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Showing posts from 2020

#TBT: The Golden Girls Receive a Confederacy Lesson from Don Cheadle

Now that Hulu has dropped "Mixed Blessings," the 1988 episode of The Golden Girls featuring an interracial marriage between Dorothy's son and an older black woman that some people argue contains a blackface joke (or not), it's time to bring a little more positive attention to a 1992 episode of The Golden Palace, the short-lived spinoff that featured three-fourths of the girls buying a fledgling Miami Beach hotel and employing a small crew of co-stars. (It's also considered the unofficial eighth season of the iconic, original sitcom.)

This particular episode, titled "Camp Town Races Aren't Nearly as Much Fun as They Used To Be," originally aired in 1992, and I can't help but think this was written as a result of the social unrest brought on by the aftermath of the Rodney King police brutality case earlier that year. However, it is eerily, devastatingly relevant in 2020.

Here, when the Daughters of the Traditional South are set to arrive at the h…

Everything I Learned About L.A. I Learned From 'Melrose Place'

It's been eighteen years since I booked a one-way ticket to L.A. after graduating from college. It's been eighteen years since I left my native New York as the umpteenth, hopeful, naive twentysomething who was looking to pursue a successful career in the entertainment industry.

Up until that point in my life, Los Angeles, to me, was the fascinating jewel crown of the West Coast, a glimmering city full of beautiful people and fabulous places where beautiful people mingled with each other and, yes, slept with other beautiful people. This impression was mostly informed by a steady and possibly unhealthy diet of Aaron Spelling dramas (Beverly Hills, 90210, Models Inc., Malibu Shores, Pacific PalisadesTitans) throughout my formative years. But none had affected me as much as the 90s pop culture phenom that was Melrose Place.

Now, for the random GenZ-er who may be reading this, Melrose Place was a nighttime soap that ran from 1992 to 1999 for a head-spinning total of 230 episodes…

Revisit "Prom Night" with The Midnight's New Nostalgic Single

I was admittedly late to the party when I came across The Midnight back in 2018 and first listened to "Los Angeles," their gorgeous anthem for the City of Angels that I tend to play on repeat should I find myself on a late-night drive down Santa Monica Boulevard. (I regrettably missed their stop in L.A. during last year's North America tour as well.) That said, the track is essential listening for anyone who wishes to channel their inner Andrew McCarthy or Jami Gertz circa Less Than Zero.

Now, the synthwave duo (a.k.a. Tim McEwan and Tyler Lyle) have a new album on the neon horizon (Monsters, July 10). And after releasing "Deep Blue" and "Dance With Somebody," two singles with enough saxophone bridges to transport you back to the late 80s, they have dropped "Prom Night," a track packed with plenty of smooth vocals and nostalgic vibes that should have music supervisors of future teen rom-coms on Netflix scrambling to license.

And if you coul…

The Summer of Synth: An Escapist Playlist

Bonus Summer Playlist Alert!
This compilation may sound like a mixtape from 1987, but it's really a collection of songs from 21st century synthwave artists you need add to your digital library...especially those of you who'd like to temporarily escape the horrors of 2020 and be whisked away to a neon-tinged time filled with euphoric soundscapes an an occasional saxophone riff. 
Kicking things off is FM-84's "Running in the Night," an epic track from 2016 that is elevated by emotional vocals from UK singer Ollie Wride. Since discovering it late last year, the highly repeatable single has become one of my all-time favorite songs, perfect for nighttime drives and everywhere else. Other highlights include "Lightyears," a recent drop from Dream Fiend featuring September 87 (check out the awesomely retro sci-fi music vid) and "Sunset" from duo The Midnight, a synthwave staple.

Black Voices Heard: 4 Song Recommendations

Four songs (and artists) I can’t recommend enough:

1. “Forever Tonight” by Kelechi: An 80s-inspired track designed to inspire anyone who thought love was “just a fairy tale.” Favorite lyric: “kiss me like we’re out of time.” This one continues to be on heavy rotation ever since I added it to last year's Fall Playlist.

2. “The Worst In Me” by KAYTRANADA feat. Tinashe: The Haitian-Canadian DJ provides a well-deserved four-on-the-floor groove for the R&B singer.

3. “Be Me” by VINCINT: A sparkling, uplifting anthem just in time for Pride season.

4. “Boys!” by Bronze Avery: A silky-smooth, synth-laden summer jam produced for poolside lounging.


#ShareBlackStories: 4 Book Recommendations

I cannot recommend these books enough:

Hunger by Roxane Gay: a raw memoir about the culture critic’s painful childhood which led to an experience living in a body she calls “wildly undisciplined.”

This Is Kind of An Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender: The non-binary author dedicates this story about a Seattle teen who falls in love with his childhood best friend to “#QPOC everywhere.”

