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When Saturday Night Wasn’t Just For Fighting and We Got A Little Action In October 30, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Music, Pop Culture Rants, TV.
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For years, pre-MTV,  music-philes with discerning tastes found themselves gravitating to one spot. And it wasn’t college radio or CBGBs or the tiny shag carpeted lined basement of the older brother of their best friend who always smelled like incense for some unknown reason. Surprisingly, it was the lovely people in Studio 8H at Saturday Night Live. Not only were they turning out cutting edge satire and comedy, but they were doing more for music than anybody had ever done.

Back then the music guest was two fold. They not only provided a chance for raucous applause at the end of a monologue to calm a frazzled host (So and so is here…crazy applause…and we’ll be right back) but they brought in viewers that otherwise might be at their local rock club trying to catch the next big thing. And those viewers, who may not have watched comedy, were drawn in by the writing and performers and said, “I may like the band but I love the satire.” And the bookers knew it. So they introduced us to many an influential band like sarcastic hosts at some dream fraternity mixer (Hey America, this is Talking Heads…they’re cool…you’ll like them).

Many thought the focus on music at SNL waned during the eighties and nineties, but I disagree. Who first got us dancing the Humpty Dance? Uh-Uh. Who single-handedly doomed Sinead O’Connor to a life of Irish state fairs and Where Are They Now? Specials? Yup. And who watched as a Nirvana guitarist gave himself a concussion, forcing the cancellation of a tour, that depressed their lead singer, who reacted in the most violent of ways? Better believe it. (Side Note: Nirvana guitarist is only the third most on the list of “jobs likely to be concussed,” behind NFL quarterback and concierge at a hotel frequented by Naomi Campbell and/or Russell Crowe.)

Which brings us to the sad state of SNL now. I will not discuss the drop off in talent of the post Will Ferrell/Jimmy Fallon era (Purists may be angered by Fallon’s incessant ability to laugh through every sketch, but his impersonations and Weird Al-like reworking of pop hits kept the show alive like a Terry Schiavo feeding tube….Oooh, too soon?) And we won’t discuss the writing (George Bush is dumb…we get it). No, the real problem is the musical guests. Because as goes the quality of music, there goes the show. Don’t believe me? Chew on this.

For years, SNL has followed a tried and true formula. Accept that there are two major types of music acts: Big name and no-name. SNL trots out the big names to play their newest unreleased hit and forces them to play a standard towards the end of the show just to keep us all tuned in. For the no-names, they lead with their suddenly hot new single and then give them the late slot to play a lesser known work. For years, the formula worked. We watched the big name bands to see what they’ve been up to and we watched the new bands so we could hopefully get their catchy hit out of our heads. And we stuck around, even if the show wasn’t funny, because of the promise or interest of the late set. And by staying, we often caught a performer we may not have usually noticed and rocketed him to stardom (Will Ferrell’s late night Robert Goulet was his springboard to million dollar paydays, I’m sure of it.) Music guests are intrinsic to SNL’s value. And they’ve disappeared. Now we have bands no-one has heard of, playing songs nobody knows. And when the big bands do grace SNL with their presence, it’s often too late in their new song’s popularity to bring in the viewers who have already downloaded the song, overplayed it and seen the video so many times on You Tube that their hard drive hurts.

When? When did it all go so wrong? I’ll say it. Blame Ashlee Simpson. All she had to do was out-rock her sister to be successful (Not difficult, considering Jessica has the R and B soul of an angry Pat Boone.) But no, she tried to fool us all with lip-synching. We all knew it, but were willing to overlook it, much like they were at SNL. But the tape looped and we were forced to watch “Jig-Gate.” Now, this isn’t to say acts had never before lip-synched on SNL but they were never caught. Now, the bands who pride themselves on high-tempo performances to get us to watch are scared to appear on the show less an untrained sound tech causes a nation to question their validity. I can only wonder how many acts aren’t drawing us in just because of an errantly pushed play button.

