15 Spin-Offs That Never Existed That Were Cancelled Too Soon

Coach Ioki

Last month we took a look at 15 shows that never existed that were cancelled too soon, and with today’s news that a Married With…Children spin-off focusing on Grandmaster B Bud Bundy is a (germ of an idea of a plea of a) reality, it seems right to shift perspective and now look at some forgotten spin-offs from television history. There are some dramas, some comedies, some animated series; some won several awards, some were roundly ignored; some were praised by critics, and some just adored by fans. But these spin-offs all have one thing in common: they never got the chance they deserved (because they never existed).

Ioki’s Place (FOX, 1990): After misfiring with Booker Fox attempted another 21 Jump Street spin-off, this time with Sergeant Harry Truman Ioki leaving the force to open a neighborhood bar and banh mi shop. But Ioki gets more than he bargains for when his father/head chef (the legendary Pat Morita) can’t help but meddle with his leadership style, and sparks begin to fly with his new manager, Samantha (Ellen DeGeneres). Most notable for featuring a pre-teen Seth Rogen as neighborhood kid and prankster Billy Goldstein. Peter DeLuise appears uncredited in every episode.

AIDS (TNBC, 1992-1993): An obvious ploy to capitalize on the success of Saved by the Bell, AIDS focused on a group of hall monitors and office assistants at Manhattan Beach Preparatory High School. Despite much fanfare, a plum time-slot, a young Michelle Rodriguez and a sweeps week visit from Screech and Mr. Belding, the show inexplicably failed to catch on with viewers and was soon replaced by a second helping of California Dreams. 

Knight Rider Knights (Syndicated, 1986-1987): When Glen A. Larson and NBC agreed that 44 minutes of David Hasselhoff per week was not sufficient, they expanded the franchise with this short-lived look at how Michael Knight and his sentient car-best friend KITT spend their nights when they’re not fighting crime and chasing bad guys. Loosely based on the provocative 1980 Al Pacino thriller Cruising, the majority of episodes featured Knight and KITT hopping from drive-in movie theaters to Dairy Queens to mall parking lots to drug-fueled sex parties. The rambling, ramshackle nature of the show – there was clearly no script and some scenes were obviously just Hasselhoff’s home movies shot on a cheap VHS camera – quickly turned off loyal fans of the brand, and even a cross-over event with the original series, dubbed “The KITT Stays in the Picture” failed to bring viewers back. Delved into the supernatural towards the end of its run, and most remembered for the penultimate episode in which a jealous Wiccan transforms KITT into a 60-year-old man, portrayed by KITT voice William Daniels, sporting the same wardrobe and mannerisms he’d later incorporate into his iconic role of Mr. Feeny. Not to be confused with the animated series Knight Rider Knights (1988), in which a lightning storm sends KITT back in time to Camelot where he serves in King Arthur’s Court, or Team Knight Rider (1997-1998), which was a real show.

The Urkels (ABC, 1993): With the white-hot heat emanating from Family Matters resident nerd-in-love Steve Urkel, ABC quickly green-lit this spin-off – a drama focused on Steve’s parents and his autistic brother Stewart – for the fall ’93 slate. Unfortunately, even with an advantageous TGIF slot following Full House and a gushing review from Entertainment Weekly‘s Ken Tucker, the series struggled in the ratings and ended with an unresolved cliff-hanger in which Mrs. Urkel (Wanda Sykes) files for divorce. Young son Stewart was initially played by an aging Emmanuel Lewis, but was replaced with Wild & Crazy Kids‘ Omar Gooding after the pilot.

The Cosby Mysteries: Sex Files (NBC, 1996): An ill-advised attempt by Bill Cosby and then-NBC head of programming Warren Littlefield to revive the Cosby Mysteries, this time moving away from the wholesome, family-friendly storylines of the original series towards the more graphic and explicit fare that has become the hallmark of NBC’s later primetime hit Law & Order: SVU. The six produced episodes were never aired and quickly destroyed, and all cast and crew involved were paid off to never talk about it.

