Wednesday, September 30, 2015


I respect your decision and hope we can remain good friends. I wish you much happiness wherever it lies.

Don't be a stranger.

Monday, September 28, 2015

About that Facebook warning

... or any Facebook warning ...

It's a lie. It always is. Facebook makes its money off of YOU. It's the master of all marketing surveys. Think they want you to go? Try deleting your account. Facebook has so many tentacles that if you make your account dormant and then go to a website that uses your account, surprise! You have an active account again! With that level of codependence, I'm pretty sure Facebook would never charge for its services.

"I saw it on the media."

I did too, specifically in 486 articles saying not to share it because it's completely wrong.

"But better safe than sorry, right?"

No. Better Snopes than sorry. Seriously. Do a split-second of research and see how quickly this becomes less of a wager than a case of extremely cut-and-dry relief. 

Cut-and-dry relief feels good! Way better than irrational fear, for sure.

So rest assured, you still own the intellectual property to all those cat memes you reposted.

Tonight's main card of the IANMA

[Venue: Ian's octagon, somewhere near his duodenum]

Michael Buffer: "Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, standing at six inches tall and weighing in at approximately 10 ounces, it's IAN'S HEART!"

[Chorus of boos]

Buffer: "And in this corner, at five inches tall and weighing in at 3.3 pounds according to Wikipedia, IAN'S BRAIN!"

[Requisite moment of silence punctuated by even louder boos]


Jimmy Lennon Jr.: "Jimmy Lennon Jr. and Michael Buffer here with you tonight to announce this exciting heavyweight match between two lightweights. Michael, who do you think has the edge tonight?"

Buffer: "Well, Jimmy, the tale of the tape tells us that Ian's brain has seen better days. His heart, on the other hand, continues to be able to take quite a pounding. I'm going with heart on this one."

Lennon: "Well, Michael, I wouldn't count out the brain. Remember, its uppercut of overthinking is deadly. And in fact that has been the key cause of a lot of the heart's heartbreak over the years. The brain won't let him feel."

Buffer: "All right, well, here we go!"


Heart: "Why on Earth would this be true? Drew Brees is the reason the Saints have been a contender for a decade!"

Brain: "That's true, but his salary-cap liability is through the roof. Besides, he's 36. That's old! Once you're 36, your appeal falls dramatically. Though you could argue it's been on the decline for a couple of years now. You're 35, is what I'm saying. Take the hint."

Lennon: "Oh, BELOW THE BELT!"

Buffer: "He's gonna get docked for that one, Jimmy."

Brain: "You see, you can only stay fresh and relevant for so long, even if you want to stay in the game until you're 45. The body can only go so far."

Heart: "Yeah? Well, you're only as young as you feel!"

Brain: "To a degree. But at some point you have to accept that you're past your prime."

Ref: "All right, break it up! This blog fight is supposed to be about the Saints."

Brain: "Correct."

Heart: "Sorry, got caught up in the moment."

Brain: "You always do."

Heart: "Anyway, I was saying, letting go of Brees now would guarantee that the team would be in limbo for years to come."

Brain: "You could argue that they have been there for a while. Besides ... "

Buffer: "Uh oh ..." 

Brain: "When has fivethirtyeight ever been wrong?"

Heart: "Uh ... practically never?"

Jimmy: "Oh! The heart punched ITSELF out!"

Buffer: "Down for the count!"


Brain: "Didn't see that coming. Even I wasn't as sure of this analysis as the heart was. It could be wrong. And I'd certainly hate to see Drew go as well. The issue is complex, and there are no certainties in life. Well ... except ... one certainty ..."

Heart: [Murmurs]


Jimmy: "OOOH!!!"

Heart: "Who doesn't like me?"

Brain: "Just a reflex."

Heart: "You fight dirty."

Brain: "Who dat? Da BRAIN, dat's who!"

Jimmy: "That was quick. Shades of Tyson-Spinks."

