Disney's Most Historic Television Series, Oh, And It Was Good, Too
The biggest problem with most television programming for kids is that it is not informative, meaningful, worthwhile or sometimes even entertaining! Laugh tracks or live studio audiences indicate to the viewers just where and what the reactions should be and many of these programs are, if we're being honest, simply eye candy.
Additionally, Disney had typically "sanitized" its series to match the standards of that name, meaning that anything that might prove "controversial" would be eliminated before it ever reached a video screen.
Enter "Andi Mack."
From its first episode, this program didn't just break the mold of a "kid's TV show," it tossed it out as if it was radioactive waste! Not only did they immediately deal with interracial relationships and teen/out of wedlock pregnancy, two topics that some viewers of the Mouse might bristle at, they made it into no big deal. These are just some things that happen to some people in their lives. It's that "matter of fact" approach to every event that occurred within the context of the show that made it unique, and in the skill of the writers, directors and cast that made it work so brilliantly. All praise to Terri Minsky for her vision.
The "historic" part of the program dealt with Joshua Rush's character of Cyrus, Andi's best friend, who comes out during the series, the very first Disney character to say the words, "I'm gay." But really, the elements that people should and will remember most about "Andi Mack" are the truthfulness of the stories, the believable qualities of the characters, and the chemistry of the cast that lifted this from a standard show targeted at teens to a program that many viewers of many different ages and backgrounds became connected with and felt belonged to them.
Peyton Elizabeth Lee was the perfect balance as the title character, at times inspired and optimistic, at others, confused and growing and her two older generational counterparts, Lilan Bowden as Andi's mom, Bex and Lauren Tom as Bex's mom, Celia, created a powerhouse trio of Asian American women that always provided intelligence and thoughtfulness.
Andi's friends, the aforementioned Mr. Rush, plus her other best friend Buffy, as portrayed by Sofia Wylie, her on again, off again love interest Jonah, played by Asher Angel and her dad, played by Trent Garrett rounded out the main cast, with great additional support from "antagonists" Amber, played by Emily Skinner, TJ, played by Luke Kippen and Kira played by Raquel Justice.
Though "Andi Mack" will be one of many shows in television lore on the "canceled too soon" list, the fact that it even existed at all is something of a miracle and should be celebrated for the elements it provided to its audience - a sense of community, a perspective that felt true, topics that had a meaning and dealt with them in a mature, realistic, kind, fun and usually funny way.
"Andi Mack" wasn't a great kid's show. It was a great show.
Draining. But Better If You Skip The first 16 Minutes.
"Tilt" is the name of the heroine of this movie, a teen girl who happens to be a pinball phenom. Brooke Shields is the titular character. But, for some reason, we have to wait more than 16 minutes for her to arrive, because the story starts with two losers who try to cheat a pinball champ/bookmaker (played by Charles Durning) so they can get the money to launch one of their careers as a Country/Western singer in, of all places, Los Angeles. Who wants to see a cheater succeed, when that's all we know about them in the first moments of the film? And who believes that someone who wanted to be a country crooner would go to LA and not Nashville?
Little Ms. Shields still looks like a "Pretty Baby" in this role, avoiding most things to do with her parents and siblings, skipping out on school, hitching rides with truckers and suggesting a manage a trois along the way. It's all part of her "street tough" persona that apparently goes with being the best at the Silverball.
In the world of "Tilt," betting on pinball is apparently as common as going to a casino, as people everywhere these characters go are wagering on games, based on their flipper expertise. Long time stand up comic Gary Mule Deer is one of Tilt's early victims and provides some of the most amusing moments in the entire film.
But the story is bogged down with those two doods, the wannabe acoustic guitarist and his loudmouth wannabe manager. Never mind that they transport a minor across state lines, or what the penalty for that is. They can't succeed in show biz, and they can't succeed in pinball, or even cheating at pinball, so they might as well exploit a girl with the talent they simply don't have.
As horrific as all that is, what little charm this film might have held drains, every time either of these two knuckleheads are on the screen, and that's most of the movie.
En-Ga-Land Swings Like The Pit And the Pendulum Do
I'm sure someone will correct this if it's wrong, but I think the title of this motion picture is a parody of the film title "Lassie Come Home," a picture also set in England, which introduced another, eventual, TV star to the world, that most intelligent of all collies, and one that was currently on television at that time.
Fred Gwynne, Yvonne de Carlo, Al Lewis and Butch Patrick are all on hand to reprise their roles from the black and white series, but here in full Paramount color. Plus we have Debbie Watson, perhaps best known for taking the movie series role of "Tammy" and bringing it to the small screen, here takes the role of niece Marilyn, played by Beverly Owen and Pat Priest on the show, to the big screen.
The plot is a stretch, even for this 1960s comedy - Herman inherits a piece of property in Great Britain and tows the family from Mockingbird Lane across the pond to claim it. Of course, the stiff upper lips that occupy said property are unamused and attempt to scare off the newcomers. But how does one scare a family of monsters?
To me, the most interesting thing about this film is seeing some long time actors and TV stars almost randomly turning up in this plot. Bernard Fox, Samantha's Warlock physician Dr. Bombay from "Bewitched" is here. Richard Dawson, who at the time was a star of "Hogan's Heroes" and eventually "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," long before his "Match Game" and "Family Feud" days is in the mix. And Robert Pine, who is best remembered as commanding officer to Ponch and Jon from "CHiPs" is a love interest for Marilyn!
The film really feels like two films are going on: our sitcom characters doing what they usually do (and there is a cross country auto race, with Herman driving the famed "Drag-u-la" vehicle - while the Munster Koach also makes a cameo), and then we have the locals just plotting how to rid themselves of these unwanted outsiders. Hermione Gingold, Terry-Thomas and a completely unrecognizable John Carradine as a manservant populate that group.
Tons of sight gags, typical sitcom dialog and all the slapstick you could want from what is basically an extended and full color episode of the series.
If you are a fan of the series this film is based on and most especially if you enjoyed that program more than the similarly themed series "The Addams Family," you should get a kick out of this film.
"Take It All" was another "big money" prime time supergame, with the promise of spectacular prizes, cash and ultimate trips to fantastic places.
