My 10 Favorite Golden Girls Episodes

I still remember what I said on the occasion of the DVD release of the first season of The Golden Girls back in 2004: “Eat your heart out, Ozu.” Here is the result of an email volley with another cheesecake-eating friend of mine.

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01. “Till Death Do We Volley” (S4, E19) — A lot of my choices have some dramatic or emotional heft to back up the punchlines, but this one is just a classic piece of sitcom writing from start to finish, with a perfect series of one-ups between Dorothy and the somewhat terrifying woman who was Dorothy’s rival in high school (Anne Francis, in full ’80s butch fettle) and a reasonably twisty plot, given this is after all The Golden Girls and not Mulholland Drive. The bitchy quips between the two in this episode are fantastic. (“The way you picked yourself up after getting dumped by Stan, boy, I envy you your gumption.” “And I your breast implants.”) And Dorothy’s poker face throughout the whole episode is flawless. Plus, the best Sophia fart joke of the series. (“You’ll have to excuse Sophia.” “Oh, you heard that? I thought I was safe backed up against these pillows.”) Bonus: Blanche admitting that she loved her family and they had a few dollars but, “when you get down to it, basically they were trash,” but not before sniping to Dorothy, “I’m sorry if we can’t all come from places as socially acceptable as … Brooklyn.” If I’m looking to show off what made this one of the great sitcoms that still stayed well within a potentially constricting format, this is the episode I choose.

02. “Ebbtide’s Revenge” (S6, E12) — It’s no secret that Sophia is my least favorite of the four main characters, but in this case her antagonism just makes the moment she lets the facade drop all the more powerful. Structurally, this is a replay of the “Good Times” episode when Florida seems to be refusing to cry for her dead husband, but this episode goes much deeper into the nature of grief beyond the denial stage. Even beyond the obviously touching GLAAD Award-ish affirmation of Phil’s cross-dressing, the episode taps into that regret we feel about the feelings we withhold from people, only to realize too late that they were standing in the way of fully realized relationships. Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Bea Arthur were all consistently great throughout the series. But none of them ever delivered a moment as unexpected and raw as Estelle Getty’s admission of parental shame. I’ve admittedly never been a “drama trumps comedy” personality, but that’s about the only explanation I can think of why this heartbreaking episode didn’t flat-out take first place.

03. “Journey to the Center of Attention” (S7, E19) — By the last season, the bloom was definitely off the rose (and the Sophia). But there were a handful of episodes that got fresh mileage out of subtle twists on the characters’ traits. And, in the case of this particular episode, offered the most rewarding switcheroo in the show’s history. Blanche comes to terms — kicking and screaming, at that — with the fact that Dorothy has a talent for attracting men that she herself can’t hope to compete with. And what a beautiful talent it is. Bea Arthur’s performance of “What’ll I Do” is an astonishment, effortlessly moving from quiet melancholy into a totally unexpected punchline — when she decides, after noticing she’s entranced the entire room, to have another go around with the song, a moment that prefigures the final episode’s bittersweet long goodbye gag.

04. “Isn’t It Romantic” (S2, E5) — The three episodes I’ve listed so far all spotlight Dorothy in a vital if not necessarily central role. I make no bones about it, she is the engine of the show for me. That said, Blanche often sneaks up from behind as the show’s secret MVP, the middle ground between Dorothy’s infallible intelligence and Rose’s geniality. Blanche isn’t the focus of this episode; Rose is. But Blanche gets the episode’s best punchline, when she reacts badly to the news that Dorothy’s friend Jean is in love with Rose. “To think that Jean would prefer Rose to me? That’s ridiculous!”

05. “Job Hunting” (S1, E22) — Clearly one of the earliest episodes they shot (actually, it looks like it was taped concurrently with the pilot), this episode boasts a much looser structure than virtually every other episode in the series, predominately because of the extended midnight snack session that serves no plot function, but is instead used to shade three still-new characters. Like many of the best episodes of Norman Lear’s ’70s sitcoms, “Job Hunting” plays like a showcase one-act play. “Alright, so you’re a few years older. So am I, so is Blanche. Alright, so you’re a little thicker around the middle. So is Blanche!”

