Tuesday, November 02, 2010

24. The Honeymooners

Do you like television? Of course you do, you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't. You owe a bit of thanks to “The Honeymooners”, you know that? Even though the show only had 39 episodes and began airing in 1951*, it’s possible that this show is the blueprint for a majority of the comedies that we watch today.

* First as a recurring sketch on the “Cavalcade of Stars” on the DuMont Network and then on the “Jackie Gleason Show” before it was turned into a full-length 30-minute show for the 1955-56 season.

Certainly, the Flintstones is the biggest copy cat of the show; but pretty much every two-bit situation comedy on CBS owes a large debt to Gleason and his crew. Ralph Kramden (Gleason) and his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) were the original no-way-in-hell-does-this-fat-guy-ever-get-this-hot-woman-to-be-his-wife-in-real-life couple. And while Kramden and his best buddy Ed Norton (Art Carney) were among television’s first fat-and-skinny best buddies, they didn’t invent that coupling either. Even by the fifties, this type of odd couple had been done to death (see Laurel and Hardy).

Another sitcom plum that the Honeymooners were among the first to pick, was that of the blowhard (in this case, Gleason) getting his just desserts, the wife (Meadows) outsmarting the husband (Gleason) or the now classic complete misunderstanding (“But I thought that you said, he said, humanna, humanna, humanna!”) “The Honeymooners” was the first show where the actors had to stop their lines because the studio audience went nuts when a main character entered the scene. Shades of “Seinfeld’s” Kramer or “Happy Days’” Fonzi, whenever Norton or Kramden made their entrance, the audience would applaud and cheer so loudly that oftentimes supporting actors had to repeat their lines.

There are a few things that made this show work, one were the actors. Gleason, Meadows, Carney and Joyce Randolph (who played Carney’s wife, Trixie) were terrific actors.* Not only did they played their parts well, but one could actually imagine them as their characters. I believed that Jackie Gleason was Ralph Kramden. I thought that in real life Gleason talked like Kramden, acted like Kramden and more importantly thought like Kramden. Same thing with the other three players.

Of course they didn’t, but I am shocked that Carney or Gleason escaped any sort of typecasting for the rest of their lives. They were that good. And while the writing is terrific (more on that in a moment) the way that the actors could convey an emotion without saying a word (Gleason’s saucer plate eyes, Carney’s plastic face, Meadows crossing her arms) is nothing short than amazing. And yes, it’s mugging and yes, unless you’re a talented actor, it can come across as hackey, but not with anyone from this troupe.

* Randolph wasn’t that great. I mean she was serviceable, but she tended to screech her lines which was ok, because she wasn’t really integral to any of the plots. She gave birth the to Trixie (later Betty—as in Rubble) Conundrum. There are only a few reasons why Trixie is important: one Ralph’s best buddy needs a wife (so no one wonders why Norton is bachelor), two Ralph’s wife needs a best friend. However, since Ralph is the lead character the show revolves around him. There aren’t too many situations where a man hangs around with his buddy’s wife, without some sort of shenanigans occurring

Also, there needs to be a person that either Ed or Alice can talk to about the latest crazy scheme that Ralph has gotten into. In this case, Trixie is basically a proxy for the audience. Since Alice can’t look into the camera and say, “My husband is such a big oaf, I can’t believe that he got mixed up in this again!” she says it to Trixie. If Alice did do that, the fourth wall wouldn’t just be broken, it would be completely and utterly bombed and the grounds would be salted.

The writing really is a thing of beauty. The plots were usually pretty simplistic—and really, you’ve probably seen all of the situations these people get into, but it’s interesting to see the genesis of a well-known gag like the main character getting a swelled head only to fail completely, getting his comeuppance at the end of the show. (Sorry for the lack of Spoiler Alert on that last sentence.) There’s not a lot of “Arrested Development”-esque back story or “Seinfeld”-ian ironies or “Simpson”-ian rifts on popular culture. What you see is what you got.

And while that simplicity could get stale after awhile, here it’s played straight ahead with a lot of laughs. With the laughs there was a lot of warmth beneath the surface. Many times Ralph kicked Norton out of the house, but the audience knew that he was coming back in two minutes. Often Ralph threatened to punch Alice so hard that he’d send her to the moon*, but you knew that a moment would pass before he’d apologize and tell her that “she was the greatest” and plant a kiss on her.

* There is no way in hell that Ralph’s famous catch phrases to Alice, “Pow! Zoom! Right to the moon!” or “One of these days! One of these days Alice! Pow! RIGHT IN THE KISSER!” complete with Ralph pantomiming punching his wife in the face would ever end up on television. People would have a complete meltdown. And rightly so, but on “The Honeymooners” the audience knew that Ralph was full of crap. If he had ever laid a finger on her, the next scene would be him jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was really that evident that the characters cared for each other, the actors cared for each other and in turn they all cared about the show.

One of my least favorite things about television taped in front of a live audience or when it’s actually live, is when a character breaks. This used to happen all the time on “The Carol Burnett Show” or during Saturday Night Live when Horatio Sanz and Jimmy Fallon (another fat and skinny comedy duo) used to do it every single skit. Every once in awhile Gleason and crew would break (or simply forget lines) but unlike Sanz and Fallon who would turn into 12-year-old girls and just giggle for the sake of giggling, the Honeymooner actors were true professionals who often ad-libbed their lines to minimize damage. Interestingly enough, oftentimes the ad-libbed lines were the funniest lines of the night.

The Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn is where the show took place. Kramden and Norton were both blue collar workers (a bus driver and sewer worker respectively) so their apartments were sparsely furnished. The Nortons actually looked like that they lived better than the Kramdens, despite Ed’s job, and actually had a television, while the Kramdens had a lot of nothing. And the Kramden’s house is where most of the action took place.

The setting wasn’t anything special, it looked like a set. It was sort of cheap, appeared that everything was made from plywood and that the whole thing could come crashing down at any minute but that only added to the atmosphere of the Kramden’s poverty. In the long run, it didn’t matter. In Naomi Odenkirk’s book, “Mr. Show: What Happened?” the stars of Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross talk about the sets of their show and it can be applied to “The Honeymooners”.

Basically they said that compared to Saturday Night Live, Mr. Show’s sets looked like crap. They appeared cheap because they were, they didn’t have half of the budget that SNL had. They really had to make do with what they had*. However, since they didn’t have a great set they had to put their focus on their skits and their writing. They had to make the audience forget that they’re surrounded by plywood ovens or cheap plastic cars and focus on the funny.

* According to Odenkirk, who once worked at SNL, the sets for all the skits are made somewhere in New Jersey and are shipped to the show that Friday. They literally have a whole team of people working on sets all week long, that’s why things look so good. Unfortunately, it would be better if SNL spent more time working on script than sets. ZING!

That’s what “The Honeymooners” did too. When it was a particularly good episode, it didn’t matter that Ralph was not in a real Brooklyn apartment yelling to his buddy one floor above him. I mean, it’s obvious that he was just sticking his head through a fake window and yelling up. But by the time the audience even realized that, the scene had moved on and it didn’t matter much. The plot was moving and things were going on, realism be damned.

Overall, the show is amazing. If you happen to catch it on a late-night, watch it for the historical significance. By the end of the half-hour, I guarantee that you’ll be laughing your ass off.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Would the Fonz Be a Good Dad?

Yesterday’s passing of Tom Bosley, coupled with Saturday’s death of Barbara Billingsley, got me thinking about old TV show and in particular how the two of them were probably the best TV mom and dads ever. Although, I think that Billingsley’s June Cleaver (from “Leave it to Beaver”) turned into a hysterical old shrew by the end of the series’ run*, for the first few seasons she was pretty awesome. She always kept a tidy house, baked an endless supply of cookies and listened to her kids, often running interference for them so Ward wouldn’t freak out when he got home.

* Two things: one by the last two seasons, any time the boys did something wrong, June would fall completely to pieces. And it’s not as if Wally and Beaver were doing anything really bad (for that matter, Eddie Haskell wasn’t either) but she’d just completely lose her shit over the smallest things. I actually felt bad for Wally and the Beave when this would happen because they were tight asses already, not wanting to disappoint their mom (or listen to her prattle on) probably made them more repressed.

The other thing is, I wonder how Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers feel about Billingsley’s death. I’m sure that they’re broken up, but it must be weird that the whole world thinks that their mom just died, when in reality, it was a lady playing their mom. From what I read, both Mathers and Dow were quite close to Billingsley, but she wasn’t their real mom. For some reason, if I were either of them and a reporter asked me about the death of my “mother”, I’d probably snap at them.

Bosley was a really awesome dad in his own right. As Howard Cunningham on “Happy Days” you can make the argument that he was the coolest guy on the show. When high schoolers Richie and Potsie got all of their money taken by a bunch of frat guys at the University of Wisconson, it wasn’t Fonzie that got their cash back. It was Mr. C. When local no-goodnik Arthur Fonzerelli needed a place to live, Mr. C stepped up and allowed him to live over his garage and eat dinner with his family every, single night. He even had a damn good looking wife (Marion Ross) that he often nailed—get it? Mr. C owned a hardware store. “Nailing” is a euphemism for the sex. That’s comedy!

The point of this entry isn’t to eulogize two great TV parents, the point is to determine whether the breakout star of “Happy Days”, the aforementioned Arthur “Fonzi” Fonzerelli, would be a good father.

Let’s set up the premise: assuming that once the show ended, Fonzi found a woman that he could eventually settle down with and they had a couple of kids. He still owns the garage that he worked at it through the show’s run and he’s settled in a house down the street from the Cunninghams. Let’s put together a Pro and Con list to determine whether Fonzi would be an “Ayyyyyyyyy!” or a “Sit on It*” dad.

