Category: Television - THE CATASTROPHIZER
 
There is going to be a Murder, She Wrote reboot

If I had my own internet, there would certainly have been talk about Affleck-Batman, but that talk would now, obviously, be eclipsed by talk about Spencer-Fletcher. 

Most people are focusing on the fact that this reboot demonstrates that NBC is the network version of the saddest, most desperate, most unimaginative person who has ever existed.

Few people are discussing the fact that this re-envisioning of the long-running HIT SERIES might as well just be called Sort of Like Castle: With Octavia Spencer Instead of Nathan Fillion for all the resemblance it bears to the original. This isn't being discussed much (or at least not with much intensity) because the original show was not very good and most of the people who really liked it are now long dead—but damn it, I have proved on a mystifyingly regular basis that I love it deeply (it has its own category in this blog), and I would argue that even the most terrible shows are about things and have actors in them and so can be disrespected when networks remake them and change them so that they become unrecognizable.

If there's one thing everyone knows about Murder, She Wrote, it's that J.B. Fletcher was old, and old people liked her (that might actually be two things). Angela Lansbury was 59 when she took on the role in 1984. And J.B. Fletcher was a retired school-teacher and widow who expected to sink into quiet obscurity in Cabot Cove, Maine, but instead became a famous mystery author and international super-sleuth. It's the whole point of the show: this woman is (a) old, (b) a widow, and (c) living in Maine (although in later seasons she does keep an apartment in New York). She has already lived a whole life, and she never expected to have a whole other life. I would be willing to wager that old people liked this show not only because Lansbury was also old, but also because it suggested it's possible to have a second good and fulfilling life after your first one has ended.

I have absolutely nothing against Octavia Spencer, except for the fact that casting her as J.B. Fletcher is like casting Matt Damon as Matlock (Spencer and Damon are the same age). I also have nothing against hospital administrators (that's apparently what the new J.B. is going to be), but Jessica DID NOT HAVE A JOB ANYMORE, BECAUSE SHE WAS SO OLD. I still haven't heard anything about where this will be set—but if she's now young and a hospital administrator, I'm betting she won't be busy being both of those things in some small town in Maine. So if this show is about the crime-solving adventures of a young-ish hospital administrator/self-published author in some big city somewhere, it could really be called almost anything else. It could be called Remington Steele, for God's sake.

Oh, wait. NBC couldn't call it Remington Steele—BECAUSE NBC IS ALREADY REMAKING THAT SHOW, TOO.

 
One of the great things about the internet is that you can google things like "I feel ambivalent about Steven Moffatt" or "Why does my cat watch me in the shower" and immediately discover that there are lots of people who have both ambivalent feelings about Steven Moffatt and questions about why their cats want to watch them in the shower.

So I shouldn't really have been surprised to discover that I am not the only one to have feelings of various kinds about that guy from the Everest commercial.

If you're never seen the Everest commercial, that's likely because you're successful and employed and generally fulfilled—it plays only during the day on CP24. And if you have seen it, you probably also have opinions about things like Stephen LeDrew and how maybe it's ambition that matters most, really, because there are so many untalented successful people and so many really amazingly talented not-very-successful people who are busy watching daytime television while not being celebrated.

Here's the script (with details about the actual school taken out, because I don't care as much about them):

You're sitting on your couch, you're watching TV, and your life is passing you by. Keep procrastinating, over and over. Well, maybe I'll go to school next year. Maybe next semester. No, do it right now.

You spend all the day on the phone anyhow. Why don't you make a phone call that's going to help you in your future? All you gotta do is pick up the phone and make the call.

Why are you making it complicated? It's easy.


And here's the Everest guy himself:
As I discovered after I googled "Everest commercial guy," he's inspired parody videos, stand-up comedy routines, and a Facebook page (with 6664 likes) called "The Black Guy from Everest College Commercials That Yell at You" that features the following description: "Regardless of how you feel about this angry man, this is the page for you if you know about him."

What amazes me the most about this commercial is not that it is the most demoralizing and effective commercial ever produced, or that it opens with a statement that could be made about me at any given time and still be incontrovertibly true—but that it has the power to inspire so many different emotions in me. 

