Thursday, June 30, 2005

Not Bad Mr. Kotter

One of my other abiding passions is Poker, so let me take the opportunity to link Poker and Television by congratulating Gabe Kaplan, who played Mr. Kotter in the 1970s series Welcome Back Kotter for finishing in second place in the $5,000 buy-in Limit Hold'em event at the 2005 World Series of Poker. Kaplan (seen here in a photo from the 1979 World Series) is a veteran poker player who finished in sixth place in the main event of the 1980 World Series which was the first year that the legendary Stuey Ungar won the tournament.

In other entertainment related Poker news, Jennifer Tilly who is best known as a movie actress but did some television work, particularly in the 1980s, won the Ladies Tournament at the World Series - a $158,625 pay day for two days work and probably more than she earned per day doing the TV version of The Magnificent Ambersons.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I Told Him "Julie Don't Watch"

I don't know that much about Ancient Rome, but thanks to a first year Classics course at University and an abiding interest in history, I probably know more than the average guy. While this is normally a good thing, when it comes to reviewing the new ABC miniseries Empire a little knowledge is not only dangerous but can blow the whole premise out of the water if one is inclined to view it as a history rather than as a drama.

Empire supposedly tells the tale of the events leading up to and following the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar in 45 B.C and the rise of his nephew and adopted son Octavius as Caesar, under the protection and tutelage of the gladiator Tyrannus. Octavius is portrayed as a pampered teen, inexperienced and perplexed by the complexity of the situation that he finds himself in, which Tyrannus has to guide him through. This is the central core of the story around which the other conflicts flow. The death of Gaius Julius Caesar left a power vacuum which his murderers intended to fill, as did Marc Antony who was his trusted colleague and aide. Political intrigue was the order of the day and the miniseries makes it clear that Octavius is nowhere near ready for this. He must flee Rome, with Tyrannus, in order to eventually claim the title of Caesar. Throw in what will probably be a "forbidden romance" with a Vestal Virgin and the whole thing descends into the realm of typical movie of the week material instead of the epic return of the miniseries format that I'm sure the producers were hoping for.

The miniseries manages to commit major crimes against history and gets niggling little details wrong in a manner that is thoroughly irritating to anyone with a knowledge of the period. The miniseries is dependent on the idea that Octavius was a politically naive boy who had never been in battle, and that he had been surprised by being named Caesar's heir. In fact while he was not a seasoned military veteran, like all Roman citizens he had begun his military training at age 17 - he was 19 at the time of Caesar's death - and had served in Caesar's last campaign in Spain a one of the leaders of the 10th Legion. He was also well aware that he had been adopted. Indeed, contrary to the central conceit of Empire, Octavius wasn't even in Rome at the time of Gaius Julius Caesar's death - he was in Illyria (now Albania and the former Yugoslavia) training with the Macedonian legions for Caesar's planned campaign in Syria against the Parthians. They even manage to get titles wrong. Repeatedly the conspiratorial senators use the expression "Caesar" as if it was already a title as when Cassius yells at Octavius "You'll never be Caesar!" In fact he already was, by virtue of his adoption, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Similarly Mark Antony is repeatedly referred to simply as "General". Antony was in fact one of the two Roman Consuls for the year, the other being Gaius Julius Caesar, and a Consul was far more than "just" a general. Absent entirely from this production are Calpurnia (Caesar's wife), Cleopatra (his mistress and Queen of Egypt) and Caesarian (his natural son with Cleopatra) despite the fact that all were in Rome at the time.

Setting aside the historic ignorance being displayed in this production - and what I've mentioned above is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg - the production is basically uneven. There are some very good actors in this thing. Canadian based actor Colm Feore, who played Pierre Trudeau in the CBC mini-series Trudeau is excellent as Caesar (contrary to various comments Feore is not British - he was born in Boston and lives in Stratford Ontario) and Michael Byrne is very good as Cicero. James Frain, who played Paul Raines in 24 plays a too young looking and uncertain Brutus (strictly speaking Marcus Junius Brutus - two of Caesar's assassins had the cognomen Brutus the other being Decimius Junius Brutus Albinus) but does excellent work. Vincent Regan plays Marc Antony and just by his appearance is an excellent choice - he looks as dull witted as the real Antony reputedly was, comfortable only in his leather breastplate. Sadly not much can be said for the remainder of the cast. They aren't particularly inspiring, and Orla Brady plays Octavian's mother Atia (consistently callled Caesar's sister when in reality she was his niece, daughter of his eldest sister Julia - all Roman women were named with a feminized version of their clan or gens name thus both of Caesar's sisters were named Julia) with what can best be described as melodramatic flair. The less said about Santiago Cabrera as Octavian, the better.

The CGI recreations of the City of Rome are rather good and presumably fairly accurate, but there's a definite sense that they skimped in other areas. The crowd scenes in particular seem underpopulated. ABC and Touchstone Pictures spent a great deal of money making Empire but it seems unevenly distributed. They might, for example, have bought a better script. The fact that the mini-series, which was supposed to mark a revival of the big mini-series on network TV, is being burned off in June and July rather than in a sweeps period indicates that someone at ABC realised that they had a real loser on their hands. ABC would have been better off buying the rights to one of Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome novels such as First Man In Rome. Instead they ended up with this mess. Watch only if there's nothing else you'd rather see. Or, if you want to be entertained, try to get a copy of Wayne and Shuster's Rinse The Blood Off My Toga - it's about as historically accurate.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

TV on DVD - June 28, 2005

Another fairly short list this time around, but with a couple of really good things on offer.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004
- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a staple of late night TV here in Canada where it's seen on the CTV network after the late local news. In the United States it's seen on the Comedy Central network. No matter, not only is the show funny but it's also extremely topical. This DVD features 10 episodes built around the 2004 election campaign, including four episodes from the Democratic Convention, four from the Republican Convention, one following the first Bush-Kerry debate, and the not quite correctly titled election night episode Prelude to a Recount.

