Heather Discovers Investigation Discovery

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Like most people in Upstate New York, I’ve been captivated the last three weeks with the saga of the prisoners that escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6th. Whether it was the Shawshank Redemption-style escape or the fact that the sage was unfolding in my state, I wound up paying way more attention to this story than I would have expected. It helped pique my interest that I was in Burlington, Vermont when the escape happened, so I was relatively close to the story as it was initially unfolding. I generally am not super interested in the same local stories that everyone else obsesses about but this time around I was in the thick of it, watching Twitter for updates and speculating how far they’d get before (if?) they were captured. This is what happens in the summer when there isn’t anything on TV.

It was in the course of my recon about the story that I stumbled upon the fact that the Investigation Discovery channel was doing a special on the escaped prisoners. I’d vaguely heard of this channel but I’d never watched it; in fact, I wasn’t even sure if Investigation Discovery was part of my current cable package. It turned out that it was and I DVRed the special, not sure if I was really actually going to watch it. But a quiet weekend and boredom resulted in me watching the special shortly after it aired and while the special in and of itself wasn’t super informative if you had already been paying attention to the case – though I did enjoy the Taiwanese animation-style recreation of literally the most mundane parts of the story – it was the commercials for other Investigation Discovery channel shows that captured my attention. I wasn’t sure what programs like Fear Thy Neighbor, Southern Fried Homicide, Murder Book, and Tabloid were going to be like, but I sure as hell was going to find out. Based on the names alone, they figured to be somewhat entertaining. With a few weekends home without much scheduled and a general apathy about doing anything all that productive with my time, I started killing a lot of time watching Investigation Discovery, working my way through sampling their various shows. And I have to admit, it is quite the guilty pleasure.

Investigation Discovery is a channel devoted to true crime programming, which happens to be one of my weaknesses. I tend to like reading about true crime rather than watching it, but I’ll get sucked into an episode of 48 Hours, Dateline or Snapped if I happen to stumble upon them. I always find it interesting to see how cases are eventually cracked and I’m fascinated by the human behavior that these shows highlight. I briefly considered majoring in psychology with the ultimate goal of being an FBI profiler, so it’s probably not surprising that I’m drawn to these stories. It’s also probably not the best thing for my productivity that I’ve discovered a channel that runs these programs 24 hours a day, 7 days of week. I’m already finding that when I can’t find anything of interest on the TV, my default selection is now Investigation Discovery, though only if I can catch a show from the beginning. I need all the facts while I’m watching these programs.

Over the last two weeks I’ve sampled a variety of these shows and I definitely have my favorites. While Southern Fried Homicide boasts the best name of the bunch, it didn’t live up to expectations. The stories all involve homicides in the South (obviously), but then the narrator really doubles down on the whole southern angle by forcing ridiculous puns and terminology into the story. I get it – this is the South – but I really don’t need to listen to dribble like “there were more holes in his story than the screen door on grandma’s porch” while I’m waiting to see who the killer is. It’s just too gimmicky; perhaps it’s because I’m a “Yankee,” but I found the word play insipid by the end of the show. If they could lighten up a little bit on that, I might enjoy the show more. But given that there are plenty of other shows about murder on this channel, I can afford to be a little picky.

My favorite so far, hands down, is Fear Thy Neighbor. This program is focused on confrontations between neighbors that usually results in one neighbor terrorizing the other family. What I love about this show is how in sixty minutes these people go from arguing over a plot of land between the two driveways to one person turning a rental van into a fire bomb to blow the other neighbor up. I’m not making that up – that was the first episode that I watched.

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Maybe Fear Thy Neighbor is more relatable because most people have neighbors; I’m currently a little annoyed with my upstairs neighbors because of their loud music and while I have no plans to blow them up (or even complain about it; I’m not big on confrontation), I can understand how frustrating it is to not be able to enjoy your home because of the actions of others. But even though I know that these confrontations on the show are going to go to new levels of insanity, I’m still shocked by how nutty people can be. If you want to feel better about your life, I used to advise you to watch Maury or Cops; now I’m adding Fear Thy Neighbor to the list.

The downside of watching all these programs is you might begin to think that everyone around you is capable of murder or terror. That’s not exactly a fun way to go through life, but it does make you think twice about cutting someone off in traffic or giving someone some side eye. You just don’t know what other people are capable of, especially since most of these shows are based on a chance encounter or a minor disagreement. I’m going to be extra nice to people for a while.

