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For the Love of God: End the “But Let Me Tell You About the Man…” Parts of Hall of Fame Inductions

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 9, 2009

2009class

I had to watch most of the 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies for work tonight. It was kind of interesting to learn about the on-field accomplishments of all these guys, most of whom I didn’t know that much about due to not having watched football with any seriousness until very recently. But I have two main complaints. For one, all the speeches went on for way too long–they got about a one-minute introduction from the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, then a five-minute video montage of their career highlights narrated by a friend or colleague, then another ten-to-fifteen-minute introduction speech from that same friend or colleague, and then a fifteen-to-twenty-minute acceptance speech from the inductee themself. But far more grating to me was the moment that seemed to come in every speech about the new HOFers–a moment I will generally refer to in this article as the “But Let Me Tell You About the Man…” Moment.

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For the Love of God: How Did No One Beat “I Love College” To the Punch

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 7, 2009

I don’t think I hate “I Love College.” Nah, it’s a little too genial for that. Derivative? Absolutely, even if you spot it the “Impeach the President” drum loop. Obnoxious in its frattiness? Yeah sure, but so were the Beastie Boys in their early days, and who would dare cast aspersions on those guys? (Besides their post-buddhist selves anyways). Besides, that groove is straight up ice, finding the midpoint between Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So,” John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World to Change,” and Fatlip’s “What’s Up Fatlip?”–I can’t argue with that geometry. And even the lyrics have their moments–“I wanna go to college for the rest of my life” isĀ  definitely the line to open with, I gotta give him “Time’s not wasted when you’re getting wasted / Woke up this morning and all I could say was…” as a great pre-chorus, and “Pass out at three / Wake up at ten / Get something ot eat / Then do it again” is every bit as anthemic as it should be. All told, the song breaks even, at the very least.

But man, am I disappointed that “I Love College” isn’t just a little bit better. A lot of people think it should be a whole lot better, apparently, as Mr. Roth, is already appearing on the receiving end of dis tracks, but I don’t begrudge the man his unapologetic honkiness–hey, Crash was one of the first albums that I owned too. I just wished he tried a little harder here. I guess it’s appropriate for a song about college and all, paean to self-indulgence that those four years are in a young man’s life, but the song feels distinctly lazy to me. “I am champi-on / At beer pong / Allen Iver-son / Hakeem Olaju-won.” “I can’t tell you what I learned from school, but / I can tell you a story or two, um / Yeah of course I learned some rules, like / Don’t pass out with your shoes on.” And of course, “I love college / I love drinking / I love women / Man, I love college.” I mean, really? Not exactly bringing your a-game here, Ash.

The thing that really gets me is that this might’ve been pop music’s one shot at The Great College Anthem, and now we might be stuck with it forever. Think about it–what other hit songs have there been on the subject? There are plenty of songs about being young, growing up, going to high school, whatever, but after that pop seems to jump straight into adulthood, leaving out that creamy middle of college life–which, as proven here, has an absolute ton to lend itself to both rock and hip-hop mythology. Frankly, it’s fucking incredible me to that this song has never been written before–or if it has, that no one seemed to much notice. Sex, drugs, beer, lethargy? What more do you want? Yet somehow, it’s remained unmined territory. Anyone who thought to jump on this train while it was still in the station could’ve ended up with a song guaranteed to resonate with inebriated idiots from UCLA all the way to Penn State.

And it kills me, because college really deserves a rallying cry. I wasn’t the hugest fan of my time there–which, naturally, bore markedly little resemblence to Asher Roth’s utopia–but even for me, at its best moments, college certainly packed highs as ridiculous as the ones portrayed here. Film has given the phase of life its share of heady tributes–Animal House, PCU, Back to School, uh, College–it was about time for pop music to give it a try as well. If this had just been done by someone a little more creative, a little more talented, it could’ve absolutely been a stone(d) classic. As it is, it’s just a frustrating glimpse into what could and should have been, and a guarantee that, once the song hits #1 and stays there until summer break. no other song will be able to broach the subject for the next three or four decades. Looks like I might’ve graduated just in time after all.

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For the Love of God: Get Rid of the SI Pop Culture Grid

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 18, 2008

Athletes are interesting, multi-faceted people, with unique interests and compelling opinions. This is a conceit that Sports Illustrated, as well as other sports magazines, expects you to buy into on a regular basis, none moreso than with their Pop Culture Grid, published every issue. The PCG takes a cross-section of athletes from different sports, and asks them to fill in the blanks to a series of easily answered first-person statements relating at least vaguely to pop culture, publishing their answers in grid format. Statements may include “Best show I watched last week,” “Please make ___ stop talking” and “If I were Kimbo Slice, I’d….,” as well as countless other potentially illuminating points meant to further the connection and relatablity of your favorite athletes.

Needless to say, this is generally not a good idea. There are some athletes with likely an interesting thing or two to say (though I think they all play basketball for some reason), but for the great majority, sports stars are a boring, predictable bunch, especially when it comes to pop culture. You’re not going to find out that Jarome Iginla is a huge Werner Herzog fan, or that Matt Leinart takes Yoko’s side in the Beatles’ break-up, or that Vlad Guerrero never misses an episode of Squidbillies. Even though I’d probably bring in Phillies reliever Brad Lidge to close out my own honeymoon, I have to make peace with the fact that he’s a big enough Drowning Pool fan to use “Bodies” as his entrance music. Nine times out of ten, you’d want to hear an athlete talk about his non-athletic interests and pursuits about as much as you’d want to have deep, meaningful conversation if you were on a date with a supermodel–just shut up and perform, plz.

