Sep 30, 2020

Listen To The Sound Of A Whole Other O

Apple Cinnamon Cheerios
General Mills (1989)
These days, they make a bunch of different versions of Cheerios, we only had two when I was growing up in the 80's - regular and Honey Nut.  Then, as the 80's drew to a close, these came on like gangbusters and totally blew my mind.  Apple Cinnamon Cheerios?  Holy crap, the 90's are going to be awesome!

They advertised the hell out of these when they first came out.  You couldn't turn on a tv in the United States for a good span of five years without hearing someone sing  "Listen to the sound of a whole other o".  Now that I look back on it, it seems a little kinky.  A whole other o, huh?  So, what are we talking about here, and how does it involve my breakfast?

All jokes aside, what was that slogan supposed to mean?  These aren't Rice Krispies that go snap, crackle and pop.  Cheerios don't make a sound.  You just pour 'em in a bowl, add milk, and eat 'em up.  Did I miss out?  Was I supposed to hear something?  The only sound I heard was my own groans of disappointment if I opened up the cupboard at home and saw the old yellow box of regular Cheerios.  I knew that there were starving people all over the world and I appreciated the fact that I had breakfast to eat, but at the same time: what kind of sadist do you have to be to have a choice between Honey Nut, Apple Cinnamon and plain and go for the plain?

Sep 29, 2020

The Return Of The Empire

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
20th Century Fox (1980)
The second chapter of the Original Trilogy was released in May, 1980.  I'm not sure if there were plans to celebrate its 40th anniversary on the big screen, but if there were, they were cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 Shutdown.  Either way, it's back in theaters now.

I was born a couple months after The Empire Strikes Back premiered, so I missed out on seeing it in theaters at the height of the Star Wars phenomenon.  In 1997, I did get to see the premier of the Special Edition in theaters, which was released in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the film.  I'm glad to have the chance to see it on the big screen again 20 years later, and if I'm still breathing in 2040 and they decide to show it again for the 60th anniversary, I'll be there too.

This screening of Star Wars was unlike any other that I've experienced.  When I saw The Empire Strikes Back in 1997, the theater was packed.  I'm sure it was even more jammed in its initial release in 1980.  This time around, we had the entire theater to ourselves.  I don't just mean this screen - I mean the entire theater.  There was one car outside when we got there, and it belonged to the manager of the theater who was the only one working behind the counter.  When we left, there was still just the one car.  I suspect that there may be no more socially distanced place in town this fall than the movie theater on a weekday.

Sep 28, 2020

Voo Dew II: The Mountain's Revenge

Mountain Dew Voo Dew II (2020)
Every good horror story needs a sequel.  The original Mountain Dew Voo Dew came out around this time last year, and it was pretty good.  I thought it tasted like Fruit Loops cereal mixed with a Creamsicle.  This year's recipe is even better.  It sort of reminds me of a soda version of Tropical Skittles.  We'll have to wait until 2021 to find out of Voo Dew is destined to be a horror trilogy.

Sep 27, 2020

And So Ends Another Season

All they had to do was win today.  One game.  The Phillies has the ace of their rotation on the mound for the last game of the season against a Tampa Bay Rays team that had already clinched their division.  If they would have won, they would have clinched the final spot in the 2020 playoffs and would have been on a flight to Los Angeles to begin a best-of-three series against the Dodgers on Wednesday.

They didn't win.  The Phillies finished the 2020 season with a losing record of 28-32 and have failed to reach the post season for the ninth consecutive season.  This is second only to the Seattle Mariners for the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball  The reason for this is no secret.  The Phillies offense has been great.  They've had a solid defense.  Their production from the starting rotation had a few hiccups, but Aaron Nola was fantastic for most of the season, Zack Wheeler has been even better than we hoped he would be, and Zach Eflin appears to have turned the corner and become a dependable middle of the rotation starter.

The problem is the bullpen.  It wasn't just bad.  It was one of the worst bullpens in the history of the sport.  That's not hyperbole or opinion.  The Phillies bullpen finished the 2020 season with a 7.06 ERA.  That's the second highest in the history of major league baseball.  The only bullpen in the history of Major League Baseball to ever give up more earned runs in a season than the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies was... the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phillies scored first 41 times this season and managed to go 21-20 in those games.