* Why hasn’t “Sit on It” stayed in our pop cultural lexicon? It’s quaint, it’s exclusionary (how many kids from this or the last generation watched “Happy Days”?) and it sounds vaguely dirty. “Sit on it? Sit on what? Oh, that. No way, I’m not sitting on that pile of crap.” Also if you say it fast enough, it almost sounds like you’re saying shit. That’s an underratedly fun word to say.

- He’s the Fonz.
- He could probably fix your car if you got into an accident and wouldn’t get all bent out of shape (more comedy) if you came home with a motorcycle.
- Has a nice head of hair. You’d probably have a nice head of hair too.
- Already acted as a mentor to his nephews Spike and Chachi. Chachi turned out alright, though we never saw Spike again—perhaps he joined Richie’s older brother Chuck somewhere in Happy Days limbo. Anyway, one for two isn’t bad. And plus, Fonzi seems to learn from mistakes.
- Could probably give you good advice at scamming chicks and scamming free meals from nice, midwesterners.
- Could give you pointers on water skiing and all-night danceathons.
- Would definitely take your side if some asshole cop was trying to run you out of town.
- He showed patience and restraint despite years of hanging around annoyances like Potsie and Ralph Malph. I would guess the actions of little children would be a picnic compared to those two.
- Knew the prime spots at Inspiration Point.
- Would be able to fix a jukebox with a swift punch.
- Learned at the feet of the Mr. Miagi of Dads, Mr. Howard Cunningham.

- Would be in constant fear that he would leave your mom for an Aloha Pussycat.
- Would be in constant fear that he’d have sex with any and all of your girlfriends.
- How could you live up to your father, the Fonz? I bet every day Dale Berra heard people tell him that he wasn’t Yogi Berra. Dale Berra turned to cocaine and sucked at baseball. Though the two things weren’t related.
- For all of his bravado of being “cool”, often he freaked out pretty easily.
- You’d have Uncle Potsie over your house every Sunday. Worse yet, he’d probably break into song at any possible moment.
- He punches jukeboxes to fix them. Maybe he thinks kids work the same way?
- He has no family, the dude cuts ties easier than Don Draper. What makes you think that you’d last?
- He’s an expert at everything, your self-esteem would be destroyed.
- Would hang around your hang out.
- Could never say that he was “wrong” or “sorry”. WTF, Fonz?
- Would probably call you “Shortcake”--which would doubly suck if you were his son.

Even though this Pro/Con list is knotted at 11, I have to say that the gravity of the Cons outweighs the Pros. It’s best that Fonzi keep his status as a 30-something bachelor only interested in high school girls.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your Music Sucks! or It's Not You, It's Me

For many years I've always thought that I had the best music taste around*. I liked rock, both old and new, I liked hip hop (mostly older stuff, but I wasn't afraid of the new stuff), I could dig on a well-done pop song, country wasn't a dirty word and I also liked the older stuff like Sinatra and Dean Martin. I was pretty impressed with what I thought was a wide swath of choice music taste.

* I don't think that I was being egotistical in my thinking. I believe that everyone thinks that they have terrific taste in music. Once in a while you'll hear someone self deprecatingly say that they have bad taste in music but that's because they know that they listen to crap and want you to know that they know that it's terrible. But underneath that self deprecation, they love what they listen to and think that it's pretty good. Because otherwise, why would they subject themselves to music that they don't like?

And as someone who thought that they had great taste in music, I thought that people who had tastes opposite of mine were terrible. Looking back at that time in my life, I can honestly say I was an insufferable prick about this. Who was I to judge another person's listening habits? As a music fan, I had purchased tapes and CDs or downloaded the following groups (unironically, I might add):

Limp Bizkit
The Dave Matthews Band
Billy Joel
C+C Music Factory
Not one but five CDs crammed full of TV theme songs
Above the Law
White Lion
The Doors

There are a ton more, but looking over this list there are reasons why I bought these songs. White Lion and Winger are when I was into hair metal, I had a pretty good inkling that these bands sucked, but that's what people were listening to at the time. Same thing for Above the Law, I was so into West Coast/gangsta rap, that I would have purchased anything by anyone in a Raiders or Kings hat.

The C+C Music Factory tape was lame and I always felt dirty listening to it; I never would turn the stereo up too high for fear that one of my friends would come busting in and find me grooving to the sounds of Freedom Williams. As for Dave Matthews, it was the early 90s and those stupid jam-heavy, hippie bands were starting to really take over the radio. Plus, my roommate at the time liked them and Phish and since all I did was complain about the latter, I'd have felt like a complete dick crabbing about the DMB. I kept my mouth shut and actually started to like it and saw them a few times in concert before the DMB magic wore off.

Billy Joel tapes that I have, I blame on youthful indiscretion and the fact that I was in fifth grade and didn't have an older brother or sister around to steer me to cooler bands. I originally bought the TV theme CDs as kind of a gag for parties. It was not funny.

This leaves the list (which is much larger, but I could only think of these ones right now) with two bands. One that I will defend and the other I have no defense for.

I'll go with the latter first, Limp Bizkit. Much like C+C Music Factory, when I bought their CD (the one with “Nookie” and “Break Stuff” on it – I have no desire to even look up the disc's name on line) I knew that it was a stupid album by an even dumber band fronted by a complete idiot. Just thinking about giving that dopey, backwards Yankee cap wearing, frat boy rapist leader Fred Durst even a dime makes me angry, but I talked myself into it for two reasons: 1. I needed some up-tempo music to listen to while I was working out and 2. Method Man was on it and he seemed cool.

But it wasn't cool, it wasn't cool at all. I didn't even have the decency to buy this CD from Colombia House or something. I actually bought it at a Newbury Comics and I could feel the gaze of disappointment from the counter jockey as a paid for my purchase. I felt like I was buying scat porn or something. I think that this may have been my worst overall music experience ever. It's like a black mark that I can never wash away, no matter how many showers I take.

It feels nice to get this off my chest.

As far as the other group goes, the Doors, I like them. A lot. I know that pretty much every hipster in the world considers the Doors to be the worst band on the face of the planet, but I don't know what to tell you, I think that they're good. I have every album, I have one of their box sets, two of their Greatest Hits (which is completely superfluous and a waste of cash), a couple of live albums, I even have the soundtrack to the Oliver Stone movie (which I also own on DVD and VHS) and at least three biographies of the band.

I agree that their lyrics are trite, their music is a bit over-complicated yet simple at the same time, Jim Morrison is a lousy singer and that his myth far outweighs reality. The guy was an alcoholic junkie who had the fortune of being born good-looking and not being able to care that his poetry was garbage. His stage antics were obnoxious and the live shows could turn into literal riots if Mr. Mojo Risin wasn't “feeling it” that particular night. Their music is often ponderous navel-gazing that sounds like it was written by four guys who flunked out of an Intro to Buddhism course. And worst of all, they're a favorite of aging hippies and boring baby boomers who love to tell you how “dangerous” they were.

Jim Morrison once said “fuck” on stage! Who gives a shit, pops. I just saw Ernie toss Bert's salad on Sesame Street.

Having said all of that, I still like the Doors, a lot actually. What I like most about them is that they take back to a time in my life where I thought that it was “deep” to like these guys, that they had something different to say. I like thinking about one of the most embarrassing acts of my life occurred under the influence of the Doors*. I like that I got interested in the Doors because a hot girl told me that she liked them and I went home and listened to their Greatest Hits over and over and over again just so I'd have something to talk about with her.

And their music isn't that bad either. Sure, Morrison can't carry a tune in a bucket, but he fits into the group. Someone once told me that they didn't like the Doors because they didn't have a bassist in their band and I thought that was the strangest reason to not like a band. Never mind the fact that they do have a bunch of songs with bass lines in them, but facts shouldn't get in the way of a good rant.

* My Doors-inspired embarrassment goes something like this: I was a sophomore at college and at that point I pretty much listened to the Doors 24/7. I thought that I was Jim Morrison, if Jim Morrison was too afraid to do any drugs, kept his hair short, loved sports and was kind of afraid of talking to good looking girls. One Friday night I got completely blasted and decided to go downstairs to the freshman girls hallway and look for some ladies. One door was slightly ajar and as luck would have it, a Doors song was playing. I had no idea who these girls were (there were a handful of them in there) and I didn't care. I sort of did a Jim Morrison like dance into the room, slurred a few Morrison witticisms and waited for them to drop trou.

Of course it never happened and I had to slink back to my room, alone. My plan was doomed to fail for a number of reasons: 1. I do not look like Jim Morrison 2. when I drink I am not charismatic, in fact one could say that I am the opposite of charismatic and 3. at that point in my life, I could barely handle one girl never mind five. Epic and total failure.

Why am I writing all of this stuff? The long short of it is I'm writing this entry because my wife and I were talking about music a few weeks ago and she said, “You have much better tastes in music than I do.” And I don't, but then again, who really does have good taste in music. It's far too subjective and even the most hip music fan has some sort of skeleton in their closet.

Maybe it's because I haven't bought any new music in about ten years, aside from the new Pearl Jam and comedy albums, the White Stripes' “Elephant” could be the last new release that I purchased, or maybe it's because I've mellowed a bit since I got older but I don't care what other people listen to any more. If listening to “Under the Table and Dreaming” on a continuous loop is what you love, and as long as I don't have to listen to it, knock yourself out.

A few weeks ago I finished reading “Eating the Dinosaur” by Chuck Klosterman and he talks about how he's not interested in arguing about stupid things. The example he brings up is KISS. He's a big KISS fan and as such he said that a lot of people often come up to him to debate the merits of KISS. He said it's a no-win situation for himself because he knows that KISS is kind of a crappy band, but he loves them anyway.

So he's not going to get into a discussion and go point-for-point against the other person's band because chances are they're going to be right. And in the oft chance that Klosterman “beats” this person, that same person isn't going to become a KISS fan. He's still going to hate them just as much, if not more than before.

