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Friday, March 29, 2013

'Family Ties' S6: 'All in the Family' Meets 'The Brady Bunch'

In the spirit of both this site's new focus on 'unreal TV' and the numerous "very special" hour-long and two-part episodes in the sixth season of the Michael J. Fox '80s sitcom "Family Ties," this review of the rapidly approaching DVD release of that season is a "very special" two-parter.

Part one of this review will focus on "Tie's" themes, and part two will be a more traditional look at the quality of the sixth season episodes. The spoiler alert is that this was a good season that included Courtney Cox connecting with her first of three wryly amusing long-term sitcom beaus and new wave dude Nick contributing a "wacky neighbor" vibe.

Before discussing how "Ties" presented an amusing well-reasoned battle of political ideologies, Fox deserves a few words of praise for reminding us that Canadians generally rock.

The later seasons of "Ties" came in the wake of Fox's success in film comedies such as "Back to the Future" and "Teen Wolf." I remember an interview from that era in which Fox stated that he was not letting his film stardom go to his head on the "Ties" set.

One particular remark was that Fox would have considered it obnoxious if he strutted around the "Ties" set blasting the theme from "Back to the Future" on a boom box. (This is this week's term for you millenials to Google.)

I do not recall if Fox's contract for "Ties" came up for renewal during his period of film stardom but do not believe that that success prompted excessive salary demands, complaints about being being tied (no pun intended) into his television contract, or any other egotistical behavior.

Additionally, I do not believe that Fox has ever been involved in any scandal, and IMDB reports that he is still married to his former "Ties" co-star Tracy Pollan.

All of the above puts Fox high on my list of celebrities with whom I would sacrifice any part of my anatomy to share a beverage of that person's choice. My soul is up for grabs if I get to live in the Victorian house in which the Keaton family of "Ties" resided.

Fox's integrity and overall kind nature ties into the themes that warrant giving "Ties" two posts. The series' underlying premise is that 60s-era student radicals Steven and Elyse Keaton are raising three, and later four, kids in the Reagan era. Fox's Alex P. Keaton is a stereotypical Reagan Republican who spent his toddler years outraged at the country's treatment of Richard Nixon.

In contrast to the darker and more current affairs manner in which '70s sitcom "All in the Family" depicted contrasting political views, "Ties" presented those conflicts more in the context of "The Brady Bunch" and other traditional family sitcoms.

It was much more likely that Alex would be coincidentally grounded on the night of a Young Republicans dinner than that he and his parents would violently argue about whether the probable effect on property values justified whether a minority family should have been allowed to move into the Keatons' suburban Ohio neighborhood or whether Alex's high school should distribute condoms in this era in which AIDS began spreading.

The very funny premiere episode of the fifth season episode illustrated "Tie's" kinder and gentler approach to political differences. College-age Alex literally took baby brother Andy, who was the Cousin Oliver of the series, out of the liberal preschool that Steven and Elyse had selected. Alex's reaction to the preschool's emphasis on sharing and non-competitiveness was hilarious.

On a side note, this episode had hilarious bits in which Andy discussed selling turtles and stated that "Alex is king." Fox's fans will agree with that sentiment.

The bottom line is that the Keatons loved and supported each other despite their differences; they also heatedly discussed those differences and playfully teased the opposing side without the alarmingly intensity that characterizes a great deal of modern political discourse.

The far-right seems to consider anyone who supports food stamps and Obamacare, or even just listens to NPR, a socialist; the far-left's policy of "peace, love, and understanding" does not extend to folks who oppose abortion and believe in the right to own guns.

Stating that this great divide is akin to the hostility between the street gangs the Crips and the Bloods is not as ridiculous as it seems. My personal experience is that merely wearing blue or red, which are the colors of the aforementioned gangs, expresses a political allegiance that can prompt intense reactions from complete (but hardly perfect) strangers.

For the record, I began wearing red polo shirts decades before the controversy regarding the 2000 presidential election transformed that choice into a political statement. I like the color, and it looks good with jeans.

