Archive for the ‘Special Reviews as in Exclusive but NOT Retarded’ category

REALLY QUICK: Reflections on South Park’s “You’re Getting Old”

June 10, 2011

Welcome to the second installment of our new feature here on Popular Opinions – ‘Really Quick.’ Here, instead of the usually extensive blog post, I’m going to just offer up a quick explanation as to why something is the way it is. Consider these the go-to posts when someone needs a quick answer to something they should already know.

We all had *that* birthday.

A few nights ago, Comedy Central’s flagship franchise ‘South Park’ offered up “You’re Getting Old,” an episode that does what the series does best – get people talking. Only this time, instead of a quick turnaround of a major world event or the skewering of a pop culture phenomenon, the hubbub was in regard to an uncharacteristic downer ending where, not only did everything not work out, but Stan didn’t learn anything and the very basis of the show was torn, perhaps irrevocably.

The episode centered around Stan turning 10 and not finding any redeeming qualities among anything in his life, something his doctor diagnosed as “being a cynical asshole.” It strains his relationship with his friends, and mirrors the same turmoil between his parents as Sharon’s logical unrest with Randy pursuing another absurd interest hits a fever pitch and, in the show’s closing moments, a montage shows their divorce as they sell their house and Stan moves away.

It had all the makings of a series finale. While creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are signed on to do two more seasons of the show, it wouldn’t be particularly out of character for them to unceremoniously leave things early without any pomp and/or circumstance. While the episode was promoted as the ‘Mid-Season Finale,’ a distinction they’ve never called attention to before in previous episodes before their summer break, serving up a final episode without public knowledge it was the end isn’t unprecedented either as Adult Swim’s ‘Home Movies’ had a similar unannounced growing-up heartbreaking conclusion to end its run in 2003. That in mind, what the ravenous ‘South Park’ fandom online has largely speculated is that this episode was more than just the typical soapbox for its creators where Stan represents Trey and Kyle is Matt. Theories ranging from Randy and Sharon being Matt and Trey’s relationship to Comedy Central following last year’s Muhammad fallout to Stan representing unhappy ‘South Park’ fans have been the popular trains of thought, but as “Not Without My Anus” proved 13 years ago, Matt and Trey don’t really care enough about their fans’ opinions to deliberately give them what they do or don’t want. And that’s a good thing. That’s why ‘South Park’ has been as consistent as its been for so long; its core objective is two obscenely talented guys making each other laugh.

Randy Marsh Swag.

What everyone seems to be missing about “You’re Getting Old” is that, while most agree the show’s most inspired moments have sprung from the kids being kids, that’s precisely why the episode touched such a nerve. At age 10, or around there, who didn’t go through suddenly losing a friend/friends through either social interests or moving away? Perhaps we buried that feeling of “we want to do different things and don’t want to be around each other” with all the other emotional scar tissue of adolescence, but with how small your world is at that age, losing a friend really hurts. While the show did do a phenomenal job simultaneously mocking pretentious hipsters who don’t like anything as well as a mass-media that’s challenging to like, it’s this awakening of the “losing a friend” feeling that sits as the centerpiece of a phenomenal episode.

As for the doomsday criers thinking this is the definitive sign that the show’s ending soon, don’t forget this isn’t the first time we’ve been teased with the end. Originally ‘South Park’ was going to end after the first movie. Years later, following Team America, the internet was certain the show was coming to an end when series regulars like Ms. Crabtree were turning up dead. I think, if this change signifies anything, it’s a tonal shift for the show. 15 years ago Matt and Trey were youthful kids who were part of that young pop culture, so their throwing stones at their pop culture surroundings was just what they did. Now that they’re in their early-40s, mocking youth culture takes on a different perspective as it’s not for them to understand anyway. Do they then just call everything “shit?” Even if they, as Sharon said, “hit the reset button” when the show resumes this September (or, better yet, give us another full-length Terrance and Philip episode) the episode remains one of their most powerful crowning achievements. For those of us who have grown-up with the show over 15 years, presumably longer than the majority of our real-life relationships have lasted, losing Stan really felt like losing a friend. For a television show to tug those heartstrings a midst a hurricane of diarrea only shows the brillance that is “You’re Getting Old.”

