27 June 2016

TV Top 9: MTV VJs

In celebration (in mourning?) of TRL's last episode today, we have for you the top 9 MTV VJs. PS - does everyone remember when TRL was just Carson Daly was in a candlelit room counting down 5 videos, and Hanson's "Weird" was often number 1?

9. Jesse Camp

Didn't we all think we could be a MTV VJ at some point? And didn't we all kind of want to try out for Wanna be a VJ? But instead we just watched the special on our couch mumbling to ourselves how we were so much better than all those contestants. Or was that just me? Anyway…I kind of assumed that once they chose a winner he/she would slowly disappear into the background only occasionally reappearing to remind us that they existed. But the instant that 6'4", moppy haired, tattered clothed, word slurring genius of a man Jesse Camp walked on stage I was smitten. Sure we later found out he might have cheated to win, and his entire personality was a total farce – but really, did any of us care? Every awkward conversation, every confused guest, every tug of that hair made me fall even farther in love. Eventually he was pretty much pushed from the channel like everything else entertaining, but I'll always remember that one random video he made with his band 8th Street Kidz…if only I could remember what it was called.

8. Ananda Lewis

With a name that means "ultimate bliss" in Sanskrit, how could you NOT have a smooth sultry voice and the ability to make it seem like you're everybody's best friend. Okay, so when she had her own syndicated talk show, we all saw that she couldn't really pull that whole universal friend schtick off as well as we thought she could, but she could really bring out scandalous moments on Spring Break. And we can all thank Lewis for providing excellent TRL counterprogramming with The Hot Zone.

7. Daisy Fuentes

Two words: Beach House! Cuban-born Daisy Fuentes was a major face of MTV (and its Latin American subsidiaries) in the 90s. And I loved joining her at the MTV Beach House each and every summer (particularly when she was joined by Pauly Shore—they clearly despised each other, but it was great fun to watch). I would sit for hours watching Sandblast—my favorite show the network ever aired—The Grind, and all the delicious live performances. And for a few moments every hour, Fuentes would brighten my summer days by introducing a video, or a performance, or an interview. Country Time and Gusher-infused memories aside, Fuentes was a "quality" VJ: nice, gorgeous, and fun as all get-out; when she would start to mix little Spanish phrases into her English-language interviews, I'd nearly lose my mind. Ah, summers of doing nothing but watching MTV and Daisy Fuentes, where have you gone? Growing up bites.

6. Carson Daly

He was the first, he was the best, he was Carson Daly. I remember a time when the show was just called Total Request and consisted of Daly sitting alone in a badly lit room on an ugly sofa showing music videos. How far we've come. From his ever changing inflections (wasn't it amazing how he suddenly became totally thugged out when a rapper was on?) to the most awkward interview ever (see: American Pie cast interview literally right after his failed engagement to Tara Reid) to his oft publicized, always unbelievable relationships (again, see: failed Tara Reid engagement) Daly was the everyman of TRL. He was cute but not threatening, funny but still kinda lame and most importantly he was my VJ and once he left it was the end of the era. Those kids don't know what they're missing.

5. Kennedy

The glasses! We all know the reason Kennedy is making this list is her glasses...and her acerbic wit. Known for her shoeless (but black-socked) galavanting around the MTV studios, Kennedy hosted Alternative Nation and fellated a microphone while interviewing Rudy Giuliani. Too bad she's a staunch conservative (just a Rudy-hater) or else she may have ranked higher. hmpf.

4. Nina Blackwood

One of the original 5 MTV VJ's to premiere with the network in 1981, Nina Blackwood exemplified eighties, rock-girl sheik. With her heavy eyeliner, wild hair, thick lipstick, and New Wave clothes, Blackwood strutted her stuff on the network for five years. She was the first host of 120 Minutes, a spunky alternative to "America's Sweetheart" blah VJ Martha Quinn, and was arguably the most knowledgeable of all the initial VJ's. Without Nina, MTV in its earliest incarnation would have been without edge. And without Nina, there would be no Downtown Julie Brown (wubba wubba wubba!), no Julie Brown (sans Downtown), no Pauly Shore, and no Kennedy; in other words, the last quarter century would have truly sucked.

3. Dave Holmes

An encyclopedic knowledge of all things music. A natural ability to shoot the shit while a camera sits in front of him. Instant chemistry with any co-host you put in front of him. Not to mention the ability to learn the dance to Britney Spears "Sometimes" with Britney and world-class Britney dance team member, TJ (am I the only one who remembers TJ...and this moment?). Too bad he's been relegated to hosting Dinner and a Movie. Such waste of talent. Say What Karaoke (when Holmes hosted) may perhaps be the most entertaining music-themed programming MTV has ever produced.

