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Sunday, June 30, 2013

'Night Court' S9: Der Go Da Judge

Night Court: The Complete Ninth Season
Passing judgment on Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the ninth and final season of the mid-80s to early-90s NBC sitcom "Night Court" was tough. This show in which comedian and magician Harry Anderson starred as an adorkable newly appointed youthful looking and acting New York City night court judge was a favorite when it premiered. Further, Judge Harold, a.k.a. Harry, T. Stone's true compassion and higher regard for justice than the law were awesome.

"Night Court" was still good when it approached the ten-year mark, but the energy and genuine quirkiness levels had abated. Further, it was MUCH better at nine years than most sitcoms are by their sixth or seventh seasons.

Indications that the "Night Court" writers were aware both that the series had lasted several years and likely was approaching the end of its well-deserved outstanding run included several characters commenting about how they had held their positions with the court for tenures that ran from seven-to-nine years. Additionally, the ninth season had very little focus on the zany defendants and interesting legal dilemmas that had set "Night Court" apart from other sitcoms.

Many favorite scenes from prior seasons opened with Harry lecturing the defendant and then showing said malfeasor in a manner that made the lecture anywhere from amusing to fall on the floor funny.

A purely illustrative example of that schtick would be Harry stating that sending back the food was the appropriate response if your meal was not prepared to your liking and then seeing a man in a suit standing next to a waiter who had spaghetti, meatballs, and marinara sauce dumped on his head.

An amusing bit in the ninth-season premiere that  increased the sentence of "50 dollars and time served" that Harry issued to most marchers in the eight-year parade of prostitutes and minor criminals who stood before him to "55 dollars and time served" was another indication that "Night Court" was aware that it was beginning to become stale.

That two-part episode also has Harry and the court's defense attorney Christine Sullivan, played by Markie Post, dealing with the eighth season kiss that resulted from the long-standing sexual tension between them. The way that these two wholesome characters try to understand and communicate their feelings is as much fun as watching Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in an Andy Hardy movie. 

Those early ninth-season episodes also depict formerly lecherous prosecutor Dan Fielding, played by the three-time Emmy winner for that role John Larroquette, go completely mad in the wake of a massive betrayal. Larroquette does a thoroughly awesome job as a man beyond the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Hilarious storylines that follow Dan regaining his sanity involve his efforts to mend his philandering ways. Seeing him act more wholesomely than Harry and Christine and reject sexually aggressive advances is great fun for "Night Court" fans.

Larroquette additionally shines in an early episode in which he is reduced to using a marker-monogrammed shopping bag as a briefcase and serving as a prosecutor in a dog court in the wake of his breakdown.

Before shifting attention to other characters, the ode to Dan would not be complete without mentioning his hilarious bit regarding referring to defendants by insulting names. The purely illustrative example of this is Dan referring to a painter who is facing eviction from his rented studio solely for hiring prostitutes to pose nude for him as the artful lodger.

A less successful story arc involves the engagement and wedding of fan favorite large dim-witted bailiff Bull Shannon, played by Richard Moll.This plot line simply does not involve much real humor or suspense. The very nice message in the wedding ceremony and seeing Bull demonstrate unusual intelligence resolving numerous conflicts related to that event are nice touches.

The wedding does play a role in one of the season's best episodes that involves the wedding video that court clerk Mac Robinson, played by Charles Robinson, produces achieving midnight movie cult status. The hilarious moments in that episode are too good to ruin by stating more here.

An episode that is more true to the spirit of "Night Court" is another exceptional one. That offering has Harry administer justice in the case of the representative of a tiny European nation who has a history of abusing his diplomatic immunity.

The two-part series finale also does an overall nice job of providing a good farewell without undue sentiment. The intertwined resolutions of a multi-story arc regarding Christine's congressional campaign and Dan's feelings regarding his absurdly vigorous sexual past and his efforts to determine whether to embrace the darkside are entertaining. 

A series finale plotline that involves Harry suddenly being in comically high demand despite the world having limited interest in him for nine years is a bit contrived, but his thought process throughout that period is very true to character and helps "Night Court" end on a satisfying note. Christine's sweet efforts to keep the party going and her sadness when closing time came around are especially satisfying.

In closing, the ninth season of "Night Court" meets the standard of being a sitcom that warrants adding to a DVD collection.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Night Court," or who wishes to appeal the judgment rendered above, is welcome to email me.

Friday, June 28, 2013

'The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis:' Early '60s Boy Meets World

Shout Factory's July 2, 2013, complete series DVD release of "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" ENTITLES that company to a special Emmy or other award for preserving largely forgotten shows of the '50s and '60s.

That award would also rectify not properly acknowledging Shout's extraordinary release of the even lesser known pre-"I Love Lucy" funny ladycentric sitcom "The Goldbergs," which is on my list of "desert island" DVD sets along with Shout's release of the complete series set of "Its Garry Shandlings Show."

"Dobie," which was one of the first sitcoms based on a movie, was simply a victim of the "monochrome" prejudice that has resulted in scores of hilarious black-and-white shows becoming the Rodney Dangerfields (Google it millenials) of TV Land.

Properly describing all of the awesomeness of "Dobie" would require far too much time and lose the attention of most readers long before finishing the job.

Folks who are willing to accept that "Dobie" is a must-own set for lovers of awesome classic sitcoms can skip this review altogether and watch a presentation by "Dobie" star Dwayne Hickman on the DVD set. Hickman expertly discusses every major element of the show and evokes fond memories of its unique and hilarious elements.

Another spectacular special feature shows a very cute fourth-wall busting epilog that was part of the original pilot.

Returning to the subject of conciseness, a 1959 episode from "Dobie's" first season that had high school English teacher (and future junior college professor) Mr. Pomfritt instruct his class that modern readers did not want lengthy essays was one example of this series' timeliness more than 50 years after it first aired.

Dobie was a typical all-American teen boy who wanted luxuries such as a car and a nice wardrobe so that he could get a pretty and loving girlfriend. This character was very similar to the role of Chuck that Hickman had played for four years on the Bob Cummings sitcom "Love That Bob," a few episodes of which Shout included in the "Dobie" set. One of these offerings had Chuck conniving to divert a girl's attention from a local teen rock star.

Like most American boys of his era and ours, Dobie did not want to work for the luxuries or to try very hard to score the hot babe. Unlike the teen horndogs of today, Dobie focused much more on love than on "getting some."

Watching Dobie mature in a much better way than "The Andy Griffith Show's" Opie or most TV kids of today evoked memories of the '90s kidcom "Boy Meets World," in which the similarly awkward average kid Cory Matthews dealt with genuine growing pains and let the audience in on his life from the beginning of his adolescence through the early days of his marriage.

"Dobie" even had the Mr. Feenyesque Mr. Pomfritt follow his high school students to college and advise them throughout roughly 150 episodes. Additionally, Dobie's best friend for all four seasons was a charming counter-culture type.

Dobie simply smiling and scheming his way through high school, and later the army and junior college, would have made a decent show that would have been worth public domain DVD releases. Hickman incredibly embracing the character and Dobie's depth regarding his close-to-surface ethics despite strong temptations, his loyalty to the aforementioned beatnik best friend (and beyond awesome scene stealer) Maynard G. Krebs, his often concealed love for his gruff grocery store owning father, and sometimes heart-wrenching concern regarding adulthood made "Dobie" a show to truly treasure. I happily would have hung out at Charlie Wong's Ice Cream Parlor with  that below-average Joe.

