Dumbed-Down Abbey: Mysterious Character Reboots for Season 4

In great peril from my family and friends, I write the following on a beloved, quality show… To jump-the-shark is a term coined from the infamous Happy Days episode when the series started heading south. There aren’t many sharks, leather jackets or jukeboxes on the moors, but Downton Abbey could use an Inspiration Point. Granted, Season Four is only a couple episodes old (here in the States), but a passenger can still not like the way that iceberg looks looming in the distance. In sit-coms, characters are two dimensional more than three. You don’t expect Norm in Cheers  to suddenly weep into his beer because he misses his invisible wife, Vera. Fonzie can’t become a feminist, even if he is on water skis over shark tanks.. Modern Family‘s Phil doesn’t turn into a thoughtful, sullen guy.  The last thing we want in a sit-com is for characters to change much…. Read More…

Attack of the Teenage Snow-Day Zombies: Resuscitating the Watching Dead

We heard its slow steps trudging up from the cellar—one foot was obviously dragging.  I swear we could hear the drool splashing on the floorboards.  It snarled.  It hated the daylight—even cloud-covered sunshine deflected off the snow.  We stood in its way and we were going to pay for it… “I was in the middle of an episode!” it roared. You may have seen the snow-day zombies in your own home.  They’re easy to spot.  They still look a bit like those pictures on the wall —but they’re meaner and generally have distinct characteristics. Bloodshot eyes Dirty, standing-in-weird-places hair Hunger so severe they don’t know they’re hungry anymore Aggressive, attack-first tendencies Extremely protective of their turf—namely, their remotes It’s not quite the parking lot of the Center for Disease Control, but we are nearly as hopeful as those running pollyannas in Season 1 of the The Walking Dead.  Maybe there… Read More…

Mad Magazine’s 1976 Christmas Issue: Still Relevant, Still Memorized–Years Later

*Per a few requests, another omitted ditty was added below.  –Kevin 12/24/14 It was a Christmas party when my wife first called me “The King of Useless Information.” I fell into the trap and correctly answered the question, probably too quickly, “Who played Gopher on Love Boat?” Fred Grandy. Who didn’t know that?? But the title really had its roots in 1976, the year I began collecting Mad magazines as a fifth grader while waiting for my mom in the checkout at the A&P. Like my son’s favorite episodes of South Park, Family Guy and The Simpsons, each issue is a time capsule of current events and a cross-section of American culture and attitudes. Just skimming the cover of the January 1977 issue that came out in late November of 1976, the clever artwork depicting Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers exchanging D-cells was worth it enough. But then to glance… Read More…

All I Want for Christmas is Bronchitis: A Scrooge and Healthcare

I’m sure that Hell is a waiting room.  And I suspect that “Kelly and Michael” is on the TV there as well. I’d been hedging my bets, waiting for the really nasty cold from ten days ago to fade away.  Two days off work, leaving me just three in my sick-bank (after 17 months on the new job) combined with 17 hours sleep per day and I thought I had it licked. But the cough persisted through Day 6 and brought me to the real answer why Victorian homes had separate bedrooms for the husband and wife.  Antibiotics weren’t invented yet and the snoring/wheezing/coughing of one spouse would end in either exhaustion for the other–or murder charges.  So I moved down to our guest room (also known as the basement couch) to sequester my nasty hacking and keep only our cat wide awake–and she’s up anyway. The cough was practicing… Read More…

Kid Rock, Costco and Paying Dues: Keeping First-Class Without Sacrificing Coach

An American buying a Lotto ticket seems a bit redundant. After all, in the millions of years of evolution (or few thousand years–depending on which Texas schoolbook you’ve got approved) what are the odds that you’ll be born in a century with indoor plumbing, electricity and fabric softener? Then factor in that you’ll most likely not be born somewhere between the Atlantic and Pacific, north of the Rio Grande.  Instead you’ll land where 50% of the world is born–a place where you survive on $2.50 per day or less–or nearly three scratch-and-wins. (source) So as you tsk-tsk high gas prices and the lawn-service guy who’s ripping you off (causing you to get so upset you nearly spill that $4 mocha) remember the cost of being in a club. Not far from my house is the prestigious Oakland Hills Country Club–or to golf fans, “The Monster.” It’s been the site of… Read More…

