Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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ALF's Hit Talk Show

As you all know, I never do favors for anyone unless they give me even more in return. Since I’m away this week, the guy I wrote a Power Ranger sex thing for got roped into filling in for me. Eventually I might — MIGHT — take a proper look at ALF’s Hit Talk Show. But in the very likely event of my death, here’s Samurai Karasu of Ranger Retrospective to give it the coverage it doesn’t by any means deserve.

I apologize for the break in your regularly scheduled ALF reviews my fellow ALFanatics. Mr. Reed has informed me he was on trial for murder this week so he needed someone to fill in his shoes.

Unfortunately, ALF wasn’t a show I watched much of in its heyday. I had a good excuse though, I was -6 months old during the season finale’s first airing. However I was familiarized with the show through reruns on various channels, as well as Paul Fusco’s desperate attempts to shove his brainchild into any pop cultural limelight that granted him the opportunity to do so.

For whatever reason, I really enjoyed the show when I did watch it. Chalk it up to my obsession with puppetry and mushmouthed fathers, but it somehow managed to charm me through its attempt at style over substance. ALF managed to fool me into believing its central character was a really charming and witty figure that deserved my attention. The show somehow crafted a character that, upon reflection, was never really there. ALF was sold to my generation as a no-nonsense sass talking alien. In reality he was just a doughy asshole who molested half a family and informed the audience how often he was killing him.

Granted, I was a stupid kid and took all this garbage at face value. I thought ALF was the hippest character to ever grace T.V. So much so that I can still recall the most embarrassing t-shirt I’ve ever worn. I got it for my birthday when I was 12 and thanks to the internet’s inability to let things die, here it is for you good people in all its terrible glory.

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This shirt was supposed to tell everyone that ALF didn’t give a FUCK about what was popular now, because he was where it was really at. I only mention this now because it’s a noticeable trend with exactly how Paul Fusco made ALF function as a character.

Everyone had to look terrible compared to ALF. ALF is the king of the castle and every other living being in his vicinity has to look humbled by his snarky witticisms. The show is called ALF and if you don’t like it you can get the hell off the stage. This is one of the key reasons for the failure of today’s topic, ALF’s Hit Talk Show.

When I saw TVLand was bringing ALF back in some capacity I was ecstatic. As time went on, it became clear that ALF ditched those total losers who gave him shelter and food back in the late 80’s and was going to be rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite. I specifically remember setting aside the time to tape the first episode where ALF interviewed Drew Carey and Dennis Franz. I stopped watching after this however, as the show was absolute abhorrent garbage, and bored me to no end.

What made the show so terrible? Well take a step back with me to the year 2004 where we can watch an episode of this mistake together. We’ll unravel exactly why the concept of ALF as a talk show host was such a colossal failure. Today we’re looking at the fourth episode of ALF’s Hit Talk Show, which has been selected due to its illustrious celebrity guest. Strap in everyone!

Within the first 5 seconds of this episode I start laughing. Not because of any of the ALF related content, but because the voice over introducing it is Harry Shearer. All I can think is for someone who hated doing Simpsons as long as he did, he must have loathed even breathing the name ALF.

The credits sequence for this show is essentially Paul Fusco’s ALF fanfiction. ALF rides in a limousine, gets chased by adoring fans, and scrawls his name on a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All of this culminating in the title card for ALF’s Hit Talk Show. That isn’t the name of a T.V. show, it’s a plea to the audience to believe in ALF’s self aggrandizing hype.

The announcer for the show is, Jesus Christ are you kidding me?

Ed McMahon

Ed what are you doing here? Why are you doing this Ed? Please just go home. You need to rest. This is the guy who had legendary banter with Johnny Carson and now he’s forced to kowtow to Fusco and the thing that Fusco has his fist inside of. That poor man.

I realize that Ed McMahon also worked with Paul Fusco in the two part ALF episode “Tonight Tonight,” but by no means did I think that was a rosy relationship he would want to revisit in the twilight years of his life. It’s depressing watching this lame show drag out an amazing entertainer and tout him as this alien asshole’s sidekick.

It all goes back to the ALF brand being style over substance and having nothing underneath all the bluster it brings at the audience. We’ve got Johnny Carson’s co-host, but he’s a tired old man who will only be on this planet for another 5 years. We’re calling the show ALF’s Hit Talk Show, but it’s going to last a mercifully short 6 episodes. We’ve got a movie to conclude the series, but it’s only going to air on T.V. and none of the original cast will be caught dead working with Fusco again.

ALF Offers Day Old Snacks to Famous Celebrities

After being introduced by McMahon, ALF asks one of the world’s most well renowned entertainers “Did you just call me Ralph?” So what follows is a scene of a floor mat in a Hawaiian shirt asking one of most famous second bananas of all time why he didn’t get introduced better.