To make matters worse, the Phillies traded one of the few young pitching prospects we had left in our system, Connor Seabold, and Nick Pivetta for Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman - two of the worst mid-season acquisitions in the history of the franchise.  Workman allowed 23 hits and 11 runs over 13 innings with the Phillies, and if it can be believed, he was the better of the two.  Hembree allowed 17 hits and 13 earned runs in just 9 1/3 innings for an ERA of 12.54.  The two combined to give up 11 home runs in less than 23 innings.  To call them a dumpster fire would be an insult to dumpers and fires, both of which serve a more useful purpose in this world than either man did on a baseball diamond in 2020.  To add a final post-script to this disastrous trade, Nick Pivetta has allowed only two earned runs on 8 hits with 13 strikeouts in the nine innings he pitched for the Red Sox after being traded.

If there is any silver lining to the end of the 2020 season, it's the fact that Gabe Kapler's Giants also lost their last game and will not be going to the playoffs.  Instead, it will be the Milwaukee Brewers, the fourth place team in the NL Central, who have clinched the final spot in the post-season with a record of 29-31.

The two brightest spots for the Phillies this season started the year on the outside looking in.  One is third baseman Alec Bohm, who ended 2020 hitting .338 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI after being promoted to the big leagues.  He went hitless in just two games all season, and had multiple hits in 11 of the past 20 games.  His defense at 3B wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't terrible either.  He's made a very strong case to win the 2020 NL Rookie Of The Year.

The second is The Phandemic Krew, who truly embody everything that is great about being a Phillies fan.  The national media loves to take cheap shots at Philadelphia fans every chance they get, but we know who we are.  We're dedicated.  We're knowledgeable.  We give a damn about this team and about the sport.  John Kruk put it best in the speech he gave when he was inducted to the Phillies Wall Of Fame.  He said “You hear players, media people say it’s tough to play in Philly in front of these fans. To those people, I say, you didn’t have the guts to succeed here."  The bottom line is that Philadelphia has the best fans in baseball, and the guys who play the game with heart, whether they win or lose, know that.  The guys who play without heart get chewed up and spit out, because they don't belong here.

So, now that the Phillies are out of it, I can give my prediction without any bias.  I don't really care who goes all the way, but if I were a betting man, this is how I'd fill out my 2020 post-season bracket.

This will undoubtedly be the strangest post season in the history of baseball.  It's a 16 team playoff bracket with four rounds.  There will be no off-days during any round of the playoffs, but there be at least one-off day before the start of each new round.  The 2020 post-season will include one team that hasn't played a single game in their home ballpark, or even in their home country - the Toronto Blue Jays.  It also includes two teams that finished the regular season with a losing record of 29-31: the Houston Astros and the Milwaukee Brewers.  In fact, with the exception of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the entire NL Central Division are playing in the post-season.

The first round of the playoffs will begin on Tuesday.  It will be a best-of-three Wild Card Series that will take place in the home stadium of the top seed.  After the first round, the rest of the post-season will take place in neutral ballparks in Texas and California.  The second round of the playoffs will be a best-of-five League Division Series that will take place in San Diego, Los Angeles, Arlington and Houston.  The winners of each LDS will go on to face each other in a best-of-seven ALCS (in San Diego) and NLCS (in Arlington), with the best-of-seven World Series beginning October 20th at Globe Life Field in Arlington.

The smart money is on the Dodgers going all the way, but the same could have been said for each of the past three seasons and they weren't able to close the deal.  I'm sure others will be picking the Yankees or the Rays as the favorite, but there's something special about this Miami Marlins team.  They've put together a phenomenal young rotation right under everybody's nose.  I've watched how this team manhandled the Phillies all year.  They're no fluke, and I think everybody is going to find that out pretty quickly.  I'm picking the Marlins to win the 2020 World Series in 6 games over the Rays.  Frankly, it wouldn't shock me too much to see the White Sox sneak past the Rays in the ALCS, but I think Tampa Bay has enough to hold them off.

Sep 26, 2020

Break Me Off A Piece Of That Pumpkin Pie

Kit Kat: Pumpkin Pie
Hershey (2020)
Even Covid can't stop the onslaught of pumpkin goodies that are destined to dominate the grocery store for the next two months.  Food companies are getting better at making pumpkin flavored products.  Ten years ago, a lot of the stuff I tried had an overwhelming cinnamon and spice flavor and didn't taste very much like pumpkin, but these Pumpkin Pie Kit Kat bars are spot on.