Aside from having a pre-"Gilligan's Island" Bob Denver play a much more clever version of his titular role in that series, "Dobie" launched the careers of '60s sex kitten Tuesday Weld and dreamy stud Warren Beatty.

Weld played Thalia Menninger, who was as practical as she was beautiful. She very sweetly explained in detail many times that she did not require that Dobie or any other man that she married had to be wealthy because she was greedy.

Thalia reasoned that she needed a high income because circumstances that included her father having health problems and her older sister essentially marrying a bum led Thalia to believe that she would end up financially supporting her family.

Beatty played uber-wealthy and GQ-level handsome and stylish football captain Milton Armitage, who was Dobie's romantic rival. An early episode in which Dobie entered a deal with a clothing store owner played by cartoon-voice god Mel Blanc in an effort to out-dress Armitage was good clean fun.

Other classic "Dobie" episodes included "The Chicken From Outer Space," which involved a high school science project gone horribly awry, and "It Takes Heap O' Livin' to Make A Cave A Home." That one involved another monumental scientific breakthrough.

Personal favorites included the pilot and the series finale because they provided the most appropriate bookends that any program has ever received.

The show's entire run also benefited from ongoing gags that at worst brought a smile to the viewer's face and at best was hilarious.

Two decades before "Laverne and Shirley's" Lenny and Squiggy would burst on the scene saying "hello" seconds after another character mentioned something thoroughly repulsive, Maynard would show up with a smile and a greeting of "you rang" when another character would mention something that lacked intelligent or another redeeming social value.

This G-rated dark humor was a theme in many other ongoing bits. Characters often reminded Dobie that he was not particularly attractive or bright and did not have spectacular prospects but always softened the blow with the expression "no offense." Dobie just as often returned that favor, using the same expression.

A related bit often used the comedy rule of three that involved two serious references followed by a comedic punchline. "Dobie" used that technique in typically failed efforts to convince someone to do something against his or her nature or to support an ill-advised scheme. The "Dobie" spin involved asking rhetorical questions followed by the word "true" and having the other character respond "true."

Dobie's interaction with the incredibly self-aware, but plain-looking, Zelda Gilroy throughout all four seasons typically involved all of the gags described above and added having Zelda wrinkle her nose at Dobie and his involuntarily doing so in kind. Zelda's theory was that that response showed that Dobie loved her.

The pure honesty of Zelda's largely persistent pursuit of Dobie was another great element of the show. As she stated once in reference to her and Dobie "we're both dogs." Her overall theory was that Gilroy and Gillis alphabetically being assigned seats next to each other in school for years created a closeness known as propinquity that could be considered contrary thinking in that it theorized that familiarity bred attraction, rather than contempt.

Zelda concluded further that Dobie needed her essentially because he was such a knucklehead that he required a competent practical woman to survive. For her part, she figured that Dobie would be loyal to him because no one else would have him. Although some of Zelda's schemes bordered on the psychotic, she always pulled back from the edge.

An interesting real-life fact regarding Dobie centered around science professor Dr. Imogene Burkhart was that that moniker was the real name of Burkhart portrayor Jean Byron. Additionally, Byron went on to play the wife of Pomfritt portrayor William Schallert on and "The  Patty Duke Show" co-star William Schallert.

Although the valiant effort at brevity failed more miserably than Dobie's efforts for an ideal life, folks who want to learn even more about "Dobie" or have a question regarding the series are welcome to email me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

'Caged;' Classic Broads Behind Bars Flick

Reviewing the 2007 DVD release of the 1950 "women in prison" classic film noir "Caged" would have been criminally untimely but for both the apparent recent discontinuation of this must have "Cult Camp Classic" from the awesome Warner Archive collection and last month's inclusion of this title on the Warner Archive Instant streaming service.

Learning that Agnes "ENDORA!" Moorehead played the superintendent of the generically named "Women's State Prison" that is literally at the end of the road was enough to generate a strong interest in the film. Being told that this actress who is known for playing tough characters with little sympathy for others portrayed the warden as a compassionate administrator who campaigned for prison reform fully put me under its spell.

"Caged" begins with the incarceration of relatively innocent 19 year-old Marie Allen, played by Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker. Allen's surprisingly flexible sentence of 1-to-15 years for her role in an armed robbery relates to her standing by  man.

Seeing whether the prison experience hardens or breaks Allen makes for good borderline melodramatic noir entertainment. Her personal experiences with brutality, physical and psychological harm, and witnessing madness and suicide among her fellow inmates seems overall realistic; additionally, Parker and her castmates play their roles well.

Fans of classic films, cult and otherwise, know that the ample-bodied Hope Emerson steals the show as malicious prison matron Evelyn Harper. A "Caged-related" observation that there might have been bigger stars than the Oscar-nominated Emerson but that none were larger is a personal favorite.

Harper had the fortitude to openly and willfully defy the superintendent and easily could have stood up to even the toughest guards on the HBO series "Oz."

Harper additionally contributed great humor by directing her charges by giving them an order, calling them "you tramps," and then essentially reminding them that they no longer resided in Kansas. An '80s version of "Caged" would have had Harper telling a group of inmates in the yard "Line up you tramps; this ain't no mudd club or C.B.G.B."

Harper additionally played a huge (of course pun intended) role regarding every important plot development. This included inciting a true "pussyriot" (thanks, Joe!) and learning that her tine (not a misspelling) had come when she essentially told an inmate to fork it over one too many times.

The final judgment regarding"Caged" is that its combination of cult and classic make it worth adding to your DVD collection or streaming queue.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Caged" is encouraged to email me. Readers who want to serve as virtual parole officer can follow me on Twitter at @tvdvdguy.

Monday, June 24, 2013

'The FBI' S5: True Detective Stories

The FBI: The Complete Fifth Season
The pitch-perfect casting of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.,  as FBI Inspector Lewis Erskine helped make the nine-season true-life crime drama, the fifth season of which Warner Archive recently released on DVD, "The FBI" a true classic. Having each episode tell the true stories of the pursuit and capture of some of "America's Most Wanted" additionally made "The FBI" one of television's first reality series.

This series was also one of the better of a great line of '60s and '70s detective and other drama (mostly anthology) series from the truly legendary television producer Quinn Martin. Martin's reputation was so strong that the opening credits of "The FBI" and many other programs from his production company identified the show as "A Quinn Martin Production."

Other notable titles that Martin brought to the small screen include "The Untouchables," "The Fugitive," "The Streets of San Francisco," and "Barnaby Jones." The Zucker brothers of "Airplane" fame largely owe their careers to their hilarious and very accurate send-up of Quinn Martin Productions in "Police Squad" and the "Naked Gun" films that were based on that textbook "cancelled too soon" series.

Like other Quinn Martin productions, "The FBI" closely followed a predictable but never stale pattern. The pre-opening credit sequence introduced the audience to the felon or felons of the week and depicted them either commencing or continuing the criminal activity that caught the FBI's attention. That sequence would end with a written identification of said criminal or criminals and the one or more offenses of which they were convicted.

Erskine and his team appeared early in Act I of each episode and commenced their pursuit of that week's malfeasor. The next three acts alternated between either the ongoing criminal activity or the efforts to avoid arrest and the corresponding investigation by Erskine. The  epilog wrapped things up and informed the audience of the fates of those who had violated federal laws. This was decades before "Law and Order" series utilized the same technique.

One could say as well that it was a "true blue miracle" that Erskine's cases took him from Boston to Denver and everywhere in between.

