I did give in and start searching for Two Broke Girls on DuckDuckGo because, all right, in that way I am superior, so far as I know. Anyway I started out typing all right and then it turned into Two Stupid Dogs, and that left me fondly vaguely remembering that early-90s cartoon. And I see absolutely no reason to go checking back on this fondly-vaguely-remembered early-90s cartoon because I’m absolutely sure there’s nothing about it that’s, in fact, embarrassingly sexist, or homophobic, or racist, or showing off the start of some trend that would become really bad in animation in the following twenty years, or highlighting the straight-from-the-id work of someone we now publicly acknowledge to be creepy and evil. Nope! That could not possibly ever have happened!
I realized I had no idea whether the sitcom Two Broke Girls was still on the air, or whatever happened to the characters, since I remembered the episodes ended with a summary of how much money they had. I was tempted to look it up, and then realized then this would be a person who made an effort to know something about Two Broke Girls. Anyway, I’m a little curious yet but I also acknowledge that I have no responsibility for the show — if they’ve gone and made me the show-runner and they’ve been sitting for years waiting for direction, well, that’s on them for not letting me know — and if the universe really needs me to know, then the knowledge will come to me in time. Please don’t take this as a request to tell me what’s happened to the show. If it fits the unfolding of the universe for me to know, then it will be impossible for me to not know. We need not do anything to make me know.
I don’t know what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli and don’t know anyone who does, but we may know in two weeks and two days. I say this for people who want to know what’s the deal with Gasoline Alley but aren’t willing to read more than the preview text of this article. If I get any news, though, I’ll post an article that you can find at this link. Also, if you want a summary of the plot that’s relevant for later than about the 16th of May, 2018, it’ll be there if I’ve written one.
Also, on my mathematics blog I review the week’s comic strips for mathematics stuff they make me think about. Also I should go write that essay. Just a second.
February – April 2018.
Two questions are on the mind of everyone who knows that Gasoline Alley is still a comic strip and that it’s written and drawn by Jim Scancarelli. First: is it still a comic strip? Second: what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli? Since early November, and a major revelation in the story of Rufus’s courting of the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother, the strip has been reruns.
I’ve heard nothing. I’ve encountered nobody who knows who’s said anything. I hope that Scancarelli’s well. The centennial of the comic strip is this November. There would be something terrible in cutting down a comic strip so close to that milestone. And for Scancarelli not to draw the strip for that milestone would be cruel.
And yes, Gasoline Alley is an old-fashioned strip. Some of this is Scancarelli’s personal interests. He has old-fashioned interests. He’s an old-time-radio enthusiast. Or he makes way more references to Frank Nelson than average for a person in 2018. He also has a lot of riffs on Bob and Ray, but any reasonable person might do that. But some of this is also built into the structure of the comic. Gasoline Alley is that now-rare creature, the serialized comedy strip. Serialized comedies, in which there’s a long-running story but (pretty much) every installment is meant to be funny, used to be common. The style has fallen out of fashion; the last important serial comedy in the comics page that I can think of is Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby is also a great serialized comedy, and has recently got collected into some handsome books. Oh, yes, Popeye was serialized and mostly comedic. But that’s been in reruns ever since Bobby London did a three-week sequence in 1992 that made people aware Popeye was still running in 1992.
There are plenty of comic strips that blend comedy and drama, or try to. The standard model for this is to pick a storyline for the week and do riffs on that, and then (usually) pick up a new storyline the next week. You saw this in Doonesbury. It’s still like that in Funky Winkerbean or Luann. It’s not much different from comic strips that don’t try to advance narratives, which will often do a week’s worth of riffs on a premise and then pick up a new one.
Gasoline Alley runs a storyline until it’s resolved, regardless of how many weeks that takes and whether it finishes midweek or not. That’s almost unique among syndicated comics. The only other humor strip I can think of doing this is Bill Holbrook’s Safe Havens. That strip began as the antics of a bunch of kids at the same daycare. Holbrook allowed them to age in roughly realtime and grow up. The comic strip, having picked up a few new cast members (a pop star, a mermaid, a time-travelling babysitter, the genetically-engineered revival of the dodo birds, an infant Leonardo da Vinci) has sent everyone off to explore Mars. It’s a bit of an odd strip when you stop and think about it. I’ve considered whether to start recapping its storyline in my rotation here.
