When I was a kid, my letters to Santa usually resembled an entire issue of TV Guide mixed with the "Big Book" from Toys R Us. I wanted brand names; I wanted hot ticket items; and wherever possible, I wanted them to have a pop culture tie in. It wasn't enough to ask for "a Barbie" for Christmas; no, I was precise and specific: I would ask for Kelly Kapowski or Brenda Walsh. I didn't just want a pretend make-up kit; I wanted the same exact compact I saw DJ Tanner using in some random episode of Full House-- or, if at all possible, the compact that April from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could use as a communicator. Even when I asked for video games for my handheld devices, they were always film or TV related: Home Alone, Aladdin, The Lion King.
I was the odd one out in my family. My cousins seemed pretty happy to receive more generic toys or classic games. I am sure it wasn't easy for my parents-- before the days of the Internet-- to be able to find the exact New Kids on the Block beach towel I saw on a commercial that one time or a jacket I saw on The Nanny, in juniors sizes. These days it's much easier to come by these types of items, but because of the sheer volume of options available, it makes it much harder to know what is worth picking up and what should be left in the sea of internet crap. So it seems only fitting that today I cast a net far and wide to bring to you some of the best "inspired by TV" gifts to give to your loved ones this holiday season, aka "YOUR 2011 Holiday Wishlist." Come on, you didn't get all your shopping done on Black Friday anyway, right?
Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series - Five seasons of football, tears, and Taylors. If you order this unique box set from NBC directly, you will receive a stadium blanket with your purchase. The blanket is small, but it is fleece, and stamped with your favorite Coach's team. If you buy it from another retailer, you will shave a few dollars off the price and "just" get all five seasons in a unique, book-style packaging. Any lover of great story-telling needs to own this series.
Happy Endings - Okay, so only the first short (thirteen episode) season is actually available in time for Santa's sleigh to get to your neck of the woods, but more people need to tune into this show, and the easiest way to convince most is just to give them a batch of episodes and a quiet few days home from work all at once. There is no way they won't walk away thinking this sitcom is even better (and certainly more current) than Friends! Give the gift of laughter this holiday season.
Jurassic Park: The Ultimate Trilogy - Screw Terra Nova; just pick up the original, amazing dinosaur project with this remastered and repackaged special box set with all new bonus features. This time the dinosaurs are large and looming but you won't find yourself rooting for them because the people they ultimately terrorize are not trespassing on their land.
The Lion King - Stories only come out of the Disney vault for a limited time, and this year it was Simba's turn to reign the movie theatre kingdom once again. After it got digitally remastered and re-released in 3D on the big screen, a new DVD set was sold, as well. You had a choice of just the original, modern classic film (on Blu-Ray and/or DVD) or the special eight-disc trilogy featuring the original film and two subsequent straight-to-home-video sequels. This was a film from my childhood, but I'm glad to have the chance to share it with the kids growing up today.
Smallville: The Complete Series - All ten seasons of The CW series of Clark Kent learning to be the man he was destined to be, in special packaging, and with bonus features that include the final Comic Con cast panel, a retrospective documentary with the cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes photos and a copy of The Daily Planet.
"11/22/63" by Stephen King wonders what would be possible if you could go back in time and change a major occurrence without too much of a butterfly effect screwing up something pesky like you never even being born in the first place. There are great nods to Back to the Future and other time-travel moments in our pop culture history, but what's even better is how King plays with his own past. His main character, an English teacher named Jake Epping who steps back in time on purpose, with a purpose (to stop the assassination of JFK), heads to Derry, Maine, first in order to test the theory about changing the course of life's events. And when he's in Derry, he meets a number of characters anyone familiar with King's lexicon will remember.
"The Hunger Games" Trilogy box set - With the movies being as talked about as the Harry Potter series, you're going to want to check out the source material to see if the big-screen adaptation holds up or if your imagination was far greater than any Hollywood technology could handle. Depending on where you order from, you can also get a "bonus" Mockingjay commemorative pin.
"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline is a futuristic novel set in a time when we have all but completely given up on our daily, "real" lives and instead turned our attention to a virtual world. Individuals log into this virtual world for everything from school to work to ordering food and supplies and having them delivered to their real world door; money made for a job or any services is paid through the game and usually spent on more things within the game. Avatars and keystrokes replace real human interaction. But the real kicker is that the inventor of this world passes away and decides to leave his fortune to whoever can find specific Easter eggs hidden within his game-like world. Years pass before anyone can crack his code, until a teenage nobody finally finds the first one, and all of a sudden the game is really on. It becomes a struggle between the average Joe student of this genius' life and work and a greedy corporation who just wants the power and profit. Each task they are quested with in order to unlock the true fortune has to do with favorite parts of pop culture from the 1980s-- which to this teenager is literally ancient history, something he studied long after the fact. This novel works as commentary on what our increasingly digital society is becoming but also honors the value of such things in our lives. And with the recent passing of Steve Jobs, it seems even more fitting to consider the way we dedicate our lives to technology.