Hosted by "Deal or No Deal" emcee Howie Mandel, this game also involved opening boxes. Contestants battled each other in a high stakes Yankee Swap/White Elephant game, where someone opened a box to find a prize. The next contestant could grab that prize or open a new box, hoping to find something more valuable. At the end of the round the contestants with the prizes worth the most got to continue. The low prize holder was out.
The end of the game was the most controversial. The two contestants who made it to the final round, each with presumably fantastic cars, trips and money could choose to "Keep Mine" or "Take It All." If both players chose "Keep Mine," both players went home with their collection of gifts. If both chose "Take It All," they both left with nothing. But if one chose to "Keep" while the other chose to "Take," the "taker" got everything, while the "keeper" left with nothing. This was especially harrowing when one contestant begged another to split their winnings, that she simply wanted to take her goodies and be happy, before they made their decision. Then, when the results were revealed, she had convinced her opponent to say "Keep Mine" while she picked "Take It All!"
The one tweak that should have been included in this final portion of the game was a simple one, and really an obvious one. If you believe your opponent plans to steal your prizes by saying "Take It All," there should have been an option to say "Block," which would mean that the defender would get all the prizes for blocking the attempt to steal. However, if the opponent said "Keep Mine," when you selected "block" you would sacrifice all your prizes to the opponent.
Having an option like that would have made the decision to choose much more of a psychological issue, more of a powerful circumstance and would have been fairer to both contestants as far as giving each a reasonable chance.
Ed Sullivan always had brilliant timing. He came along as a gossip columnist and writer for the New York Daily News, as people were starting to tire of Walter Winchell. And he basically chased Winchell from his seat at the top of the newspaper world with his "Little Old New York" columns.
But also, at that same moment, television was in its infancy, and someone had to create programming for people to watch. Sullivan was a smart choice to use as a host, as he was already known by and equally aware of most of the stars of the day. So, he could easily cull performers to appear.
"The Toast of the Town," as the show was first called, eventually to be named after the host, was to be a showcase of the acts that were worthy of attention. And Sullivan, like the maestro he was, orchestrated every episode to provide something for every family member: comics, music, a performance from Broadway, something from Carnegie Hall or the Metropolitan Opera, a novelty performer like a juggler or acrobat, an act that appealed to the kids. It was the very definition of "Variety."
But beyond the performances of the day, Sullivan also frequently brought in politicians, sports figures, news makers who weren't in the entertainment business and did brief softball interviews with them, which made the program not just a variety show, but a record of what was going on in the country at the moment of that episode's airing.
The program was the original "Must See TV" and was popular right from the start, but Sullivan himself was parodied for his stilted delivery and rigid appearance on camera. Being of good humor about it, he frequently booked impressionists who did impersonations of him as a part of their acts. Notably Will Jordan, who appeared on the program, eventually played the role of Sullivan in the music video for Billy Joel's song "Tell Her About It."
Ed Sullivan was a true visionary, knowing what acts were on the verge of success and giving them the push to launch them into orbit! The down side was he was very strict about keeping the program "family oriented," and as the rock era began with Elvis Presley and eventually The British Invasion, he often forced musicians of the day to change their lyrics, wardrobe, act so that they didn't offend the sensibilities of "Middle America." And performers frequently, if not begrudgingly, kowtowed to Sullivan because they knew what it meant for their careers: Everyone in the United States would see them perform on the program, a literal "Overnight Success."
Eventually, tastes changed, and Fred Silverman, television programmer extraordinaire, decided that 1971 was the year to end the series. Though Sullivan did return for a few specials after the program's cancellation, the window onto this slice of twenty plus years of the 20th Century remains as a document, an historic record of the time, and notably collections of clips from the program have become treasured for their capturing performances of the superstars of yesterday, from when they were just starting their legendary careers.
Disney has perfected the art of promoting and cross promoting their films, home vid releases, theme parks and television series since this program, which should have been a showcase for both Walt Disney World and its syndicated series "The New Mickey Mouse Club" in 1977. It basically failed on both counts.
The group of kids were hardly ever referred to as Mouseketeers at any time during the program, mostly called "children" by their wrangler, played by Ronnie Schell. And the very weak storyline probably would have been better served if we got to see the stars of the show simply being themselves rather than reciting sitcom style dialog.
Jo Anne Worley turns up as a magazine reporter following the group, so that gave it a bit of energy and fun. And we do get to see some of the mid-70s wonders of the Magic Kingdom, like River Country, Space Mountain and Fort Wilderness.
It's a shame there wasn't more of the stage performances of the Mouseketeers, to capture what they were trying to achieve. But even during their performances, there were long cutaways to audience members, meaning even less camera time for those little disco mice!
The program didn't give a sense of what was good about "The New Mickey Mouse Club," and it only barely touched on what was cool about Walt Disney World, and that's why I couldn't rank it higher. I wished I could have!
The Film Where The Opening Credits Are Spoilers!!!!
Perhaps the most notable thing about "The Oscar," aside from the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences probably wishes it didn't allow the filmmakers to use its award as a part of their turkey, is that the opening credits of the film give away two key elements that really shouldn't be revealed, one of which laughably gives away the ending!
This really goes to the point that nobody in this film seemed to know or care about the process of making it and were more enamored with the concept of setting their film on Oscar Night than in having the story make any sense, and were more about getting names to list, hoping to increase the Box Office receipts. Bad move.
I was hoping for an over the top, completely ridiculous, scenery chewing melodrama, and I was rather disappointed. Granted, Stephen Boyd definitely does have some ludicrous dialog and plays bigger than he should for what he's doing, but it really isn't "fun" to watch. Even more to the point, there's no one in the film who can challenge him.
Milton Berle comes the closest as his agent. But Berle doesn't get to crack wise, as we would expect him to do with a knucklehead client like this one. He plays it straight up. What was the point of that? And Elke Sommer is such a conflicted character, it's difficult to understand what she brought to the film, aside from the obvious eye candy intended.
The other oddity is in seeing Tony Bennett play his one and only acting role. Clearly, he wasn't ready for this sort of challenge and I can't blame him for begging off film for the safety of his music career after this disaster.
Wasted were Oscar Winner Ernest Borgnine who plays some two bit private eye and Edie Adams who actually seems the most realistic character in the entire film. Also, Edith Head, the multiple Oscar winning Costume Designer, who was seen on screen in three different scenes, and uttered half a word.
But I'm seriously still reeling over the credit spoilers. If you do watch this film (and I don't recommend you do because it definitely isn't good and it unfortunately isn't bad enough to be amusing) don't read the opening credits!
The Partridge Family was, according to legend, supposed to be the story of the Cowsills, an actual family of singers/musicians that became famous for a few hits: "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" and "Indian Lake" being their first Top Ten hits, followed by their cover of the title song from the Tribal Love/Rock Musical "Hair," which reached #2 on the charts.
The problem was that ABC had planned to use the sitcom as a vehicle for Shirley Jones, rather than casting the actual mom from the family. When the kids of the group said no, it was their mom or nothing, the producers went ahead and cast actors to play the parts.
Shirley's actual stepson David Cassidy was cast as the eldest sibling of the family and teen heartthrob Keith Partridge, followed by Susan Dey as Laurie, Danny Bonaduce as middle brother Danny, Jeremy Gelbwaks as Chris (replaced by Brian Forster in season 2) and Suzanne Crough as littlest Tracy. Plus, as the family's haggard and harried manager, Dave Madden as Reuben Kincaid.
A deceased parent (standard sitcom trope for this era of television), in this case, Mr. Partridge (which makes it more unusual as there were many more motherless kids on TV at this time), left Shirley Partridge (Oscar Winner, Jones) widowed and with her five way too adorable kids struggling to make ends meet on Mom's bank teller budget. But they formed a musical group in their garage, got their mom to sing along and became national hits, much to the delight of everyone!
Stories tended to follow one of three separate scenarios: the family on their tours to various (and quite honestly, questionable) gigs, often at places like amusement parks, ski lodges, street festivals or other "non- headline" venues; some venture, ploy or plot schemed up by Danny that entangled the rest of the Partridges in some way, designed to make money but typically did not; or an episode with personal issues that one particular sibling was having in their lives.
Luckily none of this was overtly "precious" and the songs the family performed were mostly pretty good for MOR type pop/rock tunes, and several of the songs charted with the big hit "I Think I Love You" reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
And it's the combination of some thoughtful scripts and some decent tunes that made this into the TV classic that it is. Yes, towards the end they brought in Ricky Segall to try to charm their audience back to the program, but even that can be forgiven in the overall scheme of the story of a family act in a psychedelic painted school bus and the misadventures they experienced all along the way.
How Not to Succeed at Cheating While Being Very Trying
To be completely fair, we can't really judge this film by our 21st Century standards. This is a story of how a Married Man can cheat on his wife and get away with it. So, right there, the very premise of this movie is out of date.
Gene Kelly, who was dancing less and less on screen by the mid 1960s, had the opportunity to step behind the camera a handful of times and helm some films. This is arguably his worst effort.
And yet, the picture isn't without its charms. Walter Matthau is endlessly watchable even when he has very little to work with, and he's doing the most he can to make this worthwhile. It's a difficult circumstance because we're meant to believe that his character is married to Inger Stevens, and yet wants to stray just to get some strange. I guess if you'll buy that, you'll swallow the premise whole.
Also you have Robert Morse, straight from his effort in the Broadway smash turned Hollywood musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," who continues to instruct in the ways of attaining his goal. This time, it's extra marital hanky-panky he's after and he knows, like a book, exactly how to avoid the pitfalls and pratfalls of a bad situation, so he can enjoy some of the other women in his life without letting wifey know about it.
The best part of the project are the "instructionals" offered to illustrate every situation Morse tells Matthau about, featuring cameos by the likes of Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Terry-Thomas, Jayne Mansfield, Phil Silvers, Louis Nye, and the one most people who view the film favor, Joey Bishop. Really, if this movie were just a series of these vignettes, it probably would have been that much better!
But we're stuck with these two unhappy hubbys who are determined to gain a conquest, much like the mountain climber "...Because it's there!" That part of the story is tedious, repetitive and, much like their attempts to score their mistresses, ultimately unsatisfying.
A Guide for the Married Man is most effective as a time capsule, a Hollywood spin on the mindset of the people in the suburbs in the mid 1960s, and what they did to break the boredom of that surreality, or at least what they imagined might break it. I don't know how many men actually were wannabe lotharios, and if you believe this film it's basically all of them! But it is supposed to be a comedy (albeit with only a few mild chuckles, unfortunately), so keep a grain of salt handy, along with the fast forward button on your remote.
The Monkees, the television series, is a landmark one, despite it lasting only two seasons on the NBC Television network. That's because it directly lead to the what we all know as the MTV concept some thirteen years or so later: stylish videos with quick cuts, special effects, constant motion and having those sequences set to songs.
Sometimes suggested as an attempt to "cash in" on the insane popularity of The Beatles, The Monkees: Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, were collectively referred to by some of the harsher critics of the day as "the Pre-Fab Four," a play on the "Fab Four" reference to the Beatles. The Monkees were a musical group created specifically for the show, which some felt made them inauthentic.
The problem of the program is that it wasn't a video; it was a situation comedy, and a lot of the time the episodes were, if we're kind about it, a little light on scripting. In fact there was at least one episode without any script at all, and a few times where they didn't completely fill out their half-hour and had to pad the episode with other elements.
What that meant was that the series was often an unsatisfying experience as a standard sitcom, because the plots frequently were weak or non-existent! Additionally, when there were solid scripts, they were pretty much lifted from old movies, Vaudeville acts, or parodied other programs being aired at the time - most of which wasn't terribly inspired and often wasn't that funny.
To the good, they did utilize the "psychedelic" elements of the day, with brilliant colors, sets and costumes, which is why their title sequence is still a timeless classic. The visuals were spectacular.
Also, The Monkees, the musical group, had some pretty decent songs (after all, the writers of their tunes were people like Neil Diamond and Carole King!), and those performances were usually the highlight of every episode. If the scripts could have equaled the songs, this show would have been a smash.
But to be fair, the era of the 1960s was a very odd combination of a lot of factors, not the least of which was drugs (hinted at but never directly suggested here), politics (which was emboldened by the programs like "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour) and youth and the pop culture movement. And certainly all of this had an impact on the the process of creating the program and the areas covered by the episodes.
In its way, The Monkees captured a lot more of the flavor of that time than nearly every other entertainment program in that tumultuous age and it certainly deserves credit for that.
