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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Beanie Mania’ on HBO Max, a Consistently Amusing Documentary About the Beanie Babies Craze

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Beanie Mania’ on HBO Max, a Consistently Amusing Documentary About the Beanie Babies Craze

Just as Disney+ delivers us a heaping holiday pile of Beatlemania, HBO Max gifts us Beanie Mania, a ’90s-nostalgia just-deep-enough dive into the Beanie Babies craze. Not since the Great Cabbage Patch Riots of ’84 had American consumerism been so out of control, although the difference is, instead of adults trying to guarantee Christmas-day happiness for their demanding little brats, they were collecting adowable widdle stuffed animals for themselves. Some were just obsessed over how got damn stinkin’ cute they are. A lucky few found a way to make money on the secondary collector’s market. And others thought they could “invest” in a Princess Di bear and pay for their kid’s college tuition. There are lessons to be learned here, and this documentary isn’t afraid to address them.

The Gist: It all started with a few white ladies in Naperville, Illinois – because of course it did. In the mid-1990s in the culs-de-sac of the affluent suburban Midwest, where triple-wide driveways flank brick McMansions, Joni, Becky and Mary Beth decided they liked cute little hand-sized stuffies produced by modestly sized toy company Ty Inc., and wanted to collect them all. An inauspicious beginning, yes, but one that would find Ty founder, future billionaire and eventual criminal tax evader H. Ty Warner ignoring how Mary Beth helped stir nationwide consumer frenzies for his products, and suing her for copyright infringement. So this story has its heroes and villains, a couple who fall somewhere in-between, and a nation of millions who caused a subsequent consumer demand for plastic totes so they can shove their hundreds of worthless Beanie Babies beneath the basement steps. (The real winner here? Probably Rubbermaid.)

At the time, Ty Inc. had 14 employees, and Warner – characterized here as an elusive, Oz/Wonka type – seemed like a nice guy with a crisp mind for marketing. Modest! He had no interest in selling his wares in Wal Marts and the like; he preferred the mom-and-pops, the Hallmark franchisees and gift shops. Noble! He hired Lina as a telemarketer, and after she suggested putting cute little poems inside the tags of the first line of Beanie Babies, he asked her to write them. Aww, sweet! After Ty made billions, Warner was still paying Lina $12 an hour, so she quit. Typical!

We get to know the first Beanie wacko- er, enthusiasts. The ’90s were a “frivolous” time, says Joni, which is easy to declare when you’re an upper-middle-class Caucasian. She was a Beanie collector and writer for People magazine who got the one and only interview ever with Warner. Mary Beth quit her corporate job and started a Beanie Babies hobbyist magazine that sold hundreds of thousands of copies (and eventually inspired the aforementioned lawsuit). We meet Peggy, a 60ish woman who has way too many effing pillows on her couch. The little stuffies made her giggle, so she started buying too many of them, hiding them from her husband, but she eventually confessed. Her reasoning? He collected Porsches and Mercedes, so her hobby wasn’t so expensive. She eventually reveals that she’s still in the Beanie Babies authentication racket, and has graded and authenticated more than 125,000 of the little f—ers, at $20-$25 a pop. Do the math. Or don’t, if you’d rather not be P.O.’d.

These women are key figures in the craze, because they used to compete against each other, calling stores across the country and buying up Beanies. Their actions soon stirred collectors’ interest, which Ty capitalized upon by launching a website – perhaps one of the first blogs ever! – allowing the company to tease products, and providing a hub for people to chat and fuel borderline-unhealthy obsessions. We meet a woman who wrote “The Beanie Rap,” which is just as unlistenable as you’d expect. We see a bumper sticker that reads “Bankrupted by Beanies,” then meet a woman who’s still paying off her Beanie Baby-related credit card debt today. One goofy old TV-news clip after another illustrates how the media fueled the buying frenzy.

“Rare” and “retired” Beanies started selling for hundreds, even thousands, on eBay. Stores were packed with Beanie-snatching mobs. Trucks full of Beanies were hijacked by thieves. McDonald’s did a Teenie Beanie promotion and people bought dozens of Happy Meals at a time, shitcanning the cheeseburgers and keeping the toys. Counterfeit Beanies were trucked over from China and sold to suckers. A crate of Beanies fell off a truck on a five-lane expressway and lunatics stopped their cars to jump into speeding traffic and grab them. And eventually, the balloon deflated, as it does with all fads, and Warner became one of America’s richest a-holes. Somewhere, in the darkness, we can hear a Furby, cackling his ass off.

BEANIE MANIA MOVIE
Photo: HBO Max

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Beanie Mania is a more substantive version of Netflix series The Toys That Made Us, mixed with the loosey-goosey tone of nutty HBO doc Class Action Park.

Performance Worth Watching: Harry, a.k.a. the “Beanie Meanie,” is an expert in the secondary collector’s market with a bit of a crusty personality. He not only foresaw the crash, he debated Mary Beth on TV – please, please roll your eyes – about Beanie Babies, on surely what was the slowest news day on record.

Memorable Dialogue: “Come on folks – they’re just Beanie Babies.” – a random elementary-school-age boy gives us the film’s sanest commentary via an old TV-news clip

Sex and Skin: None. I’m sure Beanie Baby porn exists somewhere on the internet, but the film doesn’t acknowledge it.

Our Take: Sorry, but your “rare” Squealer Beanie ain’t worth doodledy-squat. Goodwill might take him, but they probably have more than their share. Back under the steps he goes!

Yeah, this is all pretty entertaining. Beanie Mania is a quick-paced, 80-minute nostalgia-heavy doc chock-full of people with amusing and interesting things to say, although one of them definitely isn’t Warner, because he is to this movie what GM chairman Roger Smith is to Roger and Me. Director Yemisi Brookes takes an even-handed approach to the subject matter, keeping it light and funny without stooping to ridicule anyone, or capitalize on any schadenfreude. There’s no finger-wagging here, but there are plenty of big laughs.

The doc is a terrific piece of feature-style journalism that isn’t afraid to address some underlying topical fodder: How the secondary market works, not as a place for “investment,” but for capitalizing on the collector mentality. How collecting has the potential to be a destructive addiction. The role of the media in cultural trends. The groupthink mentality of what we now know as FOMO (you know – Fear Of Missing Out). The cynical motives of greedy capitalists like Warner, who kept all the money for himself and treated his employees poorly, and whose manipulative marketing sought to exploit collectors (he’s the toy-collector’s version of Kiss or Cher, who’ve been on a few “final tours” each).

On one hand, Beanie Mania is a hoot. On the other, it’s a featherweight cautionary tale. Brookes never discusses how children play with Beanie Babies, and for good reason – they rarely did. The Beanie Babies game was played by adults, so we shouldn’t feel too bad when we laugh at some 58-year-old’s Ziggy the zebra slumped on the shelf, tag still on his ear, immersed in his own collection: dust.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Beanie Mania has the sheen of a guilty-pleasure documentary, and it’s exactly that. But it also sneaks some substance into its narrative. It’s a fun watch.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.

Stream Beanie Mania on HBO Max

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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