Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Odd Odyssey

Permit me, if you will, to take you back to the past--don't worry, it's just for a visit. Remember the way things once were, and can never be again. It'll all make sense shortly.

Things have changed a good deal over the past few decades. I've cataloged much of what I've noticed on this blog alone, but there remains just as much I don't quite understand or know about. Life is a journey, after all. The actual reason for these changes is obvious by now, those in charge of western culture decided they no longer wanted art and entertainment that uplifted or inspired the audience, but instead needed material that would bring them down and poison them against imagination. Those that can't look up can't imagine a better world than the one they are in. What's worse is that this happened more or less over a single decade, the '90s, and most people actually did notice--they just don't know what it is that changed, or why. Perhaps they were too distracted living their lives, who knows? The fact of the matter is that there is a reason '90s nostalgia has been around since the beginning of the 2000s and has never really gone away.

It will also never go away.

Of course, we can't just say culture detonated in the '90s, but more that it was spared destruction for about two decades from a tiny space battle movie that made it big unexpectedly in the late '70s. This caused an independent explosion of adventure that the Greatest Generation did not ignore. They saw their grand-kids enjoying this stuff, and they worked overtime to deliver the best they were able to. They funded what the audience wanted. The best toys, the best movies, the best comics . . . you name it. The best of the best was created during this time, because that was the creators' jobs. But then they retired during the '90s, and their successors took over. These new people at the switches had no more use for giving the audience what they wanted--now they would give them what they needed. And that is where we have been since.

The 1970s are still looked on by movie snobs as the peak of cinema, destroyed by the aforementioned filthy space movie that opened the theaters of the 1980s to juvenile pap. This is of course ignoring that the 1970s were dead, spiritually, and morally, which makes many of those 1970s "classics" more worthless than the juvenile goofy space movie. It actually has a moral point, regardless of what you think of it. 1970s cinema, as a whole, did not.

If your art isn't about instilling a greater sensation in your audience aside from hopelessness and misery then chances are you are a making propaganda. These pieces might be crafted impeccably, using the right camera moves and clever dialogue, but they're being used to peddle poison. And that subversion took a long time to happen, so you can understand why they were angered so easily by a filthy space movie that was supposed to be disposable trash. This is how fragile this era of "classic" cinema was.

It took 20 years from that nasty space movie, but by 1997 the powers that be had finally wiped adventure and action off the map to get things back on track again. Poisoned with irony and self-seriousness, these newer creators were given extra aid due to the disaster of 9/11 to make misery normal again. They got so good at it they eventually managed to subvert the very same goofy space movie that broke them to begin with, and make it another arrow in their quiver.

This is their victory dance. They took everything from you, so now enjoy the misery. How many times do they have to teach you this lesson? Be miserable and do as you're told so they can teach you how to not be miserable. Yes, they hate you and want you under their thumb. This is why giving them money is counterproductive. They want your soul, not your pocket-change.

It wasn't that things got bad again in the late '90s, it was that bad was the natural state the industry had concocted after the 1950s and '60s. We merely had a 20 year reprieve because of one costly mistake they couldn't have foreseen in allowing one corny space battle movie to be made. They won't let that happen again, and that is why mainstream entertainment from Hollywood to OldPub refuses to give you the hope and adventure you crave. They can only subvert and can no longer create. That era you are pining for is over, and never coming back.

This was planned by those in charge by doing things such as deliberately crushing the mom and pop video market (including family run businesses), buying up independent studios and publishers, and conforming every neighboring industry to whatever Hollywood wanted the industry to be, customers be damned. Their stranglehold ended up strangling their own cash-cows, and they don't even care.

Remember, the Rural Purge in the 1970s did not improve ratings, it had the opposite effect. And yet they trained audiences to think it was an improvement for television, left you swimming with smart programming, and created an industry objectively superior to what came before it. Why were they so eager to imprint that lie into you? It obviously isn't because they want your money. If that was the case they never would have done things like the Purge or allowed the ACT to even exist, never mind giving these destructors awards for killing an entire industry.

But they did all that, didn't they?

Really gets the noggin joggin'.

Now, whether it is because of Cannon Cruisers or my posts here, I don't know, but I have been receiving messages and e-mail from gracious readers giving me suggestions for entertainment to cover. They typically, and wisely, choose content made during that brief window from the late 1970s to the '90s when pulp was king again and exciting art awaited everywhere you turned. You'd be surprised at how much of it there is, because I sure am. I've been looking into some of it and I can tell you: it is guaranteed you haven't seen it all no matter who you are. As I've done some digging from those suggestions from my readers, I've noticed the pattern mentioned above showing up time and time again. These stories just stopped being created overnight in 1997. Things changed so abruptly in one moment that it was outright odd that no one noticed at the time.