A personal favorite among the plethora of episodes viewed for this review was "Gamble With Death." This particularly melodramatic but fairly typical episode title was one thing that earned this offering most favored nation status. As an aside, these titles were an aspect of Quinn Martin productions that "Police Squad" mocked especially well.

"Gamble" involved the brother of a man who was recently convicted of killing a woman blackmailing the married man who was believed to have been having an affair with the murder victim, who was romantically involved with the convicted man. (Confused? You won't be after this episode of "The FBI.")

An Act II twist regarding the actual motive for the blackmail was truly awesome television even if a confrontation near the end of that act was painfully predictable. 

"Gamble" had the additional treat of casting well-regarded film actress Laraine Day of the Hitchcock flick "Foreign Correspondent" play the wife of the blackmail target.

Casting Day was typical of  yet another fun technique of Martin. Each episode of most of his series would bring in guest stars at various stages of their careers as the criminals, their cohorts, and their victims. Yes, the Zuckers mocked this trademark well.

The range of guest stars in "The FBI's" fifth season ran from the the aforementioned Day, the incredibly talented comedic and dramatic actor Jack  Klugman and "Forbidden Planet" star Anne Francis to a pre "Partridge Family" dreamy David Cassidy. Seeing Russell "The Professor" Johnson in a bit part as a mentally ill murderer's psychiatrist was particularly fun.

Francis played a soft-hearted gun moll to a kidnapper/robber played by Wayne Rogers of "M*A*S*H" and the short-lived sitcom version of "House Calls" in another especially good fifth season episode. The criminal enterprise in this one was fairly clever, and Francis truly did Emmy-worthy work in her scenes with the kidnapped woman.

"Psycho's" Vera Miles appeared as a bank executive in another great episode. That one involved a "swindler" who conned investors into involvement with phony land deals. As the fact that these plots were true showed, Miles genuinely acted as a woman who followed her heart rather than her head. Seeing "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" and "The Patty Duke Show" star William Schallert as Miles' more level-headed colleague was almost as large a treat as Johnson's guest spot.

An interesting theme to many "The FBI" episodes was that there was no honor among thieves, murderers, spies, etc. This was particularly true in an episode in which Jeff Bridges played the son of a wealthy man who initially faked his own kidnapping but found himself in real trouble thanks to a betrayal by his partner in love and crime.

The season premiere, which was also a strong entry, demonstrated as well that "The FBI" reflected the times. That one from the Cold War era revolved around a traitor's ongoing scheme of coercing vulnerable individuals with access to classified documents into providing foreign governments that sensitive information. That offering placed Erskine in particular danger by having him go undercover and relying on a vulnerable and somewhat untrustworthy woman regarding whom the FBI exerted their own form of coercion.

Many decades of investigation have revealed simply that they do not make them like "The FBI" anymore and that that is a sad loss for sofa spuds everywhere.

Anyone with questions about "The FBI" or Efrem's really awesome guest spots on real-life daughter Stephanie's series "Remington Steele" is encouraged to email me.

Friday, June 21, 2013

'The Jungle Book: Adventures of Mowgli:' Tales of the Real Wolf Pack

This week's 6-disc 52-episode DVD release of  the 1989 Japanese anime series "The Jungle Book: Adventures of Mowgli" is a recent example of what makes Shout Factory so awesome. This little-known series is well animated and is the textbook definition of good spirited fun.

Most folks are familiar with the Disney version of the story of young Mowgli who is raised by wolves and becomes part of a jungle community of mostly friendly animals after wandering away from his parents as a baby. Fewer of us know that the India-born 19th century British author created the Jungle Book characters while living in Vermont.

The only word that can describe "Jungle Book" is delightful. Mowgli is very high-spirited and animated (pun intended). Further, his wolf family and the other members of the literal village that raises him are kinder and gentler versions of their animal natures.

Black panther Bagheera, who sounds a great deal like veteran comic actor John Astin, presents a stoic face while serving as a great uncle figure to Mowgli; fan favorite Baloo the bear is as dopey and lovable as always.

The simple fact is that one never forgets that Mowgli is a "man cub" but still feels that he is as much of a wolf as the four-footed members of his immediate family and the wolf pack to which he belongs. This extends to his rivalry and actual competition with young female wolf Lala, whose early episodes persona sadly really displays the behavior that modern society attributes to female canines.

The quality of the show creates feelings of glee as Mowgli romps through the jungle and experiences triumphs, sadness when he suffers a horrible loss early in the season, dread when evil tiger Shere KHAN!!!! threatens him or another character, and anger when Lala is overtly nasty to Mowgli just one episode after he rescues her from KHAN!!!!

No one would confuse "Jungle Book" with the better Disney flicks or other classic cinema drama, but any cartoon that makes you care about the non-human characters to the extent that you mourn the deaths of the series' heroes is worth watching. Earlier Japanese anime classic and childhood favorite "Kimba the White Lion" comes close.

It is nice as well that "Jungle Book" has continuing story arcs and a very satisfying multi-episode finale. Mowgli ends up in a good place in every sense without experiencing some form of contrived11th hour miracle. It is nice to think that he simply continued enjoying life and experienced peace and harmony in every aspect of jungle life.

Anyone  with questions or comments regarding "Jungle Book" is welcome to email me. Please also feel free to follow me on Twitter at @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

'Falcon Crest' S2: (Lana) Turner and Hooch

Falcon Crest: The Complete Second Season
Watching every episode of the DVD release of the second season of '80s primetime soap "Falcon Crest" as preparation for reviewing the recent DVD release of that series' third season owas the most enjoyable homework since watching the DVDs of the directors' cuts of the prior films in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in preparation for the next one on the big screen. This "hobbit" will continue regarding the second chapter in the spectacular "The Hobbit" trilogy.

 "Crest" is "unreal" escapist classic television fare that makes even light-weight sofa spuds gleeful that Warner Brothers created Warner Archive to release vintage (of course, pun intended) titles that admittedly are very unlikely to ever top the DVD sales charts.

Watching "Crest" for this review was particularly special because it evoked great memories of gathering with friends to watch these episodes after viewing its companion series "Dallas" on Friday nights. Just mentioning daffy Emma from  "Crest" to a former viewing buddy two weeks ago prompted a laugh.

The drama, melo and otherwise, on "Crest" was silly enough to mock. (Look for an annoying number of references to "Hell Denver; we're going down" in a future review of this series.) At the same time, the series was well-written and acted enough to hold our attention, elicit frustrated groans at episode-ending cliffhangers, and keep us glued in our seats to see how those cliffhangers were resolved.

"Crest" revolved around the (sometimes literal) trials and tribulations of the Channing and Gioberti families that operated the titular winery in the thinly disguised Napa Valley outside San Francisco. The depictions of the fierce competition among California winemakers made one wonder if Ernest and Julio Gallo were nice guys.

Ronald Reagan's former wife Jane Wyman's Angela Channing was at the center of the action and truly out Nancy Reaganed  subsequent Reagan wife Nancy regarding every aspect of Angela's life.

Angela ruled her business empire and her family with an iron glove and took a scorched earth policy regarding any betrayal. Second season examples included ruthless negotiating tactics and sharecropper-level living and working conditions for field hands.

Additionally daughter Julia and unfortunately named grandson Lance Cumson, played by the mahvelous Lorenzo Lamas, both faced real threats of being disinherited and entirely banished from Angela's life simply for acting to be with the ones whom they loved.

