Portents of Van Peebles

Today, as I was leaving the YMCA, I looked down and saw a toddler’s spoon lying in the parking lot.

Then, I went to Sam’s Club, where I saw a plastic spoon lying in the parking lot as well.

Clearly, these are signs that I will binge watch Sonny Spoon sometime soon.

I must have been the only one who liked this show when it aired, since it lasted only fifteen episodes. But it’s the character I associate with Mario Van Peebles, not Kane from The Highlander III.

Modern Education Has Made History Full of Spoiler Alerts

The latest fad amongst the cool kids and the people who talk about the cool kids is a Netflix True Crime documentary series called Making a Murderer which not only has the cool kids in an uproar about an old murder case but

In a Washington Post piece designed to enflame the cool kids’ ire against Bad Man Scott Walker, we have this bit:

(CAUTION: Some mild spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the show.)

Dudette. It’s a documentary. Can a documentary have spoilers?

Anything that really happened that you don’t know is a spoiler waiting to happen. The modern education system just ruins all the good surprises. Or it would if they taught history. Do they? I don’t know.

But it’s a documentary with a narrative.

This Increases My Odds of Appearing 0%

Where war on Canada begins. What is ‘Jeopardy’?:

For reasons that have yet to be fully explained, the producers of the “Jeopardy!” game show last week banned Canadian contestants. As someone who spent two years as a resident of Canada and one year working on the radio with the late Art Fleming, the first and greatest host of “Jeopardy!” I feel uniquely qualified to over-analyze this.

Apparently, the reason for the ban on Canadians (except for Alex Trebek, the pride of Sudbury, Ontario, who usurped Art Fleming’s throne and whose name Art could barely bring himself to utter) has something to do with Canada’s new digital privacy laws.

The producers fear that the questionnaire that would-be contestants have to fill out might somehow violate the new law, possibly costing the show a $10 million fine. Even with the Canadian dollar (unfortunately named the “loonie” for the bird that graces the coin) now worth 72.6 cents U.S., a $7,260,000 fine is nothing to sneeze at.

Of course, this is part of fomenting the anti-Canadian sentiment we’ll want before the invasion.

Canadians are not like you and me. They eat poutine.

Another Joke I Get Thirty Years Later

So I watched the 1984 film Romancing the Stone, and at the beginning, when John Colton meets Joan Wilder, she offers him $375 in traveler’s checks to take her to town. He asks if they’re American Express.

Because Michael Douglas, who played John Colton, was in Streets of San Francisco with Karl Malden, who later was the pitch man for American Express Traveller’s Cheques.

Douglas and Malden remained good friends after the detective show ended, so this probably is an inside joke.

Cutting The Source of That Thing That Daddy Always Says

On Saturday mornings, I often remind my children, “Es Sábado Gigante!”

I must have seen a bit of it on Univision once in the early 1990s.

Well, all gigante things must come to an end:

Sábado Gigante, the quirky, iconic, 53-year-old variety show that has been a fixture for generations of U.S. Hispanics, will broadcast for the last time on Saturday night. As they prepared to say farewell, Sábado’s beloved host, Don Francisco, and his followers looked back on their time together with nostalgia and emotion.

“I started doing this when I was 22 years old, and since then, my whole adult life has transpired,” Mario Kreutzberger (Don Francisco’s real name), told El Nuevo Herald shortly before a taping for Saturday’s show. Kreutzberger, 74, married, raised three children (including a son named Francisco) and had nine grandchildren.

It’s not as though I’ll stop saying it, but there’s no chance my children will catch it while flipping through cable in college and think of me.

Why Daddy Says It That Way

So I bought my children some bagged breakfast cereal because I’m a miser sometimes:

Dyno Bites

And whenever I serve it to them, I call them “Fruity…. DY-NO-BITES!”

Because J.J.:

Back in the latter part of the 1970s and the early part of the 1980s, I lived in a housing project myself, which explains why I identified more with J.J. and Dwayne from What’s Happening!! than any suburban-based sitcoms from the era.