I guess that the bottom line is this: it's useless arguing about music. But television on the other hand, that's a whole different story.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

25. King of the Hill

It's fashionable (and easy) to champion various instances of pop culture as either “over rated” or “under rated”. Depending on your feelings towards “Beavis and Butt-head”, its creator Mike Judge may have been one of those qualifiers when “King of the Hill” debuted in 1997. He was riding pretty high with “Beavis and Butt-head” after six seasons on MTV and a movie. He had made headlines when he said that he was walking away from the show in order to work on “King of the Hill” which left some fans perplexed. Why was he leaving “Beavis and Butt-head? Why was he going to Fox?

Fox was quick to jump on this buzz and in many of “King of the Hill” promos they would routinely trumpet, “From the creator of 'Beavis and Butt-head'” as a way of getting viewers to watch their new show. Obviously, this is not a new marketing scheme. Hundreds of television shows and movies have used this trick as a short-handed way of making the new show, movie, record, etc. seem cool. It works on me all the time, I enjoyed “Clerks” a lot, so I saw “Mallrats”. I love “The Simpsons” so I tune into “Futurama”. I liked “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” so now I'm reading “Eating the Dinosaur”. You get the point.

But there is an inherent problem when using this tactic; what if the old show that you're comparing is nothing like the new show? There is a danger of turning off a potentially large chunk of you audience if they feel that they were fraudulently sold a bill of goods. “King of the Hill” (KotH) is nothing like “Beavis and Butt-head” (BaB). It's smarter, more subtle and more nuanced than BaB ever was. This was a different take than what we were used to, after all one of the first episodes of BaB was called “Frog Baseball” that showed the duo playing baseball with a frog.*

* Don't get me wrong, BaB is a funny show. It really is, and while there is a bit of social commentary bubbling under the surface, it's still a stupid-funny show. And that's ok. However, in the years since BaB, Judge has proven himself to be such a great writer (“King of the Hill”, “Office Space” and “Extract” leap to mind) that it's almost as if BaB were written by a completely different person.

KotH was such a completely different show from BaB that it took me awhile to adjust. I remember being so hammered with Fox's references to BaB that when I first watched the premiere, I was looking for signs that this was a prime-time, different network cross-over.* I was expecting Beavis and Butt-head to walk down the streets of Arlen, push Bobby Hill around or mess with Dale Gribble's shed.

* What made me even more confused is that lead character Hank Hill sorta looked and sounded exactly like BaB next-door-neighbor and main foil Tom Anderson. During the first half of the first show I thought that Judge was spinning off Anderson without any explanation of where BaB went, which I found jarringly strange.

What also worked against this type of promotio (for me at least) was that I was at my absolute saturation point with BaB. Even though it was a year or two past its prime, it was still run on MTV constantly. The movie had come out the previous winter with a gigantic media blitz and the overarching joke was being run into the ground (I get it, everything sucks). I didn't know much about Judge's background, but I was initially worried that he was going to do another version of BaB which I was convinced would have sucked. (Heh-heh)

My fears were elayed. KotH didn't play anywhere near the BaB universe, which was a very risky gamble. If Judge and Fox wanted to hedge their bets, they could have had BaB guest star in a couple of episodes, jack up the ratings and see what happened. But they took a more dangerous (and ultimately more satisfying )path in letting Judge team up with veteran TV writer (“The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live”) Greg Daniels to let the show build on solid characters and great scripts.

And it worked as KotH lasted on Fox from 1997 to 2009 (actually, some unaired episodes were broadcast on Fox affiliates in 2010 too) and during the first few seasons the show was a major hit on the network, sometimes outperforming “The Simpsons”. As the newness of the show wore off, KotH settled into a nice rut. Not time-wise, in the early part of the new millennium there were weeks when the show was simply not broadcast without explanation, as it was often preempted for the national late Sunday afternoon football game. The rut (and this isn't used as point of derision) that the show settled into was in the story telling and the characters.

And this is why the show was so successful.

At first glance, I would have nothing in common with the characters from “King of the Hill”. I'm as East Coast as can be, my views skew liberal, I'm not afraid of technology, I'm not middle aged and I've been to Texas a grand total of twice in my life. Yet I was able to identify with many of the KotH characters who were a complete 180 degrees from my every-day life and beliefs. Add to the fact that the characters are cartoons and it's quite a neat trick that Judge pulled off. He was able to make his cartoon characters more realistic and more universal than most sitcom characters.

How did he pull this off? To be honest, it wasn't a trick. Trick implies that there was some sort of underhandedness or luck involved and it's clear that there wasn't either. Because of his own creativity and skill, Mike Judge was able to sketch these characters out really well and he (along with the writing staff) were able to craft stories that played to his characters' strengths.

Unlike a lot of writers, Judge wasn't afraid to let his characters grow and did not let them fall into the same old clichés. Yes, every character had his or her own perspective and a catchphrase or two and would sometimes fall back on their time-worn behaviors. But they were never defined by the catch phrase. However even 10 or 12 seasons into the show there were still surprises where characters did something out-of-character that still made sense.

An obvious parallel to what I'm talking about is “The Simpsons”, as the seasons move along Homer has gotten dumber and dumber and dumber, ultimately culminating in doing things no real person would ever consider (Jerk Ass Homer). It can be argued that Homer is a cartoon character so it shouldn't matter, but one of the things that was so endearing about Homer Simpson (and the rest of the family) is that they were the (slightly cracked) mirror held up to society. Because we see a yellower verison of ourselves, that's the reason why we loved them.

But Hank Hill and the rest of his brood never wavered in the years the show was on the air. Aside from a minor difference or two, the character of Hank Hill was as consistent in 2009 as he was in 1997. And that is pretty awesome feet. If you have a revolving group of writers penning a show for 14 years, there are bound to be diversions from the original. Through erosion of truly understanding the characters or the writers wanting to simply add their own flair, the character at the end of a long-running TV show is usually not the same character that began it.

When changes were made, they were usually done to strengthen the characters. For example, Dale Gribble's wife Nancy. For more than a few seasons she was having an extramarital affair with John Redcorn that was known to pretty much everyone on the show. Redcord would sometimes interact with Gribble, who would be blissfully unaware of what was transpiring between the two. Gribble was so clueless he never noticed that his own son (Joseph) looked exactly like Redcorn. In one memorable episode, Nancy ended the affair saying that while Dale might not be the most conscientious person around, he was still her husband and she owed it to both him and her son to make it work.

The clueless cuckold is a comedic staple that has been around since Shakespeare took up a quill, so it takes a pretty strong will to stop mining this comedic gold and show some sort of respect for three characters. One, it makes Nancy look better. Two, it makes Dale less of a complete moron (Jerk Ass Homer in reverse). Three it makes John Redcorn seem like more a sympathetic figure as he still pines for Nancy and knows that he is much more a man than Dale will ever be. Plus it also eliminates a lot of Three's Company type situations that can grate on the nerves of experienced TV watchers.

Judge was also careful to make sure that the the guest voices were as timeless as the stories. In other words, he didn't have a lot of guest stars appear as themselves to take immediate cash grab of their current popularity. Tom Petty was a featured voice in later seasons as he played Luanne's husband Lucky. Even when it seemed like it was the flavor of the week guest starring on the show, Judge and company made them go the extra mile and play someone other than themselves. And in most cases, the character was completely different than the public perception of the celebrity.

This timelessness is what's going to keep KotH fresh. I'm sure people may get a chuckle remembering a guest star as unique to the 2000s as Kelly Clarkson, but they will no doubt (who also guested on the show) know who Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston or Snoop Dogg are.

Speaking of voices, Judge was able to assemble quite a vocal cast as he, Stephen Root (Bill), Kathy Najimy (Peggy), Pamela Adlon (Bobby), Johnny Hardwick (Dale) and many more brought a ton of depth to their characters. It's not always easy to animate emotion and if you don't get the right people to connect with the characters, then they're going to fall flat. All of the characters are fleshed out here, you can almost imagine them as real people. And while a lot of the credit goes to the writing staff, you need to also credit the people who make the characters believable.

I mentioned this earlier, but another reason why the seasons were so strong is because like the philosophy behind the guest stars, the writers made sure that each story wasn't filled with jokes that dated the episode in years to come. There weren't a lot of Monica Lewinsky jokes or George W. Bush guffaws that seem clever at the time but age quickly. Most episodes revolved around a situation that could happen today or 10 years ago or five years from now.

Another thing that Judge and his writers did was respect their audience. While this wasn't "Nova" or any other "deep thinking" show, it wasn't dumb either. There was a logic and a cause and effect for most of the situations the characters got themselves into and they did bring up some issues. Whether next-door Laotian neighbor Kahn was calling Hank and his buddies hillbillies* and ultimately becoming friends with them or finding out that Dale's father was gay, these story lines were done with a sort of sensitivity and mature attitude that other shows are afraid to do. Yes, it's a funny show but not everything has to be done with knee slap and a spit take.

* I always thought that Kahn being the racist towards Hill and his alley mates was a brilliant twist on the generic notion that all Southerners are racist hicks. Bigotry comes in all shades and Judge was able to portray this without smashing it over the viewer's head. Very subtle.

Parents aren't going to understand their kids, husbands and wives will butt heads, friends and neighbors will anger the blood and the world at large is a confusing place. But in the end, if you have a good family, good neighbors and a good head on your shoulders things will work out. That's the underlying message of the show. That's why even though Hank Hill has a narrow urethra and a solid middle-class life, he's always going to be “King of the Hill”.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Searching For Mr. Scary*

* Yes, I used the name of a Dokken song (and the name of lead guitarists' guitar) as a basis for one of my entries. I wish that it didn't have to come to this, but here we are. I'll never reference Dokken again. I promise.

