Friday, June 1, 2018

VHS Review: 'Dorf Goes Fishing' (1993)

Yep … people actually paid $19.99 for this crap back in the day.


By: Jimbo X

Like all bygone eras, people tend to overly-romanticize the 1990s. Sure, the decade certainly had its finer aspects (Sega, Dunkaroos, actual NHL coverage on ESPN, etc.) but by and large it wasn’t that much different from the modern world we inhabit today.

Yes, mobile technologies have changed the way we work, communicate and navigate the world around us, and people do seem to be considerably fatter than they were 25 years ago, but beyond that? Daily life was practically indistinguishable from life in 2018. You woke up, you had coffee, you watched TV for a little bit, you went to the office, you fielded phone calls, you complained over the printers not working right, you sat in traffic for an ungodly amount of time, you went home, your wife yelled at you for working too long and you usually fell asleep while watching reruns of Good Times, or, if you were feeling a little more cerebral, after reading five pages of the latest Tom Wolfe novel.

You see, our pop cultural uber alles hivemind wants us to remember the 1990s as Jurassic Park and Nirvana and the Super Nintendo, while conveniently glossing over the fact that (ironically) 90 percent of the decade’s commercialized entertainment fodder was downright stupid. For every Pinkerton and Gunstar Heroes, you had about 15 Snow albums, 24 Chester Cheetah video games and, at last approximation, around 87 or 89 TV shows starring Matthew Lawrence … not to mention the deluge of Power Rangers imitators, half-baked Mortal Kombat klones and — dare I say it? — the plethora of releases from Enya, Kenny G and, heaven help us, fuckin' Chant.

Long story short, there was a lot of suck in the 1990s, and you 2000s-era babies who thought it was a golden epoch for all things don’t even KNOW what kind of crap you (luckily) missed out on. You kids want to see what the 1990s was REALLY like? Unplug the Playstation and toss that Crash Bandicoot disc in the garbage, there is NO singular pop cultural product that TRULY demonstrates the core essence of the decade more than this pile of magnetic-tape-powered dookie we’re looking at today called Dorf Goes Fishing.

… I don’t even know how to begin this one. There’s really no way to explain this to anybody who didn’t grow up in the 1990s, so I already feel like I’m having to teach you Chinese arithmetic in Roman numerals. Still, it’s my job as a writer to at least try, and well, here goes nothin’.

Tim Conway is this comedian guy that had a shtick where he got on his knees, socked shoes over his patellas and pretended to be a midget. Sometimes they’d stick his legs in holes so he could lean forward and backward all crazily-like, but for the most part? That was his entire gimmick. And yeah, I know he was on The Carol Burnett Show, but do I look like somebody who would even remotely care about such nonsense?

Anyway, Conway’s character Dorf somehow managed to star in his own series of straight-to-video specials, and trust me, advertisements for those things were nigh inescapable in the mid-1990s. It seemed like commercials for Dorf Goes Fishing aired every hour or so on The Weather Channel, and I recall one Christmas in which no less than three members of my family received copies of the video as gifts. Come to think of it, I seem to recall my grandpa having a VHS copy, although I’m not entirely sure he ever removed the factory plastic. Regardless, we never screened it at his humble abode — even when the cable went off.

And after rewatching this relic for the first time in at least 25 years, I understand why — a static, grey scrambled screen actually is preferable to the product itself in this case. But hey, don’t take my word for it — how about we relive the wonder and the splendor together, readers?

The video begins with Tim Conway extolling the therapeutic benefits of fishing — and of course, his fishing line keeps fucking up on him, because THAT IS COMEDY.

...but when I whack my wife over the head with a cooler, all of a sudden it becomes "domestic abuse" instead of slapstick.

By the way, is Tim Conway alive or dead? Eh, I'm too lazy to Google it. We join Dorf as he reminisces on the first time he went fishing next to a sandy cove. And yep, he's falling back and forth and side to side because, good golly, is that ever hilarious.

Next, we cut to a skit about how a caveman (also played by Conway) discovered fishing. By the way, the segment is narrated by Conway, who is using a crappy Italian accent, for no discernible reason whatsoever. Man, this production values are WAY lower than I remembered. As in, the actual stock of the video is just barely above cable access quality. Also — with that bush mustache and parted hairdo, Conway does indeed look a lot like Hitler. 