The bottom line is that "Family Ties" is a nice reminder of an era in which political differences did not preclude reasonable discourse or unduly jeopordize personal relationships. I cannot imagine Elyse sending Alex to bed without his supper because he wore a red shirt or Alex running away because his parents held a Mondale rally in their home.

Anyone who would like to share comments or ask questions regarding "Ties" is welcome to email me. I also invite correspondence from folks who would like to subject me to slander, libel, or words that I never heard in the Bible.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reality Stinks

The roughly one-year anniversary of this site has coincided with both an apparent scaling back of public relations efforts by the tremondous Shout Factory and a further slip in the quality of primetime network television. Consequently, Shout Factory for Joy is becoming Unreal TV.

The name change additionally reflects the expansion of this site's coverage from the great vintage releases by Shout Factory to the equally great comparable offerings from Warner Archive and other studios. 

I will always love Shout Factory's "Mystery Science Theater 3000" releases and am eager for Shout's next release of "Hazel." However, my fanboy juices get just as revved up when I learn that Warner Archive is releasing a new season of the '70s-'80s sitcom "Alice", "Starman" or an equally loved short-run vintage series, or a '70s Hanna Barbera cartoon such as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids." 

Having said this, Shout Factory deserves Nobel Prize level credit for being one of the first studios to successfully release vintage shows. This company likely paved the way for Warner Archive, which I am very pleased spectacularly excelled where former Warner Brothers division Rhino failed. 

As a side note, Shout Factory took over releasing "Mystery Science Theater 3000" DVD sets when Rhino closed up shop. 

The title "Unreal TV" refers to both the fictional, and occasionally fantastical, nature of beloved shows from the '60s through the '80s and to the high quality of even the silliest of these offerings. 

This title also reflects the contrast between these shows and the reality TV that is dominating the current airwaves at the expense of sitcoms. 

I apparently was among the very few who loved the quirkiness of the Fox failedcom "Ben and Kate" about a charmingly odd guy, his more grounded sister, and their wacky friends. Unfortunately, this show did not seem to have a chance (no "Raising Hope" pun intended) against the more highly rated and less expensive "American Idol" and other reality shows. 

The lower quality but decent ABC sitcom "Don't Trust the B**** in Apartment 23" and many other scripted shows shared "Ben and Kate's" sad fate.

For the sake of not alienating the apparent majority of the viewing public that like reality shows (or the studios who provide the DVDs that I review :-)), I will (mostly) refrain from the tirade against that genre that my friends have heard many times. I will say that I follow the  principle that one primary goal of prime time television is to escape from the world. 

I will share that the appeal of watching the same despicably cruel psychopaths on television with which one must deal in real life escapes me. In sharing this thought with a friend this weekend, he told me that a co-worker had shared that he could not tolerate reality shows based in our home region of Boston for that exact reason.

The escapism aspect of television is a significant reason that so many Vietnam-era sitcoms were so silly. The same relief is needed in this era of  tough economic times, super storms, overcrowding on the roads and our neighbors, and a lack of any moderation in Washington.

I will share as well that I started collecting DVDs by buying "I Dream of Jeannie" releases during a period in which I was the subject of brutally hostile attacks at a prior job. 

I additionally turn to DVDs of "TV Land" shows when the animosity with my neighbors from Hell has escalated, the conservative "widows and orphans" investments on which I heavily rely are taking another hit, or a friendship ends over a minor dispute. This video therapy really helps until I reach the next relative period of puppies and lolly pops.

The bottom line of all this is that I hope that this revised site will help spread the word regarding the release of DVDs that truly make the world a little brighter. Anyone with thoughts regarding this is encouraged to email me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

'The Croods:' Relatively Evolved

The catch-phrase "The First Modern Family" that the animated division of Dreamworks has attached to "The Croods," which is coming to a theater near you on Friday March 23, 2013, also applies to that studio's apparently new approach to its blockbuster kidvid offerings. Although "The Croods" is not your older sibling's Dreamworks, it is an entertaining and somewhat substantial way to spend 90 minutes.