When I was younger there were legion of pop culture boogey men (mostly musicians) that freaked parents out. This wasn't a product of the 80s, if you look back far enough, you'll see that just the idea of rock n' roll music was enough for parents to lock their children in their homes. You've seen the B-roll footage in scores of TV shows and movies: the small (usually) Southern town, the bonfires, the broken records, the town preacher yelling fire and brimstone. It's a complete cliché now, but it really happened.

As the late 50s/early 60s progressed into the Age of Aquarius and the mid 70s, the “pillars of the community” came to the realization that rock n' roll wasn't going anywhere and began to turn their attention to specific artists. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison of the Doors, among others were all public enemy number one when it came time to protect the fragile minds and squash the budding libido of America's youth. When the 70s bled into the 80s, parents were afraid of bands like KISS*, Alice Cooper and heavy metal before setting their sites on Madonna.

* As a junior high school student, I was an altar boy. During this time I was given a job which required me to be at the church for the mass on Saturday and three masses on Sunday, one of which I served. The other three masses required me unlocking the doors before services started, closing them after it ended and getting the altar ready for the day. Since I wasn't scheduled to work all the time, I'd hang out in the sacristy and listen to my Walkman. BTW, the sacristy is the room behind the altar—it's quite a boring place to hang out. Nothing to read except the Bible.

One day a priest walked by, saw me rocking out (as the kids say) and asked me what I was listening to. Stupidly, I told him that I was listening to KISS (and not classic KISS like “Destroyer” or “Love Gun”, but their piece-of-shit, we-don't-give-a-damn, we're-only-in-it-because-we-have-a-record-contract, 45-minute-harmonizing-group-vomit of an album “Crazy Nights”). He looked at me, got real quiet and said seriously, “You know that KISS means Kids In Satan's Service, right?”

Say what you want about Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley or Peter Criss or Ace Frehley or Eric Carr or Bruce Kulick or any of the other musicians that wore grease paint or spandex, but these guys were not Satan worshipers. They may be sex fiends, drug abusers, attention whores and money grubbers, but worshiping Lucifer was not on the bill.

As a kid, I was pretty naïve about a lot of things, but even I knew what the priest said was in no way true. It was then that I pretty much stopped taking the advice of adults about popular culture.

The thing about Madonna is that she really worked hard to get people all riled up. From her boring-ass book about sex (what a shock!) to her sexual overtones with religious icons in her videos, she was trying to get people to notice—and most importantly hate—her. And it did work. Pepsi dropped her as a spokesperson when the video for “Like A Prayer” came out and there were anti-Madonna protests in certain cities. But like most things Madonna, it never seemed genuine or visceral. It felt as if the right-wingers HAD to protest Madonna because she was working so hard to push their buttons.

The real anger of parents at that time settled on hip-hop. Man, did older people absolutely HATE hip hop. That's the main reason why I was so drawn to it when I was in high school. I felt that by buying an Ice Cube or an Ice-T tape it was like giving the finger to society. And as a white, middle-class kid living in a town where the only hassles were the police occasionally breaking up an outdoor party, you need an outlet for any type of antisocial behavior. Hip hop was that conduit.

And apparently there were a lot of disillusioned (about what, I don't know) white boys because hip hop pretty much dominated the angst and anger of middle America for a long, long time. From NWA to the Geto Boys to Public Enemy*, if there was an angry black man on an album cover, chances are someone was protesting it.

* When I was a senior in high school I worked at Friendly's Ice Cream with my mother. I became pretty good friends with a bunch of people in their early 20s, especially this girl Shelly. Shelly knew how much I loved Public Enemy (I'd draw that B-boy in a scope logo on so many things, I'm surprised I wasn't pegged as a future serial killer) and told me that her favorite band (Gang of Four) were playing in Boston with PE and wondered if I wanted to go. Of course, I wanted to go.

However, since my mom worked at the same place I did, she got wind of this idea and before I could put any spin to it, she said no. “Those concerts are just too dangerous!” So, I didn't go.

The postscript on this story is two-fold:

1. Now that I'm a 35-year-old man, I am going to see Public Enemy in concert, in Boston and I don't have to ask my mother's permission. Take that, mom!
2. A scant two years later, this same woman who was scared of a Public Enemy concert, let my brother (a sophomore in high school) travel to see a Grateful Dead show. I didn't get the logic then and I still don't.

After people realized that much of this black anger was an act, the hip hop anger cooled, rock took center stage again with Marilyn Manson doing his damnedest to scare America. The dude did everything he could to rile up the right-wingers: sexual ambiguity, drinking absinthe, bestiality, claiming to worship Satan, fake mutilations, the works. He took all of Alice Coopers' theatrics (BTW, Cooper's quote on Manson is pretty awesome, “He (Marilyn Manson) has a woman's name and wears makeup. How original.”), turned them to ten and repackaged them for the 90s. It drove a lot of people crazy, sold a ton of records and ended up flaming out.

In fact, the Onion did an awesome parody on Manson back in 2001: .

The last real Mr. Scary was Eminem. Here was the ultimate nightmare: a poor, white-trash kid from bombed-out Detroit who rapped (this wasn't Vanilla Ice) about killing his girlfriend, taking a ton of drugs, homophobia and just being a gigantic pain in the ass. And, to top it off, he had major street (read black) cred which means this wasn't some white asshole pretending to be black. Marshall Mathers was the real thing.

And Eminem held the crown for a few years until the throne was abdicated. There aren't any music Mr. Scarys any more. Sure, for a little while, we got angry at Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera for their sexy ways. But we weren't actually angry at them, we were angry at ourselves because we found those young women so good looking and it ultimately confused. We weren't supposed to be looking at girls that young, we weren't supposed to be sexualizing teenagers, but here we were. And since we couldn't get angry at ourselves, we got pissed at the people who were giving us exactly what we asked for. The American public is a Mobius Strip of stupidity.

Aside from that brief jail-bait, pop-tart hiccup, there isn't anyone who the older generation warns their children about and tries to shield them away. And here's the thing, I am in that older generation, I'm supposed to be the one gnashing my teeth, beating my breast and wondering why our country is going to hell in a hand basket. Only I don't know who to direct my anger to.

I'm not big on the music scene any more, but pretty much anything I've heard on the radio is both bland and inoffensive. I'm not going to get worked up over the Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus or Bon Jovi or any of the other bands that sound like watered-down versions of Matchbox 20, excuse me, I mean Matchbox Twenty. Even hip hop isn't shocking anymore. The last time we were outraged by a hip hop artist is because Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV Music Awards.

Oooh that Kanye! How I hate him!

And while it sounds like this would be a good thing (the elimination of popular music as a way to get parents angry), it's not. Pop music and rock and hip hop are genres that are made for young ears. It's supposed to angry up the blood of the old. As Pearl Jam once put it, “this (meaning their music) is not for you (meaning old timers).” It's supposed to be a language foreign to anyone outside the 18-34 year-old demographic.

And Lady Gaga, bless her little heart, is trying so hard to be confrontational. She walks around half-naked, she flips off the camera at CitiField (in Jerry Seinfeld's private box, no less!), she got banned from the new Yankee Stadium, she sings about something that sounds sorta angry. But it's not the same. She comes from the Madonna school of shock; it's all too canned, too planned, too ... boring. I've seen how this show ends. Wake me when she gets to the pointy bras, making fun of Kevin Costner stage of her career.

The age-old dance of a parent banging on their child's door to “turn down that damn electric twanger” is supposed to elicit a teen's eye roll followed by a bellowing sigh and maybe an argument of misunderstanding. Now, my two-year-old daughter annoys me by playing that stupid Black Eyed Peas song over and over and over again.

A few things that I realize about my daughter:

1. She's two-years-old. In 15-years I pray that her taste in music gets better. Hopefully she finds something that will get my blood riled up because of something “shocking” and not because her music choices are so shockingly lame.

2. I would much rather listen to the last band she was obsessed with, The Wiggles, than the Black Eyed Peas. They are less packaged, can sing better, their songs have better lyrics and make more sense. “Fruit salad, yummy, yummy” is a far more interesting lyric than anything that Fergie yelps, while trying not to publicly urinate on herself.

Why don't we have any musical bad guys any more? My thought is that the real world is in such a quagmire, that we have bigger fish to fry. How can one care about Marilyn Manson when there is 9% unemployment rate in this country? Why is Eminem such a big deal when the Gulf of Mexico is essentially destroyed? Does MC Ren or Gene Simmons really provoke any sort of serious thought than that of the recent financial crisis or the dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the death of the automobile industry?

The gist of this entry is this, the next generation needs bad guys that the previous generation can focus on because that means we're living in worry-free times. We can worry about some rich Midwestern guy claiming that he owed his entire existence to Satan and the effect that it would have on our children. We can worry that an angry black man could rile up a nation full of apathetic white kids to some sort of revolution.

But right now, we can't because there are only so many tears you can cry.*

* God damn it, I did it again. Another Dokken reference. Crap.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is Selling Out Still a Four-Letter Word?

I haven't written in awhile, mainly because I've been busy and I haven't had a lot of interesting thoughts that I wanted to jot down. One could argue that I never really had a lot of interesting thoughts and that this Blog is nothing more than public mental masturbation about topics that no one cares about, but in order to save my sanity, I think I'm going to put that thought out of me gulliver.

Much better.

I've been watching a crap load of TV lately and there were a few things that struck me odd about two completely different shows that caught my attention. My wife loves E! much the same way I love McDonalds. We both know that both are terrible for you: it's full of empty calories, it rots your brain and ultimately it's not that satisfying but damn if it doesn't feel good while we watch/eat it. Anyhow, she was watching a show called “Kendra” which follows the trials and tribulations of Kendra Wilkinson. She's the former girlfriend of Playboy publisher and octogenarian Hugh Hefner's who is now married to Indianapolis Colt and Super Bowl goat Hank Baskett.

