It’s Thanksgiving time and 1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties continues with a look at the biggest night of network television that year–NBC’s Thursday night Must See TV lineup! Join me and my wife, Amanda, as we sit and watch the episodes of Mad About You, Friends, and Seinfeld that aired on November 17, 1994. It’s a kinda sorta commentary?
There’s a running joke that Michael Bailey (of Views From the Longbox fame) and I have going about us having “the same childhood”–being close in age and having grown up being able to watch a lot of the same TV channels, he and I have a lot of shared experiences when it comes to entertainment from the 1980s and 1990s. What makes this coincidence possibly more weird than funny, however, is that we both have the same mutant power. Both Mike and I have the ability to remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first saw a particular movie, heard a certain song, read a certain comic book, or encountered a number of other pieces of popular culture. I can take it one step further and tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when my mutant power manifested itself. It was the day after Thanksgiving in 1994 and I was in my friend Vanessa’s kitchen. My girlfriend was breaking up with me over the phone and in the background of our conversation was Candlebox’s “Far Behind.”
Written as a tribute to Andrew Wood, the late singer of the seminal Seattle band Mother Love Bone, “Far Behind” is arguably the most well-known song off of Candlebox’s 1993 self-titled album. It was released on January 25, 1994 and peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100, although it’s important to note that it was on the charts for most of the year and by the end of November 1994 was still in the top 40, having dropped to #35. But chart position for rock in 1994 wasn’t terribly important to those of us who were living on a steady diet of any band that we thought was quality in the wake of the coming of Nirvana and Pearl Jam during my freshman and sophomore years of high school, and since Candlebox sounded similar to Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains, I heard songs like “You” (their first single) and “Far Behind” and picked up the album.
I honestly had no idea that this was a tribute song. In fact, I had no idea who Andrew Wood was back in 1994 and my only experience with Mother Love Bone was the song “Chole Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” which was on the Singles soundtrack. I figured it was a typical-for-the-era breakup song/torch song, and to be honest, the events surrounding the day after Thanksgiving 1994 definitely contributed to that, especially since I took that moment very hard and it would take the better part of a year for she and I to get around to being friends without “We had once gone out and you broke up with me and I’m still pissed” being the elephant in the room. And that had more than anything to do with my immaturity–even though we only went out for a couple of weeks, she was the first girl I’d ever really dated and therefore this was my first real breakup. So “Far Behind” became its theme song and every time I heard it, I’d picture myself hanging out with Vanessa, who was home on break from college, calling up the girlfriend, and hearing her awkwardly ramble her way through a breakup that ended with “Well, I think we should just be friends.” It got to the point where it was like I was following some sort of masochistic ritual, and when I signed her yearbook that June I drove home the point by quoting the opening lines: “Well maybe I didn’t mean to treat you bad, but I did it anyway.” Because, you know, I was a senior in high school but when it came to girls I sometimes felt like I was still in junior high.
Despite all that, she and I are still friends and in a weird sort of way, this is a belated thank-you note to her because most importantly, that breakup was where memories of certain events or people in my life really began to be associated with something in popular culture and I began to think along the lines of “I remember when I first saw/heard this.” I hadn’t listened to “Far Behind” in nearly twenty years before watching the video on YouTube–a video I had, by the way, never seen before because I didn’t have cable in high school, and one that is so very Nineties (seriously, the empty pool, the color scheme, the guy walking around aimlessly, the outfits … this isn’t a music video, it’s an artifact in a Nineties museum)–and that’s not because of my memories but more because of my changing tastes in music (unlike Live’s Throwing Copper which I refused to listen to for years because of a girl and now refuse to listen to because Live simply sucks). Hearing it now, I can still see the wood paneling in Vanessa’s house and remember our conversations about David Letterman before picking up her phone and having that conversation and having my stomach drop, a moment that at the time was painful but eventually became almost bittersweet because of its normalcy and innocence.
Save your seat on the couch, throw on some P-Funk, try to figure out the Caine-Hackman theory, work on your thesis, and get really offended because it’s time to take a look at the 1994 college flick PCU! Yeah, while it’s not the most important film of 1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties, it’s still one that we all remember, probably because of the number of times it aired on Comedy Central. Anyway, I take a look at the movie’s plot and talk about five of my favorite things about the Jeremy Piven classic.
Just because we’re both hideous doesn’t mean we’ll be compatible.
About five years ago, I was showing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to a room full of high school seniors. We got to the scene where the monster (Robert DeNiro), who is now at the point where he has Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh) by the throat and is forcing the good doctor to make him a bride from the tattered remains of Helena Bonham Carter. The Bride of Frankenstein, so to speak, emerges from the 19th-Century life-giving apparatus and Victor and the monster begin calling to her, telling her to come to each of them as if she’s a puppy trying to choose between two owners.