Book Report: The Avengers #2: The Laugh Was On Lazarus by John Garforth (1967)

Book coverThis book did not have Iron Man in it. I guess Robert Downey, Jr., wanted too much to do it.

I guess not; this is the wrong The Avengers. This set is the 1960s British Secret Agents, mod 60s woman Emma Peel and staid John Steed. I’ve never seen the series, and I even missed the almost twenty year old film starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

It’s a slightly silly, disjointed book. A biotech company can raise the dead, and there’s a priest, and zombie American servicemen who can remember how to fly a stolen plane to the Pentagon. Or to New York.

I don’t know what to make of the story, how it relates to the others in the series, or to the television program. The book has a lot of interior Steed attracted to Peel but unable to say, and I don’t know if this is something that showed up in the program or if it’s a bit of the author’s own invention, thinking that Steed would because what man is not hot for Diana Rigg in a cat suit? I’ve seen that sort of thing before in books, although I cannot recall in which television series or movie novelization book report I remarked on it.

At any rate, of the two period television shows whose tie-in books I’ve read recently, the Kung Fu books (here and here) are better.

But I’ve got a couple more from The Avengers; maybe they’ll grow on me since I’m not going into them cold.

Books mentioned in this review:

Why I Gave Up On Downton Abbey

A couple years ago, I got swept up in the Downton Abbey mania, and by “got swept up in,” I mean my beautiful wife and I had gotten a Roku and were looking for something to watch on Amazon Prime when we agreed on this British program because so many other people were watching it and because my wife likes British accents.

But I gave up on it after a couple of seasons for a couple of reasons which I’ll go into below the fold. Be advised, there are spoilers below.
Continue reading “Why I Gave Up On Downton Abbey”

A Show I Didn’t Give Up On: Almost Human

Sadly, although I’m years behind, I’m almost through with the series Almost Human.

Almost Human

The series, if you’re not familiar with it, takes place a couple decades from now. Technology has advanced, and criminals have new means indistinguishable from magic for committing their crimes. A cop is injured in an ambush and loses a leg; it’s replaced with a prosthetic. Worse, he’s an old-school throwback kind of cop, and he doesn’t like being paired with an android. Instead of choosing the normal kind, he gets paired with the last of a line of androids programmed to have feelings–but all the others were decommissioned for going crazy. Together, they work on some crimes revolving around different science fiction technologies.

Unfortunately, it lasted only a season. The show kind of fell in a middle spot between two audiences: young geeks who watch things like Lost, The X-Files, Sleepy Hollow, and the comic book shows might have liked it, but it was a bit episodic and cop-showish. The show had a couple of overarching mysteryesque story lines that extended for a couple of episodes with little hints–Did the cop’s girlfriend at the time of the ambush, who has since disappeared, have something to do with the gang that ambushed him? What are these strange memories from someone else implanted in the android’s memory banks? However, these mysteries seem to have gotten dropped in favor of completely detached episodes. And the audiences that drive cop shows for decades, who like episodic plots, (that is, older people) might not have enjoyed the science fiction element. So it didn’t get renewed.

It definitely fell into my sweet spot, though. A throwback cop in the future, isolated from others around him. He’s sweet on a fellow officer, but she’s a Chrome–a genetically altered person who’s just discovering the camaraderie of her own kind as opposed to her fellow police like him. So the last episode ends with him alone out in the city, brooding.

Suddenly, it reminded me a lot of the Tex Murphy games.

Mean Streets/Tex Murphy

For those of you who don’t know, the Tex Murphy games feature a throwback private investigator in San Francisco about the same time as Almost Human, but it’s a post-apocalyptic San Francisco with mutants and whatnot. But the premise is a bit noir and a bit tongue in cheek. It started with Mean Streets in the early 1990s–I played it on my old 286. Remember when you referred to computers by the chip inside? The Olden Days. I liked the Mean Street so much that I wrote Access Software a letter (in the mail, child, in the mail!) and expressed hope for a sequel. Access sent me a very nice form letter about not accepting unsolicited ideas or resumes. So I sent them a resume from my twenty-year-old self. (I was not hired.) Eventually, though, Access did add other titles to the line, but I picked them up after my prime computer game playing days (that is, college). So I bought them, noodled with them, and sold them or gave them away.

