Rediscovering The Simpsons

Up until a few days ago, I always dreaded coming across reruns of The Simpsons in syndication.  That was usually because most of the reruns were from the more recent seasons and the drop-off in quality between The Simpsons of the 90s and the Simpsons of the modern era was so dramatic and sudden that it can often be depressing to even think about.  At first, it was just a case of the show depending too much on celebrity cameos and occasionally trying too hard to be topical.  Then, after season 20, The Simpsons suddenly seemed as if it was trying to keep up The Family Guy’s notoriously mean-spirited and lazy aesthetic.  As I said, it was just depressing to think about.

But, since I didn’t have to work today and the world is shut down for the Coronavirus, I stayed home and I actually watched a few episodes on FXX.  I was shocked to discover that some of the post-2000 episodes weren’t as bad as I originally remembered.  Perhaps it helped that I was watching them with absolutely no expectations but some of the episodes — in particular the Angry Dad episode with Stan Lee –actually did make me laugh out loud. It undoubtedly helped that I knew that none of the episodes that I was going to see were going to live up to the classic 90s episodes that I loved in high school.  Since I knew not to expect to see anything like Marge Be Not Proud or The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show, I could actually judge each episode on their own merits as opposed to comparing them to what had come before.

Of course, once FXX started showing episodes that were made at 2010, I promptly stopped laughing because those episodes still suck.  But who knows?  Maybe in 2030, I’ll actually be laughing at some of those episodes as well.  Hell, maybe even that episode with Moe judging American Idol will somehow become funny.  Strangers things have happened.

Life During The Wuhan Virus

This morning, I woke up and I turned on the TV.  On CBS, I was shocked to see a college basketball game being played.  Thinking that maybe these were two teams who were playing in defiance to the cancellation of their season, I then saw that the stands were full of cheering fans.

“Are they crazy!?” I thought.  Usually, I’ll defend college students against the argument that they’re all entitled and irresponsible but considering what’s going on in the world, this seemed like peak entitlement….

Just as I was reaching total outrage, I realized that I was watching an old game.  CBS is currently showing a Michigan State/Wisconsin game from 2015.  I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot of this.  With so many big sporting events being cancelled and so many tv shows and movies suspending publication because of the Wuhan Virus, I imagine a lot of networks will be turning towards the archives.

What a time!  Last week, around this time, Lisa & I were on an airplane flying back to the U.S. after spending two weeks in the UK and France.  That seems like a year ago.

Right now, due to the Wuhan Virus, life is on hold in many places of the world.  That’s certainly the case down here in Texas.  I’m going to be working from home until at least the end of this month.  Lisa’s office is going to be closed until at least April 13th.

I’m not panicking about the Wuhan Virus.  I’m taking all the necessary precautions because that’s all you really can do.  These are scary times but we’ll get through it.  America is a much stronger country than a lot of people are willing to admit.

As for me, I got groceries, some peanut butter, to last a couple of days.  No worries for me.

This ain’t no disco.  This ain’t no fooling around.  But we’ll survive.

Terry Jones, RIP

I just heard the incredibly sad news that Terry Jones has died.  Jones, who was one of the founders of Monty Python and a respected medieval scholar, was 77 years old.  It was announced three years ago that Jones was suffering from a rare form of dementia so his death was not unexpected but it still hurts.

When I was a kid and I was watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the first time, I initially did not fully appreciated Terry Jones.  I liked him because I liked every member of Monty Python and every British comedy fan grows up wishing that they could have been a member of the group.  (My favorite was Eric Idle.)  But it was sometimes easy to overlook  Terry Jones’s performance on the show because his characters were rarely as flamboyant as some of the other ones.  He was never as grumpy as John Cleese nor was he as sarcastic as Eric Idle.  Michael Palin (who was Jones’s writing partner long before the two of them become members of Monty Python) cornered the market on both unctuous hosts and passive aggressive countermen.  Meanwhile, Graham Chapman played most of the upright authority figures and Terry Gilliam provided animation.  Terry Jones, meanwhile, often played screeching women and bobbies who said, “What’s all this then?”

It was only as I got older and I came to better appreciate the hard work that goes into being funny that I came to appreciate Terry Jones and his ability to always nail the perfect reaction to whatever lunacy was occurring around him.  It was also as I got older that I started to learn about the origins of Monty Python and what went on behind the scenes.  I learned that Terry Jones was a key player.  Along with writing some of Monty Python‘s most memorable material, he also directed or co-directed their films.  On the sets of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, Jones provided the structure that kept those films from just devolving into a collection of skits.

Unlike the other members of Monty Python, Terry Jones never really went out of his way to establish an acting career outside of the group.  Instead, he wrote screenplays and serious books on both medieval history and Geoffrey Chaucer.  Appropriately, for a member of the troupe that changed the face of comedy, Jones often challenged the conventional views of history.  Terry Jones was the only man in Britain brave enough to defend the Barbarians.

On the last day of the ninth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Davis, rewarded us for our hard work by showing us what he said was the funniest scene in film history.  The scene that he showed us came from the Terry Jones-directed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and it featured Jones giving a literally explosive performance as Mr. Creosote.

