I was playing the new Back to the Future video game and I was shocked and overjoyed when I saw in the voice cast none other than Claudia Wells as Jennifer Parker… the original Jennifer Parker! My first thought was literally how in the world did they get Claudia Wells to do the voice!? Then I realized, oh yeah, she hasn’t worked in like 25 years.
Claudia Wells played Jennifer Parker, Marty McFly’s girlfriend, in the first Back to the Future movie, but was replaced by Elisabeth Shue in Back to the Future Parts II & III. Now under any regular circumstance I would shout, “Hell yeahs, Elisabeth Shue!” However, this is Claudia Wells we’re talking about. Even as a young lad upon watching BTTF II, I asked myself why would they purposely make Jennifer less hot? I mean they had a perfect looking actress who was height appropriate to Michael J. Fox, what else could they want? Did it serve some sort of story element or a plot point that she needed to be a little less good looking? Maybe, no one would have believed Claudia would have settled for a down and out Marty.
Everyone thinks that Claudia was replaced because Michael J. Fox was eternally young and, maybe, she didn’t age well in the four years between films. Though they probably would have replaced her with a younger actress if that was the case and Shue is three years older. So, what happened? The story is Wells’s mother was diagnosed with cancer during the filming of the first Back to the Future and she stopped acting sometime shortly thereafter. We can only imagine what could have been: Wells starring in such classics as The Saint and Hollow Man (and I do realize that Elisabeth Shue’s most critically acclaimed role, Leaving Las Vegas, came after BTTF but that’s just not as funny as Hollow Man).
What became of our Jennifer? Claudia currently owns a male clothing store, Armani Wells (she can measure inseam anytime… ugh, I’m sorry), or at least she did the last time her IMDB page was updated. What else? Not much. Judging by pictures on the internet she’s also doing various Back to the Future conventions… a lot of BTTF conventions.
But we can always go back to Back to the Future and remember when…
Telltale Video Game Jennifer
Something has changed about Claudia, although, I haven’t really seen her since the only time I’ve ever seen her and that was in the movie. However, something is different. Or somethings are different. Our little Jennifer has grown up in all kinds of ways. I guess I can just close my eyes and remember the old Jennifer (the old, young Jennifer), the same way I did when Elisabeth Shue took over the part.
Chuck Cunningham could be the world’s greatest illusionist: now you see him, now you don’t. Not only did he vanish from Happy Days without a trace, but he erased all evidence of his existence as well. What happened to Chuck Cunningham? Maybe, he witnessed a hit on the Fonzarelli crime family or saw his mother being assaulted by Don Fonz himself, and entered the witness protection program. But we’ll never really know no matter how much Happy Days Fanfiction I may write in my spare time.
Time and time again writers and TV producers seem to underestimate the intelligence of the television audience. Not intelligence really, but cult like devotion and attention to detail. And not really even devotion when you think about it, but just an average attention span and minor observational skills. Which is weird because what a television producer should want is for the audience to pay attention. Although, it’s the same reason I repeat myself all the time because I don’t remember the jokes I’ve already told and I assume no one’s paying attention anyway… no matter how much Happy Days Fanfiction I may write in my spare time. The point though that I’m so inelegantly trying to make is that if you have a character on a show, then you don’t have a character on a show, the audience tends to notice.
This is called Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. Named after Richie & Joanie’s older brother who went up stairs and never came down. This is when a main character on a TV show vanishes with little to no explanation as to where they went. Most likely because we don’t need them or want them. Chuck was an extraneous character because Richie already had all the fatherly advice he needed in Tom Bosley and had Fonzie to teach him how to be the meat in a Tuscadero sandwich… so who needs an older brother? And why bother explaining what happened to such a useless character anyway? That’s Chuck Cunningham Syndrome! That little lazy urge to not bother because it’s just Chuck after all. The more unexplained the exit, the more Chuck it is. Which, of course, leads ask to ask what happened to X on Y [insert whichever minor character you fancy]? Realistically this is often caused by contract disputes or TV stars moving on with their careers (it happens sometimes), and producers are left with three real options: write the character away, kill them off, or forget they ever existed. And of these choices there are three major influences that determine which path is taken: the viewers’ hatred of the character, the actors playing the characters’ hatred of the producers, and the producers’ hatred of doing any actual work.
