Thursday, May 30, 2013

Priscilla, Queen of the Tundra

When Empire of the Sun released “Walking on a Dream,” I thought the song was catchy in a way that made me scared that I’d soon hear it in commercials and movie trailers and then eventually hate it — you know, in the way that “Little Talks” has been ruined for me. It got some mainstream play, but in the end, I never felt overexposed to this song, so when Empire of the Sun announced their forthcoming album, Ice on the Dune, I got excited. The lead track sounded great. Everything was shaping up for a primo musical experience.

Then I saw the album art.

It’s, um, expressive and colorful.

Granted, the first album’s art suggested a meeting between Blade Runner and Liberace, but when that album came out, I drove an older car. My new car actually displays the album art of whatever I’m listening to, so I have to look at this gay cosplay version of Final Fantasy — which, of course, would be called Anal Fantasy — whenever I listen to the song… which is kind of often. 

Can we stop and take a look at what someone thought made sense as an image that people would see and use as evidence in deciding whether to buy this album? If you’re more of an “outside kid” than I am and therefore don’t understand my comparisons to Final Fantasy, please examine this promo art for the tenth game in that series.

Now, imagine that this game — still with the saturated color, dramatic but ambiguous poses and unrealistically smooth skin textures — featured not only the hero but also this badass sorceress who had gnarly ice powers as well as, like, some major lady-tude and an enchanted headdress that gave her additional sartorial ferocity. And also she was interesting-pretty. And then a lot of dude-on-dude sex happened. Then you’d pretty much have the Ice on the Dune album art, just as a game. I’ll be honest: That kind of sounds like a video game I’d play. And I think it’s cool that Empire of the Sun — neither member of which, as near as online research can tell me, seems to be gay — went that direction for their new album. I’m just baffled as to why they did so whenever the album art pops up on my car console. It’s a weird reaction, I know — not so much judgment but just “Someone sure made some distinct choices, and I just want to know what their logic was.”

Also, if you want to make the video game I described, I’d basically have to buy it. Just saying.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mary Tyler Moore and the Menstrual Mystery

I’m not so out of touch with the female anatomy that I don’t know what it means to get a visit from Aunt Flo. But what I lack in knowledge of the female body I make up with a command of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and that counts for a lot. So here’s the thing: Other than that metaphorical monthly visitor, there is another famous Aunt Flo. She’s a minor recurring character on Mary Tyler Moore, and she has the odd distinction of being the only one to make an appearance on the spin-off Lou Grant, the hour-long drama that Mary’s boss ended up on following his WJM newsroom days.

Isn’t that weird? Not just that a character from a long-running sitcom ended up on a non-comedy spinoff, but that of all the characters on Mary Tyler Moore, it wasn’t Mary or Rhoda or Murray who ended up popping up on Lou Grant but Aunt Flo, who had only appeared three times on Mary Tyler Moore. You’d think they would have eliminated any connection between Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant, to underscore how different a series the latter was from the former. And they basically did that, save for this one spare appearance of Eileen Heckart in the fourth season of Lou Grant. I think it’s especially odd that of all the characters to reappear, it would be the only one whose name basically means “menstrual discomfort.” But whatever, her name is Florence and she’s Mary’s aunt, right? Nope. She’s actually not even Mary’s aunt; she’s her cousin. Here, watch:

So then my question is this: Were the Mary Tyler Moore writers just making a period joke, if they went out of their way to call a character Aunt Flo?

