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A Neighbor's Deception

There Goes the Neighborhood
While soundtrack music pulsates, a young man in denim searches for a terrified young woman. She hides under the bed to escape his clutches, but doesn't manage to get away. The next thing we see is a couple moving away from the city, attractive Ashley Bell (as Chloe) and her lawyerly husband Adam Mayfield (as Michael Anderson). They have been successfully trying to have a baby and Ms. Bell has had a nervous breakdown. The new neighborhood seems ideal, but the older couple next-door, retired psychiatrist Tom Amandes and early drinker Isabella Hofmann (as Gerald and Cheryl Dixon) give off creepy vibrations...

Bell does not watch "Lifetime" TV movies because she decides to get chummy with the neighbors...

Co-directors Devon Downs and Kenny Gage adequately guide this formula assignment, by writer Adam Rockoff. There is very little spark and only a few surprises. The opening "attention grabber" or "teaser" works, but is never fully explained; it doesn't make much sense. Bell jogs in the most unusual places, at all hours of the day, and on terrains most unwelcome to jogging. She would probably mistake a bed-of-nails for a trampoline. Probably, the explanation is that she is looking for places to photograph. The soundtrack songs are very good, but they should complement instead of taking you out of the story.

*** A Neighbor's Deception/ Next Door (4/8/2017) Devon Downs, Kenny Gage ~ Ashley Bell, Tom Amandes, Isabella Hofmann, Adam Mayfield

A Stranger with My Kids

Manny Poppins
In her bathtub, a beautiful blonde woman is drowned by a hooded intruder. As she succumbs, handsome killer Mitch Ryan (as Alex Smith) comes into focus, regretfully telling her, "We could have been a family." We're sure he's the obviously deranged title character of the story. Quickly, we learn the murderous young man is a "manny". This fitting term is explained as a combination of "man" and "nanny". It's nice to learn new things by watching TV movies. Mr. Ryan's next job is at the big, lovely home belonging to beautiful blonde Ashley Scott (as Karen Clark). She's a single, working mother of two young boys. After a string of weird "nanny" and "manny" applicants, Ms. Scott happily hires Mr. Ryan. He's very attractive, great with kids, willing to clean her large house, and likes to cook delicious meals. In fact, he sounds too good to be true...

Of course, Ryan sets out to become the real man of the house. He's a hard worker. Ryan has an obstacle, however, as Ms. Clark is very seriously engaged with three-years-sober and now responsible boyfriend Woody Jeffreys (as Greg Hitchens)...

Director Chad Krowchuk should win you over in his first scene, especially when Ryan exits the crime scene one step ahead of his victim's housekeeper. Two ships crossing in the night, and wonderfully placed. Ryan is quite believable as the psycho killer. Inviting and dangerous, he looks less like an actor having fun and more like a character on his mission. Even when director Krowchuk has Ryan spit in his rival's scrambled eggs, it's played straight. Supporting roles are all engaging. Eyes are drawn upon "hot-to-trot" Jordana Largy (as Cori) and manny-knowledgeable Fiona Vroom (as Gillian). Kid actors Dylan Kingwell and Jett Klyne (as Max and Rex Clark), plus bullying Cory Gruter-Andrew (as Brett Blainesfeld), are stellar. In a fairly substantial part, Dylan demonstrates particularly fine acting. Being called "Maxi-pad" when your name is "Max" has got to hurt.

******* A Stranger with My Kids/Manny Dearest (2/5/2017) Chad Krowchuk ~ Mitch Ryan, Ashley Scott, Woody Jeffreys, Dylan Kingwell

A Friend of the Family

With Friends Like These
Following an attempted gang rape, beautiful blonde Laura Harris (as Alison) weds handsome blond rescuer Eric Johnson (as Darris Shaw). Understandably, she's a little skittish, so they move to a small town outside of Toronto and plan a simple, safe life. This being a "Lifetime TV" type of movie, you know it's going to be a bumpy ride. Before things get too weird, we see Mr. Johnson and Ms. Harris are also attractive without their clothing. Johnson looks good wearing nothing but a cowboy hat, on his little pony. Harris looks pretty in petals and putting on her robe. They are sexually compatible. She's an aspiring artist and he's into antique restoration and construction. Right away, he gets a job working with creepy Kim Coates (as David Snow)...

We think Mr. Coates must be the serial killer Harris tells her psychiatrist about in the pre-flashback opening teaser...