Mail Bonding (NBC, 1989): Quietly falling between The Tortellis and Frasier, this short-lived and quickly forgotten Cheers spin-off swapped out the bar for the post office. Unfortunately, Cheers producers Glen & Les Charles forgot to bring over the sharp wit and clever writing of its progenitor, and the talented cast – which featured Gordon Jump, Brian-Doyle Murray, Ellen DeGeneres, former NFL great Bubba Smith, a young Marc Maron and Tom Bosley as Postmaster General Charlie O’Flaherty – never quite found the chemistry that was the trademark of Sam, Norm, Woody and the gang. By the time Cliff Clavin stopped by the Beacon Hill Post Office in episode nine, the bad news of cancellation had already been delivered.

Designing Men (CBS, 1991-1992): After leaving Sugarbaker Designs, Anthony Bouvier (the late Meshach Taylor), heads to New York to open up his own interior design firm and get a taste of the big city. Partnering with his former prison cellmate, Fuzzy Mendez (Luis Guzman), and moving in with old college friends Eli and Paris (David Paymer and Harvey Firestein), Anthony is ready to bring a little southern peach to the Big Apple. The series’ final episode, “Bullies Over Broadway” was heralded for its brave depiction of ageism in theatre, winning an AARP award and snaring Firestein a BAFTA nomination for his performance. Despite lasting only one season, the show was a phenomenon in Germany, where it was titled Girly Männer and can still be found in reruns on the country’s RTL II network.

Private Boner (ABC, 1990): After a vocal (and sometimes openly hostile) write-in campaign persuaded ABC brass to bring back Growing Pains‘ Richard “Boner” Stabone (the late Andrew Koenig), this short-lived midseason replacement found Mike Seaver’s best buddy on the ground in Kuwait, trying to mine laughs from minefields. Hoping to combine the pedantic and sanctimonious tone of Growing Pains with the poignant authenticity of M*A*S*H, the series was, ironically, preempted for a special report on Operation Desert Shield and never returned to air. A later effort to return Boner to Growing Pains was, in fact, aborted by the now Born-Again Kirk Cameron, who objected to Koenig’s staunch belief in the right to choose.

MonsterMASH (CBS, 1987): A poorly conceived collaboration between M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbhart and the Brady Bunch’s Sherwood Schwartz, this variety show was the first (and only) program to blend elements of comedy, drama, musical numbers, and the Korean War. Adam Arkin stepped into Alan Alda’s boots as Hawkeye Pierce, reimagined now as an exceedingly neurotic and easily frightened Brooklyn Jew, and Jamie Farr reprised his role as cross-dresser Max Klinger. The pilot aired as a Halloween special, but, like many pilots in Korea, it crashed and burned, as some viewers were offended by the portrayal of Koreans as werewolves, vampires, Yetis, Frankensteins and other figures of the occult. Airing up against ABC’s Mr. Belvedere, the series never really had a shot, and was DOA.

Just Close Enough for Comfort (Syndicated, 1987): After retooling Too Close for Comfort into The Ted Knight Show to middling returns, executive producer Earl Barret decided to take the opposite tack, dropping the show’s star, the eponymous Knight, and bringing back original cast members Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lydia Cornell, and Audrey Meadows, along with new additions Robert Hegyes, Anson Williams and third Quaid brother, Barry (in his only credited role). The series picks up with Knight’s character Henry Rush inexplicably absent and shifts the focus to Jim J. Bullock’s Monroe Ficus, whose opens a handmade sofa and loveseat gallery to immediate success (later episodes would reveal that Rush left Marin County to pursue his dream of writing political cartoons for The New York Post). Early reviews were not kind, noting, accurately, that “nothing ever really happens in this show,” “the characters just basically get along really well and pay each other compliments. I counted seventeen hugs in the first episode alone, which I guess is fine, but super, super boring,” and “one episode is devoted entirely to the characters offering excessive praise of Ficus’ new chaise lounge. Granted, it was a very nice lounge, but the whole 22-minutes were completely devoid of any conflict – or charm – whatsoever.”  Said chaise lounge is now on display at the Paley Center for Media (Los Angeles).

Mona’s Place (ABC, 1992-1993): When Angela Bower sells her Connecticut home to move to Manhattan with new husband Tony Miceli, her vivacious and hyper-sexually-active mother Mona stays behind in the guest-house and proves that 70 is the new 20. Originally titled The Cougar Den, this Who’s the Boss? spin-off failed to appeal to young TGIF viewers, but was applauded for its frank discussions of sex, ageism and menopause. Despite lasting just thirteen episodes, Katherine Helmond earned a Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice award for her performance in “A Round of Appalled” in which she learns she has contracted the Clap, an episode that continues to be shown in many high school Health Education classes today. An interesting footnote: following cancellation, Mona’s bedroom/sex den was repurposed into Cory and Eric Matthews’ room on Boy Meets World, which debuted the following fall.

