Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Originally sponsored by Coca-Cola (who ironically tried to fit in a few now-deleted product placements in its first airings), this half-hour piece follows Charlie Brown as he battles a holiday depression brought on by the commercialization of Christmas. Visiting Lucy's psychiatric stand, he's cajoled into being the director of the kids' Christmas play (the way his face lights up when Lucy suggests this is pure joy). Charlie Brown arrives on stage as Schroeder and the gang are dancing madly about. (The dances each of these eight kids are doing have become complete cultural touchstones; these are some terrific moves!)
Charlie Brown struggles to get his cast's attention, but when it becomes clear that they're not getting anywhere near discovering the true meaning of Christmas, it's determined that what the play needs is a big Christmas tree as the stage's centerpiece. It's here that Charlie sets out with Linus to find the perfect tree. But instead of getting a big pink artificial tree at the local lot (as Lucy suggests), Charlie Brown falls in love with an anemic-looking baby tree with barely enough branches on it to hang one ornament on ("Gee, do they still make wooden Christmas trees?" Linus exclaims). It's this little tree that becomes the symbol for what Christmas is all about: love.
Even after seeing it hundreds of times, I decided to pop in my old 1985 VHS copy of the special in this Christmas morning. Being a lifelong fan of Charles Schulz's work, I knew I would enjoy watching A Charlie Brown Christmas again. But I was surprised at how many times I laughed out loud during the piece. Most of these laughs come from Snoopy, who's first seen in the body of the special sitting atop his doghouse, reading the paper and literally eating bones one by one. I treasure the way he imitates on stage a sheep, a cow, a penguin, a vulture, and finally a fussbudgeting Lucy. And when he's caught dancing atop Schroeder's piano, the music abruptly stops and, as he's being stared down by Schroeder and Lucy, the dog turns red and sheepishly slinks away. I'm telling you, this is comedy.
Child actor Peter Robbins played Charlie Brown all throughout the 1960s, up until the comic strip's big-screen outing A Boy Named Charlie Brown. His impassioned, strangely gravelly delivery IS the way Charlie Brown is supposed to sound, and unfortunately, when Robbins quit doing the voice in 1969, he had so embodied the role that none of his replacements could measure up. Ditto Chris Shea (brother of actor Eric Shea, most famous for being the kid in 1972's The Poseidon Adventure). Shea's lispy personification of Linus Van Pelt has precisely the intelligence, humor and warmth this classic character deserve. I swear, when Linus takes the stage ("Lights, please!") and quotes from the King James Bible, his words echoing through a quiet, cavernous hall...my gosh, I tear up every time. This surely must be the most effective use of the Bible's verses ever in pop culture:
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.'"
The stunning silence after this moment passes is utter sublimity. Blanket in tow, Linus approaches his depressed friend and sagely says "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." (Amazingly, the CBS execs even wanted to delete this scene, because they felt no one would sit still for a Bible lesson. But Charles Schulz stood firm: "If we don't say it, who will?")
I could go on and on about the merits of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Yes, its animation and sound are choppy, but charmingly so. I suspect that, for the rest of my life, I will rarely let a Yuletide go by without watching it at least once. That there are millions and millions who agree with me surely must be the highest praise that can be bestowed upon it. Winner of the 1966 Emmy for animation and a prestigious Peabody Award to boot, it's a masterpiece if ever there was one.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
How prescient the makers of Rudolph were to make a holiday special where the primary theme was tolerance (of differences) and power to the individual. Rudolph with his (flaming red nose!) and Hermey the wannabe dentist elf, are at first shunned by their peers, but ultimately persevere and hailed as the hero's of Christmas Eve.
Rudolph has something for everyone. I always found the story compelling, even gripping. There's the family drama between Rudolph and his good ole boy Dad, Donner. There's the beautiful romance between Rudolph and the gorgeous Clarice. For a cliff hanger (literally), you can't beat Bumble, the abominable snowman monster, and for comic relief, we have the irrepressible Yukon Cornelius. But at its core, Rudolph is a buddy piece, with Hermey the dentist and Rudolph off on a winter road trip and excellent adventure.
The most recognizable voice in this Christmas charmer is Burl Ives, who sings and narrates as Sam the Snowman. His "Holly Jolly Christmas" is at least as much of a holiday classic as Rudolph is.
Well it's Christmas Eve folks, and I'd like to wish all our loyal readers around the world a peaceful and happy holiday. I'm off to watch Rudolph again, as I always manage to miss it when it airs, but thankfully now have the DVD.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Best Comedy Actress: Tiny Fey
There is no one else in contemporary television better suited to wear the crown of our dear muse Lucille Ball, than Tina Fey. She is a brilliant physical comedian, an accomplished writer, and an impersonator so dead-on she becomes the doppelganger of her subject. She is also a gorgeous actress (as was our Lucy). For proof, check out the current issue of Vanity Fair. Liz Lemon, you are immortal. I wonder how many minions of earnest women comedy writers will be drawn to TV because of you.
Best Comedy Actor: Alec Baldwin
His role as Jack Donaghy, the obsessed television honcho, is the best work he's done in years. He's hilarious, nuanced, occasionally touching, and never for a second dull. We want to see so much more of the electricity between Jack and Liz Lemon as the season progresses. There is surely a spark between the two.
Best Comedy: 30 Rock
Sorry to go all full sweep with the Rock, but it's truly the most deserving. From the exciting retro opening music, the shots of Rockefeller Center to the brilliant ensemble cast and writing. I love everything about this show...the TV biz insider jokes, the fantasy flashbacks. It's loopy and fast paced and very, very funny. Why this show is not on the Top Ten Nielsen rating list is beyond my imagination. I kept hoping this was the year. I've never had this bad of a disconnect between my tastes and that of the American public! :(
Best Drama Actor: Jon Hamm
Tough, tough decision here, as there was a ton of great work this season. Michael C. Hall is always amazing as Dexter, and I'm keeping my eye on newcomer Stephen Moyer, the smoldering vampire on HBO's True Blood. But Jon Hamm is the pinnacle, with his portrayal of Advertising exec Don Draper. Here is the miracle Jon Hamm has accomplished; his character is a morally ambiguous fraud who cheats on his wife and has stolen the identity of a dead war hero. Not the stuff most TV heros are made of. But at the end of the day, Jon Hamm keeps us rooting for Don, who has evolved over the past two seasons into a much more likable human being. He's fiercely loyal to the good men and women at Sterling-Cooper and ruthless to his evil co-workers. He's gentle with his children and kind to the real Mrs. Draper, a simple decent lady with a crippled foot. And--as Lisa has pointed out in previous posts, Jon Hamm the actor is quite funny too.
Best Drama Actress: January Jones
Her character Betty Draper is not particularly likable, and has fallen into a deep well of despair this season. Also, she's an awful Mom. Did anybody else want to call the child protective services when she locked her daughter in a dark closet as punishment? But from her stunning 1960's couture to her sub-zero treatment of Don when he confirmed his latest affair, she has been riveting. She is the consummate blond beauty, as perfect as a country club ice sculpture on the outside and as nutty as barrel full of Planters inside her desperate mind. She even makes smoking seem pristine and cool again...now that's acting!
Best Drama Series: Mad Men
A perfect sweep again, but I could not go any other way. Again, the competition was tough. Dexter, True Blood, House, Fringe and Monk all offered excellent viewing choices across broadcast and cable TV. But Mad Men was appointment television for me. I could not miss an episode, in fact I watched most of them multiple times this season. I will say this of Mad Men...any given one hour episode is superior to most of the feature films that you'll see in the theater today. It is beautifully written, shot, and performed. It is a television treasure.
Congratulations Nosy Award Winners! More later on in the week as we award the non-fiction programs!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
The father flashbacks with the tie-knotting lesson -- very simple and yet moving. If we thought that we weren't going to be seeing lots of James Remar in the past season, we were wrong. Dexter's frequent conversations with his late Dad were psychological delights, and if we read our signs correctly, Debra will now be finding out secrets about her father in next season.
I loved LaGuerta making the cupcake ritual that she shared with her murdered attorney friend Ellen Wolfe her own, and sharing the ganache-frosted treats with her new detective Debra. LaGuerta symbolically and literally closed the file on her ex-lover Miguel Prado and his poisonous deeds, and has moved on. A nice female bonding moment for both LaGuerta and Debra, who have been at odds in the past, but only because they both are tough-minded cops with similar ambition. I loved Debra making the joke -- how being in a dress made her feel like a transvestite -- to Dexter when she visited him in as he finished dressing for the wedding. Avoiding the usual sentimental drivel, she was as sharp-witted as always and also shared Dad's tie-knotting ritual with Dexter, and the affection between these two is a terrific portrayal of the sibling bond.
I also was amused by the many romantic hook-ups this season, with even Masuka finding a girlfriend in the savvy adult entertainment consultant Tammy. The humanization of Masuka from a strictly-creepy lech into someone more conventionally likable hasn't made him lose any of his edge, and you don't have to feel that he is so clueless anymore. That's good. Angel seems to have found a worthy love match in the tough but devoted Lt. Barbara Gianna. Now that Debra has embraced the laidback and appealing Anton, her love life is in good shape, too.
