How I Spent the Rest of My Career, Part 4

As I bring this series to its close, I’m realizing I’ve so far skimped on the justification for writing it.

If the goal was simply finding media he’s been in that showcases his ego, his failure to draw an audience, and his willingness to show up in the most incompetent of productions, I could have reviewed Meego and The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy and called it a day. God, I wish I’d done that.

For Perfect Strangers fans, Bronson’s other roles appear to often be part of the experience. In the Facebook group, “P.S. I Love You“, if an actor from Perfect Strangers shows up in a guest spot in anything at all, someone will mention it. Mark’s on The Leftovers; Bronson’s on Chuck; everybody check it out! When they both appeared on some recent TV spots for ABC’s new TGIF block, hopes of a Perfect Strangers revival flared.

I believe some fans truly think of Bronson as a genuinely funny, sweet, and creative person. For some, he was their first crush. But for many, I think there’s a hope that seeing him keeps alive the feelings that Perfect Strangers gave them when they were younger. Just as Bronson, for much of the 90s, wished to recapture the same success he’d previously had, many fans appear to want to recapture their own youth, to continue believing that the magic of Balki hadn’t yet died. Bronson’s (published) opinions on Perfect Strangers and his overall career have shifted over the decades, but his fans’ opinions have held strong.

I don’t share in that type of fandom, or at least not in the same ways. The only actors whose presence would recommend a film or show to me are Sam Rockwell, Nicolas Cage, or Bob Odenkirk. But I’ve seen a far greater percentage of Bronson’s career than I have of any of those guys.

I’m not going to try to discredit anyone’s approach to fandom. So they want to fuck Bronson, so what? I’d give my right arm to go on a date with a mid-80s Mary Woronov or Batman-era Yvonne Craig. Hell, show your support any way you want to. Networks still pay attention to ratings, and I’m sure Netflix has a regression-analysis algorithm that tells them approximately how many people watched Sabrina just for Bronson.

But it’s a type of fandom that has some blinders on when it comes to picking our individual arbitrary lines in the sand to divide celebrities’ public and private lives. Our impressions of people–and our drive to maintain our own beliefs–can withstand serious amounts of evidence to the contrary.

If anything, I’d say this week’s post is my last attempt to figure out what aspects of Bronson are consistent across that public/private divide.

As we’ve seen over the past three weeks, 1996-1999 looked like they would be Bronson’s comeback. He was finding he did actually have some talent for voicework, even if he wasn’t getting called in for high-profile projects. He got a regular role on Step by Step, followed up by his third sitcom vehicle, Meego. He got cast for what appeared to be a dream role playing Stan Laurel, working for the “original” Bozo the Clown.

Everything should have been great.

But Meego got cancelled. The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy languished first in a film vault for a year, second on VHS shelves, and a third time as a DVD. What looked like a second chance for Bronson to rise to stardom disappeared because he couldn’t carry an entire family show by telling dirty jokes, and because he made the mistake of starring in a rewrite of Ernest Goes the Way of All Flesh.

If there are any connective links among Bronson’s roles from 1996-1999, it’s that they’re largely derivative of better, more inspired works. Well, and that they largely failed. Bronson came incredibly close to getting stuck in the 7th circle of entertainment hell: straight-to-video.

 

Go Hugo Go/Hugo the Movie Star (1998)

Character: Hugo

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It should be no surprise we’re starting off the last post in this series by having to correct the information on IMDB again. Go Hugo Go was originally released to Danish audiences in 1993 as Jungledyret Hugo; and Hugo the Movie Star in 1996 as Jungledyret Hugo 2: den store filmhelt. Both films were released–evidently with no promotional campaign–on video in the US in 1998. If you want to know the specific month, feel free to set up an eBay saved search for Video Store Magazine and wait until someone sells a complete set of issues from 1998.

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Go Hugo Go was released to over 20 different countries, a strategy which always strikes me as odd. A release across Europe, sure, not all of those countries have their own movie or animation industries. But it’s not like the United States has ever wanted for bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment to hold the shelves down at Big Lots. I know I’m generalizing, but for a lot of the later 20th Century, much of Europe followed American pop culture. When I was in Germany in 2004, I saw The Incredibles in the theater; hell, they showed Project ALF in theaters there in 1996.

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Both Hugo movies seem to be a mix of the Disney/CalArts and circa-1987 John Kricfalusi drawing styles, and it’s hard to imagine a multiply-derivative work like this going over with kids who had already moved on to Pokemon and Tamagotchi.

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Did anybody’s parents actually buy them this? If so, don’t hesitate to fly out to Georgia; I’ll give you a hug and tell you everything’s going to be all right.

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I can’t remember why I saved these particular screenshots, and I don’t feel like digging the DVD out of my closet to get better ones.

Verdict: I dare you to care whether Bronson did a good job, or whether this movie’s worth watching.

 

Slappy and the Stinkers (23 January 1998)

Character: Roy

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Bronson stars alongside B.D. Wong (whom I personally believe shares some DNA with Martin Short) and Jennifer Coolidge (here adopting an accent that makes it sound like she’s trying to talk around a rubber ball lodged in her throat) in this Little Rascals derivate about a bunch of private school kids attempting to save a sea lion. It’s so derivative, in fact, that it even cast two of the kids from The Little Rascals.

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I’m having some serious trouble believing that this movie ever made it into a theatre, much less 60 of them, because it’s the same level of quality that you’d get from, say, an early 90s New Concorde film like Munchie Strikes Back or The Skateboard Kid. It’s exactly the kind of movie that I would have rented in the summer of 1994 when I was making my way through the entire selection of Family Video in Rockmart, GA. I really feel for any kid five years younger than me who had choices like this or The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy at their Blockbuster.

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I’m a little confused at what exact type of subset of kids the Stinkers are supposed to be. They’re not the bullies–that role falls to two older kids the headmaster hires to keep tabs on the Stinkers. We’re supposed to believe that these five kids aren’t brainy, either–yet they’re shown taking their education into their own hands, skipping class to work on engineering projects like a rocket-powered hang-gliding office chair. And even though one of them pukes on command early in the film–

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–which lends Slappy and the Stinkers 1000x more personality than anything currently on the Disney Channel, they’re not the gross kids, either. Maybe it’s that they’re public-school-type kids in a private academy? Something every kid can relate to, I’m sure.

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Anyway the kids take a field trip to the aquarium and discover that some guy is trying to steal Slappy, the Seal Who Farts, and sell it to a circus. Their solution is to steal Slappy themselves and hide it. I forget what happens after that. Mostly likely they save the day.

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You’d think that a movie with vomit, farts, and even a scene where Slappy eats a whole bar of Ex-Lax and takes a massive shit would be one of my all-time favorites.

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But it’s also a children’s movie curiously preoccupied with showing B.D. Wong in various states of undress, so.

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Bronson plays Roy, the Dartmoor Academy groundskeeper/bus driver, and utilizes Voice #7, “Surfer”. Roy is essentially the midpoint between Otto from The Simpsons, Ernest from Ernest Goes to Camp, and Carl Spackler from Caddyshack.

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I’m sure that Bronson was entirely unfamiliar with Bill Murray’s character in the latter, though, and Roy’s fight against (what he thinks is) a gopher was entirely this movie’s creation.

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There’s a scene that spoofs a whole subset of 90s Tarantinic also-rans where Roy, against a backdrop of noodly introspective surf guitar, does some karate moves in preparation for bombing the shit out of the gopher. It’s a strange moment of director Barnet Kellman having fun. I can guess when you only ever direct for television, a movie no one will watch is the rare opportunity to experiment with something you’ve always wanted to try.

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Those brief flashes of personality make this film almost interesting, but don’t change the fact that Slappy and the Stinkers is a Silly-Putty transfer of far better children’s films.

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Verdict: Cure that nasty tentacle porn addiction with the scene of Bronson being strangled by an octopus.

 

Quest for Camelot (15 May 1998)

Character: Griffin

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I was going to say I had vague memories of the two-headed dragon in this movie, but I realize I was mistaking it for Zak & Wheezie from Dragon Tales.

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I have yet to convince a single person to read William Gaddis’s novel JR, but I find myself thinking of it as I read the story of this film’s production. One major thrust of the novel is how business can sprout executives like mushrooms if there’s money to be gotten from somewhere, regardless of whether anything gets made. The scene where a presidential hotel suite is filled with executives yammering about how much money they’ll make off their ventures, basically verbally wanking each other off, while the main character has retreated to the bathroom to attempt to compose music in relative silence, is exactly where my mind went as I read the story of Quest for Camelot’s production.

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With what sounds like a 90% turnover of producers and animators at Warner Bros. Feature Animation (due, in turn, to rapid executive turnover), it’s amazing that this looks as good as something you’d find on TBN in the 90s. It boasts an All-Star Cast (Pierce Brosnan, Don Rickles, Eric Idle) and features songs that… well, again, are about as good as you’d get in a Christian cartoon. The songs are pretty discordant to the scenes they’re in, too.

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For instance, a scene where main character Kelsey (voiced by Jessalyn Gilsig, Chicks with Sticks) is fleeing some unused Space Jam concept art is overlaid with her mother singing about how much she’ll miss her.

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I think what I’m trying to get at is that this low-quality movie that wildly deviates from the King Arthur legend (mainly by offering wholly uninteresting characters) never should have made it into theaters. It’s incredible that Warner was making The Iron Giant at the same time.

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Bronson plays Griffin, the evil minion of a roided-out Riff Raff from Rocky Horror; they’re trying to oust King Arthur from power. I spoke in part 1 on how Bronson appeared to have actually refined his set of eight voices with his kids’ cartoon appearances. Quest for Camelot asked him to develop a character that wasn’t tied to any particular ethnic group… and by God it sounds like Bronson actually put some thought into it. It’s a very wet, raspy voice, kind of what you’d expect from a Gollum-type character: hitting familiar notes but not derivative.

I mentioned the production woes because they appear to have inadvertently pushed Bronson to work on this voice more than he had for anything else up to that point. From (again) the 1997/1998 interviews with Michelle Erica Green, here’s what Bronson had to say about the experience.

So you record all the lines, then they come back to you several months later with partially animated pencil drawings and storyboards. If you squint, you can kind of see how it’s moving, and you can see that it’s much much larger than you thought, and it’s scary and has big wing span, so you buff it up a little bit – or in my case you do it all over again, because why not?

Then they come back with a more finished version and say, we loved when you did that hissing sound, so we want more hissing in three more places, and the scary stuff is more compelling so we want to re-record the parts that were funny. Then they come back and say, well, one of the executives thought that we made a big mistake in that the funny parts were the good ones, so let’s do it so it’s completely funny. And then they come back three months later and say, we voted that person down and we all want it to be terrifying. I never say no to anybody’s help, I’ve gotten great ideas from prop people, I don’t have any kind of attitude because you just don’t know where it’s going to come from. So you just keep doing it, and different things kick in.

Finally, executive incompetence actually improved Bronson’s skill.

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Verdict: Wendy’s snagged the contract for the tie-in kids’ meal toys. Wendy’s.

 

Hey Arnold!

“Stinky Goes Hollywood” (9 September 1998) / “Pre-Teen Scream” (14 September 1998)

Characters: Ronnie Matthews / Director & Vijay the chauffeur

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According to every single person three years younger than me, Hey Arnold! was the best cartoon ever made. (I’ve got news for them, the best cartoon show ever made was Garfield and Friends.) I wasn’t watching Nickelodeon much by that point–I’m pretty sure I had moved on to the Sci-Fi channel–but I know I saw an episode here or there. I felt like I possessed some special knowledge just because I remember the Arnold comic strip from Simpsons Illustrated. I don’t know who I thought was going to be awed by that, but it was fun to pretend I was some master of pop culture.

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In “Pre-Teen Scream”, Bronson plays Ronnie Matthews, a vain fabricated pop star who, it’s revealed, is lip-syncing to someone else’s singing and lyrics. Ronnie Matthews has Balki’s voice, but in a lower register.

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Psychology sidebar: a lot of the information in our brains is organized into schemas.  Cheese is connected to dairy products which is connected to cows, or to Cheez-Its, and all of those connected to traditional vs modern methods of food production. As soon as Bronson was back doing his foreigner voice, he’s back to thinking of the types of mistakes he thought Balki should be making. When he meets Phoebe, and she says her name is Phoebe, he calls her Pho-bee.  Bronson made a decision once (Balki learned English from a textbook) and set it on auto-pilot; he didn’t think he needed to puzzle through how a non-native speaker would misspeak anymore.

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It’s easy to see a casting director seeking out Bronson for a full-of-himself character with an accent, but the other episode, “Stinky Goes Hollywood”, feels more like a cost-saving measure. Bronson was already in the studio, why not get him to do a couple more characters?

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Verdict: I really like the color palette on Hey Arnold! It reminds me of The Critic.

 

Beach Movie (aka Board Heads) (25 November 1998)

Character: Ronald

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I’m going to be honest with you: I have watched far too many of what I call “boob movies”. These are basically anything in the Porky’s vein, where 25-year-olds pretending to be teens try to get laid and women’s tops get pulled off. I’ve seen everything from Assault of the Party Nerds to Zapped! My only justification for consuming so much trash is that, once in a blue moon, you find films like Surf II or Gorp that don’t give a shit about what a film is supposed to be and come up with something far more interesting.

It’s a little surreal that, between this, Slappy and the Stinkers, and The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy, Bronson keeps showing up in my VHS-rental wheelhouses. What’s unsurprising is that he’s in some of the categories’ worst entries.

Bronson plays one of a group of three guys at the beach trying to get laid, so he’s basically just about back where his career was right before Perfect Strangers, when he was in Hot Resort (1985). The difference is he was pushing 40 in Beach Movie.

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And that’s not the only thing that feels dated. Characters namedrop films like Hondo and The Poseidon Adventure. What red-blooded American boy doesn’t want to think about movies their dad likes while waiting to see a nipple or two?

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The only thing close to an innovation in Beach Movie is that the main character (Alex DeBoe, The Chippendales Murder) isn’t the guy trying to get laid: he exploits the horny trio by charging them for lessons on how to pick up girls. This movie comes close to an actual genre-aware story–that so many groups of teens try to get laid every Spring Break that an industry has built up around taking them through the story beats–as to be maddening.

I had in my notes that all of the main character’s problems get resolved off-screen. Whatever those were.

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Verdict: If you just really need to see a bare breast every few minutes, but don’t want to have to lift a hand to move your mouse, you’re far better served by South Beach Academy (1996), starring Corey Feldman, Al Lewis, and James Hong.

 

The Wild Thornberrys

“Lost and Foundation” (16 March 1999) / “Clash of the Teutons” (31 August 1999)

Character: Franz Fensterkopf

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Another Nickelodeon cartoon that I was born too old for. Even if half the characters didn’t look like they had worms for lips, I would be able to tell that this was made by Klasky-Csupo just from all of the music cues reused from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

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Franz Fensterkopf and his family are richer, more successful mirror-images of the Thornberrys. In his first appearance, he’s a presenter at a documentary awards banquet.

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In the second, the Fensterkopfs and Thornberrys are at odds, trying to film in the same location. The Fensterkopfs are revealed as frauds who stage fights between animals to boost their TV show’s ratings.

There are various regional accents in Germany, but given how derivative most of Bronson’s voices are, there’s no reason to think he approached this one any differently. I grew up with German accents like Ludwig von Drake’s, or Otto Preminger’s (Mr. Freeze on Batman), but for the life of me I have no idea what Bronson must be drawing on for his. (I have the same complaint with Seth MacFarlane’s German accent, though it’s clear to me Seth’s is based mostly on Mel Brooks’s.)

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I’m sure Bronson’s at least skimming this so, Bronnie, please, take a lesson from an expert:

Verdict: We’re living in a golden age of television and you’d watch this?

 

Out of the Cold (originally titled The Virtuoso) (28 August 1999)

Character: Max Kaplan

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Out of the Cold stars Keith, the forgotten Carradine, as a down-on-his-luck Jewish Broadway dancer in late-1930s New York who travels to Estonia for work and gets stuck there because of the Holocaust. (I know, you’re bored already, but stick with me another couple of sentences on this one.) While there, he falls in love with the daughter of, I forget, somebody rich, stealing her away from Bronson’s character, Max Kaplan.

Max is… I forget, someone rich. Bronson gives him an English accent that keeps threatening to creep into a French accent, Balki’s accent, and two other English accents. Max’s role is basically that of the mean boyfriend who isn’t good enough for the dainty little princess the hero has fallen for.

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In part 1 of this series, I noticed that many of Bronson’s roles seemed to tap into his public persona of someone cultured, elite. It continues to be tempting to extend the connection, to say that these characters’ arcs of being revealed as frauds, as so full of themselves they’d shit limbs, also taps into some public perception of Bronson.

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But maybe this is some deeply-embedded American narrative, that the cultural history of Europe means its people have forgotten what it’s like to be a God-fearing, salt of the earth, bootstraps, etc. person?

It’s hard to believe that a straight-to-video Keith Carradine vehicle shot in Estonia had any interest in Bronson outside of the fact that his CV is a list of accents. In fact, Bronson only got the role because he and his agent apparently had no interest in learning how to communicate with each other. I swear this is the last time the Michelle Erica Green interview will come up:

Pinchot got a call asking whether he would be interested in a juicy role in a drama being shot in Estonia. “I thought they meant Astoria, New York,” he groans. “That’s where I shot The First Wives’ Club. So I said, ‘Oh yeah, put me anywhere there’s Greek restaurants,’ and there was this awkward pause.”

An awkward pause, and then no clarification whatsoever? Does this kind of thing actually happen to actors? Bill Murray says signed on to Garfield because he mixed up Joel Cohen and Joel Coen. These are strange errors to make, and I wonder if they’re code for “I’m not particularly proud of this one”.

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Verdict: Don’t interrupt your twelfth watch-through of The Office for this.

 

V.I.P.

“Dr. StrangeVal” (16 October 1999)

Character: Himself

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V.I.P. takes me back to an aspect of the late 1990s that feels like a fever dream we’ve only recently been waking up from: the bleedthrough of nude models into mainstream pop culture.

I’m certain I must have seen Pamela Anderson on Home Improvement, but I wasn’t aware of her until her appearance in Barb Wire (1996). She was one of the first people I looked up nude photographs of online around 1997, when I was 12. I’m going to take a very sweeping view from very little evidence and say this must have been the case for thousands of other males, and for many models. Porn on the internet was a hotly contested political topic in the mid-90s, and that history is really only on my mind right now because of a Wired article published just a few days ago. It’s hard to imagine these models getting this kind of spotlight in the pre-internet 90s. Even back then, I kind of wondered what the big deal was–Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, Cindy Margolis, and Anna Nicole Smith are all basically the exact same woman, looks-wise–and I realize I’m saying that just to try to differentiate myself from every other 12-year-old who slavered over them.

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V.I.P. appears to be a Charlie’s Angels-style show that has as its main concern depicting Pamela Anderson as an actual celebrity. She hangs out with celebrities, they all like her, what more proof do you need? God damn were there a shit-ton of appearances by minor celebrities on this show. Bronson’s here because literally everyone else was.

I didn’t take any notes on what the story of the episode was, but if you want a sense of the show’s humor, Pamela Anderson’s character refers to her home as the Maxi-Pad.

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Bronson eats pizza, a corned beef hash sandwich, and a chocolate egg cream and then he runs away when a gunfight breaks out.

Verdict: I can only recommend this to someone writing a dissertation on pre-social-media D-List celebrity posturing.

 

Putting it Together: Direct from Broadway (filmed during its final performance on 20 February 2000, aired 14 October 2001 on cable)

Character: The Observer

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After 50,000 words, we’ve finally made it to the year 2000! I’m going to have such a lovely psychotic break once I’ve finished this blog.

Putting it Together wears its nature on its sleeve–or maybe its face, idunno–the title calling direct attention to the fact that it’s a revue. Here’s a Bunch of Sondheim Songs, We Guess would have done more to sell this one.

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The only musicals I’ve ever cared for are movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shock Treatment, Little Shop of Horrors. Anything where the songs aren’t technically about what’s going on (say, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Phantom of the Paradise) I have trouble classifying in the same category; and a bunch of disparate stuff thrown together even less so.

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When Bronson first comes out to introduce the show, fucker name-drops himself within a nonsensical joke:

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He’s in a few songs, “Buddy’s Blues” from Follies chief among them. No idea whether he does the songs any justice.

Verdict: There was an actor’s strike from April to October 2000 and it was still a whole year before cable networks got desperate enough for content to air this.

 

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command

“Haunted Moon” (10  November 2000)

Character: Shakey/Science

So, this is a fairly interesting concept: it’s meant to be the Buzz Lightyear cartoon program that exists inside the Toy Story world. It’s entirely reasonable to imagine that the show Andy Davis watches in that world is played completely straight… so long as you ignore the fact that Woody’s Roundup in Toy Story 2 was a loving sendup of the shoestring budgets of 1950s children’s programming.

It would be a lot to ask of a show that merely capitalizes on the Toy Story brand to do as much thinking as the movie does–to spoof its own influences–but what really would have made it feel correct would have been getting Tim Allen to voice the character. You know, the same voice coming out of every single real-life Buzz Lightyear action figure?

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Bronson plays these two characters who are only in the first half of the episode. One of them wears a hat.

Verdict: “Years of academy training wasted” adequately covers both Bronson’s role and me writing about it.

 

Lady and the Tramp 2: Scamp’s Adventure (27 February 2001)

Character: Francois

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So here’s something I’m embarrassed to admit knowing: Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 are essentially remakes of Lady and the Tramp and Lady and the Tramp 2, respectively.

Here, Tramp and Lady’s son, Scamp, wants to pursue being a wild dog, and hangs out with other junkyard mutts. He meets another house dog (a girl) who wants to do the same; and in the end she’s adopted by Lady’s family as well.

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A sequel like this is really just a retread of old ground, where the continuity provides a framing device for a story that basically plays out like the original. There’s a dissertation in these four movies, I’d bet, about whether Americans have really changed their views on whether the lower melting-pot classes have anything to offer the moneyed Anglo-European classes other than as, perhaps, raw material for a program of eugenics. To wit: that the masters wish to benefit from the positive-in-the-face-of-adversity outlook and physical strength of the underclass without having to dirty their hands living the lives that produced either. An anthropologist or sociologist would have a fucking field day with this.

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Bronson voices a Boston Terrier named Francois. I’m confused it’s a French accent rather than a Boston one; is it because of the French bulldog heritage of Boston Terriers?

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Anyway, Bronson does a very bouncy French accent, rounder and less grating than the ones from part 1 of this series. It’s simply cartoonier, and I’m going to guess this is in large part to Disney having much more competent voice directors.

Verdict: I’ve still got to write 30-odd more funny ways of saying “don’t watch this”, and this barely deserves the effort.

 

Winning Girls Through Psychic Mind Control (9 June 2002, Seattle International Film Festival)

Character: Devon Sharpe

I can’t get ahold of a copy. I may have mentioned before that from 2003 to 2005 I worked in a college library’s Interlibrary Loan department: my job was to fulfill book & article requests from faculty and students by asking other libraries for copies. Some documents–especially ones published overseas–were almost impossible to get. But I was incredibly proud of myself any time I procured something obscure: once I got a copy of a journal from the Indian Maritime Foundation, with a nice little embossed note containing regards from Captain Rajan Vir.

So not being able to find something that exists is mind-destroying for me, a personal failure.

Director Barry Alexander Brown (longtime editor of Spike Lee’s films) is impossible to get ahold of–for me, anyway. I’ve tried him through LinkedIn–he accepted my request to connect, but hasn’t responded to my message yet. Writer Dan Harnden is on Facebook, but didn’t respond to my message. Actress Amy Carlson did respond to me (twice) last year that she owns a copy of the film and plans to upload it to YouTube at some point. She still hasn’t.

Verdict: This is the most effort anyone has ever made to watch Bronson Pinchot. I officially give up. This could show up on YouTube tomorrow and I wouldn’t care.

 

Breaking News

“Spin Art” (31 July 2002)

Character: Phillip

Given the difficulties inherent in searching Google for something like “breaking news” “TV” “DVD”, I’m only 99.9% certain this show is completely unavailable in any format. Given the sparse airdate information on Wikipedia, I’m not even convinced it aired. Some mystery Wikipedian (who, it would appear works for NBCUniversal, who in turn owns the Bravo network) added episode synopses to the show’s article in January 2018. Makes me wonder if NBCUniversal hires people to put out this information, and if they’re able to track the popularity of Wikipedia pages to see which shows from the archives are worth making available streaming.

Verdict: Trying to unravel these mysteries is far more interesting than any of Bronson’s roles in this post so far.

 

Straight No Chaser (January 2003)

Character: Josh Peters

Another Barry Alexander Brown/Dan Hernden joint. Unavailable. According to whatever selfish person added the information to IMDB but didn’t upload it, Bronson plays a bar owner who pretends to be gay to keep his clientele.

Verdict: There’s no way this is better than the premiere episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“The Gang Gets Racist”), which covers a similar premise. Watch that instead and forget about Bronson for awhile.

 

All Grown Up!

“Chuckie’s In Love” (6 December 2003)

Character: Pepe

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Man what a strange turn the Rugrats franchise took. To start from a conceptual place of “parents and babies both misunderstand the otherss world” and end with a sell-out followup focussed on pre-teen drama.  It’s like if The Matrix got a sitcom about Zion’s hospital staff.

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Bronson’s right back to his nonspecific European voice: French and Greek dragged across fresh gravel.

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He plays Pepe, a school cafeteria chef who cooks “strange” foods no one wants to eat. Angelica Pickles writes a report for the school newspaper, prompting the other students to start bringing their own lunches. You can’t have it both ways, show!

Verdict: The title of this episode may be a reference to the Rickie Lee Jones song “Chuck E.’s in Love”. Now I’d rather be listening to Rickie Lee Jones.

 

Intermission 6 (2001-2004)

Over the course of six years, Bronson Pinchot has gone from getting a third sitcom vehicle all to himself, to appearing primarily in either straight-to-video features (or ones that by all rights should have been), to roles so low-profile that distribution was financially unviable.

