Thursday, July 9, 2009

Your Dad Likes This Too

Along with reviewing “Frasier” episodes and entertaining (well, 1 out of 2 and so on) the stated mission of this site is to explore mediocrity, and while I’m still dedicated to that pursuit, it was done first and is done better by the person operating here. What has been taking my attention recently is absurdist entertainment (mostly comedy, keeping in mind I am stretching both the term "comedy" and the term "entertainment" as thin as the “Frasier” machine stretches beauty) masquerading as plain-suburban fare. An example is my January review of the episode “Don Juan in Hell Pt. 2,” an even better example is “The Blue Man Group” (BMG) which I had the chance to see a portion of for free a while back.

I realize it is probably a dereliction of duty that I didn’t stay for the entire show, but this shit was intolerable, had I stayed, I’m not sure I would’ve survived. I expected the show to be an incredibly cheesy but entertaining monochromatic version of stomp (I believe a man in a Pan’s Labrynth shirt with the sleeves cut-off told me it was “tons of fun”). So I was shocked to discover that it was actually some sort of down-syndrome comedy show. Crispin Glover was probably somewhere in the auditorium giving light cues.

The show-proper started as I expected, and the multi-hued drum performance assuaged the rising concern spiked by the crowd warm up, which consisted of drama nerd humor scrolling across an LED screen and everyone laughing nonstop. The only people in the auditorium not laughing aside from my entourage were the brother-sister combo in front of us who were clearly there for free as well, this leads me to conclude that the others weren’t laughing but were actually saying, “I paid hundreds of dollars for this,” in some language unique to Ohio and Indiana. On a side note, the brother, who was probably about 11 years old, was texting non-stop during the beginning of the show and at one point texted: “Do you want your sister to miss you when she goes away to college?” This is an incredibly bizarre sentiment; I don’t think this question has ever been posed before in the history of conversations. Because this question confuses me I’m just going to say that it is creepy.

Unfortunately some over-enthusiastic usher came over and told the kid to cut it out. Usually I am totally opposed to theatre texting, but in this case the texts were by far the most engrossing part of the evening, and the show was just about to take a serious turn for the worse. Almost on cue after the kid quit texting the show descended from an idiotic but entertaining presentation of people with stupid faces hitting puddles of paint with sticks, into a sort of futurist minstrel show. I don't mean there are any racial underpinnings in BMG, its just the easy way to paint a picture of the stage show: We were presented with three garishly painted figures at whose ignorance, idiocy and general outlandishness we were meant to laugh. And most of the audience did in spades (pun intended).

What is especially perplexing about the BMG spectacle is that neither I, nor anyone in my entourage could discern what was supposed to be amusing or entertaining about the performance. Honestly, this was not a matter of humor we found distasteful, or poor comic timing, or humor that was intellectually beneath us. All of these things are recognizable elements of poor comedy, rather I could not even determine what was intended to make me laugh, or, when recognizing an incident that made those around me laugh, I could not tell why (in ANY way) the incident was meant to invoke, and was successful in invoking laughter.

It is possible that this was an instance of humor that was above me. That the fare was too advanced for me even to recognize, like a Texan in Paris, but having surveyed the audience I will say only that if this was the case then the joke is surely on you poor half-dozen fools wasting your time reading someone so far beneath a room of suburbanites and Ohioans...

In the BMG show, the blue men stare wide-eyed into the crowd and this is meant to be funny, they catch balls in their mouths at varying speeds and this is meant to be funny (but not gay!); they pretend to drink a beer; they eat from cereal boxes of different sizes, when they chew their crunching is of disparate volumes, a large cereal box is dropped revealing a smaller box; the blues hold up placards telling anachronistic anti-technology factoids; “pop-stars” from five years ago are critiqued for vapidity; the blues spend 25(!) minutes playing with a twinkie, pretending they cannot open it; the blues stare emptily at a Frasier-style beauty and at one point they all gather together on stage and someone comes up and videotapes the blues rubbing each others’ faces and staring lustily at one another…All of these things received hearty laughter and/or applause! The experience was mind-blowing, excruciatingly mind-blowing.

I am sure it seems I am taking these incidents out of context but I swear there is absolutely no context, no narrative, no segues, no link at all between these confusing antics besides blue makeup and overall absurdity. What was most perplexing is that I wouldn't think something this outlandish would appeal to the sort of people who were in the audience.

