How ‘Shasta McNasty’ Brought Rap Rock to Primetime and Killed the 90s
Shasta McNasty was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Lewd, crude, and politically incorrect, Shasta McNasty took American Pie-vulgarity and brought it to primetime. Feeding off the oozing machismo of its lead in, UPN’s WWF Smackdown, the show was an accumulation of all the things 1999 was and would mean for the future. The characters were unlikable, stupid, and criminal, playing for an era still riding high on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s gigantic foam middle finger, Fred Durst’s backwards red Yankee caps, and the nihilistic misogyny that brought Eminem to the top of the charts. Shasta McNasty looks and feels like 1999, because it was a scrapbook of a culture in decline.
The show follows the trials and tribulations of a Californian rap rock band called Shasta McNasty. With character models based on such luminaries of the period as Bradley Nowell, the aforementioned Fred Durst, Stifler, and The Offspring’s Dexter Holland, the show celebrates the overconfident underachievers that personified the post-grunge hard rock scene. The three leads, Dennis, Randy, and Scott, slack off and play dumb whether they’re trying to scam a free pizza or just filming their neighbor undress. It’s like South Park without the satire, jokes, or winking knowledge that everything on this show is wrong.
The show has no qualms with the lifestyle it portrays. A rundown of the pilot should give you an idea of what were dealing with:
- Dennis (Jake Busey) and Randy (Dale Godboldo) start their day by reviewing tapes of their neighbor undressing.
- The neighbor remains nameless throughout the show’s run. She is simply credited as “Our Girl.”
- Scott (Carmine Giovinazzo) laments that he wishes “their girl” would break up with her boyfriend and he breaks the fourth wall to explain the setting, characters, and history of the band.
- To get “their girl” to dump her boyfriend, Shasta hatches a scheme to break into her apartment and plant a pair of woman’s underwear.
- They use this logic: if breaking into someone’s house and leaving something is criminal, then they should string up Santa Claus.
- Scott breaks into “their girl”’s apartment. A parrot attacks him in a scene that is almost a beat for beat the same as the MTV Movie Award-winning bout between Fluffy the dog and Ben Stiller in There’s Something About Mary.
- Scott leaps from a four-story window in a shot that is actually pretty funny—forgive me, I have a soft spot for literal dummies falling out windows.
- Shasta McNasty raps on the way to the hospital.
- The gang discovers that their plan was too successful and that “their girl” has a new girlfriend. They watch on their closed circuit TV as “their girl” and her new girlfriend have sex.
- This happens:
There’s a whole lot of sketchy voyeurism, misogyny, plugs for professional wrestling, and because it’s 1999, Verne Troyer joins the cast shortly after the pilot.
To understand Shasta McNasty, it helps to know who helped bring it to life. It seems less like the brainchild of creator Jeff Eastin and more of another grab at the zeitgeist by producer Neal Moritz. Throughout his career, Moritz specialized in taking the superficialities of the culture and putting them on screen. He first scored with a few Scream-style knock offs, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, and The Skulls, and cashed in at the height of the WB’s teen drama success with Cruel Intentions. Though these films used the same assortment of stars to create their own sub-genre of movies, which revolved around melodramatic TV shows on Fox and the WB. The Jennifer Love Hewitts, Sarah Michelle Gellars, Ryan Phillipes, and Joshua Jacksons were the faces, and Moritz was one of the few who helped cultivate their stars.
In many ways, Shasta McNasty continues this trend. Draining every bit of popular entertainment it can bleed from Spencer’s Gifts, Shasta McNasty overloads itself on the expectations of the era. The warm, over-saturated colors evoke the same pep and Orange County-flavor of music videos by Nigel Dick, McG, and Dave Meyers. It’s no surprise that the show is set in the heart of this style, Venice Beach, California, where the light blues, bright oranges, and bleach blonde hair can pop right out of the screen. The cartoonish world of Shasta McNasty, in look and logic, is like an adaptation of the “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” music video or simply the residual self-image of every teenage Eminem diehard of the era.
The pilot is directed by someone imitating that music video style, someone who probably didn’t need to: Dennis Dugan, the man partly responsible for Adam Sandler’s film career. Dugan has had an interesting career directing some of the most financially lucrative, yet critically reviled comedies of the last two decades. Of course, while he was able to ride on the tail of Adam Sandler’s meteoric rise, his ability to stay out of the way of his star has always been his asset. Happy Gilmore, Dugan’s best movie, is the Adam Sandler show. As such, Dugan frames the best of Sandler’s short temper and sweet intentions in the foreground and an amazing supporting cast in the background — in case you forgot, Joe Flaherty, Christopher McDonald, Kevin Nealon, Carl Weathers, and Ben Stiller all round out the movie. This works again in 2000’s woefully underrated Saving Silverman, but his style suffers from diminishing returns. His recent movies, Grown Ups, Jack and Jill, and, perhaps the only movie to feature Dave Matthews picking up a coconut with his butt and feeding it to Nicole Kidman, Just Go With It, look more like Sandler’s vacation videos than comedies. Dugan is a director who aligns stars and lets them do their thing, as shown by Dave Matthews, a coconut, and Nicole Kidman, but he needs stars with the charisma to pull it off.
Because the cast seems unsure of the script and the script seems unsure of itself, Dugan muddies the playing field with a whole lot of cartoony weirdness. The show takes elements from The Monkees, especially in the musical segments, sans the charm. Meanwhile, the actors leave a beat after each joke as if they’re waiting for a laugh track that never comes. There’s a whole lot of silence in this episode. Unlike Eastbound & Down, a perfect example of the type of humor Shasta McNasty aims for, no moral center grounds the main characters in a reality. They offer no backbone to the show, which would serve as reflection for the humor. Instead, the band objectifying and pretty much violating their neighbor is considered normal.
Though, to be fair, Shasta McNasty attempted to fix its more glaring problems early on. First, UPN dropped the McNasty from the title, because focus group research proved that the show was just a little too McNasty for average viewers — or, at least, that’s what I like to think happened. Next, while the show opened to 4.5 million wrestling fans who stuck around after Smackdown to check out the premiere, UPN moved the show to a different night, deciding that this was too strong a performance for a show that features a parrot biting a man in the penis. As the show continued, it began to tone back the rampant sexism, over-saturated, handheld video look, and outright insanity. But things went from crazy to boring, and the numbers fell. By the time the show got to its final episode, a hyper-meta Behind the Music-style look at the band, Shasta McNasty had been canceled altogether.
Shasta McNasty had all the ingredients to be a hit show in 1999. It had South Park’s vulgarity, There’s Something About Mary’s animal abuse, and Verne Troyer, but as humanity crawled from the rubble left in the wake of Y2k, audiences began clamoring for more. After all, Ben Stiller was no longer a hopeless romantic stalking his high school crush, he was going to meet his fiancée’s parents. Shasta McNasty overdosed on too much of what made up the previous millennium, making it one of the last places rap rock would be considered a viable commodity.