From about late-1976 to around the fall of 1996 the majority of popular entertainment, regardless of demographic, was action and adventure in nature. By the end of the '70s the nihilism seeping in since the '60s had been shaken off, but the basic framework of these stories remained unchanged. High concepts, good vs evil, and fun adventure, were the selling points of just about everything created in this 20 year span. And sold they did.

But in 1996 and into 1997 there was a very sudden and strong shift from adventure to soap opera drama. As I said, this change was awkward. It was as if the people making Party of Five and Twentysomething decided they should be in charge of adventure series. The focus entirely changed. None of this was natural, at all.

Should you peruse any list of action and adventure TV shows you will seem the instantly evaporate and completely vanish in 1997. After that point you will find piles of hour long dramas with excessive focus on interpersonal relationships and broken characters, but nothing in the traditional adventure mold about discovering the unknown and clear good fighting clear evil. And then after 9/11 even that style of adventure fiction died out. Though it moved into novels for awhile, effectively chasing that audience away, too. Either way, it was a brief period better left to the mists of time.

The one hold out in these changes I have found were a handful of kid shows from Canada. As said in earlier posts, YTV was one of the last holdouts for this older form of adventure entertainment. These types of series continued a little longer before Nickelodeon and the like swooped in to change the face of the station, choking these shows out by 2001. That also just appears to be the year of western entertainment's final death rattle. A lot of things came together to make things what they are today.

But we've covered that before in other posts.


All that said, I decided to take a bit of a detour into this long forgotten era, before soap opera convolution and degeneracy swallowed adventure whole. I did this by looking at a series I hadn't seen since I was a kid. This is going back far.

I've spent some time watching the Canadian family series, The Odyssey, which is available for free on Encore+'s youtube channel. The show had a pilot episode in 1991, then ran for three seasons of 13 half-hour episodes from 1992-1994. Watching this series today feels like visiting another planet in another galaxy. The old system can never make anything like this ever again, and yet this series is completely inoffensive and straightforward.

For one thing, it has a very basic concept. An eleven-year-old boy named Jay wants to get into a club, so he is told to bring something of value to the treehouse in order to be allowed entry. He ends up finding his long-missing father's spyglass and decides to use that for admission, despite the protests of his friend Donna. He gets into a scuffle with Keith, the tough kid in charge of the club, has an accident and falls out of the treehouse. This puts Jay into a coma.

Normally, this would be the plot of a typical drama series today as every character gets into interpersonal drama surrounding this event and we need to know who ends up with who, for whatever reason. However, instead Jay wakes up in a strange pseudo-fantasy world where everything sort of matches reality, but ultimately doesn't. It turns out his long-thought-dead father's spyglass has some sort of magical property and can actually guide him out of this place--back to a world he can't quite remember. He goes off on an adventure with two new friends, who suspiciously look a lot like Keith and Donna from his world, and heads off into this strange, surreal land.

There are only three seasons of thirteen episodes each, and each season has an adventure of its own, somewhat changing in tone with the age of the cast. It starts very much like an eleven year old's fantasy world and by the end matches more the fantasy of a thirteen-year-old struggling to grow up. The quest for home in season 1 takes a turn in the middle, season 2 explores these characters and places we just met while looking for a better solution out of their predicament, and season 3 deals with the fallout of everything that happened. It's quite a tight ship at 39 episodes of half-hour shows and the opposite of how things are done today. They don't ever really tell you what the world is, but they do offer theories far more interesting than the now common and beyond-tired and overused parallel universe explanation, nor does it appear this world is a figment of Jay's imagination due to several hints given. Would the series be done today the mystery and wonder would be torn out and everything would be explained to the letter. For a small family show from Canada there was a lot of effort and thought put into it.

The Odyssey is low budget, even for its time, but it uses what it has well. The show was filmed in British Columbia, Canada, in the early 1990s which gives it a particular feeling and atmosphere. For those who have lived in small towns and suburbs, who have walked back-roads in the country, and remember general life in the west in the late 20th century, this series will give you a strange sense of deja vu. It's a world that doesn't quite look like this anymore. Adults are adults, kids ride their bikes and read comic books, normal is good, and the real world is cherished because it is a place where everything makes sense. It's the world the main character knows he belongs in. It's a whole other world than the one we're dealing with today.

This setting works well in keeping a mysterious tone and delivering a new adventure every week. This series is for younger audiences from back when that meant something. There is no degeneracy to be found, no cynicism, and no pandering to the lowest common denominator. It's just an adventure show. Think series like Are You Afraid of the Dark? and most Canadian kid content from this time. There was a lot of surprisingly family friendly series at the time from Danger Bay to The Littlest Hobo, aimed at kids and family audiences, and they didn't need to be hour long slogs or focus on soap opera drama to do it.  They expected the kids to be smart enough to understand what was going on and didn't need to talk down or pander to them. The Odyssey is a bit like LOST, only without constant mystery boxes are being dragged on for an interminable time. It's about the adventure. Again, it feels like a whole other world then what exists these days.

