Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Simpsons Yellow vs. Lego Yellow

Sometimes you’re doing the dishes and it occurs to you that you have two childhood loves that have continued into adulthood — The Simpsons and Legos — and both use bright yellow as its default skin color.  Just maybe if you looked up the official Pantone color selections, you could find out if these yellows were actually the same.

 They are, I’m pretty sure.

The default Lego minifigure color is referred to by the company as Bright Yellow and that corresponds with a happy, cheddary egg yolk color known as Pantone 116 C. (It’s also the hexadecimal code FECB00, which I am choosing to pronounce as “feckboo.”) I can’t find anything especially official for The Simpsons color guides, but at least these two sites identify Springfield Caucasian as Pantone 116 C as well. This site, however, only refers to it as Pantone 116, which could be a slightly larger range of yellows. That might explain why Lego Homer and Classic Homer don’t appear exactly the same in last season’s Lego episode.

But until I find otherwise from something official and Simpsons-y, I think Simpsons skin yellow and Lego skin yellow are one in the same. By the way, the idea popped into my head after I saw the official Nintendo character guide from 1993, which also identifies the proper, official colors for Mario and friends. Mario and Pauline have different skin tones. Weird, right?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions About Smash Bros.

Someone recently pointed out to me that the new Smash Bros. at its most frantic looks to lifelong gamers the way early home console video games must have looked to our parents: a boggling flurry of colors and shapes that just doesn’t make any sense. It’s true. In spite of a life playing video games, I still feel my eyes glazing over when I play Smash Bros. Suddenly, I’m watching someone else’s character as I calmly trot my guy off a ledge.

See for yourself.

Here, then, are the frequeenly asked questions about Smash Bros., based off a grow play session comprised of people who grew up playing video games but still could not keep up.

Wait, who am I?

Wait, who’s killing me?

Did I just die?

Why did I just die?

Wait, why did they make it so Wario could be basically identical colors to Mario? How is that fair?

What did I just do? Am I winning?

Wait, is that Pac-Man?

Really, Pac-Man?

Is Pac-Man still a thing?


Can you play as Rampage?

Can you play as Dixie Kong?

Can you play as Ms. Pac-Man?

Why isn’t Bowser bigger?

Why are there two Kirbys?

Why did my Kirby just fall asleep?

Why didn’t I know that Nintendo owns Pok√©mon?

Why can’t I ride Yoshi?

Who is shooting me?

Wait, are all my lives gone?

Closing thought: Video games have given us an opportunity to speak the sentence “I died” heretofore unseen in human history.

Monday, December 22, 2014

I Didn’t Like SNL’s Serial Sketch

I think I’m missing a certain humor gene.

My friend Ryan, who lives in Michigan for some reason, texted me around 9 p.m. to tell me that Saturday Night Live was doing a Serial parody. Ryan and I had talked earlier about Serial, in particular that boneheaded tweet that Best Buy had posted about payphones. Ryan thought that the Serial-related tweet that Sesame Street posted was okay.

That Slate article agreed, but I wasn’t into it. Even if Sesame Street historically pushes puns and makes fun of current trends regardless of whether they’re kid friendly, this was a dumb little throwaway joke. To me, it only existed to make people say, “Hey! It’s that thing I know! In that other thing I know! I’m in on this!” But the 5,000-something Twitter users to retweeted it clearly liked it.

I feel similarly about SNL’s Serial sketch, which has Sarah Koenig investigating Santa Claus. On a technical level, it’s spot-on, if you can overlook the awkwardness of transforming a podcast into something that suddenly has a a video element. But the sketch didn’t make me laugh. Again, all the people who introed it on Facebook with “LOL!” felt differently. Here’s the sketch, in case you didn’t see it already because you’re that rare bird who has only a casual relationship with Serial.

Cecily Strong’s Koenig is pretty good, and Aidy Bryant takes Christina Gutierrez’s inexplicable sing-song speech patterns to weird, new heights, but I didn’t get much out of the sketch even though I’ve spent the last twelve weeks turning the Serial story over and over in my head. Now, I realize there are worse problems than having an SNL sketch not work for you, but as I keep seeing the sketch on social media — including a post from an L.A. NPR station that dubbed the parody “brilliant” — I keep wondering why I didn’t like it. Maybe it just wasn’t that funny. Maybe it just wasn’t funny to me.

Or maybe it’s that that girl is still dead.

I know, that’s so self-righteous of me, if not full-blown hypocritical, considering how much mileage I’ve gotten out of a certain person who was devoured by raccoons. But I honestly think it’s awkward and a little tacky to take all the trappings of Serial and lay them over a silly Christmas story. When I was watching the sketch, I thought about Adnan, the convicted murderer who is maybe innocent and we still don’t really know what happened there, watching the Santa Claus-as-Adnan character and thinking, “Oh, that’s me. Huh.” I thought about Hae Min Lee’s little brother explaining on Reddit the difference between a soapy crime drama and a shitty thing that actually happened and actually ruined a few people’s lives.

I’m not saying that Serial, as a pop cultural property, should be off-limits. Law & Order ripped straight from the headlines, as we were told, for years without too much blowback. Besides, this same SNL had a Weekend Update joke about the podcast that I liked. (Seriously, there is a white person out there who thinks he knows a lot about Baltimore just from The Wire and Serial.) The Funny or Die Serial parody even offered commentary on one of the fundamental problems of treating the subject matter like a fictional narrative: real-life situations often don’t have tidy, satisfying endings. But I had similar weird feelings about the Black Dahlia character in the first season of American Horror Story, and I’m thinking there’s a line that exists somewhere in my head that I don’t want pop culture to cross, because then the actual tragedy creeps in and that’s all I can think about.

