Tag Archives: Alan Thicke

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

Groaning Pains: The Time that Mike Seaver Said He Had a Black Friend

Today we continue our look at some of Growing Pains more memorable – or notorious – moments, especially those bits of dialogue or storylines that surprised (or mildly stunned) us when we rewatched the show as an adult.

One of the episodes of Growing Pains that we remember most from our youth, one that stuck with us all throughout childhood and beyond, is Season One’s “Reputation.”  In this episode Mike Seaver* prepares, fully intends, to cheat on his Civil War exam in Mr. Dewitt‘s history class, writing key dates, names and locations on the soles of his largest pair of sneakers.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the test: he actually learned the answers, and when the time came he didn’t need to take a peek at the bottom of his Reeboks.  He absorbed and retained that information, and in much the same way we absorbed and retained this episode.  It was because of this episode that we’ve known for as long as we can recall that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, and Andrew Johnson took over after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  Yes, we’ve always had an aptitude for history, but we feel entirely comfortable crediting Growing Pains with teaching us about this specific and significant event in US history.  And in addition to the lesson this episode provided, we also vividly recalled Mike Seaver’s stirring, high-pitched, plea of innocence to his parents – “I did not cheat!” and Jason Seaver’s surprising but unwavering belief in his son’s word.  If we didn’t already have a father who loved and trusted us, we would have desperately wanted Jason Seaver to serve that role.  And even though we weren’t in the market for a replacement parent, we never forgot or stopped admiring Jason’s unconditional love.

But despite having such a strong connection to this episode, something did take us quite aback when we years later watched the episode on DVD, Mike’s explanation to Ben about the crib-sheet sneakers.

We’re not sure what’s more hard to believe, that they so casually equated a black guy with the basketball team, or that there would actually be a black student in their white, upper-middle class, Long Island suburban paradise (a neighborhood not unlike the one we grew up in).  We’re racking our brains trying to come up with a single black character on the show, and we’re coming up empty (Apparently Growing Pains was the Girls of its day).  But it is the first reaction – the flippant political incorrectness – that really struck us.  We could envision a line like that a few years later on a more provocative show like Married with Children, but it’s not like Growing Pains was ever considered edgy.  But, then again, the TV landscape has changed, and while you can say, do and show more now, you can also say, do and show less.  As the limits of sex and violence and vulgarity have expanded over the last twenty-five years, you can make the argument that the levels of political correctness and racial sensitivity have conversely, almost paradoxically, expanded in kind.  Appomattox Court House, captain of the Dewey High School basketball team, is a perfect example of this.

*We’ve been talking about the New York Mets a lot lately, so it’s worth noting here that the Seavers were named in honor of Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who just this past Sunday was named to the Mets All-Time Team as right-handed starting pitcher.  Also named to the team as the all-time lefty starter was Jerry Koosman, which not coincidentally is the surname of the Seaver’s next-door neighbors.

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Filed under Growing Pains, Local Flavor, Makes You Think, Matt Christopher Books

‘Survivor: Redemption Island’: The Sweet Taste of Crabs (Director’s Cut)

So this week we entered the post-Russell Hantz era.  And for those of you who complained that Russell was a sneaky, nefarious player who only made it to the finals because he had no chance to win, and that his dominance was a product of editing, and that he was a bore and boorish, well, do you miss him now?  Because, say what you want about the guy, there’s no denying that he made things interesting.  Which is perhaps something you can’t say about last night’s Survivor

Keep reading: Phillips say the darndest things. Plus: Tetris! Rubix Cubes! A giant maze!

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Filed under Century 21 Reality, Growing Pains, It's gross., Tribal Council

‘Saved by the Bell’ Season 2

Season 2, Disc 1, Episode 1: “The Prom” (!)

12:20am: PIZZA and Saved by the Bell.  And the episode that’s the turning point for the series.

Season 2 begins, and with Zack and Kelly’s Prom we’ll never been the same.

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Filed under Growing Pains, Masochism, Nostalgia Corner, Saved by the Bell, Saved by the Bell Project

Jim Carrey, ‘SNL’: No One Does a Thicke!

