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Lesen Und Die Kraft Ist Mit Dir

New Zealand’s Love & Pop interviewed me last week about This Music Leaves Stains. Could be the best conversation I’ve had in a public forum about the book. Take a looky-loo:

JG2: The Love & Pop Interview

Less recently I curated an oral history of the Eddie Murphy disaster Vampire In Brooklyn for Hopes & Fears. Did you know it’s possible to smoke so much pot your eyes change size? Behold:

Drugs, Death, & That Wig

As always, thank you for your support and patronage. Namaste.

Pow! Bam! Zok! An Unsolicited And Sadly Thorough Review Of “Batman ’66” Season Two

Did you miss the recap of season one? Click here, bat fan.

A normal half hour television program in the 1960s would produce around thirty episodes a season. Drunk with success, “Batman’s” second season turned in twice that number, spreading quality and consistency ever so thin. Periodically the show rises to the occasion. Other times, it digs its own sad, swampy grave. Still other times, “Batman” manages to be thoroughly okay.

The only element you can truly rely on is Neil Hamilton, who commits to his character of Commissioner Gordon as if he’s playing Hamlet for both the first and last time. No matter what asinine or childish nonsense is unfolding, Neil makes you believe all of Gotham teeters on the brink and that the Caped Crusaders are our only hope. Neil’s so solid you’ll want his face on a t-shirt.

A few asides before the episode-by-episode breakdown:

I. Season two finds Batman’s ancillary vehicles in regular rotation—the Bat Copter, the Bat Boat, etc. All these vehicles debuted in the theatrical Batman movie the show filmed and released right after the first season (a film meant to sell foreign markets on the greatness of this wacky property). One mode of transport not featured in Batman: The Movie is the Alf Cycle, the bike Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred pedals around on when he is occasionally called into action. That’s dumber than spit, but who could look the wonderful Alan Napier in his caring eye and even hint at that? He’s such a sweetheart of a man, doing everything he can to help his employer live out a dangerous and elaborate vigilante fantasy with nary a question. Let him have his Alf Cycle.

II. Apparently in the first season Adam West found his Batman cowl to be too tight, so the costume people loosened it. The result is this weird open pocket of fabric under his cheeks, like the cowl’s stretched out from violent tugging. Similarly, the collar of Burt Ward’s yellow cape seems a bit loose in these adventures, allowing the collar of his red vest underneath to poke up the neck. Highly distracting but I suppose it would throw snoops off their trail. Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman; Bruce could afford a better tailor.

III. Every once in a while Bruce Wayne will reference the murder of his parents but we never learn Dick Grayson’s backstory. It’s never even so much as implied that Dick (as we learn in the comics and later films) once belonged to a famous family of traveling acrobats, the rest of whom died during a particularly daring stunt (sometimes written as sabotage at the hands of the Joker or Two-Face). We are to assume here that Dick’s Aunt Harriet didn’t have the means to support the orphaned boy on her own and Bruce, who was at the fatal circus performance, simply invited them to live with him. Maybe if they had given Burt Ward a few dramatic moments to talk about all this he could have avoided the B movie hell that awaited him following this program’s cancellation.

IV. This season is where Batman and Robin really get into taking pills to combat everything. Sorry, Joker, but we swallowed our anti-hypnotism bat pills before you handcuffed us to this giant pair of scissors. Big pharma propaganda has never looked so dashing.

Without any further adieu, allow me to tear apart this classical mess.

1. “Shoot A Crooked Arrow” / 2. “Walk The Straight And Narrow”

Art Carney rides into town as a would-be Robin Hood character called the Archer, because when you think of debonair English folk heroes you think of Ralph Kramden’s neighbor. Maybe that’s the joke. Aiding Art in his rob-from-the-rich-pretend-to-give-to-the-poor hoodwink is model Barbara Nichols (as an equally Brooklynese Maid Marilyn) and Doodles Weaver (wasted in a tiny henchman role). This adventure marks the first (and not the last) time Alfred must don the Bat suit; the old bean doesn’t look too bad in his boss’s duds.

3. “Hot Off The Griddle” / 4. “The Cat And The Fiddle”

This pair of episodes, centered around average larceny by the otherwise brassy and bewitching Catwoman, is loaded with references only true ’60s fossils will understand (Schwab’s Drugstore, anyone?). Hard to believe the Boy Wonder’s assessment of fictional hit record “The Catusi” hasn’t been sampled by a boat load of contemporary punk bands (“Oh boy! I like rock n’ roll music as much as the next red-blooded average American teenager but this stuff is awful!”). James Brolin pops up in the conclusion as truck driver Ralph Staphylococcus. It’s a better moniker than Zubin Zucchini, one of the dismal food-based names we’re beaten senseless with this season.

5. “The Minstrel’s Shakedown” / 6. “Barbecued Batman?”

On paper a villain named the Minstrel who strums a medieval instrument as he taunts Batman about stock fraud sounds torturous but somehow they lend this absurdity proper gravity. There’s great shadow work (darkness lurking almost literally in every corner) and Van Johnson is camp-free in his turn as the titular villain (hey, the guy knows how to pluck a lute menacingly). You can almost envision this jaunt working in the Chris Nolan Bat films. Granted, there’s a lot of Batman talking to guys in suits here, but negotiation is a vital part of his crime-fighting skill set. Did I mention the Phyllis Diller cameo? Surprisingly, she does not appear as herself.

7. “The Spell Of Tut” / 8. “Tut’s Case Is Shut”

In which the potion-based plotting of King Tut teaches us the meaning of words like scarab, apothecary, and Cavia porcellus. A tremendous series moment occurs when Sid Haig, appearing as one of Tut’s henchmen, is given a chance to reply to a question about what lurks behind a mysterious door. “Trolls and ghouls and amulets,” Haig intones a la possessed wizard, head tiled back, eyes a-bug. “Evil spells that will turn your bones to celery stalks!” Unfortunately, we do not get to see Robin transform into celery. We do, however, witness Batman using a public telephone, which today is as antiquated at Tut himself.