Sep 25, 2020

Not Quite A Lifetime Supply Of Chocolate

Wonka Golden Ticket coupon
Nestle (2001)
This is another piece of confections ephemera from my time working for Nestle.  The company sent these to consumers who called the company to ask a question about their Wonka branded sugar candy.  The coupons from later years had a pretty generic look, but the ones from 2001 were designed to look like the Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

Sep 24, 2020

42nd Street On Times Square

Times Square
New York, NY (1980)
This photo was taken by Alan Schein in 1980 and was used in New York City postcards.  It includes a billboard for the opening of the 42nd Street musical.

Sep 23, 2020

Shaq Snack Attack

Nestle Crunch Assorted Minis
Nestle (2003)
Now that not quite so hot outside, I've been able to clean out some of the garage.  I came across this coupon in a box of stuff that I had from my time working for Nestle Confections.  This was one of the enclosures that we would send to consumers who would call, write or email to ask about our candy products, and it features NBA center Shaquille O'Neal.  Shaq was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers when this coupon was printed.  He would go on to play for another seven seasons before ending his Hall of Fame career in 2011.

These Crunch bars were very tasty.  The bottom of the bars were made with standard Nestle Crunch ingredients, but there was a little space between the crisped rice and the chocolate layer on top which was then filled with caramel, peanut butter or chocolate cream.  The caramel one lasted a bit longer than the others, but the product line unfortunately didn't last too long.

Sep 22, 2020

The Father Of The Flux Capacitor

Ron Cobb
The world lost a brilliant artist.  Mr. Cobb did a little bit of everything in his long career.  He worked on Disney's Sleeping Beauty in 1959 when he was just 17 years old.  He served in Vietnam and was a counter-culture cartoonist throughout the 60's and 70's.  His best known work came as a production designer in Hollywood during the 70's and 80's.  He created many of the Mos Eisley Cantina aliens in the original Star Wars, and Doc Brown's DeLorean in Back To The Future.  Mr. Cobb passed away in Sydney, Australia yesterday, on his 83rd birthday.

Sep 21, 2020

He's Got That Going For Him... Which Is Nice

Bill Murray
Rolling Stone (1981)
One of the funniest and most talented comedic actors of all time turns 70 years old today.  Happy birthday, Mr. Murray.

Sep 20, 2020

The Unassisted Triple Play

Mickey Morandini
Philadelphia Phillies (1990-1997, 2000)
On this day in 1992, the last place Phillies played a Pittsburgh Pirates team that was surging their way to a third consecutive NL East Division Championship.  The Pirates would go on to win this game 3-2 in extra innings, but the Phillies were able to make history in their defeat.

With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 6th, Curt Shilling gave up back-to-back singles to Andy Van Slyke and Barry Bonds to bring infielder Jeff King to the plate with runners on first and second and no outs.  King hit a line drive up the middle with both baserunners moving on the pitch.  It was caught by Phillies second baseman Mickey Morandini (1 out) who stood up and ran to second base (2 outs) and tagged the approaching Barry Bonds (3 outs) to end the inning.

As the Phillies ran off the field, Morandini nonchalantly flipped the ball in the air near the pitchers mound without realizing that the Hall Of Fame might want to hang onto it.  He had just made the first unassisted triple play in franchise history.  It was also the first unassisted triple play in the National League since 1927, and the first of its kind to be made by a second baseman during the regular season in the history of the game.

This may not seem like a huge deal to a casual fan, but consider the fact that there have only been 15 unassisted triple plays in the modern era (since 1901).  The most recent one was in 2009 by another Phillie - Eric BruntlettClick here to go back in time 28 years for 58 seconds and witness history.

Sep 19, 2020

Oops, There Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant

High Hopes
The Phandemic Krew (2020)
And just like that, the Phillies sweep a double header yesterday and defeat the Blue Jays tonight.  Our bullpen may be jacked, and the injuries may be piling up, but the Philadelphia Phillies have the greatest fans in the world.  This video was shared on Twitter by Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports, and it perfectly captures the spirit of The Phandemic Krew and what it means to be a Phillies fan.

Sep 18, 2020

The Dangers Of Zipping Up Your Pants

This is starting pitcher Zack Wheeler.  He was our big free agent acquisition over the winter, and he's had a fantastic first year in Philadelphia so far, with a record of 4-0 and an ERA under 3.  This photo shows Mr. Wheeler putting on his jersey for the first time at the press conference when it was announced that he was joining the Phillies.  Luckily for us, they didn't give him a pair of pants to try on or his season might have ended before it even began.