Anyway, I don’t like institutions passing from the scene. I say this the weekend that my neighborhood is losing the Fish and Chips. It used to be an Arthur Treacher’s until the franchise shrank out of the area. They ripped the name ‘Arthur Treacher’ off the signage and carried on like before. Whether the lost institution is the serialized comedy genre or merely this one comic strip doesn’t make much difference. Oh, gosh, and now I realize I don’t know when I last went to the Kewpie Restaurant, and yes it’s a burger place based on Kewpie dolls. If that closes we might as well shut the whole city down.
(Yes, I’m aware web cartoonists do great work in serialized comedy stories, except that no web cartoonist has ever finished a serialized comedy story. Um. Hi, my friends who are web cartoonists. I say hurtful things out of love because we’re all friends? Besides, most comedy web strips do finish their first long-form story, and their second. It’s the third that doesn’t make it.)
And yet there are signs that someone is at work at Gasoline Alley Master Command. The first ambiguous sign was the 14th of February, and a panel celebrating the birth of Skeezix. His discovery on Walt Wallet’s doorstep made Gasoline Alley, as he aged in roughly real-time and his story made the comic must-read stuff. The strip copyright was 2018. But there wasn’t anything to it that couldn’t be a modified reprint from an earlier birthday.
The stronger sign was an exciting Sunday, the 25th of February. It’s a musical number from the Three Blind Miceketeers. It’s a running thing; the singing trio of mice do old-time-radio/50s-live-TV style advertisements for Chef Meowrice’s Cat Chow. Yes, Chef Meowrice is a white cat in a chef’s hat. Anyway, this is a song dedicated to Gasoline Alley’s centennial. Signed by Scancarelli. Looks like his line art, to my (I grant) inexpert eye. I wondered if it were a reprint from an earlier anniversary, the 90th or 95th or 85th or so, but couldn’t find it. It seemed to be a new comic. Hopeful sign that Scancarelli might be back once the ongoing daily-comics story reached its end.
And last Sunday, the 22nd of April, was another new comic. This with a logo for the comic strip’s centennial, and a song to go with it. It’s presented as a musical performance by the Molehill Highlanders. One of the GoComics commenters said the Molehill Highlanders are a band Scancarelli was in. I can’t find corroboration for that, but the mention, and the more-realistic drawing of the Highlanders, make this sound plausible to me. Also according to Wikipedia, Jim Scancarelli is a well-known bluegrass fiddler. And a onetime prizewinner for the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Virginia. He’s also a model railroader. The only thing that would make this bundle of facts about him less surprising would be to discover he has a ham radio license.
And there was this jolt a week ago Tuesday. The cook, T-Bone, complained about the incompetent dishwashers Corky’s hired. He asks, “Why not do your presidential imitation and say his famous phrase?” When the strip ran the 19th of April, 2007, the future disgraced former president was identified by name. Why the change? Haven’t the faintest. I don’t see what improvement they were trying to make by editing T-Bone’s word balloon.
The Sunday strips are new work. The modified daily strip implies that someone is at least reading the comics before sending them out for reprinting. So the comic isn’t wholly on automatic pilot. Will Scancarelli get back to writing the strip soon? I don’t know.
But: if the storyline from 2007 continues reprinting each strip, without insertions or omissions, then it’ll wrap up the 14th of May, 2018. This would be a natural time for Scancarelli to resume the strip. That’s not to say he will. If he’s had some problem keeping him from working, then making new Sunday strips while recuperating, or finding help, would make sense. There are plenty of reruns that could fill the daily strips. I am interested in what we’ll see the 15th of May.
(I’ve also wondered if GoComics is going to start running Gasoline Alley Classics, showing the strip from decades ago on purpose. I understand if they don’t want to run the strip from the 1918 start. Strips from that long ago take a lot of restoration and curation to publish. And then it always turns out there’s some impossibly racist figure in a small, unavoidable part. But from, say, World War II? From the 60s or 70s? It would let people better appreciate the comic strip as it was read at the time.)
