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Water Coolers, Hamlet 2 - Uncle Orson Reviews Everything

Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
August 31, 2008

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Water Coolers, Hamlet 2

Twenty years ago, a friend of ours was working for a water-cooler company that sold or rented you a water cooler, and then sold and delivered the big water jugs.

For me, the selling point was cold drinking water, even in the summer, without running the tap forever.

Anyway, we started drinking cooled water from those big bottles. Carrying them into the house from the garage became our free-weight training. (Hint: Those weights with bars on them are much safer and easier to grip.)

Since then, our friend long since got out of the business (he got his degree and became a teacher); the company he worked for changed hands and we changed companies; and the original water cooler long since bit the dust.

For years we used a cabinet with no back, which we slid over the front of the water cooler, vastly improving its appearance.

Eventually, though, the cabinet warped slightly and got harder and harder to use. It was impossible to replace, and so we didn't -- we just let the naked cooler and water bottle show. (Maybe it was a good thing that we could no longer stack things on top of the water cooler cabinet.)

The problem was that the coolers we bought weren't as good as the original one. It had lasted more than ten years. The next one we bought at a local big-box store lasted about twenty minutes longer than the warranty. (How do they time these things so exquisitely?)

Then came the one we used for the past six months.

Besides the cold water button, which we used constantly, it had hot water as well. We thought we'd have a lot of hot chocolate, but we found that we got much better results from boiling water in the microwave.

But an unused hot-water feature, once you own it, doesn't hurt anything. The reason we got fed up with this top-of-the-line home-improvement-store cooler was that it runs so loud.

There's always a quiet hum -- we can live with that; our fridge is no quieter. But now and then it would start to hum loudly, like somebody trying to drown out what you're saying to them. And it would keep on humming until we turned the thing off and then on again.

About a month ago, my wife decided she'd had enough. I don't spend much time sitting in the kitchen -- when I'm there, I'm either cooking or eating. But my wife and daughter sit at the table and read or do homework, and that's where most of the news that's watched in our house gets watched.

Not to mention recorded episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway? that seem to come on without anybody actually touching the remote.

The loud cooler was seriously interfering with these activities, as in "If that thing hums at top volume one more time I'm going to take it out to the curb for the scavengers and we can drink tap water."

This time we had learned our lesson. Buying what they happen to have at Lowe's or Home Depot isn't going to be the solution. Twice bitten, thrice shy? We wanted quality this time -- you don't save any money by buying what they carry at a price-driven store.

So my wife went online and, after reading everything she could find, she settled on the offerings at http://www.AquaVerve.com. "Water cooling with style" is their slogan, and they live up to it.

These are water coolers you don't want to hide behind a cabinet. But we wouldn't cross the street for style alone. The design was far more useful than any of the others we had used. The buttons are easy-to-operate levers. The spigot location is obvious, so you don't have to guess and hope that you don't get water all over your hand or the floor.

We were impressed with the design of all their models, even the countertop and bottle-less filtered-water dispensers.

We didn't think the cherry-wood or stainless-steel models would go well with our kitchen, which saved us a hundred bucks or so. We also didn't need hot water, which saved a few more bucks.

We ended up ordering the Pacifik model in white (we're plain-white-appliance people), and when it came, it was easy to set up. They had done the disinfecting at the factory and sent it with all parts completely sealed in plastic. Thus we did not have to go through the nasty "pour bleach through the cooler and then run forty gallons of water through it to get rid of the taste" step.

It assembled easily. Even the sheath that goes over the water bottle -- it took a bit of strength to get the tabs into the slots so it would form a cylinder, but now the thing fits over the bottle so sleekly that doesn't look as if there's room inside the cooler to hold a standard bottle.

It's solid. All the parts work perfectly. Nobody spills because you can see what you're doing. It looks great.

And ... it's quiet.

So now we have the best water cooler we've ever used. Of course we can't say how long it will keep working perfectly, because then I couldn't write this review until it had outlasted the one that we used for a decade.

Meanwhile, we have the most recent ex-Card-family water cooler sitting in our garage. We hate to put it out on the curb for the scavengers, since the thing works exactly as well as it ever did. It still has value -- for hearing impaired people who don't mind when their appliances hum hum HUM at them. But it's hard to give it away to friends. It's like trying to give somebody a dog while telling them, "It won't stop chewing furniture and shoes."

We'll give it away to a service organization, of course. With a 3x5 card that warns about the noise.


The poster for Hamlet 2 quotes Entertainment Weekly writer Owen Gleiberman as saying it's "dementedly hilarious." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone apparently wrote "comedy heaven." Another reviewer called it "this year's Napoleon Dynamite."

Not only that, it had a cast that included Elisabeth Shue and David Arquette. And the premise was promising: A high school drama teacher puts on a production of the sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet.

We walked out after fifteen minutes.

Actually, it felt like we walked out after four hours of being slapped around by a really stupid writer who thought he was smart.

Comedy is hard to write and hard to direct. But supposedly writer-director Andew Fleming (The Craft, The In-Laws, Nancy Drew) has some clue. And co-writer Pam Brady also co-wrote Team America: World Police and is responsible for many episodes of South Park.

Surely somebody could have noticed that this comedy was smug and smarmyand completely unfunny.

If there were waves of laughter coming from the back of the theater, they were so quiet they escaped my notice. Certainly there was no laughter on our row.

Yet as I watched the gags, I could see how they might have sounded funny when the writers were talking them over. The cast and crew might even have laughed when they rehearsed the scenes.

So why did they die? Do we blame the film editor?

We do not. We blame the writers and only the writers.

Here's why: They hated every major character in the movie. All the comedy depended on our seeing these characters with the amused contempt that the writers had for them.

The trouble is, the actors were too good. They kept inviting us to see these people, not as cardboard cutouts the way the writers did, but as living breathing people.

The directing style was hyper-realistic, in a sort of art-house movie way. The acting was low-key and frightfully earnest. You know, the kind of thing that can't be done in animated films and TV shows. (Except the brilliant Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, an animated TV series from 1995-2000.)

So we had these earnest people trying to be likeable, and everything they had to say and do made them stupid and vile. The kind of people who, if they were sitting at the next table, you'd leave the restaurant without finishing your meal.

I'm not going to waste your time recounting unfunny jokes just so I can explain why they weren't funny. And besides, I didn't see the whole movie -- I'm sure I missed the most appallingly bad stuff because I didn't even get to the song "Rock Me Sexy Jesus."

As our daughter, who had the good fortune to be at a dance when my wife and I paid for the privilege of walking out of this movie, said to us, "Why didn't you ask me? I could have told you it was stupid."

Well, we didn't know you'd seen it.

"I didn't see it, I saw the trailer." And she shuddered.

When I said the writer hated all the characters, that was not strictly speaking true. There is a blip of a character -- the reviewer for the high school paper. This reviewer wrote an intellectually pretentious, sneering, savage review of the main character's production of a play version of Erin Brockovich.

It was obvious that this was the one character the writers had respect for. The superior, condescending tone of his review was identical with the superior, condescending tone the writers have toward everyone in the movie.

Smugness just isn't the basis for good comedy.

The idea is still a good one. There should be a comedy called Hamlet 2. There should also be a good comedy about a high school drama program -- one written by somebody who knows how they work (and don't work), who the drama students actually are, and how drama teachers and high schools function in the real world.

But please, keep it away from writers who think they're smart only because they're too stupid to know what "smart" actually is.


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