- - Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tapped out

“After five years of parodying Bill O’Reilly, [Stephen] Colbert often seems constrained by his character. The ascent of Glenn Beck provided more fodder for Colbert’s parody, but Beck’s hyper-earnest, extremely-emotional-school-teacher character is very different from Colbert’s Limbaugh/O’Reilly shtick. But by now, he’s taken his character — and his character’s ego — everywhere it can go. Heck, two years ago, he ran for president.

“‘The Daily Show,’ on the other hand, can adopt Colbert’s farcical reactionary views via its correspondents (who assume whatever political belief a sketch requires), but it can adopt any number of other fresh comedic angles, too. Colbert, for the most part is stuck. His show relies more on wordplay and Leno-style rimshot comedy than it should. Despite the creativity of the ‘Colbert Report’ staff, the premise is beginning to show its limitations.”

Daniel Walters, writing on “A job performance review for our Comedians-In-Chief” on Nov. 3 at the Pacific Northwest Inlander

Nostalgia food

Stephen Colbert
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“Eating a McRib is like receiving a message from the spirit world. In a wavering voice, a ghost of fast food past asks, ‘Doooo you remember me? Remember when you could accept that a McDonald’s boneless pork-product-patty stamped in the shape of a rack of ribs could be called a “rib sandwich”?’ Why yes, I remember those times well, and Old Ghosty McRib’s moans and whispers sound, to me, more like song than like spookiness.

“It’s been half a lifetime, of course, since I’ve had one, the McRib being like the lost Atlantis that, every once in a while, floats up from the bottom of the sea. It’s available only in select stores for a few weeks at a time, a marketing ploy based on absence making the heart grow fonder and, perhaps, stronger. …

“The Approach: I’m excited to eat a McRib, but I’ll be honest: At least 50 percent of that excitement comes from nostalgia and 40 percent from how it looks (I’ll leave a possible 10 percent for taste). I mean, I can’t stress this enough: It is a boneless processed pork patty stamped in the shape of a rack of ribs. That is amazing. When it was introduced in 1982, the McRib was an important advancement in Postmodern Simulacra Cuisine. It was like food you used to pretend to feed to toys, but now you’re feeding it to yourself and your kids. Snicker if you will, but now we live in a world where chicken nuggets are considered to be legitimate parts of chicken, and a more than legitimate thing on which to raise your kids. (Fun fact: The man who invented the McRib unleashed the McNugget on the world a year later.)”

Francis Lam, writing on “The ineluctable return of the McRib” on Nov. 3 at Salon

Muppet success

“The Muppets appeared on TV frequently throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s — including on ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘Saturday Night Live’ — though [Jim] Henson always had broader aspirations for his creations than TV executives were willing to allow. Henson made a mint turning out smart children’s entertainment and clever commercials (many of which gently mocked the whole notion of pitching products), but in his spare time, he trained himself to be a filmmaker by making avant-garde shorts, and he mapped out plans for elaborate fantasy epics and psychedelic ‘happenings’ that no one would bankroll.

“‘The Muppet Show’ can be read — loosely, mind you — as Henson’s commentary on his perceived place in show business circa 1976. He’d been trying to land a prime-time television series in the U.S. for years, with no luck, so when media mogul Lew Grade of Britain’s ATV offered Henson a chance to produce a Muppet series for the UK. … Henson came up with a meta variety show, in which Kermit The Frog and Rowlf The Dog and a plethora of new Muppet creations would toil away in obscurity, trying to impress an audience that either ignored, mocked, or underestimated them. Naturally, in the ‘slobs vs. snobs’ showbiz environment of the ‘70s, ‘The Muppet Show’ became a massive hit.

Noel Murray, writing on “The Muppet Show: Steve Martin,” on Nov. 4 at the AV Club