Can it be fixed? Can the music come back, and in turn, save this show from the evil comparison now befalling it? (Yes, it’s official…Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a show loosely based on SNL has better writing than the show it emulates…that’s like a tribute album making us re-think Stairway to Heaven.) It can, but it needs to start soon. Because with the dearth of identical sounding garage bands and few true major bands still drawing rabid fans, the chances are sinking faster than the Andrea Doria (Oooh…again, too soon.)

I hope SNL can survive. The writing and talent may be hidden there, but if a tree falls in the forest…blah,blah,blah…infer your own point. Because even worse than the show’s demise is one scary possible outcome.

A world where the only thing between your late local news and Showtime at the Apollo is Ron Popeil. At which point, just set it and forget it. And channel surf until Mo’Nique is on.
Bring the music acts back. Because as hot as Amy Poehler may be, even her bedroom eyes can’t right the ship alone.

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He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother…Okay, Maybe He’s a Little Heavy October 26, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Movies, Pop Culture Rants.
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Grit. Determination. Perseverance. Heart. These are words that describe the unstoppable spirit and timeless work ethic somebody has when they focus their efforts towards an unreachable goal.

Actually, these words are for losers. People who succeed are never branded with these words. They give them nicer, more successful sounding words like champion, star and well, success.

But today, I will use these words to describe the only person in Hollywood history that actually took those second place words and turned them into a career path, nay, a way of life.

Ask yourself this: If your brother received the lion’s share of charisma, the whole enchilada of looks and the “some other metaphor for a lot” of talent, would you stop yourself from carving your own niche? No, he didn’t. In fact, he came to La-La Land first and tricked the whole city into giving him an Oscar nomination before they even realized, “Oh Wait, he’s alright, but who’s your brother?” He is Randall Rudy Quaid, older brother of Dennis and one time holder of the “Wait, I know That Guy” in every single film of the mid eighties.

Randy Quaid made his mark immediately. While his younger brother Dennis was still staring at his chest hair waiting for it to grow back home in Texas, Randy took his lanky, sweaty, eye-rolling body to Hollywood. At first, the town was afraid of him, almost unwilling to accept a man who looked like a cross between Lurch and that Uncle you always accused of molesting you at the family reunion. But Randy persevered. His determination that he would be remembered for became evident when he managed to star in a string of mildly retarded second banana dramatic roles. Hollywood figured we wouldn’t be as scared of him, if we thought his character was a few tacos short of a platter. And they were right: Oscar nominations, notoriety and enough money to buy a carton of Right Guard to annihilate that sweat problem he found himself dealing with all followed

Then, Dennis came. At first, Hollywood did nothing for him. He showed up in roles that were little more than man meat fiestas where he could deliver lines and shake his slightly damp with sweat head in slow motion to Journey songs. But, overnight, it happened. Suddenly, Hollywood noticed that not only was he good looking and blessed with a good physique but held one of those drawls that sounds vaguely Southern but non threatening to us Northerners. And as a bonus, he could act. He could emote. He didn’t make you want to leave your seat and wander around the refreshment stand looking for dancing boxes of popcorn. And then he was everywhere. There was even a government mandate that he was to appear in no less than 80 percent of all movies released in 1987. He was winning Sexiest Man Alive awards; he was half of that cute Hollywood couple you actually feel is part of your inner circle. Dennis Quaid was it. And Randy was back to where he was.

Randy bounced around for a little while. He took roles that enabled him to play the demented villain or the concerned comedic father. He even thought he could regain his notoriety if he took a stint on Saturday Night Live. Unfortunately, he was cast in the dark year that was 1986, when Lorne Michaels left to do some sort of self imposed sabbatical (Read: Burnout). His cast mates: Robert Downey Jr,  Anthony Michael Hall, Damon Wayans. Yup, Randy Quaid was surrounded by enough cocaine on a daily basis to personally fund college educations, Porsches and purchases of small Caribbean islands for the entire Escobar family. His low point came towards the end of the Me Decade. While his brother’s star was launching itself, he dipped into the Vacation well again and again. I mean, Chevy Chase was contractually obligated to be in the Vacation movies. But a meaty role like the alcoholic redneck was too good to pass up, I suppose.