06. “My Brother, My Father” (S3, E17) — More episodes than not, I regard the arrival of Stan at the girls’ doorstep with about as much enthusiasm as Dorothy. Usually, the writers would use the occasion to fall back on a string of cheap toupee jokes, but this is one of the few episodes where the writers manage to come up with zingers worthy of their animosity. (“I’ll have to bring out the big gun.” “You’re wasting your time, Stanley. I’m familiar with the big gun.”) Uncle Angelo became a nuisance in the last season, too, but at least this first time around, the cliches hadn’t gotten stale. Also, Blanche, dressed as a nun and carrying her clothes: “We’re collecting lingerie for … needy … sexy people.”

07. “Dorothy’s New Friend” (S3, E15) — Dorothy’s foibles are usually dismissed as evidence of her rule over the roost. She’s the smartest, the most sensible and the most responsible of the quartet. That’s why the other three always take cheap shots at her physical beauty or perceived lack thereof. (“It’s not easy living with someone so perfect,” Blanche explains in the episode where the four visit a psychiatrist.) This episode finds a more elegant means of highlighting Dorothy’s character weaknesses: Barbara Thorndike, Dorothy’s seeming intellectual equal who is also, as it turns out, a total bitch about it.

08. “Wham, Bam, Thank You, Mammy” (S6, E5) — One of my favorite guest stars ever is Ruby Dee as Blanche’s mammy, who arrives after Big Daddy’s death to tell an unreceptive Blanche that her father, well, had a touch of Jungle Fever. She requests a trinket from Big Daddy’s belongings. “The Bible?” “No thanks, I don’t drink.”

09. “The One That Got Away” (S4, E3) — The one where Blanche is reunited with the one man that wouldn’t sleep with her and committing to finish the job even when he shows up fat, bald and still disinterested. I will never come up with a fake name more delicious than Ham Lushbough. Better fat jokes, on the whole, than “Blanche’s Little Girl,” too.

10. “Dancing in the Dark” (S5, E8) — I love when glimmers of Sue Ann Nivens peek through the Rose facade, as when she sets up Blanche with Miles and then, behind her back, asks Dorothy “Can you believe that backstabbing slut?”

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Honorable Mentions

“Joust Between Friends” (S2, E9) — “Eat dirt and die, trash.”

“Blanche’s Little Girl” (S3, E14) — The surfeit of cheap fat jokes from Sophia sour the proceedings a bit, but this is a solid demonstration of the maxim that honesty is always better than lies via withholding.

“Scared Straight” (S4, E9) — Rue’s theory that gay men like Blanche so much because she is, for all intents and purposes, a gay man is a tad objectionable, but it gets a nice test drive in this episode when her basically identical brother Clayton turns out to be gay.

“Not Another Monday” (S5, E7) — Geraldine Fitzgerald reading off the list of foods she’s going to order before killing herself: “I’m having the shrimp cocktail, the cream of mushroom soup, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and a filet mignon.” Also, Dorothy interrupting a Rose story with the promise: “I’m going to cut out your tongue.”

“Henny Penny Straight, No Chaser” (S6, E26) — “Help. The outlook is drear.” Great capper too, with Blanche being unable to get totally out of character.

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Top 5 Worst Episodes

01. “Fiddler on the Ropes,” a.k.a. “Hath Not a Cuban Eyes?” Gag me with a boxing glove.

02. Any episode dealing with Stan and Dorothy’s slummy apartment complex they ran together toward the end of the run.

03. “The Days and Nights of Sophia Petrillo,” a.k.a. the one where the writers just stuffed all their unused stories and sketches into an otherwise wheel-spinning mess of an episode.

04. “Mister Terrific,” a.k.a. the one that I believe actually references a Maude episode, but is still tonally awkward and has some of the sloppiest blocking ever (the sequence on the ledge, which is problematic enough even without the amateurish blocking).

05. “Questions and Answers,” a.k.a. the one where Jeopardy tells Dorothy that America would hate her. Yeah, I’m sure that’s why the show was among the top-rated in America for the first six seasons.

Honorable Mention: “Ladies of the Night,” a.k.a. the one where Sophia leaves the three of them in jail and Burt Reynolds stands still for about a minute while the audience goes nuts for no apparent reason.

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Been Around The World With The 1990s’ Billboard R&B #1’s

The 1990s may not have been a perfect R&B decade (one and a half words: R. Kelly), but it was my R&B decade. So here’s the plan. I’m going to revisit every single that landed #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart during that 10-year span that began with my collection of Bart Simpson T-shirts and ended with me pretending to browse for interview outfits.

I’ll probably get so weak in the knees I will hardly be able to speak.

