Game shows touch our lives

I used to love game shows. My favorites included Press Your Luck, which was a huge game of Simon infested with these assholes:

Then there was Family Feud (aka, Richard Dawson Sexual Assault Hour); Pyramid; Password; Win, Lose, or Draw; The Price is Right

There is something very American about game shows. They appeal to our sense of justice and equality—anyone can play, anyone can win. It’s not about where you come from, what you look like, or your personality. At their best, these shows reward perseverance and focused concentration. Housewives become winners. Nerds become gods.

Jeopardy! is one of the most enduring shows of my lifetime. Probably because the questions are hard enough to be interesting, and Alex Trebek is strangely charismatic.  What other show could have introduced us to the awesome supernerdery of Ken Jennings?

The show has become embedded in the American culture. We all know the Jeopardy! thinking music. We all know that you have to answer in the form of a question. We’ve all seen the spoofs, from SNL’s Celebrity Jeopardy with a spot-on Will Ferrell, to Weird Al Yankovic’s “I Lost on Jeopardy! (baby)”.

But my favorite satire of the show is in the 1999 movie She’s All That. In case you don’t watch 90s teen movies, this is a Cinderella story about a beautiful “ugly” girl who takes off her glasses and (spoiler alert!) almost becomes prom queen. Her dad, played by Kevin Pollak, gives hilariously wrong answers to Jeopardy! questions and totally steals the scene. You hear Trebek in the background, but don’t see the tv screen. Part of the fun is the way that movie dad (Pollak) answers every question with complete certainty:

Trebek: Thomas Welch invented this drink in 1869 as an alternative to wine.
Movie dad: What is non-alcoholic wine.

Trebek: The youngest of the Marx Bros., he retired from the act following 1933’s Duck Soup.
Movie dad: Who is Lame-o.

Trebek: This city’s French Quarter encompasses about 70 blocks.
Movie dad: What is Paris, France.

Trebek: Along with Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, his face appears on South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore.
Movie dad: Who is President Rushmore.

Trebek: This 1961 Elia Kazan film marked Warren Beatty’s screen debut.
Movie dad: What is Shampoo.

Trebek: In 1987, a copy of the Old Testament attributed to this printer sold for 5.3 million dollars.
Movie dad: Who is Hewlett-Packard.

Shit, that movie is hilarious. We should all go watch it right now. It’s on Netflix streaming.

My favorite movie (officially, and for all time)

I love super serious, heavy movies. Slavery, war, the holocaust, the Titanic (not the movie Titanic though. Maybe it was because when I saw it in the theater with my coworkers from Barnes & Noble who never knew my name, I was super baked, but the CGI was so fake in this movie! And Kate Winslet looked 30, and Leo looked 14!), the apocalypse, crime, mystery, ghosts. I also heartily enjoy sci-fi, fantasy, and documentaries. But when someone asks me what my favorite movie is, I just can’t bring myself to say Sophie’s Choice or The Color Purple. 

So, I thought long and hard about it and made my decision. And, just so I don’t get any fancy ideas of changing my mind, I have drafted the following contract with myself:

This is to affirm that no one in the future, including my future self, may revoke or repeal this declaration. It is legally binding in all the laws of the universe, including those of alien beings yet to arrive on our planet.

This declaration is also binding under the laws of any manmade lifeforms such as robots, androids, or zombies who become sentient and form their own societies.

Therefore, I, being of sound mind and body, do hereby declare that my favorite movie of all time is…

Groundhog Day.

Just in case you are from another country (or planet) or you are Amish or something, this is a story about a weatherman named Phil Connors (Bill Murray) who is on assignment covering the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, PA when he suddenly finds himself in a time warp where he lives the same day over and over again.

In the movie, Phil lives the same day about 35 times. But in real life, it is estimated (by nerds everywhere, including Harold Ramis, who cowrote the screenplay) that it really would have spanned 30 or 40 years.

Over that time, Phil works through several feelings: Confusion, disbelief, fear, frustration, elation, desperation, motivation, inspiration, and finally, peace. He has no choice but to keep trying new approaches. There is no exit. No escape. He can’t die and no matter what he does, by the next morning, everything is exactly as it was the previous morning. By the end of the movie, he realizes that, while he can’t change the world around him, he can change himself.

But what really makes this movie is the combination of superior writing and unbelievable comedic timing on the part of one William James “Bill” Murray.

But I just want to be clear that I’m pretty sure Mr. Murray would NOT be funny anywhere else in the universe but Earth. In fact, I am sure that if any sort of alien society were to want to abduct any Earth comedians, that Bill Murray would NOT be the right one. I think intergalactic comedy really needs someone more… broad. Have you ever heard of Adam Sandler?

