In the days before DVD/VHS, Netflix and endless online options — back when we had a little sanity left — TV binge watching was confined to weekend basic cable marathons. If you wanted to see all the episodes of a particular show in sequence, this was your sole option. Only the most dedicated souls braved those 24- and 48-hour endurance trials.
I tried it once, years ago, with David Lynch's serial freakout Twin Peaks. Like an idiot I went in without a game plan or any training regimen at all. Amateur move. By Episode 15, "Drive with a Dead Girl," I'd lost feeling below the waist and hadn't blinked in eight hours.
Thanks to DVRs, DVD series collections and Netflix's roster of quality on-demand shows (Arrested Development, Breaking Bad), we have a lot more control over when and what we watch. "Time shifting" is what the media pros call it. For many busy adults, controlled binge watching has become the preferred method of assimilating all the great TV out there.
In fact, I haven't watched a TV series during original broadcast since ABC's Lost wrapped up in 2010. That show left a bad taste when, after four seasons of twisty intrigue, the writers ran out of ideas and started resolving everything with gunfights. Remember when there was exactly one gun on that island, and it was a commodity, and Sawyer used it to shoot that polar bear?
But I digress. I'm here to recommend two recent binge-watching opportunities and another big one on the horizon.
NBC's impossibly reliable comedy 30 Rock wrapped up with its series finale late last month. It was a rather underwhelming end to the series, but it stayed true to creator Tina Fey's singular comic vision. The Season 7 DVD collection won't arrive until March, but meanwhile you can see all previous episodes from seasons one through six by way of Netflix's online video streaming.
It is my great belief that the two most important gifts one can give others are new moments of happiness, and a chance to relive moments of happiness from the past. (I suppose organ donations and tickets out of soul-crushing poverty are good as well, but there’s only so much you can do with a blog post.)
So for the conclusion to my look back at Christmas specials long gone, I decided to look at some deep cuts — some specials not seen in a while, or only half-remembered.
Before I go further, I want to take a moment to give proper respect to A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, two specials that have maintained their reputation for nearly five decades. Indeed, hardly a Christmas goes by without Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy soundtrack for Charlie Brown playing at my family’s house on Christmas Eve.
Why are they so popular, and why have sequels, remakes and whatever that godless Jim Carrey/Ron Howard movie was paled in comparison? It might just be the series of happy accidents that made them come to life — the limitations of TV budgets and schedules.
Charles Schulz was never completely happy with A Charlie Brown Christmas — he thought it looked cheap and the animation was terrible — but getting actual kids to voice his characters, a gentle-yet-moody soundtrack and humor taken directly from his strips gave it an intimate, relatable quality that many Christmas specials lack.
And How The Grinch Stole Christmas was a wonderful alchemy of talents — the whimsy of Dr. Seuss combined with the deadpan of animator Chuck Jones and the dulcet tones of Boris Karloff for the narration. Of course there’s some nice anti-materialism messages in there, but they’re small, simple stories that focus on bringing humor and poignancy to the overwhelming, sometimes frustrating nature of the Christmas season.
All right — so what are some of the other great Christmas specials you haven’t seen in a while?
Let’s do some organizing here.
The Henson Playlist
Jim Henson and the Muppets were wonderful at capturing the lower-scale intimacy of the holidays — 1987’s A Muppet Family Christmas has little plot other than getting as many of the Muppets as possible to Fozzie’s mom’s house for Christmas, and even finds ways to bring in the Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock characters. The special’s been annoyingly edited on DVD, but an unedited version (with original commercials for maximum nostalgia!) is on YouTube. Few things make me smile like Jim Henson’s little cameo at the end.
As a kid, I felt a particular resonance with the Henson-made The Christmas Toy, about a self-absorbed stuffed tiger who discovers his favorite-toy status will likely be eclipsed by the arrival of a new Christmas toy (a Star Wars/Barbie hybrid named “Meteora”) this year. It (briefly) made me question my myopic childhood and tendency to cast older toys away for newer ones; see if it has a similar effect on your own offspring.
