Showing posts with label Nickelodeon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nickelodeon. Show all posts

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fictional 90s Bands We’d Still Totally Go See on Tour

Some of my favorite bands don’t exist. There, I said it, and I feel much better to get that off my chest. It can be a pretty embarrassing when you realize that a fair number of songs coming up on shuffle on your iPod were recorded by fictional characters, some of whom are actually cartoons. Note to self: take iPod off shuffle when I have company if I don’t want “Bangin’ on a Trashcan/Think Big!” from Nickelodeon’s Doug to blare loudly from my speakers.

Real or fake, I’d still pay to see these bands live:

Jesse and the Rippers

As someone who’s only slightly embarrassed to admit she bought the Uncle Jesse’s Photo Album from Scholastic book orders, it’s no surprise I was heavily into Full House’s fictional band Jesse and the Rippers. To be fair, John Stamos is actually fairly musically talented and has appeared in Broadway musicals and drumming on tour with the Beach Boys. Check out Jesse and the Rippers’ fantastically cheesy cover of the Beach Boys Forever above--it’s enough to make you jealous if you missed Stamos’s cameos on their tours.

Zack Attack/Hot Sundae

Zack Attack - Friends Forever by ray548

If Saved by the Bell was your thing, you have your pick of fictional music groups behind which to throw your fandom. Apparently the writers had a bad case of Days of Our Lives-grade amnesia and forgot that they had already used the “main characters form a band” storyline. Luckily, they managed to cover it up with some clever plot-changing details--in one case (Zack Attack) it was all just a dream, whereas in the other (Hot Sundae) we get to see Jessie’s classic caffeine pill freakout.

The Beets

With lyrics like “I need more allowance, yodel ay hee hoo!” and “Ahh eee ooooh, killer tofu!” the Beets’ catchy tunes probably made up for more of their appeal than did the content of their songs. A parody of the Beatles, Doug and the gang were forever trying to win tickets to their concerts and convincing this world-famous band to play a show at Bluffington Middle School.

The Wonders (formerly the Oneders)

They may not have been a real band, but That Thing You Do’s The Wonders had a real-life hit with “That Thing You Do!” The song made it to number 41 on the Billboard Top 100--not bad for a movie song performed by a group of actors. It is a catchy song, and of course, the guys look pretty dapper in those maroon suits.

Mystik Spiral

MTV’s Dara had a longtime crush on her best friend’s brother, the pitch-perfect 90s alt rocker Trent. As the frontman of the ever-struggling Mystik Sprial, Trent wrote some pretty deep lyrics, like in the video above:

You put me on a short leash/and threw away my hydrant! You ate up all my cable/now my coat’s no longer vibrant. My nose is dry and chapped/but this puppy’s here to stay/scratch my belly baby/every dog has its day. Awoooooooo!


This band from Can’t Hardly Wait kept us in suspense, gearing up for a hyped performance but never delivering on their promise. In this case, I have to agree with the band’s frontman: you probably shouldn’t wear the shirt of the band you’re in. Though, to be fair, if he gets to wear the shirt, I’d probably want to wear the hat, too. It’s a fair exchange.

Rex Manning

The day I realized Rex Manning from Empire Records was the kid from Grease 2, it blew my mind. Who knew there could be a single actor who could play both a cool rider and a washed-up 80s pop star? Unfortunately for Rex, love can’t turn back the hands of time like it did for Grease 2’s Michael. At least in Empire Records, Maxwell Caulfield can make fun of himself as a cheesy character. In Grease 2, he was absolutely serious.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Children of the 90s is at a Work Conference...In the Meantime, Please Enjoy this Classic Post: Doug

Children of the 90s is at a work conference this week with tragically limited internet and computer access. Take my word for it, it's totally tragic. I didn't want to leave my loyal readers in a bind, so I am pleased to present you from a classic Children of the 90s' post from way back when I was getting a whopping 14 hits a day.

I trust few enough of you have trudged through the extensive backlogs that this is almost like new. Almost. I should be back in full force by next week. Until then, enjoy the reruns! Hey, it's summertime. I've got to save the good stuff for sweep
s. Thanks for your understanding--see you next week!

That's right, we're talking Nickelodeon original-Nicktoon era, not the shoddy subpar imitation churned out by ABC/Disney after 1996. To embarrass themselves further, Disney awkwardly renamed the series Brand Spanking New! Doug, despite the fact that the show had already been airing on Nickelodeon 5 years. Their new title reeked of desperation, a sort of "look at us! We got that show you liked! Now watch us make it terrible."

Exhibit A, the more wisely re-renamed Disney's Doug:

Note the presence of unmatchable Disney inoffensive blandness, replacing the original lovability of the a-cappella theme song. Whistling? Really? And everyone standing there waving cheerily? A travesty indeed.

And before we move on, let us briefly discuss the mutual ridiculosity of fanatical fan Wikipedia updaters and absurdly miniscule visual changes made by the Disney animators to classify the show as "brand-spanking new!":

Character changes on Disney's Doug:

  • Doug's sleeves were longer and had a pair of black and white shoes instead of red and white.
  • Skeeter's shirt was altered from a yellow lightning bolt to a yellow "O".
  • Roger's leather jacket was sleeveless along with his hair combed down instead of his straight up hairdo on "Nick's".
  • Patti's hair was cut. Her shirt stayed the same, except she is wearing blue jeans instead of her blue skirt.

You have to think to yourself, was there some sort of copyright sensitivity from the original series to the knockoff Disney version? What would possibly motivate them to sit around the boardroom, poring over storyboards, and heatedly debating the merits of cartoon haircuts and leather sleeves?

