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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Long Lost Board Games Bought At Garage Sales!

When it came down to toys, I think that most of mine were used - at least they were for the first eight years of my life, anyway.

Fortunately, my sisters really liked gender-neutral toys, so I ended up having tons of treasures to play with from the Weebles treehouse to leftover Lego pieces from Lego sets that couldn't possibly be completed.  I didn't care if they were old or new...as long as they were fun to play with, I was definitely interested.

In fact, I think that some of the greatest toy finds that I have ever come across have been at garage sales.  Where else can you find such treasures for a fraction of the price that people originally paid for them?  And this includes eBay, which I regularly would pay up to $30 in SHIPPING COSTS just to purchase one small thing!

My favourite thing to buy were old board games.  Especially games that weren't as well known as "Clue", or "Monopoly", or "Scrabble".  To me, these sorts of games were worth getting a hold of just for the nostalgia factor, and also to try and figure out how to play them.  In some, the instruction manual came with the games, but in others, I was forced to make up my own rules, and hope that I was playing it the way it was supposed to.

Unfortunately, I no longer own these games (and you know what, I have no idea where they ended up...for all I know, my family could have sold them).  Whatever the case though, these were some of the ones I owned.  Do you remember them at all?  And do any of you still have them?



SHARK ATTACK

Well, all right...I suppose this game isn't all that rare.  It was definitely a must have game to own when I was a kid - but I didn't get my hands on it until I saw it for sale at a garage sale.  It's the game with a battery powered shark that could swallow up your fish token if you didn't roll the right colour on the dice.  It was a game that almost brought forth as much anxiety as "Perfection", only using sea creatures.  Eventually the shark died (and wouldn't move no matter how many batteries I tried), and the game was rendered useless.  But for the time that I owned it, it was fun to play.



THE SMURF GAME

This is a game that I thought was a good idea at the time (I liked the Smurfs cartoon and thought that this would be a great game to play).  But all you really have to do is move your Smurf character to the final HOME space at the end.  It was very anticlimactic, and not much thought was placed into it at all.



THE GARFIELD GAME

This game almost becomes as boring as the Smurfs game, but there are twists to this game to make it more fun.  Garfield can set rules to the game using Player Cards, and these rules can make you miss turns, go only when you roll an even number, and you can even blindfold Garfield and keep rolling the dice until you roll an odd number.  The ultimate goal of the game is to earn three rings by going around the course three times.  Again, it could be made more fun, but at least it's better than the Smurf game.



I.Q. 2000

One of the bad things about buying trivia games at yard sales is the fact that sometimes you might get questions that were extremely outdated.  This game was originally released in 1984, which meant that every question was about events that took place before that time period.  Which wouldn't have been so bad had I not found this game in 1991.  Needless to say, I always did terribly at this game as a kid.  But the concept was fun.  You had to answer questions to get further into the solar system where your ultimate goal was to make it to the lost planet of Quizaar.  In retrospect, it would've made a great game...but not for someone who grew up in the late 1980s and 1990s.



TV GUIDE'S TV GAME

Again, this game like I.Q. 2000 would be useless to a millennial.  There is no question about a television show that was released before 1984.  But this was also a game that I could actually play.  I watched a lot of older television shows when I was a kid, and I could answer questions as well as some of the adults in the room.  The way the questions were printed was really unique - they were printed in a set of four TV Guides!  I often wish that they would have released an updated game for the 1990s and 2000s.  It really wasn't a bad concept for a game at all.



WHERE IN THE WORLD IS CARMEN SANDIEGO?

As a computer game, it reigned supreme.  As a board game, it sort of lost its luster.  The funny thing is that I think the losing contestants on the PBS game show of the same name actually received this game as a consolation prize!  It is one of the few games from my youth that I still own today, and it's still fine to play - though the world has changed a lot in the 27 years since this game was first released.  I reckon some of the questions about the Soviet Union would make someone scratch their head and go "HUH?"



WHEEL OF FORTUNE

This is another game I wish I still had, just because of the really cool puzzle board that came with it.  You could actually reveal letters just like Vanna White did on the television show.  I just wish the wheel piece was more elaborately done than just a plastic arrow spinner, but hey, it was a great game.  Again, I wish I still had it.



FIREBALL ISLAND

YES!  I so remember this game, and it is another one that I would LOVE to get my hands on again.  It was a three-dimensional game that took place on a giant mountain with rivers, caverns, and a gigantic idol statue that could spit out fireballs (red marbles).  The goal of the game was to get the sacred ruby that the idol was guarding and reach the end of the game board to escape.  This game was such fun to play.

Anybody else remember these games?  Share your stories here!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jem Reviewed: Episode 52 - Hollywood Jem: For Your Consideration


We are just two episodes left before we end off season two of Jem Reviewed, and I mentioned in last week's review that Episode 51 should have served as the season finale.  I think it would have been better than the two parter we're about to watch.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day to all of you reading this.  Because of that, the accent colour will be green today.



So, let's go ahead with Episode 52:  Hollywood Jem:  For Your Consideration.

We open the show with the Holograms gathered around a television set waiting for some big news to happen.  What exactly could it be?  Starlight Music starts trading on the stock market?  Misfits Music gets destroyed in an earthquake?  Rio finally finds out who Jem really is?



No, it's even more farfetched than that!  Jem's been nominated for an ACADEMY AWARD!  Um...WHAT?  Okay, at this point in time, Jem's only made one movie.  And, I'm guessing that while "Starbright" was a financial success (it paid for Ba Nee's operation), I don't know if it was really good enough for Jem to get a Best Actress nod.  Though, I suppose if Cher could win an Academy Award for acting, anything is possible.