For many, a favorite will always be Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, based on a book by Russell Hoban, author of Bedtime for Frances (and the near-incomprehensible post-apocalyptic literary novel Riddley Walker). It’s a touching look at an impoverished family sacrificing much to try to make a better life and finding some triumph. Still, like many fans, I maintain that the “evil” Riverbottom Nightmare Band really was better. It's on DVD with The Christmas Toy.
There are a number of other Muppet Christmas specials, including the theatrical Muppet Christmas Carol and some recent TV-movies (I might be the only person I know that liked A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, with an It’s a Wonderful Life riff that sees Miss Piggy reduced to Miss Cleo and Scooter cage-dancing to Nine Inch Nails. No, I couldn't find a clip).
However, I must give props to Henson and friends for actually covering the Jewish high holiday with episodes of the Israeli seriesShalom Sesame, which also aired in the US. Jeremy Miller from Growing Pains learns about Challah, here’s a bit about a missing menorah, and can anyone really beat Grover in “Mitzvah Impossible?”
Favorite Characters Meet the Holidays
Mr. Magoo might mostly come across as horribly insensitive to the visually-impaired these days, but his take on Dickens with Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is still one of the best, with great songs by the writers of Funny Girl that hold up, "razzleberry dressing" or no.
I have to give major props to He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special (also available on Netflix Instant) for being The Most 1980s Christmas Special Ever. The sheer number of weird colorful characters is appealing to fans and people who only vaguely remember this in drug-like nightmares, but can anyone hate on a special where even Skeletor is infected with the Christmas Spirit?
Similar things might be said for the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, where Pee-Wee Herman and friends welcome the likes of K.D. Lang and Grace Jones.
And for sheer obscurity, one can see how Pac-Man and friends save Santa in Christmas Comes to PacLand, or have an entire episode of The Nanny rendered in the style of its animated opening sequence in The Nanny: Oy to the World, where she teaches her selfish charge all about Christmas despite being, well, Jewish. Oy, indeed.
Hanukkah has a hard time getting a break, people.
British entertainment (or at least what we’ve seen of it) has always been a mite darker and more melancholy than that of the Americas. I still can’t explain Benny Hill.
Many of their best Christmas specials are no exception. One of my favorites is The Snowman, an Oscar-nominated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ classic wordless children’s book. It’s the simple story of a snowman that comes to life and take a boy on a magical trip to Santa’s workshop, rendered in a gorgeous watercolor style. The flying sequence, sent to the song “Walking on the Air,” still gives me goosebumps, and it adds a nicely sentimental sweetener to the book’s downbeat ending.
Here's the full version, introduced by David Bowie. It's rather odd to think the little boy grew up to be him.
Along those lines, I recommend another children’s book adaptation, The Angel and the Soldier Boy, which features a wonderful soundtrack by the Irish folk group Clannad, and chronicles the adventures of a couple of Christmas decorations who try to save the contents of a little girl's piggy bank from some pirate toys. I discovered this a few years ago when the book was recommended to me by a girl I was dating, and I got her a drawing of the characters from the original illustrator. She dumped me anyway.
A particularly British Christmas special is The Forgotten Toys: The Night After Christmas, about a couple of unclaimed charity toys voiced by Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley. The tale serves as a pretty straight metaphor for homelessness, and it’s only in the very last seconds that the toys get a happy ending. This inspired a short-lived and more upbeat series a few years later that had them wandering from adventure to adventure, but I was drained enough from this one to let their happy ending stand.
Richard Williams is one of those people I find fascinating, someone who literally wrote the book on animation and completed wonder after wonder (including the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), while working on his dream project, The Thief and the Cobbler, which was ultimately taken away from him.
Among his masterworks were two award-winning Christmas specials. One was a 1971 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that proved so good it was submitted for, and won, the Oscar for Best Animated Short. It’s one of the closest adaptations of the original work, with several scenes left out of most versions, and is absolutely terrifying with its depiction of a cold, Victorian England, inspired by the engraved illustrations of the original story by John Leech. It also features Alistair Sim from the live-action classic Scrooge reprising his role as the title character; you can watch it here.