Profound Shame
When I first saw it, I felt profound shame. I mean, I was GOING TO SCHOOL when I first saw it, but that didn't matter—my life WAS passing me by, and I knew it.

Gratitude
Then I started to kind of appreciate how passionate he was about the fact that I was wasting my life. He expected more of me. He knew I was capable of more. It's good to have someone like that around—someone who pushes you to do your best.

Appreciation
Later still, I found myself mostly marvelling at the fact that he is probably the greatest actor of all time. He is utterly convincing. If someone told me he was just some real guy on the street who happened to have strong opinions about my schooling and my laziness, I'd absolutely believe him. 

If he were Canadian (which he is not), I would demand that we as a country honour him by immediately casting him in some show opposite Stephen LeDrew. And even though he's not Canadian, I think we should do so anyway, because there are probably dozens of people sitting in doctors' waiting rooms in Canada right now who'd love to see more from him.
 
Commercials are mostly awful (except, obviously, for quirky German ones that celebrate tiny cars). I realize that's not exactly a controversial statement ("I'm going to take a stand right now and just say plagues are unpleasant"), but it's one I'd like to enlarge upon at length.

Because there's a certain kind of commercial that's been taking Canadian television by storm, and I HATE IT. 

It's a very simple concept for a commercial: you come up with a list of nouns and things and then get someone with either a smug and unctuous voice or a smug and knowing voice to read them. 

The smug and unctuous voices are used for things like Ikea commercials (which USED to be more like German small-car commercials), and I think are supposed to make you feel as though you have well-behaved, loving small children and are watching them have a pillow fight in dappled sunlight on your duvet on Mothers' Day. "We're for long naps, and keeping secrets, and letting your hair down," etc. I swear there's one that's far worse, but this is the only one I could track down. 

The smug and knowing voices are used for the condescending, enraging, stick-it-to-the-man-ish commercials. "You're no follow-the-leader, lower-level Nazi; you're no parasite-brained Yes Man with a blood infection," etc. My favourite current example of this breed of terrible is this Crystal Light commercial, which is terrible.

I'm not sure whether it's the repellent smarminess, the repellant disingenuousness, or the repellant laziness of these commercials that I find most repellant.

Imagine my relief then, when something came along that distracted me from these commercials much in the way a punch to the head takes your mind off a migraine. 

It is the worst. It is an Oreo commercial. It is magnificent in its awfulness. It is the malign programming of young girls to be competitive biological clocks as sung by a wistful set of bangs.

It makes me extremely depressed. And whenever I get extremely depressed, I think of this Maple Leaf meats commercial, because nothing, absolutely nothing, can restore balance to the brain like a dose of pure batshit crazy.
 
I have a not-very-important thing to say about Homeland's first season, which aired about five years ago and is no longer of much interest to anyone.

What I am going to say does not, oddly enough, relate to the fact that Claire Danes seems to be the worst spy ever ("I just know he's bad! Did you see him play imaginary piano with his fingers?" "But do you have any evidence?" "Screw you, Mandy Patinkin!" Then repeat this exchange every five minutes while Claire Danes fails to discover any actual evidence and grows increasingly agitated).

It relates instead to my almost-forgotten, violent, uncontrollable hatred of instrumental jazz. And of all those people who believe that making a character listen to jazz in a tv show or movie will clearly and incontrovertibly communicate to the audience that this character is interesting and crawling with all kinds of unfathomable depths.

The credit sequence is bad enough: it's like something produced by a grade 12 student who elected to do a video essay instead of a real essay for her final project on the fragmented psyche of 21st-century America and how it relates to some dreams she had once. (I fast-forward it now, so all I remember is that at some point, a young girl in a sun dress is stuck in a garden maze and maybe there's a mushroom cloud--or something like that.)

But the worst is when Claire Danes is (a) riding in her car listening to jazz and pensively grooving it up, or (b) preparing to try to romance a secret Muslim she should really still be suspicious of by pouring some wine and putting on some smooth Miles Davis. I feel like every time she listens to jazz, I myself am listening to someone yelling "SHE IS COMPLICATED, DAMAGED, AND SUPER COOL." And instead of believing that, or thinking of smoke-filled rooms and musical innovation, I immediately imagine an affluent, middle-aged white man with a cottage.
 