Saved by the Bell: The Early Years (TNBC, 1994-1995): Ever wonder what Bayside High was like when sixteen-year-old Richie “the Big Bopper” Belding was spinning records for KKTY? Neither did anyone else.

Just the Nine of Us (ABC, 1991): In a last-ditch effort to capture viewers, Just the Ten of Us producers Guntzelman-Sullivan-Marshall retooled the series as a season-long kidnapping mystery. Unfortunately, due to abysmal ratings, production was quickly halted and we never learned which of the Lubbock children had been abducted. Series star Bill Kirchenbauer later called it “the single worst professional experience of my life. No one knew why we were there and all of our lawyers were combing through our contracts desperately trying to find a way out. To say that cancellation came as sweet relief is a massive understatement.” An extremely short blooper reel can be found on the Growing Pains Season 7 DVD.

UnsDuck in Time: The Lost Tales of Launchpad McQuack (Syndicated, 1993-1994): Unlicensed and dangerously incompetent pilot Launchpad McQuack, second banana to Scrooge McDuck and sidekick to Darkwing Duck, finally takes center stage in this rare collaboration between Disney Television Animation and the Children’s Television Workshop. Thanks to a temperamental and possibly demonic time machine invented by Gyro Gearloose, McQuack is sent backwards through the ages to important events in history, from the Revolutionary War to the JFK Assassination. Designed as way to teach children about world history while keeping them entertained, the program failed at both aims, and ended with a controversial finale in which a Launchpad McQuack from the year 2020 is sent back from the future to kill his present day self in order to prevent a nuclear holocaust. That finale, ironically, netted the show its largest audience by a wide-margin, but talks to revive the series were abandoned following the runaway success of the newest Disney Afternoon sensation Bonkers, as well as the rampant drug use by the show’s animators. However, the story did continue in a spin-off comic book series published by Malibu Comics, which ran for seven years, and featured the writing debut of future Spider-Man scribe and Eisner Award winner Brian Michael Bendis.

Heidi’s Head (FOX, 1992): Encouraged by the mild success of Herman’s Head, FOX executives fast-tracked this spin-off that followed the same blueprint. Joan Cusack starred as the titular Heidi, an aspiring designer at a hip fashion label, with Soliel Moon Frye representing her sensitivity, Sandra Berhardt her lust, a young Jeremy Piven standing in as her anxiety and Robert Guillaume as her intellect, with occasional appearances from Marsha Warfield as Anger. A back-door pilot in which Herman’s Head star William Ragsdale sleeps with Heidi (after Hank Azaria’s womanizing scoundrel Jay drugs her at bar) was shelved in favor of a Married with Children clip-show. Was later ripped off by Pixar.

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Filed under Feeny, Lists, Mickey Mouse Club, Must Flee TV, Saved by the Bell, TGIF, Who's the Boss?

15 Shows That Never Existed That Were Cancelled Too Soon

Judge Dabney ColemanWith the impending return of the X-Files, Full House and, yes, Coach, we thought it would be appropriate to look back at fifteen series that never had the chance to capture the large, passionate audiences of those beloved shows. Sadly, they will never be rebooted. They were never even booted in the first place.

Sludge (CBS, 1983-1984): Dabney Coleman stars as veteran Salt Lake City Judge Sherman Lipschitz decides to use the power of the bench to combat environmental pollution when his son grows a third arm after swimming in the lake. A pre-Ghostbusters Ernie Hudson co-stars as Bailiff Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, with a cherubic Jerry O’Connell as Sherman Jr., the boy with the extra appendage. The series started strong, but suffered a huge ratings hit when it was accused by both Exxon and the EPA of being “wildly, willfully and dangerously inaccurate.”

Nine Lives (Syndicated, 1987): After crossing paths with a black cat on a Halloween, unemployed comic book artist Freddy Cheshire (Zach Galligan) wakes up to realize that he has developed feline-like reflexes and agility, as well as an insatiable hunger for Fancy Feast and a hatred of mice. By night he uses his new powers to fight crime, by day he transfers his recent experiences to his newest comic creation, Super Whiskers. Dom DeLuise appears as criminal mastermind and comic book store owner, Dom Dominos.

