The Glutton gets Medieval
My mom and stepdad came to stay with us over Thanksgiving. I was pretty jazzed about this because it meant I didn’t have to drive down to Washington, D.C., to see them, a nightmare of gridlock-ian proportions during the holidays. But hosting family is a lot of work. And I’m not talking about cooking the meal, because it is in everyone’s best interest if I stay as far away from the kitchen as possible. No, I’m talking about having family in your house for four days. What the hell do you do with them? As it turns out, plenty.
My wife Christina acted not only as culinary master for the weekend, but our very own Julie McCoy as well, coming up with a full schedule of events to keep everyone entertained. The first big outing was on Friday to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. Everything about this show was big — the venue, the production, and most of all, the cost. Going to the show was a tradition Christina and her mother had started when she was a little girl. One problem: the cost of a ticket then was roughly the same as a ham sandwich. Now, I was shelling out $100 a pop (at six tickets that makes $600) — all for a show we had already seen several times already. (Isn’t it time for a new tradition, like, say, watching A Christmas Story on TBS?) Refusing to pay one dollar over the already exorbitant cost, I had stood in a line in the cold for over 30 minutes the week before to purchase the tickets in person rather than pay some $66 extra in handling fees. When we arrived for the actual performance, I gave my children a speech on how we weren’t buying anything. No $20 light-up spinning wheels. No Rockette Barbie dolls. You say you need a drink? Find a fountain, kid. We settled into our seats in the second-to-last row of the orchestra and the show began. It was pretty much what you’d expect (especially if you’d memorized the program from previous performances). The Rockettes dressed up as reindeer and soldiers, Santa proclaimed New York to be the most magical place on earth, and a very depressed looking camel sauntered across the stage during the nativity scene.
Of course, this being the 75th anniversary of the show, there were some new bits as well. In fact, it was during one of them that the curtain abruptly went down and a voice announced, ”the show will continue in just a minute.” They tried to make it look somewhat planned and smooth, but it wasn’t. There was obviously some sort of technical difficulty at play. The audience sat in awkward, confused silence for about five minutes and then, without warning, the curtain rose and the Rockettes started dancing again. The audience clapped. Well, everyone in the audience but me. I looked in the program, which described the scene we were supposed to be seeing, It talked of a magical double-decker bus that the Rockettes were to board for a wintertime tour of New York City that would include ice skating and various other things of wonder and merriment. Okay, now I was kind of pissed. Was I amped to see this scene? Not particularly. Honestly, by this point, I had spent half the show daydreaming that I was a Jedi Knight enlisted by Santa to help ward off an evil posse of Elves that had turned on their master, but that’s neither here nor there. No, I wouldn’t have cared at all about missing the scene…HAD I NOT JUST LAID OUT 600 BUCKS! Hell, if I’m paying that much money I want my own damn double-decker bus.
Now I had convinced myself I had been royally screwed out of a ton of money. No matter that the rest of the family seemed pleased as punch and completely unfazed by the whole affair. Those fools! Don’t they realize we’ve been had?!? Don’t they see what’s going on here?!? Violet, I know you’re only four years old, but dammit, girl, if you’re going to make it in life, you can’t stand for this type of financial bullying! The next scene involved Santa and some annoying kids being raised on wires to offer the illusion of flying, but I was too busy plotting ways to get my money back. The usher will just brush me off. I need to find a manager. No, managers have no real power. This has to go all the way to the top. Where’s James Dolan?!? By the time we were instructed to hold up some light-up stars we had been given (half of which, including mine, did not work) for the finale, I had come to the realization that not only would my wife never forgive me for causing a scene in attempting to demand a refund, but that my children would quite possibly believe me to be a raging lunatic. So I dropped it, yet continued to quietly fume, which actually kept me quite toasty as we exited into the bitter cold of midtown Manhattan.
Determined to get my entertainment dollar’s worth, I suggested we go to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, a place where tourists go to see waitresses named Kiki and Peaches sing Broadway hits as they bring you soggy onion rings. This was, perhaps, the worst place to go to get value for your money, as basic sandwiches run about $15 a pop, and most of the time our view of the performers was blocked by a ill-placed coat rack. Everyone else seemed to be having a good time, so I internalized my inner Grinch and did what you’re supposed to do during the holidays — shut up, eat, and smile. Besides, I knew tomorrow would be better.
