“Tell me a story, Daddy.”
“It’s too late, my best beloved.”
“I’m not tired.”
“One more, and you have to promise to go to sleep, okay?”
“Okay, daddy. I promise.”
“All right. One last story then. This is…”
THE STORY OF WHAT WAS ON THAT NIGHT (AND ALSO THAT SATURDAY NIGHT)
FRANK FISTICUFFS’ FINAL BATTLE
Here’s what’s up in the world of TV for Friday, June 27, and Saturday, June 28. All times are Eastern.
The Legend Of Korra (Nickelodeon, 8 p.m., Friday): In those days, the people had very little television to watch on weekend evenings. This ran counter to much of the medium’s history, but the people had better things to do with their weekends. (“Like what, Daddy?” “I… I don’t know, sweetheart, but we’re about to find out.” “That’s scary, Daddy.” “I know.”) Into that space ventured a few brave shows, series that dared tackle the conventional wisdom and believed deeply that they could capture just enough viewers in the all-important 18-49-year-old demographic to matter to advertisers. (“Honey, she gets bored when you talk too much about the economics of television.” “DID I ASK FOR YOUR INPUT, LIBBY?!”) Once one of those shows would fall, another would rise to take its place. And in those days, that show was the enjoyable children’s program The Legend Of Korra, which announced its return only a few days before it actually happened, which was the closest thing the medium had ever seen to that time Beyonce just dropped a whole album out of nowhere. (“Chief Justice Knowles?!” “Yes, sweetie, she was a singer.”) Anyway, it was back that week, out of nowhere, and Oliver Sava was covering it, stepping in for Emily Guendelsberger, who, sadly, had had to step down.
Continuum (Syfy, 10 p.m., Friday): In those days, there was so much television. So much of it! So much that enterprising television sections’ budgets could only stretch so far, meaning they could only have Alasdair Wilkins drop in on exciting programs like this sci-fi thriller for their finales!
TV CLUB CLASSIC
Babylon 5 (11 a.m., Friday): It was a time when television editors could get jobs despite never having seen Babylon 5, a time when brave heroes like Rowan Kaiser fought against the common misconception that the show was a “mere” space opera, and not a pivotal evolutionary step for TV drama!
Blackadder (3 p.m., Friday): It was a time when brand new writers like Kate Kulzick were allowed to cover cornerstones of British comedy! (“Is that the Kate who lives on a spaceship now?” “Yes, it is, and she has that space llama, remember?” “Colonel Jenkins?!” “I knew you remembered!”)
The Twilight Zone (1 p.m., Saturday): And it was a time when Todd VanDerWerff would step down from his position as TV Editor after filing one last TV Club Classic review of a Twilight Zone episode named “Uncle Simon.” (“What’s that?” “Don’t worry. It’s not on the test.”)
AND IN THAT TIME, THERE LIVED A MAN NAMED FRANK FISTICUFFS WHO HAD BEEN THE VOICE OF THE WHAT’S ON TONIGHT HEADERS ALL OF THIS TIME, ONLY YOU DIDN’T KNOW IT
“FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE BIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRRRDDDDDDD!” Cried Frank Fisticuffs (All Times, All Networks, All Realities): And it was so.
ELSEWHERE IN TV CLUB
See, Frank Fisticuffs, a mighty man with the heart of a lion and the voice of a very loud lion, could not deal with all of this change. Nor could he deal with the Tournament Of Episodes, then entering its finals between Community and The Good Wife. For it was an affront to television, tournaments, and prizes!
“You can’t be sad,” said Frank’s best friend and blood companion, Former President Jimmy Carter. “But think of all I’ve lost!” said Frank. “Dr. Kangaroo! Khemkaeng! Margaret! Much of the Eastern Seaboard! Fallen! I can’t lose this too!” (“I don’t understand any of these references, Daddy.” “Have you been reading your back issues? No? Then I see why.”) “Here,” said Former President Jimmy Carter, “have some new TV Reviews to tide you over. Brandon Nowalk on Vicious and Myles McNutt on Reckless! Good stuff!”
“ARE YOU STILL LISTENING TO ‘FREE BIRD’?” ASKED FRANK FISTICUFFS. BECAUSE THAT VIDEO WAS NOT A SUGGESTION
And then he danced. A sad, crazy dance. A dance for damnation and a dance for delight. A dance in the morning when the world was begun. A dance in the moon. And the stars. And the Sun. (“Wait… so Frank Fisticuffs is Jesus?!” “I THOUGHT YOU HAD A NOVEL TO WRITE, LIBBY.”)
