Wednesday, March 15, 2017

No Soup for us: The disappointment over E! never archiving The Soup for the show's fans

This is the third of 12 or 13 blog posts that are being posted on a monthly basis until this blog's final post in December 2017.

The longest I laughed over one of Joel McHale's quips on E!'s now-defunct pop culture clip show The Soup ("a sort of national archives of idiocy" was how TV Insider astutely described the show, a few months before its cancellation in 2015) was the moment when The Soup played a Today Show clip of Richard Simmons--this was way before he went "missing"--being Richard Simmons while sitting on a couch with a miniskirted Lisa Rinna. The former Days of Our Lives star, who looks a lot different from her pre-Botox days in Salem, covered her crotch when Simmons lifted up her legs because she thought the viewers at home were getting a glimpse of her Salem's Lot (actually, the viewers at home couldn't see shit).

Neither the accidental quasi-upskirt clip nor McHale's scripted response to the clip were what made me laugh for two or three minutes. The muttered aside that the Soup host clearly ad-libbed right after his scripted response was what caused my sides to hurt from laughing for two minutes: "Her lips are full of collagen."

The Soup studio audience laughed over the ad-lib for longer than half a minute as well. On a broadcast network, Standards and Practices would lamely bleep out "lips" and ruin McHale's joke, but because this was basic cable, E! let the randy ad-lib go. It was a rare wise decision by a cable channel known for a million dumb programming decisions that were made fun of by McHale and his fellow joke writers on the regular during The Soup's 11-year run.

I wish I could revisit that improvised Soup moment and a bunch of other lines that were ad-libbed by McHale (in addition to wishing I could revisit the memes that originated from The Soup, like Spaghetti Cat and "Stay out of it, Nick Lachey!"), just like how I can easily stream an entire episode of The Daily Show from any point of history during the Dubya Administration or how I can easily stream the classic 2007 Colbert Report interview segment where Jane Fonda took Stephen Colbert by surprise (by sitting on his lap and kissing him to persuade his fake Republican alter ego, also named Stephen Colbert, to remove her name from his "On Notice" board). (Also, a search for almost every discriminatory thing that has come out of Steve King's mouth isn't so difficult, thanks to the Colbert archive.)

Unfortunately, I can't revisit as much Soup content as I'd like to because E!'s online staff never bothered to put up an archive of full Soup episodes like how Comedy Central built exhaustive online archives of full Daily Show episodes and lengthy Colbert Report clips. And that lack of a Soup archive--meanwhile, all 12 interminable seasons of Keeping Up with the Kardashians are up on Hulu--is an even dumber move on E!'s part than building an unwatchable reality show around a tanning salon.

Kelly Levy, a longtime Soup producer and the show's former announcer, was the off-screen voice behind the show's pre-taped intro for Chat Stew, a segment that was a brief nod to The Soup's precursor, Talk Soup.

Towards the end of the show's run, Levy finally introduced Chat Stew in front of the camera.

Levy was also known on The Soup for her dead-on Courtney Stodden impression. (.GIF set source: myawesomeblog99)

I like to think some powerful cabal from within Comcast, E!'s parent company, or E! itself is trying to erase all traces of The Soup from the channel's history, like how I believe that an anti-Danielle Fishel cabal from within Disney has conspired to wipe out nearly all online traces of the fashion industry-themed Soup spinoff The Dish, the funniest thing Fishel ever did, so that the Internet will forever know her only as Topanga. On The Dish, which aired on Comcast's now-defunct Style Network, Fishel constantly displayed a skill even McHale was incapable of doing on The Soup--an ability to perfectly mimic many different accents, whether it was Rachel Zoe's vocal-fried Jersey accent or the accent of some Russian choreographer lady from Dancing with the Stars--which is why it was a bit disappointing to see her return to the Topanga role and play mom on the Disney Channel's now-defunct Girl Meets World. A "Good Mom" role like that, as opposed to a Bad Moms role, would never allow her to rock all those accents and be as funny or randy as she got to be on The Dish.