2012 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year--although as my father and I agreed just before the end of it, it's always possible 2013 will be worse, so best not to trumpet 2012's passing too showily. That said, 2012 will likely never come around again, and that's something.

I had an emphatically homebody-ish New Year's Eve, which I am going to describe because I am not the least ashamed of it. Not everyone goes out to discotheques or is unable to go to a discotheque only because it's impossible to leave the new baby.

My parents came over. We kicked off the night by driving to a Future Shop (I needed a longer audio cord), which was closed. We came back to my apartment, ordered some pizza, and then watched a good half hour of something called something like Senior Star, a Hamilton talent competition featuring aged lady fiddlers in sparkling lounge pants being assessed by a panel of judges who all appeared to be drunk.

Then my parents convinced me that Midsomer Murders is no longer quite so precious now that the first Inspector Barnaby is gone, and so we watched an episode. It featured a man's bare bum, so obviously I will not be watching that filth again.

For no apparent reason, I then forced my parents to watch a rerun of Psych, a show which, if I were an even slightly different person, would drive me nuts, but instead makes me feel delighted.

My parents left at 11:45, leaving me with a critical decision: Would I watch the Toshiba ball drop on Pepsi Anderson Cooper, or would I defiantly not care about midnight and read defiantly in bed? Would I be all "Oh...midnight? Is that when the new year began? (lazy laugh) I'm afraid I'd already turned in." Or would I decide it's more annoying to not care about midnight and defiantly watch one of those guys I think might have originally fronted a Christian rock band get John Lennon lyrics wrong?

As it happened, I made no conscious decision at all, because at about five minutes to midnight, George the cat rushed into the room and demanded attention, and so when the ball dropped and tragically crushed Kathy Griffin, I was busy lying on the floor being head-butted by a merciless purring tabby and missed the whole thing entirely (as did Stabler,
who was busy rolling about in her first hay tribute of 2013).


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I am still recovering from the 8-hour-long Blitzer-krieg pundit attack that was Tuesday night. It was like an awesome television-drama crossover episode (the classic Magnum P.I./Murder She Wrote two-parter springs to mind)—all my pundit friends were there AT ONE TIME. Jones and Castellanos and Gergen and Crowley! Carville and Martin and some blonde lady I'm pretty sure was Republican! (Gloria Borger could be Jessica Fletcher. Van Jones could be Magnum. David Gergen would obviously be Higgins. I was going to make a crack about how Ari Fleischer could be the person whose murder they'd be solving, but then I decided that was unnecessarily nasty).

And I reaffirmed my sense of the places in America I would not like to live and the people I would not like to live with. I would not like to live with these people (because they're racists) or this person (because he's sexist—he seems to have now made this post private, so I was forced to track down a weird copied-and-then-pasted version). Although I have to thank the sexist Christian man, who credited the "slut vote" for Obama's win, because the only thing liberal sluts have been able to do in large groups together that doesn't involve crazy open-minded sex using birth control is walking, and now they have another option. You know that if this guy had published his reasoned argument about slutty lady voters a week ago, there would have been organized "slut votes," and left-wing women would have gotten all dressed up in their actual, everyday super-slut clothes and gone to the polls together. Maybe they'll still do that four years from now, but it's all too possible someone will call them sluts for doing something completely different, and then they'll start doing that together and forget all about voting in a big old harlot bloc.


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Many years ago, I watched an episode of Oprah that featured conjoined twin girls—I believe they were joined at the head. I insisted on sharing various responses to and insights about it with a friend (both the responses and insights went something like "I mean, imagine what it would be like. IMAGINE WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE."). The friend with whom I was speaking, after agreeing that imagining what it would be like was indeed a rich and worthwhile undertaking, then said, "And, I mean, let's be honest: when they grow up, every man's fantasy."

There was a rather awkward silence, and then I said to him, "I think you mean identical twins. Just regular identical twins. Not conjoined twins - those ones aren't the stereotypical male fantasy ones."

He would certainly have agreed that he didn't have his finger on the pulse of mainstream culture (he once explained quite seriously to classmates that his presentation on Blake might be somewhat convoluted because he had, after all, written it while listening to both Rachmaninoff and Beethoven [I'm pretty sure it was those two—I'm not really an authority, and it's all too possible I wrote my own presentation while listening to radio stations playing a combination of Sisqo and Shaggy]) at the same time.