Something probably goes pretty wrong in negations if a character is killed. It’s probably a combination of all kinds of hatred. One of my personal favorites is Valerie from Valerie’s Family (the show was named after her!). I think she had a problem with how much attention Jason Bateman was getting and a little power struggle happened. And you don’t mess with the Bateman. It probably happened something like this:
Jason Bateman: Sweep the leg… Do you have a problem with that?
Miller-Boyett Productions: No, Sensei.
Jason Bateman: No mercy.
Then Valerie got an elbow to the knee.
On the Move
Moving away is perhaps the easiest way to unload an unwanted character. They’re both gone, but still theoretically reachable for any very special episode sort of occasion; you can even call them (Chrissy on Three’s Company). And if they’re good little children they may even be invited back to the show someday. With movement though there is a strange distance scale; the less important the character is the farther away they seem have to move. Randy Taylor (Home Improvement) moved to Costa Rica to do something or other. Waldo Geraldo Faldo on Family Matters moved to France to become a chef. Rachel, also Family Matters, went to take care of a sick Aunt (presumably in the continental United States). Bo and Luke Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard) went to race NASCAR, but only for a season. The mom on That’s so Raven moved to England to attend law school. Boner (Growing Pains) became a US Marine and I have to imagine traveled the globe killing people with his bare hands. Here’s any interesting connection: Boner, Waldo, and Chrissy all stupid characters whose humor was because they were so stupid. All stupid, all moved. Distance then may depend both character importance and intelligence quotient.
Into the Void
Moving away is an easy cover up, but sometimes writers want to be even lazier than that. That’s where doing absolutely nothing comes into play. Those of the void are doomed to return to the void. The void being nothing, as in let’s not even acknowledge a change. Nothing is mostly reserved for nothing characters. This is even lower than the minor character who leaves for exotic lands. They’re so low that TV producers don’t even want to do the work to cover up their tracks, they don’t even want to say a sentence about them. A minor character may be well liked or even be beloved, but these guys aren’t even acknowledged. Examples include: Seven (Married with Children), Judy (Family Matters), Max (Saved by the Bell), Tina Pinciotti (That ‘70s Show), and of course, the holy Chuck (Happy Days). Just from cases of Judy, Waldo, and Rachel it seems that family actually doesn’t matter on Family Matters. One addendum to the void: Cody (Step by Step), an extremely popular character, was written off into the void after he kicked his wife in the face. Face kick = instant unpopularity = void. Character popularity is linked to the amount of work writers and producers will devote to them.
And as a Saved by the Bell side note to the void, it wasn’t just Max and it can be argued Tori entered the void as well. But realistically that class graduated and people just went their separate ways (and really only Lisa was friends with Tori, and they barely kept in touch with Lisa after the original run). However, the Bayside High student body changed on an episode to episode basis. Some students coming into focus as others returned to the background, when their character used up what little story arc they had they simply slipped back into the void or high school as it were. The main reason for so many characters coming and going is because Zack dated most of the student body: Kelly, Jessie, Lisa, Tori, Kelly’s sister, Wrestler Christy Barnes, Bridgette Wilson’s Ginger, Slater’s ex Jennifer, Slater’s sister J.B., handicapped Melissa, Charlie "Craterface" Coburn, and Ms. Bliss to name a few. We have to assume that all the students just stayed in school and are okay being womanized by Zack. No jealously, no acts of revenge, or schemes to win Zack back, which then leads us to the conclusion that Zack’s lame in the sack. So, bad sex does not fill the void.
The Wrap Up
Hiding in plain site remains perhaps of one of the greatest sitcom moments in television history and it came from Boys Meets World. Boy Meets World was by no means a great or even good or even an okay show, and I suspect it ran so long because Ben Savage was related to Fred Savage. However, it did bring us two wonderful things: Topanga and the return of Minkus. Minkus was Corey’s annoying antagonist in the first season, but subsequently vanished. He was, however, a much-cherished nerd and they brought him back for the graduation episode where he revealed he was there the whole time, just off camera on the other side of the school. If a character has a certain amount of resonance they get a wrap episode. Oz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Pete Ross (Smallville), and Steve (Married with Children) all got very special episodes to sum up what they’ve been up to. Cody from Step by Step actually even made a later appearance proving that kicking someone in the face isn’t all that bad, worthy of only about a two year ban. The more popular a character is, the more demand for the story line to end with a satisfying conclusion. Although, we also like to hear about characters we hate, if only to hear that they died in some gruesome accident off camera.
