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Battle Of The Banjo Ditties
In addition to yuppie female anti-heroes and social commentary, Jenji Kohan also likes banjo(lele)s.
Halfway through the Season 2 finale of Orange Is The New Black, fans gripping their seats in anticipation wondering what would become of Vee, Crazy Eyes, and Piper (just kidding about that last one) were treated to a musical interlude. Charming galoot and 847th most important character on OITNB, Scott O'Neill, recently purchased a "banjolele" on the internet and has been dying to show off his strummin' and songwriting talents. Luckily for him (and us), a "gaggle of nuns" showed up at Litchfield's front door to protest the prison's treatment of Sister Ingall during her hunger strike. Who better to direct a darling yet critical jingle toward than nuns?
Oddly enough, this is not the first Jenji Kohan show to pull out the banjo to undercut the drama in an otherwise suspenseful season finale. In the Weeds episode "Go," as Nancy Botwin deals with the citywide fire she may or may not have caused (she did), Kevin Nealon's Doug Wilson takes some time to wander around the town's evacuation center and sing some tunes about his fellow Agrestic/Majestic citizens.
But who is the better banjo(lele)ist? Let's take a look at the two and talk it out. (Note: Doug actually sings a few songs over the course of the episode, but for the purposes of this Show Down, we'll just be taking his freshman dorm folk tune "Just Like The Superdome" into consideration.)
Who did it first?
Doug Wilson pulled out his banjo and cultural criticism for Weeds's Season 3 finale (a.k.a. the last episode set in Agrestic/Majestic and therefore the last episode of any real value) back in November 2007. Scott O'Neill strummed his banjolele in the second season finale of Orange Is The New Black released just last month.
Which character do we like better?
Did we really even need Doug Wilson on Weeds? (Short answer: no.) Originally, he served as Nancy's accountant, Andy's smoking buddy, and Celia's sparring partner, but he never had a satisfactory story to himself. (I actually had to check the character's Wikipedia page to remind myself what he had been up to in between putzing around in Weeds's first three good seasons and starting a cult in the series finale. Remember that Mexican woman he pursued for two seasons? Yeah, neither did I.) Doug was supposed to be a comic relief character, but most of his humor derived from played out pot humor and the occasional gay panic joke. Once the Botwins hightailed it out of suburbia, they really should have left him behind with Heylia and Conrad.
O'Neill is, similarly, a source of comic relief but one who enhances every scene in which he's appeared instead of derailing everything with his nonsense. He's one of the few prison guards who doesn't seem super-sketchy. He's been able to tame the gruff, anal cavity obsessed Wanda Bell. He recites the procedures for furlough to Piper by setting it to the tune of "Poker Face." O'Neill is a mensch.
Which song has better lyrics?
Let's take a look at both. First up, "Just Like The Superdome":
Well, this is just like the Superdome
Except no rape or piles of human waste
It's still not quite like home
Even though we got wi-fi, some cookies, and toothpaste
Yeah, it's just like the Superdome,
'cept everyone's white and middle-class
We got some yoga people chanting, oh,
there's lots of Gatorade
and toilet paper to wipe our ass.
This is just like the Super-doh-oh-ome.
For the most part, this is like the songs I used to make up when I was three: basically just listing things in the room I happened to be in at the time. I get what you're trying to do, Doug, but you're not exactly Bob Dylan. Hell, you're not exactly Lana Del Rey either.
And now for "A Little Song About The Nuns":
This is a little song about the nuns:
Fiercer, meaner, crueler than the Huns
I am forced to babysit them
When I thought that I had quit them
Oh, I kinda hope that they all get the runs.
First thing they teach you in writing workshops: show, don't tell. We know that this is a song about the nuns, so there's no need to tell us in your opening line. This is a pattern O'Neill will have to break if his follow-up hit, "This Is A Song About My Mom And Dad And The Divorce That They Should Have Had," is going to go anywhere. But he probably wrote the song on the fly, and it sets up a cute rhyming scheme, so I'll give him a pass. O'Neill's song is a lot more succinct and shows an understanding of melody that Doug's lacks, in that he sets it to a song that already exists (and, conveniently, is in the public domain). Plus, it combines cultural critique with an intimate peek into the songwriter's world.
Who's got the coolest instrument?
In 2007, banjos were not cool. Long gone were the banjo comedy high points of Steve Martin and The Muppet Movie, and Mumford and Sons wasn't around yet to re-appropriate the instrument for their multi-million dollar "folk" act. Banjoleles, on the other hand, are so cool, Zooey Deschanel has already posted a $10,000 reward on Hello Giggles for the first person who can carve one out of a tree from the Hundred Acre Wood, which she believes to be a real place. And she used to be on Weeds, so that's gotta sting.
Whose target audience is the more deserving?
Argue amongst yourselves whether nuns are all "la la la God" or "professional humiliators," but at least they showed up to support one of their own in her time of need. (I know not of nuns; I grew up Jewish. Rabbis are cool, I guess.)
The white suburbanites taking shelter from the Agrestic/Majestic fire aren't committing any vile acts either, but they are Privileged, which Tumblr will tell you is the worst thing a human being can be. In fact, Tumblr would have hated Weeds: a show about a rich white lady selling marijuana so that her kids can continue to go to private school while millions of people sit in prison because of minor drug offenses? They would not make a gif out of that. So, while it's not the citizens of Agrestic/Majestic's fault that they had the resources of yoga and frozen yogurt available to them, let's give this one to Doug anyway and chalk it up as good ol' fashioned Bush-bashing.
Who's the better singer?
Neither one is the next Annie Lennox, but O'Neill's delivery of his "crueler than the Huns" line genuinely made me laugh out loud, and that was the point, wasn't it? Doug, on the other hand, adopts some mumblemouth realness for his performance; I misheard "rape and human waste" as "Ray Romano, you're a waste." He should take the same advice Sheryl Lee Ralph gave to Trinity K. Bonet on this season of RuPaul's Drag Race: "Put a cork in it....That will help with your diction."
Yes, this was set up to let O'Neill win. I can do what I want. Doug is a blight on the face of Weeds and he's not even the coolest TV character to use "Legendary" as a catchphrase.