Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cheers 2.8: “Manager Coach”


Airdate: 11/24/83

Coach volunteers to be the new coach of a floundering little league team, and turns into a tyrant! Despite an improved record, no one on the team seems to be having any fun, and so Sam and Diane agree to talk to Coach to get him to cool his temperament. He gathers the team together and tells them a story – the wrong story – but turns back into Mr. Nice Guy, for the benefit of both the team and the bar.

Average episode, which means by Cheers standards it’s still pretty good. Fun to see a different side of coach. Funniest scene involves sublot: Carla attempts to breastfeed her newborn in front of everyone at Cheers, until they boo her out, calling the spectacle “indecent.” They then proceed to ogle women’s breasts in Playboy! An interesting topic, presented years before it became such a hot button subject.

Cold open: On the phone, Carla calms her baby with a rendition of “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral,” which everyone at the bar joins in on.

Norm’s opener: Norm’s already at the bar. It’s actually Cliff who has the opening entrance here, announcing his raise.

Waltons 6.3: “The Recluse”


Airdate: 9/29/77

Jason delivers a package to a recluse, a woman named Fern whose only companion is a yellow canary. Knowing the Walton children by overhearing them on the way to school, she confides in Jason her reasons for solitude: that her fiancé died in a tragic accident on the way to the altar, and that her tribute to his love is to love no other. Gradually, they develop a mutual trust, and Jason is determined to bring her to Sunday service so she can share her melodious voice with others. After much protest, she relents, and accepts the outside world into her own. Subplot: Ben forges his own path when he busses to Norfolk after hearing dock workers are urgently needed for the war effort. It so happens that John gets a huge war contract at about the same time, with no one to help out at the mill (except Grandpa, who leaves after a squabble and heads east to Norfolk as well). When Ben finally learns of his dad’s short-handedness, he returns and applies his labor to the war effort where it is most needed.

Finally: a Waltons episode that is a return to form. We’ve sort of seen this one before, when John-Boy was a tutor for the reclusive blind woman, so perhaps it takes a bit of recycling to get back to familiar turf. Guest actress Linda Marsh appeared before, but is terrific here as a sort of Mrs. Haversham, “jilted” at the altar and secluding herself between dark parlor walls in lacy finery. Leave it to a Walton boy to help her find her élan-vital!

BTW: Why is Ike delivering the sermon in the final scene? What happened to the new minister?

Waltons 6.2: “The Stray”


Airdate: 9/22/77

Mysterious footprints, missing food and spots of blood all lead to one thing: a runaway African-American boy with no record or family to speak of. John can’t figure out what to do with him, but the boy, Josh, immediately takes a liking to him and says he’s the most content he’s ever been with the Waltons. Alas, this is the 30s after all, and John rues to Olivia that adoption is out of the question – the only alternative seems to be Verdie Wilson, who, after attempting to find a special placement agency for black children, winds up adopting the boy herself. As all this goes down, Jim Bob seems to be forgetting everything; to say his head isn’t screwed on tight would be an understatement. Realizing what a space cadet he has become, he queries whether John has ever felt this way as a teenager. John says yes, Jim Bob gets it together, and all is right with the world.

Boy, is THIS a weird one. I’m not sure where to begin but I’ll start with the continuing odd visual style that began last episode. Low angle shots, more close ups, and seemingly looped dialogue put off a strange vibe that seems to suggest a different director, even though it’s the same technical crew as last year.

What on earth is the deal with the Jim Bob subplot? Maybe it’s me, and it very well may be me, but it looks like this is some kind of veiled commentary on teen drug abuse. No, I mean it – Jim Bob is stoned in this episode! Clearly a taboo topic for The Waltons, which is why my theory has merit. Watch this episode and tell me I’m wrong.

The phenomenal success of the miniseries Roots earlier in the year no doubt inspired this story of a black child and the racist climate that would not allow John to be his legal father. It actually contains some heartfelt moments that got me a bit depressed – the 70s had such optimism for the future of race relations, but how far have we really come, or even regressed? Most prescient line is spoken by John about the day a white man could adopt a black child: “Maybe in 100 years, maybe in 10 years, but not here, not now.” Actually it would only be one year – Todd Bridges, who played John, would get adopted by Mr. Drummond when he starred in Diff’rent Strokes in 1978.

I can’t neglect to mention another awkward ending. When Verdie takes Josh in, after John walks away, she tells him, “The Waltons are kind people, but they don’t know much about us folks.” Difficult to discern whether this is an attack on self-segregation, or an authentic, albeit politically incorrect, hat-tip to a divided America. Either way, it doesn’t leave you with the sunny feeling that I’m sure was intended.

Now I got it. The cold opening is just that – not a teaser but an actual scene leading into the story. The week’s has Elizabeth (in her only scene) inspecting footprints with a magnifying glass. That’s another thing: we no longer have pure ensemble shows with everyone making at least one appearance. Now with Mary Ellen married and John Boy and Grandma gone, we have entire episodes focused on one or a few characters only.