A decade later, Williams won an Emmy for Ziggy’s Gift, a brighter-but-still-melancholy tale that takes the luckless comic strip character and deposits him in an almost crushingly-real urban environment, where his efforts to become a street Santa lead to his inadvertently joining a con man’s fake-Santa ring.
Peter Jackson’s new film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit might have broken box-office records despite mixed (and in the case of this paper, excoriating) reviews, but I myself am still reluctant to see it and weigh in. Why devote nearly three hours to a film adapting 1/3 of a book that you could read in less time — and why try to improve on the 75-minute version by Rankin-Bass Productions?
The Rankin-Bass Hobbit was a mainstay of my childhood. Made for TV in 1977, it was rebroadcast a few times in my youth, but I knew it the most from the book-and-tape based on the special that my family would listen to on long car trips as a way to temporarily pacify my brother and myself (things were different in those days before DVD players in cars).
For me, Gandalf the Wizard will always be the stentorian tones of John Huston, and while I’ve nothing but love for Andy Serkis, there’s little that can replace the salamander-like Gollum voiced by monologist and regular David Letterman guest Brother Theodore.
(I’ll admit, though, that I’ve never seen Rankin-Bass’ version of The Return of the King, which awkwardly completed Ralph Bakshi’s dead-serious Lord of the Rings animated movie with a disco number about whip-loving trolls. A few of my friends have admitted they’re fans.)
It’s only appropriate that this new Hobbit turns my thoughts to Rankin-Bass, as Christmas has long been their season. From the 1960s through the mid-1980s, Rankin-Bass was the king of Christmas specials, regularly turning out some new effort either in stop-motion or traditional animation that still air on networks and on cable.
While some of the Rankin-Bass specials are still mainstays of the major networks, such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and Frosty the Snowman (and its dreadful 1990s follow-up Frosty Returns), my fondness for Rankin-Bass comes in part from the stranger and more obscure specials they produced over the years that often find themselves relegated to “bonus features” on DVD, or on such cable networks as ABC Family.
Rankin-Bass’ specialty (usually through the scripting of the late Romeo Muller, who wrote something like two dozen holiday specials in his lifetime) was finding a way to stitch a half-hour-to-an-hour storyline around every possible Christmas song imaginable, somehow finding a way to organically weave the lyrics throughout the storyline, or to build to that triumphant moment where, after 3-4 original songs, the storyline would climax with that number you already knew, presenting the young audience with the scene of “Ta da! And that’s how it really happened!”
For instant, when Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem that came to be known as “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” I somehow doubt he intended St. Nicholas’ visit to be a great relief to the residents of Junctionville after an intellectual young mouse caused him to send back their letters after publishing a Santa-denying editorial and almost ruining the clock that played a pro-Santa message.
As a kid, I found Santa’s need for validation somewhat suspect, but I always loved the Joel Grey-performed “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand” which is so catchy that even South Park hommaged it.
Indeed, South Park has made no bones about its debt to Rankin-Bass, particularly in its Christmas episodes, which have featured everything from the credit “Blankin-Rass Presents” to characters morphing into stop-motion-style figures.
Perhaps I related too much to the young bespectacled mouse, for I often found myself applying intellectual, even existential questions to the nonexistent mythology of these specials.
For example, was Jessica, the lovely young townsperson who married Kris Kringle in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town…
…the same aged, grandmotherly Mrs. Claus who tried to save Christmas with help from Snow Miser and Heat Miser in The Year Without a Santa Claus?
For that matter, how could Santa, himself a victim of persecution in Comin’ to Town, be so cruel to the outcast Rudolph in the mutant reindeer’s own special? Could he have lost his way, as so many mortals have themselves?
It was even more problematic when the worlds of stop-motion Rankin-Bass and animated Rankin-Bass collided. Rudolph’s Shiny New Year converted the stop-motion Rudolph into animation when he re-told his tale in flashback to the big-eared Baby New Year, aka “Happy.”
