The 10 Episodes of The Office That Aren’t Shit

The final season of The Office began last week, with the lowest-rated premiere the show’s ever had. Even lower than the premiere of the first season, which I’m pretty sure was only watched by people so that they could give it a voodoo curse. As far as season 9’s premiere? I think more people witnessed the birth of Christ. So I thought it would be fitting to look for the silver lining on the cloud of crap, and highlight each of the 10 times that the US version of the show succeeded in not being utter shit.

I know I’ll be accused of exaggerating here, but, honestly, I think I’m totally justified in saying that there were, in fact, ten distinct times that The Office rose above the level of “outright garbage” and succeeded in being “arguably watchable.” You may think I’m being too generous, but I think it’s quite fair.

So join me now as we look back at the ten times The Office managed to narrowly beat the odds, and become something that didn’t reflect poorly on viewers everywhere.

“The Fire,” Season 2, Episode 4

Why It’s Not Shit: Whenever anybody tells you Ryan is their favorite character, they’re unquestionably referring to the Ryan of the first few seasons. It didn’t take The Office long to undo what could have been their richest and most interesting character, reducing him to a generic hipster stereotype and robbing him of his complicated brilliance. This episode sees the Ryan and Michael dynamic at its best, with a truly well-handled and ever-shifting sense of power: first Michael attempts to mentor him, then ridicules him for the vast knowledge he already has, then humbly appeals for guidance himself, and finally, with irrelevant triumph, puts Ryan back in place by taunting him about a small fire he accidentally started. It’s a great, real, character-driven story that shows these two characters being the flawed — often awful — human beings they are, without resorting to caricature or cartooniness.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: Jim leads the rest of the office in a few time-killing games during the evacuation. That’s fine, but one of them is the rather baldly intentional “Who Would You Do?” The rest of the desert-island exercises are fun, but openly asking “yo who do you want to stick your genitals in” to coworkers he barely knows comes off as perverse, and a bit revolting. Additionally, it’s odd that Kevin gets yelled at for saying “Pam” before Jim finishes telling everyone how the game is played. This makes it seem as though Kevin behaved inappropriately, which is funny, but ultimately, no, that pretty much is how the game is played…so it’s puzzling that his response was treated with disgust, as though anyone else’s later responses shouldn’t be.

Ending on a High Note: A great, early character study showing Ryan and Michael both behaving like actual people, and Dwight showing real — not overtly manufactured and instantly undone — weakness. Enjoy it while you can.

“Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” Season 2, Episode 18

Why It’s Not Shit: It’s not exactly an episode that weaves several plotlines together, but its central conceit of introducing children to the office gives nearly everyone at least one great moment, and it also provides a good example of how to sketch out the personal lives of these characters without OH I DONT KNOW SENDING THE WHOLE OFFICE TO THEIR HOUSE FOR SOME SOCIAL FUNCTION NONE OF THEM WOULD ACTUALLY GIVE A SHIT ABOUT. We also see Michael at his most vulnerable, Pam displaying a humanizing (as opposed to irritating) kind of neediness, and Stanley yelling at Ryan…which is indeed genuinely scary.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: Everything about Michael’s appearance on the children’s show works fine, until the writers seem to think we need everyone in the room to decide for us what it means. The short moment between young Michael and the puppet should be an act of devastating restraint, but instead it’s followed up by variations on “Hey, that thing you wanted is something you never got, huh?” A little too on-the-nose, and it hurts the moment substantially. Also, it ends with Michael and Dwight singing “Teach Your Children,” which works within the episode but lays the groundwork for every future episode in which the employees sing and dance for no fucking reason whatsoever, and otherwise remind you that the show was never as good as you thought it was.

Ending on a High Note: The interactions between Michael and Toby’s daughter are a series highlight, and this is a great way to give so many characters a fun spotlight without it feeling like the isolated sketch comedy of season eight.

“Grief Counseling,” Season 3, Episode 4

Why It’s Not Shit: The death of Michael’s old boss is met by the rest of the office with a notable lack of emotion, but an opportunity to discuss, explore, and accept death comes in the form of an unfortunate bird who flies into the glass doors downstairs. “Grief Counseling” is a strange episode that manages to be sombre without losing sight of the comedy, and manages to be funny without sacrificing some genuine insight into the human condition. It’s certainly a chance to explore Michael, whose emotional responses drive the action of the entire episode, but it’s also a fine showcase for Pam, who plays into Michael’s depressive fantasies by designing a respectful casket for the bird, and delivering a monologue to her hurting boss under the guise of eulogy.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: MEANWHILE JIM CALLS SOME PEOPLE TO FIND POTATO CHIPS IN THE LEAST RIVETING SUBPLOT THIS SIDE OF TOBY DANCES FOR COOKIES.

Ending on a High Note: The meeting in which Pam, Ryan and Kevin relay the plots of popular movies rather than share their own stories of death is an all-time great. Also, the conclusion of this episode has a great payoff in “The Return,” when Oscar asks about Dwight and Creed replies, “You didn’t hear? Decapitated. Whole big thing. We had a funeral for a bird.”

“Traveling Salesmen,” Season 3, Episode 13

Why It’s Not Shit: Episodes that pair up characters in interesting ways and give them each a chance to shine, in the case of pretty much any show, tend to be quite good. During season 3 of The Office, the writers still remembered how to do that in a way that was organic to the situation, and realistic in terms of the work environment. While the sales calls themselves are brief we learn a lot about how these people operate day to day, while the cameras are off. We see normally suave Ryan falter, learn that the obstinate Stanley has actually built up a valuable network of business relationships, and we see newcomer Andy scheme his way to success, despite demonstrating a complete lack of aptitude. This was back when Andy alternated between conniving and frightening…two very interesting modes for the character that the show has abandoned in favor of making him sing all the God damned time.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: The Phyllis / Karen sales call is really just an excuse for a sight gag, and Angela’s glower during Andy’s final talking head is a bit obvious. But, to be honest, those are minor complaints, and this is a pretty great half hour of television.

Ending on a High Note: The entire thing is a high note, catching the office (and The Office) in a state of flux. New characters have been introduced, and the show is shaking up and developing existing relationships. These are both trends that would continue, but with conclusively diminishing returns. For now, the rewards are great.

“The Return,” Season 3, Episode 14

Why It’s Not Shit: “The Return” sees multiple plotlines — and ongoing dynamics — pay off in a single episode: Oscar’s “vacation,” Dwight’s resignation, Angela and Dwight’s relationship, Jim and Karen’s relationship, Jim and Pam’s flirtation, Andy’s angling for promotion, the dickishness of Jim’s pranks, and Andy’s anger issues. It’s a simple episode in which not much happens, but relationships are changed and characters are further defined. It’s a watershed episode in a show that at the time cared about what it meant when its characters said and did things, and Andy punching the wall is still as shocking a moment now as it was six years ago…only now it’s shocking because we’ve spent so much time with him as a defeated doormat that it no longer seems feasible.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: The party for Oscar and Dwight is a collection of unnecessary visual gags (Meredith in a mustache, Phyllis shaking her breasts around), but the amount of wasted time in this episode can be measured in seconds, and that’s all we can really ask.

Ending on a High Note: It’s about time there was a consequence for Jim’s immaturity, even if he’s not the one facing that consequence. Andy would return, emasculated, but we do get one truly brilliant moment with him before he’s changed forever, as he intends to apply his upwardly-mobile aggressiveness to anger management training itself, intending to complete it in half the allotted time.

“Product Recall,” Season 3, Episode 21

Why It’s Not Shit: The list of Office characters that haven’t become overplayed through the years is a short one, certainly, but Creed manages somehow to be both a continuing highlight, and consistent in his characterization. “Product Recall” is the closest thing we’ve ever had to a Creed episode, and even here he’s used sparingly. His off-camera shirking of his job responsibilities drives the plot, and he only really pops up to descend — beautifully — rung by rung into the levels of despicability. It’s a great and fittingly dark episode from an era in which the writers didn’t feel the need to soften blows and humanize monstrous behavior. We also get a great Andy and Jim pairing, and probably the only genuinely funny prank on Dwight, with Jim imitating his nemesis…and then receiving some payback in kind at the end of the episode. “Product Recall” took a lot of things that The Office so frequently got wrong, and then did them right.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: A Kelly subplot is never a good sign, but this one has a great moment of Oscar / Kevin bonding that more than redeems it. It’s disappointing that the cartoons look nothing like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and Andy pining for a high school student is beyond creepy, but there’s enough great stuff here to warrant its inclusion, right down to the perfectly awful moment at the end, when Creed pockets the money he collected for the woman he got fired.

