Not Filmed In Front of a Studio Audience: Essential Episodes for a Pandemic

We’re in uncharted waters.  Whether you’re afraid of getting sick or getting others sick, or facing economic uncertainty as more and more businesses close down, many people aren’t sure how to cope. The answer to this, and to most of life’s questions, is simple: Television.

Join me, an expert, through the small screen’s best virus-avoidance methods.

George, Elaine, and Jerry in "Seinfeld"

George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) in “The Soup”/NBC

1. No touching.

If you’re still dating during this lockdown – and if you’re like me, you’ve been playing it safe for months – there are some rules you should follow. No kissing after the third date. No sharing coffee shop sandwiches. No harassing people at the restaurant where they work. There might be some minor social consequences, like getting snubbed in the street or having your TV pilot dropped by the network, but you and everyone else will be better off.

“The Shoes” (Season 4, Episode 15) – Seinfeld

Mac, Charlie, Dee, and Dennis in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"

Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and Dennis (Glenn Howerton) in “The Gang Gets Quarantined”/FX

2. Limit outside contact.

Limiting contact with other people is the key to preventing the spread of disease. Stay in as much as possible, and if you do need to venture out, make an effort to avoid unnecessary contact. Just simple things, like avoiding crowds, washing your hands, and maybe wearing a full-body bubble boy suit. Maybe some alone time will lead to some self-discovery.

“The Gang Gets Quarantined” (Season 9, Episode 7) – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Bender in "Futurama"

Bender (John DiMaggio) in “Cold Warriors”/Comedy Central

3. Don’t panic.

Chances are, you aren’t a doctor or scientist, mad or otherwise. You hear a lot of stuff that you don’t really understand. Trust the experts and don’t do anything crazy. You want to keep space, not hurl an entire city into it.

“Cold Warriors” (Season 6, Episode 24) – Futurama

Jerry in "Parks and Recreation"

Jerry (or something) Gergich (Jim O’Heir) in “Flu Season 2″/NBC

4. Know the symptoms.

There’s a chance you’re sick without being “sick.” Allergies, food poisoning, maybe even a hangover could lead you to believe you’re infected. There’s even a chance you’re just adopting a dog.

“Flu Season 2” (Season 6, Episode 19) – Parks and Recreation

Leslie Knope in "Parks and Recreation"

Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) in “Flu Season”/NBC

5. Know when to quit.

Worst case, you get sick, for real. Accept it and do what you need to do in order to make yourself healthy and prevent others from getting sick. Stop going to work. Stop doing work from home. Maybe even go to the hospital, in accordance with your local health department’s guidelines.

“Flu Season” (Season 3, Episode 2) – Parks and Recreation

With these simple steps, you can greatly reduce the risk to yourself and your family, and also watch a bunch of great TV.

Laundry Day

Laundry Day

As part of the product line for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, LEGO offered a small set featuring Charlie Day’s Benny, a slightly-worn Space minfigure from the early 80s, along with Lenny, Kenny, and Jenny, three brand-new companions. The original Space theme included only Red, Yellow, White, Blue, and Black, but this new set includes Pink in addition to Red, Yellow, and the Blue Benny.

It didn’t take long for this idea to come to me.

ALL THE THINGS: My New Favorites of 2018

The year is just about over — which means my birthday is coming very soon, in case you forgot — so like the rest of the greats, I’m sharing my Best Of list for 2018.

Not all of this stuff is new, but it’s all stuff I discovered in this calendar year and think you should discover in the next one.

Music

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Lights performing “Giants,” 2018 Juno Awards. CBC

  • One of my perennial favorites, Barenaked Ladies, didn’t do a new album this year (their latest, Fake Nudes, was released November 2017), but they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame this spring. That’s not what this list item is about, though. I went to Vancouver (a city that would make the list if I was including places) to see their induction at the Juno Awards, where I discovered Canadian artist Lights. She doesn’t have a new album this year either, but four studio albums and acoustic versions of several will keep new fans busy for a while.
  • The Milk Carton Kids, another musical favorite of mine for several years, toured with a band for the first time in support of their album, All The Things I Did and All The Things I Didn’t Do. Also their first album with a band, it’s a refreshing yet familiar sound for these all-around talented guys.
  • All right, so Barenaked Ladies may not have a new record this year, but Steven Page, inducted into the Canandian Music Hall of Fame alongside his former bandmates, did. Discipline: Heal Thyself, Part II, is a followup to 2016’s Heal Thyself Park I: Instinct, and an excellent listen for any fan, new or old. Page has been on tour across North America and the UK with no sign of slowing down in the new year.