As part and parcel of the nomination process, Jem and the other nominees are guests on the Harriet Horn Show.  Now, the first two actresses are knockoffs of Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep.  Not much to say about either of them, but both are very supportive of Jem.  Not so much for Geraldine Pathos - the seasoned vet who happens to be seated next to Jem.  When Jem reveals she never underwent any formal training for acting, Geraldine essentially calls Jem a phony and a fraud.  And technically, she'd be right, as Jem is really Jerrica Benton.  Just saying.



Of course, Harriet Horn uses this moment to promote her show, and uses the show sponsor of "Cool Trash Magazine" to amp up the feud between Jem and Geraldine. 



But Jerrica doesn't have time to worry about that.  Here's the Countess DuVoisin (who I don't believe we've seen since Episode 12) dropping by Starlight Mansion because she has a huge problem.  Well, okay, Howard Sands has a huge problem and since we've already established that Howard has no balls, he sends the Countess to do his dirty work.  Nice to see Howard Sands is still the same spineless jellyfish that he was in Season 1.



It seems as though Howard Sands is filming some space movie, and his female star - would you believe that her name is Cherries Jubilee? - is opposed to the fact that she has to act alongside a Max Headroom like contraption.  (For you millennials who have no clue what I'm talking about, Max Headroom was a huge figure in pop culture circa 1985 - remind me to do a blog about him someday).  Personally, I'd be more upset that I got stuck with a name like Cherries Jubilee.  Whatever the case, Cherries quits the project.  I'm sure the next time we see her, she'll be the September 1992 centerfold for Playboy Magazine.



However, Cherries' loss is Jem's gain.  Howard finally finds his balls and asks Jem if she'll take the role.  While Jem looks over the script, Kimber moves towards the Max Headroom monitor and realizes that he looks really familiar.  As if the British accent doesn't give it away!  Yes, it's Sean Harrison back for another round of "let's lead Kimber on".  Fortunately, Kimber leaps into Sean's arms.  Huh, maybe Kimber's actually settled down for once.



And there's good news for Howard Sands.  Jem's agreed to star in the picture which causes Raya to give Jem a new nickname.  Hollywood Jem!



Oh, listen...that's what the song is that's being played first.  And does it not sound like it should be used for a commercial?  That's because it was supposed to be.  In this Jem Trivia segment, I can tell you that a Hollywood Jem doll was released right around the time that this episode was aired.  Which is the MAIN reason I don't like this episode.  It's essentially a commercial for Jem dolls.  Of course, one could argue the whole series is a commercial for Jem dolls, but this episode makes it blatantly obvious.



Anyway, after Jem takes the job, it's not long before Jem and the Holograms get an invitation to a fancy party at a director's estate in Beverly Hills.  The director is one Francois Truchet, and he is very much interested in meeting with Jem.  The other Holograms decide that this is the only time that they will be going to a swanky celebrity party, so they accept the invitation.

At this point, I wonder what the Misfits are thinking about all this.  We don't find out because THEY AREN'T IN THESE EPISODES.  Missed opportunity.  I would have loved to have heard a Pizzazz screech.



But there is a lot of Jem and the Holograms.  They arrive at the party along with Rio and Sean, and they are immediately mesmerized by all of the celebrities such as Flint Westwood and Michael J. Badger.  Because those names sound MUCH better than Clint Eastwood and Michael J. Fox.  Kimber begs Sean to introduce her to them because apparently Sean Harrison has about as much clout to Hollywood royalty as George Clooney.  Or, would that be Jorge Clooney in this episode?



While Sean and Kimber are mingling with the Hollywood elite, Jem and Rio have finally met up with Francois.  It appears as though Francois is very pleased that Jem has been nominated for an Oscar and he has decided that he wants to cast Jem in his next picture!  Okay, so when did Jem become this high powered actress?  I don't understand this.  Of course, Francois becomes angry when Jem refuses, saying that she has already made a commitment to finish Howard Sands' movie.  He storms off, and Jem makes the decision to stay and enjoy the party...



...after all, Kimber and Sean appear to be enjoying the hot tub...fully clothed.  Oh, you crazy kids.

The fun stops though when Raya gets Jem's attention and tells her that Francois is now talking heavy duty smack against Jem.  Boy, he sure holds a grudge doesn't he? 



When Jem and company arrive, Francois is on one of those pool chairs that float in the pool, telling the press about how Jem's an idiot for turning him down and how she wouldn't be able to be a star without him.  Rio grabs Francois by the jacket, gives off his "I hate deception" speech that he performs at least twice a season, and tosses the French director into the pool!  I'm guessing this party had no plants - otherwise, Rio would have thrown one of those at his head.  And surprisingly enough, Jem approves!

Not so much for Francois, who screeches at Jem that he will ruin her career!  I think we have our plot point for Part II!



While all this is going on, Kimber and Sean decide to sneak away from the party and go walking along the beach.  It's painfully obvious that the way they have featured Sean and Kimber that they're supposed to be endgame.



I mean, just listen to the song "You Already Know".  You already know that Sean and Kimber are fated to be together just like Aja and Craig, and Shana and Anthony, and Eric Raymond and his money.  As if we need a song to remind us of that fact.  It's a nice song though.



Now here's where we get conflict.  Sean is so infatuated by Kimber that he wants to make a commitment.  But Sean's idea of commitment is "let's go steady and you can wear my class ring".  Kimber misinterprets this as "let's get married RIGHT NOW!"  Sean does his best to try and smooth things over and explain himself, but the way he does it crushes Kimber's heart and she practically bursts into tears right there.  



