A Farewell to Family Video

I knew the day would come soon enough. While not having the national reach of Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, Family Video has been a Midwest mainstay for the past 40 years, and a regular stop during weekly errands throughout my adult life. The news they’re closing their remaining locations hit me especially hard last week.

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How I Was Disappointed by How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother PictureWhat made How I Met Your Mother an interesting entrant into the sitcom field is that it had a binding narrative arc that ran the course of its 9 seasons. there were payoffs for long game joke set-ups, references to previous episodes that weren’t casual lip-service, and a rich mythos set up by creator/writers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas that’s usually reserved for serial dramas.
And we all went along for the ride. We were there for every inside joke. Every hook up. Every break up. Every make up. Every suit up. Fans of the show stuck dutifully by its side through 9 seasons in hopes of meeting the mother and getting a satisfying end to the longest story ever told.

Which we did…. kinda. Let me back up a little.

The primary conceit of the 9th season was that it all took place during one weekend, the wedding weekend of Barney and Robin. The narrow focus of the show’s final season raised some eyebrows when it was announced, but I commented that Bays and Thomas knew what they were doing, and we should trust that they’ll not lead us astray. And I was digging the final season. It was an odd route to go, but I trusted them to land the show in a satisfactory way.

But holy shit did they blow that the hell up.

Because of the final season’s structure, we were taken on a journey through Barney & Robin’s relationship, and how they handled their cold feet and dealt with their feelings and we came to accept that they truly did love each other, and we also had to deal with both Ted and Robin letting each other go after both being such a huge part of each other’s lives.

We were also given very little face time with the mother. We don’t even find out her name is Tracy until the final episode. Looking back, it does nicely set-up the final reveal that the mother has been long dead while Ted’s telling his kids the story, and that Robin and Barney have since divorced. Since his relationship with Robin was a big focus of the whole story, it became his way of asking permission to date again. To date Robin.

My initial reaction to the finale was just two words: “Fucking Bullshit.” And I stand by that. During the first 8 seasons, we’re on this journey with Ted as he tries to find “the one.” That’s the story we’re emotionally involved with. We came close with Victoria and Stella and even Robin herself. They dropped subtle, and not-so-subtle, clues throughout the show’s run as to who she is and when they’ll meet. That’s what we were on board with.

In the final season, we’re emotionally involved with Barney and Robin, and all the little interactions with Tracy. How she came to meet everybody before she met Ted, then the pay off of them meeting in the final episode. We were now connected with Tracy. We loved her. We were emotionally invested in these stories and we wanted to see them played out.

By killing off Tracy and sending Ted right back to Robin, they completely invalidate everything we went through by hitting the reset button. Killing off the mother before we really get a chance to see them together… I mean REALLY see them together, means that our attachment to her was pointless. Ending the Barney & Robin relationship as casually as they did, just shrugging it off with “Oh, P.S. divorce” means the 4 season attachment we’ve had with them has been pointless. All the corners Barney turned to be with Robin… pointless.

Ultimately, my problem with the finale isn’t Tracy’s death, Robin & Barney’s divorce, and Ted & Robin getting back together. That ending makes quite a bit of sense. My anger, my disappointment, my dissatisfaction stems from how gloriously mishandled it all was.

Had the arc of the 9th season been condensed into the first few episodes of the season, starting off with the wedding right away, maybe meeting Tracy by episode 3 or 4, that would have been perfect. We could have lost all that Daphne road-trip bullshit. The point of the Blauman episode still could have been made. And then they could have spent the remaining 20 episodes on cultivating the relationship with Tracy. See them date and fall in love and go through all the things they go through. That way we as an audience can form that bond with Tracy that Ted does. They could have also spent more time on the Barney & Robin split, so that could have packed a more emotional punch for us as the audience.

But as it stands… it feels too hollow. We spent so much time on Barney & Robin’s wedding weekend, and then everything else was just rushed through and skimmed over. The important stuff was rushed through and skimmed over.

