Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 107: School’s Out!

Episode 107 Website LogoHigh School is over and for the students who went to Degrassi High, that means parties, college, jobs, and sex with Tessa Campinelli. That’s right, it’s time to look back at the wildest summer in Degrassi history, the 1992 movie finale, School’s Out! Over the course of this episode, I take a look at the movie that ended the Canadian teen television show and also spend time recapping my Degrassi origin story as well as what it was like to be an American fan of the show during its PBS run in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

You can listen here:

Apple Podcasts:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

And for fun, here’s a couple of the clips from the episode:

The television promo …

And the infamous “You were fucking Tessa Campinelli?” scene …

Fallen Walls Open Curtains Episode 2

Is This TomorrowIt’s the second chapter in a podcast miniseries that looks at the fall of the Iron Curtain and the popular culture of the Cold War. To start us off, I look at what happened in Eastern Europe after the wall fell, beginning in November 1989 and ending in February 1990 with a special focus on the revolutions in Czechoslovakia and Romania. Then, Luke Jaconetti (Earth Destruction Directive, Get Back to the Wrestling) joins me to look at 1950s Cold War comics.

You can listen here:

Apple Podcasts:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

After the cut, here are some extras from this episode …

Luke and I both talked about Comic Book Plus on this episode. It has a ton of public domain comics that you can read and download for free.  Check them out here.

And here’s direct links to the comics

World War III

World War III Comic

Atomic War!

Atomic War Comic

Is This Tomorrow

Is-This-Tomorrow-000a-Front-Cover

I am Lobo. I hunt alone.

mv5bztviztm2mzktyjllni00ntiwlwe5mzqtytzmodbjmzywy2q3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjkwntg3ndy40._v1_So I’m about thirteen or fourteen and my dad’s in the den watching a movie during the middle of the day, which he only did if he’d fallen asleep watching it the previous night and had to return the tape to the video store so he wouldn’t get charged a late fee. I walk into the room and he’s laughing at a scene where Shelley Long is serving Jamie Gertz some really disgusting-looking thing called “jellyfish salad.” He keeps laughing and talking about how hilarious Shelley Long is, something I agree with it because by that time I had seen the majority of the Diane episodes of Cheers, so I stick around and finish the film.

That is my Don’t Tell Her It’s Me origin story, and while I have no substantiated research to back up this claim, I bet that if you were to talk to a number of people, they would have a similar story because while this movie bombed at the box office in 1990, I’ve run into quite a number of people who have seen it. In fact, just as I finished streaming this on Amazon Prime, my wife asked what I had been watching and when I said “This movie with Steve Guttenberg and Shelley Long”, she replied, “Is that the one where he had cancer and became a buff dude? I’ve seen that!”

I don’t know if I could better sum up the premise of the film, but I will go slightly more in depth. Based on the novel The Boyfriend School (and currently streaming under that title), Guttenberg plays Gus Kubicek, a cartoonist who has just finished treatment for cancer. He’s bloated and bald as a result adn is wallowing in depression. His sister, Lizzie (Long), who is the alter ego of the best-selling romance novelist Vivian Leroux*, decides that she’s going to cheer him up by finding him a woman. Enter Emily Pear (Jami Gertz), a journalist, who after she interviews Lizzie at a romance fan convention (yes, there’s a rom-con in the rom-com) becomes the woman Lizzie’s going to set up with Gus. Emily kind of sort of has a fiance, Trout (Kyle MacLachlan), but Lizzie’s a professional at meddling in others’ lives as much as she is at writing romance.

The setup doesn’t go well. Emily vomits up the jellyfish salad I mentioned in my intro and while she thinks Gus is nice, she isn’t attracted to him at all. This causes Lizzie to take drastic measures. She helps Gus get in shape and then creates an alter ego for him–Lobo, a New Zealand biker who “hunts alone”. Lobo and Gertz meet at a gas station where the two of them accidentally wind up foiling an armed robbery.

Naturally, Emily falls for Gus’ bad boy alter ego and as it is with comedies like this, things get complicated. Gus is reluctant to keep things going because Emily has fallen for Lobo and she even breaks up with Trout (who was cheating on her anyway with their co-worker, Mandy, played by a twenty-year-old Madchen Amick). Eventually, the entire thing comes crashing down, but because this is a romantic comedy from 1990, Emily realizes that she actually was in love with Gus.