Nick Frost's Danger! 50,000 Volts!
- Okay, I have absolutely no idea what this is about or if it has ever been seen in North America let alone Canada. It's apparently a BBC series though, featuring Nick Frost from the movie Shaun Of The Dead showing how to "survive" various life threatening events. But I only know that from IMDB.

The Doris Day Show: Season 1
- She never wanted to do the TV series. She found out that she was contracted to do it after her third husband Martin Melcher died (I always wondered why she stayed with him - he was a lousy husband who signed her for projects without her consent or even her knowledge, and her own memoirs mention that she had several affairs during their marriage including one with Maury Wills). Still she stuck with it for five years until she pulled the plug herself. In the first two seasons she was a widow with two kids, living on a farm with her father played by Denver Pyle. Later she moved to the city with the kids and in the last two season the children had disappeared entirely (and I wouldn't be surprised if the character had become a virgin during the hiatus). Denver Pyle, who played her father in the first two seasons was in fact born in 1920 and was 48 when the series started, which meant that he was just four years older than Doris Day (born in 1924). Of course even then he looked like Uncle Jesse Duke while Doris looked like she was pushing forty but not quite across that particular line yet.

The Even Stevens Movie
- I have absolutely no idea what this is about beyond what is written in the Amazon description. The series that the movie is based on has probably played on the Family Channel here in Canada, but I rarely watch the channel anymore since it has dropped the old Disney material. I do remember Dona Pescow from a series called Angie that she starred in with Robert Hayes shortly after her appearance in Saturday Night Fever and by the look of the cover photo for this DVD, the years have not been kind.

Game Over: Complete Collection
- Another series I've never heard of, this was on UPN in 2004 - briefly. It ran five episodes with a sixth episode not being aired. The concept is interesting - the show is about a family who all happen to be characters in several video games - but the execution, well it sucked.

New Adventures Of Gumby: Vol. 1
New Adventures Of Gumby: Vol. 2
- This is going to shock and amaze you but to this day I have never seen an episode of Gumby, either in the original incarnation or in the "New Adventures" version. I did know what Gumby and his pal Pokey looked like because when I was a kid the merchandise was in the toy section of Woolworths, but the series? Never saw it. I know, it was a deprived childhood, but at least there were the Hanna-Barbera series like Yogi Bear, Quickdraw McGraw, and Huckleberry Hound so I wasn't totally deprived of cultural icons.

Homicide: Life On The Street: The Complete Season 7
- The final season of one of the most critically acclaimed series of the 1990s. The critics loved it but the ratings were never particularly strong even though it developed a fan base that can best be described as fanatical. I loved some of the early season, but after a while - thanks to the network jerking it around a bit in terms of time slots and when it would start airing, I sort of lost track of it. For a number of years it ran nightly on Bravo! in Canada, before being replaced by NYPD Blue but the series is currently not seen on Canadian TV. Pity.

The House of Eliott: Series One
- Created by actresses Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh - who had previously collaborated in creating Upstairs Downstairs - this is a series about two women in the 1920s trying to establish themselves as fashion designers. Atkins and Marsh didn't do as well as their earlier series - while both were glorified soap operas, House of Elliott was geared far more for the female audience - but it ran for three years on the BBC. Not bad, and Louise Lombard was lovely.

La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season
- Based on the 1990 Luc Bresson movie of the same name and the American remake Point Of No Return, this series was another Canadian co-production. And another series that I just couldn't get into, not that I tried very hard. Maybe if I did I'd have liked it.

Ren And Stimpy: Seasons 3 And A Halfish
- Never a fan - I failed to see any charm in this. Sorry, since I know it had a rabid following. Maybe I'm just too old.

- Long time readers may have noticed that I didn't write a review of Revelations when it aired earlier this spring on NBC. It was quite deliberate - I couldn't figure out a way to write a review without offending people. Let me state it plainly here though: even if I gave the "Revelations of St. John" any credence as prophecy, what NBC produced was a big steaming mess in an effort to pander to groups like the PTC and the apparent interest in things biblical as indicated by the attendance at The Passion Of The Christ and the Left Behind books and videos.

Shadow Raiders: Season 1
- Another computer animated series from Mainframe Entertainment this one ran for just 13 episodes. The consensus is that it wasn't as good as the other Mainframe shows of the period - Reboot and Beast Wars (Beasties in the U.S.) - which still puts it ahead of most other animated series.

Spenser: For Hire: The Movie Collection
- Between 1993 and 1995 Robert Urich and Avery Brooks made four movies based on Robert B. Parker's Spenser books: Ceremony, Pale Kings and Princes, The Judas Goat, and A Savage Place. Toronto stood in for Boston, and Barbara Williams and Wendy Crewson played Spenser's lady friend Susan Silverman. While the series hasn't been released on DVD these four movies are now available on DVD.

A Touch Of Frost: Season 6
- I honestly wasn't aware that this was a series per se. Rather I thought it was a series of movies. Starring the always excellent David Jason as Inspector "Jack" Frost, the shows from this series that I've seen have always been first rate mysteries and in general excellent entertainment. If you liked Morris you'll probably like this.

The Twilight Zone: Season 3 (The Definitive Edition)
- This is the classic Rod Serling series from the early 1960s. The third season includes A Game of Pool with Jack Klugman, Kick The Can (which was late adapted for the Twilight Zone Movie), and To Serve Man with Lloyd Bochner. Definitely one of the landmarks in Television history.