Anyway, "Grunt the Caveman" tries to use all sorts of inventions to fish, including a bow and arrow and a big stick with a rock tied to it like a baseball bat. Then he gets slung into the wild blue yonder by a computer-generated palm tree. Yep, this is CONSIDERABLY lamer than I remembered, and I honestly didn't think that was possible.

Now Dorf is giving us a primer on what wardrobe to wear for a fishing trip, complete with some of the worst greenscreen effects you've seen ... well, probably ever. Oh boy, just wait until he tries to put the fanny pack on ... it's a goddamn laugh riot. Oh, and I hope you like jokes about Dorf accidentally punching himself in the lips while zipping up his jacket ... because they use that gag TWICE.

Man, I'm starting to get motion sickness from this camerawork, and I'm not even joshing you. Well, anyway, after that segment drags on for about four minutes (no, for real), we hop back to Dorf (again rocking that awful Italian accent) and he's brought his big, fat annoying ballbusting, complaining bitch of a wife fishing with him because she wants to take pictures of their afternoon out and they bicker and complain to each other for awhile and then she conks him over the head with a cooler. Apparently, Conway and pals were just pleased as punch with that one — hence, its prominent placement in the TV commercials for the video.

An interesting aside; while the commercials for this tape featured a laugh track, the actual video cassette itself doesn't. But we DO get a lot of cartoon-quality sound effects, though, if that makes up for it.

So Dorf's wife fishes with bacon while he fishes with some high tech expensive lure. Now his accent has transitioned into a bad Mike Ditka impersonation. Then he yanks bubble gum out of his wife's mouth in a sped-up sequence, because that CLEARLY makes the act of quasi-spouse abuse all the more hilarious. Oh goddamn, we're not even halfway through this fucking thing. The wife busts Dorf's balls some more for leaving the coffee maker on and not feeding their pet bird before they left. Then we segue to a "Discount in Price $hopping Network" skit, which is a pastiche of QVC and HSN and all that shit. I have no idea why the models are wearing George Washington wigs, so don't even ask.

Another computer generated fish eats one of Dorf's weighing scales and an electric filleting knife pokes Dorf's tires out. Now it's time for a parody of an exercise video and ... goddamn, this is bad. It's basically just Dorf raising his hands up and down over and over again while his hairpiece flutters in the wind. We got some more sped-up scenes of Dorf almost getting killed using shoddy fishing equipment, complete with — you guessed it! — more primitive CGI effects. Oh, and at one point, Dorf uses a cartoon radar system to run over people in a pontoon boat and crash into some campers, all the while referring to random people as "krautheads."

We cut back to Dorf and his wife fishin' and complaining to each other. You see, the joke is Dorf can't catch shit with his high tech rod and reel, while his wife can catch a whole bunch of shit using a crappy pole. Man, that is FUNNY.

Now it's time to watch Dorf IN DRAG for a terrible Julia Childs impersonation as we take a look at a fishing cooking show parody. Jesus, this thing cannot end soon enough.

Yep ... the thing goes on for EIGHT MINUTES. This is so bad I can't even make fun of it — it's just painful. This isn't comedy, this is the opposite of comedy.

And our video concludes with Dorf fishing under the moonlight, STILL trying to catch a single fish while his wife bitches at him offscreen. Cue end credits, and mercifully, this one is, thankfully, all over.

Not gonna' lie ... I do kinda want that keychain, for totally inexplicable reasons.

Yeah, that was about as much fun as getting a rectal biopsy, wasn’t it? Needless to say, there’s pretty much no reason for anyone to ever experience this … unless, of course, the intent is to showcase just how misguided en vogue ‘90s nostalgia actually is, sometimes.

According to Wikipedia, Dorf Goes Fishing is just one of EIGHT straight-to-video Dorf specials. Yep, eight, including no less than two that revolve around golfing. There are also Dorf special about auto racing, baseball and the Olympics, if you’re so inclined, and if you are … well, here’s a relevant article you might want to take to heart. VERY much to heart, actually.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me abhor myself for having an “obscure media” obsession. There’s nothing funny, creative, or generally noteworthy about the video, and I genuinely feel miffed about having spent 40 minutes of my life screening it when I could’ve been doing something more productive with my existence. Not even getting the opportunity to eviscerate it in this post after the fact really justifies the upfront investment in this one. I hardly regret doing anything, but by golly, I honestly regret rewatching this rubbish.
Trust me — you’d have more fun watching that floating Dorf keychain sit still on a kitchen table than you will watching this video. And that, my friends, is the undisputed truth.

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