Ending on a High Note: Michael’s apology video may go literally nowhere, but it’s nice to see a crisis situation in this show that isn’t resolved by the staff hoisting him onto their shoulders and singing “We Shall Overcome.”

“Dinner Party,” Season 4, Episode 13

Why It’s Not Shit: It’s all kinds of not-shit up in here. 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. It’s brilliantly acted, terrifyingly raw, and unrelentingly dark. What’s more, it gives the audience credit. While some of the Jan / Michael bickering is a bit heavy handed, we’re left with a lot of blanks to fill in on our own, and even the talking-head moments don’t bother to hammer home the obvious…they’re legitimately funny, perhaps due to the genuinely unsettling atmosphere of Michael’s desperate dinner party. There’s a real feeling of entrapment and helplessness there, and none of the characters involved know quite how to act. It’s true to life and it’s human, even down to the surprisingly moving climax that silently follows each of the characters home for the night. Until this entry, we haven’t had any episodes on this list that feature the staff leaving the office for anything other than work-related (ie: understandable) reasons. Dinner with the boss, however, is a situation both rooted enough in reality to work, and rife enough with awkwardness to make horrifying. The cameras follow the staff for good reason here…not like when they decide to have a charity run for rabies, or Michael gets lost in his hometown (huh?). Like “Product Recall,” it’s an episode that takes a lot of the ingredients of the show at its worst, and reassembles them into a thing of beauty.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: Michael ran through a sliding glass door because he thought he heard the ice cream man. For that tiny detail, he must have shifted from well-intentioned-but-a-bit-dumb to Benjy Compson levels of retardation. Also, Jan’s character change (competent executive to raving lunatic) lays the groundwork for all too many other characters to do the same thing…with severely diminishing returns.

Ending on a High Note: Almost nothing but great lines in this one, though the standout goes to asskissing Andy, when Michael half-heartedly asks him and Jim if they’d like to think about investing $10,000 in Jan’s home-made candle business. “Thought about it. I’m in.”

“Prince Family Paper,” Season 5, Episode 13

Why It’s Not Shit: As many of the episodes on this list are turning out to be, this one is a great character showcase: in this case, Dwight. The show doesn’t always know what to do with Dwight. He’s a psychotically-devoted businessman, an ignorant farmboy, a sensitive romantic, a violent maniac, a playful child, a sycophant and a flailing comic boob, cycling through those roles as any particular script dictates. In this case, he’s firmly in the first category, and that’s good, because that’s what should drive him as a character. In “Prince Family Paper” he pairs up with Michael for some reconnaissance work at a small rival firm. What they find there, though, is a small family running an honest business, more interested in securing their own futures than in taking down the competition. Michael, of course, goes soft when the family extends the sort of human kindness to him that he wishes he could always expect from others. Dwight, however, has a different view. “It’s not personal,” he says, and as callous as he is he has a point. “It’s business.” This is why Dwight is the most successful salesman. This is why Dwight is so devoted to his work. This is why Dwight is almost always capable of being a more interesting character than he usually gets to be. He will sink a family as long as it’s business, just as quickly as Michael would spare one in spite of it being business. It’s a great and appropriately heavy episode which more than earns its bittersweet resolution.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: Unfortunately around a third of the episode is given over to a pointless and unfunny office debate about whether or not Hillary Swank is hot. It’s garbage. Fuckin’ trust me.

Ending on a High Note: While the episode would have been far better as a Dwight / Michael adventure with little or no input from the rest of the staff, the A plot is more than strong enough to carry the episode. Also, Michael’s “bittersweet” speech at the end of the episode is one of the only times the show truly nailed the mix of comedy and pathos that should end an episode like this.

“Dream Team,” Season 5, Episode 22

Why It’s Not Shit: The Michael Scott Paper Company arc is not only the last truly great thing the show ever did, it’s arguably the single best thing the show ever did. New boss Charles Miner lends such an air of uncomfortable change to the familiar surroundings that pretty much any arc that sprung from it would have been welcome. But Michael crashing hard against reality when he tries to start his own rival paper company is both a perfect fit for the character, and an excellent way to ground a show that was already becoming a bit cartoony. “Dream Team” may or may not be the best episode of the arc — it’s hard to say, because this particular storyline is more heavily serialized than anything else — but it’s a great distillation and exploration both of Michael’s tendency to dream too big, and why one needs to feel satisfied in his or her own life. Everything from Michael’s panicky overcooking of French toast for breakfast to Ryan stealing shoes from a bowling alley to Nana’s lucid refusal to invest in the company fills in the blanks in such a way the The Office really should have been doing since day one. And Pam’s emotional collapse toward the end of the episode leads to a genuinely moving conversation between herself and Michael. It’s a mixed moral — the fact that she quit her job is never quite presented as a good decision — but it feels like its own kind of happy ending. After all, if we have to go down, we might as well go down together.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: Ryan popping up for this arc makes perfect sense. Ryan sticking around after this arc makes no motherfucking sense whatsoever.

Ending on a High Note: Charles Miner installing Dwight as his number two, making Kevin the receptionist and keeping Jim at arm’s length makes for some great character comedy, as our perspective is tweaked just enough to make familiar situations feel fresh. Also, the fact that Pam ultimately returns to the company as a salesperson leaves the reception desk wide open for the last great character the show ever created: the infectiously bubbly and adorably daft Erin.

“Counseling,” Season 7, Episode 2


Why It’s Not Shit: Toby’s role in the show as Michael’s foil so rarely got a chance to shine, as Michael was always fast to dismiss him cruelly and Toby — we see clearly — was fast to believe he deserved such dismissal. In this episode, however, Michael is forced to undergo a marathon six-hour counseling session with his nemesis, and it results in probably the last truly interesting character interaction this show’s had. Michael cycles through refusal, fabrication, anger, abuse, and finally acceptance in a script that feels like it could have been written for a two-man stage show. Toby never quite gets a handle on the situation the way he wishes he did, but he means well, and even has a genuine moment of breakthrough with Michael…though, of course, once Michael’s aware that he’s opening up to Toby, he shuts it down immediately, and storms out of the session. It’s a way for both characters to have a mutually-fulfilling experience, without sacrificing the inexplicable one-sided hatred that’s fueled the dynamic between these characters all along. In the end, they bond briefly over the uselessness of Gabe in a conversation that would seem at least slightly meta, if the writers could be counted on to realize that these two are right, and there’s really no reason for that guy’s continuing presence. Oh well, at least he dressed as Lady Gaga in the Halloween episode and oh boy was that fucking funny my God this show sucks.

Why It’s Actually Still Kind of Shit: Dwight’s Pretty Woman subplot genuinely feels like a rejected idea from Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s absolutely terrible, and probably a pretty good indicator of what a Dwight Schrute-centered sitcom would look like. THANK GOD NOBODY’S DOING THAT RIGHT. The better subplot revolves around Pam bluffing her way to Office Administrator. Why they felt they needed the Dwight garbage when they already had plenty of stuff going on in this episode is beyond me.

Ending on a High Note: Dwight’s idea for a daycare center in the building is kind of worthless, but I do like the sight-gag of an Insane Clown Posse poster on the wall, with “Insane” and “Posse” crossed out. It’d be a lot funnier if the camera didn’t obnoxiously zoom in the make sure we got the joke but what can you do.

Were there any other episodes that weren’t shit? If not, let me know in the comments below. And also you’re wrong.