Whiskers (Syndicated, 1987): A retooled, comedic-approach to Nine Lives now features Freddy trying to hide his feline-leanings from his new roommates, including Matt (Matt LeBlanc), Steve (Steve Burton) and his big-crush, aspiring singer-songwriter Marisa (Ellen DeGeneres). Freddy can only reveal his special condition – and his true feelings for Marisa – to pet store owner and close confidant, Mr. Byrnes (Brian Doyle-Murray).

Where There’s a Will (NBC, 1984, 1987): After a car crash claims the life of greedy, self-obsessed estate lawyer Will Christman (William H. Macy), he’s sent back to earth to fulfill all the Last Will and Testaments he had blithely ignored over the years. Notable for featuring one of Orson Welles final appearances as the voice of God. Briefly resurrected in 1987 with Billy Baldwin in the lead role.

DOM! (Fox, 1989-1990): The late Dom DeLuise starred as Dom DiLorenzo, a retired Broadway actor who opens up his downtown Chicago apartment to his struggling progeny (real-life sons Michael, Peter and David), despite living alone for the past 30 years. With the womanizing, scheming, unpredictable Dom as the head of the household, it’s hard to tell who’s the father and who’s the son. But who says an old dog can’t learn some new tricks? A young Jack Black co-starred as the youngest DiLorenzo, Nick.

From Riches to Rags (NBC, 1987-1988): When the wealthy Sheraton girls – Cindy, Mindy, Lindsay, Winny and Barry – lose their parents in a freak Aspen gondola accent, they also lose their sprawling mansion in Beverly Hills. With their inheritance squandered by their father on his secret family, and nowhere else to go, the girls are adopted by lonely plumber Joseph Pulaski (Joe Bologna), and move into his two-bedroom basement apartment in the Valley. Slowly but surely they learn that there are some things in life that can’t be bought, and love is worth more than money. Executive produced by Robert Zemeckis and with a pilot directed by Clint Howard, the series premiered to big numbers, but never recovered after being pre-empted for Brian Boitano’s gold-medal winning performance at the ’88 Olympics in Calgary. Most remembered for Paula Poundstone’s role as oldest sister Barry, and Nora Dunn’s winning performance as Terry, a cold but caring social worker.

Drexell’s Class (Fox 1992-1993): Starred Dabney Coleman in the role of Otis Drexell, a fifth-grade teacher at fictional Grantwood Elementary School in Cedar Bluffs, Iowa, and a formerly  famous corporate raider who lost a large sum of money on a failed venture was subsequently arrested for tax evasion. At his court case, he was told that he would receive a suspended sentence on the basis he work as a teacher in the undermanned school until he pays his back taxes. This was a real show.

The Dog House (ABC, 1993-1994): Dabney Coleman returns (again) as gruff Detective Mitt Morgan, whose drinking problems lead him to bungle a murder case and convince his wife to throw him out of the house. Busted down to canine patrol, and living in his mother’s basement with his new partner, Bartleby, Mitt tries to put his personal and professional lives back together. But Mitt soon learns that the dog days are just beginning. Chi McBride co-starred as Mitt’s former partner and best friend, Chi and the late Jean Stapleton received her final Emmy nomination as no-nonsense widow, Louise Morgan.

Spuds (ABC, 1988): After the smash success of Dynasty, Executive Producer Aaron Spelling turned his Midas touch to a sprawling potato farm in Idaho’s Sun Valley and the filthy rich but morally bankrupt Van Vondren clan. Family patriarch Geoff Van Vondren (John Aniston), who inherited the estate from his late father under suspicious circumstances, struggles to keep his house in order and to cover up all the secrets – including a second wife, a mistress, a shady deal with a Russian vodka company, and hypertension – that could ruin him. Aniston famously broke his Days of our Lives contract for the opportunity to portray Geoff and act with his daughter, Jennifer, in her first television role. The family was rounded out by Shelly Duvall as Geoff’s jilted wife Yvonne, Daniel Baldwin as eldest son Carmichael, Rick “Ricky” Schroeder as youngest son Michael, Dick Van Patten as the ghost of Gerry Van Vondren, and Temla Hopkins as Geoff’s jilted lover, Sadie, and later featured a visit from Ted McGinley as Geoff’s cousin Clay Fallmont, a reprise his Dynasty character. Despite the all-star cast, it was more famine than feast, as the show was unable to capitalize on its popular lead-in (Battle of the Network Stars), and was soon banished to Saturday nights. The show ended on a cliff-hanger, with the Van Vondren family facing a hostile takeover from arch rival Oral-Ida Corp.

