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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

'Children's Hospital' S4: Anatomy of Hilarity

Still of Ken Marino and Rob Corddry in Childrens Hospital

Warner Archive's DVD release of the fourth season of the modern show "Children's Hospital" is a spectacular surprise that indicates that Archive is expanding its coverage to current "unreal" shows.

One of countless things that sets this awesome and innovative webisode-length sitcom aside is that it reflects a modern viewing trend that is a topic of a  recent TV Guide article. This piece observes that people often base program choices on the amount of available viewing time.

Personal examples of fitting television viewing into available lengths include regularly watching "Supernatural" or another wonderfully quirky hour-long drama in the 45 minutes between wrapping up my day and making dinner, choosing a four-minute Disney cartoon when I want just a little more entertainment, and enjoying "Hospital" or another 10-minute show when Mr. Sandman is making his way to my front door every night.

"Hospital" is a spot-on parody of every medical drama from "Grey's Anatomy," to "ER," to "Trapper John, MD" and beyond. Virtually every minute of this hilarious live-action series from Cartoon Network's Adult Swim line-up is fraught with fall-on-the-floor funny melodrama. Further, the "heroic" male and female doctors are generally dim-witted and colossally ego-centric horn dogs.

The indescribably hilarious antics of these medical "professionals" center around Dr. Blake Downs, who is an awesomely warped version of Robin Williams' Patch Adams character. Downs constantly wears clown make-up and always dons blood-splattered scrubs. His belief in the effectiveness of laughter as medicine extends to using that technique exclusively regardless of the severity of a patient's condition.

Plotlines from the first few fourth season episodes include an air-borne pathogen that causes amnesia, the staff mistaking a very obvious drag queen for Madonna, and forcing an ambulance driver whose vehicle ran out of gas just outside the emergency room entrance to perform open-heart surgery on his passenger.

The award for most creative episode of the season goes to one that also likely played a role in the series winning the 2012 Emmy for Outstanding Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment. This offering alternates between color scenes of the series itself and terrifically twisted fictitious black-and-white behind-the-scenes segments. Series star Megan "Karen" Mullally portraying an absolutely fabulous British actress who plays Mullally's character Chief on the series is one of many highlights.

On a more general level, "Hospital" awesomely succeeds because it has a dream cast of actors and behind-the-scenes folks with a perfect track record regarding truly extraordinary alternative comedy. Former "The Daily Show" Rob Corddry heads up the effort as the show's creator, producer, writer, and portrayor of  Downs.

Quirky indie comedy god Ken Marino of the similar "Party Down" and "Burning Love" series also devotes his talents as a producer, star, and actor. His studly doofus character Guy Ritchie is just as funny as his caterwaiter character Ron Donald on "Party Down."

Despite the excellent performances by Corddry and company, having Henry "The Fonz" Winkler play incredibly insecure nerdy hospital administrator Sy Mittleman and Sy's doppelganger/enforcer Jerry is an incredible treat for Gen Xers. Seeing the actor behind "Fearless Fonzarelli" cower in a panic room at the first sign of trouble allows children of the '70s to die happy. The only better thing would be seeing Sy demonstrate that liver does not scare him.

The final diagnosis is that "Hospital" S4 is prescribed for fans of quirky indie comedy, those who enjoy or abhor medical dramas, and anyone else who enjoys an exceptionally well-produced series.

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

Monday, April 29, 2013

'Dexter' S7 Blu-ray: Shakespeare in Bloodlust

The Blu-ray release, which is being uncaged on May 14, 2013, of the seventh season of Showtime's top-rated series "Dexter" is tailor-made for that technology.

I was still catching up on Tivoed episodes of this series; the day and night difference between the standard-def and Blu-ray versions of this series was as sharp as that difference regarding the titular character's mild-mannered everyman persona and the wonderfully dark portion of his nature. Returning to Tivo for the final episode seemed like watching an over-the-air signal on a '70s era console set after watching several Blu-ray episodes.

On a more literal level, the bright blues of the Miami sky and sea, the vibrant coastal fashions, and the sharp visual contrasts that make the show look so good really benefit from Blu-ray.

The series premise is that good-natured blood splatter forensics expert Dexter Morgan moonlights as a vigilante serial killer who limits his victims to malfeasors who just "need a good killing." One criteria is that the individual has already killed someone, and at least a very good probability that the person will escape traditional justice increases the odds that her or she will end up as chum at the bottom of Miami's harbor.

The seventh season takes off right where the sixth season ends. Dexter's sister and commanding officer Debra catches him essentially red-handed at his night job. Much of the seventh season addresses how Debra deals both with her brother being a prolific killer and her conflict between knowing of that activity and her duty as police lieutenant to arrest vigilantes who completely bypass the judicial system.

This element alone would make a great Shakespearean play; throwing in mutual romantic feelings makes that relationship truly Bardworthy. Ultimately, both Dexter and Debra must determine whether blood is thicker than laced water.

Another compelling storyline, which comes to a very dramatic head in the final minutes of the seventh season, has former lieutenant (and now captain) Maria LaGuerta discovering proof of Dexter's guilt when she reopens the "Bay Harbor Butcher" case from an earlier season. This simply gives mouse Dexter another cat with whom he must spar during the seventh season.

LaGuerta becoming a somewhat formidable foe also requires that Dexter determine he can justify killing her. A related double-cross and the action regarding this storyline in the seventh season's final minutes reinforce the Shakespearean theme of this season. 

Additional prior season drama that plays a large role in  the seventh season includes the "Ice Truck Killer" plot from the first season and the fallout regarding various romances among the homicide detectives.

So as not to risk a dull moment, "Dexter's" writers also throw Miami's finest homicide squad into conflict with Ukrainian mobsters who operate out of a strip club. This arc involves a relationship between Dexter and one of the mobsters that truly is "complicated" and incredibly Shakespearean.

In his spare time, Dexter develops a romantic relationship with intended victim Hannah McKay, who guest-star Yvonne Strahovski plays like the slightly more evil twin of her Sarah Walker character on "Chuck." Despite Dexter having a couple of main squeezes throughout the series, Hannah might have been both his equal and his soul mate.

All this excitement and drama from the seventh season and the related unresolved issues have created high expectations for Dexter's eighth and final season. That group of 12 episodes is beginning on June, 30, 2013, and watching the season premiere will be a sponge-cake worthy event that will kill the stash of Twinkies that I froze when Hostess went belly up in December.

It is important to remember that the significance of the eighth season extends beyond the resolution of seventh season storylines.

Die-hard fans have wondered since the pilot episode whether "Dexter's" writers will follow the traditional Hollywood "code" that applies to lawbreakers. That standard requires that the malfeasor either gets killed or goes off to jail. Whether Dexter experiences either of those fates, steers his aptly named boat "The Slice of Life" out into the sunset, or simply continues his everyday existence remains to be seen.

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

Friday, April 26, 2013

'Help! ... It's the Hair Bear Bunch!" Ready for Primetime Animated Sitcom

Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch!: The Complete Series
 "Help!... It's The Hair Bear Bunch" is a particularly fantastic recent addition to Warner Archive's spectacular DVD releases of really fun lesser-known '70s Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoons.

This effort is beyond awesome for those of us who thought that that we would have to live out our days without ever seeing shows such as "Goober and the Ghost Chasers" or "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids" again.

"Unreal" memories regarding "Hair Bear" extend beyond Saturday mornings eating Quisp cereal and watching episodes with a very low volume to avoid waking my mother. This show enjoyed a well-deserved second life as one of the first groups of characters welcomed on the then-fledgling USA network in the early '80s during the era in which cable channels filled their schedules with somewhat obscure shows.

The premise of "Hair Bear" is that a trio of kid-friendly hippie type bears share a cave at the Wonderland Zoo. Fear of having to support the answer to the well-known rhetorical question regarding whether bears conduct a certain type of business in the woods prompts the group to keep their prohibited activities secret from zookeeper Mr. Eustace Peevly and Peevly's large dim-witted assistant Botch.

