Monthly Archives: January 2010

The World’s Greatest Sub-Culture

I apologize in advance.  Today’s entry is a bit of a quickie.  I’ve been bogged down a bit in other happenings, but I wanted to post something for the week.  (In an effort to keep up a four-entry-per-month minimum habit.)  To make up for the brevity, I’m going to ratchet up the ‘awesome’ factor here.

First of all, let me say thanks to my buddy Jason for posting a video of today’s great thing on Facebook recently.  It was that link that made me flash back to the fact that these special people actually existed.

117.  Central Park Disco Skaters

Whether it’s the old-fashioned roller boot you’re rocking or in-lines, all are welcome to the event.  From April until Halloween, on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, this group sets up camp in the middle of Central Park with a kick-ass sound system and blazes some old school jams.  Though there is an ‘official’ season, lots of folks still show up after Halloween if there’s a nice sunny day to be had.  CPDSA’s blog page can be found here:  Central Park Disco Skaters Association

Here’s one of my favorite clips.

These guys look like genies!  I’m also loving the dude dancing in the background without the skates on.  Don’t let that stop you, brother.

Is it just me or does it all seem so much sweeter and more care-free than that stuffy old ice-dancing?  Plus roller disco minimizes the possibility that someone with a sharp blade on their boot will skate over one of your appendages if you take a spill.

I think one reason that I’m so mesmerized and tickled by these clips (beyond the magically awesome participants) is that I love roller skating but I’m not very good at it.  I can pretty much just skate straight forward in a line or large and gentle ring–sometimes not even that.  What they do, to me, looks like such a cool skill to have dominion over.

One song that always reminds me of roller skate parties, like the birthday parties in elementary school, is  “Supersonic” by J.J. Fad.  Like I said, I was never one that could do any sort of smooth or fancy trick-skating.  But, when I listen to this song, it makes me feel like I could if I just tried hard enough.  Check out the video.  When it actually cuts into the high-tempo beat, it almost even looks like the trio is on skates.

Here’s a compilation sort of video.  It’s opted to edit music over all the clips instead of leaving whatever was originally playing when they were filming, but it’s still pretty cool.  I especially love the old-school video camera graphics employed here–particularly the ‘stars out of butts’ effect.

When, oh when, will this be an Olympic sport?  It’s something I would actually give a crap about and I bet every gold medalist would either be from Brooklyn, Washington DC, or Philadelphia.

One final clip, here.  Unfortunately, the music quality isn’t captured particularly well, but it does feature an excellent array of skate-folk.

The world would be a better place with more roller disco–as long as it didn’t get all Rollerball dystopic.  I’m pretty sure that roller dancers are the coolest people on earth. I want them at my wedding.  Why not start a group in your own local park?

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Filed under Hobbies, People

FYI–For Your Idolatry

Thank God for Youtube and Nick at Nite.  Though the television show Murphy Brown ended its 10 year run in the 90’s, you can still catch it on the web.  The cable channel,  home of old champions like Designing Women and The Cosby Show– for its part– had broadcast Murphy Brown for two years…thus allowing many viewers to snag it for broadcast on Youtube.  Mostly, it was episodes from season 1 to season 3 that I found–largely in three-part chunks.  MB was on from 1988-98 in its original run.  It was one of the few shows ever produced that truly deserved a decade long run.  (Yes I’m talking to you Two and a Half Men–stop the insanity and wrap it up now.)  There was so much to love about it:  the classy Motown-themed credits, (I owned this on cassette)–

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school bus soundtrack...in my Walkman every day...

–the running gags (one of my favorite’s being Murphy’s ever-changing lineup of weirdo secretaries), the topical scripts –but perhaps its greatest element of worth was today’s great thing.

116. The cast of Murphy Brown

Along with the cast of 30 Rock and Arrested Development, MB has one of the top ten sitcom ensembles ever assembled.  They were an unstoppable, fantastic, script-devouring team.