"This film is based on a true story," we're informed, by lead character Alison Shaw. It's nice to also learn the story was embellished because some of what we see does not seem entirely realistic. By the time things get too strange, embellisher Michael Amo and director Stuart Gillard have suspended our disbelief. Playing her heroine as borderline bonkers, we are not sure if they're going to eventually tell Alison is imagining things. While the framing suggests she survives to tell her tale, she seems more edgy in the "present" scenes. Also, note she "tells" the story with her hair chopped up like Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski's classic "Rosemary's Baby" (1968). And, don't those other characters act like...

The three leading players are perfectly cast and directed by Mr. Gillard. Cinematography by Manfred Guthe is another strength. Several of Mr. Guthe's scenes are quite beautiful. Yet, he and Gillard do not lose the pace and or let arty camera-work take away from telling what is essentially a formula story. They get as close as they can, but do not color outside the lines. Not too shabby.

****** A Friend of the Family (2/2005) Stuart Gillard ~ Laura Harris, Kim Coates, Eric Johnson, Sabrina Grdevich

Sinister Minister

Look on the Bright Side
There is no mystery concerning the identity of the psycho killer in "Sinister Minister". The story opens with charismatic reverend Ryan Patrick Shanahan (as DJ) explaining how God has blessed his adulterous self with an attractive blonde. After losing his wife in a convenient car accident, Mr. Shanahan weds the blonde. Meanwhile, the small town "Bright Side" welcomes two attractive brunettes. The new arrivals are single mom Nikki Howard (as Patricia "Trish" Corbett) and her pot-smoking 18-year-old daughter Angelica Briones (as Sienna). This being a "Lifetime" TV movie, you should bet on Shanahan offering Ms. Howard the missionary position that opens up in church after his newest wife dies. And, what the hell, how about installing the teenage daughter in a love nest...

After all, the Lord commanded, "Go forth and multiply!"...

There is some fun in watching deranged killers do their dirty work. This story has one of the key ingredients, a fine performance by Shanahan as the unholy minister. However, one of the other things necessary is a satisfying backstory. We know the "Sinister Minister" had a bad childhood, but are not clear about what his problems are, exactly...

The material we receive is poorly organized...

Watch, for example, one of the less flashy, but most memorable scenes. We see the leading woman has taken a job waitressing at the local diner, where "Sinister Minister" Shanahan burns the late afternoon oil. Business is slow and Howard is not impressing the boss. She is notified daughter Briones is missing from school. Understandably frantic, Howard leaves work and loses her job. Shanahan comes to her rescue, but their conversation outside goes on too long and abandons the desperate tone that should have ended the scene. The inside banter between the waitresses and way director Jose Montesinos brought the main characters together was, otherwise, quite good. Elsewhere, there is too little interaction between the characters, especially involving teenager Briones.

***** Sinister Minister (5/28/2017) Jose Montesinos ~ Ryan Patrick Shanahan, Nikki Howard, Angelica Briones

Great Plains

Hit the Road, Mama
Showing bruises on her face and thigh, Oklahoma blonde Tara Buck (as Murel) is driving to California with her seven-year-old son Spencer Mabrey (as Kipp). They are attempting to separate from Ms. Buck's bearded, beer-drinking husband Damon Carney (as Tommy). He is an abusive husband and step-father. Making the journey difficult, Mr. Carney has accused Buck of kidnapping his step-son and the police are searching for the bruised, blonde mother. Desperate to protect her son, Buck visits relatives while trying to avoid the police and her husband...

"Inspired by a true story," this drama plays alongside other "Lifetime TV" stories, but it is not at all like the channel's celebrated "psycho killer" genre movies. This is a thoroughly serious domestic abuse story. Director Blair Hayes and his cast bring Buck and the characters she meets to life quite realistically. Each segment in "A Mother's Escape" arrives in time to help move what is essentially a slow, low-budget drama. The story could have been done as a higher budgeted feature film. It does not distinguish itself in stark realism, but impressively attempts.

****** A Mother's Escape/ Great Plains (7/21/2016) Blair Hayes ~ Tara Buck, Spencer Mabrey, Damon Carney, Beth Grant

The Bad Twin

Duo Damsel
After her crazy sister is committed to an institution for the mentally ill, wealthy radio talk-show therapist Haylie Duff (as "Jen" Burgess) accepts guardianship of her pretty twin nieces. The 15-year-old twins "Olivia" and "Quinn" are played by one actress, mature-looking Grace Van Dien. The girls are not only strikingly beautiful and mature-looking, but also pout in in creepy, trouble-signaling ways. They sometimes dress like super-models and other times like they're Amish. In either case, they stand out in the messy home kept by unhinged mama Jacy King (as Cassandra Lynn Murphy). One of the twins is revealed to be creepier than the other and becomes the "Bad Twin" referred to in the title. You won't believe what she does, or maybe you will...

Watch for youngest "My Three Sons" classic TV comedy actor Barry Livingston help Ms. Duff as a kindly doctor...

This is a technically successful film for director John Murlowski and his crew. When a single performer is cast as twins, it's fun to try to watch for the instances when "special effects" or a double are used to get both characters on screen. She never really seems like the poor, troubled teenagers she is directed to portray, but Ms. Van Dien handles a range of emotions well. Both the effects and Mr. Murlowski's direction are quite skillful, and Alix Reeves' story gets you involved enough in the drama to suspend disbelief about the single twins. Everyone seems to manage their role without being particularly believable. Very little would lead me to believe any of the conspiring actresses would allow themselves to be trapped in an enclosed area with a swarm of bees.

**** Bad Twin (12/29/2016) John Murlowski ~ Haylie Duff, Grace Van Dien, Jacy King, Scott Bailey


No Doubting Thomas
Handsome, muscular Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas (as Jonathan Cabot) does a routine on the high bar. Meanwhile, a man dressed like he's escaped from a modern hospital runs from horsemen who appear to be from medieval times. The running man is hit by an arrow while Mr. Thomas does a routine on the parallel bars. Believe it or not, the modern Thomas exists in the same time period as the characters in the chase scene. The story takes place in the present, but it moves to a faraway land. Thomas is recruited to go to this "Most Dangerous Game" land and win a contest. He is given an extraordinarily beautiful female partner, Tetchie Agbayani (as Princess Rubali). Thomas flips for her and everyone else...

"Gymkata" is meant to combine Thomas's "Gymnastics" with "Karate" as a martial arts sub-genre movie. Thomas and his co-star are very attractive. The emphasis is on action, but the story is very weak. Most of the story involves Thomas being given contrived situations in which to show off his gymnastic feats...

The most absurd sequence occurs after the first hour...

Thomas is in what appears to be a crumbling old village. Mysterious clocked figures appear in windows and doorways. One male beckons Thomas and shows his firm, naked buttocks. Thomas declines the encounter, which may have been telegraphed by the gymnast's coolness, in an earlier scene, toward a fawning gay attendant. Thomas makes his way to a town center, finds a pummel horse and begins gymnastically taking down people. The crumbling town citizens look like they wandered in from a film hybrid directed by the love child of Frederico Fellini and George Romano. For these approximately 20 minutes, "Gymkata" director Robert Clouse makes this otherwise boring film quite visually arresting...

******* Gymkata (5/3/1985) Robert Clouse ~ Kurt Thomas (the bizarre, approximately 20-mintute old town section)

**** Gymkata (5/3/1985) Robert Clouse ~ Kurt Thomas, Tetchie Agbayani, Richard Norton, Edward Bell (whole film)

Zombie Honeymoon

The Rocky Marriage Picture Show
Church bells ring morbidly, but New Jersey newlyweds Tracy Coogan and Graham Sibley (as Denise and Danny Zanders) are very happily married. Bounding out of the church, they take off in their "Just Married" car with Mr. Sibley at the wheel and Ms. Coogan bobbing her head in his lap. The honeymoon goes well, although one kiss does seem like a foreshadowing bite. With a little "Endless Summer" (1966) music, Sibley goes surfing. While the couple relaxes on the beach, an ugly zombie emerges from the ocean. He falls full front on Sibley and spews dark vomit down his throat. It appears like Sibley may die from the encounter. Coogan is happy when her husband miraculously recovers, but the couple faces a zombie challenge...

Neatly written and directed by David Gebroe, "Zombie Honeymoon" is essentially a love story. The horror and gore are present, but Mr. Gebroe does not focus on fright. This sort of monster drama recalls the supernatural characters explored by Dan Curtis on TV in "Dark Shadows" and Anne Rice in her "Vampire Lestat" novels. Explicitly, Mr. Gebroe's script identifies being a zombie as "an affliction." The couple must deal with the potentially monstrous condition and make it work in their marriage, or not...

Coogan and Sibley perform well and we understand their plight. Still, there is very an audience can invest in their characters. He likes to surf, she likes oral sex and they got married. They like Portugal, too. That's all great, for them. Generally, we are spectators and do not participate in their interests and activities. A couple of exceptions are among Mr. Gebroe's highlights. He intimately opens a scene by panning Coogan's legs as she dozes in her underwear, then discovers her groom sick in the bathroom. In this sequence, we are brought seductively and effectively into the drama. Lastly, near the end of the film, Coogan has a brief, dreamy vision of Sibley which shows a romanticism that should have been part of the story's opening.