But anyway.

The real Doug was Nickelodeon's Doug, running from 1991-1995. The original series wasn't about long, complicated plotlines; each show was divided into two 11 minute "episodes" conducive to our limited childhood attention spans. It took all of our favorite cartoon cliches (lovable awkward protagonist, cute pet sidekick, quirky best friend, wacky family and neighbors, love interest, school bully) and made them into a virtual rainbow of bizarre multiculturalism. Sure, Doug was white, but his mother is inexplicably purple. And let's not even get started on how his best friend's name is "Skeeter". Clearly this was of an era before that term was imbued with inappropriate rap-song innuendo. We can only hope.

The originally show was both vividly and ridiculously imaginative in a way that was deeply resonant with our not-yet cynical preadolescence. Case in point, Doug's self-imagined alter-ego "Quail Man":

Yes! Amazing. An amazing way to add flashier nonsensical, nonsequitor plots. But we ate it up nonetheless, for its sincerity and resonance. My personal favorite foray into Doug's imagination was his fantasy music video of his "band":

I'm torn on which part is my favorite; the initial exclamation-in-unison accompanied by star-producing high-fives, or maybe the Doug-as-Michael-Jackson-with-ethnic-backup-dancers sequence. Either way, it was pure, unadulterated genius. To this day people acutally do live-action covers of this song on YouTube, if that speaks at all to its posterity.

In short, Doug did not insult our intelligence as children. There were all sorts of clever minor aspects of the show we can now appreciate as (theoretical) grown-ups. The "Beets" as a facsimile of the Beatles, his beatnik sister Judy's "Moody's school for the gifted," or Porkchop's igloo in the backyard.

So, to Disney: we will not accept your cheap, shark-jumping imitation. Giving Patti Mayonaise a butch haircut and naming Doug's new baby sister "Cleopatra" (really?) will never win us over. The original quirkiness of the show was what made it so endearing and enduring. It's what separated the authentic Doug from the later inferior imitation.

After all, how many of you can recall the lyrics from the Nickelodeon-era Beets' hit songs "I Need More Allowance" and "Killer Tofu"? Or Doug's fear of exposing his distaste for liver and onions to Patti? Or that Doug was horribly embarrassed of his middle name, Yancey?

On the other hand, how many of you can recall...well, anything from the Disney version?

I rest my case.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The 90s' Favorite Canine Companions

Doug and Porkchop Pictures, Images and Photos

I was actually meaning to write a post about some of our favorite 90s pups two months back when we adopted our dog, but I've been too busy rescuing semi-chewed wallets from the inside of his death-trap jaws and picking up the inner stuffing of his over-loved toys off of the floor to bother. All these TV and movie dogs are always too busy going on Incredible Journeys, professing their love for Taco Bell in Spanish, or rising to fame as canine basketball stars to bother with day to day walking, feeding, and general well-meaning terrorizing of their owners. With this in mind, I was almost certain adopting a dog would be similar to the experiences I'd seen in the entertainment of my childhood. I knew to be prepared for lurking villainous dog fur poachers around every bend and to keep on the lookout for opportunities for my dog to take me on a humorous kid-friendly trip into the world of classic literature. Overall, it was a pretty exciting prospect.

As of yet, however, none of these outcomes have really panned out. I thought the dog was about to transform my living room Wishbone-style into a Shakespearean drama complete with period costumes, but it turned out he was just trying to catch a moth. I haven't given up hope though; it could still happen. I'll be prepared with my Elizabethan snood and pantaloons when it does.

These famous canines may not have given us a realistic depiction of dog ownership, but their general adorableness and lovability makes up for the resultant misconceptions about their magical and athletic abilities. If we overestiamte our own dogs' ability for greatness, it's only because these lovable pups set the bar so high with their hilarious and frequently heartwarming antics.

Chance and Shadow from Homeward Bound

If only we could all hear our dog's innermost thoughts narrated by Don Ameche and Michael J. Fox. They would be alternately wise and mischevious, with a touch of "Dogs rule and cats drool" thrown in for good measure.

101 Dalmatians

After the release of the 1996 live remake of the animated Disney classic 101 Dalmatians, the demand for Dalmatian puppies exploded. The movie created a breed boom, stocking housefuls of vulnerable children with adorable but admittedly rambunctious dalmatians. While the movie pupies were spared the cruel fate of becoming Cruella's fur coat, many of their real life counterparts were frequently abandoned or mishandled. Let the lesson be learned: highly trained Disney movie dogs may be enticing, but that's not what you're going to get at your local pet store or shelter.

Air Bud

Now here's a dog with some serious prospects. Not only was Air Bud an incredibly skilled basketball player, but he later went on to conquer football (Air Bud: Golden Receiver,) soccer (Air Bud: World Pup,) and baseball (Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch) among other pursuits, including Air Buddies puppy spinoffs. If nothing else, this series deserves major props for what may be the most groan-inducing puns to ever grace a movie poster.

All Dogs Go to Heaven

With names like Charlie B. Barkin and Itchy Itchiford, what's not to love? Plus, they're voiced by Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, some pretty impressive big names during the movie's 1989 release. Everyone learns a lesson, it's sufficiently heartwarming, and all the dogs get to go to heaven. All in all, a pretty good deal.

Otis from Milo and Otis

This originally Japanese movie was dubbed in English for Western release, detailing the cute story of a kitten and a pug puppy who make their way through all sorts of adventures, evenutally settling down with a cat or dog mate of their own, respectively. The animals are adorable, especially Otis, so it's a bit disturbing to learn of the animal cruelty allegated filed against the Japanese filmmakers. I'm just going to hope for the sake of my childhood innocence that the Japanese Humane Society told the truth in the closing credits that no animals were harmed in the filming of this movie.