And is it just me, or was he appearing almost solely in media trying to capitalize on brands and genres long past their sell-by date? The things I couldn’t find would have been a welcome change from Snow White 2: Dopey Rising. The jokey comparison to his own brand is too easy.

But even if he wasn’t getting roles in TV and film for most of 2001-2004, Bronson was still doing plays.

Speaking of information that just isn’t out there, I’m unable to turn up a full list of the plays Bronson has appeared in. I reached out to Beth Yarbrough of Alcott Farm, who works closely with Bronson on various products he develops that end up sold in craft stores like Hobby Lobby. (Like, making money by taking 19th-century fabric patterns and slapping them on cheap dishware.) Beth is essentially Bronson’s face on Facebook. I’d reached out to her before to ask about the possibility of interviewing Bronson and got a definite “no” back; and when I asked her the other day if it was possible to get a list of Bronson’s roles in plays, she told me to check IMDB. It’s easy to get wrapped up in my personal/professional disposition of going to any length to get someone information they need, and I forget that some people don’t give enough of a shit to take a few minutes to pass on a message. (Although, why would she give someone like me more ammo against her colleague? I might make some really scathing joke like “Waiting for Pinchot”.)

But there is a little information out there on what plays he did in that time period. In 2000, he played Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale; in 2001 he was in Fully Committed; and in 2002 was in Stones in His Pockets alongside Christopher Burns

If there’s any link among these three, it’s that they are roles that play directly into Bronson’s sense of his own self and talents.

In both Stones in His Pockets and Fully Committed, Bronson plays multiple roles: 7 or 8, it appears, in the former, and all of them in the latter. So ultimately a lot of this would have been voice/mannerisms, switching from one to another in a split-second. Fully Committed, I have to imagine, was tremendous fun for Bronson, to inhabit the entirety of personages at an overbooked restaurant, given that he had his own ideas for busboy characters. The only review of the play that I can find unfavorably compares Bronson to Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters. (A note: a 2001 Playbill news piece on the show quotes the New York Times, but this is misleading: the quote comes from a NYT review of Mark Setlock’s 1999 performance.)

I’m not an actor (I was Rudolph in my Kindergarten Christmas Play), so I don’t know squat about theories of acting, but Bronson’s is on display in this July 2000 Back Stage magazine article about his role as Autolycus.

[Bronson] is relentlessly a “Method” actor, who states, “Character-shmaracter.  Acting is being just you in a situation. It’s about visceral response and post-hypnotic suggestion and then a layering on of text.”

Which isn’t at all my sense of what Stanislavski’s system was, but maybe I’m misunderstanding what Bronson means. I understand Method to be a case study in perspective-taking, digging into the character in the text to figure out what they’re thinking, and the more you can find similar feelings in yourself, the better.

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Bronson’s theory of acting, I think, also shows through when he talks about the role of Autolycus.

I’m not worried about treading on Shakespeare. He’s not spinning in his grave. He is thrilled. He wrote Autolycus for a particular actor who happened to have those skills that are my skills: physical comedy, singing, ad-libbing…. Autolycus is constantly re-inventing himself. In that sense he’s very much like me, more so than any character I’ve ever played.

The message seems to be that talent/skill is inborn, and an actor unchangeable (and the implications for how a play’s characters are written are a little weird too). Put this together with his statements on how his The Trouble With Larry role was “so much close to my sense of humor than anything I’ve ever done”, though, and we’re nearing Bronson’s self-image. He is his talents, his propensity to not sit still, to let out unmitigated whatever he finds funny a given moment. And the roles that fit him best are the ones that are essentially him. Again, doesn’t sound like Method acting, but what do I know?

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While we’re here, from an SFGate.com article on his role in Stones in His Pocket, Bronson speaks on how he thinks of Perfect Strangers.

It was what it was…. It was fun to do, but once it’s over does it really do anyone any good? It’s baggage. I mean, have any of the actors from ‘Friends’ really hit in a movie?

And again from the Back Stage article, Bronson’s thoughts on much of Perfect Strangers align with mine: “On TV you’re constantly overlaying your personal charm and/or whatever it is you do best — accents, for example — onto a script that’s not deeply thought out.”

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I couldn’t find much of substance about his roles in the plays Henry V (as Ancient Pistol, the comic relief) in 2003, or Sly Fox in 2004, but while searching, I came across these two headshots on the Playbill website.

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Look at how doctored the first photo is! Battle Angel Bronson over here.

 

The Surreal Life

Season 1 (2003)

IMDB had him listed for this season. I fixed it.

Verdict: I’d choose Corey Feldman over Bronson Pinchot any day.

 

Second Best (16 January 2004)

Character: Doc Klingenstein

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So we just had a quote from Bronson that he was constantly “re-inventing” himself. Assuming he’s meaning that in the same way you or I would, is it reading too much into that to wonder if Bronson was/is basically dissatisfied with who he is?

And if his approach to acting is seeking out roles that are in some way him, and directing his own experience into the thought experiment of the script… then what aspect of Doc Klingenstein called to him?

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Is it the character’s sense that he’s not where he ought to be in his life? How the character puts on a little bit of a show about his own greatness? How he can switch from serious to goofy if there’s someone nearby he wants laughter and approval from?

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Or was he just broke that year?

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Verdict: I fucking love Jennifer Tilly.

 

Law and Order: Criminal Intent

“Beast” (10 April 2005)

Character: Dr. Greg Ross

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Bronson plays a dentist who did not kill his wife. Maybe he was cast because he looks like the kind of guy you’d believe is an utter asshole, deep-down. Or maybe I’ve had to look at him too long at this point. It’s extremely difficult to care enough to separate the two at this point.

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Verdict: Watching any sort of procedural drama that isn’t Matlock ranks just above a urologist’s waiting room in terms of sheer boredom, and summarizing an episode of one just below.

 

Icemaker (aka Diamond Zero/Small Souled Men/Icemakers) (24 May 2005)

Character: Bergerac de la Houssey

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Evidently I watched a cut of this that differs greatly from the version(s) shown on its film festival tour from 2005-2007. According to a 2008 review by Film Threat (formerly a very hip anti-mainstream movie magazine, featuring comics by an as-yet-unknown Bob Fingerman**), an earlier cut of the film was so insecure about its ability to tell a story that it was heavily narrated.

And… given the fact that the sparse notes I took a year ago include a mention of how much trouble I was having paying attention to the movie, maybe it needed narration after all.

Icemaker (aka Nobody Liked This Under Either of Its First Two Titles) is a black comedy in search of a personality. The parts are all there for a movie depicting the off-kilter underworld.

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A too-good-to-be-true money-making idea? Check: someone develops a machine that compresses dead bodies into coal, and then that coal into diamonds, resulting in a black-market operation stealing celebrity corpses to sell their corpses’ coals’ diamonds to millionaires. Violent boss? Check: we’ve got a Wayne Newton lookalike with a fake Mexican accent. Numerous complications? Well, sort of.

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Bronson plays Bergerac de la Houssey (one of the most tortured “quirky” names I’ve ever seen), a graverobber who has somehow managed to steal every single celebrity corpse, up to and including Walt Disney’s head. So they turn to killing off living celebrities.

This is all pretty fantastic setup; I personally love stories that go two or three steps into the consequences of a new idea before the action starts. But all that setup is wasted, as Icemaker devolves (slowly, which is somehow worse than quickly for something like this) into a story where everybody’s chasing Bergerac because he stole the diamond made from a celebrity he had planned on killing, but then thinks he’s fallen in love with, but who then kills herself.

It’s evidently never occurred to the police to patrol graveyards after thousands of worldwide thefts (seriously, not only Walt Disney but Napoleon too), but the movie can’t go anywhere without them, so suddenly they’re competent and trying to expose this celebrity diamond operation.

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The police chase Bergerac, the diamond people chase him, the police catch him, and that’s it. Bergerac is treated like a human punching bag, beaten, bruised, and even charred by the end; but this movie undid decades of my personal belief that that kind of character was inherently funny.

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Just like Beach Movie, Icemaker falls into a category of film I’m all too familiar with, one that tries to cargo-cult its way into a genre by simple juxtaposition of parts. It doesn’t realize that the successful films it wants to earn a place alongside either amp up the surreality (Being John Malkovich), drench themselves in stylistic conventions (Pulp Fiction), or work out philosophical arguments (Fight Club).

This movie’s in serious need of a standalone monologue, like Christopher Walken relating how someone kept a wristwatch up their ass, or Alan Ford talking about feeding corpses to pigs.

One of the original titles was Small Souled Men (a song during the end credits shares the name), which suggests a film about a group of people thrown together who are all operating from their own tiny motives and desires. The closest it comes to that is the affected-accent guy: I assume he wanted to appear like he fit into the underworld. But ultimately there’s no evidence of a depth/breadth of experience to inform the writer/director’s voice, or the voices of the characters he creates.*** It’s fitting for Bronson, I suppose, who has no idea how someone looks and acts when they’re in love.

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The most personality he summons is crying (more than he should) and talking stiltedly (more than he should); those things are obviously in the script, and it’s hard to fault him for bringing no more nuance to the part than writer/director David Gaz is aware even exists in the world.

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Verdict: All those words mean “no”.

 

The Surreal Life

Season 5 (10 July – 2 October 2005)

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If you’re a long-time Bronson fan, you knew this point was coming. And you can probably guess what I have to say about it

Whenever someone like you or me is hired for a job, we’re being hired on the basis of our potential benefits to the employer, what we can do for them. But Bronson’s stint on The Surreal Life in 2005 marks the exact point where his career shifted from his future potential to his past accomplishment.

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The opening of each episode of The Surreal Life introduces you to the D-listers, to remind you where it is you’re supposed to remember them from. That Balki Bartokomous is still the anchor point given for his career is better and more succinct proof than I’ve written that Meego and Step by Step and Laurel and Hardy and cetera left about as much impression on consumer’s memories as a faint breeze.

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I’ve never felt any draw to reality television. I figure you either have to have zero taste, or hate-watch it while high with your fellow sociology professors. My dad let me watch whatever the hell I wanted on cable in the 90s, but I was too young to care about The Real World. And by the time Survivor and Big Brother showed up, I was an all-too-serious practicing Christian (I threw away my Discworld paperbacks because they *gasp* had magic in them) and most mainstream media was tainted to me anyway.

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So I’m unable to say if the message that these 2000s-era shows were showing you something unintermediatedly real was swallowed by viewers. And it’s all too easy to point to editing and situation manipulation for the counterargument. But I will say that a different reality emerges: you see people’s attempts at preserving their own public images. It’s a way of getting at the intersection of what individuals value and what they think others want them to value. (And maybe that is the draw: that they’ll slip up and show the chasm between selves?) I think it’s safe to take anything that happens on one of these shows as one kind of truth or the other.

And what do D-listers value? I’m guessing that the producers of The Surreal Life hoped it would be “another shot at the spotlight”. Which really, I’m realizing, puts the whole thing in Twilight Zone or existentialist play territory.

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I wonder if the secret benefit to having a low-profile acting career is that no one’s really watching when you fail. From 1996 up to this point, it’s allowed people to keep giving Bronson chances, to think there was still potential there. Security through obscurity, in other words.

That low profile continues to benefit him to this day, because if this season of The Surreal Life had aired in the past two years, Bronson’s career would be instantly over.

In the very first episode, which is all just introductions to the audience and between celebrities, one of the first things he says is that his agent warned him not to do anything sexual toward anyone. But also that “I like to do whatever I’m told not to do”.

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So when, once inside the circus-themed house they’re all staying, he starts joking about grabbing women against their will, and then comes up behind Janice Dickinson and grabs her, even those unfamiliar with Bronson’s “antics” couldn’t possibly be surprised.

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I’m going to list the issues here in ascending order of problematic nature.

1. At the most basic, Bronson has failed once again to map someone–anyone–else’s mind, even when presented with direct evidence to the contrary. Even if he’s willing to cede that he does what he’s “told not to do”, or that his “persona is specifically about being slightly outside the bounds of what’s allowable”, he’s lost sight of the contradiction inherent in the viability of that type of persona. He thinks that, because he’s ditched boundaries, so has everyone else. When Janice accuses him of groping, he denies that he did any such thing, and continues to joke about it, pretending to be about to grab her breast.

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If Bronson’s definition of groping is limited to breasts, butt, and vagina, he really isn’t anywhere near as creative as he thinks he is.

2. This is as generous as I can possibly be–he may have been trying to test out whether she was willing to do a bit. But he misjudged Janice Dickinson’s character. She’s brash and outspoken, and–I think–for Bronson those qualities are schematically tied to rule-breaking. He thinks he’s got a compatriot here who will be lovably shocking with him. See again #1.

3. He’s just being plain predatorial. Come on.

I’m fully confident that some of you are excusing his behavior, probably starting “But he only” “At least he” “This is just”. I know this because I’ve read Bronson fans’ excuses for this incident.

I’m not going to spill a bunch of pixels on responses to what I think you’re thinking. But I will ask you to think: what do you think is the most coherently-stated rebuttal to how you’ve excused him? And how convincing or not is that? I can’t ask everyone to have the same standards or opinions as me, but I would encourage everyone to be able to articulate fully their own position.

In a later episode, Bronson is seen trying to grab and rub his face on model Caprice Bourret’s butt/crotch. In one of the cutaways (it’s unclear if it was recorded before or after that moment), Caprice says that Bronson has a soft side, and he just wants attention and to be loved; and that Bronson’s not complex enough for it to be anything more than that. And in another episode where he keeps pushing her to let him give her an abdomen massage*, she says “He’s 46 but he’s like a 5-year-old.”

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I forget where, likely in interviews, but Bronson’s been compared to a puppy dog a few times over the years. The idea being that what he does is excusable because he’s just so excited and friendly doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Bullshit. The man’s 46 here, and still thinks honking on a titty is the wildest joke a man could make.

Actually, that’s bullshit too. And in my quest to take cheap shots at Bronson, I damn near got fooled by his act and missed the biggest problem. The man’s 46 here. Once you lay it out, the idea that a man who has thought at all deeply about his or any other actors’ roles, who has been in numerous long-term relationships, who has observed any human activity at all, can still be so clueless as to not know that women don’t like to be grabbed from behind when you first meet them is totally untenable. But finally, after twenty years of women being on programs where Bronson held all the power–shows that were his–and where speaking up about his swelling member pressed against their behinds might get them fired, The Surreal Life put them on equal footing and he got called out.

Not to mention enough social shifts in US public discourse and women’s rights that people would feel comfortable speaking up. The cute puppy dog persona is just an attempt at an end-run around being called out. There were something like five million thinkpieces in the wakes of Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. and Harvey and and and; but one that has stuck in my mind is Lili Loofbourow’s 2017 article, “The Myth of the Male Bumbler”. Here’s a choice quote:

As the accusations of sexual misconduct roiling politics, publishing, and Hollywood continue to stack up, a few things are going to happen. The first stage of a phenomenon like this will always be to characterize the accused men as exceptions, as bad apples. #NotAllMen, the saying goes. But the second is that everyone is going to try to naturalize sexual harassment. If there are this many men doing these things, then surely this is just how men are! that argument will go. There’s a corollary lurking underneath there: They can’t help themselves. They’re bumblers.

That won’t wash. But the only way to guard against it is to shed our weird cultural blindness to manipulative male behavior. We must be smarter than our cultural defaults. We need to shed the exculpatory scripts that have mysteriously enabled all these incompetent bumblers to become rich, successful, and admired even as they maintain that they’re moral infants.

Bronson even has a second fallback position–it’s not him. It’s his persona, he’ll tell you, to do something that’s “not allowed”; and he hopes you’ll ignore how much privilege is bound up in public rule-breaking. He’s just trying to grope women.

One later episode features Sally Jessy Raphael interviewing the members of the group to determine if they’re being “real” or “fake”. After seeing a sizzle reel of Bronson’s ass-grabbing moments, we get this exchange:

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Bronson: To tell you the truth, I don’t know when the line’s been crossed.

Sally Jessy: At your age, shouldn’t you know where the line is?

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Bronson tells Sally Jessy to ask the women if he crossed any boundaries after they set them. That’s a lot of fucking work to put on women when you’re the one with the problem behavior. Sure, every woman is going to have a different total set of specific boundaries. But if most women share the one big one, I would think it would be easier and safer to just assume they all do.

I mean, I get it. I like breasts too; and I’m honestly scared that, because women are people and have standards, my emotional detachment, sedentary one-man hobbies, and ass pimples will mean I never measure up. Call me a pussy if you like, but I’m convinced that the only way to get past fear is to admit it, and that acceptance of my inadequacies is a prerequisite for loving someone else’s. I’m not so desperate for a breast in my hand that I’ll skip the permission-asking step.

Bronson would in later interviews refer to The Surreal Life as a manipulative and toxic show.

And, yeah. The MO of The Surreal Life seems to be the same as Sacha Baron Cohen’s: put out a big plate of candy (the candy in this metaphor is being a shitty person) and see how much the kids gobble up. And The Surreal Life is nothing but candy dishes. There’s the overarching context of being on screen again, having a bigger audience than any of them alone could draw; and the context of the expectation that they’ll be mean to each other.

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But even past that, The Surreal Life puts these celebrities in situations that feel right out of Jackass or Tom Green’s mind. They’re asked to put on a burlesque show. They’re asked to bowl in a tournament against another team, only to learn when they arrive that the rival team are all persons with developmental disabilities. They’re asked (in 2005!) to live in a house with a single landline phone.

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Most of the other episodes have to do with putting the group in one person’s world–they play baseball, since Jose Canseco is in the group, or Carey Hart teaches them about Motocross–or putting them in team-building exercises like team obstacle courses or working on a small landscaping project, but without any team-building direction so they’ll squabble about who’s in charge.

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The context of being on a reality show, and knowing the show’s agenda, and having to co-exist with brand new people in a very short time, not to mention having to talk about it to interviewers before they’ve had time to process their own feelings about what’s happening–I think there’s plenty of room for forgiveness for a lot of what happens in these episodes. Stress breeds negative response. That said, something shows like The Surreal Life or Who is America? do remarkably well is expose something that psychologists already know: very few of us have clear, bright lines when it comes to our own morality across situations. We’re much more likely, in a short encounter, to look to whoever is in power or in-the-know for how to behave (psychology sidebar: informational social influence).

So The Surreal Life is a supremely manipulative situation; applying our morals to something new takes a bit of time. So, if you’re on board with that bit of psychological interpretation, tell me what this means:

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After a few episodes of trying to direct sexual jokes/energy/whatever towards Janice, and running up against an enforced boundary around someone making a joke about their own sex life vs. him making a joke about it, Bronson (46) switches to Caprice Bourret (32), who we’ve seen was willing to not make a stink about his bumbler behavior.

I dated a woman six years younger than me once (31 vs 25), and very few things have scared me more than the very real, very present temptation and opportunity to use her relative lack of knowledge about life and relationships to my advantage.

The message from many articles on how men can start to break toxic patterns is to listen to women and believe what they say about their experience, and Season 5 of The Surreal Life is pushing my mini-essay in the same direction.

In episode 9, former Apprentice star Omarosa Manigault accuses Janice Dickinson of being a bad mother. To his credit, Bronson wants to try to smooth things over between them, and starts by acknowledging to Janice that the comment must have hurt her.

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Janice lets Bronson know that she was beaten and raped by her father, and that being a good parent is paramount for her, central to her; and further that intrusive touch connects right back to her trauma. Even further to his credit, Bronson can’t help but be moved to tears (his own father was a tyrant and he was beaten up at school) and connect with her, fumblingly moving towards apology. He still verbally denies “groping”, though the remorse involved in having hurt her is clear.

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I’ve barely scratched the surface of this season of The Surreal Life, but anything else I could say would be a list of times Bronson tried to grab someone or asked the audience to think about his penis.

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Just for a moment, reader, think about the fact that I have a penis. Isn’t that hilarious? Aren’t I naughty?

Verdict: Aside from the things I’ve mentioned, this is one of the least engaging pieces of media I’ve ever seen.

 

Intermission 7 (2006)

No appearances. Would you hire him after that? If you were him, would you want every new role to result in another article on TMZ about you being a creep?

 

Intermission 8 (2007-2008)

This marks the beginning of the groundwork for the phase of his career that will bring us up to the present day.

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For one, Bronson started narrating audiobooks. The earliest mention I find (and I’m not exactly searching very vigorously at this point) is a September 2007 article from some random-newspaper-name-generated newspaper in Oregon. The article’s author, Bill Varble (what a great novel character name), I think is being a trifle catty when it comes to Bronson’s ego:

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Not only was Bronson Pinchot born Bronson Poncharavsky, he’s decided he looks like Alexander the Great, specifically the likeness at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (above), which shows an ethnic-looking young man with a large nose and a shaggy mane of dark hair.

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There’s no indication that this article appeared in any other format, and the image of Alexander doesn’t appear in it. Instead there’s just this triptych of a doughy Bronson with a receding hairline.

He was still doing plays–I find mention of one from 2007, Distracted, which handles ADHD in children, and which condition’s unlinearity of experience/conversation he appears (in this article by Los Angeles Downtown News writer Kristin Friedrich) to co-opt to excuse his own “distractability” in interviews.

Who knows what Bill Varble or Kristin Friedrich may have cut, but it’s interesting to me to see what Bronson is like when he’s answering questions without a camera or an audience in front of him. He’s not trying to prove his vast untapped stores of creativity, but some things are proving consistent across decades now. He still brags about women letting him touch them, and lusts after shoes:

Now I’m here with Johanna Day. We’re in her dressing room. We’re new friends. We spoon on the Equity cot in the rehearsal room.

Ray Porter has these shoes that make me so jealous my neck swells like a frog in the savannah. Blundstones. I’m wearing Wallabees. Not as cool as Ray’s shoes, but they’re a good character shoe.

Evidently he had also been buying houses in Harford since a few years before 2004, which I didn’t mention previously because it’s only at this point that I discovered the information, and also I don’t feel like scrolling up right now. A 2004 article in the Susquehanna County Transcript has all but disappeared from the internet, available now only through Archive.org’s Wayback Machine.

The article presents Bronson as listening to and respecting the wishes of the Harford, PA, residents. But a little of that Pinchot charm comes through when he makes reference to how many “eyesores” there are in the town; and when asked why in the hell he’s restoring a country store of declining financial viability, he basically says it’s the locals’ problem.

It’s obvious from the article that Bronson loves the early American style of architecture, and everything attendant to it. But wanting to restore a house so it looks like it would have fit in in that period isn’t the same as honoring a specific item from that period. (As in, everyone in Hot Tub Time Machine’s 1980s scenes wearing period-obvious clothing; or vaporwave adding VHS tracking lines to media that never had them (and referring to it as “glitches”, jesus).) By the end of 2008, Bronson and Harford had come to blows over a local landmark.

Bronson wanted a gazebo¹ taken off his property, and sued their Historical Society. He won, it appears, on a narrow-reading technicality: that the bit of land was never supposed to have a structure on it. It’s strange to see Bronson win a fight by pretending to take the other side of a theory-of-preservation argument.

Anyway, I stumbled onto the fact that Bronson had been in Harford since, say, 2002 at the earliest, through a comment thread on a site called DataLounge, which is a gay-celebrity discussion forum. The commenters are in general agreement that Bronson is a closeted gay man (if they weren’t, I suppose the thread wouldn’t exist), and there’s plenty of unsourced gossip there. Much of it is pretty worthless (he and David Hyde Pierce went to Yale at the same time so they must have fucked, right?), even if (if true) the rumors would link up with points in his career chronology. But one thing perhaps worth mentioning is that he had sold off much of his vintage poster collection on eBay in 2005. I trust dedicated eBay bidders to remember that kind of thing; for every toy auction I’ve lost, I can tell you not only what I was wearing, but also what toothpaste brand I had used that day.

I’m not saying that Bronson was broke from lack of work just yet–but he does appear to be picking up side jobs, and trading in one of his hobbies to pay for the other.

He was still getting regular acting work, but there’s no longer any sense of an upward career path in his interviews, no sense that he’s about to have his next big break.

Seriously, if anything constitutes a white flag, an admission of being a has-been, it’s doing as many episodes of Law and Order as they’ll let you.

 

Six Degrees

“Ray’s Back” (20 August 2007)

Character: Thomas Johnson

If the episode synopses for Breaking News on Wikipedia weren’t head-scratching enough for you, you’ll get some nice furrows out of this one: Disney has every single episode of this uploaded to YouTube, but not available.

At least, not available to anyone in the United States: the account is for Disney’s video on demand service in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (they’d want to watch this?) So I added a proxy extension to Firefox so YouTube would think I’m in Germany. No change.

I even downloaded a VPN program. Either I couldn’t figure it out or it just wasn’t working.

If you live in any of those regions, try this YouTube link out and let me know if Bronson’s character had anything to do with penises.

Verdict: How the hell was Kevin Bacon not on this show?

 

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

“Alternate” (25 September 2007)

Character: Dr. Henry Carlisle

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Yeah, I guess if you put some rimless eyeglasses on Bronson he does look like the specialist you’re not really happy with because he never remembers you from last time, but that you keep seeing because you’d have to drive into the city for someone else.

Verdict: The memory of watching this was replaced months ago by one of me buying some Liquid-Plumr.

 

The Wager (15 June 2007)

Character: Colin Buchanan

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It’s been about 15 years since I gave up on Christianity, but I remember all too well the idea that non-Christians couldn’t be trusted because they were agents of Satan. I’ve met Christians who believe that quite literally, and it’s a very effective prophylaxis against listening to anyone else’s opinion. But most–I think–mean it in the sense of folks unanchored by a relationship with God and subject to secular trends.

Randy Travis plays a Christian who happens to be a big-name actor. He’s up for an Academy Award, but his life is beset by all sorts of temptations I forgot about before the credits rolled.

I’d agree that modern fundamentalist Christianity has a continually-stoked persecution complex, and I’d add to that outsiders and Christians both fall short when it comes to understanding Christianity. (eg. Todd Akin’s reference to “forcible rape” being a contextless, short-sighted, anti-feminist reading of Old Testament legal definitions; every person who’s ever wondered why Christians “ignore” most of Leviticus.) But there are secular practices that put Christians in binds, like:

Being asked to pledge allegiance to the US flag; the difficulty inherent in conveying to their pre-abstract-thinking children why they can’t play a violent video game; the insult of having to use currency unjustly bearing their god’s name; temptation from government encouragement to write off charitable contributions on your tax returns; having to explain while ministering to prisoners in Southeastern states that the government who refuses them air conditioning doesn’t actually represent their religion.

