Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cheers 3.6: “Coach In Love, Part 1”

Airdate: 11/8/84

Coach sees the woman he’s “going to marry” at the bar – what his Italian kin would call the “thunderbolt,” and, as she is there with her daughter, enlists Sam’s help in approaching the two. Sam gets shot down – big time – but Ernie scores rhapsodically with his dreamgirl, Irene, and soon there’s talk of marriage, romanticizing everyone’s mood, especially Diane’s. When Coach pops the question, Irene accepts; mere minutes later she gets a call informing he that she just won a 2-million dollar lottery jackpot. Diane is elated and exclaims, “Two such wonderful developments in a matter of minutes!” Irene’s response: “Yes, I won the lottery! What was the other thing?”

Beginning of the second two-parter of the season shifts focus on Coach and plays up his wonderful comic timing, particularly in the pickup scene. As the “simpleton” character, this timing is all the more crucial, as absolute character fidelity must be maintained in order for the comedy to function (just ask Jean Stapleton, whose brilliant depiction of Edith set the mold for this archetype). All this, though, is tinged with knowledge that he’s certain to face inevitable heartbreak in the conclusion of this story. The heterogeneity of emotions: a pure Cheers trademark.

Subplot involves Sam inadvertently ruining the possessions Diane left behind after their breakup. His reactions are funny – repentance mixed with just a teeny hint of happy malice.

Cold open: Norm wakes up after falling asleep during one of Cliff’s know-it-all harangues, this time about Florida, where he had gone for vacation. Cliff returns from the bathroom only to continue his bore-fest.

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

Waltons 7.19: “The Legacy”

Airdate: 2/22/79

Guess who’s back in town: Ashley Longworth…  Jr., that is. Only trouble is he’s a dead ringer for his dad, who was the old beau of Emily Baldwin, forbiddento marry her by her imperious judge father. Emily can’t rationally discern the difference, so she blindly “courts” Ashley, and withdrawals into a funk when she sees Erin making time with the handsome cadet.  It’s Ashley himself who tries to mend old wounds, telling Emily she was his father’s first true love.

Subplot: Growing pains alert: this time for Elizabeth, whose entrance into puberty is not exactly smooth sailing. Priceless: Corabeth’s face when Elizabeth asks if she should wear a brassiere!

So-so episode, enhanced by the appearance of Jonathan Frakes as Ashley Longworth. Frakes is of course best known for starring in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and he’s suitably dashing here. Michael Learned came up with the idea for this one, and she’s given story credit.

Yet another heartbreak for Erin, who’s definitely the main romance interest this season.

Waltons 7.18: “The Attack”

Airdate: 2/15/79

Stressed out from food shortages and overdemanding customers, Ike Godsey has a heart attack, and is rushed to the hospital in Charlottesville. Doctors orders: take it easy, or the next time he might not be so lucky. Corabeth, determined not to let a heart attack claim her husband’s life as it did her father’s, begs Ike to sell the store and move to Virginia Beach. Despite Elizabeth doing a superb job running the store, and the Walton boys making homemade sorghum molasses to make up for the sugar shortage, Ike decides against selling, telling everyone his customers have been just like family.

The Godseys, particularly Ike, take center stage here – their continued prominence indicates a heightened focus on the supporting players, as the primary cast members seem to be decreasing.  Fine work by Joe Conley, particularly during his expected speech at the end. To all DYOers out there: pay heed to the instructions for how to make homemade molassess!

Last appearance of Maude Gormley, hilariously portrayed by veteran character actress Merie Earle, who would die in 1984 at the age of 95!

Wonder Woman 1.7: The Pluto File

Airdate: 12/26/76

A Nazi agent known only as “The Falcon” (Robert Reed) steals the plans for a top-secret project, the Pluto File, an experiment which induces earthquakes through controlled detonations. His goal: to cause tremors in the Washington area significant enough to damage the nuclear reactor at the newly developed Manhattan Project, causing a full scale meltdown. Even worse, he’s a carrier of the Bubonic Plague, infecting nearly everyone he comes in contact with! It takes Wonder Woman’s brawn, and brain, to stop the Falcon AND work with the head Pluto File seismologist to stop he earthquakes, cool down the reactors, and keep her skin looking smooth and ever-so-slightly bronzed. I’d say she succeeds.

