Super Bowl Sunday Plans

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing this Sunday. There should be quite a few options. I hear the first Sunday of February is a great day to go skiing. I bet the grocery stores will be nice and empty. Maybe my bathroom needs re-grouting.

Who knows.

I know what I won’t be doing: watching the Super Bowl.

I don’t remember the last time I missed a Super Bowl. There have been years when I barely watch it, because a fair number of them have sucked. But I was at least in a room with the game on, so I could occasionally turn to the screen to see a big play, or to check the time it took to sing the national anthem, or to mark off a box on my “Commercial Bingo.”

This year, I can’t even muster that much attention. Not even the prospect of deep-fried crap can entice me. I’m not even going to GAMBLE on the Big Game, and that’s saying something.

Part of it is my belief that it will be an absolute snoozer of a game accompanied by seven hours of announcers swinging from Tom Brady’s nutsack. But it goes beyond that, because a lousy Super Bowl with annoying announcers and played-out storylines wouldn’t normally be enough to push me away. I did mention deep-fried crap and gambling, right?

This year, I’m going out of my way to not watch the game. I want it to be the lowest rated Super Bowl of all time. I want NBC to consider switching over to a re-broadcast of “Heidi” to get viewers back.

Will I be successful? Probably not. In fact, I just had to google which network the Super Bowl was on, which I think means Roger Goodell and Tom Brady each get another reach-around. But you know, think globally, act locally.

I haven’t been following much of the hype, but I imagine the East Coast media is talking about Boston vs Philadelphia as the next best thing to Boston vs New York. We have the greatest quarterback/coach/owner/team/fans/celebrities of all time against the long-suffering, much-maligned quarterback/coach/owner/team/fans/celebrities who are finally getting their shot. Since both cities are along the Bos-Wash corridor, where all the wonderful people live, they clearly have the greatest fans in the country.

Bullshit. These two fan bases should be tied for the worst in football, if not all of sports. Only Yankee fans might be more superciliously sanctimonious, and that’s only because their “rebuilding” took about five years shorter than it was supposed to.

Just the Yankee way, man. Aura and mystique, yo.

They’re insufferable for different reasons. Philly fans are generally just despicable human beings. I don’t need to rehash all of the famous examples, right? Cheering injuries, even for their own players. Throwing beer bottles at their own players. Booing Santa Claus. Intentionally barfing on other fans.

Are we really going to say these people deserve happiness? If there was a chance that they’d become decent if the Eagles win, maybe I’d root for them. But Philadelphia’s won a number of titles. The Phillies have won the World Series twice. The 76ers won three NBA Championships. The Flyers have won twice. And yet Philly fans have remained Philly fans.

Oh, and did I mention I would’ve won $1500 if the Phillies had lost the World Series in 2008? But no, this isn’t about that.

No really. I don’t hold a grudge. I don’t think about the paid-off car or the high-roller suite or whatever. Who cares if I put $10 on Tampa Bay to win the World Series back in March only to have them come up three games short and, to add that extra little Philadelphia-fuck-you, let’s suspend the final game for two days to stretch out the misery.

But seriously, Joe Maddon, why didn’t you just start David Price when the game restarted? It’s a tie game, so treat it like a fresh game, albeit one you only need to win four innings of.

Okay, enough about Philly. Let’s move on to the Mass-holes.

Boston suffered for a very long time. But holy shit, as soon as that turned around, they became Yankee fans, right? Their winning every year is ordained by God. Only making it to the AFC Championship or the ALCS is a disappointing season. And Tom Brady’s balls taste better than Joe Montana’s taint on John Elway’s chin.

Is that the same Tom Brady whose first major success happened as a result of the Tuck Rule? Yes, that was the correct call for the rules at the time. But you can’t tell me he didn’t have a horseshoe up his ass on that play.

Oh, and remember that time, in 2006, when Tom Brady, down by eight with six minutes left, threw an interception on 4th and 5 that sent the San Diego Chargers to the AFC Championship Game? No, you don’t remember that, because Marlon McCree decided to run the damn ball back and proceeded to fumble it. That horseshoe is permanently attached to Brady’s sphincter.

But, the Mass-holes counter, that’s part of Brady’s magnificence. That he can get players to drop his interceptions.

But whatever. Players get lucky. What really separates the mediocre from the great is what they do when they get those opportunities. For instance, after Brady got a little bit lucky with the tuck rule, the Patriots seized the opportunity by… filming the Rams’ practices from underneath the bleachers.  And after the Chargers game, they… filmed defensive coaches so that they knew when a blitz was coming.

And what fortune were they following up on when they started sending janitors into opposing locker rooms to take pictures of game plans? Before or after they deflated the balls to cut down on fumbles?

You’re right, Mass-holes. Clearly you’re the victims in all of this. The NFL is picking on you.

And Brady’s such an upstanding, nice guy that he made Kraft send Garoppolo to the west coast because he doesn’t want Belichick to win after he’s gone. Hell, if anyone knows about a QB getting the starting job because of how well he played when the real starter was out, it would be Brady, right? I’ll take Drew Bledsoe injury for five hundred, Alex.

Speaking of making the best of luck, how about the officiating in the playoffs this season? It’s almost like the refs are rooting for the Patriots. It’s not like they’re patting Brady on the back after a win or anything, but… wait, what?

Seriously, there were two calls in the Titans-Patriots game that were atrocious. Eric Decker got called for offensive pass interference after converting a third down. Patriots receivers were making similar moves all day. But they play was reversed, it was 3rd and 9, and the Titans failed to convert.

Then there was whatever the hell that call was in the second quarter. Fourth and five, two of the Titans defensive linemen jump and then point to an offensive lineman. The back judge throws a flag and rightfully calls a false start. But then, wait a second, somebody realized 4th and 10 would mean the Patriots have to punt from their own endzone. And if Tom Brady doesn’t like a call, they have to change the call. Except the play had been called dead, so they can’t call offsides. And the D-linemen didn’t make contact with the O-line, so they can’t call encroachment. So they just make up a penalty called coming into the neutral zone, which I’m pretty sure is legal as long as you’re back onside by the time the ball is snapped.

What they basically called was a defensive false start, even though the offensive players flinched. Oh, who am I kidding? What they called was “A Bill Belichick team doesn’t make mistakes, so let’s give them a first down. Five yards.”

The frivolity continued in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots were called for one penalty, on special teams, for ten yards. The Jaguars lost 98 yards on six penalties. Are the Patriots a more disciplined team? Sure. But do they also get away with a hell of a lot more than the Jaguars? Absolutely.

And let’s not forget the catch-that-wasn’t-a-catch in the Steelers game in week sixteen. Shall I go on?

I’m not saying it’s a fix. I’ve seen a fixed game before. Game six of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals was fixed, and I don’t think there’s a soul on Earth who saw it and thought otherwise. The NBA wanted a game seven in a very competitive, highly-rated series. Whichever team won was going to roll the Nets in a pretty boring Finals.

So the NBA made sure game six went to the Lakers, to the tune of twenty-seven free throws in the fourth quarter. The Kings got nine. Boy, that ratio looks awfully similar to the Patriots-Jaguars last week, huh?

A lot of people in Sacramento think it was fixed because the NBA wanted the Lakers in the Finals, but I don’t buy that at all. The Kings got a number of calls in game seven, which went to overtime. Had they been able to hit their free throws, the NBA would’ve been perfectly fine ushering them into the championship. The NBA fixed game six, not game seven.

And the NFL hasn’t been fixing the Patriots run. These calls are much closer to all of those other NBA games.

In the NBA, star players are not held to the same standards as others. Jordan pushed off defenders on a regular basis. Kobe always had wide-open shots because of his flailing elbows. Lebron can plow through anyone he wants if he’s en route to the basket.

In the NBA, I understand why it happens. The league can’t really have all of the stars fouling out of every game. I don’t think Kobe would’ve made it out of the first quarter if he got called every time his elbow made contact with a chest or a face. And if Kobe’s out of game six, then who can the refs send to the free-throw line? Shaq? Only if the Lakers were the team that was up three games to two and the Kings had to win.

I think the NFL refs definitely have some of that subconscious bias going on. Either they are in awe of Brady or they are afraid of Belichick. The Patriots are not being held to the same standards as whomever they are playing.

Here’s how I think the inner monologue went on those two penalties in the Patriots-Titans game: Huh, the Titans aren’t a very good team. They shouldn’t be converting that third down/forcing a Patriots punt. I better throw a flag/change the call to make sure this doesn’t get out of hand.

As Tony Romo said, if those two penalties go the other way, we might be looking at a Titans 21-7 lead instead of a Patriots 14-7 lead. And that just can’t happen.

And when Gronk swim-moves past a defender and knocks him to the ground? Well, that’s just what Gronk does. He’s such a great physical specimen.

Must just be all that Yankee aura and mystique, huh?. Ho do ya like them apples, Mass-holes?

Did the same thing happen in the Super Bowl last year? Did the refs get caught up in the story of the greatest comeback in history? I don’t know. Were there some questionable holding calls against Atlanta? I think so. Did the Patriots hire another janitor to go spy on the Falcons? I wouldn’t bet against it.

This Super Bowl will be no different.

If Carson Wentz were playing this weekend, he might’ve gotten the benefit of the doubt. An up-and-comer taking on the old-and-weathered. That’s a good story, and Wentz has been anointed as someone worthy of good calls.

But Nick Foles? Go ahead and assume every first down he gets will be heavily scrutinized by the refs. They say you can call holding on every play in the NFL. But if Tom Brady has seventy seconds in the pocket, well that’s just good blocking right there.

That’s why I won’t be watching. Nobody to root for and I’ve seen it all before.

I guess if I had to root for anyone, it would be the Eagles. I’m an Angels fan, and if Mike Trout’s favorite football team can win a championship, maybe he won’t feel the need to leave for the east coast himself in 2020.

Plus the celebratory riots in Philly will be so much better.

Children’s TV Review (The Shitty Ones)

Last week, I gave my account of some of the shows dominating children’s television these days. Some of it’s not too shabby. Some of it’s actually a little bit enjoyable. But for the good shows, you need to look at my last post.

This week, it’s the fun post. Here we focus on the abysmal.

There are two shows currently atop this particular mountain of shit.

(Oh yeah, this is an adult blog. If you are underage and got here through the fiftieth page of Google results, go away.)

1. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Having grown up in Orange County and rooted for sports teams that Michael Eisner only saw as cross-promotions, I might have a certain anti-Disney predisposition. Yes technically, the Angels won the World Series while a Disney property, but that’s only because Disney was looking to sell and hoping to raise the sale value.

So I rage at the hypocritical message embedded in most Disney shows and movies. Be who you want to be! Except if your hairline is a centimeter too long, because then your ass is fired. Hard work will be rewarded! Hey, work ten-hour shifts five days a week in 100-degree heat and then we’ll fire you at the 5 1/2 month mark because you’d get discounted tickets if we let you work six months. Commercialism is bad! But don’t forget to buy some Minnie Mouse tampons on the way out of the park.

So okay, I might not give Mickey a fair shake. But that doesn’t mean this show doesn’t suck.

