Thursday, April 21, 2016

Stoner or not, "Time Traveling Bong" on Comedy Central is Wonderful!

I love comedy with energy and lots of it! Maybe you wouldn't think Comedy Central's three-part half-hour stoner miniseries Time Traveling Bong (preem yesterday night) would necessarily promise high energy of all the things it might deliver.  However, co-creators Ilana Glazer, Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello (associates from the network's equally terrific Broad City) have imbued TTB with enough classic comedic business to make it a good-natured winner whether you're partial to weed or not.  You don't have to be high to think Time Traveling Bong is a delight. take my word for it.  Slapstick works when sober, too.

Starring Broad City co-stars Glazer and Downs, TTB takes the ever-popular time machine trope and gives it a little spin, exploring how awesome is time travel, anyway...actually?  How bad does it smell back there and if you're a gal or otherwise sociologically compromised is the past (or present for that matter) such a great place to be stuck in?  Questions to be pondered and TTB has some ideas on the answers, gathered after much hilarity.

Playing cousins, Glazer and Downs are able to sidestep any romantic implications that would stand in the way of the comedy.  For instance, Downs is trying hard to help Glazer NOT end up being burned as a witch in early colonial America, but he's not reacting as an outraged boyfriend or spouse probably would.  Big difference and big laughs.

Also, lots of always-hilarious screams, at least in part one.  Nothing funnier. Ever.

This special has lots of everything good -- funny science fiction elements, pointed re-creations of historical time periods, zippy special effects, spirited performances by a talented cast (starting with the two leads who are excellent as always), and not just a few spot-on observations of present and past society.   Along with dinosaurs, cavemen and other favorite olde tyme complications, they're perfect for making Glazer's and Downs' time-bipping a welcome comedy appointment.

Time Traveling Bong continues tonight Thursday (4/21) on Comedy Central at 10:30pm following the Season 4 premiere of Inside Amy Schumer.  For all three episodes, tune in to CC on Friday beginning at 9:30pm with the final episode 3 at 10:30pm.  Click here for Comedy Central's official Time Travelling Bong site with lots of extra videos and background content.

For some additional takes on Time Traveling Bong, you might like to read:  Mike Hale at The New York Times, Brian Moylan at The Guardian;  Patrick Ryan at USA Today;
Kwame Opam at The Verge; Andy Swift at TVLine and Charles Bramesco at Vulture.

Highly recommended!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Masterpiece Mystery on PBS - Grantchester Review

We have come to trust PBS and their Masterpiece showcase for outstanding drama, so it should come as no surprise that Grantchester is another notch on their belt of genuinely intelligent and entertaining programming.

The stunning and talented James Norton (War and Peace, Happy Valley) and the even more gifted Robson Green headline this series from Britain's ITV. Norton portrays clergyman Sydney Chambers and Green portrays law enforcement investigator Geordie Keating. Together they solve crimes, live life, enjoy music, sustain and search out love.

PBS has another member of the clergy solving crimes on Father Brown and most television buffs will recall the ABC series from the 1990's, Father Dowling Mysteries starring the late Tom Bosley (Happy Days). Grantchester is neither of those shows.

The town of Grantchester is a seemingly quiet village set in another time, but they manage to have murders that are quite out of the ordinary. The second season of Grantchester started on Masterpiece Mystery a couple of weeks ago and the first two episodes of the current season were smart, taut, well-acted and entertaining.

One would be hard pressed not to like Sydney and Geordie. They, on the one hand have little in common, but on the other hand, have much in common. One thing they share is an implicit trust of one another and that sees them through each episode.

Sydney is a jazz-loving pastor who is still looking for love and in many ways, he is looking for love in all the wrong places, or is he? Georgie is happily married, but tied to his job.

This unlikely duo presses on each week with some unusual murder case and the overworked investigator and the dedicated clergyman solve the crimes with their intellect and instinctive gifts.  

Grantchester is based on the novels by James Runcie. I confess I have never read any of the Grantchester novels, so I cannot offer up any wise words as to whether our British comrades have gotten the characterizations correct, or the casting, or the stillness of the time and place of the town itself.

What I will say is, don't miss this series. There are six more episodes in the current second season and it has recently been renewed for a third season, so that's good news.

Robson Green is a keeper. He needs to work often. James Norton is a terrific actor who engages with his performance, but the face is quite nice to look at as well.

