Guilty Pleasure No. 40: Parking Wars


Strange show, Parking Wars.

Between 2008 and 2012, A&E aired 104 episodes of Parking Wars.  Even though the show’s no longer in production, episodes still seem to air on nearly a daily basis.  If you can’t find it on A&E, check on FYI.  If you can’t find it on FYI, check WGN or TBS or any of the true crime networks.  Nearly seven years after it stopped producing new episodes, Parking Wars airs so frequently that one could be forgiven for thinking that it had never been canceled.

It was an odd show.  It was a reality show, one that allowed viewers a chance to see what it was like to be a part of the parking authority.  You read that correctly.  This show was devoted to perhaps the least useful members of law enforcement.  The first two seasons focused exclusively on the employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.  Since the members of the PPA were all municipal employees, I’m going to assume that the show’s producers had to get permission from the city to follow them as they worked.  One assumes that the hope was that the show would improve Philadelphia’s image.  That’s why it’s interesting that the main lesson to be learned from those first two seasons of Parking Wars appears to be that everyone should stay the Hell out of Philadelphia.

Seriously, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would book a flight to Philly after watching an episode of Parking Wars.  Not only do all of the traffic cops come across as being assholes but so do most of the citizens that they meet over the course of their day.  Everyone comes across as being a jerk.  On the one hand, you have the motorists who regularly ignore posted signs and who often have no hesitation about double parking or blocking traffic.  At the same time, the show’s parking cops tend to the biggest bunch of self-important pricks that I’ve ever seen.

Each episode is usually divided into three sections.  In Ticketing, we follow some civil servant in a uniform while they walk up and down the street, looking for anyone to whom they can give a ticket.  While they do this, they talk to the camera about why their job is important and why people shouldn’t hate them.  It usually only takes a minute or so to realize that we’re not exactly dealing with the most eloquent or witty group of people here.  Typical words of wisdom: “People think I’m picking on them but ….. I’m just doing my job.  If they hadn’t broken the rules, I would not be writing them a ticket.”  Never mind that, half the time, the parking meters are broken or that the “No Parking” sign has weathered so much abuse that it can barely be read.  Whenever someone asks a legitimate question about why they’re getting a ticket, the show responds with a silly sound effect.  “Only dummies question authority,” the show is saying.  On those occasions when someone actually proves that they’ve been wrongly ticketed (and it happens more than a few times), they’re told to call a number or go to court and get it dismissed.  “Once I start writing the ticket, I can’t take it back,” the parking cop explains, as if that somehow excuses any inconvenience that anyone else might suffer.

The 2nd section of each episode often took place at the impound lot, where the citizens of Philadelphia would go to get their cars after they had been towed.  The impound lot sequences basically highlight everything that intelligent people hate about bureaucracy.  I’ll always remember the woman from Delaware whose car was impounded in Philadelphia, due to a mistake made by the Delaware Highway Patrol.  Even after the woman got a signed letter from a judge in Delaware exonerating her and saying that her car shouldn’t have been impounded, the lot supervisor said that the car couldn’t be released because the state of Pennsylvania still had her on its impound list.  When the woman was told that she could hire a tow truck (at her own expense) and have the car towed to Delaware, the lot workers were shocked when the woman angrily announced that she wasn’t going to pay any more money just because of someone else’s bureaucratic snafu.  When Pennsylvania finally did get its act together and announced that the woman could have her car back, one of the lot workers had the nerve to say, “Y’know, my supervisor went to a lot of trouble for you.”  (From what we saw on the program, it appeared that the supervisor made one phone call, mostly to get confirmation that she should refuse to release the woman’s car.)  The look the woman from Delaware gave that worker pretty much said it all.

Finally, an episode would usually wrap up with a sequence about booting.  The booting sequences dealt with the people who drive around and randomly search for people with multiple unpaid tickets, so that they can put those big yellow locks on people’s tires.  On the one hand, the booting sequences were a bit less annoying that the ticketing and impound sequences because most of the people getting booted did owe several thousands of dollars in parking tickets.  On the other hand, it wasn’t hard to notice that the boot crew usually only seemed to search for cars in lower-class neighborhoods.  It was rare you ever heard anyone suggest maybe going to a rich neighborhood and seeing if anyone there needed a boot.  Instead the people being booted were often the very people who would need a car if they were ever actually going to get the money necessary to pay their tickets.

Throughout it all, the show punctuated every action or comment with a combination of zoom lenses and silly sound effects.  If someone declared that they needed their car for work, we’d hear someone dramatically go, “DAMN!” on the soundtrack.  If the parking cop pointed out a sign that said no parking, we’d get a zoom to the sign along with a smack-smack sound effect.