Divorce Court for Your Cable Provider: The Art of the Steal

Wouldn’t it be great if we could negotiate everything like a cable bill?  Try it the next time you’re in your doctor’s waiting room. “That will be $148, Mr. Walsh,” says the cranky person behind the glass slidey-door. “Hmmm…I’m not sure about that.” “Hmmm?” she glances up from her computer. “That’s right.  Hmmm.  You know, I think you might be overcharging me.” “Sir, would you like me to sick a collection agency on you?” “But $148 to have my kids’ acne examined?  And we had to wait an extra hour for that privilege.  Can you knock off twenty bucks because of the wait?” “Sir, the doctor is very busy.” “I’m sure he is.  Anyway, the zit-doc down the hall told me he’d look at my kids’ pimples for only $128, so I thought it might be reasonable…” She begins to dial the collection agency. I find it odd that liquor… Read More…

“The Returned,” A Great Show to Read — Even in French

TV is getting to be annoying.  Like never before, it interferes with our personal lives.  We have no time for our chores after work, for example.  Maybe we have to clean our kitchens, bathe our kids, even feed our kids, but there are just too many TV commitments.  Just last night, for example, I set out to make dinner for my three little ones, so I baked the chicken tenders, boiled the noodles, and then Almost Human debuted, followed by The Walking Dead, and then came The Talking Dead.  At 11 pm, I went to turn off the kitchen lights to go to bed and I saw my three little girls, patiently sitting at the table, waiting for dinner.  (Before you call social services, I’m only kidding.  I remembered to feed them before Talking Dead at 10.) Now there are many ways to escape strict network schedules.  Any show can be DVR’ed,… Read More…

An Important Halloween “Thriller”: From Music Videos to Music Films

It’s Halloween again, so it’s time to watch it: But, watch. I mean, really sit down and experience it all. Turn on that 480p, shut off the lights, grab a bag of popcorn and if you’re lucky enough to have a significant other, grab him or her too, sit down, and watch “Michael Jackson’s Thriller”. It’s one of the most incredible short films ever created, and its impact on pop culture can never be overstated. We view it every Halloween because it puts air in our tires. It gets us excited for horror films and candy and costumes and–dancing. But before it became a Halloween staple, it was the production that changed music videos and television and the role of the pop superstar forever. As scary as “War of the Worlds” was to radio. As landmark as the Kennedy-Nixon debate was to televised news. As big as “Star Wars” was… Read More…

Too-Tidy? Breaking Bad’s 94%-Pure, True-Blue Conclusion

The reviews were in last Monday for the finale of Breaking Bad and some cried:  “It’s too tidy.  It’s too neat.  The rest of the show wasn’t like this.”  It was the polar opposite of the terrible “But-They-Were-All-Dead-All-Along” finale of Lost.  It had no irritating fade to black with Tony’s knowing smile as he sees his daughter or a hit-man in The Sopranos.  Sure, Walter White didn’t wake up beside Suzanne Pleshette like the end of The Newhart Show, but the ending of Breaking Bad was completely satisfying because it was so neat–as precise as Walt’s nearly pure blue meth. Marty Robbins’ classic “El Paso” is the song that Walt sings to himself as he assembles the ol’ “machine-gun-in-the-oversized trunk” trick.  We don’t know what’s going on.  We’ve seen the gun for many episodes.  But our complete trust in Walt’s intelligence (for bad or good) is what made the show… Read More…

Post-Season Tigers: Ethical Crossroad for Detroit Fans (Moral-less)

Tonight the Tigers give it another try.  Under Jim Leland, they’ve been to the post-season many times and twice been to the World Series–crushed by the Cardinals in ’06 and crushed by the Giants last year.  It’s a battle of the big-dough, Little Caesar’s fortune against Billy Bean’s rummage-sale sabremetrics (although he’s never publicly endorsed the scheme). Poor Mike Ilitch (a phrase not heard often), born just four months before the stock market crash, has had to endure plenty of Great Depressions.  He transformed the 1970’s Red Wings from a group outdrawn at Joe Louis Arena by the Ice Capades into the Yankees of hockey, not missing the post-season in over twenty years, to the point, when the team doesn’t win another Stanley Cup, it’s a disappointing season. As the Tigers were moved from one pizza czar to another in 1992, Ilitch patiently tooled, re-tooled, then re-re-tooled his team (and… Read More…