The series' pilot prompts memories of the classic '60s live-action sitcom "Hogan's Heroes," which revolves around charming Colonel Robert Hogan and his fellow prisoners in a World War Two era German prisoner of war camp conducting espionage and sabotage activity behind the back of their own "zookeeper" and that warden's large dim-witted assistant. The similarities extend to the "zookeeper" having a feared commanding officer who shows up every few episodes.

Like Hogan, Hair Bear is an intelligent and charismatic leader who is very tolerant of his underlings' shortcomings. Bubi Bear is like Carter from "Heroes" in that both are small and have sweet naive natures. Square Bear is largely like "Heroes" Newkirk in that both are laid back. Unlike Square Bear, Newkirk does not have an invisible motorcyle that apparently is always with him.

The similarities in the series extends as well to catchy theme songs. Anyone who hears the "Hair Bear" theme once will likely have the "Here come the bears" lyric stuck in his or her head for days.

"Hair Bear" quickly establishes a very "Heroesesque" tone in an early scene in its pilot episode. Stepping on a rock and triggering other concealed levers transforms their habitat, which is a cavern that only has three straw mats, into a real man cave. The improved amenities include actual beds, a kitchenette stocked with tasty treats, and a color television. Later episodes show that the bears also have a pool table.

The pilot plot is also very similar to a "Heroes" storyline. A crackdown by Peevly prompts the bears to convince him that he is so sick that he requires a long vacation. In true sitcom style, the bears regret their success when the replacement zookeeper is much tougher than Peevly. Anyone who has ever seen a sitcom generally knows how this one ends.

The second episode also has a "Heroes" feel to it in that it revolves around the bears suspecting that a new bear that Peevly assigned to their habitat is a spy with a mission of reporting the unauthorized activity that includes escapes to carouse in the nearby town.

A later episode in which the bears play matchmaker so that a new spouse will distract Peevly from the ursine antics also is akin to a "Heroes" plot.

An additional episode is more like "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space." This one has the bears and their keepers travel to a weird alien planet. It does not seem that their trip takes them through the Ursa constellations.

Other episodes have more traditional sitcom elements. One plot involves Hair Bear rigging a raffle with the objective of obtaining ownership of the zoo.

All 16 episodes in the series also makes one wonder why this show did not last beyond one season and did not earn the primetime status of Hanna-Barbera shows such as "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons." The zoo setting lends itself to good humor, and the series is written at least as well as many highly successful sitcoms from any era.

Additionally, Hanna-Barbera recruited great primetime quality voice talent for "Hair Bear." Hair Bear portrayor Daws Butler was the Mel Blanc of Hanna-Barbera '60s and '70s cartoons in that he provided the voices of numerous characters that included Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Elroy Jetson, Peter Potamus, and the Funky Phantom.

Other voice cast members included wildly popular ventriloquist Paul Winchell, who is best known for bringing Winnie the Pooh's Tigger to life, and Joe E. Ross, who starred in the '60s sitcom "Car 54, Where Are You" and provided the voice of Sergeant Flint in the '70s Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Hong Kong Phooey." 

The bear fact is that the cute cartoon zoo animals and silly antics of "Hair Bear" will appeal to those who among us who are still young and folks who have chosen to not fully grow up. The good sitcom stories will appeal to the rest of us.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2013

BREAKING NEWS! Rating Netflix: Act in Hastings, Repent at Leisure

Regular readers know of my strong preference for DVDs over streaming; one primary reason for this preference is that the Hulu Plus and Netflix, which are two big players in the streaming video industry, have incredibly annoying content issues.

The disclaimer regarding content issues is that the potentially awesome new Warner Archive Instant service is MUCH more upfront regarding the relatively limited range of its selection. This catalog contains a large portion of some of the greatest vintage television shows and movies out there. The menus allow for very EASY viewing regarding available content, and common sense indicates that that content does not include non-Warner titles.

Related pet peeves with Hulu Plus are that that service does not allow adding any content that is available on Hulu to your instant queue, only allows adding 100 hours of content to that queue, and is very user-unfriendly regarding notice related to exceeding that limit.

Hulu competitor Netflix has experienced much more well-publicized content issues and made headlines when it amended its policies related to providing both DVDs and streaming content.

I dropped Hulu Plus within a few hours of signing up for it for the reasons stated above, and because the programs that I selected both had logos at the bottom of the screen and included commercials that could not be fast-forwarded over.

Netflix's policy of allowing subscribers to link five devices to their accounts facilitated piggybacking on a friend's account. So far, I have watched one film.

Another friend mentioning a few weeks ago that he had recently bought the films "Frankenweenie," "Hitchcock," "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," "The Perks of Being A Wallflower," and "Skyfall" on DVD prompted searching Netflix for those titles. NONE of them were available for streaming.

The fact that these films came from several studios demonstrated that the problem was not simply that Netflix's contract with a particular studio had expired.

The anticipated demand for these "hot" titles also made me anticipate that I will be taking my inevitable eternal dirt nap before my friend receives all of them on DVD from Netflix if he places them in his queue.

I looked for older titles on Netflix this morning and came up as empty as I had regarding the newly released productions. This prompted several frustrating calls to Netflix's customer service department. That frustration led to a handful of equally dead-end calls to the corporate headquarters.

It seems unlikely that anyone with any authority at Netflix ever answers his or her telephone, and the receptionist is only authorized to send customer calls back to the customer service center.

I am advising my friend to cancel his membership and continue his practice of enjoying my large collection of television shows and movies.

I advise anyone who is considering signing up with Netflix to enjoy all the free content that is LEGALLY (no joke!) on the web and spend the $8 monthly fee that they would otherwise pay Netflix on one or two bargain DVDs each month. I regularly see "big" films from the past few years sell for $5 or less.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding streaming in general or Netflix is encouraged to email me. I promise Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his staff the same responsiveness that the company provides its customers.

'The Bowery Boys' V2: A New York State of Mock

The Bowery Boys: Volume Two
Warner Archive's recent four-disc DVD release of "The Bowery Boys" V2 evoked "unreal" memories of watching these 70 minute films from the '40s and '50s on then independent WSBK Channel 38 in Boston on Sunday mornings in the '70s. This collection includes 12 films that satirizing popular movie genres of that era.

The '70s was a Renaissance period for television not only regarding the great shows, many of which Archive makes available, from those years but also because it was a simpler time. Televisions actually had dials, major markets offered between five and seven channels (and we liked it), and people did not obsess over crystal-clear pictures or evading commercials.

Stations such as Channel 38 used economical older film series such as "The Bowery Boys," "Blondie," "Francis the Talking Mule," and "Ma and Pa Kettle" as filler on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings when viewing audiences were relatively small.

"The Bowery Boys" film series was an offshoot of the earlier "Dead End Kids" films. Both series featured a group of lower-class New York toughs who regularly became tangled in wacky situations in which they had to fight and run their way out.

Slip Mahoney, played by Leo Gorcey, and his sidekick Sach, played by Huntz Hall, led the motley crew. In many respects, this group of misfits were the live-action counterpart of '60s prime-time animated character Top Cat and his pride of alley cats.

It is additionally highly probable that "Laverne and Shirley" creator Garry Marshall based that '70s sitcom's characters Andrew "Squiggy" Squigmond  and Lenny on Terrance "Slip" Mahoney and Sach. Characteristics that Slip and Squiggy shared included below-average height, being heavy-set, favoring the wet look regarding their dark hair, and having bravado that exceeded their mental capabilities and personalities.

Slip was also like Squiggy in that both were prone to malapropisms, but only Slip approached lesser-known '50s TV queen Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg of "The Goldbergs" in the quantity and quality of his humorous misstatements. An example was Slip saying "oblivious" when he meant "obvious."