Yet (and here are those words) he persevered. He never asked his younger brother for coattails. He never quit as his heart wouldn’t let him. Sure, his roles became fodder for every slot Cinemax could afford after 2 in the morning. SNL improved after he left. And he even tried a lame attempt at getting his face in the public eye by taking on political causes. And, we as a nation said, “Sorry randy, we’ll buy in the movies sweating and scaring us, but our politic fodder needs to have a lot less perspiration….unless you’re a Clinton.” The member of the family who didn’t have it was wallowing in obscurity, popping up now and then just so his house didn’t go into foreclosure. Yet there was brother Dennis, still drawling and preening his way through the Hollywood scene.

Then something happened. Dennis began to fade. Maybe it was age. Maybe it was his messy split with Meg Ryan. Maybe it was the fact that Hollywood found a cheaper younger pretty boy drawl in Matthew McConaughey. Whatever it was, Dennis was fading faster than the prospects of solar energy. Sure, he’d pop up every once in a while and remind us just why Meg Ryan let him re-enact her famous When Harry Met sally scene. Yet there was a Quadian void. And Randy, who was still gritting it out, saw his opportunity.

He showed up in Brokeback Mountain (actually showed some acting chops). He won one of those fake awards (read: Not Oscar) for his role as Tom Parker in the Elvis movie. And with the death of Chevy Chase’s career (Thank you, Snow Day. Thank you.) he will never again have to play the alcoholic cousin in law. Unless they do a reunion show on Fx or something.

Randy Quaid should be an inspiration to us all. He never once relied on his brother’s obvious better talents. He instead gritted it out, stayed determined and kept himself pushing for the goal. He should be an inspiration to all of us who may not be the best, even in our own families. Sweaty, smarmy men unite in your respect for Randy Quaid. He never quit and he’s who he must look for as our inspiration.

At least until Daniel Baldwin gets out of prison.

A TV Show Dies…America Mourns October 23, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Pop Culture Rants, TV.
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Take yourself back. To a simpler time. North Korea was still not yet a nuclear power, though they talked about it like that couple with a new baby. Our view of the United States Congress was one of reverence and respect. And this world was still graced with the large and in charge presence of Steve Irwin.

It was early September 2006 and our collective eyeballs were glued, nay, dare I say, permanently attached by some unforeseen magic force, to our TVs. And what magical force was causing retina damage? You got it…we all were permanently fixated on “Deal or No Deal.”

The show was all NBC had back then. They used it to fill more cracks in their nightly schedule with it than a sloppy construction worker uses fast drying caulk. We ate it up, no matter how much it was fed to us. Back then, it was like chocolate: there is no amount of it that we can get sick of and, ooh, boy, is it sweet.

Think about the first time with reverence back in those easy times. There was the simplistic gameplay that was so readily identifiable, so easy, we all could play along. There was the bevy of women who held the magic cases and all had names fresh from The Big Book of Stripper Names. There was the “Surprise inspirational guest” that never failed to tug at our heart strings. And what can you say about Howie Mandel? Apparently, his hackneyed, highly annoying persona was all in his hair. Kind of like an alternate universe Samson. Now, he was the fey Mr. Clean, but we all still loved every second of it.

And I too was one of those opiated masses. I was on the edge of my seat, watching every televised moment with bated breath. I played along with the contest and even found myself questioning my own inner fortitude. Would I take the deal? Or would I dramatically close the strange panic button like apparatus and scream “No Deal” like some crazed power hungry lunatic? Would I be distracted by brandy or Candy or by the big flashing lights and accidentally hit the button in a flail of panic? Would I snap at Howie Mandel and sever his bald head from the body when he re-enacts to me what would have happened if I hadn’t been a pusswad and taken the deal? It was a perfect mix. Deal or No Deal…the height of entertainment.

Fast forward to the now. The show still remains, but our taste for it has waned. It is now an afterthought, a joke. It holds the same cultural weight as an episode of Law and Order before Jerry Orbach was on. And what’s more, its’ decline was all their own doing. It was the familiarity. It was the oversaturation and worst of all, they stopped making me care.