Much credit needs to go to Diane English, creator of the series.  First of all, she deserves accolades just for coming from Buffalo, NY.  Great Lakes girls unite!  She made it to adulthood, surviving snow-drifted winters and artery-busting local cuisine.  But, and of more pertinence to this blog entry, she fought hard to keep her vision intact.  The network, CBS, wanted Heather Locklear for the lead and didn’t like many of the other actors that we now know and love (or at least fondly and foggily remember).

The regulars were:

Murphy Brown (Teevee journalist extraordinaire)–Candice Bergen

Jim Dial (Lead anchorman)–Charles Kimbrough

Frank Fontana (Man-clown investigative reporter)–Joe Regalbutu

Corky Sherwood (Bubble-headed correspondent)–Faith Ford

Miles Silverberg (Nebbishy producer of FYI)–Grant Shaud (who in the Murphy Brown era had a name that was too samey samey to Grant Shaw from Melrose Place for his own good.)

Eldin Bernecky (Murphy’s full-time house painter)–Robert Pastorelli (who, died of a heroin overdose in 2004–sorry to harsh this love-in.)

Phil (of Phil’s bar)–Pat Corley (who died in 2006–again, sorry for the downer.)

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Go team! Well...mostly Candice Bergen here...but still...Gooooo Team!

Every good ensemble needs a good captain and you couldn’t beat Candice Bergen.  She was hot, smart, and able to pass the punchline to another player if need be.  I loved her.  No, really, let me make this clear–here’s how much I loved Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown:  I loved Candice Bergen so much in this role that I’d spend a good half an hour with a curling iron and a can of hairspray trying to get my hair like hers.  Me!  With hairspray!!!  And a curling iron!!!  In grade school!

Also, I’d read any magazine that featured articles either Candice Bergen or the show in general.  I even read Good Housekeeping.  Good Housekeeping, people!  Could obsession sink any lower?

Here’s a clip from the show.  It’s nothing special–no better or worse than any other episode, really–but it is indicative of  cohesive the cast was and general overall quality.  Plus, you gain greater insight into how Murphy got her hair to do that thing.

Funnily, this is one of the only episodes to open with an actual ‘theme’ song.  Normally, they’d select an episode-appropriate Motown theme.  Superb!  Viewing some of these clips back on Youtube also makes me yearn for a proper newsmagazine show to watch.  FYI, the fictional news programme takes me back to the heyday of Nightline and 20/20.  I remember how in highschool they used to show us segments from 60 Minutes sometimes.  Watching 60 Minutes made me feel conscientious and more intelligent than I was.  I get no nourishment from the news anymore.  There’s no investigation leading to cold hard truth anymore…just manipulation meant to strengthen supposition.  Sigh…  Can anyone recommend something trustworthy AND watchable?

Watching the episodes back, you can certainly see the difference between today’s modern sitcom format and the one we used to laugh at in our youth.   Today’s laugh-trackless and highly improvised shoots give a greater sense of realism.  But, under our old standards, this was a ruthless comedy machine.  Even my more learned awareness of farce and story structure can’t fault these classic pickings.  Sure, I can see the format unfolding before my eyes.  And yes, sometimes, I can predict the second act entirely.  But, I love this bunch so much that it still works.

In addition to the regular cast members, the show treated the casting of guest stars with great diligence.  I mean can you beat Colleen Dewhurst and Darren McGavin as Murphy’s Mom and Dad.  The answer is ‘no’.  No you cannot.

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Gave Murphy a Red Ryder BB Gun

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Thinks Murphy is full of "stuff and nonsense".

Another boon to the cast’s solidity was the simple fact that the writers made the characters grow into more than just the stereotypes that they represented in the pilot.  Sure, Murphy was a feminist ball-breaker, Frank a good-guy womanizer, Jim a friendly blow-hard, Miles a worrywart, and Corky a ditzy blonde–but they evolved into more than that.  The writers let the relationships change over time–as they would in real life–and it made the show better for it.

