Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Insanity Claus

Over the years, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy have seen- and made fun of- a lot of bad and/or unusual films, first on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and then through Rifftrax. Just in time for the Christmas season, they've unwrapped a lump of coal that makes Manos: The Hands of Fate, often considered the worst film they've ever riffed on, look like Casablanca. As far as Christmas "presents" go, it even out-insanes the Star Wars Holiday Special- which is no easy task. It's...Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny.

Directed by Barry Mahon (believed to be the real-life inspiration for Steve McQueen's character in The Great Escape), this bizarre film is in fact no more than an earlier adaptation of Thumbelina with a Christmas wrap-around. And product placement for a Florida theme park called Pirates World, an odd-looking place that, not surprisingly, was eventually driven out of business by a certain other Florida theme park that had just opened when this film was released in 1972.

A sample from the Rifftrax:

Seriously, this thing must be seen to be believed. The Thumbelina portion is pretty strange, but the Santa Claus wraparound is even more so- especially the climax (if you can call it that), when the titular Ice Cream Bunny makes his grand entrance, which is perhaps both the most WTF and hilarious sequence ever immortalized on celluloid. Not to mention the already strange source material makes this possibly one of the funniest MST3K/Rifftrax outings in history. I encourage you to stop reading this immediately and download the pre-synched film as soon as possible- it is quite possibly the best $10 you will spend this Christmas.

For those who aren't already convinced: a brief description- brief in that I can't do this justice in text and also that I'm trying to block it out of my memory:

Santa Claus is stranded on a beach in Florida for some reason. Santa is also apparently drunk, sweaty, and is using his red suit as a makeshift toilet. (Seriously, what's with the seat of his pants?) Santa calls some kids to help him free. The tone-deaf kids, who are always singing for some reason, try different animals in order to get Santa's sleigh loose. None of them work, possibly because they didn't even try to attach them to Santa's sleigh. Santa tells the kids not to give up hope, and begins to tell the story of Thumbelina, which he says is about believing in yourself and never giving up hope, but whose true message seems to be "animals are horny and they all want to marry human girls." Said story of Thumbelina is presented through dioramas at Pirates World being looked at by a young girl while a voice from a PA system tells the story. And this story is supposedly being told by Santa, whose own story also has a narrator. So basically, we have like five levels of narration going on here. Anyway, the story ends and Santa is eventually saved by the Ice Cream Bunny (who apparently has no connection to ice cream other than his name), who poorly drives his fire truck through Pirates World (perhaps his eye that keeps voluntarily closing is to blame for his poor motor skills) and eventually ("eventually" being the operative word here) makes his way to set Old St. Nick free. Santa's sleigh magically disappears from the beach (if he could do that the whole time, why didn't he do that before?), but not before Santa bids the kids farewell with some not-at-all-encouraging words: "We've, uh, established that we'll try to make it, won't we?" Also, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are there and do absolutely nothing.

But seriously, words can't describe this thing. Nor can facial expressions, shadow puppets, pantomime, Morse code, semaphore, or any other form of communication. The only way to experience the mind-blowing mind-blowingness of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. With Rifftrax along for the ride, it's both hilarious and frightening. What better way to spend Christmas? Well, I can think of a lot of better ways to spend Christmas. But none more entertaining as this.

Quick Film Thoughts: Tangled


Disney's 50th animated feature- a fact proudly touted during the opening logos- Tangled continues the nearly 75-year-old tradition and does it well by telling a traditional Disney princess fairy-tale story but adding a lot of great humor to it.

Though some have stated the unorthodox, male-skewered advertising campaign for this film is a bit deceptive (which it may be), I think it accurately plays up the factor of the movie that really sets it apart- its humor, which comes not from DreamWorks-style pop culture jokes or potty humor but genuinely funny slapstick and dialogue, especially the rapport between the would-be dashing hero Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi) and Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore), who isn't so much a damsel in distress as an equal partner in this heroic- and comedic- duo. A perfect Disney fairy-tale package (with songs provided by Disney vet Alan Menken) whose comedy elements take it over the top.

FINAL VERDICT: Highly, highly recommended. Possibly the best non-Pixar animated film this year. Although Rapunzel will let down her hair for you, she won't let you down.

Ten Terrific Obscure Peanuts Characters (Minus Four): #2 and #1

An important lesson I learned when it comes to blogging this year: if you're going to make a list, plan out the list in advance. You would think I would have known this already, but for some reason even the most obvious things escape us sometimes.

That "Ten Terrific Obscure Peanuts Characters" list? I was making it up as I went along. It turns out that I couldn't think of ten obscure Peanuts characters. But I was able to think up the top two- I think those were the first I came up with. So, let's just cut to the chase and rather than continue this top ten list, make it a top six by revealing those two...and I think these two are pretty interesting.

2. 5

This character, besides being an example of topical humor of the sort that may be more relevant nowadays than when it was first published, leaves behind an even more unusual legacy. 5 was introduced in 1963, the same year the Postal Service introduced ZIP Codes. As you can see, 5's father was overwhelmed with the large number of...well, numbers that were being given to individuals- Social Security numbers, telephone numbers, ZIP codes...in the 40-someodd years since, it's only gotten worse. 5's full first name is 555, which seems to show that the use of "555" as a generic telephone exchange in fiction had already been in practice by 1963 (although that didn't stop Schulz from sneaking the real phone number of Lee Mendelson, the producer of the Peanuts TV specials, into a strip without his knowledge as a prank). 95472- his last name- is the ZIP Code for Sebastapol, California- where Schulz happened to live at the time (and is buried).

Despite his relative obscurity as a character, 5 has actually earned himself a place in pop culture history. In fact, you've probably seen him every year. You just didn't realize it. Two years after his introduction, the Peanuts gang, who had already appeared in animated form in TV spots for Ford, made their TV special debut with the now-legendary A Charlie Brown Christmas. During the just-as-legendary dance scene- perhaps one of the most famous and oft-parodied sequences in TV special history- 5 and his sisters 3 and 4 take center stage. 5 is the kid in the orange shirt who does the famous head-bobbing move, while 3 and 4 are on opposite sides of him, freely whipping their hair back and forth long before Willow Smith did. Although 5 (along with 3 and 4) never made a name (or a number) for himself, he certainly has a unique place in Peanuts history...as does our #1 character...
That's Shermy doing the Frankenstein in between Frieda and Linus, by the way. (And yes, I know Frankenstein was the doctor's name, not the monster's.)

1. Charlotte Braun

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Greatest Obscure Peanuts Character Of All Time. Really. For one thing, she is the very first Peanuts failure. But there's another reason that puts her over the top- but that will come in good time. First, I should tell you who she is.

Believe it or not, this strip is actually Charlotte Braun's last appearance.
There were a number of one-gag characters in Peanuts. Some, like 5 above, fell into relative obscurity, while others, like Pig-Pen, became popular minor characters. Charlotte Braun, who made her debut in 1954, only four years after the strip began, achieved neither of these. There were only two jokes that she had- her name sounded like "Charlie Brown," and she talked really, really loud. Clearly, given those traits, it's obvious why she never became a Peanuts staple, and disappeared only two months after she debuted after a grand total of less than a dozen appearances.
Although Snoopy was still drawn as a real dog in 1954, he had already mastered the art of the comedy take, as this strip shows.
Charlotte's relative obscurity and general lameness as a character certainly set her apart as an obscure character to top all obscure characters, but one of the main reasons I put her at the top of the list, besides these, is because she was the impetus for what may be the greatest letter ever written.

After Charles Schulz's death in 2000, a woman donated a letter written to her by him in 1955 to the Library of Congress. Said letter was written by her in response to her dislike of the character:

Jan. 5, 1955

Dear Miss Swain,

I am taking your suggestions regarding Charlotte Braun, & will eventually discard her. If she appears anymore it will be in strips that were already completed before I got your letter or because someone writes in saying that they like her. Remember, however, that you and your friends will have the death of an innocent child on your concience. Are you prepared to accept such responsibility?
Thanks for writing, and I hope that future releases will please you.