But how had I learned that identical twins were something the average man was supposed to want to have the sex with? Had I ever actually heard a man discuss wanting to have the sex with identical twins? No. I realized then that everything I knew about the Male Libido I learned from Dan Fielding.

Dan Fielding was a character played by John Larroquette on the sitcom Night Court. He was a prosecutor and also a devoted, unashamed pervy perv. From Dan Fielding, I learned that it was not unheard of for men to want to sleep with twins; I learned that stewardesses were the prostitutes of the skies, and that Swedish ones were especially awesome; I learned  that successful prosecutors might well also visit with the prostitutes of the ground, known simply as prostitutes.

Dan Fielding was greedy, lecherous, thoughtless, craven, dishonest, and kind of vulnerably pathetic. In the opposite corner of Night Court manhood was Judge Harold T. Stone, a wistful, selfless child-man who would not think twice about leaving a plane full of Norwegian swimsuit models for the chance to eat an ice-cream cone with Mel Torme.

So it's because of Night Court that I developed a sense of there being two very clear types of men: those who get a woman alone in order to force unwanted sexual attentions upon her, and those who get a woman alone in order to force unwanted and unsuccessful magic tricks upon her.

I don't know why I didn't pay more attention to Mac. He was a pretty good husband to Quon Le. 

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Once again, I'm going to write about something that scared me when I was a kid--partly because I spent so much of my childhood being terrified of things that this topic has triggered a seemingly endless stream of remembrances, and partly because I've spent the week thinking about how it's possible for a kid to be terrified of a Muppet.

The Phantom of the Muppet Show (the ungodly fright puppet I discussed last week) was indeed a phantom who haunted places and people, but he was also surrounded by singing and dancing bundles of adorableness (and also Ethel Merman). My undeveloped brain, dominated by a sense that the world boasted many conspicuous threats, and many things that seemed innocuous and then turned out to be threats, and many children's puppets who wanted to sing and dance and then lie in wait and kill me, was capable of being frightened by Uncle Deadly (understanding the "Deadly" part), but not of correctly receiving and interpreting the very clear "Toddlers! Do not fear! This admittedly terrifying Muppet only draws near because he wants to sing and dance with you!" message (the "Uncle" part).

It's not surprising that I was scared by something like Poltergeist when I was a kid. It's a scary movie. It's more surprising that I was so petrified by the following show-within-a-show that even just hearing the theme song was enough to make me want to retreat under my bed and set up house there.

The show was called 3-2-1 Contact, and it ostensibly taught kids about science, although it taught me mostly about FEAR AND SUFFERING. I don't remember much about the larger show at all (i.e. I've forgotten most of the science-y bits), but I remember the embedded story, which focused on a group called the Bloodhound Gang. The Bloodhound Gang (proving that liberal, science-education-promoting, public-access-television-viewing parents don't truly love their children and so let them run about unsupervised and learn about scientific principles and near-death experiences) are for some reason allowed to moonlight as private investigators and regularly able to foil villains and their villainous plots by way of things like pinhole cameras.
I no longer remember when the Bronze Age was or how to multiply fractions, but thirty or so years later, I still remembered that these kids found a stolen mummy, were thrown into a truck, and were threatened with death by hardened criminals.

Unfortunately, I managed to forget that a)  the soundtrack regularly featured the "wah wah wah waaaaah" sound judiciously used by sitcoms to signify that something silly and unexpected has happened, b) the criminals were silly, and c) the children were never scared. I also managed to forget every bit of resourceful science-y-ness the kids used to get themselves out of danger. (Of course, I just watched this again as a 36-year-old and am still not convinced I know how to build and operate a pinhole camera.)

When I was little, I was able to edit out all the signals that were supposed to reassure me that children's television danger was neither truly dangerous nor likely to last very long. I was, though, able to grasp the fact that in emergencies, I would almost certainly be called upon save myself by drawing on my knowledge of things like the Bronze Age or the multiplication of fractions. If I'd been a member of the Bloodhound Gang, I WOULD HAVE DIED IN THE BACK OF THAT TRUCK.

