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The Hidden Room

Lifetime's horror and suspense anthology...
...which would seem like an oxymoron, when we consider the reputation of the Lifetime cable station (unless each story involves the horror of a cheating husband or the suspense of a stalking ex-boyfriend), but I remember it being rather well-done (if rather obviously on a shoestring), particularly an episode which adapted a short story by the well-regarded horror and science-fiction writer Lisa Tuttle...the first a/v adaptation of her work with which I'm familiar. I would like an opportunity to review these episodes again, but suspect something like the Museum of Television and Radio will be the only hope, since not only the various fantastic-drama cable and satellite stations but everyone else seems to have forgotten about the series.


A remarkably good job of what it was meant to do.
WEEKEND was meant to reach teens and 20-somethings with a 60 MINUTES-style magazine format, and it succeeded admirably with me, as I watched as a kid. Initially, it was on every fourth week in the Saturday at 11:30pm ET slot, to give the Saturday NIGHT LIVE folks a break (similarly, NBC was driven through desperation to schedule professional wrestling in the same timeslot in the early '80s during one of SNL's fallow periods). I remember the show's pace and breadth of subject matter were impressive, and would be nearly as likely to stick with WEEKEND to the end of the show at 1am as I would be SNL in its first seasons. It's a real pity that the attempt to move WEEKEND into primetime was botched so badly...certainly no other newsmagazine show since has quite had its tone or approach (there was a faint echo of it in the first season of CBS's much later, short-live WEST 57TH, but that show lacked the wit and grace of WEEKEND).

She TV

For all that it meant to highlight the women involved...
Nick Bakay ended up the true star of the show in its short run. Perhaps the most memorable running joke throughout the series for me was the recurring lampoon of NYPD BLUE, then a hot newish show on ABC, but already familiar enough for Bakay, portraying the David Caruso character, and the various other cast members to consistently ask each other, with heads cocked to one side, "You OK?" Since this seemed to happen at least once every ten minutes on NYPD BLUE, it hit home. As a whole, the sketches that made up most of the episodes were less than stellar, but there was usually enough to make any given installment worth watching. Bakay, after his penance on the first shipwreck of a Dennis Miller talk show (syndicated in a time when there were many slots open for late-night syndicated talk shows), went on to shine in another largely female context, doing voiceovers in the teen-oriented but initially clever fantasy sitcom SABRINA, THE TEENAGED WITCH.


A good selection of short films and related material.
Unlike most such anthologies on US public television, this series from syndicator American Public Television (APT) tried to build each episode around a specific theme; it was also aiming at presenting as much cultural diversity among US creators as possible. Daisy Fuentes did a creditable job as host and presenter, in circumstances somewhat more dignified than in her AMERICA'S FUNNIEST HOME INJURIES gig. (Such other contemporary short-film series as THE SHORT LIST or THROUGH THE LENS were usually less thematic, though THE SHORT LIST particularly was notable for presenting films from around the world.) As of June, 2005, no reports of a second season of COLORVISION have been made.

The Tomorrow Show

A mixed bag.
Tom Snyder (I) (qv), like eventual NBC NIGHTLY NEWS anchor Tom Brokaw (qv), had been a blow-dried newsreader in LA in the '60s and earliest '70s, but when Snyder came to the NBC network, he didn't continue in a straight-news format; TOMORROW, which followed THE TONIGHT SHOW (qv) when that program still ran 90 minutes, was (usually) a limbo-set interview program with Snyder sometimes chatting with off-camera staff and crew, and sometimes seemingly with himself, before getting around to his guests for a given episode. Dan Ackroyd (qv) did a remarkably good caricature of Snyder from the earliest episodes of "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" (qv). Among Snyder's most famous interviews was a relatively rare out-of-studio interview with Charles Manson (qv), wherein Snyder baited the convicted felon; among the other low points of the series was a disastrous interview with cartoonist and writer Gahan Wilson (qv), wherein Wilson was presumably asked to bring his collection of rare Teddy bears, only to be treated very rudely by Snyder while discussing them. A longer-term low point was the addition, by NBC, of gossip reporter Rona Barrett (qv) to the series, in its penultimate season, as co-host. However, in happier times, the show was unusually free-form and spontaneous for network television in the 1970s; Harlan Ellison (qv) was among the occasional guests to be seen only rarely, if at all, on other network programming. Snyder went on to a radio career and to be the founding host of THE LATE LATE SHOW (qv) on CBS-TV, as an employee of and followup to David Letterman (qv).


