Friday, December 02, 2005

The Week In PopCult

This blog has been waylaid by a family emergency and technical issues this week (time to break out the BLOGHAMMER), but all is well now, and it's time to wrap up the week with a lot of short notes:

Next week PopCult will be all about Holiday Gift ideas! I'll be firing off recommendations for a variety of neato manifestations of materialistic goodness in a plethora of Pop categories. My goal is to give you three ideas for each genre, "Ridiculously Expensive," "Moderately Priced" and "Cheapskate Special." Be warned that what may be cheap in one category could very well be considered expensive in another. In other words, don't think too hard on it.

Monday, we're kicking the week off with the Animated Discussions gift guide, wherein my partner Melanie will join me to share with you the coolest animated offerings for stashing underneath one's tree. Later in the week I'll be giving you gift ideas centered on wrestling, movies, comics, home furnishings, retro candy, art books, magazines, robots, music, chocolate and a few things I haven't thought of yet.

This morning I rated a mention in one of my favorite blogs, Mark Evanier's NewsFromME. Seems I was among the dozens who jumped in with the obvious "Dubya' joke in response to Mark's suggestion that the US Postal Service put Mad Magazine's mascot, Alfred E. Neumann on a stamp. And that item came from a story about a whole load of DC Comics characters being featured on an upcoming panel of stamps. I check Mark's blog every morning. Giving away too much information about both our ages, I've been following his way-cool career for 35 years. in 1970, Mark was an assistant to comic book legend Jack Kirby. He spent the next few years writing for stand-up comedians, wound up as the story editor on "Welcome Back Kotter," and produced animated shows like "Garfield and Friends." He also collaborated on two of the best comic books of the last few decades, "Groo The Warrior," with Mad Magazine's Sergio Aragones, and "Blackhawk," with the great Dan Speigle. That's just skimming the surface. His blog covers comic books, show biz, Broadway, Vegas and just about every other cool thing you can think about. I want to be him if I grow up.

You may be wondering what happened to that review of the new WB 30 Newscast that I promised you a few weeks ago. Well, the newscast debuted, and the first week was, to be generous, a trainwreck of biblical proportions. There were so many technical errors and SNAFUs that I found myself making excuses for them as I was watching. I hadn't seen such an ineptly-produced newscast since the Wendy Griffith era at WCHS-TV.

As I was watching, an angel appeared on my shoulder. He leaned over and said, "Rudy, surely you can't write a review based on these early shows. It would be like booing at the Special Olympics." Then a devil appeared on my other shoulder. He took one look at the screen and said, "Yeah dude, even I wouldn't kick these guys when they're this far down."

Clearly, the WB News could have used a week to do rehearsal shows that would never air, just to work out the bugs, but the fates conspired to force them to go live with minimal preparation, and it showed. There were dead microphones, missed cues, embarrassing glitches and other production nightmares. I'm going to give them another week to finish their on-the-job training and see if they can learn how to work the microphones before I go in-depth with the constructive criticism. For what it's worth, Tom McGee is doing a professional job, and the rest of the staff shows promise, but technically the show has been a mess so far.

Saturday night The Dreamsicles will be appearing at the Walker Theater, tucked away in the nether regions of the Clay Center. You can read Rusty Marks' Gazz piece about the show here. Opening will be Gazz Editor Doug Imbrogno and Bob Webb, who are members of The Garagecow Ensemble in their secret identities. If you're out and about that night, it's well worth going for a listen.

Buried in the 1:30 a.m. Monday morning (late Sunday night) timeslot on Adult Swim this week is Evan Dorkin's Eltingville Club. We raved about this in Animated Discussions a few years ago when it originally aired as a pilot. For some reason, Cartoon Network didn't pick up the option to make a series, which is a real shame. This is geek culture at its finest. Comic books, Sci-fi, roleplaying games and ECW all find themselves in the satirical crosshairs of this epic of fanboy fury. Plus the opening and closing themes are by The Aquabats! You can't get any geekier than that! Set the VCR, DVD or other recording device. This one's a keeper.

If you haven't already seen the November 28th issue of The New Yorker, get yourself to a magazine rack right now! We'll wait.

You back? Okay, this is the annual "cartoon" issue, and on page 164 you'll find a new three-page "jam" comic by legendary underground cartoonist Robert Crumb and his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb. This strip is worth the inflated price all by itself, but the magazine is also packed to the gills with other cool one-panel cartoons by the New Yorker's roster of distinguished doodlers. Aside from the cartoons, this issue also contains a CD-ROM that has previews and articles about lots of current Broadway musicals like Spamalot, and a feature on Rent. Oh, and there's tons of stinky perfume samples, too.