Technical point: with no John Boy, how is the present day narrator, who is John Boy, remembering things he wasn’t there for?

John still sports the same bad haircut. All for now.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cheers 2.7: “Old Flames”


Airdate: 11/17/83

Another return – Dave Richards, Sam’s old partner in slime, brings his wild, womanizing ways back to Cheers, but he can’t believe the domesticated Sam, and spitefully bets that he and Diane will be broken up in 24 hours. The happy couple realizes they must be fight-less for now: a difficult thing, especially when Diane is livid that Sam won’t get rid of his little black book. When Dave throws a gorgeous stewardess Sam’s way, Sam has an epiphany – he doesn’t sleep with her, remaining true to Diane, who’s not convinced at first that this is good thing. When she is, they both gloat that they won Dave’s bet.

Another roadblock in the chronicles of Sam and Diane – it really does seem as though any episode could be their breakup. But alas, isn’t that how relationships are? Fred Dryer reprises his smarmy role as Dave (from 1.4 “Same at Eleven”), the cad you love to hate. The treatment of Sam’s black book as an object of healing power is worth a few laughs, particularly from Cliff.

Cold open: Norm comes in, out on a date with a girl named Irene for the first time since he and Vera split up. The date is still going on – he’s out on a popcorn break while Irene is still watching Gandhi.

Norm’s opener (also in the cold open): (Coach: How’s life?) Not gonna win any awards. Someone put a brew in my face, please.

Waltons 6.1: “The Hawk”


Airdate: 9/15/77

With the departure of the Rev. Fordwick (John Ritter went “down at our rendezvous” to Three’s Company), Waltons Mountain needs a new minister, and they find one. Reverend Buchanan is, to quote Erin, “peachy,” and his dashing good looks set more than a few female hearts aflutter – first with Erin herself who thinks she’s ready for an older man, then with Corabeth, who’s “stimulated” by his taste in culture and knowledge of the Bible. Even John is surprised that’s he’s more of a man’s man than expected: playing cards, fishing, and… gasp!... going to the Dew Drop Inn. In fact, it’s John who talks him into staying after the pot boils over, and the community agrees to accept their new holy man, even if he is a stud muffin.

Season 6 opener looks markedly different from any Waltons episode before. With a firmly-rooted supporting cast, new hairstyles for nearly everyone (including John), and a new historical backdrop (with more WWII-era music and less score), The Waltons looks like a truly polished network production. But with more polish comes less grit; gone are the lengthy homilies, barefoot walks to school, and dinner-table squabbles; things seem to be a bit more adult now, as this episode looks less like rural Virginia and more like Peyton Place! Yes, we’re at war now, and the kids are older, but I also suspect that the show was starting to emulate those late-70s nighttime soaps (Dallas) and the slightly less-wholesome family dramas (Eight is Enough). Hmm – what would grandma think?

Speaking of the elders, grandpa is part of a promising subplot with a rug-pulling outcome: Zeb and Jim-Bob attempt to trap a chicken hawk (that John would rather shoot) so they can set it free on the other side of the mountain. After several failed attempts, they succeed. But Hamner’s narration tells us at the end that the hawk returned (presumably as a parallel to the Nazi “hawks” that had just invaded Poland) with the assumption that he will be shot, just as John had promised. Begorrah!

More time compression: we leap ahead a whole year, so now the show is definitely not the tidy “40 years ago” jump. The producers clearly wanted the season premiere to be the beginning of WWII.

Cold open features a scene not in the episode: Erin declaring to Olivia that she’s found the man of her dreams, and that she’ll marry him. A very bad freeze-to-sepia follows.

Waltons 5.24: “The Achievement”


Airdate: 3/17/77

John-Boy is nervous that he hasn’t heard from the New York publisher he sent his novel to; afraid that it got lost in the mail, he takes a bus to the Big Apple to track it down. He finds it: it’s in a pile of unread manuscripts, so he entreats the publisher herself to read it by Monday so he can wait over the weekend. While discussing the ideas for his novel, he flashes back to key moments (actual flashbacks from previous episodes) in his life that shaped his writing career. During the wait, he visits Belle Becker, the mother of the deceased writer who authored all of Elizabeth’s favorite detective books; he gets an autographed copy of one such book and an unfinished story to take back home to Elizabeth.

John-Boy returns home with wonderful news – his novel will be published! All rejoice, but later that night, he subtely communicates to Zeb, Olivia and John that he will move to New York, the city that ignites his passion almost as much as writing does. As the family says their final good nights, he stands outside of the house, and speaks his final line to them, “Good night everybody. I love you.”