"Kim Possible" is arguably the best series Disney has produced to date... (animated or otherwise) as many other viewers have commented. But the question is why? What makes this program so much better than every other in the long and storied history of the Mouse?
Premise. The old joke about a Rocket Scientist and a Brain Surgeon is a great place to start, as that's Kim's Dad and Mom! And with such intelligent lineage, Kim is a brilliant mind too, only she's not weird about it. She's a basic, average girl, but she's here to save the world! Cheerleader and honor student by day; superhero the rest of the time. Really, she's the most well-rounded and talented Disney female since 1964's Mary Poppins (and she didn't have to keep house; just answer her KIM- municator).
Characters. Kim's partner in crimefighting, Ron Stoppable and his naked mole rat pet Rufus always provided comic relief, humorous complications and legitimate help to Ms. Possible, as well as the inevitable after- school snacks at Bueno Nacho, their Mexican restaurant hangout. Wade, the point man that clued Kim in to the sitch, offered just the right tone of stability to the stories. Kim's occasionally seen twin brothers Tim and Jim gave her some sibling rivalry angst. And the best and most wacky rogue's gallery of villains since Adam West's "Batman" series, and with nearly the same level of star power, provided the knockout punch! Led by John DiMaggio's Dr. Drakken and Nicole Sullivan's Shego, other guest voices throughout the series included such iconic names as Debbie Reynolds, Andrea Martin, Elliot Gould, George Takei, Nestor Carbonell and Ricardo Montalban.
Stories. Despite covering the same ground as so many other series had done within the high school framework setting, every episode always seemed fresh and innovative. Full credit to the writers for carefully mixing in the adventure elements with Kim's day-to-day school life, for exposing some of Kim's foibles and failings (she really had trouble with that road test for Driver's Ed!) and for not letting Kim and Ron get too romantic until just the right moment. Also, the fact that the plots always had that sense of danger but were never too frightening for all age groups was a truly brilliant and notable element of the series.
Performances. Christy Carlson Romano, Will Friedle, Nancy Cartwright and Tahj Mowry were fantastic as the core four heroes, and their vocal skills were crucial in making everything work. And the theme song, sung by Christina Milian, lived up to the level of the program itself. Always smart, always funny and always had something to say about family, friendship and life (both scholastic AND extra-curricular), "Kim Possible" really was worth watching, and Kim proved it was Possible to be a great Disney role-model without being a princess!
Possibly the Only Adult Film Made Famous by a Radio Boner... er...
Really, you can forget the film; the purest entertainment related to "It Happened in Hollywood" was a cold read commercial performed by legendary radio personality Long John Nebel when the movie was playing in theaters in the early 1970s.
After a recorded spot about the film played on his broadcast, Nebel was to read some copy describing the film. What happened was complete mayhem, as Nebel struggled and failed to keep his composure and broke into laughter several times, and got the other people in studio involved as well.
But don't take my word for it! Search the recording and listen for yourself!
A Half-Hearted, Half As Good As His Late Late Show Half Hour
Craig Kilborn seemed to have disappeared from broadcasting but then surprised people by returning with "The Kilborn File." Fox decided to try this program for a six week summer 2010 run in the 7-8pm time slot (for a handful of the big market affiliates that ran it), as a kind of extended pilot to see if it might play on the full network, but it was really just Kilborn's version of the CBS Late Late Show he hosted years prior, cut down to a half hour.
All of the elements were there: the wry, know-it-all manner in his monologue, the news stories from his desk (with the addition of Christine Lakin, his "Huckleberry Friend" and apparent sidekick). There was time for one guest to interview (including his famed "Five Questions"), and the games he played, which had to be renamed and ever so slightly altered to avoid some intellectual property lawsuits, I presume.
The reason "The Kilborn File" didn't work is very simple: it was a cheap copy of the original in a world where people like Craig Ferguson, Conan O'Brien, George Lopez, Jimmy Kimmel... and even Jimmy Fallon had moved the talk show genre to new, different and interesting places. This just felt like they were trying to figure out how to do Kilborn's Late Late Show all over again but in a thirty minute format. I suppose the producers of this program didn't know you really can't recreate the same show, years later, unless it's a lot better than the original. This was, at best, half as good.
There is also a question about whether viewers wanted to see a talk show at the hour it aired, between the daytime talk of The View, Oprah, Ellen and the rest that aired in 2010 and those late night programs that this aspired to be, Kilborn may have been a partial victim of "Jay Leno Misplaced Talker Syndrome." But I suspect that if the show had been more innovative, more entertaining and more amusing, people might have sought it out.
Hugh Wilson is something of a television genius. I doubt that anyone thought that doing a television show about a little radio station in a small market city would work, but he got MTM to produce it and CBS to air it and "WKRP in Cincinnati" hit the airwaves (and I'm sure that "NewsRadio" owes a debt of thanks to this series for paving the way)!
Populated with some of the most hilarious and memorable characters in television and with some brilliant, meaningful and sometimes outrageous story lines, WKRP always provided its audience with a worthwhile viewing experience that often extended beyond the events that occurred on the air.
The reason the show worked is because of the characters, and perhaps more importantly, the actors that played them. Jennifer Marlowe could have been just a bubble head or a snappy comeback responder in the hands of a lesser actress, but Loni Anderson was brilliant. Dr. Johnny Fever could have been just a waste product, but Howard Hesseman gave him attitude and subtle subtext. Venus Flytrap might have just been the token minority, but Tim Reid turned him into a deep, meaningful spirit. Bailey Quarters could have been totally wooden and forgotten, but Jan Smithers made her quietly determined and caring. Les Nessman might have just been the virginal boy scout, but Richard Saunders gave him humor and texture. Herb Tarlek might have just been the bad dressing (even for the late 70s - early 80s!) fast talking salesman, but Frank Bonner made him amusing and even at times sympathetic. Arthur Carlson could have just been the no-nothing owner, but Gordon Jump's long time experience in sitcoms certainly prevented that! And Andy Travis might have been a total control freak in the midst of everyone else, but Gary Sandy was the perfect stability for everyone: the eye of this hilarious storm!
