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Star Trek II: The Wrath of the Allegory.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of the Allegory. (photo)

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As someone who dug the way this year’s “Star Trek” reboot dug up memories from a few years of a wasted youth (let’s not talk about it), I’m none too thrilled at this piece in the LA Times that suggests that for the sequel, J.J. Abrams & co. are considering adding topical political allegory.

Co-writer Robert Orci says that in post-release interviews with “the fans,” a phrase that came up a lot was “Make sure the next one deals with modern-day issues.” Boucher inquired if that meant “Starfleet grappling with the ethics of torture or dealing with a rising terrorist threat or perhaps a painful, politicized war with the Klingons.” Orci: “Well yeah, those are the kind of issues we’re talking about. Wow, you’re good!”

Um, not necessarily. Boucher just knows exactly what kind of “issues” Hollywood feels comfortable shoving into a blockbuster — ones that are at least two years old and for which there’s an easy position to fall back on.

To be sure, Gene Roddenberry’s intentions for the original show were unbelievably grandiose. The crew was multi-racial and male-female to demonstrate the end of racism and sexism in the future. The Vulcan race was there to show us how to end our violent instincts and cultivate peace. The futuristic setting let Roddenberry, in his own words, “make statements about sex, religion, Vietnam, politics, and intercontinental missiles.” And none of these were the reason it became a cult hit and eventual occasional commercial juggernaut. That happened because the show was so detailed and meticulous about creating its own universe (literally) in a way people didn’t get much on ’60s and ’70s TV. It’s no wonder that J.J. “Lost” Abrams dug its potential for a multi-faceted landscape to be explored in detail.

What the new “Star Trek” did so nicely was ignore all the idealist garbage and concentrate on the basics: characters with hard-earned, long-forged camaraderie battling through a hostile, surprising universe. “Star Trek” can stand next to “Spider-Man 2″ as a rare example of intelligently crafted blockbuster life in the 21st century. So why, pray tell, ship the Klingons off to the camps or make them Islamic extremists? Summer blockbusters don’t do subtlety well, which means that any allegory about the present global climate rendered in “Star Trek” terms will be clunky and leaden and will just slow stuff down.

The “Trek” fanbase will always believe there’s no more sophisticated way to address geopolitical problems than via prosthetics, green make-up and didactic speeches, but everyone else will throw their hands up, and rightfully so. Orci and Abrams? You did good. Now please don’t do this.

[Photo: Classic “Trek,” Paramount, 1966]

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

ikea heights

IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

darkplace

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

attitudes

Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

invitation

Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

pointplace

In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Summer 2009: but what does it *mean*?

Summer 2009: but what does it *mean*? (photo)

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Clearly someone at Variety was crunching numbers every Sunday night and waiting for the moment they could announce that this was the highest-grossing summer EVER; late Monday afternoon, with all the box office estimates confirmed, it was time to drop the good news. Yes, this summer set records all over. $4.17 billion grossed over last summer’s $4.16 billion, with Labor Day weekend still to come! The highest-grossing summer romantic comedy ever (“The Proposal,” with $160.2 million)! And many other memories to take home with us over the cold, frigid months until next summer’s warm, lovely explosions.

Has anyone bothered to crunch these numbers for inflation to see if they hold up — or, for that matter, ticket sales? If this weekend indeed adds at least $100 mil to the summer’s cume, would that really take us up three percent over the halcyon days of 2007? Have ticket sales risen, or are 3D tickets really helping the math more than you’d expect? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But the thing is, Variety doesn’t either, and while I understand this is “news” in some sense, you can’t really extrapolate anything from it. It’s as meaningless as sports records set on surreptitious sports records or Iranian elections — numbers that don’t parse in any real direction.

Mostly, this summer affirms why nothing ever changes in the summer: it’d be economic stupidity to fix what ain’t broke. The top three movies domestically are “Transformers 2,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “Up”; Variety characterizes all three as “tentpoles,” which seems like a typo but actually confirms that the Pixar brand is worth more than whatever the logline of their movies reads like. The release of the last three Pixar films has always been preceded by ominous predictions of decreased grosses for various stupid reasons — “Ratatouille” stars a rat in a kitchen, which’ll gross people out, and the title is hard to spell! “WALL-E” is too arty! (As if all that clamor and clangor in the first third somehow didn’t take the place of dialogue, or “Cast Away” wasn’t a huge hit in its time — when in silence, fill up the foley.) “Up” — this one really a stretch — is about an old guy, which means no tie-in toys! It happens every summer; by calling the studio itself a “tentpole,” Variety means it’s worth nearly as much in name recognition and loyalty as Harry Potter, and they’re absolutely right.

So yes, franchises work, even if that franchise consists of a name that allows a studio to get away with murder. “Star Trek” seemed to work because it managed to cleanly wrest its image away from the dorkiness preceding it. Otherwise, reliable mediocrity is always worth the price: the top 10 includes “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” The only big surprise is “The Hangover,” and even that’s not that odd: Hollywood appears surprised every time a combination of low-culture fetishization, gross-out gags and bro bonding wins over the twenty-something males of America. Not all of these work, but most of them aren’t heavily promoted as summer comedies “from the director of ‘Old School'” either. The only one of these movies that opened because of the name above the title was “The Proposal,” which is good news for Sandra Bullock, but means rom-coms are the only summer genre that benefit from old reliables.

The main reason I sound so testy is that “biggest” and “most memorable” seem to have nothing in common; I don’t know who but shareholders and executives should be celebrating this news. As it happens, I liked “Star Trek” just fine – J.J. Abrams’ professionalism and smoothness is great for blockbusters — and “Up” is definite top 10 material, but who could really claim this summer stood out as one exciting ride after another? Why isn’t there a single paradigm-changing hit in this summer’s top 10? Do people go to movies in the summer so reflexively they no longer really care?

[Photo: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Paramount/DreamWorks, 2009]

“Transformers 2″ M&Ms will corrupt your children.

“Transformers 2″ M&Ms will corrupt your children. (photo)

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Long ago, when the ratings system was new, its standards wouldn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense to today’s zealous parents. In 1968, “Planet of The Apes,” was a G movie, and in 1976 “The Bad News Bears” was PG — alleged family fare with enough beer consumption and racial tension to make Paul Haggis blush.

Over the years, parents got pickier; mild profanity got elided from the “G,” and the gap between “PG” and “R” got too broad. After “Gremlins” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” came out in 1984, scaring the holy crap out of kids and angering their folks, “PG-13″ came along. And then parents never complained about ratings ever again, because they finally had enough information to make good judgments about what was appropriate for their children.

Nah, just kidding. Maybe it’s a cliché to say that today’s parents are overly over-protective, but it rings too true when an organization like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood comes along. The CCFC is all about new ways to give parents more control over TV (besides, like, being in the room and watching it with their kids). Today — as Current‘s Matthew Lasar notes — the CCFC is annoyed because TV ads for PG-13 movies are being aired during Nickelodeon and Disney shows, “targeting children as young as preschoolers.”

How to fix this? The CCFC would like a new V-chip-like device to filter those wicked PG-13ish spots out, so that mature, adult fare like “Transformers 2″ doesn’t tempt their kids. “A 2004 study found strong evidence of ‘ratings creep,'” the CCFC’s scoldy response to the FCC notes. “A PG-13 movie in 2003 was likely to have significantly more violence and sexual content than a PG-13 movie ten years earlier. In other words, many of the PG-13 films that are routinely marketed today to children as young as seven-and often marketed to preschoolers-are films that would have been rated R fifteen years ago.”

That’s ahistorical nonsense, but whatever. Current‘s Lasar is right to be confused about what the big deal is: “One wonders what bad behaviors these films might inspire in Junior. [We] can see him having a go at dad’s old eight-track player or scrapped lawn mower; not a lot else.” Sure. And that goes for “Star Trek” or “Iron Man,” other movies that seem to keep the CCFA up at night, according to their report. All have their moments of mild sexuality and plenty of explosions, but it’s hard to imagine that warping a kid.

The CCFA (which, to be fair, decries rampant commercialization across the board) is even concerned about “ads for branded food products such as ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ M&Ms and ‘Star Trek’ Movie Eggos.” Are ratings here to protect children against stuff that would be genuinely destructive? Or just stuff that’s loud and designed to turn off your critical impulses? Because anyone who wants to argue “Star Trek” is going to morally cripple the youth of today has their work cut out for them. It seems like PG-13 is becoming less a warning to parents than a guarantee of certain blockbuster staples, which I suppose for blockbuster-hounds could be even more helpful than whatever function the rating’s supposed to serve.

[Photo: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” M&M’s. Of doom.]

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