Sach and Lenny were both tall lanky fair-haired second bananas whose intense loyalties to their BFFS included accepting moderate mental and physical abuse.

To a lesser extent, the characteristics described above applied as well to the more classic comedy duo of Laurel and Hardy.

Volume 2 of "Boys" starts with 1946's "Spook Busters." This one opens with Slip et al apparently graduating from a four-year institution of higher learning but merely finishing their studies at an extermination school. Their first client hires them to bust ghosts in an abandoned haunted mansion.

Needless to say, the Boys' investigation leads to hilarious hijinks. The best verbal humor includes remarks that a small rodent is using "mouse code" to communicate and a statement that the mansion is in a state of disrepair prompting a response that it is in the State of New York.

The second offering, "Hard Boiled Mahoney," has the Boys stumbling into a detective assignment to find a missing woman. This one is great parody of classic film noir flicks such as "The Maltese Falcon." Plot elements include Slip being framed for murder, and it has enough twists and double-crosses to challenge even Sam Spade.

The third film, which is 1947's  "Bowery Buckaroos," is a significant departure in many ways from the first two offerings. The action in this ones brings the New Yorkers out to New Mexico for the purposes of clearing their friend who owns the candy shop where they hang out of a old murder charge, find their friend's gold mine, and locate a girl to whom the friend is a second father.

Of course, this one parodies "oater" style Westerns. The similarity to primetime classic and "2.0" soap "Dallas" extends beyond the cowboy element and the nefarious dealings to the nature of the surprise ending.

"Buckaroo" relies more heavily on sight gags then verbal cleverness.Transforming the Boys' jalopy into a motorized covered wagon is hilarious, and another great sequence involves an interrogation method that has merit for trying at Gitmo.

The 1954 film "The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters" parodies the traditional "night in a haunted house" genre. This one throws just about every element of that type of film at the Boys, who predictably prevail.

1955's "High Society" parodies melodramas of the era. This one has the Boys helping a rightful heir defeat those who would cheat him out of his rightful property.

The remaining films in Volume 2 similarly play off elements of other films of the era. They, like the ones described above, are simply funny presentations that provide Gen Xers a good chance to remember watching them on Sunday mornings.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

'Star Trek: The Next Generation The Best of Both Worlds' Blu-ray: Classic Event Television

Watching the Blu-ray feature-length movie version, which is being released on April 30, 2013, of the two-part "The Best of Both Worlds" (Worlds) episode of  "Star Trek: The Next Generation" coincided with discussing the lack of event television these days with my very significant other.

I recalled gathering with a large group during college to watch the nuclear holocaust film "The Day After" and a smaller group getting together every Wednesday to watch "Dynasty." I also hosted a party, complete with big salads and Tweety Bird pez dispensers, roughly 15 years later when the "Seinfeld" series finale aired.

This weekend's conversation occurred in the context of remarking that people typically at best do not know their neighbors and at worst have hostile relations with them. It definitely did not seem that way in the '50s when television began bringing people together.

"Worlds," which was the first season finale cliffhanger that "TNG" aired, revolved around the largely omnipotent Borg capturing Enterprise captain Picard to assimilate him into their collective culture. The goals of that effort included facilitating the Borg conquest of earth.

"Worlds" was event television when it premiered in 1990. The final scene of  the first part truly is shocking and looks beyond awesome in Blu-ray. Additionally, I recall being very eager for the conclusion in the fourth season premiere episode.

The upcoming Blu-ray release is the first time that "Worlds" has been available in a feature-film format, rather two separate one-hour episodes, for home consumption. Seeing it as a more fully integrated story is manna for Trekkers, and there is reasonable hope that Paramount will provide the remaining three season finale cliffhangers and the "TNG" classic series finale the same Blu-ray treatment.

Regarding the technical quality of the Blu-ray presentation, it truly is spectacular. I ask that anyone who is interested in more thoughts regarding this topic please read my review of the Blu-ray version, which shares "World's" release date, of "TNG's" third season.

My review of the third season mentions that "TNG" is a "house painting series" in that the quality is so good and that you pick up enough new content in each viewing that it is worth watching again after making your way through all seven seasons. This is particularly true regarding "Worlds."

In the spirit of the high standards of Starfleet, I confess that the numerous dramatic moments of "Worlds" are not quite so dramatic after five or six times. The story remains compelling, and the incredible audio and visual enhancements of the Blu-ray release make it worth watching again.

My only gripe relates to a scene in which two small spaceships attack the ginormous Borg cube despite strong knowledge of the Borg's firepower. This tactic is very silly and a horrible waste of both the ships and their crews. 

My new "take-aways" from the most recent viewing include the significance of both the first season "TNG" episode in which the Borg became part of "Star Trek" lore and the third season premiere episode in which microscopic nanites cause more mayhem than a herd of fuzzy little tribbles.

I additionally enjoyed a very humorous moment from the episode. A crew member who had inappropriately left early to visit a planet remarked that the early bird gets the worm. This prompted literal-minded android Data to scan the area and report in a very scientific manner that the planet did not have any birds or worms.

A more timely notable moment involved newly promoted acting captain William T. (Thomas, not Tiberius) Riker to look at the captured Picard's empty seat and, ala Clint Eastwood at last summer's Republican Convention, address his fallen comrade. Riker's monologue prompted me to comment to my very significant other "I can't tell Worf to do that to himself."

"Worlds" also prompted watching the feature film "Star Trek: First Contact" Sunday night. That excellent entry in the classic "Star Trek" films had the Borg traveling back to 2063 to stop humans from ever venturing out into space. As a side note, "Star Trek IV's" influence included my always remarking "remember where we parked" when out with friends.

"Contact" tied nicely and closely into "Worlds." "Contact" provided new insight into the motives for capturing Picard, and the actions in "World" proved pivotal in the subsequent film. Additionally, Picard's reaction in "Contact" to the Borg's terrorist tactics are highly relevant in our post-9/11 world in which the recent Boston Marathon bombings indicated that domestic terrorism ain't gonna stop any time soon.

The relevancy of the Borg's extremely effective fascist culture also prompted thoughts of the truly Americana '50s based '70s sitcom "Happy Days." I recalled an interview in which television icon, and genuinely nice guy, "Days" creator Garry Marshall stated that he set "Days" in the '50s so that it would never look dated.

"Star Trek" creator and Trekker idol Gene Roddenberry had an equal genius for including universal and timeless themes, including the hazards of wearing red shirts that apply in today's Democrat-controlled culture, in the "Star Trek" series and films in which he had a hand. Racism, megalomania, caste systems, discrimination based on sexual preferences, the existence rights of artificially created and/or particular evil life forms, and countless other challenges that "Trek" series addressed are like terrorism in that they ain't goin' nowhere.

The special features in the Blu-ray set include a new documentary titled "Regeneration: Exploring the Borg," which offers the insights of "TNG" actors and production folks of "Worlds" and the Borg in general, early sketches of the Borg, and fan commentary from primetime animation king Seth MacFarlane. I can relate to MacFarlane's enthusiasm for "Worlds," and his repeated viewings of that episode. There is also a gag reel and episode promos.

I encourage fellow Trekkers to email any thoughts or questions regarding any "Trek" series.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

'Yogi's Gang:' A Perfect Earth Day Cartoon

The numerous innovative elements of the 1973-74 Saturday morning cartoon series "Yogi's Gang" provide many reasons to thank Warner Archive for adding this release to its collection of great rarities in the catalog of Hanna-Barbera (HB) shows from that era. The series' strong environmental messages, which make it a truly fun Earth Day gift, is only the tip of the rapidly melting icecap.

"Gang" is the first HB show that united a plethora of beloved characters from the HB universe. The super heroes smorgasbord series"Super Friends" is a better known example of this, and many "Gang" members later appeared as members of the Yogi Yahooeys team on the 1977-79 series "Scooby-Doo's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics" in which three teams on that series traveled the globe competing in traditional and non-traditional sporting events.

