Is This Music Spoiled?

Y’know how you buy ground turkey at the supermarket and you take it home and you put it in the fridge for, like, four or five days, and then you suddenly remember it and think it would be a brain-meltingly good idea to probably cook it or something? Then, y’know how, while it’s browning in the skillet and you’re desperately trying to ignore that funky smell, you daydream some sort of makeshift recipe featuring tamarind rind and blue cheese to hide the off flavor and gray color of the so-called meat?

Well, sometimes I think music is like that.

Don’t get me wrong. I listen to A LOT of music, like, ALL the musics (except country) ALL the time. I can appreciate classic rock and punk and disco and jazz and big band and alternative and such (as long as it isn’t country…did I mention I don’t like country music?). But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my likes have limits and most of them are based on expiration dates.

I was on my way back to the office after lunch today and the radio station I was listening to happened to play a clip of a new Bruce Springsteen song. If I hadn’t been busy shooting heroin directly into my eyeball at that very moment, I would’ve yelled to the heavens for The Boss to please stop. Look, I like Bruce Springsteen. I do. He’s a fine American. He has a solid sense of humor about himself. And he’s had some classic songs. I never would’ve made it through the summer of seventh grade cutting my grandmother’s lawn without the fine strains of “Glory Days” pulsing through my shitty Walkman headphones (or “Spin Me Round” by Dead or Alive…but that’s another story entirely). But enough is enough. You proved your point.

Some artists don’t know when to stop. Paul McCartney is a great example. Fuck him and that goddamn Christmas song of his. The Rolling Stones? Another PERFECT example of this phenomenon. I refuse to hear anyone who disagrees that nothing after “Sympathy for the Devil” matters.

And please don’t confuse my staunch opinion with struggling to hang on to my youth by blasting musicians far older than me. I take equal offense to groups like Two Door Cinema Club and Local Natives and Mumford & Sons whose second efforts were pale, distorted shadows of their debut albums. Granted, the sophomore slump rule comes into play here, so let me delve further into my own vast music library with more measured examples…

Jane’s Addiction: First two albums are amazing and brilliant and inspired. Ritual de lo Habitual, however, falls off the rails somewhere in the second act. At least I think that’s where it happens. I always fall asleep when “Three Days” comes on.

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Going strong through albums 1-4 and then getting a little too self-aware with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. I liked it, but they lost me after that.

Depeche Mode: Everyone, even Dave Gahan with his drugged out hallucinations of three-headed babies, wooden puppets, and garbage monsters, knows that this group peaked with Violator. Half of Songs of Faith and Devotion was likeable. Ultra had two passable songs. But “John the Revelator” was the only redeeming thing about Playing the Angel. I’ll give them credit at least for a slower, more dramatic flame-out.

U2: This is one of the few bands that has ridden the wave (see also: Nine Inch Nails and/or Beastie Boys). They hit all-time highs with The Joshua Tree, dipped into borderline irrelevance when they became smarmy caricatures of themselves for a few albums, and then resurfaced strongly with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and held on by their toenails with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. There is abolutely no excuse, however, for that fucking song on No Line on the Horizon about log-ins and Myspace chatrooms. That said, I will still probably buy their next album because I hate myself.

I know I can’t be the only person who sees this? Pearl Jam, Weezer, Afghan Whigs, Oasis, Liz Phair (I used to be sooooooo in love with her), The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Elton John, KISS (hahahahahahaha), fucking Madonna…they’ve all hit a certain level of peak musical importance and then kept going to disastrous results. It needs to stop.

At first I thought it was just me being grumpy, tying life events and locations to certain songs, and feeling indifferent about new music. But it’s not. I LOVE new music…WHEN IT’S GOOD. The 1975? Awesome. The latest from Santigold? Good stuff. Tegan and Sara’s new one? A bit poppier than I’d prefer, but a solid group of songs nevertheless. But Vampire Weekend’s third album? Like bad weed…two hits and a buttload of MEH.

My plea to everyone: Either STOP MAKING SHITTY MUSIC or else please put a sticker on your best album so we all know, definitively, when we should stop listening.

The Best 2009 Family Holiday Letter EVER.

You know those horribly written and painfully detailed letters that certain family members feel compelled to torture you with around this time every year? Well, I just received one that outshines all the rest. Or, if you don’t believe that, then let’s just say I whipped it up in the past hour while watching football. All the stories contained within are false…except one. You figure it out.

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, another year has certainly flown by as quickly as Richard Grieco’s career, and 2009 was quite the humdinger. Allow me to fill you in on all the ups and downs, ins and outs, and comings and goings of our tight little clan. Of course, if you’ve been around Little Dicky or Uncle Trout at all in the past few months, I’m sure you’ve been regaled with all the drunken details already. However, you can be sure I’ll give you the real scoop without moaning about my three failed marriages and trying to mate with your upper thigh. That Little Dicky is quite the character.

Anyhoo, 2009 started off with a real bang as Edgar and I drove up to Rochester, New York to enjoy another lovely anniversary. In case you weren’t aware, Rochester is known as the “Branson of the North” and, let me tell you, it sure lived up to that glorious billing. We caught an evening show at the North Shore Dinner Theatre featuring the one and only Billy Ocean. Or was it Billy Dee Williams? I always get those two confused. Regardless, the chopped sirloin was magnificent. I highly recommend it.