And that’s where they failed. Not in the story they told, but in how they told it. I’ll still love How I Met Your Mother… but that finale was just terrible. Again, not for what happened, but how they told us what happened.

And this is all coming from a guy who liked the Lost finale.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

fast-times-at-ridgemont-high

Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling joined forces in the early 80s to bring forth one of the most earnest looks at teen life ever put to screen in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, based on Crowe’s book of the same name. Hughes gave us high school through rose-tinted glasses, and throughout the 90s and into the new millennium, we are, with few exceptions, get over-exaggerated idealistic characterizations, tinting those glasses even rosier. Jocks with hearts of gold, geeks getting the girl, plain Jane taking down the popular cliques. Crazy sex-pacts, raging parties and perfect proms.

But not Fast Times. Ultimately it isn’t really about anything. No unifying narrative goal ties the film together. Everybody doesn’t meet in the end for a big hug. We get the opportunity to follow a group of people for a whole year at high school as they deal with douchebag friends, teen pregnancies, overbearing teachers, shitty jobs and everything else the teen years decide to throw at us.

It was daring in its approach to teenage sex, by presenting it and accepting it as a given. It explored the consequences of those actions, but never demonized the actions, which makes it outstanding in its genre. No film geared towards the contemporary youth broached the topic of abortion with such sincerity. There was no redemption for Damone, the guy who skipped out on his responsibilities to Stacey Hamilton after he got her pregnant, and was ultimately a scumbag to his only friend Mark.

As a 22-year-old, Cameron Crowe went undercover as a high school student to write his story. He knew he’d never get an honest answer by just asking questions, so he lived and existed among them, listened to their conversations, went to their get-togethers. And that’s how we got some of the more interesting characters put together that weave a rich tapestry of high school experiences. And if it weren’t for the talented young cast that included Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, with early appearances from Anthony Edwards, Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage and Eric Stoltz, the would not have endured through the years.

The John Hughes flicks are great, but if you want a great 80s teen flick, the best of the era… you’ve found it in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

 

New Holidays Based on Movies

Now, I’m an atheist. I don’t get holidays. Sure there are plenty of secular holidays for me to observe throughout the year like Independence Day, New Years, Thanksgiving (there’s dispute on that, but I view it as secular). But I don’t have a Christmas or Easter, a Hanukkah or Yom Kippur, a Ramadan or even a Lycaea. So I thought, what could I, an atheist movie nerd, observe as a holiday?

I put together a tentative list. The rules were quite simple: 1) the day/date had to be significant in the film. 2) The film had to be significant to me.

May the 4th is NOT included, as it’s based on a play on words, not an actual date. As much as I would like to include Star Wars…. it just doesn’t fit. Also, the anti-Empire nature of May the 4th clashes with the pro-Empire nature of Rex Manning Day.

March 24th – Breakfast Club Day

The Breakfast Club
The Breakfast Club

March 24th becomes a day of reflection. You come to the realisation, that despite your differences with the people around you, you’re all fighting the same battles internally, and you actually grow closer because of the differences. It’s a day for the promotion of peace, both personal peace and world peace.

Traditional meals: A Captain Crunch & Pixie Stix sandwich for breakfast; a bag of chips, chocolate cookies, three sandwiches, milk, a banana and an apple for lunch; Sushi for dinner; Vodka whenever

Traditional celebrations: Dancing around a library to a killer 80s soundtrack; Hashing things out, emotionally; Venturing out to get marijuana.

Traditional songs: Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds; We Are Not Alone by Karla Devito

April 14th/15th – Askew

Mallrats
Mallrats

Askew is a 2 day affair of philosophical contemplations. You can discuss a wide range of topics, from the minutia of pop culture to expounding on your relationships with other people.

Traditional meals: Chocolate covered pretzels; Coke; Gatorade; lasagna; at least one meal must be eaten in a mall food court; Skip breakfast to play Sega.