The worst part about this moment is it’s very obviously not scripted, as Ed clearly just made a mistake and was taken off guard by Fusco calling him on it. What floors me is this show certainly wasn’t shot live, so why the hell did they not refilm the intro? The attempt at improv between ALF and Ed is comprehensible at best, so it’s not like we get anything amusing out of this. Ed flubbed his line and this show was too lazy and incompetent to redo it. Instead we get to waste one of the few precious minutes we have on this planet listening to ALF demand a television icon to say his name right.

Then ALF burps and the audience of living people laughs.

After a few terrible jokes, ALF discusses how he, as an alien, is noticing how gullible the people of Earth are. Not because they finance puppet based talk shows, but because they pay for designer water even though the planet is covered in water. Oh boy everyone settle in, time for another one of Old Man Fusco’s pet peeves. Only this isn’t just part of a terrible monologue, but a carefully calculated segue into an absolutely terrible bit.

Ugh

Yeah, ALF is selling his own water. He demands Ed help him sell what looks like water bottles filled with piss to the idiots watching this show. McMahon does a serviceable job reading his cue cards, it just so happens the writers forgot to put any jokes on them beforehand. Ed McMahon informs the audience this water comes from the misshapen glacier on Melmac, which inexplicably prompts a laugh. We even cut back to ALF guffawing over the idea, probably because Fusco wrote that line.

As Ed McMahon smiles holding a bottle full of Melmac urine, ALF asks him why he isn’t drinking it. After looking understandably put off, Ed realizes the check won’t clear unless he chokes down that glass. So, of course, we have to see an 81 year old man guzzle back a glass full of nasty looking water because an anteater monster told him to.

How Much does Dignity Cost

In all sincerity, Ed does the best he can with this terrible bit. If he didn’t have ALF breathing down his neck the whole time interjecting with meaningless garbage about how the spring water is different colors during different seasons, we might get an actual joke out of this sketch. Instead, we get to witness first hand one of the worst problems this show has to offer. Paul Fusco cannot ad-lib to save his fucking life.

After Ed comes back to sit down after chugging prop alien piss, ALF tries to make a joke about how Ed has probably drank worse than that in his life. The problem is that Fusco repeatedly stumbles over his words and interrupts Ed when he tries to respond. It’s some of the most uncomfortable banter I’ve ever laid eyes on and it’s absolutely astounding to watch. Paul clearly loses track of where he is and just tries winding the conversation he started down, as it’s going nowhere. The audience who found the idea of a misshapen glacier humorous is noticeably silent at this point, and my spine starts to freeze over while I wait for a laugh of any kind to emerge.

Thank God we’re finally guaranteed some laughs with ALF’s guest today. Here he is!

Tom Arnolds Peace Medallion is Funnier Than Anything Hes Ever Done

There is no funnier image to me than a complete punchline of a human being like Tom Arnold sitting next to ALF. This was how you promoted your show? With Tom the fuck Arnold? You think anyone on this planet or the next would tune in for that?

ALF makes some hilarious observations such as the fact that his guest has two first names, and being married is weird. Hard hitting journalism the other networks just don’t have the guts to cover.

Then ALF and Tom have a slew of some of the worst back and forth ever put to film. The two juggernauts of the entertainment industry say that they haven’t seen each other since “the thing at the place”, only since neither person on either end of the conversation is funny, it dies a cold laughless death. It goes on for way too long with both parties unable to milk a single laugh from the idea they’re having a purposefully vague conversation. It seems like they’re trying to make some sort of anti-comedy gag out of this, but instead it’s just upsetting and shitty.

During the interview. it becomes clear that Paul Fusco will absolutely not allow Tom Arnold to control the stage. Tom Arnold is known for being a blustering dummy of a comedian, so the last thing that any person should have to watch is someone fighting to upstage that level of shittiness. Everything Tom says, ALF tries to get a word in edgewise to remind the audience that he still exists. This constant interruption completely disrupts the flow of Tom’s (admittedly not good) story. None of it manages to be interesting or engaging, and it just feels like watching two people who have no arms try and play football.

Tom depressingly tries to engage McMahon in the discussion, but the best Ed is willing to contribute is a forced chuckle at the mediocre banter between these two clowns. It’s so insultingly unfunny and uninteresting I felt my heartbeat slowing while I watched this.

Tom Arnold then discusses his third and newest marriage with a woman named Shelby that he starts awkwardly informing ALF is the marriage that he KNOWS is going to last. I don’t know if there’s a more uncomfortable scenario out there that is the absolutely humiliating low of defending your multiple divorces to an alien puppet. But Tom’s a smart guy, I’m sure this marriage with Shelby did him well.

Oops

ALF informs Tom Arnold that it sounds like his wife talks a lot, and we gracefully cut to a commercial before that conversation can continue much further.

