So Many Supergirls

With the current cross-platform appeal of superheroes, it’s quite common to see two or three different iterations of popular characters appearing concurrently in different mediums. And while it may get confusing for some, at least it’s easy to visually distinguish them due to their medium. For example, you know just by looking at an image of Wonder Woman if she is the comic book, movie or animated version of the Amazing Amazon.

Then there are cases like Supergirl. DC Comics’ Girl of Steel has not only had multiple iterations spread across comics, film, television and more – she’s had multiple iterations within DC’s comic book line alone (and that’s without even counting the ones from DC’s non-continuity comics aimed at younger readers). And these iterations have been so distinctive from one another that when a fanboy talks about  “Supergirl from the comics”, she will most definitely be given an era-specific tag. And then add to that mix the various other Supergirls you’ve got floating around pop culture and things can start to get real confusing, real quick.

So let’s just break ‘em all down right here and now, shall we?

The Current Line-Up

These are the Supergirls regularly appearing in currently-produced content:

Supergirl (DC Comics) 

AKA the “Rebirth Supergirl”. The current comic book version of Kara Zor-El, last daughter of Krypton and cousin to Superman was recently given a soft reboot to bring her more in line with the other high-profile Supergirl currently appearing on television in…

Supergirl (The CW) 

Melissa Benoist flies high as part of Greg Berlanti’s superpowered “Arrow-verse” line-up of connected CW shows that include The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. As Linda Danvers, she works for CatCo Media and as Supergirl, she fights superhuman threats alongside her special agent adoptive sister and the D.E.O (Department of Extra-Normal Operations).

DC Super Hero Girls (multi-platform) 

As part of DC Entertainment’s animated/graphic novel/toy line aimed at young girls, Supergirl here is a neophyte hero sent to Super Hero High to hone her skills alongside super-powered classmates that include teen versions of Wonder Woman and Batgirl.

Previous/other versions 

The “Pre-Crisis” Supergirl 

This was the first (and for many people), most definitive Supergirl. For her first 26 years as a comic book character, it was smooth sailing for Supergirl. She was introduced to the world as Kara Zor-El, cousin to Superman, whose family lived on a fragment of Krypton that had survived that planet’s destruction. Eventually the city was threatened by a cataclysmic meteor shower and her parents sent her to safety in a rocket to Earth, much like her cousin Kal-El, years before.

Placed in an orphanage under the alias “Linda Lee” and keeping her identity as Supergirl hidden from the world, she was eventually adopted by the Danvers, went public as Supergirl and was an admired heroine from her teens into her twenties.

Then came the Crisis on Infinite Earths, where DC Comics decided they needed to tidy up all their multiple-earth continuity by rebooting their whole universe and starting fresh. And to signal that they meant business, they killed off some of their biggest names, the first of which being Supergirl.

The Post-Crisis Supergirl(s) 

Now here’s where it starts to get a little crazy. Shortly after killing off Supergirl and rebooting their universe, there was talk around DC about bringing Supergirl back somehow (in the post-Crisis DCU “Supergirl” never existed, so no one was aware there had ever been a “Supergirl” and that she died saving the universe in the Crisis). So here’s what DC did next.

Matrix Supergirl 

A shape-shifting blob of protoplasm (really), Matrix was from an alternate Earth and she took the guise of “Supergirl” when she came to seek Superman’s help in saving her Earth. She eventually stayed on the Earth of the DCU proper and permanently adopted the role of Supergirl.

Supergirl (Linda Danvers) 

To save a dying woman, Matrix Supergirl merged with her (remember, she’s really just a blob of protoplasm). The woman, one Linda Danvers, and Matrix Supergirl then permanently become one being, “Supergirl”. After having a number of adventures (and modifying her costume to look similar to the animated version of Supergirl that was currently appearing on television), she eventually retired from being Supergirl, which paved the way for DC to bring in the new…

Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) 

The classic Supergirl was finally properly reintroduced to the post-Crisis DC Universe, as Kara Zor-El, long-lost cousin of Superman, crash landed to Earth in a meteorite that was once part of Krypton. The teen super-heroine was eager to learn about her new home and eventually worked alongside the Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes and the Justice League. All seemed well, until…

The “New 52” Supergirl 

The “New 52” was DC’s attention-grabbing but poorly-thought out and hastily-executed attempt to gain exposure, sales and general interest for their comic book lineup. They rebooted their universe (again) and relaunched all of their titles with new #1 issues. Supergirl, here again, was a refugee from Krypton, arriving to Earth as an teen, albeit one who was prone to bursts of anger and was, dare I say, not very likeable. And she also had a very questionable costume – thigh-high boots with knee cut-outs and a bathing-suit like outfit with a very unfortunate placement of red paneling. She did, however, manage to make friends with others long enough to briefly join the Justice League United (it was this Supergirl who was given the soft reboot to become the “Rebirth” Supergirl mentioned above).

But wait, there’s more! 

Remember, this all came about because we were talking about different iterations of heroes across different mediums, so I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention:

  • Kara, as portrayed by Helen Slater in the 1984 film Supergirl.
  • Kara, as portrayed by Laura Vandervoort (in the television series Smallville)
  • Supergirl from the DC Animated Universe (Superman Adventures and Justice League United)
  • Supergirl from the Lego Batman video game franchise
  • Supergirl from the Injustice video games and tie-in comics

As well as these other (non DCU) comic versions:

  • Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures In The 8th Grade
  • Tiny Titans

…and there you have it!

Although there’s bound to be some outliers I missed here and there…just be glad I didn’t fold Power Girl into the mix (aka the Supergirl of Earth 2), because she’s a whole ‘nother ball of confusion!

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Entertainment High Points of 2017

I don’t consume nearly enough content of any one form of entertainment to properly do a 2017 “Top 10” for it. However, I do consume enough content across all forms of entertainment to compile a list of those that were some of the definite high points of 2017…and here they are.

Wonder Woman 

She came, she saw, and she conquered. Three movies in, and DC Entertainment’s attempt to grab a piece of the cinematic universe pie that Marvel has been gorging on for close to a decade now was still less than well-received by both fans and critics. The dour, gritty and grim DC “extended universe” trifecta of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad did well enough at the box office, but weren’t getting movie-goers hyped up to see any more doom-and-gloom adventures from their favourite DC icons. Enter Diana of Themyscria—princess of the Amazons, in a tale filled of hope, triumph, and yes, wonder (not to mention one that was far removed from the era of previous DCEU films, by about nearly 100 years). Gal Godot brought charisma, honesty, strength and humour to her portrayal of the Amazing Amazon and the world responded. With a global take higher than even the most optimistic predictions ($821 million), Wonder Woman bested all other DCEU films at the box office, including the surprisingly under-performing, Justice League (which exceeded meager expectations and deserved better than to have made less than Suicide Squad).

Will & Grace 

When rebooting a series, the key to capturing the magic of the original is simple: Don’t change a thing. Will & Grace reappeared after an 11-year absence and it was like they’ve just been here all along. Welcome back, gang.

Dynasty 

File this remake under “guilty pleasures”. The 80s smash that brought to the masses shoulder pads, catfights and royal wedding massacres well before Game of Thrones, was given a fresh start with via deliciously enjoyable CW makeover. Still focusing on the uber-rich Carrington clan, the action has moved from Denver to Atlanta, the cast is more diverse, and mogul Blake Carrington is now years away from becoming a silver fox (but is still a fox nonetheless, as he’s played by Melrose Place alum, Grant Show). Unfortunately, it’s ratings have it languishing near the bottom of CW’s current roster. Here’s hoping Nicolette Sheridan will help pull in some more viewers when she arrives on the scene as the new Alexis (aka the role that shot Joan Collins into the celebrity stratosphere).

Astonishing X-Men 

Years ago, Marvel was miffed that they didn’t own the film rights for the X-Men and Fantastic Four (which they sold when they were in the throes of bankruptcy) and decided if they can’t play with their toys on the big screen, then they aren’t going to play with them at all, and effectively slid the X-Men and Fantastic Four to the back burners of the Marvel Universe while they tried upping the profiles of their lesser-known, but wholly owned entities (namely, The Inhumans and Guardians of the Galaxy). So, it was a bit of a surprise when they recently re-launched their mutant comic book line-up with 8 new titles. The line-up is a mixed bag in both quality and content, but the clear standout is Astonishing X-Men.  This 12-issue limited series is a welcome return to form that features a classic, throwback cast consisting of Rogue, Psylocke, Gambit, Archangel and Bishop (along with wild cards Fantomex, Mystique and Old Man Logan) who join forces with their deceased mentor Charles Xavier to wage battle in the otherworldly realm of the Shadow King, with nothing less than the fate of the whole world as we know it at stake (or in other words, just another Tuesday in the MU).

“Bad Liar” – Selena Gomez 

I’ve been pretty indifferent when it comes to the musical output of Selena Gomez. It’s there, I don’t mind it, but I’m certainly not going out of my way to listen to any of it. That all changed with “Bad Liar”. Mature and hypnotic, this brought a new side of Gomez to the forefront – I had actually heard it a few times before finding out it was her, and was pleasantly surprised when I did. The only drawback? The accompanying 70s suburbia slice-of-life video, which places Selena in multiple roles that range from sublime (her ultra Farrah-esque gym teacher is a joy to watch) to downright skeevy (babyfaced Selena in full crotch-grabbing male drag, porn-stache and all, is just unconvincing and unsettling). Thankfully, the music has enough merit to stand on its own.

