So what shall we call this theme? Take a phrase (from the sphere of entertainment) that includes a two-letter component, and then re-imagine the two-letter part and clue accordingly. With wacky results.
Maybe it's better if we get right to the examples. The first one that I understood while solving was LIFEOFPI (Backstory for TV's Magnum?). Kind of simple - using the "biography" definition of "life" - but it works. For the first one I had the Z, and entered THEWIZARDOFoz almost instinctively, even though it didn't really fit with "Bouncer who can always spot a fake?" It wasn't until much later, when TRADEFOR (Acquire midseason, as a sports team might) became clear, that I finally changed it to THEWIZARDOFID - which is much better. "The Wizard of I.D." And I think it was even later than that before I understood IMABELIEVER (Advice for how the pope can reach out online?). I think it was the "online" part of the clue that confused me there - do people really consider IMs to be "online?" I realize that they are carried by the same network, but when I hear "online" I think of things that are available on the World Wide Web, which is not how I think of IMs, but that could just be a function of my coming from a generation that knew the world without the Internet. Or it could be simple ignorance. I'll let you decide.
Anyway, I liked the theme. And I liked the puzzle, even though it was one of those Thursday puzzles that falls into the category of "harder than Wednesday and easier than Friday." Well, I can't really say that yet, but that's the way Mr. Shortz has described his criterion for Thursday. It doesn't always have to have a trick. And that's fine by me. Without a standard, nothing would shine. Of course, this reminds me of a line from the Tao te Ching -
When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good, other things become bad.
Sometimes competition and comparison can be destructive. The important thing, I guess, is to understand where that's true and where it's not. Otherwise, what have we been doing these past many years? Why are we discussing the puzzles at all? Maybe it isn't to compare them, but to share them with others, to create community and belonging, rather than to tear down or lift up. Of course, maybe we have done a little of each in the past, but, to continue that verse:
Therefore the Master acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess, acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.