Baywatch does Body Image Issues

•September 19, 2018 • 1 Comment

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I couldn’t stay away. I think we all knew, once I watched the Hulk Hogan episode and realised how gloriously stupid a show it was, that I’d be coming back to Baywatch. But it ran for so long, and the episode guide is a wonder of earthquakes and sea monsters and bungee jump contests, where to begin? How about an hour revolving around body image issues they are ill-equipped to tackle, and guest starring a dog?

As perverse as I may seem; like a man with a rhino-hide penis; I’m not that au fait with Baywatch beyond the cultural bullet points. Barring Hasselhoff, this is an entirely different cast to Bash at the Beach, which aired five years after this episode, 1991’s rather threateningly titled Thin or Die. Pamela Anderson, so tied to the image of the show, is still a year away from filling the blonde lifeguard role. In her place is Erika Eleniak, who you may remember from Steven Seagal’s Under Siege, but is best recalled by me for some lad at school trying to sell Amiga floppy disks containing pictures of her in the nuddie. Also starring is the amazingly named Billy Warlock, fresh off Brian Yuzna’s fantastic Society; and as Hasselhoff’s son, a young Jeremy Jackson, last seen being thrown off Celebrity Big Brother UK for exposing the breasts of a woman who was helping him vomit. Eleniak is the only woman in the credits, full of old smilin’ white dude police chiefs and whatnot, in contrast to those later casts with Hasselhoff amid a literal harem of swimsuit models.

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This is not the boob-obsessed Baywatch of popular legend, which clearly evolved over time. Not so crazily-focussed on the female body, even the iconic red swimsuits are less revealing, with little shorts that offer more modest coverage than the better-remembered cameltoe years. Clearly the show became more explicit as the seasons went on, making me afraid to look at anything from its final year, in case it opens with a shot of Hasselhoff cranking on a speculum, like that time I turned over to watch Black Mirror and accidentally caught the end of Embarrassing Bodies with the close-up head of a glistening micropenis filling my living room in glorious HD. Compared to how it’s remembered, this is essentially 1920’s Baywatch, with slow-mo ankle shots and little changing booths. Even for the easily-titillated analogue naifs of 1991, this is a hard episode to jerk your william to, unlike its prime-era, where you basically had to, just to take the edge off, or else you’d end up fucking the TV right off its stand.

There’s further discombobulation with its weird opening theme that’s not the famous “I’ll be there,” and the opening credits run a full two minutes, which is a shrugging admission of “we ain’t got a lotta content!” As is the deal with this show, things cut between two unconnected plotlines. Let’s begin with the A. Way out to sea, Hasselhoff’s Mitch spots someone in trouble; but better than an actual person, it’s a dog! A literally doggy-paddling golden retriever, which hits me with those two familiar sensations; joy — it’s a dog — and grief — the lovely dog is now long-dead. Mitch dives in for the rescue and rushes back to headquarters “before hypothermia sets in.”

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With no tag, Mitch has to adopt the doggo, which is given the name Sandy by his son, who has the even worse name of Hobie, or to his dad, ‘Hobester.’ And so begins a buddy comedy like K9 or Turner and Hooch, with the mutt forever chewing Mitch’s tracksuit trousers or ruining a romantic dinner with its incessant barking. Sadly, this doesn’t save us from Hasselhoff’s disgusting kissing noises when bidding his lady goodnight, all “mmmhm, mmmm,” like a man playing with himself on the bus in the hopes of getting caught. Sandy torments Mitch, disobeying his every command, and forcing him to lay awake by loudly ruffing from his laundry room cell. Incidentally, while he’s laying in bed, doesn’t Mitch’s shadow look just like Jay Leno?

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Eventually, a furious Mitch leaps out of bed to accost Sandy with the brilliant question to scream at a dog, “WHAT IS IT? WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT IS THE STORY?!” The dog makes a run for it, and a surfboard magically falls in such a way to barricade Mitch in the laundry room, while Sandy adorably wraps himself in a blanket on Mitch’s bed before going to sleep. Aww! (that dog is just bones now) Curiously, while Mitch was cooking his soon-to-be-ruined dinner, we cut in midway through one of those “…dangerous escaped prisoners…” newsflashes on the TV, complete with skeezy-looking mugshots. Is that dog a fucking jewel thief? After some Three Stooges slapstick, where the dog gives Mitch’s cop mate the run around on the beach — hiding in an oil drum; disguising itself with a hat — two shifty-looking fellows cause him to bark in recognition. Yes, it’s the escaped criminals from the telly. “It can’t be…” says one, before they make their escape in a boat, with Sandy giving chase.

Thankfully, Sandy wasn’t a criminal, which would have been devastating, but the victim, with the goons having kidnapped his owner and stolen her boat. Mitch (along with Sandy and the cop) give chase in a speedboat and both groups immediately start shooting at each other. Mitch peels off his shirt and boards the baddies’ boat like a pirate, overpowering them, where he’s led below deck by Sandy to find an old lady in a cupboard. Reunited with her beloved Henry — Sandy’s real name — I discover there’s nothing you can’t stick a dog in that I won’t cry over. Sat here in tears over fucking Baywatch. Mitch blows off the old lady’s offer of a thank-you meal, for a date with his girlfriend, having been robbed of sex the previous night by Sandy’s barking. Despite his overinflated bollocks being one sperm away from destroying the harbour like a WW2 naval mine, she won’t take no for an answer; “I’m gonna fix you a whiskey stew. It sticks to the ribs, boy!

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Speaking of food, it’s onto the b-plot! There’s that statistic about a third of the internet being porn, but some days, it feels like the other 66% is someone having “the best response” to body-shaming. They do have a point. I’m tired of getting shamed about my dick at the library. But the Vanilla Ice-liking, Bartman-doing Neanderthals of 1991 didn’t have the internet to help them get woke. What they did have, was Baywatch. And what better show, known for its unending parade of stork-like perfect 10s with tiny waists and massive boobs, to educate audiences that it’s what’s inside that counts?

We begin with Erika Eleniak’s Shauni testing the compatibility of her relationship with boyfriend Billy Warlock, with one of those multiple-choice quizzes out of a magazine. Please note that I don’t care what his character’s name is, I will refer to him only as Warlock, thereby forcing you to picture him in a floppy wizard’s hat. Of course, they only score 10/100 and get into a fight, where it’s decided they need some space. Immediately throwing a tantrum when Shauni speaks about work-matters to a male lifeguard, he decides to make her jealous. “Two can play at that game,” he tells Sandy the dog, who then sneezes, in a brilliant piece of improv.

Earlier, we saw Warlock call up a message service, and clearly become aroused by the message lady’s wildly over-sexualised voice, as she relayed weather information with the kind of breathy, gasping tones one would only ever use while literally masturbating. Now he’s got a girlfriend to hurt, Warlock invites Sexy Phone Lady to come and watch the sunset, ignorant of the many Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny-fancying boys who got catfished by Miriam Margolyes.

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Later at work, Warlock hears a “hi,” and turns around to see Nicole from the phone, face to face for the first time. True to form, she’s what today would be referred to as plus-size, but in 1991, is signposted in that classic TV ‘here is a big girl!’ way, swathed in billowing, tent-like fabrics and a giant floppy Blossom hat, to emphasise that what she lacks in self-control, she also lacks in style. They might as well have played Baby Elephant Walk and had the camera shake with her footsteps, and Warlock does a very bad job of hiding disgust at the only woman ever to have graced that beach with the temerity to not be a size-zero. Shauni picks that moment to drive by with the hunky new lifeguard, and wishes him a good time with Nicole, with a look of such trenchant pity on her face, it’s as if she’d walked in on him desperately trying to scoop enough spilled paracetamol out of the toilet to end it all.

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Forced out into the light, Nicole drops the sex-voice as they eat at a quayside diner, where a squirming, humiliated Warlock hides his face, unable to even look at her. “I’ve embarrassed you, haven’t I?” she says, guilty of literally just showing up, “I know I embarrassed you on the beach today in front of your friends, and I’m embarrassing you right now.” The suggestion here is ‘by existing’, as she correctly guesses that he’s brought her somewhere he won’t be recognised. He assures her he’s not embarrassed, while virtually dry-heaving. “I owe you an apology,” she continues, “I just wanted to meet you so much. And I’m ashamed of the way I look. That’s why I got the job at the answering service, so no-one could see me.” At no point when she’s describing herself as too fat to be seen in public does he interrupt and tell her she’s wrong, instead wearing an expression like ‘you make a good point!’

Baywatch‘s mixed messages continue as they take a walk, with Warlock telling Nicole she has “a lot of wonderful qualities that have absolutely nothing to do with your weight” and that “all I see is a beautiful person who has a lot to offer.” See, you stuck ‘person’ in there. A person can be beautiful, but once you’re a ‘beautiful person,’ son, you’s ugly. Except, you know, on the inside, which doesn’t count. Anyway, in case you thought the episode’s lesson was about renouncing patriarchal beauty standards and being happy with who you are, Warlock tells her it’s a lot easier to fix the outside than it is the inside.

I’ve been thinking about losing some weight,” she says.
You can do it, Nicole!

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Cut to: the beach, in classic Baywatch slow-mo, as the frame fills with slender bikini hotties, and we intercut between their lithe, delicate bodies, and Nicole, schlubbing across the sand in her big t-shirt. Warlock nods a friendly hello from his perch, but never during this lengthy montage, can he gaze in her direction without the look of a man who’s caught the scent of dog dirts on the breeze. Surrounded by the cavalcade of sexy girls, a sullen Nicole quaffs back a diet pill, before nervously heading down to the water. She’s barely got her feet wet when the music amps up to indicate DANGER, and 0.5 seconds later, she’s trapped inside a thrashing tsunami. Warlock and Shauni run out to rescue her, sprinting through 50 yards of ankle-deep water, where the actress is clearly just laying flat on the bottom to appear like she’s in trouble.

In case you didn’t get that your lot in life when you choose to be over 110lb is public humiliation, Nicole’s traipse back up the beach is the afternoon’s entertainment for a huge pack of extras who follow behind, wooping as she retches up seawater and sobs hysterically. The mob shriek with that kind of laughter you only get in nightmares about old school bullies, hands over their mouths in shock, and there’s even a dubbed line “is that a beached whale?” While it must be a genuine novelty to see anyone on that beach over a size-2, the sarcastic jeer of “Whale! Woo!” as she’s loaded into the lifeguard jeep is a bit much.

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Back at lifeguard HQ, Shauni chides Nicole for the diet pills which lead to her getting light-headed in the water and almost drowning. “You could have been hurt!” she says, cuing a teary Nicole’s noble speech. Imagine that Louie episode, So Did the Fat Lady, except it’s shit, and also not subsequently clouded by admissions of its maker’s penchant for sexual misconduct.

Seriously hurt? I’ve spent my entire life being seriously hurt! Hurt by jokes at my expense. You heard them out there. I’ve always hated girls like you. Thin and beautiful, everything coming so easy. Cheerleading and dates. Clothes that fit. I can’t tell you how many crash diets I’ve tried; how many times I’ve lost 20lbs, only to gain 30 back. A person can only be called ‘lard butt’ so many times. Do you know what class I dreaded all through school, Shauni? Not history, or biology or algebra; gym class… know what I realise now, Shauni? It’s not even the girls like you I hate… it’s me. I hate myself!

