Pop culture and entertainment reviews by the Gama News Team's own video editor, Fred the Mole

Evening, all. Don't mind the hat. You see, I'm dressed as "Steppin' Out Fred the Mole" because this month's focus will be on the wonderful world of action figures. I've loved the little things ever since I was just a pup.

Did you know that there was going to be a figure of me manufactured? No really! I had all the necessary people lined up to produce a line of Fred the Mole action figures. I even hired these four guys to sculpt these extreme action poses, which I thought were cool and edgy at first but now just seem comically unnecessary and too over the top. Regardless, these were going to be so much better than the ones I used to make out of used blacktop and glue sticks!

Unfortunately, the folks here at the web site wouldn't clear the $50,000 required for the minimum production order. So, you'll just have to imagine how cool these were going to be. My favorite was going to be the Glow-in-the-Dark Bola-Launching Quick Change Fred the Mole variant.

So are you as ready as a mint-on-card vinyl-caped Jawa? [Editor's note: We have no idea what that means.] Well, let's crack open that yellowing bubble and pose that sucker!!! [Editor's note #2: Again, not a clue.]

What I'm Currently Reading

Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea
by Roger Sweet and Wecker David


Fan bases are a double-edged sword. They can be a celebrity or property's biggest supporters or the bane or their existence. They can save shows from cancellation, let the press know when people are being gypped on a DVD (coughLucas!cough), or can make all the difference between whether a person gets a boo or a cheer on a talk show. But, they can also get in the way, either creatively or personally.

I believe that adult fans of Masters of the Universe have done more to ruin the franchise than any other persons or entities. Mattel tried to throw the fans a bone in late 2000 by reissuing ten classic MOTU action figures in limited edition anniversary packaging. The idea was to target the nostalgic adult fans of the long-defunct toy line who would go ga-ga over the prospect of owning a newly manufactured and minty-fresh Man-at-Arms or Faker. Sales were brisk and a second, smaller assortment followed a year later. He-Man and his friends and foes were becoming the hottest collectibles in the toy world.

Unfortunately, mere nostalgia wasn't good enough. Fans felt that they could improve upon the He-Man mythos. Mattel was talked into producing a line of newly sculpted figures, with the characters in modernized "hip" versions of their classic poses and outfits. The charm of the Stratos and Beast-Man of old sharing the same bodies minus the heads (or in the case of Mer-Man and Stinkor, sharing the same head as well!) was replaced with unique and extreme "battle poses," making Zodac end up looking like Spawn. Fans were able to produce a brand new comic book, which they then were able to get adapted into a new cartoon series, that attempted to create an "origin" for He-Man and Skeletor, characters who never needed any such backstory for two decades. Prince Adam now became this tortured inadequate teenager, an uncomfortable mix of Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne. One-note characters like Mekaneck and Two-Bad were now needlessly multi-dimensional. They wanted the land of Eternia to become as deep as the land of Middle Earth.

Movies That Are Better Than Titanic and Why:
Star Trek: First Contact
Two words: space zombies!
The problem was that it was too much and didn't go anywhere. After heavily loading these new introductions with exposition and multi-layered personalities, they didn't really add anything to the stories. Back in the day, Mattel and Filmation knew that if a story called for someone to bash something with their head, use Ram-Man. If not, then forget about him until next time. They didn't need the He-Man world to be three-dimensional, just fast and exciting. And they most certainly didn't need it to be any deeper than "good guy versus bad guy." The simplicity in that dynamic was a part of why people were feeling nostalgic for the property. To suddenly relaunch it as if it was The Watchmen is to more or less miss the point. There probably is a right way to do a rethinking of the MOTU saga, but essentially melding the premise with glorified fan fiction and old story rumors isn't the way to do it.

Having gotten all that off my fuzzy gray chest, this book was...um, dull? I was actually excited about wanting to read about the origins of the toy line from the man who designed it, Roger Sweet, but really the book reads like an odd marketing report. Mattel didn't allow them to use any images of anything, which says to me that this person must have stepped on someone's toes over there (and at the same time, there does seem to be some animosity toward former colleagues throughout the book).

The history of the property all the way through the abysmal 1987 Masters of the Universe feature film is recounted, even though only five pages are devoted to the Filmation cartoon (and about a fourth of that was taken from another book). The authors tried to make the case that the cartoon didn't really contribute to the success of the toy line; they claim just the opposite, in fact, that the toys sold the show. Um, huh? I cannot believe that anyone would suggest that the cartoon didn't significantly impact the success of the action figures. Wasn't there...you know...a whole big controversy about a TV show being used to sell toys to kids?!?