Adding former "Sweater Girl" Lana Turner to the cast as Jacqueline Perrault created similar drama with Angela in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes conflict with Wyman. This glamorous European socialite was the mother of Angela's nephew Chase Gioberti and constantly outshined Wyman. Like Angela, Wyman ultimately got her way.

Second season drama that preceded Perrault's appearance in the "Tuscnay Valley" included the aftermath of Chase learning at the end of the first season both the true circumstances of his father's death and Angela's role in the subterfuge. These developments paved the way for Chase to obtain a 50-percent interest in the winery and an active role in its operation in defiance of Angela's vehement opposition.

Early second season episodes also introduced David Selby as Richard Channing, the illegitimate son of Angela's late husband Douglas. Angela was as cold to Richard as Nancy Reagan was to Reagan son Michael whom Wyman and the Gipper had adopted.

Angela and Richard quickly developed the same type of toxic adversarial relationship as Blake  Carrington and Alexis Colby when Colby portrayor Joan Collins joined the cast of fellow '80s primetime soap "Dynasty" in that series' second season.

One primary source of conflict between Richard and Angela was her efforts to oust him from the San Fransisco newspaper that Douglas had left him. Not to be outdone, Richard sought to establish a foothold in California's wine industry that would have personally irked Angela and negatively affected Falcon Crest's profitability.

Richard additionally was at the center of a mystery regarding the identity of his birth mother, who Angela referred to as "the woman who ruined my life." Discovering the mother's identity created particularly awesome primetime soap drama, but even the Scooby gang would have deduced who she was on the first mention of her name.

For the Giobertis' part, 20-something son Cole becoming the prime suspect in the early-season murder of vineyard owner Carlo Agretti prompted Chase to redirect the detective skills that he used to discover the truth regarding his father's death to learn who killed Carlo. The possible motives for said homicide included heat of the moment rage, avoiding being disinherited, possible blackmail by Carlo, and desire for ownership of the Agretti vineyards.

The season finale's ultimate reveal regarding the murderer required very little detective work. The killer's identity was surprising but seemed rather contrived.

However, the writers titling this episode "Climax" indicated that they had a more clever sense of humor than previously believed. The final minutes, which involved killing a character, could very aptly be described as "la petite mort."

Lesser plot points involved both Cole and his younger sister Vickie entering serious romantic relationships with an older man and a cougar respectively, Chase's investigation and wife Maggie's screenwriting career leading to a separation, and melodramatic storylines related to Lance's loveless forced marriage of convenience to Carlo's daughter Melissa.

This summary of the love, lust, and larceny that occurred in roughly 990 minutes supports this site's theory that classic scripted drama has infinitely more entertainment value than any reality show. It is difficult to imagine that "The Real Housewifes of the Tuscany Valley" could earn as large a fanbase as "Crest" or maintain it for 30 years.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Crest" is encouraged to email me.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Gibsonburg': Way to Go Ohio

The small-community high-school baseball team strikes (pun intended) it big film "Gibsonburg,"  which is being released on DVD today, evokes thoughts of the "Friday Night Lights" film and television series. This is particularly true regarding the television series' history of being cancelled or facing imminent cancellation only to come back.

"Gibsonburg" also brings to mind every cliched sports movie in which an underdog high-school or college team rallies for a big win at the end.It additionally makes one think that the characters are living in a Tom Petty or John Mellencamp, Cougar or otherwise, Midwestern town.

The underlying, but true story, of "Gibsonburg" is that the high-school baseball team of small and economically struggling Gibsonburg, Ohio, wins the 2005 post-season Ohio championship high-school baseball tournament despite a regular season record of 6 wins and 17 loses. This comeback was particularly noteworthy because it is the only time that a team with a losing regular season becomes the state champions.

The perfectly decent film is notable itself in that it is an apparent labor of love by college students. The quality definitely is good enough for film festivals and art-house theaters, and the filmmakers deserve kudos both for getting it made and finding a distributor. They additionally deserve a shout out for casting actors who are, or at least look like, the high schoolers who they portray.

The secondary story revolves around dreamy all-American type team captain Andy Gruner also getting everything of which he ever dreamed. Gruner gets up at 4:30 every morning to help his parents with their struggling family bakery, then goes to school where he apparently is uber-teen, attends baseball practice, macs on the all-American girl next door, has dinner, and then presumably does his homework.

The bottom line is that "Gibsonburg" is a perfectly fine film that may become a classic for players, fans, friends, and relatives of high-school baseball. Unfortunately, it does not provide much for the rest of us.

The fact that we know at the outset that the team wins the championship reduces the suspense, and the miraculous turnarounds for the team and Gruner personally are simply too contrived to make the audience believe that they are as smooth as portrayed. "Gibsonburg" is MUCH better than "Return of the Beverly Hillbillies," which this site recently panned, but suffers from the same lack of obstacles and conflict.

It is difficult to believe that the team rallies so strongly after such a tough season, that Gruner is such an icon, that there is no jealousy or other ill will among ANY team members, and even that Gruner's father does not get at all angry when the boy seriously jeopardizes his family's best chance for long-term economic stability. Frankly, all this smacks of subtle religious propaganda despite a lack of any mention of religion.

The film further makes the error of assuming that every audience member has at least moderate knowledge of the game of baseball and how a high-school league operates. "Gibsonburg" never explains how a team with such a bad record qualifies for a post-season championship tournament. It also creates confusion regarding whether a regular season record has any significance at all.

Similarly, a few references to pitchers throwing 80s and 90s are very confusing. I know enough about baseball to understand batting averages and have a vague sense of RBIs but have never heard of these pitching statistics.

Overall, the attributes and faults of "Gibsonburg" earn it an average batting average. The aforementioned baseball fans and lovers of sports-team underdog film will love it. The rest of of us will enjoy the good storytelling and nice "Pleasantville" small-town fantasies.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Gibsonburg" or baseball is welcome to email me. I will do my best to provide a helpful response.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

'Return of the Bevrly Hillbillies:' Return to DVD Retailer

The fact that the March 2013 DVD release of the 1981 made-for-television reunion movie "Return of the Beverly Hillbillies" epically failed to meet very low expectations largely says it all. This is coming from someone who happily owns "Rescue From Gilligan's Island" on DVD and who placed "I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later" on his DVD wishlist after recently watching it.

An especially stressful week that required "genie" therapy resolved the debate regarding whether to pay roughly $15 to get "Return" now or take the chance that it would not be discontinued before its inevitable journey to virtual and physical bargain bins led to this deeply regretted purchase.

Rather than instruct millenials to "Google it," this review will start with a recap of the awesome '60s rural comedy on which "Return" is pants around the ankles loosely based.

"Hillbillies" tells the tales of poor but happy widowed backwoods man Jed Clampett who moves his tomboy daughter Elly May, dim-witted nephew Jethro, and feisty mother-in-law Daisy "Granny" Moses to a luxurious mansion in Beverly Hills after accidentally striking oil while hunting on his Ozarks property.

The series mined some humor from the "simple folks'" inability to understand modern life or the mores of Beverly Hills. The conflicts that arose between the family and "society folk" or just plain ole opportunists who hated "those dreadful hillbillies" and/or wanted to con the Clampetts provided other humor.

One insurmountable problem with "Return" was that transplanting Jed from Beverly Hills back to a simple cabin in the woods removed both the "duck out of water" element and the conflicts that made the series so awesome. Even having a "city slicker" get fully caught up in the Ozarks way-of-life would have improved "Return."

"Return" largely revolved around Clampett friend and former bank executive secretary Jane Hathaway seeking out Jed, Jethro, and Elly May to obtain a sample of the deceased Granny's moonshine.

Hathaway, who had gone to work for the U.S. Department of Energy in the decade since the series ended, wanted to analyze the white lightning so that it could be used as an alternative to traditional gasoline. Not addressing Hathaway's career change or the fate of bank president Milburn Drysdale were among the worst flaws in "Return."

The quest of Hathaway and pathologically uptight and neurotic federal troubleshooter C.D. Medford, played by Werner Klemperer of '60s sitcom "Hogan's Heroes," brought them to Jed's cabin after striking out with Jethro and Elly May.

Hathaway was adequately familiar with, and sufficiently embraced, the hillbilly lifestyle to fit right in with Jed and his fellow mountain folk. Even a scene reminiscent of the series in which Jed offered Hathaway possum, owl, or other "road kill" cuisine would have added some humor.

Not having Medford on the sidelines throughout most of the scenes in the Ozarks and even not actively inserting him in the action when he reluctantly joined the fray wasted good opportunities for the aforementioned "city slicker" humor.

Additionally, the storyline had very little conflict. Jed and his surviving kin fully co-operated with the quest for Granny's "tonic" a.k.a "rheumitis medicine." Having a representative of the Ewing family of hit CBS show of the era "Dallas" or another oil company, such as the Brewster Oil Company that bought the Clampetts' oil in the series, act to sabotage Hathaway's efforts also would have made this vilely putrid production more watchable.

"Hillbillies'" creator and producer Paul Henning, who wrote both the original series and "Return" additionally missed an important element of every reunion special. The audience wants to see what the actors look like today.

Seeing Buddy Ebsen as Jed, Donna Douglas as Elly May, and Nancy Kulp as Hathaway was fun. However, Henning blundered in bringing actor Ray Young to play Jethro when original portrayor Max Baer, Jr., chose to not participate. Jethro played a very peripheral role in "Return" and simply should have been written out.

The special features were a little better. An introduction by Hennings' daughter, and "Petticoat Junction" (millenials Google this one) actress, Linda Kaye Henning was watchable but lacked many insights. Additionally, at least still photos related to points in the introduction would have enhanced that segment.

Seeing the original hillbillies stay in character for commercials that aired during their series was a hoot. Watching them eat corn flakes especially evoked memories of Jethro filling large mixing bowls of that cereal for his breakfast in several episodes.

The first few minutes of an hour-long documentary on the life of Paul Henning and creating the "Hillbillies" was interesting; this one included nice photos of the artist as a young man and even a film clip from the late '20s or early '30s that showed a teen Paul Henning singing like a true pro. The quality of this feature created limited expectations that the remaining 50 minutes would be just as good.

The sad truth is that the commercials and the documentary did not adequately compensate for the horrible feature. The contrast between thinking "its over already" when watching early "Hillbillies" episodes and regularly checking the time counter on the DVD player while watching "Return" showed how the mighty had fallen.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding any incarnation of the "Hillbillies" is welcome to email me. I remind folks with "uncivilized" thoughts regarding this review of the rubber-glue rule.

Friday, June 14, 2013

'The Courtship of Eddie's Father' S2: The Dad of Steel

Courtship of Eddie
Reviewing the second season of the early '70s sitcom, which is based on the film of the same name,  "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" for a post on the opening day of "Man of Steel" and the Friday before Father's Day is a no-brainer that even Bizarro would think of.

"Father's" Tom Corbett, played by the truly awesome Bill Bixby, parenting skills both earn him the title of Television Father of the 20th Century and demonstrate that son Eddie considering him a superhero is justified.

I cannot imagine any son not wanting a dad who is so devoted to him that he gets restless on the rare Saturday that they are not together and so patient that he does not prod or get angry when he knows that his offspring is up to some form of mischief. The well-known dialogues in which Tom truly listens to Eddie and guides him with complete honest and absolutely no condescension is amazing.

Those of us who had averaged-sized rooms and shared a bathroom down the hall with at least one sibling growing up also envy Eddie's huge bedroom with a terrace and a private ensuite bathroom.

In the interest of brevity and avoiding repetition, readers who are interested in learning more about the "Father" film and the first season of the "Father" sitcom are asked to please read this site's reviews of that early Ronnie Howard movie and those episodes. The spoiler alert is that both of those productions are just as good as the second season that is being reviewed here.

The first few episodes of the second season of this series about a widowed magazine executive raising his young son with the help of his full-time, but "sleep-out," housekeeper Mrs. Livingston and his wonderfully sweet but slightly ditzy secretary Tina indicate that the focus has shifted from the titular courtship to the antics of the titular Eddie. This reflects that Edie portrayor Brandon Cruz is a little older and can assume a slightly larger role (pun intended) in the series.

The season premiere revolves around Eddie teaming up with "Uncle  Norman," who is a quasi-parental figure but is essentially Roger Healey to "I Dream of Jeannie's" Tony Nelson, to make a home movie as an "unbirthday" present for Tom. Eddie's logic is that people expect presents on their birthday and that surprising them with a gift on a random date shows that you really love them.

The subdued hilarity that ensues involves the subterfuge related to Eddie and Norman shooting the film without Tom finding out; a scene in which Tina frantically looks to see where Norman and Eddie are hiding when Tom unexpectedly arrives on the scene is hilarious.

The second episode of the season is truer to the show's concept in that it involves Eddie's nemesis turned buddy Joey, played by series semi-regular Jodie Foster, preparing to run away because her widowed father is planning to remarry. Joey feels that that marriage would upset her deceased mother.

Bill Bixby does his usual outstanding job reacting to the indications that Eddie is up to something and in being a model dad in counseling Joey. This situation also requires that Tom and Eddie actively think about feelings associated with the possibility that Tom will remarry at some point. His "Super Dad" ethics will ensure that said second wife will be a good mother for Eddie.

Only one of the first eight episodes in "Father's" second season involve the titular courtship. Eddie's friendship with caring but self-absorbed socialite neighbor Valerie Bessinger, played by "The Bob Newhart  Show's" Suzanne Pleshette, leads to Valerie and Tom dating seriously.

A surprising line in which Tom states in reference to Valerie's gardening that she is good at making certain things grow is out of character for Tom and is one of the series' rare double entendres. One theory regarding this is that it is designed to show that this romance is so serious that it prompts Tom to act like a true adult.

The episode is special as well because the contrast between Tom's respectable and "old-fashioned" lifestyle and Valerie's more free-spirited and modern outlook call attention to Tom's commitment to "traditional family values" without the narrow-mindedness that often accompanies that way of living. Tom really does stand for "truth, justice, and the American way."

These early episodes further reinforce Tom's superhero qualities by having him face some tough foes. Any Superman fan knows that the tales of this Kryptonian would not be exciting if he could easily defeat every obstacle.

Early season two challenges include Tom having to decide whether to take an important business trip or see Eddie in his first ever school play, achieving the proper balance between firmness and leniency regarding Eddie shamelessly procrastinating on a school project, and making a foster son feel welcome without making Eddie jealous.

As trivial as these plots may seem, it is important to understand that making Eddie unhappy is almost as powerful as a chunk o' kryptonite to the heart for devoted dad Tom.

The bottom line is that "Father" shows what a father-son relationship can be if a former properly expresses the love that he feels toward the latter.