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

Supermarkets – Childhood Memories Review

April 29, 2011


Greetings dear reader, perhaps you’ve noticed things being much quieter around here than usual. Yes, April has come and just-about gone with little more than me shilling for my new FREE album A Personal Reference (featuring MAC LETHAL, ALASKA of DEFINITIVE JUX’s HANGAR-18, HOMEBOY SANDMAN, J57 of the BROWN BAG ALL STARS and MORE! NOW AVAILABLE for FREE DOWNLOAD at ) and not much else. Well, although I have been busier these days writing regular pieces for Spectrum Culture and SYFFAL, as well as my first ever piece for COMPLEX, this is largely due to me getting sicker than I’ve ever been in recent weeks. What started as a misdiagnosis after an emergency room visit on Record Store Day resulted in several hospital visits and, to spare you the details, four of my five senses being painfully compromised. I’m just about completely healed now (thanks for asking) but it was quite an awful ordeal. With limited vision and no mobility comes great responsibility I found myself often face down half-conscious with only my memories entertaining me. It’s during this time that I remembered how much I used to absolutely love supermarkets.

The Clash's "Lost in the Supermarket" onesie, for when you absolutely have to show the world your baby has heard some song about why it's bad to bomb poor people or something.

This may just stem from my sheer love of spectacle rearing itself at an early age, but some of my earliest memories are being absolutely floored by the sheer majesty of the supermarket. When you’re three-years-old, your world isn’t a very big place. There’s your house, your front yard, your backyard, the park, school and the supermarket. While there’s no place like home and the park is a fantastic place to run wild and free, neither really preps us for how amazing our worlds were going to become like the supermarket did. Probably our first introduction to technology, I remember getting excited just to sit in the cart as my Mom pushed me through that other-worldly automatic door. How did it know we were coming? It was a door that opened itself! I GOT TO SEE A MINI-MAGIC SHOW EVERY WEEK!

Our market of choice was NewMarket, located just outside Minneapolis in Columbia Heights. I can’t remember the original name (although I recall cool looking cardboard boxes with ‘Country Store Foods’ written in a woodsy font on the sides) but it became NewMarket around 1992 and remained under that name until it was bulldozed around ’98/’99 to make way for an empty patch of debris and weeds for five years until condos were erected there in 2005. I’m somewhat surprised how much I remember of the original store. After you entered, there were the fruits and vegetables, with the two-sided wall of candy in the middle of them. The candy was arranged in a spectrum from spicy to sour, giving me a sense of tremendous pride when I was finally old enough to eat the sour gumbals without tearing-up.

Past the healthy crap and candy were rows-and-rows of typical stuff (food) until you got about 2/3s through the store and took a right. There, my friends, was the L-Shaped newsstand. I was four or five when I started grabbing comics off the rotating rack, starting with Ninja Turtles and eventually graduating to X-Men and Simpson’s. Some weeks I would turn around and partake in the magazines behind me incase there were any spotlight issues of anything on Power Rangers or something relevant to my interests in Mad, Cracked or Video Games Magazine. My final years there saw my first forays into actively following music journalism, namely taking a sharp eye to issues of Hit Parader, Guitar World and Circus, looking for foldout posters of whatever band’s logo I liked that week.

The Blood-Pressure Machine: Look at how much fun he's having! LOOK AT HIM!

But as fun as reading was/is, nothing at that young age compared to the endless entertainment provided by the sit-down Blood-Pressure Machine. We all recall being too young to really do anything when we would go to the drug store with our Dad and see him have all the fun, but once the supermarket pharmacy put that blood-pressure machine next to the comic books, the world became a much cooler place. Now, once a week, I could sit in a comfy chair, press some awesome-sounding buttons, have a robot squeeze my arm, and be told a whole bunch of numbers that I couldn’t begin to understand! For all the birthday parties I had at arcades or lazer tags, I wonder why I didn’t just have a bunch of friends follow me to the pharmacy and power-up? Probably because it would have set an unfair standard for the rest of our lives that no other party could possibly live up to.

After having technology blow me away, my mother would roll through with the cart and we would go to the check out. I’d help load the food on to the conveyer belt, help bag it and then the person behind the counter would give me a Dum-Dum sucker. If the fates were with me, it would be root beer. Looking back on it, the supermarket was the only destination that combined my love of robots, comics and candy. Before there was the internet, this was the only wonderland where I could have such a non-stop entertainment fix. Years later I worked at the Supermarket that ran NewMarket out of business, and it was the most miserable occupation I’ve ever had. Only the good die young.

We give Supermarkets a Five Out of Five

So until next time…LET’S AGREE TO AGREE!

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark – Musical Review

March 18, 2011

Turn Off the Show.