"Gang" began life as a one-time episode, which appears in a slightly edited version on the DVD release, titled "Yogi's Ark Lark" on "The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie." The "Movie" series inserted popular fictional and real personalities in cartoons in an attempt to gauge their potential for stand-alone series. "Gang" and a "Brady Bunch" cartoon made the cut.

The original premise of "Gang" was that widely popular '60s cartoon character Yogi Bear (millenials should just Google any unrecognized character name) and his diminutive sidekick Boo-Boo Bear summon virtually every other '60s HB animal character, and that character's sidekick, to Yogi's home in Jellystone Park.The purpose of that summit was discussing the deplorable litter and similar woes that rendered the characters' habitats unpleasant places.

A very incomplete list of those characters include Top Cat, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Magilla Gorilla, Atom Ant, Snagglepuss, Trixie and Dixie, and Wally Gator. Many of the original voice actors contribute their talents to this production.

The gang's solution to this inconvenient truth is to work with park handyman Noah Smith to build a flying ark to transport HB's stable of stars to the "perfect place." This quest also prompts a short song-and-dance member that is repeated a few times during the roughly 45-minute presentation.

The search for paradise brings our intrepid group to an unspoiled arctic region, a pristine forest, and outer space. This gang's experience each time illustrates a problem that still plagues us, namely that the beauty of these special spots attracts development that spoils their appeal.

The group ultimately catches up with any viewer over the age of eight in realizing that the proper solution is to return home and clean up their own small piece of the earth.

The environmental message extends to having a treadmill-powered engine. Characters take turns providing the energy in the pilot, and Magilla Gorilla takes over that duty in the series. A particularly cute segment in the series' premiere episode has the super-powered Atom Ant running on the treadmill that provides the power for the ark's dinghy.

Battles against Mr. Smog, Lotta Litter, and Mr.Waste provide additional environmental lessons during the series. Other episodes have characters fall under the spells of villains who induce bad behaviors that include bigotry, envy, selfishness, and cheating in the course of the gang's missions to help those in need.

Of course, "Gang" presents these messages in kind and gentle ways that are appropriate for Saturday morning cartoons. The episodes additionally include great humor, such as simply repainting a window pane after a ladder shatters a previous pane that was painted on the side of the ark and the lazy Pa of "The Hillbilly Bears" dozing through much of the drama that the crew encounters.

All of this attributes add up to a fun environmentally conscious series that is nostalgic fun for Gen Xers, tasty vegan fluff for environmentalists, and a nice way to teach toddlers how to play well with others.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Gang" or classic HB characters is encouraged to email me. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

'Star Trek: The Next Generation S3 Blu-ray;" Light Years Ahead in Quality of Season and Remastering

Stating that the Blu-ray release, which Trekkers can use their latinum to purchase starting April 30, 2013, of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (TNG) is beyond awesome does not begin to convey the incredible spectacularness of this set.

This indescribably exceptional set creates great confidence that the Blu-ray release, which is also coming out on April 30, 2013, of the "TNG" third season cliffhanger The Best of Both Worlds" will be just as good.

I am saving this re-edited version that plays like a feature-length film, for my extra-special viewing slot tonight. I will report on this one next week but expect that it will be sponge-cake worthy in that it will warrant digging into the stash of Twinkies that I froze in December.

The quality of the "TNG" third season Blu-ray release has convinced me to break my strict rule against purchasing Blu-ray versions of shows that I own on DVD. Despite having spent roughly $250 on the DVD releases of all seven "TNG" seasons, I plan to buy the Blu-rays of seasons one and two and to collect the remaining four seasons as Paramount releases them on Blu-ray.

Another personal rule is that I typically limit my use of foul language to painfully difficult customer service interactions but genuinely exclaimed "oh my (very bad word) god" when the opening scene of the third season season premiere appeared on my television.

The images of the glowing red planet and the U.S.S. Enterprise at the beginning of "Evolution" were far sharper than those in any other Blu-ray that I have watched. A subsequent scene that really brought out the blue in the eyes of guest star Ken "Dr. Bob Kelso" Jenkins prompted me to conduct the acid test of taking off my glasses. I was amazed that I could see the picture just as clearly with just two eyes.

Out of respect for the truly great "TNG" cast, I will refrain from identifying which characters do not look so great in hi-def. However, some of them really should have moisturized better and lobbied for a better make-up artist. 

I did not notice much difference in the quality of the sound regarding the voices, but the enhancement of special effects and background sounds was incredible. Some of the rumblings as the Enterprise experienced various forms of distress truly evoked chills, which is unheard of for me regarding ANY television series.

I was equally pleased to see the "play all" feature on the Blu-ray release. Having to go through a couple of menus each time that I wanted to watch an episode on the DVD releases was my only gripe regarding that version.

Regarding the episodes themselves, watching them convinced me that "TNG" is what I refer to as a "house painting" series in that it is so good that it is worth starting to watch all over again after finishing the series.

I have watched each "TNG"episode on television at least five times and only finished watching the series on DVD last year but found the few Blu-ray episodes that I watched very fresh. Each offering typically includes so much that fully appreciating them requires several viewings.

The themes in "Evolution" included the theme of the right of a mechanical being to live that often related to series regular Data, who was the only android who was serving in Star Fleet, and the extent to which the newly returned (YYYAAA) Dr. Beverly Crusher was cramping the style of her teen-age son Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher. Reintroducing Crusher Senior truly can be described as the Gates of Heaven.

"Ensigns of Command," which was the second episode of the third season, had the uber-intelligent Data facing the challenge of serving as a diplomat despite his programming and training not preparing him for that role. Similar to his "Star Trek" the original series counter-part Mr. Spock, Data had to adapt to the fact that humanoids were rarely logical. Data, like Spock, additionally indicated a rare tone of anger.

An ongoing dispute with extraordinarily toxic neighbors made the theme of abuse of the law, and disregard for its spirit, in "Ensigns" very relevant. Enterprise Captain Picard turning that tactic against the alien foe, who looked incredibly menacing in hi-def, was very satisfying.

Further, Picard's line "you're damn right I did" when another character commented that Picard had "hung up" on the alien was one of the funniest lines of the entire series. This episode further included a texting scene roughly 25 years before this technology hit the market.

Aside from "Worlds," the most memorable third season episode brought former Chief Security Officer Tasha Yar, who left "TNG" after a very unpleasant encounter with a genuine tar baby in the first season, back to the series. "Sarek," in which Mark Leonard reprised his role as Spock's father in the original series, is a close third only because it is more of a treat for original series fans that for "TNG" fans.

The Blu-ray release additionally includes a gag reel and new features that largely focus on the series' writers. Fanboy and King of Primetime Animation Seth MacFarlane hosts a surprisingly reverential discussion with four "TNG" writers. The many fascinating reveals included the practice of allowing anyone at all who wrote a full script to submit it to the production staff for consideration for having that story filmed.

A companion feature was a tribute to "TNG" producer and writer, and all-around "Star Trek" god, Michael Piller. The sense of the comments by "TNG" writers and actors was that Piller ran a tight ship but knew what he was doing and was a tough to dislike despite practices that included rejecting scripts merely because he had difficulty providing notes on it. These traits seem to have influenced the characteristics of the Picard character.

I will end on those well-deserved notes of praise and invite fellow Trekkers to email questions or comments regarding any of the awesome "Star Trek" series.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

'Superboy' S2: College Man of Steel

Superboy: The Complete Second Season
Warner Archive releasing the second season of "Superboy" more than six years after Warner Brothers released the first season of that show combined with the upcoming release of blockbuster "Man of Steel" provides hope that Archive will release "Superboy" S3 in early June 2013.

