As American as Sriracha Meat Pies

Look, I’ve been doing food posts for the past few Fridays, so I’m not going to stop now… certainly when I can share the story of Sriracha, which is a surprisingly American story.

Illustration by Koji Yamamoto

Okay, maybe it’s surprising to me because I first noticed Sriracha when I was in Indonesia, which was sometimes next to homemade sambal on the table. I got so used to its omnipresence at Indonesian food stalls, the first time I saw Sriracha back in the States, I thought, “Oh, it’s that brand of sambal!”

Well, Brian Gray and Connie Lo over at Vice correct my misconceptions about Sriracha and give you quite the tale of Americana as well.

(And for the record, I have put Sriracha on meat pies, because that it both just and right).

Infinite Ire in Infinite Combinations

I’m well overdue in updating my rankings of every episode of every Star Trek series because, in case you haven’t noticed, they keep on coming out with new seasons… and new shows!

And if you’ve seen my rankings for both Discovery (seasons 1 and 2) and Picard (season 1), you’ll know that I am okay with both, space warts and all. There has been far, far worse Trek.

If anything, I’ve grown weary of the people who can’t deal with the fact that both those series (and Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds) are all in same timeline as the original series (and all the 90s shows), despite clearly having bigger budgets and designers feeling free to utilize them.

Candid photo of certain Star Trek fans watching Star Trek.

Craig Elvy over at ScreenRant.com has a good summary of modern Trek’s divisiveness. In many ways, the new shows really are different… though in many ways, the ire has remained very similar to the 1980s wrath at there being a new Star Trek show (The Next Generation) without the original cast. And while I agree with Elvy that “Most viewers – even the unhappy ones – can appreciate how adhering to almost 60 years of canon isn’t feasible…” there are some few unhappy ones that refuse to admit infeasibility… and they are dang loud about it.

For more details, I guess that will go into my expanded rankings… one of these stardates.

McRib: From Only the Best Boneless Pigs!

Continuing the Friday food series and hinted at earlier this week, it’s time to talk about the McRib: McDonald’s occasional and much-coveted porcine menu item.

The McRib: and object of cult-like desire unless you’re in Germany or Luxembourg

Unlike the Choco Taco, I have had a McRib within recent memory (though I think it was still in the Before Times). I have not used the online McRib Locator, though I know people who have that site permanently bookmarked on their browser. Now, I am somewhat interested in comparing which I like more: McRib or Choco Taco? Or is this the perfect cult food item meal?

In any case, NPR’s Peggy Lowe delves deep into the processed meat history about the origins of McRib in an article that may surprise you.

Tanks for the [Movie] Memories…

I greatly enjoy the expert-reviews-movies-depicting-the-area-of-their-expertise videos, especially when it’s clear the experts understand some creative license occurs in the best of times.

So with that, and for the 10-year-old boy in me (and possibly you) here is one about tanks.

My favorite part: he confirms what I always suspected since the first time I saw Kelly’s Heroes: every tanker wants to be Oddball.

Wherefore Art Thou, Choco Taco?

Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed that the Choco Taco was being discontinued.

Indeed, there was a public mourning worthy of the McRib (more on that artificial food product later).

So, in what one friend cynically thought was Unilever’s plan all along, they are reconsidering the discontinuation, as noted in Fortune.

I don’t know what to believe, other than the fact that I believe I want to see more pictures of a giant Choco Taco at a podium answering questions (see the article). Well done, Klondike graphics team. Well done.

A Lot More Q&A with Rod Serling

After watching the Rod Serling video compilation back in July, I’ve gone down a modest Rod Serling rabbit hole looking for other videos and talks and interviews he’s given.

As you might imagine, YouTube does provide.

This nearly hour-long entry is essentially a long question-answer session from UCLA circa 1971. As with many of the other videos I’ve come across, many of his answers and references are very topical to 1971, so be warned that you may need to fire your history synapses for some of the shows and events cited.

Nevertheless, I found many of the answers –even though they were very much of the time regarding the recent departure of Star Trek from the airwaves to Serling’s displeasure at his current gig Night Gallery– to be interesting enough to share.

via UCLA

Now, while this is a video, it’s simply a recording of the session at UCLA… and because there wasn’t any presumption of broadcast, you’ll hear some salty language from both Serling and some of the student. Also, and this is something I’ve found in some of the other videos I’ve watched, Serling can be irascible and prickly with some of the questions… which is interesting, because he seems remarkably self-aware that he is being irascible. Perhaps the most poignant aspects of this self-awareness is when they discuss his addiction to smoking, which he knew was not good for his health.