Outstandingly shallow film, well-mounted, atrociously written
Everything that was wrong with MILLION DOLLAR BABY (and, for that matter, with the otherwise unrelated TRAINING DAY) is thoroughly intensified in this sorry excuse for an adult AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL. Caricatures rage at other caricatures, dramatic events have little valid foreshadowing to give them any real weight, ridiculous and ridiculously frequent coincidences are adorably depended upon, and cheap, lazy writing comes at the audience in almost every scene. The portrayals of East Asians is particularly egregiously racist in that "Ho-ho, aren't we clever for indulging in stereotypes that we all know are stereotypes" way but no one in the film escapes this altogether. If letter-grading, I'd give it an F+: the first sequence between the locksmith and his daughter was well-acted enough to make me forgive its poor writing (and the encounter between the director and the younger cop is almost as not-bad), but too soon we're back to Clash of the Cardboard Cut-Outs, despite solid efforts by the cast and crew to professionalize this drivel.

V.I. Warshawski

Definitely disappointing, but not awful
It is remarkable to me how much affection and revulsion this watchable, incomplete misfire of a film can inspire, here among the Comments and elsewhere; I haven't seen more than a few minutes of it for several years, but did see it in a theater in its original run. Kathleen Turner as VIW is too much a flirt to conform to Sara Paretsky's portrait of her detective, but otherwise gives a decent performance that, better than the script, gets across Warshawski's toughness, wit and unwillingness to suffer fools any more than she has to. The film, as someone else noted, would've done well to be a more faithful adaptation of one of the early novels, rather than pulling bits from several and then letting the plot go completely slack by the last third. But there are nice touches, here and there; Wayne Knight was born to play the petty thug and childhood schoolmate of Warshawski. But the hastiness and corner-cutting of the production is unfortunately evident. One wonders if a second film, with a better script and crew, might've been quite good.

American Playhouse: City News
Episode 12, Season 3

A fine early entry in the American PLAYHOUSE series on PBS
This was part of an early season of PBS's occasional series of longform drama, American PLAYHOUSE, which served as co-producer/funding source for a number of good-to-excellent "indy" films (and some videotape presentations) over the next decade or so. This one, involving a cartoonist who finds something like love with a new womanfriend, is mostly memorable twenty years after seeing it for its fine seduction scene to the Normal's recording of "Warm Leatherette." Otherwise, a very pleasant and witty little drama, and probably more surprising in terms of a 1984 telefilm than it would be to anyone today...imagine something similar to the Wayne Wang-directed SLAMDANCE without an attempt at a crime-drama plot.

The Great American Dream Machine

A remarkable confluence of talent...
This, like entirely too many early PBS shows, not only was underfunded initially (and certainly too willing to mock Nixon's America to be tolerated for long in the immediately pre-Watergate period), but has fallen into a ditch in terms of who owns the rights at this late date (you can't get a legit home copy of, say, the Kurt Vonnegut adaptation BETWEEN TIME AND TIMBUKTU for similar reasons). Those who've seen it, now more than three decades ago, tend to remember bits and pieces; the closest thing it had to a unifying on screen presence was Marshall Efron, who went onto his PAINLESS Sunday SCHOOL program after this one's defunding, but the innovative sketches, animation, and even wry reportage make it even more a predecessor of what was best in the early Saturday NIGHT LIVE than Albert Brooks and Chevy Chase's participation. As a child, I loved it, even when I found it very strange.