Despite all that, the series isn't perfect. The first two seasons more or less tell a complete story, but the third meanders a bit as if they didn't quite know where to take it. But it is still worth seeing as a look into the early '90s when kids were still allowed to be kids, and their entertainment didn't have to be about lecturing them or pandering on social issues like they quickly became in the '00s. Each season is also only 13 episodes and half an hour long so it isn't much of an investment, any warts can easily be forgiven. The acting for the kids is also high school play level for the most part, but since its mainly a kid world we're dealing with that gives it its own charm, especially considering the plot and the adventures the cast goes on.

The Odyssey ran from 1992-1994 (the pilot came out in 1991) and it certainly feels like a product of its time, but it's also a time that no longer feels like it happened at all and might have just been a collective dream we all had. This also gives the series a bit of an edge that it didn't have when it was on television. The Odyssey represents travelling to a fantasy world that isn't quite like ours in an attempt to make our way back to reality again. The part no one could have predicted is that the reality Jay is fighting for no longer really exists anymore and is as fictional as the world he is stranded in. The series comes off a bit differently for those who lived in the early '90s looking back on it now.

We truly do live on another planet.

The Danger Bay cast (1985-1990)

We've talked many times about how 1997 was cultural ground zero, and many have argued against it, but it is inarguable when it comes to television. The landscape from the late '70s up to about 1996 all shared very similar traits with each other. 

As mentioned above, the subversives had finally seized control and banished adventure into the netherworld. All family shows either became loud and moronic cartoons, pandering "school" drama shows that propagandize "real issues" real kids never actually deal with in real life because they have actual problems, or create programming specifically designed for each individual member of the family. Degeneracy is celebrated, normality is mocked, and the good is warped in a way that celebrates misery and hopelessness at the expense of any real happiness. None of this is meant to unite, it wedges the family and their interests apart. It's been like this for near a quarter of a century now, and the audience for it no longer exists.

What replaced them after 1996 were just cheap copies with less to offer. Don't believe me? Then ask yourself why those who watch these newer shows will talk your ear off about character relationships and funny dialogue but will mention little to nothing about the actual adventures they go on. Because the focus was changed from the focus on the exterior to the interior. You can't make adventure insular, so they made them into soap operas instead. Who is going to have sex with who became more important than stopping the villain from destroying the world, no different than what grandma used to puzzle over when she tuned in to General Hospital every day. The mundane became elevated over the wonder. Normal people are no longer "interesting" enough to follow on the journey. We need hot messes that may or may not want to be fixed to be the leads in our adventure stories now. This hatred of the norm has since embedded itself in our stories and has been there for over two decades. It's no wonder so many cannot diagnose the problem.

Is it any wonder we're all so miserable all the time? We've rejected true escapism for "realism" and the mundane. 

All that remained of adventure stories were glorified soap operas that were twice as long as they needed to be that focused more on mundane inner things like going to school or worrying about sex than the outer journey of exploring the unknown. The only ones still doing that, ironically enough, were the Canadian family shows that went on a bit longer than everyone else did. They finally gave up the ghost in 2001, and I think we all know why even they stopped, at that point. Hope, creativity, and excitement, are not things the 2000s were known for. Hence why there is no 2000s nostalgia, and it will never really become a reality or larger movement. There's nothing to be nostalgic for.

The constant need to reboot these old things is the result of several problems going back in western culture. All those problems of the 2000s still exist today. You need more than "better" products to have a proper nostalgic movement. They might try to remake some of the entertainment from that time, but that's as far as they can go. There is nothing else to bring back.

It is easy to see that Hollywood isn't remaking these things because they have fond memories of them; they wouldn't be altering and warping them under the guise of "modernizing" the works so heavily if they were. They are trying to remake the wholesome in their own image as broken and decayed. This is why every one of these unsuccessful reboots that have popped up over the years contains only the shell of what you love, but under the skin is pure rot of the kind that reminds you why no one wants these creators' new stories. They are reduced to Trojan-horsing this garbage into your mind now. This is how far they've fallen.

They have to use nostalgia because tricking you to drink their poison is the only option they have left. They can't create anymore, because they've taught themselves not to for so long. They've run out of gas using the same trick for over twenty years, so now they have to use old properties as puppets to sell you their "creative" ideas.