Television

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    Esther Povitsky and Benji Alflalo in “Alone Together.” Freeform

  • If you’re in your late twenties, single, and still trying to figure out what you’re doing, Freeform’s Alone Together was a surprise TV find. Unfortunately, this series, produced by The Lonely Island, was canceled, but not before two seasons and twenty episodes made it to my living room.
  • You can’t go wrong with Amy Poehler. For real. She has elevated some great new artists to at least one season of TV success as she takes steps to becoming the next Lorne Michaels, and I’m very excited to see what she brings us in 2019. Actually seeing her face on TV, though, is made better only by that face being next to Nick Offerman’s, and the relentless positivity of Making It was a welcome addition to the summer schedule.
  • New this year? No. New to me? Also no. Deserving of a mention on this and every list? No doubt no doubt no doubt. For fans (and cast and crew) of Brooklyn Nine Nine, 2018 included one very long 24 hours between Fox canceling the series and NBC reviving it for a sixth season.

Movies

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Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live,” 1976. Broadway Video

  • A more pretentious man may have called this section “Film,” but that same person wouldn’t have put Solo: A Star Wars Story on his list. Solo is just a fun movie, the way Star Wars was a long time ago… in 1977. It certainly had some setbacks during production, but it’s hard not to watch this movie with the same grin that Han has the first time he flies the Millennium Falcon.
  • If you want to temper your grin with some crying, Love, Gilda (making it’s TV debut on CNN January 1) is the film for you. This look at the life of one of Saturday Night Live‘s first breakout star, Gilda Radner, draws you in with her humor and then… well, you’ll see. Narrated in her own words, thanks to archive recordings and diary pages read by some famous faces inspired by her work, this is an intimate look at one of TV’s brightest, fastest-burning stars.
  • Somewhere in that happy medium is Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, an uplifting documentary on Fred Rogers, the man behind “Mister” and featuring the people who knew him best.

‘Tis The (Mid) Season: Television’s Greatest Christmas Episodes

Mid-December. There’s snow (or maybe potato flakes) on the ground, you’re scrambling to buy your last-minute Christmas gifts, and, worst of all, all of your shows have gone on midseason break, not to return until January… if you’re lucky.

Sure, there are network TV specials, but John Legend will only get you so far. That marathon of Harry Potter  movies isn’t really Christmas, and you’re not actually going to watch The Christmas Prince on Netflix, right?

The obvious answer is “go watch some classic Christmas episodes.” I’m not claiming that these are the “best” episodes, but they are some of my favorite shows and I have unquestionably good taste.

 

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WHITE NOISE: Steven Page’s “Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II”

page_2.jpgIf you have ears and lived through the 90s, you are not a stranger to the music of Steven Page. Page, of course, is a co-founder of Barenaked Ladies in 1988 (inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame this spring) and is perhaps best recognized for the words “It’s been…” on 1998’s “One Week.” Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II is a followup to 2016’s Heal Thyself Pt. I: Instinct, and is Page’s third album since the leaving the band in 2009 (2005’s The Vanity Project and A Singer Must Die, released in 2010 with The Art of Time Ensemble, make up Page’s other full-length albums).

Discipline was released digitally and on CD in September; quality control issues delayed shipment of LP copies until the end of October. While billed as a second part to Instinct, the albums have very little in common in tone; Discipline‘s opening track, “Nothing Special,” incorporates a theme of Instinct‘s “There’s A Melody.” While styled differently, Discipline‘s “Whistling Through The Dark” shares some melody with Instinct’s “Surprise Surprise” (that album’s lead single).

If listening to the LP, side A (tracks 1-5) fit very well into the Steven Page songbook fans known since 2010’s Page One. Much of Discipline sounds like a throwback to the 1970s with lyrics that are distinctly modern – or perhaps distinctly Steven Page. For any longtime fan of Page or Barenaked Ladies, Discipline feels fresh yet familiar.

