Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Movin’ On Up Edition

It’s that time again when I round up some pop culture stories over the last few weeks. Enjoy!

  • I was so sad to hear that Sherman Hemsley passed away yesterday. He was 74. I grew up watching The Jeffersons, not realizing how revolutionary it was for its time. Just a great ensemble cast and possibly one of the greatest TV theme songs of all time

His later show, Amen, was also part of our regular Saturday night rotation. And as a fellow short person, I always identified a little with Hemsley. Rest in peace – you’re now in the ultimate deluxe apartment in the sky.

  • I was also sad to hear about the passing of astronaut Sally Ride, who helped show an entire generation of little girls that they could reach for the stars too. I never dreamed of being an astronaut – outer space isn’t my thing – but Ride showed girls like me that there was a world of possibility available to them.
  • Christian Bale visited the victims of the Aurora movie theater shooting. A very nice gesture.
  • If you are looking for some new rising comedians, Esquire and Variety both recently released lists of comics to watch. There is surprisingly little overlap between the two lists and I was pleased that I was already familiar with a lot of the names.
  • Because there can never be too many vampires on TV, NBC announced yesterday that Dracula, starring The Tudor’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers, will be on their fall schedule. When NBC is jumping on a trend, it’s pretty much over.
  • Note to Zooey – this is how you do a fun iPhone commercial:
  • Bad news for Modern Family fans – the show has been forced to halt production as a result of a contract dispute with the adult members of the show. I’d watch a show with just Manny and Luke – those kids are hilarious.
  • The Matrix/Office Space mashup you didn’t even know you wanted:
  • This week’s people have way too much time on their hands link – Super Mario done with post-its:
  • See a young Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) on The Price is Right (this is probably the only time I’ll link to anything Leno related):
  • For those of you that were interested in checking out Jimmy Fallon based on my post, he has a primetime special tonight on NBC (10 pn ET) which will feature a collection of his best musical numbers (including the fantastic “Tebowie” song I couldn’t link to).
  • Speaking of Fallon, this cooler race with Matthew McConaughey cracked me up:

 

  • From another Jimmy in late night, Kimmel has celebrities read mean tweets about themselves:

 

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee webseries

If you know me well at all, you’re probably aware of my obsession with all things Jerry Seinfeld. It’s not something that I hide very well. I’m fascinated with everything that the guy does. Seinfeld is one of my all-time favorite television shows; spend more than twenty minutes with me and I’ll probably drop some Seinfeld reference into the conversation, though some of them are pretty obscure.

When I was a freshman in college, we didn’t have cable in our dorm rooms and DVDs and the internet were not a part of everyday life yet (wow – that sentence made me feel OLD). So I couldn’t count on seeing episodes of Seinfeld regularly – if another group claimed the TV in the common room, I was out of luck. To get me through these dark times, my family would record Seinfeld episodes on the VCR and then send the tapes to me. Primary responsibility for this fell to my little brother, who was thoughtful enough to manually record the episodes so he could take the commercials out.  I think it was his way of thanking me for moving out of the house – he was finally an only child for all intents and purposes.

These tapes were on constant rotation in my dorm room and made me very popular with the guys in the building, which was an unforeseen benefit.  But if you walked into 426 Alumni Hall at any point in 1994-1995, you were bound to see an episode of Seinfeld on our TV. Thankfully, my roommate Jenn was cool with this and she probably knows more about Seinfeld from osmosis than she ever wanted to. Once we finally got cable in the dorms and at the sorority house, I continued the practice of taping the episodes so I could re-watch them multiple times. The tapes were played so often that they were starting to wear out. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say I have seen many of these episodes 100s of times. I consider it no coincidence that Seinfeld ended its run only a few short weeks before I put on my cap and gown. The show was an integral part of my college experience. Even though I have all the seasons of the show on DVD now, I only recently threw out the tapes. I had a sentimental attachment to them.

