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Archive for July, 2007

For the Love of God: No More Special Jeopardy Episodes Ever

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 31, 2007

Some matters require divine intervention

I was never the biggest fan of Jeopardy! growing up–for the great majority of my life, I’ve sucked at anything trivia-related that didn’t in some way involve music, movies or TV, so the general knowledge necessary to perform adequately at a show like Jeopardy! was never really within my grasp (not to mention that the cancellation of the too-soon-for-this-world Rock & Roll Jeopardy left a bitter, bitter taste in my mouth). But recently, I’ve gotten into it–I still suck at all but one or two categories per round (the pop culture one and the vocab-y one, usually), but I realize that I still find it pretty interesting. It’s just a great game show format–rapid-fire trivia with no unnecessary Millionaire-like pauses for dramatic effect–and it feels pretty great when I actually know the answer to something. Plus, I guess it wouldn’t kill me to learn a thing or two about stuff out of my normal realm of trivia dominance.

But I haven’t been able to watch it for the last two and a half weeks, and it’s starting to piss me off. For two weeks, it was Teen Tournament time, and I couldn’t bring myself to see how I did against a bunch of teenagers. Not because I consider myself above them or anything–I’m quite sure that they’d kick my ass if pitted against me on the show–but because playing along with it at home is a lose/lose situation. If I know some of the answers, fucking wow, I’m able to hold my own against a bunch of high school kids. And if I don’t know the answers, well, then, how pathetic is that? Either way I’m guaranteed to feel bad about myself, and that’s one thing I certainly don’t need from my TV watching.

But far, far worse than the teen tournament is this Celebrity Jeopardy thing they’ve been doing at Radio City Music Hall this week (and maybe next week too, but dear lord I hope not). And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the SNL skit–it’s just a couple of A or B-list celebrities playing the game in front of a live audience. This should be bearable–hey, at least they’re adults, and successful ones at that, but that’s obviously no guarantee that they’d be good at Jeopardy!. It’d make me feel pretty damn good to see Regis Philbin flop in front of a live audience when he’s behind the buzzer for once.

Unfortunately, the formatting of the thing makes it beyond unwatchable. The bantering is deadly, and worse, it’s very time consuming, as are the new “special” clues, where a celebrity guest comes out to “help” with the clue (the one I saw involved one of the Wicked stars singing about half of one of the show’s songs, before asking a barely-relevant question about Wizard of Oz). But even more annoyingly, the audience claps after every single answer. And the contestants wait for it. Usually by the time of the first commercial break, half the board wil be cleared, at the end of Celebrity Jeopardy’s first act, they were at most seven or eight questions in. That was all I could stand to watch anyway.

To take this show away from me now like this is unforgivable. It’s become a rock of my nightly TV watching, something I turn to whenever I’m home to watch it. Unlike other relatively reliable nightly programming (namely the Simpsons, Seinfeld and Scrubs re-runs), it’s actually new every night, and there’s no such thing as a “bad episode”. It’s a guaranteed half-hour of solid, involving entertainment in an otherwise murky and uncertain lineup of summertime viewing. Plus–and luckily, this should come as a shock to absolutely no one at this point–I need my trivia fix. In the college bowl off-season, I only get so many outlets, and even though it’s not my prefererd subject matter, Jeopardy! was doing a nice job of tiding me over until the school year starts once more.

So fuck this shit. Give me back my normal formatting, and give me back my ordinary intellectual contestants, who I don’t hate and who I don’t feel bad about being absolutely demolished by. Some formulas just shouldn’t be tinkered with.

Posted in For the Love of God | 5 Comments »

100 Years, 100 Songs: #81. Mogwai – “Mogwai Fear Satan”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 30, 2007

“By far the most accurate sonic representation of the Big Bang theory in the history of music.” -Nick Mirov, Pitchfork

Sixteen minutes and thirty seconds. Three guitar chords. One sonic apocalypse.

I never understood the term “post-rock” as applied to a band like Mogwai. Sure, it makes sense for bands like Tortoise, Disco Inferno or A.R. Kane, because so much of the music those guys made legitimately sounds like it exists in a world where the standards of rock and roll are no longer a relevant consideration. But for me, at least, Mogwai represents so much of what is wonderful and beautiful about rock music–the thunderous power, the shivering emotion, and the brilliant sense of affirmation–that I can’t imagine a world in which the band and rock could not co-exist.

I’d prefer to think of Mogwai as the world’s best Christian Metal band. And obviously, I don’t mean that in the Stryper sense–the overwhelming majority of Mogwai songs are instrumental, and aside from this song’s title, I can’t think of another religious reference the band makes in their entire catalogue. But when you listen to a song like “Mogwai Fear Satan,” you can hear the sense of righteousness and the search for salvation shining through every note, and more than any band I can think of (with the possible exception, inevitably, of Rush), the band’s best songs sound like they are literally trying to combat the evil forces of the world with the power of rock & roll. Without lyrics, and with a totally straight face.

And for the most part, it works. Listening to the ascending three-chord riff of “Mogwai Fear Satan,” the chugging subtly harmonizing bass, and the waves upon waves of crashing drums, all of which are repeated hundreds of times throughout the course of the song, you are filled with the overwhelming sense of belief–in God, in love, in whatever the strangest and most wonderous powers of the universe are, in whatever will have you as a believer. For the sixteen and a half minutes of “Mogwai Fear Satan,” evil simply can not exist.

And yet, all I want to do while listening to it is weep with sadness. And that’s largely because it feels like the end–and not just because it happens to end the album it appears on, 1997’s stone classic Young Team, marking easily one of the best album closers in history, and not just because it so obviously sounds like the end of the world (try to listen to it without picturing the world collapsing around you–doubt it can be done). Really, it’s just because it feels like the end of all things, as if there’s nothing that could possibly come after it, because what is there that could follow “Mogwai Fear Satan”?

That’s not to say that it’s a perfect song–if it was, you can be certain it’d be significantly higher on this list. The song doesn’t quite pace itself the right way, being a bit too anxious to get to the apocalypse that it doesn’t take as much time as I’d like to build to it, and spends a bit too much time with the fallout afterwards. But the emotions evoked by the song’s best parts are as powerful and as beautiful as any other song on this list, and such brazenness in the face of evil…well, it’s always admirable. If Mogwai legitimately do fear Satan, or anything else for that matter, they’ve got a strange way of showing it.

Posted in 100 Years 100 Songs | 3 Comments »

Something’s Always Wrong: Re-Appreciating The Godfather Part III

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 29, 2007

“You people are all right. Godfather…I seen that movie 200 times. Godfather II was definitely the shit. The third one…a lot of people didn’t like it. But I think it was just…misunderstood.” -Massive Genius, The Sopranos

You’re not going to find too many people to disagree with the general statement that in the last few years, AMC has gone to shit. More than any other basic cable channel, with the possible exception of VH-1 and MTV, AMC has completely lost sight of what it was originally supposed to represent, adding in commercials, changing its playlist from golden-age classics to countless re-runing of US Marshalls, and essentially transforming from American Movie Classics to Another Movie Channel. It’s just a good thing the transition happened after I stopped watching Oscar-winners 24 hours a day, the heartbreak would’ve been unimaginable seven or eight years ago.

But there is one good thing about the new AMC: they’ll use any excuse they can come up with to have a Godfather marathon. Robert Duvall’s birthday? Time for a Godfather marathon. Sofia Coppola has a new movie coming out? Time for a Godfather marathon. 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Veretans Day, or any other holiday where they can run a series of commercials using the “I believe in America” quote from I in a sardonic, semi-topical ad blitz? Time for a Godfather marathon. And most recently, a new TV show with loose connections to the idea of doing immoral business while wearing a flashy suit?

So, guess what I’ve been watching today. There aren’t many movies that simply don’t get unwatchable with repeated upon repeated viewings, but really, the Godfather trilogy is on an entirely different plane when it comes to that shit. With the constant re-running, I must watch each of the movies at least three or four times a year, and still, when one of them comes on (even w/ censoring and commercials), I know what I’m watching for the next three-four hours. My dream house would have a wall-wide TV that would just constantly be re-running these movies on a loop, and whenever I walked by it, I’d stop in for fifteen minutes or so, quoting along with the dialogue and whistling along to the score.

And as I’m sure you can notice by now, unlike most of the trilogy’s fans, I don’t make exceptions for The Godfather Part III. Doubtful you could find a single person in the world to argue it superior, or even equal, to the other two–like 99.9999% of movies, it’s imperfect, and it just so happens that the other two make up about half of the .00001% of movies that are. But I find it a more than worthy ending to the trilogy, and arguably the best Part III of any film trilogy I can think of (and yes, that includes Back to the Future Part III and Army of Darkness). But before defending this position, I will first get the movie’s gaping faults out of the way (FAIRLY MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS PROCEED HERE, SO STOP READING IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE YET BECAUSE REGARDLESS OF WHAT ANYONE SAYS YOU REALLY REALLY SHOULD):

  1. Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen character is badly, badly missed, and the milquetoast lawyer dude they got to make up for it (B.J. Harrison, played by George Hamilton) is definitely no substitute.
  2. The major hit scene–in which the great majority of the Corleone family’s major players and important friends are wiped out by Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) by locking them in a hotel room meeting while a helicopter sprays the room with bullets–is wildly ridiculous and implausible, and is a travesty when compared to the innovatively nuanced direction with which Coppola handled the trilogy’s other hit scenes, including the subsequent one in which Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) takes Zasa out.
  3. Much of the immobiliare subplot, involving the corruption in the highest level of the catholic church, is underdeveloped and largely irrelevant. I get what Coppola was going for–even the most holiest of institutions does not offer the redemption Michael so desparately craves–but he bit off a bit more than he could chew on that one.
  4. I’m sorry, but no henchman in history has ever banked on stabbing a man with his own reading glasses as a reliable method of assassination. An unfortunately LOL-worthy moment in an otherwise brilliant montage.
  5. The final scene–in which a now-elderly, present-day Michael sitting on a bench merely keels over and dies–is possibly the worst final scene in any movie that could otherwise be considered great, or good, or even watchable. It’s pointless, gratuitous, and intelligence-insulting, and it’s a real fucking shame that it’s the scene that caps the greatest film series of all-time.

So now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff. First and most obviously, Andy Garcia more than deserved the Best Supporting Actor nomination he received for his role as Vincent, the illegitimate kid of I’s Sonny Corleone. He’s the next generation, pure and simple, and you can see how he’s the inevitable successor to Michael–more impulsive, less thoughtful, but capable of the action that Michael can no longer bring himself to make. My favorite Vincent scene, and one of my favorites in the whole movie, is after he finishes screwing the thrillseeking reporter played by Bridget Fonda, and two of Zasa’s thugs break in to wipe him out. He disarms one, kills him in front of the other and promises the other that he’ll live if he releases Fonda and tells Vincent what he knows, then shoots him in the head after getting the necessary information. “C’mon sweetheart, that’s gambling,” he tells a horrified Fonda. “You wanted gambling, that’s gambling.”

And like the first two movies, there are some great villains–not exactly of the James Bond variety, but probably more unsettling. There’s Don Altobello, played by Eli Wallach (yes, the guy who played Tuco in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, and let me tell you how that blew my mind when I found out), Michael’s kindly old mentor, always shown smiling, who is nonetheless orchestrating much of the plot against the Corleone family (old guys really don’t like being displaced in the Godfather trilogy). There’s Joe Mantegna–young, arrogant, amoral and Altobello’s very opposite, who nonetheless is similarly hungry for a taste of the Family’s action. And then there’s Mosca, the nearly mute but eerily proficient old-school assassin sent to take out Michael–watching the incredibly suspenseful final scene at the opera, a finale more than worthy of the climactic scenes of I & II, it’s the only time in the series you believe his life to be legitimately in danger.

You might have noticed that while listing the film’s faults, I did not mention the Sofia Coppola’s infamous last-minute replacement performance as Michael’s daughter Mary. That’s because while I think Coppola’s performance clearly shows her acting inexperience, and while I find her character more than a little grating, I don’t find her performance entirely inapporpriate for the role. Mary should’ve been annoying, and a little bit simpering, because that’s the way spoiled, inarticulate teenage girls generally are, and I didn’t find her character any less compelling for it. She’s a believable daughter to Michael, and that’s all the role really required.

But really, this is Pacino’s movie, through and through. His amount of classic lines is equal to the first two–“Our true enemy has not yet shown his face,” “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” and my personal favorite, his reaction to the news of Joey Zasa’s murder–“It…was not…WHAT I WANTED!!! And it’s just an all-around powerhouse performance–in every action he makes in GIII, in every word and every facial expression, you can see the effect of two decades of cruel business, familial alienation and horrible, horrible deeds. You know that try as he might to find redemption–in his kids, in his ex-wife, and in the church–the man is doomed. Another of my favorite scenes in the movie has Michael confessing his sins to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone), including his murder of brother Fredo, breaking into tears for the first time in three movies. “Your sins are indeed terrible,” the Cardinal tells him. “It is just that you suffer.”

And then there’s Michael’s final silent scream, pictured above, when he sees that Mosca’s assassination attempt on him has left him wounded but alive, while fatally catching daughter Mary in the crossfire. Some said this shot was cheesy and excessive, but I think it’s one of the most powerful moments in the entire trilogy–considering Michael has now officially lost his one possibile shot at redemption, in addition to the only thing he really loves in the world, I’d say it was a fair enough reaction. What’s more, if a sign of a true tragic hero is that he needs to have knowledge of how his actions led to his downfall, then the death of Mary as an inevitable result of his decades of misdoings was necessary for such an epiphany.

More importantly, there needed to be a Godfather III. Brilliant as it was, II just didn’t feel like the end to a story, it felt like an epic middle act. But all great stories need a great ending, and even if it was a flawed one, I still believe Godfather fans should feel blessed to get one as inspired as Part III was.

