Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 108: Crazy Unreal — Fox Reality Shows

Episode 108 Website CoverWhat happens when you take two people who have repeatedly watched what happens when you take a group of hot singles and put them in a mid-level resort in Cabo San Lucas? You get a conversation about reality shows on the Fox Network! Amanda joins me to talk about everything from the early days of Totally Hidden Video, COPS, and America’s Most Wanted, to the high point of trashy Fox reality of Temptation Island and Paradise Hotel. Along the way, there’s American Idols and Gordon Ramsey calling someone an idiot sandwich.

You can listen here:

Apple Podcasts:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

And as a bonus, here’s a YouTube playlist of random Fox reality stuff:

Paste Goes Yard

Bases Loaded Opening ScreenSo right now, we’re in a massive societal lockdown, which means that all of us are sitting at home and trying to find things to do. It also means that our usual spring distractions and entertainment have been canceled or altered. There’s no NCAA Championship, and no professional sports. Now, I’m bummed that I wasn’t able to fill out a March Madness bracket and watch tournament games during the day, but I didn’t realize how much I would be missing baseball.

I’ve written about my long-standing and oft-frustrating Mets fandom over the years, and that hasn’t changed. I remain loyal to the team even though there have been large chunks of time in the last two decades were I have checked out and stopped paying attention. And I can say with some confidence that there are enough highlight compilations on YouTube to keep me entertained and remind me of what I’m missing, but the thing that has reminded me of the joy of baseball the most has been Bases Loaded.

Released by Jaleco in 1988, Bases Loaded is a Nintendo game that was one of a few games that stepped up that year to take advantage of the dearth of quality NES sports games. Yes, the system had an entire sports category when it premiered a few years earlier, and those games were playable, but the overall quality left something to be desired. Golf and Ice Hockey were probably the better of the selection with the football game 10 Yard Fight at the bottom and Baseball somewhere between. I mean, we played the hell out of that game, but it was a glitchy mess–outs would not be recorded and players would walk off the field at random, so we called it “Gitchball”–but it was the only thing going.

But then I got the first issue of Nintendo Power and that proved to be a–no pun intended–game changer. Really, the whole magazine was, and I’m not alone in saying that it was a landmark moment in the 1980s. For baseball, it was important because that issue featured a preview of three new games: RBI Baseball, Major League Baseball, and Bases Loaded.

BL Poster

The baseball games poster from the very first issue of Nintendo Power.  Notice the Bat Signal in the corner.  This is my copy and it’s seen better days.

This article–which had an accompanying poster (it’s on the back of the overworld map for the second quest of The Legend of Zelda)–was easily the most important thing I read in 1988 because not only did it advertise three different baseball games, it analyzed and compared them. My friend Tom and I spent the entire summer watching the Mets cruise through the NL East and collecting a ton of Topps baseball cards, so finding out that there was not just one new baseball game but three out there was mind blowing and we knew that choosing which one to ask for was going to be incredibly important.

I can’t say much about either RBI Baseball or Major League Baseball except that I played the latter a few times and remember it being a better version of Glitchball and the lineups used actual player names. But Bases Loaded looked completely different, closer to the game Hardball that we had seen on the Commodore 64 (and if you’ve seen The Princess Bride, you have seen it as well), which meant slightly more realistic-looking players. When Tom got the cartridge, we saw that each team had been programmed with strengths and weaknesses, and instead of having to write down our team record if we were trying to play a season (something we’d done the previous year with Glitchball), there was a password after every game. Even at the start, this was awesome, and when we got to the actual game, we were completely blown away, so much so that we immediately sat down and chose teams to play for an entire season.

Now, if you actually know the game, you know that’s quite a task. Bases Loaded has a 132-game “pennant race” one-player function (and a one-off “vs mode” two-player function), although you can clinch the pennant early by winning 80 games. But the trials of life ha not taken over for us as fifth graders and neither had most of the trappings of adolescence, so in 1988 we were ready to go the distance. Tom chose Jersey, the team closest to use geographically; I chose D.C. because their uniform’s colors were blue and gray and therefore as close to the Mets as I would get. The D.C. team had solid pitching and one superstar hitter by the name of Fendy, whose stats on the game were a .356 average with 50 home runs. But Jersey was something else because they had Paste.

Paste Homer

Paste hit a walk-off three-run shot at the end of a recent game.  Here he is high-fiving teammates on the Jaleco Diamond Vision.