Milestone episode is Richard Thomas’ last episode as a regular cast member. While not the end of the series, it’s sort of akin to Mike and Gloria leaving All in the Family: it’s certainly the end of an era. Series creator Earl Hamner wrote this episode, and it’s impossible not to tear up during the final 10 minutes – his goodbye to the family is not the usual one-by-one hug-and-kiss affair. Instead it’s a tacit, understated affair – appropriate for parents who knew this moment of empty nesting was coming all the while. Scribe Hamner knows what is not said is just as important as what is spoken. Definitely one of the top 10 Waltons moments!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cheers 2.6: “Affairs of the Heart”


Airdate: 11/10/83

Carla is hesitant to talk to a man who’s disturbing her; his offense – he’s attracted to her (why all the nerve!). After the two start something she begins to wonder what’s up, until Coach spills the beans to the Cheers crowd: the man, Hank, has a delicate heart condition that could prove fatal if he gets over excited. Sam and Diane dash to the lovebird’s would-be location of assignation to attempt coitus-interruptus. It turns out they hadn’t even gotten started, but Carla reacts angrily to this new revelation about Hank. His reasoning: he tried to be cautious, but went against his better judgment when he saw how beautiful she was. Rather than risk fate, they agree to end it, and keep the happy memories.

Another Carla-centered, Heide Perlmen-penned episode which keeps peeling back the layers of the Cheers characters – to reveal, in this case, frailties and insecurities beneath the exterior. Our second look at Diane’s apartment is the climax, or lack of it, of this show, and there’s a real softness to the depiction of Hank’s character – an average joe who just wants to be happy, despite his limitations. Doesn’t that really describe everyone at a bar, and everyone period for that matter?

Cold open: Hank mistakenly calls Carla “cutie”; Diane consoles her by saying someone called her “honey,” which makes sense, according to Carla, because honey is “bee barf.”

Norm’s opener: (Coach: “How’s life, Norm?”) “Ask a man who’s got one. (Sam gets him a beer) Here’s mine now!”

Waltons 5.23: “The Go-Getter”


Airdate: 3/10/77

When Ben and John-Boy have a spat about work, Ben goes to work for a shady used car dealer, and immediately assumes the role of a slick salesman. He does well, but the cars are lemons, and when he sells Mrs. Brimmer a real heap, the family turns against him. Ben follows his conscience and fixes the car… with a strong assist from Jim-Bob. And Sarah Griffith is back (from “The Hero”) and Olivia thinks she and Ep Bridges would be a good match. After a frustratingly noneventful double date, Ep proposes to Sarah.

The matchmaking concept is pretty much taken from the season three episode “The Matchmaker” (even down to the double-date) when Olivia tried to hook up Ike and Corabeth. This pairing is just as successful, so Livvy might just be the Yente of Jefferson County!

Time compression: It is now the Spring of 1938, which jumps ahead a year (up until now, the time period of each Waltons season is exactly 40 years prior to airing). This is most likely so the timeframe can start incorporating WWII events into the stories.

Waltons 5.22: “The Hiding Place”


Airdate: 3/3/77

The Baldwin Sisters’ niece, Hilary, comes to Waltons Mountain after living in Austria for several years. Several receptions are held in her honor, but John Boy is frustrated that she won’t answer her questions about the growing dominance of the Nazi party in Europe. In fact, most everyone resents John-Boy’s warning about the threat overseas, except Jason, who wants to join the National Guard, much to the vehement disapproval of his mother. When Hilary sees Jason in uniform playing piano, she faints; it is revealed that he had reminded her of her own son, who was killed by Nazis, prompting her to flee the country and her husband, a German diplomat. Resolved to continue the fight to protect her loved ones, she returns to Vienna right before its fall to the Nazis.

Another WWII-foreshadowing episode, analogous to season one’s “The Ceremony,” also about European refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Increased focus on “the winds of war” possibly sets up its involvement in the next season’s shows.

Prolific actor Jean Marsh (co-creator of Upstairs Downstairs) shines in her emotional role as Hilary, although her English accent makes it a bit hard to buy her as an American.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cheers 2.5: “Sumner’s Return”


Airdate: 11/3/83

Another return, this one of Diane’s ex-fiancée, Sumner Sloane, who had jilted her in the pilot episode. Agreeing to let bygones be bygones and wanting only forgiveness and friendship, he invites her to diner to meet his new love – she accepts, but does not invite Sam. When he finds out, he accuses her of being ashamed of him, and to prove otherwise she invites him to the dinner after all. Ill-advised by Cliff and Norm, Sam reads War and Peace in five nights to prove he’s no intellectual lightweight, and after the dinner, punch drunk from sleep deprivation, he shows his annoyance over having been sidelined all night, correctly accuses Sumner of trying to get back together with Diane (claiming his new love interest was “sick”), and entertains the notion maybe their pairing may be the best outcome after all. Diane returns to Sam, a bit incredulous, who asks why; after all, “he read War and Peace too.” Diane: “Yes, but he didn’t read it for me.”

The guest actor who started it all – Sumner – makes a triumphant, and pretentious, return to Cheers, and thinks Diane is the same snooty highbrow she was before. Well, she is, but maybe just a bit more rough around the edges. The salt of the earth at Cheers will do that to a girl!