Of course not before we get to see dreadful bit riffing on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy entitled Alien Eye For the Human Guy. It involves ALF wearing a smoking jacket and telling jokes to the audience that he couldn’t find a way to fit in the monologue. Because this premise wasn’t thought about for more than 20 seconds, the jokes have nothing to do with being an alien and are just generic unfunny jokes about Rogaine. Because we have time to fill and Tom Arnold didn’t blather long enough to get us to 22 minutes.

Then we get the worst joke of the entire episode in this magazine gag coming back from the commercial break.

Excellent Sign Gag

Yes that is two of the four words in the title of your show. Is that supposed to be a joke? You know how whenever a sign shows up on The Simpsons you can expect a joke to be on it? Maybe I just got spoiled by that formula and ALF’s Hit Talk Show is only trying to yet again relay the fact it’s going to be an amazing program. Just you wait. We’re saving all the jokes for season 2.

Because the show is clearly going over so well, Tom Arnold informs ALF that he has “a great audience.” Which is true in that they’ve mostly stopped laughing so they must understand this isn’t funny. Though they aren’t that smart because they clearly aren’t getting Mr. Arnold’s clear plea for applause by directly complimenting them. One of the hackiest tricks in the book. It takes ALF literally telling his live studio audience to give themselves a round of applause before they actually do it. Goes to show the kind of person that shows up to a taping of ALF’s Hit Talk Show.

Tom Arnold then discusses how his wife doesn’t really like him in a desperate cry for help while Ed McMahon slowly sinks into the couch. Ed then prays for a swift death by drowning in the delicious taste of Melmacian Spring Water.

Then comes the first laugh of the episode when Tom Arnold informs the audience he’s going to die alone and penniless. It feels much less like a joke and a depressing admission from a broken man who can’t stop talking and accidentally reveals his innermost feelings. I guess “laugh” wasn’t exactly what I did so much as chuckle before becoming deeply saddened to see a man so clearly falling apart on a puppet’s talk show.

We then get a story where Tom Arnold explains the time he interviewed Alec Baldwin and the two began doing impressions of each other. Because the audience isn’t responding, Fusco dresses Tom down by telling him “I guess I would have had to be there.”

You know why that isn’t funny? Because you’re supposed to be a talk show host. As much as Tom Arnold is a boring sack of shit, you’re the one inviting him to be on your show. You’re no higher on the food chain than he is and you just look like a prick for dismissing him. You’re the one asking the questions, sorry that your guest didn’t give you an answer you could relate to cat eating.

Then ALF completely cuts off the interview because they have a pre-taped bit they had no way to segway to other than interrupting Tom Arnold. ALF has said he needs to keep his show hip for the younger generation, which to Paul Fusco means anyone under the age of 53. He’s sent some old man out to try and discover if kids these days really do say the darndest things.

For as much as I have hated everything that preceded it, I utterly fucking loathe this scene. The entire bit is that an old man is out on the street talking to people using slang. It’s a joke that’s barely tolerable when told competently, so you can imagine how bad it is here.

Some nameless old man nobody gives a shit about asks a young man with a mohawk if he is “chillin’ dog.” All the while this completely ridiculous circus music plays in the background. In case the audience didn’t know it was supposed to be a joke, we need clown horns and calliope music playing. It doesn’t make this funny, it just sounds like an ice cream truck broke down off camera.

Just before I kick the chair out, we cut back to ALF and Tom Arnold politely applauding. Instead of laughing to indicate he enjoyed the bit, Tom Arnold informs ALF “Yeah! That was funny.” Which was the second laugh I’ve gotten out of this show. Tom Arnold unable to even muster up fake laughter over this miserable trash.

After another break we come back to see Tom Arnold still hasn’t left, likely because he has nowhere else to go and ALF is the closest thing he has to a real friend. More interesting is what ALF informs the audience about once the music settles down.

Shameless

Jesus Christ this is awkward. Even Fusco barely sounds like he wants to plug this DVD. He must want people to forget that family he used to live with and get ready for the new sensation he’s a part of, ALF’s Hit Talk Show. I bet that will last for twice as many seasons as that old garbage show he was on!

ALF introduces his second guest that he informs us Ed met doing a commercial for dog food. If nothing else, this show is illustrating to the audience that time was not kind to Ed McMahon.

So in comes some guy named James Nelson who apparently has a talking dog named Farfel.

Mentally lll Man Walks On Set of Failed Television Show

I looked this James Nelson guy up, and apparently he’s been a puppeteer for a long time. That’s great and all, but he is a complete dead stop in this show. I don’t know if Fusco was a big fan of his puppet work and wanted to get him on the show out of admiration, but the guy is just not fun to watch. I don’t want to dress him down too much, but he’s telling jokes that sound like they came off of a 1940’s gum wrapper, and the audience is near silent the entire time.