Mr. Brady himself takes a turn as sci-fi heavy here, and his legendary seriousness regardless of what kind of role he’s playing serves him very well. Plotwise, we sort of have a hybrid of Superman (Luthor’s plan to reactivate the San Andreas Fault) and Outbreak (the plague subplot), with shades of The China Syndrome thrown in for good measure. Actually, the scenes in the reactor toward the end do create some edge-of-your-seat suspense, even if the cheesy set looks a tad like the TV studio in Willy Wonka’s factory.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cheers 3.5: “Sam Turns the Other Cheek”

Airdate: 11/1/84

Sam breaks up with a woman because he’d just found she’s married, and after hours the enraged cuckold, Marvin, accosts Sam with a gun. Craftily, Sam maneuvers the gun away from his would-be murderer, but accidently shoots himself in the – ahem – derriere (now you got the show’s title?). When the Cheers gangs inquires about his injury, his little white lie – that he stopped a robbery with a karate kick – escalates into the lead story on the 6:00 news. Suspicious Diane gets the truth on the situation, but when Marvin returns, angered this time by Sam’s media exploitation of his adultery, both she and Sam are targets of Marvin’s ire, which she allays by revealing that she loves Sam and can identify with loving “trash.” All’s well that ends well, except Diane still wants Sam to call the news station and admit the truth. He never gets past the secretary, who is enamored with his heroism and wants a date.

Sam’s philandering ways bite him in the… (insert pun), but his nervous energy in dealing with the situation is good comic fodder. His adulation-basking and subsequent lie management again reveal a truly insecure ego behind the suave bar manager, and the show is wise not to moralize and have him do the right thing at the end.

In this episode, we earn of Sam’s three non-no’s for dating women: underage, married and comatose. (Norm: “Hmm, he added one.”)

Two subplots here are a bit throwaway: Carla’s nervous about her tooth extraction, and Norm sells his house, at an unbelievably low price, to a suspicious Cliff.

Cold open: The aforementioned breakup, with Diane cynically commenting that it will be available in paperback wherever lurid trash is sold.

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

Waltons 7.17: “The Pin-Up”

Airdate: 2/8/79

Budding photographer Ben accidentally submits a saucy pin-up-style shot of Erin to the local newspaper, which features it on the front page. She instantly becomes the fan-fave among local GIs, much to the consternation of her father, who forbids here from attending an army ceremony showcasing her beauty and talent. He eventually gives in when convinced by a lieutenant that the men see her as “the girl next door,” and would step in the minute any “wolves” tried t take advantage of her.

Meantime, Mary Ellen, spurred by an incident of a mother losing her child, becomes overprotective of John Curtis. She stops nursing, and chastising everyone for their lackadaisical care of her child. Only when the child wanders off, and John tells her that she needs to let him live for a change, does she ease up on her overcontrolling maternal hand.

Two stories of equal measure and import, tied by the common theme of overprotection. Erin’s leggy photo does look like one of those vintage 1940s pinups – and her final rationale for going to Fort Lee – the reading of a letter by a soldier who thinks Erin reminds him of a girl back home he never had the gumption to ask out – is lump-in-the-throat touching.

Waltons 7.16: “The Burden”

Airdate: 1/25/79

Jim-Bob is acting a bit more wayward these days, but when a car he is working underneath falls and nearly crushes him, he sees the error of his ways and decides to become a minister. Daunted by the years of theological study it would require, and disillusioned when he uses violence against a former buddy who teases him, he starts having second thoughts. His father gets him to reveal that his reformation was primarily caused by the guilt he feels over recent losses in his family, and the notion that his “sin” was partially to blame.

First episode without Olivia deals with her absence obliquely, through not onlyJim-Bob’s guilt but also John’s new challenge of keeping order in the family and helping each member with his or her feeling of loss. While not quite a serial drama, The Waltons always, like life, drew upon past history to inform the present moment – simply carrying on with no reference to previous shows would simply not do. Jim Bob’s identity confusion is analogous to episode 6.2, “The Stray,” where I thought Jim-Bob’s absent-mindedness was a veiled depiction of getting stoned.

Rev. Bradshaw is now the fourth minister to hold service on Waltons Mountain. He’s a bit older, so Erin can’t moon over him.

The fall of Singapore is mentioned here, making the timeline 2/15/42.