WHAT ELSE IS ON
Creative Galaxy/Turbo Fast (Amazon/Netflix, 12 a.m., Friday): “You can’t worry about television or its champions, Frank,” Former President Jimmy Carter said. “Why not?” “Because it’s not your job anymore. Besides, even streaming services are providing content now.” Frank mulled that over, tears dripping like ash into his warm beer. Former President Jimmy Carter leaned forward, a hand gripping Frank’s muscular arm, capable of dealing such damage in the form of fisticuffs. “You have to have heard his call. The Fieri Beast is coming.”
A Leap Of Faith: A Meredith Vieira Special (NBC, 8 p.m., Friday): “Nobody cares about a Meredith Vieira special,” said Frank. “Not if the Fieri Beast is coming.” “Yes,” said Former President Jimmy Carter, his rheumy eyes filling with both wisdom and concern. “He has heard the cry of the Huli Huli Chicken. And he has been shut down for retooling for two weeks now. He will be stronger than ever.” From the seashore, where Frank and Former President Jimmy Carter had parked their Jet Skis, came a death-rattling roar. “My dolphins!” said Frank. The sickening sound of teeth ripping into flesh and the cry of a beast who has mixed equally the blood of the sacred and the blood of the damned.
Zapped/Girl Meets World (Disney Channel, 8 p.m., Friday): “It is too late for them,” said President Carter, arming Frank with a shotgun filled with rock salt, 22 hairpins, and a picture of Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper star Mark Curry. “Worry, now, about you.” “Why Mark Curry?” asked Frank. “Because,” said Former President Jimmy Carter, a twinkle in his eye, “Todd VanDerWerff once proclaimed an episode of Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper the ‘best episode of television I’ve ever seen.’ We all have to start somewhere. And then we all have to evolve. That evolution is painful, inevitably, but it also means we slowly—slowly, Frank—become the people we were always meant to be. Todd VanDerWerff’s evolution meant leaving Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper behind at one time, and now it means leaving all this behind, even if doing so is very sad and very painful. (“Were we supposed to be reading all of those pointless personal and philosophical asides in your reviews in the voice of Jimmy Carter?!” “Libby… just… let me finish!”) And he leaves things in able hands. Like those of Lead TV Writer Sonia Saraiya! And TV Editor Erik Adams, who wrote that Girl Meets World review you liked so much earlier in the week!” Former President Jimmy Carter sat back, exhausted, the act of merely existing in the monster’s malevolent presence the ultimate act of will. Then he nodded. “Your evolution will be sad and painful, too. But yours? Yours involves defeating the Cthuloid version of Guy Fieri in hand-to-hand combat.”
BUT, SERIOUSLY, WHERE IS TODD GOING?
Why, I’m going to Vox.com. It’s an exciting new media venture from Vox Media, headed up by Ezra Klein, and if you click on the hyperlink above, you can read it right now! There’s some great stuff there. (If you want to know more about what I, specifically, am going to do, well, I talked about that here.)
YOU’RE SUDDENLY GOING TO DROP THE IMPERSONAL FIRST PERSON PLURAL VOICE NOW?
Better late than never, right?
IT’S ALWAYS BEEN A LITTLE STRAINED, I’LL ADMIT
As is inserting myself as a character into this story. But wasn’t I already a character? Isn’t future me telling this story to a daughter that doesn’t exist as anything other than a concept yet? I’m confused and should really not use this as a writing sample anywhere.
NOTHING STEPHEN KING HASN’T TRIED
Touché, Frank. Touché.
HERE IS “FREE BIRD” AGAIN, IN CASE IT RAN OUT
BACK TO WHAT ELSE IS ON
Rake (Fox, 9 p.m. Friday): Frank considered, also, the end of Rake that week, then realized that not every ending is a curse. Some endings are blessings—whether in disguise or in very obvious fashion. If he was to face the Fieri Beast and live, he would have to accept that his own death would be the thing that would finally return him to a place where he could hold Margaret one last time or feel the soft, sweet nuzzle of Dr. Kangaroo’s nose. (“So the afterlife exists in the Frank Fisticuffs universe, Daddy?” “It would seem so, darling.” “Does that mean God exists there?” “Well, isn’t God just an author? So, as the creator and sole proprietor of Frank Fisticuffs Industries, aren’t I Frank Fisticuffs’ God?” “That would explain why he has such weird reverence for you.” “It would at that, sweetie.”)
Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs (Lifetime, 8 p.m., Saturday): “I am tired,” said Former President Jimmy Carter. “Read me to sleep. Read me the stories of our people.” He closed his eyes, and Frank obliged, late into the night, with the words of Molly Eichel’s review of a Lifetime made-for-TV movie about a polygamist cult leader. Soon, Former President Jimmy Carter was asleep, and Frank wept a single tear for all the fallen—even those who had fallen by his fists. But not the one who would fall come sunrise. He stepped out into the sweltering heat of the Oklahoma delta and thought of all the lies he had been told and all of the liars he had killed.
Whitney Cummings: I Love You (Comedy Central, 11 p.m., Saturday): “I love you” was a promise no one could ever keep. “I love you” were words that paled in the face of the inevitable, in the face of death and how 2 Broke Girls was always going to suck and I was just lying desperately to myself all along and the massive tentacle monster blotting out the moon. “Won’t be squirming for long,” said Frank, eyes darting along the horizon. “Unless I make finger puppets outta those.”
Unforgiven (Encore, 8 p.m., Friday): (“Oh, no, we’re to the movies! The battle must be coming soon!” “Don’t worry, sweetie. I’m not going to kill Frank Fisticuffs.” “Promise?” “If you watch Unforgiven. It’s a really great movie!” “I’m not allowed.”)
DON’T YOU HATE WRITING THESE THINGS, VANDERWERFF?
God, I do. So, so much. I wish I had never invented this fucking feature.
THEN WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS THEN?
I don’t even know any more. I’m not ready for it to end.
I KNOW WHAT THIS NEEDS
What’s that, Frank?
THE VERSION OF “GOD GAVE ROCK AND ROLL TO YOU” FROM THE BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY END CREDITS
Fuck yeah, Frank!
LET’S DO THIS SHIT
John Tucker Must Die (ABC Family, 8 p.m., Friday): The sun’s red blood glinted on the horizon when Frank Fisticuffs fired the first warning shot into the Fieri Beast’s shoulder. “THE FIERI BEAST MUST DIE!” he cried, and his first punch rang as true as any punch had ever rang true, striking a clear, perfectly pitched middle C that resonated throughout the entirety of the continent. The beast turned, a befuddled expression upon its lips, for it had no idea how it had become the enemy of the entirety of the cosmos. (“It’s awfully convenient that a one-off joke you made off the cuff has somehow become the linchpin of all of this mythology.” “It really is. No disrespect to Guy Fieri intended. Unless he becomes a tentacle monster, thanks to an unholy combination of mad science, black magic, and a mean, lean green bean dip.”)
To Be Or Not To Be (TCM, 8 p.m., Saturday): It was appropriate, Frank Fisticuffs thought, his fist sinking into mottled flesh, that TCM would be airing one of Todd VanDerWerff’s favorite movies in connection to his last ever What’s On Tonight. It was appropriate, Frank Fisticuffs thought, that the beast’s blood was frosted yellow and tasted of cayenne peppers. He swung toward the beast’s throat, fist at the ready to deliver the death blow, when he saw the look of strange, terrified wonder in the beast’s eye. It did not know what it had done to deserve this. It was controlled by forces beyond them both. It was no more a monster than Dr. Kangaroo had been when they had first met on the Moon. And yet… its breath still smelled of dolphin. His fist hardened in anger.
NASCAR Racing: Nationwide Series in Sparta, Ky. (ESPN, 7 p.m., Friday): (“Not the sports picks! It’s almost over! You said he wouldn’t die!” “And he hasn’t!” “But now I don’t want the Fieri Beast to die!” “Well, that’s life, kiddo.” “Daddy! Make them hug!” “Hmmmm…” “And don’t pick NASCAR. You don’t know anything about NASCAR.” “I wouldn’t say I don’t know…” “Knowing that it involves cars doesn’t count knowing something about it!”)
MLB Baseball: Teams TBA (Fox, 8 p.m., Saturday): It was always to be announced. It was always waiting for you in the future, just around the corner. Karma. Judgment. The big damn first in your face. Whatever you wanted to call it. Frank was surprised to find himself weeping as his fist sailed toward the beast’s throat, and it was all the moment the beast needed to knock Frank away into the water, sending him sailing to the bottom of the sea, where its great tail pinned him to the ocean’s floor. Frank struggled, but the tail was too heavy. The life crept from his body like a lion.