With an unreal .467 average and 60 home runs, Paste was the power-hitting first baseman whose shadow loomed like Babe Ruth any time you had to face Jersey in a game. The team’s pitching was marginal at best, but that didn’t matter because you could always count on Paste being able to smash the ball. Many a time, I watched Tom get a runner or two on the bases and then settle in for some sort of monster at bat from his team’s star player, a pixelated baseball god whose home runs were the type that you knew were out of the park the moment you heard the clink of the 8-bit bat. I mean, I could get Fendy to hit a homer or two, but nothing compared to a Paste home run.

That’s not to say that he carried the team. Jersey had a deep order, including Bay, who batted cleanup after Paste and sported 30 of his own home runs, and a bench that had more than just your average schmos. It wound up being a boon to Tom, as he won every game we played in the season, although I don’t think we got past the twenty game mark before our interest faded. I do remember one time he had found some passwords–where he got them from, I don’t know–for both Jersey and D.C. that put us at game 36 or 37 and while Jersey remained undefeated, D.C. had a losing record. I was pretty pissed off about that and vowed to continue playing on my own, eking out a few wins and a couple of losses before finally giving up and throwing in the Ice Hockey cartridge so my fat guy could score 30 goals against Sweden.

The reviews of Bases Loaded that I found online are not particularly kind to it. They mention the superiority of Hardball, how slow the game play is, and how the fielding is quite terrible. All of those are valid points, but I don’t think that matters to a generation who gets instantly nostalgic when they see the word “Jaleco” on the spine of a Nintendo cartridge. For many of us, Bases Loaded was the first time we felt that we were playing a real baseball video game.

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Even though the game’s title wasn’t on the cartridge, when you saw the word “Jaleco” told you knew exactly what it was.

Glitchball was a good afternoon distraction; Bases Loaded was a commitment. To win at that game, you had to manage your team and those of us who didn’t have the luxury of a Commodore 64 were excited and impress by the different stances and body types of the hitters (plus the different skin tones) and the throwing styles of the pitchers (I never really got the hang of those Dan Quisenberry-type underhand-style throwers). Plus, your pitchers got tired as the game went on, you could pinch hit, and the game would cut to the Diamond Vision when a home run was hit, showing the pitcher holding his head while the batter pumped his fist behind him. And there was also a bullpen car and when you hit a batter with a pitch, he might charge the mound and we’d see a fight play out on the scoreboard. I am sure that better games came along after or were available for other systems, but to us it was the crown jewel of NES baseball games.

It still has the magic, too. I sat down last week and began a season, this time as Jersey because Tom’s not here and I have my own cartridge, so I can pick whatever team I choose. I swept three games from Boston, the third of which climaxed with a three-run walk-off homer by Paste. Sure, Boston put up a bunch of hits on my pitchers and even 32 years later, I can’t field anything cleanly. But it doesn’t matter, because I’ve got endless time at home and a TV in the basement that I can use for 40 minutes a day until I see what’s at the end of the season, and know that Paste’s moon shots are going to be one thing getting me there.

Going to Sunday School on TV

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Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus in “King of Kings”, giving us all blue steel.

This past Saturday ABC aired the Cecil B. DeMille classic The Ten Commandments. They’ve been running this movie for hte better part of half a century, and it is as much of a tradition as when CBS used to show The Wizard of Oz every October, or NBC’s annual spring airing of The Sound of Music. The latter two have fallen by the wayside over the years, with police procedurals and reruns of America’s Got Talent drawing more viewers. I didn’t watch it and haven’t in a while, mainly because four-hour Biblical epics are not always my thing.

At one point, though, they were.

Now, I didn’t grow up in some sort of extremely evangelical household, but I was subjected to a fair amount of religious programming in my childhood. This ranged from kids’ shows to movies like the aforementioned DeMille classic. Sure, I watched Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which were decidedly secular in nature, but the counter-programming to that was stuff like Davey and Goliath, the stop-motion animated show where this kid and his talking dog would get into some sort of trouble or moral quandary and often would learn a lesson, whether it was from their parents or some other authority figure. I know I watched a fair amount of that show when I was very little, probably either before or after church on Sundays because nothing else was on television except for other religious programming and I wasn’t the target demo for the Hour of Power.

Meanwhile, my parents owned a VCR and began acquiring movies pretty early in the 1980s, one of the few times in my entire life where they were on the forefront of new technology. I usually used the VCR to watch my copy of Star Wars, but also on occasion, I would watch one of three two-tape movies: The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and King of Kings. When it came to The Ten Commandments, I can tell you that I only ever remembered the film’s opening and closing–large swaths of the middle of the film are blocked from my memory. Ben-Hur was a film I may have watched through once but can only remember him knocking a roof tile into a passing parade on tape one and the chariot race on tape two. Of course, who doesn’t remember the chariot race?