In March, as many of you know, our year hit a low point with the unexpected suicide of cousin Wayne. After failing to get his franchised souvenir postcard route off the ground (we’ll always blame the Post Office for raising the rates yet again), Wayne plugged the exhaust pipe of his ’73 Buick Skyhawk and peacefully passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning. He was a lovely man who left behind two talented cats and an extensive collection of vintage pornography. I’d like to think the mixtape found in the car’s cassette deck, with its carefully crafted segue from Wham’s “Careless Whisper” to the Elton John classic “I’m Still Standing,” was less a cry for help and more of a message to the living that Wayne knows we’ll persevere without him.

And that, of course, brings us to the twins. What can I say about those two? Another year, another surprise pregnancy, as Summer prepares for boy #4. They’re all growing up so fast. Her oldest, the one they call Lucky, is now working as a bouncer at The Booby Trap and is nice enough to carpool with his mother when she pulls weekday shifts. Her youngest boy, Sherlock, finally made it to the third grade and has only peed his pants at school twice this year.

Summer’s twin sister, Autumn, is still trying to fulfill her dream as a professional eater. Despite being beaten rather severely by a hobo wielding a can of soup, she managed to place third in the county semifinals for the Mayo Sandwich Championship. Next year is already looking promising, as long as those infected lip grafts clear up and take hold.

Edgar’s son (and my talented stepson) Roy recorded his second hip-hoppy album as MC Thursday. The CD is called “Nothing Rhymes With Me” and is now available for download on his MySpace page or, if you can ever get a hold of him, he probably has a box of them in his trunk. I tell you, that boy gets more phone calls than Tiger Woods’ lawyer!

Then there’s my handsome Edgar. Most of you are aware that Edgar is now on disability following that tragic accident at that horrible child’s birthday party. While he’s sad that his professional party clown career is over, he’s looking forward to bigger and better things. Charges are still pending, but we’re thrilled that all those bee stings are clearing up nicely and he should be able to sit down for extended periods very soon.

As for me, my career as a victim re-enactor on reality crime shows still gets me recognized at the local market. I like to say that I have a face people would kill for! Oh, and I’ve gone back to taking online Portuguese classes again, just in case.

Well, that about wraps up my year-end wrap-up! Here’s wishing you and yours a lovely holiday season and looking forward to better and brighter things in 2010. See you all on Tuesday for Lingerie and Wings Night at the karaoke bar!

Five Pseudo-OCD Quirks That Control My Life

Oh hey! Are you still here? Man, you have some dedication in you, don’t you? Or are you just too drunk to find your way home? I mean, really, it’s been nearly two months since my last blog post. Most folks have taken the hint that I’m an undisciplined, unmotivated, uninteresting writer who would rather spend his lazy summer days watching entire seasons of The Wire on DVD and snacking on EZ Cheeze and Ding Dongs than to even bother to put together a couple humorous, cohesive sentences.

That said, I thought I’d throw you a bone since you keep coming back to peer through the cobwebs and see if anyone is home in this haunted house I call a blog.

Honestly, I meant to write more. I just never did. I’m not going to make any excuses or promises, but I will say that I’m offering this quick update and that I have three other drafts sitting in the queue for whenever I get around to them.  By that time, I’m hoping that people are still actually reading things on computers and not just telepathically absorbing information. I mean, I’m not the most reliable person when it comes to timeliness. You never know what could happen between my blog posts. Heck, just last year a black man was elected President of the United States while I was too busy betting on college football games to pay any notice.

Americans are a crazy bunch, huh?

And speaking of crazy, how about those people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? What’s with all that hand washing, chief? Do you spend your days inside an elephant’s rectum? Or what about the folks who have to touch things a certain number of times in order to feel better about themselves? I don’t think that’s going to improve your standing at your fast food gig, Dorothy. Is alcoholism a version of OCD? Wouldn’t it have to be? If you can’t help yourself, that’s the textbook definition of compulsion.

Now, don’t start firing off nasty comments about me making fun of OCD sufferers (Unless, of course, that’s your OCD thing. And if it is, you should really stay off the internet before your hands fall off or your keyboard explodes.).  I’m merely setting things up to reveal my very own versions of the obsessive-compulsive lifestyle, albeit to a much lesser degree. I never noticed it before, but there are a lot of things I do covertly that could garner me some funny looks if I were a bit more flamboyant in my behaviors.

Just off the top of my head, here are five things that make me quirky:

1. Eating Things According to Size. This mostly applies to potato chips, but I’ve also caught myself doing it with pieces of fruit, popcorn and even slices of pizza. If you dump a bag of Cheetos out on my plate, the first ones I will reach for are the tiny broken bits. Gotta clean them up first. Then I move on accordingly until only the biggest pieces remain. Same with any kind of chip or snack food. Hell, just last night I sliced up a nectarine. I had eight segments lined up on my plate from thinnest to fattest. And it wasn’t a casual judgment call either. I studied each piece until I could determine exactly which one was next in line. That’s weird. But you want to know the strangest part? With popcorn, I do the opposite, eating the biggest kernels first and saving the runts for last.

