West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 12/17/21

If you’re hiding out from Spider-Man: No Way Home spoilers, then you’ve come to the right place! We’ll cover that whole shebang next time. No, this is still the run-up to Christmas, so I thought we’d cover some holiday movies I saw this week. Inspired by this week’s episode of the Slash Vision Podcast, I decided to finally check out Jingle All The Way. Yeah, I know…Most folks are surprised to hear I’d never seen it, since it’s so toycentric, but I just never got around to it until now.

If you’re like I was, and unfamiliar with Jingle All The Way, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a workaholic husband and father whose workload causes him to constantly disappoint his wife and son. He misses karate tournaments, he forgets to runs errands, etc. Well, after the latest missed event, he promises his son he’ll get him a Turbo Man doll for Christmas – not realizing that it’s the hottest toy of the season, and impossible to find. So the movie follows Arnold as he spends Christmas Eve trying to track down the doll, while simultaneously thwarting Sinbad, who plays a crazy mailman who’s also looking for the doll for his own son.

It’s not a great movie, but it’s not terrible. It’s pretty much on par with the kind of stuff they were putting out back in 1996. I feel like Arnold is HORRIBLY miscast, and they were probably just trying to cash in on his star power than caring to actually cast someone appropriate. You know who, of the time, would have been a better choice? Tom Arnold. I realize Tom didn’t put as many butts in seats, but it would’ve been a more believable film.

The funny thing about the movie is that you can really look at it two different ways. The movie wants you to think Arnold is a terrible family man, and the Turbo Man search is his penance for his inattention to his family. Yeah, I get that, but I also agree with the podcast, when I feel that Arnold is the true victim here. Kids don’t understand how hard their parents have to work to keep a roof over their heads, and that’s the case here. Sure, Arnold missed some karate tournaments, but he also paid for a house where this kid had a sweet ass superhero themed bedroom. Plus, it doesn’t seem like Arnold’s wife (played by a pre rap career Rita Wilson) does anything, so why couldn’t SHE get the damn doll? Finally, the collector in me was bothered by the fact that Turbo Man is only called an “action figure” once in the whole movie.

You know how folks argue whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie? I think that could also apply here. It’s a great representation of what modern toy hunts have become, but I can understand why it hasn’t become some annual tradition like A Christmas Story. There’s Christmas imagery all throughout, from a live reindeer to a bunch of renegade Santas, but I’m gonna take daring stance and say that Jingle All The Way is NOT a Christmas movie.

Building on my toyetic double feature, I followed Jingle with Small Soldiers. As a toy collector and thrifter, I was more than familiar with the Small Soldiers merchandise, but I knew nothing about the film. So, imagine my surprise when it turned out that Chip Hazard was the villain! I’ve been seeing this dude over 20 years, thinking he was the hero of the film. Boy, was I wrong!

Small Soldiers has layers, so let’s see if I can describe it faithfully. Denis Leary is a business mogul whose conglomerate, Globotech, has just added a toy company to its assets. He tasks two of the company’s development guys with creating a new toy line, with the full resources of Globotech at their disposal. One of the guys had already created a toy line of peaceful beings called Gorgonites, who were searching for their home. Leary decided that those should be the bad guys, and they needed a hero to go against them. Enter: The Commando Elite, led by Major Chip Hazard. A G.I. Joe-esque fighting force, the Commando Elite were a band of colorful soldiers who were tasked with eliminating the Gorgonites. Globotech had a defense contract, and the toys were powered by military-grade X-1000 microprocessor chips. This was bad, because the chips basically made the toys come to life. Meanwhile, the kid from Everwood (remember that show?) works at his dad’s failing toy store, and he convinces their delivery guy to spot him at set of the Commando Elite/Gorgonite line, hoping to drum up business for the shop. And then all Hell breaks loose.

You’ve really got to suspend your disbelief for this film, and that’s saying a lot given its premise. If this were made today, it would be more heavyhanded in its “Capitalism Bad” message. It’s sort of crazy how bloodthirsty the Commando Elite guys are, and what’s that saying about the American military industrial complex? What’s it saying about modern toys? What the Hell is the message here?! So many messages! But here’s a big plot hole for me: as the Commando Elite were killed off, Chip summoned reinforcements from other toy shipments in the area. But if an entire toy wave consisted of both Commandos and Gorgonites, then why didn’t the Gorgonites ALSO call in for backup? We had the same 5-6 Gorgonites, spending the whole movie holding their own against endless waves of Commandos. Even out the numbers, why don’tcha?!

Just like Jingle All The Way, Small Soldiers is pretty standard 90s fare. It’s not amazing, but it’s not terrible. It’s Toy Story without all the Pixar whimsy, and I can appreciate that.

Finally, I got around to watching What We Left Behind, which is a documentary about the legacy of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I know I wrote about this when it was in the crowdfunding phase, and I ended up getting the Blu-Ray for Christmas a few years back. Leave it to me, however, to end up watching the whole thing on YouTube instead. The thing about DS9 is it suffered from “Middle Child Syndrome”, as it was never on the air by itself. It was bookended by the end of The Next Generation and the beginning of Voyager. As such, it never really got the love that the other 2 received, but that also meant that it could fly under the radar a bit more than those other shows.

