The 10 Cheesiest Sitcom Intros of All Time

Posted in General with tags , on April 8, 2010 by fieldingmellish

This is something I’ve had kicking around for awhile. Those who know me would likely say three things about me. 1) I need to get some new clothes. 2) I’m not exactly balding, but the future prospects don’t look good. And 3) I love sitcom intros and theme songs. More importantly, I like cheesy, objectively terrible sitcom intros. Show me a new one I haven’t seen and I’ll react like a 12 year old girl seeing Justin Whatsis at the Mall. I can watch them on YouTube for hours. And of course, I minored in Sitcommery at Columbia, with a concentration in theme songs. So if anyone’s going to make a list of this sort, it should be me.

First, you should watch Strong Bad tackle the dilemma of sitcom themes here. I have to admit I have cheated a little. Here are my rules: Firstly, nothing from the 70s. Not being alive hindered my ability to keep on top of TV then, but from what I’ve seen on YouTube, it wouldn’t be fair to the other decades to include the 70s. Too cheesy. Secondly, I tried very hard to not allow my feelings towards the show affect my feelings towards the intro, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Thirdly, songs and visuals count equally. We may no longer be living in the golden age of sitcom intros, but they were really important for awhile. With that intro, join me after the jump for my picks for 10 cheesiest intros of all time, along with way too many words for a blog post of YouTube videos. Warning! Due to the vagaries of YouTube, the volume of these embedded videos varies greatly from one to another. Be careful!

Continue reading

Advertisements

New Super Mario Bros. Wii and “Hardcore” Gaming

Posted in General with tags , on March 3, 2010 by fieldingmellish

I was going to write a post like this a few weeks ago, after Yahtzee posted his review of New Super Mario Bros, but I didn’t want to write about the game before I spent a lot of time playing it. If you haven’t seen the review, it’s worth watching before reading on. It’s here. I’ll wait.

Done? Great! If you didn’t bother to watch it, he spends half of his review complaining about the very idea that Nintendo even made this game. In his classic style, he rips the game for being a “remake of Mario 3” and representing the worst of the Video Game industry wringing dollars out of poor gamers who just want – nay deserve! – something new, but are too stupid to avoid the latest franchise game. Now, it should be pretty obvious that I am a fan of Zero Punctuation, since I namedrop like a congressman without a reservation at a restaurant. But I have to say, he is dead wrong on all counts.

I knew the review would be bad when it was sandwiched in with Left 4 Dead 2. I understand it’s tough to play a game every week and then write, record, and animate a review for it. So why on Earth would anyone think doing two would be best? And sure enough, from the word go it becomes pretty apparent that Yahtzee did not spend a lot of time playing Mario. He barely mentions the gameplay at all, outside the multiplayer. And this is a major problem because New Super Mario is all gameplay. Yep, the story, if you can call it that, is the same as always. Yep, 8 Worlds, end bosses, powerups, Yoshi and all the rest. It’s Mario. We know what we’re getting. So yes, if you are, like Yahtzee, completely opposed to franchises and sequels, then maybe this isn’t a game for you. If you think games need to be more cinematic and visual, or have moving stories and character development, then yeah, you’re shit out of luck. But if you like playing video games, maybe you should stick around and give it a chance.

My problem with the review, and with most kneejerk anti-Mario people, is that it basically assumes that yes, this is the same as other Mario games, which if you play for three levels it becomes clear this is absolutely not the case. It’s incredibly presumptuous and more than a little stuck up, because if you hold this attitude without playing it, then that means you cannot consider 2-D platformers real video games. Why is that, exactly? Since when do all video games have to be in 3-D? So you, Yahtzee and others upset by the plague of Halos and Tomb Raiders and brown, gritty first person shooters with lots of cleavage and terrible camera work, are totally willing to say to game designers, “stop making this entire sub-genre! You made games like that in the late-80s!” It’s hypocritical, but more importantly, it’s arbitrary and wrong.

