Bruce Vilanch: Secret 24th Member of the USMNT?

As I mentioned yesterday, I fell hard for this year’s World Cup, watching more soccer than I ever imagined I could, transfixed by matches like Ivory Coast vs. Greece, arranging my schedule around France vs. Switzerland. But even though I watched the majority of knockout games and an entirely unnecessary amount of group games, regardless of the matchup, it was the U.S. Men’s National Team that really stole my heart and refused to let go (despite only winning one of four games, and losing their last two. But we won’t focus on that). I didn’t know much about the team before the tournament, other than that Landon Donovan was not on the team and Tim Howard is really, really good and Clint Dempsey is not Clint Mathis. But by the time the USMNT rolled into Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova to take on Belgium we could roll off the names Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman and DeAndre Yedlin like we had been following the club for years. In a truly abbreviated amount of time the USMNT became our team the way that the New York Rangers are our team, and as we lived and died with the Broadway Blueshirts into the Stanley Cup Final, we felt similarly about the USA squad. And even though the dream only lasted a couple of weeks, our bond was deep, if only so brief.

But a few days ago we stumbled upon Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil, an ESPN Films series covering the journey of the USA team from the World Cup qualifiers to their departure for Brasil, and all the roster changes and training sessions and Jürgen Klinsmannisms in between. And since beginning the series I’ve been obsessed. It’s just like in 6th Grade when everyone fell in love with Green Day’s Dookie (or so they professed) and wrote the band’s name on their backpacks with Wite-Out and then discovered their early stuff like 39/Smooth and Kerplunk (except in my case it would have been Billy Joel and collecting all of his albums that predate his Greatest Hits Volume 1 & Volume 2). March to Brazil is the USMNT’s early stuff, and I’m really digging it. Sure, they’re raw and unrefined, and there will be some personnel changes before they settle on the definitive lineup, but the soul is there.

But as much as I’ve enjoyed this series, learning the background of these players that I cheered so hard for just two weeks ago, there was something else that I found absolutely stunning: Bruce Vilanch was a member of the USMNT.

Well, maybe not exactly, but he definitely makes an appearance in Part 2, evidently having traveled on the same flight as Defender Omar Gonzalez. Take a look:

 

Did you catch him? Look again:

Bruce Vilanch Omar Gonzalez USMNT

 

Let’s go in for a closer look:

Vilanch-CloseUp

 

Well, if the one size too small graphic t-shirt and red glasses don’t give it away, then the blond Fry Guy hair sure does. I mean, it can’t be, but it’s gotta be:

Bruce Vilanch

Now, as I said, I’ve watched a Bruce Vilanch-worth of USA soccer and haven’t seen the writer-comedian anywhere else, but is it possible that the Off-Center Square was Jürgen Klinsmann’s secret weapon? Did Klinsmann do what Whoopi and Billy have done before him and Get Bruce? Did Vilanch keep Michael Bradley at ease with his playful, suggestive puns? Did he help immerse Jermaine Jones and Julian Green in American culture? Did he trade hair secrets with Graham Zusi and Mix Diskerud? Or maybe, just maybe, he was making a surprise cameo in Kyle Beckerman’s engagement photos? Whatever the reason, Vilanch needs to be on the roster for 2018.

We’ll never be able to beat the Germans by playing their game. We need to create our own American style, embrace what makes our country unique. Maybe, just maybe, Bruce Vilanch is the key.

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Brooklyn is the Center of World (Cup)

WorldCupHeadquartersWell, it’s finally over. After a month of great, often breathtaking games matches and gorgeous goals, the World Cup finished its 2014 run in Brasil yesterday, leaving us both sad and already overflowing with excitement for 2018 (and 2022 on our home turf?) I watched more soccer football in the last month than I had in my whole life prior, and it’s not even close. Even more, I think I watched more of the beautiful game in the last four weeks than I have of baseball all season. And I love baseball. But the Mets are mediocre and uninspiring, and just plain difficult to watch. And, well, the World Cup worked very well with my current unemployment flexible schedule. Will I continue this trend and begin to tune into MLS games on a regular basis. Probably not (last night’s Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers prime-time matchup notwithstanding). I already went down that road four years when I really thought I was going to be big LA Galaxy fan, and that didn’t last long (but that’s the worldwide appeal of David Beckham, I guess). Truth is, I’ll probably finally get back into baseball post-All-Star break, or, perhaps, if the Mets continue to make mediocre an art form, I’ll just kill time until hockey starts again (whose void was filled so wonderfully, and at just the right time, by the World Cup). But I’ll be ready for 2018 in Russia, and I’ll always treasure the last month, when I felt at one with the world and the world felt like it came to Brooklyn (and I spent way too much time in a bar before 5pm).

