Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Be a Fan, Not a Fanatic

Two-thirds of the way through the Peanuts baseball reviews, and I come across this.

Smart-ass response: Look, I know the Nats suck, but it's not like they don't have double digit victories. They're not even the worst team in all of baseball!

Sober-ass response: This goes beyond a game; beyond a location (already I am seeing Internet opinion along the lines of, "New York fans are too crazy"); beyond sense. Was he intoxicated? Have a history of mental illness? Just plain prone to violent outbursts? Does any proclivity or condition excuse this even one iota?

The Minnesota Vikings of 1998 became only the third team in NFL history to rack up 15 regular season wins. Their 556 points scored was at the time a new league record. With four Super Bowl humiliations in the past, the mighty Purple rolled into their home dome to face the Atlanta Falcons for the right to represent the NFC in the Big 'Un. With 2:07 remaining in regulation and the Vikings leading 27-20 (after at one point leading 20-7, mind you), kicker Gary Anderson missed barely wide left from 38 yards. It was his first miss of the season, having gone 35 of 35 up till that point. Atlanta won in overtime, and the Vikes notched another mark in the futility belt, as the first team to go 15-1 and miss the goddamn Super Bowl.

In my life as a sports fan, there has been no greater pain. (I wish I could claim it as the most excruciating moment of my life, 'cause that would mean I've lived an especially charmed one.) To dream about an overdue championship for your favorite team, to feel premature pride, to close your eyes and see yellow and purple confetti, to revel in your persistence as a supporter and to take especial glee in the fact that it's not the Redskins hoisting that silver football...it can get to a person. Self-worth becomes entangled in an event that you are not a direct participant in, a series of causes and effects that you cannot alter or control. I could, on that pathetic January day in 1999, take a few minutes...call Gary Anderson 17 different strains of putz...curse Denny Green to the skies for choosing to ease into overtime instead of acting like the coach of a team with possibly the most powerful offense in NFL history...and of course shake my head at the fact that a team quarterbacked by Chris fucking Chandler was going to the Super Bowl. But then I put on my big girl panties and changed the channel. My mother was around; we played Yahtzee. The only further pigskin talk was her wish that John Elway would get his second championship and retire on top. Which he in fact did.

I'll end this post on a favorite saying of my nephews: "It ain't that serious."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown

Writing this review out longhand, I headed the sheet of paper with the letters "IST", which is close to "shit." Which is itself a not-unfair review of this special. Ah, okay, unfair; but it says something that this second attempt at animating Peanuts baseball was never broadcast on network television (the copyright date is 1992).

STORY: It's springtime again and you know what that means! Birds and bees are frolicking, small white balls once airborne hit the soft grass in front of hapless children, wood chops the air futilely, Lucy and Frieda gab as Charlie Brown grits his teeth in determination to field a winning team, and Snoopy is seen Ty Cobb-ing Franklin (uh...meaning Snoopy flies into second base during a steal attempt and takes Franklin out; not that he hates him for being black). The tiny, stubborn Leland arrives at practice, where he wins over the manager with stick-to-it-tiveness and the fact that Charlie Brown is so desperate for a win he'd give a position to a kangaroo if it brought its own glove. Just like Charlie Brown All-Stars, Mr. Hennessy has dangled the carrot of uniforms in front of the kids faces, with one caveat: win, goddamnit. A toned-down rehash. 6

MUSIC: Judy Munsen and some collective dubbed "D'Cuckoo" are pegged responsible for the soundtrack. Judy handled a lot of the late eighties/early nineties material, armed with an arsenal pilfered from the great Kajagoogoo Yard Sale of 1986: Gorgonzo Moog keybs, Colby Linn drum machine and Casio Pimento effects. At best, this stuff is cornily amusing, at worst, lazy and thus distracting. 3

ANIMATION: Disorienting is the word; super-saturated backgrounds contrast with by-the-numbers color re: the kids and their tangible surroundings. Frequently, the screen appears in a muddle, making concentration frustrating. 5

VOICES: What a formidable group of potential heroes.

Justin Shenkarow, future veteran of mediocrity, does a lively Charlie Brown. 7. John Christian Graas is a disappointing 5 as an underutilized, master of the obvious Linus. Sadly, Marnette Patterson is also a 5 as his sister, with no particular personality evident in her readings.