Not, you know, blinkered shit like having to sell a cake to a person just even though you know about one particular “sin” they’ve committed.

The Wager steps even further out of reality by having Randy Travis deal with the fallout of the paparazzi accusing him of pedophilia after he babysits a kid. When has that ever happened?

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Even within the context of a Christian actor being put into a moral/professional dilemma, I don’t think you really have to look very far for real conflicts, like standing by while another an actor verbally abuses the crew or finding out that the movie is a front for some type of moneylaundering. Why make shit up?

Now that I’m done playing Twister with these various soapboxes, Bronson is a film director who is so much in Satan’s thrall that sometimes he gets stressed and snippy with people.

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Candace Cameron Bure is in this, and many of the leads appear to be practicing Christians. How in the hell did Bronson get in a Christian movie after his appearance on The Surreal Life?

Verdict: I’d wager you wouldn’t like this one. Get it?

 

Mr. Art Critic (27 December 2007, Traverse City Film Festival; 13 October 2009 on DVD)

Character: Milton Jazz Clayton

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This is a movie in the same way that schizophrenia is a rhetorical style.

Anything approaching a running commentary on this one would meet the legal definition of assault, so I’ll discuss its issues in broad strokes.

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Bronson plays M.J. Clayton, an acerbic newspaper art critic. Artists hate him because he ruins their careers, and his boss hates him because he ruins artists’ careers. He boss makes him take a vacation to Mackinac Island, MI, the kind of summer tourist town where even the young parents are 70 years old. He enters a local art competition on a bet regarding whether he can produce anything of artistic merit. He doesn’t, but is changed by the friends he makes along the way.

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It should be something incredibly hard to fuck up, but half of the running time is spent establishing, in every possible way, that M.J. Clayton does not like people or things. Just write down a list of things rich people don’t like about small towns and you’ve recreated this movie. None of his insults or grimaces push the story anywhere, either.

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The other half of the movie is M.J. Clayton being woken up by someone knocking at his door, because writer/director/cinematographer/producer/ Richard Brauer has no other idea how to start a scene.

Both of those give the movie the overall feel of a shopping cart wheel that’s almost too short to reach the floor, lazily and doubly spinning.

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It has many of the hallmarks of truly amateur filmmaking. The lengthy scenes of Clayton driving, and then riding a ferry, to Mackinac Island, reminded me a lot of Birdemic. The lack of composition, editing, staging, and dialogue made figuring out what was even supposed to signify in any scene, in terms of emotion or story arc, like trying to parse translated automatic YouTube captions.

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(Is that enough analogies yet?)

Bronson boasts of being essentially the film’s co-writer in an interview for ExclusiveMagazine.com, saying that he and Richard Brauer “…would sit up at night and thin it down…. I would say we cut up to 40% of the dialog, but we used the lines we cut to guide our inner thoughts.”

The film is riddled with plot holes of motivation, chronology, and basic geography. One of the things about this little town that M.J. Clayton hates is that they let the horses crap in the middle of the road. At some point, later, in a scene that’s supposed to convey to you that he can’t escape what he hates, he’s shown running down the center of the street where the horseshit is, even though the sidewalks are visibly empty.

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Mr. Art Critic can barely even bother to show you the female lead character, Lisa’s (Toni Trucks) paintings until the very end of the film. Lisa has won the art competition for the past few years, so Clayton buys one of her latest works to enter as his own. If there’s a statement there about critics assuming that all art is indistinguishable from other art, it’s buried deep under the fact that none of the judges recognize Lisa’s style either.

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And if there are scenes where M.J. Clayton actually does have his heart melted by the genuine small-town people, they must be buried in another film entirely.

Reviews contemporary with the DVD release of Mr. Art Critic lavish the film with praise, taking its faults as deliberate choices and comparing it to Bad Lieutenant, or the films of Rob Reiner or Christopher Guest. I can understand how they’d make those comparisons: those are the only other films these reviewers had ever seen.

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It’s easy to see Bronson getting cast for this based on his art-snob roles in Beverly Hills Cop or The First Wives Club, or even for the broader sense (borne out by his declining career) that there’s not as much to him as he thinks there is. And if you’re wondering, given his sideways view of Method acting, which part of M.J. Clayton is actually Bronson, here’s another quote from that ExclusiveMagazine.com interview:

EM: Lastly, you’ve been quoted as saying that every time you do a role, it’s the same thing, that it’s you telling your life story through somebody else’s material. So, and with that in mind, what part of your life story is being played out for us in your role as ‘Mr. Art Critic’?

Bronson: Ah, that’s quite an interesting question. What is definitely being played out in MR. ART CRITIC is the fact that the character’s pomposity is a front for his vulnerability. I don’t know that it was particularly written that way, but that’s what I decided to bring to it. I basically played him as someone who was longing to be understood and accepted and who, in his loneliness, got a little brittle. People who don’t know me sometimes mistake my booklearning and intensity for disapproval and snottiness, and it leaves me a little stranded until they realize what I’m all about. Then I’m a huggy-bear and we all sit down to breakfast. Story of my life.

Ultimately, I’m not sure who I feel more for: Bronson for having to take these kinds of roles, or Richard Brauer for Bronson reading the script and still taking his money.

Verdict: All those years of practice of hating the working class finally paid off.

 

The Young and the Restless (14 March 2008 – 26 March 2008)

Character: Patrick Dalton

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I’m writing entirely too much for this week’s roles, aren’t I? Bronson was on a soap opera for only six episodes, and by a year and half later, even he’d forgotten he’d done it.

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He plays Patrick Dalton, person with connections to the fashion world who helps one of the main characters launch a fashion magazine. According to his AV Club interview a year and a half later, he decided that the character was drunk during at least one scene. Evidently Bronson’s idea of being drunk is stating clearly to others that he’s drunk. And the choice really just seems to be a means to, um, and end:

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In his last episode, he hugs a clearly-uncomfortable woman from behind.

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In a behind-the-scenes featurette, he hugs the clearly-uncomfortable casting director from behind.

Verdict: Evidently guest actors on daytime soaps are allowed too much input on their characters.

 

From a Place of Darkness (25 March 2008 Tucson premiere; 11 November 2009 on DVD)

Character: Carl

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After appearing in live-action kids’ movies, Disney sequels, European cartoons, boob movies, Christian films, and numerous amateur writer-director, Bronson finally completes his direct-to-video world tour with a horror film.

And what’s more, a horror film about snuff films, which is another sub-genre I’m too familiar with.**** I’m not able to give you even a sweeping history of this category, other than their aesthetic and subject matter arguably owe a lot to both the SAW franchise and the enduring popularity of shot-on-video titles. The snuff-film-obsessed genre hovers right above the let’s-take-a-body-apart genre in the horror hierarchy; in other words they’re at the bottom.

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The best I can say about From a Place of Darkness is that you don’t leave convinced the filmmakers truly do want to murder women. In fact it’s more of an attempt to put snuff films into more familiar territory: the victims come back as ghosts.

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Bronson plays–I’m not sure, actually, an investor or a producer–someone interested in funding and distributing snuff films. If lack of personal experience kept him from being able to look and act like he was in love in Icemaker, a surfeit informs him staring raptly at violent porn and shooing away wait staff.

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Verdict: I’m quite confident that I’m the first human to ever watch this. The responsibility of having the final say on its quality is too much for me to bear. Nah, j/k, it’s awful.

 

You and I (May 2008 Cannes premiere, 31 January 2012 US DVD release)

Character: Torrino

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I have no memory of watching this film, yet here are these screengrabs.

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Verdict: Do you like t.A.T.u.? t.A.T.u. are in it.

 

The Tale of Despereaux (19 December 2008)

Character: Town Crier

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In the beginning of the movie, a French-accented chef argues with some sort of vegetable ghost who also has an Italian accent. Neither one is played by Bronson.

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Verdict: He gets one line. Best Bronson Pinchot movie I’ve ever seen.

 

Hooking Up (aka Clusterfuck/High School Party Girls/American Cherry Pie/Wild High School Teens Cut Right to the Chase) (6 March 2009 on DVD in Japan)

Character: Dr. Kimbal

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If The Surreal Life was a public acknowledgment of Bronson’s has-been status, Hooking Up is the rejoinder that he’s still fondly remembered by some.

Bronson stars alongside Brian O’Halloran (Clerks) and Corey Feldman (Meatballs 4) in this American Pie also-ran.***** Giving middle-aged men top billing–and casting two of them as high school teachers–suggests that this would be some sort of subversion of the teen sex comedy, showing you the action through the eyes of the frustrated administrators. It’s what a movie that banks on the existence of fans of both that genre and these actors should do.

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Instead, Hooking Up (aka Fuck Pie High School) just meanders through awkward sexual scenarios until 90 minutes go by. It’s pretty obvious that everything that made it into this movie is simply the takes where the actors didn’t completely flub their lines or break.

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Everything that was wrong with Mr. Art Critic applies here too, with an addition: the film quality. I only have a flip phone and I could make something better-looking than this.

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Verdict: It will be centuries before Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax ever get to this one.

 

Good Clean Fun (15 September 2009)

Character: Dean Vernon

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This is another one that was almost entirely unavailable when I started this project. I had to reach out to writer/director Issa Diao, who was able to get me a copy. He’s a nice guy and actually asked about my comics work!

I’d honestly feel bad if I were to trash this movie, and luckily I don’t have to. Good Clean Fun covers much of the same subject matter as Hooking Up, and their juxtaposition here throws each into stark relief.

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Hooking Up suffers in large part because its budget is so miniscule that every supporting role has to be played by all of the unemployed friends he still knew from high school. Good Clean Fun has that same feel, as the actors are so unknown it’s easy to wonder if Diao knew them personally. If that’s the case, though, Issa Diao is friends with a much more genuine class of person.

American Pie came out when I was in high school, and to hear my classmates tell it, it was my generation’s Deep Throat (which, if anything, drove me away from it more). I finally watched it maybe five years ago and was impressed by how seriously it took sex. Screenwriter Adam Herz understood that sexual pursuits had a place as part of one’s personal quest for meaning and connection, and our natural fumblings through it are worsened when we don’t know that. Most of its immediate imitators (and many of its own sequels) just wanted to show titties and say “glory hole” as many times as the MPAA would let them.

There’s definitely a place for teens spazzing out about sex (and it’s called Gorp, 1981, American International Pictures), and for the characters in Good Clean Fun, that place was in their past, if they had ever been hyper-focussed on it at all.

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In fact, sex & drugs (and fraught relationships with same) are relegated almost entirely to the sidelines. One of the main characters’ on-again off-again girlfriends has an affair with Bronson’s character, a college dean; and someone’s exploits performing on a webcam for cash take place entirely off-screen.

Many low-budget teen comedies suffer from a lack of distinctive personality or clear arc for the main characters; in other words a lack of justification for why this person’s story is important enough to take up a couple of hours of your time.

Diao slips one of those “i’m a hack writer” lines into a character’s mouth about halfway through–“Sometimes I think we’re just all walking cliches from some 80s movie”–and he does himself a disservice. This movie’s draw is that all of these college students aren’t experiencing anything larger than life. They talk through their problems, they support each others’ successes, and they hold each other to standards of personal behavior that comes from a place of believing in each other.

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If Good Clean Fun–as its title suggests–is any sort of response to 80s/90s/00s teen sex comedies, the response is “That’s exaggerated; here’s my experience”. And Diao’s choice of main character (Allison, played by CJ Celeste) is the perfect choice for that message.

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Focussing the events around a few days in the life of a college-educated black woman–we’re talking double, maybe triple underrepresentation here–as she struggles to repair some minor stumbles in her relationship and convince an obstructionist college dean to let her put on a benefit concert may not be riveting, but it sure makes me wish I had had a college experience with friends this capable and committed to each other.

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CJ Celeste shows some true potential: it’s easy to see her getting roles portraying black women who have to act white to succeed (or who are accused of it). It’s really a shame that she hasn’t done much else, while Bronson Pinchot–who here has no idea how to convey sadness over the memory of Dean Vernon’s brother’s death–is still working.

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Verdict: I’ll freely admit I gave Good Clean Fun far more consideration than I would have if I had been able to find a copy on eBay. It’s certainly not essential viewing (the title is also in reference to a band of the same name, for which the movie is kind of a feature-length commercial), but more thought and care went into this than most of the entries in this post. It’s easy to overlook the original sense of amateur was someone who creates out of love.

 

Intermission 9 (2009)

Good Clean Fun and Hooking Up (aka American Teenage School Girls Really Like It, If You Know What I Mean, And I Think You Do) were simply the first indicators that Bronson had finally entered the realm of nostalgia. The working theory, then, would be that this shift occurs 13-16 years after an actor’s disappearance from the mainstream.

And, by extension, maybe 4 years is about how long it takes for a Hollywood actor’s public faux pas to slide out of memory. And I suspect that Bronson, after six or seven years of doing small films that gained small but regular praise from the festival circuit, and interacting with writer-directors who told him they loved him in his other roles (or at least gave lip service to it), he had built back up enough ego to start seeking out attention again.

His October 2009 interview with the Onion’s AVClub’s Nathan Rabin is the most attention Bronson had gotten in over a decade, even counting the Surreal Life stint. And, eight years later, on his own blog, Rabin added that it was Bronson/Bronson’s representation who had reached out offering the AVClub an interview.

It’s a fascinating read, but for me it’s fascinating in entirely different ways from how everyone else seems to have taken it.

The big headlines–even in Rabin’s opinion–were that Bronson was dishing gossip on big-name celebrities he had worked with. That Denzel Washington was mean to him. That Bette Midler was kind of a bitch behind-the-scenes. That Tom Cruise had made homophobic statements a quarter-century earlier.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood Bette Midler my whole life, because I can think of few actresses who could pull off being the classiest possible bitch. And the Tom Cruise stuff? Well, for one, Bronson makes it pretty clear that Tom was calling all the other actors by their character names; could it be Cruise was staying in character? I’m not going to excuse what Cruise said; I will say that I told plenty of jokes that painted homosexuals as monsters or genetic misfires. I regret it. (I’ll state one more time, since this blog is almost done, that whenever I make a joke about Larry and Balki having sex, the intent is to read subtext where there isn’t any; the joke is on them, but the joke is that they can’t be honest with themselves about it.) And that’s my problem with Tom Cruise, too–that in response to the interview, he couldn’t just admit he was an idiot kid who’s since grown up.

Whether Bronson went into this interview thinking he’d reached the point in his career where he was some grande dame of Hollywood who’d seen it all and done it all, I don’t know. I do know that his stated goal has long been to be “outside the bounds of what’s allowable”. (A quote from the interview: “Am I not supposed to say these things?”) Did he bear some sort of grudge against Tom Cruise? Mmmmaybe? His earlier comments on Tom Cruise–going all the way back to his October 1987 Playgirl interview–are only thinly veiled:

When asked to comment further on his thoughts about the preeminent hunks of our time, Pinchot again dives into the subject matter with obvious glee.  “I’m very close in age to most of these people,” he begins, “and about a million light years away from them in what I’m trying to do. The young-hunk school of acting is to sit there and be photographed and smile and make women think about what it would be like to be in bed with them…. You have to be born to that.  It’s a repulsive thing to aspire to, but if it comes naturally…. I think it’s fair to say that in the cases of both Matt Dillon and Tom Cruise, they didn’t start out doing that. It just became obvious . . . they’d be stupid not to pursue it.”

In other words, Bronson is in a different class of actor because he’s focussed on character. But for someone who all but begs you to wonder which state roadmap the veins on his dick most closely resemble, he sure does appear to be working overtime to convince us he’s not jealous of Tom Cruise. That said, Cruise’s homophobia had been in the news the year previous thanks to an unauthorized biography.

If there’s a theme at all in Bronson’s responses, I don’t think it’s trash-talking other celebrities. Most of the dirt he dishes feels almost incidental to the main thrust of Bronson grappling with his own opinions about his past and his growth as a person. He talks about how he got through Denzel Washington’s treatment, and how the experience allowed him to decide not to take abuse from other people in the business. He’s open–a little–about the absurdity of getting famous from a three-minute part in Beverly Hills Cop that he almost didn’t do. He speaks of his role in After Hours, and his interactions with Martin Scorsese, as being learning experiences about how he comes across to others. He comes right up to the edge of a discussion of the emptiness of the roles he would accept (on his Step by Step role, he says “they needed somebody to be the goofy character, so they brought me for a year to be the goofy character. And then as usual, they didn’t quite know what to do with me, so I just kind of stood around.”)

But–and this is the big thing–he’s talking about how people change over time. He worked with Eddie Murphy at two very different stages in Murphy’s career, personal-emotion-wise. And he talks of how his own feelings about Perfect Strangers have shifted over the years.

What he says about playing Balki for seven years has all been there in the interviews we’ve looked at over the course of this blog.

It’s really just like a relationship. At the start, you’re so in love and you can’t believe it, and then you settle down and it’s comfy, and then you start to get bored, and then you get resentful, and I think at the very end, it was pretty bad.

I really hope someone out there can confirm for me that not all relationships are like that. He mentions feelings being “brittle” in the final season, and admits to being snippy with Rebeca Arthur, telling her to fuck off from the set when because she was being “snotty”. Those brittle feelings appear to have lasted well into the 90s–see Bronson’s statement in the 1997/1998 Michelle Erica Green interview comparing Perfect Strangers to a Gulag labor camp.

By 2009, Bronson was able to look back on his time as Balki Bartokomous and see how depressed he was at the time, and see how he was resisting the idea of seeking out therapy for his family-of-origin issues. Balki happy-go-lucky demeanor, Bronson is saying at this point, was at the other end of an emotional spectrum from how he personally felt at the time. (The next logical question, then, is whether that drove his interview behavior, and for how long; but I don’t expect to ever know.) More on that in the next intermission.

Psychology sidebar: the order of questions in tests and measures can have an effect on how people answer, based on the principles of priming. If you’re familiar with the schoolyard prank of asking someone to say “silk” five times in a row and then ask them what cows drink, you’re already familiar with priming. I really wish that the question about Risky Business had come after Bronson talked about his own younger self; maybe he would have have talked about Tom Cruise a little differently.

Anyway, Bronson saw that he was getting even more attention from the AVClub article, and struck while the iron was hot: within a week of the interview, he started a Tumblr.

I discovered this through a dead link to the long-gone Animal New York site, which I was able to get to through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.******  I was able to turn up a single page of the Tumblr through the Wayback Machine, and…

Tumblr: Bronnie

Bronson: Tums

Both: We have to talk.

Both: Ok, you first.

Both: (laugh)

Both: Ok, you.

Both (laugh, self consciously)

Both (pause)

Both (gesture: ‘after you;’ though of course Tumblr has no hands and has to do it by bending a corner of her screen)

Both (politely, but very slightly testily, wait)

Both: I—

Both: Sorry.

Both: (sigh)

Bronson: I’ll go first.

Tumblr: Thank you.

Bronson: There’s a giant bloated horsefly buzzing around the house.

Tumblr: Yeah, well, that’s my con-

Bronson: I killed it.

Tumblr: (blanches)

Tumblr: She was my —

Bronson: She?

Tumblr: (changing the subject) Don’t you love espadrilles, Bronnie?

Bronson: God, no.

Tumblr: You’re kidding, right?

Bronson: God, no.

Tumblr: Well, but, if I had feet, and great ones at that, and great legs too, and —

Bronson: Would this be the same day I had natural platinum blonde hair?

Tumblr: (lip starts to wobble. Tumblr’s ‘lip’ is the space key.)

Bronson: I’m sorry, honey.

Tumblr: Just—- (does the girl fidget that means, “Just let me get myself together.”)

Bronson: I understand.

Tumblr: Do you?

Bronson: Not really.

Tumblr: (not a compliment) You’re such a man!

Bronson: (lunges)

Lights out.

Well, ever since I found out about his spoken-word comedy album, I’ve been saying I’m honestly curious to know what Bronson’s creativity looks like. Now I know: Bronson writes slashfic about fucking his computer.

Bronson walks in the house. Stops in his tracks.

Tumblr and Disembodied Voice: Oh — hi!

Bronson (tetchily) Who’s he?

Tumblr: Bronson, he’s —

Disembodied Voice: I guess you get to name me!

Bronson: I’m sorry?

Disembodied Voice: Well, I’m not entirely Disembodied any more, and —

Bronson: You’re the Disembodied Voice?

Disembodied Voice: Yeah, but I went to Wal-Mart with Tumblr and we got clothes and body parts.

Bronson: Go wait outside, please.

Disembodied Voice: Yes, father.

Bronson: In the hall. Now.

Thankfully there’s just one page of this, so the entry where–presumably–he removes his computer’s exhaust fan and navigates to Zappos.com in a second tab is no longer extant. Read more of it if you want. It’s like if Dave Sim were a teenage girl.

 

Chuck

“Chuck Versus the Suitcase” (27 September 2010)

Character: Victor

According to a news piece in TV Fanatic, Bronson’s character was a “wannabe-matchmaker” (sic). In the episode itself, Chuck looks at Victor and Victor shrugs.

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In the AVClub interview from 2009, Bronson mentioned that he had some say about what he wore for his role on The Young and the Restless, essentially that he turned a scarf into a tie. It looks like he had some fun here making himself into the Gomez Addams of Milan’s cocaine trade.

But it was in this episode of Chuck that it finally dawned on me: Bronson isn’t getting much of a say anymore in what he gets to do on a show. He’s just called in for the recognition factor, and if something doesn’t work about his role, he doesn’t have the final word. Maybe it was cut for time, but I’m not sure that’s any better.

Verdict: Glad they chucked his scene!

 

Pure Country 2: the Gift (15 October 2010)

Character: Matthew

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I would correct the IMDB page for this, but the movie’s own credits get it wrong, listing Bronson as Joseph.

Not like it matters that his character has a name. Bronson plays an angel, alongside–

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–oh, jeez, Michael McKean and Cheech Marin probably thought no one would ever see this. This feels embarrassing, like I walked in on them getting enemas.

They’re angels, and their job is to dole out special gifts like speed or vocal talents to people as they’re born. If that were my job, I’d be sending memos to God every damned day asking where the gifts were for surviving on 200 calories a day, or having blood that contains the antidote to all strains of HIV. But sure, God hands out abilities so little blonde girls with big tits can have successful music careers.

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In this nightmare imagining of God’s eternal love, your special gift can be taken away if you lie three times, and then restored if you apologize for lying to people. What if they die? I don’t think God thought this through very well.

Each time Squally Parton lies to someone, Bronson cries, and it rains.

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Even when I was practicing, Christian media always struck me as anti-experiential, a watered-down version of life that, in denying the existence of the type of complicated shit that frustrates us on a daily basis, had unfortunate potential in sending a message of irredeemability. Pure Country 2: the Gift isn’t explicitly Christian, but I can think of no other audience that would sit through this.

Verdict: If this is the kind of movie God wants you to watch with Him in heaven, I’d better get to work seducing nuns.

 

Hawaii Five-0

“Mana’o” (8 November 2010)

Character: Bastille

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He plays another washed-up-looking photographer. The police tie him to the hood of a car to get information out of him. Make your own Second Sight joke.

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Verdict: This show has been on for nine years? If it’s that successful, handing Bronson a role counts as charity.

 

Problem Solverz

“Videogamez” (11 April 2011)

Character: AI

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Bronson voices a videogame that has achieved sapience, gradually taking over the outside world. The Problem Solverz defeat him by not being entertained by him, which is 100% not a metaphor for vast stretches of Bronson’s career.

Problem Solverz feels like Aqua Teen Hunger Force for kids, if this episode is any indication. George Takei makes an appearance (yes, he says “Oh my”), and Bronson does a gravelly mix of accents that won’t sit still for longer than three words. Like if Serge was an angry drunk.

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Verdict: Watch it, don’t watch it. I’m in no position to judge your life.

 

Virgin Alexander (2011 film festival circuit; 17 July 2012 on DVD)

Character: Bim Norse

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This is basically a sleepy version of Night Shift (1982). Two garbagemen start a prostitution business out of their house to avoid eviction, stealing a local pizza restaurant’s girls.

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Bronson plays Bim, who owns the pizza restaurant/brothel. Bim is a skeezy misogynist, serving (I think) as a looming specter of what the titular, aimless Alexander might end up as if he can’t get his shit together. Bronson is almost convincing as this type of misogynist–disparaging and insulting his employees–and I mean that as a compliment. I have to imagine that it was the strength of his performance in True Romance that led to his casting here (and in Icemaker) as a sort of punching bag, being forced into more and more uncomfortable situations. Here, Bim gets his just deserts by losing his girls and being forced to pretend that he’s one of his workers, giving hand- and blowjobs through a glory hole.

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Virgin Alexander, according to the directors, is an inverted sex comedy where the main character is “struggling to make something out of nothing”. It’s a ballsy choice to give your main character a hesitant (to the point of nonexistent) personality, and I can appreciate it only on a cerebral level. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a little bit of noise and flash in a sex comedy.

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That Bronson had roles across three generations of teen sex comedies is something I completely didn’t expect to learn. He’s gone from the initial spate of Porky’s ripoffs (Hot Resort, Flamingo Kid) to the absolute tail end of the trend before American Pie ushered in a new era (Beach Movie), to various responses to the entire genre’s history (Hooking Up, Good Clean Fun, Virgin Alexander) that appear to pull him in on the basis of “comedy” reputation alone. I’m sure Winning Girls Through Psychic Mind Control would add another piece to this, if I could get it. I would love to hear what Bronson thinks about that trajectory.

Verdict: Virgin Alexander also feels like a sleepy version of Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls. If you like porn and thinking about pizza, that might be a better film for you.

 

Shake it Up

“Vatalihootsit It Up” (12 June 2011)

Kashlack Hessenheffer

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Here’s that security-through-obscurity aspect of Bronson’s career I was talking about where, in the emptiness of direct-to-video, no one can hear you fail. There’s already the overwhelming sense at this point in his career that Bronson gets roles on the basis of the casting director having grown up watching early seasons of Perfect Strangers.