If I’m thinking with my modern sensibilities, I’m not supposed to like this movie. The entire plot centers around deceiving a woman for the sake of romance and/or sex. Even with my writer’s sensibilities, I’m not supposed to like this movie. The characters are pretty formulaic–Gertz is the typical “mess” woman character, Gus is the down-on-his-luck nice guy, Trout is a PG version of MacLachlan’s sleazy Showgirls character, and Long is kooky–and the plot resolves itself so quickly I had to rewind it in my head. Plus, this came out right around the time of When Harry Met Sally, a movie that is the golden standard for modern romantic comedies.

The movie, though, works because of the actors’ performances. Shelley Long dials up the kookiness but gives Lizzie depth. Guttenberg is surprisingly appealing and it reminded me why he was a pretty big star in the late 1980s. I mean, the guy was not just in the Police Academy movies and the first Short Circuit film, but had bona-fide box office hits in Cocoon and Three Men and a Baby (and their sequels). I’d even posit that his career at that point mirrors Tom Hanks’, but the Nineties would take both actors in very different directions. And while my favorite Jami Gertz film is The Lost Boys, she’s making a pretty good effort to step out of the teen flick role and into something a little more adult.

This is, at best, a piece of its time, and a reminder of the random movies you’d come across while flipping channels or at the video store when you’d watched everything else. And yet, even watching this for the first time in nearly 30 years, I found this charming and remembered why I liked it when I first saw it in junior high. Yes, the Lobo deception is cringeworthy, but it’s more As You Like It or Twelfth Night than it is Revenge of the Nerds, and when I was that age I spent a lot of time wondering if any girl was going to like me. Gus Kubicek is an adult Ronald Miller from Can’t Buy Me Love, the type of guy who I identified with and even rooted for even when he made boneheaded decisions**. And even if I never rode a motorcycle and got an epic mullet (seriously, the Guttenmullet is insane), I can still appreciate any movie that gives down-on-their-luck guys a chance no matter how crazy the idea.

*Btw, props to … uh, the props department on this movie.  At one point, Lizzie gives Emily paperbacks of all of her books.  I noticed that they were all “published” by Avon Books, which was a huge historical romance publisher–and incidentally, the publishing company I interned for in 1998.

**I guess I have to clarify that I don’t approve of what are now considered cringey or even gross storylines like this, but I will say that I understand the mentality of male characters like this, and a lot of pretty awful male behavior.  In 2020, it’s grown into a “know the enemy” thing on my part, and I probably can write an essay about it but that’s not the type of thing anyone wants to read.

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 106: It was the Nineties

Episode 106 Website CoverWe came.  We saw.  We read Wizard.  We bought what Wizard recommended.  Thirty years later, we can get what Wizard recommended for a quarter.

We have regrets.

This episode, I celebrate 30 years since the dawn of the Nineties with a look at the decade of comic excess via Wizard: The Guide to Comics #29 and I confess whether or not I actually got sucked into the speculation boom’s vortex.

You can listen here:

Apple Podcasts:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

And just for fun, here’s the cover of Wizard #29

Wizard 29

Showtime!

Degrassi ShowtimeRemember what I said last time about only catching a couple of episodes of the last Degrassi High season because they had been carted off to Sundays on channel 13? This was the last episode I would ever see, and therefore is my last episode recap*. It’s also one of the heavier episodes because this is the one where Claude (pronounced Clow-de) kills himself.

The last of the Degrassi two-parters, “Showtime!” centers around the high school’s talent show. At the auditions, Claude runs into Caitlin and tries once again to get back together with her and once again, she rejects him. She then tells Maya that she wishes he would just leave her alone and go away. When Claude auditions for the show, it is an overwrought dramatic monologue of a poem about how awful life is, how dark everything is, how life is pain, and he just wants to die. He never actually gets to finish the poem, though, because he’s told it’s too serious for what is supposed to be a light-hearted talent show. He then calls everyone sheep and storms out, saying nobody cares about him and they’ll see. OH, THEY’LL SEE.

His friend Joanne tries to comfort him saying that hs knows that he’s going through a lot because his parents are divorcing, but she can’t get through to him. Besides, even though Joanne doesn’t know it, Claude has already made the decision to kill himself. HE does so in the boys’ bathroom, but not before he tries to give Caitlin a flower and tells her goodbye and that he won’t be bothering her anymore. Later, after the tardy bell rings, Claude opens his backpack to reveal a gun.

