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The TV/Movie Litmus Test

By The Pajiba Staff | Guides | February 1, 2016 |

By The Pajiba Staff | Guides | February 1, 2016 |

We all love movies and TV. And with that love (and hate) of specific films and shows comes a true passion such that these things deeply resonate with us to the point that we wind up using TV and movies to judge others. We’re not talking about something general here, like the idea that you generically know someone has good taste in television shows if they say they like “The Wire” or “Arrested Development.” That doesn’t cut to the heart of it. Rather, there are certain things we love or hate, and when we find out what someone else’s opinion is on that show or movie, we instantly know all that we need to know about that person, fundamentally. This is deeply subjective, of course, but for each of us, the following movies and TV shows serve this purpose. You admit you love or hate these, and we know everything we need to know about you. We know if we’re going to love you forever, or wish you dead. We’ll either invite you to drinks and try to bed you, or punch you in the stomach and wish you good day. Because these serve as our litmus test for humanity.

Almost Famous: We’ve been over this film so many times with you people that I almost didn’t choose it. The last thing I want to do is beat a dead horse. But to choose anything else would be dishonest. This is, bar none, my favorite film. It picks me up when I’m upset. It brings me back down to earth when I’m too giddy. It is, to me, a slice of cinematic perfection. Based on Cameron Crowe’s own experience as a precocious yet isolated teenager, every shot, every line is drenched in a sweet nostalgia and authentic emotion. And if you don’t get that, if you can’t feel the strong emotional tug, the perfect encapsulation of a bygone era, and, above all else, the lonely frustrating struggle of the “uncool,” then you and I, my friend, will never truly see eye to eye. Because this film? This film is my most valued currency in this bankrupt world and it will always make me sad that I can’t share it with you. —Joanna Robinson

“Battle of the Network Stars”: When I think of the “Battle of the Network Stars” I think of the drunken uncle I never had but always knew I needed. Watching it is like flipping through a copy of a vintage Playboy magazine. The show was a glimpse into an adult world that was a boozy, grab-ass of casual, almost benevolent bigotry. Certain of their limitless horizons, egomaniac celebrities ran about in mismatched uniforms with ironed-on names on their backs, revealing themselves physically incompetent yet still ridiculously proud. The show, which pitted the three main TV networks of the day against one another in a kind of co-ed team decathlon for the horny, ran from 1976 to 1988, and it was the sort of production that only an optimistic and ascendant nation could have produced. It was just like a show designed by the imagination of a child, a recreation of grade-seven gym class only with the understood certainty of sex. It was exactly the sort of life I wanted to live as an adult. When I meet somebody who understands this I feel an immediate fealty, and together we can travel in time returning to the fields of glory where Gabe Kaplan sprinted past Robert Conrad, where Lynda Carter wore a clingy, wet bathing suit and the future promised nothing but sex, sun and games. —Michael Murray

Big Trouble in Little China: I’m gonna tell you a story, and I don’t wanna hear “act of God”: Years ago, when I first started writing for ye olde Pajiba, I went to South by Southwest and met some of my co-writers for the first time. That first drunken day, I was wearing my Wing Kong Exchange t-shirt, and upon meeting Prisco, he immediately said, “I love that you’re wearing that shirt.” And thus, our kinship was born. Big Trouble In Little China is the movie that I measure people by, I admit. It’s not the people who like it — most rational people like the movie. It’s the people who love it, who see it for the true genius it is. Those who get that it’s more than just a send-up of buddy action movies and chop socky flicks, but something… else. Something special. The people who realize that in reality, as hilarious as Jack Burton is, he’s not the real star of the movie, but rather simply along for the ride. The people who love it for all of its scars and blemishes, who see past the cheese and understand the true brilliance. Those people? Those people go to the top of my cool list. There’s those who recognize Big Trouble In Little China as one of the finest cinematic achievements of all time — and then there’s the rest of you pukes. May you suffer forever in the Hell Of Being Cut To Pieces. —TK

“Californication”: Yes, this show is essentially a narcissistic exploration of David Duchovny’s Hank Moody character, who is pretty much a hedonistic version of everything that Fox Mulder would ever want to be. Still, anyone who can’t look past all of the surface sexual antics and recognize that this is a very rare adult comedy, well, I can’t be bothered with those people. Duchovny shines as the tortured writer who can’t help screwing up everything he touches, and the supporting cast is just excellent in their roles as Hank’s barometers. Even more than that though, the show has a very human element and doesn’t shy away from the consequences of Hank’s free-swinging lifestyle. A continuously rotating crop of offbeat guest stars like Rick Springfield (as himself) and Kathleen Turner keep the stories fresh and about much more than just Hank Moody getting laid with the latest random chick. While the show contains many dark, depressing moments, what I like best are the dinner parties, which occur once or twice per season and are the most unintentionally outlandish, craziest dinner parties ever. Just to illustrate the absurdity within, here’s a clip of a season 5 dinner party, which is obviously NSFW and features Carla Gugino (Va Va Voom!) and Rob Lowe (in his Hank Moody costume). —Agent Bedhead