The Beauty Book. This artistic collection of photos of your favorite celebrities is not just a glossy way to revel in excess or fame; it's also charity! The proceeds from the book benefit brain cancer research, so it's a win-win for all involved. You get to give your friends the perfect coffee table book and get a tax deduction.
It may be a shameless plug, but I'd be remiss if I didn’t include my own pop culture memoir, “My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture,” on this list again. A quick and fun read in either softcover or downloadable eBook form, this book takes my personal life and relationship experiences and relates them to the childhood television programs I grew up with as our babysitter, teacher, and role model. Many of those television programs were mentioned in the opener to this post.
"A Very She & Him Christmas" - This year it was Zooey Deschanel's world, and we were just living in it. I'm a sucker for holiday music-- from the day after Thanksgiving to New Years Day, I am driving around Los Angeles, even in eighty degree weather, blasting "Let It Snow"-- and this one is quirky and unique and quite fitting for the oddball holiday that sees us Los Angelians decked out in Santa hats, cozy sweaters, shorts, and flip flops!
"Camp" by Childish Gambino - I don't care if you're one of those people who claims not to like hip-hop or to be unable to understand what rappers are saying on their tracks, this is an album you need to check out. Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino is a master of wordplay and has created a work of art that stands out from the thousands of albums put out every year, by artists on much larger labels than he. This is not only clever but beautifully crafted and is an album you will want to hear over and over, for months on end.
"Detox" by Dr. Dre - What? I said this was a "wish" list. Though I was promised we'd have it by now... Le sigh.
"Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson - Who knew the princess of pop introduced by American Idol so many years ago would still be relevant, let alone making hits? But Clarkson is the real deal-- a talent that was able to shine long before the competition became just about the trend of the moment, and that is why her words are timeless and her sound is almost effortless. She reinvented herself a tiny bit for her newest album, released in the fall of 2011, but she still offers something for every kind of pop music lover-- ballads, break-up anthems, and dance tracks alike.
"Come Through For You" by Javier Colon - The Voice's first champion released his studio album based on one of his favorite previously released (off his debut and acoustic EPs) tracks. His sound is stripped down as we first fell in love with him during the blind audition rounds, but he brings out his whole bag of tricks, vocally, as well as with beats, and a couple of collaborations, including one with his coach and mentor, Adam Levine.
Toys, Games, & Miscellany:
Crayola Color Studio - When I was a kid I loved nothing more than to color. Even in high school I would occasionally doodle just so I could fill it in. Nowadays, though, they have taken coloring books to the next level by allowing kids to create their own AND put themselves in the story. Crayola has three offerings right now: Disney Princesses, Marvel Superheroes, or Cars, and I'm not entirely sure how it works, but I assume it's software that allows you to create an avatar and stick it into a prewritten arc, printing the pages so you can then color them in and ultimately make your own comic book. Um, awesome!!
Words with Friends App - Scrabble is suddenly cool! Look, there are so many mindless games and time-wasters out there. Nowadays when people arrive somewhere early and are waiting for their friends, or if they're in line to check out at a department or food store, or even if they're stuck in traffic, they kill time by fiddling with their smartphones. But this game is only a dollar and allows you to actually use your brain and play against your friends or a random opponent. It's a dollar App for the version without ads, but there is a free version, too, so this is really a no-lose situation. Plus, you can play against me; I'm terrible, so when you win it is sure to be a confidence booster!
The Modern Family board game-- fun for the whole family but also fun to play with a group of rowdy friends who turn it into a drinking game, Cougar Town or Happy Endings style, this offering from Pressman Toys is one part show trivia and one part weigh in on issues as seen in the show with your own opinions and beliefs. Players will have to prove they know a lot about the sitcom, and have to be willing to share a lot about themselves, if they want to win!
The Big Bang Theory created a “sick rhyme” (because this particular song is not for when Sheldon is sad but only when he is sick!) when it introduced “Soft Kitty,” a little ditty Sheldon’s mother, and then Penny, had to sing in order to soothe him. And Stylin Online took the idea a step further by making it into a plush doll you can hug when you are sick. Press its paw to hear the tune, and for the really diehard fan, you can even buy a matching tee shirt with the lyrics screen-printed across the chest.
Community claymation figurines - Nothing may ever beat "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" as a holiday special episode, and now you can take home the Greendale gang in all their animated glory. No, not the actual puppets used for the stop-motion special (um, they cost thousands of dollars each to make!), but NBC has created miniature versions for all your house decorating pleasure. You can buy them individually, so you just select your favorite character(s), or you can buy them in groups of three and end up with everyone eventually. Full disclosure: these are on my own holiday wishlist!
A hand-blown wine glass that holds a full bottle of wine. Or in my case, a full bottle of Zico coconut water. This is so you and your own cul-de-sac crew can have a "Big Carl," but be sure to give it your own unique name or the Cougar Town "Council" will mock you. And then come up with a weird punishment.
Agloves. These are a must for anyone in cold climates because they are your standard sleek black gloves, wrapped in touch screen technology film so that you don't have to pull the gloves off to text or surf the web for directions when you're out in "weather." Smart!