“I wonder if the Tex Murphy games are on Steam,” I said to my wife after the penultimate episode of Almost Human.

So they are. The complete pack for $29.99. And there’s a new Tex Murphy title for Tesla Effect.

So after I watch the final episode of Almost Human, I might be crazy enough to buy one or more of these games and give it a go.

Which probably means I’ll do like I’ve done with every new game since Civ IV came out in 2005: Install it, run it once, make it through the introduction, and decide I don’t want to waste my time on video games when I have so many books to read.

All this would have been far easier if there’d been a second season of Almost Human.

Why I Gave Up On Sleepy Hollow

So I’m prone to bouts of picking new geek-friendly shows on television and recording them for my later viewing. How later? Sometimes years later. I’m only a year late on Sleepy Hollow. And I won’t be getting any further behind.

Okay, it’s a story about a man who’s been under a spell for a couple hundred years; Ichabod Crane, instead of the slightly philandering bookish dandy from the story is a spy for George Washington and an action hero. He awakens to head off the apocalypse when the headless horseman and other horsemen from the book of Revelation are trying to get a foothold in our world. So it calls for a certain suspension of disbelief. It’s our world, but strange things are happening in it. I can suspend disbelief.

But there are a number of things about the real world that the series gets wrong that sticks in my craw, and I can’t let them go.

I can forgive that the deputy he partners with has the high rank of lieutenant just so he can call her leftenant.

The commingling of the sheriff’s department and the village police force, though. They share office space, okay, that happens. But when the sheriff is killed in the pilot, all of a sudden, the sheriff’s deputies are getting ordered around by The Captain. Presumably of the village police. Which is a different police force, so he would not be able to give orders. And the sheriff’s dead, and no one gets appointed to act as sheriff and there’s no talk about who might stand for election for sheriff or if there’s a need for a special election. It’s not germane to the plots of the stories, but it’s how things are done.

And there’s the last episode I started, “John Doe” (episode 5) where the lost colony of Roanoke is found hidden away but all infected with a medieval plague that slips into our world, and Crane shows signs of it while outside an isolation ward with the head of the CDC task force assigned to monitor or whatever the plague, and they dramatically haul Crane off for isolation, but not everyone else in the room who has been exposed to Crane while he was symptomatic. That bothered me because it’s not the way that should have been handled, and also because my confidence in our CDC these days is that they might actually handle it that way.

But the thing that just absolutely killed it for me was the way this. We come out of commercial break often to an establishing shot showing a sign with Sleepy Hollow on it and the population:

And someone immediately slaps a hand on the table and exclaims, “It’s a small town!”

144,000 people is not a small town. It’s a small city. Probably with bike paths and sushi joints. A small town is 5,000 or less. Even the Census Bureau tries to convince us that towns of 10,000 or more are urban areas. But the writers of Sleepy Hollow want us to think a city is a small town. Where are those writers from? New York City? Mexico City? Shanghai? Sleepy Hollow lies 30 miles from New York City. Do you know what’s 30 miles from a real small town? Another small town.

Bonus disgust every time the leftenant deputy sheriff is the one doing the exclaiming about the small town. Because her jurisdiction is not the town, it’s Westchester County.

The series provided so many groaners that I couldn’t get past them. Especially the small town thing. So I had to give it up.

Book Report: God, Man, and Archie Bunker by Spencer Marsh (1975, 1976)

Book coverWhy did I pick up this book? Because I’m old enough to remember who Archie Bunker was, and because I’ve taken to picking up slim mass market paperbacks to stick into my pockets when I might have a bit of time to read when I’m out and about and don’t want to spend it all on my smartphone.

This book is a small polemic written by a Presbyterian minister right as the television show All in the Family was coming into the fore. The minister sets up little chapters where he explains some about Archie, and why he’s a bad Christian whose beliefs and bombasm are not in line with the Christianity he sometimes tries to espouse. That’s about it. Here’s a chapter on Archie and the Bible, Archie and the Ten Commandments, Archie and the Prodigal Son, “The Good Edith”, and pretty much in each he leaps off from some incident in the show into a mini-sermon.

