Monday, February 18, 2013

The First Family is Terrible

Is it just me, or are there a lot of White House themed shows popping up these days?

I was up to an unholy hour last night working on a project and had neglected to pull myself away to get up and change the channel on the TV. A show appeared on my screen that I had never laid eyes on before. By the look of the set and the Fresh-Prince-knock-off music, I could immediately deduce that this was a sitcom, and not a good one.

The show takes place pretty much entirely in the White House, and follows the hi-larious family life of the U.S. President. Beside his being black, the character's movement and style of speech peg him as an obvious Obama analogue - but with a thin goatee to offer a degree of plausible deniability.

His family is full of  "colorful characters", including his relatively normal tween-ish children, his I'm-a-strong-woman-and-you're-sure-gonna-know-it wife, and incidentally, Gladys Knight as an overly "urban" live-in grandma or aunt or... something, I don't know.
As I hear the back-and-forth dialogue between family members as they pose and pout for the camera, I can't help but think of the classic "Full House". The laugh-track (of course there's a laugh track) is a smidge more obnoxious than it needs to be, and often broke in with a confusing chours of laughs in response to dialogue I could not even identify as an attempt at a joke. I mean literally, the construction of the speech did not contain any discernible allowance for there to be a joke there. Yet there was the laugh track!

Apart from the President of the United States thing, The plotlines seem to be the tried and true sitcom fare. In the one episode, the President is invited by his daughter to "Bring Your Parent to School" day, where a number of her classmates (in an admittedly cute exchange) forgo the typical "what is your favorite color?" inquiries and ask the President some sophisticated questions about the economy and foreign relations - To which he provides the conventional "government-is-the-solution" soundbyte answers (if the previous Obama comparisons weren't enough). In usual sitcom fashion though, the President clumsily reveals to his daughter's classmate that she likes him. The obligatory "I'm angry with you daddy!" and "how could my husband do something so stupid!" scenes ensue. Spoiler - At the end they make up and hug! Wow!

The next episode (yep, they subjected the viewers to 3 episodes of this in a row) presented a dubious moral lesson. There's a reoccurring character in this show, a "comedic" foil to the President character, I think he's a Senator or something? - Forgive me, but it really seems like this character is supposed to be their "Scheming Rich White Republican Guy™" (don't worry, I consider both parties little more than a bunch of schemers) who wants to wiggle his way into the Presidency any way possible.

Anyway, this Senator guy is supposedly a ping pong master and in an attempt to embarrass him, challenges the President to a match, wagering 5 million dollars to the President's choice of charity. The President declines this offer (for a reason I'm not clear on) and after the Senator basically calls him a "chicken", the First Lady gives the President some odd speech about how when they were first dating, he would get so jealous and protective and she missed that "fire in his eyes".

The President is apparently inspired by this speech and agrees to this goofy match which takes place in the Oval Office. You see a zoom-in on the center of the table, with balls zooming past the camera, and then a few quick cuts of each man feverishly waving their paddles. The President wins the match - I guess. The Senator hands over a 5 mil check and that's basically the end.

Overall The First Family comes off like "The Fresh Prince of D.C." It is hilariously awful 100% All-American 1991-dated cheese... and you should see it for yourself if you can.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I Encountered Spock!

I was going through some of my photos and found some I had taken one memorable day in 2010 - A day I took a trip to Vulcan to see the real Spock!

(Image heavy, click a photo enlarge it, click it again to return to article)

In April 2010, the city of Calgary was going to hold it's big Comic and Entertainment Expo - and as these big events go, they often bring in big names. One such name was that of the incomparable Leonard Nimoy. A small farming town an hour south of the city had taken notice of this fact...

A bit of background first; For a quarter century, Vulcan, Alberta has faithfully adopted Star Trek (and particularly Mr. Spock, the favorite son of the planet with which the town shares it's name) as a theme for the town and a tourist draw, complete with statues, murals and annual "Spock Days" in the summer. Sort of a Canadian prairie version of Roswell, NM

As a reward for it's faithfulness to Star Trek all these years, the town had lobbied Paramount Studios the previous year to hold a special premier of the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie in the town, a request that was soon turned down as it was deemed there was no facility suitable in the town of under 4000 for such an event. It turns out however, that Mr. Nimoy caught wind of this news and at his insistence Paramount did honor the town with a special advance screening in Calgary. Vulcans seemed to love the movie, despite the planet's fate in the film.

When the time came for the Calgary Expo, the small town was to be blessed further - It was announced that Mr. Nimoy would pay a visit to the town while in the area!

Now, a pop culture and sometimes-sci-fi fan like myself couldn't pass up such an opportunity, so my Dad and I both took that afternoon off to make the drive to Vulcan.

I though it would be a big event, but upon arriving in town, my expectations were exceeded when I saw cars, trucks and news vans parked everywhere. We docked the car at a motel and I ran ahead down the street to see if I had missed anything. With camera out, I swam into the crowd, spying over their heads to see a wonderfully cheesy USS Enterprise (or to be accurate USS "ExtendiCare") float with billowing smoke and a girl perched on the each side; one green and one blue.

I then saw a handful of big burly men accompanying a dark, slow moving SUV and swarms of camera-wielding people enveloping it. With surprising ease, I asserted my way right up to the vehicle (well, as close as the burly men allowed) and craning my neck to peer in the window of the thing, I saw a shadowed figure sitting inside. It was Nimoy! I gave a quick wave and snapped a couple of photos. He looked pleased to just sit back and take it all in.

Now, I'm certainly not one for people worship, but knowing that the famous Leonard Nimoy... Mr. Spock... spent a second or two of his life looking directly at me - Well the thought did strike me as kinda cool.

The SUV soon disappeared somewhere into the crowd, so I went on over to a modest stage where everyone seemed to be gathering. After a few minutes of confusion, a surprisingly great looking Spock bust was unveiled, followed by some introductory blah blah blah. A cheer roared through the crowd as Leonard came up on stage to speak. "Spock has finally come home!" was his well-received opening remark. He went on to say he had never received such a warm welcome, and spoke humorously about his career, the show, and William Shatner. He spoke of his hopes for the future and left us with his sincere thanks.


 The crowd dispersed quickly once he had departed, but things were far from over and there was still more to photograph...

The bald man on the far right here giving the Vulcan salute is the town's mayor (a quite unpredictable development if a once-classmate of his in my family is to be believed). I found some incriminating evidence on the guy though...

I also spotted this;

 I have no idea what "Romulan Ale" really is.

This happy accident was a quick over-the-shoulder photo. The man in the maroon jacket is an area CTV news producer.

The lady in red here is Canadian senator Joyce Fairbairn.

The Trek-themed Vulcan visitor's center was packed tighter than I've ever seen (or likely ever will.) Nimoy even lent the center a pair of his screen-worn Spock ears for a year.


I even found some Kids' Trek-inspired drawings posted at a gas station...


All in all it was a cool experience and a perfect day for someone like me who gets a kick out of kitchy, campy stuff. If you do too, I'm sure a visit to Vulcan's "Spock Days" this summer will have a lot to offer you :) Be warned, comparing your hand size against Nimoy's giant cement handprints may leave you with an inferiority complex.

Oh, and be sure to stop at the bakery where a friendly old gentleman will sell you the best cream puff you've ever eaten!