It seems like periodically I have to write on the subject of how out of touch I sometimes feel with the current popular culture.
Let’s start with this week’s Saturday Night Live. I have stayed loyal to this show from the beginning, even through its weakest, most disastrous seasons. But that may be at an end. The opening episode of the new season was truly abysmal, yet I’m seeing very positive reviews online.
Let’s start with Aidy Bryant, a pleasant overweight woman who has been on for several SNL seasons for no other reason, it would seem, than to be pleasant and make overweight people feel good about themselves. She has apparently been designated a star at SNL, because she was given the central role in four sketches, during which she mangled lines on every one. The high point was a lengthy sketch were she rapped about having “a big fat ass” to guest host Chris Pratt, who was generally poorly used, particularly in a sketch that had him as a kid’s action figure come to full-size life. The joke here was that the living action figures of He-Man (Pratt) and Lion-O of Thundercats (played poorly by the talented Taran Killam) patted their genitals and ate cake or anyway smeared their faces with it. This travesty, which appeared in the post-monologue sweet spot, was among the worst SNL sketches I’ve ever seen.
Weekend Update has replaced Cecily Strong with Michael Che, who did an okay job, with Strong back to do a trademark dumb girl character abandoned last year when she became an effective co-host with the bland Colin Jost. A new player, Pete Davidson, 20, did a piece about how it would be okay to have fellatio for money. This was (I kid you not, as Jack Parr used to say) the best thing on the show. (Next best was a Marvel movie trailer parody, not a live piece.) A pair of weak sketches on the NFL scandals (including the “cold open”) failed to score any points. Another sketch was based on the hilarious premise that every animal taken to a pet hospital promptly died. Online, Slate (among others) raved about the episode.
Let’s not leave out the musical guest. A small, attractive young woman – Ariana Grande – wore cat ears for both her songs (neither of which were about cats) and sang in a breathy, almost-on-pitch articulation-free caterwauling (maybe that’s the connection) imitation of Lady Gaga, which is like a soft drink imitating Pepsi, in this case badly. In cat girl’s second number, a black guy with a bizarre haircut that looked like a vulture was perched on his skull came out and did some sing-songy stuff. Turns out his name is the Weeknd. That’s right, no damn third “e” for Weeknd!
Here’s my “Weeknd” Update: SNL, I give up. How can anybody older than twenty-three identify with this stuff, and why the hell do they like it?
Moving on to films, the critical favorite THE BOX TROLLS (yes, Barb and I went to it, further establishing my son’s theory that I will go to any 3-D movie) turned out to be the most hideously unpleasant “family movie” I’ve ever seen. Highlights include: a boy at a fancy party noticing he should be using a fork, prompting him to puke up his food on his plate and eat it with a fork; a villain who loves to eat cheese (the “money” of this quaint Brit village) even though he’s allergic, causing his lips and other parts of his face to swell up grotesquely (SPOILER ALERT: he eventually explodes, Mr. Creosote style); and a long-lost father who has been tied upside down in a dungeon for a decade, causing him to grow a lot of facial hair and giggle as he yells, “Jelly!” Everything in the film – technically well-made, involving many talented artisans – is ugly and frequently horrific.
I don’t mind kids getting scared in movies. In fact, I think it’s good for them. Give them a taste or two of the Island of Lost boys and a poisoned apple. But not a steady diet. BOX TROLLS is whimsical without wit, precious without point, nary a laugh in the over-long dire mess. And guess what? It’s rated 72% fresh on ROTTEN TOMATOES!
On the other hand, the terrific Spillane-style THE EQUALIZER with Denzel Washington opened to some devastatingly bad reviews (Entertainment Weekly gave it a D-), though it did well at the box office and has since risen to 60% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. This gives me hope. By the way, I invoke Spillane because THE EQUALIZER and the TV series it’s based on were pure Mike Hammer. The film even begins with a scene that re-works the opening of MY GUN IS QUICK. Washington is terrific as the self-contained, haunted hero, and a final action sequence in a Menard’s-type big-box store is blackly funny and satisfying as hell.
But it seems like out here in the hinterlands that I have to work very hard to find even an okay movie to go to (I like to go once a week). These days TV is more my go-to place for quality storytelling. MASTERS OF SEX just wrapped up an amazing second season, for example. Last week Barb and I enjoyed season eight of MURDOCH MYSTERIES, as I mentioned, and I understand more LEWIS is coming. JUSTIFIED’s final season is on the way, and more ARCHER lies ahead. AMERICAN HORROR STORY, too.
So I am relating to certain things in current popular culture.
But cat ears? Is a thing?
Here’s a good list of hardboiled/noir books and writers (linked here because I’m on it!).
Check out these delightful reviews of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT and STRIP FOR MURDER (scroll down for A KILLING IN COMICS, previously linked here). What Rip Jagger does is intersperse photos of the real-life folks I used as the basis for characters – very cool.
My role in getting GET CARTER and other Ted Lewis books back into print is mentioned here, but the overall piece is terrific…like Ted Lewis.
Finally here’s a very good interview with my pal Ed Gorman, one of our best writers, from Gravetapping.