90210, “Be Be Be My Love”
Bill Simmons: Lisanti asked me to pick the greatest moment in 90210 history, which, of course, would double as the greatest moment in Fox history since the original 90210 was the greatest television show of all time. With all due respect to moments like Ray pushing Donna down the stairs, Andrea Zuckerman getting hit by a car (and, unfortunately, not dying), the Notorious B.A.G. banging out a squinty “Keep It Together” with Jasper’s Law, the epic “You want a beer? You want to quit staring at mine then?” exchange, the best of the Kelly/Dylan/Brenda and Kelly/Dylan/Brandon love triangles, Kelly Taylor saying “I choose me” and even the ongoing comedy of the Season 5 opening credits (the half-turnarounds slay me), I have to go with the above clip because of the toxic combination of David Silver’s embarrassing early-’90s boy band ripoff song, the B.A.G.’s shirt and Steve Sanders’s blond afromullet. I was afraid to watch this entire clip because I thought it would give my computer a virus. Be be be my love … ohhhhhhhhh …
Andy Greenwald: When discussing rock bands or Michael Jackson plastic surgery, it’s perfectly acceptable to argue the early work was better. The same can’t be said for broadcast networks. Sure, the first few years of Fox were buoyed by the brash success of Tracey Ullman, 21 Jump Street, and Married … With Children. But that added up to precisely two broadcast hours out of a daunting week. The rest of that time had to be filled somehow. And often it was filled with shows like Herman’s Head.
Low on budget and lower on laughs, this high-concept sitcom inexplicably ran for three seasons in the early ‘90s. That’s 36 hours devoted to the not-all-that-interesting non-adventures of William Ragsdale’s Herman, a mulleted slab of post-‘80s yuppie striving, as he makes his way across a dimmer, smaller version of Jay McInerney’s New York. Like the unnamed narrator of Bright Lights, Big City, Herman toils in the research department of a major magazine, but instead of putting illicit things up his nose we have to deal with what’s already in his brain: four hacky manifestations of his personality, Angel, Animal, Wimp, and Genius. As if the show’s world weren’t sufficiently claustrophobic — just Herman and his suspenders stuck in an office with Simpsons voicers Hank Azaria and Yeardley Smith, presumably cast to save HR some paperwork — roughly half the time was spent cutting to a grim soundstage where nebbishy Wimp downed Pepto shots and cowered at Animals’ jock-y one-liners. It wasn’t enough for Herman’s Head to be one bad show — it had a second bad show lurking inside it like an underdeveloped vestigial twin.
Fox definitely won’t be celebrating Herman’s Head as part of its anniversary party, but it’s an interesting example of the type of cheap, WTF concepts that slip through the cracks when young networks need to spackle schedule holes. (I can’t decide if it’s fortunate or not that Woops! — a short-lived 1992 Fox sitcom about the wacky survivors of a nuclear holocaust — has been scrubbed from the Internet.) It’s also a reminder of one of the worst aspects of the pre-DVR age: shows that were aired because a network had time to fill, and we kept them on because there wasn’t anything better to do.
Millennium, “The Time Is Now”
Alex Pappademas: At the end of “The Time Is Now,” the 1998 second-season finale of X-Files creator Chris Carter’s grim conspiracy procedural Millennium, the apocalypse that psychic profiler Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) had spent so much time worrying about arrived ahead of schedule, thanks to an avian-borne Soviet-engineered bioweapon that apparently killed billions of people, including Frank’s wife. Before that, though, Frank’s forensic-psychologist pal Lara Means, played by Kristen Cloke, began experiencing visions of the horrors to come and went insane, in an epic freakout sequence scored to Patti Smith’s song “Horses” (all of it!) and shot in the symbolism-clearance-sale style of ’80s MTV videos (blood, rose petals, cockroaches, disaster footage, shrieking disease-monkeys — go, Rimbaud!) As far as I know, this is the only time a Fox show has ever featured a 10-minute montage in which a character thrashes around hallucinating the End of Days while an arty ’70s protopunk song about homosexual rape plays, although to be fair I bailed out on The Chevy Chase Show pretty early. Producers Glen Morgan and James Wong supposedly wrote “The Time Is Now” when Millennium’s third-season pickup was in doubt; it was an appropriately bleak conclusion to a doomsday-obsessed series that was itself doomed. Except it wasn’t actually a conclusion — Fox brought the series back for one more season, in which the whole everybody-died-in-a-pandemic thing was confusingly walked back, Frank went to work for the FBI and got a feisty new partner, and the members of Kiss guest-starred as themselves.
Mark Lisanti: I exaggerate between zero and zero times zero percent when I tell you that Paradise Hotel was The Greatest Reality Television Show of All Time. I almost hesitate to describe it in any way, because I prefer for anyone unfamiliar with this mostly forgotten gem to fully investigate the Hotel on his or her own and allow its majesty to unfold unspoiled. But describe it I will: A bunch of truly awful people are sent off to a “hotel” (actually, some rich guy’s residence) in “paradise” (Mexico, I believe) to emotionally batter one another under a set of increasingly improvisational rules. Were there eliminations? Sure, when the producers felt like it. Were their alliances? I think the technical term for it is “constantly shuffled sex partners.” Was there alcohol, the staple of any trashy, dating-based reality program? Friends, there was enough booze consumed to kill 5,000 Bachelor contestants and permanently blind several dozen veteran Challenge-monkeys. The show was prime-time Caligula, but with more debauchery and less pretension, a weekly sojourn up the bunghole of Bacchus ending with a vigorous breast-stroke through his overflowing vomitorium. God Himself wept with a mixture of sadness and pride after each episode, not sure if He should smite the Fox network for this perversion of His Creation or build those executives responsible a magnificent resort of their own in the nicest part of Heaven for their role in the unexpected apotheosis of Mankind.