Posted in Charts on Fire, Something's Always Wrong | 6 Comments »

Underrated Simpsons Moment: The Sweet Taste of Victory

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 27, 2007

When the hell is Rocky VII: Adrian’s Revenge gonna come out?

Everyone’s writing about The Simpsons today, and I see no reason why I should be the exception. Even though my expectations couldn’t really be too much lower–even with all the glowing press and reccomendations from otherwise trustworthy people–yeah, I’m still gonna see The Simpsons Movie. I’m not going to see ittonight, but that’s just because I actually won some free passes to it at a Simpsons trivia contest last night, and I can’t use ’em until Monday. In the meantime, I’m not gonna reflect on how The Simpsons is the greatest TV show of all-time, or talk about my favorite episodes, lines, scenes, characters, whatever. I’m just gonna talk about a moment that I didn’t really appreciate the genius of until I saw it again a week or so ago–one of the literally thousands of moments that provide a more convincing case for The Simpsons‘ genius than I ever could.

“Lemon of Troy,” the 6th season episode where the Springfield kids cross into Shelbyville to try to get back the town’s beloved lemontree, has been a fan favorite episode for some time now, and I’d agree, though I still have some misgivings. It’s too disjointed, too unlikely and fantastical a story–most of my favorite Simpsons episodes are ones that work as well as televised storytelling as they do a cavalcade of hilarity-inducing moments, but “Lemon of Troy” is one of the first Simpsons eps to function mostly as just a series of rapid-fire gags and profile-worthy quotes.

But while it, along with “A Star is Burns,” would set a dangerous precedent for the show to follow in its later seasons, goddamn does it have some funny fucking moments. Let’s just a couple of the more obvious classics out of the way:

  • “This town is a part of us all. A part of us all. A part of us all! Sorry to repeat myself, but it’ll help you remember it.”
  • “Now, Marge, you can’t blame all of Bart’s problems on your one little speech. If anything turned him bad, it’s that time you let him wear a bathing suit instead of underwear. And let’s not forget your little speech!”
  • “People, our search is over! On this site we shall build a new town where we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for making rope and blankets!”
    “Yes, and marry our cousins!”
    “I was–what are you talking about, Shelbyville?? Why would we want to marry our cousins??”
    “Because they’re so attractive. I..thought that was the whole point of this journey.”
  • “I’m never going to find that tree. This whole raid was as useless as that lemon-shaped rock over there. Hey, wait a minute…ther’es a lemon behind that rock!
  • “And with that, a mighty cheer went up from the heroes of Shelbyville. They had banished the awful lemon tree forever…because it was haunted. Now let’s all celebrate with a cool glass of turnip juice.”

And that’s just a fraction of ’em. But my current favorite part of the episode is entirely non-verbal. It’s after Homer and the rest of the Springfield adults realize what the kids are up to, and Homer confronts his Shelbyville equivalent through the gates of an impound lot. After they have one of the episode’s least funny exchanges (containing Homer’s far-overquoted response to the insult “you must be even stupider than you look,” “Stupider like a fox!”), the ShelbyHomer gleefully takes a bite out one of the tree’s lemons to taunt the adults of Springfield for their defeat.

I wish I could find a frambegrab of the seconds that follow the moment pictured above, but after a half-hour of scouring the ineternet, it appears no such freeze frame exists. However, one mere frame couldn’t possibly do justice to the way ShelbyHomer’s face just quietly wilts after taking a bite out of the lemon–which, as anyone who’s ever let their curiosity get the better of them with a lemon and no other food around knows, is one of the least pleasurable experiences known to man. Luckily, there’s a YouTube of it, so you can watch SH’s face transformation in its entirety. Needless to say, it undercuts SH’s moment of triumph just a little bit, and it remains one of my all-time favorite Simpsons visual gags.

Does turnip juice actually exist, by the way? For some reason, I’m kind of craving some right now.

Posted in Underrated Simpsons Moment | 1 Comment »

That Guy Salute: Rory Cochrane

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 26, 2007

“THAT’S what I”m talkin’ about, man, yeah!”

I like it when the roles actors pick over the course of the career sort of spell out a potential non-Hollywood alternate-universe narrative for their lives. The definitive example of this is with the career of John Cusack. He started out a confused teenager, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life (Better Off Dead, Say Anything), then once he got out of college, he tried a variety of diverse careers, like theater writing (Bullets Over Broadway), puppeteering (Being John Malkovich) and even professional killing (Grosse Point Blanke) but found satisfaction in none. Finally, he decided to buckle down and settle into a more ambitious job that actually satisfied his need to be a productive member of society (High Fidelity). Now, his only problem is finding a life companion to match (Serendipity, Must Love Dogs).

That’s why I was so glad to see that Rory Cochrane had finally found his place in life. When we first met him, he seemed to be enjoying himself all right, but it was more due to the truly superhuman amounts of pot he smoked as Ron Slater (Ron? Did they ever actually mention that in the movie?) in Dazed and Confused than any true direction in life. He was happy, sure, and he was certainly excited to go to college (due to the copious amounts of girls that, unlike the girls at Lee High School, were gonna finally start putting out), but he was probably too lazy to fill out the complex applications for the more prestigious schools, and most likely ended up going to some nearby community college, majoring in English or Communications.

When we next saw Rory two years later, as Lucas in Empire Records, he had grown up a fair amount. He had cut his hair, swapped out his weed-endorsing t-shirts for some dignified black turtlenecks, and adopted a far more philosophical, far less aggressive approach to life. Clearly, much of this new intellectualism was still pot-fuelled, but career-wise, it was definitely a step in the right direction. However, Cochrane still had a long way to go towards adulthood–he was being too irresponsible, taking too many chances, making poor decisions like gambling (and losing) his boss’s business savings away in Atlantic City, and then not bothering to apologize or even cover up for it. Things turned out OK–The Man was damned, and The Empire was saved–but if he hoped to make it in the real world, Rory had much maturing to do.

We didn’t hear from him for a while after that–most likely while he was out travelling the world, or finding himself, or working at a local fast food chain or something–but a few years ago he returned, well-dressed and clear-eyed, as detective Tim “Speed” Speedle on CSI: Miami. As one of Horatio Caine’s best and brightest, it looked like Cochrane had finally put his intellectual creativity to good use, no longer wasting it on theories about George Washington’s toking habits or ways to hook up his romantically estranged co-workers. He had finally found his place in life.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite to be. Cochrane’s old habits poked up again, as he quit the show and his character was killed off, finding TV’s shooting schedule too strenuous for his liking. When we last saw him, in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, he was a drug-addled, unemployed, suicidal derilect, a half-step away from absolute depravity. Apparently he wasn’t quite ready for the working world quite yet, and his attempting to put on a brave face and pretend like he was a regular 9 to 5 guy nearly killed him.

