PopCulture25YL looks back at the music, shows, comics, books and whatever else we want from the month that was September of 1994 to explore why they’re still relevant to us 25 years later. This week brings us The X-Files, Friends, the WildC.A.T.s cartoon, Doom II, The Cranberries’ No Need To Argue, Smashing Pumpkins’ Pisces Iscariot and Suede’s Dog Man Star.
VHS In The VCR
Welcome to the X-Files, Agent Krycek; S02E04- Sleepless by John Bernardy
In this episode of the show’s greatest season, Mulder gets a lead dropped at his front door—a newspaper, complete with its own secret cassette tape—that takes him all the way to uncovering and solving an old Vietnam War science experiment that created soldiers that never sleep. Along the way, Mulder gets help from his previous partner Scully, the mysterious new informant who goes by X, and the other agent on this case who goes by Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea).
I forgot that Krycek was not assigned to be Mulder’s new partner in the standard way. The way I remembered it, I thought for sure Mulder was assigned the partner before the case, but having Krycek open up the same case “hours before” Mulder made for more believable circumstances where Mulder has to play nice with the new agent. And later there’s storytelling reasons why Krycek has to come along with him to meet Scully for information. It’s smart and economic storytelling the whole way, all while tracking Tony Todd’s creepily good performance as ex-soldier Augustus Cole.
I’m curious if Mulder was still skeptical of Krycek at the end or not. I know the meeting with CSM at the end revealed Krycek’s mole status to us, but before the end of the case Mulder was actually explaining his real hypotheses with him. Was that a sign Mulder’s beginning to trust Krycek, or like everything else was he stuck with no other choice than to bring the new agent up to speed?
Not only is this Krycek’s first appearance, this also marks the first appearance of X (Steven Williams) where we get to see him in more than a Dr. Claw way in “The Host” and “Blood”. I liked X here, up to and including how he said unlike Deep Throat he is not willing to give up his life for helping Mulder. By the end of this episode it appears he’s actually trustworthy—according to Mulder’s reactions at least—but I know I was skeptical of him much longer than that. It’s a good feeling for a viewer to have on this slow-build of a character.
The case of the week itself really surprised me. Two doctors actually figured out how to turn off the need for sleep in the brains of some soldiers—as long as they take their serotonin pills. This is based in a genuine—however unlikely—scientific hypothesis after writer Howard Gordon was dealing with his own insomnia, but it ends up making Tony Todd’s Cole into a Dreamer not unlike in Twin Peaks Season 3.
Think about it: a man goes around influencing people around him that what they see is real, except he’s only created an illusion only they can see. Dr. Grissom’s body believed he was burning, so as Scully said he showed all the secondary but none of the primary symptoms of burning alive. Krycek showed Mulder evidence that Henry Willig (Don Thompson) experienced 42 internal injuries reminiscent of gunshots even though his skin was never broken. Cole’s victims absolutely believed in an altered reality that Cole was in touch with, as if being unable to sleep is allowing him to create unconscious illusions over the conscious world. Sounds a lot like my latest Peaks theory about how whether you choose to believe the world or the dream defines what world you experience, but the way The X-Files does it in less than an hour is the worldly, more traditional way to tackle the subject quickly. Though simplified, this episode still contains nuance—it even deals with a simplified PTSD the soldiers and doctors have. I came here expecting a case of the week but was amazed how similar the concepts were at their root. And that wasn’t even the point of this episode.
Where “Sleepless” shines is setting up characters and their allegiances. Mulder and Scully, even when forcibly kept apart by the powers that be, are stronger than ever. Even Krycek recognizes that. He’s a sharp guy. About the case files that Krycek apparently stole from Mulder—and broke into Scully’s office to claim—he tells CSM that “means he’s found another source, or another source has found him.” And about Dana, he says “Scully’s a much larger problem than you described.”
This episode ends as perfectly as it could when CSM answers: “Every problem has a solution.” Then he takes his cigarette all the way to the ash tray and grinds it in, slowly and totally, until its smoke stops. Cut to credits. All that’s left is a feeling that will pay off large next week.
Friends- The One With The Thumb by Abbie Sears
Episode 3 of Friends “The one with the Thumb” aired October 6th 1994, and in it we say both hello and goodbye to Monica’s new boyfriend Alan. It’s a daunting experience introducing someone you’re dating to friends you’re close with, because you know for sure that they’ll be honest about what they see. Much to Monica’s and to our surprise, everybody loves Alan. I personally could have a gallon of Alan! Alan seemed fun, and he was very handsome, but even while everyone else was feeling “the thing” Monica decided she wasn’t.