1990
Babyface, “Tender Lover” (Dec. 30, 1989 & Jan. 6, 1990)
Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation” (Jan. 13, 1990)
Quincy Jones feat. Ray Charles & Chaka Khan, “I’ll Be Good To You” (Jan. 20 & 27, 1990)
Regina Belle, “Make It Like It Was” (Feb. 3, 1990)
Skyy, “Real Love” (Feb. 10, 1990)
Ruby Turner, “It’s Gonna Be Alright” (Feb. 17, 1990)
Stacy Lattisaw with Johnny Gill, “Where Do We Go From Here” (Feb. 24 & March 3, 1990)
Janet Jackson, “Escapade” (March 10, 1990)
Quincy Jones with Al B. Sure!, James Ingram, El DeBarge & Barry White, “The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)” (March 17, 1990)
Lisa Stansfield, “All Around The World” (March 24 & 31, 1990)
Troop, “Spread My Wings” (April 7 & 14, 1990)
After 7, “Ready Or Not” (April 21 & 28, 1990)
Bell Biv Devoe, “Poison” (May 5 & 12, 1990)
Johnny Gill, “Rub You The Right Way” (May 19, 1990)
En Vogue, “Hold On” (May 26 & June 2, 1990)
Tony! Toni! Toné!, “The Blues” (June 9, 1990)
Quincy Jones feat. Tevin Campbell, “Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)” (June 16, 1990)
MC Hammer, “U Can’t Touch This” (June 23, 1990)
Troop, “All I Do Is Think of You” (June 30, 1990)
Lisa Stansfield, “You Can’t Deny It” (July 7, 1990)
Johnny Gill, “My, My, My” (July 14 & 21, 1990)
Keith Sweat, “Make You Sweat” (July 28, 1990)
After 7, “Can’t Stop” (Aug. 4, 1990)
Mariah Carey, “Vision of Love” (Aug. 11 & 18, 1990)
The Time, “Jerk Out” (Aug. 25, 1990)
Tony! Toni! Toné!, “Feels Good” (Sept. 1 & 8, 1990)
En Vogue, “Lies” (Sept. 15, 1990)
The Boys, “Crazy” (Sept. 22, 1990)
Prince, “Thieves in the Temple” (Sept. 29, 1990)
Pebbles, “Giving You the Benefit” (Oct. 6-20, 1990)
Samuelle, “So You Like What You See” (Oct. 27 & Nov. 3, 1990)
Mariah Carey, “Love Takes Time” (Nov. 10, 1990)
Bell Biv Devoe, “B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)?” (Nov. 17, 1990)
Al B. Sure!, “Misunderstanding” (Nov. 24, 1990)
Whitney Houston, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (Dec. 1 & 8, 1990)
Ralph Tresvant, “Sensitivity” (Dec. 15, 1990)
Tony! Toni! Toné!, “It Never Rains (In Southern California)” (Dec. 22 & 29, 1990)

1991
Freddie Jackson, “Love Me Down” (Jan. 5 & 12, 1991)
Surface, “The First Time” (Jan. 19, 1991)
Pebbles & Babyface, “Love Makes Things Happen” (Jan. 26 & Feb. 2, 1991)
En Vogue, “You Don’t Have To Worry” (Feb. 9, 1991)
Keith Sweat, “I’ll GIve All My Love To You” (Feb. 16, 1991)
C+C Music Factory, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” (Feb 23, 1991)
Whitney Houston, “All the Man That I Need” (March 2 & 9, 1991)
The Rude Boys, “Written All Over Your Face” (March 16, 1991)
Hi-Five, “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)” (March 23 & 30, 1991)
Freddie Jackson, “Do Me Again” (April 6, 1991)
Johnny Gill, “Wrap My Body Tight” (April 13, 1991)
Tony! Toni! Toné!, “Whatever You Want” (April 20 & 27, 1991)
Christopher Williams, “I’m Dreamin'” (May 4, 1991)
Phil Perry, “Call Me” (May 11, 1991)
Teddy Pendergrass, “It Should’ve Been You” (May 18, 1991)
Keith Washington, “Kissing You” (May 25, 1991)
Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up” (June 1 & 8, 1991)
Luther Vandross, “Power of Love/Love Power” (June 15 & 22, 1991)
Lisa Fischer, “How Can I Ease the Pain” (June 29 & July 6, 1991)
Damian Dame, “Exclusivity” (July 13 & 20, 1991)
LeVert, “Baby I’m Ready” (July 27, 1991)
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, “Summertime” (Aug. 3, 1991)
Hi-Five, “I Can’t Wait Another Minute” (Aug. 10, 1991)
Peabo Bryson, “Can You Stop the Rain” (Aug. 17 & 24, 1991)
BeBe & CeCe Winans, “Addictive Love” (Aug. 31 & Sept. 7, 1991)
Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, “Let the Beat Hit ‘Em” (Sept. 14, 1991)
Phyllis Hyman, “Don’t Wanna Change the World” (Sept. 21, 1991)
Color Me Badd, “I Adore Me Amor” (Sept. 28, 1991)
Vanessa Williams, “Running Back To You” (Oct. 5 & 12, 1991)
Karyn White, “Romantic” (Oct. 19, 1991)
Boyz II Men, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” (Oct. 26, 1991)
Mariah Carey, “Emotions” (Nov. 2, 1991)
Jodeci, “Forever My Lady” (Nov. 9 & 16, 1991)
Tracie Spencer, “Tender Kisses” (Nov. 23, 1991)
The Rude Boys, “Are You Lonely For Me” (Nov. 30, 1991)
BeBe & CeCe Winans, “I’ll Take You There” (Dec. 7, 1991)
Gerald Levert, “Private Line” (Dec. 14, 1991)
Shanice, “I Love Your Smile” (Dec. 21, 1991-Jan. 11, 1992)