Of course, I’m not the only one that obsessed.  Twenty years later, here’s an enjoyable little piece that CBS ran about Murphy Brown‘ s “china” anniversary.  Enjoy this cast reunion and ensemble love-in:

Maybe one day, when I give up on my ambitions to do anything besides watch television, I’ll buy the box-set.

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Filed under Characters, comedy, People, TV

Ain’t No Party Like An Unbirthday Party!

I recently droned on about my excitement for Tim Burton’s upcoming adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.  You’ve seen Helena Bonham Carter’s CGI-enhanced forehead haven’t you?  It’s bigger than my television. The film will be super-weird, in the best possible way, I hope.  Anyway, beyond my enthusiasm for the upcoming version, I’ve always loved Disney’s animated take.  My girlfriend was really surprised that I rated it so high.  She thinks that, especially for kids, it’s too trippy and twisted and, as she couldn’t remember much about it, unmemorable.  I think I was partial to it for several reasons:

One–it was broadcast all the time on The Disney Channel when I was growing up.  So, I got to watch it over and over and over, as kids do with films.

Two–it was an unconventional story.  Typically, Disney animated heroines are pining for princes but romance wasn’t even on the cards in this tale.  A literal pack of cards were though.  An army of head-chopping cards.  The simple but relatable goal here was for Alice to follow her curiosity–something that definitely inspired me.

Three–the music and animation are top rate.  There are sequences in this film that are pure magic.  And that brings us to today’s great thing:

115.  The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

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That rabbit is definitely on something.

Lovingly overseen by Walt himself, who’d been trying to get the film into production for over a decade, this scene in particular is  as joyous as fireworks and slick as oil.  I don’t even like tea THAT much but watching this again makes me want to boil the kettle and toast some bread.  It IS my unbirthday, after all.  Let’s watch:

The DVD, which I got as a last-minute Christmas gift (after mentioning how much I enjoyed it as a kid) also came with a featurette called “Operation Wonderland” which was originally broadcast in 1951, the same year the film was originally released if you can believe that.  The thought of what animators must go through to bring a story to life has always given me sympathy arthritis pains.  I mean, I was the sort of kid that could barely make it through one picture when coloring it in.  I can’t fathom having to draw hundreds of ever-so-slightly different panels in order to create one scene.  Pass the Bayer.  So, I’ve always admired the good folks that work in animation.  It’s not only the drawing that fascinates me but it’s also the scientific measures they go through to make the fantasy as real as possible–for instance, hiring actors to don special costumes and walk around drunkenly like a walrus might for the walrus and the carpenter scene.  It’s akin to watching how Willy Wonka makes his mythical Everlasting Gobstoppers.

The behind the scenes featurette illustrates not only how much work goes into a hand-drawn film but also, perhaps, how the concept of a ‘behind the scenes’ type featurette was so novel in 1951.  Note the cheesy set-up for Walt to walk in on young Kathryn Beaumont who is:

A.  Studying her algebra

B.  About to be called to action

Also, look out for the scene which shows you the fantastic Ed Wynn as The Mad Hatter and Jerry Colonna as The March Hare and how absolutely inspiring they must have been to the cardigan-draped chortling animators.  Oh, how I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and visit the set myself!  And so that I could bet on winning sports teams and get rich (hats off to Biff from Back To The Future II for that scheme.)

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is actually an amalgam of two Lewis Carroll books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass.  Carroll was not only an author, a reverend, a mathematician, and a photographer, but also a logician.  In a bit of synchronicity which has worked out nicely for my obsessions, a book that I’m currently reading–Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, references Lewis Carrol’s logic.  Carroll wrote very droll syllogisms.  Here are two that Martin mentions as especially inspiring to his comedic voice:

1.  Babies are illogical.

2.  Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.

3.  Illogical persons are despised.

Therefore, babies cannot manage crocodiles.

I like that one because it also implies that babies are despised.

Another example is given:

1.  No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste.

2.  No modern poetry is free from affectation.

3.  All your poems are on the subject of soap bubbles.

4.  No affected poetry is popular among people of taste.

5.  Only a modern poem would be on the subject of soap bubbles.

Therefore, all your poems are uninteresting

Snap!!!