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That sense is made concrete here, as Bronson plays a German version of Balki, the father of two characters whom I assume are regulars on Shake it Up.

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It may be the only German accent I’ve ever heard that tries to slur and swallow all the consonants and still be obvious what the intent is. It may just be how much the David Lee Roth costume covers all but his face, but there appears to be some paunchy genetic convergence with Dave Coulier here.

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I was incredibly lucky to grow up in an era of stellar writing for live-action children’s shows–You Can’t Do That on Television, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Salute Your Shorts, Clarissa Explains it All–and my heart goes out to kids who have to rely on the Disney Channel for entertainment. This is the only episode of one of these shows I’ve seen, but the impression I always get is one of rich people who think the whole point of acting is to make fun of people so low-class they have actually have *gasp* problems.

Verdict: There’s a legend about Walt Disney, highlighting his persona as a master animator, that he had such a good eye he could pick out problems in a single frame. One version of the story (in Charles Shows’s 1980 book Walt: Backstage Adventures with Walt Disney) goes that some of his animators replaced one frame (1/24 of a second’s length) with an image of a nude woman, to test Walt’s abilities; and when he watched the film, he caught it and fired those employees on the spot. I have to wonder what he’d say about the quality of things with his name on them now.

 

Intermission 10 (2012)

Hang in there, folks, we’re nearing the end.

At this point, Bronson doesn’t seem to be seeking out acting roles other than to finance his house restoration hobby. The past few roles are generally egotistical characters, but with the exception of Kashlack Hessenheffer, there’s no sense of personal ego about them.

Though I’m not finding references to plays he appeared in, Bronson had still been doing audiobooks for the past few years; he was even Audible.com’s Narrator of the Year in 2010. I actually bought a copy of the Eyes of the Dragon audiobook, as it’s one of my favorite Stephen King stories. But ultimately I found far more fulfilling ways to spend ten hours, like cleaning the inside of my oven and finally getting my inbox down to zero, and ended up not listening to it.

The Bronson Pinchot Project was virtually his only work in 2012 and 2013 and–according to Bronson–it wasn’t even something he sought out. We’ve encountered too much of Bronson in interviews to take anything he says at face value, but I suspect there’s a little bit of truth to it when he says that the DIY Network approached him about a show. It was well known that Bronson was restoring houses, and it’s easy enough to believe that niche cable channels have to hustle to keep their programming fresh.

There are more interviews and articles than I care to read or listen to very closely (though one notable tidbit in my notes is that Balki’s character’s original name was Zev). If you think I’m not maintaining my standard of research, I offer you my sincerest apologies that this post is maybe 100 words shorter than it might otherwise have been.) But I did listen to one hour-long interview done by Chris Mann for his Retroality.tv site. Mann refers to himself as a “storyteller”, which already makes me want to slap him; what kind of person has that much self-loathing about the type of freelance writing they do that they need to make it sound timeless and magical?

But Mann has a focus on “wellness” (read: let’s try to be healthy by ignoring science), and that angle makes his interview with Bronson one of the most interesting I’ve seen.

There’s your typical boasting bullshit that Bronson drags out–claiming that the entirety of Perfect Strangers’ success was everything he brought to the role, since the writing was absolute shit; that he had been renovating houses since he was 8 years old (f’chrissakes); and talks like it’s somehow novel to do restoration work by using pieces from multiple houses (may I introduce to the world of vintage car repair?)–but that’s just sea level for him.

But continuing his Vergangenheitsbewältigung from the AVClub interview, Bronson is quite candid about his pathway to recovery from his abusive childhood. When Mann asks him if he had ever been able to resolve his childhood issues through acting, Bronson talks about what his therapist had done for him. For all that he drew on his issues, like abandonment and watching his mother live in fear, in his acting, his therapist pointed out to him that’s only useful while he’s acting and doesn’t resolve it for him anywhere else. That’s an incredible piece of insight!

Bronson doesn’t say what kind of therapist he’s seeing–and I don’t know enough about therapy to have any sort of academic-type opinion anyway–but it’s obvious he’s more open to woo-woo stuff than I am. They discuss his appearance on Celebrity Nightmares Decoded, where he talked of having a recurring dream of an evil spirit throwing his mother outside of a house through the front door. Bronson had sought out a dream interpreter, who told him that the textbook interpretation of houses in dreams is that the house stands for the person themselves; and thus the dream was about Bronson’s internal struggles about his relationship with his mother.

…really? Bronson watched his father yell at and try to beat his mother and that’s not what the dream is about? My father was also verbally mean (abusive? I can’t remember well enough) to my mother, and I have the vaguest sketch of a memory that plagued me through my childhood years of hiding behind the couch while they (fought?) argued. I had a recurring nightmare of a giant spectral face hovering about 15 feet off the ground in the dusk sky, holding my mother in place by words alone as she lay helpless while I–helpless–watched from the living room window. I’m definitely an Occam’s-razor type of guy when it comes to interpreting dreams.

But–further on that question of trying to work out his own issues with his acting–we get the second, and more crucial, part of the answer he gave about his depression while playing Balki.

He refers to a “magical secret” between himself and the Perfect Strangers audience. What he did, he says, was to take all of his dark past and secret******* it away inside Balki. And he honestly believes that kids who were also going through tough times saw that.

When you consider how abusive Larry became–threatening deportation in “Finders Keepers” springs to mind–it’s an interesting reading of the show. But given that much of that is simply the writing (and Mark’s performance), it’s hard to see anyone but Bronson intending it.

Psychology sidebar: “theory of mind” is the standard term for the mind-mapping I’ve referred to a few times so far, and refers to being able to reverse-engineer someone’s mental state (intent, motivation, perspective, feelings, etc.) from what you see them do or know about them specifically (or people in general). I’ve talked about Bronson “failing” to map someone else’s mind, but if anything his theory of mind is overactive in terms of assuming other people think the way he does. We saw him do it when he landed on his face in Zoya’s Apartment; we see it every time he reacts to a talkshow audience booing him; and we may have seen it when he grabbed Janice Dickinson from behind.

And here, he thinks that when fans meet him and tell him that Balki brought a smile to their face when they were going through something rough, it’s because they psychically/cosmically/somedamnhow picked up on a kinship of experience. But this kind of idea dissipates as soon as you wonder whether some other kid found solace from watching dad kick mom down the stairs by watching any other show at all.

I’m not saying that people don’t put hidden things in their work. Starting with my Season 7 Perfect Strangers reviews, I started “hiding” shit all over the place. I started dropping numerous references to Ulysses leading up to the episode I reviewed in the style of the “Ithaca” chapter. And what’s more, just to play up the “mirroring” aspect of the show’s seasons (season 1 and 8 having 6 episodes apiece), for my own amusement I started making specific callbacks to “mirrored” episodes. That is, Season 7 episode 1 includes a callback to Season 3 episode 2; Season 7 episode to a callback to Season 3 episode 1; and so on. I needed mini-goals to keep me engaged at a time when I was truly getting tired, and I hoped that someone–anyone–might be familiar enough with Ulysses (or the older reviews) to pick up on it. I don’t have high hopes for that–and I’ve sure blown my fucking chances now–but at least it could be found. Bronson would have to turn to the audience, wink, and say “I’m a survivor of abuse, too, kids” for his intent to be readable.

But then, that’s my theory of mind. Maybe Bronson and everyone in the “P.S. I Love You” Facebook group are non-real-time telepaths and that’s why I don’t “get it”.

I think I’m sounding far harsher than I mean to be, because Bronson trying to turn the shit hand life dealt him into something nice, and feeling gratified that someone was helped by it, is the most wholesome thing I’ve ever heard him talk about. Balki becomes something transcendent, perhaps the attitude Bronson wished he could have in the face of his own trauma.

Bronson talks in this interview like he’s calmed down over the past 20-30 years:

I don’t know if I really was a loose cannon or if I got a kick out of playing into the expectation that I would be, but somehow it was chicken or the egg. So I became expert of the non-sequitur, and I did all these looney interviews from which one gains absolutely zero idea of who I am. And my assistant at the time was a very intelligent and insightful woman named Johanna and she used to say every time I finished an interview that “I have no idea who you are, Bronson.”

The interview ends with Bronson giving running commentary on drawing himself a bath, discovering his own unflushed shit in his toilet, and lowering his nude body into the tub.

Let’s all have a moment of silence and quiet contemplation about Bronson’s penis. It’s what he would have wanted.

Oh, and, yes, he does talk about the Bronson Pinchot Project. He gives us the following spin on what the show will be like:

  • nothing will be staged
  • “we’re not going to try to be funny”
  • he’s not worried the residents of Harford will see him as a New York sophisticate looking down his nose at them
  • he predicts Harford residents will be proud of him once the show has aired

 

Bronson Pinchot Project

Season 1 (11 February 2012 – 3 March 2012)

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Before I get into these, I just want to go ahead and say my RT Wainscoting joke in case there’s not a good spot for it. Thanks for indulging me.

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Over the course of eight episodes (I was only able to watch 7 of them because I don’t have an Amazon account), Bronson walks you through the mini-projects of restoring the houses he owns in Harford, Pennsylvania. I’m not sure how many houses it is–I think two, plus some outbuildings–because I care as much about architecture as a corpse cares about hangnails. It’s clear that Bronson loves old houses from a fairly narrow period of American history, and knows the evolution of design choices for just about every aspect of architecture from that time. It’s still strange to me that his renovation to approach takes a gestalt form–that he’ll put things in a house that weren’t originally there just because they’re from the right time period. I’m a vintage toy collector, and this would be the equivalent of fixing up your broken G.I. Joe with Barbie parts. Howard Roark would throw up if he watched this.

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But it’s clear he’s excited, and it approaches wholesomeness. But these seven episodes are, to me, a case study of a boss who has no idea how much of an unfunny asshole he is. This is basically as real-life a version of The Office as I think you could ever hope for (and Harford is about 30 minutes outside Scranton, FWIW).

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See the Surreal Life entry for the discussion of the “truth” of reality TV–but it’s clear that there are underlying frustrations between Bronson and the crew he works with. I forget the specifics, but there’s an episode where Bronson is upset with one carpenter’s work, when it’s pretty clear that the problems are due to the limitations of the tools themselves. In another, Bronson asks a floorer to rip out the work he’d done two days prior and do it differently. Overall, most of the crew have an attitude of just wanting to get their talking-head scenes out of the way as quickly as possible so they can actually do their work. They’re all doing their best to not show their feelings, but it’s there.

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It’s a situation where the workers are more competent and serious about their work than the de facto foreman. It’s something I’ve dealt with to a small extent (as an employee), and my dad deal with regularly during his career as a welder/pipefitter. Bosses set the tone and standards for the workplace, and I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be when your boss just decides “it’s pajama day” while you’re lugging lumber around and making sure an errant spark doesn’t set your pants on fire.

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In The Complexity of Workplace Humour: Laughter, Jokers and the Dark Side of Humour, New Zealand management expert Barbara Plester discusses the dangers of the boss being the jokester in the workplace. No one–not even HR, except for maybe after the damage has been done–sets a boundary on what types of jokes the boss makes, creating the potential for a work environment hostile to minorities, women, or serious work itself. There’s one scene where Bronson is hanging out with his crew; and Bronson, like our worst imaginings of any “New York sophisticate”, makes fun of their funny way of talking.

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Except Bronson–that connoisseur of accent–doesn’t even make an effort to learn the way they talk to be able to come close to finding something funny to say about them. They’re poor and they live more than an hour from a big city, and that’s funny enough for him. Bronson’s personal idea of what a hillbilly sounds like appears to be Randy Quaid from the National Lampoon Vacation films.

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And now that he’s working completely without a script (and knows that he’d get the tar beaten out of him the moment he tries to touch someone’s workboots), it’s clear just how completely unfunny Bronson is. He refers to whatever the hell a “Bronson Pinchot espresso” is as “Hurricane Katrina in a cup”. He tells someone he wants some glass to be “cleaner than a Miley Cyrus video”. He jokes about wanting to put a dimmer switch on his sister. If you understand what any of those jokes mean, please let me know.

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Bronson seems to put himself under some serious pressure to be funny any time a camera is on him, so he’ll flail around and not decide what the punchline is going to be until he’s halfway through talking. There’s even one time where he does the same bit twice because (it appears he thinks) he didn’t get it right the first time.

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Can you imagine working for this guy, wanting to actually practice your chosen profession of carpentry, and before you can start, you have to take direction from Bronson Pinchot that he wants you all to stand with your heads together for “brainstorming” and the only payoff is that he pretends to read some other guy’s mind and you weren’t needed for the bit at all?

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Bronson’s right-hand man, Mikey, has obviously learned to just wait patiently until his boss has gotten to what sounds like a punchline. Even after watching this season, I have no real idea what role Mikey Papusha plays. If I had to guess, it’s that Mikey serves as the actual foreman and operationalizes Bronson’s vision for his houses. He seems like he’s a good-natured guy, and with a sense of humor as well. There are times–when he’s not trying to make something funny for the audience–that Bronson gets some laughs out of Mikey, and their teasing goes both ways. (Another worker you see–Nathan Lane lookalike Chad Chauncey–appears to be the actual jokester of the crew, so it’s unsurprising we see very little of him.)

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To knock down one more of Bronson’s promise about the show: it’s undeniably at least partially staged. In one episode, Bronson overhears a seamstress pay him the vaguest of compliments and makes her repeat it for the cameras.

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And just to complete the Michael Scott analogy: Bronson has enough heart to know he’s supposed to show some compassion for the untrodden of American history. But when it comes time to do it, it’s obvious he’s unpracticed at it. When he turns an armoire–made by slaves–into a table, he says “We’ll think about their lives and their hard work”. Yeah, and let’s thank the victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments for their contributions to science while we’re at it.

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Not like he really has any faith in anyone other than long-dead white artisans (and himself) to know what the hell they’re doing when they make furniture. In one episode, Bronson needs a chair reupholstered, and makes a big fucking deal about handing off his baby to a guy who specializes in exactly that. He keeps referring to this professional–whom the DIY Network had already completely vetted before letting him appear on the show–as a total stranger.

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And lastly, I’m going to bitch about Bronson’s approach to books. He wants one house’s “library” to be set up like a bookstore display, with all the covers facing outward. Great! Fine! Do you thing! But he says he wants to do this because some idiot thought it was a good idea to put book titles on their spines, meaning people have to put their neck muscles through excruciating torment to select a book. I’m so sorry centuries of design confluence aren’t up to your exacting standards. He also bitches about how putting books on a shelf, like some a fucking peasant, means they inevitably lean over. It’s a pity they didn’t invent bookends until the 20th Century.

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Bronson also delegates picking out books with nice dustjacket covers to Mikey. For his own personal library which will reflect his own personal taste. Fuck this guy.

Season 2 (12 January 2013 – 27 April 2013)

I can’t find any copies, though even if I could, at this point I might just lie about it so I wouldn’t have to watch them.

You know, if this constitutes Bronson putting his best face forward, I shudder to imagine how he must have acted towards the residents of Harford. (Rumor has it they thought he was gay.)

By the time news started coming out that he was dodging payments on his Harford houses, Bronson was essentially unfindable by the First National Bank of Pennsylvania. He had completely skipped town, not even paying his sewer bills (which can’t have been that high, come on, he was only flushing half the time). The bank foreclosed on two of his homes that he owed a total of $283,000 on. You can take your pick of articles saying Bronson was a “perfect stranger to creditors”, but an August 2014 article in the Wilkes-Barre, PA Citizens’ Voice gives the most complete story. Bronson evidently had once again believed his own hype, and that he’d get to do Project for enough years to get back in the black. He doesn’t blame the viewership numbers; no, he blames the advertisers, who (says Bronson) thought his work was “too beautiful”.

It’s really a bad look to congratulate yourself after almost losing a whole town its post office building.

It’s pronounced Pinch-owe. It had to be said.

Verdict: That’s all four of the promises from the Chris Mann interview unmet. What a fucko, this guy.

 

Intermission 11 (2012-2014)

Subsequent the end of the first season of The Bronson Pinchot Project, Bronson tried again to have his own creative Internet presence. He posted all of one video in April 2012 which, if anything, makes you realize how funny a blank screen is by comparison.

Maybe Bronson’s not married because he thinks women are too stupid to realize how little their experiences matter to men?

Also, when a Perfect Strangers browser game was released in early 2012, TMZ asked for Bronson’s thoughts on it. Bronson thoughts are that he has a penis in his pants

.Bronson did three reddit.com “Ask Me Anything” threads, one in 2012, one in 2013, and one in 2014, to promote Project. There’s some scattered tidbits. He says “day-um” a lot, likes to call people “punkin”, and claims to have been offered the role of Harry Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun. When asked if he’s gay, he says the question has been “asked and answered”, but evidently not here. He feels he’s entirely above auditioning for anything. He sticks shoes in walls before plastering them, hoping some future generation will find them and be confused. He’s a Freemason. Someone shows him their crudely-drawn John Candy porn. “I mention this because even before I set foot in the town, the lady organizing a church potlock called me in NYC and said, “You ought to come to dispel what people are saying that ‘you think who the hell you are.’ [sic–Casey] The cliche was already in place and I had never met anyone.” He was engaged to Marcy Walker in the 1980s (so that makes three broken engagements). He never had time for comic books. He anticipates “juicy dramatic roles” in his future. When asked about his creative process: “No game plan, just wait for the Muse”.

He claims Janice Dickinson propositioned him later on in the Surreal Life run, [and she does appear to come on to him when they go to a nightclub, but that doesn’t negate or balance out what he did  – Casey]. He thinks Miley Cyrus is a slut at heart, playing a good girl who wants to be a slut, but that this is a good thing, and wants to dominate her. When laypeople wander onto his Harford properties, he asks them: “Those actors in MAGIC MIKE….putting their booty out there….what do you think would happen to you if you went after them and copped a feel?” His favorite piece of art is the Antikythera Ephebe. He doesn’t rehearse when he does audiobooks. Imagine if you asked your boss to pay you for not being prepared for your job. He was blocking (staunch, longtime) fans from his Facebook page. Paul Rudd’s character in Amy Heckerling’s I Could Never Be Your Woman is supposed to be based on him. But he’s never seen it. “I am saddened to say the frost of PA has gotten into people’s bloodstreams.” He got booted from his Freemason lodge. He has a brief moment of being shocked by LInda’s dedication to detail.

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45 came on to his girlfriend Wren.

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He forced himself on Melanie Wilson.

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Just think about it.

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Just for a minute. He’d do it for you.

He was supposed to get another show on the DIY Network titled Bronson Pinchot Saves America. It was cancelled and look where we are now.

To promote the 2013 American Music and Pop Culture Expo, Bronson went on FOX 43 (Pennsylvania)’s morning show with Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster). He’s perfectly calm for the first couple of minutes, but then he gets distracted and starts talking about the weatherman’s haircut. The weatherman, to his credit, just leaves while Bronson tries to improvise jokes about the weather.

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When the host comes to take the mic away from him, he comments on how you can take her dress off by unzipping it, and then the network kills his mic.

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And then he’s back for the traffic report! He will not let it die! Bronson is the Larry Appleton of comedy–he’s so sure that his big break is just waiting to happen if he can get in front of a camera for two minutes.

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When the woman who’s subbing in to give the traffic report mentions an accident, Bronson asks if they should act it out and starts making death noises. He was 53 at the time.

Which one of the nine Muses is it that visits Bronson? Azazel? One of these days someone’s going to just tell him to fuck off when he starts this kind of shit.

I’m going to back up just a little and revisit his answer about not rehearsing his audiobook work. He does, at the very least, do multiple takes to get something right. He did a lengthy interview with New York magazine’s Vulture.com website in 2014, discussing his audiobook work. The interview was conducted by Jeff VanderMeer, who was very impressed with Bronson’s reading of his book sci-fi novel Authority; and who looked to Bronson for insight on why he’s so successful at narrating. We get maybe (maybe) the clearest window into his theory of performing and the relationship between “creators”; and it’s lousy with ego.

Bronson sees the actor, or the auditor (in-domain jargon for “narrator”; it would be like if I called myself an “informationer” instead of a librarian), as the pinnacles of letting the Socratic “form” of the character find life.

I do feel very strongly, as perhaps you do, that fictional characters have full emotional existences, which good novelists merely “sample.” The character speaks privately to the novelist, who puts down only part of what he or she hears. If this is done correctly, the character also speaks to the auditor, and in many famous cases — Hamlet, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Joe Gargery in Great Expectations — the reader has the distinct impression that the character is imparting things to him/her that the character may even have withheld from the author him/herself, and perhaps even to all other readers.

I honestly never expected that we’d return to my discussion of hylomorphs and constructivism from the review for “The Gazebo”, but here we are, and my apologies. It sounds (to this outsider) like the process of becoming so intimate with a book results in a deeper engagement with so many aspects of a book at once that–in the process of reverse-engineering a book and re-building it in one’s own mind–feels like a true act of creation. And I’m tying this together with acting because Bronson does.

My best performance of all time is reckoned to have been Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Given the fact that the character sings a song every time he enters a scene and exits a scene, there is a strong sense that the comedian who played him said to Shakespeare, as I have myself said to writers/composers of plays in development, “I really think you owe me a song here.”

Bronson’s view is that the work, the characters, the story, are perfect things struggling to find their way through an author’s pen, and that is the beginning and end of the writer’s role. If performing really does function that way, or if it really is (on whatever metaphorical level) a matter of the Muse visiting you during a performance, practicing anything seems completely at odds with it. In the above interviews alongside Mark Linn-Baker, when Bronson brings up the Honeymooners episode of Perfect Strangers, and accidentally landing flat on his face during a bit, there’s not much embarrassment there. Or remember also how he tried something new in Zoya’s Apartment, and hand-planted on his co-star’s face. Have we mapped the mind of this red light actor? Is it really ego if it’s a worldview?

The following quotes are not in contiguous sequence:

Performers should perform; writers should write.

The most appalling thing in the world is a poet reading his or her own poetry. Dear God, that’s painful. Is there anything on Earth more egregious than seeing an actor talk about his or her own performance? Hell on Earth. I’d rather be on the receiving end of a demon’s pitchfork in a Bosch painting.

I think a book should be read precisely as it was published; otherwise you are changing too many variables.

It’s obvious from the interview, and from the flightiest-of-fancies metaphors he uses to describe the process of auditing (auditoring?) a book, that Bronson (wants you to think he) has steeped himself in the artistic and literary worlds of ancient Greece and maybe 17th- through 19th-Century England and America. It’s hard to put my finger on, and I’m wayyy out of my depth besides, but that’s my gestalt sense. What can I say, it offends my post-modernist sensibilities, even if sometimes “flow”/being “in the zone” while writing feels like I’m getting out of something’s way.

Any piece of writing is agony to create; dedicating it to someone is a big deal.

Please, please tell me that’s not true. Even if Bronson is just spinning bullshit–and much of this interview can’t be anything but, when he says things like “I gently lay my mind on the text as if the text is a Ouija board and let it move me around”–his written responses to these questions at least beg you to believe that he approaches art in this (he assumes) deep and impressive and mystical way.

It’s probably also a good case study in successful people not being the most capable of explaining why what they do works, but you probably want to be done reading this series as much as I want to be done writing it, so let’s move on.

Bronson was at True Romance Fest in 2014. Who cares.

We’re almost finished. Just 12 more appearances to go.

 

Kung Fu and Titties (12 February 2013, likely at a film festival; 9 August 2013 Internet release)

Characters: The Beaver / Two Dogs Fucking

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Another IMDB correction; they only had one of his character names listed. I’m going to send Bronson an invoice for all this work.

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Kung Fu and Titties is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen–and I’m adjusting for the level of the indie comedy hierarchy it occupies. We’re now effectively in no-budget territory, which is another comedy/horror realm I’m unfortunately familiar with. These movies are obvious labors of unemployment, populated by the writers’ friends and older guys who were kicked out of the local community theatre for coming on to the actresses. Everything feels like an in-joke–we can be generous enough to believe the writers found them funny–even down to the title. The lead character’s name–Richard Titties–feels like it might be close to what writer Rob Cottignies was called in middle school; and every character in the movie talks like Z-list actress Raine Brown is a household name. Every now and then this world spits out something decent (say, Fatty Drives the Bus, or Marty Jenkins and the Vampire Bitches), but this is a genre so easy to enter that you could train a camera on the stoners’ table in the high school lunchroom for a few days.

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Don’t let the decent quality of filmstock fool you: this has less charm or coherence than any Chris Seaver movie.********

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Any role would be juicy and dramatic after something like this. Did I mention it was bad?

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Verdict:

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NCIS

“Parental Guidance Suggested” (28 October 2014)

Character: George Burton

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Speaking of dramatic, and juicy: Bronson is a serial killer/cannibal who had a prior psychiatric relationship with a recently-murdered Navy Seal’s wife.

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You know, he’s actually pretty watchable as a network-friendly Hannibal Lecter. He hits all the right notes–derisive of authority, wise to cops’ tricks, with an air of chuckling at some private joke. A muted version of the Prankster from The All New Adventures of Lois and Clark in “For Love or Jimmy Olsen”.

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Verdict: I wish there were more things from this stage of his career that were unavailable so I could just watch a three-minute clip on YouTube and move on.

 

The Mysteries of Laura (7 January 2015)

“The Mystery of the Frozen Foodie”

Character: Head Chef J.T. Thompson

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I’ll admit that I’m past tired of writing about Bronson Pinchot at this point, and the fact that he keeps showing up as possible murderers on modern whodunnits isn’t helping. What is Laura’s mystery? I’d say “that it even lasted two seasons” but that would imply I paid enough attention to say if whether or not it was a good TV show.

Bronson’s not phoning it in, though. In the scenes in Kung Fu and Titties where he plays a Native American spirit guide, it’s obvious he’s not putting forth much effort. After reaching a financial low post-Project, I think he’s being very selective with what he does, trying to lay the groundwork for the bigger serious roles he wants to end his career with.

