Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Larry King Part II or HOUSTON! HELLO!

More from Larry King:

It bothers me that the only consistent row between a calculator pad and a phone pad is the middle one ... Tuesday Weld was a very popular actress at one point and hot as a pistol to boot, why aren't there more girls named Tuesday? ... Writing a book is like riding a bike. Once you get the training wheels off, it's all down hill ... I saw a baby today and she looked just like Ed Asner ... Here's a tip: wear suspenders and a belt, that way you'll be covered at any event ... When I was a kid we'd play marbles until our fingers were sore, now kids play video games until their fingers are sore. Somehow, it's not the same ... There's something about Joe D. not allowing Frank Sinatra to Marilyn's funeral that screams class act to me ... Spoke with Lucille Ball last night, I am always telling her about my day ... One look at an average pizza pie will tell you that the entire Italian race is lazy ... NBA Media Day is my favorite media day ... What's the deal with everyone wanting to be number one? Last I checked, the number one is one away from zero and no one wants to be a zero ... Do you suppose that there are any near-sighted birds ... You want to watch the best Adam Sandler movie? You start at “The Waterboy” and work your way down ... Beetle Bailey or Pearl Bailey, who has entertained our troops more ... They don't make them like Tony Dow any more ... As you go through life, you see a lot of flags. The best one these peepers have peeped: Wyoming's state flag ... The color red seems to be the color that would have a chip on its shoulder ... You put Harvard in any other city and it's a glorified SMU ... Pixar is the new ViewMaster, it's a fading fad ... Don Rickles plays hard ball, but everyone I know thinks that he's an old softie ... In my day the top entertainers ran with the mob, now a-days they're part of a gang. Simple arithmetic, folks ... Next time I'm in a drinking establishment, you better believe you'll see a Zima in my hand ... Fatty Arbuckle would have been 122 last March if he wasn't taken away from us so soon ... Baton Rouge is my favorite state capital ... General Mills, why are you trying so hard? There's no need for Honey Nut Cheerios, regular Cheerios are just fine ... I know 46 people who have received Purple Hearts, yet I know no one who has a Nintendo Wii ... A Meerscham pipe is the perfect gift for any occasion ... Johnny Cash sounds so vulgar. He would have been bigger had he been named Jonathan Dollar ... Speaking of rude, how come most Americans can tell you what's in a Big Mac, but no one can tell you how to make a proper Lobster Newburg ... Nothing beats my old Radio Flyer and that includes today's hopped-up wagons ... Why is everything flavored now? Whatever happened to plain ... The quatrains of Shirley Povich hold amazing wisdom about the Modern Pentathalon ... And on that note folks, I'm gone.

Larry King swings by 19 Thoughts every so often. Read more of his views in the coming weeks.

Monday, September 28, 2009

29. Scrubs

The opening theme warbles “I can't do this all on my own. I'm no Superman” and in eleven and a half words, the audience understands what this show is about. Set in a fictional California city (the Internet swears it's San Diego and the Internet is rarely wrong), “Scrubs” is an ensemble comedy set in a hospital. The key word in that last sentence is ensemble, because like the theme songs says, “(No one) can do this all on their own”.

I've always been a big fan of ensemble comedies, I think that they are less boring than the typical sitcom where the audience is introduced to the one protagonist (or sometimes if writers are feeling especially crazy, two protagonists) and the rest of their universe is inhabited by “characters” (and make no mistake, that's what they are: two-dimensional characters) that revolve around them. Done well, a larger cast means deeper characters (no quotes around the word this time) and more intricate plots.

Zach Braff who is the star of the show, has said that he and the executive producers wanted to make “Scrubs” a sort of live-action “Simpsons” where the audience should be prepared for anything . And they are able to do this with the show being told through Braff's character's eyes using intersecting plots, quick cut-aways and dream sequences. To a person who has never seen the show before, it can sound like a muddled mess, but it's not. The one really good thing about “Scrubs” is that the writing is very tight—even though the actors are encouraged to adlib—not a word is wasted.

This show has a lot of elements that I look for in a TV show: it's funny but it stays true to it's roots; the characters are cool, but don't take themselves too seriously and one of its ambitions is to be a live-action “Simpsons”. The question is, why is this only at number 29 on my list?

A number of reasons.

1. It's a show set in a hospital. As much as I hate to admit this, I am a prejudiced person when it comes to TV shows: I hate shows that are set in a hospital. I don't like them, mainly because I don't like going at the doctor's office or being at a hospital. I don't think that there are many folks who DO like being in one of these places, but shows like “ER” and “St. Elsewhere” were big-time hits for NBC, so what the hell do I know? Not to mention a show like “General Hospital”.

“Scrubs” is literally the only television show that I will watch where the characters are doctors or nurses. When the fall season comes around, I'll check out the previews and if something is billed as a “medical drama” or set anywhere near a scalple, I don't even bother to check it out. A vast majority of the public seem to enjoy the melodrama that occurs at these places (see “Grey's Anatomy” or “House”*), but I'm not like that. It took me a long time to get into this show, despite pleas from my friends who loved it.

* I am convinced that the character of House was just a blatant rip-off of John C. McGinley's Dr. Perry Cox on this show. In fact, in one episode Cox angrily brings it up to JD while the two were walking through the hospital.

2. I got into this show around the same time that a lot of bad stuff was happening to me. My grandmother passed away, I was fired from my job and during this time I was battling a severe cold for what seemed to be like every other week. In other words, I was sad, sick and broke. With nothing to do at night, I would watch TV until I fell asleep. “Scrubs” seemed to be on every channel at any time. Like I said in my Beatles blog, I'm not made of stone.

I started to watch the program and really enjoyed it for the reasons described above. As my lot in life changed and got better, I began to watch more and more episodes until I had practically seen them all in a four-month window. Now, it's no longer on my DVR because a. I'm pretty sure that I've seen every single episode and b. it reminds me a bit about watching the show during a low period in my life.

3. The people who make and act in this show are gigantic TV fans. Braff has said that one of the pinacles of his career was guesting on “Arrested Development”--he played the douche-y Joe Francis character who filmed the “Girls With Low Self Esteem” videos. Anyway, he said that he wanted Tobias Funke to make a guest appreance on “Scrubs”. Not David Cross, the actor, but the AD character Tobias Funke.

That's pretty damn awesome.