Charles M. Schulz

...along with a drawing of Charlotte Braun literally being given the axe:

Despite her short life, Charlotte Braun did not die in vain. Truly, as the first and perhaps the shortest-lived obscure Peanuts character, her legacy is not only to top lists like this one, but to prove that even the best of the best- including arguably the greatest comic strip writer and artist to ever live- had their misfires. Be they the well-known or the obscure, all of Charles Schulz's creations continue to live on to this day and will probably continue to do so for years to come.
Yes, even the obscure ones.

All PEANUTS® comic strips and characters ©2010 Peanuts Worldwide LLC. No ownership intended or implied.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Two Faces of Yogi

With the release of the CGI/live-action resurrection of Yogi Bear (with animation oddly enough provided by Rhythm and Hues, who have certainly devolved when it comes to computer-animated bears from their famous Coca-Cola polar bears), two Yogi-related clips caught my eye. One you've probably seen already. The other...maybe, maybe not. Each one is interesting for a different reason.

Let's start with the one you probably haven't seen: a clip from a 1975 episode of To Tell the Truth, in which the panelists have to identify which of the three men is the real Bill Hanna of Hanna-Barbera fame. This clip came to my attention by way of MAD's Maddest Writer Dick DeBartolo, who happened to write for Goodson-Todman at the time and was actually the man in the Yogi Bear suit. (According to him, he did such a good job as Yogi that Hanna asked him to play the part at the opening of the theme park plugged at the end of this clip. He did.)

A number of things intrigue me about this clip. I've never watched To Tell the Truth, but I get the basic gist of it from this clip, and I wonder how much the panelists actually knew about the animation industry. It seems some of them might have known something about it, but it seems others didn't, like Kitty Carlisle, who can't tell the difference between Yogi and Smokey and calls him "Yoga Bear" at one point. On the other hand, there's Peggy Cass, who was probably right when she pointed out that someone in the animation industry at the time would probably know that Walter Lantz's wife does the voice for Woody Woodpecker, and Nipsey Russell, who rightfully points out the controversy regarding limited animation on Saturday morning cartoons- a rather ironic thing to point out, seeing as Hanna-Barbera was the studio that pioneered it (I wonder what Hanna thought when he heard Nipsey say that). And then there's Panelist Number Two, who credits every cartoon ever made to Screen Gems- which was the animation and later the television distribution arm of Columbia Pictures- except for the Road Runner, whom he claims is a product of Vizacom (presumably a mangling of Viacom, which is today a media giant but at the time was mainly in the business of syndicating old television show reruns rather than creating new material). It should also be pointed out- well, maybe not, but I'm pointing it out anyway- that the short Bill Cullen brings up is actually called The Critic. It did win an Academy Award, and the voice-over is none other than Mel Brooks. In fact, this was his first film.

The other video has been around the Internet and back multiple times now, and you've probably seen it already. If not, though, here it is: Yogi Bear by way of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford:

The two most intriguing things behind the scenes regarding this video are the fact that the animator- a 25-year-old graphic design student from Rhode Island- starting animating this in September, apparently already knowing (as many did) that "Yogi Bear" was going to be a cinematic punchline even before it was released and, perhaps even more intriguing, Warner Bros.'s official response to the video. See that disclaimer at the beginning that says they aren't involved with it and that the content may be inappropriate for some viewers? That's all their doing, and it's all they demanded. No lawsuit, no cease-and-desist. Just a few lines of text pointing out they weren't involved with it and easing their fears that young children might see the video was all they wanted, and they got it. On one hand, as Warners themselves pointed out, this is a parody that uses no actual copyrighted material from the film (as the end credits state, the animator designed all the models himself using advertisements and posters for the actual film as a guide- and did an amazing job, I must add) that definitely falls under fair use provisions as far as parodies are concerned. On the other hand, one also wonders if this is an example of "any publicity is good publicity." Does WB know they have a failure on its hands and hope a parody in which the title character gets turned into a bearskin rug will give some people a perverse curiosity to see the actual film? Hard to tell.

But one thing that is easy to tell is that for a most likely mediocre computer-animated film based on a mediocre old cartoon about a bear that wears a hat and sounds like Art Carney, Yogi Bear- and Hanna-Barbera, for that matter- certainly leave behind a legacy. What that legacy is, I can't exactly say. But it's probably something. And that's more than you can say about your av-er-age bear.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Russian into Christmas

I was surprised and flattered when I found out my blog post regarding my choices for the five breakout stars of 2010 has caught the attention of Axe Cop himself (or at least, Axe Cop artist Ethan Nicolle as well as the gang at the awesome official Axe Cop podcast, CHOP!). Axe Cop's major concern was that he wasn't on the top of the list. Well, Axe Cop, I love you and I'm gonna let you finish (especially since I'm pretty sure Psydrozon is outside), but as surreal as your escapades can be, someone who ranked higher than you on the list has out-surrealed you. Again. By proxy thanks to a Wisconsin school choir. Yes, it's even more surreal than that clip of Christian Bale singing the Powerpuff Girls theme song followed by Marky Mark singing the song from the Transformers movie. And that's pretty weird.

The Gifford Children's Choir of Racine, Wisconsin achieved Internet meme status when they created a video featuring themselves performing Jonathan Coulton's Still Alive from the popular video game Portal. To top that, they've created another video they hope will get one million hits- and given how freakin' surreal it is, it just might. I present to you "A Christmas Trololo."

This apparently holiday-themed tribute to Eduard Khil's now memetic performance somehow outsurreals it in every manner. Apparently believing that Mr. Khil's bizarre face was actually a mask, all of the kids are wearing masks (including the Phantom of the Opera, V for Vendetta, and Hillary Clinton for good measure). There are bizarre bits of audience participation, a Monty Pythonesque cut away to what they refer to as "The Trololobot," which looks more like a zombie Eduard Khil, and cameo appearances by the school principal, Santa Claus, and a fourth grader dressed in a cake dress as a callback to their Still Alive video who frankly looks more like a robot than the Trololobot does. Yes, once again, the cake is a lie.

This holiday tribute to the most addictive thing to come out of the Soviet Union since Tetris (an impressive feat for a country that hasn't existed since 1991) is certainly a testament to...something. If I didn't know any better, I think it might be the work of space aliens (which is still my explanation for that Norwegian video where all the washed-up celebrities are lip-synching Let It Be). Clearly, the only force than can stop such an invading army and their hypnotic viral videos is Axe Cop. Might be related to those aliens from the evil, Evil, EVIL Planet Tinko. Want your space on my list boosted a few places, Axe Cop? You know what to do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Back in Black

Though the original Hollywood blacklist was definitely one you would not want to be on, Today's Black List is probably not so bad to be listed on. The Black List is an annual listing of the most-talked-about unproduced scripts in Hollywood. As the list itself says, "The Black List is not a 'best of' list. It is, at most, a 'most liked' list." As such, many of the scripts on the list are...let's say...less than quality-sounding. Some of them sound like they might be good, but some...well, that's Hollywood for you. I've picked a few "gems" from this year's list and added my own comments.

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL- "A new recruit on the war against aliens finds himself caught in a time loop where he wakes up one day in the past after having been killed on the battlefield." So it's Groundhog Day, then? What kind of title is that, anyway? You just can't replace the last word of a Beatles song with "kill" and expect it to make sense. "She Came In Through the Bathroom Kill." "I'm Looking Through Kill." "Within You Without Kill." "And Your Bird Can Kill." Actually, that last one might be interesting.

THE LAST SON OF ISSAC LEMAY- "An aging outlaw convinced that there is evil in his genes goes on a journey to kill off his offspring. In the process, he discovers that his last remaining son is a terrifying manifestation of his worst fears." Eh, this one could go either way based on that premise.

FAMILY GETAWAY- "A man whose family doesn't know he's an assassin must protect them during a cross-country car chase when rival killers show up." So it's a comedy, then?

