Excellent Series That Could Have Used Some Improvements
For the most part ER is an exciting, well written television classic that is worth the watch and the first eight seasons were by far superior to than the seasons that followed. At first the characters were compelling and displayed a wide array of clashing personalities with all the usual TV fodder of blooming relationships and shocking moments. The three leads of Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, and Sherry Stringfield complimented each other excellently and led what is probably one of the biggest supporting casts in TV history and certainly one of TV's all-star casts from top to bottom. The early seasons did have their few issues, none bigger than Weaver who by sheer will of the screenplay always failed up without any consequences. There was a clear demarcation when Anthony Edwards left the series and no longer having a compelling lead they settled on Noah Wyle's Carter to be the new lead; which while a good secondary character was not deep enough to lead the series. That is why it appears that the writing staff began to focus on by far the most insufferable character to ever grace TV screens: Abby Lockhart. Tierney's Lockhart (not a knock on her she played it well) almost from the onset monopolized the screen time and the storylines featuring her annoying family were a real turn off. I can't imagine how trying it must be living with a bi-polar family member and I'm not making light of that fact but we could have used a much more streamlined arc because it just seemed to drag on forever. Later in the series she was given a run for her money in the worst person ever division by Neela and/or Sam and her son. All three were screen hogs that embodied the example of a narcissistic, perpetually spoiled child that only grew up physically but never emotionally. The later seasons also featured loads of ridiculous storylines. One season Sam's son runs away, the very next season they get kidnapped and she has to murder her ex-husband. To further add insult to injury she is never arrested or tried despite the fact there is a police investigation and she is clearly guilty. If they wanted to play that storyline then have her get arrested, go to trial and be acquitted. That would have been more believable than the absurd writing which bordered on parody. The parodic storylines were even talked about by some of the characters themselves during some of the more absurd medical 'emergencies'. For reference just look at the Romano helicopter storylines! The series also became peachier and leaned heavily to the left as it went on. For reference just look at the African storylines featuring Kovac and Carter and how every Christian character was always the weird, intolerant bigot while the atheists were always compassionate and indignant of those 'religious fruitcakes'. People have different opinions and writers even back then were already inserting the social justice message into their series even if it wasn't called by that name. I can be honest in saying if I had watched the series week to week when it first aired it would have annoyed me to the point where I would have stopped watching but since I streamed it I powered through the deficiencies to watch it completely. If it fits to your ideals or you don't mind sitting through seasons of rough watching then give it a shot.
I never saw Step by Step during its first run or even in syndication, while I had heard of the series I didn't discover it until it was available on HBO Max. And in what can only be described as an under statement I was pleasantly surprised. That would turn out to be a recurring theme while watching the series entire seven year run. Whenever I would look ahead at the cast changes and possible character development arcs I was usually apprehensive of what was to come but the series never let me down. To give you an example, the introduction of Cody (Sasha Mitchell) at the start of the first season at first turned me off but the character grew on me to the point were it was evident that he was the heart and soul of the show. It was terrible to see him go at the end of the fifth season but his replacement with Bronson Pinchot's Jean-Luc (of which I'm not a big fan of) in season six played out the same way. The addition of a snobby Frenchman could have turned me off but his performance was kooky and loveable much like Cody but in an entirely different way which seemed organic and prevented the feeling of the change being forced. My biggest criticism of the show is placed solely at the feet of the networks as the sixth and seventh season episodes (especially season six) were played out of order leading to confusing arcs like the introduction of JT's girlfriend Sam. The casting was superb; Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers portray a realistic couple with love in almost every scene for which they are together. Also, the fact that each of the children were thoroughly fleshed out from the beginning of the series is a testament to the excellent character background and their development throughout the run of the series. Most of them shined through at different times yet they always jelled well together throughout the whole series. They each brought something specific to the table like the lazy and slovenly JT (Brandon Call), to Staci Keanan's angry feminist Dana, and her ditzy, shallow sister with the heart of gold Karen (Angela Watson). Towards the end of the series however, it became apparent that Christine Lakin's Al was stealing the show amongst the children (which were now all young adults) and as a result she was featured more prevalently. The series focus on the four older siblings mentioned previously coupled with addition of Lilly in the last two seasons meant a reduction for Mark and Brendan (Christopher Castile and Josh Byrne) to the point where Mark was almost completely absent and Brendan was written out of the series completely in the final season. Overall, Step by Step was funny, heartwarming and wholesome. I recommend it without reservation to any and everyone whether you're in the mood to catch up on some nineties' nostalgia or like myself discovering now for the first time thirty years later.