Lady Midlife Crisis (Strong enough for a man. Made for a woman.)

I accidentally went shopping today. Well, I meant to go grocery shopping, but the fancypants HEB is surrounded by boutiques, just like impulse items at the register—the gum and trashy magazines of stripmalls.

Suddenly, I’m thinking, “Why, yes, I do need some expensive paper” and “I should probably just look at the sale dresses” and “Holy shit, there’s an Origins here? TWO free samples with a purchase of $55 or more!? Yes, please.”

Actually, I made that last one up. I mean, they really had a sign that said that, but I am a total cheapskate when it comes to beauty products. I am more of an N.Y.C. section of Walgreens kinda girl. If any one item costs more than $10, I’m splurging.

Intellectually, I know that this is one area where I should not skimp. Aside from the cocktail of chemicals in most brand-name makeup, they still rub mascara in rabbits’ eyes and shit, don’t they?

(Just writing that makes me never want to give those fuckers one more cent.)

Which brings me to my point: I don’t want cheap things anymore. I want sturdy, well-built things. I want to grow herbs in little pots. I want to go to dinner parties. I want to eat, pray, and love.

But I don’t want to read that book. I tried, but I couldn’t get into it. Maybe because I don’t have a buttload of money and all the time in the world. If I did, I would have been reading that thing like the fucking bible. I saw the movie. James Franco looked a little bloaty. Javier Bardem? Rawr. And who should play the protagonist? Why, Julia Roberts, of course.

Which reminds me of this exchange that took place once among my BFFs:

S: “I don’t like anything Benjamin Bratt has been in.”

H: “You mean like Julia Roberts?”

You probably had to have been an avid reader of People magazine in 2001 to get that joke. You would have to know that Benjamin Bratt and Julia Roberts were a couple for a while. And that there was once a guy who was kinda famous named Benjamin Bratt.

You might further remember that Julia Roberts was kind of a whore. She married Lyle Lovett and almost married Keifer Sutherland, whom she left for his friend, Jason “hottest guy to ever have a mullet” Patric.

(Not in this picture, where they appear to have gone to the same stylist.)

The point is, I think I’m growing up. Just as Julia finally settled down with a cameraman, stopped playing trashy sluts with hearts of gold and started playing plain old rich white ladies (with hearts of gold), I am entering a new phase of my life.

That’s right. I’m getting my groove back.

Just hopefully not with a gay dude.

My favorite Christian

On this day in 1955, my mother was born. She was raised on a plot of land just outside Vermillion, South Dakota, in a farmhouse built by her grandparents.

In many ways, 1955 was not that long ago, but, when you really think about it, it blows your mind. The farm where she grew up was homesteaded by her ancestors in the late 1800s, when the West was still wild, and when no one knew for sure how this whole United States thing would turn out. (See the show Deadwood for an idea of what it might have been like.) Even in the 1960s, my mom went to a one-room schoolhouse, where she was one of the only students in her grade, all the way until high school.

The youngest of five children, she came into this world at a generational turning point, the middle of a century, the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. Her father was born in 1902, and was, by all accounts, as much a product of the 19th Century as I am a product of the 20th.

When she came of age in the 70s, my mom was a bit of an outcast. She describes this in a self-deprecating way, but to me, it sounds like she was just awesome. She wore bell-bottomed checkered pants and pea coats, and her hair down to her ass, and made friends with people in the American Indian Movement. Then she joined a commune and became a premmie (a follower of Guru Maharaji), and met and married my dad.

After my folks were de-programmed and realized that Guru Maharaji was not the savior, but was just taking their money to buy Rolls Royces, they pretty much steered clear of organized religion. The closest we got was the non-denominational church that my mom started going to when I was about 15. They talked about Christ, but only in the way of like, There-Once-Was-This-Dude-Who-Did-Some-Cool-Stuff.

So, imagine my surprise a few years ago, when my mom became a born-again Christian. I mean, this is the same woman who, when I had a problem, used to advise me to consult a crystal or pendulum. Suddenly, she was spouting bible verses. Everything was “Jesus this” and “Jesus that.” I finally got to the point where I was like:

“Hey, Mom, next time you think of something to tell me about Jesus, just say it quietly in your head, okay?”

To be honest, it kind of freaked me out. But then I started listening to her. Really listening. And I realized that she absolutely believes. In God. In seeing the best in people. In the power of prayer. And in the generosity of heart, of mind, and of spirit. Above all, she absolutely believes in miracles. And that is beautiful.

She has helped me to see that, even though I haven’t accepted Christ as my “savior,” I still appreciate the impulse, and I honestly, truly believe in the fundamental ideas of Christianity (and most other major religions):  Compassion. Forgiveness. Love.

I made her this video for her birthday. She got a kick out of it, and I hope you will too.