If I could go back in time to when I was a young boy and tell myself that I would be a 31-year-old adult still semi-obsessed with the career of parody extraordinaire “Weird Al” Yankovic, I would give myself the biggest high five. (Or I might think I was a clone now.) His 14th and perhaps final album, the insta-classic Mandatory Fun, was released to a rabid public today, so we thought it’d be a great time to look back on Weird Al’s fondness for the boob tube and present his ten most memorable treks into the world of television.
We’ll go in chronological order to avoid me just jamming all of my favorites up top. It’s quite a capsule of TV’s evolution over the years, from the golden age of sitcoms to cable infomercials. One has to wonder if Netflix and Hulu could possibly exist in a world where they haven’t been humorously jabbed by mankind’s most successful comedic musician. Perhaps a House of Cards riff, with Kevin Spacey singing backup? Anyway, get those hands ready to start clapping.
If you or your child is a generation or two removed from the era in which Lucille Ball was the fire-headed queen of comedy – and repeats just don’t do it for you – Weird Al’s self-titled 1983 debut album started off with the only refresher course you’ll ever need. Tony Basil’s 1981 bopper hit “Mickey” is one of the most insufferable songs I’ll ever know, yet it somehow becomes infinitely more tolerable once "Ricky" puts it in the context of an I Love Lucy episode, even with the hammy impersonations. (Fun fact: that’s the legendary voiceover actress Tress MacNeille as Lucy.)
The Brady Bunch
Though the title may have you believe that this is Weird Al’s love poem to the 1970s' most gee-golly blended family, this "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D song is actually about how much he’d rather watch anything but The Brady Bunch. Spoofing the synth-filled “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, "The Brady Bunch" slowly narrows its focus to the series itself – its second verse is the theme song – but I like to think he’s just going insane rather than showing reverence. It felt like that show would never leave syndication, so I get how he feels.
This Dare to be Stupid track is an amazing trip back to the days before satellite came along and TV became the journey of 1,000 channels. These were the early days of 24-hour crap, and the song narrator loves it, championing midget wrestling, faith healing and Mr. Wizard. (Why isn’t that on Blu-ray yet?) One has to smile at the notion of putting a giant 1980s satellite dish into a car trunk to watch MTV while driving. Now, it’s quite easy to watch anything while driving, though MTV is nothing like it was in 1985.
I completely forgot about the Polka Party! track “Here’s Johnny,” a loving and admiring ode to Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show sidekick Ed McMahon. It’s a parody of the El DeBarge song “Who’s Johnny,” a 1980s radio staple that also served as the theme for the movie Short Circuit, which had completely overshadowed my memory of Weird Al’s version. It’s a pretty creepy song almost 30 years after it was written, with chills going down the narrator’s spine every time McMahon says the titular line. The 1980s were dark times for everyone.
Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies
While this spoof of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” was popular enough at the time, it came from Weird Al’s widely-panned 1989 cinematic debut UHF. (He wrote and starred, while Jan Levey directed.) The film, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, has rightfully become a cult classic in the years since. And at least to me, this song and video are both more enjoyable than watching the TV or the film version of The Beverly Hillbillies. Now if they would go back and animate the original episodes in this block style…
I Can't Watch This
In 1992, Weird Al parodied MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” and rather than glorifying TV’s biggest offenders, he claims that it’s all crap. Off the Deep End’s “I Can’t Watch This” slams shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos (which is still on the air) and Twin Peaks (which should be back on the air) and pokes fun at infomercials and Judge Wopner. We’d prefer to not draw much attention to him wanting Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert to sit on their thumbs, though I do wonder what this song's narrator would have thought about Richard Roeper.
1993’s Alapalooza saw Weird Al taking on the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the Flintstones-centered “Bedrock Anthem,” which was featured on the film adaptation. (And was, no surprise, the best part of that mess.) The song, which combines both “Under the Bridge” and “Give it Away Now,” is great and clever and all, but this Yankovic-directed video is the stuff of legend, as it apes the Chili Peppers’ odd visuals and throws them into the world of Bedrock. Peanut butter and jelly rarely go together this well.
With the somber melody of Soul Asylum’s “Misery” as its guide, the Bad Hair Day track “Syndicated Inc.” sees Weird Al copping to his addiction to his TV, watching everything from The Munsters to Live with Regis and Kathy Lee. (No wonder he’s losing his sanity.) It’s a groovy song that partly reflects the life of a TV writer, only with non-current shows like Dynasty getting attention. You’ll notice he makes no mention of The Brady Bunch, so he must have gotten some help after that song came out.
Forget about God creating rocks so big that he can’t move them. Can Weird Al somehow over-parody a subject that is itself already a hyperbolic parody? He’s a professional, so he comes as close as humanly possible. Case in point: Running With Scissors’ “Jerry Springer,” an absurdity-filled spoof of the Barenaked Ladies hit “One Week.” He doesn’t really present any situations that are beyond the scope of the trash-fest that is The Jerry Springer Show, using transvestites and cheaters as examples of the show’s key guest stereotypes. I don’t miss hearing “One Week,” nor do I miss Jerry Springer’s apex of pop culturedom, so this one is kind of a wash for me.
As a hip-hop fan, I love it when Weird Al takes on rap songs. Few rappers are more intimidating to copy than Eminem, yet the “Lose Yourself” parody “Couch Potato” is amazingly fluid and gives Weird Al the chance to tackle a slew of TV’s most popular trends, channels and shows, like Da Ali G Show, that undertaker show and Touched By an Uncle. Wait, that last one’s not real…yet. The video above was taken from The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, and proves that even in a live format, Weird Al’s chops have only gotten stronger as his career has gone on.
The Weird Al Show Theme
Hey, it’s a bonus eleventh entry! This was the theme for the short-lived CBS series The Weird Al Show, and it's just as fun and zany as anything else he’s recorded over the years. Plus, it’s a fine return to Claymation that Weird Al first experienced in the “Jurassic Park” video from Alapalooza.
Now go celebrate Weird Al Week and buy Mandatory Fun!
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.