Boy, you know, I remember how smug I felt back in September 2018. And I’m sure you all know why. It’s because of that crack on an episode of the UPN sitcom Platypus Man (1995 – slightly later in 1995) when a character and/or platypus described something as even more unlikely than “a Conan O’Brien 25th Anniversary Special”. Well, we sure and safely showed Platypus Man a thing or two. But just think — what if the writer had referenced “a Conan O’Brien 30th Anniversary Special” instead? Then who would be laughing at who, and regarding what?
Anyway if I know anything about Platypus Man it’s that we weren’t laughing at it, we were laughing at it.
In looking over how much typing I did for that one episode of Conan, you know, I guess I see why the original Late Night Fan Abstract Project back in the days sometimes struggled to find someone who’d write up an episode where the comedy sketches were Celebrity Tombstones and Conan’s Lullaby, and the guests were Al Roker and whoever the secondary female lead was for the sitcom NBC was putting on Tuesdays at 9:30 Eastern/Pacific for the next six weeks.
The Late Night Fan Abstract Project was one of those expressions of fannish exuberance you got in 1990s Usenet culture. I suppose you get it now too; I just don’t know to handle exuberance anymore. But on Usenet group alt.fan.conan-obrien — organized no later than April 1994 — there grew this tradition. It was one of writing abstracts, summaries of episodes, for those who couldn’t see a show, or who wanted to look up when some guest or some sketch was done, or some noteworthy discussion happened.
I joined, of course. I wasn’t alone, although some weeks it felt like it. Most every night — plus special events, such as when The Allbell got hold of a videotape of Conan’s premiere episode — someone would videotape an episode and go slowly over it to describe what happened. I’d do, usually, about one episode a week, sometimes filling in for Abstracters who had something terribly concrete mess up their plans. I’d like to credit my skills in writing story strip plot summaries to this experience but I doubt that. I fell out of the thing around 2000, probably when I was nearing the end of my thesis and surely when I moved to Singapore. (Late Night with Conan O’Brien didn’t really air in Singapore in the early 2000s, although some episodes would sometimes run on CNBC weekends.) And, of course, Usenet fell apart around then, and Late Night by 2009, and you know. We all have other stuff to get to.
I don’t know that there was ever a Fan Abstract Project for Conan O’Brien’s TBS show, but what the heck. Here’s one entry, as one of the few things I never missed becomes impossible to miss again.
Conan Abstract Project Episode 1510 – 24 June 2021
Cold Open: Homer Simpson does exit interview with Conan O’Brien.
Homer’s there for a big star at TBS; figures it’s one of the Impractical Jokers. ‘That time you and Sal blew up that toilet, I can’t believe that guy lived!’
Homer’s had hundreds of jobs, at one point even a monorail conductor, ‘What a stupid idea that was!’ Conan thinks that’s a nifty idea.
‘How long have you been working at Tibs?’ ‘I think you mean TBS.’ ‘Thanks a lot, smart guy, but I think I know how to spell Tibs.’
Homer’s favorite moment was that time Conan asked an actor if there were any wacky stuff on the set of his movie and told a mildly interesting anecdote and Andy fell asleep. ‘You just described pretty much all the shows I’ve ever done.’ ‘Good thing I only saw one, then.’
How would his coworkers describe him? In one word or less. ‘Irish.’ ‘Funny, you don’t look Irish.’
‘You know what? I’m gonna get a pencil and write this down.’
Conan reveals his Homer-level baldness. ‘Oh my god! You’re beautiful! You mean the world to me, Conrad!’
With Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Four
Closing jump obscured by audience sign. No string dance! Conan chant tamped down, ‘It’s getting creepy … I know how Mussolini felt.’ Andy: ‘I don’t think you should say that.’ ‘I thought it all turned out well for ol’ Mussolini, didn’t it?’
‘Our final show on TBS.’ Andy: ‘Wait, *what*? I just bought an amphibious car!’
They’ve done over 4000 hours of TV. Always promised tonight was really great, was often lying.
Thanks everyone at the Simpsons for the cold open, promotes this little show that’s never broken through.
Live Over Zoom: Will Ferrel.
He’s in Boston, shooting a secret project. It’s Batman. ‘In this version he gives oral’.
Wishing all the best, excited to see what comes next. Was there for the last Late Night, and the last Tonight Show, and now this. It’s krunking *exhausting*.
Pretapes a few goodbyes for when his next several shows flame out.
Slates, introducing ‘string of Conan talk show goodbyes’, claps hands together.
Congratulations on HBOmax show, six episodes isn’t a lot but you packed enough for eight episodes.
Will from set of his Batman sequel, we all miss his late night talk-show on Al-Jazeera Network. Sorry about the fatwa.
When I heard MTV3 was looking for host of new reality show, ‘Videos of People Dry-Humping in Trucks’ you were the first name that popped into my head and now, 12 seasons later … good luck, next host Logan Paul Jr.
I wish we were done! Truly going to miss your Delta Airlines talk show ‘Wheels up!’
YouTube won’t be the same without your classic unboxing videos, such reverence and wit to episodes such as Kitchen-Aid Serrated Bread Knife.
Reality Competition Show ‘Celebrity Room-Temperature Oyster Eating Contest’ cut down by explosive diarrhea outbreak; who could have predicted? Everyone.
Conan is 80% sure we have a great show tonight.
[ Commercial Break ]
So many amazing guests. Here’s a sample.
Steve Martin reading his diary of Conan’s sluggishness.
Martin Short, would love to do the shore more often but, you know, pride.
Jordan Schlansky brings Lego Millennium Falcon to Harrison Ford, who trashes it.
Fake clip from The Notebook 2. Conan wrote Ryan Reynolds every day for a year; they kiss.
Tequila Slaps with not sure.
Betty White is ‘getting better’ seeing muscle-y guy on magazine.
Lord of the Rings guy showing off a prop ring; ‘My Precious’ guy comes in and swipes it.
