Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Ach mein Gott!!

ALF was a popular TV show when I was a kid but I never watched because it looked stupid.  If only I had seen the show in German, things would have been different.

A Little Late for Thanksgiving

…but I can save this for next year.

So if you want to join me in recreating a Thanksgiving tradition of my childhood, follow these simple steps:

  1. Get a DVD of the original version of King Kong.
  2. Periodically stop it and watch a part of this Youtube clip instead:

Oh this is just too perfect.

Movie Review: New York: A Documentary Film by Ric Burns

New York: A Documentary Film is an 8-part film made by Ric Burns that debuted on PBS in 1999 (except for episode 8, which is from 2003).  Thanks to Netflix, I’ve finally seen this epic documentary about my ancestral homeland and one of my favorite cities.

Ric Burns’ style is similar to his brother Ken in that their is a rich wealth of archival images, photos and films, supported by contemporary film interspersed with interviews with a variety of experts and dramatic renditions of quotations by historical figures.  It’s an effective technique, albeit one that could use a few adjustments.  I particularly like hearing from the experts, a grab bag of historians, writers, politicians, architects, and New Yorkers.  Standouts among the crowd include urbanist Marshall Berman, soft-spoken historian Craig Steven Wilde, and architect Robert A. M. Stern (as an aside, it seems to me that architects are often great speakers as well).  I would prefer longer clips of these people speaking about New York in place of the narration, no offense to David Ogden Stiers.  It would be one way to reduce the cliches that plague this film.  If you had a dollar for every time the words “Capitol of the World” are uttered, you could take me out for dinner at a fancy restaurant and probably get change.  Similarly, the contemporary film of soaring over the Manhattan skyline is overused creating a visual cliche.

These are minor quibbles though.  I would expect that many viewers would criticize the filmmakers for leaving things out although it would be impossible to cover every detail of city as large and historic as New York.  I would have liked to have seen more about New York’s role in popular culture such as radio, film, tv, and sports, not to mention more details about the four boroughs not named Manhattan, but so be it. I also felt that the 70 years covered in episodes #6 & 7 could have branched out to include more than road building, public housing, and white flight, since so much else happened in those times.  But then again this is the time of my life, and my parents, and my grandparents so I’m much more connected to it through personal experience and stories

The film covers New York History chronologically, with each episode culminating in a Big Event that kind of ties together the historical and cultural processes discussed in the episode.  These include 1. the Erie Canal, 2. the Civil War Draft Riots, 3. the Consolidation of  Greater New York, 4. the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire, 5. the construction of the Empire State Building, 6. the Great Depression and the 1939 World’s Fair, 7. the 1975 Fiscal Crisis, and 8. the World Trade Center & September 11th Attacks.  I think a more effective approach would have been to ditch the chronological approach and made the episodes specifically about these events: what led up to them, what effects did they have, how they influenced the people and their times, et al.  Episode 8 about the World Trade Center does in fact follow this method by tracing the history of the buildings construction, use, and desctruction, subtly creating a microcosm of New York history from the 1950′s to 2001.

Each episode also has a Big Person, a New Yorker of great prominence and influence who somehow personifies his times (and they are all “he’s”).  These include 1. Alexander Hamilton, 2. Walt Whitman, 3. William Tweed, 4. Al Smith, 5. F. Scott Fitzgerald, 6. Fiorello LaGuardia, 7. Robert Moses, and 8. no one really but high-wire artist Philippe Petit is the surprising heart of this episode.  I like this aspect less if only because it seems to lead to lionizing “great men” and repetition of more cliches (with the exception of Robert Moses about whom opinions were more neutral to negative, appropriate since Moses was eeeeeeeevil).

My overall impression Ric Burns’ New York is positive.  Episode 4: The Power and the People and Episode 8: The Center of the World are standout episodes that particularly bring the history of the city to life.  The former episode covers some of my favorite topics such as immigration and labor, while the latter profoundly recreates the horror of the September 11th attacks, but also the hope and heroism in the aftermath.  If you like New York, history, and/or documentaries check this one out.

TV Show Meme

I suppose this is the weekend where I write about TV. Ironic in the sense that I don’t actually own a tv, and haven’t had one in the home since 1999. I’m not an anti-tv elitist (although I do feel smug when I hear people have long conversations about reality show participants as if they were their friends), just sensible enough to know that I’m susceptible to being sucked into mindless channel flipping.

For not owning a television, I manage to watch a lot of it. Thanks to Comcast bundling prices, we even have a cable subscription hooked up to nothing so that our our internet service comes cheaper! Ah, the internet, which allows us to purchase tv shows from iTunes, watch live baseball games on MLB TV, and even stream free shows like the new season of Battlestar Galactica! Supplementing that, I’ve been getting lots of tv shows on DVD from the public library, which make for a great distraction during feeding times for the baby.

