West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review 3/22/24

Last night was Multicultural Night at my kids’ school, and sometimes it’s just nice to experience something that reminds us that we’re all just people, with both shared and unique experiences, all trying to do our best. That’s the spirit that’s going to carry us into this week’s big release, X-Men ’97 on Disney+. Picking up where the original Fox Kids X-Men series ended, the show was designed to teleport us back to that Jim Lee era lineup that revitalized the franchise.

I, like everyone else my age, was a huge fan of the show when it debuted. I had just discovered the X-Men comics, so the show helped get me acquainted with the major characters. My issue, however, was that I was new to the concept of adapting comic storylines to other media. I mean, the Batman movies weren’t based on any storyline. They just used familiar characters and did their own thing. So, for whatever reason, I thought this cartoon would be different. I thought these would basically be animated versions of the most popular storylines, in an almost note-for-note conversion to animation. I was wrong. I think it was “The Dark Phoenix Saga” where I went “Gambit and Rogue weren’t in this story!” And just like that I was out. It was akin to discovering Santa isn’t real. It also didn’t help that Power Rangers had hit the scene by that point, so I moved on to something more live action and colorful. I didn’t even watch the final season, as I saw they had changed studios and the animation was ghastly. I popped in for the series finale, though, to say my goodbyes.

This is all to say that I wasn’t exactly bending over backward when X-Men ’97 was announced a few years back. Then, as we got closer, the marketing machine became almost unbearable. It’s similar to how I feel about Taylor Swift these days. I was a Taylor Fan, way back to her “Tim McGraw” days. Then, every female in my house became a certified Swiftie. And now I can’t stand that woman. The more they want me to jump in and sing “Anti-Hero” with them, the sicker of her I become. The X-Men ’97 marketing started out cool enough, to sort of reacquaint us with what it would be about. I can say that it worked, and I was getting jazzed to see it. By the end, though, it felt like it was mining nostalgia just for the sake of doing it. Felt pandering. “Remember the old X-Men trading cards? Well, look! We made an image of trading cards for the new show!” I know this is a Me Thing, but it felt a bit much. We were already on board at that point, so dial it back a bit, huh? By the time this week rolled around, I was in the camp of “I’ll watch it, but I’m in no hurry to do so.” Then, I had to record a podcast this week on the very first animated X-Men pilot, Pryde of the X-Men, and just decided to make an event out of it. I ended up watching THREE X-Men pilots this week, but we’re only gonna talk about one today!

X-Men ’97 launched with the first 2 episodes on Wednesday, and I have to admit I had a completely different reaction to each episode. “To Me, My X-Men” sort of laid the groundwork of the New Normal, following the events of the series finale, “Graduation Day”. In Roseanne fashion, however, I guess we’re retconning the events of the second half of that episode? If you don’t remember, X-Men founder, Professor Charles Xavier, was seemingly assassinated while the world was watching. In actuality, though, he didn’t truly die and, as consort to Princess-Majestrix Lilandra Neramani of the Shi’ar Empire, he was taken to her homeworld for treatment. As this series opens, he’s vaguely referred to as “gone”. It’s not until the end of the episode that we are shown an official death certificate for him. Now, normally this would bother me, but it actually sort of addresses the kind of issue I would have in this circumstance. You see, the public saw Xavier die. And there’s no legal recourse for “Taken to alien planet for extensive rehab”. So, you would have to pronounce him dead after a certain amount of time. Plus, it’s been a year since the events of that episode, so maybe the treatment didn’t work? Still, this is X-Men, so I fully expect him to walk in (which would be surprising in several different ways) during the final seconds of Episode 10. Meanwhile, we see what the team has been up to in his absence, as Cyclops has stepped up to ensure that Xavier’s Dream – peaceful coexistence between Humans and Mutants – has a real shot at becoming a reality. Meanwhile, anti-mutant militia groups are throwing around slurs like “Mutie”, with the HARD “er”, while rounding up mutants for the bounties on their heads.