2. Riki Rachtman

Though many viewers decried Headbangers Ball's original host transition from Adam Curry (who I always found incredibly boring) to Riki Rachtman (who, though obnoxiously self-aggrandizing and star-fucker-ish, had genuine chemistry and amazing knowledge of music), Rachtman took the bull by the horns and was one of my best friends in the 90s, assisting the program in a rather abrupt transition from hair metal bands to alternative metal to all-out hardcore's popularity. Rachtman's Headbangers stint—from 1990-1995—encompasses my early teenage years and obsession with heavy metal. White Zombie, Slayer, Guns N' Roses; you name 'em, I love 'em. In fact, my obsession with the Ball in my teen years—my family had only recently signed up for cable—led my mother to storm into my room late one evening and shout, "we did not get cable so you would do nothing but watch this crap!" Thanks, Riki. Thanks.

1. Matt Pinfield

Of all the VJ's that graced MTV the only one I ever really respected was Matt Pinfield. Before the era when all a VJ needed to do was read a few monosyllabic words and look pretty in tight jeans we had Pinfield – the true music nerd. He had an unending supply of music knowledge that both confused and intrigued me. MTV even created a special segment on TRL called Stump Matt, which is pretty much self explanatory. Starting out on 120 Minutes (remember those days when MTV played videos, straight, for hours) and moving through almost every MTV show, good and bad (I'll excuse him for the Say What years), Pinfield eventually left the channel and became VP of A&R for Columbia and was honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year for his accomplishments – now there's a personality MTV can be proud of. Damien who?

-- bryce, arielle, and dana c. gravesen
Dana's blog can be found at http://714delawarestreet.blogspot.com/

TV Top 9: Best Decisions by Friends Stars

With the trash that is Marley & Me and Bedtime Stories, starring Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox respectively, opening up tomorrow, Christmas Day, we at the blahg answer the question on everyone's mind: What were the best career choices the Friends stars ever made after their too many...er...I mean 10 season on the show that never ended?

9. Lisa Kudrow in Analyze This and Analyze That

Lisa Kudrow proved that she could be more than the butt of every joke with her turn opposite Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal in Analyze This and Analyze That. All the while knowing that these films weren't her show, she proved she was more than an actress adept at the out-of-left-field schizophrenic punchline. Billy Crystal being more serious than usual, DeNiro being funnier than usual, Kudrow keeping them in check.

8. David Schwimmer in Duane Hopwood

So maybe Schwimfan got more props for Band of Brothers on HBO, but this terribly overlooked 2005 film features a performance by Davey as an alcoholic casino worker in Atlantic City that more than eclipses any of his work before or since. And the rest of the film isn't too bad either: (the amazing actress and comedian) Janeane Garofalo costars as Hopwood's distressed wife, and there are numerous scenes of raw power here. It's too bad mainstream audiences passed up this gem, because the cutest of the Friends men (yeah, I said it—and I mean it) really proved his worth here.

7. Courteney Cox in Dirt

I'll just come right and say it – I only started watching this show because I was in a hotel room with free cable and there was a marathon. When I saw the first promos for Dirt, my first question was "What is the Friends castoff doing now?" And on FX nonetheless. So I ignored it. Until that one fateful weekend full of channel surfing when nothing else was on and I happened to stumble on the show during a coke-fueled lesbian sex scene. Yeah, I know I was shocked too. Obviously I gave it a shot and once the disturbing sort-of-rape-scene was over and the real plot took over I was completely hooked. It was sex, lies, and videotape for the 21st Century combined with some excellent writing. Apparently too excellent – as of June this year Cox announced that the show was canceled. And believe me those crazy lesbians will be missed.

6. Matt LeBlanc in Lost in Space

So, let's face it: LeBlanc's decision to star in Lost in Space didn't really help his career (the last thing poor Matthew acted in was the Friends spinoff Joey, which ended way back in 2006). I mean, who would have thought that even the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Predator 2 could have churned out the dreck that is Lost in Space. But, contextually, I understand LeBlanc's strategy: work with William Hurt and Gary Oldman, star in a film based on a fabulous TV show, and knock that goddamn boat movie out of the number one box office position. OK, OK, LeBlanc couldn't have known at the time that Lost in Space would be the first film to boot Titanic out of the number one spot after six million weeks (15, really) in 1998, but it did. And for that reason, I commend his decision.