I mourn the fact that this series will never truly be seen again, because of the royalty issues over the use of music in the episodes. It just isn't WKRP if you don't have the songs! It's like seeing a loved one you cared about, now horribly disfigured. Yes, you still care about them, but nothing will ever again be the same.
Unfortunately, unless you visit the Paley Center for Media, either in New York or Los Angeles, where the original episodes are preserved in their broadcast state, you'll just have to remember the eps the way they were.
The (Somewhat) Intentionally Comedic Apocalypse!!!
If you have seen any of Roland Emmerich's previous work, and based on the box office numbers worldwide, you likely have, you know what to expect with a film from him that promises "The End Of The World." That's plenty of visuals that look like places you know getting destroyed by water, fire, lava and/or earth. For that, "2012" earns 3.5 of the 4 stars I gave it.
The rest belongs to the comedy which I think was intentionally sprinkled throughout the script, guaranteed to keep this from ever getting too frightening. The idea here is a roller coaster ride, not a cautionary tale. As we follow the story of Jon Cusack's failed novelist, his ex wife (Amanda Peet) and his family, it's hard to take anything here very seriously, this despite the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as the competent and good-hearted lead scientist working to salvage what he can of the planet.
The film first claims a palpable threat: the earth's core is suddenly heating up at a microwave rate and Ejiofor and his tiny group of scientists and some other officials in the money rich countries are fully aware of this. For something that is supposedly so top secret, quite a few people know what's happening, some are apparently killed passing this info around, and a failsafe system to prevent extinction of the most precious objects (like DaVinci's Mona Lisa) and most precious creatures on the planet (like giraffes and multi-billionaires) has been created by some secret coalition of nations.
There has to be a "town crier" and Woody Harrelson does a cute job as some lunatic fringe radio talk host explaining exactly what is about to happen, but nobody believes him because he's simply out of his mind. The rest of the movie is just all of his unlikely predictions coming true.
The film features plenty of sight gags, like the apocalypse chase scene with Cusack and family outracing the world's biggest sinkhole in his limo, and later in a tiny plane. And there are lots of winking references to other disaster films, like "Titanic," when one of the massive "arks" designed to preserve the lives of humans and animals carves a sidelong cut into another one, effectively sinking it, "Jaws," when Cusack says "We're gonna need a bigger plane," and "The Poseidon Adventure," when he has to swim down and dislodge a rope, in a scene reminiscent of Gene Hackman's role in that earlier film among several others of this sort.
Oliver Platt as a sketchy cabinet member mugs his way through this slog, a mix of jovial and menacing, Danny Glover as the President doesn't add much besides a calming break from the barrage of earthquakes and floods, and actresses Thandie Newton as Glover's First Daughter and Peet have practically nothing to do except react to what's happening, when they have any screen time at all. But, for a nice change of pace, we don't see New York City getting destroyed, typically the first choice of every film of this genre.
The movie tries to make some statements about the value of life and family, and the importance of caring about each other, but that gets swept away by a tsunami of silly as we watch all of our man-made and natural creations, and the people we've crossed paths with along the way, getting taken down like so many bowling pins.
Conversely, when you have characters as uninteresting as everybody but Woody's conspiracy theorist, you might start rooting for the disaster to take them all!
Forget EVERYTHING you know about the Mayan calendar and/or anything you know about any of the life sciences, try to focus on the funny and you'll likely get at least some enjoyment out of this cataclysm.
Liquid Television certainly must be noted as one of the landmark programs the network aired throughout its history. An anthology series that had recurring elements, the program launched a couple of MTV standards: Mike Judge's "Beavis & Butthead" first appeared here with their controversial "Frog Baseball" episode, as did "Aeon Flux," the very first element anyone recalling the series would likely remember. That character, an under-dressed, overachieving, amazon-like killing machine, eventually got a big screen, live action film starring Charlize Theron in the title role. For those two additions, Liquid Television's place in TV history should be secure.
Other brilliant elements included "Stick Figure Theater," where classic clips from vintage movies were turned into what appeared to be deceptively simple "flip movie" style animation (though they also did a very memorable re-imagining of Madonna's "Express Yourself" video), "The Specialists," a team of three investigators that had brawn (Samson), brains (Master Mind) and beauty (Kittka) and who rented themselves out in the classified ads, stumbling into a very complicated case, and "Winter Steele," which was a marionette/puppet presentation about a street tough biker chick out to find her motorcycle man, Crow, and the complications she faced in the chase.
But it wasn't all animation; there were key live-action segments as well. Most notably of these was, "Dog Boy," which arguably had the best script of any of the elements in the series (though granted, it did lift the story from Charles Burns' graphic novels and tried to capture the comic book look and palette in its presentation). It was a stylish collection of vignettes with a story line about an innocent young dishwasher in a diner who was given a heart transplant of a canine and who took on many of the traits of that animal as a result.
As for the rest, some of the other footage was taken from vintage animation from the 1920s or 30s, student films and other elements not specifically created for this series. This is not a criticism, but it is notable that "Liquid Television" only produced a portion of the material it showed, and even reran clips to fill out its 30 minute time slot on occasion.
Though not every element offered up on this show worked, it was an ambitious series that set the tone for later presentations, like Cartoon Sushi, and must be remembered for attempting to showcase some thoughtful, fun and interesting material of this sort, at a time when nobody else was doing anything like this.
Much as "The Addams Family" had to be compared to "The Munsters," "I Dream of Jeannie" will perpetually be held up to scrutiny against "Bewitched" as two 1960s sitcoms with similar appearing concepts. In this case, a magical woman complicates the life of a mortal man, even as she tries to help him through his problems.
But let's stay on topic. NASA Astronaut Captain Anthony Nelson (Larry Hagman), on a space mission, went up, but something went wrong and they had to bring him down. His capsule came to earth on a tiny desert island where he discovers a bottle; he opens it and in a puff of smoke a genie (Barbara Eden) appears. She explains that because he freed her, she is his, forever, then blinks and a rescue helicopter appears.
When she follows him home, things instantly become complicated. His best friend, Captain Roger Healey (Bill Daily) gets in on the secret in short order, and helps Tony with his fiancé, who happens to be the General's daughter! Eventually, that engagement got broken off, leaving Tony free to play the field, and Jeannie to get angry about his other women. And the two buddies get promotions from Captains to Majors.