“Clone High”: A big part of knowing if you’ll get along with someone is knowing you like the same types of jokes. Comedy’s fascinating because it’s all about finding the million different ways to elicit the same response: the pure laugh. That shared love for certain comedies can be a bond like no other, and when you find someone else who likes the same humor you do, the discovery comes with a feeling of “This person is as crazy as I am. This is gonna work out.” Case in point: I love Bill Lawrence’s short-lived, little-seen animated comedy “Clone High,” which aired for one short season of 13 episodes in 2002-03. It’s ridiculously high-concept: the show is a tongue-in-cheek parody of late-’90s teen dramas, and the plot revolves around a group of teenaged clones of famous historical figures (Abraham Lincoln, Cleopatra, JFK, etc.) who were grown in a lab by a shadowy government organization who wants to eventually harness the powers of history’s biggest movers and shakers. The high school is just a set-up, and the principal is a government liaison. The voice cast is stacked with Lawrence favorites (such as Christa Miller and Donald Faison), and the show is just so ridiculous, funny and quotable that I feel like watching it has made me a member in an underground club. When I meet someone else who likes the show, I know instantly that we’re going to get along, and that we’re going to share a lot of the same influences and ideas when it comes to comedy. If you haven’t checked out the show already, do it now. —Daniel Carlson

“Family Guy”: I’ll admit to finding the first couple of years of “Family Guy” funny and worth checking out after “The Simpsons,” but I always found it derivative and without any of the character development its forebear used to give the jokes context and meaning. By the time it came back to Fox, after being rightly canceled by (and then wrongly resurrected by Adult Swim), I just couldn’t laugh at the show’s primary form of joke telling: the cut-away gag. Because “Family Guy” doesn’t write jokes, it just makes references and expect that to be enough. If you think Conway Twitty singing an entire song in lieu of any actual writing is the height of hilarity, you are a terrible person and should be ashamed for rewarding that level of creative laziness. But the boys over at “South Park” took Seth MacFarlane and “Family Guy” down far more exquisitely than I ever could. —Rob Payne

Jay Leno: This is not a theoretical litmus test for me. In college, I actually broke up with someone for professing a preference for Jay Leno over David Letterman. It’s not that I need anyone to prefer Letterman, or Fallon, or Jon Stewart, or Conan. It’s that, if you like Leno — or even if you don’t overtly dislike him — then there’s almost certainly no common ground. We will never laugh at the same jokes, at the same movies, or at the same television shows because anyone that expresses anything but outright disdain for Jay Leno probably doesn’t posses a functioning sense of humor. He is a cancer to comedy. Leno is not for people who want to turn their brains off after a long day of work; Leno is for people biologically incapable of turning their brain on. Leno fans are meatsacks and geriatrics. Soft-brained red-staters whose idea of subversiveness is watching CNN occasionally to get an idea of the “nutjob liberal perspective.” Show me a Leno fan, and I’ll show you incontrovertible proof that there’s no such thing as evolution. — Dustin Rowles (also, ditto Joana’s pick)

“Jersey Shore”: Growing up, we used to refer to the entire state of Jersey as “The Shore” because, as Pennsylvanians, it was our beach, and that’s the only part of Jersey that mattered. Everything else was big hairsprayed hair, denim, chemical waste, and landfills. And like some sort of Godzilla rising from the dirty deep has come the cultural phenomenon of “Jersey Shore,” spawned out of the subculture of the party whores — your Kardashians, your Hiltons, your Lohans — young people with no marketable skills spending their time being vapid and fucking and drinking. Except “Jersey Shore” is worse. It’s built an entire mecca out of these plastic orange lifesized Bratz dolls, completely ignorant human beings who just spout racist, sexist and homophobic banter. They’ve gone beyond douchebag into a new realm of impossible. They take pride in being awful, they take pride in knowing that they are shallow and mindless and worthless. But as a culture, we’ve allowed it. It’s a dangerous thing. If you watch the “Jersey Shore” because you want to be like them, you deserve to be chemically castrated. If you watch it because you know they’re awful and want to laugh at them, you’re worse. Bearbating and dogfighting and cockfighting are all entertainments too, watching dumb animals hurt each other for profit, and you maniacs cry when a fake animal gets murdered on camera. That you know these are bad people and you give them money by participating in their antics makes you worse. So the next time some greased up gymrat spills his Bacardi on you while he’s trying to see if you’re DTF? You made this happen. —Brian Prisco