And that’s probably the most selfish part of all: I want to enjoy my entertainment without the threat of real-life tragedy diminishing my pleasure and making me feel the slightest bit opportunistic.

For what it’s worth, the SNL sketch that worked best for me this week starred raccoons but didn’t make me think of the horrible thing that happened in my neighborhood. It was also the strangest and the least rooted in any kind of relevance or reality.

Cecily said “I get to yum-yum garbage”! Now that’s funny.

Friday, December 19, 2014

I Don’t Want to Live in Your Marshmallow World

Hi. Do you know this song “Marshmallow World”? Because I didn’t up until a few weeks ago. Here, it sounds like this.

I am one of those annoying people who actively enjoys Christmas and its various trappings — the food, the pagan gobbledygook we hang all over our houses and even the dumb songs. Now, there are not often new Christmas carols. People try, but it’s hard to write a song that people will actually be singing a year from now, to say nothing of a full decade. We tell the song-writers, “No, who needs your dumb garbage song when we have, like, a hundred other Christmas carols that we already know the words to?”

This year, however, I have heard “Marshmallow World” repeatedly — in a commercial, in a viral video, at the grocery store and twice at the same mall. I had never noticed it before. I initially thought it was maybe one of those new garbage songs, but it’s apparently been around since Bing Crosby recorded the first version in 1950. It’s possible that everyone else knows about this song and I’m just oblivious, but even if there’s not a concentrated push for “Marshmallow World,” I want to go on the record saying it sucks.

I realize the importance of secular holiday songs, but songs about winter are dumb because everyone knows it’s the season in which you’re most likely to die wearing a scarf. Snow makes most things worse. Also, when it snows, it doesn’t look like marshmallows. If you’re comparing snow to food, then shaved coconut or frosting make more sense. Marshmallows are uniform in size, whereas snow does not come in standardized units. As it stands now, “Marshmallow World” sounds like the worst set of levels from Super Mario Bros. 3. Finally, the line “It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts” is offensively dumb. People who talk about how bad songwriting has gotten today need to remember that as long as words have been put to music, people have been half-assing it and saying “Well, this fits. Let’s just keep these crap lyrics until we think of something better” and then never thinking of anything better.

Please, stop with your non-Parson Brown-starring odes to the glimmering magic of a winter landscape.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Dancinest Hemisphere of All!

Twenty-five years later, The Simpsons still teaches me about the worst of pop culture from before I was born.

Remember, if you will, Hooray for Everything, the group of “clean-cut young go-getters” that perform during the halftime show in the episode “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.” You only hear a few seconds of their song, but Homer seems to enjoy it enough.

I have had those few seconds of that stupid song in my head ever since. It’s my go-to mental example of the kind of insipid, crowd-pleaser pop you might have heard at a halftime show back in the day. I figured that’s what the Simpsons staff had in mind when they wrote it. But then last night, I caught the end of an FXX rerun of “Goin’ to Praiseland,” the 2001 episode in which Ned Flanders opens a Christian-themed amusement park. Even though the episode’s guest star is Shawn Colvin, that same terrible song plays over the end credits, and you hear more of it than you do in “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.”

“Surely, they just had more of the song left over from when they first wrote it back in 1990,” I told myself. “Surely, no actual song could be so terribly catchy but also so terrible. Surely.”

Then I Shazamed it. It’s real, though I doubt I’m the only my age who had only experienced it via The Simpsons. The song is “Get Dancin’” by a band I’d never heard of, because I would have remembered a name as bad as Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes. In its entirely,  “Get Dancin’” is even dumber and brighter and bouncier and more annoying than I could have even imagined. It’s worse than “The Hustle.” Hell, it’s seven minutes long.

And now you have it in your head.

That’s not the only appearance of Hooray for Everything on The Simpsons, by the way. They perform a worse cover of a more recognizable song in “Selma’s Choice.”

I’d like to think that the same expert in terrible, impossibly upbeat pop music was responsible for introducing me to Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine, Rainbows and Lollipops” in “Marge on the Lam.” And maybe Homer singing “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”? And maybe Homer singing “Spanish Flea”?

I was equally surprised to learn that the lyrics Homer was singing weren’t made up for the show, that “Spanish Flea” even had lyrics, and that a recording group ever thought their name should be The Doodletown Pipers.

Someone clearly knew their shit. And their shit was shit music.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An Open Letter to a Skunk

Dear Mr. Skunk,

First, I would like to apologize for the circumstances of our meeting a few nights back. You see, I didn’t expect to run into anyone when I was taking out my garbage, to say nothing of finding someone hiding behind my trash receptacle. I feel I surprised you as well. The noise you made sounded like a surprised one, at least.

Now that we have been properly acquainted, however, I must ask you to stop digging.

You seem keen on dotting my backyard with small holes — sometimes dozens in a single night. They are small and shallow, none of them big enough to fit a golf ball. I do not understand why you do this, but please understand that your hobby is making a mess of my yard. There is dirt where I do not want dirt. You have uprooted plants. For what, I ask?

What are you looking for?

What do you think you’ve buried just an inch below the soil surface?

Why do you think these lost articles are hidden beneath my groundcover?

Why do you hate my groundcover?

Why are you bad at hiding things?

Are you attempting to bury something and then rethinking the proposition moments later, only to start another abortive burial several inches to the side?

Why do you return to the same spot to dig up a hole that you have dug — and I have un-dug — just days later? Do you think the contents of the earth will change that much in such a short time?

At the very least, do something practical with the hole, please. When the neighborhood cats dig holes in my yard, they do so for the purposes of shitting. I do not condone this — and, in fact, they have suffered reprisals for their instance on doing this — but at least I understand why they’re doing it. There’s nothing in your holes. No shit to speak of. I’m not saying “Shit in a hole or stop digging,” but at least I could relate to that logic, you know?

