Kevin: Last year we celebrated Steven Seagal’s birthday with a comprehensive look back at the life and career of one of the most unlikely movie stars ever to come out of Hollywood, whose quick rise and fall from the Tinseltown A-list still gave us some of our favorite moments from our favorite period in action movie history. Unfortunately we weren’t able to cover all of his highlights, but with the recent revival of “Roseanne” proving to be a ratings juggernaut, we’d figured this year we’d celebrate our favorite bone-breaker’s 66th year on the planet with a flashback to the time he and Roseanne Barr crossed paths on a very special episode of her show: “Roseambo.”
It’s no surprise if you don’t recall this historic moment, as it occurred during the infamous ninth season of “Roseanne” that even die-hard fans of the show try to pretend never happened, since it began with the Connors winning a $100 million lottery and ended with the revelation that much of the series may have been a figment of Roseanne’s imagination. During the course of the increasingly surreal season, Roseanne fantasizes about posing for Playboy, Jackie is wooed by an Eastern European prince, and Dan’s mother tries to repeatedly murder him, but in terms of sheer WTFuckery, not even the weirdest “Baywatch Nights” episode could hold a candle to “Roseambo.”
(Note: Everything I am about to say actually happened on an episode of a show that was originally about the ordinary struggles of a working class family.)
The episode begins with Roseanne recounting to a group of reporters how she has “taken the American woman from housewife to international terrorist fighter,” after which we flash back to see Roseanne and her family (minus Dan, Becky, and Darlene) taken hostage by gunmen from the fictional country of Monostan. We learn that one of Roseanne’s fellow passengers is preparing to give a speech to the United Nations denouncing Monostan’s abysmal human rights record, which apparently consists of yanking out the eyes and teeth of their women, cutting off their tongues, and sewing their mouths shut (hilarious, right?). Since we all know nothing strikes fear into the hearts of oppressive regimes like a speech at the UN, the Monostanians are determined to stop him by derailing the train and killing everyone on board.
Now based on the name of their country and their views toward women, you may have a certain idea in your head of what these Monostan terrorists probably look like. Well maybe it’s time to reassess your views on profiling there sport, because I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume this is not what you pictured:
Either way, these backwards and diverse women-haters didn’t count on having to deal with a sassy and overweight domestic goddess, as Roseanne makes her escape with a rather unconvincing gymnastics move onto the roof of the train, after which she looks into the camera and says, “Eat your heart out, Kerri Strug,” in reference to the athlete who helped the U.S. women’s gymnastics team take gold in the previous Summer Olympics despite a broken ankle. But apparently whoever did the closed captioning for this episode is not a big sports fan or is just hard of hearing themselves, because this is what they wrote instead:
After this we get Roseanne’s version of the “gearing up” montage made famous in “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” and while she dons Stallone’s iconic red headband, this sequence also indicates that the actress must have been a Steven Seagal fan in real life. For one thing, while there were many “terrorists take over XYZ” films that she could have chosen to parody, the fact that she set “Roseambo” on a train indicates she is as big a fan of Seagal’s highly underrated sequel “Under Siege 2” as I am. Meanwhile, the fact that she also wears the same kind of jacket Seagal sports in “On Deadly Ground” may be a sign that she either supports his environmental activism, or she actually loves the movie and is thus as insane as her Twitter history would indicate:
Roseanne then takes out the train’s captors using everything in her disposal – including tampons as projectile weapons – while firing off hilarious zingers like “Avon calling!” and “Clean up in aisle four!” Well, I guess you had to be there. Wait, I was there, and they still weren’t funny, never mind. And way before “Zero Dark Thirty,” Roseanne addressed similar moral and ethical issues surrounding the use of torture, in this case when she extracts information from one of the terrorists by using a mixer on his fake beard in a powerful and disturbing sequence:
Now by this point you are probably getting ready to ask, “Hold up, you haven’t mentioned if she’s kicked anyone in the balls yet, that had to have happened at some point right?” Well don’t worry, like the total pro that she is, Roseanne knows you save that kind of comedy gold for the very end, in this case during her climactic battle with the head terrorist on top of the train (once again, the following clip is not a hoax, this was actually filmed and aired on primetime TV to millions of households):
You’re also probably about to ask, “So where the fuck is Seagal?” At least that’s what I was asking myself with about a minute to go in the episode when I originally watched it in 1996, since the only reason I tuned in was to see his guest appearance. Well in this case Seagal literally appears out of nowhere in a vision to Roseanne, and after she tells him she’s studied all of his teachings, “especially those on home video,” he gives her one final lesson before fading out again: “But you did resort to violence. I think you need to realize that the only enemy is within you. If you can dissolve into emptiness, you’ll realize they cannot resist that which does not exist. This is the true nature of shunyata.”
At least I think that’s what he said, I was kind of distracted by all this shit going on in front of him during his big scene:
Of course the fact that they chose to use Seagal’s heavily hyped cameo to burn through the show’s closing credits was another indication that his star was beginning to fade, as “Roseambo” aired only a few weeks after his dreary serial killer thriller “The Glimmer Man” fizzled at the box office. But the fact that Roseanne Barr is back on top in primetime after more than 20 years gives us hope Seagal can have a similar comeback, but even if we never get an “Under Siege 3,” perhaps Roseanne could at least see fit to revisit one of the weirdest television episodes in history with “Roseambo 2.”