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

'Maniac:' A 'Psycho' for the 2010s or Frodo Has Left the Shire

The immediate response of "FRODO!" when learning of the June 21 IFC Center and VOD premiere of the new Elijah Wood psychological thriller "Maniac" explains this not-too gory departure from reviewing vintage films and television shows. Also, IFC successfully finding a real niche regarding broadcasting a wide range of thrillers and just plain ole slasher flicks suggested that "Maniac" would be worth watching.

Additionally, reading that Wood's character Frank owned a mannequin store created great expectations of opportunities for Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall jokes. (Google it millenials.) However, Frank is much more a perverse Geppetto than a hapless companion of a re-animated ancient Egyptian.

The biggest surprise regarding "Maniac" is that it is a remake of a 1980 slasher flick by the same name. This raises good hopes that Keanu Reeves' comments regarding a new "Bill and Ted" (Google it millenials) movie is more than just talk. Wyld Stallyns Rule!

Even before "Maniac" delves into Frank's really intense mommy issues, Wood's wonderfully creepy emo performance as he stalks and kills 20-something women evokes strong thoughts of "Psycho's" Norman Bates. Frank "enhancing" his mannequins with the trophies from his kill and carrying on conversations with these wax women further validates that Wood is  channeling Anthony Perkins.

The audience additionally virtually sees madman Frank's evil mind thinking horribly sick thoughts as he develops a friendship with a young female artist who admires the quality of Frank's mannequins.

"Maniac" also borrows "Psycho's" technique of largely being a silent film. Much of the action involves watching Frank silently locate and stalk his next victim, killing them, or silently enjoying quality time with his inanimate harem.

"Maniac" employs the additional arty technique of showing everything from Frank's perspective, or POV, when he is engaged in a hunt and completes his kill. We only see his face during these scenes if it is reflected in a mirror, a window, or another reflective surface. This somewhat makes him seem more like a monster than a man.

Full candor requires specifying that "Maniac" does not achieve the same level of quality as "Psycho." It is simple a good psychological thriller that is a nice homage to Hitchcock's classic.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Maniac" or "FRODO!" is welcome to email me.

Monday, June 10, 2013

'Executive Suite:' 60 Year-old Study Of Corporate Greed Still Highly Timely

Executive Suite
Warner Archive DVD release of the 1954 drama, hold the melo, "Executive Suite" gives both TCM junkies and anyone who likes a good drama a chance to see a lesser-known gem from a great era for film drama.

The first interesting relevant element of this Warner release is that MGM, which had a long-standing highly competitive rivalry with Warner Brothers when "Suite" first hit theaters, released this John Houseman produced film. Corporate dealings truly make strange bedfellows.

It is even more amazing that this study of corporate executives manipulating their company's stock and battling for leadership of the business even before their predecessor's body even made it to the morgue would be timely if it was virtually remade today. A screenwriter would only need to change segments about sending a telegram and trying to reach the executives on landlines to calling their cells and sending email.

Accomplished Hollywood director Robert Wise cleverly opened the film with POV shots from the perspective of furniture manufacturer Tredway Corporation's president Avery Bullard. Bullard's face never appeared on screen, but he was seen sending a telegram calling for a board of directors meeting minutes before falling dead in the street.

Wise soon then introduced us to the candidates for Bullard's position by having Bullard's secretary go to their offices to announce the last-minute meeting. We learned each man's name and position by seeing his name on his office door. With one exception, we learned about each man's personality through the secretary's brief conversation with that vice-president's secretary.

The consistently compelling action then focused on the vice-presidents either campaigning for the corner office or working on alliances to secure the required four of seven votes that achieving that goal required. That campaigning ranged from truly friendly persuasion, to good ole fashioned horse trading, to blackmail.

The top contenders became dedicated wholesome family man hands-on V.P. of Manufacturing McDonald "Don" Walling, played by then top star William Holden, and corporate controller Loren Shaw, played by former top star Fredric March. Future Disney star and an original "My Three Sons" Tim Considine played Walling's young son. Coincidentally Considine's "Suite" and "Sons" characters were both named Mike.

Shaw was the ultimate bottom-line guy and had business ethics comparable to Donald Trump. March's portrayal of that character and Holden's interpretation of Walling were so skilled that a scene in which Shaw's victory seemed inevitable prompted literal boos. The strength of that reaction prompted a sincere desire to travel back in time to experience watching this film in a theater full of people.

The suspense continued until the last minutes of the film, and a last-ditch effort heartfelt speech by Walling was reminiscent of the "I'll be There" speech in "The Grapes of Wrath" and just about every monologue that Jimmy Stewart delivered when his character was at or near rock bottom. The fact that Holden's speech and "Suite" overall never received true classic status reflected the strong competition during a genuine renaissance regarding Hollywood dramas.

The incredible quality of "Suite" prompted watching all of the extras. The truly artfully done theatrical trailer was a must-see.

Another extra, which was a truly live-action cartoon short, that  depicted a man's efforts to play golf and enjoy other recreation was fall-on-the floor funny and provided a good introduction to the comic brilliance of the truly creative genius Pete Smith. Scenes in which the hapless star jumped into a boat that lacked a bottom and had to deal with his golf ball lodging in a very tall tree were classic comedy.

The "Billy Boy" cartoon prompted skepticism until the opening credits showed that animation uber-god Tex Avery created it. This rather simple but hilarious story had an essentially human wolf contend with a very cute baby billy goat who literally ate everything within reach of his mouth. That goat actually chewing the scenery evoked memories of Avery's classic Daffy Duck cartoon "Duck Amuck."

The bottom line is that "Suite" truly is a must-own for any fan of good drama that artfully walks the line between exuberant emoting and melodrama.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Executive Suite" is encouraged to email me.

Friday, June 7, 2013

'Growing Pains' S3: Dunphys, Keatons, Bradys, Cleavers; their shows are no better than the Seavers

Growing Pains: The Complete Third Season
Watching episodes from Warner Archives recent DVD release of the third season of the '80s sitcom "Growing Pains" reinforced that that show deserved more regard than it received then and now. Any series that recognized the potential of a young Brad Pitt, who appeared in the third season, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who was regular in the series' final season, could not have been all that bad.

The obvious acknowledgement by "Pains'" writers and stars that the show provided escapism in the form of a traditional family sitcom was part of what made the series so fun. Alan Thicke played dad Jason Seaver as a combination of a tragically hip baby boomer and a loving caricature of "Leave it to Beaver's" Ward Cleaver.

Future Lifetime Movie mainstay Joanna Kerns played Maggie Malone Seaver as a Shirley Partridge mom who managed to see that dinner made it to the table while still enjoying a professional career. Further, like Partridge, she was not easily duped and never hesitated to call her offspring on their shenanigans. Kerns added the element of always standing by her man regardless of how big a doofus that Jason became.

Dreamy teen idol Kirk Cameron stole the show as stereotypical slacker not-so-bright teen son Mike Seaver. A third-season episode in which improper motives prompted nominating Mike for school council president really reinforced the character by explicitly calling attention to his "party animal" persona and having one of his buds tease Mike that he was becoming Michael J. Fox.

Every Xer knows that Fox was the clean-cut conservative star of "Family Ties," which was the "Partridge Family" to "Pains" "Brady Bunch" despite airing on different networks on different days.

A more mean-spirited rebuke came during an episode about a burglary at the Seaver home. Mike commented in response to general apathy by the investigating police officer, played by "24's" Dennis Haysbert, that the officer was not exactly "Miami Vice." The officer was responded that the Seavers were "not exactly 'The Cosby Show.'"

Mike's line seemed scripted; the harshness of the officer's line, the brief silence right after it, and the lack of a laugh regarding it suggested that Haysbert had improvised the line.

