It feels like just yesterday I was saying happy new year and anticipating the good things to come in 2020. Wishful thinking. This has been a difficult year that most people probably won’t want to remember. Unforgettable in all the wrong ways. I don’t think things will magically get better in 2021, but I’m holding out hope that they’ll improve somewhat. Personally, I can’t wait to start another chapter with my partner. Pop culture-wise, all of the upcoming anniversaries, revivals, reboots, and projects set in the past are exciting. I don’t know exactly how the next 365 days will shake out, but I’m eager to move forward while occasionally looking back.
The legendary Dionne Warwick turns 80 today. Singer, actress, Solid Gold host, Godwill Ambassador, reality tv contestant, and, recently, prolific Tweeter. Dionne has done it all. Let’s say a little prayer for her on her milestone birthday.
“The Winner Takes It All” was the first single off ABBA’s Super Trouper album. It paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of a breakup. ABBA isn’t known for the depth of their lyrics (what the hell is “Super Trouper” about anyways?), so it’s interesting how detailed this song is. They find an inventive way of comparing a relationship to a game. “The winner takes it all/The loser’s standing small/Besides the victory/That’s her destiny”.
The music is beautiful, going between a soft piano arrangement and a midtempo beat. It makes you sad and reflective, but you want to dance too. The vocals are also great. My favorite part is Angetha’s soaring “alllllll” on the last verse.
“Winner” went to #1 in several countries. It was the group’s last top ten song in the US, which is odd considering there were strong follow up singles like “Lay All Your Love on Me”. Those people who didn’t get ABBA were the real losers.
In his latest film, Uncle Frank, writer/director Alan Ball explores issues with family, identity, and acceptance. The story, set in the 70s, focuses on Beth (Sophia Lillis), a bright young girl growing up in a small town in South Carolina. She doesn’t feel like anyone in her family understands her with the exception of her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany). He is a smart witty college professor who encourages her to choose her own path and get out of the South. Years later, Beth takes Frank’s advice and enrolls in New York University, where he also teaches. She discoverers that her uncle is gay and lives with his partner, Wally (Peter Macdissi, Ball’s real-life husband). Frank has kept his sexuality hidden from his family for decades. Before Beth can digest this new information, they learn that Daddy Mac, her grandpa/Frank’s father has passed away. Frank is reluctant to return home for the funeral because he and his father had a contentious relationship. But Beth and Wally convince him to go. On the trip back home, secrets are unearthed and demons come back to haunt Frank.
Family dramas are Ball’s strong suit. Just like with his series, Six Feet Under, he creates an interesting clan here. At the forefront is Bettany’s compelling performance. Frank’s defiance and strength hide a lot of hurt. That pain comes to the surface in several well-acted scenes where Frank has to face his past. On the flip side, Macdissi delivers comic relief with Wally. But he also shows a lot of depth underneath the humor. Lillis is a great new talent. Her character comes of age before our eyes, growing from a timid teenager to a confident young woman. The rest of Frank’s family is filled in with fantastic supporting actors like Steve Zahn, Margo Martindale, and Judy Greer.
Ball loosely based Uncle Frank on his own experience with his father, who was closeted. He continually hits home the message of being true to yourself. Moreover, despite how smothering family can be and how you feel like you need to run away from them, once you return home you may realize that you actually do belong and this is where you’re supposed to be.
Thirty years ago, my all-time favorite show, Beverly Hills 90210, premiered. This was the OG teen drama that opened the door for all the rest. It had soapy storylines, very pretty people, and a mythic zip code that everyone wanted to live in. The fish out of water premise focused on the Walsh family moving from their comfy normal Minneapolis home to the glitzy Beverly Hills. There was stern patriarch Jim (James Eckhouse), his loveable wife Cindy (Carol Potter), and their dynamic twins Brandon (Jason Priestly) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty). B&B enrolled in West Beverly Hills High School and met brooding bad boy Dylan McKay (Luke Perry), queen bee Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), clotheshorse Donna Martin (Tori Spelling), spoiled rich boy Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering), brainiac Andrea Zuckerman (Gabrielle Carteris), and dorky David Silver (Brian Austin Green). Immediately, I was drawn in and made Thursday nights at 9pm (and then Wednesdays at 8pm) appointment viewing. My walls were decorated with posters of the cast. I even had the dolls. Really wish I had held onto those. 90210 was my adolescence. I was 11 when the show began in 1990 and months way from turning 21 when it went off the air in 2000. It will always have a special place in my heart, so for its anniversary I thought I’d celebrate the best things about the show. And some of the worst.
