Test of Time: Saved by the Bell

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Our generation of nerds had the misfortune of being witnesses to the dismantling of Saturday morning kids programming. While there has been a renaissance of sorts in recent years with the networks rebroadcasting animated shows from their various cable channels, those blocks of shows are nothing compared to what we enjoyed. When our parents first had the TV take over babysitting duties, Saturday mornings were wall to wall cartoons. And while a lot of those cartoons were awful (It's Punky Brewster or Snorks, anyone?), there were also things like Spiderman and His Amazing Friends or Dungeons & Dragons that would get me to wake up early to watch.

It's all right, 'cause I'm saved by the bell In the late 80s TV executives thought live action shows would offer something distinctive amongst the sea of cartoons. A Disney and NBC partnership conceived Good Morning, Miss Bliss which after one season was retooled into the Charles Manson of cartoon killers, Saved by the Bell.

I hadn't seen an episode of SBTB since it was in heavy rotation on WGN and TBS several years ago. However, I was laid up sick a couple of Saturdays back and discovered that one of our local UHF stations was keeping the early 90s tradition alive.

The first thing that struck me was how dated the show seemed. Almost everything about the show from the big hair to the neon clothing to the Ronald Reagan references screamed late 80s/early 90s. I suppose that part of any teen/tween show's appeal is speaking directly to their experience and perhaps Hannah Montana will look the same in 15 years, but it certainly does not produce a timeless quality. 

Aside from seeming dated, the other most prominent features of the episodes I watched were the terrible puns and the breaking of the 4th wall. I happen to enjoy Zack's winking at the camera, but I can see how it could be as annoying as the bad jokes. While I enjoyed the hour spent, objectively speaking, Saved by the Bell doesn't stand the test of time.

When a Nerd Becomes a Dad: Taste from Back Home

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One week ago today, Nerd Lunch welcomed a new addition. Dashiell Vaughn Trammel entered the world on December 19, 2008 at 8:04 PM. Dashiell is a cool little guy and I look forward to getting to know him. Hopefully, he'll want to play with super hero and G.I. Joe action figures and want to read comic books. I have plenty of both and would love to share it all with him (and his older sister who already enjoys some of those things).

Another thing I'd love to share with both of my kids is the love of the awesome tastes of Chicago-style grub. As the expert at greasefreak.com shows us, there is no comparing the food of any other part of the country to that of what Chicago and the surrounding Midwestern areas offer.

Having moved to Tallahassee, Florida a little over three years ago, I have found food around here to be dismal in comparison. That's not to say there's not good food, just little that stacks up to the likes of an Italian Beef sandwich or a Chicago-style hot dog. Over the last two Christmases, my family was able to travel home and I was able to eat at Niro's Gyros and get my annual fill of Chi-dogs. This year, due to Dashiell's arrival, our trip home for Christmas has been postponed for a future date. Since the urge for a Chicago dog was not on the horizon, I had been mentally prepping myself for no Niro's this year. I was doing pretty good, too until a recent phone conversation with Jeeg when, little did I know, he was priming the pump by talking about some upcoming visits he was planning to make to nearby Chicago eateries.

Perhaps in one of those trips, it was there that Jeeg set in motion one of the best gifts my new baby has received thus far. It was scheduled for delivery on Christmas Eve, but something went wrong and it didn't arrive until today. Thankfully, all was okay and nothing arrived in poor condition. And, it arrived just in time for lunch!

Dashiell received a "10 pack Portillo's Chicago Style Hot dogs." This container had everything needed to craft ten Chi-dogs.




The pressure was on. Sure, it looks easy, but these directions have all kinds of steps and sub-steps. At no point did I want to mess this up.

And...

Perfection!


It was so good that I almost felt like I was breaking some sort of Florida state law. That or I was going to be compelled to share with the rest of the state. And maybe that wouldn't be so bad. Maybe if the rest of the state could try this we'd get a Portillo's of our own.

Thanks Nerd Lunch buddies! And thanks on behalf of Dashiell, too. Selfishly, I wanted to eat them all for myself, but then my wife reminded me that this was addressed to Dashiell and the only way he was going to get any of it right now was if she had some hot dogs, too. Sometime soon, he's in for the best milk ever!