9. “The Greatest Mother Of Them All” / 10. “Ma Parker”

These entries mark one of the rare instances where criminals fire real guns at Batman and Robin. You’d think that would happen more often. Alas, only Ma Parker and her gang are smart enough to realize our Caped Crusaders wear nothing bullet proof. History buffs might be annoyed that the villainess played by Shelley Winters perpetuates the myth that her real life counterpart (Arizona Donnie “Ma” Barker) was a deft criminal mastermind. Less stodgy folk will probably have no issue getting down with Parker and her takeover of Gotham State Penitentiary. Go big or go home, you know?

11. “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” / 12. “The Clock King Gets Crowned”

Bob Kane may have been able to smudge Batman collaborator Bill Finger out of history for several decades but he couldn’t prevent his former pal from co-writing these two episodes. Shame it had to be Clock King, a malefactor who has forever been a punchline. What’s onscreen here doesn’t help (did the guy really need multi-colored clock faces glued to his black cape?). As the King Walter Slezak does what he can, but if this were baseball he’d languish in the minor leagues. The cannibalistic undertones in the scene where Batman and Robin eat bat burgers are dampened when they order Orangeade to drink. No self respecting creatures of the night would be caught dead sipping juice.

13. “An Egg Grows In Gotham” / 14. “The Yegg Foes In Gotham”

Just when you think this television show from the mid-60s is doing a good job keeping its head above water in terms of social issues they vomit up a broad and offensive Native American character named Chief Screaming Chicken (portrayed, of course, by a white guy named Edward Everett Horton). That’s the only thing marring Vincent Price’s debut as nefarious dandy Egghead. At least the plot recognizes the fact that Gotham really belongs to its indigenous peoples; Egghead maneuvers around city government to gain control of the municipality from the Chief so he may ban Batman and Robin from policing inside its borders. Of course the final battle includes a lot of egg throwing.

15. “The Devil’s Fingers” / 16. “Dead Ringers”

Liberace played some really fantastic piano in his day. If you listen to live recordings, he was also pretty clever with onstage banter. Unfortunately Lib was no actor, and as clumsy as he is playing a himself he’s even worse as an evil twin brother. This is one of those sad moments where a merger that seems like a slam dunk bounces coldly off the rim. Too much garish camp and your stew becomes slurry. On the plus side, they give Aunt Harriet more stuff to do; Lib’s evil musician strikes up a dubious romance with Aunty H and they come so close to making out you want to reach for the Bat signal. It’s enough to make Bruce and his youthful ward fake their deaths, again. They’ve done it so many times already but it’s still such a shock!

17. “Hizzoner The Penguin” / 18. “Dizzoner The Penguin”

The Penguin runs for mayor, and Batman decides the only way to stop this waddling ne’ever-do-well is to run for mayor himself. It’s punishing for us until Batman refuses to kiss a baby; this kicks off a Batman backlash and there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching strangers yell at Adam West. Please note: despite her credit as Little Egypt, the belly dancer who cameos at the Penguin’s campaign rally was merely a Little Egypt imitator named Lorraine Shalhoub. The three women usually credited with pioneering the Little Egypt character (enchantress of rich and curious Western audiences in the early 20th Century) all died decades before this show existed. Now Paul Revere and The Raiders, they’re the real deal here—right down to their trademark Revolutionary War regalia.

19. “Green Ice” / 20. “Deep Freeze”

As the frosty villain Mr. Freeze Otto Preminger wears your patience by declaring anything and everything as “wild, WILD!” With each refrain your lobes dull and you angrily curse the concept of catchphrases. Burt Ward sports a mysterious injury on his right arm during these entries; they try to block it with other actors and Robin’s cape, but every so often you catch a glimpse of a large bandage around the appendage. If we’re to believe Burt’s autobio he most likely hurt himself roughly sexing a zealous fan. At any rate, the show runners could have never guessed we’d one day live in a world of high def screen capture and endless reruns. All your mistakes live forever.

21. “The Impractical Joker” / 22. “The Joker’s Provokers”

Somehow the Joker invents time travel, but the rules are vague and the special effects vaguer. Equally painful is the introduction of Alfred’s twin cousin who works for the city. “Batman’s” split screen tech makes “Patty Duke” look like Multiplicity. This is season two’s nadir, veering into bargain basement Saturday morning dreck produced at your local affiliate. Chris Bale should have dropped the nuke on these eps at the end of Dark Knight Rises.

23. “Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds” / 24. “Marsha’s Scheme Of Diamonds”

Gotham’s posh cougar Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds (the refreshing Carolyn Jones) tries to trick Batman into holy matrimony—though she has more in her arsenal than mere feminine charm. You see, Marsha’s eccentric aunt is a bonafide witch who mixes up love potions for her niece in a giant bubbling cauldron. Just when you think this story is going to end in the most ludicrous way possible—Batman and Robin turned into frogs!—something even more ludicrous comes along—Batman and Robin were just pretending to be frogs via ventriloquism! So that’s what Bruce and Dick practice in their down time.

25. “Come Back, Shame” / 26. “It’s How You Play The Game”

The climax of this western-themed yarn features the Dynamic Duo amidst a stampede and it looks like the program actually spent the money to get real bovines. Cowpoke Shame isn’t a very inspired bad guy but Cliff Robertson finds a way to make the grizzled saddlesore work. A major surprise arrives in the form of Werner Klemperer, who cameos as Col. Klink and establishes the fact that “Batman” and “Hogan’s Heroes” take place in the same goddamn universe. Seems like apprehending a Nazi would be bigger potatoes than Shame; Bats doesn’t agree, not even touching upon the Third Reich’s many atrocities in the polite chat he has with Klink. Is Gotham actually in Brazil?