I remember back finely to the days when the show was magic. It’s formula seemed fresh and new. Now, I am surprised they haven’t revamped the formula. How many times can I watch a person choose a case and then open the rest? Add some variety. Maybe a deathmatch round with a member of the audience for the right to continue opening the cases. It could be a sort of gladiator style game show. Every man for himself. Rumor has it that’s how they do the show in Russia.

And the “surprise” guest, which actually made me cry on occasion (I’m always a sucker for Grandma flying cross country to serve as a source of inspiration.) But lately, the guests have gotten pretty lame. I mean, is your 5th grade art teacher really who should be coaching you on whether you should take the crummy 25,000 pittance. The family members also have fallen off the excitement radar. Before they would yell and scream, with one of them jealously saying “Keep Going,” just so they wouldn’t have to spend the car ride home wondering what their co-worker was going to spend his quarter million on. Now, they sit back and let the contestant steal the spotlight. They are the UN Security Council: Quiet, calculating and with no real power over monetary decisions.

And the girls? Every week it’s the same thing…the thirty woman who walk from behind the stage like they’re preparing for a Busby Berkeley musical. Back in the early days, they were nameless faceless beauties. But thanks to the entertainment news shows, the behind the scenes extras, episodes of US Weekly, the Deal or No Deal Blog, internet chatter and scandalous rumors, we know more about them than we want. And I just can’t have dirty thoughts about somebody when I know they have three kids, a college degree in aerodynamics and like to body paint. (Okay, maybe the body painting could work). Thirty faceless beauties who just give away cash are great, but once we gave them souls, the show was finished.

But where the magic stalled like a 94 Neon for me was in the contestant pool. The early days of the show was dotted with working joes and housewives. The show relies on two of the major percepts of American culture: luck and greed. It requires no skill, no knowledge, which made its’ contestant requirements simple: fun, not horrible to look at in HDTV (though that has some wiggle room) and a desire for money. And they chose them wisely. They were people you could root for, or at the very least, shout out for making ignorant decisions. They more often than not made you feel superior, which is the cardinal rule of all game and reality shows: making people realize their lives are made more meaningful in relation to a television. Only now the show is bringing in real live intelligencia, like doctors, soldiers, preachers. These people can be on any other game show but have chosen this one, because even the brain needs to relax once in a while. And these people, well let’s just say if I wanted to watch people smarter than me win easy money and do nothing I’d watch Jeopardy or C-SPAN.

The thrill is gone. Scrap the whole thing and start again. Recapture the magic of a few months ago. Because you still have Howie Mandel. And you know something’s wrong when he’s the cornerstone you’re building around. Though it did work for ST. Elsewhere, so who am I to judge?

When “Michael Jackson” and “Children” In The Same Sentence Wasn’t Skeezy October 19, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Music, Pop Culture Rants.
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There was a time when people were heeding certain calls. The world was coming together as one. There were people dying. And then there was something else, followed by another thing (Don’t remember that part.) That’s right. We were the world. Heck, we were the children. We were doing some things again (Give me a break, it’s been twenty years) and we were giving.

And look how well that worked out. Last I checked, every single person in the world had a meal today ( Though the word “meal” has a grey area…to some, it’s US Surplus Wheat over dirt with a side of muddy stream water…to other’s it’s Air Sandwiches) We were the world. We were the aid. We were everything.

The eighties were the ultimate age of “tons of guilt-ridden musicians singing schmaltz to raise money for catastrophe.” We are the World was only the beginning. The Brits, not as egotistical as our good old American musicians were, merely asked us to wonder if the poor and hungry knew it was Christmas. And they even managed to get hair bands and heavy metal singers to claim they were “Stars” and all those proceeds went to…um…it went to something good. Heck, if you can wake Ronnie James Dio and brush away the coke sheen from Vince Neil’s lower lip, you’ve already changed the world. Music stepped to the forefront and took on the world’s problems. Or at least took them on with some cash put aside for licensing fees, limos, and catering by Wolfgang Puck during recording sessions.