I think part of the problem is that Mario owns 2-D platformers. With the possible exception of Mega Man 2, no one does a platformer like Mario. Nobody makes them any more because they’ll never be as good as Nintendo. They made a platformer in 1983 so good it single-handedly saved the home console market, and now, 17 years later, they made another one good enough to brighten the day of even the most jaded, bitter gamer.

Calling this game the same as Mario 3 is lazy. For one, the powerups are completely different. And for the first time since Mario 1, they are actually balanced. The Ice Flower is interesting because it can be used to kill otherwise indestructible bad guys, but it’s slow and only bounces twice. The Penguin Suit is a blast. The Spinny Hat thing is great because they finally made a flying powerup that doesn’t break the game.* Yoshi is back, but he doesn’t travel with you from level to level, he doesn’t lay or throw eggs, and he can hover, but only for a second. They make you think on your feet about which one to grab.

*Seriously, did anyone ever pick a fire flower when they had a chance to have a raccoon  tail or cape instead? The worst offender was the bunny ears in Six Golden Coins. You could basically stop playing the game after you got your first carrot, because you wouldn’t see much of the rest of it as you hovered from start to finish.

Not to be a killjoy by reviewing the “game” part of the game, but it’s actually really frickin’ good. The levels are a blast, with all sorts of traps and toys, new and old. It has an old-fashioned difficulty curve, and by the time you’re up to World 6 or 7, the levels can be controller-immolatingly difficult. Apparently, if you die a certain number of times trying to beat a level, they give you the option of having a computer controlled Luigi jump in and beat it for you. So you won’t get stuck, but you will be forced to sit there and stew as the computer takes its sweet-ass time showing you how it’s done.

The level design is actually outstanding. There are fun levels with giant Wigglers or a boat that only moves with fewer than five bad guys on it or blocks that move along a track and rotate at the same time. And of course, there are good old-fashioned run and jump and don’t die levels too. One of the most frustrating (in a good way) things about it is that the level designers seemed determined not to let you find a groove. In old Mario games, you could hit a rhythm with a leaf or something and beat a bunch of levels without dying. Here, the next level you play is loaded with unknowns. It makes for a varied experience. Unlike, say, Grand Theft Auto 4’s “drive here and kill them, then drive here and don’t let him die, then kill this other guy and watch a 10 minute cutscene” missions.

The boss battles with the Koopa Kids are usually sort of standard in the halfway castle, but fun and kooky in the end castle. This is the biggest departure from the old Mario games. Those boss battles were very samey, while these provide new and interesting challenges at every turn. Sure it’s annoying having to go back to the halfway point after losing one, but it really makes for some tense times. Exactly what a boss battle should be.

I have a few minor quibbles, of course. The item game takes entirely too long to play with one person, while the frequency of items, especially mushrooms, sort of cheapens them. It’s not hard to get to a point where you can use a mushroom before literally every level you play if you need too. The annoying on-map bad guys (where you have to grab 8 Toad balls without dying or turning gay) respawn, and you can beat them again for a limitless supply. Some of the big coins are in absurd places. It’s not a perfect game.

I haven’t even started on the Multiplayer yet. I don’t know how anyone who claims to be a fan of the original Mario can not like playing simultaneously with friends. It keeps everyone involved more than alternating. Plus, because of the bubble option and the separate lives/unlimited continues, you can play with people who aren’t as good and still have fun. When I first played, I spent a good portion of the game hammering the A button to not die. Sure, it can cause a little tension, since you all bounce off each other and the item boxes can dump items in a, to be generous, annoying way. But when you get in a grove, and the whole team is moving together and jumping and bouncing off each other, it looks a little like poetry in motion. For a veteran of those days, it’s fun to think about what your 8-year old self would have said about being able to play Mario 2 at a time. It’s almost like the Platonic Ideal of Mario 1. The 2-D platformer emerging from the cave and seeing what made all those shadows we remember so fondly. My only problem is the lack of a racing mode, first to the flag wins the level. That would have been a blast.