If you were to take the elements of the BMG, or most “Frasier” episodes and displace them, presenting them as a video in an art museum, or change the language to French and subtitle them, I believe the very same people who chortle through the performance, or tune in every week, would be alienated and bored by the “art,” presented. It seems increasingly that in meting out what we like and dislike, and in dictating what will be best received by what type of person, presentation and context is far more important than content. It is why Jenna Elfman in an angel costume in “Can’t Hardly Wait” is silly and contrived, but frogs falling from the sky in “Magnolia” is daring and poetic. The sign of a brash filmmaker defying convention. Magnolia is over three hours long and is directed by someone who insists people use his middle name when addressing him, so obviously it is a work to be taken seriously...

Check back next week for my essay comparing Can't Hardly Wait... and Magnolia, a piece mainly designed to piss off the 3 people who read this thing. Two ways that Can't is better, just off the top of my head: There are no Aimee Mann songs in CHW, but instead there are a lot of Third Eye Blind Songs, and CHW features the role that Jerry O'Connell was born to play. An expected highlight: me criticizing Magnolia for being too long in a hopelessly bloated and long winded blog-posting.

S10 E8 "Rooms With a View"

Frasier: Daphne, I know you're in hell right now, but in just about 20 minutes, comes the disconnecting of the ventilator and the extubation. You can see it all in the diagram on page 24-C...
Daphne: He's not a diagram! He's my husband, and he's on a table with his chest cut open! I'm sorry if I can't handle this as well as the rest of you, but I'm terrified!
Roz: Daphne, it's okay, just calm down. When all this is over, we're just gonna...
Daphne: There is no "when this is over"! There's no tomorrow, no next week, no next year! There's nothing until he comes out of there and I know he's okay!

Oh, this one was a doozy. Serious episodes are always incredibly uncomfortable affairs. I know the emmy-voters would disagree with me, but the actors in "Frasier" are pretty terrible, and so anything that requires more of them than setting up one liners, making faces at a dog or hiding in people's closets as part of an elaborate rouse stretches them almost to the point of's really weird to watch.

This one was not directed by a machine but by Beast himself, Kelsey Grammer. And it is amazing. Niles is in the hospital with some sort of heart problem and he has to have a life-threatening operation. In this episode the Niles/Daphne connection is actually a positive, since we get to see the little Scot over-act to an incredible degree. Finally, after years of eye-rolling and "Oh Eddie"-ing Daphne gets to smash a vending machine in a hospital waiting room with a fire-extinguisher to show that she is upset...Yes, that does happen, and no, there are absolutely no consequences and everyone acts like it is a fairly normal reaction. Also, Daphne is mad because everyone who is with her is trying to have a normal conversation and cheer her up...This episode won the Writers Guild Award for Episodic Comedy, which is insane because this episode is terrible.

So yes, the man himself directed this, I guess Kelsey fancies himself television's Robert Redford or something, and it is very odd. There is a lot of Acting with a capital A and lots of strange closeups that linger just a little too long. I'm not sure if we are supposed to assume Niles is heavily medicated or something but he keeps rambling on about how "the hospital remembers" all of our big moments that occur within it. As he is being taken to surgery he has a bunch of hallucinations of past events that occured in the hospital- Frasier's son being born, Niles being born, his mother dying. It seems odd that all of these things happened in the same hospital corridor, especially since Frasier lived in Boston when Frederick was born and I'd think they'd keep the births and deaths in separate hallways, but no matter.

The Acting really starts when Niles is taken away and the rest of the gang gets to try out their "grief faces." The last two acts take place in one hospital waiting room, its like a horribly unfunny episode of Seinfeld. Its like watching a kid's play and you can tell everyone has forgotten their lines and you're just hoping so hard they'll skip ahead to the next scene and end everyone's suffering, but these are professional actors, and they didn't forget their lines, the writing is just awful.

Did you know that Kelsey Grammer was an Executive Producer for the UPN show "Grilfriends"? Including one episode titled: "What's Black-a-lacking?" He also produced an episode of "The Game" (whatever the fuck that is) called "Punk Ass Chauncey." Trying picturing Cpt. Emmy saying those titles. Think of his voice in your head and say: What's Black-a-lacking? its really pretty great.