Dinner for Two by Mike Gayle: A 30something music journalist loses his job and becomes an advice columnist for a teen magazine where he receives a letter from the teen daughter he never knew he had.

Becoming by Michelle Obama: The former First Lady beautifully details her life before and after becoming a part of a historic and groundbreaking chapter in American politics.


Songs of the Month: June 2020

Usually, around this time of year, I find a song that will end up being prominently featured on my summer playlist, a current poolside bop that makes me feel alive. One of those tracks that will dominate the season, forever associated with life between May and August.

However, the Summer of 2020 – hell, the entire year – is unlike any I've ever experienced in my life thus far. It's proving to be the most challenging, stressful, and emotionally draining, and there are no words right now to articulate how I'm dealing with what is going on in the world as I write this. Therefore, I'm traveling back in time to revisit one of my all-time favorite songs, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," by Tears for Fears, taken from their iconic album Songs From The Big Chair (and from the opening credits of one of my favorite British films). Thirty-five years after its release, it still hits all the right marks and could very well be a theme song for these gut-wrenching time…

I Miss So Much

I miss hugs.

I miss sitting in a crowded restaurant, enjoying a delicious dinner and several glasses of wine with several friends, grateful for having made a reservation ahead of time.

I miss going to the movies at least once a week, smelling that popcorn as soon as I enter the theater lobby, my Pavlovian response kicking in.

I miss hosting an impromptu movie night at home, having several friends gather in my living room, passing around a giant bowl of popcorn.

I miss game nights that didn't require our phones or clicking on a link and huddling over my laptop.

I miss attending a live performance by an artist I love and respect.

I miss boarding a plane at least twice a year and the subsequent excitement and joy of flying off to a destination to unwind and escape demands of my job.

I miss ordering some guilty pleasure food at a mall food court.

View this post on Instagram

I miss this. All of it. A post shared by H I K O (@thefirstecho) on May 19, 2020 at 3:25pm PDT

America is a Cocky, Unruly Teenager

I recently revisited Can't Hardly Wait, the seminal 90s teen comedy about the various members of the Class of '98 coming together for a giant house party, one last hurrah before they all go on their separate paths. The movie has a special VIP section roped off within the chambers of my heart because I too am a member of the Class of '98. Watching it in the theater back in June of that year was the first time I had watched characters my own age go through something I was concurrently experiencing.

Like most mainstream teen movies, Can't Hardly Wait features an array of stock characters, most notably the pompous jock, the socially anxious nerd, and a posse of popular pretty girls. There is wild and reckless behavior, fueled by the requisite drugs and alcohol, along with an inevitable reckoning and several lessons learned by everyone. Like most mainstream teen movies, its characters are focused on the here-and-now, uncertain about their future, yet full of naive hope. An…

Kimberly Shaw Blew Up 'Melrose Place' 25 Years Ago

On May 22, 1995, Fox's Melrose Place ended its third season with one of the biggest cliffhangers of the decade -- and one of the most memorable in TV history. It was a delicious convergence of storylines that cemented the prime-time soap's legendary status in pop culture.

After two seasons of being betrayed, bothered, and bitchslapped, Dr. Kimberly Shaw (the marvelously wicked Marcia Cross, nearly a decade before she became one of the Desperate Housewives) had plenty of reasons to hate just about everyone who resided at the titular poolside apartment complex. She hated Michael for driving drunk and getting her into the car accident that ruined her life. She hated Matt for helping Michael hide damning evidence against him and for literally snatching her wig. She hated Sydney, Michael's former sister-in-law, for sleeping with him. She hated Jane, Michael's ex-wife, after Kimberly's plan to frame her for Michael's hit-and-run backfired. She hated Amanda for nearl…

BURNT: The 2020 Summer Playlist

Before we all start brainstorming nicknames for the Summer of 2020 (Coronasummer, Summer of COVID...), let's take a moment to appreciate and be thankful for what we already have. And one of those things is the gift of music, songs we can blare during these next few months to help us lift our spirits and keep our asses moving.
Seriously, there are some tracks here ("Rain on Me," "Hallucinate") that'll make you long for the days of dancing in a crowd on a hot summer night. Others will surely conjure up images of backyard barbecues, pool parties, and outdoor concerts (R.I.P. Hollywood Bowl's 2020 Season.) So go ahead, press play, and make sure to revisit this playlist as I'll be adding more goodness to it over the next month. 
Because every summer, no matter how shitty things are, deserves a spectacular soundtrack.