Oh yes, so, the story. When I left off Senator Wilmer Bobble was evicting Corky from his diner, the better to build a ten-story parking garage. Everyone’s heartbroken at the loss of the institution and has a teary Last Day of Business.
While tearing out a countertop, Suds discovers an envelope with … The Lost Deed To Corky’s Diner. Pert Bobble, before his death, had deeded the diner and its land over to Corky. And so Wilmer Bobble was not the land owner and had no right to evict Corky. With the bulldozer at the front door Corky rushes to a lawyer to figure out whether this long(?)-lost deed is valid.
Now, um. I can imagine circumstances in which this might ever hold up. They amount to: you live in the world of an old-time radio sitcom. Or a sitcom from the 50s or 60s. It happens Jim Scancarelli’s characters pretty much do. It’s an old-fashioned sort of storyline resolution. If you accept the conventions of the genre then this is an acceptable way to save Corky’s Diner. If you don’t, well, then the story’s lost on you. Sorry for you, but it’s good news for the oatmeal shortage. I don’t know what to call this genre. But there is a kind of story this is an example of. And this resolution works for this kind of story.
(Okay, I can imagine another way this could work. The first element is if Pert transferred over the deed recently so that the place isn’t too far in arrears on property taxes. Or if in a fit of generosity he paid the property taxes anyway. The second if is Pert died recently enough that his estate’s still settling. I don’t see offhand a reference to when Pert died, or when the new deed was written. So there’s a possible thread by which this resolution could kind of work. If you need to have that instead.)
Bobble tries to bribe the sheriff into ignoring the deed, and that doesn’t go over well. The sheriff concludes Corky has a good title to the diner and the land it’s on. Not sure that’s the sheriff’s job. But someone has to tell the bulldozer driver what to do. They run Senator Bobble out of town and have a merry reopening.
And then the past month’s story, roughly: Suds, the dishwasher, is missing. After a couple of spot-joke interviews Corky hires a pair of young women, Joy and Dawn. They giggle a lot. They’re overwhelmed by the number of dishes. Also they’re kind of dumb. There’s a couple sitcom-class fiascos. Mostly broken dishes. Also putting enough soap in the dishwashing machine to cause a 50s/60s-sitcom-style mountain of suds.
And this brings Suds back into the picture. He got “shick” after “shellebratin’ Corky gettin’ t’own th’diner” and you get the picture. So Joy and Dawn are incompetent, but Suds is unreliable and only intermittently competent. Who keeps the dishwashing job? This turns into a contest to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn using the dishwashing machine, or Suds by himself using sink and scrub brush? Who! Will! Win? That’s where the story stands as of the 28th of April.
It’s got two weeks more to play out. If you are aware of the genre Scancarelli writes in you have a fair guess how this is going to play out. But if you want to know before mid-May, I’ll not stand in your way. I would like to know what’s happening after that, myself.
Will Mark Trail die at the hands of Dirty Dyer? Will he die at the airport when a vehicle of some kind explodes from under him? Will he die at the hands of a flock of inadequately counted prairie dogs? There’s no telling, not until next Sunday when I look at what’s going in in James Allen’s Mark Trail.
I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve been caught up all day in rage. See, back in the 90s there was this New WKRP In Cincinnati. I understand why they’d make such a thing. It was just the thing to do back then, with stuff like Star Trek: The Next Generation and The New Monkees and another Johnny Quest and stuff like that. I’d have been glad to let that pass. But somehow I watched at least one episode. I know this because it was all about the controversy about whether WKRP would run this syndicated show by Rush Limbaugh expy “Lash Rambo”. After much shuffling back and forth including an appearance by “Lash Rambo”, Mister Carlson decides finally that it’s okay to have a racist hatemonger like that on the air since, hey, those rappers, they say mean stuff about cops who gun down black people.
