Hooray for Halloween #2: My 5 favourite hilarious and/or scary sitcom episodes

minipixel via photopin cc
minipixel via photopin cc

 

It’s not that often that “BOO!” is followed by thigh-slapping gales of laughter and raucous guffaws – unless of course someone thought to turn True Blood or The Walking Dead into sitcoms (it can only be a matter of time surely) in which case laugh away as you have the bejeezus scared out of you – but in sitcom land, usually in the week preceding Halloween, it happens all the time.

Now seasonally-themed episodes are nothing new of course in television-land since they’re a handy hook on which to hang all sorts of fun plot devices and character explorations but sitcoms are especially fond of them, and in most cases do them very well.

Here are five episodes of which I am especially fond either because they’re (a) funny, (b) insanely clever, or (c) and let’s face I wouldn’t have included them if they weren’t, a winning combination of the two.

So grab your Blanket o’ Protection, throw yourself on the sofa, and get set to laugh and recoil in terror, sometimes all at once …

 

DHARMA AND GREG – “A Closet Full of Hell” (S2, E6, 1998) 

 

(image via youtube.com)
(image via youtube.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
It’s Halloween and Dharma and Greg are throwing a party. Before the party they find a hidden closet filled with freaky looking dolls. Dharma senses they are evil and takes them all down to prepare to get rid of them, [yet] when she returns the next day all of the dolls have been placed back in their original spot, [along] with two new dolls that look like Dharma and Greg. Abby and Dharma decide to do an exorcism. They feel better until they hear footsteps coming from the closet, [at which point] they go in they see a doll hanging from the celling, a frightened Dharma screaming when they see an elderly women pop out from a trap door. They meet with the woman and much to Dharma and Greg’s relief the woman, who made the dolls as a hobby, has been the one moving them around. She invites them over for tea later that night. When they go over to the house a man answers the door and says that the old women they had talked to died fifteen years ago. Dharma and Greg are shocked and run away. Jane and the old women appear in the door, revealing it was just an [elaborate] Halloween prank. (source: tvrage.com)

 

This is golden Dharma and Greg.

With the exception that normally chilled, let the universe do what it wants Dharma is the one freaking out while Greg does his best to calm her down and allay her fears.

That is until it begins to appear as if there is something unsettlingly evil afoot, at which they both jump on the freaked out wagon.

While you suspect Jane is beyond it all, you’re not really sure until she and the woman appear in the doorway to confirm they are behind it, part of an ongoing series of pranks that have bounced between the two best friends for years.

No one does seriously spooked like Jenna Elfman, although watching calm, serious, considered Greg shed his grip on dismissive ratinalism, one screw at a time, is deliciously fun to watch and never grows old.

 

 

COMMUNITY – “Epidemiology” (S2, E6, 2010)

 

(image via robotplunger.com)
(image via robotplunger.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
The Dean purchased a bunch of old army rations from a military surplus store. Mixed in with all of them was some sort of army experiment in biotechnology, one that turns otherwise ordinary living people into something very much resembling zombies. Pierce is the first to turn, but once he does, the virus spreads rapidly throughout the Halloween party. Soon enough, the only ones who aren’t infected are Dean Pelton, outside, and Troy and Abed, locked in a creepy basement with the zombies approaching. And then Abed sacrifices himself to save his best friend (sniff) and Troy has to make a choice: Does he embrace what he’s becoming – a nerd – or go back to the cool guy he was? (source: avclub.com)

“Epidemiology” has it all.

Zombies, ABBA tunes, the kind of narrative insanity that only Community can get away with, all wrapped around a touching story about Troy embarking on some very meaningful character growth.

If that all isn’t enough, and in Greendale’s universe it almost never is, we get the utterly expected hookup between Shirley and Chang, with both characters giving into the sort of quite understandable impulses that grip people in dire, and seemingly unsalvageable situations (which is pretty much what a horde of zombies banging at the door of the bathroom you’re sheltering in would definitely qualify as).

So we get funny and scary and meaningful all wrapped up in one drooling, flesh-craving loopy package, that perfectly taps into the over the top larger than life vibe that defines this most flamboyant of holidays, while simultaneously capturing the insane spirit of this most envelope-pushing of sitcoms.