This late '80s and early '90s syndicated weekly series depicts the college years  adventures of Clark Kent, a.k.a. Superboy. It qualifies as "unreal" both in the sense that is fantasy-based and is of a very good quality considering its limited budget. The series also benefited from being produced by Ilya Salkind, who brought us the blockbuster Christopher Reeve "Superman" films.

Although the several years and countless viewings of films and television series in the interim between the DVD releases of seasons one and two of "Superboy" hinder comparing the two, my memory of the first one and strong enjoyment of the season two episodes evoke thoughts that retooling the series greatly improved already good series.

Comparing the cover art from the season one and two releases of "Superboy" shows that replacing John Haymes Newton with Gerard Christopher was an excellent decision. Christopher was more hunky than Newton and filled out the Superboy outfit much better.

Additionally, Christopher brought a fanboy knowledge and enthusiasm to the role. I would join him for apple pie ala mode at the Talon in Smallville any time. 

Christopher seems to especially delight in comic bits that demonstrate that Clark is so nerdy that there is no chance that he and Superboy are the same person despite Clark often disappearing immediately before Superboy arrives on the scene. Seeing Clark rock white socks with sandals and shorts and struggle to lift roughly 20 pounds of free weights are standout examples of this schtick.

Replacing sidekick character T.J. White, played by Jim Calvert, with the more outrageous Andy McAlister, played by the better-known young actor Ilan Mitchell-Smith, was equally prudent.

Andy transforming from a thoroughly obnoxious character to a genuinely likable and heroic dude is a large part of his appeal. Andy becomes Clark Kent's new roommate in the second-season premiere episode.

Within a few seconds we learn that Andy, whose hair resembles that of the members of the rock band "A Flock of Seagulls" (Google it millenials) and attire is as new wave as Johnny Slash's from the sitcom "Square Pegs" (Another Googleable moment), manipulates his way into Clark's dorm room because it is known that Clark is Superboy's friend.

Profit, rather than any desire for a bromance, is Andy's motive for wanting to meet the College Man of Steel. Andy's fantasies revolve around having Superboy endorse merchandise, such as t-shirts and masks.

Andy definitely steals scenes from the get-go, but his initial hyperactivity and general sleaziness makes one wonder why Clark does not immediately ask the housing office for a transfer. Why Clark and his gal-pal Lana hang out with this creep is equally puzzzling.

Andy's transformation into someone with whom I would enjoy sharing a brewski at Schuster University's pub commences in an second-season episode entitled "Mysterious Island." He begins the episode repeatedly singing the "Gilligan's Island" theme very loudly and horribly off-key. He also convinces Clark and Lana to join him in a amusingly decrepit small boat for a ride.

After our trio becomes shipwrecked on the aforementioned mysterious island and Clark transforms into Superboy with the aim of saving the day, the nemesis of the week drains Superboy's powers. Andy spends much of the remaining episode helping Superboy escape numerous hazards.

Most refreshing of all, Andy does all this without whining or trying to profit. Andy, whose subsequent new but still stylish 'do and duds reflect his transformation, is similarly helpful in several later episodes.

Another aspect of "Superboy's" evolution includes a change from primarily terrestrial foes, including a comical college-aged Lex Luthor, to a wider variety of extra-terrestrial and supernatural threats in the second season. The oft-repeated exposition that Superboy's powers are not very effective against supernatural forces explains this development.

"Micro Boy" is the only episode that seems to defy logic and to buck Superman lore. The enemy by that name with whom Superboy battles is a human who derives great strength from microwaves. Such a concept is reasonable in the fantasy/sci-fi world that our hero inhabits.

The irksome element of "Micro Boy" relates to said villain-in-training is that he develops an edge over Superboy during a battle in which siphoning power from solar panels increases Micro Boy's edge over Superman. Given that earth's yellow sun is the source of Superman's power, logic dictates that the solar energy would turn the tables in Superman's favor.

In addition to Micro Boy and the foe from Mysterious Island, Clark must contend with an Angelesque vampire whose battle to reform his evil ways hits road blocks, a very powerful and amorphous ancient evil, and everyone's favorite imp from the Fifth Dimension Mr. Mxyzptlk in a particularly amusing episode that both provides a glimpse of a marriage between Clark and Lana and proves that Mitchell-Smith should NEVER try drag. No, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. (you millenials know what to do) do not appear in the Mr. Mxyzptlk episode.

Other classic Superman foes who appear include the well-meaning but dangerous Bizarro, Metallo, and a more adult incarnation of Lex Luthor. This season also introduces the classic element of red kryptonite, which causes Clark to lose his inhibitions in a manner that brings out his evil side.

The bottom line is that "Superboy" is a lesser-known but well-done part of "Superman" lore that nourished fanboys during the long interval between the first two Christopher Reeve "Superman" films and the network "Lois and Clark" series.

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

'Mystery Science Theater 3000' V XXVI: The Fantastic Four

Although the typically awesome Shout Factory DVD release of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (MST 3K) Volume XXVI occurred roughly a month ago, even a delayed review of this set of some of the funniest riffing on four of the worst films ever made is very apt for this site's new focus on "unreal" TV.

A "very special" announcement regarding a particularly awesome upcoming Shout release of one of the best sitcoms that many of you never watched follows this review. The hint is that this hilarious series from the early '60s makes "I'm going to kill that boy" and variations of that statement just as funny as "The Honeymooners'" "To the moon, Alice." It also makes me renew my request for the powers-that-be at Shout to adopt me.

The happier coincidence regarding the "MST 3K" release was that a story that aired on the Boston National Public Radio station on Saturday discussed the "two-percent rule" that writers on shows such as the NBC sitcom "Community" follow. This referred to these scribes including obscure references in scripts that are designed to make an elite few viewers feel special.

MSTies know that the two-percent rule is a big part of why "MST 3K" is so special. The overall premise is that a hapless human who has been imprisoned on a spaceship named the Satellite of Love  (SOL) is forced to watch truly horrible films for the purpose of seeing how much of that torture that he can withstand without going insane. Series creator Joel Hodgson was the first victim; head writer Mike Nelson replaced Joel midway through the series' run.

As the addictive original theme song to this '90s long-running cable series states, the prisoner on the SOL  tries to keep "his sanity "with the help of his robot friends." The technique of the man and his two fabricated American (Google it millenials) companions consists of hilarious riffs on the films.

The two-percent rule applied to roughly 50-percent of the hilarious comments by the main characters. A joke about "The Mole People," which Volume XXVI includes, star Hugh Beuamont's role as Ward Cleaver on "Leave it to Beaver" might be followed by a reference to an obscure scientist or a little-known 18th century novel.

The less happy coincidence regarding this review related to the less happy motivation for changing this site's name from "Shout Factory for Joy" to "Unreal TV." Recognizing that these are tough times prompted a desire to promote DVD sets of vintage "unreal" shows that are just as effective for making us feel better as they did during the challenging times in which they first aired.

I had watched, and loved, three of the four 90-minute "MST 3K" episodes in preparation for this review during the weekend. I planned to watch "Danger!! Death Ray," which was a wonderfully campy 1967 James Bond homage with Bret Fargo as the super spy, after seeing what I anticipated to be undue coverage of the Boston Marathon results on the evening news broadcast by Boston's WBZ.

Far more than two-percent of you know that I found images of smoking sidewalks, limping runners, and general chaos. There were many ways that that bombing hit close to home, but I was at the Starbucks in my mid-sized seaside community 45 minutes north of Boston when the event occurred. I also know that close friends who lived near Copley Square were fine.

Although "Danger!! Death Ray" will find itself into my Blu-ray player in the next few days, a "The Beverly Hillbillies" episode in which "Green Acres" and "Petticoat Junction" regular character Sam Drucker visited the Clampetts was all that I was up for last night. An appearance by series regular the Rock Hudsonesque Dash Riprock made the episode even more special.

Returning to the business at hand, the genuinely good folks at Shout did their usual awesome job picking the four films for Volume XXVI.