Anyhoo, in addition to its bitterness and selective memory, the book is also badly written. Segues are used sparingly, unrelated tangents go on far too long, the book ends rather abruptly, and a lot of the same information is repeated again and again. For example, I have never, ever, in my entire lifetime heard anyone use the phrase "doing 146 pushups at a clip," yet both of the authors here were able to work it into the story of the origins of a popular toy line. Granted Roger Sweet's co-writer is his nephew, David Wecker, but I find it incredibly hard to believe that they would both write the exact same way. Genetics don't work like that. Clearly Wecker did a little more than just collaborate here.

Don't get me wrong. Sweet's heart is in the right place, and he has a right to be proud of this phenomenon he created, but this book comes off as very amateurish. I was surprised the phrase "Published by Cafepress" didn't appear on the first page. This needed at least another round of editing before it ever saw the light of day.

And sure enough, two-and-a-half pages were devoted to "fan comments" with a number of familiar names showing up...familiar only if you've ever looked at the credits of any MOTU thing produced since 2002. If this book's publication was yet another result of fan intervention, then, I'm sorry, but He-Man fans have now trumped Trekkies as the most annoying fan base on the planet.

By the power of Grayskull, I have a headache.

I Don't Give a Crap About Lost So Much That...
I was actually disappointed that Conan O'Brien wasn't doing a Snakes on a Plane parody at the beginning of the Emmys.
What I'm Currently Seeing

Since most Hollywood blockbusters have a coinciding toy line attached to them, this month I'm going to look back at three of the summer's biggest flicks and rate them in relation to their action figure collections.

Superman Returns
Directed by Bryan Singer

Warner Bros.

The Plot: Sort of picking up where Superman II sort of left off, the Man of Steel is back after spending five years exploring the remains of his destroyed homeworld Krypton. Superman learns that Lois Lane has moved on with her life (or has she??) and that Lex Luthor is once again scheming to rule the world (or is he??).
The Good: Brandon Routh is surprisingly good with the title role, all the while bearing an eerily uncanny resemblance to Christopher Reeve. Meanwhile Bryan Singer and writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris breathe some new life into the saga while also making sure there are plenty of nerdish winks and nods to the previous incarnations of the character. It's every bit of a respectful homage as it is a fun movie in its own right.
The Bad: Kate Bosworth, Kate Bosworth, and Kate Bosworth.
The Huh??: Again, Kate Bosworth. So, Lois Lane, who was a tough and experienced veteran reporter five years ago, is played by spunky, young, wide-eyed Kate Bosworth. Seriously, let's look at this logically here. Assuming Lois got a job at the Daily Planet right after she graduated from college at age 22 (which itself seems unlikely), it would take at the very least a few years of lightweight stories and crappy assignments before becoming a major metropolitan paper's sole city beat reporter as seen in the first Superman movie. That puts her at about 26 when she first meets Clark Kent. Let's be kind and say that there was just a one-year gap between the events of Superman and Superman II, and it has to be at least a year because Luthor is already serving his prison sentence when the sequel begins. That puts Lois up to around 27. So now if it's five years later, Lois would be at the very youngest 32 years old. Again, Kate Bosworth?? Lois would now have to have been, what, fourteen when Superman left to go check out Krypton?!?
The Figures: My favorite is "Who Let One? Superman" (pictured), which comes with a cardboard standee of Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor so kids can recreate the deleted scene in which Clark goes on a shopping spree at Wizard World.
The Verdict: It's worth seeing, especially if you've ever been a fan of the big blue guy. It's infinitely better than Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, even though that's not saying much.

X-Men: The Last Stand
Directed by Brett Ratner
(Rush Hour 2)
Twentieth Century Fox

The Plot: A mutant cure has been found...and it's (gasp) another mutant! Magneto and his one-note henchmen are going to (once again) take the fight for mutants' rights to the humans, and it's (once again) up to the X-Men (led by an overbearing Halle Berry and an underused Hugh Jackman) to stop them. Meanwhile, main character Cyclops is reduced to a frustratingly short cameo, just when he was actually becoming interesting. Beloved comic villain The Phoenix becomes nothing more than a sitcom-esque sex-crazed evil twin.
The Good: Um...it follows a really good movie, X2!
The Bad: Where the heck is Nightcrawler?? How could they not bring back the second movie's only new character?!?
The Huh??: Wasn't Beast supposed to be...um, you know...an intellectual and not just a blue Hulk? Did they think that just merely casting Kelsey Grammer proves that the character is super-smart?
The Figures: None! Can you believe it? A big superhero movie that does not have a coinciding toy line! Anyway, I'll just have to remember my favorite entry from the first movie's toy line, the Wolverine figure with the Anna Paquin-stabbing action (no really!). After seeing her in this new one, trust me you'd want to see this toy brought back as soon as possible.
The Verdict: How many Xs are in the word "disappointing?"