***** Zombie Honeymoon (10/23/2004) David Gebroe ~ Tracy Coogan, Graham Sibley, Tonya Cornelisse, David M. Wallace

The Perfect Stalker

The Perfect Explanation
Highly-strung Danielle Savre (as Grace) receives some bad news. Her husband feels their sessions with a psychiatrist are not working and he wants to permanently end the marriage. Prone to spontaneous temper tantrums, Ms. Savre has something called HPD. HPD is short for Histrionic Personality Disorder (looked it up). A tragic mishap results in Savre moving from her small town to the relatively big city of Philadelphia. She wants to make a fresh start. Savre quickly goes grocery shopping and sees a strikingly good-looking older man, with great hair. The man is successful professor and writer Jefferson Brown (as Robert Harris). No, he doesn't sport the trendy "neatly trimmed beard" look, but the hair is perfect. Savre feigns dropping her groceries in order to meet him...

Savre wants to seduce and marry Mr. Brown, but there is one problem. Brown loves his live-in girlfriend Krista Morin (as Erin Stevens)...

"The Perfect Stalker" scores points with its early reference to what they call HPD, which is an honest to goodness (or badness) condition. This helps explain the hundreds (or soon to be) of unhinged "Lifetime" TV movie characters. They demonstrate "erratic behavior, unwillingness to accept criticism," are "overly dramatic, emotional," and, best of all (for TV movie purposes), they act out sexually after becoming obsessed with a targeted mate. This is the basic plot for these stories, which are sometimes "based on a true story." Now, it all makes sense. Curtis Crawford and his crew are responsible for dozens of these formula movies. This one is above average, due to a well-balanced but necessarily unhinged lead performance by Savre. Her last attempt is a titillating delight.

****** The Perfect Stalker (12/30/2016) Curtis Crawford ~ Danielle Savre, Jefferson Brown, Krista Morin, John Koensgen

Mommy, I Didn't Do It

The Wrong Woman Sequel
Four years after suffering through "The Wrong Woman" (2013), attractive single mother Danica McKellar (as Ellen Plainview) has left her job in the dentist's office. She has completed law school and is, presently, a very successful defense attorney. This is great news because the shrouded figure committing a murder in the opening minutes may be Ms. McKellar's 17-year-old daughter Paige Searcy (as Julie Anne Plainview). The college-bound young woman is suddenly arrested for the mysterious stabbing. Police don't mess around and Ms. Searcy is rushed to jail faster than you can say Jack Robinson. The police are convinced Searcy is guilty. She says, "Mommy, I didn't do it!" but can't help much with the case...

Nice to see veteran Veronica Cartwright as the main judge and "Cheers" to George Wendt in a small role...

The case is eventually solved and the mysterious murderer is positively identified. You'll have to watch to see if it's Searcy or someone else. Fast-talking police detective Jaleel White (as Gene Hamer) is convinced Searcy stabbed the teacher. His determination is inappropriately funny. Best girlfriend Caroline Sunshine (as Sylvie Garrett) is very supportive. She can't be cast as the unattractive best friend who is unable to attract boys when compared to Searcy, however. So, what was it about "The Wrong Woman" that warranted a sequel? Probably it was highly successful, commercially, meaning high ratings for the original and re-airings. Congratulations to director Richard Gabai and writer Leland Douglas.

*** Mommy, I Didn't Do It (1/1/2017) Richard Gabai ~ Danica McKellar, Paige Searcy, Jaleel White, Caroline Sunshine

Stalked by My Mother

Watching the Detective
In a Los Angeles-area library, a woman screams, "Maddy, Maddy!" Apparently, her daughter has been abducted. No, wait, it's only a nightmare. Over-protective mother Jennifer Taylor (as Claire) awakens. Her pretty blonde daughter Mia Topalian (as Maddy Beauregard) announces she is going out to a party in Westwood. When your teenage daughter says she's going to a party in Westwood, you tend to worry. After being assured there will be no drug-taking at the party, Ms. Taylor decides to follow Ms. Topalian anyway. "Booze, pot and guys trying to get in her pants," is how Taylor describes what she finds. Thanks to older friend Danielle Chuchran (as Gina West), 17-year-old Topalian hooks up with hunky 20-year-old Spencer Neville (as Tucker). Parked in a car, the handsome young man is easily coaxed out of his shirt, but mother Taylor arrives and spoils the fun...

Typically rollicking with derangement, "Stalked by My Mother" is another "Lifetime" TV movie from writer-director Doug Campbell. This one is interestingly plotted and would have benefited from a bigger budget, some story development and additional minutes (for pacing). The fast-motion and flashbacks are cheap and weigh it down. Also, most of the characters are not likable. Most notably, this is true for the mother, played by Taylor. Taylor emerges as the story's heroine and main character, but she's unlikable and stays that way. The story does hold your attention, with a few twists and turns. Midway, we're introduced to private detective Kevin Scott Allen (as Nick Fox). Drenched in alcohol and cheap cologne, "Nick Fox" is a highlight for Campbell and Mr. Allen. This supporting character is so engaging, he literally takes over the story during his time on screen.

**** Stalked by My Mother (9/26/2016) Doug Campbell ~ Jennifer Taylor, Danielle Chuchran, Mia Topalian, Kevin Scott Allen

His Secret Past

Whatever Floats Your Boat
While jogging, an attractive young blonde woman is attacked by a man concealed by a dark hoodie. In broad daylight. Fortunately, a handsome young man intervenes and scares off the attacker. The young woman is 18-year-old Gatlin Green (as Lily Becker). She has just discarded a cheating boyfriend and is looking forward to college. The young man is 20-year-old Austin James (as Mick Grant). He's new in town and lives on a boat in the marina. These two characters are mutually attracted, but Ms. Green's "true crime writer" mother Brigid Brannagh (as Jennifer) and others think our pretty protagonist should proceed very slowly with Mr. James. James is cute, heroic, polite and muscular with or without his shirt. He seems almost too perfect...

Not confirming anything, but "His Secret Past" means James' character. Of course, these TV movies are liable to pull a fast one on you...

Our first real clue may be the character not wanting to have his picture taken. Either James is miscast as an unattractive young man or he's secretly a picture picky actor. James does well in the role, with director Randy Carter growing him a smaller stature as compared to Green's tall, dark ex-boyfriend Alex Heartman (as Scott Ellison); note, he has no last scene. Also well cast is Green's concerned best friend Lindsay Bushman (as Kelly). Serving nicely as his own film editor, Mr. Carter makes the story and players smooth and natural. So, when the characters get rough, it means something. "His Secret Past" is routine but engaging. There is a lesson to be learned about calling 9-11 when you are in trouble. They put you on hold for a very long time.

***** His Secret Past (12/26/2016) Randy Carter ~ Gatlin Green, Austin James, Brigid Brannagh, Alex Heartman

The Wrong House

The Wrong Move
A handsome man, with a neatly trimmed beard, lurks around a house in the darkness. He seems to be attempting to break into the house, but he is interrupted by a phone call. Inside the house, we briefly see a dark figure creeping across the screen. This opening never really fits the rest of the story, although you could rationalize it with a line or two. "Inspired by a true story," the TV movie settles into place after the credits. The handsome man with the neatly trimmed beard is Tilky Jones (as Brian Lassiter). He moves into what looks like a dream house, with his attractive wife Clare Kramer (as Rebecca) and their adorable lemonade-selling pre-teen daughter Ashlyn Jade Lopez (as Maddy). Alas, a title like "The Wrong House" shouts trouble ahead...

This is competently guided by Sam Irvin and his crew. The direction is steady, holds interest, and we accept Mr. Irvin's putting women on counter-tops as a stylistic touch. The location and a supporting cast of instantly too-friendly neighbors give it a suitably phony atmosphere. Others in the cast include fitness trainer Allison McAtee (as Kathleen Strickland) and former "Melrose Place" mainstay Thomas Calabro (as Carter)...

What ruins the supposedly "true" story is the half-time decision by a major character to separate from her husband. Given the many incidents preceding the discovery of strange underwear in her bed, her decision is inexplicable. Since the character is presented as sane and intelligent, she should never be given a second chance. "The Wrong House" never addresses this character's sudden lack of cognition.

**** The Wrong House (12/26/2016) Sam Irvin ~ Clare Kramer, Tilky Jones, Allison McAtee, Thomas Calabro

The Mothers-In-Law: Herb's Little Helpers
Episode 22, Season 1

The Lucy Show?
At his Los Angeles law offices, Herb's secretary is out sick. Eve (Eve Arden) arrives and persuades Herb (Herbert Rudley) she should serve as a temporary replacement. Very quickly, Kaye (Kaye Ballad) stops by and joins Eve in the office. The two women cause comic uproar and almost spoil a business deal. After lunching on Deviled eggs, Eve and Kaye allow Roger (Roger C. Carmel) to work in the office, too. He is unable to work at home without Kaye in the house. Naturally, Herb's office becomes a madhouse. In this episode, Eve and Kaye continue following Desi Arnaz and the series' writers (Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis) "Lucy" antics. It's interesting to see them go for the concurrent "Lucy Show" situation, with each playing the ditsy secretary. Herb would have been great in the "Mr. Mooney" (Gale Gordon) role. Also, the Mothers-In-Law assist in the marriage of "Bachelor Father" boy Jimmy Boyd and "Dr. Pepper Girl" Donna Loren.

