Thursday, January 1, 2009

Archie Comics – Archie Comics are often laden with swimsuit wearing teenagers exploring unsolvable love triangles, but despite the skimpy attire and potentially adult themes, they have until recently maintained a relatively innocent veneer in pop-culture. For many readers, the adventures of Archie and his friends from Riverdale High represent a simpler time when jukebox dances and co-ed volleyball matches were standard activities in teenage courtship. While the writers of Archie Comics and its various spinoff publications have attempted to modernize the franchise since Archie’s 1939 premiere, much of its content has remained consistently conservative in attitude. Whenever the teenagers were daringly depicted in an edgier fashion, diehard fans condemned the changes as sensationalistic and not in the spirit of Archie’s original appeal.

The naïveté and wholesome quality of Archie Comics are mirrored by one of its readers, Matthew Brock who references the comic in two episodes of Newsradio. When Matthew mistakenly believes that two women are fighting for his affection, he likens to situation to that of Archie’s two pursuers—Betty and Veronica (Episode 13, “Friends”). While this pop-culture reference can easily be made and identified by most people of Matthew’s generation, he really shows his affection for the comic when he mentions more obscure characters like Moose, Midge, and Reggie in a subsequent episode (Episode 24, “Physical Graffiti”). After Matthew accuses a seemingly jealous Dave of acting like the overprotective Moose, Dave counters by suggesting that Matthew’s experience with love is limited to his reading material. This proves apt when Matthew reveals a year later that he is still a virgin at 28 years old (Episode 50, “The Real Deal”).

Matthew: “You’re a regular big Moose.”

Dave: “What?”

Matthew: “Big Moose, Dave. Wake up. The guy in the Archie comics who’s always beating up the other guys for talking to his girl Midge.”

Dave: “Well, you know what. I’m not about to start taking romantic advice from a guy who bases his whole life on Archie Comics.”

["Friends", "Physical Graffiti"]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas – Most Christian faiths annually acknowledge the birth of Christ on December 25th despite scholarly disputes over the accuracy of the date. Though a religious observance, it is also considered a federal holiday thereby impacting people of all beliefs in the United States. For some, it is merely a secular yuletide celebration and this is evidenced in several holiday songs that refer to cold weather and snow without any references to Christ whatsoever. The secularization of the holiday is ironically also the result of depicting a saint—Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus)—as supernatural being capable of bringing toys to children across the world singlehandedly. Imagery of Santa Claus has eclipsed that of Christ and his nativity story in pop-culture, in part due to an increasing sense of public political correctness.

The first three Decembers that Newsradio was on the air featured Christmas-themed episodes.

  • In “Xmas Story”, the news crew receives lackluster gifts from their multi-millionaire station owner, Jimmy James. When James learns that no one like their baseball caps with iron-on patches, he replaces all but one them with Mazda Miata convertibles. Matthew Brock receives a box of old time radio tapes instead. Meanwhile Bill McNeill is being threatened with violence by a man in a Santa Claus outfit collecting charity money in the lobby of the Criterion building.
  • In “Christmas”, the crew looks to finish their work early to get home for the holidays, but wind up just pushing their tasks on their boss, the easily manipulated Dave Nelson.
  • The last Christmas-themed episode, “Stupid Holiday Charity Talent Show” has the least references to the holiday. Matthew Brock, now fired from the station, calls up the office to sing “Silent Night” to his former co-workers (and is promptly beaten up by someone waiting to use a payphone). The rest of the episode entails the crew trying to win Matthew’s job back by winning a holiday talent show.

["Christmas", "Led Zeppelin Boxed Set", "Stupid Holiday Talent Show", "Xmas Story"]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Citizen Kane (1941) – This portrait of a media mogul driven to success by his own megalomania and greed is hailed by many critics as one of the first great artistic achievements in American cinema. The director and star, Orson Welles, claimed that the fictional Charles Foster Kane was partly based on his own life, but audiences were quick to see that Kane most closely resembled the media entrepreneur William Randolph Hearst. The film is famous for creating immediate intrigue when an elderly Kane whispers the word “Rosebud” on his deathbed and none of the witnesses knows the word’s significance. The story then gives highlights from Kane's career from his days as a journalist to his days as a notorious magnate willing to do anything to grab readers.

Though Jimmy James once claimed that Citizen Kane was his favorite movie (Episode 25, “Led Zeppelin”), he mistakenly buys a counterfeit prop from the film in a later episode: a sled with the phrase “Rose Bowl” painted on it as opposed to the famously uttered “Rosebud” that Kane longs for on his deathbed (Episode 43, "Rose Bowl"). (The real sled used as “Rosebud” is presently owned by film director Steven Spielberg.)

It is fitting that James calls Citizen Kane his favorite film since he shares a few qualities with the man on which it is based. Both James and Hearst are tycoons who own media outlets; both have made stabs at running for executive office; and both have advocated “yellow journalism” (attempts to increase audience by sensationalizing stories or even by faking interviews), though, it should be noted, James has resorted to tabloid tactics sparingly.

(SUPPLEMENT: In "The Secret of Management" (Episode 62), James makes an indirect reference to his favorite film when he talks about how he modeled his palatial home after Kane's fictional estate, Xanadu. He tells Lisa that "I wanted a place just like Xanadu but without such a dorky name." James then reveals that he calls his residence "Fort Awesome."