King of Kings, though, was my Biblical epic of choice. Released in 1961, it stars Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus and is known for the good looks of its star (in fact, the phrase “I was a teenage Jesus” showed up in at least one review) and the fact that it was the first time Jesus had a discernible face in a movie and wasn’t “written around.” At seven or eight, when I was watching it, I didn’t know much about the film’s background and it would be a couple of years before I discovered that Jeffrey Hunter played Captain Pike in the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”, I just wanted to see the guy play Jesus in a two-tape movie. More than once, too, to the point where i had particular parts of the movies as memorized as Star Wars.

The tapes themselves were kind of a curiosity to me because they were legitimately purchased tapes–unlike the Star Wars films I owned, which were dubbed from laser disc, these had MGM’s labels on them. But for some reason, they were not in the official cardboard box or whatever other packaging you expected from a VHS tape. No, it was in a brown plastic case that you would get at the video store, so that meant my dad or mom willingly bought this film from a store’s inventory. I can imagine that they got it at a discount because this was back when buying a movie on VHS could run you upwards of $79.95.

The tapes themselves had this idiosyncrasy of musical inserts at the beginning and end of each tape. I don’t know if they were part of the original theatrical release, although the film was done as a “roadshow” when it came out in 1961, a type of release where the studio would put it on tour and that presentation often included overtures and intermissions. I remember that these segments were stills of some sort of Biblical image with orchestral music over them, although the title card that said “Overture” was block lettering similar to what you would see on a baseball game in the early 1980s, so my guess is that it was reformatted for television.

The tapes were as well, but not in the best way. Whereas later in the 1980s and into the 1990s, movies like this would be given a widescreen treatment, the King of Kings VHS of the early 1980s was classic pan and scan with some parts of it having that Gumby Vision effect where shots were stretched vertically to get as much on the screen as possible. I remember this being especially noticeable in the scene where Jesus meets John the Baptist because there are a couple of very tight close-ups and you can see how stretched out things are. Otherwise, the film looked like just about every other Biblical epic of the era. I’m not sure if they simply used the Roman Centurion costumes that MGM had stashed in a storage closet from every other sword-and-sandals epic filmed in the California desert, but it I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Anyway, the film pads out what is not exactly an action-packed story. Instead pho simply starting with Jesus’ birth or the Immaculate Conception, we open with Pompey’s sack of Jerusalem and that allows for both a subplot centering around Herod’s reign in Judea and another one of Barabbas leading a band of rebels against the Roman occupiers. This was what I found most interesting, probably because it was significantly more violent than the Sermon on the Mount. I also remember that John the Baptist gets more characterization and we practically get a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome halfway through the film. Even Pontius Pilate is more than just the Roman bureaucrat that oversees Jesus’ execution.

The film probably didn’t need its enormous running time, especially when it didn’t seem to do more with Jesus’ actual story than my Sunday School primer. And honestly, I wonder if it’s depictions like that which people get so used to that make movies like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ so controversial. But 1961 was still an era of big historical event epics, so you went big with Jesus or you didn’t go at all.

I currently have a significant aversion to religion, which began when I was a teenager and became much more pronounced as I watched it poison large swaths of our politics and society. But I still have fond memories of being seven or eight when I used to watch King of Kings all the way through.  I’m not sure if it’s because the memories are of my rather comfortable childhood or because because along with the science fiction flicks I was re-watching, it helped me develop a love of stories.  But I think I’m good on remembering how much I liked them then instead of setting aside a weekend to watch Charlton Heston part something or Jeffrey Hunter smolder.

I was O.G. TNBC

TNBC LOgoI’ve said before that Saved By the Bell is one of the most influential shows in the history of television, as Millennials and Gen Z were able to spend much of their formative years watching sitcoms that were targeted directly at them instead of having to settle for simply graduating from the world of Saturday morning and weekday afternoon cartoons like Generation X had. This was obviously helped along by Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel, as the former increased its tween programming int he early ’90s with Clarissa Explains it All and similar shows while the latter became part of basic cable packages between 1991 and 1996.

That is, if you had cable.

But unlike all the times networks were chasing cable trends two seasons too late, NBC wound up being right on or slightly ahead of the curve for the 1992-1993 television season. This was the year that they completely replaced their Saturday morning cartoons with live action programming, giving birth to TNBC.

If you look at the Saturday morning lineup from the previous season, you see shows like Space Cats, Captain N and the New Super Mario World, and Wish Kid, and while I know a few people who watched Captain N, I can’t imagine that this lineup was doing much against the other networks, which were airing cartoons starring more well-known characters such as Bugs Bunny, Winnie the Pooh, Garfield, Darkwing Duck, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Plus, Saved By the Bell was popular at the time and so NBC saw the opportunity to double down on that success, not only giving us an extra half hour of the show (which led to the Tori episodes) and padded out the day with the TNBC lineup.