27. “The Penguin’s Nest” / 28. “The Bird’s Last Jest”

If you dislike Stafford Repp’s bumbling Chief O’Hara, this is the adventure for you. In the midst of a forgery plan the Penguin kidnaps O’Hara, locks him in a trunk, and throws him in an electrified swimming pool. As if that isn’t crazy enough, later the feisty bird captures Alfred and attempts to cook him in a pie crust. That would probably be a very drawn out, painful way to die. Naturally, on this series they make it look like the least dangerous situation in the world. God forbid youngsters get the wrong idea about those human sized pie crusts you see at the market.

29. “The Cat’s Meow” / 30. “The Bat’s Kow Tow”

A sloppy Catwoman outing saved as always by the amount of vulnerability Julie Newmar brings to her performance. Our feline mastermind attempts to steal the voices of singing sensations Chad & Jeremy because she somehow thinks it will wreck the British economy. Finally, Batman and Robin have an excuse to visit the British Embassy, and do they ever. Don’t worry, though—they manage to crowbar in a sequence where Chad & Jeremy have tea with Aunt Harriet. Guess the old biddy is cruising the airports looking to pick up foreign twinks. Well, maybe C&J are too tall and masculine to be true twinks. As you can tell, these episodes are very inspiring.

31. “The Puzzles Are Coming” / 32. “The Duo Is Slumming”

Negotiations with Frank Gorshin were rough in season the second; hence, this obvious Riddler script was mutated for the Puzzler, a weird fop whose preoccupations with aviation and Shakespeare seem like more than enough characterization. And yet he insists on teasing authorities with puzzles. We get it, you were a Lit major. Puzzler’s plan is to bilk some billionaire out of his fancy aircraft; Sadly, we do not get the Batman skydiving scene we deserve. Skydiving may not have been invented yet, but gay subtext certainly had, as evidenced in Batman’s firm vocal desire to “cross swords” with Puzzler.

33. “The Sandman Cometh” / 34. “The Catwoman Goeth”

The program goes against type here, casting the emaciated and clean-shaven Michael Rennie as a version of the Sandman (a character I think we collectively agree is a rotund gent with facial hair in the style of Santa Claus). This is another where the crook’s objective is to steal money from a citizen of great wealth; here, it’s a frumpy pasta heiress named J. Pauline Spaghetti. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon attempts to calm a panicked O’Hara by rattling off weird farm colloquialisms (“Grain by grain, the hen fills her belly!”). Batman takes the subway in the second chapter, but that happens offscreen, so no shots of West awkwardly jostling for the best position in the train.

35. “The Contaminated Cowl” / 36. “The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul”

The Mad Hatter is back and he still wants Batman’s ugly-ass cowl. No one minces quite like David Wayne, especially when he’s posing as a foreign dignitary who uses radiation to turn the Caped Crusader’s hood bright pink. Events take a morbid turn when Mad Hatter convinces all of Gotham that he’s murdered Batman and Robin in cold hat-fueled blood. The Hatter is thwarted atop a water tower as stock footage from V-J Day represents the cheering, relieved citizens of Gotham. Shameless but beautiful.

37. “The Zodiac Crimes” / 38. “The Joker’s Hard Times” / 39. “The Penguin Declines”

This might be the apex of the entire fershluggin’ series. Joker and Penguin combine forces for a rollicking crime spree that follows the twelve astrological signs. Reigning in the outlandishness, the show’s writers provide our crooks with creative set-ups grounded in enough reality to convey Batman’s acute frustration as he struggles to thwart the gruesome twosome (and yet they still work giant man-eating clam into the narrative). Cesar Romero presents his greatest performance as the Clown Prince of Crime, a gleeful beacon of evil who almost comes across as metaphysical. He also rolls off one of the better Dynamic Duo insults, referring to them as “Caped Cabbage-heads.”

40. “That Darn Catwoman” / 41. “Scat! Darn Catwoman”

Catwoman poisons Robin with a drug that makes him horny for crime and her young protégé Leslie Gore. Welcome to more of the fresh hell that is Burt Ward’s uncomfortable interpretation of juvenile delinquent. Adam West isn’t much better when he’s under the influence of the drug—muttering things to “Catsy Baby” while slowly rolling his head around like a bowling ball—but perhaps that’s the point. Gore is delightful as Catwoman’s junior, instantly adding herself to the “why didn’t they ever bring this character back?” list. Guess there’s only room for one sexually-charged tabby in Gotham.

42. “Penguin Is A Girl’s Best Friend” / 43. “Penguin Sets A Trend” / 44. “Penguin’s Disastrous End”

We come so close to seeing a nude Carolyn Jones in these episodes it’s surprising more hasn’t been made of it over the years. People just aren’t buying what Jones is selling outside Morticia Addams, which is sad and wrong. At any rate, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds and Penguin collaborate to make a movie starring the Caped Crusaders. Penguin thinks he can control Batman and Robin if he’s directing them, but these guys only serve Lady Justice. There’s a long stretch where the boys are trapped in suits of armor, which is fun if you’ve ever fantasized about Adam West torturing you in the 14th Century.

45. “Batman’s Anniversary” / 46. “A Riddling Controversy”

Speaking of the Addams Family, here be the notorious engagement where John Astin dons the green question mark jumpsuit to replace a contractually unhappy Frank Gorshin. A goddamn thankless job but Astin proves himself worthy of super reprobate status with this one and only turn as el hombre de adivinanzas. Aiding him are some of the program’s most inventive set pieces, like a fight in an underwater bank vault and a giant birthday cake made of quicksand. Stupid enough to be fun, real enough to seem dangerous. That’s what we’re really after here, right? Believable scenarios for a man and a boy who fight crime adorned in multi-colored silk and spandex?

47. “The Joker’s Last Laugh” / 48. “The Joker’s Epitaph”

The titles here suggest Joker buys the farm; it’s a fake out. Batman’s greatest foe survives this folly that finds him implanting androids as bank tellers while simultaneously tricking Bruce Wayne into making him VP of Gotham National. I don’t remember the exact joke Batman tells the one android to make it malfunction but I cannot agree with Robin’s assertion that it was “super funny.” Batman’s about as funny intentionally as Adam West is unintentionally. By this point they’ve given the Joker his own custom wheels, referred to as the Jokemobile. Like many novelty autos of the era it’s just a modified 1920s jalopy. In terms of cool it may be above the Porter from “My Mother The Car” but it’s definitely below the Monkeemobile.

49. “Catwoman Goes To College” / 50. “Batman Displays His Knowledge”

Our devious Catwoman loves Batman with all her feline heart, but could she ever give up a life of crime to win his love? Batman’s interested in exploring this but worries about Robin’s future. “I’ll have him killed!” the Cat cheerily suggests, bringing of the program’s biggest and most twisted laughs. These episodes introduce Captain Courageous, a police cop who’s new in town and knows nothing of the costumed weirdos who either perpetrate or fight crime. A strange diversion but again, always funny to see anyone giving Batman and Robin the business.

51. “A Piece Of The Action” / 52. “Batman’s Satisfaction”

Wherein Batman and Robin meet rival vigilantes the Green Hornet and Kato. Even in restraint Bruce Lee impresses during the fights; at last, a hero who actually looks like he could defeat an enemy with one or two blows. “Kung Fu is Kung Fu,” Lee shrugs, one of the few lines he can get in between the thick dialogue wicket flowing between his boss, the regulars of the Batman crew, guest villain Colonel Gumm (a boisterous Roger C. Carmel), and Gumm’s put upon lady Pinky Pinkston (Diane McBaine). Alex Rocco pops up as one of Gumm’s henchmen, proving he was never young.

53. “King Tut’s Coup” / 54. “Batman’s Waterloo”

Another stacked tale featuring Victor Buono’s Tut, “Star Trek’s” Grace Lee Whitney as female crony Neila, “77 Sunset Strip’s” Byron Keith as Mayor Linseed, Suzy Knickerbocker playing herself, and bride-against-her-will Lee Meriwether (who of course played Catwoman in the 1966 theatrical version of this show; Julie Newmar was unavailable). Buono begins to careen into a W.C. Fields impression with his characterization of the evil Egyptian king, but to be fair I can’t think of the last time I saw/heard anyone referencing the permanently drunk William Claude of Philadelph. Fields is fading into an obscurity populated by Charo, Wally Gator, and all the cave people who continue to reference them. Holy passage of time.

55. “Black Widow Strikes Again” / 56. “Caught In The Spider’s Den”

Tallulah Bankhead appears in her final role ever as the elegant and elegantly sassy Black Widow. It’s kind of difficult to make out what she’s saying half the time but you get the general idea—she’s into bank heists and wants the Dynamic Duds dead. There’s an unsettling scene toward the end where it appears a police officer is going to shoot Batman at point blank range (because Black Widow has tricked the world into believing Bats has gone bad) but what’s more frightening is the subplot about Aunt Harriet trying to buy a miniskirt. Apparently the sales person told her she doesn’t have the face for it. I’d like to see a seething Dick Grayson confront that evil doer.

57. “Pop Goes The Joker” / 58. “Flop Goes The Joker”

The Joker infiltrates the Gotham art world, holds some aspiring painters for ransom, and we all put up with his quasi-moll, one Baby Jane Towser (Diana Ivarson, whose acting is more blanching than any of the abstracts we see on display). The story culminates in a dumb but metaphorically appropriate bit where the Joker gets trapped going up and down the Bat poles.

59. “Ice Spy” / 60. “The Duo Defy”

Eli Wallach, the third and final Mr. Freeze, a fine heavy even if he insists on using an adorable little seal for most of his dirty work. Poor innocent seal. For some reason Elisha Cook’s Icelandic professor, an unwitting accomplice to Freeze in his quest for planetary domination, has absolutely no accent. An odd creative decision. Even odder: in these final episodes, Commissioner Gordon keeps mentioning his daughter Barbara but we never see her. It almost seems like they wanted to include Barb and her alter ego Batgirl but couldn’t find the right actress. Why else would Gord be yakking about his family? We never hear word one about O’Hara’s private life, and why would we want to? Do any of his kids turn out to be avenging super people?

Fin. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this, the Berlin Alexanderplatz of Batman television seasons. And yet I did. What awaits in season three? Batgirl. Shorter narratives. Rudy Vallée. Milton Berle. That episode where the Joker and Batman enter a surfing contest. Marauding Cossacks. It’s gonna get weirder but not necessarily better.

Stay tuned. Same blog time, same blog channel.

What Are Little Treks Made Of? Unsolicited Space Seeding On “Star Trek: The Orig Series”

Captain’s log: supplemental. I have made my way through two seasons of the very first “Star Trek” tv series, re-discovering a world I was unprepared to immerse myself in at earlier stages in my life. What follows are my thoughts on this strange but intoxicating landscape where Ted Cassidy is prevalent and sometimes you see Teri Garr.

