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:
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:
As always, thank you for your support and patronage. Namaste.
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 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.
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!)
– 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
According to me, some guy.
Only the grit-streaked bark of ’87 Axl could sell lyrical bits like “space brain” and “west coast struttin'” and “rattlesnake suitcase.” This song boogies like a career drunk taking his final sobriety test. Accurately conveys whatever we believe about the “the rock n’ roll lifestyle.” Also, there’s cowbell.
Frosty nihilism thaws into an earnest ballad. The nakedly emotive second half is just Wagnerian enough to retain the dark thrust of the first. Features a slide guitar break so good it distracts you from competing sex noises. Who needs the Meatloafery of “November Rain” when “Rocket Queen?” exists?
Best exemplifies the Guns N’ Roses mission statement of “we are Aerosmith by way of the Dead Boys.” Also includes the more literal mantra: “come with me, don’t ask me where ’cause I don’t know.” If we’re to believe Appetite For Destruction killed hair metal this was the fatal stab.
The band’s star turn, wherein they drag sugary pop harmony through a greasy, rust-laden junkyard. Even the dubious moves work. “Jungle” is the “Search & Destroy” of whatever genre GNR were claiming. They sort of invented their own here. Chainsaw glam? Dive bar punk?
The best “message” song in the Guns catalog. Too bad civil war is exactly what tore this band apart (which makes Slash’s Snakepit the Reconstruction Era). Too bad this illustrative and anthemic display is forever in the shadows of the Use Your Illusion video trilogy MTV rammed down our dry throats.
Sincerity cloaked in gloom. Walks right up to the border of overblown ballad and flips the bird. It’s not hard to imagine Nirvana performing this one, which is why it managed to slip through the apex of grunge unscathed. Slash’s slow-burn solo is one of his absolute best.
Keeps you on the edge of your seat for six goddamn minutes. The most cinematic of GNR rockers; no wonder it ended up in Terminator 2. Closes with that fantastic breathless Axl rant, which includes one of my favorite non sequiturs—“don’t forget to call my lawyer with ridiculous demands!”
If a bar fight were a song…you can almost feel the pool chalk being shoved up your nose. The bass line sounds how I imagine cocaine tastes. So full of piss, vinegar, and acid it’s hard to believe they didn’t bang it out they night the band formed. Maybe they did?
Could be a parody of the Appetite aesthetic, could be a pure adrenalin shot. Either way, I’ll take it every time, if just to burn off paranoia/nervous energy. The sound effects almost turn the whole thing into a “Far Side” cartoon. That’s not a complaint.
More an experiment than a song, like a free form poem with chunks of heavy metal improv (and, of course, on-the-nose hospital reenactments). Maybe that makes “Coma” the precursor to the Lou Reed/Metallica album. I’m not even sure it works, but man do they commit. Boredom never arrives.
– a couple weeks ago I wrote this story for Orlando Weekly about a funky old mansion in the area; can’t tell you if it’s haunted but I know for sure it does not have air conditioning or a helipad (or a Starbucks)
– last week I was a guest on the the inaugural ep of “Newbridge Nights,” an unsanctioned wrap-up program for Tom Scharpling’s “Best Show”; believe it or not I spend most of my time talking about Glenn Danzig and his music
1. Big & Beautiful (1986)
An endless party. Bubbly, crisp, refreshing—like that first sip of champagne. A melee of creativity. As if the cover of James Brown’s “Sex Machine” isn’t genius enough they also give us the tremendous Bond riff “Double O Fat Boys.” It’s a hip hop trailer for the greatest spy comedy never made. They rap in Russian accents! And you believe it!
2. Coming Back Hard Again (1988)
The re-imaginations of “The Twist” and “Louie, Louie” are astoundingly great. The song about Freddy Krueger featuring guest rapping by Freddy Krueger is astoundingly great. And yet, five albums in, did these guys need to lean so heavily on such established properties? Everything between the three tunes mentioned is cool without the nucleus of some massive cultural touchstone.
3. Crushin’ (1987)
Though it speaks to the staggering power of the Fat Boys in 1987 that they could get the Beach Boys to do backup vocals on their remake of “Wipeout” the end result is stilted and dated in a way the remainder of Crushin’ isn’t. Same with the AIDS PSA “Protect Yourself”; a noble gesture, but why is it paired with the insane testicle joke “My Nuts?”
4. Fat Boys (1984)
The debut is packed with fresh rhymes but too many songs break the five minute mark. No surprise a group that started out under the name (the) Disco 3 had trouble navigating away from that genre’s conventions. And there’s something unsettling about the cover art, where it appears the Boys are eating a pizza where smaller versions of themselves are the topping.
5. On And On (1989)
A concept album with no concept and the unnecessary application of Public Enemy style production that makes everything feel claustrophobic. Still, the Fat Boys charisma is there in huge gooey chunks. “School Days” is a classic banger that should have been a million times bigger.
6. The Fat Boys Are Back (1985)
Too loose and sloppy. In a couple songs it sounds like the drum machine fell off a table and they just went with it. Also, major points off for the exclusion of their tremendous entry from the Krush Groove soundtrack, “All You Can Eat.” Instead we get a reggae tribute to…reggae itself?
7. Mack Daddy (1991)
This has to be lowest simply because it’s the one Kool Rock and Buff did without Prince Markie Dee, who apparently took the group’s sense of humor with him when he left. Elements of New Jack Swing keep this exercise as lively as it can be (and there’s at least one Teddy Grahams reference).