Lots more complications, like Jeannie's Sister, an evil, raven haired twin who was out to enslave Nelson for her boy toy, The Blue Djinn turns up (played by Eden's husband at the time, Michael Ansara), who first put Jeannie into the bottle, and even her dog Djinn Djinn (didn't the writers know any other Arabic words?) who had a pension for disappearing and then tearing any uniform he saw to shreds... not a good thing on an Air Force Base!
The charm of the show was in Hagman's incredible ability to go from deadpan to fully reactionary on a dime (something he was required to do in nearly every episode), and Eden's brilliance at playing the petulant brat still learning about the 20th Century World, and with whom no one could be angry for very long. Daily was a great foil for both of them, (though I never understood why his uniform was GREEN) and of course, there was Dr. Bellows (the incomparable Hayden Roarke), intrepid base psychiatrist, who always knew something funny was going on, but could never quite prove it to anyone. Certainly part of the show's success was in his slow burns after whatever he was going to prove to whichever General was in command didn't pan out!
Though one has to wonder how they managed to do a contemporary mid 1960s program on and around a Military installation without so much as a passing reference to Vietnam! Yes, it's NASA, but still! Air Force Generals were on duty! Of course, in the end, it turned out to be for the best, as not referencing the war was likely part of the reason a diversionary program like this was on the air in the first place: all part of the magical, mystical lineup of comedy programs all of the networks were airing during the 1960s through the 1970s, designed to divert audiences from the newscasts of the day.
The irony of the censors not permitting Eden's belly button to be shown was that on the same network (NBC) and during the same hour (8pm, before "Jeannie" moved to 7:30 in its final seasons), "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" had Bikini clad Goldie Hawn fully exposed and dancing in body paint!
Despite the stock footage of Atlas rockets and Gemini missions, there is a certain timeless quality to the series and an obvious charm and sweetness that won't soon wane. It's certainly one of the best "special effects" sitcoms of all time, and is genuinely one of the funniest.
Dollhouse really stumbles out of the gate, and considering all the hype and promotion, that's a surprise.
We have Echo (Eliza Dushku) who is mysteriously forced to join this group, by Olivia Williams, who we presume is covering her expenses in exchange for becoming one of a small group of operatives, women who can take on any role, any personality that have been programmed into them by a programming chair attached to a computer/recorder that can wipe the mind or insert memories.
In this episode, we learn a bit about how the machine that does this mind control works, we learn that a cop is on the trail of the people running Dollhouse and we learn that borrowing someone else's memories to do a job may have unexpected side effects. You would think they would have planned for that.
At any rate, the episode fails on most levels, in that the story wasn't believable even within its own context and it wasn't even terribly sexy, which was the main selling point of the program (at least according to the promos Fox ran for it for weeks).
Plenty of questions, but not many answers, and no real characters you would care about to wait and see if any of this gets resolved. If this show wants to survive, they better gear up, fast.
The United States of Tara has a few crucial issues and they could be potentially fatal.
Let's be clear. This show is NOT a sitcom, as it was first promoted by Showtime. It's a thirty minute "dramedy." That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does represent a kind of false advertising for the program. You aren't going to find the laughs of a "How I Met Your Mother" or even "The New Adventures of Old Christine" here.
What we do have is Toni Collette in what amounts to a tour-de-force role as 4 different characters, brought on by DID: Dissociative Identity Disorder. She becomes a teenage slut, a Vietnam vet (so "he" claims), and a happy homemaker in addition to her regular self: mom to two teens, wife to a landscaper husband and sibling to a financially troubled sister.
There are several glaring issues about this situation, and I'm not even discussing the question of whether it's OK or not to use DID as the impetus for the show's action. That is a separate argument that, believe it or not, isn't related to my criticism of what's going on here.
The first issue is based on the use of drugs and alcohol. We are told that Tara was on prescription drugs to control these "alts" and had recently come off of them so she could live a more focused life. Yet she is very often drinking on the program: beer and wine are the most common choices, but even hard liquor has been seen. The use of alcohol in this situation makes me question how serious this character is about getting better. If the alts appear when she is unhappy, drinking alcohol, a known depressant, would be a huge mistake. Also, why would her therapist permit that kind of behavior?
In addition, the characters do not relate well to each other. It seems as if they each have their own agenda and have no connection to what anyone else is doing, creating logic gaps. For example, Tara's sister Charmaine is trying to sell products. One of her "team mates" hires Tara to paint a mural for her, but Charmaine spills the info about Tara's alts to this unrelated person.
Charmaine first claims that she didn't tell, but then admits to it. This upsets Tara. Why, if everyone knows about Tara's DID, does she get upset when Charmaine explained it to her client, and why did Charmaine lie to Tara about telling? Wouldn't it be one or the other? Then, after an evening of drink, (there's the alcohol) one of the alts defaces Tara's mural for the client with a horrible comment etched into the wall. What? There needs to be a certain logic within the framework of the show, some basic rules that the characters need to respond to in order for it to make sense in its own reality and I simply do not see that working here.
Also troubling is the point of this isn't clear. What are we learning (or even observing) here? To indicate Tara's "changes" they have tried an audio cue (a little tone) and even a visual cue (the image going unfocused for a moment) and that seems awkward. We see Tara suffering through the issues of what her alts do, but I don't get any sense that there is any progress.
Perhaps worst of all, the dialog seems to be uninspired. Characters say things I couldn't imagine "real" people saying in some circumstances here, and that's always a bad sign.
Originally, I gave the show a 7, based on the pilot alone. Having seen more episodes, I've lowered this to a 5 and I can say that this show is in trouble, but I believe it can be fixed.
The key is related to how the characters interact. Yes, each one of them has a list of things that they want. But to make the plots move in a logical way, they all have to interconnect. Buck buys (or rents) a bunch of porn DVDs. Where does he get the money? The alts apparently are able to use Tara's credit cards. Does this make any sense? There are several gaps of this sort within this framework of the story and they could be series killers.
My advice to Diablo Cody and Steven Spielberg: stay small, stay focused and stay logical. A series like this, with one actor playing 4 characters can get very sloppy very quickly, so everything needs to make sense. The smaller, more focused the stories are, the more genuine it's all going to seem.
Thoughts on the Pilot and Where This Might Be Going...
Showtime posted a sneak preview of the pilot episode of this series, so my comments are based exclusively on that, and upcoming clips from the show's first episode.