Best Character – Brenda
You can’t get any better than Brenda. Beautiful, smart, and headstrong. Plus, she usually had the most compelling storylines. You wanted to watch every week as she navigated the rough terrain of Beverly Hills. Shannen’s performances were always on point, making her the best actor in the cast. When she left at the end of season 4, I stopped watching…for a few episodes. I may have come back, but the show was never quite the same without Brenda.
Most Boring Character – Andrea
Andrea wasn’t necessarily setting the screen on fire. Her trajectory was running the school newspaper while crushing on Brandon, getting knocked up and married her freshman year of college, and studying to be a doctor. Blah. Yeah, she cheated on her husband, but it was a tedious affair. Really, the most interesting thing to happen to her was getting run down by a car in season 3.
Best Couple – Brenda & Dylan
Brenda and Dylan were an intense couple. They loved hard, leading to several fights and breakups. But no matter what, they were always there for each other. Also, Shannen and Luke had amazing chemistry.
Worst Couple – Donna & Ray
Ray was an abusive cheating douchebag who threw Donna down a flight of stairs. Luckily, she gained the courage to end things with him before it was too late. On a positive note, he did write a catchy song, “How Do You Talk to an Angel”.
Best Rivalry – Brenda vs. Kelly
Brenda and Kelly started off as best friends before quickly becoming frenemies. The minute Brenda turned her back, Kelly was scamming on Dylan, leading to the final B&D breakup. Even though Brenda got over it, I couldn’t forgive Kelly. #NeverForget
Best Parent – Cindy Walsh
Cindy was always there to listen to her kids’ problems and offer good advice. It’s funny how Carol Potter quit acting to become a family therapist. Life kind of imitated art.
Worst Parent – Felice Martin
Donna’s mom (Katherine Cannon) never failed to be the worst. She was the typical Beverly Hills snob, looking down on everyone around her. Turns out she was a big hypocrite, preaching about abstinence while cheating on her husband.
Best Villain – Amanda
Amanda made a brief indelible villainous mark on the show in the “Slumber Party” episode. From the get go she thinks Brenda’s pajama party is beneath her and isn’t afraid to tell them all. Then she suggests they play “Skeletons in the Closet” where each girl has to confess secrets about themselves. This ends in tears and humiliation. Later, it’s revealed that Amanda has been taking diet pills that are killing her personality. She finally lets her guard down and eats something. Bitchiness cured.
Best Kelly Tragedy – Cocaine Kelly
Drama stuck to Kelly like white on rice. Speaking of white stuff, Kelly getting hooked on cocaine was her best tragic moment. She spiraled downward into the bottom of a coke vial, enabled by Colin (Jason Wiles), her boyfriend at the time. After hitting rock bottom, she checked into rehab. That led to her meeting fellow addict, Tara (Paige Moss), a complete psycho who went single white female on her. Never bring home friends from rehab.
Dumbest Tragedy to Befall Kelly – LAX Drive-by Shooting
The gang was coming back from a trip to Hawaii when they found themselves gunned down by a pair of car thieves in the parking lot. Kelly took a bullet and immediately went into a coma. Then she woke up with amnesia. Seriously.
Best Exit – Dylan takes off
Dylan’s arc for season 6 involved trying to find the man responsible for his father’s death. That turned out to be mobster Anthony Marchette. In a soapy twist, Dylan fell in love with Marchette’s daughter, Toni. They got married and planned to leave Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, Marchette put a hit on Dylan, but the assassin accidentally killed Toni. A grief-stricken Dylan left town, riding off into the sunset on his motorcycle.