One week ago, it was announced that Wheeler would be missing his weekend start against the Miami Marlins because he injured his middle finger while he was putting on a pair of pants.  It's been that kind of season.

When I last wrote about the Phillies two weeks ago, the Phillies had won 9 of their last 10 games and were threatening to overtake the Braves for first place in the division.  Since that time, the Phillies lost 5 of 7 against the Marlins and have fallen to third place in the division.  To add insult to injury, rookie phenom Sixto Sanchez has been the talk of the game and has drawn comparisons to the great Pedro Martinez, including from Pedro himself.  The Phillies traded Sixto to the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto less than two years ago, and despite the fact that Realmuto is objectively the best catcher in baseball, this trade is already beginning to look like it might be one of the worst trades in franchise history.

Meanwhile, the pitching prospect that we kept has been quite disappointing, especially in comparison to Sixto.  Spencer Howard is 1-2 with a 5.92 ERA in six starts this season.  His velocity is down, and he has problems with his shoulder that have likely brought an end to his rookie season.  This is especially bad news when you consider the fact that he lost two months of the 2019 season to a shoulder injury as well.  It's beginning to look like Howard's career might look a lot more like Kyle Drabek than Aaron Nola.

Jake Arrieta has joined Spencer Howard on the IL, and is likely out for the rest of the year.  J.T. Realmuto hasn't been officially put on the IL, but he's having problems with his hip and has been benched for over a week.  Rhys Hoskins has a left UCL injury that may require Tommy John surgery over the winter.  Bryce Harper's production at the plate has completely fallen off of a cliff, and the bullpen continues to give up runs away like candy on Halloween.  In fact, our new relief pitchers have been performing even worse than the guys they were brought in to replace.  The Phillies have six losses this season in games that they were leading by 3 or more runs.  In short, things are not looking good.

The Phillies have brought in a couple of new faces for their depleted roster, signing catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Greg Bird.  With all due respect, these guys aren't going to make a big difference.  Lucroy was a two-time all star, and Bird had an impressive rookie year back in 2015, but their best days are long behind them.  Lucroy has had two defensive innings and zero plate appearances for the Red Sox in 2020, and Bird hasn't played in a major league game since April 13th of last year.

In slightly more exciting news, the Phillies have promoted 22 year old center fielder Mickey Moniak to the big leagues.  Moniak was the first overall pick in the 2016 Draft, and while his minor league career hasn't been terrible, it also hasn't been all that impressive, especially for the #1 pick in the draft.  I don't think he's a bust (at least not yet), but I also don't think he's ready for the majors.  However, with all of the injuries, the Phillies need able bodied players to get through the rest of the season.  That's the point we're at in 2020.

One of the few bright spots for the Phillies over the past couple of weeks has been rookie reliever Jojo Romero, whose performance at the big league level this season is eclipsed only by his entrance from the bullpen.  Here he is slamming a Red Bull and obliterating the can as he comes into the game.  This dude has Phillies Legend written all over him.  We can only hope that he can continue to put on his pants without hurting himself.

source: Yong Kim (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The other bright spot has been Alec Bohm, who has been everything we could have hoped for.  He's batting over .300 and finds ways to get on base and make things happen every day, and he's improved defensively at third base.  Recently, he's been seeing time at first base with Hoskins on the IL, but whatever side of the diamond he's on, he looks to be an impact player for years to come with the Phils.

Despite recent success of Bohm and Romero, I'm beginning to question if the Phillies rushed their rebuild and closed the window of contention before it ever really opened.  As happy as I've been with J.T. Realmuto, it's become clear that the Phillies lost that trade.  Two years of the best catcher in baseball is not worth seven years of a starting pitcher with a 100 MPH fastball and ace potential at the major league level.

While I think the Phillies have mostly done well with free agent signings over the past few years (Harper, WheelerGregorius and McCutchen), I believe they'd be in a better position to win, both in 2020 and in the future, if they hadn't made any of the trades that Matt Klentak made over the past few years.  While it's undeniable that Realmuto is a better catcher than Jorge Alfaro, the Phillies could have just signed Realmuto in free agency this winter.  As it stands, they're going to have to pay top dollar to keep him anyway.  Imagine if they could have brought him into a 2021 team with Aaron Nola, Sixto Sanchez and Zack Wheeler at the top of the rotation.  This would have allowed them to take their time with Spencer Howard and not rush him into a Major League rotation after only 30 innings pitched above Single-A ball.  Additionally, had they not given away Howie Kendrick to the Nationals for nothing, and had they not traded for Jean Segura, the Phillies would have an infield of Hoskins, Kendrick, Gregorious and Bohm, with Scott Kingery as the super utility and J.P. Crawford as a defensive replacement/pinch runner off of the bench. They'd also have Carlos Santana as the designated hitter.  That's a pretty impressive team, and it could have easily been a reality.

