West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 1/26/24

I wasn’t sure if I was going to talk about this, because I really don’t think a lot of you are ready to hear it. Still, sometimes you’ve got to have the “Difficult Conversations”, so here we go. You see, the biggest pop culture news of the week was probably the fact that Comedy Central clearly backed up the Brinks truck to lure Jon Stewart back behind the anchor desk at The Daily Show. That’s right – after almost a decade away, late night’s golden boy is back! I mean, it makes sense: it’s an election year, and Comedy Central can’t really let guest hosts continue to steer the ship through what are sure to be upcoming choppy waters. And there’s a catch, as Stewart will only host on Mondays, while the correspondents will do the heavy lifting throughout the rest of the week. I know many are delighted by this news. I, however, am not one of them.

Let’s get political, folks! I NEVER liked The Daily Show. I liked Craig Kilborn and Trevor Noah, but I still hated their association with The Daily Show, mainly due to what it became under Stewart’s tenure. I feel that the show, helmed by Stewart, ushered in an age of what I call “Liberal Smuggery”. This is an approach that The Left adopted that is deeply rooted in condescension. Now, this is where I have to state I’m a registered Democrat, so you don’t come at me, calling me “Michael Steele” or “Candace Owens” or whatever. The Left has many valid concerns but, at times, “the call is coming from inside the house”. Stewart got a whole generation into politics that may not have cared about the stuff otherwise. He was basically a more effective Rock The Vote. The problem, though, is what he did with it. He wasn’t a journalist, though he played one on TV. He went through all the motions, and he committed that cardinal sin where the newsman became the news. He became a very influential figure, but he liked to hide behind “Me? Little old me? I’m just a comedian!” But he was more than that, and he knew he was more than that. People depended on him for their political news, and he would publicly shrug it off as “Why are they coming to me? I’m just tell jokes.” Sure, Jan.

In the beginning, you might say the show started out much like The Onion. I say this because I’m a longtime fan of The Onion, but also because I actually know writers from The Daily Show, who also happened to have been fans of The Onion. It was pretty “equal opportunity” in terms of whom at which it took shots. As the world got more divided, however, it didn’t exactly help matters. And I kind of get it. It’s one thing to make fun of George W. Bush, who was getting shoes thrown at him and swearing not to leave any child behind. But that stuff seems so quaint compared to what we deal with now. Still, the DNA of Stewart’s tenure is all around us. Rachel Maddow rose to the top of MSNBC simply by being Jon Stewart with a Political Science degree. And what do I see when I watch any of that stuff? It’s educated people talking down to their opponents. And folks don’t understand why we are where we are?! People love to call Fox News “evil”, but when it comes to it and MSNBC, they’re both networks that are simply “preaching to the choir”. They’re not changing anyone’s mind, but rather emboldening their preexisting audience. And they do this by vilifying the other.

No, I am not saying “Both parties are the same”, because I know that’s a quick takeaway some folks would love to make. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME. I am, however, saying that media tactics are media tactics, plain and simple. This isn’t about politics, but rather just the tactics used in the dissemination of information. Yes, The Right takes the moral high ground, but they have turned on education, because look what “The Educated” have done to them. Look how they regard them and talk to them! Meanwhile, The Left looks at what The Right blames on “conviction” and “faith”, and try to battle it with education. The Left says “I have facts”, while The Right says “Who cares about your ‘facts’, from your fancy big city schooling?” Knowledge is power, but it can also be wielded irresponsibly, which results in situations that aren’t great for anyone.  The Left almost come off as Sore Losers, as they have all the facts and all the knowledge, yet Mr. Potter still ends up keeping George Bailey’s $8,000. There’s a saying: “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?” Similarly, if you have all the answers, they why aren’t you winning elections and making the world better? Yes, I understand gerrymandering and all sorts of tactics that are swaying elections in The Right’s favor, but maybe it’s time to use a different playbook. Instead, they end up having to say “Good game”, patting themselves on the back for “playing fair”, while The Right is headed to Pizza Hut, and their coach is gonna bang your mom later. Something’s GOT to change, as the current process just isn’t working. A very important life lesson is that, oftentimes, the messenger is just as, if not more, important than the message itself. I fear Stewart’s return is just going to make a bad situation worse.