“Kendra” is a celebrity reality show and just about every episode is the same as the E! celebrity reality show that aired prior to this episode. Each show starts off with a problem or situation that Kendra has to figure out—and that's pretty much it. This particular episode dealt with the “leaking” of Kendra's sex tape that she made with a former boyfriend many years ago and how it affects her family. As part of the resolution to this problem, Kendra speaks with the ghost writer who's writing her autobiography.

This is where the fun begins because the guy interviewing her for the book is in his middle 30s and looked absolutely petrified. Not because Kendra Wilkinson is unbelievably gorgeous thus becoming tongue-tied—actually it was the opposite, she looked terrible. She had no make up on, had an infant on her hip and was inhaling three platters of room service while she spoke. The terror came from him asking her questions and Kendra giving the most insane, rambling, incoherent answers ever.

For example, he asked her what it was like growing up in San Diego without a father and she took him on a discombobulated word tour of how she once got in trouble for drinking while in class to illustrate how much of a handful she was. The key line was, “I was all wasted and then damn, I see the vice principal come in and oh man, I knew that he was just looking for me and then he's all like 'Kendra, come here.' and when I went I knew that I was in trouble.”*

* That's how she explained how her life was without a father. She's not intelligent enough to realize that she has major daddy issues which is why she shacked up with a senile old man who spends 95% of his life in his jammies and thinks that he's a ship captain on the other five percent.

Maybe I identified with this guy because I have been in his shoes many times. When I worked for the paper (The Revere Journal) there were plenty of times when I was doing an interview and the person answering my questions were careening out of control. What I would try to do is keep them talking and hope that once I got back to the office I was able to pull some sort of story out of this collection of nonsense and non-sequitors. Unfortunately for this writer, he has to write an entire book. And the worst part is that when the book is published and even though Kendra will see umpteen revisions and sign off on them, she's still going to say that she was misquoted.

This brings me to my second observation while watching a show that is also not geared to me or my demographic. My daughter loves PBS Sprout; from the detestable “Cailou” to the terrible “Dragon Tales” to the not-so-bad “Thomas and Friends”* she will watch this channel from morning until night if we let her. Since our parenting is that bad, we let her watch a few shows here and there OnDemand.

* “Thomas and Friends” is actually a pretty good show in that it shows kids that they aren't special, they're just a cog in the wheel and that if you don't do your job no one is going to feel sorry for you. Also, it teaches them people are going to make fun of you a lot for anything that is perceived as different or weak. The show was created by a real fire and brimstone English reverend who seemed to believe in John Stuart Mill and the utilitarian way of living. Everyone has a purpose, everyone must work towards the same goal, everyone must be useful. In fact, that is the highest compliment an engine can get on “Thomas and Friends” -- “You really are a useful engine!” The next generation of Socialists aren't coming from the White House, they're coming from Sprout.

Before the shows run, there is usually a commercial for something baby related. The one that has caught my attention and has wormed its way into my brain is one for diapers called the Potty Dance. It's pretty much this one old-ish, rocker dude who has a guitar and he implores kids to “Do the clap, clap potty dance!” for Huggies Pull-Ups. The song is as infectious as any pop song I've heard in years. And the weird thing is that the guy singing and strumming the guitar moves with the gait of a person who has been in countless bands that are just good enough to get signed, but not good enough to break through.

He actually seems as if he's enjoying himself when he's dancing around with a bunch of kids.

What's the point of these two anecdotes other than I need to learn to ignore the television when my wife or daughter have control of the clicker? The point is that both of these guys sold out at one point in their careers. And is this a good thing?

Writing diaper jingles and shit books (see what I did there?) pay the bills, I know that. They probably pay a lot of cash, but one of these guys looks absolutely devastated by his life choice while the other seems to be making the best out of it. You can see that Kendra's ghost writer possesses the 1,000-yard stare of a man who knows he made a huge mistake. I imagine that this guy worked his ass off in high school and college, writing, rewriting plays, shorts stories, a novel or maybe a screen play before he summoned up the courage to head out to California and try to sell his life's work.

And where did it get him? Listening to a celebrity whose only talent is fucking an 80-year-old guy without puking on him trying to justify her white-trash life and coherently explain why she's famous. And not only that, but he's got to take that insane jumble and fashion it into something interesting and cohesive. You know that he has hours and hours of Kendra listing out the food she has stocked in her cabinets. The tragedy of this is that the writer looks as if he's in his late 20s or early 30s and he knows that he's going to be resigned to a life like this. Because if he does well, he's got more idiots to interview. If he doesn't do well, then it's back to where he came from and selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.*

* I know that this is a short-handed cliché for nebbish failure, but was there ever really a time when a person sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door? Why vacuum cleaners? I don't get this at all.

On the other hand, the guitar guy doesn't look that unhappy with his choice. He's a bit older, I bet that he's at peace with his life and the choices that he made. Now's the time he can settle into a cushy gig where he writes and performs jingles and not get too stressed out, it sure beats working in a cubicle every day where his only musical release is playing guitar to a bunch of ingrates at the local saloon.

When I was young and more idealistic I remember having a heated conversation with one of my roommates over the Led Zeppelin Cadillac commercial. My take was that Led Zeppelin didn't need the money (and really, who the fuck was I to decide that?) and that they're completely ruining their reputation (what?) by selling-out to Cadillac. My roommate's argument was basically, there's no such thing as artistic integrity in popular music and a song that I hold dear may be just a piece of crap to someone else. Turns out, my roommate was completely and totally right.

To me, this was insanity, real artists NEVER sold out. They just went from one commercially under-appreciated project to the next happy with the fact that while their talents may never garner them much in terms of money, they have our respect. What a load of crap. No one believes that though if they do, it's because they aren't famous and rich yet. At some point in a life, everyone sells out. Whether it's dropping the dream of becoming a famous writer or becoming your generation's guitar god, the bills have to get paid.

"I want people to say I’m a sellout. I sell out every night! As soon as you charge for a ticket, you’re in the game. As soon as you sell your first T-shirt, you’re in the game. And then you’re not just a musician—you’re a performer."

Gene Simmons of KISS said the above quote and while it's pretty disgusting in terms of artistic integrity, he does have a point. As soon as an artist sells something, he's sold out there are powers that he has to answer to. No one can do things independently, but there are roads that are less duplicitous to selling-out than the one good old Gene took.

What intrigues me about the two scenarios I wrote about is that one person looks (and this is the key word, folks) like he sold out a bit too early and the other person looks as if he sold out on time. When is the best time to cash in your chips? Ultimately, that is simply something that you have to figure out for yourself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hit Me Orsillo One More Time

This was originally published on the new Sons of Sam Horn.com site. You can check it out here and get a lot of cool Red Sox news too. It's going to be a great site, you should bookmark it.

Every Red Sox season there seems to be one commercial that runs constantly during the baseball season. After the third out is made; there is a one-in-four chance that you're going to see this ad and even though you can recite the copy by heart, you're going to watch the entire thing.

The good thing is that it changes from season to season.

The most popular ad ran at the beginning of the decade: the infamous Foxwoods commercials*. You remember that one, don't you? “Take a chance, make it happen. Pop the cork ...” The first time you saw it, you sorta liked it. It had a swinging beat that invoked memories of the spring of 1998 when the country was briefly obsessed with swing music. It was inescapable, as the melody got inside your head and rattled around your brain for a few days.

But you loved it.

After about the 100th time, you began to detest every fiber of its being. You hated the first note, you hated the tag “Meet me at Foxwoods! FOX-WOODS!”, you hated that smiling jerk begging you to forfeit your hard earned money on games of chance. Not only did you want Foxwoods to burn to the ground, but you wanted the entire state of Connecticut burnt, its fields salt and its men castrated.

However, by mid-July, something funny happened. Not only did you fall back in love with the ad, but you couldn't face your life without it. That smiling jerk was your new best friend. You were practically hocking your mother's lungs to get a few bucks to blow in Connecticut. You wanted to meet everyone at Foxwoods. FOX-WOODS! A Red Sox game without the Foxwoods ad was like an autumn day without orange leaves.

* John Pizzarelli is the singer of those old Foxwood ads. As you may recall, in the late 90s and early 2000s these commercials were insanely popular. Pizzarelli was not some studio hack or an actor who lip-synced the tune. This guy is a lounge singer without a lot of fame. He took full advantage of this uptick in his popularity and began closing all of his performances with the Foxwoods theme. It was like his “New York, New York” or “Stairway to Heaven”.

I understand where Pizzarelli is coming from. He was an F-list lounge act who made it (relatively) big in New England and New York. But to close your show with a jingle? Even for someone who sings other people's songs, isn't this a bit tacky? Before fronting Pearl Jam, what if Eddie Vedder was a struggling jingle writer who hit with the Oscar Meyner wiener song. Would you want to see him close every Pearl Jam show with that? (Actually, now that I mention it, I would like that.)

ANY WAY, my point isn't to wax nostalgic about John Pizzarelli and Foxwoods, my point was to talk about the new crop of commercials that have been airing on NESN and their unlikely star:Don Orsillo. He has the distinction of being the first person (at least that I can recall) to be in two different ads for two different products that will probably end up being the soundtrack of the 2009 and 2010 summers.

It all began last season when Red Sox announcer Don Orsillo began to pop up every other inning with ancient Boston knuckler Tim Wakefield. The duo were engaged in a spirited one-ups-menship of who could out-Red-Sox the other. Throughout the ad, each guy would buy something from the Red Sox team store that would inevitably prove their Boston allegiance while at the same time shaming the other person for not sharing the same rabid fandom. Hats and shirts were the opening gambit until Orsillo pulled out the big guns and donned (no pun) a Sox jacket.

Admit it, you gasped the first time you saw this commercial. It was an expensive and outlandish piece of Red Sox gear, clearly there was no way that Tim Wakefield could ever hope to outmaneuver our hero.

