Groundhog Day is a cult classic. Over the course of time, it has received a great deal of critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes has given the film a 96% ranking. The Guardian recently ranked it as the 20th greatest comedy of all-time. There is no doubt that on the surface there are a lot of comedic elements in the film. However, if you look deeper, you will find that there are also many of spiritual elements as well. The film doesn’t just offer comedic relief, but it also provides a framework on how to live a fulfilling life.
The star of the film is Phil Connors, played brilliantly by Bill Murray. We first meet Phil on a television set doing a weather report. Phil is a narcissistic weatherman and a curmudgeon. He is placed on assignment to cover the groundhog ceremony in Punxsutawney. Phil has spent many years in the past covering the event and dreads his visit every time. On the way to the ceremony, we meet the angelic Rita, played by Andie McDowell. Rita is a television producer that is new to the network. She is seemingly humble and represents many things that Phil is not. It doesn’t take long before Phil becomes enamored with her.
When Phil wakes up for his first Groundhog Day he is extremely bitter. He spends his first morning at a quaint BNB in town. After he wakes up, he complains to the BNB operator about the lack or cappuccino and espresso. On his way into town he blows off a former high school classmate, Ned Ryerson, when he sees him in the street. He begrudgingly gives the groundhog report and bitches and complains the entire time he does it. He attempts to leave for Pittsburgh and is sent back to his BNB after a storm hits. At the BNB, he complains about the lack of hot water. The next day, Phil wakes up and finds that it is Groundhog’s Day all over again. He is in a bit of a state of shock. Again, he continues to complain. He thinks about all of the other people that he could be spending the day with and all of the other places he would rather be.
The day repeats itself over and over again to the point where Phil can’t take it anymore. He becomes rebellious. He drives on the railroad tracks. He gets placed in jail. He overindulges in food. He smokes cigarettes. He starts to embrace his newfound immortality. When Rita mentions poetry, he mocks her and laughs in her face. He says that he is egocentric to which she replies, “I know that you are egocentric. It is your defining characteristic. “ Over the course of the next few repeat days Phil uses his immortality to gain knowledge about local women in the hopes of sleeping with them. It is evident that Phil is having fun but is not particularly happy.
Over the course of time, Phil changes his outlook and starts to focus on Rita and ways that he can use his newfound power to end up with her. He spends his countless days learning about her. He becomes infatuated with her. On a side note, what is it about Andie McDowell and infatuation? The same exact thing happened to Kirby in St. Elmo’s Fire. She must have spellbinding charm. Anyway, Phil spends his next few days learning her favorite drinks, chocolates, ice cream, and poetry. His interests are very contrived. They aren’t necessarily things that he cares about. He is more concerned about learning about things that will help him close the deal with her. He spends time having snowball fights with kids. In the end, Rita catches on to Phil’s lack of genuineness. She says that she could never be with a guy like Phil because he only likes himself. A very self aware Phil replies, “That’s not true. I don’t even like myself.” Then we see a montage over and over again where Phil gets rejected and slapped by Rita. Clearly, taking an interest in her in a contrived fashion is not the way to her heart.
After the repeated rejections, Phil becomes very depressed. He constantly complains about the weather. He gives half assed groundhog reports. He seems his immortality as a curse and attempts to kill himself on multiple occasions. He tries to fall off a building. He attempts to kill himself by dropping a toaster in the bathtub. He attempts to drive a truck off a cliff. Nothing seems to work.
In a moment of clarity, one day Phil starts to see things a little bit differently. He starts to look outward. He cares for a homeless man on the street that he had previously routinely passed by. He provides the man with food and shelter and even attempts to save his life. Ultimately, nothing works and the old man dies. Phil then decides to devote his repeated days towards self-improvement and developing a positive attitude. He learns to play the piano. He hugs a gentleman who he had been very quick to dismiss to start his day. He learns to ice sculpt. His groundhog report that had once been bitter all of the sudden depicts the town and the people in a very positive light. After he gives his incredible report that wins over the townspeople, instead of fashioning ways to court Rita, like he had done in the past, he devotes his time to helping members of the community. He saves a young boy who had fallen out of a tree. He helps a group of elderly women with a flat tire. He helps a man named Buster by giving him the Heimlich maneuver. He devotes his attention towards bettering situations.
All of these positive events throughout the day end in a celebration where Phil is the star. He uses his newfound piano skills to entertain the guests. He dances with Rita, who he has not seen throughout the day, and everyone is thanking him for his selfless acts of kindness. She is wowed by him and confesses that he is not the man she thought he was. She likes him so much that she even bids on him at the auction and wins. She is rewarded by him ice sculpting a replica of her face. At night, they go to bed and the next morning he finally awakes and it is no longer Groundhog Day. He has awoken. He has captured the heart of the woman of his dreams and in the process become so enamored with the town and the people that he states that he wants to live here. He has everything he could want and more. He doesn’t complain about the people. He doesn’t complain about the environment. He embraces things for what they are and attempts to make them better. Phil has transformed.