I sort of understand some of the hatred, actually. I mean, Nintendo has billions of dollars and could spend it trying to create something new. We have seen games like this before. And just like I happen to enjoy 2-D platformers, I appreciate that others just don’t. Even a game this good won’t sway them. But where I do have a problem is when the self-proclaimed “hardcore gamers” take a whack at it for not suiting their tastes. In the early days of video games, there was no distinction between hardcore and normal gamers. We all played the same games. Some people were just better than others. And then, as we got older and found new interests, we started to split into these ridiculous camps. But without Mario, without Zelda, without Donkey Kong, there wouldn’t be any hardcore gamers. A hardcore gamer shouldn’t be someone who spends a lot of money on games or outfits their PC with ridiculous video cards or only plays games with blood and boobs. A hardcore gamer should be someone who loves Video Games for what they are, from the games with great stories and complicated controls to the games with simple controls and fun levels. You can’t diss a game for not aligning with your tastes without trying to enjoy it. Otherwise, you’re the same as people who say video games are for kids or game x is too violent.

New Super Mario is a relic, sure. You can pick up the controller and play. No tutorial levels. No epic cutscenes to get you acquainted. Just plug in, pick up, and play. Isn’t that what a hardcore game should be? Easy to learn, tough to master? A Video Game, pure and simple. Somewhere, right now, some 8 year old is glued to the TV playing New Super Mario and getting frustrated at that one hammer brother in that one level and saving all his items because he might need them later. And 10 years from now, when Nintendo introduces another Mario game for the Nintendo Room, he can sniffle about how things were better in his day, and how all the damn kids should just play his game if they want to see a real Mario game. So blast poor Mario if you like. But without him, video game history would be bleak, and the future might be even bleaker.

Webcomic Weview – Dinosaur Comics

Posted in Comedy with tags , on February 23, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So, due to the massive groundswell of support for this new series, I am happy to present, in lieu of a birthday gift to Mike Lynch, a review of Dinosaur Comics! Apologies for the terrible embedding, but you can click on an image to see the full size.

Title: Dinosaur Comics

Author: Ryan North

URL: http://www.qwantz.com/index

Updates: Weekdays

Started: 2003

“Dinosaur Comics” is a good comic to start with for a series like this because it’s a comic that could never appear in a newspaper It likely would have ended up as nothing more than a sketch on a kid’s science notebook in 11th grade if we were living in 1985. Without the internet, this comic could never exist. The art is, um, unique? Every strip actually has the exact same drawings for every panel. Viz:

Every single comic has the same MS-Paint dinosaurs in the same MS-Paint world. T-Rex is always the main character. He always introduces the action and almost always has the punchline. Usually, the setup is given by Utahraptor, the orange guy in the 4th and 5th panels. Dromiceiomimus is the friendly girl dinosaur in panel three. She doesn’t always get lines. Occasionally, when the strip needs an early setup or foil for T-Rex, God (a bit of dialogue coming from the top of the panel) or the devil (a bit of dialogue coming from the bottom of the panel) will make an appearance. I only seriously started reading DC about a year and a half ago. I had discovered it well before then, but didn’t bother to bookmark it because I thought it looked stupid. “A comic with one drawing? Pish posh!” What a fool I was in my youth.

You really can’t let the art get in the way of your enjoyment of the comic. Even if you’re skeptical of the style, the writing will draw you in. Eventually, the art gets sort of expressive, in a weird way. North has set up a very difficult situation for himself here. Every single comic he writes has to conform to the exact same structure. There can be no visual jokes to spice up the strip. This is the comic strip at its barest. It’s actually interesting to note that when you think about it, most comic strips do the same thing. Does it really matter is Garfield is being lazy in the living room or the bedroom? Eating lasagna on the kitchen table or in the dining room? Maybe in 1991, but not any more. DC carries this attitude to its logical conclusion.

So, without the trappings of art and visual humor to fall back on, DC has to rely exclusively on its writing. Since it’s entering its 7th year in existence, you’d be safe to assume the writing is pretty darn good. And I’d be inclined to agree with you.

