The Death of Ken Ober

Ken Ober is dead at 52. For all I know, Ken Ober was a nice guy. I truthfully hadn’t even thought about him for more than a decade until people fired the news my way. But since he is dead, his legacy — limited as it was to a somewhat forgotten and not terribly revered television show (well, that, and apparently writing and producing installments of Mind of Mencia) — will be framed around the talent he brought to said program. Like many who grew up during a particular era, I did catch several episodes. I even had a Remote Control T-shirt that I plucked from the Marshall’s bargain bin — largely for its bright hues and the affordability it presented to my parental units at the time. This sartorial decision resulted in me being severely ridiculed in the summer of 1989 by a girl I had a crush on (along with her friends). And even though this little anecdote doesn’t matter at all to me twenty years later, and I bear no malice towards the girl, the shirt, the program, or Ken Ober, I feel the need to preface any thoughts or feelings I bring to the table in order to avoid any possibility of prejudgment. It might indeed win me five points in the new game we are playing, which is certainly more complex than the older one.

What I can state, after reviewing the above clip, is that I’m not terribly interested in Remote Control now, nor am I particularly impressed. The terrible fashion sense embraced by the contestants cannot be helped, for it was of its year. But I find the vaguely stoned looks of this trio a bit troublesome. This is not the kind of condition, whether real or staged, that should be photographed. Unless you’re making a fun little movie like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. There is a striving here without any real effort that absolutely resembles the Williamsburg hipster, which brings us again to the perpetuation of stereotypes without an effort to puncture these impressions. I’m also not sure if Ken Ober really brought anything other than a conventionally smarmy stand-up act.

This doesn’t resemble my memories from the late 1980s. I recall enjoying the program. But today, in 2009, I can find very little to like about it. As tenable concessions, I’ll single out Ken Olin’s striped shirt and the now extinct LED point system that they used to serve up in game shows of the period. But then I have a strange fixation on sounds and symbols that are antediluvian.

The snack breaks, featuring popcorn and other crud drifting from unknown heavens and making a mess onto the contestants, may have been a slight draw. But it was eclipsed by the sticky possibilities of Double Dare years later — a show, like Remote Control, presently in diminished standing. So why are we hanging down our heads? Is it name recognition? Brand recognition? Some galvanizing point for brain-dead television?

I will leave others who soak their noggins in this stuff to argue the possibly legitimate position that Remote Control is good television, or more worthwhile than my admittedly snapshot trip down a certain mnemonic ghetto, and happily read their viewpoints. I only ask this: Was Ken Ober necessary? Or could another man have filled his place? (I can see a young Kevin Pollack doing this much better.) And if the latter is true, then why bother to go to the trouble of spending serious time taking in the death of Ken Ober? Perhaps he was entertaining. And for those who mourn Ken Ober’s loss and who feel some stir inside the heart based on a tenuous cultural relationship, my condolences. But what did Ken Ober really do for anybody aside from suggest that we scarf down Hot Pockets and keep our heads into the sand? Maybe I’m just hostile to the sustained celebration of bad television, but I’m genuinely curious.

On the other hand, Edward Woodward is also dead. Now that’s a great equalizer.