Wonder Woman Extra: “Wonder Woman,” the Cathy Lee Crosby TV Movie (1974)

Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman was not the first time our awesome Amazon graced the TV airwaves in the 70’s; in 1974, about a year and a half before the TV series pilot, Cathy Lee Crosby donned the… well, a suit, and foiled a villainous plot wearing the ol’ red, white, and blue as WW. And the results? Not exactly gangbuster ratings, and so the idea for a series was put the shelf for a while. The folks at Warner Archives have just released this hidden treasure on DVD, and so I figured it’s worth having a look-see for completion’s sake.

The setting: America, present day (nope, no Nazis as villains here), and Steve Trevor, evidently a head CIA agent, has learned of the
coordinated theft of a set of code books containing secret information about a group of field agents, which puts all their lives at risk. (Hey, wasn’t this the plot of Skyfall?) He discusses the incident with his assistant, Diana Prince, after
briefing his men on the crisis, and, through his inquiry of which country’s “dentist” she’ll be seeing on her break, it’s clear he knows the identity of her alter-ego.  Correctly suspecting that the culprit is wealthy European magnate Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban), she tramps to France and faces off against head henchman George Calvin (Andrew Prine, who looks like a cross between Keith Carradine and Police drummer Stewart Copeland). Of course, her face offs with men seem to resemble flirty pick-up lines at cocktail parties, so the formula appears to be: a) Diana and (bad guy) drink wine and have a coy tet-e-tete; b) Diana is left alone for a brief interlude; c) Diana’s life is immediately threatened either by speeding car, rattlesnake, or the good-old-fashioned attack by leather-clad thugs.

At about the halfway point, Diana dons her superhero threads, technically becoming Wonder Woman, although her actions now don’t seem much different from when she was Diana. Perhaps it’s because she’s closing in on the villian’s fortress, somewhere near the Grand Canyon. Steve had gotten a message to pay 15 million dollars in ransom money to retrieve the stolen code books, and to load the money on a burro to be abandoned in some ghost town that looks like the leftover set from Gunsmoke. Following the mule prints, WW finds Abner in his secret lair, and, after overcoming a series of traps (including a weird, trippy wall of dripping, tri-color sludge), confronts him, at which time we finally see his heretofore obscured face. After some more flirty dialogue, Abner allows WW to take the code books but absconds with the money. He tries to make a getaway on an inflatable raft but WW swims up and simply tells him he’s through. The henchman have all killed each other so only Abner is arrested; as he is driven away in a police car he gleams at WW and moons, “Wonder Woman, I love you.”

With no real special powers, skills or transformation scenes from one persona to another, Crosby’s WW is “more superspy than superhero,” according to the write-up on the DVD case, which seems a bit like a disclaimer. Nevertheless, this incarnation of the DC heroine is solidly diverting entertainment. Smack dab in the middle of the disco and polyester suit decade, this movie bears all the marks of a delightfully dated era, replete with freeze frames, acid trip commercial break bumpers, syntho-funk score, and more polyester than you can shake a stick at. The pacing and plotting is at a clip, so there’s no real time to mock the dated production values. And though Cathy Lee Crosby can never claim to be the “real” Wonder Woman, her combination of doe-eyed beauty and proto-feminist moxie is well able to sustain the film’s 90-minute running time (presaging Charlie’s Angels in many ways).

Some good supporting characters round out the cast, but the most interesting is probably Ahnjayla, one of Wonder Woman’s Paradise Island sisters, played by Anitra Ford. A turncoat, she joins George Calvin in fighting WW, but loses. Her life spared, she vows to repay her debt to WW, who only asks of Abner’s whereabouts.

PETA endorsed: Wonder Woman defeats a venomous snake by calling room service for a saucer of milk so the snake can feed while she escapes. You gotta respect such a humane, if not exactly action-packed, solution, at the expense of a good 3 minutes of airtime! 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cheers 3.4: “Fairy Tales Can Come True”

Airdate: 10/25/84

It’s Halloween at Cheers! Frasier can’t keep his date with Diane to see the Boston Pops, so he suggests Sam as his replacement, with the usual Sam/Diane insecurities keeping this from being a smooth transfer. But the big story around seems to be a sprouting romance with Cliff; dressed as Ponce de Leon, he starts up a conversation with a woman at the bar dressed as Tinkerbell, and they dance the night away in oblivious bliss. The next day, as himself again, Cliff gets a bad case of the jitters, and it takes Norm’s coaching, and Sam’s (literal) prodding, to get his gumption up again. After waiting hours, it looks like the lovelorn letter-carrier has been stood up, until “Tinkerbell” calls to reveal how equally nervous she is. Slowly, ever-so-slowly, she creeps down the stairs to meet her conquistador in shining armour, and the two dance to the strains of “Moon River” like they did the night before.