How to Get Away with the Most Inclusive Casting on Network TV

When it premiered in the fall of 2014, How to Get Away with Murder followed in the footsteps of uber-producer Shonda Rhimes's other buzz-worthy drama, Scandal, by putting an African-American woman front and center as the lead of a primetime drama on a broadcast television network. And not only was she black; she was a woman of certain age (nearing 50) and black. It's both sad and frustrating to see how those seemingly simple traits were considered groundbreaking just six years ago, a time when the other majors were still picking up pilots centered around (mostly) white male doctors, cops, and lawyers.
But after a first season that proved to be as refreshingly compelling as any cable drama and earned star Viola Davis a well-deserved and historic Emmy, the drama about law professor Annalise Keating and her students getting embroiled in countless murder plots...went even further. Not only was Annalise middle-aged and black, she was also bisexual. (We saw her sleep with her white…

Music Therapy: Words of Wisdom from the Spice Girls

Sometimes you need some late-90s disco accompanied by flutes and frog ribbits to help you temporarily forget the dire state of the world. And "Never Give Up On The Good Times" from the Spice Girls is that retro jam we all need. It's all there in the song's title, a seven-word slice of advice that carries so much hope.

And if this track from their 1997 sophomore album, Spiceworld, doesn't lift your spirits or make you want to hop on the bed with a feather boa...then please take your soulless self somewhere else.


That Time Raven-Symoné and I Kicked Some Game Show Butt

In case you missed my performance on 25 Words of Less back in November, the entire episode is now available on the game show's YouTube channel. Feel free to watch me and several celebs compete in some wordplay. (And you know I love me some words.)

Semi-spoiler alert: I made it to the final round, but did I win the grand prize? Click to find out:


Current Mood: The 1994 Opening Credits from Part 2 of Stephen King's 'The Stand'

For one week in May of 1994 millions of Americans, including 14-year-old me, were glued to their TVs to watch the ABC miniseries adaptation of Stephen's King's doomsday epic The Stand (back when broadcast networks invested in miniseries). Throughout four nights, we witnessed a fictitious "superflu" wipe out most of the world's population and leave behind a band of survivors who either fell in line with The Good (Ruby Dee's nurturing Mother Abigail) or The Evil (Jamey Sheridan's sinister Randall Flagg).

As eerie and morbid as it would be to watch this six-hour teleplay today (I own the DVD set), I find myself drawn to one particular sequence twenty-six years later...

The below clip is taken from the opening of Part Two of the miniseries. It features the characters Frannie and Harold, respectively played by 80s icon Molly Ringwald and short-lived 90s icon Corin Nemec. The childhood friends console each other while coming to terms with the end of the world …

Mother Earth's To-Do List

...and something tells me she has more up her sleeve.

Cheeky girl.


World Wide Width: Confessions of a Fat-Footed 12-Year-Old

I've been blessed with what my mother refers to as "pork chop feet."

It's neither a sizable trust fund, an antique jewelry box, nor a collection of vintage hardcover novels that I have inherited from both my mother and my father. No, what has been passed down to me is the inconvenient genetic anomaly that is...wide feet.

Below is a picture of a Brannock device, a tool with which I was quite familiar every time my mother would take me to the mall to buy new shoes for the school year. Placing my foot on the cold metal, a sweaty middle-aged salesman would usually comment on how wide my foot was and that I've grown another inch!

"You don't say, Captain Obvious," I wanted to reply. "How about you go to the back room and fetch me some shoes before you go back home to your loveless marriage?"

Having wide feet was, and still is, a pain in the ass. It was especially frustrating back then because I was relegated to certain brands of sneakers or -- …

Song of the Month: May 2020

All you have to know about the latest single from The 1975, "If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)" is that, when you listen to it, you can't help but picture yourself cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard in a neon convertible with Andrew McCarthy and Jami Gertz during the summer of 1987...

Or is that just me?

Oh, and three more words: Killer. Sax. Solo.

And make sure to catch the live music video that premiered a few days ago here.
Needless to say, this is getting an early slot on my upcoming summer playlist.


The Best Glenn Close Movie You Never Saw: 'Heights' Turns 15

"That is the problem with us today, we can't remember what it feels like to be consumed by desire. We have forgotten PASSION."

And so concludes a monologue from Diana Lee, the award-winning actress and Broadway veteran who is seen wrapping up a masterclass at Julliard in the opening scene of Heights, a quiet little drama from the mid-aughts directed by Chris Terrio and produced by Merchant and Ivory, the powerhouse team behind posh titles like Howard's End, A Room with a View, and Remains of the Day.

Diana is played by a boldly brunette Glenn Close who makes an immediate impression on her fictional students (as well as the viewing audience). She is one of several New Yorkers whose overlapping narratives unfold over a compelling 24-hour period. Diana's open yet unhappy marriage prompts a flirty exchange with a young actor named Alec (Jesse Bradford) who auditions for her play while harboring a secret of his own. Meanwhile her daughter, twentysomething Isabel (Eliz…

The Class of '98 Turns 40

We are the Class of '98.