Here's a solid example of a canine character that bombed with critics but resonated well with enthusiastic and easily amused audiences. Movie reviewers may not have been kind, but the movie's eponymous St. Bernard proved popular enough to spawn a slew of theatrical and straight-to-video sequels. Though I haven't seen Beethoven's Seventh, I can only assume it's equal parts hilarious big dog antics and cutesy symphony title jokes.

The Beast from the Sandlot

Now here is an example of a seriously scary movie dog. To the kids of the Sandlot, this mastiff was their most feared nemesis of the summer. It's pretty safe to say that while it all turned out okay in the end with The Beast, I doubt the demand for mastiff puppies surged as a result of the movie.

Comet from Full House

Here's a revelation: Full House's lovable golden retriever went on to play the title role in the film Fluke. His fur was dyed and apparently restyled to give him a more mutt-like appearance for the film. Turns out by default this makes Comet's post-FH acting career more successful than Stephanie Tanner's or Kimmy Gibbler's. Who knew?

Spunky from Rocko's Modern Life

You've got to feel a little bad for the house pet in a TV show populated by anthropromorphic characters. They're all animals too, but the poor dog is the only one who can't seem to communicate effectively. Tough break, Spunky.

Porkchop from Doug

Porkchop may not have been able to talk, but this dog was awesome. He was forever getting Doug out of jams before going to chill in his igloo doghouse. Get it? Chill? Igloo? No? Okay, okay, fine.

Spike from Rugrats

To be fair to Tommy, as a toddler I always thought the pet food looked pretty tasty, too. I was always rooting for him when I saw the above episode "Fluffy vs. Spike." Fluffy was no match.


What, your Jack Russell terrier never takes you on educational adventures through historically relevant fiction? You're probably just not feeding him the right brand of food. I'd also recommend asking him, "What's the story?" It always worked for Wishbone. You might want to sing it, though.

Yo Quiero Taco Bell Chihuahua

This little guy did for chihuahuas what 101 Dalmatians did for dalmatians. The character was played by canine actress Gidget Chipperton, though she didn't provide her own hilarious Taco Bell-seeking vocals. If nothing else, this little guy did teach even the most unilingual among us a single Spanish phrase. If I ever get lost in a Spanish speaking country where I think there may be a Taco Bell present, I'll know how to find it.

I don't usually do this sort of thing, but I just couldn't resist. In case you were incredibly curious--and I'm sure you were!--here's a photo of my own little monster. He may not be quite as accomplished as these dog stars, but I think we'll keep him. Plus, if we build him an igloo in the backyard, I think he might start co-starring in my Quailman fantasy sequences. It's worth a try.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Where Do They Come Up With This Stuff? A Few Truly Strange 80s and 90s Children's Shows

It takes a special kind of creativity to dream up the premise of a truly unique kids' show. In grown-up circles, it's more commonly referred to as certifiable insanity. It's almost as if some of these children's show writers have some special gene that grants them an eternally youthful point of view. Otherwise, craziness is probably the most flattering description of their professional endeavors. We'll go with the gene thing.

Though the 80s and 90s saw its fair share of educational children's programming, many kids' shows lacked that level of justification for production. At best the characters might learn a moral lesson or two, but in general the themes of these shows fell into the "WHAAAA?" category. It's hard to imagine the shows' creators delivering their respective pitches for these absolutely ridiculous concepts.

We can only imagine it went a little something like this:

"So there are these Martian mice, right? Oh, and they're motorsports enthusiasts. That part's pretty important, too. And--"
"Say no more. We're putting this into production immediately. Biker Mice? From Mars? Brilliant!"

It's almost enough to make you want to start keeping a dream journal. All of those unrelated thoughts shuffling around in your head just might turn out to be the premise of a lucrative children's entertainment franchise. Maybe.

Regardless of the germination process of these strange concepts, kids embraced these shows as gospel. That's the best part about children's entertainment: your viewers won't question a thing. Everything you show them makes perfect sense to them. Why? Because you said so. It's a perfect balance of getting away with insanity and never having a fan dispute or question anything you present. What's the worst they can do--write a scathing review in crayon on the living room wall?No, they'll watch it and they'll like it. It's just that easy.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

We've had such heavy exposure to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that it can be difficult to remind ourselves that the concept is utterly ridiculous. They're not just mutant turtles, they're also adolescents with a penchant for mixed martial arts. Brilliant.

Biker Mice from Mars

As many shows on this list have firmly established, kids go for the literal. When naming your animated or puppet-populated series, it's best to just come up with an exact description of your major concept and just go with that. Biker Mice from Mars are a perfect example, as they are indeed mice from Mars with a passion for motorcycling. Don't fight it, it makes perfect sense.

It's amazing we made it all the way to the 90s before someone turned this into a TV show. You would think someone would have come up with it sooner. After all, motorcycles, mice, and Mars are just so darn intrinsically connected. Anyway, Ian Ziering was in it. Ian Ziering! You've got to have a soft spot for that.


Like I said, save the creativity and craziness for your show's concept. The title should be simplified to a point of dumbed-downness. It's half cat, it's half dog, what do you call it? A CatDog. Of course.