DIE IN A GUNFIGHT- "A young New Yorker falls in love with the daughter of his father's nemesis, setting in motion a Romeo-and-Juliet like forbidden romance." Didn't they already try to modernize Romeo and Juliet with West Side Story? And Romeo+Juliet? And probably a bunch of other films?

IMAGINE- "A musician in his sixties tries to live his life differently after reading an old letter written to him by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Of greatest important to him: tracking down and reconnecting with his biological son, whom he has never met." John Lennon is magic!

CHRONICLE- "Three Portland teens become exposed to a mysterious substance in the woods, and, as a result, begin to develop incredible powers. They work together to hone their skills for fun until personal and family problems begin to turn them against one another." Ah, could go either way.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN- Hunt, hunt, hunt, he's the Huntsman, "into action" is his cry! From the forest to the city, he will get there in a jiffy to sock evil in the eye...sorry. Um..."A re-imagining of the story of Snow White in which the huntsman sent to kill her becomes her mentor." I still like the other Huntsman better, even if he does absolutely nothing.

FUN SIZE- "A high school senior is forced to take care of her weirdo brother trick-or-treating but loses track of him along the way. With the help of a few classmates, she tries to find him before his mother gets home. Meanwhile, the depraved little brother is having the time of his life."- Has he never felt this way before? I swear, is it the truth?

DARK MOON- "Using found footage, story explores the possibility that manned moon missions did not stop with Apollo 17."- Ah yes, "found footage." Although I do like the idea of a conspiracy theory about the moon landings continuing in secret rather than them being a hoax in secret.

EVERLY- "The story of one woman's struggle for redemption as she fights to stay alive and unite with her mother and young daughter, all while staving off vicious attacks by a ruthless army of Yakuzas who have trapped her in her apartment." For some reason, I'm imagining what this concept would be as a Three's Company-style sitcom. "Can this young woman live a normal life when she shares an apartment with a team of gangsters who want to kill her? Find out this fall on CBS- We'll Air Anything!"

THE GIRL WITH SOMETHING EXTRA- "A young man who has been raised his entire life to believe that he is a girl comes of age as he enters high school and learns his true gender." It's a comedy based entirely around the twist of The Crying Game! How would someone be in the dark so long about their true gender, anyway? The damning evidence is literally right in front of them.

RICKY STANICKY- "For years, three lifelong friends have used an invented character named Ricky Stanicky to get out of sticky situations. When their wives demand a meeting with Ricky, the friends hire an actor to portray him." A fictional persona with a rhyming name and the wacky situations that ensue when that persona is involved with someone's normal, everyday life. This is truly an original idea and is in no way reminiscent of anything that has made millions of dollars for a certain children's entertainment company and revived the career of a former country music star while making his daughter famous in the process.

ZOMBIE BABY- "After the zombie apocalypse, a young couple unsure about whether to start a family has the decision made for them when they take in an orphaned zombie baby they don't have the heart to kill." Zombie Baby, he makes your dreams come true/Zombie Baby, when he's not eating you...

BOY SCOUTS VS. ZOMBIES- "A troop of Boy Scouts on their weekend camping trip must protect an island town from a zombie outbreak and save the local girl scout troop." Okay, I could make a snarky comment, but this sounds AWESOME. I guess I'm just a sucker for anything with "vs." in the title. Though shouldn't the Boy Scout handbook have a section for dealing with zombie invasions? Or am I confusing them with the Junior Woodchucks and/or Fireside Girls?

HOVERCAR 3D- "Set in the future, an ex-con street racer has to transport a whistleblower across country in a high speed hovercar with an army of authorities trying to stop them." Yes, we've gotten to the point where "3D" is already being tacked on to the titles at the script stage.

FUCKING JANE AUSTEN- "Two friends angry at Jane Austen for creating unrealistic romantic expectations for women today get sent back in time to the nineteenth century. The only way for them to return home is for one of them to get Jane Austen to fall in love and sleep with them." No comment. Really, how could I add anything to that?

KITCHEN SINK- "A human teenager, a vampire, and a zombie must save their town from an alien invasion." I wonder if this script was in part written as a joke, seeing as it has everything that's popular in pop culture now- teenagers, vampires, zombies, and aliens. Even the title (as in "everything but the...") makes it seem like it was written as such.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rhyme and Reason

The following post contains some strong language. Just so you know.

With the Christmas season upon us, it's no surprise that Christmas specials are coming our way as well. More often than not, some of the specials pay homage to or outright poke fun at some that come before them that are considered all-time classics for good reason: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Christmas Story, A Christmas Carol, It's A Wonderful Life, A Visit From St. Nicholas (aka "The Night Before Christmas"), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Those last two in particular have something special to them, however- something that I was surprised to find it's extremely difficult for people to replicate well.

For those not familiar with How The Grinch Stole Christmas!...really? There are people out there who aren't familiar with it? If you're from outside the United States, you get a pass, but if not, REALLY? Anyway, the simple-yet-charming story, written by Ted Geisel- better known as "Dr. Seuss"- in 1957 and probably best known for its animated adaptation directed by the great Chuck Jones in 1966, is a simple tale about a fellow who, as the title implies, is so fed up with the Christmas season that he tries to steal the holiday by stealing everyone's presents, but discovers in the process that there's more to Christmas than physical goods. Because of the popularity and familiarity of the story, it has been often parodied or inferred to in other Christmas-themed tales in varying degrees. The aspects most often parodied or picked up on elsewhere are, not surprisingly, those most familiar- the Grinch's physical appearance, green color*, and mannerisms as depicted by the legendary Jones and his team; the memorable songs "Welcome Christmas" with its faux-Latin chorus and cheery tone and especially "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch"; and the signature rhyming style of Dr. Seuss himself. It is this last one in particular I want to highlight- particularly how hard it seems for some parodists to master it.

For those unfamiliar with him (which may be larger and more understandable than those who may not with the Grinch), an introduction is also necessary to filmmaker James Rolfe and his alter-ego, the Angry Video Game Nerd. Mr. Rolfe, a filmmaker from the Philadelphia area, has literally ever since childhood been a fan of both making and watching movies. In 2004, Mr. Rolfe made a few light-hearted reviews of bad NES games for the amusement of himself and others. The first of these featured only a voice-over, while the second featured Rolfe himself, wearing a white shirt and drinking beer, speaking directly to the camera. Starting in 2006, this eventually evolved into a character by the name of "The Angry Nintendo Nerd"- later renamed "The Angry Video Game Nerd" for legal reasons. Rolfe himself has branched out and done other videos, such as film reviews and top ten lists, as himself, but also continues to portray the Nerd, as it is that character's success that helps him pay the bills- he's gotten so successful thanks to this that it is quite literally his day job.

When it comes to most actors who are best known for playing a character, such as Stephen Colbert, it is hard to tell where the character ends and the actor begins (or vice versa). This is not the case with James Rolfe and the Nerd. (Although, of course, most of the morons on the Internet who are responsible for his success don't even realize he's a character, one even going so far as to accuse Rolfe of being an Angry Nerd ripoff.) With Rolfe and the Nerd, that isn't the case. Rolfe's videos as himself are usually laid-back and very informative. With the Nerd, that's usually the case as well. But the Nerd- who, unlike Rolfe, actually appears on-screen- is much more enraged than Rolfe is, hence why he's called the Angry Video Game Nerd, venting his frustration with the poorly-programmed video games he plays by combining his constructive criticism with unique combinations of profanity (such as his now-signature "shitload of fuck"), sometimes getting so enraged that he ends his review by destroying or even shitting on- literally- the source of his frustration. The Nerd's reviews can be hit-or-miss- personally, I like the more in-depth ones where the two personas (Rolfe and the Nerd) are somewhat combined and we get a good balance of history/criticism and foul-mouthed venting- and perhaps in the future I'll highlight some of my personal favorites. But I'm here today to talk about the Nerd as he relates to the Grinch.