Beautifully written and charmingly acted, this one demonstrates how expert the Cheers writers are at exploring character insecurities with a deft, delicate touch. Shades of Marty echo in this sweetly-brewed “tale” – and the finale is guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart. Even the Carla’s among us will be charmed!

Great work by guest player Bernadette Berkett as “Tinker Bell,” whose tongue-tied introduction in the last scene rivals even Ratzenberg’s awkwardness.

Cold open: The Cheers gang trades scary ghost stories: Frasier regales with “The Raven,” while Coach conjures up a classic Casper episode. But the scariest of all is Norm’s empty beer glass!

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

Waltons 7.15: “The Parting”

Airdate: 1/18/79

Livy misses her husband terribly, now that is working hard as head of a co-op and must be away for long stretches of time. On Jason’s advice, John invites his wife to come with on his next trip to Virginia Beach, and she obliges, so long as she can stop and see her Aunt Kay… and get him to see a doctor. The prognosis for him is simply to take it easy; for Olivia, not so great: she is in the early stages of tuberculosis, and must stay at a sanitarium for an indeterminate amount of time.

With her eye on starring in the pilot for the 1980 CBS series Nurse, and “exhausted after doing this show 12 hours a day, five days a week for seven years,” actress Michael Learned essentially exits the series at this point (although she would make guest appearances in the last two seasons and star in the reunion movies)– the latest in a long string of cast changes in the Waltons’ later years. This, perhaps, is the biggest shakeup of them all; even People magazine devoted a cover story to it, calling her “the last bulwark of a closely bound cast.” Henceforth, the show’s writers will introduce new characters and start to focus more on town life (as set up in “The Boosters”). It also didn’t help ratings much when ABC slated HUGE hit Mork and Mindy against The Waltons at the top of this season.

As drama, this is a sad and touching episode, but it does sort of come from out of nowhere. To be fair, when Learned asked the writers to write her out of the series, what could they do – have her enlist in the army? A smart, and credible, move, and it does cast some light on the sorrow and separation caused by such a frightful disease, up until they developed a vaccination for it in the 1940s.

Subplot: Jim Bob practices the accordion, and sucks at it – but he does pull off a sweet goodbye song for Olivia.

Waltons 7.14: “The Obstacle”

Airdate: 1/11/79

John-Boy’s college buddy, Mike Paxton, returns from the war a paraplegic. The Waltons take him in, and despite encouragement to move on with his life (especially from nurse Mary Ellen), he feels defeated and prefers to wallow in self-pity. Erin attempts to get him a job as a supervisor at J.D. Pickett’s plant; when J.D refuses hire because he’s handicapped, Mike’s resolve is only strengthened and he summons the fortitude to drive himself to work and climb the stairs with his crutches… to his new job. Meanwhile Ike and Ben try a little soft shoe to audition for a USO show.

48 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Waltons were ahead of their time in rallying to the support of Mike. You might remember him from Waltons 3.2, “The First Day,” as John-Boy’s comrade in arms on his traumatic first day at Boatwright College. His character, as played by Dennis Redfield, is a bit mannered and mopey, and even though I know that’s the point it also makes him oversimplified and slightly unlikeable. A rousing, if somewhat predictable, conclusion. Ike and Ben’s rendition of “In the Mood” makes it worth the price of admission.

Time check: Spring, 1942.

Wonder Woman 1.6: Wonder Woman Vs. Gargantua!

Airdate: 12/18/76

A dastardly Nazi doctor, Erica Belgard (Gretchrn Corbett), has found a way to control a huge, powerful ape named Gargantua, and uses it to secretly capture a turncoat defector (John Hillerman) from the Americans. She and her cohorts, including Hans Eichker (Robet Loggia), decide to use their quarry as bait so that can nab the real prize: Wonder Woman. Back at the War Department, Steve and Diana enlist the help of an expert on animal behavior to determine whom they’re up against – with this discovery WW tracks down the Nazis and gets thrown into a cage with the brown behemoth, but her feminine wiles calms the monster and winds up deprogramming him. The angry Nazis make one more attempt to go after their escaped prey, but their cruel electroshock reprogramming doesn’t work, allowing WW and the Americans to swoop in and destroy the culprits of crimes against humanity – and animality.