Maybe later, when I put my brain in, I’ll try writing one.

1.  Writing syllogisms is hard.

2.  I am easily distracted when faced with difficult tasks.

3.  Oh look, a squirrel.

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Deeeee-Runk

Maybe I’m giving too much credit here, but I think the Mad Hatter sequence really captures that teasing Carroll lunacy.  All of the characters that Alice encounters do nothing but give her shit–perhaps never more so than at the Unbirthday tea party.  The girl never even gets a drop of tea.

Though this film took years and years to find its audience (it was not a hit when it was first released), it is rightly labelled as some of Disney’s very best animation.

And now, in closing, let’s look at a different take on The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and remember:  it’s hard out there for a little adolescent Victorian girl.

P.S.  Anyone see The Princess and the Frog yet?  I’m really looking forward to it…out in Britain in February…

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Filed under Literature, Movies

Dratch It Up A Notch

Rachel Dratch must be the least appreciated woman in comedy…and that’s saying something, because very few women are appreciated in comedy anyway.  That’s not knee-jerk feminism, that’s fact.  As a veteran of not only Saturday Night Live but also the highly esteemed Second City troupe in Chicago, she deserves our respect!  …And bucketloads of regular work.   Most people would remember Dratch, (that’s if they remember her at all) from her years as a cast member on SNL.  She played several recurring characters including the mopey Debbie Downer and one of “the lovers”, Virginia Klarvin–the other one was Will Ferrell.  Remember them?  They were always eating giant cuts of meat in a hot tub?  NOW do you remember her?  She was very funny, right?  Well, today I’d like to celebrate her as our first great thing of 2010!  I’d especially like to highlight her appearances in one of the best shows ever, 30 Rock.

114.  Rachel Dratch in 30 Rock

In season one, Dratch’s cast of oddball characters included this prostitute:

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Look at that cleavage!

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Liz Taylor (in the shadows):

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White Diamonds!!!

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And this imaginary blue dude:

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The missing teletubby?

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that she hasn’t played one of these quirky little characters since that inaugural season.  I can’t say why that is except for maybe a subtle shift in tone in the series.  Was it too zany to have one person playing a raft of weirdos on a consistent basis?  Or, perhaps the parade of glitzy guest stars have crowded out what may have originally been ripe pickings for Dratch?  At any rate, I’m not the only person who has noticed her absence.  Here’s the original post of a rather amusing blog:  dearracheldratch

They miss her too, which makes me feel less alone.

It’s not to late to re-insert her as a fixture on to 30 Rock.  As most fans of the show are aware of the behind the scenes casting changes anyway (basically, Dratch was supposed to be a lead character on the program–only to have the execs re-tool the show at the eleventh-hour–relegating Dratch to these amusing bit parts), you could even write a hilariously self-referential joke to get her back on the job!  Come on, I miss the lesbian cat wrangler she played.  Or, what about the debut of any of these characters, which I’ve thought up just now?

–Teen runaway

–Drunk nun

–Carrie Prejean’s smart sister

–Fight-scene choreographer

Now, as I’m writing this blog in Britain and some of my most loyal readers are, in fact, British (Hi Matt T of itsayshere ), I feel that I must make an effort to communicate to my non-American amigos how and why Rachel Dratch is so funny.  Even if you’ve never seen Saturday Night Live you are undoubtedly aware that it is a fertile breeding ground for many of our most successful comedy actors, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Dan Akyroyd, and Mike Meyers (so he’s Canadian…big deal) to name but a few.  What you’d begin to see, if you looked into it, is that until recently, very few women were springboarded into mega-stardom after their SNL careers ended.  I can think of exactly one woman, who–pre 2006–stayed busy after departing the show:  Julia Louis Dreyfuss.  It was only when Tina Fey became head writer on the show, that people really started to fully appreciate the ladies of the program.  In fact, the early 2000’s were arguably a real golden era for the show.  Not only did you have the adorable ‘corpsing’ of Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz, the weirdness of Tracy Morgan sketches, but you had the best team of women to EVER be on the show:  Anna Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Rachel Dratch.  I’m not slagging off Jane Curtain here, she’s ace,  I’m just saying this was the best moment in history for women as a WHOLE on the program.