For instance, here are some of the illuminating things we have learned about some of our most beloved sports stars in recent SI Pop Culture Grids:

  • Nothing is on White Sox LF Carlos Quentin‘s wall right now.
  • Pole Vaulter Jenn Stuczynski never leaves home without her wallet.
  • Giants Pitcher Tim Lincecum has never been to a concert.
  • Stars Guard Mike Smith believes Dierks Bentley should be named Entertainer of the Year.
  • Stars Guard Mike Smith says people say he looks like Dierks Bentley.
  • A phrase Tampa Bay LF Carl Crawford uses too often is “Man.”
  • Steelers WR Santonio Holmes can’t think of any chick flicks to name as his favorite.
  • Pirates CF Nate McLouth thinks a superdelegate is “Something in government.”
  • Packers DE Aaron Kampman‘s favorite pickup line is “Want to carry my books?”
  • D-Backs Pitcher Bill Murphy most recently read The DaVinci Code.
  • IRL Driver Tony Kanaan thinks he is allergic to “Fake people.”
  • When no one’s looking, Dodgers 1B James Loney likes to “sleep,” as opposed to Canadiens G Carey Price, who just likes to “take naps.”

Oooh, tell me more!

Not that I blame the athletes for this, necessarily. For one thing, athletes are forced to spend so much of their time and mental energy on their work–working out, studying playbooks, reviewing film, practicing, doing PR stuff–that I certainly can’t fault them for not taking the time to make their way through all five seasons of Six Feet Under. Plus, most athletes are trained so dilligently to give the most vanilla answers as humanly possibly when interviewed about their teams and performances and such that it’d be no surprise if they ultimately forgot how to be interesting human beings altogether. And finally, if you flipped it–grabbed, say, David Caruso, Amy Adams, Corey Taylor and Chris Crocker for a pop-culture cross-section–and asked them “PacMan Jones should be _____,” “The one game I always watch the replay of on ESPNClassic is ____” or “I think next year Greg Oden will _____,” something tells me they wouldn’t do too much better.

One day, perhaps the worlds of sports and the rest of pop culture can exist in mutually-knowledgeable harmony. But for the time being, there’s no reason to get a weekly reminder of just how far off this goal is.

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For the Love of God: Die, Will Ferrell Movie, Die

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 17, 2008

OK, so at least this one isn’t about sports, he gets a couple points for at least switching that up (and maybe another point and a half for the use of LCD Soundsystem in the trailer, though even Grand Theft Auto is doing that these days). Still, I have no idea what this movie’s deal is. Are Ferrell and John C. Reilly supposed to actually be retarded, or does this just represent the latest in a staggering series of gradual steps backwards for the mental capacities of Ferrell protagonists? Also–how in the hell is this the first of the Will Ferrell Stupid Guy movies to go straight to a theatrical R rating? They could keep Anchorman, a movie about a misogynistic ladies man in the 70s, to a PG-13, but a movie about two losers who spend an entire movie acting like pre-pubescents goes directly to R?

God help this movie if it has a series of fake commercials to go with it.

Posted in For the Love of God | 3 Comments »

For the Love of God: A Belly-Flop for The Love Guru

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 16, 2008

Hope we at least get a “More Than Words” revival out of it

The first time I saw the Love Guru trailer was in the previews for Iron Man a few weeks ago. It was a Friday afternoon, and the theater was full of the crowd you’d expect for such a movie at such a time–males between the ages of 16 and 28, and ones likely without the most discerning of taste. It might not have been the target audience for The Love Guru, whose arrival I had dreaded since the posters first appeared in the New York subways, but it was close enough that I figured there would be at least a couple moments that the audience would inevitably find much funnier than I would. Yet as the predictably cringeworthy trailer unfolded, a miracle occured–no one laughed. There wasn’t a single moment that made even most of the crowd chortle, and I could probably count the times I heard laughter emit from any corner on one hand. I don’t know if I had significantly underestimated the crowd in attendance, or if the Love Guru preview really was just THAT BAD, but at that moment, I had faith in the mediating powers of pop culture.

Encouraging though this was, the media blitz of Love Guru still has me a little worried. Us pop watchers learn to put up with a lot of crap in our travails–such is the nature of the beast, and you’d be quickly driven to madness if you expected every summer jam to be an “Umbrella,” every breakout TV show to be a LOST, every Denzel Washingotn and Russell Crowe showdown to be a Virtuosity. But I believe it equally important that from time to time, we draw a line in the sand when it comes to certain things–movies, songs, TV shows, whatever–that if we truly believe in the essential goodness of pop culture, we have to say that such things can not be a success, lest the system lose our faith. Admittedly, it’s a one-sided agreement, and when it backfires, it can really hurt–when “Laffy Taffy” and “You’re Beautiful” went to #1 within a month of each other back in 2006, it almost made me foresake the charts altogether-but more times than not, the system rewards your faith, and in your mind, at least, you feel you played your part in not letting pop culture run about completely unchecked.

