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Monday, April 26, 2010
Selling Green

Dave e-mails to report that SpongeBob SquarePants wasn't the only kid's show going green on Earth Day:

I had the same thought yesterday morning. My 6 year old daughter got to learn about the importance of turning off appliances in your house and your neighbor's house on Handy Manny and how wind power makes the earth happy on the Imagination Movers. When the 'next up' commercial told me how Phineas and Ferb were going to discover the importance of doing something for the earth, I decided to get in the spirit of Earth Day. I told my daughter to turn the TV off and play with Lego's instead.

Now that's a true conservationist approach. I was spared being lectured at by cartoon characters on Earth Day this year, but I hope that Phineas and Ferb don't start taking themselves too seriously. With the decline of SpongeBob, Phineas and Ferb has become my favorite show that my kids watch.

In Saturday's WSJ, Jonathan Last noted the mixed message inherent in another well-known children's television character's crusade to get kids to think and act green:

Fior the most part, "Bob the Builder" is about normal kids' stuff: teamwork, conflict resolution, taking turns and the like. The show isn't overtly political--Bob's catchphrase, "Yes we can!" predates the Obama campaign. Instead, it peddles a slightly hectoring brand of environmentalism. Ever since Bob discovered his inner environmental conscience, he's been teaching kids about believing in recycling and being kind to Mother Gaia. "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has become another one of the show's catchphrases. That's fine so far as it goes--aside from those evil Republicans, who doesn't love the planet?

But it's a little rich having Bob indoctrinate children about "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" while simultaneously prompting these children to beg their parents for plastic Bob the Builder trucks, and latex Bob the Builder balls, and plush Bob the Builder dolls. All of which are manufactured in far-away lands and shipped to our fair shores by the carbon-gobbling container-shipful. Bob the Builder is like one of those evangelists who lectures on the virtues of living green before hopping onto a private jet and flying back to his mansion in Nashville.

Think he's talking about anyone in particular?


Saturday, April 24, 2010
The Third Rail of Satire

David Harsanyi looks at what's Next on Cowardly Central:

"South Park" is the program that featured an image of Jesus Christ defecating on President George W. Bush and the American flag. It's the program that featured the Virgin Mary gushing blood while undergoing menstruation and Pope Benedict XVI inspecting her in a truly distasteful manner.

"That's where we kind of agree with some of the people who've criticized our show," Stone once admitted to "ABC News." "Because it really is open season on Jesus. We can do whatever we want to Jesus, and we have. We've had him say bad words. We've had him shoot a gun. We've had him kill people. We can do whatever we want. But Muhammad, we couldn't just show a simple image."

For those who bellyache about the impending Christian theocracy, it might behoove them to be a little more irritated at the thought of a television network censoring any depictions of a religious figure over some implicit threats.

There's a simple and obvious solution to the problem. Catholics need to start driving airplanes into buildings, cutting off people's heads, and sticking knives into the chests of anyone who produces any work of art that in any way offends Catholic sensibilities, real or imagined. Such a zero tolerance policy seems like it's worked wonders for reducing the mockery of Islam.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010
SpongeBob Jumps The Driving Instructor

Over the last four-plus years, I've watched many an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants with my kids (and sometimes without them). While the show has brought no small amount of amusement into our world, there has been a noticeable decline in the quality of the episodes produced over the last couple of years, especially the "specials." Now, it seems almost certain that the show has passed the tipping point on its spiral into mediocrity :

SpongeBob SquarePants isn't trying to be greener than Al Gore, but he may have an advantage in reaching out to kids.

"He's funnier," jokes Steven Banks, the show's head writer.

In "SpongeBob's Last Stand," a special Earth Day episode airing Thursday (8/7c on Nickelodeon), SpongeBob and his friend Patrick learn that a superhighway is planned for Bikini Bottom--and that it's going to cut right through Jellyfish Fields. They start a campaign to stop it, even though everyone else seems to be apathetic or pro-highway.

The special, which follows two hours of nature-themed SpongeBob SquarePants episodes, features two musical numbers, including "Give Jellyfish Fields a Chance," a salute to '60s protest songs.

"Sort of Bob Dylan meets John Lennon," Banks tells

Sort of extremely lame meets excruciatingly insipid. When televisions shows are no longer satisfied with merely entertaining us their best days are definitely behind them.


Monday, February 08, 2010
Ad It Up

This year's Super Bowl ads were a decidedly mixed bag. A few were actually inspired. Some were simply awful. And the rest (the majority) were mundane and mediocre.

It's easy to make too much of these ads and overstate their importance or what they say about the state of our society. However, there was a thread that ran through a number of them that I found disturbing.

That was the apparent willingness of those depicted to surrender things such as honor, respect, and freedom in exchange for material possessions. This was clearly the message in the Dodge Charger commercial where a group of men as much admitted that they had pretty much completely given up control of their lives to their wives for the "right" to drive the car they wanted to. My wife has my pair in her purse, but as long as she throws me this one bone, I'll happily submit.

The angle in the Bridgestone ad was different, but it had a similar message. Rather than resist the dystopic thugs who wanted to take his tires, the "hero" of this story chooses to throw his wife to the wolves in order to keep his material goods. I'm sure the creators thought this was funny which in itself says a lot about what people think of the meaning of manhood these days.

The Audi "Green Police" ad has generated a lot of discussion about whether it's actually a not-so-subtle send up of the extremes of the environmental movement. Even if it is, we again see a situation where the person at the center of the ad--whom viewers are expected to personally identify with--is choosing the path of least resistance in order to maintain their own personal comfort. Rather than resisting the degradations and violations of liberty wrought by the Green Police, the Audi driver has found a way to reach an accommodation with them. As long as it's my neighbors and not me being hauled off to reeducation camps and I can still drive my cool car, I'm okay with things.

Again, perhaps I'm getting all worked up about nothing. Maybe these ads are just ads and there no relationship between their content and our cultural values. But when you see a similar message appear over and over during what has likely become America's premier shared cultural event, it causes me to worry what that message might imply about the character of our country.

UPDATE: Cap'n Ed has a post on the Audi ad at Hot Air and one commenter (darclon) suggests a better version:

This ad would have been awesome if an '67 stingray roared to life and broke through a green police barricade while the driver chomped on a cheeseburger and gave the cops the finger

That's exactly what I thought when I watched it last night. Then, maybe instead of "Dream Police," the ad could feature Rush's Red Barchetta. That version also would have been a fulfillment of what Daniel Henniger wrote about last May:

Maybe they'll bolt. Maybe the car culture will revert to where it began, when the whiskey runners in the South ran from the revenuers. This time the cars themselves will be bootlegged--fat, fast and gas-powered--racing through the night on off-map roads while the National Green Corps--enacted by Congress in the second Obama term--looks for them from ethanolic choppers overhead. Reborn to run.

National Green Corps? Let's stick with the Green Police. That's much easier for our Commander in Chief to pronounce correctly.

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Friday, February 05, 2010
CORRECTION: We Regret the Error

In the post the other day about sitcom appearances of Mahler's "Songs on the Deaths of Children" and my claim that Cheers never used this particular comedic crutch, Tim writes in with a correction:

It's from "Rebecca Gaines, Rebecca Loses", originally aired June 5, 1993. Here's the recap:

Rebecca is pleased to learn that she and Mr. Gaines have similar interest in classical music. She uses this to start up a conversation and before long he has invited her to his house to hear some Mahler. She looks forward to the occasion, only to find out that he has intended her to serve his guests.

In the scene, Rebecca and Mr. Gaines are listening to Mahler; Rebecca remarks on how lovely and uplifting the music is and asks the name of the piece. Mr. Gaines answers "Songs on the Deaths of Children" leading to much awkwardness and consternation by Rebecca, and laughs all around.

Recalling my original assertion:

I've seen every episode of Cheers multiple times .... and I do not recall "Die Kindertotenlieder" ever being referenced and certainly not playing a prominent part in any episode.
Oh, the hubris! The arrogance! Where were the editors?

I'm sure Tim is right, his detailed description rings some faint bells in my head about that episode and that funny exchange. In my defense, I didn't watch the Rebecca Howe years of Cheers reruns nearly as much as the Diane Chambers years. I guess this only proves that Tim had more time on his hands than even I did in the 90's to watch TV reruns. (What a loser!)

To restore the credibility of my TV watching expertise with the public, let me say that I am 100% convinced that The Brady Bunch never, ever, ever made reference to Mahler's "Die Kindertotenlieder".

UPDATE: Gaaah! This just in from Ernie in Hopkins:

I think your TV watching expertise is about as low as your IQ score. Regarding the Brady Bunch, you seem to be forgetting the episode "The Butcher, the Baker, the Babysitter Maker" originally airing on February 28, 1972.

Mike Brady won the Pritzker Prize for his innovative work on suburban ranch-style home designs, in particular his minimalist use of bathroom facilities for children (an impressive 6-to-1 ratio). Mike asked Carol to accompany him to Hawaii for the awards ceremony, in particular to make sure nothing happened to the cardboard tube containing his award winning designs. The care of the children was left to resident domestic Alice.

Within hours of Mike and Carol's departure, sons Peter and Bobby began playing ball in the house (despite their mom's repeated warning to avoid such behavior). An errantly thrown toss struck Alice directly in the face, causing a severe concussion and neck fracture and resulting in a lengthy hospital stay. From the emergency room, Alice called her part-time lover Sam the Butcher and asked him to watch the children.