So what does this have to do with my spirituality? I went to a Jesuit high school called St. Joseph’s Prep. Bill Murray went to a Jesuit high school called Loyola Academy. He also went to college at Regis University, a Jesuit university in Colorado. The Jesuits have multiple philosophies that I adhere to. One is the notion of being a “Man For Others”. It involves living a life dedicated to helping and serving others. It entails putting others ahead of oneself. It is through this that the Jesuits believe people can live a fulfilling life. In this film, as Phil begins to snap out of his funk, he becomes a man for others. He uses his repeating days towards helping and serving people in and around town. That plays a vital role in his fulfillment but it is not all.
The Jesuits also have a word they often used called magis. Magis means “the more”. It means living a life that utilizes all of your abilities and in the process helps others utilize their own. It doesn’t mean pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion but rather pushing yourself to the point where you get the most out of your talents. Clearly, Phil is a person who seeks the magis. He is a person who develops the ability to ice sculpt, to play the piano, and to become a very well rounded person. His gifts become a gift to others. People enjoy listening to his music. People enjoy looking at his ice sculptures. When Phil becomes aware of his own abilities and puts them to use that is when Rita takes interest. She doesn’t fall in love with him because he takes a contrived interest in her. She falls in love with him because he has taken an interest into using his talents to help others. When Phil becomes self-aware, embraces the day, devotes himself to helping others, and puts his talents to positive use, he finally wakes up. He finally starts to live. That philosophy is at the core of my spirituality.
I’ll pretty much watch any form of reality tv. I love people, especially unique ones. Reality tv is my guilty pleasure. Up until recently I thought that I had seen everything that reality tv had to offer. Then my Facebook newsfeed blew up with people talking about a hit new show on TLC called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I like to be a part of the national conversation so I decided to check it out. Within minutes of watching the show, I realized that I had reached rock bottom as a reality tv viewer.
The show revolves around a family of rednecks. It is a spin off from the TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras. On that show, a young spoiled brat named Alana aka Honey Boo competes in beauty pageants. Her mother fuels her up before competitions by having her drink pints of Mountain Dew. Alana calls it her “go go” juice. If you want a sneak peak into what causes obesity in children, look no further. The family went on to charm TLC and before you knew it they were given a show of their own.
The star of Here Comes Honey Boo is June aka Mama. She is the head of the household and may be the most repulsive woman in the history of television. In the opening credits, she farts and pretends that it is the work of her kids. Aesthetically, she is very unappealing. She’s 32. That is one year for each chin that she has. She is about to become a grandmother. She showers in her kitchen sink. She tells her kids that if they fart between 12 and 15 times a day, they can lose weight. She looks like a cross between Kevin Malone from The Office and Mrs. Beakley from the 90s cartoon Duck Tales.
June’s parenting tactics and mannerisms are quite disturbing. Her idea of feeding her kids breakfast is by throwing a box of cheese balls in the middle of the floor and letting the kids have at it. She calls it the breakfast of champions. Her favorite hobby is couponing which she says is better than sex. I would imagine her lover agrees with that statement because anything is better than sex with Mama. I say lover because she is not married. Her partner is named Sugar Bear. Mama calls him her Shack Em Up Mate. She said it wasn’t love at first sight. It was bed at first sight. Gross. They’ve been together for 8 years and in a recent episode they went out to dinner for their anniversary at Crockett’s Cafeteria. It marked 8 years they’ve been together and 8 years of man lowering his standards to record levels. Mama attempted to be romantic by eating with utensils for once. She did a great job until food got stuck in between the layers of fat on her neck. Sugar Bear was not impressed.
Aside from Alana, Mama has a few other kids. One is named Pumpkin. She has zero respect for her mother. In a scene where they are at a supermarket, Pumpkin says, “Mommy, look what I found. It is rust remover. Maybe it will help you remove your neck crust.” She was not joking. Mama literally gets neck crust stuck in the spaces between her chins and she forgets to clean it. Please take a few seconds to relieve your nausea. Isn’t Sugar Bear a lucky man?