Now, I’m going to pause here to say that this first aired in 1991** and that makes a huge difference in where the plot of the episode could go. Had it been produced now, the handgun at school could certainly have led to suicide–Claude was one for heightened drama, so his killing himself at the school is in character, in a sense–but watching this now, I have to think about how this could lead him to shooting Caitlin or as many people as possible.*** The remainder of the episode would still be about recovery and dealing with trauma, but in a while other context. I think that since suicide was a big issue of the day, the writers weren’t thinking along these terms and were probably also being sensitive to those affected by the Ecole Polytechnique massacre a little over a year earlier. ****

I honestly don’t want to extrapolate further than that because thinking about how many school shootings we’ve had since the late 1990s makes me uncomfortable, and I certainly don’t like to speculate on how school shootings would have been portrayed on television. But much like the video for Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy”, it bears mentioning how things may have changed between 1991 and 1999.

Back to the episode. So, from here on out, the show becomes about both the immediate reaction to Claude’s suicide and the trauma felt afterward. Caitlin and Snake get the heavy focus because Caitlin was Claude’s ex-girlfriend and Snake found his body in the bathroom. The Caitlin storyline merges with a Joey subplot and he helps her get through her grief and guilt, as she believes she is responsible for Claude’s death. Snake, on the other hand, has problems dealing with seeing the dead body. And there is also the issue of the talent show, which goes on as a benefit in his name after Joanne lashes out at the student council during the meeting.

That’s a pretty bare bones description of the plot of the episode after the suicide, not because it’s not good–in fact, it is an excellent look at how a group and a community tries to get back to normal after a tragedy. It also comes down to a collection of moments. Some are dramatic, like Joanne yelling at everyone that they are all selfish and couldn’t have cared less about Claude prior to this. Others are quieter or more intimate. Claude’s death is handled quickly and as quietly as possible by the school until it is announced, which in my experience is pretty much how these things tend to go. Plus, while not the main focus of the episode, there is some, “Well, what does this have to do with me” and “I’m going to make this about me” from various characters. That happens when tragedy strikes a community in this way, especially a community of teenagers.

The cast has a tough job int he second two-thirds of this story. Stacie Mistysyn has to portray Caitlin as showing that she still has it together while blaming herself for his death. Stefan Brogan as Snake not only has to convey shock when he finds the body but a certain numbness afterward. And Pat Mastroianni, has to show the range of being able to go from smartass to caring and supportive in a way that is not maudlin. While I do not know if a teenage audience of today would consider “Showtime!” (or any episode of Degrassi) realistic, I consider it a strong episode of a strong show.

It would be a few years before I would encounter Degrassi again, and you’ll hear about that in episode 107 of the podcast.

* It also means out on the entire “Dwayne has AIDS” storyline, which began at the beginning of this season, was resolved in the finale, and even got an update in the premiere episode of TNG. It’s extremely well done for the time, as he’s an AIDS character who does not die.

** I’m going on memory for this, but I’m pretty sure that PBS ran the show about six months to a year after they premiered on CBC, so it’s possible this I caught this in either late 1991 or early 1992.

*** In case you were wondering, this is how Drake wound up on a wheelchair on TNG.

**** This is conjecture on my part. I just happened to notice that it aired one year and one month after the massacre.

The All-Nighter

Degrassi All NighterSo by the time the first Degrassi High season ended, I was either not watching PBS in the afternoons anymore, or they had changed their schedule. I think it’s alittle bit of both, because there came a point where channel 13 began running Ghost Writer and Wishbone in the weekday timeslot and showed Degrassi on Sunday mornings. Therefore, this is why I missed the entire second season of Degrassi High. Sure, I would eventually get the entire series on VHS (through someone making me a tape) and DVD (through legitimate means), but after “Stressed Out,” I would only see two more episodes, and that is why this is the penultimate Degrassi post.

Anyway, remember that first season episode of Beverly Hills 90210 with the sleepover where “secrets are revealed”? “The All-Nighter” is that, except that friendships actually do suffer instead of a random nobody character showing up just to cause trouble becoming a nicer person because the West Beverly gang was good to her for an evening.