With all of that being said, “Scrubs” is a really funny story that plays around with a lot different conventions. It's self-referential in that Braff's character (JD) and his best friend Turk (played by Donald Faison) go from being insanely close best friends to something even closer as the years go by. The referential part comes when JD asks Turk what he thinks would happen if people watching and commenting on them, what would they say?

They've fooled around with musical episodes (as seen through the eyes of a patient who has a disease where everyone sings) an episode where a patient is a sitcom writer from the 70s and 80s which saw “Scrubs” shoot from the traditional three-camera set-up with a laugh track instead of the show's normal one-camera shots with no laugh track.

This kind of experimentation is great and lets the audience know that the writers aren't set to sit on their laurels and churn out the same types of episodes over and over and over again. The freshness that the cast and crew bring to the show is palatable and is also driven home by the fact that many of the lines during JD's dream sequences are ad-libbed.

Another quality of the show that I enjoy is that not every episode ends with a happy ending, despite his best efforts some of JD's patients die. Also, the changes that are made in one episode create ripples that effect future episodes.

And a character like the hospital's Head Chief of Medicine, Bob Kelso (played by Ken Jenkins), is often set up as the antagonist. But there's a reason to why he gets in the way of Dr. Cox's methods or JD's altruism. Modern hospitals are around to make money, when a hospital ceases to make money, it will be closed down. So when Kelso kicks out someone who doesn't have any symptoms (or insurance) but claims to be sick, it's not because he doesn't care, it's because he needs a bed for a truly sick person that can pay the freight. The morality of running a hospital is more than just the plaque on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

When “Scrubs” was cancelled by NBC at the end of the 2008 season, most people thought that was it for the show. However, it was picked up by ABC and did pretty well for them in a limited season last year and was given another half season this year. Most of the cast (like Braff and Sarah Chalke) didn't think that the show was going to be back so they sought out other projects, however with the show coming back they will be each making guest appearances in six episodes. From the cast of characters only Faison and McGinley will be back on a full-time basis.

Also changing will be the location of the series, as for eight years “Scrubs” took place almost entirely within the confines of Sacred Heart Hospital, but now will be taking place at a college. I look forward to seeing how “Scrubs” reinvents itself because Faison's character's wife (Judy Reyes) nor JD's nemesis “The Janitor” (Neil Flynn) will also not be part of the new direction—though they will make guest appearances

During it's run, “Scrubs” had the same quirky existence that it's characters had: it was hailed as a genius show, yet never found true ratings success. It bounced around different days and times, almost as if it was daring its fans to find it, yet didn't flourish until in reruns. It had been rumored to be on the chopping block for years, but it has almost lasted an entire decade. It inspired to be a live-action cartoon, but delivered characters and situations more real than most situation comedies or dramas.

“Scrubs” was, and still is, an enigma of a television show for a lot of people. You owe it to yourself to watch and figure it out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Silence and the Silver Screen

One of the reasons why I don't go out a lot any more is because I become easily annoyed with the general public. This isn't some mid-30s-I-hate-those-rascally-whippersnapper-kids moment*, if I'm being truthful I've always preferred staying at home. When I was younger, going to a crowded bar packed with steak heads was never my idea of fun. Also, I've always subscribed to the old Bill Cosby observation (or it may have been George Carlin, I forget), “when you're on the high way and a car goes speeding by you the driver is a maniac, but when you're behind a car going slower than you, the driver is a moron.”

* Maybe I am turning into Andy Rooney, this is the second straight entry where I'm begging people not to think that I'm sort of curmudgeon. Damn it.

Last night was another example of the idiocy of the general public. My friend Jamie and I decided to go to the movies and check out the latest Tarantino flick “Inglourious Basterds”. It was a really good flick that I'll probably get into reviewing soon, but there was a little problem at the beginning of the movie.

There were three guys, all in their late 40s or early 50s sitting a few rows behind us. They were talking pretty loudly—which is not a big deal because the picture hadn't started and that's what you do when you wait. Then the previews started up and these guys still were talking as if they were splitting a Bloomin' Onion at Bugaboo Creek. This started to suck, but it was the previews, so what are you going to do?* Finally the movie started and with most Quentin Tarantino films, you really have to pay attention from the absolute beginning to get the most out his movies. Only these guys were still yapping.

* I love the previews almost as much as the movie. I think it goes back to me loving the anticipation for something more than the event itself. The trailers in front of this movie didn't look that great though, I was a bit disappointed in that.

Finally I turned around and said, “Hey!” and that snapped them out of their conversation for a bit. To be fair, they apologized but 30 minutes later they went back to talking—though this time it was a bit more sporadic and a little bit quieter. The weird thing is, they weren't the stereotypical loud mouths who yell at the screen, “WATCH OUT BRAD PITT!” nor were they asking each other questions about the movie. They were just making small talk, chatting about their families, their jobs and other mundane crap as the action was going on.

I guess I could go on a rant about how in this world of constant communication and the new selfishness of our society, this is just another step on our society's road to hell. However, that's simply isn't true. This rude behavior isn't a new occurrence, I imagine people have been talking through films since silent movies. But, I don't get it. Why would you waste $10 to see a movie when all you really want to do is talk to a friend? There is a Chili's right next to this particular theater. Wouldn't it be cheaper to go there, grab a beer, eat some free tortilla chips and talk all you want until they boot you out of the restaurant?

Not everyone likes to watch a movie the same way; personally I like to be completely immersed in a flick. If it's a movie that I am looking forward to seeing, I don't want any outside light, chatter or distractions to take away from the experience. That's why I pay $10 to go to a movie theater, it's about the experience and an audience can make or break that.

I've seen two movies this summer, this one and “The Hangover”. The latter had one of the better audience experiences I've ever had, people seemed to be really into the flick, no one was chattering and they were laughing all the time. “Inglourious Basterds” was not a bad movie, it sucked you in with a great plot and terrific acting. If you can't put your boring-ass life on hold for two hours for this movie, I'm not sure which flick that you can.

I don't have the largest TV screen in the world, but I am beginning to rethink going to the movies when I have free time. It's not the inconsideration that bothers me the most (although that drives me up a wall) it's the idiocy of choosing to spending money on an activity where you know full well that you have to shut your mouth and listen, but one talks anyway.

I think that the only solutions are to stay at home or have the theaters bring back ushers. However, instead of a flashlight, they can have batons. And after the first warning to be quiet is ignored, ushers will have carte blanche to smash people over the head with their silent sticks.