My affection was not limited to Seinfeld the show – one of my pop culture goals was to see Jerry do his standup and I’ve been fortunate enough to do that twice. The first time I think I would have been happy if he just stood there silently for an hour. I was just thrilled to be in the same room as him. Fortunately, his stand-up lived up to my anticipation and I really enjoyed both shows. There was surprisingly little overlap of material in the shows I saw; Seinfeld is not a comedian that relies on a set routine and he develops all new material for every tour (as does his friend Louis C.K.).  One of the things I respect about Seinfeld is his work ethic and the obvious joy he gets from doing standup. He clearly doesn’t need the money, but does it because this is what he loves to do. I don’t think that there is an off-switch for him – he’s just naturally very funny. It is a testament to how bad The Marriage Ref was that even I, one of Jerry’s biggest fans, couldn’t sit through the show. Too much Tom Papa, not enough Seinfeld.

So it was all but a given that I was going to be a fan of Seinfeld’s newest venture, an aptly titled webseries, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, where he goes out to coffee with his comedian friends and has free form conversations. Only one episode has been posted, but I’m already all in.

The premise is really as simple as stated. His first guest is Larry David, which was a smart idea as Jerry and Larry have been friends for a very long time and have fantastic chemistry together. They balance each other out well and they make each other laugh; it’s no surprise that Seinfeld was as successful as it was with the two of them at the helm.  They clearly delight in each other’s company. Hopefully Jerry will have the same rapport with his upcoming guests; I think the key to this webseries is familiarity with the participants. An awkward conversation between strangers wouldn’t be as much fun.

Larry and Jerry have exactly the kind of conversation you would expect them to have – essentially about nothing and with funny observations about aspects of life. It was like the perfect mash-up of the great qualities of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry is just as neurotic as the character he plays on Curb, discussing how he believes that his decision to switch from drinking coffee to tea contributed to the deterioration of his marriage. They have a really funny and surprisingly insightful discussion of the difference between smoking cigarettes and cigars. It’s also the first time that I’ve seen a legitimate unscripted spit take happen. They just crack each other up. It was two masters, doing what they do best and I loved every minute of it. I’m convinced this is how they got Seinfeld greenlit at NBC – they just had executives watch them interact with each other. You can’t help but walk away from it thinking that this is a great premise for a show.

I’m by no means a car person – when people ask me to describe someone’s car, I give them a color rather than a make and model – but the car that Jerry is driving in this episode (1952 VW Beetle) was pretty cool. It was in gorgeous condition and I was particularly impressed with the Semaphore turn signals. I would totally drive a car with those. It was a nice touch, since Seinfeld is very much a car guy. He used to rent out an air hangar in California for his Porsche collection.

I’m very much looking forward to the next episodes. Based on the trailer for the series, future guests include Ricky Gervais, Alec Baldwin and Michael Richards. I’m hoping that Chris Rock and Louis C.K. also are eventually included, as Jerry is very good friends with them as well.

If Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee maintains the same level of comedy as the first episode, this should be a very popular webseries, though I imagine your feelings about his guests will dictate how much you enjoy individual episodes. If you think Ricky Gervais is annoying, you probably won’t enjoy their conversation as much as others. The webseries is very personality driven. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has solidified one truth that I hold to be self-evident: Jerry Seinfeld and I would get along famously. If he ever does a series called Unknown Bloggers in Cars Getting Coffee, sign me up!

Episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee can be found on the series website and on Crackle.com. New episodes will be posted every other Thursday.

A Reader Suggests – Bob’s Burgers

I’ve always been a fan of cartoons. Like most kids of the eighties, I looked forward to the Saturday morning cartoon block every week. Smurfs, Gummi Bears, He-man, She-Ra, Voltron, Strawberry Shortcake, Scooby Doo Mysteries and The Jetsons were among the staples of my childhood. As I grew older, I continued to have an affinity for animated programming and was a regular viewer of The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead, Daria, South Park, Family Guy, SpongeBob Squarepants (don’t judge) and Archer. So when a friend and blog reader suggested that I check out Bob’s Burgers it wasn’t that much of a leap for me.

I was aware of Bob’s Burgers but had never tuned in for two main reasons. The first was that the lead character on the program, burger restaurateur Bob Belcher, was voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, who is also the voice of Sterling Archer on Archer. Unlike many people who do voice-over roles, Benjamin doesn’t change his voice at all for the various characters he speaks for. So I feared that it would always bother me that the same voice that comes out of the dashing and smooth secret agent would now be coming out of a frumpy burger cook and father of three. I wasn’t sure I would be able to wrap my head around it; it routinely freaks me out when I see interviews with Family Guy creator Seth McFarland, as his regular speaking voice is what he uses to give life to Brian the dog on the show. So this fear was not unfounded. It also possibly means I am not very smart.

