Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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…because it’s Easter weekend.


Frank Zappa, “Watermelon in Easter Hay”
Joe’s Garage, 1979


Phish, “Light”
Joy, 2008

The AV Club has recently reported that a full series DVD set of Get a Life is finally in the works. This is fantastic news for me, and it should be for you as well.

I remember Get a Life better than I should probably be proud of. For two years in the early 90s it was a Fox Sunday night staple, which means every week I could look forward to seeing it along side The Simpsons and Married…With Children, both of which were in their prime. And as much as I loved both of those shows, I think I looked forward to Get a Life the most.

Something about it appealed to me in ways that so many other shows didn’t. It’s commonplace now, but Get a Life was the largest-scale, balls-out genre subversion I had experienced at the time, and it probably did more to shape my personal sense of humor than anything else before or since. It was dark, sardonic and periodically psychotic…but everything was painted over with the veneer and style of a non-threatening 1950s sitcom. It had a laugh track that deliberately went wild over the most terrible things, and feel eerily silent when, suddenly, the mood would change from light comedy to bizarre, cruel chaos.

It was the continuing story of a dimwitted 30 year old paperboy who lives with his parents, ambling through life, endangering innocent people, and often getting killed horribly along the way. Its pilot featured Chris and his best friend stuck upside down in a roller coaster for the entire episode, and it only got stranger from there.

Much, much, much, much stranger.

And it was fantastic. It was clever, it was perfectly acted, and it was expertly handled. Writer David Mirkin went on to join The Simpsons after Get a Life ended, where he was able to weave his masterful sense of gently destructive parody seamlessly into that show, and Chris Elliott…well, Chris Elliott never really found another outlet for doing what he did best. Lately he appears in Adult Swim’s Eagleheart, which is absolutely a spiritual successor to this show, but Get a Life got there first.

I have a lot more to say about it, but I’m deliberately holding back. I think I feel a Noiseless Chatter Spotlight coming on…

I did have the good fortune of seeing the show in its entirety again during my late high school years, and at that time I definitely felt it had weathered the test of time. Now, with our tolerance for parody filed down to the nub by Family Guy and its ilk, I’m not sure if Get a Life won’t feel a little too quaint. But, then again, considering its own nature, that quaintness might just give it another layer of verisimilitude.

I’m hoping music rights issues don’t force us to hear sound-alikes during the show’s many montages, but otherwise I really don’t have any fears about this release at all. It’s a relic from a bygone time when genre subversion and extended film parodies and sociopathic tendencies didn’t belong in our comedy. There’s a reason this was cancelled, and that’s because audiences were terrified that this might be the future of television.

It was.

The 30 year old paperboy is dead. Long live the 30 year old paperboy.


Frank Sinatra, “That’s Life”
That’s Life, 1966

Let’s Go to Spam

March 27th, 2012 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet - (2 Comments)

Receiving spam is nothing notable anymore. Every so often something crawls past Yahoo’s proprietary filers, but since I only use this Yahoo account for spam anyway, it’s never a problem. But recently I received the following in my inbox:

…and that’s just upsetting. Where’s the craftsmanship? The incentive? The heart-rending tale of woe intended to get me out to Western Union as quickly as possible?

There’s an art to this kind of spam, and it’s an art that “Conniel” is disrespecting entirely by sending out something so effortless.

Set aside the poor grammar (as there’s really no getting around that) and you have a woman(?) telling me she’s sick, and asking me to take her funds so that I can give them to charity. Then she demands — doesn’t even implore! — that I email her back. The subject line is promising, but nowhere does Conniel actually invite me to save any souls so I’m pretty disappointed. Sing us a song…you’re the spammer man.

This is the equivalent of a real-life panhandler saying, “Give me three dollars.” There’s a big difference between that approach and, “Excuse me, could you spare any change?” They both want three dollars, but one is far more likely to get it from me than the other.

And you know how panhandlers will often times call out, “God bless you, sir,” when you pass by, ignoring their request totally? That kills me. That kills me because it preys on the same part of me that guilt-farming spam emails are meant to prey upon.

It’s also suggestive of a story, an unseen personal history for the panhandler. Yes, we know he needs money. But now we also know that he’s selfless enough to wish God’s blessings upon you after you turn away from his needs. It sketches in just enough humanity to make it seem legitimate, like a request above and separate from the money he needs to survive.

By contrast, I dug up the most recent variation on the deposed Nigerian prince email that I’ve received:

It’s misleading, of course — at least, it’s misleading in the sense that it’s a total lie — but there’s also some effort behind it. Details are arranged and the requirements for cooperation are well explained. This does more than pencil in some human tragedy…it writes an encyclopedia entry about it and implores you to learn more.

In short, they’re working for the money. They’re not saying, “Give me three dollars.” They’re constructing an elaborate world of weddings, plane crashes and corporate expansions. None of these details are necessary. Mr. Yacouba Maru could have easy said “yo I’m sick email me, something about charity” and been done with it.

But instead he took time. He thought this through. His story may not be worthy of my money, but it sure as hell is worthy of my time.

Is that too much to ask from my spam? An engaging customer service experience?

A few days later, Conniel tried again. This time, with a little more feeling:

It still needs work, but that’s a lot better. I have a better idea of what she intends to do, if no better idea of what she expects from me. I understand the nature of her tragedy (I’m “sick” too, lady…I have a box of tissues on my desk and by fuck do I ever use them). I also like the passive suggestion that she can’t donate the money herself because she’s already donating her body…as though if she hadn’t promised her body to somebody else already she could use it to deliver the money after death. It’s sweetly innocent. Conniel might be too young to understand why that wouldn’t work…or perhaps she’s dazed by the ravages of her esophageal cancer…which she was kind enough to link as a keyword to a page on a medical website that helpfully explains what it is. I guess if you can’t be asked to spin a yarn yourself, you could just leave some breadcrumbs around the internet and hope I follow them.

Still, though, this is a huge improvement, and I look forward to seeing more from Conniel in the future. I think with some practice and a lot of guidance, she can grow to become a really effective spammer, and I wish her all the best. Sh-So back, Conniel, so I know you got this.

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