How I Choose To Remember Robin Williams: A Perfect Day in 1992

aladdin

One of those unavoidable truths of growing up is that other people will die. Of course the truly devastating losses are the people you actually know and love…family, friends, coworkers. But sometimes the death of a well-known person who you never came close to meeting, yet still gave you some incredible memories, can be equally jarring.

It can happen any time, but for me it feels like the age of 25 is when some celebrities who were big influences on my childhood started passing away. To name a few: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Adam Yauch (MCA from Beastie Boys), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Kelly from Kris Kross and of course, the Ultimate Warrior.

But none of those unexpected deaths, not even The King of Pop himself, stopped me cold and brought my day to a halt quite like Monday’s stunning news about Robin Williams.

My plan for Monday night was to get home from work, turn on the TV and immerse myself in all the NFL preseason games I taped last week that I hadn’t gotten around to watching just yet. I wanted to do a ton of football prep and writing.

I got as far as turning on the TV. That’s when I saw the news about Williams. For the next 90 minutes, I sat at my computer, looked through Twitter, and watched every clip that every person on my feed linked to. There were so many: snippets from Williams’ movie performances like Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and then a bunch of clips from his standup routines and appearances on late night TV through the years (amazing that his career spanned five decades and he was only 63).

You gotta hand it to Twitter. For all the negative that comes from social media, we get access to an immediate oral history whenever something tragic like this happens.

I’m not writing to pretend like I was the biggest Robin Williams fan. I’m not able to rank all of his performances because out of his 102 acting credits that I just reviewed on IMDB, I’ve probably only seen 15-20 of them. I grew up in the 90s so movies like Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and Good Will Hunting were in my Robin Williams wheelhouse.

Of all his incredible, pioneering performances, I think Williams’ Genie in Aladdin was my favorite. There are two reasons for this. First, because if you think about it, he was born to be a cartoon. I bet if you asked him his biggest complaint with acting, he’d say that it sucks to have physical limitations with your body. You can only disguise yourself in makeup and prosthetics so much. You can only contort your face in certain ways. Same with the rest of your body. Animation gives your acting a kind of freedom that the real world could never do. And Williams, more than anyone, lived for that physical side of performing.

The second reason Aladdin is my favorite in the lengthy Robin Williams Canon is because of the memory I have from seeing it in the theaters. I was nine years old in 1992, the right age for that movie. My two older brothers had no interest in a kid’s movie so I went to see it with just my parents. In a family of three brothers all born within five years of each other, there were almost never any “with just my parents” moments, so this was special. I sat in between them with the gummy bears on my lap (fuck popcorn). Part of me thinks I could go back to that very movie theater in Leominster, Massachusetts, and find the exact three seats we sat in. The memory is that vivid.

Aladdin was an incredible movie, probably my favorite Disney movie of all time. And while the other main characters were fine (Aladdin voiced by D.J. Tanner’s boyfriend, Princess Jasmine with a body that nine year olds wouldn’t even know what to do with), Genie stole the show. It was his movie and everyone else was just along for the ride. It was scary how much you could see Robin Williams in the Genie.

So really, that day at Loews, it was me, my Mom, my Dad and Williams. One detail I can’t remember is whether or not I drank a Diet Coke. If I did, it was truly a perfect day.

What especially bummed me out on Monday when I heard the news was that none of the good memories from Williams’ years entertaining us came immediately to mind. Instead, I couldn’t help but think of how much I had dismissed him in the past 10 years or so. For whatever reason, he had turned into that annoying guy who’s always doing that schtick where he talks in a million voices, doesn’t make very good jokes and is showing up on crummy TV shows with Sarah Michelle Gellar.

For you sports fans out there, isn’t this the way it always happens? We don’t remember the 1990s version of Brett Favre who led the Packers to a Championship. We remember the interception machine from the mid 2000s who permanently ruined the concept of gracefully retiring for everyone else. We don’t remember how Nomar Garciaparra was THE BEST shortstop in baseball for those first few years of his career. Instead we recall how he became ornery with the media, got unceremoniously shown the door in Boston and then had his body betray him until he retired as an afterthought in 2010. Even with a guy like Michael Jordan, I sometimes find myself focusing on his Washington Wizards days and his failure as an NBA owner more than the prime of his career that earned him Greatest Of All Time status.

I wish it didn’t have to happen like that, but that’s how our memories work. Unless you go out on the very top of your game, we’re going to diminish your greatest moments in our heads.

