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Friday, August 30, 2013

'Mystery Science Theater 300: The Movie" Blu-ray: Great Restoration of Cult Classic

September 3, 2013 is a date that will live in infancy for Misties everywhere; that is when "Savior of Mystery Science Theater 3000" (MST 3K) Shout Factory makes the wonderfully juvenile humor of the 1996 film "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie" available in Blu-ray for the first time. This 2-disc set includes the movie in DVD format.

Aside from its own greatness, "MST 3K: The Movie" is a wonderful appetizer to the November 26, 2103 DVD feast titled "Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition [Collector's Tin.] This six-disc set of episodes from the "MST 3K" television series includes the hamdinger of an episode that is original host Joel's last one before Mike Nelson assumes that role.

Not only does the sharp picture on the Blu-ray of "MST 3K: The Movie" pass the "glasses off" test, it leaves the prior non-Shout DVD release of the film in the dust.

Aside from infinitely better picture and sound quality, the Shout release includes awesome extras that include a candid half-hour documentary regarding "MST 3K's" Best Brains gang working with big movie studio Universal to make the film. Another extra offers the extended scenes and deleted segments that fell victim to Universal's decree to keep the film short.

A third special feature documents the making of the 1955 Universal sci-fi movie "This Island Earth," which is the film within a film in "MST 3K: The Movie."

As resident evil scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester explains at the beginning of "MST 3K: The Movie," his experiment involves forcing regular Joe captive Mike Nelson on the Satellite of Love to watch really bad movies so that Forrester can determine the human breaking point for schlock. This is all part of Forrester's plan for dominating earth.

In the case of "MST 3K: The Movie," the film to which Forrester subjects Mike is the aforementioned "This Island Earth." This movie, which actually is pretty good, tells the tale of a scientist who quasi-benevolent aliens recruit to lend his expertise to a genuinely universal goodwill mission.

The test to which the aliens subject said scientist is akin to the screening that is integral to the scifi film "The Last Starfighter" and the pilot episode of the scifi series "Stargate: SGU."

The Satellite of Love is a bone-shaped spaceship that orbits the earth in the movie and several seasons of the show. Nelson's companions on the ship are four sentient puppet robots. Gypsy, who looks like a upright vacuum, operates the ship and keeps her male companions in line. The mostly unseen cambot allows us at home to see the hi-jinks on the ship.

Tom Servo is a confident and suave gumball-machine appearing robot, and Crow T. Robot is a generally avian-looking wise-cracking character. Tom and Crow, collectively known as the 'bots, join Mike in watching the films.

As the series' theme song states Mike "tries to keep his sanity with the help of his robot friends." (The special feature main menu offers an awesome alternative version of the theme.) The group's primary tactic to avoid going mad involves Mike and the 'bots riffing on the terrible films that Forrester forces them to watch.

The topics of the riffs in the series are as diverse as the categories in a season-worth of "Jeopardy," but they are scaled down to more "common denominator" subjects in "MST 3K: The Movie." Most of these references relate to pop culture.

Examples of great jokes in "MST 3K: The Movie" include a scene in "This Island Earth" that involves a high-pitched ringing prompting our heroes to comment that that is how everything must sound to hearing-impaired "The Who" and solo musician Pete Townshend, and a large-headed and bug-eyed monster inspiring a reference to "Queen of Mean" hotel chain owner Leona Helmsley. Other references in "MST 3K: The Movie" include Harvey the invisible rabbit and Cheech Marin.

A rather wimpy character in "This Island Earth" being the butt of jokes regarding breaking electronic parts and generally fouling up is another theme. The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, illustrates this and overall provides a good sense of the humor of "MST 3K."

The inclusion of Russell Johnson, who played "The Professor" on "Gilligan's Island," in the cast of "This Island Earth" prompts relatively predictable jokes. Referring to making a station wagon out of bamboo is one of the better riffs on this topic.

Production elements that distinguish "MST 3K: The Movie" from episodes of the series include limited use of four-letter words that basic cable of the late '80s and early '90s does not allow. More importantly, the larger sets and increased budget allow exploring more of the Satellite of Love than the bridge and the movie theater that the series depicts.

"MST 3K: The Movie" introduces Misties to an expanded view of the bridge, the lower-level of the ship, and Tom Servo's bedroom. A cut scene, which the DVD set's deleted scene special feature includes, occurs in a storm cellar on the ship.

Largely due to the prohibition on "two-percenter jokes" that only a handful of people understand, "MST 3K: The Movie" is slightly less clever than some episodes of the television series. At the same time, "This Island Earth" is one of the better-quality films that finds its way onto "MST 3K." Further the higher production values and the awesome Blu-ray quality more than make up for any restrictions on the riffs.

Anyone with questions regarding "MST 3K: The Movie" or the series is welcome to email me. Folks who prefer using Twitter can find me under @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

'Eight is Enough' S4: Four Star Season

Eight is Enough: The Complete Fourth Season
The fourth season of the late 70s-early '80s dramedy "Eight is Enough," which Warner Archive released on DVD earlier this month, is memorable both for that season's numerous life-changing developments for members of the Bradford family around which "Eight" centers and for succumbing to a handful of sitcom cliches without sacrificing quality.

This season is the penultimate one and is the last one before "The Karate Kid's" Ralph Macchio joins the cast in a "Cousin Oliver" role as Abby's teen nephew.

"Eight" is based on the memoir of the same name by the late Thomas Braden, who had eight children. The series uses that book as the starting point of a series about a typical American family with an atypically large number of offspring. Veteran character actor Dick Van Patten plays head-of-household Tom Bradford.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of early moments from the fourth season premiere shows both a mild domestic dispute regarding borrowing the family car that is common in any American family with children who drive and the scene in which daughter Susan meets future husband Merle "The Pearl" Stockwell.

The plot regarding the cars includes a nostalgic look of the sky-high gas prices and frustratingly long lines at the pumps in the late '70s. Some of us geezers who grew up actually dialing telephones remember laws that restricted people with even-numbered license plates to buying gas on days that alternated with days on which drivers with odd-number license plates could fill up. Further, topping up your tank was almost a capital offense.

Unintentional humor in this episode relates to comments from this era of earth tones that a chocolate-colored car is a great choice.

The storyline related to "When Merle Met Susan" receives quite a bit of fourth-season airtime. This couple spends the first half of that season meeting, breaking up, running off to elope, having a true family wedding, having a series of serious fights, separating, and finding that they are expecting a baby.

Meanwhile hunky oldest son David, played by dreamy Grant Goodeve, returns from his third-season "On The Road" adventure in the second episode of the fourth episode; he quickly works to re-establish both his construction career and his relationship with his former fiancee Janet.