Most Annoying Character – Clare
Clare (Kathleen Robertson) came in during season four as Brandon’s stalker, basically. When she got over him, she moved onto David and then Steve. None of the pairings were great, but Claire was consistently annoying. Judgy and always ready to blame someone else for her problems. It didn’t help that she had a bad case of resting bitch face.
Best New Character – Valerie Malone
After Brenda left BH, Valerie Malone (Tiffani Thiessen), a Walsh family friend, was added to the canvas. She was no Minnesota twin, but she did a fine job. In Valerie, the show finally got a straight up bitch (with a heart). She was sneaky, deceitful, and full of snark. Her main target was Kelly, so I took to Val pretty quickly.
Worst New Character – Gina
After Tiffani left the show in season 9, producers rushed to replace her with Vanessa Marcil, a popular daytime soap star. She played Gina, Donna’s cousin (but actually her half-sister, long story). Unlike, Val, Gina was one-dimensional and lacked chemistry with any member of the gang.
Funniest Character – Steve
Steve provided a lot of comic relief. Intentional or not. Those loud silk shirts he wore in the early seasons were quite laughable. Not to mention his curly mullet.
Biggest Waste of Talent – Hilary Swank
In year 8, Hilary Swank was cast as Steve’s girlfriend Carly. She was fired mid-season. The rest is two-time Academy Award winning history.
Best & Worst Fashion – Donna
Over the course of a decade, Donna followed every 90s fashion trend. She wore clothes well, like the red & black sweater and short-shorts set she had on when she found out her mom was a big cheater. Or her low cut, yet tasteful (thanks to a cross) sparkly black prom dress. Sometimes the clothes wore her and showcased her insane boobs too much. But she always made an effort, however misguided.
Sexiest Man – Dylan
The late Luke Perry was as hot as he was talented. You can’t resist a bad boy with a lot of forehead.
Best Track from the Soundtrack – “Love Is”
The show came out with a soundtrack in 1992 filled with a bunch of great songs. Vanessa Williams and Brian McKnight duetted on the beautiful ballad “Love Is”. It’s the track I like to play over and over again…and usually sing the Vanessa parts.
Best Musical Guest Stars – Color Me Badd
In “Things to Do on a Rainy Day”, Brenda, Kelly, Donna, and David run around the Bel Age Hotel trying to meet Color Me Badd, who are staying there. Hijinks ensue. At the end of the episode, the Badd guys serenade Donna with “I Adore”. It’s delightfully cheesy.
Best Musical Performance
In the “Wild Fire” episode, new girl Emily Valentine (Christine Elsie) sings “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” at the Hello Day talent show. Brenda, Kelly, and Donna assist with some mean lip synching and Robert Palmer backup dancer realness.
Dumbest Line – “I choose me”
Faced with a marriage proposal from Brandon and a trip around the world with Dylan, Kelly went with “I choose me”. Wrong choice, girl.
Most Character Growth – David
David started out as a skinny little geek in season 1 who was obsessed with girls and being popular. He grew up quickly (emotionally and physically) and became more secure with himself. Plus, he won over Donna and joined the group. There were dramatic lows, like his drug addiction and mental illness issues, but he overcame them. By the end of the show, David proved to be a good friend, brother, and partner.
Heart of the Show – Nat
Nat (Joe E. Tata), the owner of the Peach Pit, was like a second father to everyone in the group. He provided a shoulder to lean on and a delicious burger to eat.
Best Trip – Paris
In the summer episodes of season 3, Brenda and Donna traveled to Paris for a study abroad program. Brenda pretended to be French (complete with a bad accent) while being romanced by cute American tourist Rick (Dean Cain). Meanwhile, Donna tried her hand at modeling. That didn’t go far. The trip overall was a fun retreat from the usual Beverly Hills stories, plus the girls grew closer as friends.