Needless to say, The Love Guru is a potential boundary-crosser for me, and I’m not entirely positive that the general public will be able to shrug it off. From the trailers, it seems like the movie’s humor is grounded in four things–Borat-style East-West culture clashes (Myers takes his elephant on a plane, where it is bigger than the other animals on the plane!), PG-13 rated crude humor (the term “smuggling a schnauzer” is used at least once), Hockey (particularly that successful, vibrant franchise the Toronto Maple Leafs), and Myers’ comedic mugging (would the trailer even be a minute long if you took out all the shots of Myers reacting to his own jokes?) This is all fair enough, and not terribly threatening–Myers is no longer a recognizable and beloved enough figure to sell the movie strictly on his own personality (including his Canadian LOL love of hockey), the crude humor seems too low-scale (i.e., no pie fornication or elborate penis drawings) to be particularly effective, and Myers can’t keep a straight face long enough to possibly sell the Baron-Cohen-type stuff.

What does worry me, somewhat, are the movie’s backup plans–the sort of insurance policies that, to Myers and his co-conspirators’ credit, they were smart enough to take out lest the movie’s central comedic conceits not deliver on the level expected. There’s Meagan Good and Jessica Alba–arguable as two of the 25 hottest actresses on the planet–as the female leads, and in a movie about sex, the fact that the PG-13 rating means no shot at nudity might not even be enough of a deterrent for some. Then there’s Stephen Colbert as the off-kilter color man announcer–a role seemingly obligatory in comedy since Fred Willard in Best in Show, and one which carries a certain inherent comedic credibility. Then there’s Justin Timberlake, the biggest pop star in the country, playing against type as…uh, some goofy French guy, I guess, which I’m sure will be a hilarious contrast with the JT we know and love. And finally, there’s that ultimate comedic slam-dunk guarantee–midget humor, courtesy of the Laurence Olivier of midget humor, Verne Troyer.

Will they be enough to propel The Love Guru into the comedy blockbuster promised land? It’s hard for me to tell, largely because all the successes Myers has had so far in film have been so unpredictable. I mean, Wayne’s World might’ve worked as an SNL sketch, but given their limited content (two guys in a basement making lists on public access?) and the small percentage of such sketches that spun off into successful movies (though I guess Hollywood wouldn’t find that out until a few years later), it’s remarkable the two flicks worked nearly as well as they did. And Austin Powers? Who could have possibly guessed that a parody of old James Bond movies, the Swinging 60s and British culture (and teeth) in general with a confusing title, enigmatic previews and a still largely commercially unproven leading man would have been anything but a disaster? Even Shrek, the first mainstream cartoon flick to be completely post-modern, could’ve easily been a Ratatouille style commercial underwhelmer.

But then again, take away these three movies, and the sequels they spawned, and what exactly has Mike Myers done of note in the last 15 years? I mean, So I Married an Axe Murderer was pretty OK, but it hardly put up record numbers at the box office. Besides that, you’ve got, what, Cat in the Hat? A View From the Top? 54? Myers is completely feast or famine with his box office success–he has no minor hits or small parts in even modest box office successes, and only seems to have success in these easily franchiseable characters, which end up grossing in the hundred-millions. Myers seems to have enough pattern recognition to sense this, and it’s obvious that with The Love Guru, Myers hopes to introduce a fourth definitive franchise character to his repertoire.

I’d like to dismiss the chance, to say that it’s both too late and too lame for Myers–aside from his voice, he’s been out of the spotlight for a long time, and I’d think teen and pre-pubescent males would have newer, fresher comedic heroes by now. But keeping the shocking success of Austin Powers in mind–which somehow also turned out to be a great movie, the first one at least–I don’t know if I can be totally confident that this won’t turn out similarly (minus the ‘turning out to be a great movie’ part, anyway, since I’m fairly positive that isn’t on the horizon). But I am drawing that line in the sand. Now I guess I just gotta have faith.

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Clap Clap ClapClapClap / For the Love of God: Penalties for Blown Guarantees in Pro Sports

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 13, 2008

One more promise I couldn’t keep

When Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins won the National League MVP last year, there was outcry from certain corners that his award was undeserved. And sure enough, if you compare his stat line to other high finishers in the voting, such as Colorado’s Matt Holliday, Florida’s Hanley Ramirez, and perhaps most comparably, the Mets’ David Wright, Rollins mostly pales in comparison. He did have a couple things over those guys–more games played, better sunglasses, and a much cooler superstar name, for instance (though Holliday’s name might be even starrier, somehow). But really, if you’re gonna pinpoint the main reason J-Roll took home top honors, it’d be this: He made a bold prediction, and it came true.

“The Mets had a chance to win the World Series last year. Last year is over. I think we are the team to beat in the NL East, finally.” Though Jimmy had to have been sweating this one a little bit in say, late August, come the end of September, the Phils had battled back in the NL East, and assisted by the Mets undergoing one of the greatest late-season meltdowns in sports history, he was proven right–thanks in no small part to his 30+ homers, 40+ swipes, 200+ hits and 0 games missed. Now, up until recently, I had mostly concurred with the haters that the award was underserved. But thanks to certain athletes whose similarly ambitious promises went unrealized, I’m starting to think that maybe rewarding Rollins for actually being right with his wasn’t such a bad idea.