9/10 If you ever get a chance to watch this, try thinking: Kelsey Grammer told them to do that, every time anyone does some stupid-ass Acting. it makes the whole experience worth it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quick Note

I've been working on an epic motherfucker about the blue man group and its ties to "Frasier," so just give me a few days, but I had to share this: I went into the computer lab today and the kid who works there checking IDs whose face I absolutely hate for no good reason was sitting at his computer behind the desk eating Ritz crackers and watching episodes of "Frasier" on youtube!

What the fuck?

First of all, I didn't even know this was a possibility! But second and most important, seriously what the fuck? You have the entire world wide interweb at your fingertips and you are watching episodes of the emmy-award winning Frasier? And you're like 20 years old? Eating Ritz crackers. I'm honestly relieved because I was worried that I hated this fucking kid for no reason but now it turns out he's an absolute waste of space. Your job is to sit at a computer during summer-school and check the IDs of the ten people a day who visit your little corner, meaning you have about 7 hours of free time at a computer, during which obviously you are allowed to do whatever you want save jack-off to tentacle-rape Hentai (which is totally what this kid wishes he was doing)and you spend that time watching Kelsey Grammar?

Is this like when kids root for the same sports team as their dad? Maybe his dad was always distant and unloving, and the only time he really felt close to him was when they would sit and watch Must See Thursdays together. The only time his dad ever told him he loved him was when he remembered to tape the 1997 season finale when his dad had to work late.

PS: If I find out that the reason cracker-boy was watching this is because he has his own competing Frasier blog I'm going to bloody his flat-screen for him.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

S1 E1/2 "The Good Son"/"Space Quest"

Roz: Gary? I broke up with him three weeks ago... The sex was OK, but he was kind of limited... No, no, no, it wasn't that Gary was bad in bed. I mean, he knew where all the parts were. Unfortunately, most of them were his... Yes. Totally passionless. It was like he was thinking of someone else... I know I was... Somebody's here, I gotta go... All right, I'll talk to you later. Bye, Mom.

There it is, right up there; the genesis of the Roz is a slut/lush reference. Its pretty wonderful to behold-not only is Roz a slut, she’s uncomfortably open about it, talking to her mom about her sex-life right in front of Frasier. Who could have guessed such a bland bit would spawn so many years of obvious, repetitive humor? “Frasier” is sort of like the inverse of Zeppelin. While one Zep song could ration out to three or four songs for any other band, the “Frasier” team is able to take a gag that would be a one-off joke in any other comedy and turn it into a franchise; “You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song” indeed.

Honestly the Roz is a slut joke feels like a comedic oasis (or is it a mirage?) in the midst of the downer desert that makes up the inaugural episode and its counterpart. Its been a long time since I posted a review on this beast, even my silent partner thinks so, and that’s largely because these two eps are such a slog. To kick the series off Frasier has moved back to Seattle and is excited about starting a new life there for about 45 seconds until his burdensome handicapped father has to move in with him and essentially ruins his new life. Then an obnoxious Brit who claims to be psychic moves into his study and Roz tells him he’s bad at hosting a radio show. His brother Niles talks with a strange accent even more pompous than the tone he would eventually adopt, and rather than the playful rivalry the two characters eventually settled into, at the start Niles and Frasier are just petty and mean to one another. So, Frasier resents The Dad for encroaching on his personal space, The Dad resents Frasier for resenting him and I’m assuming all of the actors resent The Dad’s Dog for getting all of the laughs.

All of the humor in “The Good Son” and “Space Quest” comes from, or is supposed to come from, shots of the dog staring cockeyed at Frasier or The Dad coming really close to calling his sons faggots but then stopping himself at the precipice. Most episodes of “Frasier” contain at least one embarrassing moment of genuine laughter, or at least knowing nods at a joke that almost hits the mark, but these two gems don’t have a whiff of comedy. Both of them are “Frasier learns a lesson” episodes and each one has the same lesson; there are no subplots, no “beautiful” women, absolutely no fucking zany farces which should be fucking illegal for two “Frasier” episodes in a row. There aren’t even any asinine misunderstandings! Just long-winded over-the-top speeches and histrionic fights between Fras and The Dad-surprise!-a three-camera, laugh tracked sitcom is not the ideal place to explore a strained embittered father-son relationship. This shit had me wishing for a PNDM episode, and I hate those!