But I wouldn’t count Rory Cochrane out of it just yet. Sure, he’s in a rough patch right now, but I know he’ll bounce back–maybe a couple puffs to put him back at ease, and he’ll be as ponderous and delightful as ever. He’s gonna make it after all–hell, if John Cusack could do it, anyone can.

Posted in That Guy Salute | 7 Comments »

Don’t You Forget About Me / OMGWTFLOL: Donna Summer & Musical Youth’s “Unconditional Love” (1983)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 25, 2007

“The kind of love I deserve, the kind I want to return”

I’ve been hooked for some years now on these sporadically released 12″ / 80s compilations. What these comps do is take 80s songs that everybody knows (if you were a teenager in the 80s…and living in the UK at the time…) and present them in their original 12″ format–the unedited, dancefloor-ready extended versions that you’re not too likely to hear on the radio these days, unless your local station is awesome and does an 80s club night on Saturdays or something. Consequently, you get to hear some of the best pop songs of the 80s–INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” Duran Duran’s “The Reflex”–in ways you’ve never really heard them before, tight pop songs stretched out into (extremely decade-dated) dance epics. For many, the mere idea of this would be grounds for uncontrollable nausea, but for listeners such as myself, the hefty $40 price tags are negligible compared to the thrill of getting an extra couple minutes of The Blow Monkeys’ “Diggin’ Your Scene.” Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah.

An additional thrill of these comps, as exemplified by the All-Pop edition I picked up last week (which, as far as I can tell, bears no discernible thematic difference whatsoever to the last two), is that you also get to hear some 80s gems that had either been obscured by time or by trans-continental divides (apparently, in the UK, Soft Cell had several albums’ worth of hits–who knew?) And so in addition to containing a blissfully dubbed out extendo “Pass the Dutchie” (is there anyone on the planet that could possibly not like this song), 12″/80s Pop also contains kiddie-reggae wonders Musical Youth’s near-2nd hit, “Unconditional Love,” a duet with disco diva Donna Summer that almost scraped the top 40 in 1983 (#43, so close). It’s not quite as all-encompassingly adorable as “Pass the Dutchie”–what could be?–but it deserves more than mere footnote status in a career most assume could be summed up in one song.

I’d previously heard “Unconditional Love” mentioned on either a pop-up video or VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonder List, where they also noted that Donna Summer’s love for Musical Youth “proved to not be unconditional” when she refused to perform with them, or something. Indeed, Musical Youth are not even credited on the song, meaning that even if it had managed to break into the top 40, it still technically wouldn’t have disqualified the boys from OHW status. C’mon, Donna, even superdiva Diana Ross managed not to screw the Jackson Five over. Have a heart.

Regardless of the behind-the-scenes drama, the song is all sweetness. A bubbly pop number from that wonderfully uncomfortable musical period stuck in between disco, synth-pop and freestyle, the song sparkles with the innocence and joy of an early New Edition number, though unfortunately missing an NE-style breakdown section (“U is for her Understanding / N ‘coz she’s Never Demanding…”) In fact, it’s Donna Summer that seems like the guest on this song, her vocal sounding distant and phoned-in, and the Jamaican accent she adopts on the chorus sounding more than a little awkward. And I wonder how appropriate lines like “Hasten just to pray / And Jah’s true word obey” would’ve sounded on “She Works Hard for the Money”–just sayin’…

It’s unlikely that you could get away with a song like this today–though it’s arguable (probable?) that the song is about love more spiritual than romantic, a song where a 35-year old woman demands the “unconditional love” of a bunch of 15-and-unders would probably encounter a few roadblocks on the way to pop success. These matters would be helped little by the song’s super-ridiculous video, which features Summer as the boys’ schoolteacher, eventually busting out of her frumpy working woman’s outfit into a blue sequin dress, and leading the boys to skip school and frolic with some keystone cops. The vid’s worth watching if only for the scene where Musical Youth literally break into the classroom (an obligatory scene for any video in 1983, pretty much), presumably because they were late for class. Mrs. Summer reacts by handing each of the boys what appears to be a set of chopsticks. Is this how schools’ disciplinary systems worked in the 80s?

The AMG is pretty wild over the Youth’s debut album, Youth of Today, as well. Anyone wanna confirm or deny this? (Here’s the 12″, by the way)

Posted in Don't You Forget About Me, OMGWTFLOL | 1 Comment »

Geek Out: Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s Finally Released

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 25, 2007

“Do you wanna play with me?”

Say what you will about Guitar Hero II (and really, if you have anything negative to say, I’d be curious to hear what it is) but it definitely succeeded in making its fans feel loved. The character selection, the inclusion of in-jokey songs by Dethklok and Strongbad, the coupious Spinal Tap references, even the much-needed correcting of the formerly inferior face-off modes–the game’s creators clearly understood their audience, and did a great job of giving them exactly what they wanted.

Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s is a blast–playing through the setlist on hard tonight with a couple of friends was nearly as exciting as my first time playing through II, and probably just as much fun. But dammit, it just doesn’t make me feel loved the way the other games did. Despite a song selection filled with good tunes and good times, the entire thing feels phoned in–with virtually no new features, no correcting of whatever flaws II had, and an abridged (merely 30 songs), and largely incomplete track selection (among the missing: Def Leppard, Rush, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Slayer, Ozzy, Metallica, and of course, Yngwie), it has been correctly pointed out that the game plays more like an expansion pack than a new entry in the series.

Which should be all well and good–after all, III is only a few months away, and it looks to be everything a new Guitar Hero should be and more (not to mention the similarly imminent release of that other music synchronization game, which looks to be the most exciting thing ever). A new expansion pack should be just what the Doktor ordered to tide fans over until then. However, Rocks the 80s is retailing for up to $50 at some stores, and that’s without even another guitar–and I’m sorry, that’s far too much to pay for 30 new songs, most of which aren’t even that challenging.

Well, that’s actually a fairly blatant lie, considering I knew that going into it and bought it anyway. Fact is, Guitar Hero freaks like myself are completely at the mercy of Harmonix and Co.–when it comes to new GH material, we’ll take what we can get, for however much we can get it. And I can’t say I even regret buying it–one play of X’s “Los Angeles,” or The Police’s “Synchronicity II” or Anthrax’s “Caught in a Mosh,” and financial considerations just go straight out the window. Hell, I bought an entire system just to play I, I’m getting let off easy here.

And as for the actual quality of the songs’ gameplay in comparison to I and II, I really need to play on Expert before properly judging. Unfortunately, all the progress I made on Hard tonight counts for naught, as it wasn’t actually my copy (or memory card) I was playing with. But, as one of my friends failed to sympathize, “Yeah, poor you, you have to play a whole lot of a game you love.” Fair enough.

Posted in Geek Out | 6 Comments »

100 Years, 100 Songs: #82. Paul Revere & the Raiders – “Steppin’ Out”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 24, 2007

“Tell the truth, child!”

