Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Friday Buzzkills: Spare some change?

"Change, America. Change is coming." That's what we've been told, anyway. But are we really ready for change? Can we truly accept change when we've proven time and again that we're so hung up on the past? Nostalgia acts, remakes, reunions, revivals, reality shows starring celebrities who refuse to fade away gracefully—aren't these the signposts of a culture that fears change and clings desperately to the things we already know and loathe? As a wise ass once said, "True change comes from within," and judging by this week, our insides just can't spare any change. So let's go over this well-trod path together, one more time, hand in hand with your old, familiar friend Friday Buzzkills.

- In my haste to eulogize a mechanical monkey, I made a rather glib assessment of what many believe to be the only truly tragic loss in last weekend's Universal Studios fire: The vault storing "nearly 100% of the archive prints kept on the lot"–a collection of nearly 50,000 videos and film reels as well as music recordings that are now just a pile of melted plastic metaphors for the fleeting, impermanent nature of our culture. Luckily, all of those were reportedly copies; the studio wisely kept the much more precious master negatives on a site that hadn't already burned down six times before, but the loss of the archival prints is still a huge blow to film festivals and repertory theaters looking to screen older Universal movies, who will no longer have access to confirmed deceased like Out Of Africa, Flash Gordon, and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. On the upside, of course, the studio can now pretend like The Blues Brothers 2000 never happened.

- Ask Roger Ebert which film he would have swapped out for any of those lost to the ashes, and he'd no doubt tell you that he would have gladly driven all the way from Chicago to personally toss the master copy of I Spit On Your Grave onto the flames, and he'd probably even stick around to help piss them out. Ebert called the 1978 rape-revenge flick one of the worst films he had ever seen, memorably condemning it as "a vile bag of garbage…so sick, reprehensible, and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theaters" before saying that "attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life" and averring that his fellow audience members were "vicarious sex criminals." Of course, yesterday's "artless expression of the most diseased and perverted darker human natures" is just today's attempt to get some of that there Saw and Hostel money, so it should come as no surprise that CineTel Films has picked up Spit for a remake. Giving it a glossy historical revision as a "precursor to a slew of female revenge film hits," CineTel CEO Paul Hertzberg says he is currently "listening to pitches from writers on how to ratchet up the shock factor"–because, you know, death by castration and disembowelment by outboard motor are so quaint by today's standards. I mean, didn't they do that on an episode of Joanie Loves Chachi?

- We've gleefully spit, jumped up and down, and performed carefully choreographed dances on the grave of boy bands time and again, but as it turns out, we were only kidding ourselves: According to Rolling Stone, boy bands are back, riding in like knights shielded behind their armor of perfect bangs and astride white horses draped in Converse caparisons, swooping in to save major labels from their dwindling record sales and the hegemony of the Disney machine that's been greedily hoarding all the world's babysitting money. With a reunited New Kids On The Block already enjoying a second wind–and even some chart success; shame on you, America–an aging-right-before-your-eyes Joey McIntyre felt qualified to offer this appraisal of what label executives need to do to get back on top, step by step: "They're just thinkin', 'We gotta get right to the heart of it–and that's young girls and cute boys and fun songs." (Solid analysis of the industry, Joey. Say, would you mind piercing our eardrums with this tree branch real quick?) While the first kiss was a sweet kiss, and the second kiss had a twist, here are the third and fourth kisses you might want to miss, along with their appropriate, derisive nicknames for all of you junior-high cut-ups who want to get a jump on the action: V. Factory ("Vagina Factory"); Varsity Funclub ("Fart City Buttplug"); and a new version of Menudo ("The Band That Was Too Gay For Ricky Martin." "Who's Ricky Martin?" "Exactly.")

- With the members of NKOTBOMFGRUSIRIUS? obviously enjoying their reprieve from signing faded issues of Tiger Beat in Midwestern Wal-Marts for overjoyed shut-ins new day in the spotlight, perhaps the time is right for other boy bands to consider a reunion. After all, Lou Pearlman is all locked up, so there's no threat of embezzlement or creepy hugs that last way, way too long, and the market for nostalgia has officially reached the stage where "I remember that!" is equally as strong a selling point as "I remember liking that!", judging by the number of hipsters who ironically shelled out for Spice Girls tickets. But while it probably wouldn't require moving heaven and earth to get Nick Lachey to stop transcribing the court records of his divorce into ballad form and end 98 Degrees' self-imposed hiatus, don't count on 'N Sync fulfilling its outstanding obligations to Jive records anytime soon: For one thing, Justin Timberlake is way too busy being very fucking famous. For another, Joey Fatone is way too busy reinventing himself as the male counterpart to Lisa Rinna, and propagating the notion that ordinary schlubs with minimal talent can be stars (admittedly, something he knows a lot…nah, too easy) on NBC's weekly odyssey to the karaoke level of Hell, The Singing Bee.