Sam, a confirmed bachelor and curmudgeon always hated children and initially told her 'no'. But Alice's offer of her paycheck for the next two weeks and increased sexual favors whenever she could get out of her wheelchair persuaded him to give it a try. However, upon his arrival, it soon became apparent that the Brady kids' impish ways would grate on his already frazzled psyche.

The breaking point occurred when the kids attempted to raise money for Alice's physical therapy treatments by recording a song (entitled "Don't Let a Broken Neck Keep You from Enjoying a Sunshine Day"). Their cacophonous practice session in the garage caused Sam to burst out of the house and run at them with a meat cleaver, muderously shouting "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!"

Cindy stopped him in his tracks by innocently asking "Gee mister, we're sorry. Would you prefer us to play a different song?" Whereupon Sam remarked "Have you ever heard of Mahler's 'Songs on the Deaths of Children'?"

And hilarity ensued.

Now that Ernie mentions it, I think I remember that episode. I beileve it was the Christmas special that year. Thanks for the update Ernie.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Reality TV

John Derbyshire pitches a sitcom in a post on mood music at The Corner on National Review Online:

Kindertotenlieder means "Songs on the Deaths of Children." The immortal Kathleen Ferrier gives the general idea here.

I'm sure I remember Die Kindertotenlieder featuring in an episode of (of all things!) Cheers. Can't find a clip on YouTube, though. Is my memory correct, anyone know?

I have likewise included a fragment of the Kindertotenlieder in the pilot episode of a sitcom I have written and am trying to pitch to the networks. Provisionally titled Groans, the show features a bar in North Dakota whose Norwegian American patrons converse in anguished tones about the vapid optimism that will soon bring civilization crashing down in ruins. Interested TV producers can contact me via National Review.

There's a lot of material to mine there. Just for fun, you could make a couple of the patrons Vikings fans. Could be comedy gold.

SAINT PAUL NOTES: Like most male Minnesotans in my age cohort, I've seen every episode of Cheers multiple times. Reruns were played every night at 10:30PM on Channel 11 during some of my prime TV watching years in the late-80's through mid-90s. And I do not recall "Die Kindertotenlieder" ever being referenced and certainly not playing a prominent part in any episode.

However, I do know that it was featured prominently in an episode of MASH. (A program I've seen every episode of multiple times because it preceeded Cheers in the 10:30PM slot on Channel 11 in some of my other prime TV watching years -- early through late-80's). Afficianado of the long-hair music Major Winchester received that album in the mail and proceeded to torment his tent mates by incessently playing it. At one point Hawkeye referred to it as the "Dead Children's Glee Club". That is all.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Where will you be on January 22, 2010? If you share the same values as I do, which I hope is the case, you will be headed to a rally that is as important as any you will attend in your lifetime.

We all need to do our part tomorrow to try and reverse an injustice that has been forced down our throats by people with lofty titles and questionable morals. We have suffered under the indignity of bad judgment for too long, people, and now is the time to make your voice heard!!

Locally, this event will occur outside the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota campus Friday evening. In the words of the organizer, we will:
...take to the city streets protesting NBC's choice to push Conan O'Brien out of the Tonight Show spot and back into Late Night Territory.
That's right, this syrupy morass of economic despair and global uncertainty we must all take up the cause of one poor unfortunate soul who was forced out of one of the easiest jobs in human history and given a severance payment of a paltry $40 million with the unconscionable penalty of not being allowed to work for one full year. It's too horrific to even think about. That is why we need you there to support poor Coco. He paid his dues, you know.

Oh, and if you have some free time earlier in the day, stop by the Minnesota State Capitol at noon and join another rally to commemorate the 50 million or so babies that have been killed in this country since the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. After all, Coco's a Catholic boy. Make him proud.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Castro's Still A Leo

Back in 1995 I wrote a brilliant piece about the sociopolitical undertones roiling beneath the surface of the classic Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Since it was just on TV tonight and since I'm just too lazy to post any new material and since the original post is also a classic (because I SAY it is!), here it is again. I hope you relish it as much as I.

Isn't Castro A Leo?

I think I may be getting way too cynical for my own good. Not possible, you say? Wait for it...

Last night I watched CBS's special holiday presentation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as I have every single Christmas season since my eyes first developed the ability to focus. The hour long "Animagic TV Classic" ranks just above the original "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" in my list of absolutely-must-see holiday videos (Jim Carrey's always ridiculous over-the-top performance completely ruined the live action remake...and even managed to taint the original).

I clearly remember several pre-Christmas evenings from my childhood when I hastily scarfed down my dinner, sometimes even skipping dessert, so I could rush downstairs to the family room and not miss even one single second of Rankin and Bass' timeless masterpiece.

This year, however, is the first I can recall that I viewed Rudolph through my ever darkening lens of bitterness and contempt. I'll admit that I watched the first half through what remains of my child-like eyes. The wonderful stop-motion animation always makes me long for the days when all I had to worry about was six hours of grade school drudgery and what Mrs. Dalsin was serving for lunch.

This self-imposed illusion lasted only until our protagonists (Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius and Hermey the Elf Dentist) came upon The Island of Misfit Toys. It is here that we are introduced to the flying lion, King Moon Racer.

As the Rudolph story goes, this benevolent King "rescues" toys from children who no longer want them and then imprisons them on his desolate snow encrusted island to await their eventual demise.

Upon the arrival of Rudolph and crew, these horribly inconvenienced toys beg for their freedom in a wonderfully enchanting musical number with lots of misfit on misfit action including copious amounts of squirting jelly.

All that aside...when Rudolph and friends eventually plead for asylum to King Moon Racer as horribly maladjusted misfits themselves, the King not only tells them to shove right off but he demands that they send Santa Claus himself to his despotic little ice sanctuary to relieve him of all the twisted toys he has collected over the years and deliver them to children who may possibly someday want them.

My question at this point is, if King Moon Racer can fly around the world and pick up deformed toys from undeserving kids without the need for a magic sleigh and mutant reindeer...why in the hell can't he deliver them to some more deserving ones on the way back instead of relying on an already overburdened Santa Claus to do the dirty work?

All this Moon Racer character has done is create an island of dependent and demoralized subjects who fearfully worship every beat of his so called benevolent heart. Their only hope for freedom is that the more prosperous people of neighboring Christmas Town will swoop in to rescue them...from a problem the King himself created!

Island of Misfit Toys my rear end. Sounds a lot like Cuba to me.

How's that for cynicism?

The Elder Brews Up Some Coffee: Some people have lost weekends, Atomizer has lost decades. While it might seem like it was a blast from 1995 to him, his original post was actually scribbled back in aught-five. We regret the error.

Atomizer Sez: Meh...what does ten years mean in the grand scheme of things?

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Thursday, November 19, 2009
No Glee In Mudville

There's no reason that I should like Fox's television series Glee. It's a musical comedy set in a high school. While I enjoy plays and movies, I generally can't stand musical versions of either. Way back in junior high I remember going on a class field trip to see a musical movie version of "Oliver Twist." Back at school, I was discussing the movie with a kid one grade below me and mentioned that I hated the musical bits. "Really?" he replied, "Those were my favorite parts." He ended up turning out to be gay. Seriously.

And shows about life in high school? Please. It's one of the last things I want to see portrayed again on television for the umpteenth time.

But with all that going against it, I still found myself drawn to "Glee." I don't know if it's the strange collection of characters, the unusual running plot lines, the wryly amusing writing or a combo of all that. Something about it works and for me it has sort of a "Arrested Development" vibe and appeal to it.

Well, at least until last night's episode. The other day JB and I were talking about television tropes and saying that there should be a list of leftist versions of them. For example, the evil businessman, the smart minority or woman, the stupid husband, etc. Last night on "Glee" another was on display: The Intolerant Christian Father (which is sort of but not really captured by the Holier Than Thou trope). You know exactly what I'm talking about. The dad who's an avowed Christian man of God--talking openly about his faith, wearing a cross, etc.--but ends up being an unloving bastard to his family.

On "Glee" it was the father of Quinn. She's a cheerleader and President of the "Christ Crusaders" which is a club that celebrates celibacy. In what could be yet another trope--good Christian goes bad--she gets knocked up. When her boyfriend Finn (who's not really the father) reveals this to her parents in last night's episode, her father reacts by throwing her out of the house. And just in case we weren't sure that he's a bad guy, he's domineering and verbally abusive to the mother. See, he says he's a Christian, but he really doesn't practice what he preaches toward his own family so he's a horrible hypocrite. Get it?

Yes, we get it. And we got it the first nine-hundred-and-ninety-two times we saw it on television as well. No more "Glee" for me.

UPDATE-- Tom e-mails with more details:

Did you note the foreshadowing when the subject hypocrite Christian Father came into the room (large rocks glass with 'brown goods' in hand) and said to his wife, "honey, you are missing Glenn Beck"? I like the show too, I hope it doesn't--in it first season--devolve into a "Law & Order" like show with evil ex-Bush Administration types up to no good (spiking McKinley's chances at sectionals perhaps?).

I did notice the rather hefty tumbler the dad was hoisting, but missed the Beck ref.


Monday, September 21, 2009
Character Flaws

In her WSJ television column about a month ago, Dorothy Rabinowitz perfectly captured the core of the series Mad Men (sub req):

There was no mistaking the ­resulting instant relief--and the energy--that came charging through every scene, every line of dialogue, as soon as the action shifted to that Madison Avenue office. The life force of this period series, it becomes ever clearer, is business--the advertising business, the business of the interconnecting lives of the Sterling ­Cooper staff, all inextricably fused to the job, the place and career concerns. For, despite the grand dimensions that have been attributed to it as a work of social commentary, the series is at heart the latest addition to an old and honored television genre--the workplace drama. A highly distinguished one, to be sure, and far darker and more complex than, say, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

That the office is the heart and soul of Mad Men has never been more apparent then when watching this season's episodes. Up until last night, the focus of most of the Season Three episodes had shifted from the office and as a result the pace felt sluggish and even slow-moving at times. Granted it was still good dramatic television, far better than most of what fills the small screen. But it was lacking some of the spark and vitality that had marked the series in the past.

However, in last night's Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency episode the show's flair and style were back with gusto. The office was again the center of action and there was plenty to enjoy. Without giving too much away, any time you can plausibly work a lawn mover accident into an office storyline you're doing something right. The reaction of the British executives in the hospital after their wunderkind account manager lost his foot was priceless. In explaining why he would never work again, one remarked, "He won't be able to walk with one foot." The other added with emphasis, "He very well won't be able to play golf." An account manager who can't golf? Inconceivable.

It's easy to watch the 1963 workplace setting and marvel about how different things are from today. The smoking, the drinking, the dress code, the treatment of women, etc. But what really makes the Mad Men office world tick are the things that aren't that different. The details are not the same, but the office politics and personal relationships depicted are easily recognized by those who work in similar situations today.

Last night's episode featured a visit from the home office. The hopes and fears of the staff anticipating an organization shakeup were very familiar as was the individual reaction when the reorganization was rather hurriedly and awkwardly announced. While everyone's public face is all about the good of the company, privately each and every one asks, "What does this mean to me?"

I had to chuckle when the reorg was presented via an overhead projector with a transparency slide. No laptops and Power Point in 1963. Then, I realized that it wasn't that long ago (ten years) when I was still using an overhead projector with transparencies. Those were the days.

If you weren't nervous enough about presenting to a room full of people, you had to stand next to a projector that was emitting far more heat than light (flop sweats anyone?). Then you had to pick up each slide individually (stop shaking) and remember to place it properly on the projector so it showed up right on the screen. Chances that you screwed up the first slide no matter how many times you had done it in the past? About 90%.

That was if you were lucky enough to have the slides ready in the first place. I can vividly recall impatiently waiting to head into a meeting as the printer slowly pushed out transparencies. If it was a really important meeting, you could just about guarantee that it would run out of transparencies or jam two minutes before you were supposed to start. You can complain all you want about the overuse and abuse of Power Point these days, but I for one embrace the progress that's been made on this front.

One last point on Mad Men. While I generally enjoy the show, there are several nits to pick. The biggest for me is Don Draper's character. He's the handsome, cool, and unflappable creative director at Sterling Cooper with a mysterious past. He's a stud both in business and love and fits the bill "the men want to be him, the women want to be with him" to a tee. He's a hard-working career climber and can be a demanding boss. But he's also got a heart to go with his brain. He's a family man with a beautiful wife and three kids. And he sleeps with a string of women on the side from clients to stewardesses.

Wherein lies my problem. Does he have to be a lecherous adulterer? Isn't the very idea of the hard-boozing, easy-banging businessman who leads a double life--family man and pleasure seeking hedonist--itself one of the hoariest of entertainment clichés? You could still retain his secret history, but would not his character have been even more compelling, more interesting, and more appealing if he actually lived up to his commitments as a loving father and a faithful husband? We can live with flawed and imperfect heroes. But they don't have to all share the same detrimental character traits.


Thursday, August 06, 2009
Truth In Satire

These days I rarely get a chance to watch "South Park." Which, given the tawdry nature of the show is probably a blessing in disguise. Still, I found myself laughing more often than not last night when I managed to catch an episode called Eek, A Penis!. It originally aired in April 2008 and the plot is far too convoluted and cracked to easily explain. However, I did find this one exchange interesting:

Molita: There isn't any point to all this. I won't be going to college... I'm pregnant, alright? I just found out, and Eduardo isn't gonna help me raise it.

Cartman:(in a Mexican accent) *sigh* How do I reach these kids? Alright, let's go get you an abortion.

Molita: No, I'm catholic! I think abortion is wrong!

Cartman:(in a Mexican accent) Abortion isn't wrong! What's the one thing I've been teaching you?

Molita:...That cheating is good?

Cartman:(in a Mexican accent) Yes! And abortion is the ultimate form of cheating! You're cheating nature itself! [Molita walks away from him] Why do rich white girls get ahead in life? Because they get abortions when they're young! They get pregnant, but they still want to go to college so, whatever, they just cheat! They cheat that little critter in their belly right out of a chance at life.

Molita: I don't know Mr C...

Cartman:(in a Mexican accent) Mexicans are told not to cheat. "Don't cheat! You got pregnant, you have to raise the child!" So then you have to raise the child while all the white girls get to go to college and probably have a bunch more abortions! [faces Molita] It is at our most challenging times, that we must cheat our very hardest.

Not the type of pro-life message that you're probably used to hearing, but a pretty unmistakable one.


Monday, July 20, 2009
The Wacky Morning D.J. Says Democracy's A Joke

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the premier of the SpongeBob Squarepants show, Nickelodeon hosted the SpongeBob Squarepants Sponge Bash last weekend. It featured ten new episodes, ten celebrities' favorite episodes, and the top ten episodes of all time as voted by "fans."

Fans in this case apparently meant youngsters with underdeveloped brains full of mush or stoners with brains turned to slush (thanks Ben). How else to explain the results? Here is the list of top ten SpongeBob episodes that Nick aired on Saturday:

10. Suds
9. Patty Hype
8. Valentine's Day
7. The Paper
6. Help Wanted
5. SB 129
4. The Camping Episode
3. Ripped Pants
2. F.U.N.
1. Pizza Delivery

Now I'm as much of a believer in "power to the people" as the next fellow but really now, this is quite absurd. Here now, is the real list of the ten best SpongeBob episodes of all time.

10. Plankton's Army: Plankton harnesses the power of numbers, but learns that he can't handle the truth. We learn that his name is Sheldon.

9. Chocolate With Nuts: SB and Patrick try to make it big by selling chocolate door to door. Many hilarious encounters ensure, but none better than with Mary and her mother.

8. Ugh: A trip back in time B.C. (before comedy) with SpongeGar, Patar, and Squog. It takes a few viewings to appreciate how funny this episode really is.

7. Sailor's Mouth: SB and Patrick learn to use "sentence enhancers." I don't understand. The guy's talented, but he doesn't have to work blue.

6. Rock-A-Bye Bivalve: SB and Patrick play parents to help raise a baby clam and domestic tranquility does not ensue. Patrick coming home late from "work" with a lampshade on his head and being met at the door by a ticked off SB is one of the best scenes in the series history.

5. Krusty Krab Training Video: People Order Our Patties has to be the best corporate acronym of all time.

4. F.U.N.: SB decides that all Plankton needs is a friend. He learns a valuable lesson in the intractability of one's nature. Plankton's version of the F.U.N. song alone makes it worth watching. "N is for no survivors..."

3. The Camping Episode: The C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E-S-O-N-G and seabears both in the same episode? Squidward: What happened that time? SpongeBob: I don't know! I guess he just doesn't like you. Patrick: Pretend to be somebody else.

2. Jellyfish Jam: As the first episode I probably ever watched and definitely the first one I ever appreciated, this holds a special place for me. Plus my kids love to dance to it.

1. Band Geeks: From start to climatic finish, it's an absolute classic. Many memorable lines and a nod to Eighties metal make for great fun.

(Honorable mention: Pickles, Patrick Smartpants, Bubblestand, Ghost Host, Roller Cowards, No Weenies Allowed, Frankendoodle, Idiot Box, Graveyard Shift, Wet Painters)


Thursday, June 04, 2009
Goode Enough?

When I heard that Mike Judge was coming out with a new animated series about the foibles of an all-too-earnest, environmentally over-conscious family I was intrigued. I've enjoyed Judge's work in the past, especially "Beavis and Butthead" and "Office Space." "King of the Hill" had its moments, but I thought the show far outlasted the useful shelf life of its premise.

While I missed last week's premier of The Goode Family, I was able to catch both of last night's episodes. At this point, my verdict on the show is mixed.

The two episodes did feature some hilarious examples of Judge's deft touch at nailing the mannerisms, dialog, virtues, and vices of particular personality types that we're all familiar with. Once again, we're able to relate cartoon characters who are far more real to us than 95% of the people we typically see portrayed on television.

But some of the Goode characters seem just a bit too familiar. Perhaps Judge is just following the family mantra of "reduce, reuse, and recycle." The father Gerald Goode is clearly based on the tree hugging teacher from "Beavis and Butthead." At first blush you might not think it, but the mother Helen shares many of the same impulsive personality traits with one Peggy Hill, although both would likely be far too stubborn to ever admit it. You can also see some Bobby Hill in the Goode's adopted son Ubuntu (great back-story there). The most obvious example is Helen's dad Charlie, who likes to drive a SUV and kill and eat animals. There is more than a little Cotton Hill (Hank's dad) character carryover there.