Will Ferrell shows off his dog-training, with maze of dog stunts to perform. Absolutely none of the dogs do anything and it’s all about the dogs going out of control while he freaks out.
Medley of Zach Galifianakis entrances.
Woman doing impression of turtle, eats lettuce.
Woman talking about being single; it gets dirty, shocking Conan. ‘Why does every question I ask you go down a certain [path]?’
Blue-screen riding stunt with Tom Hanks and Woody on a motorcycle; Woody gets knocked off by road sign.
Andy Samberg ‘and his new baby girl’; doll is riding on a chest charrier; does a lot of chest-bumping, jumps on the ground and all.
That cell phone crotch trick I don’t want my Dad to know about.
Animal expert on; a large (iguana?) wraps their tail around Conan’s leg so the tail pokes out between his legs. Andy: ‘Now they all know the Conan that we know.’
Comic be-bop singing duet with actor I didn’t recognize.
[ Commercial Break ]
Conan trying his hand at other careers, ‘I hit it out of the park every time.’
Mary Kay Beauty Consultant. Goes outside to stare in from the window with mis-painted lips.
Commercial Actor. Scenario of being too calm while driving in crises. ‘Wait, you’re saying I hit a guy on a bike, but because I’m in such a nice car, I don’t give a krunk? That’s crazy, this car is making me immoral!’ Lighting makes Conan look eight years old.
Modern Dancer. Alvin Alley dance troupe. Conan gets his head edited on top of a better dancer’s body. Conan starts drumming, picks people who are still dancing when he stops and picks them out. ‘*You* are now Uber drivers.’
[ Commercial Break ]
Conan Without Borders clips.
Cuba. Dancing; Cuban pay phones. Supermarket with rows of one product. Manager doesn’t want them filming there. Sings ‘I am Nutella’, other gibberish with street band.
Korea. Learning the language. Creeps out language instructor. ‘I don’t like you.’ Visiting Demilitarized Zone. K-Pop video.
Armenia. Sheepherders dressed like bouncers. Conan and Sona Movsesian dress in more traditional garb. Her voice drives sheep along.
Haiti. Conan desk-drumming in a schoolroom; kids join in. One kid slaps his hand.
Israel. David invites Conan for coffee, thinks he’s beautiful.
Australia. Male echidnas have four-pronged penises. ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’ ‘She’s good.’
Mexico. Conan giving monologue in Spanish. Collects for the wall; people give the finger.
Ghana. People get fantasy coffins. Coffin-maker laughs at the turkey coffin gag (‘you get to be the stuffing’), to be polite. ‘It’s not the cough that carries you off, it’s the coffin they carry you off in’. Conan’s fantasy coffin is a giant Conan with a NASCO tv.
Berlin. The Happy Bavarian dancing, including accidental face-slappings.
Japan. Companies provide fake families for the lonely. Conan’s fake family doesn’t understand his jokes but laugh to be nice. ‘Do you guys like ramen? Not me, I like my men cooked. … Please tell them to laugh.’ ‘What if I don’t understand his joke?’ ‘You don’t need to, just laugh.’
Greenland. Conan gives the weather report, reading off the teleprompter.
Italy. With Jordan Schlansky. Conan yells out random things. Conan wants pumpkin-spice-lattee from bartender; guy in background makes hideous, offended face. Driving with Jordan; Conan has music ‘this sounds very stereotypical to the point of insulting’. Movie sound effects. ‘We can also have silence as well.’ Car stalls out; Conan has fallingsound effect. Raspberry sound effect. Jordan cracks up (!), calling Conan a fool.
Mentions, went to Armenia with Sona Movsesian, she’s not there as she’s expecting twins any day now. She’s in the audience. Conan didn’t know. ‘You told me you couldn’t work, but you can come here and check the show out?’ Thanks her for everything.
[ Commercial Break ]
Guest: Jack Black
Special note: the musical guest on Episode 1 of _Conan_ in 2010 was Jack White. The symmetry goes without mention.
Black comes out with a cane and a leg cast in what I thought several times was going to be a bit. No; Conan says he was ‘the healthiest I’ve ever seen you yesterday’. They were going to do a bit where Black does a musical number with a lot of physicality and with a fake injury, and paramedics who’d take him, and whom he’d shake out. They were pre-taping the bit where he escapes the paramedics, and doing one more take, and Black tumbled, spraining his ankle. The paramedics for the bit were actors, of course. The ambulance was a fake; it didn’t even have bandages. The paramedic actors drove to CVS to buy bandages. ‘It was a really quick run to CVS’, said Black.
It’s a real sprain, says the MRI, and he has to do nothing physical while he heals. (I thought he was going to use this to break out and reveal the whole story was a fake. I was wrong.)
Conan thought it fitting that given the meticulous perfect finishes of Johnny Carson and David Letterman, *they* came up with a bit where Jack Black hurts himself faking getting hurt.
Ah, but Jack Black can sing. He does ‘You Did It Cone’s Way’, a filk of ‘My Way’. ‘I wrote/ this song today/ that’s why the lyrics/ are so krunk-y’. Though he can’t do *much*, Black is able to stand and twirl his jacket around and toss it to the audience.
[ Commercial Break ]
Conan’s beneficiary of hundreds of talented, amazing people. 11 years ago came to TBS; Steve Coonan, ‘what the Irish call a mensch’, said he’d protect you and your people and will support you. They did that. Thanks bunch of TBS people.
Thank Rick Rosen, Gavin Polone, Libra Keene (?), his squad. Polone’s his agent and I imagine the others are connected similarly.
Executive Producer Jeff Ross. He peeks out from behind stage. ‘He’s making dinner reservations’.
Andy Richter, brilliant man, love him forever. Thought of the funniest thing to say a million times. ‘Their chanting is gonna make me cry!’ ‘It would’ve been nice if you, like, fake-laughed once!’ ‘Oh, I did!’