Dreamwork's  prior offerings that notably included the "Shrek," "Ice Age," and "Madagascar" series created expectations that "The Croods" would consist largely of family-hour sitcom stars and other idols of adolescent boys providing the voices of outrageously broad characters who farted and belched their way through a madcap adventure to the accompaniment of a soundtrack of Top 40 hits of the '60s and '70s. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Puss in Boots rocks!

On a related note, watching "The Croods" makes you forget about the voice actors. One feels as if there are actual characters on the scene. This is in contrast to the still highly entertaining "Shrek" films in which one does not forget that Mike Myers is providing the lead character's voice or that Eddie Murphy is the street-wise donkey.

"The Croods" could have been titled "The World's Oldest Cave-Dwelling Family Tells All." It depicts the tale of one of the last surviving pre-historic families who head out to literally, and spectacularly created, greener pastures when the world starts to literally crumbled around their very arid and desolate home.

The rather cro-magnon appearing heart-felt drama and action-adventure star Nicolas Cage provides the voice of family patriarch Grug. Grug can be considered a very timid Fred Flintsone (another name for you millenials to Google) who must evolve his thinking when his teen daughter Eep and the rest of his pre-nuclear family become enamored with the modern-thinking and dreamy teen stud Guy who wins them over with his charm and survival skills. 

Equally dreamy and charming Ryan Reynolds, who has not starred in a sitcom since "Two Guys and A Girl" was part of ABC's TGIF line-up in the '90s,  provides the voice of Guy.

In some ways, Grug and Guy could be considered the big bang Crosby and Hope (or perhaps Flintstone and Rubble) in that "The Croods" is large an "on the road" film in which they remain the main focus throughout most of the movie. (You millenials will need to Google that one as well.) 

The fact that current sitcom star, and legendary TV goddess, Cloris Leachman does not get much airtime in her surprisingly subdued role as family grandmother Gran helps illustrate that we are not in Shrek's zany fairy tale land anymore. It does not seem that Gran has any memorable lines or scenes.

Indie and cult comedy star Catherine Keener provides the voice for  Grug's typical cavewife Ugga, who remained in the background almost as much as Gran. "The Office's" Clark Duke plays dim-witted son Thunk, who has some slapstick moments but also lacked much of a significant role. 

Despite the amusing story and above-average voice talent, the scenery is the scene-stealer in this film. Watching the Croods and Guy cross the boundary between their desolate native land and the very tropical surroundings that are the gateway to their new life is almost as magical as seeing "The Wizard of Oz's" Dorothy go to sleep in dreary monochrome Kansas and wake up in the blindingly bright land of Oz.

It is noteworthy as well that :the Croods" was enchanting enough to keep the theater full of moppets in their seats and quiet throughout the entire film. I am unsure if the "Entouragesque" voice casts of the "Shrek," "Ice Age," and "Madagascar" films achieve the same feat. 

Anyone who would like to discuss this review is welcome to email me.

Monday, March 11, 2013

'The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams' S2: LIttle House on the Mountain

The recently released four-disc 24 episode DVD set of the second season of the 1970s action adventure/nature series "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams" is one of the latest examples of Shout Factory subsidiary Timeless Media Group delighting fans of niche shows. This set offers members of the "Adams" family the extra-special treat of an interview with series star Dan Haggerty.

In simple terms, "Adams" is a mash up between "The Fugitive" and "Little House on the Prairie." The main character James "Grizzly" Adams retreats to the 1850s frontier rather than stand trial for a crime of which he was falsely accused.

Adams' very strong rapport with his fully grown ursine companion Ben the grizzly and with the assorted skunks, raccoons, and other local critters truly was charming and delightful. The professionally trained animals often stole the spotlight.