– “Star Trek: The Original Series” (1966-69) takes place in the future in space and yet it is three thousand times more believable and grounded than many other enduring programs of its era; the credit must go to the cast, who sell the space mumbo jumbo lifestyle like they’re just fishin’ down at the crik, and the writers, whose dialogue and plots are nuanced, thought-provoking affairs even when they’re flat out repeating themselves (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy sure do end up on a lot of planets populated by historical Earth fetishists who force them into some kind of degrading slavery)

– the episodes currently on Netflix are the remastered versions from ’06, wherein all the space effects have been enhanced via CGI; when I say “enhanced” I mean exactly that—they’ve mostly made colors brighter or details sharper, and even when the ships have been re-animated they remain looking very ’60s; I wasn’t even sure when I began if this was the remastered set, which speaks to the talents of the 2006 artists; what a shame George Lucas never figured out subtle non-intrusive computer graphic effects that blend in this seamlessly for his Star Wars follies

– it’s not that I disbelieve George Takei when he says Shatner often stole Kirk’s best lines from Sulu, it’s just that Takei still dominates plenty of the scenes with simple knowing glances and tiny utterances; it’s not the size of the Sulu, it’s what you do with it

– in one of the first episodes, Lt. Uhura sings a torch song about a feral child the Enterprise takes aboard and I was unprepared for this sultry dynamic; I do not believe this particular haunting tune is on either of Nichelle Nichols’s albums (1967’s Down To Earth and 1991’s Star Trek: Out Of This World)

– we remember Spock as a mostly benevolent and calming presence, but in the earliest “Treks” he’s very irritable, barking orders and sometimes making very pointed sarcastic remarks; eventually we learn Spock has been on the Enterprise twice as long as Kirk et al, which seems like a legit reason to be grumpy (can you imagine how many navigators and cooks and yeoman and nurses he’s seen come and go?); also, you’d be annoyed too if you had to spend most of your years crouched over a weird glowing thing that yips at you like a small dog

– making Spock half-human was a deft move on the writers’ part because they could swing the character so many ways and blame it on his “internal struggle”; many times it seems his pals conveniently forget Spock’s heritage when it serves the plot, but I guess I don’t always remember McCoy has a daughter or that Khan is actually from Earth

– there’s more brilliance in how “Star Trek” often manages to subvert its low budget; to wit, an alien creature looks like a terrible puppet, and then it turns out to be a terrible puppet being used by a much better looking puppet; also, in the “Menagerie” eps about Captain Pike, they’re watching huge stretches of the unaired series pilot in a court room, and before you can even think it some character says, “Okay, you know what, it doesn’t seem possible that all this stuff was recorded, and p.s., why can’t you just tell us what happened? Why do we have to watch this goddamn thing?”

– my favorite ep of these seasons is “Balance of Terror,” in part because it breaks free from the few clichés that sometimes bog “Trek” down; instead of Kirk going on about the 400 people aboard he must protect at all costs, this one starts with him straight up announcing, “Look, we’re about to get in that Neutral Zone, and if the shit goes down, which you know it will, this bucket a turds is expendable”; a taught thriller unfolds, with twists, turns, and tension like you wouldn’t believe (you’re not even distracted by the fact the main Romulan is played by the guy who later played Spock’s dad)

– sometimes the uniforms these Trekkos wear look like one piece with a black collar and sometimes they look like two garments, one of which is a black undershirt; trying to spot the differing instances is giving me space madness

– if you ask me these dopes sorta got what they deserved in Wrath Of Khan based on the first appearance here of that famed villain; Khan was Earth’s last major dictator, and when he reemerges aboard the Enterprise he tries to take it over with violence and intimidation…but instead of throwing him in space jail, in the end the Federation give him an empty planet to play with; like, come on, he slapped that lady, at least give him a stiff fine

– if you thought there was only one way to travel through time in “Star Trek,” guess again—in addition to rocketing around the sun, you can randomly fly through a time warp (which is sort of like a black hole?) or you can find this talking gate on some barren planet, a gate McCoy jumps through to mess up ’30s America in “City On The Edge Of Forever” (a pretty disturbing ep most of the time but the emotional payoff at the end is worth it)

– maybe the funniest moment is when Kirk is talking into his communicator between altercations with the Gorn; he says something like, “This Gorn is strong, but he’s also stubborn and stupid,” then they cut to the Gorn, who is overhearing the transmission, and they manage to make this motionless lizard mask look shocked, hurt, and taken aback by what it is hearing

– scariest moment: a tie between the first few minutes of Evil Spock in “Mirror, Mirror” and the reveal of the conniving aliens’ true form in “Catspaw” (disgusting Gumby-ish lumps that flail about silently); various parts of my body clenched up in both instances

– when Chekov wears his Monkees wig he looks like Eartha Kitt, which is confusing for me sexually

– Chekov is a real ball buster in the sense that every time someone else is talking about something he butts in to say, “Yeah, Russia did that first”; I can see now why they wrote him into so much peril in the movies

– interesting to learn Captain Kirk’s preferred snack is coffee and a chicken sandwich; he sure throws a fit when those dang tribbles help themselves to said nosh (I guess any animal is gross if it touches your food)

– my only complaint with this show is they don’t give Yeoman Rand and Nurse Chapel enough to do; one of them could have fenced Sulu when he got the space madness or been the woman that fake-ass Apollo alien was after in “Who Mourns For Adonais?” (or gone down with the fellas to that 1920s planet and thrown on some flapper duds)

– force me to grade “Star Trek: The Orig Series” so far and I’ll give it an A

– yes, the guest spot in “The Ultimate Computer” by William Marshall is amazing (six feet of Shakespearean thunder in a purple jumpsuit!)

The Forgotten Ewok Lawsuit

Here’s a nugget of Star Wars history you never hear much about: In 1990 Canadian writer Dean Preston sued George Lucas for copyright infringement and “breach of implied contract” to the tune of $128 million, claiming Lucas swiped the idea for Return Of The Jedi’s famed ewok characters from a script Preston authored in 1978 entitled Space Pets.

Preston sent his script to Lucas the year he completed it but heard nothing back. A half decade later, Preston’s “heart sank” when he spotted a car on a Northern California highway with the vanity license plate “EWOK.” Preston tailed the car until it pulled over; a pair of little people emerged, explaining their plate was a reference to recent work on a Star Wars film.