I went on to ask my students about how Hollywood is forever getting Frankenstein completely wrong as I thought about how I missed how bad this movie was back when I saw it in the theater in 1994. After all, by putting the name of the author above the title–a trend that eventually died out after William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet because … Shakespeare Wrote Romeo & Juliet? Thanks for telling me, Baz–Kenneth Branagh’s film purported to be the definitive adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel. And to a point, it actually works out pretty well–bride-dog moments aside, the basic structure of the plot is there–but in many areas it falls flat and that’s why I was wondering why I liked it when I was seventeen. Then I realized that like a few of my entertainment choices in the mid-1990s, this story begins with the phrase: “You see, there was this girl …”
While I know it shouldn’t, being on a date drastically changes your perspective on the film you’re watching. The night I went to see Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I was on my first official date with a girl I had been friends with for a couple of years, but we’d been hanging out a lot and that prompted me to do the math: our hanging out together + she knowing that I liked her = she might actually want to go out with me. This wouldn’t mean very much to your average seventeen-year-old boy, but I wasn’t exactly your average seventeen-year-old boy. I had spent the majority of my adolesence being painfully awkward around girls, acting immature and not knowing what to say. The more attracted I was to a girl, the worse that awkwardness was, and that is probably the reason I didn’t go on a single date until that night in November to see Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. So I spent most of the movie not concentrating on the film but trying to figure out how to properly behave so that the date went well and by the end of the night I could … well, I guess the experession “get to first base” would apply. In the blur of Branagh, Bonham Carter, DeNiro and Aidan Quinn (I remember his part because she squeed when she saw him), I worked on trying to find the right moment to put my arm around her, followed by trying to figure out a tactful way of taking my arm away when it started to go numb. It was ten times tougher than the calculus class I had every first period.
Not to brag, but I was successful. Okay, it’s not much of a brag because we walked from the movie theater to the corner near both of our houses and I spent what might have only been two minutes but felt like ten awkwardly and nervously chuckling and making small talk until I finally made a move and kissed her good night. It wasn’t my first kiss–that had come the previous summer when I was away in Europe–but it was my first “date” kiss, the first kiss that had the potential to lead to something more than a goodbye and a half-assed attempt at writing letters to one another for the first month after I got home. Never in my life had so much depended on one very chaste kiss at the end of the night; never in my life had a moment been so charmingly small town that they don’t even write those types of moments anymore.
I haven’t watched Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in its entirety since that moment in my classroom five years ago; I’ve been more or less permanently teaching sophomores since then and high-concept, high-budget horror from the 1990s isn’t as interesting to me as low-budget schlock from the 1980s. And I guess I’ll keep it that way because for once I don’t mind having a memory overshadow a movie.
The Ford Explorer after its update for the 1995 model year. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
I will fully admit that I’m not a car guy. I know very little aboutt the interior workins of an automobile, and don’t really care about what I am driving as long as it has four wheels and runs properly. In fact, I didn’t even get my license until after I graduated high school, and even then it was because I wanted to get my road test out of the way before heading to college. Still, like any of the guys I know who are into cars, I can appreciate a well-designed vehicle and did notice through the mid- to late-1990s how the automobiles I was seeing on the road were starting to change. By the time we hit the turn of the century, the SUV came to dominate, something os noticable that even The Washington Post Magazine was doing its cover story on how people in compact cars were afraid for their lives on the Beltway due to the high volume of Ford Expeditions (and how many of those Expeditions were being driven by the incompetent and the aggressive).
But the Expedition wasn’t king of the road yet in 1994, as most of the suburbanite families I knew were hauling kids around and running errands either in a minivan or in a Ford Taurus wagon, which was the last great station wagon. It was the best-selling car in the country at the time and held that status until 1997 when it was replaced by the Toyota Camry. I’m sure that there were many reasons for this, but a significant factor had to be Ford’s lackluster redesign of the Taurus in 1996, which effectively killed the sedan. That didn’t mean, however, that Ford didn’t make its mark in the mid-1990s because it did so with an SUV and a car: the Explorer and the Mustang.
Both of these cars already existed prior to 1994, obviously, but it’s important to note that this year saw important changes for both. The Explorer was a relative newcomer to suburban driveways, hvaving been introduced in 1990. SUVs weren’t as ubiquitous then as they are now–some people had Jeep Grand Cherokees, some had GMC Suburbans (which was more like a truck), and there was this infamous Ford Bronco that made its way down a Los Angeles freeway that June–so to own an Explorer back in its first few years meant that you had enough money to not need a Taurus and were a bit more sophisiticated than the average minivan owner. And if you had the Eddie Bauer edition Explorer? Well.