NEXT PAGE: A trip to Medieval Times
That’s because next on the agenda was a trip to none other than Medieval Times. For those of you unfamiliar with ”America’s #1 dinner entertainment attraction” it is basically dinner theater, where you sit in a makeshift arena eating big chicken legs with your hands while you watch renaissance faire rejects sword fight on sand. Needless to say, I had been dying to go to Medieval Times ever since we moved out to New Jersey, just 7 miles from one of its operations. But I knew Christina would never go for it. I knew she would never want her children to be subjected to grown men mock-impaling themselves on instruments of death. Or so I thought…
”Hey, there’s a Medieval Times coupon in the newspaper.” Christina noted one day. ”Maybe we should go.”
Wait, did she just say ”we should go?” More importantly, did she just say ”coupon?” I couldn’t believe my luck! Maybe she didn’t quite understand what Medieval Times was all about, but I sure wasn’t going to clue her in when I could be surrounded by screams of agony and ”serving wenches.” So the time for the show came and we made our way to scenic Lyndhurst, New Jersey (at least as scenic as you can get when you are situated one mile from Giants Stadium).
”Good evening, m’lady. Greetings m’lord,” announced someone at the main entrance as we arrived. Perhaps this wouldn’t have seemed so comical had it not been delivered in a thick Jersey accent. We were presented with paper crowns, and asked if we wanted to pay $2 extra to see the ”Museum of Torture.” This one, Christina politely declined. DAMMIT! We were then told we would be rooting for the red and yellow knight. It turns out the audience is divided into six areas by color, each with their own corresponding knight. Not only are you told which knight you are supposed to root for, but you’re even told the knights to root against. You have to love any place that actively encourages you to heckle.
We took our seats, and the show began. Huge plates of grub (half-chickens, spare ribs, potatoes, etc…) were brought before us, even in front of the children seeing as how there were no children’s menus to speak of. (I honestly think my son Dale was frightened by how much food was placed in front of him, as if it were going to challenge him to a duel of some sort. In this place, anything seemed possible.) The show began with a story about six kingdoms coming together and celebrating with some sort of tournament or something. Truthfully, I was halfway into my huge mug of beer and the acoustics kind of sucked so I had no clue what was going on. Some men on horses came out and took part in some events, however they were easily showed up by a falcon who flew around above our heads eyeing our dinner.
Some wizard or sorcerer or mystic…hell, I don’t know what he was, gave a speech about there being a disturbance in the force. Hold on, I’m pretty sure I don’t have that right. Hell, I have no idea. All I know is that’s when the knights on horses came back out and we truly got this party started. It was time for jousting. Horses running at each other at top speed while riders struck each other with huge wooden lances. ”Now that’s what I’m talking about!” I began yelling at no one in particular. And then I just kept on yelling. Stupid stuff, too. ”Red and yellow — never mellow!” ”Let’s do this! Like Brutus! ‘Cause we always do this!” ”Rammmmmmmming speed!” My poor 7-year-old son actually tugged on my shirt and told me I was embarrassing him. I informed him it wouldn’t be the last time and went back to my incessant whooping.
If only I had been in the full-on yellow section. There was some bachelor party going on there and those people were flat-out insane! Not only did they cheer constantly for their knight, but they truly took the heckling to heart, drunkenly mocking their opponents with chants like ”Green knight sucks!” (For their part, the green section was either too aloof, too unorganized, or too sober to respond.) At one point the ”king” asked us whether the losers of the jousts should be allowed to live or die. ”DIE! DIE! DIE!” went the yell from the crowd while I feebly tried to assure the children that there would be no actual blood shed. They seemed mildly disappointed. I’m pretty sure my stepfather at this point was asleep, so it was difficult to gauge his reaction.
Unfortunately, our red and yellow knight was one such knight to perish. He pretty much sucked all evening, losing most of the challenges, with Christina noting that he was having some ”hairline issues” as well, although I didn’t personally hold that against him. That’s okay. Medieval Times is easily one of the most ridiculous evenings I’ve experienced in a long, long time, which is to say, I absolutely loved it. And I don’t think the children will be emotionally scarred for too long. But if they are, the best part about it is — I can blame it all on the wife!
NEXT PAGE: Obsession of the week, the Five, and Reader Mail
OBSESSION OF THE WEEK
We may have to wait a few more months for Lost to return, but you can satisfy your craving with a new batch of 13 ”mobisodes” (I can’t tell you how much I hate that word). They’re basically two- to three-minute clips, appearing on Verizon phones and then on ABC.com. The first two feature Hurley trying to fend off another lover of Libby, and Jack getting a watch from his dad on the eve of his wedding. Not earth-shattering by any means, but they provide a nice little something to hold us over until February. And anything staring a character named Frogurt is okay in my book.