Whatever your motivation, this must end. I’ve researched online measures I could take to deter you, but I don’t think either of us want it to come to this.

You have a floofy tail that reminds me of my border collie. I want to like you, but you’re not making it easy.

Happy holidays. Please stop.

Drew Mackie

Previous coverage of the “Shit that happens in my backyard” beat:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What Do You Do With a Dying Monarch?

At first I thought it was a leaf caught in the wind, but when it landed in my hand, I could see that it was moving too regularly. No, it was a monarch butterfly that had either run out of time or seen some serious action. Its wings were smashed. A few of its legs had been lopped off. It was broken. It seemed to move with great difficulty.

But it was moving, at least.

My first reaction was to just squish its little head, to save it from the pain, but I couldn’t do that. I’m honestly unsure that butterflies can feel pain. Besides, looking into its big eyes, I felt like it wasn’t my place. However, I also couldn’t leave it alone. So I just stood there, watching him beat his wings as he rested in my hand.

I put the butterfly on a cement paver — yes, that cement paver, actually — and just sat next to it. It didn’t care or probably even know, I realize. I’m totally projecting that it wanted me there. I would have wanted someone there.

I took some videos of what happened. That seemed important. Sometimes it was looking directly at me.

I’d never gotten so close to a butterfly for so long. I’d never gotten such a close look at one. You’d think it would look alien, but butterflies are more people-y than other insects; their proportions make them easier to anthropomorphize in your head.

Sometimes it seemed like it was struggling to do something. I couldn't tell what.

And then it eventually stopped struggling.

I put it on an orange kalanchoe when it stopped moving. Last I checked, it was still there.

So what spiritually devastating thing happened to you today?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

She Everywhere 2: Return to the Raccoon House

Earlier this year, I thrilled dozens with the story of how I learned that a woman in my neighborhood was apparently devoured by raccoons. Yes, the devouring happened posthumously, but that adverbs saps a bit of the power from the phrase “devoured by raccoons,” doesn’t it?

Today I present to you a new chapter in the “She Everywhere” saga that involves avocados and more hyper-local urban legends.

For most of the end of summer, I was tearing out my front lawn to replace it with plants that require less water. One day, when I was barefoot and covered in dirt, a nice gay couple pulled up. Both the guys were about my age, and they came bearing a grocery bag of avocados, because that’s how you make a grand, neighborly gesture in California. They explained that they’d seen me working in the yard and wanted to welcome me to the neighborhood. I asked where they lived and they said they lived just nearby — “in a house around the corner.”

“Is it the white one with all the plants in front?”

They said that it was. And at that moment, I knew I was talking to the very “two guys, no wifes” that had moved into the Raccoon House. I didn’t say anything about it. There’s no graceful way to ask that one: “So is it true that the previous owner was ripped to shreds in your backyard?”

They left, and those avocados sat on the counter for about a week before I got hungry enough to try produce that was maybe-possibly-probably fertilized by spinster corpse. They were damn good avocados, I’m happy to report. That’s a lesson to all you backyard farmers out there: If you want tasty avocados, kill an unmarried woman.

Our houses being so close to each other, we’ve had reason to say hi a few more times, and eventually they had me over for drinks. Remember when I said there was no graceful way to inquire about the on-site death? Well, when I drink, I get less graceful, and it didn’t take long for a question about the previous owner to segue into this crazy story I’d heard about the property.

And this is where it gets awkward.

The one guy said he’d never heard anything like that. The other guy nodded and said, “Yeah, actually, the lady who lived here before also died here.” I asked if the story about the yard was true, and he said to his understanding, no. What actually happened was even worse. According to him, the previous owner was a hoarder who’d let the house fall into a state of disrepair. She did die on the property, but not in the backyard: she died inside. But the house was in such a state that it wasn’t secure from the various outside elements, and though the animals did eventually get to her, they got to her inside the house — not in the backyard.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.

The first guy wanted to know why he hadn’t been informed of the circumstances of the vacancy, and the other guy explained that he assumed he’d rather not know. Which he did now. Because I brought it up.

I suppose the moral of this chapter might be that I am a terrible guest, but the story isn’t over yet. Even the “she everywhere inside the house” version of the story didn’t come from the realtor. That’s just what a neighbor said. Apparently, unless the on-site death resulted from murder or suicide, the seller isn’t required to divulge details to the buyer. At least Two Guys, No Wifes didn’t get them, anyway, just that someone had died, with no mention of the role of raccoons.

Now I wonder how difficult it would be to get those details — literal gory details, for the first time since I quit my job at the newspaper.

Now I also wonder why anyone invites me anywhere, really.

Previous funny stories about awful things:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Baffling Concept of Kiss Cams

Because you may never spend quite so much time reflecting on why the Kiss Cam is a strange institution until you have to explain it to someone who is not from the United States and has never watched an American sports game. What follows is an edited, cleaned-up version of this conversation.

The Man From Another Place: What is a Kiss Cam?

Me: It's this thing where they point a camera at a couple at a sports event, and the couple is displayed on the big TV screen that everyone in the stadium can see.

MFAP: Is that an American creation?

Me: Probably? I actually have no idea if other countries have it.

MFAP: How do people know how it works?

Me: You just do. Like, it's been going on for a while, and when you see yourself up there it will actually put the words "Kiss Cam" on the screen so you know to kiss.

MFAP: It's weird if it's American because Americans don't like sex.

Me: That's kind of true. We have a hang-up about displays of sex, yeah.

MFAP: So why do people do it?

Me: Well, it's not sexy, exactly. It's usually to show that you love the person next to you.

MFAP: Oh, so it's like the kind of kiss you'd give your grandmother.

Me: Actually, not always. Some people really go at it.

MFAP: And what do the other people watching the game do?

