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Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Andrew Koenig may have only inhabited a very small corner of ’80s pop culture, as the recurring yet notable Richard “Boner” Stabone on Growing Pains, one of the decade’s most popular television programs. But that doesn’t make his loss any more insignificant, especially given the sad circumstances and ongoing mystery behind how he lost his way.

Koenig never went on to anything as notable as that part in Growing Pains. To many, he was only ever the son of Walter Koenig, who played Chekov in the original Star Trek television show and movies, who sadly went public with pleas for help in finding his son.

Unfortunately to many this will get filed under the recent rash of celebrity deaths that spilled over from 2009 into 2010. And understandably, to most, he’s not an actor of great renown. But to those of us who tuned into Growing Pains every week to enjoy the exploits of the Seaver family long before life got so complicated. We laughed, we related, and we all got teary eyed at least once. Sadly, this is one more time for tears. I find it selfishly hard when I see things like this happen because it gives my generation mortality way too early. Koenig was only 41 but had drifted into relative obscurity (though he was working on a popular podcast recently). Growing Pains is a cornerstone in Eightiesology television and during those early years, he contributed a small part to the laughter. Hopefully he will not be forgotten.

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Michaeljacksonthrilleralbum

Certainly when you look back at the 1980s and the icons of the era, you won’t ever get far on that list without thinking of Michael Jackson. So his death comes at perhaps one of Eightiesology’s greatest tragedies. Obituaries and speculation and contemporary invocation are best left for other websites. They’re going to bring up the man’s eccentricities and the scandals that pursued his later years, and I don’t deny they made Jackson a very inaccessible person to me. In fact, I’ve often felt his total solo output wasn’t as grand as touted, certainly not for a self-proclaimed King of the genre. But nobody growing up in that era could deny the impact his music had at some or another, whether on your own nostalgia of moments in your life or on the very pop culture that is the bedrock of the ‘80s.

Though rivaled by his years with the Jackson 5, the ‘80s were certainly his most formidable era, with his two biggest albums, Thriller and Bad, dropping in the heart of the decade. (Off the Wall and Dangerous fell on the fringes of either side of the decade but had strong connections to the ‘80s, though the latter album was essentially the beginning of Jackson’s creative end.) Yet the heyday of MTV kept Jackson in the spotlight for what seemed like every single day of that decade. His grand usage of the music video format helped put the channel on the map and may be one of the most brilliant uses of the medium as a marketing tool. And he ended up transcending the radio-and-MTV template of the time by expanding into charity work, long-form videos (like “Thriller” and “Moonwalker”) and even theme park entertainment (EPCOT’s Captain EO). By the end of the decade, many of our generation grew tired of Jackson’s increasing presence in tabloids due to his eccentricities and scandalous behavior. The music eventually wore thin too as Jackson broke very little ground after Bad.

In retrospect, you realize how ever-present the artist was for everyone who lived through the decade. I can’t speak to devoted fandom here and unlike the narcissistic celebrities coming out of their Twitter hives, am not going to stand here and preach about how Michael Jackson was a genius or a beacon in my life. As I’m sure many people speaking from honesty would agree. But part of what I’ve attempted to do here on this blog is celebrate the whimsy and innocence of the ‘80s (as I’ve often stated, without the snarky irony hoisted upon us by the VH1 generation). For me, the strongest aspect of that has always been the music and how it invokes such a strong memory to certain moments or periods of our lives throughout the time. And you just can’t go very far without having a Michael Jackson song soundtrack one of those moments.

Thriller was released in 1982 but stuck around for years after with the last single, “Thriller” stretch the success well into 1984. For me, that meant the album hit the airwaves starting when I was 8 years old and soundtracked 2nd – 4th grade for me and my friends. That would put the album in one of those ‘80s nostalgia vortexes for me. In 1982, I visited Walt Disney World for the first time and when that summer was over, transferred over with a dozen classmates from a primary school to the larger elementary school. Between the new school and increased activity in sports and Cub Scouts, this was a time of many new friendships. 1982 really was the start of a different style of ‘80s music as the earliest hits of the ‘80s tended to have more of a punk or new age aesthetic before giving way to the more familiar pop. So memories of those times are incredibly intertwined with the advent of the pop sounds of the era.

I have to admit, part of my nostalgia for Jackson’s videos were the inevitable Weird Al Yankovic parodies, most memorably “Eat It” and “Fat.” But those videos were only as successfully as the imagery they were parodying. They just couldn’t work if you hadn’t seen “Beat It” and “Bad” a dozen times a day. To me, the more memorable of Jackson’s hit videos was “Billie Jean.” Elements of the video were a bit scary to me, but I don’t know that there were many kids in America who hadn’t hoped that by walking down a sidewalk, they too couldn’t trigger a hopscotch lighting effect where they walked! Eerie and cool, a great utilization of the medium.