What would you do for a Choco Taco?

Continuing my Friday series on the origins of various food items, I was all ready to delve into the history of the Choco Taco, possibly the best ice cream-based mimicry of Mexican cuisine. Jason Cohen’s article for Eater does a great job capturing the unique, American mass-produced mystique of the Choco Taco.

Image: Esra Erol for Eater.

And now, this week, we learn that Klondike may have people do many things for its bars, but it won’t be standing by its tacos. The Choco Taco is discontinued!

As with so many things you don’t know you’ll miss ’til they’re gone, I now long to taste a Choco Taco. I haven’t had one in years. Were they good? No, I don’t think so. But they were okay. And let’s not forget the shape: a shape as the history article above points out is superior to the average cone as you get better distribution of ingredients in every mass-produced bite.

People are not taking this blow to faux tacos lightly. In fact, Chicagoans already have an option… and I’m guessing other cities will follow. Now all we need is a Choco Taco truck.

Stargate’s Staying Power… or 25 Years of Kawoosh

On this date in 1997, the TV show Stargate SG-1 premiered. To this day, 25 years later, that still elicits “wait, like that 90s film Stargate?”

Indeed.

The series soldiered on through 10 seasons and a couple wrap-up movies. Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe followed, and a legion of fans are still very much around for this lesser known, but very much beloved “star” franchise.

Over at Inverse, Ryan Britt details some of the ways that Stargate SG-1 became an unprecedentedly successful reboot of sorts. He does slight the original ’94 movie a bit sharper than I would (my dad and I saw it in the theater and found it to be a perfectly adequate “Doctor Who story with a budget”). However, I can’t deny that the TV series far eclipsed the film, doing worldbuilding far beyond anything that one could possibly imagine for a feature nor would expect when confined to filming locations in British Columbia.

If you saw and heard this picture, you might be a fan.

I caught the first season when it first aired, but then only saw episodes intermittently, only really sitting down to watch the whole series (and then Atlantis and then Universe) after they were all off the air. If you’re a fan of military sci-fi, the early episodes are easy to jump into, with its Star Trek-meets-G.I. Joe styling. What really gets fun, however, is as the seasons progress, and the upstart humans of Earth really start to improve their technology as the bad guys begin to realize they’re more than a nuisance.

And besides the honest-to-goodness arms race that goes on over the seasons, there are the characters you really come to enjoy along with some absolute standout episodes like “Window of Opportunity” and the two-part “Heroes.” Indeed, I’ve thought of what sort of playlist I could concoct to get introduce people to Stargate, get them to “Window of Opportunity,” and hopefully get them hooked on watching the whole series.

Image: Allison Corr (from the Gizmodo article)

If I sound enthusiastic for the show, I’m not alone. Eleanor Tremeer has a great piece in Gizmodo noting the achievements Stargate and providing a lot of fun history behind the production, the people, and how they all evolved — and her interviews really illustrate what made the show work so well — and why it has fans even though it’s been off the air for over a decade. (Fans do not seem to want to acknowledge Stargate Origins, a web miniseries from 2018. I have yet to seek it out.) She also hints at the beginning and then at the end of the future of Stargate, something I’ve seen buzzing ever since Amazon bought MGM, the Stargate rights holder.

Naturally some people are very passionate about what Amazon should do. Adam Barnard has a plea to uphold the legacy and continuity over on GateWorld — and I can’t say I disagree. General Carter would be wonderful to see. Stargate Universe ended in such a way that one or more of the characters could appear at any time in the future. There’s a rich backstory they built so that any sort of Stargate: The Next Generation doesn’t need to ignore all that has gone before. As Jack O’Neill would say, “We’ve been in worse situations than this.” Lock that chevron. Lock it, I say!

“You could be a David Warner!”

The indefatigable actor David Warner has died at the age of 80.

David Warner as Hamlet, 1965

You can read remembrances, obituaries, and appreciations from:

While plenty of the headlines mention The Omen and Titanic, many of my generation were first introduced to him as the scene-stealing Evil One in Time Bandits (or simply “Evil” which is very dangerous in concentrated form).

This performance made me a fan of Warner for good, even if he was Evil…

And that was not Warner’s only appearance in work adored by speculative fiction fans of a certain age. He was wonderful in Tron, criminally underused in Star Trek V, well-used in Star Trek VI, and absolutely phenomenal in the justly-lauded “Chain of Command” a two-parter for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Besides that, there’s Doctor Who (both audio and visual), Babylon 5, and shows like Wallander and the Hornblower series. And, for anyone who hasn’t seen the 1979 Time After Time (which, this far into the 21st century is likely a lot of you), you get not only a great David Warner performance, but a surprisingly fun turn by Malcolm McDowell not being the villain.