I mean, I guess first off I’m not sure people would have known that expression back in 1975, when the episode aired. Unfortunately for me (and I guess her), Aunt Flo doesn’t merit an entry in most dictionaries. Wiktionary has one, but it doesn’t give any indication about when people starting using this cute little personification. So here’s what I did: I searched Google Books for “aunt flo” to see when the period jokes start. The result of my less-than-scientific process? A 1999 article on home remedies that mentions Aunt Flo alongside another euphemism for menstruation, “falling off the roof,” which I have never heard before but which sounds especially awful. Unless I missed an entry, it’s the first mention on Google Books of an Aunt Flo who’s not an actual aunt. And yeah — there are a ton of non-metaphorical Aunt Flos, and it’s kind of weird to read about this Aunt Flo or that Aunt Flo talking or writing a letter or arriving at a party or throwing her arms around her nieces and nephews in a warm embrace. Also, many an Aunt Flo has died, apparently, and that takes the metaphor to unpleasant, new territory, and I won’t even talk about the mention of Aunt Flo in the context of bed linens. Even this 1995 book about sexual dynamics in pop culture mentions Aunt Flo the character but not Aunt Flo the phenomenon. So I suppose the Mary Tyler Moore writers weren’t making a subtle off-color joke when they decided Mary should get a visit from her Aunt Flo.

So, now, two questions.

First, could it be possible that Aunt Flo only entered the English language in the 90s, around the time that Cher Horotwitz framed the whole process in much cooler terms when she complained about surfing the crimson tide? I would have guessed that Aunt Flo would be much older, but then again I wasn’t talking about menstruation in the 80s. It’s 2013 and I’m pretty much only talking about now for the first time.

Second, if this expression isn’t as old as I thought, is it possible that Aunt Flo the Mary Tyler Moore character could have helped it become popular? If not through the original airings than through the TV Land reruns? If this is the case, I would like to think the Eileen Heckart found out and reacted with a mix of pride of horror.

And if there’s a better way to research when a certain phrase entered the English language, tell me. If there’s additional information about menstruation that you may have, I’m good, however. You keep that.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Kristen Schaal, Time Traveler

I’ve mentioned before that Zooey Deschanel is a time-traveler who is also probably evil. Now I’m thinking Kristen Schaal is in on this game too. Presenting the cover art for The Smiths’ 1987 album Louder Than Bombs.

I know that it’s actually Shelagh Delaney on the cover, but you have to admit the resemblance is pretty strong. And if Kristen Schaal went back in time to inspire Morrissey, then that would just make the world a better place.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Weird Al Meets James Bond


Casino Royale With Cheese

On Her Majesty’s Secret Sauce Vice

Tomorrow’s Always Pies

A Stew to Spill


From Russia with Russian Dressing


Live and Eat Thai

The Pan With the Golden Bun

The Portion Is Not Enough

The Guy Who Stuffed Meat

For Your Pies Only

Quantum of Salsa

You Only Order Twice

Pie-Monds Are Forever

Pie Another Day

Dr. No I Simply Can’t Go on a Diet


Yes, I realize that’s a lot of pie-centric films staring the gourmand James Bond, but hey — surprisingly few food words rhyme with sky and die.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Jeux Sans Frontieres (She’s… So Popular)

For a long time, I hated Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers,” but much in the way that the opening scene of The Americans reignited my love for “Tusk,” the season finale made me rethink this song. It helps that I now know that Gabriel was using this real-life game show as a metaphor for war, and that he actually had precise referents in mind with the line, “Suki plays with Leo / Sacha plays with Britt / Adolf builds a bonfire / Enrico plays with it.” I don’t think it’s as clever as the world’s biggest Peter Gabriel fan might, however, and the implications of the line “Whistling tunes while we’re pissing on goons in the jungle” are still too awkward to talk about.

It turns out there’s an additional reason to make peace with “Games Without Frontiers,” I just learned. The song also happens to be the theme song to The Race Against Time, a video game for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC systems. The title was released in support of Sport Aid, the same event for which the Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” was released two years earlier. The Commodore 64 version of the song sounds exactly how you’d expect it to, but that’s no reason not to listen. Here, come on:

See, you don’t even miss Kate Bush on back-up vocals.

Video games and pop music, previously:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bart Simpson and the Jacket of Unrequited Love

Here is something that may seem cool to Simpsons fans, that will be completely inconsequential to non-Simpsons fans and that I just realized right now.

And if you’re impatient, here’s the “menu for illiterate people” version of this post:

Long version:

In a fourth season episode of the show, Bart gets his first crush in the form of Laura Powers (voiced by Sara Gilbert), a teenager who moves next door and is essentially Lindsey from Freaks and Geeks before Freaks and Geeks was a thing.

