Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Five Best Sitcoms from the 80's, EVER!

So Casey has once again turned the reigns over to me, and boy do I have a feeling he won't like this choice. Do I know he won't like it? No. But tell me this: Does Casey and his guitar playing, mountain biking, rock-nerding self come across as someone who spends a lot of time front of a television? Exactly - but I figure there is some chance that the younger version of Casey watched at least a little bit of television.

This week we are talking about the five best sitcoms from the 1980s (EVER!). During the 1980s there were many sitcoms that had people glued to their TVs. They were so popular that the mere mention of some of the titles will have more than a few people I know humming/singing the theme song. Cases and points - Silver Spoons (Here we are, face to face...), Family Ties (Sha na na naaaa), Full House (Whatever happened to predictability...).

Fast forward to 2007. The reality shows, the crime scene investigators, and the survivors of a plane crash are currently dominating television. While I am admittedly hooked into some of these shows, the sitcom as a genre has very quietly gone to shit. With the exceptions of a few notable shows (How I Met Your Mother, The Office, and 30 Rock), sitcoms are just plain bad. More noticeably, there aren't that many to choose from. With all this said, my first pick is:

1) The Cosby Show

This show is an all time favorite of mine, my wife, and my immediately family. It was funny, smart, and it managed to deal with both real life and family issues. Reruns of the show come on some late night cable station (Wife - which channel are you always watching?), and I am amazed at how just a few minutes of an episode will instantly trigger my memories of the entire show.

To break it down even further, Bill Cosby (possibly a less funny curmudgeon these days) was hilarious. Phylicia Rashad was great (reminded me a lot of my mom). All of the kid-actors were awesome (and my wife contends that Raven Simone was the best child-actor ever. EVER! Seriously). From the crazy intros, to the obscure jazz references, to the heavy-handed/heart-warming life lessons - this show was great.

-Um. I spent the '80s in a cultish. We never watched TV much unless the Broncos were playing. See, we only had the one TV and it was about the size of a tasteful microwave. And we had bikes, pellet guns, and, you know, activities. I did watch the occasional show, but I think whatever knowledge I have on this subject comes from some sort of generational mob memory. This statement will probably drive our readership into the negative integers tomorrow, but 99% of anything from the '80s is crap.

I remember this show, but I don't think I'm in near the danger of a steamy makeout session with Theo(?) Hucstable that you are. A lot of the show was just jokes lifted from Cosby's standup brilliance watered down for primetime. The show was OK. I remember stripey clothing and a lot of sweaters. I also think, in retrospect, that this was the first of a goofy genre of comedy. lieu of any actual knowledge on the issue, I will nominate:

2) G.I. Joe

This counts, right? I mean, they had drama and comedy and more intelligent dialogue than I remember on any live-action '80s show. You had goofy in-the-closet man friendships, you had the obligatory ball-busting feminist types with the shoulder pads in their suits, you had helicopters doing unrealistic things, and you had copious amounts of bright colors. This was like any '80s sitcom, only cool. It seems to me like there has been a steady campaign to remove testosterone from television that more or less started with shows like Full House. G.I. Joe tried to fight them off, but he just couldn't fight a tidal wave of crap. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

-Nice pull with G.I. Joe. It used to amuse me that in my part of the country G.I. Joe was followed by Ducktales. Talk about opposite cartoons. My strongest memory is of the character named Snake-eyes. He didn't speak, but was a pure badass when it came to bringing the pain. To go in a completely different direction....

3) The Wonder Years

This is a show that I didn't like nearly as much as a kid as now do as an adult. For anyone who may be unfamiliar, this show followed little Kevin Arnold as he dealt with growing up in the 70's. The show has some classic voice over narration, and it didn't back away from making you uncomfortable with some real life family issues/drama. It was a unique "sitcom," but often the show was intended to make you laugh.

What is funny is that now that I am older the show has as much potential to make my wife (and by "my wife" I mean me) get a little misty eyed. The relationships between the mom and the dad, the dad and the sons, as well as all of the supporting cast/neighborhood friends are solid. At least once a week while flipping through the stations my wife and I will settle on The Wonder Years and watch two back to back episodes.

-Interesting choice. I remember it now, the little kid from The Princess Bride grew up in this one. I remember he had a pretty hot girlfriend, and the show seemed real enough. Wasn't there an episode where he crashed his bike and put himself in a coma? I could have swore there was, but I just can't remember much.

Thank you, Wikipedia.

Right, so the show had a huge influence on my development. I can't overstate how much the Arnolds and their whimsical neighborhood brought into my adolescence. Remember the episode where Norma takes the pottery class? Magical.

4) Doogie Howser, M.D.

I like this one. This show occurred after our family had purchased a color TV set and we had sufficient antenna power to pull in stations from Albuquerque. In other words, I have at least some fucking clue what this one's about. There was a kid. He was a doctor. Hilarity ensues.

I mean, sure, you could ask, Wait, how the fuck is a 14 year old a doctor? You could indeed ask what hospital in its right mind would open itself up to so much negligence related litigation. Intelligent questions have no place in sitcoms. So stop it.

Anyway, the guy had a dumb friend. He also had a computer in his own room! By '80s standards, the kid was a freakin' pimp. The computer also added a nice little place for the writers to tie up loose ends and close the show with a handy PSA about some emotional crap or another.

-Casey, you forgot one of the most fundamental points of this show - Wanda (the object of Doogie's affection) was hot. HOT!

So now it is your turn 8 faithful readers. I want to know what you would add to the list of best sitcoms from the 1980s....just don't knock the Cosby show.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Five Best Ways To Immediately Improve Your Life EVER!

This blog is nothing if not an indulgent waste of time, and I feel guilty about that. I think I feel guilty about that, but I'm not all the way sure. My rural sensibilities of modesty tingle a little at the wastefulness of time and resources devoted to the blogosphere. When I hit publish, I feel a thousand eyes staring at me from the unfortunate souls of Earth who are more worried about finding their next bowl of rice as opposed to the next friendly person to kiss their cyber-ass and give them eProps or something else equally vacuous.

I forget where I was going with this. Ah yes, making the world a better place. We will hand down, all Prometheus-like, some easy methods of making your life instantly better. Listed in the normal fashion and reached by the normal methods (fallacious fabrication and thoughtless speculature), are this week's Five:

The Five Best Ways To Improve Your Life Ever!

1. Listen

Specifically to Mike Watt's In the Engine Room (1a. Don't worry if you're citing sources correctly). This bass line makes me happy. I like major/minor key ambiguity almost as much as music nerd obscure references. Vapor lock, clock stop, time hangs limp. Yes, Mike Watt's healthy bass causes time to stop. What finals? What paper due in two hours? I don't care. A voice from the tube says the boat's gotta move/Can we dot it?/We can do it. When you're the left hand man of the boilerman, who gives a shit about anything, really? You know she's running true.

The removal of stress has to be an improvement. I feel like bobbing my head along with the steady 4/4 beat of this beautifully chaotic song. In the Engine Room! Hey-O!

What whimsy! What happiness! My life is not so bad now. And the song ends in the sounds of surf and shore birds. Thank you Mike, my life is better. Hopefully all twelve of our readers' lives will be better too.

-You know I'm not going to disagree with you when it comes to music. I only have limited experience with Mike Watts, and you've already got me ready to download more. The only thing I can add to Casey's advice of "Listen," is that it will also be worth your time to check out some early Ben Harper. I suggest Live From Mars, Disc 2. It is all acoustic, and if it doesn't help you relax and drift off to a better place you should seek help from a higher power. Or a bottle.

2) Read

In case you haven't noticed, Casey and I like the written word. I can't stress enough how important reading has been (and is) to me. The biggest reason why I am a reader is that books allow me to experience characters and situations that I will never meet in my every day life. At the same time books show me people/places that remind me of my family and fondest memories.

If you are looking for some specific books that might grab a hold of you and not let go, let me recommend:

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera

-Dude, you like to read, too? Awesome!

I would agree with this one whole-heartedly. In fact, I would expand it in two ways: 1. Read something you've read a hundred times already, or 2. Read something you'd never even try.

I started reading Uncertainty by David Lindley. While science fascinates me, I rarely delve into the more complicated aspects of physics without having a paper due. This one is kind of hard to explain. Imagine a twentieth century physicist soap opera. My life is better.