The Twilight Zone: Seasons 2 & 3 (1986 - 1988)
- This, on the other hand was not. CBS decided to resurrect The Twilight Zone in 1985, two years after the movie and were so sure that it would be a hit that they guaranteed a specific number of episodes for syndication. It wasn't - it was cancelled after two years and the third season was in fact made for first run syndication to fulfill the contract. The show had some excellent writers including Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison and J. Michael Straczynski, but the hour long format really didn't flatter the material and sometimes resulted in stories that were either padded to fill the hour. The episodes with two or three stories in them are on the whole the best, but was the audience really willing to sit still for that sort of thing. Apparently not.

My Perfect Women!?

So my blogging buddy Tim Gueguen had this link in his blog to a site called Celebmatch which uses "the scientific method of biorhythms to calculate the compatibilities" between you and various celebrities. Tim holds that biorhythms are bunk, and I basically agree. What this site does seems less like Biorhythms, and more like cheap astrology to me though. Enter your birthdate and they will tell you which five celebrities (you can choose male or female) you match up with best, and if you click on their names you will see who you are most compatible with physically, emotionally and intellectually. All from your birth date. You can also see how you match with other celebrities. So here's who they said I was best suited for:
  1. Ellen DeGeneres 98%
  2. Anita Baker 98%
  3. Crystal Gayle 98%
  4. Star Jones 98%
  5. Beth Broderick 97%
Apparently part of the matching process is to find someone close to my own age, which is silly. I'm a man - I want younger.

(BTW: This post is also an experiment with Blogger's new image feature. So far not bad.

Monday, June 27, 2005

New Poll

How long does it take for you to decide whether you like a new show?

Since TV ratings are what determines what we watch, and the plug is often pulled very fast, it would seem to be useful to know how long it takes people to make up their minds about what they're going to watch.

As usual, feel free to comment here.

Poll Results - What Sort Of TV Shows Do You Buy On DVD?

I know that's not exactly the poll question but that was the intent. Thirteen voters this week, and I wasn't one of them.

In first place with 5 votes (38%) is "Shows from when you were young." That's not really surprising - nostalgia is a considerable force in our lives and shows from when we were kids are almost like comfort food, bringing back good memories.

In second place is the miswritten "Why would I buy TV shows on TV?" - which of course was meant to read DVD - with 3 votes (23%). That actually was what caused me to come up with this poll - someone commented in response to one of my early TV on DVD columns "I hate reruns. Why would I buy TV shows on DVD?" I was trying to provide some answers.

There was a tie for third between current series, and miniseries with 2 votes each (15%). I get miniseries - there are maybe a half dozen that I would buy if I could afford them or if they were available on DVD. Current series is a bit more of a mystery. I suppose the motivation is that it's a series you really like and this way you get it full length, with commentaries and special features and without commercials.

In fifth place, with 1 vote (7%) is a sort of catchall category - "Shows that you haven't seen." What I was aiming at was shows from another country or shows on sources which, for whatever reason, you don't get on your TV. For me an example might be Deadwood or Dead Like Me which are or were on a premium movie service that I don't subscribe to. Of course there isn't enough room in the poll to explain that.

Bringing up the end is Children's Shows. No one voted for that category, which in all honesty is a massive surprise to me. I don't have kids but a large part of my brother's DVD collection is made up of Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs for my 2 year old nephew (who only really wants to see the disc where Cranky the Crane falls down - I've pretty much got that one memorized).

What's in my collection? Well not much. The price of boxed sets is a consideration but there are a lot of movies I want to own as well. I have the pilot and second episode of Smallville which was put out in Canada soon after the show debuted and wasn't offered for sale in the U.S. I also have the Brentwood DVD of 20 episodes of Dragnet from the 1950s, and I nearly bought a cheap set of Public Domain comedies from the 1950s including some early Jack Benny Programs. I'd like to get Band Of Brothers or From The Earth To The Moon if I can ever get a good price on either but right now what I'm really interested in is getting Firefly before the movie Serenity is released. So I guess you could put me between Shows from when I was young and current series. Of course with my luck my next purchase will probably be another Thomas set for my nephew.

New poll later today. I may revisit this topic later but for now I'm looking at something different.

Friday, June 24, 2005

I Remember Them

There's a significant difference between British TV and American TV - and here I'm not talking about quality. Viewers on both sides of the Atlantic give producers on the other side of the Atlantic too much credit for their shows. American audiences get to see the best shows that the British produce and rate it better than American TV while British viewers are more likely to rave over American shows and pronounce that British programmes are crap. No, to my mind the big difference between British and American television is that the British are more willing to try different things. American networks seem to think that there are only four types of show that can possibly be on TV: dramas, sitcoms, reality shows, and news magazines (and there wouldn't be reality shows if the British and Europeans hadn't had huge successes with them first). Don't even get me started on the degree too which American producers limit the field in those genres.

The British, on the other hand, tend to look at things a little differently. True, there are dramas, sitcoms, reality shows and news magazines, but the British networks go a little further. They do shows like Ground Force (a gardening show), Changing Rooms (a home renovation show), The Antiques Roadshow (an antiques valuation show), and Top Gear (a show about new cars) in prime time on network TV. They do game shows - Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and The Weakest Link are still popular in Britain (in fact Ann Robinson recently recently provided her own voice for the new Doctor Who in her Weakest Link persona). And they do music. Four of the five major British Networks - BBC1, BBC2, ITV, and Channel 4 - have at least one music show. And we're not talking about something like American Idol (which originated in Britain as Pop Idol) either. Top Of The Pops and Later with Jools Holland are long running series that feature fairly major artists. The Beatles appeared on Top Of The Pops around the time of their first American tour, and Mick Jagger was on the show much later. The list of people who appeared on Top Of The Pops is staggering. Later With Jools Holland is a more recent show but it still has an impressive guest list.