Jameer Nelson, former St. Joe’s superstar and current starting point guard for the Orlando Magic, recently attempted Rollins-like prognostocation when asked about the then-upcoming Game 5 between his team and the Detroit Pistons. “We’re going to make some adjustments and we’re going to win this game,” said Nelson. “I’m not being arrogant or cocky or anything like that. I think [Saturday] we let it slip out of our hands. Game 2 we let it slip out of our hands. We’re going to win this game in Detroit.” Fair enough, but perhaps Jameer should’ve considered the facts a little more–namely, that his Magic were by nearly all accounts a far inferior team to the Pistons, who were up 3-1 in the series, had appeared in the last five Eastern Conference Finals, were returning home to the Palace in Auburn Hills for Game 5, and in all possibility might’ve been re-starting their temporarily injured point guard and team leader, who they’d still managed to win without in Game 4 in Orlando.

However, no matter–were Nelson to be proven right, all this would matter little, and he no doubt would’ve been showered with accolades for his self-fulfilling prophecy. Somewhat needless to say, though, this was not the case, as the Pistons squeaked out a 91-86 win over the Magic in Game 5, eliminating Orlando and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals yet once more. Now, Jameer’s performance itself could not likely be blamed for this outcome–Nelson had 14 points on 6-7 shooting, four assists and only two turnovers, by no means a game-making performance, but roughly par for the course for Nelson. But it goes both ways–Rollins won an MVP regardless of the fact that his numbers weren’t really there, and Nelson will take the heat for the Orlando loss regardless of the fact that his numbers may well have been.

Or will he? Sure, there’s going to be a lot of mockery to be had, especially eminating from the more northern sections of America, and Nelson will no doubt have to hold his head high in a lot of dispiritng post-game interviews on the subject. But is anyone really going to take Jameer Nelson to task for not coming through on his guarantee? Is coach Stan Van Gundy going to take Nelson into his office tomorrow morning and say “I’m just not sure if I can trust you as my starting PG if you can’t even keep your word on the outcome a single game”? Is commish David Stern going to issue a 50k fine or six-game suspension to Nelson for effectively lying to the general public? Is Nelson ever going to have to issue a formal apology to the fans of Orlando, promising to keep his more flamboyant fantasies in check in future high-pressure circumstances?

Policy about this needs to be changed, and sooner rather than later. Sure, no one really thought Orlando was going to win the series, or even this game, and outside of Orlando, it’s doubtful anyone was particularly invested in it one way or the other. But what of Anthony Smith, safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who guaranteed a Week 14 win over the then-undefeated New England Patriots, only to not just lose the game, but be personally embarrassed by Tom Brady and Randy Moss in the process? Many of us, myself especially, really wanted to believe in Smith’s assurances, wanted to see someone, anyone take down Belichick’s evil empire. For him too be shown to be so cruelly misguided, despite his confidence…it just didn’t seem fair.

So what should the penalty be for such a breach of trust? I think a fine should be automatic–let’s say 20k for first-time offenders, then 50k, 100k and so on for repeated felons. Then, depending on the severity of the discrepancy between guaranteed outcome and actual outcome, and the amount of assuredness you displayed in the guarantee, you might need to work in a one or multiple-game suspension as well. And if your performance is one of the direct reasons for said discrepancy, as with our Mr. Smith, there should be a mandatory penalty of filming a PSA, warning your fellow athletes about the dangers of excessive, illogical hubris. (For basketball, this sort of commercial wouldn’t even seem particularly out of place–“The NBA: Where Accountability Happens”).

You listening, Carlos Beltran? Well, in four months, you might not have a choice.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, For the Love of God | 2 Comments »

For the Love of God: Stay Away from Cleveland

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 3, 2008

The most ridiculous thing since ridiculous day at the deli, where prices were so low, it was ridiculous

Who says there’s a lack of creativity in TV these days? If real life were a movie–and believe me, it (probably) isn’t–the anarchy created by the writers’ strike would have resulted in the majors taking chances on outsider shows by a bunch of rogue TV producers, ultimately resulting in the freshest, most exciting TV season in ages. In reality, we get censored Dexter re-runs, My Dad is Better Than Your Dad and Cleveland.

No, that picture up there isn’t some hilarious pun on the fact that some random new show shares a title the Family Guy character. They’re actually spinning off a show from Peter Griffin’s black, slow-talking next-door-neighbor, with FG mastermind Seth MacFarlane at the helm. Now, the idea of an animated spin-off, even a successful one isn’t exactly unprecedented–Daria and (arguably) King of the Hill even demonstrated recently how two great shows could be spun-off from another great show, while managing to feel and look completely different from their ancestor.

But, uh, let’s examine the potential upside here. Well, for one thing, it’s not likely to be as bad as a Quagmire spin-off probably would be.

.

.

OK, now let’s examine the potential downside. What exactly is there here to work with? Cleveland is admittedly one of the more loveable Quahog residents, a (usually) wisely underused supporting character who provides genial deadpan relief to his neighbors’ frequent insanity. He’s mild-mannered and he talks slowly. He once had a wife, who peaced out when Alex Borstein got tired of doing her voice, and he has a kid, whose hyperactive one-episode starring role was grating enough was more than enough for the entire series. And that’s it.

So what’s it going to be? Cleveland living the single life? Cleveland trying to get his family back? Cleveland getting his family back, deciding to make a new start, and moving to OH I DUNNO MAYBE SOME RANDOM CITY IN OHIO? Cleveland discovering that he has a brain tumor which leads him to decide to do good works for his remaining days, punctuated by guest singing appearances by James Ingram, who only Cleveland can see? Or just an animated, dramedic insight into modern day African-American suburban life, brought to you from some white guy in Connecticut?

Of course, all this ignores the more pressing issue, which is that Family Guy hasn’t been watchable in itself for years now. The only thing that makes it more bearable than modern day Simpsons is that it didn’t have nearly as far to fall–the only way the show is watchable now, as friend of IITS Andrew Weber has pointed out, is to type “Family Guy” and some random word or name into a YouTube search, guaranteed to give you some random and mildly chuckle-worth gag thankfully divorced from the burden of character and plot. To spin a show off from it at this point would be like Chad Smith leaving the Red Hot Chili Peppers to set out on a solo career. Plus, the last time MacFarlane worked with Family Guy progeny, we got American Dad. Enough (hopefully) said.

And the really, really disturbing thing? This isn’t even the scariest looking show FOX is adding to their Sunday Night comedy block. Relative Insanity comes to you courtesy of Jack Black, truly a man with his finger on the pulse of cutting-edge comedy, and Mothballs is the latest brainchild of Dave Jesser and Matt Silverstein, best known for that oh-so-original and oh-so-subversive animated comedy Drawn Together. It’s a brave new world out there, ladies and gentlemen, and I, for one, have never been more excited to actually get back outdoors this summer.

The one way this could work? And I mean the one way? Don’t make it a comedy. In fact, make it as far from comedy as possible. Make it a soap opera. Hell, make it a live action soap opera, starring Forrest Whitaker and Loretta Devine. Make it like Good Times, except with significantly less laughs and significantly more death. In fact, have Peter guest star in the first episode and get murdered by street toughs in the opening sequence. A tearful, black-clad Lois weeps in Cleveland’s arms, and provides the show’s inciting incident by telling him that life is too short, and that he should find his family (who has moved to guess where) and get them back while he still has the chance.

It’s time, sweetie. It’s time to go….TO CLEAVELAND.”

Posted in For the Love of God | 3 Comments »

For the Love of God: No More “Will Ferrell as Dumb Athlete!” Movies

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 17, 2008

Semi-Pro: The Legendary Ballad of Glory of Jackie Moon

You know what it is? It’s arrogance. I don’t know if it’s on the part of Ferrell, his producers, or the studio execs that keep greenlighting these movies, but it’s unbelievable arrogance. To think that a comedic setup is so funny, so irresistible, that it can remain invincible through minor variation after minor variation–it’s hubris, plain and simple. Not even The Ramones were able to get away with that forever, and I am sorry Will Ferrell, but you, sir, are no Ramones.

Yes, I loved Anchorman as much as anyone, sure–back then, Will Ferrell’s style felt so new that I even had to watch it a couple times to really wrap my head around why it was so funny. But it really was hilarious, a blend of satire, slapstick and absurdism that was as fresh as any comedy of the new millenium. And the couple other Frat Packers that Ferrell was in around that time–Old School, Wedding Crashers, Starsky & Hutch–they weren’t quite as great, but they were good enough, different enough, funny enough to make their similarity in humor and cast entirely forgivable.

But then came Talladega Nights. In itself, Talladega Nights wasn’t terrible–it’s definitely watchable, thanks in large part to the support of Gary Cole and John C. Reilly–but it was the start of a dangerous trend. For one thing, Ferrell’s character was essentially a southern-friend duplicate of his Ron Burgundy character. For another, the plot structure was virtually identical to Anchorman‘s, as a slow-witted but beloved cultural icon at the top of his game experiences a downfall, is abandoned by friends and loved ones, learns valuable lessons about sharing and compassion, and ends up back on top. And finally, and perhaps most relevantly to this entry, it was set in the world of sports.

All three of these things were once again, not quite so bad when it was just Talladega Nights–a two and a half star movie at best, but one whose status as a Sunday Afternoon Basic Cable Classic is nonetheless fairly assured. But then came Blades of Glory, and it became clear that these movies were starting to be like copies from a Xerox machine running low on toner. You had all the same elements as Anchorman and Talladega–dumb pro fucks up, learns lesson, gets back–but this one didn’t even really change the setting, transforming it from the world of NASCAR to the world of pro ice skating. It was a fruitful breeding ground for more LOL GAY jokes, but besides that, the humor was the exact same as that of Talladega Nights.

Which brings us to Semi-Pro. You’ve no doubt seen the commercials by now, and you probably know the basic plot–Ferrell as Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder turned ABA basketball franchise owner/athlete who has to resort to crazy crowd-pleasing tactics to boost attendance before the league is folded. OK, so maybe a little bit of the formula has been tinkered with at least, cool. But, c’mon–another WACKY FERRELL ATHLETE movie? Are they just going to keep going down a checklist of major sports, until eventually we get WACKY FERRELL ULTIMATE FRISBEE nad WACKY FERRELL WATER POLO movie?