Of course, there may be no music video more successful or popular as “Thriller.” You couldn’t escape either version, with MTV rotating the long version and the edit. A truly creepy piece of work, “Thriller” may be one of the first songs seemingly written specifically to be a music video. It’s not often you hear an artist of Jackson’s caliber essentially writing a Halloween song! I quickly soured on the overplayed hype of the song, but unlike some of Jackson’s other hits, I have a better appreciation for “Thriller” now when I hear it.

Still it was some deeper album cuts and later singles that really made their mark on me. “Human Nature” is one of those songs that is just there, sort of filling out the atmosphere until Jackson’s falsetto grabs you. It was really a great template for the new jack swing movement which would revitalize R&B music later in the decade, perhaps best exemplified by Bobby Brown and his New Edition cohorts. The song’s freeflowing melody is perhaps its strongest suit as it’s lent itself to being a song that interprets wells in different music genres. The best, in my opinion, being David Mead’s very honest rendition which melds the new jack swing of the original with his own singer-songwriter talents. With piano replacing the synth, Mead’s version expertly gives me nostalgia for a time 20 years before his own recording.

Though a weaker track, “P.Y.T.” was probably the most memorable tune from the album for me. I have a distinct sense of the song being popular for a brief time, and my friends and I digging its rather unique sounds. For me though, one of my most vivid memories is pulling out the Thriller vinyl record from the bookshelf in our den. With “P.Y.T.” crackling through the speakers, I bopped around the room singing about a “Pretty Young Thing.” Could I have been any more clueless to the subject matter? When I think about Jackson’s music, I often go to that moment. It’s undetermined and rather pointless, but it continues to float there in the ether of my mind. And will very much be performed the next time I do karaoke.

Bad didn’t resonate as much with me. By then, I was moving into different sounds and had hitched my wagon to harder rock and power balladry. With rap very much on the scene, it was difficult watching Jackson act tough when he was very clearly a sensitive pacifist. However, “Man in the Mirror” was a stand-out track for me and very much ever-present on the airwaves in ’87-’88. I can hear it in my head when I think back to riding my bike to various stationery shops hunting the newest lines of baseball cards. (It may also be soundtracking my failed attempts at moving away from the G.I. Joes and Transformers of the time.) There’s just something wickedly cool about Jackson’s singing at the end of that song backed by a gospel choir.

The world is still in shock over Jackson’s death with little details known to the public. Though only 50, Jackson hasn’t been the mark of good health but it’s shocking nonetheless. Rumors and jokes are already afire on the internet, while many are focusing on Jackson’s speculated activities that led him into many courtrooms. That said, so many people were affected by the man’s music ; whether or not you liked it, it was a ubiquitous presence in our lives. I’m sure as I listen to Michael Jackson’s songs over the next few days, it will conjure up more memories of the time. For so many fans of the ‘80s, they may drift back to wearing socks on a hardwood floor attempting to moonwalk, the momentary cool of wearing a singular white glove, or the recreation of one of his many dance routines. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that this icon has passed on. Admittedly, I keep launching the Internet thinking how surreal it is that news of his death is staring me in the face. In response, I keep going back to a line from one of Jackson’s songs. “If they say, why? why? Tell them that its human nature.”


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It really hits you hard as a thirtysomething when you start to see the celebrations of 25th anniversaries of things that you were wholly conscious for in your youth. As it is, I’m witnessing the birth and growth of friends’ children and reconnecting with long lost friends on Facebook, many not talked to in 10-15 years, a startling revelation that comes to a surprise every time I count the years in my head. Was 1992 really that long ago?   

 

"This is what it sounds like when doves cry." exclaimed Prince in 1984. Doves responded, "What? We sound nothing like that. Our cries have less electric drumbeats and more synth."

"This is what it sounds like when doves cry." exclaimed Prince in 1984. Doves responded, "What? We sound nothing like that. Our cries have less electric drumbeats and more synth."

 

 

In 1983, I wrote about the 25th anniversary of a now-defunct EPCOT attraction called Horizons. 1982 was the 25th anniversary of EPCOT itself and of my first visit to Disney World. It was also the anniversary of the relaunch G.I. Joe as the smaller action figures that my generation came to know, love, and blow up with firecrackers. And the first year of many that Family Ties aired. As I started doing research for this blog, it scared me how many beloved ’80s institutions had been around for 25 years. And yet we’ve only just begun. 