It’s possible I’ve built up the Hotel a bit since it was on the air, but probably not. And Season 2 wasn’t so hot.
Amos Barshad: Temptation Island, the early-2000s reality show in which couples were shipped to a tropical resort along with other attractive people so that they will cheat on each other, was a big Fox moment for me. It wasn’t actually the most fascinating viewing experience: Looking back now, I can’t remember a single thing that happened in the one season I watched. But at the time reality TV was still blossoming into its twisted peaks, and so the fact that they let something as seamy as Temptation Island on the air blew my mind. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any footage of the show on YouTube; it’s like Fox wants to pretend it never happened. Nice try, Fox: Here’s a clip from the Dutch Temptation Island. What does contestant Chris mean when he says, after a night of clearly illicit lovemaking, that “het was het bestje feestje van allemaal”? I am too scared to Google and find out.
The O.C., First Season Finale
Tess Lynch: It was either this or Temptation Island (best of Ytossie). And only this, the final scene in the first season of The O.C., has a “forty-year old stunt double in a wig” standing in for sailboat-hating Adam Brody. I probably wept when I watched this in 2004, which is even more humiliating now that I know I was moved by watching a man in a wig pretend to be a teenager on a sailboat. Ryan going back to Chino — 45 minutes away but worlds! Worlds away! too — was a lot like the last day of camp, when everybody cries and clings to one another and looks back on these eight crazy weeks, man, strumming Counting Crows songs on acoustic guitars like they’re musicians on the wet decks of the Titanic. Check out Kelly Rowan go to town with the ugly crying, too. I love when people do that. Such crumbly faces.
Futurama, “Action Rangers”
Sarah Larimer: I’m a huge fan of my dad. Sorry, every other dad on Earth, but he’s clearly the best. You know who is also probably a pretty great father, though? Al Gore. I’m serious, guys! Look, Gore’s daughter, Kristin, was a writer for Futurama, a Fox show created by Matt Groening. And because Al Gore is a Very Cool Dad, he did the Very Cool Dad Thing and “appeared” on the show. Here is a clip of Al Gore, leader of Vice Presidential Action Rangers. How can you not love this? Amazing work, Al Gore. I hope your kids have stocked your kitchen with “World’s Second Greatest Dad” mugs.
Class of ’96
Michael Weinreb: I watched every episode of Class of ’96 and I remember nothing about it, except that it was 90210 in college, before 90210 left for college, but after I left for college; I took in all 17 hours on the second floor of a reeking fraternity house, which may explain the holes in my memory. We watched this show because it was in keeping with the Melrosian ethos of Fox in 1993, and even if it kind of sucked, we felt a peculiar loyalty to Fox for at least pandering to people like us, and it was on Tuesday nights so there weren’t any parties anyway.
Why am I suddenly nostalgic for Class of ’96? Because all these years later, as I was watching Luck, I couldn’t help thinking that Jason Gedrick was, in fact, playing the same character, and that his long slide into degenerate gambling at horse tracks and Asian bingo parlors was in fact a moralistic tale about a once-promising writer who attended an Ivy-esque college in the 1990s, where ex–Remote Control hostesses and Doogie Howser steadies served as the cruel temptresses who fucked up his life.
Also, I’m pretty sure the L.L. Bean model playing air guitar at the four-second mark is Tagg Romney.
The NHL on Fox
Katie Baker: Here’s the first playoff promo for the NHL on Fox from 1995, the first year the network broadcast the league. I love it for several reasons, including but not limited to: the be-boppin’ background music (I kept waiting for everyone to be all “Shaft!” in unison); the dancing trio of Cam Neely, Adam Oates, and Ray Bourque; the pinball sound effects; “Pavel Boo-ray”; and the Power Rangers–level visual effects that begin around the two-minute mark. (What takes place around 2:10 is just downright frightening, though.) Wait, there’s more. Dale Hunter scores for the Washington Capitals. Dave Maloney has dark hair. JAMES BROWN IS THE HOST. And, this being the mid-to-late ’90s, Eric Lindros goes down. This clip makes a fantastic companion piece to Brown’s later introduction of FoxTrax, more colloquially known as The Glowing Puck. “Infrared emittors send signals to sensors around the ice rink,” he explains, sounding not unlike the guy in Almost Famous describing the Mojo.
The FoxTrax Puck
Bill Barnwell: The FoxTrax puck. Let’s fix hockey by making it look like a cheaply produced NES game!
The X-Files, “Ice”
Dan Silver: My appreciation for the horror genre started here. Not a movie, but a TV show — The X-Files, Season 1, Episode 7, titled “Ice.” I was an X-Files fan from the first episode (That isn’t a #humblebrag, in fact it’s quite sad. In 1993, I was 14 years old and should have been out acting the fool, but instead my Friday nights were spent at home in front of the TV), and at the time was unaware of the overt homage to The Thing. So I was able to experience this claustrophobic tale of paranoia and deception uncontaminated from previously existing geek knowledge (and for a long while, I preferred this episode over Carpenter’s 1982 film). Only later did I fully appreciate the risk Fox and creator Chris Carter took with airing a “bottle episode” so early into the show’s freshman season. They could have very easily alienated a lot of viewers. There are no proper excerpts from “Ice,” but this brief behind-the-scenes vignette is a good glimpse at the show and a nice reminder of (or introduction to) why The X-Files became a cultural phenomenon and how it later became the ultimate comparison point for all subsequent nerd content (I’m looking at you, Lost and Fringe).