It’s an easy episode to summarize because there really are only two plots. You have a group of girls getting together for a sleepover party and a group of guys getting together for an all-night poker game. The latter is the funnier storyline. Yick invites Arthur, whom he’s maintained a sort-of friendship with even though Arthur is a total nerd, and Luke’s a total asshole to Arthur, but Yick deserves credit for trying to build some sort of bridge. Besides, Alex can’t make it because he is going to pull an all-nighter for a paper. Joey’s there as well because Wheels is driving him nuts (this is just prior to Wheels getting kicked out for stealing money). The poker game ends with Arthur hustling everyone, and I have to say that even though I find him kind of irritating, I was rooting for him because all Luke ever is to Arthur is a dick for no real reason.

The girls, on the other hand, smoke pot at the sleepover and it leads to a game of truth or dare where Melanie spills every secret that she knows about Kathleen. This is what I remembered seeing when it first aired, because at one point, Melanie brings up Kathleen’s eating disorder, her alcoholic mother, and her abusive boyfriend, and I think I literally said out loud, “Oh, I remember that!” To either my sister or nobody in particular because we were the only people we knew who watched the show. Anyway, Kathleen storms out crying because if your best friend had just spilled everything about your life without your permission, you’d be pretty missed as well.

For as simple as this is, it’s actually not a far-fetched look at what happens when immature teenagers get intoxicated. The girls are very goofy and silly when they start smoking and Melanie’s tone when she tells everyone Kathleen’s secrets is not malicious because she probably thought Kathleen would laugh at it as well. Granted, Degrassi had its fair share of death and dismemberment when it came to the use of alcohol, but I have to say that I remember many nights in college* where people would do stupid crap or get into massive fights because they were high or drunk. Obviously, this has to do with inhibitions falling to the wayside in these situations, but back in the heyday of “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E., television rarely seemed to depict drug use in such a nonviolent way (or if it did, it was because Punky Brewster decided to just take a stand right then and there and lead a Just Say No parade instead). Hey, maybe they did, but my memory seems to be that the message was one toke and you’d either wind up in a body bag. These two longstanding friends now have to deal with a genuine betrayal of trust and the real consequences.

I’m not sure if this is followed up, byt he way. While they appear in other episodes and Kathleen is at the reunion (the actress who played Melanie has been more or less living a private life, especially after being stalked by a fan in the early 2000s), I don’t remember a scene of them actually being friendly to one another after this (they may have been seeing talking in the background of an episode, though). That makes it important, even if it’s not a landmark episode of the series. Heck, even I only remembered it because I saw the pot smoking scene when I was flipping channels one Sunday morning. But considering that the first few episodes I saw and remembered involved Arthur, Yick, Melanie, and Kathleen, it was a solid goodbye for them.

Next Up: My last episode recap, and it’s all about the return … and exit … of Claude (pronounced Clow-de).

*I didn’t drink or smoke pot in high school. I’d like to say it’s because pot was never for me, and while that’s true, the real reason is that I had no life.

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 105: Teen Speed Freaks!

Episode 105 Website LogoIf you were a high-achieving teenager in the Eighties or early Nineties, there was only one way for you to get through feeling overwhelmed by all the pressure:  amphetamines.

Or at least it seemed that way on television.

Over the course of this episode, I look at four episodes where teenagers turn to speed (okay, sometimes it’s caffeine pills) to help them get through midterms, finals, a geometry test, or a crazy workload, all from the 1980s and 1990s.  It begins with Degrassi High, and then moves on to three classic NBC sitcoms: Family Ties, Saved By the Bell, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  Are their messages effective?  Are they as lame as they seemed back then?  Or are they sending another message altogether?

You can listen here:

Apple Podcasts:  Pop Culture Affidavit

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All In a Good Cause

degrassi-all-in-a-good-cause.jpgThere are some moments from Degrassi High that I have been able to picture even without having seen the show in a very long time. Toward the top of that list is Caitlyn Ryan getting caught on a chain link fence.

There’s a lot more happening in this episode, which is the major reason I picked it for a write-up, but I have to admit that it was a favorite of mine in junior high because this is the one where Caitlin dumped Claude (pronounced Clow-de) and I have to be honest, I always hated that guy. Then again, I don’t know if we were ever supposed to actually like Claude because he’s the person who came between OTP Joey and Caitlin. Plus, when I was 12, I had a pretty big crush on her, and my junior high school (and then my high school) was overrun by overwrought guys like Claude who spent every minute ensconsed in their angry young man attitude and Morrissey cosplay.