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Though everything we’ve seen so far suggests Shauni will respond by puffing out her cheeks and poking Nicole’s belly with a cuttlefish, it turns out to be a bonding experience, with Shauni crying too. Never sure if guys liked her for who she was, or because she was hot, her brains never mattered, and she did a lot of things she’s not proud of. Until she met someone who believed in her for who she was. That person? The Warlock. Nicole tells Shauni that she’s never felt so liked or accepted as when she was with him — I guess during that one dinner where he could barely keep his food down? “He’s my best friend,” says Shauni, his girlfriend who he has sex with. “He’s mine too,” says Nicole, who’s met him twice; once when he was too ashamed to look at her, once when rescuing her from drowning.

The episode closes with Shauni giving Warlock a peace-offering of Dodgers tickets, and they kiss, grossly intimating they’ll have sex before and after the game. There’s no mention of Nicole, who I thought they might take along, and Warlock’s ‘best friend’ will never be seen or heard of again. Literally, as this is her sole acting credit. That thing of having an issues-character appear once and then fall into the void is very Saved by the Bell, another show I’ve written about extensively. In fact, SBTB beat them to the punch with both the fat-panic story, when a plus-sized girl won Zack in a date auction, and the telephone-catfish, when Zack hit on a girl over an advice hotline who turned out to be in a wheelchair, with hilariously Gervaisian consequences.

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Though horrifically misjudged, the worst part of this episode was the lack of Sandy’s credit. Dogs in credits are the best. ‘Starring Pudding as Rosco,’ or ‘Introducing Scruffy!’ that kinda thing. But nothing. I suppose it could’ve been worse. At one point, I was worried they’d have Nicole go mad with hunger from the diet pills, and–

Hey Nicole, thanks for watching Sandy. Where is he?

[BURRRRP]

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New Kids in The Sewer – When Ninja Turtles Go Pop

•September 9, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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As a nine-year-old boy, I was right in the sweet spot when TMNT hit, or rather, TMHT, with the H for Hero, as the very word ‘ninja’ was banned in the UK, lest us delicate British dandies timorously trickle wee-wee into our knickers. A franchise built around bloodless beat-downs, its wild success caused headaches among the censors for a nation where nunchucks not only couldn’t be purchased, but couldn’t even be seen, a rule which saw the excising of a scene from the movie where a string of sausages was swung around by a giant turtle. Had the Ninja Turtles phenomena begun with Coming Out of Their Shells, perhaps our nation would have been more tolerant.

A touring stage musical, where the Turtles sang and played instruments, Coming Out of Their Shells debuted on August 17th 1990, during peak Turtlemania. With their toys flying off the shelves, Shells functioned as a sort of capitalist Justice League, by teaming with Pizza Hut in a brazen sponsorship deal. The first performance of the show, at Manhattan’s historic Radio City Music Hall, was broadcast live on pay-per-view, which is what I’m watching here.

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The stage costumes are a midpoint between the realistic ones from the first movie, and the kind of thing you’d see falling into a barbecue after a terrible roundhouse kick at a children’s party. The bodies are sculpted muscle, but lightweight enough for the performers to run through simple dance routines, while the heads have animatronics capable of eye-blinks and lip syncing. Well, sometimes. The three banana-sized fingers are too bulky to form a chord, which is explained away in a behind the scenes doc by Donatello building special instruments. Leo’s got a 1-stringed bass, for example, while Don’s keytar keys are triple-wide. At least, that’s what we’re told. In the actual stage show, they’re all just miming with regular human six-strings, with Don’s fat fingers pushing down about a dozen keys at once.

For identification purposes, on top of their unique bandanas, each turtle wears their colour in knee-pads, elbow-pads, boots, and a flap of fabric around their waist, and with a funereal black armband bearing their initial. With denim waistcoats on top of the whole ensemble, the poor fuckers inside must have only needed about one piss a week. They needn’t have bothered individualising them, as they’re scripted with the exact same personality; they’re all a party dude, and the majority of the dialogue consists of 90’s surfer speak, where everything’s totally tubular. The early 90’s was rife with that Cali surf-dude affectation, but as New Yorkers who’ve never left the state, shouldn’t the Turtles sound like gruff Brooklyn cabbies? “Fuck ya mutha, I’m tryin’a eat a pizza here!

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Frequently, the mouths don’t move in time with the words, and often get jammed in a fixed position, gaping open through an entire song, with vocals floating into the ether like the voice of a dead spouse though a tranced Victorian spirit medium. The limited movements of the masks, coupled with the sameness of the characters, make it a disorientating experience, never sure which turtle is supposed to be talking, but as a rule, whoever’s gesticulating the hardest is the one speaking or singing. Also confusing, while each Turtle’s speaking and singing voices are credited as separate performers, the occasionally breathless vocals seem to indicate it’s the dialogue that’s pre-recorded, with the singing performed live. And try as I might, I cannot figure out where their eyeholes are.

Storyline-wise, they’ve chucked in the vigilante work to start a band, after Splinter told them songs were better for the world than kicks and punches. It’s clear the entire Coming Out of Their Shells deal was an effort to rebrand, distancing the Turtles from the fighty, ninja aspects, and shifting to the lucrative medium of music. There’s constant reference to not fighting — unless you have to — like they’re trying to lure in the sort of sensitive, sword-hating parents who made their kids watch Bibleman instead. It’s an odd move, right in the midst of Turtlemania, and in 1990, this was far from a flagging franchise. Any kids who came to see the martial arts action the movie and cartoon were built on would have gone home disappointed. There’s a brief sort-of fight scene with the Foot Clan, but it plays really weird without sound effects on the hits, and is one of those dance-fights, where they’re not even touching each other, and everyone’s swinging with the sort of force you’d use when fist-bumping a baby.

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No, music is why we’re here, with an album-full of TMNT-themed numbers. Usually when I write these things, I end up with the songs stuck in my head for a week; Jim Davidson’s “a bus driver I would be,” the theme tune to Thunder in Paradise; even Cannon and Ball’s Together We’ll Be Okay (a fucking banger). But with this, every song is the opposite of an earworm, so uncatchy and muddy, I can’t remember how any of them go, even while I’m listening to it.

Inevitably, we open with a song called Pizza Power, which features a couple of dancing pizza delivery boys sliding about the stage, before moving onto Tubin‘, a Michelangelo ditty. An ode to surfing, Tubin‘ serves as a reminder that, despite their Valley accents, the lads live in a sewer in New York surrounded by shit and piss, and the only waves they catch down there are filled with turds, tampons, and spunk-filled johnnies. Backed by dancing sharks in hula skirts, Mike remembers to mime to his guitar for about 10% of this number, which includes the lyric “you don’t have to wait for high tide, when you’re surfing on the sewer side!” Now there’s a pun I can get behind. Because this show has made me suicidal. Many of the songs carry messages of positivity, or in turtle lingo, “walk straight, no need to mutate!” while a couple are straight-up raps. In Michelangelo’s Cowabunga, one of those raps that runs through a backstory for each member of the band, the mechanical mouth can’t keep up with the speed of the lyrics, and opens and closes like a dying fish.

Of course, Splinter shows up, and a talking rat would have been a fun character as a puppet, but it’s another guy in a costume; a gigantic, Bigfoot-sized outfit that’s bigger than the Turtles, with the disconcerting animatronic mouth of a Chuck E. Cheese or end of the pier automaton. During his solo number, he jarringly switches from the normal Splinter speaking voice, aka the kind of voice a white supremacist would use during the racially-motivated assault of an elderly Asian man, into a grizzled Bruce Springsteen. He waffles on about pebbles and ripples in ponds, “everything you do makes good or bad rings, and you must only make good rings,” while the big screen shows black and white footage of real homeless people. This must have been a bathroom break for the audience of ninja-craving kids, and a chance for the Turtles to glug about 8 gallons of water backstage. The worst part about this scene is knowing for sure that modern day furries have had some powerful wanks over it, and there’s probably a bunch of pornographic fan art where Bigfoot Splinter is pregnant with Sonic the Hedgehog’s baby.

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Just when it seems like this is purely a naff concert, Shredder finally makes an appearance, signalling the injection of plot, and transforming it into a naff musical. Now, I know theatre is its own beast, but it’s like they saw the Shredder that fans were familiar with and said “it’s good, but what if instead, he was Widow Twanky in a tinfoil helmet?” The stage Shredder is pure pantomime, down to the eyeshadow and Skeletor-esque insults. He calls Baxter Stockman an “Albert Einstein reject,” and the audience “punoids,” and zings with classic villain alliteration, “you pretentious pile of pate!” A hater of music, Shredder’s plan involves the enslavement of humanity with a machine given to him by Krang, that can suck all the musical notes out of Earth and destroy all of the world’s goodness. I mean on one hand, mass genocide and enslavement under a cruel master, but as a plus, we’ll never hear Robbie Williams again. Swings and roundabouts. But I can’t help but think how much infinitely better this would have been if Uncle Phil had reprised his role from the cartoon.

After he scarpers, it turns into classic panto, with the kids going nuts at the thought of the real Shredder loose inside the theatre, and the Turtles — who were frozen in place with Shredder’s magic — asking them if they know what happened, even though he told them not to grass. “It’s true, Shredder is here,” says April O’Neill, appearing in the audience, and instantly drowning in hysterical children swinging plastic nunchucks, with parents holding their kids aloft and thrusting them towards her like she can heal them. The Turtles further stir the delirium, geeing them up with “our friends will help us!” and asking “are you guys afraid of Shredder?” (“NO!”) There are a couple more songs, a horrific impression of Bart Simpson, and some “he’s behind you!” business with Shredder, signalling the Turtles retreat.

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Receiving the kind of nuclear booing you’d see if Harvey Weinstein showed up to present an Oscar with his dick out, Shredder tells the “little snot-nosed brats” that they’re soon going to be his slaves, except for the ones who look “too scrawny.” The kids honestly look shit-scared, and they cut to the crowd for reaction shots like the ones the WWF did when the Undertaker first started, with one kid in a bandana readying to defend himself with foam nunchucks. He says he’s locked all the doors, so there’s no escape, before confusingly telling them to get out. It sounds like there’s a fucking riot in the audience, and with a final “I said get out!” they cut back to a crowd of children who are genuinely scared for their lives.

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One aspect that does work quite well, particularly with the children’s fear and frenzied fandom, is the sense of the audience have gotten dragged into the story. The intermission features Kip, April’s jittery roving reporter colleague, who’s got the manner of a first responder on scene at the fall of the Twin Towers. In perpetual freak-out, he shrieks at a lobby full of children that “Shredder’s locked all the doors and he’s got April; what are we gonna do?!” before arming himself with a plastic glow-sword and heading down to the basement. He scuttles and stumbles in the dark, desperately calling “Hello?!” at shadowy corners, and “SNAKES! SNAKES!” at a coil of ceiling wires. Lost and crying, he finally happens upon the Turtles, riling them up by calling them “a bunch of weenies.”

Undoubtedly the terrible highlight of the show is when they send Shredder out to do some crowd work, kicking off the second act with a full five-minutes of him pacing the stage to insult a literal crowd of six-year-olds. “What planet did you just fly in from?” he asks, like he’s doing open mic at a smoky stand-up club, telling some kid he saw their face on a milk carton — inferring their parent is a kidnapper? — and hitting on a mom by offering her “a one-way ticket to my Technodome,” which is probably what he calls his ballbag. On and on it goes, mocking a little boy for sitting with his female cousin, and thus, not being able to get a date. The fidgeting audience, now bordering on genuine civil unrest, chant for the Turtles to return, while Shredder admonishes them for standing on their seats; “that’s made of velvet!