For the next one, I'll get even simpler:

3. Dip

Pretty simple, really. On a hot day, find a couple extra minutes along the pedal commute. Remove your helmet. Dip it into the flowing water. Replace helmet. That's pretty much it. My life is now better.

-Dude, I thought you were talking about tobacco here for a moment. I was prepared to strongly disagree. Little did I know you were referring to what I believe some people call "outdoor activities." I've heard of these. They sound interesting. I'm not sure how to get into them and keep my job right now, but I am pretty sure I'll try one sometime in the '08.

4. Drink

Yeah, that's right. Another "GSR is talking about drinking" moment. But in this case I'm not advocating going out and getting drunk (note: I do advocate going out and getting drunk). Instead I am referring to finding a nice cold drink that suits you for the summer. I've recently had iced-cold Lemonade mixed with Gin recommend to me (Awesome). Others have suggested a glass of gin garnished with watermelon or cucumber (Interesting). My personal preference will always be a bottle/can of beer that is so cold that I can barely hold it, but not cold enough that it has started to freeze. Honestly, at the end of a long day in the summer, walking home from the D.C. metro, there are few things better (my wife being one of them) that I would rather have greet me at the door. And sometimes that one cold drink is all you need (note: By "you" I actually mean you, since I need more than just that one drink).

-Sorry about the outdoor activity reference, I forgot who I was working with. Of course, you just talked about public transportation and I only vaguely recall what that entails. Smelly people and diesel fumes, I believe. Either way, gin reminds me of smelly people. And puking. I would recommend something more along the lines of good vodka, i.e. Stoli, mixed with lemonade. Also, grind some mint into the bottom of a glass, mix a standard vodka martini, pour onto mint. Add a splash of Cointreau. I usually throw some ice cubes in it. Seeing as how you're drinking a bitch drink, remember to hold pinky aloft.

Should you want to drink like a man, there is the glug down a good summer brew method. Around here, we have no less than six breweries, so I am a pretty lucky guy. Throw down a Palisade Red Truck if you're in Colorado, or if you're not, try and find a Springboard Ale by New Belgium (Fat Tire). It's good stuff. Beer makes me happy. So do bitch drinks. So does PBR. Or, well...anything.

So, there you go, the secret to happiness is to not be picky about alcohol. You would never have guessed without our little corner of the Internet. For five, same as always, you recommend something, we ignore you. I would nominate Hiking, Camping, or Fornicating (with protection). Possibly all three at the same time.

Either way, comment on how much you agree with us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Five Most Influential Books EVER!

This week we turn back towards the literary realm to discuss The Five Most Influential Books EVER!. This is also the first post that we have put up that is completely influenced by one of your comments.

During our first post Heather very correctly pointed out that to have a true discussion on the five best books of all time we needed to consider books from our childhood. She suggested books like Harold and the Purple Crayon and Good Night Moon, both of which could end up on the list. To define our thinking just a little bit (but Lord knows that there is only so much "definition" that can be applied to our collective thinking) we will be picking books that had an impact on our development as grown-people. Notice I did not say "grown ups." We would never be so bold as to make that claim.

1) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
If you didn't read this book as a child I am sincerely sorry. It was a favorite of mine growing up, and it is the first one I bought for my friends who just had their first child. The story of the book centers around the main character, Max. Max is about 7(ish), and within the first few pages he gets sent to his room for making mischief. From this point in the story Max closes his eyes and drifts off to "where the wild things are."

The reasons this book was so great for me as a kid came from two key places: 1) Max was in charge the entire time, and wasn't scared of the Wild Things and 2) The pictures are amazing. I would literally listen to this story as many times as my dad was willing to read it to me, and it is one of the first books I can remember holding. As some of you already know, I am now a reading teacher. Anyone want to guess which book I taught to 1st graders on my very first day?

-This book is very deserving of number one. I loved it, even today as soon as I see one of those pictures, I recognize it immediately. Good times were had in my life around the time I first read this. The funnest memory of Where The Wild Things Are, and I warn you children and adults with sticks up their ass should not read this, was from a party where I was shrooming something fierce.

