Thursday, February 15, 2007

First, a wildly temperate winter in which it felt like Al Gore was lecturing all of North America about carbon emissions. Now: the frozen tundra. Frozen tundra? Are we ready for some football?

We don’t mean to get repetitive with you folks, like some old man who can’t stop talking about the Joe Louis/Rocky Marciano fight in ’51, but the Super Bowl is really The Great American Holiday—the secular version of Christmas that gathers up all the classic themes of destiny, chance, faith, military hoo-hah, and consumerism that have made our nation into what it is today. Here at D.M.T. Headquarters, we light the place up like the end of a red-hot poker for the full week before The Big Game, then watch the game while floating on two chaises in the middle of our Olympic-sized indoor pool, sipping whatever cocktails our chem-team has come up with in the basement. We trust that you too were invited to an appropriate Super Bowl party during which you shot evil looks at all the sulking Patriots fans who silently insist that it is their birthright to play in the big game every year. Feh.

What is there to say about the game? The rain and the mud and the fumbles were great. The ads … eh. And even if they had been soul-stirring, the fact is our own detailed teardown of the state of the increasingly anemic and exhausted Super Bowl ads has been rendered sadly moot.

Are we seeing the end of an era? And will we even miss it?

So bemoans the Slate guy who so totally weezed our juice on the ads this time around that we are having a hard time even lacing up and getting in the ring. You already know we are unflagging in our contempt for those lesser beings that trod our soil, but did you know how gracious we are when we meet our match? No, you did not. Here it is: Seth Stevenson’s running “Ad Report Card” on Slate is just some sublime disquietude. He emerges and pronounces disquieting shit that we are barely aware we have even seen. That Esurance comic-book chick ad? He was on it like white on rice, just as we were starting to think she was kind of cute and maybe we should write something about her1. Wanna pee yourself? Go read his archived thing on the screaming sub puppets (known as “spongmonkeys”) of Quiznos’ first national campaign. Seriously, Mr. Stevenson is a master.

The bottom line: we wake up Monday morning to find out our big annual high-concept D.M.T. Barbaro has been rode hard and put away wet by another jockey. And here we are with our shwinkies hanging out. Which is not to say that we don’t have a whole lot to add. Herewith, we raise our voices in hoarse support of—and supplement to—Mr. Stevenson’s plaintive cries.

This Year’s Ads: Not All That
The whole package was a fizzle and a whimper, a collective Madison Avenue gas-passing—neither particularly funny nor particularly effective at selling things nor even particularly scandalous. Sheesh—even GoDaddy and its jug-juggling spaghetti-strap-popping tootsie were missing any trace of the insouciance that made the first ad so sublime. Maybe if the Big King hadn’t been sent to the Super Bowl showers, he could have got something going2. But in this, the year of the ultra-low budget Doritos ad (again, scooped by Stevenson), he was nowhere to be seen.

Coke, Redux-Awful. We will pick a bone with our Slate Idol on this—the Coca-Cola ads could not be “the evening’s marketing champ” because they were rehashes. We had seen both ads—the Grand Theft Auto Guy Turning the Animated City Into a Feel-Good Parade3 and the Cool Animated Inner-Workings of a Soda Machine—a million times before. Super Bowl ads, Mr. S, (as we’re sure you will agree) are all about novelty4. Coke, if you can’t drum up something new for Super Bowl eyes to fondle between shanks and bad calls, then we might as well close our eyes and imagine that fucking Diet Pepsi machine running pass patterns. And at the risk of starting something big, Diet Pepsi is way tastier than Diet Coke anyway.

Mencia! Carlos Mencia for Bud Light. Mr. S noted that this ad, with the HBO “star” of The Mind of Mencia mocking a guy who seemed to be his father for having a strong Mexican accent, was insulting. We would go further. The concept of the ad, ultimately, involved the audience recognizing Mencia and, you know, … giving a shit. But we have watched The Mind of Mencia, and we know for a fact that it is the kind of cynical knock-off of someone else’s aggressive shtick (in this case, of the now-vanished Chappelle’s Show) that no one is watching because a transparent attempt to clone sketch/stand-up into a fresh demographic is precisely the kind of cynicism that U.S. audiences hate5. This is why Eddie Murphy is courting an Oscar while Andrew Dice Clay is flipping Whataburgers. If he is still alive. Seriously—we do not know if he is alive or dead. Ditto the string of ads for Sierra Mist featuring a mélange of jokesters from MAD TV and skit shows from years past. Hey, guys—if you can’t afford Amy Poelher and Will Forte from Saturday Night Live, then you really should not be buying 30 seconds of ad time for $2.6 million.

SherylSheryl Crow, Generally. Can a rock-popper sell hair color? Well, kids, she bagged Eric Clapton and Lance Armstrong, so pushing some dye for your silver roots can’t be that tough6. Our feeling about Sheryl Crow is simply this: who else threads the needle this well? Female dance-pop is dumb and temporary (today’s “Fergilicious” is tomorrow’s “Genie in a Bottle,” we promise you), but actual female rock is scary and emasculating (Joan Jett, Patti Smith, not to mention real post-punk outfits like Sleater-Kinney that would just as soon serve up your junk on an English muffin as they would smile). Sheryl Crow slides through the middle brilliantly, the pop-rock solution to the Hillary-Is-Too-Mean-But-Pelosi-Is-Too-Soft dilemma. Sheryl, we don’t care if you color your hair or if you make a mediocre Super Bowl commercial, we still want you to seduce us. This does not let you off the hook for the main decline in your recent output (see D.M.T. somewhere supra), but it surely notes that if you got the goods, you can eat as many crackers as you want in bed, you’re not getting kicked out.

But the best spot of the night …

The Pathetic State of Late Night Talk Shows in a Post-Letterman World
Oprah sans UmaThe highlight of S.B. spot-watching—for us and for Mr. Stevenson—was certainly the clever Letterman/Oprah spot. Dave—a notorious fan of all things Indianapolis—is watching the game, wearing a Colts jersey. As the camera pulls out, however, he is cradling in his arms his longtime media nemesis and well-known-most-powerful-women-in-all-of-media-not-to-mention-just-generally, Oprah—notoriously from Chicago and wearing a Bears jersey. Dave (CBS) chows on potato chips and says that they are in love, then Oprah (ABC) says, “Honey, don’t talk with your mouth full.” With the game on CBS, it is a spot for Letterman’s perennially second-to-Leno late night show, but the whole thing is a tiny genius of cross-promotion. It’s hilarious because Dave and Oprah had a years-long and apparently-not-fake aversion to each other and because—truth be told—America still gets a freaky kick out of the whole black-white thing.

What we liked most about the spot, however, was just Letterman’s now-haggard face: the face of a guy who really is an oddball on TV, whether he likes it or not. There was a while there, when he trying to succeed Carson, when he seemed a bit like the high school weirdo who pathetically wanted to make it with the in-kids but you knew he never would. Now, to extend our analogy, he is still the weird kid, but he’s cool with that. And who—25 years later—still makes the other talk shows (and here we mean straight talk shows, Stewart and Colbert having essentially created a new category of full-grown talk where once there was only Weekend Update, to which respect should be paid at every turn) look pretty cretinous. We know that Leno’s dopey faux-Carsonisms attract more viewers, but we suspect he is popular for same reason that vanilla is the favorite ice cream flavor even today7. We know that it was hip, for a while, to find Conan’s uncomfortable jitteriness to be just the thing. But are you really still watching? The impossibly banal Jimmy Kimmel—a Pillsbury Doughboy for the Man Show generation—is so thin on fresh ideas that he makes us want to watch …

Sarah Silverman’s Failure to Heed Our Warning and End It Before It Got Dumb
The Sarah Silverman Program Hmmm. Well, putting the Super Bowl aside, there WAS this one thing that kind of tweaked us out this week: Sarah Silverman—Jimmy Kimmel’s lanky Jewess whose chestnut mane and saucy mouth suggests a certain comedic babe-itude—refused to die after we pronounced her over. The bitch is back with a critically acclaimed Comedy Central show. Our feeling: people should stay down after you shoot them.