Side A ends on “Gravity,” a Spanish-inspired rebuke of modern science-deniers, and is a hint at what is to come. A driving guitar and refrain that evokes The Ramones begins Side B and “White Noise” before delving into a classic Page-style musical and lyrical narrative inspired by the 2017 Charlottesville, NC riot. These responses to Trump-era politics marks Page’s first political compositions since his co-write with Ed Robertson and Kevin Hearn on the subtle”Second Best” from Barenaked Ladies’ 2003 Everything To Everyone (the band’s other Bush-era political track, Barenaked Ladies Are Men‘s “Fun & Games” in 2007, being composed solely by Robertson).

“White Noise,” however, is a brief detour from an otherwise personal album. The slower, sadder “Done” feels like a sequel to 1996’s “Break Your Heart” (from Barenaked Ladies’ Born On A Pirate Ship, and still a part of Page’s live performance) if the couple had continued on in a dysfunctional relationship for two decades. Page has openly discussed his long struggle with mental illness––depression and bipolar disorder have shaped his music since writing “Brian Wilson” at age 19 before ever being diagnosed––and two Heal Thyself albums suggest an artist who is trying to do exactly that. While Instinct opens with a monotone “There’s A Melody” and revisits that theme with much more complexity just before the album’s end, Discipline appears to acknowledge the struggle, closing with back-to-back “Whistling Through The Dark” and “Looking For The Light,” the final words (for now) of an artist that is aware of his past and looking forward to his future.

Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II is available on all digital platforms and on CD and LP at stevenpage.com. Steven Page is on tour in the western United States this fall and in Canada beginning in February 2019.

THE OFFICE: An American Action Movie

A random quote from The Office online got me thinking about it as an action movie, so here we are. Features my own arrangement and recording of the theme song.

It wasn’t intentional, but on my last watch before publishing I realized that you could interpret it as a sequel to the series, with the team reuniting to help Michael out.

Being A Man, Part 3: The Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers

Mister Rogers, neighbor. (The Fred Rogers Company)

This is Part 3 of Being A ManVisit the men of the past two weeks in Pawnee and Brooklyn.

Which beloved children’s TV star was a NAVY Seal sniper in Vietnam with dozens of confirmed kills, has tattoos covering his back and both arms, may or may not have sexually abused a child, and definitely ended his career with a final “fuck you” to the kids he had entertained for nearly four decades?

Many people who have spent more than a day on the internet in the past fifteen years will answer Fred Rogers, creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the children’s program that aired on PBS (and its predecessor) from 1968 to 2001. Fortunately for the world, they are all wrong. (That middle finger thing was real, but out of context and obviously a different year.)

Mister Rogers—it still seems wrong to his first name—dedicated his entire career to television and to the children who visited him every day. On Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood  and the shows that preceded it, he spoke to kids with respect while maintaining his authority as an adult. He spoke to his young audience as he would anyone else, whether it was Joan Rivers on The Tonight Show, David LettermanRosie O’Donnell, or Arsenio Hall.

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King Friday and his creator. (The Fred Rogers Company)

A staple of Mister Rogers’ message was encouraging kids to express their feelings in honest, healthy ways. As he said in his address to the Senate Subcommittee on Communications in 1969, “feelings are mentionable and manageable.” (Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island responded to his reaction to the statement that he was “supposed to be a pretty tough guy.”)

“There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” (The World According to Mister Rogers)

Mister Rogers was not afraid of traditional gender roles, and as a grown man, was often seen participating in activities traditionally performed by women, or giving the women (or female puppet) characters on his show roles typically filled by men. (Fred Rogers, the man, was sometimes hesitant to address the evolving landscape of gender and sexuality in the time the show aired)

I think it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger; much more dramatic that showing scenes of gunfire. (Testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, May 1, 1969)

Anger was a recurring theme in Mister Rogers’ message, and in his songs. “What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?”, the title being a question asked by a young fan, and “I’m Angry” both try to address the reason a child feels angry and how to deal with that anger.

Rogers ended his final episode on August 31, 2001, by addressing the adults who grew up with the show. He reminded them, one last time, that he liked them just the way they were.

Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.

(“What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?“)