Those who complain about the proliferation of these types may consider themselves lucky that they never encountered 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson.
Chris, the alter ego of actor Chris Elliott, was the star of the late, great Fox sitcom Get a Life, which ran from 1990-92 and has finally been released in its entirety on DVD as Get a Life: The Complete Series from Shout! Factory (previously, only a few scattered episodes were available on now out-of-print discs due to music rights issues).
But instead of lying around a filthy apartment with a bong or coming up with slang terms for the female anatomy, Chris’ path was far more whimsical and destructive. Over the course of the 35 episodes of Get a Life, he nearly drowns in his shower after assembling a mini-sub he ordered from a comic as a child, violently crashes a fashion show, inadvertently drives his childhood friend away from his family and reverts to savagery after eating hallucinogenic berries on a camping trip.
By the end of the series’ run, he’s also engaged in mind-switching, temporarily developed psychic powers, encountered a pudding-spewing space alien, traveled through time with the help of self-mixed “Time Juice,” and won a series of international spelling bees with toxic waste-enhanced intelligence. Most of these adventures end with him shot, stabbed, poisoned or blown to pieces, but by the next episode, he’s up for more disasters.
Get a Life ran during the early days of Fox, where the network distinguished itself with such left-of-center comedies as Married… with Children, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, In Living Color and of course The Simpsons. It managed to somehow be stranger than any of those shows, shot like an old-fashioned sitcom with a laugh track, then twisting stock sitcom plots into surreal, sometimes disturbing pretzels. Viewers might have gotten a clue from the opening credits, set to R.E.M.’s “Stand,” where the innocent image of a paperboy on his route gave way to reveal Elliott’s flabby, bearded form hurling papers from his tiny bike.
Rather than the endless pop-cultural riffing and shock-oriented humor of such Seth MacFarlane series as Family Guy that have come to dominate Fox’s airwaves, Get a Life allowed its weirdness to speak for itself. Chris’ parents were played by Elliott’s real-life father Bob Elliott, who’d developed his own surreal comedy as part of the Bob and Ray comedy team, and Elinor Donahue from Father Knows Best, as deadpan, indifferent figures always seen in their bathrobes at the kitchen table.
By the second season, Chris moves out (his parents then fill his old room with concrete) and moves into the garage of a gruff ex-cop played by Brian Doyle-Murray, who introduces him to such vices as the lucrative world of corrupt health inspectors. According to series co-creator David Mirkin in a call from his office in Los Angeles, had a third season been produced, Chris would have become a homeless drifter, “and every week he would have touched someone else’s life, and made it a little bit worse”.
The abbreviated second season saw a writing staff that included Bob Odenkirk (later of Mr. Show and Breaking Bad) and future Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman (appropriately for the Being John Malkovich scribe, the real Malkovich was a Get a Life fan, according to Mirkin).
Their warped chops are apparent on their scripts (Kaufman wrote the “Time Juice” episode), but a rewatch of the episodes reveals the show’s dark, bizarre tone is present from the very beginning—it simply gets even darker and more bizarre as it goes on. By the end of the second episode, Chris’ deluded efforts to become a male model (don’t ask) have ended in him crashing a runway show, which he narrates in a rapturous voiceover while shoes are flung at his head and police cart him away. “To him, that’s a triumph,” Mirkin says. “We originally thought of him as an adult Dennis the Menace.”
From the show: Chris, as male model "Sparkles," is horribly exploited when he's expected to pose topless.
TV Land and The Hallmark Movie Channel wasted no time in honoring the Mt. Airy, N.C. native, who died the day before of a heart attack, at the age of 86.
The Andy Griffith Show was cherry-picked for a five-hour run on TV Land, and Hallmark has been giving Matlock fans a long, loving look at rumpled, feisty southern lawyer Ben Matlock, played by Griffith to folksy perfection from 1986 to 1992.