My buddy James was in a corner of the living room of the old house specifically decorated for just what we were doing. he had a giant circus ball on his head, and if he read this he might be offended, but I swear to God he turned into Moeshe. If you knew James, you would know why this was not an enormous leap for one's chemistry enhanced brain to take. Me and James were always into Stanislav Szukalski, so his morphing into a yeti was not as frightening as one would think. We had been expecting them to rise one day.

Even weirder was my friend Ash, who became one of those fucking Kangaroos from:

2) Horton Hears A Who

I know it's all politically allegorical, but I loved Dr. Seuss. I was lucky in my formative years that my parents made it a priority to get us to the library as much as possible. When I got my first library card, this was the book I checked out along with the Asimov's Norby, The Mixed Up Robot.

And thus I nominate myself to be mayor of Nerdton.

I don't even really have a complicated reason I think this is in The Five. I read it, it got me reading early and I loved it. My life-long obsession with reading had its start in this little critique on Roe v. Wade. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet Dr. Seuss. I feel he deserves some serious gratitude. The other day, my little niece came home with this book under her arm. I was very touched, I hope that someday my contribution to humanity can be half of what Dr. Seuss' is.

-Yeah, that Ted Geisel was a pretty clever dude. I also loved "Horton," The Cat in the Hat, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I do have to say that I never got into Oh The Places You Will Go. I saw so many people both give and receive this book during a college graduation that it made me vomit a little. But then again, maybe I am just a cynical bastard.

3) The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

I can't say too much about this book or I will be crying salty tears on my keyboard. I remember my mom reading this to me and my brother when we were kids. I think that even as a child I knew that someday I would want to read this book to my own kids.

The plot is simple. It is about a young boy who falls in love with a tree. As the boy grows up/older so does the tree, and it is amazing how it affects people both young and old. I know that sounds like a pretty simple book, but if you've never read it you should take 5 minutes the next time you are in a bookstore. I won't predict or promise that you will cry, but if you don't think that it is a worthwhile book to read to a child you may have something wrong with your soul. Specifically, your soul may be missing. If that is in fact the case I recommend that you move over to the self-help section of the bookstore and start looking for some guided help.

-I remember my principal reading this to our class in first grade. All he told us about the author is that he was "an old man." After he read the story, he asked us what we thought the old man looked like and let us ponder for a minute. Then he showed us the picture on the back cover. The man was black! He asked all of us if we had any idea that he looked like that, and of course none of us did. The school had either poor, dusty country white kids or poor, dusty Navajos and Utes from the Res. I doubt most of us had seen a black person outside of cartoons. It was an important lesson that I don't think I fully understood for years.

Also, this book has interesting point/counter-point going with another Silverstein masterwork, A Boy Named Sue. Whatever you do, make sure you don't mention to an ignorant redneck that such a classic country song (and several others) was written by a black man.

Sort of a departure, but I really have to put in here:

4)White Fang, Jack London

You have to understand that this list is about personally influential books. I doubt this would make anyone else's list, and frankly I don't care. This might not even make my list, this is the last week before finals and I'm a little brain-dead. This list might suck because of me. I hate you all.

Um. The book is good. It's great, actually. I read both White Fang and The Call of the Wild the summer our family had to squat in an orchard. How much of the setting in which I read the books (no electricity, no TV, kerosene lamps, etc) effected the net influence on my life verses how much the books alone would have changed me. I tried to read some London a while back, but it was just too tough to focus. I have had the urge my entire life, and I place the blame square on London, to pack up all my belongings and move to the Yukon.

I owned a wolf once, he died. Talking about these books makes me sad, and arguably dumber. How do you conjugate stem-changing -ir verbs in Castille Spanish? Vosotros pedis ir al banco? Poor dog.

-Wow. Lots of info about you that I didn't know in there. I have nothing negative to say about White Fang. I will say that if you like books about wolves, and if you don't mind having your heart ripped out of your chest, you should check out The Crossing by Cormack McCarthy. Pretty good book if I say so myself.

So now it is up to you the reader. This week should be a lot of fun because we are looking for your contribution to our list of influential books. Be creative. Don't limit yourself to "kids books." And as always, chime in on what we've given you.