S.P.U.D.s. (Fox, 1995-1996): Following the brilliant but canceled The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Fox and Executive Producer Carlton Cuse re-teamed for the farcical action-comedy S.P.U.D.s (Shelly Potato Uniformed Division). Cuse once again set the story out west, but this time in the small, potato-loving town of Shelly, Idaho. Bruce Campbell also returned, starring as Captain James “Jim” Progresso, a former NYPD detective who was dismissed from the force for insubordination (and an unfortunate incident at the Thanksgiving Day Parade) and moves out to Idaho for a fresh start heading up Shelley’s potato protection squad. Yes Dear’s Anthony Clark co-starred as bumbling Deputy Dave, along with Marcia Gay Harden as hard-nosed local policewoman Diane Schmatz and California Dreams’ Kelly Packard as Julienne, the Mayor’s daughter and Progresso’s romantic foil. The infamous season (and series) finale found most of the town being destroyed by an at explosion at the annual Spud Day Festival, a deliberate and somewhat spiteful decision by producers who knew that cancellation was imminent. The story was continued, however, in a 6-part limited comic book series penned by Cuse and illustrated by Campbell himself, which followed Progresso and his trusty Golden Retriever Russet on a quest for revenge that turns the Idaho potato fields into the killing fields.

Gängers (WB, 1998-1999): In his last major role, Dom DeLuise returned to primetime as successful businessman Dom DeDavinci, whose life is turned upside down one when he encounters his doppelgänger, local chef Paul LaViolette, played by real-life celebrity chef and DeLuise’s close friend, Paul Prudhomme. Brothers from another mother, Dom and Paul get the sibling they never had, and, by swapping jobs, a new outlook on life. Designed to pick up where Sister, Sister left-off, the series never clicked with the WB’s more urban demographic, and the show was pulled after the controversial episode “Strange Bedfellows” in which Dom and Paul sleep with each other’s wives (Wendie Malick and the late Wendie Jo Sperber).

Cat’s Cradle (Fox, 1999): Rebounding quickly after the cancellation of The Single Guy, Jonathan Silverman stars as Gregg Greenberg, a recent widower and struggling architect who lives in an Upper East Side apartment with his nine-month old son Glenn and tabby cat Elvis Pawsly. With Gregg barely finding the time to watch his son and meet his deadlines at a fledgling design firm, it falls on Elvis to take care of little Glenn when Gregg’s not watching. Home Improvement‘s Debbe Dunning played building superintendent and object of Gregg’s affection, Debbe, and Corey Feldman provided the cool-dude voice of Pawsly. A flood of letters from concerned parents, public advocacy groups, PETA and the American Humane Society, as well as a stunning lack of jokes, convinced Fox to ax the series only four episodes into its run. However, its final episode, “You Aint Nothing But a Pound Dog,” featured television’s first and only canine-feline pregnancy scare (until the most recent season of Girls), and won no awards. Despite a public plea (and particularly graphic threats) from Feldman, Cradle was quickly replaced by a seventh weekly airing of episode of Cops, and ratings immediately skyrocketed.

Bulworth (UPN, 2001): Perfect Strangers’ Mark-Lynn Baker returns to television in this small-screen adaptation of the “hit” film, taking on the title role. After narrowly surviving his assassination attempt – picking up where the film left off – Sen. J Bulworth retreats to his home town of Modesto, CA with new main squeeze Nina by his side (Stacey Dash, stepping in for Halle Berry). While recovering in his parents’ guest house, he recaptures his love for local politics and decides to run for city council. The incomparable Marion Ross and Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis co-star as Bulworth’s parents, whose old-school perspective clashes with Bulworth and Nina’s interracial relationship, often to hilarious results and Flavor Flav appears as Bulworth’s campaign manager and hype man, Flav Flavor. Pulled after only one episode in response to very valid complaints by the NAACP, among other many justly outraged organizations.