But we have seen the show, and we are here to pronounce it: shitty. Silverman plays an obnoxious freeloader who gets in trouble by Being Too Honest and by Telling It Like It Is Even If She Is Not “Politically Correct”. Oh, you’re thinking, kind of like a female Larry David from’Curb Your Enthusiasm’? Exactly like that, except stoooopid rather than clever. We quiver in the wind with sensitivity to the question of whether we are just being sexist in pronouncing Larry David’s obnoxious insensitivity to be knowing and funny while finding Sarah Silverman’s obnoxious insensitivity to be overknowing and not funny. We shall attempt to unpack this crucial distinction. When Larry David’s “character” comments to friend that his six-year-old son’s penis is unusually large, we cringe and we laugh because we know that the real Larry David (and the real US) really wants to say stuff like that in real life—and because such observations are generally funny and true. That Larry’s obliviousness to what society will tolerate gets him in trouble makes us sympathetic. The fictional Mr. David frustrates us, sure, but we could almost imagine being him. When Sarah Silverman’s “character” insults an old lady in a drug store, we cringe only—because while S.S. is being “honest”, it’s the kind of obnoxious honesty that the real Sarah Silverman probably doesn’t want to exhibit in real life. That is, while Larry says the things you don’t say in real life but wish you could say (because you’re a hilarious guy just like Larry!), Sarah says things you don’t say in real life but would wish you could if you were a jerk. The ostensible justification for this jerkiness, in the S.S. world, is an overarching distaste for the kind of “political correctness” that would require people not to needlessly insult each other in public.

That said, The Sarah Silverman Program does allow S.S. to break into these queer little musical numbers that are original and weird and kind of wonderful. So, Sarah, if you’re reading this, the scorecard goes:

  • Love your old stuff

  • Hate Jimmy Kimmel

  • Love your pert yet Hebraic sexiness

  • Hate the basic premise of your new show

  • Love the songs

  • Hate that you haven’t rolled over as per our earlier instructions

We’d suggest that you stop by D.M.T. HQ for some immediate career counseling, but we’re pretty backed up right now trying to figure out what James Blunt should be doing now that his 15 minutes of undeserved pop stardom is utterly over. We think we’ve lined up a gig for him carrying John Mayer’s honorably scuffed-up black Strat to and from future awards-show appearances, but there’s still quite a bit of work to be done.

Next Installment: Finally, we take on the unholy world of post-Simpsons animated entertainment.

Vargas Girls1 Our attraction to hip-talking animated women, we'll confess, is the kind of coded-at-childhood kink that we suspect many men of our generation wrestle with. Some of us will admit to a Jessica Rabbit problem, others will blame all on Judy Jetson. We even know a guy whose serious hang-up with certain lingerie items can be blamed on Alberto Vargas, the Peruvian illustrator who used to draw pin-up girls in the old Playboys that one of us filched from a candy store when we were too young to realize that Penthouse was way dirtier. The archetypes in this area, we suppose, are Betty and Veronica from the old Archie comics that--if you are reading this on the internet, you pathetic twenty-something geeks--you will think us geezers for recalling. But, we promise you, it can't be long before the pervs over at Adult Swim develop a show in which Veronica and Judy Jetson make-out for twenty minutes before performing elaborate coitus with Speed Racer and Fat Albert. We imagine this was the itch the unremarkable Drawn Together on Comedy Central was supposed to scratch; clearly, in our estimation, it does not. We are also unaware of the entire cosmology and narrative substance of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force show we have heard so much about lately, but our money sez the big fries with the soul patch probably does not inspire lust in anyone. Yeah, we don’t dig A.T.H.F.. If that means we lose 18–24s in droves, so be it. Like you guys were even watching the Super Bowl; it was probably cross-scheduled with blasting the shit out of some Filipino kid in Halo 2 with your wireless Xbox 360 controller (wireless because your hi-def television hangs forty feet from the couch on which you sit while blasting; wires are not an option in a living room of this scale). In any case, the movement toward Hanna-Barbera porn seems to us inevitable (and probably salutary, what with the Kama Sutra-like possibilities of drawn figures and the absence of icky teensploitation) and--as usual--you heard it here first.

2 We understand that The Big King lives on, extra-Super Bowl-ously, in no fewer than three video games that bear his hideous form as it rattles through various Gen-X–friendly adventures involving, we believe, bumper cars and motocross bikes. Also that next week he’ll have a walk-on on Aqua Teen Hunger Force (not really--aw hell, like we’d know). Rage on, Big King, let your gruesome countenance ripple the skin of all those who dare to doubt your power to creep us out.