Remember, next week it's gifts galore right here in PopCult.

Art Blogging

Getting self-referential for a moment, my aforementioned Animated Discussions writing partner, Melanie Larch, is going to get to sing solo with the West Virginia Symphony next February, at their Pops concert. And she needed a headshot. So, for the first time in the 15 years that we've been dating (I'd mentioned that before, right?), Mel let me take her photograph. I gave her a couple of standard shots for the program and publicity, but for my own amusement and distraction, I digitally assaulted one for my own darn self. To the right, you'll find the cover of Mel's New Wave album that she never recorded back in the 80s.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Animals, Vegetables, and Bratz

Animated Discussions
By Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Creature Comforts

BBC America has picked up the rights to Aardman Animation's Creature Comforts series based on Nick Park's Oscar winning short which featured "man on the street" interviews with the words put into the mouths of a variety of clay animated animals. This delightful series of nine half hour episodes has been held hostage by Comedy Central for the past couple of years. For some reason, Comedy Central snapped up this show, which was one of the highest rated programs aired in Britain, and buried it in hard to find time slots like 2:00 a.m. Monday morning and 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning. While we were confused by this, it seems clear now that Comedy Central only bought the show to keep it out of the hands of Cartoon Network. Now that Comedy Central's contract has expired, BBC America has stepped up and put the show on its schedule in a still unfriendly 11:00 p.m. time slot on Friday evenings. This show is very funny and well worth going out of your way to watch.

You'd think with Nick Park having such a high profile coming off the success of his Wallace and Gromit movie that the folks at BBC America could find a more appealing time slot. But, we'll have to take what we can get. Fans of clay animation, Wallace and Gromit and clever comedy should make a note to watch Creature Comforts at 11:00 p.m. starting this Friday (12/2/05) on BBC America (Channel 100 on Charter Digital).

Coconut Bob Fruitpants

Sometimes an imitation is so blatant, so raw, so naked, that you just have to step back and salute the person who had the cajones to try and pull it off. Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island is such a blatant, obvious ripoff of Spongebob Squarepants that we have to wonder two things: First, did they REALLY think no one would notice? Second, what took them so long? Coconut Fred seems to be the result of a frantic meeting at the studio where someone realized that Spongebob Squarepants was the hottest cartoon on television and they'd better do a quick knockoff to try and cash in on its success. The problem is, it appears the writers only saw about five minutes of one Spongebob episode. They completely missed the point of what makes a good cartoon and the result is a soulless, joyless, mean spirited, hyperactive triumph of marketing over creativity.

As best we can determine from watching several episodes, Coconut Fred is an omnipotent being with the power to create things out of thin air who delights in torturing everyone else on the show. Oh yes...and he's a coconut. For some reason, all the characters on the show are fruits. We don't know if you remember the old Funny Face fruit drinks. They were the commercial mascots (Goofy Grape, Rootin'-Tootin'Raspberry, etc.) for a competitor to Kool-Aid in the 1960s. The reason Coconut Fred brings to mind Funny Face drink mix, aside from the obvious fruit based cartoon characters, is that Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island reminds us of the Reverend Jim Jones. Watch a few episodes of this show and you'll be begging for some of his Kool-Aid.

Coconut Fred is just something to be avoided. You can avoid it every Saturday Morning at 9:30 on Kids' WB. Still, like a guy trying to sneak a 50 inch television out under his coat, you have to admire them for trying.

Death to Barbie

Coconut Fred, though notable in it's awfulness, is not the only new cartoon to hit the airwaves lately. Saturday morning cartoons debuted a couple of months ago on the broadcast networks. While they're not as important in the annals of animation as they used to be, due to the emergence of several 24 hour all animation networks, there have been some notable new entries. Foremost among these is the Bratz cartoon. This computer animated series depicts the adventures of the grotesquely distorted fashion dolls who have finally toppled Barbie from her pink pedestal. The shock is that this show, which has every right in the world to be completely horrible, is in fact cleverly written and quite enjoyable. Rather than make the mistakes that Barbie has and sticking with fairy tale material, the Bratz cartoon gives each character a distinct personality and has them established as teenagers running a fashion magazine. This leads to some surprisingly contemporary storylines. Bratz is like a slightly sanitized Absolutely Fabulous for the tweener set. We have a feeling that this show could very easily become a Saturday morning guilty pleasure for lots of adults.

Next Monday, Animated Discussions kicks off Popcult's Holiday Gift Guide, with our suggestions for the animation fan on your holiday gift list.