In addition to claiming invention of the term “ewok” (an abbreviation, Preston said, of “he walks”), the Calgary-based scribe argued Space Pets contained “a full description of [the ewoks’] nature, characteristics, habitat…and way of life in general.” The case actually went to trial in Canadian Federal Court, where Lucas took the stand to explain no unsolicited materials sent to him were ever opened and that ewoks were in fact an offshoot of his beloved wookiee character Chewbacca.

“It’s the price of success, I guess,” Lucas told reporters outside the court house. “Anytime you have a successful movie you have a lot of lawsuits.”

Some drama erupted during George’s testimony—at first he stated that he had pulled the term “wookiee” out of thin air, but under cross examination the director admitted disc jockey Terry McGovern had first presented the word (McGovern did ADR work for Lucas’s debut, THX 1138; after flubbing a line, the dj remarked, “I think I ran over a wookiee back there!”).

A bigger bombshell, though, came via University of Calgary drama professor James Dugan, who told the court had the plaintiff and defendent been his students, with Preston submitting Space Pets as a final project prior to Lucas submitting Return Of The Jedi, he would “bring Lucas before the dean on a charge of plagiarism.” In response, Lucas’s lawyers doubled down on the “we’ve never opened strange mail” defense.

It worked—Preston ended up losing this battle of Endor, and the powers that be have done a pretty good job of shoveling dirt on the entire story. Still, you have to wonder about the actual reality. Who would go toe-to-toe with Star Wars without a shred of merit? What are the odds of two people independent of one another dreaming up roughly the same alien mythology? Wouldn’t those vanity license plates have violated a non-disclosure agreement?

All I know for sure is Dean Preston’s Space Pets script included a character named Chi Chi Gomez. Ay Carumba.

Al Yank: The Pride Of Lynwood

Here’s an interview I did with “Weird Al” Yankovic for Crawdaddy! in 2011. “You asked some very interesting questions,” he remarked when we were done, which for sanity’s sake I must interpret as a compliment. Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP.

For three decades, one name has reigned supreme in the field of parody-based musical comedy: “Weird Al” Yankovic. From “Eat It” to “Smells Like Nirvana” to “White and Nerdy,” Yankovic has won the hearts of millions churning out strange, funny twists on Top 40 hits, his appeal spanning various generations, genders, social strata, and pickle preference. Al was kind enough to grant us a few minutes on the eve of his thirteenth full-length release, Alpocalypse, so we could regale the Pride of Lynwood, CA, with queries about his rumored fight with Billy Joel’s relatives, his implied “Family Ties” obsession, and what he knew of Macho Man Randy Savage’s unexpected hamster aversion.

Okay, let’s clear something up right now—did you not release your early ’80s parody “It’s Still Billy Joel To Me” because Billy Joel’s family strongly disapproved and there was some kind of altercation on a red carpet somewhere?

[Laughs] No, no, no…I never put it out because by time I got a record deal the song seemed too dated. It wasn’t topical anymore, there were a lot of references in there I thought people wouldn’t get, and also, it was kinda mean spirited, you know, and that was a little out of character for me. I wrote it in college, never thinking that Billy Joel would actually ever hear it, but eventually some local TV show played the song for him…and he was clearly a little put off by. So, I felt bad.

You have a lot of quasi-legendary unreleased recordings from your early years like “Billy Joel,” such as “Belvedere Cruising” and “Pacman.” Would you ever consider releasing an Al rarities record?

No, because I think the people that would appreciate those songs have already managed to track them down. You can bit torrent all those early horrible tracks I did. [Laughs] I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed by those songs, but I wouldn’t want to promote them now because they don’t represent my current level of work.

Not to harp on this angle, but everyone knows Prince has steadfastly refused to sign off on your parodies of his work, and it seems from time to time that there’s legitimate anger on your part about that. Was he rude to you about your ideas, or was there an incident?

Yeah, [Prince] has become my scapegoat over the years, but to be fair I haven’t asked him to parody anything in the last decade. Back in the 1980s, though, he obviously had a few hits that I thought leant themselves to parody. Every time I asked, he responded with a flat no, but he never gave a reason. [Sighs] It was frustrating, but there’s no hard feelings. I mean, he never personally threw a drink on me at a party or anything like that. Prince is just a very talented but ostensibly humorless artist.

Has anyone ever been on fence about your ideas? Like, have you had to gently nudge anyone into agreeing?

Hmmm, my manager would be a better person to ask about that, as he’s the one who’s usually in contact with these people. As far as I know, everyone’s usually very receptive. What i can tell you is a lot of the time [the] management of the people I’m interested in parodying don’t return our calls, like in this recent Lady Gaga incident, so I’m sent on a quest to find original artist. That happened with Kurt Cobain, it happened with MC Hammer—and with the few known exceptions they’re always more than happy to agree to it.

How did you track down Hammer? Did you find out where he shot all those Pepsi commercials and just show up?

[Laughs] No, it was some kind of awards show, like the American Music Awards or something. I went there specifically because I knew he would be performing and I hung around back stage so I could “accidentally” bump into him. And, of course, he was totally cool and receptive to the [“U Can’t Watch This”] parody.

Have you ever had the perfect parody in mind for a song that wasn’t really popular enough to parody?

Well, generally, if a song isn’t popular enough it doesn’t make it on my radar. I’ll tell ya, when Nirvana came on the scene, I didn’t immediately have an idea but I thought, Wouldn’t be cool if they got popular enough to make fun of? Then the album went to number one, and that was that.

Did you have anything on deck in case Nirvana didn’t blow up?

No…if that didn’t happen, I would have just waited for the next cultural movement.

Did you get to hang out with all those celebs in Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” video, or was all that filmed at separate times?