Ho, ho, ho! But the ever-crafty Wakefield had the trump card, a Sox water bottle which proved that the was the joke was on Orsillo—or “announcer boy” as the triumphant knuckleballer condescendingly called him. The dejected play-by-play man realized that not only was Wakefield the better Sox fan, but the more practical one too.

Lackey and Orsillo

This year's 30-second passion play has our hero chancing upon newly acquired John Lackey (presumably) in the Red Sox' spring training locker room*. It seems that Lackey has found a map of Massachusetts and can't make heads or tails of this crazy state.

* I say presumably because it looks as if Lackey could be in a bus station. But why would Orsillo and Lackey be in a bus terminal? Has Lackey had it with Boston already, did management send D.O. to talk him our of leaving baseball? The fact is, I like it better that they're in a bus terminal, let's have that be our own little addition to the commercial. It gives the men and the ad a bit more depth, sort of lends an “Urban Cowboy” type of gravitas to it.

Orsillo begins explaining the intricacies of the state to Lackey who is growing more and more befuddled as the spot nears its ending. Finally Lackey gives up trying to “get” Massachusetts and Orsillo seems to have thoroughly confused HIMSELF, despite being born, going to college and working in the state for most of his life. Cue the sad trombone.

What strikes me most about these commercials isn't the snappy writing or the witty rapport between athlete and announcer, it's how far Don Orsillo has come since he started in 2001. That was his first year as the lead Sox announcer and it looked as if he was pushing the current play-by-play guy, the well-liked and insanely connected Sean McDonough, out the door. In conspiracy-mad Boston this was because McDonough was “too tough” on the Sox, he and partner Jerry Remy were having a bit too much fun in the broadcast booth and worst of all, McDonough was “calling it like he saw it” without a filter.

It was widely assumed that Orsillo was being brought in to be the anti-McDonough to rein in Remy and be more laudatory towards all things Boston. McDonough was simply a loose cannon, while Orsillo was more of a professional. In other words, he knew who his bosses were.

His big-league career got off to a shaky start as new acquisition Hideo Nomo no-hit the Baltimore Orioles in only the second game of the 2001 season. The last inning was simulcasted nation-wide on ESPN and Orsillo was obviously very nervous. All anyone could talk about the following day was the low-key call on the final out.

“He has no hahht!”
“Orsillo's got no passion, no personality!”
“This guy's a robaht! Typical Sawx.”

Orsillo took a lot of guff from the fans (as the above made-up cliches show) and from some of the media. They may have been a bit angry that McDonough got the shaft. It should be remembered that McDonough was the son of the Godfather of Boston sports reporting, Boston Globe columnist Will McDonough. Also during that time period, McDonough had his own daily radio show that included a revolving panel of Boston writers. He certainly had a legion of supporters.

As one season bled into another, Orsillo began to loosen up more (with the help of Remy) and the worm began to turn a bit. No longer was he referred to as the Orsillo-bot 3000 (ok, maybe me and the guy whose quote I made up were the only ones that called him that) and I think that people began to like the guy more as they grew more familiar with his cadence and the way he called games. And while he leaned on Remy to bring out the chuckles in the early part of his career, it seems that in the last season or two he learned to bring the funny himself.

This was most evident last season when he was paired with 10 different color commentators while Remy took most of the summer due to health problems. There was some good (Dennis Eckersley being the best example) and a lot of bad (Dave Roberts, Frank Viola, Nick Cafardo), but Orsillo was the guy holding the ship together. When paired with Eckersley, the duo had an excellent chemistry that was better than the one Orsillo has with Remy.

All of this leads back to my original question: just how did Don Orsillo go from a guy who was pretty much reviled to a guy that's making the season's most enduring commercials? And how did he go from being the Orsillo-bot 3000 to being “the funny one” in these ads? Watch these ads again, he's the Lou Costello to Tim Wakefield's Bud Abbot, he's the David Cross to John Lackey's Bob Odenkirk. The story lines don't go anywhere without Orsillo.

And as amazing as the Red Sox' recent run of success is, what's even more amazing is that during that same time Don Orsillo has become a comedic tour de force.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We're Becoming a Nation of Morons

Before I start, the above image is pretty awesome, isn't it? And I really like Barack Obama.

The other day I happened upon a Roger Ebert Tweet* that linked to this article.

* Before I go any further—and I know that I'm completely late to this party—I have to say that Twitter is amazing. I initially resisted signing up because I didn't like keeping my thoughts to a 140 characters and the people that I knew that were using Twitter (Ashton Kutcher being the most famous at the time) made me think that it was a medium for idiots. While I don't tweet much, the pool of people tweeting has gotten much, much deeper and their output is prodigious. It's become a daily occurrence for me to go on and see what my favorite comedians are saying, keeping up with friends and what writers are reporting on—as it happens. The Ebert Tweets are consistently among the best. They're a mixture of politics, humor and well-reasoned thoughts. If you haven't signed up, do so now.

There is a large portion of Republicans (almost 25%) that think that our President, Barack Obama, is the Antichrist. You may remember the Antichrist from such books as the Bible. He, along with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (not the backfield from 1924 Notre Dame football team), that's going to bring about the end of the days by spreading disease and famine and destruction all over the world.

The Bible is a terrific book, but it's full of hypocrisies and stories that may not be exactly true, nor were they really intended to be taken as Gospel (see what I did there? HUMOR!) fact. This is because a lot of the stories in the Bible have been written as allegories or metaphors or stories that were just not meant to be taken literally. Add to that, that the Bible was written thousands of years ago, translated from one dead language to another and then massaged by rulers with God complexes and one can see where this might not be the most factual group of pages ever assembled.

In any event there is a pretty large contingent of people who look at Barack Obama, see that he's trying to give them health care for free and have determined that this action is going to bring about the LITERAL end of the world as described in a book written thousands of years before he was alive.

Who in their right mind actually thinks that anyone is the Antichrist, much less a person like Obama? Is he perfect? Of course not, he's a career politician and those are among the most dirty swine there are. But the Antichrist is supposed to be a person who has caused thousands and thousands of deaths and is pretty much the opposite of JC in all ways and Barack Obama fills this bill?

Remember, there is only one Antichrist in the Bible so Adolph Hitler doesn't fit the suit.* Idi Amin doesn't qualify. Neither do the scores and scores of truly insane, sadistic and detestable leaders since 33 AD. None of them are even being considered for the nomination of Antichrist, yet Barack Obama is the guy? Really? He's not even the craziest leader on the planet. With a stable of nuclear weapons and the biggest Napoleonic complex since Napoleon, Kim Jong Il should get branded as the modern-day Antichrist way before Obama.

* Thirty-eight percent of those polled said Obama is “doing the same things that Hitler did”. THE SAME THINGS THAT HITLER DID. Read that sentence again, I can't even fathom what this means.

Say what you want about our current President, but I don't remember Barack Obama putting millions of people in concentration camps and executing them simply because their day of rest was on Saturday instead of Sunday. And while I've long considered our preivous president to be the Anti-Einstein, I've never gone biblical on his ignorant ass.

Aside from the Antichrist charge, there are a few other interesting nuggets that Americans believe about Obama:

1. He was not born in America! I thought that we laid this issue to rest? The man is American as the Statue of Liberty ... uh oh!

2. He's Muslim! I'm still not sure why this is a huge deal. I mean, I get the implication that being a Muslim equals being a terrorist, but there hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world. A small percentage of one percent are terrorists. That's like saying a Catholic shouldn't be trusted because of any Irish bombings.

3. He's a socialist! Here's the thing, Barack Obama is definitely not a socialist. He just isn't, aside from offering healthcare, I don't know what else he has done to be deemed a socialist. And if by some WWE-style swerve, he does turn out to be a socialist, than the chances are pretty damn good that he's not a Muslim. Most countries that are predominantly Muslim don't really subscribe to the hammer and sickle way of living. So you have to choose one or the other. This line of thinking reminds me of “The Simpsons” episode where action hero Rainier Wolfcastle had to fight Commie-Nazis.

It seems that every day more and more people are getting dumber and more scared, which is never a good combination and it's causing a mishmash of ignorant arguments at increasingly loud volumes. These people are joining the Fox News Kids Klub, AKA the Tea Party movement and are getting louder and louder and louder.

During the last decade or so, being considered intelligent is considered a bad thing. When George W. Bush “won” the presidency many people said that the reason why they voted for him is because they could see themselves having a beer with the guy. Whatever his foibles were, Bush did seem like a pretty nice, albeit completely misguided, person. I think that he would have been an awesome commissioner for Major League Baseball. That being said, he was one of the worst presidents ever. Everything from domestic policy to foreign policy to environmental issues to education has been left in ruins since his two terms in office.

The people I share beers with are good and intelligent people, I do not want any of them to run the country.

And Fox News knows what they're doing. They're masters at whipping the gullible into a lather and are pretty much behind the organization. From Wikipedia (as trust-worthy as the Bible):

“On February 11 ( 2009) talk radio host and Fox Business Network personality Dave Ramsey appeared on Fox and Friends, waving tea bags and saying "It's time for a Tea Party." He was on the show criticizing newly confirmed Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, who that morning had outlined his plan to use the $300 billion or so dollars remaining in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds. He intended to use $50 billion for foreclosure mitigation and use the rest to help fund private investors to buy toxic assets from banks.”

This resonated with conservatives and Fox began playing it up at every possible opportunity. From Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh (who's not on Fox, but is a conservative) these people have jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon and are driving it at breakneck speed. The news organization that compared anti-war protestors in Bush administration to traitorous terrorists are telling their viewers to essentially destroy the fabric of America.