Alas...what could have been (An unpopular opinion)
Everytime I watch the pilot episode for JAG I can't help but wonder about the squandered potential of the series. While I'm still a fan of JAG I would have liked this series more if they had followed the plan outlined in the pilot episode. A fun, adventure of the week series with military action and sparingly used legal drama instead of overdrawn legal battles in the courtroom which permeated the eventual series. The pilot episode was fun, exciting, and action packed. It was airy and lighthearted while still managing to highlight (rather well I may add) the tension and high stakes of every situation in the episode. It well written, funny and the cast was well balanced and preformed spectacularly which brings be to the biggest what if...the cast. I know this will probably be an unpopular opinion but the dynamic of the pilot cast was better suited than when we got in the actual series. I don't know what was the excuse the network or producers put forth to not make Andrea Parker, Kevin Dunn, and W. K. Stratton part of the regular cast but in my opinion they would had better contrast to David James Elliott how was by far the right casting choice for Harm and played the part excellently in both the pilot and series (right up to the end when he just looked rather uninterested). Not to say that the eventual castings of Catherine Bell, Patrick Labyorteaux, and John M. Jackson gave bad performances, because they didn't but there was hardly any chemistry and no balance whatsoever (i.e. Look at both the Admiral and Mac trying to constantly outdo each other as the gruffest person in the room). Dunn and Stratton's Bovo and Lindsey had great contrast with each other and provided balance to Harm (Bovo's good humor and nature in contrast to the straight laced Lindsey balanced out the charming, debonair Harm). My last point is probably the least popular but Andrea Parker and her character Kate were a better love interest for Harm than Catherine Bell and Mac. At the end of the pilot episode it is heavily implied (and later confirmed) that Harm and Kate had a relationship which would have hopefully ended the tedious 'will they/won't they' trope the series struggled through from season two onward (Not to mention the horrible Mac looks like Diane plot points - did Harm love Mac for Mac or because he reminded her of Diane?) There could have been tension as a result of a fallout from their relationship but there would be closure in the sense that they would have confessed their feelings for one another and had a relationship instead of the quagmire that has never been resolved. Case in point look at Harm and Mac's cameos in NCIS:LA which still showed them as having never married despite the series finale of JAG itself. A twenty-year 'love affair' with no closure whatsoever did a great disservice to the characters and to mention the fans of the series. Also, Parker / Kate's personality was way more lighthearted, charming, and funny while still being assertive and demanding when the situation required. A stark comparison to the mostly emotionless Mac who always seemed like a statue. And I know it's choice since Mac was a Marine but the woman never looked like she was a pleasant person to be around. After all, television like movies should be escapist in nature primarily and that's what was sold in the pilot episode however, unfortunately JAG may have been one of the biggest bait and switch series in history. Like I said, the series was good and I saw every episode but when looking at the pilot I just can't help to wonder what could have been and the wasted opportunities.
I've seen It's A Wonderful Life more times than I could possible count and each time is still just as 'wonderful' as the first (including last Christmas Eve in the movie theater; do yourself a favor and which at least once in at the theater) . The film is an inspirational treasure trove to see how one man who doesn't believe he is worth anything comes to know that the people around him see him differently and genuinely cherish his friendship. One never knows just how much one impacts the life of those around us and this movie takes a classic premise in the vein of A Christmas Carol and adds new meaning.The story of 'everyman' George Bailey (James Stewart) presented in biographical format with the beautiful, heart felt religious tones presented in the story by Frank Capra, who incidentally was the king of pulling on heart strings, in his crowning achievement are inspiring. I myself, have over the years and countless times I've seen the film come to identify myself with George and his everyday struggles. The film delivers classic moments from beginning to end as he ages and the ups and downs we all face in our daily lives. I can always count on the title to inject a bit of fresh air when life gets a little stale in that no matter how bad one thinks life gets it is always better than what we believe and that with family and friends life is quite enjoyable. The romance between George and Mary (Donna Reed) paint the portrait of loving and caring marriage that epitomizes romance and tenderness. Their marriage has to count amongst one of the best cinematic marriages in history which goes a long way in detailing what a real (true and loving) marriage is in real life. A true masterpiece that ends with one of the best third acts in film history with a heart-felt, touching climax ("To my big brother George, the richest man in town") that brings tears to most viewers; it certainly does for me - every time I watch it, I can't help but tear up. It's A Wonderful Life is a Wonderful film and a Christmas tradition every year in my home.
The title to my review might seem like hyperbole but it's simply fact to anyone that has ever seen NewsRadio. I have been a fan of this series since it first aired and the only thing I can say to someone that has never seen this show is to give it a chance and you will not be disappointed. It's the prime example of both comedy and a sitcom (and yes, those are two separate categories) with an extremely talented cast and some of the best writing ever to grace the airwaves. Writing, that while absurdist at times (which only made you laugh harder) was comedic gold. The series' writing was also smart and clever; a prime example is how it could be funny in an in your face kind of way and yet at the same time make you laugh with subtly timed jokes. Some of the series jokes took a while to set up but you could be sure the payoff was going to be worth it (Just look at the "Complaint Box" episode; To quote Bill McNeil, "A complaint about the complaint box, delicious.") The series was indeed delicious and the cast made the writing sparkle. Dave Foley's Dave was the prototypical straight man with plenty of laugh out loud moments (like when he overhears his staff vent their frustrations with him from under his desk only to take the heat for being an eavesdropper) and his (secret) relationship with Lisa (Maura Tierney) which provides many of the series memorable moments early on (when they go buy Lisa's first TV, and the dating with a dorky hat from "Smoking", etc). The station's owner Jimmy James (portrayed by Stephen Root) was the best boss on television during the '90s and the most eccentric billionaire in history which only served to make you laugh harder (Look no further than "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" when he reads his autobiography which has been translated back into English from Japanese). The rest of the cast shines on their own merits, Joe (Joe Rogan) the prototypical man's man and a prime example of a dude, Beth, the secretary (played Vicki Lewis) and Matthew Brock (Andy Dick) provided some of the series most absurd moments while not appearing abrasive or tiresome as other zany characters typical do on other sitcoms. It was a shame that Khandi Alexander's Katherine Duke was underused because she was most certainly the series' most underrated character, a beautiful black woman that doled it out with expert levels of sass while simultaneously taking none of it from all those around her. Last, but certainly not least was the late great Phil Hartman's portrayal of bombastic Bill McNeil. The character had so many memorable lines and stories that they would be too many to name here. Some of the best moments included him trying to quit smoking and his subsequent OD on nicotine patches, buying Joe's homemade taser to ward of a stalker, and his constant obsession with well...Bill McNeal. By far though his best moments were inside the radio booth (Seriously take a look at the "Smoking" episode) as well as the "Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor" ads from "Office Feud" and the prerecorded tapes for his show "The Real Deal with Bill McNeal" from the episode "Real Deal" which he continued to magically produce much to the chagrin of Lisa. Classic in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, Hartman's death (which introduced Jon Lovitz's Max) coupled with the spite and lack of support from NBC doomed the series before a proper finale but luckily we will always have the series available for prosperity and many, many memorable laughs.