It turned out to be much harder to announce the break up to the gang than it actually was to Alan. In fact, Alan tells her that he’s relieved because he “can’t stand her friends.” It’s hilariously depressing, when your friends finally love someone you’re dating, but they clobber him to the point that he wants to get away from them.
While all this is happening, we’re also given a peak into the quirky world of Miss Phoebe Buffay. After ending up with an extra $1000 and a football phone from her bank and handing it over to her homeless friend, Phoebe finds a thumb in a can of soda that friend buys for her. This seems like a certain situation that would only happen to Phoebe, but she comes out on top when she is rewarded $7000 for the thumb.
In the end, she offers the money to Chandler to stop smoking again, and we don’t see for definite but he’d be a fool not to take it.
WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Team by David Rafalko
Growing up in the ’90s, I always found myself drawn to the oddball side of superhero comics and, consequently, comic book and superhero-related shows. Sure, when one hears about all that, they may think of stuff like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), X-Men, or even He-Man; however, that’s not why we’re here today. Instead, this month marks the 25th anniversary of WildC.A.T.s: a more obscure, brief and perhaps long forgotten show from my heyday.
The show contained many hallmarks and characteristics of other mainstream animated series that came up at the time. This even bordered on the league of the ones mentioned earlier. The quirky humor of TMNT, the subtle grittiness of the A-Team, and the animated nostalgic feels all came together smoothly. It was essentially one season of greatness and a pretty cool time to spend a weekday afternoon. Created by Jim Lee—best known for being a Harvey Award winner and current co-Publisher at DC Comics— and Brandon Choi, WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams was conceived as an animated TV tie-in to the cult comic book series of the same name.
Several notable changes took place within the premise of the television series. The most outwardly present alteration was the thematic shift from an adult-oriented, violent and often steamy set-up akin in the comics to a more family-friendly story-line in the TV show. This in part made the show more accessible and fun for the kid crowd. Minor alterations to certain characters came about to fit these changes, as well. For instance, in the original comics, one character by the name of Voodoo was notably an exotic dancer in the comics. This being a factor that was obviously omitted within the TV show. The show also premiered in the “Action Zone” segment on the CBS broadcasting channel: a programming block that cuts between shows via pre-credits and transition shots/music. Oddly enough, the show ended around the same time that the “Action Zone” era did.
The premise of WildC.A.T.s essentially centered around a fictional—and universal—war between two feuding prehistoric races of aliens; one being the Kherubim AKA the good guys; and the other known as the Daemonites, the bad ones. A ton of action and drama ensues behind the scenes as well as onscreen, with an added mixture of some fairly campy ’90s era humor. This all jam-packed with a badass rock soundtrack and catchy theme music made for an exciting after-school special. Though the series only ran for 13 episodes, the cult following behind it is pretty stellar and one would hope they revived it somehow, someway and sometime in the near future.
That aside, you also had some modest, yet familiar names associated with the project. This included the acting talent and graces courtesy of the late, great Denis Akiyama. In addition, Janet Laine-Green, who’s worked on such other projects as the likes of Totally Spies! and Ultraforce, was in on it as well. The cast and crew behind the show was mainly based in Canada, though the distribution of the program was pretty much international and the main series run aired from 1994 into 1995.
The start of the TV series shows off a rather short, but sweet title card and theme montage. This was one that showcases the series’ main characters a la many other superhero-related shows of the era. Then, episode 1 sees the WildC.A.T.s patrolling a large scale city akin to NY or Chicago and fighting crimes of sorts. The plot and exposition is set up haphazardly and out of the blue, though it takes little time to introduce Jacob Marlowe. This was one of the show’s main instigators who swiftly creates Jack, a normal human and protagonist, into an alien mutant with superpowers in the form of Warblade. Grifter, being the group’s voice of reason, decides to make Warblade a part of the good guys’ group in the fight against the Daemonites and so goes on the story. Helspont is another villainous alien who antagonizes the group later on.
The show focuses more on drama and action, with some smaller doses of comedy thrown in here and there. Soon enough, you start to see the usual tropes of action TV shows; the heroes in captivity, saving weaker characters in distress, and a rather ballsy dose of adult themes and large scale firefights. The latter were evident in such episodes as “Cry of the Coda” (Ep. #03). Bigger villains are in the limelight soon enough and some dark turns occur, including a possible betrayal later on.
WildC.A.T.s contained enough grit, thrills and age-appropriate fun to keep kids entertained for the better part of 30 minutes. Sure, there isn’t much to it that makes it stick out from the crop. However, there’s lots of nostalgic value for it to be considered in a league of its peers, short-lived run aside.
Doom II – Hell on Earth by Cheryl Lee Latter
Back in the early ‘90s, I was the least likely Doom II fan on the planet, or on any other planet for that matter.
Apart from acquiring and obsessing over an Atari VCS console as a child—Pong was my life for quite a while—gaming hadn’t been on my radar for a very long time.
By 19, I was pretty immersed in being creatively active. I was singing with local bands, writing scripts, and publishing fanzines. I was the queen of DIY culture, and so technology was fast passing me by. However, cutting out, pasting and photocopying fanzines always gave them a slightly cheap look, and I wanted some gloss to be able to give a professional look and to charge more than my competitors.
Luckily a friend’s dad let me and his daughter use his credit to get an actual computer, printer and handheld scanner in order to take our little business to the next level.
We were able to focus our energies into churning out fanzines that looked as good as anything out there, and I was able to put away my trusty old typewriter and create some nice clean copies of stories and scripts for submission.
Unfortunately, for my future publishing career, the computer also came loaded with games, and the queen of DIY culture soon became the queen of procrastination, as evenings of writing and music gave way to Duke Nukem, Hexen and Doom II.
Having no experience of the original Doom, I went into this cold, and to be honest, plot wasn’t high on my agenda as I discovered the thrill of violent shoot-‘em-up games.
It seems pretty formulaic now; lone marine fighting to banish demons from the Earth and popping into Hell to try to close the floodgates letting them in.
I like the format of the game being one big episode that you can either follow in a basic step by step way, or you can roam off and wander about and revisit things. I have a short attention span so anything that lets me go off the beaten path is a bonus.
It was good fun, and killing demons seemed a good way to pass a rainy Tuesday afternoon as anything else. Many potential new friends and boyfriends were judged by their proficiency on the mouse as I was busy using the keyboard.
Although it is a perfectly respectable classic, it would never be top of my list, and once I discovered Resident Evil, I fully obsessed over that instead, but it was a good introduction into the ‘90s gaming world, and its perfecting of the format no doubt forced other developers to up their game.
25 years has passed in the blink of an eye, but I still see glimmers of these classics in most first person shooters of today.
Nowadays, my house is filled with every console under the sun, but I have fond memories of those early PC days. Part of me actually prefers them.
CDs on Rotation In Our Six-Disk
The Cranberries – No Need to Argue by Brien Allen
Don’t you just hate it when you get a Cranberries song stuck in your heeeeeeead, in your heeeeeeead, in your head, in your head, in your hea-hea-head? OK, yes, I unabashedly stole that from a meme. But that’s where we all were in the fall of 1994, when the first single off The Cranberries second album was released. That song was “Zombie”, of course, and the album was No Need to Argue. Looking back, I’m surprised to see that the single only made it as high as 18 on the US Billboard Top 40 charts. At the time, it seemed like the radio stations were beating that song to death.
The album would peek at number 6 in the US and number 2 in the UK. It had four singles total, starting with the furious protest song “Zombie”, the wistful “Ode to My Family”, the somewhat whiny (if we’re being honest) “I Can’t Be with You”, and the bitter breakup song “Ridiculous Thoughts”. As a sophomore album, it did a perfect job of building on and refining the sound of their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? The Wikipedia article calls the album “darker and harsher” than its predecessor, which hits the nail on the head pretty well.
The album was re-released in 2002 and packaged as No Need to Argue (The Complete Sessions 1994-1995). This included five bonus tracks, three original Cranberries’ songs, one cover song, and one frankly terrible dance mix of “Zombie”. The cover of Burt Bacharach’s “(They Long to Be) Close To You” has to be one of the most unlikely songs you could ever think of placing into the rest of this collection. Small wonder it didn’t make the cut for the original album.
So, how well does it hold up 25 years later? I can’t personally say, because I know I’m biased. There’s not a song on this album that I don’t know by heart. This was the era of the angry young woman, if I may be so bold, and lead singer Dolores O’Riordan was right there in the thick of it with the likes of Alanis Morisette, PJ Harvey and Courtney Love. I dunno, there doesn’t seem to be anything less for young women to be angry about today. And of course, hearing these songs again now after O’Riordan’s death earlier this year just adds an extra layer of melancholy to so many of the lyrics.