I can’t imagine even Williams himself would say he went out on the top of his acting game, but that doesn’t mean I should penalize him for that. Instead, I’m choosing to remember him for that perfect day he gave me, capped off by the best two minutes and 30 seconds of his best movie:

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Fall TV Preview: Robin Williams vs Michael J. Fox For Thursday Night Supremecy

michael j fox robin williams

It’s finally here. The night none of us have been waiting for. The night where Robin Williams and Michael J. Fox make their glorious returns to TV (separately, not together).  And they’ll actually be direct competition to each other as both shows air at 9:00pm. Of course with Fox we’re curious and uneasy about his Parkinson’s disease and how he’ll do as a lead actor expected to carry a TV show. And with Williams, it’s more of a horrific freeway accident that you can’t take your eyes off. How over the top will he be? How quickly can we change the channel?

Lucky for you, if you’re not interested in checking out their new shows, there are still a couple solid returning shows tonight. So you’ve got options.

Let’s see what those options are for Thursday, September 26th:

Returning Shows

Parks & Recreation

When & Where: 8:00pm on NBC

What: A workplace comedy that revolves around the government employees of a small-town parks department. Their leader is a hopelessly optimistic public servant who idolizes Hilary Clinton just a tad too much.

Who: Amy Poehler stars as Leslie Knope but the cast around her is just as famous: Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt. It’s a gold mine of awesome comedic actors.

Ross’s Take: Yesterday I threw around the gold standard tag when talking about Modern Family, but now I feel like I’ve cheated on Parks & Rec. I can’t decide between the two of them, honestly. Maybe I’ll just call both of them the gold standard and hope they don’t find out about each other? When it’s all said & done years from now, this show might be more memorable than The Office (a show it’s often compared to).

Julie’s Take: 4 out of 5 because I can’t be giving out so many 5’s, and it’s not better than Modern Family…but then I did give Dads 4 out of 5…hmm….4.75 for Parks & Recreation.

 

The Big Bang Theory

When & Where: 8:00pm on CBS

What: A sitcom about a group of socially awkward, nerdy scientist friends who work and hang out together.

Who: Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki play the main characters. Kaley Cuoco plays their normal, social, not nerdy neighbor.

Ross’s Take: After resisting this show for years without ever watching it, I finally gave it a chance last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. For me the humor typically comes from the main character, Sheldon. He plays the socially inept, OCD-ish, asperger-y personality perfectly and just to listen to him deal with certain situations and people is amazing. I’m giving it a 3.5 out of 5.

Julie’s Take: This is a 5 out of 5 for Sheldon, the main character. But 4.5 for the rest of the show in general.

 

New Shows

The Michael J. Fox Show

When & Where: 9:00pm on NBC

What: Based on the title and the fact that it’s loosely based on Michal J. Fox’s actual life, you can probably guess what it’s about. But basically “Mike Henry,” who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago, decides to get back to work, where he used to be a news anchor.

Who: Michael J. Fox, Betsy Brandt (Marie from Breaking Bad)

Ross’s Take: The natural reaction to finding out this show exists is to wonder if Michael J. Fox is in good enough condition to be the lead on a weekly TV show. Time will tell, I guess. More important to me is his track record. When has he ever done a bad show or movie? He’s been great in everything he’s ever been in, I’m pretty sure. So I’m giving this show the benefit of the doubt for now, but I’m treading lightly. It’s a 3 out of 5 for me.

Julie’s Take: I give it a 2.5 out of 5. I didn’t realize it was based on his real life so that makes me more interested.

 

The Crazy Ones

When & Where: 9:00pm on CBS

What: A comedy about a father-daughter ad agency team where the father is the charming, off-the-walls, old-school business type, and the daughter is the tightly wound, overly worried and serious type.

Who: Robin Williams is the father, Sarah Michelle Gellar is the daughter.

Ross’s Take: Part of me thinks this show won’t work because of Robin Williams, but part of me thinks it wouldn’t work without him. He actually made me laugh a few times while watching the trailer, like the part where they make up the jingle on the spot at the restaurant. But his personality is just so obnoxiously big I worry it’ll be a typical “roll your eyes at Robin Williams’ stupid voices and impressions” situation. I can’t ignore the legitimately funny moments in the preview, much funnier than some of the other shows we’ve talked about in this space. I give it a 2 out of 5.

Julie’s Take: I give it a 2 out of 5 because I like Robin Williams but never really liked “Michelle Gellar”, but I’ll watch it.

 

Sunday Bonus

Homeland returns! But here’s the thing. I’ve only watched season one because season two just got released on Netflix within the last two weeks and I haven’t gotten the discs yet (god forbid they put it on Netflix Instant). I expect to DVR the new episodes because I finally have Showtime, but first I’ll binge watch season two as soon as possible. This show will probably take over Breaking Bad’s place in terms of drama TV show that I get way too into. If season two and beyond is as good as season one, I’m all in on it.