West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 2/23/24

Welcome back to the 17 people’s favorite weekly pop culture round-up!

We experienced an odd thing last Friday – the Family Movie Night! We’re not that family, as none of us want to watch the same thing. I’m fine watching the same American Dad episodes for the hundredth time, while the womenfolk are deep into YouTube. Stitching videos, Roblox videos, pranksters – all nonsense! Anyway, we somehow all agreed on Turning Red on Disney+.

If you’re not familiar, Turning Red is about 13 year old Chinese-Canadian Mei, who’s dealing with all the things 13 year old girls deal with: discovering boys, wanting to hang out with her “sister friends” (Why is it teen girls have these diehard friendships, yet adult women…don’t?), and trying to find herself amidst the cultural pressure applied by her domineering mother. Oh, and to top all of this off, she discovers the women of her family have a curse/blessing (depending on whom you ask), where puberty brings on their ancient red panda spirit, which the woman becomes when stressed or agitated. So, at a time rife with stress and discomfort, Mei finds herself transforming into a giant red panda at the worst times and places. It’s a movie about family, identity, and growing up – ya know, boilerplate Pixar. But that’s not a bad thing, per se.

Honestly, I don’t have issues with the film at all. I have questions, but not issues. For example, it’s set in 2002, but why? I feel like it’s to capture the zeitgeist of that era’s Boyband Explosion, to support the 4*Town subplot, but it wasn’t necessary. I mean, we’ve experienced smaller boyband resurgences since that era, from groups like The Wanted and One Direction. And don’t even get me started on the K-pop contributions! So, I guess I was wondering what the film gained from such a precise time period. Still, if this is the kind of thing I’m thinking about, I’m clearly grasping at straws. I really liked it, as it didn’t WOW me, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. It’s a shame it was released to Disney+ due to Covid, as it probably would have performed decently as a theatrical release – certainly better than, say, Elemental. Anyway, it was finally released in US theaters 2 weeks ago, but has so far only grossed $1.3 million. I’ve heard they’re considering either a prequel or sequel, and I’d be down for that. Ideally, it would be a sequel, just so we can see if Mei’s “tomboy” friend Miriam ever figures out her situation…

Trailer Park

Borderlands (Theaters, Coming Soon)

This is one of those rare pop culture franchises about which I know absolutely NOTHING. I’m not a video game guy, and this isn’t one that’s been monetized with merch the way Fortnite and Roblox have. Like, I still have a passing familiarity with those characters and concepts simply by seeing them on the toy shelves. This, though, is a blank slate. Now, is it just me, or did that opening sequence at the manhole feel like a really expensive Super Bowl ad? That’s what’s so weird here, as the cast is all over the place. That’s not necessarily bad, as I’m sure Cate Blanchett will go on the press tour, and claim this is the kind of role she’s “always wanted to play”, having spent most of her career in serious roles. Anyway, it’s clear they’re using the Guardians of the Galaxy playbook here – at least in their marketing – so this has the potential to be really fun.

Drive-Away Dolls (Theaters, February 23rd)

This actually comes out TODAY, and I’d never heard of it until about 3 days ago. Still, it’s a Coen film, so I’m sure the cinephiles have had this on their calendars since it was announced or whatever. I like the cast here: Blockers chick, Jonah Hill’s sister, Matt Damon – it covers all the bases! My biggest takeaway from this trailer, though, is how the one girl speaks with the same inflection that sketch comedians use when they’re impersonating Miley Cyrus, which makes it even odder that Miley is, apparently, in the film. Anyway, I’ll end up buying this in 2027, when I find it in some hole-in-the-wall used video store I stumble upon.

WcDonald’s Promotion (McDonald’s Restaurants, February 26th)

I’m reading that this is something of a big deal? Apparently, McDonald’s is executing some sort of anime promotion on Monday. Not an anime guy, so I wasn’t aware of the “WcDonald’s” running gag in several popular Japanese franchises. Something about this feels “A day late, and a dollar short”, though. It would have been one thing to have done this, like, 25-ish years ago when Toonami was all the rage, and anime was the New Hotness. It’s such an ingrained part of pop culture now that this doesn’t feel special. Almost feels like the “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme. Anyway, we’re getting a new Savory Chili WcDonald’s Sauce for a limited time, giving those Rick and Morty fans something to rage about in 15 years…

Will Around The Web

My Remember That Show? co-host Adam and I were invited to join Rob and Michael over on the After Lunch Podcast, for their Comics Villains Sour 16 bracket episode. We each suggested 4 comic supervillains, and pitted them against each other in bracket structure to see who would come out on top. I kicked things off with X-Men‘s Apocalypse, and it only got more interesting from there. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you should definitely check it out here, or wherever fine podcasts are downloaded!

