February 7, 2016
My love/hate relationship with JJ Abrams; and six disturbing realizations from my recent binge-watching of "Frasier."
Scroll down for more

A couple of mini-essays about pop-culture to share today, so let's get right to it...

- x -

So has enough time officially passed yet to discuss spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Because I ended up seeing it twice over the holidays, and had vastly different experiences at each: first I saw it with my parents in Missouri over Christmas, when I wasn't in much of a good mood, and found myself profoundly disappointed by just how derivative and non-original it was; but then a couple of weeks later I watched it in Chicago with a couple of 12-year-old boys, where my conclusions that time was more along the lines of, "Eh, okay, the boys liked it, and that made me like it more, so I guess it's not technically as bad as I had thought the first time I saw it, eh whatever."

And that in a nutshell seems to be my problem with JJ Abrams in general -- he's such a fascinating, interesting, intelligent guy, so ultimately you can never really hate any of the projects he creates, but he's fallen into the habit at this point in his career of being a professional and sanctioned "ripoff artist" for a whole series of giant franchises, where his job is literally to take a bunch of details about the original franchise that all the mouthbreathers are already familiar with, then mix them up just enough so that the resulting "reboot" of that franchise seems original and unique, even though in actuality it's just another stale rehash of everything the mouthbreathers were looking for in the first place.

(Or if this isn't making enough sense, imagine Comic Book Guy sitting sitting in the audience at one of JJ Abrams' movies, jumping up from his seat every few minutes and screaming at the top of his lungs, "HOLY SHIT, THAT CHARACTER JUST SAID SOMETHING I RECOGNIZE! HOLY FUCKING SHIT, I CAN'T BELIEVE IT, THAT CHARACTER JUST SAID A LINE I FUCKING RECOGNIZE! THIS IS THE GREATEST MOVIE IN THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE, BECAUSE THAT CHARACTER JUST SAID A LINE I RECOGNIZE! YEEEAAAHH! YYYEEEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!" That's what all you fucking fanboys sound like to me, every time I hear you talk all glowingly about The Force Awakens just because there's a robot that kinda acts like R2D2.)

And that's such a tragedy in so many ways, because I was such a huge obsessive fan of Abrams' first three projects to get really big, which all just happened to be long-running television shows: the tender and often very witty character dramedy Felicity that used to run on the WB; the inventive spy thriller Alias that aired on ABC; and of course Abrams' infamous ABC follow-up to that, the genre-defying Lost which to this day continues to be one of the greatest five television shows of all time. (And this is to say nothing of other such underrated projects like Regarding Henry and Fringe.)

All of these projects were just brilliantly unique, so fascinating and entertaining and like nothing else I had seen before; and so knowing what he could be doing if he had stuck to creating more original projects, I can't help but to be bitterly disappointed and hugely let down by his career turn into "King of the Ripoff" territory in recent years. But, given how much worse such things like the Mission Impossible reboot and the Alien reboot and the Star Trek reboot and the Star Wars reboot would've been without him (not to mention his Godzilla "homage" Cloverfield, his E.T. "homage" 8MM, etc), that makes me sorta glad that he was at the helm of all of those things, and was at least able to bring some intelligence and flair to what essentially amounted to a job description of, "Spoon-feed the flyover bubbas exactly what they're expecting so we can all make a billion dollars off their stupidity." But Jesus, I just wish he would intersperse these creative tendencies -- to do another Lost as a follow-up to every fanboy crap project like The Force Awakens, to do something startlingly original after each giant paycheck he takes from a studio to do a professional dumbing-down of his abilities. It's why Abrams remains one of the most fascinating artists we have working in America today, but why he so often drives me so goddamn crazy.

- x -

So like many Netflix customers, I no longer end my day by watching a couple of TV shows on syndicated network television before heading to bed, but instead now do so at Netflix itself, where I have a lot more control over which old "comfort food" show I'm going to watch from the beginning to the end of its run, and don't have to worry about missing an episode of that run on some random Tuesday night I couldn't tune in. Recent run-throughs in the last couple of years include the entire run of 30 Rock, the entire run of Friends, the entire run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the entire run of 3rd Rock from the Sun, and a lot more; and the most recent run I'm just finishing up these days is the old NBC comedy Frasier, one of that network's last hurrahs of multi-camera live-theater-type sitcoms, and one of the last additions to their once fabled "Must See TV" Thursday-night line-ups before lazy executives finally gave up and decided to just vomit fucking Kardashians all over us 24 hours a day.