Until then, if you want to check out Seagal’s brief foray into the world of primetime sitcoms you can check it out on Amazon Prime, and if want to revisit some of his better career highlights, please enjoy our birthday celebration from last year below:
(Originally posted April 10, 2017)
Kevin: If you felt an excruciating pain when you woke up this morning, it was probably one of your limbs snapping itself in half in celebration of the birth of cinema’s most legendary bone-breaker, Steven Seagal, who was born on this day in Lansing, Michigan 65 years ago. Seagal went on to become one of the most unlikely stars Hollywood has ever produced, and I’m sure future generations will wonder how a glowering, humorless weirdo – who in his movies often came off as more sadistic than the bad guys –briefly became a top box-office draw. Hell, I unabashedly love Seagal’s movies and even I have a hard time explaining it, but I’ll try.
Perhaps the biggest part of his appeal was the fact that Seagal was unlike any action star before or since. When he burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, most action stars like Arnold, Sly, Chuck, and Bruce were Republicans who often kicked righteous ass in the name of America. In contrast, Seagal’s characters were often disillusioned former government agents, and his movies contained explicitly left-wing messages about the dangers posed by American corporations and foreign policy.
While guys like Arnold and Sly were famous for their post-kill one-liners, Seagal seemed almost incapable of humor, as his reputation as one of the least-liked “Saturday Night Live” hosts in the show’s history can attest. And while even the toughest star would occasionally find himself ever so briefly injured and on the ropes in a movie, Seagal could fight through an entire film and barely get a scratch.
(I remember first watching “Out for Justice” and wondering how they were going to make William Forsythe a believable opponent for Seagal. Turns out they didn’t, Seagal just brutally beats him up for five minutes and then kills him by sticking a corkscrew into his brain).
Also Seagal had a ponytail, which was pretty damn rare.
While the details of Seagal’s past are “murky” to say the least, with some hints – usually made by Seagal himself – of possible work for the CIA, it is known that he took an interest in the martial arts discipline of aikido at an early age in America and eventually became the first Westerner to operate a dojo in Japan. Aikido is a fighting style in which you use an opponent’s force against them, and is supposed to be ideal for smaller fighters taking on larger enemies. I’ll take their word for it, as I’ve only ever seen it demonstrated by the 6-foot-4 Seagal against small Asian men, as in this early footage of him demonstrating the “randori,” a test in which a student must fend off multiple attackers for an indeterminate amount of time until his teacher decides he has effective control of the situation:
After returning to America, Seagal followed in the footsteps of Bruce Lee by training a number of celebrity clients including James Coburn, who apparently was so impressed that he brought Seagal along to demonstrate aikido to a national audience on “The Merv Griffin Show” (look out for Coburn at the end when Merv thanks him for bringing the show “another winner”):
While his marriage to “Weird Science” actress Kelly Le Brock certainly increased his profile further, it was another of his celebrity clients – CAA super agent Mike Ovitz – who helped secure him his first starring role in 1988’s “Above the Law,” which Mike and Anthony did their own Tag Team on a few weeks back. Here is how Seagal was introduced to audiences, in an opening credits sequence where he narrates a Hollywoodized version of his upbringing over old photos, as well as gives a demonstration of aikido to unfamiliar American viewers:
But while “Above the Law” was a good introduction for Seagal, it didn’t show us the “range” he was capable of. For that we would have to wait for 1990’s “Hard to Kill,” in which Seagal plays detective Mason Storm, who after being gunned down along with his wife, wakes up from a seven-year coma seeking revenge and apparently also ready to get back into the dating scene, since he quickly hooks up with his nurse played by Le Brock. Tough Guy Digest has previously highlighted Seagal’s one line reading that should have secured him a seat at the Oscars that year:
But hey don’t take my word for it, even the esteemed critic for the New York Times in her review of “Hard to Kill” called Seagal “the latest and suavest inheritor of the Charles Bronson-Chuck Norris-Bruce Lee action film mantle.” Many actors would be humbled about the idea of following in those footsteps, but thank god humility has never been a trait shared by Steven Seagal, which is why he kept right on going and just a few months later delivered my all-time favorite Seagal flick, “Marked for Death” (which by the way was Twentieth Century Fox’s second-highest grossing movie that year behind “Home Alone”):
There are a number of reasons why I love “Marked for Death”: it has the best fight scenes of any Seagal movie, his best sidekick by far in Keith David, and the best Seagal opponent in Screwface, the leader of a Jamaican drug gang that has rather improbably taken root in a small middle-class town outside Chicago without drawing any attention. As played with gusto by Basil Wallace, Screwface is such an awesome villain that not only does he get his own theme song sung by Jimmy Cliff, but he gets killed TWICE! First he gets beheaded by Seagal in Jamaica, but when Seagal returns to Chicago he discovers Screwface isn’t one man but actually twin brothers.
Then during their final battle, Screwface 2.0 becomes the recipient of easily the greatest death in Seagal movie history: Seagal gouges out both his eyes, throws him through a wall, breaks his spine over his knee, and tosses him down an elevator shaft, where he is impaled on a spike below. There is a reason we recommended Screwface as part of a much more badass version of the “Suicide Squad”:
The next year gave us “Out for Justice,” which is largely remembered for the scene in which Seagal appears to be somewhat vexed and perturbed that none of the gents in this pool hall has seen this “Richie” individual he keeps mentioning. While nothing will ever top his “blood bank” line, Seagal in this scene gives a tour de force (and I mean “force” literally) performance as a giant swaggering asshole who insults and then physically assaults people who are doing nothing more than just wanting to shoot some pool in peace:
CLICK HERE to read the rest of our Steven Seagal birthday tribute, and hit the links below to our other Seagal-related articles from the past year: