West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 4/12/24

The Juice is finally loose. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this column, then you know I have a fairly staunch No Death policy, for several reasons. First off, I feel like if I talk about one pop culture/celebrity death, then I have to talk about them all. And most of them don’t really resonate with me. When one does resonate, I have the West Life Ever designation for that. Otherwise, I can’t be bothered every time a Horshack or a Trixie Norton passes away. Plus, there’s always that guy who loves to pop up with, “You know they happen in Threes, right?”, and I’m trying to avoid that guy. Finally, they don’t always happen via “natural causes”, and we’re here to laugh. I simply can’t make light of a lot of those. Still, former NFL player, actor, possible murderer, and longtime sports memorabilia enthusiast Orenthal James Simpson passed away yesterday, and we’ve got to talk about it.

I don’t think folks really understand the pop culture magnitude of the entire O.J. Simpson situation. When it comes up today, it just comes down to whether or not you think he murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, along with her friend, Ron Goldman. We’ve got to go back further than that, though, as those roots ran deep into the pop culture soil. First off, he was one of the first NFL stars to successfully make the transition to acting. The trick to that, however, is that he actually started acting first, apparently while negotiating his initial contract with the Buffalo Bills. Then, he continued to act while still playing football. Unlike other former football player-turned-actors, O.J. avoided taking on Blaxploitation roles (Looking at YOU, Jim Brown!) On screen, however, he was probably best known for his roughly 15 year relationship with the Hertz rental company. Despite appearing in the Naked Gun film trilogy, he was never really a *star*. He was hoping to change this with the NBC pilot Frogmen, which was basically an A-Team clone meant as a starring vehicle for him. He’d never put that to the test, however, as the project was canceled after his arrest.

Speaking of his arrest, O.J. did not go quietly. Folks of a certain age remember watching TV that June night in 1994 (I was watching ABC’s TGIF lineup), as breaking news reports interrupted programming on all the major networks, to show O.J.’s low speed White Ford Bronco chase on the LA freeway. It was completely performative, as his buddy Al Cowlings wasn’t driving the thing that fast, but Cowlings claimed O.J. was in the backseat, threatening to “unalive” himself, as the TikTok kids are forced to say.

Anyway, once he was arrested, it kicked off a media circus the likes of which we hadn’t seen. Everyone wanted a piece, and it’s odd how each player found their “role”. For example, late night shows mined the Hell out of the spectacle. It led to Norm Macdonald being fired from Saturday Night Live, since O.J. was a personal friend of then-NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer. Jay Leno – just two years into his official run as host of The Tonight Show – used the scandal as the basis for most of his nightly monologues. He went as far as to introduce The Dancing Itos, which was mocking Judge Lance Ito, who was presiding over the murder trial. That’s another crazy thing: the trial made celebrities out of the legal folks involved, from the judge on down to the attorneys. I remember Black women talking about how ugly they found prosecutor Christopher Darden. I remember how unorthodox, yet charismatic, defense attorney Johnnie Cochran was. He would go on to not only create a law firm that continues to advertise during the finest syndicated daytime programming, but he would also inspire parodies, such as Seinfeld‘s Jackie Chiles character. If not for O.J., those ad slots would have been snatched up by Lincoln Technical Institute. Norm wouldn’t have given us Dirty Work. Leno wouldn’t have permanently glued himself to the NBC teat as he did. But there’s another, much bigger trickle-down effect from the O.J. scandal.

O.J.s defense attorneys were collectively known as “The Dream Team”, and they included the aforementioned Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, F.  Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian… Oh, what was that last one there? “Kardashian”? Well, he couldn’t be of any relation to Kim Kardashian, could he? Well, I’ll do ya one better: he was her father, as well as father to Kourtney, Rob, and (allegedly) Khloe. NOTE: Here’s where things get interesting: The Kardashians and the Simpsons tended cross each others’ paths quite often. Kris Kardashian was close friends with Nicole Brown Simpson, which made it weird when Robert was on the defense team for O.J. Plus, there’s been a longstanding rumor that O.J. was Khloe’s actual father, which sort of explains why Khloe Mark I was built like a tank.