2. Star Searching While Watching Film Credits. This one is a bit harder to explain and probably didn’t crop up until I started enjoying film as an art form…okay, that’s pure bullshit. I just like to watch movies, but never appreciated the actors until I was old enough to determine who I liked and/or didn’t like. Anyway, I watch the cast credits of movies and look for the most recognizable name I can find the furthest down the list. I may not be explaining that well, so I’ll give you an example: Larry Drake (Dr. Giggles) was in The Karate Kid as “Yahoo #1 at Beach,” a role for which I’m sure he’s quite proud. But when I say “Karate Kid,” you think of Ralph Macchio and Arnold from Happy Days, because Larry Drake was near the end of the cast list and also because no one knows who Larry Drake is. It’s a stupid game I play in my own head that probably arose from watching a bunch of 70’s and 80’s movies in college. But it’s also a fun way to find out that some of your favorite actors started off in really shitty roles. Hey, did anyone know that Tony Todd (Candyman) was in Platoon?

3. Goosebumps From Opening Star Wars Theme. This one isn’t so much a quirk as it is a weird Pavlovian reaction. I don’t care how shitty the prequels were and I don’t care how many times I’ve seen the original trilogy, I still get goosebumps every single time I hear the opening theme music to Star Wars. It is a warm and vivid childhood memory that will never leave me. And I have no shame about it. I will shed blood to defend my nostalgia.

4. Television Volume Settings. We have a fancy new flat panel LCD television that I take great pride in. We have one of the top tier cable packages that supplies hundreds of channels for me to watch, many of them in high definition. And we have hundreds of DVDs that I could pop in at a moment’s notice to view groundbreaking cinematic works. However, we will never watch that television with the volume set at 11. I just can’t do it. In the morning, I usually have CNN on, set at a reasonable level of 8. During the day, the volume increases to 10 or 12 depending on the channel and the environment. Occasionally, if the kids are being rowdy or if college football is on, I push it up to 15. And, for some reason, my Blu-Ray player is very quiet and needs to be set at 20, 25, or sometimes as high as 32 for optimum enjoyment. However, I can’t bring myself to set the volume at 23 or 14 or 17 or 9. Those numbers just seem off to me. They’re not even enough, or incremental enough or something. My television time must have structure…or else! Or else WHAT, I don’t know, but or else nonetheless. This one is definitely a psychological thing.

5. Tissue After Shower. This last one is something that I can’t remember starting, but for some reason I can remember a time when I didn’t do it. As soon as I get out of the shower, I grab a tissue or some toilet paper and clean out my ears and my nostrils. It’s a bizarre pattern that I got into at some point in my life and I feel completely weird if I don’t do it. There’s no explanation really. I just don’t like having water in those places after a shower. I could go swimming all day long and it would never bother me, but once I’m fresh out of the shower, I need to be dry inside and out.

So there. Enjoy your brief insight into my real life. In the near future (or some vague time that isn’t right now), I’ll be talking about things that have nothing to do with me and you’ll dream about the days that you thought you knew me better.

I’m such an enigma.

Is Green Screen The New Black?

I used to bemoan the rise of reality programming on television. In my all-important opinion, “reality” should be limited to game shows and the news (with a crucial nod of the head to The Daily Show). When I turn on my television at the end of a long day, I want to be entertained by clever situations, interesting characters and compelling dialogue. Transport me to different eras. Show me the future. Or at the very least, give me a good fart joke and some canned laughter.

However, there’s a new phenomenon that has arisen from the incestual orgy of reality television. And that mostly unnecessary invention is: the commentary clip show. You know the ones I’m talking about, the “host stands in front of green screen and gets snarky over clips of other shows” shows.

Modern scholars of television will tell you that the “look at how stupid people can be” shows have been around for a long time. Classics include Candid Camera with Alan Funt, TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes with Dick Clark and Ed McMahon, and anything on Fox News that involved Geraldo Rivera’s mustache. And here’s where I make the crucial distinctions between those shows and the plague that is consuming my cable provider’s on-screen guide.

See, Candid Camera took ordinary innocent people off the street and made fools of them for the twisted pleasure of the home audience. This wonderfully unique television breakthrough was, of course, all douched up by Ashton Kutcher when he appropriated it for his celebutard retelling in Punk’d. The pretense with Punk’d was that it relied on celebrities to act as normal people, which they invariably never do. It was like one big televised inside joke amongst the LA elite, but instead of surprising a run-of-the-mill civilian who was just trying to put a quarter in a parking meter, Punk’d displayed such classics as Zach Braff vulgarly berating and threatening bodily violence on a 10 year-old for spray painting his $100,000 Porsche. What a dick.

You may say: But Mr. DeadbeatJONES, didn’t Dick Clark and Ed McMahon pull similar stunts on unwitting celebrities during their TV’s Bloopers run? Yes,dear reader. Yes, they did. However, that was in the 80’s when celebrities weren’t such fame-obsessed asshats. Pulling a practical joke on the chick from Remington Steele never ended in a fistfight. And the majority of that program was dedicated to revealing bloopers from television shows. It was fun to watch your favorite actors screw up their lines or act up on set. Plus, Misters Clark and McMahon were always cordial in their commentary. And the Sergio Aragones cartoons were cute.

Geraldo Rivera’s mustache has no excuses.

But let’s get back to the current crop of green screen marvels. The granddaddy of them all is E!’s The Soup. First appearing as Talk Soup back in 1991, The Soup is best known for making fun of the weird things that happen on television from the most obvious sources. They delve into daytime talk shows, game shows, home shopping, public access, entertainment news shows and all kinds of reality programming. The show is also known for its very funny hosts, including the Oscar-nominated Greg Kinnear and the current comic genius Joel McHale.

I don’t begrudge The Soup its success. I watch it every week. It’s consistently one of the funniest things on television. And, with the horribly misguided things that get airtime these days, The Soup has a very large pool from which to fish for funny.

No, my problem (and finally the reason for this rambling post) is with all the Soup spin-offs and clones that continue to pop up. First we had Sports Soup, hosted by the relatively unfunny Matt Iseman.

You may be surprised to learn that the basis of this show is greed. Let me explain. See, cable giant Comcast owns E! and they also own Versus (network home of Sports Soup). I imagine a big staff meeting full of suit-clad older gentlemen took place in a giant glass-lined conference room on the top floor of a large building in downtown Philadelphia where one gentleman said “The Soup is quite popular” and another gentleman replied “We should put a version of that show on every other channel we own.” And thus, Sports Soup was born. Sports Soup, as the title suggests, shows sports-related bloopers. Yawn.

By extension, The Dish is the female version of The Soup. It is also pinned to a Comcast-owned channel, in this case the Style network. The show is hosted by Topanga from Boy Meets World. She’s cute and all, but the writers on the show must drink a lot of decaf coffee because I was yawning through most of the segments I forced myself to watch. They seemed to focus more on shopping and dating, topics that make me cringe. They also shake up the accepted norms by being the only green screen show that positions the host on the left side of the screen. Crazy women!

Web Soup is the newest stepchild of the Comcast empire, making its home on G4. The host, Chris Hardwick, is best remembered as the guy who no one remembers as the cohost of Singled Out, the seminal MTV dating show. I say he isn’t remembered not because he’s unfunny (I find him humorous but geekily awkward) but rather because anyone who watched that program only did so to either gawk at Jenny McCarthy’s rack or watch in horror as she finally decided to sate her hunger for human flesh and tear into the cheek muscles of a hapless contestant with her animalistic fury (and oddly alluring burping and farting). Web Soup covers the snarky commentary of online videos and poorly planned internet stunts.

Oddly enough, Web Soup debuted a few weeks after Comedy Central’s version of the green screen phenomenon, Tosh.0…which also exists to skewer online tropes, but is hosted by the much funnier Daniel Tosh. Sadly, the show isn’t all that original in the first place and seems to be scheduled whenever Comedy Central has a hole to fill in their lineup.

So what’s my complaint? Just laziness really. I will not criticize The Soup, like I said previously. Its home is subtitled “Entertainment Television,” so it makes sense for the show to exist. The other ones? Not so much.

And, honestly, I don’t begrudge Comcast their short-sighted programming solutions. You work with what you have, right? No, the one that really irks me is the Comedy Central thing. Aside from The Daily Show, the last relevant thing Comedy Central actually contributed to comedy was the endless reruns of Office Space back in 2002.

At first I thought that Viacom (Comedy Central’s owner) was going to launch a plan similar to Comcast…a green screen on every channel! I mean, VH1 used to have their own version of Web Soup with the clip show Web Junk 20 and the green screen snark has invaded a good portion of their lineup, from I Love the 80s to Best Week Ever.

But could Viacom stretch the green screen magic to all of their channels? Would a clip show work on Nickelodeon? I don’t think the kids would get it. We already know that MTV hasn’t produced anything watchable since Remote Control (for the young’uns, that was a hilarious game show that helped launch the careers of Denis Leary and Adam Sandler). Hell, half of The Soup‘s humor comes from poking fun at The Hills and The Real World. Although, I have to admit that a green screen show on BET could be hilarious.

But with sports clip shows and female-oriented clip shows and web-based clip shows, why not exploit other niche channels? Let’s throw a green screen and a host in front of Food Network and make hilarious jokes about recipes and beating eggs. Slap someone in front of a screen on Travel Channel and make fun of foreigners. Build a green screen on HGTV and have a host make fun of people’s horrible design sense. Better yet, give Bravo a green screen show to accommodate all those Housewives, pretentious fashion designers and reruns of Will & Grace.

You know what, I just had an epiphany! I’m off to scribble down my idea for a green screen show that exclusively shows clips of other green screen shows. Yes, my program will make fun of the shows making fun of the shows. How meta is that?

See you in Hollywood, suckers!

Never Mind, Hitler.

Regarding that last post: I apologize for getting all emo. Turns out the situation isn’t as dire as it seemed. I’ll be getting unemployment after all. In fact, I may be able to live at the expense of the state for up to a year!