While this familiarity isn't necessarily a negative, it does lead me to question the long-term sustainability of the show. At this point in the life cycle of the series it's impossible to make a definitive judgment. The success or failure of the show will likely come down to the answer to this question: Is there enough material in the tank to keep the "Goode Family" hybrid running for an extended journey? Some of the storylines in last night's episodes already seem to be borrowing from "King of the Hill"--especially the high school football sub-culture--and it's not clear if the "Goode Family" premise will generate the necessary original content to keep the show consistently fresh and funny. But if anyone can pull that off, Mike Judge can. We'll definitely be watching.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We're As Low and Despicable As Rob Reiner

Back in the day, I was a regular viewer of "South Park." The show was funny and often quite topical. Although it did mock some of the same individuals, groups, and institutions that our mainstream pop culture has decided are deserving of ridicule, it also went after others who typically have been given a pass from withering satire. "South Park" also evidenced a feisty streak of supporting independence, freedom, and personal responsibility. While some have viewed this as conservative (as I did early in the show's run), it's really more of a neo-libertarian attitude that isn't commonly found in the entertainment world.

Over the years, I've fallen away from the show. Cynical mockery done right can be very humorous, but it only takes you so far. There's only so many subjects that you can skewer, so many storylines you can create, and so much depth to your characters that you can develop before it all begins to wear a bit thin and seem repetitive. And once you have children, the idea of watching an animated show with the adult language often featured on "South Park" loses much of its appeal.

It's not that I've repudiated the show entirely. On those rare occasions when I do catch an episode these days I usually find myself moved to laughter frequently, far more frequently than any current network sitcom I can think of. But it's no longer part of my regular television viewing in the way that say "SpongeBob Squarepants" is.

While "South Park" may not hold as much appeal for me today as it used it, the show's cultural relevance shows no signs of abating. The latest evidence is today's WSJ column by Bret Stephens called Obama and the South Park Gnomes

Consider the 1998 "Gnomes" episode -- possibly surpassing Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" as the classic defense of capitalism -- in which the children of South Park, Colo., get a lesson in how not to run an enterprise from mysterious little men who go about stealing undergarments from the unsuspecting and collecting them in a huge underground storehouse.
What's the big idea? The gnomes explain:

"Phase One: Collect underpants.

"Phase Two: ?

"Phase Three: Profit."

Lest you think there's a step missing here, that's the whole point. ("What about Phase Two?" asks one of the kids. "Well," answers a gnome, "Phase Three is profits!") This more or less sums up Mr. Obama's speech last week on Guantanamo, in which the president explained how he intended to dispose of the remaining detainees after both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly against bringing them to the U.S.

The president's plan can briefly be described as follows. Phase One: Order Guantanamo closed. Phase Two: ? Phase Three: Close Gitmo!

I wonder how many readers (like me) instantly recognized and understood Stephens' reference? When a plot from animated television show is being used as the basis for an op/ed piece, you know that show has cemented its place in the popular culture.

The episode that Stephens cites in indeed one of "South Park's" best, taking on the mindless opposition to corporations and the misguided belief that local and small is always better. This is a plot summary that I wrote up years ago:

Harbucks Coffee (a corporate conglomerate) wants to buy out the local coffee shop in South Park but the owner refuses to sell. Harbucks then sets up a shop in town to compete with the local man. So he helps the boys prepare a report for school on the evils of corporate takeovers. The boys' report causes the town to consider a proposition (Prop 10) to ban Harbucks from opening their store. The underpants gnomes (don't ask) teach the boys the truth about corporations and they speak to the town before the vote on Prop 10 and convince the townspeople that economic competition is what America is all about.

Great quote from the episode:

"Without big corporations we wouldn't have cars, computers, or any of the other things that make life great."

Not a message you often hear in today's pop culture. I don't know if its defense of capitalism is actually superior to Friedman's work, but it definitely reached an audience who likely didn't have "Free To Choose" on the nightstand.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Too Much Green And Not Enough Red White & Blue

During the last few weeks, the major cable children's programming channels (Nickelodeon, Disney, MSNBC) have been hyping the build up to Earth Day like never before. Nickelodeon continues to try to influence young minds of mush by urging them to fight CO2 monsters through their "Big Green Help" program. Disney is also fully on board the environmental bandwagon with programs like "Handy Mandy Goes Green" (not to be confused with the very special "Handy Mandy Gets A Green Card" episode).

The networks would say that it's all part of their efforts at "educational" programming. But it's interesting to note that what passes for educational programming on children's television today almost exclusively involves the environment or diversity. The only time I can recall seeing any attempts to educate children on history is during Black History Month. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there's a whole lot of history that's being left out if that's all you include.

There's also little or nothing that celebrates the United States or is patriotic in any way. The only time you usually can even catch a glimpse of the American flag is if one happens to be in the background of one of Nickelodeon's hagiographic "reports" on President Obama. As my wife noted just the other day, the focus is always on the world rather than America. After all, we're just one country among many, right?

It's easy for parents to get frustrated by this onslaught of liberal thought and lack of American exceptionalism on children's television. But fortunately there is an answer. An answer that you might enjoy watching just as much as your kids do.

Yes, Schoolhouse Rock. The Easter Bunny dropped off the DVD at our house this year and it's been getting pretty heavy play ever since.

Those of you in my demographic cohort know what Schoolhouse Rock is. For those who aren't, here's the History of Schoolhouse Rock:

Every Saturday morning between 1973 and 1985, a classroom of imagination defying enormity was assembled on ABC, run by a small cadre of renegade Madison Avenue ad men. Class sessions were short but intense-squeezed between episodes of Scooby Doo and LaffOlympics and Underoos met the dress code. No one assigned homework, no one slapped your knuckles with a yardstick, no one beat you up for your milk money. The institution of learning was called Schoolhouse Rock, and if you can recite the Preamble of the Constitution by rote and know the function of a conjunction, you probably attended faithfully.

Watching the DVD definitely brings back fond memories of getting hepped up on sugary cereal and watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. Our mom usually wouldn't buy us sugary cereal, but that didn't stop us from piling it on. You put enough sugar on and anything can taste good, even shredded wheat.

Some of my favorite School House Rock grammar shorts are Interjections!, Unpack Your Adjectives, and Conjunction Junction. They hold up today just as well as they did back in the day.

But the ones that I really loved then and still enjoy today are from the America Rock series:

By 1976, a patriotic fervor had gripped the nation. Kids were hoarding bicentennial quarters and riding around on red, white and blue Huffys. Schoolhouse Rock responded with segments about American history, which they produced under the banner America Rock, and which ABC, for reasons mysterious, called History Rock. The lessons became more ambitious, now addressing such topics as Colonial military prowess ("The Shot Heard 'Round the World"), the concept of Manifest Destiny ("Elbow Room"), and women's rights ("Sufferin' Till Suffage").

These includes classics such as The Preamble, Great American Melting Pot, and I'm Just A Bill. There is simply nothing even close to these on television today. You think it might be helpful if more Americans understood at least some basics about our legislative process, our history of welcoming AND assimilating immigrants, and the Constitution?

Not that there aren't a few errors that I've noticed here and there. For example this line in Mother Necessity about inventors:

When Henry Ford cranked up his first automo,

Maybe that's where President Obama got the idea that Ford invented the car.

What really stands out though is just how out and out patriotic these shorts are, how absent they are of PC scolding, and how unafraid they are to give voice to values once considered quite uncontroversial in America. The ending from another one of my favs, The Shot Heard 'Round The World:

God Bless America, Let Freedom Ring!

Six words I can guarantee you won't hear on Nickelodeon any time soon.

Another exuberant celebration of America and its history is found in Fireworks:

And on the Fourth of July they signed it
And fifty-six names underlined it,
And now to honor those first thirteen states,
We turn the sky into a birthday cake.
They got it done (Oh yes they did!)
The Declaration, uh-huh-huh,
The Declaration of Independence (Oh yeah!)
In 1776 (Right on!)
The Continental Congress said that we were free (We're free!)
Said we had the right of life and liberty,
...And the pursuit of happiness!

That's what I want my kids learning. Not how to fight CO2 Monsters.

One Rock that I don't remember seeing as a youth really sticks out. Read the lyrics to Elbow Room and try to imagine what would happen if such a lesson were shown on television today:

One thing you will discover
When you get next to one another
Is everybody needs some elbow room, elbow room.

It's nice when you're kinda cozy, but
Not when you're tangled nose
to nosey, oh,
Everybody needs some elbow, needs
a little elbow room.

That's how it was in the early days
of the U.S.A.,
The people kept coming to settle though
The east was the only place there
was to go.

The President was Thomas Jefferson
He made a deal with Napoleon.
How'd you like to sell a mile or two, (or three, or a hundred or a thousand?)
And so, in 1803 the Louisiana Territory was sold to us
Without a fuss
And gave us lots of elbow room,

Oh, elbow room, elbow room,
Got to, got to get us some elbow room.
It's the West or bust,
In God we trust.
There's a new land out there...
Lewis and Clark volunteered to go,
Good-bye, good luck, wear your overcoat!
They prepared for good times and for bad (and for bad),
They hired Sacajawea to be their guide.
She led them all across the countryside.
Reached the coast
And found the most
Elbow room we've ever had.