With thanks to both Mr. Davis and Terry Jones:

Terry Jones, Rest in Peace.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

Last night, I watched Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.

The case of Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots tight end who was accused of murdering multiple people when he was off the field and ultimately convicted of one murder, has always interested me.  If you believe what prosecutors charged (and, after watching the documentary, I do), Hernandez went from signing a 40 million dollar contract with the Patriots to killing people for the slightest of reasons.

After Hernandez committed suicide in 2017, his brain was examined and it was said that he was suffering from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which could have been a factor in his lack of self-control.  I was always skeptical of the argument that Hernandez’s crimes could be explained away by CTE.  I don’t doubt that Hernandez had it but I’ve always understood that CTE usually didn’t start to really effect people until they were middle-aged.  Hernandez was only 22 when he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd.  To me, especially after watching the documentary, it’s more probable that Hernandez was just a sociopathic punk who was desperate to prove his manhood.  In his mind, that meant going after anyone who had gotten under his skin or who he viewed as being a threat.  In the documentary, one of Odin Lloyd’s friends says that Aaron Hernandez was trying to be a gangster and I think that’s right.  The documentary also revealed that Hernandez was gay and deeply closeted and suggests that his own self-hatred was one of the main causes of Hernandez’s emotional instability.

The documentary features the audio of several phone calls between the jailed Hernandez and his mother and girlfriend.  What really got to me was how content Hernandez often sounded in those recordings.  It was as if being in prison and only having to deal with a small cell provided him with the structure that he had never had before.

The film reveals that Hernandez was not a smart criminal.  He murdered Lloyd just a few miles away from his house and he left behind hundreds of clues that revealed he was the murderer.  If Hernandez had been a smarter criminal, would be still be playing in the NFL today?  Would he be making millions off of endorsements and looking forward to a future as an ESPN commentator?  I doubt it.  Aaron Hernandez was so self-destructive that his downfall was going to come one way or the other.

Another good thing about the documentary is that it spent almost as much time exploring Odin Lloyd’s life as it did Aaron Hernandez’s.  With all the publicity surrounding Hernandez’s trial, it was often overlooked that Odin Lloyd left behind friends and family and loves ones.  Everyone in the documentary describes Odin Lloyd as being a good person and it’s obvious that, when interviewed, all of them were still feeling the pain of losing him.  The documentary remembers that this story is about more than just Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace.  It’s also about the tragedy of Odin Lloyd’s death.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is currently streaming on Netflix.



Buck Henry, R.I.P.

I just heard that Buck Henry died tonight of a heart attack.  He was 89 years old.

It’s hard to know where to start with Buck Henry.  He did a little bit of everything.  He started out as a comedian in the 50s, appearing on talk shows and claiming to be G. Clifford Prout, the president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA).  SINA was an organization dedicated to clothing animals in order to prevent their “indecency.”  Buck Henry’s delivery was so deadpan that many people thought he actually was G. Clifford Prout and a some even tried to send him donations to help out his cause.  (The donations were always returned.)

Henry went on to work extensively in both television and film.  He wrote the script for The Graduate and played the helpful hotel clerk.  He co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks.  With Warren Beatty, he co-directed Heaven Can Wait and received an Oscar nomination.  In Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, he had a rare serious role as the gay patent lawyer who helps alien Thomas Jerome Newton set up his corporation and who ultimately gets tossed out of a window by government agents.

During the first few season of Saturday Night Live, Buck Henry hosted a total of ten times.  By many, he was considered to be an unofficial member of the cast.  He was a frequent foil to John Belushi’s samurai character.  Henry’s button-down persona provided the perfect contrast to Belushi’s frenetic performance.  During the October 30th, 1976 episode, Henry was accidentally struck by Belushi’s katana and he ended up with a deep cut on his forehead.  Henry not only continued the skit but he also hosted the rest of the show with a bandage on his forehead.  All of the other members of the cast put bandages on their foreheads as a show of solidarity.

Buck Henry kept working into the new century, appearing on shows like Will and Grace, The Daily Show, and 30 Rock.  He will be missed.

Buck Henry, R.I.P.

Happy Thanksgiving From Pop Politics

Happy Thanksgiving, not from the Pinedale Shopping Mall in Cincinnati, Ohio but instead from Baltimore, Maryland, where I’ve been visiting my family since Monday.

Of course, it doesn’t matter what city you’re watching from, WKRP In Cincinnati is an American classic that transcends both time and geography.  41 years ago, WKRP defined Thanksgiving with the now-classic Turkeys Away episode.

Here’s that moment:

When I was a kid, I used to watch reruns of WKRP on a daily basis.  Of course, I was a kid so I didn’t realize that the episodes were reruns and that I was just watching a canceled network show in syndication.  All I knew is that I wanted to grow up and work at a radio station with a sexy receptionist, a clueless boss, a sleazy advertising director, and a bunch of stoned DJs.  And I definitely wanted to win a Buckeye Newshawk Award!

Things may not have worked out like that but, on this day, I have much to be thankful for.  Life is good, the future is bright, and, thanks to WKRP, I know that turkeys can’t fly.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!