That picture up there should say it all, really. Five years ago, a picture of a headbanded, scantily clothed and fro’d-out Ferrell, especially one with that half-joker, half-sexual predator look in his eyes, might’ve very well been a source of hilarity (though frankly, I’m not even sure I can remember that long ago). But look at it now. Doesn’t it just seem like a look of total smug and narcissistic self-satisfaction? Doesn’t it seem like Ferrell feels like its about a dozen times funnier than it actually is? Doesn’t it just fill you with hate?

Actually, considering how profitable, and even sort of acclaimed, these movies continue to be, I’m probably far closer to alone on this than I’d care to be. But I mean–I know Stranger Than Fiction wasn’t a masterpiece or anything, but wasn’t it nice to see a movie where Ferrell could go entire scenes at a time without a malapropism? Doesn’t he ever get as sick of playing stupid people as I do of watching them?

Posted in For the Love of God | 7 Comments »

For the Love of God: Get Rid of the Pass in Stump the Schwab

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 13, 2008

“And remember…”

Re-runs of Stump the Schwab on ESPN Classic have quickly become one of the must-watches of my weekday TV schedule. Except for the first round, I can’t really play along for shit–I’m better now than I was when I first started watching, but especially in that all-deciding final round, I’m lucky to know the answer to one or two of the questions. Still, it’s one of the best-formatted Game Shows out there, the Schwab has deservedly become one of the greatest trivia icons in the country, and frankly, it’s the only straight pop culture trivia show that I can think of on TV right now, so I’ll take what I can get.

There’s one thing about the show, though–besides host Stuart Scott’s dehabilitating reliance on go-nowhere catchphrases, anyway–that drives me absolutely fucking nuts. The structuring of that all-important final round is generally pretty smart–four different categories of questions, with three questions in each worth 1, 2 and 3 points respectively, and your opponent chooses which questions for what point values you have to answer. Three incorrect answers and you’re out, otherwise, the player with the most points at the end win. It allows you to play a fair amount of strategy, in figuring out what you think your opponent will know vs. what you’re pretty sure you won’t know, weighing the value of points vs. the value of an incorrect answer, etc. But ESPN couldn’t leave well enough alone, so they introduced another strategic element to the proceedings, as contestants are frequently reminded by Scott:

And remember, you do have a pass…

The pass. Hand the question over to your opponent and force them to answer. If you don’t know the answer, this should be the ideal solution right? Not only get out of answering a hard question yourself, but potentially force your opponent to get one of his three strikes admitting that he doesn’t know the answer either. It should be that necessary additional element of strategy to take the final round of Stump the Schwab to the next level of intensity, to make it that much more of a roller-coaster ride.

Only one problem: It makes no sense whatsoever. Unless used in a very specific set of circumstances, the pass does virtually nothing, and actually has far more potential for harm than it does for good. Mostly, that’s because 95% of the time, the pass is met with a very predictable response: the pass back. ESPN set the rules of Stump the Schwab so that the great majority of time the pass is used in the show, its effect is instantly nullified–your opponent says “OK, he clearly doesn’t know this one, better make him answer,” and passes it back, putting you right back where you started. How fucking productive. And if your opponent doesn’t pass back, that’s even worse, since generally it means he knows the answer, and can lay claim to the points your knowledge was insufficient to claim for yourself.

What’s more, even if your opponent has already used his pass and has no choice but to answer the question you send over his way, most of the time it still isn’t advantageous to do so. When I was watching tonight, contestant and Schwab were tied at six, with no strikes for either, and only four three-point questions (two for each player) left on the board. Then the contestant got a question he didn’t know the answer to, and Scott was instantly in his ear, reminding him of his potential to send the question elsewhere. And naturally, he ended up doing it.

But what on earth was the potential advantage of doing so? The contestant had no strikes, so even if he got the question wrong, there was only one question to go, and thus he was at no risk of getting the three strikes to force him out of the competition. And even if he doesn’t pass it back, and even if he doesn’t have the answer, and even if he gets it wrong–that’s only one strike for the Schwab, meaning he also has no risk of getting the fatal third strike. The only scenario that actually would make a difference? Schwab actually answers the question, giving him a three-point advantage going into his next question, and making you look like an asshole.

So are there ever circumstances when using the pass is actually advantageous? Well, when your opponent has already used his pass (without you passing back), and he’s already in strike trouble with a couple questions to go. But this set of circumstances is as rare in Stump the Schwab as a contestant that actually wins. Otherwise, it’s as pointless and stupid a device as exists in all Game Showdom.

(Postscript: Does anyone know if this show is still/ever coming out with new episodes? Admittedly, I might be a little too late with this imperative0

Posted in For the Love of God | 3 Comments »

Listeria / For the Love of God: Top Ten Songs To Be Stricken, Strucken and Stracked from Karaoke Playlists Worldwide

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 7, 2007

Just change the stupid lock already

It’s hard to think of any musical art form that gets disrespected as much as karaoke. Not that it deserves that much more respect than it gets–it’s basically the most masturbatory musical experience humanly possible, and as performance art, it ranks only slightly higher than watching someone at an arcade playing Dance Dance Revolution. But c’mon, when done right, it can be at least fairly enjoyable to watch, and for people like me with a humongous appreciation of pop history but no real musical talent to back it up, it’s fucking intoxicating to do. So I think at least a slight reverence should be in order.