Always wanted best comedy writers and did, starting in 1993 to now. Courage, ingenuity of writers.
Particularly: Michael B Sweeney, Matt O’Brien, ‘no relation to me … I always tell people that he’s my uncle’s son and we had to hire him and so many interns think it’s true and don’t give him the respect he’s due and I think it’s the funniest thing in the world.’ Another look backstage, at him.
Field producer Jason Chillemi who gets everything sorted out on location, ‘gets shot’. He peeks out from backstage; Conan says we didn’t think this through; everyone’s a creep who pokes out of the dark.
Line producer Sarah Pederovich ‘if she left I’d leave show business’; where are you?
Lorne Michaels for his faith in a crazy, stupid idea back in 1993.
Lisa Kudrow, who he met outside these doors in an improv space in 1985; immediately sized her up as one of the coolest people he’d ever meet. In 1993 she had more faith in him than he did, ‘You’re the only one that can do it’. You wouldn’t know him if it wasn’t for Lisa Kudrow.
Shout-out to parents, who’ll see this three months from now. Siblings ‘they never, ever were impressed by anything … would you?’.
Most amazing thing was a remote when he met a woman, an advertising executive, ‘you can see me fall in love on camera’, his wife Liza. ‘When we shot the scene in The Notebook when I kiss Ryan Reynolds she said, ‘Well, that ruined both of you for me’.
And because of Liza, I have two children, I know everyone thinks their children are incredible but I’ve seen some of your children and they suck. My children are better, though.
”I have devoted all of my adult life, all of it, to pursuing this strange phantom intersection between smart and stupid. And there’s a lot of people that believe the two cannot coexist, but, God, I will tell you, it is something that I believe religiously, I think when smart and stupid come together — it’s very difficult, but if you can make it happen — I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. I am so grateful to all my staff, and the fans in this country and around the world, who have joined me in this really crazy and seemingly pointless pursuit to do things that are kinda stupid but have something smart in there somewhere, and then there’s a little tiny sort of flicker of what is a kind of a magic, I think, that’s what I believe. So, my advice to anyone watching right now, and it’s not easy to do, it is not easy to do, it’s not easy to do, but try, try and do what you love, with people you love, and if you can manage that it’s the definition of heaven on Earth. I swear to God, it really is. So goodnight, thank you very much!”
Just got to thinking about a moment we must infer happened sometime in the 70s. The Price Is Right production team was thinking out ways to bring prizes out on-camera. And someone declared, “We shall have a tugboat pull them out!” Were they immediately recognized as wise? Were they laughed at at the time? But stayed confident in their rightness and lived to hear their doubters admit they were wrong? What were the rejected possibilities? Parachutes, obviously. Submarines, too, given the difficulty working out agreements with the show filming the next floor under them. LSTs.
Or am I thinking of it backwards? Did someone originally buy The Price Is Right Tugboat by some complicated mistake, and then go about looking for ways to use it? And every time it’s brought out they thank their lucky stars that it came out okay?
The one where the waitresses go out on strike and they explain that to be a legal picket line the people in it have to stay in motion at all times, although it’s probably okay if Vera gets on roller skates so she can just slide around, even though she doesn’t know how to stop or steer and she goes rolling off into … traffic, I guess? It seemed bad for her, anyway. I think her injuries shamed Mel into settling the strike. Anyway it’s a good lesson to not learn US labor law by watching Alice.
Flo leaves so she can start her own spinoff series, and she gets replaced with … uh … her cousin or maybe sister or someone who’s a lot like her except she doesn’t have that great “Kiss my grits” catchphrase to fall back on.
There’s definitely one where a wrecking ball smashes through the diner, right? I couldn’t be imagining that of all things?
There’s probably one where Alice’s kid gets to say No to having a Drug even though his bestest best friend forever who we never saw before or after is having them.
Mel sells the diner for the last episode so everybody has to go and achieve their lifelong dreams now and what do you know but they do.
I’m just guessing that there was one where a major character discovers like six seasons in that they never learned to read, so they learn now. But I don’t know for sure.
Not listed: the Saturday-morning cartoon spinoff of Alice which pop culture theory tells us ought to have existed. The most generally accepted hypotheses suppose that they would all be working their way around the world selling stuff from a funny Wienermobile-like contraption with astounding powers, possibly including flight and the ability to operate as a submarine, and meanwhile there’s spies after them for some reason. They might have a zany pet or it might just be Alice’s flying submersible Wienermobile has a talking computer.
Just idly thinking back to that time around 1989 when Tiny Toons debuted. And I thought it would be a fun episode if they did a spoof of Back To The Future, starring Plucky Duck, that they’d call Duck To The Future. Never worked out what all would happen with it, except that the final scene would definitely be whoever the Doc stand-in is warning Plucky, “It’s your sequel! Something’s got to be done about your sequel!” That’s not a lot of anything, but, you know? That’s probably all about as much as the premise needed.
I’m sorry for running late but made me aware of the 1973 Rankin/Bass cartoon That Girl In Wonderland, made for the Saturday Superstar Movie. You know, for all the kids who loved the career-and-boyfriend shenanigans of That Girl but wanted a dose of Goldilocks and the Three Bears mixed in. And everyone voice-acting like they’re sad or tired. And there’s a weird side point about guitar lessons. And I’ve been watching it, trying to figure out whether this is actually happened or if I’m part of a hoax of no discernable purpose. Were there a lot of kids sitting up Saturday mornings hoping they’d get to see That Girl dealing with the petty nastiness of the switchboard operator? Were there many adults who enjoyed Ann Marie trying to establish her life in the city but wished it were a non-fanciful cartoon instead? Who were they expecting would watch?
Anyway, now that I have seen The Animated Adventures of That Girl, I’m finally open to trying out Mary Tyler Moore Show Babies.
