Showing posts with label Fun with Parody. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fun with Parody. Show all posts

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Office Space

Certain movies get funnier as we get older. As carefree children the cynicism and satire is pretty much completely lost on us. We may think we like a movie as a kid only to find out years later that we didn't really get it the first time around.

Office Space is one of those movies. Released in 1999, its theatrical release fell just short of a complete financial flop just barely breaking even on production costs. Despite the near-abysmal ticket sales, a few years later Comedy Central took on the Office Space cause and proceeded to play the movie ad infinitum. Between 2001 and 2003, you had something like a one in ten chance of flipping your television to Comedy Central and seeing Office Space. For a movie that bombed in the theaters, those odds were looking pretty good for viewership.

As a teenager I recall thinking the movie was kind of funny, but I couldn't quite pinpoint why. I'm pretty sure I just like all the flair Jennifer Anniston had to wear for her job at Tchotchkie's restaurant. I probably saw the movie 20 times during high school, though, and I consistently believed I enjoyed these viewings.

I grew up, as people tend to do, and got my first office job. I saw the movie again. I was shocked to find that it was brilliant. Not just the flair this time around, either. This movie was genius. How had I missed it?

"We need to talk about your TPS reports"

In the years between, the movie gained something of a cult following. Office drones everywhere gather to bow down at the Office Space altar, delighting in its depiction in all that is horrific and mundane about cubical monkeyhood. The satire is spot-on, which is pretty impressive coming from the guy behind Beavis and Butthead. Mike Judge took a critical eye to the sterile corporate life so many of us are entwined in and let us live vicariously through the reckless and satisfyingly vengeful actions of our protagonists. In this movie, the good guys were the bad guys. Sure, they were stealing money and destroying the company computer system, but how many times can a person be asked about a memo? It's pretty inevitable that he's just going to snap one day.

Our hero Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is an office drone with great aspirations: to do nothing. Anyone who's ever slaved away at their desk knows that no matter how ambitious you once were, it's impossible to stare at your computer eight hours a day without this thought filtering through your brain. At that point, nothing seems like the ultimate something, and something you may never be rich enough to achieve. Depressing, right? It's almost as bad as coming down with a case of the Mondays.

Unsurprisingly, Gibbons is not much of a go-getter. His only real motivation to do any work at all seems to lie in his desire not to be fired, but he spends most of his time staring at his desk. As a kid, I thought, "Well, isn't that nothing?" but as an adult, I realize that it is indeed something. Something that makes you a slave to the system rather than an agent of your own free will.

It's 1999, and Gibbon's task at work is to reprogram computers for the allegedly impending Y2K computer crisis. His job at Initech is further compounded by the ever-irritating vice president Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), who constantly suggests he just go ahead and get on with those TPS reports. He's not a particularly good listener, completely tuning out Peter when he explains that yes, he did get the memo.

Initech brings in a pair of so-called "efficiency experts", the Bobs, to bring costs down. This is a benign way of saying they're going to can as many people as they want, and Peter and his coworkers aren't exactly thrilled by their doom-impending presence. By this point, Peter is just going through the motions of his life. His relationship is souring, he hates his job, and he's generally unhappy. I know, I know, this is a comedy? Don't worry, eventually we get to the part where they bust out with "Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta". But not quite yet, so hang in there.

The cast of characters is pretty ripe for the downsize picking, featuring cartoonish over the top caricatures of coworkers. There's Milton, originally of the Saturday Night Live sketch on which the film was based, who's forever blathering about his red stapler and talking to himself in a generally irritating manner. There's the super multi-syllabic Indian tech worker Samir Nagheennanajar. In case you were wondering, that's pronounced just like it's spelled. We also have Michael Bolton, a pencil pusher with the unfortunate luck to share a moniker with the easy-listening pop star. It's certainly a motley crew here at Initech.

Peter's girlfriend makes him visit a hypnotherapist in an effort to get him to relax. The therapist suffers a fatal heart attack while in the midst of hypnotizing Peter to the point of total relaxation, leaving Peter with a permanent glaze of a relaxed attitude. Seeking to follow his dream to do nothing, he simply decides that he will from then on ignore his unfaithful girlfriend, ignores Lumbergh's long-winded pleas for weekend overtime, and generally takes a lax attitude to work. He also entertains the possibility of a romance with Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) based on his impressions of her from his Tchotchke's dining experience. That place is like the bastard love child of TGIFridays and Chili's, but with far better regulated uniform flair.

Alright, you've been patient. You've waited long enough. You ready for it? Here's Michael in the "Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" montage. Oh, and you know, warning for coarse language and all that.

The Bobs, with their twisted logic, recognize Peter's newfound laziness as the free-thinking spirit characteristic of management and in their finite wisdom grant him a promotion. Meanwhile, his more hardworking pals Michael Bolton and Samir are given the axe.

Samir, Michael, and Peter hatch a crazy revenge plot against Initech. They plan to infect the computers with a vicious virus that will glean tiny amounts of money into a separate personal bank account. It's revenge of the nerds, tech industry style. They also enact a smaller, more personal revenge on one of their office nemeses: the temperamental printer that tortured them with phantom paper jam messages. This scene has since become an iconic bit of Office Space nostalgia, with many making their own parodies.

There's a glitch in their plan and they accidentally end up stealing way more money way faster than planned, a blip sure to register on Initech's management radar. Peter begins to feel guilty, particularly after some goading from the flairful Joanna. He returns the money to the office in travelers checks, complete with a signed letter accepting the blame. He's ready to accept the consequences and face the strong arm of the law when things take a turn.

Turns out bumbling coworker Milton made good on his repeated grumblings to burn the place down, and Peter and friends watch on as Initech goes up in flames.

In the end, everyone gets a little bit of what they want. Peter finds a construction job more suited to his lifestyle, Samir and Michael find jobs at a rival tech company, and Milton whoops it up across the border using the travelers' checks left by Peter. All in all, not a bad deal.

The movie isn't meant to be a real, it's meant to be a fantasy. While the depiction of office life is at times uncanny, the revenge storyline is a manifestation of what all of us office drone dream of on our worst job-hating days. We may not be able to take the Xerox machine out back for a little go 'round with the ol' baseball bat, but at least we can pop in the DVD and watch Samir, Michael, and Peter do it for us.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Saturday Night Live 90s Commercial Parodies

The 90s may not have been the golden age of Saturday Night Live but it was certainly a consistently funny time for the show, featuring a versatile and talented cast willing to do almost anything for a laugh. True to SNL tradition, the era featured an abundance of parody commercials, spoofs featuring the cast actors that closely resembled and not-so-subtly mocked real television ad spots. So many of these fake commercials were so spot-on that they became indistinguishable from actual commercials. Save for the content matter, that is. I highly doubt "Oops I Crapped My Pants" would sell well on real store shelves, but SNL does an impressive job of making it seem almost plausible.

There were countless fake commercials throughout the years, but the 90s gave us many of our most memorable. If nothing else, this trip down SNL memory line is enough to make you miss Phil Hartman's unique skill at incredibly effective deadpan. Here are just a few of the satirical gems that entertained us between sketches:

Old Glory Insurance

Robot Attack Insurance

Chris | MySpace Video

In a time when many celebrities (Alex Trebek, Wilford Brimley) were out there hawking insurance, it was tough not to poke fun at the incredibly somber and humorless tone of their paid spokesperson delivery. This Old Glory bit definitely did the trick, spotlighting the dead-on deadpan intonation of Law & Order's Sam Waterston. He really had me going for awhile. I was almost certain this was a real ad, until they brought on the robots. Waterston, completely straight-faced, announced that killer robots were among the leading causes of death among the elderly. Without his pitch-perfect delivery, this could have been a dud, but Waterston definitely brought it. I was practically at my phone frantically dialing Old Glory for robot protection, and I was only ten. The robots weren't even after me yet.

First Citywide Change Bank

The voice-over confidently proclaims, "When you only do one thing, you do it better." It seems almost like a legitimate tagline for a bank. That one thing, however, was making change. As in changing monetary denominations. The proud and suave bank manager (Jim Downey) asserts, "We have been in this business a long time. With our experience, we're gonna have ideas for change combinations that probably haven't occurred to you. If you have a fifty-dollar bill, we can give you fifty singles. We can give you forty-nine singles and ten dimes. We can give you twenty-five twos. Come talk to us." And so it went, with helpful examples endless recombinations of change. Every aspect from the camera angles to the lighting to the booming voice-over was so similar to the real thing, you'd almost wish they would give you twenty singles, two tens, one five, eight quarters, forty nickels, and a hundred pennies. Wait, is that fifty? You shouldn't count on my skills, I couldn't even get through 8th grade Number Munchers the other day.


In a time when some pest control agencies were focusing on humane treatment, Bug-Off would definitely have stood out in its approach. As an alternative to the paralyzing poison used by its real-life competitors, Bug-Off tears off the roaches legs, scorches its reproductive organs, beats it to unconsciousness with its own limbs, stuffs cotton in every opening, and torments it with out-of-reach morsels of food. All through a clear viewing window to boot! Now that's a show. It admits that it won't kill the roach, but it will "give him plenty to think about". After all, isn't that what we want from our roach-killers? A thought-provoking experience for our victims. Sold.

Crystal Gravy

During the ongoing cola wars, Pepsi released Crystal Pepsi, a ridiculous attempt to fool people into thinking that clear beverages were purer and less tainted. Never mind that the new product had pretty much the exact same makeup as the original, save for the dark syrupy color. Using the same "Right Now" background music as the original, SNL gave us Crystal Gravy. I know, I know. Ew. It did effectively showcase the stupidity of Crystal Pepsi's premise. Still, though. Gross.

The Love Toilet

Some of these ads weren't necessarily based on real-life products, but were just ridiculous tangential ideas likely thought up by their writers at three in the morning. I imagine the Love Toilet fell into this category. The voice-over asked sexily, "Why not share the most intimate moment of them all?" Again, ew. The Love Toilet was a side-by-side toilet, made for couples to share this, um, special time. It was certainly a novel idea, I'll give you that.

Super Colon Blow

With a rise in health-consciousness, many commercials played to our sense of nutritional superiority. Super Colon Blow did a fine job of mocking cereals like Total, with the voice-over imploring Phil Hartman to guesstimate just how many bowls of his regular cereal he'd need to equal the fiber content of Colon Blow. Correct answer? 30,000 bowls. Yikes. Sorry I'd asked. As for Super Colon Blow? A whopping 2.5 million in fiber exchange rate. Hartman was catapulted skyward on the aforementioned bowls, giving us the visual fright of colon-blasting fiber. Ouch.

Bathroom Monkey

Really, who is more prototypically 90s than Janeane Garofalo? Her stint on SNL may have been brief, but she did give us this memorable commercial. Yes, it's silly, but that's the whole point. It looks like an average cleaning product testimonial ad spot but with one twist: the product in question is actually a monkey. Janeane muses, "Idon't know where monkeys come from.. I don't know how they reproduce.. I don't know how they eat. But I do know one thing: they were born to clean bathrooms." With a smile, she continues, "And when it's cleaning power is all used up.. (throws away used monkey)..simply pick up another in any of three decorative colors: Red..(cut to monkey in red diaper)..Blue..(cut to monkey in blue diaper) ..or Orangutan". The voice-over helpfully intones, "Orangutan will not wear diaper". Sure, it makes no sense, but you've got to admit it's funny. Disturbing, yes, but funny.

Bad Idea Jeans

90s Dockers commercials were enough to drive anyone crazy after a few viewings, so the Bad Idea Jeans parodies absolutely came at an opportune comedic time. Like the Dockers ad, this featured casual conversation between regular men. The difference? I don't think any Dockers ad star would utter, "Now that I have kids, I feel much better having a gun in the house". At least, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't.

Happy Fun Ball

To avoid lawsuits, more and more ads in the 90s were tacking on every imaginable disclaimer. It wasn't quite at today's levels (today an Ambien commercial told me I might experience sleep eating/ driving and more outgoing and aggressive behavior with memory loss and hallucinations) but it was a growing trend. The Happy Fun Ball commercial aptly pokes fun at these ever-increasing warnings. It could cause everything from itching to temporary blindness, and of course if it begins to smoke, you shouldget away immediately, seek shelter and cover your head. Sounds harmless enough, right?

Oops I Crapped My Pants

I do realize these ads are abundant in bathroom humor, but that's probably why we got such a kick out of them as kids. In this spoof of a Depends ad, we see a kindly old couple with their granddaughter. The young girl asks her grandmother to play tennis, but the old woman looks pained and says she needs to "sit this one out". Up until this point, this could be an actual ad. I was pretty convinced until they revealed the product in question to be "Oops I Crapped My Pants". Other than the name, every other element of the ad is pretty much right on point with a real Depends commercial. How can you not laugh at old people saying "Oops, I Crapped My Pants"? That's like saying you didn't laugh when that LifeAlert lady fell and couldn't get up. For shame.

Yes, many of these ads employed shameless tricks and ploys to get us to laugh, but more often than not it seemed to work. In many cases, the parodies were so on target that it became tough to tell whether we were watching the show or the commercial break. No target was too big or small to be the subject of mocking in these short fake ad spots. Whether our interest was in ruthlessly maiming bugs and leaving them to die while watching through a viewing window or safeguarding ourselves from the inevitable onslaught of giant killer robots, Saturday Night Live was there with a laugh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I'm all for satire and parody. There's nothing quite like issuing well-placed subtle jabs and barbs at a mockable target. While at times parody can be forced and rigid, in other cases it's almost impossible to not make fun of a phenomenon. Such was the case with boy bands, giving MTV the perfect satirical opening with which to unleash their made-for-TV movie, 2ge+her.

You really have to give MTV credit where due. As a major source of the hype and hysteria surrounding the boy bands of the late-90s, MTV was not above poking fun at their own bread and butter. Who better than the people constructing the boy band craze to parody their own product? With their insider expertise, they were that much more qualified to offer us a frighteningly accurate tongue-in-cheek portrayal of their bestselling output.

Boy Bands such as *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were serious moneymaking enterprise in the late 90s, and their penchant for taking themselves incredibly seriously just begged to be parodied. They were far more of a heavily manufactured and well-orchestrated product than a musical act. Sure, they released songs and put on concerts, but you'd be hard pressed to find any respectable musician claiming boy bands as peers. Their squeaky-clean image, pretty boy looks, and high-pitched vocals weren't doing them any favors on street credibility either.

2ge+her was the first MTV made-for-TV movie, a fledgling attempt to capitalize on the cliches and tragically comedic industry standards that put money in their executives' wallets. Though the details were exaggerated, many of the plot points hit remarkably close to home with actual boy band behavior and management. If badly executed or poorly received by fans, MTV could have easily shot themselves in the proverbial foot. After all, they were essentially telling tweens and teens--their target market--that the albums and video their network was peddling were indeed little more than well-polished tripe.

It was a risky business, with MTV teetering on the fine line between satire and flat-out mockery. Luckily, the satirical elements were funny enough to lighten up the darker themes, allowing even the most rabid fans of boy bands an opportunity to step back and laugh a bit at the inane world of prefab music acts. We watched as our tragically humorous heroes were assembled, branded, and marketed by industry managers. While the band was a blatant farce, it was an interesting theme-within-a-theme situation that put 2ge+her dangerously close to their real-life counterparts in their road to success. After all, so-called "real" boy bands were similarly cast, molded, and marketed, leading us to wonder which scenario was indeed more grounded in reality.

MTV utilized much of their own clout as the experts in pop music to offer credibility to the film. The movie opens with a mock MTV news segment that looks and sounds exactly like the ones featured daily by the network. Well, save for the fact that it features the fictional news of music sensation boy band "Whoa" whose hit single "Rub One Out" is ruling the airwaves. That part seems a bit off, right? Maybe it's just me. Other than that, it's spot on.

The movie recognized the usual lineup of cliches favored by boy band managers, with each member appropriately pigeonholed into a character mold and marketed as a two-dimensional musical personality. 2ge+her did not disappoint on this front, featuring some of our standard boy band fare in a new, more comical light. Behold, our heroes:

Mickey Parke: The Bad Boy

You can tell he's bad because he speaks pseudo-ebonics and pretends to rap. Wait, is that the passive near-racism of the milky white boy band world rearing its ugly head? Hmm. Might be.

Jason "QT" McNight: The Cute One

In a dark incident of art imitating life (the term art is used loosely here), part of the QT character's shtick was that he was beloved for being not only adorable but also terminally ill. Tragically, the actor who played QT was actually battling cancer and passed away a couple of years later.

Chad Linus: The Shy One

"Shy" is apparently in this case synonymous with IQ-deficient and a little bit sensitive. In an endearing sort of way.

Jerry O'Keefe: The Hearthrob

The Hearthrob represents the requisite eye candy, but also usually the strongest member vocally. The character truly aspires to be a singer and is relatively dreamy, so it's safe to say he's been appropriately typecast.

Doug Linus: The Older Brother

Poking fun at the fact that most boy bands had one member in their mid-20s, Chad's balding brother Doug is tottering somewhere in the realm of his mid-thirties (though he does hope his braces make him a tad more relatable with the young folk). Oh, and did I mention in he's played by Kevin Farley, Chris Farley's younger brother? That in itself deems him worthy of comedic excellence.

Funnily enough, unlike many artists of today, the ensemble actors actually sang their own songs:

Calculus (U +Me=Us)

A breakout hit in both the movie and real life, the single went on to enjoy a good bit of radio play. It's hilariously on point with actual boy band standards, which is unsurprising as many of the group's songs were penned by songwriters with a track record working with boy bands and pop music acts. This song is fun pure and simple, a no-frills approach to parody that so closely imitates its real-life muse it's nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing. Well, except that the lyrics are pretty ridiculous. It did come with a fun little dance to the part that goes, "You! Plus sign! Me! Equal sign! Us!" That pretty much makes up for any shortcomings.

Say It (Don't Spray It)

This song is completely ridiculous, but their earnestness in presenting it to us makes it all the funnier.

The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)

From their second album, "2ge+her Again", this song was off the wall absurd but still managed to reside in plausible boy band territory as they crooned, "You had my heart, my soul, my attention/but you walked out my life/with my CD collection". It also included some great spoken lines like, Man you ever break up with a girl And she keeps your stuff? Man, What's up with dat?! I dunno man, something wrong! Ya know what I'm sayin'? Something wrong with dat...." Unfortunately, these lines were frighteningly plausible as real boy band song chatter.

The movie was such a hit and the songs such a runaway success that MTV adapted the premise into a weekly series. The band appeared in character on TRL, starred in their own episode of MTV's Making the Video, and even opened for Britney Spears in concert, further blurring the lines between real life and the eerily similar echo of satirical fiction. From the group's formation and initial hype in late 1999 to the show's end in 2001, the band enjoyed relatively realistic music-world success. Pretty impressive for a group of vocally capable comedic actors.

The death of 2ge+her member Michael Cuccione (QT) marked the end of the series run, further blurring the line between Cuccione's reality and his terminally ill character. Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the act's cancellation, the show proved that MTV not only had a sense of humor but was also surprisingly adept at relentlessly mocking themselves. If only we could get them to do the same these days with those Hills girls, maybe MTV could redeem itself. I wouldn't bet on it, though.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weird Al Yankovic

It's pretty remarkable to think that Weird Al is still out there day after day, album after album, doing his thing and entertaining people through the mere skill of wittily* reworking the lyrics of popular songs into mildly humorous reformulations. That's a career path. Astounding, isn't it? Not just a feasible, existing career path, but a relatively lucrative and fame-garnering one. Sign me up. I'm punny. I'll do it. Really, I would. Shame hath no boundaries like a parody songwriter.

Though Weird Al continues to churn out moderately amusing song take-offs, he was was arguably most enormously successful throughout the 80s and 90s. Kids everywhere went crazy for his albums, for no reason other than that it was kind-of sort-of funny to hear our favorite songs dessicated and reserved to us on a platter of unpretentious geekdom.

I'm not too proud to admit I was a huge Weird Al fan in my playground years. His songs spoke to kids in a way that traditionally popular songs usually did not. Kids can relate far better to a silly re-write of a song than to any actual song detailing adult behavior and practices. I don't know about you guys, but my school found Amish Paradise a hell of a lot funnier than Gangsta's Paradise. Probably mainly because we didn't know any gangsters, but also because the Amish were easier targets** who were thus less likely to shoot us for enjoying songs about their lifestyle***.

Weird Al typically had a few different types of songs that fell into his general genre of musical parody. Some songs, and arguably some of the most popular on recognizability alone, were pretty much reconstructed chord-for-chord from the original song. Others were more "in the style of" and made fun of multiple songs and artists in a single swoop. Sure, it shows cleverness to be able to incorporate all sorts of musical targets in your satirical albums, but people usually prefer a slightly modified version of what they already know.

I mean, it's a lot easier to learn the words if you already know the tune. People are pretty lazy by nature, though the true nerds among us would no doubt comb the more nuanced song for every potential musical reference.

Eat It/Fat

Alright, so maybe these songs were released four years apart, but they certainly lend themselves to being grouped together. They're direct Michael Jackson spinoff songs that parody his video schematics and have to do with ingesting food. How's that for thematic? I suppose once you find your niche, you might as well stick to it.

You've really got to give this guy some credit. He does not do things halfway. While most of us will feel justifiably silly singing our hearts out to songs that reference Cap'n Crunch, Weird Al really goes for it. He's got a flair for both the dramatic and the reassemblage of popular music video scenery.

In Fat, Weird Al spares no feelings with his depiction of the overweight. In the glorious days before the all-consuming backlash of alleged political correctness, we could all just think it's fun to see a guy dancing around in a fat suit singing, "I'm fat! I'm fat! Shamu!" or "Don't you call me pudgy, portly, or stout, just tell me once again, who's fat!" Now that's good songwriting.

Like a Surgeon

Talk about a song idea writing itself. Madonna actually asked how long it was going to be until Weird Al parodied her song "Like a Virgin" as "Like a Surgeon". You just don't get more straightforward than that. He didn't even have to come up with an original concept for his unoriginal song. And who says Madonna isn't thoughtful?

Smells Like Nirvana

Smells Like Teen Spirit lent itself well to a parody version not only in content and style but also because it seemed people had no idea what Kurt Cobain was saying in the original song, anyway. Hey, if you like the music, why not just sit back and enjoy the more easily decipherable Weird Al version? The video even includes many of the same actors and set pieces.

Weird Al even starts the song, "What is this song/all about/can't figure any/lyrics out". That's right, the entire premise of the parody is that we have no idea what the actual song is about or what any of the lyrics may be. He does manage to capture the grunge essence, at the very least, and you must admit it's a little funny to see him sing with that disaffected expression with these words.

Amish Paradise

Amish Paradise was a single from the album Bad Hair Day, the cover of which features Weird Al with a decidedly Coolio-esque 'do. Amish Paradise is all about contrast; the original Gansta's Paradise talks about the hardships of urban life, whereas the parody single talks about, well, I'll let you look for yourself:

As I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain
I take a look at my wife and realize shes very plain
But that's just perfect for an Amish like me
You know I shun fancy things like electricity
At 4:30 in the morning Im milkin' cows
Jebediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows... fool
And Ive been milkin' and plowin' so long that
Even Ezekiel thinks that my mind is gone
Im a man of the land, I'm into discipline
Got a Bible in my hand and a beard on my chin
But if I finish all of my chores and you finish thine
Then tonight were gonna party like its 1699

Get it? 1699? Instead of 1999? Oh Weird Al. You are just too clever. Harvesting his grain? His wife is plain? Where do you come up with this stuff?

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Amish Paradise

Pretty Fly for a Rabbi

The Offspring were at the height of their popularity in the late 90s, particularly with their hit "Pretty Fly for a White Guy". As you can clearly see, Weird Al is all about easily mockable targets--he doesn't make you think too hard. He takes groups or people who are inherently humorous on stereotype alone and lets us all laugh at them. I mean, how can you not crack just a little smile at his turning "Give it to me baby! Uh huh! Uh huh!" into "How you doing Bernie? Oy Vey! Oy Vey!" ? It's funny.

I suppose it's entirely possible that many of you out there do not have as many Jewish relatives as I do, but let me tell you, this is funny stuff. The Yiddish! Oy, the Yiddish. The cheap jokes. The bagel references. He even does off-color stuff:

When hes doing a bar mitzvah, now that you shouldn't miss
Hell always schlep on down for a wedding or a bris
They say hes got a lot of chutzpah, hes really quite hip
The parents pay the moyel and he gets to keep the tip.

If the sprinkling of Yiddish is too subtle for you, he's talking about a circumcision here. The tip. Oh, Weird Al? Is there no limit to your groan-inducing punnery?

Okay, so maybe writing parody songs is not quite on par with rocket science, but you may just have to admit that his lyrics have a nice ring to them. Especially in his song Phony Calls. Get it? Ring...calls? I'm halfway to parody songwriter myself.

*I know, this depends on your definition of wittily. **Especially on the internet! Sorry, Amish, but you'll never find it here. ***I'm not saying all gangsters would kill me for singing Gangstas' Paradise, but hey, I saw Dangerous Minds. I doubt those kids would even appreciate me dropping the e-r in gangster. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Brady Bunch Movie

It's odd to think that a satirical movie based on a 70s sitcom could be so prototypically 90s, but The Brady Bunch Movie seemed to defy these decade-spanning odds; the movie oozed 90sness from its every frame. The entire premise was based on the contrast--the groovy, carefree 70s versus the dark, grungy, Gen-X-infested 90s. Let the jabs begin.

The Brady Bunch Movie was a mish-mosh of many of the sitcom's episodes and storylines woven into a 90 minute movie, turning every cheesy Brady trope into an easy punchline. The movie was not cruel or malicious in its mockery of the original series. In fact, original series' creator and producer Sherwood Shwartz served as writer and producer on the 1995 cinematic reincarnation. The film managed to successfully poke fun at the original series without shredding it apart. Well, without completely shredding it apart. In truth, the Brady family became fairly easy retrospective comic targets.

Of course, to get away with this brand of parody required extreme attention to detail. The only real way to give the Bradys their satirical due was to exaggerate the characters while staying (mostly) true to their original traits and mannerisms. After all, the very notion of satire requires humor and irony based on the original work. Hence, the 1995 movie makers worked tirelessly to adhere as much as possible to the look and feel of the original show:

Original series opening (5th season):

The Brady Bunch Movie opening:

As you can imagine, a lot of effort must have gone into the casting process to find suitable matches for each of the original actors. The new actors, though certainly in caricatures of the original roles, stayed true to the (usually) good intentions of their characters (hints of the step-sibling romance between Greg and Marcia probably don't qualify, unless we're looking at the original actors' real-life romance). Mike and Carol are still perky and sunny as ever, unironically sporting embarrassingly loud and overblown 70s clothing and hairstyles. All six kids are as unequivocally innocent and wholesome as in the series, and housekeeper Alice remains equally devoted to the family on no discernible pay. Though their roles may be exaggerated, the movie portrays them pretty accurately to their original forms. Their surroundings, however, have certainly taken a turn.

Cut to the 90s, chock full of flannel, grunge, garage bands, cynicism, and a splash of greed for good measure. The Bradys, campy as ever, seem utterly oblivious to the disparity of their surroundings. Admittedly, some fare better than others. Marcia, for instance, still gets to coast along on her looks, proving once and for all that beauty transcends time and allows people to overlook an untimely love for The Monkees' Davy Jones. Greg, on the other hand, is striking out with his frighteningly bad 70s singing aspirations, and Mike's continual architectural output of buildings that look suspiciously like the Brady's house is certainly suspect. Not to mention that Jan is bat-poopy crazy, seeking advice from her school counselor (RuPaul) and battling devious inner voices.

The general plot of the movie involves the state of the Brady's swingin' 70s digs, as villainous neighbor Mr. Dittmeyer seeks to develop the neighborhood into a shopping mall. Mr. Dittmeyer, by the way, is played by the ever-fabulous Michael McKean. If you have not done so already (heathens!), I implore you to go out there and rent Spinal Tap. I'll wait. No really, I'll be here when you get back.

Assuming you're now keen on McKean, I can only guess that you too see the brilliance of his casting in the role of greedy, plotting villain. Lucky for Dittmeyer, the family is teetering on the edge of foreclosure upon learning that they owe an astronomical $20,000 in unpaid taxes. In typical gung-ho Brady fashion, each child is determined to do his or her part to bring in the cash.

Observe as Jan and Marcia compete for modeling contracts to earn money to keep their family afloat. It doesn't end quite as lucratively as they would have hoped:

Of course, this isn't even the tip of the iceberg of their over-the-top sibling rivalry. In a fantasy gone awry Jan envisions herself cutting Marcia's hair during her sleep, though of course the ever-perfect Marcia comes out of it more beautiful than ever:

In true Brady rah-rah spirit, the family was determined to keep a positive attitude. In Brady-speak, however, this means going to the local Sears and throwing together an impromptu little musical number:

While you try to get "Sunshine Day" out of your head, I'll go on. Oh, and while all of this is happening, Marcia's juggling sleazy lecherous guys and unknowingly dodging the girl-on-girl advances from her friend, Noreen. Cute, right? There's your point of 70s-to-90s interaction right there. Anyway, Marcia steals Jan's idea to enter a Search-for-the-Stars competition and bring their family's 70s-tastic musical act onstage for a chance at $20,000. Convenient, I know. Jan is pretty pissed and proceeds to run off and is picked up by a truck driver played by the show's original Alice. What happens next requires a suspension of disbelief of Brady-esque proportion:

See, once Greg is willing to put aside his flashy rainbows-and-unicorns Johnny Bravo alter-ego, he can certainly churn out a Star Search-worthy song. Also, you've just gotta love Mike's long-winded moral lectures. Once the kids are finally free from Mike and Carol's verbal tyranny, they get the chance to go head-to-head with angsty garage bands with sweet names like "Phlegm". Peter's voice drops, and the show goes off without a hitch--spangly technicolored costumes and all. In a stroke of plot-necessitating luck, the Monkees are judging the contest and unanimously vote a straight Brady ticket.

(In case you were dying of Brady nostalgia curiosity, here's the original "Keep On" Talent Show clip to which the above performance alludes:)

Brady Bunch "Keep On"

As far as happy endings go, this just-in-the-nick of time conclusion takes the cake. Between Saved by the Bell's Mr. Dewey playing the auctioneer, a campy neighborly let's-all-be-friends-and-not-sell-out-to-the-evil-Mr-Dittmeyer scene, and a cameo from "Grandma" Florence Henderson (the original Mrs. Brady), it all wraps up pretty well.

Was it a cinematic masterpiece? No. Is it an enduring piece of movie history that will be archived for posterity? Probably not. It is, however, a fun and lighthearted look at both the original Brady Bunch sitcom and the time of the movie's release in the 1990s. The parody didn't just poke fun at the campy 70s TV family, it took equal jabs at the angst-ridden cynicism of the 90s. In the end, both are pretty equally worthy of satire.

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