The point is that neither of those shows would be on American network TV. About the only program that shows musical acts is Saturday Night Live. I don't know what it is about American network executives but they seem unwilling to do musical shows. Maybe they believe that they won't get the ratings or that the various acts will want too much money. Or maybe they think that this is what MTV was created for. The only music show on network TV in the United States is American Idol where the performers are wannabes - safe wannabes. Give the show credit, ratings are incredible. But although CBS tried reviving Star Search, no other network has really attempted to do a show that was primarily music. At least not until this summer when NBC brought us Hit Me Baby One More Time. Naturally it's imported from Britain, complete with host Vernon Kay. It's only on for five weeks which is two weeks more than it was originally set for thanks to ratings which apparently surprised NBC's network weasels, although they been slipping each week.

Still It's an interesting experiment. The show takes what the network flacks call "veteran hit makers" (and many viewers call one hit wonders) and has them perform one of their old hits (or their one hit) and then in the second half of the show has them cover a more contemporary song by a current artist (usually). Before the second song there's a "what are they doing now" segment - Thelma Houston has grandkids, Greg Kihn has written five novels, Billy Vera does voices for commercials and supplies material for compilation albums from the 1940s and '50s. The performers are in what initially appears to be a large club but is probably a large TV studio with plenty of floor space for fans, most of whom look as though they might have been conceived to some of this music. At the end of the episode there's a vote by the studio audience which determines the "best" performance. That act wins a $20,000 donation to a charity of their choice.

The typical route for a musician who has a hit, or even several hits, is a short roller coaster ride with three stages. Initially they take any gig that will pay them a little money living on credit in hopes that someone will take notice. Then someone does takes notice; they get a recording contract and do a song that touches people in some way. And then, because they can't make lightning strike twice, they're back to taking any gig that will pay them a little money, trying to get back on top until they finally realize that they aren't going to be back on top. If they're smart they didn't spend the money they made with their one hit on sex and drugs. From the look of most of the people on Thursday's episode, they did. Certainly Glass Tiger looked as though they don't have to worry about their credit rating or having their Ontario homes and lake properties repossessed. Did the years take their toll? Sure. I'm not sure that the voices were quite as good as when Thelma Houston and Club Nouveau were actually having their one hit, and Glass Tiger looks as though they haven't been missing many meals - or skipping the carbs for that matter - but they all look better than Keith Richard (of course most corpses look better than Keith Richard). So yeah, most of these acts hear themselves on the oldies stations as they do their morning commutes, but it's good to see and hear them today. I don't really care about the competition aspect, but it's original to the British series and if making this into a reality show is what it takes to sell the concept to an American network so be it.

This summer has given us two concepts - Dancing With The Stars and Hit Me Baby One More Time - which have been slotted into the "reality" series ghetto but are significantly different and dare I say it original. What I really hope is that ratings for Hit Me Baby One More Time will be strong enough that some visionary at an American network will decide that popular music will make for good network television. It doesn't necessarily have to be the big names but perhaps a mix of big names with the young up and comers - the possible one hit wonders twenty years from now - would work. But of course the American television industry doesn't have space for visionaries, except in the summer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I Want To Be A Hilton!?


Why would I want to be a Hilton?

Why did NBC buy this retread of The Apprentice?

Why did Kathy Hilton - who is classier than Paris and Nikki combined not to mention better looking - decide to make this her return to Television (she did some guest appearances in the mid 1970s before she married Rick Hilton, including two episodes of Happy Days) in this?

Actually it's not horrible - close but not quite. In fact it reminded me of something. After careful checking (okay when I was checking momma Kathy's IMDB listing I naturally checked out Paris's listing and found that The Simple Life was initially described as a real life version of Green Acres) it hit me. Remember that proposal for a reality version of The Beverly Hillbillies that was so roundly condemned that no one even considered buying it? Well they've revived it but called it I Want To Be A Hilton. I know it's a bit of a reach but if you substitute Kathy Hilton for Miss Hathaway and this group of 14 uncouth blue collar types for four Ozark Hillbillies then The Beverly Hillbillies becomes I Want To Be A Hilton.

The contestants gather together for the first time near the famous information booth at (cue reverb) Grand Central Station (end reverb) - sorry Grand Central Terminal. They are soon escorted by a butler type (you can tell because he wearing a tail coat) to a private cocktail reception at the exclusive Campbell Apartment - which isn't a private residence but a really expensive bar in the Terminal. There, as they dig - literally - into the souvlaki and other exclusive edibles, not to mention the free booze, they are being observed by an eminence gris (well eminence vert really, she's all in green and at 46 looking better than either of her daughters). It's Kathy Hilton, and at about this time she's probably wondering if she shouldn't have stuck with her acting career and not married Rick HIlton (who is one of the Executive Producers by the way). Eventually she descends amongst the hoi polloi and introduces herself. Each contestant is presented with a silver spoon with a ribbon around it indicating which team he or she is going to be on. Green Team is the "Paris Park Team" while Blue Team is the "Nikki Madison Team". Needless to say there's one guy in a private interview who wonders "just how much this thing (the spoon) is worth." After that they go to their exclusive apartments in the historic Melrose Hotel (which was the old Hotel Barbizon for Women if you were interested).