We’re expecting the dinner date to be the real laugh fest of the second act, but that scene is never depicted; rather, it’s Sam’s punchy condition in the aftermath, and his frustration and insecurity over his relationship with Diane, that mines most of the comic gold here. Oh, and stay ‘till the end – this has one doozy of a last line!

Cold open: Sumner’s actual return; he defends his presence to a clueless Coach and a not-so-forgiving Carla.

Norm’s opener: Returning from a ball game, he mutters a few remarks before it is revealed he was kicked out of the stadium for taking his shirt off – it was creating a distracting glare for the athletes.

Waltons 5.21: “The Long Night”


Airdate: 2/24/77

Without Grandma, Zeb’s heart aches mightily – learning his wife will not return home as soon as he had hoped, he raises such a ruckus that he is barred from entering the hospital ever again. Meanwhile Aimee Godsey has troubles too; Corabeth, learning from a book, won’t let her stepdaughter do anything besides ballet, practicing French and listening to classical music. She runs away – to the Waltons, and asks Zeb to be her grandfather, reaffirming his purpose in life.

Nice dovetailing of two separate stories at the end, again making good usage of Grandma’s continued absence from the show. Aimee Godsey, as played by Rachel Longaker, is developing well as a character. Longaker would play this role for quite a while, and outside the show starred in several Afterschool Specials, as well as Night of the Demons 2 in 1994. Well, it was something.

Waltons 5.20: “The Heartbreaker”


Airdate: 2/17/77

Jason falls head over heels in love with Curt’s sister, Vanessa, a recently divorced woman, but their affair causes a scandal among the conservative folk of Waltons Mountain. Singing together one night at the Dew Dew Drop in, she is spotted by a country music singer and his manager, and is offered a job out in Nashville, which she accepts. Heartbroken, Jason is consoled by his dad, who tells him that she is a free spirit, just like the ducks Jason wanted to tame when he was a boy. Subplot: Zeb is outraged by his depiction in John-Boy’s novel, until the boy explains some of his word choices.

If Jason is going to risk his neck to dally around with, in some people’s eyes, a married woman, she’d better be worth it – and boy is she ever! Guest actress Linda Purl is a knockout here, even better than her previous appearance in the 3rd season’s “The Spoilers.” Ending is inevitable, but again, an experience we can relate to all too easily.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cheers 2.4: “Homicidal Ham”


Airdate: 10/27/83

Derek McGrath returns as ex-con (for murder) Andy; after he fails in his attempt to rob Cheers, Diane takes him under his wing and sees his transgression as a cry for help. Confessing his secret passion had always been acting, he is encouraged to follow his dream, despite still hearing this mother’s voice ringing in his head! Diane invites her old drama mentor to a special performance of Othello between her and Andy, but when he becomes livid with jealousy after seeing her kiss Sam, he can’t differentiate his emotions from those of the famed Shakespearean wife-murderer. The bar folk can sense something’s up when Diane cries for help – the only line of Shakespeare Coach could ever understand. And the kicker: Diane’s mentor loves Andy’s work – “He’s convincing! There’s a real murderous intensity about him!”

A perennial fan favorite, this episode brings back another fan favorite, Andy from Cheers 1.17, “Diane’s Perfect Date.” Now, and in then, part of the fulminating delight is watching Andy steadily become unglued – and the dramatic irony of everyone loving his work not realizing why he’s so good at depicting the mad Moor. Nice supporting work by Stephen Darden as Diane’s mentor, Professor Dewitt.

Cold open: Carla tries to keep the sympathy train rolling by pretending to still be pregnant, in spite of her pillow shifting around.

Norm’s opener: Norm’s already at the bar.

Waltons 5.19: “The Inferno”


Airdate: 2/10/77

John-Boy wins a newspaper contest and the grand prize: an all-expense paid trip to Lakehurst, NJ, to witness the arrival of a German, hydrogen-fuelled airship named the Hindenburg (you might have heard of it). John-Boy is uber-excited to go – everything goes as planned until (spoiler alert) the Hindenburg explodes, turning euphoria to carnage in mere seconds. When John-Boy returns to Waltons Mountain, his trauma over witnessing the incident gives him severe writer’s block, curable only with a woodcutting-induced fulmination of vivid memories… and emotions.

Side story: Curt isn’t getting enough alone time with Mary Ellen, until Olivia suggests the ol’ geranium trick (oh come on, you know it).

A rare intersection of story and history here as John-Boy plays Forrest Gump and sees history in the making – or at least stock footage of it. In fact, these scenes are nearly undone by how obvious it is that the actors are merely reacting to rear-projected newsreel footage. Now I know the Waltons crew had a limited budget, but c’mon, this really is Ed Wood time. Maybe 70s TV audiences were less media savvy, I don’t know.

Cheap effects aside, some good acting here, although the slow-motion tree chopping scene was a bit freaky. Splintered family is now Grandma and Mary Ellen-less. Thank goodness for holidays!

Waltons 5.18: “The Hero”


Airdate: 2/3/77

As per Grandma’s wishes, John-Boy helps organize “Hero Day,” an event honoring all of Jefferson County’s WWI veterans, both fallen and living. While doing research, he finds that Sheriff Ep Bridges was not only a veteran but a decorated hero; however when he approaches the sheriff about his war experiences he has no interest in recollecting those days, as the war emotionally scarred him with its bloodshed and horror. While in Richmond researching, John-Boy stirred the interest of a woman working for the Red Cross; it turns out the woman was an ambulance driver in the war and Ep’s first love – they are reunited on Walton’s Mountain and recall the lives during and after the war.

Honor Day also reopens the old wounds for John and Zeb as well – John’s brother, Ben, never survived the war nor made it back. He’s buried somewhere in France, and there is no grave for him as there for the other soldiers, until Ben and the boys construct a beautiful, hand-wrought bench with Ben’s name engraved on it: a small but sober reminder of the ones that never made it back.

This is another winner – a quiet, touching salute to the veterans of war while revealing more family history, the sort that isn’t talked about as often. Bridges speech to John Boy about war is a heartfelt reverie that has all the antiwar impact of All Quiet on the Western Front, a classic novel (also about WWI) whose TV adaptation Richard Thomas himself would star in two years later.

Ellen Corby’s absence still explained by having Grandma still in the hospital, “getting better.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cheers 2.3: “Personal Business”


Airdate: 10/20/83

Diane has taken one too many ribbings from Carla, and is disheartened when Sam doesn’t automatically defend her, so she resigns and lands a job as a publishing house proofreader. Only catch: she needs a recommendation from Sam, who sings her praises, and is asked what she looks like naked. Shocked, Diane berates her would-be employer and accepts her job at Cheers when Sam re-offers it. After thinking about it (uh-oh!), she considers that Sam’s job offer is just as sexist and objectifying as her publishing boss’s; Sam counters that perhaps he’s the one being objectified, given that she doesn’t think much of his looks. Diane’s proposal, that they each absolve carnal pleasures with each other to test their platonic, mutual respect, lasts all of 3 minutes as they rationalize it right out of existence!

More pillow talk, Cheers-style, keeps the Sam-Diane relationship as maddening as it is irresistible. Both characterizations are true, especially Diane’s, whose personal, righteous philosophy is what always keeps her head held high, and the cause of most of her troubles. Subplot involving Norm’s breakup with his wife is an interesting twist – its lack of resolution could also signal an episodic treatment of this storyline. We shall see.


Norm’s opener: (Coach: Like a beer, Norm?) Something in a size 54 – sudsy.

Waltons 5.17: “The Career Girl”


Airdate: 1/27/77

Erin graduates high school, and at the ceremony, Mrs. Fordwick, rather thoughtlessly, announces that Erin has no future plans. Traumatized, she takes a job as a waitress at a truck stop, but when Jason stops a man from grabbing her, he is punched in the face. Wallowing in guilt and self pity, she tries to help John-Boy buy a typewriter by working at a business school. Stunned by the gesture, he arranges a deal to offer school free advertising in his newspaper in exchange for Erin’s tuition at the school. Meanwhile, Ike Godsey is resentful that he’s not included in John-Boy’s novel.

Erin continues to be in the spotlight with Mary Ellen gone; this time she gets several emotional scenes with her newest breakdown. This show establishes her as prospective office worker/secretary, and from the epilogue, we know that she will marry.

Some nice new score movements; for the last 10 or so episodes, a different musical theme underscores many scenes – it reminds me a bit of the Roots score: very country, Americana.

Waltons 5.16: “John’s Crossroad”


Airdate: 1/20/77

Hard pressed for work, John takes on government work in Charlottesville, but finds getting used to a stuffy office job to very difficult. The boss, Mr. Morgan, is a strict, pedantic martinet who won’t even allow a window to be open! A fellow worker, 20 years on the job, is tired and frustrated, waiting out his tenure only to get his pension, and pining for the days when the job used to be more fun. Finally, John’s is pushed too far, and quits his job, observing that he could no longer be a “caged animal” for the rest of his life.

One of my favorite episodes dealing with a great theme: the sterility and oppressiveness of the business world. It’s all too real to me, having had similar jobs; don’t we all know people like the ones in this office, lifelessly existing just to receive a paycheck, tolerating treatment no one would ordinarily go through? The final scene of the office story, the aforementioned co-worker looking around after John’s abrupt departure, then, in an act of small rebellion, going over to open a window, is right up there with Jack Lemmon tossing away the potted palm in Mister Roberts.

Subplot ok, about the boys getting too old to go along with Zeb to do outdoor stuff and Elizabeth being the only volunteer left. Olivia, in a rare act of insensitivity, scolds Zeb for treating the girl too much like a boy. Note to producers (if this were written back then): get a second-unit to shoot NEW STOCK FOOTAGE. All the stuff you use looks like it came from a 50s educational film!!