Even though the show is less than ten years old, watching it can be strange today.  Parking Wars was clearly made before the era of #MeToo.  If the parking cop is a woman, one can be sure that we’ll get at least a few interviews with the citizens of Philadelphia talking about how cute she is.  If the parking cop’s a man, one can be sure that he’ll take the time to leer at any passing women while the camera zooms in on what part of her body has drawn his attention.

Eventually, it would appear that the city of Philadelphia figured out that being advertised as being the worst cities on Earth was perhaps not the boon for tourism that they thought it would be and Parking Wars started to focus on other cities.  When they started to film in Detroit, we were introduced to a parking cop named Pony Tail.  Pony Tail was perhaps the most obnoxious character to ever be unleashed on the brave viewers of A&E.  Pony Tail was the type of creep who would brag about how he was punishing evil doers (because being parked at an expired meter is a sure sign of evil) but who would then spend his entire segment pouting after a random passerby yelled out, “Parking Authority sucks!”

Things got even worse once the show expanded to New York and started to feature “independent” towing companies.  If it could be said that the parking cops were at least enforcing the law, the independent towing people were just straight-up assholes.  Whenever they towed a woman’s car and responded to her complaints by calling her “sweetheart” or “honey,” you just wanted someone to jump in and smack the Hell out of them.

And yet, oddly enough, Parking Wars was (and is) addictive viewing.  I can’t speak for everyone but for me, it’s a show that I almost hatewatch.  It confirms everything negative thing that I’ve ever felt or suspected about the people in authority.  If you believe that most people will let even the slightest bit of power go straight to their head, this is the show for you.  If you distrust the government and think that most bureaucrats are petty tyrants, Parking Wars is a show that will confirm your every suspicion.  The best moments of Parking Wars are the ones that suggest that maybe the show’s producers were secretly poking fun at the parking authority’s delusions of grandeur.  I’m talking about the moments when the ticketed got their chance to yell at the ticketers and the ticketers, for the most part, were reduced to weakly saying, “I’m just doing my job….”  Could it be that Parking Wars was one of the biggest practical jokes in reality show history and perhaps Pony Tail and the folks at the Impound Lot were being punked without even realizing it?

Probably not but it’s fun to think about….

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer

The Lesson Of Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown


Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown may not be as acclaimed or well-known as It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas but it’s one of my favorite of the Peanuts holiday specials.  It has a very important lesson to teach us all.

It’s all about faith.

Hardly anyone in Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown has a good Valentine’s Day.  None of them should have been surprised.  All of the Charlie Brown holiday specials are about how days like Halloween, Christmas, and Thanksgiving rarely live up to our expectations.  Why should Valentine’s Day be any different?

Charlie Brown shouldn’t have been surprised when he went home empty-handed.  Sure, he thought he’d get a lot of valentines.  He even brought a briefcase to school with him because he was expecting to get so many.  After Schroeder handed out all of the valentines, Charlie Brown even went to big red box and turned it upside down.  There was nothing for Charlie Brown.  There’s never anything for Charlie Brown.

And Linus shouldn’t have been surprised when his teacher left school before he could give her that big heart-shaped box of candy.  After spending all of those Halloweens in a sincere pumpkin patch and waiting for the Great Pumpkin, Linus should have been used to the disappointment.

And Lucy should know that she’ll never be able to compete with Scroeder’s love of msic, no matter how many times she destroys his piano or tells him that Beethoven was overrated.

In the world of Charlie Brown, only Snoopy gets what he wants but he’s a dog so he doesn’t want much.  All he has to worry about is keeping Woodstock happy, finishing his new book, and shooting down the Red Baron.

But they never give up.  None of them.  No matter how wishy-washy or crabby they may be, all of them keep the faith.  None of them surrender their hope.  That’s the lesson of every Peanuts holiday special but it’s especially the lesson of Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown.  Someday, the teacher will accept Linus’s gift.  Someday, Schroeder will learn to appreciate Lucy’s finer qualities.  Someday, Sally will be able to make a Valentine just as impressive as Snoopy’s

And someday, maybe today, Charlie Brown will finally get that Valentine!

Never lose hope.  Never give up.  That’s a good lesson for Valentine’s Day.  That’s a good lesson for any day.

2018 in Review: 10 Good Things That I Saw On Television


Moving right along with my look back at 2018, here are 10 good things that I saw on television.

Please note, I did not say that these were the ten “best” things on television in 2018.  Instead, these are ten things that I enjoyed enough that, in January of 2019, they still pop to my mind whenever I ask myself, “What did I enjoy last year?”  As always, this is just my opinion and you’re free to agree or disagree.