The next day the teams are sent of in the usual Trump style tasks. Well sort of. They're told that they'll be going to an exclusive party at "21" but of course it is the polite thing to buy a gift for the hostess so first thing they have to do is to select one person to go on a shopping expedition with a $100 bill. Specifically they have to select someone from the other team to buy that team's gift, so naturally they select the person they think is most socially inept from the other team. Madison picked construction worker (and arena football player) JW for Park while Park took ranch hand (and septic tank installer) Jabe for Madison. While they were out buying a gift for the party the others were sent to "etiquette boot camp" to learn how to conduct themselves at a fancy dinner party. You know, stuff like how to order, hold (not by the bowl, by the stem), and drink wine, how to extract and eat escargot, how to crack a lobster, and about various cheeses. Then came the twist. When the teams (with their gift buyer) assembled that evening for their party at "21" they learned that the gift buyers would be the only one attending the party. The rest would watch on closed circuit TV and give him instructions as to what to do by radio. The main table consisted of Ted Allen from Queer Eye, Billy Bush from Access Hollywood, and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia. Hilarity ensued. JW did well with his gift (a bottle of wine and flowers) but stumbled a bit when he refused to eat the escargot. Still he offered a very nice toast. Jabe had less success with his gift of a four pound box of chocolates in cheap wrapping paper and Kathy Hilton's name scrawled on it in felt tip marker. Also he was not properly attired - no jacket. During his toast he repeated what his team members tell him over the radio, including, just like in a bad sitcom, "say thank you". Needless to say, his team were unsuccessful, they were the ones who lost a team member - perfume salesman Alain, punished for the sin of being too quiet. He wasn't on "The List".

The show had it's moments. As you might expect, Ted Allen was witty, at one point asking Jabe "Don't you have snails in Texas?" (Answer: "Yes sir, but we don't eat them."), and later telling Kathy "I wouldn't want to be in your shoes....Well I would but they wouldn't fit me." As well the show has an occasional voice-over, but unlike the voice-over in Hell's Kitchen which attempts to make the show sound like a documentary, the narrator in I Want To Be A Hilton has the persona of a snootier than the snooty English butler who is more of a character in the show than Kathy Hilton herself. As for the contestants only three really stood out in the first episode: Ann, a grad student and former Miss Tampa who seems to break into song at the passing of a participle; Yvette, an Irish born Las Vegas showgirl seems to have decided that the Hilton she wants to be is Paris; and Latricia, a California DMV clerk who wants is channeling the original Conrad's mother. She does not approve of Yvette, the way she flirts, and the short skirts that show off her butt (according to Latricia) that Yvette wears around the apartment.

It is saying a great deal when the most interesting parts of a show is guest appearance by a reality show veteran and an unseen voice actor. Part of what made The Beverly Hillbillies fun was that they were wealthy people behaving like "home folks" and here you have "home folks" wanting a chance to behave like the rich, or at least an idealized version of the rich (in one interview Hilton states that many rich people could use a course in "Etiquette 101"). The trouble is that like so many of the current crop of reality shows it is a ripoff of The Apprentice and while it is slightly more original than The Cut (I liked the party "twist") it is much less so than Hell's Kitchen. I will give Kathy Hilton one thing though. I think she's better on camera than Donald Trump (and has probably forgotten more about taste and etiquette than he ever knew). I like her, I just don't like her show.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

TV on DVD - June 21 2005

Couple of things before I get started with frankly very thin week of new DVDs. First I've decided to hold the review of Robson Arms that I had promised until later this week - specifically when the show is on The Comedy Network up here on Thursday. Second, please check out the new addition to the Blogroll The iBall, On Media from mainstay Ian J. Ball.

So anyway here's the list:

Bewitched: The Complete First Season
Bewitched: The Complete First Season [B&W]
- I think we all realise that it isn't just a coincidence that the first season of Bewitched is being released the Tuesday before the new Bewitched movie with Nicole Kidman is being released, but really, who cares. Even though the first season doesn't include the delightful Pandora Spocks (who was once seen heading into a motel room with Elizabeth Montgomery's husband William Asher) it does have the Alice Pearce, the original Gladys Kravitz, Marion Lorne as Aunt Clara (the only one of Sam's relatives that Darrin could even remotely tolerate), and Irene Vernon who was the original Louise Tate. As a word of advice, I would of course urge you to buy the Black & White version but it is both interesting and gratifying that Sony Pictures is issuing both versions (and even more gratifying that the B&W version is 5th in the sales rank, the Colorized version is ranked 28th).

Degrassi - The Next Generation: Season 2
- Never seen it. I never was a
Degrassi fan and I'm unlikely to become one at this late date. Still the series and its predecessors has always been well regarded by critics and of course the teenaged target audience.

Farscape: Season 2, Collection 1 (Starburst Edition)
- Okay, I'm not all that bright, but I'm not sure I get the marketing strategy at play here. There are complete season sets for the four season of the show, there are collection sets of discs for the four seasons where four or five collections give you everything that's in the full season sets, there are packages with two episodes on them, and now there are "Starburst Editions" which somehow give fans something else. It sounds to me as though someone is trying to milk the fans for every dime they can get.

The Outer Limits, Aliens Among Us Collection
The Outer Limits, Death & Beyond Collection
The Outer Limits, Fantastic Androids & Robots Collection
The Outer Limits, Mutation & Transformation Collection
The Outer Limits, DVD Collection

- Okay here's another case of not having any listing for a set - or rather several sets - that shows as being released today. In fact about the only Canadian source that I can find that has it listed (admittedly I haven't looked all that hard) is - puzzling that. Anyway, these are from the "modern" series of The Outer Limits also known as The New Outer Limits. Produced by Alliance-Atlantis it was a mainstay of both the Showtime cable network in the U.S. and Canwest-Global here in Canada from 1995-2002. As far as I can tell these collections include episodes with a linking theme, while the "DVD Collection" is a box containing the other four.

Oz: The Complete Fifth Season

-Season 5 of HBO's critically acclaimed prison series, which I have to admit that I've never seen despite it being on Showcase here in Canada. I'm afraid it always seemed to grim for my tastes.

