Friday, February 27, 2015

Best "In Search Of..." episodes

We all loved Leonard Nimoy as Spock, but in all the discussion of that wonderful character, one of his other classic roles has been forgotten. It's hard to find a 1970s kid who doesn't have fond, freaky memories of "In Search Of...", and Nimoy's straightforward, Spock-logical narration was a huge part of it.

Now we know that this show was often a TV version of "The Weekly World News," and its pre-show disclaimer tried to cover itself, admitting that it was based on "theory and conjecture," and "the producers' purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones."

Here's a look at some of my favorite episodes.

The Bermuda Triangle, first season
Just the idea that our planet had thee mysterious places that could never be explained was both terrifying and fascinating for a kid who'd maybe never left their own hometown.

Bigfoot, first season
Oh yes. He could've been this show's mascot. Completely made up, yet with enough delightful sightings and fuzzy photographs to keep the myth alive.

Killer Bees, first season
Oh, this terrified us. Spotting any bee became akin to seeing your executioner after we watched this one.

Atlantis, first season
It seemed like one day we might even be able to vacation there, playing basketball with the Sea-Monkeys and dunking on Aquaman.

The Lost Dutchman Mine, second season
A supposed lost gold mine in Arizona or Mexico or maybe just made up, but the idea that when we grew up, we might just be able to dig a hole and get rich was a kid's American dream.

Michael Rockefeller, second season
Disappearing people are fascinating, Disappearing zillionaires even more so. Disappearing zillionaires who may have been eaten by cannibals? Score!

The Great Lakes Triangle, third season
Because the Bermuda Triangle was just too darn far away.

The Money Pit Mystery, third season
I feel like this one ran every other week, and we ate it up. It told the tale of supposed buried treasure in a pit in Canada, and every group who went digging for it ended up giving up. Blackbeard's treasure? Marie Antoinette's jewels? There's probably nothing there, but damn, the chase was enticing.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke, fourth season
"Where did they go?" mysteries are always intriguing. See also: The Mary Celeste, numerous other found-sailing-without-crew stories as told in cheesy Scholastic paperbacks.This one is America's first, and the one-word clue CROATOAN makes it even juicier.

The Abominable Snowman, fourth season
If Bigfoot is this show's mascot, the Yeti is his understudy. We kids of the '70s totally believed in these big guys.

Jimmy Hoffa, fifth season
The END ZONE. He's in the END ZONE.

MIAs, sixth season
Were there still Vietnam vets being held prisoner, a la "Rambo"? One of the saddest and most disturbing episodes of a show that usually was much easier to snark at.

The Elephant Man, sixth season
Even if you thought you were funny-looking, hated your braces or glasses or a dumb birthmark, you had nothin' on John Merrick

Houdini's Secrets, sixth season
Houdini had it all for a show like this. Dazzling escape-artist magic, worldwide fame, an abrupt and early death, the whole thing about telling his wife Bess he'd try to talk to her from the beyond. We could only hope that one day, in our lifetime, there'd be another Houdini. (David Copperfield/Blaine, you guys do not count.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tales from the killing streets

OK, even if you think you don't like true-crime (which ... this isn't, in the traditional sense), you need to read "Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America," by Jill Leovy (she was on "The Daily Show" in January).

Both Rob and I are reading it, and I just can't put it down. Reminiscent in some ways of David Simon's "Homicide" -- it's the tale of one murder, yes, but it's wrapped in a thoroughly reported and fascinating look at policing in South Central, racism in America, violence in the inner city, and the personal stories of numerous people whose lives have intersected under a sunny sky in a bloody paradise.

Don't miss it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hail to thee, alma mater?

Not sure which profile in the college alumni magazine makes me feel least-accomplished: The circus acrobat, the winemaker, the twentysomething making a living off her food blog, "Wild" author Cheryl Strayed, or the dude who worked in the Vatican's secret archives. ARE THERE EXTRA COMMANDMENTS ONLY HE KNOWS ABOUT??

Happy 94th birthday, Abe Vigoda!

Abe Vigoda turns 94 today. That's not an unimaginable age--my dad got to 93, and Vigoda was born the year between my dad and my mom, who reached 91.

What makes Abe the poster child for "old people you thought were dead who will live forever," the guy who has websites that exist just to determine his life status, the guy whose death has been misreported not once but twice, is that he's looked old for about a thousand years.

In the '70s, we all thought he was the oldest cast member in "Barney Miller" and "Fish." We had no idea he'd still be holding on in 2015.

I tried to watch "Fish." It had a bunch of kids and seemed like it might be a bigger-familied version of "All in the Family." It was awful, just awful, but we often watched it anyway because nothing else was on.

But then it's impossible to forget that Vigoda was also Sal Tessio, one of the Godfather's top lieutenants, the one who attempted the Barzini betrayal. It's the smart move. Tessio was always the smarter one. But you know, Mike, it was only business.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Boba Fett-mas

Hi, I'm about to blow your mind. When was Boba Fett's first-ever "Star Wars" appearance? IN THE HORRIFIC HOLIDAY SPECIAL. Happy Life Day, everybody!

Home sweet 1968

If I had $1.2 million and a huge desire to pretend to be Carol Brady, I would buy this house in my neighborhood and pretend it's still 1968, the year it was built. 