I actually like most of the characters on “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and, obviously, I am aware that Disney knows what they’re doing when it comes to children’s shows. This has all of the tropes one expects. The songs are repeated at the same time every episode. The characters find themselves in problems that the viewer has to help with by picking the right number or the right color pattern.

One might expect Disney to come up with something a little more original than a “Blue’s Clues” ripoff. But hey, if they’re able to bring Clarabelle Cow into canon and sell some cow dolls, all is good.

The start of the show is a little skeevy. Mickey is walking alone through the woods. He turns to the camera and asks the little kids if they want to come inside his secret, magical clubhouse. He tells them to say the magic words and his pervy little hideout pops out of nowhere. It’s got a giant slide coming out of the roof, a mini golf course, and all the accouterments one might associate with Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

No, I’m not saying Mickey Mouse is a child molester. However, I might think twice before leaving my child alone with the show runners. Hey kid, Say “Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Mouse” and something’s going to pop out of nowhere.

Then again, Steve from “Blue’s Clues” seemed a little off, too.

But the real problem I have with “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” is Toodles, an anthropomorphic, mouse-shaped holding tray.

I guess it’s not mouse shaped, it’s Mickey Mouse shaped. Damn you Disney, for raising three generations of humans to refer to a large circle with two smaller circles on top as “mouse-shaped.”

At the beginning of every episode, they load Toodles up with four tools that they will be able to use to get past obstacles. One of them is a mystery tool and the others range from ladders and balloons to, I think there was one episode that utilized a bologna sandwich.

Then every time they encounter a problem, they whine to the heavens, “Oh, Toodles!” and the little shit comes flying from wherever he’s lazing around. Seriously, they’ve called him from Mars and he put on a space helmet to make it there before his three-second synthesizer theme-song was done. Like a drug dealer afraid that his junkie customers will find a new source or, even worse, sober up.

And when I say they call him for every time they have an obstacle, I mean: Every. Fucking. Time. “Hey, there’s some crumbs across the path. Instead of cleaning them up or stepping over them, lets see if Toodles has a fucking dustpan.”

In other shows, the characters talk though problems and multiple solutions. Some shows even encourage kids to try again if the first one fails. But Disney doesn’t want kids to learn perseverance or patience. If the next generation become critical thinkers, Disney might need a new business model. What they want is a generation of crybabies who think they are incapable of solving life.

It’s called learned helplessness and it’s rampant in the students I teach. “I can’t do it.” Encounter one setback and you might as well give up. “Why haven’t you done the last three homework assignments?” “Well, once I missed one, I figured I couldn’t pass so why try?”

Call for help. Google it. There is no possible way a human being can work their way through anything.

Some say they “just can’t do” history. They’re not good at it, like it’s shooting a three-pointer. How the hell is someone not good at history? Not enough jump? Wrong arc? Poor arm strength? Those are the reasons I am “not good” at three-pointers, although I’m sure I could get better if I tried.

But I don’t see how someone can be “bad at history.”  History is not a particular skill that one does or doesn’t have. You might not be good at reading or writing or listening. But if I ask “Who won the Civil War,” even if the answer is “I don’t know,” that still doesn’t mean you’re bad at history.

In other subjects, maybe that works. “I struggle conjugating a verb” or “I always get stuck on the quadratic equation” make sense. But how can you be bad at history? “Man, everybody else can Stalin much better than I can.”

But, of course, the learned helpless statements are never as focused as conjugating verbs or solving equations. It is perfectly acceptable to just say “I can’t do this so I’m not going to try.” As they argue over who won the 1978 Super Bowl…

Maybe they should just call Toodles.

But at least I had to watch fifty episodes of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” before I could really pinpoint my problem with it. For the single worst kids’ show on TV these days, it was apparent right from the start.

Peppa Pig. Oh, this shit is horrible. In fact, I hesitate to call this show shit, because Peppa is a pig and pigs like shit. And I don’t want Peppa to enjoy anything about life, as she’s sucked all the enjoyment out of mine.

This show is from England, the same country that, a generation ago, sent us Teletubbies. Have you ever seen Teletubbies? Have you ever watched an episode of Teletubbies and thought, “If only we could understand what the Teletubbies are talking about.” Well, Peppa Pig is that show and, let me tell you, we were better off not knowing.

Peppa is a little girl pig. Her parents, oddly enough, are named Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig. You might think that those are just the names that Peppauses for them. But there are scenes where Daddy Pig is at work and his co-workers refer to him as Daddy Pig. I am called Daddy around my house, but none of the other teachers in my department call me Daddy, or even Mr. Daddy. Four of the other teachers in my department are also fathers. That would be very confusing.

Then again, Daddy Pig works around other animals, so they probably just use their species to distinguish between one father and the next. Maybe he’s in a meeting with Daddy Horse and Bachelor Mouse. Maybe D.I.N.K. Armadillo pays for lunch, while Co-habitating Camel usually shows up late after partying all night.

Maybe I should start referring to all of my co-workers by their ethnicity. I can’t think of any drawback to that.

Oh, and Peppa’s grandparents are Grandma Pig and Grandpa Pig. That must’ve been very awkward when they were growing up.

Come to think of it, Berenstain Bears does the same thing. The first two children are named Brother and Sister. If they were twins, I could maybe see it, but Brother Bear is clearly older by a few years. I know it was the 1970s, when 2.1 children was a foregone conclusion, but it’s pretty ballsy to name an only child, Brother. What if the second child had been another boy? Would his name have been Younger? Or would they just have named him Sister and had a “very special” book about gender identity? And, oh by the way, they had a third child later in the series. They named her Honey. What the hell? Is she not a sister as well? Seriously, Brother, Sister, and Honey are the three Berenstain Bear children. Good thing they’re religious and can pray the counseling away.