Anyway, during the trial, these attorneys were the coolest lawyers in the country. Everyone knew their names, and they were living like rock stars. Though Kris had already remarried to Bruce Jenner by the time of the trial, the Kardashian name held value, and Kris didn’t wanna leave that spotlight. This was a woman who wanted fame, no matter the cost. Kim would go on to become a stylist for R&B star Brandy, eventually dating her brother, Ray J. While she was getting some attention as Paris Hilton’s “plus one” to Hollywood events, Kim wouldn’t become a household name until Vivid Entertainment released a sex tape with her and Ray J., known as Kim Kardashian, Superstar. And we were off to the races! Yes, Kris’s business sense, combined with Kim’s…assets, built the Kardashian business empire. That said, it was the family name, associated with the “Trial of the Century”, that laid the foundation. Had Kim not been a Kardashian, that sex tape would have simply been called Ray J. Bangs A Bubble Butt Exotic Chick, “exotic” being the descriptor used by adult sites when they know the actress isn’t Asian or Latina, but she’s from somewhere, and they just can’t put their finger on where… Long story short, O.J. Simpson gave us Kim Kardashian. O.J. also had an affair with 80s video vixen Tawny Kitaen. He regularly played golf with Michael Jordan. He almost starred in The Terminator! He was this nexus of a certain seedy side of pop culture, as he was basically the autistic kid with the snow globe from the ending of St. Elsewhere! So many things lead back to O.J. Simpson, which I guess is another reason for folks to hate him. In any case, O.J. gave up his steadfast, courageous search for The Real Killer yesterday, when he succumbed to cancer at the age of 76.

Trailer Park

MaXXXine (Theaters, July 5th)

I LOVE the aesthetic here, as it doesn’t get better than “Seedy 80s” to me. “Casting Couch” LA, and NYC before Guiliani cleaned up Times Square. Give it all to me! This is the tone and environment in which A24 thrives, so I know this is gonna be good. That said, I haven’t watched the prior Mia Goth A24 films, so I guess it’s finally time to check out X and Pearl. I just don’t see how this could turn out to be a bad film.

Joker: Folie À Deux (Theaters, October 4th)

Remember when the first one of these came out, and everyone was scared it was gonna rile up the Incels? I was desperately trying to draw a line between that and January 6th, but too much time had passed for one to influence the other. Anyway, I didn’t see it, and I don’t care to see this. I’m not really interested in a Joker Without Batman story. I don’t appreciate that this is Joker, and not some random project called Krazy Klown. If you’re not building a universe, then what’s the point of focusing on a Joker with no foil? Plus, Joaquin always looks…stale in these things. The whole thing is just dirty and grimy. “But Will – You JUST said you love that aesthetic!” Au contraire! I love the Clean People In Dirty Places aesthetic. The streets can be grimy and crime-ridden, but the people are glam and partaking of the most expensive of mind altering substances. This is not that.

The Beach Boys (Disney+, May 24)

Why did I think this was gonna be a biopic? I was really looking forward to some kind of Oscar bait film, with Jesse Plemons starring as Mike Love or something. Still, it does look interesting! I’d never really heard The Beach Boys and The Beatles in the same conversation, so I’m eager to see the comparison (I’m definitely Team Beach on that one!). My only problem, though, is that this is a Disney project, so I’m not sure we’re going to get the dark stuff. Ya know, the part of the documentary where the music gets slow, and a voiceover from a band member says something like “Yeah, nobody knew just how much Brian had hit rock bottom.” Plus, the group sort of splintered, with the original recipe, and then Mike Love’s touring version of the band, so is this documentary a unified vision? Because I’m seeing a lot more Mike Love here than Brian Wilson. All I know is I’m gonna be pissed if this thing doesn’t mention the odd relationship between the group and John Stamos/Full House!