And this doesn't work. While some might have swallowed the pointless Battlestar Galactica reboot a while back, even though it deliberately went against everything the original did, the main audience for these things has since caught on to what is happening. Where the fanatics are finally catching up with, normal people already see this game for what it is. That trick isn't going to work again. Things aren't the way they used to be even five years ago, and audiences are no longer willing to put up with trash wrapped in a pretty bow. They demand more, and if Hollywood and OldPub aren't willing to give it to them (and they're not) the audiences are just going to walk away from them. They already have, and the pain is being felt.

This is what makes the rise of things such as NewPub so exciting. It is a return to the audience first mentality that has long since been lost by the old guard i their quest for impossible utopianism. We're now on an odyssey of our own, just as Jay was, to find our way back home. We're going to find what it is we lost, and make it great again.

What will we find when we get there? I don't know, but it's sure to be an adventure.


  1. "They got so good at it they eventually managed to subvert the very same goofy space movie that broke them to begin with, and make it another arrow in their quiver."

    What this tells us is that everyone learned the wrong lessons from Star Wars.

    The fans reacted to Lucas' pulp pastiche by demanding infinite carbon copies of it.

    Lucas reacted to his success by buying into the fan hype and forgetting what made him successful in the first place.

    1. Yes, I've heard "Star Wars was success because it was unique" so many times.

      But it wasn't unique. It was a successful regurgitation of a formula that died out by the 1950s because the industry smothered it. It's success was direct repudiation of fandom's attempts to destroy escapism.

      The lesson taken should have been to revive the genre it was playing off of, not imitate the imitation.

    2. Star Wars really merits a closer look in some ways. On the one hand, the original trilogy hits the heights mentioned by the Orthodox Archbishop's review that Brian highlighted in July ( On the other hand, the rest of Lucas' body of work doesn't come anywhere close to them, and even the backstory and conception of Star Wars is more rooted in 70s cynicism, occultism, and leftist ideas than we might want to admit.

    3. @JD: That's the right lesson.

      @M.L. Martin: At the risk of sounding like every jaded critic during the prequel trilogy era, Lucas succeeded despite himself. The fiscal and practical constraints imposed on the first movie reined in his more self-indulgent impulses. He had limited input on what's widely regarded as the best film in the series.
      When he finally got an unlimited budget and full creative control, the result was a mess, no matter what coping Zoomers say.

    4. And much of the popularity should also be give to Leigh Brackett who did shape the second movie into what it ended up being.

      It really does feel like a series of lucky coincidences helped it succeed the way it did. If one domino fell out of place the whole shebang would have collapsed.

      So it's no surprise that it finally has.

    5. Sounds right, and a pretty close parallel to the other Star franchise. :) I still don’t hate the Prequels, but I acknowledge they’re a mess—just a mess with enough stuff I find enjoyable. :)

  2. Wow, that 1997 cut-off. Once you see it, you can't unsee it.

    - Disney Afternoon, with pulp-inspired plots, ended in 1997.

    - Gladstone Comics, with pulp-inspired plots, ended its newstand publishing in 1998.

    1. I must have bee extra in-tune when I was a kid, because I remember Quack Pack premiering on The Disney Afternoon and wondering out loud why we were getting painfully '90s sitcoms instead of the pulp adventure series that made the block what it was. Not coincidentally, this change killed the block. Whenever anyone talks about the block today they only ever talk about the material that aired up to Gargoyles. There's a reason for that.

      1997 was a bad year for culture.

    2. Doesn’t Goof Troop come first?

      Also in 1997: TSR gets bought by Wizards of the Coast, although you don’t start to see the impact of that until mid-1998 at least, and it doesn’t really kick in until 2000.

    3. Goof Troop is an anomaly. It's basically a series version of those old Goofy shorts were everything goes wrong in the most over the top fashion. There are no plots that take place around classroom hijinks or mundane events and neither is there any of the '90s cynicism and irony poisoning that kids cartoons became infected with later.

      Though I'm sure if it came out three years later if would have been as terrible as other cartoons in that mold were. That's just the way it went.

    4. Thanks for clarifying; I never watched Goof Troop, so I thought it fit into the 'mundane sitcom' genre.

  3. As a 90's teen, two of our favorite movies from that time were The Phantom and Jumanji (the original). Nobody seems to remember the Phantom, but it's a superhero movie and pulp as they come. It's absolutely delightful, and the villain chews the scenery. I do recall when TV suddenly had only teen sitcoms and not even cartoons anymore. My brothers went from watching Redwall on PBS to watching that Shia LeBouf show. I never could tell when it all changed, but it must have been post '97.

    1. The Phantom, along with The Shadow and The Rocketeer, came along during that weird post-Batman '89 period when anything with a cape would get greenlit.

      Those were some good movies.

    2. All 3 were pulps set in the pulp era. Absolutely perfect.

    3. Someone recently reminded me of The Mummy, which was 99, I think? Very pulpy, and aside from the sequels, they haven't made many movies like it since.