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DID YOU READ

Seven prominent soap opera guest stars.

Seven prominent soap opera guest stars. (photo)

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It’s strange that people don’t seem that interested in the fact that James Franco is in the middle of a two-month guest star arc on the soap “General Hospital,” now 45 years long and still going strong. Whatever Franco’s reasons, it’s hard to blame him for the move — if I were a uniquely talented comic actor who kept getting cast as glowering and moody (blame “Spider-Man”), I’d want to take that image to its logical extreme as well.

But Franco’s hardly the first prominent guest star to grace “GH” or the soap opera world in general. Stretching the definition of “prominent” a bit, here’s seven great moments in soap opera guestage. (Sadly, Sammy Davis Jr.’s turn as “Chip Warren” on “One Life to Live” wasn’t available for YouTube perusal.)

Elizabeth Taylor, “General Hospital” (1981)
Princess Diana got more than 750 million viewers worldwide for her nuptials, but 1981’s second most successful television wedding — between Luke and Laura — got a decent 30 million, and Diana herself sent some champagne along. It remains a cultural touchstone, one of the few references non-soap viewers like me get. Less remembered are two things: Elizabeth Taylor also came by shortly after the wedding (as “Helena Cassadine”), and apparently the plotline that season included a sinister weather machine that started a blizzard in the summer. Taylor plays at the level of the show, no better or worse than anyone; you just have to remember who she is to make it special. La Liz knows tumultuous marriages, yes she does.

Carol Burnett, “All My Children” (on and off from 1976-2005)
Even while “The Carol Burnett Show” was going strong, Burnett was a huge enough fan of “All My Children” to guest in 1976 as a hospital patient. Then she got her own character starting in 1983 and returned in 1995 and 2005. And, one of those times, guess who she ran into? Elizabeth Taylor, natch.

Jerry Springer, “Days of Our Lives” (2007)
It’s only natural that daytime talk shows’ trashiest purveyor of “real-life” soap operatics would also be found appearing on the (only marginally more acting-heavy) dramatic equivalent. He’s been on “Passions” and “Sunset Beach,” but his highest-profile stint was on longtime survivor “Days of Our Lives,” where he delivered a remarkably unconvincing turn as “Pete,” gambler extraordinaire. Sure, he can handle being kissed by two blonde casino slatterns, but for some reason he can’t do a convincing drunken reel. You’d think he’d have it down by now.

James Franco, “General Hospital” (2009)
Like Elizabeth Taylor, Franco plays it straight, neither altering the tone to fit his personality nor screwing up royally. As Movieline‘s Julie Miller notes, Franco’s been admirably game with the hectic shooting pace of soap operas, but they still had to cut down from two takes per scene to one to accommodate him. He barely makes it through this take, but considering he’s an amateur at this, it’s impressive. Oh yeah, this is a really silly plotline about a painter who murders people. Or something.

Snoop Dogg, “One Life To Live” (2008)
Yes, Snoop’s got over 40 acting credits not as “himself.” Granted, most of those roles have names like “Huggy Bear” and “Captain Mack.” He also has at least a little range — check his surprisingly effective turn in “Training Day” for proof — but he’s mostly called upon to be his genial self, whether in character or not. Here he’s Snoop Dogg, performing some lesser latter-day material, making the middle-aged white folks feel comfortable and at ease (he tutors one woman on how to flow like him) and buying drinks for everyone.

Bronson Pinchot, “The Young and the Restless” (2008)
For six episodes, the sharp-tongued Bronson Pinchot was Patrick the publicist. Publicists can be unctuous and annoying; Pinchot puts a self-satisfied topspin on it, confident in himself and seemingly without any kind of personal center whatsoever. He’s way above and beyond what’s going on around him.

Roseanne and Tom Arnold, “General Hospital,” 1994
I’ve saved the best for last. For one deranged episode of “General Hospital,” Roseanne and Tom Arnold guested as a couple with documents Luke and Laura needed to blackmail someone. The year of their divorce, they’re on-screen as a deeply unhappy married pair: she runs the casino, he tries to pick up women in it. Channeling the same crazed intensity he brought to “True Lies,” Tom Arnold tries to jump all over Laura by telling her “I want to take you on a magic carpet ride.” Meanwhile, Roseanne starts making out with long-lost love Luke on the couch after the following exchange:

LUKE
Destiny's fickle, Jen.

ROSEANNE
Whatever.

Arnold enters at about 2:50 below; it’s essential viewing, marital disintegration as comic psychodrama. I’m not the biggest expert on soaps, but I’m pretty sure this is a rarity: if they were always this deranged, some sharp Douglas Sirk scholar would’ve picked up on it by now. This video may be the best thing you watch this week — it’s definitely mine.

[Photo: James Franco on “General Hospital,” ABC, 2009]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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