Category Archives: Must See TV

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

Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happdeaned: Five (and Maybe More) Seasons of ‘Community’ and the Truly Jumping the Snark

Community Finale Lately I’ve noticed a disturbing trend about myself: I don’t get as excited about things as I used to. Perhaps it’s a merely function of getting older – I just hit the big 3-0 six months ago, after all – or, maybe, all the years of crushing cynicism and relentless snark has finally caught up to me. Passion, perhaps, is the provenance of the young and the unencumbered, and I’m no longer either of the two. For example, it would have shocked the ten-years-younger version of myself, maybe even the 2009 model, to learn that it took me, a devoted Wes Anderson-ophile, two months to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, especially after making a pilgrimage to see The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic during their respective opening weekends, and attending a screening of The Darjeeling Limited by myself because I just couldn’t wait any longer, even if that meant sitting alone in a small theater on a Tuesday afternoon. Likewise, I’ve yet to see X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that’s already been out for a whole week and is possibly the X-Men movie that I’ve been praying for these last fourteen years. There are spoilers abound and I run the very real risk of having the movie ruined before I get around to seeing it. It’s a danger I’m well aware of, and one, for some reason, I’m at peace with. Perhaps most egregiously – and this something I’m very much ashamed to admit on this blog – I’ve yet to watch last week’s Survivor finale. Yes, I was out-of-town for two weeks, but I’ve been back for four days already. Really, what good excuse could I possibly have for not immediately marathoning the last three episodes, including the two hour-finale and post-show live cast reunion? Heresy, is it not? Not only am I liable to inadvertently stumble upon the final result at any turn, removing any drama upon viewing, but shouldn’t this be tearing me up inside? It’s Survivor, the subject I’ve perhaps  committed more space to on this blog than any other, and, yet, I’ll get to it when I get it to it. Urgency, shockingly, I do not feel. It’s not apathy or indifference – that would be truly alarming – but, rather, caring a bit less, being more patient. It’s an odd, peculiar, somewhat concerning notion to not experience the same sense of pressure, immediacy, and life-or-death importance about these shows and films and bands that I always did. Am I depressed? Should I look into Lexapro? But the change is also freeing in a way. There is a flipside to caring a little less. It means that it doesn’t hurt so much when something you love is taken away from you.

More: Graduate Psychology 101

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Filed under Better Late Than Never, Brilliance, Count Bleh, Discos and Dragons, Greendale Human, Must See TV, Team Zissou, Tribal Council, Winterfallen

An Earlier ‘Late Night’

Q: When is a sitdown a standup? 

A: When Seth Meyers premieres as host of Late Night and takes his act out from behind the “Weekend Update” desk and moves it to center stage. 

Seth Meyers Late NightIt was a much less of an auspicious debut for Late Night with Seth Meyers than Jimmy Fallon’s maiden Tonight Show voyage, even with a visit from Vice President “Crazy” Joe Biden (indeed, maybe the most notable part of the evening came from Amy Poehler, who utilized the opportunity to announce a second season renewal for Comedy Central’s Broad City). However, that it was a low-key evening was not a surprise, it was probably by design. In fact, whereas Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night distinguished itself for being the late night show for millennials, the first one crafted with YouTube and Twitter in mind, this iteration of Late Night might stand out for being something quite the opposite. And if it’s balance that Lorne Michaels’ late night lineup is after, then Meyers’ hour might bring it.

It’s foolhardy to judge the long-term success of a program based off of one show, or the first week of shows, or even the first moth, maybe even the first year. Conan O’Brien famously took some time to adjust, and Meyer’s predecessor Fallon slowly settled into his groove, and even after his promotion he still struggles mightily as an interviewer. So it was both no surprise and no cause for alarm that Meyers’ first outing left much room for improvement. His monologue, something that likewise remains a weak spot in Fallon’s arsenal, felt awkward, unnatural, and Meyers seemed uncomfortable finding his mark on the studio floor instead of behind a newsdesk. Indeed, leading up the premiere, we wondered if Meyers should dispense with the traditional stand-up monologue all together and just do it all from the desk, Daily Show style. However, after seeing what we feel is a beautiful, vibrant studio with distinctive sliding doors in place of curtains, we’re rethinking that sentiment; the setting is right, it’s just the style, subject and delivery that needs some work. More topical, pop-culture and current event setups, less obscure, strange-but-true stories. Similarly, his first desk piece, “Venn Diagrams,” had promise, but quickly lost momentum, and had little to separate itself from a Buzzfeed slideshow. We applaud the concept, but it needs more. Or less, like some cheap, low-concept Late Show segments. But, unfortunately, it was caught between a throwaway sight gag and entertaining, clever wordplay. What it maybe missed most was more of Meyers himself.

Which is where the show might need to go to find its sweet-spot. Meyers’ strength, as opposed to Fallon, is interviewing, is engaging with his guests in a way that’s neither fanboy nor sycophant. It was for precisely that skill that he was considered as a replacement for Regis Philbin on Live!, and it’s that ability he needs to exploit, even if, in the current talk show landscape, traditional interviewing is something that seems to be reserved for Charlie Rose. Perhaps, then, it is not any of Meyers’ Late Night forebears that he should strive to emulate, but Tom Snyder, whose Tomorrow Show was the precursor to Late Night with David Letterman. While we’re far from suggesting that Meyers dispense with the live audience, only interview one guest per show and take up smoking, emphasizing a more straightforward format – interesting, revealing interviews that allow for both Meyers’ and his guest’s personalities to shine through – might make the most sense, might allow Late Night with Seth Meyers to find its own voice. In fact, the new Late Night set itself – a sparse, almost teacher-like desk, and 70s style chairs instead of a plush couch – evokes the feeling of The Dick Cavett Show, another early talker that stressed insightful interviews over bits and punchlines. If Jimmy Fallon is the cutting-edge, high-energy, internet-savvy model at 11:30pm, then Meyers can be the more relaxed, subtler throwback at 12:30pm. He might need to go back, if he wants to stay late.