Many of the plots revolved around the adventures of Adams and his pals in their truly beautiful mountain community. Adams' BFF was an old trader known as "Mad Jack," played by Denver Pyle.

Jack's beloved animal companion was a strong-willed burro named Number Seven, not to be confused with "Star Trek: Voyager's'" equally strong-willed Borg Seven of Nine. Number Seven's frequent vocalizations provided many opportunities to comment "you don't bray" in response.

Jack took highly skilled mountain man Adams under his wing and called him "Greenhorn" even after an temporarily amnesiac Adams handily hogtied Jack out of a delusion that Jack was an adversary. 

Jack also played the role of narrator by both describing the context of Adams' action and providing insight regarding the nature of the great and copious footage of woodland creatures great and small frolicking, defending their families, and simply enjoying their surroundings.

The human group's third member was a friendly but very dignified native American named Nakoma. Nakoma served as a liaison between his equally friendly tribe and Adams and Jack.

Seeing a native American nicely portrayed and not playing the role of comic relief, which was Jack's purpose, or hostile savage was genuinely refreshing considering the era in which "Adams" was produced. However, it was laughable that most of Nakoma's tribe could understand English but could not speak it.

Like any good '70s-era family show, "Adams" was entertaining but usually had an educational and/or fable element. The season premiere involved a balloonist who got stranded in the wilderness learning that that region was not as hostile as true greenhorns believed. This episode had truly hilarious moments and an amusing and educational subplot regarding the balloonist's pet rabbit.

Another episode had Adams and Jack looking after a couple of frontier orphans who looked like they stepped right out of "Little House on the Prairie." These scrappy moppets provided a sense of the risks that pioneers faced when they headed West.

Episodes in which a bounty hunter came looking for Adams and in which Adams returned to "civilization" to answer for the crime with which he was charged helped remind the audience that the show was about more than a very nice grizzly man leading a nice life in a wonderfully unspoiled region of the country.  Another episode had Ben literally standing trial for a crime of which he was inadvertently framed. This legal proceedings truly were bearly legal.

The bottom line is that "Adams" told some kinder and gentler stores very well, and the prospect of settling in a serene mountain community still holds great appeal.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Adams" is welcome to email me.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

'The Brady Bunch' The Complete Series Shag Carpet Cover: Bradyrific

In the spirit of Mike Brady's edict that a Brady never lies, I confess that I am reviewing the 2007 set of "The Brady Bunch" five-season complete series set with the groovy shag carpet cover because my supply of new DVD releases to review has been low these days. This real Magic Mike's voice in my head asking me if I have anything else to say is prompting me to add that I have not watched any of the DVD episodes yet.

For those of you who either lived in a cave from the '70s through the '90s or are too young to remember pet rocks and bell bottoms, "Brady" was a '70s sitcom about "a man named Brady" who had three sons and married a widow with three girls. They all lived relatively happily ever after in a very '70s looking house.

Each episode told both how that group "would somehow form a family" and mined humor from the stupid, arrogant, and embarrassing things that all kids do. These plots often involved one or more Brady kid scheming, in response to varying levels of provocation, against a sibling.

Other stories had the family engaged in fun adventures that included filming the story of the Pilgrims or encountering an ancient curse while vacationing in Hawaii.The family's adventure-packed trip to a ghost town and the Grand Canyon is equally memorable.

The series many contributions to pop culture included a stereotypical depiction of '70s-era Sears style clothing and furniture, the phrase "something suddenly came up" in the context of breaking one date to enable going on another, and most importantly the "Cousin Oliver" practice of introducing a new younger and cuter child on a show when the original moppets started getting older and less cute.

My final confession is that I am more of a Brady companion show "The Partridge Family" man and that I only bought this set because my significant other favors the Bradys over the Partridges and I promised to buy the shag carpet set if I found it for $50. I located it for that price last week and am very glad, for reasons that include those expressed above, that I bought it. It would have been more appropriate if I could have traded in green stamps for it. (This is another reference in these articles that you millenials must Google.)

