I hate pop-culture nostalgia, the ossifying instinct that leads people to think that their fond memories of a TV show/rock band/movie/book render it a classic and that everything that came after that particular, rosy-in-memory TV show/rock band/movie/book is either inferior or a retread. Nostalgia closes the mind rather than opens it to new experiences, and so at first I didn’t pay much attention to VH1’s 748th attempt to reposition itself as Not the MTV Network for Geezers. I disdain the channel’s ”I Love the 70s” or ”80s” series, wherein comedians and B-level celebs wax nostalgic for ”B.J. and the Bear” and Jiffy Pop, thickly buttered with irony. (Oh, did I mention that I hate irony just about as much as nostalgia? You know irony: the first defense of people who don’t want to experience real feelings or admit that the stuff they’re nostalgic for is actually terrible trash.)
Then by chance I happened to catch an episode of VH1’s Best Week Ever, and kinda fell in love. If you haven’t seen it, ”Best Week Ever,” which airs new episodes on Friday nights, takes the previous week’s cultural detritus – a Britney Spears tour opening, say, or the Martha Stewart trial verdict – and allows a revolving group of comedians and celebrities to comment on, bash, or exult in the wonder and glory of it all. It’s a brilliantly simple concept featuring comics like Chuck Nice, Brian Huskey, Donnell Rawlings, the far-too-rarely-seen Rachael Harris, plus the cham-peen deadpan kings of Best Week, the duo John Aboud and Michael Colton of the webzine ”Modern Humorist.” ”Best Week Ever” does for the celebrity world what ”Mystery Science Theater 3000” did for bad movies – reduces it to ridiculed rubble.
It also places events in proper perspective. When someone on ”Best Week” says that the ”only thing Martha Stewart is guilty of is making a sinfully rich chocolate cake,” it’s not only funny, it also expresses in joke form a belief many people hold – that Martha’s getting a raw deal. I realized that one reason I like ”Best Week” is that it operates as a critique of nostalgia by transforming current events into instant nostalgia and effectively negating their power as memories. The only looming problem, as I watch week to week, is that some of the ”Best Week” crew are starting to think of themselves as celebrities; there’s already a worrying tendency for the ”Modern Humorist” twosome to do too much ”wacky” slapstick, like painting their faces to make fun of basketball maniacs. Oh, yeah – and please yank Kennedy, that squawkingly unfunny MTV refugee.
VH1 has also shown some recent inspiration in its choice of specials. During Black History Month, I saw no programming more astute about race relations than ”TV’s Illest Minority Moments,” produced by the comedy collective ego trip. Commentators ranging from ”Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder to cultural critic Jeff Yang to the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon dissected racial stereotypes and role models in everything from ”The Jeffersons” to ”Sesame Street.”
Another remarkable special was ”Fleetwood Mac: Destiny Rules,” a documentary that premiered in March and aired a few times: E-mail VH1 and get them to rerun it. Filmed during the making of the band’s 2003 ”Say You Will” album, ”Destiny Rules” falls outside VH1’s geezer zone for its universal depiction of the eternal pop paradox: the clash and synthesis between commercial and artistic impulses. We see the supposedly flighty Stevie Nicks tell a record exec she ”prayed to the commercial gods” when writing the title song, and watch Lindsey Buckingham – a unique combination of industry pro and willfully eccentric creator – resist releasing an album that will ”put the safest things out and marginalize” his own more atypical, adventurous work. This was a squirmily raw look at the inner life of a rock group. The ”Best Week Ever” folks might poke fun at Stevie when she brings in a ”spirit catcher” to feed the creative vibe in the studio, but they could never deny Buckingham his poignant dignity when he says, ”I can’t say I have an ally in the band right now.” Any channel that provides this sort of sincerity, as well as programs weekly pop-culture criticism like ”Best Week,” can’t be accused of cheesy nostalgia…very often, anyway.