1992
Tevin Campbell, “Tell Me What You Want Me To Do” (Jan. 18, 1992)
Keith Sweat, “Keep It Comin'” (Jan. 25 & Feb. 1, 1992)
Jodeci, “Stay” (Feb. 8 & 15, 1992)
Boyz II Men, “Uhh Ahh” (Feb. 22, 1992)
Gerald Levert with Eddie Levert, “Baby Hold On To Me” (Feb. 29, 1992)
Michael Jackson, “Remember the Time” (March 7 & 14, 1992)
Prince and the New Power Generation, “Diamonds and Pearls” (March 21, 1992)
Vanessa Williams, “Save the Best for Last” (March 28-April 11, 1992)
Glenn Jones, “Here I Go Again” (April 18, 1992)
Aaron Hall, “Don’t Be Afraid” (April 25 & May 2, 1992)
Lisa Stansfield, “All Woman” (May 9, 1992)
En Vogue, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” (May 16 & 23, 1992)
Jodeci, “Come and Talk To Me” (May 30 & June 6, 1992)
R. Kelly and Public Announcement, “Honey Love” (Jun 13 & 20, 1992)
Michael Jackson, “In the Closet” (June 27, 1992)
Lionel Richie, “Do It To Me” (July 4, 1992)
Arrested Development, “Tennessee” (July 11, 1992)
Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson, “The Best Things in Live Are Free” (July 18, 1992)
Mary J. Blige, “You Remind Me” (July 25, 1992)
En Vogue, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” (Aug. 1, 1992)
TLC, “Baby Baby Baby” (Aug. 8 & 15, 1992)
Boyz II Men, “End of the Road” (Aug. 22-Sept. 12, 1992)
Bobby Brown, “Humpin’ Around” (Sept. 19 & 25, 1992)
R. Kelly and Public Announcement, “Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)” (Oct. 3, 1992)
Tevin Campbell, “Alone With You” (Oct. 10, 1992)
Mary J. Blige, “Real Love” (Oct. 17 & 24, 1992)
Al B. Sure!, “Right Now” (Oct. 31, 1992)
Troop, “Sweet November” (Nov. 7, 1992)
Miki Howard, “Ain’t Nobody Like You” (Nov. 14, 1992)
Chuckii Booker, “Games” (Nov. 21, 1992)
Shai, “If I Ever Fall in Love” (Nov. 28, 1992)
Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (Dec. 5, 1992-Feb. 13, 1993)