Anyhow, I’m unable to resist participating in memes when I come across them, so here’s the one about TV that I found on The Urban Pantheist:

1. Bold the shows of which you’ve watched every episode
2. Italic the shows of which you’ve seen at least one episode
2a. Star the shows you consider “the best”
3. Post your answers

50. Quantum Leap
49. Prison Break
48. Veronica Mars
47. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – probably the dullest of all the Star Treks
46. Sex & The City – saw a few episodes at a friends house and found it pretty trite

45. Farscape
44. Cracker
43. *Star Trek – I’m pretty sure I’ve only missed a few episodes, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen any. I should address that problem.
42. Only Fools and Horses – never heard of this
41. Band of Brothers – or this

40. Life on Mars – or this
39. *Monty Python’s Flying Circus – British television makes it so much easer to see every episode by having shorter seasons. Keeps the quality up too, I expect.
38. Curb Your Enthusiasm
37. *Star Trek: The Next Generation – my favorite Trek.
36. * Father Ted – watched the whole series back in December.

35. Alias
34. Frasier
33. CSI: Las Vegas
32. Babylon 5
31. Deadwood

30. Dexter
29. ER – I never watched this when it was new but we’ve been getting the DVDs for this lately from the library. A better show than I’d realized although it seems to decline in quality (and into soap opera-ness) with each season.
28. * Fawlty Towers – the first show I saw every episode of due to the fact that there are only 12.
27. Six Feet Under
26. * Red Dwarf - just watched the entire run over the past couple of months.

25. Futurama – I watched one episode of this show, and then watched it again about a year later and it was the exact same episode. I didn’t like it much either time.
24. Twin Peaks
23. The Office UK
22. The Shield
21. Angel – watched at friend’s house. They had to explain all the in-jokes.

20. Blackadder
19. Scrubs
18. Arrested Development
17. South Park – I watched from time to time over the first couple of seasons. It seemed to me that the writers went from “lets write something funny and outrageous” to “lets just try to be offensive and stir up controversy” much to the show’s detriment.
16. Doctor Who

15. Heroes
14. Firefly – far to sci-fi for my tastes.
13. * Battlestar Galactica - here is a great character drama that happens to be set in space. Best show on tv right now, imho.
12. Family Guy – I see references to this show everywhere on the ‘net and yet they don’t make me interested in ever watching this show.
11. Seinfeld – I never got the appeal of this show. Jerry Seinfeld is a funny guy, but the show always relied on cheap sex jokes, that annoying slap bass that I guess was supposed to enforce enthusiasm, and had the character of George Costanza who grated on my nerves.
10. Spaced
09. The X-Files
08. The Wire
07. Friends – the same-sex wedding episode was a big event in my apartment at the time. I never watched a full-episode otherwise.
06. 24 – This show appears to exist to justify the Bush administration’s torture policy. No thanks.

05. Lost – Susan, Craig & I watched an episode of this in a bar where we couldn’t hear the audio and we made up our own plot an dialog.
04. The West Wing – another show we’ve been getting from the library.
03. The Sopranos
02. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – saw this at the same time as Angel above.
01. * The Simpsons

Commercials of my youth

I read this post called Forgotten Boston TV Commercials (via Universal Hub), and it stirred up nostalgia for some of the crazy local commercials of my youth.  Of course, since I grew up in Connecticut, my commercials are of a New York/Connecticut vintage.

Here’s what I found on youtube:

First, there’s the Mount Airy Lodge which defined the Poconos for me as a chain of mountains where hokiness prevails:

watch?v=3dOsgyw7yBw

Then there’s the Lulla-BUY of Broadway.  I always wondered why the Milford Plaza advertised so heavily in the New York market where their audience presumably already had a place to stay.

watch?v=UwlvkUMsDgI

This guy wasn’t Crazy Eddie but his incredibly annoying commercials probably didn’t make people miss the business when it went under.

watch?v=Yi5HfjEFrF4

Tom Carvel had a voice for telegraph.  Is it just me or does that ice cream squishing into the cake pan actually make it look really unappetizing.

watch?v=Cs1Vc_w9Nc8

French dancers go nuts for canned foods in this perrenial Shop-Rite ad.

watch?v=VdpYxZzhATQ

Sadly, I was not able to locate commercials for a New York radio station had claymation characters promise “love songs, nothing but love songs,” Gary Carter having the best shower ever for Ivory soap, and the classic low-budget ads for Mashuntucket Pequot Indian High Stakes Bingo (precursor to Foxwoods Casino).

Enjoy!