Not to mention he doesn’t seem to know how to keep his mouth shut when he’s doing this Farfel the dog routine. Nobody makes fun of him during this segment so maybe they just feel bad for how badly all this is bombing. I’m not sure. In spite of how uncomfortable the whole thing is I’d still rather watch this than Tom Arnold yelling about how much his wife hates him.

ALF informs Nelson that the audience might have some questions for him, but when Ed reads the first name off, it’s just a woman who informed ALF she loves him sooooo much. Then ALF makes a joke about fat women and she sits back down.

Then Ed calls on the final audience member with a question, and by final I mean only. Some woman asking how she can promote the show, and ALF informs her not to bother because they’ve already been cancelled for this complete travesty.

So to summarize this segment, ALF has two fans in the audience say he’s great and they want to promote his show, only they don’t get the chance to actually speak because Ed says their questions for them. Possibly because Paul Fusco is an egomaniac and wouldn’t let any non ALF related questions through, and possibly because nobody in the audience know who James Nelson is other than an elderly man with a moldy old dog puppet.

Speaking of James Nelson, he was billed in the opening credits as a guest star alongside Tom Arnold. Tom Arnold was on stage for about 15 minutes of this 22 minute episode. James Nelson was on for about 3. Glad we let the real talent shine through.

So yeah, that’s ALF’s Hit Talk Show. I hate to tell you good people this, but I would actually recommend you actually go and check out an episode. Obviously not due to it being decent or anything like that, but because it has to be seen how utterly terrible Paul Fusco is at being an interviewer or relating to his guests. He’s an awesome puppeteer, don’t get me wrong. The problem is he can’t parlay that into creating interesting chemistry with anyone on his set. This just all relates to the fact that Paul Fusco could not let ALF share the spotlight with anyone else. Maybe if he did people might remember his character for more than eating cats.

Hawt

It might look like I don’t write much anymore, but that’s bullshit. In fact, just today my comprehensive, scholarly examination of sexual subtext in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers went live over on Ranger Retrospective.

You should check it out right here. Granted, some of this stuff you will have already known, but I wanted to provide a platform for intelligent discussion, and that sometimes requires a common sense recap.

Ranger Retrospective is a weekly blog run by friend-of-the-website Samurai Karasu. Check it out if (when) you get bored of my rambling. It’s quite good, often funny, and nearly always insightful. I appreciate the opportunity he gave me to write this post while he’s off having breast reduction surgery, and I hope it provides you with a level of insight you didn’t have before.

The Simpsons, Thomas Pynchon

The following is a great article on artistic discussions of the deep web, online privacy, social responsibility, and more, courtesy of UK-based reader Patrick Massey. I found this fascinating, worrying, and enlightening in equal parts, and I hope you experience some mix of those three things as well. Take it away, Patrick.

A “Marco Polo” of the contemporary public sphere: “Internet” and “privacy.” The two phenomena are often yoked together in the news: the various problems of data access (who should be denied it? Whose data should be sacrosanct? What justifies access sub rosa?) swap pre-eminence in public consciousness as the Big Three of ‘net privacy–Snowden, Assange, Manning–swap the limelight. (In this essay, “‘net” refers to both the readily accessible surface Web, typically but carelessly referred to as “the Internet,” hence my coining an alternative term— and the Deep Web, the Internet’s large, largely criminal underbelly.)

In this essay, I want to consider how, not the news, but contemporary visual culture (i.e. screen and theatre of 2013/4) visualizes and/or fails to visualize ‘net privacy. I hope to address familiar issues of ‘net privacy via less familiar co-ordinates. Of course, William Gibson and other genre authors have been addressing cyber-issues, crafting cyber-aesthetics for years; but here I’m thinking of a) the real world ‘net in b) mainstream works of c) the last two years.

SCREEN MEDIA, and The ‘Net/Screen Problem

Documentaries aside (though cf. Terms and Conditions May Apply, Citizen Four), Internet privacy is surprisingly scantly treated in ‘13/4 screen culture. The two so bracketed, ‘net-oriented films I remember most readily–Her and Transcendence–privilege online addiction and a deus ex machina Johnny Depp over issues of ‘net privacy. Even Assange bio The Fifth Estate is more reportage, a primer on its subject and Wikileaks, than a meditation on abstractions or themes (and even then, Assange’s relationship to the media is privileged over ‘net privacy).

In mainstream C21 cinema in sum, ‘net privacy is principally a means to emotive ends. In Hard Candy, Chatroom, and Trust, the abuse of ‘net privacy does not itself merit attention–rather, it enables plot-wise the kidnaps et al that define and rather pre-occupy those thrillers. Even in the Catfish franchise [’10 film + current MTV series], any interrogation of ‘net privacy abuse is suborned to affect: to first terror (“who are these people?”), then horror (“look at those people!”). Although Catfish et al can be, indeed have been starting-points for discussing ‘net privacy, that discussion doesn’t happen in the films themselves.

