Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ask The A.V. Club: August 31, 2007

14
Save

The Couch Trip

Why is Jay Leno's Tonight Show the only late-night talk show that requires all their guests, no matter how big they are, to stay on the couch (so to speak) with him throughout the whole show? Letterman and Conan don't do that unless the guests want to stay. If I was a big-name celebrity, I'd want to get as far away from Jay as soon as I could, once I was done promoting whatever I came in for, and yet these guys stick around until the end. Is it some kind of contractual thing the studios make them do?

Advertisement

Steven Firstenburg

Heeeeeeere's Noel Murray:

It's just a holdover from the show's old format, Steven. Johnny Carson did it; Jack Paar did it. I think even Steve Allen did it. The difference is that in those earlier Tonight Show incarnations, the guests were encouraged to talk to each other more, because it was thought to be more interesting to hear celebrities swap stories than to watch them promote their new project while graciously giving way for the host's canned quips. For celebrity cross-chat, no talk-show host beat Dick Cavett, who could find common ground between Raquel Welch and Janis Joplin, then let them talk amongst themselves for minutes on end.

How About Some Information, Pleeeeease?

Okay, the Internet keeps failing me on this one. When I was in middle school, they would show us these "say no to drugs" PSAs about this kid that would get offered drugs, and then his magic headband would take him for a ride on the "fate elevator," where he'd go on an educational adventure about whatever drug was in that episode. Also, Louis Gossett Jr. was in it, and he would sing a song about the fate elevator. I am not making this ridiculous-sounding shit up. Other classmates from middle school remember it. It would be from the '80s or early '90s.

Jay

Donna Bowman threw away her magic headband at the end of the '80s:

Illustration for article titled Ask The A.V. Club: August 31, 2007
Advertisement

This psychedelic nightmare is Straight Up!, a 1989 miniseries (three 30-minute parts) designed to be shown to children in grades four through six. Chad Allen (best known for playing the oldest orphan and eventual sheriff on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) is a tousled pre-teen hunk who has a hard time saying no to a bunch of losers who keep trying to get him to do drugs ranging from beer to cocaine. But every time he's about to succumb, singing Louis Gossett, Jr. shows up to take him for a ride in the "fate elevator," where he meets aggressive drunks and personified schedule-2 narcotics. Each episode outfits him with a new magical accessory he can use to combat ignorance and strengthen his willpower—a trippy glowing headband, rad shades, and a disco medallion. He returns to spread his newfound anti-substance-abuse knowledge to an uncaring world, only to be tempted again and again.

If you need out-of-date information about drugs, or have children who love the '80s and are likely to be positively influenced by frosted hair and talking headbands, you can stream the first two parts of Straight Up! (warning: Windows Media Player, tiny, dark, even crappier than when you saw it in fifth grade). Gossett has a long history in drug education, stemming from his own recovery from cocaine addiction in the early '80s. His message must have gotten through to a young Chad Allen, whose biggest troubles so far were being outed as gay in 1996 by a tabloid, then getting flak when he starred in the Christian film End Of The Spear. This answer brought to you by the Ad Council and The A.V. Club Cares™.

Advertisement

First There Is A Wall, Then There Is No Wall, Then There Is

I am trying to identify a British (I think) film that I saw about 15 years ago, possibly on PBS. The plot involved two men who, through circumstances I can no longer recall, owed a great debt to a rich man. The rich man agreed to grant these two guys their freedom if they built him a wall. The wall was to be enormous and made out of fieldstones, and was to serve no discernible purpose whatsoever. Or rather, the sole purpose of building the wall was to punish the two men. It was to be built across a huge field in the middle of nowhere and the two guys had to live together on the field while they built this wall over a period of months or years. Almost the entire movie consisted of the two guys building the wall and plotting against the vindictive rich man. Any idea what I'm talking about?