As if Kimber hasn't suffered enough humiliation, she waltzes home at three in the morning and Jerrica scolds her for being out past curfew!  One, Kimber's presumably eighteen and can stay out as late as she wants.  And two, you can't even be bothered to spend time with your own foster girls because you're too busy trying to win your alter-ego an Oscar.  Just shut up, Jerrica.



The next day, everyone is gathered around to watch a stunt being performed.  According to the description that Rio gives of the stunt, it's too dangerous for Sean to perform himself, so he has a stunt double - much to Sean's delight.



Kimber arrives late to the shoot, but she stands with the others as Sean's stunt driver begins the dangerous stunt.  But something peculiar happens when the stunt driver takes one look at Kimber and crashes the car into a nearby hay bale! 



It's not until we see him pull off his helmet that we understand why that is.  The stunt driver is Jeff Wright - the guy whose last appearance was as a dark haired man sailing through a window fighting with another man over Kimber!  You know, that was the incident that sparked Rio's plant kicking hobby.  Given that he's supposed to be Sean's stunt driver, I'm surprised they let him go back to being light haired.

Of course, Jeff and Kimber are initially thrilled to see each other, and it's not hard to tell that Jeff still has feelings for Kimber.  But when Kimber tells Jeff that she's hanging around Sean, Jeff gets angry again and calls Kimber everything but a two-bit whore before storming away.  That...escalated quickly.



Rio watches the whole thing unfold and actually goes up to Kimber to give her advice!  Um, the last time you gave her advice, you screamed in her face and caused Kimber to run away bawling.  But this time around, I'm happy to say that Kimber's gained a lot of edge since that time, and when Rio encourages Kimber to make a choice between Sean and Jeff, Kimber snaps back that it's hard for her to take him seriously when he can't decide between Jem and Jerrica!  Oh, snap!  I bet she got that snark from Stormer!



Kimber does make the decision to help Sean with the lyrics for the soundtrack music though - a gesture which Sean does appreciate.

But just before Sean and Kimber can start...ahem...making beautiful music together, Jeff decides that now would be a good time to jump off a building.  Good lord, is he THAT upset over Kimber?



I don't know about that, but judging by this screenshot, Kimber looks far from impressed!



Relax.  Jeff doesn't succumb to the temptation of suicide.  As if a kid's show would actually show one of those.  It's all a designed stunt as he lands safely on an inflatable mat on the ground. 




Kimber tries to speak to Jeff, but Jeff continues to give Kimber the cold shoulder as we hear the third and final song of the show.  This one is one that we heard all the way back in Episode 4 - "Too Close".  This is one of those rare songs that have a second meaning.  In the original use, it's all about how Jem and the Holograms manage to make it to a concert despite sabotage by the Misfits.  This time, it's a great song to illustrate the tension between Jeff and Kimber.  It's done quite effectively too, I must admit.



Kimber heads over to Jeff's trailer and she tries to have a talk with him.  But Jeff is still too angry and actually throws a can of soda at her!  Okay, what is it with the Benton women and hot-headed men?



Kimber asks if there's anything that she can do to make him not mad at her anymore, and Jeff practically proposes to her right there and then.  Say what?!?  And judging by Kimber's gooney bird look in this frame, I think she accepts!  Now, to us watching at home, it's painfully obvious that Kimber is only taking Jeff's marriage proposal because she's hurt that Sean wouldn't commit as fast as she wanted to.  But Kimber doesn't even seem to recognize that, and just like that, she's already planning a wedding!  Now you understand why I don't care for this episode!



But wait...maybe Jerrica can talk some sense into her.  She certainly tries.  She tells Kimber that she's way too young to get married (and given Kimber's track record with men, I totally agree with her).  But Kimber's temper is about the same colour as her hair and she essentially tells Jerrica that she WILL marry Jeff and that she WILL get out from under Jerrica's suffocating thumb.  And with that, Kimber storms out of the house leaving Jerrica shaking her head in disgust.



But what Kimber doesn't realize is that Sean has really taken Kimber's words about commitment to heart.  He's at a jewelry store picking out an engagement ring for Kimber!  Oh, you can see the heartbreak coming from a mile away.  And when the hell did this turn into an animated episode of "The Young and the Restless"?  Seriously, this is a storyline for Victor and Nikki, not a bunch of emotionally flawed cartoon characters!

Back at the movie studios, Sean tries to pull Kimber aside so that he can pop the question, and for a minute there I almost believe that he'll succeed.  Too bad Jeff decides at this moment to pretend he's Tarzan and glides down towards the two on a rope.  He grabs Kimber (I mean literally grabs her) and takes her away from Sean! 



And heartbroken Sean can only watch from above as Jeff gets down on one knee, asks Kimber for her hand in marriage, and Kimber accepts.  



But now here's where things get really screwed up.  After Kimber accepts the proposal, she immediately runs to Sean and asks for his opinion!  Okay, seriously, what do you expect?  That he'd be happy?  That he'd be sad?  That he'd take a machete to Jeff and propose marriage to you over his decapitated corpse?  This is what Jerrica means when she thinks you're too young to get married!  Fortunately, Sean does give his blessing to Kimber and heads off towards his trailer.



Though it kind of ruins the moment when Sean passes by Jem doing a scene rehearsal and you really get to understand just how HORRIBLE an actress Jem is.  Seriously, Tara Reid could emote more emotion than Jem!  I'm thinking maybe Geraldine Pathos may have a point.