The way was opened up for folks with bravery.
There were plenty of fights
To win land rights,
But the West was meant to be;
It was our Manifest Destiny!

Can you say that?

The trappers, traders, and the peddlers,
The politicians and the settlers,
They got there by any way they could (any way they could).
The Gold Rush trampled down the wilderness,
The railroads spread across from East to West,
And soon the rest was opened up for--opened up for good.

We trampled down the wilderness, built railroads across the country, and opened up the land. And it was GOOD!

And now we jet from East to West.
Good-bye New York, hello L.A.,
But it took those early folks to open up the way.

Now we've got a lot of room to be
Growing from sea to shining sea.
Guess that we have got our elbow room (elbow room)
But if there should ever come a time
When we're crowded up together, I'm
Sure we'll find some elbow room...up on the moon!

Oh, elbow room, elbow room.
Got to, got to get us some elbow room.
It's the moon or bust,
In God we trust.
There's a new land up there!

Remember when building, growing, and expanding were all considered part of the American Dream? When we considered it our right to have space? When we would go wherever we had to--even the moon--in order to find that space? And we would make that journey with trust in God? Now, we're afraid of "suburban sprawl," strive for "sustainable development," and worry that too much travel might increase our carbon footprint and anger Gaia.

Instead of having your kids subject to yet another day of environmental indoctrination on Nickelodeon and Disney or the creeping multiculturalism of PBS, pop in the "School House Rock" DVD and return to a time when American children were taught not to apologize for our country, but to celebrate it.


Thursday, April 09, 2009
We're Little Black Sheep Who Have Gone Astray

Steve from Grand Forks e-mails on "Riptide":

Loved your post on "Riptide," you magnificent bastard yourself. Made me laugh. great line.

I never watched one minute of that show, I don't think.......But I am a Cannell fan, more or less... all he had to do was Rockford for me.....

You are conspicuous, however, in your failure to mention the ambiguously gay trio vibe of the Riptide guys. . . . .. hmmm, strange, that failure.....

Steve's ignorance of the glories of "Riptide" is evidenced by his audacious claim to be picking up a "gay vibe" from the cast. Had he been more familiar with the show, he would known that when the two main characters weren't cracking cases, they were banging tourist boat waitresses two at a time. And while Boz may have been the shy nerdy type, I'm sure he had know problem picking his way through the leftovers.

Speaking of the glories of Stephen J. Cannell, looking through the impressive list of shows that he created I can find several classics from my youth:

* 21 Jump Street

* Adam-12

* Baa Baa Black Sheep (at the time it aired, my favorite show)

* Baretta

* Hardcastle and McCormick (another one that I had forgotten about--great theme song)

* Hunter

* Quincy, M.E. (another guy living on a boat, solving crimes, and having his way with the ladies--many half his age!)

* Riptide

* The A-Team

* The Rockford Files

* Wiseguy

If you think about the countless hours of entertainment delivered by those shows, you realize that those of us who grew up durng that time owe Mr. Cannell a debt of gratitude. Thank you.

UPDATE: Steve e-mails with a rebuttal:

so you're saying the Riptide boys were really deep in the's called ACTING.

your coverup of it all is, well, of a vibe of its own....

one way to stop the vibe would be to hype the Beavers a lot more.....I've been arguing we haven't even done enough of it....

Although it did lead one local TV anchor to get racy: "Even those who aren't (B)eaver fans are hoping for a happy ending," he said.

There's really no such thing as too much Beaver talk is there? Since today's semi between Miami and Bemidji State starts in just a few hours, you should consider Fraters Libertas as your home for prime Beaver conversation.

UPDATE II-- Andrew e-mails with more on Cannell's creations:

Boy, your Grand Forks guy is *WAY* off; any producer who creates shows that featured the greatest fighter aircraft in the history of the Second World War (the F4U Corsair, if just for the cool look and waaaay overpowered engine); an opening line like "Welcome to the world of forensic medicine!" and pulling back a sheet, only to have a student pass out; George Peppard gleefully chomping on stogies while Mr. T. pitied fools and fired various automatic, no, there could be *no* underlying homoeroticism in any of Mr. Cannell's shows.

If anything, he helped remind us that it was okay NOT to be a Jimmy Carter/Phil Donahue-esque weenie, and for that, I thank him.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

Yesterday, during an e-mail exchange JB Doubtless pulled a classic Eighties television show from the clear blue and hit us with a reference to Riptide:

The series featured Cody Allen (Perry King) and Nick Ryder (Joe Penny), two former army buddies who decided to open the Pier 56 Detective Agency (later known as the Riptide Detective Agency) in Los Angeles. However, realizing that computers and technology play a major role in many investigations, the guys recruited the help of Murray 'Boz' Bozinsky (Thom Bray), a brilliant but socially inept scientist and computer hacker whom the guys had met while serving in the military. Riptide was created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell, and produced by Stephen J. Cannell Productions in association with Columbia Pictures Television. The main theme was composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter.

The team operated out of Cody's boat, the Riptide, which was moored at Pier 56 in King Harbor, California. The guys had several other tools in their fight against crime and injustice. These included Murray's robot (The Roboz--which, unlike most television robots, did not talk), Nick's aging Sikorsky S-58T The Screaming Mimi[1] helicopter (which Nick occasionally used for his sideline business, aerial harbor tours), and Cody's speedboat, the Ebb Tide. (Nick also had a classic red Chevrolet Corvette and Cody had a "Woody" station wagon.)

I literally haven't thought about this show for close to twenty-five years, but when JB mentioned it the memories came flooding back. The two cool guys living on a boat in California solving crimes and chasing chicks. The nerdy side-kick. The pink helicopter. And the robot, yes the frickin' robot. How could that formula not succeed? Stephen J Cannell, you magnificent bastard! I watched your shows!


Wednesday, April 01, 2009
The President In Pajamas

In Saturday's WSJ, Bret Stephens noted that not even children's TV is safe from politics:

Yet there we were -- my right-leaning self, my otherwise-leaning better half, the Obama-aware-though-not-yet-politically-engagée Lara and her slightly befuddled younger brother Noah -- watching the Noggin channel as it "celebrates President Barack Obama and some of his favorite things." With a voice-over that sounded like a Noggin character and a set of brightly colored illustrations of the 44th president and his family, the segment continued as follows:

Barack Obama is the first African-American to be President. That is what's called a historic event.

Leading a country is no easy task. So what does he do to relax you may ask?

He loves shrimp linguini and the chili he cooks.

He also plays Scrabble; collects comic books.

He likes classical and hip hop and jazz music too.

He always goes shopping for the same type of shoe!

He reads lots of books and writes wonderful speeches.

He goes on vacation and takes walks on beaches.

He loves basketball; it's his favorite sport.

In the White House backyard he'll have his own court.

He reads bedtime stories to his daughters at night.

The president in pajamas, what a sight!

Now you know the president better than before.

Which leaves just one thing:

When he sleeps does he snore?

It concluded with the message: "For more about President Barack Obama, go to" Curious, I went to the Web site but found only the same video (it seems to have since been removed). Still curious, I called Nickelodeon, where I was told the clip was done for black history month (along with clips of other notable African-Americans) and had "no political overtones."

Maybe so, but why then select Mr. Obama when there were plenty of non-partisan role models to choose from? I suppose I wouldn't object to a bit of civic consciousness-raising among preschoolers. Then again, I've been watching Noggin on a more-or-less daily basis for four years, and I can't remember a similar clip about President Bush, his bike rides, cowboy boots and Scottish terrier. So I'm left to conclude that a channel whose chirpy slogan is "I'm using my Noggin!" is up to something else. Actually, boys and girls, Noggin is using you.

We don't get Noggin as part of our cable package, but we do get Nickelodeon. And I saw the short, hagiographic cartoon celebrating President Obama a couple of times during Black History Month. Like Stephens, I too was surprised at how overtly political it was despite Nickelodeon's effort to sell it as simply recognition of a historic figure in black history. And like Stephens, I can't recall seeing anything remotely similar about President Bush on Nick. In fact, I can't even recall his name being mentioned on any special promotions by the station.

But this celebration of President Obama is only the most overt example of Nickelodeon's political bias. Last year, they provided "coverage" of the campaign with kid reporters and interviews with children involved in politics. Far more of these stories were about kids who supported Obama than McCain. Not surprisingly, when the station conducted an on-line poll asking children to "pick the president," Obama emerged as the winner. That result was then enthusiastically reported on the station. At the inauguration, these same "reporters" celebrated the occasion by jumping up and down and chanting "Obama! Obama! Obama!" In that respect, I suppose that weren't much different from their grownup media counterparts.

Then there's the matter of Nick's The Big Green Help. Now, I'm all for protecting the environment as much as the next guy and I think it's fine to teach kids to care for the earth by not littering, conserving energy, and recycling. But that's not what The Big Green Help is really all about. No, it's about fighting "CO2 monsters" who are destroying the planet by causing global warming. And like an infantile version of Hollywood activism (is that even possible?), Nick has lined up all the stars of their shows to add their weight to the effort by urging kids to get involved.

