Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Johnny Foreigner

Grace and the Bigger Picture
Best Before Records (2009)

Irresistibly sweet and dirty. Genuine, yet dangerous and out of its mind. A more enthusiastic, more garage, less "University Challenge" Bloc Party, with hints of Q And Not U, Robert Smith and a wad of others. I
t's up-tempo, enthusiastic indie rock, but stick a pin in them and they'll go pop.

Guitarist Alexei Berrow's voice swings from neurotic to acrobatic. Bassist Kelly Southern's switches from cute to scary. And drummer Elvis Junior Washington Laidley keeps the beats as interesting as his handle: from messy punk rock to deft indie pop, always with a hint of the crazies.

Recorded in Brooklyn, New York and produced by Grammy-nominated Alex Newport (Death Cab for Cutie, The Mars Volta), the Birmingham trio's second full length is
modern and fashionably hip. But it's also infectiously homemade, sentimental and anti-pretentious. Eccentric, beautiful and scary, yet accessibly straightforward and honest.

Johnny Foreigner have one more show in South Africa (Ramfest IV - Cape Town) and then they're off.

"Your town's run by criminals. Sold you out and closed your clubs, for what? Your town's run by criminals. You're almost all, you're almost all that's left."


“If Fred Flintstone can end up with Wilma, I’m not settling for Roseanne.”

So what’s the deal? Is the fat, beer drinking slob and the thin, sophisticated and impossibly patient wife just such a guaranteed laugh and ratings meal ticket that it’s impossible not to cash it in? Is it a case of married too young, guy lets himself go, wife succumbs to the usual pressures of keeping up appearances? Is a sense of humour really that important? Is there no place on TV for unattractive women? Or is it just some escapist fantasy world, written by couch potatoes for couch potatoes, where you can drink as much beer as you want, act as immaturely and selfishly as possible, hang out with your friends and still end up married to a Grade A MILF?

Looking back, the first example I can think of is Disney’s Goof Troop. Remember Big Bad Pete and his Jessica Rabbit-esque wife Peg? What was she thinking? Sure, I can buy that, eventually, when they reach a certain age, hot women may reevaluate their perspectives and realise the importance of a good sense of humour, trustworthiness and other values associated with childish oafs like Bill Miller (Still Standing), Sean Finnerty (Grounded For Life) and Earl Sinclair (Dinosaurs). But Big Bad Pete has none of these redeeming features. The guy’s an asshole (and a used car salesman).

Usually, when a couple breaks society’s perceived conventions, the fat/ugly guy in question brings something extra to the table: money, fame, kindness, creativity… Or your name’s Hugh Hefner. But what about Peter Griffin? Sure, we can all laugh at him, but ladies, would you really want to be Lois Griffin? Homer Simpson, on the other hand, does have a softer, gentler and more romantic side that occasionally reminds you how he landed Marge in the first place. But since Marge’s appearance on the November 2009 cover of Playboy, Homer may have his hands full hanging on to her.

Marge on the cover of Maxim (2004)

Another unbelievable factor in the fat guy/hot wife equation is the fat guys’ job situation. It’s complete, blue collar fantasy. Sure, if they were creative jolly fat guys, it might lend some believability to the pairings. But Fred Flintstone broke rocks at the local quarry, Sean Finnerty was a labourer, Bill Miller worked in the toilet section of a local department store, Doug Heffernan was a parcel deliveryman, Homer Simpson eats donuts and sleeps on the job at Burns’ power plant, Earl Sinclair pushed trees over and Jim (
According to Jim) worked in construction.

If they did some research, this legion of TV watching couch potatoes would get a cold hard slap in the face. In real life, Jim’s wife Cheryl (Courtney Thorne Smith) is married to slim author Robert Fishman. Jami Gertz (
Still Standing) is married to dashing investment banker Tony Ressler. And the biggest MILF of them all, Leah Remini (The King of Queens), is married to tall dark and handsome Puerto Rican actor Angelo Pagan (who guest starred as Rico on The King of Queens: there’s your reality, Doug).

How about Roseanne? This time, the comedian riding the star vehicle is the wife, Roseanne Barr. So you’d assume that she’d pair herself off with a thin, sophisticated and attractive husband, right? Think again. That’s just not believable. The dichotomy doesn’t swing both ways. And instead, Roseanne Conner ended up married to unsuccessful drywall contractor Dan, played by burly John Goodman (and then in real life, Roseanne ended up married to burly Tom Arnold).

Leah Remini - The King of Queens

Megyn Price - Grounded For Life

But it’s not just the fat guys, is it? There’s also a tendency to pair off dopey thin guys with much more attractive females. Jerry Seinfeld’s long list of ex-girlfriends (on the show) includes Courtney Cox, Terri Hatcher (in her prime, I might add), Lauren Graham, Kristin Davis and The O.C’s Melinda Clarke. On Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray Romano literally fights off his much-more-attractive-than-him wife’s efforts at romance.
And what about what about poor Peggy Bundy? Married to an ex-high school football star turned shoe salesman, she ends up blackmailing him into having sex. Can you even imagine that relationship switched around, gender wise? Also, how funny can Roger Rabbit and Barney Rubble really be?

I guess, in the end, it boils down to a case of double standards. A safe formula that works. I just watched a couple of According to Jim clips on YouTube, and in every one, Courtney Thorne Smith isn’t wearing a bra. Her eye-gouging nipples suggest that someone had the pleasure of tweaking them before every scene. Jim, on the other hand, wears loose fitting shirts, grills meat and acts like an oaf.

When I think of shows featuring fat women married to trim, sexy guys, I’m stumped. Even dumb women are traditionally blonde and sexy. Dumb guys, according to TV, are fat and ug-lee. And often, the women actually give up a more glamorous life to be with their beer-swilling macho men. Just look at Lois Griffin: popular in high school, mega wealthy parents and drooled over by every guy in Quahog.

Courtney Thorne-Smith - According To Jim

The interesting thing is, researching the story, I came across a pretty sad, real life personal ad that read: “Fat Guy With Hot Thin Wife TV Sitcom Situation Wanted.” I also stumbled across a psychological study that explained how a generation of dating agency fat guys refused to be set up with “heavy” women. “If Fred Flintstone can end up with Wilma, I’m not settling for Roseanne.”

Another interesting dynamic is the role of the thin and good looking eternal bachelors: Ted Danson in Cheers, Charlie Sheen in Two and A Half Men, Eric McCormack in Will & Grace. These are good looking male leads so far removed from family life, that you can’t help but find their strict dissociation a little unsettling. Do all men turn into fat, 15 year old versions of themselves as soon as they father three kids?

These days, popular sitcoms like 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory, as well as the cancellation of The King of Queens, Still Standing, Grounded For Life and According To Jim, suggests that, like John Candy and Chris Farley, the trend is dying out. It makes sense. Nowadays, everyone’s a calorie counter. But how long do you think it’ll be before we see a fat lead actress married to a hunky, sophisticated guy? Honestly, when I stop and think about it, offhand, I can’t even name a single fat woman still on TV. Can you?


Spent the weekend in Cape Town. Saw UK band Johnny Foreigner at Assembly. Ate lots of chili poppers at Rafiki's. Ordered some Butlers Pizza. And took lots of photos. Good times.