I liked this episode, but it left me wondering, “WHY?” Like, why do this at all? I understand the significance of the era, and the importance of the 90s animated series. My takeaway from the premiere, however, was that it was Weezer’s cover of Toto’s “Africa”: It’s so similar, without really doing much different, that I didn’t know what it was meant to accomplish. Even down to the theme song. It was a perfect, iconic theme song, and this one goes beyond being “remastered”. It’s feels almost like “X-Men Theme (Taylor’s Version)”, where it might have been re-recorded so they didn’t have to pay the folks who played on the original version. Hollywood is shady like that! Anyway, it was trying so hard to be the 1997 installment of that series (which was the point), yet I’d probably have preferred a “reimagining”, set in the present day, with the same team lineup.

In the second episode, however, things start to move forward. Magneto’s on trial, Storm is de-powered, and they finally make a badass out of X-Cutioner. I have his first appearance, from Uncanny X-Men Annual #17, and he was lame. He just hated mutants, and seemed to salvage alien tech in his fight against them. Now, however, they’ve made him the X-Men’s very own Taskmaster, and I am HERE for it!

At this point, I’m going to need to go character by character –

Cyclops: First off, I LOVE how they depicted new and different uses for his powers. Many folks think he shoots lasers/heat blasts from his eyes, when it’s actually a concussive blast. Imagine being slammed by energy with the force of a moving car. It’s not a knife, but a battering ram. Watching him use that to move around during the fight was awesome. Same dude we remember, however his voice threw me. You see, the original voice actor Norm Spencer passed away, so the character is now voiced by Ray Chase. Chase does a great job stepping into the role, but as I was watching while multitasking, I noticed something about the Cyclops Voice: It’s really just Chris Parnell’s Jerry from Rick and Morty, but in those rare times when Jerry is trying to be taken seriously. Anyway, it’s funny how Cyclops is so straight-laced and determined, yet still apparently managed to get his nut off…

Jean Grey: So, she’s pregnant now. Which is great, as it gives her something to do, seeing as how all she did in the original series was faint. Never really liked her in that show, and I don’t like her here. Given the ending of Episode 2, however, there might be a good reason for that.

Wolverine: He’s the Logan you remember, especially given he’s still voiced by Cal Dodd. That said, I’d almost say he’s too gruff. He comes off sounding like a member of Dethklok half the time, and he’s used very “trope-ily” – especially in Ep 2.

Jubilee: Top 4! She got more to do here than she ever did in the original series, and that’s sad, given that pilot was written ABOUT her. We saw more personality from her than we have to date, but her powers are still dumb. She’s almost “We’ve Got ‘Dazzler’ At Home”. I did like how she was used as the bridge between the team and mutant outreach – in this case, for Sunspot.

Bishop: Ya know, it’s sort of weird having a Black character in animation, and the voice coming out of the character model does NOT belong to either Kevin Michael Richardson or Phil Lamarr. I had an idea of how I thought Bishop might sound, and this was not it. He didn’t do much here. I kinda don’t understand how he survived the attack on him in the second episode. I’m reserving judgment for now.

Rogue: She’s played sort of like “What if Dolly Parton was on the team?”, which wasn’t how I saw her back in the day. That said, they are really running the whole “She’s just a backwoods girl” thing into the ground! I mean, how many idiomatic statements regarding “cats” can one person manage to utter?! Well, in the second episode, that number is THREE. It’ll be interesting to see where the whole love triangle goes, and I’m sort of glad they’re going there.

Gambit: Same Gambit. He’s not as cool in pop culture as he was in that era, so the producers have luckily realized  “less is more” when it comes to the Ragin’ Cajun. I also don’t think his powers work the way they’re shown in the Wolverine Combo Attack against the Sentinel. Whatever. I can’t ever hate Gambit.

