Archive for June, 2013

Considering Closing Credits

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I was checking out YouTube the other night when I came across a video of the closing credits for one of my favorite shows from the past.  Watching it again, it moved me in a strange way and it caused me to think of other closing credit sequences which have stayed in my memories, in some cases long after the shows they were part of stopped airing.  The shows may now be over, but the curtains have never closed on these end title gems in my mind.

Astro Boy- 1st ending theme, Japan only

The video above is the one I was watching that inspired me to write this blog post.  It’s from the 2003 Astro Boy TV series that aired for only a short while in the U.S.  I’m a big fan of Osamu Tezuka’s Japanese robot hero, and I think this series is one of the best depictions of him ever done outside of the comics.  There were a lot of changes made to the series for its U.S. airing, though, including changing the closing credits sequence.  The end title sequence in the video (without all those annoying names in front) is one of the things that I was never able to see in the show’s original U.S. run, but I discovered it a few years later on YouTube, and boy, did we miss out on a real gem!  In the sequence itself, the main character, Astro the boy robot, is looking out over Metro City during a sunset, possibly contemplating some mystery of life judging from his tapping feet and his apparent wiping away of a tear (don’t laugh, he does shed a few tears in the show’s final episodes).  As the sequence ends, he looks over his shoulder at the viewer and gives a big smile, as if to say, “Don’t worry, it’s all right.  We’ll meet again soon.”  I find this sequence very moving in its simplicity, speaking volumes in a minute and a half.  I wonder why this sequence was never used in the U.S. version (or on the DVD either, for that matter).  Is it because Astro is sitting on top of a building and the show’s translators were afraid kids might duplicate such an action?  Darn shame, because I think this thing is just beautiful, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it used in some way if the series ever comes back on the air.

Blue’s Clues– Clap, Sweep, Clap, Clap, Clap

I loved Blue’s Clues when it started airing in 1996.  It’s combination of simplistic problem solving, cute visuals, and the seemingly naivete of host Steven Burns was very appealing to me for the longest time, and I’ll still watch an episode from time to time for nostalgia’s sake.  One part that I think a lot of people forget about when they talk about the show, however, is the closing credits right after Steve’s “Now It’s Time for So Long” song.  Most viewers might flip to another channel after that song, but not me.  I stuck around just to see Blue, Tickety Tock, Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, and all the other characters dancing around while the credits rolled, something you don’t really see these days because they speed the credits up to add more commercials.  Also, I wanted to hear what instruments or sounds would be added to the theme’s basic bass line and “clap, sweep, clap, clap, clap.”  Depending on the subject being addressed in that particular episode, you could hear anything from wind chimes to industrial machinery to an energetic piano solo.  It was an extra thing that made each show that much more special for me, like a unique snowflake.

The Flintstones/The Jetsons– Pet Peeves

I am attracted to closing credits that give the viewer something extra beyond just listing the names of the show’s production crew.  In the case of The Flintstones and The Jetsons, I was able to see a few more minutes of funny cartoon scenes, an awesome way to end a show.  Both of these shows’ iconic ending sequences involve household pets.  Fred Flintstone gets locked out of his house by a smart-aleck saber-toothed cat, pathetically calling out, “Wilma!”  George Jetson gets stuck on the treadmill while Astro the dog (Wow, Astro’s both the name of a robot boy and a dog!  That name sure gets around the cartoon world!) and an unnamed cat watch with delight as George calls out pathetically, “Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!” (You’d think she would; maybe she lets it happen to deal out some kind of cosmic justice to George or something.  It certainly couldn’t be for his health.)  These things will happen every single episode until the end of time (or until people get sick of watching these shows, but I don’t think that’ll happen for a long time).  I have never thought that these endings were particularly funny in any way, but I do smile when I see them.  They’re like comfort food, one last warm feeling before heading back to the present day where cats don’t have saber teeth and treadmills don’t normally suck people under them repeatedly (and don’t hang out in midair on the outside of a building, for that matter).