Of course, the end scene shows Sean throwing the ring he just bought for Kimber in the trash and him breaking down as the three words TO BE CONTINUED pop up.  What?  You were expecting them to be I LOVE YOU?



Tune in next week for the season two finale of Jem Reviewed, where we learn if Kimber gets married, if Jem wins an Oscar, and if Rio will kick another plant or two.  And coming up on Monday, March 27, I will have the Season 2 recap posted in case you missed any episodes.  And on Friday, March 31, we're going to be entering the Season 3 episode guide.   

Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 16, 1980

I have to be honest...I really struggled with finding a topic for today's Throwback Thursday post.  I had no idea that the 16th of March was such a horrific date in history.  So much bad stuff happened on that day that I wasn't sure if I could feature a positive entry for today.  As it turns out, I had to think WAY outside the box, but I've come up with a brilliant topic.  Let's just say that without this innovation, it would make television watching a lot less fun for 360 million people all over the world.

Now, before we get to that, I'd like to talk about the other historical happenings of March 16 - and you'll see why I had a difficult time picking a subject.

1521 - Explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrives at the Island of Homonhon in the Philippines 

1689 - The Royal Welch Fusiliers are established

1865 - The Battle of Averasborough begins during the final stages of the American Civil War

1872 - The Wanderers F.C. won the inaugural FA Cup - currently the oldest association football competition in the world

1917 - British armed board steamer "Dundee" and armoured cruiser "HMS Achilles" fights and sinks German auxiliary cruiser "SMS Leopard" during World War I

1920 - Author Sid Fleischman (d. 2010) is born in Brooklyn, New York

1926 - Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts

1935 - Adolf Hitler orders Germany to rearm herself in violation of the Treaty of Versailles

1936 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is severely flooded following a warm spell that melts snow and ice along the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers

1945 - British bombers destroy nearly the entire city of Wurzburg, Germany during World War II

1958 - A Ford Thunderbird becomes the 50,000,000th automobile to be manufactured by the Ford Motor Company

1966 - Gemini 8 is launched

1968 - The My Lai Massacre takes place during the Vietnam War, which sees hundreds of villagers slaughtered by American troops

1978 - Former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro is kidnapped - he would be murdered by his captors just two months later on May 9

1984 - William Buckley is kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists in Beirut, Lebanon - exactly one year later in 1985, journalist Terry Anderson would also be taken hostage (Anderson was released in 1991, Buckley died in captivity in 1985)

1988 - Oliver North and John Poindexter are indicted on conspiracy charges for the roles they played in the Iran-Contra affair

1989 - A mummy (estimated to be approximately 4,400 years old) is found near the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt

1995 - One hundred and thirty years since the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Mississippi becomes the last state to formally abolish slavery

2014 - Crimea votes to secede from the Ukraine to join Russia

2016 - Frank Sinatra Jr. passes away at the age of 72

I told you March 16 was a depressing date in history - although there were some good moments mixed in as well.

Besides, the following famous people celebrate a March 16 birthday -
Harding Lemay, Jerry Lewis, Christa Ludwig, Chuck Woolery, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Owen Bruce, Erik Estrada, Victor Garber, Kate Nelligan, Ray Benson, Isabelle Huppert, Tim O'Brien, Nancy Wilson, Clifton Powell, Flavor Flav, Jerome Flynn, Patty Griffin, Gore Verbinski, Tracy Bonham, Lauren Graham, Judah Friedlander, Alan Tudyk, Sienna Guillory, Blu Cantrell, Curtis Granderson, and Stephanie Gatschet.

So, as I mentioned above, today's subject is about an innovation in the television world...one that a lot of people use.



Imagine my surprise to find that innovation is only a few decades old.  In fact, it was on March 16, 1980 - thirty-seven years ago today - that this innovation was first broadcast...and it changed the way that millions of viewers all over the world watched television.

I know that when I turn on my television, I make sure that I know what show I want to watch, I check to see what time it is on, I check to see what channel it is on, and I adjust the volume on my television to make sure that it is loud enough that I can hear it. 

But what happens if your hearing has been damaged?  Or if you happen to have been born deaf?  That would have made your television experiences a little bit more difficult.

Believe me, I've had my television on mute before and as a little test to myself, I've tried to see if I could read the lips of the people that were on screen.  I found it to be extremely difficult.  




Fortunately, there is something called CLOSED CAPTIONING that really assists in making television much more fun for the hard of hearing.  All one has to do is click on a button on their remote control, or have it set to closed captions in the menu screen of a television, and the words of dialogue pop up along the bottom of the screen.  It is also a common feature for DVD and Blu-Ray movies and even YouTube has a closed captioning option on many of its videos.  In recent years, the process has innovated to include described video - a narrator describes the actions of characters so that people who have little to no sight can understand what is happening on the screen.



But it might shock you to know that closed captioning on television is a relatively new addition to television watching.  In fact, it was only thirty-seven years ago today that the first instance of closed captioning was demonstrated on a major television network in the United States.



On March 16, 1980, ABC became the first network to use regular closed captioning following the creation of the National Captioning Institute in 1979.  Now, back in the early 1980s, televisions were not programmed to display closed captions.  Instead, one had to purchase a special adapter called the "Telecaption" which you could connect to your television the same way you would hook up a VCR or a video game system.  If hooked up correctly, the captions would show up on the bottom of the screen as a black bar with white text. 

And what were the first programs that were broadcast in closed captioning?  It was a screening of the film "Semi-Tough" - a film that was released in 1977.