Monday, September 21, 2009

30. Moral Orel

I hate to sound like “60 Minutes” curmudgeon and first ballot Get-Off-My-Lawn-You-Bastard-Kids! Hall of Famer Andy Rooney, but kids today don't know how lucky they have it with television. Growing up in the 70s and early 80s, there were three network channels, a PBS station and about four UHF channels. Even though there was less than 10 channels, mst of the time, there was a pretty decent shot of finding something worthwhile on TV.

Except for Sunday morning.

God (no pun intended), what a craptastic selection of programs for anyone under ten-years-old. Your choices was either boring weekly-news-roundups or awful cartoons—I'm talking about 1930s “Popeye” or “Deputy Dog”. There wasn't any of that good Hanna-Barbera or the cool-toy cartoons (“He-Man” or “G.I. Joe” or “M.A.S.K.”), it was a wasteland. And why would there be any good TV on Sunday mornings? It's the morning that most people sleep in or go to church or spend the morning with the Sunday paper or do just about anything else besides watching TV. Putting good shows on Sunday is a complete waste.

The problem was I loved TV and I needed something to watch. The one show that I could tolerate was a claymation show created by the United Lutheran Church in America called “Davey and Goliath”. Every week Davey would get into some trouble and his belief God would get him out of the jam. Usually his talking dog Goliath acted as his conscious, but Davey ignored him every single time and went about his ignorant way. Each episode ended with a moral about “Loving your neighbor” or “Not vandalizing the town synagogue” or “listening to your elders” and Davey would always pledge to follow that lesson.

This show made “Leave it to Beaver” look like “The Wire” and even when I was a kid I knew that it was a pretty lame show. But there was nothing on, I liked the claymation (the people who did this also animated Gumby) and the opening and closing theme (which was called “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Johann Sebastian Bach—which is pretty bad ass and sticks in your head for weeks), so it grew on me.*

* When I was in college, the Boston Catholic Channel used to run this show every day in the afternoon. Whether in an altered state or not, I found myself watching it for two reasons: 1. watching the show ironically made it more funny and interesting (more on this when I review “Dragnet” and “Leave it to Beaver”) and 2. I did get a small twinge of nostalgia watching the show and remembering early mornings at my grandparents' house waiting for my grandfather to wake up so that he'd make me pancakes.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying, “Moral Orel” is a lot like “Davey and Goliath” even though Dino Stamatopoulos says his show is based on sitcoms of the 1950s and 60s. I'm not going to argue with him, but Orel and Davey are very similar looking:



In the end, it doesn't matter. The show was broadcast on Adult Swim and focuses on a town in the exact middle of the United States called Moralton, which is the capital of Statesota. Orel is a well-meaning young boy who is obsessed with God and following the rules set forth by his elders; inlcuding his parents, his teachers and the town's Protestant Reverend. These people rarely have Orel's well being in mind when they give him advice and often say things to get Orel out of their hair. Oftentimes the advice is contrary the Christian moral code, but Orel is too naïve to figure out any ambiguity and takes the advice at face value.

This, along with their general indifference causes Orel to misinterpret what his elders are trying to tell him. After Orel screws up his lesson, his father always brings him to his study where he gives Orel a few lashes with his belt and attempts to “explain” the lesson that Orel got wrong. This explanation is as bad or worse as Orel's interpretations and leaves him more confused than ever. One example of this is when Oral begins hanging around his friend Joe, who is the prototypical trouble maker. Joe continues to lead Orel down the wrong path culminating with the boys brutally beating up two homosexuals. What is the lesson that Orel's father teaches? Loyalty. He felt that Orel was disloyal to his established group of friends by spending more time with Joe and not including them.

As the show progresses, Orel begins to realize that adults don't always know what's best and realizes that confusion reigns over everyone and while they are more screwed up than children, adults just hide it better through hypocrisy, dishonesty and denial.

In the big picture, this show is Stamatopoulos' views on the so-called moral majority, ie the middle-American “red states” and how they interact with anyone who has values that are different from their's.

Many of the adult characters have deep-seeded, dark issues including alcoholism, crippling loneliness, dementia brought upon by rape and overall hatred that are buried below a cheerful, “moralistic” attitude. These demons are raised from time-to-time but instead of being dealt with, they are pushed down further under the surface causing anxiety and a misery. It is this facade of everything is fine on the surface which belies the true cesspool, that Stamatopoulos and Scott Adsit (who plays Pete Hornberger on “30 Rock” and is one of the writers and producers on “Moral Orel”) is most adept at writing about.

Being that most of these people of Moralton are church-going, conservative people, one can only assume that the writers feels that many right-wingers are self-effacing liars. Are the assertions true? Judging from the recent headlines of right wing politicians and mouth pieces, it looks as if he could be. It's not that the right have vices, everyone does, it's that they're so voracious about NOT having them. This is why many lefties enjoy the latest right-wing scandal.

While this show seems to be about the hypocrisy of the right and the way that a large majority of Americans think that there is “one correct way of living”, it really is about faith. From the very first episode to the last, Orel has always had the utmost enthusiastic faith in God. Week after week, events occurred where his faith should have been challenged, but week after week he bulldozed through those events secure that God was going to make things all better.

While some of the more well-known moments from the show are infamous, the bottom line is Orel doesn't make mistakes to spite God, he does it because he wants to honor God. One has to admire his focus and determination that a good, moral supreme being exists and that everything will work out in the end. Orel is a person who tries to do the right thing and one can argue that that is the overall lesson of the show, living by the Golden Rule. The only times that this rule becomes perverted is when people don't pay attention to it.

Stamatopoulos is a television hero of mine and the list of shows that he's worked on: “The Ben Stiller Show”, “Late Night with Conan O'Brien”, “The Late Show with David Letterman”, “The Dana Carvey Show”, “Mr. Show with Bob and David” and “Tom Goes to the Mayor” are a list of some of the better alternative comedy/anti-establishment shows in television history. His skewed view on society is acidic and over-the-top cynical, which is probably why not too many people know his work. His shows and humor are very polarizing and appeal to a limited type of person.

God, faith, hypocrisy are all extremely large issues to tackle and these issues are made even larger by the fact that “Moral Orel” was only a 15-minute show aired on the other side of midnight on Sundays. Stamatopoulos took the best swing at it and while it's not a no-doubt home run, it's pretty damn close. The way that he and Adsit were able to write and voice clay characters that the viewer cares about and ones that they will think about days after the show is over is remarkable.

Every day there is some preacher somewhere trying to “Save your soul” and telling you that salvation can be had if you give him $20. “Moral Orel” doesn't make claims on soul-saving or asks for your money, the show is an honest meditation on the role of religion in this country, warts and all. And that's what people need from religion, honesty.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Old Larry King Column or Denver! HELLO!

A few years ago I thought it might be funny to write a few paragraphs the way that Larry King used to write his Monday USA Today column during the 80s and 90s. I thought that this was a particularly good effort on my part. It was written at the end of January, 2007 which explains the first joke (Superb Owl = Super Bowl).

If I was running Animal Planet, this Sunday I'd have a marathon devoted to owls. I'd call it the Superb Owl ... There were a lot of great men in this world, but no one compares to Hugh Beaumont ... Someone should tell the Memphis Grizzlies that the NBA season started in November ... Do you think that Al Kaline's father was a fan of batteries ... You're right, that joke should've stayed in AA ... When Hollywood had Ann Jillian, well, it was a better place ... G. Gordon Liddy knows a lot about origami ... Slinkies make terrible toys for kids who live in ranch houses ... The world wide web is a wondrous place ... Al Jolsen ruled the American psyche like no one else. Why aren't there more song and dance men like him ... True fact: the person who created the typewriter also came up with alphabet soup ... I wouldn't mind being in Kabul today, it's over 98 degrees ... My father said that when owning a business or having sex, always pay the person what they're worth ... John Mayer reminds me of a young Pat Boone ... You can have Hurricane Katrina, for my money the greatest natural disaster was the great Boston Molasses flood ... Where have you gone Harley Race ... Dick Tracy or Underdog? Who is this nation's greatest crime fighter ... Kids today wouldn't know a record store from a CD shop ... When is Spike Lee coming out with "XI" ... Chimneys are the brownstones of wealthy birds ... I'm looking forward to the season's first Randy Johnson and Gred Maddux match up ... The way I hear it, stained glass windows were the results of fraudulent Catholics ... How come no one has cronies any more? All I hear about are posses ... You show me a librarian and I'll show you someone who was bullied as a kid ... A watch is just a timepiece without a fob ... Why do they call it software when it's so hard to get onto your computer ... I sounded like Henny Youngman on that one ... See you soon.

I'm probably going to do this and bring back the Aquaman blogs in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

31. Good Eats

When the Food Network began its programming in 1993, I thought that the idea was terrible and doomed to failure. Who would watch cooking shows for 24 hours a day, seven days a week? And isn't the best part of food, the actual tasting of the morsels—not watching someone make it? It seemed to be a very narrow market of people that would watch people eat things that they couldn't eat.

My younger self thought that they should have called it the anorexic channel. As you can tell, I was quite the cut up as a youth.

Like a lot of things, I was dead wrong. The Food Network isn't just about the same sort of cooking shows; they're all different. Even if there is a preponderance amount of cooking shows on the channel showing Americans how to eat healthier without all of the work, they are mostly unique. Rachel Ray caters to the mid-aged wives, Giada de Laurentiis caters to the young urban professional and horney teen age boys, while Bobby Flay caters to douche bags. The most unique Food Network personality of them l is Alton Brown who hosts a show called “Good Eats”.

Brown is unlike anyone else on the channel because he mixes a very strange, almost Conan O'Brien-style of humor with cooking and science. This hodgepodge of different ingredients form a wonderful television stew—see what I did there? Pretty impressive, don't you think? He is obviously very intelligent, but doesn't bludgeon you over the head trying to impress you with how smart he is. Brown seems to be quick witted and genuinely (read: not TV) funny but doesn't forget that he isn't at the Des Moines Laff Factory.

The show is a humorously serious look at food, if that makes sense. And that is why I like the show. When I was in high school and college, the teachers that I learned the most from weren't the monotone, I'm-going-to-write-on-the-chalkboard-for-50-minutes-and-you're-going-to-listen types, it was the ones that had a bit of personality. The educators that realized that being in front of a classroom is a bit like being on stage. You need to grab your audience's attention by the throat and don't let go until the class is over.

Much like my former geometry teacher, Ms. Leary I like Brown because I learn every time I watch the show*.

* I hated math when I was a kid and I hate math now. I've spent my entire life avoiding any sort of course or career that had even a hint of mathematics in it. But, I loved my geometry class and I'm sure it had something to do with my teacher. All other math teachers I had were very black and white (which to be fair, is what math is; you're either right or you're wrong) and they taught their classes that way. Ms. Leary was different, she made the class enjoyable for folks like me.

I get why more teachers aren't like Ms. Leary, but what I don't get is why they don't even bother to try. I think that there are things wrong with our public school system and while I won't even heap 50% of the problem on the teachers, I believe it starts there. Interacting and getting to the students is 90% of an educator's job. Unfortunately, it's hard to quantify that so teachers have to teach to standardized tests and benchmarks. And that's a shame.

Through the course of his show Brown won't just show the viewer how to make a meal, he'll show you the best way to make it and using science he'll explain to you why his way is the correct way. To belabor a point, Brown doesn't sit in front of screen and lectures as to why certain foods cook quicker than others nor does he dryly talk about proteins, fatty acids, etc. He interacts with the viewer using skits, characters and other eye-grabbing props. It may sound hacky, but trust me, it's not.

These explanations really bring home the point of why its important that one must pay attention to every detail in the preparation process when cooking a meal. Why does he spend a bunch of time washing down the cutting board with really good soap? Because of the bacteria that can stick to food that can cause illness, or even worse, bad tasting food. Sure, it seems like common sense but none of these cooking shows ever really get into the theory of the process.

In the same regard, Brown also spends a lot of time dealing with cooking myths. Do they work or have these myths been passed down over so many generations that they are now taken as gospel? Most of the time these myths do turn out to be fact. This is nice, but Brown will go a step further and explain the science behind why these myths are fact. For me, this sort of subconscious genius of our ancestors is more interesting and shows that we can understand things that we don't quite understand—if you catch my drift.

The other thing that I like about the show is the way its filmed. Wikipedia calls this filming a Dutch Angle, which is a term “used for a cinematic tactic often used to portray the psychological uneasiness or tension in the subject being filmed. A Dutch angle is achieved by tilting the camera off to the side so that the shot is composed with the horizon at an angle to the bottom of the frame. Many Dutch angles are static shots at an obscure angle, but in a moving Dutch angle shot the camera can pivot, pan or track along the director or cinematographer's established diagonal axis for the shot.”

To me, it's an interesting way of shooting the show and is far different from its ilk. Most cooking shows are shot straight on and the result is very tedious and boring. Aside from using the Dutch Angles, Brown also has tricks such as setting up a camera in an oven or refrigerator, again is a great change of pace.

This isn't going to be a super-long entry, because there isn't a hell of a lot to say about the show.

There aren't any characters that annoy me because it's pretty much Brown for 30 minutes. There aren't any plot twists that bug me, because it's a cooking show. There aren't any cliff hangers, hot chicks or other gimmicks that traditional shows need in order for their audience to come back. It's a cooking show hosted by a pretty cool guy that explains why food tastes good. I like “Good Eats” because I like to eat, I like Alton Brown and I like to learn.

I will say this, my initial theory about this show and Alton Brown proved to be 100% incorrect. I thought that Brown was an engineer or scientist who dabbled in cooking. He eventually became dissatisfied with his work and enrolled into a cooking school. I assumed that while his meals at the school were technically proficient, he was lacking in imagination (because most of his stuff that he makes on “Good Eats” is pretty standard faire).

Due to his lack of creativity he could not get a job at any restaurants,but still wanted to stay in the food industry, so he came up with “Good Eats”. He pitched the show to the Food Network as one that portrayed him as a chef's version of Mr. Wizard and combined his old love with his new.

This is all fiction.*

* To be honest, I'm not sure if this is the Internet's first version of a “Good Eats” Fan Fiction. If it is, at least no one ends up naked.

In reality, Brown majored in drama at the University of Georgia and was a cinematographer on music videos and some movies. He noticed that most cooking shows sucked, and since he didn't know much about cooking, he went to the New England Culinary Institute, graduated in 1997. “Good Eats” began on a PBS station in Chicago in 1998 and was picked up by the Food Network in 1999. He said that he was a terrible student in high school and college, but wanted to “focus on the subject (food) to understand the underlying processes of cooking.”

Pretty boring. I like my story better.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Different Look at NWA

I think that when a song writer pens a song he has a certain audience in mind. For example, I doubt that when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant wrote “Black Dog” they probably didn't think that there would be blasted at an old age home. Just like I doubt that Ice Cube didn't have in mind that a middle-aged man would be listening to “Fuck tha Police” mowing his lawn in a Massachusetts suburb.

But that's what happened a few weeks ago and that got me seriously thinking about NWA's (which stands for Niggas With Attitudes) seminal 1988 release “Straight Outta Compton”. When released, the album shocked the establishment with its frank descriptions of ghetto life—specifically that of Compton, CA—through misogynistic and violent rhymes. Made up of Ice Cube (Oshea Jackson), Eazy-E (Eric Wright), Dr. Dre (Andre Young), MC Ren (Lorenzo Patterson) and Yella Boy (Antoine Carraby), the group rapped about drug deals, police brutality and the utter hopelessness of life for a young, urban African-American.

While the album didn't spark controversy on it's initial release, it wasn't until suburban (read white) kids got their hand on the album that parents and the government started to take notice of the self-described “World's Most Dangerous Group”. Walking by their children's rooms or overhearing them talk about what was contained on the album, the establishment had a collective fit over songs like the aforementioned “Fuck tha Police”, “Straight Outta Compton” and “Gangsta Gangsta”. The FBI went as far as writing a letter to the group's record label, Ruthless/Priority/EMI demanding that the song be deleted from further album pressings and that the group not play the song during concerts.

Of course, this only increased the appeal of the group which prompted more record sales. One of those tapes was purchased by a young, white kid living in the most northern part of Massachusetts thousands of miles from Compton, California. I lived in a thoroughly middle-class neighborhood and while not lavishly wealthy, there wasn't much that I wanted for. My friends were the same way, yet there was something that we latched onto about NWA.

Aside from a few party bust-ups, we were never hassled by the police, no one was getting shot, the drug dealers at our school sold shake and stems and none of our girlfriends were performing fellatio on the dealers to get that. Looking back, it was a pretty bucolic life of playing sports, doing school work, drinking a few beers now and then and chasing girls. But we were 15 and 16-years-old and we needed something to rage against, and if it was raging against “normalcy” and boredom, then so be it. In any case, I wore that tape out listening to the tales of gang life over and over again.

But something happened from age 15 to 35; I grew up a bit (not too much) and gained a bit of perspective. Maybe it's because I've heard the songs so many time that I can recite the lyrics backwards, but now “Straight Outta Compton” doesn't sound like the tinder box or revolution as it does the unhappy bragging of the downtrodden.

The album opens with Ice Cube (who wrote nine of the 13 tracks) letting the audience know where he and his band are from. And make no mistake about it, these guys aren't having fun in the warm California sun. He paints the picture of an urban jungle where one has to use his wits in order to survive. This coupled with the two songs on the album (“Fuck tha Police” and “Gangsta, Gangsta”) show that the citizens of Compton are stuck in a vice. On one side there are their own people in gangs shooting up neighborhoods and on the other side are the people who have been sworn to protect and serve them, the Los Angeles Police Department. Both sides put an exorbitant amount of pressure on young people, which eventually causes them to pop.
Ice Cube couldn't run to the police when a gang banger shot up his neighborhood for two reasons:

1. He would be labeled as a snitch and would probably be killed
2. The cops don't care. They treat everyone in the ghetto the same.

This life has to be immensely frustrating. And that is what the theme of the album is about: life's constant frustrations and being powerless to stop them. That undercurrent of frustration is what makes this album excellent. It's not all bang-bang, shoot 'em, kill 'em all, mindless rapping. In order to survive and make a name Ice Cube and the other members (aside from Eazy-E, which I will discuss soon) have to separate themselves from their background, while also reminding everyone where they're from at the same time.

The members of NWA need to establish a larger-than-life persona in order to deal with every day life. This is done through new names that sound more like super heroes (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre) and through exaggerated song lyrics with language that mirrors their lives. Talk of beating and killing adversaries is an example of the “kill or be killed” way of life that rules the streets.

These crimes were being committed by “Ice Cube” or “MC Ren” not Oshea Jackson or Lorenzo Patterson. They were using their raps and their alter egos (pretty much all of their raps were said in the third-person) to speak out about the frustration in their lives and the violent acts that should be done to solve their problems.

“Fuck tha Police, Ren said with authority” (from “Fuck tha Police”)
“Crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube, from a gang called Niggas With Attitudes.” (from “Straight Outta Compton”)

These lyrics (and there are many more) suggest a form of separation between a person and his surrounding. I'm no psychologist, so I'm going to keep my five cent diagnosis.

While the dealing between person and environment were mostly third-person (often times words like “I” or “me” were used, however I feel that they were used to establish a rhythmic pattern) the dealings between the rapper and women were strictly single-person. On songs such as “I Ain't Tha One” and “Dopeman”, Ice Cube bears his soul—of course, it's under layers and layers of bravado, but if one looks they can see it.

Again, frustration is the name of the game as he muses that women don't want to him and his crew because they are too poor and have no status in the community. Every once in awhile a girl may look their way, but to Ice Cube and the others, the only reason why she is doing this is because she wants something.

“You want lobster? Huh. I'm thinking Burger King.” (from “I Ain't Tha One”)

While a funny line about opportunistic women, it belies a point from Ice Cube which is you shouldn't be dating me for what I can offer (expensive meals, cars, jewelry) you should be with me for who I am.

“Run out of money and yo, watch your heart break. She'll drop you like a bad habit.” (from “I Ain't Tha One”)

Realize that Ice Cube is not 80's, ghetto version of Dion (“Why Must I be a Teenager in Love?”). He is also out for one thing (and in the same song as the ones quoted above, he says, “I think with my ding-a-ling” and “After the date, I'm gonna want to do the wild thing”), but it can be argued that a. he is honest about what he expects b. class or money do not factor into his pursuits—though one could probably blame teenaged libido on that.

While I haven't spoken of tone in the album's raps, the ending of “I Ain't Tha One” does have a bit of sadness in it when Ice Cube realizes that this woman is only showing interest because she thought that he was wealthy. “You only wanted me for my money. Beat it.” is said with equal parts disdain and disappointment. It is one of the few times on the album where the speaker allows the listener to feel pity for him. This works well with the album's overarching theme of frustration.

Another song that deals with women is “Dopeman” however, this is only in a verse or two. Ice Cube and the group lament over the fact that they can not get any girls to look at them, but the dope man (the lowest of the low in the world of the ghetto—a man who literally poisons his community in order to get rich) has women fawning all over him. It's not because of the dope man's charms or wiles. It's because he has half the neighborhood addicted to his product and because of the poverty, women are willing to trade sexual favors for his wares.

As a young man whose teenage years were also a dry spell, one can do crazy things to get a girl. However, it seems that Ice Cube and the rest of NWA (aside from Eazy-E) would not lower themselves to the level of a drug dealer to get women. Having a conscious or some sort of moral compass in the ghetto makes the day-to-day life frustrating.

One can assume that the motivation of NWA was to leave the ghetto and become wealthy. To do this they essentially had to play both sides of the fence: claim the ghetto as their “home” (in order to maintain street credibility) and find a way to leave the ghetto where life would undoubtedly get easier. The dark secret of NWA is that when the album was released, the only member of NWA that had a police record was Eazy-E. He sold drugs in order to finance the group in the early years and was arrested by the polcie a few times.

It seems to me that despite their rap protestations, the members of NWA never wanted to be in a gang. They used the lot that was given to them (poverty, police brutality, gang violence) as a way to get themselves out of their lifestyle.

This is what I missed while listening to this album the first 800 or so times. And while I never could put my finger on why this album (which was essentially the blue print for the gangster rap explosion of the 1990s and beyond) was so much better than the other ones that came after it. It wasn't that it was the first album of the genre, it was the stuff that ran under the surface of the curses and bravado. There is a certain heart to this album, a certain raw-nerve feel that is way too tender to touch. And while I won't go so far as to say that there is a warmth to the record, there is an element there that imitators can't seem to get right.

The frustration of youth, the frustration of one's surroundings, the frustrations of life and being in a place that you desperately want to get away from bubbles to the top subliminally. People who look only at the surface will never get it correct because it really isn't what NWA said; it's more the themes that were between the lines and what they didn't.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I'm Only Human or Beatles for Sale

Apparently something very big is happening today—and it's not my 35th birthday*. According to many media outlets, four lads from Liverpool, England are returning to America or are invading America or are declaring a jihad on America ... I'm not 100% sure, but something is happening to America.

* Yes. This was a cheap lede and an even cheaper stunt, especially coming from someone who tells everyone that he “hates” his birthday. Not sure why I put hate in quotes, because while I don't literally hate my birthday (it's nice to be alive on most days), but I don't particularly like it either. It's not because of any vain reasons or because I think that my best years have passed me by, I just don't like it and it's really that simple.

Of course today (09/09/09*) is the day that the Beatles make their glorious return to the front burner of the American pop culture psyche when the Beatles Rock Band video game and two versions (mono and stereo) of every Beatles CD is released. You can buy the CDs separately or in one convenient box set, your choice, mate!

* Two things: one there will not be an a Posterisk every other paragraph, I promise. Two, do you realize that today is the last time that there will be able to write three singular numbers to delineate the date for 992 years? The next time you can do this is January 1, 3001. So in the future when your kids start giving you crap about not being able to figure out their technology, hit them with that piece of information.

I've written about this before, but one of my favorite episodes of “The Simpsons” is the one where Homer goes to clown college and becomes a regional Krusty the Klown. What sets up the crux of the plot is that Homer sees a billboard advertising the college and he says to himself, “Clown college? No way is that add working on me!” and for the rest of the act Homer sees clowns everywhere, culminating in the dinner-time line, “You people have stood in my way long enough! I'm going to clown college!”

I feel like Homer Simpson.

A couple of months ago I found about the Beatles video game and the rereleases and my first reaction was, “Rock Band sounds cool, but there is no way that I'm shelling out $250 for 11 CDs that I (mostly) own and haven't listened to in awhile. Sorry Sir Paul and Sir Ringo, but I'm keeping my cash, thank you very much.”

The blitz started innocently enough with some small articles in magazines, then a few ads on TV and next thing you know, I'm inundated with a full-fledged case of Beatlemania. There movies are on every channel, every magazine I look at has a full-fledged Beatle blitz and every radio station is playing one of their jazzy tunes. I can't escape it.