Traditional celebrations: Skipping breakfast to play Sega; Crash a wake; Play hockey on a roof; go to the mall; watch a Dating Game rip-off; Going out on a schooner. Or a sailboat.

Traditional decorations: Magic Eye; poorly made signs written in shoe polish.

Traditional songs: Can’t Even Tell by Soul Asylum; Shooting Star by Golden Smog; Build Me Up Buttercup by The Goops; Susanne by Weezer

May 6th – Rex Manning Day

Rex Manning
Say no more, mon amour

It’s a day commemorating the heroes who boldly took a stance against the man and said “DAMN THE MAN! SAVE THE EMPIRE!” Remember those who sacrificed their watches, their life savings, their art to stand up to corporate music stores.

Traditional meal: A shoplifter deep-fried in a vat of hot oil; special brownies.

Traditional celebrations: Taking off to Atlantic City (or Vegas, depending on what side of the Mississippi you’re on) to put everything one roll of the dice; AC/DC party session; late night block parties.

Traditional Songs: Say No More, Mon Amour by Rex Manning; I Don’t Want To Live Today by Ape Hangers; Crazy Life by Toad the Wet Sprocket; Til I Hear It From You by Gin Blossoms; If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It by AC/DC

May 28th – Dazed & Confused Day

Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused

This holiday marks seasonal change. It’s a time of change, moving from one era of our lives into another. We celebrate our accomplishments, and look forward to new challenges.

Traditional meals: Smoked or liquid lunch; Fried bacon; Top-Notch burgers (or similar drive-in burgers)

Traditional celebrations: Taking in a baseball game; Hazing rituals; Whack-a-mailbox; Pool/billiards; Party at the Moon Tower; Aerosmith concert.

Traditional songs: Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith; Slow Ride by Foghat; Anything on this list

June 5th – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller
Ferris Bueller

A day of jubilation, relaxation and celebrating all that life has to offer. Take a day for yourself and your friends and family. The motto of the day is “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Traditional Meals: Ballpark hotdogs; Snooty french meals

Traditional celebrations: A parade featuring a city-wide dance/sing-along; Baseball game; Going to the top of a skyscraper; driving a fancy, expensive car

Traditional songs: Twist & Shout by the Beatles; Danke Schoen by Wayne Newton; Oh Yeah by Yello

November 5th – 12th – Enchantment Under The Sea Week

Enchantment Under The Sea
Enchantment Under The Sea

A week-long event of true reflection of where we came from. As people. Both individually and collectively. A journey through our own personal histories and how everything that happens make us who we are today. And how thankful we are to be who and where we are, knowing that even the slightest changes could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe!

Traditional meals: Delicious diner food; Milk. Chocolate;

Traditional celebrations: Skateboarding through the town square; Zip-lining from the clock tower to the street below; A formal dance at the end of the week.

Traditional Songs: Power of Love by Huey Lewis & The News; Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry; Earth Angel by Marvin Berry & The Starlighters; Night Train by James Brown

December 24th/25th – Nakatomi

Die Hard
Die Hard

Beginning at sundown on the 24th, lasting through sunrise on the 25th, Nakatomi is a day of remembrance and reverence for those who would fight to keep us safe.

Traditional meals: Watered down champagne; Twinkies; Swiss cheese; Nestle Crunch Bar

Traditional celebrations: Crawling through an air-duct; Walking around barefoot; Bungee jumping off a building; driving around in a limo

Traditional songs: Christmas Hollis by Run DMC; Ode To Joy by Beethoven; Let It Snow

Traditional greeting: “A yippie-ki-yay motherfucker to you!”

So that’s it. The new holidays for all you movie nerds out there. This list isn’t comprehensive, there are plenty I missed and should be added. If you want to see a movie holiday added, let me know! (No Groundhog Day. That holiday already exists).