Morph: He’s kinda played like Roger on American Dad, but I don’t hate that. I mean, the character didn’t exist before the 92 cartoon. He didn’t. He was based on The Changeling, but we didn’t get an actual “Morph” until The Age of Apocalypse, and that’s the version I know and love. So, I’m glad they’ve opted to go that route when adding him back to the roster.

Beast: Still the same guy, still voiced by George Buza.

Storm: OK, where to start… First off, WHERE IS HER LOGO?! In the opening credits, characters who have their own logos have those shown in the background of their character introductions. These logos usually hail from when the character had their own limited/ongoing solo series. Now, I know that Cyclops has had a few, so maybe they couldn’t decided and defaulted to the one used in the old cartoon. Storm, however, has a pretty recognizable one. Gambit, Rogue, Wolverine, Beast, and even BISHOP got theirs. Where’s HERS?! Given the events of the second episode, did they just figure “Eh, it doesn’t matter.”? Anyway, I liked her here, especially in that second episode, and she’s one of the main reasons I’m invested going forward.

Magneto: He’s the other reason I’m invested. As we’ve already seen in the trailer, everything Xavier owned – fortune, the school, etc – has been left to Magneto. So, mourning his old friend, Magneto decides to adopt Xavier’s Dream and move forward in his name. This causes conflict for Cyclops, who thought he was now in charge. Conflict with Gambit, as Magneto and Rogue have a secret history together. Conflict with humanity, as they now have to accept one of their greatest threats as an ally. THIS answered my original question of “WHY?“, as THIS is what’s going to make it all worthwhile. As it’s X-Men, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mean, I’ve felt that way about Emma Frost, and she’s been “good” for over 25 years now. But never say “Never”!

Anyway, strong debut all around. I’m invested now, and sorry I questioned them. I’ll be there every week, as I’m looking forward to seeing where this all goes.

Trailer Park

The Fall Guy (Theaters, May 3rd)

This is the second trailer we’ve gotten for this movie, and I don’t know… Here’s the thing: I’m probably shooting myself in the foot here, as The Fall Guy is very important IP for me. That said, I don’t think it’s important IP to the general public.

To get a little in the weeds, on my podcast (Remember That Show?, available where all fine podcasts are not sold), I have created a scale I call the ‘Member Meter which I apply to the shows we cover. It’s a 5-point scale, where a 1 is obscure as Hell, while a 5 is a show so well known that no one has forgotten it, so covering it would basically be pandering (“Remember Full House?!”). Currently, The Fall Guy comes in at about a 2. Folks either remember the truck jumping over shit, Heather Thomas, or that it’s the thing Lee Majors did after The Six Millions Dollar Man.

Honestly, I’d have felt better had they called this something different. That way, you might watch it and think “Huh, this is kinda like that old show, The Fall Guy.” By actually calling it that, however, makes it apparent that this is NOT The Fall Guy. That show was about a Hollywood stuntman who supplemented his income as a bounty hunter, which often led him to adventure. This movie, however, is about a Hollywood stuntman who appears to end up in some shit way over his head, at the  behest of the studio? Like, the impetus for him getting involved doesn’t even make sense. “The star is missing, and we need you to go find him”? That’s not how movies work! The studio probably has a pretty big insurance policy out on the star, and aren’t gonna leave his return in the hands of the stuntman. Still, who doesn’t love Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Winston Duke, or Hannah Waddingham? I mean, the cast is STACKED. I’m sure it’ll be good, but I just don’t know why it had to be The Fall Guy, when that name doesn’t bring much to the table here.