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Eventually, we get back to the plot, where Shredder unveils his weapon; a grey dustbin with a NO MUSIC sign on it, into which he dumps LPs to destroy all the world’s music forever. After demonstrating how it works three times, he yells “I HATE MUSIC” and breaks into a rap. Like all white people doing a rap on TV in the early 90s, it’s a single repetitive beat all the way through, with rhymes like:

I hate music, I think it’s the worst

The gift of song is a gift I curse,

I hate music, I said I think it’s the worst

Well, now I hate it too. At least this confirms they’re singing live, because he loses track of the beat a bunch of times. Though he does get one of the loudest reactions of the night by name-checking NKTOB, immediately summoning a deafening cacophony of squeals. By this point, April’s tied around the waist with a rope, which lets her roam the stage like a cartoon bulldog, as Shredder uses his machine to steal Kip the reporter’s voice right out of his mouth. Now alone, April further incites a crowd which is on the verge of razing the building to ashes, asking “they aren’t weenies, are they?!” and “you guys aren’t afraid, are you?!” Then it’s time for, possibly, the last piece of music the world will ever hear, with a song the Turtles taught her, to help her not be afraid, April’s Ballad.

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I can only imagine, to a room full of agitated children who’ve not seen the Turtles onstage since the first act, how this went down, but April’s Ballad is the musical highlight of the entire show, and the closest thing to a proper song. She really gives it some welly, and one might feel as though they’re watching Broadway, at least, until the word ‘turtles’ shows up in the lyrics. But then Shredder uses his machine to steal her voice, leaving April mute, and they cut to news reports on the sudden disappearance of all music. A confused NY busker shakes his guitar as though music will fall out of it; birds have stopped singing and all radio has switched to a talk format; and some fucking nerd in a bow tie captioned as “Chester Ashworth, Music Industry Executive” sobs about Mr. Bojangles.

But as they must, the Turtles return to save the day, even though Shredder’s machine saps their life-force, cuing a surprisingly dark suggestion from Raph of “what are we supposed to do, kill ourselves?!” After some in-fighting, where the lads insult each other with burns like “lard face,” they accidentally discover the machine’s weakness was, of course, inside us all along, and that having faith in the music is enough to turn its warning dial to TOTALLY UNCOOL. The only way to win, Splinter says, is to believe in yourself and follow your heart. Michelangelo’s maudlin acapella, Follow Your Heart, echoes up to the balconies, through the entirety of which, his mouth is stuck wide open, like the silent scream of a man who’s discovered the ritually mutilated bodies of his entire family. To finally defeat the machine, our boys enlist the help of the audience, while Shredder threatens to steal all their voices forever. “Prepare yourselves to never speak again!” he says, as the camera focuses on a frightened child holding a plastic sword aloft as though it’ll help him.

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After a call-and-response with the audience for one more dreadful song — “you guys, keep singing!” — the infernal machine is destroyed and Shredder is defeated. He pegs it to an escape pod, but they plug it into the machine, sucking him into a TV. We go out on a reprise of the battle song, with an audience of jubilant kids rocking out on inflatable guitars and rushing the stage, while others restlessly squirm in their parents’ laps, long-since ready for bed. As the credits rolled, I felt like I’d lived through the end of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey for real, but I now had such an awful headache, I’ve no idea how any of the parents who were actually there survived. Both musically, and as a piece of theatre, Coming Out of Their Shells is an astonishingly awful production, but if nothing else, I must applaud its conviction to continually frighten an audience of tiny children, who merely came to see their heroes in a concert, and genuinely believed Shredder’s invasion wasn’t part of the show.

Sadly, there’s no info about this maddeningly weird stage production to be found in the accompanying Making Of video, which turns out to be a Behind The Music style mocumentary, entirely in kayfabe. Taping outside the rigours of a stage performance allows them far better-looking costumes, though as a consequence, it’s clear the performers can barely move. The heavy animatronic heads loll to the side, and every time they cut back to the Turtles, they’re stood in an odd lean, like they’ve been shot in the stomach, unable to bend at the legs or waist. At one point, there’s an interview with Raphael, who stands slumped against the wall with the posture of a cardiac arrest. They frequently cut back to footage from the live show, where the more flexible Turtles look like a different species. I say ‘flexible,’ but there’s a backstage shot from the tour, where we see the spry young ninjas gingerly being helped up a couple of steps by multiple stagehands like they’re ninety years old.

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They interview real producers and label-heads, selling the storyline of discovering “this incredible group that was playing in the sewers of NY,” and showing them laying down tracks in the studio. Music nerds will be thrilled to learn minor details, like how Michelangelo plays 3 fingers tuned to an Open E. There’s a lot of serious talk about how the label sees them as a band and not just a commodity to be exploited, before the genuine press launch for the tour, where a guy from Pizza Hut informs a crowd of six-year-olds that “Pizza Hut will launch the most aggressive promotion ever done in the record industry to support the Turtles’ new music.” Cut to them playing Pizza Power on the roof of Radio City.

The most confusing thing is when the director talks about the Turtles incorporating Broadway storytelling elements into the show, over footage of Shredder using his machine. Wait, so the Shredder stuff wasn’t genuine and he was scripted to disrupt the show every night? Did they pay him (and make him promise not to fight them for real)? Or did they hire someone to play the role of Shredder? It would explain why he was so dumb and white, and why none of the punches connected. What if the real Shredder had invaded the stage, furious at this fictional portrayal? Or did Shredder really take over the exact same way every night, and destroy all the world’s music in the process? I have so many questions. Thankfully, so did the audience of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

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The TMNT’s promotional drop-in to Oprah, mid-way through the tour, was even weirder than the stage show itself. By this point, turtle fandom is at fever pitch, and we’re told the soundtrack album has gone double-platinum. The whole thing’s conducted in character and mostly unscripted, resulting in a bizarre piece of improv performance theatre. With an audience of small children and a handful of parents, there’s a Santa’s Grotto vibe, with every kid mesmerised at the jigging Turtles mere feet away, half in elation, and the other half in wide-eyed terror. Each song further unsettles the weans, with that confusing switch between their on-mic speaking voices, and the tinny second voice that sings from a distant speaker. Though modern viewers will take solace in the fact Michelangelo is clearly a time-travelling Charlie Day.

With the gang sitting still under studio lighting, we get a better look at the stage costumes, which each have a couple of coin-sized air-holes bored into the top of the head, hidden in the liver-spot paint design. Though I still can’t figure where their eyeholes are. The whole endeavour is clearly a PR push for their new brand as musicians and not fighters, to sell positivity-infused albums to the kind of parents unwilling to buy ‘violent’ action figures. “If you sing a song with someone, you make a friend. If you fight someone, you make an enemy.” Though the adults in the room are nodding, it’s a tough sell to their fanbase, as a little boy with a rat-rail tells them he wants them to fight. Mikey tries to sooth him with “if you get pushed in a corner and there’s no other recourse, you gotta fight… but we’d rather not fight.” “Mmm-hmm” says the kid, clearly deciding at that moment he’s making the switch to Power Rangers.

But they can’t get away with a whole show of “stay in school, read; don’t skip class and hang out with bad dudes,” and Oprah soon takes them to task with her brand of hard-hitting journalism, warping reality by asking how they can be in a cartoon, but also here in person. They show a clip from the movie, with the really good costumes and the Japanese Shredder, and I wonder if she’s going to eviscerate them like she did James Frey and demand an explanation. April joins the lads onstage, and tries to keep things on track, under Oprah’s questioning of possible romantic dalliances. It’s established in the later Q&A that the Turtles are 14-15 ½ in human years and 3-4 in turtle years, so April keeps it clean and plays like they’re all just friends, but Oprah keeps pushing it. Raph tells her he’s been unsuccessfully trying to talk April “into an interspecies relationship for months,” adding “the biggest problem is she can’t hold her breath long enough, you know what I’m sayin’?” to which they make this cut to the audience.

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A panicking April states that, as a reporter, “the good thing about these guys is that, they’re not black or white; they’re green,” and there’s a brief Shredder cameo, where he cackles and threatens the Turtles to “follow you all over the city, to destroy your totally tepid turtle tunes!” Then he just blatantly lists tour dates “When you’re in Boston, I’ll be there. When you’re in Miami, I’ll be there…” You can barely hear him over the booing, with Oprah leading a manic chant of “TURTLES! TURTLES!” until he scuttles away.

The absolute solid gold highlight is a Q&A with the audience, with questions that have clearly not been vetted beforehand. It’s fascinating watching the unspoken dynamic at play between the performers, who can’t even see each other’s eyes, put on the spot and forced to instantly figure out who answers and how, mentally unpacking pages of PR bullet-points and years worth of TMNT backstory. Leo and Don barely speak through the whole thing, with Michelangelo the clear leader, and he and April getting them all through it. The sort of questions only kids would ask, the first sets the tone with “Where’s your bed? Where do you sleep?” It only gets odder from there, with a recurring preoccupation with the sewer. “Is it dark in there?” “Can you see in the sewers?” “If you live in the sewer, is there any water comes down the sewer?” When one kid asks “has anyone ever caught you in the sewer,” Raph’s weary “What do you mean ‘caught us in the sewer’, dude?” has an undertone of “four years at Juilliard for this shit?”

Some of the questions read like they haven’t even seen the show, like “who made your weapons?” or “who gave you your names?” One kid asks what their favourite pizza is — “Pizza Hut!” — followed literally 2 seconds later by another kid’s “what kind of pizza do you like?” Other questions suggest the musical rebrand isn’t going to fly, with “where are your weapons?” and “if you don’t have your weapons today, how you gonna fight somebody?” Toeing the new company line of friendship over fighting, Raph tells them “you don’t ever purposely want to start a fight, or kick someone in the head or somethin’…” But they just keep coming, in what must be the actors’ personal Vietnam — “are you gonna sing any more educational movies?” and “who’s the coolest guy?” and “WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT SPLINTER?!” Some forgo questions altogether to fling statements at their heroes, like “I’ve got your toys,” or the boy who informs them “I have your soundtrack,” only to shake his head with a huge grin when they ask him if he likes it, like a psychopath. Perhaps the deepest cut of all is “who was your mom and dad?” which Michelangelo palms off by describing frequent dreams of being a baby turtle in a big fishbowl, but sadly adding “we don’t know.”

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Before the show ends with Oprah and a stage full of kids dancing around with pizzas, she makes a grown woman in the audience stand up and explain why she’s wearing a cape, bandana, and green plastic nose. She won tickets to their tour, she says, by dressing like a turtle, eating their cereal, and walking backwards down Michigan Avenue with turtle underwear on her head. Clearly, this was a cruel radio morning show prank, and she was probably kicked out by the box office when they saw the ‘tickets’ were slices of ham.

Though it did spin off into a smaller follow-up tour, 1992’s Gettin’ Down in Your Town, the musical experiment was not a success. Financially, the initial blitz sold a ton of records, but as was constantly clear throughout, kids were in it for the fighting, not saccharine songs about believing in yourself. Decades later, the franchise lives on, with countless reboots, both live-action and animated, none of which saw the green lads put down the nunchucks for a banjo. The message is clear; fuck peace and love and singing a song, let’s all just punch each other in the face. Besides, everyone knows the best Ninja Turtle song has already been written.