Somehow, the Phillies have come out of the rebuilding process with a team made up of mostly veterans, and a minor league system that is virtually empty after the promotion of Bohm, Howard and Moniak, and the disastrous trade of Connor Seabold for two of the worst relief pitchers the Phillies have had in recent memory.  If they're going to compete in the near future, they're going to have to spend a lot of money, and it's doubtful that they will with their history of being hell bent on staying under the luxury tax threshold.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but the future I see for the Philadelphia Phillies is a team that plays slightly over .500 - just good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but not quite good enough to be a championship contender.  I also see Bryce Harper growing frustrated at his decision to sign with a team who hired a foolish general manager that squandered the Phillies rebuild, and an ownership group that's not willing to spend what it takes to contend.  I try to be an optimistic fan and to look for the positives, and there definitely are a few reasons to be encouraged, but the big picture isn't looking too good for the Fightin Phils.  I hope that I'm wrong.

Sep 17, 2020

A New Classic Collection

Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Nintendo Switch (2020)
Nintendo is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario Bros franchise by releasing a compilation of the first three 3D games of the series tomorrow.  The Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection includes three games: Super Mario 64 (originally released in 1996 for the Nintendo 64), Super Mario Sunshine (originally released in 2002 for the GameCube) and Super Mario Galaxy (originally released in 2007 for the Wii).

I remember getting the first Super Mario All-Stars in the mid-90's when I was a teenager.  It was a Super Nintendo cartridge that included a graphically enhanced version of Super Mario Bros 1, 2 and 3 from the NES, as well as a game called "Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels", which was a repackaged version of the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2 that was released only on Famicom.  If I'm remembering right, I think I traded a different game with a friend to get this cartridge, and I still have it today.  I played the hell out of that thing over the years.

The original Super Mario All-Stars was re-released on the Nintendo Wii ten years ago to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the series.  Like the new 3D All-Stars, this compilation was advertised as a limited edition game, but within a year of it's release, the company mass produced the hell out of it as a part of their Nintendo Selects line.  Unlike the original SNES cartridge, the Wii re-release was little more than a disappointing rom dump that added no additional features - not even the option to play the original NES versions of each game, or Super Mario World, which was included in later cartridge releases, which were called Super Mario All-Stars + World.

Despite the shady marketing behind the 2010 release, I pre-ordered a physical copy of the new Super Mario 3D All-StarsSuper Mario 64 was one of my favorite games when I was a teenager, and it still holds up today.  I haven't played as much Sunshine or Galaxy, but I enjoyed them too, and I'm looking forward to being able to play them all on the Switch without having to hook up three different consoles.

Sep 16, 2020

Roast Beef From The Devil's Casino

It's not often that you see a fast food franchise partner with a video game from an independent developer, but this has been an unusual year.  For a limited time, Arby's Kids Meals will come in a Cuphead bag, and will include a collectible token or a papercraft figure from the award winning game.

Not gonna lie, I didn't even know Arby's offered a kids meal, but I might have to get one now.

Sep 15, 2020

Farting Aliens On Crank

Visual Vacations postcard
Paul McGehee (1986)
Nature Astronomy, a peer-reviewed and respected scientific journal, have published their findings of an unusually high amount of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus.  This molecule is almost exclusively associated with the metabolism of living things or as a byproduct of human technology.  For example, here on Earth, high concentrations of phosphine is found to be created by farts and meth labs.  While it's doubtful that the second planet from the sun is home to a society of flatulent Venusians tweakers, the presence of phosphine in the quantity that was discovered strongly suggests that Venus may be home to some form of life.

Add this to the ongoing list of inanity that has taken place in 2020.

Sep 14, 2020

Let The Election Play Out In Your Home

2020 Battle For The White House Chess Set
Bulbhead (2020)
From the company that brought you the DermaSuction Blackhead Remover and Ms. Whiz: The Portable Urinal For Women, I present to you the worst chess set ever made.  What could be more enjoyable on Family Game Night than to let the election play out in your home?  I'm sure nothing could possibly go wrong.