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When I was a kid, I often thought of things as being in competition with one another, and of myself as being required to come down on one side or the other. So there was the Rolling Stones vs. the Beatles (Beatles); Star Wars vs. Indiana Jones (Star Wars, although that's just because of how much I liked Star Wars and doesn't mean I didn't also idolize spirited women who could drink men under the table in exotic locales); and Sesame Street vs. the Muppet Show. I realize that Sesame Street and the Muppet Show had various things in common, like everyone who produced them. But I, being a young person who loved the Beatles and Star Wars but perhaps loved judging things even more, felt obliged to make a choice, and it wasn't difficult in the least: it was the Muppets every time.

It was partly because the grown-ups on Sesame Street kind of freaked me out. They were overly friendly and it also seemed to me that they talked down to the puppets. Also, it used to make me cry because no one would ever believe that Snuffleupagus existed, even though he'd just been RIGHT THERE.

On the Muppets, there was a far more sensible person-to-puppet ratio and less of an emphasis on counting. There was only one problem with the show: it featured a terrifying creature who, because Darth Vader had already claimed my bedroom closet, got into the habit of materializing on my wall. This horrifying, terrifying, sinister Muppet was named Uncle Deadly and he was the Phantom of the Muppet Show.

It's funny how impressionable and malleable and defenseless and hysterical a kid's mind is; he seems to have appeared on the show only a couple of times, and yet he had enough of an impact on me that he carved out a piece of the nightmare part of my brain for his own.

He turned up first in the company of Vincent Price, who scared me. He then turned up again singing with Ethel Merman, who also undoubtedly scared me.

He appeared to various muppets, and scared them, and Kermit thought they'd imagined it all (WHY ARE MUPPETS SO FAITHLESS AND SKEPTICAL?!?), but finally he saw Uncle Deadly for himself  and learned that Uncle Deadly used to perform at the Muppet Theatre as Othello before he was killed by critics.

I'm sure that episode ended with Deadly becoming friends with everyone and turning out to be a loving and supportive friend, but I blocked that part out. When he turned up on my wall (his eyes would glow - I could actually see his eyes glowing), he was not friendly. I don't know why I didn't just set Darth Vader on him.



Picture
Sketch by Muppet designer Michael K. Frith. Sleep well.
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Here's something that scared me when I was six. Next week I will write about another childhood fear (maybe the one that involved something crawling through my ear and into my brain).

The Littlest Hobo
I watched Doctor Who on a regular basis when I was a child, and I was never scared. I was never scared of Daleks, or the Master, or the Cybermen, or the terrible thing that lived underground and was clearly just a number of people concealed inside a giant sock. I was disdainful of all children who were scared of Doctor Who, and who spoke of being creeped out as soon as they heard the opening bars of the theme song.

I resolutely ignored the fact that my disdain was rendered ridiculous by my own fear of The Littlest Hobo. Not the dog—I knew he was a wandering canine force for wrong-righting and justice. I'm talking about the show itself. Maybe it was because it featured distressing things happening in and around Toronto; it was certainly because, at least as far as I remember, each and every show featured robbers. Robbers! Torontonian (or at least Ontarian) robbers who climbed up ladders into windows! My memory also tells me they were dressed very much in the manner of an eight-year-old dressing up as a robber for Halloween. They had black turtlenecks, and masks, and sacks to carry off all the things they were planning to take from the bedrooms of the children whose witless parents had left ladders lying around as a irresistible invitation to 1980s robbers.

It's not even just that I knew that Torontonian robbers were real and space monsters likely weren't and so apportioned my fear in a sensible manner. I would probably have been able to accept that there were giant walking stones that killed people and evil men with goatees who turned people into action figures. I think maybe I wasn't petrified by those possibilities because if they were possible, so too was a time-traveling , mop-top space scamp with a penchant for jelly babies. And if he existed, it was almost unavoidable that I would at some point end up traveling through time and space with him, earning my keep by acting as a stabilizing influence.

What was the compensation for the undeniable existence of robbers? A dog who traveled about south-eastern Ontario occasionally foiling those robbers before promptly deserting whatever child had developed an attachment to him? As much as I was petrified of robbers when I was six, it's possible I was even more petrified of being saved and then rejected by a crime-fighting dog. Maybe tomorrow you'll want to settle down? WHY NOT NOW.




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