Monday, December 23, 2013

90s Sitcoms and the NBC Multiverse

When I was a kid back in the '90s, my father would tape a plethora of sitcoms off TV to bring to the cottage with us, on account of the fact that our TV aerial up north got us literally one channel and there's only so much Saved by the Bell and Lost In Space one family can stand. On those tapes NBC's Mad About You and Friends were staple programming.

So, when I discovered that Netflix had Mad About You I watched an episode out of nostalgia - and to my surprise, it was pretty alright! I'd always been a bigger fan of Spin City and Fraiser when I was a kid, but as a man in his late twenties who recently moved in with his girlfriend I found myself now empathizing a lot more with Paul and Jamie Buchman. So I kept watching. Mad About You doesn't have the farcical, quasi-Shakespearean heft of Fraiser or the groundbreaking neuroses of Seinfeld but it was grounded and honest in its examination of coupledom and also pretty darn funny.

Anyway, I kept watching. I get to episode seven of season one, wherein Paul reveals to Jamie that he's still subletting his old bachelor pad despite them having moved in together. After some awkward relationship comedy, Paul affirms his commitment to Jamie by getting rid of his nostalgic safety blanket and heads over to the apartment to offer to sign the place over to his subletter...

...and his subletter is COSMO GODDAMN KRAMER.

Not just Michael Richards being Michael Richards. It's actually Kramer. The hallway is the hallway set from Seinfeld. Paul calls him Kramer. Paul asks how Kramer's neighbour Jerry is doing.

Apparently this was a marketing stunt back in '92 because they were both NBC sitcoms in ajacent timeslots BUT WHAT'S IMPORTANT is that we can take from this that Mad About You and Seinfeld take place in the same universe.

Which is pretty cool. But not as cool as realizing that from this we can also deduce that Friends takes place in the same universe as Seinfeld. Whaaaaaaat?

Lisa Kudrow played a waitress named Ursula on Mad About You. After she picked up the oddly similar role of Phoebe on Friends the weirdos at NBC decided to make Ursula and Phoebe twin sisters, and even based a B-plot of an episode of Friends around Chandler and Joey going to Riff's restaurant from Mad About You and being unable to tell their waitress is Ursula, not Phoebe.

So, Friends and Seinfeld both crossed over with Mad About You - which means they all take place in the same fictional universe.


Late in Seinfeld's run there's a B-plot about George's girlfriend making him watch Mad About You and him hating it. Bu-whaaa?! But if Kramer was subletting from Paul, how is Paul also a sitcom character?

My theory is that the TV show Seinfeld is a separate universe in the NBC multiverse, where Mad About You exists as a sitcom, but that in the Mad About You/Friends universe there are also versions of Jerry, Kramer, George, and Elaine, who are presumably (due to the tone of their respective TV shows) kinder, decenter, and more relatable people - essentially making the universe of Seinfeld the "mirror universe" or "darkest timeline" of Friends and Mad About You. I presume in the Seinfeld-verse there's a version of Monica who has no arm and an eyepatch, and Ross was obviously murdered by that monkey.

Erin, on the other hand, presumes that there's only one universe and that Mad About You is reality TV in the NBC-verse.

I'm going to go do something productive now.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some Very Good Christmas Pop Songs (That Won’t Make You Want To Shoot Yourself)

A couple years ago I assumed I hated Christmas music. I was pretty sure that that one Christmas in high school working at a Second Cup at the mall ruined the entire genre for me – there’s only so much Rod Stewart and Michael Buble one man can take.

Buuuut after I was gifted Barenaked Ladies seminal Christmas album “Barenaked for the Holidays,” (home of the fabulous, envy-soaked “Green Christmas” and pro-labour anthem “Elf’s Lament”) I discovered a subsection of Christmas music I really liked – thoughtful Christmas-themed pop songs, usually with slightly dark themes, usually sung by bands I already like. So, if you’re sick of saccharine mall music here are a few festive suggestions to add to your Christmas party playlist.

Apparently the Killers put out a Christmas single every year benefitting Product Red, and they’re all pretty fantastic. The best by far is Don’t Shoot Me Santa Claus which, if I’m not mistaken, is about a killer trying to justify his crimes to a telltale heart-style hallucination of Santa Claus (who talks like Elvis and wields a .45).

It's super dark but there’s something undeniably hilarious about Colin’ Meloy’s Oregan drawl (/speak impediment?) pleading as a small child to his alcoholic father not to ruin Christmas. Also, fun fact I didn't know before writing this post is that this was originally a John Denver song. Huh. Learn something new every day.

This is a breakup/longing-to-get-back-together song that’s built around a really great and Christmas-y Chris Martin piano riff and has a lot of melancholy, snowy London imagery in the lyrics. The video is fantastic, as well.

Possibly my favourite band ever, as I may have mentioned. I think this was released solely as a bonus track on a greatest hits compilation, and isn’t really Christmas-y as it’s about New Year’s but whatever. It’s great and features John Mann singing as a disinterested (and harassed?) female partygoer. The rousing, Home for a Rest style chorus of “I could get drunk anywhere, so what am I doing here?” is awesome.

Wintertime in Ontario by Brock Zeman

Brock Zeman is a fan-freakin’-tastic alt-country artist whose been touring southern Ontario for years. I got to personally tell him he accidentally wrote one of my favourite Christmas songs (since this is more just a song about winter than Christmas) at a concert last year. It’s just a song about how ridiculous the snow is up north in Ontario in the winter (and how skating across the lake can actually get you to your booty call faster than driving the long way around).

Some honourable mentions go to the Civil Wars cover of I Heard The Bells which is considerably more foreboding than the Sinatra version (they’re reading of “God is not dead, nor does He sleep” has an oddly Lovecraftian tone), Christmas In Hell by NQ Arbuckle (similar thematically to Don’t Shoot Me Santa) and the decidedly not-dark Hurry Home by the Good Lovelies of their debut album “Under the Mistletoe” (you know you’re a tongue-in-cheek band when your first album is the Christmas album).

Speaking of albums, if anyone’s looking for a good whole Christmas album to pick up, I’d suggest If Jesus Had Been Born In Canada, He Would Have Needed More Than Swaddling Clothes” (it’s free!) which is a Christmas compilation by a whole ton of Toronto bands on the Sound Vat label. Little City’s We’re Breaking Up Again This Christmas is particularly awesome, and does my favourite version of We Three Kings.

And, lastly, it’s a classic, but my all-time favourite Christmas song is by the Pogues. Give it a listen. (Stars does a pretty good cover of it, too).

Merry Christmas, everyone.