Obviously, very few people agree with me about this, since the great majority of the karaoke-going populous seem utterly determined to suck dry whatever life the form could possibly possess. Your average karaoke playlist will have literally thousands of songs to choose from, songs of nearly any genre and from nearly any time period, with nearly all vocal predilections–mood, range, style, tempo–accounted for. Yet whenever you go to a karaoke bar, it seems like most people are only choosing the same 20-30 songs to perform–crowd-pleasing safeties guaranteed to get a room going, but actually sapping the room’s energy until people need as many shots in ’em to listen as they do to perform.

What’s the deal? There’s no way that all these people are stepping into a karaoke bar for the first time, surely most of them have probably heard tequilla-drenched renditions of these “classics” twice as many times as I have. And yeah, I’m aware that when you’re drunk, obscurity usually isn’t the most appealing quality in a pop song, but even the songs that sound the best while inebriated have to get somewhat boring after a while. Anyway, I’m not suggesting that karaoke playlists start adding McLusky and !!! to their playlists (awesome though that would be)–I’m just asking people to dig a little deeper. Instead of choosing something from No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom for the millionth time, why not go for “Simple Kind of Life,” or “It’s My Life,” or even “Underneath It All”? How about Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” instead of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”? You know, Boston’s first album had at least a half-dozen classics on it–do you have to choose “More Than a Feeling”?

Anyway, you get the point. Here are the ten most egregious examples of deathly karaoke overuse–may we never have to hear them by anyone but the original artists ever again. And even then, probably not for a few dozen years.

10. Pat Benatar – “Love is a Battlefield” This one hurts me to say a little, for two reasons. The first is that not only is LIAB a great song–one of the most urgent songs about young love ever created, and totally deserving of its overexposure in pop culture–but it’s a great karaoke song, one condusive to wonderful vocal histrionics and, if the performer has a half-decent understanding of early-80s music videos, some great Benatarian dance moves as well. The second is that I’m well aware that for females not interested in doing sappy love songs or show tunes, the # of tough-chick karaoke choices is relatively limited–it’s pretty much either Stefani, Harry, Hynde or Benatar.

But I’m afraid I still have to call it on this one. The overkaraokeing (or OK’ing, as it will now be referred to) of “Love is a Battlefield” is threatening to spill over into my real-world appreciation of the song, and that’s when you know that it’s time to draw the line. Sorry, ladies, but good news is Pat still has about a dozen karaoke-indusive classics still on the market–how about giving “Invincible” a try next time out?

Suggested Substitute: Y’know, I never hear any girls trying their hands at a Garbage tune. “Vow” and “Special” could do the trick about as well as this one, I think.

9. AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long” There’s two strikes against this one to begin with because Brian Johnson’s voice is so hard to imitate, and only males with a certain vocal register can approximate his gravelly screech without lapsing into falsetto or just sounding like an idiot–personally, I wouldn’t dare attempt it. Yet, there’s no shortage of rank amateur karaokeians that have no problem stepping up to the mic to give YSMANL their earth-quaking, wall-shaking best. Bad move the first time, bad move the hundredth time. Best to leave this one to the pros down under.

Suggested Substitute: Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” is a better choice in the same vein, since Aerosmith harmonies give you plenty of vocal registers to choose from, and Tyler’s squeaking never sounded particularly masculine to begin with.

8. Anything off Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill Admittedly, this might be a personal thing, since as a child whose pop education began in the year 1996, I still have enough listens of Alanis’s hits backlogged to last me another century–and most of them aren’t even any good to begin with. But even aside from that, I don’t think it’s ever really a good look to be imitating Alanis–most girls sound cringe-worthy miring “You Oughta Know,” boring attempting “Hand in My Pocket,” and just kind of stupid warbling “Ironic.” Alanis’s level of mid-90s success will be forever inexplicable, intentionally bringing up bad memories of her reign at the top makes even less sense.

Acceptable Exception: “All I Really Want.” By far the best (and, naturally, most forgotten) of Alanis’s hits, if you had to go JLP, this more complex number would be a much-appreciated dig.

7. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” The only thing really preventing this song from being much higher on this list is how confusing I find its OKed status to be. “Sweet Caroline” song isn’t a particularly good song, nor is it a song I even remember hearing more than a handful of times in my pre-college years. I guess it’s a baseball / Boston thing, but now it appears to be not only the sole Neil Diamond song anyone remembers, but the only pre-80s song a great majority of karaokers have in their repertoire. I appreciate the audience participation factor (“so good! so good! so good!,” etc.) and all, but I still think we’re ready to put this song to bed for another 30 years.

Suggested Substitute: Diamond’s “America” has the same AP factor (“TODAY!“), and is probably twice as cheesy. Time to move on, Red Sox Nation.

6. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” They have other songs, you know.

Suggested Substitutes: “Lights,” “Lovin, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” “Stone in Love,” “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love),” “Any Way You Want It,” “Who’s Crying Now?,” “The Girl Can’t Help it,” “Still They Ride,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Wheel in the Sky,” “Faithfully,” hell even fucking “Open Arms” would be preferable at this point.