Thanking Two Men I’d Forgotten to Thank 30 Years Ago: Mr. Denstaedt and Mr. Wentz

After attending 25 years of high school graduation ceremonies, it finally dawned on me as I sat in my robe and was thanked by grateful students and their parents–I really didn’t deserve such nice seats. Compared, to the folks who were really responsible for the pomp and circumstance, my hourly contribution was minimal.  Elementary teachers put in the long hours and are stuck with the kids all day long.  Middle school teachers are fighting the two-headed dragon of hormones and immaturity in a short, nasty body that hasn’t often developed a soul yet. Within two days, Clawson lost two of its icons–John Denstaedt and Bill Wentz.  Both of them were outstanding educators and mourned by thousands.  Yet when I walked across the stage and grabbed my diploma in 1983 they weren’t there–or if they were, I wasn’t even looking for them.  I had moved on.  Clawson High School and Junior… Read More…

Abilify’s Bathrobe: The Joe Camel of Anti-Depressants

The first time I saw the Abilify ad, I thought Saturday Night Live’s monologue had just finished.  There was no way it was serious… I am fortunate not to suffer from the crippling effects of depression, but when I saw this cartoon, I felt insulted for the millions who do.  It’s tough enough to have to admit that you’re at the mercy of this syndrome but to have a pharmaceutical company display its complexities with an animated bathrobe, like a possessed Linus’s blanket, is wrong. Not only does it perpetuate the “loafer/just get out of the house” stereotype of depressed people remaining in their bathrobe all day it trivializes the nature of the disorder, it dumbs-down the entire disorder. James Heaney wrote a great analysis (link) of the use of pastel colors, the female narrator and other Madison Avenue tactics designed to sidetrack the consumer from the rather terrifying side… Read More…

Cyber Schools–What the FAQ? A Union Goon’s Tea Party Question Reveals New British Taxation (with Podcast)

Podcast of interview with Kevin about this post by Night Shift’s radio host, Tony Trupiano (WDFN Detroit, AM 1130).  (Begins at 1:40) If Columbus explored as much as the Detroit Free Press, he’d have never left that dock in southern Spain. In a  “Free Press-Release” yesterday by Lori Higgins, “Michigan Students to Have Many Options for Online Learning,” we learn of the many choices that Michigan students now have to their education via online learning following the passage of Senate Bill 619.  I had high hopes that I’d finally learn a little more about the companies that are running these schools (if they are indeed companies). You’ll find all kinds of facts and opinions in the ever-popular comments section (from trolls and non-trolls) to the article, examining the ethics and big-picture questions that I won’t explore here.  I’m just trying to follow the money. You may have seen the marketing. … Read More…

Life Epicenters: Where Are Your Memories Formed?

It’s not normal, I suppose, to think of Cher at one’s high school reunion.   One of my favorite seeming non-sequitors in movies is from Moonstruck, when her Oscar-winning Loretta informs her dad Cosmo that she’s got to tell him something important. “Let’s go to the kitchen,” says Cosmo. I’ve seen it dozens of times at household parties, the living room and dining room are empty, and the 12×18 kitchen has 24 people in it.  We had a joke growing up that the only room in the house that had no life to it was the living room.  I still remember sticking to plastic seat-covers all over our neighborhood. Frank Lloyd Wright saw no point in a front porch for seating.  When he was designing homes, the automobile had taken full reign of the streets and the porch intended for sitting while conversing with passers-by in carriages was obsolete.  He even… Read More…

From Russia With Hate: Not Tuning-In 2014 Winter Olympics

The following was originally posted on Joe’s blog at this link. If you follow my blog you know that I rarely comment on current events and mostly am guilty of reminiscent wool gathering. I have also stated that I am not content just writing about the timeline of our marriage. But, what is going on in Russia needs to be addressed now and regularly until the Winter Games and beyond. The persecution of LGBT people in Russia is horrifyingly similar to the gradual evolution of the Jewish holocaust led by Vladimir Putin an ex-KGB thug.  He knows what he is doing. Find a group of already disenfranchised people and make them the enemy. It starts slowly. Rights are incrementally removed. In this case they are using the old favorite of our own anti gay crowd. ” We must protect the children.” Who will protect the gay children? You are going… Read More…

Watching The Fish-Slapping Dance: An Unbiased Examination of British TV in America by an Anglophile