Anyone who missed the TV Land marathons can check them out again on on Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, July 8 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. But here in North Carolina, fans may find more comfort in watching Andy, Opie, Barney, Aunt Bee and the whole happy Mayberry bunch all day long this weekend on WRAL.2.
Nor was it the stroke, the brain aneurysm, the killer virus, the breast cancer or the traumatic repressed memories that had resulted in her developing seven personalities and forgetting about giving birth to not one but two daughters (one of whom developed a split personality of her own before dying of lupus). No, for all her resilience, what finally killed Viki and her fellow residents of the fictional Llanview, Penn., was a diet show.
Llanview, setting of the 43-year-old ABC soap opera One Life to Live is just the latest fictional small town to disappear from TV screens in the last few years, in a wave of cancellations that have also seen Guiding Light, As the World Turns, Passions and All My Children leave the air.
“In a way, it was inevitable — not just to One Life, but to a genre that had a very good long run,” says Duke University English professor Michael Malone, who served as One Life’s head writer from 1991-1996 and 2003-2004.
“I’ll always say the fiction of Llanview lasted longer than Shakespeare’s Globe. These were very long-lived shows—30 years, 40 years, Guiding Light was 70 years. That’s a lot of stability in a very fast-moving medium like television. And it taught other parts of television how to make serials.”
Malone, a Durham native who resides in Hillsborough, says it’ll be “too painful” for him to watch on Friday, Jan. 13 when Viki and the others say goodbye, with a few cliffhangers and Viki taking yet a third round-trip to heaven before giving way to the new self-improvement talk show The Revolution with Ty Pennington and Tim Gunn. But he remembers his time in Llanview fondly, and maintains a deep and abiding respect for daytime soap operas, a genre of TV that seems on the verge of extinction.
Malone cites declining audiences for network programming for the soaps’ demise, along with the fact that “there became so many other ways to see this stuff,” citing shows such as Gray’s Anatomy and Six Feet Under as examples of programming that co-opted the soaps’ style of open-ended long-form serialized storytelling.
“It’s not that (audiences) don’t want story, it’s just that they have so many more ways to get it,” Malone says.
His tenure in Llanview was one of the show’s most influential periods, with many of the characters he created still playing major roles on the canvass as One Life to Live reaches its end. It was also one of the most unlikely pairings in television—a Southern literary novelist with no television-writing experience and a soap that by the time he arrived, had eschewed its roots as a spotlight for social issues in exchange for stories about time travel, lost underground cities and the aforementioned trips to heaven (in fairness, a storyline about a soap-within-a-soap had shot some exterior scenes on Duke University’s campus).
1993: Malone won an Emmy for this episode, which guest-starred Marsha Mason as a priestess who marries reformed bad boy Max and “North Carolina goddess-worshipping feminist” Luna.
Dirty Dancing producer Linda Gottlieb, who’d been brought on the save the program, recruited Malone as headwriter based on his experience as “someone who wrote capacious novels” such as Time’s Witness and Handling Sin.
“In a way, our complete ignorance of (daytime’s) traditions gave us complete freedom to do adventuresome things,” Malone says.
Those “adventuresome things” included tackling issues that even prime-time TV was shying away from in the 1990s. One of Malone’s first major storylines cast a 17-year-old Ryan Phillippe as a gay teenager struggling to come out; the story climaxed with the AIDS quilt being brought to Llanview, with the names of actual AIDS victims read on a location shoot.
For Malone, the story represented an opportunity to allow viewers to relate to the issue through characters they had come to know through years of viewing.
“To have Viki carry the AIDS quilt into the church and lay it on the altar was to say to the audience of One Life who had spent so many years with Viki and trusted her judgment that ‘It can’t be all bad to be accepting and understanding,’” Malone says. “For all its conservatism, daytime expands tolerance.
It also allowed him a broader audience than his literary work.
“There was no way ever on God’s green earth that five million people a week would be reading my novels, but they might see Viki carrying that AIDS quilt to that altar.”
1992: A CBS This Morning segment and the final scenes from Malone’s gay teen/AIDS storyline.