Grandma’s absence (since “The Rebellion”) is finally explained in this episode: she has an indeterminate illness, and is awaiting tests at the hospital in Charlottesville. In real life actress Ellen Corby suffered a serious stroke, and will not be featured for the rest of the season.

Milestone: Olivia has a, presumably alcoholic, drink at the Dew Drop Inn: an Orange Squeeze.

Only the second Waltons episode with a title not starting with “The.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cheers 2.2: “Little Sister Don’t Cha”


Airdate: 10/13/83

Carla goes into labor, and asks her sister, Annette, to fill in for her at the bar. Annette, (also played by Rhea Perlman), looks angelic and squeaky-clean, but looks can be deceiving. She gets around… and fast, accepting dates by men at the bar within her first hour of hire, including Cliff, who falls head over heels in love with her and plans on popping the question. It takes his friends at Cheers, particularly Norm, to give him a taste of reality – and inevitable heartbreak.

A true family affair, both onscreen and off: Rhea Perlman plays two characters in this episode, and her younger sister, Heide, wrote it. Part of the hilarity in the first act deals with the contrast between Annette’s meek, mousy demeanor and true ravenous ways – illustrated most perfectly in her scene with Sam in the back room. The second act’s most notable moment occurs between Cliff and Norm, in their first dramatic scene together, which establishes them as good friends, not just bar buddies. Their dialogue presciently straddles the awkward line between male-bonding and their fears of getting “too close.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

Cold open: Diane gives her order to Sam, as new lovers could only do, much to the disgust of the others at Cheers.

Waltons 5.15: “The Elopement”


Airdate: 1/13/77

Erin is ecstatic to reunite with a former heartthrob, a forestry student named Chad Mitchell (from episode 4.8: “The Competition”). Their passion is rekindled quickly, as Chad intends to remain on Waltons Mountain permanently, already having bought a tract of land with which he plans to build a house on. He pops the question, and she accepts, but John and Olivia object, believing Erin is too young and should finish school. Frustrated, they elope in the middle of the night, but Erin backs out at the last minute, disgusted at the “ceremony” conducted by the local justice of the peace. Other plot: Ike goes out of town to visit relatives, leaving Jason to watch the store. He instructs the boy to accept only cash except from friends – when Maude Gormley runs up a hefty tab, Jason assumes that she is a friend, but Ike orders, “No credit from Maude.” John-Boy straightens things out: Maude brings in paintings of birds to sell to bay off her bill.

Michael O’Keefe returns as Chad, and they seem a good match (better, in my opinion, than Mary Ellen and Curtis). Hard to believe elopements like this took place, but they did – particularly with the convention of marriage so strong. According to Hamner’s epilogue, Chad stayed on the land and finished up his house, leaving a possible return of the character to future episodes.

Waltons 5.14: “The Ferris Wheel”


Airdate: 1/6/77

Elizabeth has recurring dreams nightmares not being able to get off a ferris wheel, and when she starts sleepwalking to dangerous places, John and Olivia get concerned. John-Boy speculates that she’s trying to bury her fear of being left alone on the ride, something that actually happened last time the carnival came to town. When it arrives again, he attempts to “cure” her by riding the wheel with her, but when she sleepwalks to the ferris wheel at night, Ben and John-Boy must rescue her; there they discover the truth the ferris wheel operator left her alone so he could stash stolen jewely in a nearby cave. When he returned, he was struck and killed by one of ferris wheel carts, all as Elizabeth watched.

Suspenseful mystery/thriller that might just do Stephen King proud. “Special effects” of Elizabeth’s dreams are just superimposed imiages with chiller music underneath; it reminded me a heck of a lot like the Night Gallery opening credits – in fact, this could be one such episode. Nice work, writers Rod Peterson and Claire Whittaker.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cheers 2.1: "Power Play"


Airdate: 9/29/83

Picking up exactly where the previous season left off, Sam and Diane agree to start a relationship, but the road to first sex is a bumpy one indeed. First, the couple can’t exit the bar until Sam finds away of making their first assignation location “special.” When they agree on her apartment, Sam’s eagerness to start frustrates Diane’s romantic side, and he promptly gets thrown out. Back at the bar, the gang advises him to be the man and take charge; when he returns heeding just such advice (and breaking down the door), she, doe-eyed, slips into something flimsy… and proceeds to call the cops, admonishing that violence has no part in a relationship. Dejected, and defeated, he gives in to her lustful side; just before the big moment, he wonders why she doesn’t call off the cops. When she admits her bluff, he secretly throws all her stuffed animals out the window before going back into the bedroom.

The relationship from hell is about to begin – popcorn, anyone? This is an aptly titled show – chronicling one afternoon and evening, this is a masterful game of one-upsmanship – a nasty, sometimes ugly exercise in deceit and insecurity: in short, the game of love. We finally get to see Diane’s apartment, and this also may be the first substantial time spent outside the bar.