Back to Peppa Pig, she has a number of friends who are also alliteratively-named animals. There’s Rebecca Rabbit, Suzy Sheep, and Zoey Zebra, although zebra is pronounced in the (incorrect) British way so that the first syllable rhymes with zed, not zee. One character I feel bad for is Pedro Pony, because he will presumably have to change his first name when he grows into full horse-hood.

Daddy Pig is a fucking trainwreck. He’s not good at anything, but thinks he’s good at everything. He can’t read a map and gets grumpy when they get lost. He’s fat, but whines about being fat. All the while, he’s trying to teach moral lessons to his kids. Great role modeling, Britain! No wonder you lost the empire.

As for the eponymously-named Peppa, she is a whiny little bitch. Or, since she’s English, I guess the proper verbiage would be a whiny little bird. She is mean to people and is constantly complaining about being bored.

In one episode, she’s playing soccer (and errantly calling it football). They do boys versus girls, because of course they do. When the boys score the first goal, she whines that it’s a stupid game and doesn’t want to play anymore. After the girls score the second goal, all of the boys and girls start arguing. Daddy Pig helicopter-parents in to serve as referee. The boys score next, but it’s in their own goal. So now she love soccer, even if she’s still calling it football.

In another episode, she’s riding a bike. Every time she’s on a downhill she brags about what a good bicyclist she is. Then when she goes uphill, she says riding a bike is stupid and wants to quit.

Maybe she should have called Toodles?

I wish I could say there was more meat to that episode, but these synopses pretty much cover the whole thing. The average episode is about six minutes long, so Nick Jr puts five of them in a row to fill a half-hour slot. Every time an episode ends, I wait with baited breath to see if that was the final one, but there’s only a twenty percent chance. I don’t like those odds.

Most episodes end with everybody falling over laughing over something that is very unfunny. The animation for the entire show is very crude, so when I say they fall over laughing, I don’t mean they hunch over and start slapping their thigh and then fall to their knees. No, instead they are all standing upright in one frame and then are completely horizontal on their backs in the next frame. Then they shake, laugh, and snort another second or two until the episode is over.

And again, the thing that caused them all to fall over backward was something hilarious like a whiny child saying she didn’t like biking uphill. Clearly that is enough to cause people to lose their vertical fortitude.

Peppa has a little brother named George. He is one of the few tolerable spots of the show. He can only say a few words, two of which are “Dinosaur, rawr.” Even though he’s barely a toddler, he’s good at all of the things Peppa sucks at, which is pretty much everything. Of course, this just causes her to complain more, which is just what the show needs.

Peppa terrorizes her poor brother. She plays keepaway, she belittles his accomplishments, and I’m pretty sure she’s pushed him a few times. Just the things we want to teach our children.

Nick Jr starts all of its shows with a list of what the kids are learning while they’re watching. “Paw Patrol” says they’re learning about teamwork and community. “Dora the Explorer” highlights problem-solving skills and Spanish language. Most of them are a reach, but at least the intent is there.

According to them, “Peppa Pig” teaches children about emotional development. Bullshit! Peppa never develops emotionally. Peppa is the antithesis of a well-developed child. Unless you want your child to be a rude and entitled quitter.

But I’m here to help. Here ya go, Nick Jr:

When watching “Peppa Pig,” your child is learning about how to bully and not take accountability for their actions. With any luck, they’ll be President of the United States someday.

Children’s TV Review, Part I

My daughter is three-and-a-half years old now and well on her way to her proper place as a proud American. What I mean is, she watches a shit-ton of TV.

I know, I know. Screen time is bad and should be limited and blah, blah, blah. You know what else should be limited? Microwaved dinners and me teaching teenagers in my underwear. And if I’m going to have time to cook a wholesome meal and, you know, shower, the kid’s going to suckle on a little of that boob-tube teat.

As a result, I’ve come to experience a sizable cross-section of the current children’s television crop. Both of the Juniors, Nick and Disney, have full lineups. Some of it is enjoyable for young and old, some of it is kinda boring for both. And then there are the demonspawn shows – the ones that my daughter enjoys but that are absolutely horrific for the adults in the house.

I’m going to start with some of the good and mediocre. Come back next week for the shit storms.

Dora the Explorer. I know this isn’t a new show. My students all grew up with it. Even my nieces, who are in their twenties, watched the early seasons.

I assumed I would not like Dora. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it came out during the years of Barney and the Teletubbies, I figured it can’t be good. Or maybe I thought it was an artificial attempt at forced bilingualism. Or maybe I assumed that, if she thought Dora and Explorer rhymed, she must be from Boston.

Quick game: find a Republican and ask him what’s more offensive, a Spanish accent or a Mass-hole accent.

But it’s actually pretty enjoyable to watch. The bilingualism is not forced. As opposed to Sesame Street (or every first-year language class ever), it does not just come up with a word, repeat it multiple time, and then makes an artificial skit designed to illicit the one word of the day. Seriously, how often am I going to ask for milk at the library? Dora talks like a real bilingual person. Sometimes she’ll drop a word or two of Spanish into her normal speak, then she’ll turn to the camera and explain what that word meant. “In Spanish, we say leche and biblioteca.”

Sometimes Dora needs to interpret for people she encounters who are unilingual.

Dora is usually on an adventure. There are always three steps, and she will repeat them over and over again. When one’s been accomplished, she’ll still repeat them,  say “Check,” and write a check on the map. Now when I need to take my daughter on errands, we play like Dora “We need to go through  the pasta aisle, around the dairy fridge, then pay at the cashier. Did we go through the pasta aisle? Check!”