Malone’s greatest acclaim came the following year with a large story where town bad girl Marty Saybrooke (named for his daughter Margaret), was brutally gang-raped and brought her attackers to trial. The story won Emmys for many of the actors involved (and Malone himself received an Emmy for his work on the show that year), but ran into trouble when Roger Howarth, who played lead rapist Todd Manning, became so popular that the character had to be kept on the show.
On Jan. 11, the CW drama—and that term is used loosely—One Tree Hill will begin its ninth and final season, bringing to an end nearly 200 episodes of teen melodrama that included brazen guest stars (Kevin Federline!), shameless product placement (watch Tree Hill High’s cheerleaders pose for Maxim!) and plot twists seemingly borne out of a combination of desperation and illegal narcotics (villainous Dan loses out on a heart transplant because a dog eats his donor heart!).
Please take a moment to think of all the decisions required for this scene to take place, including finding a heart and training a dog to grab it on cue. Or just the impulse to write this, pitch it to a network, have sets built and make actors play it out with a straight face.
Other shows and films produced in North Carolina have made more of an impact on the cultural zeitgeist, notably One Tree Hill’s predecessor in teen angst, Dawson’s Creek, which also filmed in Wilmington (One Tree Hill premiered the fall after Dawson's Creek wrapped).
But for all its insanity, One Tree Hill remains one of the most important productions in the history of North Carolina for one simple reason: It lasted. Even as production for film and TV moved out of state—or out of country, more often—One Tree Hill's patented combination of vacillating romance, 20-somethings playing shirtless teenagers and wall-to-wall emo rock that provided episode titles and a slew of bestselling soundtrack albums kept it on the air for nearly a decade, coming in second only to the original Beverly Hills, 90210 as the longest-running American teen drama.
Its success was improbable—originally a feature film, it was reconceived as a TV series and saw its production abruptly move to Wilmington after the then-head of The WB was concerned for the area after Dawson’s Creek wrapped production there. (I dimly remember reading at the time he was moved to tears after receiving the key to the city.)
It then got bumped at the last minute from a mid-season replacement to the fall lineup when The WB decided to preemptively dump the series Fearless before its premiere. It launched with no hype, negative reviews and was initially beaten in the ratings by a short-lived UPN sitcom called The Mullets.
And then it somehow ran nine years.
The smaller viewership expectations of The WB and later The CW no doubt helped, but One Tree Hill's longevity can be attributed to certain ruthlessness in targeting its audience. Its attitude can best be summed up in the Gavin DeGraw lyrics that made up the theme song for its early seasons: “I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately.”
That strange mixture of earnestness, defiance and articulate-yet-inarticulate grammar defined One Tree Hill, allowing it to survive a changed network, the loss of its original stars and a time-jump that conveniently skipped over the characters' college years. The world of One Tree Hill served as an interior landscape for the teen psyche worthy of Charlize Theron’s deluded author in Young Adult.
Teenagers got married—and stayed married. Or they launched hugely successful clothing lines straight out of high school. Bands like Fall Out Boy would just happen to show up in the fictional hamlet of Tree Hill, N.C., and stick around for a while. Interlopers would turn out to be full-blown psychos who had to be blown away in a cornfield. Parents weren’t just disapproving—they would actually commit arson, manipulate politics and in one case, kill one another. We’re still trying to figure out that bit with the dog and the heart.
Behind the scenes, One Tree Hill was…well, nothing could be as insane as its storylines, but it came close. Star Chad Michael Murray married co-star Sophia Bush, was divorced by her on grounds of “fraud” and became engaged to a Wilmington extra who was still in high school when they met.
Recurring player Antwon Tanner pleaded guilty in a federal court with plans to sell Social Security numbers.
And Paul Johansson, who played Dan, used his time away from the show to direct the critically derided film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
Now, Hodgman has completed his continuously paginated saga of false knowledge with That is All (Dutton, $25), a massive compilation of made-up facts and stories centered around the coming global superpocalypse, Ragnarok, in 2012.