My lasting memory, I think, will be that every bar, cafe, restaurant, McDonald’s, hair salon and tax preparation office seemed to be broadcasting the matches, trying to capitalize on a popularity that I didn’t quite realize the tournament possessed. There was no shortage of establishments showing the matches, and, it felt, no shortage of people who were interested in watching. Walking around Brooklyn, it sure felt that soccer, after two decades of promise, had finally arrived.

World Cup Bars Brooklyn, Greenpoint

 

Our collective  fútbol fever may now have subsided, not likely to return for another four years. But from now until then, we’re still infected, with another outbreak just lying in wait, from Brooklyn to Chicago, from Seattle to Kansas City, to Los Angeles to the White House. I look forward to the relapse.

 

 

 

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The Return of the King

Since sources indicate that the Cavaliers are delivering a strong pitch to LeBron James to return to the Cleve, I thought we’d have a little fun, step into the fantasy machine, and imagine what King James might look like in a Cavs uniform, should he choose the city so nice the Browns have called it home twice. This is a very crude mock-up, but I think it gets the idea across: LeBron would look GREAT in the ol’ blue and orange. The talk is very preliminary, but it just feels right, doesn’t it? LebronPrice

Sure, we’d all like to flee to the Cleve. But it looks like LBJ just might do it.

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U2 Jump Street: Before “Friends”

Penhall & HansonWith 22 Jump Street opening last weekend I thought it would only be appropriate to open up the digital archives and take a look at the source text, the original TV series, the pre-meta, pre-spoof, sincere-to-a-fault 21 Jump Street. And when thinking about what to write about I was surprised to learn that I never spoke about one of the most vivid memories of 21 Jump Street from my childhood, something that has stuck with me for decades, even if I wasn’t sure it was real until I just confirmed it. Something that, as a consequence, always bothered me about Friends. And that is the use of U2′s “With or Without You.”

It was easy to think that I had made it up. My memory said that the series on the fledgling Fox network once featured an episode in which Officer Doug Penhall (the incomparable Peter DeLuise) travels to El Salvador to locate his missing wife (in my recollections, however, it was not El Salvador – I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know that El Salvador existed at the time – I just had a vision of Penhall going to some Spanish-speaking place, or, perhaps, due to the outbreak of the first Gulf War during that time, the Middle East somewhere). And I recalled that the emotional climax was set to “Without or Without You,” a song that I hadn’t put in context yet, by a band I wouldn’t really be aware of until they had a pretty popular video from the Batman Forever soundtrack. But that couldn’t have actually happened right? This the show in which Johnny Depp goes undercover as a high school student to break up an amateur weed-dealing ring, in which Peter DeLuise was still somehow eligible for the varsity football team, in which Holly Robinson-Peete cornered the market on denim. So there couldn’t have been an episode in which Penhall and Hanson get embroiled in a Latin American revolution, right? With machine guns and rebel armies and jungles and explosions? Nah. In which Penhall grieves over his dead wife at her makeshift grave? No. No way. Now an episode in which Hanson is afraid to share chocolate milk with an HIV-positive student? Sure. Richard Greico’s Booker getting super high and then absolutely dominating on the schoolyard basketball court? I’ll buy that. But not an epic, emotional, tragic trek through a Latin American nation in turmoil set against the most moving and gut-wrenching song from the Irish Beatles (before the pomposity and pretentiousness of later fare like “Beautiful Day”). We think not.

But it was real! Sure, if you look up that episode now – “La Bizca” (translation: “the cross-eyed”) – and watch on Hulu, or view it on your complete series DVDs (which I know you have), the song has been replaced with some generic stock music. To be fair, it’s amazing that they were able to use it for the original broadcast in the first place, so it would be greedy to expect to fire up your Amazon Prime and still hear the strains of The Edge’s guitar. But, thanks to some intrepid, heroic YouTube users, the original version exists (taken from what we think was a German broadcast, naturally), and it can be seen in its original glory, the way that Bono never intended because he probably didn’t know that 21 Jump Street was a thing.

And when we say “its original glory” we also mean before “With or Without You” was usurped and recontextualized by Friends when Ross and Rachel couldn’t agree on the terms of a “break.” Years after “La Bizca” we remember watching Rachel stare out her fake window in her fake NYC apartment as fake snow fell down and we were immediately bothered by this song being appropriated as the soundtrack to their not-really-star-crossed romance. These two selfish, self-obsessed, entitled yuppies let a little fight and a copy shop girl get between them, and they have the audacity to proclaim this as their theme song, the anthem to their dysfunctional, overwrought, will-they-or-won’t-they romance? That, we recall then and recall now, was very upsetting. The emotional depths of “With or Without You” should be reserved for a Doug Penhall traveling halfway across the world only to learn that his wife has perished in the midst of a brutal civil war, not for a fashion buyer and a whiny guy with a monkey who break up after every petty squabble. It’s an insult to “With or Without You,” and its an insult to the late Marta Penhall. Would you use Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to accompany Phoebe giving birth to her brother’s triplets? No, you wouldn’t. And this was arguably worse.