So what else does this family like to do? They like to exercise their creativity. It is just about the only thing they exercise. On hot days, they throw a tarp on the ground, add some soap, hose it down, and create what they call a redneck waterslide. Jessica aka Chubbs, who is another daughter, says it is like having their own amusement park. She has eaten one too many cheese balls for breakfast. The girls also like to go out for pedicures. As Pumpkin’s pregnant sister Chickadee points out, her feet are so crusty that she can sandpaper the floor. Mama has a lot to be proud of. In an unsurprising revelation, Mama is insecure about showing off her feet because her foot was once run over by a forklift thus leaving her toes mangled. #redneckproblems
The show is a microcosm of all that is wrong with modern American society. First off, the rednecks on this show are completely shameless when it comes to their behavior. They glorify reckless teenage pregnancy. They don’t really have a problem with their obesity. They have a strange pride in their debaucheries like their Summer redneck games. It is as if they are living in a zoo and have no idea how the rest of the world conducts themselves. We really shouldn’t be glorifying people like this and yet we do. I’m guilty as charged. I detest nearly everything that Mama stands for and yet I contribute to her paycheck by watching the show. It is the same reason some people rubber neck. It is the same reason some people read US Weekly. We are a curious breed. I’d like to see the show fail. I think that some of Mama’s parental tactics border on child abuse. I’d like to see teachers, nurses, scientists, etc. have their own shows instead of people like this. Unfortunately, with shows like this, Jersey Shore, and Toddlers and Tiaras generating big ratings, it doesn’t look like things are going to change. Unabashed shamelessness is very much in vogue on television nowadays and I’ll probably continue watching. God help me. God help us all.
During weeks when my creative juices aren’t flowing as much, I’d like to turn to my readers and answer some of their questions. In this week’s inaugural Q&A session, we talk about video game athletes, Beverly Hills 90210, facial hair on Presidential candidates, and a variety of other topics. Here are a few questions that were asked:
Q: Lance Ten Broeck, former star of PGA Tour Golf ’92 on Sega Genesis, made an out of nowhere comeback to take the lead after two rounds at this week’s US Senior Open. Ten Broeck was a former PGA Tour journeyman turned caddy for Jesper Parnevik. What former elite video game athlete would you like to see make a comeback?
A: I’d love to see the fat guy with the mustache on Nintendo Ice Hockey serve as a goon for the Flyers. I also have a lot of respect for John Elway in John Elway’s Quarterback. The Sixers would be greatly improved with the front court addition of the version of Charles Barkley from Barkley, Shut Up and Jam. However, the answer has to be Randall Cunningham aka QB Eagles in Tecmo Super Bowl. QB Eagles may have been the greatest video game athlete ever. He was the ultimate weapon. I am a huge Randall fan. I once attended the Randall Cunningham Show and used to snack on Randall Cunningham bars as a kid. I would love to see him back. On a side note, “Let me be me.”-Randall Cunningham is a great high school yearbook quote.
Q: How do you feel about the Sixers signing Kwame Brown?
A: Do you remember in the movie Space Jam when aliens take away Charles Barkley’s powers and he can’t play basketball? That’s Kwame Brown.
Q: In honor of national ice cream day (July 15th), I would like to know why did they do away with Fat Frog and whatever happened to ice cream trucks?
–Kris, Winter Park, FL
A: Ice cream trucks are still around. There is one that comes around my neighborhood every now and then. The only problem is that I never know when it is coming. I’m very big on social media. I created a social media app about a year and a half ago. If there was ever an industry that would be “well served” by integrating with social media, it would have to be the ice cream truck one. That way people could locate it and plan accordingly. As for the flavors, I don’t know why they did away with Fat Frog. I think the whole allure early on about ice cream trucks was that there were only certain flavors that you could get from them. For instance, my favorite ice cream truck treat of all-time was the WWF Superstar Bar. It was never carried in supermarkets. The ice cream truck was the lone carrier. It was delicious. Ravishing Rick Rude’s enticing spandex pants and hip gyrations were sold separately.
Q: Shark Week is coming up pretty soon. Are you excited?
A: I’m not a Shark Week guy. However, I enjoy marketing. If I was Hugh Hefner and I was running the Playboy Channel, I would counter Shark Week with Cougar Week. It would be a brilliant move.
Q: If you had to construct an NBA expansion team and your coaching staff had to consist of bald Hollywood actors, who would you select?
Head Coach: I like old school disciplinarians in the mold of Bobby Knight. I’m going to have to go with James Tolkan, the guy who played Principal Strickland in Back to the Future and Stinger in Top Gun. He would inject fear and discipline into every player and young upstarts need that. I would love to see him yank some hot headed rookie in the middle of the game and tell him, “Son, your ego is writing checks that your body can’t cash.”
Assistant Coach: You’d like someone who sticks to Tolkan’s disciplinary philosophy but who is a little bit more reserved and can keep the players loose. You don’t want the players to burn out. This is a tough call between Samuel L. Jackson and Louis Gossett, Jr. but I’m going to have to go with Diggstown.
Trainer: I’m going to have to go with Tony “Duke” Evers from Rocky. He was the former trainer of Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa. He has a championship pedigree and would provide the team with great inspirational quotes. A team can never have enough hurt bombs.
Q: What fictional tv character had the most impressive resume?