So…now I can go back to talking about homophobic beauty pageant contestants, Earth Day and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and, in some sort of bizarre double-meme ironic twist, this:

I Once Got Busy In A Burger King Bathroom.

Fame, as they say, is fleeting. And yet, infamy (which is like fame’s evil eyepatch-wearing soap opera twin) is forever. Our society’s constant drive for immediate satisfaction does not excuse failure easily. Slip up and you will be trampled by the endless herds of sheep trying desperately to grasp the mythical golden ring.

My wife and I were talking about my career the other day, which easily led us to the topic of failure. Funny how the conversation just naturally turned that way, isn’t it? Anyhoo, I was telling her how I didn’t understand what happens to people who spend their entire adult lives in one specific career, then get caught beating their kids or embezzling from the charity they work for or publicly cheating on their wives or whatever. I mean, those people don’t get a second chance. Once there’s a photo of you being led out of your office in handcuffs, the job search becomes infinitely more difficult.

Then I started thinking about the redemption allowed of certain celebrities. We humans, as a people, have a deeply rooted desire to help other humans. However, that desire only extends to people who we see as better than ourselves. The people who provide our entertainment and who we live vicariously through are afforded a certain level of immortality when it comes to failure. People are inherently forgiving. They’re also inherently stupid.

Look, how else can you explain the fact that sane women still attend Michael Jackson concerts and pass out from over-stimulation when he takes the stage? Why does Britney Spears still have a career. And, even though it’s been long rumored that Richard Gere may have enjoyed an occasional rodent in his rectum, the fact is that he’s still a respected actor, activist and father.

Here’s what I’ve figured out: there are two types of famous people. First, there are the people who achieved fame through their work. Whether they were artists or actors, celebrated authors or captains of industry, their fame was accumulated over time and with a genuine sense of accomplishment and a definable amount of talent. Think of Tom Hanks or Ron Howard or Stephen King. Even if you aren’t a fan of these folks, you have to admit that they are famous because they worked hard to earn that fame.

The second group of famous people belongs primarily to the newer generations. Their fame has been accumulated through internet shenanigans, staged events, reality television and pure irony. While they may have exhibited some modicum of talent at one point or another in their lives, the general population recognizes them more for their recognition alone. Sadly, this segment of the famous has become a rather unwieldy list populated by the likes of Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton, Steve-O, Lindsay Lohan, P. Diddy, Kim Kardashian, and the entire cast of The Hills. If you’re “famous” for stapling your balls to your leg and appearing on a televised dance contest, the longevity of your “career” doesn’t look very rosy.

Through extensive scientific research (or ten minutes of random thoughts while waliing the dog this morning), I have determined that subjects from Group 1 can easily move to Group 2, but the vice versa is nearly impossible.

Take, for instance, the comeback of one John Travolta. He had been a rather popular television actor in the late 1970s. He appeared in a few relative hit movies. And he was featured on the covers of various teen-themed magazines. To put it bluntly, Travolta was “the tits.” One movie about aerobics and a couple baby voiceover flicks and his career was in the tank. When Tarantino resurrected Mr. Travolta, his performance was well-met with cheers and kudos.It didn’t hurt that he was kind of fat and didn’t try too hard (see also: Val Kilmer’s guest spot on Entourage).

But then he decided to go all “follow conspiracy theory as a religion” and “dress in uniform and fly my own jumbo jets” and “appear in any role that lets me grow a creepy goatee” and pretty soon he was relegated to Group 2…the rubbernecker side of fame. Others who have fallen into this irredeemable pit of bad choices and overexposure: Madonna, Tom Cruise and the Backstreet Boys.

Like I said, making the jump from Group 2 to Group 1 is nigh improbable. As far as I can remember, no cast member from any season of The Real World has gone on to win an Oscar. Or an Emmy. Or a Tony. Or the lottery. Or a court case. Or even a free scoop at Baskin-Robbins.

I’d put together a detailed analysis of Group 2 to try to explain their fame, but I really can’t stand thinking about those people for any length of time. Bad fashion sense and vocorder sampling shouldn’t be substitutes for humility and integrity, Kanye. All I’ll say is that paparazzi are like vultures…they start circling when they sense the end. And it doesn’t really help matters when you call them up and tell them where you’re going to be doing your grocery shopping that day.

As faithful readers are aware, two of my favorite actors working today are Paul Rudd and Sam Rockwell. How often do either of them show up in the tabloids? Either they have horrible publicists who don’t own calendars or phones, or they let their work speak for them. Both gentlemen have eked out respectable careers that will keep them gainfully employed for years to come. And both men are humble and funny.

Now that I think about it, almost every comic actor working today is absent from the daily barrage of celeb newsploitation. Seth Rogen is not out clubbing all night. Steve Carell has not been arrested for cocaine trafficking. Will Ferrell isn’t beating up prostitutes. Neil Patrick Harris (another miracle comeback whose new bulletproof status even has him widely accepted as a gay man) does not throw furniture out of hotel windows on a regular basis. The only reason Jim Carrey gets media attention is because he’s dating a former Playboy model/trainwreck. Hell, even the boisterous Robin Williams could only get a few TMZ.com mentions in the face of total heart failure!