Others self-referential humor included at least one explicit reference to growing pains and Maggie telling Jason that he was thick.

Tracey Gold played the rather nerdy and bright good teen girl Carol Seaver, who reveled in becoming more of a regular teen to the extent that being punished for her role in helping typical enthusiastic moppet brother Ben scam his parents into buying him a new bike made her giddy. A scene in that episode in which Ben wore Carol's formal gown alone justifies buying the third season DVD.

The alternating twist in the opening credits of having the rest of the cast walk off and leaving one hapless member of their group grinning stupidly in front of the family's suburban Long Island home was both a great commentary on family sitcoms and the funnest thing to look for in a sitcom's opening credits since looking to see whether Rob Petrie tripped over the ottoman during the opening credits of "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

The third season started with the standard family sitcom Hawaiian vacation, which the "groundbreaking" "Modern Family" resorted (pun intended) to in its first season. The primary twist in this two-parter was that Maggie and the older kids were too busy with their own agendas to give Jason the family bonding time that he desired. Jason and Maggie even played the "strangers in a bar" game in that episode a good 25 years before "Family's" Phil and Claire Dunphy.

One of the better "Pains" episodes involved the sitcom standby plot of a hilariously calamitous high school play. Aside from the amusing silly mishaps, seeing Cameron show that his acting ability extended beyond playing an '80s valley boy was nice and evoked sadness that he chose to become an evangelist rather than remain an actor long enough to further develop his talent. 

Conversely, the Brad Pitt premiere episode was one of the worst of the season. The 24 year-old actor was simply too long in the tooth to play a soulful but carefree 16 year-old who courted Carol.

Pitt's delivery was flat regardless of whether he was trying to express youthful exuberance or telling the Carol the harsh reality regarding their relationship. He additionally was incredibly stiff in a scene that called for him to skip and hop around.

Pitt's complex 'do of feathered hair and a modified mullet did not add to his appeal because it largely obscured his matinee idol visage.

This poor performance prompted reviewing Pitt's IMDB profile. It was not surprising that it did not list much light comedy, and that most of the entries in that genre was voice-over roles in animated kids' films.

These elements of "Pains" third season demonstrated that shows work when they play to their strengths. This series succeeded because its core cast understood, and relished, the basic elements of a family sitcom. 

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Pains" is encouraged to email me.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

'Beetlejuice: The Complete Series' Perfect 10 for 100th Post

The timing of Shout Factory's awesome recent 12-disc 94-episode DVD release of "Beetlejuice: The Complete Series" is a perfect from the perspective of "Unreal TV." This site started as "Shout Factory for Joy" and was primarily devoted to reviewing Shout's incredible cult classic DVDs until the site's scope broadened.

"Beetlejuice" is among the great Saturday morning cartoon series of the late '80s and early '90s that were based on recent films. "The Real Ghostbusters" remains a personal favorite; other great series include "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures," "Teen Wolf," and "Back to the Future."

The 1990 Daytime Emmy winning"Beetlejuice" had the same spectacular dark humor, and catchy calypso music, as the 1988 Tim Burton film of the same name. (As an aside, seeing a dreamy young and thin Alec Baldwin in the film was a real treat.)  Further, Burton created the cartoon series and remained its executive producer through its four-year run.

The titular character was a netherworld ghoul who earned his meager living in the film as a bio-exorcist. He met his bff teen Lydia Deetz when the recently deceased former owners, and pathetically ineffective ghosts, of the house that Lydia's parents bought hired Beetlejuice to scare the Deetz family into moving.

The cartoon series ramped up the surreal humor and sets much of the action in the netherworld where Beetlejuice resided until someone in our existence summoned him by saying his name three times. Excitement regarding the DVD release of the cartoon series prompted several efforts to call forth that ghoul that did not achieve that objective but did annoy friends and colleagues.

The netherworld adventures consisted largely of Beetlejuice's business ventures or pranks going awry in a manner that required that he and Lydia put right what once went wrong. Seeing the surprisingly complex downward spiral, which included a trial essentially for a deathtime worth of crimes against non-humanity, was particularly noteworthy.

The series has held up very well over 20 years and had a wonderfully kid-friendly perverse humor geared to the 12 year-old in all of us. Seeing Beetlejuice and Lydia revel in their horrific antics was wonderful fun.

One standout episode had the gruesome twosome participating in a game show in which contestants competed to gross out the audience of netherworld creatures the most really captured the spirit of the show; not only did we see Beetlejuice and Lydia wallow in a tub of incredibly disgusting liquid, we saw the great support that they offered each other in terms of Lydia's wonderful pep talk when Beetlejuice hits a true nadir.

Other great humor in the series related to Beetlejuice's handicap of having his body literally respond to off-the-cuff statements. A segment in the series pilot, which involved hellish adventures in babysitting, had Beetlejuice transform to a baby when he expressed a desire to be like his charges. Reverting to his present state required that he state that he wanted to grow up.

An even better example of Beetlejuice's literal mindness involved trapping Lydia in his brain after he commented that he could not get her out of his mind following a serious fight. That episode gave Lydia and the audience wonderful insight into Beetlejuice's persona and his actual id.

These situations evoked fond memories of Paul Lynde's Uncle Arthur on the truly icon '60s supernatural sitcom "Bewitched." I recalled one episode in which the prank-loving warlock experienced the same fate as Beetljuice of having his every utterance result in a literal manifestation.

Jumping to fourth season episodes after sampling some from the first season created curiosity regarding the darker physical appearance and overall tone of this still kid-friendly show. Reading in the press  release that the show moved from ABC to Fox after its second year explained the change.

One fourth season episode started with Beetlejuice using his wonderfully cute anthropormophic convertible Doomie to run a scam driving school. This led to a car jacking by a truly desperate character, greater peril than your average Saturday morning and after-school cartoon, a relatively malicious round of betrayals, and a hilariously unbearable court-ordered traffic school for Beetlejuice.

Another fourth season episode had Beetlejuice achieve the first step of wealth distribution in the Netherworld's version of Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest by seizing the wealth of the despotic monarch. He had more trouble bringing himself to distribute more than rocks and toasters to the breadless peasants. He also literally toasted one of these 99-perenters.

Alan the Airedale was a lute-playing dog who stole the show in the Robin Hood episode. A segment in which this very talented canine crooned in the middle of singing his narration of the tale that he could not think of a rhyme for "minstrel" was particularly funny. Beetlejuice giving this troubadour a pile of "loot" to replace the dog's broken "lute" was also funny.

The darker elements in this one had the evil ruler kidnap Lydia and tie her to a stake to lure Beetlejuice to his castle for a royal beatdown. Beetlejuice's willful ignorance regarding this obvious trap made this plot point particularly amusing.

As this small taste of the 94 episodes in this terrific set demonstrated, "Beetlejuice" is a wonderfully creative and little-syndicated cartoon that anyone of any age with a sense of humor will love.

Anyone with questions about the "Beetlejuice" cartoon or film is welcome to email me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pre-review 'Falcon Crest' S3: The One-Percent Solution

Just as the DVD release of the sixth season of the '80s sitcom "Family Ties" inspired a post  regarding the kinder and gentler nature of political discourse in that era, the recent DVD release of the third season of the '80s primetime sudser "Falcon Crest" inspired sharing thoughts on the '80s views regarding conspicuous consumption that inspired the "Me" generation to coin the phrase "Greed is good."