Kudos to PBS for picking up this program. They have done a brilliant job with their show selections. Downton Abbey will be missed deeply and dearly, but next year we get a new look at Victoria with Jenna Coleman, so I know where I will be on Sunday nights next year.

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2016          

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Favorite TV Episode Blogathon: The Outer Limits "The Architects of Fear"

We're happy to be participating in the 2nd Favorite TV Episode Blogathon, sponsored by the terrific A Shroud of Thoughts blog.  Be sure to visit the blog -- click here -- for a listing of all the sites taking part in this event!

We are chiming in with a short shout-out to one of our favorites, the superb first season episode "The Architects of Fear" which first aired on network TV on September 30, 1963.  Fifty-three years old and still works like a charm, though there is little charming about the episode.  Harrowing?  Yes, and frightening and unthinkable and ultimately touching would be more like it.  Unforgettable certainly.

There are quite a few other write-ups on this episode around the net and I'll link to them at the end of this post and borrow a few screengrabs from them, too.  I don't even think I'll go step-by-step through this brilliant hour of TV.  If you've never seen it, you need to watch it, that's all.  If you've never watched any of The Outer Limits -- but really how could avoid it, it's been in constant syndication for the past half-century -- we of course recommend settling in and catching up with some of the most intriguing science fiction ever presented on TV.   (Not as easy as it used to be -- it's behind Hulu's subscription wall now but I did find one link for "The Architects of Fear" -- click here).

In a nightmarish nutshell, the plot of "The Architects of Fear" is fairly simple -- a secret group of scientists gathers together to execute their plan to scare Earth's political leaders into peace through the use of an extraterrestrial threat which will force them to cooperate together to ensure the safety of all mankind.  Their idea is very specific -- they are going to medically change one of their group into an alien who will land a spacecraft in front of the United Nations. They draw names, and the winner -- loser -- is young physicist Allen Leighton, played by actor Robert Culp is a true tour-de-force performance.  His wife is played by the great actress Geraldine Brooks who was always an intelligent presence in every role.

Leighton is willing to go through with the transformation but in a cruel twist of fate -- actually something that would have been a joyous moment had he not been involved in the plan -- he learns that he will be leaving more than just his beloved wife behind.  But still he goes forward.

Key things making "The Architects of Fear" so incredibly good are the amazing performances by the entire cast.  Culp is nuanced, intelligent, heartbreaking and in one scene completely mesmerizing as the medical process induces a psychotic episode which is terrifying, almost hilarious in its flights of fancy, but ultimately bleak and tragic.  Geraldine Brooks as Yvette Leighton is one of the many interesting female portrayals on The Outer Limits over its 49 episode run.  She's smart, skeptical, and unique, thanks to Meyer Dolinsky's script and Brooks' talent.  Veteran character actor Leonard Stone plays the main brain behind the scientific cadre, and he's both ruthless and compassionate as he leads one of his best friends down the road into inhumanity.

I watched the episode again last night -- though I've seen it probably a hundred times over the years -- but my husband had never seen it.  I asked him "Do you think this looks dated and stupid?" but he said it was the story that kept him interested.  And so it is.  It's part Frankenstein-part The Day the Earth Stood Still-part Incredible Melting Man or Swamp Thing; we don't want to forget the basic premise of changing a human via hideous surgery into a creature and re-engineering his entire body into an alien physiology.  We get to see some of the process and it is grueling, not in terms of bloody operating room scenes but in glimpses of the intimate horrors they are perpetrating on their unlucky friend.

Just watch it.  Forget about the lack of million-dollar special effects and revel instead in the sheer excellence of the entire team who made The Outer Limits such a wonderful show and "The Architects of Fear" an especially great example of that genius.

As I mentioned above, a few other great blogs on this episode are:  My Life in the Glow of The Outer Limits -- click here --  We Are Controlling Transmission -- click here and here - The Daily P.O.P -- click here -- Casual Debris -- click here -- The Last Drive-In -- click here -- Living in The Outer Limits - click here -- Home -- click here -- and a few others I might have missed.
Just you don't miss "The Architects of Fear".

