West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 1/19/24

Three in a row?? What’s going on over here?! Yeah, it’s a little late in the day, but blame the snow and all the craziness it brings with it.

So here’s something crazy I learned this week: Did you know Charlie Bucket was originally supposed to be Black?! And before someone says “That’s The New York Times, with their liberal agenda!”, there’s also a version of the story on Cracked, if that’s more your speed. Apparently, Roald Dahl’s early draft was a story called Charlie’s Chocolate Boy, and Charlie would have been a Black child. That version, however, was drastically different, in that Willy Wonka was married, and already had a son. So, instead of him making Charlie his heir, he just gives him a candy shop in the town. Like, he kinda makes Charlie’s life better, but nowhere near as much as he does once Charlie’s White! Anyway, there’s no way 4 Black people were gonna share a bed like that, so I’m sure that part was added once the race swap happened. As the story goes, Dahl’s literary agent basically pleaded with him “Please don’t make Charlie Black.”, and Dahl, with his ambivalence, just said, “OK.” All I know is, Black or White, Grandpa Joe still sucks, with his ol’ lazy ass…

Trailer Park

Krazy House (Sundance)

Not much is known about this so far, other than it’s apparently coming to the Sundance Film Festival. But looking at this – it just hits my sweet spot! The living room is clearly based on the Married…with Children set, and it’s got Nick Frost. The sitcom scenes seem to live somewhere between early 90 syndication and Foo Fighters parody music video. But then when the actual violence kicks in? Man! I can’t wait to see more from this.

Suncoast (Hulu, February 9th)

I love a good coming of age movie, despite the fact that society would say I’ve already come of age. I don’t remember it, and it didn’t feel like I did, so I guess I’m just trying to live vicariously through these characters. Anyway, coming of age + grief = a pretty good dramedy. Usually. The lead actress reminds me of my oldest daughter. Plus, I’m digging the dynamic between her and Woody Harrelson. It’s the kind of thing you aren’t usually allowed to depict these days, as someone will pop up and say “He’s grooming her!” No, from what I can tell, it’s just 2 people, at different stages of life, bonding over how they navigate their grief process. This might be something really special.

Not Another Church Movie (Theaters/Barbershop Bootleg Man, ?)

I guess now we know why God fired that warning shot across Jamie Foxx’s bow. Seriously, how much is he in the hole for with those BetMGM folks? For him to do this job, I’m guessing it’s A LOT. It’s sort of low-hanging fruit to parody Tyler Perry movies, as they tend to parody themselves. When you’ve got Vivica A. Fox and Mickey Rourke as the biggest names in your cast, in the Year of Our Lord 2024, you’ve got a problem. This movie seems to have the production values of mid 90s porn. I’d swear it wasn’t real, as it was apparently supposed to be released last month, and there’s no real HQ version of this trailer on YouTube. If you told me this was just some Rickey Smiley skit, I’d sleep a lot better tonight.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Joey Fatone & AJ McLean: A Legendary Night was announced (how did Joey get top billing?!), which will be a limited tour, with the two boybanders singing some of their classic hits, backed by a seven-piece band.
  • Greg Daniels, original showrunner of the US adaptation of The Office, has assembled a writers room to develop a “spiritual successor” to the series, which would follow a new group of employees at another workplace.
  • In the world of YouTubers I’ve Never Heard Of, Chuggaaconroy and Verbalase got in some hot water, for different reasons, but both pretty pervy. Chugga sent another YouTuber some shoes as a “gift”, and then wanted her to make erotic foot content for him. Meanwhile, Verbalase apparently spent tens of thousands of dollars for someone to animate him being…taken by a character from something called Hazbin Hotel. As a 42 year old man, none of that makes sense to me, but I’m just a dinosaur, I guess.
  • It was a bad week for cult favorite streaming comedies, as Rap Sh!t was canceled by Max, while Schmigadoon! was canceled by Apple TV+
  • Pauly Shore announced The Weasel would be Sweatin’ to the Oldies, as he would be portraying 80s exercise guru Richard Simmons in a biopic. Meanwhile, Simmons took to social media to say “I don’t know her.” He said he’d never given Shore permission, and that he would like his privacy respected.

So, I’ve pretty much supported every show Seth MacFarlane has made (with the glaring exception of The Orville, which initially came off as “We’ve got Star Trek at home!”), as his humor aligns with mine in most cases. Now, I know it’s not really “cool” to like his stuff anymore, but some of y’all still watch South Park – which I’ve never understood (probably because I didn’t grow up with cable) – so I think you can cut me some slack. Sure, Family Guy hasn’t been funny since Obama was in the White House, but I’m like a fan of a losing sports team: maybe next season is “our” season. Folks love to down The Simpsons (while still watching it), yet they seem to have walked away from Family Guy. It’s sort of sad, as I feel the show sort of pioneered a sort of edgy humor for broadcast television. It was never “biting satire”, but it did address some uncomfortable truths about the world (see the episode where Peter and the gang have to fight some Army vets who’ve stolen their favorite booth at The Drunken Clam). Yeah, the early years are filled with rape jokes and homophobia, but I’m gonna play the “It was a different time” card. The show still addresses such things, but it’s a bit more…nuanced now.