****** Herb's Little Helper (2/11/68) Elliott Lewis ~ Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Herbert Rudley, Roger C. Carmel

The Mothers-In-Law: Bye, Bye Blackmailer
Episode 23, Season 1

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be
The new electric typewriter purchased by Roger (Roger C. Carmel) works beautifully. Now, the Hollywood script-writer doesn't have the $100 he borrowed from Herb (Herbert Rudley) to pay for the typewriter. Roger hasn't been selling a lot of scripts. Eve (Eve Arden) gets money from Herb's emergency fund and gives it to Kaye (Kaye Ballard) so she can lend Roger the money to pay Herb. You know what they say about borrowing or lending money when it concerns relatives. This is a very funny episode, with the comedy coming from an outrageous situation. The blackmail-themed plot recalls similar "Lucy" shows involving blackmail, extra-marital affairs and even murder. In an early "I Love Lucy" episode, Lucy genuinely thought Ricky was trying to kill her. The four In-Laws have fun with the script and keep it fast-paced and believable. With much extra mugging, Mr. Rudley is the stand-out.

******* Bye, Bye Blackmailer (2/25/68) Elliott Lewis ~ Herbert Rudley, Roger C. Carmel, Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard

The Mothers-In-Law: The Wig Story
Episode 24, Season 1

Another Lucy Show
While wearing one of her most Lucille Ball-type wigs, Eve (Eve Arden) decides to have her blonde wig serviced. To have fun with Roger (Roger C. Carmel), Kaye (Kaye Ballard) asks to borrow the blonde wig. He becomes very amorous, even nibbling her ear. At first, Kaye likes the attention. "Just relax and enjoy it," advises Eve. But, inevitably, Kaye wonders if he really loves "some blonde woman" and not her. Many episodes of "The Mothers-In-Law" recall earlier shows starring Lucille Ball. For this one, an "I Love Lucy" script may have been used as the story idea. In one Lucy show, the red-haired comedienne dons a wig to see if a dark-haired woman would tempt Ricky, with similar results...

Lucy and/or Vivian Vance also wore wigs to resemble Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. One odd thing about this episode is the fact that Eve later wears a red-haired wig to startle Herb (Herbert Rudley). He says he married a blonde, but Eve's hair color seems more red than blonde; in fact, Eve Arden often seems deliberately styled to make her look like the Lucille Ball concurrently starring in her own sitcom. When Jerry and Suzie see Eve, they ask, "Is that you?" In the half-hour's funniest line, she replies, "It ain't Lucille Ball!" She looked more like Lucy without trying, in the opening scene. With a familiar touch, Desi Arnaz directed this wig tale. It's a little too derivative, but still amuses.

****** The Wig Story (3/3/68) Desi Arnaz ~ Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Roger C. Carmel, Herbert Rudley

The Mothers-In-Law: A Little Pregnancy Goes a Long Way
Episode 3, Season 2

Craving Morning Sickness
An expectant mother doesn't have to have weird food cravings and morning sickness, according to Suzy's doctor. Suzy (Deborah Walley) doesn't have them until Eve (Eve Arden) and Kaye (Kaye Ballard) start recalling their own pregnancies. Kaye's pickled pigs-feet topped with whipped cream and raw oysters makes Suzy feel sick. Eve adds sauerkraut to her yogurt, chicken livers and fudge sauce. Now, Suzy is having cravings and morning sickness. Jerry (Jerry Fogel) complains to Roger (Richard Deacon) and Herb (Herbert Rudley) about the meddling mothers-in-law and they suspect a trip to Hawaii is being arranged. This episode is fairly typical, with misunderstandings tied to the baby storyline.

****** A Little Pregnancy Goes a Long Way (9/29/68) Elliott Lewis ~ Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Deborah Walley, Herbert Rudley

The Mothers-In-Law: The Match Game
Episode 2, Season 2

Computer Dating with Paul Lynde
Because business is slow in the computer dating service where he works, Jerry (Jerry Fogel) may lose his job, so the mother-in-law decide to pose as customers. Kaye (Kaye Ballard) poses as a red-haired Irish lass and Eve (Eve Arden) becomes a dark-haired Italian signorina. They initially balk, but Herb (Herbert Rudley) and Roger (Richard Deacon) show up as a French and British gentlemen. Special guest star Paul Lynde (as Wally "Love Bug" Logan) hopes to match them up before his business bites the dust. This episode continues the second-season subplot following the announcement, last episode, "I'm pregnant," by Suzy (Deborah Walley). Desilu originated the storyline in "I Love Lucy" and "The Mothers-In-Law" have a similar long-running conflict about the baby's name/gender. This time, the cast is allowed to say the word "pregnant" on television. Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll Jr. are fine comedy writers.

