“The Best of Times” (1981) with Crispin Glover and Nicolas Coppola (Cage)

“The Best of Times” is a truly awful television pilot from 1981 that only aired once (to the best of my knowledge) and never continued past its first episode.  Co-produced by “Laugh-In”‘s George Schlatter, “Times” (I imagine) was supposed to be a lighthearted, albeit sensitive look at the struggles of being a teenager, though it’s executed in the most ass-backwards, tasteless early 1980s corporate TV manner.  It’s a truly weird WTF hybrid of lowest common denominator sitcom humor, occasional drama, and … yes … musical numbers.  Imagine “Freaks & Geeks” had it been produced by Sid & Marty Krofft and you’ll get the picture.

So why am I even talking about this?  Yes this is partly due to “Times” being truly one of those god-awful train wrecks that’s worth watching for its sheer cluelessness.  But mainly  because the stars are Crispin Glover and Nicolas Cage … sorry Coppola … before they became famous.  And they’re playing characters called Crispin and Nicholas, respectively.

I don’t feel too bad ripping on this because I’m sure Glover and Cage would gleefully agree this is not their finest hour.  But what makes this particularly an odd watch is seeing a 17-year old Glover struggling to play a “normal” early 1980s-era sitcom teenager.   It’s simultaneously painful and fascinating to watch and arguably stranger than Glover’s legendary appearances in “River’s Edge” and “Wild at Heart.”

Now here’s the really weird part … I totally remember watching this when I was 11 years old.  While my tastes back then were not as evolved as they are now, I remember being totally baffled by “Times” … and not in a good way.  This was so memorably bizarre that I actually thought about the show the other day, but not remembering the title or who was in it.  Thanks to Glover’s appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast today, I looked the show up on YouTube and much to my shock, I realized “So, THIS was that odd and terrible show I remember seeing when I was 11!”

If you have a strong stomach, are a fan of really bad TV pilots, or want to see what certain stars did before they became famous, “Times” is a must-watch.

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“That One Night” – The Hunted (from the US version of “The Office) (2008)

To identify the most cringe-worthy moment of one of the most crigne-worthy episodes of the US version “The Office” is, I realize, a bold task.  But this song, written for Michael Scott’s girlfriend / ex-boss Jan Levinson by her former assistant, is beyond creepy … and funny.   We first see Levinson’s assistant Hunter on the episode where Jan is getting fired (“The Job”), and as she hugs Hunter, tells him “”Good luck with your band,” adding “Don’t let them change you.”  Well, this is the payback … a song dedicated to the night where Jan allegedly made Hunter a man.  The fact that Jan plays this song wistfully in front of her current boyfriend (Michael) while trying to dance with another man is an extremely queasy and funny moment.   The fact that Hunter named his band “The Hunted” speaks volumes.

“Radio Radio” – Elvis Costello with the Beastie Boys (from the SNL 25th Anniversary Show, circa 2000)

Before you watch this clip, here’s some background …

Elvis Costello made his US debut on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) in early 1978.  He was supposed to perform “Less Than Zero,” a song about racism in England and Costello got through about 15 seconds of the song before he abruptly cut it and launched into “Radio Radio,” an extremely critical song about the increasing control of media by corporations.

Cut to 22 years later … SNL is broadcasting a 25-year tribute show.  The Beastie Boys perform their hit “Sabotage” when Costello runs on stage and … well … I think you can figure out where it goes from there …  a clever way to pay tribute to one of SNL’s most notorious moments and a terrific performance of one of Costello’s best songs with help from one of the most innovative rock / rap groups of all-time.

Even nearly 40 years later, the lyrics still bite:

“Some of my friends sit around every evening and they worry about the times ahead.
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference and the promise of an early bed.
You either shut up or get cut up, they don’t wanna hear about it.
It’s only inches on the reel-to-reel.
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin’ to anesthetize the way that you feel.”

The dangers of hipness by proxy … or Lenny Bruce “hanging out” with Hugh Hefner on “Playboy’s Penthouse” Oct 24, 1959

By now, most people know the story about how a certain uptight Midwestern uber-nerd of the 1950s … Hugh Hefner … rebranded himself as a suave, hip (wait for it …) “playboy” and turned publishing and American culture on its head.  And all kidding aside, “Playboy” magazine was a remarkable accomplishment.  In a post World War II era where 10% of people interviewed thought an unmarried person could be happy (80%  believing that bacherlors were “sick, neurotic, and immoral”), Hefner made being a bachelor “cool,” selling an alternative image of unlimited sex and pleasure to a nation shackled to a notion that suburban domesticity was the ideal.  In addition, Hefner craftily classed up his magazine with important writers and thinkers of the day, not only giving his so-called “dirty” magazine a sense of sophistication, but exposing mainstream America to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Steinbeck, James Jones, W. Somerset Maugham, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and John Updike.  Of course, Hefner was not the first person to expose America to these literary giants, but by placing their writing among the nude pictorials, mainstream Americans arguably became more exposed to these works based on their placement in “Playboy.”

Yet at the same time, Hefner was actually more in line with the conservative 1950s than his image projected at the time.  Per Mike Edision, in his brilliant and entertaining look at America’s pioneering print pornographers “Dirty Dirty Dirty,” who observed: “Despite his protests, (Hefner) was the very definition of bourgeois.  He gave lip service to mainstream American values, but he advocated the conspicuous consumption that was at the heart of the nation’s pride in its hard-won prosperity.  In this case it was sports cars, not station wagons; stereo components, not washer-dryers – but it was constructed with the same vapid building blocks of materialism and peddled by the same choice Mammon who pushed aluminum siding and riding mowers. Hef was creating a new playbook for the single male, but it was still based on the old caste system of He with the Coolest Stuff Wins.”  In other words, Hefner was one of the most successful marketers of consumerism as rebellion.

