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Friday, Dec 4, 2009

If ‘80s cartoons like ThunderCats, Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man can be said to have one thing in common, it’s that none of them withstand objective scrutiny. If you can still claim to enjoy these or most any other animated series from the ‘80s on anything but the most ironic level, then your nostalgia is far more durable than mine.


To be fair, though, the aim of such shows was simply to sell toys, and in that regard they were indisputably triumphant. Not a single show among them was produced with the expectation that stunted weirdos like me would still be pondering their legacies two decades later; no writer or animator could have possibly anticipated such artistic accountability while preparing the latest episode of Silverhawks.


Still, to cite ThunderCats again, while no reasonable person expects an anthropomorphic lion in a powder blue unitard to seem as cool in 2009 as he (inexplicably) seemed in 1985, I know that I am not alone in feeling disappointed that even the animation in these old shows now seems clunky and inconsistent and mostly embarrassing (He-Man is something of an exception, in that Filmation cut so many corners and relied on stock poses and the like to such an extent that the animation, though minimalist, remains fluid and organic to some degree).


Tagged as: bionic six
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Thursday, Dec 3, 2009
When you look at your Tivo queue, what do you really see?

Can we take one second here and remember life before Tivo? In some ways, things were much simpler. If a show was on and you wanted to watch it, you watched it. If you wanted to watch it later, you stuck a tape in your VCR and maybe, if you were really, really serious about things like this, you learned how to program it (although most people just hit record and hoped for the best). Sure, there were some advanced features toward the end (and I’ll be honest—at one time I had four TVs in four different rooms with four VCRs attached to them… a story for another day), but for the most part, life was simpler.


However, now we have Tivo. And Tivo is no longer a new and strange entity—my mother has Tivo—so I am not going to waste time listing the many ways in which life with Tivo is superior to the barbarism of the VCR era. Tivo not only does away with the need for physical tapes, but it also provides various methods to categorize the shows that you have recorded. You can categorize by series, by genre, by channel, by date… but that is just not quite enough. What I propose is a system that gets at the real categories of items on my Tivo. Because when I click on my Tivo menu and look at my list of shows, here is what I see…


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Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009
Set an end date. Save the show.

For the last few seasons, Heroes has lost viewers at a steady rate. If it was on any network other than NBC, which seems to have less concern for ratings success since the Jay Leno experiment, its cancellation would be all but guaranteed after another drop this year. But the show still has fans. Despite being frustrated by the ill-defined characters and incomprehensible plot twists, I’m one of those who has watched the show from episode one and plans to stick with it to what is increasingly looking like a bitter end.


There is still hope to salvage the show for the diehard viewers. But it will require that NBC cancel it first. 


This is not unprecedented, of course. Lost is about to start its predetermined final season. A couple of years ago, the producers and ABC got together and decided how many more episodes were needed to wrap up the show. Such collaboration and scheduled cancellation should be the new industry standard for serialized mythology shows.


Tagged as: heroes, lost, nbc, tim kring
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Tuesday, Dec 1, 2009
What's wrong with Glee? Inability to find a tone that works, confusing ridiculously stupid plotlines for compelling drama, and Auto-Tune. Wretched, wretched Auto-Tune.

I’ve sort of been watching Glee for the last few months. I say “sort of” because I watched the first four or five episodes relatively quickly back in September, but the rest of the season’s episodes had been languishing on my DVR for the past month or so. But it’s Thanksgiving Break this week, and it’s given me the opportunity to start to get caught up on the show.


I enjoyed the first couple of episodes. The pilot was highly entertaining, aside from a few niggling issues which I sincerely hoped the producers would iron out once the show began in earnest. Unfortunately, the show’s problems have only become more prominent as the season has gone on. The idea of a show about the misfits and outcasts of a high school glee club appealed to me. The fact that the show was relatively successful was also a nice change of pace from the days when Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared were put on the air with a death sentence practically already hanging over them.


But I just watched episode six (“Vitamin D”, the one where Terri becomes the school nurse), and I give up. I can’t take it anymore. The show is just not entertaining enough to overcome its faults. Creator Ryan Murphy seems to want the show to be an over-the-top satire of high school life, which I get. The high school student aspect is actually the most enjoyable part of the show. The popular kids feel entitled, the outcasts feel like crap, and everybody is trying to outdo everybody else and move up (or at least over) on the social ladder. The problem is that Murphy isn’t satisfied with the show being a winking satire, he also wants the audience to take the dramatic plotlines seriously. But how can we, when it’s all so cartoonish? How can I care about whether Glee Club director Will Schuester stays with his wife, Terri, or ends up with Emma, the cute school counselor, when his wife has literally no redeeming qualities. She’s mean, spiteful, lazy, and jealous, and we don’t understand why he’s married to her in the first place. To top it off, the show began a storyline with her where she is lying to Will about being pregnant, and he can’t figure it out. Of course we want Will to end up with Emma, because everything about Terri is awful, awful, awful. That’s not a love triangle, it’s viewer torture.


Meanwhile, Emma is dating the aggravating, desperate football coach simply because he’s persistent. She has zero interest in him, but since she can’t have Will, she is settling. Despite the fact that she’s obsessive-compulsive and unwilling to touch anything with her bare hands and finds the football coach physically repulsive. These interpersonal storylines with the adults don’t work as satire, or straight comedy, or drama, and they drag the show down every time they show up.