5. Lisa Kudrow in Happy Endings

Lisa Kudrow is the smartest Friend. No, really. In spite of the drippy character she played on that "Hi, I've long overstayed my welcome (and never really had a welcome to be proud of)" series, Kudrow has proven herself an amazing actress time and time again. Kudrow may not be richest, but she's the smartest (and by smartest I mean "most talented"). While J. Ani and C. Cox might rake it in with tragically awful romantic comedies and tired horror sequels (or more tragically awful romantic comedies), Lisa Kudrow—most often in the company of director Don Roos—continues to spread her acting wings and fly away home. In Happy Endings—another overlooked 2005 film, hello!--Kudrow stars (alongside an amazing cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Coogan, and a surprisingly deep Tom Arnold) as Mamie, a fairly uptight individual who has suffered many things and gets blackmailed for all the wrong reasons. And that's just the beginning of this amazing film. Interestingly, with all the other flamboyant performances that surround her, Kudrow's performance keeps this film from falling apart.

4. Matthew Perry in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Matthew Perry proves he can act and his agent proves Matt can get a true acting gig. Matt plays Matt Albie, half of a well-respected but problem-riddled comedy writing duo with Bradley Whitford's Danny Tripp. The two are charged to rescue a sketch comedy television show from trash television status. Created and produced by Aaron Sorkin, the show was too smart, too cynical, too self-aware of the mind-numbing effects of television. Though it debuted with 30 Rock, a show with a similar concept, absurd satire is easier to stomach than the hard-hitting kind. However, with this performance, Matt showed he could work through his own inner demons, playing a man who, like himself, suffered from an addiction to pain killers.

3. David Schwimmer on 30 Rock

Out of all the annoying cast members on Friends I would say that Mr. Schwimmer was always my least favorite. He was goofy looking, his voice was a little too high pitched, his reactions were always completely overdone, and to be honest I never believed he could tap Jennifer Aniston. But it took one small guest role to change all that. His turn on 30 Rock as Greenzo, the NBC's environmental mascot, was one of the show's most memorable characters and that's saying a lot from a series that's had the likes of Steve Martin, Matthew Broderick, and LL Cool J (my second favorite, Ridikolous!) grace its stage. His delivery was dry and on point, and even though he was playing a mostly unlikable character (like he did less successfully in HBO's Band of Brothers) he still managed to make me want to see more.

2. Lisa Kudrow in The Opposite of Sex

Kudrow may have made a name for herself as ditzy, hippie Phoebe Buffay (and before that as the same character (literally) in Mad About You), the role that convinced me the woman could actually act was Lucia DeLury in The Opposite of Sex. While Christina Ricci may have been the real star of the film, Kudrow stole any scene she was in. Watching her as an uptight fag hag is something that should not be missed. If only because it is so far from what she played in Friends, yet totally believable. The business suits and her hair pulled back into a tight bun are enough of a shock on their own, but the dead panned one-liners seal the deal.

1. Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl

In The Good Girl, Aniston plays opposite the always adorable and maybe even hunkish Jake Gyllenhaal as Holden Worther, a Holden-Caufield-stockboy working at the same discount retail store she works at. Aniston puts on a subdued performance as Justine Last, a woman in a young marriage in a life chock full of banality. In one of the most gorgeous awkward onscreen romances, the film wonders with Justine what exactly is the right course for a life to take -- the safe mundane loving track or the bipolar passionate one. By God, watch this movie and see which one they both choose.

-- bryce, arielle, and dana c. gravesen
Dana's blog can be found at http://714delawarestreet.blogspot.com/

TV Top 9: Judges

It's summertime, and as I spend most of my days before 3 PM within the confines of my apartment, I've taken to courtroom TV shows. No, I'm not ashamed. Though I don't think you should refer to any of these shows for legal counsel, I'm taking to the blahg to name the top 9 TV judges of all time with a little help from Arielle and Dana! -- bryce

9. Judge Elizabeth Donnelly (Law & Order: SVU)

There have been plenty of judges on the many incarnations of Law and Order throughout the years but few have made the same impression as Judith Light's Judge Elizabeth Donnelly. Maybe there was something exciting about seeing Angela Bower reincarnated as an attractive, older judge, but the episodes where Judge Donnelly presided are the ones I tend to remember. She's lied to detectives about issuing a warrant in order to convict a child molester. She's stepped in for the D.A. and argued cases on the other side of the bench. And, most importantly, she's shown the difficulties of being a female judge. She was recently poisoned by a CSI intern gone insane, but we SVU fanatics expect her to make a full recovery in time for the next season.

8. Judge Mills Lane
Triply eligible for this list of TV judges, Mills Lane is both an iconic boxing referee and a (maybe forgettable) courtroom TV judge. After throwing Mike Tyson out of the highly publicized Tyson-Holyfield fight in 1997, Mills Bee Lane III hosted Judge Mills Lane for three seasons in syndication. Known for his stuttering stupefying utterances, Lane was fair but impatient. Though Lane also voiced the referee for Celebrity Death Match, he needed to stop after a stroke paralyzed him in 2002. All in all, the best judging Lane possibly did was what contracts to sign, as he seemed to get more of his fifteen minutes than a referee should possibly get.