3 When is someone going to write a brilliant think-piece on the conjunction between the disquietude of commercial hip-hop and the disquietude of violent video games, in which think-piece the question of the attraction of suburban white kids to these particular forms of imported and gentrified pseudo-alienation is not merely noted but actually explained in terms deeper and more thoughtful than "rebellion" and parent-baiting? As in, the kids are not all right, but they are also a lot savvier than you all seem to think and just don’t fall in line with what is essentially warmed-over “Officer Krupke”? We would do it ourselves, in fact, except that we've fallen horribly behind in our viewing of old HBO series, and we are determined to make Netflix feel that it has lost money on us as subscribers. Speaking of Netflix: sorry, Blockbuster, but your Netflix rip-offery is not going to play in the marketplace. America has voted, and you are off the goddamned island. The tribe has spoken. You're fired. Pack up your knives and go home. Auf Wiedersehen. We got your late fees right here. Even though we also understand that Netflix is not above sitting on your DVDs an extra day if they feel you are turning them a little too quickly , i.e., maybe you are just ripping them. This presumption galls us. Yes, I DID watch all three episodes from season four of Six Feet Under in one microwave popcorn-fueled sprint after the kids went to bed. Yes, I DID watch the last two DVDs you sent me in the same obsessive and sleep-antagonistic manner, and will do so again. Is there a problem, officer?

4 While proper Super Bowl ads must never have been seen before to give us a kick, we have mixed feelings about their extensive use during later telecasts. On the one hand, we understand, why would you want to throw all your production costs into a single airing? But after seeing for the twentieth time the ad where lots of half-naked guys wash a car and the girls inside cover their eyes in disgust--we agree with the ladies. Like the encounter one of us had in high school with an older woman whose zeal for certain acts exceeded our then-still-latent appetite for weirdness, this is a once-is-more-than-enough situation. But ickiness aside, we actually think that saturation is a bad P.R. move--the laws of economics obviously holding that rare things are more valuable. This is what the Apple guys have understood from the start, and what Chevrolet can never know.

Everybody Loving Raymond5 To wit: the pixilated cemetery that is all imitations of Saturday Night Live, including the show Fridays that, duh, didn't even try to hide its utter rip-offery. We would go into a discussion with you over the various skeletal Seinfeld and Friends clones if we thought that you'd have the next few hours free, but that would involve getting into the iterative fact that Friends actually began its cloying yet mega-successful existence as little more than Seinfeld-times-1.5, itself. That this discussion would bring us around to Everybody Loves Raymond as Let's Take a N.Y. Standup and Make Him a Sitcom Star Seinfeldian is not in question, which would then require us to discuss the not-yet-cancelled status of the show The War at Home which is so bad and so complexly derivative (Raymond-King of Queens-Roseanne-Honeymooners-Lucy on the one hand, the aforementioned string on the other, infused with a big fat DNA strand from Married with Children, a show we thought was terrible when it actually aired but that, by today's standards, plays like a long-lost Arthur Miller drama) that we would suggest that the word "disquieting" simply does not go far or deep enough.

Emmylou6 Could just be our soft spot for alt-folk chanteuse and frequent harmonizer Emmylou Harris, but are more women these days saying screw it to coloring their hair and just growing big silver manes that seem to suggest that feminism was not the busted philosophy that Ronald Reagan and Desperate Housewives so, uh, desperately wanted/want it to be? Ms. Harris has flat-out got the pipes and her lack of fear w/r/t both singing the hard harmony parts and seeming older pretty much turns our shins to jelly. The women following her lead have got our respect, if only because--as bald men who eschew all male hair-enhancement products--we have no non-hypocritical choice.

Regis7 Let us hereby stake out an unashamedly retro position on talk shows: we need us some old-fashioned hosts from the way-back school like Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas (R.I.P., 2006), who could do a joke, sing a song and talk about their golf game with the likes of Uncle Miltie. The only guy who still operates in this realm is the so-square-he's-hip Regis Philbin (who, let us note, Letterman is knowing enough to feature all the time), and we admit that it gives us great pleasure to imagine the day when Regis leaves not only Kathy Lee behind as a wrinkled prune but also his current anorexic co-host, the Saltine-brittle Kelly Ripa. If we were running a network, we'd consider paying Martin Short the big bucks to do this, straight. Jamie Fox could come on the show, then they'd do a duet and talk about . . . .

Vaguely Valentines Presenting some of the earliest ever Valentines, unearthed from the 1820s.
Two Romantic Poems Better than a heart-shaped box.
A Map of the Human Heart
Valentine's Day Massacre Unrequited Love from Y.P.R.'s Past

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