Splitsville (ABC, 2000): The Alphabet Network’s entry into the great bowling alley-sitcom wars of 2000 (see: NBC’s beloved but barely-watched Ed), Splitsville starred Joe Bologna and Annie Potts as a recently divorced couple who agree to joint custody…of their bowling alley. The late William Hickey earned a Golden Globe for his guest appearance as Bologna’s father, Col. Mickey T. Splits, despite passing away three years prior. Infamously, it’s widely considered the death knell of the first incarnation of TGIF, particularly due to rabid unpopularity of Bologna’s signature dance “The Split,” which was a thinly veiled ripoff of “The Urkel” (itself a thinly veiled ripoff of “The Bartman”).

Dabney (NBC, 1995): Dabney Coleman comes back to the small screen as an author of do-it-yourself books who leaves New York City to run a bed and breakfast in a small, rural Vermont town that features no shortage of colorful, eccentric characters. Production was stopped immediately when producers were informed that this is the exact plot of Newhart. 

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Filed under Best Show You're Not Watching, Must Flee TV, TGIF

Notes on Nothing: 25 Years of SeinLanguage

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld, as the genre-redefining sitcom first graced our television screens as The Seinfeld Chronicles, with very little fanfare, on July 5, 1989. It went from an afterthought, a summer run-off and near footnote, to a comedic juggernaut that indelibly altered the television landscape. Since I noticed many websites and bloggers and critics providing their valuable insight and analysis, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as well. Because if there’s anything the internet needs, it’s more of the same.

First, if not for Seinfeld it might have taken me another couple of years to understand masturbation, or least be aware of its existence. It’s no exaggeration to say that one of my initial brushes with self-pleasure came courtesy of “The Contest,” the landmark episode that somehow danced around jerking off for 22-minutes but never explicitly said it. Later, I’d come to realize what a masterful performance it was, what a majestic ballet to say so much without every saying it. It was truly bit of brilliant lingual gymnastics (and even later I’d realize that they maybe applied their cunning linguists to cunnilingus, but that was far behind my realm of understanding at that time (and possibly at this time)). Even if I didn’t fully comprehend what they were discussing, it was an eye-opening experience to just barely grasp that these people were talking about what seemed like the most adult of activities, at 9pm, on NBC, when I was sitting in my bedroom eating ice cream (I was lucky enough to have a television of my own from a very young age, which allowed me to probably watch a lot of TV that I shouldn’t have (see: Silk Stalkings)). I was used to Full Houseto Growing Pains, to Saved by the Bell, where the epic romance between Zack and Kelly seemed as important and real as anything could ever be. This is was a different kind of show, with a different kind of language, with a different agenda. Again, I didn’t quite process that at the time – I couldn’t – but I knew it was nothing like the shows I was accustomed to (TGIF, The Disney Afternoon, for the most part). It gave me a view into the adult world, and in many ways it was as formative in my education as Health class and freshman year and my one summer at sleep-away camp. To me, at eleven-years-old, the people on Seinfeld were grown-ups doing grown-up things. Not just masturbating, but sitting in a diner drinking coffee, going to the movies, seeing the baby, arguing over whether or not soup is a meal, dating a different gorgeous woman every week, hanging out with Keith Hernandez, just popping-in at your friend’s Upper West Side apartment. But also masturbating.

<!–more– More Nothing: Jews, Jewiness & Keith Hernandez…>

Secondly, Seinfeld was perhaps the first time I recognized Jewiness on TV, especially Jewiness that was camouflaged as something less overtly Semitic and thus more palatable for the general audience (there was, of course, CBS’s Brooklyn Bridge, a favorite of my father’s, but that was hit-you-over-the-head Jewish, and was more like historical fiction. Also, I think I imagined the Seavers  from Growing Pains as Jewish somehow, for some reason, despite the frequency of Christmas-themed episodes, Alan Thicke’s hair, and, later, Kirk Cameron’s big-time, overwhelming Jesus-ness).  Even as a child I identified with the characters of Seinfeld on a cultural level; their conversations, their cadences, their backgrounds, their outlooks, they just felt natural and familiar, and at the same time it was Jewiness without the Jewish grandmother or the random yiddish phrases or the Shabbat candles or, really, all the guilt. It wasn’t arguing about how long to cook the brisket or who has better matzoh ball soup or why aren’t you a doctor like your brother, it was sitting in a coffee shop arguing about buttons, about sex, about nothing. It wasn’t the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was the New York Mets. It was the modern Jewish experience stripped of all the traditions and customs and weight and distilled down into Jerry Seinfeld’s nasally voice, upturned nostrils and early-90s mullet. And, perhaps more significantly, it wasn’t until years later that I realized, as many others did, that “Costanza” was not a Jewish name, because to me, and to everyone, George Costanza was a Jew, through and through. Yes, growing up on Long Island, the Jewish-American experience felt very similar to the Italian-American experience – I often felt like an honorary Italian – but there was no mistaking George as anything other than a bundle of Hebrew neuroses.  In retrospect, knowing that George was based on Larry David, this seems obvious, but we didn’t know that then, and it was just another way that Seinfeld accomplished something real and spectacular.