Bravo once again to writers (and show creators) Glen and Les Charles, and to Shelley Long and Ted Danson- astoundingly good characterizations and razor-sharp repartee. I think the mass appeal of a show like this is the idea that we’ve all been in relationships like this. We know how they usually turn out, but as they say (and Diane quotes), “Fools rush in, where wise men fear to tread.” So why do we do it? As someone else famously said, “Love makes such fools of us all!”

Cold open: The last scene of the previous episode, “Showdown, Part 2.”

Norm’s opener: Norm’s already at the bar.

Waltons 5.13: “The Rebellion”


Airdate: 12/23/76

Esther’s position as the sole church organist is in jeopardy; it seems Rev. Fordwick wants Zelda Maynard to alternate playing services with her. No one wants to break the news, and no wonder – when Esther does finally find out, she hits the ceiling. Only the reasonable, pallative words of her son convince her that sharing is a Christian virtue.

Also – Olivia is having another midlife crisis (she thinks it’s menopause, but it’s not). With odd mood swings and feelings of insignificance, she lets her hair down, literally, and gets Corabeth to give her a perm. You guessed it: it’s a mess, making her look like a cross between Medusa and Shirley Temple. Everyone laughs, but Verdie Foster lends her a turban, and John suggests they go off together for the night – in a motel room!

Featherweight episode is yet another installment of Olivia’s unsatisfied housewife chronicles. This time she resorts to a tried-and-true TV trope: the bad hair job – and let the laughs begin. Other plot is another recurrent theme here: Grandma’s stubbornness, only this time, she actually threatens to become a Methodist!

Most politically incorrect scene: Olivia, with the mucked-up coif, asks African-Amercan Verdie Foster how “you people” straighten your hair.

Grandma’s last episode of the season.

Waltons 5.12: “The Last Mustang”


Airdate: 12/16/76

Ep Bridges is up for reelection as sheriff, but he’s got competition: a young, suave outsider named Glen Oldfield, who beats Bridges in looks, personality, money and connections. John-Boy intends to cover the campaign fairly in his newspaper, but reluctantly takes a job from them printing out leaflets and publicity material. As a result, he gets advertising offers from companies miles away, and John Sr. gets a very profitable contract to build park benches. Are there strings attached? You bet – John-Boy discovers that Oldfield is using this election as a stepping-stone for the state senate, and reveals this on the front page. Of course, John’s contract is cancelled, and the advertisers dry up, but Oldfield loses – he visits John-Boy at his office, apologetic for the way things turned out.

Side story: a wild mustang romps through Waltons Mountain in all its mythical, majestic glory, until a greedy local captures it, ties it up, ad tends to use it as a sideshow attraction to drum up local revenue. Zeb’s dander is raised –considerably, and he’s on a vendetta to free the animal. According to the law, though, it’s finders keepers, so when the mustang breaks free, Zeb and the others track it down to brand it, owning it legally but letting it run free so others can’t capture it.

Lovely episode with two parallel plots that ostensibly aren’t related but actually deal with the integrity of the land and its denizens – brethren or bestial. The slick talking campaign manager is the real heavy here; Oldfield himself just seems like a young politico swept up in the business of the machine and the assumptions that anyone can be bought or swayed. Zeb once again has a beautiful, heartfelt speech about the mustang and all that it represents. Who writes these speeches for him? He or she ought to do publicity for the National Park Service.

Mary-Ellen’s husband, Curt, is marginalized here -  he only shows up at the end. Let’s hope he’s more heavily featured in episodes to come.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cheers 1.22: "Showdown, Part 2"


Airdate: 3/31/83

The job Norm got from Derek is a fizzle, Coach’s Spanish doesn’t land him a new coaching job, and Diane has mixed feelings about going away with Derek to Paris – because she wants to be with Sam. All this serves as a prelude to the “Showdown” between Sam and Diane in the poolroom. After acknowledging this could be the start of something, Dane proceeds to critique Sam’s lack of romantic spontaneity, escalating into a full-fledged sparring match where the rules of attraction are hindered only by their aversion to each other. The episode ends with an insult-incited kiss, tempered coolly, once again, by Diane carping about Sam.

Sexual chemistry? Let’s talk St. Elmo’s fire! Second act of this episode is almost exclusively the aforementioned mono-a-mono, with dialogue that is as witty as it is… well, normal. Haven’t we all been through the nonsense that is the bickering between two fools in love? Writers (and show creators) Glen and Les Charles know it al too well, and they distill it, effervescently, in this 30-minute package of sheer comedic bliss. Bravo to all involved, and, now with Sam and Diane ostensibly a couple, on to season 2!

Cold open: a repeat of Cheers 1.5: the scene after the midpoint commercial break: a janitor who works with mutant viruses at a biology lab stops by Cheers for a beer, and after he leaves, everyone partakes in a ballet of cleaning fluids and wipes, all clocking in at 13 seconds!

Norm’s opener: (Coach: How you doin’, Norm?) On top of the world – some dismal spot in Greenland.

