Monday, February 15, 2010

Selleck: Usage, Sandwiches and Resurrection

Like the commonly perceived "Law of Threes" with celebrity death, there seems to be a similar one with pop-cultural resurrection. You go through your life as innocent and well-meaning as ever, and suddenly there's Jason Robards in Parenthood, and Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee in All the President's Men, and then someone you know who never goes referentially further afield for a joke than Jay Leno namedrops Jason Robards on you. It would make sense if Jason Robards had died or donated $10 million to the Jason Robards Foundation for Sounding Gruff in a Cool & Fatherly Way for Four Decades but nope. The cosmos just decided Jason Robards was going on a lazarus trip.

Something similar happened to me and Magnum, P.I. recently. Tom Selleck hadn't kicked off or been found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, but suddenly he was all over my radar. I know that if I look at it rationally, it's just confirmation bias at work; I don't think of Magnum, but suddenly someone mentions it, leading me to prick up my ears to any reference to it or the actors who appeared on the show, Hawaii, Ferraris, etc. But just because you know how the phenomenon operates doesn't make it any less weird. I used to drive The Wife crazy by deliberately using Herman's Head* in really inappropriate analogies ("When you think about it, Mitya, Vanya, Alyosha and Pavel in The Brothers Karamazov represent different sides of human behavior, much like the archetypes inside Herman's head on Herman's Head") in a way that would trigger her noticing references to it elsewhere, even making her furious to hear the name "Herman," since it would inevitably lead back to that show and then her swatting at me. Even being fully aware of the dynamic and thinking that your husband is an idiot doesn't lessen the fact that the universe perversely knows about the show too and seems to conspire to put its name in others' mouths.

* — If they ever release it on DVD and give people a chance to go back and look at it, it might not be as bad as I remember. That said, I'd like to make a case for Herman's Head being one of those shows like Cop Rock that was both clever from a conceptual standpoint and so clatteringly bad in execution that it would be a shame if the universe forgets it. The show's premise seemed promising enough: take a young likable guy trying to make it in life, pair him off with some co-workers and a hot love interest in then-hot actress Jane Sibbett, then go inside his head and see the various impulses in his psyche vie for control over his actions. But none of it added up to anything good. Aside from the inclusion of both Yeardley Smith and Hank Azaria in live-action roles, the cast is an all-time leader in That Guys. You know who I'm talking about: people never good enough at their craft to make you remember their name but who are recognizable enough that you always say, "Hey, it's that guy who killed a cop on Law & Order," or, "It's that crazy lady who slept with a grandpa on ER." The standout exception to this is the guy portraying Herman's animal impulses, who went on to play the incredibly irritating eponymous character in Baby Bob, a show so terrible that it was canceled immediately but somehow led to Quiznos thinking, "Hey, America really fucking hates this baby, but maybe they'll want it to sell them sandwiches," thus kicking off the annoying-talking-baby-selling-you-shit advertising trend. Anyway, somehow this show lasted a full three seasons.

Like I said, something akin to this recently happened with Magnum, P.I. Now, I like Magnum; I watched a crapload of it in the eighties, and when A&E used to run it after a block of NewsRadio in the afternoons, I'd watch it any time I was sick and just lying about uselessly. Also, back in high school I had one of those friends who played guitar and couldn't hang out in his room without holding his guitar at the same time — like a kind of purposeful shield against self-consciousness — who would play any piece of music relevant to whatever came up in conversation. Mention Magnum and he'd slap some pedals until he'd set up the 1980s-crunch distortion, then play the show's theme until he got bored. At lot of stuff about the show was already steeped in my brain.

So you can imagine how much I enjoyed this video when someone sent it to me a bit ago:

It's actually fairly old by now, and I'd seen it before, but whatever. I like Star Wars; I like Magnum, screw it. I watched it again, sending the guitar riff repeating in my brain for the next two days. It was bound to happen. What surprised me was seeing the show's name pop up again during a new episode of the USA series Psych, which has a pretty excellent track record of pop-cultural parody and self-awareness. In it, one of the leads, Gus, confesses to his best friend, Sean, that he has a secret girlfriend. Sean, annoyed that some girl's gonna horn in on his hanging-out time, begins grilling the girlfriend to determine her level of coolness, only to get blown away by her answers. When he announces that they're going to have a Smiths "lyrics-off," she replies, "We start with Queen Is Dead." When he asks her, "What's the best episode of Magnum, P.I.?" she shoots back, "Did You See the Sunrise, Part I." And she's right! The writers are right! That episode fucking rules. The only thing Psych dropped the ball on was failing to openly speculate about how Magnum's buddy Rick could wear pastel dress shirts with white collars, have giant feathered hair and always be around women but never convincingly with any of them and not be the gayest character on television.

So there I am, humming the damn show theme and seeing the show pop up in reference on Psych and literally within an hour or two, my cousin IMs me a link to Selleck Waterfall Sandwich. Here's a delightful example called, "The Italian."

That's it. That's literally it. It's Tom Selleck standing near waterfalls with sandwiches. Magnum rules; waterfalls are cool; sandwiches are amazing. I know a guy who only blogs about sandwiches, and the amazing thing is that there aren't thousands of people doing this. I'm willing to believe that, at a certain level of drunkenness, I could get in a fistfight with someone over what constitutes a sandwich or what goes into certain kinds of sandwiches. The sandwich represents the apotheosis of both cuisine and civilization. NOW SEE ONE SITTING IN A POOL BENEATH ONE OF NATURE'S MOST AMAZING SPECTACLES—AND ALSO NEAR A WATERFALL.

Some of them are animated, and while a few don't really take advantage of motion to bring the funny, others are dead on (no pun intended), like "The Bologna":

The site's navigation is a little poor (you have to mouse over the very bottom to bring up the link for archives or older posts), but the spartan nature of it speaks to its purity of focus and motivation. Some people I know would argue that this is why the internet is stupid, but to them I would respond that this is exactly why we need the internet. Absolutely no one in the world would ever publish a book of artwork of Tom Selleck standing near sandwiches or around something hydrological — and even if they did, you couldn't animate the pages — and yet this is immediately satisfying. I didn't even know I was missing this until I saw it, and now I know that it accomplishes something so pure and elementally good that I cannot live without it. The site's now in my RSS feed.

Of course, all this Magnum talk reminds me of one of the stranger interviews I've seen on The Daily Show. Selleck appeared for the interview to promote his latest CBS TV movie, Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise, from the popular Robert B. Parker novel. The Jesse Stone novels are generally considered to be pretty good for detective fiction, taking a flawed character and putting him in a small town that isn't quaint and artificially bucolic. Obviously, what Selleck wanted to get across was the tension and danger of the movie. Only for some reason they showed a clip (which isn't in the Daily Show interview available online) basically starring a golden retriever. Seriously, it's great; go watch 25 seconds of it, until the retriever gives you the "What the fuck?" face.

Naturally, the first thing Jon Stewart fixated on was the dog, which somehow segued into a discussion about colon usage. Here:

It's one of the funniest Daily Show interviews I've ever seen with a non-comic, and Selleck's willingness to work with Stewart and take the conversation to odd places makes him come off like an easygoing guy. The downside, though, is that years from now he may only be remembered for his contributions to punctuation usage and sandwiches. Still, even with that much, he's done enough. The elysian fields await.

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