******* The Match Game (9/22/68) Elliott Lewis ~ Kaye Ballard, Eve Arden, Paul Lynde, Jerry Fogel

The Mothers-In-Law: Here Comes the Bride, Again
Episode 1, Season 2

Mama Mia… Here We Go Again
A mysterious letter from Italy leads Eve (Eve Arden) to question Kaye (Kaye Ballard) about her grandmother. It turns out Kaye has led Italian grandmother Jeanette Nolan (as Gabriela Balotta) to believe Jerry is marrying tomorrow, into a nice Italian family. Elopements are unheard of in Italian families, and long engagements are valued. So, when the older woman arrives unexpectedly, everyone has to pretend Jerry (Jerry Fogel) and Suzie (Deborah Walley) are not yet married. Moreover, Herb (Herbert Rudley) has to pay for a big traditional wedding. Complicating matters, whenever Grandma Nolan becomes upset or excited, she faints dead away...

This episode opened season two of "The Mothers-In-Law". Like many of the series stories, ideas from previous Desi-Lucy shows were recycled. This was natural because former Desilu productions chief Arnaz directed from a script by "Lucy" writers Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis. They were able to borrow from the best, themselves. We are reminded of Ricky Ricardo's mother visiting from Cuba, and a long storyline originating in "I Love Lucy" begins herein. With this episode, Richard Deacon replaces Roger C. Carmel (as Roger Buell). The first appearance of Mr. Deacon is in the opening credits, his first scene is inconspicuous and the transition is smooth.

****** Here Comes the Bride, Again (9/15/68) Desi Arnaz ~ Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Jeanette Nolan, Richard Deacon

The Mothers-In-Law: It's Only Money
Episode 25, Season 1

Hey, Big Spender
A typical dinner out with the Hubbards and the Buells ends with Roger (Roger C. Carmel) not paying his fair share of the $38 check, plus $6 tip. Herb (Herbert Rudley) is furious with his "tightwad" neighbor and plans to win back the money playing golf and gin rummy. Instead, Herb loses more money. Soon, the tension has involved Eve (Eve Arden) and Kaye (Kaye Ballard). Each takes her husband's side and 20 years of friendship goes down the drain. For this one, Jackie Gleason's "Honeymooners" writer Sydney Zelinka recycles situations and ideas very well, showing an understanding of Desi Arnaz' comedy and his characters. While derivative, it's still funny.

****** It's Only Money (3/10/68) Elliott Lewis ~ Herbert Rudley, Roger C. Carmel, Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard

The Mothers-In-Law: I Haven't Got a Secret
Episode 26, Season 1

The Silent Blabbermouth
A telephone call brings fantastic news to the Buell household. One of the networks wants to create a new television soap opera series from a script by Roger (Roger C. Carmel). Kaye (Kaye Ballard) is sure they will become millionaires and wants to tell everyone, especially Eve (Eve Arden). A nervously exited Roger warns Kaye that, in show business, bad luck can jinx a deal before the final contract is signed. Forbidden to share the good news with a soul, Kaye uses the game Charades in an attempt to tell Eve. Very quickly, Eve is playing Charades with Herb (Herbert Rudley). The title "I Haven't Got a Secret" is a swipe of the game show "I've Got a Secret"...

Producer-director Desi Arnaz delivers a near-perfect half-hour of comedy with this one, written by Peggy Dick. It's difficult to believe NBC was considering canceling "The Mother-In-Law" by the time this aired. While more than acceptable by most standards, the ratings disappointed the network. Perhaps they expected Lucille Ball-levels. It's also evident that, while very skillfully presented, this series was mostly a recycling of ideas from previous Lucy-Desi shows. Audiences may have felt they'd seen many of these situations before and preferred Lucy, Vivien Vance and their TV characters. Still, this episode of "The Mothers-In-Law" is very funny.

******** I Haven't Got a Secret (3/17/68) Desi Arnaz ~ Kaye Ballard, Eve Arden, Roger C. Carmel, Herbert Rudley

The Mothers-In-Law: Jerry's Night Out with the Boys
Episode 27, Season 1

Poker Faces
After seven months of marriage, Jerry (Jerry Fogel) wants one night out to play poker with his male friends. Suzy (Deborah Walley) doesn't like it, but accepts Jerry's night out "with the boys." But when Eve (Eve Arden) and Kaye (Kaye Ballard) learn about Jerry's night out, they tell Suzie one night will lead to many more. The next thing you know, the marriage will be over. Suzie and Jerry have the inevitable fight, with Herb (Herbert Rudley) and Roger (Roger C. Carmel) lining up for a battle of the sexes. A scene with the women playing poker is amusing, but not hilarious. Suzie's mini-skirt gets even shorter when she sits down, which must have given the TV censors a headache.