Me: They cheer.

MFAP: What happens if the people onscreen don't kiss?

Me: The crowd might boo at them.

MFAP: Because they're not putting on a show for everyone?

Me: I guess? I've never really thought about it.

MFAP: They boo because the people aren't in a relationship?

Me: Basically. There's no way to communicate, "No, we're brother and sister."

MFAP: I feel like Americans shouldn't like Kiss Cams, then.

Me: Yeah, it might make more sense if it was a punch cam, and you have to physically assault the person next to you in the stands.

MFAP: How does the camera man know that he's showing a couple and not just friends?

Me: I have no idea.

MFAP: What happens if they put a man and woman who aren't in a relationship on the Kiss Cam? What if they were brother and sister?

Me: They'd probably get booed, I guess.

MFAP: Do they ever put same-sex couples on the Kiss Cam?

Me: No? I don't know. I haven't been to a sports game in a while. Maybe they do now.

MFAP: It would seem like gay people would be mad if they never got featured on the Kiss Cam.

Me: This is probably a thing somewhere.

MFAP: Now I feel like I understand the Kiss Cam better. Thanks!

Me: See, now I don't.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Last Decade on Murder, She Wrote

In lieu of a real post updating my life’s accomplishments, challenges and complications, I present to you a list of the random, before-they-were-famous guest stars on Murder, She Wrote. Revel in clothes and hairstyles that haven’t traveled well to 2014.

Kate Mulgrew as a glamorous actress with a dead body guard.

George Clooney as a good-looking guy who maybe doesn’t get enough sleep.

Charlotte Rae as a soured socialite.

Robert Reed as creepy Alex Trebek (apparently).

Billy Zane as a guy living it up while he still has a good head of hair.

Megan Mullaly as a high-minded lawyer who dresses like Diane Chambers. Really, her outfits steal the episode. I can’t imagine what the tactic was in dressing her in this manner, but for god’s sakes, lookit.

Jessica Walter as a proto-Lucille Bluth, basically, who also dresses exactly how Lucille Bluth would have dressed in the ’80s.

Time-traveling Kate McKinnon (apparently)

Florence Henderson as a hot shit fashion designer.

Courteney Cox as a prim bride pushed to the edge in a circus-themed episode.

Linda Hamilton and Bryan Cranston as ill-fated lovebirds in a tennis-themed episode.

Eve Plumb, a.k.a. Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch (right) as a hardened prison inmate named Tug.

James Marshall, a.k.a. James Hurley from Twin Peaks.

And Meg Foster, a.k.a. Evil-Lyn from Masters of the Universe.

EDIT: I’m just going to tack on subsequent Murder, She Wrote celeb sightings to the bottom of this post. Enjoy.

There’s also young Conchata Ferrell, more or less playing the type of role she plays as old Conchata Ferrell.

Pamela Voorhees herself, Betsy Palmer.

And time-traveling Maria Bamford (again, apparently).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Destroy Your Toe

I have ten toes, like normal. I used to think I had nice-looking feet, as far as guy feet go, but that’s not really the case anymore. Now I have one big toe with one little toenail.

This is the story of how I did this thing to myself.

This summer, I moved into a house, and the house had several trees that badly needed pruning. I found a guy to do this, and he eventually brought in his team of dudes to shape the trees as well as do some other work that I couldn’t do myself. This situation caused some feelings of insecurity for me. I’ve generally tried to do all the house chores myself, but I lacked the tools to trim trees, to say nothing of the know-how.

When the workers got to my house, the head tree-trimming dude pointed out that the cement paver path that runs through my yard would make it difficult to push wheelbarrows in and out of the yard.

“Can they be moved?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve moved them myself before.”

He seemed surprise by this. “You moved these yourself?”

“Yeah, I can move them. It’s actually pretty easy.” (This was a lie. It actually isn’t easy.)

“Oh, okay, then. I was going to sic the guys on it, but yeah, it would be helpful if you could get these out of the way before we get started.”

And so I felt better, because here was something I could do, to be helpful and to demonstrate that I had agency and man-strength enough to move these cement squares that the foreman presumed were too heavy. As the workers start hauling in the sharp, lobster claw-looking tools they use to chop branches, I started prying up the pavers, then rolling them end-over-end and out of the way.

Did I mention I wasn’t wearing shoes at the time?

Yeah, you see where this is going.

I rolled the final paver out of the way — not easily, I should admit, because they’re heavy as hell — and when I finally got it where I wanted it, I let it drop. And it fell corner-first onto my right toe.

I didn’t make any noise. I didn’t give any reaction at all, I don’t think. I just picked up that one side of paver and slid my foot out from beneath it and then hobbled inside, leaving a trail of blood behind me. It didn’t gush blood. It wasn’t like getting punched in the nose. But it bled for about an hour — after I washed it and poured rubbing alcohol on it and swaddled it in paper towels. And so there I sat — on my couch, with an ice pack resting on my discolored, leaking toe as I watched Hallmark Channel reruns of Golden Girls and tried very hard to concentrate on anything other than how badly my toe hurt.

There’s irony here. I injured myself because I’d wanted to prove that I was strong enough, and I only ended up sitting on my couch, watching Bea Arthur waltzing around in a weird cape dress as I tried not to cry. (I also am not strong enough to wear a cape dress.)

Subsequently, the toe manifested all manner of colors — from red to yellow to purple to black to clear, when it just stopped existing. It’s coming back, slowly, but now my big toe is more skin than toenail, so it just kind of looks like Melissa Gorga. The good news is that I will eventually have a proper toenail again. I just need to wait, and meanwhile every time I glance down at my bare feet I have this horribly asymmetry to remind me that pride truly does goeth before the fall — of the cement paver, directly onto my toe.