Still, Family Guy made way for American Dad, which is seriously one of the funniest shows on television. What started out on Fox, as a one-note parody of post-9/11 America, moved to TBS and became one of the best shows flying under the radar. Who knew the ability to say “dick” and “shit” would crank things up a few notches? It’s sort of a shame, as a lot of folks are surprised to learn the show still exists, but it’s currently on Season 17 or 19, depending on who you ask (it’s a weird situation between Hulu and Fox, and what they recognize as “seasons”). The big difference between the 2 shows is it seems like Seth (Can I call you “Seth”? I’m gonna call you “Seth”) is still creatively involved in Family Guy, while he just sort of shows up to do the voices on American Dad. And it shows.

Remember how I said Family Guy hadn’t been good since Obama? Well, that timing is important. The rise of the Trump Administration caused Seth to get a little more political. So much so that he would go after Fox – the folks writing his checks – for giving Trump a platform. He would be railing against Fox on Twitter, while the network was running new Animation Domination TV spots. Fox was *unbothered*, but when he got his NBC development deal, he really got vocal. And I think the company sort of retaliated against him. Family Guy got moved to the bum slot of Sunday at 9:30. After a few years of that, it was announced that it would be moving to Wednesday when it comes back from its Winter hiatus next month, ending decades of a Sunday run. It’s been said he’s basically been begging Fox to cancel Family Guy, and it’s starting to feel like the writing might be on the wall.

So, why did I just give you a history lesson? Well, it was to set the scene of where we are now. You see, when Seth’s $200 million NBCUniversal development deal was announced way back in 2020, the first project announced was a Ted series. And everyone collectively went “Huh?” Ted was Seth’s 2-movie franchise about a vulgar stuffed teddy bear who had come to life because his human owner, Johnny (played by Mark Wahlberg) had made a wish on a shooting star as a child. Now, grown up, slacker Johnny and Ted smoke their way through life, as Johnny tries to get his shit together. The first one was successful enough to warrant a sequel, but the second one got mired down in a heavy-handed marriage equality angle. Ted wanted to marry his girlfriend, but the law didn’t recognize it as a legal union, since Ted wasn’t human. It had its moments, but everything down to the absence of Mila Kunis from the first movie (she reportedly opted to do Black Swan instead) caused it to really fall short of the original. So, when this was announced, it showed Seth clearly wasn’t done with the character, even if the audience seemingly was. And then it was announced it would be a prequel…

Seeing as how Ted is computer generated, the development process takes a bit longer than one might hope, so the show wasn’t ready until now. I honestly had no intention of watching it, as I really do admire Seth’s work, but I was also pretty done with the Ted character. All 7 episodes were released on Peacock last week, and I started seeing folks post about about it in Slack groups. No real mainstream attention, but rumblings. 7 eps felt like an easy binge, and Saturday Night Live was a rerun last week, so I fired up the cable box and opened the show. And I’m glad I did, as it was really well executed.

One thing I’ve loved about Seth’s shows is how he’s something of a TV historian, who loves to deconstruct the sitcom. He gets into what makes it tick, and how the audience responds to certain things. He does that here, where it’s pretty much an early 90s sitcom, with early 90s tropes. The only thing different is these plots have a modern twist, and also feature the involvement of a talking teddy bear. The thing that’s comforting is also the thing that’s the most distracting: Ted is just Peter Griffin reincarnated in a teddy bear. No real difference in inflection. They make the same jokes, and have the same comedic sensibilities. It sort of took me out of it in the beginning, as I haven’t seen the movies in almost a decade, but I eventually settled in and didn’t notice. You’d think it would just be a modern day ALF, but I feel the supporting cast gets a lot more fleshed out here.

First off, you’ve got teenage Johnny Bennett, played Max Burkholder, who’s best known for NBC’s Parenthood series. I think this guy is great, and his dynamic with stuffed Ted is believable. He’s something of a loser, and his best friend in the world is a stuffed bear. It’s like Calvin & Hobbes, but you’ve got to tackle all the pressures and challenges of high school that that comic strip never got around to doing. You believe he’s a sheltered virgin, and he totally only has Ted to rely upon. The only thing I would point out is that Burkholder is not believable as a young Mark Wahlberg. That said, I always felt Wahlberg was odd casting to begin with. I know Seth needed a “name” to get butts in seats for those movies, but he wasn’t a regular in Seth’s repertory of actors. Over the course of the series, though, I’d almost argue that Burkholder was a better Johnny than Wahlberg.