Sep 13, 2020

Happy Birthday, Mario

Super Mario Bros.
Famicom (1985)
The original Super Mario Bros. was released on the Famicom in Japan 35 years ago today, and it was light years ahead of any video game that had ever been available to play at home at the time.  It is arguably the most influential console game of all time, and it almost single-handedly restored American consumer confidence in video games after the crash of '83.   The first level is studied by gamers and game designers to this day for the subtle way that teaches the mechanics of the game to the player without ever feeling like a tutorial.

Sep 12, 2020

I Did It All For The Cookie

I've ordered Chinese takeout from the Yong Hao Buffet in Hazleton plenty of times in the past, but this is the first time I've been solicited for oral sex by my fortune cookie.  Apparently, this is now a requirement to be counted in the 2020 Census.

Sep 11, 2020

An Evening On The Strip

Las Vegas Strip (1985)
This shows Las Vegas Blvd. North to Freemont Street with the Spring Mountain Road intersection at the bottom of the photo.  Sammy Davis Jr. was performing during this time at the Desert Inn.

Sep 10, 2020

Trash From The Past

I was walking the dog and saw this random piece of garbage on the sidewalk, and it made me wonder if little Harvey and I stumbled through a time warp.  It's an empty wrapper from a pack of baseball cards.  The Bowman logo immediately caught my eye, and the design of the wrapper looked very familiar.  I know they still make Bowman baseball cards in 2020, but these days, they're more of a specialty sub-brand for rookies and prospects, and they definitely don't come packaged with a stick of gum.

A quick search online confirmed what I had suspected: this wrapper is from a wax pack of 1989 Bowman cards that came out when I was eight years old.  It's in pristine condition for a 31 year old package that has been discarded on the streets of West Hazleton, so I can only assume that this was a package from someone's collection or new old stock that was only recently opened.

It's not a particularly rare or valuable set.  You can find a factory sealed box of all 484 cards in the set for about $15.  There are also plenty of unopened packs and boxes that could be had from one of several hundred different sellers on eBay.  Though I've come to appreciate the '89 Bowman set more as an adult collector, I wasn't crazy about it when I was a kid.  The cards are slightly larger than a standard 2.5" x 3.75" card, so they stuck out from the rest of the cards when you put them in a box, but they're a pretty cool vintage design, and the set includes a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.

Sep 9, 2020

A Burger King Mis-Steak

Steakhouse King
Burger King (2020)
Recently, I've been trying to avoid McDonald's and Burger King.  Part of it is because I'd like to try to lose weight, but mostly it's because I've been getting fast food hangovers the next morning.  I used to be able to eat as much of it as I wanted, but now it makes me feel sluggish and lousy.  However, I am a sucker for limited edition products.

The Steakhouse King is made from two beef patties topped with bacon, American cheese, crispy onions, mayo and steakhouse sauce on a sesame seed bun.  Something about it didn't sit well with me.  It wasn't bad, but the mixture of mayonnaise and steak sauce didn't do it for me, and the crispy onions weren't very crispy.  They just added an element of greasiness to a burger that was already pretty heavy.

Food critiques aside, I can't be the only one who noticed that the sign for the Steakhouse King has a distinct 80's feel to it.  It has the pale brown coloring of an old, partially faded Polaroid, and I'm pretty sure the font is the one they used in their advertisements when I was a kid.  The coupon flyer uses the same font along with the retro Burger King logo.

Sep 8, 2020

The First Peek At A Long Journey

The Stand: Teaser Trailer
CBS All Access (2020)
The first trailer for The Stand was released to the public not long ago. I don't usually watch these because I like to go into a show or movie completely fresh, but over the past quarter century, I've come to know this story backwards and forwards and I'm anxious to see how they bring it to life this time around.

The video is only 30 seconds long, but it packs in a lot of clues for what we're about to see on December 17th.

The beginning of the trailer shows Frannie Goldsmith having the dream where she walks out of the cornfield in Hemingford Home, Nebraska.

I know this is a dream scene, so I can't say for sure if this is the way that Whoopi will look when the first group of travelers reaches Nebraska, but she has an awfully full and vibrant head of hair for a 108 year old woman.  Ruby Dee was made to look like she actually might be a centenarian (despite the fact that they made her two years younger in the original mini-series for some odd reason).  Whoppi is a phenomenal actress, so I'll go ahead and assume that god wouldn't dare ask her to lead the children of America into Colorado without her trademark dreads.