 

 

THE BIG BANG THEORY – “The Middle Earth Paradigm” (s1, E7, 2007)

 

(image via edptest.wordpress.com)
(image via edptest.wordpress.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
After a disastrous afternoon of paintball, the guys come back to the apartment where Penny invites them to her Halloween party. After a miscommunication leads to the four guys dressing like The Flash, they all change and go with Leonard as Frodo, Sheldon as The Doppler Effect, Howard as Robin Hood and Raj as Thor. Not accustomed to parties with normal people, they feel out of place but when Leonard tries to socialize, he discovers that Penny’s hulking ex-boyfriend Kurt has shown up and is attempting to patch things up. Leonard is undaunted and tries to get him to leave despite the man’s massive size. The unfortunate encounter leads none-the-less to his first kiss with Penny. (Written by Jerry Roberts/ source: imdb.com)

The first season of any show is make or break time, and The Big Bang Theory‘s writers wisely decided to use their first Halloween episode to further establish the dynamics of the group of the four friends at the centre of the show, and give one of them in particular, Leonard, the chance to get tantalisingly close to the object of his fantasies, across the hall neighbour Penny.

We get to see Sheldon and Leonard’s room mate relationship in full flight, Raj’s inability to speak to women on full, cringe-worthy display and Howard indulging once again in the mistaken delusional belief that he is romantic catnip to women.

It’s all so hilariously, fish out of water tragic and yet poignant as all get out as Leonard is given that most out of reach of prizes – a kiss with the woman of his dreams.

It’s exactly what any sitcom should use a seasonally themed episode for – advance what we know about the characters against the background of a highly unusual background and have a whole lot of fun in the process.

 

 

FRASIER – “Halloween” (S5, E3, 1997)

 

(image via complex.com)
(image via complex.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Roz (Peri Gilpin) tells Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) that she may be pregnant, while Niles’ (David Hyde Pierce) imagination and paranoia get the better of him when he hears Frasier and Daphne (Jane Leeves) shared a room together after a long night out. It all comes to a head at his Halloween party when he confuses Roz’s situation for Daphne’s, and assumes Frasier is the father. (source: complex.com)

Thanks to my parents love of finely crafted British sitcoms, one of the things I grew up loving more than anything was ever more ridiculous, over the top escalating farce.

One simply misunderstanding, and a few half-understood conversations later, with everyone not just on different pages but in completely separate libraries, and you had the makings of a situation so funny it wasn’t unusual to mind me rolling on the floor with laughter, tears streaming down my eyes.

Frasier is one of the few US sitcoms I have come across that knew how to set and execute a farcical situation, and actors talented enough to know what to do with it.

“Halloween” is one of the best examples of Frasier in full farce mode with the Chinese whispers, and ass-making assumptions in full glorious flight and all manner of amusing, rib-tickling scenes springing into being as a result.

It is one of the funniest episodes of any sitcom I have ever seen and just the thought of it has me clutching my sides, ready for a laughter-induced tuck-and-roll onto the carpet.

 

 

FRIENDS – “The One With the Halloween Party” (S8, E6, 2001)

 

(image via friends.wikia.com)
(image via friends.wikia.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Monica and Chandler are having a costume party for Halloween. Phoebe bumps into Ursula who is getting married in a week and invites her in return for Ursula’s invitation [to her] wedding. Phoebe really likes Ursula’s fiancé Eric [and discovers that] Eric and Ursula only met two weeks earlier and  that Ursula told Eric a lot of lies about herself. Phoebe tells him the truth about Ursula while Rachel is trying to be good with children by handing out candy and money after the candy is gone. (source: imdb.com)

 

A very funny episode with a reasonably serious core – Phoebe’s eternal sibling rivalry with her “evil” twin Ursula, who came out on Satan’s side of the womb – “The One With the Halloween Party” features Chandler in an emasculating pink bunny costume (doesn’t Monica know him at all?), Ross trying some nerdish punnery – he combines a potato and a Russian satellite and comes as “Spud-nik” (you may groan now) and Rachel trying to buy love with candy, and when that runs out, money.

What it did well was give each character a chance to strut their stuff – Chandler perpetually insecure about his masculinity, Ross desperately trying to be hip, Joey being, well Joey, Monica running the whole thing with military precision, and Rachel, still looking to be universally loved, trying everything to make every single trick or treating kid adore her.

But the star of the show, and the one with the meatiest storyline is Phoebe, whose ditziness obscures a heart of solid gold, one which is appalled pretty much constantly by the scheming depths to which her estranged twin Ursula will stoop in order to get what she wants.

While everyone else struggles with their own minor dramas, she does the right thing and helps Ursula’s intended husband to dodge a deceitful bullet.

It’s touching and sweet and very true to who Phoebe is and elevates this episode above the general run of the mill Halloween fare.

 

 

Hooray for Halloween #1: Funny or Die’s pop culture fright night

Billy Eichner and Rachel Dratch from the hilarious team at Funny or Die encounter all manner of pop culture horrors (image via crushable.com)
Billy Eichner and Rachel Dratch from the hilarious team at Funny or Die encounter all manner of pop culture horrors (image via crushable.com (c) Funny or Die)

 

You think werewolves, and skeletons and goblins and vampires (oh my!) are truly scary?