This week, Rolfe released this year's Angry Nerd Christmas special. Rather than going in-depth on Bible-themed games as he has in past years, he went to the tried-and-true method of poking fun at the Grinch- and didn't do a bad job of it, either. Mike Matei's artwork really shines here, both giving a perfect Seuss look as well as some great caricatures of Rolfe. The take on "Mr. Grinch" is just great (though not perfect- more on that later), not only in the lyrics but in the music as well- I love the addition of 8- and 16-bit sounds and I really hope he makes this available to download as an MP3. Although it's a fun parody of the story with a definite Angry Nerd twist, there's one department in which it falls flat- perhaps one of the most important when it comes to a parody of its sort.

For some reason, it seems incredibly hard when it comes to people who are parodying Dr. Seuss- and, for that matter, "The Night Before Christmas," which has the same rhyme scheme and rhythm- to get the rhythm exactly right. For most people, it seems that they think all it takes to sound like Dr. Seuss is "rhyme words together and add a few words that don't exist." Well, that's only part of it. Much as Shakespeare had his iambic pentameter, Seuss had his own rhythm- Wikipedia says it's anapestic tetramater, but that's not important to me. To paraphrase that famous quote about pornography, I know what it is when I hear it. Let us take, for example, the opening lines of How The Grinch Stole Christmas!**

Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot…
But the Grinch, Who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

Not only does each line rhyme with each other, but each line also has the same amount of beats in it. There's a rhythm. Let's compare this with the opening of the Angry Nerd's version:

Every gamer down in Gameville liked Christmas a lot
But the Nerd, who lived just north of Gameville, did not.
He stood there on Christmas Eve, staring down on his cave with a sour nerdy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town.
"Ugh, Christmas, that time of year when everyone gets an awesome new video game
But the ones I always get are so unspeakably lame!
Wall Street Kid is a game about cash and stocks.
Might as well fill my Christmas socks with trash and severed cat cocks!
Toki: Going Ape Spit, I admit,
You can't move while spitting and die in one hit.
Killing Time on 3D0
Doesn't give you enough ammo!
Your parents paying 50 bucks
For a game where you shoot the fuck out of ducks
Really sucks."

From the first two lines, Rolfe has trouble in keeping with the traditional Seuss rhythm- by taking the exact opening from the original story and replacing the one-syllable word "Who" with the two-syllable word "gamer," he immediately breaks the rhyme scheme. By removing the word "down," the Seuss style could have easily been kept. The second two lines aren't that much better, but it's where the Nerd himself starts speaking where it really gets...well, as the Nerd might say, fucked up the ass with a diarrhea dog dick.*** Although the Nerd himself has a unique manner of speaking (not just in his use of profanity), it shouldn't be that hard to keep the traditional pattern just because the speaker is being changed. The Nerd's opening lines have far too many syllables and, in many cases, far too many rhyming words****- although the line "You can't move while spitting and die in one hit" fits perfectly, the line before it has an extra rhyme and is too short. I've rewritten most of the opening to fit the Seuss standard to show what I mean (I couldn't get a good rewrite in my mind for the Killing Time bit):

Every gamer in Gameville liked Christmas a lot
But the Nerd, who lived just north of Gameville, did not.
He stared from his cave with a sour nerdy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town.
"On Christmas, they each get an awesome new game
But the ones that I got were unspeakably lame!
Wall Street Kid is a game where you trade cash and stocks.
I'd rather my stocking was filled with cat cocks!
Or the Genesis game Toki: Going Ape Spit,
Where you can't move while spitting and die in one hit!"

There are a few lines here and there that actually fit the pattern- for example, "one minute I'm here, one minute I'm there, I just reappear anyplace, anywhere," which gets bonus points for sounding like something Dr. Seuss actually might have written (see, for example, Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish). The other highlight is the Nerd's take on the Grinch song. "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is kind of a hard song to not get right when writing parody lyrics for in the first place, for some reason, and for the most part, this take on it follows the same pattern, with one exception:

You're a vile one, Mister Nerd
You've got demons in your soul
You're wacky and you're wicked
Your crap is full of coal
Mister Nerd...
You're as charming and fun as a grizzly bear with a gun!

Rather than having the second, fourth, and sixth lines rhyme with each other- as in the other verses as well as in the original song- Rolfe has the second and fourth lines rhyme with each other, then creates an additional different internal rhyme in the sixth, which just doesn't sound as good.

I realize it's a silly thing to be complaining about, but...
The video itself as a whole is a gem
And a year-end highlight for the AVGN
But it brought to my mind the question most perplexing
As to why the Seuss rhyme scheme to most is so vexing.
It always has been second nature to me
Which if you read these lines, you can most likely see.
Like bad games for the Nerd, I guess it makes me sting-
Though I won't cuss or shit or drink crates of Yeungling.
I'll just point out my qualms, and sign off saying I'm
Hoping your Christmas is filled with games, fun, and rhyme.

*It should be noted that the Grinch's coloring was an invention of the animated version- given the high cost of color printing at the time, the book was printed in only a few shades of red and pink. Thus, the Grinch himself was white with pink eyes. The animated depiction of the character as green with yellow eyes- which become regular white eyes with blue pupils once he discovers the Christmas spirit- has become so familiar, however, that it is how the character is usually depicted, including on licensed merchandise. The irony of the overmerchandising of a character whose main message is "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store" is another matter entirely, one which could also be compared to the anti-commercial message of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which itself is also heavily merchandised (and was commissioned at the request of the Coca-Cola Company).

**How The Grinch Stole Christmas! was written by Dr. Seuss (of course) and is ©1957 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. Published by Random House. Along with other great books in the Seuss canon, it really is a book everyone should own- I especially recommend the 50th anniversary edition, with a nice afterward by Seuss historian Charles D. Cohen about the Grinch's predecessors in Seuss lore and the Grinch's place in history (including other parodies along the lines of the sort I write about here).

***Which brings me to one other surprising qualm I had. The Nerd is known for his dabbling in profanity. Of course, there are times when he takes it a little too far over the top, but I'm by no means a prude when it comes to these things either, but since this IS the Angry Video Game Nerd we're talking about, why not add a bit of profanity here and there where it might give it a bit of an "Angry Nerd twist" as it were? For example: rather than the Nerd getting a "wonderful, awful idea" taking the line from the original Seuss verbatim, why not a "fuckin' ingenious idea" or something along those lines?

****Seuss sometimes used rhyming triplets to break up the monotony, but still in the same rhythm as his couplets.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Five Breakout Stars of 2010

With the year of Our Lord two thousand and ten coming to an end, people will be commenting in the coming weeks about the year of Our Lord two thousand and ten coming to an end. It's also a time when people will be making resolutions that for the most part they have no intention of keeping. One thing I do resolve, however, is that I will no longer post a list before writing it out in advance. Seriously, I have like six or so obscure Peanuts characters to write about and I've only figured out two of them. But with the year coming to a close, one thing I can list is some of the names in pop culture who made a name for themselves over the past 12 months, be it for the first time or reappearing in a big way. So here's five pop culture personalities who had a great 2010.

5. Axe Cop

©Ethan Nicolle

"One day, at the scene of a fire, the cop found the perfect fireman axe. That was the day he became Axe Cop." Thus began the adventures of one Axey Smartist, better known as Axe Cop. As an axe cop, Axe Cop does the things that axe cops do- namely, chop bad guys's heads off. He is assisted in this by Ghost Cop (formerly Uni-Avocado Soldier, formerly Avocado Soldier, formerly Dinosaur Solider, formerly Flute Cop) and a team of superheroes including Sockarang, Baby Man, The Wrestler, and Mr. Stocker (whose superpower is that he has no superpowers whatsoever.)

If this sounds like it was written by a six-year-old...it was. Cartoonist Ethan Nicolle came up with the idea for Axe Cop...let me rephrase that. Writer Malachai Nicolle, then age five, came up with the idea for Axe Cop while playing with his older brother, cartoonist Ethan Nicolle, declaring himself to be "Axe Cop" and Ethan to be "Flute Cop." The resulting conversation so amused Ethan that he decided to make it into a comic for the amusement of his relations and Facebook friends. When Axe Cop launched as a website in early 2010, he soon caught the attention of the Internet at large. The Nicolles have been in talks with Adult Swim and Dark Horse Comics will soon be publishing the first published Axe Cop compliation. It's clear that everyone loves Axe Cop- although Axe Cop himself is so busy that he has no time for love. Do you know what time his job is? Always. He works the always shift.

4. Brittany S. Pierce

™&©2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Perhaps personifying the stereotype of "dumb blonde" far better than any fictional character before her, Brittany S. Pierce believes the square root of four is rainbows, finds recipes confusing, rinses her mouth with Dr Pepper because she believes him to be a dentist, and is pretty sure her cat is reading her diary. Despite this, she has slept with practically everything that moves (and quite possibly a few things that don't) at William McKinley High School- most likely because she happens to be an attractive cheerleader who is also a talented dancer, specializing in "hairography," or, as she refers to it, "cool epilepsy." Although she is generally liked (or at least tolerated) by her fellow glee club members and teacher, Will Schuester (who taught her the second half of the alphabet, something she thought she would never achieve after giving up due to the similarities of the letters "M" and "N"), her best friend and closest confidant is fellow Cheerio Santana Lopez, who by some definitions she may be dating.

Aptly dubbed by one news article as "The Ralph Wiggum of Glee," the character portrayed by Heather Morris evolved in the second half of the first season from a simple background character to a minor character who could often deliver the funniest line of the show. We have Morris herself- who ad-libs a number of Brittanyisms- to thank for this, as it was her blank expression on the set one day that made series creator Ryan Murphy decide that Brittany would be not just a cheerleader, but a dumb cheerleader from that point on. Perhaps it's for the best. After all, wouldn't our lives be worse off if we didn't know that dolphins are really gay sharks?

3. The Muppets of Sesame Street

©2010 Sesame Workshop

Though Kermit the Frog and company have never been too far from the public eye, they returned last year in a big way with Bohemian Rhapsody, a viral-video take on the Queen classic which was the talk of the Internet and nearly made the song the number-one Christmas record in the UK for a record third time. This year, it was Cookie Monster and crew's time to shine, as the longest-running (and arguably still the best) educational kids show on TV made a viral push- both intentionally and by accident.

In September, around the start of the series's 41st season, Sesame Workshop posted a clip of Elmo and Katy Perry singing about opposites to the tune of the singer's hit song Hot and Cold. The fur flew as many concerned parents believed Miss Perry was underdressed for the occasion, thus sparking a bunch of jokes and controversy. A month later, however, no one batted an eyebrow- except in awe- as Grover showed up in the buff to spoof the now-legendary Old Spice "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" campaign in a viral video scripted by head writer Joey Mazzarino. Mazzarino was also responsible for penning a song which also spread like wildfire the same month- "I Love My Hair," sung by a black Muppet and originally written for his daughter adopted from Ethiopia, which also recieved a lot of praise (and also lead to an inevitable mash-up with Willow Smith's bizarrely catchy Whip My Hair). Not to be outdone, Cookie Monster posted an audition tape for Saturday Night Live...although he's basically following in the footsteps of someone else...

2. Trololo Man

No, this is not who Cookie Monster is following in the footsteps of- that will come at #1. But, much like Cookie Monster, this unusual fellow has made a name for himself by doing one thing and doing it well- namely, singing.

Singer Eduard Khil wrote a song with a title roughly translated to "I Am Very Happy Because I Am Returning Home." Due to a dispute with either the lyricist or the Soviet censors (sources vary), the original lyrics about, well, someone who was very happy because they are returning home, were replaced with complete gibberish. In the early part of 2010, a vintage film of Khil's performance of this upbeat song became an Internet sensation, in part because of his robotic movements and the blank expression on his face. Perhaps because he sounds like he's saying "LOL LOL LOL" at one point and also musically laughs at another, Trololo Man- as he was quickly redubbed- soon became a popular replacement for the "Rickroll" prank (dubbed "Communist Roll"), and on the televised front, he proved to be the only thing that could cheer up Stephen Colbert and was also satrized by Inglorious Basterds star Christoph Waltz in "Der Humpink," which is exactly what it sounds like. Mr. Khil was tickled by his resurgence in popularity, and for better or for worse, he will most likely be amusing and/or annyoing people for years to come. Truly, he has had the last laugh. Literally. But when it comes to comebacks, nobody had a bigger one this year than...

1. Betty White

©2010 NBC Universal Worldwide

May 8, 2010 was a date that was perhaps one of the most important in pop culture history this year, if not the most important. Not because it was my 25th birthday (although it was), but because Betty White guest-hosted Saturday Night Live as the result of a Facebook campaign. Surprisingly, the episode was a rarity for modern SNLs in that practically every sketch was a winner, in part due to the patented sure-fire comedy of "an old lady who says dirty things" (as Ms. White herself previously proved in Lake Placid). Her high-rated, Emmy-award-winning appearance led to a number of appearances at awards shows, as well as a TV Land sitcom, Hot in Cleveland. She recieved her own calendar for 2011, and was also honored for her philantropic efforts by being named an honorary forest ranger as well as the president of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. If you could put a face on 2010, it would be the face of Betty White. And all things considered, it's not really a bad face for the year to have.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Best TV Show You're (Probably) Not Watching

"Besides Mad Men, this is the smartest show on television*." "Surprisingly thoughtful...Family Guy with an espionage subplot...the new SpongeBob." Could it be that they're describing a cartoon on the Disney Channel?

Yes. Yes they are.

I may be a bit biased (those of you who know me well or have been reading my blog probably already know of my love for this show), but Phineas and Ferb is, in my opinion, possibly the best all-ages animated comedy- if not the best comedy period- on television right now. Although The Simpsons remains my all-time favorite television show period for good reason, I have to say right now that I get more laughs and enjoyment out of a Phineas and Ferb than I do a modern-day Simpsons- even I will admit that the show, while still entertaining, isn't what it used to be (although the writers still do come up with some gems). But why should you be watching Phineas and Ferb- and if you aren't already, why not? Well, I have some very good reasons.

1. Top Talent

Phineas and Ferb has top talent both behind the scenes and in front. Co-creator Dan Povenmire has a long history in animation. He started out on The Simpsons, where one of his first achievements was designing the Olmec head Xtapolapocetl which first appeared in the "Blood Feud" episode and I'm sure many Simpsons fans can recognize. He later went on to work on Rocko's Modern Life, where he and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh wrote many classic episodes, including the music-meets-environmentalism masterpiece "Zanzibar!" and the immortal "Wacky Delly," a great satire of the animation industry and an all-around funny episode to boot. (I AM THE CHEESE. I AM THE BEST CHARACTER ON THE SHOW. I AM BETTER THAN BOTH THE SALAMI AND THE BOLOGNA COMBINED.) It was while working on Rocko where the two of them came up with an unusual idea for an animated series...but more on that later. The two went their separate ways, with Marsh working in England and Povenmire going on to stints at Family Guy and SpongeBob Squarepants (where, among other achievements, he wrote the "Campfire Song Song"). Eventually- and by "eventually" I mean "nearly 15 years later"- after being rejected by practically everyone in the industry for fears that their idea was too smart, Disney picked up that series they had come up with so long ago.