1993
Naughty By Nature, “Hip Hop Hooray” (Feb. 20, 1993)
Dr. Dre, “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” (Feb. 27 & March 6, 1993)
Silk, “Freak Me” (March 13-May 1, 1993)
Janet Jackson, “That’s the Way Love Goes” (May 8-29, 1993)
H-Town, “Knockin’ Da Boots” (June 5-26, 1993)
SWV, “Weak” (July 3 & July 10, 1993)
Tag Team, “Whoomp! (There It Is)” (July 17, 1993)
Jodeci, “Lately” (July 24 & 31, Aug. 14 & 21, 1993)
Ice Cube feat. Das EFX, “Check Yo Self” (Aug. 7, 1993)
SWV, “Right Here/Human Nature” (Aug. 28-Oct. 9, 1993)
Xscape, “Just Kickin’ It” (Oct. 16-Nov. 6, 1993)
DRS, “Gangsta Lean” (Nov. 13-Dec. 18, 1993)
Tevin Campbell, “Can We Talk” (Dec. 25 1993-Jan. 8, 1994)

1994
Jodeci, “Cry for You” (Jan. 15-Feb. 5, 1994)
Xscape, “Understanding” (Feb. 12 & 19, 1994)
R. Kelly, “Bump n’ Grind” (Feb. 26-May 14, 1994)
Aaliyah, “Back & Forth” (May 21-June 4, 1994)
Janet Jackson, “Any Time, Any Place” (June 11-Aug. 13, 1994)
Boyz II Men, “I’ll Make Love To You” (Aug. 20-Oct. 15, 1994)
Brandy, “I Wanna Be Down” (Oct. 22-Nov. 12, 1994)
Barry White, “Practice What You Preach” (Nov. 18-Dec. 3, 1994)
TLC, “Creep” (Dec. 10, 1994-Feb. 4, 1995)

1995
Brandy, “Baby” (Feb. 11-March 4, 1995)
Soul for Real, “Candy Rain” (March 11-25, 1995)
Montell Jordan, “This Is How We Do It” (April 1-May 13, 1995)
Method Man feat. Mary J. Blige, “I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need To Get By” (May 20-June 3, 1995)
Monica, “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)” (June 10 & 17, 1995)
The Notorious B.I.G., “One More Chance / Stay With Me” (June 24-Aug. 19, 1995)
Shaggy, “Boobastic / In the Summertime” (Aug. 26, 1995)
Michael Jackson, “You Are Not Alone” (Sept. 2-23, 1995)
Mariah Carey, “Fantasy” (Sept. 30-Nov. 4, 1995)
Xscape, “Who Can I Run To” (Nov. 11, 1995)
R. Kelly, “You Remind Me Of Something” (Nov. 18, 1995)
Whitney Houston, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” (Nov. 25, 1995-Jan. 13, 1996)

1996
Monica, “Before You Walk Out of My Life / Like This and Like That” (Jan. 20 & 27, 1996)
Mary J. Blige, “Not Gon’ Cry” (Feb. 3-March 2, 1996)
R. Kelly feat. Ronald Isley, “Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)” (March 9-April 20, 1996)
SWV, “You’re the One” (April 27, 1996)
Mariah Carey, “Always Be My Baby” (May 4, 1996)
Bone Thugs N Harmony, “Tha Crossroads” (May 11-June 22, 1996)
Toni Braxton, “You’re Makin’ Me High / Let It Flow” (June 29 & July 27, 1996)
2Pac feat. K-Ci & JoJo / feat. Dr. Dre, “How Do U Want It / California Love” (July 6-20, 1996)
R. Kelly, “I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I)” (Aug. 3 & 10, 1996)
Keith Sweat, “Twisted” (Aug. 17-24 & Sept. 21, 1996)
New Edition, “Hit Me Off” (Aug. 31-Sept. 14, 1996)
Aaliyah, “If Your Girl Only Knew” (Sept. 28 & Oct. 5, 1996)
Az Yet, “Last Night” (Oct. 12, 1996)
Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre, “No Diggity” (Oct. 19-Nov. 9, 1996)
Ginuwine, “Pony” (Nov. 16 & 23, 1996)
Keith Sweat feat. Athena Cage, “Nobody” (Nov. 30-Dec. 14, 1996)
R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly” (Dec. 21, 1996-Jan 18 and Feb. 1, 1997)

1997
En Vogue, “Don’t Let Go (Love)” (Jan. 25, 1997)
Erykah Badu, “On & On” (Feb. 8 & 15, 1997)
Dru Hill, “In My Bed” (Feb. 22 & March 1 and April 19, 1997)
Puff Daddy feat. Mase, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” (March 8-April 12, 1997)
The Notorious B.I.G., “Hypnotize” (April 26-May 10, 1997)
Changing Faces, “G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T.” (May 17-June 7, 1997)
Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans & 112, “I’ll Be Missing You” (June 11-Aug. 2, 1997)
Dru Hill, “Never Make a Promise” (Aug. 9-30, 1997)
Usher, “You Make Me Wanna” (Sept. 6-Nov. 15, 1997)
LSG, “My Body” (Nov. 22-Dec. 20, 1997)
Boyz II Men, “A Song For Mama” (Dec. 27, 1997 & Jan. 3, 1998)