The interactions with the audience, which is a staple in children’s television, seems to work, too. My daughter isn’t very likely to respond when Mickey Mouse or Elmo asks her which direction they should go. But Dora asks with a certain cadence and repetition that gets my daughter to respond. Even in very mangled Spanish sometimes. “Should I take the rojo or the verde path?” Dora asks, and my daughter shouts out “Bair-day!”

And the songs are catchy as hell. My students laugh whenever I pull up maps in history class now, because I sing the “I’m the map” song. Seriously, go look up “Grumpy Old Troll” and see if it’s not stuck in your head later. No? Watch it twenty more times and you’ll know what it’s like having kids.

Goldie and Bear. So, evidently Goldilocks and Baby Bear are friends now. And they live in a land with modern twists on fairy tale characters. Humpty Dumpty’s a nerd who always has his head in a book. The three pigs are makeshift carpenters who fix most of the property damage that tends to occur on a regular basis. Their names are Bailey, Twigs, and Brix. Big Bad Wolf occasionally tries to be good, but is still obsessed with Little Red Riding Hood’s muffins. Fairy Godmother is a trainwreck – half of her spells go awry.

Shows revolve around some extension of fairy tales. In one episode, they have a lottery to see who gets to ride the cow when she jumps over the moon. Goldie wins and Bear wants to feel happy for her but is bummed out. But then the cow is scared by a mouse that is attracted to Big Bad’s cheese sandwich and leaps early with both Goldie and Bear on her back. In another episode, everything in the land falling apart because the pigs are arguing over straw, wood, and brick.  Bear’s father sings about fishing in one show, and in another one, Bear is allergic to Goldie’s new shampoo (another Fairy Godmother screw up) right before a dual pogo stick contest.

The shows are pretty fun to watch. Each episode has two 15-minute shows. Or is it every show has two episodes? Whatever. Each 30-minute block contains two 15-minute subdivisions. Each show has an original song (unlike Dora, these songs are not repeated every episode but are based on the current situation). The songs have varying beats and clever lyrics.

I think there might or might not be a morale or a lesson in most of them. Whatever.

A couple of problems with the show. First, it’s new, so whereas Dora has over a hundred episodes to cycle through, Goldie and Bear had a whopping 22. Let me tell you, 22 episodes ain’t a lot when one’s child watches nothing else for an entire month. You know it’s bad when even a three-year old says, “We already watched that one.”

They finally started a second season about a month ago. My wife and I were ecstatic, but my daughter had almost forgotten about the show by then. So far, the second season seems a little lackluster. Classic “Prison Break” syndrome.

I also have issue with the lack of swag for this show. It’s on Disney. How are they not inundating us with plushes and shirts and toy sets? The Disney Store and Toys R Us both have sections devoted to “Puppy Dog Pals” and “Vampirina,” and those two shows have only been on for a couple of months. “Goldie and Bear” started in 2015, yet by the middle of 2016 there were still no official toys, and even by that Christmas, there were only a couple of items hidden around Toys R Us.

I assume that the lack of toys and the lack of consistency in output means that “Goldie & Bear” is not an official Disney property, but is only airing on Disney channels. I didn’t know that was possible, but it’s the only thing that makes sense. Because Disney not overpromoting a property to the point of ubiquity is like…. is like… the New England Patriots not finding a new way to cheat.

McStuffins the First of Avalor: Okay, these might actually be three different shows. I don’t know. Sometimes I’m blogging when the show is on. One is an African-American girl in a smock, another is a white girl who likes purple, and the last is a Latina in red. They… I don’t know… have problems? That they have to… solve? And maybe they sing? Not sure.

These shows aren’t bad. There have been times it seems like one of them is about to take over my child’s zeitgeist for. (Can one person have a zeitgeist? Hmmm. I’ll have to look that up the next time my child is watching TV.)

She liked “Doc McStuffins” for a week or two, but it never really stuck. She still likes the  characters.

If “Sofia the First” is on, she might pay it some attention, but she’ll never really seek it out. Again, she enjoys dressing up as Sofia and getting Sofia books, just never really cares to watch.

She’s never enjoyed “Elena of Avalor.” It could be that Elena is older than the other two and the show caters to grade-schoolers, not pre-schoolers. But the same argument could be made for the Dora sequel (Did you know Dora has a sequel?), which has Dora as a teenager, and my daughter eats that shit up.

These shows follow a standard sitcom formula. I thought an extended story over a half-hour might account for my daughter’s lack of interest. But, again, the same description could be used for Dora. Seriously, what kind of crack is Dora that makes it successful?

Anyway, not really sure why these shows haven’t really distinguished themselves or caught her imagination.

A potential exception in this genre is Vampirina. It follows in the same vein as the others, but features a little vampire girl who moved to America from Transylvania. We’ve only been watching it for about a week, but so far my daughter likes it better than the others. I like it so far. The parents oscillate between being supportive and creating their own problems – again, very sitcommy.

Of course, as a new show, we will quickly run into the “not enough episodes” problem. But at least Disney is putting Vamprina merch in stores. Too bad my daughter didn’t start watching until the week after Christmas. Actual conversation wife and I had in Toys R Us in mid-December: “Oh, hey, should we get her a Vamprina doll? That shows fun.” “Yeah, but she never asks for it. Not even sure she knows who the characters are.”

Famous last words.

But hey, Vampirina’s not a princess, so that’s a fun twist for a Disney show.  The opening lyrics even go “I may be blue with pointy teeth, but I’m not so different underneath… I’m just like you.” Maybe Disney is finally getting past the… Oh, who am I kidding? That’ll be retconned out.

Paw Patrol. Daughter’s obsession with Paw Patrol was deep but brief. We have a dog and two cats, so she might be naturally inclined toward animal shows. Within a couple days of first viewing, she could rattle off all of the dogs in rapid succession. I was still trying to get past the fact that every musical break was right out of the techno nineties. It even has a Dance, Dance Revolution rip-off!