And, if Meyers focuses on those things, then he can leave the fun stuff to Fred Armisen.

 

 

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Filed under Back to the Past, Must See TV, Reeeeeege, Saturday Night Live, Talkies, Weigh-in

Goodbye Ann Perkins, We Hardly Knew Ye AKA What Do You Do With a Problem Like Rashida?

Three weeks ago sources revealed that Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe would be leaving Parks and Recreation midway through its upcoming sixth season. News about the impending departure of unlucky in love Ann Perkins and perfectionist City Manager Chris Traeger was expectedly met with some sadness and disappointment by devoted Parks and Rec fans. The cast of the NBC comedy has developed into one of the strongest ensembles on television, and, with the exit of The Office and 30 Rock last season, Parks and Rec is poised to be NBC’s number one workplace comedy, with the citizens of Pawnee providing the most colorful and entertaining array of recurring characters and bit parts this side of Greendale Community College. Losing two main cast members is a bit of surprise, a curious altering of a formula that seemed to be working so well. But here’s the thing: we actual welcome the change, as it will solve the show’s most glaring problem, a significant flaw that has existed since episode one: what do you do with a problem like Rashida?

More: On not keeping up with the Jones

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Filed under Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Better Late Than Never, Count Bleh, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Must Flee TV, Must See TV, Yasmine Bleeth

Branch Closing – A Farewell to ‘The Office’

We very clearly remember the moment that we fell for The Office, the NBC stalwart that closes up shop at Dunder Mifflin tonight after nine mostly great seasons. It was the fall of 2005, when The Office was starting to find its legs after a rocky and uneven six episode first season, and we in our first autumn post-college, back at our parents’, and for the first time since we were four-years-old not attending school. We were at our best friend and future roommate’s house, hanging out, maybe barbecuing, maybe drinking a few beers, maybe watching the first season of Lost on DVD, which dominated much of our time (and thoughts) during that period. We knew about the The Office, another blatant attempt to import a UK hit stateside, but missed its brief run earlier that year, as was the case with the aforementioned Lost, as the only shows we watched religiously during our final year of college (and last few months before true adulthood) were The Simpsons and Survivor. We did, however, recall reading that it was an imperfect translation of the original, and the Steve Carell-led vehicle – who was then best known as the other Steve from The Daily Show –  was not likely to resurrect NBC Thursday night Must See TV, let alone make it past Season 2. So with the middling reviews in mind, and the fact that we were unfamiliar with the original Ricky Gervais version, we didn’t go out of our way to watch the show. But that night changed everything.

More: But that was just the beginning…

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Filed under Across the pond, Back to the Past, Brilliance, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Freak Out Control, Good Humor, Is That Still On?, LOST, Must Flee TV, Must See TV

Let’s Go For a Ride: ‘Community’ Continuity

Late at night last week we were absent-mindedly watching a rerun of The Office (“The Delivery, Part 2“), which is something we don’t often do. However, our decision paid  dividends when something caught our eye during a commercial break, an apparent allusion to another NBC Thursday Night comedy. Thirteen seconds into a Honda Accord  spot featuring two preternaturally mature, Wes Anderson-esque children, we just barely noticed the distinct markings of a potato chip brand recently featured on Community, that being the preferred chip of Troy, Let’s.

A couple enhanced screenshots:

Let's Chips Zoom1

Let's Chips Zoom2

Let’s Chips has actually popped up several times in the show, including in Season 4 when it was reviewed during the end credits tag by Greendale’s foremost  nonagenarian and Korean War Vet (North Korean side), Leonard. The verdict was a firm “Buy,” advice that was clearly heeded by Dean Pelton and Troy. Britta, however, insists on sticking with her far inferior “Spwingles” brand chips, driving a potentially insurmountable wedge between her and Troy.

So what gives? Is this a wink to Community? A subliminal message intended to subvert viewers into watching the show against their will, thereby giving the series hope for a fifth season? Or has the Community soundstage already been shut down and dismantled, the props sold off to highest car commercial bidder? Should we expect to see Yard-Margs from Skeepers in an Daewoo commercial?

Or, perhaps, this a clue, an easter egg, showing that the world of Greendale is far greater than we ever imagined. 

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Filed under Conspiracy Theory, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Greendale Human, Makes You Think, Must See TV

Allergy Season: Did Ron Swanson Perjure Himself?

On last week’s Parks and Recreation Ron Swanson swallowed his pride and disdain for modern medicine and agreed to visit a doctor after contracting a from his girlfriend’s little daughters. However, when Ann Perkins (who is still a nurse when it suits the story) asks Ron some basic health questions we couldn’t help but be surprised at one of his answers, as it seemed to contradict something he said to his Swanson Scouts in Season 4.

Very curious. Especially since we know that Ron hates lying almost more than anything (the only exception being skim milk, which is milk that is lying).

Perhaps this calls for another deposition.

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Filed under Good Humor, Makes You Think, Must See TV