Paul Revere & the Raiders are probably my all-time favorite second-tier band. They were never really among the most innovative, most creative, most memorable or most interesting bands of the 60s, and they were helped little by some ultimately poor career management, including

  1. Being named after their relatively inconsequential drummer organist (see also: Dave Clark Five, Spencer Davis Group–drummers non-essential band members would never have this kind of supremacy in rock again) just because of his ridiculous name
  2. Dressing in similarly ridiculous Revolutionary War-era costumes to complement the ridiculous name
  3. Getting beaten by the Kingsmen to record “Louie, Louie” by like a week
  4. Making the monumentally stupid decision to cover a little song called “Indian Reservation (Lament of the Cherokee Indian),” a hugely awful song that would yet somehow go on to become their biggest (and, somewhat uncoincidentally, basically their last) hit, cementing their legacy as rock & roll punchlines

It’s too bad, though, ‘coz they wrote (or just played) some seriously, seriously kickass songs, and had a string of hits in the mid-60s that, while compeltely ignored by both oldies and classic rock radio today, is practically unparalleled by any other American band from the 60s.

1965’s “Steppin’ Out” was the first of their big ‘uns, and remains my personal favorite. Running a scant 2:14, “Steppin’ Out” is all business, opening with two harsh organ chords, a searing guitar line and singer Mark Lindsay’s piercing “YAY-UH!” opener, and barely taking a second’s breath until the song eventually runs out of gas. I still find the song’s sound somewhat startling considering when it was recorded–loud, shrill and driven by near-fatal levels of testosterone, if the song was just a little more depraved, it practically could’ve fit on a Stooges album.

And the thing is angry. Too many heartbreak songs dwell on the victimization aspect of the situation, but most of the best ones realize that to get over it, you’ve got to get mad, dammit! And Lindsay sells this point with every acidic syllable of “Steppin’ Out,” an old-school style tale of a man going off to war and returning to find his true love has been unfaithful (“‘Coz when I came back, I heard the bad, bad news / Seems our great romance has been a-gettin’ abused”). On paper, the lyrics would make it sound like a country song, but the bitter, caustic edge he sings it with puts it squarely in Nuggets territory (and I’m pretty sure it’s on one of the bonus discs on the box, thank God).

Then there’s that chorus. It’s only two lines, really, and it’s barely differentiable from the verses they stem from, but it still kills me every time: “Tell me true / Don’t lie to me! / That you been step-step-step-step-STEP-STEP-STEPPIN’ OUT ON ME!!!” The stutter on the “step” just builds up all the frustration and anger from the verses until it just explodes into the “STEPPIN’ OUT ON ME!!” part, the most furious, empowering repudiation of cuckoldery I’ve ever heard. It’s so good that I didn’t even realize until just now that Lindsay commits the cardinal lyrical sin of rhyming “me” with “me”. Who fucking cares?

They’d apply the same sort of blistering energy to a number of other incendiary topics over the course of their career–lust (“Hungry“), anti-drug use (“Kicks“), and uh, getting stuck at an airport (“The Great Airplane Strike“), but for me, “Steppin’ Out” is still the best example of why The Raiders are so criminally overdue for a cred reboot. Where’s Wes Anderson when you need him?

Posted in 100 Years 100 Songs | 6 Comments »

TV O.D. : The Kill Point

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 22, 2007

“Next time, send sandwiches…”

The surprisingly good reception the show has received thusfar has inspired me to check out the two-hour premiere of Spike TV’s new hostage drama, The Kill Point. Starring the always underappreciated John Leguizamo as the ex-Military Sergeant leading the bank heist, and Donnie “I Can Be Taken Seriously As an Actor Too, Mark!” Wahlberg as the negotiator, the series has gotten off to a fairly entertaining, if not entirely exceptional, start.

It’s kind of hard to go wrong with the bank heist formula–right from the start, you’re automatically working with every-second-counts tension, filled with solid tough-guy yelling conversations, and at least a couple great shootouts (of which there are two here in the pilot alone). What’s more, it’s easy to create clearly-defined, and often even real-time, timeframes for the action to take place in, as in tonight’s pilot episode when Leguizamo’s character (Code Name: “Mr. Wolf”) gives Wahlberg’s character a one-hour ultimatum to turn the bank’s electricity back on before he wastes his first hostage. The suspense is increasingly taut as Wahlberg deliberates if he should give Leguizamo the power, and Leguizamo wonders if he can justify a citizen’s execution. This just being the pilot, of course, Wahlberg cracks before Leguizamo does, but it’s obvious this won’t be the last time this type of situation comes up.

But while there have been at least a handful of heist flicks that have come to be recognized as classics–Dog Day Afternoon, The Inside Man, and my personal favorite, Heat–it’s a little harder to translate it to the TV format. ABC tried last year (sort of) with the rightfully cancelled The Nine, which took a bunch of one-dimensional characters and hoped that they would become interesting after the aftermath of a bank robbery, showing the robbery itself only in flashback, a little bit at a time. Risky move, and it didn’t really pay off–Tarantino somehow managed to get away with it in Reservoir Dogs, but generally, the after-effects are rarely as interesting as the heist itself.

Luckily, The Kill Point looks to begin and end with the heist itself, only taking the time for an Inside Man-style city montage before launching straight into the action, which lets up little over the course of the pilot’s 100 minutes. The lingering question, however, is if there’s eight hours worth of action to be had in a bank heist–after all, you can only have so many “Give in to My Demands!” “NO I DON’T THINK I WILL!!!” debates before the inherent tension begins to fade. It’s Wahlberg and Leguizamo’s show, no question, but The Kill Point will definitely need outside factors to play a part to keep things interesting.

Things look somewhat promising on that front so far. There’s Tobin “Jigsaw” Bell as the Senator father of one of the teenage girl hostages, who Leguizamo has independently contacted in order to help with his escape. There’s Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks‘ Bobby Briggs!) and some other girl stuck in a closet unbeknownedst to the robbers, and a gun planted by one of the hostages in a nearby flowerpot, eventually bound to play important variables. And then there’s the entire subject of the Iraq War, which Leguizamo and his men have recently returned from, none too happy about the situation. Somewhat ballsy for such a mindless entertainment show to take on such a hot subject, but it could get exploitative fairly quickly, so here’s hoping they don’t go too over the top with it.

Add in a stellar supporting cast–including three Wire alums, Michael K. Williams, JD Williams and Leo Fitzpatrick–and you’ve got a show that just might be worth keeping up with. Besides, they’ve yet to really properly explain the title, and don’t tell me you wouldn’t watch hours of this show just to hear the inevitable “Are you sure you really want to pass THE KILL POINT, Sarge?” moment.

Posted in TV O.D. | 1 Comment »

TV O.D. / It’s All About Me / Meltdown Post #1 : The World Series of Pop Culture Finale

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 19, 2007

“Hi, I’m Victor Lee of Twisted Misters, from New York…and we’re the team that’s going to beat you all.”

