The ‘Fast Times’ Table Read Reminds Us that COVID-19 Culture is the Worst

Famous people being famous, and one weird stoner

The long-promised all-famous Fast Times At Ridgemont High table read appeared on the Internet last Friday after weeks of delay. Host and organizer Dane Cook, apparently not yet canceled, said they’d had technical difficulties which prevented us from seeing the whole thing. This is probably for the best. The video clocks in at just under an hour, even though the first ten minutes feels like two hours.

 

On the one hand, great, they raised several million dollars for charity. Hooray for them. Every dime helps in these hell-times. On the other hand, Fast Times is an iconic movie, but largely because of its performances, its music, and its almost-accidental 80s vibe. The Cameron Crowe script, on the other hand, is hardly a literary masterpiece. Half the video is Morgan Freeman reading stage directions, and it’s boring and awkward.

In terms of memorable moments, other than a Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston encounter that’s so dull InStyle Magazine would reject it for something more newsworthy, the Fast Times table read made headlines only for Shia LaBoeuf’s bizarre stoned performance as Jeff Spicoli. LaBoeuf did his performance from inside a truck while smoking a joint, sweaty and with a towel wrapped around his neck.

LaBoeuf brought a weird energy to the proceedings, but it wasn’t exactly good. And the fact that Sean Penn, the actual Spicoli, was sitting at the bottom of the screen, made it even weirder. If people want to see Sean Penn act at all, it’s to hear him say “all I want is some tasty waves and a cool buzz and I’m fine” one last time before he dies, and before we all die.

Other than that, the Fast Times table read was the usual array of rich celebrities arrayed around one another like a millionaire Brady Bunch. John Legend and Julia Roberts appeared to be having fun and to be no worse the wear from six dreary months in quarantine. But other than Penn, what did any of these people have to do with Fast Times at Ridgemont High?

Princess Bride

It paled in comparison to the recent charity table read of The Princess Bride, which included Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn, and Mandy Patinkin. There was no Matthew McConaughey or Jimmy Kimmel swooping in for a little extra camera time. It was the original cast, as much as they could assemble, with age-appropriate substitutions when necessary, kind of dumb, but also kind of fun. The Fast Times table read, on the other hand, felt like a Hollywood dinner party with one weird guest.

But why should we care care? ‘Fast Times’ raised money, and everyone involved had a good time because they always do. Well, we should care because: what is this garbage? What has our once-great culture become? The very act of releasing a movie in theaters has become a Shakespearian melodrama. Our TV schedule is table scraps of distanced reality shows and game shows, old Canadian imports, and whatever root vegetables we could dig up from the garden. New York City has closed Broadway, possibly forever. While Brad Pitt wears funny vintage hats on YouTube, the industry that spawned him is flopping around like a fish in a nearly-dried-up lake. Instead of fresh cultural meat, we’re getting freeze-dried rehashes of 40-year-old teen movies with famous middle-aged actors who, like the rest of us, don’t have anything else to do. It’s pathetic.

I’ve said before in this space that COVID-19 culture is the worst in human history. The Fast Times table read did nothing to disprove my theory. It merely reminded me, and all of us, of the void that we all face. Six months in, the celebrities are still singing ‘Imagine’ to us. Meanwhile, we try to imagine that something better than a goddamn celebrity table read will be coming along soon.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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