Buffer: "On behalf of pay-per-view, we apologize if you paid to view this. Good night!"

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Annual Saints bandwagon rant

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Acknowledging that the New Orleans Saints are playing terribly this year is not the same as not being a fan.

I'm tired of people challenging others' fanhoods for acknowledging reality. It's like saying that any criticism of America means one hates America.

There's something to be said for a fan who sticks with their team through thick and thin. There's merit to enjoying the good times and being optimistic when seasons are more trying — and to lowering expectations when necessary to keep one's sanity intact. But there's no virtue in insisting there can't be any criticism, ever.

This finger-wagging perhaps most often comes up when Saints fans talk about breaking out the bags. Inevitably, someone will retort something like, "Get off the bandwagon! Real fans don't wear bags!"

Actually, real fans do wear bags, because that's been part of team lore for 35 years.

Bandwagon fans wouldn't care enough to think about wearing one. Or to comment about it.

Keep that in mind.

Snope Francis

This "quote" from Pope Francis has been going around, and there are lessons in it for everyone, regardless of religious or political bent.

It's taken off, in part, because it's much in the same vein as other bold statements Pope Francis has made. Also, its a beautiful sentiment that speaks to millions of people who struggle to reconcile a belief in God with a distrust of modern religious institutions (and who know people who defy any supposed direct correlation between piety and goodness).

But truth is truth, and the truth is that Pope Francis did not utter this quote. So this shouldn't be shared any more than any other false meme. Doing so lends credence to the criticism that people don't scrutinize that which reinforces their beliefs. There's already too much of that on Internet and in life.

Others have shared it either to excoriate the pope, or to express intense relief that he didn't actually say this. That I understand less. If a relationship with God is meant to be personal, as I've long heard across the Christian spectrum, why is it bad to question the role of money and church attendance in faith? Even passages from the Bible (particularly the Book of Matthew) do so. It's worth examination, if nothing else.

And there's no challenging the notion that believers and nonbelievers don't neatly overlap with good and bad people. I've never heard anyone say, "All people of my faith are good and all people not of it are bad." Ever. Even the most fanatically devout person isn't going to apologize for the worst elements among them, or not acknowledge that someone they know who is of another belief might be all right. On a personal level, these notions are always nuanced. It's only as a volley in an abstract debate when people so heatedly circle the wagons. 

I suppose I can understand why some don't want this sentiment to be true, regardless of who said it (or not). It challenges the idea that there's a set formula to follow. For many, that formula serves them well. The flip side is that it allows harsh judgment and dismissal of anyone not taking that path. Which, sadly, also serves many well.

For the rest of us, this acknowledgment that we are a diverse world — and that none of us know for sure what's behind it — is something we wish the pope (or any other world leader) would say.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Just figured out my next project

I'm thinking of doing a project where I take a picture of a picture of myself every day for a year. In other words, 365 shots of the same picture, edited into a video montage. I bet it would be really moving.

Let's get this party departed

I love stuff like this. It’s exactly how I hope I never talk, though you could argue that I’ve already started: 

“When I was in college, we didn’t have smartphones. People actually had to look at and talk to each other! That’s how we facebooked.” 

Conversational protip: If you’re lamenting the death of blank, and blank doesn’t refer to someone who is deceased, you’re probably old. Not necessarily in terms of age, but in mindset. Because few activities truly die — they evolve.

Because no matter how technology affects us — and no matter how hard we drop said technology when it runs its course — people still want to stay informed. They want to stay connected with friends and family. They will always want music. As long as these needs have been around, the means we use have changed, and will continue to change. That’s the way of the universe.

So it is also with things like parties. Asking, “Whatever happened to parties?” is like asking, “Whatever happened to music?” because Bix Beiderbecke died. Parties and music are both still very much around, but they inevitably change over multiple generations. (Though in both cases, you can still find the original thing if you look.)

The so-called “death of parties” is most likely a case of the writer remembering the formal parties of their past and locking that in as their definition. We all do that from time to time and are generally insufferable when we do it.

“Remember when we had real music? At parties? You kids can’t even begin to understand.”

(Not that the article doesn’t have good points. In fact, it mostly consists of excellent points about changing tastes and the economy that I can personally attest to. Mostly I’m using it as a jumping-off point to expound upon a lifetime of hearing how much better things used to be before I came along. People almost always think the past was better, because we all lose innocence as we get older. What’s amazing is how few people are self-aware of this bias.)

What about parties? Last weekend I went to a friend’s house where other friends were also present. We all dressed in our Sunday best (shorts and T-shirts are best for Sundays) and sat around socializing and having pizza and (for some) beer. I did not for a second lament that we weren’t wearing suits, ties and gowns for the occasion, and eating expensive hors d’oeuvres and drinking gin (and chain-smoking) in some mansion purchased on an entry-level salary. That’s never been our frame of reference, so why pine for that?

But you know what was undoubtedly the same? How we looked forward to, and enjoyed, spending time together. Sixty years from now, the way we did it will probably seem quaint to the children of our future. They’ll find their own way in their own circumstances, just as we have. And when they do, may their elders not insist that parties are dead.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

God, the great football micromanager

Aaron Rodgers has long been one of my favorite quarterbacks, mainly because, on top of being a great football player for one of my favorite non-Saints teams, he also seems like a stellar human being. His sense of humor, his choice of insurance companies, his taste in Olivia Munn — it's like we're bonded, man.

So I was further delighted when I heard he made a comment at a post-game presser that seemingly mocked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's previous platitude about God affecting a past game.

Now, I'm not going to go full-on Bill Maher and mock anyone for having different beliefs than I do, because that's cheap. Nor am I going to fault anyone for feeling that their faith helps them succeed. For all I know, it does, if only in a placebo-ish, feels-spiritual-but-is-scientifically-explainable sense.

But no matter how one feels about God, it's a stretch and at least a little arrogant to insist that an almighty being is picking NFL favorites every week. To subscribe to that suggests at best that God is a fickle fan. At worst, it would mean that the games are divinely stacked. Either way, one thing's for sure: There's no correlation between how devout a player is and how successful they are. Cases in point: Tim Tebow struggles just to stay on a preseason roster while Arian Foster is not constantly engulfed in flames.

But if God is indeed at the wheel as much as Wilson and others believe, I like to think that he/she/it is fixated at least slightly on something a little more important than professional American football. Like, say, helping to alleviate human suffering by healing Drew Brees' shoulder.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Saints fans and their prepostrophes

I'm shocked anyone is worse.

Even controlling for the fact that "Who Dat" is a grammatical travesty on multiple levels, most comments I've ever seen on any Saints thread, anywhere, are terrible, even when non-Saints comments around them aren't. 

I won't cite specific comments, because they're easy enough to find. Granted, not everyone is a grammar maven, and even fewer are particularly inclined to give it their all on an online comment. But there is none — zero — excuse for quite possibly the stupidest mistake I've ever seen. And I've seen it over and over and over:



Even as a small boy, not yet particularly adept at the conventions of English, I bristled at people using unnecessary apostrophes on any word that ended in S. That was like the first thing I ever knew to be grammatically wrong. Granted, it's an understandable error in some instances, when the sometimes-arbitrary Possessive Police flashes its badges. (See what I did with "it's" and "its" there?) But we're not talking about the common, mildly geeky mistakes. Brees is the man's name. Almost never is anyone referring to anything possessive (which would be Brees' ball, etc., anyhow). Perhaps one day, Drew and Brittany will sire a child named Bree, and that child will own a toy that we will talk about. Then it will be OK.

Until then, there is literally no reason for "Bree's" to exist in these conversations apart from the flawed thought process that every word ending in the letter S needs an apostrophe. So, please, stop it, people! It's Brees. Not only does spelling it that way make you look smart, it's also less to type. To inversely paraphrase the Saints' current record, it's a win-win!