If you want to watch, it’s up at Archive.org. It’s also up on YouTube. Just be warned that it is a cartoon based on That Girl. Also that the version Archive.org has is about 32 by 20 pixels. Also that the animation in the first scene of Marlo Thomas blinking is weirdly hypnotic. And, like, I meant to just watch two or three minutes to get the feel for the thing, but I kept going on a little more to see if I could figure out who the audience for this was supposed to be.
And, you know, I’m not a serious Thattie — or Thatster, as the stuffier fans insist on being called — but if Ann Marie and Donald Hollinger get along like this in the real show, they definitely weren’t ready to marry. For how much they refuse to listen to one another they probably shouldn’t even know the other exists.
One of the writers was caught photocopying his Batman Beyond/Wile E Coyote crossover fanfic on the work machine and so had to write up a show treatment to justify it and then somehow it got to air.
The producers liked the concept of this doomed world-encompassing city at the edge of the explored universe filled with a desperate population struggling to survive, but felt it lacked Yosemite Sam as a space pirate.
Somebody dropped the minutes from the six-hour pitch meeting for the whole season’s shows, and the notes all got mixed up, and when they were typed up nobody could remember what the network had agreed to but they also know you don’t go back after the network said “yes” so they just went with what they could piece together.
They were sitting around thinking what to do with everybody’s favorite Looney Tunes characters, and also Lola Bunny, and someone said, “what about if it’s a postapocalyptic dystopia with supervillains who can still be tricked into the ‘He does SO have to shoot me now!’ bit” and just kept yes-anding each other, and then it turned out a pack of elves who always wanted to be animators were there and overheard and after everyone went home for the night, the animator elves drew the whole series up.
Somehow something else happened?
Reference: Fred Allen’s Letters, Fred Allen, Edited by Joe McCarthy.
Also you would think someone would have an article explaining where the concept for Loonatics Unleashed started and how it got to where it did, and as far as I can tell they haven’t, and that’s weird too.
We’re back in the hands of Paramount Cartoon Studios this week. Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer have credit for the story. Seymour Kneitel’s the director and the producer. It’s a group that I trust to be competent, if nothing else. From 1960 here’s Strange Things Are Happening. Popeye is in a boring house, but it’s not his usual Boring Suburbs house, and it’s not clear that he’s even in the suburbs. He might be in the actual woods, if you go by the initial shot.
One compulsive habit, watching these, is thinking of improvements. It’s a little game, one unfair to the people who made the cartoon. They were working under constraints of time and budget and other obligations. Me, I’ve had forty years to see these things and let them settle into my mind. And, if I can’t think of a fix, I don’t have to let on that I was trying to repair it.
Still, I watch this cartoon and try to think how to make it better. The starting gimmick is fine: a mysterious figure is suborning all of Popeye’s acquaintances to get him to a mysterious place. But we get this structural problem. Who the person is and why he wants Popeye is supposed to be a punch line. This is fine, but then: does it make sense that he would go to the Sea Hag, and her Goons, to beat up Popeye first? The sensible thing is to try to have Olive Oyl get him to the designated place first. If that doesn’t work, then try less-close friends like Wimpy or O G Wotasnozzle. Go to his actual enemies like Brutus or the Sea Hag as last resorts.
But then that order wrecks the suspense. Could someone bribe Olive Oyl into putting Popeye in real harm? … All right, yes, since disloyalty and shallow, selfish greed is core to every Thimble Theatre character besides Popeye and maybe Eugene the Jeep. This isn’t really Thimble Theatre, though. This is the characters as a sitcom cast in the back half of the tenth season. You know the mood. It’s when all the actors have been friends enjoying a good thing so long that all the sharp edges are worn off their characters’ interactions. It doesn’t make sense for the King Features animated Olive Oyl to sell out Popeye. It makes a little more sense for Wimpy to do so, but still not much.
I can’t remember what it was like watching this as a kid. Someone who hasn’t seen as many shows as I have wouldn’t expect they’re just trying to trick Popeye onto a version of This Is Your Life. (The trick needed because Popeye would never choose to go to something hagiographic like that.) So the lack of suspense is my “fault” for being the wrong kind of audience. But I can still be bothered by the internal logic. Granted the TV producer has all Popeye’s friends on board with getting him to the studio. What is his in-universe reason for making hushed, last-minute whispers to Popeye’s acquaintances to kidnap him? Why talk about getting him to “this address”, that they seem to not know, instead of “the studio” or at least “the place”? What were they going to do if Popeye didn’t decide to take the day off (from what?) and go fishing?
I was going to ask why the Sea Hag would go along with getting Popeye to the TV studio. But her plan did involve getting two Goons to beat him up, and then had it succeeded, would land him in a situation he found humiliating. So that actually hangs together, except again, this is the Sea Hag as worn down by season ten of the sitcom. (This even though she’d never been animated before 1960!).
I want to fix this cartoon but I don’t see a way to do it.
If Popeye’s Boring House is in the woods, why does he walk from there into the city to go fishing?
Wotasnozzle had all but succeeded. If he hadn’t started that foolish talk about surgery Popeye would have drunk the knockout drops and the cartoon would have ended there. This isn’t a plot hole. Characters making mistakes is not by itself a flaw.
We get another diner, but no mention of Roughhouse.
Also, without giving too much away … let’s just say the next cartoon is a companion piece.
Featured on our roller coaster calendar this month is a ride from Six Flags Magic Mountain, their roller coaster Scream!. And apparently all this month every time I glace at the calendar my mind is going to go to zany wacky Dadist 90s cartoon Freakazoid!, and this one episode where — are you ready for the unpredictability? — a couple times each episode they had a low-key Ben Stein-ish voice say, “Scream” and then people scream. If someone would like to take this idea off of me, and let it occupy their thoughts instead, please drop a note.
I’m going to be in so much trouble if their November roller coaster is Candle Jack.