Middle son high school senior Tommy, played by Willie Ames, spends much of the fourth season trying to prove both that he looks good shirtless and that his talent for playing the guitar ensures him a musical career that does not require good grades; this attitude, which includes a belief that college is unnecessary, regarding the value of education causes quite a bit of turmoil with Tom.

The "deep thought" regarding the aforementioned sitcom cliches is that these plots are cliches primarily because they succeed. In the case of "Eight," the writers put enough (pun intended) of a spin on them to entertain us.

One episode has country boy Merle's naive sister arriving unescorted by her brother for a visit in the middle of a flurry of activity that makes it seem that the Bradfords are breaking virtually every commandment and committing a few additional sins for good measure. These perceived illicit goings-on include a motorcycle gang hangout, boozing it up from a flask, operating a brothel, and even committing murder.

The sitcom cliche in "The Night They Raided Bradfords" episode described above is a plot straight out of an episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show;" ten year-old Nicholas innocently reveals during a poker game that Tom is winning that Tom has inadvertently been using Nicholas' marked cards all evening.

A "very special two-part" episode offers a trifecta of sitcom cliches. The free-spirted Auntie Mame type Auntie V  (number one) blows into town and takes her brother Tom and the entire Bradford family on a Hawaiian vacation (number two;) aunt Vivian's secret motive is reuniting Tom with his father who left the family when Tom was ten (number three.) Alas, Tommy does not find a cursed tiki idol that brings him and other family members bad luck.

The cliche with a twist in the season finale has Tommy's graduation celebration becoming a party gone of out bounds both truly not due to any fault of his and even occurring in his absence.

Veteran actor David Wayne plays Tom's and Vivian's father; Vivian also has a prominent role in another episode with a memorable guest star. One of the last episodes of the season has Auntie V introducing the Bradfords to her sitcom cliched older fiance, played by "MacGyver's" Dana Elcar.

Additionally, later relatively successful teen sitcom actor K.C. Martel has a recurring role as Nicholas' buddy Marvin.

Other episodes with noteworthy but familiar plots include Tommy complaining that Tom is not treating him fairly regarding dividing the family's limited "mad money" prompting Tom to put Tommy in charge of that fund, Nicholas dealing with a teacher who demands that he meet the academic standards of his older siblings, and the family struggling to adapt to step-mom Abby reducing her domestic duties so that she can pursue her Ph.D.

The plot regarding Abby's higher education has parallels with Abby portrayor Betty Buckley working on "Eight" during the week and flying to New York on the weekends to pursue a Broadway career. Every good theater buff knows that that hard work paid off.

Another theme of the season is the flightier Bradford girls getting their act together; Nancy abandons dead-end jobs such as delivering singing telegrams to work hard to establish a career at an investment firm and aspiring actress Joannie thrives as a researcher and on-air personality at a local television station. 

The fact that "Eight" makes this plethora of far more than twice-told tales entertaining and has resolutions in which each character and the audience learns something new without being beaten over the head with the message are two reasons that this show passes the test of time.

The parental decree regarding "Eight" is that the overall quality of the show and the realistically significant ways in which Bradfords young and old achieve varying degrees of enlightenment and inner peace make this a great show for those of us who had pet rocks and mood rings to revisit and for you millenials to watch if only to learn your father's hell.

Anyone with questions regarding "Eight" or any other truly '70s show is welcome to email me. The cool kids out there can follow me via Twitter on @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'Kingdom' CS: Labor Day Tribute to Defender of Working Men (and Women)

The complete three series (my people call them seasons) of the 2007-2009 British dramedy "Kingdom" is a perfect subject for a Labor Day weekend review because it tells the always charming and often provocative stories of a country solicitor (my people call them lawyers or much more nasty names) with the big-city smarts needed to obtain justice for the highly quirky working men and women of charming seaside town Market Shipborough.

Fans of British dramedy can consider "Kingdom" a variation of "Doc Martin" with a congenial compassionate legal eagle filling the shoes of a grumpy misanthrophic doctor.

Comic genius Stephen Fry, who has mastered the art of wry humor, plays titular character Peter Kingdom. Fry work in "Kingdom" is less over-the-top then his award-worthy performance in the British made-for-telly comedy film "Stalag Luft," which Unreal TV recently provided a rave review, but is perfect for his character.

Doing justice (pun intended) to "Kingdom" in a review is comparable to the challenge of conveying the incredible awesomeness of "Stalag" without spoiling the twists that make it so great. Fully describing the wonderfully eccentric events and characters in the "Kingdom" universe would require channeling a toddler dashing about a petting zoo after consuming three bowls of sugar-laden cereal.

The below video, courtesy of YouTube, of "Kingdom's" greatest hits does an awesome job conveying the program's heart and humor (not to mention great dramatic moments. It may replace "Sparta the Mean Kitty" and "mad cat Burger and Fries" as personal favorites.

Kingdom is a highly principled legal representative who only takes on cases with valid claims; Kingdom also will not bend or break the law on a client's behalf but will strictly interpret it in a manner that obtains justice for them and everyone else whom the legal dispute affects.

Kingdom's staff consists of his highly efficient and just as compassionate assistant/confidante Gloria Millington, whose real-life offspring plays her son, and adorkably awkward and still-learning trainee solicitor man-boy Lyle Anderson. Millie the adorable small dog rounds out this group.

Kingdom's emotionally unstable and toxically impulsive sister Beatrice further shakes things up, and the apparent suicide of Kingdom's brother and former law partner drives much of the action.

Terrifically wise and kind elderly Aunt Auriel, played by highly talented and prolific British actress Phyllida Law, is Peter's only normal relative. A scene in which she and the other seniors in her retirement community stage Shakespeare's "The Tempest" is one of the most funny during "Kingdom's" run.

Despite the great characters and the awesome actors who portray them, Lyle is one of the more interesting members of the crew and gets many of the best moments. Watching his strong but genuine reactions to the good and the bad that are the facts of his life make for classic television; it is also great watching him evolve into an attorney who reflects the skills and values of his mentor/employer.

Lyle's escapades include a hilarious response to going off course while scuba diving, experiencing hilarious mishaps while learning the ancient sport of dyke (my people call them drainage ditches) jumping, and experience torture at the hands of a sadistic construction crew.

A scene in which Lyle appears in full make-up, a blonde wig, and a pink princess dress and another episode in which the audience catching a glimpse of short curlies in a full frontal scene shows that Lyle portrayor Karl Davies is very willing to go the extra mile even when his role becomes a drag or requires going the full monty. I would be more than willing to travel across the pond to enjoy a tepid pint of watery ale at "Kingdom's" The Startled Duck pub with this young actor who devotes himself so fully to his roles.

"Kingdom" episodes are reminiscent of HBO's "Six Feet Under" and "Showtime's "Dead Like Me" in that they typically begin with an odd event that brings the client or clients to the firm of "Kingdom and Kingdom." These include a brawl at a retirement home, US Air Force jets buzzing the town's homes, nudists frolicking on a local beach, and a battle between druids and golfers.

The plethora of legal issues that the incidents described above and other events raise include several stories about efforts to displace individuals and groups from their homes, discovering how a recently deceased woman disposed of a small fortune, the right of a university to discriminate against an applicant based on her family's economic status, and the impact (if any) of the right of a cross-dresser to a divorce.

Perpetual client Sidney Snell provides both regular income and frustration regarding petty but valid claims against the municipal government in "Kingdom's" first series; these include using ownership of a small square of land to block a large project that requires that real estate and relying on a claim of an established custom of grazing sheep on other land to oppose exploring for natural gas on that parcel.

An episode in which the local government clearly and repeatedly torments Snell in return for his lawsuits is one of the funniest storylines in all three series.

"Kingdom's" final episode includes a great homage to the pilot episode; it also wraps up all ongoing stories well but creates a cliffhanger that makes fans want to have Kingdom represent us in a suit to require airing a Christmas special that resolves that plot.

The final verdict regarding "Kingdom" is that is demonstrates that legal dramas can be compelling and thought provoking while remaining understated and that good humor does not require harsh insults or strong sexual content with the exception of an occasional flash of pubic hair.

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

'Stalag Luft:' Must Own Absurdist British Comedy

Stalag Luft DVD
The welcome challenge regarding reviewing the perfect British made-for-TV film "Stalag Luft" is conveying its off-the-chart awesomeness without ruining the twists that earn that praise. "Stalag" is a rare production that combines a hilarious concept, 90 minutes of perfect visual gags and wry one-liners, and an ideal cast.

It is also nice that this review is the 150th post for Unreal TV. For whatever this milestone is worth, praising an excellent British production is a nice way to mark it.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the amusing one-episode 1990 Britcom "Heil Honey I'm Home" about the domestic life of Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun is being provided as a consolation for not revealing more about "Stalag." The plot revolves around the annoying Jewish neighbors interfering with a dinner party for British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

On the surface, "Stalag" is the story of a group of (mostly British) prisoners in a WWII-era German prisoner of war camp. Watching the hilarity begin ensuing within minutes prompts thoughts of the scene in the 2002 Bob Crane biopic "Auto  Focus" in which US network executives express concern regarding setting the classic US sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" in German POW camp Stalag 13.

"Stalag" also prompts thoughts of US sitcom "Sports Night" creator Aaron Sorkin trying to convince the viewing public that that show is a great comedy that just happens to be set behind-the-scenes at an "ESPN Sports Center" style show.

A personal confession is that the "Sports Center" aspect of "Sports Night" prevented watching it during its network run; it was only reviewed on a prior site only as a favor to a friend who wanted the DVDs. That set now will make the cut if life leads to being stranded on a desert island. "Stalag" will be right next to it in the duffel bag. (My friend had to buy his own set.)

Both "Hogan" itself and the DVD set of that program are other personal favorites, but "Stalag" makes that incredible show look like "Who's The Boss."

Elements of "Hogan" in "Stalag" include a network of  even more cleverly concealed tunnels in the camp, a dim-witted older barracks guard who gifts of chocolate can manipulate, and a camp commandant who respects the senior POW and practically begs for his friendship and regard. "Stalag" even his its own Colonel Crittendon, played by "Bewitched's Bernard Fox, from "Hogan."

Like Crittendon, senior POW RAF Officer James "Big F" Forrester has arrogance that his abilities do not justify. Both he and Crittendon have made several failed escape attempts from POW camps.

Legendary British comedian Stephen Fry plays Forrester. Fry is best known for being part of the comedy team of Fry and Laurie with future "House" star Hugh Laurie.

Fry also starred in many classic British programs that include "Kingdom," which Unreal TV is reviewing in a few weeks, and "Jeeves and Wooster." His roles in American television include a recurring part in "Bones." (Fry's self-composed IMDb profile is a must-read.)

Nicholas Lyndhurst of the very long-running classic "Only Fools and Horses," who is a personal favorite due to Britcoms "Good Night Sweetheat" and "After You've Gone," plays Forrester's sidekick "Chump" Cosgrove. Like many good second bananas, Cosgrove is much brighter and more competent than his "superior."

Geoffrey Palmer from "As Time Goes By" and countless other productions plays the genial and largely lenient camp commandant. Unlike "Hogan's" Commandant Klink, Palmer's character knows the score and realistically views the situation at the camp.

Both "Stalag" and "Hogan" obtain their inspired inspiration from the real-life escape attempts of allied POWs and classic films, such as "Stalag 17" and "The Great Escape" regarding such valiant efforts. "Stalag" also brought to mind both classic versions of the farce "To Be or Not to Be."

Saying anything about "Stalag's" plot beyond that it begins with Forrester and Cosgrove planning a massive escape attempt would ruin "Stalag." Like any good farce, a relatively routine event simply takes wonderfully absurd turns.

In the tradition of Monty Python and other classic British comedy, a common sense observation drives much of the humor. A particular homage to Python includes a featured role for a parrot.

In addition to expertly mocking numerous neuroses that include widespread international prejudices based on one's nationality and the severity of the German psyche during WWII, "Stalag" makes great fun of the pop psychology college experiments that place students in opposing positions. An example is having one group of collegiates playing teacher to another group who portray unruly students.

One particularly amusing and cute subplot involves two prisoners having a loving homosexual affair. That pair holding hands during roll call and otherwise showing G-rated affection is sweet, and Forrester's reaction on learning of the relationship is hilarious. His referring to not expecting that behavior of rear gunners is one of many great lines in the film.

The final debriefing regarding "Stalag" is that faith is requested regarding the promise that it is as special as depicted. Additionally, you will be glad that the surprises have remained undisclosed.

Anyone with questions or comments about "Stalag" or "Hogan" is welcome to email me. You can also communicate via @tvdvdguy on Twitter.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

'Camp:' The Gospel According to Kirk Cameron

Camp (2013) Poster
This review of the 2013 indie flick "Camp," which is being released on August 27 2013, is part of the trinity of real and fictional camps about which Unreal TV has dedicated posts. A recent essay on the fictional Little Otter Family Camp from NBC's summer series "Camp" discussed real-life experiences at Camp Interlocken outside Hillsboro New Hampshire.

The most important message from this review of the film "Camp" is that this movie should be mandatory viewing for every North American child between the ages of eight and fourteen. Seeing the hardships of the campers in the film will make every child with even an ounce of compassion value the quality of his or her life.