Now before I wrap this up, I’d like to give a shout-out to a couple of podcasts. While both of these actually premiered prior to 2017, they nonetheless brought such joy to me throughout this year that they couldn’t go unmentioned.

Who? Weekly 

Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber keeps the chuckles coming with this twice-a-week podcast where they dish about the pseudo-famous (and Rita Ora) by giving you “everything you need to know about the celebrities you don’t”.

Bitch Sesh 

Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider’s humourous podcast where they, along with a bevy of brilliant guests, examine all things Real Housewives (with a hilarious helping of all things Casey and Danielle as well).

And now for my highest high point of 2017…

“Cut To The Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen 

It’s an injustice that Jepsen’s post-“Call Me Maybe” output hasn’t been embraced even half as much as her career-making #1 smash (although I place a big part of that blame on the video for what should have been the big hit lead single off her sophomore album. Having Tom Hanks lip-sync nearly the entirety of “I Really Like You” while riding in a cab and doing other mundane things is definitely not something that encourages multiple views on YouTube). However, this track, originally left off said sophomore album only to find a home in Leap!, the little-seen animated ballerina flick featuring the voice of C-Rae Jeps herself, is something that demands attention. Energetic, exuberant and contagious, it was the perfect counterpoint to all the things that made you go “ugh” in 2017.

 

Happy New Year everyone!

Pepsi: The Pop of Many Flavours

As far as brands and products in pop culture go, Pepsi Cola is one of the biggies. It’s legendary, iconic, popular and known around the world. One of the ways to keep a brand fresh year after year is to reinvent itself through experimentation and innovation. For Pepsi, that can take on a major form, like logo redesigns, slogan changes or adding a new flavour to their line-up. It can also come in smaller forms, like tie-in merchandising or launching limited-time or region-specific flavours.  

And that’s where we’re going today. Pepsi is no stranger to the limited edition (or short-lived) flavour-game, and since this holiday season they opted to foist upon the public a little treat known as Salted Caramel Pespi (just the idea makes me shudder), I thought it might be a good time to look back at some of the highlights of Pespi’s infamous flavour history to see just where Salted Caramel ranks the list of Wow! To WTF? 
To start things off, I think I should point out that this is not the first caramel flavoured Pepsi product! (It’s also not the first to have a “salt” flavour – but more on that later). That distinction goes to Caramel Cream, part of the Pepsi Jazz line of diet Pepsi drinks available from 2006-2009. The other flavours (at launch) included Strawberries and Cream and Black Cherry French Vanilla (which sounds like they couldn’t decide on whether Black Cherry or French Vanilla should be the third flavour and someone finally said – “eh, just mix ‘em together”). 

And it’s also not the first Christmas-themed Pepsi. The cinnamon-tinged Pepsi Holiday Spice debuted in 2004 and the nutmeg-and-cocoa flavoured Christmas Pepsi appeared in 2007 and 2008. Both sound much more appealing than Salted Caramel Pepsi. 

Now let’s dig deeper and see  what other random acts of flavour Pepsi has committed in the past: 

Pepsi Blue and Crystal Pepsi 
A list of Pepsi flavours wouldn’t be complete without these two Pepsi failures. The fruity, blue-coloured Pepsi Blue was an insta-pass with consumers and Crystal Pepsi’s big thing (that it was Pepsi…only clear), was a big miss as well. 

Pepsi Tropical Chill, Strawberry Burst and Raging Razzberry  
Nothing says “90s” more than this trio of flavours that never made it out of test markets in 1991. From the can design to the naming convention, these seemed like Pepsi’s misguided attempt to market “outrageous attitude” in a can. 

Pepsi Fire
Jumping ahead to the present day, this limited-edition, cinnamon-flavoured Pepsi launched in the summer of 2017 with a simultaneous big push as a featured Slurpee flavour at 7-11.  

Pepsi Cappucino – one of many coffee-flavoured Pepsis, this one is only available in Russia and parts of Europe. Which is a perfect segue to… 

Pepsi Goes International 
Here’s where things start going off the rails. We’re going around the world – so get your Pepsi passport ready for some distinctly different stamps flavours.  
 