Waltons 5.11: “The Best Christmas”


Airdate: 12/9/76

Uh oh- this can't be good!
As the Walton children begin to make their way out into the world, Olivia wants this year’s Christmas to be the best ever. Unfortunately, while everyone is scattered about in preparation, the weather conspires to thwart her plans. While Grandma and Grandpa arrive back from Maude’s, the snow gets too heavy and they must camp out in a hotel lobby; when Jason is practicing music at the church, a large tree falls through the room, threatening Sunday service; and John-Boy, Curt and Mary Ellen must brave frigid waters when they rescue a woman and her daughter after they veer off the road and plunge into a river.

With all this havoc, what are they chances the Walton family will all be together for Christmas? You guessed it: 100%!

Interestingly, this is the first Christmas episode since the pilot movie, “The Homecoming,” back in 1971 (I theorize it’s because of the difficulty in approximating a snowstorm on the Burbank lot in California where the show is filmed). I also think it’s the last Christmas all the original Waltons are together under one roof – we’ll see. I’m just glad the family has a holiday without some kind of tragic disease or infirmity. 

Waltons 5.10: “The Pony Cart”


Airdate: 12/2/76

Martha Corinne, Zeb’s sister-in-law, comes to the Waltons for a visit. With her immediate family deceased or moved away, she’s become lonely of late, and her stay with such a large family ruffles a few feathers as she’s used to having everything done her way. When John-Boy offers to take her home to visit her late husband’s grave, he discovers of her ill health and weak heart; concerned for her well-being and contrite over the way the he has treated her, he insists that he take her back to his family, with the promise that he not tell them about her health issues. Olivia catches on, though, and after he spills all, Martha is outraged. Before she leaves, she wants to help Ben paint his pony cart; after they take it out for a test drive, she finds some daises to pick, and dies on the field as she inhale the sweet aroma of the flowers.

Martha Corrine, as played by Belulah Bondi, was such a scene-stealing character in The Waltons third season opener, “The Conflict,” that the producers wisely wrote a return for her. This is a charming, simple story whose best moments are the family stories Martha tells; they have an authentic antiquity about them, tinged with the curdled edges and sepia tones of old family photographs. We can’t help but think of our own family histories, and might even pause to consider the immeasurable value of our elders, as they are the caretakers of our history, familial, societal and cultural.

This was to be Bondi’s last film or TV performance. She died 5 years later at the ripe young age of 92.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cheers 1.21: "Showdown, Part 1"


Airdate: 3/24/83

Sam’s brother, Derek, is in town, but Sam, having always been in his shadow, is less than elated. Diane tries to convince him that he shouldn’t feel inferior to anyone, but that’s easier said than done when Derek wows everyone at the bar with opera singing, pool tricks, tap dancing and teaching Coach Spanish! Even Diane falls under his spells, even agreeing to fly with him on his personal jet to Martha’s Vineyard. Sam’s secret longing for Diane starts to show when he semi-subliminally implores her to stay; she seems to respond accordingly. So heavy does this weigh on his thoughts he can’t even concentrate on his knockout date for the night! To be continued…

We know season one would come to a head like this, and the writers were wise to mine all the soap it was worth in a two-parter. The fractious chemistry between the two yields some fantastic give-and-take, the likes of which we really hadn’t seen since those classic ping-pongy screwball comedies of the 1930s – interesting to note how ABC was doing the same thing, with sleeper hit Moonlighting.

Interesting touch: We never see, only hear, Sam’s brother.

Cold open: Diane forces culture on Cheers by playing opera on the bar TV; an outraged crowd feigns sleep so she goes away, exasperated. They agree to give it one more chance… for 2 seconds.

Norm’s opener: Norm’s already at the bar.

Waltons 5.9: “The Great Motorcycle Race”


Airdate: 11/18/76

Jim Bob, with a knack for fixing and operating anything with wheels and an engine, wants to enter a motorcycle race, to be publicized by the Blue Ridge Chronicle. Olivia, naturally, is against the idea, but changes her tune when she understands how Jim Bob is different from his brothers. Borrowing Ike’s motorcycle, he enters, but he’s clearly a underdog, given the state of Ike’s hog next to those of his competitors. Of course, he wins, proving everyone wrong.

In the parallel plot, Ike and Corabeth adopt a baby boy, but when they go to the agency, the baby’s mother has a last minute change of heart. While there, the couple sees an orphaned girl named Aimee, whose parents died when she was young; they decide to adopt her instead, but before she can assimilate she and Corabeth have a heart to heart talk.

Rollicking episode is relatively John-less (he appear for about two minutes). The big race at the end is fun, if predictable, and major points awarded to Rachel Longaker as new cast member Aimee Godsey, who is cute but not overbearing. Clearly acting skills are on the producers’ minds these days: not-so-hot thespian Debbie Gunn has been quickly replaced in the role of Patsy Brimmer, Jim-Bob’s new love interest. She’s now played by Eileen McDonough (no relation to Mary).
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