Making lemonade out of sour football


I had already adopted a version of this attitude during preseason, when the Saints looked shaky to begin with. But today's news that Drew Brees could be out for weeks with an injured shoulder means this season is almost certainly washed out. I believe in miracles of a football kind, but the past two showings have brought out the raging pragmatist in me. The Saints may rally around Luke McCown, but the good football will be harder to come by.

Just as well. I saw a comment today that Saints fans have been insufferable since the team won the Super Bowl, still acting haughty five years after the fact. In retrospect, I guess I wasn't the best person in the first few years, really stuffing it to friends and family when things didn't go as well. This never happened in the 1990s, when the Saints were mostly forgettable, or in the mid-2000s when we forgot them all over again. It's not as exciting to watch in years like these, but it's so much better for the blood pressure (and for human harmony).

Last night, I hung out with a group of work friends (a nascent trend that also contributes to my more indifferent NFL perspective). Among them was a Detroit Lions fan who was furious about his team's 26-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings earlier in the day. He sounded exactly like I did during most good-era Saints losses. 

"They were supposed to be good," he said. "I picked them to go all the way. That's what makes this hurt so bad."

"Yeah, I hear you," I replied. "It's always worse when they're supposed to be good."

And then, subconsciously following Ralph Malbrough's advice, we all had good food and went to a movie.

Pay heed, Seahawks fans. You'll need this advice. I hope.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Saints-Cardinals analysis

• Every time I turned on NFL RedZone, the Cardinals either scored or intercepted Drew Brees. I smell a pattern brewing. Or maybe that was the wildfire smoke that's currently choking Reno. The olfactory difference is negligible.

• My local Fox affiliate, apparently believing no one in this market would care for a game so far away, broadcast an international soccer match instead.

• The Cardinals look like a playoff contender. The Saints won the Super Bowl once.

• That flea-flicker touchdown pass to Devery Henderson was a thing of beauty. Sorry, that was the Cards-Saints playoff game in 2010. I've replaced my license plates three times since then.

• Even in defeat, I find it hard to hate the Cardinals. When they come up against the Seahawks, I might get a tattoo of Big Red on my bicep.

• There is no "I" in team. But "penalties" has one.

• Theoretically, TEAM could also stand for, "Together Everyone Achieves Mediocrity." This happens a lot.

• It's too early in the season for fans of any team to panic. Every team's still in the running to lose to the Patriots.


Period piece

As long as I can remember, I have never pined for past generations. (The closest I’ve ever come is saying that I could have been born in 1970, given my taste in pop culture. But then I’d be 45 now, and I’m not ready for that just yet.) For every good thing about the past, there is at least an equal (or exponentially greater) number of terrible things that would remind you why subsequent years involved massive sea changes.

This is especially true in our (relatively) more enlightened age, when we’ve (relatively) come to terms with the shortcomings of our past. Our fond retro memories have become more nuanced in recent years. For example, we continue to remember the 1950s for its diners, car fins, sock hops and middle class, but now stop short of saying it was a better time, due to segregation, cigarettes and terrifying gelatin molds. And segregation.

Every era for which we pine shares the dubious distinction of being terrific for mainly one group: well-off Caucasians (Chris Rock and Louis CK say this way funnier than I do). So it’s no surprise that’s who is most likely to embrace such period cosplay.

Historic gloss aside, another criticism of the aforementioned cosplay is that participants can dabble in and out of it whenever they want. Even if they are truly committed to the lifestyle, it’s still just that — a lifestyle. They’re not going to die of polio, or ride their (admittedly badass) bike-vehicles cross-country. But even if they did, they don’t have to, and that’s what makes it attractive to its fans.

In fifth grade, I embarked on an optional project offered by my social-studies teacher, called “Modern-Day Pioneer.” Our challenge was to go 24 hours without modern-day comforts and chronicle them for extra credit. The rules were loose: For example, I could read the joke book I’d just checked out of the school library, because books were a thing in the 19th century. They’d had food too, so I could chow down on chips. I was practically a pioneer already!

