Thursday, November 21, 2013

The '90s ARE Back!: 10 Reasons Why South Africa Is Making Me Nostalgic for Days of Thunder, Grunge and CrazySexyCool

Arsenio Hall As one of my high school friends pointed out yesterday when I mentioned The Arsenio Hall Show (version 2.0) on Facebook, "Woof, woof, woof!!" I had no idea that Hall's 1989-1994 syndicated late-night talk show had even been revived (as of September 9, 2013) until I caught its first two airings this week on South Africa's DStv's Sony channel. Immediately, I was taken back to my old flat-top days when (first) Joan Rivers and (later) Hall were the two comedians who offered me the best reasons for staying up past my 11pm bedtime on school nights. (Sorry, but Carson, Letterman and Leno were never my thing.) I don't know which impresses me more -- that Hall got another shot at the couch, or that at 57, he looks like he's barely aged a day since he was Eddie Murphy's BFF in Coming to America.

Arsenio's guests As much as I've always appreciated Hall's one-of-us approach (unlike other celebrity talk-show hosts -- see Queen Latifah below -- he's not constantly reminding viewers that he's famous, too), I'm excited about his return less for his still-intact congeniality than for how his guests make me feel like I'm twentysomething again. In his first two days back on the air, the celebs that Hall welcomed were almost exclusively products of the '90s: Chris Tucker, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Lisa Kudrow, with a dazed and confused-looking Tara Reid in the house. (On night two, musical guest Mac Miller, a rapper who was born during Hall's previous stint as a late-night talk host, was wearing plaid that could have come straight out of Kurt Cobain's closet circa '93.) All first made their mark in that decade, and Reid aside, all remain gainfully employed today, so the resurrected Arsenio Hall Show isn't just about nostalgia. And thank God, for one hour, I can pretend that Justin Bieber and One Direction were never born in the '90s.

Queen Latifah Like Hall, Latifah is once again chatting with the stars under a recycled name: The Queen Latifah Show, which also premiered in September, one week after The Arsenio Hall Show. Unlike Hall's new old post, Latifah's new old talk gig is another day job, though not a continuation of the original Queen Latifah Show (1991-2001). The most memorable thing I saw her do in the two episodes I've watched on SZone was literally give an audience member the shirt off her back, which doesn't make her the new Oprah, the former humanitarian Queen of Daytime. Frankly, I've never really gotten Latifah the non-rapper. Despite her Oscar nomination for Chicago, which was all about her singing performance of "When You're Good to Mama," she's a middling actress, and when she's interviewing people, she comes across as the half-interested friend who's thinking about the mountain of things she has to do later, like look for a new agent. She clearly would rather be somewhere else (in a hit movie?), and I'd rather be watching someone else, like Arsenio Hall.

Jerry Springer I was never a fan of The Jerry Springer Show, which debuted in 1991, shortly after I moved to New York City, and apparently is still soldiering on in syndication. I was living in the Big Apple, for God's sake. If I wanted to see grown people behaving badly, all I had to do was step outside. For Middle America, though, it was a new daytime talk concept, putting a then-unique twist on a creaky format, much as Springer recently did as the host of Baggage, a dating game that focused on potential deal breakers rather than compatibility. Still airing on South African TV (on DStv's Sony channel) despite being cancelled nearly two years ago after three seasons, Baggage is sort of like The Dating Game crossed with The Bachelor/Bachelorette crossed with Dating in the Dark crossed with Dismissed.

In the two episodes I've seen, two guys got to choose which bachelorette of three had the most tolerable baggage. This was clearly not The Millionaire Matchmaker, as the guys were neither rich nor particularly swoon-worthy, but I appreciated Baggage for what it said about how society changed in the decade between the '90s and 2010. Back in the day, a dating show featuring a black bachelor would have offered him three black bachelorettes to choose from, but in 2010-11, we got an Asian woman and two white women fighting over a chocolate brutha. How far we'd come.

Trisha Or not. I'd never heard of Trisha Goddard, a 55-year-old British TV presenter who looks at least 15 years younger, until I caught her talk show on Sony a few days ago. She's like a cross between Jenny Jones, Sally Jesse Raphael and Mother Love refereeing the sort of talk-show throwdowns that Jerry Springer made such popular TV-viewing sport in the '90s. Dirty laundry is aired, and fists fly on Trisha, but there are a few twists. Goddard plays scolding therapist as well as referee, coming across as Dr. Phil-lite, without the academic credentials, and she uses a lie detector and DNA tests to settle scores.

Judge Judy She's no Joseph Wapner, and Judge Judy is no The People's Court, but I love Judith Sheindlin's crankiness and her sideways glances (she's like the difficult boss that you're desperate to please and terrified not to) and her occasional sidebar comments to the bored-looking bailiff (in the episode I saw yesterday) who couldn't be bothered to treat her with anything resembling obsequious deference. Curiously, the two cases in that episode both involved incidents that happened in 1999, which explains why 71-year-old Judy still looked fiftysomething. Surprisingly, hairstyles (including Judy's) haven't changed so dramatically in the last decade and a half.

A Different World The other night, when a new acquaintance described the scene at Sophiatown Bar Lounge in Johannesburg as "1990s A Different World-style new African awareness crossed with 1920's jazz," it made me want to go to YouTube to watch old episodes of The Cosby Show spin-off that ran from 1987 to 1993. I recently saw Dawnn Lewis playing a doctor on Days of Our Lives (making her one of three black female '90s TV stars -- along with Any Day Now's Lorraine Touissant on The Young and the Restless and In the Heat of the Night and Melrose Place's Anne-Marie Johnson on Days -- to recently play doctors on daytime TV), but I wonder what Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison are up to, and how long it'll be before they're reunited on The Arsenio Hall Show.

Anaconda Before Jennifer Lopez became a global sensation, she was a B-movie star peddling dreck like this 1997 film, which also starred Ice Cube, who isn't even shown in the TV commercials for its airing on South African TV.

Pebbles As far as I know, you can't catch Wendy Williams' daytime talk show on TV in Cape Town, but it forever will be the city where, thanks to 2013 magic of YouTube, I saw one of my favorite late-'80s/early '90s pop-R&B divas resurrected. Pebbles stopped by to have her say on the allegations made in CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, the VH1 biopic that premiered on October 21, which I, sadly, haven't seen but oh so clearly need to. (Incidentally, it was she who introduced me to the trio, before TLC had even released its first single, at a Clive Davis-hosted Arista Records party in New York City in 1991.) I will love "Girlfriend" and "Giving You the Benefit" always and forever, but Pebbles, who evaded more questions about the TLC vs. Pebbles legal drama (pleading confidentiality agreement) than she answered and now has a 30-year-old pit bull of a daughter who could pass for her baby sister, is clearly hiding something. Where's Judge Judy when you really need her?


Jackee Harry I never watched a single episode of the sitcom Sister, Sister back when it aired in the '90s, but if I ever need a Jackee fix (and really, who doesn't?), I now know where to get it (Sony, again).
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