Besides the veteran talent behind the scenes (which, besides Povenmire and Marsh, also includes a talented bunch of writers and animators, including Martin Olson, a veteran comedy writer, and Jon Colton Barry, son of famed songwriter Jeff Barry, among others), there's an equally talented group of voice artists giving these goofy characters their voice. The main cast combines Disney stalwarts such as Ashley Tisdale, Mitchel Musso, and Alyson Stoner with other well-known names such as Caroline Rhea and Richard O'Brien (creator and performer of Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Recurring guest voices include Allison Janney, Barry Bostwick, Kelly Hu, Malcolm McDowell, John O'Hurley (J. Peterman from Seinfeld), and 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer and Maulik Pancholy. Guest stars have included Evander Holyfield (drawn with a bite in his ear, no less), Billy Ray Cyrus, French Stewart, Geraldo Rivera, Ben Stiller, Kevin Smith, Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh, John Laroquette, Vicki Lawrence, Cloris Leachman, Jennifer Grey, Tim Curry, Sheena Easton, David Mitchell (Peep Show), and Lorenzo Lamas (who played an alien who can only say "meap" and shoots rainbows out of his mouth!), among others. A future episode will guest star not only one, but two Emmy-award-winning funny ladies: Tina Fey and Jane Lynch. And last but not least are Povenmire and Marsh themselves, who gave themselves two of the funniest characters.

2. Memorable Characters

But what good is a character if you're only going by their voice? Thankfully, the wacky world of Phineas and Ferb is filled with characters that are just as memorable as their voice actors. Outside of the Simpsons's Springfield, I can't think of another large, diverse group of animated stars as memorable as these. The titular stepbrothers are surprisingly sane compared to some of their friends and acquaintances- and given as they usually spend every day building or doing something extraordinary, that's saying something. Two of my favorites are by far Candace, Phineas and Ferb's older sister who balances being a normal teenager with being certifiably insane obsessing over catching them in the act of their elaborate scheming (and is wonderfully voiced by Ashley Tisdale, who is a surprisingly talented voice actress), and Dr. Doofenshmirtz, a pathetic mad scientist who, for a would-be villain, is surprisingly developed (in humorous fashion), frequently lamenting about his failed love life and especially his childhood, which always fuels his not-quite-that-thought-out plans to conquer the entire...tri-state area.

Surprisingly, this montage doesn't even cover half of the psychological trauma inflicted upon Dr. Doofenshmirtz during his childhood.

Oh...and Norm. Just Norm.

3. The Songs

Among the things that Povenmire and Marsh loved to do at all of the shows they've worked on is write songs- in part because, as they say, it's their attempt at animated immortality. For example, that classic Jetsons song "Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah." Coincidentally, one of the songs they wrote for the series early on was also a unique way of saying "I love you"- and the Disney executives loved it so much they wanted a song in each episode. This may be the only time in history where an executive's suggestion actually made sense.

Almost every episode of the series has an original song in it, covering practically every genre of music under the sun from pop to rap to country to what have you, and they're always nearly catchy and well-written, with some dang funny and unexpected lyrics to boot. For example:

In the middle of a song about a beach for no apparent reason: "Your contacts need saline or else you can't see."
"Like a ninja of love rappelling down from above, you snuck your way right into my heart."
"Science can't improve upon a mother's heart, but given time, it can trick out her spleen."
During a Wizard of Oz parody: "Just take the yellow one, not the one that's burnt umber/and don't you take the purple one, it's covered in lumber."

Seriously, if this wasn't a kids show, I think Phineas and Ferb would have as many hit singles as the cast of Glee. (Although they wouldn't probably want it that way- they specifically set out to be one-hit wonders when they wrote "Gitchee Gitchee Goo.")

I read this somewhere recently and I agree...why isn't Olivia Olson as famous as Justin Bieber?


Seriously, as with any comedy, the humor is where the show really shines. The situations, the dialogue...it's surprisingly smart- in a good way. The thing that really surprises (and amuses) me is that the show is basically based around a simple formula (well, "simple" being a relative term)- "Phineas and Ferb build something while Candace tries to bust them for doing so, but the defeat of Dr. Doofenshmirtz by their pet platypus Perry- who unbeknownst to them (but beknownst to us) is really a secret agent- always makes their project vanish just before she can"- the formula is always being tweaked and bent in just the right way for maximum humor potential. It's like a Road Runner cartoon- we know Wile E. Coyote's invention is going to fail. It's seeing how it's going to fail where the fun comes in. Heck, I laugh my rump off just when one of the simplest running gags- a "Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated" jingle that plays whenever Doofenshmirtz makes his first appearance- is changed to something oddly specific like "Doofenshmirtz holding a bucket" or "Doofenshmirtz walks to the diner." Because of this, the show actually gets funnier the more you watch it, as the clich├ęs and running gags are always being modified in just the right way for maximum humor potential. As Matt Groening once said about The Simpsons, it's a show that rewards you for paying attention.

Like many of the best comedy (and best things period) out there, try as I might to describe it, Phineas and Ferb is one of those things that can't really be described- only experienced. And for those of you who want to do so, you're in luck: A great way to start is by tuning in to Disney Channel tonight (Friday, December 3) at 8:30pm Eastern for their Christmas special. Besides having everything that makes the show great, it's a fun little Christmas special with a very interesting premise that I never really thought about before: Phineas and Ferb envy Santa Claus because he gets to travel around the world giving people presents in a single day, which sounds as fun as anything they do, and want to give him something in return. The theme of the special is mainly about thanking Santa for all he does and giving gifts rather than getting them, which is a really nice message if you think about it- in my later years I've certainly found it much more fun to play Santa than want things from him. But what about Dr. Doofenshmirtz? He's the sort who would want to ruin such a perfect Christmas situation, right? Well...

So please, check out Phineas and Ferb. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed. I am by no means a predictor of trends, but I'm pretty sure 2011 is going to be their year, so I hope you'll join me as their star continues to climb. I know what I'm gonna do today. Do you?

*Greg Ehrbar, co-author of Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records, **The New York Times

PHINEAS AND FERB ©Disney. No ownership intended or implied.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brought to You by the Letters S, N, and L

Sure, much like North Korea bombing South Korea for some reason, a supposed Ugly Betty star murdering his mom with a samurai sword for some reason, and Miley Cyrus turning 18 for some reason, this has been getting a lot of talk online, but why not have one more voice join the chorus? Especially because it's funny.

Sesame Street's been in the public eye a lot this year. Be it Grover spoofing the Old Spice ads, a song called "I Love My Hair," that whole Elmo-Katy Perry thing, or Bert apparently outing himself on Twitter, the long-running and still-beloved show has gotten a lot of buzz online and in the media, both thanks to the efforts of the show itself and through word of mouth- what's known in the online biz as "going viral."

And so has Betty White. The veteran comedienne has been everywhere this year, and it all started with a successful Facebook campaign to get the ex-Golden Girl to host Saturday Night Live. Today, one of Sesame Street's bluest citizens started his own campaign to rock 30 Rock, with his own audition tape. A very cookie-obsessed audition tape.

I wish Mr. Monster the best of luck in his campaign and encourage you to support him on his official Facebook page for his quest. And even if he doesn't make it, his audition is still good enough for me.

To help him in his long running-quest to debunk those rumors about his changes of diet or name, I leave you with his classic Colbert Report guest appearance, one of my all time favorite highlights for both him and Colbert.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Cookie Monster
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

SESAME STREET characters are trademarks of and ©2010 Sesame Workshop. THE COLBERT REPORT ©Comedy Partners.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Ships Hit The Fan

This post was originally written as a personal blog entry on the Phineas and Ferb Wiki. It is reprinted here with only minor modifications for posterity and for the interest of this blog's readers.

As a fan of Phineas and Ferb for almost a year now, I've done my best to keep my edits to the wiki in the best behavior and be a good citizen, interacting with the fan community in order to discuss a show I love. Sadly, for me, doing so has been difficult, because it seems that, with the except of a certain few, the most outspoken only seem to enjoy certain aspects of the show which are, for the most part, inconsequential. Particularly, the topic that always seems to rear its ugly head so much that it is now off-limits in blogs: shipping. (This is not a shipping blog. Rather, it is a blog on the subject of shipping.) Some events occurred recently in the field of kid pop culture that made me think a lot about shipping and its effect on the Phineas and Ferb fan community and how it seems to be affected by shipping. This is in part me basically just rambling to get the thoughts off my chest and on paper (or screen, as the case may be), but I still think it's relevant.