5. Anything off Guns n Roses’ Appetite for Destruction Classic album, no question, and yeah, I know we’re all going nuts waiting for Chinese Democracy and everything, but, well…I don’t ever want to hear some of these songs again, and karaoke certainly plays a large part of that. To be fair, so does too much radio play, and so does “Sweet Child o Mine” being the first song everyone always chooses when playing Guitar Hero II, but those I feel are a little more understandable. And besides, random OKer, I’ve seen (videos of) Axl Rose, and you sir are no Axl Rose. C’mon, you’re not even trying to sashay. And where the fuck’s your bandana?

Acceptable Exception: If you can find a karaoke place somewhere that actually has “Out Ta Get Me,” far be it from me to deprive you from doing your best “I’m fukkin’ innocent, maaaaaannnn!!!” shriek. Otherwise, you’re better off looking for a later number–“Patience” and “Don’t Cry” work, or “November Rain” and “Civil War” if you have some time to kill.

4. Anything from RENT. I don’t even know where to start with this one. My long-standing fear of theater people (not you legitimate dramatistes out there, but the ones who kicked me out of the TV lounge the summer I spent at BU to watch The Birdcage, and who spent the entire final day of the program hugging and sobbing) tends to manifest at the slightest hint of showtunery, and the ones in RENT–unmelodic, melodramatic, and fairly nonsensical out of context–afflict me worst of all. Far be it from me to deprive an entire social sub-group of their musical bread & butter, but if you’re gonna choose a showtune, can you at least switch up the show every now and then?

Suggested Substitute: Uh, I dunno…I was in The Music Man when I was 8, you kids know anything from that?

3. Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” Get a group of 100 white people under the age of 35 together, and sure enough, at least one of them will think that doing “Baby Got Back” at karaoke is the funniest thing ever. My personal hatred of the song aside–I’ve often quoted it as my least favorite song of all time–it tends to coax the most obnoxious, annoying assholes out of the audience, the kind of people that even the good Sir himself (a surprisingly smart, well-spoken dude) would probably be disgusted at handing over his legacy to. My first time doing public karaoke was one of my first nights in college, and some guy did both this and Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch.” It’s people like him that kept me from doing karaoke until then, and it’s a miracle it didn’t put me off doing it for the rest of my life.

Suggested Substitute: Like you guys never heard Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rumpshaker” before?

2. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” Talk about an originally-decent song utterly demolished by pop culture. Who knows what it was about Gloria Gaynor’s trademark hit that allowed film directors, wedding DJs and OKers to believe that it was totally impervious to overexposure (no song is), but the saturation this song has achieved after nearly 30 years of lazy, lazy producers of entertainment is truly sickening. State law should require karaoke bar stages to have a trapdoor immediately activated by the phrase “At first I was afra–WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!” The only thing keeping it from pole position here is the fact that I feel like OKers are starting to back off the song a little, and I don’t think I’ve heard it in a movie in at least six months. It’s a start.

Suggested Substitute: Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” anyone? A preferable choice in every aspect, let’s see some paradigm-shifting here.

1. The Big Singles off Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. As if I needed another reason to hate Pete Wentz, I saw him interviewed at the “remixed footage” of this year’s Video Music Awards, talking about some DJ sets he supposedly does or something. When the VJ asked him what he played to gets the crowds going, Wentz said he had three secret weapons that never failed–Justin Timberlake’s “My Love,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and Bon Jovi. When the VJ showed incredulity that Wentz would actually play Bon Jovi, Wentz smiled smugly and said something like “I’ll play the worst crap, you wouldn’t even believe it.” So not only does he resort to playing such an obvious crowdpleaser, not only does he seem to think that doing so is some ingenious DJing strategy no one’s ever thought of before, but he actually has the audacity to act like he’s somehow better than the modern day Jersey Boys. Pete Fucking Wentz.

This is appropos of most 20-somethings’ recent attitude towards Bon Jovi. Somehow, somewhere along the line, it was unanimously decided that Bon Jovi’s three biggest anthems–“Wanted Dead or Alive,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer”–should represent the sum total of a drunken Saturday night’s faux-nostalgia (Wentz was 7 in 1986, I’d wager most OKers of this song were even younger) for Generation Y, or Z, or whatever gen we’re on right now. Of course, come Sunday morning, you’d never dream of popping in their album as you do your laundry or whatever–it’s not actually good music or anything, but the next weekend, when you’re on your fourth Jack & Coke and someone hands you a microphone, you just better HOLD ON TO WHAT WE GOT, IT DOESN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF WE MAKE IT OR NOT

Bullshit. Bon Jovi wrote at least three of the best pop/rock songs of the late 80s, and if you don’t appreciate that under the sober morning light, STOP FUCKING RUINING THEM FOR THE REST OF US THE NIGHT BEFORE. And even if you do legitimately enjoy Bon Jovi or their 80s rock brethren, please find some other way to prove it to the rest of us–even if it just means doing something off of New Jersey or Keep the Faith, that’s cool, just not any of these three songs. I know they’re great karaoke songs, and all, and when I’m not feeling quite so self-righteous, I’ll sing along to ’em too. But just back off enough to give them a chance to survive the patronizing irony of our generation, lest hearing them becomes induces even more cringes than “I Will Survive”.

Suggested Substitute: I might give “Bed of Roses” a workout my next time out. Crazy underrated, that one.

Posted in For the Love of God, Listeria | 10 Comments »