Throughout the 1980s, the Telecaption box was really the only way that television could implement closed captions on programming.  In fact, I even remember the television program "Sesame Street" actually showing a set of clips regarding how the box worked.  After all, at that time, Linda Bove was still a cast member on the show, and she was the deaf librarian that taught us how to speak basic words using American Sign Language.  It's such a strange memory, but one I recall vividly.  Unfortunately, at the time, the boxes were quite expensive.  Averaging out at $200 each, it was almost as much as a small television set!

Fortunately, several acts were passed in the United States Congress that allowed people who needed closed captioning on their televisions better access to it.  To begin, the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 was passed, making it mandatory that all electronics manufacturers make closed captioning available on all television sets with a screen size of thirteen inches or greater by the summer of 1993.  In 1996, the act was revised to include digital television receivers.  As of 2017, every new television has the option to not only broadcast closed captioning in English, but in several other languages as well.

There are even people who transcribe live television where someone will type out the dialog that a presenter is saying as it happens.  In most cases, this turns out to be a good thing, as the typist is usually accurate in what they type aside from the mild spelling error.



And maybe accidentally naming Zooey Deschanel as one of the Boston Marathon Bombing suspects.

But yes...37 years ago, closed captioning became a reality...and since that date, millions have to agree that it makes television watching a lot easier.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Is This Live?" - A Book Review

When my family first got hooked up to cable television in the late 1980s, my entire family was excited about it.  Prior to that time, we were stuck with the same basic twelve channels that had watched for years - and at least two of those channels were French language and the local public access station.

With basic cable, our options expanded from twelve channels to almost fifty - and on that note, can you actually recall a time in which having fifty channels was considered a lot?  And certainly everyone in my family had their favourite channels.  I was seven when we first got cable installed, so naturally I gravitated towards YTV.  My parents were into CMT.  A&E was also very popular at my household.  And, I am fairly positive that we all watched the Home Shopping Network to make fun of it.

(You see, back in those days, they used this weird filming technique which would skip every fourth film frame so it looked like the hosts were in consistent stop motion animation.  It was funny as hell, and we were all trying to figure out whether it was intentional or whether they had faulty video equipment.)



Of course, by the time I became a teenager, my viewing focus shifted solely towards MuchMusic - which one would consider to be similar (but not a cookie cutter version) of MTV.  Back in those days, the music video channel (lovingly dubbed "The Nation's Music Station" for several years) played music videos all day long and all night long.  Occasionally the station would take breaks to air episodes of "Pop-Up Video", "Beavis and Butt-Head", and certain music video award shows, but for the most part you could count on being able to see your favourite music videos whenever you wanted.

(And if you couldn't see them, you could request them with Much On Demand - or R.S.V.P. if you're really old enough to remember.)

Of course these days, MuchMusic still plays music videos, but not nearly as much as they used to.  I suppose free video sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo, and DailyMotion have kind of taken over the way we download and watch media these days.  But oh, how once upon a time it was a network that really had its share of charm and joy - not to mention a little bit of controversy along the way.

That's why when I spotted a book about the early days of MuchMusic at a bookstore in a nearby town, I just had to purchase it.



The book is called "Is This Live?", and while it is a collaborative effort from past personalities of the music channel, the book was mostly put together by former MuchMusic VJ Christopher Ward.  And I'll tell you, if you are a music fan and ever wanted to learn more about the Canadian music scene of the 1980s and 1990s, this is definitely a must read. 

Inside the book is 328 pages (and yes, that does include the index at the back of the book) of personal stories, eyewitness accounts, fun bits of trivia, and never before heard tales of interviews that went wrong (and some that went right).  And, as I mentioned, there are personal accounts from many of the former VJ's that used to work there.  Some I can name right off the top of my head are Erica Ehm, Denise Donlon, Steve Anthony, Michael Williams, Rick Campanelli, Tony "Master T" Young, Laurie Brown, Natalie Richard, Ziggy Lorenc, Ed the Sock (yes, Ed the Sock) and J.D. Roberts, among others.



J.D. Roberts, of course, being John Roberts - currently the chief White House correspondent for FOX News.  And to think it was he and Ward who launched the music video station on August 31, 1984! 

Of course, the book itself isn't just about the VJ's and their stories.  There is a lot of references to popular artists back in the day and some of their favourite MuchMusic moments, behind the scenes interviews about some of the videos that they filmed, and some other hidden secrets.  These artists include but are not limited to Gowan, Platinum Blonde, Sass Jordan, Blue Rodeo, The Spoons, Parachute Club, Glass Tiger, Corey Hart, Bryan Adams, Colin James, The Northern Pikes, Sloan, Barenaked Ladies, and Maestro Fresh Wes.  And, that's merely scratching the surface.  



Of course, all of the artists I listed above are Canadian...but that's not to say that they didn't reveal any secrets about international artists (keeping in mind that I'm Canadian and to me America is international).  There are some interesting tidbits about Duran Duran, Madonna, Robert Palmer, and even some Paul McCartney and George Harrison!  Trust me, the interviews alone are worth reading. 

I think my favourite part of the whole book was finding out how some Much traditions originated.  Now without spoiling too much about the book in general, I'll leave you with some interesting things you can expect to read in this book.

You can read about some of the VJ's favourite interviews of all time.  HINT:  One of them involves The Temptations!

You can also read about some of the VJ's least favourite interviews.  Let's just say that a certain band that wore a lot of face paint didn't make the greatest of impressions.