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland allegedly bailed on a guest hosting gig on The Today Show when she was upset by the dressing room they provided for her. Oh, and in case you need a reminder of who she is, she’s best known these days as “BeyoncĂ©’s Friend”.
  • It’s been reported that Paramount Global and NBCUniversal are in talks to merge the Paramount+ and Peacock streaming services. “ParaCock+”, here we come!
  • Sam and Victor’s Day Off is in development, about the parking attendants who steal Cameron’s dad’s car in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I shit you not. It’s just embarrassing how badly Hollywood is devoid of ideas right now…
  • Speaking of which, The CW just closed deals on TV revivals of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. It’s sort of amazing to watch a corporation blow through money simply to return these channels to their UHF roots. The CW’s current programming slate makes the first year of UPN look like AMC.
  • In other TV news, Amazon is reportedly shutting down its Free Ad-Supported Television (FAST) streaming service FreeVee. I’m fine with it, as I hated that name. Plus, all the FreeVee Originals “hits” have already been moved over to Prime Video. It does make me wonder about the fate of some FreeVee projects that were in development, though, like the Who’s The Boss? revival.
  • Disney announced to subscribers that it would be shutting down the Disney Movie Club service. It was later revealed that this was due to the fact that Disney will be turning over production of their physical media releases to Sony later this year.
  • In a desperate last ditch effort to get a 3rd season renewal, the Quantum Leap finale pulled a “We heard you like Leapers, so what if we gave you a second Leaper?!” Yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna work…

Ya know who doesn’t get much “shine” in the comics press? DC Comics. I’ve been reading comics for 3 decades, and I can’t remember a time when it was “cool” to be a DC fan. Sure, they have cranked out some iconic storylines, but they never really dominated the news cycle like Marvel has in the Quesada/post-Quesada era. Just as so many companies never figured out how to adapt to the internet and social media, DC Comics has never figured out how to be seen as “cool”.

There’s always been an image problem. Personally, I think a lot of this comes down to their refusal to let go of the past. They’re a Legacy Publisher. When some new idea doesn’t work out, they fall back on “Remember us? We gave you Superman and Batman! We’re the Crisis Guys!” Lasting change doesn’t happen in the DC Universe. Meanwhile, new Marvel fans don’t realize there was a time when the general public in the Marvel Universe didn’t know Tony Stark was Iron Man, that Beast was once furless, that Carol Danvers changed costumed identities like most folks change underwear until one stuck, that Spider-Man was once married, that the super spy known as “Nick Fury” was WHITE! I will often remark that mainstream comics are about giving off the “semblance of change”, while not providing actual change – much like soap operas. While that’s true much of the time, this is more true for DC than Marvel. So, I always have to applaud DC’s attempts to “get with the program”.

This week saw the ComicsPRO Comic Industry Conference take place in Pittsburgh, where the country’s comic retailers gathered to hear presentations from the bigger publishers. ComicsPRO is basically a comics industry trade association, joined together due to their “strength in numbers”. Typically, nothing major comes from these. Maybe Marvel will announce their 2nd-tier “event” slated for the 4th quarter, but not the top-tier summer event. So, imagine my surprise when most of the headline-grabbing news came from DC this week!

First off, DC announced their top-tier summer event, called Absolute Power, which kicks off with their Free Comic Book Day offering in May. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t really care about it, as it seems to be a 25-part (!) storyline, where DC continues to try to convince us Amanda Waller is on the same level of power as a Thanos or Doctor Doom. I’m amazed I’ve yet to read a thinkpiece about how DC is trying to make Black Women the greatest evil in comics. Where’s Comics Alliance when you need them?! Anyway, the promo art shows Superman getting shot, and BLEEDING, as the story revolves around Waller stripping the DCU supers of their powers. OK, maybe I am a bit curious…

Next up, they announced a new publishing initiative, called DC Finest, which is a new approach to their collected editions. In the past, they collected stories by creator and/or chronologically. With DC Finest, however, they are approaching these collections to serve more as a primer for new readers, to establish some sense of continuity for these folks as a entry point. Similar to Marvel’s current Epic Collection, these collections will tend to hop around, in terms of what’s collected in each volume. These collections are meant to highlight the most important stories for their main characters. That said, they’re launching the Wonder Woman volume with the Gail Simone run, which feels like something of a misfire… These aren’t for me, but they certainly address a question asked by newcomers to the hobby: “Where should I start reading?” This is definitely a step in the right direction. So, for totally dominating the ComicsPRO news cycle (for comparison, Marvel’s biggest news what was superstar writer Jason Aaron would be writing…an Uncle Scrooge comic?), DC Comics had the West Week Ever.