This is the first screen where I got a good look at Frannie, and I think Odessa Young is spot on.  She was written to be a pretty 20 year old college student.  My fear was that when Hollywood would try to sex her up to a ridiculous degree as they're known to do when they get their hands on a script adaptation of a novel.  However, I think they got her look just right.

This was the most revealing shot of the trailer to me.  Based on the background and the group of four in this scene, I believe that we're looking at the four brave souls who went west to take their stand against Randall Flagg in Las Vegas.  Specifically, it appears to me that they're in the Utah badlands looking up at the small mountain they have to climb to get back onto the highway.

Here's where it gets interesting: the group of four that make this journey are Stu Redman, Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman and Ralph Brentner.  Based on the publicity photos that have already come out, that appears to be Greg Kinnear as Glen on the far left and Jovan Adepo as Larry on the far right.  Standing next to Larry is our hero from Arnette, James Marsden as Stu.  However, their fourth companion in the cowboy hat doesn't look too much like an overweight, middle-aged man from Oklahoma City.

IMDB doesn't have a character named Ralph Brentner listed in the cast & crew for the 2020 mini-series; however, the Wikipedia entry for the show includes a listing for Irene Bedard playing a character named Ray Brentner.  Irene is a Native American actress who starred in a very successful independent film called Smoke Signals in the late 90's.  To repeat what I said earlier about the casting of Larry Underwood, I am not opposed to changes to a character's race, gender and/or age in a remake on the surface - as long as it's not done in a way that breaks continuity with the overall story.  For example, casting Idris Elba as Roland in The Dark Tower was ridiculous because a major plot point in the series involves his struggles with a young black woman from the 60's named Odetta Holmes (aka: Detta Walker) who mistrusts Roland in large part because he is a "honky mahfah".  Little did I know at the time that this was the least of the problems with The Dark Tower film, which was a complete train wreck that barely resembled the books at all.

Anyway, I think it's an interesting interpretation to turn Ralph Brenter from a good-hearted Okie hayseed to a middle-aged Native American woman named Ray Brentner.  In an odd way, it pays tribute to the original mini-series, which swapped the gender of radio personality Ray Flowers from male to female (played by the incredible Kathy Bates).  There's no reason that the Ralph character has to be male from a story perspective, and truth be told, the cast probably could have used a bit more diversity, as I'm sure Mr. King would agree.

Speaking of Larry Underwood, here he is with his back turned to the camera in a post-plague New York City alongside Rita Blakemoor.  I'll repeat what I said earlier - when I read the book, I always pictured Rita as being significantly older and less put together than Heather Graham, but she's a fantastic actress and I'm sure she'll rock it.

The thing that caught my eye in this part of the trailer isn't either of the actors, but the background.  This scene is meant to take place in the first days of post-Captain Trips New York City.  It should look like a post-riot wasteland, complete with burnt out buildings, smashed windows and bodies of flu victims everywhere.  From the looks of this screenshot, the city is almost pristine, apart from a small pile of garbage and one car that's double parked, neither of which would be cause for a second glance on any random day in the city.  In fact, this image of NYC looks more clean and orderly than it was the last time I was there prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.  I really hope they didn't skimp on the production costs.

I'm guessing that this scene is showing Stu Redman making his escape from the plague center in Stovington, Vermont.  I get that they're going for the atmosphere of a power outage and dim emergency lighting that's kept up by backup generators, but if I hadn't read the book, this photo would make me think that Stu was captured by a spaceship.

Here, we have Larry Underwood sitting in a room that appears to have an intravenous drip bag in the background.  That would place this scene in the final days of the Captain Trips pandemic with Larry and his mother.  It didn't occur to me until seeing this picture, but it appears they're giving Larry a goatee from the start of the series.  This contrasts with the book and the mini-series, which present Larry as a clean shaven, fresh faced rock star on the rise whose beard grows as he is shocked into maturity by a post-plague world.

Again, the background of this shot is taking up most of my attention.  If you've never read the book, try to imagine a hospital in New York City that is completely overrun.  In other words, picture what a hospital looked like in the busiest day of the Covid-19 pandemic and multiply that by 1,000, because Captain Trips has spread to the entire population, and it kills 100% of those who become infected within days.  I know you can't tell much from a single screenshot, but the room appears to be largely empty and clean as a whistle.  The hospitals in The Stand were overrun with people who are packed in like sardines and in a state of panic.  The concept of social distancing never comes up, because by the time the general public is aware of what's going on, the superflu is literally everywhere.