Best Event – Spring Dance
At the end of season 1, the gang gathered together for West Beverly’s spring dance. Brenda and Kelly wore the same little black and white dress. Brenda did it better. Donna wore a ridiculous dress with a hoop skirt no less. Steve was a jerk because everyone forgot his birthday. Andrea nearly missed the whole thing. And Brenda and Dylan made love for the first time. It was a night to remember. Btw, the senior prom in season 3 is a very close second. Donna getting drunk and nearly getting tossed out of school will never get old. #DonnaMartinGraduates
Worst Event – Brandon & Kelly’s almost wedding
Viewers were prepared for longtime couple, Brandon and Kelly, to get married in the season 8 finale. They’d been through so many dramas and this was the natural next step. Instead, they both got cold feet and called it off. Wtf?? Not cool, show.
Best Season – Season 2
Fox was thinking out of the box when they started airing the second season in the summer. Kids at home had nothing else to watch and quickly latched onto the fledging show, making it a hit. Brenda and Dylan’s drama took center stage. She had a pregnancy scare and they broke up (in Dylan’s vintage Porsche while R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” played). Meanwhile, Brandon diched his job at the Peach Pit for a run as a cabana boy at the Beverly Hills Beach Club. To remind you, Beverly Hills is landlocked. How did we not question this alleged beach? When school started, we met wild girl Emily, who introduced us to U4EA. Scott (Douglas Emerson), David’s former best friend, accidentally killed himself. Everybody was talking about sex. David’s dad Mel (Matthew Laurence) and Kelly’s mom Jackie (Ann Gillespie) got together. Jim and Dylan waged WWIII with Brenda stuck in the middle. And Kelly had a brief romance with older man Jake Hanson (Grant Show). A handyman who lived over on Melrose Place.
Worst Season – Seasons 9 & 10
One thing is clear, 90210 stayed too late at the party. The show could have ended with the gang graduating from college in season 7. Or with Brandon and Kelly’s wedding in season 8 (if they hadn’t called it off). But instead they dragged it out for 9 and 10. Brandon left town, leaving no Walshes in Casa Walsh. There was too much focus on newer characters like Gina, Noah (Vincent Young) and Matt (Daniel Cosgrove). Eternal playboy Steve suddenly married his girlfriend Janet (Lindsay Price) and had a kid. Donna developed a pill addiction. Kelly was raped. Yes, Dylan came back, but he was on yet another booze spiral. Nothing was really clicking in those last two years. The show lost its spark.
Best Moment from the Series Finale – Donna & David’s Wedding
As mentioned above, by the time we got to season 10 it was REALLY time to end things. But it was still a sad moment. I was going to miss this show that I grew up with. In the final moments, soulmates David and Donna got married. Their friends and family gathered on the dance floor to dance to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”. It was a bittersweet moment.
Today would have been Rock Hudson’s 95th birthday. He was the embodiment of the classic Hollywood movie star. Gorgeous, talented, and extremely charming. Some of my favorite films of his are Giant, Pillow Talk, and All that Heaven Allows. He gave a searing performance in Seconds as well. Currently, there is a documentary and a biopic in the works about his storied life. I’m glad that Rock continues to be remembered and celebrated as an icon.
On this last day of October, I thought of a melancholy Barry Manilow song. He has a few of those, but “When October Goes” is most appropriate for today. The song was included on Barry’s 1984 album 2:00 AM Paradise Café. It’s sad and wistful as well as touching and beautiful. Like the other songs on the album, “October” was recorded live in one take. The simple stripped-down nature of the recording adds to the feeling of track. I also hate to see October go (really, this month flew by), but I enjoy this Manilow moment.
In 1995, Mariah Carey released Daydream, one of the best albums of her career. It’s certainly in my top 3 for her. The record is a fantastic mix of pop, ballads, and midtempo r&b. She also creeped into the hip-hop world with a certain remix. Critics praised her new work and fans rushed to buy it. The album went platinum ten times over and spawned three #1 singles. Let’s take a look back.