Smashing Pumpkins- Pisces Iscariot by John Bernardy
I purposely didn’t listen to Siamese Dream—it’s probably been over ten years since the last time I listened—before I played Pisces Iscariot. I remember in 1994 that the collection of B-sides and demos was good but nowhere near great in comparison, so I wanted to give PI a genuine chance this time around. The verdict? It’s got ups and downs.
Some songs like “Frail and Bedazzled” could fit right in on Siamese Dream. Some songs like “Obscured” are good but could use a little more hook. Some songs like “Blew Away” seem to have either another band member singing lead or it’s Billy Corrigan singing in an unaffected way. And then there’s “Landslide.”
Smashing Pumpkins covering Fleetwood Mac is not the first choice I could’ve come up with, but honestly it still works. At the time, I thought it was fantastic. I’d never consciously heard the original, and I was right in the middle of high school so Corrigan’s level of vocal angst was exactly what I needed. To me today his voice feels like maybe a tad much, but the guitar work is still solid and he’s undeniably a great musician.
The next song after that is “Starla,” which I’d consider a solid song for its first couple minutes, and then it starts over again and goes crazy with instrumental solos for a total of 11 minutes that I absolutely enjoyed. Pisces Iscariot may not hold up to the standard the Pumpkins set with Siamese Dream, But you’d never get anything this sprawling there. The album is definitely worth a visit.
Suede- Dog Man Star by Chris Flackett
1994 was not a happy year for Suede. Although they would record and release one of their best albums, the band was engaged in its own civil war: guitarist Bernard Butler on one side and the rest of the band, the album’s producer Ed Buller and the record label Nude on the other!
Why was Butler such a problem? According to the band he was difficult, withdrawn and unwilling to compromise, making a working relationship more and more impossible. Bassist Matt Osman also felt that “lots of the musical ideas were too much. They were being rude to the listener: it was expecting too much of people to listen to them.”
For Butler, he had just lost his father—no small thing—and so he didn’t want to party, which he felt the band resented. He was working with a producer that he thought was ruining the songs, and he believed the band were not as committed as he was to the album.
So it’s no surprise that the album sounds weighed down, resigned even as it plays ornately with the band’s usual glam sound. Singer Brett Anderson puts this sound down to his increasing use of psychedelics, and Ed Buller’s heavy use of echo does give the album a hazy disorientating feel without turning the band into Pink Floyd.
Brett Anderson caught Butler’s ire, but he certainly had an idea of what he wanted the album to be, and this perhaps might have been the real thing that irked Butler, rather than commitment issues. Anderson had seemingly fallen into a Performance-esque existence (he admitted to watching the film every night during this period), and was working through his own subjective ideal of poetic romanticism, one heavy on exploration of sexuality, chemical experimentation and stream of consciousness artistic expression.
Butler saw this as nothing more than decadent nonsense that detracted from the music. Describing B-side ‘The Living Dead,’ Butler opined that “I’ve written this really beautiful piece of music and it’s a squalid song about junkies.” He was no longer in the mood to celebrate and tolerate such material as some kind of romantic ideal.
Anderson disagreed. He was fascinated by the emotional states such situations create. He had been listening to Hounds of Love and Berlin, “albums with a musical journey and stories of sadness and darkness.” The album bears out this approach. The ghost of Scott Walker haunts the string-sweetened cinematic melancholia of songs like “2 of Us,” “Still Life,” and “Black and Blue,” whilst the confused stream of consciousness rap mantra of “Introducing The Band” presents the confused language and thought processes of someone under the influence heavily and trying to articulate some form of sense.
“The Wild Ones” presents the lonely yearning for connection beneath the surface of reckless misadventure, and the likes of “Heroine” and “Black and Blue” look at the different ways sexuality can be explored and the unconventional relationships this can lead to.
Butler meanwhile reaches peak expression with the prickly, frustrated tension of “We Are The Pigs,” the brand-new-morning feel of “New Generation” and the sorrowful, mourning atmospherics of “The Asphalt World.”
Dog Man Star is proof that great art can come from being pushed to the end of your tether, funneling your frustration, confusion and sadness into your creativity. It holds up better than a lot of its Brit-pop contemporaries, and what could be more relevant to the current confusion of the UK than the following couplet:
“I don’t care who’s wrong or right
and I don’t care for the U.K. tonight so stay, stay…”