Any youngster who sees "Camp" and then whines about denied requests to upgrade an iPhone to the newest model or not having the latest fashions seriously should be required to spend the summer volunteering at a camp like the one that the film depicts.

"Camp" the film tells the story of the relationship between a badly abused and neglected boy named Eli who is in foster care and the ambitious financial advisor named Ken who is Eli's one-on-one counselor for the week at a local church's camp for foster children.

Eli's back story is that his mother, who dies of a heroin overdose several weeks before camp begins, neglects and emotionally abuses him during her life. Eli's father is a drug dealer who physically abuses him to a degree that requires hospitalization.

Ken's less-than-altrustic reason for volunteering is to curry the favor of a wealthy potential client who supports the camp. Beyond not liking children and lacking much overall patience and compassion, unhappy camper Ken initially does not make any form of good faith effort to fulfill his volunteer responsibilities. Ala children and dogs all over the world, Eli immediately picks up on this disdain and reacts accordingly.

Predictably, Ken and Eli bond during the week and are both the better for it.

The overall theme of the film is the Dickensian rough life of the foster kids for 51 weeks each year and the chance to experience the joys of childhood and the love of caring adults during the week at camp. (To a far lesser degree this is the magic of camp for all of us fortunate enough to have this experience.) This is one way that the rest of us learn to appreciate the care that are often far-from-perfect parents provide during our formative years.

A very cool personal camp experience relates to having had a younger brother/older brother relationship with then-teen Dan Zanes.

Zanes, who apparently inspired the hilarious short-lived sitcom "Z Rock" by going from singing and playing guitar with '80s band  Del Fuegos to becoming a kids' performer, worked in the camp kitchen and sang "Rockin' Robin" and other doo wop with his fellow galley slaves in an acapella group called The Kitchenettes. An autographed photo of Zanes and a cassette of The Kitchenettes is stashed somewhere in a box with an Atari game system.

Zanes' brother and bandmate Warren was a fellow resident of Cabin Five. Warren's post-Del Fuegos career included heading up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
One great summertime moment from "Camp" is a civilized tea party becoming a free-for-all. Another relates to campers passing a swim test that is designed to teach them that they can hope, that they can dream, and that they are full of self-esteem.

The depicted deprivations extend well beyond being deprived of the Interlocken and teen idol turned evangelist Kirk Cameron endorsed peace, love, and understanding much of the year.

The stories that are shared include that Eli has never celebrated a birthday, that the only footwear that one girl has is a pair of sneakers that are two sizes too small, and that one child's existence is so bad that he genuinely believes that he is alien and that a mother ship will arrive to return him to his home planet.

It is particularly sad to learn through interviews with real-life camp volunteers that run during the closing credits that many of the stories in "Camp" are based on actual events. Seeing that kids actually lead such deprived lives is extraordinarily eye-opening and sad.

The film and real-life stories also prompt admiration for the volunteers. Beyond logistical hurdles, honest reflection reveals a genuinely shameful inability to deal with these challenging kids, and to spend a week in the primitive conditions which has lights but generally lacks motor cars and phones or any other single luxury. Additionally, the food looks virtually inedible.

The good news is that "Camp," which is produced by the Christian production company Word Films, is mostly not too preachy and largely stays away from being heavy handed; the bad news is that the couple of occasions on which the film deeply strays into that territory are really awful from the perspective of us agnostics and atheists whose faith is less strong than the folks who wrote and produced the film.

A scene in which a retired soldier who is a model counselor comes down very hard on Ken is so over-the-top that it elicits uncontrollable laughter. For that matter, the soldier absurdly takes the Army theme a bit too far in that he calls Ken and every camper "soldier," refers to the hardships of military life on several occasions, and virtually never shows whimsy.

Another scene in which camp director Tammie Parker and Ken fairly abruptly start discussing faith disturbs the rhythm of the film. Truly no offensive is intended regarding the entity that millions of people validly believe created the earth and look out for all of us in placing God in the same category as Subway sandwiches and Toyota cars, but blatant product placement is always annoying.

The primary purpose of any video entertainment is to relax and enter an alternate universe. Having any obvious ad intrude breaks the mood.

The end-of-summer report regarding the film "Camp" is that it is one of the few genuinely family-friendly movies out there; as mentioned above, it also makes anyone with even a speck of humanity to feel for foster kids and want to erect monuments to the adults who care enough to show their love on a daily basis and/or spend a week living under highly unpleasant conditions to make their lives a little brighter.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding either "Camp" the film, the series, or the now-renamed Camp Interlocken is welcome to email me. You are also invited to follow me via Twitter through @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

'On A Clear Day You Can See Forever:' Streisand Plays the Diva With Something Extra

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (PMT)
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1970 Barbara Streisand musical comedy "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" reinforces a personal belief that, in her prime, Streisand did a much better job with screwball comedies than diva attempts at high drama. "For Pete's Sake" and "What's Up Doc" from the same era are timeless classics.

These screwball comedies also benefit from letting everyone do the job that utilizes their talents. Streisand sticks to performing and leaves the directing, producing, costume design, hair styling, set construction, makeup, production accounting, and craft services catering to others. 

Other than being at least six years older than her 22 year-old character, Streisand is perfectly cast as Daisy Gamble in the Vincente Minelli-directed "Clear Day." Like Streisand's other screwball comedy roles, Gamble is a very caring and equally kooky and neurotic New York woman in the midst of a moderate problem that her neurosis has expanded into a full-blown crisis.

Gamble's concern is that her chain smoking will prevent her mild-mannered fiance Warren Pratt from landing his dream job with a large corporation that frowns on vices of any nature.

Gamble's desire to quit smoking prompts her to seek out hypnotherapist Dr. Marc Chabot, played by Yves Montand, to use hypnosis to help her break the habit. Their meeting during a medical school lecture is a classic cinema moment.

Chabot soon learns on agreeing to treat Gamble both that she has exceptional Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) and, ala Shirley MacLaine, channels past lives while under hypnosis. Gamble additionally has a magical ability to make flowers grow and bloom miraculously quickly.

The ESP manifests itself by Gamble being able to read other people's minds and sensing when someone is even thinking of telephoning her or anyone near her. Two of the best scenes in "Day" involve Gamble repeatedly getting ready to pick up the phone while Chabot is debating whether to call her, and Gamble frantically dancing around to block efforts by Chabot to control her through telepathy.

Gamble's primary life-deprived alter-ego is an 18th century woman who is a much more sophisticated version of Anna Nicole Smith. Lady Melinda Winifred Waine Tentrees' life evolves from being a young orphan running an ongoing blackmail scheme to marrying an older man for money and then scheming to marry an age-appropriate man for both love and money. A scene in which Melinda struggles to have her older husband catch her in an adulterous embrace is hilarious.