(Note to editors--you have an extraneous listing for BETWEEN TIME AND TIMBUKTU--it's listed once as a film, once as a TV series. It was a film for PBS.)


TWENTY-SOMETHING...and sadly overlooked.
This was a charming series, and probably from ABC's perspective producers Zwick and Herskowitz's "second strike" after the short run of their MY SO-CALLED LIFE, and before the undersupported but three-season run of ONCE AND AGAIN. THIRTYSOMETHING, their briefly hit series from several seasons previously, had been a trendsetter, if a bit precious to my taste; MY/LIFE, their followup dealing with teens, had been an improvement, and surely has reverberated with its audience in a way few series have; RELATIVITY, dealing primarily with a couple in their twenties and their families, friends, and colleagues, was better yet, and deserved much more support from network and audience alike. (ONCE AND AGAIN, the FORTYSOMETHING show which followed, was even better, as far as I'm concerned, but that doesn't diminish the excellent quality of this neglected series.) Yes, let's have those DVDs!

Trying Times

Wonderful series.
Here's another television series that cries out for home-video rediscovery, or at least revival by public-broadcasting syndicates or Comedy Central, but instead languishes in obscurity. The standard of writing, performance and production on this anthology was very high, indeed, and it's a pity that the PBS network of stations weren't more supportive (of this production of LA's KCET), or didn't properly get the word out (perhaps it was feared that this was too much like commercial television offerings...although it handily outclassed most situation comedy on the other US networks, with even its weakest episodes worth the viewing). The Spalding Gray episode would seem particularly poignant as well as funny today, after his suicide; Catherine O'Hara, Steven Wright, and Teri Garr's episodes were all highlights.

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love

For me, a woeful misfire.
MISSISSIPPI MASALA introduced me to both Mira Nair and (not just me, but the larger world, to) Sarita Choudhury, and I thought it a wonderful film, and Choudhury both very talented and remarkably beautiful. Thus, when hearing (first via NPR interviews) that Nair was tackling a drama that involved the KAMA SUTRA and had signed Choudhury up for the project, I couldn't imagine what could be bad about it.

Sadly, I found out. First, to have Choudhury in your cast and to make a rather less attractive woman the focus of a sensual and sexually explicit photoplay seems self-defeating, particularly when she's also, to judge from this performance, not much of an actor. Then to make the sexual scenes so devoid of chemistry or even much prurient interest, in part through the utter oiliness, both literally and figuratively, of the characters (I hadn't seen this much unction among screen lovers since the similarly unappealing scenes in the loose, awful Asimov adaptation NIGHTFALL) is to give the audience very little reason to continue being so...this would've been only the fourth film I'd ever walked out on, had my companions not wanted to stick it through to the very end. (NIGHTFALL had been one of the other three, though it was my companion, driven to the edge of physical illness by the film, whom I acquiesced to then, without much regret.) Reasonably well-shot, but a major disappointment in every other way.

The Newsroom

Brilliant television series, much imitated.
The deadpan quasidocumentary feel of this series puts it solidly in an evolutionary chain from Canadian sketch comedy, perhaps most obvious among the SCTV and other Second City folk who've done so much that's been visible in the States, to such latter-day offerings as THE OFFICE, in its original UK form and US remake. The interplay of dialog is often as quick as anything I've seen in screwball or drawing room comedy in any medium, yet usually the build toward absurdity is held deftly in check till a rich payoff. The new season, offered to US television in 1995, may seem a bit familiar as a result of the first season's influence, and the first sequel project, MORE TEARS, was by intention somewhat more self-indulgent (parodically...and simultaneously not...Fellini-esquire), but all are well worth seeing, particularly this first season.