As an intersection between theology and pop-culture, it’s bound to be a little heavier on the latter, but it’s an unconvincing little book.

Funny thing about Archie Bunker. As I understand it, he was built to be the bad guy, but people related to him. He was a traditional, albeit crude and poorly spoken, member of the old generation that was out of touch with the modern, sixties person. But people related to his problems in understanding the changes going on in society and with those who would compel him to change. And somehow that gruff character carried a sitcom twelve seasons. Kind of like the modern day Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation. Although this latter character was originally intended to be a foil for the star’s character, he was a man’s man Libertarian, and he’s the one from whom Internet memes are made. Because people even in the twenty-first century relate. And the sitcom writers and producers are shocked by what sells. Because they’re professionals or something.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Home Is Where The Quick Is by William Johnston (1971)

Book coverWhen I was looking for a paperback to read, I found this book on my shelves and thought, “Is that the William Johnston?” Which pretty much ensures I’m the only one to ask that question in the last 25 years, or maybe ever.

This is a 1971 novel based on the television show The Mod Squad, which was about a trio of young detectives in LA. They were young and hip. Mod. You dig it? At any rate, wow, that show had a bad syndication deal or something. I’ve never actually seen it. I don’t remember it replaying later in the 1970s when I was a kid with naught but a television to entertain myself. So I went into the book without anything but precursory knowledge of the program.

Which is unlike the other too William Johnston television-show-turned-novels books I’ve read, and I think it comes out a little here. It’s probably the same problem you get when you drop into the middle of a series: the book knows the characters and assumes you know a bunch about the characters, too, so it doesn’t get too much into that. Instead, onto the adventure that is more complex than a half hour sitcom plot (in the case of the Happy Days and Welcome Back, Kotter books I read) or an hour-long cop drama.

The plot: Someone kills a well-liked cop, Al Quick, who might have been dirty, and it might have something to do with a safe place for drug-addicted youth called simply Home (you see where the title comes from, do you?). It also might have something to do with a gambler named Gino Paul (seriously). And the well-liked cop’s brother is an inspector who insists upon frequent briefings and seems very eager to close the case. It’s a pretty thin plot hung upon a number of discrete scenes, too many of which are the detectives chatting with each other and wondering how they could miss the obvious for a couple more minutes or pages.

It’s a short read, and it is what it is. Apparently, a collector’s item based on the price from Amazon.

You know, there are so many paperback writers from the 1960s and 1970s who plied the trade and put out a lot of books and made a living at it that are mostly forgotten today. I guess that’s William Johnston. The books touted at the end of the book include the early Executioner books, the first Death Merchant, the first Butcher, some science fiction by Don Pendleton (!), and whatnot. Interesting stuff. Well, for me anyway.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Sweathog Newshawks by William Johnston (1976)

Book coverHow long have I owned this book? Here’s a photoshopped cover of it I did in July 2005. Oftentimes, I’ve picked it up when looking for something quick to read between weightier things, but Robert Hegyes, who played Esposito in Welcome Back, Kotter died, and I heard “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian on the radio (in tribute to the aforementioned Hegyes). So now seemed the time.

You know what? This is a pretty good book for such as it is.

I’ve read books based on hourlong dramas before (Adam-12 here and here, Murder, She Wrote here), but this might be the first book I’ve read based on a half hour sitcom. And it was pretty witty and true to the characters. While I didn’t laugh out loud at any of it, I was amused enough to want to watch some of the old programs and maybe come up with other books in the series.

As with any 70s paperback, the order forms in the back are always a treat. The books available in paperback immediately preceding this book include several in the Get Smart book series and other pulp. I’ve never, to my recollection, seen a book where the order forms are clipped, indicating someone has actually used them to order books. I wonder if the sort of people who did that were the sort of people to throw books out when they were done, or whether there never really was that sort of people.

