Category Archives: Nostalgia Corner

Groaning Pains: Matthew Perry Goes On to a Better Place; Or How We Learned About Drunk Driving

With the proper premiere of Go On this week and its promising ratings, it seemed like the appropriate time to revisit our Groaning Pains series, specifically Go On star Matthew Perry’s short stint as Carol’s ill-fated boyfriend, Sandy. In other words, it’s time to discuss how we learned about drunk driving (and that a guy could be named “Sandy”).

When Friends premiered back in 1994 we may have been the only eleven-year-old in the country who thought to himself “there’s the guy who was in the Married with Children backdoor pilot and there’s the guy who was Carol’s boyfriend on Growing Pains that died from drinking and driving.” The former is Matt LeBlanc, whose Married With Children character Vinnie Verducci – Joey Tribbiani’s spiritual predecessor – was spun off with his father Charlie  (the immortal Joseph Bolonga) into the very short-lived series Top of the Heapand the latter is, of course, Matthew Perry. For years, Matthew Perry stuck in our mind because of his role on Growing Pains – 1) because his arc ended so tragically, and 2) because we never could quite wrap our heads around the fact he was named Sandy – and it would take a little while for us before we thought of Perry as Chandler Bing and not as Carol Seaver’s love lost, a cautionary tale.

Go on

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Filed under Growing Pains, Makes You Think, Nostalgia Corner, Sha la la la

Parting Shot: Mac Tonight?

“When the stars come out to play, babe

A twinkling show, ooh — dinner! — out of sight

Yeah, the night time is golden light time — big dipper!

At McDonald’s (showtime), it’s Mac Tonight!”

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Filed under Nostalgia Corner, Parting Shot

In Memorium: Tony Scott AKA ‘Top Gun’ and the Need for More Than Speed

Ask us what our three favorite movies are. Go ahead. Ask us.

Number one would probably be Wayne’s World. That’s just our movie. The one of which we know every word. The one we would just play over and over again the background, as if it was our Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The third movie we’d list would probably be Tombstone or Rushmore, depending on what kind of mood we were in or the audience we were with or if there was someone we were trying to impress; Tombstone if we wanted to seem more original, more honest, more badassRushmore if we wanted to seem more intellectual, more sophisticated, more melancholy. But the second movie on our list would no doubt be Top Gun, the Tony Scott film that was played on repeat during our childhood and pretty much taught us what an action movie should be: adrenaline-fueled, testosterone-soaked, hyperactive, supercharged, bombastic, loud, and frenetic, a visceral thrill ride. It essentially defined 80s popcorn blockbusters. In fact, it kinda defines the 80s. And maybe that’s why it’s so significant to us, why we still hold on so dearly to Scott’s definitive film (with all apologies to Crimson Tide and True Romance, and no apologies to anything from Scott’s later collaborations with Denzel Washington).

But it’s more than that. Maybe ‘Top Gun’ is just good.

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Filed under Crucial Taunt, In Memoriam, Nostalgia Corner, The Big Screen

In Memorium: Ron Palillo; AKA When We Welcomed Kotter

If you asked us which television character we most resemble, many suggestions would rapidly come to mind. Zack Morris for his blonde hair good looks and cunning. Mike Seaver for his teenage heartthrob good looks and mischievous charm. Cousin Cody for his laid-back surfer dude good looks and martial arts skills.  But while those are all great contenders, we have to admit that there’s another character in the television pantheon with whom we most identify: Arnold Horshack, played so brilliantly and honestly by Ron Palillo, who passed away yesterday at sixty-three.

