Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Favorites!

These days it seems that every show does a Halloween episode whether it's necessary or not, but it wasn't always so.  Today Halloween has been commercialized into something bloated but still somehow enjoyable, and we're here to remember a few terrific TV outings into the Halloween holiday theme.

First up, the classic -- and best of their Halloween-themed outings -- the Happy Days episode "Haunted" from Season 2, when Happy Days was still on film and not shot in front of an audience making it a whole different animal. The first two seasons have subtlety, charm, great writing and nuanced performances, traits that mostly become lost when audience reactions took precedence.

Little House on the Prairie had several Halloween episodes over the years including the great "The Monster of Walnut Grove" which involved Mrs. Olsen getting her head cut off by Mr. Oleson.  Hilarious, spooky, imaginative -- a complete delight, the best of the Little House Halloween episodes by far.  Unfortunately not available online anywhere that I can find, but there's a nice write-up by another fan of it, available by clicking here.  We also wrote about it in 2010 because we like it that much!

Jon Hamm as James Mason on a Saturday Night Live version of an imaginary Vincent Price Halloween Special from 1959.  Nothing funnier than this skit from 2008!

I can't find it to embed, but here is a link to the skit-- click here or here-- and it's still incredibly funny.  We wrote about it here also.

No doubt you've got your own Halloween TV favorites -- let us know!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Henry Winkler -- Happy 68th Birthday!

The man behind one of the most popular TV characters ever is having a birthday today!  The multi-talented, super-nice in real life and dedicated to doing good Henry Winkler is 68 years old today.  The man who forty years ago caused a pop culture tsunami when he turned supporting character Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days into the mega-popular "The Fonz" has been a fan favorite ever since, and for good reason.  A good buy, a great character, a long and successful career -- you don't get much better than that.  Henry Winkler is genuine classic TV royalty.

In addition to his 11 seasons (1973 - 1984) as Fonzie on Happy Days and occasionally crossing-over to Laverne & Shirley, Joanie Loves Chachi and in animated form on The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang,  Yale acting grad Winkler starred in a number of feature films including Heroes, The One and Only, Night Shift and The Waterboy.  But he was primarily a TV guy; TV movie aficionados will remember him in the 1975 TVM Katharine co-starring Sissy Spacek as a wealthy debutante who turns into a radical activist, or as a homegrown Scrooge in An American Christmas Carol from 1979.  Many other series starring roles and guest roles have also liberally peppered his resume, including his very popular stint on the cult comedy Arrested Development.

Perhaps less known may be Winkler's output as a television producer, including serving as executive producer for the seven-season hit series MacGuyver beginning in 1985, several seasons of Hollywood Squares, and many other titles over the four decades he's been a show business figure.  All that, combined with his work helping kids overcome learning disabilities including dyslexia (which he had as a child), makes Henry Winkler a wonderful example of a that rare species of show business celebrity who is also a good human being.  (Interesting that his Happy Days co-star Ron Howard is also known as a good guy...must have been something in the water on that set.)

Here's a little selection of Henry Winkler clips showing some of his charm, versatility, pop culture chops and good heartedness.

Winkler played a precursor to Fonzie in the 1974 movie The Lord's of Flatbush:

On The Merv Griffin Show from 1977:

The Fonz is so cool:

Yes, Fonzie really did jump the shark in Happy Days' fifth season; the term has come to mean when a show turns from being good to stinking a little. Happy Days was not at that point yet though it did get a little silly sometimes, mostly because Fonzie was such a popular character that the show started to become fixated on him.

Henry Winkler did an extensive interview for the Archive of American Television and the Emmy folks.  See an excerpt here and you can watch the whole thing by clicking here:

Henry Winkler with Arsenio Hall in 1990:

Henry Winkler on the joys of reading:

The Huffington Post also did a birthday post on Henry Winkler; you can read it here.

It's comforting to know that somebody who has been in the public eye for such a long time continues to be a great person, too.

Happy Birthday, Henry Winkler!

Monday, October 27, 2014

John Cleese -- Happy 75th Birthday!