Maybe if there were more naturally funny people in the entertainment business, then we wouldn’t need all the Group 2 people that we laugh at for other reasons.

But alas, where would we be as a leading nation without the pure earnestness and pathos (and raging STDs) of Rock of Love Bus?

You Are Here. (Sort Of).

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. CNN posted a story today about the abundance of “film tours” sweeping the world. Evidently, tourism is booming in those areas where famous films and television shows were shot. Tours are being conducted in locations where things such as The Sound of Music, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, and Lord of the Rings were framed. Lord of the Rings?!? That movie didn’t even take place in reality! Jeez, at least the rest of them were based in actual spots like New York City, Jersey and Naziland.

And what’s up with the lack of love for House Party 2?

One particular woman, who took the New Zealand-based LOTR tour, had an interesting reaction after stopping in the sheep meadow that served as the FAKE backdrop for the FAKE town of FAKE little creatures caught up in a FAKE war to save a FAKE world. In her own words:

“I just stood there and cried. It was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here,’ ” Maro said. “I loved the movie so much, and to actually be there where they filmed that, it overwhelmed me.”

You know the worst part about that statement? SHE KNEW IT WASN’T REAL! She wasn’t some delusional stalker-like fan who fancied herself a denizen of Middle Earth. She wasn’t a tripping-balls Tom Hanks roaming the drainage tunnels under the city in a desperate attempt to survive a live-action role-playing quest. She knew it was a FAKE movie…and she still cried about it! WTF?

No one wants to deal with reality anymore. They’d rather go stand out on the same French hillside that Matt Damon stood on as he pretended to kill Clive Owen while filming The Bourne Identity. Yes, imagining yourself as a world-class assassin is much more therapeutic than dealing with the loss of your job, your failed marriage and the fact that both your house and your retirement fund lost 40% of their value in the past couple months. Go get ’em, James Bond!

Sadly (and somewhat expectedly), this glimmer of a get-rich-quick scheme quickly rooted itself in my head and I started plotting out a famous tour of my own. That’s right, everyone is invited to join me on the deadbeatJONES tour! Line forms to the left. For the low, low price of just $39.95, you’ll embark on a 3-hour personal tour with ME! Your tour includes a brown bag lunch (a $4 value!), a limited edition souvenir (whatever I happen to have in my pocket at the time!) and stops at such illustrious locations as:

  1. The railroad tracks that run behind my parents’ house where I spent many days plotting how to make the train wreck by placing pennies, dead rabbits, large tree branches and pretty much anything else I could carry onto the tracks. These same infamous railroad tracks were the very ones I traveled down to reach the bar I served at after losing my license in an ill-advised DUI arrest. BONUS: We may even drive past the underground government parking garage I was arrested emerging from after snapping out of my blackout and confusedly wondering where I was and how that cassette got in my car’s tape deck.
  2. The different girls’ houses I used to ride past on my bike when I was a kid, because I was too much of a pussy to actually try talking to the girls I had crushes on. Some things never change…they just get creepier.
  3. The yard I passed out in after I threw up all over myself at my friends’ pool party. We mixed grain alcohol with Kool-Aid in a five gallon drum and drank it all in Big Gulp cups. I remember my friend Jeff coming out to check on me as I laid in the wet grass. He asked me if I was okay and, once I assured him I was, he pointed, laughed and ran away. Good times, what I can remember of them. Pretty sure I woke up wearing my friend’s Metallica shirt too. Rock on!
  4. That one place I worked at that used to be an Educational Toy store (I was a cashier) and then became an Italian restaurant (I was a bartender). It’s an adult video store now, which means it holds no memories for me really. I just want to stop in and see what’s on sale.
  5. The high school I attended where I got punched in the face at least once a year.
  6. The community baseball field where I lost my virginity in the front seat of a Toyota Corolla. She was a Catholic school girl and a year older than me. She gave me a condom she had picked up during Spring Break down in Ocean City, Maryland. Supposedly, it had little duck footprints on it, but I couldn’t see them through the tears of pure terror and embarrassment that were streaming down my face. Those were the longest 87 seconds of my life. When we were done, I tossed the used condom out the window as we drove away. A year later, I drove past that same field and saw they had built a chain link fence around the whole complex, complete with locked gates. Sinners.
  7. If it’s still light out, we’ll drive across the bridge into the city and simulate that one time I had to go pick up my dad from work in his own minivan while I was completely stoned. Paranoia will destroy you.
  8. And we’ll wrap the tour with a visit to my wife’s old apartment. This is the place I hid from my parents for a year, playing Resident Evil on the PlayStation and watching WCW Monday Nitro, before packing everything up (including the wife and her giant dog) and heading to Vegas to begin what has now become my failing career in advertising. You can blame her for domesticating me, for bearing my children, for putting up with me stumbling home at 6am covered in beer and $400 in the hole after falling asleep at a strip club, and for keeping our heads above water financially. Kudos, Little Miss Perfect!