And I am enraged that my brain has decided to latch onto this, of all the stupid things it possibly could have. Not just this stupid show. Not just this stupid episode. Not just stupid scenes with this stupid character but also the stupid name of this stupid character in this stupid scene of this stupid episode of this stupid show. And I know that it’s not even to any good point. I can’t even say that I was doing something valuable in carrying this little payload of unnecessary pop culture out to drop on you all here to get some comic value out of all that mental load, because it’s not like my brain is going to let this piece of stupidity go now. I’m stuck with this stupid thing for the rest of my life even as I can’t remember how many of my father’s uncles were named “Al” or “Vince”. (All of them were.) And they at least feature in cherished family stories about dubious choices and maybe the bookie at the town’s lead factory.
So anyway, I’m busy hating my brain for doing stuff like this to me and that’s why I couldn’t get anything done today.
And as with my other low-daisy-content story strip reviews, this one might be out of date. This post should be good for explaining plot developments in the couple of months before late May of 2017. If it’s later than, oh, August 2017 when you read this, then if all’s gone to plan I have a new post updating things further. My most recent Gasoline Alley posts should be at the top of this link. Thanks for reading and I’ll do my best to be not too wrong in describing the goings-on.
Gasoline Alley, 27 February – 26 May 2017.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has four major kinds of storyline, with many variations possible in those types. Three have been seen since late February. The missing one is the magical-fantasy storyline, wherein Walt Wallet or crew visit the Old Comics Home or something similar. The kind of story that just warps what reality could be. That hasn’t been around the last few months.
The second time is your classic old-style sitcom, ah, situation. The kind where one of the main cast has some scheme that gets advanced and then falls apart. You know, every sitcom from the 50s and 60s, and many of the radio sitcoms from the 40s. It’s an old-fashioned format but it’s still a perfectly workable one. Last time we looked at Gasoline Alley they were coming near the end of one of these. Walt Wallet had been invited to the TV show Shark Bait to pitch inventors his idea: put every household appliance together in one big raging appliance monster. The millionaire or billionaires (the strip made a point of raising confusion about this) don’t see how it would work, and one of them finds that exactly this idea was patented by the Hotenkold Appliance Company in 1935 and still makes the things. As predicted by everyone who’s encountered stories before, Walt Wallet does not go home wealthy. (The strip didn’t pay off the millionaire-or-billionaire question.)
The strip passed things off to Hoogy Skinner and her kids Boog and Aubee, for a medical check. This led a couple of weeks of pediatrician jokes and let us follow the Physician Assistant, Chipper Wallet, into the third of the stock Gasoline Alley plot kinds. And I’d like to mention the smoothness of the segue: we followed Walt Wallet out of the TV show plot, passed off by switching from one car to the next with characters that brought us to Chipper Wallet, and from that into his story. It’s all smoothly done; I wonder if daily readers even notice they’re being passed on like that.
Anyway, this third kind of storyline is the public service announcement. Chipper Wallet leaves the office to drive to Durham, North Carolina, where he’s to speak at the dedication of the Veteran’s Memorial Garden of the Physician Assistant Society. Wallet gets waylaid by some car trouble and meets Reverend Neil Enpray and mechanic Don Yonder whom I’m just going to assume are from the Earth-2 Gasoline Alley. They gave me the vibe of being established characters but I don’t know the canon nearly well enough to guess. But it’s mostly a chance for the characters to explain to the reader about what they are, what they do, why they’re important. The story ends with Wallet being reunited with a woman he, as a Navy Hospital Corpsman in Vietnam, helped deliver a child. As I say, a bit of story and a good bit of public service announcement. It’s also a chance to fundraise for the historical society.
And this led into the current storyline, one of the fourth type. It’s the weepy melodrama. It stars Joel and Rufus, two of the (bluntly) stupider adults in the strip. They’re usually busy with more outlandish hijinks and misunderstandings. (The segue for this story was Rufus bringing his cat in to see Chipper Wallet on the grounds that of course he’s a vet; he served in the Coast Guard.) Rufus has just met Scruffy, a kid whose family just moved into the abandoned old grist mill and is so poor they can only use parts of the Walt Kelly Pogofenokee comic-strip-southern dialect. The story’s in its earliest days so not much has been established past that the family’s desperately poor. I expect this is going to lead Rufus and Joel in a story in which they make some grand and slightly overcomplicated gesture to help that which misfires but still results in their being a little better off. (At this stage it’s playing Santa Claus Running Late. This may evolve.) That’s the kind of story Gasoline Alley does.