Such was the prophetic (in more ways than the obvious one) introduction that fellow Twisted Mister, and as you all probably know by now, series MVP Victor Lee made to a banquet room full of World Series of Pop Culture hopefuls on March 21st, 2007, the first day of the competition. Me and my other teammate, Andrew Weber, were not given much warning that this pronouncement was about to be made–and in retrospect, why we thought it would be a good idea to let Victor be the one to introduce our team is sort of lost on me–but the quote would go on to define our role in the WSOPC in just about every way possible (and has, in fact, been already quoted in numerous places by other teams as the defining Twisted Mister moment of the tournament).

I don’t know if I was exactly expecting to be one of the villains of this tournament when we sat down to that breakfast the first morning, but with that statement, our lot had been cast. From then on, arrogance was the name of the game for Twisted Misters, and was reflected as such in every interview we did, every category we took on, and for the most part, every backstage conversation we had with the other teams (which, naturally, was not many). Before Victor’s quote, we could’ve just as easily been the loveable underdogs. We ended up careening from possible Mighty Ducks status into Snidely Whiplash (or at least, that evil kid from Robocop 2) status in about one sentence.

It really surprised me just how much the other teams seemed to react to Victor’s boasting, though. Not so much at the time–no one was ever outwardly unfriendly to us as a result, at least–but since then, a whole number of teams have come out of the woodwork through webboards and e-mails to talk about just how much his pronouncements bothered them. Considering that just about every promo that every team did for the show consisted of them talking about how badly they were going to crush the competition, I can’t imagine why it was deemed so shocking that Victor would continue this arrogance onto the actual show (which, by the way, he was far from the only one to do, even besides me and Weber). And what’s more, everyone took it so seriously, never even acknowledging the possibility that we were just doing it for show–I mean, was this not TELEVISION that we were performing for? Considering how much of the medium everyone there undoubtedly had watched, I thought they’d be a little more understanding.

Not that I’m necessarily complaining about this, though. In some ways, I suppose playing this role was somehwat routine for us–as College Bowl players, we’ve been one of the most obnoxious teams in the country for about as long as I can remember (a half-conscious, half-subconscious decision), and it’d be hard to sublimate that dynamic, the one which the three of us know best, just because we were going on national TV. Plus, having a persona already carved out for us was kind of nice, and I think that we–Victor especially–were able to play it pretty close to perfection. I’ve always said that in most matters of my life, I’d rather be hated than forgotten, and, well, even if we had gone out in that first round, I don’t think people would’ve forgotten about that breakfast pronouncement too soon.

I walked up to that stage for the final round feeling like I had already won. I was so worried that Three Men and a Little Lazy were going to 1-2-3 us and that I’d have to take the walk of shame an 0-3 loser, that having been the star of our semis was enough reward that had Wocka Wocka swept us in the most embarrassing way possible, I think I still could’ve gone home with a smile on my face. I wasn’t exactly planning on laying down for Robert, Kelly and Rachel, but as I’d been told of their previous giant-slaying in the tournament from all corners, and as Robert’s cold, analytical hundred-yard stare made him look like a Pop Culture TI-83, I had come surprisingly close to making peace with the fact that we were probably going home with the silver.

Pat announced that the first category was The Simpsons, and I bet everyone on both sides instantly knew that that category was going to a tiebreaker. We selected Victor to go up for the category, as he was the only one that had watched the show consistently since it dropped so dramatically in quality near the turn of the millennium, and Weber and I didn’t want to get tripped up on a question solely about one of the newer episodes. Of course, it turned out that the three of us could’ve 6/6ed the category without a second’s thought, as I’m sure everyone on Wocka Wocka could’ve as well. The producers vastly underestimated the geekiness of Simpsons buffs, and the hardest questions were about the Bouvier twins loving MacGyver and Maggie having shot Mr. Burns–almost insultingly easy “hard” questions for anyone who considers themself a fan of the show (especially when compared with some of those Seinfeld or Friends cappers).

Each side aced their half of the category, and so we moved into the tiebreaker: the 14 Winners of the Emmy for Best TV Drama since Lou Grant won in 1980. Instantly, Weber and I cursed ourselves for sending Victor up for the category–we had long since made a point of memorizing enough of these to clinch such a tiebreaker, should it come up, but while Weber and I actually crammed for such an occasion, Victor’s attitude was far more laconic. I knew he would be able to at least go 8 or 9 deep (we had just gone over them in the hotel room the night before), and I hoped that would be enough, but having heard reports of the rigorous training Wocka Wocka had subjected themselves to over the year since they failed to make the 2006 tournament, I feared that it wouldn’t.

Sure enough, Kelly was rattling off correct TV titles with the confidence that only comes from having recently studied the source material. I prayed that Victor had absorbed enough from our force-fed cram sessions that he’d somehow be able to go the distance, but as he started to stumble somewhat as they got into the last half of the shows, and most of the shows left were the older ones, I thought we were done for. Somehow, though, he managed to get to an 11th show (Picket Fences), before Kelly tied it up with a 12th (Hill Street Blues, the only one I wasn’t positive about). There were only two left, and Weber and I knew which they were. We started chanting to ourselves, using all the telekinetic powers known to man, to send Victor the message:

The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey.”

NYPD Blue?” Victor answered.

“I’m sorry, NYPD Blue has already been named,” Pat responded. Luckily, new tournament rules stated that players repeating tiebreak answers would no longer be eliminated for doing so. Victor was given another chance, and we went back to work:

The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey. The Practice. Cagney & Lacey.

The Practice?” Victor answered.

I couldn’t believe it. Miracles don’t happen to NYU undergrads every day. We asked Victor about it later, and he couldn’t believe it either–considering that The Practice was completely skipped over by both contestants (who were mostly moving in backwards chronological order), that his mind even thought to return to that time period to fill in the blank was astounding, that he was able to pull the missing show was a shooting star. As someone wiser than myself once said, I don’t know if it was divine intervention or the kinship of all living things, but at that moment, we were WSOPC champions. But first, there was still one show left, and it was Kelly’s turn for some magic.

St. Elsewhere?” Kelly answered.

For a second, my world turned upside down. Her answer sounded so right, so logical–there was no way a show with that kind of critical respect, with that kind of above-average-but-not-incredible Nielsens, and with that kind of cast, could possibly have been denied an Outstanding Drama Series Emmy. Her answer even fit the right time period for the missing show. But I was certain, absolutely positive, that Cagney & Lacey had won at least once–in fact, I was pretty sure it had won a couple times. What the hell was going on? I looked over at Weber and saw that he was having a similar dilemma, so we had no choice but to look to Pat Kiernan for guidance:

I’m sorry Kelly, that is incorrect,” Pat announced.

Unbelievable. Suddenly, we didn’t have to feel so resigned to our fate. We had stuck a wrench in their unstoppable Pop Culture machine. If it bled, we could kill it. A hundred other maxims and cliches popped into my head as Victor triumphantly returned to his seat, and Pat told us about our next category: “Spoiler Alert,” a movie spoilers category. Between me and Weber, I knew I should probably go up, as movies is generally Weber’s weakest category. I would rather have had a music one, but I remembered going 6/6 at home when they had the category at last year’s series, so I figured my chances of at least getting to a tiebreaker were decent.