Pepsi Samba (Australia)  
“Tropical flavoured” Pepsi with mango and tamarind 
Pepsi Boom (Germany) 
Pepsi with no caffeine, no sugar and no artificial sweeteners (aka “no-fun Pepsi”) 
Pepsi Green (Thailand) 
Thailand’s answer to Pepsi Blue + Crystal Pepsi. A green-coloured Pepsi that tastes just like…Pepsi 
Pepsi Ice Cream (Russia) 
Apparently it tastes like cream soda, but why give your Pepsi a known beverage flavour when you can name it after a dessert food instead? (Mmm…I could really go for a Glazed Donut Pepsi, right now) 

And now for the international all-star. Japan is playing the Pepsi game on a whole ‘nother level, y’all. This is but a mere sampling of the whacked-out concoctions they have filling their store’s Pepsi-branded shelves and cooling units:

Pepsi Salty Watermelon
See? I told you salt would be making a reappearance!
Pepsi Ghost
A Halloween limited edition “mystery” flavour. Spooky, indeed.
Pepsi Blue Hawaii
Blending together the natural flavours of lemon and pineapple and blue. 
Pepsi White
For those people who prefer their Pespi tastes like yogurt and looks like Alka-seltzer. 

Well, congratulations Japan, you did it. Suddenly, Salted Caramel Pepsi doesn’t seem that crazy anymore. 

Halloween Treats: FANGORIA Flashback

Recently my LCS (local comicbook store) had something interesting tucked away at the end of its new releases rack. A handful of vintage, shrink-wrapped FANGORIA magazines, from their first few years of publication (a time before I had even heard of the magazine, let alone was old enough to buy them)!

Few people outside of its target audience are familiar with Fangoria magazine. But for horror-movie heads in the 80s and 90s, Fangoria was sacred text. In that pre-internet era, it was the ONLY source of horror movie news, special effects features and behind-the-scenes info and interviews.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t always meant to be that way. Originally conceived of as FANTASTICA, it was intended to be a companion to Sci-Fi mag STARLOG, but focusing more on fantasy, freaks and creatures. A legal wrangle prompted the last-minute name change to FANGORIA and cover star Godzilla helped launch issue #1. One year and six issues later, Fangoria still hadn’t caught on, and was losing money with each publication. A creative shift came next that ramped-up the focus on horror (as those were the features that were proving most popular with readers) and that’s when things started to click. And Fango never looked back.

It surged in popularity through the 80s and 90s, and, quite amazingly for such a niche magazine, it managed to survive and thrive in the post-internet era. The Fango empire grew to include such offshoots as: a multi-city series of horror movie conventions (Weekend of Horrors/Trinity of Terrors), an annual horror awards ceremony (the Chainsaw Awards) and a film production/distribution company, (Fangoria Films). Unfortunately, not all good things can last forever and Fango ceased its regular print production in 2015. But the Fango spirit still lives on (mainly through its still-active website Fangoria.com).

Now, back to my back issue discovery. I picked up a trio of these flashback fright mags, and later noticed  they were issues #2, #12, and #22 – each published about a year and a half apart – and noted that taken together, they provide nice little snapshots of how Fangoria found its footing during its early years on the cusp of the modern horror film boom. So, in honour of all the Halloweens and other times of the year that Fangoria provided heaping helpings of horror, join me as I take a look back at the early years.

Issue #2, October 1979

  • Cover – Evidence of Fangoria’s non-horror roots abound, from the tagline “Monsters, Aliens and Bizarre Creatures” to the Doctor Who pull-out poster, to a feature on the fantasy art of Carl Lundgren.
  • New releases – Creature feature Prophecy and the sci-fi tinged Phantasm check off the current horror boxes for this ish.
  • Nostalgia alert – Fango didn’t just cover contemporary movies. In fact a large portion of its page count in the early years came from nostalgia features, as this issue exemplifies. In addition to the War of the Worlds piece featured on the cover, this issue also featured deep dives into ’30s classics Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein. 
  • Shape of things to come – In the Postal Zone letters column an editorial reply to a fan confirmed that “Horror will continue as our main concern”
  • Shape of things not to come – Elsewhere in the Postal Zone, Fango confirms that the next JAWS sequel will be titled National Lampoon’s JAWS III, People: 0 and is to be co-produced by the teams behind Animal House and the JAWS films. Obviously that sequel never came to fruition and instead, 4 years later, we got JAWS 3-D.
  • Flashback fun –  Upcoming projects mentioned include blurbs about John Landis’ , American Werewolf in London and acclaimed “young director” John Carpenter’s The Fog, the follow-up to his mega-hit Halloween.

Issue #12, April 1981

  • Knightriders (George Romero’s knights-on-motorcycles flick), Clash of the Titans and a profile of a Warner Bros. animator prove that there’s still a mixed bag of genres being covered.
  • Nostalgia alert – A Roger Corman interview and a look back at the gimmick films of William Castle
  • New releases – Friday the 13th Part II gets the horror spotlight here, with other contemporary fright features spotlighting the Michael Caine thriller The Hand and an interview with director Tobe Hooper, fresh off The Funhouse.
  • Flashback fun – Director Steve Miner on his directorial debut, Friday the 13th Part II: “…even if it were a huge bomb, which I know it won’t be…” (an obviously true prediction, but doubtful that even the confident Miner would have predicted that his sequel would be the first of a franchise that would eventually include 9 sequels, a cross-over and a reboot)
  • Now filming – Announced as “currently filming” is a little film based on a Phillip Dick novel called Blade Runner.

Issue #22, October 1982

  • Cover – Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Friday the 13th Part IIICreepshow – by virtue of the cover alone, you can see that Fango has now pretty much embraced the horror-heavy focus that would remain for the rest of its run.
  • Still room for more – The non-horror spotlight shines it diminishing light on  The Beastmaster and Pink Floyd’s The Wall
  • The hostess with the mostest! – Elvira, Mistress of the Dark gets an “introduction” article, profiling the television host of the then Southern Cal-broadcast-only Movie Macabre.
  • Paging Dr. Loomis – The push behind Halloween III is quite amazing, everyone is all gung-ho on this non-Michael Myers non-sequel as being the start of turning the Halloween movies into an anthology franchise (and we all know how that turned out – HIII flopped, angered fans and caused the series to go dormant for 6 years while Jason and Freddy dominated the slasher scene, until they finally dusted off Michael’s white mask and let him loose in Haddonfield once again)
  • Silver Shamrocks – But still, being able to order the masks that are central to the plot of Halloween III, was a pretty sweet marketing tie-in (obviously aimed at collectors, but I wonder if any parents actually shelled out the dough to get some of these for their kids– especially given what happens in the movies to kids who wear the masks….)

And that’s about it for this FANGORIA Flashback! So, I guess all that’s left to say is…“ ‘Fangs’ for the memories!” (ouch. Sorry.)

Happy Halloween!

Having a Revival

We’ve had the remakes, reboots and reimaginings. The hot “re” trend in entertainment this year is the one making all the buzz over in Television: revivals. And really, it’s funny that it took so long to catch on, because when you look all the other “re” formats, the goal has been the same (trying to capture, capitalize on, or remind people of what made the original such hits),  so what took everyone so long to just forget about trying to build a new one and just bringing back the original instead?

Well, while there has been the occasional revival popping up here or there over the past decade, there needed to be one that was significant enough, successful enough to spur it into the next big trend.

And that something happened in early 2016, when FOX brought back one of its most successful, iconic series ever –  The X-Files – for a 6-episode 10th season. Coming almost 15 years after it ended its 9-season run and nearly 8 years since the last appearance of its co-stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dan Scully (in the second X-Files film, 2008’s Fight the Future), the revival was a ratings bonanza. Plans were made for an 11th season (which will launch in 2018 with 10 episodes), and suddenly nostalgia was big in the network boardrooms. Now, in 2017 we know what made the short list for the first wave of revivals – so let’s take a look at where we are, and just what kind of revivals we’re dealing with, shall we?

The “Be Careful What You Wish For” Revival

Twin Peaks
Original Run: 1990 -1991 (2 Seasons)

The return of Twin Peaks after over 25 years had fans and media alike all abuzz, not only because of the groundbreaking nature of  the David Lynch/Mark Frost series, but  because the original left so many loose ends and had ended on a killer of a cliffhanger, with FBI  Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) seemingly possessed by the malevolent BOB, the entity responsible for the death of teen queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) that kicked off the series proper.

Everyone was eager to return to that serene yet unsettling Pacific Northwest hamlet and revisit the admirable and eager Dale Cooper, catch up with fan fave characters like Audrey Horne and to finally get some answers. Unfortunately…

Praised by many for what it was (ambitious, audacious, engrossing), Twin Peaks Season 3 still disappointed many in what it wasn’t. Specifically, it wasn’t a show mainly set in Twin Peaks and it didn’t showcase star Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper  (which I would think would be the two “givens” in reviving a show such as this – y’know, setting it in the title town and featuring it’s one true lead character). Instead we got:

  • A season that spent a lot of time in Las Vegas and South Dakota (along with New York and various other cities, big and small)  with only the occasional detour back to Twin Peaks – not counting  the regular closing credits run at the most happening music venue in the Pacific Northwest, The Roundhouse.
  • Kyle MacLachlan as bona-fide Dale Cooper for a total of only 3 episodes. Out of 18.  Appearing as his evil doppelganger Mr. C was fine and necessary. But instead of having that turn balanced out with our guy Coop, we had to endure over a dozen episodes of MacLachlan as Cooper’s shuffling, infuriating, barely functioning simpleton doppelganger, Dougie Jones. It’s the kind of thing that can make you turn on a show pretty quick.
  • New characters favoured over old characters. No offense to Naomi Watts, but when Lynch decides that the wife of Dougie Jones deserves substantial screen time and a nice character arc across the whole season but then doesn’t bring in our beloved Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) until episode 13 and then only  gives her a couple of ambiguous scenes that leave us more concerned rather than content, you can’t help but feel Lynch is personally trying to punish us for something.
  • So many drawn-out, lingering shots. Twin Peaks Season 3 got upped to 18 episodes at Lynch’s request early in the game. And this is one time I wish a network would have put their foot down with an auteur, because in those 18 episodes, the amount of time spent on silent lingering shots of inaction or silence (to the point where it felt like Lynch was just trolling the audience) could easily have been edited out to leave a nice, tight dozen eps.

And then, in the end, we got Dale Cooper back, we kinda got Laura Palmer back, but then we were left with even more questions (SO many questions), more loose ends, more cliffhangers and no indication at all when or even if we’ll get a Season 4 to provide any sort of closure…to anything. *SIGH*

The “Sure, Why Not?” Revival (aka The “Why Fix It If It Ain’t Broken?” Revival)

Will & Grace
Original run: 1998-2006 (8 seasons)

After a reunion “get out and vote” mini-episode became a viral hit late last year, the rumour of a revival of everyone’s favourite gays n’ gals sitcom quickly started making the rounds.

Soon, all four stars (Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes) announced they were game to come back, and it was on. An unofficial mission statement also let it be known that this was going to be exactly the Will & Grace you remember, just 11 years later (even going so far as to brush off the original finale’s downer of a flash-forward as just a bad dream of Karen’s). Buzz was so positive it was already renewed for a 10th season before season 9 even had it’s premiere.  But no worries there, because the return of Will & Grace was exactly what had been promised and they were rewarded for it by giving NBC it’s highest rating for a Thursday night comedy in 10 years.

The “Unsure How To Feel About This” Revival

Roseanne
Original run: 1988-1997 (9 seasons)

Almost three decades ago, Roseanne brought new life to the sitcom family genre by depicting a more realistic tv family than was currently popular (see: The Cosby Show). Everyone remembers how the show introduced us to Roseanne and Dan Conner (Roseanne Barr and John Goodman), their three kids, their perpetually messy house and how even though they struggled to make ends meet, they still found time to love and laugh (and insult and tease and torment).

But what many people fail to remember (or have blocked from their mind) was how off-the-rails it went in its later seasons, culminating in a truly bonkers 9th season where the Conners won the Megaball lottery and then went on to have all sorts of surreal adventures. Then, in the series finale, the whole season, and plenty of the whole series in general just got brushed away in a voice over, with Roseanne narrating that everything we had witnessesd over the years was her retelling of her family history for a book she was writing – but it was a history she had twisted and skewed as a way for her to “deal” with it.  So, now, in a voice over, she casually mentions that certain characters’ relationships, professions and even sexual orientations were actually different from what we had come to know all these years. And also, Dan was dead due to the heart attack he was depicted as surviving in season 8.

So yeah, I’m not getting my hopes up too high for this one – but they have managed to wrangle the majority of the cast back, so it looks like we might get another bad dream explanation coming up to explain the resurrection of Dan Conner.

The “No Way, You Are NOT  A Revival” Revival

American Idol
Original Run: doesn’t matter

AI, you do NOT get to call yourself a revival. You are a network shuffle series – a series that shopped itself out to other networks after being cancelled by its former network. You “went dark” for a ONE season – current shows have gone on hiatus for longer – so, I’m sorry (not sorry) but you do not get to jump on the buzzy revival bandwagon.

The Battle of the Network Stars 2017 Breakdown: Part 2

So, as we return to my “Battle” breakdown, I have some problems involving the teams.

Actually, I can deal with the problem I have with the team size (five just isn’t enough for the “marquee events” – even just one more person on each team would’ve made a huge difference) and I can put aside my issues with the team set-ups and how there’s no way to get invested with a team made up of random TV stars from across four decades, loosely grouped together as “TV Kids” or “TV Sitcoms”; especially after seeing how ABC squandered the potential of making teams based around one or two shows (I mean, they got 4 Pretty Little Liars castmates – they couldn’t have found just one more? And they unearthed both Jeremey Miller and Tracey Gold of 80s Growing Pains fame, yet Tracey was on Team TV Sitcoms in episode 1 and Jeremy was Team TV Kids, episode 6). But here’s my other team-related issue – and this ties into a big problem for the new BOTNS from a competition standpoint: the number of teams per battle and how they’re scored.