So, in conclusion if a minor character in a venomous contract dispute who happened to kick their wife/husband/child/lover in the face and had unfulfilling sex with Zack Morris but were beloved for their stupidity left a sitcom, they would have to move half way across the world to die of dysentery helping islanders, but we wouldn’t know this and pretend they never existed until their body ended up in an episode to be named later.
I just finished reading The Hound of the Baskervilles the other day, and I think I may have solved a bit of a mystery myself. Not regarding the actual book or any other literary type debate, of course, but something in the cinema classic Short Circuit 2. A fine, fun loving robot movie, but I was always a little hesitant actually to even read The Hound of the Baskervilles because Johnny 5 gave away the ending in the movie. Early in the film, he speed reads through a copy and says, “I think the chauffeur did it…” read, read, read, flip, flip, flip, “He did.” Thanks, robot. Now Sherlock Holmes stories aren’t really about solving mysteries, they’re a little more about the adventure of the chase, so I was willing to give it a read even after Johnny’s kind of rude spoiler.
Except (and here’s a real spoiler alert)…
The chauffeur didn’t do it! Baskerville’s neighbor the naturalist did it. So, either Johnny did a terrible job reading this book or he didn’t read it at all. Johnny 5 has been keeping a secret… Johnny 5 can’t read. J5 has done quite a bit of speed-reading throughout the Short Circuit films, but how much useful information has he retained. He mostly just shouts, “More Input!” without actually demonstrating any learned knowledge. Now if you watched the scene, you’ll notice that he does read the note left by Ally Sheedy, but he reads it in her voice, so this could have been merely a recording. Which makes him one of the more expensive tape recorders on the market.
Johnny 5 Can’t Read
This is the after school special version of Short Circuit. Johnny simply spends most of the films trying to cover up the fact that he’s an illiterate buffoon. All that rapid flipping through pages is just a ruse. He claimed to read the entire encyclopedia in the first film, but anyone can flip through pages. I can flip through pages all day, it don’t make me no genius. Notice he gets most of his lines from TV shows and movies, in fact, he gets all of his lines from television and movies. I can’t remember Johnny 5 making a single literary reference. He’s proven he can watch TV and parakeet lines, but can he read? Now remember number 5 was a military designed robot, so reading probably wasn’t a high priority on some general’s check list. As long as it could shoot straight is all that mattered. The other S.A.I.N.T robots utilize very basic commands, which could mean that reading isn’t something they would be programmed with.
However, one flaw with this is that if he can’t read or write, how did he pass his citizenship test at the end of Short Circuit 2? It could have been a verbal test, of course.
Johnny 5 Can Read, But Not Well
Johnny can read, but he retains almost zero information. Think about it, this is a robot with a finite amount of hard drive space. He had a big ol’ 500 MB upgrade in Short Circuit 2, and while that’s just some expansion memory, it gives us a guide to his memory confinements. You could probably hold 500 eBooks with that, which is a lot of books, but not at the rate Johnny reads them. Anything new he reads means he has to delete something old that he read. So, what happens when Johnny reads The Hound of the Baskervilles is by the time he’s in the middle, he has to delete what he read in the beginning and by the time he’s at the end he has deleted what was in the middle. So, he honestly thought the chauffeur did it in the middle and forgets that he thought that the chauffeur did it by the time he got to the end.
This also explains why Johnny speaks almost exclusively in TV catch phrases… it’s all he can remember. Johnny’s mind is basically a database filled with corrupted pop culture fragments, sort of like the Swiss cheese memory from Quantum Leap (except without the perverted hologram… or the time traveling. Actually, it’s nothing like Quantum Leap). Also, this is the reason why he purchased Pinocchio and Frankenstein later on for further study. Being a computer he should be able to pull up the complete work at any time, unless he doesn’t remember it. One problem though is if we go back to The Hound of the Baskervilles, and that is there is no chauffeur. There’s no character of a chauffeur in the whole book. That’s more than forgetting, that’s demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the material.
The movies have shown that number 5 can, at least, understand what a symbol means. He knows that a butterfly is a butterfly and a butterfly is beautiful, but can he truly decipher what a series of symbols represents? Can he read a sentence about a butterfly and understand it?
I was watching some Angry Video Game Nerd and stewing about how much more famous James Rolfe is than myself (as I am often wont to do), and I was really taken by this Turtle Tunes video. I had out grown Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by the time they picked up musical instruments, so I’m not overly familiar with the whole singing turtle concept.