A: My immediate reaction is to say McGyver. If he was applying for a contracting job, his resume would blow everyone else’s out of the water, literally and figuratively. However, it is Summer time and a lot of college grads are looking for work so let’s look at who had the most impressive resume through college. My preliminary vote is for Brandon Walsh. The guy worked his way through high school by bussing tables at the Peach Pit while serving as sports editor and co-chief of the school paper, The Beverly Blaze. In college, he was the co-editor of the campus paper, The Condor, news director of the campus tv station CUTV, an intramural flag football star, worked in Washington, DC, and was student body President as a Junior. If you look up ambition in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Brandon Walsh and his sideburns. He also had intangibles that were off the charts. He was the moral fiber in a group of friends that dealt with alcoholism, lawsuits, anorexia, drug addiction, murder, and a suicide attempt.
Q: Zack Morris got a 1502 on his SATs. Where did those bonus two points come from?
A: In the days when Zack took the SATs, your score had to be divisible by 10. It was impossible for anyone to get a 1502. The points didn’t come from anywhere. It was a fake number. Zack’s high SAT score and admission into Yale and Jesse Spano’s subsequent lower SAT score was one of television’s great college admissions stories. It ranks right up there with Will getting a higher SAT score than Carlton and getting accepted into Princeton. They don’t test for emotional intelligence but you would have to assume that the Fresh Prince and Zack would have scored off the charts if they did. Speaking of Zack’s exam, Mr. Tuttle had to have been the proctor of that test, right? That guy just looks like a proctor.
Q: Do you think Dylan McKay has any of his trust fund money left? He’s been traveling the world for the past 20 yrs, has Jim Walsh and Iris McKay on his side but also did almost lose it all when he lent a ton to his kid sister’s mom and boyfriend, luckily Val and Jonesy helped get most of it back (but proves he’s generous and somewhat naive with the money). And was he entitled to any his wife’s, Antonio Marchette, money when she passed? Don’t recall a prenup discussion, although given the relationship between he and her father, he probably didn’t approach that subject.
A: I think that it is all gone. Dylan McKay never exactly had the greatest work ethic. He was a bit of a slacker. If you’ll recall his answering machine message simply said, “This is Dylan. You know the drill.”
I tossed this question to my friend Monica, a 90210 maven, and this was her response, “I did watch a few episodes of the new edition 90210, when Kelly made her guest appearance as guidance counselor/Silver big sister, and it appears her and Dylan have a young son. So I have to believe some of the money is going towards that—-and his endless tab at the Peach Pit—poor Nat won’t be able to retire until he pays up!”
Q: What personal-style choices should (or would) automatically disqualify someone from a presidential bid? A mustache? Being overly tan? A muffin top or visible underwear line?
A: In today’s day and age, all of these choices are fair game for disqualification. Let’s start with the mustache/facial hair. Facial hair is about as common in politics as monogamy. Congressman Sonny Bono was one of the few politicians who could pull off the mustache. Mustaches are generally synonymous with deceit and that doesn’t fly in politics. The last President to rock facial hair was Harry Truman, who once sported a goatee while on vacation. The greatest bearded President of all-time was Abraham Lincoln. The greatest mustached President of all-time was Teddy Roosevelt. Chester A. Arthur had the greatest mutton chops ever. Those looks were part of the era. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll see the leader of the free world sport facial hair in the near future.
The muffin top would not fly today, either. We’re a far too weight conscious society. I think spray tanning would hurt a candidate’s chances across the board but it would do a lot to secure votes in North Jersey and the vote of the old lady in Something About Mary in the crucial swing state of Florida. I think that CNN’s John King would probably agree with me that if Mitt Romney were caught rocking jorts, he would certainly take a hit in the polls with younger voters.
I was born in 1980. My memory of the decade is fairly fuzzy. This is a result of the fact that I spent a healthy portion of time receiving wedgies, dead arms, steamrollers, and typewriters from my older brothers. Nevertheless, in honor of the decade that brought us Chunk, Data, Strawberry Shortcake, and Cabbage Patch Kids I have compiled a list of some of my favorite toys, fads, and trends from the decade. Here they are:
Nothing screamed sexy quite like a woman who looked like a linebacker. This piece of fashion fulfilled Blanche’s inner fantasy to look like Lawrence Taylor. Women desired power in the 80s and shoulder pads helped them achieve their goal. Notables to wear shoulder pads: The Golden Girls, Claire Huxtable, the cast members of Designing Women, Princess Di, and Small Wonder.
Looking tough was cool in the 80s. Bandana headbands helped. The Karate kid was probably the most iconic user of the bandana headband in the 80s. Brand from Goonies was a close second. Brand was a fashion rebel as evidenced by his sweat shorts over his sweatpants move. Nobody else has ever executed that move or even tried.
If you wanted to look intellectual, sweater vests were the way to go. Sweater vests were often accompanied by a mustache and a pipe. Notable wearers of the sweater vest include Mr. Belvedere and Mr. Rogers.
No list about the 1980s is complete without Nintendo. It was the 1980s. My parents bought the original NES for my brothers and I in 1986. We got the Gyromite version. Gyromite was a robot who doubled as my friend before my neighbor Corn moved into the neighborhood in 1987. My greatest NES accomplishment was beating Mike Tyson in Punchout with the help of Little Mac’s trainer who looked like Al Roker. Best games: Mike Tyson’s Punchout, Ice Hockey, Double Dribble, Super Mario Brothers, Spy Hunter, Zelda, Rush ‘N Attack.
Imagine it is the present day. You’re the father of a high school girl. You are sitting in your house quietly and you happen to look outside your house and you find a kid holding a boom box in his high tops on your front lawn. You would probably call the police. In the 80s, you invited him inside. This act was seen as charming as evidenced by John Cusack in Say Anything. Stalking was all the rage. John Cusack wasn’t alone. Do you remember Kirby, played by Emilio Estevez, from St. Elmo’s Fire and his obsession with Dr. Dale, played by Andy McDowell? Kirby followed her around in sleet and snow. He was a creeper and how did McDowell react? She took a picture with him. Today, Kirby would occupy the block list on your Facebook.
If you were a kid at recess during the 1980s and were looking for a surefire way to burn your legs then this bad boy was for you. A woman once sued McDonald’s for getting burnt by their coffee. A kid at recess could have sued a school for the damage these bad boys did to your legs on a 90 degree day. They weren’t slides. They were death traps.
The Sony Walkman was all the rage for teenagers back in the ’80s. They served as the home for mix tapes everywhere. Back in the late 80s, my older brother used to make his mix tape for his girlfriend featuring songs like “Groovy Kind of Love” by Phil Collins and “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles and she would play them on her Walkman. Another common trend during the 80s was taping songs from the radio and putting them on a cassette.
Denim on Denim
WWF superstar Hillbilly Jim flawlessly executed the jean overalls move in the 1980s. It takes a lot of confidence to pull off straight blue or blue on blue. Notable 80s icons who rocked denim on denim include: Judd Nelson in Breakfast Club, early stage Uncle Jesse Katsopolis, and Corey Haim.
Witty Answering Machine Messages
“Wait for the beep! You gotta leave your name. You gotta leave your number. Wait for the beep!” Seemlingly every hip family had their own custom answering machine message. My brother and I recorded a version of “Hello” by Lionel Richie for our home answering machine. I started the recording by saying, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for or my mom, dad, Colleen, Pat, Kathy, Andrew, or Brian? I can see it in your eyes. I can see it in your smile. You want to leave a message so please wait for the beep.”
In today’s world, teenage boys ask girls out to the prom by texting them or writing on their Facebook wall. Back in the 80s, boys had to dial the girl’s house directly by dialing the rotary phone. This led to the inevitable awkward conversation with her dad or brother before getting the green light to speak to her
-Nintendo Power Magazine
Over the course of time, you develop a kinship with certain television and movie characters. Then for reasons such as a contract fallout or an untimely incident, the character is replaced. In some instances, the producers take the public as naive and inexcusably bring in another actor to reprise the role. In other instances, they replace the character altogether with a new character that has a similar story arc. Sometimes it works out. Other times it does not. Here is a list of some notables characters who were the recipients of a switch in television and film:
Vivian Banks (Fresh Prince of Bel Air)
You had to love Banks family. They really welcomed you into their home. Over time, you learned to value Uncle Phil’s sternness. You grew to understand Hilary’s pretentiousness. You respected Geoffrey’s no bullshit approach. You really came to know them. Then Vivian Banks was white. It was like putting John Paxson in a Michael Jordan jersey and thinking that nobody would notice. It was ridiculous. The producers pulled a fast one on us. So what really happened? The actress who played Aunt Viv became pregnant and had to be replaced. Whether or not they could have cast someone who looked more like the original actress is something no one will ever know.
Tori (Saved By The Bell)
Tori Scott was a tough biker rebel who joined Saved By The Bell to replace Jessie Spano, who may have been in rehab for caffeine pill addiction. In truth, she was brought in during the final season after Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley had contract disputes. She was on the show for 10 episodes during the 1992-1993 season. Michael Jackson had his white glove, Queen Elizabeth had her hat, and Tori had her black leather jacket. She wore it everywhere. She wore it around Bayside, in an earthquake, over a toga at a toga party, and over her blue prom dress. Her leather jacket was retired after her brief stint and she was not invited back for the reunion show.
Rusty Griswold (National Lampoon’s Vacation)
Every National Lampoon’s Vacation movie featured a new Rusty. Every film also featured a new Audry. Anthony Michael Hall, who played the original Rusty in Vacation, was riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels back in 1985. He turned down the reprise of the role in favor of playing Gary in Weird Science and later in the year would join Saturday Night Live at age 17. Searching for a replacement, the producers settled for Jason Lively for European Vacation. You would know him as Brooke Lively’s brother. He had one of the all-time best mop tops. He looked like an adult fragglerock. Euro Rusty was smooth as evidenced by his night club moves and his “Dad, I think he’s gonna pork her” line was one of the best in the series. The Christmas Vacation Rusty was played by the kid from Roseanne. The Vegas Vacation Rusty was played by the kid from Can’t Hardly Wait. All of them had decent careers.
Willie Mays Hayes (Major League)
“You may run like Hayes, but you hit like %#^*” –Lou Brown describing Willie Mays Hayes. After Wesley Snipes failed to negotiation his contract for the sequel, the producers decided to have Omar Epps revive the role for Major League 2. It didn’t work. Pedro Cerrano, Rick Vaughn, Roger Dorn, and Jake Taylor all came back but the cast lacked the continuity of the original. On a side note, the guy who played Harris in Major League may have one of the best sports movie resumes ever. He was in Major League, Hoosiers, and Rudy.
Captain Tom Everett (Caddyshack 2)
Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler was one of the most iconic movie characters of all-time. Murray knew he had too much of a good thing going with Caddyshack and decided not to come back for the sequel. Smart move. Dan Aykroyd was not blessed with such intuition. He decided to play Captain Tom Everett, a poor Man’s version of Spackler who had the same task of chasing gophers around. The role was a bomb and so was the film. It grossed slightly less than $12 million on a $20 million budget. Aykroyd’s was awarded a Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actor. In my view, it was the worst movie sequel ever made.
Valerie Malone (Beverly Hills 90210)
This is one of the few character switches that could easily have been viewed as an upgrade. With Brenda Walsh off to London, the producers of 90210 needed to bring in someone to spice up the ratings. Enter vixen Valerie Malone. It was a watershed moment. There wasn’t a red blooded male alive that wasn’t happy to see Kelly Kapowski back on screen in her prime. It was like Michael Jordan returning to the Bulls from AAA baseball. Valerie started off quite harmless and then became quite scandalous. She made more moves than a bowl of jello on a roller coaster. She made moves on Dylan, Ray Pruit, Brendan, and even on Donna Martin’s David. Nat was the only guy she passed on. Shannon Doherty was an iconic bitch and a tough character to replace but Valerie filled in her shoes quite nicely.
Harriet Winslow (Family Matters)
When you think of character switches and Family Matters, the first thing that comes to mind is the transformation of Steve Urkel to the uber cool Stefan Urquelle. However, Harriet Winslow went through a change as well. During the last season, the show switched the actresses that played Harriet. By that point, they could just have easily switched her with the grandmother from Dinosaurs because no one was really watching the show anymore. Nonetheless, Harriet and the show had a great run on TGIF and her husband Carl Winslow would go on to have a strong acting career doing what he does best: playing a cop.
Morty Seinfeld and Frank Constanza (Seinfeld)
Over the course of Seinfeld, there were two actors who played Jerry’s dad. The guy who probably did it best was Barney Martin. You know him as the man who invented the belt less trench coat. There were also two actors who played Frank Constanza. John Randolph, who played Clark Griswold’s dad in Christmas Vacation, played Frank early on in the show. Then he was replaced by the legendary Jerry Stiller. It was a great switch. The switch gave way for the creation of the manssiere, Festivus, and gave hope for lawyers everywhere who had capes. We were all better for it.
The ’90s were the decade of my youth. They were my most formative years. I’m very nostalgic when it comes to this decade. In honor of the decade that brought us the Carlton Dance, Ecto Cooler, troll dolls, and aqua socks, I have put together a list of some of my favorite toys, fads, and trends from the era. Some of these trends, fads, and toys are alive and well and some have been put to rest. Here is a list that I have constituted:
Blazers with T Shirts
This move was patented by Johnny Dakota who said he visited Bayside to shoot a public service announcement but really just wanted to make moves on Kelly Kapowski. The trend was also popularized by Zach Morris in Saved By The Bell, Christian in the movie Clueless, Mike Seaver in Growing Pains, Steve Sanders in Beverly Hills 90210, and Damon Wayons in the movie Mo Money. A similar trend, wearing a blazer with jeans, was perfected by SNL Weekend Update anchor Dennis Miller.
The Nerf Turbo
Before there were performing enhancing drugs, there was the Nerf turbo. The ball was nuked. It was a game changer. It was an equalizer. Due to its aerodynamic shape, all of the sudden kids who hadn’t hit puberty yet in the 6th grade became John Elway at recess. Kids could throw this ball about 40 yards further in the air than a traditional TLJ football. No one ever ran screen passes with this ball. It was a waste of time. It was spread offense and fly patterns or go home.
Axl Rose and Curt Cobain brought long hair into the mainstream on stage. Rod Belding, contrasted by his bald old brother Richard, made having long hair seem rebellious and cool with his wilderness vibe.