Melinda's best moments include her hard-knock life at the orphanage, and her paramour's gambling winnings continuing to pile up while he and she are locking lips.

A central conflict in "Day" involves Chabot falling in love with Melinda; this prompts Gamble to issue the memorable line "stop using my head for a motel room." Of course, everything works out in the end.

Streisand sings most of the songs, which are primarily solos that express the mostly pain (with some glee) in the character's soul at the time. They also typically involve quiet moments, rather than full spectacle flash-mob style song-and-dance numbers.

The few upbeat numbers are the most enjoyable. Streisand's "Go to Sleep," and Chabot's "Come Back to Me" stand out. Additionally, as the below clip courtesy of YouTube shows, the staging of "Come Back to Me" is particularly clever.

This clip also partially demonstrates Minnelli's success at capturing the late '60s-early '70s style of Manhattan.

Giving Streisand a shoulder-length 'do and dressing her in matching French school-girl dresses and hats further contribute to the feel of the late '60s Marlo Thomas New York-based sitcom "That Girl" in which 20-something Ann Marie struggles to establish an acting career.

Notable supporting actors in "Day" include Bob Newhart as a slightly exasperated college president and Jack Nicholson as Gamble's counter-culture step-brother.

Classic TV fans will love seeing Mabel Albertson as Chabot's secretary. Albertson plays Don Hollinger's mother on "That Girl, Darrin Stephens' mother on "Bewitched" and Howard Sprague's mother on "The Andy Griffith Show."

The final analysis is that the "something extra" that "Day" offers audiences extends beyond Gamble's ESP. It will make you laugh, cry, and dance.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Day" is welcome to email me. For the benefit of those of you without ESP, my Twitter ID is @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

'Party Animals:' 'Doctor Who's' Matt Smith Political Soap

Party Animals DVD
The complete series set of the 2007 British political soap opera "Party Animals" is further proof that the Brits excel regarding every genre. The only manner in which this program fails the "one more" test is a desire to ration out the episodes.

The series is also notable for launching the career of Matt Smith, who is currently wrapping up his run as the 11th Doctor on "Doctor Who."

The actors and writers always keep the drama in check, and the young professionals who entertain us with their pursuits of professional and personal success seem very like the bright and eager recent college grads who flock to political capitals all over North America and Western Europe.

"Animals" centers around the juvenile antics and professional lives of brothers and roommates Danny, played by Smith, and Scott Foster, played by "Broadchurch's" Andrew Buchen.

A wonderfully gleeful scene in which Danny and Scott consciously engage in uninhibited dancing and general frolicking illustrates their relationship very well. These lads additionally demonstrate time and time again that blood is thicker than political waters.

The brotherly rock-out, and another scene at an '80s themed dance, also demonstrates the only flaw with the DVD set of "Animals." Either personal knowledge of British '80s music is less extensive than believed, or the DVD producers could not obtain the rights to the original music that played during those scenes. The purely instrumental music is rather odd and generic sounding.

The fact that the boys' deceased father was a Labour Party (my people call them Democrats) Member of Parliament shapes much of their attitudes toward each other and life in general.

Danny is a low-level poorly compensated researcher for Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP) Jo Porter, played by Raquel Cassidy of numerous awesome British sitcoms that mean absolutely nothing to American audiences.

Scott is the more conservative of the two and earns big bucks as a lobbyist. His particularly ruthless betrayal of Danny in the pilot establishes his lack of morals, and Danny's terrific payback shows where the 11th Doctor gets his wonderfully quirky sense of humor.

Scott's business lunch turned date with Ashika Chandirimani, played by "Terra Nova's" and "Mistresses'" Shelley Conn, who is the aide/mistress of a Tory Party (my people call them Republicans) MP brings the ongoing activity in that MP's office into the series. A Warhol style portrait of Margaret Thatcher in that office is a terrific touch.

As an aside, Conn would make a great companion for a Doctor on "Doctor Who."

Ongoing storylines involve the brotherly interaction and aggressively heterosexual dating lives of les freres Foster. Scott is characteristically the swinging ladies' man, and the quieter more introspective Danny is seeking true love.

A very charming scene in which Danny tells a first date that he is not extraordinary is reminiscent of a hilarious scene from his first series (my people call them seasons) as The Doctor in which Smith tries very hard to prove  that he is "an ordinary bloke."

Ongoing storylines include a life-changing event in the pilot causing Scott to contemplate some of his personal and professional choices, the events around which episodes are centered prompting Danny to continue his crusade for truth, justice and the British way, and developments regarding Chandirimani being a possible replacement for a seat in Parliament that a recently deceased Labour Party member obtained after the death of Danny and Scott's father.

Weekly storylines are typically introduced via morning television broadcasts at the beginning of an episode and often revolve around "ripped from the headlines" political events. The topics include proper funding levels for government programs, outrage over the filming of a movie based on a book in which a Muslim man and non-Muslim woman have an affair, a death in a juvenile offender residential facility, and the killings of British soldiers in Afghanistan.

A particularly funny ongoing bit in the episode regarding the film involves Danny correcting people who say that the characters in the book have sex in a mosque; Danny replies that the characters have sex on the GROUNDS of a mosque.

The final episode wraps up most of the storylines well, and the resolutions overall are realistic and just.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Animals" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

'Three Faces East;" Excellent Early Talkie Spy Thriller

Three Faces East
The residual effects of the silent film era immensely add to the awesomeness of the 1930 film "Three Faces East" that Warner Archive recently introduced on DVD. Vitaphone released this movie three years after fellow classic "The Jazz Singer," which many consider the first talkie. 

As an aside, Unreal TV reviewed the exceptional Blu-ray release of the original "The Jazz Singer" several months ago. Be warned that this post includes many jokes at the expense of pop singer Neil Diamond, who remade "The Jazz Singer" in 1980.

The plot of "East" is very similar to the modern-day concept of the 2012 Cinemax series "Hunted," which Unreal TV reviewed last week. Both productions involve a relatively young female operative using false pretense to ingratiate herself into a wealthy British household for espionage purposes.

The extended dialogue-free scenes are one clue that "East" is an early talkie. The fact that the first dialog is in French may prompt trying to adjust DVD language settings, but please be patient; the dialog switches to English for the rest of the film after a few minutes.

Another residual element of silents is the tendency of some actors to over-emote to the extent that there is actual swooning and laying of heads over forearms; there is also an overall feel of a live-performance theatrical presentation.

Constance Bennett, who is best known for her starring role in the Cary Grant ghost-oriented comedy classic "Topper," plays Frances Hawtree. Hawtree's designation as a WW I, a.k.a. The Great War, German operative is Z-1.