You don’t know scary!

Wait ’til you’ve seen Billy Eichner and Rachel Dratch from Funny or Die, a “comedy video website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions” (wikipedia) go through one of the most frightening haunted houses ever and then we can talk.

The dark and nightmarishly hilarious video is filled with all manner of pop culture horrors – Grey’s Anatomy is still on TV! Katy Perry is the smartest woman in the business! – which may or may not have you running for safety depending on your point of view.

Whether you agree or not with all the sentiments expressed, it’s a very funny video – which is good because videos voted unfunny are sent to the site’s “crypt” to die – a sage reminder that there is as much to fear out there in entertainment land as there is to delight in.

You have been warned … enter at your own risk.

 

Movie review: The Butler

(image via impawards.com)

 

It is very early on in Lee Daniel’s The Butler that the world in which Cecil Gaines, a character loosely based on the life of black White House butler-turned-maitre d’hotel Eugene Allen, a man who dutifully served eight US Presidents from Eisenhower to Reagen,is brought starkly to horrifying life.

In the last moments before his life somewhat melodramatically implodes at the hands of the estate’s capricious owner, Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer), Cecil is warned by his much-loved father as they pick cotton in the fields of a plantation in 1920s Macon, Georgia, that “it’s his [the white owner’s] world; we just live in it” and that he must quietly and self-effacingly get by in it as best he can.

It is this sage advice, necessitated by the most unjust, and often cruel, of situations, in which the laws of the land have changed (to some extent) but not the social attitudes governing day to day life, that governs Cecil’s reactions to the oft-changed life that follows.

Inducted into the estate’s house by Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave), he is taught how to serve others to an impeccable degree, a life skill that sees him move from a hotel in a regional city to life at one of the swankier establishments in Washington D.C. where he is headhunted to his eventual position in the White House, where he begins work in 1957.

 

The traumatic events of his young life, in which Cecil loses both his parents, Earl (David Banner) and Hattie (Mariah Carey), powerfully inform his later life (image via ctvnews.ca)
The traumatic events of his young life, in which Cecil loses both his parents, Earl (David Banner) and Hattie (Mariah Carey), powerfully inform his later life (image via ctvnews.ca)

 

Throughout his storied career at the heart of US power, side by side with fellow butlers Carter Wilson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and James Holloway (Lenny Kravitz) Cecil strives to remain apolitical and largely invisible, preferring to heed the advice of Maynard, his boss at the regional hotel, who cautions him to always remember he has two faces – his own and the one his white bosses will see.

Even as the tumultuous events of the twentieth century overtake him, dragging one of the sons he has with wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey in a masterful performance), Louis (David Oyelowo) into the burgeoning civil rights movement, he sticks studiously to this taciturn path, unwilling to upset the social apple cart he so carefully put in place many years before.

Nevertheless, by dint of his diligent, self-effacing service, he becomes a confidante of sorts to the Presidents he serves, finding his life irrevocably affected by decisions taken by, among others, Eisenhower (Robin Williams) whose decision to send in troops in support of the forced integration of schools in Arkansas, leads him to tell Gloria that “this is thew first time I ever saw a president stick his nose out for us.”

John F Kennedy (James Marsden), who follows Eisenhower into office, much to previous vice-president Nixon’s (John Cusack) chagrin, is similarly enriched by his association with the butler who never sought to have any influence with anyone in power but indirectly wielded it regardless.

Not every President bonds with Cecil quite so strongly – Nixon and LBJ being cases in point – but all of them notice this most taciturn of men, and willingly or not, find themselves changed, even if only in part, by him.

 

JFK (James Marsden)admits to Cecil that his counsel has change him, proof that the White House butler's life had an impact far beyond anything he might have initially envisages (image via c-ville.com)
JFK (James Marsden)admits to Cecil that his counsel has change him, proof that the White House butler’s life had an impact far beyond anything he might have initially envisages (image via c-ville.com)

 

It is a pity that Danny Strong’s otherwise strong and beautifully nuanced script, overreaches in this regard by attempting to cram too many events into the film’s running time.

While it is a laudatory and often deeply affecting strategy, which seeks to give as full an account as possible of the significant events of the civil rights movement from the Freedom Riders to Martin Luther King Jr and rise of the militant Black Panther movement vis-a-vis Cecil’s carefully ordered world, its busyness means that we fail to get a real sense of how close he becomes to each of the Presidents and how this affects them.

Most of the actors who play the Presidents, which include Liv Schrieber as LBJ and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan – Jane Fonda offers a fine particularly fine performance as Nancy Reagan – are given a conversation or two at most, and while the dialogue makes it clear there is a rapport here between the perenially uncomfortable Cecil, and the powerful men who seek his quiet counsel, we’re not really given a chance to see it organically develop.