Queer Eye for the Red Sox
- Well this at least sounds interesting. Ted, Carson and the rest of the "Fab Five" make-over - or rather try to make-over five members of the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox - Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Doug Mirabelli, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. I wonder if my brother - who is a
huge Red Sox Fan would be interested in this? I'm guessing not.

Tabitha: The Entire Series
- Another element of the hype machine for the new
Bewitched movie. About the only good thing to come out of this was Lisa Hartman who very quickly went on to bigger and better things. Fortunately so did Robert Urich who had first appeared in SWAT. Worth it only for the Bewitched completist and even then I'm not sure.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Our Second Poll

Here's our second poll, this time looking at the sort of TV shows you tend to buy on DVD. Feel free to add comments to this post.

Poll Results - Which Of These Summer Series Do You Like?

As you can see the results are in on the first I Am A Child Of Television Poll and there's a tie between The Inside and Dancing With The Stars as the summer show you like the best - sort of, but I'll explain that in a moment. Hell's Kitchen and TV? In the Summer!? were tied for third, with Fire Me Please and a misspelled Beauty and the Geek coming in last. If my brother voted I know which one he voted for.

In the interest of full disclosure I have to tell you that one of the votes for Dancing With The Stars was cast by me. I had been having some trouble with the system and cast a test vote once I thought I had all of the bugs worked out. I don't think that it makes the result less valid since I do indeed prefer Dancing With The Stars to the other choices. Don't get me wrong I think The Inside is an excellent show an think that it's criminal of Fox to be broadcasting it during the summer, but I have a lot of fun watching Dancing with the Stars and whatever else you can say about The Inside, fun it ain't.

I'll have a new poll later today. (And hopefully a new show review that I was forced by circumstances to hold over for the weekend.)

Friday, June 17, 2005

10 TV Cliches

Spent yesterday mowing the lawn and cleaning out the rain gutters, just in time given how clogged they were. You know you're in trouble when small trees start growing in your gutters - and yes I have seen that. Mine weren't quite that bad but there were one or two things that looked like they had germinated, but they won't get a chance to grow to maturity. Anyway, I was really too tired and unmotivated to write anything last night even though I haven't reviewed - or even seen - Hit Me Baby One More Time. Maybe next week ... or maybe not at all.

Something that did come to my attention was an article on MSN about 10 TV Cliches which MTV reporter Larry Carroll wishes to see banished forever. Some of his conclusions I agree with and some I don't but as usual I have an opinion on just about all of them.

  1. Wonder Twin Powers, Activate! Let's face it, this is a classic. In TV it goes back to at least The Patty Duke Show, but even Shakespeare used it a couple of times. When carried out well it's great. Some of my favourite episodes of Bewitched were the ones where Pandora Spocks portrayed Samantha's cousin Serena, and while the episodes of I Dream Of Jeannie with Jeannie's sister Jeannie weren't as well crafted, I liked her too. In his article Carroll mentions Phoebe and Ursula Buffay but of course Ursula had originally been created for Mad About You and the idea of twins was used to explain how Lisa Kudrow could be on both series. It just sort of carried on from there.

  2. Thinking a Sentence is Two Words Long Well yes it may be overdone, but the partially heard conversation is another classic which again probably goes back to Old Bill. Misunderstandings like this are the bedrock of comedy and they probably go back to Bedrock.

  3. Sir, Would You Like a Tongue-Lashing With Your Beverage? The old "abusive servant" bit (and it's subset the abusive waitress). It can get old but let's admit that it is less often used than the "My Mother-in-Law is a wicked witch" cliche which just about every sitcom has run with. When it was done in Soap Benson was the sanest character on the show, plus he did have, or at least was allowed to develop, a genuine affection and loyalty to Jessica and Billy. Mostly though the characters these people work for tend to develop a dependence on them if only as a sparring partner.

  4. Double Date, Double Trouble Now this one has been overdone.

  5. You're Not My Kid! This one is more a question of logistics than an actual cliche. I mean once you get over the initial cuteness and dealing with a baby phase what do you do with a toddler. Most two year-olds aren't good about learning their lines so you either contrive to keep the kid out of sight or you age the kid to a point where you can use them. I Love Lucy did both - Little Ricky was out of sight for most of the fourth (Lucy in Hollywood) and fifth (Lucy in Europe) seasons before introducing a new Little Ricky (Keith Thibodeaux) aged 5 or 6. In other cases the actor wants to go to college or do other projects. You can either write them out, like Jonathon Taylor Thomas in Home Improvement or keep the character and change the actor as they did with Becky in Roseanne. And it's not like adult actors don't change occasionally either - see Lionel in The Jeffersons.

  6. An Unexpected Delivery Well let's face it, if you can't have fun with birthin' a baby what can you have fun with. Even Gone With The Wind did a little humour with that although it was mostly a serious moment. And as usual Lucy led the way. The birth of Little Ricky, even if it wasn't in an elevator, was a funny show.

  7. We're Trapped - Let's Reminisce! Agreed. The usual springboard to a clips show and who really likes them.

  8. I'm (Cough, Cough) Not Feeling Well Yeah that's a bad one. On the other hand it's not one that we see all that often anymore, maybe because it's hard to get the superstars on TV.

  9. Now You Don't See Me, Now You ... Still Don't See Me It's another standard but what would Waiting For Godot be without it? The real explanation is that the show is creating an character that no actor could live up to. Who could play Niles Crane's wife Maris as described in all of those episodes and would we have been better off if she'd been more than an off-screen presence. The same goes for dead characters. Could we really believe that Martin Crane was married to Nancy Marchand (who played Fraser's mother on an episode of Cheers). And it's not just comedies either - see (or rather don't see) J. Beresford Tipton in The Millionaire (voice by Paul Frees) and Charlie in Charlie's Angels (voice by John Forsythe).