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Directed by Gore Verbinski

The Plot: Captain Jack Sparrow is back! The Black Pearl is back! The pirates are back! That stupid evil monkey is back! This time Jack and Will Turner embark on a quest to save Jack from a debt he owes...to the one and only Davy Jones! Insert your own really lame Monkees joke here.
The Good: Johnny Depp, of course, who could play a brick wall and still be the most exciting thing on the screen. There's also some voodoo, which always makes for a good family film. The character design of Davy Jones is also appropriately creepy. And most importantly, the words "savvy," "parlay," and "poppet" are only uttered 313 times each this time, about four hundred times less than in the first movie.
The Bad: Keira Knightley in a subplot in which she thinks she's in some weird mix of Scooby-Doo and the Home Alone movies.
The Huh??: Is anyone else really confused why Jack Sparrow pretended to be the leader of the cannibals only to run away from them just moments later?
The Figures: There are actually two different action figure lines for this flick, one sold at more traditional toy stores and one sold at speciality retailers (comic shops, Hot Topic, etc.). My favorite is easily the Toys "R" Us Davy Jones (pictured). Aww, he's simply the cuddliest sea lord of the underworld we've ever seen!
The Verdict: Go see it, but make sure you see the first movie...um, first. Insert your own really lame pirate pun here.

DVDs We'll Never See

The Trouble with Larry: The Complete Series
Studio: Warner Home Video
SRP: $14.98
Packaging: Amaray Case
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

Special Features
Bonus Never Before Seen Episode: "The Angel of Death and Taxes"
Bonus Never Before Seen Episode: "Witless for the Prosecution"
Bonus Never Before Seen Episode: "Rhinestone Cowboy"
Bonus Never Before Seen Episode: "Pinata Full of Bones"
Commentary on episode "The Homecoming" by creators Andrew Nicholls and Darrell Vickers and star Bronson Pinchot
Cast and crew biographies

Oh Bronson Pinchot, how we used to love you so. As Serge in Beverly Hills Cop you were subtle and charming. As Balki on Perfect Strangers you were sweet and silly but not obnoxious. Even as Elliot in True Romance or as Craig Toomey in The Langoliers you proved to have a screen presence that makes it hard for one to take their eyes off you.

So why did The Trouble with Larry suck so much?? The very concept, that you were to play an eccentric thought-to-be-dead adventurer who gets shipped back to America to find that his wife and little girl have moved on with their lives, seemed not too farfetched for your talents. And there was even a pre-Friends (or as I call it, pre-crap) Courteney Cox there to provide some comedic friction for you. It sounded like this was the perfect post-Strangers vehicle for you.

And yet, as the first episode plays out, a depressing feeling starts to sink in. The very first scene consists of you essentially sitting back in a chair and spewing fat jokes to an actress whose sole direction was obviously "Stand still and be nothing more than a fleshy prop." Wow, what a novel start to what was hoped to be a successful, long-running sitcom...fat jokes! I was on pins and needles waiting for a scene with a midget now.

Okay, okay, that was just the first scene, meant to establish...um, what? That Larry is a boorish creep? Anyway, so Larry shows up to see his wife and meet her sister (Cox), her new husband, and Larry's young daughter (who of course doesn't know that Larry is her real father). So how does Larry make a good first impression? Well, by making cracks about the husband's genitalia. What a jolly good fellow! Let's invite him to live with us, even though most normal people would merely grab him by the collar and throw him off their property. But like I said, these aren't meant to be actual people. They're just receptors to Larry's supposed-to-be-charming insults.

And there lies the problem. Larry is just too unlikable. Balki was odd and goofy and he got others into trouble, but he was good-natured. He had suitcases full of redeeming qualities. To use another character from the Miller-Boyett stable of sitcoms, even Steve Urkel, for all his annoyances, was someone you still really couldn't hate. This jerk however is just that...a jerk. As someone we're supposed to care about (will he ever be able to tell his daughter the truth?), he simply does not earn our sympathy. As a protagonist he's downright repellent.

Bronson Pinchot is best in this show when Larry inexplicably dons "guises" as a way to resolve whatever the episode's conflict is. In one he's a Balki-esque immigrant, in another an insane cat burglar, in another a robot, etc. (surely he did others in the unaired episodes). This happens once per show, which leads one to believe that this formulaic sitcom might have worked better as merely a sketch show for Pinchot to be let loose in.

The Trouble with Larry proves that a comedy star and some generic stereotypical wisecracks do not a hit sitcom make. Perhaps one day Bronson Pinchot will be someone we'd again want to spend a half-hour with every week. Maybe he can play an effeminate beautician, or maybe even a daffy magical alien?

Meanwhile, complete seasons of his one truly good sitcom go unreleased. How strange.

Until then, you're stuck with a "best of" collection from one of Bronson's other sitcoms, Step by Step (note: Bronson probably doesn't appear anywhere on this DVD)

Fred's Shelf - May 2006

The Gama News Team ©2006 GAMA Productions. The Gama News Team, Fred the Mole, and related characters are the exclusive properties of GAMA Productions. All rights reserved.