Anniversary : The last episode of M*A*S*H

This is basically another post in my series of how I’m feeling old.  25 years ago today, CBS broadcast the last episode of M*A*S*H:  “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”  I remember watching this with my family in my mother’s room.   We were not alone as this is still one of the highest-ranked television programs of all time.  It’s even spawned a great urban legend about how everyone waited until the end of the show to use the toilet thus wreaking havoc with municipal sewage systems across the nation.  Granted the show had not been up to par it’s last few seasons, but the finale was a classic sendoff.

M*A*S*H was one of my favorite tv shows growing up, mainly in syndication when it was shown in a two-episode block from 7-8 pm every weeknight.  I probably saw every episode at some point.  I’ve been watching the show on DVD lately (all of the first, third, and fourth seasons) and I’m amazed how well it holds up over time.  It’s a good mix of satire and slapstick and I really like that the DVD lets me shut off the laugh track.  I’m also impressed by things like camera angles and story structure that I didn’t really notice as a kid.  The cast changes were also a benefit to the show.  In fact, I think the show “jumped the shark” so to speak after Radar’s departure partly because it was the only time they didn’t replace a departing member of the cast with a new character.

A lot of jokes are made about how  M*A*S*H lasted far longer than the Korean War.  But if you consider one episode for each day of the war, 251 episodes is a lot less than three years.  In fact if you watch all the episodes back to back, it would take just about five days.  Of course, most episodes take place over several days, but even then each episode represents less than a week of the actual war.

The Korean War actually still hasn’t ended, which is kind of sad.  I’d rather have a long tv series and a short war.

Crimminy, I am old

It’s one thing to feel out of touch with current popular music as I was never hip enough to be in touch to begin with.

The 30th anniversary of Star Wars also made me feel old but I could rationalize that.  I was three years old when I first saw Star Wars and can barely remember the circumstances.  It feels like a long time ago but it’s also pretty much the course of my entire life.

Now I read that it’s the the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I was in high school when that show debuted which means that it’s been 20 years since I started high school!  And the series ended around the time I finished college!  These are recent memories, but 20 years is a long, long time.

There’s only one conclusion that can be reached from theses details:  I am an old fogey.

Anyhow, Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my all-time favorite shows.  I’ll have to get some DVD’s to watch and try to relive my misspent youth.

Michael Palin in Cambridge

As much as he loathed to say the word “Cambridge,” Michael Palin made two appearances in Harvard Square on Friday night. The Monty Python troupe member who is also a talented writer, actor, and host of travel documentaries is on tour to promote his new book Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years.

First, Palin appeared at a book talk hosted by Harvard Bookstore at First Parish church. Peter Kadzis, executive editor of The Phoenix began with a far too lengthy preamble, but then did ask some good questions of Palin. After about 30-40 minutes of chat, questions were open to the audience. The whole event took a little over an hour in crowded, well-sealed, un-air conditioned church on an inexplicably hot September day. Michael Palin’s shirt was stained with sweat and he’ll make sure his agent knows never to schedule him for Massachusetts in the late summer again. My sympathy was tempered by my own discomfort, and as soon as the talk ended I dashed out salmon-like against the lines of people forming for a book signing.

Here are the highlights of the book talk from my notes:

  • Divisions in the Pythons – it’s well documented that there were opposing teams of writers in Monty Python. John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and to a lesser extent Eric Idle liked to write more conventional sketches performed in a studio. Terry Jones and Michael Palin (and Terry Gilliam) were more experimental, liked to go to open air settings and work on film. Palin believes this is because Cleese and Chapman had opportunities to work on writing for movies, while Jones and Palin had nothing else to do, thus invested all their creative experimentation into Monty Python. He believes the differences were good and added to their creative edge. When it was frustrating, Palin attributes it to the fact that Cleese, Chapman, and Idle all went to Cambridge.
  • Creating the show – writing of the show was done in the teams, and then they’d sit around a table and read what they wrote. The best part was making one another laugh and it was less of concern if anyone else would like it. The actual show was filmed in 90 minutes in front of an audience, which is a considerably short period time to create 30 minutes of material when there are retakes and costume changes. Kadzis says this sounds very similar to Saturday Night Live. Palin talked about his first appearance on SNL in 1978 and how he tried to work around the monologue, something for which there’s no equivalent in UK television. He read the story from the diaries and it’s pretty hilarious but I won’t spoil it here. Later Palin spoke about SNL producer Lorne Michaels as a puppet master, someone both sharp and clever, and one who does not make alliances with particular actors or writers. The hardest part of Saturday Night Live is making the cuts, and sometimes recasting parts in the 90 minutes between the end of the dress rehearsal and the live show.
  • Diary writing – Palin writes each morning for about thirty minutes about th previous day. It’s different from comedy writing in that it’s not a performance, although he quoted Virginia Woolf saying that a diary is the way you want to present yourself to the world whether you intend to publish or not. Palin claimed that no one ever would have talked to him if they knew he was keeping a diary back in 1969. Kadzis nervously asked Palin if he would write about the book talk, and Palin affirmed that he would.
  • Monty Python‘s fame in America vs. Britain- It’s much more fun to be famous here because American’s value Monty Python highly. On the other hand fame is a terrible nuisance, a reward for good work the leads you into bad work.