Regardless of what you may think, they were great moments. They bonded our nation. We are the World may have fed several million people, but it also provided material for hack comedians that lasted for years (Impersonating the song in your Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper and Willie Nelson voice was mandatory as per the Hack Comic Code of 1987). Band Aid makes us think about the poor when they overplay the song every holiday season, but it also shed light on the fact that every British lead singer sounds alike. And Stars, just last year, donated a whopping .85 cents to something (most likely the “Home for the Ravaged Vocal Cords of Heavy Metal Screamers of the Eighties.”)

[Ed. Note: We are the World also provided the saying “Pulling an Aykroyd,” which applies to when a person, who doesn’t belong somewhere, somehow winds up being involved in a monumental cultural event…Other examples include Sha Na Na at Woodstock, Milli Vanilli at the Grammy’s, Paris Hilton at the Oscars, Jesse Ventura in the Governor’s mansion]

So with all the good these songs did, I ask you this: Why did the music industry stop? Did all of the world’s problems suddenly become solved? Why are there no more easily hummable tunes whose proceeds go to some major event’s eradication? I am putting it out there: Bring back the schmaltz!

Celebrities are still using their fame and notoriety for good causes that are more than getting a good table at Prey when DJ AM is spinning, don’t get me wrong. But they are now mostly movie stars who slip their rants in between awards acceptance speeches or show up at carefully created photo-ops with placards and signs. And Susan Sarandon can’t fit in as many events and boycotts, what with her schedule rapidly filling up with “Rocky Horror Picture Show” reunion gigs. So the music industry needs to step up. And fast, because what they ARE doing is, well, not cutting it. They’ve replaced one single we can rally around with long drawn out variety/benefit shows. We are the World really is just that now: A World of people, freaking us all out

The Concert for New York city and the nationwide telethon for 9/11 victims raised money, but their lasting entertainment value was on par with a really good hour on the Jerry Lewis telethon (like when the juggling dogs show up…those things are fricken AMAZING!) What they gave us was “Huh?” inducing renditions by modern bands of songs that didn’t quite seem to fit on two fronts: both with the theme of 9/11 and the bands singing them. Having Limp Bizkit playing a Who song is strange enough, but “Wish You were Here?” And Tori Amos singing a Tom Waits song? I don’t see how that is going to change and save our world. Their technique has morphed from magnanimous donations and record sales to confusing us all long enough that we forget the tragedies all together.

And the Concert for Katrina victims was even worse. Basically, the event taught us one thing. And no, it wasn’t about government incompetence or the ravages that faced New Orleans (Anderson Cooper already took that one…and did it in Gucci no less.) It merely showed us that Mike Myers’ improv skills are not as good as we once thought, or at least they are not good when faced with anti-governmental blanket statements about race (Kanye West – the only person in history to render Mike Myers speechless.)

Long drawn out telethons may raise money, but they more often than not just anger the people thinking they’re tuning in to watch Two and a Half Men. Music needs to get back to what it did best: The Politically Charged Anthem. Look at all the culturally and politically minded producers currently working today. Surely, one of them can pull a Quincy Jones and whip something up. If we want to get back to the peaceful and disaster free time that we knew in the eighties, an anthem is needed and fast. Actually, maybe it wasn’t all about the anthems: maybe it was the coke. Vince Neil seemed to be happier then too.

I’m Freaked Out By The Japanese…Freaked Out by The Japanese…I Really Think So October 12, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Movies, Pop Culture Rants.
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We were all feeling pretty good about ourselves for a few years there, weren’t we?

We as a collective unit knew that we were fully prepared and had what it takes to survive the outrageous and macabre scenarios that just might happen in a horror film. We were saturated with them throughout most of the eighties and nineties. Sick and deranged serial killers that exist in some mythical alterverse would never bring us down, we could say, if we followed the rules. And for the benefit of those of who didn’t see Scream or were just too into “those Police movies with the sound effects guy” to watch any of them, here’s the quick recap.

No sex. Ever. With anyone.

Dark rooms, alleys or corners are to be treated like Greta Garbo and left alone.

Serial killers are slow and can be outrun, even by fat kids and people have the propensity to trip over usually uncumbersome objects, like dirt.