I got to hang out with a lot of them, but not all of them. Dan Aykroyd was there, so was Steve Guttenburg. Michael Jackson wasn’t there, but I had met him previously.

Has any parody of yours ever been a hit that you personally felt was maybe a little subpar, or vice versa? Have you ever had something you thought was amazing that just didn’t go over?

I never really know how things are gonna go. “It’s All About the Pentiums,” I thought that was gonna be a much bigger hit than it was. We had a great high budget video, some hot video vixens, some great celebrity cameos…I thought it was going to be huge. But then it came out, and it wasn’t. Now, when I did “White and Nerdy” a few years later, I knew it was a great song but part of me thought, “This is the same basic subject as [‘Pentiums’],” and then “White and Nerdy” turned out to be my biggest hit ever.

Your new album Alpocalypse is scheduled for release on June 21, which is the joint birthday of “Family Ties” stars Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross. Did you do that on purpose? Is there some kind of hidden “Family Ties” subtext within the album that true fans have to decipher?

Well, everything happens for a reason. No, I can honestly say I didn’t plan that, but I’ll have to look into it, do some research.

Is it true that the late Macho Man Randy Savage almost backed out of his appearance on “The Weird Al Show” in 1997 when he found out he was supposed to lose his wrestling match with Harvey the Wonder Hamster?

Things were definitely touch and go with Randy Savage. He was not sure he should lose to a hamster, and we had to explain to him, you know, “That’s the joke,” that you wouldn’t expect this heavyweight world champion to lose to a hamster. So he said, “Well, alright…it’s not a girl hamster, is it?” [Laughs] And we said, “No, it’s a boy hamster, don’t worry.”

Don’t You Know It Means The Same To Me (Honey)

The following piece was originally published in a slightly rawer/clunkier form in 2008 via the Crawdaddy! website. Though the careers of both Van Halen and Weezer have continued (inexplicably, almost vexingly) I believe the core truth here continues to ring true.

The biggest mistake my generation ever made, aside from dismissing funny man Norm MacDonald once he left “Saturday Night Live,” was believing from day one that Weezer was just kidding around about all those 1970s hard rock references. Oh, those jokers, we thought upon hearing “In The Garage.” No way do they have KISS posters on their walls. It’s probably all Frank Black collages. We were similarly tickled when the Weezer logo was unveiled, a giant W that aped the flashy symbol of party metal gods Van Halen. Finally, Gen X had taken a direct shot at those Dutch assholes, and it felt so good.

A decade later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Weezer fan from way back who isn’t infuriated by the trajectory their career has taken. The quirky little bubble gum grunge band behind such heart-on-the-sleeve anthems as “Say It Ain’t So” and “Tired of Sex” has become an arena-filling Top 40 machine, authoring vapid hits like “Beverly Hills” (the video of which was filmed at the friggin’ Playboy Mansion!). Shame on them for selling out? No, shame on us for not realizing much sooner that Weezer’s prime directive was never to keep the Cobain flame burning. Unlike their Seattle contemporaries, this slick, L.A.-birthed group never openly declared war on David Lee Roth and the spandex nation he begat because their dream was always to conquer it.

After all, lead Weez Rivers Cuomo started out in a heavy metal band, Avant Garde (later called Zoom), decked out with requisite poofy hair, severe facial expressions, and six string wizardry. Had the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams not crushed the Sunset Strip’s skull with their Doc Martins and dropped D tuning, there’s a chance we’d know a very different Rivers C (whose “rocker” pseudonym was Peter Kitts). Luckily, Riv wasn’t just a flashy guitarist—he could also craft a heartbreaking melody. This would prove useful in the days of flannel and Luke Perry sideburns. Ultimately, it would make Rivers Cuomo the Clinton-era’s Eddie Van Halen (read: guitar genius with funny name).

At a time when Van Halen was floundering, wondering how they’d connect with the kids of the rabid fans they drew into football stadiums fifteen years earlier, Weezer burst forth with 1994’s Weezer; the album has its beautiful, introspective songs, but it also has plenty of rockin’ radio anthems teenagers loved to blast as they zoomed out of their high school’s parking lot on any given mid-nineties afternoon (“My Name Is Jonas,” “Surf Wax America”). It was definitely the record you threw on a party if you wanted to get people moving. Loud guitars, isolationist lyrics, earnest melodies, sitcom references—there was something for everybody. This broad appeal and demographic balance was something bands like Everclear and Silverchair couldn’t quite master. At a time when it was still slightly frowned upon, Weezer became America’s only bona fide rock stars.

The so-called “glory years” of Van Halen and Weezer were both relatively short. David Lee Roth exited VH after half a decade (give or take) and was replaced with Sammy Hagar. This was considered blasphemous to hardcore fans, many of whom disowned the band immediately and dubbed the new, mature Van Halen “Van Hagar.” The departure of Weezer bassist Matt Sharp after 1996’s cathartic Pinkerton didn’t illicit a comparable reaction, but it did close the book on Weezer’s “classic era.” What’s interesting is that while Van Hagar soldiered on making albums that bordered on adult contemporary and struggled for relevance, Weezer went on hiatus following Sharp’s take off, almost as if to say, “You know what? This might be it.”

Oddly, the disappearance of alterna-rock’s favorite sons allowed them to ascend to Van Halen-esque levels of reverence in the minds of anyone who was on the fence before. At the close of the nineties, lyrical couplets from Pinkerton were just as oohed and aahed over as any pentatonic explosion Eddie V. ever played. Emo bands proudly wore the Weezer influence on their sleeve in the same manner late eighties hair bands solemnly praised Roth and Co. in their prime. Would the now-legendary nerds ever return and grace us with their awkward pop laced with junk culture quips and wanky leads?