Not content with sucking up your living room with his unctuous phony laughter, Fatone has teamed up with Mel B. (a.k.a. "Sue-y Spice") to bring down American business with TLC's new The Singing Office, which finds the two "ambushing" a random workplace and holding a spontaneous singing audition to find hidden talent. Says the scariest Spice who ever spiced, "It's been amazing giving everyday people a chance of a lifetime!" Indeed, what a great opportunity to waste all of your sick leave or maybe even lose your job in the middle of a recession, all for the chance to compete in a third-tier singing contest for a "grand prize" that's not much more than the average middle class worker's annual salary. And let's say your dream does come true, and you do become a professional singer. Isn't the fact that Joey Fatone and Mel B.–who have literally millions in record sales between them–are currently offering you career advice while hosting a reality show on fucking TLC enough to convince you that maybe it's not really worth it? Hmmm???

- Of course, on ye olde metaphorical ladder of celebrity, Fatone and Mel B. are at least clinging tenaciously to the bottom rung, not down there soaking up the groundwater like professional peons Dustin Diamond, Danny Bonaduce, and Todd Bridges, all of whom have dutifully answered the latest celeb-reality cattle call and wandered, dead-eyed and dazed, into the fame abattoir known as Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling on CMT. According to the synopsis, Hogan, wrestling manager Jimmy Hart, and former WCW president Eric Bischoff will put a group of stars whose main gig is reminding people that they used to be stars–a sad rank that also includes Dennis Rodman, Frank Stallone, and Tiffany–through a series of competitions that include "complex wrestling moves, talking trash, and working a live audience."

Illustration for article titled Friday Buzzkills: Spare some change?

The show is still in production, but here's an educated guess on what you can expect: Dustin Diamond will act like a huge fucking prick and alienate everybody. Todd Bridges will yell at him. Tiffany will cry at some point–as will Danny Bonaduce, when he's not busy making creepy passes at Playboy playmate Nikki Ziering–and they'll both come out feeling "stronger than they ever have before." Dennis Rodman will act all aloof like he "doesn't need this shit, man" and piss off the judges with his diva attitude, but will really come alive in the "working an audience" competition and become an immediate crowd favorite. Erin Murphy (Bewitched) will try to be everybody's mom; Frank Stallone won't get more than two minutes of screen time per episode. Hulk Hogan will narrate with lots of wrestling-related puns, such as, "Up until now, drugs and alcohol have really put Danny Bonaduce's career in a chokehold–but can he body slam his doubts and get back up on the ropes?!" There, we've just saved you eight hours of your life.

- Obviously what these "celebrities" need to get their lives back on track isn't another cable network to come along and exploit their desperation by putting them on shows where their dwindling star wattage is less of a draw than the potential to see them suffer grievous bodily harm. No, at this crucial stage folks like Dustin Diamond could really use some sound advice–and who better to turn to than his former Saved By The Bell co-star Elizabeth Berkley? The actress who recently announced plans to add her own considerable loogie skills to spitting on Donnie Darko has launched her very own website, Ask-Elizabeth, a pink nightmare of stunted adolescence on which the girl famous for overdosing on caffeine pills and licking stripper poles offers "an oasis in the midst of this maelstrom as you are wrestling with adolescent pressures and confusion." Targeted at young girls–hence the multitude of rainbows, fairies, hearts, Hello Kitties, and a strummy Corinne Bailey Rae song that never stops playing–the site is intended to be a "supportive, non-judgmental forum for you to anonymously ask your deepest questions on themes ranging from body image, fitness, beauty, friendship, health, boys, family, goals, etc." Of course, right now the site is mostly a shrine to Berkley and all of the uh-mazing work she's done–though by watching one of her many educational videos, "Boys," we've learned that boyfriends may not last very long, but (in the words of the Zack Attack) friends are, like, forever–and the forum is still in progress, so we'll have to wait until a future installment to get an answer to our own question ("You got something wrong with your nipples? I'm erect. Why aren't you?").

- If we were Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, or even William Shatner, we might be setting an appointment for a physical right about now: Last week we reported on the death of Star Trek theme composer Alexander Courage and series producer Joseph Pevney; this week the list of original crew members who are no longer living long or prospering includes producer Robert Justman, who worked on both the 1960s version and Star Trek: The Next Generation and died this week at the age of 81. (Even Justman's son couldn't resist a little obvious pun: "There seems to be a big Star Trek convention, and everyone is getting beamed up.")

It's been responsible for everything from the careers of John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Stephen Colbert to those annoying Sonic commercials, and decades later the venerable institution known as Second City still continues to produce some of the best comedic performers in the country–credit for which is due co-founder Paul Sills, who died this week at the age of 80. While Sills (who also created the New Actors Workshop with Mike Nichols) never achieved fame himself, he helped launch the careers of hundreds of other people, and, as Second City stated on its website, "the influence of Paul Sills on the American Theatre" can not be exaggerated." Sills also created the popular "Story Theatre" format—which finds characters narrating their own stories—that is still widely used by drama classes today. For better or worse.

Mel Ferrer, who died Monday at the age of 90, was a somewhat reluctant star who broke out in sweeping epics like The Sun Also Rises and The Brave Bulls, but he was arguably more famous for marrying Audrey Hepburn, with whom he costarred in 1956's War And Peace. Ferrer's tall, brooding good looks and commanding presence made him a natural for playing authoritative characters such as King Arthur in Knights Of The Round Table or an outlaw in Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious. But his most rightfully acclaimed and touching role was as the bitter, crippled puppeteer who awkwardly communicates through his creations in 1953's Lilli.

Have a super weekend!