Spongebob Squarepants– Ukelele Ditty

You may not know it from watching it today, but Nickelodeon shows used to have closing credit sequences, too.  A few years back, though, they stopped showing these for some strange reason, probably to fit in more commercials, I guess.  It’s too bad, though; I used to enjoy listening to the familiar strains of some of them, but none more so than the Spongebob Squarepants closing music.  It plays over a static screen of flower print and standard credits, but I feel that the music is much more outstanding than the visuals.  It’s a continuous ukelele riff that was sometimes used as background music within the show itself, and I guarantee that you’d likely know what show it’s from just from hearing it.  In my mind, it’s an encapsulation of all of the happiness and simple pleasures I have gotten from watching Spongebob’s antics for the first, tenth, hundredth, maybe even thousandth time.  The only place I usually see this sequence now is in “Nick on Demand” showings of Spongebob on digital cable systems and on DVD compilations.  It’s quite the reversal from how often I saw it just a few years ago.  May it rest in peace, floating ever on through the flotsam and jetsam of TV’s past.

Before this discussion of closing credits comes to a close, I’d like to know: Do you have a favorite TV closing credit sequence?  What do you like about it?  Do you still see it anymore?  Open up about your favorite closings in the comments.

“The Price Is Right Live” in Syracuse: Coming On Down, Moving On Up

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
I'd like to imagine he's sitting over three feet of shark-infested waters. Makes him seem more heroic in my eyes.

The set looked pretty much like this, only in full color, without Bill Cullen, and with slightly less wood trim. Oh yeah, and we wore the price tags on our chests, too.

“Here it comes!  From the Landmark Theater in Syracuse, New York, television’s most exciting hour of fantastic cash and prizes, it’s ‘The Price Is Right Live!”  When that opening line reverberated throughout the spacious theater on Sunday, June 9, 2013, the whole place erupted into cheers and wild shouts of joy.  I was one of those screamers, thrilled to be part of the viewing audience for the first performance in my area of the touring version of one of my favorite game shows.  True, I didn’t get to be a contestant on this night, but at least I had a chance to potentially be one, along with about three thousand other people, all adorned with yellow price tags proudly announcing their first name to the world.  The stage was set up to look like a close approximation of the original Price set with huge double doors and swinging ’70s color schemes; it looked very impressive for such a small stage.  In addition, all of the sounds and music I heard during the show were exactly the same sounds the viewer would hear on the TV show.  It was the closest most of us might ever get to actually attending a taping of the Price TV show at CBS Television City in California, so being able to get even a taste of that experience was rewarding in itself.  It also helped that it was an inexpensive endeavor that gave a lot for my money.

The live show was set up in the same way that a typical episode of the TV show would play out, with a few small differences, mostly in terms of how many people were selected to participate.  Four people at a time were called out from the audience to “come on down” to a small “Contestants’ Row” where they would place bids for a prize.  The contestant closest to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price without overbidding won the prize and got to come up on stage to play one of the world-famous pricing games.  (Incidentally, one of the winning bidders managed to bid the exact correct price.  She won a gift card for her perfect bid, a pretty rare feat, so way to go, kiddo!)  Four new contestants were called down for each new game (twenty-four people in all), four more were selected for two spins of the big “Showcase Showdown” wheel, and at the end, one more contestant was picked to take on the Showcase, in this case a normal pricing game, “10 Chances,” but with more exotic prizes including a new car.  In all, whereas a typical TV episode would see only nine contestants play out the whole show, our live show saw closer to forty people able to play along on stage, not to mention the people who won Subway and Home Depot gift cards.  I was surprised to see just how many people were picked, but I think it’s cool that this show opens up so many more opportunities for the audience to play along.

The game’s host was just as impressive to me, and, I hope, to everyone else in the theater by the time the show was over.  Todd Newton has had years of experience hosting numerous game shows including Hollywood ShowdownWhammy! The All New Press Your Luck, and Family Game Night, and it certainly showed during his time in Syracuse as our master of ceremonies (apparently, he’s been hosting the touring live show for most of its existence, so I am sure he has this gig down to a science by now).  He was warm, genial, and always worked to keep the mood light and breezy.  The games may have been the star attraction, but in my view, Todd did an excellent job of making them larger than life for everyone watching; he even led everyone in chants of the show’s signature catchphrases, “Come on down!”  and “Spayed or neutered!” (Todd joked afterward that that was probably the only time those words would ever be chanted anywhere; we did it a total of three times throughout the show).  In fact, I’d be interested in him hosting the show on TV if he ever gets the chance to do so; he showed a lot of respect for the show and its history, and he seemed able to handle the show’s signature brand of organized chaos very well.