Yes, they would, at the exact moment the world was just bursting at the seams for more Weezer. In 2001, Rivers, rhythm guitarist Brian Bell, and drummer Patrick Wilson came out of hiding (with rookie bassist Mikey Welsh) and mounted the arena tour they probably always dreamed about. Fans made cross country treks and hung out in parking lots for hours in hopes of catching a glimpse of the sweater-wearing foursome in their giant Ecolounge bus. Sound like steaming heaps of rock n’ roll bullshit? It was.

Weezer could still put together a catchy tune or three, though, as evidenced on that year’s creatively titled Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album) and 2002’s Maladroit. If those two were the Women And Children First and Fair Warning of the Weezer catalog, respectively, then 2005’s Make Believe was without question their 1984. The difference is, whereas Van Halen was praised for graduating to light, fun pop, Weezer was derided for not offering up more mopey opuses of regret and longing, the stuff many fell for in the first place.

Anyone who goes to see Van Halen or Weezer in this day and age is trying to recapture something from years past. With the former, it’s probably the beer-soaked nights of the Reagan eighties, when the sex was loose and pink mesh was not a crime. With the latter, it’s the self-conscious nineties, when the sex was a painful mystery and buttoning the top button was not a crime. Weezer as a nostalgia act stings for many people I know, people who were hoping the band’s 21 Century return would herald Pinkerton II. As much as we want Rivers Cuomo to be our Brian Wilson, that’s not the way he wanted it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have added those wings to the W in the first place.

Our shared frustration be summed up in a lyric Diamond Dave shouted on 1978’s Van Halen at the start of the ferocious “I’m the One”:

“We came here to entertain you, leaving here we aggravate you, don’t you know it means the same to me, honey?”

Beam Me Sideways: Unsolicited Pon Farr On Star Treks I-V

– of course this writing only exists because I recently discovered Netflix has the first five original Star Trek films up for streaming; who knows why they’re omitting the series finale, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (perhaps Netflix has strong feelings about Lieutenant Valeris replacing Lt. Saavik)

– everyone dogs Star Trek: The Motion Picture for crawling along like cold molasses, but the extra time helps ramp up the suspense as Captain Kirk and his Get Fresh Crew unravel the mystery of V’ger; the only bit that really drags is when Scotty first delivers Kirk to the Enterprise via shuttle craft—they drift around and marvel at this ship, mouths agog, like they haven’t already spent five years toolin’ around the cosmos in the thing

– everyone dogs Star Trek: The Motion Picture for the uniforms, those pukey blue and tan outfits that make our heroes look like models for Space Sears, but those unis are more flattering than the thick red tops they adopt for Star Trek II on; the only person who looks like he has any kind of mobility in the conservative crimson wrap is Bones, because physically that’s all he is

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is celebrated by many as the best of this series and while it’s a humdinger I’m not sure it’s my fave; there’s greater complexity to the events of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has so much fun turning these characters on their ear, forcing them to bumble and con their way through our so-called modern world; that said, the apex of the entire series comes in Khan when Ricardo Montalbán’s titular villain hears Kirk has made Admiral and keeps repeating it to himself like he’s savoring a fine steak sauce

– the decades of controversy over Ricardo Montalbán’s chest in Khan means that even as the film sucks you in you’re occasionally distracted by his shiny exposed torso, wondering if it really is pure Montalbán or some fleshy piece of Hollywood magic; all that swaggering and no nip slip, makes you wonder

– Kirstie Alley is a tough act to follow but history would probably be kinder to Robin Curtis had she played Saavik without the perm

– there’s so much going on in Search For Spock, so much to consider and weigh, you don’t even notice John Larroquette is playing a Klingon, or at least I never did until I saw the credits this time around; what fine a career Larroquette’s had, from Texas Chain Saw Massacre to “Night Court” to Search For Spock to Beethoven’s 5th

Star Trek, perhaps because it commits so unabashedly to optimism in the face of total insanity, is the only franchise I can think of that could get away with The Voyage Home, a movie about zapping whales into the future so they can try to communicate with an angry space log (and get away with it they do, beautifully, masterfully); if Keanu Reeves made a movie like this he’d be laughed onto the surface of Mars

– Kirk thinks that 1986 marine biologist in Voyage Home is falling for him, but then he brings her to the 23rd Century and she’s like, “Whatever, I’m a strong independent woman getting on her own spaceship, I’m not even going to kiss you on the lips!” You go, girl, you put that walking cologne ad in his place

– hard to believe over the course of five movies we only see a tribble once, and just for a few seconds (in a bar, no less, getting something to drink?)

– hard to believe over the course of five movies we never see Gorn (but we do see a cat lady with three tits, predating Total Recall’s tri-breaster)

– hard to believe in the fifth movie Uhura distracts those weird marauder dudes with a sexy fan dance (not gonna lie, I was into it)

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is pretty sloppy, almost on a made-for-tv level; major bummer since this is the one that wants to play with the high concept of literally meeting God; you want to lay blame with rookie director William Shatner, but apparently his editor refused to take notes; to this day, Shat hasn’t been able to convince Paramount to release a director’s cut (c’mon, Paramount, think about the money this guy’s raked in for you screaming at Klingons and beaming up whales)

– if nothing else, Final Frontier will convince you William Shatner knows how to free climb a mountain and that Uhura wants to break off a piece of Scotty (there’s a sex scene our planet deserves)

– rumor has it Walter Koenig wrote a draft for either Star Trek V or VI where everyone on the Enterprise fails their military physical except for Spock and through some bizarre chain of events everyone dies except for Spock and McCoy; not sure who rejected this idea but they need to be jailed

– according to Shatner, on his death bed in 1999 DeForest Kelley pleaded with him, “Let’s do just one more Star Trek! I miss making those movies!”; didn’t think anything from this realm could tug at my heart harder than (SPOILER ALERT) Spock’s death and resurrection, but here we are

– Sulu does absolutely no shirtless fencing in these movies; what a crock


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