I’ve got to take time to describe the world in which this series is set: So, in the Ted Universe, after Johnny’s childhood wish came true, word quickly spread about the talking teddy bear. So, of course, Ted becomes an instant celebrity, and goes off to Hollywood to be a star. As nothing lasts forever, when folks moved on to the next thing, his stardom faded, and now he’s back in Boston, living with the Bennett family again. So, we’ve got a bear who’s seen it all, and now he’s back at square one, trying to make his way in life. Honestly, I feel that – on paper – a prequel series about his Hollywood years would have been more interesting – but I can see why a more “worldly Ted” was needed to make this series work. And, when you think about it, it’s sort of a natural evolution for Seth’s work. In Family Guy, you’ve got Stewie, whom the audience is never sure whether or not anyone beside Brian can understand him. Next, in American Dad, you’ve got Roger the alien, who folks can understand, but is forced to hide behind disguises and fake personae in order to elude capture. Now, with Ted, you’ve got a Ted who’s fully exposed. Everyone knows his deal, and they’re over it. The wonder surrounding a sentient toy has faded, and folks have gone on with their lives. That’s where we are now, in this prequel: a world where they came, they saw, they got the t-shirt, and it’s over. I found that to be a really interesting starting place. To give it even more of a sitcom-y twist, the Bennetts feel that Ted has too much time to get into various trouble during the day, so they make him attend high school with Johnny. So, he and Johnny have to endure peer pressure, bullies, insane teachers and the like.

Back to the characters. The patriarch, Matty Bennett, is played by MacFarlane vet – Steven Anita Smith himself – Scott Grimes. With this character, MacFarlane is challenging that tired talking point of “You couldn’t make Archie Bunker today”. You certainly could, and Seth did. That’s Matty. He’s a working class Bostonian, who’s haunted by memories from Vietnam, and harbors some not-so-great opinions about anything he doesn’t like/makes him uncomfortable. He’s a brash character, but he has layers. There’s a great Christmas episode where Ted is actually relegated to the B-story, as he thinks he might be Jesus, since they share a similar origin story. In that episode, Matty is forced to confront his prejudices when he makes a similar wish on a shooting star, and brings to life his childhood truck, Dennis. Dennis has even louder and worse opinions than Matty, causing Matty to wonder if Dennis is amplifying his own feelings, or if there is some other origin for what’s going on. This self discovery dovetails with a revelation from Matty’s niece, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention in the prior episodes. Matty has a real breakthrough – much like Archie was known to have from time to time – but, in typical sitcom fashion, he’s back to his old self by the beginning of the next episode.

Speaking of that niece, the show adds the character of Blaire (great 80s TV name!), played by The Punisher‘s Georgia Whigham, who happens to be Matty’s brother’s kid. Blaire’s family is straight up trash, and she left home in order to break the cycle. She attends college locally, and lives above the Bennetts’ garage (I love how old sitcoms always had apartments over the garage. Do they do that anymore? Are those even zoning-approved?). She fills the “daughter” role on the show, serving as big sister to Johnny, friend to Ted, Empowerment Coach to Johnny’s mom, Susan, and foil to Matty. If you mashed up All in the Family‘s Meathead and The Wonder Years‘ Karen Arnold (played wonderfully by Olivia d’Abo), you’d get Blaire. She serves as the link between the Bennett House and the big bad crazy world. She tells Susan about advances made by women, in an attempt to get her to stand up for herself against abrasive Matty. She helps Ted and Johnny get weed. She’s a great, and necessary, addition to the world, but it almost makes me want Ted 3 just so we can know she’s OK. Did she ever truly break the cycle? So many try, but so many fail. I’m pulling for Blaire.

That brings us to Susan. Played by Beakman’s World actress (yeah, I went there) Alannah Ubach, Suze is the quintessential doting, suburban mom. She doesn’t swear, she goes to confession, and she believes everything she’s told. She’s the kind of woman who is currently sharing all sorts of craziness on your Facebook wall. Yeah, I know you “don’t use Facebook”, but it’s also the only way to keep in touch with that one cousin who’s in jail, so you keep your account active in the event he needs cigarettes or something. There are layers to Suze. She once had ambition and goals, but she settled into wifely motherhood, and those dreams weren’t only deferred, but dashed. But she seems OK with it. Or is that just on the surface? As Blaire starts to pick at her exterior, we find out there’s a much sadder situation going on there. She’s the one who keeps it together, while everything around her is batshit insane. She has a childlike naivete to her, which sort of explains why she would put up with Matty’s harsh demeanor, as she still sees the “good” in everyone.

After watching the whole season over the course of the week, I can say that I LOVE this show. In one way, 7 episodes weren’t enough. At the same time, though, each episode clocks in at about 40 minutes, which was a tad too long for most of the plots. So, it’s like they edited 8 episodes’ worth of footage down to 7 supersized episodes, and I feel it’s to the show’s detriment. Must have been a union thing. Even enjoying the plots, I found myself looking at the clock, wondering “What time did I start this thing? It’s still going?!” Still, it’s more than worth the time invested, and I hope this isn’t a one-and-done series, as I’d like to take a trip back to see how Ted and Johnny navigate senior year. So, yeah, Ted had the West Week Ever.