The Sunday strips have all been one-off jokes, mostly characters setting up and delivering corny old gags well, and not part of any continuing storylines. That’s fine and pleasant but there’s no context I can usefully give to them. They’re whole on their own.
What Sitcoms Trained Young Me To Be Ready For:
“Uh-oh! I have dates with two women at the same time! Luckily, they’re at the same restaurant so if I just get tables on opposite ends I can jump back and forth between the two! I’ll have to find a costume moustache which I can attach and remove easily! And perhaps a blazer of a second color!”
What I Actually Have To Do:
We have two contractors coming over to give an estimate for a minor window repair, and they’re both coming sometime between noon and 4 pm! What if they both show up in the same five-minute period? That would be so awkward! Or would it? Maybe? I don’t know, it feels like it should be, if it happened. Any thoughts? Contractors know there are other contractors, right? They have to, don’t they? But what would they say to each other if they did meet?
Also neither of them said a word to our pet rabbit about his being quite large.
Well, mathematics comics, etc, etc. There’s that.
I’m still in an old-time radio mood. So here’s a 1941 installment of Fibber McGee and Molly. The show’s got great name recognition, if allusions to it on Mystery Science Theater 3000 are any guide. Granted, by that standard, Averell Harriman still has great name recognition.
But it’s of historical importance. The show was one of those that created the situation-comedy genre. As often the case with those that create a form it doesn’t have the form quite right. The show tends to have very loose plots, to the extent it has plots at all. There’s typically just a gimmick for the episode and then riffing around that. The bunch of wacky neighbors and friends come on, usually one at a time, to add their riffs, and then after 25 minutes of this, two musical numbers, and a minute spent praising Johnson’s Wax, something ends the situation. It hardly seems like the same sort of entertainment as, say, Arrested Development.
But I think it’s of more than just historic importance, at least in some episodes. The one I’ve picked here, “Leaving for Hollywood” and originally run the 24th of June, 1941, closed out the broadcast season. It’s built on the McGees closing up their house and saying goodbye to everyone because they’re off to Hollywood for the summer … to make one of the movies based on the Fibber McGee and Molly show. The movie, Look Who’s Laughing (mentioned in the show as the Old-Timer worries about the title) featured most of the radio program’s cast in a story that intersects with Lucille Ball and Edgar-Bergen-and-Charlie-McCarthy and some story about the town’s airstrip.
And there is something almost strikingly modern. We have the fictional conceit that we’re listening to the stuff happening to the McGees and their acquaintances. And yes, it breaks the fourth wall a couple times each episode for the needs of commerce or just to let Jim Jordan get in a good side crack. But here’s a story all about winding up the “real” affairs of the McGees for long enough to let them make a movie about themselves. It’s a weird blending of layers of fiction. I don’t think the 1941 audience was confused or blown away by this; it just feels too natural that the listeners are in on the artifice of the show. (Note the biggest laugh of the episode is one that subverts the show’s best-remembered joke. And its next-most-famous running gag appears just to be mocked too.) I imagine someone listening to the show for the first time would find nothing surprising about the structure, except maybe for the conceit that perfectly good half-hour radio comedies should be adapted into 80-minute movies with far too much plot and nothing happening. It’s only weird if you stop and point it out, which I hope you see now that I have.
Minor note: the second musical number within the show, about 19:30 in, is the Kingsmen singing “The Reluctant Dragon”, based on the Disney partly-animated Robert Benchley vehicle and that’s fun.
So you know Doctor Thomas Stoltz Harvey, and you do, although you don’t know him by that name. You know him better as “you heard how after Einstein died the guy doing his autopsy stole his brain and put it in a jar?” This is an unfair characterization, as he sliced it into 240 blocks about a cubic centimeter each and then encased them in plastic, he asserted he had the preposthumous permission of the prominent physicist, and it completely overlooks his work in removing Einstein’s eyes.