The bad side, of course, is that this probably won’t prevent me from hurting myself, physically or otherwise, in an effort to prove my worth as an able-bodied human.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Country Roses: A Lesser-Known SNL Sketch You Should Probably Watch

Here is the latest in an ongoing series of bygone Saturday Night Live sketches that haven’t gotten their due. “Country Roses” comes from a 2004 episode hosted by Jennifer Aniston, and it’s a faux commercial for a compilation of old country songs performed by female artists. It’s amazing, and one of the better all-female sketches in the show’s history. Tragically, it’s hard to find online. There are still chunks of SNL’s recent past that just do not exist online in glossy, hi-def format, so I had to yank this couple from a Russian YouTube wannabe that seemed darkened back alley-level sketchy.

But because I love you — yes, you — I’ve made it just a little more accessible. Enjoy.

Despite being relatively forgotten, this episode has introduced a lot of key phrases to my vocabulary, including “Ain’t nothing cuter than a fat country baby eatin’ peaches off a hardwood floor,” “When I told my husband to take out the trash, I sure as hell didn’t mean you,” and “Mama, why are there snowflakes?”

I hope Dana Jean Harley makes as lasting an impression on you.

Fun fact, BTW: Since I originally saw this sketch, I found out that the first performer featured in it, Lynn Anderson, used to be friends with my parents. I actually own the record single of her singing “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” though that’s not the most spectacular piece of Lynn Anderson history that I own. That, of course, would be this.

And you have to admit, it’s a glorious thing.

Weird SNL sketches, previously:

Monday, November 3, 2014

That One Bizarrely Twin Peaks-y Episode of Darkwing Duck

Seeing how last month was bookended by posts about the second coming of Twin Peaks and unusually scary sitcom episodes, this seems like a logical place to kick off November.

Nearly a year after the last episode of Twin Peaks aired, the Disney cartoon Darkwing Duck aired an episode inspired by the David Lynch series. Given how cartoon production works, I’d imagine that this episode “Twin Beaks” was conceived at the height of Twin Peaks mania — and a point when the Darkwing showrunners figured Twin Peaks was a shoe-in for a third season. As it stood in 1992, however, “Twin Beaks” arrived a little late to ride the Twin Peaks bandwagon, as the wagon’s wheels had fallen off long beforehand.

Its lateness probably didn’t make much of a difference to its target audience — kids like me, just ten years old at the time — didn’t get the references, and just reacted with, “Oh, okay, This episode is a little weird. Yay, cartoons!” I had only the scantest awareness of Twin Peaks at the time, as I was forbidden from watching it. All I ever saw was the bits advertised on ABC. In fact, I didn’t actually watch Twin Peaks until college, after the religious experience of watching Mulholland Drive in the theater. When I finally did, I thought about this Darkwing Duck episode and how all of its weirdness made sense — or as much sense as you can make when you’re springboarding off David Lynch.

Today, I’m impressed this episode got made. It’s defiantly weird, even for a cartoon like Darkwing Duck, which skewed edgier than most Disney fare, and there’s something noble in doing a genre parody that will fly over the heads of most of the people who watch it. In case you have never seen it — or in case you just remembered it as that inexplicable Darkwing Duck with the strummy guitar for no apparent reason — I’ve made a condensed version of it, with all the Twin Peaks-y moments and a rough semblance of the plot. It’s like Cliffs Notes — for nostalgia! Because this is how we live now!

Highlights and notes after the jump.

A primer in case Darkwing Duck was never part of your particular Disney afternoon: It’s a spinoff of DuckTales that has Scrooge’s pilot, Launchpad McQuack, leaving Duckberg for St. Canard, where he plays sidekick to the Batman-like resident superhero. The plant-duck-thing you see at the beginning of the clip is Dr. Bushroot, who’s basically the Poison Ivy of the Darkwing Duck universe.

The first especially Twin Peaks moment occurs just after the one-minute mark. That background music doesn’t occur anywhere else in the series aside from this episode, unless I’m mistaken. It sounds just like the darker parts of “Laura’s Theme.” Around the two-minute mark, you hear even more riffs on Angelo Badalamenti’s music, and the “Twin Beaks” theme is close enough to “Falling” that it puts me in the very same relaxed mindset, knock-off status notwithstanding.

I don’t think the character name Trudi is coincidental: Though Norma owns the diner, there’s recurring Twin Peaks character named Trudy who works as a waitress at the Great Northern. Giving Trudi Nadine’s eyepatch is actually a fitting way to further tie Norma and Nadine together, really.

Around the 2:40 mark, you see Dr. Bushroot’s dried up body wrapped in plastic and tossed into the river. Even understanding the source material, I have to admit that this is an oddly dark moment for a Disney cartoon. Would you have expected that a series that exists in the DuckTales universe would so directly address the topic of death? And corpses?

The musical effect that accompanies Bushroot’s corpse falling into the river is oddly lighthearted and whimsical. This may have been intentional.

I like how Darkwing ultimately offers a more concrete explanation for a talking log than Twin Peaks ever actually did.

I also didn’t realize while watching as a kid that Darkwing himself is kind of jerk to his friends. He just has the crankiest responses.

Two thirds of the way through, the episode takes a sharp turn into B-movie sci-fi, Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style, which isn’t any weirder than anything else that happens in the story, really, and which may have resulted from the writers didn’t have an ending to Twin Peaks that they could trace their way to. (Really, we still don’t, all these years later.) I suppose it does tie in well enough with Twin Peaks’ theme of doubling. Darkwing’s dream sequence isn’t particularly David Lynch-inspired, but it is weird as hell. I say that in a good way: It’s always good to see unbridled lunacy in something that kids watch.