I’m sure that my obsession with Investigation Discovery is just a phase and that I’ll soon tire of the programming. Once real TV is back and I’m out of whatever funk that I’ve been in lately, I’ll probably only watch these shows occasionally. That being said, I do have high hopes for a series that is coming back to the channel in July – Evil Kin. I’m not even positive what this show is about (I have my theories), but the commercials are pretty scary and immediately caught my eye. And it’s nice to know that there are true crime shows at my fingertips any time that I want them.

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Live From New York – It’s Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition

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While my main goal in the city Wednesday was to visit the Seinfeld pop-up, I was hopefully that this particular activity wouldn’t consume my entire day. I was prepared to wait on line as long as needed, but I did have some other activities on my agenda that I was hoping to squeeze in: I wanted to finally visit the High Line (beautiful), have a lobster roll at Chelsea Market (always a good idea), sample a sushi burrito (delicious), bring back some cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar (worth walking 16 blocks for) and finally head over the 5th Avenue to check out the newly opened Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition. Amazingly, I was able to accomplish absolutely all of this AND catch an earlier train home. It was a Festivus miracle.

My relationship with Saturday Night Live has ebbed and flowed over the years; right now we’re in an ebb period where I rarely even watch the show (unless the guest is The Rock, Louis CK or Justin Timberlake), but in the 1990s and early 2000s SNL was definitely appointment TV for me. Now I’m more likely to watch a clip or two online rather than a whole episode, but I still have an affinity for the show in my heart – especially those casts from my high school and college years – and getting a ticket to see it performed live is a holy grail that I’ve been chasing for years. I’m always interested in behind the scenes info and though I think the quality of the show right now is not as high as it used to be, I am always blown away by the fact that this show is done from cradle to grave in one week every week. That’s mind blowing when you really think about it. So my interest was definitely piqued when this exhibition opened last month and while I wasn’t sure what I would actually get out of it, I was looking forward to learning more about the show and its process.

The exhibition is set up to walk you through a typical week in the life of SNL – from the writing to the pitches to costuming, set design and make-up to rehearsal, re-writes and the final show. Each day has a milestone that needs to be accomplished and while the exhibition provides a clearer template for how the show is created, it is also full of memorabilia and interviews from cast and crew to full flush out the development of an episode week to week, as well as some historical context of SNL in the larger world of comedy. Because it was a Wednesday in the middle of the day, the exhibition was pretty empty which meant that I could really take my time and read all of the placards and watch all the videos without feeling rushed. I found the whole thing really interesting and even though I’ve seen many of the clips that they show many, many times before, I would still stand there and laugh until they had cycled through. Apparently the eras of the show that I like the most are generally the most popular as most of the costuming and video clips used were from this time period, though there was of course some special attention paid to the early days of the show.

Lorne Michaels' desk - notable because he has the same Paul O'Neill bobblehead that I do.

Lorne Michaels’ desk – notable because he has the same Paul O’Neill bobblehead that I do.

The Killer Bees - SNL's first recurring characters

The Killer Bees – SNL’s first recurring characters

Nick the Lounge Singer's jacket

Nick the Lounge Singer’s jacket

The Land Shark

The Land Shark

Buckwheat costume

Buckwheat costume

Mister Robinson's Neighborhood

Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood

Stuart Smalley costume

Stuart Smalley costume

Tentative schedule for the show - note that this is from the recent episode that The Rock hosted

Tentative schedule for the show – note that this is from the recent episode that The Rock hosted

The Church Lady costume - isn't that special?

The Church Lady costume – isn’t that special?

Wayne's World! Party Time! Excellent!

Wayne’s World! Party Time! Excellent!

From SNL 40th

From SNL 40th

Celebrity Jeopardy!

Celebrity Jeopardy!

Turd Ferguson (aka Burt Reynolds)

Turd Ferguson (aka Burt Reynolds)

Dooneese (I don't think that I ever knew this character's name)

Dooneese (I don’t think that I ever knew this character’s name)

Conehead prosthetic

Conehead prosthetic

Goat Boy

Goat Boy

Dick in a Box

Dick in a Box

Products from commercial parodies

Products from commercial parodies

King Tut costume - my first memory of SNL

King Tut costume – my first memory of SNL

Spartan cheerleaders

Spartan cheerleaders

Stefon

Stefon

Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton

Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton

Matt Foley

Matt Foley

Mary Katherine Gallagher

Mary Katherine Gallagher

Opera Man

Opera Man

I just loved this old photo of Jim Belushi and Gilda Radner

I just loved this old photo of Jim Belushi and Gilda Radner

Night at the Roxbury

Night at the Roxbury

SNL Stage

SNL Stage

Jimmy Fallon's photo from the wall of head shots of all cast members. His hair cut is terrible.