The same people who like to pooh-pooh the "exaggerated" fears of communism during the Fifties and love to ironically mock things like duck and cover drills now have no problem trying to convince children that if they don't turn out the lights their world is going to end. The problem is that kids don't even know what CO2 is and, at least before Nick's agitprop came along, would have no reason to worry about it. Now, they're being called on to fight the CO2 monsters with nary a mention of the fact that use of carbon based energy has allowed us to build the world we have today and heats their homes, fuels the cars their parents drive, and provides the electricity to the very television that they're watching Nickelodeon on.

The problem---as my brother astutely pointed out yesterday--is that the people at Nickelodeon have decided it's their mission to do more than simply deliver quality children's television. Instead of being content to produce shows that entertain and sometimes educate children, they feel the need to "make a difference" and that leads to these efforts to indoctrinate young minds. When you introduce yourself at the dinner party and say you're a children's television executive, it helps if you can solemnly add "We're currently running a campaign to fight global warming." Because making a difference is so much more important than making children happy.


Thursday, February 26, 2009
You're Good, You're Good

My wife and I often sprinkle pop culture references in our daily conversation. And like many of our generational cohort, these references are often from episodes of "The Simpsons" or even more frequently "Seinfeld." Again this is not an uncommon behavior as many of my friends do the same. In fact, --according to reliable reports--some years ago when Saint Paul, Atomizer, and JB took a junket to London, they managed to set a unofficial four-day record for making such references, leaving them spent and nearly speechless on the flight home (except for Atomizer who managed to summon up the intestinal fortitude to get well into his cups--again).

Therefore it probably shouldn't come as a surprise to discover that the acorn indeed doesn't fall from the tree. Our eldest has recently begun employing television refs in his regular banter. Naturally, they aren't sourced from "Seinfeld" or "The Simpsons." No, he's pulling his material from a program he knows all too well; Sir SpongeBob of the Square Pants.

Interestingly enough, in recent years my wife and I have found ourselves dropping SpongeBob lines on a increasingly regular basis. The little yellow square dude isn't approaching the Seinfeldian depths of seeming to have an appropriate riff for nearly everything you encounter in life, but you'd be surprised how often a nugget from the show proves usable. Now that our son has discovered the joys of the well-timed television reference, I expect we'll be going to that well even more often.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008
This Is What It Sounds Like When The Sponge Cries

In Fee Battle With Time Warner, Viacom Enlists Cartoons (WSJ-sub req):

Tapping emotional images such as a weeping Dora the Explorer and a distraught SpongeBob, Viacom Inc. is launching a marketing blitz Wednesday aimed at demonizing Time Warner Cable over a television-programming contract dispute.

Barring a last-minute settlement on fees, Viacom's cable channels -- including Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central -- will disappear from Time Warner Cable at midnight Wednesday. While programmers and operators often battle fiercely over contract renewals, Viacom's campaign is notable in its willingness to pull children into the debate.

One ad shows the cartoon Dora in tears with the words, "Why is Dora crying?" The ad goes on to explain: "Time Warner Cable has taken 19 of your favorite channels off the air!" and suggests viewers call a Time Warner Cable number to demand that the cable operator restore Nickelodeon and its siblings. That ad is paired with another suggesting that viewers can get Dora back by signing up to one of Time Warner Cable's rivals such as DirecTV or Verizon Communications. In another, the cartoon character SpongeBob is said to be "freaking out."

This morning, Nikelodeon has been running a continuous scroll warning of the channel's imminent disappearance for Time Warner customers and urging them to call their cable operator to avoid this horrible fate. It's a clever ploy by Nik to go after one of parent's critical pain points: the shows their children love to watch. All I have to say is thank God we have Comcast. Don't get a chance to say that too often.

Speaking of children's television, is there a creepier show on the air today than Playhouse Disney's The Doodlebops? It's disturbing on so many levels with that '70s Sid and Marty Kroft psychedelic stoner vibe. Thanks Canada.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Maybe Toast

Tonight at 7pm central time ABC will air A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. That's it. One time. You catch it tonight or wait 'til next year (pipe down TIVO freaks). Consider yourself warned Saint Paul.


Thursday, September 11, 2008
Must See TV

As seen on Conan last night, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog mixing it up with the protestors and street characters in St. Paul during the RNC. Video here.

Highlight is the guy hawking a movie about Islamic extremism next to the F. Scott Fitzgerald statue in Rice Park. Quoting Triumph: "If you liked The Great Gatsby, you'll love Home Grown Jihaad!"

He also meets up with a hipster looking guy promoting the movie Obsession, another one about Islamic radicalism. (Triumph punch line: I didn't know a member of the Strokes was a Republican.) For some reason, I find myself getting emails from that guy, promoting a screening of the movie in Dearborn, Michigan this week. Turns out I've got to pumice my bunions that night, so I can't fly out. But if you all are available and interested in seeing a celebrity who appeared on the Conan O'Brien show, here is that web site.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008
To The Wind

When Atomizer landed his gig helping design the new Twins stadium (getting the proper slope on those urinal troughs is critical you know), we thought he had found his dream job.

Now, Paul heps to a new show that Atomizer would love to host:

Can you say "I'm buying" in 12 languages? Embark on this international drinking tour with comedian Zane Lamprey who takes you around the world to master the local drinking customs.

Nice work if you can get it. And it's in HD. Which I don't have, but understand is quite nice.


Sunday, May 25, 2008
Predatory Blogging

Catch all the best "Shark Swarm" commentary at the Nihilist In Golf Pants Live Blog of Shark Swarm captained by Sisyphus.


Thursday, April 24, 2008
Take Your Disbelief Out Back & Put A Bullet In Its Head

I don't mean to turn this into all Hallmark Channel all the time blog (despite Atomizer's pleas), but this is just too good to pass up. Not only is the Hallmark Channel going to treat us to the world premier of "Shark Swarm" on Sunday, May 25th, they're now going to follow it up with what they're calling a "White Knuckle Marathon" on Memorial Day. After checking out this classic "so bad they're good" movie lineup, I doubt that I'll have white knuckles, but I'm sure I'll have quite a few chuckles.


When an international flight lands in Los Angeles carrying a dead passenger, the CDC dispatches Dr. Kayla Martin (Tiffani Thiessen, center), Dr. Carl Ratner (French Stewart, left) and FBI Agent Troy Whitlock (Vincent Spano, right) to identify the mysterious illness onboard before it spreads to the millions outside the plane. "Pandemic," a Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event, airs Monday, May 26 (8am/7c).

Tiffani Thiessen (where's the Amber?) as a doctor who's an infectious disease expert? Yeah, I can see that.


When early effects of an impending solar explosion wreak havoc on Earth, Dr. Christopher Richardson (Luke Perry) and National Intelligence Agent Lisa Delgado (Tia Carrere) find themselves caught in the middle of societal breakdown in "Supernova," a Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event, airing Monday, May 26 (11am/10c).

Believe it or not, I've actually watched "Supernova." I was in Russia last year and the Hallmark Channel was one of three English channels at the hotel. It's tough to say what was more implausible: the plot, having Luke Perry play a distinguished astronomer, or Tia Carrere in the role of "National Intelligence Agent."

Then, we get another look at the epic battle between green and mean:

Shark Swarm

In a California coastal town, fisherman Daniel Wilder (John Schneider) and his wife, Brooke (Daryl Hannah), discover the terrifying side-effects of an unscrupulous developer's (played by Armand Assante) attack on the environment: the environment is attacking back, as the local shark population is now traveling in unstoppable swarms with a terrifying, single-minded purpose. "Shark Swarm," a Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event, airs Monday, May 26 (5pm/4c).

The environment is attacking back? The more I read about "Shark Swarm" (and look at the ridiculous pictures) the more and more I fall in love with this movie. Move over "Road House." This is shaping up to be the single most entertaining movie of all time. I can't believe we have to wait another month to see it. Quit teasing us Hallmark Channel!

Finally, we end the day with...

Killer Wave

After massive tidal waves strike the East Coast, a team of scientists confers to discover the reason behind the devastating phenomenon, including nuclear arms expert John McAdams (played by Angus Macfadyen) who believes that the cataclysms are terrorist-triggered undersea missiles. Unbeknownst to him, billionaire industrialist Victor Bannister (Tom Skerritt) is working behind the scenes to thwart McAdams' investigation. The Cable Television Premiere of "Killer Wave" airs Monday, May 26 (8pm/7c) exclusively on Hallmark Channel.

Another evil businessman! Who would have thunk it?

I'll close with one cultural observation: is it any wonder that so many American women increasingly embrace the "safety" of the Nanny State when they take in a steady diet of "white knuckle" crap like this?


Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Shiite Swarm

Another update has arrived from the Hallmark Channel on the much anticipated premier of "Shark Swarm," the THREE HOUR "mean vs. green" epic that we brought to your attention earlier. It answers some of the questions raised in the previous post:

Daryl Hannah stars as Brooke Wilder, whose husband (John Schneider) refuses to sell their land to a developer (Armand Assante) who is dumping toxic waste into the local waters in order to dry up the fishing trade. When the dumping causes frightening changes in the local shark population, Brooke and her family will need their courage more than ever.

Armand Assante stars as Hamilton Lux, a greedy developer who dumps toxic waste into a California bay in an attempt to get the locals to sell their land. But when his actions result in mutations to the bay's sharks, which begin attacking in organized, precise groups, there may not be a town left to buy!