Rachel nailed her first, a gimme Pretty Woman spoiler. I hesitated for a second on my first, Hoosiers, because I hadn’t seen the movie in close to 15 years, but luckily only so many movies about High School basketball were made in 1986, so I was able to guess it pretty confidently. Rachel then breezed through her Lost Boys spoiler with no problem, and I similarly knocked down one for Beaches (never seen the movie in my life, but I was looking up the plot on Wikipedia just the night before, and all the females and death was a pretty dead giveaway anyway). Then came Rachel’s third question, something about Billy Ray and Winthorpe returning to corner the frozen orange juice market. I sighed a little, knowing Rachel would certainly know the ending to Trading Places, which anyone who’s ever received Comedy Central has surely seen at least four or five times. And of course, she did know the answer.

Trading Spaces 2,” she responded.

Wait, what? My head snapped up, realizing there was at least one thing wrong with her answer. And so did she, quickly correcting herself: “Trading Places 2?

But there was still something wrong with her answer, and I knew that even if they accepted her stutter-step into the “Trading Places” part of the answer, the 2 was going to be a dealbreaker. “That is incorrect,” Pat replied. “Andrew, you have a chance to steal.”

“It’s just Trading Places,” I squeaked out, my excitement probably making me sound more smug than I would’ve liked.

“That’s correct,” Pat responded.

I was overjoyed. So much of the competition for me had been a struggle to gain any sort of breathing room, as with the exception of the lyric category I got in the Semis, every one of my matches saw my opponent get all three of his or her questions with no struggle whatsoever. At least now, even if I got my last Q wrong and Rachel stole, I had the tiebreaker as a safety net. (For the record, Rachel, if you’re reading this, I think I understand what tripped you up–it was the “returning” part of the question, right? Totally understandable, and sorry it had to go down like that on an answer you clearly did know)

Anyway, it was time for my last question, and as Pat started to read it–something from 1996, about some dudes named Roy and Aaron–I panicked, as nothing was forming in my head. But he kept reading, and is it did, more elements from the movie started to come into place (lawyers, faked split personality, twist ending) until it was recognizable as a movie that in fact, I’d seen several times before. Ignoring the lessons I had tried to impose on my teammates about always taking a second to think your answer over, I lurched towards the microphone:

“That’s Primal Fear,” I answered.

“Correct,” Pat said. 4-2, the category was mine. Two down, one to go.

Of course, that one happened to be the PC TI-83 himself, Mr. Robert Bishop, and we knew that our work was very, very fucking far from over. Pat was sure to remind us of this fact, proclaiming that “if anyone could come back from two down to win the whole thing, it’s Robert.” Great. As Pat announced the third category: “Bite Me,” a category about food in movies, we had no choice but to send Victor, our official movie guy, back to the microphone.

Victor cinched his first question about 9 1/2 Weeks, but Robert hesitated for a good 15 seconds or so before correctly answering City Slickers for his–I don’t know if he was stretching to pull the answer or checking it against other possible answers in his head to make sure it was the best one, but I chose to believe that he was pausing just to psyche us out, ‘coz for me at least, that’s exactly what happened. Victor and Robert then both made it easily through the next two questions, about Veruca Salt turning into a blueberry and Hannibal Lecter eating someone’s liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti, before Victor got his final question, about what item Chunk offered a bite of to Sloth in Goonies. I was totally clueless, and couldn’t remember if Victor had ever even seen the movie–I knew he got a question about the Truffle Shuffle on the audition test, but c’mon, everyone knows that, even if they hadn’t seen the movie. Much love to Family Guy and their endless stream of pointless 80s pop culture references, as apparently one they made to the Goonies scene in question guided Victor to the correct answer: A Baby Ruth bar.

Now it was time for Robert’s question–something about a John Candy movie from 1988, which had something to do with what hot dogs were made from. The whole world was quiet as Robert faced his question of great significance, which once again, I hadn’t the faintest idea of the answer to. Weber and I debated it from our chairs: Uncle Buck? No, pretty sure that was ’89. Plains, Trains & Automobiles? ’87, right? Could there possibly have been a John Candy movie released in between those two? I don’t know any more late-80s John Candy movies. Robert was still in a deep pause, as 15 seconds went by, 20, 25 (could we possibly win the whole thing right here????), until he leaned into the microphone:

The Great Outdoors?” he answered.

I had no idea how to react–I’d never heard of it before, but the fact that I didn’t definitely know that he was wrong was concerning me. Meanwhile, I saw Victor on stage doing a minor freakout. After a split-second’s consideration, I barely even needed Pat’s confirmation:

“That’s correct,” he responded, of course. “With both teams tied at three, we go into our tiebreaker…”

And so the tiebreaker was announced: Name the six people on the bus to the pageant in Little Miss Sunshine. After thinking about it a few seconds, I realized that like the earlier Breakfast Club tiebreaker, this round contained five very easy answers and one significantly hard one, and that as the person going second, it would ultimately be on Robert to identify the sixth member. But as Tomi from Fragilay was able to identify Paul Gleason, I was sure Robert could round out the answers to this one with Paul Dano, forcing a second, possibly harder tiebreaker. And so it began:

“Alan Arkin,” Victor answered. Correct.
“Abigail Breslin,” Robert countered. Correct.
“Steve Carrell,” Victor answered. Correct.
“Greg Kinnear,” Robert countered. Correct.
“Toni Colette,” Victor answered, the only one of the easy five that I had any doubt Victor could identify. Correct.

Nope, I wasn’t falling for this trick again. He got me once with City Slickers, and a second time with The Great Outdoors, but I was on his game now. I knew exactly what he was doing, he was just being careful, going through every possible permutation of the answer in his head, making sure he got the name’s pronunciation exactly right (all I knew was that it was roughly the same name as original Iron Maiden singer Paul Di’Anno, so who knows if they would’ve accepted my answer), and knowing that every second he waited to respond was a second of Victor’s sanity he was ticking away, already gearing up for the second tiebreaker.

That one guy,” he finally responded.

No. No way. Impossible. This was Robert from Wocka Wocka, the human trivia machine, the dragonslayer, the drill sergeant, the guy behind the guy behind the guy. Was it possible that he actually doesn’t know the last name in this tiebreaker? Not that it’s by any means an easy name, but…this is Robert from WOCKA FUCKING WOCKA, fer chrisssake!! Was he just stalling for time to psyche us out more? Was he just playing the crowd, making it seem like he doesn’t know the answer when actually he’s had it in his pocket the whole time? Were we about to win the World Series of Pop Culture?

“I don’t have an answer,” he finally admitted.

From there, the next ten minutes or so are a complete blur. I know Pat announced something about that meaning we had won the category and the game, and that he said something about inviting us back for next year, and at some point, we got that heavy trophy and carried it on stage. But writing this before having watched the finals, I’m sort of curious as to what actually happens, because I have no distinct memory of those ten minutes at all. The next thing I definitely remember after Robert missed Paul Dano was talking with Weber on the way backstage: “Holy fuck, did we just win $250,000?”