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a bunch of posts up, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too.

New Novel Announcement

•September 4, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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In the summer of 1962, a flurry of monster sightings at the famous Loch inspire a group of volunteers to band together and keep watch on its waters.

That’s more of a log-line than a blurb, but I want to take advantage of serialising and reveal surprises to the audience at my own pace.

Men of the Loch is a Patreon exclusive at the $5 level, and at least for a couple of years, the only place you’ll be able to read it is there. It’ll be a full-length novel, and I’m aiming to post a new chapter roughly every 10 days, the same as Jangle and the $3 pieces.

Tonally, this is a lot lighter than my most recent stuff, if you want a bit of a breather from the unrelenting bleakness. When I conceived of the idea, I’d been watching a lot of Mackenzie Crook’s fantastic BBC sitcom Detectorists, and after dragging readers through the pissy gutters with murderers and vampire-paeds, I wanted to give them a group of characters they’d enjoy spending time with.

That said, this is the final part of my unofficial ‘Evil Men trilogy’ of books inspired by real-life shits, following works about Manson and Savile, and given the setting, you can probably figure out the central bad sod without too much trouble. If I’m including Jangle, then Men of the Loch is my tenth book. I should probably take that as a point of pride, but I’m finding it to be a profoundly depressing statistic.

Obviously it will be out in paperback and on Kindle eventually (almost certainly in 2020), but $5 folks will get first dibs by a mile, and it’ll be exclusive on Patreon until long after it’s completed. Hopefully, when it is published to the general public, I’ll be able to throw paperback copies in as a perk, but I’m still keeping that to a ‘hopefully’ and not a definite, as I’ll need to have picked up way more patrons by then for that to be financially viable, and I don’t want to renege on a promise.

Forteana has been woven through my work since the beginning, so I’m relishing finally being able to go all-in. Loch Ness especially is a topic I’ve wanted to write about forever, and I’m really excited to have people read it. If you haven’t already, hit that $5 subscription, where the first part will be posted soon, and there’s already tons of content. Or if you’d just like to aid in its creation, then you can do so for as little as $1 a month. Your support literally allows me to keep writing.

Cheers.

https://www.patreon.com/franticplanet

Have I Been Here Before?

•September 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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[This is a continuing series about terrible celebrity paranormal shows. Part One is here.]

Reincarnation is a nice idea, and out of all the afterlife possibilities, it’s the one I most hope is real. What better than a chance to respawn and try again if, say, you completely fucked up your life by trying to be a writer, subsequently condemning yourself to an empty existence of failure and poverty? But everyone’s always Cleopatra, and never some nameless serf who shat themselves to death on a big pile of corpses. ITV’s 2005 series, Have I Been Here Before? explores this concept, using hypnotic regression to uncover the past lives of celebrities. It’s an evocative thought, how today’s stars may have fared during previous turns of the cosmic wheel. Could Hulk Hogan have been one of the founding members of the KKK? Was Jamie Oliver one of those fish that swims up your piss into your dick?

Hypnosis is powered by the human trait of being too embarrassed not to do what’s expected of you, be it hen night parties dancing like a chicken when they hear a whistle, or alien abductees spinning stories of bug-eyed greys sticking lasers up their arse. Its use as a scientific tool in past life regression exclusively allows people to remember stuff they’ve seen in history books or movies, which is why everyone’s past life was in medieval Britain or ancient Rome, and not some obscure Turkish hamlet they have no cultural knowledge of. Though they missed the opportunity to call it Who Do You Think You Were?, the show occupied that lunchtime spot just before Loose Women, aimed squarely at the same demographic as magazines with cover headlines like ‘RAPED AT MY OWN FUNERAL‘ and ‘DEAD DAD’S TOXIC GHOST FARTS MADE MY HUBBY IMPOTENT‘.

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Historically, it’s an important series to remember, if only for when its host Phillip Schofield is getting all pompous with guests on This Morning, as the CV equivalent of that gameshow Cheggers did with his cock out. The opening credits set the scene beautifully, with Schofield walking through a hazily-filtered wood and into a magic door, before a Coldwar Steve photo-montage of D-list celebrities in possible past lives, including Barry off Eastenders as Henry VIII, and a Victorian Dr. Fox married to Lisa I’Anson with Anneka Rice as their maid. At worst, this could be a mildly interesting look at the imaginations and improv skills of people off the telly, and the sort of celebrities desperate enough to appear on this definitely won’t just be playing along and pretending.

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The hypnotist’s website describes her as an “intuitive soul whisperer” if you were wondering the tone of this show, but for someone who puts people into a relaxed state, she’s got the shrill, sing-song voice of a dial-up modem doing drunken baby-talk to a stranger’s puppy. As alluded to, because it’s a terrible reality show, of course Shaun “Big Barry off Eastenders” Williamson is legally required to be involved. As a sidenote, I tried to track down that C5 show where he put on prosthetics to disguise himself as a lady, and was sent to a speed dating evening, but it tragically appears lost.

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The session begins with the hypnotherapist dangling a crystal over Barry’s head, perhaps to cure his baldness, and a puff of incense rises to the ceiling as he takes his place on a couch, near a table of yet more crystals. Each celebrity regression has a slightly different focus, with this one all about rooting out past life traumas. See, all phobias, fears and ailments are rooted in incidents from past lives, and by finding them, we can cut those connections and cure them in the present day. For Barry, it’s a preoccupation with choking, which sees him chop his children’s food up really small, and lurch awake in the night, struggling for breath. He’s hoping to cure it by regressing to its origin, which is like going back in time to kill Hitler, except it’s the Hitler of Barry off Eastenders fear of getting a pickle wedged in his throat as he scoffs a big dinner.

Barry looks really comfortable, eyes closed and tranced beneath a tartan blanket, like it’s the best nap he’s had in ages, as she takes him back to his former life. The first thing he sees is a shield, and when asked to describe his clothes, he says it’s armour, chain-mail; “some sort of knight.” The year is 1315, and his name is Richard Florin, making his home in a castle in rural France. “I fight for the Count,” says Richard/Barry, before the hypnotist asks if there’s anyone he loves. “Madeline,” he says, “she’s a lady in waiting.” His revelations are interspersed with flashes of dramatic reconstructions, on a production level of BBC Schools programs from the 1980s. On hearing Madeline’s name, we glimpse a French maiden, and on the not-at-all-leading question of “is she someone you’re allowed to be with?” we learn this is a romantic tragedy, with Sir Barry the Brave forced to admire Madeline from afar, as she waits on the Count.

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We flash forward, and Barry finds himself on a horse, going “somewhere muddy.” Painting quite the picture isn’t he? “What’s happening with the mud?” she asks, which is an odd question in any context, and he tells her there are people fighting in it. He’s battling the English — though he doesn’t hate them — and he’s been away from Madeline for three months. The therapist time-skips Barry to the day of his death, where he can’t breathe after getting piked through the neck by an English soldier. Richard Florin’s last moments on Earth consist of “just lying… lying in mud,” unable to move, and thinking “I’ll never see the castle or Madeline again.” That’s not so bad, mate. In 700 years, you’ll be reduced to appearing on a show about celebrity reincarnation. But what a tale he’s woven; something HBO would be wise to pick up the rights to once Game of Thrones is finished. Though it’s disappointing for me, having hoped the hypnotism would trigger intense memories of a past life as a cabaret diva, and leaving him physically unable to stop belting out Mustang Sally, 24 hours a day for the rest of his life.

Barry wakes with clammy hands, as a string of talking-head psychologists argue that it was purely imagination based on childhood fantasies of knights and warriors, while Uri Geller informs us it’s all real. Einstein proved energy cannot be killed, he says, “so why not believe in past lives, for goodness sake?” For craven sceptics for whom the good word of Uri Geller isn’t enough, the show sends out a historian, armed with Barry’s story, to hunt for corroborating evidence. Now, I’ve seen some bold claims before, but the promise that he’s “uncovered some astonishing facts” leads you to believe we’re getting a tearful reunion as they wheel in Madeline’s skeleton. They don’t, but the evidence is still rock solid. Would you believe, there were battles and castles back then? How could Barry have possibly known?! Also, the historian believes he’s pinpointed the castle (hundreds of miles from where Barry said), the actual count; James I of Barcelona; and believes Richard Florin met his end at the Battle of Bannockburn. Sadly, my own 20 seconds of research on Wikipedia reveals the count had been dead for 50 years before Florin’s unrequited love story, and that Bannockburn happened years before he got shanked through the windpipe.

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Each celeb has a sit-down post-mortem with Schofield, where the pair speculate that Barry was a heroic mercenary for hire, and celebrate finally getting to the root of his choking phobia, revealed as having his throat slashed in a field back in the 1300s. In an incredible example of not seeing the wood for the windchime-draped trees, Barry says how glad he is to be finally get to the root of his fear, having — in his current life — almost choked to death as a child, turning red and being saved by a Heimlich. “And ever since then” he says, “I’ve had a fear of choking.” Similarly, I’ve got an irrational fear of being hit by a car after I got knocked off my bike when I was a teenager, so logically, I must have been run over by a carriage in Victorian London. Brilliantly, there’s a throwaway reveal of another past life when he was under; a Peter Edmonds from Hull, who lived alone after his parents were killed in a car crash, never loved or cared about anyone, and worked in a canning factory until he died of TB with no hospital visitors. Classic Barry!

Another episode opens with original Page 3 glamour girl Linda Lusardi getting her knockers scanned with a crystal on a bit of string. She’s not a believer, but “quite open to spirituality,” so who knows what past lives she might uncover? Perhaps an Egyptian princess, or a Chinese farmer, or a man who killed a load of people with a hammer. Alas, it’s back to medieval Britain, as a ten-year-old girl called Mary. The vivid level of detail is simply astonishing; she lives “in a house,” and wears a brown tunic — “there’s a belt.” But in contrast to Barry’s gentle slumber, Lusardi seems in the midst of a nightmare, eyes scrunched and squirming through pained speech. Mary lives with her brother Robert and their daddy (“mummy’s dead”), and she’s got a gimpy arm after falling on a piece of wood. “It really hurt… I smashed my elbow… I was screaming and crying.”

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We skip forward in time, and Mary’s now 30 with two sons, in the year “one… three… four… six,” which is how we all say the date. Unfortunately, 1346 makes a crossover with Barry’s knight unlikely. Shifting uncomfortably on the couch, Lusardi complains of being cold, “always cold… I’ve dropped my baby… he’ll probably die.” She’s lost four babies so far in this miserable existence, and with another time-jump, things become genuinely unsettling, where a distressed Linda Lusardi weeps, “they’ve all gone.” Children, husband; all dead. Properly sobbing through closed eyes, she emits a wail of anguish, describing the black boils that fester on her armpits, legs and crotch. “I’m dying,” she says, “but it’s nice.” As Mary breathes her last, the hypnotist asks what she’s learned in that life. “I’d have been a better mother if my arm worked.”