Laura ultimately falls for Jimbo Jones, who unlike Bart is old enough to grow a bad teenage mustache. While Laura’s mother, Ruth Powers (voiced by Pamela Reed), has appeared in many later episodes in both speaking and non-speaking roles, Laura has never appeared on the show again. Most one-off Springfieldians show up at least as background characters in later episodes, but Laura only appeared subsequently in the The Simpsons Movie, which notably featured every Simpsons character ever. That doesn’t mean she’s been completely absent from the show, however: Twelve years later, there was a flash-forward episode in the show’s sixteenth season that shows Bart and Lisa in high school. Over the course of the episode, Bart breaks up with, reconciles with and then breaks up again with Jenda (voiced by Amy Poehler). Anyway, here’s what Jenda wears in her last few scenes, which end with her dumping Bart:

The same basic jacket. Well, a military green “alterna-girl” jacket with chevrons on the sleeves. Pretty damn close, at least, in a way that totally has to be intentional.

Literally, I was cleaning and thinking about The Simpsons, as I do several dozen times per day, when it hit me: Bart ended up marrying the girl wearing the same jacket as his first crush. That’s a nice touch there, person who did that. I mean, Jenda didn’t turn out any better for Bart than Laura did…

But still — a nice callback, and a reminder that at least someone on the show remembers Laura Powers and the glory days of the show.

The Simpsons, previously:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

If the World Had Ended in 1992

Is it weird if my ways of relaxing from working at a computer are essentially the same as working at a computer? Whatever, I did this dismal scene in copper:

It’s a doodle, essentially, without the burden of having to put pencil to paper. Modified background spites found here, here and here. And more of whatever you would call this, pixel-pushing or whatever, here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Little Miss Path Not Taken

I met some people for dinner in Hollywood and opted against going with them to a bar afterward, because I had a busy enough work week that the most anticipated thing about this Friday remains going to bed, because I am a grown-up now, because this is what happens. Besides, I hate playing that game of waiting until I’m good to drive and then second-guessing myself the minute I get behind the wheel. Getting a DUI in Los Angeles means social and professional death, and any additional drinks beyond the one I had with dinner will only make me more anxious about the drive home.

Anyway, once in my neighborhood, I stopped at my liquor store and right at the entrance was this girl who’s clearly too drunk to be in public. She wasn’t, like, a lady hobo or a wasteoid or something, and she probably looked pretty put-together when she left her house this morning. In fact, she still seemed to be wearing her work clothes. But she was drunk in a way I’m not used to seeing since I left Santa Barbara — all sweaty and disheveled and blissfully unaware of everyone else who can see your messiness — and she was tottering on her heels and nodding approvingly whenever the door makes that bing-bong noise announcing someone entering or exiting. It was almost like she was checking to make sure the door did, in fact, make that noise every time, but I’m fairly certain that she hadn’t been hired by the store to monitor this because (a) it seemed unlikely that anyone would hire her in her current condition and (b) this is a silly job for anyone to do.

I maneuvered around her and began looking for Friday night wine, but she eventually got close enough to me that, soon enough, she was tugging at my sleeve just as the door bing-bonged again. “I know that song! What song is that?” she asked me. There was no music playing in the liquor store. Yeah, she was talking about the bing-bong noise. I didn’t know what to say. Someone else walked in. Bing-bong. But I figured she wanted me to say something, so I offer this: “Wait, it’s that one song. Right? The one that guy sings?” A wave of relief passed over her face. “Oh my god, you’re right,” she says, smiling all drunky lopsidey. That was enough for her, and she then pivoted toward the candy bars.

So while I maybe did the boring thing and turned in early tonight, thus enabling me to write this immediately after it happened, at least I didn’t get so messed up that I mistook the liquor store bing-bong as some unplaceable Top 40 hit.