Hodgman will appear at the Durham Armory at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to read from and sign copies of That is All. We were able to get up with him on the road to ask him questions about the reading, his thoughts on Occupy Raleigh and the extremely unsettling mustache he's been sporting for That is All.
Independent: So, the description for the Durham event is a "reading and riffing." That scares the hell out of me. What will this be? Improvising? Do you have a talk or anything?
John Hodgman: Well, usually with book tours, I start by reading passages from the book I think the live audience will enjoy. Gradually, as the experience gets tattooed onto my brain, the book tends to fall aside, and I think by the time I'm in Durham, I will be speaking more or less extemporaneously from the book.
I might talk about sports, and the difference between American football and European football, including the fact that one actually uses a ball, while the other uses something that could only be called a ball by a mentally ill person. I'll also probably touch on how magic tricks are performed, and a reality television show I think is going to be very successful that I have devised, and certainly the coming global superpocalypse, which I refer to as Ragnarok.
Of all the things to latch onto from what you just said, I have to say your reality show is going to have a hard time topping Hillbilly Handfishin', which is sort of a sign of Ragnarok in and of itself.
Are you referring to the ancient art of noodling, or catching a catfish with one's bare hands? That's the ancient battle of man against disgusting mud creature. It taps into that.
Just last night, you did "Money Talks" on The Daily Show, riffing on the Occupy Wall Street movement. You might be interested to know that just 20 miles or so from Durham, there's an Occupy Raleigh movement going on near the State Capitol. Any plans to drop by?
Is this specific to North Carolinian (pronounced "North Caro-LEAN-ian") issues?
There's some overlap with local issues and the broader movement.
I don't know that I'll have time to visit the Occupy movement there in Raleigh. I don't want to make fun of people when I don't know what they look like. That's the thing with the whole Occupy movement—it truly is leaderless and grassroots in every possible way, so even I hesitate to call those people "dirty hippies" as a joke, because there are a lot of people down there who are extremely eccentric, and many who are extremely thoughtful.
There would be a lot of people down there I would agree with tremendously—in or out of character as the "Deranged Millionaire." There's a lot of people I feel are not going to be productive trying to solve our problems with a drum circle.
Speaking generally, I think when it is not violent, which I do not think is productive even as an expression of frustration, it is a perfectly reasonable thing to be happening, and it tests our ability to tolerate ambiguity that we cannot put a particular ideology on it. It's a good challenge for our media and our country to appreciate, that we are not living in a world where politics are right vs. left, like two opposing sports teams.
But I do hope that they are able to take showers before I come to town, because that's just something that I'm not willing to tolerate.
Speaking of the "Deranged Millionaire," of all the things you discuss in your book, the thing that has burned itself most into my brain is the mustache.
Right. I think you put it well. More than anything else, it is an issue. It is troubling to people; it is a subject of debate; it is controversial.
Will you be bringing this mustache to your reading, and what does it say about the mindset of myself and others that the mustache is the first thing that leaps out at people?
Well, I will be bringing the mustache, because it has attached itself to my face. So I have no choice about that. I can reassure the people of Durham that it will not be jumping out at people. It seems to have established a very stable parasitic relationship with my upper lip, and it seems to not be wanting to change hosts. So people should not fear my mustache, or worry that it's going to take over their own upper lips.
So it's a mustache détente, where it's peacefully occupying your face?
In many ways, you're right. The mustache has a lot of similarities to what's going on on Wall Street; it's almost like an outgrowth of the Occupy movement. It is clearly a disruptive presence. It has something to say, and yet precisely what statement it is making is multitudinous and unfathomable.
And I don't quite know what to do about it. I grew it on a whim earlier this year, where it was something that I liked, and yet it is something that causes a lot of discussion. I think that people are unnerved by an otherwise pale and baby-faced human baby walking around with a mustache, and because of its unnatural lustrous dark color. It is jet black with streaks of gray, compared to my otherwise mousy brown, limp hair, and people presume it is fake.