The 1994 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer edition. Image from Motortopia.
Really, very few things int he early 1990s say “Family plucked from the pages of a catalogue” than the Eddie Bauer edition of the Ford Explorer. Usuall hunter green, the SUV had an all-leather interior with the Eddie Bauer goose logo stitched into the seat backs and tan pinstriping with “Eddie Bauer” stenciled on side. There was one owned by a family a few blocks over from me, a car appropriate for its street–Handsome Avenue, which was a wide street lined with trees whose leaves cascaded beautifully to the ground each fall. I pictured that family wearing matching barn jackets while driving their Eddie Bauer edition Ford Explorer to some cabin on a lake where they would then spend their evenings drinking cocoa while sitting by a fire in their coordinating sweaters. Ford probably saw this and saw potential in it too, because even though the Eddie Bauer edition was out in 1993 or so, they redesigned the Explorer for the 1995 model year to be less boxy and more in line with the curvature of then-modern cars. Unlike the Taurus, this was a win and by the end of the decade, the Explorer, Expedition, and Excursion were just about everywhere.
Another win was the redesign of the Mustang, a car that helped define “muscle” during its heyday. but like quite a number of cars in the 1980s and early 1990s, it had fallen upon hard times aesthetically and was a shadow of its former shefl. The 1994 Mustang was Ford’s shot at changing that, a redesign that was going to return its famous sports car to its former glory, as evidence by this ad campaign:
The redesigned 1994 Ford Mustang. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The redesign worked and the new Mustang definitely made enough of a splash to get it noticed by even non-car guys like me. But honestly, if it went from 0-60 in 5.3 seconds, it went from 0-guido in 2.5. I don’t know if it was Ford’s intention, but whenever I think of this car, I picture it being colored bright teal, reeking of Parliaments and blasting Gina G. with the driver spackling on another layer of base while driving 75 in a 35 on the way to a club whose name includes the word “Dublin” to meet a Mustang-driving boyfriend who infused the once-great car with all of the tricked out features, gold chains, tank tops, backwards Yankees caps, and Drakkar Noir they could get their hands on.
And I know I spent my time here focusing on Ford when there are scores of other cars out there, but these two cars are two that would help define the suburban landscape for the latter part of the decade. Furthermore, they would help re-create the sense of the cars you own as a middle class status symbol, an affordable luxury that was beyond the utilitarian K-cars of the prior decade and showed how well you were at keeping up with everyone else.
My MSCL two-parter concludes with an extra-sized celebration through conversations with longtime fans of the show. Join me, Sarah Bunting (of TWoP and Previously.tv fame), Cory, Mark, Andrea, and chelle as we talk about MSCL, its impact on our lives, our history as fans, and the show’s legacy twenty years later.
Twenty years ago, a television show premiered that, while it lasted only one season, had a clear impact on its devoted fans. The show was My So-Called Life. In honor of its twentieth anniversary and its place in 1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties, here’s the first of two episodes. In this one, I give my so-called origin story and take a look at each episode.
Earlier this year, I sat down with Michael Bailey and talked about the comic books of 1994. He talked about how this was a landmark year for him as a comic collector because it was the year that the greater DC Universe opened up to him. I actually remember it as being a bit of the opposite. I didn’t stop collecting comics or anything, but I did find myself becoming more discerning as a comic book reader and collector. As I’ve thought about 1994 and its importance in the decade, I’ve come to realize that this also applies to Star Trek.
I was a pretty big Star Trek fan from the time I was about nine years old and saw Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for the first time in the movie theater and through most of junior high and the first year or two of high school. Being a fan of Trek wasn’t exactly popular at the time and I definitely took a fair amount of shit, but I seemed to take a fair amount of shit for simply breathing when I was in the eighth grade, so whatever.
Anyway, 1994 is a landmark year in Trek because it marked the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show that really cemented the concept of Star Trek as a show with a legacy beyond a 1960s television show and a series of popular movies starring the same group of people. I had been kind of cold to the show when it premiered in 1987 because I was huge fan of original series reruns and original series movies, but it grew on me. I never found myself watching it on a regular basis, but I do remember streaks of several weeks in a row because one episode hooked me in (my all-time favorite is the two-part cliffhanger “The Best of Both Worlds”).
“All Good Things,” which was the final episode of ST:TNG, aired on May 23, 1994 and being in the New York area, that was on WPIX at either 7:00 or 8:00 on a Saturday night. I missed the original airing because I had to go to some family party, so I programmed the ancient top-loading Panasonic VCR in our basement to tape it when I got home. For whatever reason–probably user error–it didn’t tape. I was bummed but apparently not bummed enough to try and find a rerun because I didn’t actually see “All Good Things” until about 2009 or 2010 when I found it randomly on cable one night.