Good night, everyone!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Yogurt of Last Resort

My friend posted on Facebook a photo of an Activia flavor that I’d wager most people don’t know about: Activia Prune.

via twyla johnson
It’s such a loaded product — no pun intended — and I can’t decide what eating Activia Prune in public says about you as a person. Some options:
  • “Why yes, in fact, I am staying in tonight and maybe the whole weekend.”
  • “I done ate something bad, and I want it out of my body yesterday.”
  • “I have damaged my digestive system irreparably, and I’m eating this in the breakroom where everyone can see me because I really want you to ask what I did. Go on. I dare you.”
  • “The guy in the apartment next door knows a lot about my intimate life.”
  • “I’m a busy person. I don’t fuck around.”
  • “I live on the edge.”
  • “I don’t understand how prunes work.”
  • “I lack shame.”
  • “Essentially I’m donating my body to science.”
  • “Can’t talk not, because I need to go catch a cross-state bus, and also I like being the center of attention and also I create stories wherever I go.”
  • “You know how some people can only take maximum strength-level painkillers? Well, I’m the that of this.”
  • “Goodbye, internal organs!”
And it’s all especially curious when you consider that the colon-exploding ramifications of prune-flavored poop yogurt would be muted if they had just said it was plum-flavored. But perhaps the Activia marketing team just knows their audience.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Elsie and the Looking Club

An old book held and celebrated for its cover but not flipped through and then pondered after the fact:

Wait, so is it about a weirdly sexy cow and her friends that spend all day looking at a mirror?

Or is it about a club that just likes looking at Elsie, the weirdly sexy cow, who may not be the most appropriate friend for these children to have?

What, exactly, are they watching Elsie do? Cow stuff? Lady stuff?

Does Elsie know they are watching? (I mean, she looks like she is into it.)

Or do they just all go around looking at things, Sexy Elsie and her human child-friends that maybe she had kidnapped for all I know, because they live in a strange world where a slender-shouldered, elegant cow-woman is somehow not the most interesting thing to look at?

But she is unusually sexy for a cow, no?

Did the children make the daisy chain for her? Is that hinting at something awful? Though literally speaking, they would have had to, because elegant forehoof notwithstanding, she doesn’t have the fingers necessary to weave daisies together.

Is it weird if I can only imagine the worst possible uses for the bucket at the bottom of the illustration?

Are they milking her?

Are they “milking” her?

God, I hope they are milking her and not “milking” her.

Is it a “looking but not touching” club?

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Ceuf or Oeuf?

(A small addendum to the post about the Molly Shannon episode of Hannibal.)

Molly Shannon Hannibal Ceuf Oeuf

I enjoy it when TV shows name their episodes with a certain theme. All the Seinfeld episodes were “The X,” Friends did “The One With X” or “The One Where X,” all the Cougar Town episodes are Tom Petty Songs, and all the Community episodes are named in the style of a college class. I could go on. Each  Hannibal episode take its name from French cuisine, mixing high culture with the literal worst of humanity in a way that really underscores what the show is about. But it all hit a snag with the Molly Shannon episode, which is either titled “Oeuf” or “Ceuf,” depending on where you read it. (Wikipedia has “Oeuf,” while NBC’s official site and iTunes have “Ceuf”.) So what gives? Well, here’s what I think happened.

There is no French word ceuf, from what I can find. However, there is oeuf, which means “egg” and would seem to be appropriate, given how the episode is about evil “hen” Molly Shannon brainwashing children into murdering their families. In writing the word, you may skew fancy and join the “o” and “e” together — a ligature known as oethel or ethel. In print, and especially to American eyes, this doesn’t necessarily look like a conjoined “o” and “e.” See?
Just glancing at it, so much of the “o” is lost that you might mistake it for a “c.” That’s what apparently happened somewhere along the line, and when NBC announced that they’d pulled the episode, they apparently did so with the title rendered as “Ceuf.” Creator Bryan Fuller was apparently not told what the title should have been, and when he give a short intro to the sanitized, Molly Shannon-free web version of the episode, he actually pronounced the title like “soof.”