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The TV Sidekick Blogathon: Ralph Malph of "Happy Days"

Welcome to our second contribution to the TV Sidekick Blogathon sponsored by the Classic Film & TV Cafe!  You'll  enjoy reading all the entries in this collection of inspired posts focusing on the venerable assortment of characters who have worked tirelessly alongside TV series stars to provide the complete TV entertainment experience!  Be sure to check out all the other postings; full information available by clicking here. You've already seen in our previous post how we feel about Dr. Leonard McCoy from Star Trek but we've got a more down-to-earth candidate right now.

Happy Days, the popular ABC sitcom that ran for 11 seasons from 1974 - 1984, was a peppy and positive series, filled with appealing characters played by a talented cast.  The core family was the Cunninghams -- Richie, Joanie, Howard and Marion -- and the orbit of personalities who surrounded them started with the Fonz and included Richie's good friends Potsie Weber and Ralph Malph.  For the first seven seasons, good guy straight arrow Richie (Ron Howard) relied on his slightly more mischievous pals Potsie (Anson Williams) and Ralph (Don Most) to instigate the fun and back him up in their innocent and hilarious adventures.  The one true comic character was Ralph Malph, Richie's fellow redhead and the friend who was always a little funnier, a little more cynical -- truly a comedian -- than anyone else in the cast.

In the historical tradition of funnymen, redheads hold an exalted place.  While they might not excel or even be considered in more traditional dramatic roles -- regardless of talent the red hair actually seemed to be a drawback -- you can't beat their comedy chops.  Red Skelton, Red Buttons -- see, even identified by their red hair -- and Danny Kaye were the chief classic redheaded comedians and you can't do much better than that.  (Today you could throw Carrot Top into the mix).

Actor Don -- then Donny -- Most was a worthy inheritor of the redheaded clown position, with perfect comic delivery and a knowing (especially in early episodes) if goofy take on the world.  It was amazing that Happy Days actually had two talented redheads in the cast, with long-time show business veteran (even by that time) Ron Howard having amassed years in the movies and as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show.  But Richie was a good kid, not exactly a good two-shoes but the one in the leadership position in his trio of pals.

If Richie was the innocent redhead, Ralph Malph was the devilish one.  Potsie was someplace in the middle, definitely an Everyman who was pleasant and loyal but mostly lacking the impulse to be purposefully naughty.  Once the character of Fonzie -- played so winningly by Henry Winkler -- captured the hearts of the audience he became the magical breakout element in the show's appeal.  Even if playing disciples to a benign guru in a leather-jacket wasn't quite what they all had signed up for, all the cast's continuing chemistry made Happy Days a phenomena and cemented it into TV history.

But back to Ralph Malph.  The son of an equally wise-cracking optometrist dad (played most memorably by Ralph Dodson), Ralph loved making out with girls and being a wise guy.  Not a wise guy like Fonzie who had tough guy credentials behind him (but preferred to use his wits), Malph was more the eternal smart aleck, the friend with the quips who very much prided himself on making them.

What turned out to be Malph's trademark phrase?  "I've still got it!" which he'd crow each time he landed a comic zinger in conversation with his pals.  And he knew what it was.  It was the ability to make somebody laugh, to elicit a comic response, easier said than done and many never achieve it.  Even more importantly for Ralph Malph, he had been given (thanks to actor Don Most) the magical talisman -- a comedian's red hair -- and would not waste its power.

Especially in those early episodes -- the ones not filmed before a live audience -- the performing chops of the entire cast shine.  They're not playing to the crowd, they're creating comedy through solid writing and wonderful ensemble acting. Both styles are fun, but there's something special about those first two seasons that will really make you appreciate how good everybody is.  The scenes between Richie, Ralph and Potsie are deeper, more intimate than they would or could ever be later and the actors are up to it.  Don Most is wonderful as Ralph Malph, a guy with lots of ideas, lots of hormones and lots of affection for his pals.

So let's celebrate Ralph Malph and the actor who brought him to life with such skill and charm!  Ralph Malph's still got it and so does Don Most!  We're happy to see that in real life Mr. Most is currently enjoying a renewed career as a singer, something Ralph also enjoyed in the series.  There's that multi-talented redheaded comedian/actor trait coming out again!  Please visit his website by clicking here and become his Twitter follower @most_don.

As we stated earlier, be sure to visit all the sites offering contributions to the TV Sidekick Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe; click here for links to all of them!  Thanks for joining us!

Here are some more priceless Ralph Malph moments from Happy Days -- enjoy!