The original BOTNS had 3 teams, and each event was worth 100, 75, and 50 points for 1st 2nd and 3rd. The first 7 events were basically done to determine which two teams would advance to final event worth 100 points to the winner only – the Tug of War. This worked with three teams because the standard point system generally ensured that the top two teams would be less than 100 points apart. Only one occasion, though ABC had such a commanding lead that after the winning running relay they were 125 points ahead, so even if the lost the Tug of War, they would still win overall. So in that case, the Tug of War still went on, but it became a battle for 2nd place between NBC and CBS (remember as I mentioned previously, each celeb was playing for prize money and though the payout fluctuated at times, the difference between places at this time was a cool $5,000 per celeb).

Random teams at its finest. Seeing grandpa Jimmie Walker on a “TV Kids” team just seems all kinds of wrong

The new BTONS has a more complicated system in play, and it doesn’t hold up at all. Events range from awarding 1 point to 5 points, but without any consistency. Some events will give 1 point to the overall winner, but then other events will give both teams the opportunity to earn points – making it possible to have both teams earn the same number of points, therefore not changing the standing at all. Case in point: in the original Obstacle Course event, there was one overall winner, based on which team had the fastest combined time of their top male and top female competitors. The new Obstacle Course awards 5 points to a men’s winner and 5 to a women’s winner, meaning the teams can easily end up winning 5 points each and thereby not affect the overall standing of each team at all.

And then from nowhere the Tug of War rears its head with a 10 point pay-off. Now here’s the thing: I don’t think the producers noticed until things were underway just how poorly the score system was thought out – and were so intent on bringing back the classic Tug of War, that they didn’t realize that when you have a Tug of War as the final, all-deciding event in a competition between two teams, you’ve just rendered everything up to that point as meaningless. There’s no qualifying or eliminating done during the previous Battle events, and the Tug’s point total all but ensures that no matter how much a team is lagging throughout the day, if they can win the Tug they’ll win the Battle – unless one team is just so phenomenally better than the other that they will have 10+ lead if they win the Obstacle Course – and if that’s about to happen, you might just have to rig it so the Tug of War remains relevant.

Man, if it wasn’t for that flat, obstruction-free surface, he totally would’ve made it to the finish line first

And I think that may have already happened, because FAR too many celebs from the leading team have forgotten how their legs work in the final stretch of the Obstacle Course and inexplicably stumble, trip, fall and crawl until the other team passes them and wins the event, leaving it up to a Tug-Off to decide the winner.

And this leads into our next problem. In the original, the teams of 8 had to pick a 5-person Tug team who had a combined weight not exceeding 800lbs. This kept it as balanced a match up as it could be.

Now, with only 5 people on each team, everyone is in the Tug regardless of how unbalanced the weight ratio is. So what happens then is you get a team with Bronson Pinchot, Dave Coulier and Tom Arnold, all hovering around 200lbs each, tugging against a team with male lean machines like Joey Lawrence and Corbin Bleu who probably weigh less than their female teammates (in this case, Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields) and it’s game over. Forget athletic ability, because a team that loses the majority of events can still win the whole Battle if they can just sit on their collective fat asses and wait for the other team to exhaust themselves trying to move them. *SIGH*

Team Tootie never stood a chance tugging against Team Tubby

So to sum up, we’ve got no spectators, random teams, screwed up scoring, pointless events and a very lopsided finale where weight can trump ability. *DOUBLE SIGH*

BUT, disgruntled as I was about all this, something happened during episode 6 that sparked some hope in me. The announcers let two little things drop, almost as asides, as if to acknowledge the shortcomings we have all witnessed: 1) they posted a montage of all the celebs tripping and falling at the end of the Obstacle Course. Calling it out, but not outright saying anything – but definitely done with a wink. And 2) They casually mentioned that if one team didn’t win the Obstacle Course, they would be out of the running IF they didn’t take a handicap in the Tug of War. Aha! It’s not much, but it does give you a little hope that there may be a possibility of a real challenge awaiting if one team is so far behind, and that we won’t see them miraculously win the Obstacle Course, but instead see them drop a member from the Tug of War in exchange for a points bonus if they manage to win.

And again, I do not want to end on a bitter note, so let me just add that it has been really great seeing BOTNS alum come back to compete. And even if no one was there to watch, they still showed that they had it. Like 62-year old Shari Belafonte, paddling her way to a win in the Kayak Relay; former CBS team captain Lorenzo Lamas, guiding his new team to a BOTNS win; or, best of all, 76-year old Donna Mills, former BOTNS athlete AND cohost  (who even brought her original BOTNS trophy – awarded for her 1980 Team CBS win) not only winning, but slaying her event – Tennis – wherein she returned a record-setting 16 out of 20 serves. Way to go Ms. Mills – the spirit of the original BOTNS truly endures.