See the video clip with Dalton’s Five Favorite Christmas Specials
TV or movies? Who’s the king? People wrote in with their views after last week’s column. Can’t print them all, especially since I already wasted too much of your time rambling on about Medieval Times, but here’s a sampling, along with thoughts on my list of the Top 5 Most Memorable Death Scenes.
In terms of drama, movies are trumping TV right now. I thought No Country for Old Men was equal to the entire run of The Sopranos. For comedy, however, TV has been winning for about twenty years. Which would you rather watch, two hours of Arrested Development, or Meet the Fockers? Yeah, that’s what I thought. —Ryan B
Ryan, I don’t know about trumping, but the movies have been pretty darn good lately. I do agree with you 100% on the comedy thing, though. Not since the mid-’80s have film comedies been anywhere close to TV laughers. Even an off season of The Office is funnier than anything happening on film these days.
It has to be hard writing 22 hours of anything, so we end up getting maybe 10 ”good” episodes of any show per season and maybe 3 or 4 ”excellent” episodes. The rest are just filler…(like most of the Heroes season, so far!) Maybe that’s why BSG, The Wire, Deadwood, The Sopranos, The Shield, and Rescue Me are so damn good: shorter seasons than network shows, so there’s ”more killer, less filler.” (12 episodes versus 22) Even my favorite TV show of the last 4 years, Lost, has had some clunkers in its nearly perfect run, so far. Let’s face it, most of the really great recent TV has come from cable networks: HBO, F/X, Sci-Fi, etc. They’re more willing to go where the networks aren’t able to go, ’cause they’ve got less to lose (and less worries from the FCC about content). As to which are better, movies or TV, I think both have their own cycles of crap and brilliance. I think TV is starting to get much better as it matures. Movies haven’t changed that much in dramatic structure for the last 30 years or so… —Michael
It’s a good point, Michael. A shorter season definitely allows for an ”all killer, no filler” season, while a drawn out 22-24 episode run can’t help but have a little padding. And Lost is a great example. Last spring the show was as strong as it’s ever been, but remember that horrible episode where Jack was getting tattooed by Bai Ling? In a shorter season, we may have been mercifully spared that excruciating exercise.
How can you debate the current state of television and not mention this season’s amazing Pushing Daisies? While I agree that Dirty, Sexy Money deserves to be a hit, it has nothing on Daisies. P.D. is everything a movie should be: well written, imaginative, original, colorful, dramatic, funny, perfectly acted and even sports the occasional musical number. In fact, P.D. is better than a great movie because I get to tune in for a new hour each and every week. Well, until we run out of original episodes or the writers’ strike ends that is. —Kerry Schmitz
Pushing Daisies is easily the most hotly debated new program of the season here at EW. Some people appreciate its candy-coated whimsy, while others are turned off by its pretentious self-absorption. While I understand both sides, I lean toward the latter. Sorry, Kerry.
When it comes to favorite death scene you avoided deaths by gunfire. Two worth mentioning there are the death of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather and the death of Bonnie & Clyde in Bonnie & Clyde. —Stephen Smith
Ah, poor Sonny Corleone. Just another reason to avoid toll plazas at all cost. That is a great scene. It reminds me of Sideshow Bob and the rakes from The Simpsons where every time he steps on one you assume that’s it, but then — BAM! — another. Same thing with the bullets into James Caan’s body. They just kept coming.
Ronny Cox? That is clearly Kurtwood Smith hitting Paul McCrane. I love Ronny as much as the next guy, but Kurtwood is gold in Robocop. However, seeing anyone who starred in Fame get killed is enough to make anyone mess up names so I will forgive you. —Ryan Walter
What was I thinking?!? Of course it’s Kurtwood Smith! That’s the challenge with doing the video version of The Five — I’m basically just riffing, and occasionally — okay, more than occasionally — I blurt out something stupid. But can you blame me for not being able to get Ronny Cox off the brain. Such a perfect corporate bastard in both Robocop and Total Recall. Of course, Kurtwood is pretty genius as well, especially as the a–hole dad in Dead Poets Society.
Who’s a better on-screen jerk, Ronny Cox or Kurtwood Smith? What’s your favorite holiday special? And is there any dinner theater as mighty as Medieval Times? Send your questions, comments, and quibbles to firstname.lastname@example.org, or just fill out the handy-dandy form below. See you next week!