To be fair, in the case of the Popples, the toys came first. At least we know where they came up with it, though the back-story the writers filled in is a tad questionable. The Popples are adorable little pom-pom tailed puffballs who pull mysterious objects from their kangaroo-esque pouches. They also consistently thwart the efforts of well-meaning human children. It's crazy, sure, but their cuteness is a reasonable distraction from how little sense it all makes.


These may have risen to popularity a bit after our time, but their impact on the genre of strange kid shows was incredibly resonant. They're colorful, they roll on the ground in the sunshine, they laugh uncontrollably, and they believe they can see children through a screen on their tummies...I don't know what these guys are on, but I want some.

Eureeka's Castle

This was pre-Harry Potter wizardry, meaning the Eureeka's Castle producers still got away with making up their own arbitrary rules on sorcery. They also gave us a slew of unique characters, including the peanut butter-sandwich gobbling Bogg twins, the flying impaired blind-as-a-bat Batly, bumbling dragon Magellan, and vaguely ethnic pushcart owner Mr. Knack. Magellan even had some terrifying claymation pets, Cooey and the Slurms. Maybe it's just me, but I have always been terrified by claymation. I'm pretty sure it's just me.

The Smurfs

Despite the conspiracy theorist arguments claiming the Smurfs to be a pro-communist vehicle, I've never really bought into it. Yes, the Smurfs are admittedly strange, but their intention is to get kids to share. Maybe we should stop teaching that in kindergartens, too, to simulate a more capitalist classroom environment. Survival of the fittest five-year olds. How could it possibly go wrong?

Bananas in Pajamas

The title says it all: the main characters are indeed bananas eternally clad in pajamas. That's pretty much all there is to it. They don't even get the courtesy and respect of real names, stuck as B1 and B2. You get the feeling the writers meant to fill that in somewhere along the way, but then just gave up on it.

Rocko's Modern Life

What, you've never seen an Australian wallaby with a pet dog whose best friends are a steer raised by wolves and a neurotic over-phobic turtle? You can't accuse Rocko's Modern Life's creators of being unoriginal. The characters are undeniably idiosyncratic, but they're all charming in their own right. Well, charming if you're not too visually squeamish; the show can get a tad gross.

Fraggle Rock

To their credit, the Fraggles did teach us to dance our cares away. That probably counts as moderately educational. They can share dreams by making head contact with another Fraggle, they subsist on doozle sticks and radishes, and they coexist with Gorg giants. Their incredibly specific and detailed existence is at least justified by the show's relative complexity for a kid's program. And, you know, we danced our cares away. That part was the best.

Wee Sing in Sillyville

This one was actually a straight-to-video musical series, but its craziness warrants a legitimate place on this list. Sure, it has a legitimate message of togetherness and anti-prejudice, but the songs are so over the top that you've got wonder what these adult actors were on.

Aaah! Real Monsters

There's something to be said for the originality of 90s Nicktoons. Shows like Aaah! Real Monsters created a fully formed highly imaginative world of monsters-in-training. Ickus, Oblina, and Krum were fully realized characters, which makes up for their sometimes unsavory behavior. We can probably let it go, though. They are monsters, after all. Plus they live in a literal dump. Let's cut them a break.

Zoobilee Zoo

Perhaps this one qualifies more aptly as creepy than just strange. Those costumes are reallysomething else. Adults in full animal makeup and get-ups are sure to simultaneously delight young children an scare the bejeezus out of adults. The older and allegedly more mature I get, the scarier the pictures of these guys seem.

This list is just skimming the surface of the under-examined weirdness of the kids' TV series with which we grew up. Additions to the list are more than welcome in the comments section. Just don't think about any of the shows' premises too hard; you could easily strain a neuron or two trying to wrap your brain around their convoluted reasoning.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Children of the 90s is on Vacation...In the Meantime, Please Enjoy This Classic Salute Your Shorts Post

Children of the 90s is on vacation...please excuse this interruption from your regularly scheduled nostalgia programming. In the meantime, please enjoy this classic Children of the 90s post from way back when in the blog's early days. Not many people were reading, so you might be seeing it for the first time. How exciting is that? It's like a new post all over again. Almost.

Without further ado, I present this classic post: Salute Your Shorts

Does the name "Zeke the Plumber" still send chills of terror down your spine? Do you still wonder what happened to the buried treasure of ex-counselor Sarah Madre? Do you continue to lose sleep wondering about the appearance and whereabouts of mysterious camp owner, Dr. Kahn? Does the seemingly inocuous phrase "awful waffle" make you wince in pain? Well, you may be a Salute Your Shorts junkie.

Don't worry, though, you're not alone. Many of us children of the 90s suffer a similar affliction. There was a wonderfully effective cure available briefly in the 90s that aired Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the treatment is no longer available and those of us still suffering withdrawal are forced to self-medicate with YouTube clips. You can put yourself on the waiting list for long-term treatment (found here), but the outlook isn't good.

In a way, we all grew up at Camp Anwanna. We had all of our favorite standard 90s characters: The hero, the princess, the bully, the new-age oddball, the jock, the nerd, and the butt-of-the-jokes chubby one. They were all under the semi-tyrannical rule of Kevin "Ug" Lee, (get it? Ug Lee? Ugly? Witty, yes?) their authoritarian counselor charged with keeping this wacky mismatched group of campers in line. I went to various summer camps for 14 years, and I don't know a single one of my old camp songs by heart. I do, however, have the uncanny ability to remember all of the lyrics and produce mental screenshots of the Camp Anawanna song:

"We run, we jump, we swim and plaaaay. We row and go on trips
But the things that last foreveeeeeer are our dear friendships.

Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our hearts
And when we think about you--it makes me wanna fart!
--"It's 'I hope we never part'
Now get it right or pay the price!"