The Battle of The Network Stars 2017 Breakdown: Part 1

**UPDATE – glitches have been banished, and pics have now been added. Yay!**

So, I knew better than to expect that ABC’s reboot of its illustrious celebrity athletic competition series Battle of The Network Stars would come anywhere close to recapturing the magic, infectious energy of the original. Especially since there have been some major changes to the state of network television from the 70s and 80s. Back then ABC, NBC and CBS were the only major players in the network game who were duking it out for tv audience shares every night of the week, so making them battle network against network in athletic competition seemed wholly natural.

But still. ABC seemed to be coming at it from the right angle. They were honouring the original – evident by the vintage clips in the opening credits, they were opening up the players eligibility to current and former network stars, they were bringing back classic events, like the Kayak Relay, Obstacle Course and Baseball Dunk, they got real sportscasters to announce (although nowhere near as iconic as Howard Cosell) and they even secured Pepperdine University, home to almost every previous Battle, for the current  Battleground! I will say though, I was a little wary on how the new team concept was going to be executed – making teams based on themes like “TV Kids”, “Sex Symbols” and…”TV Sitcoms” (whoa, don’t get too creative there, guys) – but more on that later.

The first problem however, became apparent right from the start, and it remained there over the course of the next hour, through every event, dragging the spirit of everything down into depths of sadness and despair (I may be slightly exaggerating) and leaving me with one simple question. Where is everyone?

Bronson Pinchot is the blue speck on the far left, Kim Fields is the tiny red dot on the far right — and there’s noooo one else, anywhere.

Spectators abound in the orginal BOTNS, with Howard Cosell announcing (top) William R. Moses kayaking (middle) and Geoffrey Scott and Heather Locklear relaying (bottom)

One of the reasons the original BOTNS was such a success is that it was treated as an actual major sporting event, complete with spectators, cheerleaders and teammates on the sidelines cheering on the participants to victory. In the new BTONS, there is no one there. And I mean No.One.There. And let me tell you, it’s very disheartening to see Pepperdine’s massive outdoor track, shrouded in fog and completely empty…save for Lisa Welchel from The Facts of Life struggling in the distance to catch up to Dave Coulier from Full House as they run their leg of the relay race – supported by just a smattering of claps and hoots from their various demi-celebrities/teammates.

Ditto when the action shifts to Pepperdine’s Olympic-sized swimming pool. It’s been blocked off for just two sets of two swimmers, leaving only four teammates apiece clumped along one edge of this massive pool, cheering them on along with their two coaches.

And there’s another problem. The original BOTNS had 3 teams of 8 in each battle, so at any given time, you would have at least 18 celebs not actively participating, but cheering and supporting. The new BOTNS has only 2 teams of 5, which is problematic even outside of the lack of visual representation it causes – because this choice has warranted a restructuring of some of the events – making them much shorter. The swimming and  kayak relays have gone from 4-5 participants to 2. And as any BOTNS fan will attest, these events were always the most thrilling to watch because of the unpredictability of the match-ups, where the teams could go from first to third or vice versa with every new leg, tension building up as we all watched to see if each new celeb diving into the water would display some formerly hidden athletic prowess and surge ahead like a torpedo (Billy Moses!) or just sink like an anchor (Pamela Bellwood!). But now, with just 2 participants from 2 teams, the new relays are hardly relays at all, and over before tension can even get built up.

BUT before I get too gloomy about BOTNS redux,  there are some things that do get the thumbs up from me:

Improved Baseball Dunk – making the swimming pool double as the dunk tank AND placing the dunk platform 15 ft above it? Genius.

New Mini Events – the inclusion of smaller events (Soccer, Tennis, Basketball, Golf and Archery) and presenting them all “re-cap style” provides a nice tempo shift in the show and is very welcome addition.

Announcers – Joe Tessitori and Mike Greenberg do an admirable job of treating the BOTNS tradition with dignity, but are not above having a good laugh at the expense of the participants, whether it be at Olivia D’Abo managing to belly flop her way into the dunk pool or when regarding her Wonder Years costar Jason Hervey’s diva drama after he refuses to wear a red shirt (which is a part of his required uniform since he is on the red team) (he eventually switched to red).

Jodi-Lyn O’Keefe about to get dunked by Todd Bridges in the new and improved (yet still desolate-looking) baseball dunk

Coming Up in Part 2 – a closer look at the team structure and a deep dive into the BIG problem, competiton-wise, that’s plaguing the new BOTNS!