On the long list of TV series we simply couldn't imagine living without, Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers are near the top, thanks in part to the brilliant comedic sensibility of John Cleese.  He's celebrating his 75th birthday today, an impressive life milestone alongside all his professional milestones spread out over an accomplished 50 years in show business.  Cambridge-educated Cleese began his acting and comedy work at the college, his performing talent soon eclipsing his desire to study law.  Growing up in a time where anarchy was on the loose in British comedy (particularly on radio, thanks to The Goon Show and talents like Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan), Cleese and his comic contemporaries were well-poised to continue the tradition and then establish their own creative beachhead the likes of which has never been equaled.

You can read about Cleese's life all over the internet, and he's got So Anyway -- an autobiography of his first thirty years -- coming out next week.  Finding out about his life is interesting and important, and you will probably quickly learn that he's maybe not the jolliest fellow or the nicest Python but possibly the smartest and definitely the most introspective, yet that in the long run means little. What he's going to remembered by are his comedic gifts, the moments he created either as a writer or as a performer, that will stay with us forever.

Here's a pre-Python TV-appearance by Cleese, alongside comedy great Marty Feldman, on At Last the 1948 Show (he was also a writer on the show) ca. 1967:

And here is a very random selection of some classic Cleese moments from Monty Python's Flying Circus:

Fans have kept the dozen episodes of John Cleese and (his wife at the time) Connie Booth's series Fawlty Towers at the top of their favorite lists since 1975, too.

There's so much more to his career, so many more clips on online, so many episodes that you must revisit!

Happy 75th Birthday to John Cleese, one of the world's most precious comedy assets!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"American Horror Story: Freak Show" -- Step Right Up, Ladies & Gentlemen for the Thrill of Your Lives!

Nothing could keep me away from the premiere tonight of FX's newest season -- the fourth -- of their excellently creepy series American Horror Story: Freak Show.  As the show has proven in its past runs, not only does American Horror Story bring on the scary in huge doses, it's also prided itself on presenting impressive and charismatic actors doing some of their best work.  Filmed with impeccable, unpredictable and lushly beautiful production values, this latest skein seems perfectly suited to creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's unique vision, as personified in the opening credits below.

Taking on the milieu of the carnival sideshow world is perhaps a natural for American Horror Story but by no means a guarantee of anything.  HBO tried valiantly a decade ago to mine the colorful and mysterious depths of Depression-era carny life in Carniv├ále, a lovely effort from producer Daniel Knauf (read a great two-part interview with him from The AV Club here) that lasted two seasons and garnered the undying love of loyal fans who still pine for a climax to the sideshow interruptus perpetrated by the network.  HBO's series was set in the 1930s; AHS: FS takes places in the early 1950s when sideshows were beginning to lose audience -- thanks a lot to TV for that -- and which should provide a gorgeous canvas for the producers to work with. At least Murphy and Falchuk know they are out of American Horror Story: Freak Show in a dozen or so episodes and can concentrate on making them the scariest, smartest, weirdest and undoubtedly mesmerizing hours on television, period.  We have no doubt they will succeed.

On a personal note, all of my life I've had a particular interest in all things sideshow, human oddities, carnival, circus and so on; American Horror Story: Freak Show is indeed the best of all worlds for somebody like me,  From what we've seen so far from advance materials, it looks like the show is going to hit all the right notes from sheer fascination (some perhaps morbid but completely genuine) to abject admiration in its treatment of the very special people (author Frederick Drimmer's term from his book of the same name) characters in AHS:FS, most of whom are played by actors with the actual conditions.

Actress Kathy Bates puts on a goatee to play a bearded woman, and Sarah Paulson plus wonderful CGI work allows her to portray dicephalic parapagus twins (two heads, one body, like well-known American twins Abby and Brittany Hensel who had their own show on TLC two years ago).  Actor Evan Peters thanks to prosthetic hand pieces plays a part clearly based on longtime real-life carnival attraction Grady Stiles and his family, Stiles being known on the circuit as "The Lobster Boy" for his ectrodactyly a.k.a. Lobster Claw syndrome. (Unfortunately Stiles was also a nasty piece of work and a convicted murderer to boot.)