It is up to Gregory Grudt (how I adore it when parents show an awareness of the power of alliteration) to step up as the voice of li'l Leland, he who is barely bigger than the classic box o' bread, nearly engulfed by a helmet that gives him the appearance of a baby Stormtrooper. And step up he does, struggling mightily with phonetics and stressing the last syllables of words. Good job, kid. 7

The credits say that someone voiced Schroeder. I could not possibly care less. No one gives voice to crosshatched Pigpen. Boo.

Franklin is voiced by a girl, one Jessica Nwafor. Still more masculine sounding than, say, the "Men on Film" guys. I give her an 8, and why will soon be blatantly clear.


So to get these awesome Hennessy-sponsored uniforms, they just have to win a game. This game. One freakin' game. Their opponents are...

Immediately you can tell they are the villains, via a brilliant blend of a truth passed onto us by fiction (one is a redhead, and redhead boys are always insufferable pricks whose destiny it is to take a rusty knife in the gut at age 24; see A Christmas Story's Scott Farkus) and a truth passed onto us by fact (the team is decked out in pinstripes, a la the New York Yankees, a franchise as a rule stocked sick with intolerable assholes made possible by the mind-warping lack of a salary cap in Major League Baseball and the provincial tendency of Empire State residents to think that all other cities are jealous of their perpetual-eternal awesome and will go to stunning lengths to discredit them).

Faced with such a foe, Charlie Brown leads his team through their standard pre-game warm up--the Hokey Pokey. This was cute in the past, Chuck, but that was a sad time pockmarked with the scars of loss after colossal loss. We have uniforms at stake, here. We need something else. Something more up to date. Something The Fresh Prince would re-record if you paid him enough.

Enter he of the melanin and pants!

I give you the complete lyrics of "That's What It's All About", AKA "Franklin's Rap". Please note the marks at end of several lines, and refer to the end of the song for further discussion.

It's all about all the calls we've done*
You'll be shakin' in your shoes
We're the team invincible
And we're not gonna lose

It's time you started worryin'
Your strategy's in a muddle
If you're a little airplane
We're the space shuttle

You can jeer all you want
Vocalize and shout
But in the end we will prevail
And that's what it's all about

Go! Go! Go! (etc.)**

Here's the game we have to win
Now we've gone and said it
We practiced, planned and strategized
And we're about to get inventive

It's how you play the game that counts
Of that there is no doubt
We plan to be good winners too
'Cause that's what it's all about***


This game has a lot more meaning
Our look is on the line
You may as well lay down your gloves
'Cause we're gonna be sublime

In the past we've had our share
Of failures and defeats
But now our shining moment's here
Might as well take off your cleats

Baseball has a funny way
Of takin' teams and doomin' 'em
We're valiant knights taking down our foes
With weapons of aluminum+

Our brilliant plans will mesmerize
And after that last out
We'll be the team with the highest score
And that's what it's all about


You shake shake shake shake shake shake shakin'
Shakin' in your shoes++
We're the team invincible
And we're not gonna lose

And when the dust has settled
Don't you moan and pout
'Cause we'll be the team with the highest score
And that's what it's all about

*--Does that line make any sense? Is he talking about phone calls? On the field calls? Calling the numbers at bingo games?

**--The chorus sequence is brilliant, as it ups the stakes presented by the old-school exhortation with animation of Snoopy pop-locking (also, after each trio of "Go"'s, you can hear what sounds like a sample of Snoopy going "ah-ahh!" I have not laughed so heartily at a marriage of sight and sound since the Simpsons episode where Bart smashed Homer over the head with a chair as the latter lounged in the perceived safety of his own bathtub).

***--This verse in many ways is an insight into their author, Charles Schulz. Some bulldog Vince Lombardi mixed with a bit of philosophical Grantland Rice. He wants to crush you, but will still feel empathy.

+--After this line, the team raises what are clearly brightly-hued aluminum bats into the air, despite the fact that they never use them before or after.

++--I call bullshit on the very idea that Schulz wrote out all these "shakes". He likely just wrote the word once and parenthetically requested the "stupid kid" singing it repeat it just enough to fill up the bar.


It would be a whippable offense if I just mentioned Snoopy's dancing without providing proof via the magic of DVD captures. If you need a reason to pick this up off of Amazon or Ebay for 6 bucks or less, let this succession of images convince you.

Kitty cats doin' the corn-cob "nom-nom" got nothin' on the kid Snoopy doin' the ballbat chew.

Sweep it now, sweep it on over.

Electric slide!

Can't see me! (Snoopy was John Cena before John Cena)

Ah hee hee!