  I was the smug little kid who was laughing about the “fish-slapping dance” before anyone in my class had even heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I was 11, and I was hooked by the crazy, absurd imagination in that show, by the accents, and of course, by the fact that no one else had heard of them. I watched The Benny Hill Show, but everyone had heard of that, so I stuck my nose up and moved on to The Young Ones.  In college, it was Doctor Who.  Now, I smugly gear up to watch the first episode of Broadchurch.  Yes, it’s true.  I’m an anglophile.  There, I said it.  well, I wrote it.  It’s out there now, and I can’t take it back.  Pshew!  what a relief.  Whatever, I was a kid from suburban Philadelphia raised on British TV.  Even as I watch TV as an adult, after years… Read More…

Breaking Bad-Ass: AMC–the Michael Corleone of Cable TV

It’s hard to decide what’s more cold-blooded–Walter White’s slow-decline into Hell or the transformation of AMC? This weekend, Breaking Bad and Hell on Wheels continue new bloodbaths on the same network that endeared us all to the old-man-in-the-fake-livingroom-introducing-the -movies.  In Detroit, the folksy host of my childhood afternoons was Bill Kennedy, a b-movie actor who was known for such great appearances as, “the guy out of the submarine hatch, just before Cary Grant climbs out.”  He’d read letters during the breaks, tell war-stories then press the play button again. When cable TV hit my neighborhood in the early 1980s, I couldn’t believe that there was a channel that played old movies all the time–without commercials.  Granted, they always weren’t all “classics” but they exposed me to an early film school introduced by a pseudo-professor.  Ted Turner co-opted this format when TCM arrived and continues to be commercial free.  Meanwhile, AMC… Read More…

Jose or Jhonny? A Choice Between Right and Braun

 Let me show you what is probably the only defining baseball moment for Detroiters—surely my generation of Detroiters—to come out of the mid to late 90’s: If you can look past the fact that Frank Beckmann was a part of this, it’s a pretty incredible moment. The scene is the last game ever to be played at historically legendary Tiger Stadium. One of the only bright spots in a dismal baseball future, Robert Fick, steps up to the plate with the bases loaded. With one swing of the bat, Fick immortalizes himself in baseball history, hitting a grand slam off of the roof—the ultimate send off to every Michigander’s favorite sports venue. He’s wearing Norm Cash’s number, and Frank reminds us that Al Kaline said before the game that he’d hit a homerun that day. And he did. This is the kinda crap that provokes lines from screenwriters like Aaron… Read More…

The Contagiousness of a Happy Couple: True Story or Con-Job (or Doesn’t It Matter?)

I’ve seen it three times today and I could see it another 12 more times before I go to sleep.  So it’s been seen already 17 million times by the rest of the world–I’m a little slow! I was totally exhausted this morning and trying hard to wake up when I saw the link to this Tonight Show video on my friend’s Facebook page. And, as expected, if it seems too good to be true… Out came the speculators that it was staged. And a blog that gave folks another reason to hate Jay Leno. It’s the same debate I’ve had with myself a hundred times.  When the headlines hit, can I separate the work from the artist? I’m a huge fan of Woody Allen movies, but I’m not sure I’d want him to be a guidance counselor for senior girls. Chinatown is one of my favorite movies, but Roman… Read More…

Golf Voyeurism: Tiger, Phil, Stevie and Reality TV

NASCAR’s ratings are high because it has two audiences–those hoping for a great race and those waiting for an accident. Tiger Woods is golf’s NASCAR. It was like having to stand-up at a wedding with your ex-fiancee.  For pure TV reality-show squirm-factor, this morning’s second-to-last pairing at the British Open couldn’t have been better.  It wasn’t so much Tiger Woods opposite this year’s Masters champ, Adam Scott; it was Tiger Woods and Scott’s caddy, “Stevie” Williams.  ESPN referred to it as a “frosty handshake.” Steve Williams became Tiger’s Robin after the previous sidekick, Mike “Fluff” Cowans, was dismissed for treason to his majesty, after reportedly releasing his salary and bonuses to a magazine. Williams, can be his own NASCAR wreck, speaking ill of fan-favorite Phil Mickelson (“I hate the P****.)  And in 2011 he expressed his joy in winning with Adam Scott in a speech that many would award the… Read More…