Bates, Paulson and Peters are just part of the terrific cast of American Horror Story: Freak Show, a repertory company of thespians some of whom have variously appeared in all or some of the previous seasons of AHS and others who are new to the series.  The splendid Jessica Lange returns as a former famous songstress from Germany who has gathered a collection of different ones around her, Angela Bassett is a triply-endowed seductress, Frances Conroy is a well-heeled matron, Dennis O'Hare and Emma Roberts are grifters, and Gabourey Sidibe is back in a storyline that has her on the trail of her missing mother, played by AHS newcomer Patti LaBelle.  Others new to the series but coming onboard for this newest outing are the wonderful actor Michael Chiklis as a strongman, the always tremendous John Carroll Lynch as a disturbing clown named Twisty -- is there any other kind, you might ask -- and other guest stars including already announced Matt Bomer with more surely to come.  There simply is no better cast anywhere on TV.

Equally impressive and so intensely interesting because of their unique gifts are co-stars British actor/writer/musician Mat Fraser who plays Paul the tattooed seal; Rose Siggins who played Legless Suzi and was featured in a wonderful documentary about her life; actress/model and transgender crusader Erika Ervin who plays a female giantess, and Jyoti Amge, the official World's Smallest Living Woman.  I'm just going to say it -- Jyoti is the cutest thing ever, not just because she is a super-diminutive 24" tall but because she is a bubbly, giggling ball of irrepressible life.

Joyti turned eighteen two years ago --

In addition to visiting the American Horror Story: Freak Show website for great extra features and much behind-the-scenes information, be especially sure to watch the featurettes on Fraser, Siggins and Irvin.  Truly amazing.

American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres tonight at 10pm on FX.  The official show website is located here.

We'll be following up with more on American Horror Story: Freak Show as the series unfolds!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Giorgio Tsoukalos "In Search of Aliens" Season Finale Tonight!

It's not for everybody, but network H2's fascinating documentary series In Search of Aliens comes to the close of its first season tonight.  The ten-episode run which began in late July concludes with an examination of "The Alien Code" including looks at crop circles and other related phenomena.  I've always been drawn to shows of this nature, but I think that one of the chief reasons for anybody tuning in is for the enthusiastic and charismatic work of the host, Ancient Aliens spokesperson and in-and-out-of-this-world explorer extraordinaire Giorgio Tsoukalos.

Tsoukalos, he of the unique hairstyle perfect for someone who's brain is afire with unusual notions and boundless curiosity, makes an appealing guide into this world where he believes that visitors from outer space made contact with Earth eons ago.  This is far from mainstream theory, but at the very least it's intriguing and though you may deem it balderdash -- and perhaps it is -- the Ancient Aliens discipline delves into areas of study that have continued to fascinate many over the centuries.

Anybody who likes mythology, archaeology, anthropology, aviation, zoology, religion and any subject touching these could do a lot worse than coming along for the ride of In Search of Aliens.  So what if it's a little crazy?  Most importantly it's a lot of fun and never dull.

Giorgio Tsoukalos wouldn't be having such success with his Ancient Aliens series and now In Search of Aliens if he weren't a compelling personality, and he definitely is one.  Reality and documentary series rely on the hosts to provide the glue to keep audiences tuned in, and Giorgio provides plenty of staying power.  He delivers the same kind of special magic to his area of interest as the late beloved Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin used to bring to his animals, and I don't think there could be a higher compliment.  Deeply committed to his thesis, unceasingly curious, possessing powerful panache and a sense of adventure that can't help but make you enjoy going along for the ride, Giorgio Tsoukalos is what puts In Search of Aliens way above the pack.

Tsoukalos knows marketing -- his early career was working as a promoter of bodybuilders -- and that experience plus his clearly natural flair for knowing how to entice an audience keep In Search of Aliens endlessly interesting.  What we get to see in this series as opposed to his also terrific Ancient Aliens series (he's a consultant and on-air personality) is his skilled on-camera work and also his tremendously effective interaction with the people he encounters on his journeys.  He seems to get the best out of his contacts, winning them over with his honest delight in the quest at hand and the breadth of his studies.  (That, or else there's lots of unusable footage on the cutting room floor.)  Tsoukalos may be cut from the cloth of Harold Hill -- a clever and likable con man -- or maybe he's really onto something deep and historic, but either way I can't think of anybody I'd rather tag along with during the journey.

In Search of Aliens will air its season-ender tonight at 10pm, preceded and followed by more episodes of the series.  They are also available online at the In Search of Aliens official website.