That afternoon after school, I read my joke book at while eating generic cheese puffs by the overcast light of the sun. When it got dark, Mom lit a candle for me, which sat on a saucer on my bedroom’s shag carpeting (which, in retrospect, was amazingly trusting of her). Eventually, I got bored of the whole thing and flicked on a lamp, thus ending my five- or six-hour flirtation with pioneerdom. (My house, though very nearly of the same era, did not burn down.)

I enjoyed my brief brush with not-technology, but knowing it was temporary was part of the draw. The fact is, a lot of the conveniences that some thumb their noses upon exist precisely because the quaintness we so revere today was tolerable at best for the people who had to live it.

In that sense, the Victorian couple aren’t living in the period; they’re living in a hybrid era of old and new. What the Queen herself might call, Victorian 2.0. More power to the happy couple. I listen to ’80s music on an iPod, so really, who am I to judge?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saints affirmation

I am approaching the dawn of the 2015 NFL season the same way I did in 2006 and 2009:

"Oh, hey, the Saints are playing."

I can't guarantee I'll keep this enlightened, low-expectation attitude up past the first play, but it seems like a workable plan at this football-free moment.

One of my least-favorite aspects of living anywhere other than Louisiana is the indifference toward teams I've loved all my life, if not outright antagonism — Nevada playing Louisiana at the New Orleans Bowl last year was a particularly interesting (and random) manifestation of that. On the other hand, it's a lot easier to tune it all out when things are going poorly. And having more outside interests puts it in a perspective I had less of when the Saints were Super Bowl-worthy and my non-NFL hobbies largely consisted of playing fantasy football and playing flag football.

Really, what I'm saying is: I don't expect a whole lot of the Saints this year, so anything good they do will be an awesome bonus. Just like in 2006 and 2009.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My take on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

I didn't see either episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in full, but I saw large segments of both and liked what I saw. Frankly, I didn't expect to. 

Picturing Colbert as David Letterman — and having nine months to do so — didn't appeal to me at all. Nothing against Letterman, whose work I've admired since I was too young to get most of it; but I thought Colbert would be wasting his talent becoming a network successor. Like many fans, I was crushed when I heard Stephen was giving up The Colbert Report, which I think was one of the best shows of its era. After that, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show quickly packed up his tent as well, with both shows' stars repeatedly saying how tired they were. Which, no matter how much you understand that from a human perspective, is heartbreaking from a fan's.

This massive late-night shift leaves fans of satire facing an election year with several young shows still trying to find their rhythm. We've gotten spoiled, I suppose; I first started watching The Daily Show around 2002 or 2003, when Stewart had been there for a few years. Colbert Report sprung seemingly fully formed in 2005, as Colbert had been practicing his faux-blowhard character on TDS for years. No matter how good Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore are, it'll take them years to catch up to those institutions.

So too is the case with Late Show. Colbert has huge shoes to fill in catching up to Letterman's 30-plus-year legacy. His early episodes will no doubt look like the Simpsons on The Tracey Ullman Show compared to later shows. Now is the time to experiment, work out the kinks and make a splash, so the show by definition will be uneven for the time being.

That said, however, I'm encouraged that Colbert subverted my expectations. My early impression was that we were being primed for a more straight-man Colbert, more of a showrunner than a beacon. But so far, his personality, humor and snark still show through, all of which I was concerned would die with his alter ego. He still jokes about being a narcissist, and there are still silly sketches with celebrities (actually a growing conceit), overly celebrity-studded musical numbers and political energy. It's possible that all could die down in favor of more pedestrian fare down the road; but for now, I like what I see. It's heartening to see that there's still some fire in the real Colbert.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Schrödinger’s Cap

This morning on the police scanner, I heard:

“He’s wearing a Chicago Bulls baseball cap.”

That is simultaneously wrong and right.

Vicious cycle

As an avid cyclist, I want greater awareness and better infrastructure for riders. I’ve hit a car on my bike and rolled over its hood. Likewise, I know what it’s like to worry about hitting a cyclist with my car, even when they are riding responsibly, because sharing the road can be a dicey proposition (and the stakes are so stacked against the cyclist).

Anytime I’m out riding, I obey traffic laws and try to be considerate in general. I also assume at any given time that any pedestrian, animal or other set of wheels on the road is going to do the worst thing conceivable at any given moment. That mindset has undoubtedly kept me alive both behind the handlebars and behind the wheel.

I know a lot of drivers/non-riders who see cyclists as nuisances, which in turn informs all of their feelings about bikes sharing the road. I try to set a better example on my bike and be patient in the car. Because it’s up to both drivers and riders to make such commingling work. When one of the sides fails at it, everything falls apart.

The linked video shows several cyclists going the wrong way down a street, at night, with minimal signaling and with some appearing to lack headlights altogether. One gets directly (and purposefully) in the path of a stopped car, and he and others harass the driver. Several other cyclists then obstruct the vehicle and tempers flare to the point that someone finally shatters a window with a lock. If the goal of Critical Mass is to raise awareness of cycling on the road, it's mildly put to say they didn't meet that objective here.

Cyclists do deserve more latitude on the road. But they have to act in good faith as well, to ensure that everyone gets where they’re going.

On the mattering of lives

Black lives matter … too.

The statement/hashtag doesn’t mean all lives don’t matter. All lives do. But for most lives, that’s long been established. Generations of oppression and marginalization — combined with the recent spate of racial violence that was inadequately addressed in the eyes of many — has the black community asserting that their lives matter as much as anyone else society has deemed worthy of mattering. That’s not only a valid point, it shouldn’t even be a controversial one.

In other words, “black lives matter” isn’t a refutation of any other lives mattering; it’s a way of insisting all lives really do matter.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Movie review: Vacation

Late last night on impulse, I went to see Vacation. It was pretty much exactly what I expected.

I had very low expectations going in, but overall, I enjoyed it. It had some laugh-out-loud (and even a few genuinely affecting) moments. I would watch it again. But I don’t see myself plunking it on my shelf next to the well-worn copies of its predecessors.

Much like the Footloose remake a few years ago, Vacation can’t decide if it’s a reboot or a straight remake. It’s not confident enough in its story to avoid wedging in distractingly forced callbacks to the original film.

And yet, those callbacks serve a purpose: They remind us that these are the Griswolds, because frankly, it’s easy to forget. Vacation is serviceable as a standalone comedy, but as a sequel it feels less like a continuation and more like a mockup from a Tosh.0 Web Redemption.

Further distancing this entry from the canon is the film’s tone. For all its raunchiness and weird-people vignettes, Vacation is mere baby steps from being Harold & Kumar Go To Walley World. Vacation’s predecessors had their share of raunch, but the level shown here suggests the filmmakers thought ratcheting it up was the only way to add relevance to the franchise. It overcompensates on that front, at times literally.

Vacation’s plot involves Rusty Griswold driving his family to Walley World, aiming both to shake up his family’s annual vacation (which is always to the same cabin that his wife secretly hates) and to recapture the wonder of his own childhood (sans Edna-deaths and hostage-taking, presumably).

That would seem to sufficiently ground the film in the Vacation canon, but (spoiler alert) the family winds taking the Wagon Queen Family Truckster to Walley World after their rented minivan explodes. They get the car from Clark Griswold in San Francisco, in an admittedly funny scene where Clark accidentally opens the wrong garage door to reveal a Nissan minivan before revealing the Truckster. (“Can we take the Nissan instead?” Russ asks. Clark: “No.”)

I say this as a lifetime fan of the metallic-pea station wagon: That scene jumped the shark. The whole point of that car’s existence in the first film was that it was an ugly, over-the-top, rattletrap parody of a wagon that Clark didn’t even want, and that barely held together long enough to get the Griswolds halfway through their trip. The last slide of the first film’s credits pointedly shows them flying home, and none of the previous sequels ever mention the car.