“Space Quest” is essentially a remake of “The Good Son,” I guess at this point the machine that produced “Frasier” episodes was just a copier. I’ll admit this is a pretty bold move for a brand new show, maybe it was originally planned as a sort of experiment, like Van Sant’s “Psycho,” just remaking the same script every week to see what different directors would do with the same material. Well…it is a failure. Kelsey Grammar as a dramatic actor was difficult enough to swallow the first time around.

7/10-this is as bad as mediocre can get, I’m shocked that they were able to turn this into a long-running show, it feels like “Ordinary People” in 22-minute increments, starring David Hyde Pierce…

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

S9 E2 "Don Juan In Hell Pt. 2"

Roz: I was never his lady.
Kirby: Damn, baby, that’s cold!
Kristi: She’s old enough to be your mother, practically.
Roz: Damn, baby, now that’s cold!

Part 1 of this two-piece was the first ep to air after creator David Angell died in the 9/11 (never forget) attacks. I used to believe in that 9/11 (never forget) inside job conspiracy ish, but there is no way that David Angell would not have gotten a call before he went to work if that shit was true, for Frasier to have won so many awards motherfucker had to be connected, and you know Cheney and Wolfowitz bro-down on some Frasier whenever they’re holed up in Dick’s secret lair. I guess we really should be shelling Afghani villages and raiding Iraqi hospitals, take that Truthers! In dying, David Angell has restored my faith in the US Government. Never forget.

I have no idea what happened in part 1, I can’t imagine it matters. Part 2 opens with Frasier in an ethical dilemma, a woman he secretly lusts after asks him advice when her ex-husband comes back into her life. Frasier is torn, he wants to date the woman but can see that she still has feelings for her husband. There shouldn’t really be an issue, damey looks like a mom with a meth-habit (or, looks like any mom from Nebrahoma) which is to say: wide, flat ass, Chicago-titties, and a ruined face, and she’s a total wet-blanket with a fucking kid, the only question should be whether or not Frasier pisses in her stairwell as he sneaks out. He ends up doing the right thing and counseling her to get back with her husband, then goes home pouting to find Niles, Daphne, The Dad and whatever old cooz The Dad’s truthing his bed with having deep pretzel time. Predictably Frasier is totally disgusted by their disgusting coupling (or, pair-bonding) and decides to take a drive to clear his head and think about his relationship issues.

Finally this dud of a plot gets out of the way so we can enjoy some of the best television ever. While Frasier drives out to a cabin that he (apparently) owns in the woods he hallucinates the presence of his ex-wife Lilith, Diane (from Cheers), and his first wife (what?) who is a ridiculous hippie stereotype complete with Indian feathers and a toy guitar. He talks to them (himself) about his relationship troubles and each figment of Frasier’s imagination present different theories about why he sabotages himself when it comes to love. It’s pretty amazing that this was actually on TV, and that everyone’s dads watched it and accepted it as regular old-person entertainment considering that this behavior is absolutely insane.

When they get to the cabin Frasier’s dead mother (her name is Hester Crane) shows up and Lilith makes a joke about how Frasier wants to juice his mom, the laugh track finds this hilarious, and I bet your parents laughed too. Talk about subversive. At some point the women are all arguing with each other and Frasier’s mom claims that Frasier is “making” them fight so as to avoid working out his women-issues, thinking about this makes my head hurt: Frasier is being haunted by vivid hallucinations who he cannot stop from talking or from criticizing him and who he cannot make go away, but he is able to compel them to argue with each other so as to avoid discussing his relationship troubles, a subject these very unreal people are hell-bent on talking about. After the women stop arguing Frasier tries to run away but is confronted at the front door with a hallucination of every woman he has ever dated which is a surprisingly large amount of women who are all dressed the same. It is finally concluded that Frasier always fails at love because he can’t let go of his idealized memories of the women he once loved. A pretty simple conclusion that likely could have been reached without going absolutely crazy.

This is the easiest rating I’ve ever had to give, not only is there a Roz is a slut joke, there is a Roz is old joke which is a new wrinkle (no pun intended), and Frasier, the psychiatrist, works out his problems by utilizing a usually dormant multiple-personality disorder: A+.