We recall very clearly the summer in which we first fell in love with Welcome Back Kotter.  No, it was not the Summer of ’77, but almost twenty years later when the show was in syndication on Nick at Niteas that network began to shift its designation of “classic TV” from the black & white oldies like The Donna Reed Show and Mr. Ed to the grainy full color ’70s shows like Kotter and The Bob Newhart Show. Nick at Nite would run marathons of Kotter once a week, as part of their “Block Party Summer” programming gambit, and watching those episodes back-to-back-to-back was just about the best block party we ever went to. But we also remember the show airing nightly at 11pm, perhaps the following summer or the one after that.  This sticks with us vividly because we recollect having to make a tough decision, a Sophie’s choice: Seinfeld, airing every night in syndication as still does to this day, the undisputed sitcom champ of its time and perhaps anytime, or Welcome Back Kotter, the over the hill has-been who was also the new kid on the block. Even though Kotter was about fifteen years older, and had achieved lunch box-level success, it felt very much like a wily up-and-comer taking on the unbeatable stalwart. But while our head told us that we should choose Seinfeld, that it was the superior show, the one that was not only plugged into the zeitgeist but was driving it, we felt this tug towards the Mr. Kotter and his Sweathogs.  Did the latter show have hugs and heart while the former swore off that sort of sentimentality as its guiding principle? Certainly. But we weren’t quite the cynics we are now, not quite submerged in snark-infested waters. And despite the magnetic north of Nielsen ratings and cultural relevance pointing towards Jerry and the gang, and despite our unconditional love for that show then, now and forever, we followed our hearts further up the dial, further into the hinterlands of cable, towards Gabe and the gang.

More: And in Arnold Horshack we found a kindred spirit…

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Filed under Count Bleh, Good Humor, In Memoriam, Nostalgia Corner

Belated In Memorium: Donald J. Sobol AKA a Requiem for Encyclopedia Brown

We like to fancy ourself as an amateur detective.  If someone loses their keys, we’re on the case.  If someone is being evasive about whom they went to dinner with last Sunday night, we get to the bottom of it.  If there’s an email address to be found by scouring pages of Google results, we’re going to find it.  If we spend a week in Aruba, we fully believe that we’re going to solve a high-profile, lingering unsolved murder.  In many cases we’re successful, in some cases we’re not (the latter, in particular, which is still keeping us up nights).  But that inquisitive, investigator spirit stays with us, and it’s been with us since childhood.  If you asked us at eight-years-old what we wanted to be when we grew up we’d say “baseball player” or “movie writer.”  Definitely one of those two.  But “detective” would have won the bronze, which is why in 9th grade we did a future career report on “FBI Agent” and nearly began working part-time for a private investigator a few months after college (it occurs to us now that we would be especially unsuited for that role, our small bladder no doubt serving as a hinderance during long stakeouts).  It’s perhaps why we fell so in love with Veronica Mars (the show and the character), and spent so many hours as a child in our grandma’s basement using her office supplies and copy machine (or “photostat,” as she so adorably referred to it) to assemble fake case files, pretending that stamping a folder “PAID” was equivalent to “CASE CLOSED,” and  fabricating evidence out of Xerox copies of our tiny hands and face and randomly scribbling with mechanical pencils.  We were a junior Sam Spade, a soft-boiled detective, solving the case of the missing ping-pong paddle with a Bachman’s pretzel rod dangling casually from our lips instead of a lean Marlboro, a tumbler of Pepsi with crushed ice instead of a stiff whiskey on the rocks.

And what does any of this have to do with Encyclopedia Brown? Read on for the solution…

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Filed under In Memoriam, Literarally, Mars Investigations, Nostalgia Corner

Burger Prince: Fielder Once Again Wears the Crown; Plus a Requiem for Rock N’ Jock Softball

Last night Prince Fielder became only the second player to win the MLB Home Run Derby twice, equaling the feat achieved by Ken Griffey, Jr (whose success in the event can no doubt be attributed to the freedom to wear his Mariners cap in his preferred backwards position, enlivening him and providing optimal comfort in the batter’s box).  The derby itself, taking place at the Kansas City ballpark that most of  the country just learned is named Kauffman Stadium, was an interminable display that painfully reflected the American ideal of bigger is better, an incessant cacophony of  bombastic, intolerable, verging on nauseating home run calls (the half-life on Chris Berman’s “back, back, back, back….GONE!” is exactly two).  Three hours into it, and there we still were for some reason, watching Prince Fielder and runner-up Jose Bautista tee-off on meatballs lobbed in by AARP-card carrying batting practice pitchers (or, in Robinson Cano’s case, disappointed fathers).  One can only watch baseballs be launched into centerfield fountains so many times before the tweens earnestly but unsuccessfully shagging pop flies quickly become vastly more entertaining.  We freely admit that there was a time when we were once highly engaged in the Home Run Derby.  But now, what we wouldn’t give for Roger McDowell and a cow in right field.