In the spirit of both the soap opera genre of which "Crest" is a member and the May cliffhangers recently airing on broadcast and cable shows, a review of "Crest's" third season episodes will not appear for a few weeks. Readers who want to follow the action on this site in the interim are invited to either check back for new entries or follow it on Twitter at @tvdvdguy.

"Crest" was a companion show to "Dallas," which reinvigorated the prime time soap genre, and made staying home on Friday nights cool. Saying in a trancelike manner "Turner; is that you Turner" in reference to wonderfully daffy "Crest" character Emma's delusions regarding the hunky vineyard worker Turner Bates who "seduced" her is still great fun.

These shows that depicted the lifestyles of the rich and famous who, unlike the one-percenter reality show stars of today, acted more like Jay Gatsby than Honey Boo Boo were popular because the general hostility toward masters of their universes that is prevalent today did not exist. People painted their living rooms in Nancy Reagan red and dreamed of a fairy tale romance and wedding such as the one that Prince Charles and Diana were experiencing.

Perhaps the way that the Reagan era and royal marriage ended are why people no longer aspired to have "champagne wishes and caviar dreams." (Google it millenials.)

"Crest" substituted California's Napa Valley and the wine industry for the Dallas area and the oil and ranching industries. Jane Wyman's ruthless family matriarch Angela Channing was the counterpart of Larry Hagman's dastardly J.R. Ewing.

It is unlikely that many viewers wanted  to be part of the Borgia-like shenanigans in the Channing or Ewing households, but we loved seeing their lavish lifestyles and did not resent their wealth. No one complained about J.R.'s effective tax rate, and the Falcon Crest vineyards were never occupied.

That is not to say that the primetime power brokers were always benevolent. Profit or other personal benefits were the only motives behind J.R.'s decision regarding an oil field, and the Falcon Crest vineyards were most likely lousy with underpaid undocumented workers.

The recent controversy regarding people paying roughly $1,000/day to have handicapped people escort them around Disney World so that they would not have to wait in line for rides illustrates the change in public perceptions over the past 25 years. Headlines regarding this unsavory practice pinned it on the one-percent despite the fact that probably more people, who have also come under attack, whose annual incomes hover around $250,000 a year are the primary culprits.

This underhanded tactic is bad, but the facts that even the pandemic level of abuse of handicapped parking placards in this country and terrorist acts that occurred in the same period in which the Disney story broke did not generate the same level of outrage as that scheme shows how even indications of minor transgressions by "wealthy" people prompt the villagers to oil up the guillotine.

Further pondering on this subject prompted thoughts regarding how the Ewing family and the Channing clan would view every member of a middle-class family owning a $400 smartphone with their own number and replacing said telephone every two years, families of four owning one or more $35,000 SUVs, managing to remain living in relatively luxurious houses that are beyond their means, and spending $5 on a cup of coffee each day. These titans of industry would think that these folks are pretty lucky to still maintain that level of luxury despite their harsh economic realities.

Anyone with questions regarding "Crest," "Dallas," or another primetime soap is encouraged to email me. Those of you with hostile thoughts regarding the views expressed in this post are reminded of the rubber-glue rule.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

'Star Trek Into Darkness:" Abrams into Dorkness

Each year, a summer crockbuster so spectacularly fails to meet its potential that it warrants diverting from this site's focus on TV (and an occasional film) on DVD to warrant a public service review. Not-so "Magic Mike" earned this distinction last year, and "Star Trek Into Darkness" is the subject of this year's review.

Before getting into this, I would like to invite folks to follow this site on Twitter at @tvdvdguy.

"Mike" and "Trek" evoked memories of the very talented "best brains" behind the late '80s - early '90s basic cable series "Mystery Science Theater 3000." That show aired really horrible films accompanied by hilariously vicious riffing. The fairly well publicized criteria for selecting a film for that treatment included undue delusions of grandeur by the filmmaker. Mssrs Soderbergh and Abrams definitely would have qualified regarding "Mike" and "Trek."

The fact that "Trek" was more "The Hangover to the Stars," than "Wagon Train to the Stars" as Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned the original series was part of the problem. Both incarnations had the jock, the uber-nerd, the arrogant egotist, the sarcastic hothead, and even the extraneous Asian guy. The difference was that Roddenberry added real substance to these characters and their universe.

"Trek" would have made a watchable big screen space opera but simply did not achieve the quality that continuing the most successful television franchise of any time deserved.

One reason that the real Trek universe is so important to so many is that we discovered it in several terrific ways. Some folks were blown away with its cerebral and truly groundbreaking tone in the mid-60s, others discovered it watching syndicated reruns in their buddy's basement rec room, folks like me got hooked during "Next Generation (which I recently reviewed) or other subsequent Trek shows after failing to "get" the original series, and still others discovered it via the original big-screen films.

On a lighter note, a scene in "Trek" that (perhaps inadvertently) depicted a background building that looked like the Skypad Apartments where the space-age cartoon characters the Jetsons lived was hilarious.

The only thing that would have been better would have been if Kirk would have responded that he wanted to probe Uranus when Spock asked him how he wanted to start the crew's five-year mission to explore space.

Watching "Trek" was like moving to a once vibrant city just as it was entering an economic downturn. It is still a fairly nice place to visit, but you really would not want to live there anymore.

Before addressing Trek-related flaws, ripped from the headlines aspects of the plot deserve mention. A terrorist bombing in London set the story in motion and an American city came under attack later in the film. This warranted the same criticism as similar plot points in "Iron Man 3." They simply hit too close to home, considering the London bombing and fairly recent New York attacks that occurred before the film began production.

As the "Iron Man 3" reviews and this site's primary focus on the "unreal" escapist aspect of television shows and film state offerings that are designed to primarily be entertainment should not come very close to depicting actual unpleasant aspects of real life. This is particularly true considering that Roddenberry's vision is of a relatively Utopian universe after a period of very violent war on earth.

Additionally, the film treated Trek legend, well-respected actor, and righteous dude Leonard Nimoy unforgivably shabbily. Having Spock prime appear only in one scene that Nimoy likely filmed alone in a studio ala Suzanne Somers was forced to do when contract problems with "Three's Company" resulted in Chrissy moving to her aunt's farm and calling Janet at the end of each episode warranted exiling Abrams on a deserted planet that barely qualified as Class M.

Rather than focus on other plot points, which countless reviews have covered, this post will largely address the numerous ways that "Trek" violated the prime directive of being inconsistent with the lore of the Trek universe. Before doing so, I will remark that stifling references to "rich Corinthian leather"  (Google it millenials) for three weeks in response to a desire to not share any spoiler alerts was almost physically painful.

First of all, "Trek" utilized transporter technology that exceeded even that of "Next Generation," which was set roughly 75 years after the original series.

Another plot point had a female human member of the Enterprise crew engage in diplomacy with a group of Klingons. Trek 101 teaches us that Klingons almost universally have very little regard for humans and for any women who do not prove that they are as fierce a warrior as a Klingon male. True Klingons would have at least beaten the crew member senseless the second that she approached them.

Third, another segment had the Enterprise's warp engine become disabled. This supposedly left the ship dead in space despite it still having impulse engines that would have allowed it to to travel at a relatively slow speed. Similarly a later wide-spread power failure caused all manner of chaos but supposedly did not affect the ship's gravity-plating. That would have been one of the first things to go.

The many unaddressed flaws in the plot points and the other lore violations in the film simply show the veracity that Abrams merely did not make a film that was worthy of adding to the "Trek" legacy.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding any aspect of "Star Trek" is encouraged to email me.