It was a kid’s dream and a parent’s nightmare. The Crocodile Mile was a staple at end of the year grade school parties where the host had a big yard and a blatant disregard for its appearance. It was highly fun but highly destructive. It could turn a lawn that looked like Wimbledon into a war zone within hours. Kids would always get hurt as the runway was rarely big enough. It needed to come with an insurance plan.
You could generally find these beauties at JC Penny’s or in the 700 level at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. They were breathable and also provided additional heat as a result of the neck warmer aka mullet that usually accompanied them.
The look on Marty McFly’s face when he first saw the power lacing sneakers was priceless. That was how I felt about the Reebok pumps. I was mesmerized by them. When Hank Gathers passed away, I engraved the #44 into my pair. They were my favorite pair of sneakers that I ever owned.
I liked to go against the grain as a kid. While other kids were buying the original Sega, I went with Turbo Grafx 16. It was a mistake. It only came with one controller and the sports games didn’t have official licensing so the players were all named after the Japanese guys who programmed the game. On a side note, Fuku was Barry Bonds in the baseball game. The only thing the system had going for it was Bonk’s Adventure.
Today it seems like most large families have SUVs. In the ’90s, people drove mini vans. I have five older siblings and our mom used to drive a gray Chevy Astro van. During his formidable early teenage years, my older brother used to hide in the back seat whenever we passed girls in the street. He was embarrassed by it. The back seat area was very spacious. Pinnies and orange slices were sold separately.
Umbro ruled the early 90s and their prevalence was greatly helped by the fact that many gym classes made them an essential part of their uniform. They were tight to say the least. They made every male look like a modern day version of a player on Hickory in Hoosiers.
These things used to make bus drivers go crazy as sounds of snapping used to echo throughout the bus. They went viral big time during the early part of the decade but then saw a big dip when rumors spread that a kid had accidentally slit his wrist while playing with them.
These were a fixture on ’90s boy bands and kids held against their will in family portraits. The mock version could also be found on various lead male characters on Beverly Hills 90210 in conjunction with their blazers. They have lost their fashion steam in the modern era and now are often used at ugly sweater Christmas parties and are commonly referred to as nerdlenecks.
This past season of Mad Men was my favorite. Every episode was riveting. The last three episodes could all have been season finales. After Peggy left the firm and Lane took his own life, I came to the conclusion that Mad Men had more character depth than any other show on television. What other show in television history could lose two main characters and seemingly not miss a beat? After some percolating, I came to the conclusion that the 5th season of Mad Men had the deepest cast in television history since season 18 of Saturday Night Live (1992-1993).
Season 18’s cast of SNL was extremely deep. Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, etc. were comedic juggernauts. If the cast were a major league baseball team, they would have won over 110 regular season games that season. I started to think about what would happen if these two casts went toe to toe. Who had the deeper cast? Like a prizefight, I put together 12 matchups to represent 12 rounds. My criteria for determining who won the individual matchups was predicated on which cast member had the greater overall impact on their respective show. Here are the matchups and the results:
Matchup #1: Pete Campbell vs. David Spade
These two guys are fairly similar. Pete Campbell is that preppy prick that Spade seems to play in most of his movies. David Spade’s Brad McPherson character in PCU could easily have been a descendant of Pete Campbell. Season 18 of SNL was a mini breakout for Spade. His “Hollywood Minute” sketch became a fixture on Weekend Update. He also was key member in the Gap Girls sketch with Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. In season 5, Pete Campbell cemented the fact that he should win the Craftsman Award for being the biggest tool on television. He was punched in the face by the normally unflappable Lane Pryce and then punched twice more on a train. Nobody likes him, including himself. Pete Campbell is the guy everyone loves to hate. Having said that, he can carry a scene. David Spade rarely owned the screen with his own sketch character. He was dependent on others.
Advantage: Mad Men
Matchup #2: Peggy Olson vs. Dana Carvey
These characters have a lot in common regarding their impact. Carvey left SNL midseason fairly unceremoniously. His sendoff in season 18 didn’t produce nearly the same fanfare that Phil Hartman’s departure produced at the end of season 19. Peggy Olson left SCDP fairly unceremoniously as well. While the company was celebrating the Jaguar victory, Peggy quietly grabbed her belongings and left. Both were also instrumental in the development of other’s characters. Carvey had a huge year in 1992-1993. He served as President Bush and Ross Perot. Carvey’s Garth character was key to the success of Mike Myers and the Wayne’s World skit. His departure also left Kevin Nealon with less screen time as his Hans character constituted half of the Hans and Franz sketch. Peggy Olson was the only person who knew the depths of Don Draper as Dick Whitman. She also pushed him creatively and her success made the Joan making partner seem more plausible. She guided many other storylines. They are too close. I cannot declare a winner in this matchup.