Finally, Keith Hernandez is my favorite baseball player of all-time, a fact that was certainly bolstered by his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” However, even though I was a huge fan of Mex (as his friends call him. His friends and me) following the Mets ’86 World Championship, displaying a Hernandez 8×10 on my bedroom wall and a Starting Lineup figurine on my shelf, I wonder now if Hernandez is my favorite player because of his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” And, taking that a step further, I wonder if Seinfeld became my favorite show specifically because of Hernandez’s memorable turn in “The Boyfriend Parts, 1&2.” Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster (and prone to his share of off-the-cuff gaffes), is left-handed and played 1st base, while I, currently unemployed, am right-handed and played the bench, so there’s not much in common that would inspire me to choose Keith as my favorite player, making his appearance with Jerry and Elaine more important than any of his baseball accomplishments. Or, perhaps, was it just my favorite show continuing to provide moments that bolstered its position as my favorite show? Whatever the reason, it was truly an intersection of the Venn diagram of things that I love. Add in JFK assassination conspiracy theories – something I was weirdly into as a kid – then you had, maybe, the perfect episode of television for twelve-year-old Seth, and another example of why Seinfeld seemed to speak to me so clearly.

Looking back, I think that as a child I imagined that I would turn out like Jerry one day; a neurotic Jew living in his Manhattan apartment surrounded by his vapid friends. I also imagined that I would turn out like Danny Tanner, a clean freak raising three kids in the suburbs with the help of my weirdo aspiring stand-up comedian friend who lives in the basement and it’s not at all creepy, but when you’re young and have never really left Long Island those two futures aren’t mutually exclusive. Obviously, my adult life has not turned out like either of those two, because 1) they’re fictional and 2) I can’t afford to live in Manhattan or the Bay area. But, certainly, living in Brooklyn and remaining an uppity, thin, neat, single Jew, I hedge much closer to the Seinfeld side of the spectrum. And I do wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture. The show, no doubt, shaped my life, but I think it was also created, and shaped, for me and people like me. Which is why you can turn on TBS and find any episode of Seinfeld and, laugh track be damned, it’s still brilliant.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in media studies to assert that Seinfeld forever changed, redefined, television. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. But the way it gave new meaning, and a lasting meaning, to things like Junior Mints and the Mackinaw peaches and Bosco, and then introduced phrases into our lexicon like “close talker” and “puffy shirt” and “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” is something that perhaps can only be rivaled by The Simpsons.* Over two decades later you can throw out an off-hand quote from Seinfeld and someone will immediately get the reference. The series didn’t just make a contribution to the television, it contributed to our vocabulary, it contributed to our culture. In nothing, they found everything.

*Interesting to note that when I went to sleep-away Jew camp for the first and only time in 1997 I recorded audio from two shows onto cassette and listened to them on my Walkman before bed, my surrogate for an actual television. Repeatedly listening to those poor quality recordings done on my Sony sports radio probably got me through that summer. One of those shows, of course, was Seinfeld, and the other, naturally, The Simpsons (specifically, this one). 

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Filed under Brilliance, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner, Seinlanguage, Wake Up, SF!, Woody Allen, Bar Mitzvahs & Bagels

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:



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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Filed under Freak Out Control, Huh?, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Match Games, Matt Christopher Books, Monster Mash, What? Too fabulous?

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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Filed under Across the pond, Local Flavor, Matt Christopher Books, New Favorite Show, The Roaring 10s!

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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