ANYWAY, the overarching topic of both the A plot and the B plot of this one is causes and community service. The B plot is about the freshmen challenging one another (although this is Canada, so I think it’s “niners”?) to see who can raise more money for UNICEF and it leads to Arthur Yick toilet-papering Mr. Raditch’s house. It’s a generally hearmless comical subplot that cuts through the seriousness of the Caitlin/Claude breakup and the C plot involving Kathleen that I’ll get into later. The Arthur-Yick friendship was one of the strongets when I started watching the show in the DJH years but had become strained. Seeing these two together and having fun was a reminder of that for both of us and them. Plus, the way Raditch busts them by asking them to stop by his house to “pick up some paper” is a great sitcom-y beat.

The Caitlin/Claude plot happens simultaneously with that one, as the same night that Arthur and Yick are going TP-ing, they set out to vandalize a munitions factory. This all gets set up a couple of days earlier at the office of People for Peace, the political movement they’re volunteering for. They’ve spent a lot of time making copies and stuffing envelopes–as teen volunteers tend to do–and Claude is frustrated by the lack of direct action. He wants them to take down a local factory that is supposedly helping to manufacture nuclear weapons. When their boss tells him that it’s not on their agenda and chuffs at the idea of throwing bricks through the factory windows, he decides he is going to spray paint the walls. Since Caitlin is so enamored by his dedication to all things causes (and since he’s not that idiot Joey), she goes along with him. But when they get caught by the night watchmen and she gets stuck on a fence while trying to escape, something that was telegraphed by her getting stuck on the same fence while trying to get in, but this time Claude runs off instead of helping her.

Needless to say, this act of cowardice–and Claude being afraid of what his parents would think if he’d gotten caught AND asking Caitlin not to tell anyone from People for People that he’s a huge chicken is the last straw and she dumps him. Not only that, since she was arrested she will have to go to court and this will come up a few episodes later in “Testing, 1-2-3.” That’s a particularly great scene because he tells her he can’t go to court to support her because the night watchman might recognize him and then his parents–who are much more conservative than Cailtin’s–would ground him. For that, she smacks him so hard that she makes his nose bleed (and gets detention where she runs into Joey and they wind up having it out with each other). So Claude’s dumped, he’s a total loser wuss, and there will come a point where we will never see him again.

But more on that in a future post.

Now, I mentioned the C plot, which is about Kathleen. It’s actually the most serious of the three and the only reason it’s not the A plot is because it’s a follow-up on an earlier episode, “Nobody’s Perfect”, which is all about how her boyfriend, Scott, was physically abusing her. For an Eighties show that could be Afterschool Special at times, itw as written slightly better than some of the other episodes of its kind because it relies on emotional manipulation over the course of nearly half the season as much as it relies on the moments where Scott is shown either verbally or physically abusing Kathleen. After literally getting beaten in “Nobody’s Perfect”, she broke up with him and now he’s decided to start stalking her. This all starts out with “I miss you” over and over until the point where Scott can’t take it anymore and physically attacks her. The end result is that she returns to school with her arm in a sling and a restraining order against Scott.

Kathleen Mead was set up to be one of the more unlikable chararacters in Degrassi. She is a high-strung wet blanket who is also competitive and a perfectionist. It is not without reason, as we have come to see that she is compensating for having a terrible home life (her father is pretty absent and her mom is an aloholic), and the fact that Scott is older than her ties right into her personality and her compensating for things.

Rebecca Haines, by the way, owns this entire storyline and does a fantastic job of carrying her scenes with Byrd Dickens who plays Scott because his line delivery is horrendous*. It’s a challenging storyline that could very well tip too far into melodrama and even when it does, she is very good.

Next up: Check out episode 105 of the podcast, which drops in a week or two, to see how I cover “Stressed Out” and then come back for pot smoking and poker playing in “The All-Nighter.”

*I don’t feel bad for being so mean about this person considering his arrest record.

Sixteen

Degrassi SixteenI’ve always admired the way that Degrassi High was able to handle the long-term stories of its characters. Spike’s pregnancy and then being a single mom to Emma is probably the most famous (especially since it’s the foundation for the Next Generation series in the early 2000s), but when I rewatched the series, I noticed that the show as really good at following up on episodes and not just through the lens of ongoing relationships like Joey and Caitlin’s. Erica’s abortion, for example, comes back via the fight in “Everybody Wants Something” and then would come up again in “Natural Attraction”, where she starts dating again and Heather is plagued with nightmares about accompanying her sister to the clinic. And LD, who was one of Lucy’s best friends, was diagnosed with leukemia in “Just Friends,” the episode prior to the two-parter I’m looking at here.