Watch yo' mouth.


A few of the animated specials took their story from the strips, but were given happier twists that simply could not work in the existential minefield of printed Peanuts. Hence, Charlie Brown's team wins and they get new uniforms.

I honestly still have not decided whether this is a mediocre story with one shining classic sequence or a classic sequence surrounded by a mediocre story. It may have helped to have the opposing team fielded by one Mr. Cristal, but we can't go back in time, now can we?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown

The first in my series reviewing the three Peanuts baseball specials, this is the most recent (2003) and also the weakest.

"Here, Snoopy...I've destroyed the script. Are you happy now?"

STORY: Hapless baseball manager Charlie Brown has had it up to here with his lethargic, disinterested outfielder, Lucy Van Pelt, and wants to trade her to Peppermint Patty's superior squad. When Patty tells Chuck that the only player on his team she would want is Snoopy, Charlie Brown amazingly pulls the trigger on the deal, receiving five players in return. However, before the trade can actually go down, it is nullified by two mitigating factors: Charlie Brown realizing he cannot part so callously with his own pet, and Peppermint Patty's handful refusing to dirty up their cleats for Charlie Brown's infamous team. Finally, Lucy is traded for Marcie, not unlike swapping a house of popsicle sticks for one made of aluminum cans in terms of overall usefulness. 8

MUSIC: Innocuous piano that accompanies one's contemplation of how many people will be standing outside the elevator when you reach your floor. 5

ANIMATION: As it is latterly Peanuts, it is much crisper and consistent than the "classics" (ie, skin tones don't change several times over the course of a scene), but the colors are unadventurous, and the actual character animation uneventful and standard. 6

VOICES: Wesley Singerman does a piss-poor Charlie Brown; I mean, I'm sure he's a great kid and his parents hold him to ridiculously high standards that will one day result in his being the world's proudest, most strident FedEx employee ever, but he's struggling to emote here, and that ain't right. Charlie Brown struggles with a lot in life--it's his lot in life. For fans who've followed his Job-like life on the page and on screen, we may have asked things like, "Poor Charlie Brown, why can't he win?" but we have never asked, "Wow, I wonder what he's feeling?" Dude is one open zig-zagged wound. This is a rote reading, and absolute pain when you consider that this special is mainly stitched-together strips dependent on the back 'n forth zings Charlie Brown and Lucy throw at one another. 4

Serena Berman as Lucy, conversely, gets an 8 for being nicely sassy.

Corey Padnos is Linus, and oh how it breaks my heart to hear such averageness. 5. All Linuses must be starved and forced to read the New Testament. Aloud.

A boy, Daniel Hansen, again steps up to the mic as Peppermint Patty, but turns out to be a lamentably dull 6 out of 10. Really not very tomboyish at all (said in Chris Shea's Linus voice. Ah, now there was a kid who knew how to recite!)

Schroeder is voiced by Christopher Ryan Johnson. A higher-pitched Charlie Brown? Oh that's useful. 4. The similarly triple-named Megan Taylor Harvey is a too-chirpy Sally (making me thankful for her brief time in this show). 3. Finally, Melissa Montoya voices Marcie. She gets a 6 for making me believe it when she said "I hate baseball!" Definitely get the vibe ol' Marcie would rather be reading some Anne Sexton and daydreaming about holding hands with "Sir".


It is a delight seeing the great "Snoopy dances while Charlie Brown tries to talk shop with his team" strip brought to life. Also, you have to love Marcie shunning Snoop's attempt to engage her in a friendly handshake.

God has no place in schools, but he has a place in Charlie Brown's outfield, where players are heard praying that the ball is not hit to them. Those so blessed are heard to give thanks and finally, one particularly gracious fielder proclaims, "Amen!"

And who doesn't love Peppermint Patty predicting that of the twelve games their teams will play head to head, hers will alternately "slaughter, smash, ruin, murder, annihilate, and pound" his?


There is nothing egregiously bad about this special, nothing that makes you cringe or roll your eyes. The producers remain faithful to the strips and provide a fun, passable show, but that's all it is. There's no real heart and soul, and nothing particularly funny, either (I'll let you decide which is the more grievous sin). As you will see later, Lucy vs. Charlie Brown on the diamond was done much better much earlier.