1998
LSG, “My Body” (Jan. 10 & 17, 1998)
Usher, “Nice and Slow” (Jan. 24-March 14, 1998)
Destiny’s Child, “No, No, No” (March 21, 1998)
Montell Jordan feat. Master P & Silkk the Shocker, “Let’s Ride” (March 28 and April 18 & 25, 1998)
K-Ci & JoJo, “All My Life” (April 4 & 11, 1998)
Next, “Too Close” (May 2-16, 1998)
Janet feat. Blackstreet, “I Get Lonely” (May 23 & 30, 1998)
Brandy and Monica, “The Boy Is Mine” (June 6-July 25, 1998)
Kelly Price, “Friend of Mine” (Aug. 1-29, 1998)
Monica, “The First Night” (Sept. 5-Oct. 10, 1998)
Dru Hill feat. Redman, “How Deep Is Your Love” (Oct. 17-31, 1998)
Deborah Cox, “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here” (Nov. 7, 1998-Feb. 6, 1999)

1999
Whitney Houston feat. Faith Evans and Kelly Price, “Heartbreak Hotel” (Feb. 13-March 27, 1999)
Busta Rhymes feat. Janet, “What’s It Gonna Be?!” (April 3, 1999)
TLC, “No Scrubs” (April 10-May 8, 1999)
Maxwell, “Fortunate” (May 15-July 3, 1999)
Destiny’s Child, “Bills, Bills, Bills” (July 10-Sept. 4, 1999)
Faith Evans, “Never Gonna Let You Go” (Sept. 11, 1999)
Eric Benet feat. Tamia, “Spend My Life With You” (Sept. 18-25, 1999)
Deborah Cox feat. R.L., “We Can’t Be Friends” (Oct. 2 & 23, 1999)
Mariah Carey feat. Jay-Z, “Heartbreaker” (Oct. 9 & 16, 1999)
Puff Daddy feat. R. Kelly, “Satisfy You” (Oct. 30 & Nov. 6, 1999)
Donell Jones, “U Know What’s Up” (Nov. 13, 1999-Jan. 1, 2000)

The Town

(Ben Affleck, 2010)

Warner Brothers has made it no secret they’re hoping Ben Affleck can be the next Clint Eastwood, meaning they want him to write, act, direct and produce the studio’s more prestigious, but still mainstream-friendly fare. And do it while simultaneously filling the all-important role as a matinee idol.

The mostly respectable reviews and solid opening weekend grosses for Affleck’s sophomore feature The Town indicate they may have read the tea leaves correctly this time around.

Coming off the heels of Gone Baby Gone, The Town confirms Affleck’s penchant for injecting pulpy material with an unyieldingly seriousness verging on the sort of drabness that usually attracts Oscar’s attention. It is formula action filmmaking executed with the best intentions, and the best collaborators money can buy.

As with Gone Baby Gone, The Town rather self-evidently flashes (Berkeley-born) Affleck’s kinship with Baaah-stan’s working class, who are invariably shown skirting in and around the criminal underbelly.

From scene one, Affleck’s headlining bank robber mastermind Doug MacRay is organizing seamless stings with his four-man team. Though the robbery goes off with nary a hitch, he seems sadly resigned to his life’s path, one which in fact mirrors his incarcerated father’s. Ah, the all important father-son relationship.

Whereas Baby centered around a missing child, The Town is preoccupied with the proverbial absent parent. Just as Doug spends the whole movie deifying the mother that left him (a woman who, his jaundiced father disinterestedly informs him, was no better than a gutter rat), he is shown regenerating the cycle, repeatedly denying his paternity to the daughter of a glamorously ruined bar-dweller (Blake Lively, in the film’s most Amy Ryan-like performance).

If the relationships that don’t exist fuel Doug’s criminal activities, it’s the inconvenient relationships that insist upon his stasis which threaten his illicit livelihood. On the one hand is his destructive, love-you-like-a-brother connection to fellow thief James Coughlin (the red-hot Jeremy Renner, doing his best to ape James Cagney), who is also inconveniently the uncle of Doug’s child. On the other hand is the potentially transcendent relationship he develops with a fragile witness to one of Doug & Company’s heists, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall).