This past week History Channel held "Car Week". A week dedicated to history specials and shows about cars. At first I was excited to see an actual history program on the "History Channel" (instead of Pawn Stars, American Pickers, etc-which all deal loosely with history and since you know...the name should actually reflect what is on the network), however I was soon disappointed. (Side note: It's a shame that with all the real history related programming History Channel has in their library they failed to air any of it during an entire week. I could think of at least four or five car related episodes of "Modern marvels" alone. But I digress.) This mini-series, just as pointed out by reviewers, is riddled with inaccuracies and full of nothing but half truths that were written and arranged in a way to satisfy their (mostly liberal) narrative. Case in point, like mostly everyone else, the series goes out of it's way to show how Henry Ford 'invented' the assembly line. Utterly false since it was invented and patented by Ransom Olds (of Oldsmobile fame) in 1901 before Ford had even been removed from his second car company. Speaking of Ransom Olds; why was he only essentially mentioned in passing at a time when he had the largest American car company (if not the world)? Ford did adopt the assembly line and was able to improve it for greater efficiency and success but it is clearly misleading. Speaking of topics only mentioned in passing, how can a series called "The Cars That Made America" not feature more than a blurb about the ultimate American car: The Corvette? For that matter, it is beyond me how a series that features the (partial) biographies of some of the world's greatest car engineers and designers not mention the Corvette's creator (and ultimate concept car designer) Harley Earl even once. It looks like this series was commissioned by people with a serious agenda against some of the greatest American Classics ever (I didn't hear the word Thunderbird once either). Instead we got a devoted story line to the DeLorean, which wasn't even an American car. I know it was necessary to end the DeLorean story line, but that couldn't have been in passing and devote some time to the issues I listed above. All in all, if you are interested in early American car history you'd be better served by reading up on it or finding other programming that might be less flashy but more accurate. The series turned into nothing more than a failed attempt at history (or at least their revisionist version of history) and a prime example of how much the History Channel has changed (for the worse) in the past few years.
I came across "Gaslight" while cruising through TCM's Video on Demand selection the other night. It was a title I had always wanted to see because it checked off two of my movie vices: Film-Noir and Ingrid Bergman (who I consider one of the greatest actress of all- time, if not the best). I sat down and prepared for what I was really hoping was going to be a good cinematic experience. The start of movie takes place a few years before the main story and leads to the introduction of the movie's main plot device (the jewels). I must confess I found the beginning of the movie (to about the Tower of London scene) to be rather boring and somewhat tedious. I persevered through, mainly because after reading other reviews and synopsis it felt like the ending was really going to pay off. Did it ever! Once I powered through the first half of the film or so, the story really picked up and as the story progressed Ingrid shown through more and more. Her performance was by far the most redeeming aspect of the film and through out the movie the story really keeps you guessing as to weather she was really disturbed or her husband (Charles Boyer) was driving her mad. The story in the second half really picks up (aided rather heavily by the detective which is strongly reminiscent of the John Williams detective character from "Dial M for Murder" in that he is a real know it all, when he shouldn't) and delivers with a tense, climactic ending which really nailed home Ingrid's win for Best Actress in the following Academy Awards. I must admit that after watching "Double Indemnity" multiple times I had always had trouble reconciling how Barbara Stanwyck didn't win the Oscar that year, but after seeing this film there is no doubt that Ingrid Bergman truly deserved it. A very, very strong film that highlights Ingrid Bergman's finest work and is a true (but underrated) classic.
Reprise the Themesong and Roll the Credits...at the Roundhouse
Nickelodeon's first foray into the variety series genre was "Roundhouse". Each episode of the series tackled a subject familiar to most kids and teens with originality and imagination. The multi- talented cast was stellar, ranging from their signing abilities (Shawn Daywalt and Crystal Lewis)to their hip-hop, dancing in the streets style of dance (Seymour Willis Green, Alfred Carr, Dominic Lucero, Micki Duran, Julene Renee, and lead choreographer Ivan Dudynsky), and the comedic talents (Jon Crane, Mark David, and David Sidoni) of the cast were superb. All the topics (some which would be considered taboo in the modern PC culture) were done in good taste topped with enough immaturity to make it appealing to younger kids. The series signature wit, timing, and elaborate use of the scarce sets and props (most of which was cardboard boxes made to look TVs, etc) showed why one point Nickelodeon was a cable leader. Sure the series looks dated complete with the grunge elements of the early 90's but the series doesn't loose its charm when you remove your nostalgia goggles. Roundhouse was truly one of the greatest shows on TV in the 1990's.