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Verdict: Jeez, if you care that much, no, he wasn’t the murderer in this one.

 

Ray Donovan

“The Kalamazoo” (12 June 2015) / “One Night in Yerevan” (13 September 2015)

Character: Flip Brightman

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In fact, now that I’m thinking through some of the processes of this, I’ve got a question. If Bronson thinks he’s above auditioning, but wants some serious roles, how does that work? Does he tell his agent “I only want to do X” and then it’s the agent’s job to do the legwork of seeking out casting calls, with the stipulation that Bronson will only do it if there’s no audition?

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That’s got to be severely limiting in terms of what roles are possible. Take Ray Donovan, for example, a crime show about the titular cleaner/fixer. It’s a type of profession which I thought we all would have given up as tired pop culture ground by the time Michael Clayton came out.

I consider myself to be an average enough consumer to be at least aware of anything that’s moderately popular–my blindspots are many–but there’s been such an appetite for prestige dramas in the past decide I figure it’s safe to say that–entirely on the basis of having never heard of it–Ray Donovan isn’t some critical or ratings darling. I can’t guess why it isn’t, based on these two episodes, as I have few benchmarks in this territory other than to say it’s no Breaking Bad.

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Anyway, Bronson’s first appearance as sex-addict morning-show host Flip Brightman is there purely for plot purposes. In the first episode, he’s evidently called in Ray to get him out of a jam. A madam has tied his dick (please, I beg you, hold it in your thoughts) on the other side of a glory hole after he stiffed her (heehee) on payments. By the time the script gets to where Ray needs to call in a favor, Flip is suddenly a late-show host, made up to look like Jon Stewart.

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Like… could you not just have made him a late-show host in the first place?

Verdict: I had to see Bronson’s ass. Fuck you.

 

The Addams Family musical (10-25 October 2015, Fullerton, CA; 31 October – 8 November, Redondo Beach, CA)

Character: Gomez Addams

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You know how I said it’s emotionally devastating for me to not have access to information on something? Well, I’ve never been more depressed to actually find something I was looking for.

After 70,000 words of me telling you that Bronson has been in the worst media I’ve ever seen–worst talking-animal movie, worst season of Step by Step, worst sitcom about an alien, worst Ernest movie, worst no-budget comedy, worst boob movie–I may sound like I’m suffering from hyperbole. Believe me, though: this recording of this cast in this musical is the worst Addams Family anything. You could buy an old movie tie-in box of cereal from 1991 off eBay, eat it and get food poisoning, and still have a better time than I did watching this.

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The Addams Family musical goes out of its way to have zero to do with its source material, and then zero to do with the story it picked out for itself. And I managed to watch what must be the worst cast to play in it. Its 2010 featured Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia, and that I’m instead watching the version with Bronson Pinchot and Rachel York (Lucille Ball in the 2003 TV-movie life story) means I’ve made some very poor decisions in my life.

I consider it a blessing that this was shot on a handheld cam whose owner kept lowering it every time an usher walked by.

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The musical begins with the Addams singing and dancing to bring their dead family members back to life. Great. 14 characters I don’t know or care about.

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The story centers around Wednesday being in love with the neighbor kid, Lucas Beineke. There’s a joke about the Beineke family being from Ohio, and it doesn’t get any funnier over the two hundred times they repeat it. In fact, most of the punchlines are incredibly hacky. Grandmama (welcome back to the blog, Candi Milo!) tells Pugsley to get off his cellphone. Numerous “boy ain’t New York expensive” lines. And most damning: Gomez criticizes a yellow dress Wednesday wears as looking “like a crime scene”, as though that wouldn’t be the highest compliment an Addams could give.

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For some reason Fester really wants Wednesday to have a successful relationship with this boy, so he keeps singing about love. That was your favorite part about Uncle Fester, right? That he wants little kids to screw as early as possible? Maybe I’m making too much of it; probably he’s just excited for any blossoming Addams girl’s first opportunity to user her vagina dentata.

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Fester even sings a song to the moon, which in musical terms means he’s dead fucking serious about love. I can picture an Addams Family one-panel comic where Uncle Fester, tongue pendent, masturbates furiously while gazing through a telescope… but at the moon, instead of the YWCA across the street. But this? Shouldn’t the whole family be kind of disturbed that they’re in something so bright and cheery as a Broadway musical? Should “key change” and “Addams Family” really exist in any other sentence but this one?

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But… that doesn’t bother me that much. Gomez and Morticia are deeply in love, and if anything I’d imagine they’d encourage her to explore it in the Addams way. Unfortunately, Gomez and Morticia have nothing at all to say about her new boyfriend. You could look a still photograph of the Addams Family and write a listicle about what romantic advice Morticia would give teenage girls. But the entirety of Morticia and Gomez’s story is that Gomez agrees to keep a secret for Wednesday, making Morticia suspect him of an affair. The writers of this musical (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) were too focussed on Wednesday’s imminent menarche to think of much more than the rest of the family’s outfits.

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At the very least, Fester’s for it, and Pugsley is worried that Wednesday won’t torture him anymore. Pugsley, by the way, is played by Dante Marenco, who shouts every one of his lines and songs, drawing out a latent aspect of the character no other actor was brave enough to explore. There’s also a scene where he tries to milk a punchline the audience didn’t laugh at in the first place. This much torture really makes me feel a part of their world.

Most of the play revolves around the Beineke family visiting the Addams home. So when the Addams hear the news, suddenly they need to cover up the fact that they’re kooky, spooky, and above all ooky. That kind of question–what would it be like if the Addams Family tried to act normal–could easily fill two, three seasons worth of TV episodes without feeling like a Shitt$ Creek ripoff, and let’s hope NBC responds to my spec script soon. Where’s the stakes, though. (Little vampire humor there for you.) Why is everyone so dead(ha)set on Wednesday having a boyfriend? Did Wednesday cut off Pugsley’s dick and this is the family’s last chance?

The Addams all dress up in nutty ways of trying to appear normal, and it’s the only decent part of the whole play. If even I can come up with a better direction for this–say, Wednesday realizes she’s asking her family to not be themselves in an unsustainable way, out of embarrassment and decides to embrace her own abnormality and share it with Lucas–imagine how good this would be in the hands of good writers.

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Pugsley dresses up as a Boy Scout. Grandmama wears a nurse’s outfit. Fester barely even tries to disguise himself, barging in and asking “Are you ready for some football?” These are all great visual punchlines, even moreso when you consider that they had to kill people to get all those clothes.

If you guessed that the hiding-their-ookiness scheme would run into trouble as soon as the Beinekes enter the front door: you’re right. But it happens for a different reason. Brickman and Elice abandon the conceit as soon as possible: Gomez gives the Beinekes a tour of his torture device room.

The play resolves through the double meaning of the word “crazy”, as in Lucas is crazy for Wednesday and Wednesday is crazy.

I wish I could tell you all the nasty, pervy things that Bronson does that would be entirely in character for both him and Gomez. Gomez Addams is all about the grand gesture, and getting excited about death and destruction. Nothing about Bronson’s Gomez tells me that hearing a rat trap go off would even bring a smile to his face.

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This is the least energy I’ve ever seen Bronson bring to a role.  I don’t know how much of Gomez’s character and lines are in the script, but knowing Bronson’s approach to acting, it’s easy to guess that it was his decision to play up Gomez’s Spanish heritage. I can’t think of any other reason why he would think to drag out his unpracticed Spanish accent.

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If anything, his Gomez is what you’d expect Larry Appleton to look like during a midlife crisis. I hate to draw attention to his weight–anybody’s weight–but Bronson just seems stiff, uncomfortable moving around, and I wonder how much that might have to do with it. It should have been a fitting role for Bronson, and for the life of me I can’t believe he’s not hamming it up.

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Not that Orange County’s 3-D Theatricals cared that much, after all: Bronson was in town and supplied his own black hair dye.

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Verdict: Where the fuck is Thing, I want my money back.

 

The Strike (14 April 2016 Manhattan Film Festival; 13 December 2016 digital release)

Character: Carlo Lombardi

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This is one of the few films Bronson has been in where I can believe the role was written for him specifically.

Have you ever seen the show Party Down? It was a fantastic little show about 20-somethings working catering jobs while trying to break into Hollywood writing and acting careers. It’s a more grounded mix of the worlds of The State and Judd Apatow than on display in Wet Hot American Summer. Equally funny, far more poignant. Also Adam Scott’s in it. You guys like Adam Scott, right?

The standout episode, at least to me, is “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday”. The Party Down crew arrive to cater Guttenberg’s birthday party, only to find that Steve’s friends threw him one the day previous. Not wanting to fink out on a bill, Steve invites them to just hang out and eat with him. Over the course of the evening, Steve ends up having everyone do a table read of one of the crew’s (Martin Starr, Freaks and Geeks) hard sci-fi film script, and coaches him on how to draw out the emotional arcs of his characters.

The end of The Strike reads almost like the same kind of love letter to a ridiculed comic actor. Bronson’s not the star of it, not by a long shot, but he is the world-wise veteran of the trade who dispenses the movie’s final lesson to its leads.

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Three down-on-their luck New York actors, desperate to get any sort of role, kidnap Carlo Lombardi, an agent. They hold him hostage in an attempt to prove they have acting chops.

Over the course of the kidnapping, all that they prove is that they have more ambition than skill. If two guys doing third-rate ethnic accents kidnapping Bronson Pinchot isn’t deliberate meta-humor, I don’t know what is.

If Bronson is seeking out these serious roles to send a message that this is who he is now, his role in The Strike appears to serve as a good argument that he’s learned from whatever mistakes he’s made before. When (I forget how) he gets free from these three actors, he tells them that they hadn’t taken the time to get to know the characters they wanted to play.

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It’s a layered message: one character’s entire arc is about figuring out who his roles are supposed to be. In other words, these actors already know how to approach acting; they just don’t have the raw talent.

Carlo Lombardi: You are brats… but. You’re kind of… you’re kind of entertaining. You’re pretty cute. (…) You’re gonna do me a favor: you’re gonna use your schticky skills, and we’re gonna be fine.

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The lesson is: even if you’re not great at your passion, even if you downright reek at it, you keep at it, you become more yourself. There’s a place for you.

And to hear Bronson deliver the message is enough to make me believe–just for a minute–that that’s the lesson he’s learned from the past 30+ years. From almost by accident lifting himself out of the teen-sex-comedy world, from letting his ego take over, from feeling like he had to be the goofiest cute and sexy puppy dog any time the cameras were recording, from letting his own resentments about Perfect Strangers damage the tone of his most famous role, from finding again and again that the world didn’t want his brand of creativity, that (for whatever reason) sitcom writers couldn’t figure out what to do with his set of acting habits, from believing the whole world still loved Laurel & Hardy, from trudging through the blasted lands of direct-to-video, from finally groping a woman who didn’t let him get away with it, from betting his houses on his own longevity… that nothing’s guaranteed, but he can’t very well change who he is, and that madcap flailing to get seen is a metaphor for discovering oneself as an actor, maybe even as a human.

Verdict: Really, this movie deserves more attention than I’m giving it here.

 

Intermission 12 (2017)

Like I said, though, just for a minute.

Bronson still has this classic view of acting. If we can tie the lesson of The Strike to Bronson’s own life, it rests on the constancy of personhood, or at least assumes a balance between permanence and growth much different from my viewpoint. I believe in, say, recurrent combinations of attributes in humans that may tend to find success in certain domains, and people can change vastly within as small a time period as a year or two. Bronson’s view appears to be one of design, one of Socratic-type form/ideal of person and role (see Intermission 11, above), something that really can’t be tested outside of a perfectly egalitarian society (see the 1993 film Demolition Man for further discussion). Bronson, I think, believes he was born for acting, and was born for acting certain types of roles; and further, that he’d categorize himself into a certain archetype of actor, one that no less a mind than Shakespeare’s recognized as a category and wrote roles for. The Muses have chosen to visit him regularly enough to make a public career out of it, and it’s not his fault if they’re busy with something else when he opens his mouth.

If I’m tying things up too tightly and misrepresenting Bronson’s views about himself and acting, I hope you’ll bear in mind that I’m just trying to make the clearest story from the bits and pieces available to me. And lest I get caught up too much in critique, I don’t want to say that Bronson’s ego-supporting perspective disqualifies any lessons he might learn, especially ones coming out of his characters’ mouths. I assume he’s learned plenty of small-t truths, and I hope they’ve been beneficial to him.

It would be nice to end it here. This would have been a fitting end for this series, but dammit Bronson kept working.

We’re now well past where I came in when I started this blog. The most recent news then was that Bronson was broke. And when I was nearing the end of Season 4, the big news is that he was going to publicly appear with Mark Linn-Baker in April 2017. (You can read about me meeting Bronson and Mark at the Chiller Theatre Expo in this post.)

*sigh*

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There’s a bunch of interviews with Bronson and Mark for me to sift through. They’re not great interviews, really. Most interviewers ask the same broad questions you might come up with if all you’d seen was a three-minute “best of” montage; and one asks questions about very specific episodes (“Duck Soup”, of all things), thinking the two actors are fans of Perfect Strangers as much as anyone else. Despite that, some new details emerge, in terms of how they created the Dance of Joy, how much of the Larry-Balki relationship was based on their own age differences off-set (a lot, they say), that the Dance of Joy is so meaningful to Bronson that he burst into tears during the series finale’s curtain call when an audience member asked them to do it one last time, that Mark isn’t the only actor that has had to move Bronson to his marks on stage (Mark repeats a story, beat-for-beat, from Joel Zwick’s book about Bronson trying to be “creative”), that Mark was able to know–instantly–some bit of comedy timing and staging that Bronson had in mind, and that Mark often encouraged Bronson to practice bits before doing them so he knows what the hell he’s doing. I mention that last one just in case you wanted to know how an actual actor and director working year-in, year-out in the theatre actually approaches comedy.

Fun fact: during one of the flying-with-Flapjacki scenes in Meego, the wires holding Bronson up broke, resulting in a lawsuit and Bronson having to get an operation done on his back. (Suggesting that any weight gain by the end of the series may have been due an interrupted workout regimen.)

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I half-expected Mark to have some sort of calming effect on Bronson, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The deciding factor is still whether other people are right in front of them for Bronson to play to. But in both cases–present hosts or no–Bronson does all the talking, hardly ever letting Mark get a word (and that’s about it) in edgewise. They’re reminiscing, and it’s obvious they have a lot of love and respect for each other, and that’s great to see, but with only one of them talking it’s like listening to your grandparents tell a story. I’d far prefer to see them with the cameras off talking to each other.

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There’s your case for constancy of character across the human lifespan. Bronson even exclaims–exults–at one point that the hosts of Good Day New York “don’t know what to do” with him. I know I’ve said this about 80 times the past few years, but throwing someone off their prepared questions can’t possibly be most people’s goal with comedy. If it is, you could achieve it with far less effort by just pretending you’re sporadically catatonic.

This series of posts has been an interesting case study in how interviewers have handled Bronson over the years. Regis & Kathie Lee et al. knew who Bronson was, likely had watched his show, were many times pleased to have him around. Modern hosts–like these two here–appear to have no idea why anyone would act this way and think it’s funny. Their laughter is certainly the most obviously polite of all the Bronson interviews I’ve watched. Some reporting on Bronson’s weather report carried a suspicion that he was drunk.

For an information professional, I’m very poor at saving links to websites and articles where I pick up new ideas. I came across one a few years back–and my apologies if I’ve already talked about this one–that talks about charm as an agreement. That actors (or comedians, or television shows, etc.) whose popularity looks, in retrospect, like some kind of fluke is due to audiences agreeing to be charmed by them for a little while. I can point to plenty of examples–Neil deGrasse Tyson, Louis CK, Robin Williams (that article referred to his role as Mork, specifically), Steve Martin–and I’m sure you can come up with others. The idea is a nod to the momentness of people/characters who embody some idea; of the capriciousness of audiences; and could, I imagine, serve as a way of taking the burden of the locus of failure off the actor.

Who knows how long that kind of agreement can, or tends to, last, but Bronson had a good run.

Bronson did a number of short YouTube videos promoting the appearance at the Chiller Theatre Expo, and honestly the less said about them the better. It’s pretty clear he’s honest when he says he doesn’t practice.

He was doing improv at Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta in early 2017.  I’m glad he stopped before I moved back to Georgia, because I would have gone and written a review about it. Improv is probably the closest he’ll ever come to recreating a “psychic” comedy bond like he had with Mark Linn-Baker.

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In September 2017, Bronson made an appearance at the Hamilton Comic Con in Ontario, Canada, where he did a 20-minute Question-and-Answer panel. I have no idea what questions he was asked, or how he acted, because whoever was working the audio equipment set up the mic to make Bronson sound like he was shouting through a foot-thick stack of dryer sheets.

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He appeared on Morning Live (a local Hamilton morning show) to promote the Hamilton Comic Con. They show a few clips from season 1, and as soon as Lise Cutter shows up on screen, Bronson proclaims that he fucked her. The host is with-it enough to make a joke to remind Bronson that there’s kids out there eating their Shreddies, but then undercuts it by telling Bronson how funny that is.

Can someone please explain to me what’s so goddam funny about saying that a former colleague was so worthless that the only thing about her that merits mention was how easily you spread her legs? Fuck you, Bronson.

 

Double Play (27 January 2017 (not released in the US))

Character: Bob

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I might note that I watched all these appearances completely out of order. This movie’s so serious it threw me for a loop, but now it’s easy to see it as part of Bronson’s ongoing goal of tracking every stage of Robin Williams’s career.

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Double Play is a story about a man’s attempt to become president of a taxi cab union in 1970s Curaçao, his murder, and his son’s confrontation with the murderer years later.

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Bronson appears as Bob, a splotchy old rich guy on vacation with his family who slips away to do what Sex Addicts Anonymous members refer to as “fieldwork”. Bob pays his taxi cab driver (the would-be union president) to wait for him, and when the driver isn’t there on his return, Bob steals his cab. The driver then uses the opportunity to increase his status in the eyes of the other drivers, putting Bob over a barrel and demanding all his money, all to show his power over the white sex tourists.

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Verdict: Bronson’s perfect for the role–he’s old, white, pudgy and looks like a moral reprobate.

 

Battle of the Network Stars

“TV Sitcoms vs TV Kids” (29 June 2017)

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Speaking of old doughy white guys, Bronson appears alongside Dave Coulier (TV’s Joey Gladstone) and Tom Arnold (TV’s Tom Arnold) in this revamp of the 1970s/1980s program.

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If Bronson got up to any antics, they were cut from the episode. What’s most interesting is seeing Bronson Pinchot and Dave Coulier in the same place, since in my child’s mind they’re cut from the same cloth of comic relief in a comedy program.

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With all three of these guys together, I’m mostly impressed by Dave Coulier. He’s calm and in control of himself, and looks like he’s taken better care of himself as well.

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In the interest of complete fairness of how I present Bronson in this series, I’ll note that he makes it through the entire promotional interview on KTLA 5’s morning show without once grabbing at a woman’s clothes or asking you to think about his penis.

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Verdict: I dunno, that’s it. I don’t really care about the Grampalympics.

 

The Untitled Action Bronson Show

“Bronson Pinchot, Shuko, Ronnie Coleman” (25 October 2017)

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I was willing to say that Ray Donovan must not be all that great if I hadn’t heard of it; but I feel on even less sure footing saying anything about The Untitled Action Bronson Show.

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Action Bronson appears to be a guy who just stumbles around a kitchen while half-wasted on wine and marijuana. This is evidently his third program on Viceland, which is owned by the same company as Vice.com. I… I don’t know, I don’t want to get into a big discussion of this, but I simply don’t understand the appeal of substances as a lifestyle. And that’s not to knock substances, or people like Action Bronson: I just don’t think of myself as a “lifestyle” person. I like TV and movies, I like good food, I like good literature, I collect toys; but I don’t define myself as a fan, or a foodie, or a reader, or a collector. So a food-and-substance-lifestyle celebrity is just triply removed from my existence

I can make jokes about it–Cooking With Dom DeLuise but every time he laughs it gets slower–but I can’t speak to what Bronson Pinchot appearing on his show signifies past how funny two people having the same name is when you’re high.

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I remember, in some old interview, Bronson saying that, when he saw how overweight he was in Beverly Hills Cop, he resolved to lose weight and be healthy. I have to wonder if the same thing happened when he saw himself on Battle of the Network Stars, because between then and this, he was hitting the gym hard.

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He shows off his weights, and hangs out while Action Bronson’s chefs cook some fish. Bronson Pinchot makes a few mentions of the strict diet his trainer has him on, refusing anything but fish, and refusing to smoke hash; which makes it a little baffling why he’d agree to this show. He’s not goofing around at all, and I have to wonder if that’s because–between Action Bronson, chefs preparing food, guys playing dominos off in the corner, people coming by seemingly just to dance or do push-ups while Action Bronson encourages them to “get ‘em”–there’s just too much going on for him to be able to play to any sort of audience.

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Or he’s being serious so he can maintain the new image he’s going for?

Verdict: I’m done writing about this one!

 

Intermission 13 (late 2017 / early 2018)

Bronson and Mark appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! doing a skit called Perfect Stranger Things. I don’t understand the fandom around Stranger Things. I only watched Season 1 of it and hated it. It stuck completely to the well-worn ruts of 80s films (mostly Spielberg) that still exist, doing nothing to elevate the material it worked with. If It’s maybe two hours of story drawn out over what felt like five years. I also have trouble believing a group of little boys only cracked one fart joke through the whole thing. I hated it.

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And… Perfect Stranger Things? Come the fuck on. Horton Hears a Doctor Who. Teenage Mutant Ninja Gaiden. Beatles Bailey. Godfather of the Bride. Apocalypse Now That’s What I Call Music. Gone Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Breaking Bad Boys. Mad Max Men. Modern Family Guy. Tomb Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pirates of the Caribbean Queen. The Little House, MD on the Prairie. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bang Bus.

In January 2018, Bronson answered 36 questions through his website and his current YouTube channel. He solicited questions through his site and Facebook, and it’s obvious he did no preparation for any of them.

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So we get the same kind of metaphorical bullshit he was unleashing in that audiobook interview (like, he rejects the entire idea of museums because pieces of art were originally in a different location), just without time to embellish it with florid adjectives. There’s no new information there, but I do want to mention one thing. I didn’t submit any questions. I had requested an interview with Bronson, which he declined, and I wasn’t going to waste a chance on just one question. Novelty troubadour Philip J Reed did ask a question–about whether Bronson would ever release the early 80s comedy album he had recorded–and it was one of only two or three questions that Bronson didn’t answer. There had been a caveat in the original solicitation that he would answer “select” questions, but how is not putting any thought into 39 questions any different from doing it for 36 questions?

Either Lucy–his website person–withheld the question on the basis of associating Philip with me; or Bronson didn’t answer it because it wasn’t some success of his, he didn’t remember it, or it didn’t fit with his image. I truly can’t think of any other reasons.

 

Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition

“Hit Me With Your Best Dish” (15 April 2018) / “Rolling in the Deep” (22 April 2018)

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And honestly I care even less about this than I did for The Untitled Action Bronson Show. At the very least, Bronson Pinchot doesn’t do his Julia Child squawk.

Actually, Bronson seems to be the most natural choice for a show like this, assuming you buy that he’s good at improvising.  At the very least I can say he’s obviously more comfortable trying to be entertaining on his feet than most of the other celebrities in these episodes (though it appears nervousness is part of Maria Bamford’s persona?).

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Oscar Nunez actually outdoes Bronson in terms of being “on” any time the camera’s on him.

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And… I’m making it look like I care.

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The only thing that feels worth mentioning is two interactions that don’t even last five seconds put together. In the first episode, he casually calls La Toya Jackson “baby”. I’d say he’s not fit to loosen her sandals, but that would be too muddy a metaphor.

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In the second episode, he calls chef Anne Burrell “baby”, and she tells him not to do that. I wish that were all it took for every man to cut his patriarchal bullshit.

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Bronson got kicked off the show because his food was inedible.

Verdict: Why does a show like this need episode titles?

 

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (26 October 2018)

Episodes 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, and 10

Character: Principal George Hawthorne

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I went through an Archie comics phase as a kid. I got every monthly issue that came out from 1992 to sometime in 1996 (excepting, of course the 300 different “digest” titles that you can still find in checkout lines). I wish I still had them, and not because some of them can go for $30 or $40 bucks a pop on eBay. They were my introduction to romance, and I still maintain that the keys to happy relationships are voyeurism, unrepentant bigamy, and dry humping your girlfriend on her parents’ couch.

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I’ve followed some of the news about the company in the past decade. It sounds like the better representation the current CEO achieved (now there is a gay character who also gets horny) was offset–at least for awhile–by her verbal abuse of employees, which is hugely disappointing. If we can’t look to purveyors of porn for 9-year-olds for moral leadership, what hope is left?

Sabrina was basically a fallow property in the early 90s; this 1993 “Halloween Spook-tacular” was the only Sabrina comic I had:

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I had moved on to other interests by the time the ABC sitcom came along. I’m certain I must have watched an episode or two, because I remember still confusing Nick Bakay (the voice of Salem the Cat) with Thomas Lennon.

I can’t compare this to the Melissa Joan Hart interpretation, but I can say that Sabrina’s character in this new show is baffling.

She’s grown up in a world of people who literally worship Satan, yet every episode Sabrina is shocked that they’re (gasp!) doing evil things. Half the episodes are Sabrina shaking her finger at everyone for stuff like eating babies.

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Anyway so Bronson plays the principal at the public high school Sabrina attends, and he really doesn’t bring anything unique to the role. There’s a little bit of humor to the part, as George Hawthorne is essentially punching-bag collateral damage of the demonic activity happening around him.

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It’s obvious they gave him a little bit of freedom with the dialogue–it’s hard to believe someone else wrote him a line talking about The Wizard of Oz–but he really doesn’t make a lasting impression on the world of the show. But then, he’s not meant to, as he dies by the end of the season.

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There’s an episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete (“Don’t Tread on Pete”) that includes a scene introducing Trader Jim, who has made a career out of lunchroom trades. He trades slightly up at every point, going from a handful of snacks all the way up to a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card.