Of the three episodes that were watched for this review, the dungeons and dragonsesque "The Magic Sword" wins the award for best film and funniest riffing on a film. This "epic" had an evil wizard, played by the truly well-respected actor Basil Rathbone, kidnapping a princess out of a desire for revenge against her father the king.

Saving the princess from becoming dragon chow required that a stalwart young knight who loved her use enchanted objects that he stole  from his sorceress foster mother, who resembled both the character Endora from the sitcom "Bewitched" and Endora's portrayor in the film version of that show well-respected actress Shirley MacLaine, on his quest.

A scene in which a monkey and a two-headed creature played chess alone made the movie worth watching.

References to the cult comedy film "The Princess Bride" likely followed the "twenty-five percent rule."

This episode also had one of the funniest offerings regarding the skits that the "MST 3K" cast performed throughout the show. This one was a commercial for "Basil Rathbone" dog treats. Seeing the robots in dog costumes was very cute.

Another good skit, which I believe was also in the "Sword" episode, involved the ongoing "Invention Exchange" in which the evil scientists who had imprisoned the good guys and the SOL folks presented the utility of products that they had created. The "mads'" idea for a vending machine for replacement organs, such as hearts and livers, was hilariously dark.

The aforementioned "The Mole People" was a 1950s low-budget sci-fi flick that was very typical of "MST 3K" episodes. This one had Beaumont and other B-movie actors playing scientists who journeyed to the center of the earth in search of an ancient civilization. Scenes in which the savage creatures who the mole people enslaved tunneled up through what appeared to be mounds of ground coffee inspired some of the funniest riffs.

The similarities to the '70s live-action kids' show "The Land of the Lost" prompted my friend and I to comment on the creatures' resemblance to the reptilian sleestak from that series.

A very entertaining "making of" special that was paired with this episode provided interesting insight into the film's effects and why movies of its caliber came to rely heavily on stock footage.

"Alien from L.A." was similar to "The Mole People" in that it was a typical low-budget sci-fi film from the '80s that the "MST 3K" writers loved as much as those films' counterparts from the '50s. Readers should be advised that Shout made a very rare error in stating that Joel hosted this truly funny episode. This was a Mike one.

"Alien" had a squeaky voiced outcast teen, played by super-model Kathy Ireland, journeying to the center of the earth in search of her archaeologist father who was seeking the lost city of Atlantis, which any good fan boy knows was far-off in space until it splashed down in San Francisco Bay a few years ago.

Mike et al did a great job commenting on Ireland's highly annoying persona and the "Mad Max" elements of the production. Additionally, the movie itself was very entertaining.

It was slightly disappointing that the scenes in which Ireland's character lost her glasses did not inspire references to the same schtick involving near-sighted Velma on "Scooby-Doo" and that co-star William R. "Cole" Moses did not inspire "Falcon Crest" jokes beyond a reference to that series' Lorenzo Lamas.

Wanting to end on a truly happy note given the Boston Marathon bombing coinciding with this review, I would like to announce that Shout is releasing a complete series DVD set of "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" on July 2, 2013. I genuinely believe that the American bias against black-and-white series is the only reason that this incredible series did not receive the regard that it deserved.

"Dobie" tells the tales of girl-crazy and relatively lazy and scheming high school boy, turned peace-time soldier, turned junior college student Dobie Gillis. The charm and energy of series star Dwayne Hickman and a pre-Gilligan Bob Denver as Dobie's beatnik best bud Maynard G. Krebs make this show a must-have. I really look forward to seeing Shout's awesome production of this set.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "MST 3K" or "Dobie Gillis is encouraged to email me.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

'K9' Complete Series: 'Doctor Who' Meets 'Scooby Doo"

Shout Factory's upcoming DVD release of "K9" the complete series, which is an Australian spin-off of the British "Doctor Who" series that is wildly popular in the United States, is one of the most rare and special Shout releases ever. This says a great deal given that Shout has given "undeclared" and "The Goldbergs" new life.

"K9" appearing on Shout's awesome pop culture radar is amazing, and the powers-that-be greenlighting a DVD release exceeds any expectations. This provides hope for a U.S. release of the other Australian classic "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo."

This 26-episode 4-disc "K9" set will be available to Whovians on May 7, 2013.

Before going further, I would like to offer hard-core Whovians a blanket apology for any lore errors in this entry; I only really got into "Doctor Who" during its modern era and am less strong on the earlier years than I would like.

K9 first appears 35 years ago, which is 245 in dog years, in the "Doctor Who" episode "The Invisible Enemy" during the wonderful reign of Tom Baker in the titular role. The origin story is that a scientist who only works in outer space built K9 as a substitute for a dog who the scientist had had on earth.

I knew of the "K9" series but could not find it until stumbling on a listing for the complete series Christmas Day 2012 marathon on the SyFy channel. That was a far better gift than even a Red Rider BB gun.

My excitement on discovering this marathon trumped my concern regarding frying my uber-Tivo by having it record for 13 hours straight. The Tivo survived the ordeal, and I spent several stormy days this winter enjoying episodes. However, the picture and quality of the DVD episodes far exceeds that of the SyFy broadcasts, and I believe that the DVD episodes are a few minutes longer as well.

Additionally, the DVD set has an entertaining and informative "making-of" special feature and a shorter interview with K9. My ONLY gripe regarding the interview is that K9 refers to his former "master" as Doctor Who; even rookie Whovians know that The Doctor is not Doctor Who. Bad dog!

"K9" is notable as well in that it successfully combines elements the best of many other great shows. This well-blended combination of terrific ingredients makes "K9" an awesome show that succeeds aside from its nexus with "Doctor Who."

The most immediate similarity is to the other "Doctor Who" productions that are created for Whovians of all ages. The wonderful "Sarah Jane Adventures," which features a few guest spots by K9, has the popular former companion of that name team up with young teens to thwart alien menaces that appear in London. The animated "Doctor Who" specials "Dreamland" and "The Infinite Quest" sends David Tennant's Doctor on equally fabulous adventures.

"K9" additionally has the robotic dog element of "The Scooby-Doo Dynomutt Hour," the teen sleuths and their talking dog  investigating eerie goings-on aspect of most "Scooby-Doo" series, the adolescents having a stoic middle-aged British mentor feature of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and a dash of "Lassie" thrown in for good measure.

A YouTube video of the trailer for "K9" provides an excellent sense of the action, drama, and humor of this show.

"K9" is set in a version of 2059 London in which alien threats prompted forming the Department, which uses cyborg law-enforcement units to maintain peace and squelch rebellion in a quasi-fascist manner. We meet teen anarchist Starkey at a time that he is literally raging against the machines.

A series of events brings Starkey together with Professor Gryffen, who consults with the Department regarding alien technology and has also built a space-time manipulator (STM), and Gryffen's slightly older than Starkey live-in assistant Darius. Jorjie, who is the teen daughter of a high-ranking Department official, rounds out the group of the primary human characters.

The rivalry and moderate animosity, which manifests itself hilariously in the "Oroborus" episode, between Starkey for the romantic affections of Jorjie and the parental love of Gryffen is almost as entertaining as K9's displeasure at being treated as a flesh-and-bone dog. Hearing K9 haughtily declare "I am not a dog" in response to being called a good boy or otherwise treated in a caninecentric manner never gets old.

The pilot episode has the STM sucking K9 into the lives of Starkey et al and ultimately playing Mr. Peabody to Starkey's Sherman. (This is this week's Googleable moment for you millenials.) Another nice touch has K9, who has regenerated ala The Doctor and other Time Lords, into a new incarnation who can fly.Seeing him zip around London is extraordinarily fun.

Many "K9" episodes are like the equally good British sci-fi drama "Primeval" in that the STM sucks in the threat of the week. The appearance of that visitor from another world and/or time prompts K9 et al to spring into action. Substituting a wormhole to a prehistoric era and a creature from that period for an alien provides a sense of a typical "Primeval" episode.