10 Songs That Share Their Names With Robot Masters

I’ve been playing a lot of Mega Man lately, which is what tends to happen when I’m still alive and breathing. I’ve also been listening to a lot of music, for much the same reason. So I got to thinking…what if I could combine the two? I’d be rich! Then I found out that a lot of other people already beat me to it. Let’s take a look at 10 songs that politely share their names with bosses from the Mega Man series. We’ll also try evaluate just how well they’d slot themselves into the series as replacement stage music.

1) “Fire Man” – Burning Spear
Fire Man, Mega Man


Applicability to the Robot Master: I’d say it’s about 70% applicable. Of course, since 70% of the lyrics are “fire down below,” that’s pretty much a gimme. It also mentions people running around, which is a suitable image for Fire Man’s dropping of those little flaming bastards eveywhere. Burning Spear gets caught up in an homage to “I’m a Little Teapot,” which muddies the waters a bit though.

As Replacement Stage Music: The infective reggae groove is a bit laid back for the industrial hazards of Fire Man’s stage, but it certainly brings to mind feelings of scorching heat, and that’s really all we can ask.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Yes. Come on.

Overall: A good fit for the stage and for the boss. Probably what Fire Man kicks back and listens to when he has a mellow afternoon off.

2) “Ice Man” – Filthy McNasty
Ice Man, Mega Man



Applicability to the Robot Master: Around 60%. The song is sung from an ice delivery man’s perspective, and it’s full of double entendres about the women to whom he delivers his load. (There’s one right there.) Such relentless punning is a suitable fit for the Mega Man series, which is based on some thematic rock-scissor-paper wordplay.

As Replacement Stage Music: It’s certainly repetitive enough to fit on the original Mega Man soundtrack.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: It’s longer, so, therefore, no.

Overall: Both Ice Man and Filthy McNasty would have a blast laughing their asses off over the fact that there are multiple meanings to the word “pussy.” For everyone else, this song is pretty annoying.

3) “Top Man” – Blur
Top Man, Mega Man 3



Applicability to the Robot Master: The lyrics really don’t apply to Top Man at all. Imagine that! He doesn’t reside in a desert, he doesn’t ride a magic carpet, and he doesn’t puke on the pavement. He may or may not like his women clean and shaven, though…his agent has yet to return my call about that.

As Replacement Stage Music: It’s got a fun and bouncy beat that would actually mesh quite well with Top Man’s bizarre ferns-in-glass-casing stage, but it’d certainly give the experience a far less urgent feel.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: No. Top Man’s original music is among the best in a series that’s almost uniformly great. Sorry, Blur…ya can’t stop the Top.

Overall: Not really applicable to Top Man, so there’s little to enjoy about the coincidental title. “He’s a little boy racer” is about the only line that could even conceivably apply to him, and even then it’s not particularly evocative of the NES game. Blur should be ashamed of themselves.

4) “Needle Man” – Skrewdriver
Needle Man, Mega Man 3



Applicability to the Robot Master: At first I’d have said a solid 0%, but after listening to the song I realize that this is providing valuable background information for the notoriously spastic Needle Man: he’s a junkie! No wonder he’s such a beast…the poor guy’s been tweaking in a dark room for weeks on end before Mega Man shows up. Needle Man probably thinks he’s fighting Nazis or something. It also explains his incredible strength and speed. Drugs kill, kids…but in the meantime they sure can make life Hell for the people you slap around.

As Replacement Stage Music: It’d work. Needle Man’s current theme is pretty weak as it is, with a strange kind of meandering salsa that never gets anywhere. This would give the stage some much needed energy.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Without question.

Overall: We now know that the Needle Cannon Mega Man gets is firing dirty syringes…just to further complicate the “war for peace” morality of the series.

5) “Starman” – David Bowie
Star Man, Mega Man 5



Applicability to the Robot Master: I’d say 50%. It’s perfect thematically and the chorus is dead on, but the rest of the lyrics speak of an interglactic rock star, and I’m not sure Star Man harbors the same moonage daydreams. Regardless, “There’s a Starman waiting in the sky” might as well be a warning from Dr. Light, and the floaty, expansive nature of the music fits the low gravity stage and boss fight quite well.

As Replacement Stage Music: It’s pretty perfect. Bowie knows better than any musician alive — barring, maybe, the members of The Flaming Lips — how best to paint majestic starfields with just some guitars or synths. It’d mesh quite well with the gameplay of that stage as is.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Yes. Some people say that Star Man has the best music in Mega Man 5. Don’t trust those people; they are obviously liars or insane. (Charge Man bitches.) Whatever anyone might think, though, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is a superior album to this Mega Man soundtrack. THERE I SAID IT.

Overall: Let all the children boogie.

6) “Plant Man” – Gary Young
Plant Man, Mega Man 6



Applicability to the Robot Master: 100%. There is only one lyric in this song, which repeatedly states that Plant Man knows if / where / that the plants will grow. Uh…no argument there, Gary.

As Replacement Stage Music: The song is atrocious, but…sure, why not. If we’re playing Mega Man 6 we deserve the punishment.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Yes. It has notes and a melody, and is therefore superior to every track in this game.

Overall: A perfect fit. Speaking of “perfect fit,” Gary Young’s astroturf tuxedo in this video is the same one that Plant Man wore to his junior prom. When he went to his senior prom he didn’t have to wear anything…because he was somebody’s corsage! Fucking lol!

7) “Cloud Man” – Grieves
Cloud Man, Mega Man 7



Applicability to the Robot Master: A whopping 80% or so. It’s not only a song with weather conditions as a major theme, it has a deliberate and contemplative detachment that suits Cloud Man’s isolation and permanent scowl perfectly. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Cloud Man is a bit depressed. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s weak to fucking soap bubbles.

As Replacement Stage Music: I’d say it’s appropriate. The downtrodden, sluggish pace of the song absolutely mirrors the dark and rainy sections of Cloud Man’s stage, and…well…it’s just a pretty great song period. It’d stand in interesting contrast with the sunnier, brighter visual approach to Mega Man 7.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Debatable. Overall I’d say it definitely nudges it out, but Cloud Man’s theme is already pretty great, and this kind of overt moodiness would probably feel out of place among the game’s other tracks, however refreshing the change in atmosphere (see what I did there?) might be.

Overall: This music’s sad and you should feel sad.

8) “Astro Man” – Jimi Hendrix
Astro Man, Mega Man 8 and Mega Man & Bass



Applicability to the Robot Master: I have no idea. 0%, 100%, or anything in between. I have no idea what this song is about, but I’m pretty sure Astro Man, whoever he is in this song, is calling Superman a faggot.

As Replacement Stage Music: Not at all. Jimi’s guitar is as fiery as ever, but Astro Man’s space- and technology-themed stages (he has two) would probably benefit more from some straight, swirling techno than screaming six-string theatricality.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Yes. His current stage themes sound like rejects from a Jane Fonda workout video.

Overall: Astro Man sucks.

9) “Magic Man” – Heart
Magic Man, Mega Man & Bass



Applicability to the Robot Master: Apart from the “he’s a Magic Man” assurance, I’d say nothing. Though, arguably, “try to understand” could be Capcom imploring us to accept the fact that they were so dry on ideas that they had to resort to a Magic Man at all. Otherwise, it’s doubtful that the Wilson sisters would be irresistibly seduced by this robot master, who, to put it politely, looks like Pee-Wee Herman and Steve Urkel got together and had a gay baby.

As Replacement Stage Music: Not really. It houses a great jam, but it wouldn’t at all fit Magic Man’s carnival approach to stage design. The passionate defense of the “Magic Man” in the song though would suit the game nicely, as it’s often derided along with Mega Man 8 as being well worth skipping.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: No question. Magic Man’s stage theme sounds like it’s lifted from an SNES Barney adventure.

Overall: Magic Man wishes someone would sing about him like this. Until then, he sits alone doing card tricks. And masturbating.

10) “Tornado Man” – Las Aspiradoras
Tornado Man, Mega Man 9



Applicability to the Robot Master: I have no fucking idea. It’s pretty clearly not in English so I can’t understand it…but damn do I love it.

As Replacement Stage Music: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Absolutely perfect for the rainy, thundery, thousand-mile-high gauntlet of Tornado Man’s stage. Tornado Man’s level is a brutally addictive experience, much like this thrashing, gorgeously filthy nonsense.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: Nah, Tornado Man’s theme, like everybody’s theme in this glorious game, is utterly brilliant.