Such scanty treatment of ‘net privacy on screen owes not only, I think, to auteurs’ simply “not having got round to it”, but also to a fundamental, broader disjunction between the ‘net and screen media. The ‘net does not readily lend itself to concrete visualization. One must get figurative, experimental; but screen media tend towards “meatspatial” settings— realities, however fantastical or futuristic. Consider Star Trek’s holodeck: always a real-world milieu, often Earth-historical, never a Tron-scape. Consider too the recent backdoor pilot for CSI Cyber: introducing a series oriented around the Deep Web, yet resorting latterly to “Female (Early 20s)” showing hard copy evidence of her online chat-room ignominy to meatspatial paparazzi in a meatspatial VEGAS: EXT.

Star Trek, Holodeck

I might suggest three reasons for this disjunction. First, the chokehold of corporate network funding and the likelier non-profitability of experimentalism [versus the realism that characterizes the “New Golden Age” of television]; the desire to fully exploit and justify investment in physical sets; and third (and still more tentatively proffered), the Internet’s being TV and film’s unheimlich, uncanny counterpart, perhaps frustrating the interrogation of the former by the latter… Heady stuff. But the bottom line for us is: if the Internet in sum cannot find a screen aesthetic, what hope for its clandestine, its even less readily visualized cyberspaces? And what hope consequently for addressing ‘net privacy?

Happily, ‘net privacy has been better visualized in theatre of ‘13/4— a medium naturally more amenable to the figurative and the experimental.

THEATRE, and Romancing the ‘Net

In The Net Effect, Thomas Streeter posits romanticism as a key co-ordinate in ‘net studies. He primarily argues that neoliberal forces propagate a romantic individualist idea of computing, and that “capital R” Romanticism can help us understand the social meaning of computers.

With this precedent in mind, I turn to ‘net privacy in theatre of ‘13/4. All the plays I’m going to consider deal with perversions, criminal iterations of ‘net privacy. But none less than Keats was ‘half in love with death’; and however perverse their content gets, these plays evince, if not a Romantic aesthetic per se, then something sufficiently akin that I’m going to draw formal Romantic parallels and beg your indulgence.

Jen Haley’s The Nether deals with online pederasty in a private “Hideaway” [Haley’s device]. In fashioning the Hideaway, Haley eschews a complementarily grimy, abject aesthetic for irony: it is an archetypal country estate, with trees, gazebo, and fishing-pond. Notwithstanding its nominally Victorian context, a Romantic aesthetic— Blakeian innocence, a “Lakeland Poetic” idealizing of Nature— surely underpins a milieu that presents like this:

The Nether, The Hideaway

Blakeian also is Iris, the Hideaway’s resident, white-clad sprite–and “willing” victim of virtual child abuse. Innocent prima facie, but horribly au fait with abhorrent experience (“Perhaps you’d like to use the axe first”): Iris embodies the disjunction that hinges Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. Note finally how, according to its creator, “it’d upset a balance” in the Hideaway to suggest that Iris could grow older: anyone whose mind went to the Romantic organic conception of nature, give yourself a mark.

Price’s Teh [sic] Internet is Serious Business is a reportage piece about the respective rise and fall of the “hacktivist” groups Anonymous and LulzSec. Its dominant aesthetic is anarchic: a ball pit abuts the stage, from and around which emerge Socially Awkward Penguin and other costumed memes. Bright lights, Harlem Shake: you get the drift. At first sight, privacy is not the word here. But Price also depicts hackers’ private forums— and here, the staging tends towards lyricism. Computer code is recited as poetry (cf. Chandra’s recent equivalence of the two, if intrigued); databyte flow, enacted as dance. Here, literarily and physically, is a lyricism where elsewhere is jouissance: thus is privacy “Romanticized” (cf. Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Dvorak’s New World Symphony…).

James Graham’s Privacy tacks otherwise to Haley and Price. Graham’s is a synoptic approach to ‘net privacy, a condemnation of illiberal governmental/corporate/ security state malpractice as regards ostensibly password-protected public data. Such factuality is not the Romantic way, likewise Privacy’s format: a hybrid of verbatim enactments of his [The Writer’s] interviews with real British Establishment figures (Shami Chakrabarti, anyone? Well, Google her sometime); lectures; and fourth-wall—breaking audience participation. For good measure, Privacy rides roughshod over the Romantic exaltation of the subject: an array of thumbprints is the default [screen] backdrop, and the “subject” of the audience participation (having given prior permission) has her real-world online footprint, herself by proxy dissected onstage.

Privacy, James Graham

Despite all this, Privacy retains a double pertinence. First, it acts as a counter-proof: as its core is non-Romantic, so Privacy does not depict privacy itself [cf. Haley’s Hideaway, Price’s hackers’ forums] but exposes, is an exposé of its absence. Second, its aesthetic rather taps into the “other end” of Romanticism, where rapturous apostrophes fade into disquiet, into sublimity: the awesome dimensions of Big Data, the staging [that screen, those magnified thumbprints] vis-à-vis the actors and the script’s analytical impulse.

