For good reason no one ever called me big poppa, but truth be told, back in ’91, I, too, was reading Word Up, cutting out and hanging pictures on my wall, and obsessively taping shit off the radio (I came up with my own emcee name too; don’t ask). That year in particular there were two stand-out tracks that deejays from the D spun in the off hours of radio, and I spent long nights trying to preserve them onto TDKs. The first, which I actually did manage to dub, was Eerk & Jerk’s “Eerk & Jerk” (with its mind-blowing use of a Robocop sample). The second, 2 Hyped Brothers and a Dog’s “Doo Doo Brown” (above), I was never so lucky with.
Now, a lot of folks remember the second “Doo Doo Brown,” the raunchy booty-dropper by Luke of 2 Live Crew-infamy. And for good reason too. Apparently, that track started the third wave of Miami Bass (“Who Let the Dogs Out,” “Tootsee Roll,” were all just reincarnations of Doo Doo). Not that I cared. All I knew was that Uncle Luke’s beat used to throw me into convulsions.
The first “Doo Doo Brown,” on the other hand, was a long-winded, unstructured Bmore club track, plagued by a radio emcee who thought he could rock the mic. And yet, I was obsessed with it. Partly, ’cause the track was so elusive (time and again, it’d play in the car, when I couldn’t tape it, and no one at my middle school seemed to know it). And partly ’cause a song with that title seemed like it came out of my eleven-year-old mind.
So imagine my surprise when I caught the ad for Tyler Perry’s latest sitcom Meet the Browns dropping “Doo Doo,” and discovered it’s now the basis of a nation-wide dance competition. If I had the moves I had back then, that contest would already be over.
If history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, what follows? In high school — high school, Scheuring — I got acquainted enough with Tom Stoppard’s 15-minute Hamlet to be thoroughly underwhelmed by last Friday night’s coda to the Prison break series finale. The 84-minute special felt a little something like Stoppard’s revision of Shakespeare, only, y’know, completely idiotic and entirely bereft of literary import: a full, season-worthy story arc of classic Prison break, replete with prisons, betrayals, thwarted moves, strange bedfellows and an anti-climactic escape. (That penultimate flashforward didn’t help your narrative cause, guys.)
There’s really not much to be said about the post-finale finale; it served principally (and gratuitously) to remind us of Scofield’s unqualified heroism. America loves few things more than a handsome, wrongly-persecuted, self-sacrificing genius.
Summer is nigh, and with it new seasons of Weeds (June 8), True blood (June 14), and Mad men (August). TubaTV can’t wait, because all these season finales are leaving some serious holes in our week nights.
Before Judd Apatow finally found commercial success re-hashing the same, tired loser-centric take on the romantic comedy genre; before Seth Rogen became the unlikeliest of Hollywood-by-way-of-Canada leading men since Mike Meyers; before Jason Segel took some comedic respite in How I met your mother‘s prime time laugh track; before James Franco was making out with Sean Penn; before Lizzy Caplan was tripping on V with Jason Stackhouse or serving hors d’oeuvres alongside Martin Starr; before Rashida Jones was an Office/Parks and Recreation regular; they were all involved in Paul Feig’s amazing, one-season-long Freaks and geeks.
I’ll concede the possibility that at least some of my affection for the show derives from the fact that it was set in suburban Detroit circa 1980, say, half a generation before I myself was a skinny, prepubescent high school student obliviously fascinated with Stars wars (not to mention its mid-nineties equivalent, Magic:The gathering). Independently of my regional prejudice, however, I’ll maintain that Freaks and geeks was far and away the best teen drama ever to grace the small screen — beating out even that first spectacular season of Friday night lights FTW.
What made the show so exceptional, especially when compared to its more popular (populist?) peers, was the banality of its storylines, and its adamant refusal to be organized episodically (and ideologically) by adult-approved and/or Nielsen-whoring Teen Topics. During the all-too-brief 18-episode series, we’re not subjected to a single untimely teen death — no Johnny falling drunk from a cliff, no Marissa getting killed in a drunken car chase (and consequently no angry teen cage fights). There are no “diet pill” addictions. There are no teacher-student romances. There is no hot lesbian action.
The show’s minimalist approach to verisimilitude is nourished entirely by the kind of suburban teen microdrama that (I imagine) dominated the high school years of much of (lower) Middle (class) America through the 80s and 90s: the uncertainties of disassociating yourself from one group of friends in order to gain membership to another; boyfriends who kind of almost cheat on you with your best friend; the minor emasculations perpetrated by bullies, who in turn have their own emotional and familial problems; the physical confusions and insecurities associated with puberty, and with growing up more generally; the regimes of consumption that begin defining social groups after junior high; etc. etc. etc.
None of this is to say that teens don’t die in drunk driving accidents, or that there are no unprofessional student-teacher relationships in high school, or that teens can’t have hot lesbian sex — just that these sorts of storylines are cheap, easy, unfulfilling drama. It takes a sensitive observer of adolescent strife to produce a successful narrative without resorting to soap opera storylines. All the more disappointing, then, that homeboy Paul Feig hasn’t been able to direct that sensitivity toward equally successful analyses of young adulthood or beyond.
In closing, an incidental post-script, since I seem to have a thing for bashing P.T. Anderson lately: Freaks and geeks also deserves some serious respect for its very clever camerawork (showcased nicely in the clip above). It actually succeeds — as a meaningful, communicative device — where Anderson’s gimmickry (both in Boogie nights and Magnolia) failed.