Hear for yourself:

The strange result of this mix-up is that you can now find a ton of web hits for the word ceuf, whereas far fewer would have existed before. They’re almost all Hannibal-related. And I’m guessing that those that aren’t Hannibal-related are either coincidences (those letters, in order, not appearing as a result of French culinary vocabulary) or other incorrect renderings of oeuf, where someone or some program saw that conjoined “o” and “e” and said, “Oh, that’s obviously a ‘c.’” Hence, ceuf — a word that’s more made-up than most and which has been given sudden popularity as a result of a TV show. And that’s kind of cool, linguistically speaking: a TV show accidentally popularizing a new word, more or less, and giving it meaning that it wouldn’t have had just one month ago.

That’s my guess, anyway. If ceuf means something — in French or otherwise — I’d be happy to hear about it. Does it?

Friday, May 03, 2013

Molly Shannon’s Surprisingly Dark Past

I missed last week’s episode of Hannibal, by which I mean I missed two week’s worth of episodes, seeing as how Bryan Fuller asked to pull the fourth episode, “Ceuf,” out of sensitivity toward the “recent events” that may include Sandy Hook shootings and the Boston bombings. The episode features Molly Shannon as a woman who brainwashes children into murdering their families. And while that may be surprising to people who only know her from her work on Saturday Night Live, she has actually had a string of darker roles in the past. To me, this makes her more interesting.

Molly Shannon Hannibal Oeuf Ceuf

Most notably, considering Hannibal, she appeared on Fuller’s previous series, Pushing Daisies, as a thoroughly unpleasant character: Dilly Balsam, a murderous candy store proprietress. (My working theory is that Hannibal is the dark twin of Pushing Daisies: Both are equally focused on death and food, but while Daisies plays out as a color-saturated fantasy with a lead character who brings corpses back to life and bakes pies. Hannibal is obviously about the opposite of that.) Anyway, Pushing Daisies had Mike White playing Dilly’s doomed brother, Billy. That’s also significant, because White directed Shannon in Year of the Dog, an indie film whose superficial quirk belied a rather brutal study of one woman’s inability to relate to other humans.

Thus, Shannon’s career so far hasn’t been all punchlines and pratfalls and Mary Katherine Gallagher monologues. For example, anyone who’s made their way through Twin Peaks knows that one of the stranger surprises of the last half of the series is Molly Shannon appearing several years before she was on anyone’s radar, much less in a notably unfunny role. Sure, she’s dressed like a lesbian comedian, but she’s actually just an adoption agency rep who figures minorly into Lucy’s storyline, and as Stale Popcorn points out, even then Shannon gets upstaged by the fact that this very episode also features the return of David Duchovny as a cross-dressing FBI agent. Nonetheless, she’s there, and Twin Peaks makes for a strange lead-in to her Saturday Night Live career, which began just a few years later.

Molly Shannon Twin Peaks

Her first credited role is even stranger, however; two years previous, Shannon appeared in a 1989 slasher adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, starring Robert Englund as the title character and Jill Schoelen as Christine. The film jumps between modern-day New York — well, 1989 New York — and Victorian London, but Christine’s buddy Meg Giry exists in both timelines, and Shannon plays the 1989 version.

And oh yeah, they make her character dress like garbage so there’s no mistaking that Schoelen is the pretty one; you can tell right away that this is not the final girl. This isn’t even a girl who gets invited to the chase scenes. She’s the one who’s babysitting dying the finale and who hears about it all afterward in the papers. In fact, she kind of looks like the mousy Maddy Ferguson from Twin Peaks.

Yep, pretty weird, Molly. Not pre-weight loss Richard Simmons appearing in the Fellini Satyricon-level weird, but odd nonetheless.

Check out Dumpy Meg’s scene:

The slasher Phantom of the Opera isn’t a good film, but it’s not even bad enough to be the kind of movie that Mary Katherine Gallagher would have liked. I only watched it because it once aired on this weird station that basically only played bad movies and Mama’s Family but which came in a lot clearer on the monochrome, rabbit-eared TV set I had in my bedroom in high school. If I remember correctly, the guy who introduced movies inferred that this was not the version of Phantom he’d been led to believe the station would be airing. This version does have a lot more spurting blood, but perhaps it’s a better film that way?


Thursday, May 02, 2013

In Which Drew Searches for Frozen Fruit

Since I moved out of Brentwood and away from the one-block radius of a Whole Foods, I rarely have any good grocery store stories nowadays. But oh hey, look: here’s one that happened today.
Me: “Where can I find frozen fruit?”

Grocery store employee: “We don’t have that.”

Me: “You don’t have fruit that's frozen in bags?”

Grocery store employee: “Oh, you mean toppings.”
And though I didn’t think I did, sure enough this kid was right: The frozen fruit case at the Los Feliz Albertson’s is labeled “toppings.” I’d imagine other ones are too.

Now, a few notes:
  • The frozen fruit wasn’t located near the frozen vegetables but with the other desserts.
  • He didn’t say it cheerfully, in the context of “Oh, you silly goose. We actually put those in the ‘toppings’ section here!” He said it like “You fucking dumbfuck. Why would you ask about this product in such a ridiculous, roundabout manner when any sane person would have just asked for the toppings case. Fuck.” He said it as if I had asked him, in a the voice of a bespectacled time-traveller from Victorian England, “Good sir, can you please direct me toward the whereabouts of some bottles of fermented grape juice. We’re dining with the Sultan and his concubines tonight, and they do so love the fermented juice of the Vitis berries.”
  • Wait, people know that you can eat frozen fruit out of the context of sundaes, right? Like, we haven’t come to the point that we as a nation don’t think of it just as the cold version of the stuff that grows on trees but actually supplementary material for ice cream, right? But seriously — right?
  • They only had berries, peaches and cherries. Is that normal? Why the hell don’t we freeze apples?
  • This is why you’re fat. 
  • If they change the name of the juice section to “mixers,” I’m moving to the forest.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Don & Dawn

Is it weird if Mad Men reminds me of Sealab? It’s just in one specific way. I refer to the tale of two Debbies.

I don’t think it occurred to me until the season finale of Archer, on which Jon Hamm voiced what was essentially the Sealab character Captain Murphy. That, along with Kristen Schall and Eugene Mirman joining their Bob’s Burgers co-star H. Jon Benjamin, made the episode one of the weirder instances of one TV show absorbing another since that Seinfeld reunion season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Now, I don’t think anyone on Mad Men has ever referred to Don’s secretary as Black Dawn, but that certainly would be on her coworkers’ minds, given what she represents to them. The partners said as much in this season’s third episode, and it’s a disambiguation that might well be made in SCDP office chatter we don’t see onscreen. At least how I’d pronounce them with my muddle-voweled California accent, Don and Dawn have the same name. Even though all the characters on the show are New Yorkers who might use different vowels, I don’t hear much of a difference between them talking about Don and them talking about Dawn.

Beyond being homophones, there’s a bit to this business with Don and Dawn. The Mad Men universe literally had two Don Drapers, to say nothing of the multiple Dons that he’s presented over the course of the show — Don in the office, Don with Betty, Don with Megan, Don with every other woman he’s stumbled into. You’d have to imagine that during his many brooding sessions Don has realized the strangeness of having a double in the office at all, no less one who acts as an extension of himself by virtue of being his secretary.

Also, don and dawn are both verbs. To don something is to put something on, and I’m sure Mad Men fans have already noted and noted again how that sense matches his last name and his habit of deceiving people. Dawn, however, means to get brighter, in the sense of a sunrise. (Dawn’s last name is Chambers, however, and it’s ironic then that a lot of her co-workers would see her skin color and think of her as darkening the room.) There’s also an extended sense of to dawn that gets even further toward being an opposite of the obscuring, cloaking associations of don: to begin to be perceived, in the sense of “the truth dawned on me.”

I’m probably overthinking this, but it would be rather on-the-nose if Dawn Chambers ended up playing some role in unmasking Don Draper. I mean, to have Black Dawn spill the beans that the other Don isn’t a Don at all but some guy named Dick Whitman? Too much.

“dick whitman’s office. this is dawn speaking. no, the other one.”
I hope Mad Men wouldn’t take this route, but then again, the show did introduce a black character named Dawn to represent the beginning of the age of racial integration. And that, when you think about it, should also seem just a little too perfect.