My favorite Christmas movie

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I'm a sucker for some of the Christmas classics. I thoroughly enjoy It's A Wonderful Life and CBS' annual airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has been appointment viewing since I was a wee lad. However, my all time favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard. It's not the holiday season at the Casa de Jeeg until I've watched John McClane and Hans Gruber square off.

Mmmmm... bacon

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Our discussion of Baconnaise revealed that we have some true bacon fans amongst the 12 readers. One of the great things about bacon is how well it accompanies other foods. From pancakes to burgers to baked potatoes to salads, bacon makes things better. Now thanks to our friends at Bacolicio.us, you can upgrade your favorite or least favorite web sites with a side of bacon. Tasty!

Johnny Walrus

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johnny_english_DVD Rowan Atkinson is sort of a mystery to me. I think the Black Adder series is pure genius, but his biggest claim to fame, Mr. Bean, does nothing for me. Well, except for the rare gem like this Christmas scene. That's just hilarious. Anyhow, I wasn't sure what to expect when my wife brought Johnny English back from the local library. It could have gone either way.

Story

The story is pretty much what you'd expect for a Bond spoof; a world domination plot with the goofiness turned up to 11 and near inept protagonist. In this case, Atkinson as the titular Johnny English is promoted from mission planner to active agent after putting together a botched operation that results in the deaths of all British secret agents. Of course a new threat arises and Britain's only hope is Johnny English. To lend Johnny a hand, Natalie Imbruglia pops in as a competent foreign agent in the mode of Vanessa Kensington from Austin Powers.

The threat comes from a crazy French businessman played by John Malkovich who wants to turn the UK into the world's largest prison. It doesn't seem like the most practical money making venture, but that would be part of the level 11 goofiness. The story is nothing spectacular, but it holds true to spy movie norms and does what is necessary to set up the comedy of errors.

Presentation

The whole project was undoubtedly conceived around Atkinson's ability to play the overconfident doofus and he delivers. Malkovich is way over the top as the supervillain, Sauvage, but is only mildly amusing at best. Imbruglia and Ben Miller are both adequate as sidekicks to English.

The movie is fairly standard Atkinson schtick dressed up with some solid spy sequences and surprisingly good stunt work. In fact, there's a great hearse/tow truck chase scene that the guys making the Transporter movies could learn a bit from.

STORY

PRESENTATION

REWATCHABLE

The Tenor Banjo: An Elegant Weapon of a More Civilized Age

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Well, I've been shopping around for a new musical instrument for a year or so, and haven't been able to make up my mind. And then a buddy of mine digs out his old tenor banjo and makes a gift of it to me. It's not quite as snazzy as the one in this picture, but it's serviceable, and I was able to convert it for left-handed use with no problems.

Unlike the more familiar five-string banjo used in bluegrass, the tenor is a four-stringed instrument usually played with a flatpick (as opposed to a thumbpick and two fingerpicks). They were invented around 1900ish for the use in banjo orchestras (I assume this meant fifty guys with banjos and handlebar mustaches in the same room, which is awesome) and were essential in early Dixieland-style jazz. Once amplified guitars became available in the 1930s, the tenor banjo fell out of favor in jazz circles.

At some point, however, they made their way over to Ireland. With their piercing tone, high volume, rapid attack and lack of sustain, they proved ideally suited for picking out Irish tunes. While they are uncommon in American old-time music (and downright unacceptable in bluegrass circles), most fiddle tunes are going to lay real nice on a tenor banjo . . . Appalachian, Cajun, Scottish, you name it.

While a number of different tunings are possible, for now I'm working out of CGDA. This is similar to a fiddle or mandolin (but a bit lower, like a viola or mandola), so what little I can play on mandolin is carrying over nicely. My daughter has been accompanying me on washboard. Life is good.

Nerd Holiday Gift Guide

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While checking our webstats, I noticed that one of our most popular posts recently has been Jeeg's post from September 2007 about gifts for nerds. In spite of the economic struggles, it seems people are still out there shopping for nerds and looking for good ideas. So, I thought I'd share a few more ideas for this holiday season.


Foam Finger Rocket Flyers
Here's a nice stocking stuffer idea falling in line with a suggestion Jeeg made last year. Witnessing and even participating in a few rubber band fights in my days, these uber-rubber bands are great for office warfare.