***** Jerry's Night Out with the Boys (3/24/68) Arnaz, Lewis ~ Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Deborah Walley, Jerry Fogel

The Mothers-In-Law: The Long, Long Weekend
Episode 28, Season 1

Choosy Mothers-In-Law Choose Jif
A fishing weekend at a friend's Lake Arrowhead cabin looks good, but the Hubbards and the Buells are tired of spending so much time with each other. Both couples back out, then go to the cabin thinking they will have the place to themselves. Herb (Herbert Rudley) may have more than fishing on his mind, given the way he slaps Eve (Eve Arden) on her rear as they run upstairs to pack. Roger (Roger C. Carmel) and Kaye (Kaye Ballard) are looking forward to snuggling. Lastly, Jerry (Jerry Fogel) and Suzie (Deborah Walley) show up. Suzie brings her black and white bikini. The three couples are startled by each other and some unplanned incidents. "Camay" soap sponsored this episode, but "Jif" peanut butter must have been happy because Ms. Arden places their product on the cabin counter with the "Jif" label showing.

****** The Long, Long Weekend (3.31/68) Elliott Lewis ~ Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Roger C. Carmel, Herbert Rudley

The Mothers-In-Law: Jealousy Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Episode 29, Season 1

Desi and the Mini Skirt
An old sweetheart of Herb's is coming to the Hubbards for dinner. Eve (Eve Arden) is looking forward to meeting the woman and has a new dress to show off for the occasion. Eve isn't worried, but Kaye (Kaye Ballard) tells her the old romance could be rekindled and the Hubbard marriage threatened. Herb (Herbert Rudley) is shocked by the mini-skirt won by daughter Suzie (Deborah Walley), but when old flame Beverly Garland (as Audrey Fleming) arrives in an eye-popping micro-mini, Herb and Roger (Roger C. Carmel) are enthralled. Eve comments on the cheeky mini, "I think we've seen our first bottomless dress." Later, a misunderstanding indicates the husband once known as "Hot Lips Hubbard" may be seeing even more of Ms. Garland. This episode takes a modern look at the Lucy-Desi formula, with funny results.

******* Jealousy Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (4/7/68) Elliott Lewis ~ Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Beverly Garland, Roger C. Carmel

The Mothers-In-Law: How Not to Manage a Rock Group
Episode 30, Season 1

Some Enchanted Evening
While his parents and in-laws gather to watch color TV, college student Jerry (Jerry Fogel) announces he's managing a rock group. The hippie quartet is The Seeds (as The Warts) and they need $500 for "a good dub" (first record demo). The parents refuse until reminded about how present-day rock groups quickly sell millions of records. Roger (Roger C. Carmel) and Herb (Herbert Rudley) agree to sponsor the group. The Seeds sing their song "Pushin' to Hard" but the in-laws are not impressed. Eve (Eve Arden) suggests they revamp the group, to save their investment. Kaye (Kaye Ballard) thinks they need to visit a good barber, although her hairstyle looks just like the boys in the band. Finally, the Hubbards and Buells decide a cover of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening" would be a groovy first record...

This was the last aired episode of the season and ends on a high note. Sky Saxon and the Seeds give the story genuine youth appeal. Many sitcoms would hire imitation rockers and use "pseudo" rock 'n' roll music in situation comedies. The Seeds' song "Pushin' to Hard" is a real psychedelic garage-band classic from the era. The "adult pop" music it balances is also used well. Desi Arnaz directed this episode from a script by Don Nelson (Ozzie's brother), so the music and comedy was in knowing hands. The one-note band "leader" in the final scenes is Joe Besser, one of the latter-years "Three Stooges" and excellent in his role...

"The Mothers-In-Law" was a fine comedy, although perhaps too derivative in story ideas. To be fair, Desi-Lucy shows did the same sort of borrowing, sometimes going back to radio comedies. More often than not, plots were modernized. Despite the quality, TV ratings were not as high as NBC expected and they nearly canceled "The Mothers-In-Law". Fortunately, it was renewed for another season. However, this was the final episode with Roger C. Carmel as the actor and Desi Arnaz' production company parted company. When you consider how TV series replacements usually work out, he was very successfully replaced by Richard Deacon.

******* How Not to Manage a Rock Group (4/28/68) Desi Arnaz ~ Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Roger C. Carmel, Herbert Rudley

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