My good buddy Mike said that he’s excited about Stewart’s return, as the apolitical need to know what’s going on, leading up to the election. That’s a cute sentiment, but the apolitical don’t watch The Daily Show. Not anymore. Maybe that’s who were initially filling that audience, but the times have changed. The Daily Show is an unabashed Left-leaning institution, and it’s about to be helmed by the best person in the game. This is Jordan coming out of retirement! If someone really wanted to address the apolitical, then they’d team up with South Park, whose audience tends to consist of the “Politics is bullshit ’cause it’s all the same” crowd. Hell, that might even be quite the coup, if someone could pull that off. But this? This ain’t it, chief.

Now I’m all riled up! Let’s watch some trailers.

Trailer Park

Road House (Amazon Prime, March 21st)

So, let’s just get this out of the way: Despite Peter Griffin’s love of the film, I’ve never seen the original 1989 Road House. I know it’s the quintessential Guy Movie, but I was never a big Swayze guy, so it’s always been one of my pop culture blind spots. This means I can’t really compare this to anything, which could be good or bad. Now that streaming, however, is the new direct-to-DVD, this feels like a burn-off. Sure, it doesn’t look great, but it’s still Jake Gyllenhaal, so I don’t see why this didn’t get a theatrical release. Plus, isn’t this Conor McGregor’s acting debut? I mean, if The Beekeeper got a theatrical release, then surely this deserves one, right? Anyway, I like Jake, and this looks fun, so I’ll watch it.

Calamity Jane (Theaters & VOD, February 2nd)

When Stunt Casting Goes Wrong! Now this I can understand why it would be a Video on Demand release, but it still, somehow, is getting a limited theatrical release. In case you didn’t catch it, this is basically a DC Elseworlds movie about a Wild West version of Felicity Smoak avenging the death of Oliver Queen. Well, not really, but that is Emily Bett Rickards, playing Calamity Jane, who must avenge the death of Wild Bill Hickok, played by Stephen Amell. Now, Amell has addressed this as if he was doing Rickards a favor, but considering Heels got canceled, as well as his questionable behavior during the SAG-AFTRA strike, look for more jobs for him on this level. Anyway, this thing looks terrible. There was no Prague in the budget here, as this was clearly filmed in Canada, and probably would have aired on Syfy if they could have shoehorned a supernatural element into it. I wouldn’t watch this for free.

Constellation (Apple TV+, February 21st)

This is the part where I’m legally obligated to state that I don’t subscribe to Apple TV+, so I couldn’t watch this even if I wanted to. You see, everyone who does sub to Apple TV+ is apparently of strong moral fiber, and not the kind to lend out their login info to help a brother out. Anyway, this – like pretty much all Apple TV+ projects – looks great. My problem, though, is a lot of their stuff makes me think “I’d watch this as a movie, but I’m not sure I want to invest in it as a show.” Does that make sense? I’ve lived long enough to know a show like this has a show bible and a mythology. We’re talking a minimum of 3 seasons here. Since this isn’t Netflix, I don’t have to worry about it being canceled after season 3, but I’m really more into the one-and-done concept these days. If they could have boiled this story down to about 2.5 hours, I’d be “bout it, bout it”, as the great scholar Master P once said.

Robot Dreams (Theaters, Coming Soon)

So, back when I started at Diamond, one of my first accounts was a small graphic novel publisher, called First Second Books, which was a division of Macmillan. I really loved working with them, as their head of Marketing & Publicity was an awesome woman named Gina, who was probably the nicest and sweetest person I met in that industry. I entered comics as Mr. I Love X-Men, and I had a lot to learn about publishers who weren’t named Marvel, Image, or DC. Gina was always brimming with excitement over every new book they had coming, and one of the very first she introduced to me was a graphic novel called Robot Dreams, by Sara Varon. It was a really cute story about a fleeting “summer fling” friendship between a dog and a robot. It was such an unfamiliar format to me, as it was a wholly original full-length graphic novel, with no dialogue. Still, the emotions of the characters really came through, and I remember I even got my mom to read it (this was in the era when she would still read things that weren’t called Daily Bread…). That was almost 20 years ago, and I still cherish my original copy Gina gave me. She’s, since, moved on to bigger and better things, becoming quite the publishing influencer in the world of YA graphic novels. I, on the other hand, left that world behind, and I’ve been forgotten by most whose paths crossed with mine. Still, I credit Gina with sort of expanding my comic horizons, and it started here. So, while I don’t know how you pull off a 102-minute silent movie in 2024, I’m sure as Hell gonna find out!

Will Around The Web

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Former adult film star Jesse Jane apparently overdosed with her boyfriend this week. This is important, from a pop culture standpoint, as she starred in the Pirates franchise, which were 2 of the most expensive adult movies ever made. Rumor has it all the money went towards finding a ship that would go down on cue. Eh? Eh? Can you believe this content is FREE?!
  • In an unprecedented deal, not only has Dwayne Johnson joined the board of directors of WWE parent company TKO group, but he was also granted full ownership of “The Rock” trademark. Not even Hulk Hogan can say that! I guess I owe him an apology for that hit piece a few weeks back…
  • Speaking of WWE, in a very confusing deal, it was announced that WWE RAW would be moving from USA Network to Netflix (!) in 2025. Meanwhile, it seems the rest of WWE’s content will remain on Peacock? Except WWE SmackDown, which is moving to The CW? I’m very confused. Plus, I’m wondering if RAW will still air live, as Netflix couldn’t even handle the livestream of the Love Is Blind reunion special…
  • Due to the lead time between filming and the release of the episodes, it came as a surprise to fans of Doctor Who when it was announced that the just-introduced companion Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson, would be replaced after one season, by Andor‘s Varada Sethu.
  • The women of Barbie were snubbed by The Academy, while Ryan Gosling scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. I guess the Oscar voters felt that would be Kenough.
  • Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead and Invincible, continues to prove he walks in the footsteps of the great Comic Industry Credit Thieves who came before him. He settled out of court with colorist William Crabtree, who claimed to be the co-creator of Invincible. Crabtree claims that Kirkman “duped” him out of his co-creator credit, in an attempt to more easily shop the property around to studios – similar to a tactic Kirkman had used with The Walking Dead co-creator Tony Moore, who had also ended up suing.
  • Who knew there was an even worse way to tarnish the legacy of How I Met Your Mother than its series finale already did? Josh Radnor – Ted Mosby himself – got married a few weeks ago in upstate New York, and this write-up in The New York Times is a DOOZY!

I have quite the complicated relationship with Justin Timberlake. Yes, I love me some boybands and, on the American stage, I was pretty much Team *NSYNC. I saw them twice in concert, and I tracked down all of their albums, including the ones never officially released over here. Even though I preferred JC, vocally, I knew that Justin was always meant to be The Guy. He was their Nick Carter: the cute, blonde baby of the group. The one all the girls wanted. The one destined to eventually go solo. Over time, the group’s management positioned him in a way where it was clearly only a matter of time before he would break out on his own. This is why I actually consider 2000’s No Strings Attached to be “The Last *NSYNC Album”, as 2001’s Celebrity was clearly the prelude to Timberlake’s 2002 solo debut, Justified. It’s pretty well known that a lot of the songs on Justified were originally written for, and subsequently rejected by, Michael Jackson. I think this sort of went to Timberlake’s head, as there was this weird period in the early 00s, where he and Usher were competing to be the heir of the Pop Kingdom. No, really, they’d find themselves in the same nightclub, and a dance-off would ensue. That was a weird time, man. Seriously, though, that album was the springboard that sent him on his almost meteoric rise.

Next, Justin would return “Sexy” to the general public, when we didn’t even know it had been missing! Meanwhile, he decided to try his hand at acting, as his then-girlfriend, Cameron Diaz, was starring in the Shrek franchise. And wouldn’t ya know, he wasn’t too shabby at it. Singing AND acting? Was there anything he couldn’t do? YES, and that was “stay out of controversy”.