So: 2 1/2 proofs and a counter-proof, we might say, of a relationship between ‘net privacy and a quasi-Romantic aesthetic. My humble explanation: that the ‘net (especially the Deep Web) remains so broadly un-comprehended, its depth so untapped, as to inspire from us what “the naked countenance of Earth” [Shelley] inspired from the Romantics.

PYNCHON: A Quick Nota Bene

In another world, where space and time were as playthings, I’d fully discuss Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge: the only “literary” fictional novel that readily comes to mind that not only foreground ‘net privacy as a theme, but actually figures it as a distinct, visualized cyberspace–DeepArcher; conceived of as a ‘grand-scale motel for the afflicted’, for Pynchon’s kindred preterite [cf. Gravity’s Rainbow, or Google judiciously]; variously iterated as train concourse, desert, and galactic Void; and ultimately a Purgatory for leads, lovers, and 9/11 victims all encountered (and killed off) in the narrative. (On a complementary note for that latter point: Kabbalistic imagery and lexis is deployed in descriptions of the Void). Would I could share my MA dissertation with you all; but I’ll highlight simply this: doing what even screen media cannot (at least easily), and in keeping with his typical trickster mode, Pynchon visualizes ‘net privacy chimerically; that one cannot identify a definitive DA-scape is the whole point. A nicely postmodern note, I hope, on which to finish considering contemporary cultural visualizations of the ‘net.

tomax

–By Maxwell Smart (follow his twitter and his blog)

Arrested Development (original run, 3 seasons) is an infinitely better television situation comedy than The Office (American version, 9 seasons). In my opinion, of course; that should go without saying. Otherwise, I would have to say it about a thousand times over the course of this article. Why is a short-lived cult sitcom–made up of equal parts masterclass joke and character writing, oddly boring and yet insane plotting, and heavy themes of incest and the antithesis of what a healthy family should be–so much better than the long-running U.S. remake of a work-place mockumentary? Well, here is a hint: it has little to do with comedy.

Okay, fine, I will admit that it has a lot to do with comedy. Arrested Development, in terms of how funny it is, is streets ahead of The Office at its best–and that is no small feat, considering The Office at its best (in seasons 2 and 3) is funnier than 99% of American television–but that was by design. In a recent interview with The A.V. Club, The Office writer and star B.J. Novak revealed a secret that every fan of the show had known all along: its writers had never focused on writing jokes.

According to Novak, the show’s comedic philosophy was “…if something felt funny it was probably because there was truth in it.” Thus, the writers never focused on trying to achieve a certain number of jokes per minute or anything like that; they let the comedy evolve organically from the situations the characters were in. Novak goes into greater detail about the process:

“I’ll give you an example. There was a time early on when I brought a joke to [Office star] Steve Carell. It was something I was really proud of. He looked at it and said, ‘I don’t know, this kind of feels like a joke.’ And I thought, ‘Well, yeah. It’s a good joke. That’s exactly what it is, Steve. I’m the guy who writes funny things for you to say on the comedy show that we’re making.’ It bothered me in the moment, but over time I realized he was completely correct. He didn’t want anything to feel like a joke. He wanted it to feel like truth and therefore play like a joke. That is a hard thing to trust. You want to be an overachiever and write a million of the best jokes you could, but there was really something to learn from him and also from [creator] Greg Daniels.”

I do not have similar insight into what the Arrested Development writers’ room looked like, but I imagine it was almost the opposite. Nearly every single line in the show is a joke; intended to make the viewer laugh. That means its scripts perform the dual task of advancing the plot of the episode and revealing the characters’ motivations, similar to The Office‘s scripts. But with the key difference of having an added layer of comedy to each line, very unlike The Office.

Arrested Development‘s dedication to joke-telling naturally caused some of its other elements to suffer. If asked to describe the plot of an average AD episode, I would probably respond, “Michael Bluth has to prevent one of his family members from causing damage to his company or deal with something else involving The Bluth Company.” It does not sound very exciting; on paper, it is not. Of course, there are countless variations throughout the series on this simple premise, some of them more ridiculous and imaginative than anything else on television, but the fact remains that AD is not an especially plot-heavy show. While The Office was also primarily concerned for the majority of its run with the day-to-day operations of a company, what actually went on in each episode revolved around the interpersonal relationships of Dunder Mifflin’s employees. The foremost of these was the sometimes sad and bittersweet romance between Jim Halpert, unremarkable paper salesman, and Pam Beesly, unremarkable receptionist.