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Bronson is trading each tiny serious role for a marginally bigger one. I assume at some point he’ll work his way all the way up to the lead in the inevitable remake of The Day the Clown Cried.

Verdict: Better than Jughead rapping in Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again. But then, most things are.

 

A Million Little Things

“Twelve Seconds” (31 January 2019)

Character: Berge

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We’ve come full circle: Bronson’s back to doing his Serge voice. Even repeating some of the same lines.

What a standup guy he is, so willing to poke fun at his early career.

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Verdict: Let’s get out of here before he does anything else.

 

Conclusion

Perfect Strangers truly was Bronson’s high-water mark. He was just popular and energetic enough to get on a show like that, and it offered something unique enough, and with enough heart, that it lasted seven years. But what made it work was the combined efforts and ideologies of director Joel Zwick knowing how to wrangle him; producers Tom Miller and Robert Boyett pushing for shows with heart; and Mark Linn-Baker having enough acting chops to be able to map Bronson’s mind when it came to figuring out the staging and timing of a visual gag.

But Bronson thought this was all him, that he was a born talent; he doesn’t see how much these other people’s abilities to channel his energy in a good direction also changed what he was doing into something watchable. Once he was out on his own, he thought he had gained their skills through pure osmosis, but failed again and again and again to make anything a tenth as funny as Larry and Balki. He retreated into the idea that he was undoubtedly the talent, and everyone else–writers, directors, other actors–were imperfect vessels for bringing art into the world, and that only he had the true connection to something transcendent, something achieved through openness to one’s Muse.

It doesn’t sound like the kind of viewpoint that would fly with most serious directors, and it’s perhaps telling that Bronson hasn’t worked with any well-known directors since around the same time he and Amy Heckerling broke up. I think a combination of that attitude, plus his waning popularity and vanished network of Hollywood people, left him with very little opportunity for roles outside of the most invisible type of direct-to-video fare.

The approximate shape of Bronson’s opinions of himself and his talents, and of the various performance worlds he moves in, and the timeline over which those opinions settled into place, comes together through the arc of those roles. His turn as Autolycus in 2000–he often refers to it as his best role–gave credence to the idea that he was a true actor of a certain type, living in the wrong time. I think it was a turning point for him. He dove back into theater for a little while, kept putting in regular bit-part work, immersed himself in his hobbies, discovered a taste for audiobook narrating. And by the time the hands of the nostalgia clock made their full circuit, and he was a public celebrity again, he had some perspective on his past work and his past self.

I say “past”. It was still all there–look no further than The Surreal Life or The Bronson Pinchot Project–but more and more Bronson has demonstrated he realizes that if he wants to finish his career on a respectable, acclaimed note, he’s got to put that mess aside. That’s growth. Being able to cry over Janice Dickinson’s trauma, and his role in triggering her. That’s growth. Realizing that acting isn’t going to solve his own childhood trauma. That’s growth.

There’s plenty about Bronson that I’m unable to empathize with. He’s had at least three failed engagements (Marcy Walker, Wren Maloney, Amy Heckerling), and I can’t even imagine what that’s like to go through. He’s sexually aggressive, and while I can understand the emotions that might drive that, it’s to envision a mindset where that’s okay behavior to engage in. There’s even more about Bronson than I’ll ever be able to know. It would be *ahem* ridiculous to assume I can do more than make an educated guess about his behavior when there’s no one looking. (If a Bronson falls in the forest and there’s no one around, does he do an Edith Fore impression?) I’m fine with that. There’s more than enough Bronson being Bronson and talking about Bronson for me to have found this kind of exploration challenging and engaging.

I started this post talking about his loyal fans and then forgot to say much about them. I don’t know how many of these television shows and movies they’ve watched. I’m 100% certain that I have now watched more of Bronson’s career than any person alive, including his mother. But those fans have stuck with them. I’ve seen their names show up in the Ask Me Anything threads on reddit.com. I met them at Chiller. The popped up during his 2018 video Q&A. They frequent Linda’s Facebook group. Something keeps them hooked.

One aspect of my own worldview is that we all operate–live, make choices, think about other people–in narratives. That we have an ongoing story (or stories) that makes as much sense as possible about the things we observe and know. Kind of a literary analysis/scientific method approach to understanding the world: the best argument is the one that uses the most evidence. (I’m fascinated by Karl Friston’s theorizing that all intelligence’s goal is to minimize “prediction error”, which process lets it then minimize the work it has to do for new situations.)

And… that’s a narrative I tell myself, and I filter most information through it. It’s a flexible narrative–it allows me to change my beliefs as I gain new evidence; but I still resist challenges to the central thesis.

Fandom is a narrative. That writers, actors, musicians, bands, artists, comedians, sports teams, individual athletes, politicians–that these personages or groups are so good not only at what they do, but also at encapsulating and demonstrating some nice package of our shared values, that they deserve praise and loyalty. The outing of abhorrent behavior by any of them wouldn’t sting so bad if it didn’t. I can tell myself all day long that I’m above hero worship, but you could just as fairly accuse me of being too jaded about the fallibility of humans to think of anyone as a good role model or idol.

So I can’t put down Bronson’s fans for wanting to believe in his magical personality, the twinkle in Balki’s eye reaching them personally and giving whatever idiosyncratic message they want to hear, or Bronson being more than willing to give them what they want in interviews. Times are changing, and those fans–the ones that never stopped agreeing to be charmed by him–are being replaced by ones with more progressive tastes, with voices that say “don’t call me baby”. Bronson has said that he re-invents himself constantly, and if that’s true, maybe he can find a new way to charm.

I mean, I kind of doubt it, but of course I would. He’s very rarely been able to map audience’s minds.

But even if what Bronson Pinchot thinks are the best and most entertaining parts of his persona don’t speak to most newer audiences, at least Perfect Strangers is still finding new fans, and still deserves them.

I hope I’ve done Bronson some justice here, and–shoot, why not–I hope he continues to grow as an actor and a person.

And I hope like hell that this series situates his behavior in Season 8 of Perfect Strangers within some sort of informative and worthwhile context, because I sure did spend a year watching 110 hours of stuff, and six straight weeks writing these posts.

Join me next week for “Up, Up and Away part 1”!

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*I really don’t want to break up the flow for this quote from rogerebert.com writer Sheila O’Malley, but it is a solid piece of characterisation in response to Bronson’s behavior on The Surreal Life (I’ve cut out some parts of the quote for space’s sake):

Pinchot is what Mitchell and I refer to as “back-rub boys” – which is so specific, but anyone who was in any theatre department in college would know what i was talking about.

Backrub boys are most usually theatre majors. Although I imagine they could show up elsewhere … but I have noticed that there is always ONE in every theatre department.

Backrub boys are socially awkward guys who would NEVER make it out in the Darwinian atmosphere of college mating … They are geeks, they maybe did a couple plays in high school, and drama or theatre isn’t their passion … but it’s where they feel they most fit in … and so here they are in the theatre department – not because they have talent, but because they feel that theatre is a refuge.

In general, these people are nightmares….

He becomes what is known as “backrub boy”. I have hung out in many theatre departments – and I can pick out “backrub boys” from a mile away. They are not seen as sexual beings by pretty much anyone and so they offer themselves up to girls with “want a backrub?”

I have had good male friends of mine give me backrubs – and either they wanted to sleep with me, or they thought I looked tense – whatever, I never felt IKKY about being touched by them. They were upfront, casual, and weren’t trying to give a backrub under false pretenses….

THAT’S what backrub-boy gets all wrong. He offers the backrub out of his own secret lecherous shame.

**Again, no idea what manner of social benefits I expect to accrue for knowing this. Let me know if you’re moved to adulation, or giving me money.

***A writer who started with an empty tank, is what I’m getting at.

****Not out of any sort of interest in the subject matter; I once put together a supercut of vomiting scenes from films, and that necessitated seeing tons of squicky garbage horror.

*****Bronny-come-lately

******Created by digital librarian Brewster Kahle

*******He pronounces “secreted” as the past tense of “secrete”, but he must mean the past tense of “secret”

********Teenape Goes to Camp, Filthy McNasty, Scrotal Vengeance, Death O’Lantern II

1. A gazebo

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The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy in “For Love or Mummy”

How I Spent the Rest of My Career, part 3

I was going to open this review by saying I might be the least qualified person to review a Laurel and Hardy film.

After all, I didn’t grow up watching Laurel & Hardy; the only awareness I had of them was through the odd caricature appearance in Looney Tunes. I couldn’t have distinguished them from Abbott & Costello as a kid. I watched a few of their shorts for my review of the Perfect Strangers episode “The Gazebo”, but nothing in those grabbed me enough to watch others. I’ll never be a Laurel & Hardy fan.

But then I realized I’m only the third person to have ever watched this film. Since the other two are wearing straitjackets, I technically am the most qualified.

Released on home video in August 1999 to negative reviews (well, review, anyway), The All New Adventures of Laurel & Hardy in “For Love or Mummy” represents at least four years of effort on the part of Larry Harmon to shake a few more dollars out of the Laurel & Hardy brand. According to a 1998 USA Today article*, Jim Carrey and Chris Farley had been approached to star in the film in 1995. But finally, over the course of five weeks in early 1998, TANAoL&Hi”FLoM” was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa. It would be more than a year before the film’s VHS would start showing up in Wal-Mart bargain bins around the country.

Can you believe it even got released on DVD a few years after that? Only a film so utterly forgettable could find its way into stores twice. Since there seems to be a dearth of high-resolution images of the front of the DVD, I scanned it in at 1200 dpi.

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Philip J Reed bought me this, likely as revenge for making him watch The Trouble with Larry. Every fetid second of this film is one I brought down on my own head.

I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you: this is a shambles of a movie in almost every respect, even down to the semi-literate person who stayed up late one night copying the DVDs.

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Now, I can convince some of you of the movie’s quality by telling you that it was directed by John Cherry III, who directed (and helped write) every single Ernest film. But I’m a diehard Ernest fan, so if anything this made me more interested to see it. For me, the worry set in when I saw that it was written by Jeffrey Pillars and Joseph Dattore. Their only other writing credits are for Ernest in the Army, the very last Ernest film, and the only one in the series I’ve never wanted to rewatch. John Cherry III is the only director I’ve ever watched whose work got worse over time, and this movie makes it quickly and painfully obvious that Jim Varney was about the only thing elevating the uninspired material Cherry oversaw. That Cherry spent over 15 years directing some of my favorite movies and evidently learned nothing about what made them work makes this one doubly disappointing.

It’s very likely, though, that many of you reading this have watched neither Ernest Goes to Seed nor the original Laurel & Hardy films; so it’s my job to venture into this unholy crypt and report back on what I find.

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We open in Egypt, 3,000 years ago. You know, there’s really a lot of ancient technology that’s been completely lost to time. For instance, according to this shot, ancient Egyptians were the first to cruise around the dunes on their four-wheelers.

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The New Announcer of Laurel and Hardy tells us that Pharaoh Houtah let some demon shack up in his soul and wreak terror across the land. And then Houtah died before he could marry, which is important because this demon couldn’t wreak quite as much terror as he wanted to unless his peepee was getting touched on the regular. But then Houtah died before he could find a woman who had been born under a specific astrological combination. “When the Belt of Orion smacks Isis’s ass” or something like that.

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Plus part of the mythology is about snakes, and since that used up the writers’ knowledge of ancient Egypt, the backstory is over.

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I don’t believe in karma, but naming something in a way that says it’s the first of many films (or books, or trading card series) appears to be the best way to guarantee it won’t be.

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It takes three screens to get the whole title out! I’m going to be a grammar snob here and say that they’re technically saying that the New Adventures themselves will be appearing in this story. I know, I’m niggling, but they had at least four years to come up with a title.

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Are these things that happened in ancient Egypt? Are they things we’ll see? It’ll be another 8 minutes before the movie actually gets out of the credits, so I’ll go ahead and tell you the answer is “no” to both questions.

Even without a history of watching Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy knock each other about, my main expectations going into this around in regards to their personalities & dynamic, and that they’ll get into physical comedy with props.

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Our introduction to the characters establishes the former pretty deftly. Laurel is worried that they’re going to be kicked out of the library, and Hardy responds brashly and with promises of success. Sounds about right, but I guess I wasn’t aware that Laurel spouted malapropisms every third word. I’m not too embarrassed by this lack of knowledge. The original Stan Laurel didn’t know either.

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I’ll give the writers credit in trying to be inventive in how to turn an everyday object into something funny. Hardy is using a photocopier to take headshots of himself for campaign flyers. Sure, and why not? Part of the reason the original duo were constantly taking on various jobs is that they were broke; and they were broke because they were screw-ups.

As for the physical comedy, though, it’s a failure right out of the gate.

Hardy cycles through a number of poses and facial expressions, his head a foot away from the photocopier’s platen, yet every single sheet of paper it shoots out is the same thing:

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He’s running for Grand Poobob of the Eternal Order of the Nile, by the way.

A note on physical comedy involving setting-based props. Pipes can actually spray water if they’re not attached correctly, but they won’t start suddenly spraying hot coffee. You can launch a rake handle at your face by stepping on its tines, but it’s not going to kiss you Roger-Rabbit style when it gets there. Sometimes a frying pan takes on facial features post-impact; but the physics are clear. Unless breaking an object’s function is the joke, it serves no purpose. When you cheat, how you cheat, and how often you cheat determines the overall tone of a piece. But this isn’t man vs. machine, this is necessity breeding invention. Hardy’s face eventually gets smashed on the glass, so there’s no reason to show it printing that until it happens.

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Unless the bit is there just for me to make a meta-commentary joke on how this whole movie is an attempt at reproducing Laurel & Hardy’s image, and it coming out completely wrong. If that’s the case I should send John Cherry III some flowers.

They’re also trying to hide from the librarian (Christine Weir, Death Force). The way this plays out is that she sees them–

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–she sees them again–

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–walks away–

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–sees them a third time–

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–and only gets upset when she finds that these obviously homeless men have left an IOU in the honor-system photocopier’s money box. Do I have to point out that photocopiers–or libraries who care about reimbursement–have never once worked this way? It feels petty of me to call attention to the fact that Ernest writers have never been inside a library.

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She swears vengeance. I’m a librarian, and this kind of portrayal doesn’t bother me. No one ever saw this. I’m fine with a minor villain chasing these guys down for money, but why not start out at Kinko’s, instead of at an institution widely known for providing free services?

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Farouk Bin Abdullah (Philip Godawa, The Fairy King of Ar), has gathered a bunch of swarthy goons in bar-hopping clothes in his storage space to tell them that he finally tracked down a woman who met all of those astrological requirements they said at the beginning of the movie. I’m still awake enough at this point in the movie to know that he must have the mummy somewhere in the room, but…

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Have you ever heard the one about prisoners telling each other jokes? These prisoners have been in regular and long enough enough contact each other, and they have long since determined the exact finite number of jokes they now collectively know is low enough that, subsequent dozens of retellings, they can be enumerated and referred to by number. They need only call out “Number 8!” or “34!” to tell a joke. A new inmate matriculates and, in an attempt to fit in, calls out “Number 15!”. No one laughs, and another prisoner mutters “Some people just can’t tell a joke”.

For a bad guy introduction, this is the equivalent of a #15. John Cherry III has been filming and writing these kinds of scenes for so long that he’s doing them in shorthand. He’s forgotten to establish important details like what this bad guy hopes to gain (he makes vague reference to politics), how he relates to his underlings, why he’s in a position to know or do anything about this mummy, where he is, or who this bride-to-be is.

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Also, why is it we need this particular Houtah full of bones? Is the demon that possessed him trapped in that body?

Sorry for belaboring so much of this at the outset, but I really want to convey to you the level of quality we’re dealing with here. The height of the script’s competence is ironic foreshadowing, like archaeologist Leslie Covington (South African actress Susan Danford, Dazzle) saying to a TJ Maxx mannequin “Ready for the pharaoh! Maybe if I wear your outfit to the reception I might find my own Pharaoh, mm?”

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Then her dad, Henry Covington (F. Murray Abraham, Muppets from Space), walks in asking her why she’s spending all this time on history when she could be out getting pregnant. Compared to the storage space scene’s poverty, there’s an economy of story here. Their upcoming museum display will showcase his own find–Houtah’s tomb–but Henry suggests the whole thing is worthless. Abraham feels like he belongs in a much better film: he convinces you there’s more than what’s in the script simply by telling you with his posture and pauses that he’s not saying the half of what’s on his mind. He’s letting on just a little that he’s tired and doesn’t want his daughter to miss out on life like–we assume now–he must have. This may be his last chance to encourage Leslie, or it could be entirely something else. Some of his lines are at odds with this characterization, but Abraham does his best to make them feel like Henry’s idea of a joke.

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Whoa! I completely didn’t put it together earlier that The Boys are in an Egyptian-themed fraternal order! It’s almost like these 2.5 stories were fated to meet!

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This movie feels like an Ernest movie. I’m having trouble articulating all the reasons why that is, but I think a lot is the familiarity of Cherry’s sense of pacing and composition, as well as minor things like film stock and budget. But making Laurel and Hardy essentially Shriners is the first definite thing I can point to that would be right at home in an Ernest film.

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Now, yes, Laurel and Hardy were in the film Sons of the Desert as members of a lodge of the same name. There’s even a Laurel and Hardy fan society that borrows the name. So, sure, it’s an homage to the characters’ history. I mean, in terms of who Laurel and Hardy are, is there much else to say? They’re malleable depending on a story’s needs; in one film they’re wandering bums, in another they’re married. Each of those is at odds with the other, but lodge membership is orthogonal to both. It’s true whether they’re fixing a house or waiting tables or in the Army.

But so why not call this lodge Sons of the Desert? I think it’s equally likely that this movie began life as an Ernest script–Ernest Goes to Egypt, I imagine–and hadn’t begun filming when Larry Harmon reached out to John Cherry. (The final two Ernest films were also shot overseas, and I have to wonder if Ernest Went to Africa simply because it was cheaper to film there.) This movie features a very Ernest setting, with a very Ernest goal.

Part of Ernest’s magic is that Jim Varney had developed an all-purpose “rural” character. His commercials ran in regions all across the United States because he really could be your next-door neighbor, the happy-go-lucky guy who was always trying to find an opportunity to better himself. This extended to the movies. Ernest never shot for the stars, just for the first rung on the nearest ladder. He wants to rise from maintenance man to camp counselor, from golf-ball collector to Army Reserve member… or from lodge member to potentate. Ernest’s world (like much of the 1990s South) felt stuck, still kicking around the rural lifestyle of, say, 1975-1985, where something like this was still important. By 1999, I’m sure fewer kids were aware that Shriners even existed. Ernest, too, was becoming a relic, so a lodge (in Florida!) would slot right into his universe and you wouldn’t blink.

Not that it doesn’t here, but: if this is a movie for kids in 1999 (and it’s certainly not for anyone else, in any other year), having your two leads in clothing from the 1930s is already stretching things. Why have them as members of an organization generally associated with old men driving the tiny cars in the parade? If this movie is interested in the idea of how Laurel & Hardy would fare in the modern world, it’s getting further away from that by the minute.

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Here’s a question to ask yourself as we move forward: what, other than taking away Laurel, would you need to change for this to be Ernest Goes to Egypt? All Laurel does in this scene is throw a hat and wetly chew some Bubble Tape. Bronson finally found a way to make me wish he were doing a terrible accent instead.

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After Kowalski (Rick Rogers, The Sexy Girls), whom we’re asked to believe is some kind of pompous ass, wins the election, he introduces Dollar-Tree Tim Curry, Farouk. Farouk is a member of the lodge’s “sister fraternal order in Cairo, Egypt”. How in the world would you sell the Brotherhood of the Nile to Egyptians? Would you join “The Order of the All-American Apple Pie Cowboys”?

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He asks the lodge brothers if anyone would volunteer to help move his ancient artifacts, including the mummy of Pharaoh Houtah, to the museum that night. Laurel offers his and Hardy’s help–but uh-oh!–thanks to that Bubble Tape Laurel spit out, the seat of the chair is now stuck to…

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…Hardy’s back. Okay.

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Now we’re on a ship. Was that storage space in Egypt? Also, I’ve never had to move a mummy, but I’m damn sure you don’t ship them upright like Real Dolls.

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Pharaoh Houtah thinks about his bride-to-be and astrally projects a boner.

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If Farouk is the bad guy, the movie’s not doing a good job of convincing me of it. We know he’s got money! He has a bunch of healthy-looking hired goons, plus he’s got this swank travel bag for the sarcophagus, emblazoned with a custom-designed “Treasures of King Houtah” patch, and it’s likely he financed shipping all this stuff to the States. Going out of your way to make a bunch of Floridians you’ve never met feel useful is a true charitable act. And if all Farouk needs is two guys to move some boxes, essentially he needs no guys and an extra hour.

Why hadn’t the Covingtons, or the museum, arranged for transport before this looming exhibit opening? Somewhere, a frantic museum director is on her 30th cigarette of the day. Museums and libraries wouldn’t be in such dire financial straits if people just paid the damn nickel for a photocopy!

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Twelve minutes in, we finally get some actual physical comedy.

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It’s fine.

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It’s competent, even! But now that we’re here, why did it take so long?

I haven’t seen enough of the original films to know how much story there typically was or wasn’t, but placing this story in the 1990s messes with what I thought was the basic formula. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of infrastructure in the United States of the 1930s, and Laurel and Hardy could walk around a town and end up hired to fix a house, transport a corpse, or move a piano. But we’re here now, so I guess I should try to enj–

*sigh*

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nevermind, here’s Bronson’s ballsack. It’s not like I prefer to have fun while watching a comedy movie or anything.

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We cut to a scene of Farouk and Yesman Arafat climbing up the museum steps. Farouk’s line is ADR, which usually means a scene was cut, or a plothole filled in; but all the line conveys is “I hope they don’t break the mummy”. Someone, please give these writers a gold star for remembering the textbook definition of dramatic irony!

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Farouk meets Leslie and Henry, and mentions that he’s very familiar with Henry’s work. You’d assume so, right? Since Henry found Houtah’s fucking tomb? Farouk introduces himself to Leslie by asking if her hymen’s intact.

Now I have no idea which scene to trust, or even how much I’m supposed to assume Henry is supposed to know about Houtah’s ring, now on Farouk’s finger.

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Then the Brotherhood of the Nile show up in a parade about the length of a tractor-trailer. Maybe it’s supposed to read as them being self-important, but I’d like to think the joke is that a parade float is the only vehicle they have big enough to transport a sarcophagus. It’s a very thoughtful touch.

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So here’s where the film’s location budget and John Cherry’s bad decisions collide. We’re shown that the parade float is maybe 200 yards from the museum steps, based on where the Grand Poobob is standing. He’s shouting at them over a walkie talkie to slow down, but Laurel and Hardy aren’t listening to him: they’re too busy having a five-minute conversation about absolutely nothing.

The parade float’s oars break off. Hardy falls over. Who cares.

Hardy falls instantly in love with Leslie, and imagines the same “meadow run” scene you’ve seen a thousand times.

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After paying for Farouk’s actor to get that nice tan, there wasn’t enough money in the budget to pay for the rights to pay for the Overture from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet.

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Someone was so eager to make a joke about Hardy “accidentally” slugging a woman in the face that they forgot that this was a fantasy sequence.

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While Hardy presumably fantasizes landing some body blows, Laurel says their full names: Stanley Thinnius Laurel and Oliver Fatteus Hardy. This is a fitting moment to mention that these two are meant to be the great-nephews of the original Laurel & Hardy. I was about to say that raises more questions than it answers, but most of the questions I came up with I realized I don’t give a shit about.

This movie has some strange priorities. Does it feel like it’s legitimizing itself by trying to force more continuity than the original films ever bothered with? Is it an attempt to head off criticism that these actors don’t have the same chops? There will be new Scooby-Doo cartoons until the rapture, and probably even after that; I don’t expect them to tell me how they fit into the Scoobyverse. I also feel that a grand Zelda chronology adds nothing to my experience of the games.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask that, if a comedy wishes to address some real-world concern, it make a joke out of it. The 1993 Super Mario Bros. film had two options for dealing with Mario’s full name. Instead of just ignoring it, the filmmakers decided to lean into the silliness that there was a real-ass guy was walking around Brooklyn with a name like Mario Mario.**

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Leslie asks The Boys if there’s anything she can do to repay them, the camera wanders off to Farouk fiddling with his ring, and then there’s a slam-bang cut to Leslie standing in front of Houtah, so entranced she almost opens the sarcophagus.

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I honestly thought for a second that Farouk, sensing a rival in Hardy, was making Leslie hallucinate. Turns out it’s just the worst edit I’ve ever seen.

Henry stops her from opening it. Not because it would expose the mummy to oxygen, or because it would fall on her, but because of the dark archaeological past these two shared. We learn that Leslie may have blocked out memories of childhood digs, and Henry’s happy about this.

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You all wanted to see where Laurel and Hardy take a shit, didn’t you?

Apparently, what got cut from the end of two scenes ago is that Leslie invited The Boys to a party at the museum that evening. The funniest thing in this scene to me is that Laurel and Hardy’s idea of dressing up for an event is to wear the exact same clothes, but even without that, this is a nice moment. Getting to see the two of them relate to each other and mess around with shoe polish is a relief after the last few minutes of stapled-together story.

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Since we’ve only seen her in her work clothes, the movie has to tell us explicitly that Leslie has dressed up special for this occasion. It does this by having Henry comment on it… so did they not come there together? Does she live in the museum?

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Farouk offers a thank-you gift to Leslie, you know, for working so hard to organize a museum exhibit to showcase his archaeological findings. What an asshole, this guy!

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Dad and Hardy bemoan the fact that Hardy won’t get to put his dick in her. Hardy suggests he’s willing to consider any sort of violence towards Farouk.

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Meanwhile, the mummy gets restless. I feel you, man, I’m not sure I can take any more of this setup either.

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I’m so proud of this movie, choosing for its hero a silent, sweaty Nice Guy who stands and stares at the object of his affection for hours instead of talking to her. Finally some representation!