 

1984 through 1986 are really the core years where the 1980s started forming its own identity. Those first few years had so much spillover effect from the ’70s. A lot of early music from the ’80s was essentially disco, new wave and soft rock, all genres owing significantly, if not entirely, to the prior decade. The music we would come to think of fondly as ’80s music started to thread itself through these ’70s holdovers and slowly take over. Think back to your favorite songs of the decade, or at least to the biggest hits of the decade, and you’ll see most of them came in the latter half of the era. (This is no different than the ’60s, ’70s and ’90s all decades with similar transitions).

 

How many people on this page have appeared in the nude since 1984? (Other than Gizmo and Starscream.)

How many people on this page have appeared in the nude since 1984? (Other than Gizmo and Starscream.)

 

 

Movies and TV shows had a similar aesthetic transition though many of our treasured favorites of the era aren’t always marked by an ’80s aesthetic. The Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises started in 1977 and 1981 respectively. The Star Wars trilogy was finished by 1983. But these film series informed the decade, not the other way around. But those ’80s-centric films which came to epitomize the sensibilities and imageries of the era, like The Breakfast Club, Back to the Future or St. Elmo’s Fire were informed BY the decade. And would come to epitomize our recollections of movies of the time. As a visual media, TV shows were much the same. Every kid remembers watching M*A*S*H* and Three’s Company reruns, spillover shows from the ’70s. But we came to identify the decade with shows such as The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, or Cheers. 

starscream

Starscream has led a life of crime since getting kicked out of proctology school.

 

As for cartoons and the toys that often came along with them, well this year one of their granddaddies celebrates its 25th anniversary: Transformers. With G.I. Joe and He-Man, the Transformers really came to influence the rest of the decade’s animation styles and toy collections. For me, it was also the first year that I started to collect trading cards (mostly baseball) and followed sports with more interest. 

 

So pay attention in 2009. And don’t be surprised at how frequently you hear it’s the 25th anniversary of a number 1 song, the debut of a favorite TV show, the release of a major film, or the arrival of a favorite action figure. 

 

Gizmo on the Casio keyboard he used to compose most of the big hits of the '80s as well as Justin Timberlake's last album.

Gizmo on the Casio keyboard he used to compose most of the big hits of the '80s as well as Justin Timberlake's last album.

 

Oh and for the record, I’m celebrating the 35th anniversary of my birth this year. Equally as scary and frightening as celebrating the aforementioned anniversaries. As of this writing, there are no plans to honor me with a live-action film or deluxe box set.

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Michael Crichton, who passed away yesterday at the age of 66, was not someone who had an impact on my interests until the ’90s but I felt compelled to offer my condolences in these quarters anyway, perhaps because he exemplified interests of mine that defined the next phase of my life after the ’80s and High School.

Crichton’s seminal book Jurassic Park was released in 1990 and made into a movie in 1993. The movie was probably the first great popcorn flick after Eightiesology ended. It was a perfect transition flick, helmed by Steven Spielberg with all the glorious wonder you’d expect from one of his films. There are elements of it that would make you think it DID come out in the ’80s. But alas, the thing that helped establish this movie (and story) as ahead of its time was its special effects. As good as they may have been in films in the ’80s…this film presented a quantum leap in storytelling that upped the ante for films of its ilk. And despite being one of the first to utilize certain technologies, the movie even today looks remarkably more realistic than some of the dime-store crap that’s put out today.

Around this time, the film also helped nudge me in the direction of novels. Up until this point, I hadn’t enjoyed reading. For school or my own entertainment. But during my first year of college, I discovered the works of Crichton, Tom Clancy and John Grisham. From that day forward, there haven’t been many nights that I’ve gone to sleep without first reading a chapter from a book. Sure, some will scoff at my presumptions of literature but it’s my personal philosophy that if you can get anyone reading books, you’ve already made the world a better place. This helped pique my imagination in new ways and led me to establish my dream of becoming a writer myself. This was my new sand box, my new toy box. The ’80s were over and I was anxious to develop.

Crichton also created the television show ER, which arrived in the mid ’90s. This was one of the first real dramas that I regularly watched. Up until this point it had been mostly sitcoms and escapist fictional dramas like Quantum Leap. But with ER and The X-Files, my interest was elevated into more serious fare, both of the realistic and the alien kind. The latter paved the way for my absolute affinity for serial mythological dramas like Lost and 24. But ER was my first grown-up show, the first episodic fiction that caught my curiosity without flash and wonderment but with the often brutal reality of life in the emergency room. (As well as the lives of the doctors and nurses working the ER.) This was another facet of maturing in the ’90s

I still watch ER and have read most of Crichton’s books. Jurassic Park remains one of my favorite stories. I didn’t know the author was even sick until I read that he’d already died. It’s shocking to lose such an imaginative intellectual. Eightiesology offers its condolences to Crichton’s family and friends. But first, I offer my heartfelt appreciation for telling me such wonderful stories and helping an Eightiesologist grow into a Ninetiesologist. Rest in Peace.