Recently, Dan Schneider, the creator of a ton of kids shows I used to watch and still do to this day (Kenan and Kel, Drake and Josh, Zoey 101...the list goes on), posted some very funny videos lovingly poking fun at some of the more vocal of his fans.

Clearly, with these, he's following a philosophy I myself often follow when I make jokes online or in public, summed up best by The Simpsons's Krusty the Klown: "I kid because I love." It's clear that the only reason he's poking fun at them is because he knows that the fans are ridiculous at times and, even though it may annoy him, he still loves his fans no matter what. It's part of a long line of pop culture poking fun at the more overenthusiastic members of their fanbase, alongside the 1986 Saturday Night Live sketch where William Shatner (playing himself) tells the audience of a Star Trek convention to "get a life!," the Simpsons character Comic Book Guy and his newsgroup-taken catchphrase "Worst. Episode. Ever" who has now been adopted by the fan community as one of their own, the very funny "Please Please Pleese Get A Life Foundation" Animaniacs sketch which featured quotations from an actual alt.tv.animaniacs document and was first shown to members of that newsgroup, and Phineas and Ferb's own hyper-obsessive superfan, Irving (as voiced by 30 Rock's Kenneth the Page himself, Jack McBrayer).

I was so inspired by Mr. Schneider's sketches that I wanted to write one of my own poking fun at the members of the Phineas and Ferb fan culture that are even more obsessed than Irving is, but I never got around to doing so. And this is one case where procrastination paid off, since Mr. Schneider paid off once again for me personally this week.

His popular Nickelodeon kidcom iCarly ran an hour-long episode entitled "iStart a Fan War," written by Schneider himself, which basically revolved around the main gang- Carly, Freddie, and Sam- going to a website convention in the vein of Comic-Con and other cons. Though there was nary a Ducky Momo in sight, there was a lot of comedic chaos to be found as the iCarly panel devolved into mayhem as the audience started asking if Freddie was in love with Sam (Seddie) or Carly (Creddie), even going so far as to use screenshots from the webshow to prove their points. (Here, just as The Simpsons often uses ''Itchy and Scratchy'' as an in-universe replacement for itself or the animation industry in general, here "iCarly" the fictional webshow is taking the place of iCarly the real TV show.) Sam- who, if you watch the show, loves to cause chaos- decides to tell the audience she's madly in love with Freddie. All you-know-what breaks loose as the convention floor devolves into an all-out Creddie-v.-Seddie war. "My goodness," I said to myself, "I've actually seen this stuff on the Phineas and Ferb Wiki! People using photographic evidence to show Phineas and Isabella really like each other, shipping wars...they really did their research!"

However, not surprisingly, it all becomes too much to bear, and the trio attempt to defuse the ruckus with a speech...

We love all fans of iCarly. Totally. The average fans, the super-fans, the psycho fans, even the super-psycho-fans. But iCarly is not really about our romantic relationships. I mean, sure, we're better-than-average-looking teenagers with "those feelings." But iCarly's about comedy. Stupid, pointless comedy. Just to make people smile and laugh...sometimes groan. I know the whole who-should-date-who thing can be fun to think about, but don't get TOO caught up in that stuff, you know. Sometimes you should just watch iCarly...laugh, and share an apple with a friend. Any fruit, really.

Carly proceeds to end the speech (which I thought was heavy-handed but necessary, and on rewatching isn't really as anvilicious as I first thought it was) by explaining she isn't even seeing anyone at the moment, though there is a new guy (introduced earlier in the episode) she's interested in. The fans...proceed to beat up said new boy for ruining their beloved ships and keep on fighting. Ba-dum-bum.

Personally, as a self-aware criticism, I thought the episode was perfect, since, as I said earlier, I had seen similar behavior in the Phineas and Ferb fanbase. And I thought the ending was particularly inspired: rather than resolving a question which can never be resolved (at least, not at the moment), the show basically poked fun at the fact that despite its efforts and well-meaning attempts to explain that the show is about comedy first and relationships second, people probably won't listen and keep on complanin'.

And boy, did they ever. To paraphrase a classic Comic Book Guyism, rest assured the iCarly fan community was on the Internet within minutes registering their disgust throughout the world: the way they saw it, Schneider was basically saying they were watching the show for the wrong reasons, had no life, and should basically just give up because nothing will ever happen on iCarly ship-wise- none of which are even remotely true. (The "no life" claim came from a line I personally thought was hilarious but some people apparently took way too seriously, as a convention staffer feared the war could last for days since most nerds have no jobs or lives to get back to. I guess it's true- people think things are funny until they're the ones being made fun of. Jokingly suggesting nerds have no life is one of the oldest nerd jokes in the book, dating back to that classic Shatner SNL skit if not earlier- which in itself ended with Shatner hastily backpedaling to calm the nerd rage by explaining he was recreating his evil self from a classic Star Trek where, much like Split Candace once was, he is split into the two halves of his personality.) Fans were also accusing Schnieder of lying, since the earliest promos for the episode claimed that it would settle the debate once and for all. Both sadly and hilariously, they ended up proving the stereotypes poked fun at were 100% true.

Earlier today, Mr. Schneider wrote a very nice blog post explaining a lot of things: for one thing, the promos are the network's responsibility, not his. Secondly, for those fans who were disappointed in the episode, he teased some future ones which he said will "make a lot of fans extremely happy – especially those who felt they were mislead [sic] by the promos for iStart A Fan War." And most importantly (in my opinion), he said this:

'If you're an enthusiastic iCarly fan, and you felt that iStart A Fan War was making fun of you (in a mean way), please don't feel that way!  The writers and I love the iCarly super-fans!

Sure, the episode was a parody of some iCarly fans, but only a very specific type – the type of fans who fight bitterly and are mean to each other – the ones who take the whole Creddie vs. Seddie thing too far, and actually get verbally abusive with others who don't agree with them.

Those are the fans we were parodying – the mean "fighty" ones.  But they only make up like 0.0000000001% of iCarly fans.  And honestly, we don't dislike those fans.  We just think they'd be a lot happier if they'd calm down a little bit. :)

Do you act like the psycho fans you saw in the episode?  Probably not.  More than likely, you're just a normal person who feels passionate about iCarly.  If you are, then you're not the kind of fan we were parodying.

But if you're the type who would actually get into a physical confrontation with someone over Creddie vs. Seddie (or write nasty comments online), then yeah, we were making fun of that kind of behavior.  But even so, we didn't mean it in a mean-spirited way.

On Saturday Night Live, they're always making fun of the President of the United States, other politicians, and celebrities… but that doesn't mean that the SNL producers, writers, or actors are trying to hurt those people's feelings.  SNL is a comedy, so sometimes they parody people, but it's all meant in good fun.  Parody is an exaggeration of behavior.

I hope this explains things to any fans who felt the episode was mocking them.  Unless you're a crazy, extreme fan who gets in fights with other fans and hates anyone who disagrees with you, we weren't mocking you.  If you just love iCarly (for any reason), WE LOVE YOU.

Still, if you felt offended, then I'll take the blame, and I'm sorry.  My goal always is to make you laugh, smile, and have a fun time – not make you feel angry or hurt.

So, what does all this have to do with Phineas and Ferb, you may ask (if you got this far)? Well, the sort of fan behavior Schneider poked fun at in this episode of iCarly is exactly the sort that I see on the Phineas and Ferb Wiki. People complaining about certain character pairings, or appearing to care only for the relationships between the characters rather than everything that makes the show great. I would say moreso than iCarly, where both the comedic interactions and the romantic tensions between the characters take center stage often equally, romance takes a backseat to comedy much more so on Phineas and Ferb- which isn't surprising, given as there's a lot of characters and a lot of things going on. And, unlike iCarly (*coughJaneLynchcough*), the comedic foundation of Phineas and Ferb hasn't cracked yet- if anything, it gets stronger with each episode as the writers find even more cleverly comedic ways to twist the formula to its breaking point and make it seem less like one. Sadly, the most outspoken members of any community always seem to happen to be the craziest- there may not be a lot of them, but they sure are loud. All this combined actually gave me the inspiration to finish the sketch I was talking about- which I hope you watch if you're interested in what I have to say.