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Last week, Spotify demonetized all tracks with fewer than 1,000 annual streams, so it might be time to convince your cousin that his mixtape ain’t his ticket out of his mom’s house!
  • I remember a few years ago, when country fans felt folks should forgive Morgan Wallen because he was “young and dumb”. Well, he ain’t so young anymore, but he’s still just as dumb, as he was arrested for throwing a chair from the roof of fellow country star Eric Church’s bar in Nashville. Allegedly, the cause of the incident was alcohol, from Wallen learning that his baby mama (and ex-fiancée) had eloped with another man…
  • Kat Dennings has signed on to co-star with Tim Allen in the sitcom Shifting Gears, which sounds like every other “Can An Old School White Man Adapt To This Wacky World?” sitcom Tim Allen has made.
  • Sylvester Stallone has been causing trouble on the set of his series Tulsa King, as he was allegedly caught mocking the appearance of some of the background actors that had been hired for the show, causing the casting director to quit the show.
  • Hailee Steinfeld has signed on to co-star with Michael B. Jordan in Ryan Coogler’s untitled supernatural thriller *cue “Jungle Fever”*
  • The Jon Snow-centric Game of Thrones spinoff is no longer in development at HBO. No. Stop. Come back.
  • NBC canceled the Quantum Leap reboot, but fear not, as Tim Kring as yet another Heroes reboot, Heroes: Eclipsed, in the chamber for the network…
  • Speaking of unnecessary reboots, there’s apparently another Melrose Place reboot in development, but focusing on the characters who weren’t invited to The CW’s 2009 reboot. So far, Daphne Zuniga, Laura Leighton, and Heather Locklear are attached to star.
  • WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes “finished the story” by achieving a goal that eluded his legendary father, Dusty Rhodes: becoming the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion at last weekend’s WrestleMania.
  • Three months after their televised wedding, Golden Bachelor couple Gerry Turner and Theresa Nist announced their divorce this morning on Good Morning America. It’s like you just can’t find “True Love” on a nationally televised reality show anymore!

Before we get into this, some of you sons of bitches couldn’t help yourselves with the spoilers this week, and I’m putting you on notice. Now, I don’t have hard and fast rules when it comes to spoilers, as I feel everything is sort of a unique situation. Personally, I always attend MCU films on Thursday night, and then wait til the next Friday to actually write about them. I know not everyone has the ability to see these things immediately. But not everyone is as conscientious as me. I get it. Still, you didn’t need to start posting X-Men ’97 memes on Wednesday afternoon. Some of you are gonna say “But I didn’t spoil anything”, but you know what you did! All of the vagueposting hyperbole. You knew what you were doing…

So, that’s what I carried with me into this week’s viewing. I was actually 3 weeks behind on X-Men ’97 because, well,  “Life happened”, and I never made my way back to Disney+. So, with everyone clutching their pearls on social media, I knew I needed to catch up, and I needed to do it quickly! Now that we’re at the halfway mark for the season, I’ve got some more thoughts since premiere week:

  • Where the Hell did Clone Jean come up with the name “Madelyne Pryor”? She’s so matter-of-fact with it, like it was the name she used on her fake ID in college. They didn’t have the decency to let us see her “Keyser Soze”-ing it?
  • When we found out “Jean” was a clone, and Cyclops immediately cosigned, it’s like you could see him thinking “I knew she didn’t feel the same…down there…”
  • I was so glad the Jubilee birthday story wasn’t stretched out for an entire episode, as there wasn’t a full episode’s worth of story there.
  • Am I the only one not buying the relationship between Jubilee and Roberto? In fact, are we being Sixth Sensed? In that episode, she is mentioned as being the youngest member of the team. Now, Roberto might be older, but I also noticed he’s not always with her when she’s with the rest of the team. He’s always hanging back in her room and stuff. Plus, I sort of thought he went back home after the premiere. I didn’t remember him sticking around. Is he some sort of figment of her imagination, that only she can see? Anyway, he’s riding the “hiding in the closet” wave so hard that I’m not getting “romance” between those two. At least, not from him
  • For some reason, I always pictured Mojo sounding like Mother Brain from Captain N: The Game Master. Bring on the A.I. Levi Stubbs!
  • I don’t trust Forge. Never really have. But it also might stem from the fact that we don’t know his real name. Did you ever notice that?! Apparently, a name for him only exists in Chris Claremont’s character design notes. Otherwise, canonically, he’s just “Forge”.
  • After the war, Forge originally tinkered with the power dampening tech, but said he turned it over to a scientist in Scotland. Now, we see Moira McTaggert later in the Genosha stuff, but has Moira been keeping secrets?
  • Genosha is a horrible idea. It runs counter to Xavier’s Dream, because it’s segregation. He wanted “peaceful coexistence” between mutants and humans, while the existence of Genosha is basically taking your mutant ball and going home. And, surely nothing terrible would happen if you rounded up the majority of the planet’s mutants, and put them on an island nation. Nothing terrible at all…