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Laurel kicks a serving cart, which launches Hardy into Farouk. This is an odd choice. We just saw Hardy say he wanted Farouk out of the picture, but instead of exploring what he come up with, the movie decides to just have an accident happen. I’m not saying that this movie should be anywhere near so competent as to make this an opportunity for Hardy to realize fate has shown him how terrible the consequences would have been if he’d carried out an actual plan; but I am saying that there are ways to have that accident happen during some gambit to neutralize Farouk.

The Grand Poobob gets so angry at how clumsy they are that he tells them to go stand near all the really expensive shit in the exhibit.

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Laurel gets his hand stuck in a pot. He throws his hat, it topples a row of display cases, and the scene is over.

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All I can think about is how Ernest would have mistaken a scarab amulet for a live one, tried to kill it with a pharaonic flail, gotten the flail caught on his vest, used a papyrus to wipe dust off his face, joked that Anubis could play fetch with himself, and opened up a canopic jar and said “Ewwwww” before he’d even get to the display cases.

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Houtah, tired of waiting for someone to hilariously knock him over, gets out of his box all on his own and leaves in search of a better movie.

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Everyone finds The Boys and accuse them of having a third partner who made the mummy disappear. The Grand Poobob, revealed to be a police lieutenant, throws them in jail, knowing full well these two have no other friends.

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They’re sharing the cell with Barney the Biker, who’s played by Jeffrey Pillars, one of the writers. He appears to be wearing about five different outfits all at once. Bikers have been so regularly used as the cavalry in kids’ comedies that it’s hard to even be remotely worried for Laurel & Hardy’s safety right now.

Actually, it was already hard to be worried for them, or care about whether Hardy gets the girl. We’ve been given no reason to actually like these two at all.

I mean that as a compliment! This movie is very close to achieving a balance between the audience wanting to see them get banged up a litte, but still cheering for them.

What keeps it from getting there completely is that Laurel & Hardy are a little too removed from the world around them. In the 1930s, their clothing and mannerisms were only a little out of date, something that became more exaggerated over time. When we watch Charlie Chaplin or Groucho Marx, those aspects of their characters aren’t as obvious. Chaplin’s Tramp, I must assume, could only get ahold of fancy clothes that had long been thrown out. Groucho’s walk was an exaggeration of an upper-class American fad from the 1890s; when he first started performing in Vaudeville, it would have been as recognizable–and as funny–as, say, if someone today put on Hammer pants.

Here, Laurel and Hardy appear almost a century out-of-date. Ernest’s outfit, on the other hand, never looked terribly out of place. He may have occupied his own off-kilter world, but he still had a foothold in ours. He wanted to fit in, and he was just enough like you, or like someone you pitied in real life, that you would feel his pain. Ernest was a brave, ambitious soul trapped inside an idiot, and it was a tragedy that he understood enough of the world to want more and never have it.

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Somewhere out there was a woman for Ernest. But it would be another 10 years or so before a hipster might mistake Hardy for a kindred spirit. I’m not saying that reviving Laurel & Hardy could only ever be a non-starter, no matter how well this movie makes that argument. It’s just that Harmon & Cherry put an obstacle in their own way, telling you that The Boys have no idea what it is that makes others hate them.

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Some time later, Henry is studying photographs of the mummy’s footprints, at most a few hundred yards from where the actual footprints are. He’s not learning anything here that he didn’t instantly understand the moment he stood in the exhibit hall. And we’re not learning anything new about what Henry knows: F. Murray already made a face about the footprints in the earlier scene.

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I have no idea where this is taking place now. It could be the museum’s 3rd floor restroom for all I know.

You can see some cardboard boxes in the background of this scene, which might indicate that we’re back in the storage space. Which, by the way, the movie didn’t bother to give us a location for; so maybe it was in Florida to begin with. Should I be impressed that this giant snake-headed fireplace (?) survived in Houtah’s tomb, or that they managed to excavate it and ship it and get it into an Uncle Bob’s Storage all in one piece.

I mean, that has to be the case, because there’s no way that the prop was built for an earlier draft of the script that took place in Egypt. John Cherry III wouldn’t stand for that kind of slapdash production. The mummy just kind of wanders around until–

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Farouk: I don’t think so, Tim.

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Farouk sends Houtah off to kill Hardy–

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–wait, sorry, let’s stop so we can see the end of Barney and Laurel’s heart-to-heart about the great puppies they’ve known and loved. I think it’s funny, but I’m more struck by how surreal it is that two of my worlds are together. We’ve got Bronson Pinchot, so upper-class he’d strangle a cashier for asking how he’d like his change, in a movie that he thought could be the pinnacle of his career***, sitting right next to an Ernest writer, both of them wrapped up in Larry Harmon’s wish that kids would love the same stuff he did.

Houtah thunk it?

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Anyway so like Farouk let this thing out of his sight to go wander around downtown Tampa**** or wherever with only a low-quality photo of Hardy’s deformed face. I’m not going to question Farouk sending the mummy to neutralize a rival who, if left unchecked, might throw a pie at him. It makes sense to test out your control over a demon before letting it have sex and becoming more powerful. But even if Farouk didn’t know that Poobob Kowalski had jailed The Boys, he could follow the damned thing (little undead humor there for you), see it was headed towards a jail, and and then ditch that part of the plan.

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You know, not alert the entirety of the police to your scheme and give them something to follow right back to you.

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Endless cuts back and forth between three grown men working themselves into a laughing frenzy and a mummy murdering peace officers is the kind of discordant material I’d only ever trust in the hands of someone like David Lynch or Todd Solondz.*****

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Cherry, on the other hand, thinks he needs to confirm for you that the bullets did indeed enter the mummy but did not hurt it.

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Houtah begins the ancient Egyptian death rite of putting your arm around someone’s shoulders and walking in a tight circle. Laurel keeps trying to hit the mummy with the various weapons lying around the jail cell. Florida was really committed to those stand-your-ground principles even back then, huh?

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Laurel and Hardy make their escape by stealing a police car that was sitting, parked, with its flashers on. I can’t really blame Cherry for making everything five times as obvious as it needs to be; after 10 years doing Ernest flicks he knew exactly how much help his audience needed.

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Was this like the most expensive prop? One-tenth of the movie is this shots of this thing.

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Now Houtah is on the back of a firetruck which is keeping pace with this lights-activated police car. I have no idea, folks.

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Now Houtah is on top of the police car and Laurel and Hardy bounce up and down in their seats. They drive straight into Bozo World and into a haunted house.

Something which I think can be a sticking point in newer entries in franchises with a long history is when the type of humor seems mismatched. For instance, this is the second time that Hardy smells the mummy and blames Laurel for letting a toot uncommon. Now, I love a (good) fart joke, but they can be jarring when it’s clear someone else’s voice is coming through a beloved character’s mouth. I was going to mention Fozzie’s fart shoes in The Muppets (2011) as an example that struck me as misplaced, only to then find out that the Muppets boast a long history of similar gags. (Really what threw me was hearing a Muppet say “fart”, I think.) Sure, the original Laurel and Hardy probably never made a fart joke in their life; but I’d bet they would if they had been a 90s comedy team.

The reasoning I’m even bothering to mention this is not to put down the fart joke. The gag registers as discordant because Bronson Pinchot and Gailard Sartain are actually doing an admirable job of portraying Laurel and Hardy. I wouldn’t have believed farts were even part of their world. A lot of Hardy’s movements are in his hands, and Sartain embodies that physicality in a way that makes Mark Linn-Baker look like he wasn’t even trying in “The Gazebo”. I think Sartain is overdoing it, but that’s appropriate to the increased overall level of what’s going on visually and aurally. Bronson was already losing some of his muscle mass over the course of Meego (and wearing untucked shirts towards the end to cover, I think, some fat gain), and dropped enough of it to look like Laurel. More on Bronson a little later.

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(Scene transitions continue to be edited by a trained chimp, by the way. One earlier cut off the end of a music sting; and this one–where The Boys run through the wall of the haunted house–isn’t allowed to hang on the house’s paintings long enough for you to register that they’ve run right through their monster counterparts.)

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So Laurel and Hardy got caught by the mummy at the haunted house–and then they show up like a minute later at the museum. Glad we went all that way just for ten seconds of a highly-conceptual joke of a real mummy in the same room as a fake mummy.

You know, for a man with a tortured archaeological past, a man we assume must be the one guy who’s aware of the exact dangers involved in everything going on, Henry Covington sure is just sitting on his ass. When he learns (a third time) that the mummy is alive based on The Boys’ story, he informs them that there’s a curse.

The mummy was already a Pharaoh who got possessed by a demon, and the Pharaoh’s specific penis was evidently so great that the demon was willing to stick around thousands of years until that very penis touched a very specific vagina (may I mention also that 3,000 years is enough time to throw off constellations?), willing to spend millennia in a box waiting for someone else to come along to find him a bride… all this shit going on and now there’s a curse too?

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Or, actually, no–now Farouk is talking directly to the demon, so why the fuck do we need a mummy? Is this one of those schoolyard thought exercises where you decide if having a dog’s head would be worth being a billionaire? Is the curse that you can rule over everyone else on the planet but you have to live with an ancient pile of rags that smells like shit?

Akhenatendure much more of this. I’m doing thutmost to make this movie make sense, since I know I’m neferefre watching it again. Sorry. I’m done trying to ramses puns into places they don’t really fit.

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F. Mummy Abraham tells the story of how he and his wife and daughter found the tomb of King Houtah, and mostly I’m amazed that they appear to have found it without any digging or even standing out in the hot sun. Henry opens the sarcophagus, somehow misses the giant snake that slithers out, and then he and his wife leave their kid unsupervised. The mummy stirs and grabs Leslie.

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A curse is when unforeseen death befalls graverobbers. I’m pretty sure a corpse trying to fuck your kid is a different category altogether.

They close the casket, a snake bites Mom, Mom dies. Somehow Henry’s flashback includes Farouk taking the mummy’s hand (and ring) right after he left. He says that everyone he told the story to thought he was crazy. I’m also having trouble believing that thirty years passed with no other Egyptologist wandering into the open tomb, or anyone stealing anything from it.

Henry picks the only solution to this dilemma that involves letting him continue to sit around and do jack shit: he tells Laurel & Hardy to go check up on Leslie at her house.

If you pressed me on the question, I’d probably say that my favorite Ernest movie is Ernest Scared Stupid, despite the fact that it’s one of the less grounded ones. (If you’ve never seen it, it’s about Ernest fighting a troll.) The All New Hundred-Word Film Title of Laurel and Hardy is borrowing that film’s structure here as far as Henry’s character goes.

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In Ernest Scared Stupid, Eartha Kitt plays the cranky old recluse who turns out to have the ancient knowledge that’s the key to saving the day. Basically a form of Joseph Campbell’s “Mentor” archetype. She had a run-in with the troll as a child, and knows where the troll was buried. But her backstory, and the knowledge she possesses for how to fight the returned evil, doesn’t have any reason to come into play until the moment she has a reason to believe the troll has returned, which is when Ernest tells her.

Henry Covington fills that same role, and gets those same beats, but he knows everything before Laurel and Hardy tell him. I’m beginning to believe Henry’s the live-in custodian, or else he would have done everything in his power to keep the museum from showcasing the very mummy that killed his wife.

And speaking of how much different characters know, it’s not like Farouk had some vague notion that he’d find Houtah a wife in Florida. The movie’s now established that he was in the tomb and saw Henry and Leslie there. He’s likely spent thousands on transporting the entire contents of Houtah’s tomb across an ocean when he could have just kidnapped Leslie and brought her to Egypt.

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Seriously, each piece of this movie contradicts another. Henry now tells them that the only way to stop Houtah is to get him back in the sarcophagus, when we all saw Houtah get out of it all on his own.

Another f’rinstance: the police are now answering a call about the property damage at Bozo World. They stand around wondering what in the world could have caused it, and Kowalski’s sure it’s Laurel and Hardy. Not, you know, the seven-foot-tall guy who killed eleven officers the night before.

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The owner of Bozo World, by the way, is played by Larry Harmon himself.

The Firesign Theatre once referred to Benjamin Franklin as “the only President of the United States who was never President of the United States”. Larry Harmon was the only Bozo the Clown who was never Bozo the Clown.******

I’m overstating it, but only by a little. Larry Harmon was one of the original performers hired to make personal appearances around the country as Bozo the Clown. Harmon saw the licensing potential for the character, bought the rights, and started rolling out local TV shows in multiple markets. If Harmon was ever on one of those shows, the best I can tell is that it wasn’t for very long. Buck Wolf looked into Harmon’s decades of claims of being Bozo’s creator or “the original Bozo” around the same time as this film came out. (I can’t find that 1999 article, but Wolf wrote on the matter a couple of times more for ABC.) Wolf’s work appears to have led, in 2004, to the International Clown Hall of Fame revoking the lifetime achievement award it had given Harmon in 1990.

Appearances by old performers in films is generally a nice surprise–Lou Ferrigno in Hulk (2003) or Bill Murray in Ghostbusters (2016)–but Harmon is the producer of Laurel and Hardy Love an All New Mummy. He’s using that practice to once again sell the idea that he was the original Bozo, metaphorically whipping out his dick, boasting simultaneously his ownership of these two properties.

I’m not going to argue that Bozo’s creation should be credited to any given performer as some testament to their individual genius; the clown was created as part of a work-for-hire assignment for Capitol Records. But Laurel and Hardy are a different story. I don’t think there’s doubt in anyone’s mind that the characters are the direct creation of their original performers. Harmon secured the rights to Laurel and Hardy from Stan Laurel himself, when Stan was on his deathbed. Harmon claimed that Stan Laurel said to him “Listen, lad, you’re going to walk in my shoes now. Don’t hurt them or let anybody hurt us or our widows.”

Maybe so, but people on deathbeds have been known to say similar things to nurses and oxygen tanks. And maybe Harmon did truly watch and love Laurel and Hardy films in his youth. But the fact that Harmon brought the same entrepreneurial tactics to both properties (cartoon series, merchandising, C&D lawsuits) says otherwise. Any deathbed transfer of ownership instantly opens itself up to criticism and suspicion, and those looking for ammunition for an argument against Harmon’s goal of protecting the Laurel and Hardy name need look no further than this film.

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It’s fascinating to me that, in the same year that Harmon was revealed as a jerk for stealing others’ legacies, he was providing proof of exactly that type of behavior with this movie.

Remember how that mummy was able to track down Hardy in a jail? Well, John Cherry didn’t, because The Boys have slept all night out in the open.

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A bird shits in Hardy’s mouth and he chokes on it. (Or maybe it’s meant to be a pecan? There’s no bird visible, just a sound effect. I have no fucking clue, and I kind of doubt the writers did either. At any rate some sort of brown bolus goes down his throat.)

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Laurel gives him the “hemlock manure” and the shit ricochets and smacks the Librarian upside the head.

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They discover Farouk leading Leslie out of her house and discussing having dinner later that night. So did they sleep together or what?

Laurel and Hardy hail a taxi–instantly–in this recently-constructed residential neighborhood.

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Yeah, I wouldn’t have picked them up either.

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Henry Covington, after “learning” of Farouk’s dastardly plot, has spent the past twelve hours reading his favorite translation of the bible so he’ll be too tired to help. He says “Leslie” as though something’s just been revealed to him. I guess he finally realized the little girl in the flashback was also his daughter.

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And now it’s evening again as Farouk leads Leslie into a restaurant. Did Laurel and Hardy chase this taxi 10 hours up the Florida coast?

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I think, at this point, I can stop harping on the fact that there’s no reason for Farouk to have made these choices, or for the story to go this direction. But as bad as all that is, the movie now takes the cake for the worst scene I’ve ever watched.

Every single choice it makes is the wrong one.

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Farouk drugs Leslie’s drink. On one hand, fine, it’s the setup for a drink-switching scene: this is a cartoon tactic. But Farouk is doing this in public, with potential witnesses, and he’s going to have to carry a drugged woman to another location to carry out his plan. All that’s minor, though: drink switching is always, always to knock out the hero. But this is all in the context of a mummy wanting a bride. Drugging a woman’s drink to make this happen takes this children’s movie directly into rape territory. Farouk clubbing her and dragging her off would be less jarring.

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Hardy disguises himself a sweaty Italian waiter so he can take away Leslie’s drink, and encourages both of them to watch the restaurant’s stage show, which Laurel somehow made start right that moment. And no: you point out the show and switch the drinks, and then you’re done.

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Laurel dances on stage with some store-brand Fly Girls and sings along to Billy Preston’s “Nothing From Nothing”; and Farouk drugs Leslie’s replacement drink. The dancers do some Egyptian poses because I don’t fucking know.

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Hardy shows back up as a slobby photographer, dropping his flashbulb in Leslie’s drink. (I had to watch this three times to even figure out that’s what happened.)

Farouk drugs Leslie’s drink a third time, and Hardy switches the drinks in full view of Farouk. I’m baffled by this. It’s a strange choice to begin with to have your hero fail at a drink-switching gambit. If the joke is that Hardy is too dumb to pull off a Bugs Bunny trick, that could lead to a decent trope subversion, but Hardy’s competence–and everyone else’s intelligence–is vacillating by the second. He can fool people with a cheap disguise, and dropping a flashbulb into a drink takes a high amount of coordination, but he can’t wait until someone is looking away.

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Now he and Farouk just openly trade the glasses’ places while maintaining eye contact, except for one switch where Hardy deliberately looks away, because the writers had no idea how else to have him fail.

And finally, when Farouk rips off Hardy’s fake mustache, Laurel shows up and drinks the drugged drink. Hardy tells Leslie about the drug, demands Farouk drink the one he thinks is drugged.

Farouk drinks, Laurel passes out, and Leslie still agrees to Farouk’s request to have another drink with him, at this very restaurant, despite full evidence that someone has drugged an unknown number of drinks. Leslie drinks, Leslie passes out.

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Pharaoh Houtah shows up and starts throwing people around. It’s a good thing the mummy got there by complete coincidence at that very moment, since the writers hadn’t devised any way at all for Farouk to control its behavior and plan something like this.

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Like 20 seconds after everyone in the restaurant starts screaming, Farouk finally notices Houtah coming toward him, and uses his ring again. So if he’s having to tell it that it’s supposed to chase Laurel and Hardy now, why did it show up here at the restaurant?

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Those must be some really thick doors for the kitchen staff not to have heard fifty people evacuating the place. Houtah slips on some cooking oil and slides into the freezer.

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Laurel and Hardy return to the museum, where there’s absolutely no one working security…

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…except for deep inside, in the Houtah exhibit. Somewhere, I assume, M. Furry Abraham is drawing circles on a map and shouting “Of course! Egypt!”

Poobob Kowalski was waiting for Laurel & Hardy to show back up and try to steal the sarcophagus. The dialogue here is supposed to amuse us because Kowalski is too biased against them to hear them saying that they know exactly where the mummy is. He’s taking them in solely on suspicion and not, you know, on actual charges of breaking out of jail.

It’s possible these are the last two police officers in all of Florida, because word of what happened at the restaurant hasn’t gotten to Kowalski yet.

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A mix of physical comedy and OSHA non-compliance frees The Boys from Kowalski, and they take the suddenly-too-heavy-but-if-I-remember-correctly-actually-lighter-now sarcophagus.

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Hardy pushes it off a ledge and it lands on Laurel’s hands.

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Meanwhile, Houtah bangs on the freezer door.

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The Boys steal the museum’s pickup truck and determine that the only way to get to do a physical comedy bit where one of them is in the sarcophagus is to pretend that you can’t just lean a sarcophagus in a truck’s bed, or use bungee cords to tie it down. (Seriously, steal any pickup truck in Florida, and I promise you’ll find bungee cords somewhere in or on it.) One of them has to weigh it down, and Hardy gets in.

Meanwhile, Leslie wakes up in the storage space.

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If I weren’t deliberately pausing every 30 seconds to get screenshots, I never would have seen the Farouk Industries logo on the boxes. Now the whole movie makes sense!

Leslie: My father’ll save me! He’ll realize what’s going on!

In all honesty, most comedy films don’t make me laugh as hard as that one line did.

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Now it’s noon again, and Laurel has fixed a flat tire. Then they’re at the docks again. This movie must take place along the entirety of Florida’s eastern coast.

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Hoo-hoo, Stanley, says Hardy, ho-ho, there’s a spider, let me out of here Stanley. Tell US customs agents to do their jobs, Stanley, hoo hoo.

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The spider makes its escape. Leslie makes her escape. I’m stuck with this movie for another twenty minutes.

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Hardy walks around in the sarcophagus, promising his friend physical pain.

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I could re-watch this tiny sequence a thousand times and I’d still never be able to figure out how a passing forklift launches the sarcophardy into the air.

While the movie works out its own private trigonometry of moving these pieces around the geography of noncontiguous Florida, let’s talk about Bronson’s performance. That’s the whole reason I came here in the first place, so I might as well, before the movie’s over.

It’s obvious he had some respect for Laurel and Hardy, possibly even a great deal of respect. From–where else–the 1997/1998 interview with Michelle Erica green of www.littlereview.com:

…Pinchot was ecstatic to win the role of legendary comedian Stan Laurel. “The Laurel and Hardy thing is worth having stuck it out in show business all these years,” he says. “If Perfect Strangers was the gulag, this is like walking back into St. Petersburg. It is simply the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Ironically, Perfect Strangers was the genesis of the actor’s involvement with Laurel and Hardy. “You know how, towards the end of every sitcom, they do fantasy episodes – everybody fantasizes that they’re Elvis, because they run out of ideas? We fantasized that we were Laurel and Hardy. The guy who owns the rights to the characters, who’s the original Bozo the Clown, said that if I needed any pointers, he knew Stan and he would happily spend some time with me. So I went over to his house and he was so pleased, because he cared so much about Stan – he actually lent me Stan’s shoes, which fit exactly, I should have known as soon as the ruby slippers were on.”

If you can ignore the possibility that Harmon stole those shoes off of Laurel’s feet seconds after his death, it’s actually the most wholesome story about Bronson and shoes we’ve ever seen.

But with his “deep-set eyes and Al Pacino nose,” Pinchot did not exactly look the part – nor had his recent workouts, which gave him muscular legs and a broader chest, made him any easier to costume as the bandy-legged [sic], “There are a lot of people with little tiny rabbit eyes and turned-up noses who would have photographed a little bit more like him,” the actor admits. “It was a wonderful, terrible shock to get it. But once I was in character, everybody started to say I was a dead ringer, even though of course I’m not. I was trained to do it without realizing I was trained to do it.”

Do you mean you didn’t realize you had studied, trained for and played the part six years earlier, Bronson? “Trained” almost seems like a feint towards humility from Bronson, like he’s still trying to send the message that these things come preternaturally to him.

Even so, this may be the most ego-free performance I’ve seen from Bronson since early Perfect Strangers, where he’s focussed almost entirely on the character and not on taking attention away from anyone else. Given his track record of sitcom characters who mix up their words, it’s not out of the question that the one most jarring aspect of the film’s interpretation of Laurel–his constant malapropisms–was at Bronson’s request. But that doesn’t exactly feel right. Given that Larry Harmon wouldn’t even let Bob Bell (arguably the most famous and influential Bozo performer) wear the clown suit for his (Bell’s) induction into the International Clown Hall of Fame, it’s hard to imagine him putting up with an ego of any size during production.

Laurel’s dialogue I’m willing to ignore as just a strange choice on the part of the writers, or perhaps even one of necessity, if it were the case that he was added to what started life as an Ernest script. Aside from that, Bronson has the mannerisms down–the hair-scratching, the walk, the faces, the crying. Bronson is most like Laurel when he’s crying and mewling, face- and sound-wise. If I can find any major points of contrast with the original Stan Laurel, it’s that Bronson’s interpretation involves doing all of these things almost constantly, and that completely gone is Laurel’s untroubled, quiet smile. Stan Laurel himself was certainly subtler, more nuanced in when and how he’d exaggerate a motion. His act was a reserve that would eventually reveal itself as idiotic bliss, giving way to clumsiness and inadequate verbal expression; unlike Oliver Hardy, who would give away his own boorishness the moment he loudly claimed the opposite. (If I’m off-base here, remember I’ve only watched like three of their films.)

But watch an old Laurel & Hardy film–or any 1930s film–and ask yourself what decisions directors and writers had to make, what wasn’t available to them in terms of camera & film technology or theories of cinematography, what they understood in terms of audience tastes. Any movie in 1999 would need to simply have more going on, visually and aurally and dialogue-wise than any movie in 1939, just to be able to compete for attention. Bronson’s interpretation is a different, very talky one, but it’s not out of line with other trajectories involved here.

Even with Bronson doing his best, his performance doesn’t save the film, or even recommend it. Gailard Sartain is the second-most capable actor from the Ernest regulars*******, and his Oliver Hardy is the most fully-realized interpretation in the whole film. Ultimately, Laurel’s part feels tacked on to a story about a bumbling Floridian would-be hero, and whether that’s because Hardy (being the more verbose) was always the driving force of the stories, or because this was originally an Ernest movie, feels like a toss-up.

It’s disappointing that these two actors were giving their all in a movie that was made so incompetently you can visualize distribution executives scrunching their noses in disgust as they turned Larry Harmon down.

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So here’s Laurel, crying about how fat and dead Hardy is, until he sees the sarcophagain.

Henry Covington’s grand plan to save Leslie is not to, like, try to retrace the steps of Laurel and Hardy and go to her house, or visit the now-empty police station. He just calls her house and shrugs when she doesn’t pick up.

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Leslie rushes in, telling him that Farouk kidnapped her. “Farouk,” he says, “I should have known.” Yeah, no shit.

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The movie fails to escalate the joke when the Librarian pulls up on her scooter. It also just plain fails to make a joke–she advances on Laurel, Laurel jumps onto the sarcophagus.

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Back at the Covington home–

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At this point in the movie–after his kidnappee escapes–Farouk should be escalating his attempts to secure Leslie. But he could have sent Houtah to kidnap Leslie at literally any point before. But this movie’s so concerned with showing F. Murray Abraham read a book in a dark room that there’s no time left to think how someone would actually use power over the undead to accomplish their goals.

Actually, now that I think about it, a character in an Ernest film doing something that makes sense does count as escalation.