I have gone on record to say that DS9 is, hands down, my favorite iteration of Star Trek. Sure, it breaks a lot of Gene Roddenberry’s rules, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. Bob Kane “created” Batman, but it was the contributions of many others throughout the decades that have fleshed out the character. Same here, in that Roddenberry may have created Trek, but that doesn’t mean he was always right (try watching Andromeda or Earth: Final Conflict sometime, and get back to me). The thing that never occurred to me, however, is how the whole middle child thing affected the cast and crew, and it turns out that it hurt them. There were hurt feelings that persist to this day, whether about how the show never got its credit for promoting a positive Black familial structure, or how actress Terry Farrell was treated in contract negotiations. The whole documentary process was obviously cathartic in allowing some folks to get the closure that was never offered to them up to this point.

The BEST part of the documentary, however, is that they reconvene the writers room to plot out what a theoretical 8th season of the show would look like. It’s DS9 getting the Star Trek: Picard treatment, as just as much time has passed for the characters as has passed in the real world. It’s great seeing where those characters would be 20 years later, without having to read the myriad non-canonical novels that have attempted to cover the same ground. What they come up with is a premiere that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and I really wish CBS and Paramount would consider it. Anyway, if you’re a DS9 fan, you’ve got to see this documentary!

Trailer Park

Legend of the White Dragon

This goes beyond conventional “fan film”, but this looks like a SFW trailer for something that would have the Brazzers logo in the corner of the screen. God bless Jason David Frank, as he knows his Power Rangers audience is out there, but this ain’t it, champ. You’d better believe I’m gonna watch this the first chance I get, but this isn’t the meal ticket that JDF seems to think it’s gonna be. He’s been hyping this production like it’s a big cinematic deal, but it’s gonna take a little more than John Diggle to get me excited about this.

How I Met Your Father (Hulu)

I can’t believe they finally got this off the ground, as the only show in recent memory to have as many false starts was Y: The Last Man, and we all know how that turned out. Seriously, this thing was retooled at least twice, and it’s still not clear how, or if, it’s related to How I Met Your Mother. I’m conflicted because HIMYM was one of my favorite shows. I was dialed into the mythology, and I even called the twist with the mother at the end, years before it even aired. That said, the finale was horrible and, like Seinfeld, it took me years to be able to enjoy the show in syndication again. On the one hand, I’d like this to succeed, as I like the cast. On the other hand, I don’t think I have another 9 years in me to go on one of these journeys again. Luckily Hulu isn’t beholden to a 22 episode per season model, but even 9 seasons of 10 episodes might be too much.

Just when I thought I was probably done with weekly network sitcoms, trusty NBC comes along and pulls me back in. This week the network aired sneak previews of two new series: American Auto and Grand Crew. Y’all, I think I’m in love.

American Auto was created by Superstore‘s Justin Spitzer, so you already know what you’re getting into. This time, instead of being set in the Not Walmart Cloud9, the setting is Payne Motors. As the series begins, Ana Gasteyer’s character, Katherine Hastings, is the new CEO of Payne, coming from the pharmaceutical world. She knows nothing of the auto industry, and is quickly thrown into controversy, while having to depend on her new staff with whom she’s unfamiliar. It’s a single cam workplace comedy, so the format is pretty familiar by this point. It’s got a strong cast, including Michael Benjamin Washington, who you might remember as Tracy Jordan’s illegitimate son Donald from a hilarious episode of 30 Rock. They’ve even got an interracial will they/won’t they thing going on, where I’d bet money the writers room calls them “Jamal & Pam”. We got 2 episodes this week, and the show just got better as it went along. In the pilot, the Payne execs are on damage control when they learn that their new self-driving car has a defect where it runs over minorities (it thinks dark shapes are shadows). In the second episode, they are once again on damage control when it is revealed that a serial killer is using a Payne van in his murders. I know these both sound a bit macabre, but it’s basically like the American version of The Office at its edgiest. I thought this was my new favorite show – until the next night.

With American Auto on Monday night, Tuesday night brought the premiere of Grand Crew. I didn’t initially have high hopes, because the commercials didn’t look too funny. I’m so glad I gave it a chance, though, as it was hilarious. There are bound to be comparisons, so I’ll just lay it out here: it’s kinda like the Black Friends. Echo Kellum and Nicole Byer are siblings who hang out in LA wine bars with their 3 friends. Kellum’s Noah is a hopeless romantic, who’s dying to have a meet-cute like in his favorite rom coms. Byer’s Nicky is the boisterous, take charge female in the group. Wyatt is the Married Friend. Anthony is the Preppy Friend. Sherm is the Hood Friend. The pilot had a really interesting framing device starring comedy legend Garrett Morris, and I was sad to see that it had been phased out by the second episode. I feel like the show finally found a way to use Byer’s talents for good, which I find to be…a lot in her other projects, like Nailed It. She’s just a lot to handle! Anyway, the show really touches on a lot of hot button issues, like Black Republicans and Black men and their emotions. It introduced the phrase “Emotional Genitalia” to the conversation. Trust me, watch episode 2 and it’ll make total sense. It’s a funny show, but it’s also a thought-provoking show. It made me want a group of friends like I saw on TV, which isn’t something I’ve ever really felt before.

NBC hasn’t really been too strong on comedy since the Must See TV days. Yeah, they’ve got Kenan, Mr. Mayor, and Young Rock, but those aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. The network might have ceded Thursday nights to the Law & Order universe, but I think they’ve finally regained their comedic footing. With American Auto and Grand Crew, Tuesday nights in January are going to cause NBC to be the place to be, and that’s why NBC’s new comedies had the West Week Ever.


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