And the TV show based on Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s notes gets under way again. It’s all a little weird, especially as Ronnie sees again Kat, who’s playing Neddy on the show. Neddy’s also freaked out to meet Michelle, who’s playing Godiva Danube. Partly from memories and reevaluating her friendship with Godiva. Also because it’s a clue that the production is changing out from under them.
Mayor Sanderson meanwhile is mad. The local TV won’t apologize for running a poll showing Bowen surging. His staff won’t even remember to take their masks off in the office. But he is aware of Bowen’s weakness as a candidate. He calls Abbey Spencer, whose bed-and-breakfast plan, and renovations, were a fair idea for a money pit in normal times. During a shutdown? They’re a bleeding ulcer. Sanderson offers that he might be able to do her a favor. Since Sophie started the Bowen campaign, and Sam Driver supports it and used to date Bowen, this seems weird. But he offers: the campaign’s drawing a lot of coverage. Out-of-town reporters need to stay somewhere. Why not a place struggling but surviving thanks to a supportive local government?
The offer could hardly be better-designed to enrage Abbey. She promises to make sure everyone knows she’s on Team Bowen. Which Sanderson wants, in the first moment that makes him look like a skilled politician. Bowen’s weakness is that she can look like a tool of the Parker-Spencer-Driver clan.
Bowen’s got some good instincts, though, aware that this kind of unsolicited support can be trouble. She lays down the law to Sophie. If they want to support her, all right, but they have to know what she’s about. Which would likely make for a better campaign. Also a better campaign plot, must admit, as it’s not clear what issues there even are in town. Equitable gentrification is a great challenge, and goal. But it’s a danged hard thing to fight for in any intelligible way, especially in this medium.
Bowen’s law-laying helps Sophie with another problem, though. She looks into Local College courses. This is a step in her realizing that she doesn’t know everything she needs. And that she’s been blocking herself from that learning. And, after a lot of hesitation, she calls Honey Ballinger and apologizes.
And the TV show continues to change. The showrunners have decided Godiva and April Parker’s lives make for better stories than Neddy’s does. This makes for an interesting bit of story commentary by strip writer Francesco Marciuliano. Marciuliano has, mostly, done a good job at having things go crazy and then rationalize some. But it would be strange if he didn’t consider some storylines to have gone awry, or to regret not having done more with characters than he did. The revelation that Godiva was also running drugs was a shocking turn of events, sure. But to make it a shock to readers meant we had to not see it. It’s plausible Marciuliano didn’t consider it until he needed the twist. This frame lets him, if he wishes, build a new storyline for Godiva. It may not be what “really” happened to her, but if it’s interesting, who cares?
So the studio figures that April and Godiva is the true-crime drama that’s the real series. And that’s that. The shooting in Real Cavelton wraps, with the rest of the series done in Los Angeles and Vancouver. And Neddy decides she isn’t interested in moving back to Los Angeles. Ronnie is, though, and that makes the transition into autumn all the harder.
And that’s where things stand now. Bowen’s campaign seems to be going well. Sophie’s reconciling with Honey Ballinger and looking at Local College. Neddy’s staying in town. Ronnie’s off to Los Angeles and, it’s teased, out of the strip. (It’s very self-referentially teased, with talk about sitcom characters who vanished. I am old enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were on a sitcom. But I am also young enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were a podcast host.) And if all goes well, we can come back together in a happier December to see what has changed.
We dip into the comic strip most inexplicably in reruns with Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (I mean, you wouldn’t think Marvel would be unable to find someone who can draw Spider-Man, right?) That’s if all goes well, and here’s hoping that it does. Good luck to you all.
I’m not avoiding them. I just haven’t had the energy to watch stuff even if I like it anymore. So I just have missed out on how they’re changing the Star Trek world. But apparently they’re doing something. I was poking around Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki, and discovered this alarming verb tense in the article about lithium:
I assume this means something exciting has been going on with proton decay in the new shows and I honestly can’t imagine what.
Is this a Lower Decks thing? Again, I haven’t seen it, but it seems like the destruction of all lithium, everywhere, is maybe a Lower Decks thing.
So if you’re in my age cohort you grew up seeing the opening credits of Tales From The Darkside. You know, where the camera pans across footage of a forest while the foreboding voice of Perilous McDoomenough intones, “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he BELIEVES to be … reality.” And then the screen fades to a posterized negative image about how there is “unseen by most an underworld”. And then you changed the channel because whatever was coming next would have to be way too frightening to watch.
I got thinking, you know, this has to be like slasher movies were. The hype makes it sound like this intense and barely-comprehensible experience. And it turns out to be about as scary as an SCTV episode. I was too much of a coward to watch horror movies as a kid. I mean, except the one time that they had us do a sleepover for Vacation Bible School and we camped out in some of the classrooms off in the CCD wing. And one of the things they showed was Friday the 13th. I thought it was pretty good. Also I don’t understand how this could have happened. We went to a pretty liberal diocese but still. I think we also watched Heathers. I know Vacation and European Vacation we watched at my friend Eddie Glazier’s bar mitzvah. I’m not sure I should be talking about this 35-plus years on. I might be getting somebody in trouble.
But that’s sort of how terror was for a white middle-class kid growing up in the suburbs in the 80s. And yes, I mean New Jersey-type suburbs, which in other states are what you would call “urbs”. Or “great undifferentiated mass of housing developments and corporate office parks stretching from the Amboy Drive-In to the Freehold Traffic Circle, dotted by some Two Guys department stores”. Still. I grew up a weenie and I would be glad for that if I didn’t think being glad about myself was kind of bragging.
And we knew how to be recreationally scared. We just had to think about the nuclear war. New Jersey enjoyed a weird place for that. I know in most of the country you came up with legends about why the Soviets had a missile aimed right at you. One that would be deployed right after they bombed Washington and New York City. “Of course the Kremlin knows Blorpton Falls, Iowa is the largest producer of sewing machine bobbins outside the New York City area. They’ll have to bomb us so the country can’t clothe itself well after World War III.” It was a way to be proud of your town and not be responsible for surviving the nuclear war.