You'll learn about how long standing MuchMusic traditions kicked off - these include the worst of video countdown called "Fromage" as well as the annual Christmas Tree toss from the roof of the Much building (which I don't even know if they do anymore, it's been a while since I have watched it).



You will also learn more about some Much programming including the "Electric Circus", "Outlaws and Heroes", and "The Power Hour".

Trust me.  If you're Canadian (and even if you're not), and you loved watching MuchMusic (or are just a music fan in general), get this book.  I loved reading every page!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Jem Reviewed: Episode 51 - Out Of The Past

Last week was the fiftieth episode of Jem Reviewed, where we saw the Holograms and Misfits travel to Britain for different reasons.  And with that, there are only fifteen episodes of the series left to go.  Seems surreal, doesn't it?



And without a doubt, this episode is probably one of the most emotional of the whole series.  This is Episode 51: Out Of The Past.

We begin in the attic of Starlight Mansion, where Jerrica is doing a little bit of cleaning.  To me, it's the attic and I would say, why bother?  But Jerrica is NOT me, so she must make sure that everything is spic and span.  I'm guessing that she may be partially related to Danny Tanner from "Full House".  After all, by the time this episode aired in January 1988, the show was a few months on the air.



Jerrica's attention falls upon a black chest in the middle of the room.  Luckily there is no key, so she opens it with ease and to her shock finds some of her father's belongings.  I'm surprised too given that those belongings shouldn't exist as their old house burned down three years ago.  But maybe they had Synergy make some holograms of all their stuff so they could recopy everything.  It could happen.  Weirder things have happened on this show already.



The rest of the Holograms walk upstairs to see what Jerrica has found, and she holds up a black book with the initials EB on it.  I'd say that it would be a journal that Jerrica's dear old dad (I legitimately almost typed DEAD old dad, which wouldn't be wrong, but very insensitive) wrote.

The rest of the girls urge Jerrica to read the diary, and since Emmett's six feet under and unable to object to the invasion of his privacy, Jerrica obliges.  The first entry takes place when Jerrica was ten and it depicts Rio's first meeting with the Benton family.  We hear Emmett's voice narrating each diary entry, and it is here that we have our Jem Trivia for today.  The person doing the voice of Emmett is Wally Burr - who worked as the main voice director for the whole series!



We are also introduced to Emmett's lovely wife Jacqui Benton - who admittedly looks like an extra from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show".  Her look is sooooo 1970s!  Jacqui announces that Rio is staying for dinner which makes Jerrica's heart go flitter-flutter and Kimber making fun of her.  I'm surprised she doesn't remark how outrageous the situation is.  But at least the rest of the girls get a chuckle out of it.



The next entry depicts the date when Emmett and Jacqui took Aja in as their first foster child, and two things I need to note.  One, Aja's last name is Leith.  And two...Aja's hair colour is a natural blue.  Again, this is a show where Jem could win the Indy 500.  I believe anything at this rate.  Immediately, Jerrica and Kimber are upset that Aja is moving in and pout about it.  At least until Jacqui sits down with them and explains that as a foster child herself, she didn't want any other children to have to go through what she did, so she made the decision to share their blessings with others.  Wow...so the Starlight House for Foster Girls was Jacqui's brainchild.  Interesting.



Right around this time, Emmett Benton launches Starlight Music - the record company that has almost become a second home to the Benton sisters.

Not long after Aja moves in, the Benton family take in foster child #2 - a lavendar haired girl named Shana Elmsford.  Perhaps you've heard of her?



Unfortunately, Shana's not exactly blending into the Benton family dynamic very well, and she likes to keep to herself.  Jacqui seems to notice Shana's introverted side and believes that Jerrica can help, but Jerrica is too busy complaining about Rio not noticing her to care.  Wow, nice to see that Jerrica was just as snotty back when she was a kid.  Jacqui, however, doesn't take her attitude and smacks her one in the face calms her down by telling her that Shana could use her attention more than Rio.  And, you know, the way that Jacqui handles the situation is perfect because not long after, Jerrica takes Shana a tray of food and initiates conversation. 



In addition to being the Carol Brady of the Benton household, Jacqui had some musical talent (so that's where Jem and Kimber get it from), and one day she performed a sold out concert which was recorded on a set of master tapes courtesy of Rio and Emmett.  Unfortunately, that concert was recorded at least a dozen years ago, and the master tapes have since gone missing.  The plan was for Jacqui to have recorded a debut album, but she died before she could get in the studio - meaning that nobody ever really got a chance to listen to Jacqui in her prime.



Jerrica is disheartened at first, but when Shana suggests that the master tapes could be located somewhere within Starlight Music and that they could release that concert as Jacqui's debut album, Jerrica is thrilled, and decides to put that idea into action.

And in what is really her only appearance as Jem in this episode, the Holograms go on Lindsey Pearce's show to sing a song that Jacqui initially sang at that concert.



Now, having not heard Jacqui's version of "First Love", I certainly hope it was much better than this one.  I suppose that initially being recorded in the 1970s, that style of music fit in with the era very well...but by 1988, that sort of song was very much out of vogue.  But, still...Britta Phillips could sing a phone book page and make it sound decent.  And when Lindsey interviews them, Jem and Kimber bring up the record company's plan to release the concert recordings as an album as soon as they locate the master tapes.



Of course there are five little snags that could unfurl those plans and their names are Jetta, Stormer, Roxy, Pizzazz, and Eric Raymond.  It's especially personal for Eric Raymond in a way since he lost control of Starlight Music to Jem and Kimber three years earlier.  Let's just say that when Eric was kicked out of Starlight Music, he stole a few things from the building.  One of those things are Jacqui's recordings.  This...can't be good.