The dogs all have civil service jobs. I’ve also been told have personalities? Marshall, the fire truck dalmatian, is clumsy. Not sure why they went with firefighters being clumsy, but whatever. The recycling dog is surprisingly not a loadie, so maybe they’re trying to break stereotypes. Although the husky’s owner is a ski instructor that’s a total loadie, so maybe they are into stereotypes after all. The organized, calm police dog and the fact that the only female in the original batch was the small, peppy, compassionate one pretty much solidifies it.

The problem with Paw Patrol is it’s a bit too formulaic. Even the writers know that. The new episodes have them running a Sea Patrol or running off to England to go all James Bond.

My daughter still likes all the characters, but she doesn’t ask for the show very often. This is fine with me, because I found the shows a bit boring. Not that boring is bad, mind you. But none of them are ever going to make a mistake, and Ryder, their “handler,” is way too goody two-shoes. Think Mister Rogers without the acerbic wit.

My daughter’s favorite character is Rubble, the bulldog construction worker. Unfortunately, Rubble isn’t allowed on girl’s clothing. I’m not going to go off on weaponized genderification or anything. I realize there are only so many different combinations of the various characters they can put on clothing. Rubble appearing by himself is rare, even on boy’s clothes. And you can get girl’s clothes with Marshall, and occasionally Chase. So it’s not entirely the fault of genderification. That being said, my daughter’s not a big Skye fan, so sometimes our options are limited.

And yes, I could put her in boys’ clothes, but the underwear doesn’t fit her great.

As a subset of Paw Patrol comes Puppy Dog Pals. This is another show that is still in its infancy. At first, I hated it. I thought it was Disney’s half-hearted attempt at stealing some of Paw Patrol’s mojo (ie merchandising power). The dogs had annoying voices and were always doing stupid things that nobody seemed to notice. One of the child voice actors can NOT carry a tune.

I’m turning around on “Puppy Dog Pals” a little. I now realize that they do all of their shenanigans when their owner is otherwise occupied. All of the humans, including their owner, can’t understand them, and even though they are solving great mysteries, they appear to just be doing typical dog stuff. Bob, their owner, is never aware that they’re the ones who fixed the problem he was whining about at the beginning of the episode. It’s kind of funny to watch the end of the episode. It goes back and forth between them excitedly telling him everything they did, then it switches to his vantage point, and the dogs are just yapping away.

A bit of a “Toy Story” vibe that is fun considering every other cartoon features animals and humans interacting with regularity.

But, ooo, that singing…

I think that’s it for the good and mediocre kids’ shows. I think I need a week or so to work up my vitriol for the remaining couple. Come back later.

Wombat’s Annual Concert Review

I’m starting this year with a slightly different retrospective. I have no friggin’ clue what the hell I did over the past twelve months or what I would like to do for the next twelve. I have a three-year old daughter at home, and both her long-term memory and planning are definitely contagious. Also, since I stopped writing for a large portion 2017 (see above: three-year old), there’s no better time to post about what I did last summer. I’m not likely to remember these things much longer.

Wait, was I saying something?

Anyway, last summer, I saw three more old-dude concerts: Mumford and Sons in June, Blues Traveler in July, and Neil Diamond in August. I know technically Mumford and Sons aren’t old dudes, but most of their fans are.

Each act was one I had seen in concert before, so it allows me to put them into a little perspective.

Mumford and Sons: This was my second viewing of Mumford. If you like their music, you should see them in concert. There always seems to be a divide between how people want concerts to sound. Some people want the songs to sound exactly like they do on the album, so they can sing along. Others figure they can listen to the album whenever they want and, for the price of a concert ticket, they want the songs to be distinctively live.

Mumford and Sons seems to split the difference. The first time I saw them, my wife asked what they were like. I said, “They sound exactly like they do on the album, only moreso.” She didn’t understand how that could be, so this time, I took her. After that show, I asked her what she thought. She said, “They sound exactly like they do on the album, only moreso.”

Every harmony, every chord, every mandolin solo, is as close an approximation of the recorded versions as you will find. You can sing along, if you want. Each note will begin exactly where it is supposed to. A couple might go on a skosh longer, but it shouldn’t be hard to figure out which ones.

I sang along at parts. How can you NOT join in with thousands of people singing “I really fucked it up this time”?

But really, you don’t want to sing along too much, because you’ll miss the “moreso.”

There are a few things that define Mumford and Sons. The emotion and the drive of their music. I don’t mean the emotion of their lyrics (see below: Blues Traveler). In fact, I have to ignore the very obvious born-again lyrics to “I Will Wait” every time I belt along at the top of my lungs.

But I have to belt it, all the same, because of the emotion of the music. It feels like it’s at a fast tempo, but it’s really not. Maybe mandolins can be strummed faster than guitars? I don’t know. Speaking of things I don’t know, is there a difference between a banjo and a mandolin or is it just based on the genre, like a violin and a fiddle?

Anyway, I have always found Mumford’s music invigorating. Even some of their slower songs seem to push forward rather than lay back. I wasn’t a fan of “Wilder Mind” when it came out, because I worried they were becoming Coldplay, but after a few listens, I realized that there was still a lot going on throughout that album.

All of what makes Mumford is on display when they’re in concert. It’s louder, obviously, but same as with tempo, I don’t think volume alone accounts for their draw. And seeing Marcus Mumford sing the lyrics, which whether I agree with them or not, are very personal to him, adds an extra layer of emotion. I don’t know how he has the voice to sing like that night after night.

Like on the album, but moreso.