Though there’s no historical record of a nondescript 14th century peasant who died of boils, the historian’s wowed by Mary’s spot on description of “a brown tunic,” and the impressive detail of living in a house made from basic materials. In Linda’s talk with Phil, she’s shook by the dramatised recreations, which are just like she remembered, as though this indicates everything was true, and not just the fact whoever shot them was drawing on the same pool of historical pop culture as Linda’s imagination was. But then there’s the spooky connection of Mary’s constant coldness and Linda’s dislike of being cold now. Because the rest of us all love being cold, don’t we? Most of all, Linda’s shocked that she had the same face as Mary. “I didn’t realise in a past life you would have the same outer body, but I did have the same outer body.” But then after all that, she concludes that it’s all just made up. Or at least, “memory cells passed down from generation to generation.

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The final episode I watched (there were 33 half-hours of this shite) featured Joe Pasquale. Pasquale was hot property at the time, fresh off winning I’m a Celebrity, mostly through talking about his ‘Jacobs’, aka his balls, which became a popular catchphrase even cited on his wiki page. Jacobs Crackers/Knackers, “ooh, me Jacobs are hanging out of me shorts,” that kind of thing. Necklace adorned with crystals of his own, toddler-voiced Joe seems the perfect foil to take this nu-age piffle seriously, and regresses back to 1917, where he’s a lad called Samuel. Asked if he’s got a surname, Samuel replies with the immediacy of an old west quick draw; “Jacobs.”

In the equivalent of me reliving my past life as Billy Cum, Pasquale takes us through the world of young Samuel Bollocks, with a rapid string of specifics, including names, full street addresses, and a harrowing account of WW1 trench warfare — “people died… nurse… nurse…” After taking one in the shoulder, Jacobs is sent home, and lives out his days running his own food shop. When asked if he’s got a family, “I’ve got a van,” he says, snickering. She tries again, asking if he met anyone. “No,” says Samuel. “Got a van. I like driving me van.” The rest of the session consists of a corpsing Joe Pasquale endlessly waffling on about his big grey van, and Samuel dies with the final musing on life that “it was okay… just looked after me mum.”

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For once, the historian’s got plenty to work with, with both Samuel’s full home address, and the address of his shop. There’s no record of these places existing. But then there’s the license plate of his beloved van, which they hope to trace back to its owner. It doesn’t contain enough characters, and is in a nonsensical order. Fine. However, there’s still hope, as Samuel talked of having his photo taken, and they play it up as incredible that Pasquale could have known cameras existed back then. They even find that grey vans were around in those days, and you couldn’t know something like that without having driven one in the past! Pasquale’s chat with Phil does bring up the whole Jacobs issue, and that, along with Samuel’s shop being on Stella Street, and his local boozer being the Jacobean Arms, rather brilliantly renders the entire exercise one massive, subconscious joke about men’s testicles. And yet, in an amazing example of that nu-Ager, conspiracy-buff thinking, where everything ‘spiritual’ or fringe must all be true, our soul-whispering hypnotherapist remains convinced that Joe’s past life was 100% real. Joe’s got a family now, having learned from the lonely mistakes of Samuel, who only had a van, see?

Though this show hasn’t changed my perception on the reality of reincarnation, it’s only further made me wish it were true. In this life, I can’t even drive, but just think, someday, in some other life, I might even be able to have my own van. And be named after a ballbag.

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a bunch of posts live already, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as my new novella, Jangle. Please give my existing books a look too.

Jim Davidson Goes Up The Elephant

•August 22, 2018 • 1 Comment

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Baby Boomers get a lot of flak for knocking today’s privilege-guzzling, smartphone-owning youngsters, while having spent their own twenties doing monstrous lines of coke off the bathroom sink of the three-bedroom house they bought for about a year’s pay. But on the other hand, look what they had to put up with.

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Jim Davidson, there, pictured in one of the two sitcoms he starred in during the 1980s. These days, if you want to see Jim, you have to go to his Twitter account, where he’ll be making half-hearted jokes about black men, or congratulating kindred spirit Ricky Gervais on his latest Netflix special, but if you lived in the eighties, you ran the constant risk of seeing him every time you turned on the television. It must have been like cutting the wires on a bomb. Sure, we’ll never own our own homes, and have to work four jobs just to pay for the blanket beneath which we cry ourselves to sleep, but at least we’re free to merrily flick through every broadcast channel without fear of this anthropomorphised cabbie’s thumb popping up like a screamer video; barring news reports of his eventual lonely death.

This look at Jim’s 1983 vehicle, Up The Elephant and Round The Castle, isn’t part of my Past Laugh Regression series, as I can’t honestly say I’d have laughed at it as a child. In fact, when I was young, due to the similar name of cartoonist Jim Davis, I erroneously believed that, as well as beating his wives and putting on a Jamaican accent, Jim Davidson found time to write and draw Garfield. It’s definitely unfunny enough to be the work of our Jim, but as much as the titular cat hates Mondays, if he’s got similar feelings about gays or Muslims, he keeps quiet about it.

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In that period during the eighties to mid-nineties, it seems like sitcoms were infinite. It was a time filled with middling shows that ran for thousands of years, yet can’t be recalled by anyone. There were 94 episodes of The Upper Hand. 111 episodes of Birds of a Feather, with a further 26 during the explicable revival, with more to follow in 2018. Can anyone recall a single line from either?

Back when they were handing out sitcoms like flyers to your boyfriend’s terrible band, the combined series of Jim Davidson’s Up the Elephant… and its sequel, Home James, racked up 47 half-hours. That’s more than the entire TV run of Monty Python. Because I’m already in a bad place, why not drag myself further down into the depths and sit through some of them?

We begin with Up The Elephant‘s very first episode, A Cuckoo in the Nest, whose honky tonk piano theme seems designed to evoke images of Pearly Kings sat around a 1940’s cockney boozer and drowning out the whistle of Hitler’s doodlebugs with another rousing verse of Knees Up Mother Brown. And if that whole cheeky barrow boy vibe appeals to you, then you’ve probably found a new favourite. Just look at the synopsis.

Jim London is a young lovable rogue who gets into all types of problems with the law and spends most of his time getting drunk and chasing women.

Fucking hell. The name Jim London is hilariously on-point, like a show about metal fans featuring the antics of Jim Headbanger, or a Jim Davidson sitcom where the lead’s called Jim Cunt. Anyone named Jim London is made out of bacon sandwiches and flags, definitely voted Leave, and has one of those profile pictures that looks like the penis-eye-view of a sad potato. Also, Jim London is hypothetically the name you imagine Nigel Farage might sign into a motel as when having sex with a black dominatrix.

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The set-up here is that Jim’s been left a house after the death of his Aunt Min, and the first episode really sets out to establish his status as chirpy cheeky cockney jack the lad about town. He swaggers in wearing a dressing gown to shatter the forth wall and bid us “Morning, world! Jim London’s the name, champion of the free; free beer, free fags, free blind mice; free anything, me!” All I know is that literally never did anything good began with “X is the name,” usually followed with “Y is me game!” We know what your game is, mate, that’s why I’m having to review old sitcoms from thirty-five years ago to find archive footage from when you were popular. Indeed, Jim’s subsequent work makes the loveable rogue stuff impossible to swallow, with such a patently unlikeable screen presence, you’re better off rewatching old episodes of Rolf’s Cartoon Club.

So much of the show is taken with playing up the cockney credentials, with an actual non-ironic “gor blimey!” and dialogue packed with rhyming slang. It’s rare that anyone gets through an entire line without a “plates of meat,” “boat race,” or “jam jar,” or complaining about the old “trouble and strife.” Clearly this show was the inspiration behind comic character ‘Danny Dyer’. Because he’s a ruddy wide-boy, Jim’s next seen at the pub on a date with a girl called Deirdre, where he bumps into old schoolfriend, Radio Grimes, who he coincidentally just finished telling us about for no reason. Radio’s been kicked out by his wife, and tries to convince Jim to let him move in. But like a roommate ad by an incel, Jim’s got a rule that all guests must be female — “squeaky voice, wobbly bits on the front.”

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Now, I know what you’re thinking; Jim Davidson being sexist?! Don’t worry, because he does buy the lady a drink, with the barman lasciviously pouring a pina colada and telling Jim he’ll be thanking him later “when you’ve got her on the couch,” and offering his money back if he lets him come round and watch. Jim says he’ll think about it, which doesn’t even get a laugh, except maybe from Bill Cosby. It’s then that Jim’s approached by an older woman who’s looking for a Jim London. He throws her off by putting on a bad Irish accent, with a “Murphy is the name, digging is me game… top o’ the mornin’” What did I tell you? Turns out she’s a debt collector with two thuggish sons, looking to collect on a loan Jim guaranteed for his mate, Mad Dog Morgan. With family in Jamaica and the real name of Winston, Jim assures her that Mad Dog will settle up; “He’s good as gold. He’s a white man… in a manner of speaking.

Needing to find £100 before the loan-sharks break his legs and throw him in the canal — finally giving me something to root for — Jim’s forced to move Radio in for the rent money. Having nailed on that basis for 99% of all sitcoms, with unlikely roommates contrived into living together, all we need now is some sweet misunderstanding. Cue a thrilled Radio, who tells Jim that he loves him, kissing him on the cheek and throwing an arm around his shoulder. A furious Deirdre spots this from across the room, and stands up to announce to the entire pub “I’m 21, single, incredibly beautiful, and normal, and I’ve been stood up by a poof!” Normal! Unlike the gays. Of course, this gets a huge laugh. Click here and see for yourself. As a palate cleanser, there’s a nice bit of set decoration, with a poster on the wall advertising DICK SHACK AND HIS DISCO BAND. Dick Shack sounds like what yer dad calls his wanking shed. “Just off to the Dick Shack to watch Lorraine Kelly, son.”

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It seems the entire plot of this episode is ‘Deirdre confuses Jim and Radio for a right pair of woofters,’ but then she turns up at Jim’s to apologise for her outburst, “even if it takes all night” to earn his forgiveness. She’s brought a suitcase containing “a few peace offerings” of various sexy lingerie, and Jim frantically unfolds the futon as he’s clearly in for a wild night. But then she hangs a negligée around his neck and tells him he’ll have to let the bust out. You see, it was all an apology gift, as there’s nothing gay men like more than wearing women’s lingerie. “I know we can never be more than friends,” she says, “but we’re all god’s creatures.”

While it’s unclear whether noted loudmouth homophobe Jim Davidson harbours any deeply repressed homosexual tendencies, the fictional Jim London reacts by trying to prove his straightness with a kiss, advancing lips-first at Deirdre as she nervously backs away. Just then, a tearful Radio emerges from the spare room, missing his wife and unable to sleep, and throwing his arms around his mate. Obviously, hugging is strictly for the gays, so Deirdre storms out in a huff, before she has to watch the big pair of Sallys drop their trousers and start docking. The next morning, Radio’s nursing a black-eye, courtesy — we’re told — of an off-screen right hander from Jim, for messing up his love life, but for all we and Deirdre know, it could well be the result of an S&M bedroom dynamic. Thinking of it, ‘Up The Elephant’ does sound like slang for a power bottom. Anyways, Radio phones his wife, who wants him back, and judging from his side of the call, is proper horned-up and looking for some roleplay; “…phwoar… the see-thru cowboy outfit… and I’ll be Hitler!” This gets a big ‘Jim reacts’ shot, as he’s likely wildly excited by the thought of fucking someone while dressed as Hitler. Also, though it’s only a verbal reference, I’m counting that as a ‘Where’s Hitler?’ at 19 minutes in.