The general form of the joke is pretty standard, but interesting nonetheless. T-Rex will pose a statement or philosophical conundrum, which is explored for three panels. He is challenged by Utahraptor in a humorous exchange of viewpoints, then a punchline is delivered in the final panel. Often, as is the case with most good comics, there is a reaction to the punchline which is also funny. The major reason I like DC is the combination of intelligent, witty banter and goofy, often surreal outcomes. It’s a comic for smart people, but it’s not pretentious. The characters delve into some serious matters (like the pursuit of knowledge above), but do so in a wonderfully absurd way. There are occasional themes, but they tend to be one silly comic after another rather than a serial. It’s engaging but accessible. There’s a lot to swallow in each one. And after awhile, you begin to appreciate the way the jokes always fit the art.

If you notice, the three comics I’ve posted are obviously similar, but there are very subtle and effective differences between them, which keeps the comic fresh. I find it quite amazing the way the dialogue between T-Rex and Utahraptor can be so different from comic to comic without either ever saying anything out of character. I do have one minor quibble. Unlike xkcd, the mouseover text is really not very important to the enjoyment of the strip. A lot of times, I don’t even remember to read it. When I do, I don’t generally find it that funny (although the Teri Hatcher one above is pretty good). Part of this is because the strip is already very word-heavy and loaded with layers of meaning. Adding a 4th wall break to comment on the strip is almost never worth it for me. Your mileage may vary.

I’d say the best way to read the strip is to just dive in. Start at today and go backwards. Read some random ones (and you can click on the quote above every comic to go to a random one. I am not ashamed to say it took me months to figure that out). The early strips are, in my opinion, not as good. There’s too much continuity, it can be a little dramatic. For my money, Dinosaur Comics is at its best when it’s taking on big ideas in a goofy way. Relationships between the characters are not fertile ground here, and you won’t see many strips like that after 2004. For the best, I think.

Dinosaur Comics is not my favorite webcomic. For a long time, though, it was the comic I read first every day. It’s not always laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s always a fun read. There’s not really anything like it out there. While there are a million video game strips and a million stick figure strips and a million pseudo-dramatic hipster art/namedropping strips out there, there really is only one Dinosaur Comics. Give it a chance. I’ll bet you’ll like it.

A New Series?

Posted in Comedy with tags , on February 19, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So, here’s something I want to try. One thing I do every day is read webcomics. “Oh, what a loser,” you might be thinking. And you would be right. But here’s the thing. I have always loved comics. Peanuts, Get Fuzzy, the Far Side, etc. With the daily comic sections collapsing under the weight of shrinking, aging readership and terrible legacy strips that should have been canceled in 1987, I no longer read most dailies. However, the internet has created a medium for anyone with a dream and MS-Paint to try their hand at cartooning. And of course, this also means we are infested with a plague of terrible comics. But there are also some really great comics out there. And from my discussions with people, it is my feeling that not enough people have made the jump. Whereas if you asked someone in 1991 if they read Peanuts or the Far Side or Rex Morgan, MD, they would at least know what you were talking about. Now, with few exceptions, most people have no idea these things exist. So I want to introduce some of these to you. This probably won’t be quite as in depth or academic as the Sketch Primer series, since these are comic strips.* But I figured it would be nice to share what I think is an exciting trend and something I’m really interested in.

*Except “Questionable Content.” I could write a thesis about that. And I probably will.

So now you have another promise that will not only be broken, but be broken harshly and with great malice. You’re welcome!

Update on Updates

Posted in General on February 17, 2010 by fieldingmellish

Wow, so it’s been ages since I last wrote an update. As usual, I will blame life for getting in the way here, rather than myself for being addicted to Civilization and terrible Olympic coverage. But the good news is, I haven’t died yet, and I foresee more updates in the future. In fact, I even have a few upcoming ideas! Take a look:

FOR FOURSIDE

Why Sarah Palin needs to be the Republican Presidential nominee in 2012

Centrism vs. Moderation: Which is more fashionable at parties?

