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TV Party: The Everything For Sale Show

Other // Unrated // December 9, 2008
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted January 10, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Glenn O'Brien's TV Party: The Everything For Sale Show:
Glenn O'Brien found the TV Party in need of a bigger operating budget toward the end of its run in 1982. Unlike in BrinkFilm's TV Party: The Sublimely Intolerable Show, an episode from a time in the series during which O'Brien was beholden to no one, at this point he's forced into shilling to keep the cameras rolling. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of non-sensical 'coolness' in this edition of the scenester-slacker New York public access cable variety show, the TV show that's a cocktail party, but it could also be a political party.

The Everything For Sale Show aired June 13th 1982, with O'Brien (writer, Warhol-ite and once New Wave gadabout) loosely holding the reins - extremely loosely by this point in the show's life. Airing in color at this juncture, the night's guests include heavy metal accordionist Charles Rocket joining the TV Party Orchestra. In keeping with looser-than-loose production (and everything else) aesthetics, the TV Party opens, with plenty of time wasted, over poorly framed, wandering shots of the Orchestra getting ready to play with Rocket - a cool dork if ever there was one. Sarcastically employed '80s-video wipes and intermittent pops, buzzes and other audio are so half-heartedly 'bad' that if you're in the right space, they're hilarious. Rocket, a nerd stork in orange pants and white sunglasses leads the Orchestra through his overdriven-accordion cover of Wild Thing and another (admittedly pretty cool) tune, while guitarist Karen Geniece struggles to contain her boredom.

O'Brien employs out-of-it smarm, acknowledging the need for TV Party money - an admission that launches a series of promotional notices devastating in their pathetic insincerity. Notices for Simon's Restaurant, and later a place branded 'TV Party's favorite toy store,' seem likely to have inspired Letterman's now-institutional deadpan contempt - is it serious or ironic and charming - who cares? A video for art new wave band Eel Dogs highlights the crew's inability to generate a smooth video transition, there's Russian punk poetry, more advertising and more madness. A sweaty, apologetic Jeffrey Lee Pierce (Gun Club) shows up with a broken guitar and unable to play his scheduled tune. Joints pass around and finally a less-stoned member of the crew realizes Pierce might borrow Orchestra member Geniece's guitar, at which point Pierce plays a red-faced, incomprehensible blues. Glenn wanders around or crouches awkwardly, shuffling through advertising materials, and others sit looking disinterested or worse. Finally an embarrassed looking Lothar Manteuffel (one of Germany's top new wavers) is allowed/ forced to sing a verse while Rocket plays his geek anthem 'Why Can't I Get Laid?'

According to O'Brien's TV Party website, David Letterman once told Paul Schaeffer on air that "TV Party is the greatest TV show anywhere, ever," and for those of us now corn-fed on the GMOs that are Two and a Half Men and their ilk, it's hard to argue. The show thrives on O'Brien's heartfelt diffidence (hard to manage, true) and an anything-can-happen dangerousness that's impossible to fake. At the four-year mark of broadcasting, O'Brien has perfected his form of professionalism, one based on seeming uninterested and unaware of what's going on. Taking those cues, remaining cast-members, guests and crew do whatever, filming people at random or sitting around chatting and smoking weed - everyone seems to be idly killing time until they can do something else, and it's hideously engrossing.

There's no way TV Party was intended as standard entertainment, it's almost uncertain what, by 1982, TV Party was actually meant to be at all. In the Everything For Sale Show (and roughly contemporaneous extras included) O'Brien seems embarrassed to need advertisements, chagrined by TV Party's semi-juvenile air, and yet unable to muster much sincere interest in actual serious interview subjects like journalist Al Aronowitz (from the disc's extras). The show is an engineered train wreck that's mysteriously involving for its unpredictability - it's something I would have religiously tuned in to had I been in New York for the original run (and maybe a few years older ...). If you like it when things go horribly wrong for Conan or Letterman, you may find that curious spark of interest in TV Party.


O'Brien, for much of TV Party's run, rented a studio and black and white cameras for sixty dollars an hour, but by '82 was running up debt broadcasting in color, as in this fullscreen video - with occasional tape hiccups and all that other fun stuff you remember from recording programs onto VHS. It's a decent transfer of stuff that never, ever looked good to begin with, but look out for those lime green backgrounds and sweaty, red faces. O'Brien, Lothar and Gun Cub's Pierce all appear to be in the throes of some debilitating fever.

If you can forgive the first chunk of the show, with no audio other than the occasional open line buzzing with feedback, then you'll be well primed for the rest of this audio atrocity. I mean, you can hear everything OK, except for during the musical numbers, when vocals overpower everything, and all the other instruments are compressed into a thin slush. It's fun to see microphones worn around the neck on lanyards - whether you can hear people talking into them is another matter, but most of the time everyone is audible.

Another hour's worth of maniacal viewing pleasure is culled from other TV Party episodes. First is 6 minutes of Iraqi Princess, an incomprehensible music and interpretive dance performance (watch for Geniece rolling her eyes in the background). "I Would Like To" - Walter Steding is 3 minutes of the Orchestra leader miming a performance of his composition on tape. Al Aronowitz sits for a 30-minute interview, rambling through cigarettes about hanging with Ginsberg and getting 'blacklisted' from New York newspapers. O'Brien upbraids one of his camera operators for gabbing with someone else during the interview. Loose Joints performs three numbers of agit-prop reggae jazz for 15 minutes. Seemingly great stuff grudgingly crammed down a substandard public TV audio cable and splutted out your speakers. Finally Eel Dogs performs a five minute twitchy, geeky new wave art song, reminding us all of some of the more oddly precious aspects of the '80s.

Final Thoughts:
Cult fans (especially Gen-X-ers and older) will likely lap Glenn O'Brien's TV Party up like sweet cream. This 1982 edition oozes neglect and styleless squalor in a fashion only downtown New York scenesters could muster. Weird musical numbers, cheesy promos and the odd sense that the show consists of a bunch of drugged monkeys lethargically capering for their own distracted amusement make TV Party the perfect entertainment for today's post-ironic attitudes. The above review makes TV Party sound awful. If that sounds good to you, then it's Recommended.

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