UPDATE: How soon they forget. While cataloging this book, I learned I’d already read something by this author. That would be a Happy Days book, Ready to Go Steady, which I read in 2009. This book is far better than that Happy Days book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Generational Skipping Stones

In the other room, my children are watching an episode of The New Scooby Doo Movies with Davy Jones in it.

The program originally aired on December 2, 1972, so I probably didn’t see it when it ran first. A couple years later, I watched it with my mother and brother, and I remember distinctly the joke that Davy Jones makes “I’ve never sung for frogs before, just monkeys.” She explained that he used to belong to a band called the Monkees.

Of course, the Monkees were most active between 1966 and 1968, when the television show appeared, but a decade later when I watched the cartoon, Davy Jones was a has-been, if a little boy thought of such things. Regardless, he was off my cultural radar, if I had such a thing at about 10.

Of course, a couple years after that, in 1985, MTV started airing the television program and brought about a brief Monkees revival. The shows played on MTV and Nickolodeon, the band toured, and I even ended up with a greatest hits album.

When the children heard that Scooby Doo was meeting Davy Jones, their only knowledge was of the guy with the locker. Although this reference precedes any of the pop-culture musings above since it’s a nautical term for the undersea place where drowned sailors go, the boys only know of it from what they’ve heard about the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series.

That’s a lot of generational history wrapped into a single episode of a forty-year-old cartoon.

Burns and Allen v. Whitney

As I mentioned, I’ve been recording episodes of the sitcom Whitney because I think Whitney is cute. So I’ve given it two episodes, and Meh.

VHS coverIt didn’t help Whitney‘s case at all that I watched four episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show on VHS in between the pilot and the second episode I watched (“Two Broke-Up Guys”, actually the sixth episode, which indicates I did not set my DVR to record all of the episodes) of the more modern sitcom. The differences are startling.

The modern comedy, including the Seinfeld seasons I previously reviewed, starts with a situational premise. The two Whitney episodes deal with 1)A wedding leads Whitney to try to spice up her relationship with her longterm live-in boyfriend, and 6)A friend of Whitney’s boyfriend ends their friendship because he thinks Whitney has influenced the boyfriend too much.

With those overarching situations, we then get to individual scenes that rely on the characters’ caricatured behavior and the other characters reactions to it. Also, the humor is pretty sexual in nature, as Whitney spices up her relationship by dressing as a naughty nurse and sending her boyfriend to the hospital, et cetera.

By contrast, the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show starts out with a situation–a card game, a visit from a friend or relative with some active children who stymie George as he tries to write a speech. Then we get individual scenes that rely on Gracie saying silly things and the other characters react to it. Then, in the middle, the pitchman comes into the scene and tells the characters present about Carnation Evaporated Milk.

You know, the structure isn’t that much different. I guess the difference really lies in the humor. The old Burns and Allen show places a lot of stock in wordplay and the occasional straight-up gag as Burns addresses the audience. Burns and Allen got their starts in vaudeville, early movies, and radio, so they have to be staccato.

Or maybe it’s that’ I’m an old man, even older than I was when I watched the first two seasons of Seinfeld last year, and comedy set in a city (Chicago, of all places) with young, unmarried people doesn’t speak to me. An older married couple (in their middle 50s in the 1950s, no less) who love each other and live in the suburbs, I like.

So I think I’ll dustbin the rest of the Whitney and find more grainy, clever comedy that makes my wife laugh.

DVD Report: Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2

DVD coverAfter reading The Seinfeld Universe, I saw the first two seasons available on DVD for $1.50. I bought them, of course, and now I’ve watched them.

The first two seasons of Seinfeld (and The Seinfeld Chronicles, as it was originally known) ran roughly during my first year of college, including the first summer I spent back in Milwaukee. I pretty much lit out for my birthplace the Monday after my graduation from the high school in House Springs, Missouri. Which will explain why I didn’t see them when they first aired: I was too busy with my first job (working almost full time while shirking my first year of school en route to losing a full ride scholarship at Marquette), trying to learn piano and writing a song for a Southern belle who only mocked me for it, growing a mullet that started pretty much from my not getting a haircut for a long time, shirking actual classes by hiding in the Memorial Library and getting busted occasionally by the Pop Cop because I realized I could find a book about anything there, and cruising the streets and highways of Wisconsin (and occasionally Illinois to go to Barnaby’s in Schaumburg because we’d once gone there to bring back a pizza on a bet) while wailing out the hits of Icehouse and Bad English with Chris and Deb (who is my first girlfriend, except she was 34 when I was 20).


The first two seasons are a total of 16 episodes, 8 “hours” of television (minus commercial time). Good for a one-a-night sort of viewing, or a one-every-couple-nights viewing pattern if that’s your pleasure (it was mine, sort of).

One of the knocks on the series concept, according to the book The Seinfeld Universe, was that the book was too Jewish and too New York. Twenty years later, I’d say the show was a bit urban for my taste, but I’m entering middle age now and live not in the suburbs, but in the areas where the suburbs will be in twenty years. The exurbs. Almost rural. So the show is a little outside my sweet spot of relatability. Also, I’ve been married my entire thirties, so I don’t know I relate to thirty-somethings having the problems I had when I was twenty-five. I’d probably make the same criticism of a number of other programs, but I don’t watch most sitcoms. Bloody heck, the only television show I’ve watched from the recent past is Human Target (although I’m recording Whitney because they played the ads enough during football and I think Whitney’s cute, but whether I watch them depends on two factors: one, whether I get around to seeing them before my DVR’s non-moving parts stop non-moving and two, whether my beautiful wife reads this review and reacts to the “Whitney is cute” thing enough to make me guiltily erase the shows unseen–although in my defense, I’d like to say I thought Whitney Houston was cute back in the day, too–come to think of that, my defense is further excavation). Half-hour sitcoms have lost a lot since Sledge Hammer!.

The shows were amusing, and they were not “about nothing” as they claimed. They had their conceits and their topical humor built on those conceits. They were about something, but not something I can relate to A)twenty years later, B)older than the characters, and C)more Midwesternly stablely married than the characters.

I only had one belly laugh in the whole collection, and that was in a moment of physical humor. The rest amused me, but it did not Touch My Life as it did so many people in the 1990s. As did Friends, apparently. Maybe we’re older and wiser now, but do sitcoms today touch us like they did in those days (purportedly)? Watercooler and Internet talk these days focuses on really intriguey dramas. Well, that’s the zeitgeist now, I guess.

Do I recommend it? If you can find it for $1.50 without shipping and handling, hey, why not?

Books mentioned in this review:

The Wayback Machine Is ON!

Apparently, Jason Bateman tweeted:

It’s true. We will do 10 episodes and the movie. Probably shoot them all together next summer for a release in early ’13. VERY excited!

I responded:

Thank goodness! I was very distraught when “It’s Your Move” ended abruptly.

It’s Your Move, as you know, was Jason Bateman’s first sitcom. Well, he had been on Silver Spoons and Little House on the Prairie, but It’s Your Move was his first starring vehicle. It only lasted a season.

Sometimes, one might confuse Jason Bateman with Jerry O’Connell (or one might think someone else might). Jerry O’Connell’s big breakout was My Secret Identity, which ran several seasons in syndication.

Of course, my wife is not familiar with such things; her English teacher mother did not let her watch television. Whereas I was a latchkey kid living either in a trailer park or in a valley off of a dirt road, consigned to whatever snow-occluded broadcast television could reach me.

I hope this will become relevant sometime in a Jeopardy! taping.

Why Can’t Modern Football Players Act?

So someone help me out here: why don’t modern football players transition to acting careers as successfully as old timey football players did?

In the Olden Days, we have:

In the modern era, we have, what? Brett Favre in There’s Something About Mary? Brian Bosworth in Stone Cold?

Take a look at this list: 50 Football Players Who Acted in Movies and note that the ones who could be said to have made a successful transition to films and television played prior to the 1980s, and that most of the roles from then on are as “Self”? Is it a transition in football culture? Is it that older players were better-rounded and most professionals these days are football robots, funnelling all their energy into it from an early age?