Some of the audience questions were pretty good too, especially the one man who asked “Did John leaving the show surprise you or did it come out of the blue?” Yes, I know it’s not nice to make fun of people who are nervous of speaking in front of hundreds of people.

  • On starting a diary – Came about in 1969 after quiting smoking as a way to exercise the new will power. Doesn’t write every day, especially on the exciting days when there is no time to write. Usually only write on the boring days (I can totally relate to this).
  • What are your favorite Monty Python sketches? – “The Cheese Shop” and “The Fish Slapping Dance.” Palin says that “The Fish Slapping Dance” is a test of whether or not someone has a sense of humor. If they watch it and don’t laugh, they don’t have a sense of humor. “Cheese Shop” is a good choice as it also my favorite sketch and one I performed in a high school talent show.
    • Cheese Shop
    • Fish Slapping Dance
  • Favorite Python character that he portrayed – a centurion in The Life of Brian, working in checking in people for crucifixion and seems so happy when Eric Idle says he can have freedom.
    • Crucifixion?
  • What inspired “The Lumberjack Song” – Was writing a sketch with Terry Jones about a homicidal barber that was going nowhere, and decided to give it 20 minutes before giving up and going to the pub. Then had the idea what if this character never wanted to be a barber anyway but wanted to be something else, like a lumberjack. With this flash on inspiration, they wrote the rest of the sketch in 20 minutes, and then went to the pub.
    • I’m a lumber jack and I’m okay…

The next stop was Brattle Theatre where Michael Palin introduced a special screening of And Now For Something Completely Different (1971). The crowd here was younger and there was a lot of hooting and hollering. Many people brought stuffed parrots as part of a promotion.

Palin’s comments here were brief. And Now For Something Completely Different was made as a compilation of some of the best scenes from the first two series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. They actually re-shot them, shooting them on location instead of on a soundstage. Palin feels that some of the sketches were actually improved in the film version.

The hope for the film was to break into the American market, but it was not much of a success. Palin told the story at both locations that Monty Python’s Flying Circus did not catch on until shown on public television in 1974. The first station to carry the program was in Dallas “before spreading northward to the less cultured places.”

It’s been a while since I’ve watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus and even longer since I’ve seen And Now For Something Completely Different. I was familiar with all the sketches, but some I’d not thought about for quite some time such as “a man with a tape recorder up his nose,” “Hell’s Grannies,” and “The Restaurant Sketch” (the dirty fork). It was all fun and good with an enthusiastic crowd laughing and clapping along to “The Liberty Bell March” (yes I’m geeky enough to know the actual title of the Monty Python theme song).

I felt that much of the movie lacked the panache of the original performances as if the Pythons weren’t ready at that time for the move from tv to film. Many times it seemed that being able to cut from one camera to another or using odd camera angles stood in for real comic expression by the actors. It also seems that this move emphasizes the ribald, sexual nature of Monty Python humor, perhaps not coincidental since Playboy was involved in producing the movie. But these are all quibbles. Monty Python is almost always funny if not hillarious.

To conclude, here’s one of my favorite lesser-known Michael Palin sketches that was neither discussed in the book talk nor featured in the film:

Bicycle Repairman

It occurs to me that the whole reversal of expectations is typical of Python humor. I also like that some of them are doing silly American accents. Finally, as a bicycle commuter, I could use a superhero like this.

Simpsonized

Everyone’s doing it, so why not me.

Here’s my Springfield counterpart:

I just didn’t look right without a chin, so I added a chin, but it looks more like a goiter. I’m not sure which looks worse.

Any how you can try this cheezy, fast-food chain commercial tie-in at Simpsonize Me.

Friday Sillies: Kids in the Hall

One of my favorite comedy shows of all time is Kids in the Hall. The Canadian troupe basically were the Monty Python of the 1990′s with the added advantage that when they dressed as women they actually looked like attractive women.

So here are a few clips to remember them by. Sadly I could not find classics like “Night of the Cow” or “Can You Give Me A Description Of Me Running Naked Through The Woods?” but these chestnuts are fun to watch.

The language and behavior here is not to everyone’s taste, so consider yourself warned.

Head Crusher:

Daves I Know:

Voyageurs:

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