The selection of pricing games for Price‘s first night in Syracuse included some of its most famous ones.  Right off the bat, the first game played was Cliff Hangers; Todd led everyone in a rhythmic clapping along to the game’s iconic yodeling theme which kept the energy up in the room (the mountain climber fell off the mountain, in case you were wondering).  We also had a relatively low-stakes version of Plinko where the top amount on the board was $2500 (the contestant walked away with a only a small amount but it wasn’t too shabby).  The other games included Any Number, Punch a Bunch, and Hole in One (or Two), in which I thought the contestant’s first putt would be a sinker, but it just missed the hole.  Overall, there weren’t any huge money winners on this night, but having so many well-known games as part of our show felt really special to me.

This first Price is Right Live show in Syracuse was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  It almost perfectly captured the feel of the TV show and enthralled all who attended.  It was good-old-fashioned entertainment that delivered a lot of bang for the buck.  I hope it can make it around to Central New York again because I would definitely consider “coming on down” again!

Random Top Five: Super-Things I Think Superman Could Team Up With

Monday, June 10th, 2013

The other day, I wrote a post about Superman which helped me to work out a lot of my thoughts on the Man of Steel.  While I was writing this, however, I kept thinking of the legion of “Super-Pets” which Clark Kent and company have been associated with in the past.  Superman has Krypto the Superdog, his cousin Supergirl has a cat named Streaky and a flying horse named Comet, and when Clark was still a boy, Superboy had a Kryptonian monkey named Beppo for a pet (still no word if the Monk of Might had any cousins named Harpo, Chico, or Zeppo).  I wonder if there are any other super-animals or other things Superman and his friends could rely on to watch over the world when they’re away in space, in some other time period, or caught up in some other strange nonsense.  There’s got to be plenty of other candidates for getting the superpower treatment lying around Metropolis.  Here’s a few ideas I came up with for alternative (and alliterative; using the same letter over and over gets you big points with the people) “Heroes of Tomorrow.”  I am writing this under the assumption that just about anything and anyone could become a superhero, and after some of the strange things I’ve read about in comics, I feel that just might be true.  Also, even though I can imagine that being born on Krypton or encountering red kryptonite or magic could account for most of their powers, I won’t go into these heroes’ possible origins.  I’m pretty sure DC Comics would just change those particular stories in one of its every-two-decades continuity rewrites, anyway. 

5. Rocky the Super-Rock

The world’s beaches contain a lot of sand and water, but since there’s already a Sandman and Hydro-Man in comic books already, why not come up with a hero that can represent all of the rocks on the beach as well, someone who doesn’t look as lumpy and misshapen as the Thing?  Rocky would have the requisite flying and super-strength that all “Supers” seem to have, but he would have the added advantage of being able to blend in with all of the other stones on the beach.  If criminals tried to make a getaway in a speedboat or try sailing away from the dock, Rocky would jump up into the air and fly straight for the boat, using his own body to knock out the bad guys or smash the boat to pieces.  He would surely keep lifeguards busy.

4. Carl the Super-Cardboard Cutout

It seems to me that Superman was always doing some kind of charitable work or autograph signing back in the early comic books.  Sometimes such events conflicted with his crime patrol, so he usually recruited a robot double from his Fortress of Solitude to fill in for him in one role while he concentrated on the other.  I imagine, though, that these robots might be less than reliable at times, such as if one of them was malfunctioning or following “evil” programming left behind by a nefarious hacker.  Who could Superman rely on, then, to “pinch hit” for him?  This is where Carl the Super-Cardboard Cutout could come in handy.  He serves the same stand-in purposes that Superman’s robots do, with the added advantage of being more portable.  I’m sure that most people wouldn’t notice Supe’s sudden slimming-down, and Lois Lane might be too infatuated with the Man of Steel to care either way.  Carl could also fit under the thin cracks of doors and windows of evildoers’ hideouts to sneak a peek into their schemes.  If Lex Luthor let a little fresh air in through his windows, Carl could easily eavesdrop!  Pun intended!!        