  10. Look, I'm in a Dress! Isn't This Funny? Hey some men look funny in dresses - Dave Foley did some of his best work in Kids in the Hall in fashionable frocks. Even Fred Flintstone wore dresses from time to time. Again, I'm sure there's an example from Shakespeare, and if not, just remember that Bonnie Prince Charlie was smuggled from Scotland to the Isle of Skye dressed as a woman.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

These Mediums Not Well Done

You don't have to be psychic to know why Psychic Detectives is on NBC this summer: it's cheap - because the show is paid for by Court TV - and Medium has been a major success during the spring season. As Les Moonves said recently "I think talking to ghosts will skew younger than talking to God." And if Psychic Detectives isn't entirely about talking to ghosts it does seem to tap into that whole vibe.

Not of course that this makes the show good. In fact the thought that people watch and like this thing is thoroughly depressing - it is terrible. Each episode of the series looks at two real cases where real psychics have helped to solve real mysteries. The show wants to make it clear that they're dealing with real events. It's good that they emphasize this because there are so many re-creations in this show that it would probably as a drama if we weren't told that this was "real". If this were a documentary or a news show it would be roundly condemned for this but presumably this show qualifies as entertainment. Moreover while the psychics themselves seem relatively sincere, the cops come off as being uncritically admiring after expressing their initial skepticism in a sentence or two. What wasn't found in either of the two cases in the episode that I saw on Wednesday evening was any sort of dissenting voice. Worse, the only details that we get come from the psychic and the one or two cops involved in the case. The only thing that we know is what they tell us, and they have an interest in telling us a story in which the psychic solves the case.

I seem to be having a very difficult time explaining just how bad this show is. Production looks cheap, a mixture of video stock shots, and scenes of the psychic and detective in various locations are mixed with reconstructions which usually amount to people sitting around offices. As I mentioned the show is totally uncritical about their subjects - psychics are real and these are real psychics; there is no other explanation - which at least in my mind considerably lowers credibility. There is of course no investigation of the claims either in this case or of the previous successes that the psychic has claimed. To this you can add the cheesy narration from a voice that is probably better suited to doing voice-overs for commercials. Worst of all, the show isn't that interesting or entertaining. There's no dramatic tension, no twists and turns. In all but the worst fiction, while we usually know that our heroes will triumph we don't know what hoops they'll have to jump through to accomplish this. In Psychic Detectives the greatest tension is ... well I can't think of any tension at all. The psychic almost immediately proves herself to the cop and he is continually amazed at what she discovers and is soon a true believer. Yawn. I really can't think of a good reason to waste your time watching this. Just about anything that NBC cancelled this past season would have been better than this. Trust me, this show is best avoided.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

TV On DVD - June 14, 2005 - Part 2

Here's the second half of this week's DVD List

Reno 911! The Complete Second Season
- I've never seen this series even though it airs on the Comedy Channel up here in Canada. I really should try it since it sounds like something I might enjoy, if only because it satirizes one of the dumbest shows on TV: Cops.

Rosemary And Thyme: Series One
- Another show that I missed because it didn't sound like my cup of Earl Grey (hot). Still it has Felicity Kendall (and her bottom, although admittedly at nearly 60 it isn't as nice as it was 30 years ago in The Good Life) and it combines those two great British obsessions, quirky mysteries and gardening. I'll probably look for it next time I get the chance.

Saved By the Bell: The New Class - Season 3
- Never saw it... and never wanted to see it even though I probably could have found it. I was a little too old and not at all interested by the time this or the original series were on Saturday mornings.

Thomas The Tank Engine: And Friends: Best Of James
Thomas The Tank Engine: James Learns A Lesson

- My 2 1/2 year old nephew's favourite words currently seem to be "Watch Thomas again." He has a DVD set of three episodes but tends to like just the one where Cranky the Crane falls down. The Thomas the Tank Engine series is outstanding entertainment for kids (and some of us adults who love trains like them too). Based on the stories by the Reverend W. Awdry, these are gentle stories about teamwork and friendship. Children's television, particularly in the US tends to be frenetic and noisy and the gentle approach in this series reminds me of the Canadian childrens shows when I was growing up. The three DVD set is highly recommended (and it comes with a toy).

Tilt: The Complete First Season
- Haven't seen this series, which started earlier this year on ESPN. Michael Madsen stars as poker player Don Everest, "the Matador", and the series looks at the dark underside of professional poker, although it seems clear that at least some of the stuff that supposedly happens in the show is extremely far fetched.

Two's Company: The Complete Series 3
- Releases on next week. That this is a completely enjoyable series is due entirely to the casting of Donald Sinden as Robert the butler opposite Elaine Stritch as Dorothy. Their personalities mesh like they'd been working together for years, alternately warm and squabbling. A delight

Walker Texas Ranger: Final Season
- I don't know what's more amazing: that this series lasted as long as it did (1993-2001, on Saturday nights), or that I watched close to every episode. Of course I was heaping large amounts of ridicule on it - the acting frequently made "wooden" seem like a compliment and as Chuck got older his signature moves seemed to slow down to the point where you couldn't tell if you were seeing them in slow motion or not. Don't even get me started on the theme song or the way that the opening credits sometimes extended to about 15 or 20 minutes into the show. And yet the stupid thing was usually fun to watch.

What's New Scooby-Doo?: Volume 5 Sports Spooktacula
- Okay I never watched Scooby-Doo. They didn't show it locally (they tended to be fixated on the Flintstones at the local station) and I didn't go out of my way to see it. Based on the main content of the disc - Scooby-Doo All-Stars Meet the Home Run King, Hank Aaron - I'd say that the episode on this one came from 1979 or so.