Nah, you know what the worst part of this whole special is? Visting the reviews section on Amazon and finding this bit of genius in defense of not only this, but the recent specials:

The classic Peanuts gags we have all come to love -- and chuckle out loud at via the daily comics and endless array of Peanuts books -- are better executed. Way better. How many of us who watch the Halloween special every year yawn and think "ho-hum" whenever Charlie Brown says, "I got a rock"? I know I do. And why? This piece of dialogue is one of many that just wreaks of poor execution and boredom.

So saith the legendary Internet critic "D.Mart." How many of us go "ho-hum" at the "I got a rock" section of the Great Pumpkin? Only you, assclown. Everyone else thinks it possesses a timeless hilarity and it still gets parodied/quoted to this day. Lucy Must Be Traded looks much "better" than those shows of the past...but in terms of content, viewers get a rock.

Let's All Get Wasted and Forget To Shave

Oh my goodness, the craziness of summer.

The "You Said It" wrap ups have not disappeared...rather, I have been collecting them for a blowout extravaganza of opinion. How could I ever turn my sunburned back on Hagerstown's finest?

Also, later today I am back in the fullest force with three upcoming posts, all of which should explain why I don't feel so bad about being a Washington Nationals fan.

(The picture above shows Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo well into an after party post-gig in Cali. This Saturday the band will be playing NY, my 38th SY show, and if forecasts hold up, my first in the rain. In which case I expect hilarious banter accompanying "Rain King.")

Monday, July 16, 2007

I Didn't Go to the Pitchfork Festival, I Just Made Observations

Perusing pics of the Sonic Youth set at Flickr...nice to see that after 23 years of marriage to bassist Kim Gordon, and age 50 creeping up on him, guitar maelstrom maestro Thurston Moore finally feels confident enough to wear a wedding ring! Kinda like seeing a yarmulke on the Dalai Lama, really.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Did You Stick Your Head in the Shine-O Blog-O?

Vanity Fair, in conjunction with the massive oral history of The Simpsons that makes their latest issue actually worth considering buying, has released a list of the top 10 greatest episodes of this greatest show. This should be enlightening and not-at-all kiss-ass.

10. The President Wore Pearls (Season 15, 2003)

VF sez: "It may seem ludicrous to include anything later than Season 8 in this list"--

Not at all; what is ludicrous is the amount of better episodes to place on here. "Moe Better Blues", "Hungry Hungry Homer", the recent "24" parody which was so exactingly hilarious I almost regretted never watching an ep of "24" in my life...dig deeper.

9. Krusty Gets Kancelled (Season 4, 1993)

VF sez: "This is Krusty's best episode—better than the reunion with his father"--I briefly interject to call this writer an ass-- "or the Bar Mitzvah episode, which won an Emmy much later on."

Ah, so VF is impressed by the big stars, huh? Set my eyes to stunned.

8. Bart the Murderer (Season 3, 1991)

Bart joins Mafia, somehow I love this one but can't give it top 10 status.

7. Homer's Enemy (Season 8, 1997)

VF sez: "Perhaps the darkest Simpsons episode ever. Grimes works hard, is honest and unselfish; he is quite literally everything Homer is not. To see him fail, and ultimately be destroyed, once he enters Homer's world is hilarious and satisfying."

The first one I agree with; when an episode ends with laughter at a funeral, it's pretty fair to say it's legend. Hank Azaria proves his MVV (Most Valuable Voice) status as the flustered, rageful Grimes.

6. The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show (Season 8, 1997)

VF sez: "A classic satire of network influence, obsessed TV fans, and programs that survive long after the shark has been jumped, the episode is a meta-celebration, a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to everyone who claimed that the quality of The Simpsons had declined over the years."

I don't think the semi-colon is overused, and I resent the backlash.

5. Two Bad Neighbors (Season 7, 1996)

Wherein President Bush (you know, the first fucking one) and Homer go to war. Far more productive than the war that was later...eh, too easy.

4. Cape Feare (Season 5, 1993)

Sideshow Bob had to make an appearance on the list, and this is his best show. Yes, yes, this is the one with the rakes.

3. Marge vs. the Monorail (Season 4, 1993)

VF sez: "A tribute to The Music Man, written by Conan O'Brien." .

This ends up on a ton of best-of lists by fans (mine among), but nonbelievers are fond of shouting out "overrated!" and pointing to the writing credit as the reason why, claiming some sort of revisionist appreciation based on the fact that the scribe would go on to become a famous late night host. Speaking for myself, I actually came to appreciate Conan more for having written this episode, rather than the other way around.