Similarly as the momentous events of the civil rights movements unfold, we get glimpses at best into the world that Louis plunges headlong into and which Cecil, afraid of the reactions it may unleash (and some of these counter-reactions are, as you might expect, quite violent), watches from afar until late in life when, as a retired man, he reconciles with his estranged son- who is reminded by his mother Gloria in one particularly moving moment that “everything you have and everything you are is because of that butler” -and outwardly fights for the equality he obliquely agitated for up to that point.

 

Though troubled at times, and often playing second fiddle to his career, the marriage between Gloria (Oprah Winfey) and Cecil (Forest Whitaker) is the mainstay of his life, and its eventual passing through death deeply saddening (image via o.canada.com)
Though troubled at times, and often playing second fiddle to his career, the marriage between Gloria (Oprah Winfey) and Cecil (Forest Whitaker) is the mainstay of his life, and its eventual passing through death deeply saddening (image via o.canada.com)

 

That is not to say that the film lack any real meaningful emotional or social commentary impact as a result.

The Butler, despite this perhaps overly ambitious intention to tell all the stories there are to tell about Cecil life’s as they occur against the wider struggle of black and white politics in the latter half of the twentieth century in America, is a deeply affecting recounting of the transformation of one man’s world and the society in which he has done his best to exist throughout his long life.

It may lack some narrative and emotional depth, and some of the relationships are given short shrift as a result but by and large, the film succeeds in its goal of bringing home the import of the tumultuous changes that America went through between the mid-1950s and the election of the first black President in USA history, Barack Obama, whom Cecil meets shortly before his death.

Life in America changed forever in those years and through the lens of one quiet man in the back rooms of the White House, played to perfection both physically and dramatically by Forest Whitaker, The Butler, affectingly and richly brings it to life in ways that might otherwise have passed many audience goers by.

 

 

The Walking Dead lives on for season 5!

And they're back! Well the ones who survive season 4 anyway (image via @WalkingDead_AMC)
And they’re back! Well the ones who survive season 4 anyway (image via @WalkingDead_AMC)

 

It will hardly come as a shock to anyone familiar with the ongoing, ever-building successful of AMC’s highest rating scripted series The Walking Dead that it has been renewed for a fifth season.

With the premiere episode for season 4 ratings its decayed body parts off – according to blogs.amctv.com “the premiere episode set a new record for the series, delivering 20.2 million viewers, live+3, and 13.2 million adults 18-49, a new record for any non-sports cable telecast” – it was pretty much expected that the show, much like the zombie apocalypse in which it is based, would go lurching on and on and on.

It’s something that even the president of AMC, Charlie Collier, had to acknowledge in his announcement:

“We are very happy to make what has to be one of the most anti-climactic renewal announcements ever: The Walking Dead is renewed for a fifth season. This is a show that has erased traditional distinctions between cable and broadcast. Its expanding base of passionate fans has grown every season, most recently — and most notably — with the season four premiere earlier this month, which broke viewership records for the series and became the biggest non-sports telecast in cable history. On behalf of the incredible team on both sides of the camera, thank you to the fans and here’s to more Dead.”

The “well duh” nature of The Walking Dead‘s renewal also triggered some mischief on Twitter with TV.com particularly having some fun with it …

 

(image via Twitter)
(image via Twitter)

 

Given the way the show is rating, and the fact that Scott Gymple is returning as showrunner, along with executive producers Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert, Greg Nicotero and Tom Luse, I would wager that tv.com’s optimism is well founded.

The odds of the show still being around for a few more years are better than excellent, especially given AMC’s earlier announcement that the creator of The Walking Dead universe is also working on an allied series set in the same apocalyptic universe.

Never have so many zombies looked so good.

The Walking Dead series 4 is currently showing on AMC.

To re-imagine or not to re-imagine: That is the great TV show question

marimoon via photopin cc
marimoon via photopin cc

 

Picture this my TV-watching friends.

[cue wavy, migraine-aura like swirls that traditionally usher in a dream scene]

It’s 2042 and TV executives are huddled around a table, pondering which new shows they should commit to beaming directly into each citizen’s neural net.

As always it’s a hard task, complicated by the fact that recent advances in virtual reality interfaces have allowed people to create their dramas and adventures to the point that TV shows, such as they still exist (if only in the sense that people still quaintly refer to them as TV shows) are increasingly fighting for space with “Marg and John fight the Martians with Tequilas” and “Tom’s Ten Lovers … and a Dog.”

How do you re-capture a fractured, viewing public’s attention with that kind of ability in the hands of each and every person?