Now we know the developer's motivation for dumping the toxic waste (other than being mean). But other questions now arise. Such as, would it possible to come up with more obvious names for characters?

As Atomizer noted in an e-mail, naming the villain Hamilton Lux is perfectly contrived pretentiousness. Just in case you didn't feel the mallet whacking you over the head, they name the heroic fishing family fighting the evil developer "The Wilders." Get it? Wild as in nature. They even throw in "Brooke" for good measure. I'm surprised that didn't name John Schneider's character "Oak Wilder" to leave absolutely no doubt as to the fact that he was on the side of the angels (it also would have been an accurate characterization of his acting skills).

JB chimed in via e-mail as well:

The Armand Assante character looks like a potential new hero for us!

They've taken the cliché all the way! He even has the cigar!

Indeed they have. This is the picture of Hamilton Lux that was included in the promotional e-mail. Looks like he's having a great time with cigar, G&T, and shades on an all-but-empty beach. He is the good guy, right?

JB has a few questions too:

This is going to be great.

Two questions:

Does Daryl Hannah use her status as a Mermaid to help?

And is Bo going to take out any of the sharks with them dynamite arrows like he did to Uncle Jessie's outhouse?

We can only hope. This is really going to be a can't miss event. And it's THREE HOURS long. Saint Paul notes:

It's THREE HOURS long?! The Godfather got out what it needed to say about 2.5. This clearly has more depth and nuance to unveil.

Indeed. And the potential for mockery at the laugh out loud absurdity of the movie is really limitless. We've been talking about having a viewing party at one of our houses, but now I'm thinking this could be bigger than that. We should get a bar to host and have a first ever Fraters Libertas movie screening event. Hey, if the guys at Power Line can do it, so can we.

If that doesn't work out, we can always do something for the premier of Sisyphus' debut screenwriting effort:

This will be awesome. I'll bet the developer kills some of Darryl's mermaid friends and makes this personal. The only downside is that this type of Hollywood movie never has a happy ending.

I am working on a screenplay where the crusading developer takes on evil environmentalists whom are bent on putting people out of work. It WILL have a happy ending.

Greenlight that baby!


Thursday, April 17, 2008
Makin' their way, The only way they know how

Ever since Atomizer upgraded to the Hallmark "Sweetheart Package" (all seven Hallmark Channels in HD!), we've been getting bombarded with press releases promoting their new programs. The latest and greatest arrived in my e-mail box yesterday:

In Hallmark Channel's Memorial Day Weekend film "Shark Swarm," when a greedy developer kills off the fish population by dumping toxic waste into the waters off a coastal California town, the residents find themselves tormented by packs of sharks that are suddenly and aggressively hunting anything that moves. Although the plot makes for an exciting story, the film's stars--Daryl Hannah, John Schneider & Armand Assante--took the 'Green Vs Mean' message to heart, and with Earth Day 2008 (April 22) rapidly approaching, are using the opportunity to get the word out about key issues affecting the world we live in.

Actors taking advantage of their "fame" (I use the term lightly here) to try to promote a cause? Imagine that.

Daryl Hannah, who plays Brooke Wilder, wife of John Schneider's character, has long been an outspoken advocate for Bio-Fuels and environmentally sustainable lifestyles. "I believe we're at a crisis point," says the actress, whose eco-friendly home has been 'off the grid' for many years. "It's encouraging to recognize that these issues are no longer partisan matters. Every choice we make has an effect on the world around us. If you think about the decisions you make on a daily basis--what to eat or buy, how to get around town, and so on--each of those choices can have positive or negative ramifications.

Choices have ramifications? Pretty vacuous stuff, but standard fare for the thespian community. However, Hannah's remarks look positively Aristotelian when compared to those of her costar (who I believe did his best work in Dream House):

John Schneider, Hannah's costar and onscreen husband, agrees. "This isn't a new problem," the actor says. "There are ancient records of major port cities in Europe that literally disappeared because all of the city's waste was tossed into the bay. Over time, the water receded and the entire bay was a landfill, all the wildlife was gone, and a center of commerce was lost. This could easily happen today."

Easily. One day people just start throwing their trash in the water, pretty soon--before anyone notices--the entire bay is a landfill. Are you listening Boston? San Francisco? It could happen to you. Easily.

"Shark Swarm," a three-hour Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event, premieres Sunday, May 25 (8/7c). We know Atomizer will be glued, rooting for green to truimph over mean.

UPDATE-- Bobby from LA e-mails to query:

I just have to ask regarding this:

"when a greedy developer kills off the fish population by dumping toxic waste into the waters off a coastal California town, the residents find themselves tormented by packs of sharks that are suddenly and aggressively hunting anything that moves."

Wouldn't the toxic waste kill (or seriously impair) the sharks as well?

Well, I'm certainly no John Schneider when it comes to these matters, but it does seem a little fishy doesn't it? I'm also not quite clear on what a developer would be doing with toxic waste or why he would want to dump it into the ocean (other than to be mean). I guess we'll have to tune in on May 25th to answer these burning (and itching) questions. This movie sounds like it's ready made for MST3K-like mockery. Paging Mike Nelson...


Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Feel The Hate

Flipping around the dial last night I came across an extremely effective Al Qaeda recruiting video. Technically, it was called The Real Housewives of New York City, but Osama himself couldn't come up with a better pitch for waging jihad against the godless infidels.

After fifteen minutes of watching these insufferable, pretentious, superficial, pampered gaggle of Gotham gals blather on about the meanings of "taste" and "class" (hint: people with real class don't appear on reality TV shows), this mild-mannered Midwestern Catholic was ready to strap on an explosive vest and make the ultimate sacrifice to help bring down the Great Satan. Seriously, I can't imagine that watching this show would do anything but incite passionate hatred for America. I could see how someone could conclude that any country that allows empty-headed, self-absorbed women like these to consider themselves (however delusional that consideration may be) as "elite" must be evil. Let's just pray that Al Jazeera doesn't pick this series up.

Compared to these nattering ninnies from New York, The Real Housewives of Orange County now look like a cloister of Carmelite nuns.


Friday, January 18, 2008
Get To Omaha!

Robert heps us to the YouTube clip of one of the most memorable ads ever. At least it was for JB and me during our well-spent days of youth. You gotta love the internet.


Sunday, January 13, 2008
Yuppie Spawn

Those of you with young children have probably wondered who the sinister force behind the televised abomination known as the "The Naked Brother's Band" was. In Friday's Wall Street Journal, the Hollywood Report provides the answer (sub req):

When it premiered in 1987, the prime-time soap opera "thirtysomething" was unlike anything else on television. An homage to yuppie angst, the show developed into a lower-rated but critically adored antidote to the "Dallas" and "Dynasty" genre that otherwise ruled that decade.

Now, 20 years later, "thirtysomething" isn't even available on DVD, and none of its cast members have gone on to acting stardom. But nearly all of them have become highly influential in the entertainment world in other ways, stepping behind the cameras to write, direct and produce hit television shows this season.

Peter Horton, the heartthrob of "thirtysomething" as English-literature professor Gary Shepard, went on to executive-produce ABC's mega-hit "Grey's Anatomy." He is now the executive producer of this year's modest hit "Dirty Sexy Money" on ABC.

The new prime-time soap "Lipstick Jungle," making its debut Feb. 7 on NBC, is executive-produced by Timothy Busfield, who played adulterous ad man Elliot Weston on "thirtysomething." Ken Olin, best known as the show's conflicted yuppie protagonist, Michael Steadman, produces, directs, writes and acts on ABC's drama "Brothers and Sisters." And Nickelodeon's hit show "The Naked Brothers Band" is the creation of Polly Draper, who played driven City Hall worker Ellyn Warren.

Somehow it all makes sense now.


Monday, December 31, 2007
Development Arrested

Not to make light of what is a very serious matter for the father of long-time friend of Fraters Vox Day, but when you read some of the details in this Strib story on Robert B. Beale, it's hard not to think of the television series "Arrested Development":

Not so very long ago, he had a wife, a family and substantial wealth. He was a leader of his church and a successful business executive.

Then he decided he had the legal right to stop paying his taxes.

Now Beale wears the orange jumpsuit of a jail inmate, back in custody after 14 months as a fugitive.

This from his time on the lam:

"I rode my bicycle and I went jogging daily," he said. One weekend while riding his bike, he said, he stopped at a fruit stand, and a man at the stand sold him some watermelon and told Beale he was a full-time police officer. "I just decided to eat quickly and be gone," Beale said.

Around Christmas, he said, he moved to Orlando, Fla., rented a room under another name and continued to work on his computer. He obtained false identification, he said. He declined to say where he got money to live on.

During this period, he said, he made a couple of trips by plane -- one to attend a tax seminar in New York-- and also took a one-week cruise to the Bahamas, which he called "just a vacation."

Being a fugitive is hard work. You can understand the need for a vacation. And then there's how the run ended:

He said he made a "really dumb mistake" using the same cell phone for 11 months.

"I started calling my family," he says. "My ex-wife found out I was making these calls and she called the police. They subpoenaed the phone records from family... and found out where I was calling from."

He was arrested without incident in the parking lot of an Office Depot in Orlando on Nov. 1.