12. When I Saw You
A simple ballad. But basic for Mariah is still infinitely better than most singers at their best.
11. Open Arms
Standard cover of Journey’s classic song. My arms are halfway open for it.
A throwback to a 50s or 60s sound, but with Mariah’s signature tone. I could almost hear this playing in the background of an old Sandra Dee movie.
9. Daydream Interlude (Sweet Fantasy Dub Mix)
She takes us to the club with this hypnotic interlude, giving us a brief moment to dance it out.
8. Long Ago
Midtempo 90s r&b in a nutshell. She flows easily over this bass line.
7. Melt Away
The ballad sister of Long Ago. She wrote it with Babyface, producing a smooth jam
6. One Sweet Day
The longest running consecutive #1 (16 weeks) up until 2019. Mariah partnered with Boys II Men on this track about losing a loved one. It’s equally sad and beautiful. My favorite part is the run-filled back and forth between Mariah and Wanya.
5. I Am Free
With a title like “I Am Free” you wouldn’t think this was a love song. Mariah writes about being a prisoner locked inside herself until someone came into her life and freed her with their love. It’s a hopeful message captured with soaring high notes.
4. Underneath the Stars
A pretty melody matched with some of the best layered vocals. It makes you imagine first-time love on a starry summer night.
3. Looking In
One of her most introspective songs where she lays out all of her raw emotions. “She smiles through a thousand tears and harbors adolescent fears. She dreams of all that she could never be She wades in insecurity.” It’s quietly powerful and heartbreaking.
2. Always Be My Baby
A fan favorite that never gets old. ABMB marked the beginning of a long history of collaborations between Mariah and producer Jermaine Dupri. They know how to make the hits that become the soundtrack to our lives.
The first track off the album, as well as the first single by a female artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard 100. Her ninth #1 overall. She’s backed by an infectious sample of the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”. Then she flipped it with the remix featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard. At the time, putting a mainstream pop singer with a rapper seemed crazy. But Mariah grew up loving hip hop. These days every female pop star does a song featuring a rap artist. I’m not saying Mariah invented this “hip-pop” genre. But I’m not not saying it either. In any case, Fantasy gave us the iconic lyric “Me and Mariah go back like babies with pacifiers”. It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.
The Boys in the Band has gone from a play to a film to a revival of the play and finally to a screen version of the revival. It really has come full circle. The recent iteration came out on Netflix this week, fifty years after the original movie debuted. I was eagerly awaiting its release and I have to say that I enjoyed it as much as its predecessor.
Gay, Gay, Gay
The Netflix movie employs the exact same cast from the stage play. Having seen the play, I’m glad everyone was able to reprise their roles. They’re an extremely talented group. What’s also noteworthy is that all nine actors are openly gay. Back in 1970, some of the actors were gay, but nobody was out. It would have been career suicide. As it was, all nine actors, found it hard to find work after playing gay on screen. So, decades later to have actors who can be both open about their lives and still have thriving careers is incredible. Coming along on the journey was the late screenwriter Mart Crowley, who wrote the original play and movie. He was assisted by Ned Martel this time. Plus, Ryan Murphy and Joe Mantello acted as the producer and director, respectively, on the revival and the movie. Both are out. Overall, this project was pretty damn gay. As it should be.
Because the movie is so insular, chemistry between the actors is very important. They all have it and work very well with each other. Jim Parsons (Michael) and Zachary Quinto (Harold) do a particularly great job of playing off one another. Their characters are the best of friends and the worst of enemies. A kind gesture can quickly turn into an evisceration. Finding that fine line between love and hate takes skill. Similarly, Andrew Rannells (Larry) and Tuc Watkins (Hank) play a battling couple. They’re supposed to be lovers, but they can’t stop fighting. Conveying that love with all the underlying tension and strife comes easily though. It’s also sweet to know that Watkins and Rannells fell in love, in real life, while making the revival.