Back at Starlight Music, Jerrica, Kimber, Aja, Shana, and an extremely out of place Raya are tearing the offices apart looking for the master tapes, and they suggest looking for clues in Emmett's diary.  Jerrica doesn't seem to think it'd hurt and immediately flips open to a page with the date of August 13 - the day that Lela became the third Starlight Girl.



A couple of weeks later on September 5 - Jerrica, Shana, and Aja are inside of a treehouse located outside of the original Starlight House where Jerrica's mother initiates a special toast complete with lemonade all around.  It's a toast of friendship, and not only does it solidify the friendship that all of the Holograms share with each other, but it also shows us that while Emmett and Kimber might have had a special relationship, Jerrica and Jacqui were just as close.



At least until one stormy night at an airport.  Jacqui at this point was going on the talk show and small concert circuit to promote her as yet unreleased album, and as a result of this, she was never really home a lot.  When it comes time for Jacqui's flight to depart, Jerrica won't have it and she refuses to even give her a hug and a kiss. 



Jerrica irrationally tries to guilt trip Jacqui into staying by telling her that if she loved her, she'd stay.  Whether Jerrica could sense that something was about to happen or whether she was being a spoiled brat - well, I tend to think the latter.  But Jacqui has to go, and so she boards Flight 909 thinking that she will be back in a few days and by then Jerrica will have gotten over it.



But Jacqui never comes home again.



Judging by the plane wreckage and the fact that Emmett is despondent in this above image, I'm guessing that this is the moment that Jacqui's voice is permanently silenced.  And an extremely guilty Jerrica cries in Rio's arms.  Wow...this episode really sucker punches you in the gut, doesn't it?  And this was a kid's show?  It's more like an episode of "The Young and the Restless" or "Ryan's Hope" or "Loving" or whatever soap operas aired in the 1980s!



Even all these years later, Jerrica is still broken-hearted over how badly she treated her on what would be Jacqui's last day.  I'm starting to understand why the quest to release Jacqui's recordings on an album is so important to Jerrica.  She feels as though it is the only way she can truly apologize to her mother for how she behaved that day.  And just like that, I find myself not being so angry with Jerrica anymore.



The diary picks up on February 8, where it has been a week since the plane crash and Emmett is very depressed about it all.  It's not until Jerrica, Kimber, Shana, and Aja enter his room and tell him that they will pick up some of the responsibilities around the house to help him out.  But perhaps the most touching moment of all is when a normally stoic Aja breaks down in Emmett's arms and begs him not to send any of them away.  Emmett reassures them that they will always have a home as long as he is around and they gather around in a group hug with Emmett reaffirming that Jacqui has been a good influence on his girls.

Does anyone have a tissue?  Seriously?



We also get a chance to see one of the projects that Emmett has been working on.  It's in the infancy stages, but he has managed to use computer technology to create holograms.  Emmett states that his girls have given him the strength to finish a top secret project - but we're going to have to wait to find out what that is for now, as Jerrica has to take a phone call.



Oh, what a surprise.  It's Eric Raymond, and he has a deal that he wants to make with Jerrica now that he has control of Jacqui's recordings.  Of course, the price that Eric has put on the recordings in mighty steep.  His first deal is to sell Jerrica the tapes for one million dollars!  And Jerrica knows full well that since most of the profits from Jem's concerts and records go to the Starlight Girls, she doesn't have a million bucks to randomly give to slimy businessmen.  So, Eric makes a second offer.  If Jerrica gives away controlling interest of Starlight Music to Eric, he'll give her the tapes - which to me seems like a Catch 22 because if Eric gets Starlight Music back, he won't release the album anyway. 

The rest of the Holograms are disgusted but not surprised at Eric's latest plot, and Jerrica suggests reading through the rest of Emmett's diary so that they might come up with a plan to outsmart Eric.  Interestingly enough, the next diary entry is all about Eric!



We all know that Emmett hired Eric personally to be his second in command, and we know that Emmett never really knew how evil Eric would eventually become.  What we may not have known was that Jerrica initially had a massive crush on Eric when she was just seventeen!  Guys, say it with me.  EWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!  Even Raya seemed shocked at this admission, but Jerrica admits that she didn't know what she was thinking at the time.



The next entry talks about how Jerrica came up with the really stupid idea of using Eric to make Rio jealous...but all that does is show Jerrica just how ridiculous Rio's temper is.  But hey, at least he didn't kick a plant this time.

After that entry, Kimber starts to tear up, as she notices that there aren't many pages left.  Sure enough, right around the time that Eric and Rio developed their feud, Emmett starts getting sick with his terminal illness.  And as the last few diary entries are read, we can hear his voice get weaker and weaker as he gets closer to the end of his life.  Wally Burr does a fantastic job doing the voice of Emmett at this time, I should also add.



Of course, while Emmett is battling his sickness, we learn that he was building Synergy.  He notes that for fear of the technology getting in the wrong hands, he has to keep it a secret - and that includes Jerrica and Kimber at that time.  To protect his investment and his invention, he moves his workshop out of Starlight House and into an abandoned drive-in movie theatre - the same place where Jerrica and the others first meet Synergy.



And we also learn that Synergy is much more important to Emmett than we realize - have you noticed that Synergy's face looks almost exactly like Jacqui Benton's?  That was the initial idea...but when Emmett saw Jacqui's face in Synergy's monitor, he deemed the image too painful, so he altered it so that it would look different, but still have that familiarity to it.  So, Synergy is really a loving tribute to his departed wife...which means that having Synergy as Jerrica's mentor would be as if her mother were still by her side.  Mind. Blown.  Emmett also makes a note that he has programmed all of Jacqui's voice recordings into Synergy's memory banks so that Synergy could have a vocabulary that could rival Webster's Dictionary.