You can easily picture that happening to George Bluth Sr. The family business dynamic is also similar:

In the meantime, problems were multiplying at his company. In an affidavit filed in Hennepin County District Court in May, Bradford Beale, another of his four sons and vice president of Comtrol, said many company decisions couldn't be made because his father was a fugitive.

If I'm not mistaken, Vox fancies himself a magician as well. The parallels are truly uncanny.

Once this little writers strike thing gets settled, I imagine there will be a slew of pitches for a new comedy series based on the Robert Beale story. Imitation is after all the sincerest form of flattery. All we need is to come up with a catchy title and an appropriate actor to play the lead role.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Girls On Girls

In last week's Strib, Neil Justin noted an interesting television demographic:

Playboy, like chewing tobacco and the Three Stooges, has long been favored by the male of the species.

But E!'s 'The Girls Next Door,' which follows the misadventures of Hugh Hefner's three girlfriends, is turning that tradition on its ears.

About 70 percent of the reality series' audience is of the female persuasion, a startling number considering that a typical premise consists of the blondes trying to finagle their way into a magazine pictorial, not unlike Lucy's attempts to sneak onto Ricky's cabaret show -- although I don't recall Mrs. Ricardo ever having her bare ta-tas digitally erased from the screen.

My wife (yes, she likes watching the show) and I noticed this a while ago. Most of the commercials that aired during a typical broadcast were directed toward the fairer sex. But we wouldn't have imagined that 70% of the viewers were women.

Justin's article goes on to speculate that the reason that the show appeals to women is because they envy the lives of kept luxury "The Girls" are living. In my wife's case, I think she enjoys laughing at "The Girls" intellectual challenges and marvelling at their almost unbelievable, but apparently completely sincere naivitee regarding most aspects of life.

Me, I just like watching it for the articles.


Friday, December 14, 2007
Unnerving To Watch

Dorothy Rabinowitz explain the appeal of "The View" in today's Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Shepherd's answer -- not in my house -- remained firm, but the tone was now more agitated. The best thing now, clearly, would be a change of subject -- something that never comes easily. Once these conversations start on their inexorable drive toward hell, the only way out is the commercial break, which finally arrived -- though evidently not soon enough for Ms. Goldberg, the show's otherwise unflinching new moderator. It had been an exchange both riveting and unnerving to watch -- the kind that gives the show, now in its 11th season, its life force and also its notoriety.

The show's strength owes something to the length of its colloquies, the argumentation that can run on and on, exposing raw nerves and deeply held attitudes. Which isn't to underestimate its celebrity obsession and show-business side, its parade of famous or famous-enough guest stars, its gossip mode. Wednesday's "View" began with a story about a McDonald's in London that required customers to depart the premises as soon as they finished eating, then moved on to the matter of George Bush's decision to quit drinking years ago and Ms. Behar's confident assertion that the president was once an alcoholic and must still consider himself one. A view that unmistakably irritated the rest of the panel, as well as the guest star, country singer Sara Evans. On from there to Britney Spears, who, they alleged, was addicted to Frappuccinos. "If you drank five Frappuccinos a day, you'd drop your baby, too," Ms. Shepherd opined.

I still don't get it. Maybe it's a chromosome issue.


Saturday, December 01, 2007
Must See TV

The first Sunday of every month brings a real literary oasis to the American public, the LIVE 3 hour In Depth interview on CSPAN. (And Dan Barreiro will be nowhere in the vicinity). Tomorrow, at 11 AM (central) features the man who should be running for President, and would have won, if brilliant, innovative ideas and the ability to communicate of them effectively were the primary requirements.

Former Speaker of the house Newt Gingrich will be our guest for In Depth on Sunday December 2nd, LIVE from Noon to 3pm ET. Mr Gingrich is the author of over a dozen fiction and non-fiction books, including: "Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America," "To Renew America," "Lessons Learned the Hard Way," "Saving Lives & Saving Money," "Window of Opportunity," "The Art of Transformation," "Rediscovering God in America," "Gettysburg," "Grant Comes East," "Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant the Final Victory," and "1945." His latest books are "Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December the 8th" (co-authored with William Forstchen) and "A Contract with the Earth" (co-authored with Terry Maple)

Broadcast replays (central time):

Sunday, December 2, at 11:00 PM
Saturday, December 8, at 11:00 AM
Monday, December 10, at 2:00 AM

Ah Newt, what might have been.

BTW, on NARN today we had on the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, David Keene, making the persuasive case that Mitt Romney is the conservative pragmatist's best left over option. I'm not entirely convinced, but it was a compelling discussion for those of us not entirely thrilled with any of the GOP field leaders. Podcasts up on AM1280 The Patriot Web site by Monday.


Monday, November 12, 2007
Sponge Worthy?

A whole day of SpongeBob episodes--Z to A countdown--capped by the all new made for TV movie Atlantis SquarePantis? And there was much rejoicing among kids (and parents) everywhere.


Saturday, November 10, 2007
Early Opener?

So I'm flipping around the television dial tonight and find "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" on TBS. The Grinch? On November 10th? A little early, doncha think? I mean, we watched it of course, but still it seems to be jumping the gun a tad to be airing Christmas specials nearly two weeks before Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Mark Your Calendars

Much to my surprise, I didn't miss it this year. Yet. The only Halloween special that ever mattered hasn't aired yet. But it will, next Tuesday, October 30, 7 PM Central on ABC.

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

For those of you unfamiliar with this 1966 classic, I'll let Linus set the stage:

The Great Pumpkin always picks the most sincere pumpkin patch to rise out of. He's just gotta pick this pumpkin patch. He's just gotta! Look around. You can see that there's not a sign of hypocrisy anywhere. Nothing but sincerity reaching out as far as the eye can see.

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I believe this could be his year.


Friday, October 19, 2007
When fact is fiction and TV reality

Remember the good old days when MTV actually you know...played music videos? A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila on MTV:

Are you ready for the ultimate battle of the sexes? Well, you better be 'cause there's about to be an all-out war over cyber hottie Tila Tequila!

Although Tila has racked up more than 2 million MySpace friends, she still hasn't found "the one," and she's ready to do anything to find him -- or her! This self-proclaimed "bisexual freak" has had her heart broken by men and women, and she's tired of being alone. With our help, she's inviting 16 luscious lesbians and 16 sexy straight guys over to her place for A Shot of Love With Tila Tequila. Yes, it's time for Tila to unfurl her freak flag and find true love.

I've often wondered what the boundaries would be for reality television. What is pushing it too far? Apparently, there are no boundaries or they've now been stretched to the point of being meaningless.

A lot of reality shows use sex to hook viewers. It has increasingly become the focus on programs like MTV's "The Real World." But at least they still tried to hold on to the pretense that it was about something more.

"A Shot At Love" is nothing other than thinly disguised soft-core porn. When we saw a promo, my wife speculated on the number of men who be...uh..."finding self-pleasure" while watching. I'm surprised that Kleenex and Lubriderm aren't the primary sponsors.

Another line has been crossed with nary a peep of complaint. When Dr. Anthony Esolen joined us on the radio show last week, he explained that taking in our mass entertainment culture is like living next to a sewage treatment plant; after a while you don't even notice the smell anymore. "A Shot At Love" is just a little more crap on top of the fetid heap.

I shudder to think what the future of reality television holds.


Sunday, September 30, 2007
Feel The Power

Although the people were disempowered yesterday by Laura Ingraham's last minute cancellation of her appearance on NARN (not sure what excuse her excuse was, something about having to meet with a bunch of elites instead), you can catch some of what she might have talked about on CSPAN tonight at 9 PM central. It's a replay of her appearance at the College of St. Catherine (sponsored by AM1280 the Patriot) from a couple weeks back, promoting her book "Power to the People."

Bonus feature, our own Mitch Berg doing the MC duties and handing the Q & A. I watched some of it during it's original broacast at 8 AM this morning and it is entetaining, at least by early Sunday morning CSPAN standards.


Monday, September 17, 2007
Award for Outstanding Achievement In the Field of Excellence

In case you missed it (as I did), Al Gore won an Emmy last night:

Former Vice President Al Gore took home an Emmy on Sunday night for creative achievement in interactive television for Current TV, his youth-oriented television channel.

"We are trying to open up the television medium so that viewers can help them make television and join the conversation of democracy and reclaim American democracy by talking about the choices we have to make," Gore said as he accepted the award.

Read that sentence again. Slowly. Banal, meaningless, with false aspirations to importance. Vintage Al Gore.

Tim from Colorado is not impressed either:

What's up with the Emmys? Apparently, the committee ordered too many awards, so the Emmy committee created a category called "Creative Achievement in Interactive Television" and gave Al an Emmy for Al's website Current TV, which allows kids to download their videos to the website for others to view. I know, I know, you are probably awestruck at the man's depth, but this was a non-competitive category, i.e., there were no other nominees, kind of like an election under Saddam.

Hmmm, I think there's already a popular website like that, but its name escapes me; it's on the tip of my tongue. Oh yeah, it's called YouTube!!

Not only did Big Al invent the Internet, but now he's copying developing new websites for his baby, too. I think that at some point in the future, Al will figure a way for us to buy stuff from the Internet. Shopping in our pajamas, wouldn't that be great?

What will he think of next?


We are the wind beneath the right wing.

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