My Blue Heaven: My Blue Heaven is one of those comedies that sneaks up on you. The first time you watch it, it’s little more than kinda amusing. But if you stick with it, it just gets better and better with each subsequent viewing. You begin to fall in love with each and every nuance of Steve Martin’s characterization of Vinnie. The jokes get funnier and funnier, and the movie becomes more and more quotable. By 1997, I absolutely adored this movie, and it was then that it also became my litmus test, the easiest way for me to find out everything I really need to know about a person. A woman thirty years my senior, a college professor who I absolutely adored, was starting to become a friend of mine. One day, she overheard a conversation I was having with my then-girlfriend, an argument about the merits of My Blue Heaven. This professor butted in and said, “I love that movie.” My then-girlfriend hated it. Many years later, that college professor remains a close friend, and I probably trust no opinion more than hers, while the then-girlfriend is now just a then. In the years since, I have found without fail that if someone declares a love for My Blue Heaven, we get along absolutely splendidly. The inverse isn’t necessarily true — I have remained friends with people who don’t have a love for the film, but I don’t trust them. Not deep down. And I never will. —Seth Freilich

(I wanted to embed the clip of Vinnie explaining why there was a swordfish in the trunk of his stolen car, because this scene is splendid. But embedding’s been disabled. So I’ll give you this one instead.)

Muriel’s Wedding: I can’t say that I’d ever dislike a person based on his movie preferences — might be disappointed maybe, but not filled with write-you-off disgust. I would, however, certainly be drawn to someone with similarly peculiar tastes. I also have a sappy side and love rooting for the underdog, and from the moment Muriel’s Wedding began, I was in love. Poor Muriel (Toni Collette) is an utter mess of girl, both inside and out, but there’s something so freaky-charming about her awkward ways and complete lack of awareness. As shabby and poorly named as her hometown (Porpoise Spit), still living with her miserable family and ostracized by the popular girls, Muriel wiles away her days listening to ABBA and dreaming of a man and a veil. As she stumbles her way toward breaking free, Muriel joins forces with her fairy-godfriend, Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), and the girls transform their lives, albeit not exactly according to their fantasies. With moments that remind me of my own teenaged travails, the film is carried along by the perfectly cast Collette and Griffiths and an oddly appropriate soundtrack. Muriel’s Wedding always makes me laugh and cry and wince and cheer, and I know if you like it, you’re my kind of people. —Cindy Davis

“Mystery Science Theater 3000”: Like Rob Gordon once said, “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” And, while I have felt many quick kinships formed over shared tastes, none are quite as strong as the bond formed between MSTie and MSTie. What makes “Mystery Science Theater 3000” so wonderful, what makes its fans so wonderful, is that there only exists two camps: the mildly involved observer (not to be confused with this Observer), and the crazed superfan. And we, the crazed superfans, might as well just grab our sleeping bags and have a damn slumber party, because we’re all halfway to being best friends. We might not have anything else in common, sharing only this one shaded spot on the Venn diagrams of our brains, but it’s enough. We know by heart whole passages of the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, we know the true meaning of Turkey Day and we know to never EVER discuss the issue of Joel vs. Mike (seriously, if someone poses the question, they’re not a real fan). And experience has taught me that, sometimes, that’s all you need. If you’re an MST3K fan, you’re okay by me. *makes OK sign, waits to see what wonderful people respond “IT STINKS”* —Courtney Enlow

The Princess Bride: There have been gallons of words spilled on why The Princess Bride is a wonderful film. It’s a perfect combination of romance, adventure, and comedy. But what makes it a litmus test of people is something a little different. People can differ on the merits of great film, but those who differ on The Princess Bride are members of different tribes. It’s the sheer joy and wonder embedded in every scene of the film. If you like this movie, then you’re the sort who can stare off into the distance and grin. If you don’t, there’s something of the fundamental human condition missing in your essence, you’re missing that ember of childhood that we must keep kindled, lest life deteriorate into mere survival. —Steven Lloyd Wilson

“The Venture Brothers”: Loving “The Venture Brothers” isn’t a prerequisite to being my friend but it is a good litmus test for whether or not you’re going to understand my sense of humor. A sense of humor that involves enjoying things literally rather than ironically, a mix of sarcasm and broad humor, and the paragon of humanity that is Brock Sampson. Of course, as with almost all geek-oriented shows there’s a line; if you love the show and can quote it with abandon we’ll have lots of fun. If you love the show, quote it constantly, spend multiple weekends a year cosplaying a character from the show, and want to get tattoos memorializing those characters … we can still get along, just in much smaller doses. —Genevieve Burgess

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Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.