Got it?  Okay, let’s go!

  1. Showtime reran Twin Peaks: The Return

Okay, so maybe I’m cheating a little here.  Twin Peaks: The Return originally aired in 2017.  You may remember that, for about 6 months, the Shattered Lens essentially became a Twin Peaks fan site.  Still, I can’t begin to describe how excited I was to discover that, over the course of a weekend, Showtime would be reairing the entire series.  I binged every episode and I discovered that, even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s still one of the greatest shows of all time.  Unfortunately, the Emmy voters did not agree.  Bastards.

2. The Alienist 

It took me a little while to really get into The Alienist but, once I did, I found myself growing obsessed with not only the sets and the costumes but the mystery as well!  Daniel Bruhl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning all did excellent work and I can’t wait for the sequel!

3. Jesus Christ Superstar Live

I was skeptical.  I had my doubts.  I thought I’d spend the entire two and a half hours rolling my eyes.  Jesus Christ Superstar proved me wrong.

4. The Americans

One of the best shows on television went out on a high note.

5. Barry

Barry premiered on HBO and it quickly became a favorite of mine.  While I agree that Bill Hader and Henry Winkler deserve all of the attention that they’ve received, I’d also say that Stephen Root continues to prove himself to be one of our greatest character actors.

6. Big Brother

The reality show that so many love to hate finally had another good season.  Since I get paid to write about the show for another site, that made me happy.  Seriously, some of the previous seasons were painful to watch so Big Brother 20 was a huge relief.  (Plus, BB 20 inspired everyone’s favorite twitter game: “Will Julie Chen Moonves show up tonight?”)

7. Maniac

As much fun as it is to complain about Netflix, occasionally they justify the price of their existence by giving us something like Maniac.

8. You

Sometimes, I loved this show.  Sometimes, I absolutely hated it.  However, I was always intrigued and never bored.  I can’t wait to see what happens during season 2.

9. Trust

For all the attention that was given to The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Trust was the best FX true crime series of 2018.  Along with an intriguing story, it also featured great performances from Donald Sutherland, Hillary Swank, and Brendan Fraser.  (Yes, Brendan Fraser.)

10. Westworld

I know a lot of people didn’t care much for the latest season of Westworld.  I loved it and, in the end, isn’t that what really matters?

That’s it for television!  Coming up next, it’s the entry in Lisa’s look back at 2018 that we’ve all been waiting for, my picks for the best 26 films of the year!

Lisa Looks Back At 2018

  1. Ten Worst Films of 2018
  2. Best of Lifetime
  3. Best of Syfy
  4. 10 Favorite Novels
  5. 12 Favorite Non-Fiction Books
  6. 10 Favorite Songs

 

 

Some Things I Liked In 2018


Since I don’t feel comfortable doing a traditional top ten list, I’m just going to list a few things that I liked in 2018.

When it comes to last year’s movies, my two favorite films were both comic book adaptations.  Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse both redefined what we traditionally expect from the comic book genre and they worked as both entertainment and as something a little bit deeper.

Among the other films I liked this year, Mission Impossible — Fallout reminded us of just how exciting a good action film can be while Game Night was hands down the best comedy of the year.  Deadpool 2 proved itself to be a worthy sequel while Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Three Identical Strangers, Free Solo, and Shirkers made this a great year for documentaries.

David Peisner’s Homey Don’t Play That was a fascinating book about the history of In Living Color, examining both the show’s tumultuous history and how it continues to be relevant today.  Also worth reading: Thanks A Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite by Roger Daltrey and Cult City by Daniel J. Flynn.

In a year that seemed to be dominated by adaptations of comic books, it seems appropriate that one of the best comics was about the history of the medium.  Written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey and Adam Guzowski, Comics For All was the second installment in their Comic Book History of Comics.  No matter how much you think you may know about comic history, you’ll learn something new from Comics For All.

When it comes to the year’s video games, I’m torn.  Red Dead Redemption II is a totally immersive gaming experience that challenges much of what we’ve come to expect from video games.  On the other hand, Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the most purely enjoyable games that I’ve ever played.  If I had to pick a best, I’d go with Red Dead Redemption but Spider-Man is the game that I’ll probably end up replaying a month from now.

On television, I continued to enjoy and occasionally be baffled by HBO’s Westworld.  I also enjoyed playing around with Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive program that introduces you to a likable game designer and then give you the chance to totally mess up his life.

In the States, BBC America televised the the animated restoration of the “lost” Doctor Who serial, Shada.  As an episode of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, Shada was just as disappointing as many have warned that it would be, an overextended mix of inside jokes about Cambridge.  However, as a piece of Doctor Who history, it was priceless.