Until someone can create a tour that simulates real American honesty like that, real hardscrabble life experience with all its faults and foibles, I’ll hold on to my money (what little of it I have left). Of course, I’ll be first in line for The Matrix tour. How much ass would that kick?

Friday Night Lights: The Drama Continues.

It’s been called one of the best dramas on television. It’s been called a work of art. It’s been called extraordinary in just about every conceivable way. It’s been called outstanding, inventive, engrossing, moving, stirring, smart, surprising, compelling, honest, and authentic. And it’s also been close to cancellation more times than Britney Spears has dressed funny.

Why is that? I dunno. Maybe, and I find this increasingly difficult to believe, people hate football. Or shows about football. Or shows about high school kids playing football. Or Texas (at least I can understand that one). Maybe the fact that it comes on at 9pm on Friday night has something to do with it too.

All I do know is that this show is one of my all-time favorites. I’m not kidding. It’s right up there with Star Blazers and Tour of Duty. And the fact that it just got renewed for two more 13-episode seasons has me so excited that I’m actually going to buckle down and pay for cable this year instead of just standing outside my neighbor’s window every night and “enjoying her company.”

My only concern is that the Friday Night Lights folks, ever fearful that half-assing their way through the current season would cost them their cushy jobs, may have put all of their eggs into one basket this season. And that basket is called: Senior Year. See, most of the primary cast members are graduating from Dillon High this year. Three out of the four football players the season has focused on are all packing their bags for college. The only one still around, the star freshman quarterback, was just introduced this season. On top of that, arguably the two hottest members of the cast (unless you prefer cougars or underage girls) will be matriculating on to bigger and better things at the current season’s end. And no, matriculating is not a dirty word.

Worst case scenario, the fourth season will begin with only the coach, his wife, his daughter and his quarterback in the cast. Sure, there’ll be the quarterback’s abusive dad and his Stepford mom and that cocky assistant coach and I’m sure the overeager booster with money problems will be back. But what else is there? That lesbian girl from Landry’s band? Tales of Billy and Mindy’s wedded bliss? Saracen’s crotchety grandma getting a spinoff series? Doesn’t sound very promising, does it?

So, in order to keep one of my favorite series alive, I’m going to comb through my vast knowledge of great (or at least well-known) network television and find some suitable scenarios that Friday Night Lights can adapt to its own special form of adolescent melodrama. Onward…to gravitas!

Option #1 – The Get Rich Quick Scheme

Every great school-based show always has at least one episode where the disparate cliques of teenagers band together to do something for their teacher/classmate/mascot/dealer. This “something” usually involves raising a large amount of money in a short amount of time. And that fundraising effort using results in hijinks. And hijinks are what make good television. Perhaps superstar QB J.D. McCoy organizes an impromptu indoor carnival to raise money for a hooker. But in order to make it work, he has to convince Principal Taylor that he’s dying. The nerdy kid (who later becomes a horrible stand-up comedian and stars in an amateur porn), the smart girl (who goes on to star in a horrible — redundant? — Paul Verhoeven film), the cute cheerleader (who, miraculously, gets even cuter) and the token minority snob (who fades into obscurity) all help him stage a “Dunk for the Cure” event where participants pay for the chance to drop Coach Taylor’s overly chesty young daughter into a tank of freezing cold water. However, they end up burning the gym down and have to use their proceeds to pay for damages…which work out to be the exact amount they raised. Weird, huh?

Option #2 – Push A Girl Down A Flight Of Stairs

Whenever a group of teenagers get together and start dating each other, something bad is bound to happen…or at least something gets misinterpreted as bad and blown out of proportion just to make some sort of moral lesson at the end of the show. This convoluted scenario perfectly fits the football set. First, we need to introduce a bad boy to the team. Let’s make him a linebacker from “the wrong side of the tracks” (As an aside, does anyone else find it odd that the Dillon Panthers seem to have no defensive players?). The “gang,” which now consists of J.D., his girl Madison, Julie Taylor, Smash Williams’ little sister, the new Brazilian exchange student/team kicker, and Daryl (some player who’s evidently been in 11 episodes yet has zero resonance in my mind), welcomes the bad boy into the group. Julie falls for him and they start dating. Then the whole gang goes to Cancun for Spring Break. When no one is around, bad boy and Julie argue about the length of his sideburns. He gets mad and says he’s going back to the room. She tries to stop him by grabbing onto his arm. He shrugs out of her grip, causing her to lose her balance and tumble down six flights of stairs into a piranha tank. In order to cover her own embarrassment, she accuses him of abuse. The exchange student then contacts his uncle’s “associates” who make the bad boy disappear for about 15 years, before he returns to play guitar and emote on a second-rate VH1 reality show. Lesson learned.