It should be pointed out that his solo success wasn’t immediate. His first single, “Like I Love You”, was a passable song, accompanied by a music video of him dancing outside a 7-11. There wasn’t a huge budget at work here. It wasn’t until showbiz gossip revealed he and Britney Spears had broken up because she had allegedly cheated on him with his choreographer, Wade Robson. So, he completely threw her under the bus with his second single, “Cry Me A River”, accompanied by a music video featuring a Britney lookalike. And it was that stunt that really got things started for him. Still, based on where I was in my life at the time, I was basically like, “That’s right, Justin! Screw her!”

I’m not going to rehash the whole Nipplegate saga, but I should point out that – to this day – I’ve still never seen that performance. Yeah, I know the whole country watches the Super Bowl, but I happened to have been at something of a “family mediation” dinner at The Cheesecake Factory that night. Since there wasn’t really social media or anything, I don’t think I even found out about it until the next day. Still, I honestly cared more about him than Janet, so I was like “Leave that boy alone! She should have been wearing a bra!” Yeah, I know… He pretty much came through that OK, while Janet is still clawing her way back, 2 decades later.

His rise continued, and it felt like he could do no wrong. Until he did. His 2018 studio album, Man of the Woods, was something of a creative flop, despite financial success. And then everything seemed to start unraveling for him. Through all of this, I would never have said Timberlake “seemed like a nice guy”. If anything, he seemed like he was probably a jerk, with a chip on his shoulder. At times, I could understand how this happened, but at others… I’ve always sort of envisioned the crew I’d hang with were I to ever become a celebrity, and Timberlake was never on that list. It was one of those “respect the artist” situations, while I couldn’t really get down with the man himself. Things had come out over the years that really made me question his integrity. Reportedly the only reason he came out of Nipplegate relatively unscathed was that he CRIED in the office of CBS President Les Moonves. He tearfully begged for forgiveness – for himself – while leaving Janet on the hook. His solo career had selfishly extended *NSYNC’s “six-month hiatus” indefinitely, pretty much jeopardizing the livelihoods of the rest of the group. He married 7th Heaven‘s Jessica Biel (because that’s really her only notable credit), and then they turned out to be weird anti-vaxxers. Then, Britney released her autobiography, The Woman In Me, where she revealed that Timberlake had actually cheated on her multiple times during their relationship, yet used her infidelity to fuel his career, when all she and Robson had done was kiss. Plus, she had gotten pregnant, and Timberlake convinced her to get an abortion, because he “wasn’t ready to be a father”. The media circus surrounding these allegations put the kibosh on an official *NSYNC reunion that was being planned, following the release of their new single “Better Place”, featured in the Timberlake-starring film Trolls Band Together. Oh, and as the icing on the cake, that same song, in some places, is credited as “Justin Timberlake & *NSYNC”. He pulled a Diana Ross! So, not a great guy.

This week, however, saw the release of a rather humorous video, narrated by Benicio del Toro. It was a trailer for Timberlake’s upcoming album, Everything I Thought I Was, with the first single, “Selfish”, set to debut in a matter of days. Well, that song dropped yesterday, and I’ve got to say I REALLY like it. Unlike “Better Place”, which took a few listens for me to really understand what they were trying to do, “Selfish” was an immediate earworm for me. It took him 20 years, but he’s finally released a song that sounds like *NSYNC. When he went solo, he was on this whole R&B/hip hop-tinged vibe, but this is a standard, old school *NSYNC ballad. This would have been right at home on No Strings Attached, and I feel like the addition of a few harmonies would actually dial it up a notch. I wonder if this was a reunion song that he just decided to take on by himself. In any case, I REALLY hated Man of the Woods, as it was essentially an album with no singles. I can’t recall a hit song from that collection. But this makes me think he’s back on track, at least creatively. I’m anticipating Everything I Thought I Was being released on March 15th, and “Selfish” just earned Justin Timberlake the West Week Ever.