Remember the Spider-Man movies? There were three of them? They all starred doe-eyed Tobey Maguire as he saved doe-eyed Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and thwarted doe-eyed enemies? Nickleback’s Chad Kroeger had a song with Saliva’s Josey Scott called “Hero” in them that topped the VH1 video charts? Well, evidentially there were people for whom the big-screen adaptation of the comic book hero was too dark for, so to satiate the general public when everyone’s favorite wall-crawler debuted on Broadway last fall, his first order was to TURN OFF THE DARK. Joining him in this adventure are his amazing friends bloodsucking parasites director Julie Taymor (The Lion King) and U2’s Bono and The Edge (that rock song from Batman Forever). But with a $65 Million Dollar investment at stake, could this new musical really be the worst thing to hit Broadway since rappers with CD-Rs?

Well, true believers, let me set the tone by explaining exactly when and how I had my dark turned off. My Dad (with whom I had seen all three Spider-Man films as well as, after a chance sighting, met Spider-Man creator Stan Lee with) and I were set to see a matinee screening literally one hour after the announcement of director Julie Taymor being fired. The critically-maligned show was going to go under a dramatic overhaul and we were going to be one of the last to see it in its originally abhorred state. Granted, the show has been in “previews” (performances that are open to the public to purchase tickets for that aren’t “official” screenings, basically the theatrical equivalent of the “do-over” option in Four Square) since last November and had undergone a few cuts already. Having friends who were in the Musical’s test audiences before the version I witnessed, I can say that I was fortunately spared both the calypso/reggae numbers and the original final scene where a civilian runs on stage, drops to his knees and yells “SPIDER-MAN!” before the curtain falls and everybody bows.* But before I tell you what I did see** I would like to reiterate PopularOpinions’ policy of not caring how faithful a work of art is to its original medium. An entertaining show is an entertaining show, so anything from Amazing Fantasy #15 onward did not affect my judgment.

First: the good. Act I is the Spider-Man origin story we all know and love. Peter Parker is a nerd who gets bit by a spider and I’m not going to continue this sentence as if you didn’t know the rest. But we don’t begin with Peter, but with the origin of spiders themselves in Greek mythology. Yes, the show is narrated by four huge comic nerds who want to write the best Spider-Man comic ever, so in a brainstorming session the female amongst them proposes beginning with the Greek myth of Arachne who Athena turned into the first spider. This would be lame had the actual opening number not visually been so breathtaking. The show looks incredible and the Cirque de Soliel-style visuals and overhead fight scenes are like nothing you’ll ever see in a Broadway theater. I can’t praise enough how endlessly enrapturing the visuals are. Along with that, you have a strong cast who really believes in what they’re doing and truly excel with performing things the medium of theater was never intended to do. My Father and I sat at the end of the first half (SPOILER ALERT: Spider-Man triumphs over the Green Goblin and saves the day) somewhat puzzled why the show was getting as absolutely decimated as it was.


Then we saw the second act.

Wow. You know how the first half was all origin story? Well, round two is nothing but Taymor and is it ever a confusing mess. Even as someone who just finished reading Ulysses, I found the convoluted hodgepodge of scenes to be exceedingly difficult to follow. We begin with the four nerds introducing the Sinister Six, a group consisting of five beloved Spider-Man villains and Taymor’s own creation ‘The Swiss Miss’ who is something of a female robot that the female nerd proudly boasts she “just made up.” Spidey defeats them and begins having dreams of Arachne, the Greek Spider-Woman-Thing from Act I, calling to him. He can’t decide if he wants to be with this woman-spider we’re to understand only exists in his dream or Mary-Jane and ultimately decides he doesn’t want to be Spider-Man anymore. He casts his costume away, causing Arachne to somehow brings herself into our world*** and has “illusions” of the Sinister Six and the Green Goblin bringing the ruckus until her face off with Peter Parker whose heart is too human to be her Spider so she frees the kidnapped Mary-Jane and everybody bows. Our four nerd narrators disappear halfway through this act and their quest to make the perfect issue isn’t given a proper payoff or even a blowoff. Oh, and did I mention that I can’t name you a single song? The music is completely forgettable as every song seems to blend together, save one number where**** Arachne thinks the only reason Parker wants to be with Mary-Jane is because she has two legs and wears shoes, leading us to a song-and-dance number about how great shoes are in the middle of a Spider-Man musical! The songs only get worse when you imagine a smug Bono having breakthrough after breakthrough, thinking he’s writing songs about Spider-Man and women’s shoes that are so good that America’s going to forgive the debt in Africa. Imagine my half-surprise when it came out that this number was Taymor’s favorite and after months of the show’s producers begging her to remove it, she gave them the ultimatum that if it was cut she would leave the production.