One way, of course, is to simply resuscitate ye olde veteran TV shows, with a faintly discernible twist, but call it re-booting so it’s not immediately obvious you are being hopelessly derivative and doling out pixelated comfort food for the masses.

The people naturally will greet the re-arrival of one of their favourite old TV shows with the joy reserved for re-acquainting with an old superannuated friend … that is until they realise that was then and this is now and their friend isn’t as funny, dramatic or engaging as they used to be.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

This is how The Walking Dead, which only finished 10 years earlier after a record breaking 22 season run, comes to be the star attraction of the 2042-2043 television season with everything much the same save for Rick’s new companion – a laser-shooting 3 armed monkey called Wayne.

Think that’s ridiculously over the top and far fetched, and the product of a fevered prophesying brain (granted Nostradamus I am not)?

Think again.

For, just a few days ago, it was announced that both Murder She Wrote and Charmed, two shows which ended their runs in 1996 and 2006 effectively, would be re-booted for discerning “modern” TV audiences, in one case only 7 years after the show has ended.

 

 

In the case of Murder She Wrote, which starred the wonderful Jessica Fletcher and ran for 12 seasons from 1984-1996, the term being bandied about is   “re-imagining”, a favourite of producers wanting to emphasise the fact that this is their wholly unique, fresh and clean take on an old property.

Here’s the official logline from NBC (via huffingpost.com) confirming their take on the amateur literary sleuth’s adventures:

“This re-imagining of Murder She Wrote — from Desperate Housewives Executive Producer Alexandra Cunningham and starring Academy-Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) — is a light, contemporary procedural, in the vein of Bones or Fargo, following a hospital administrator and amateur sleuth who self-publishes her first mystery novel. Set in a day where sensational headlines inundate the news, this woman’s avid fascination with true crime leads her to become an active participant in the investigations.”

Now I am a huge fan of Octavia Spencer and have no doubt she will do justice to the role of Jessica Fletcher, largely due to the fact that she seems to be bubbling over with enthusiasm at the thought of playing this iconic figure (via deadline.com):

“I’ve always considered myself an armchair detective and in a recent meeting with Bob Greenblatt, he asked me what type of character would be able to lure me to TV. Naturally, I said ‘J.B. Fletcher’ meets ‘Colombo’ … And here we are. I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to work with Dave Janollari again, and Alex Cunningham a brilliant writer who shares my love for all things mysterious and Angela Lansbury.”

But that is not the point.

What we should be asking is doe the world need another take on Murder She Wrote (with exactly the same theme music no less), which let’s face it was as “light” and “contemporary” as they came in its day – I actually loved the show believe it or not but I’d hardly describe in terms other than those used for the “re-imagined” version; a HBO drama it was not – and especially so soon after the original, when there are so many other original stories waiting to be told?

 

 

Charmed too is being given the “re-imagining” treatment according to vulture.com, with CBS ordering a pilot script from one of the co-creators of Party of Five Chris Keyser and partner Sydney Sidner.

It makes sense, as vulture.com points out that CBS, which owns the right to all of Aaron Spelling’s shows would do this given what’s dominating the zeitgeist right now:

“… horror and fantasy are hot right now on TV: The Walking Dead is TV’s biggest show among viewers under 50; American Horror Story: Coven has been massive this fall; Lifetime is doing okay ratings with the Charmed– inspired Witches of East End; Once Upon a Time is ABC’s biggest Sunday hit; and NBC’s Grimm has been one of the network’s few success stories in recent years.”

But in the case of Charmed, it’s only been seven years since the evil-fighting witches played by Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan left the world to fend for itself, hardly long enough one would think to offer any sort of fresh, new perspective, no matter how talented Keyser and Sidner are.

Granted movie houses have been habitually doing it for years – think just about any superhero franchise going i.e Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Planet of the Apes – but that had been largely blamed on studios’ creative bankruptcy, their imagined need to re-tool a property to make it more shiny and new for the increasingly ADHD generation.

But the TV industry has been largely, though not wholly, immune from this trend, preferring for the most part original, edgy programming, well on cable at least, over re-warmed, derivative ideas (save for the same old sitcom premises and setting just about every drama in a hospital/police station/law firm).

While that is still largely true, there are signs that Movie Re-Bootism is showing signs of infecting TV-land, a worrying development that won’t be good for anyone (save TV networks coffers).

Here are three thoughts on the rise and rise of the re-boot:

 

Fabiana Zonca via photopin cc
Fabiana Zonca via photopin cc

 

(1) Comfort food shows create undiscerning TV viewers
Committing to a new, untested TV series is a big deal these days.

For the studios it evolves take a big financial risk on a show that may not resonate with increasingly distracted viewers – though this risk can be ameliorated somewhat by using a well known actor such as Robin Williams (The Crazy Ones) or Michael J. Fox (The Michael J. Fox Show) – and for viewers, up to their eyeballs in tweets, overloaded PVRs and ebooks, one more show too many.

