Day One hundred and eighteen: "Couch Potato" from Poodle Hat
Well, folks, we have officially made it into the home stretch. With “Couch Potato”, the first single, track and parody, but not, significantly, the first music video from American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 2003 album Poodle Hat, we’re now onto eleventh album of fifteen (so far). I’m no mathematician, just an unemployable, semi-literate Juggalo, but in my simple, Faygo-saturated brain, that means that we’re two thirds done with this project.
“Couch Potato” subscribes to a formula that had succeeded wildly in the past and would be even more successful in Al’s future: making a big, dramatic, intense-sounding hip hop song about subject matter no serious rap song would ever be written about. In the case of Al’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” parody “Amish Paradise”, that was life among the Luddites. In Al’s Diddy. Notorious B.I.G, LOX and Li’l Kim parody “All About the Pentium” the unlikely subject matter is computer prowess, a topic Al returned to on his smash-hit Chamillionaire parody “White & Nerdy” but with an additional element of razor-sharp geek satire.
In Al’s parody of Eminem’s Oscar-winning smash “Lose Yourself” the subject matter is of course television, a topic Al returned to again and again over the course of his career, particularly at the beginning but that had begun to yield diminishing returns by the time “Couch Potato” was released.
“Lose Yourself” looms large as one of Eminem’s most serious and important songs. It’s an adrenaline-pumping, heartstrings-tugging inspirational anthem from the rapper’s brilliant, semi-autobiographical hit movie 8 Mile characterized by unrelenting intensity and great urgency.
“Couch Potato” still sounds intense on a sonic level, of course, but lyrically it’s about the least urgent ever: watching lots of bad television. So instead of the original’s iconic spoken-word opening where Eminem asks listeners if they would step up and attain that dream when the moment comes we get Al asking, with the same intensity, “Look, If you had one shot to sit on your lazy butt and watch all the TV you ever wanted until your brain turned to mush would you go for it? Or just let it slip?”
Of course THE wonderful thing about being an American is that we always have the option of sitting on our lazy butts and watching TV until our brains turned to mush. That’s the key to our greatness. Wakanda has Vibranium. We have Young Sheldon. They’re pretty much equally powerful.
As I’ve written earlier, Al’s late-period TV songs can feel like reruns. So it’s not encouraging that the first trash TV show Al references (“There’s Flintstones on the TV already/Wilma 'n' Betty)” is a show he’d written a song about a few albums earlier.
When Al parodies a pop giant like Eminem, sometimes their musical DNA gets combined, The Fly style, resulting in a mutation that’s half Al, half his inspiration. “Couch Potato”, for example, uncharacteristically contains not just a gay joke but a pair.
Our singer kvetches, "King of Queens" jumped the shark the first minute/I can't believe Richard Simmons ain't in it” and later complains, “I only watched "Will And Grace" one time one day/Wish I hadn't 'cause TiVo now thinks I'm gay.”
On “Couch Potato”, Al and company commandeer the solemn-sounding beat of “Lose Yourself” to engage in the kind of gleeful pop-culture mockery that defined early smashes like “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady” where Eminem was essentially making fun of the people he saw on TV and who were, now, miraculously, also his professional peers.
It’s easy to imagine Eminem rhyming “Simon Cowell” and “disembowel” and making fun of walking punchlines like Anna Nicole Smith, Ozzy Osborne and the Two Coreys, Rob Schneider and Jennifer Lopez.
A lot of Al’s television songs are timeless, because he’s singing about old television shows that have passed the test of time, regardless of quality. I’m talking infectious ditties about classic television like “Ricky”, “I Lost on Jeopardy”, “Isle Thing”, “The Brady Bunch”, “Bedrock Anthem” and “Here’s Johnny.”
“Couch Potato”, like Al’s “I Can’t Watch This”, is less timeless than it is a sonic time capsule of what was on television when it was recorded, an audio TV Guide listing with jokes, as it were. Listening to it in 2018 I was struck by how much what Al is singing about has already been long forgotten. Even shows that were big pop culture events at the time, like The Osbornes have faded. Oh, but “Couch Potato” took me back! I hadn’t thought about the Lorenzo Lamas-hosted reality competition Are You Hot? (a groundbreaking show with the courage to judge people based exclusively on their physical attractiveness) in decades before “Couch Potato” reminded me of its unfortunate, if mercifully brief existence.
As “Couch Potato” progresses it moves from real shows to funhouse mirror versions of popular favorites, like Touched by an Uncle and Everybody Tolerates Raymond. Taking the cruelty and nihilism of reality television to its logical extreme, Al raps about a new FOX sensation involving lions eating Christians.
What sets “Couch Potato” apart from the thematically similar “I Can’t Watch This” is its sense of comic escalation. We begin with our boob tube-addicted singer complaining about actual shows and ratchet up the absurdity and the anger until he’s threatening to tie executives up and “Make them watch all that junk until their heads explode just like Scanners.”
There’s no such thing as a bad David Cronenberg reference (with the possible exception of the one I used earlier in this piece) but “Couch Potato” suffered commercially from Eminem puzzlingly and perplexingly not allowing Al to make a music video for the song. It suffers creatively, meanwhile, from subject matter Al had pretty much exhausted by this point.
Poodle Hat remains one of Al’s less successful albums commercially, due in part to the absence of a music video. “Lose Yourself” is about making the most of every opportunity but Eminem’s strange veto of a music video ensured that commercially at least, Al missed his moment. Because “Couch Potato” is very explicitly about television, it sure would have benefited from an attention-grabbing music video but that was not to be, making “Couch Potato” one of the great what-ifs and disappointments in Al’s otherwise auspicious career.
Hop onboard my GoFundMe to cover the expenses of following part of Al's 2018 tour for this website and the eventual Weird Accordion to Al book over at https://www.gofundme.com/mediumweirdtrip
and/or Join a nice community, get access to patron-only content (past and present), support the Weird Accordion to Al and Nathan’s The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour fund over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace