The Keys To Success

A small article about some men and women who helped to define my pop cultural likes.
June 12, 2009
This is another long article. Please take your time with it.

Over the course of this decade, I've thought about what makes a movie, a TV show, an album...In short, any pop cultural item the success that it can be.

In front of and behind the cameras, on the albums and on the tours, there are essential elements that implant themselves on us, both as individuals and as groups, and once they leave, things change, not always for the better.

I would now like to talk about some of my favorite pop-cultural items, and the people who made them, then broke them.

While I don't like a lot of 90s TV, I loved the Silver Age Of Warner Brothers. As such, I would like to start off this article by mentioning Silver Age writer Sherri Stoner.

I wrote about her in several of my earlier articles, but I was thinking in a more prurient light when those texts were being written...I wish I hadn't been so shallow.

The shows of Warner Brothers' Silver Age (like "Tiny Toon Adventures" and "Animaniacs") were hit-and-miss affairs, but after watching reruns of these shows earlier this decade and looking up shorts and episodes on YouTube, I decided that if Stoner was involved in the writing, then it was guaranteed to be a hit. She looks good in front of a camera, and behind it, she was good, too.

Her writing was a genius mixture of innuendo, pop-culture references and good old-fashioned cartoon comedy. Her work was in full bloom on "Animaniacs" (one of the few 90s shows I can say I enjoy), but she left the writing staff shortly after the show went to The WB. While she continued voicing Slappy Squirrel to the show's end, I feel the show suffered without her writing.

This would probably explain why I love "Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation", but don't care for "Wakko's Wish".

We're all familiar with the stories, so there's no need to summarize them. I feel that "How I Spent My Vacation" was true to the spirit of the show that spawned it. It was nothing but laughs from the beginning number to the closing credits. As I've grown older, the references became easier to catch onto. I thought that the "Heathers" reference was a good job.

Stoner was involved in the writing of this piece, along with several other writers, and you can tell it from the lines that are said. Mixing up the silly and the saucy was something Stoner was great at doing.

"Wakko's Wish" had no writing involvement from Sherri, and it showed. I feel that it didn't really have a connection to "Animaniacs". Although it was written by several writers for the show, the lines seem like they were written by people who borrowed the characters for a couple of months. The movie definitely could've used the kick that Stoner gives to whatever she writes for.

I hope to interview Ms. Stoner someday...She's one of my biggest writing influences, and I would like to talk to her about the creative process.

Now it's time to leave the 90s and head to 1985. Our destination? Hill Valley, California. It's time to talk about "Back To The Future" once more...To be specific, my topic is Claudia Wells (who played Jennifer Parker)

I've had the great pleasure of talking to Ms. Wells several times. She's a very kind person and I feel that reflects well in her performance as Jennifer Parker. The epitome of the girl-next-door, the character also plays a major part in Marty McFly's (Michael J. Fox) effort to get back to 1985. If you'll recall, she wrote down her phone number on the back of a "Save The Clocktower" leaflet. McFly had the leaflet on him in 1955, and the information on what caused the clocktower to stop helps to cement Doc Brown's (Christopher Lloyd) plans for Marty.

Wells' mother was diagnosed with cancer, so she took a break from acting to help her out. Her role was filled in the sequels by Elisabeth Shue.

I think that Ms. Shue is a talented actress. Having said that, I don't feel that Shue was the right fit for Parker. You need to bear in mind that she was pretty tough in 1987's "Adventures In Babysitting" and 1988's "Cocktail". Wielding a knife and saying "Don't fuck with the babysitter" in front of her young charges in the former and assaulting Tom Cruise in the latter (Could dumping food on somebody in anger at a restaurant be considered assault?), Shue doesn't seem like the type of person who could be laid back. As such, I think they probably should've gone with a lesser-known actress to replace Wells. The original "Back To The Future" has worked a magic on people of all ages, and Wells was an essential part of that. She's a very nice woman.
I haven't written about "Lethal Weapon" in a while, but I feel that this is a perfect article to talk about it. To be specific, I would like to talk about Shane Black.

Black was only in his mid-20s when he created the characters of Riggs and Murtaugh (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover), but you couldn't tell it from the writing. The dialogue spoke of experience, both good and bad, the kind that most people have by the time they're in the 50s, not when they're only a few years out of college.

By the time 1998's "Lethal Weapon 4" came along, things had changed drastically. Whereas the first one was an action-drama with some very funny lines, the fourth one was more like a action-comedy with moments of drama.

You can't blame Black for that, though. The 4th installment was written by a man named Channing Gibson (who I unfortunately couldn't find a picture of). Don't get me wrong..."Lethal Weapon 4" is an enjoyable movie. At the same time, though, I prefer the way Black wrote the characters. Murtaugh works best as an uneasy fellow and Riggs works best as screwloose and hell-bent for self-destruction. The characters had mellowed out by the 4th one. If I wanted mellow cops, I'd watch a "Police Academy" movie.

On a different tack, I would like to mention how the National Lampoon imprimateur has affected my view of the "Vacation" movies.

I've seen all 4 of these movies, and out of all of them, the only one I didn't like was "Vegas Vacation". As odd as this is going to sound, I think that the reason why it didn't impress me is because it didn't have the "National Lampoon" tag on it. It's always been a crapshoot with National Lampoon movies, but when the prefix was attached to the "Vacation" title, you knew what you were in for.

I can't really come up with much more on "Vegas Vacation". I'm able to recall "Vacation" and "Christmas Vacation" with great enjoyment, and while I haven't seen much of "European Vacation", I do recall scenes like the game show "Pig In A Poke" and the end credit montage that featured clips of various aspects of Americana.

If I could chalk up what my indiferrence to "Vegas Vacation" came from, maybe it's because it came out in 1997, the year when I started separating from the pop culture of my vintage and the pop culture of the decade I was born in. The next time "Vegas Vacation" comes on, I think I'll give it another shot. Why not? It's good to expand your horizons.

Now, I would like to cap off my article by talking about John Belushi's contribution to "The Blues Brothers".

The Blues Brothers were created by Dan Aykroyd, who played Elwood Blues, but I feel that it was John Belushi, who played Joliet Jake, that gave the group the spark it had. Belushi was running like an outboard motor, and you could see it in his performance as Jake. Swift-and-often-dirty-talking, dancing merrily, tearing into every song with the spirit of a man possessed (after all, they were on a mission from God), Belushi bought energy and life to the Blues Brothers.

Belushi unfortunately died in 1982, and I feel that the group should've ended there. Since it was Aykroyd's brainchild, though, he kept it going, and 1998 saw the release of "Blues Brothers 2000".

I saw this with my girlfriend a few weeks after I saw "Spice World" with her. I guess you could say that we were introducing each other to our musical tastes...I only wish I could've shown her the first "Blues Brothers" instead. Aykroyd's heart just doesn't seem to be in it in this movie. Knowing what good friends he was with Belushi, I think that reflects in his performance.

While Belushi didn't live well, rock music...Hell, music in general isn't about living well...It's about pushing it to the limit then flying off the cliff. Belushi was music in its' rawest form, and his death left a hollow shell where The Blues Brothers once stood.

In closing, I often wonder what impact these movies and TV shows would've had on me if they weren't cast or staffed the way they were. Would they still have an impact on me in my adulthood, or would I have left them behind? I don't know the answer to that, but I know what I like.

With that, the floor is open for discussion: What is it that impacts you about entertainment? Do the performers make an impression on you? The writing? Maybe both?
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