This is when a franchise truly goes bad, though. Kidz Bop type songs squeezed the last possible dollar out of the Ninja Turtles. It’s like a concept gets so watered down that its appeal goes from teens to kids to finally toddlers, and getting those final toddler dollars is about the last stop. But giving Ninja Turtles instruments isn’t that weird, at least, no weirder than giving a turtle nunchucks to begin with. The thing I thought was strange was would you really want actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to take care of your children? Would you entrust your child to four teenagers in masks singing about pizza? Scratch out the whole mutant turtle part, even scratch out the ninja part, just four regular teenage boys. There’s a reason why girls rule the babysitting biz, it’s because no one trusts teenage boys.
Take any children’s show though, take Barney for example. Would you feel safe leaving your kids in the care of a purple T-Rex? A T-Rex of any color? What if it said it loved you and demanded your love in return? Probably not. Or Oscar the Grouch? Would you leave children to learn life lessons from a hobo who lives in a garbage can? And not only that but a self professed “grouchy” hobo who lives in a garbage can? Why do we trust them?
Because there is a certain fakeness to them, a certain cartoon quality or plush animal appeal. There seems to be an unspoken trust connected to that which is of the Muppet.
It seems like a fair amount of the Internet has been waiting for me to dismantle the new Teen Wolf TV series. Even before it aired people wanted me to lambast it with biting retorts. I actually saw the first 15 minutes of Teen Wolf way back at Comic-Con last summer, and while I wasn’t particularly impressed then (or at all), I wasn’t ready to tear it a new teen hole either. Well, I’ve seen three episodes and I’m ready to speak.
The first thing you have to know about the new Teen Wolf show is that this is not Teen Wolf.
The second thing you have to know about the new Teen Wolf show is that this is Twilight.
No matter what the producers might say to the contrary, the new Teen Wolf show on MTV is more influenced by the Twilight books and movies than it is by the original Teen Wolf film. Now if you can get over this, which I know is asking a lot, but if you can then you might actually find you enjoy the show. Now if you can’t get over this then it’s definitely time to change the channel.
Part of the problem is us, the viewer. We no longer live in an age where Teen Wolf can be made the way we loved and remembered it. The original Teen Wolf movie was about a teenager, Scott (Michael J. Fox), who became a werewolf and used those powers to become good at basketball (and to a larger extent popular), and throughout the film nobody really cared that he was a werewolf. At no point in the film, did anyone question why Michael J. Fox was a werewolf. At no point, did they even question why being a werewolf made him good at basketball. I mean jumping is fine and all, but dribbling? Come on! Wolves aren’t known for their killer crossovers. These are small disbeliefs that we no longer suspend so easily.
Good or bad, we as an audience, can longer accept a werewolf going to high school and everyone not only being fine with it, but very encouraging of a werewolf being on school grounds. As well as buying werewolf t-shirts and changing the school mascot to a wolf. A feel good monster comedy then gets replaced with something that’s a little easier to wrap our heads around, namely Twilight. A little less of the funny, a little more darkness, and a lot more yearning, it’s pretty easy to see how they got there. Plus, being on MTV, it’s a little hard not to draw those comparisons. MTV has basically become one long commercial for Twilight.
Nothing marks summer like the running of the interns. I get to boss young kids around, watch my crusty old co-workers try to flirt with fresh-faced 20 somethings, and I get to see into the mind of the elusive college girl. Good times. But what I’ve found in those minds is mostly gibberish. Goo Goo Ga Gas and all that. Oh, they start out normal enough; they don’t suck their thumbs in the interview or anything. They seem like smart young women with their heads firmly on their shoulders, but then something changes. It starts with a harmless emoticon in an instant message or email, a frowny face when you tell them to do something over again. You let it slide because it’s just one frowny face, but it’s really just the beginning… the calm before the storm, before the onslaught of full on baby talk. This is Generation Wah!
Generation Wah! consists mostly of women from the ages of 20-25 (give or take a couple of years) who communicate mainly in infantile verbiage, or baby talk. Now there have been woman who have used baby doll voices on men since the dawn of existence, Jezebel is perhaps one of the earliest examples (And Jezebel saith, “I whaw makey-up juz wike, Mommy. Yay, Isweal!”). However, never before has baby talk been so prevalent and widely accepted. Examples can include upon finishing an assignment saying something like “I do good?” or “Me tiwerd. Me go home now?” I’ve come across one instance that is a particularly strange baby talk/Asian hybrid, instead of saying “more” she would say, “Mao” (which coincidentally is the same way I imitate my cat).