I started my sophomore year of high school in the fall of 1992 and by the time I shrugged off any Saturday morning programming whatsoever sometime during the 1993-94 television season (in favor of sleeping until 11:00 every Saturday), I was a junior and definitely a year or so older than the target demographic. NBC was clearly going for the kids who were in middle and the early part of high school, because the sitcom fantasy world of Zack Morris and company was not exactly anything cool when you were neck deep in your own high school drama. Still, I was “grandfathered in” to the original TNBC lineup because I had already been watching Saved By the Bell.

If you’ve followed me over the years, you have heard me talk about my relationship with Saved By the Bell more than once. I’m not so much a super fan of it as I am one of the many people who got sucked into the show during its run because it was just on television and there was nothing better to watch on a weekday afternoon between The Disney Afternoon and Full House, or on a Saturday morning when I’d gotten home from my job at a stationary store. That meant that I would be on the ground floor for the new lineup, especially since the Bayside gang was set to graduate that first season; I would keep going for some of the following season because I had a crush on one of the actresses on California Dreams.

The original two years of TNBC would be a mix of sitcoms, game shows, and early teen reality programming. While Saved By the Bell would shift to its “The New Class” series in the fall of 1993 (and I can tell you that that first “New Class” season is the Coy and Vance of SBTB) in hopes of keeping the original audience coming back and California Dreams would go on to be another mainstay of the lineup, the network would take a “throw it against the all and see if it will stick” and that meant that some of the shows that premiered in 1992, like Name Your Adventure and Double Up, would only be around for a little while.

Name Your Adventure LogoName Your Adventure was a reality show wherein a teenager would get the opportunity to do something they’d always dreamed of doing, a formula that would get reused in the early 2000s with the MTV series Made. Hosted by Mario Lopez, Jordan Brady, and Tatyana Ali, the show was a slightly slicker version of classic PBS shows like 3-2-1 Contact because it was less about the spectacle of nerd rehabilitation (which was 99% of Made) and more like someone being given an internship. I found one story on YouTube that featured teenager Jon Steinberg who was interested in becoming a sports broadcaster, so he was paired up with Bob Miller who at the time was the play-by-play guy for the Los Angeles Kings. The segment was definitely more educational than flashy, as Miller fed Steinberg a lot of information as well as gave him real-time feedback as he tried his hand at calling part of an Angels/Yankees game.

Name Your Adventure b-ball game

Broadcaster Bob Miller gives Jon Steinberg some tips on how to call a basketball game on an episode of Name Your Adventure.

I would have found this interesting in 1992 and found it interesting even now because of how Miller pointed out all of the intricacies of describing a game’s action while it happened. Of course, this doesn’t have the appeal of a teenager crying on camera because they just can’t seem to get anything to work correctly, so I understand why this show would have not had staying power. And it didn’t have a ton of staying power for Steinberg because this isn’t the career he chose–he is the former head of Buzzfeed. But the show did last for a few seasons (and I suspect it’s because it helped fulfill an educational mandate for NBC), so there’s a decent amount of footage available on YouTube.

YouTube, by the way, wound up being my avenue of choice to see if I could find any footage from this early TNBC era and ran into one of the common problems with tracking down the early 1990s on the Internet, which is that if it was never rereleased on a digital platform, it’s very hard to find. Steinberg happened to upload his segments from Name Your Adventure to YouTube (so I guess he had fond memories of the experience), but unless you have someone who still has a pile of VHS tapes and the means to rip them to a streaming format, then you’re pretty out of luck. And who would have taped and then uploaded an episode of Double Up was probably hoarding VHS tapes.

Double Up was an attempt at a teen dating show, one that was obviously trying to capitalize on the popularity of Studs, which in itself was a slightly raunchier version of Love Connection. Hosted by J.D. Roth (the host of the afternoon Double Dare rip-off Fun House), the premise is that brothers and sisters set one another up on dates and we see how things went. Complete with a M.C. Skat Cat-type rap theme and in in-studio deejay, this is very much a show that was developed by an adult who was working off a “1991 Teen” checklist and it’s no wonder it only lasted seven episodes.*

 

Brains and Brawn Auto Tracking

Mark-Paul Gosselaar hosted Brains and Brawn around the same time he was shooting SBTB:TCY.  I captured this image because of the way the “auto tracking” from someone’s VCR was preserved for all of YouTube to see.