The second issue was that Bob’s Burgers is part of Fox’s “animation domination” block of programing on Sunday night. Sunday nights are generally pretty tough for me; during football season, I’m pretty exhausted after spending the day at the bar and watching the Bills lose, so early evenings I usually catch a quick nap. The fact that Fox also carries football games means that their Sunday evening programming is routinely delayed when games run long, making it hard to DVR shows to watch later. It becomes hard to count on the shows airing at their regularly scheduled times in the fall and by the time football season is over, I’m too far behind to easily catch up. Sundays have also become one of the busier nights of programming between the stellar line ups offered by AMC (Walking Dead), Showtime (Dexter, Homeland) and HBO (Boardwalk Empire, Treme, Game of Thrones). So on top of the football issues, I’m less likely to want to pick up a new show on that night. My schedule is already pretty crowded.

In the summertime, however, I have more time to try out some new shows. Bob’s Burgers has only had two seasons and both have been abbreviated (13 episodes and 9 respectively) as the show has been used to fill holes in the schedule because of cancellations. 22 episodes that are each about 20 minutes are pretty easy to breeze through and the simplicity factor was further increased by the seasons being available on Netflix streaming (season 1) and Hulu Plus (season 2). So with no further excuses and a dearth of other television commitments, I decided to listen to my friend (Hi Colin!) and take the plunge.

Bob’s Burgers chronicles the life of the Belcher family. Bob and his wife Linda run a struggling burger joint which they also live above with their three children Tina, Gene and Louise. The kids also pitch in at the restaurant, though it is debatable how much help they really are. Bob is devoted to his burger business and is probably the most grounded of the family. Linda is devoted to “Bobby” and the family, though sometimes her attempts to help or give advice to the children are misguided, though well intentioned. Tina is 13 and socially awkward and coming to terms with her budding sexuality and becoming an adult. She is obsessed with classmate Jimmy Jr. and writes erotic fan fiction that is mostly about people touching other people’s butts. Gene is 10 and like a puppy in that he is enthusiastic about just about everything; he’s loud and is often seen donning a burger mascot costume to promote the store.  Louise is nine and appears to be a sociopath in the mold of Stewie from Family Guy, but without the concrete plans for world domination.  She simply likes to stir up trouble – in the pilot episode she inexplicably informs her entire class that the family uses human flesh in their burgers. She always wears a pink bunny rabbit hat.

I have to say, I really enjoyed Bob’s Burgers. It is a weird and quirky little show that isn’t often laugh out loud funny, but is very amusing. I found myself smiling a lot through the episodes as I watched the adventures of the Belcher family. It isn’t 100% consistent – some episodes are much better than others – but on the whole I thought it was quite enjoyable. One of the reasons I like animations is it removes some of the limits of reality, and Bob’s Burgers takes full advantage of that. The family may be nuts and always getting into trouble, but they obviously love each other in the end (even Louise). In the first two seasons, Bob manages to be taken hostage in a bank robbery, Linda tries to run a bed and breakfast out of their apartment, the family tries to cash in on the food truck craze and deal with a negative review by a food critic. The kids are my favorite part of the show and they have some fairly quotable lines. I also enjoy the running gags in the show: in the opening credits, the name of the store next to the burger joint is different in every episode, as well as the name of the extermination company (starting in season 2). The burger of the day also changes episode to episode, sometimes several times over the course of an episode. All the names are fun puns – some of the burgers of the day have included the “sit and spinach burger,” the “It’s fun to eat at the rYe-M-C-A burger” and the “Roquefort Files burger.” They are fun little Easter eggs that reward the viewer that is paying attention.

I’m not sure how easily Bob’s Burgers will fit into my schedule once season 3 debuts in September, but I’m going to make every effort to keep up with it. I’ve gotten used to H. Jon Benjamin’s voice and have come to really enjoy all the characters and the odd sense of humor that the show has. I’d recommend checking it out. I was disappointed when I realized I had watched all the episodes to date. Might not be everyone’s taste, but I found it endlessly entertaining. I’m glad I finally checked it out.

Bob’s Burgers season 3 will debut on Sunday September 30th at 8:30 pm ET on Fox. If you have a suggestion for a show, movie, book or band you want me to check out, leave it in the comments section.