2. Bart vs. Australia (Season 6, 1995)

The hell? Funny and all, but...number 2? Of ever? Does Fosters beer sponsor a lotta VF parties?

1. Rosebud (Season 5, 1993)

VF sez: "A perfect episode. Mr. Burns's lamentations for his childhood bear, Bobo, lead to a show-long parody of Citizen Kane. (Maggie has the bear and refuses to give it up.) At once a satire and a tribute, the episode manages to both humanize Mr. Burns and delve deep into Homer's love for his oft-forgotten second daughter, Maggie. Also, the Ramones guest-star."

"Smithers...have the Rolling Stones killed."

Another episode that "delves" into Homer's love for Maggie is "And Maggie Makes Three", which despite being rife with blatant animation errors, is soulful and hilarious.

No "Mother Simpson", guest-starring Glenn Close as the jerk-ass' long-lost but loving mater.

No "Last Exit to Springfield", which is uniformly beloved among the Simpson faithful.

No "Lisa's Substitute", my personal number one and the most emotionally involving episode in Simpsons history.

No "Summer of 4 ft. 2", another outstanding Lisa episode and the moment I realized what an overrated, pain in the ass character Bart is.

Consider this a mild blog post, as I can virtually guarantee the current furious typing of nerds in Chicago dedicating 5 paragraphs, minimum, to deconstructing each choice and what they would replace it with. And I will read them all.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The "Not Here League"

Being a fan of the National Hockey League is by turns maddening and thrilling. The young upcoming stars raise hopes high for season after season of high quality games, culminating as ever in the greatest playoffs in all of sports. Alternately, the self-sabotage perpetrated by current commish Gary Bettman is befuddling. (Expansion talks? Why don't you talk about losing the Coyotes and Panthers? And no, Gary, the NHL does not need to be in Vegas. Thanks for thinking out loud, though.)

The worst thing about being a fan of pro hockey, at least ever since the NHL lost its national TV contract with ESPN, has been...well...watching ESPN. The sport is virtually ignored save for those rare moments of boneheaded goonery, while any signs of progress (on and off ice) go unreported. Talk about the Worldwide Leader's shunning of the NHL has buzzed about on the Internet ever since the start of last season. It took till just recently, however, for a blogger to really get it all down, to delineate points of hard truth and research the matter beyond mere observations that anyone with eyes and ears could make. Every hockey fan should read this post at The Situationist. Also, don't ignore the comments; lots of great thoughts expanded upon by fans who care about a sport that won't stop being exciting to the people who "get it" no matter how much apathy or antipathy is displayed towards it by folks who don't.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Nebraska is the New New York

The Simpsons Movie will hit theaters at month's end. Patrick and I will not see it on the first night, as we will be in NYC with friends, but by the end of its run we will likely have seen it more than once.

The promo machine is chugging gloriously, as select 7-11's have been temporarily transformed into Kwik-e-Marts. Looking at the list of cities chosen for this embiggening honor is almost as funny as multiple rakes to the face.

The U.S. locations where a 7-Eleven store was transformed into a "Simpsons" Kwik-E-Mart are New York City; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Burbank, California; Los Angeles, California; Henderson, Nevada; Orlando, Florida; Mountain View, California; Seattle, Washington; and Bladensburg, Maryland.
Bladensburg? Henderson, NV?

It reminds me of an idea I had years ago, when my best friend and I went through the classic "wouldn't it be so cool if we had our own band" phase. We never so much as composed a single song, but I was so tickled by the idea that I conceived what I humbly consider the most amazing tour t-shirt of all time. It would feature our band's logo (whatever the hell that was) on the front, and tour dates on the back. A standard design. But the brilliance was to be in the details, with the concert dates as such:

6/1: San Francisco
6/2: Los Angeles
6/5: Seattle
6/7: Denver
6/9: Dallas
6/10: Houston
6/12: Chicago
6/13: Boston
6/14: New York City
6/15: Philadelphia
6/16: Washington DC
6/17: Hagerstown

"See", I explained to my pal, "we're hitting up all these huge cities, and then we just end the tour with Hagerstown. How absurd is that. It's awesome. And you could substitute Hagerstown, even, like with Thunder Bay, Ontario. Or, Loveland, Colorado."

"I still don't really get it though."

"Imagine hearing a radio ad for our tour! New York City! Washington DC! Hagerstown! It would be like, from a lion roar to a cricket chirp. People would be all, what in the hell?"

"Yeah, I'm kinda getting that feeling right now."