And then in the end, the warning “The cows are not what they seem” is explained away by having the Earth’s saviors be alien cows, who arrive and blast in the cabbage clone menace with lasers. Maybe the weirdest thing of all in this episode would have to be the revelation that the spacecows come from “the planet Larson on the far side of the galaxy,” which is nod to Gary Larson’s cow-populated Far Side comic that gets wedged into the episode despite the lack of any tie to Twin Peaks. Again, I’m not complaining: I actually got this reference when the episode first aired, and it made me feel smart.

According to IMDb, Ruth Buzzi is the voice of the spacecow. (And yes, the voice of Gosalyn is clearly the same person who provided the voice of the original Babe.)

This episode isn’t the only Twin Peaks parody to be called “Twin Beaks.” That may not be all that surprising, considering that your options are limited when making a kid-friendly riff on a supernatural soap opera about a dead homecoming queen. A February 26, 1991, episode of Sesame Street features a “Monsterpiece Theater” segment that is also titled “Twin Beaks.”

I’m pretty sure those dual-beaked bird puppets would have given me nightmares if I’d seen them as a kid.

And in case my abbreviated Twin Peaks wasn’t enough for you, you can watch the full clip below.

For now, anyway.

Weird TV, previously:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

This Tree Bears Deadly Fruit

Can we talk about the loaded symbolism of this comic book cover for a moment?

On second thought... let’s not.

DC’s Unexpected, May 1972. Cover art by Nick Cardy. Originally posted by Rainy Day Recess.

Also, while on the subject, Unexpected, December 1867. Cover art by Jack Sparling.

A Scary Horror Movie Scene in Which Nothing Explicitly Scary Happens

If pressed to name the scariest movie scene I’ve ever seen, I’d probably go with one in Lost Highway that introduces Robert Blake’s menacingly grinning character. Lost Highway isn’t technically a horror film, but David Lynch delves into the mystical, otherworldly, soul-shattering stuff often enough that it doesn’t need to be. It’s scary just as a neo-noir art film.

Dario Argento’s 1980 film Inferno features a completely G-rated scene that has always unnerved me and that I would like to offer for your consideration.

Give it a spin. It’s fairly brief.

Some context: Inferno is Argento’s sequel to Suspiria, which pits an American ballerina against a coven of German witches hiding in a dance academy. Much of Inferno concerns American music student Mark Elliot leaving Rome for New York to help his sister, who believes her apartment building may home to a second cluster of witches. The above scene takes place early in the film, before he arrives in New York.

Inferno is not as visually spectacular as Suspiria — and if you don’t know how beautiful the latter movie is, please have a look at this post, which offers a few dozen stills of the movie in all its color-saturated glory — but it has some good scary moments. The classroom scene, however, is the one that has stuck with me most, and for just one reason: It is the movie scene that best re-creates what it’s like to have a dream, at least for the kinds of dreams I have.

I have nightmares every now and then, but more often than not, I have these less outwardly scary dreams in which I’m trapped in a familiar setting where events are unfolding in an unrealistic manner that causes me gradual, increasing concern. The Inferno scene has Mark in an innocuous enough environment, a college lecture hall, but as he listens to the music, it becomes increasingly apparent that something is wrong.

Around the one-minute mark, he starts acting like he may be ill. A few seconds later, it gets explicitly weird: He sees that beautiful woman stroking her cat. His reaction? “Oh, Now’s a good time to read that letter my sister sent me about witches or some junk.” Within a few moments, the beautiful woman has noticed Mark, and she’s mouthing something to him. Importantly, he doesn’t offer any big reaction to this. It’s more of an “Okay, that’s weird. Let’s just roll with this.”

This is how I dream. Most dreams I have involve me being somewhere, tasked by my subconscious to follow a script that initially seems like it’s on the up-and-up. I don’t realize I’m dreaming. Then, something weird happens. Something appears in a place where it shouldn’t be. Someone acts in a way that even my subconscious knows it’s right. But I’m always too scared to react — to break character, I guess — and I continue with the scene, trying to follow its logic no matter how weird it may seem.

Then there’s the silent mouthing of words. This happens a lot in my dreams, and usually by someone I don’t know in real life. That’s a strange thing to wrap your head around, isn’t it? That the mental headshot gallery of everyone you’ve ever met doesn’t have anyone quite right for the part, so your brain just invents a whole fictional character — without your permission — to play a role in your dream. And then these strangers, whom I kinda-sorta invented and maybe-possibly have to take some responsibility, attempt to tell me something, but I can’t hear them. There’s background noise or they simply are moving their mouth but not producing words, and while it seems like the most important thing in the world to figure out what they’re trying to say, I can’t hear them.

And then I wake up.

Fittingly, for this discussion, the mysterious, beautiful woman in the lecture hall does not appear in the film again.

I don’t know if these moments happen to everyone else quite so often. Actually, I also don’t know if most people are likely to decide that the show must go on and follow along with dumb dream nonsense, either. Do you?

Inferno, for what it’s worth, has many more surreal scenes and many more explicitly scary ones. Just because tomorrow is Halloween, I’ll leave you with a more traditional horror movie scene. In this one, Mark’s sister Rose finds a hole in the floor of her apartment building’s basement. It’s full of water and, inside, there’s a whole room that’s eloquently decorated but also submerged in water. Again, following screwy dream logic, she’s just all “Okay, this is weird,” and jumps right in to explore.” You know, like anyone would.

Maybe dreams and horror movies both require the removal of logical reactions to strange situations?

Ana Pieroni, who played the mysterious woman, later appeared in Argento’s Tenebre, as a sexy shoplifter, because that’s a character type in Argento movies. I had to gif her magnificence in Inferno.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Graveyard Hyperbole

You might suspect a little hyperbole when reading the marker for Mickey Rooney’s resting place in the walls of the new Hollywood Forever mausoleum.