Cowboy, Donald, Alan
The script for the remake stays close to the original, but there were certain additions. I noticed that the Cowboy (Charlie Carver) had a few more lines. This made it so that he was more self-aware as opposed to how stupid he comes off in the original. It seems like Donald (Matt Bomer) was fleshed out too. I think Bomer’s expressiveness added to the character. He says so much with that handsome face. On the flip side, I’m happy that they didn’t add much to Alan (Brian Hutchison). It has always been a big question about whether or not he was gay. Crowley could have updated his work and made that clearer. But I think it was better to keep it ambiguous and let the viewers draw their own conclusions.
As I’ve said before, Michael’s NYC apartment in the original movie is one of my favorite sets in cinematic history. I wanted to move in and live in that world. The Netflix version is equally admirable. A spiral staircase, the huge living room, and beautiful rooftop space. Amazing. But this time the set was deliberately made to look a little run down, which was smart. It made it seem more lived in. Plus, Michael could never afford to fix it up. He spent all of his money on sweaters.
Outside the party
Aside from the opening montage of the characters out in the city, the original contained the action to Michael’s apartment. This added to the play-like feeling when you watched it. This go around Mantello takes the audience outside the party. As they’re playing the brutal telephone game, Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington) and Emory (Robin de Jesus) flashback to their past loves. In Bernard’s case you see the dreamlike night where he swam naked with a rich white boy. With Emory, you experience the humiliation he felt at a school dance after everyone finds out he confessed his feelings to his crush. Each flashback gives you the chance to understand and connect with these characters, moreso than the original allowed. On that note, after Michael’s last line, when the story normally ends, you see all of the characters and how they’re coping after that intense party. It gives the audience another chance to check in on them.
The more things change…
Despite some changes, the remake retains the essence of the original. I had a friend who asked if this version had the same self-loathing and bitchiness. I said, yes, and that’s the point. This is a look back at a time when gay men couldn’t be out or even legally gather together. They were made to hate themselves and some lashed out internally or externally. Shame can be dangerous. The 2020 version doesn’t shy away from that. But then there are the lighter moments. I found myself laughing at the same jokes I’ve heard many times before or delighting in the dance number at the party. The highs and lows make the story interesting and relatable. For that reason, The Boys in the Band, however it’s presented, will always be worth seeing.
Before watching the documentary Killing Patient Zero, I knew very little about Gaetan Dugas. It turns out he was a loving son, brother, and friend. He enjoyed his job as a flight attendant for Air Canada. He was also openly gay and completely unashamed of his life. The one thing I thought I knew about Gaetan was completely wrong: he was not the man who inflicted AIDS upon the world.
At the beginning of the epidemic, doctors were desperate to figure out how this “gay cancer” was being spread. They theorized that sex was the cause and began to interview a sampling of gay men about their sexual history. Gaetan was one of these patients who generously cooperated with the CDC. Doctors produced a cluster study that featured him, amongst others, showing how the disease had traveled through sexual partners. Later, Gaetan was mistakenly labeled as “patient zero”, as if AIDS had originated with him. Reporter Randy Shilts latched onto this false story when he was doing research for his novel And the Band Played On. He took it a step further by writing that Gaetan had knowingly passed on the disease to the men he slept with. Once Shilts’ book was published, Gaetan, who had died by then, was put in the spotlight and his reputation was savaged.
Director/writer Laurie Lynd attempts to repair this damage in her documentary. Through interviews with healthcare professionals who were on the frontlines, he dispels the myth of a patient zero. They confirm that Gaetan was not the originator of AIDS. His friends talk about the warm caring man they knew. Someone who would not have purposely spread a disease. There’s even archival footage from a town hall meeting about AIDS featuring an outspoken Gaetan. The short video offers a much more accurate portrayal of him than Shilts’ book ever could.
I finished Zero feeling informed about the subject and also angry on his behalf. It’s horrible how this man was vilified by the public. I hope that more people will see the film and get an understanding of Gaetan’s true character. He and his loved ones deserve that vindication.