 3. Pam the Super-Pen

Besides his superpowers, the most important tool in Superman’s arsenal is the writing tools he uses to compose stories as a mild-mannered reporter.  I feel it would stand to reason, then, that one of these tools may serve as an extra set of eyes at the Daily Planet offices whenever Clark Kent feels a sudden urge to visit a phone booth (By the way, how come those are still in Metropolis?).  Pam could have a prime perch in the collection of writing utensils in the “I Heart News” mug in Clark’s cubicle, keeping track of the latest developments around the world as it comes into the newsroom and relaying the most urgent bits to Superman when he returns.  In addition, she could come in handy for righting the wrongs of daily office life such as loading more paper into printers so a steady supply is always on hand or instantly correcting mistakes in coworkers’ work while their backs are turned.  Not to mention that if Lois comes lurking around Clark’s desk area looking for proof of his super-identity, Pam could squirt her in the face with ink to distract her.  Of course, it might be hard for her to forget a flying pen, but who knows, she could just think it was just her overactive imagination…

2. Carla the Super-Claw Machine

Superman has been and, I feel, probably always will be associated with children.  It makes sense to me, then, that one of his super-helpers ought to be something children are attracted to as well.  How about a claw machine in one of the seedier “family eating” establishments?  Carla could be set up in a spot near the restaurant’s entrance where she can keep watch over all who come into and out of the building.  A discreet use of X-ray vision could serve as an effective deterrent against gun-toting robbers with intentions of commandeering the cash register.  If Carla was in the right position, she could also probably have a good look at the feed from the restaurant’s security camera network, effectively giving her the ability to safeguard the whole establishment.  Being a claw machine with shatterproof glass, Carla can’t just fly over to knock out the bad guys; instead, she has developed the power of mind control, subtly influencing bad guys to just give up and leave.  That way, the kids and parents in the restaurant can eat safely without undue worry.

1. Sammy the Super-Snail (or Atom Ant, if Supes pays the proper licensing fees)

Atom Ant was always an unusual hero to me.  He was absurdly small for a superhero, but somehow he had greatly enhanced strength (not too unusual for a creature known to naturally lift things hundreds of times its size, but I’m pretty sure most ants couldn’t effortlessly lift a Sherman tank), an internal “radar” instinct which seemed to cover entire the entire city in which he lived, and the ability to fly using “atomic power.”  Those powers could come in very handy if Superman could bring them to bear, but the question is if Atom Ant would be willing to play ball or if he would just ask for more money first (according to Wikipedia, he’s got a big movie deal coming up soon, so I could understand if he’s got a huge ego right now).  Supes doesn’t exactly carry money on him, so he might look for a cheaper method of getting a small bug-like creature on his team, perhaps one with a home base in the park in Metropolis’s center.  Chances are he might come across someone like Sammy the Super-Snail who has some useful powers in his own right.  For instance, Sammy can’t fly, but he has inherited Superman’s impressive leaping ability from the early days of Action Comics in the late 1930s, meaning he could easily leap tall soda cans in a single bound if the need should arise.  His super-vision isn’t up to snuff just yet, but he is quite knowledgeable about parental supervision, watching over his two young cousins Susie and Stuart every other weekend.  Most importantly, while he does not and probably never will have really fast moving ability, he does have hyper-spacial awareness, taking in details in a split-second and pointing out things most other creatures, even Superman himself, would never even notice.  Of course, if Supes is looking for a real burst of super-speed, he could call up the new DreamWorks movie hero Turbo the racing snail, but again, monetary concerns, people.

What do you think of these potential recruits for Clark Kent’s super-team?  Can you think of any other candidates for super-sidekick status?  Let me know in the comments.