Released in time to celebrate the 65th anniversary of The Peanuts comic strip and the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Peanuts Movie is the first attempt at a Peanuts animated feature since the passing of Charles Schultz. The movie relives in bright and colorful detail the best Peanuts gags. Although it lacks a certain charm that hand drawn animation possess the CGI animators did an excellent job highlighting the characters looks and (in Snoopy's case) texture to the point where Snoopy's fur looked dare I say, realistic. The Peanuts Movie contains many memorable moments from laugh out loud funny to profoundly sweet and touching moments reminiscent of many of Schultz's TV specials. The moral of the story is also well done, teaching children that being honest and having integrity are more important than being cool and fitting in, though I would have liked to have seen a true meaning of Christmas speech (like Linus' speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas) included. Overall a wonderful movie that anyone of any age can truly enjoy and that I highly recommend. It is definitely my choice for movie of the year.
I honestly do not see why this movie has received so much hype. It was quite possibly one of the worst movie experiences I've ever had and I regret spending the money I did on renting it. The movie was long, tiresome, and dull. The cast was mediocre at best and the story was truly pointless. The only small exception were the few scenes in which there was actual driving involved (forgive me for thinking a movie titled "Drive" would actually have some driving in it). You see most of this movie is just Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan looking at one another without saying a word. I know women like Mr. Gosling, which leads me to believe they thought it would be a good idea if he just sat there looking 'cute.' The most entertaining thing you could do if your are going to watch this movie is to watch it with a stop watch. That way you can see how much time the characters spend not talking while they are on screen. Instead they just stare (rather longingly I might add) at one another in complete silence. The movie was cheesy, cheeky, and needlessly gory complete with a scene of excessive nudity that served no purpose. The soundtrack was straight out of the 1980's, or rather a 1980's soundtrack that couldn't afford the rights to popular music and thus had to create their own non-copyrighted music. Overall, this was a poor excuse of an 'action' movie that turned out to be an unwatchable love story. To sum it all up, it's a movie with no redeeming value whatsoever and easily one of the top 20 worst movies of all time.
As a fan of film noir I was excited to find another movie to watch. Little did I know what I was in store for. The lead character was a prime example of a gold digger. I know that looking at a movie through the lens of the present day will distort the original work however I find it hard to believe that a normal woman in the 1940's could be that obsessed with 'bagging a rich one'. The main character spends the entire film whining about wanting to be rich all the while hating herself for being a gold digger (You can't have your cake and eat it too). I know they wanted to make her seem naive but it completely backfired. She is just a horrible woman and has no redeeming value whatsoever as a character. The performances seem dry and forced; absolutely no chemistry between Leonore and the doctor. There is even less chemistry between her and Smith. I find it hard to believe she could have ever fooled herself into loving him (as she claims in the film). Smith is also the prime example of a terrible man and is quite possible a worse human than her. Marrying her just to spite his doctor and then ruling her life at every turn. He is however more believable at being a cad then she is as a gold digger. In a movie full of garbage the most insulting thing to contemplate is that a 'happy ending' (complete with an uplifting score) is the woman's child being still born. After pleading with her husband not to take her baby away from him she is relieved to have the baby die so she can be free to marry the doctor she loves, a doctor (pediatrician) which is just as happy to have the baby and husband out of the picture so he can finally have his one true love. Mindless dribble at its finest. All in all the film is an early example of tawdry soap opera complete with terrible acting and a crummy plot.