“Sixteen” focuses mostly on Michelle, who had already begun dealing with her parents’ divorce in “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” (she comes home to her mom walking out on her father). At this point, it’s been a couple of months and she is finding that her father wants her to be his wife, as Michelle is expected to cook and clean in a way that takes her mom’s place in the house. It leads to her moving out of his house and renting a room* but also having to find a job to support himself. It gets rough pretty quickly, as while she does manage to afford her rent while working at a donut shop, she barely has any time for her friends. Meanwhile, Joey and Snake struggle with their driving test (something Snake will continue to struggle with all the way to the finale of the first season of Degrassi High).

I should also note that this is LD’s last appearance on the show, and in a later episode she’s said to be out “sailing the islands” with her dad after the cancer goes into remission. Otherwise, we never see her again or ever find out what happened to her. Now, my guess is that Amanda Cook, the actress playing LD, was leaving the show and acting altogether (her IMDb page shows only the Degrassi series), so I can see why she never appears again. But the lack of a mention or a true resolution by the show’s end or even in Next Generation makes her one of Degrassi’s only offloaded “And we never saw them again …” people. I mean, I never wanted to see her die or anything like that, but there’s a lot of concern and pathos surrounding the cancer and there are several times in the series where Lucy is lugging around a video camera to “make videos for LD”, so a follow-up would ahve been cool.

Michelle, on the other hand, will go through several stages of maturity between “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” and “Home Sweet Home,” which is an episode toward the end of the final season. The divorce, the job, and the strain on and eventual end of her relationship with BLT create a female teen character who is complicated and more fully realized than a number of others, at least enough so that she seems relatable. Unlike the more soapy shows of this genre, Degrassi, while it can definitely be melodramatic and even cheesy at times, grounds itself in reality and eschews the fairy tale. Yes, it kills off parents and has students sustain traumatic brain injuries due to drug use, but the writers at least tried to take the least convoluted path to those circumstances. Michelle’s stress will be followed up in a future episode (which I’ll be covering on a future podcast episode) and the resolution in “Sixteen” is less of a conclusion and more of a stopgap. It establishes a “new normal” that takes a long time to adjust to.

In my rewatch of the entire Degrassi High series, Michelle became one of my favorite characters because her storyline was more true-to-life about stress and what it can do to an honors student. I never had life pile on me like she did, but at least a couple of my friends were doing the best that they could to keep it together; furthermore, so many of us could (and even as adults still can) see ourselves in those scenes where work is clearly taking over her life, but she has to let it because she otherwise can’t support herself. Years later, 90210 would have Brenda sort of do this but it was more for cheap silliness and a one-and-done story. Here, someone is choosing adulthood and dealing with the consequences in the long-term. This two-parter was one that I remember for years without having seen it, probably because of this.

Now, while I will get into how stress is affecting Michelle in the next episode of the podcast, the conclusion of Michelle’s storyline, “Home Sweet Home”, was not an episode that I chose for this series of blog posts because I didn’t see it on Channel 13 back in the early Nineties.  In that episode, there is a resolution between Michelle and her father because after she’s kept up for the umpteenth night by her partying roommates, she decides to move out of the apartment and back home, but will pay rent and she and her dad work out a contract for the rules of the house.  While it seems kind of dumb compared to the episode’s A plot (Wheels gets kicked out of Joey’s house after stealing from Joey’s mom, continuing the storyline of his troubles and leading to his eventual downfall of sorts in School’s Out), that’s because it’s terribly ordinary and almost Eighties sitcom.

Next Up:  Caitlin finally sees through Claude’s b.s.

*A side note that I wanted to mention but could not fit in here.  During the montage of scenes where Michelle visits rooms/apartments for rent, there is at least more than one person who turns her away when they see BLT with her because he’s black.  It’s not subtle by any means, but they do a good job of reminding us that this still happened in the Eighties (and let’s face it, still does).