Anyway, I was reading Sam Kean’s book about genetics, The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales Of Love, War, and Genius, As Written By Our Genetic Code, and it mentioned that after leaving Princeton, Harvey ended up moving to Kansas and becoming the next-door neighbor to William S Burroughs, and yeah, that William S Burroughs.
So now picture the goofball mid-to-late 60s sitcom of this scenario: William S Burroughs. The guy who stole Einstein’s brain. Einstein’s brain in a jar. Which one of these three is the wacky neighbor? The world may never know.
If you remember anything about the late 80s/early 90s sitcom Coach it’s probably because you’re too good at remembering things and should maybe take a course in Useful Forgetting from your county college. Never mind. But if you do remember any of that it’s likely that what you remember is most of the show was set at Minnesota State University, which didn’t exist, because setting college shows at imaginary colleges lets the production staff have a giggle when they meet someone claiming they went there as an undergraduate, something they can’t get if they just meet someone who insists he went to Rutgers, like, I want to say, Scott Baio’s character on Who’s The Boss because I only partly completed my Useful Forgetting course.
Anyway, thing is, nowadays there is a Minnesota State University, formed when a couple universities in Minnesota changed their names and teamed up to fight evil. And now that’s got me wondering if fanboys of Coach get all smug about how their show predicted how there’d just have to be a Minnesota State and the universe didn’t make sense without it, the way certain Star Trek fanboys insist there wouldn’t be cell phones if it weren’t for communicators. And if they do, does anyone call them on it, or do their friends figure they should get to enjoy whatever reflected Coach-based glory they can get?
All this is a ridiculous thing to wonder and I apologize for taking so much of your time with it.
I don’t buy a lot of stuff online, because apparently deep down I still believe it’s 1995 or something, but this offers the benefit that I get to enjoy the big marketing computers flailing around desperately in the attempt to figure out what else I might want to buy. So I get suggestions like this from Amazon:
You recently purchased Billy Bragg’s Greatest Reminders That You’re Voluntarily Collaborating With A Corrupt System and … uh … Leapfrog Explorer 3: Dora The Explorer Searches For Spock? The Heck? You might also like:
- A History Of The United States Weather Bureau Through 1960, by Robert D Whitnah.
- The Blu-Ray edition of forgotten 1980s sitcom Mama Malone for some reason.
- A 14-foot-long mass of undifferentiated blue-green matter.
- This one potato chip that looks like a significantly larger potato chip.
- Two dollars off a purchase of auto parts maybe?
- Staples, all sizes, all colors, some of them made of pearl.
- Maybe a cohomology group of an unexpected order? I dunno, you’re the math major.
All this is quite silly, of course, because there’s only one thing that I really want. It’s the same thing everyone wants: to occasionally have a day turned into a great one by hearing somebody unexpectedly playing the theme to Shaft. Don’t tell Amazon.
I imagine that, like most people, I find Twitter mostly recommends I follow the feeds of actors from sitcoms I don’t watch and of fictional squirrels. But now and then it turns up someone I do want to follow and sometimes that’s an organization. I saw one that sounded interesting and I checked their profile and recent tweets to make sure they were for real and not just somebody tweeting about how I should buy something I don’t want.
Since they seemed pretty soundly to exist I clicked to start following them. But then a couple hours later I got an e-mail saying they were thinking of following me back, but they wanted some proof that I was an actual person and not just tweeting about how they should buy something they don’t want. Never mind wondering who are they to ask if I’m someone when I already figured out if they’re someone: they wanted me to prove I was for real by clicking a link to a Captcha thingy.
So how do I know their link was to a legitimate Captcha service and not someone out to subvert the whole notion of identity with fake reports? So that’s why I checked their service’s contact information and sent them a simple arithmetic problem to determine whether they’re for real, and I went on with the satisfied air of a person who’s found more reasons not to answer his e-mail.
I was less satisfied when they sent someone over to whap me with a stick. This would seem to prove they really exist, though, except the guy they sent went to the wrong house, and I bet they were wondering why I was pointing at them and snickering.