I have two slight issues with my two Mumford and Sons concerts. The first time, they played a bunch of songs that they were working on for a future album. I liked them, but they were nowhere to be found when I saw them eight months later. I hope those songs, and a forthcoming album, will be appearing soon.

My other issue is the song “Winter Winds.” It is my favorite Mumford and Sons song. They have not played it either time. A quick perusal of setlists shows that they do not play it very often. Marcus, if you’re reading this, put that bad boy into the rotation.

The venue we saw Mumford and Sons at was pretty cool. It was at “The Joint” (gosh, I wonder what that name is hinting at?), a venue inside the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Fun place, with only a couple of problems for bands with aging fans. It’s general admission, so we all had to stand in line or else we’d have to stand at the back. My wife and I arrived at the casino more than two hours before the concert started. We were going to grab a bite to eat and maybe gamble and drink a bit, but thought we would check the line first, just to be sure.

Holy shit, the line stretched for fifteen miles! Okay, maybe not that long, but in all honesty, the end of the line was in the parking garage. Meaning outside. In Vegas. In June. Yikes. Extra trooper points for my wife, though, who stood there for a half-hour holding our spot while I went in search of the elusive beer.

When they finally let us into the venue, not only was it general admission, but it was standing room only. Twenty years ago, that would’ve had mosh pit written all over it. But this was Mumford and Sons.I’m 43 and I probably lowered the average age by a year or two. So it was basically just a bunch of old people standing around for an hour.

Then for another hour during the absolute douchebag of an opening act. Seriously, he was not talented. And he was kind of an asshole in between songs. At one point he said he was from New York City and there was a smattering of boos. He seemed shocked.

“Who the hell would boo New York City?”

Umm, everybody who isn’t from New York City, dude.

“You guys are just jealous.”

And THAT’S why we all hate douchebags from New York.

But the venue was actually nice. Accoustics were good and you could get as close to the band as you wanted, body space notwithstanding. And I was even able to get a little bit of booze, too.

Holy shit, did I just pay $48 for a margarita and a Jack & Coke?

Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond is also an act I’ve seen once before. Not two years in a row, like Mumford and Sons. I think the first time I saw old Neil, Mumford was still just a son.

My first Neil Diamond concert was a bit of an aberration. I had always wanted to see him, but the price point was too high. Then the city of Stockton was opening a new arena. Stockton is a city in the central valley of California whose main claim to fame is a murder rate that rivals Detroit’s. But they’ve been trying to revitalize the downtown with a brand new minor-league ballpark, single-A but nicer than a number of AAA ballparks I’ve seen, and a 10,000-seat arena for a minor-league hockey team (I’ll be curling there at the end of the month!). Both venues, even a decade later, are beautiful. The downtown still sucks.

When the arena was first opening, they wanted a big name to open it. Last year, when Sacramento opened The  Golden One Center, they brought in Paul McCartney. But Sir Paul wouldn’t be caught dead in Stockton, so their big-namer was Neil Diamond. But there was still a problem, namely that the tickets were still pushing $100 for a city that is notoriously low on the socioeconomic scale. Oh, and it was a septuagenarian playing for a city with less than five percent of its population college-educated.

So Neil Diamond wasn’t selling and the grand opening of the brand new Stockton Arena was barreling toward a quarter-full opening night. The city manager had promised Neil Diamond $1 million to open the arena,  with the city reimbursing whatever ticket sales failed to provide. Except that particular arrangement wasn’t run by the city council. The city manager lost his job over that one. It was bad.

Except it was great for ticket price purposes. With about three days to go until the concert, somebody decided they didn’t want a lackluster opening night, so they lowered prices. All of a sudden it was $25 to see a classic rocker. I was in. Part of the fun of that first concert was trying to deduce who around me had paid full price for the same seats I got for the price of a pizza.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed with Neil Diamond that first go around. It felt like he was going through the motions. Maybe he was pissed that half the people in the audience were only seeing him because he cost less than the tank of gas they had used to get to the concert. Maybe he was just performing one of his 150 concerts a year for the 38th year in a row.

The give and take between he and his background singers felt forced and there was virtually no interaction with the audience. His clever lyrics about UB40 stealing “Red, Red Wine”  seemed a little less avant garde twenty years after said cover of said song.

My one takeaway from that first Neil Diamond concert was that he had changed the words of “Desiree” so that the girl was nearly half his age, instead of nearly twice his age. I guess that was funny when he was in his sixties, but now I kinda want him to go back to the original. If, at the age of 77, he’s becoming a man with a 144-year old lady, that’s pretty impressive. Not hot, but impressive!

I’m glad I gave Neil Diamond a second shot, because this year, he put on a really good show. It was at the aforementioned Golden One Center, the new Sacramento arena that Sacramentans said they didn’t need but has already hosted at least ten acts that never would’ve come to Sacramento before. It was Neil Diamond’s 50th anniversary tour, and that might’ve helped him find his love for performing again. Maybe he was able to pick whatever the hell he wanted to sing. He performed a couple of very early songs that have been out of the rotation since “Hot August Nights.”

He played the two sides of the arena off against each other to see who would cheer more, and at one point he turned and sang an entire song directly to the people that were cheering the loudest. I had always heard he was a big showman like this, so maybe I had just seen him on a bad night before. Maybe it was all the fault of those assholes who thought he was only worth a $25 ticket.

Unfortunately, he still played the old, tired, UB40 riff in “Red, Red Wine.” Dude, Neil. It’s been 35 years. Let it go. You don’t reference The Monkees when you sing “I’m a Believer.”

No report back on the age of Desiree this time.