In the last few months Tea Partyers have disrupted sessions of Congress, have shouted racial and anti-gay slurs at elected officials, turned last summer's healthcare town meetings into shouting matches. For a group of people who consider themselves “patriots” Hannity, Beck, Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin are ripping this country apart and they know it. They all have that same smug look of satisfaction when they come back from a Tea Party clip where some person is just screaming nonsense and Fox talking points.

For all of their caterwauling about the influences of the “liberal media”, the conservative media has much more influence and always has and they love it. They are the ones that further the mistruths against Obama by providing incredibly vague headlines (“Is Obama a Muslim? We aren't saying if he is or he isn't!”) and distorted facts (“Death panels! Your grandmother is going to die!”) knowing that most people want a soundbite and not read the entire story. What is most infuriating is they love to play the role of the underdog, despite the fact that these conservative icons have more money than most of the world. And yet they still get the poor to go along with their plans that will only improve their lives. It's a very ingenious plan that these swine have put over on the American public.

And that's what sucks the most. America is being torn asunder by a not-so-clandestine group of people who want to save a few sheckles on their tax returns. They have no compassion for the working man, but pretend to sound like they do. They're just using them and once their plan works so that regulations on every industry is rolled back, healthcare is something only the rich can afford and a free society is only afforded to the wealthy, then the American people will realize that they've been bamboozled.

Only then it will be too late. I love my country, but the American people are being used like a two-dollar whore by the rich. The poor have an enemy, but it's not liberals. It's the rich and the sooner they realize that, the better off this country will be.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

New Look!

Didn't expect to do this, but I hope that everyone enjoys the new look of 19 Thoughts.

It's been about five years, and even someone as adverse to change such as me needs to spice things up now and then.

Hope you enjoy it and the search functions, lay out and the black text on white background is easier to read.

BTW, one of the cool new features is that I can now link other Blogs. So, if you like reading me, chances are I'm going to like reading you too. Drop a line and let's be Blog Buddies.

Ugh, that didn't sound so lame when I originally thought it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Larry King Part III or Tucson! Hello!

From time to time Larry King drops by 19 Thoughts and regales the readers with his some of his thoughts, like he would do back in the day when he wrote for USA Today. Not sure why he chose an anonymous Blog like mine to itch his writin' scratch, but I'm very happy to run his odds and ends.

Oranges are the most disappointing fruit ... The sun shines in Florida, but Vero Beach is completely empty ... I ran into Marty Scorsese the other day and he let me in on a secret: his next picture is going to be about the underworld ... Lots of self-help books on the shelves these days. What did we do before them? ... When I was a lad I was glad to be poor. I thought that you could catch polio by playing polo ... If all sewer workers were as nice as Art Carney, I'd be in hip-high boots right now ... The Saints are Super Bowl Champions, I remember when New Orleans was completely flooded. What a world! ... The other day I spotted a man with a belt and suspenders, he's the person you want when driving cross country ... They called him Henny Youngman because he liked to dress in woman's clothes. Otherwise he'd be Rooster Youngman ... Avatar this and Avatar that ... The internet is a fascinating place, every where you go there's an argument. It reminds me of my third wife ... The President smokes and wants free health care? Methinks that the presidency has a terrible HMO ... Go to the dictionary and look up the definition of up-and-comer, you'll find a picture of Drew Barrymore ... Why send a pool boy to do the work of a pool man? ... You can cram it, Jerry Seinfeld ... In my day the home calculator was the size of a bus. Now you can carry them in your pocket ... Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but his gall bladder is at Cedar Sinai ... Just kidding Tony, you know I love ya ... New-born babies are great paper weights ... Raquel Welch could really fill out a loin cloth ... I'm still trying to figure out how to hook up my son's Atari video game ... A piece of driving advice: keep moving forward no matter what ... Bob Hope once owned a piece of the Cleveland Indians. What team would he buy now? ... Mirrors are reverse windows on the soul ... I'm glad that trees don't cry because I love my morning newspaper ... Know what I like best about waffles? The squares ... I wouldn't mind being a cow, you get to stand ankle-deep in your dinner every day ... The color blue is suspicious ... There really isn't anything on Earth like a hamburger made the way you like it ... Scotch tape seems sort of racist to me ... I hope that ghosts are real ... Keep a compass with you at all times. One day you'll thank me ... I know which part is the string, but I can't tell which part is the first yo and which part is the second yo ... Radio, telephones, television, movies, the Internet. I've conquered them all. Up next are holograms ... We really could do without eyebrows or so says Michael Dukakis ... Have you ever heard “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” performed live in your own living room? Tremendous, I highly recommend giving Cher a call ... Baseball is right around the corner, watch out for those pesky Florida Marlins ... Asparagus. What's the point? ... No glass containers for me, I get my pickles from a wooden barrel ... A day without a watercress sandwich is like Fidel Castro without a beard ... Five minutes of Dr. Phil and I've had my fill ... The love of candy is the great equalizer ... Talk to you soon, folks!

Thanks again, Larry.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Death From Above or the Ultimate Spoiler Warning

Warning: this is an extremely long entry.

Today I happened upon an interesting article that put to rest the debate on how dinosaurs were wiped out. Some scientists have theorized about a gigantic volcano in India that released a mega-explosion that essentially turned the world into one gigantic lava pit. Biblical scholars theorize that the dinosaurs missed Noah's last call and were all drowned. Gary Larson thinks that smoking was the cause of the downfall.

Turns out all of these ideas were wrong. According to a 20-year study, a nine-mile wide asteroid slammed into Chicxulub Mexico traveling at a speed of 20 times that of a speeding bullet and hitting the Earth with force that is akin to one billion (with a B) atomic bombs.

The dinosaurs that weren't impacted by the impact were soon dead because of the drastic climate change. Basically the entire planet went Hoth in a matter of days because of the debris that kicked up pretty much blotted out the sun. And since dinosaurs were mostly warm-blooded, they died pretty quickly*.

* The week before my brother left for college he took all of the money that he made working during the summer and told my mother that he was buying a bunch of stuff for college—all of which she vetoed. One of the things on the list was a snake, for some reason he wanted to be “that guy” on your freshman year floor who had a snake. My brother went crazy saying that it was HIS money and he was going to do what HE wanted with it and there was nothing that she could do to stop him.

ANYWAY, he went out and spent a couple hundred bucks on the snake and the heat rock and the tank and brought home the snake. My parents put both of their feet down and told him that he can bring the snake with him to college, but there was no way in hell that it was living under their roof. And since my brother made such a big deal about it being HIS money, he couldn't argue with their logic about THEIR roof and he kept it at his friend's house.

His friend was a moron and felt that since it was August in Massachusetts the snake would be perfectly fine if the tank was near an open window. The snake was dead by morning and my brother was left with a heated rock and an empty tank.

What does this dinosaur story have to do with anything? I'm glad you asked. What if an asteroid was bearing down on us at this very minute and we didn't have a handful of brave Texas oil riggers to blow it up? Would you really want to know that you and everyone that you knew and cared about was about to be wiped off the face of the Earth in a very, very painful way?

And I'm not talking about snarky radio station programming directors playing Def Leppard's “Armageddon It” on a continuous loop.

I'm talking about the intense and insane amount of fear that your life was about to end. And this wouldn't be a plane-crash realization that you were among a small-group of people that were going to die, this is a world-wide cataclysm. I can't think of anything that would effect 100% of the world's population and observing what would happen would be extremely—is interesting the right word choice here? because that's the word I'm going to use—interesting.

The first thing that I would assume that would happen is that there would be no looting, because what's the point? An asteroid is six hours away from blowing the planet to smithereens and you're busy trying to hook up a 60inch flat screen that you swiped from Best Buy? There's going to be nothing on TV and you want your last flickering memory to be a Judge Judy rerun? I don't think so.

Secondly, you'd have to assume that all churches, synagogues and mosques would be jam-packed. Even the atheist and agnostic sets would be heading for the houses of worship—though I bet that there would be one or two who would spend their last moments arguing, “If there was a God, why is He hurling a gigantic boulder at us? Doesn't He love us? How could something who supposedly love us want to wipe us all out.” At that point, you'd be begging for the asteroid to speed up.

While in your house of God, the priest or rabbi or cleric or shaman would probably start trying to calm everyone down, but wouldn't be able to resist getting a few barbs in—especially if the guy is Catholic or Jewish. “Oh, I see that some of you finally remembered where the church is located. Seems pretty convenient that you remembered this once a big rock was hurtling towards the Earth. I'm sure that these last few moments will save your eternal soul.” He'd also probably wish that he had the foresight to bust out the collection plate. At this point, you'd also be begging for the asteroid to speed up.

There would also be a segment of the general population that just won't give a fuck, no matter what happens. These are the people who will be laying in their pools or sitting on a beach chair on their front lawn or roof with a beer in one hand, goading the asteroid into hitting them. “Come on, you stupid space rock, hit me! I dare you to do it, you chicken shit lunar pebble. You're nothing!” After a few hours of screaming at the sky, these are the folks that will be crying the most.

So if you aren't screaming at the sky or going to some sort of church, what would you do? I'd wager that there would be all sorts of arguments amongst the married: “Why do we have to spend the rest of our lives with YOUR family?”

“What do you mean? What's wrong with MY family and why do you think that we'd spend our last hours with YOUR family? Maybe your mother can get one last dig at me.”

Seems like a lot of fun.

Of course as the asteroid is getting closer and closer and people are fearing their impending dooms, a world-wide soul cleansing like no one has ever seen will take place. Remember the scene in “Almost Famous” when the band Stillwater thought that their airplane was going to crash and they just shouted out the worst things that they ever did or thought? It'd be just like that, except on a much, much, much larger scale.

“I' had sex with your brother!”
“Those jeans DO make you look fat!”
“I've always wished that you had a bigger penis!”
“I never understood the plot to 'Synecdoche, New York', I didn't want you to think that I was stupid!”