A fun entry, with shades of King Kong adding a compassionate element to both the show and its title character – who knew she was both a feminist and ahead-of-her-time animal rights activist? Gargantia is all too obviously a man in a monkey suit, but I was surprised at how quickly I accepted it and just went along for the ride. I think it owes, in part at least, to WW’s increasingly straightforward tone and heavy and fast plotting. There’s no time to mock its production values!

Sci-fi fans may be reminded of the Incredible Hulk episode “The Beast Within,” in which the climax of the show is also a faceoff with a behemoth gorilla. You can pretty much expect the same outcome, minus the setting free of he ape at the end.

Good supporting work here, from Robert Loggia, whom we’ve seen in so many films and shows from the 70s and 80s, and Gretchrn Corbett, whose face you may recognize, particularly from her work on Family, Cheers, and Magnum P.I., and her recurring role on The Rockford Files.

Love the “Invisible Plane Theme”! (Prick up your ears for it next time, and tell me you don’t love that sultry sax.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cheers 3.3: “I Call Your Name”

Airdate: 10/18/84

Two parallel stories: something’s eating at Diane, and her sour mood sours everyone else’s. When Frasier stops by and “hypothetically” solicits Sam’s advice on a patient whose girlfriend calls out the name of an ex-boyfriend during sex, Sam deduces it’s about Diane. The two have at it (again), but this time Frasier gets involved; a true psychiatrist, he believes the two former lovers should admit if there’s a spark, and “let it rage into an inferno or extinguish it forever.” There’s no spark they tell him, and he walks away satisfies, but Diane admits there’s still something there. After kissing him passionately, Diane has the last word: “Frasier!”

The other story involves Cliff – so true to his postal uniform he rats out a co-worker, Lewis, for stealing a perfume sample from a magazine. The offender, a burly African-American, gets fired for it, and hunts down Cliff not for his guilt but his busibodiness – he can help catch the guy. Cliff’s in for it now, and when Lewis returns for a name, Cliff offers it in a sealed envelope, imploring his inquisitor to show mercy and realize the squealer is sorry and only meant to do his civic duty. Lewis reads between the lines and tells Cliff that he’d better not do it again.

Fine writing showcasing nothing but character here, in a light comic fashion. Cliff’s tale is akin to the “Cliff’s Rocky Moment” episode – this time it’s not his bluster but by-the-books pedantry that gets him in trouble. But just like in the Rocky episode he finds a way to craftily and tacitly solve the problem, even if just a slight but of cowardice still seeps through. The Sam/Diane story sifts through the remnants of their rocky relationship, and still gleans comic gold from each disguising harbored feelings for the other as accusations that the other still has harbored feelings. And we thought a dead romance would never produce for the show. But then again, was it ever a “romance”?

Cold open: Carla ends her date prematurely when she forgets she has to work; her date is disappointed that now they can’t go to the RV show, until she suggests Coach as a replacement. “I still won’t get a kiss,” he laments. Her reply: “Maybe if you ask him nicely.”

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

Wonder Woman 1.5: The Feminum Mystique, Part 2

Airdate: 11/6/78

Wonder Girl passes the test, but now Radl and Murphy want the alloy, Feminum, that her bracelets are made out of.  Murphy uses his masculine charm on boy crazy WG to get the location of Paradise Island, where the Feminum mines are located, and so a Nazi assault is launched on the uncharted island, prompting Wonder Woman to rush to the defense of her beloved homeland. Meanwhile, Wonder Girl escapes her captors, and alerts Steve to Peter Knight’s true identity, but the chief mechanic, another Nazi spy named Karl Wertz, is still at loose. Back on Paradise Island, Radl enslaves the Amazons (after subduing them all with gas bombs), and forces them to mine the Feminum, but WW and WG turn the tables on him and distributes the bracelets to the girls, enabling them to overpower their captors. They return to the states just in time to stop Wertz from hijacking the XPJ-1 (after Steve gets knocked out… again!).