7. Judge Zoey Hiller (The Practice)

One-of-a-kind Academy Award-winning actress Linda Hunt brought cache and originality to her role as Judge Zoey Hiller on David E. Kelley's preposterous (most of the time) legal drama The Practice. Whenever Judge Hiller was featured in an episode, excellent dialogue between the main characters, surprising conflicts, and the most interesting cases were sure to follow. With a panache for keeping the kooky lawyers of Robert Donnell and Associates in check with biting, sarcastic (but legally binding) comments, Judge Hiller usually ended up (often begrudgingly) siding with their arguments. Many of the show's cases were morally problematic and many of the characters' dilemmas controversial, and Judge Hiller was the perfect foil. One of the great secondary television characters in primetime drama's history.

6. Judge Mablean Ephriam (Divorce Court)

Though she never served as a judge in the "real world," Judge Mablean Ephriam was the presiding "judge" of Divorce Court where she, more often than not, sat flabbergasted at the feuding wife and husband in front of her. She demanded too much $$ for hair, make-up, and her salary, and her contract was not renewed. Lynn Toler, a former judge, took over, and ratings plummeted. (Could that be because they're now pulling stunts like "Before the Vows" week? Huh?! I recently watched an episode of a married couple who, after the episode, wasn't sure whether they were going to get divorced afterwards.) This shouldn't affect her standings on this list but she did star in many a Tyler Perry film a-judging Madea.

5. Judge Joseph Wapner (The People's Court)

The man who brought small-claims court to the small screen deserves a spot somewhere on this list right? Sure! Judge Joseph Wapner, though a Hollywood High School graduate, was certainly not as full of panache as she-who-solidified-the-trend Judge Judy but his trailblazing efforts gained him twelve years behind The People's Court bench and two seasons on a worthless little Animal Planet show called Judge Wapner's Animal Court.

4. Judge Penny Brown Reynolds (Family Court with Judge Penny)

New to the courtroom TV show game, Judge Penny Brown Reynolds is from the same Atlanta court system as Nancy Grace and Judge Hatchett. Like her two famous colleagues, her compassion is more important than her verdict. Reynolds is the most level-headed of her Atlanta cohorts. Though all three focus on children and families, Judge Penny is the first to name her show after the people she is trying to help. You could call this "practicing what she preaches," because Reynolds is a recently ordained Baptist priest. Come August, I wouldn't be surprised if Judge Reynolds takes away the second-ever Courtroom TV show Emmy.

3. Judge Marilyn Milian (The People's Court)

For the last eight years, Judge Marilyn Milian has presided over The People's Court. When insanely popular Judge Joseph Albert Wapner resigned the post he'd held for twelve years, there was little positive buzz that any replacement could retain the show's momentum (and a couple interim judges did indeed fail pretty miserably); however, Judge Milian blew away audiences right from the get-go in 2001. Though (unfortunately) often overshadowed in the press by Judge Judy Sheindlin of Judge Judy (whose husband is, coincidentally, one of the failed hosts of the revamped People's Court), Judge Milian is notorious for having the hardest edge of any judge on daytime television--and for occasionally flipping out. She never misses a beat: under her reign the program has been nominated for two Daytime Emmys. Oh, and she was on As the World Turns--bonus!

2. Judge Harry T. Stone (Night Court)

One of the most popular American sitcoms of the eighties and early nineties (remember when NBC had it in the bag for three decades?), Night Court featured a cast of incredibly talented character actors (namely John Larroquette in his career-making and unforgettable role as well as Markie Post as his foil) anchored by Harry Anderson's "straight" Judge Harry Stone. But "straight" is such a relative term, isn't it (wink, wink)? Harry was a Mel Torme fan, a prankster, a magician, and (most importantly) fairly frustrated by his job and coworkers; a fine and "time served" was his tpyical sentence for criminals dragged into all-night proceedings in downtown Manhattan. Anyway, sincere and genuinely funny, Judge Stone was an interesting and original character at a time when there were too many Sam Malones on television.

1. Judge Judy
She's loud, she's sassy, and since her premiere in 1996 she's been the top rated TV judge. With eleven Daytime Emmy nominations under her belt, it's no wonder that Judge Judy has been renewed for a seventeenth season. Her attitude made take notice (anyone that gets joy out of embarrassing people in front of 10 million people is alright with me) but her catchphrases aka "Judyisms" are what made her a household favorite. And, lest we forget, behind every loud mouthed judge there must be a straight man bailiff and it doesn't get any better than Petri Hawkins-Byrd, Judy's loyal bailiff since the show's inception. Her one liners are golden but watching her make the ever stoic Hawkins-Byrd crack up makes them all the better.