But the truth is that the absence of a massive Soup archive isn't due to resentment from the network brass over the Soup staff's snarky commentary about E!'s own reality show stars. In fact, when Hugh Hefner, the only E! reality show star to ever express unhappiness about being targeted by McHale on The Soup, demanded an apology from The Soup for their jokes about him, the channel--instead of caving in to Hef--backed The Soup and kept the show from apologizing (which was good because I never got tired of McHale concluding his jabs at Hefner by singing "I'm a boat captain"). The online absence of full episodes of The Soup, which has resulted in so many hilarious Soup moments like "Her lips are full of collagen" being lost to time, is clearly due to the same problem that explains why Comcast's NBCUniversal never put out Soup compilation DVDs a la CBS Paramount's Daily Show and Colbert Report DVDs (this complicated problem has also kept a long-rumored DVD box set for Cheap Seats, the Sklar Brothers' ESPN Classic sports clip show, from surfacing). It's called clip clearance, and it always leads to legal headaches.

E! is a network of notoriously cheap bastards. The network never bothered to build an actual set for McHale, Lou the chihuahua, Spaghetti Cat and Mankini (that was actually a green screen they stood in front of for all 11 years), so why bother to take a machete to the legal thicket of TV and music footage clearance, just for a show that's not being produced anymore? Fortunately, some Soup fan on YouTube has stepped in and is attempting to do what E! should have always done. That fan is assembling a mini-Soup archive out of bootlegs of full episodes to satiate any Soup fan's hunger for full eps. A Russian account under the name "SuperDimson" has started posting full Soup eps (the account began its unearthing of Soup eps with a bunch of eps that aired in 2007), which is nice because, as much as I love how often McHale mocked the cheesy writing on CSI: Miami, a show McHale once appeared on (at about the same time he was starting to get recognized for hosting The Soup, he guest-starred not as himself, but as a Miami bank manager), I was getting a bit tired of revisiting the same five or six old Soup segments about CSI: Miami over and over on YouTube, just to get a quick Soup fix again.

Just like Jon Stewart towards the end of his run on The Daily Show, McHale, who was juggling The Soup, Community, movie roles and a stand-up act for several years, was similarly starting to look and sound exhausted towards the end of The Soup's run. At one point, I even wanted to see Fishel stepping up to the plate and subbing for McHale for a few weeks. After 11 years, I wouldn't blame McHale for wanting to move on, and who needs new episodes of The Soup anyway, especially when Desus & Mero, a nightly show on Viceland (whereas The Soup was weekly), is currently a sufficient substitute for The Soup?

Desus & Mero has got the same snarky, lo-fi clip show vibe, except there are a lot more WorldStar videos and Cam'ron references, and Desus Nice and The Kid Mero refuse to say any jokes off a teleprompter (whereas McHale had to rely on a teleprompter when he wasn't improvising, which is interesting because he has admitted that his dyslexia made it difficult for him to read off the E! studio's teleprompter). The Soup correctly (and depressingly) predicted that the rise of reality TV stars would bring about the end of the world, and now that a certain reality TV star is bringing about the end of the world, Desus and Mero just seem much more energetic and amped right now about shading and ridiculing Trumputo every weeknight than McHale would have been if E! kept The Soup alive during the Trumputo presidency.

Meanwhile, at the time of this writing, that mini-Soup archive by "SuperDimson" is starting to rescue lost Soup episodes that aired in 2009. I wonder if the archive will ever be able to reach one of my favorite moments in Soup history: a no-longer-online 2015 sketch that mocked people's "Hidden Fences"-style inability to tell Pakistani American comedian Kumail Nanjiani apart from Indian actor Kunal Nayyar by staging a game of "Will the real Kunal Nayyar please stand up?" with Nayyar himself, Maulik Pancholy, Kal Penn and Danny Pudi, McHale's Community co-star.

(Screen shot source: Angry Asian Man)

Now that I think about it, maybe this Russian-based Soup archive is actually a Russian attempt to distract American Soup fans from Putin's conquest of America. Aw fuck-ski.

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