Now we will share a lifetime of the fondest memories
By the lake of Anawanna...set in the old pine trees!

Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our hearts
And when we think about you (This thing came apart)

Think Anawannawanna, Speak Anawannawanna, Live Anawannawanna. Ug!"

Here is a clip of the season 2 version of the theme song, which differs from the original in one initially indetectable but extremely significant way:

Seems normal enough, right? You're probably thinking to yourself, why that's exactly how I remember it! Let's do a character run-down and I think you'll see the slight discrepancy to which I was referring:

Bobby Budnick, our charming resident bully. You may be thinking to yourself, how can a guy with a flaming red mullet be a bully? In most other settings, wouldn't he be relentlessly mocked for merely existing with such an unfortunate aesthetic? Yes, but this was summer camp. This was also the nineties, where a mullet and cut-off t-shirts is more than enough to declare your bad-ass status. Budnick was forever playing tricks on his unsuspecting and less antisocial peers, most notably when he told the nightmare-inducing Zeke the Plumber ghost story to the other campers and set up scare traps across Anawanna. Well, he got what was coming to him when they saw him screaming like a girl in those spider webs. Eh? Am I right? Also, Budnick seemed to be a virtual fountain of contraband available for sale to his fellow campers. He was a big fan of the empty thread "...or I'll pound you," in which his mullet and cut-off t-shirt bad-assedness it emphasized by forever unrealized forbodence of pounding (which I am going to hope for all of our sakes is a euphemism for beating someone up.)

Donkeylips, the disgustingly monikered hapless fat kid. He was generally relegated to the role of thankless lackey and sidekick to the aforementioned Mr. Budnick. Donkeylips represented those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy in all of us; his premature cynical outlook and unquenching desire to be liked was certainly recognizable. Oh, and did I mention he was fat? Boy, was he fat! Despite all of those deep character traits, his unfortunate chubbiness was more often than not the major Donkeylips punchline.

Sponge, the smart nerdy one. Like any good 90s show, his intelligence and social ineptitude is characterized by his character's need for glasses. Apparently, popularity was reserved for those of us with superior eyesight. This nebbish little bowl-cutted pipsqueak sometimes veered dangerously close to the Screech zone, but was generally more brainy than irritating. You can also see in the intro that he enjoys science based on his penchant for dressing skeleton models in his own clothing and examining them with a magnifying glass (obviously the correlation between vision-enhancers and nerdiness is deeper-set than we'd originally thought.) They call him Sponge because he absorbs things. Get it? Like a Sponge! Oh, Salute Your Shorts. What zany nicknames will you think of next?

Telly, the girl jock. Yes, a girl jock. How progressive is that? Telly was relatively bright and normal, by Camp Anawanna standards. She was largely unexceptional when cast against her madcap caricatures of camper peers. If anything, the most unusual thing about our friend Telly (aside from her sharing a name with a certain contemporary Sesame Street monster) shows up in the opening credits. Telly's real name is Venus DeMilo. I kid you not. Her parents actually named her that. Whenever I pop out a child I too usually think to myself, geez, this thing really looks like an ancient Greek sculpture. I can only assume she was born with broken-off arms, or else there's really no explanation.

(the other Venus DeMilo)

Dina, our little Princess. What camp would be complete without one? Her range of hysteria generally ranged from the inability to select the appropriate outfits to the crushing disappointment of chipping a nail. Who says they don't write good parts for women on TV? My favorite-ever Dina storyline was when she went out with Budnick and required him to dress like a preppy square to meet her country-club standards. Oh, Dina! When will you learn? She did, however, accidentally ask Donkeylips to a dance once but ended up enjoying herself, so I'll let her accrue a few niceness points for that one.

ZZ, the requisite eccentric Kumbaya-er. I suppose you could blame her blondeness for her flightiness, but her ocean off oddness ran a bit deeper than ditziness. ZZ was into the environment, and frequently conversed with inanimate objects to illustrate her love and compassion for them. That sounds normal, right? She sometimes went a little off the deep end, and I'm not just talking about during Instructional Swim. A very loud audio version of ZZ playing one of her save-the-world songs on guitar can be found here, but I caution you that her anger brings forth a lot of unwarranted microphone feedback.

Ug, O great god of zinc oxide nose precautionary application. We all sometimes worry that we're going to get an awful sunburn not so much here or here, but right here. He was your basic authority figure standing in the way of general fun and mayhem, but occasionally he let them get away with a fun thing or two. Also, in the intro we learn that he plays a mean piano.

So, that brings us to Michael. What's that you say? Michael's not in the intro? How odd. Why ever could that be?

Surprisingly blond for someone named Michael Stein, Michael was the show's obligatory everyman. His main identifiable quality is that he's an all around nice, normal guy in a sea of insanity. It is for Michael's unfortunate experience that the show was named, as the first episode featured a sequence in which Budnick and Donkeylips stole his boxer shorts, ran them up the flagpole, and spiritedly saluted them.

They change that sequence in the second (and last) season intro. Why, you may ask. What could they possibly be trying to cover up?

Oh, right. That Michael has been swiftly and quietly replaced by this guy:

Michael mysteriously comes down with the chicken pox, and as is wont to happen in these types of situations, his parents decide to take him hiking in Switzerland for the remainder of the summer. Don't fight it, it makes perfect sense. Obviously the camp's waiting list is spectacularly full, as Ronnie Pinsky (above) replaces Michael just a few hours after his departure. Ronnie goes on to fill the Michael void, essentially assuming all of Michael's major character traits and serving as a sort-of stand-in Michael for the remainder of the series.