The actors don’t seem to know how to play this material, either, which doesn’t help. Matthew Morrison plays Will as a naive sad-sack who is also a wildly enthusiastic teacher who nonetheless gets very easily discouraged. Will gets pushed around by everybody, from his wife to the principal to the cheerleading coach (more on her in a minute). It doesn’t make him an underdog you want to root for, it just makes him pathetic. Jessalyn Gilsig has done solid work in the past, but as Terri she vacillates between shrewish and crazy, and none of it is the slightest bit believable, even in the over-the-top universe of the show. The only actor on the show who does seem to get what Ryan Murphy is going for is Jane Lynch as hard-ass cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. Lynch is hilarious every time she’s on screen, playing Sue as an intensely driven, highly opinionated character who nonetheless manages to seem like a real person.


The Glee universe is one where good singers at a rival school are held back until they’re age 24 so they can keep performing. It’s one where spotlights appear out of nowhere so characters can break into song. And it’s one where rehearsals always feature fully-formed versions of the songs the students are supposedly practicing. All of that is acceptable within the heightened setting of the show. But we’ve also seen the Glee Club get into major trouble with school officials and parents over performing Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” at a pep rally. And then a couple of episodes later, Schuester’s all-male singing group gets invited to perform at a PTA meeting, and nobody bats an eye when the group (which includes students) sings Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up”. The inconsistency is aggravating, and shows incredible laziness on the part of the producers when it comes to even the most basic details.


And then there’s the Auto-Tune. I know that pop music has been inundated with Auto-Tune over the past five years or so, but the kids of the glee club are supposed to all be good singers! The actors were hired because they could all sing as well as act. And the producers think we won’t notice—or worse, won’t care—when we hear those touches of robot voice every time Finn, the lead male vocalist, sings something? And it’s not just Finn, it shows up at least a little bit with all of the kids in the show. Clearly, the runaway success of the songs on iTunes shows that a lot of people really don’t care about this. But as a music geek, it absolutely takes me out of the show every time I hear the Auto-Tune.


Maybe the show has picked up as it went through October and resumed here in November, but I don’t care enough anymore to find out. The basic story about the underdog glee kids trying to beat out the rival school powerhouse is fine. The storylines about the high school kids are generally solid. And Jane Lynch is awesome. But those good points are not enough to overcome the frustration I feel over the rest of the show. Good riddance, Glee. I leave you to the gleeks out there.


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Monday, Nov 30, 2009
The Hills finale airs Tuesday, December 1 at 10PM on MTV. The question, at this point, is whether anyone will be watching it. This intrepid blogger braved the inanity of the most recent season to let you know what has been happening.

Previously on The Hills: Heidi and Spencer got married; at the last minute, Lauren decided to attend the wedding, before leaving the show to pursue life in the real world; Kristin returned to town to shake things up, causing a completely unrealistic wave of whispering and gossip among the other weddings guests; and we all stopped caring and forgot that this show existed.


Yes, the sudden reappearance of Kristin Cavallari, whose presence can only be considered a return for those of us who started watching all of these awful people on Laguna Beach, was the jump-the-shark moment for many viewers. Ratings for the show have plummeted this season, down more than 33 percent from the previous season. As Lauren Conrad went off to try to define herself apart from the show (how is that working out for her?), the obvious engineering of Kristin’s return veered the show even closer to WWF-levels of unreality. In addition, the scenes of Heidi and Spencer had become so obviously scripted, and they failed so utterly to sound like actual humans, that viewers were unable to suspend disbelief any longer. 


I too vowed that the show had crossed that line for me, and so I am proud to say that I survived the past two months without watching a single second of the new season. Then, a funny thing happened. My wife was in the shower, I was flipping through the channel listings, and I saw MTV’s afternoon lineup of “The Hills / The Hills / The Hills / The Hills….”  Like many people (right?), I have never been able to resist a Hills marathon. Even when I watched the show religiously, I regularly spent Saturday and Sunday afternoons lazing on the couch re-watching the same characters engaging in the same conversations about the same things. Had I seen this episode already? Did it really matter? The irony, of course, is that every episode of The Hills is basically the same. Characters hook up, text each other about it, go to a party/opening/concert/fashion show where they fight about it, and then engage in the most sublimely incoherent conversations about everything that has gone on. Each episode ends as we fade out on an appropriately sad/angry/happy song by Kelly Clarkson/Britney Spears/some-crappy-band-the-show-is-obviously-promoting.


So, when I saw those hours of unseen Hills episodes staring me in the face, I could not help but feeling overcome with curiosity for what I had been missing.  And what has been going on, you might ask?


Exactly what you might expect. Kristin is desperately trying to graft herself onto the scene by screaming at every female on the show and hooking up with every male on the show, Speidi continue their rapid descent into obscurity (shown here renting a house, bickering about marriage, and contemplating – seriously – bringing a child into the world), and the ancillary characters continue to orbit the cameras and the leads, keeping the plastic surgeons of Los Angeles afloat as they try to make themselves good looking enough to have their own storylines. Stephanie Pratt is, at this point, approaching Michael Jackson territory. 


I will not lie and pretend that I did not fully enjoy watching this marathon. There were plenty of shouting matches, scenes of obvious acting, and WTF moments to keep me thoroughly entertained. And, as always, there were several sublime moments where I could not help but giving thanks for living in America in 2009. For example, after standing Kristin up for the second time, Justin-Bobby texted the phrase “Sorry boo, strike two.” That actually happened (or, well, you know, it kind of actually happened).


Overall, there is a lot to watch for in The Hills finale on Tuesday night. Will Kristin choose Brody or Justin-Bobby? Will Heidi succeed in her secret plan to get pregnant? Will anyone show up to the “live after-party” that MTV kept promoting during the marathon?


Who knows. I guess the rest is still unwritten.


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