Dawn of the Decade

It’s the end of 2019, so I think that every publication has been doing some sort of “End of the Decade” or “Best of the Decade” article during the last few weeks. Even some of my friends have been making lists of their favorite pieces of popular culture from the past decade. Meanwhile, I and a number of people who have settled into oncoming middle age have been legitimately surprised that we are on the precipice of another ten-year period. I mean, I am able to do the math, but it still feels like 1999 was ten years ago.

Anyway, rather than lament that I pretty much missed an entire decade because I was adulting or becoming more lame or something of that nature, I thought I would try and remember what it was like to ring in 1990, which was the first time I remember a new decade coming into being (I had been all of two years old when 1979 became 1980, so I don’t remember any of that). At the time, I was twelve and in junior high school, so I probably didn’t do much in terms of actual celebrating during New Year’s Eve. More than likely, I spent the evening at my grandmother’s while my parents went to their friends’ party, and at some point or another I listened to all 106 songs of 106.1 WBLI’s end-of-the-year countdown. I may have even made a list–I was really into cataloguing stuff like that back then. So the memories, at best, are spotty.

I remember feeling that 1990 was going to be a big year. It’s probably because the dawn of the Nineties coincided with my transition to junior high school and teenagedom, and when you have one foot in childhood and another foot in the quasi-adult world, everything can feel like some sort of benchmark or milestone. I was also watching way too much TV back then and there that feeling of the next decade being some how markedly different was a pretty common message.

I wish I would have been able to find articles, shows, features, or even commercials that reflected this, but the prepositional phrase that seemed to permeate so much of what I read, saw, and heard, was “…of the ’90s.” Even in 1989, it was code for less frivolity and more substance in your life. Granted, that would become a pretty harsh reality for a number of people within seven months of the new year when the recession that would last until 1992 took hold, but we were more or less being told that we had to take things more seriously.

Foreclose on a Yuppie 1

An image from the “Foreclose on a Yuppie Contest” promo where the cool guy in the leather jacket and jeans gets the douchebag yuppie’s money.

MTV, which had latched onto and helped define youth culture throughout the Eighties, even got in on this, sponsoring a contest called “Foreclose on a Yuppie”, which had a decidedly non-yuppie-looking guy getting into the apartment of a typical ’80s douchebag and taking all of his stuff, then making the douchebag yuppie his butler. The prize was $50,000 and a BMW.* But nothing is that simple, especially considering that throughout late 1989, MTV was still airing NKOTB and hair metal in heavy rotation and they gave more exposure to lighter, poppier rap/hip-hop acts like Ton Loc and Young MC than harder-edged stuff. In fact, as the Eighties closed, we still hadn’t seen MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice release their biggest singles.

 

But MTV would make sure it was showcasing the ‘now” as much as possible as 1989 ended by airing The Dawn of the Decade House Party at the Palladium in New York City. Airing live on December 31, 1989 (naturally), it used a setting familiar to viewers, as the Palladium was where the station’s daily dance show, Club MTV, was filmed; and the channel’s veejays and hosts at the time were the emcees. These included Club MTV host and all-around late-1980s MTV icon Downtown JUlie Brown, Remote Control host Ken Ober, veejay Kevin Seal, veejay and Headbanger’s Ball host Adam Curry, Yo! MTV Raps host Fab 5 Freddy, and MTV’s Half Hour Comedy Hour host Mario Joyner.

Title CardI only know of this show’s existence thanks to YouTube, where someone uploaded the entire special, including commercials, and my train of thought was, “Oh wow, I can see how people rang in the Nineties and it’ll be this great time capsule of the era and it’ll be so different than what I’m used to seeing on New Year’s Eve!”

Well, part of that is true because what you get in this house party is basically a two-hour special that is New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with just the performances and no Times Square ball drop. Now, I’m sure that there are people who absolutely love NYRE and crack up at the antics of Jenny McCarthy’s street-level interviews and dance in their living rooms to yet another performance from Pitbull or the Black-Eyed Peas, but in recent years, I’ve found that this is something you endure until midnight rather than look forward to. MTV’s Dawn of the Decade House Party wasn’t much of an upgrade, either.