In short, The Town‘s fisticuffs are a Freudian mess. And that’s even before Pete Postlethwaite, as a flower-snipping mob boss, shows up to taunt Doug about why his father languishes in jail.

To my taste, these stabs at familial drama don’t elevate The Town beyond its run-of-the-mill story half as much as the film’s supporting performances (Lively shares the MVP title with Jon Hamm’s nonplussed FBI agent) and unimpeachable technical polish (the sleek cinematography comes courtesy Robert Elswit, who won an Oscar two years back for There Will Be Blood). In fact, the movie’s only crippling failure can be found in the charisma-void right at the center of the whole enterprise.

In other words, if Affleck can be said to be following in Clint Eastwood’s footsteps as an auteur, it’s because he’s learned to find ways to de-emphasize his limitations as an actor by surrounding himself with the best talent Warner Brothers’ money can buy.

Twilight: Eclipse

(David Slade, 2010)

All early indications would suggest that Twilight: Eclipse is the best in the series so far. I wouldn’t know. I jumped headlong into the series with this third installment, having skipped the first two.

I figured that I wouldn’t be too lost, that it would be basically like jumping into a TV soap opera after months and months of time off and catching up within about 15 minutes. Surprise, surprise, I was all caught up during the opening scene as Edward, the gentlemanly vampire, is shown lounging with Bella, his pouty girlfriend, in the spring splendor of a purple field borrowed from Jane Campion’s Bright Star.

The only thing that initially confused me was the fact that the two were sitting in the sunlight. I thought vampires burned easily. I mean, that’s the whole reason I’m interested in vampire movies in the first place, because we have that complexion in common. (Well actually, there were two things that confused me in that first scene. The second was when I realized that Kristen Stewart’s wan, emotionless Bella was not yet undead.)

Otherwise, the love triangle between Bella, Edward and some stack of muscles apparently meant to represent a werewolf named Jacob explains itself in a few expository lunchroom conversations straight out of Dawson’s Creek. (Uh-oh. I’m dating myself.)

In short: Bella loves Jacob, but loves Edward more. And why not? With commitment on her mind, she’s obviously a little bit more taken with the sensitive guy who doesn’t want to give her a life-altering hickey than she is with the guy who smells like dog, even if he admittedly always looks like he just completed 18 sets of push-ups. (The audience of mostly teen girls I saw the film with were similarly torn by their love for chivalry and their love for carnal definition.)

Against this universal goth backdrop, an army of newly undead (more powerful in their first few months of vampirism) are being recruited in Seattle to raise hell, and not in protest of your garden variety G20 Summit. No, they’re being organized to move into the mountains where Edward and the rest of the Cullen clan are protecting Bella. The only way they can keep her safe is to forge an uneasy alliance between themselves and Jacob’s belligerent wolf pack.

Call me crazy, but is Twilight: Eclipse nothing more than West Side Story with less songs and more claws? I mean, I get why this series is such a smashing success. It’s got an undeniable corny, adolescent appeal. This is high school crushing distilled to near-crack level concentration. The clear delineation between just about every type of pre-pubescent crush archetype is represented in Team Edward and Team Jacob.

Author Stephanie Meyer’s well-documented Mormonism doesn’t inform the series, and never overwhelms the horror-show flourishes with morality. But make no mistake, it’s there. Edward’s refusal to turn Bella into the vampire she so deeply wants to be until they are married is hardly a heavily-veiled metaphor. With Eclipse, the whole series emerges as an embalmed cover version of Beyonce’s command to “put a ring on it.” Or put a steak through it.

Jody Watley, "I Love To Love"

You know, of all the holidays I don’t celebrate, I think I actually like Valentine’s Day the best. There’s no other holiday I feel, as a chronically single person, less pressure to go through the motions over. The expectation is to quite simply lay low and let the lovers open their wallets. Mission accomplished in abundance. That said, I’m not the only one who says one thing and wishes another. I’d be pretty happy to have someone to buy a $12 teddy bear for, someone who would appreciate me placing a note within its paw reading, “Will you be my fart pillow?” I’m 30 now and realize I shouldn’t limit my options to those who read Baudelaire in bed but still await my dutch oven surprise. Especially on Saturdays like today, in which I made maintained absolutely no human contact whatsoever. Much as it pains me to say it, perhaps I shouldn’t be holding out hope I will one day meet that elusive, sexy, smart, cheeky, rock-climbing deaf man.

