Episode 23: American Pie (1999)

American Pie cover site

Introduction by Devlin

Like most franchises (at least, pre-Marvel Studios), American Pie wasn’t meant to be a franchise. That’s not to say that Universal didn’t think they might be able to cash in – the speed and ruthless efficiency with which they rushed American Pie 2 to market suggests that they knew their surprise smash hit of 1999 had more juice in the tank. But beyond that? Could there really be anywhere left to go once our horny, sweaty teens had their post-Freshman college blowoff at the beach? Well, as Alyson Hannigan emerged as probably the biggest breakout star of the cast due to her continued prevalence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it made sense to increase her role and we fast-forwarded to the next life milestone in the standard sitcom conveyer belt of life milestones: marriage, as Jim and his adorably nymphomanic girlfriend Michelle decide to tie the knot.

Where American Pie 2 flailed around to try and find some sort of emotional centre around which to construct its dick-centric set pieces and attempt to recapture the mix of bawdiness and vulnerability that left the original film feeling oddly less icky than it should in retrospect (at least, for some of us – we’ll let you listen to the episode and make your own assessments), American Wedding shows its strain with even more flop sweat. Short of one-quarter of its man cast when Chris Klein was somewhat mysteriously excised, any semblance of authenticity and heart that may have snuck in to the original film was snuffed out and replaced with an escalating arms race of gross out and gay panic set pieces. So where does the franchise go from here? Had the bottom of the barrel been scraped clean? Well, yes and no. Our cast may have aged out of the college age cohort, but the IP was still recognisable, and no studio wants to leave money on the table. So, armed with only a surprisingly amenable Eugene Levy and a raft of mini-Stiflers, Universal unleashed 4 straight-to-video sequels on an unimpressed public.

Ever the diligent researcher, our own Gali has bought and watched all of these miserable offerings. I have seen half of two of them, and that was more than enough for me. But these pointless, tawdry little videos, pure product pumped out to flood an already sodden marketplace, may have poisoned the well even for people who weren’t as masochistic as Gali in sitting through them all. In 2012 American Reunion attempted to recapture the magic, to monetise your nostalgic feels and coax you in to paying to remember the furtive glee of your teenage viewings of the original, but the ploy failed to pay off at the box office, as audiences may have clocked the cynicism of the exercise a mile away having spent the last half decade or so skipping over the likes of The Naked Mile and The Book of Love on ITV2. That the film takes place at a 13 year reunion, which even us Brits realise is definitely Not A Thing, just confirms the studio machinations at play behind the scenes.

In this episode, Patrick wanted us to join him on a trip back to ’99, to try and push aside the deluge of later films and see whether, at its core, the original film is still any good. We did the best we could, but of course, examining the later films (2 of which were written by original screenwriter Adam Herz) was at times inevitable, especially as this film started life as a script called “Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million Which Studio Readers Will Likely Hate But I Think You Will Love”. The intersection between commerce and ‘art’ (insofar as a film about a boy having sex with a pastry can exist in the orbit of art) is something that seems to spring up a lot in our discussions – were we hoodwinked in to loving something that existed for nothing more than pure profit? Does it matter, if it gave us enjoyment over the years? Can we still enjoy it once the scales have fallen from our eyes? But such lofty subjects were somewhat waylaid by more pressing concerns, like whether you could ejaculate in to a plastic cup while sitting up in bed, or why Jim’s sock erection is outside of his underwear. For these vital debates and more, we invite you to press play and Throwback with us to the halcyon days of cargo shorts and centre partings, of raging keggers and Barenaked Ladies. As the bards Blink 182 once said, I guess this is growing up.

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