the point of view of a Miami Sound Machine member who was blinded in one of Gloria’s bus accidents, right?

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Any): Silly folks! You can’t make a yuletide gay…unless you send it to prison. Otherwise, it has to be born that way.

Feliz Navidad (Jose Feliciano): The definitive Latin stamp on Christmas. You know Spanish people were as siced about this as black people were when we created a new version of “Happy Birthday”. Still waiting on a remix with Pitbull and Daddy Yankee, though.

OK, enough rambling from me. Until next time, remember to keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.

15th Dec2010

RePlay: Oi to the World!

by Will

So, yesterday we covered La Bouche, and the voice behind the hits, Melanie Thornton. Well, around that same time period, I was also really into No Doubt. I guess it all came down to local radio: DC had just gotten a pop station with the arrival of Z104, but there were only so many times that Billy Bush could play that Ultimate Dance Party ’96 CD without you wanting to go on a killing spree. So, I’d switch over to the late, great WHFS (the good one, where the Spanish station is now) and get my “alternative” fix. Sure, No Doubt eventually made their way to the Z104s of the world, but for this moment in time, “Just A Girl” and the like were still confined to specific genre stations.

Now, I didn’t actually discover this song until many years after it came out. In fact, it was during my stint as a retail slave at H&M that I first heard it, as it was part of our “hip” holiday playlist. That playlist was a welcome change, as most of H&M’s music choices sounded like the soundtrack to a date rape at someone’s loft. Anyway, being all European and whatnot, the company’s Christmas music skewed towards the secular, especially when it came to groups with the words “Good” or “Charlotte” in their name. I remember not even really thinking it was a holiday song at first, as it was so…different. You know what first caught my ear? The mention of “nunchucks”! If you hear any reference to nunchucks, and your ears do not perk up, then you cannot call yourself a man. And then I was like, “Oh, shit! Haji just pulled a sword?!” Once you go back and listen to the thing from the beginning, then you realize the ska “Joy To The World” melody, and well as the “If God came down on Christmas day” reference.

I think I also like this song for the same reason that Tony Kanal probably liked it: it wasn’t about HIM. By this point, I’m surprised that Tony never stormed off stage with a “God, bitch! Fucking get over yourself!” Anyway, this was originally a song by The Vandals, but they were friendly with No Doubt, which paved this way for this cover. It’s not the kind of song that’s gonna make you reach for a cup of cocoa and turn on The Grinch, but it does prove that there’s no one way to make a holiday song.

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