FUCK YOU, VANDERWERFF
I have a way out of this for us.
I’M FUCKING DYING HERE, MAN
Just… give me one more movie pick.
YOU USED ALL YOUR MOVIE PICKS! I CAN’T BREAK THE STRUCTURE ANYMORE THAN WE ALREADY HAVE HERE!
Just do it. (“Do it, Frank!”) And quit messing with my carefully delineated metatextual storytelling structure, future daughter I don’t have yet! (“Sorry.”)
FINE. *CHOKE* *SPLUTTER* *GASP* ONE… MORE… MOVIE… PICK
Titanic (Oxygen, 7 p.m., Saturday): Frank…
Titanic (Oxygen, 7 p.m., Saturday): Will you trust me?
FINE. TITANIC. WHATEVER. BUT YOU HAVE TO DO THE SONG. IT’S THE SONG YOU DESERVE TO GO OUT ON. DICK.
Titanic (Oxygen, 7 p.m., Saturday): Frank was in a gleaming palace. It was the apartment he had shared with Margaret in the brief time they shared together before she—no, he realized and accepted, he—had made it all go wrong. He had treated her like a plot device. And she had tired of that. He was coming to realize he’d done a lot of that over the years, making the work his only mission and letting everything else wither away. But not any more.
The staircase reached to the heavens. Khemkaeng came out, carrying a small vial of cognac. “For my friend,” he said, and Frank sipped at it daintily. (Secretly, he had always been a drinker of fine liquors.) As he climbed the stairs higher and higher, he saw more of them. His old enemy Drexler. His dolphins. Margaret, who greeted him with a kiss. (“I’m glad you’re okay now,” she said.) There, near the top of the stairs, Dr. Kangaroo, who nodded, eye twinkling behind his monocle.
But at the top was Former President Jimmy Carter, and Frank knew. “You died?” he asked.
“No,” Former President Jimmy Carter said. “I lived. And now you must too. I give you that last gift.”
“Don’t. You have to go back.” He gripped his arm, and he was strong again, like Santa Claus. (“Had to fit Christmas in there?” “Coffee break’s over, LIBBY.”) “You have to put it all back together.” Former President Jimmy Carter pushed Frank backward, and it was as if he were a child again, tumbling out of a beloved climbing tree, back toward the Earth, knowing it would hurt.
He saw all of their faces streaking before him, turning into beams of light. He would join them someday. But today…
His eyes opened beneath the surface of the water.
Celine Dion’s voice rose on the soundtrack.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Rescue Me (2009): It would be easy to think the kid who wrote this would amount to nothing. I sure feared I would at the time. But that kid also got to hang out with all of you and have all of these adventures and write about some fucking great television. Not to go all Lou Grant on you, but I treasure this place, and I treasure you people. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for helping that kid realize he wasn’t a worthless husk and help him move on to whatever’s next. I hope you follow along, but even if you don’t, thank you for being a vital part of this portion of my life. I will never forget it. Remember, as the wise man said: Near. Far. Wherever you are. I believe that the heart does go on. Once more. You open the door. And you’re here in my heart, and my heart will go on and on. That song? That song’s ours now, TV Club. My parting gift to you. Knock ‘em dead, Frank.
TALES OF THE FIERI BEAST
As Celine’s voice rang out its clarion call, Frank jetted through the water, feeling the spirits of his dolphins beside him, guiding him, bringing him home.
He burst through the surface of the waves, shimmering beads of light dancing about him.
On the horizon, he could see the Fieri Beast turn. It had been lumbering toward a Joe’s Crab Shack, but now… now it was pissed. To look upon it in full daylight was to risk the sudden dissolution of one’s sanity, but Frank could feel Former President Jimmy Carter, Dr. Kangaroo, all of them, holding him together. The beast’s unholy scream reverberated through a million realities. You may have heard it just now.
But all Frank could hear was Celine’s voice. He could end this beast, or he could love it. He could hit, or he could hug. He could tear apart, or he could pull together.
And even he did not know what he would do.
In the crisp burst of sunlight, he leapt into the sky. Descending from the clouds, he…
“What does he do?”
“Tomorrow, kiddo. You have to get to bed.”
“But what if there’s no tomorrow?”
“There’s always tomorrow. Now. Sleep.”
“I love you, kid.”
“I love you, too.”)