Pop Culture Questions: Superman Edition (Still Alive at 75)

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

I haven’t done an edition of Pop Culture Questions in quite some time, but I bought a magazine this past week that gave me the inspiration to write another one today.  It was an issue of a teen gossip magazine, Life Story, dedicated to Superman on the eve of the release of the Man of Steel movie and coinciding with the comic book icon’s 75th anniversary.  The cover promised a comprehensive overview of Superman’s life in comics, television, movies, stage shows, and many other forms of media, and a quick skim through the magazine showed this to be true (There really was a stage play at one point, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman).  The magazine has also caused me to think of some puzzling questions regarding the Man of Tomorrow such as…

How come Superman is 75 years old, but still looks so gosh-darned young?

I am well aware that Superman’s character has been rebooted and revised countless times over the past three-quarters of a century.  I still feel, however, that it is strange to have a character at 75 years of age who rarely shows any signs of his long life.  By now, I’d expect Supes to have a bald spot in place of that wind-swept mane of black hair, a hunched back instead of a straight posture, or even him taking a crosstown bus to a crime or natural disaster instead of flying everywhere.  But instead, all I’ve seen for the majority of my life has been a young big blue Boy Scout in the prime of his life and health.  I have seen an old or aging Superman occasionally, but usually as the result of a strange spell cast by his enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk, and even then, that appearance only lasted for one story at a time.  Whatever magical fountain of youth Supes has been soaking in off-panel for all these years certainly must be working well for him.  I wonder where it’s located…probably some forgotten corner of Oz…

How come Clark Kent has the most effective disguise in the DC Universe?

For the longest time, I thought that Superman’s secret identity of Clark Kent was the most obvious secret in the history of comic books.  Beyond a change in costume and a more well-maintained head of hair, the only significant change between Superman and Clark is a pair of glasses.  (Of course, some might say Clark appears to be noticeably lacking in muscle tone, but I’ve noticed that in recent years, the Daily Planet‘s most famous reporter has looked better and better in this regard, so I tend to ignore that part these days.)  Yet, outside of a select few other heroes who know his true identity, no one can connect the two together.  I’ve come up with two conclusions: either Clark’s disguise is as effective as Boris and Natasha’s costumes on Rocky and Bullwinkle at fooling the general public, or everyone in Metropolis is deliberately ignoring the fact that two of its most famous citizens just so happen to have a very strong resemblance to one another.  Either way, I find both sets of circumstances very telling indeed of the collective sanity of the ordinary peoples of the comic book universes we enjoy so much.

How come Superman is sometimes called the “Man of Tomorrow?”

I appreciate the fact that Superman has acquired many colorful nicknames over the years, all of which tend to represent an aspect of his character.  “Man of Steel” for bending steel bars and being as strong and tough as that substance.  “Man of Might” for being, well, mighty and strong.  “Big Blue” for wearing a suit composed mostly of one particular primary color.  One nickname of Supes that I never could stand, though trust me, I’ve tried, is “Man of Tomorrow.”  I think it’s supposed to be a vague representation of the hope for a brighter future the people of the 1940s and early ’50s had in mind, but I think it looks oddly out of place today.  If I didn’t know any better, based on this nickname alone, I’d make the assumption that by this time tomorrow, we’d all be able to fly, shoot beams of heat vision out of our eyes, and dash off to rescue young female reporters from malfunctioning jet liners.  I think it’s time we found a better way to express hope than saying “Man of Tomorrow.”  How about “The Man We Could Be?”  Supes has always been an upstanding U.S. citizen, a practical paragon of virtue.  Why not use a nickname that reflects such lofty aspirations?  D.C. Comics, I’ll be awaiting my cut of the check.

Are there any questions about Superman or any other aspect of pop culture you’ve always wanted answered?  Let me know in the comments, and your query might become part of the next installment of “Pop Culture Questions.”  Up, up, and away!

“You Don’t Know Jack”: The Tabletop Game?!