Probably the least interesting match of all is Dexter and Rita, but the existence of a first mystery marriage for her might bring interesting repercussions in the future. I'm not sure how much Dexter will play with the conventional new baby plotline -- how much can you do with that? -- and here's hoping that the next season is as surprising and ultimately as satisfying as this one was...or even more so, perhaps.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Cat Dancers tells the story of Ron and Joy Holiday, and their lover Chuck Lizza. Their menage- a-trois would be weird enough, but the happy threesome went on to form one of the world's first exotic tiger entertainment acts. That's right, before Sigfried and Roy, there were the Cat Dancers. And without being too much of a spoiler, let's just say both acts experienced similar tragic grand finales.
Most of the film is narrated by Ron Holiday, an enthusiastic but oddly emotionless fellow given to wearing wigs, eyeliner and ballet tights. He was married for over 40 years to Joy and they had a very successful adagio dance team that performed at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. Joy Holiday is a cheerful busty blond who once wanted to be a nun. Chuck, their paramour, was a young man who once worked for the circus. Together they formed the "Cat Dancers" and they performed for 14 years with leopards, panthers and a white tiger hybrid named Jupiter.
Don't read the whole story on the HBO site unless you want to know how this odd documentary ends. I'm not going to reveal it here, because I've been haunted by it for days. It's disturbing on so many levels. As an animal rights activist, I can't endorse the idea of big cats being used as circus performers. If my own little cats Bob and CNN can't stand to be cooped up in a house all day, I can't imagine how bored and unhappy big cats must feel being in a cage.
Nevertheless, if your tastes in TV gravitate to the extremely unusual, then I can't recommend Cat Dancers enough.
Cat Dancers debuted on Dec 15th, 2008 at 8pm on HBO. Check your guide for repeat air dates, or see HBO on Demand.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The final episode had a few surprises, a sprinkle of thrills and even some sappy sweet stuff that left me a little misty eyed. Dexter gave us a glimpse of his compassionate side by sparing Miguel's alcoholic brother Ramon. He showed a rare action-adventure persona by escaping from the evil "Skinner" and dispatching him with a very physical and un-Dexterlike snap of the neck. But the best frames for Michael C. Hall's formidable acting chops were the flashbacks with dear old Dad...who reminded him of why life is worth living. And how to loop his necktie. Hall, whose character is so capable of unblinking, almost cheerful murder, can also make us care, when he remembers the good times with his equally demented father. I can't think of another actor capable of such a crazy balancing act.
Ultimately, it's that balance that makes us return to this program season after season. There are a few law abiding professions in this country which require people to kill. Navy Seals, special forces soldiers, CIA operatives and sometimes even the cop in your neighborhood. They all terminate bad guys when they have to. So does our Dexter. He just hasn't been given the legal sanction to do so. There's an old saying...it might be southern, or maybe cowboy..."that man was so bad, he just needed killing". Dexter fulfills the frontier desire for justice, but he does it in such a calm, suburban, 21st century way, it somehow makes it palatable for our contemporary souls. Not enough to make us comfortable. Just enough to make us keep watching. And in tonight's finale, just when his schmaltzy pastel colored Miami wedding threatened to subvert the very core of what makes this program so appealing...the balance shifted again. We watch as the camera moves in to highlight a few drops of blood from our hero's recent broken hand, falling like red tears onto the back of Rita's wedding gown. It was really creepy. I loved it.
Adios, dear Dexter. And until we meet again, please take care of your sister. Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) was for me the most compelling and tragic character of the season. She was edgy, bone thin and often supremely annoying. But her romance with Anton was unexpected and spot-on lovely. Best of all, this flawed, but brilliant detective got her shield. And that's a happy season ending that felt just right.
When I was about 9 years old, I lived in a suburb a half hour outside of New York City. I'll never forget the first time my mom brought me out of our bland Leave it To Beaver landscape into NYC. It was like "Oz" for me, and I fell in love at first sight. The soaring buildings! The honking taxis! Even the smell was electric and appealing, a mixture of Chock Full of Nuts coffee, gasoline and steam. But one of my best memories was of the underground shopping center beneath the Empire State Building. It seemed to go on for blocks and blocks, a whole city underneath the magical metropolis of New York.
If you've ever wondered what lies beneath, "Cities of the Underworld" will captivate you. The most appropriately named host Don Wildman will lead you there, whether it's under NYC's Grand Central Station (pictured) or ancient Rome or even Sin City itself (Las Vegas), which I would have thought to be too new and sandy to have an underworld. Turns out, the relentless heat of the desert makes building part of the city underground practical and more energy efficient.
I've watched many episodes where Don squeezes himself into impossibly tight spots. He's been wedged into narrow caves under ancient druid enclaves , or lowered into appalling sewers far below the streets of London, where Jack the Ripper himself may have escaped from his dreadful deeds. Through it all, Mr. Wildman maintains an absolutely correct tone of enthusiasm and amazement. He's fearless in places that would reduce most folks to claustrophobic hysteria.
Like many cable shows, "Cities" is repeated endlessly, so it won't be hard to stumble across it on the History Channel. It's worth searching high (or low in this case) to find a few dark places where most people never travel.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
After the debacle of this year's Emmy Awards which featured, appallingly, the multi-headed reality host gimmick, we are really looking forward to a nice, normal, glitzy award show. Following are the nominees, and may the best program/actor/actress win!
Best Television Series, Drama"Dexter" (Showtime)"House" (Fox)"In Treatment" (HBO)"Mad Men" (AMC)"True Blood" (HBO)
Actor, TV DramaGabriel Byrne, "In Treatment"Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"Hugh Laurie, "House"Jonathan Rhys Meyers, "The Tudors"
Actress, TV DramaSally Field, "Brothers & Sisters"Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: SVU"January Jones, "Mad Men"Anna Paquin, "True Blood"Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"
Best Television Series, Comedy"30 Rock" (NBC)"Californication" (Showtime)"Entourage" (HBO)"The Office" (NBC)"Weeds" (Showtime)
Actor, TV Musical Or ComedyAlec Baldwin, "30 Rock"Steve Carell, "The Office"Kevin Connolly, "Entourage"David Duchovny, "Californication"Tony Shalhoub, "Monk"
Actress, TV Musical Or ComedyChristina Applegate, "Samantha Who?"America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty"Tina Fey, "30 Rock"Debra Messing, "The Starter Wife"Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds"
Miniseries Or Motion Picture Made For Television"Cranford" "Bernard & Doris" "John Adams" "A Raisin In The Sun" "Recount"
Actress, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For TelevisionJudi Dench, "Cranford" Catherine Keener, "An American Crime" Laura Linney, "John Adams" Shirley Maclaine, "Coco Chanel"Susan Sarandon, "Bernard And Doris"
Actor, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For TelevisionRalph Fiennes, "Bernard And Doris" Paul Giamatti, "John Adams" Kevin Spacey, "Recount" Kiefer Sutherland, "24: Redemption" Tom Wilkinson, "Recount"
Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries Or Motion Picture Made For Television Eileen Atkins, "Cranford"Laura Dern, "Recount"Melissa George, "In Treatment"Rachel Griffiths, "Brothers & Sisters"Dianne Wiest, "In Treatment."
Supporting Actor, Series, Miniseries Or Motion Picture Made For Television Neil Patrick Harris, "How I Met Your Mother" Denis Leary, "Recount" Jeremy Piven, "Entourage" Blair Underwood, "In Treatment" Tom Wilkinson, "John Adams"
Monday, December 8, 2008
True Blood and Entourage are gone already and Dexter has but one final episode to go (watch for our comments after next Sunday). Give Summer Heights a gander, it's an interesting diversion until Flight of the Conchords returns to HBO on Sunday nights.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Trailer Park Boys is uniquely Canadian, and particularly Nova Scotian, as it's filmed in and around Halifax and the stars are fairly local boys. The best way to get acquainted with the Ricky (Robb Wells), Julian (John Paul Tremblay) and Bubbles (Mike Smith), if you're not already, is to watch the series. You can read about it, but until you experience for yourself the almost inexplicably effective blend of profanity, lawlessness, friendship, sentimentality, poverty, ingenuity and community that makes up Trailer Park Boys, you'll never understand why this show is so incredibly special. There's NOTHING like it on U.S. TV, and I can't imagine anything like it ever making it there. O Canada!
The Trailer Park Boys are a part of what makes Canada so great, and we look forward to at least another TPB movie, and honestly, this bunch of memorable characters is simply too special to put down easily. I suspect they will return, and of course the entire talented group of performers who brought the Sunnyvale Trailer Park to life will go on to other things, but they should know, and I'm sure do, that they made history with Trailer Park Boys, and are in our hearts forevever.
I'm going to link to one of my favorite episodes from the show here, entitled "If You Love Something, Set It Free" in which a mountain lion plays havoc with the boys latest pot crop and Bubbles, inveterate cat lover, takes the big kitty under his wing. It's from the show's amazing 4th season, which also contained the incredibly insane episode "Conky" where Bubbles comes under the power of his evil childhood hand puppet which has been recovered from a swamp. You must watch both of them! I'll say it again...there's nothing like this on U.S. TV. (There are lots of TPB episodes on Google Video, so check them out!)
Trailer Park Boys, you were one of the first things I fell in love with in Nova Scotia!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Cyclops premieres on the Sci Fi Channel this coming Saturday, December 5th, at 9pm!