Fast-paced conclusion wraps everything up quite nicely, but just a few questions:

1.     Why are Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl and the Amazons all impervious to everything – except gas bombs and even chloroform rags? Quite an Achilles heel!
2.     Which will happen first: an episode in which Steve does not get knocked out or one in which he figures out that Diana and WW are the same peson?
3.     Which dime store did they buy the obvious miniature models of WW and WG in the invisible plane shots?
4.     How did they do the scene with Lynda Carter (not a stunt woman) keeping the XPJ-1 from taking off?
5.     Does Debra Winger ever list this role on her resume?

Waltons 7.13: “The Conscience”

Airdate: 1/4/79

With war fever making the rounds with the Walton boys, only Jason has ambivalent feelings about the prospect of killing another man in combat. When he considers filing as a conscientious observer, he is chastised by everyone from drunk thugs at a bar to his own father and brother (Ben). After taking a sojourn on the top of Waltons Mountain to sort out his thoughts, he is greeted by apologetic family members, who promise to show greater tolerance. Jason has decided that he will enlist after college, believing that he should demonstrate the same call to duty practiced by his forefathers and fellow man.

Crisis of conscience exploration is reminiscent of Waltons 1.4, in which John-Boy
grapples with the killing of a deer. This time, there’s a bit more political baggage here, as we’re talking the justification of murder in war – clearly, you’ll either be satisfied or unsatisfied by the ending, depending on what your stripes are. I was a bit surprised myself, given the predominance of antiwar sentiment in the years following Vietnam; but truth be told The Waltons still swings conservative, and we were still years away from arguably the first popular antiwar film about WWII, Saving Private Ryan.

Subplot is another war related story: Jim-Bob gets an air-force tattoo, which he later regrets after realizing the wrath he must now face from his mother!

Waltons 7.12: “The Boosters”

Airdate: 12/28/78

Ben, according to his dad, is getting a little big for his britches at the mill, and so he decides to take out a bank loan for an auto lot (motor lodge) to be built near Godsey’s store, capitalizing on the influx of traffic from Pickett’s war plant. Ben forms a booster club to drum up more money ad support, but the idea is abruptly aborted upon news that the War Department has put a halt to any non-war related construction. Another idea: why not move the buildings from the abandoned mine town to Walton’s Mountain to create a new and improved town center? Again, no dice, as this idea was built upon the false rumor that a new steel mill would be coming. Finally, plan C: Ben, with some help from John, settles on the establishment of a few new stores, including an antiquarian and a new barber shop run by newly-licensed haircutter Yancy, creating a small boom on Walton’s Mountain.

Ben is front and center here, showcasing his continuing attribute as the business-minded go-getter of the family. Solid, developing story resulting in the creation of a “town center” on Walton’s Mountain – certainly will be useful as the show tries to get beyond the bumpkin setting and go in the wartime/homefront direction.

Amusing subplot involving Yancy taking a barber correspondence course. And no, it doesn’t follow he expected “earnest but lousy barber giving bad haircuts” route.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Flintstones Meet Rockula and Frankenstone (1979)

From 1979, 13 years after The Flintstones left the prime time airwaves but kept alive through reruns and numerous Saturday morning incarnations, comes this one-hour TV special, which aired on NBC on 10/30/79.  The Flintstones and Rubbles win big on a popular game show, “Make a Deal or Don’t,” and their prize is an al-expense paid trip to a haunted castle in Transylvania. Betty and Wilma love its touristy charm, but Fred and Barney are too pooped to party, so all turn in early. Unfortunately, the very real monster Rockula startles a sleeping Wilma, thinking that she s his bride. When this misidentification is cleared up, he still wants to marry her, something only possible if she were a widow. Both he, and unfinished creation Frankenstone, are all to happy to make it happen, so poor Fred has to rescue his dearly beloved and save his own skin – and salvage what clearly has turned into a real dud of a grand prize!

Loads of fun, with the usual voices (Henry Corden, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl) as the main characters. Fun to hear Casey Kasem’s unmistakable voice as the game show host, Monty Marble (can you guess the game show being parodied?). Without spoiling anything, I will say that Barney winds up saving the day with a very special skill, and no, it doesn’t involve propelling a rock-heavy automobile with his bare feet.