Central Jersey? We didn’t have to coin legends. We knew, when the war came, we’d be doomed. It wouldn’t be for any reason. It’s just we’re close to New York City, we’re close to Philadelphia. Nothing personal. All we were doing was being near something someone else wanted to destroy. This turned out to be great practice for living in 2020 that I don’t recommend.
Oh, sure, there was the soccer field what they said used to be a Nike missile base that would have protected New York City from the missile attacks. Maybe the Soviets would have an old map, or refuse to believe that they built a soccer field in the United States in the 60s. That former-Nike-base could be a target, if the Nike missiles to intercept the missiles didn’t work, which they wouldn’t.
You might ask: wait, why didn’t they put the base that was supposed to protect New York City in-between New York and the Soviet missile bases instead? The answer is that in-between New York City and the Soviet missile bases is Connecticut. The construction vehicles for the Connecticut site set out on I-95 in 1961 and haven’t made it through traffic yet. Central Jersey was a backup so they could build a site that couldn’t work but could abandon. Anyway I don’t know the soccer field was ever actually a Nike base or if we just said it was. If it really was, I suppose it’s a Superfund clean-up site now. Makes me glad I realized I didn’t want to socc. I wanted to type in word processor programs from a magazine into my computer.
Anyway after thinking about that long enough, it turns out the movie threats we faced were kind of cozy. Yeah, they might turn you into an Alice-in-Wonderland cake and eat you, but at least you’d be singing all the way.
So back to Tales From The Darkside. You know what you find if you go back and watch it now? Tales From The Darkside never even had episodes! They knew everybody was going to be scared off by those credits. Each episode, for all four seasons, is one frozen negative-print posterized image of a tree while someone holds down a key on the synthesizer.
It is way more terrifying than I had ever imagined.
Is that … snow? Yes, that’s snow. I’ve seen snow before, although not so much this winter. Who ordered snow? My parents better not hear about this.
Oh, hey, the place that used to be the 24-hour diner. Then the new owners figured instead of being the diner everybody went to because it was 3 am, they could just open for breakfast and lunch. Then they fired the staff and closed entirely. And forgot to get the social media passwords from the staffers. Then they tore down the diner because they figured the vacant lot was worth more than a diner-filled lot. Well, that turned out great. Hey, this has to be the spot where J— discovered his eyeglasses had gouged ridges into the side of his head. Good times.
This … was a lot warmer, like, a week ago. We are going into spring, right? We couldn’t be going right back out of spring again, not with how much everybody agreed on having a spring.
That’s a nice clearly-marked bike lane that comes into existence and runs nearly the length of a full block before fading out again. Probably a story there. Probably also an angry Facebook group.
Oh, criminy, it’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. That would be nice and timely. I did that thing for Apollo 11 and forgot to do anything for Apollo 12. Let me see if there’s anything there, let me think a while and see if I can come up with like three jokes, that’s enough to build a piece around. Oh, who am I kidding, that’s a dumb idea.
So that’s a lone coffee mug six feet from the sidewalk on the torn-up field that used to have a convenience store and now just has the telephone pole with an ‘ATM Inside’ sign on it. This seems to be the setting for some short story with too poignant an imagery to actually read.
Oh, but remember how angry the Usenet group sci.space.history got over the From The Earth To The Moon series, when its Apollo 13 episode wasn’t just doing the movie all over again but on way less budget? Everybody was so angry about it being how reporter Jay Mohr won over reporter Cranky Old Guy. I mean, not so mad as they’d be when the Apollo 16 episode. They got so mad the episode was about the astronaut wives instead of how the Apollo crew drank too much orange drink and passed gas the whole flight. Boy, but the Internet used to be fun to be angry on. What happened?
If I just took that coffee mug how much would I have to clean it to use it again? I’m kidding, I would never stop cleaning it.
Well now I’m just thinking about that report where the Mars Curiosity team had shifted over to working remotely. It’s just, like, they already kind of were. They probably get that a lot. If I ever meet anybody on the team I’m going to have to not tell them that one.
Ooh, hey, the hipster bar left their Wi-Fi on even though they’ve been closed a month now. Good grief it has been a month now. All right. Well, that’s going to be great if my iPod does that thing again where I pause my podcast and it decides to throw away the file and I have to re-download the whole thing. … And I do that when I happen to be right next to the bar. Well, they left the curtain up front open just enough that if I press my face against the window and stare I can kind of make out what have to be the pinball machines. I can stop around to do that a while.
Still thinking about how the Lansing airport listed they had four flights arriving today and only two departing. That’s got to be atypical, right? They can’t be stocking up on two extra planes a day, indefinitely. They’d fill up the parking lot.
All right that’s … nine … ten … twelve pairs of sneakers lined up on the curb, and with a locker mirror and a $4 yard sale price stick on it. There’s probably a good explanation for all of this and the only way I’ll ever know is to knock on the door and ask. They probably get a lot of people knocking on the door asking about the shoe lineup and mirror, though. Maybe I’ll check if they have a web site instead.
Oh, the guys who practice drums four hours a day are still doing that. Still … sounds like drumming. It’s nice to have that to rely on.
I’m sorry, but I was busy thinking how I might explain to my niblings why we as kids watched the Circus of the Stars. “What better chance,” the best I can think of goes, “will we have to see Heather McNair step out of her role as Roxanne Caldwell on the greatest TV show of all time ever, Automan, before it ends what will surely be a twelve-year network run followed by a series of smash movies?” They have never asked about Circus of the Network Stars and I have no reason to think they will. I expect if they have questions, then their relevant parents can handle the matter. But so much has caught me unprepared this year. I don’t want one more thing to.
So far as Wikipedia is aware Heather McNair never appeared on Circus of the Stars. Automan did not run for twelve years and inspired no movies, although I’m going ahead and guessing there’s a reboot of it that’s already in its third of eight-episode seasons on … uh … let’s say HBO BlortStar+, that sounds like a streaming service name.