But the Trek faithful didn’t have too much to be upset about that year when it came to losing their favorite show. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was still on the air (although I admittedly didn’t watch it) and that November, Star Trek: Generations hit theaters. This was a movie that was set up to be a pretty big deal–Kirk and Picard were going to be on screen together. There was time travel involved, of course, but it was going to be huge.
I missed this in the theater and when I eventually saw it on video, I was kind of glad I did. Star Trek: Generations is not that great of a movie. It’s not Star Trek V horrible by any means, but it definitely follows the pattern of odd-numbered Trek movies being “meh.” Granted, I haven’t watched it in two decades so I may be wrong, and that’s why I’m not going in-depth with a review of it or offering up a podcast episode.
What strikes me, though, when thinking about this, was how it was one of the first times where I hit a point that I definitely could say that I was at the end of my fandom of something. It’s not that I stopped liking Star Trek by any means–in fact, I went and saw First Contact in the theater (and thought it was pretty good)–it’s that I was no longer so attached to it. And really, I wasn’t used to that. Since then, it’s happened with several things from bands like Metallica to comics like Batman, but Trek was the first “living” thing that I could turn to and feel a specific nostalgia for (as opposed to long-dead cartoons like Voltron, for instance), as if it reminded me of a place, time, and attitude that was no longer there.
Sit back, relax, drink some of Jimmy’s coffee, give your girl a foot massage and make sure the gimp has a $5 milkshake, it’s time to take a look at the movie of 1994: Pulp Fiction. I take a look at each section of the movie, talk a little bit about the film’s soundtrack and discuss its lasting influence as well as why it should have been Best Picture.
I could not spend a whole year talking about 1994 and calling it “the most important year of the Nineties” if I didn’t take the time to talk about the film from 1994 that would go on to win best picture: Forrest Gump. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it is the story of a simple-minded man (the un-PC term would be “mentally retarded”) who winds up living an extraordinary life. Told through mostly flashbacks, the story concerns Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), who is sitting on a bus stop bench in 1982 on his way to see Jenny, who as we learn over the course of the movie, is the love of his life. He tells his life story to anyone who happens to be sitting next to him (as well as the audience): born in Alabama, Forrest has a low I.Q. and had to wear braces on his legs as a kid until one day he learned how to run. This served him well more than once, as he played for the University of Alabama football team, served in Vietnam, played diplomatic ping pong, opened a shrimping company, and started a running craze. Along the way, we also see the life of his girl, Jenny (Robin Wright), who had a life that directly contrasts Hanks’s characcter: she was abused as a child, became a hippie, and spent much of her formative years in a drug- and alcohol-induced haze until finally coming home to Alabama and living with Forrest before leaving (which prompts Forrest to start running and the creation of his running craze). When Forrest and Jenny meet up after he’s done telling his story, she tells him that she is dying and that she has a son named Forrest, who is the result of the one night that the two of them slept together. By the end of the film Jenny has passed away and Forrest is now raising his son in his childhood home in Alabama.
That’s a gross simplification of the movie’s plot (after all, I didn’t mention Bubba or Lt. Dan), but most of the people reading this post are probably at least familiar enough with the film to follow along (and if you’re not, the film is available for streaming via Netflix). Or you can check out the trailer:
So, with the plot out of the way, I thought I’d get to what I wanted to say about this movie, which has not been one of my favorites; in fact, I’ve long contended that with both The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction nominated for best picture that year, I can’t understand how this won best picture. Okay, I can see why it was a popular choice for best picture, what with its sentimentality and emotional impact; I can’t understand how the Academy thought that this was more worthy of that particular honor than those two films, the latter of which had a major influence on filmmaking for at least the better part of the rest of the decade (and possibly beyond).
You know, never mind that I saw this three times in the theater, bought the soundtrack, and own a copy on VHS (although for the life of me I have no idea where that copy is). In fact, I liked the movie when it came out. It was beautifully shot, was pretty funny, and the music was great. But it did not age well, especially after I saw Pulp Fiction and read Winston Groom’s novel upon which the film is based. The novel turned me against the film in a big way, as Groom’s Forrest is a lot less likable than the buffoon with a heart of gold that Hanks plays on screen (and for which he won Best Actor). Prior to writing this post, I hadn’t watched the film since 1996 and decided to give it a fair shake. I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, although I still think it wasn’t worth the Best Picture honor (and I still maintain that it’s right up there with the oft-derided Ordinary People’s victory as Oscar larceny). So what I did was do what any lazy good blogger does, and that’s made a list. So here are the top five things I liked and the top five things I hated about Forrest Gump. (more…)