Erich Von Stroheim is another notable cast member. He is best known as Max in the 1950 uber-classic "Sunset Boulevard" and plays  ultra-efficient Chamberlain household butler Valdar in "East."

Z-1's adventure begins in the German-occupied region of France where she is assigned a cover that allows her to become a guest at the home of Sir Winston Chamberlain, who is the First Sea Lord of the British Admiralty. Z-1's objective there is to obtain the route of ships that are carrying American troops to fight in Europe.

The German strategy is to sink the ships with the goal of ensuring a German victory in the war. "East's" filmmakers placing American, rather than British, ships at risk is a valid but obvious ploy to pull American audiences into the story.

An interrogation segment in this scene includes unintentional humor in that the German officer essentially stating that he has unpleasant ways for getting someone to talk evokes thought of that Nazi cliche from World War II propaganda films. This similarity is especially interesting considering that "East" predates World War II by roughly 10 years.

The film's title refers to the code that Z-1 uses to contact the undisclosed German agent who is already part of the Chamberlain household. Her efforts in that regard evoke thoughts of the comical way that Maxwell Smart engages in the same activity in the hilarious '60s spy sitcom "Get Smart."

Z-1 and fellow agent Schiller soon connect and work to obtain the necessary information. General paranoia among other members of the household and close calls each time that Z-1 acts keep the plot moving at a perfect pace.

The ongoing cat-and-mouse games and plausible twists are other great elements in "East." The  reveals at end are surprising and help Bennett maintain her positive image with the American public.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "East" is welcome to email me. Anyone who wants to subject me to surveillance can follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Incredible SImilarities Between NBC "Camp's" Camp Little Otter and Real-life Mid-80s New Hampshire Camp

A general sense of fairness had already prompted thoughts of defending NBC's unfairly maligned summer series "Camp" starring a middle-aged Rachel Griffiths struggling to keep her family camp afloat. Additionally, any watchable scripted summer series is a good alternative to summer reality shows that do not satisfy the low standards for traditional programs of that genre during those months.

"Camp" is not great but is not terrible and will not make its way into my DVD collection; Tivoed episodes are usually burned on Sunday evenings after watching higher priority shows.

It seems that "Camp's" detractors do not "get it" because they are not "camp" people who loved spending a month or two in the woods as kids and returned in their late teens or 20s to work at those places that were so important during their "wonder years."

The facts that real-life camps and the show are wrapping up their seasons and that exceptional strong parallels exist between the hijinks of the staff at "Camp's"  Camp Little Otter family camp and a relatively upscale central New Hampshire summer camp for kids that also has family camp weeks made formally coming to the defense of the show overwhelming.

It seems that one or both of "Camp's" creators Peter Elkoff Liz Heldens worked at the New Hampshire camp around the time of this reviewer's mid-80s tenure there despite the lack of evidence of such a connection.

Before sharing behind-the-scenes tales, it is important to state that no campers knew of  the soap-like behavior and were not harmed in any way regarding the adult-oriented behavior at the real-life camp. Also, two children of the '60s founded and ran the camp on the philosophy of peace, love, and understanding. Further, campers always received incredible care.

On a related note, the only criticism of "Camp" is that the staff seem to indulge in drinking and smoking marijuana at all hours and also leave the property at the drop of a hat. Absences from camp were rare, and the regular  indulgence in illicit substances occurred at the real camp only after the kids were put to bed and proper supervision was still provided. For the record, personal consumption of such substances was limited to domestic beer and cheap wine.

Additionally, the discussed events occurred 30 years ago and the real-life camp has since undergone name and ownership changes. The names have been omitted to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

One unrelated TV note regarding the real-life camp is that a veteran tennis counselor named Andy Taylor spent many summers there; he was just as kind and good-hearted as his television counter-part.

One central story line in "Camp" involves increasing sexual tension between Griffith's 40-something recently divorced from former co-camp director character 'Mack' Granger and 20-something big blonde handyman Cole. This is incredibly close to a real-life fully-realized relationship between the real camp's 40-something director and the studly blonde 20-something handyman for the camp who was very good at keeping desk chairs well lubed with WD 40.

The director was essentially a child bride when she founded the camp with her slightly older husband roughly 20 years earlier. Although they were not yet divorced, that occurred a few years later.

Similar to the Russian girlfriend of Mack's ex-husband and former co-camp director, the real-life camp director told me years later that her husband had a foreign girlfriend while she was dating the handyman.

The part of evil rival camp director was played by the director of a division of the real-life summer camp, who ultimately married the director who spent at least one summer with the handyman.

An encounter that illustrates the real-life man's personality is his telling me that I better not puke in the office after I overindulged in box wine during an end-of-the-season party after the campers had left. Conversely, this man's wonderfully sweet then-wife offered a few minutes later to escort me to my tent.

As an aside, the name of the not-so-nice guy perfectly rhyming with the clinical name for the male sexual organ provided hours of entertainment.

Other real-life characters included a charming and brilliant co-camp director who was a student at UC Santa Barbara. Fun memories of him included his drinking a cup of coffee in which I had placed white granules that turned out to be salt, rather than sugar. On asked about this, he stated he was tempted to gargle it.

The camp also had an Olympic candidate swimmer on its waterfront staff. Like her Camp Little Otter counter-part, this woman took early morning swims but left her swimsuit on the beach before doing so. Our special moment involved placing Junior Mints on the ground near the camp goat and eating them when campers came by.

On a more general note, like Camp Otter, there was a large annual capture the flag tournament and at least one full-blown festival each year; A Robin Hood pageant complete with a roast pig was staged one year.

The adult camper vibe from the real camp came from former campers and other friends of the institution who would come up for visiting of a week or two each year. These included a Cambridge, Massachusetts attorney.

The bottom line is that "Camp" depicts its subject well and is like real camp in that it involves generally harmless inappropriate romance and other behavior but is still a nice slow-paced place to spend a few weeks each summer.

Anyone with questions regarding "Camp" or who worked with me at the real one is welcome to email me; you can also stay in touch via @tvdvdguy via Twitter. Please wait until leaving the camp's technology-free zone before doing so.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

'Going Hollywood:' Video Lured the Radio Star

Going Hollywood
An intense long-time love of a 1941film hinders objectivity regarding the 1933 Bing Crosby/Marion Davies musical comedy "Going Hollywood," which Warner Archives recently released on DVD.

Orson Welles' masterpiece "Citizen Kane," which Warner has released as an awesome three-disc Blu-ray set (with the caveats both that the excellently restored "Kane" was not filmed in hi-def in the first place and that only "Kane" itself is provided in Blu-ray), depicts a character clearly based on Davies as a no-talent hack.