Also on this tape is The Flintstones New Neighbors, a 30-minute special that was part of a limited-run prime-time series on NBC, owing in no small part to the rating success of the above special. Broadcast on 9/26/80, it also features
Frankenstone, but this time as a different character: the patriarch of an Addams Family-esque clan who move in next door to Fred and Wilma. The Rubbles and Wilma are delighted, but Fred plays Archie Bunker and is upset that an oddball family has “decreased property values” in the neighborhood (yes, that’s actual dialogue). Upon hearing of Fred’s intolerance, Barney is furious (you can tell because his pupils get black and huge) and ends their friendship. Only after a picnic, in which Pebbles gets carried away by a pterodactyl and subsequently rescued by Frankenstone, does Fred see the error of his ways and ask for forgiveness from all he offended, which he gets. This classic show is out of print, but you can get it by clicking this share.

This special, I think, is even better than the Rockula one, if only for its message of acceptance and understanding. It was also nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animated Programming, and followed by “Fred’s Final Fling” in the Flintstone Special run. 

You can also read this review on Amazon by clicking here.

Not Your Father's (or Grandfather's) James Bond

Skyfall  **1/2 (out of four)

Ever since the Cold War ended, the producers of the James Bond films have bent over backwards trying to make the character … relevant. After all, no climate for a murderous double agent could’ve been better than a world divided, where brinksmanship all depends on secrecy and espionage. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, so did the Bond franchise, and it would be 6 years before the next installment, Goldeneye, hit theatres. The trademarks were back  - the cars, the drinks, the women – but the purpose wasn’t quite there; the villains still wanted to take over the world, but in an uncertain world, where the good and bad had no iron curtain to define them. Yes, Tomorrow Never Dies featured a head-baddie as a deranged Ted Turner-type megalomaniac (perfect for the mid-90s age of round the clock cable news coverage), but it did seem a bit contrived.

When Daniel Craig took over the role in 2006 he had a tall order – to rejuvenate the character, franchise and studio. In a post-9/11 world, the clear threat had to come from rogue-nation terrorism. And now in Skyfall, the 22nd Bond film, all the ingredients match up with a world that bears all but a slight resemblance to the one inhabited by Sean Connery’s Bond over 40 years ago. Here, gadget inventor Q is a young technophile who briefs Bond on all his newest gadgets like a teenager explaining to his father how the newest i-phone can attach video to a email. Moneypenny is no longer M’s secretary but an agent herself, an African-American female who actually “kills” 007 in the gargantuan pre-credit sequence. And the villain this time is a weird psychopath, in keeping with the modern tendency to make the bad guys less Grand Guignol and more just plain sick, as in Heath Ledger’s Joker from Batman Forever and Hannibal Lechter from The Silence of the Lambs (the latter even more directly copied when Skyfall’s villain is incarcerated in an isolated holding chamber, which of course he escapes from). Oh, and did I mention that he’s also a skilled cyberhacker?

About halfway through, we finally get some of the traditional Bond trademarks: the exotic locales, the Bond girls – oh, I mean women (it’s true, that’s what they’re officially called now, according to the press release), and greater use of the classic Monty Norman Bond theme. But it’s almost like throwing a bone to the Bond purists among us – Skyfall is just too danged serious, and I would never in a million years consider this escapist entertainment. (Yes, you’re probably by now suggesting that those old-time Bonds were realistic for their time, but they weren’t – in fact, many critics felt their silliness rendered them inferior to their Ian Fleming source material.) Even the violence level is stressful here. I know the Bond films have always been violent, but in Skyfall the violence is not just more frequent but also more realistically intense – the sort you’d find in a war movie (in fact, the film’s climax, a full-scale nighttime assault on a Scottish castle, reminded me of the gritty finale of Zero Dark Thirty, in which Osama Bin Laden is killed). Perhaps I’m more sensitive to violence in an age where mass-shootings where 100-plus rounds are unloaded is the norm. Or perhaps the action films are budgeted and technologically-equipped now so as to show greater carnage than before. Probably both.

I mentioned the villain earlier, and he’s played by Javier Barden, employing many of the same creepy nuances he did in his Oscar-winning performance in No Country for Old Men. This time, he uses he uses his vocal mannerisms for chilling effect, flirting with Bond in one scene, callously shooting his love interest in cold blood in the next. He’s the best thing in Skyfall, and it’s probably a mistake to delay his introduction until around the second half of the film. He’s the sort of villain, though, that you want DEAD, not charming the pants off Bond while a gold-powered laser beam inches closer to his privates, or stroking a pussycat while pressing buttons to release trap doors. So in that sense, he’s effective.

Just give him to me in a different movie. Right now, I’m going back to watch You Only Live Twice. And not be stressed out.

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