To paraphrase what I myself said in that little film, Phineas and Ferb is a comedy first and foremost. It's about comedy first and romance...geez, do I have to make a list? Whatever number it is, it's down near the bottom. Or somewhere in the middle, maybe. Either way, even more so than iCarly, the romance aspects take a backseat to the comedy- or sometimes, even add to it. As my idol Charles Schulz once said, "There is nothing funny about being happy," and I think the way Phineas and Isabella's relationship is right now- with Phineas completely unaware as to what is going on with Isabella's crush on him- is much funnier and more entertaining to watch than if they were both in love with each other equally. That's just not funny. Will Phineas ever wise up? Maybe. Will this ever happen on screen? Doubtful. Same with Ferb worshipping Vanessa from afar despite the fact that they barely even know each other, or any other relationships in the series, both real and imaginary. As Mr. Schneider himself said through Carly and friends, it's fun to speculate, but let's not go insane doing so and start wars over it and nonsense like that.

And Mr. Schneider's comment on the promos also brings up a good point, too: people often think that the creative arm of the show (as helmed by Dan and Swampy) and the licensing/distribution arm (as represented by The Walt Disney Company itself) are either one and the same or very closely involved with each other. I don't know 100%, but I'm pretty sure that's not the case. I've read some things on Martin Olson's SoundCloud page and just listened to an interview with Laura Dickinson, who is one of the major female singers on the show, and even they didn't know when the third season is going to start. They're just as clueless as we are as to future developments, nor do they have any control over what Disney is going to do with the series in terms of distribution. So let's keep that in mind and not ask questions of the staff that not even they know the answers to.

I realize this is really long and most people probably aren't going to read it to the end, but if you did, I hope you see what I'm trying to say. If you disagree with me even only a tiny bit- good. That means you have a brain and know how to use it. I hope, though, that the more outspoken of you who did read to the end keep what I have to say in mind: the creative end has no idea what the distribution end is doing, and most importantly, if you ''must'' talk about shipping, please do so amongst yourselves or lightly and non-confrontationally (if at all possible). Let's talk about all the aspects of what make Phineas and Ferb great as a whole: the plotlines, the music, the voice acting, the writing, the comedy, and yes, the character relationships. Alone, all of these aspects are great. Together, they're even better. So, as Carly herself suggested, let's try to take some time to share an apple and laugh with Phineas and Ferb and everything that makes them great. Together. Because if you like something a lot, chances are you hope there are other people who want to talk about it with you too. I know I do. And it kind of disappoints me that a lot of people in this community- at least the most outspoken ones- don't seem to enjoy the show for all that makes it great as I do.

Ryan is out! PEACE!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thoughts on Theatre: The Pee-Wee Herman Show

Playing now through January 2 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 West 43rd Street, New York. For tickets and additional information, visit peewee.com/broadway. Reviewed November 20, 2010 (afternoon show). Directed by Alex Timbers. Produced and conceived by Paul Reubens. Written by Paul Reubens and Bill Steinkellner with additional material by John Paragon.

Incorporating elements from both the original stage show and the TV series with a number of amusing new elements added, Pee-Wee's Broadway debut reunites the classic Playhouse gang, for the most part all portrayed by the original actors- Miss Yvonne [Lynne Marie Stewart], Jambi [John Paragon], Mailman Mike [John Moody], and puppet characters Chairry, Conky, Pterri, Randy, Globey, and other puppet scenery without names that end in "ey." Cap'n Carl is thankfully not replaced (as, sadly, no one can ever replace Phil Hartman for whatever reason period), and comedian Phil LaMarr (the voice of Hermes on Futurama, among other roles) does a great job filling Cowboy Curtis's boots in Lawrence Fishburne's stead- clearly, big boots to fill. And you know what they say about people with big boots... Adding to the comedy is a new character simply known as Bear [Drew Powell], who practically steals every scene he's in with his over-the-top pantomiming, frustrating Pee-Wee: "I hate charades! I hate mime! I hate new characters!"

The plot of the show, such as it is, is really more a means to an end of stringing along the various gags and sketches and is taken more or less directly from the original stage show: Pee-Wee is jealous of Pterri's ability to fly, and hopes that someday his wish of flying will come true, while also keeping a friendly ear out for a way to make Miss Yvonne's wish that Cowboy Curtis would like her would also come true...even if it means giving up his own. Far more amusing as far as plots are concerned is the subplot regarding a handyman named Sergio [Jesse Garcia] who is hooking up Pee-Wee's new computer ("new" being a relative term in this case), and the puppet gang's fear that Pee-Wee's new toy will replace them.

But really, what little plot there is takes a backseat to the jokes, of which there are plenty. Set up as a both a parody and a loving tribute in the style of a classic kiddie show of the Bozo-Kangaroo variety, Pee-Wee asks his audience to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and, of course, scream real loud whenever they hear the secret word- "fun"- before, among other routines, trying to cook onion rings, reading postcards from his pen pals, becoming engrossed in a children's book about the life of a dog, and introducing a classic Penny cartoon from the series (animated by a young Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame) and a public-domain educational film about lunchroom manners with comedic sound effects added (though the biggest laugh comes from one of the film's actual visuals). Most of the best humor, however, comes from the childlike Pee-Wee's interactions with the other characters, especially Sergio, with whom Pee-Wee proceeds to mangle Spanish, partake in the now-famous Tequila dance, and attempts to impress with long bit involving a balloon which, along with an overly long scream, is one of the two most drawn-out- and funniest - gags in the show. Add to this a good number of Pee-Wee's signature quips and dirty-jokes-that-really-aren't, horrible-yet-still-amusing puns, some topical jokes about subjects such as abstinence rings and gay marriage, visual delights including a dead-on recreation of the classic Playhouse set and a fun sequence set entirely in the dark in the classic cartoony blinking-eyes style, a funny running gag involving ad jingles and products (including a puppet Shamwow who unexpectedly becomes an ingredient in those onion rings), and a bunch of other surprises I don't want to give away and you've got a recipe for FUN.

Although the entire cast is superb, I have to give a shout-out to the puppeteer behind Chairry, who has a fun dance sequence with Pee-Wee, Powell, who gets lots of laughs as Bear without ever saying a word (well, maybe a few words), and, of course, Paul Reubens himself, whose not-quite-an-adult-but-not-quite-a-kid-either persona as Pee-Wee has always entertained and still does. Coming back into the role after a long absence, Reubens clearly is ready to leave his unfortunate past behavior behind him and come back to the character that made him famous. He may have aged, but Pee-Wee certainly hasn't- both physically and mentally. And given Pee-Wee's character, that isn't surprising.

Like many great actors who are known for playing a character (for example, Stephen Colbert), it's hard to tell where Paul Reubens ends and Pee-Wee Herman begins when he's performing as the character. After the show, Paul...or Pee-Wee...or is it both? came out and said some hellos to the receptive fans waiting outside the stage door, asking them where they came from to see the show and quickly responding to someone's shout that they loved him in Blow with the classic Pee-Wee "then why don't you marry it?" rejoinder. He explained that while he couldn't sign autographs, he was glad that everyone came out to see his show. It's clear from the way he came out after the show that Paul/Pee-Wee is a nice guy and really loves performing...and the reaction he gets for doing so. As Pee-Wee himself sings at the end of the show, he's the luckiest boy in the world and wants to share his luck with the audience. Truly, for both Paul Reubens and Pee-Wee Herman, that much is true...and both they- and the audience-are loving it. I know I did.

FINAL VERDICT: Highly recommended! A must-see for anyone who loves great comedy, Pee-Wee Herman, or just plain having FUN.