But it wasn’t just our yearning for something more exciting and less vacant that reminded us of MTV’s Rock N’ Jock Softball.  We couldn’t help watch Prince Fielder deposit ball after ball into the right field stands and not remember first seeing him as a young boy accompanying his father Cecil “Big Daddy” Fielder at those true mid-summer classics.  Unfortunately, as Grantland notes in its superb primer on the halcyon days of Rock N’ Jock, video of those games is stunningly difficult to find online.  You can spot Cecil in the starting lineup during the Star Spangled Banner in one of the earlier match-ups, but that’s about it.  Other than that brief appearance, tragically, there’s no video evidence that Cecil was a Salamander or an Aardvark, let alone any footage from those MTV broadcasts that show a young baseball prodigy named Prince, and we’re all losers for it.

However, there is some proof of Prince’s early talent.  However, this phenom ability was found in throwing a baseball, not sending it 440 feet with a Louisville Slugger, as illustrated by this 1992 McDonald’s commercial with Cecil.

Although Prince is on the other side of the ball in this commercial he still comes out on top.  Burger royalty then, baseball royalty now.

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Filed under Count Bleh, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner, TV Killed the Music Video Star

Groaning Pains: The Time That Mike Seaver Said He’s Gay

This is the first in what may be an ongoing look at some of the more melodramatic, socially conscious, politically charged, culturally relevant, righteously pedantic or potentially controversial moments from ‘Growing Pains.’  Today we take a look at the sixth episode of the show’s first season, “Mike’s Madonna Story.”

Kirk Cameron, America’s premier born-again Christian, has gone on record (with Piers Morgan, not Greta Van Susteren) that he opposes homosexuality.  Whether he hates gays and believes God hates them too is up for debate, but he certainly disagrees with their lifestyle and believes they’re destructive to “our” Christian civilization  It’s a bit jarring then that his television alter-ego Mike Seaver would make light of same-sex relationships, suggesting to his mother in this early Growing Pains episode that the reason that he did not have sex with a young slut (played by the late Dana Plato) is that he’s gay.  Of course, the truth was that Mike was just too ashamed to admit that he was scared to go all the way (which is fine, kids!), but we find it weird that in 1985 they included this remark, especially that they used such a sensitive issue as a laugh line.  But, perhaps, this was a time that was pre-gay panic, where something like this was not yet politically incorrect or possibly offensive and instead totally acceptable on ABC Saturday night at 8pm.  We do know, however, that we never noticed – or perhaps more accurately, understood – the meaning of this reference until we saw this episode as an adult.  We were probably five or six when we saw this episode (in syndication), and the concept of homosexuality went way over our very short heads.

Besides the surprising, now distracting, throwaway mention of homosexuality, this scene features the hallmark endemic to any great, quintessential Growing Pains episode, an extremely long, deliberate, wordy scene between two or three Seavers, often concerning some social issue, but usually about love or family or trust or respect, some kind important value.  Most Growing Pains episodes actually break down into the same format, jokey opening, set up, conflict, and then a third act that may be comprised entirely of one extended scene.  In fact, many of these scenes actually feel like little one-act plays, with dense, measured dialogue and careful, detailed blocking.  Just look at this scene above and observe Joanna Kerns as she cuts across the room, then back to the kitchen counter, and then finally gliding over to the kitchen table. She reclines in no less than four places, all the while doing professional scene work with a carton of ice cream (note how she gracefully adds some granola crumbs to her dessert), while Kirk Cameron does his own prop work with a magazine and a baseball.  It’s theater, it’s Death of a Salesman, on a hammy, corny 80s sitcom.  It’s impossible to imagine a network airing a scene with this kind of glacial pace today, let alone viewers sitting through it.  But that’s what Growing Pains did from week to week, and even if it seems positively antiquated today, it does strike us as somehow very brave, very ambitious (including the gay joke, even if it feels in bad taste now).  It’s probably just how sitcoms were built then, and when you’re producing TV in a world of hammy, corny sitcoms replete long, melodramatic, sappy teaching moments, it’s hard to step outside that world.  And in that world of long, melodramatic, sappy teaching moments, few did it better than Growing Pains.  Even if we had no idea what “gay” meant.

But we have to wonder: would born-again Kirk Cameron approved of that joke?  Would he be willing, perhaps enthusiastic, to use homosexuality as a punch-line?  Or would he have been steadfast against any mention of the “sin” in the show, especially the suggestion, even as a goof, that his character is gay?  We can only hope he’ll comment on this post and enlighten us.

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Filed under Growing Pains, Makes You Think, Nostalgia Corner