Well, we weren’t devastated.  Maybe it was because we were still ecstatic from the Jets victory, and that residual giddiness made us a little more lenient, a little looser (the beers couldn’t have hurt either).  Whatever it was, we were in a good mood, and Jim Carrey’s return to SNL didn’t ruin it.  It wasn’t a landmark episode, or a groundbreaking night, nor did they seem that they were fully back from vacation.  But, given our lofty, unrealistic, expectations, it was satisfying.  And (unfortunately), that’s enough.

And let’s, for a change, start at the top.  We often completely ignore the cold open when reviewing SNL, because it’s usually one of the weakest, least memorable parts of the show, certainly in non-election years.  We can’t pinpoint when it started exactly, but perhaps it’s been since the great Bush-Gore battle of 2000 that the cold open has almost felt obligated to be political sketch.  Often times that’s made for great, funny television (Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, occasionally Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden), but more often than not we’re treated to a mildly amusing address from by Fred Armisen as President Obama.  It’s become predictable and somewhat boring.  So what a surprise it was for the show to begin and discover Armisen not as Obama but as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Keep reading! More on Bloomy, Carrey nails Kunis, and a sketch made just for us…

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Filed under Analysis, Good Humor, Growing Pains, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Muppets, Saturday Night Live

Kirk Cameron Talking Armageddon on 360°: Rare Miss, Anderson Cooper; Also, What???

If you’re a regular visitor to Jumped the Snark you’ll know that some of our greatest pleasure derives from those delightful occasions when Anderson Cooper rips a deluded, misguided, self-serving and/or reprehensible guest to pieces.  He did it with former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell and with Congressman Michelle Bachmann and with Amazon.  So imagine our excitement when he welcomed Kirk Cameron as a guest last night.  Finally, someone would nail Cameron for forcing the producers of Growing Pains to write former Playmate Julie McCullough off the show, leaving Mike Seaver at the altar, and leaving us stunned.  Cooper could have authoritatively questioned Cameron about letting his Christian values dictate the course for the sitcom.  He could have asked what’s the deal with Way of the Master.  Or what was it like to work with a Canadian like Alan Thicke.  Or even, on a serious note, he could have inquired about the late Andrew Koenig (let alone mention of this).  Nope.  All they did was talk about the dead blackbirds and fish in Arkansas.  Boring (also, huh?)!  That’s a big miss, Anderson, and we’ve come to expect more from you.

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Also, isn’t bringing Kirk Cameron on as an Armageddon expert just the kind of thing that Cooper would rail against, castigating its inherent absurdity?  Perhaps he did that later in his “Keeping Them Honest” segment, putting himself on trial.  If so, he’s won us back.  If not, for shame, Anderson.  For shame.

via Videogum from Crooks and Liars

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In Defense Of: Jimmy Fallon

I was planning to write this post a couple weeks ago, before the tornado of Leno-Conan-Local Affiliates-gate threw the entire late night landscape into a tumult (and what of George Lopez?), but this takes on even greater significance now.  At this very moment, with the future of NBC’s late night schedule hanging in the balance, possibly the future of television as we know it, possibly the future of the world, someone has to step up and say it:

Jimmy Fallon has been doing a pretty okay job.

And it would be a shame if NBC’s disregard for their local affiliates followed by their overwhelming compassion for their local affiliates affected Fallon’s momentum.

Now Fallon has gone on record as saying he doesn’t mind if he’s shifted back a half hour, since most of his viewers watch the show on DVR or online, and I believe him.  He seems to so genuinely enjoy hosting the show that he probably would do it at 1am or 3am or 3pm (of course, it’ll still be taped in the late afternoon so it’s not like it’ll make any real difference for his schedule).  But if Jimmy won’t say it, I will.  We’ve asserted many times here that Jimmy got off to a rough start.  That’s well documented and it’s no secret.  And while he’s still a work in progress behind the interview desk, he’s excelling in just about every other area.  And, well, that should be acknowledged.

Keep Reading: Examples! Charades! Joy Behar! Drag! Sweaters! Arli$$

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Filed under Good Humor, In defense of:, Muppets, Saturday Night Live, Saved by the Bell, Talkies