Brains and Brawn, on the other hand, was a slightly better attempt at a game show and this lasted a little longer. Having obviously struck out with “Studs for Teens”, NBC decided to go with a more “Take the Physical Challenge” route and created a show that combined trivia, sporting events, and teen celebrities. Hosted by Mark-Paul Gosselaar with assists from Tatyana Ali and Danielle Harris, it was shot on the Universal Studios backlot in front of the clock tower from Back to the Future and had a live audience, probably comprised of tourists. Honestly, though, if I were a teenager visiting Hollywood in 1992, I would have totally gone to a taping of this.

 

Wait, I did go to Hollywood in 1992 and visited Universal Studios. Why didn’t I get a chance to see this tape? Shit.

Brains and Brawn Hockey

Jay Anthony Franke of “California Dreams” fame competes in the hockey physical challenge part of “Brains and Brawn.”

Anyway, on Brains and Brawn, teenagers were put in teams and worked with a celebrity “captain”–usually someone from another teen television show–and they would answer trivia questions before competing in a sporting event like shooting baskets or trying to get their slap shot past a goalie. The final challenge was an obstacle course, and while I was watching an eight-minute clip that featured the cast of California Dreams, I have to say that it really comes off as if your gym teacher had tried to do Double Dare in middle or high school. I probably would have found it fun and there are moments where the celebrities do look like they’re having fun, but there’s also this air of contractual obligation, hoping the check clears, and hoping that the kids watching this show would watch whatever the celebrities were promoting.

 

I can’t imagine that the budget on this was particularly huge–the winning team received a Bushnell telescope instead of a vacation or cash***, and for all we know, the money that NBC had earmarked for its teen shows mostly went to its sitcoms–Saved By the Bell, California Dreams, and the one-season wonder Running the Halls.

 

Running the Halls

Three characters from “Running the Halls” react to a guy wearing a gorilla suit.  From l-r: Trevor Lissauer, Senta Moses-Mikan, and Richard Hillman Jr.

Running the Halls was an attempt at a single-camera sitcom, which was something you would have seen if you were watching Fox at the time, which had the short-lived Tobey Maguire show Great Scott! and the underrated classic Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. However, unlike those two shows, NBC decided to throw a laugh track over the action and did very little except repeat the Saved By the Bell formula. Our main character here was a Zack Morris clone named Andy McBain (played by Richard Hillman Jr.) who is trying to be the big man on campus at a private school, getting into the same sort of trouble Zack would get into on both the original and College Years seasons of Saved By the Bell. There are even romantic interests and a Screech-like character. I watched a clip where Andy choked at a basketball game and saw characters that looked like they were dressed from the pages of the most recent issue of Seventeen. I can see why this was forgotten, although I remember enjoying it at the time. Maybe that’s because there wasn’t anything else on that filled the void left by Degrassi and the other two sitcoms were just way too technicolor for me, or maybe I thought that the girls on the show were hot at the time****. At any rate, when Senta Moses showed up on My So-Called Life the following year as Delia Fisher, I immediately recognized her from Running the Halls.

 

While California Dreams would go off the air in 1997 and Saved By the Bell: The New Class would last all the way until 2000, the other shows would all be off the air by the time I headed to college in 1995. TNBC itself would last until the early 2000s and feature shows like City Guys and Hang Time, but would then get replaced by the Discovery Kids on NBC programming block. NBC’s current Saturday morning lineup currently consists of the weekend edition of the Today Show and then travel and information shows that seem more like cheaply purchased time-fillers than anything else. In fact, they could probably run infomercials here but I think the networks have to run some sort of educational programming at some point in the week and this is probably their way to shove all of that in.

My age prevents me from saying what the Saturday morning viewing habits of the average American teenager was like after I left my time with these shows behind. For all I know, those last few years of TNBC were less of a network on the pulse of its audience and more of an attempt to hold on to the audience that once watched cartoons but were now pulled away by Disney, Nick, and MTV. And though I did watch a number of these shows, even I knew that they were time fillers. Then again, that’s what most Saturday morning television was to my generation–something to keep us occupied before your parents finally stepped in and made you go outside.

* I’m not doing this show’s bizzareness justice and I think that I’ll write a longer entry about it next week.
** Danielle Harris, who has been in a number of horror movies throughout her career, was at that point playing the teenage neighbor of the Connors on Roseanne. I had a major crush on her.
*** Although if I’m being honest, a Bushnell telescope isn’t exactly cheap. After all, Ronald Miller paid a grand to go out with Cindy Mancini and that money was originally going to go toward the purchase of a telescope.
**** Probably.

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.