It should also be noted that the actor who played Ronnie Pinsky, Blake Sennett (though credited as Blake Soper in the series) is now the lead guitarist for indie rock band Rilo Kiley. Wait, what? Really? For those of you unfamiliar with the indie music scene, you may recognize their song "Portions for Foxes" from the Grey's Anatomy pilot (which, let's be honest, anyone unfamiliar with the indie scene is pretty likely to watch Grey's Anatomy).

So there you have it. Despite the Michael/Ronnie switcharoo, the show maintained its quality and wit throughout its two season run. Thank you, Salute Your Shorts, for bringing us hours of childhood diversion and entertainment with your wacky storylines and gloriously likable one-dimensional characters.

For that, we salute you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Infectious 90s TV Theme Songs

Today is the last day--a winner will be announced tomorrow morning! Don't forget to enter the Children of the 90s Ultimate Nostalgia-Fest 2010 Giveaway! It's open until Wednesday, February 17. Click here to see rules and enter for your chance to win some fun Goosebumps, BSC, Magic Eye, Lisa Frank, Pete and Pete, and more!

I'm not saying our generation watched too much TV, but it's pretty telling that I've yet to witness someone break into, "Innnnn West Philadelphia, born and raised..." without an entire room of 20-somethings clambering to joining in. If I even overhear someone humming what sounds to be the opening bars of Rockapella's iconic Where in the World of Carmen San Diego theme, I'm wont to fill in the mid-range harmony bits from distances of up to 100 feet. True story. It may or may not have happened at the gym.*

It's almost a physiological reaction; we just can't help ourselves. Somewhere along the way, we've collected an arsenal of television theme song lyrics that are laying dormant in the darkest nether regions of our brains. We have an excellent command of the instrumental themes as well, but they fail to command the same involuntary knee-jerk reaction. Singing along to your old favorite TV intros has a way of transporting you right back onto your childhood couch, covered in Pringle crumbs, sipping on a Kool-Aid Burst. It's the magic of memory. Or maybe just a testament to the innumerable hours we all logged in front of the tube during our formative years.

Whether or not you liked the shows was almost irrelevant. Some of them were worth watching on the merit of introductory song alone. For the most part, though, they lived up to the immense promise of their catchy theme tunes. For whatever reason, they were irrepressibly memorable:

Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?

Love it or hate it, you've got to admit Rockapella did their homework. PBS commissioned the Carmen San Diego children's game show in direct response to the abysmal perfomance of American students on geography standards. Rockapella managed to squeeze almost every location on earth into their three-minute theme song, not to mention the wealth of groan-inducing puns they sprinkled throughout.

Some of these puns I'm willing to accept as legitimate jokes. You know, "We never Arkansas her steal" and that kind of thing. But at a certain point, they're really pushing it; I don't care how alluring their multi-part harmonious arrangement is, it's never okay to say, "She stole the beans from Lima." I get it, I get it, but it's not even the correct pronounciation. Rockapella did make up for their grevious pun infractions, though, by breaking it down in a major way at the end of the song. Well done, Rockapella.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Expository theme songs are great the first time you tune in to a show. If you have no clue of the premise or back story, it'll fill you in pretty much right up until the events of the current episode with aits incredibly informative and detailed lyrics. In some cases, it all gets pretty tiresome after the first few viewings. In a time before DVR, there was no fast-forwarding through the credits.

Luckily, this was not the case with The Fresh Prince's theme song. We just couldn't get enough. Sometimes I'd watch the show just to see the opening credits. This one was a keeper, destined to go down forever in 90s TV theme history. So many of us worked tirelessly on memorizing this one. The furthest I ever got was to, "You're moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air", so I'm achingly jealous of all of you who know all of the verses by heart.

Saved By the Bell

The sheer exposure to this one was more than enough to commit it to memory. Saved By The Bell played in seemingly continuous loop in syndication throughout our youth. For awhile it seemed that we couldn't turn on the TV without flipping by an episode of SbtB. The theme song lyrics rivaled the show's subject matter in cheesiness, but both had a certain alluring quality.

This song takes a lot of liberties in fitting in syllables, working in well-pruned lines like "And the 'larm gives out a warning". Yes, you heard right. The 'larm. Alarm just wouldn't fit. It didn't really matter to us, though. So long as they kept parading attractive teen stars across our screen, we'd listen to whatever they wanted.

Salute Your Shorts

Salute Your Shorts' theme played out like a camp anthem parceled out amongst the main characters. As in any good teen sitcom, we all just assume that there are indeed other campers somewhere on the premises, though none quite as interesting and plotline-worthy as our major players. Sure, there might have been some other kids stationed at Camp Anawanna over the summer, but none quite as enthralling as Budnik or Donkey Lips.

Toilet humor is like comedic gold to children, so it's no wonder we delighted in the line, "Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our hearts/and when we think about you/it makes me wanna fart!" We all knew Ug was just a huge spoilsport for reprimanding the gang. I guess we've got to cut him a break, though. He was the almost only adult we ever saw, save for the mysterious disembodied voice of camp director Dr. Kahn. You'd probably be pretty tightly wound, too, if you were the only grown-up in a sea of teenagers for an entire summer.

Full House

Even a few bars of the jazzy "ba-ba-ba-de-ba-bop-bop" at the end is enough to jar us all back into full Full House mode, yearning once again to be raised by a zany, madcap team of ill-equipped and uncompatible male role models. The opening sequence became incredibly well known throughout the show's multi-season run. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who can't complete the line, "What ever happened to predictability? The milkman, the paper boy..." See, you're just itching to fill in the blank, aren't you?