Other "K9" episodes have aliens who already walk among us creating havoc that requires that K9 and friends investigate and counter-act.

"Alien Avatar" is one of the best episodes of the 26 in that it has a nice variation of a boy and his dog going down to the watering hole to fish. It also includes some of the best intentional dog-oriented humor by K9. His line that people always blame the dog for a foul smell is hilarious.

 The award for creepiest episode goes to "Fall of the House of Gryffen." This one has manifestations of the professor's wife and offspring, who are lost in time and space, appearing via the STM. This offering is much more "The Shining" than "Return of the Seavers."

The equally creepy but more amusing "Dream-Eaters" episode has nocturnal musings take a frightening turn complete with an evil clown reminiscent of the other Stephen King classic "It."

Additionally, the alien Korven race makes several appearances and present a particular strong threat in the series' finale.

Fans of K9 and his pet boy are encouraged to email comments and questions. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

'Alice' Season 3: A Season of Firsts

Warner Archive's  recent DVD release of the third season of "Alice" gives fans of that true '70s show genuine reasons to rejoice.

This strong season was the last full one that featured sassy Texas waitress Florence Jean "Kiss Mah Grits" Castleberry. Further, this release coming a few months after Archive's release of the second season indicates both that the fourth season will see the light of day in July 2013 and that Archive will ultimately release all nine seasons.

Even better potential news regarding this release is that it indicates that Archive will continue its tradition of offering highly valued rarities by releasing Florence's, better known as Flo,  eponymous spin-off that has her running a Texas bar. It is very nice to know that Flo's other catchphrase "when donkeys fly" no longer applies to the possibility of this series becoming available.

The 1976-1977 first season of "Alice," which I gave a very positive review, established the show's premise. It opened with recent middle-aged widow Alice Hyatt taking a waitress job at the textbook Phoenix greasy spoon Mel's Diner to support herself and her preteen son Tommy until she launched her singing career.

Both the first and second seasons included "very special" episodes on social topics such as women's right to equal pay for equal work, recognizing that a personal attitude toward homosexuality is not as enlightened as desired, and a surprisingly dark offering in which "dinghy" but very sweet waitress Vera overdosed on sleeping pills after being dumped.

Although "Alice" abandoned its serious side by its third season, director William Asher utilized his experience on "I Love Lucy" and numerous other classic sitcoms to maintain good quality. This is even true regarding the creative slants on the numerous sitcom cliches that appeared during the third season.

One could see the pay-offs a mile away in episodes in which numerous characters hid fully clothes in a shower, Flo proudly announced that her hilariously tacky pantsuit was a "one-of-a-kind" original, and Flo was stuck working alone at the diner on New Year's Eve. However, Asher and the talented cast made us laugh at the inevitable.

The classic episode from that season was the Thanksgiving offering in which comically stingy Mel agreed to cook dinner for a group of orphans for the free publicity. The cliched moment related to Mel inadvertently buying live turkeys and Vera bonding with the animals.

Fun surprises in addition to the nature of the turkeys' salvation were Nancy "Jo" McKeon and a young bright-eyed Corey Feldman playing two of the orphans. Nancy was the younger sister of Philip McKeon, who played Tommy.

Seeing how the orphans handled being deprived of turkey was hilarious and adequately heart-warming to make the episode special without being inducing nausea.

An episode in which the cast spent the weekend at Alice's small apartment to kick their individual vices was another standout because of the creative ways in which the characters tried to secretly indulge those harmful activities.

This episode was memorable as well due to its similarity with one from an earlier season in which amateur psychologist Alice organized a (fully clothed) weekend encounter group in her apartment. Further, the twist in the final seconds in the bad habits episode was laugh-out-loud funny.

The third season's drifting into a more traditional sitcom model also introduced several elements that became staples of the show. The season premiere in which Tommy moved in with Mel was the first episode in which Alice introduced her male drag character Sam Butler, who would reappear to save the day in a later third season episode.

An episode in which Alice worked a late-night shift introduced Dave "Reuben Kincaid" Madden (you millenials know by now that I will invite you to Google that one.) as Earl the high school basketball coach and one of Flo's countless gentleman callers.

Veteran actress Martha Raye rounded out the trifecta of firsts by making her first appearance as Mel's mother Carrie. This episode had Mel building up enough courage to stand up to his mother's domineering attitude toward him. The spoiler alert is that Carrie did not fling wire hangers at Mel.

As always, folks with questions or comments regarding "Alice" are welcome to email me. Please remember that rude remarks or inquiries run the risk of either an invitation to kiss mah grits or a response of "stow it."

Monday, April 8, 2013

'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids:' Spies, Dog, and, Rock and Roll

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids
Warner Archives recent DVD release of the complete series of the 1973-74 Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids" is another reason for children of the '70s to rejoice regarding the founding of Archive.

Archive had me at the "unreal" "Goober and the Ghost Chasers" and "The Funky Phantom." Adding "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space" and "Speed Buggy" to the mix were great bonuses. One can only hope that "The Partridge Family 2200 AD" sees the light of day long before the twenty-third century.

Well-known common threads of these awesome rarities are that they had limited network runs and little or no syndication. The series mentioned above that Archive has released have the additional element of being variations of the "Scooby-Doo Where Are You" formula of four "meddling kids" and their dog engaging in crime-busting adventures.

"Butch Cassidy" stands out from other series in the "Scooby" genre in ways that increase its appeal among kids in the eight-to-twelve age range.

First, these secret agents who use their cover as the country's top rock band to travel to hot spots all over the world actually set out to accomplish missions, rather than stumble into trouble while engaged in typical teen behavior or doing their job. Even the "Goober" gang merely set out to document eerie goings-on, rather than thwart the plans of the nefarious villains who induced fear to facilitate their criminal activities.

A typical "Butch Casssidy" episode begins with the computer known as Mr. Socrates using Butch's spy ring to summon the gang to Socrates' headquarters to give the group its assignment. The pilot's plot that had the group playing a concert in a Cold War era eastern European nation as a cover for their mission to smuggle out a defector was typical. The reference to that Iron Curtain country generally banning rock music was a surprisingly adult reference in a Saturday morning cartoon.

Additionally,  dreamy teen idol Butch (who was based on real-life dreamy teen idol David Cassidy) and his bandmates were not nearly as cartoonish as their counterparts on other series. Butch was very brave and true but did not ham things up nearly as much as "Scooby's" Fred.

Wally the drummer, who was the Shaggy of the group, regularly expressed fear but soldiered on bravely and never melted down. Despite this, "Butch Cassidy" did not seem to explain why the spy agency even hired this nervous guy or why Wally took the job given that he regularly complained about  going on a mission even before facing danger.

As an aside, The Monkees' Micky Dolenz provided the voice of Wally. A scene in which Wally said that he knew how to ride an elephant because he had seen the 1937 "Elephant Boy" film three times was a nice homage to Dolenz' first series "Circus Boy."

Additionally, aside from the awesomely catchy theme song, not all the songs in "Butch Cassidy" fell into the typical Hanna-Barbera bubblegum music genre. The tempo on some songs, such as "Stranger" from the pilot, was much slower than a standard Hanna-Barbera offering.

An offshot of the more mature nature of the music in "Butch Cassidy" was the lack of the comical chase scenes, often set to bubblegum music, that were a memorable element of "Scooby-Doo."

Further, a "Butch Cassidy" episode that involved a mission to ensure that a scheduled coronation of  a 16 year-old middle eastern prince occurred included numerous references to real-life music from the '60s. These included discussions of Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell.

Lest one be concerned that "Butch Cassidy" was more "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." than "Josie and the Pussycats," "Cassidy" retained good kid-oriented humor. Elvis the dog who served as the band mascot always took the most comfortable seat in the room and often rocked out as the band performed.