A ridiculously early 2010 election prediction

FOR MOONSIDE

Earthbound, or a few ideas about what makes a great video game

Why New Super Mario Brothers is Important

Sketch Primer 4: The Flying Circus

Something about Baseball. I haven’t decided what yet, but I have a few ideas kicking around.

So, keep checking back, or sign up to have my musings delivered straight to your email. I’ll be back on a regular posting schedule soon. Cross my heart.

The Comedy Book (or Bok)

Posted in Comedy with tags , on December 2, 2009 by fieldingmellish

I’ve been reading my new copy of This Mitchell and Webb Book, and this may shock you, but I really like it. And it got me thinking about the concept of the comedy book. And again, brace yourselves for this shocker, but I think the English do it better than we Yanks do.

Well, that’s not really true. I’m not saying there are no funny books in America. Woody Allen’s three books are about as funny as they get, for example. I’m a big fan of George Carlin’s Brain Droppings. Steve Martin has written some fun books as well. I’ve read and enjoyed all of these and more. But really, they’re just so, I don’t know, book-y. I like reading Woody Allen’s essays parodying existential novels or about absurd takes on philosophy, religion, death, the mafia, whatever. But the Mitchell and Webb book, when taken with its spiritual successor, the Monty Python books (or boks, I suppose), show a sort of new way forward for what a comedy book can be.

I suppose it’s not really fair to compare a book of essays or stand-up bits to a book with lots of pictures and goofy formatting. But these English-style broad comedy books (call them sketchbooks, I suppose. Or Boks. Let’s go with “Boks”) are quite a bit more interesting for the casual reader. There’s a sort of anarchic freedom that comes from having no limitations on your writing, except that it’s going to have to fit between two covers of as-yet indeterminate size and it can’t be constructed so as to get the publisher sued. Mitchell and Webb can zip from short comedic essay to bits from That Mitchell and Webb Look to parodies of newspapers and magazines and give the reader something very different on each page. I’m not saying it’s better than Getting Even or anything. It’s different. And there’s nothing really like it in the US.

The closest parallel I can think of without researching anything is the Daily Show’s America, the Book. It shares the illustration heavy, frenetically paced tomfoolery of the Boks. Even so, it’s still limited by the fact it’s clings relatively closely to parodying traditional textbooks, which forces it into discrete chapters with similar formatting. The fun zaniness is tempered by the depressing cynicism of the content as well.

Again, let me be clear about this. American humor books (all 11 of them*) are good. I just wish that when Monty Python wrote the Big Red Bok back in the 1970s, the style made the trip across the Atlantic. It’s a very fun type of book, which can be skimmed, picked up and opened to any page, and enjoyed. Like Mitchell and Webb themselves, there’s not really anything like it here.

*This is probably a rant for another post, but I get immensely depressed when  I go into Barnes and Noble and check out the humor section. There’s very little actual “humor” there. It’s mostly old Garfield compilations, Jeff Foxworthy books, and books with titles like “You Know You’re Over 50 When…” and “Evil Cat Pictures” and “101 Ways to Be a Supervillain.” It doesn’t really paint American Humor in a positive light.

I suppose there could be a correlation/causation thing between having lots of interesting sketch comedy and having interesting boks. Still, Mr. Show never had a book. I bet it would have been hilarious. So if you get a chance to check out one of these style books, do it. You probably won’t be disappointed.

Hello, friends! Jim Nantz here, taking a break from preparing for next years Masters. Did you know you can subscribe to receive Moonside updates via email? Check out the box at the top of the page! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go ask Nick Faldo what color socks to wear on my date tonight!

MNF Livebloggin’

Posted in Sports with tags , on November 30, 2009 by fieldingmellish

Disclaimer: I know much less about football than I do about Baseball or Golf or anything else I usually liveblog. So this is going to be a more casual, more laid back post than usual. NOW LET’S ROCK THIS SHIT! Continue reading