Finally, as far as the year in music is concerned, I recommend The Who’s fifth studio album, Who’s Next.  I know Who’s Next came out in 1971 but good music is timeless.

Celebrate Life Day With The Star Wars Holiday Special!


Happy Life Day!

The Star Wars Holiday Special was first aired in 1978 and, over the years, it has achieved a certain amount of infamy.  Some people say that it’s the worst thing to ever be made for TV.  To those people, I say that 1) that’s not a good attitude to have on Life Day and 2) have you seen Disco Beaver From Outer Space?

Anyway, this is a musical Star Wars extravaganza.  One thing that makes it interesting is that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher were all ordered to appear in it.  Seeing as how Harrison Ford tends to come across as being grumpy on a good day, I can only imagine how he reacted to filming The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Also, a few years ago, Val reviewed the Hell out of this thing.  Be sure to check out her review.

And now, for those of you looking to experience a dubious piece of pop culture history on this Christmas, we present to you …. The Star Wars Holiday Special!

Enjoy The Miracle on 34th Street!


Now, before anyone asks, this is not the Oscar-nominated original with Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood.  Nor is it the 90s remake with Richard Attenborough and that girl who gives a hundred interviews a year about how she doesn’t care about being famous.

Instead, this is a 46-minute made-for-TV production from 1955!  It stars the one and only Thomas Mitchell (you’ll remember him as Uncle Billy from It’s A Wonderful Life) as the man who might be Santa Claus!

Even though this version may not be quite the holiday masterpiece that the original is, I still like it.  You really can’t go wrong with Thomas Mitchell as Santa.

Enjoy!

And remember….

THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS!

Why I Will Always Love A Charlie Brown Christmas


For me, it’s all about the tree.

A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired 53 years ago, on December 9th, 1965.  It’s aired every year since then, often twice a year.  For me, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas is as much of a holiday tradition as wrapping presents, decorating the house, and checking the weather forecast for snow.  I’ve watched every year since I was eight years old and I bet I’m not the only one.

A Charlie Brown Christmas begins with Charlie Brown telling Linus that he just doesn’t understand Christmas.  Even though he enjoys the presents and the tree and all the traditions, he still always ends up feeling depressed.  Charlie says that he just doesn’t feel the way that he’s supposed to.  (Was this the first Christmas special to acknowledge that the holidays can be a difficult time for some people?)  Linus says that Charlie Brown is the only person who can turn a wonderful holiday like Christmas into a problem.  From someone who spends every Halloween in a pumpkin patch, that’s a bold statement.

No one seems to have the Christmas spirit.  Lucy is upset because she never gets real estate.  Sally asks Santa Claus for tens and twenties.  Snoopy is so busy decorating his doghouse that he doesn’t even go after the Red Baron.  Even when Charlie agrees to direct the Christmas pageant, everyone’s more interested in dancing than getting into the holiday spirit.

Look at Pigpen go!  Snoopy and Schroeder get all the attention but Pigpen’s keeping up with them on the double bass.

Charlie Brown and Linus leave rehearsals to go find a Christmas tree.  Charlie’s supposed to pick the best tree they have, a big, pink, aluminum one.   Instead, Charlie picks the only authentic, real tree on the lot.  It’s a tiny sapling that looks half-dead and which leaves needles on the ground.  When Linus says that everyone’s expecting something bigger, Charlie says that the tree just needs some decorations.

That’s why I love A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It’s all about the tree.  It’s all about faith.

It’s not just the faith that Linus talks about when he later explains the true meaning of Christmas, though that’s certainly a huge part of it.  (Charles Schulz had to fight to be allowed to include Linus’s famous telling of the Christmas story, as there were fears that the religious content would turn off viewers.  Cleverly, Schulz made the story a key part of the special’s climax, so there was no way that the network could cut it.)  It’s also Charlie Brown’s faith that, even if he doesn’t full understand Christmas, he can still make that tree into something special.

At first, when Charlie Brown attempts to put on decoration on the tree, it tips over and he says that he’s killed it.

But then Linus comes along and he sees what Charlie Brown saw in that tree and, with a little help from his friends and his blanket, they bring the tree back to life.

Life may never be easy but with “a little love,” even the least impressive of things can become something glorious.  A Charlie Brown Christmas isn’t just about Schulz’s religious faith.  It’s also about the faith that the world can be made a better place, for trees, beagles, and round-headed kids.  Lucy might even finally get her real estate.

For the second time this year, A Charlie Brown Christmas will be airing on ABC tonight.  I’ll be watching.