Advertisement

Mike Kelly

Noel Murray is singing your song:

Illustration for article titled Ask The A.V. Club: August 31, 2007
Advertisement

I most certainly do know what you're talking about. The movie is The Music Of Chance, a neat little indie from 1993, based on a book by postmodern novelist Paul Auster and directed by Philip Haas. Mandy Patinkin plays a formerly rich drifter coming to the end of his bankroll, and James Spader plays a professional gambler who takes a ride from Patinkin and starts telling him about two dotty oldsters—played by Charles Durning and Joel Grey—who improbably fleeced him in a poker game. Patinkin agrees to stake Spader in a rematch, but he loses again, thus setting up the plot you describe. One aspect you didn't mention is that Patinkin and Spader actually finish building the wall, but Durning and Grey then present them with a bill for living expenses, which they obviously can't afford, so their term of service is extended.

Like most stories with a bluntly metaphorical premise, The Music Of Chance ends with a thud, but for the first hour or so, it's witty and controlled, graced with fine performances and a not-too-heavy meditation on what it means to be free. The movie is available on DVD, and this spoiler-laden, sappy musical tribute is available on YouTube:

STUMPED!

Once again, here's a round of questions we couldn't answer, and we're graciously willing to let you answer for us. Do any of the things described below ring a bell? Send IDs to us at the e-mail address below.

Advertisement

In the early to mid-'80s, my mother rented a strange (what I assume to be) anime from a "family friendly" video store. I remember only of flashes of it: two children who go on adventures, possibly traveling in time, and a male antagonist with long, dark hair who gets transformed into a robot by a happiness machine. I remember enjoying it immensely, but I have had little luck finding anything remotely resembling it.

Grant

When we were in France in January 2004, my boyfriend and I caught the end of this movie on one of the Canal Plus stations that has been untrackable since. The movie was in English (not dubbed), and the plot revolved around the life of a man who was followed around by a barbershop quartet. No one else could see them, and he was being tortured by them singing about his everyday life. Finally, at the suggestion of a sinister man, he shoots and kills them. Then, all of a sudden, he sees that every other person also has a barbershop quartet, gospel group, or something similar accompanying them, and they are really supposed to be there, providing comfort. (Pretty much they are souls, but I don't think that was explicit.) Anyways, any information would be very helpful. Thanks,

Advertisement

Sarah

I've been trying to prove the existence of a book I read as a kid about a boy who finds a shark egg case washed up on a beach. The boy takes the egg home, the shark hatches, and then, through a series of events I can't recall, the shark gains the ability to fly (and presumably not require water passing over its gills for oxygen). I distinctly remember the shark, when it was a few feet long, flying around the inside of the kid's house. I might be remembering a detail of the plot incorrectly, since all my web searches come up with nothing. I'm starting to worry I dreamed it. Since I would have read this as a child, it must have been published before 1988, if it exists at all.

Advertisement

Mitch

When I was young, I was lucky enough to have a used-book store near my house that also carried box after long-box of used comics tucked away in back. Mixed in with all the copies of ROM and Power Pack were hundreds of independent titles, some of which I've never seen since. Like this one:

The main plot centered around three or four teenagers involved in an incident during class. The teacher was in league with the main bad guy, and seemed genuinely terrified that he had been found. The bad guy zapped each student, and most were transformed into some sort of freak, though some students died immediately. So our main three (or four) superpowered teens were left to find out what happened to them. I remember one guy was missing his midsection and could fly. Another guy was really crazy, he heard voices and liked to kill people. There was a girl involved, but I can't remember her powers. I think the series only had three or four issues. I had the first two, and could never find the last issues to conclude the story. It was published in black and white and was from a company that I had never heard of before or since. Good luck, and thank you.

Advertisement

Josh

I hope you can help me out with this one. I only remember one scene from this movie I used to watch quite a bit when I was younger—around 5, I think. (I was born in 1985.) In it, a young boy is imprisoned. His prison keepers are these unusual greenish-brown slimy blob things. For whatever reason, the boy can not be seen by these blobs, and he hides under the bench in his cell when they pass by. I know that's not a lot to go on—I will be very impressed if you come up with anything. Regards,

Advertisement

Will

Next week: Heading off to see the wizard, a murderous song inspiration, and more. Send your questions to asktheavclub@theonion.com.

Advertisement