When I was a kid– it was 1987, maybe 1988– I saw an episode of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show that changed my life forever.
The last act that night was the late, great stand-up Richard Jeni, doing a bit about renting all four Jaws movies and watching them right in a row. This is something I’d wager even our own Josh Flanagan (the world’s greatest Jaws fan) has never attempted, because each film gets exponentially more terrible. This was Jeni’s point, because he had a thing or two to say about Jaws 4: the Revenge.
“Did you ever see a movie so bad,” he asked Carson’s audience, “they slap you in the face with how bad it is? You can’t even pretend. You go, ‘Maybe the movie isn’t that bad; I’m not wasting my life,’ and they just go [SMACK SMACK] “Yes! You are!… You’re watching a shark that only kills one family out of an entire ocean full of perfectly edible people for no reason that we ever explain, and you won’t turn it off because you think it is going to get better [SMACK SMACK SMACK SMACK].’”
You should really watch it for yourself. It holds up, all things considered.
This was a bit tailor-made for the comic book fan. Most (if not all) of us have, at one time or another, spent good money following a book we don’t like anymore in the hope that it will “get good again.”
Twenty-five years after seeing that Tonight Show, every time I hang onto something too long, I still think about that routine. I buy yet another issue of an underperforming comic or watch yet another C- episode of a television show still on the DVR, and I unfailingly hear Richard Jeni in my head, going, “And you still think this is going to get better [SMACK SLAP SLAP SMACK SMACK SLAP].”
Ultimate Spider-Man is the show that’s had me thinking about Richard Jeni the most lately. So far, I have recorded every episode of DisneyXD’s latest iteration of the Parker mythos, and I have risked spinal damage bending over backwards to give it the benefit of the doubt each weekend. I’ve loved the comic for twelve years; I love Paul Dini; I love Brian Bendis. Their show makes me want to burn Disneyland to the ground and pee on the embers. But I keep sticking by it and sticking up for it, like it is going to get better.
“Get better” is even the wrong way to look at it. More accurately, I keep watching the show as if it is suddenly going to be made for me.
“Sure, you enjoyed Spectacular Spider-Man much less self-consciously than this. And yes, this series’ dependence on… let’s call it ‘Ferris Bueller bullshit’ (pausing the action so Peter can turn to the camera and make witty wink-wink asides) followed by ‘Family Guy hogwash’ (yuk-yuk cutaways and references that barely have anything to do with anything) has left you wanting to teach a class on What Spider-Man Is at the local community college… but what if the audience isn’t just you?”
That’s the one question we (especially the childless among us) tend to neglect.
No, of course Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t float your boat. You aren’t eleven years old.
In other words: no, I’m not enjoying this program about my favorite character by my favorite creative team, but what if this particular children’s show about a colorful superhero was a cartoon on the Disney Channel intended for little kids, as opposed to an epic meant for 37-year-old homeowners?
The world doesn’t owe me everything. The whole menu wasn’t drafted with me in mind. I don’t need to plant myself on the sidelines, shouting “BOOOO!” waiting for it to get “better.”
Maybe the old niches made us too possessive. Some of us grew up in a time when anything comic-related was rare, so we developed the attitude that “if it’s about comics, it’s mine.” Today, that covers everything from Super Hero Squad to Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody. (A real thing. Look it up. Just not at work, necessarily.)
We need to remind ourselves (which is to say, “I need to remind myself”) that not everything is made with us in mind. We also need to remind ourselves that we can give up on a comic book thing, as opposed to keeping it on our DVRs for weeks on end and then seething when the thing that wasn’t made for us turns out not to please us, all because we think it’s going to get better. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends isn’t the only game in town anymore; there’s also this Robert Downey Jr. thing, and also The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is on in half an hour and that ain’t half bad either. This entire paragraph may have been just for me. Although I’ll bet more than a few people related to it.
Jim Mroczkowski knows there are prints of Marvel’s The Avengers just sitting around out there somewhere, and it is driving him crazy.