Jimmy Fallon’s photo from the wall of head shots of all cast members. His hair cut is terrible.

I was surprised at how much that I learned about SNL and I really got a kick out of seeing all the costumes – especially Wayne’s World, which was one of my all-time favorites. The exhibition does an excellent job of highlighting the people that aren’t in the spotlight – like the crew that designs and builds all the sets and the makeup and wardrobe people – but are essential to the show’s success week in and week out. As someone who fancies herself a writer, it was also nice to get the insight from current and former head writers about their process. The exhibition also walks you through what it’s like to sit in the control room during the show and ends with a (brief) simulated show where you get to see what is happening on the other stages during sketches (I had no idea that the seats on the floor are on a swivel). All in all, it was both an educational experience and a trip down memory lane of some of my favorite moments from the show. I’m glad that I was able to squeeze it in – anyone that’s a fan of SNL should try and check it out.

Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition is located at 417 5th Ave, New York, NY 10016.

What’s The Deal With the Seinfeld Pop-Up Apartment?

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So yesterday I went to New York City…..yada yada yada……I met the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.

I suppose that needs further explanation…..let me start at the beginning. If you know me, even a little bit at all, there are two things that you realize almost immediately: I love the New York Yankees and I love Seinfeld. I’m not a person that necessarily wears her passions on her sleeve – there are plenty of other things that I’m pretty fervent about – but when it comes to these two things, you’ll probably figure out my unbridled enthusiasm pretty quickly. Seinfeld is my favorite TV comedy of all time: Arrested Development comes pretty close, but my love for Seinfeld just runs too deep.

I started watching Seinfeld back when I was in high school and instantly fell in love with it. This posed something of an issue for me when I went away to college, since my freshman year our dorm rooms did not have cable (those were dark times; we had dial up Internet as well). There was one TV in the lounge that did have cable, but it was a battle between 4 floors of students to see who would gain control and dictate what everyone would be forced to watch. If that happened now, we’d all be watching Seinfeld because I would have no problem making sure that happened, but back then I was much shyer and quieter and not nearly aggressive enough to make the group bend to my will. So my wonderful family came up with a solution – they would record episodes of Seinfeld on VHS (I’m old) and then when the tape was full, send if off to me to watch on my roommates VCR. Seinfeld was in syndication by this point and episodes aired daily, so the tapes willed up pretty quickly. The main responsibility for this task fell to my younger brother, who took to it with gusto; not only did he keep track of which episodes I already had, but he also would pause the recording during commercials to allow more episodes to fit on each tape. This is singly the nicest thing that he has ever done for me, and I do not mean that sarcastically. It was really thoughtful, especially since given our age gap and different genders, we weren’t necessarily all that close. Seinfeld brings families together. This meant that I had a seemingly endless collection of Seinfeld episodes at my disposal and those tapes were on a near constant loop in our dorm room; it was a rare occasion to walk in our room and not have Seinfeld running in the background. Mad props to my freshman roomie Jenn, who tolerated this even though I don’t really think she was a huge fan of the show. She probably knows more about Seinfeld than she ever wanted to. These tapes also made me pretty popular with the boy’s floor downstairs, which wasn’t a bad side effect at all. 🙂

By sophomore year, the powers that be got their act together and cable was readily available in all the dorms, so I took over primary responsibility for taping the show. By the time the show ended when I graduated college, I had accumulated every Seinfeld episode ever on a series of VHS tapes that were beginning to show the signs of wear and tear after being almost continually played for several years. Of course, when the series came out on DVD I purchased it, but I had a sentimental attachment to those tapes and only finally got rid of them four years ago when I moved. They were really falling apart by then from complete overuse, but it was still a tough thing to throw them away. Because of them, I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld probably close to 100 times. I don’t get obsessed over a lot of things, but when I do I fully commit.

So when Hulu announced that they were recreating the iconic set of Jerry’s apartment in NYC to celebrate the website’s deal to stream the series, there was no doubt in my mind that I was making the pilgrimage. I had enjoyed the Friends pop-up a lot last fall and I had a fraction of the attachment to that show that I do to Seinfeld. Since the exhibit was only open for five days, I resolved to be there the day that is opened to make sure that I didn’t miss out. I took the day off, boarded a 6:55 am train to Penn Station, ready to fulfill my destiny.