So as it turned out, nearly all the boastful predictions we made over the course of three days, four rounds and dozens upon dozens of questions about movies, music and TV, somehow came true–especially the one Victor made at that fateful opening breakfast. And that’s probably a good thing, since the only thing worse than a bunch of arrogant assholes is a bunch of arrogant assholes that can’t even back their shit-talking up. Hey, look at us–Pop Culture trivia’s very own Kanye Wests!

Yet, mixed with the rapture of having won an insane amount of money on national TV, in the venue you knew you were born to take part in and with two of your closest friends sharing the joy with you, would come for me a slow-creeping sense of depression. See, while I’d like to believe that it was just Victor’s initial comment, and the ensuing interviews and trash-talking, that alienated us from the great majority of the rest of the teams–resulting in us not being invited to the bar & karaoke nights other teams had, receiving only mild applause from the eliminated teams versus the standing ovation and “LA-ZY, LA-ZY, LA-ZY!!” chants Three Men and a Little Lazy got in the semis, up to being trash-talked by some of the other teams on various web-forums in the last couple weeks–I know that’s not the case.

Fact is, we were probably always going to be the odd ones out in that tournament. I could tell after a half-hour in the waiting room backstage that there was something separating us from the other teams, and it wasn’t just our age–it was our state of mind, and our stage of life. The great, great majority of the other teams–Wocka Wocka, Three Men and a Little Lazy, El Chupacabra, Westerburg High, Carlton Banks Dance Academy, hell, even the Lucky Stars and the Truffle Shuffles–were people with jobs, people with spouses, people with kids and mortgages and hardly any social awkwardness. Basically, they were Adults, and they acted like it. Meanwhile, here we were, a bunch of loud, obnoxious pop-culture spewing college students, with no jobs, no wives, no real responsibilities, no real ambitions, and a whole lot of social awkwardness. Basically, we were Kids, and we acted like it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still had a great time, I still loved every single second of being on stage there, even the ones that were totally heartbreaking, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, especially since we (probably) get to do it all over again next year. And a whole bunch of the teams were still perfectly friendly to us–especially the guys and gals from Three Men and Wocka Wocka, who are all warm, cool, and just all around awesome people, some of whom I’ve even kept in touch with a bit since the tournament ended and who I hope to see again someday if I’m ever in the midwest. But as I’ve posted about several times on this blog, I turned 21 about a month ago, meaning that unless I’m trying to rent a car or run for president, in just about any context, I’m now considerable as an adult, so to still be sitting at the kids table…it’s a little bit sobering.

What’s more, I think a whole lot of people are going to object to our winning, partly because of our arrogance, but at least partly for these reasons as well. So much of the appeal of the World Series of Pop Culture has always been how do-it-yourself the whole thing seemed–only a very small percentage of people can play along with Jeopardy at home and honestly think to themselves “these idiots, I could do so much better,” but that’s pretty much exactly what everyone watching the World Series is thinking (google the phrase “World Series of Pop Culture” and bask in the thousands and thousands of blog and livejournal entries evidencing this). It’s accessible to pretty much anyone with a radio, an account at Blockbuster and an HBO subscription, which means that most of the teams seem like everyday people–the sort of people who might sell you a house, or help you in customer service, or teach your kids’ elementary school class. Basically, the WSOPC is so appealing because it seems like normal, functional human beings can win it–and indeed they have, as the very normal and functional-seeming El Chupacabra took home the trophy last year.

We, on the other hand, are not normal, functional human beings. We are very much geeks–or “power-geeks,” as one of our competitors put it. A disturbing part of our lives is devoted to the viewing, listening, study and appreciation of pop culture. We met over pop culture, we bonded over pop culture, and when we hang out, guess what we’re talking about 95% of the time. We have a good deal of other friends, and a semblance of outside lives, sure, but–and I should probably stop talking for Victor and Weber here, and just say for myself–the great majority of negative assumptions that could be and have been made about me and my social life in general from the way I looked, acted and performed at the WSOPC are mostly, if not completely, true. And while it’s hard to admit that, and while there’s even a part of me that still takes pride in being a pop culture loser, it definitely disqualifies me from “normal, functional” status. And it wouldn’t surprise me if people thought that our win went against the whole spirit of the thing.

But, you know what? We deserved to win this thing just as much as El Chupacabra did. Yeah, maybe we trash-talked and annoyed a little more than we should have, maybe we don’t have the kind of everyman appeal that some of the other, more adult teams had, and maybe a lot of viewers are gonna be really disappointed when they see us take Wocka Wocka down in that final match (especially considering it so easily could have gone the other way, which I’m the first to admit). And that’s fair enough–hell, if enough people watched our finals in the hopes that someone put us in our place that it means the show can get renewed for a third season, then more power to the haters.

But I gotta believe that for all of the WSOPC’s normal, functional viewership, there’s gonna be a fraction, however small, of kids like us watching, who see us taking all this useless information that never did us any favors socially, aside from bringing us together, and actually putting it towards something positive and concrete–just a year and a half ago, I would’ve thought the idea nearly impossible myself–and they’ll be rooting for us as hard as anyone. And this has borne out somewhat, in the form of the dozens of high school and college-age chicks and dudes (mostly the former) who have taken the time to friend us or write on our walls on Facebook since we first appeared (God bless Facebook–how did we ever gauge social success before it?)–all of whom have been incredibly supportive and wonderful. Plus, who says the villains can’t win every once in a while? Even Snidely Whiplash deserves some love now and then, and I always preferred him to Dudley Do-Right myself.

And you know what else? We–or, I should probably stick to myself again on this–I needed this win as much as anyone. Because I don’t have a wife, a job, a house, or much of anything in the way of responsibilities or ambitions, and I do still have a lot of that damned social awkwardness. I needed that extra something in my life–that opening line to drop at parties, that feat to maybe make my resume stand out from others, that reason to not wonder if I might’ve done better at a different college, that ace in the hole. It’s nice to have something that can always make me smile when I think about it. You wouldn’t believe the difference it makes.

And so I give a big shout out to my all-star, all-class teammates Victor and Weber (who by the way, are perfectly nice and friendly people in real life), and to all the other teams that competed in the 2007 World Series of Pop Culture–the ones we beat and the ones we never played, the ones that liked us and even the ones that hated us. You guys all rocked the fucking house this year, and I don’t know if there’s a single team we could say that we were definitely better than–at least half of it was always gonna be luck, and for whatever reason, the stars were in alignment for us this year. And I’m going to use this win to do a couple things with my life that’ll hopefully enable me to hold my own with the adults, both on and off-screen, at next year’s show. $250,000 says I got a pretty good shot.

-Andrew Unterberger, Twisted Misters

(Note: Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be on hiatus from now until Sunday, as the Twisted Misters take their show on the road)

Posted in It's All About Me, Meltdown Posts, TV O.D. | 63 Comments »