We've seen some unique situations in a sitcom throughout television history, but this is a comedy first. Toni Collette plays Tara, a woman with DID - that's Dissociative Identity Disorder, referred in layman's terms as "multiple personalities." She lives in a large suburban town in the midwest with her otherwise perfect nuclear family: Her growing up fast daughter Kate (Brie Larson), her in touch with his feminine side son Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) and her easygoing and matter-of-fact husband Max (John Corbett). Plus her in-the-neighborhood sister Charmaine (Rosemarie De Witt) who is, apparently, normal.
Then there are all of the different versions of Tara, which manifest themselves when she is under some form of duress. "T" is a slutty teen, about the same age as Kate, who displays a whale tail among other questionable style choices. "Buck" is a dude who claims he lost his male genitalia in 'Nam, but still has testosterone aplenty. And "Alice," (who didn't appear in the pilot but will be in the first ep) the perfect homemaker, straight from a 1950s style sitcom.
Of course, Sally Field lifted her acting career to a new level when she took on the role of "Sybil," a TV movie character which was based on a true story. Here, though, DID is basically being played for laughs as the script by Diablo Cody clicks along at a snappy pace and the Middle America setting keeps everything bright and cheery.
Somehow, this family is perfectly OK with living under conditions where Tara becomes these other people, and we're told this has been happening for the entire length of Max's marriage to her, or about 17 years. Yet, there is a scene where Tara comes to Marshall's room and asks him about one of her "episodes" almost as if it were the first time it took place.
Also, the program begins with a device: Tara is recording her thoughts about life as a kind of video diary. This is where we learn she has a very well paying job as an interior designer for wealthy families, and that Kate is sexually active, and got the "morning after" pill. I suspect these vlogs will be a part of each episode, as they are a convenient way to set up exposition for that week's storyline.
On the great side is Toni Collette. She is a fantastic actress and the opportunity to play this many diverse characters could become the best TV acting job since Scott Bakula did "Quantum Leap." But all the performances are adequate (even if John Corbett is the same guy he plays in everything and the kids are as precocious as on most "clever" shows).
But criticism for the show, treating DID as an impetus for comedy, could be a source of ongoing issues for the program's story lines. How do you balance the jokes of this circumstance without offending the real people who are affected with this disorder? Steven Spielberg is the executive producer of this series, and his non-animated television work has had some issues over time. But his fingerprints are all over it: the suburban setting, the homey aspects, and the twist that raises the "mundane" to "exceptional" are all elements of quintessential Spielberg.
There are lots of character quirks that can and will make for episodes and story arcs that have been put in place: Marshall's intelligence and interest in all things domestic makes him a hybrid of Alex P. Keaton of "Family Ties" and Felix Unger of "The Odd Couple." Kate's propensity for getting into trouble will likely provide many opportunities for Tara to slip into one of her other personalities. And sister Charmaine more than hints that she wants Max, so we'll have to keep an eye on where that relationship will head and what that will create.
Overall, it's not a bad beginning, but it will rely on the scripts and performances as to whether this will skate along the razor's edge of entertainment and sensitivity, or fall into the abyss of shows that were just too offensive to continue.
We are Cinderella addicts. Why is that? The answer is simple. As humans, we want someone to discover who it is we are, what we do and to give us the credit that is due us. That is, we want to be valued for our true selves, and we want the rewards that come with that.
At the core of the Cinderella story is that simple concept. A person who is wonderful, struggling along under circumstances she cannot control, is just trying to eke out an existence when suddenly, someone gives her an opportunity. And this is the other addicting element of the story.
It isn't as if the fairy godmother came along and gave her the prince and the castle and all of the elements she had hoped would be hers. Cinderella had to earn them. So even though her fairy godmother provided some makeup and wardrobe including some very nice footwear, Cindy was still the one to make the impression on the Prince and win his affections with her own personal style. And that brings us to the latest version of the Cinderella tale: Will Smith in Seven Pounds.
Smith plays the fairy godfather to seven people he selects, entering their lives in mysterious ways, not explaining who he really is or what he is all about or why he is doing any of the things he is doing for them. We understand that there is a terrible reason motivating his actions, but that isn't completely revealed until the film's final twenty minutes, which I found problematic. As the audience, we can't really relate to what Smith's character is all about or even what's going on because of this secret and that makes the film seem more distant, less connected. So, when something emotional is happening, as an audience, we might respond to it, but we don't understand the meaning of it and that only makes it seem superficial.
Of course, Smith really isn't "changing" people's lives, but he is giving them the opportunity to make their lives better, which is that second element that makes us love the Cinderella story. The people he encounters get to have a fresh start, thanks to him, but it is still up to them to use it for themselves, so that part of the equation is in place.
But what makes this tale problematic is the message of the film, which struck me as self-hating and worse, masochistic. This fairy godfather is motivated by guilt and is acting purely to assuage those elements in his own life. This is not a selfless or kind person intent on giving to those who need his help. He's just trying to atone for his previous actions.
Not to bash the film too much. The pacing was very good, some of the scenes were very well played (though others were equally as bad as the good ones were great) but generally, I found the relationships that Smith formed along the way to have a stilted and artificial feel, and that was true even with his romantic interest, Rosario Dawson. Their relationship was the heart of the story and for me, it hits a wrong note.
So, yes, it's got some Cinderella elements to it, and if you really need to see that now, Seven Pounds will give you a taste of that. It'll just be a little more sour flavored than usual.
MTV used to play music videos; in fact, it was the reason it was originally formed in the early 1980s. Eventually they moved into other areas like reality television. But this program, "Rock the Cradle," offered the network formerly known as "Music Tele Vision" an opportunity to tie their own history to the programming choices of the day, by giving the sons and daughters of some of the superstars of the "video era" an opportunity to perform for a national audience in a competition that more than resembled "American Idol." The other interesting side note about the show is that it was telecast LIVE to the Eastern and Central time zones, and that the performances and reactions to comments were all about as raw as anything seen on MTV, ever.