NOTHING INSIDE HAS CHANGED. What a time capsule! The red velvety bathroom wallpaper! The gold velvety bathroom wallpaper! The bar! The curvy fireplace! The intercom! The bidet! The indoor BBQ! And is that a RECORD PLAYER built into the wall in the kitchen, of all places? They should shoot "Mad Men" here.

Every home I lived in with my parents had a built-in bar. Neither of the ones Rob and I bought had one. My folks even had a framed placemat with drink recipes for drinks like the Singapore Sling and the Pink Squirrel hanging behind one of the bars. (Says my friend Kim: "Like Sally Draper's Cheat Sheet!"Ladies and gentlemen, America's GI generation... Look, if you're going to be asked to storm Normandy/shoot down kamikazes (now a drink name...IRONY!) at Okinawa, you're going to develop a high alcohol tolerance.

My dad could make any drink in the world, and from a college job as a butcher (and, uh, a stint in the Marines during WWII) could carve up an entire cow. He would have been a good man to have around during a zombie apocalypse, it just now occurs to me.

Dad, in September 1973, looking off into the middle distance, while his youngest daughter (me) and first grandchild (Erin) are fascinated by ... something. Eggs from the chickens? I can't tell...

Miss you, dad.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cereal newbies

1) Not really sure why it's Froot Loops Bloopers. What's wrong with it? Did they mess up in the factory and decide to sell their rejects?
2) Also, why does Toucan Sam have a British accent in this ad?

3) Frozen cereal.
4) Is apparently a thing.
5) With "snow and ice crystal shaped marshmallows."
6) Let it go...

Taste of the '90s?

OK, so Crispy M&Ms aren't really the taste of the '90s, since they only came out in 1999 and were discontinued in 2005. But when we eventually write a 2000s-themed follow-up to "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops" and "The Totally Sweet '90s," they will have earned a page.

Crispy M&Ms are back, Jack. They're even offering coupons.

I also find it kind of funny that M&Ms demands you give them your birthdate before they'll let you look at the Crispy M&Ms site, like it's Jim Beam or something.

I am serious about two things

I am serious about two things: Mustaches and word processing.

The Retroist nails it with the commentary on this hilarious vintage ad. "So, if you are reading this, have a need for word processing and it is still 1982, why not give me a call?"

Oh, hi, Mark

Possibly the most deserving Kickstarter ever. Rifftrax (Mike, Kevin and Bill from "Mystery Science Theater") have announced the four movies they want to riff live (transmitted same-night to theaters across the nation, and repeated the next week) for 2015, and they include the awesomely awful "The Room."

In addition to Tommy Wiseau's masterpiece, they hope to mock "Sharknado 2," an '80s treasure called "Miami Connection," and "Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny" (a bizarre warm-weather Christmas nightmare) in a four-film year they're dubbing "The Crappening." They've got some fun rewards packages (including a somewhat scary one where you write them a joke, which seems like it could end poorly if Tommy Wiseau buys in) and it's all for a great cause--more laughter in the world.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why you won't see Up With People at another Super Bowl halftime show

Remember Up With People, the relentlessly cheery and innocent singing and dancing group that performed at four Super Bowl halftime shows, and one pregame show?

This story is from 2013, and it's a well-written and fascinating look at the group and why it fit into the '70s and '80s games, but would be laughed off the field now.

Part of their appeal had to do with their sheer numbers. I never even thought of that.

"Back then, there were no giant screens that allowed people sitting in the upper deck to see the face of a superstar performer. Back then, nobody thought to recruit a mega act to do a halftime show. At that time, said Steeg, the theory of the halftime show was that it needed to “fill the field” so every person in the crowd would be close to the performance. A lone performer on a stage at midfield would have been lost to ticket-buyers. 

“You couldn’t have a centrally focused, one-person type performance,” Steeg said, noting the lack of giant video boards. “What you were seeing was what you saw right in front of you. You didn’t have the ability to look to your right or your left or, in the Jerry Jones world, look up above to see what was going on down on the field.” 

So, the idea was to provide a “spectacle,” and Up With People could do that with 500 people weaving, dancing and singing across the turf. "

Sigmund, you are a rotten sea monster!

So apparently Amazon is remaking "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" for a new generation. And I think I am in sync with all Gen Xers everywhere when I say, "WHATCHOO TALKIN' ABOUT, WILLIS?"

One cannot simply remake a Sid and Marty Krofft production. The charm of the Kroffts, the reason we're still talking about their shows today, is the innocent goofiness of the whole thing. The terrible costumes, the weak special effects, the canned laughter, the bad scripts. We loved it, but it was about the only thing on, and we also loved Twinkies and Sharkleberry Fin Kool-Aid too.

I love the reader comment on io9 that suggests:

"What we need is for someone to take the concept of Land of the Lost and redo it in a completely serious way with good special effects for the Sleestak. God I still remember the pylons that had the crystals in it that could control the weather. Then to find out the Sleestak had an evolutionary regression to become the mindless beings they were, when they used to be incredibly intelligent. That stuff blew my little mind way back then."

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hobbes ol' buddy, let's go exploring

I've been in a Calvin and Hobbes mood lately, and was thrilled to learn that "Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalog" will be published in March.

It's an accompaniment for a 2014 Ohio museum exhibit, but you can bet that plenty of us who just miss the little guy and his tiger buddy will be picking it up even if we've never set foot in the Buckeye State. And the title is extra-awesome because not only does it suggest exploring the whole world of that wonderful strip, but because it's a nod to the final line in the final strip, published in 1995.