-- bryce, arielle, and dana c. gravesen

TV Top 9: Nicktoons

This week, we celebrated the 10th birthday of Spongebob Squarepants, which has led us to reminisce on the greatest Nicktoons of all of time.

9. The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius was Nickelodeon's first fully computer-generated animated program and exemplified a lovely attribute of former Nicktoons productions: a focus on characters who are smart, outside the norm, and love to create. Jimmy Neutron featured the title character, an eleven-year-old inventor and resident of Retroville, his family, and his friends (including Goddard, Carl Wheezer, and Jimmy's rival and almost-girlfriend Cindy Vortex) as they cope with life, grade school, and annoyed Retroville residents (who are somehow always negatively-affected by Jimmy's less successful inventions). Fantastic animation, great pacing, and fun, frisky dialogue combined to turn this cartoon into a marketing juggernaut: Jimmy and friends were featured in commercials for cars, public service announcements, oodles of merchandise and, most notably, the Academy Award-nominated and incredibly fun feature film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

8. Hey Arnold!
"Move it football head!" yells perpetually playing hard-to-get Helga at the end of the opening sequence to Hey Arnold! Arnold, whose last name seems to be Shortman, may go down in animated record books as being the only main character to be voiced by five different voice actors. The whiny pre-teen, who lives with his wise but discombobulated grandparents in a city, Hillwood, that resembles New York but also stole some attributes from Portland and Seattle, is apparently an easy voice to replicate. The series originally started as a comic strip by Craig Bartlett, published by Matt Groenig. It was adapted first as a series of claymation shorts, and spent five seasons on Nickelodeon, as a child's introduction to the streets.

7. Aaahh!!! Real Monsters

Before there was Monsters, Inc., there was another monster training ground. Aaahh!!! Real Monsters had a run on Nickelodeon from 1994-1999. Featuring the voice of Rugrats' Chuckie as Oblina and some really great guest voices, Jim Belushi, Bronson Pinchot, and Tim Curry, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters is the best glimpse at sewer life since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The creators at Klasky Csupo were imaginative in their conception of the elflike growable Ickis, the candy-cane striped ever-hidable Oblina and Krumm, who held his eyes above his head. As Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm made their way through their monster school, we were enthralled with their scaring adventures.

6. The Ren & Stimpy Show
Considered one of the dirtiest cartoons to ever be marketed to children, The Ren & Stimpy Show broke more barriers than most live action shows on at the same time. Based around the adventures of a fat, "brain-damaged" cat and possibly Mexican, ill-tempered dog most of the shows were a half hour of violence, farts, phlegm and sexual innuendos. But the most memorable moments from the show were probably the fake commercials stuck in between the show's segments. Because who wouldn't want a log? It's big, it's heavy, it's wood!

5. Fairly Odd Parents
Nobody likes little Timmy Turner. His parents are never home. And his teenage babysitter is a bitch. All is going down the tubes until one day Timmy's fairy godparents show up and really just spin his world upside down. You see, the fairly odd-parents will grant Timmy any wish he wants, but sometimes Timmy gets a bit too overzealous and the wish needs to be taken back. Craziness ensues when a bulky Terminator-like fairy seeks to ruin Timmy and Timmy's teacher is keen on discovering his fairies. Now in its 6th season, Fairly Odd Parents has culled some amazing voice talent like Tom Arnold, Ben Stein, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Irwin. The fantastical world of Timmy's imaginat--err..godparent's is a treat for the young and old alike.

4. Spongebob Squarepants
Spongebob made me believe in cartoons again. In a sea of identical anime shows crowding the air waves, Spongebob was a breath of fresh air. From its quirky yet catchy theme song to it's use of live action puppets when the characters left the water - Spongebob was unlike any other show on TV when it first premiered and it seems to only have improved with age. And having evangelical groups protest the show for possibly promoting homosexual behavior only made the characters that much more lovable.

3. Rocko's Modern Life
Rocko's Modern Life taught us many things - what a wallaby was, that a cow could be raised by wolves and accepted as one of their own, that the inside of a turtle's shell is actually the size of a house and that any cartoon that spoofs The Shining will automatically become a classic. It's smarter than usual story lines (see reference to The Shining), off kilter animation style (nothing was ever drawn quite right on the show) and the fact that Rocko worked in a comic book store made me love this cartoon even if I didn't always understand what was going on. Like most cartoons from the '90's Rocko's Modern Life deserves a second watch through if only to catch all the dirty jokes you didn't get the first time.

2. Rugrats
Disney Channel programs weren't always the “be all/end all” of tweendom: in 1991 Nickelodeon debuted the Klasky/Csupo/Germain animated series Rugrats (along with Ren & Stimpy and Doug) to great acclaim—and created a miniature phenomenon in the process. Rugrats featured the misadventures of babies Tommy, Chuckie, Angelica, Lil, Phil, Dil, Kimi, and Susie as well as their families. Still the longest-running program in Nicktoons history (14 years),Rugrats lasted 172 episodes; only “Nicktoon” Spongebob Squarepants, currently on episode 173 in its tenth year, has surpassed it. Rugrats also spun-off two massive hit films (and a third box office dud crossover film with The Wild Thornberrys) and a number of highly-rated television specials and direct-to-video features, spawned any number of branded products, and was rewarded with its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The show's style and humor has never been matched by another Nickelodeon program; truly original, colorfully animated with what look like magic markers, and as popular with adults and parents as it was with children, Rugrats discreetly brought life's misgivings, religion, race, and social issues to the kiddy sphere.

1. Doug
Even with some of the best animated characters ever (and character names: Doug Funnie, Porkchop, Skeeter Valentine and Patti Mayonnaise included), the real stars of Nickelodeon's Doug were Doug Funnie's imagination and heart. Created by Jim Jinkins, the show (particularly while aired on Nickelodeon and not Disney) was about how Doug couldn't be classified; Doug was Doug and that was just fine. He was a bit nebbish, clumsy, and somewhat unpopular, but Doug knew who and what he liked, and he used his diary and imagination to make his dreams as real as possible. Never a runaway hit or a merchandising darling along the lines of SpongeBob Squarepants or Rugrats, Disney's Doug did make it to the big screen arena in 1999 with Doug's First Movie and Doug was featured in a video game and quite a few books. Still a cult favorite in syndication, call it “Daria Light” if you like and call us if they start airing new episodes.

-- bryce, arielle, and dana c. gravesen

23 February 2012

Giving Queer Programming a Reason for Being: Notes on Wildness

As a queer film programmer in the twenty-first century, I am constantly asked if what I'm doing is needed anymore.  I am also advised by many to get myself out of a sort of career gay ghetto.  Identity politics -- the power of the illusion a homogeneous population of minorities (gays, blacks, the disabled) -- is on its last legs.  And identity politics framed as such, apparently, are the only way of seeing things like lesbian & gay/LGBT/queer film festivals.  As my slashed list of adjectives reminds us, the nomenclature of a bygone era sometimes is still stuck to these institutions.  These vestigial adjectives are evidence for all too many people that what I have done for NewFest for the past four years -- and what I intend to do for a good many more -- is no longer en vogue, irrelevant even.

There are two common defenses for what NewFest is doing, and, in fact, these excuses are very nineties themselves:

Some insist that we still haven't hit the mainstream.  They are obsessed with LGBT folk entering into the media mainstream.  While I have no qualms with the accusation that Hollywood and all of the culture industries are overwhelmingly dominated (still!?!) by straight white dudes, I'm unsure of what to do with the proliferation of Ryan Murphy products on my television, the availability of Almodovar films, the adaptations of Jeannette Winterson novels, the fanaticism around Drag Race.  All these things -- diverse and (sometimes) lovely as these things may be -- don't really excite me.  Some out and proud queer is on the cover of a magazine?  Great.  But are we ever really happy?  When have we achieved the threshold of proper representation?  Is this a quantitative or qualitative question?  The fact is we can't measure this in any useful way.  We are bound to be disappointed until we reach a point where being queer becomes irrelevant.

Others insist that queer arts organizations should show off new ways of being -- that the pleasure in being queer is in being different, being inventive.  If we rely too much on this, any gesture towards "settling down" or "normalizing" is unattractive and potentially isolating within a certain queer context.  Where's the productive, optimistic, communitarian affective power in castigating those who -- darewesay -- fall in love and partner up?

Of course, I have no will to fetishize the normal, but I see no need in fetishizing the queer either.  I also see no need in quantifying our queer media content.  The true value in a queer film festival, for queer arts, for queer culture, for queer pleasure.  Is somewhere in between being visible/seen/acknowledged as part of something and as participating in a set of practices that lies outside of the oppressive.  The majority of us queers, I would think, hope to be both a part of something and individuals.  This is a common set of human desires.


About thirty minutes into Wu Tsang's Wildness I realized I was watching something quite special.  The film tells the story of Wu's participation with some friends in a cosmopolitan young party, Wildness, at Silver Platter, a Latina tranny/lesbian bar in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles.  A group of Latina/o queers dominates Silver Platter for much of the week.  On Tuesdays, Wu and his friends throw Wildness, and the bar's usual clientele integrates with the party's racially diverse crowd, a relatively socioeconomically privileged set of mostly college or college-educated young people.  Wu and his friends define the party with a weekly performance element, and the community the party brings to the bar is interested in respecting the community standards established by the bar's regular clientele.  Wu, though, is self-reflexive from the beginning about his party's intrusion on an established cultural place.