Here’s a rare thing, a woman getting more than one recurring character to play.  Dratch was given (and gave us) some serious gifts.  She was Debbie Downer, Virginia Klarvin, The Boston Teen, and the Deformed Siamese Twin, amongst other regular celebrity impressions.  Here’s that Siamese twin sketch.  What sucks is that I can only find it on Hulu.  This means that if you’re out of The States, you can’t view this, except by proxy (maybe).  Hulu is supposed to be finalizing international viewing rights.  (Hurry up!)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Another favorite moment was the Abe Scheinwald sketch (wherein Dratch played an absolutely bonkers head of a movie production company).  Though this character became a recurring one, the first appearance, I believe was in the 2003 Alec Baldwin-hosted episode.   (Missy Elliott was the musical guest…what a show!)  I highly recommend a viewing if you can catch it ever.  Sadly, it exists absolutely nowhere online that I can find.  Maybe we’ll have to wait until they release a best of Rachel Dratch DVD?

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Glorious

Finally, here’s something everyone can view.  It’s Dratch playing Barbara Walters on 30 Rock.  She’s perfect.  Embedding forbidden but if you click it, it should take you there anyway.

Dratch is nothing but completely able in any comedy role that she’s given.

Anyway, my point is, and perhaps the reason why she’s so underappreciated nowadays, is that beyond 30 Rock and SNL, there aren’t many opportunities for women to play weird, eccentric, or just plain funny characters.  Sure, there’s plenty of quirky out there (think anything from Will and Grace to every role that Jenna Elfman ever plays), but there’s not much else out there.  And if there is, Amy Sedaris has already owned it.

What’s horrible but hardly surprising is that when researching what’s upcoming for Rachel, I’ve run into so many message boards that can only talk about how pretty she is or isn’t.  I’m not even going to comment on this beyond these statements:  If she were a dude, this wouldn’t be an issue (hello 95% of highly paid male comic actors).  In fact, I’m gonna go out there and say that it’s ALMOST a pre-requisite that male comic actors not be overly attractive as they need to be identifiably goofy everymen.  Also, funny shouldn’t HAVE to be pretty.  It’s one of the only ways that we average looking people have to get a leg up in this world.

I’ve been a fan of Rachel’s ever since I saw her two-woman sketch comedy show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theatre in NYC.  This was right around the time that Tina Fey got her writing gig on SNL.  I’d heard that she (Fey) was putting up a show with a long-time comedy partner (Dratch), and I thought “gee, I’m interested in comedy and in ladies, I should check this out”.  And I did.  It was one of the top sketch shows I’ve seen if not THE BEST.  I actually saw it twice.  The second time around, my friend Kim actually got to touch Tina Fey’s boobs.  (It was part of a bit of audience interaction during a sketch…not some awesome seduction on Kim’s part).  I had the postcard from that show, “Dratch and Fey” on my ‘inspiration wall’ for ages–right up there with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pic (I have weird goals).

I’ve dug up a couple of excellent little videos that highlight not only Dratch and Fey’s Second City years but also their sketch show (which was born out of improv).  There ain’t much that beats quality improv when it comes to audience euphoria–maybe the rare occasion of when a film successfully adapts a comic book but without some kind of graph to accurately capture my feelings, I can’t be sure.

The interviewer is slightly annoying in this clip, but it’s still chocka with cool backstage treats:

This one has stuff that looks even older:

I hope this miniature campaign to get Dratch back on 30 Rock works.  Or, at the very least, I hope I see her popping up in more television and film.  Did you know she plays the cello?  Not only is that super-sexy, but you could totally write a character around that skill.  You know, something like:  Person on the subway who takes up too much room with her cello.

OK, I’ll leave it to the professionals.

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Filed under comedy, People, TV