Anyone who saw Magnolia will remember Paul Thomas Anderson’s crowning preciosity, the pan-diegetic sing-along (featuring none other than Crazy Wanda from Big love and everyone’s favorite Dr. Steve Brule!):
Very clever and very Oscar-tempting way back in 2000. The sing-along schtick was still viable in 2004, when transposed to the small screen and folded back into a specific story arc via a collective tryptamine experience:
Less convincing in 2006.
And fully expired by 2007.
On a related note, the comedic sing-along does manage to avoid peeving, if it’s done well. Sing-alongs sustained one season of Flight of the Conchords…
..but then turned around and killed the second. They have also propelled some very strange British comedians to (well-deserved) stardom:
I’m not sure anything this week – musical or otherwise – can top J.T.’s latest addition to the Omeletteville canon. (The Dick-in-a-box reprise “Motherlover” just wasn’t that funny, man). Still, the increasingly visible Asher Roth is bound to be hilarious this Thursday on Fallon. Holmes is ’09’s answer to Blizzard Man.
Monday: Three-hit wonder Soulja Boy does Jimmy Fallon; the Alphaville-inspired Killers play Letterman; and Ciara, straight off the sweaty SNL stage, brings it on Leno. Tuesday: Aspiring diva Chrisette Michele does Letterman. Wednesday: Ciara goes for round three on Kimmel. Thursday: No-hit wonder Asher Roth does Jimmy Fallon; Rick Ross hustles with Magazeen on Letterman; and The Decemberists do Leno. Friday: Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, plays Jimmy Fallon; Pitchfork-approved headbangers Mastodon do Letterman; Kings of Leon bring their sexy bumpkin act on Leno; and the freshly-botoxed Eminem takes over Kimmel. Saturday: East bay natives Green Day play SNL.
I’ve hesitated to post about Lost because it’s such an insanely popular phenomenon, and it’s easy to get, well, lost in the frustration of unanswered questions, or in the masturbatory game of speculating about their answers. I can empathize with Thumbu Sammy’s declaration of “bullshit” yesterday, but I’ve also watched the show pretty faithfully since it debuted, during my second year of grad school. So, for one week only, I’ll reluctantly assume the mantle of a doctrinaire Lost apologist.
The show’s primary source of value lies in its escapism. For reasons of personal psychopathology, the fantasy of crash landing on a mysterious tropical island with an ethnically diverse group of potential sexual partners holds massive appeal for me. Last month, though, Lost was awarded a Peabody for “rewriting the rules of television fiction.” The bizarre implications of “rewriting the rules” of fictional narrative give me pause, but I do think the award was well-deserved, especially if we qualify its justification to refer more specifically to prime time network television. If we can ignore some of its more infuriating devices — most notoriously the Misdirective Cutaway, the Overly Literal Cutaway, and the characters’ wholesale refusal ever to respond straightforwardly to even the simplest of questions — we should be able to appreciate that Lost has indeed accomplished narrative feats that no other network series has ever dreamed of.
I’ll make my case by way of a double analogy. When I describe The wire to the uninitiated, I often echo an observation that a friend of mine once made about the show: it manages to turn televisual seriality into a means of achieving what Victorian novelists set out to do back in the day; namely, to represent the modern polis in its totality, from the bottom up. In order to do so, its purview broadens with each season: while season one focuses on the politics of a single long-term police investigation into an exceptionally well-organized drug racket, the scope of season two also includes the chain of supply. Season three implicates the city- and state-level politics that oversee said supply; season four analyzes the inability of the inner city public school system to respond to the pyramidal, generational structure of drug distribution; and season five indicts the print media’s complicity in these processes.
Lost operates by an analogous narrative logic (to much different ends, obviously). Each season imposes a paradigm shift, and these shifts have effectively re-landscaped even the most fundamental premises of the show. Season one posited a relatively limited set of narrative conflicts: the survivors of Oceanic 815 had to get off the island without starving to death, and without getting killed by a shadowy monster or the island’s mysterious indigenous population of Others. If they could get some action while they were waiting to be rescued, all the better. While season two opens a dialog of sorts between the various survivors of Oceanic 815 and the indigenous Others, season three radically shifts perspectives to show us some of what has been going with those Others during the timeline of the first two seasons, thereby complicating our assumptions about where our sympathies should lie. At the end of season three, in a brilliant twist on the show’s characteristic flashbacks, we learn (via the now much-abused flashforward) that our heroes do indeed get safely off the island. Resolving the inaugural conflict of a series halfway through its run takes brass balls.
If we imagine this progress in cartographic terms, it’s clear how Lost‘s scale broadens with each successive season. A map of season one would be confined principally to the island’s beach and the caves. Season two includes “the hatch,” the other survivors’ camp, and a select few other points on the island. Season three brings us to the Others’ settlement; and season four to the rest of the world. The only possible territory into which the show’s empire could continue expanding by season five, then, is time. As difficult as it was for me to swallow the newly undeniable science fiction elements of seasons four and five, I had to concede that this was another brass balls move: Lost‘s own diegetic logic has been totally overhauled.
Halfway through season five, I do think the decision is paying off. The entertainment value of time travel has unhinged the series from any social-critical prerogative. I’m dubious, though, of what season six might have in store. The primary conflict of the show now seems to revolve around the restoration of linear time; if said conflict is resolved by the end of the season (which I’m assuming will be the case, thanks to 2009’s amendments to the Televisual Laws of Payoff* — amendments prompted in no small part by Lost itself), what lies in store for the series? If it already includes the 3+1 dimensions of spacetime, where can season six logically go?