So why would Clark have one lying around in 2015? Judging by its looks, it’s a different car than the one he wrecked (and the bodywork only loosely approximates the original, as if it was built by a fan, which it might have been). But why, then, are its hubcaps missing? Why, after what Clark went through with his Truckster, would he entreat his son to drive the family in one halfway across California after what they’ve already been through with their own inferior car?

The answer, of course, is fan nostalgia. There was no reason in the Griswold universe for that chain of events to happen. But the filmmakers think we want to see the Truckster. Maybe we do. But it also makes that turn of events incredibly forced.

Still, that’s more forgivable than Vacation’s worst sin: flimsy character development. They’re pretty much Griswolds in name only. I never felt like I was watching the same family from the other films — which is saying something, considering how the kids were different in every one. That mattered less when Clark and Ellen anchored the action. Centering a movie around Rusty is hurt by his comic lack of continuity. (This is alluded to early on, when Rusty scrolls through family photos of previous vacations.) Here, he’s played by Ed Helms. Great actor. But in a film that tries so hard to be the heir apparent to the 1983 original, his contrast with Anthony Michael Hall is all that more obvious.

Astonishingly, the non-Griswold feel extends to Clark and Ellen. They have little to do and make the least of it. They have funny lines, but not “Hey, it’s us” lines. No “Sparky” or “Good talk, son.” No hilarious outbursts from Clark. It didn’t help that the elder Chicagoans are now running a bed-and-breakfast in San Francisco, which is never set up or explained. They’re just there all of a sudden. They could have been swapped out with very little explanation. But they, like the car, are there solely for the audience.

It’s even worse for Audrey, previously one of the series’ better-developed characters. She suffers the double-whammy of being almost completely forgettable and being played by Leslie Mann, who is hard to like in anything. Even when we sympathize with her for wanting a job and thus an identity (a compelling plot point dropped very quickly, as they so often are here), she seems less like an old friend and more like Leslie Mann filling the Leslie Mann quota. If she and Rusty had any meaningful interaction in this one, I’ve forgotten it. For all of her value here, Audrey could have been jettisoned entirely. Make Chris Hemsworth a single, faraway family friend, and the scenes play out nearly identically. (I found myself mentally rewriting many scenes while watching. Can’t you tell?)

There are also three versions of "Holiday Road." Nooo-O-o-ooo-O-ooo-O-ooo-o. Overkill, ooo-O-o-ooo-O-ooo-O ... (guitar solo)

All of that said, there is a lot to like about Vacation. Rusty’s two sons play off each other very well in terms of both rivalry and love (reminding me of my younger days with my own brother). Christina Applegate delivers a strong performance as wife Debbie, giving it all even in her stupidest scenes. Chris Hemsworth absolutely steals the show as a rich weatherman (are they rich?) and all-around man’s-man. The budding teen romance between the older Griswold son and a girl he keeps running into is a sweet and realistic one that reminds me of similar infatuations at that age. The scene at the Four Corners where four cops bicker over jurisdiction was inspired. Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, Keegan-Michael Key and Nick Kroll came to play. The scary, unseen trucker recalls the Steven Spielberg classic Duel, albeit with a comic twist.

Quite possibly my favorite scene was when Russ, trying to anonymously chat up his son to his girl pal at the motel hot tub, unintentionally comes off as a creepo. (“You want me to call the cops?” she whispers nervously.) The scene with Applegate’s book (turns out she’s not reading The Help) is genuinely moving. I also really liked the Prancer minivan and wished they’d done more with its absurd features. To say nothing of Walley World, which (spoiler alert again) clearly needs another midsummer, two-week renovation.

Vacation is the literal Rocky V of the franchise. It actually views better if you pretend it’s a ripoff. Still, it’s better than it could have been, so give it credit for that.