At a certain point, Wu's introspection about the way that his identity as party promoter was intersecting with his identity as young trans Chinese-American dude,  community liaison, community member, and historical documenter struck me and spontaneous tears appeared.

I'm disappointed with my synopsis of the film thus far; a couple decades of queer theory skittishness has made us afraid of the language I have so far used.  It's hard to explain how profoundly important points like the one this film makes can possibly be done in a way that is not over-intellectualized or obfuscated into abstractions.  I can say that the film was able to succeed on these levels only because Wu so clearly lives his life with great humility and respect for a variety of communities -- those which he happens to encounter and those in which he lives.  There is also a profound respect for people.  Period.  

A respect for the human, to my mind, goes much further than any quest for representation GLAAD is pushing for.  And there is no need to imagine an affectively pleasurable queer future; there is already -- albeit ephemeral -- a sense of cross-class, multiethnic, cross-generational community.  These relationships are surely queer in the way we commonly use the word, but they also come easy.  They are obvious to those involved.

All of these possibilities are visible in Wildness:  a diversity of individuals and the communities they form.

Wildness is the most important document of contemporary urban queer life.  It is a work of art -- a work of a community and the temperament and love of the individuals in it.  It is often surprising when the film exits the confines of the Silver Platter, but one understands that the affective exchanges within the bar are so significant only after a number of circumstances that persist outside of the bar prove the strength of the Silver Platter ties.

Luckily, Wildness also documents the end of these feelings; one feels the moments in which the realness is sucked out of the air.  This is lucky because utopias can't persist.  The earthly conditions aren't right for Utopia.  Nearing Utopia and falling back down is an immensely powerful journey, and through a set of storytelling apparatuses that gives viewers access on various registers, including a device that allows the bar to talk in a composite of the voices of its regulars, there are a number of opportunities for viewers to be compelled on this ride.

This is a ride worth taking.  It is a ride worth taking with other queers.  It is ironic, I suppose, that as a queer programmer, I see so many of these sorts of films alone in my living room, twirling my hair and eating Ben & Jerry's.  

Though I arrived to the screening of Wildness alone and left alone, I took great pleasure in seeing it with so many queers I respect and admire, even love.  And though they may be "normalized" in a way (many of them, after all were there with partners/husbands/wives; fuck it, I'm pretty normal in many ways), I became all the more sure there's nothing really wrong with that.  For us queers (and I'll use that term as loosely as you'll let me), various communities intertwine and intersect; we are sure of each other as individual assemblages of feelings and identity and we place great importance in our participation in variously structured communities.

Wu Tsang


All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I'm excited to return to NewFest.  It's a way of saying, too, that I'm of the mind that if you're providing an experience the community wants you don't get questions like "Do we NewFest anymore?"  

There are works of art and structures that support queer art that are thriving today like Wildness once was, and these entities certainly don't need to justify themselves.  I'm thinking here of the Dirty Looks film series, Little Joe magazine, Original Plumbing magazine, Pussy Faggot, MIX Queer Experimental Film Festival, QuORUM-- all organizations that run with the help of a collective spirit, a community of like-minded, invested queers.  

In my case, I've been working for an organization I see potential in.  I've seen NewFest do things I'm really proud of, but it's really not working hard enough to make its purpose self-evident (most notably for the donors that need to financially run an arts organization our size).  I'm nearing the point where going through much more bureaucracy might make it not worth its while.  

NewFest, like Wildness did for Wu, might slip out of my hands because I become indifferent.  I hope that's not for a bit.

04 September 2010

TV Top 9: Beach Bods

After a very exciting summer (that has further contributed to my own absence from this year blog), I am finally going to the beach this Labor Day weekend.  But in an attempt to live like its summer all fall long, we're tackling the top 9 TV beach bods for this summer's TV Top 9.  I'm glad to welcome two guest blahggers -- Dana C. Gravesen, and Linde Murugan -- who have filled the void of my co-blahgger Arielle, who saw this whole vain thing as below her. To that I say -- Let's hit the beach...

9. Dan Cortese (MTV Sports & Veronica's Closet)

In the long list of straight-forward sexy white jock boys, Dan Cortese stands out as the only one to star alongside Kirstie Alley on the small screen. Cortese's turn as Perry in Veronica's Closet allowed him to strip down from time to time as a worker in Veronica "Ronnie" Chase (Kirstie Alley)'s lingerie office. Cortese got his sexy clothing-lite start on MTV as one of the lead correspondents for MTV Sports in the nineties. His talent as a smiley good-looking presenter has landed him recently on the shows Crash Course and Money Hungry.

8. Dana Delany (China Beach)

Sure, China Beach was set during the Vietnam War, only lasted three-and-a-half seasons, and was a medical drama. Not sexy. Not sexy at all. BUT WAIT: Dana Delany's Nurse Colleen managed--despite her strange (even for the late-1980s) hair--to make the beach scenes sizzle (in a red bikini, no less--the characters on Grey's Anatomy could learn a thing or two from China Beach). Delaney found the defining role of her career as McMurphy; Colleen's "everyday woman" appearance, dedication to her job (she stayed in the war even though she was eligible to return home), and straightforward, tough demeanor allowed her to navigate both the forward advances of her colleagues as well as the deep waters of the war. Maybe not altogether sexy, but definitely stellar.

7. Michael Cade (California Dreams)

Surf dudes with attitudes, kinda groovy? You bet! And no one was hotter than Sly. Yes, he may have been the most annoying and sleaziest, but could you say no to this bod? In "The Fashion Man," Sly reveals his six-pack, and the in-studio audience squeals. Furthermore, what makes him worthy of our accolades is that the dude is still a babe after all these years, causing me to squeal a bit, when I saw him on the show's reunion on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. You're not dreaming. He's just that great.

6. The Cast of Reno 911!

While the silly coppers only got the prime opportunity to show off their beach bods when they took to the big screen for Reno 911: Miami, seeing each cop in their perfectly characteristic beach get up in the film reinforced what made the characters so damn lovable. Though their beach bods couldn't save the film, seeing Raineesha (Niecy Nash) in that extra large suit, Clem (Wendi McLendon-Covey) strut her stuff, Lt. Dangle's classic short shorts and Trudy Weigel (Kerri Kenney-Silver) attempt to pad her suit in an attempt to hide her frumpiness, we were reminded what made us fall in love with these characters, who belonged on the TV, in the first place.

5. Sally Field (Gidget)

Though many have played this character in films and tv specials, it was the adorable Field, who will be the best 'gidge' (a nickname her boyfriend Moondoggie gave her). FYI: Gidget = Girl + Midget. Though this equation might not describe the hottest babe, Gidget was the epitome of a beach-ready bod because of her love of surfing. The show presented an active female body, competing with the boys, getting into trouble, but of course staying a "good girl." Still, whatever "proper" version of adolescent femininity ABC was trying to sell in 1965, anyone can appreciate cute-as-a-button Field in some stylin' bikinis, even if she never 'actually' surfed.

4. Zach Morris (Saved by the Bell)

When I wake up in the morning and my clock gives off a warning, I don't think I'll ever make it out on time to see "Cali Dude" Zach Morris shirtless on Saved by the Bell. We all know What'shisface Lopez was the show's "jock" figure, but Gosselaar's Morris was as charming as he was sleazy, and between the bleached blond hair and single eyebrow raises I could barely contain my adolescent hormones when Saved by the Bell debuted HOUR LONG episodes featuring the Bayside gang working at a beach club. Swim wear? Check. Volleyball? Check. Treasure hunts? Check. Leah Remini? Check. Wait wait wait--scratch that last check: that chick needs to get out of my mind's eye so I can go back to thinking about licking zinc off of Zach Morris's nose.

3. Daniel Dae Kim (Lost and Hawaii Five-0)

At the beginning of the Lost episode "What Kate Did," a shirtless Jin emerges from a tent, revealing a gorgeous set of abs and tan skin to a very-impressed audience. Though the scene is a tender moment between Jin and Sun, after being estranged from each other for some episodes, it really solidified Kim as a sex symbol. Though Matthew Fox and Josh Holloway may have fans swooning all over them, they cannot compare to the hotness that Kim brought, and continues to bring to the beach. Check him out this fall in the CBS reboot of the classic Hawaii Five-O. Along with featuring more Asian actors than the show from the late '60s, the O of the original has been substituted with a zero.

2. David Hasselhoff (Baywatch)

The appeal of David Hasselhoff isn't immediately apparent. In fact, I'm not even quite sure it's apparent at all, no matter how much you look for it. But the man with questionable morals and impeccable green screen skills singlehandedly anchored the quintessential sexy beach show, Baywatch. After the show was canceled at the end of its first season, Hasselhoff and a few others got together to save it and allow it to become one of the most watched (maybe the most successful) television shows in the history of the world.

1. Dawn Wells (Gilligan's Island)

Ginger might have been sultry, but think of how many times she reused those same fake eyelashes and wigs on Gilligan's Island—that's an infection waiting to happen! The real beach bombshell of Sherwood Shwartz's mid-1960s megahit about a band of misfit castaways was Dawn Wells as Mary Ann Summers. Kansas-bred Mary Ann was smart, sweet, and gorgeous--a deserted island Dorothy Gale for the ages. Summers brought genuine charm to what could have been a very one-note role. And whenever she donned a swim suit? (Where did they get so many swimsuits??) RAWR.

-- bryce j. renninger, dana c. gravesen, and linde murugan