The pop-up opened at 10 am and I thought it wise to be there as close to the time it opened as possible. There were really long lines for the Friends café and I suspected that the Seinfeld exhibit was going to be even more popular, especially since it was open for a much shorter period of time. Though Jerry’s apartment on the show was on the Upper East Side, the pop up was in Chelsea, which was fine with me since that is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. I got in line about 20 minutes before 10 and was probably one of the first 50-75 people in line, which I felt pretty good about. I had other things that I had hoped to squeeze in for this visit, but if I wound up standing in line all day I was ready to do that too. And then the waiting began. Since I was one of the first 200 people in line, I received a gift card for free Hulu and a box of Junior Mints.

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Because the apartment set is relatively small, only a few number of people can be in there at one time to allow visitors the chance to look around and take pictures without it being a complete clusterf*ck. This is great, as you get the chance to really look around and not be jammed in there like sardines, but it also means that the line moves very, very slowly. It was almost 45 minutes before I even made it inside the building – only to discover that there was another line to actually get into the apartment. The rest of the space had memorabilia from the show, but I wisely thought it was a better plan to hop right onto the line to get into the apartment. I could see the rest of the stuff later, but the less time that I had until I was actually inside Jerry’s apartment the better. I patiently got in line and continued to wait.

They only let about five people into the apartment at a time, so I had been waiting for well over an hour before I finally got my turn. Before you enter the apartment the staff ask if you want to make a “Kramer entrance,” which they will videotape for you on your phone. As much as I love Seinfeld, I also love not making a fool out of myself so I opted not to do that. I wasn’t even really sure that I could pull it off without practice and that’s not something that I had trained to do. But it didn’t matter…..it was finally my turn to go in. As I opened the door, I had one thought: “this is real and it’s spectacular.”

It was totally a surreal experience because it really felt like Jerry’s apartment. They did a fantastic job recreating everything and it felt almost totally authentic – the only detail that they got wrong was that Jerry’s computer was a Mac, not a PC (and yes – I noticed immediately). Otherwise, it was all pretty spot on and thought I did my best to hide it I was pretty overwhelmed by the experience.

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They were trying to hustle people out of there as quickly as possible, but I wasn’t leaving until I got a photo of myself sitting on the couch. I think the smile on my face says it all…..

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As I was leaving the apartment, I was stopped by two people from the Wall Street Journal who were interviewing people about the experience. I didn’t make the final cut of the video – I think I was too dazed by what I had just witnessed to give very good answers – but there was a funny moment when they asked me what my favorite episode was. I said “The Contest” and then they asked me to describe what the episode was about. I had to quickly figure out the best way to say it and came up with “the gang has a contest to see who can go the longest without pleasuring themselves.” The guy interviewing me was impressed with my phrasing. They were also pretty impressed when they asked what part of the city that I was from and I told them that I was from Albany; they actually turned the camera back on to get that answer on tape. I don’t really like to see myself on camera, so I’m totally OK with not making the edit that they posted but it was a cool experience nonetheless.

Now there was time to explore the memorabilia that filled the remainder of the space. It was cool to see so many familiar objects, although there were a couple that I had to really think about what episode they were from. I was particularly impressed with the Festivus pole.

 

George's Frogger arcade game

George’s Frogger arcade game

Their booth from Monk's

Their booth from Monk’s

Jerry's Superman statue

Jerry’s Superman statue

Bachman pretzel container

Bachman pretzel container

Happy Face Oven Mitt

Happy Face Oven Mitt

Puddy's Devils Jersey

Puddy’s Devils Jersey

George's pyramid

George’s pyramid

The Maestro's wand

The Maestro’s wand

 

Jerry's copy of Tropic of Cancer

Jerry’s copy of Tropic of Cancer

George's photobomb

George’s photobomb

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Festivus Pole

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In the corner, there was yet another surprise – the actor that played the Soup Nazi was standing there for you to have your picture taken with. It was kind of out of the way – you couldn’t see him when you first entered the building – so the line wasn’t that long as most people were still waiting to see the apartment. That was an unexpected treat.

 

No soup for you!

No soup for you!

And with that, my Seinfeld experience was over. I finally left the building around 11:30 and by the time I went outside the line had grown significantly longer. The line actually never seemed to dissipate throughout the day, so I was very happy with my decision to get there early. It was a really awesome experience that really only could have been improved upon if I got to meet Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander or Michael Richards. An amazing and memorable day.

The Seinfeld pop-up is located at 451 West 14th Street through June 28. It is open daily from 10 am t0 7 pm.