But seriously, outside the plot and the music, it’s great. I can’t stress enough how truly awe-inspiring the visuals are. The fact that I got to physically see Spider-Man swinging from balcony to balcony and actually get on top of a Goblin-Glider riding Green Goblin’s back as they duke it out blows my mind. The choreography is great and the performances are enough to keep things entertaining and make you really wish Act II made some semblance of sense. They’re expecting a gigantic overhaul to the show during it’s upcoming three-week closing, and when it returns it’s a safe bet you’re going to get a much better show. As for how it is now, seeing Spider-Man actually swinging all over the place is more than worth the rush.

We give Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark a Three Out of Five

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Not a joke.

**As opposed to what I Deadsy, which is “The Key to Gramercy Park.”

***At this point the musical really makes absolutely no sense so you’re going to have to take my word on what I saw on a stage in front of me.

****Again, this is not a joke. This really happened. Somebody thought this was a good idea.

Remembering Leslie Nielsen

December 1, 2010

RIP Leslie Nielsen 1926 - 2010

Where does one even begin with a tribute to absolute master-craftsman Leslie Nielsen? Probably with an opening paragraph. Leslie Nielsen was a brilliant actor. He began his career playing very specific serious genre roles, and launched himself into superstardom parodying those exact parts with the most dead-on satirical accuracy the medium has ever seen. You may think I’m being hyperbolic here, but surely I’m not. Nielsen was as in touch with the nuances of genre-pictures enough to make the most absurd exaggeration seem subtle and deliver a hearty belly-laugh in kids aged one to 92.

As a product of the 80s, I can’t be alone in having many of my first comedy memories being glimpses of Nielsen in his many endlessly-rewatchable classics. The steam-roller gag from the ending of the first Naked Gun is my earliest recollection of slapstick comedy. I fondly remember its sequels as being the movies that delighted both my grandparents and I on days I was home sick from school. I even vividly recall Easter weekend 1996 when my Dad thought I was finally old enough to appreciate the Airplane movies and we watched them both over a weekend where I first discovered quoting something that makes one laugh will make one laugh once again.

But along with Nielsen’s celebrated classics, there’s even something endearing about his performances in his lesser films. No matter what the material he was laced with, he always gave it his all to get as many laughs as possible. Even working lowbrow, the man was nothing short of a class act to the very end. One of the best to ever to do it, he leaves behind a rightfully celebrated legacy whose complexities and endless re-playability will ensure his body of work will be around forever.

And now, my favorite Nielsen-isms:

“Who are you and how did you get in here?” – “I’m a locksmith. And, I’m a locksmith.”

“What was it we had for dinner tonight?” “Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.” “Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.”

“Women and me are like water and fire: wet and flammable.”

“Don’t move. I’ve got a gun. Not here, but I got one.”

“Your lies are like bananas. They come in big yellow bunches.”

“We can go away right now. I pack light. Everything we need is right here in my pants.”

“When you shot me at point blank range, I knew you loved me.”

“The Beatles said it best…’She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’.”

“It’s true what they say: Cops and women don’t mix. It’s like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it’ll clean you out, but it’ll leave you hollow inside.”

“It’s a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans!”

“I’d known her for years. We used to go to all the police functions together. Ah, how I loved her, but she had her music. I think she had her music. She’d hang out with the Chicago Male Chorus and Symphony. I don’t recall her playing an instrument or being able to carry a tune. Yet she was on the road 300 days of the year. In fact, I bought her a harp for Christmas. She asked me what it was.”

“Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes.”

“Like a blind man at an orgy, I was going to have to feel my way through.”

“Kinky. But I like my sex the way I play basketball, one on one with as little dribbling as possible.”

“Hey! You call this slop? Real slop has got chunks in it! This is more like gruel! And this Château le Blanc ’68 is supposed to be served slightly chilled! This is room temperature! What do you think we are, animals?”

“I’m sorry I can’t be more optimistic, Doctor, but we’ve got a long road ahead of us. It’s like having sex. It’s a painstaking and arduous task that seems to go on and on forever, and just when you think things are going your way, nothing happens.”

“Now, Jane, what can you tell us about the man you saw last night?” “He’s Caucasian.” “Caucasian?” “Yeah, you know, a white guy. A moustache. About six-foot-three.” “Awfully big moustache.”

“I see a lot of familiar face-lifts.”

“I want a world where Frank junior and all the Frank juniors can sit under a shady tree, breathe the air, swim in the ocean, and go into a 7-11 without an interpreter.”

“I’m single! I love being single! I haven’t had this much sex since I was a Boy Scout leader!”