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Ever since I first played them at the house of one of my uncles many years ago (I can’t remember how many years exactly, but  I was very young), I have been a devoted fan of the You Don’t Know Jack series of computer trivia games.  There’s just something inherently appealing about these games to me; maybe it’s the way that it can attract many of the people I know and love around a small computer screen to test the fringes of their knowledge, surprising their friends and family with what they know and leading to conversations about why they know the answer to that question.  It could be, too, that the games’ unique style of humor makes for an entertaining atmosphere which greatly complements some of the relatively obscure facts that come my way.  Either way, whenever I see the You Don’t Know Jack logo on something, it raises my curiosity a bit and I’ve got to check it out.  Such a thing happened to me recently at the flea market when I bought a You Don’t Know Jack tabletop game, an unusual piece of Jack merchandise but very interesting on its own terms.

Before this tabletop game, I thought there couldn’t be anything more unusual than the pair of You Don’t Know Jack trivia books I bought from a dollar store years ago; they are basically collections of questions from the games but without the witty host providing insane comments and insulting the players every minute or so, one of the elements that makes the computer versions so entertaining in my view.  But still, the trivia books are easily portable and can be played any time, whereas the original games come on CDs which have to be played on computers (there is a Facebook version which I play every day, but it doesn’t feel quite the same to me).  The tabletop game isn’t quite as portable: it’s a bulky machine that, I think, looks like a cross between the Batcave’s giant Batcomputer and the Panic Button game from Wayne Brady’s version of Let’s Make a Deal.  It’s not the easiest thing to carry around, even seated comfortably in its original box, and I’d be hard-pressed to say I would want to bring it over to a friend’s house to play a quick round of trivia.  When I did take it out of its box and play a few test rounds with my dad, though, it took me back to a bygone era of gaming that I had almost completely forgotten about.

After installing four new AA batteries (an action which makes me feel very old for even remembering how to do; how long has it been since I last installed batteries for you, Game Boy, old buddy!), my dad and I played a few short rounds of You Don’t Know Jack to see how the machine worked.  After we turned the machine on, we found that it was a bare-bones version of the Jack game which focuses exclusively on multiple-choice questions, leaving out the more iconic specialty question types such as the DisOrDat, Gibberish Question, or even the end-of-game Jack Attack.  I don’t mind that, though, as there is still some decent variety in the way the questions are presented.  Anyway, a basic game lasts for ten questions, each worth different amounts of fictional money ranging from $1,000 for easy questions to $3,000 for the hardest questions.  Whoever has the most “cash” at the end of the game is declared the winner.  This is a simple, fun approach to the Jack game which I feel works well for a tabletop version.

The basic game works as well as I could ever hope it to be.  Trying to work with the machine to play the game properly, though, is a bit of a chore.  Like I said, the questions are written on cards which you have to put into a screen on the machine’s front.  You then close a door on this same screen to cover up the card’s answer choices.  When the game prompts you to, you enter a unique number code using the buzzer buttons below the screen so the game knows which question you’re playing with.  You and the other players squeeze to look around the machine to see the question.  You then push another button on the side to open the door and see your answer choices.  You then have about ten seconds to hit your buzzer and select the correct answer.  If you get it right, the amount of money the question is worth is added to your score, but if you get it wrong, the money is subtracted; a score counter on the bottom of the machine keeps track of how everybody is doing, but it looked very small to me and it was a little hard for me to make out the numbers on its digital display. 

Moving cards around and resetting the machine for the next question takes a few seconds to do, a period of time which I’ve never really experienced to any great extent in any of the computer games because the next question loads automatically in those instances.  It is an experience which feels like it comes from a bygone time, back when I had to blow into an NES or Game Boy cartridge to get them to work.  The Jack machine reminds me of a long line of oversized plastic gaming machines and felt very clunky.  I don’t really see games like this on the toy market anymore, or anywhere else for that matter, so a machine like this feels like a “time machine” into my past. 

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings regarding the You Don’t Know Jack tabletop game.  It feels slightly clunky and is hard to move around and work properly, yet it taps into a deep feeling of nostalgia for a time I thought I would scarcely relive.  Not bad for a spin-off of a popular trivia game!

Have you encountered anything recently that gave you an inexplicable feeling of nostalgia?  What did it feel like to you?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.