Star Wars: The Acolyte (Disney+, June 4th)

“You got Matrix in my Star Wars!” I know I’m not the target audience here, but aren’t y’all tired of Star Wars yet? I feel about this franchise the way a lot of y’all feel about the MCU. I get that your favorite food was lasagna, and you went about 15 years without tasting it. In fact, you thought the recipe had been lost forever! Now, however, the biggest restaurant in town sells a shit ton of lasagna. You realize it’s not as great as you remember, but you keep eating it, hoping they’ll eventually get the recipe right. But now, you’re just fat with hypertension. There’s the argument that “You don’t have to eat all the lasagna. Maybe take a break, and get some the next time you swing by.” But these franchises thrive only because you refuse to try Chow Mein or Enchiladas or Pho. You’re a Lasagna Man, and they are intent on shoving it down your gullet til you die. And, then, they’ll shove it down your kids’ gullets. After all, you gave them their first taste, with, “You’ve gotta try this! I LOVED it when I was your age”…

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Theaters, August)

What’s going on with Zachary Levi? Remember Chuck, and how we were all rooting for him? Why has he squandered our affection? SHAZAM was good. Then came the sequel, and he seemed to have something of a psychotic break when it bombed. And then he chooses this? I understand wanting to do a “feel good” family movie. It seems like a Sure Thing. Might not break the bank, but it’ll perform respectably because it’s “safe”. He really likes these Giant Boy roles, though, and we don’t live in times where that’s exactly seen as “cool”. Like, if there’s a scandal with him one day, we’re gonna look back and say “It was right there in front of us the whole time.” Anyway, I have no familiarity with the book this is based on, so whatever. You know they’re really doubling down on “Whimsy” when you see they wrangled Zooey Deschanel. Still, this thing looks like a Disney Channel Original Movie – not even the Disney+ kind. We’re talking Sunday evening, after a Bunk’d marathon. I don’t see this doing well.

Will Around The Web

  • Following up on last week’s appearance on Wizards: The Podcast Guide To Comics Episode #89, I was invited back for this week’s “1/2” episode. This time around, Adam and I discussed the epic “No Man’s Land” comic storyline that ran for a year throughout the Batman titles during this time period.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • It was not a great week for streaming originals! Pete Davidson announced that the previously ordered second season of his Peacock series Bupkis would not be happening, saying, “I do feel that this part of my life is finished.” Meanwhile, Showtime announced that they would not be moving forward with a second season for Neil Patrick Harris-starring Uncoupled, which Netflix had canceled after one season.
  • A live action Teen Titans movie is in the works at Warner Bros Discovery, clearly to please the tens of fans who watched Titans. Don’t worry, though, as I’m sure Zaslav will kill it before it goes too far.
  • It was reported that Bruno Mars has $50 million gambling debt with MGM casino., which is being paid off via his residency at Park MGM in Las Vegas. MGM, however, has said that these claims are “completely false”.
  • Maggie Q has been cast as the lead in an untitled Bosch spinoff. As I said in the comments section of TVLine, “They sure keep trying to make ‘fetch’ happen with Maggie Q, don’t there?” It’s currently at 24 Dislikes, but I know I’m right ’cause all she plays are cold assassins and cops. She’s got no range!
  • There are talks of a 3rd, and “final”, Downtown Abbey movie. Maybe they’ll hang out with Amelia Earhart in this one or something., I dunno. I gave up on that franchise after Season 3.
  • “Y’all got the wrong Kang, mang!” might be what Jonathan Majors ends up yelling in court, as he’s being sued by ex-girlfriend Grace Jabbari for assault, battery, and defamation.
  • The British Royal Family tried their damnedest to convince the world that Prince William and Kate Middleton were taking a stroll at a farm store, but that’s clearly a random commoner, who’s probably named something like “Miranda Hogglesborne-Whitehead”. I’m on to your game, England!

The biggest pop culture event of the week was probably the release – and subsequent reception – of Quiet On Set, the Investigation Discovery documentary about Dan Schneider’s infamous tenure at Nickelodeon. I was excited about it, but I haven’t had the chance to watch it all yet. Plus, I’ve been following the reaction, especially the bizarre rebuttal from Schneider himself, but I don’t want to speak on it until I’ve processed it all. So, for now, I can say that X-Men ’97 had the West Week Ever.