Jim and Pam’s relationship was such a compelling narrative force during The Office‘s first three seasons that it was hard not to feel like the bottom had dropped out from the show when the pair finally started dating at the start of season 4. Luckily, the show had another poignant dramatic arc in ostensible protagonist Michael Scott’s doomed, brilliantly screwed-up relationship with his boss, Jan Levinson. Theirs was a romance even the most optimistic of viewers found impossible to root for as they watched in horror as two extremely flawed human beings came together and made each other’s lives irreparably worse (or at least it seemed that way until they broke up).

Michael and Jan’s destructive tendencies reached a turning point in the season 4 episode “Dinner Party,” which, not coincidentally, is the show’s funniest and darkest half hour. (It is also the episode about which Philip says, “If I were to single out just one episode of The Office to be spared from a nuclear blast, and I do look forward to that day that I am put in such a position, this would be the one.” I am inclined to agree with everything but the “I look forward to it” part.) “Dinner Party” is a masterpiece because, more than any other episode, it succeeds in fulfilling Novak’s promise that “…if something felt funny it was probably because there was truth in it.”

Watching Michael and Jan’s relationship dissolve–no, implode spectacularly–in the presence of his closest coworkers at a dinner party he forced them to attend is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It is so, so painful to watch (The Office always specialized in a brand of humor labeled “cringe comedy”) because it really feels like a relationship between two damaged people is dying before your very eyes. And yet it is transcendentally, uproariously funny. This is the gold standard sitcoms, heck, comedy in general should aspire to. It is well-observed, devastating, and hilarious.

The Office was never able to match its gloriously demented creative peak in the episodes that followed “Dinner Party,” with a few notable exceptions. The Michael Scott Paper Company arc in season 5, for example, in which Michael Scott, fed up with Dunder Mifflin’s poor treatment of him over the years, finally quits his job as manager, was rooted in genuine dramatic stakes. He starts his own company with the help of a few of his former employees, leading to new dynamics and the first compelling storyline for Pam Beesly after getting together with Jim. Pam quits her job as receptionist and joins Michael on his doomed venture, as fully aware of the foolishness of her decision as she is thrilled to leave behind her dead-end career. And for a beautiful couple of episodes, The Office is taking creative risks and throwing its characters into exciting new places. Of course, it being the sitcom that would go on to bring back characters that had stayed well past their welcome (Andy Bernard and Ryan Howard spring to mind), Michael Scott Paper Company is brought back into the fold of Dunder Mifflin soon enough. Pam is left to spend the next few years as a sales representative and then as the office administrator, her character condemned for the rest of the series to get pregnant, marry Jim, have a baby, get pregnant again, briefly become jealous that Jim may be attracted to a coworker, and have another baby. Her marriage hits a manufactured rough patch in the final season, but it ultimately comes to nothing. She and Jim ride off into the sunset, he as a sports marketer and she as a mural painter.

Pam’s overall arc is emblematic of the show’s increasingly lazy writing in its last few seasons. It could be argued that any sitcom that runs as long as The Office did would eventually run out of ideas for its characters, but the occasional flashes of brilliance like the MSPC arc, Michael leaving in season 7, and the series finale serve as painful reminders to viewers of the truly great sitcom that The Office could have been, had it continued pushing its characters into new territory.

Arrested Development never quite pulls off the perfect drama/comedy hybrid (“dramedy” if you prefer) that peak Office managed so well, but it consistently achieves comedic nirvana by demonstrating a willingness–no, a fanatical devotion–to making fun of the darkest and most twisted aspects of family (at least as dark as a broadcast network would allow). It is no wonder that incest is one of the series’ thematic undercurrents; it is all about the perversion of family from something wholesome and loving to something meaningless and abusive. It is the anti-family sitcom, if you will. Whether you are watching teenage George Michael Bluth, who starts the series as the most innocent Bluth, struggle with lust for his cousin Maeby; or Michael Bluth neglect his son George Michael for the umpteenth time; or Michael’s parents George Sr. and Lucille refuse to take the blame for doing a horrible job of raising their kids; or his siblings using and abusing each other for the pettiest of reasons, it is clear that AD has a fundamentally cynical view of the wealthy, materialistic American family. The creator’s initial premise for the show was that the family would lose all of their money (due to their patriarch committing corporate fraud) and become closer and less terrible as a result; instead they keep most of their money and do not learn much from their mistakes. The entire family is emotionally stunted, hence the show’s name.

How could a comedy so relentlessly dark (at its happiest, just as messed-up as “Dinner Party”) be a better sitcom than one that mostly shies away from the ugliest aspects of humanity? The answer is simple: Arrested Development finds Novak’s treasured “truth” in every depressing moment and sad reality. It obliterates the line between tragedy and comedy, whereas The Office only succeeds when it finds a way to mine jokes from serious events in the lives of its characters.