I've been listening to their albums again. I've considered buying a Wii so that I can get the Beatles Rock Band and I am seriously giving thought to buying the Beatles box set (the mono version) and have tried to fool myself into thinking that it's a good idea to drop $250 because:

- Hey, it's the mono version! I only have the stereo version and they aren't even remastered! How am I truly going to be able to appreciate the Beatles music while listening to them in stereo? I might as well be listening to it on an 8-track tape.

- I only have six of the Beatles ten studio albums (the box set comes with “Past Masters” which was released in the 90s, I believe). This is a great opportunity to get the other four for the low-low price of $62.50 per disk.

- CDs are a dying medium, who doesn't want to buy an instant collector's item?

- And this is the best reason, everyone else on the planet seems to be doing this. I may as well jump on the toboggan ride and see where it takes me.

Chances are I'm not going to succumb to the media hype, but it is interesting how my mind which was 100% made up not to even think about making a purchase of any of this stuff. But here I am a few months later and I am actually tossing it around in my mind. You might think that the next few paragraphs are going to be about the evils of capitalism, mass marketing and how the Beatles are the greediest bastards on the planet.

You're wrong.

The reason why there is marketing and advertising is because it works and it's needed. There are certain necessities that people don't need someone to tell them to get: a home, food, water or air. For everything else, there's Mastercard ... er, I mean there needs to be advertising.

Do you need a new iPhone? Or even a phone? The world worked pretty well before Alexander Graham Bell showed up, but through advertising the thought of having a phone has been implanted in your brain as no-questions-asked necessity. If you stop and think about it, there's really no need for 90% of the stuff in your house. None.

But if the only things that we consumed were things that we needed, life would be boring and a whole lot of people would be out of jobs. In order to have a stable economy and in turn a good life, we need to be tempted to buy things which will keep this capitalist machine chugging along. Life would be boring without its pointless baubles.

And as far as the Beatles having too much money, who is anyone to argue that anyone has “too much money”? I'm all for getting as much as you can—as long as your not going Madoff someone and the Beatles aren't doing this now. They're capitalizing on their popularity and good for them. Here's an interesting bit of trivia, do you know which CD released in the 00s has moved the most units? The Beatles #1s, which was released in the earlier part of this decade.

You'll never go broke selling nostalgia—especially when its aimed at baby boomers and future generations that believe that they missed something because they didn't grow up during that era. And I think that is what's so interesting about this latest marketing blitz: it's the perfect storm of taking something in the past and tying it to the future.

The Beatles made their first appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on February 7, 1964 a few months after America was shocked by the murder of their president—one could try and juxtapose the death of one Kennedy and the first wave of Beatlemania to the death of that Kennedy's brother and the next wave of Beatlemania, but it's a coincidence at best and it's not even worth bringing up. This was 45 years ago, even the youngest teens at the time are 57. The oldest, somewhere around 63.

A lot of the people who play video games like RockBand are in the lower spectrum of the 18-35 range and they know who the Beatles are and more importantly, like the Beatles. So the marketing range is from 18-63 years old (give or take a few years, especially on the lower end) which means a lot of people with disposable income. I can't think of another brand that has such an overlap of demographics; maybe beer or soda, but the price points for those products are nothing compared to what one new Beatles CD costs; never mind the video game or the boxed set.

If you like to watch the zeitgeist of American pop culture, the next few months are going to be very interesting as the Beatles are going to burn pretty hot. Eventually, there will be a cooling off period followed by something else that will inevitably grab the public's attention. What will it be? Will that product ape the marketing campaign of the Beatles? This is not the first time that video games and CDs have been married together and thrown to the American public in all forms of media, but it has the potential to be the most successful.* Who will be next?

* The thing that I've noticed a lot in the articles about the Beatles is how they are being compared to master painters or classical musicians. A reporter will ask, “Isn't this a big risk hoping that a band that is almost 50 years old and whose music is ubiquitous—almost saturating at this point—can still be a big money maker?” The person answering the question always says, “What about Bach? What about Beethoven? What about the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel? Those things have been around for hundreds of years yet people still want to hear or see them.”

What I find most interesting is not that the works of the Beatles are being compared to works of Bach, Beethoven, da Vinci or Michaelangelo; but that apparently right now, the Beatles have undergone yet another transformation from flavor-of-the-month pop stars to voices of their generation to classical artists.

That's not too bad.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

32. The State

As I've talked about in the SuperRock entry* MTV was at a crossroads in the early to mid 1990s. On one hand, it seemed that it wanted to keep their FM-radio-on-TV-anything-goes type of vibe, but on the other hand Madison Avenue was banging on their door trying to figure out how to market their products to teenagers. Essentially, the network was a victim of their own success.

Predictably, they went the way of the marketers and started to segment their music and begin showing programs that were more easily targeted to the advertising folks. And I'm not anti-marketing (how could I be?) or anti-advertising. Companies need a return on their investment and pushing new Coke to a group of people that only wants to drink beer isn't a good way of spending cash.

* I find it interesting that when you type SuperRock into Google, my Blog is the first entry that comes up. If you type in my name, 19Thoughts doesn't come up first. Also, I go to an outside site to check where readers come from and at least three or four times a week I'll have a reader being directed to my site after looking up SuperRock.

MTV had already successfully introduced a reality show (“Real World”), a ton of game shows (“Singled Out” and “Remote Control”) and was unsuccessful in spinning off comedies and dramas. The question was, what is a cross between a sitcom and a reality show? A comedy sketch show.

Since MTV was still green when it came to producing their own show, they had to go with unexperienced comedians. Luckily, there was a troupe of 11 New York University graduates who were familiar to MTV and their audience, but weren't completely overexposed.*

* At MTV overexposure wasn't a bad word, everything successful was shoved down the viewers' throats ad nauseum. With that in mind, I'm surprised that an MTV sketch show didn't star Dan Cortez, Pauly Shore, Kennedy, Bill Belamy and Jenny McCarthy.

After the members of the State left NYU, they put on their act throughout New York City gradually building an- audience while honing both their writing skills and stage presence. By the time someone from MTV discovered them, they were already a well-oiled machine.

The first MTV show that they were apart of was called “You Wrote It, You Watch It”. Basically this show consisted of viewers writing down wacky situations and different groups of comedians would act it out. The guys from the State were the most popular of the players and while YWI, YWI came and left quickly, MTV realized that it had something in the State.

MTV also realized that it had something in the host of YWI, YWI as Jon Stewart was given a nightly talk show that was completely different from what he's doing now.