Numerous conversations that my significant other and I have held regarding "Brady" episodes have kept us highly amused for the past several weeks. References to I believe awkward middle child Jan saying "Cindy, you know this one" when young Cindy froze on a TV quiz show has prompted me to annoyingly make many clearly erroneous statements to prompt the same response.

Additionally, the bubble gum pop songs on the show have been stuck in my head the last few weeks and have prompted my asking some folks if they know "who they are and what they want to be."

I know as well that I will refer to "the summer sun calling my name" and my need to go out and "catch some of those rays" in a few months.

On a more basic level, this series is the best video comfort food out there and is perfect for our current period of mega-storms and intense political upheaval. 

I am already looking forward to a cozy Saturday night on the sofa eating Whole Food's incredible macaroni and cheese, although meat loaf and mountains of mashed potatoes would be more appropriate, watching grade schoolers Bobby and Cindy trying to beat a teeter-totter record and a separate episode that has older brother Greg swaggering around as his rock star alter ego Johnny Bravo. (Yes, we will watch the TV quiz show episode as well and may make time for the "very special" Davy Jones episode.)

It is worth mentioning as well that this truly sponge cake-worthy '70s show is prompting digging into the Twinkies stash that I froze in December. Eating these treats while watching that show almost seems mandatory.

Additionally, the release's outer covering of thick lime shag carpet that is made of what is presumably some form of wonderfully icky polyester is both creative and adds a collectible element to the set.

Past comparable sets, some of which are currently selling for roughly $500, of other shows suggests that the value of this "Brady" set may dramatically increase in value. Examples of now truly collectibles include the "The Golden Girls 25th Anniversary" set with the Sophia's purse packaging and the original "Scooby Doo Where Are You" complete series set with the Mystery Machine packaging.

I am equally excited regarding a bonus disc that is exclusive to the shag carpet set. These extras include the two-part pilot of the "The Brady Kids" Saturday morning cartoon series and two episodes from the Bradys' more serious programs from the '90s. Alas, there are not any episodes from the '80s sitcom spinoff "The Brady Brides" that has sisters Marcia and Jan sharing a house with their husbands.

My final confession is that I may cheat and watch the cartoon episodes on my own tonight, rather than waiting for Saturday's Bradypalooza.

Aside from desiring to share my thoughts regarding the really cool packaging, I wanted to support the good folks at Paramount by responding to numerous on-line reviews about the discs being in tight sleeves and coming scratched and having glue on them. These comments caused great concern, but I decided to take the gamble of buying the set and was prepared to return it.

Paramount must have addressed the issues described above. My 21 discs came in a daisy-shaped flip file that had each disc easily accessible in its own slot. I examined each disc and did not find one scratch or indication of glue on the discs or the slots. Additionally, the cardboard artwork on the shag carpet looked more professional and was attached more tightly than many reviews stated.

As an aside, I have experienced the issue of reports of widespread technical problems before. I hesitated to buy the "Red Dwarf" complete series set because of many reports of missing sound and other technical problems. An investigation revealed that the flaws had been corrected, and my set was perfect.

My experiences the one or two other times that reports of technical problems have created concern regarding a DVD release have been equally positive.

As a lowly DVD reviewer, I cannot make any form of promise regarding the technical quality of any release but can share my experience that such problems are rare and that studios quickly respond to the types of issues described above.

In honor of pledge to be as honest as a Brady, I would encourage any fan or even folks who think that they may enjoy the show to get the shag carpet set. Although I still prefer dreamy teen idol David Cassidy's to dreamy teen idol Barry Williams' Greg Brady, I have no regrets regarding my purchase and have no reason to believe that any problems with glue on the discs exist.

Anyone who has questions or comments regarding "The Brady Bunch" is encouraged to email me. In the odd chance that you get a flawed set, please remind the retailer from whom you purchased it that a Brady always does the honorable thing.