However, just a few slots about Rooney on the mausoleum totem pole-o’-eternal peace is another man, whose chief claim to fame seems to be coin-collecting and whose marker is the ballsiest in the entire graveyard.

It’s hard to read, stretching toward the heavens and above everyone else’s graves, so here’s a close-up look at that text.

Yep, “The Greatest Man the World has been blessed with.” Suck on that, everyone else in Hollywood Forever and also Mickey Rooney. For what it’s worth, it has prompted me to remember this guy... if only for his epitaph.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Facial Hair Dysmorphia

My name is Drew, and I feel insecure about my facial hair.

Let me describe for you a cycle that’s been going on for most of my post-pubescent life. Facial hair grows in, and stubble approaches beard status. About a week in, however, I begin to notice imperfections. “Oh, these few hairs don’t lie flat, and it looks patchy over yonder, and hey — have these two sides always been so asymmetrical?” I trim in an attempt to even it out. This maybe lasts a day or so, because when I’m next standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I realize that my attempts to fix the problem only made it worse. Of course, this only prompts me to try again to fix it, and in the end I end up buzzing it all away, back down to stubble, whereupon the cycle begins again.

(And no, clean-shaven is not an option for me. When I shave it off, I think I look like a kid play-acting as a grown-up. It creeps me out.)

Based on that description, you might think I’m critical of facial hair in general, but here’s the thing: I can’t remember the last time I saw some else’s stubble, beard, near-beard or whatever and had anything other than a positive reaction to it. Goatees excepted, I think facial hair better looks better than no facial hair, and I give everyone else a pass that I don’t give myself. At 32 years old, I’m basically good with the way I look and the way my body goes about its processes, but this one in particular I cannot accept. That’s maybe just how most people operate, saving their harshest judgment for themselves, but I’ve gradually become aware of the fact that I focus this harshness specifically on my facial hair.

I know calling my problem dysmorphia might rankle some, because body dysmorphia can be a life-ruiner of a problem that drives people to starve themselves or isolate themselves or plastic surgery themselves into oblivion. But before I wrote this, I read up on how dysmorphia affects people. Without going into too many specifics, I was surprised to learn that what I experience fits many of the criteria. I’m lucky I don’t experience it in a way that could impact my life more negatively, I realize, but it’s still something that’s bothered me for a decade. And it would feel better to stand in front of a mirror and not have my first reaction be, “No, this isn’t right.”

Alas, my permastubble is as good as I can do, Gawker’s condemnation of it notwithstanding. I’m fortunate to live in a part of the world where no one seems to notice or care that I’m trying to look like I always just getting back from a long weekend, but I also live in a part of the world with some commendable, magnificent beards that put me in my place. As a gay man, I have to wonder what insecurities may be prompting me to use facial hair as an easy, visible shorthand for masculinity. (“See? I am a man. Look, I have secondary sex characteristics and everything.”) And if I’m doing that, it’s odd that seizing upon a physical aspect of myself for which I can’t compensate by, say, working out more or investing in a codpiece.

I wrote this not to fish for compliments — other people’s assurances don’t do much to change my opinion about by pathetic beardlessness — but to put it out there to see if other guys ever feel the same way. Do you also suffer from suspicions that everyone else’s facial hair looks superior to your own? Do you find yourself trapped in a permastubble cycle? Is this an insecurity for straight guys in the same way it is for gay guys? Does anyone know the name of a good beard-wig supplier?

Captain Permastubble

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

With “It” Being Gray Skin and Vision-Obscuring Hair

Gwen Stefani has a new album coming out. This is news that some people will receive enthusiastically, I’d guess. Available data sets lead me to believe it will not significantly affect my life, but I can offer you the following side-by-side.

Am I the only one to see this? It’s the first thing I thought of. And as I keep seeing Stefani’s album cover on social media, it continues to be my only reaction to it.

The fellow on the right, if you don’t know, is Ghirahim, a big bad from Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword who’s notable for being… a little freaky. For a character in a Nintendo game, he has a considerable sexual charge, and it’s often directed at the series hero, Link. Nintendo made him a playable character in the new Zelda spin-off, Hyrule Warriors, and his intro trailer conveys his shtick pretty straightforwardly.

The tongue-waggling. The snooty laugh. The tights. I feel like most audiences would recognize him as a gay-coded character. (There’s a pun on the phrase Skyward Sword to be made, obviously, and in fact, you find out in the end that Ghirahim is actually a sentient sword, so make of that what you will.) And as unlikely a Nintendo character as he seems, the company has embraced Ghirahim, even putting him in the new Smash Bros.. Online, there’s no shortage of fan-made reaction to the guy, and now Gwen Stefani has just found a new reason to make me think about Nintendo’s new favorite embodiment of all things salacious and campy and not-explicitly-gay-but-yeah-basically-gay.

How fun for her.

Meaning Gwen.

I think.

Who Wore It Better? — previously:

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Foul Horror of the Zombie Sandy Duncan

Presented below is the middle third of the Hogan Family episode “Nightmare on Oak Street,” which horrified me and other unknowing youths who had tuned in expecting to see anything other than the zombie Sandy Duncan.

Yes, Jason Bateman also becomes a zombie, but that’s not what lingered with me: It’s the shot of Sandy Duncan’s ghoul face when she lowers the newspaper.

Looking at it now, it’s hardly scarier than any background alien on Star Trek: The Next Generation, or that show that I resented because it meant the end of weekday cartoons and therefore refused to watch. But at the time this episode aired, I was five years old and had never seen anything actually scary. Zombie Sandy Duncan was, at the time, the scariest thing I’d ever seen, and her horrible face became the thing I would absolutely try not to think about when I was in bed, in the dark, all alone. But I would. To this day, I’ve never been able to hear Sandy Duncan’s name without immediately jumping to this mental image.