Jazz Is My Native Language: A Portrait of Toshiko Akiyoshi

A fine, if saddening, account of Akiyoshi and Tabackin's relocation from LA to NYC
This documentary, often seen on US public television stations in the mid-1980s, documents both the last days of the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band (largely made up of jazz musicians making their rent money in the likes of the TONIGHT SHOW orchestra and movie session work, and working part-time on Akiyoshi's challenging and groundbreaking innovations in orchestral jazz), and the married couple's move from LA to NYC (where the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra has done impressive work, but not quite to the level the first Big Band was able to achieve). Akiyoshi comes off well, if unsurprisingly harried at the prospect of moving; Tabackin, who refuses to drive a car (in LA) and otherwise must be catered to, comes off rather badly (it is apparently he who wants to move to New York much more than his wife) when not demonstrating his brilliance as a woodwinds player (on saxophone and flute). Akiyoshi's daughter, Michiru Mariano (later to professionally dub herself Michiru Akiyoshi, and the product of her mother's previous marriage to saxophonist Charles Mariano), also has some input. Some excellent music, and a lovely introduction to Akiyoshi's work and life.

Women of the Prehistoric Planet

Terrible but fascinating.
And it's a real pity that it was in the first national, Comedy Channel (pre-Comedy Central) season of MST3K (before Josh Weinstein left to work on THE SIMPSONS, and before Mike Nelson signed on as a utility actor), so it presumably won't be reissued on home video in their version, while my off-cable VHS tape is on its last legs. The cast makes the film, as several have noted here, as does the twist ending you know M. Shyamalan is waiting to spring on us again any film now...I won't reveal it, but its probably the oldest cliché in bad written SF, so ridiculously hack that even the usually shameless film industry hasn't bothered with it much over the decades.

However, quite aside from seeing Stuart Margolin beginning his long, deft, typecast career, and Robert Ito with surely no inkling of his similarly long television career to come, for this viewer, the female cast, led in this regard by Irene Tsu and Merry Anders, is remarkably lovely. Arthur C. Pierce, truly an undersung contributor to the Whacked tradition of film-making, provided us with so much in his few mid-'60s features. It's a pity we haven't given him more attention...or, perhaps, not. But these are wonderfully weird (not least in their utter lack of realization of how schlock they are), and often hard to find, films.

I Spy

Interesting series, if not always a good one.
I SPY arrived in the wake of Bond, and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E's first blush of success (I don't believe that THE AVENGERS or SECRET AGENT had quite made it to the U.S., but they soon would), and while Cicely Tyson had already taken a leading non-domestic role in EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, that series was less of a success than I SPY was. I SPY may not've had the first "interracial" kiss on U.S. television, but it certainly beat STAR TREK's much-bruited non-kiss (between William Shatner and Nichelle Nicholls's characters, and more of a pressing faces together) by several years, with the numerous appearances of France Nuyen as Sam, Robert Culp's Kelly's great love (apparently, Nuyen and Culp were an item off screen for a while; amusingly, Nuyen and Shatner may've kissed ((I don't remember clearly)) on her one STAR TREK appearance, which followed by nearly a decade Nuyen and Shatner's appearance together in the stage version of THE WORLD OF SUSIE WONG, wherein, as Nuyen told LIFE magazine, Shatner often "needed" ((sic)) a preshow massage from her). The emphasis on East-Asian settings in the first season particularly was canny, if also ethically arguable--surely Cosby would appear particularly All-American to even the most nervous viewers in distinction to these Other people, however often they were played by just as All-American actors. The politics in other ways were often simpleminded, particularly when compared to even SECRET AGENT, but the human drama was also at times remarkably present even given the flimsiness of the scripts, as noted here by others.


An impressive cast wasting their time, and the viewers', with a trite and trivial attempt at quirky situation-tragedy...that comes to a heartwarming conclusion, doncha know. It seeks to engage the auditor's empathy with ineptly-drawn caricatures, set in over-familiar situations, and pretends that it's being witty while doing's the Indie-film equivalent of a mediocre sitcom, and while the cast has done its fair share of mediocre sitcoms, they are capable of much more. I'm not sure I can say the same of the rest of the anti-creative crew in this project; the indulgence in singer-songwriter standards as a sort of unifying theme adds yet another stale ingredient, but at least it presumably gave Joan Armatrading another few bucks, so there's a redeeming quality.

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