Or maybe I could stand to wait. Jody Watley was a robust 41 years old when she collaborated with Masters at Work on “I Love to Love,” a deep house number that falls pretty solidly within MAW’s A/C-tinged, clean-beat grown folks era. But that’s kinda the point. If the beats lack those rough “Blood Vibes” edges, it’s because they are meant to exude total contentment. Jody’s singing here about the sweetest capitulation, and Kenny Dope and Louie Vega’s soft-inside percussion folds nicely within voluptuous, bass-heavy chords. Each instrument seems to be murmuring a post-coital “Mmmmm.” Mellow and comfy is the flavor, but the lyrics don’t deny the arduous journey Jody (and likely you) have to undertake to get there. “I’ve learned you’ve really gotta love yourself, before you can give it to someone else. You’ve got to know it’s real.” See, Jody’s all about the giving. You give first to yourself, then you can give to others. Look, I know I’m not programmed to think like this, and sometimes it takes a nice bit of synthesizer programming to get me to feel warmth like this. “It feels so good to finally have happiness.” I love.

Speaking of love, and as a side note, I went back and updated my favorite movies lists with about a year’s worth of new favorites, as I was not in the habit of updating the template while deciding whether or not to pull the plug. Since I haven’t and won’t be shutting up this shop anytime soon, I’ve added about 30 new and old movies I caught last year that I found worth including in my rainbow rundown. Not bad, considering I probably saw only about 100 movies total last year. What can I say? I love to love.

2012

(Roland Emmerich, 2009)

We all hate previews that spoil everything about the movies they’re teasing, right? Well, what can you say about a movie that is effectively obliterated by two fake parody trailers on YouTube?

At the risk of spoiling the sausage by separating the pieces that went into the making of director Roland Emmerich’s latest epic Tinkertoy tantrum, take a look at the following viral videos. The first one is a trailer made up entirely of the non-special effects-laden shots in 2012. The second is a rollicking, cheery compilation of nothing but visual effects shots.

You want to know the punchline? Both of these trailers are actually a more satisfying experience than the whole enchilada. The problem with 2012, a pompous depiction of the end of the world based loosely on the notion that Mayans pinpointed the exact date Earth would meet its demise, isn’t that Emmerich doesn’t believe in his material. After all, the man already has Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow under his belt.

No, if anything, Emmerich believes in his material too much. In his quest to make, as the second trailer linked above puts it, the disaster movie to end all disaster movies, he badly misjudges the amount of audience goodwill toward trash that accepts its own trashiness. I won’t be surprised if, 30 years from now when the visual effects that represent this movie’s only real ace in the hole look as dated as the toy boat in The Poseidon Adventure, movie geeks have more affection for the, um, knowing ridiculousness of this year’s earlier Knowing.

Not that anyone expects a movie in which nearly 7 billion people die horribly atop terra farta to embrace its inner screwball, but Emmerich’s standard approximations of scope (i.e. a postcard tour of the world’s landmarks, a genetically and ethically diverse cross-sectioning of humanity foregrounded as main characters) become a slog quickly.

And despite his admitted skill with the catastrophic money shot (my favorite, and certainly still the creepiest post-9/11, was a plane’s-eye view of people falling out of a collapsing office building), the end of the world becomes distressingly tedious by about three rumbling Earth ruptures in. We get more than enough fire and brimstone, but then we also get the black snow and the endless series of final phone calls and a dutifully corpulent Oliver Platt saving the world’s rich people and declaring himself President of the world, and that’s just depressing.

But hey, I could just be misguidedly sensitive to whatever catharsis 2012 has to offer. Here’s an incredibly foul-mouthed counterpoint someone pointed me toward.

Hamilton Bohannon, "Foot Stompin’ Music"

Hamilton Bo-Han-Non’s most cited song is undoubtedly “Let’s Start the Dance,” a synth-heavy concoction that sounds like a golden retriever shaking off after diving into a pool of glitter. It’s great, but if there was one constant in my voting patterns for Slant’s old and triflin’ dance list, it was that I was the one constantly advocating for unapologetically testosterone-fueled funk-dance tracks. More on that later, no doubt, but for now try and unpack this mostly inscrutable YouTube video for an earlier, equally-chuggable Bohannon rhythm exercise.