Since my brain is unwilling to let this go: if he had his family back home send crates of Charles Chips. I am making this joke because I feel like being a seven-year-old who has noticed a word appearing in more than one place and I am going to stand a little too close to you and smile, showing slightly too many teeth, until you agree this is very clever, which I will realize much later is not the same thing as ‘funny’. Yeah, delivery potato chips would be pretty well smashed up by the time they got to Korea but hey, some people like that. You can spackle them together with dip and make a barely edible wad of material that’s sweet, salty, and has lots of sharp edges. That’s definitely in character for Major Winchester.
I mean, I guess it’s reasonable Major Winchester would have some sparkling water ahead of urgent need. We never saw it, but that doesn’t mean anything, especially for sitcoms in the 70s. Fine. But then how much is his family supposed to have shipped out? And just how freaking good is this sparkling water that it’s worth shipping to Korea, compared to the club soda they have in the officer’s club that he’s drinking all the time anyway? If he had a stockpile big enough to take multiple showers with, where was it? Under his bunk? How long did he spend opening and pouring bottles into the shower tank so he could have his? This is the high priority stuff.
What I need to do: work, for work; cleaning out the mess in the guest room; think of any concept that I could write into 700 words for tomorrow’s long-form essay; re-read three month’s worth of The Phantom for Sunday’s essay.
What I am doing: so there was this one episode of M*A*S*H where the supply trucks are cut off and the camp can’t get any water, particularly. So everybody gets a lot dirtier and smellier and crankier about it. Except Major Winchester, who stays sparkling clean. It turns out not that he’s using the strictly-patients-only water. He’s using his own stock of club soda. Well, sparkling mineral water. Anyway, yeah, first, would that even work. But anyway I’m busy thinking about what a fool I was to just sit and accept this premise for decades without asking how it is Major Winchester can get his family to mail enough sparkling water to shower in, regularly, in circumstances where nobody can get regular water delivered.
I’ve had some time this week to sit in a room with no particular expectations or Wi-Fi and so that’s got me all introspective. So this is going to be hard. I’ve gotten around to thinking of my middle school experience. Here are some things that, on reflection, I think contributed to that whole scenario.
So you know there was a Pac-Man cartoon in the early 80s, where Pac-Man and Pac-Family hang around Pac-Land, occasionally eating ghosts and sometime getting chopmed by them. So, there was this episode where the Ghosts got their hands on the Pac-Space-Shuttle. Unless that was the Space-Pac-Shuttle. Honestly not sure at this remove. Anyway, they harvest all the Pac Pellets in the world from off the Pac-Trees. They flew this whole load to, I believe, the Pac-Moon. I know what you’re thinking and no, I was not bothered that the Pac-Space-Pac-Shuttle might land on the Pac-Moon. It would be a gross presumption of us to suppose that the design limits of our space shuttle necessarily apply to the Pac-Space-Pac-Shuttle-Pac in this fictional universe, however much they seem superficially similar. (Oh, this is helping me see why other bloggers treat me like that.) No, what bothered me is that in the face of this Pac-Pellet shortage caused by the world harvest being stolen, Pac-Man, in space, eats the entire contents of the Space-Shuttle-Pac, every power pellet in the world, all at once, when we’d seen in other episodes that one was enough for him to chomp ghosts. Two, if he needed to be really confident in his ghost-eating powers. And that is what bothered me: this unnecessary gluttony would make the power pellet shortage continue for at least a full growing season. And these Pac-Pellets are the fruits of Pac-Trees. This is going to screw up geenrations of trees to come. I was very cross with Pac-Man over this.
On the evening news they would always talk about what the New York Stock Exchange had done that day. And yet they never mentioned the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which I supposed had to exist, or Los Angeles or San Francisco or anywhere else. Yes, I grew up in the New York metro area so of course the local stock market might be of interest but this injustice extended to the national news, and surely there must be some days that, like, the Saint Louis Stock Exchange had the most exciting stock-related exchanging going on.
[ I would like to emphasize that I am not reading my current weirdness back into the young me. These are as best as I am able reconstructions of thoughts I had in the mid-80s. ]
According to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons manual if exactly the right things lined up you could just be a vapor, forever, and everyone would just have to let you play like that.
So in South River, New Jersey, there was this liquor store, and its sign was this representation of beloved drunk neighbor Thirsty from the beloved comic strip Hi and Lois. And I thought it was wild and belovable that in all the world we happened to be not too far off from the world’s only Hi and Lois-themed liquor store. And wondered at how much money must have changed hands for Thirsty’s Liquor to be set up in this really very average beloved Middlesex County town.
Also every power pellet in the Pac-World fit into one Space-Pac-Shuttle Cargo-Pac-Bay? Space shuttles aren’t that big.
Sure, we all have urged the rain rain to go away and come again some other day. But why was there no chant to urge the rain to come today, when nothing particularly needing dry conditions is going on, and thereby forestall rain coming some inconvenient later date? We need a certain amount of rain per year and there’s no good reason not to rush to get that done when the day’s already all wet.
While I do not think this very incomplete list justifies the whole of my middle school experience I am forced to admit that, yeah, everybody kind of had a point there.
It’s been a month plus since the last Popeye’s Island Adventure. Maybe the series will resume. Maybe it’s done. I do not have the time to decide what to do with my Tuesday slot here. It’s somehow become a series-review day. I like that. It means once I decide what series to review I know what I’m writing. But what series? I don’t know, so I’m going to do a couple more of the 1960s King Feature Syndicate Popeyes to get myself some margin and decide later. This may prove a controversial choice. I can actually see the readership drop when the day’s post is a King Features Popeye cartoon. But, what the heck. If someone wants me to look at something they can nominate it to me.