“The State” was recently released on DVD during the last month and there have been a lot of things written about the show, one article explained how much autonomy the group had when it came to their bosses. State cast member David Wain told the Onion AV Club that MTV basically gave them their space and told them to pretty much do whatever they want to do. And they did.

If you get the DVDs and watch “The State” now it seems pretty pedestrian. But when they first started popping up on the channel it was mind-blowing; especially considering the state (no pun) of sketch comedy at the time. “Saturday Night Live” had lost many of its older, stronger cast members (Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers) and began to lean heavily on the David Spade, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler crew. While these guys were funny, they seemed to lack any sort of comedy trailblazing and imagination, it was the same old skits with the same catch phrases week after week after week. Even bringing comedy veterans like Chris Elliot or Michael McKeon or Janeanne Garofalo couldn't break the comedic malaise.

The only other televised sketch comedy choice was “In Living Color”, which was even more of the same old, same old except that none of the funnier Wayans brothers (Keenan or Damon) were around and Jim Carrey had his eyes on Hollywood. If you like hours of Tommy Davidson and David Alan Grier playing the same characters spouting the same things over and over again, than this was your comedy nirvana. Not even the addition of Chris Rock could save this mess.

Despite the popularity of comedy (stand-up comedians were dominating the ratings on network sitcoms) the traditional sketch show was at an all-time low in terms of laughs and creativity. It's not hyperbolic to say that “The State” rescued televised sketch shows.

The sketches on “The State” weren't like anything on television at that time. They rarely had reoccurring characters and they didn't have much in terms of catch phrases. Ironically, this type of familiarity was something that MTV wanted and that the troupe fought hard to stay away from. MTV eventually got their wish and a character named Louie was created, that was so obnoxious and so loud, that viewers were able to pick up the detest that the writers had for him. Louie was a one-trick pony played by Ken Marino. He had slicked back black hair and wore a short-sleeve dress shirt. He would always yell, “Can I dip my balls in it?” no matter what the scenario was.

One example of this is when Louie was depicted as one of Jesus' disciples and attended the Last Supper.

It was no dumber than the myriad catchphrases that was being passed off as zingers and found a home with the viewers who were “hip” to what the writers were trying to do and the folks who loved the phrase on face-value.

But the true greatness of the show came from the anonymity of the cast; who were these guys? Where did they come from? Why did MTV give a show to these dudes, they look like they could be in my dorm. And there's only one woman, who's going to play the female roles?

Add these questions to the sketches that were shown week to week and you have a show that went from cult worthy to a success in an instant. MTV does something very, very well: once it finds out what their demographic likes, it will shove that show down it's throat through endless marketing and hours of show marathons. With “The State” it wasn't like that. Sure, they would show weekend marathons, but I don't recall an all-out media blitz. They seemed to take a very hands off approach and continued to let the group churn out its off-beat brand of humor.

While MTV left the show alone, it's corporate partner CBS did not. In 1995 CBS wanted to get younger, most of their shows were geared for the geriatric set and that's not where the dollars are. The prime age group is 18-34 because theoretically the people in this age group have disposable income and are more apt to buy stuff. Part one of CBS' plan to get younger was to use MTV as a minor league team and their first call-up to the Big Leagues was “The State”.

From my recollection, CBS entered into an agreement with “The State” sometime in the beginning of that summer. That meant that they weren't going to produce any more new episodes for MTV and their focus was going to be on CBS, which gave them a big budget (bigger than MTV's anyway) for a Halloween show. As Halloween drew closer and closer, it has been reported that CBS got colder and colder feet about “The State”. Absolutely no marketing was done and to make matters worse, the Halloween show was going air on Halloween at 10:0 PM, which was on a Friday that year.

“The State's” major audience were high-school, college and young 20 somethings, all of whom would have something better to do than to sit around on a Friday night and wait for a show to come on. Especially when they were used to seeing that show running around the clock on MTV. Factor in that Halloween is among the top two biggest party nights of the year and it was no wonder that “The State Halloween Special” was a complete and total bomb.

After that debacle, “The State” sort of went underground for awhile. Every once in awhile you'd see one of them in a commercial or as a guest on a TV show, but there wasn't much going on. At the end of the 90s, Comedy Central aired a few seasons of “Viva Variety” which starred about half of the original State crew and it was a take on how Europeans translate American culture all whipped up into a variety show. It was pretty funny.

Then most of them got back together for the feature film, “Wet Hot American Summer” which was a spoof on the early 80s summer camp movies and while it wasn't a blockbuster, it did develop a very large cult following. After that, Comedy Central dabbled with members of the state for “Reno: 911!” which spoofed reality shows like “Cops”. This was probably the biggest hit post-State as it was on air for six seasons.

Comedy Central's partnership with members of “The State” continued with “Stella” an amusing send up of the traditional sitcom that starred Wain, Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter. Although it was really funny (my favorite thing that any State alumni have done since the original show) it failed to catch on.* Showalter and Black were brought back to Comedy Central for a latest go-round with “Michael and Michael Have Issues”, which is pretty awesome.

* My neighbor grew up with David Wain and has remained really good friends with him through the years. In December, he got me tickets to see “Stella” live. It was really, really funny. Showalter, Wain and Black know each other so well that it seemed less like a comedy show and more like a bunch of friends sitting around trying to crack each other up. Their Comedy Central show was a lot like this except it had a framework of a plot.

What did "The State" wrought? One could argue that it did change television sketch comedy as in 1995 Lorne Michaels completely blew up the cast of SNL and started from scratch with a completely anonymous cast. A year or two later HBO also started their own off-beat sketch show called "Mr. Show" that was able to take what "The State" had done and go even further.

Would these shows have existed or changed without "The State"? That's debatable. I'm sure the Michaels was sick of the drek that was being pumped out by Sandler and Rob Schneider; but the 1995-96 season had a different edge to it. They weren't copying "The State" but one could sense the influences.

As for myself, after watching a few episodes of "The State" it occurred to me that comedy isn't about the name of the performer, it's about the set and how hard the performer works to get your laugh. Catch phrases and familiar characters are easy, you already know when to laugh. But getting a joke perfectly crafted or writing a tight scene isn't easy and it's not supposed to be. "The State" opened my eyes to that.

I guess that this is the point in the Blog where I list out my favorite sketches and defend them and their hierarchy, but aside from a few there aren't a heck of a lot of sketches that I remember. It has been about 14 or 15 years since I last saw the show. I haven't purchased the DVDs yet, but when I do I'm sure that I'll enjoy it again.