Any current G.I. Joe Action Figures
These 25th Anniversary figures are amazing. I recently snapped an almost three year stretch of not buying action figures when I purchased a new Snake Eyes figure. These figures look like the way we imagined the toys looking when we played with them 25 years ago. And, while walking through the toy aisles, you'll find they're probably the only affordable action figure line left.



Griffin Clarifi case for the iPhone
Know a nerd who just got an iPhone and want to get them a really cool accessory? I can personally attest to the greatness of this gift. This case is more than just a case. It has a built in macro lens that slides in front of the iPhone camera lens. Perfect for capturing close up shots where you need a bit more detail.



Batman Animated Series Soundtrack
What other cartoon had cinematic-quality scores like 1992's Batman: The Animated Series? The late Shirley Walker took Elfman's basic themes and made them even greater. Now, in a limited release, this 2-disc set collects some of her most famous work.



Farberware Nonstick 4-Cup Egg Poacher
I've been making more and more poached eggs lately and they're great. Here's a way to poach four eggs at the same time. I hope to go more into exactly why you'd want one for yourself in a future post.



A-Team Sheer Shirt
I've been eyeing this shirt for a couple years now. But StylinOnline.com has tons of shirts that nerds would be interested in. From a Bluth Company shirt (from Arrested Development) to a replica of the shirt Sam Jones wore in Flash Gordon, there's something on this site for the nerd you love.



Netflix Gift Subscription and Roku Player
Finally, if you're looking for an excuse to keep the nerd you love off the streets, try this combo. A Netflix subscription along with the Roku Player will give that special nerd in your life plenty to do. They'll never want to leave their house again! If there's not a DVD in from Netflix, the Roku player fills the gaps by allowing Netflix's "Watch Instantly" selections pipe right into the television.



I'd recommend one more thing, but sadly, this doesn't come out until sometime next year.

Krypton Blows Up Again

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The year was 1986 and John Byrne, along with contributions by several others, successfully condensed the origin story of Superman into a six issue mini-series simply titled "Man of Steel." While I had been reading comics for a year or so already, it with that mini and subsequent relaunch of the Superman titles that my comics passion was solidified. With much of the silliness of the previous twenty or so years cut, a clean start for Superman meant a great starting point for a relatively new comic reader.

In my opinion, the biggest improvements on Superman with the 1986 relaunch was 1) de-powering Superman, 2) keeping Superman unique, and 3) 'coolifying' Clark Kent. Superman had gotten too powerful over the previous decades. And then, every time you turned around, there was a new Kryptonian. And Clark had become this persona who almost didn't even need to exist. Now, Superman could get beat up, Supergirls and Superpets were gone, and Clark Kent was the person...Superman was just the mask.

Despite being at the start of this huge relaunch, even when I was 8 or 9, I knew a day would come when Superman would once again be rebooted and the origin story told once again. And now that day has come. It's 23 years later and Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are writing and illustrating a six-issue mini series retelling the origin of Superman. While this doesn't appear to be a total reboot, it does appear to be the new official origin that will be retconned into the current storylines.


And I think this is a missed opportunity. I'm guessing that there aren't a whole lot of 8 or 9-year-olds that will be reading this mini. Probably it will mostly be the same group of 30 to 50-year-olds who read Byrne's mini.

It seems to me that Warner Bros and DC largely don't know what to do with Superman at this point. His movie franchise appears to be entering limbo again and the most successful Superman media at this point is Smallville, a show that does its best to not be Superman. He just doesn't seem to appeal to today's audience in the way that Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine do. Maybe a bold new start written by Geoff Johns (a great comic book writer, by the way) is the first step in fixing that, but more needs to be done to keep Superman at the forefront of the comic medium. New stories need be told that focus on Superman as a character and don't shy away from those three things that Byrne reinfused into the character in 1986.

The origin is classic and a great tale that I think has room for hundreds of interpretations. But after 70 years, I'm concerned for where he's heading as a character. Rather than pave the way with new and exciting tales, maybe he'll continue to be stuck in a continuous origin story loop. And if so, that'll be too bad.

Two awful tastes that taste awful together

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I was traveling on Thanksgiving day so I missed the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I'd be thankful for that even under normal circumstances, but I was especially grateful after seeing this abomination.

TV and the Internet can be bad enough individually, but we have much to fear when they start cross pollinating their dumbest elements.

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