Mark your calendars!

Musings on the Simpsons

So here’s the essay, it took me a few days, because, well, it’s long. I’m not an essayist, so it probably sucks. But what do I care. Enjoy.

How easy would it be for me to come onto my blog and do a “Top 10 Simpsons Moments” or something like that. Sure I could slap together that list and would probably look a shitload like the one at MSN.com, which resembles the one at aol.com, which seemed to copy the one in last weeks issue of EW, and so forth, and so forth. I think for the most part we can all agree who the best celebrity cameo was (Johnny Cash in The Mysterious Trip of Our Homer), or what the best episode was (Marge vs. The Monorail seems to be a consensus, but I prefer She of Little Faith) or what season was better (season 7) or whatever, there are probably a hundred things we can debate upon concerning the the stellar 18 year run of the show. But that’s not something I want to do.

Cause quite frankly, I just don’t want to.

I would, however, like to offer up a few of my own thoughts, observations and reflections on America’s family. These aren’t nearly as profound or even well thought out as what can be found in the books “Philosophy and The Simpsons” and “The Gospel and The Simpsons”, hell, I’m performing literary improvisation with this essay. But a fan’s perspective is the essence of what makes a good show. It’s necessary. So… here goes.

I actually didn’t get into The Simpsons till about 1999, maybe 2000. My parents let me watch Die Hard when I was 6, Clerks when I was 11, and listen to George Carlin since I was 5, but Bart Simpson was gonna be the bad influence on my life, go fuckin’ figure. So once I hit 13 or 14, I said “Fuck it, I’m watching it.”And my whole perspective on comedy, on television, on cartoons, on pop culture, on life, it all changed.

I think the first episode I ever saw was Bart Sells His Soul. It sticks out in my mind to this day because it was so wickedly funny, yet at the same time, earnestly heartfelt and poignant. Because my dad had raised me on classic rock (which to this day, I thank him for, cause that’s just good music), I got the “Ina-Gadda-da-Vida” reference, which is part of the hilarious opening sequence. Candles in the air like lighters. Because of Rev. Lovejoy, I refer to it as “rock and/or roll”, to this day. Just pure gold. And then Bart sells his soul to Milhouse, in an effort to prove that souls don’t exist. Cut to later in the episode, Bart psychosomatically begins to believe in the existence of souls and embarks on a journey of Homerian (Greek playwright, not his father) proportions to reclaim his soul. And it got heavy, Bart broke down and cried and prayed for his soul. There was a touching brother/sister moment when Lisa bought Bart’s soul back for him. And that’s when I perked up and took notice. It was “alright, this is a fuckin’ show I have to watch.

Until I saw this, and pretty much until this show came along in 1989, animated television shows were goofy parables, geared primarily towards kids. They had a simple lesson, or in the case of the Loony Tunes, it was just five minutes of zaniness. Not to say they were bad, but it wasn’t until The Simpsons came along that mainstream audiences got an animated show geared towards adults.

I’m taking a lot of historical perspective on this, I know, but to properly get my thoughts on the show out, I have to give context.

In 1989, The Simpsons were the antithesis of the “family comedy” that was dominating the TV ratings in the late 80’s. Growing Pains, The Cosby Show and Full House were moralistic, simplistic and carefree. All problems were solved by a good talk and a big hug. It was an idealistic view of the American family. But American families weren’t perfect. Enter the Fox network. Granted Married, With Children came first, but it really was The Simpsons that changed the family sitcom at that time. And despite many knock-offs and homages since, it’s still the gold standard for the functionally dysfunctional family.

Homer was the anti-Cliff Huxtable. He’s not this successful man, who’s all knowing and is lovey-dovey with his family. He’s a common man, blue-collar, kinda dumb, but loves his family and is doing his best for them. When Lisa goes missing after taking the bus downtown to the museum, Homer goes on a frantic search for her, even praying to Superman for help. That’s love. And he reflects a certain carefree attitude of Americans. This isn’t an insult toward Americans but there is one Homer quote that sums up his character perfectly. I can’t remember the episode, or even the particular situation he was in, but Homer proclaims “This is everybody’s fault but my own.” Hasn’t everyone felt like that at some point? I sure as shit have.