“I couldn’t believe it was her. It was like a dream. But there she was, just as I remembered her. That delicately beautiful face. And a body that could melt a cheese sandwich from across the room. And breasts that seemed to say…’Hey! Look at these!’ She was the kind of woman who made you want to drop to your knees and thank God you were a man! She reminded me of my mother, all right. No doubt about it.”

“You spend every possible waking moment together, while I’m out running around with a bunch of twenty year olds who only want a good time and cheap sex sex sex. Girls who can’t say no. Girls who can’t get enough. ‘More, more, more. It’s your turn now to wear the handcuffs’…”

“Looks like the cows have come home to roost.”

“This is Frank Drebin, Police Squad. Throw down your guns, and come on out with your hands up. Or come on out, then throw down your guns, whichever way you wanna do it. Just remember the two key elements here: one, guns to be thrown down; two, come on out!”

“There, there. You had no way of knowing the man you were dating was a vicious, murdering sociopath.”

“A parachute not opening… that’s a way to die. Getting caught in the gears of a combine… having your nuts bit off by a Laplander, that’s the way I wanna go!”

“I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to fill out those organ donor cards.”

We give Leslie Nielsen a Five Out of Five

So until next time… let’s agree to agree!

On Mitch Hedberg vs. Anthony Jeselnik

November 17, 2010

My fake plants died because I didn't pretend to water them

I got a phone call late last night telling my Grandmother's only got a day left to live. I don't want this to sound cold, but I'm not going to pay the ransom.

Recently, according to the internet, there’s been quite the hoopla about hot *it* comedian Anthony Jeselnik and his new album Shakespeare. Personally, I find this fanfare well deserved as the man is quite funny. He’s crafted a unique one-of-a-kind style, fine-tuned his performance and really makes me laugh. However, when discussing/sharing Jeselnik I’ve found a growing number of people have started to bring up the late great Mitch Hedberg. These mentions have ranged from comparative compliments to accusations of biting. As a longtime admirer of both, I can see why one might remind people of the other. They’re both one-liner comics with their own specific brand of logic that pulls the audience into their specially-designed world. However, I believe there are three major difference between the two that show Jeselnik is more than his own man.

1 ) The Darkness
– If there’s one obvious trait about Jeselnik, it’s that he’s a comedian with subject matter so dark it’s pitch black. In any other venue than stand-up comedy, his tales would convince you that he’s quite possibly the worst human being who has ever lived. We all told dead baby jokes in junior-high, but to relegate Jeselnik to this status would be doing his craftsmanship and utter depravity a tremendous disservice. For him, it’s not enough that the baby’s dead, rather there’s an even grimmer circumstance as to why it’s dead and a sinister anti-comment on society to be made, said with the most gleeful stoicism possible. Hedberg, on the other hand, wants to cuddle with koalas and buy ducks Subway. He’s sweeter than Sweettarts. I’m pointing this out because it isn’t enough to merely state one is a bit more morbid than the other. They’re on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

2 ) The Confidence
– Mitch’s delivery was as quiet and hidden from the audience as possible. His persona was rooted in being shy. There’s a telling moment in his first Comedy Central stand-up special where, after an applause from the audience goes longer than expected, Hedberg half-looks up and says “I smile when I’m happy.” It’s that natural uncontrived vulnerability that allowed the sillyness of his humor to thrive. Anthony Jeselnik is dry, no banter, “these are my jokes” and making direct eye contact with you the entire time. His persona is the man on a mission to let you know through his heartlessness that he’s the coolest guy in the room. Hedberg is the stoner buddy, AJ is the door-to-door salesman of doom.

3) The Fluidity
– Hedberg had an almost stream-of-conscious structure to his jokes where his one-liners would seem to just pop in and out of his head. The order of how he delivered them could change, but he knew how to use the bricks he had to build a special padded wall of comedy. His performances had the warmth of late night campfire stories. Comparatively, Jeselnik is as detached and cold as the HAL-9000. AJ punches his jokes in-and-out like he’s reading a grocery list, using a smirk and the occational “yeah, I’m good” head-shake as his only transition. His agenda is to tell you these jokes and that’s it. Hedberg is there to hang out and whatever happens happens.

Bring the darkness home for the holidays!

That’s not to say there aren’t similarities. They’re both in-and-out setup-punchline comedians at a time when that’s fairly rare. There’s more-than-likely a Hedberg influence on Jeselnik, but watching a performance of the two back-to-back shows that they’re pretty different beasts. As someone else pointed out, to call Jeselnik a copy of Hedberg is like calling Hedberg a copy of Steven Wright. I don’t believe the stark differences between the two makes one better than the other, rather I believe they should each be celebrated for the tremendous hilarity that both bring to the table.

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!