We're a little too old to be Millennials, yet too young to be GenXers. As of now, half of our lives has lived in one century while the other half lives and moves forward in another.

For us, Cabbage Patch Dolls were the 80s, Tamagotchi was the 90s, and Napster was the dawn of the 00s. We grew up with cassette tapes and Saturday morning cartoons. We came of age with CGI dinosaurs and the rise of the Frappucino. And we approach middle age with memes, reboots, and viral videos all designed to distract us from middle age.

We were too young to fully understand the words "Challenger explosion." We were too young to appreciate the fall of the Berlin Wall. But by the time places like Waco, Oklahoma City, and Littleton pinged on everyone's radar, we started to grasp how scary the world could be.

Our adolescence was defined by jagged little pills, prescriptions from Dr. Dre, and the fact that some of us were naughty by nature. We learned that nirva…

Flashback: The 2003 Playlist

Who knew we'd ever be this nostalgic for the 2000s so quickly?

But here we are, boys and girls. While the world becomes scarier, we continue to turn to sources of comfort and entertainment in any way possible. So let's travel back 17 years to 2003, the era of trucker caps, crappy Charlie's Angels sequels, denim suits, and the birth of iTunes and the Department of Homeland Security. It was also my first full year as a Los Angeles resident...but that is another story for another day that no one asked for.


Watch 7 Minutes of a Cute Nerd Explain The Benefits of Social Distancing

I'm only on Day Two of Working From Home while practicing social distancing, and I don't get those who are driving themselves crazy, worrying about the impending boredom of quarantines and lockdowns at the dawn of this new coronavirus era. As an only child, when I was 12, I had my fair share of spending entire weekends indoors reading R.L. Stine novels and writing short stories. It's like I had trained for a crisis like this. And I currently have a dozen neglected paperbacks sitting on my shelf that are about to get the attention they deserve.

Anyway, while some people continue to ignore the latest restrictions and advice from government agencies and medical experts (I see you, Karen, and karma is about to bite you in the ass and the rest of your immune system), I implore you to take seven minutes to watch the below video. It's from the PBS digital series, It's Okay To Be Smart. Bespectacled host Joe Hanson breaks down the basics of this global pandemic and uses l…

The Year My Childhood Was Literally Destroyed: Remembering Blessed Sacrament Elementary

2020 is already proving to be an emotionally challenging and bizarre year -- to put it mildly.

Barely three months in, our world is being filled with near-dystopian levels of absurdity. While watching an increasingly corrupt and inept administration fumble through the dawn of a global pandemic (the likes of which have already claimed the health of national treasure Tom Hanks), I recently learned that Blessed Sacrament Elementary, the school I attended from the ages of 4 to 14, will be demolished to make way for (what else?) modern, state-of-the-art residences. These sleek and stylish apartments (see a rendering below) are to accommodate the influx of Manhattan commuters who have been gradually populating the downtown sector of my hometown, New Rochelle, New York...which also happens to be the location of the first COVID-19 containment zone in the U.S.

But this isn't about the coronavirus and the panic it has rapidly spread, prompting everyone and their Boomer parents to go out an…

CASUALLY: The 2020 Spring Playlist

Consider this your post-voting stress reliever, a way to let loose and unwind on this pivotal day in American politics. Also consider this your soundtrack to being carefree (one of my best, if I do say so myself). I know I am. After all, we all kinda need it.

Hence this collection of tunes that will, to quote Khalid and Disclosure on track 8, "keep your head up." My 2020 Spring Playlist is an entire mood, and I hope it brings you all the feels as it has done for me during this season of light jackets, jelly beans, and freshly cut grass.

Cover art: Yoko Honda

Songs of the Month: March 2020

Sure, Lady Gaga's "Stupid Love" just dropped, but I'm kicking off my birthday month with the latest from Dagny, the 29-year-old Norwegian pop starlet who's known for producing unabashed bops that you can't get out of your head.

Case in point: "Come Over." This sparkly single premiered last month, and it is simply a breath of fresh, poppy air. It's also a theme song on the ever-shuffling soundtrack of my life, one that pretty much encapsulates the last several months of this grown-ass, lovelorn adult male who's been feeling ultra contemplative and sentimental. It's basically ripe for a YA rom-com on Netflix.

Check out the adorable music video:

Then there's "Some Kind of Wonderful" from MOBS, the Australian group I've been obsessed with ever since they dropped a pair of EPs back in 2017 and 2018. This track was my jam back then, but since dropping their original label, it was nowhere to be found, and I was properly devas…