06

We cut to the pub one week later, with Radio handing over the £100 rent, to keep off the loan-sharks. Jim’s cleared up the confusion with Deirdre, who wants to kiss and make up, giving them both a peck on the check. As soon as she touches Radio, she seems oddly enamoured with him, describing him as “a bit,” and loving Jim’s story of Radio eating a frog in school. Alas, his wife’s booted him out again, but Deirdre offers to let him stay at hers; “it’s only a small flat, so long as you don’t mind a squeeze!” A panicked Jim tells her that Radio ate a newt once in school too, to which she replies “yum yum,” clearly one more story about chewing on a wasp from having to violently masturbate where she stands. She drags Radio back to hers because “he looks like he could do with an early night,” leaving Jim all alone. Ladies, I ate some dog-dirt as a teenager. Not intentionally. It got in the tire of my bike, and when I was cycling home along a busy main road, it flicked up and rained down into my hair, face, and open mouth. No? Fine.

So, the debt collectors show up, and as Jim counts out the money, he realises Radio short-changed him. On hearing the word Radio, the goons inexplicably think it means Jim’s an undercover cop wearing a wire, yelling “it’s the fuzz!” and making a run for it, scattering the money into the air as they flee. I guess this solves the mystery of why you’d name a character Radio Grimes. He was probably called Ian until the writer realised he didn’t have an ending. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of Jim London, who went on to star in enough episodes that could fill up an entire day of watching nothing but Jim Davidson’s sitcoms. I know what you’re thinking, you sick shit, and I won’t do it. But one episode at a time? Probably, cos Millard’s the name, and punishing myself with dreadful television for coins is my game.

[More Jim Davidson here. More horrible old British comedy here.]

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a bunch of posts live already, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as my new novella, Jangle. Please give my existing books a look too.

 

Bibleman and The Six Lies of the Fibbler

•August 13, 2018 • 3 Comments

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Of all the things I’ve covered on here, Bibleman may be the first actual propaganda. Though it claims to be an exciting live-action superhero story, that’s really just a Clark Kent level disguise, on something that exists solely to spread the Christian message to its audience of the type of children who’d get whipped with a belt if they were caught sneaking down to the basement to watch Batfink. There’s an inherent cheery naffness to any Christian entertainment that sticks doggedly to its core of ‘family values’, with the makers trapped inside the same tiny cultural bubble as the poor fuckers that have to watch it. Robbed of the full artist’s pallet, in an effort to sidestep the terrible sleaze of secular Hollywood, we’re left with works that seem as though they were made by an actual child, or someone who grew up in a cave with a single, tattered page from a comic forming their entire frame of reference. I hope at some point to cover Kirk Cameron’s works, and the recent trend of Christian straw-man films, where a pompous, atheist mayor bans praying, causing one brave, God-fearing man (played by Kevin Sorbo) to rise up and defend the faith. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

An effort to engage children with yer man Jesus, Bibleman arrived during that weird period when Hollywood’s notion of superhero movies was colourful — and dreadful — retro stuff, like The Shadow or The Phantom. Oddly, Bibleman fits pretty well into that feel, by virtue of its lurid 90’s colour scheme, and the fact it’s absolute toilet. Created by sitcom star Willy Aames; which sounds like what you do when you unzip at a urinal; who stars as the titular hero, Bibleman was released straight-to-video, finally giving those kids who weren’t allowed to watch the whorish deviance of network TV something to put on their empty shelves. Bibleman left parents free to leave their kids in front of the Devil’s box without fear of exposing them to the festival of murder, piss, and vigorous eating of the ass that constitutes modern entertainment. Although, nobody seems bothered about the sin of intellectual property theft, and if that turns out to be one of God’s big no-nos, the Bibleman team are in for an eternity of live hedgehogs being pushed up the shiter.

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The Six Lies of the Fibbler opens, as does each episode, with our hero’s backstory, introducing us to “Miles Peterson, a man who had it all; wealth, status, success. Still, something was lacking…” Next to what follows, the dark, rain-drenched scene is the closest thing we come to modern superhero grit, as Peterson tips out the contents of his briefcase and hurls himself into the dirt, face-down and slow-motion screaming. He finds a bible under some grass, and is illuminated by a beam of heavenly light, as “at last, Miles Peterson felt the burning desire to know God. Inspired by the word of God, and equipped with unyielding faith, Miles pledged to fight evil in the name of God, as Bibleman!” So that’s his power; faith? Good luck dealing with an armed robber off his nut on bath salts, or warring Mexican drug cartels. He doesn’t even know karate. It’s just a youth minister in a cape. He’ll be shot and killed in the first five minutes, unless the villains are as toothless as he is (spoilers: they are).

And about that costume. Even the most heavy-diapered of manbabies appreciate that the bold colours and crazy shapes of a hero’s outfit don’t translate easily from comic panel to screen. Bibleman eschews the more practical black leather (too BDSM!), leaving us with a main character that looks like he’s wandered loose from a superhero-themed stag do. These days, garish purple and yellow are strongly identified as the colours of UKIP, but if Nigel’s collection of daft racists were looking for a new mascot, Bibleman’s views would lend themselves nicely to a political crossover. The aesthetics are a stunning example of horrible mid-90’s flavour, with bad pseudo-Gothic fonts, ‘futuristic’ primordial internet displays, and enormous baggy clothes, which must be the closest thing there is to an American hauntology.

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The theme tune warns us “the Bibleman is coming, so you’d better step around; a brand new episode is coming to your town,” and promises “a whole lotta fun with the greatest book of all.” As we all know, that’s the Saved by the Bell retrospective I wrote, which I can only presume they’re going to pile up in a big bonfire to cleanse the world of its evil. There’s a supporting cast of Mouseketeer style children, who immediately break out into the first of multitude song and dance numbers. Each wears a crazed look of spiritual ecstasy, with beaming grins and eyes afire. I’m loathe to turn this into a scathing rebuke of religion itself, and would rather focus on the terrible culture produced in its bubble, but these wild displays of euphoria could be green-screened into footage from Jonestown or the Manson Family, or any such cult of your choosing, and look perfectly at home.

Opening song, Biblevision, contains such ‘this is definitely how 12-year-olds speak’ lyrics as “we have made a decided choice, to listen to the saviour’s voice,” and is backed by the sort of horrific amateur dance routine usually dredged up by parents on old home movies to humiliate grown-up children in front of their new fiancée. I’d put the odds of any of these kids surviving past their mid-20’s as zero, each having surely gone on to take their own lives out of embarrassment. For most of us, old class photos showing bad hair and metallic smiles are bad enough, but if someone dug out footage of you shimmying your outsized limbs in a passionate (but platonic!) love-song to Jesus, you’d simply have to smash your head into radiator until there was nothing left. It seems to be a conscious decision to cast kids who are at the pinnacle of their awkward phase, with the clumsy body language and stilted movement made worse by the tent-sized clothing. If this was meant to get the youth interested in Christianity, it’s a weird choice to use the kind of kids other kids would never look up to, and though I’d never condone bullying, I had to be physically restrained from climbing into the screen so I could flush their stupid little weiner heads down the toilet.

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A cynic might suggest such impressionable young minds have been brainwashed by their elders into concepts they couldn’t possibly understand, but then who am I to doubt the sincerity of a group of kids, who’re at that age when we all get into ideas, phases and ideologies we’ll definitely stick with for the rest of our lives? Hell, I’m sat here writing this in my Kony 2012 shirt and Marilyn Manson spiked collar. Wazzzzzup?!

The worst kind of musical, with each performance a full, many-versed song, Six Lies of the Fibbler sets a new record in how long it took me to watch something, having to break every few seconds to pull my fists out of my mouth. But finally, we get into the story, as an eight-year-old girl called Ashley shows up late to rehearsal. This is where we meet our villain, and as she pulls up on her bike, there’s a weirdo watching from behind a tree — “Run, run, my little late one! The fun’s about to start!” Not a neighbourhood paedo (or at least, not just a neighbourhood paedo), this is the Fibbler. Despite pretty much just being called the Riddler, the Fibbler’s literally the Joker. Green hair, clown make-up, green suit; he prances and cackles in a Joker voice. Oh, and he’s got a prosthetic hook nose that looks like a drooping penis.

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A ‘Devil on the shoulder’ villain, Fibbler loves how Ashley’s friends are mad at her, and when they ask why she was late, he demonstrates his superpower; blowing a green dust that makes its target lie. In this case, “I had to take care of my mom!” A gleeful Fibbler notes “the Master’s gonna love you!” which we can presume is Satan, who they’re too scared to actually name-check? As the children argue, Bibleman appears in a flash of light. “I was praying, and I felt led to come by…” He seems to sense the Fibbler’s evil presence, and in a beautiful example of how naturally they weave scripture into their dialogue, they ask him what’s wrong. “I’m not sure… but I do know that in Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus said…

As the kids go their separate ways, one of them asks Ashley if she could bring “half the music” along to their performance later, and gives her a cassette, because I guess two cassettes are too heavy to carry by himself. The big show at the church opens with another suicide-inducing song and dance routine, performed to an audience of smiling church ladies in long dresses and their moustachioed husbands, tapping toes and nodding heads with a lack of rhythm that reflects poorly on their sexual ability. The song about “the fruit of god’s love” makes me weep for the kids who were only allowed to listen to Bibleman music, while their friends were staring at the ceiling to Gangsta’s Paradise and 311. Any childhood Bibleman viewers out there? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to get some inside perspective.

Anyway, it’s time for the Fibbler’s next lie, as he sits perched backstage, while the pastor congratulates the kids on another incredible show. “Terrific job, gang!” he says, before asking for that second cassette so they can get back out there. Of course, Ashley’s forgotten to bring it. Fibbler hits her with the lie-dust, and conducting her words like Tyler Durden — “this conversation… is over” — makes her fib that she was never given any tape, bringing the show to an end, with an angry pastor forced to go “dismiss the congregation.” Cut to the pastor sheepishly flattening down his tie and clearing his throat for an announcement. From his nervous manner they must assume it’s yet another church scandal, and he’s disclosing his imminent arrest for snorting meth off an undercover cop’s erection. But it’s worse than that, the kids can’t do the rest of their songs, so they file out, devastated. Fibbler’s bloody loving it though.

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You know who doesn’t love it? The big BM — wait, that’s pretty rude. How’d that slip by? — Bibleman spots the Fibbler and gives chase. I say ‘chase’, but the costume’s so unwieldy, he moves like a middle-manager with his legs tied together at a team-bonding seminar. In yet more disdain for intellectual property, the Fibbler draws his weapon; a cheap-looking lightsaber. Bibleman draws one of his own, cuing a lightsaber fight in front of the church. I’ve a distinct feeling whoever made this wasn’t allowed to watch Star Wars, because the force is demonic, and Yoda looks like a little Devil, but they saw a poster once when being rushed past a video-store through the gaps between their mother’s fingers. At no point during their battle does Bibleman seem strong or even heroic, and struggles to overpower what’s basically a Juggalo. It’s not until he starts the “in the name of the lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” exorcist style, does the Fibbler wither in fear and make his escape.