On paper, it looks way more appealing than ABC’s programming. Excepting Clark, who was live in New York, NYRE ’90’s pre-taped Hollywood segments were hosted by Kirk Cameron and Lori Loughlin and featured performances by Michael Damian, Martika, Expose, and Dion**. MTV had the B-52’s, Young MC, Richard Marx, Neneh Cherry, Living Colour, and Lenny Kravitz, so they definitely had the edge when it came to cool. Granted, I’m not the best arbiter of cool, but I would take Living Colour belting out “Cult of Personality” rather than Michael Damian’s cover of “Rock On.” The show also ran through the top five videos of the year, which the show prior had led into with the other 95 videos of the year, so while we didn’t get to see Madonna perform, we got to see some of her video for “Like a Prayer”.***

So, considering the show was basically a “cooler” version of NYRE, would it have been worthwhile alternative programming? Assuming it was aired live, if you were actually in the audience, I think that it would have been something to brag about, if your friends cared about those things. Being twelve at the time and not having access to the channel (or such parties), MTV had the allure of looking in on the cooler older kids. I never emulated them by getting into the blazer with turtlenecks and Cavariccis or the huge cardigan with a turtleneck and Cavariccis or the sweater vest with a turtleneck and Cavariccis, though.

Neneh Cherry

Neneh Cherry performs “Buffalo Stance.”  Her outfit consisted of a Han Solo on Hoth parka over a bra.  I don’t know how comfortable that would have been considering the club was probably pretty hot.

Anyway, the hosts do a capable job for the show’s two hours and probably did some partying themselves****, and the acts feel very “in the moment” of that time. The B-52’s are in the prime spot, on the stage for the countdown to midnight and then ringing in 1990 with a New Year’s version of The Beatles’ “Happy Birthday” followed by “Love Shack,” a song I keep telling myself that I don’t like but then sing along to whenever I hear it. Young MC does “Bust a Move”, of course, and all I the highlight of Neneh Cherry’s performance is that she was singing to a tape (as has been and is still done on TV) and kept singing after the tape ended. Even though the rock acts–Marx and Living Colour–give some really solid performances–it all seems so normal for a channel that prided itself on smacking down those norms*****.

This wound up being the general problem that MTV would have for the next couple of years as it tried to find its footing in the early 1990s. Throughout the show, there are advertisements for something called “MTV Part 2: A New Beginning”, which isn’t a show or a channel as much as M2/MTV 2, but a slate of programming that would include Unplugged and Liquid Television. And I only know this based on the short clips in the ads along with thirty years of hindsight. I’m not sure if I would have found any of it enticing back then, because anything called “… Part 2” sounded like it was not going to be worth the price of admission.

MTV Part 2 Promo

New year, new decade, new block of programming.  Part 2: A New Beginning doesn’t sound very promising.

The decade would take a little while to become “The Nineties”, and we’d have an Eighties hangover for a couple of years. Even so, there is such a difference between the early and later parts of the decade that it is hard to define in simple ways. The people who put together MTV’s show at the Palladium weren’t thinking about any of this and were probably just looking to throw a cool party that hopefully skimmed some of the ratings off of Dick Clark’s stalwart of a show. But they inadvertently provided us with a snapshot of the decade-to-decade transition we were about to go through. Lenny Kravitz closes the show. This was a few years before “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, so his closing slot was the dead one–most people watching the show had probably already gone to bed. He finishes his set with “Let Love Rule”, a song that has its roots in the Sixties but with its stripped down aesthetic is less slick than Whitesnake or Motley Crue. Of all the songs I heard and all the moments I saw, this last one felt the most Nineties.

Lenny Kravitz

This embodies “transitional.” The saxophone is very 1980s while Kravitz would go on to be one of the biggest mainstream rock acts of the 1990s.

* In a look back at crazy MTV contests of the 1980s, Rolling Stone said that according to the Chicago Tribune, the winner of the contest, 23-year-old John Rogers, crashed the BMW and his resulting partial paralysis led to him spending most of the cash winnings on medical expenses.
**Yes, as in 1950s frontman of The Belmonts. According to Wikipedia, he had a comeback album in 1989 that was well-received.
*** The clips were cut to make room for the live show, so we got a little bit of each. The other four, starting from the bottom, were “Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty, “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour, and “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals.
****The look on Adam Curry’s face is that of a designated driver, or at least someone who had to stay sober enough to be the last veejay standing around 1:00 a.m. when he announced Lenny Kravitz.
*****Marx finished his set with “Edge of a Broken Heart”, which was a hit by all-woman heavy metal group Vixen. I then did some googling and learned that he wrote the song for them in the late 1980s.