Marge was a great suburban wife. She was all about the image of the family. Even though they barely have faith, they still go to church every weekend, because Marge wants the community to think they’re good people. On many occasions, she wonders aloud “What will the neighbors think?” In Scenes from a Class Struggle in Springfield she bought a Chanel dress at an outlet mall, and when she was accepted by high society, she went crazy altering the dress, just so she could fit in with the upper-crust crowd. Eventually she saw the error of her ways, but that showed her true character.

Bart and Lisa are both representatives of rebellious youth. Bart is a rebellious troublemaker, always causing grief for Homer, Principal Skinner, Moe or just about anyone he comes across. In the first episode ever, he says point blank to Santa (Homer in disguise) “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?” It came full circle back to Bart in the recent four hundredth episode in another perfect pop culture reference, with his phone call getting crossed with a secret agent’s call, who promptly said “I’m Jack Bauer, who the hell are you?”

Lisa is the more passive rebel. She goes against the grain of society, much to the chagrin of everyone around her, only finding support in the various celebrities that wander through, but never from her family. The often mis-understood genius, yet still naïve as to the ways of the world. She makes the mistake of many a young rebel by jumping head first into a cause or belief, yet rarely checking the water below.

I don’t want to get into Maggie, cause quite frankly, I don’t understand babies. Let’s just say she’s the weird kid who never talks and leave it at that.

And that’s what has cemented it’s place in pop culture history. By changing the rules of television. Cartoons weren’t just for kids anymore. Sitcoms weren’t for washed up stand-up comics. It was this brand new entity, this force to be reckoned with, and Matt Groening proclaimed he was here to stay.

Saturday Night Live aside, no other show has been such a pop culture landmark, while simultaneously skewering it at every turn. And it’s a lot of the little jokes that make the satire work. When Lenny and Carl refer to Richard Gere as the “world’s most famous Buddhist”. When Homer realizes he’s not “cool” anymore, he rattles off bands that weren’t really all that cool to begin with. But the most significant mark of the greatness of The Simpsons, is three particular episodes. Brush With Greatness, She of Little Faith and Homer’s Barbershop Quartet. What these three all have in common is that they all featured former Beatles.

In 1976, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels famously went on the air and offered John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, the Beatles, $3000 to reunite on his show. It never happened, and four years later, Lennon was dead and it never could happen. But, I firmly believe that had Lennon not died, The Simpsons could have reunited the Beatles. Three episodes, just a few years apart, all featured a Beatle, as themselves, in small roles. But Matt Groening could have written an episode for the four of them. And they would have done it.

I’d be hard pressed to find someone who would disagree with that sentiment. And that right there, that power Groening has, to have been able to reunite the Beatles, that’s huge. No one else has that much influence in pop culture. Not Michaels, not anymore. None of the power players in film and television have wield that kind of sword.

And it’s not like Groening has desired that power, and it’s not like he uses it. He just makes his show.

This essay has gone on a lot longer than I originally intended, so I’m going to wrap it up. And this is what’s gonna get me, the closing. I always have trouble with closings. From essays, to short stories, to voice mail messages, I never know how to end it.

The Simpsons are not just a part of television history, or pop culture history. But really, it’s a part of American history. It’s such a landmark show, and so ingrained in our collective psyches, that, much like the aforementioned Saturday Night Live, it is really hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t on the air. Even for people who are old enough to remember when it wasn’t on the air. Groening doesn’t show signs of stopping, and I for one, hope he goes as long as he’s got the steam to do it. The show will end when it ends. No sooner. No later.

Good night, and good luck, I guess.

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