Frasier has been a particularly interesting sitcom to watch from beginning to end again (my first time doing so since the show was originally on the air), for two reasons: first, I ended up giving up on the show's original run about three years before it finished, because I had lost my patience with the way that Niles and Daphne's forced and badly labored romantic relationship had completely taken over the show (much like how I gave up on the final years of Friends because of the same thing happening with Monica and Chandler); and second, because it's only become clear years after the show's run that lead actor Kelsey Grammer is a real scumbag, one of those Tea Party Trump-loving "Obama is a Muslim" conspiracy-theory fucks, whose post-Frasier career has consisted of him desperately taking any two-bit embarrassingly shit part in any lazy Hollywood hack job that will allow him to have the excuse to keep appearing on talk shows, and who in his personal life has been married four times (including a second wife who was an active stripper at the time he married her), started sleeping with a woman thirty years younger than him months before leaving his third wife (a former nude model), then got the mistress pregnant while he was still technically married, letting that third wife know he wanted a divorce through an iPhone text message.

So with that in mind, here are six observations I've ended up making about this newest full viewing of Frasier, some of which are just general thoughts but some of which become much more interesting when remembering recent events in Grammer's life...

--Grammer found an excuse to appear shirtless on the show way more times than I originally remembered, literally three or four times every single season for the show's entire run, which comes off as really creepy when you watch all the episodes in a row.

--Also, about once a year or so, some actress would appear in the guest-star role who was clearly not a good enough actress to warrant the casting; and, all of these actresses had the same general features (either dark hair or bleached dark hair, big eyes, super-thin, and who talks with a European accent); and, these are the exact same traits as all three of Grammer's ex-wives. When you watch all the episodes in a row, especially taking his now public personal life into consideration, it makes it easy to wonder whether Grammer was playing "casting couch" on a regular basis throughout the show's run, and insisting every so often as the show's executive producer to book an untalented actress who he had just slept with.

--I wasn't just imagining things -- the show really does take a sharp downward turn right around season 8 or so, right when Niles and Daphne are forced together as a couple despite the actors having literally zero on-screen chemistry together. (I love David Hyde Pierce, don't get me wrong; but watching him have to deliver flirtatious lines to Jane Leeves makes me cringe each and every time it happens.)

--Also, the quality of the show is actually a lot spottier than I remembered; although it's littered with brilliant episodes that are just as funny after multiple viewings as they were the first time, it also becomes clear after a binge-watching that there were a certain amount of episode tropes that they revisited over and over, literally once a year for an entire decade -- an episode where the brothers throw a dinner party and everything goes wrong, an episode where everyone stays in a cabin and gets each others' bedrooms mixed up in the middle of the night, an episode where they all go to the SeaBee Awards and make fools of themselves, an episode where one of the Cranes gets mistaken for gay, etc. It's easy to miss this when you're watching the shows in real weekly time from one year to the next; but when you watch a multi-camera sitcom's entire run at once like with Netflix, it's depressingly easy to see how much of network television for decades relied on just basically repeating the same few premises over and over and over and over again.

--And speaking of those repeating tropes, it was funny to see with new eyes how the show treated homosexuality; I specifically remember thinking how sophisticated and enlightened they handled the subject back in the '90s when I first watched the episodes, but in the 2010s those episodes simply come across as the usual gay panic but simply using bigger words. This in general is just an interesting thing about getting older, about how you can look back at times when you and everyone else thought you were being so progressive and sophisticated about social issues (when I was in high school in the '80s, we were so proud of ourselves simply for not wanting to kill gay people on sight), but how in hindsight you can see just how myopic you were still being in comparison to the times you live in now. (And how in yet another thirty years from now, this cycle will once again repeat itself; so if you're in your twenties now, don't be too terribly proud about how enlightened you are just because you don't want to kill a transgendered person on sight.)

--And finally, speaking of quickly changing social mores, it made me laugh out loud with this most recent watching of Frasier, each and every time someone on the show says, "Frasier Crane? From the radio??!!" Oh, what a quaint world we used to live in, when the entire city of Seattle knew who Frasier Crane was, just because he had an afternoon show on an obscure AM talk radio station. Sigh.

Copyright 2016, Jason Pettus. Released under a Creative Commons license; some rights reserved. Contact: ilikejason [at] gmail.com. Powered by Movable Type 5.01. This site is graciously hosted for free by Jimi Sweet. Subscribe via RSS: summaries | full text