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They Took My Idea!

NBC is getting “Lost in the ’80s.”

 

The network has handed a director-contingent pilot order to an hourlong project from “The Wonder Years” writer-producer Bob Brush.

 

The project, produced by Sony Pictures TV and stuido-based Tantamount, is described as “Fast Timeas at Ridgemont High” meets “The Ice Storm.” 

 

It is considered an ’80s version of “Wonder Years,” the half-hour dramedy set 20 years prior that tackled the social issues and historic events of the late ’60s through the eyes of teen Kevin Arnold.

 

Long before this announcement, this blog launched declaring itself our generation’s The Wonder Years and American Graffiti. For the last year, I’ve been thinking that an 80s TV show or movie is needed to do much of what I’m trying to do here: restore some dignity back to the era. I enjoyed The Wedding Singer but I think that there far too many movies and TV shows that mine the 80s in a ridiculously contrived way, projecting far too many obvious elements while winking at the audience. Also, they always take the route of following protagonists who are significantly older than I think they should be to appreciate the full scoop of the era. 

 

The Wonder Years got the ’60s and ’70s right because it followed those years through the eyes of a young protagonist. American Graffiti got the early ’60s right because it captured a simple premise brilliantly and connected with our parents’ generation. The only show I’ve seen get the ’80s right was Freaks and Geeks but it was unfortunately way ahead of its time and disrespected by the network buffoons. Fast Times is certainly a good model to work with as a movie from that era that also respected the era, but it also takes some very abstract left turns in the name of great comedy that would skew a dramedy format. 

 

The key in documenting this decade is not to simply show off how much you know about movies, television, music and pop culture, it’s to capture the humanity of living in that time. Part of what I’m doing here is to show how precious these memories are to me. Yeah, “Manic Monday” does not stack up to “Kashmir” but it’s part of the scenery of that time in my life. I didn’t walk around looking like an obvious combination of bad ’80s fashion. Half the time, I dressed like a normal albeit-awkward kid. It sounds silly now but the anticipation of getting Voltron was intense and magical. But for the most part, we weren’t that different than kids of other generations. The trees and schoolyards looked the same, meatloaf tasted the same and a wood burning stove smelled the same. 

 

Mr. Brush, please don’t screw this up. There’s a way to do it right. Don’t rip off your own show. It was a genius creation at the time. Really dig down and find the methodology that got The Wonder Years right and tap into that for this new show, taking it in a new exciting direction. Remember all the naive adolescents who grew up in the ’80s, fumbling their way through Elementary school, hormones, identity crises, or simply which G.I. Joe figure to buy. Our lives seemed so much simpler then. It wasn’t the ’60s and it wasn’t the ’00s. We didn’t live through Vietnam and we didn’t grow up with 9/11, we lived in the in-between when the great tragedies of the world were at conference tables, discotheques, and in the hidden sectors of government. Our televisions weren’t tuned in to CNN, they were tuned into the Keatons, the Seavers and the Huxtables.  

 

And for the love of Megatron, do not have a character walking around with a white glove on. (Write me if you need any help.)

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Eightiesologo, Vol II

 

This is the second in a series of posts analyzing the different souvenirs that make up the Eightiesology image. This time around we focus on the now seemingly-archaic TV Guide, just in time for the upcoming television season.

 

Mapping out your television viewing is pretty easy these days. One need only click the Guide button on their remote control to access on-screen listings of programs. Or if you’re already at a computer, you can go to any number of listings on the Internet. Additionally, television shows are also fairly well represented by their own websites, fan communities and blogs. It’s virtually impossible to be a fan of Lost and not know whether it’s going to be a rerun on a given week.

 

But, and forgive me for sounding like my parents, I remember the day when we had to wait for the TV Guide to come out to know what was going to be on the following week! Flipping through the pages of one-line daytime and early evening game shows, talk shows, news and reruns to find the listing of a particular show. All to find something along the lines of “Alex and Mallory become rivals when Steven’s station offers a scholarship to employees’ kids.” And the big excitement was when a premiere, season finale or highlight episode got a show in the spotlight section, a side bar with a more thorough description and even critic input.

 

Perhaps I’m fascinated with maps and graphics (see Eightiesologo, Vol 1), but the primetime grid  was like your evening syllabus.  You could see how everything stacked up on the THREE networks. Thankfully the advent of the VCR had been established for much of the Eightiesology so this primetime chart was also a way to inform you on when you needed to tape shows that shared a timeslot.

  (more…)

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