So the easiest option for both parties is to take a show with high pop cultural visibility, especially if it rated well back in the day, and with nip here and a tuck there, present it once again to viewers who don’t have the time or inclination to try something bold or different.

As an overworked consumer of all things pop and cultural myself, I understand where the dynamic comes from, but it doesn’t result in TV that is remarkable or challenging or creatively cutting edge in any way.

It’s junk food for the masses, and while it can be entertaining, it’s hardly going to push any creative envelopes, making TV all the poorer for it.

 

x-ray delta one via photopin cc
x-ray delta one via photopin cc

 

(2) If you’re not doing anything really new, why bother in the first place?
Since the shows are usually brought back to life with the promise they will largely be like the old version – Murder She Wrote will even be using the original theme music for goodness sake! – with maybe a small twist or two, with eye to serving up a recognisable non-threatening, non-controversial, nostalgia-laden show to people, there is no real need to channel the twists embedded in the revived show into an interesting new format instead.

Simply insert whatever vague “new” ideas you have into the old format, heat it up slightly, cast a current well-loved actor and voila – new show on the schedule!

It begs the question though – if all you are largely doing is updating an old show, then why not simply keep replaying that old show? Nick at Night and countless other channels do very nicely out of nostalgia and people are fine with the shows just the way they have always been – and if you want to update it in some way such as new tech in Murder She Wrote then why not throw a little extra effort into the mix and create an entirely new show?

Either way the old show should be left alone and the emphasis placed on new and exciting shows.

 

brianfling via photopin cc
brianfling via photopin cc

 

(3) Not every re-booted show is Battlestar Galactica
Ronald D. Moore’s bold, visionary take on Battlestar Galactica, and to a lesser extent Kenneth Johnson’s V are those rare examples of old shows that were updated with pleasing results.

Tour de forces of creativity, especially in the case of Battlestar Galactica, they were exciting shows of their own, in addition to redefining the shows as we then knew them.

But those success stories are few and far between.

For every Hawai’i Five-O, which is part way into its fourth season, there’s an Ironside or a Charlie’s Angels or a Knight Rider, shows which looked like sure bet given their built-in fan base but which failed to realise the potential of the original premise.

And in most cases, spectacularly, and ignominiously crashed into oblivion.

There is no such thing as a sure bet in television, even when it’s a re-imagined version of an old successful property.

So while I understand why shows like Murder She Wrote and Charmed are being resuscitated, it is by no means a slam dunk ratings wise, and is especially troubling when the old shows are barely in the televisual grave (of course with syndication, very few old shows ever truly die).

Perhaps the TV networks should be paying more attention to taking the kinds of risks that cable entities like HBO and AMC take all the time, since as The Walking Dead has proven, if they take off, they will be worth 100 “re-imagined” old shows.

I think even Jessica Fletcher would likely agree with that sentiment, re-born or otherwise.

[cue head back … and laugh]

 

The Walking Dead: “Isolation” (S4, E3 review)

Sasha doesn't look at all happy to be out of the loop and in isolation (image via spoilertv.co.uk)
Sasha doesn’t look at all happy to be out of the loop and in isolation (image via spoilertv.co.uk)

 

“No matters what happens, we’ll cope. We have to.” (Beth to Maggie)

Never has an episode of The Walking Dead been so accurately titled.

The sense of isolation,  never normally in short supply in a hostile apocalyptic landscape where humanity’s remnants are stretched few and far between, is palpable and potent, almost to a catastrophically suffocating degree.

Glenn (Steve Yeun), who is among the people who fall sick and are consigned to an isolation award in Block A, and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) can look but can’t touch (even when digging graves in the cemetery which is surely when you need a sympathetic shoulder to lean on).

Maggie, who remains healthy, and a similarly robust Beth (Emily Kinney), who is sent into quarantine with all the children including Rick’s daughter Judith in the admin block, can only talk through a thick, wooden door.

Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman, angry and shaken to the core, and alternately enervated, and then sucked dry of the ability to move, by his profound grief over the death of Karen (and David; which leads to a nasty bout of fisticuffs between he and Rick), can only say a hopefully temporary goodbye to a gravely ill Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), who may or may not last till her brother, Bob (Larry Gilliard Jr), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Darryl (Norman Reedus) return with the vital antibiotics everyone needs.

Rick (Andrew Lincoln), still not quite back far enough from his dark place, and Carl (Chandler Riggs) are separated when the younger Grimes is sent to act as protector to the vulnerable minors in the admin block.