Bibleman’s greatest scene, and perhaps the greatest scene in all of live-action superheroes, is when we see his lair. Though they missed the opportunity to call it the Bible-Cave, it’s an incredible vista of wobbling plastic rock and $5 joke store props. Test tubes filled with coloured liquid spew dry ice, and banks of CRT monitors flash busy-looking secret agent graphics, observed by a thematically on-point stained glass window. There’s nothing suspicious about an outwardly puritanical man in a plastic cape keeping all his computers locked away in a secret cave, and he definitely doesn’t clear his browser history two or three times a day, or have Wikifeet as his homepage. Bruce Wayne in dad jeans, he tries to figure out the Fibbler’s identity, as though it’s just a regular hoodlum he once pushed into a vat filled with dick-noses. He brings up a criminal database on the computer, revealing a spectacular rogues gallery who legitimately seem like they were created via write-in competition in a children’s church newsletter. Even as the premier wordsmith of my generation, one simply cannot do justice without seeing them, though it’s clear the design process went like this:

What make-up and costumes do we have to create an array of colourful villains?

I’ve got a marker pen.

06a

06b

06c

06d

And lastly, well…

06e

Now, Tayne… uh, Timid Tessie I can get into. C’mon, Disney, plump up some cash, so we can see this crew up against the Avengers. The database says nothing of their powers, but judging from the mugshots, Spider-Head’s less Peter Parker, and more likely some guy who gave (or got) head from an actual spider. Is Bibleman set in Florida? Because when you stop thinking about them as supervillains, and instead, as mugshots of sex offenders, it makes way more sense. Eventually, the Fibbler shows up onscreen, “Gotcha,” says Bibleman. “So you’re called the Fibbler, huh?” Great detective work. Looking him up in your own database, where there’s already a picture of him, alongside his name. “Thank you lord,” he says, casting his eyes skyward. Then he puts ‘Teri Hatcher + feet’ into AltaVista and spunks all over the wall. Probably.

Just when I feel like I’m getting a handle on things, Bibleman’s alter-ego, Miles Peterson, is revealed to be the teacher of the kids in the band. Now, where would a chemistry teacher with a double-life and a secret lab be getting the money to fund a vigilante war? Not that he’s a great help to his students, as his MO, and the point of the show as a whole, seems to be making children feel super sad, guilty and shitty about themselves. We’re ‘treated’ to a long montage of Ashley, now friendless and ostracised, sadly walking through the park by herself. It’s backed by the judgemental wail of a singer, castigating “I know what’s right, but I chose wrong, now my days are lonely, and my nights are long.” The little girl sobs, head in her hands, as the song whines “I’ve got no excuses,” but that “I pray out there, somewhere there’s got to be, some hope for me.” Alone on a bench, Bibleman appears, telling her she’s “just like the Apostle Paul.” Why, did he forget Jesus’s mixtape too? He cheers the upset eight-year-old by quoting scripture, asking “are you ready for the good news,” that Jesus will rescue her. “But I keep messing up,” she says. “Why would Jesus wanna rescue me?

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Fibbler’s thrilled at his destruction of Ashley — though Bibleman seems to be doing a bang-up job of loading her with the kind of deep-set guilt and self-loathing she won’t shake until her thirties — giving an actual chef’s kiss to the children’s misery. But then, seeking some of that Jesus-love, she apologises to her friends, and all is well again. Oh, Master will not be pleased. This leads to a final lightsaber confrontation on the church steps, where Fibbler mocks DC’s copyright lawyers with a pointed “I was just… JOKING!” Conversely, Bibleman endlessly quotes scripture, literally fighting him with bible quotes, like the sword-fights in Monkey Island — “Proverbs 19:2… how appropriate, you fight like a cow!” Fibbler calls him out on this cheating; “You’re nothing without the bible!” “Well,” says Bibleman, “that’s the first nice thing you’ve said to me all evening!” Like your English teacher laughing at the shit ‘jokes’ in Shakespeare, you know that zinger brought the house down for the bi-weekly church video night parents.

With Fibbler defenceless against the Good Book, he accidentally hits himself with the lightsaber, causing steam to come out of his ears and blow him up. Things might’ve gone a different way if he’d used his powers on Bibleman. “Well, children, if you want to be forgiven [GREEN DUST] the bible says you just gotta push stuff up your butt. Right up your butt.” Similarly, in an episode called The Six Lies of the Fibbler, there aren’t even six lies! We certainly don’t get the Se7en-style chase as suggested by the title; no “Dang it to heck, the Fibbler’s told his fifth lie, I’ve got to catch him before he tells that final porkie! Oh no, it’s too late!” [cut to a newspaper headline, FIBBLER: IT’S ILLEGAL NOT TO FART IN CHURCH. ‘TOOT OR GO TO JAIL’ SAYS JOKER-COSPLAYING NONCE]

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Back at his lair, Bibleman piously casts a gaze to the sky with a “thanks for allowing me to be a willing vessel, Lord,” adding, “I love you, Lord.” Then, as we zoom in on a bible laying open on Proverbs, offscreen, we hear the sound of fingers typing ‘God + feet’. Oh, the Master’s going to love me. Horrendously, at this point, there are still 3 minutes left, which means another lengthy song, beginning with an eight-year-old lecturing us on God taking away our sins. Unless you’re Mary Bell, you probably haven’t done much worth forgiving at that age, but it’s cool to infect children’s fleeting years of innocence with guilt, the feeling that every movement; every thought; is being watched and judged, and a fear of Devils and Demons pulling you into the eternal fires of Hell if you misbehave.

Speaking of Hell, I’ve seen some truly atrocious performances in the course of this Patreon, but the kids in this are on another level, with all of that ‘eyes ‘n teeth’ stage school energy, but none of the precocious talent. Line-readings are fumbled, and they’re constantly checking what each other are doing during dance routines, as you can see here, with the spectacularly uncoordinated kid with glasses on the back left. There’s a very 1950’s “gee-golly!” intensity, where everyone’s happy, see, because we love God, and if you loved God, you could be as happy too! Couple this with the choreography, which in one case seems to have been done by someone who was dying of farts, and you’ve truly got one of the worst abominations ever. Mind you, this is the script they were working with:

Bibleman: Well, I’m sure everything will work out for the best.

Kid: I don’t know.

Bibleman: Well, I’m sure it will.

09

Bibleman spawned a long-running multimedia franchise, with BM eventually leading a full team of sidekicks, including Biblegirl, who presumably isn’t allowed to speak. Like the TNMT’s Coming Out of Their Shells tour, there was also a live stage show, board games, a video game, and a series of action figures. Two decades after its inception, the spirit of Bibleman’s cartoon morality lives on, through Christian film-makers like Tyler Perry, whose female characters find their enjoyment of sex punished with AIDS. Meanwhile, the Bibleman empire continues to make children hate themselves with an animated series, launched in 2016. But for me, viewer of a single show, I feel the journey isn’t over. Just look at the names of the villains he has to deal with in future episodes. I must stress, these aren’t me doing a bit. Check for yourself.

— Rapscallion P. Sinister.

— 2kool 4skool

— Professor E. Meritus Snortinskoff, and his sidekick, Stench

— I.M. Wonderful

— Baron Ulysses Tantamont von Braggart

— Super Pro Gamemaster 3

Like so much of the trash I watch on here, that’s enough to make me have to go back and delve further. And maybe that’s how God gets you. Sorry, Master.

This piece is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a bunch of posts live already, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as my new novella, Jangle. Please give my existing books a look too.

Shaun Ryder on UFOs

•August 5, 2018 • 3 Comments

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On the surface, Shaun Ryder on UFOs seems like one of those celebrity Madlibs shows Alan Partridge might pitch into his dictaphone. Brian Harvey on The Crusades, Steve McFadden Bought an Alpaca Farm; hey, what if we got that slurring chap from the Happy Mondays to figure out Roswell? Now, I’ve watched a lot of paranormal TV over the last few decades, from the hauntologically spectacular early years of Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of… and Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, to the modern ‘screaming at nothing in night-vision’ cycle of your Most Haunteds, and everything inbetween. Honestly, the entire goal of all this is to end up fronting my own show, the as-yet unmade genre classic, Millard’s Fortean Travels, where I traipse around talking to people who’ve been rained on by frogs or got off with a succubus, to take my rightful spot as the paranormal Louis Theroux. Perhaps that’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by this series.

I’m Shaun Ryder. As a fifteen-year-old lad in Salford, long before my hell-raising antics in the Happy Mondays, I saw a ball of light whizzing about in the night sky as I stood at a bus stop.

Each of the four episodes open with Shaun recanting the experience which led to a life-long obsession with aliens, and as becomes clear, was a deeply affecting one. This is obviously the show he’s been wanting to make his whole life, and less a randomised Duncan Goodhew Gets Pegged, then a genuine mission to understand what he saw. But fear not, gentle reader, as Shaun Ryder on UFOs still falls firmly in that pantheon of classic weird-bad television.

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Though Ryder’s obituary will speak of his place among the icons of the Madchester scene, where everyone has that fucking haircut like a medieval serf trying to escape the ravages of the Black Death, in recent years, he’s become a battle-scarred veteran of bad reality TV. Young and beautiful millennials like myself will recall his scoffing down a crocodile’s penis on I’m a Celebrity, or starring alongside Dot Cotton and Roy Walker to have piss rubbed over his face on ITV’s recent 100 Years Younger. But no longer just a contestant, this entire show is his vehicle. He’s not just another face, but the face, and more importantly, the voice.

All of Shaun’s frequent narration sounds exactly like a stranger shouting into your ear at a party, where all you can make out above Livin’ on a Prayer are the words “controlled explosion.” Charged with voicing someone else’s script in a little booth, words tumble from his mouth like somebody trying to shoplift armfuls of apples. I don’t think he says a single ‘h’ over the entire four hours, causing confusion at the point he mentions the “owls of derision.” I’m not a snob, here to sneer at the cobble-street prose of Northerners, but you get so used to that fake newsreader accent that it’s jarring to hear something real; for example “was you there?” instead of “were you there?” But Shaun Ryder’s unnatural reading of words he’d never use leads to moments of magic, as he narrates educational clips about space, or the prehistoric shifting of tectonic plates. It’s an incredible combination; this bookish sci-babble, leaving the mouth of a man who always sounds like he’s midway through slowly falling down a flight of stairs. Regard this favourite, which is literally an attributable quote from Shaun Ryder:

One intriguing theory states contact goes back far beyond the arrival of the Conquistadors and into antiquity, a hypothesis known as Paleo-Contact.

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Anyone who’s ever seen a UFO doc will immediately feel at home with grainy news clips of Spanish-speaking people pointing at the sky. This cues Shaun’s visit to Chile, where there’s been “mysterious ‘appenings in the skies,” in particular, an incident at an airbase where a flying saucer buzzed past some planes during a military parade “six monf ago.” He excitedly watches a bunch of videos from different angles, of a silvery blob flitting about, genuinely thrilled to see UFOs embraced by the Air Force in a way the British Army never would, and, as will become the theme, he’s elated that it adds credence to what he saw at the bus stop all those years ago. Or, as Shaun puts it, “music to me ears… even in a UFO ‘ot-zone like Chile, au-fentic sightings are rare.

Next, we’re off to the foothills of the Andes, where a swaggering Shaun takes a straw poll of elderly Chilean villagers, breaking through the language barrier by miming what he saw as a teenager. In the many times this visual demonstration occurs throughout the series, he maniacally karate chops the air to mimic the alien ship’s speed and movement. It turns out about 7/10 of those polled had seen something strange in the skies, to which Shaun is sweetly happy; vindicated that “we’re all in the same club.” Like most self-proclaimed experiencers or abductees, all he’s really looking for is a connection with someone who understands; to know that, perhaps like us in the universe, he’s not alone. The constant talk about his own sighting had me wondering if this was all building to a final episode hypnotic regression, and discovering that he’d been abducted. Possibly by Bez.