So who better to drop a turd into Hefner’s impeccably created martini than the then-current king of “sick humor” Lenny Bruce. In this late 1950s television version of the Playboy Lifestyle (“Playboy Penthouse’), Hefner tries to navigate a manufactured urban penthouse set in tuxedo, selling the Playboy philosophy while still looking a little uncomfortable in the role.  While Hefner was a definite fan and supporter of Bruce’s over the years, Bruce was obviously invited to this televised shindig to provide a some reflected hip glory on Hefner.  And Bruce isn’t having any of it, brutally identifying the truth behind the Playboy philosophy “Playboy is very chic, and you can say sophisticated, and the magazine is filled with sports coats, about your views about sports cars, and I am glad you have one, ’cause you don’t care about the people who don’t have money … they can wait for their own magazine. ‘Field and Stream’? … The Playmate has a duck in her mouth.”  Hefner gamely attempts to take it on the chin, though he’s obviously very uneasy about Bruce calling him out.  A very funny and subversive American pop culture moment.

Oh, and again, please read Mike Edison’s “Dirty, Dirty, Dirty,” a ridiculously entertaining look at not only Hefner, but Bob Guccione, Larry Flynt, and Al Goldstein.

“Too Many Cooks” from Adult Swim

This apparently aired at 4:00 am on the Adult Swim channel at some point during the last night or so in a spot normally reserved for infomercials.  It starts out as a very funny parody of really bad 1980s sitcom opening credits sequences and then goes increasingly off the rails during its 11+ minutes.  You really need to watch ALL of this.  This is pure demented genius.   Not safe for work.

Chris Rock’s monlogue from SNL, Nov. 1, 2014

Chris Rock’s monologue from last night’s Saturday Night Live has been drawing a lot of fire from some people but I think it’s the best SNL host monologue in years.  And while I’m not a friend of … nor related to … anyone hurt or killed in either the 9/11 or Boston Marathon tragedies, I don’t think Rock said anything to demean the victims or their families.  He’s found a very funny way to talk about common fears and used that as a springboard to criticize how American culture commercializes tragedies and other meaningful human events.  Just as some people immediately jumped on to the “I’m offended” or “too soon” bandwagons, others are probably going to go overboard and call Rock’s monologue “brave,” which … I suspect .. even Rock would likely scoff at.  Because … these are jokes.  And they’re funny.  And they’re coming from a good place.  So, enough of my yakkin’ … just watch and laugh.  Or … be offended … and watch something you do like.  In any case, it’s all good.

The Complete New Wave Theatre

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSlPGa1DSp4PMejsDhrassQ/videos

Fans of early 1980s LA punk rock and early late night cable TV rejoice! Someone has uploaded multiple episodes of “New Wave Theater,” the highlight of the USA Network’s legendary late night show “Night Flight,” at the YouTube channel located the link above.  Hosted by the late great Peter Ivers.

Crispin Glover’s appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman” July 28, 1997

Here is Crispin Glover’s infamous interview with David Letterman on “Late Night With David Letterman.” Despite Glover’s bizarre behavior here, he later admitted he was trying to do a tribute to some of the brilliantly demented appearances Andy Kaufman had on Letterman’s from the early 1980s.  The only problem with Glover’s tribute was that Letterman wasn’t in on it.  And Letterman was clearly disturbed by what went down, as evidenced in Letterman’s commentary after Glover “left” the show.   This may seem relatively tame these days, but back in the day, this appearance, along with Glover’s performance in the brilliant film “River’s Edge” and a demented Spin Magazine profile from around the same time, created a mini-cult amongst my friends for Glover for many, many years.

“Best of Bob and Doug MacKenzie” from SCTV

For your consideration … here’s 20 minutes of Bob & Doug MacKenzie clips recorded for various “SCTV” episodes during the early 1980s.  The origin for the MacKenzie brothers came from the Canadian government who insisted that “SCTV” broadcast two minutes of exclusively Canadian “content.”  SCTV producer/writer/performer Dave Thomas was flabbergasted at such a demand, so he decided to give them the worst stereotype of Canada he could possibly think of.  Thomas and fellow SCTV cast member / writer Rick Moranis gave them two dumb drunk Canadians who talked about nonsense for two minutes.  Thomas said that all of their clips were made up on the spot and because they were recorded at the end of the day when everyone went home … they took full advantage of this time to … well … to unwind … meaning that beer they were enjoying was real.  I think that’s called method acting, eh.

The irony, of course, was that this throwaway bit, done with as little preparation as possible, wound up becoming “SCTV”‘s most popular recurring segment, leading to a Top 10  album in the US and a feature-length film for MGM in 1983 called “Strange Brew.”  I’m sure any similarity with the creation of the MacKenzie Brothers and Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” is purely coincidental.

If you’re at all interested in the MacKenzie Brothers, “Strange Brew” or SCTV in general, you’re encouraged to check out the mammoth 4-hour podcast from the Projection Booth about all of these things.  The podcast is hosted by Mike White, Skizz Cyzyk, and actor Craig Bierko (“The Long Kiss Goodnight,” “Cinderella Man”) and features interviews with Thomas, screenwriter Steve De Jarnatt, actress Lynne Griffin (“Pam”), and author Jeff Robbins.  It’s a beauty, eh.
http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/09/episode-182-strange-brew.html