In Emmett's final days, he arranges for the musical instruments and Rockin' Roadster to be moved to the abandoned Starlight Drive-in Theatre, and on May 30 - the final entry in the diary - he holds the JemStar earrings in his palm, making arrangements for the earrings to be delivered to Jerrica after he passes.  Now, the date actually holds a lot of significance.  Way back in Episode 32 - the episode where Jem gets gaslighted - she reveals that her birthday is June 1.  Wanna take a guess that Emmett arranged for Synergy to deliver the earrings on Jerrica's birthday?  On the other hand, Jerrica lost her father on or around her birthday.  That would make it simultaneously the best and worst birthday she's ever had.



But Jerrica is too overcome with emotion over the revelation that Synergy seems to be her mother reincarnated.  But before she can say a word, Synergy projects herself into the room and tells Jerrica that she is no more or no less than Synergy - a final gift of love from her departed father.  Synergy also tells Jerrica that she has to make an incredibly difficult choice regarding the master tapes.  But after reading Emmett's diary, Jerrica comes to a final decision and sets off towards Eric's place of residence...however, before you start thinking that Jerrica is going soft, think again.  She flatly tells Eric that she is not giving him money, control of Starlight Enterprises, or a quickie in his bathroom.  Okay, I made that last part up.



Jerrica seems to have the idea that if she talks to Eric about how important the tapes are, he'll find it in his heart to give her the tapes no questions asked.  It's a nice thought.  A stupid thought, but a nice thought.  And Jerrica realizes just how wrong she was about Eric when he callously takes the tapes and tosses them into the fireplace. 



And with that, Jerrica smacks Eric across the face.  Hard.  The only thing that would have been better would have been if she had brass knuckles on.  I'd also consider it to be an even blow from the time where Eric cuffed her one during Episode 5.

But while hitting Eric Raymond might have felt great for a little while, by the time Jerrica arrives back home she is in full-on meltdown mode.  She tearfully explains to Kimber, Aja, Raya, and Shana what happened, and Shana and Raya immediately comfort her and tell her that it wasn't her fault.  But Kimber and Aja are off to themselves, and they seem to be more hopeful.



Remember the part in the diary where Emmett talked about programming Jacqui's voice into Synergy's memory banks?  Aja and Kimber came up with the hypothesis that Emmett may have programmed a copy of the concert into Synergy's memory banks and that the program might be so deep in the banks that not even Synergy could bring it up without a little help.  This is good news, but Aja warns Jerrica that it could be disasterous.  While Aja is just as much of an electronic genius as Techrat, the technology that Emmett used is such that it proves a challenge for even her.  Aja even warns Jerrica that if she screws up, she could completely kill off Synergy for good.  But Jerrica seems to feel that any risk is worth it - even if it means no more Jem.  And with Jerrica's blessing, they get to work disassembling Synergy.



Apparently the process to hack into Synergy's memory banks is a lengthy process.  Aja works through the whole night while the rest of the Holograms fall asleep on the ground.  But as Jerrica and company wake up to a new day, Aja goes A-HA!  Before long, a series of phrases pop up on a computer screen.



Hmmm...one of them is First Love - the song that the Holograms performed earlier in this episode.  There's also a song called Starlight, one called My Heart, and one called "Oh, Jo".  Wow, she wrote a song about Nancy McKeon and she died before "The Facts of Life" went on the air!



But the titles also seem to link to mp3 files long before mp3 files existed!  Sure enough, Aja's theory was true.  Jacqui's songs were definitely programmed into Synergy, and Jerrica couldn't be happier.  To celebrate, Aja clicks on the one marked Starlight, and we hear Jacqui singing the song that had the same title as her home, her foster girls, and her husband's record company.



"Starlight" is definitely a stand out song.  I have no idea who performed the vocals for Jacqui Benton (one theory I had was that it was Samantha Newark that sang it, but I don't think that is true).  Whatever the case, it's a beautiful song, and one that definitely brings a lot of emotion to the rest of the Holograms.  Even Raya sheds a tear even though she never met the woman in her life!  I'm thinking this probably should have been a Season 1 episode because Raya really has nothing to do in this episode. 



Whatever the case, the songs have been found, and a tearful Jerrica tells Jacqui that she loves her.  Okay, seriously, this episode is like a Barbara Walters interview.  I am NOT going to let this show make me cry!



Within a few weeks, the recordings are transferred from Synergy to another master tape, that tape is recorded onto records, cassettes, and CD's, and just like that, Jacqui Benton's album becomes a huge success.



We end off at the album release party where Jerrica formally apologizes for how she used Eric to make him jealous, and Rio doesn't seem to mind.  The two kiss passionately as the other Holograms (including Raya) hold up glasses of lemonade in front of a poster of Jacqui Benton - making a toast to friendship similar to the one that they made all those years earlier.



Okay, I'm calling it right now.  This episode is probably going to be my favourite episode of the whole series.  They blended past elements with a decent story to come up with one of the most emotionally satisfying episodes ever.  I absolutely love this one, and it really should have been the season finale.  That's how great it was.



It probably would have made a better one than the next two episodes, which will be featured over the next two Fridays.  Coming up, Jem goes Hollywood!  And Kimber is in yet ANOTHER love triangle.  Oi.