 

Carol finds herself carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, especially after Rick asks her what she wouldn't do for the good of their beleaguered group (image via comicbookmovie.com (c) AMC)
Carol finds enveloped by a million kinds of trouble, especially after Rick asks her what she wouldn’t do for the good of their beleaguered group, a loaded question if ever there was one (image via comicbookmovie.com (c) AMC)

 

Carol (Melissa McBride), the burden of the small prison world fallen onto her shoulders, her heart ripped to shreds by Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) succumbing to the virulent illness (though still well alive at episode’s end), and guilt eating at her  from the inside out, cut off physically and emotionally from everyone she holds dear.

And Hershel (Scott Wilson), who bravely and selflessly enters the isolation ward with elderberries, a natural remedy apparently for flu-like conditions and the only way some people are going to survive till the pharmaceutical cavalry arrives, cutting himself from his two daughters but not Glenn, to whom he offers pragmatic but comforting words about hanging in there.

People, people everywhere and not a soul within reach.

Everyone is maddeningly, profoundly, awfully alone and there’s nothing to be done about it.

(Ironically, this is one episode where Michonne, usually away from the prison on her endless, lonely quest to track down the Governor, is forced by recent injury to stay close.)

Save of course for following Hershel’s always sage advice and simply getting on with whatever your “job” is.

“There’s so many times we haven’t been able to do anything, change what was happening, what was happening to us. We wished we could but we couldn’t. This time I can. I know I can. So I have to …”

You step outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. And nowadays, you breathe and you risk your life. Every moment now you don’t have choice. The only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for.”(Hershel)

They’re wise words and in the context of a highly emotive episode, in which nothing seems to happen but everything does, they are immensely moving and the sort of call to arms that the group, splintered into a thousand ailing pieces, needs desperately to hear.

Hershel’s rallying cry, delivered softly and with a pragmatic earnestness as he tries to convince Maggie, watched passively by starkly silent Rick (on his own quest to find Karen and David’s killer, a quest in which he succeeds with surprising results), to let him do what she knows must be done, isn’t much to hang onto in one sense, but in a world where succour is hard to come by, and oblivion beckons like an over-eager angel of death, is’s pretty much all you have to cling to.

What are you still alive for? What is the value of your life? And should you keep on living, an even handed proposition with death prevalent within and without the prison, what will your legacy be?

It’s lot to wrestle with but in a episode suffused with amounts of emphatic existential angst so vast that not even troubled world of The Walking Dead has seen its like before, everyone has time to ponder, think and mourn and Hershel’s word are timely.

 

The Walking Dead Isolation Bob Darryl Michonne
Oh what a lovely day for a drive in the countryside! Just be careful of mounds of walkers under wheel (image via seriable.com (c) AMC)

 

But it’s not all sorrowful, sackcloth and ashes, moaning and gnashing of teeth (unless you’re a walker in which case, chomp the hell away).

There’s also quite a bit of action what with Carol getting caught outside the wire fence unclogging the water supply, and only saved in the nick of time by a quick thinking and fast moving Rick.

And Darryl, Michonne, Bob and a visibly grieving Tyreese hitting the road to get vitally needed antibiotics from a vet hospital that might not have been raided by people stripping pharmacy and hospital shelves bare, and finding themselves bogged in a great big pile of slushy walkers.

In a truly terrifying scene walkers as far as the eye can see besiege them, and they barely escape into the woods with their lives (Tyreese making good therapeutic walker-killing use of his rage), without their car, and isolated even further from their family and home back at the prison.

Isolation is a theme that repeats and repeats and repeats throughout the episode, a reminder if ever we needed one  that life in the apocalypse is about as alone as anyone can get, no matter who’s around you.

But the episode also underscores, in ways big and small, that the only choice is to pull together, do your “job”, play your part and hope that somehow things “end up OK” as Hershel reminds Glenn at one point.

It’s an awful lot to hope for, but with “Isolation” ending on a cliffhanger of sorts, hope is about all they have going for them in a very dark hour indeed.

* Check out the promo and sneak peek at next week’s episode “Indifference” …

 

 

Great questions of our time: What do the fox and Cookie Monster say?

Hmm ... what do the fox and the monster say exactly? Let us think and chomp on this a while (image via break.com)
Hmm … what do the fox and the monster say exactly? Let us think and chomp on this a while (image via break.com)

 

A couple of days ago via Twitter, Sesame Street posed two vitally important questions via two delightful Vine videos chock full of their trademark wit and pop culture knowingness, and to save us lying awake at 3 am pondering what the answers could possibly be, gave us those as well!

Two videos are an absolute short-and-sweet delight, wonderful riffs on the current viral music sensation “What Does the Fox Say?” by Ylvis.

First up, Cookie Monster asks “What does the fox say?” which is followed by the fox asking in return, and quite rightly too, “What does the monster say?”

Now, not only do I have all the answers I have ever needed, I have ALL the happiness.

ALL of it.

Thank you Sesame Street once again for making my world a more smiley place.

 

      

 

Frasier reunion: Another wonderful serve of tossed salad and scrambled eggs

(image via popwatch.ew.com)
(image via popwatch.ew.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane (Grammer) returns to his hometown of Seattle, Washington, following the end of his marriage and his life in Boston (as seen in Cheers). His plans for a new life as a bachelor are complicated when he is obliged to take in his father, Martin (Mahoney), a retired Seattle Police Department detective, who has mobility problems after being shot in the line of duty during a robbery. Frasier hires Daphne Moon (Leeves), as Martin’s live-in physical therapist and care giver, and tolerates Martin’s dog Eddie (Moose). Frasier’s younger brother Niles (Pierce), a fellow psychiatrist, frequently visits. Niles becomes infatuated with, and eventually falls in love with, Daphne, but does not confess his feelings to her until the final episode of the seventh season. (source: wikipedia.com)

I could eat tossed salad and scrambled eggs all the day long (and much of the night too if needed) if Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney, Peri Gilpin and Jane Leeves were serving them to me.

And in manner of speaking they still are as I pull out the DVD boxsets containing all 264 episodes of Frasier that were broadcast between 1993 and 2004, and watch them as regularly as is humanly possible.

The show hasn’t dated a bit and remains as smart, funny and character-rich as it was when I first saw the episode ‘lo those many years ago.

Not that long really I guess but long enough to justify getting the gang together for a reunion special, part of this year’s Entertainment Weekly’s special series of TV show reunions that have been running over the last couple of weeks, as well as in their magazine.

Granted the interviews are brief and tailored to a breakfast show audience but it’s so good to see everyone sort of together again – the guys in Chicago and the girls in L.A. – and be reminded once again how great they all were together.

Frasier is without a doubt one of the finest sitcoms ever made and I am glad they chose to honour this amazing enduring show.

 

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Back to the Future the musical? Yes please!

(image via geektyrant.com)

 

Great Scott!

Could they be making a Back to the Future musical?

Alas no, not yet but if they did, and they totally should, this would be the perfect song to include in it!

The amazingly talented folks at Cinefix have made one of their legendary Homemade Movies, starring Dustin McLean and Piotr Michael, about the pivotal clock scene in the first Back to the Future movie (1985) where Marty (Michael J Fox) is desperately trying to return to the then present from 1955 with the help of Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd).

The song, which is as catchy and memorable as they come, features the Doc’s trademark phrases and a lovingly faithful recreation of the pair’s desperate attempts to have everything in place for that all important lightning strike!

Oh the money I would pay to see this in an actual musical! (I totally would; that or hide in the wings overnight till the theatre reopens.)

While I am unlikely to be reaching for my credit card anytime soon, which is a real pity, there is this wonderful song to keep me company in the meantime while I wait.

You hear that Cinefix? I’m waiting … you guys are so talented to could totally write a whole musical … seriously I’ll wait … let me know when you’re done … kthxbai …

 

 

And this is how it all got made …

 

 

Weekend Pop Art #8: Grumpy Cat and Disney together? Believe it!

"A Whole New No" - Grumpy Cat joins Aladdin on his magical flying carpet ... and clearly isn't happy about it (image via laughingsquid.com (c) TsaoShin aka Erik Proctor)
“A Whole New No” – Grumpy Cat joins Aladdin on his magical flying carpet … and clearly isn’t happy about it (image via laughingsquid.com (c) TsaoShin aka Erik Proctor)

 

Grumpy Cat, a feline who has yet to find a person, event or circumstance he can’t regard with glum disinterest, and the inhabiter of one of the more prevalent, virulent, and yes, hilarious memes on the worldwide web, has been embraced by Disney.

Well in a manner of speaking.

Talented artist Erik Proctor, who goes by the artistic nom de plume of TsaoShin, has created a series of vividly coloured illustrations which place the most negative cat on the planet front and centre in the midst of the Mouse House’s unrelentingly positive tales such as The Lion King (now the Circle of No), Beauty and the Beast (Tale as Old as No) and Aladdin (A Whole New No).

It is the ultimate marriage of complete opposites, as inspired a series of pop culture musings as I have seen, and you can see the full range of the artist’s immensely clever art at Proctor’s DeviantART page.

(source: laughingsquid.com)

 

The Circle of No ... Grumpy Cat has little time for the inspiring tale of The Lion King (image via laughingsquid.com (c) TsaoShin)
The Circle of No … Grumpy Cat has little time for the inspiring tale of The Lion King (image via laughingsquid.com (c) TsaoShin aka Erik Proctor)