So David Warner holds a special place in my film-loving heart as a “character actor” whose appearance was always welcome. It could be that my dad gave us an appreciation of the supporting players that add that essential zest to any good film. Other kids my age had no idea who Victor McLaglen, Thelma Ritter, or Martin Balsam were, but thanks to my dad’s classic movie education, I did. Growing up, I naturally starting spotting those same sorts of actors in our generation’s movies, like Dabney Coleman, Edi McClurg, and, yes, David Warner. And, possibly owing to being the third kid, character actors were always an underdog of sorts to root for. That guy? Who was in that thing? Yeah, I want to know their names. They’re awesome.

I likely need to expand on my working theory of third/third-plus/youngest kids. I hinted at this with my fandom of Moon Knight some months back, but those of us who were the third or fourth or youngest kids would compare notes. And I don’t know if my sample size is wide enough or if times have changed, but back when I checked with my fellow non-firstborns, we found that we gravitated to That Guy and That Gal. Our older siblings had laid claim to the Luke Skywalkers and Supermans, the Captain Kirks and the Batmen. Being fans of the “A” list pop culture icons was thus copying our older brothers and sisters and, at some point, you want your “own thing.” Also –and this could definitely be a generational thing– our parents weren’t about to get multiple copies of the same comic/record/what-have-you. They’d even look askance if we were using are own money, because thrift! And we could generally listen or read our siblings’ copies (because thrift! Now put it back!). So, my working theory is that my appreciation of character actors, introduced by my dad, was deepened by being the youngest and getting my “own things.”

And then I pursued being an actor myself in college… and “character actors” took on a whole new meaning.

At some point, several directors and acting teachers made sure I understood that I was not a “leading man” type, I was a “character actor.” I was Kent, but not King Lear. For some reason, several of them said, identically, “You’re not Tom Cruise.”

I mean, I remember high school. I was under no illusions I was Tom Cruise.

Fast forward after college and I’m working in regional theaters in various parts: often enjoyable and always “supporting.”

Walking out of the theater after a rehearsal, a visiting director du jour was in an advice-giving mood.

“You know Bjorn, you need to understand that you’re not a leading man. You’re not Tom Cruise.”

Does Tom Cruise know he’s the go-to definition of “leading man?” He probably does. He’s Tom Cruise.

I sighed inwardly, but kept listening. He was 50-something. I was 20-something. So many of my instructors and directors had been 50 or 60-somethings at this point and they usually had some good insight gleaned from the decades of experience they had over me.

“You’re a character actor, like me.”

This was a change. When people invoked Tom Cruise, Lord High Leading Man, the insight usually ended there. They certainly didn’t associate themselves with me.

“It can be frustrating, I know. Because you’re as much an actor as the guys who get the leading roles — maybe more so as a character actor because you’re going to do all different types of parts.”

This was leading somewhere.

“So what’s going to happen is you’re going to put in the time. 20 years. 25 years. And then, all of a sudden, the phone starts ringing. You’re getting auditions. You’re getting gigs. Because you’ve built a body of work as a character actor.”

He provided some examples of the diverse work he had been getting, which, I had previously learned from other instructors, is what you do: you get work from every which where.

“So that’s what I’m saying. Stick with it and you can be a Dabney Coleman. You could be a David Warner!”

Now, tormenting Mathew Broderick and harassing Dolly Parton were not top of my acting bucket list. But trying to take over the world or simply making Patrick Stewart question his light-counting abilities? Talk about actor motivation.

I’ve never forgotten that moment… because it was the time David Warner went from being an actor I admired to an actor I aspire to emulate. Actually, I think that’s the moment where I realized he had been a subconscious role model for the work I wanted to do as an actor. And I’ve thought of that moment each time I’ve watched his performances since and I quite consciously study them.

I could be a David Warner?

That’s an impossible dream, but a dream worth dreaming.

(I mean, I don’t think I can ever pull off playing a character named Spicer Lovejoy, for one).

Thank you for your prodigious body of work, David Warner. May your memory be a blessing.

Drunk and Coke

In last Friday’s post about the not-so-secret history of Fanta, the author of the Atlas Obscura article goes a little bit into the history of Coca-Cola itself (since that company begat Fanta). And got me thinking a bit more about the origins of Coke and cocaine and then I got to Drunk History, a series that, if you’re in the right frame of mind (or sheets to the wind) is tremendously fun. Happy Friday!