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Now, I’m sure many of you are thinking “Shaun Ryder, a man who’s done all the drugs in the world, says he saw something weird?” It’s true, as far as reliable witnesses go, it’s like asking Mr. Magoo to identify the specific ant which mugged him, but on the other hand, who better experienced to differentiate the trippy shit you might see while willied out of your skull with something that’s actually real? That said, he also claims, later in life, to have seen “ ‘undreds of small lights going across the sky,” and tends to be a bit excitable. When traveling up into the mountains to do some sky-watching, his Chilean guide isn’t particularly convinced at Shaun’s casual description of seeing four shooting stars the night before, and during one stake-out, he gazes excitedly at a light, watching it change between white, red and green, “almost like, you know, when you see a plane,” he says. Yes. Almost. After hours of gazing up at an empty sky, Shaun’s guide tells him it’s his first sky-watch sesh since 2003, after an incident where he and a dozen others suffered missing time and amnesia. In a horror movie, that would be the cue for beams of light and anus probing, but here, Shaun calls it a night because it’s proper cold up that mountain.

After investigating a creepy video of ‘humanoid figures’ about 3-pixels high hanging over the city, where Shaun says the words “it’s a starship trooper” about a hundred times, while going on and on about Star Wars, it’s off to the desert to find evidence of ancient aliens. An expert explains geoglyphs to Shaun; big Earth-art, like the Nazca Lines. “We’ve got some of those in England,” says Shaun, “the man with the big willy.” They visit a giant space invader-looking design drawn on a hill with rocks, before ascending, because “it’s time to climb up and get a closer look at the giant’s ‘ead.” The three men stumble and amble around the rocky hill, baseball caps blowing off in the wind, as Shaun points out alien parts, “eyes… mouth… foot… body.” He posits that the sculpture wouldn’t have lasted a day in Manchester without being vandalised, before casually picking up one of the rocks from its eyeball, astounded that it’s been there for 1500 years, and haphazardly chucking it back.

04

He then meets a man who looks like an anime Rolf Harris, who was cured of cancer by a cult of aliens called The Friendship, who live on a remote island, which involves Nazis and magic liquid and interspecies breeding, that all seems a bit much, even for Shaun. So, he brings it back to basics, interviewing an astronomer who’s using a big telescope to look for sugar, but doesn’t believe in UFOs. Shaun tries to convince him of interstellar travel, one scholar to another; “this is a fabric, can’t we just open it up and pop through it and come out at another part of the galaxy?” The professor not sold, he mimes his sighting again, which was “millions of years advanced technology, surely they can open up fabric and zip through?

The South American excursion ends with more sky-watching, on a lake where hovering UFOs have been seen stealing leccy from a hydro plant. Disastrously, having trekked 250 miles, the assembled experts forget a bunch of equipment, leaving a crestfallen Shaun, looking forwards to sifting through 9 hours of footage, now left with “9 hours of fuck all.” But when all hope is lost, one of Shaun’s crew calls him over to look at a photo — “Nuffing can prepare me for what I’m about to see.” The image of a weird streaky star traveling at a 45 degree angle has Shaun absolutely beaming. “It’s a UFO, that!” Even his sceptical manager is “visibly shaken,” and as someone who only ever wanted people to feel the excitement he felt back under that bus stop, the endearingly childlike Shaun is euphoric. On this high note, it’s time to leave Chile, a place with a large UFO culture, where he felt he truly belonged, and speaks of the comfort in feeling like you’re not alone. I too, will miss the place; specifically, I’ll miss that TV convention of not showing the part when subtitled speakers are translated, giving the impression Shaun Ryder is multilingual, as he sagely nods along to lengthy, Spanish-language monologues.

05

Now back in the UK, of course, Nick Pope shows up. The former MOD in charge of UFO sightings, who sold himself in his many chatshow appearances throughout the 90s as the British Fox Mulder, in older age, has pleasingly taken on the look of Egon Spengler. For Shaun, this is like meeting a rock star, so excited, he looks to the crew as he points at Pope while mouthing “Nick Pope!like when the Queen saw those cows. He immediately brings up — and mimes — his own sighting, before accompanying Pope to the National Archives, to rifle through the government’s declassified UFO files. It’s like getting to poke around the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as they don a pair of white Mickey Mouse gloves, so’s not to damage Winston Churchill’s letter asking about flying saucers, and documents relating to the deliciously-titled ‘Cosford Incident’. Most excitedly to our presenter, the descriptions of the craft’s movement sound just like his UFO. “There’s a lot of credible witnesses there,” says Shaun, “not just a bunch of, you know, fruit cakes… bubblegum heads.

Speaking of bubblegum heads, once we’re back home in the UK, the wheels really come off the sanity-wagon, sending viewers into a ditch, and Shaun off to meet a procession of the kind of breathtaking weirdos that could only ever be produced by our wretched nation. First, he’s off to Watford to visit The UFO Academy, aka a few dozen people gawping at a series of PowerPoint presentations, which the jaunty, mocking soundtrack indicates we should be finding funny. Thankfully it is, with its montage of droning nu-Agers, who I guarantee you’re picturing correctly in your mind right now, sharing abduction experiences, while Shaun slumps in a chair wishing he’d signed up for ITV2’s Celebrity Penis Mutilations instead. “I don’t want to be rude to these people,” he says, dragging on a post-lecture fag outside, “I’m just not ‘avin’ it… I need somefing more coherent.

06

Unfortunately for Shaun, his next meeting is about as coherent as one of Bob Dylan’s bathtub farts, when he visits the Aetherius Society; a 60’s style hippie spiritualist group who believe they’re working with extraterrestrials to heal our planet. They’re real big on the Billy Meier era space brother vibe, spouting that “we’re on the verge of a great change, these are dangerous times!” stuff that flakes have been saying for literally decades. If Shaun thinks he can be the oddest one in the room simply by wearing a leather jacket over a high turtle-neck, he’s wildly mistaken, as it’s explained the Society’s purpose is to discharge energy “in cooperation with beings from other planets,” and furthermore, “we keep a log of all those discharges and where it goes to and when,” which sounds like when I became unwell and started keeping all my old cum in dated jars. “Statistically,” says the priest, “it’s working.” Not to be outdone, Shaun suggests “if a human being exploded, it’d be like a million nuclear bombs going off,” inspiring a look in the priest that suggests even he, world-healing cohort to alien gods, is in over his head.

What happens next is called a ‘prayer session’, which due to Shaun’s inexperience, he cannot participate in, but is invited to watch, and which I will now try to describe to you, without going off like a million nukes. The priest takes his place at the front of fifty Society members, dressed in a long red robe; as are certain members of the congregation, presumably the ones addressed in the opening invocation — “…prayer director Pat, timekeeper John, and Pete, caretaker of the battery.” The battery?! Then the power chant begins, an eyes-closed mantra of “omm nammy pappy omm” which reverberates through the rest of the scene, as Shaun meets the lens with a withering side-eye. With great formality, a man pulls on a pair of gloves, before delicately approaching a large wooden box and removing a smaller wooden box from within. This is the battery.

07a

A unique piece of super-technology capable of communicating with aliens, and firing our combined healing energies into the world, surely Elon Musk would have your family killed for a mere glance at the blueprints. Hopefully he doesn’t come after me for describing it here. Imagine, if you will — if you can — an egg whisk glued to a wooden box, which has OPERATION PRAYER POWER stencilled on in time-flaked black paint. The chant now stronger than ever — “omm nammy pappy omm” — robed members of the group approach the battery, to beg of its help with outstretched hands; “flow to this world now, inner child, into the hearts and minds of men now.” Oh, and there’s Shaun Ryder, stood at the back, looking like he’d rather be at the funeral of a child he accidentally hit with his car. He points out that it’s no weirder than what goes on in a lot of churches every Sunday, though I’d probably sign up for an Alpha course if they had a special battery.

07b

But you can’t have a show like this without meeting proper abductees. On then, to Sutton Coldfield, for a chat with a victim of multiple snatchings, a concept Shaun finds terrifying, but “wouldn’t mind ‘aving a go at.” Aged 11, our witness was taken out of his bed by aliens that looked just like the Pink Panther, and showed him a floating severed head, and a pair of legs inside a filing cabinet. Definitely not sleep paralysis, then. His evidence it’s real is that “I’m a very sceptical person” line people like that always say, while immediately assuming every little creak is the ghost of Michael Jackson. A later, adult experience occurred when our man got up in the middle of the night and sat in the conservatory, where he saw a bright light in the garden, and a small alien which tazed him, waking him up, where he found hours had passed and his coffee was cold. I too, had a strange experience, which occurred one night when I laid down in bed and closed my eyes, and suddenly I was teleported back to my old school, to sit an exam I hadn’t even studied for. Just as I realised I was naked, I was suddenly back in my bed, and it was now daylight, while my alarm clock was making a shrill beeping noise, likely due to electromagnetic radiation from a passing UFO.

The witness takes Shaun back to the scene of the first abduction at his childhood home — or at least its chimney, as pointed at through some trees, as the current occupants clearly didn’t want them filming there. Soon, the memory of Pink Panthers and leg-cabinets becomes “too upsetting,” and the bloke has to walk away, giving us the worst cry-acting since Mick Philpott’s press conference. Even so, Shaun’s unwilling to mock, as he thinks back to his own experience, and warns us he’s about to take aim at the sceptics; “I’m off to shake Britain’s stiff upper lip!” UFO nerds will be thrilled as he enlists the help of the most famous abductee ever; the logger whose experience was adapted as the movie Fire in the Sky; Travis Walton. The final episode is like a backdoor pilot for a supernatural sleuthing show, with Ryder and Walton driving round Yorkshire to investigate close encounters before stopping off for a chippy tea.

08

As I hoped they would when cruising his neck of the woods, the lads start sniffing around the famous case of policeman Alan Godfrey, who found the corpse of a supposed UFO-related death atop a coal heap, before seeing a spacecraft and being taken aboard himself six months later. For alien-nerds, seeing two powerhouse hitters like Walton and Godfrey in the same room is like when Bowie duetted with Bing Crosby, or Elvis met Shakin’ Stevens. As Godfrey sketches his UFO for the pair, I can’t help but think what a coup this would have been for Millard’s Fortean Travels. Perhaps I’ll get Derek Acorah to shake hands with Robert the Haunted Doll.

But though it’s filled with lunacy, what sets Shaun Ryder on UFOs apart from celebrity shows of its ilk is its hosts admirable empathy for those seen by the majority of the world, and particularly by the media reporting on their experiences, as eminently mockable. Like all reality TV, this was about The Journey; the journey to understand, and more importantly, to not be alone. He may not have uncovered alien bodies or put his anus through the rigours of a space-medical, but he did connect with those he saw as fellow outsiders, in a world that only wants to sneer. And what kind of a fool would put so much effort into taking the piss out of stuff; all yours for as little as $1 a month? I’ll leave you with some more genuine, attributable quotes from Happy Mondays frontman, Shaun Ryder.

shaun quotes 1

shaun quotes 2

shaun quotes 3b

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