So I’m going to do at least a couple more King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. This from their “Classic Popeye” line on YouTube, since I expect those videos to stick around a while. I’m skipping their Episode Two since none of those four cartoons — Hoppy Jalopy, Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, Baby Phase, and Weather Watchers — interest me enough. I’m going straight to some of Episode Three. I’ll start by reviewing the last of the quartet, The Billionaire. Anyone who wants to peek at future weeks can figure out the other cartoons in this just by looking. I’m guessing, though, not a lot of people are going to check.
Parody’s a weird thing. The Millionaire was this (American) TV show that ran for a couple years in the 50s. Each week a strange reclusive multimillionaire gives someone a million dollars, on condition they never ask questions about where it comes from or why. Then we watch how this screws up their lives. I never saw an episode. I know it entirely from its parodies. SCTV did a fantastic one. I’m not sure if I saw it riffed on Saturday Night Live. (I may be thinking of their parody of The Continental, another 50s TV show I’ve only ever seen in imitation, including in a Popeye cartoon.) I’m not sure it wasn’t done in a Richie Rich comic book. And, then, there’s this spoof, starring Popeye.
It starts weird. The premise is that Popeye’s a multi-millionaire and he’s living in a mansion and he’s giving out money to his friends. It seems out of character for who Popeye is. And yet … …
Part of the premise of Thimble Theatre, when it started, was that these were plays. Like, you had the recurring cast, but they’d have different parts each adventure. Each day, in the earliest strips. The comic strip settled to a basically uniform continuity before even Popeye joined the cast. But this bit where these are characters playing parts, and the settings will vary, lasted into the cartoons. Usually that just plays into what the relationships are between Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl at the start of the cartoon. Sometimes it plays into whether Popeye’s a sailor, a fitness instructor, or a short-order cook this cartoon. So Popeye as a multimillionaire benefactor shouldn’t be outside the cartoon ranges. I’m not sure why I feel like I need to argue myself into this. Maybe it’s that Popeye and Bluto and Olive Oyl usually have working-class positions. In the 50s they moved to the suburbs and the middle class and got boring. A rich Popeye seems untrue. I mean, yeah, there was the cartoon where Popeye ran for President, but that turned into working-class stuff like “can he bale hay” fast enough.
At the least, it’s weird. And weird should be expected: this is another Gene Deitch-directed cartoon. If you didn’t know, you might suspect something from the animation. The backgrounds, particularly. Look at the carpet and the chair in Popeye’s mansion, at about 17:46 of the cartoon. Try not to be distracted figuring out how Popeye’s holding that phone. I can’t do that pose comfortably, but I can do it.
As with From Way Out, the animation is loose with the character models. This is fine by me, since they’re drawn so expressively. Freeze the image at about 18:28. Popeye looks weird, not just because both eyes are open again. But it’s a scene. And Deitch’s team was doing what it could with the animation budget. Olive Oyl keeps moving, that scene. There’s no need for it, except to keep the picture from being boring.
So far as this cartoon makes sense it stops making sense at about 19:23. This is after Popeye’s given all his friends, plus Bluto Brutus, a million dollars. He’s decided to wear a costume as a sailor so he can secretly check on his friends. The cartoon immediately forgets this explanation. I don’t want to cast aspersions but I wonder if this was meant to save the cost of drawing a new walk cycle for Popeye.
Popeye’s surprised to see Olive Oyl doing exactly what she said she would do, getting a million-dollar makeover at the salon she either ran or bought. Wimpy’s bought a herd of cows so he can be forever in hamburgers. It’s not a deep character beat, although it is cute to have Wimpy discover he hasn’t the heart to slaughter them. It’s a pretty funny cow herd considering they’re the same cow photocopied many times. Good cow design. Again, freeze the video at about 20:09 and just look at how silly a picture that is.
Swee’Pea’s got a chocolate factory, and has a scheme to justify eating the entire output. I can’t say that’s wrong. I don’t know what Popeye imagined would happen. Bluto Brutus runs his car over Popeye, then backs up to punch him into a mailbox, such well-timed gratuitous violence that it’s a good laugh for me. Besides the chauffeur-driven car Bluto Brutus spent his million on buying all the spinach farms in the country and plowing them under. If you question whether a million dollars would let someone corner the spinach market and destroy it, well, this is why you and I were treated like that in middle school. It’s a weird cartoon. Roll with it.
So of course Bluto Brutus shoves some cash money down Popeye’s throat. And of course it’s good for a spinach power-up because something something spinach ink something and … huh? It’s a bunch of great facial expressions on the way to the story’s conclusion. I’m not saying to make Popeye’s face at 21:30 your new user icon for anything. I’m just saying you’ll stand out in a crowd with that.
Having eaten spinach-inked currency Popeye … see, it’s just weird. But we get some good violence against Bluto Brutus, and a fine bit of body horror where Popeye punches Bluto Brutus into a stack of coins. And then get an extra dose of body horror when Olive Oyl shows off her million-dollar makeover, and Popeye laughs, and she’s so furious the thing crumbles. This cartoon doesn’t reach the body-weirdness heights of It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, but it’s trying.
All that’s left is a wrap-up, Olive Oyl and company begging Popeye for one more chance and learning Popeye’s already given away his last million. It’s an efficient way to wrap up the cartoon, which was trying to hard to end Popeye didn’t even have a couplet to sing at the end. He just tells us he’s Popeye the sailor man.
It’s another cartoon where Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea have noticeably the same voice actor. Mae Questel also does the voice of Millionaire Popeye’s unseen secretary, in a performance that confuses just who’s talking and why. Jackson Beck, the voice of Bluto Brutus, does better as opening narrator Ichael-May Ants-Pay. Jackson Beck did a lot of this kind of narrator or announcer work for radio.
I’m happy with this cartoon. But I can see where a dreamily plotted spoof of a sixty-year-old tv show that may well exist only in parody form wouldn’t work for everyone. I still say they’re funny cow designs.
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.