The competitors were all trying to win a contract with a record label, and without naming any names, this was clearly a struggle for some of the people who appeared and got raked over the coals by some of the four judges (four, which breaks the "AI" format a little... oh but wait, even AI brought in guests to be extra judges one season)! Really, though, the story of what went on backstage was probably more interesting than anything that was actually seen by the viewing audience. Maybe they should have done a "Real World" style broadcast, where all of them were living in some Bel-Air Mansion and had to rehearse and deal with their rivals in a day-to-day way.
The show itself was a typical train wreck, with the eliminations, the badly rehearsed songs (with footage of the contestants' famed parentage coaching their progeny through that week's performance) and a somewhat lackluster host named Ryan Devlin. For the record, the judges were Jamie King (male, not the model/actress - this Jamie directs and choreographs music videos), Larry Rudolph (a music agent whose most successful client was Britney Spears), June Ambrose (best known for her celebrity philanthropy work), and Belinda Carlisle, who was and will always be lead singer for that quintessentially 80s girl group, The Go-Go's.
The weeks went by, and the voting went on, as people were removed from the scene. In the end, one of them was declared the winner. Have we heard the champion's CD yet? No. But, maybe that's just as well.
"Secret Talents of the Stars" was borne of the need to get something on prime time television in the wake of the WGA strike that happened in the late fall of 2007 and early winter of 2008. And the show seemed like a train wreck, just from the premise. Gather a group of celebrities, get them to train briefly doing something they really weren't proficient in, like singing (Star Trek and Heroes star George Takei who performed the Willie Nelson classic "On The Road Again"), telling jokes (Country music superstar Clint Black who took lessons in timing from Garry Shandling), tap dancing (with RNB singer, Mya) or contortion (yes! contortion by famed figure skater Sasha Cohen) and have them present their acts LIVE in front of a studio audience and a group of 3 judges that included such names as Brian McKnight (in the "Randy Jackson" role) and Debbie Reynolds (in the gushing "Paula Abdul" role) plus some other guy who was all about being the nasty Simon Cowell role. The show was hosted by former "Seinfeld" J. Peterman and "Dancing with the Stars" champ: the personable John O'Hurley.
The viewing audience voted for the acts they liked best instantly via the web on CBS.com and the results were tabulated and offered up DURING the program, so at the end of the show, you knew exactly which two acts of the four would continue to the next round. But, let's face it... instant internet voting (you only had roughly two minutes to cast your ballot during the commercial breaks) probably wasn't the best choice for getting a fair assessment of what viewers really thought.
You have to give the stars a lot of credit for going along with this, since they were really putting themselves out there... most especially George Takei, who willingly went ahead and gave it his best (even though that only reached William Hung proportions), Sasha Cohen, who did take some physical chances in balancing and twisting and Mya, who performed an absolutely brilliant tap routine with her team of dancers. In fact, I'm certain that her loss to Clint Black's unfunny stand-up routine was the true death knell for the show. Granted, Mya did have some dance experience, so she was probably closer to being an expert in her field than the others were, but she certainly should have been in the winning category. To her credit, she was very gracious in losing, along with Takei, who really provided more comic relief than Black.
I was going to give the program a 1, but I have to give some kudos to the stars for taking those chances at what could have been career suicide (had anyone actually been watching). And, well, Debbie Reynolds was just a hoot, and completely off her rocker with her comments here.
The show was canceled almost as soon as the first episode went off the air, presumably leaving all of the other scheduled celebrities' talents, secret. The two word term for this is: mercy killing.
Both the good and the bad thing about "The Tall Guy" is that it is a British comedy with an American sense about it. That may mean that it's not terribly appealing to either people who like the British form of comedic style or those that like the American type, but it works surprisingly well!
It's an absurd tale of an American actor (Jeff Goldblum) relegated to perform as a second banana for a West End favorite (Rowan Atkinson) in a London theatrical production. His allergies force him to go to the infirmary, but his view of a nurse (Emma Thompson) gets him over his dislike of injections and begins getting weekly shots from her, just to spend a moment of pleasurable pain in her presence. After finally getting a date, and upstaging his fellow thespian, and after getting sacked for it, he then lands the lead role in a new musical, all about the life of John "The Elephant Man" Merrick! But, of course, complications arise.
The plot is helped greatly by the performances of unbelievable moments from the musical, and by a very raucous love scene with Goldblum and Thompson, one of the most violently joyous ones I've ever seen in a film! The three leads are all brilliant in their performances, especially Atkinson, who is much more Blackadder here, and not at all Mr. Bean.
OK. It might not become your favorite comedy ever, But it's very cute for what it is, and is definitely charming and wonderfully funny.
There's a lot going on with "Hero At Large." Notably, this is a film that was, for the bulk of it, made on location in NYC, circa 1979. That fact alone would be enough to recommend it, because it gives you a glimpse into what the city was about at that time, how it looked, what was playing at local movie houses and on Broadway, and what was important to its residents.
But this film goes well beyond the basics of the setting. And that's due to a meaningful script by A.J. Carothers and a truly remarkable performance by John Ritter.
In some ways, Ritter's character here is in a similar situation to Dustin Hoffman's character in 1982's "Tootsie." He plays an out of work actor who is desperate to get a part in a play, or even a commercial just to make the rent. When he books the role of Captain Avenger, a comic book hero who is the star of a cheesy live action film, he's not the motion picture actor, he's the stooge signing 8 x 10s outside of the theater dressed in the character's costume, one of dozens of actors playing the part all over town! But on the way home from his gig, when his local grocer gets held up at knife-point, he uses that costume to thwart the street toughs and saves the day! His interest in his next door neighbor, J. (Anne Archer) helps to fuel his heroics, and he finds himself starting to take chances to help people and win her attention and affection, and to make a statement about what's really important.
A surprise is Bert Convy, who was known for his "nice guy" image, here goes against type as the sleazy PR manager, who was in charge of both the Captain Avenger film and the Mayoral Campaign of the incumbent, who sees a way of tying the two together, based on the genuine heroics of the actor, that regular guy trying to make people think about a bigger idea(l).
This is a New York movie, through and through, but it's the heart of the film that makes it special and that's due to John Ritter. His performance is always genuine, never hits a wrong note and is a tribute to the actor himself. It's those elements that take this film to soaring heights! Plus there are cameos by some of the city's longtime television reporters: Who knew that Penny Crone had brown hair at one time?
Hero At Large may not be the greatest superhero film ever, but it's better than many that are longer on special effects and much shorter on story.