Hey Dude

Who would have thought that a western song about working summers on a dude ranch could be so compelling? Hey Dude represented the classic era of Nickelodeon, and its signature theme song did not disappoint. Well, at least not in melody; lyrically it could have used some rethinking. It doesn't really make sense, per se (It's a little wild and a little strange? Really?) but it all adds up to a part of the show's charm. Yippee ki yi ay, lil dogie.

We may not have known it at the time, but even after all these years these themes are as recognizable and catchy as they ever were. The downside, of course, is that they'll be tumbling around in your head on spin cycle for the rest of the day, but it's a fair trade off to get to relive all of those gloriously cheesy 90s TV anthems. Or at least that's how you can justify it when the guy at the next cubicle tells you for the twelfth time to please keep it down.

*Okay, okay, it did happen at the gym. Someone's iPod was blaring it from the bank of treadmills. I couldn't resist.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Secret World of Alex Mack

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One of the fascinating things about looking back at shows you watched as a kid is that the characters never age. Upon revisiting the show you find that while you have progressed into an adult somewhere along the way, the show's characters remain frozen in time. When the show debuted you may have been the same age as the principal players, yet they've been held back in an eternal repetition of their childhood years.

Such is the case with Alex Mack, a middle school-aged semi-superhero of 90s Nickelodeon fame. I always thought of the two of us as contemporaries, so imagine my surprise to find that she's still just thirteen years old. The real-life actress who portrayed her, Larisa Oleynik, has grown alongside me into a more reasonable age of 28, but I related so well to the character that I came to think of her as something of a real person. I half-expected a current Google search for Alex Mack to pull up a YouTube clip of a late-20s version of the character, again clad in a flannel shirt and backwards cap, playing hooky from her office day job by morphing Capri Sun-style into a metallic puddle and slipping out through the heating vent. It was a bit jarring to realize that someone I'd yearned to befriend as as a kid is stuck at thirteen forever. Watching the show, I still kind of want to be friends, but it gives me a sort of uneasy feeling to imagine myself randomly befriending seventh graders. Sure, she might be scientifically significant, but I doubt Mr. and Mrs. Mack would take kindly to the two of us going out for a soda. At least not until after she'd finished her algebra homework, I mean.

The Secret World of Alex Mack premiered in 1994 as part of the Saturday night tween-geared SNICK programming block on Nickelodeon. Featuring a quirky young teenage girl, the show was a natural fit as a replacement for the very popular Clarissa Explains it All. Superpower premise aside, the general genre was a solid match to its predecessor. The show was originally conceived of with a male central character, but the departure of Clarissa led to some retooling. I don't think the boys were too disappointed, though. They all got Larisa Oleynik to drool over, so it wasn't a bad deal in the end.

While Alex's coming of age story is certainly confounded by her unusual chemical circumstances, she's generally just a young girl struggling to find her place in the ever-viney jungle of adolescence. We see her face mean girls, first crushes, and fights with her parents. Okay, so maybe she can move things with her mind and turn into a shiny puddle of echo-voiced goo, but at the end of the day she's just trying to see where she fits into the puzzle of junior high.

The show's subject matter was pretty sophisticated for a children's show. While many programs aimed at a young viewer demographic tend to patronize and dumb down factual information, The Secret World of Alex Mack gave it to us straight. Well, sort of. If you want to get technical, the entire premise and all related scientific data was completely fabricated and improbably at best. Shows with made-up scientific background are probably better-suited to children as we're less likely to question any chemical plot holes. Regardless, The Secret World of Alex Mack treated its viewers more or less like adults. We had a high tech chemical plant, the background on research and development, and some entree into the world of as-of-yet FDA unapproved weight loss aids that have the potential to turn you into a mutant.

Doesn't this opening sequence just stir up all sorts of displaced memories? I haven't watched the show in maybe 10 years, but I'm pretty sure I could recite Alex Mack's voiceover word-for-word regardless. Alex Mack is memorable in a way that few children's shows achieve, though maybe it's proportionate to how badly you wanted to possess her melting and mind-moving superpowers.

In the show's first episode, Alex is doused with the mysterious chemical (henceforth known as the crazy compound GC-161) on the way to her first day of junior high. Alex quickly discovers that the accident has left her with a number of unexplainable side effects, most importantly silver puddle meltability, telekinesis, and the ability to send little shocks out of her fingertips. On the negative, she also turns an unnatural shade of orange in lieu of a more ordinary pink when she blushes. All in all, sort of a tradeoff, but the pros pretty far outweigh the cons in terms of general superheroic symptoms.

If for some reason the show isn't so fresh in your mind, here's the entire first episode for nostalgic restoration purposes:

Alex lets her best friend Ray and her Janine Kishi-esque brainy sister Annie in on her secret, though she opts against telling her parents. Her father is employed by the anonymously ominous local chemical plant and reports directly to the notoriously evil Danielle Altron. Danielle and her plant partner in crime Vince are Alex's main adversarial forces, with the majority of superpower-related plotlines emphasizing Alex's continuous struggle to avoid capture and eventual subjection to creepy testing. Danielle and Vince see Alex as sort of a human lab rat and are endlessly caught up in hot pursuit of their subject. In a clever plot point, the chemical plant is Alex's hometown of Paradise Valley's main employer. That means most people report to Danielle, and few would want to face unemployment by crossing her. Unfortunately, that settles the score at Plant 1, Alex 0. Tough break.