Overall: Would be a great fit…but Tornado Man’s already well served by his current tune.

11) BONUS: “Sword Man” – His Majesty Baker Jr.
Sword Man, Mega Man 8



Applicability to the Robot Master: I have no idea because I couldn’t find it on youtube. But look at that album cover. Yes, there’s a song called “Sword Man” on this album. This one. By a guy who calls himself His Majesty Baker Jr. with some pretty confusing capitalization.

As Replacement Stage Music: I mean, what is he doing? What is this? No part of this cover makes sense to me. It’s a man with a big smile wearing a green pinstripe suit, a leprechaun hat, and leaning against a pile of money that’s far too large to be legal tender.

Better Than Current Stage Music?: And he’s doing this against a backdrop of more money, with the figure $30,000 indicated above. That’s a lot of money, in a way, but in another way, if you’re going to invent sums to make yourself seem rich wouldn’t you reach much higher than that? It doesn’t register as being particularly large…or small…it’s just somebody’s annual salary, and it’s nobody who could afford to be caught wearing a suit like that in public.

Overall: I don’t understand what I’m looking at. What is this? He has gold rings on every finger of his right hand. And how many points does his God damned handkerchief have? I hate this. I’m going to bed.

The 10 Most Affecting Wes Anderson Moments


[Note: This article originally appeared in an earlier version on Noise to Signal.]

With the looming release of Moonrise Kingdom, it’s a given that we’ll soon find ourselves awash in reviews that, predictably, betray their authors’ confusion at what it is Wes Anderson — in a word — does.

Not so much what Wes Anderson does with a particular film itself, but what Wes Anderson does as a film maker working today. Reviews often seem to want to discuss all of his films at once, and make grand dismissive statements about wooden characterization, a complete lack of emotion, and the impossibility of any human being relating to the feelings or motivations of his characters.

In response I issue this…a list of what I feel are ten thoroughly, genuinely, painfully affecting moments in his films. Anderson might not handle emotion the way most American filmmakers handle emotion (read: tears, strings and rain), but the films of Wes Anderson provide a clued-in audience with some of the most sincerely (and strangely) moving moments, which haunt and linger far longer than those of his contemporaries. So read on, share, and enjoy.

Oh, and before anyone asks…no. I did not forget about Bottle Rocket or Fantastic Mr. Fox.

10) “That’s a hell of a damn grave. I wish it were mine.”
The Royal Tenenbaums


The Royal Tenenbaums is segmented into chapters, like a novel, or possibly a biography. But one scene stands outside of the film’s literary organization: between Chapter Three and Chapter Four, we have a lengthy installment entitled Maddox Hill Cemetery. It’s here that various characters pair off — and re-pair off — for the sake, yes, of plot development, but also for some of the film’s most truly painful Tenenbaum interaction.

From Royal shaking a few flowers free of his own bouquet for the grave of Chas’ wife to Richie giving his signature silent greeting to a passerby who recognizes him from his glory days, Neither Anderson nor his actors nor his original score composer, stumble at all. Everything is here, either spoken or unspoken. We see exactly why the Tenenbaums, on some level, yearn to operate together as a family, and also — more apparently — why they never can.

It’s appropriate that Maddox Hill Cemetery stands without a chapter number…it exists, moreso than any other sequence in the film, during several time periods, with each of the Tenenbaum children having a flashback that explains at least partly the gap between their glorious childhood and their tormented adult lives.

Composer Mark Mothersbaugh understands this scene on some level far beyond the structural and even the emotional. He understands what fuels the world in which The Royal Tenenbaums exists, and his score for this scene ranks high among his absolutely strongest work. His score here is beautiful, bashful, and aware of its own limitations. This is the music you would hear if you dropped a phonograph needle onto Richie Tenenbaum’s heart, and it stirs that rare, perfect emotion that can only be felt when a brilliant director, a brilliant cast and a brilliant composer work off of each other in profound harmony.

9) “You’re a real jerk to me, you know that?”
Rushmore


One of Max Fischer’s crimes against himself — perhaps his cardinal offense — is his habit of fixing his gaze on objects beyond his reach, and missing out on everything that’s right by his side, just waiting for him to come back around.

He seems to come to this realization himself toward the end of Rushmore, when classmate Margaret Yang stumbles upon him flying a kite. Margaret forces him to face the fact that his self-important social climb has emotional consequences as well. “You’re a real jerk to me,” she says. “You know that?” And we know that her words have taken root, because he actually apologizes — a defining moment for a very-much-changed Max.

He is sorry, because by this point in the film it’s clear his pursuit of Miss Cross has come to nothing…and a young woman who’s given him sympathy and support has been actively hurt by his callous inattention.

There’s more than a little caution — however unintentional — present in the little story she tells him as well: her science fair project was a lie. She faked the results. Max understands the gravity of what she has said here, and it stings. In fact, it’s why, immediately afterward, he decides to atone for his own falsified data by introducing Mr. Blume to his father…the barber.

8) “The battery’s dead, too.”
The Darjeeling Limited


One very interesting thing about The Darjeeling Limited is that its two most affecting scenes are intertwined with one another (structurally, this one is sandwiched between two halves of the other), so that all of the film’s most brutal emotion comes in one continuous hit. Typically Anderson spreads it thin, leaving lines and gestures stranded in places sometimes very far removed from the previous or next display of emotion…not so here.

But that’s not to say he does it any less adequately in Darjeeling. In fact, this particular scene, in which the three Whitman brothers attempt without success to drive their father’s car to his funeral, is among Anderson’s finest achievements, hands down. (In fact, I’d venture to say that it would work better as a short film than Hotel Chevalier did.)

The entire scene is a display of thoroughly misplaced attention, as it’s more important to the Whitmans to drive to their father’s funeral in a symbolic vehicle than it is for them to make it on time, and they end up, it’s suggested, missing the event entirely for all their fussing. It’s symptomatic of the problems they must have faced as a family all along: it’s not that they can’t work together, it’s that when they do work together, they’re pulling in the wrong direction.

But it’s still touching, and more than a little painful, when they try their best to do what they feel must be done, and this manic several minutes, deliberately plucked from a very different place and time in their lives, is highlighted by the most impressive display of brotherhood we ever see from the Whitmans when they threaten and stare down a tow-truck driver who nearly crashes into them. Was the tow-truck driver in the wrong? Of course he wasn’t. But even when the Whitmans manage to pull together, they’re pulling in the wrong direction.

7) “I’m a little bit lonely these days.”
Rushmore


Dr. Guggenheim’s stroke brings Max Fischer and Herman Blume together again for a brief ride in an elevator that somehow, without really saying anything, says absolutely everything anyone needs to know about these characters.

There’s not so much an obvious awkwardness between the two as there is an unspoken yearning to reconnect. They miss each other. Serious topics are touched upon (Blume’s divorce, Miss Cross’ whereabouts) but neither man is able to say anything much of substance. They bat a few banalities back, and forth and ultimately refuse eye contact.

But there is a love there…that love that rides a mutual respect, and can never quite be killed. Blume’s initial “Hey, amigo,” is a clear linguistic nod to the fact that he would still love to consider Max a friend, but cannot actually bring himself to use the word. And Max’s final line upon Blume’s departure (“Hey, is everything okay?”) is helplessly genuine. Blume’s confession of loneliness is made all the more painful by the logistical fact that, as he says it, he only allows Max a few of the back of his head. As much as they need each other, and even as they reach, they can’t yet let each other in.

6) “I’ve had a rough year, dad.”
The Royal Tenenbaums


When I first put together this list, five long years ago, this was one moment that I considered, and ultimately put aside. Today, I can’t account for that decision, as it’s sincerely one of the most touching things in a movie bursting with emotional merit.

As Royal Tenenbaum attempts to reconnect with his family, he meets with varying degrees of success from each of them. Without any question, however, the most difficult obstacle he has to face is Chas. Chas has been both robbed and shot by his father during the course of his childhood, but what stings most for him is the fact that his dad let the family fail. When his parents separated the children were never the same, and Chas’ channeled his frustration at his parents into shaping his own family unit, providing for them a secure and stable environment that was ultimately ripped away from him by the plane crash that took his wife.

Chas did indeed have a rough year, but that’s not what makes the moment so important. It’s not the confession, but who he’s confessing it to. As much as Chas kept his emotions to himself, it’s ultimately the father who hurt hum so much that gives him the comfort he needs. The tears he cries when Royal buys his boys a new dog to replace the recently departed Buckley are real, and he sees a sincere selflessness in the gesture…one that’s superficially small, but relatively enormous.

Chas lets his father back in, but Royal is not long for this world, and he himself dies not much later. In a twist neither man could have seen coming, Chas is the one who spends Royal’s dying moments with him. It’s a profoundly emotional coda to the most openly antagonistic relationship in a film rife with them, and it’s all elevated by the genuinely moving portrayal of Chas by Ben Stiller. Proof positive that Wes Anderson can work wonders with just about anyone, and a moment as deserving of a spot on this list as any other.

5) “All hands bury the dead.”
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou


We know very little of Ned’s life before he joined up with Team Zissou, and, as far as the interests of the film are concerned, that’s a good thing. It makes his last moments on board the Belafonte that much more significant.

Had we been granted a more comprehensive view of his life, Team Zissou would represent only a small portion of all those he came to know. With our much narrower perspective, the ship’s crew represents everybody we’ve seen him interact with, and their turnout to wave farewell before his final flight is almost overpowering in its significance. None of these characters suspects that they will never see him alive again, and yet they’re all there…seeing him off. It’s just one of those many morbid coincidences that none of these characters would really understand.

Most touching is Klaus’ farewell, which includes, importantly, an olive-branch by way of salute. He wants Ned to know how much it means to him that he worked a K — for Klaus — onto the redesigned Team Zissou insignia, but more importantly he wants him to know that he’s at last ready to accept him as a fellow member of the crew. (And, in terms of the de-facto Zissou family, a brother.)

Steve is the only one who does not get the chance to say goodbye to Ned, though he is present for his final moments, and it is he who pulls his body to shore. It’s more than a little telling, as well, that the sharp cuts in Steve’s “death vision” sequence are so similar in style to those of Richie Tenenbaum. The difference, of course, is that Richie lived a full emotional life with much to reflect upon…while Steve’s visions are nothing more than flat colors, bubbles rushing to the surface, and one fleeting, final glimpse of Ned, who financed the voyage monetarily, and then, with more than a little symbolism, paid for it with his life. Steve falling to his knees on shore with the body of the man who was — for all intents and purposes — his son is a beautifully framed, hauntingly understated moment of silent, unforgettable sorrow. But Ned’s not the only one to come to an early, watery end…

4) “I didn’t save mine.”
The Darjeeling Limited


The turning-point for Peter Whitman (and arguably for the film itself) comes when the three brothers see three young Indian boys fall helplessly into a dangerous river. That’s one boy for each brother, right? And because they’re well-to-do Americans they get to play automatic heroes. There’s nothing at all at stake when the Whitmans dive in after the boys. Mathematically, everything is going to be just fine.

Imagine, then, the shock to Peter Whitman when he fails to save one of the children. He emerges from the river bloodied and bruised, carrying a lifeless body, and he’s so far beyond emotion that he can’t do anything but mutter flat, impotent confessions. “I didn’t save mine.” “He’s dead.” “The rocks killed him.” The audience might believe, initially, that Peter’s blow to the head left him stammering, but it’s clear before long that the real damage was wrought more deeply. His entire sense of life and possibility has been thrown for a loop–he was not the hero he expected himself to be. In fact, he was a failure. He ends up carrying a dead child to a grieving father, in a land he does not know or understand, and though Peter does not cry, it’s not because he feels nothing; it’s because he feels a sorrow too large to convey.

The Whitman brothers spend a good deal of time in this village, and Peter may never be able to atone for what’s happened, but he does come out of the experience with a much matured view of his own impending fatherhood, which now holds an unexpected meaning for him. He may not be a completely changed man but, after this incident, he is no longer the man he was just a few days earlier, when he openly considered leaving his wife before his child was born.

Adrien Brody, as of this film, is a newcomer to Anderson’s menagerie of reliable actors, and as of this precise moment, when he emerges from the river stuttering helplessly about the child whose life he could not save, he establishes himself as a perfect fit. (Also, for the record, Brody wins the Saddest Eyes award for The Darjeeling Limited, which is always a serious achievement in a Wes Anderson film.)

3) “Mr. Blume…this is my father, Burt Fischer.”
Rushmore


There’s no greater change wrought in Max throughout the course of Rushmore than the one so clearly on display when he humbly introduces Mr. Blume to his father. He is letting Blume see a side of him that very few people have been invited to see, but also he is showing it to himself, letting himself, for once, be reflected in his own eyes.

One great thing about this scene that can easily go unnoticed is that the two adults are each aware of more than they’re actually saying. Mr. Blume had earlier been led to believe that Max’s father was a neurosurgeon, and it’s safe to assume that Mr. Fischer is aware that his meager occupation has probably been kept a careful secret by his enterprising son…and yet neither of them speak of it. Blume’s heart breaks, and you can see it in Bill Murray’s supremely expressive eyes, not just because he’s been allowed a glimpse behind Max’s carefully constructed shell, but also because he feels acutely the distance between father and son, preventing both parties from connecting the way they’d each like to — and need to — connect.

“I don’t know, Burt,” says Blume, apropos of nothing, and it’s one of the most honest lines in the film. Something real is being revealed to him here, and he’s incapable of coping with it. Some silent lesson is being preached, and he’s aware that its moral will be at least somewhat lost to him. He envies the simplicity of the barber’s life, and at the same time understands precisely, guiltily, the reason Max aches to rise above it.

2) “I wonder if it remembers me.”
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou


When Steve Zissou finally comes face to face with the Jaguar Shark, there’s very little he can do but ponder the wisdom of his journey, and reflect — wordlessly — upon everything his crew has had to endure in pursuit of his purely selfish, short-sighted revenge.

The submarine (aptly named Deep Search) contains what remains of his crew and his family…along with a business partner, a reporter, an intern, and a representative of the bond company, all of whom have suffered in some tangible way for the advancement of Steve’s goal. And yet, when he finally reaches that goal, he breaks down. He cries openly, for the first and only time in the film. He gains — a long, long way into his life and career — some perspective of the greater world around him, and he sees, at last, how little right he had to so carelessly jeopardize other people’s lives.

The real weight in the scene is the non-presence of Ned, who died in pursuit of the beast, and we suspect that the death of his previous crewmate Esteban sits heavy on Steve’s conscience as well. His emotion is coming from the fact that it took him too long to realize the price of his revenge, and that what’s lost is really lost forever. There’s no way to go back and undo the very real damage he’s done along the way.

He is forgiven, however, in the midst of his wordless reflection, by those along for the ride on Deep Search. One by one, his remaining companions each lay a comforting hand on him. There are no accusations, and there is no anger. They find themselves in a submarine with a captain who has at last become fragile and human, and, one hand at a time, they do their part to hold him together.

1) “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow.”
The Royal Tenenbaums


There’s very little that can be said of a scene that says everything itself so well. Relied upon — and used — by so many others as the most level-headed and caring of the Tenenbaum family, the viewer is more aware than any of the characters how much suffering he internalizes. And so, when at last he learns more about his adopted sister than he was ever prepared to know, and he walks slowly and quietly out the door without saying a word, we know that something is about to happen, and it’s not going to be good.

Elliott Smith’s terrifying “Needle in the Hay” starts up, and Anderson does something very clever by starting it over an unrelated scene, in which Royal converses hopefully with a hotel manager about a job. A first-time viewer would never catch it, but upon each subsequent viewing those dark, razor-sharp chords bring a very vivid image to mind, and throughout a comic scene we are inescapably aware of a parallel tragedy.

The entire sequence with Richie in the bathroom is cut brutally, hastily…it doesn’t flow; it’s been hacked to pieces. This serves to echo not only the immediate content of the scene, but also the end to which it builds. His cutting away at hair, his beard, and then, desparately, his wrists.

It’s Anderson at his most fearless; he’s triggering emotions, but not allowing anyone to get caught up in them. There is no moment during which any characters take pause to weep. The score is not touching — it’s tough and tightly-squared. It’s played blue and emotionless, which is, of course, why it works so well. We are not asked to align ourselves with anybody else’s emotions…we are supposed to view what is happening from the perspective of an outsider. We are meant to feel growing concern as Richie removes his headband, his hair, his beard, his glasses…as he exposes himself at last to the world he sought so strongly to shut out. Layer by layer he is shaving himself down, becoming more vulnerable. And when he sees what’s beneath — that young man who, at one point, could have had absolutely anything — he attempts to destroy it.

We are allowed brief dips into his thought process by means of abrupt, almost subliminal flashes of film we’ve already seen, and it’s not so much meant to represent a dying man’s last glance backward as it is meant to highlight the agony of a man who can no longer stand to be alive.

Richie Tenenbaum still stands as Anderson’s most tragic character, and certainly the least deserving of his own pain. And that’s precisely what makes him so real.

10 Comedians We Aren’t Meant to Find Funny


Maybe I will do a list of this kind every month. Or maybe I won’t. I probably won’t. I hope you didn’t like that introductory paragraph very much, because I’m going to write another one:

Comedy is difficult. Making people laugh is the easy part…making people laugh for the right reasons, at the right times, satisfyingly and consistently, is practically a science. For that reason, we come to expect that not every comedian will make it big, and that not every joke they tell will make us laugh. We know that an impressive hit rate is difficult to maintain, and we adjust our expectations accordingly, striking a balance between how much we’d like to be entertained, and how much we can reasonably expect of a fellow flawed human being.

But, sometimes, a particular comedian is doomed from the start. He is not only incapable of making us laugh, but he’s without control over his material, his audience, or even his demeanor. It’s tragic when this happens, and painfully awkward. The floundering comedian is an effective and offputting archetype, and that’s why writers have dipped into this well repeatedly, crafting characters fated to bomb every time, doomed to botch every punchline, making us laugh not warmly, but defensively, and with discomfort.

In the interesting cases of these comedians, laughing at their material means you missed the joke. Here are 10 examples of that irony personified.

1) Fozzie Bear (The Muppet Show)

There’s perhaps no better cultural touchpoint for the ill-equipped comedian than Fozzie Bear, and his signature “wocka wocka” has wormed its way into our vernacular as well, becoming rightfully associated with sub-par material and limp gags. Fozzie’s routine was dated before he was born, relying on simple puns and vaudeville showmanship to generate rapturous laughter and applause that never comes. He’s also, however, eminently sympathetic, which is not only why we like him, but why Kermit keeps him around, and gives him another chance every week to die on stage. With two old curmudgeons heckling him from the balcony above, we are free from the desire to criticize his act, and can instead turn our attention to the uplifting fact that no matter how poorly he’s received, Fozzie’s always devoted enough to his craft to throw away what doesn’t work — in his case, everything — and write a whole new act from scratch. We’d love to see Dane Cook follow his lead.

2) Jimmy Valmer (South Park)

Jimmy Valmer is a special case, in several senses of the word. For one, he’s an 8-year-old boy, which means — unlike Fozzie and everyone else on this list — he isn’t disappointed that he hasn’t made it further in his comedy career. After all, that’s still to come! But he also suffers from several obvious physical handicaps. No matter; Jimmy wants only to make the world laugh, an ambition that’s downright touching by South Park standards, and one made all the more unfortunate by his chronic stutter, which causes him to step on his own punchlines and prevents him from honing his delivery…or even intelligibility. His jokes are about what you would expect from an 8-year-old boy — meaning his material is about as mature as could reasonably be expected and therefore, again, elevates him above the other entries on this list — but they actually seem to work. Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny and the rest of the boys accept him relatively happily for who he is, functioning just fine within their social circle, and he’s not defined in their eyes by his handicaps. No, instead Jimmy is treated exactly as poorly as they treat anyone else. That’s the healing power of humor.

3) Randy (Funny People)

Aziz Ansari is a genuinely gifted comic, and as Parks and Recreation demonstrates weekly, he’s also a talented actor. Both of those things allowed him to bring to life Randy, a pitch-perfect exaggeration — though only just — of a comedian so manic and animated that it completely masks the dire quality of the material he’s delivering. The greatest stand-up comics raised their volume for emphasis. Those from Randy’s school of performing, on the other hand, do it to drown out audience thought, keeping them cheaply engaged and laughing hollowly so that they won’t realize there isn’t any substance. Funny People is just one of many movies that Ansari steals wholesale from their ostensible stars, and the character of Randy has gone on to a have a full life outside the film: Ansari deploys him during his actual stand-up routines now, perhaps as a point of comparison to his normal material, but more likely as a cathartic blow against more popular, more profitable contemporaries of his, who cash larger paychecks but don’t have anything worth saying. Randy may be a popular draw within the world of the film, but all he really does is pull audiences away from more deserving performers.

4) Kenny Bania (Seinfeld)

In contrast to Randy, Kenny Bania is a hack we actually tend to like. Like Fozzie Bear before him, we feel protective of Kenny Bania, as though we don’t trust that he’ll survive the cruel world of stand-up comedy. Even the typically staid Jerry breaks down his personal barriers and takes Bania under his wing — however temporarily. Bania is overjoyed by the simplest, laziest pieces of observational humor, often interrupting his mentor with a sincere and irony-free exclamation of “That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!” His perpetual enthusiasm and sunniness is a rare thing for the Seinfeld gang, and it’s no wonder that he made several appearances during the show’s run, becoming more successful as a comic, but never getting any better or any wiser. Bania was given the ultimate compliment long after Seinfeld ended, by being one of very few recurring characters resurrected for that show’s “reunion” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Unlike the profoundly irritating Randy, whose success seems to grow as your faith in humanity diminishes, Bania is more of an infectiously adorable nuisance, and it’s nice to know that he’s still out there somewhere, as ecstatic as ever over jokes that aren’t as clever as he thinks they are.

5) Krusty the Clown (The Simpsons)

Krusty the Clown has provided us with much cause for laughter over the years…just not where he wanted us to find it. His Krusty the Clown Show sketches are the stuff of huge mustaches and pie fights, something that might be written by somebody who grew up watching classic comedians, but could never figure out why they were supposed to be funny. In fact, his comedy routines are so poor that they drove at least one of his previous sidekicks to criminal insanity. The humor behind Krusty comes from the incongruity of his situation: he’s a children’s entertainer who openly dislikes children, even when the cameras are rolling. His drug and booze fueled lifestyle allow him to coast lazily through whatever appearances he’s contractually obligated to make, but beyond that he’s a comedian who doesn’t particularly care whether or not you find him funny…he gets paid either way. In fact, in one episode (“The Last Temptation of Krust”) Krusty does become inspired to develop as a stand-up comedian, and achieves a new peak of notability with his more mature, insightful material. And then, of course, somebody offers him money, and he realizes that that’s his real passion. Krusty isn’t a hack because he doesn’t have the talent; he’s a hack because he’d rather make easy money than work hard. It’s an ethos so powerful and seductive that it eventually infected the writing of The Simpsons itself.

6) Dee Reynolds (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

You’d be hard pressed to describe any of the main characters in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as sympathetic, but you’d probably have the easiest time with Dee, if only because she seems to be aware that she’s missing out on something greater in the world. For all their grumbling and groaning, Mac, Dennis, Charlie and Frank are all actually pretty content where they are, and with who they are. They don’t have much of a desire to achieve even a measure of self-awareness, let alone anything bigger for themselves. Dee, on the other hand, does have aspirations: she wants to be an actress. With so little experience and talent behind her, though, she isn’t even sure where to begin, which is why she regularly subjects herself to delivering dire stand-up comedy at The Laff House. She explains this to Charlie — the only one in whom she’s confided about her performances — by saying she’s paying her dues. After all, if she wants to be an actress, she has to learn how to hold an audience. Fair enough, but when her set degenerates immediately into a series of painful and repulsive dry heaves, it’s clear that this is a gesture of self-mutilation, rather than any experience she’s likely to benefit from. Charlie, meanwhile, eats cat food. He’s the happier one.

7) Geoff Tipps (The League of Gentlemen)

The brilliant third series of The League of Gentlemen found many of its characters being thrust well outside of their comfort zones, an evolutionary direction for the show that resulted in much of its best — if not necessarily funniest — material. For Geoff Tips, this meant leaving the small town of Royston Vasey to pursue a stand-up comedy career in London. This is not a career change that’s destined to go well, particularly as we’ve already seen him botch jokes so badly that he’s threatened to shoot people for not laughing, and play practical jokes on his friends that involve him staging a gory suicide in a restaurant bathroom. Comedy is not Geoff’s forte, but it is his passion, and so, when he loses his job in “Turn Again, Geoff Tipps”, the comedy club is the first place he turns. Of course he bombs in more ways than one, not only allowing his act to dissolve into a shouting match with dissatisfied audience members, but also by serving as the unwitting chauffeur for a terrorist car bomb on behalf of the IRA. Still, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

8) GOB and Franklin Bluth (Arrested Development)

Comedy is not GOB Bluth’s strong point. Nor is puppeteering. Nor music. Nor ventriloquism nor respecting the delicacy of race relations. It’s pretty clear then that his act with Franklin is going to go about as well as anything else he’s done. That won’t stop GOB, however, because GOB is one of those people who believes that everything he does is being done well, simply by virtue of the fact that it’s he who is doing it. He sees himself as preternaturally gifted in all areas he attempts to explore, and often this premature self-satisfaction is so seductive that others get sucked in as well. In the case of Franklin Delano Bluth — the puppet who reminds us that it’s not easy being brown — however there’s not much to get on board with. His racially-charged banter with the dead-eyed Franklin is stymied by the fact GOB can’t keep his lips from moving, ultimately resulting in his desperately hiding a tape recorder inside the puppet as a substitute for using his own voice. Unfortunately, GOB’s lips still move, even though he’s not saying anything, and the act is just as doomed as it ever was. As a character, GOB rarely says or does anything genuinely clever; rather, he works so well as a comic figure because of just how artfully he gets everything wrong. And speaking of puppets…

9) Joe Beazley and Cheeky Monkey (Knowing Me, Knowing You… With Alan Partridge)

Of all the characters on this list, Joe Beazley and Cheeky Monkey are the only ones who have just a single appearance to their credit. Even Randy continued to exist outside of the film that gave him life. Joe Beazley and Cheeky Monkey, however, so thoroughly squandered their chance at fame that they were never heard from again, in any form, ever. Just one of many, many, many things to go wrong for Alan Partridge on his ABBA-inspired chat show, Joe Beazley — suffering obvious and debilitating stage fright — bungles his performance so badly than Alan is forced to shut it down almost immediately…much to Joe’s chagrin. Joe starts out by bungling a joke that he improvised just minutes before in the green room, and it only gets worse from there. This comedy misfire wasn’t quite as damaging to Alan’s television career as the fact that he later shot another guest through the heart with a dueling pistol on live television, but the bitter taste of Joe Beazley’s routine with Cheeky Monkey lingers on to this day; he was one of the performers Alan saw fit to call out and specifically berate in his recent memoir, I, Partridge. Alan’s not one to let go of disappointment easily, and this laugh-free puppet fiasco affected him so profoundly that he used it as justification for never again giving up-and-coming performers a break. Ooh, you cheeky monkey.

10) Steve Martin

Why are we ending on an actual comedian? Well, because Steve Martin, in terms of his stand-up anyway, was always a very deliberate creation. What you saw on stage wasn’t Steve Martin the man, but Steve Martin the character. His arrow through the head, his balloon animals, his belabored “Well ex-cuu-uu-uuse me!” were all meant as clever pieces of anti-comedy. When he took to the stage, he did so as a walking caricature of the worst that stand-up comedy had to offer. Needless to say, audiences loved it, and Martin was given higher profile gigs, such as a record-breaking number of appearances on Saturday Night Live, and also more classic films than we can remember. The public initially decided they loved Steve Martin because he shined a spotlight on things that weren’t funny, but he did so in such an endearingly committed way that they just had to laugh. And then, once he had everybody’s attention, he showed the world that he knew comedy so well that he’s since stood as an important cultural fixture, spanning decades while lesser comedians — including many who unintentionally resembled the act that made him famous — came and went. And the moral of Steve Martin’s story is the most important lesson to keep in mind here: anyone can write a bad joke, but it takes a sincerely gifted people to craft these characters that are so perfectly bad in all the best ways.

10 Great Songs We Ruined By Forcing Them to Advertise Bullshit

It should be clear to readers of this blog that music is extremely important to me — what with the fact that a whole two previous posts were tagged as having to do with music and they both consist entirely of context-free YouTube clips — and so nothing bothers me more than seeing it disrespected.

Of course, being human beings (and, more to the point, being Americans), disrespecting something is the first thing we do when money is involved, and compromising artistic integrity is a close second. Hence the use — or misuse, or abuse — of excellent songs in commercials that seem to be suspiciously engineered to retroactively drain respectability from anyone who ever enjoyed the songs therein.

Here are ten of the worst offenders that come to mind. Please feel free to leave more in the comments, so that I can become even more upset, and have another reason to stomp loudly in small circles around my house.

1) “Boom Boom,” John Lee Hooker, 1962. Ruined by Chili’s.


I won’t pretend to know what “Boom Boom” is about, if, of course, it’s about anything. But I will absolutely guarantee that it’s not about the mediocre defrosted dinner platters they serve at Chili’s for the scarily inexpensive price of $20 for two. To say that John Lee Hooker helped shape rock and roll is to sell him short. To say that John Lee Hooker was a blues guitar god is closer to the truth, but still not enough. “Boom Boom” has a lot of Hooker’s great musicianship on display, so much so that it’s really just an excuse to jam, but that doesn’t stop Chili’s from appropriating his signature “a-haw haw haw haw” to make it sound less like he’s lusting after the irresistible sexiness of a woman strutting past him in the bar and more like he’s craving some artless slab of heat-lamp meat. Cue inappropriately excitable solo, I guess.

2) “Bargain,” The Who, 1971. Ruined by Nissan.


I couldn’t find a video for this one, but you can reconstruct it in your mind: a 2000 Nissan Pathfinder drives through puddles and around a mountain while a great but irrelevant song plays behind it. Absolutely worth the money, Nissan, as you mean to assure us, I guess, that the sticker price of your forgettable SUV is “a bargain.” And not just any bargain, but the best bargain I’ve ever had! Well, I have no idea how much this particular gas guzzler sold for so I’m not sure it was cheap, but what they did to this song sure was. Pete Townshend has probably single-handedly written a larger number of truly brilliant spiritual rock songs than any other human being on the planet, and that’s due in part to the fact that he knows how to write them without tipping anyone off that they’re spiritual. That includes a huge number of his most popular songs, including “Baba O’Riley,” “Join Together,” “The Seeker,” and, yes, “Bargain.” What, you thought it was about love? Well, it was. It was about God’s love. And now it’s about the love of the warm engine of a sports utility vehicle. Looks like you lost that enlightenment before you ever knew you had it.

3) “Use Me,” Bill Withers, 1972. Ruined by Pringles.


This is actually the usage that inspired this article, as “Use Me” pleasantly surprised me on my iPod and I started wishing I could hear this song again without imagining a sentient pipe of Pringles singing it to me. Was this one really worth co-opting to advertise your pressed potato dust, guys? It’s a song sung by a guy who enjoys fucking his girlfriend so much that he doesn’t really care that she’s sapping the life out of him. Its porno thump adds an erotic emphasis to a tragic situation, and it’s eminently grooveable. So why did we need to stage a pool party where Mr. Pringles is the guest of honor, serenading his fans as they reach into his greasy hole for another helping? Bill Withers was an accomplished lyricist and a truly blessed musician. He crafted pop songs that revealed themselves layer by layer, and that easily hold up through the best that any subsequent generation has to offer. He married complex but engaging arrangements to unforgettable lyrical hooks, and tapped into emotions so simple that only the truly gifted songwriters could serviceably explore them. Also, a Pringles can is singing it in a pool. Because of course it fucking is.

4) “Revolution,” The Beatles, 1968. Ruined by Nike.


Okay, so “Use Me” might have been the first example of a great song ruined by commercial usage to come to mind for me, but for nearly everybody else who was alive to see it, this would be the headliner. I was too young to really understand The Beatles when this happened, and even I remember feeling dirty having watched it. “Revolution” is nowhere near the best that music’s most important band had to offer, but it was a pretty clear and concise statement on the part of John Lennon, a snarky and already fed-up “fuck you” to the still-burgeoning Woodstock generation. You want a revolution? Start one. Don’t talk about it, don’t fuck around, don’t sit in your mother’s basement all day smoking up. Get off your ass — or I guess he’d say arse — and do something. “Do something like buy some shoes?” Nike asked. Lennon, being long dead, hesitated to reply and that was confirmation enough for them. Yes, “Revolution” stands in stark contrast to his later love-in anthems “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine,” so I can understand that some listeners might come away from Lennon’s output with a muddled view of what the man actually wanted. Was he peacemaker or revolutionary? You’ll get a different answer depending upon which decade of his music you consult, but I think it’s safe to conclude that “shoe salesman” was never on his list.

5) “Like a Rock,” Bob Seger, 1986. Ruined by Chevrolet.


I could fill this article easily with automobile commercials alone, but there’s probably no more deserving representation than what Chevy did to Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock.” The song has been the theme song for Chevy’s truck commercials for more than a decade, and the title has become their slogan. In other words, this isn’t just the irrelevant score to some rolling footage…this is theirs now, so much so that you’re far more likely to encounter it on television than you are the radio. Which is a shame, because “Like a Rock” is actually a pretty great song, which I’m embarrassed to say because it’s difficult to disassociate it from its marketing purposes. Bob Seger built an entire career out of these nostalgic, looking-backward songs, including “Against the Wind,” “Night Moves,” “Still the Same,” and even the maddeningly shitty “Old Time Rock and Roll.” And they all seem to get used (and overused) in television shows, films, commercials, and anything else that seeks to tap into our nostalgic impulses for better days long gone. Bob Seger was making songs that felt old fashioned even when they were new. The problem was that he was good at it, and you can’t be good at anything for long without somebody stepping in for a cut. Bob Seger’s songs feel like quaint punchlines now, when they were once evocative of real memories, real feelings, and real emotion. Perhaps they should have been confined to classic rock radio, where they really belonged.

6) “I Melt With You,” Modern English, 1982. Ruined by Hershey’s.


This one might be a bit of a cheat as I don’t think I can call “I Melt With You” a great song and keep a straight face, but it’s certainly some sturdy, serviceable pop, and it has its charm and its appeal. It’s effortlessly fluffy and utterly hollow, but its “to hell with everything, we’ve got each other and we can do anything” moral is wish-fulfillment on a pretty universal scale, and I mean that as a compliment. Enter Hershey’s, who crafts the creepiest damn characters since Duracell’s Putterman family and asks these dripping humanoid chocolate monstrosities to sing “I Melt With You” as though that might be something even remotely pleasant for a creature made of candy to consider. Embedded above is the holiday variation of this commercial, with overdubbed sleighbells, in which the family is singing it together as a carol, just in case there was anyone out there who wasn’t totally convinced already that Hershey didn’t give a fuck what things it was cramming together in order to sell chocolate bars.

7) “Brown Sugar,” The Rolling Stones, 1971. Ruined by Pepsi.


The Rolling Stones are no strangers to having their songs reappropriated for marketing purposes, what with Microsoft Windows all too happy to suggest that their operating system is capable of making a dead man cum, but they’ve actually been pretty lucky overall. If I were making a list of good uses of great songs in commercials, for instance, I’d absolutely have to include Apple’s “She’s a Rainbow” ads, showcasing the amount of colors in which you could buy their products. It’s every bit as shallow in theory as anything else on this list, but in practice it was the perfect marriage of visual concept and aural emphasis. It was short, it was cute, it was bubbly, and it was fun. It was also, obviously, memorable. Unfortunately, so is this Pepsi commercial, in which a mosquito drinks some flat pop off a filthy counter and immediately starts singing about giving enthusiastic oral sex to a slutty black chick. “Wait,” says a voice from 1990-something. “Were we supposed to listen to these songs before or after we bought the rights to them?” But there is no reply, and he will never know.

8) “Lust For Life,” Iggy Pop, 1977. Ruined by Royal Caribbean.


Speaking of not listening to these songs, does Royal Caribbean really want people to associate it with “liquor and drugs” as a lifestyle choice? The commercial emphasizes the enormous variety of experiences you can have aboard their luxury liners, which is probably not something that will benefit passengers who spend the entire trip on the floor of their cabin with needles in their arms. In all seriousness, why would any company in their right mind, particularly one advertising family vacations, want to align themselves professionally with an overt paean to heroin addiction? The image of Iggy Pop shuffling shirtlessly across the shuffleboard deck and gyrating all up on grandma is likely to make people give up on cruises as vacation options altogether. Which, hey, isn’t actually such a bad thing. Gyrate on, Iggy Pop. Gyrate on.

9) “Gimme Some Money,” Spinal Tap, 1984. Ruined by American Express.


To this day I’m not sure that American Express is aware that this isn’t a real song. Or maybe I should say that Spinal Tap isn’t a real band. It’s possible that somebody in their marketing department thought that this could work as a knowing nod to the comedy-savvy consumers in the audience (who also, hopefully, needed credit cards with terrifying terms and conditions), but even if I was supremely generous and willing to grant that, what point does this make? “Gimme Some Money” is, like all of the songs in that film, a genre pastiche at best. It’s not particularly funny on its own…it was meant to be representative of a type of music that a type of band was writing in a particular cultural climate. It’s not even representative of the present-day band in the film…so what is it doing here? I keep thinking about the great featurette Mark Mothersbaugh provided for The Life Aquatic. He talks about how nice it is — or, sadly, was — working with Wes Anderson, because the score was always an organic part of the creative process and not something slapped on after the fact. He lamented the fact that there is computer software available to film makers that allows them to input whatever situations they like (his example was “he’s putting on a red bow-tie”) and have it generate a list of pop songs with similar things happening in their lyrics, so that nobody involved in the production would have to give the soundtrack much thought at all. I think that’s what happened here. The song has “money” in the title and “money” in the lyrics, and AmEx had their mind on that money and that money on their mind. Dog.

10) “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968. Ruined by The California Raisin Advisory Board.


Yes, I know Marvin Gaye didn’t write this one, but it’s his version most of us remember. Or, it would be, if it weren’t for the claymation racial caricatures that caused this song to become forever associated with raisins. As much as I claimed “Like a Rock” was actually a good song stripped of its reputation by a truck commercial, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” is a certified masterpiece. It’s a disarming dirge about a man who finds out that he’s been cuckolded, but he doesn’t even find this out first-hand: he hears it from everybody else first. His life has come crashing down, and he was the last to know. How long could this have continued? How long has he been living a lie? And what does he do now? The singer seems to be fixated on the fact that he wasn’t told first-hand, and he pretends to be getting upset about that, but that’s a psychological sleight of hand that prevents him from having to address the core truth: he doesn’t have her anymore. It’s a great song and one of the true classics of popular music, so of course we had to put it in the mouths of these purple Al Jolson heads as they perform their little minstrel show. The obvious blackface caricatures that were the California Raisins make this reappropriation an only slightly less racist marketing move than if the Board had additionally adopted the slogan “Raisins! Like watermelon seeds you can eat!” Some might say that Marvin Gaye’s greatest misfortune was when he was murdered in cold blood by his own father. But we know better, dear reader. Yes, we do.

Oh, and also, here’s an 11th and I don’t care. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” It’s a genuinely brilliant song. Stop putting it in every fucking commercial that can’t come up with its own music. THANKS.

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