All this got dredged up for a piece I did for People on the inexplicably scary episodes that classic sitcoms would sometimes do. As an adult, I get it: Writers like to experiment, to meddle in other genres. But I can still remember the stress of being a child, watching Hogan’s Family and wondering why it wasn’t the experience I wanted. I wonder if current family sitcoms are screwing with kids’ heads in a similar fashion.

And then there’s an awkwardness. This episode aired on November 23, 1987. On September 21, 1987, the show introduced Sandy Duncan’s character, who moved in to care for the boys after their mom, Valerie Harper’s character, died in a car accident. That’s what motivated the name change from Valerie to The Hogan Family. Even considering the behind-the-scenes scuffle that prompted Harper to leave a show that was literally named after her, doesn’t it seem odd that they’d follow up the mom’s death so soon after with an episode with walking corpses?

In conclusion and in summary, the theme song to this show is awesome and I never get tired of it and it pops into my head probably once a week, completely unprovoked and I just today found it that it was sung by Roberta Flack.

And to that point, I add only this: the image of “dippity-dooed” serial killer Blair, from the equally confounding slasher movie episode of The Facts of Life.

facts of life slasher movie blair serial killer

Just in case you never revisited it after its original broadcast and need assurance that yes, this is another strange thing that actually happened, and no, you did not make this up.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pinker Than Shepherd’s Delight

I’d barely been speeding. Here is a selection from the conversation that I had with the CHP officer who pulled me over.
Officer: So what were you listening to?

Me: I… excuse me?

Officer: When you sped past, you looked like you were listening to your jam. I was wondering what that jam was.

Me: Oh, it was just some dumb song.

Officer: Whose song was it?

Me: It… was a band that calls itself Marina and the Diamonds.

Officer: They sound pretty hardcore.

Me: They’re really not. Just a dumb pop band.

Officer: What was the song called?

Me: “Froot.” It was called “Froot.”

Officer: So if I were to look up Marina and the Diamonds and this song “Froot,” I would be able to listen to whatever you were listening to.

Me: Yes. But it’s not “Fruit.” It’s “Froot.” F-R-O-O-T.

Officer: That’s not how you spell “fruit.”

Me: Yeah, but that’s how she spells it.

Officer: She being Marina?

Me: Yes, sir.
In the end, I was allowed to proceed without a ticket, since my unblemished record and immaculately clean car made me seem like the kind of guy who only needs a warning to correct his bad behavior. Or maybe he just pitied me. Or maybe I just seemed especially harmless.

This, by the way, is the song that led me into a criminal lifestyle. It looks like Pac-Man at a gay rave.

Yes, I did learn all the lyrics. No, that will not get me anywhere. But hey — no ticket.

Previous stories which I allege to be funny:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Let’s Go Ride a Bike

Hey. I’ve made a new mix of the music I’m listening to this month. Album art below. It’s mostly newer stuff. I hope you enjoy.

If you’d like to listen or download — just right-click any song you like to save — you’ll need the password. I’m happy to give it. Just email me or tweet me or whatever and I’ll hook you up.

And here’s the September mix, in case you want to further take in my own personal soundtrack. The same password will get you into both.

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Murder, She Wrote Conspiracy Theory [Developing]

Without realizing it, I started powering through Netflix’s entire series run of Murder, She Wrote in conjunction with the series’ thirtieth anniversary. I watch an episode or two whenever I have work that doesn’t require too much attention, and as I move ahead through the series, I’ve begun to develop a theory that, much like the theories of evolution or gravity, is impossible for any rational mind to dispute. And no, this is nothing as simple as the trite “What if Jessica Fletcher is actually the killer?” theory. No, this is much deeper than that.

Jessica Fletcher has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of nieces and nephews, all spread across the country and working in every industry imaginable.

Each of these young relatives are, per Jessica Fletcher, incapable of murder but nonetheless associated with murders.

It’s possible that each of these supposed nieces and nephews are actually just Jessica Fletcher’s murder operatives that she's manipulating under the guise of being their kindly, childless aunt.

She used to be an English teacher — so better to brainwash young people into becoming murder drones, obviously.

Jessica Fletcher’s brothers and sisters are seen rarely. I assume she has killed them all in order to raise their children as her murder drones.

People probably suspect Jessica Fletcher of being a murderous mastermind, but they still invite her places because they’re scared of angering her.

In fact, she's probably holding the whole town of Cabot Cove hostage. In the episodes where she’s investigating murders in other cities, the innocent Cabot Covers are probably scrambling to escape, lest Lady Death return and lower the population further.

The notion of Jessica Fletcher controlling Cabot Cove with a bloody fist is the only explanation for Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley and Tom Bosley’s interesting accent), who is often Chief Wiggum-level stupid and unable to investigate crimes without Jessica’s repeated prompting. Clearly, she’s guiding him down a path that leads away from her own guilt.

Obviously, Jessica Fletcher murdered the previous sheriff and replaced him with her Tupper, her puppet.

Despite the fact that people seem widely familiar with her work — “J.B. Flecter? I just loved The Corpse Danced at Midnight!” — Jessica Fletcher lives in a relatively modest home and not a super-mansion you’d expect from a blockbuster author. I can only assume that the word has gotten out that she may spare you if you praise her work. Thus, people put on a show of having read her books when they actually haven’t bought a copy.

Every time an episode ends with Jessica Fletcher finally winning over the stubborn lawman she’s working with in whatever non-Cabot Cove city, the scene ends with her making a goofy face to spare the viewing audience from what inevitably follows: raunchy Fletcher fucking.

When these lawman don’t re-appear? Jessica Fletcher killed them, obviously. With sex.

J.B. Fletcher = J.B. Felcher? (Still researching this one.)