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Internet Gauntlet Answered: Heinz Homestyle Gravy

Almost a year ago, I threw down an Internet Gauntlet demanding to see the original version of a Heinz Homestyle Gravy commercial from the mid-80s. As you may recall–look, I know you don’t, but just say you do–there were several instances of this ad on the web, but not the original, long-form, unexpurgated version that I remember my grandfather loving so much.

How do I know? Because I could tell there were a few subtle differences between the original and the harshly edited variation that later polluted the airwaves. Either they reshot the thing or they used a different take. In the later version, the old man mugs a bit more, and addresses his sad lament (“oh no…”) directly to the camera. But in the majestic original, he keeps laughing to himself even as he realizes he just pissed off his old battle axe of a wife and will probably get a rolling pin on the dome for his insolence.

I couldn’t have been older than 10 when these ads first aired, and yet I remember being mad when they switched them up. Why? Because I recognized the comedic superiority of the first version, and because I was a really weird kid. I thought we’ve been through this already, jeez.

And yet, when I asked for the original version from you, the internet, I received not one response. Not one! You should all hang your heads in shame, you cowards.

And you should now raise your heads to witness this!

That’s right, some brave American patriot has posted the original Heinz Homestyle Gravy commercial! Tell me the delivery employed in this ad does not make it a million times better than that cheap hack job remake. You can’t tell me that, because it is not true and you are not a liar. Also, I now realize that the old man went on to play Louis CK’s agent in an episode of Louie. You know, the one where he was forced into playing a cop in a Matthew Broderick movie. Amazing how these things come back around.

I think I’m gonna go lie down for a while.

Norman Lear Meets Albert Camus

FX’s new show, Louie, has only aired two episodes, but it might already be the best show on TV. Party Down would’ve given it a run for its money, but as of yesterday, Party Down no longer exists. (Hey Starz, go zuck it.) I don’t mean Louie is the best comedy-starring-a-stand-up-legend, or the best sitcom, or the best show on non-network TV. I feel like it is already better than 98% of anything currently airing on TV, anywhere.

Granted, I had high hopes for this show already, since I am a huge, huge fan of the stand-up of the show’s creator/writer/director, Louis C.K. And he also wrote for Conan O’Brien, Chris Rock, and The Dana Carvey Show, so his comedy pedigree could not be higher.

But I also had high hopes for his last foray into sitcomery, HBO’s Lucky Louie, and that didn’t quite work out. For that show, Louis C.K. wanted to make a modern Norman Lear-type sitcom, with threadbare sets and working class characters. It was an awesome idea, but one that didn’t quite make it. I don’t know if it was a failure of concept or execution, but it just never clicked into place. I REALLY tried to love Lucky Louie, I really did, but I could never make it past “like”. HBO must have agreed, since they canceled it after one season.

That’s why I don’t believe my judgment is clouded by my feelings about the parties involved, and I can honestly say that Louie is outstanding. It is simultaneously the funniest and darkest thing I’ve seen on TV in years. It is jam packed with LOLs and has moments of despair as bleak as anything you’ve seen on The Sopranos or The Wire–often at the same time.

Louis C.K. basically plays himself, a divorced dad of two stumbling his way back into the single world. It also features clips of his stand-up, which as a sort of Greek chorus to the rest of the action, and are easily the funniest thing on the show. That’s not a comment on the rest of the show–it’s a comment on how Louis C.K. is one of the best stand-up comedians alive. (Video below via Videogum)

I was practically in tears at the last half of this set. And as I laughed, part of me thought, Jesus Christ, why am I laughing at this? Because in pure substance, what Louis C.K. is saying is HORRIFYING. And not in a gross-out way. In a “we’re all gonna die and life is meaningless” way.

Just look at it written down: How “the best case scenario” for any relationship is “you’re gonna lose your best friend and just walk back from D’Agostino’s every day with heavy bags and wait for your turn to be nothing also”. Or how bringing a puppy home is saying to your family, “Look everyone, we’re all gonna cry soon! I brought home us crying in a few years! Countdown to sorrow!”

