I’ve come to notice several movie posters with characters popping out of sewers in that hey-look-at-me-I’m-in-the-sewer-so-I-must-be-funny sort of way. Sometimes this makes sense as with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They live in the sewers hence posters with them emerging from the sewers seems natural. Also, with the Turtles mostly obscured by the manhole cover this works as a great teaser for film, especially for the first movie where the live action Ninja Turtles were kept back a little bit as a surprise for the audience.
However, other films make less sense. Like Short Circuit 2, which features neither a sewer nor coming out of a sewer in the actual film. Some of these movie posters remind me of the fake movie Sack Lunch in an episode of Seinfeld. The movie poster featured a family in a brown paper bag, which makes Elaine wonder how they got in there: So d'you think they got shrunk down, or is it just a giant sack?
That’s what some of these movie posters seem to be doing, making us wonder what sort of predicament could possibly occur to make Johnny 5 and Ben Jahrvi get into the sewer? Are they hiding in the sewers? Are they exploring the sewers? Are they looking for One-Eyed Willie’s lost treasure? For comedies, these posters promise that if you watch this movie you will see a logical chain of shenanigans to get this upstanding character into the sewer, wackiness will ensue.
Horror movies on the other hand concentrate on the unwacky side of sewage. The gross, hideous dark parts of the sewer. This is the sewer where we flush our dead fish, the mail-order alligators our moms wouldn’t let us have, and all our dirty little secrets. But there’s still something slightly whimsical in that the sewer is still where our poo goes, which inevitably leads to a 98% chance likeliness of poo joke.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The green standard in sewer movies.
Short Circuit 2
No actual sewer in the film.
This is mostly for my co-workers, but really applies to anyone trying to contact me. “But who would want to contact you,” you ask. Good question, but you’d be both surprised by the number of people who need to reach me on a daily basis and how bad they are at doing it. Here are the worst to best ways to contact me:
15. Morse Code – Dot, dot, what?
14. Pony Express - Or any sort of delivered mail (horse or not). By this point in my life, I know the size and shape of all my bills, so whatever does not fit into that size and shape goes into a pile never to be looked at again. Bills go into a smaller separate stack to be looked at… someday.
13. Email - I used to be pretty good at checking email until years of signing up for various services and purchases made online have turned my email into a wasteland.
12. Twitter DM - Direct Messaging on Twitter works great if working great is to let spammers auto message me to tell me how much they’re looking forward to my Tweets. Sometimes they use my name and that makes me feel special.
11. Office Phone - For reasons unknown when answering my office phone I forget both how to use a telephone and how to hold basic conversations. Most phone calls follow thusly: Um…. uh… what… um… yeah… um… uh… um… what?
10. Facebook Message - There’s usually, at least, 30 new messages to me whenever I log onto Facebook, and I’m far too lazy to read 30 different messages in a row. If it’s important they’d send a Twitter DM.
9. Facebook Post - Same as above, but a post instead. Honestly, I might respond better to a poke because that, at least, would display on my screen until I do something about it. But then again my only response would be, “What kind of pervert would poke me.”
8. Cell Phone - A cell phone call is a little better because only VIPs have my cell number, but I rarely either have my ringer on or near my person. Most likely neither.
7. Tweet - This has become one of the better ways to contact me. It won’t be timely, but if you @ me then I will see it, and if it’s relevant, funny, or important I may even respond.
6. IM - An Instant Message should be great but my work computer has no sound and sometimes I don’t notice it blinking on the bottom. And also I don’t like you very much, so if I see it’s you, it’s easy to ignore.
5. Text Message - I like a Text Message because if I ignore it or don’t notice it, it’s not that big a deal if it takes me a half hour to respond.
4. Candygram - I do like candy. I like people giving me candy. And I probably would read most messages attached to candy. I would also respond to Singing Telegrams.
3. Smoke Signal - While I cannot read or understand smoke signals, I do respond quickly to fire and the danger thereof.
2. Paper airplane or Nerf football - Throwing something at my head is sadly the second most effective method to gain my attention. Although, it does come with a retaliation to be named later.
1. Turn around and ask me
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.