Blues Traveler

I’ve been a huge Blues Traveler for most of my adult life. I listened to them constantly throughout my twenties and a good portion of my thirties. Right up until the time I discovered Mumford and Sons. I joked that if I saw Mumford (my current favorite bad) in June and Traveler (favorite band of my twenties) in July, I couldn’t wait to see the favorite band from my teens in August.

Still waiting for that Beatles reunion tour…

While 2017 marked only my second time seeing Neil Diamond (turned out he was the August concert in question) and Mumford and Sons, I don’t think I could count the number of times I’ve seen Blues Traveler. Probably somewhere between ten and twenty.

I’ve seen Blues Traveler opening for Allman Bros Band in arenas. I’ve camped out to see Blues Traveler playing both days at a weekend festival at the Laguna Seca racetrack. I saw Blues Traveler in the wave pool at the Mandalay Bay, maybe the greatest venue ever.

This time, though, didn’t rank quite as high as a pool in Vegas. It was at the California State Fair. The very same venue that has hosted a Taylor Swift cover band. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the concerts at the State Fair. I plan which day I’ll go to the Fair based on who’s playing. I’ve seen Huey Lewis, Air Supply, Eddie Money, and Weird Al Yancovic there. It’s a standard stopping spot for bands on the Indian Casino circuit.

To say I was upset Blues Traveler had fallen so far would be inaccurate. It’s not like they were ever filling arenas on their own. Nonetheless, I was a bit dismayed. State Fair means has-been, and I don’t know if Blues Traveler ever-was. With some bands, like Air Supply, I’ve enjoyed their current circuit, because they come through town often and I’ve been able to see them repeatedly at Indian Casinos and State Fairs.

Air Supply, by the way, is a great show. You wouldn’t think they shred on their repertoire of ballads, but they do.

But my worry is that the current trajectory of Blues Traveler’s career will not lead to them playing smaller and smaller venues. My worry is that the State Fair might be signalling the end is near. It’s the canary in the mine. At least when Eddie Money plays the Fair, people see him out of 1980s nostalgia. With Blues Traveler, it’s the same fans it’s always been, there are just fewer of them.

As for the concert, it was pretty lackluster. The State Fair usually is. The acoustics aren’t great and they’re competing with the sounds of cows and the Zipper and  deep-fried vomiting. The band sounded good. They’ve been a remarkably consistent band, with pretty much the same lineup their entire career, except for the guitarist’s younger brother joining when the original bassist died. They play very well together.

I still miss Bobby Sheehan, their orginal bassist, though. They’ve never sounded quite the same. The album that came out after he died, “Bridge,” was one of my favorites, but I feel like they had been sliding before that one and have continued after.

John Popper is one of the most underrated lyricists of the last thirty years:

-Unrequited love? check out  “Alone.” “Hopes can always go up, tears can only fall down.”
-Second guessing love? “Girl Inside My Head.”  “How hard will it be if she is nice to me?How bad will it get if I let her get to know me? Should she see the willing dog or should I be a jungle cat? And most of all, my god, how does she make her eyes do that?
-One love away from figuring it all out? “Conquer Me.” “Conquer me/Figure me out and set me free… It’s not my impatience, or perhaps just there I lied/ It’s just I’m feeling invincible, and it has me terrified.”
-General melancholy? “Sweet Pain.” “Well all of my heroes up and died/ Songs and a dream are left for me/ What did them in, not suicide/ Just a lengthy friendship and a dream of how it could be”
-Friend just died? “Pretty Angry.” “And i want to shout from my guitar/ Come out come out wherever you are/ The joke is over open up your eyes/ A heart like yours it never dies.”
-Pissed off at the world? “Whoops” is a great song about environmental damage. Get it? We’re destroying the world. “Whoops!”

And you don’t have to be in a bad mood. “Optimistic Thought,” “Just For Me,” “Sweet Talking Hippie.” But seriously, who wants happy songs?

Of course, I had to go off on Popper’s lyrics, because most people only want to talk about his harmonica skills. And yes, the notes he can blow on that mouth harp are paralleled by nobody. The speed with which he blows, holy crap. You’ve never heard “Devil Went Down to Georgia” until you’ve heard John Popper play the solo on harmonica.

But here’s where I’m going to buck the trend. Popper can’t blow like he used to. The speed of the notes is still there, and I’m not saying he plays wrong notes or anything. But there used to be an intensity to his play that is lacking now.

And I think I know what it is. I’m a horrible, horrible person for saying this, but ever since he lost weight, his harmonica playing has dropped a bit. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, mind you. If he hadn’t lost his weight, he’d probably be dead by now, and a John Popper blowing at seventy percent is better than a John Popper blowing at zero percent.

See if you agree. After watching the above link, check this one out. Look at that gut. And then listen to that harmonica.

I just wish that science could build him a prosthetic gut that he could only pull out when he’s on a harmonica solo. Is that too much to ask?

The concert was free with admission to the State Fair, but you can pay extra to get reserved seating. We were about eight rows back, which was great for the first hour of the concert. Then three warmed-over hippies came to the seats right in front of us. The bastards then proceeded to stand up and do the hippie sway/twirl dance for the rest of the fucking concert. Whether the band was playing or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I expect doped up-hippies, completely unaware of their surroundings, at a Blues Traveler concert, and these three were clearly solid Blues Traveler fans since they bought their tickets before I bought mine. But hey, hippies, (no, over here hippies. I’m the one talking. Why are you looking at… never mind, just read this when you’re sober. Like, maybe when you wake up at noon, and… what? Pot is for sale in California now? You know what? Never mind).

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. Hey, hippies, if you’re that big of Blues Traveler fans that you physically cannot sit down, even when Chan Kinchla’s re-tuning his guitar, then where the fuck were you for the first hour of the concert? Shit or get off the pot, hippies.

In this case, I’d have preferred you to get off the pot.