Option #3 – The Disaster Of The Week

The most successful weekly dramas follow a tried and true course: the big event. Think about it. ER, Criminal Minds, House, Smallville, America’s Funniest Home Videos…they all have some sort of ridiculous threat on each episode that the brave characters manage to tamp down at the last possible moment (which is right before the credits and next week’s “explosive” preview). For this show, I’m thinking…tornado! What better way to bring J.D. and his parents back together than to have them all huddled in fear inside a small equipment shed near the football field, watching in abject horror as the fancy new jumbotron is ripped from the earth and sent hurtling into The Alamo Freeze? Will Buddy Garrity get all his vehicles off the lot before the storm claims his only chance of reuniting with his wayward daughter? Will that lesbian girl from Landry’s band ever show up again? You’ll be on the edge of your seat! You’ll wonder if anyone could survive such danger! And you’ll ultimately be let down by how easily everything resolves itself! But wait…next week’s episode promises something you’ve never seen before and you won’t believe what happens!!!

Option #4 – Racism

C’mon…it’s Texas!

10 Horrible Jobs For Unemployed Writers.

My last day of actual employment for my current job is this coming Friday. I will say that I’ve been extremely lucky over the years as far as job situations go. Sure, I’ve been unemployed more times than I care to admit, but I’ve always managed to find something worthwhile at just the right time. I’ve only ever had to take one odd job for a brief amount of time…as a temporary fulfillment person at the local Amazon warehouse. Two months of very, very, very, very, very interesting people and mindless, repetitive (yet oddly fulfilling) physical work. In the months following that gig, I would walk the aisles of our local department stores, pointing at random items and calling out what shipping box size they would mail out in. At the time, I could’ve easily fit my oldest son into a J4. He was pretty thin. Sure, the D4 had a bit more wiggle room, but the J4 allowed him to stretch out.

What can I say? I wanted to make sure, if we ended up homeless, that I could provide the right-sized shelter for him. I’m a responsible dad.

Anyway, with unemployment fast approaching, I feel like Nell Fenwick being lashed to the tracks and facing down an oncoming locomotive. I’m pretty sure there’s no Dudley Do Right in sight, so I’m going to have to fend for myself. The job market looks pretty thin these days. I’m not having much luck tracking down anything worthwhile. However, I started thinking that things could always be worse. With that said, here’s my list of 10 Horrible Jobs For Unemployed Writers:

1. Homeless person sign proofreader – While there’s some good karma to be earned by helping the homeless craft more effective cardboard-based marketing tools, I can’t really imagine much of a financial upside to this endeavor. And I have to admit that a bit of bad grammar or poor spelling adds a rustic flair to the project and is probably more apt to earn someone some spare change than a well-spoken, nicely penned plea.

2. Movie explainer for the blind – No one enjoys the dynamic and descriptive power of words more than writers. And when people are inevitably disappointed by a movie they thought they should love, they almost always state “the book was better.” However, I’m pretty sure the other patrons in the theater wouldn’t appreciate me yelling out every bit of action taking place on the screen just for the benefit of my unsighted benefactor. Sure, I may find a really rich blind guy who wants to enjoy the film experience, but I might also get my teeth kicked out by the overeager fans at the latest Jason Statham showing. Not good odds.

3. Music explainer for the deaf – Along the same lines as #2, except I just think this one would be really hard. I mean, with the blind guy you can at least describe actions to him and he will understand what you’re saying. How do you explain music to someone who has never heard it before? Might as well just be transcribing ingredients off the side of a cake batter box. “Okay, this song is whipped slightly and appears to be rather yellow. The lyrics have something to do with presetting an oven to 375.”

4. Punctuation Czar – There’s a part of me that would love to work for the federal government…great benefits, a certain amount of job security, get to wear suits all the time, play basketball with the president, make crank calls to the Hungarian embassy and tell them that everyone hates paprika. But at the same time, no one wants to be the guy who tells people where to put commas. That guy would probably be called a dick.

5. Chris Berman’s nickname generator – Remember that Rob Schneider “copier guy” skit from SNL? Multiply that times a billion, add an encyclopedia set’s worth of sports clichés, and then shoot me in the head.

6. Writing partner for amusement park caricature artist – You know that guy who drew a really exaggerated version of your head on a tiny bicycle-riding body (even though you explicitly told them that you were a skateboarder and your hair doesn’t look nearly as 80’s as they made it out to be)? Well, imagine being the guy who sits in the booth next to that hack and offers to write a short story about you instead. Wow…that would be something thrilling to watch on an overhead projector, huh?

7. Love note writer for hopeless high school nerd – No thanks. I already lived this one.

8. Screenwriter for one of those Scary Movie-like parodies – It probably pays pretty well and may lead to bigger and better things, but if I started down that dark path I don’t think I could love myself anymore. And I don’t want to be the person held responsible for reinvigorating Richard Grieco’s career.

9. D-List Celebrity publicist – Again, this would probably pay pretty well, but it would hurt my brain. The best-known celebrities are the ones who are either really talented or downright annoying and useless. These types have already found their niche. How am I supposed to figure out the best way to utilize Richard Grieco in this day and age?

10. Richard Grieco – No one’s currently filling this position, right? Maybe I could pitch some scripts centered around an old narc trying to pass himself off as a high school student, or a modern dancer who turns into a cat, or a troubleshooter from the future sent back in time to partner up with Luke Skywalker and kill that guy from the Trancers movies. I’m envisioning a line of t-shirts, a collectible card game and maybe even a webcomic. This could be huge!

Hollywood, here I come!