As can be said regarding Welles' commentary on the titular character based on newspaper tycoon (and Davies benefactor/lover) William Randolph Hearst, Davies has more talent that Welles gives her credit for. At the same time, she lacks the "it" that her contemporaries, such as Bette Davis and Myrna Loy, possess. 

Hollywood opens with Davies' character Sylvia Bruce living a very unhappy and repressed life as a French teacher at Miss. Briarcroft's School for Girls. Like Kevin Bacon's Ren McCormack in "Footloose," Bruce's desire to dance and be free is directly at odds with the bans on music and freedom of movement in the environment where she is forced to live. This is one girl's school in which the students lack the option of dating the boys they used to hate.

In Bruce's case, Miss Briarcroft takes her in out of pity after Bruce's father loses all his money. It is presumed, but not stated, that the Great Depression causes that reversal of fortune.

Bruce hearing crooner Bill Williams, played by crooner Bing Crosby, sing on the radio inspires her to spontaneously rebel and run off to meet him. Meanwhile across town, Williams is preparing (ala Ricky Ricardo in "I Love Lucy" 20 years later) to go to Hollywood to star in a musical film.

One of the best musical numbers and overall scenes in "Hollywood" has Williams simultaneously recording a song and completing his morning routine during the afternoon just before boarding his train to California.

A scene that soon follows in which Crosby and company sing the very catchy titular song in an elaborate song-and-dance number staged at the train station is "Hollywood's" best musical number.

The rest of the roughly ten musical numbers are also quite good; a hilarious segment involves using the "magic of radio" to have some of the most charming actors ever wonderfully mimic Kate Smith and other stars of the day.

Bruce arrives in the midst of all the activity at Williams' home and is inspired to board the train and meet him. Their initial encounter triggers an impoverished Bruce engaging in a series of Lucy Ricardo style harebrained schemes to initially stay on the train all the way to Hollywood and then get a role in Williams' film. Archivists will need to buy the DVD to see if Bruce also gets the boy or merely wanes (pun intended).

Bruce resorting to appearing in black face and Williams later jokingly referring to her as Aunt Jemima regarding that incident is very understandable for the era but is still unfortunate. The best scheme involves Bruce using her knowledge of French to obtain a very short tenure as the maid of French actress Lili Yvonne, played by Fifi D'Orsay.

Canadian D'Orsay steals the show portraying every negative stereotype of French people that ugly Americans possess. D'Orsay perfectly plays D'Orsay as funny the whole time that she is being incredibly temperamental, rude, arrogant, and overall nasty.

The bottom line regarding "Hollywood" is that it includes a great performance by Crosby near the start of his career, provides a chance for "Kane" fans and other classic movie buffs to judge the talent of  Hearst's mistress for themselves, and is simply a fun way to spend roughly 90 minutes.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Hollywood" or "Kane" is welcome to email me. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

'The Extraordinay Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec:' Lara Croft Meets Jurassic Park

Shout Factory's DVD release yesterday of the 2012 fun-for-all ages live action well dubbed-in-English French film "The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec" is an excellent companion to Shout's April 2013 DVD release of the 2011 fun-for-all ages animated well dubbed-in-English French film "A Monster in Paris," which Unreal TV reviewed several weeks ago.

Aside from being a highly entertaining way to spend 90 minutes,  the very family-friendly "Adele" has the additional attribute of being written and directed by Luc Besson of "The Fifth Element" and "La Femme Nikita." Besson adapted "Adele" from a series of French historical fantasy novels.

"Monster" and "Adele" create great expectations that the pop culture gods at Shout keep finding these genuine gems from the land of brie and berets.

The titular character in "Adele" is a very independent and resourceful author/adventurer living in 1912 Paris. The quest on which this early 20th century version of Lara Croft embarks at the beginning of the film is a literal raiding of the tomb of Ramses II. Rather than gold or fame, Blanc-Sec is seeking the mummified remains of Ramses' physician.

Adele's plan is to use the weird science of an elderly mad scientist in Paris to resurrect the mummy so that Adele can consult with said physician regarding the five-year comatose state in which Adele's twin sister resides. A flashback that reveals the incident that resulted in that condition is a very funny one to which anyone with a sibling can relate.

While Adele is off searching for the mummy in an adventure that requires fighting off companions who wish to raid the tomb, the mad scientist's experiments in Paris inadvertently cause a 136 million year-old pterodactyl egg in a nearby museum to hatch. The jumbo-sized baby creature then causes widespread panic in Paris ala the creature in "Monster."

On returning to Paris, Adele learns of the current events and the arrest and imprisoning of the Professor Farnsworth of the early 20th century whose assistance she requires. The costumes that Adele dons and the related reactions of the elderly man whom she attempts to break out of prison are hilarious even without him declaring "good news everybody."

Other great humor relates to the unjustifiably confident "great white hunter" and his bumbling police official companion ineptly tracking the  pterodactyl for the purpose of killing it. These great segments include silly costumes, wonderfully juvenile scat-related humor, and a very satisfying turning of the tables.

The following trailer courtesy of YouTube does an excellent job capturing all the elements described above and the overall wonderful spirit of this film

Additionally, Besson stages all the antics well and keeps the humor broad enough to appeal to younger viewers while including enough social commentary on topics such as the foolishness of politicians and appointed officials to entertain adults. An indirect reference to a famous addition to the Louvre is especially funny.

The extras include a special feature on making "Adele," deleted scenes, and a music video. A personal quest to catch up on numerous projects prevented exploring these treats.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Adele" is welcome to email me. Adventurers can seek me out on Twitterby locating @tvdvdguy.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Interview with 'Sharknado' Scribe Thunder Levin

As the prelude to this piece promised last week, Unreal TV is devoting a post to an interview with"Sharknado" scribe Thunder Levin, who kindly interrupted his far more lucrative writing to answer submitted questions.

When asked the Passover-style question why "Sharknado" was chosen above every other Syfy original movie for the tremendous social-media blast that contributed to its phenomenal success, Levin stated "because it's just that AWESOME!" This scribe concurs with that statement.

Levin's concise question to whether Syfy had commissioned him to write any scripts other than "Sharknado II," which has recently been titled "The Second One," was "nope."

Levin also shared that he did not have a cameo in "Sharknado" because he was directing "AE: Apocalypse Earth," which was the most-downloaded title on Netflix a few weeks ago, in Costa Rica when "Sharknado" was being filmed in Los Angeles. Levin's other film "Mutant Vampire Zombies From the 'Hood" seems to be as much fun as those movies.