So, that brings us to this part. If you haven’t watched this week’s episode, you should just stop now, and think about all the knowledge I have dropped upon you this day. If you have watched, then let’s proceed, shall we?

My man went out like a motherfucking G! I have always loved Gambit. Gambit is my FAVORITE X-Men character from this era, as he just oozed “Cool”. The same way preteen boys gravitated to Raphael and his anger issues, I gravitated to Gambit, as he was mysterious but always had the best one liners. He was a ladies’ man, and what tween boy doesn’t dream of THAT?! Like the best X-Men characters, we didn’t even know his real name for, like, the first 5 years of his existence. And they just kept heaping on the Cool. He was the leader of a guild of thieves. He had a secret, crazy ex-wife. He was horny as Hell, but couldn’t lay a finger on the woman he wanted most. He was reportedly the only surviving team member in Bishop’s horrible future, leading folks to believe that Gambit would turn out to be the prophesied “X Traitor”. And let’s not forget his character design, from his illogically awesome bodysuit to the addition of the trench coat (all cool dudes gotta wear a duster!), and he throws playing cards! From his debut in Uncanny X-Men #266 to the “Trial of Gambit” storyline in Uncanny X-Men #350, we had 7 years of not knowing who this dude truly was, but were always on the edge of our seats for the next bombshell.

And, honestly, he was better off during that time. He’s certainly a “less is more” character, and when we finally discovered his Big Secret (He had previously been in cahoots with Mr. Sinister, and was responsible for setting off the “Mutant Massacre” storyline of the 80s), the bloom was off the rose. He would go on to have solo series, and he’s popped up as a member of various X teams, but I don’t think the character ever really recovered from that original fall from grace in Uncanny #350. I don’t know if we all grew up, or there just wasn’t much interesting about him after we felt we knew “everything”. He’s honestly spent the better part of the past 25 years as a character who gets clowned a lot. “Can you believe we used to think this guy was cool?” But I knew he had potential. I knew we probably hadn’t seen the peak of his abilities. I just didn’t realize it would take the revival of a 90s cartoon to show the world what I saw all along.

Now, I mentioned the social media folks spoiling the thing. While I was careful to not to discover the ultimate what and why, I went into the episode with an intense focus on the who, because I knew something was going to happen to Gambit. Without that, I feel like the episode would have hit even harder, as the ending blindsides you if you’re aren’t looking for it. If you are looking, however, it still yielded some tension and anxiety, but I’m still salty at y’all for taking that from me.

So, as the episode is winding down, I start thinking “Maybe something happens to Magneto instead?” And then Gambit starts running at that Tri-Sentinel. Ya know, the one that didn’t even have to work hard, since the majority of the world’s mutants were sitting ducks in one place! Anyway, when it happens…it just knocks the wind out of you. That was my childhood. That was the 90s. That was MY X-Men. And then, when you realize he’s not down yet, and utters “Remember it” – THAT is when you all saw the Gambit I saw all along. That, folks, is why Gambit had the West Week Ever.