["Led Zeppelin", "Rose Bowl" "The Secret of Management"]

Monday, December 22, 2008

Star Wars (original trilogy) – The 1977 release of Star Wars set the standard for all space-based science fiction movies to come. Borrowing from the space operas that creator George Lucas enjoyed as a child, the original trilogy of Star Wars films told a simple morality tale with complicated special effects. Part of its charm was its clear-cut delineations of good and evil: light versus dark. In essence, the story recounts a young man’s quest to avenge his father’s death only to find that the evil man he is hunting down is the father himself. With the aid of a mystical power known as “The Force,” the young hero and his friends try to unseat the tyrant and the armies that mercilessly control the galaxy.

There are dozens of Star Wars references throughout Newsradio, some of them overt, some of them subtle. For example, when Joe Gorelli places a small camera in a Boba Fett action figure to help Lisa cheat at poker, she recognizes the character and correctly labels him an "intergalactic bounty hunter featured in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi." When Joe actually uses the “Boba-Cam” to hone in on an opponent’s hand, he says, “I have you now”—subtly quoting what Darth Vader says about Luke Skywalker’s spaceship in the final battle in the first film. (Episode 26, "Presence"). Being that Star Wars scripts are among the most memorized in history, such jokes were not lost on serious fans of the sci-fi series. ["Jack Ass Junior High", "Kids", "Led Zeppelin", "Presence", "Sleeping", "The Song Remains the Same", "Space", "Stocks"]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Soylent Green – This 1973 dystopian science-fiction film shows a bleak future where overpopulation and climate change cause society for look to alternative food sources. When police detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) investigates the murder of a man with close ties to company that makes Soylent Green (a plankton based wafer), he makes the grim discovery that the product is made from human remains, and this revelation remains on the most memorable conclusions in all of filmdom. Unfortunately, since many people know the film’s conclusion without the benefit of watching it, the story’s other merits are often overlooked.

The ending of the Soylent Green has been parodied and mimicked so many times that the movie’s plot-twist may be the most spoiled one in film history. Phil Hartman, who often impersonated Heston on Saturday Night Live, helped to make the film’s last line “Soylent Green is people” a familiar phrase to those who have never seen the original film.

Phil Hartman’s character, Bill McNeill makes two references to Soylent Green on Newsradio, but without assuming Heston’s voice. ["Look Who’s Talking", "Space"]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Logan’s Run (1976 film version) Logan’s Run is a science-fiction film depicting a dystopian society where people cannot lawfully advance past the age of thirty. As one approaches his thirtieth year, he prepares to be reborn through a mysterious process called “Carousel.” The protagonist, Logan, discovers that this renewal process is really a farce to keep citizens complacent. When it is his time for “renewal” (indicated by a red blinking light in his left palm), he escapes into the wilderness where he finds an elderly man—the proof he needs to expose the lie that has allowed thousands to unwittingly line-up for their own deaths.

The film and the source novel are quite different, though both address the similar themes of youth culture, hedonism, and society’s attitude toward the elderly.

Several member of the WNYX personnel are hovering around the thirty-mark, and as with most people, this age signifies a period of self-evaluation and a full commitment to adulthood. Dave Nelson, who begins his tenure as new director at 29, calls Logan's Run his favorite movie (Episode 22, "Zoso"). Strangely enough, the young-looking Nelson does not experience any hang-ups about his advancing age, while both Lisa Miller and Matthew Brock go through moments of crisis regarding their thirtieth year. ["Look Who's Talking", "Zoso"]

Friday, December 19, 2008

D.B. Cooper - D.B. Cooper is the mistaken alias of a man who boarded a Boeing 727 in 1971 under the name “Dan Cooper” before hijacking the aircraft for a ransom of $200,000. He claimed to have a bomb in a briefcase which he showed to a stewardess and demanded that the plane land so he can be given the ransom and several parachutes. After landing in Seattle, the money and parachutes were handed over and all non-essential personnel and passengers were released. Cooper then asked the pilots to fly toward Mexico at a low altitude and speed so he can jump at the time of his own choosing. He did not wait long to make his bold move and jumped somewhere over southwestern Washington. He was never heard from again and his identity still remains a mystery. Most experts speculate that he did not survive the speedy and dangerous jump.

The writers of Newsradio seemed fascinated with mysterious, unidentified figures from modern history: Deep Throat, the Unabomber, and the man known as D.B. Cooper. While the first two men were merely referenced in episodes, Cooper’s mention becomes a major plot point as station owner Jimmy James is accused of being the hijacker and sent to federal prison. In a three-episode arc, James finds that his this stint in prison leaves his company holdings vulnerable to his rival, Johnny Johnson. He is exonerated when the real D.B. Cooper, Adam West of Batman fame, reveals himself as the notorious hijacker. The original FBI sketches of Cooper resemble West’s sharper facial features more than they do Mr. James’ considerably rounder visage.

(It is interesting to note that a copycat hijacker tried a similar attempt in 1972 calling himself “James Johnson”, a name that contains the surnames of both rivals in the D.B. Cooper story-arc of Newsradio.) [Clash of the Titans, Jail, The Lam]