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We’ve finally gotten to the scene in the movie the DVD cover promised us, but–

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–the luggage is another indication that some earlier draft was meant to take place in Egypt. For as little as the scenery gives you any indication whatsoever that this is Florida (seriously, half of the external shots take place dockside anyway), I wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t just say that Cape Town was Cairo.

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Barney the Biker shows up to tow The Boys the 10 yards back to shore.

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Meanwhile, Farouk pops a boner over whatever it is he thinks he’s getting out of this whole deal with Houtah, or the demon, or whatever it is on this page of the script.

Laurel and Hardy start fighting because… well, you’d expect that a final-reel fight between buddies in a buddy movie would be because, oh, idunno, one of them was acting in his own self-interest trying to win the heart of a woman, threatening the duo’s relationship. But really it’s just because it’s been a few minutes since the last time they squabbled.

John Cherry understands enough about filmmaking and story structure to know that you can heighten a movie’s stakes by letting the audience know that time is short for saving the day; and he knows you can achieve this by cutting back and forth between the impending doom, and the hero’s struggle to get there. This section of the movie spends maybe 20 seconds on each set of characters before switching back to the other. But there’s no true sense of urgency. All of the scenes with Laurel and Hardy are just Hardy saying “we need to get there to save Leslie!”; and all the scenes with Farouk and Leslie are preparations for who fucking knows what.

A suspense story has to let you in on exactly what’s going to happen if the hero doesn’t use their knowledge or skills in time. But can you tell me what’s going to happen? Will Farouk be made vizier to Pharaoh Houtah? Will the mummy be restored to life? Will he smell as much like a fart as he did before?

Is there even any hope left for containing the mummy in the sarcophagus?

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“The F is for Fantastic” Murray Abraham finds Lieutenant Grand Poobob Kowalski in the exhibit hall. Who can possibly care about either of these characters at this point?

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Laurel and Hardy charge the mummy with a lance, skewering it. Houtah tells them a possible path to take to reach the Silver Monkey, and to beware of the Temple Guards who protect three specific rooms.

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Wait, Farouk is going to marry Leslie and be possessed by the demon? So remind me why we needed a mummy? Was it just part of some supernatural contingency plan, only there to fight off people who might stop the demon?

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Multiple takes of the same hallway-doors sequence are left in. Hardy knocks Houtah down with a statue.

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We see the mummy getting up, and then Farouk points his ring and demands the mummy get up. If you were only getting paid in Ernest Rides Again  posters, would you have put forth any more effort than this editor did?

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Somehow this getup makes Farouk look even more like a middle-school principal. He excitedly asks the demon to do his thing while Laurel and Hardy scramble up a ladder to escape Houtah.

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Houtah falls into the *ahem* OPEN *ahem* sarcophagus and is rendered immobile. I’ve never seen a movie set up so many rules for how things work and ignore every single one. It’s tedious to have to bring it up this many times. But you know what really pisses me off?

We saw Laurel chewing Bubble Tape at the beginning of the movie and it never once comes into play here. The writers had no clue they had hit on the perfect mummy-bandage surrogate.

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Farouk begs a cobra to kill Leslie (that was the fucking plan???), and she wakes up and pushes him into the cobra’s strike range. Farouk dies. What the fuck is any of this.

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Henry and Lt. G. Pb. Kowalski show up, and then a giant CG snake flies out of Houtah’s body. This movie is fully committed at every step along the way to making sure you know that everything that came before was pointless.

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Laurel works out a Rube Goldbergian way of shutting the sarcophagus, and throws his hat at an oversized candle. It doesn’t work–but then Houtah shaking the building makes the candle fall over. It’s obvious it would have happened without the hat.

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A winch pulley knocks the sarcophagus’s lid shut, and you see that the demon can, um, no longer get out of the box with giant holes in it. Which the demon-powered mummy got out of all on his own when its seal wasn’t compromised.

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I can’t believe I’ve managed to go this long without saying I hate this movie. I hate it. It could have been simply a lackluster entry in the early-90s reboot canon alongside Little Rascals, Brian Donors, Dennis the Menace, The Brady Bunch Movie, Casper, The Addams Family, and The Beverly Hillbillies. But the consummate ineptness of storytelling (encompassing rising/falling action, editing, internal logic, geography, timeline, cause/effect, and motivation) makes this movie feel like a double punch of finding a toddler drawing on your walls, and then realizing they’re using their own shit instead of crayons.

Bronson was brought on board this movie in late 1997, and the movie was filmed in April 1998, both prior to Larry Harmon losing whatever social cachet he had left when his Bozo claims were contested. Harmon’s choices of director, actors, and cheap filming locations were ones of desperation even before everyone realized what a jerk he was. I love Ernest Goes to Jail, but even I’ll admit you’re in trouble when its director is the only person that will return your calls. Sartain likely came on board as a result of Cherry directing (or vice versa), and it certainly doesn’t sound like Bronson went through any sort of audition process.******** In retrospect, the statement in the USA Today article that Jim Carrey and Chris Farley were approached sounds like nothing more than Harmon’s boasts.

Maybe Harmon waited a few years too long to make a new Laurel & Hardy picture, or maybe karma was finally catching up with a man who had spent 50 years wringing money out of funnier people’s work.

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Leslie makes a promise to have dinner with Hardy after she returns the artifacts to Egypt. I don’t know why Farouk’s company doesn’t come pick them up. I also don’t know why I’m wasting my time asking more questions about this movie.

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Then they walk outside, and Leslie makes a promise to have dinner with Hardy after she returns the artifacts to Egypt. You read that right.

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The Librarian drives a forklift into Laurel and Hardy, killing them. I’ve never been so proud of my profession.

Next week: we finish this series with Bronson’s roles from 1998 through 2019 (though there’s an even chance the post will run late)

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*‘New Adventures’ rests on classic comedy laurels. (1998, April 24). USA Today.

**If I didn’t lose you with the Zelda criticism, the fact that an admitted live-action Super Mario Bros. fan doesn’t like this movie should say something.

***Bronson, from the same 1997/1998 interviews with Michelle Erica Green we discussed last week: “Literally within fourteen days after Meego was cancelled, I had the greatest part known to man.”

****Shriner headquarters

*****Though I would expect it from, say, Charles Band or Lloyd Kaufman, even they’d be telling you a different joke than Cherry is. I think what I’m trying to get at here is that Lynch would make the laughter uncomfortable; Solondz would make the laughter meaningless; for Charles Band and Lloyd Kaufman, the mummy would be the joke, and they’d have the mummy stomp through a strip club tearing off tops (Lloyd Kaufman would have added a giant bandaged dick).

******See also the Firesign Theatre’s spoken-word album I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus. It’s absolutely nothing to do with any of this, but maybe you’d like some actual comedy after reading about this failure.

*******Including Daniel Butler, Bill Byrge, Mac Bennett, Bruce Arntson, and the criminally-underused Jackie Welch. The best place to see all of these people in one spot is the Saturday morning Hey Vern! It’s Ernest program.

********There are a few sources online claiming that Jim Varney was slated to play Laurel, but each appears to have copied its text almost verbatim from each other. I can’t find an ur-source for the claim, and my messages to John Cherry III and Jeffrey Pillars have as of this writing not been answered. I have serious trouble believing this, though, given that Bronson appears to have been contacted in November 1997 about the role, and Varney said that his first indication of having cancer was a nosebleed while filming Treehouse Hostage in August 1998.

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Meego

How I Spent the Rest of My Career, part 2

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In 1997, CBS landed something of a coup. Not only did the network manage to steal TGIF mainstay Family Matters, it also snagged Step by Step and Bronson Pinchot from ABC.

I mean, if digging through ABC’s trash doesn’t count as a coup, does the word mean anything at all? If you ever wanted an example of Wikipedia’s bias through what makes it into articles, here’s one: it cites an LA Times article from 2000 for its claim that these moves to CBS caused an “audience fracture”, harming both itself and the TGIF programming block.

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Honey, no. If a network’s whole night failed because they lost half their audience, they fucking did it to themselves by not giving their viewers anything better. All four of the shows that CBS offered for the first year of their Friday night “Block Party” programming didn’t make it past the 1997/1998 season. Meego didn’t make it two months. CBS didn’t steal ABC’s audience, it just caught their attention long enough to make them realize they either needed to buy a cable box or risk having to actually take their family out bowling.

If you’re one of the 7.52 billion people who has never heard of Meego, let me fill you in. Bronson plays Meego, an alien stranded on Earth, who winds up as the nanny for three kids (Michelle Trachtenberg, Jonathan Lipnicki, Will Estes) whose father (Ed Begley, Jr.) is perpetually on call as a heart surgeon. Meego has to hide being an alien… from a father who’s literally never there to see any evidence that the hairless Caucasian biped who wears clothes isn’t a human. The concept has defeated itself before the show even gets started.

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Luring Family Matters away from ABC I can understand, but this…. CBS needs some way to beat out Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World, and cable channels, so they bring back the guy who couldn’t be responsible with the first show they gave him?

When Amy Heckerling cast Bronson as a cameo in the first episode of Clueless, ABC had the good sense to ask for proof that he wasn’t homeless. Either CBS administration had undergone a 60% turnover in 3 years, or you and I and Philip are the only people who even know The Trouble with Larry aired at all.

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Meego was created by Bronson Pinchot and Ross Brown (I’ll be posting an interview with the latter soon to back up my claims here) as a vehicle for Bronson to show off his “talents”. Brown had worked with Bronson Pinchot on season 6 of Step by Step, and was familiar with his work on Perfect Strangers. There were discussions on what the best framing story for Bronson to play different “characters” would be, and I’ve no doubt that Forever Young (the proposed Rip van Winkle-type sitcom mentioned in last week’s post) morphed into this show. Everything else about Meego, in other words having a family there at all, was secondary to Bronson playing the misunderstander once more. Adding a family after the concept can work–cf. Full House–but only if those additions come into their own.

Meego filmed 13 episodes, which back then was fairly standard for new shows; if sitcoms end up doing well in those first weeks, a network may order a “back nine” to bring it to a full season. Meego’s run was all in the can before airing in September of 1997, and we know this because the show got cancelled after six episodes. The remaining seven were aired in Europe (Wikipedia mentions the UK; the other countries are too embarrassed to admit it). When Meego disappeared from US television, CBS didn’t even replace it with another sitcom. In fact, they appear to have given up on the Friday 8-9 slot entirely until January 1998.

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Perhaps they didn’t have a backup show in line, banking entirely on the appeal of Bronson Pinchot and Jonathan Lipnicki.

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The only time I had ever heard of Meego before starting this blog was as a footnote on “sitcom aliens” listicles. But certainly I’ll like it! After all, it’s made from 100% recycled parts of classic comedies like ALF, Perfect Strangers, My Favorite Martian, The Nanny, Mork and Mindy, and Mrs. Doubtfire. It can’t miss!

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Meego is definitely deserving of analysis, but good grief we’ve still got 20 years of Bronson to go after this. My Perfect Strangers episode reviews have swelled to massive sizes lately, so I’ll do my best to keep these brief. My deepest condolences to anyone who feels they’re not getting enough screenshots of Bronson telling sex jokes and making the same face Bill Cosby did in every Jell-O commercial.

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“Pilot” (19 September 1997)

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If you’re wondering who in the world at CBS would give Bronson another chance after letting him ruin The Trouble with Larry, it’s obviously someone so out of the loop that they were also impressed by the five seconds a graphic designer spent using a distort tool on the logo.

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Meego thankfully doesn’t start with Bronson, which is welcome. Dr. Edward Parker and his children, Trip, Maggie, and Alex, are interviewing Ms. Scrotenborer (IMDB lists her as Scrotenbuster), played by Marianne Muellerleile. What a fucking trooper, this woman, to keep taking roles where the other characters visibly hold back their vomit when they look at her.

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Anyway, she’s German, so she thinks kids need discipline, and Dr. Parker agrees. The children, dressed like their favorite characters from the Sears catalog, sit patiently and quietly while their father makes important decisions. I wish the joke were that the dad doesn’t realize they don’t need any discipline, or that the children aren’t actively engaged in a decision that impacts them. But since Meego only understands that it needs children to react to Bronson, we’ve wasted valuable time that could have been spent on establishing their personalities.

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An awkward scene transition has Trip and Alex wandering into the backyard, and here’s our first indication as to any personality. Alex (Jonathan Lipnicki) slurs out that he doesn’t want a nanny with a mustache. We’re about two minutes away from this kid getting rewarded for being an asshole by getting an alien nanny, when what he really needs is to be smacked. I’m sure Bronson figured he was the big draw for the show, but it has to have been Jonathan Lipnicki of Jerry Maguire fame (another steal from ABC). If Meego is laying the groundwork for this kid bonding with Bronson’s character, I guess they really couldn’t have picked a better way to do it than having him say how useless older, heavier single women were to society.

Trip–obviously old enough to handle the responsibility of cooking Hot Pockets for his siblings–uses a telescope to look at the neighbors’ nipples. He’s got the thing pointed high enough they must live next door to a high-rise. Alex shouts and points at a flaming UFO, but Trip is already navigating his y-fronts, so Alex and Barkley (a dog) go off in search of the charred alien corpse.

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Are these people living next door to a skyscraper or is it woods for miles in any direction?

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Meego emerges, wearing a hoodie and a motorcycle helmet. One of my long-standing beefs with any sort of sci-fi is why in the hell everyone can speak English. Props to Meego for giving the alien the dialogue acknowledging it (“You speak English?” he asks). It’s a joke, but it isn’t telling us why it’s supposed to be funny. Was he headed for a different continent? Is he from a planet called Englabia?

Meego introduces himself and says he’s from the planet Marmazon 4.0. He delivers only the name of the planet in a robot voice. Bronson has made some faulty intuitive leap from aliens to futuristic to computers to software. Other than that, he speaks stiltedly in what’s almost an accent. It’s the same way you’d expect an android to talk if it had only moments before had the entirety of written English downloaded to its brain and maybe a few basic phoneme/morpheme rules. But Meego isn’t a robot and just implied this was his native language.

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While the credits run, let me ask you: does anything at all recommend this show to you? It hasn’t established a sense of humor yet, and the only feature it feels like it needs to promote is that Bronson and Lipnicki will be on screen together, and that each thinks the other is “cool”. So glad I’m past the age where I automatically believed it if someone told me something was cool OH WAIT no one was ever that age.

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Just so you’re not confused later, Erik Von Detten is only in the pilot. Just think how much money Tim Heidecker spends on a look that this kid achieves naturally.

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what the jesus shit have I gotten myself into

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Meego and Alex return to the backyard, where Trip is seeing his very first midriff. This open window can’t be more than 10 yards away from this well-lit backyard, right? Will Meego teach Trip an important lesson about reducing glare on the focus lens, or about masturbating in your own room with the lights off?

This is now the opportunity to establish who Meego is. After delivering his backstory–he was vacationing and hit a meteor shower on the way back to Marmazon to 4.0–he wanders around the yard thinking every single inanimate object is alive.

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Look, I don’t have the time or interest to find out how much control Bronson had over this show. There are 12 more of these episodes I have to get through. But whoever wrote this scene has no idea how to present a unified character. Balki’s original factory settings were to misunderstand any and everything; if he knew something, you were surprised, but not because it broke the character or was impossible. The surprise was that some piece of American pop culture made it all the way to sheepherders.

Meego tells us that he’s 9,250 years old, comes from Earth’s sister planet, that his people are intellectually advanced, and that he can shapeshift.

He demonstrates this by shapeshifting into various things humans would recognize.

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But he can’t read sarcasm, he can’t distinguish stone or metal from flesh, he mistakes doghouses for people houses, and he chooses to walk around looking like Bronson Pinchot. Intellectually advanced my ass. Is the joke that alien knowledge of any other culture is incomplete? Is the joke that he’s boasting knowledge he doesn’t really have? Is he the stupidest person from his planet?

Whoever decided this was the way to introduce a character probably vamps on the first chorus of every song they sing at karaoke, because the joke is simply: “I’m X!”/He’s not X. It’s an attempt to create another Balki that doesn’t realize some things don’t scale, or that you shouldn’t start in on incongruity of character until a few episodes in.

Anyway I shouldn’t do more than 1,500 words per episode for my own sanity so let’s see what else this episode establishes.

Meego says he needs food, as he’s down to just one serving of “Antarean camel jerky”. Good to see that third Balki joke didn’t get lost in the move to another show. Trip tells him he’ll have to wait until morning, when their dad leaves for work. What kind of asshole can’t bring some Fig Newtons into the backyard? You’re hungry? That’s nice, how about you wait for 12 hours, this girl is about to take her top off. Good to see that the rich white family of shitwads was still going strong in 1997.

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The next morning, we come dangerously close to finding out what kind of personality Maggie has when Meego runs in the backdoor and begins eating their flowers without asking. Trip tries to convince Ed that Meego was sent by the nanny agency, and Ed ignores his daughter’s demand that they interview this guy who still reeks of engine fuel. Fine, rape and murder my children, he says, I’m due in the operating room.

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Evidently these kids have run off a dozen nannies. How? By dutifully being dressed and washed in time for breakfast every morning? By cleaning up after themselves? By watching PBS?

Meego says that he can only be their nanny for a couple of days because he has to leave for his aunt’s birthday party. Even if Ed believes his son’s story, shouldn’t it piss him off that an agency would send him someone who was completely useless? Ed leaves, desperate to deposit his paycheck before the show gets cancelled.

Soon, Alex gives Meego a pancake and says “Tyississyrup”–

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I’m so glad Bronson finally got over his censure of child acting so he could finally find an audience that appreciated his unique brand of humor.

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So all that’s just establishing the scenario: Meego is their nanny, and they have to hide this from dad and Maggie. We’ve got plenty of time left for some sort of conflict. Will Meego do a terrible job cleaning the *ahem* already immaculate *ahem* house? Will one of the kids get into serious trouble?

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Alex: Girgunskooffme.

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Meego dances to “She Works Hard for the Money” while rubber gloves and cleaning appliances fly around. Take that, Fantasia 2000!

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Maggie comes in and announces that Alex got in trouble at school. Evidently he’s attached to Barkley because the neighbor’s dog got run over by a beer truck. I wouldn’t mention the beer truck part except for the fact that it’s the only “joke” in the whole episode not delivered by Bronson. Great, so let’s talk to Alex, and–

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Oh, okay, no, you’re right, this out-of-nowhere plot about Trip not making captain of the basketball team is much more interesting. Meego takes them back into the past to watch the basketball practice, and determines that Trip wasn’t being a good team player.

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Meego’s solution is to teach Trip a lesson by suspending him in midair in the backyard, at eye level with the neighbor girl’s window. I don’t expect greatness from any late-90s family sitcom, but this is a mess. This isn’t even an issue of the script needing another draft or two, because these writers don’t have the faintest notion of a family dynamic. Everyone’s issues happen completely separately from each other.

The lesson is supposed to be about Trip paying attention to what’s going on with other people, and this show has no idea how many opportunities there are for him to learn this. Alex wandered off to make friends with a space hobo because Trip was ogling the vague outline of a training bra; and now Alex is worried his dog will die, and his sister is insulting him for it, while Trip is hung up on not being recognized for his skill at basketball.

This family is at direct risk of an intergenerational pattern of being absent from each others’ lives. I’m grew up an only child, so I can’t speak to what roles oldest children should have to play for their siblings. Children shouldn’t be forced to act as parents to anybody before they’re ready, but Trip is 15 and can certainly be there for his kid brother. If these kids need anything in the face of having no parents, it’s being taught how to be compassionate to themselves and each other.

If Meego were as smart as this episode wants me to believe, and really wanted to leave for home soon, he’d play these two stories against each other. And if this show had anything to do with its own concept–hiding the alien from dad–his solutions would go haywire just enough to show that he had something to learn from Earthlings after all. But, as we’ll see in every episode, Meego fixes every problem either with his space wisdom, his space technology, his space magic, or his space ability to shapeshift into other characters Bronson can play.

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Aww, isn’t it cute no one told Jonathan Lipnicki how to pet a dog or how to distinguish between looking sad and looking tired? Meego says that no one his planet cries, except for the one time he cried when a friend left town. He tells Alex to ask whether the dog likes suffocating in his backpack. Meego says he’ll talk to the dog and shapeshifts into…

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…himself. Fuck it, okay, yeah. Then when he’s big again, he keeps talking to the dog in barks and growls. So… why did he…? Whatever, fuck, okay. The dog says it wants privacy. It’s maybe the only part of the episode that comes close to working because it feels like the kind of thing a very quick-on-their feet childcare professional would come up with, and also because someone decided to make it look like Bronson is improvising when Barkley keeps licking his ear.

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Again, though, is this interesting to any of y’all? Spending every three minutes introducing and resolving a problem with no character conflict at all? Is sitting through 20 minutes of Meego saying fake names and standing still while CGI happens worth it for the two minutes of Jonathan Lipnicki playing with a dog?

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Oh, the Trip storyline got resolved? Okay. Maggie sums up everything in the episode that she wasn’t there for and Alex spills the beans.

Alex: He’s nommagishn heesspaceman fmmarmrzonnn frrhpointoh!

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Erik Van Detten thanks Bronson for letting him ride his coattails, even if it was just for the pilot episode. Meego says goodbye to Alex, but then is so moved by the Earthlings’ open shows of emotion that he decides to grift this rich family for at least a few months. If the mention earlier of Marmazonians (Marmazon 4.0nians?) not crying was meant to make me feel for Meego, they should have left out the sob story of him losing a childhood friend. I’m supposed to think this is Meego learning from Earthlings, but all I see is an adult using a kid’s innocent love to take care of himself emotionally because his own parents didn’t.

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I guess he fits right in after all. Isn’t it magical?

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In the final scene, Ed comes home and Meego says he’ll stay. Couldn’t he at least try to look like a normal person and pretend to go to Canada for a few days for his aunt’s birthday, instead of looking like an asshole? There’s a joke where Ed bonds with Meego over refusing to speak to one’s relatives for “centuries”. It’s not a bad joke, purpose-wise: it establishes that whatever Meego lets slip about being an alien is interpreted as hyperbole. But did every single 80s/90s network family sitcom not realize the irony of making parent characters complete jerks?

Seinfeld had broken ground almost a decade before this by making it very obvious that its leads are supposed to be the worst people on earth, and family sitcoms still hadn’t realized the joke was long dead and buried.

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Remember how they’re trying to keep Meego being an alien from Maggie? Meego and Alex fly up to her window, which was Trip’s window ten minutes ago.

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“Love and Money” (26 September 1997)

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The episode opens with Meego cleaning and he makes a rag pick his nose. I was going to ask whether the studio audience wouldn’t have seen the person wearing the bright green suit, but then I remembered laughtracks don’t have eyes. It’s not even a good quality laughtrack: I can hear the same person layered a few times in places. By the way, can we get a round of applause for Bronson’s wig? It’s really giving its all.

Sitcoms are fragile early on, and have to establish their situation pretty quickly and clearly right away, every week. So how does this scene establish Meego is an alien and a nanny, and not some guy who wandered into a house? With magic, and then again with magic, and then he talks to a kid.

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Man fuck this already. Alex mumbles and hands Meego something which turns out to be bubble gum. Meego makes a joke about dentist incomes, and seriously, how much about Earth is he supposed to know? Where does he sleep? I get that, on ALF, Willie Tanner had almost no choice but to let an alien live with his family and chance it walking in on his children when they were nude. But the implication here is that Ed Parker didn’t think twice about giving what appears to be an itinerant auto mechanic full access.

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Whoever came up with the idea of using CGI to keep Bronson from lounging over all the furniture deserved a fucking Emmy. He dances “like Elvis”.

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There’s a different kid playing Trip now, and honestly I didn’t even notice the first time I watched these.

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He was dancing like Elvis, and now he’s pretending to be Jacques Cousteau. You know Jacques, the guy who was famous for cooking? If Bronson didn’t want to be Balki forever because Balki was too sweet, fine, whatever. If he had a low bar for what made two characters different from one another, it’s not my place to tell him otherwise. But if you’re going to be an alien who has to prepare a meal, joke that you can’t get a decent [insert alien word] on this planet, use the tools wrong, have the dish be glowing blue. Don’t just do the same Balki schtick of decades-old jokes about celebrities who were already dead by then. I almost want to say that Bronson sells himself short by thinking that this is the only thing he can do. He can’t possibly think that Trouble with Larry failed simply because people weren’t ready for his brand of prop comedy and insult humor, can he?

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Meego starts doing a Julia Child voice while he dumps the yolks into the garbage and beats the shells.

*throws a stand mixer through the screen*

That is not what I meant! I only know it was a Julia Child voice because Dad Begley, Jr. tells me. You know the sound crows make? How it sounds like you’re actually hearing the gravel that they swallow to help them digest food? Bronson’s Julia Child impression is that sound if it were going through puberty.

I was so ready to praise how well Bronson had reined himself in in the pilot episode. But the second episode is already mostly ditching the premise of an alien solving a rudderless family’s problems, so why should he bother?

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Ed Daddy, Jr. hands Meego a check for his first two weeks of work. Really? The first two weeks of children living with an alien were so entirely uneventful they weren’t worth showing? Wasn’t half this premise about hiding the truth from dad? How does the nanny agency get paid? What if dad were to praise Meego to the nanny agency?

Meego–the 9,250-year-old alien–does not understand what money is, having agreed to take on the job with only the promise of hugs from little boys as payment. I’d be more willing to believe that Balki had never encountered anything but a barter system before he came to the US. But a middle-aged alien who has his own spaceship? Who has watched enough 1997 television to know who Elvis is? Get the fuck out of here with that shit.

The first thing Meego says he wants to buy is love and happiness, but just last week he told Alex that his parents never let him experience any emotions. Do they have these concepts on Marmazon 4.0? Seriously, please collect the shit and leave the premises with it in tow.

Meego is the result of someone wanting to give Bronson a show, going down the list of scenarios where a main character could misunderstand everything, settling on alien. Bronson thanks them by forgetting that scenario entirely. Just having Meego in a T-shirt with I’M AN ALIEN on the front would convey the concept better than any single joke in these two episodes.

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Bronson does one of those Trouble with Larry-style monologues where each sentence is its own punchline with very little relation to the previous one and Trip says he has to go not be in this scene anymore. I like this kid.