If you have to choose between certain escape and trying to save that girl who probably won’t like you anyway after you set her free from bondage, choose escape. There are other tits in the sea. Trust me.

Killers and madmen do not die. Until the grosses go down. And even then, there are replaced by even more menacing things, like Straight-to-Video monsters and late night Cinemax gore.

And we knew, if teens, rookie members of the sheriff’s department and teachers at your school nobody really liked started showing up dead, we could survive. We had our primers being shoved in our faces every day by either pimply faced video store managers or by that creepy Goth girl that worked at the multiplex ticket counter. We laughed at them, we shouted at the screen, but more importantly, we learned. Body counts were way down, as were unwanted teenage pregnancies (Coincidence?). Yup, we were a nation, a people, a unit that could survive any Nightmare on our Street, any Bloody Holiday, any Jim Varney movie (Not technically horror, but still bonechilling scenarios in their own right…how many places did Ernest really need to go?)

But somethings happening and I don’t like it. The horror movies we’ve come to watch and learn from, with their gratuitous limb separation and the retreaded 80’s hair metal music montages, are being replaced. And not by different genres or newer, more special effects laden CGI scary things. No, the horror movies we can handle are being outsourced. Now, the only way we can get scared is by the Japanese.

The country that changed the way we look at electronics, animation and tiny, intricately sliced raw fish is now changing the horror movie genre. Japanese horror films (or J-Horror, the term used by lazy people and those whose computer keyboards have no “A” or “P”) are everywhere. Their rise has been like the onset of a heart attack: quick, sudden, unexpected and all consuming. But like a heart attack, it’s killing us all. Because we don’t quite know how to survive a Japanese horror film yet.

SO far, the films have had a few things in common. Young albino children with black hair and a propensity for high pitch screaming. Set designers who ask their painters to “paint it like somebody smeared poo and vomit everywhere.” And protagonists who are, gulp, not dumb. That’s right. The main characters who are often besieged by some atmospheric dread are quick witted, with actual careers and hobbies that do not involve drinking late at night in the woods. Their scenarios of fear are brought on by demons, apparitions, and sometime by rage and anger. Rage and anger? I don’t think I know how to outrun that. Or shoot it. Or drown its’ head in a used toilet. Uh-oh.

Japanese horror films are scary because they don’t rely on special effects and gore. They actually freak us out by being entirely possible. And what’s worse, everybody dies in them. The people that do survive only wind up in a mental hospital the next time we see them.  I, when watching an American horror film, know that if Peggy, the new girl cheerleader in town, can survive, I can too. But it’s just damn freaky when the reporter, who puts it all together like a sexy Encyclopedia Brown, or the doctor quells the demon disease after much deliberation, still wind up on the wrong end of the survival stick,  I look for answers. Answers that will quell my raging distress (It might not be all distress…I had one of those new Taco Bell burritos with the nacho chip strips in them….Simple yet ingenious)

And I’ve been searching for the rules. I’ve been trying to find out how we can escape from contortionist demon kids with Oasis haircuts. They’re quick and seemingly everywhere. So far, I think they can be tricked utilizing liberal applications of InstaTan and trips to a Fantastic Sams. How to get them there? I’m still working on it, but they all seem to have deep interpersonal issues, so Dr. Phil’s teachings will inevitably be involved. As for floating apparitions that manifest themselves in hovering black clouds or strange clinging fog, I’m still beta testing a new aerosol. It is still going through governmental approval, but should be ready for Christmas.

Until these advances, we may just have to accept the fact that we will never crack the rules of survival when we are beset by the strange atmospheric terrors. It’s already claimed Buffy, Jennifer Connelly and the poor man’s Nicole Kidman. And it looks to be tightening its grip and doing worse things to Joan of Arcadia than the nimrods at CBS’s scheduling department ever could. The slashers may be gone, but the ghosts are here and we’re not ready. And it’s matter of time before we’re trapped in an industrial hallway and suddenly hear eerie string music, before being surrounded by specters of all sorts. And don’t even think about calling the Ghostbusters, silly.

I mean, they’re a movie. God, some people are so naïve and paranoid.