Levin additionally reported that he attended a screening of "Sharknado" at a local movie theater to gauge audience reaction to the film. He described the response as "just what I'd hoped it would be" but humorously expressed minor disappointment that no one threw popcorn at the screen.

Picking up elements of the great cheesy Irwin Allen scifi shows of the '60s in "Sharknado" prompted asking Levin if he was a fan of "Lost in Space" and "Land of the Giants." He responded that he was and shared an interest in a future project that would be an homage to Allen.

The next group of questions had an element of the cult classic comedy  TV series "Mystery Science Theater 3000," which involved characters trapped in space station style satellite, in that I asked Levin about some of the improbable science in "Sharknado."

In true MST 3K style, Levin nicely essentially responded that"Sharknado" is just a TV movie and I should really just relax. I am very curious if his tongue became so firmly planted in his cheek while writing his responses that removing it required surgery.

Levin's responded when asked the highly tongue-in-cheek question whether any sharks were harmed in filming "Sharknado" that sharks were hurt "but they were all digital."

Levin's response when asked how the water could be deep enough for the sharks to swim in but shallow enough for people to drive in is worthy of embroidering on a pillow. He stated "I'm tired of explaining my science on this. EVERY single moment in "Sharknado" has been rigorously researched and vetted with meteorologists, marine biologists, ecologists, and city engineers. It's FACT! Just accept it." Well said, Mr. Levin!

The shorter answer to a query regarding how the sharks could be seen swimming past the windows of a school bus full of grade schoolers despite the water level being below the emergency door in the rear of the bus was it's magic!"

When asked about what he is currently working on, Levin replied "Global domination." Being able to say that it is Thunder Levin's world, and we just live in it would not be so bad.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding Thunder Levin or "Sharknado" is welcome to email me, but I am not sure that I will be much help.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

'Family Ties' S7: Fitting Tribute to Gary David Goldberg

The most memorable moment while watching seventh season episodes of the "must-see" Michael J (which does not stand for anything) Fox '80s sitcom "Family Ties" for this review of the August 13, 2013 DVD release of that series' final season came during the season premiere's closing credits. This episode about a family camping trip gone awry prompted a few smiles, but the closing credits created a touch of sadness.

Seeing the name of series creator Gary David Goldberg flash on the screen evoked thoughts of Goldberg passing away earlier this year. Anyone who brings us a great show that is still entertaining and only mildly dated more than 20 years later deserves to have his memory honored.

The concept of "Ties" is that radical children of the '60s Steven and Elyse Keaton are raising conformist children of the '80s in a Columbus, Ohio suburban.

Fox steals the show as oldest Son Alex, who is a compassionate Reagan Republican. Middle daughter Mallory is textbook Valley Girl teen whose fashion sense far outweighs her common sense. Mallory protrayor Justine Bateman does an awesome job expressing great joy at any mention of the mall and extraordinary distress when faced with a weekend without access to a telephone.

Youngest daughter Jennifer starts as a tomboy and morphs into a socially conscious teen/Valley Girl hybrid. Late-in-life baby Andy is the Cousin Oliver of the group.

Additionally,  future friend and cougar Courtney Cox seems much more comfortable in her role as Alex's steady girl than she does during "Ties" sixth season.

As the first part of Unreal TV's "very special" two-part review of the DVD release of Family Ties' sixth season states, much of the series' appeal relates to the civility of the Keaton family's political discussions and their respect for the right of each family member to be himself or herself.

A "very special" two-part seventh season episode titled "All in the Neighborhood" validates the prior review's comparison of "Ties" to "All in the Family." The storyline has the family of a black co-worker at Steven's PBS station moving to the house across the street from the Keatons.

The hostile response of the Keatons' well-educated middle-class neighbors shocks that family. This animosity is based on the reduced property values associated with integrating the neighborhood. The reactions range from neighbors planning to sell their homes before the values fall lower, to sending hate mail and making harassing telephone calls, to vandalism.

Good humor from the "Neighborhood" episode includes Steven's comically inept job guarding the neighbor's house and a running joke regarding the misspelled message "whits only" spray painted on a living room wall.

It is difficult to imagine an episode about a black family moving into the Long Island neighborhood of the Seavers in the equally amusing '80s sitcom "Growing Pains," which Unreal TV has also recently reviewed.

Another "very special" three-part episode about Steven having a heart attack uses the technique of an effective clever narrative device that "Ties" utilizes occasionally in its later seasons. Rather than resort to flashbacks from prior episodes or have fantasy sequences that include a specter-like Steven, these offerings include newly filmed segments from the Steven and Elyse story.

The first flashback has very cute and wide-eyed 20-something Steven  and Elyse, played by very cute and wide-eyed 20-something actors, sharing a very special moment; we then see their early married life, followed by significant moments from their marriage. One in which a four-year-old Mallory taunts a six-year-old Alex about Watergate is particularly amusing.

That episode also has some of the funniest moments from the series. Andy asking if his dad had a massive coronary when Elyse tries to explain heart attacks on a first-grade level is laugh-out-loud funny. A great running gag in this one relates to Alex dragging Andy into Alex's paranoia regarding a lack of a pulse.

The heart attack episode quasi-validates the theory in the aforementioned review of the sixth-season that "Ties" also channels "The Brady Bunch." An episode in which fast-food employee Jennifer must fire her comically inept friend/co-worker evokes thoughts of the "Brady" episode in which ice cream shop employee Marcia must contend with brother Peter's deplorable work ethic and sister Jan's excessive zeal.

The last "regular" episode before the "very special" series finale is also very representative of "Ties" quality. The nice spin on the sitcom cliched plot regarding Mallory's new-wave dim-witted artist boyfriend temporarily moving into the Keaton home is that Steven's and Nick's predictable reconciliation comes about through a means other than a late-night heart-to-heart in the Keaton kitchen.

An amusing subplot in this episode has Elyse trying to complete the family's income tax return without the help of financial whiz Alex. 

The series finale also stays true to the spirit of "Ties" by achieving the perfect blend of  (mostly) mild sentiment and gentle edge that makes the series so great. Amusingly, this reviewer watched the late-night heart-to-heart peace summit between Alex and Elyse only after commenting on the lack of that cliche regarding Steven and Nick.

This episode additionally gives both Fox and Alex a great send-off by revolving around Alex's last days at home before leaving to start the Wall Street job for which he literally worked most of his life. It is very nice as well that "Ties" avoids the sitcom cliche of having this event coincide with major changes in the lives of the other characters.

Great moments include Andy's incredibly cute school play that ends up being relevant to Alex leaving, and Steven pressing an envelope of cash into Alex's hands only to have Alex remark about the remaining balance on the amount that Steven owes his son.

Wishing to end on this nice note, this review will now invite anyone with questions or comments regarding "Ties" to send an email.