Matchup #3: Don Draper vs. Phil Hartman
This is a clash of the titans. Both of these guys are the lynchpins of their shows. Phil Hartman was given the nickname “The Glue” by Adam Sandler for his ability to hold the show together. Season 18 was a big season for Hartman. It was a presidential election year and he played Bill Clinton. He also did an incredible Admiral Stockdale impersonation. His Unfrozen Caveman lawyer character was a comedic staple. In my view, he was the most versatile cast member. Don Draper is a creative genius. He is the backbone of SCDP and is also the logo of the show. In season 5, he started showing glimpses of the old Don Draper in the boardroom with his Jaguar pitch. SNL could have success without Hartman. There is no Mad Men without Don Draper.
Advantage: Mad Men
Matchup #4: Roger Sterling vs. Chris Farley
Both of these guys are naturally charming and indulged in their share of drugs and booze. Sterling could carry a scene. His LSD trip was classic. Nobody in SNL history could carry a scene like Chris Farley. Season 18 was a breakout year for him. In the second to last episode of the season with host Christina Applegate, he introduced the world to motivational speaker Matt Foley. It was a tour de force performance.
Matchup #5: Joan Holloway vs. Julia Sweeney
Both of these red heads were the lead female characters in their seasons. Julia Sweeney was the lone female repertory cast member, a SNL primary cast member. Joan Holloway really came into her own professionally in season 5 by becoming a partner. Julia Sweeney was a one trick pony with her It’s Pat character. Joan proved that she was much more versatile than the lush secretary she played in season 1.
Advantage: Mad Men
Matchup #6: Ginsburg vs. Adam Sandler
Both of these guys are Jewish and highly creative. Sandler was only a featured cast member in 1992-1993, not a repertory one. However, it would be a breakout year. He performed as “Cajun Man” and “Opera Man” on Weekend Update. In October, he gave his suggestions for “crazy” Halloween costume ideas. In the Fall of 1992, he debuted his Thanksgiving Song and opened the floodgates for his many other musical performances over the years. In the episode hosted by Alec Baldwin, he also produced Canteen Boy, who may have been a distant relative of the creepy Glen character on Mad Men. Ginsburg came up with some creative slogans and definitely earned his keep for seasons to come but he didn’t dominate sketches like Sandler.
Matchup #7: Harry Crane vs. Rob Schneider
Both of these guys received little respect with regards to office space. Harry Crane got dumped with Pete Campbell’s office while Rob Schneider’s “The Richmiester” got stuck next to the water cooler. Harry Crane went to a Rolling Stones concert, made a poor move on Megan Draper, and almost became a Hare Krishna with Paul Kinsey. I’m giving the edge to Schneider for his hilarious performance in the “Jiffy Express” commercial that season, his role in the “Belissima” sketch with Kirstie Alley, and for his lesser known character “Orgasm Guy” which was very underrated.
Matchup #8: Megan Draper vs. Mike Myers
Mike Myers sat out the first six episodes of season 18 on SNL. He probably had a hangover from the success of Wayne’s World, the movie. It was produced in 1992 on a budget of $20 million and grossed over $183 million. Wayne’s World wasn’t a sketch. It was an institution. Mike Myers also had success with his “Coffee Talk” sketch that season. Megan Draper was good for sexy dancing on Don’s birthday and showed glimpses of talent as an actress and copywriter. I think the jury is still out on whether or not she does anything as an actress. Even missing a third of the season 18, I have to give the edge to Mike Myers.
Matchup #9: Ken Cosgrove vs. Kevin Nealon
Kevin Nealon had the huge task of serving as the Weekend Update guy. His Mr. Subliminal act was an all-time classic. His “Bathroom Attendant” sketch with Harvey Kietel was absolutely brilliant. This would also mark the last season for his Franz character from Hans and Franz. Ken helped open up the doors with his father-in-law at Firestone. Kevin Nealon’s profound dry humor wins this battle.
Matchup #10: Sally Draper vs. Tim Meadows
Sally Draper became a woman in season 5 and continued on her inevitable path towards becoming a flower girl. She always carries a scene. It would be take a few more seasons before Tim Meadows would have his own break out character in the form of the Ladies Man.
Advantage: Mad Men
Matchup #11: Bert Cooper vs. Al Franken
Both of these guys are senior members of their respective organizations. Al Franken started with SNL in 1975. Bert Cooper was a founding member of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Franken’s lone breakout character was Stuart Smalley. Bert Cooper generally doesn’t do much around the office but he made a monumental discovery when he found that Lane Pryce had forged a check. That move sent the season 5 script off in an entirely different direction.
Advantage: Mad Men
Matchup #12: Lane Pryce vs. Chris Rock
Lane Pryce has never been one to shy away from a fight as evidenced with by his spar with Pete Campbell. Lane was an extremely important character in season 5. He opened up the Jaguar discussions and his suicide was one of the most shocking moments in the show’s history. Chris Rock would go on to have a legendary comedic career but his impact on season 18 of SNL was fairly insignificant. He appeared as his Nat X character but that was just about it for him.
Advantage: Mad Men
Final Results: Mad Men Wins 6-5-1