If it was just one screenshot, I'd probably dismiss these thoughts as minor nit picks, and perhaps that's just what they are.  Maybe they're holding back the truly shocking images of an apocalyptic plague that literally brings an end to human civilization.  However, it's a trend I've noticed in more than one image.  I suppose time will tell.

Yes!  That is the Harold Lauder from the book!  That is the young man whose insecurities, fueled by his "ledger" have driven him to madness.  I've always thought that the original mini-series makes Harold a bit too sympathetic in the beginning and not quite sympathetic enough at about three quarters of the way through the story, when he comes frustratingly close to a moment of clarity that leads him to almost abandon his senseless desire for vengeance and to find a better way.  I'm encouraged by how he will be portrayed in the new mini-series.

I don't know if it's the piano, the mustache or the lighting, but I'm getting Little Richard vibes from this picture of Nick Andros.  Seeing Henry Zaga in this light almost makes me wish he could swap roles with Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood, because he definitely could fill the role of a rock star with this look.  However, the real story here is the eye patch.  This leads me to believe that the Nick Andros of the new mini-series will be a bit closer to the book than he was in the original mini-series.  Poor Nick is in for a rough time in Shoyo, Arkansas.

Call him the Dark Man.  Call him the Walking Dude. Call him the Man In Black who fled through the desert while The Gunslinger followed.  Call him whatever name you know him by, because it all comes out the same.  He is Randall Flagg, and he is eternal.

There's not enough in the trailer to know how Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd will bring life to the most diabolical villain in the Stephen King universe.  The concern I have is that there's supposed to be a charismatic charm to the Dark Man that isn't coming across in the little bit that I've seen so far.  Randall Flagg is evil, no doubt about that, but he doesn't only inspire evil followers.  The book makes it very clear that men, women, and even children fall under his spell and make the trip to Las Vegas, and that they're not really different from the folks who make the journey to Boulder to meet Mother Abigail.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan would have been the perfect choice to play Randall Flagg.  A lot of the same elements that make Negan tick are mirrored in the Dark Man.  Watch any episode of The Walking Dead that features Negan in charge of The Saviors and you'll see what I mean.  He's violent and dangerous, but there's also a cold logic there, and a loyalty to those who are loyal to him.  Above that, he inspires loyalty from others because his lies are dipped in just enough truth to make his followers proud to be part of what he is building.

There isn't even close to enough material here to see if this will come across as strongly in the mini-series as it does in The Stand, The Dark Tower or anything other place where Flagg pops up, so we'll have to wait and see.

I'm beginning to wonder if Julie Lawry has been given a bigger role in this version of The Stand.  She's a minor character in both the book and the original mini-series.  She pops up in Kansas for a few pages while Nick and Tom make their way across the country to Hemingford Home, and then you don't see her again until almost the end of the story where her appearance is slightly more than a cameo.  She's important enough to not leave on the cutting room floor, but if you had to, it wouldn't take too much creativity to work around her absence.  The fact that her character is one of the roughly dozen or so that the producers have included in the trailer is puzzling.

If the last photo had me puzzled, this one has me flat out confused.  I have no idea who the hell this is supposed to be, but she looks pretty pissed off.  She's holding something that's either a bedazzled microphone or maybe a lever of some kind, and it appears that she's in a room with a chandelier and a giant panting on the wall.

According to IMDB, there's an actress named Fiona Dourif listed in the cast as playing The Rat Woman.  I'm really bad with faces, but this could be her.  If it is, this is both a race and gender swap from the original mini-series.  The Rat Man was played by Rick Aviles, a black Puerto Rican actor who is best known as the mugger in Ghost in which he co-starred with Whoopi Goldberg.

Speaking of Whoopi, here she is as Mother Abagail staring down a majestic looking white wolf, which I believe is either being possessed by Randall Flagg or is Flagg himself.

I think that this is going to be one hell of a series.  It's got pretty big shoes to fill to live up to the book, but this is the most interested I've been in a television series in a very long time.  I'm looking forward to seeing if they include any Dark Tower easter eggs along the way.  I'm even more interested by the fact that Stephen King has written an all new ending to the last chapter that is different from the novel.  I don't know if that new ending begins before or after the final confrontation with Randall Flagg, but either way, I can't wait to find out.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper
                                                           - T.S. Eliot