And when we say “its original glory” we also mean the manner in which “With or Without You” was used in the television series versus how it might be used in the movies; which is to say without any trace of irony, but instead just dripping with earnestness. The polar opposite of 21 Jump Street the movie (and its sequel), 21 Jump Street the show was hyper self-serious. Sure, you don’t have a series with Peter DeLuise at the forefront and not have your fair share of yuks, but the show did not allow for any degree of winking or self-parody, any even vague allusion to its absurdity. Racism in high schools and a Vietnamese extortion ring and a clown kidnapping his grandson and revolutions in El Salvador, this was never played for laughs, but for very special episodes at best, didactic social commentary at worst. But good or bad, the original 21 Jump Street was committed to the integrity of these stories, and that probably goes a long way towards explaining why Johnny Depp was so eager to flee the Jump Street chapel. It wasn’t the best show – not by a long shot – and it didn’t always do a great job of tackling the big issues – again, not by a long shot – but you can’t say they didn’t aim high. And if their aim wasn’t true – and it usually wasn’t – their intentions were.

Much like, you might argue, a little rock band out of Dublin.

 

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Filed under Count Bleh, Jump Streets Ahead, Must See TV, Nostalgia Corner, The Big Screen, Tyranasaurus Sex

You Need Me Watching That Wall, You Want Me Watching That Wall

Like with “The Mountain and the Viper,” I was fortunate enough to be given a look at a deleted scene from this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones, the epic “The Watchers on the Wall.” Similar to that alternate take on the battle between Prince Oberyn and Gregor Glegane, this scene between Jon Snow and the acting Lord Commander provides a different insight into their relationship and sheds new light on Sir Alliser’s commitment to Castle Black.

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Aaron Sorkin’s “The Mountain and the Viper”

I had a chance to check out the original edit of last week’s epic Game of Thrones showdown between The Red Viper Prince Oberyn Martell and The Mountain Gregor Clegane, and I have to say I think I find this version a bit more compelling. Certainly more star-studded.

At the very least, this certainly opens up a lot more doors for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

 

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‘Survivor: Cagayan’ Look Back: A Case For Kass; Plus Look-Alikes!

First, an apology: I was derelict in my responsibilities during this last season of Survivor, posting only a single recap in spite of yet another strong entry into the series. I can offer neither excuses nor reparations, just the promise that I will try not to be so negligent again. Trust me, I missed the recaps more than you, so it’s something I really hope to get back to. I can’t promise that this won’t happen again. But I promise I’ll try.

Now that my mea culpa is out-of-the-way, let us go ahead and – despite the season ending weeks ago – discuss the Survivor: Cagayan finale, as I finally got to the last few episodes this week and it’s still fresh in my mind. Cagayan continued what has been a string terrific, engaging, surprising Survivor seasons, a red-hot streak that has been the show’s renaissance, proving the series to be just as entertaining and relevant in its 28th season as it was in its first. And this season featured, if not one of its best players, one of its boldest, not-cop cop Tony, the Sole Survivor and winner of the million. To use a phrase that I really don’t care for, Tony played balls-out from day one, making alliances, immediately breaking them, swearing on his dead father’s grave like it had the weight of a Facebook RVSP, digging up Immunity Idols, lying about Immunity Idols, creating paranoia, letting his own paranoia persuade him to blindside players in his alliance, building #SpyShacks, and totally vexing his fellow Survivors and, often, himself in the process. It wasn’t the cleanest Survivor game ever, quite the opposite, but it was effective. Tony played big, was never out of the spotlight, but always managed to hang onto control of the game, partly because of his “bag of tricks,” but partly because no one else wanted to sport his bullseye. But being so omnipresent, so visible, often seemed to take Tony out of the discussion for elimination. Like the purloined letter, he was hidden in plain sight, deftly (sometimes) keeping his alliance committed and loyal and keeping himself safe. In the end, especially in a final two against Woo(!), Tony deserved to win the million. However, while Tony did the most to earn the victory, I was surprised at the lack of respect for Kass’s game, who likewise played a bold, unpredictable, cutthroat and successful (but just not successful enough) game.

Read on: Goats and Llamas

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