The Secret World of Alex Mack lasted a solid four seasons, culminating in Alex's secret exposed. As the following finale teaser boomingly intones, "She can morph, but she can't hide..."

Alex Mack differentiated itself from other superhero shows in many ways, the most important of which may have been the fact that Alex would have preferred to be a normal kid over a wanted superhero. Even with all she had to gain from the incident, she was just an average kid at heart. Alex never asked to be extraordinary, nor did she possess some natural capacity for leadership or do-goodery. We could relate to her because she represented the rest of us far better than her comic book superhero contemporaries. She wasn't out saving the world; she just wanted to make it through seventh period English. With its cliffhanger ending, though, we're left to decide for ourselves whether Alex took the antidote. Feel free to speculate for yourself with the last clip of the series finale below. I'm still losing sleep over this one.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Double Dare

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Why don't we offer the Physical Challenge as a viable alternative to difficult tasks anymore? It always worked for our pals on Double Dare. Just picture it. You're in a crowded classroom taking your bar exam and you come across an exceptionally confounding question. Imagine how much simpler things would be if you could simply alert the proctor you were going to take the Physical Challenge instead. You'd get up from your desk, put on the giant clown pants, and proceed to catch flying pies catapulting toward you at breakneck speed. "Pie in the Pants" was a credible recourse for baffled minds on 90s kids game shows; why not extend it to other arenas? At the very least, it would give some much needed excitement and spontaneity to those boring hours-long tests.

In actuality, not much of the Double Dare world translates into real life. It's a testament to the show's creators' creativity--or insanity, depending on your sense of whimsy and wonder. It was like some sort of alternate kid fantasy universe: children slimed their parents, slid down a giant Sundae Slide, and went home with armloads of cash and prizes. It was crazy and nonsensical and criminally messy, but it was undeniably pure kid-driven fun.

It's another one of those Nickelodeons 80s and 90s anomalies where you'd just got to wonder what was running through the network executives' respective heads when the Double Dare creators pitched them the show. "We open with a messy challenge, see. Then we move onto a random, disjointed trivia round that's actually an excuse to stump kids and have them opt for an even messier challenge. Next, the team with the most points attempts an utterly insane obstacle course, searching for flags in piles of sloppy food, swimming through vats of jello, running on a giant hamster wheel, and monkey barring their way over to the spewing Gak Geiser. If they make it, they go to space camp and get to thow up on one of those anti-gravity simulation spinny rides. How does that sound?" To which we can only imagine the Nickelodeon bigwigs replied, "Excellent! We'll take 500 episodes."

The show went through a series of reformatted and re-imagined incarnations, but the underlying structure remained the same. First up, we had Super Sloppy Double Dare:

It seems the major differentiating feature of Super Sloppy Double Dare was that it was not just regular sloppy but indeed super sloppy. The original version of Double Dare was messy, but SSDD brought disgusting sloppiness to a whole new level. The challenges existed for the sole purpose of creating the most explosive mess imaginable. This version had more thematic episodes and gimmicks, but the main change was probably in the significant increase in the number of janitors employed by the show.

There was the quickly-dropped Celebrity Double Dare concept:

This version never actually made it into production, so all we have to remember it by is this pilot footage. It was mostly like Double Dare, but everything was just a tiny bit off, meaning fans would probably never accept it. It was hosted by a feathered-haired Bruce Jenner, who depending on your generation is either that dashing Wheaties box-gracing Olympian or the frozen-faced dad on Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Next up we had the popular Family Double Dare:

This clip hails from the Nickelodeon (not FOX) era. Just in case you were curious.

For this version, the show had a brief stint on the Fox network in a Saturday night timeslot. As the name implies, this version pitted two families against one another in lieu of all-kid teams. Teams included two parents and two children. Families cycled through the same segments as in the original Double Dare (Opening Stunt, Physical Challenges, Triva, Obstacle Course) but it was a new plane of funny to watch adults wade through knee-deep slime ravines. The show moved back to Nickelodeon in 1990, where it continued to humiliate parents everywhere through the cunning use of pies.

We also had Super Special Double Dare, which was basically a pared down retooling of Celebrity Double Dare. We had sports stars, Nick stars, and minor celebrities competing for charity. I don't know if it necessarily lived up to its promise of being Super Special, but it was at the very least averagely special.

Unfortunately, the Double Dare book didn't close then. There was actually a Double Dare 2000 version, or as 90s children may better know it, The Version That Shall Not Be Named. Heresy, I tell you. Um, hi, they called the Obstacle Course the Slopstacle Course. Really? Really? They should be ashamed of themselves. Where's my beloved host Marc Summers? What? Relegated to an executive consultant credit? For shame.

Can you believe this was already ten years ago? Depressing, no?

Speaking of Marc Summers, Double Dare and his ever-expanding portfolio of other Nickelodeon hosting duties turned him into the poster child for irony. Unbeknownst to the world (and to Marc, until he was diagnosed at age 43), Summers suffered from obsessive compulsive disorders. Yes, that's right. The man who brought us our daily dose of super sloppiness later went on to co-author the book, "Everything in its Place: My Trials and Triumphs with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder."

Double Dare lived on in syndicated reruns for many years following its 1992 cancellation. As Summers remarks in his book, "We had enough episodes on tape to do reruns forever." Indeed, the pure volume of episodes must speak to the high demand for this type of purely entertaining children's television programming. Yes, the show had a trivia question or two thrown in for good measure, but it was far from educational. It taught us something far more valuable: how to have fun and be kids. Oh, and how to dig a flag out of a Super Sloppy Blue Plate Special. I'm still thinking that one's going to come in handy someday.

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