The only reason this doesn’t sound like a suicide note is because it’s presented comedically, in a Comedy Context, so we can all laugh and say, “Yeah, you’re right, most things we think are important are really kinda pointless, and when you get right down to it, that’s funny.”

Ask yourself: When was the last time TV show came even close to saying something like that?

But the non-stand-up segments are amazing, too. One thing this show does extremely well: showing New York in its actual cramped, annoying glory. It’s not the Sex and the City New York, but much closer to the real New York, where people live in tiny, shitty apartments and there’s traffic and everybody’s sweaty and weird.

In the first episode, Louie picks up a girl at her apartment for what turns out to be the most awkward date in the history of time (he shows up wearing a suit, while she prepares to hit the town in a tank top, and it all goes downhill from there). As they’re leaving her apartment building, he tries to open the front door for her, but opening the door traps her in one corner of the building’s tiny vestibule. He closes the door just enough to let her through, then makes a fumbling attempt to kiss her, made even more uncomfortble the claustrophobic setting. The scene lasted maybe 20 seconds, but it’s the most perfect, New York-y scene I’ve seen in a long time.

Louie is also one of the best directed and edited shows on TV in many years. It’s so artfully done, which is amazing considering it’s made on a relatively low budget and a tight shooting schedule (see this Onion AV Club interview for full deets). Like the scene in the vestibule, which was shot from above, all in one take, so you could feel just how awkward and interminable that moment felt. He might have been able to wring more cheap laughs out of close-ups and quick cuts, but obviously the feeling he wanted to convey was more important than the laughs-per-square-inch.

To me, that’s a sign of maturity. Louie is not needy. It’s a show that already knows exactly what it is and trusts that people will understand it.

I can’t remember the last time I was so impressed with the first two episodes of anything, and not since Annie Hall has someone so skillfully tread the line between comedy and sorrow. Louie is a work of art, and I think you should watch it if you like things that are amazing.

Youtubery Friday: Louis C.K.

It’s Friday! Procrastinate and countdown to happy hour with these lovely bits!

Louis C.K., one of the funniest dudes out there right now, has a new sitcom in the works (Louie), which will debut in April on FX. Yesterday, I finally saw a brief ad for it. It’s not much, but it’s enough to get me all a-flutter.

I’m glad that this is coming out now, because his last sitcom (Lucky Louie) was unceremoniously canceled by HBO after only one season. (And yet they keep reordering that piece of bro-garbage, Entourage? What the shit?!) And as this video indicates, that cancellation nearly drove him to a very different career path.

Why do I love Mr. C.K. so much? Because he delves into the darkest corners of parenthood, in excruciating detail. As he does in this clip where he discusses the difference between boys and girls.

Or in this clip, where he talks about the horrible frustration that ensues when your child refuses to eat. YOU’RE ON THE GRID! JUST PUT IT IN YOUR FACE!

And because he also makes delightfully silly videos like this.

The Sub-Atomic World of Two Year Olds

Being a parent is hard. Everyone knows this, whether you have kids or not. But you can’t know the true depths of how difficult parenting is until you have a kid. Don’t mean to pull rank. It’s just true.

There’s no one particular thing about being a parent that takes Herculean effort. You get used to doing certain tasks very quickly. Feeding, dressing, burping–no big deal, any of them. Yes, you can even get accustomed to touching another human being’s feces on a regular basis. After a while, it’s not a big deal. To this day, I’m more grossed out by baby food than I am by baby poop.

What is a big deal is the fact that it never ends. There is no punching out. There is no weekend. You are on red alert 24/7, and anything you do–even if it’s the absolute right thing to do–may scar your child for life. It’s like being in a combat zone, only not so relaxing.

dragkid.pngI say this because I ran across a video yesterday that gave me pause, in which a mother drags her kid (who’s on a leash-type restraint) across the floor of store. Your reaction to it probably depends on whether you have a kid or not.

If you don’t have a kid, you are likely think this is HORRIBLE and INEXCUSABLE and this woman SHOULD BE LOCKED UP AND NEVER BE ALLOWED TO BREED AGAIN!!1! The state of Alabama agrees with you, because they’ve thrown this woman in jail and are threatening to take her child away from her.

If you do have a kid, you probably think: Yeah, she shouldn’t have done that. But…

Because every parent has been driven to a point where they’ve contemplated doing something like this. Or something in the same ballpark. If you say you’ve never thought about dragging your kid home, you either have a team of au pairs or you’re a fucking liar.

Especially if you have a two-year-old. That is a very special age where a child asserts his/her independence but cannot be reasoned with in any way. It’s impossible to completely placate a two-year-old, because their whims operate under the laws of quantum mechanics. Call it The Toddler Uncertainty Principle: The more you think you’ve pinned down what they want, the more likely it is those desires just shifted in a completely different direction.

Two-year-olds have no agenda but their own pleasure and chaos. It’s like living with The Joker.

All this video shows is 30 seconds of a mother reacting poorly. It doesn’t show all the events leading up to the mother’s meltdown. Maybe this kid ran around the store like a maniac and didn’t listen to a word his mother said. Maybe he hauled off and hit her when she said he couldn’t have some dumb fuckin’ plastic toy he wanted. Maybe she heeded every direction that came out his mouth, and he still screamed “I hate you!”

Yeah, two-year-olds do that all the time. If an adult made demand after demand of you, and you met every single one, and they said, “Guess what? I hate you!”, what would you do? You’d kick that person in the dick is what you’d do. It’s hard to turn off the “I’ve just been horribly insulted” impulse in your brain, even if it’s your own flesh and blood disrespecting you.

You may be inclined to say, “It’s the mother’s own fault for raising an unruly child.” Two-year-olds are unruly. There’s nothing more unruly in nature, not even the sub-atomic world. Scientists are still trying to figure out why this tiny universe operates in ways that seem to completely defy the laws of physics. And we still know more about quarks than we do about two-year-olds.

I don’t care how well you’ve raised your kid, how many Baby Einstein tapes you’ve bought, how many foreign language flash cards you zipped in front of their face. Once they hit a certain age, they turn into monsters. It doesn’t last forever, but it might feel like it does.

Also keep in mind that two-year-olds are prone to complete and total meltdowns that have no real solution. In those cases, the best thing to do is let your kid cry/kick/punch their way out of it (while making sure they don’t hurt themselves or others, of course). That may lead you to look callous or negligent to others–as I found out during a trip to the ER earlier this year.

But you know what? Fuck the rest of the world. As a parent, it’s not your job to satisfy some idealistic BS idea of what good parenting should look like. Anyone who hasn’t spent an entire day being screamed at by a two-year-old has no right to judge.

Say your kid is screaming because he wants candy. He hasn’t had any dinner yet, so you say no. He flips out, making you look like The World’s Worst Dad to everyone else in Duane Reade. You could get him some candy to keep him quiet, and that might make the situation less embarrassing for you.

But is that good parenting? Of course not, for a million different reasons. All you’d do is give your kid a lesson that if he screams loud enough, you’ll do anything he says. And for what? So you could look better for a bunch of people who don’t know you and who you’ll never see again. “I’ve turned my child into a sociopath, but at least that weird old lady with the support hose and the purple hair at the prescription counter stopped staring at me!”

Should this woman have dragged her kid? Of course not. But I don’t think she made a conscious decision to do that; she just snapped. And I totally understand how a person could snap like that. I hope her home state will see it that way (assuming this was just a moment of insanity for her).

Seeing this video made me think of Louis CK’s bit on parental meltdowns. “What did that shitty kid do to that poor woman?!”