So not only are you about to die, but you're going to die knowing what everyone really thought about you. Again, at this point you're on your knees begging for that asteroid to speed up.*

* What if the asteroid misses Earth and everyone is saved? Like Stillwater, wouldn't your life be one long, awkward moment after these revelations? There would probably be a ton of newly single people after this near-disaster. “I have a small penis? Well me and my small dick are leaving your gigantic ass!”

All of these reactions are happening on the micro-scale, what about the macro-scale? What if you were stuck at work when the asteroid was falling, you'd have to assume that you'd leave your cubicle and find your family, right? But you know that there would be one jerk boss who would tell you to go back to your desk and finish your project or insist that you punch out.

Every once in awhile you run into someone with a story about their boss that would not admit that 9/11/01 was a different day. People are huddled around computers, radios and TVs while he's screaming at you to get back to work. Its really a very sad defense mechanism and I'm sure that the same type of people would be screaming at their employees to return to their jobs.

Would people who need to be at their jobs stay there? Women would still be in the middle of giving birth or someone might be in the midst of a heart transplant or cancer surgery, would the doctors and nurses stick around or just leave without question. Would cops and firefighters stay at their posts in the case that they're needed?

Twitter, Facebook and any social interactive site would be a complete mess, with people spilling their guts about everything they've ever done and telling everyone how much they love them. Although there would probably be a few of your Facebook friends who would try to get the very last Facebook post before everyone went away.

For some reason, I think that I would be fascinated with what famous people would Tweet. I think that you would finally get to see what celebrities are like when all of the crap is taken away. I'm not sure why that matters to me or what that says about me, but it would be a silver lining in the dark cloud of destruction.

The point of this Blog entry isn't to detail what I think would happen during the end of days, it's centered more around the question: would you rather have the brain capacity that you have right now or would you rather have the walnut-sized brain of a dinosaur and not know that the universe was hitting the reset button?*

* This is probably going to be a long aside, so you can skip over it if you want, but I was thinking about it today and I felt like I had to write it down. Again, if you don't read this self-indulgent part—no offense will be taken, we're still good buddies. When I was in junior high school there were two things that I loved: arcades and baseball. Since I lived near Salisbury (MA) and Hampton (NH) beach there were about a half-dozen arcades within five miles of my house, each had scores of video games. One vacation, my family and I went to visit my cousin in Mt. Vernon, New York and we went to an arcade where I came face-to-face with RBI Baseball.

This game was my 12-year-old fantasy: you could play any of the 26 Major League Baseball teams and instead of random names, they had the actual all-time stars on each team. For example, the Red Sox had Ted Williams in left, Jim Rice DH-ing, Wade Boggs at third, Carlton Fisk catching and Jimmie Foxx manning first base. It was awesome. The only problem was this was literally the only place that I could find this arcade game. They didn't have it any of my home arcades (and I looked high and low).

Aside from liking the stand-up arcade games, I also had the eight-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. It was the one that came with Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt and R.O.B. (the Robotic Operated Buddy – and really what the hell good was that thing anyway?). I found out that RBI Baseball was being released as a cartridge and I begged my parents to drive me to Toys R Us and let me spend my Christmas money on it. They did and I remember staring at the box for the entire half-hour it took us to drive home from the Fox Run Mall.

I got home and it was pretty awesome, it wasn't the arcade version (there were 10 teams, eight of which were the 1986 and 1987 division winners and two All-Star teams) but it was awesome none-the-less. For over a year, I played that game every single day and became quite good at it. I got so good that when I would screw up, I'd hit the reset button and start the game over again. I'm not sure why I did that, I probably did so because I was such a geek that I was writing down the stats or something in a notebook, but that's not the point of the story.

One day, I was in a zone. I can't remember the exact day, but I do remember that it was late autumn because I was sitting to the side of my bedroom window and can recall how the light came in. The light shined in my room a certain way in the fall. Anyway, I was the Red Sox and I was cruising past the American League All-Star team. Not only that, but I noticed that I was throwing a perfect game which was at the top of my accomplishments (so sad).

Twenty-six up and twenty-six down, all I had to do was face the AL pitcher Brett Saberhagen (an easy out if there ever was one) and I'd be the master of RBI Baseball (in my own mind). Roger Clemens was mowing people down and I hummed a fastball to former Royals pitcher Brett Saberhagen which he promptly deposited in the right field seats. In all of my games of RBI Baseball, I have never seen a pitcher leave the infield, much less go yard, but there it was: good bye perfect game, good bye no-hitter, good by shut out.

I got the next batter out rather easily, but the game was never the same. An 8-bit video game handed me my first true, punch-in-the-gut, are-you-freaking-kidding-me, monumental disappointment. As pathetic as that sounds, I was really obsessed about this game like nothing before or since.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, would you rather know about your impending doom or would you rather just have it smack you upside the face without any warning? Because I can pretty much guarantee that the dinosaurs weren't completely freaking out when that nine-mile wide asteroid hit. They weren't in some prehistoric church or trying to tweet on their iPhones (stupid lack of thumbs). Most dinosaurs woke up that fateful day, chomped on some leaves or ripped a smaller dinosaur apart, walked around and only paused to look up when the rock was about to hit their rock.

Then it was over.

That's probably the way that I'd like it too. Like I've blogged before, for me, the waiting is the hardest part. I would probably go insane wondering when our time was up and the anticipation would be horrible. I'd probably die a thousand deaths, each more excruciating than the final one--which would probably happen so quickly that we wouldn't even feel it.

I suppose that sometimes ignorance IS bliss.

Friday, March 05, 2010

26. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show

The adultification (I made that word up, BTW) of cartoons did not being in 1989 with “The Simpsons”. It began in 30 years earlier with a show called “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” that revolved around the misadventures of a flying squirrel (Rocky) and his slow-witted, yet very zen, moose friend named Bullwinkle. Created by Jay Ward, this show was not just years ahead of its time—it was generations ahead. Without this show, not only is there no Simpsons but one could argue that there is no show that have any sort of subtle comedy hidden behind overly zany plots.*

* Two things: 1. do not get this show confused with the live-action Robert DeNiro flick based on these characters. This show is brilliant, that movie couldn't have sucked more. 2. During this Blog, the chances are very high that I am going to refer to Jay Ward as Jay North. As you may recall, Jay North is the kid who played “Dennis the Menace” in the old black-and-white, live-action TV show that was on Nickelodeon reruns ad nauseum during the 1980s. I apologize in advance to Mr. Ward and Mr. North if either are still alive and read Blogs.

The interesting thing is that the way the show was originally broadcast is pretty different from how future generations saw it. From the bastion of truth, Wikipedia:

“When first shown on NBC, the cartoons were introduced by a Bullwinkle puppet, voiced by Bill Scott, who would often lampoon celebrities, current events, and especially Walt Disney, whose program Disneyland was the next show on the schedule. On one occasion, "Bullwinkle" encouraged children to pull the tuning knobs off the TV set. "In that way," explained Bullwinkle, "we'll be sure to be with you next week!" After the network received complaints from parents of an estimated 20,000 child viewers who apparently followed Bullwinkle's suggestion, Bullwinkle told the children the following week to put the knobs back on with glue "and make it stick!" The puppet sequence was dropped altogether”

None of this stuff was ever shown in the hacked-up syndication version—it was just the cartoons. And that was ok. While the puppet sounds really funny (especially the riffs on Disney) not seeing it didn't take anything away from the show. I suppose that “Rocky and Bullwinkle” was anti-authoritarian enough without the puppet and his anti-Disney rhetoric.

While the overt displeasure of Disney was missing, the subvert anti-Disney stabs was certainly present in the animation. Unlike the Mickey Mouse style of fluid, elegant lines with expressive face, Rocky and Bullwinkle were drawn with more of a rough-around-the-edges style. It was as if the show wasn't interested in making high art like Disney. The style certainly had a sort of simplistic beautiful quality, but I think that Ward was more interested in telling a better story and crafting a better joke. Essentially the cartoon medium was a conduit for Ward's words that was not possible with live-action actors.

And it worked.

No matter if it was the Rocky and Bullwinkle shorts that were the centerpiece of the show or myriad other shows that surrounded it, Ward was spot on with his voice and humor. Among the other vignettes that hit the mark were “Peabody's Improbable History” which centered on a time traveling dog, Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman. Each week they'd travel back to a historical event and find out that things didn't happen quite like the history books said they did.

“Fractured Fairy Tales” took centuries old stories that we've all head one hundred times and set them on its ears. These cartoons were exquisitely narrated by the Seussian named Edward Everett Horton and his voice added a lot of gravitas to the shorts. “Aesop and Son” was a lot like “Fractured Fairy Tales” but these episodes revolved around the cartoon version of the ancient Greek story teller and his wise-ass son. “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties” was another cartoon short that ran with Bullwinkle and it was about a dim-witted Mountie who foils his nemesis Snidely Whiplash. This wasn't something that I was a big fan of but the premise was to satire the old serials where the handsome hero sometimes needed help.

Aside from the titular characters, the shorts were rotated so that while the format was known, nothing ever really got stale.

Like a lot of shows on this list, the thing that I admired most about “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” is that Jay Ward never treated his audience like a collection of idiots. He was the first person to use the televised cartoon as satire, as the two characters cleverly joked about politics, sports and pop culture. While the Red Menace was at it's height, R&B's main bad guys were the bumbling Bolsheviks Boris and Natasha.

Even now, the direct (and indirect) influence of Jay Ward can be felt in a lot of television, both animated and live-action. Simpsons creator Matt Groening has gone on record saying that the initial J in the names Homer J. Simpson and Bartholomew J. Simpson are a tribute to Ward. And since “The Simpsons” have spawned off a legion of satirical, sarcastic shows during its 20 year run, the grandfather of them all is Mr. Jay Ward and his moose and squirrel.