These DVDs were delayed by

World Poker Tour: Bad Boys Of Poker
- Another individual World Poker Tour DVD, this time featuring the "Bad Boys of Poker" - Paul "The Truth" Darden, Phil "The Unabomber" Lahk, Dave "Devilfish" Ulliot, Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari, and Gus "The Great Dane" Hansen, along with a poor dumb schlub named Mark Richards, a bank teller from Illinois who made the final table off of a satellite tournament. Except for the small number of extras I think you'd probably be better off with the Complete Season 2 set.

The Best of Dudley Do-Right, Volume 1
The Best of Mr. Peabody And Sherman Volume 1

- I'm pretty sure that Dudley Do-Right started on The Bullwinkle Show - or whatever title it was going under at the time since there were several - was banished from TV here abouts. I did see most of them years later though. Do I really need to mention that both it and Mr. Peabody And Sherman were brilliant. The voice actors alone - Bill Scott, June Foray, Paul Frees, Hans Conreid, Walter Tetley, and of course William Conrad - were enough to assure that. But there was more. While the principal audience may have been children (or so the network executives thought) the humour was sharp and sophisticated for adults to enjoy it too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

TV on DVD - June 14, 2005 - Part 1

Once again I've decided to split the list into two parts, with the second part to come later tonight or early tomorrow.

Arthur: Arthur's Computer Adventure
Arthur: D.W. Rides Again

- I don't think it'll come as a surprise to anyone that I'm not familiar with the
Arthur series, so can we just leave it at that?

Cracker: The Complete Series

- Okay, here's the thing. This was released in the US today, but won't have the complete series set until the end of August. Now you could order it, but I want to tell you why you shouldn't. It's an adaptation of a British series and we all know how that usually goes, and in this case you'd be right. It's a really bad adaptation or a really good British show. And finally it stars the rather disreputable Robert Pastorelli who had more real-life problems than the character he played n the show. Do yourselves a favour and buy a disc from the original series with the far superior Robbie Coltrane if you haven't already.

Fairly OddParents: School's Out! The Musical

- I've seen bits and pieces of the Nickelodeon series
Fairly Oddparents, and on the whole find it amusing although I haven't seen a complete episode so it might get wearing after a while. This is a musical special that the series did, and in general those tend to be fun.

Good Neighbors: The Complete Series 1-3

- This is a series that I have such a tremendous amount of good feeling for that it's just not possible to put into words. The cast is superb, not a person out of place. Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith are perfect as the snobbish Leadbetters - but then they always were weren't they, two of Britain's top comedic talents. In the lead role of Tom Good is Richard Biers, with the tasty Felicity Kendall (and her bottom) as his wife Barbara. (That bit about Felicity Kendall's bottom refers to a joke from an episode of Spitting Image where someone describes something being as soft as Felicity Kendall's bottom. I'm pretty sure it was meant as a compliment.) A wonderful series.

Gun:the Complete Series
- A series of six short films that aired on ABC in 1997. The only trouble is that I don't remember them at all. Too bad because the talent is certainly present in the show, both in front (James Gandolfini, Rosanna Arquette, Randy Quaid, Jennifer Tilly, Kirsten Dunst, Martin Sheen, and Edward James Olmos among others) and behind the cameras (Robert Altman, James Foley and Ted Demme were among the directors). Apparently a bit uneven, but I suppose that's to be expected.

Highlander: The Raven
- I will confess right here that I liked this series, which seems to make me a bit of an anomaly. I always liked the Amanda episodes of the Adrian Paul Highlander series from which this was an offshoot. Not to mince words, Elizabeth Gracen was gorgeous and funny. There were problems with the series in the form of her mortal partner/love interest Nick Wolfe. Just on principal the immortal thief should have been a solo character, but for some reason the producers thought we needed the beefcake in the form of Paul Johannson. They were wrong!

King of Queens: The Complete Fourth Season

- I can't remember when I stopped watching King of Queens but it was before this season. It always seemed as if there was never enough time for me to catch up with shows on Mondays, and I eventually just gave up. Too bad, it was never a bad series, although it always tended to be overshadowed by Everybody Loves Raymond. Season 4 saw the addition of Nicole Sullivan to the cast, primarily to work with Jerry Stiller.

The League Of Gentlemen: Christmas Special
The League Of Gentlemen: The Complete Series 2
The League Of Gentlemen: The Complete Series 3

- Will it come as a total shock or even a surprise if I tell you that I just don't get
The League Of Gentlemen series. I guess their sort of humour is an acquired taste that I never acquired.

Little House On The Prairie: Season 8

- I never was a huge fan of
Little House On The Prairie and by this eighth season I suspect that even the most loyal fans were realising that it was beginning to show its age. The departures of Melissa Sue Anderson and Allison Arngrim the previous season hadn't helped matters, by putting a lot more pressure onto Melissa Gilbert.

Northern Exposure: The Complete Third Season

- Some of the best stories came out of the third season of
Northern Exposure like the marvelous season ender "Cicelly". It's hard for me to write about Northern Exposure because it was one of the best TV programs ever and I am in awe of the mere concept.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: Carson's Style
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: Kyan and Jai - Looking Good

- I've seen Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the best I can say about it is that I sort of like it, even though I don't go out of my way to see it. There are no details on the contents of these DVDs but I'll make a guess that they're excerpts from various episodes focussing on tips from the experts involved.

Rambo, Vol. 1: A World of Trouble
Rambo, Vol. 2: Enter the Dragon

- Until now I was blissfully unaware that someone actually made a Rambo animated cartoon and I am torn between wondering how, wondering why, and wondering if it is possible to have this knowledge purged from my memory.