I think people are concerned I'm turning into some kind of creature. You remember the 1980s movie The Fly, when Jeff Goldblum was transforming into the giant fly? His transformation manifested itself in many ways, including large dense coarse hairs growing out of his body. And that is effectively what has happened to me, though what I am becoming remains to be seen.
"Perhaps I was a mustache that dreamed it was a man, and now the dream is over and the mustache is awake."
[UPDATE 9/30/2011: Video of the full lecture is now embedded at the end of the story.]
David Simon warned Monday night that America’s “great engine is beginning to rust,” the middle class is being destroyed, the poor are cast aside and the sale of the political system to the highest bidder along with wars on drugs and the Middle East spell the end of the country’s ability to lead and prosper.
No one is going to confuse Simon, the screenwriter and director for The Wire, Treme and Homicide: Life on the Street, for an optimist.
“Every time I try to reach a level of cynicism that goes too far, I find out I’ve been outmaneuvered,” he said.
[UPDATED MONDAY, AUG. 8 WITH VIDEO AT BOTTOM OF POST.]
North Carolina-based actress Melissa Lozoff runs filmmaking classes and workshops for kids at Movie-Makers, a project she founded in 2001. Fans of reality TV can get a glimpse of her teaching process on Monday, Aug. 8, at 9:30 p.m. on the TLC channel.
"I basically make films with kids," Lozoff says. In fact, she's in the middle of giving classes and summer camp with kids right now at her property in Orange County. She also just got finished with some acting work on One Tree Hill in Wilmington.
"The kids help come up with the ideas for the script," Lozoff describes Movie-Makers. "They basically learn the aspects of filmmaking, and then they get to star in their own movie."
Those classes and summer camps always take place on her Orange County property, with one recent exception—the movie project she did with the Gosselin kids at the family's Pennsylvania compound for this Monday's second episode of TLC's Kate Plus 8. (The first episode airs at 9.)
Lozoff's brief involvement in the reality TV show came about because of a longstanding North Carolina connection to the show. The original incarnation of the series, Jon & Kate Plus 8, was created by Advanced Medical Production (later known as Figure 8 Films) in 2007, back when Jon and Kate were still a couple whose experiment with fertility treatments yielded twins, then sextuplets. (That version of the show ended when Jon's infidelities nixed the marriage.)
Lozoff taught filmmaking to the daughter of one of the producers at Figure 8, Kirk Streb, a few years ago, and he fondly remembered the experience when the Figure 8 staff were brainstorming ideas for upcoming episodes.
He also knew that one of the 10-year-old Gosselin twins, Mady, really likes putting on little plays. So Figure 8 flew Lozoff to Pennsylvania in March to make a "cute little movie with the Gosselin kids."
"They're comfortable in front of the camera, but all of that acting and blocking—that was brand new," Lozoff says, adding that, otherwise: "They're basically like all the other kids that I've worked with."
Lozoff went back to Pennsylvania in late May/ early June for the "premiere" of the film in the family's basement. That was the first time that the mom saw the mini-movie, according to Lozoff.
"Kate wasn't really around while we were making the movie, because they wanted it to be a surprise for her," she says. "We rented a red carpet and sort of decorated their basement and did their little premiere."
That's typical of Lozoff's process with her Movie-Makers camp kids. After the films are made, she'll spend a few weeks editing and then will rent out a venue to show her kids the finished products. Most recently, she rented out The Varsity on Franklin Street.
She also has "an advanced group" that makes more professional-caliber films to submit to film festivals.
Another particular she's not allowed to talk about much is Kate Gosselin, the fiery star of the show (which, interestingly, is not on the fall schedule recently announced by TLC).
"She was always very gracious with me," Lozoff says, and leaves it at that.
Melissa Lozoff has appeared in numerous films, TV shows including The Young and The Restless and Days of Our Lives, and theater productions with the Common Ground and Ghost & Spice companies. In 2010, she won for Best Actress at the Carrboro Film Festival for her work in Nic Beery's Twelve. To find out more about Movie-Makers, go to www.movie-makers.net.