Elvis additionally took great joy in aggravating Mr. Socrates, who seemed to be the world's only computer that was allergic to dogs; that might have been his "terminal" disease.

Other humor came in the form of the band hiding in crates and taking other extreme measures to avoid zealous fans. One of the better segments regarding this theme had the group drive their car directly onto a platform that a crane lifted into the hold of a ship. Seeing the rugged sailors in the hold greet the band as enthusiastically as a mob of tween Bieberers was hilarious.

The bottom line is that "Butch Cassidy" was the Rodney Dangerfield of the "Scooby-Doo" genre shows. It did not get much respect despite combining above average plots, genuinely good music, and good humor at the expense of unduly enthusiastic rock fans.

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

Friday, April 5, 2013

'Wonder Woman:' Wonderful Sexist '70s Camp

Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1974 pre-Lynda Carter era made for TV movie "Wonder Woman" is the latest example of the "unreal" awesomeness of Archive. This rare gem stars Cathy Lee Crosby as the titular super heroine and Ricardo "KHAN!!!" Montalban as the big bad in a project from "Star Trek" producer/writer John D.F. Black.

"Wonder Woman" is DC comics super heroine Diana, who is an Amazon from the highly physically, mentally, and spiritually evolved all-female civilization on Paradise (as opposed to Fantasy) Island. In the 1974 incarnation, Diana volunteers to come to the outside world to improve our existence.

Similar to the better-known mid-70s Carter "Wonder Woman" series, Diana becomes the assistant to spy chief Steve Trevor.

The plot of the 1974 movie revolves around Diana attempting to locate and retrieve a set of books that identifies the true identities of undercover agents who work under Trevor. She must accomplish this before the deadline by which Trevor must pay a $15 million ransom for the tomes.

Numerous dated cheesy elements aside, the story is presented well and Crosby does a great job even if she takes more of a "Charlie's Angels" than super heroine approach to her performance. Crosby does have an invisible plane but lacks most of the other "toys" that helped make Carter's series fun.

The movie additionally has a great deal of unintentional humor that reflects very poorly on the early days of the feminist movement. Some of these segments would make a hilarious sexual harassment training video.

A tamer aspect of this sexism depicted Diana having to sit at her desk and listen in on the intercom while Trevor briefed his all-male team of agents on the mission.

A less tame aspect of the mistreatment of Diana revolved around an agent shamelessly hitting on her. The more cringe-worthy moments involved the agent giving Diana a small plant with a promise of better things to come and subsequently kissing his fingertip and then pressing it to Diana's forehead.

The good campy fun throughout the film additionally was ripe for heckling.

My viewing companion seemed to enjoy my exclaiming "That's Incredible!" (Google it millenials) whenever the highly athletic Crosby performed a gymnastic stunt. Other high (or low) lights included my referring to "rich Corinthian leather" when Montalban was shown in a sedan (another Googleable reference) and putting the words "well, you've been riding my ass all day" in the mouth of the head henchman when he and his evil Amazon companion saw another character on a burro.

My friend and I also enjoyed alternatively shouting "tarantula" and "snake" during a scene in which the bad guys planted a box in Diana's hotel room. (You will need to watch the DVD to see which of us was correct.)

Even if Wonder Woman had ensnared me in her magic lasso of truth, I would say that the 1974 "Wonder Woman" movie would appeal to super hero fans and anyone who likes either well-done '70s cheese or appropriately paced mid-budget action-adventure films.

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

'Family Ties' Seasson 6: Fox Loves Cox (Watch It)

Last week, I discussed the sociological aspects of the sixth season of the Michael J. Fox '80s sitcom "Family Ties," which is being released on DVD on April 9, 2013. The primary messages were that "Alex (P. Keaton) is king" and that the series depicted a kinder gentler time in which conservatives and liberals respected each other and were not literally or figuratively at war.

Today's conclusion of this "very special" two-part review is a more traditional look at the sixth season episodes. To further recap, "Ties" is a witty and overall well-acted family sitcom that tells the tales of former '60s student radicals Steven and Elyse Keaton raising their three older and later-in-life "Cousin Oliver" toddler in a Columbus, Ohio suburb.

Great aspects of the latter seasons include introducing Midwestern valley girl Mallory's new wave/struggling artist boyfriend Nick. The dreamy Scott Valentine played this highly accessorized and highly caring/sensitive dim-bulb very well.

These was also the era in which the show mined wonderful humor from Mallory attending the comically unchallenging Grant College. The most recent of my decades-long Grant College references was a few months ago when the law school that my significant other attended dropped in the rankings of those schools.

The sixth season premiere introduced new series regular Courtney Cox, who was best known for her roles in the NBC show "Misfits of Science" and the Bruce Springsteen "Dancing in the Dark" video. Cox played psychology student Lauren Miller, who met and fell in love with Fox's Alex in the first of the season's many "very special" hour-long episodes.

The contrast between Cox's outwardly warm and caring nature and Alex's Reagan Republican persona was highly amusing. It was also nice to see a disinterested Alex agreeably sit through psychology lectures and Cox patiently listen to Alex's advocacy of traditional values and conservative fiscal policies.

Additionally, Cox had a great smile and rocked her big hair, suspenders, and t-shirt look. She also had some very funny lines but delivered a rather lifeless performance. Given her good future work on "Friends" and "Cougar Town," it is probable either that Cox was nervous or that Fox dating his fifth-season on-screen love interest and future real-life wife Tracy Pollan was a factor.

Cox did come to life more when performing with toddler Brian Bonsall, whose Andy Keaon was a modified mini-me to Fox's Alex. One of the season's cutest scenes involved Andy giving Lauren a tour of his room.

Lauren giving Andy a six-pack of assorted sodas in response to an earlier scene in which he communicated his anger at her by constantly changing his request for a type of soda was one of many laugh-out-loud moments of the scene. A surprisingly not sappy moment a few seconds later in which Andy and Lauren bonded over a mutual love of teddy bears was one of the sixth season's cutest exchanges.

A second "very special" hour-long episode revolved around high school freshman Jennifer Keaton writing a book report on "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" despite knowing that her school district banned that book added a new slant to this somewhat common sitcom plot.

In addition to addressing the arguably absurd concern regarding the word "nigger" and the related theme of slavery in "Huckleberry Finn," the Keatons noted that there would not have been any controversy if they lived in a school district that had a boundary a few blocks from their home. Mallory provided that episode's laugh-out-loud moment by observing that living a few blocks away also would have brought the family closer to the mall.

A lighter episode that also touched on a still relevant social issue was one of the great ones that paired up Alex and Nick. This one had Alex simultaneously exploiting Nick and helping him market his art.

Seeing the contrast between the completely business orientation of Alex, who advocated changing the color and size of Nick's art to make it more profitable, and the artistic nature of Nick was just plain good comedy. The manner in which Nick got Alex to understand his perspective was particularly amusing.

"The Anniversary Waltz," which involved rancor regarding the party for Steven and Elyse's 20th wedding anniversary, was another notable episode. That offering was produced for "Ties'" second season but did not air then for a reason that I am going crazy trying to recall. (The web was no help regarding this.)

Discovering "lost" TV episodes is always fun, and seeing the older-style opening credits and the pre-Andy era  in "Waltz" was a nostalgic treat.

On a more general note, "Ties" simply achieved a nice balance between more traditional one-earner nuclear family sitcoms and the darker '90s sitcoms, such as "Roseanne" and "Married With Children," that presented a depressingly cynical view of parents' ability to manage their homes and offspring.

I for one would much rather live with the Keatons than the Bradys or the Bundys. The sentiment from "Ties'" admittedly sappy theme song that "there ain't no nothing we can't love each other through" is a nice one that fits in well with this column's theme of "unreal TV."

Anyone who would like to share thoughts or ask questions about "Ties" is encouraged to email me.