If your sitcom was only funny when it was also moving, Mr. Novak, then perhaps you should have considered making it a drama instead. Breaking Bad was moving all over the place, and yet it was funnier than the later seasons of your show. Maybe if you had made it more about life’s dead ends and the longing for more that comes with having an office job and less about random crap like Andy Bernard auditioning for an a cappella competition that parodies American Idol, it would be a show worth celebrating. Oh well. At least we still have Arrested Development.

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– by Micah Ward

Back in 2009 when the first Droid phone by Motorola was released, and in 2008 when the first 3G iPhone was put out onto the market, most of us scoffed. We assumed that this whole smartphone nonsense where you have to pay thirty extra dollars a month on top of your existing phone plan made no sense. Hell, most of us had just recently gotten phones with keyboards in them, which felt revolutionary to us. Although a majority of people thought the smartphone trend would never last (including myself), we were all wrong. Smartphones have dominated the telephone market for the better part of the last 5 years, and it seems like mostly everyone you see out in public has one of these high-tech internet connected phones.

But is this a bad thing?

Most certainly not. Smartphones have changed the away our society works. Now, a world of information can be carried in your pocket and can update you on anything you want to hear about. Information is more and more readily available with new apps such as Facebook Paper, which allows users to see their Facebook feed and breaking news on the same timeline. This breaks the border between the news world and the social world and allows you to see only the news that you care about, which makes current events a lot more appealing.

But this article isn’t about any cutting edge apps for these devices, it’s about the phones themselves. Due to the iPhone (well, the first one with mobile internet, the iPhone 3G) and the Droid (not the first HTC one, but the first popular Motorola model) being released around the same time, competition was imminent. And that’s a good thing. When two or more large companies are after the same market, they are constantly bettering their products in order to outsell the other, giving us, the consumers a better product and better deals when sales occur.

And to this day, Androids and iPhones dominate the smartphone market. Although Windows phones are also in the running, this article is not about them, and I apologize in advance if I offend any Windows phone users by not including them. Regardless, these two types of devices have been going at it for years, constantly trying to outsell the other. It’s amazing to me that one company working on one phone (Apple/iPhone) can still manage to outsell many multi-billion dollar manufacturers who work to make the best possible Android phone. When it comes down to it, the buyer wants what they want, and they will buy whatever their preference is, even if the phone they are passing up has better features. Which is fine, because you should always use what you are comfortable with, not what the market tells you to buy.

Smartphones have come a long way, too. For example, the iPhone 3G could only browse the web for 5 hours on a good day without dying, while the newest iPhone generation boasts 10 hours minimum of constant web browsing in order to wear the battery down. This being said, minor features and small technological advances that we “cannot live without” are the major selling points of smartphones.

But where is the market going to go?

It seems as if us “flat-thinkers”, people who can only see the here and now and cannot really look into the future, see this generation of smartphones as the best. I mean, what could get better than having a phone that is smarter than you? They couldn’t possibly get any better….right? That’s most likely what people thought about other technological advances that we have long surpassed since. So, you ask yourself in a non-rhetorical way, how could smartphones get better? Well, let me put forward a few ideas that I have of what the future may hold.

Solar Powered Charging
Why hasn’t this been done yet? The technology is there and it is old enough that it can be done for a relatively cheap price. So why not include a solar charging panel on the back of the phone to lay out in those hot sunny days, but also include a charging port in the phone if it is overcast for a normal cord.

Thought-Reading Phones
Imagine Siri. Now imagine Siri without having to speak. When a button is pushed, the phone would tune into your thought channel and do whatever you pleased in a matter of milliseconds. Obviously this would involve organic surgery and the technology most likely isn’t there yet, but we can dream, can’t we?

Projected Keyboard
I’ve seen concept art for this, but never an execution. Typing long paragraphs on your phone is annoying. What if the phone had a built in projector that flashed a keyboard onto any surface in order to type with ease and grace? Either way, I’ll probably still end up typing with just two fingers.

Better Batteries
This is an obvious one, but come on. I have to charge my phone at least once during the day to make it last until night. JUST UP THE BATTERY CAPACITY ALREADY.

Front-Facing Flash
If you’re like me and have tried to take a Snapchat or a selfie in the dark, you’ll be much to your dismay when you realize that the picture shows up dark. Companies should implement a front facing flash for the front camera in order for people to rev up their “selfie game”.

These are just a few ideas. Many more things can happen in the market of phones, because there are so many possibilities. I doubt any of my predictions will come true, but if they do, you can say you heard it here first. Or, if you heard it somewhere else first, you could lie and said I made it up. Whatever you feel like.

All joking aside, I am very eager to see what the smartphone market has to offer and I will be anxiously awaiting the next generation of iPhones and Androids. If you have any neat ideas regarding advancements in smartphone technology, feel free to post a comment on my blog, goldenanchurs.wordpress.com. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you use your phone in good health.

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P.S.: I did an interview with Phil on my blog regarding Save State Gamer, and it might be worth checking out if you’re missing Phil’s posts while he’s gone!

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