Friday, June 28, 2013

Cheers 4:20: “Save the Last Dance for Me”

Airdate: 2/27/86

“The Boston Boppers” is back in town – a 60s dance show that Carla and Nick were regulars on, and perhaps the two can make the magic happen again. Alas, their inability to get along when not cutting a rug keeps them from entering together, so Nick signs up with his wife, Loretta, and Carla with Sam, who initially declines lest he be labeled too “graceful.” Come competition time both couples get eliminated, but Nick protests, and asks his ex-wife to dance to “Unchained Melody” to prove to everyone why they were once considered king and queen of the dance floor. They win, and Carla celebrates, alone, back at Cheers. Nick invites her and Loretta to come to Hawaii with him; his answer comes in the form of a raw egg.

 Fun, charming episode with a great highlight – the dance contest, an “American Bandstand”-style show replete with corny emcee and great rock ‘n roll music. Funniest fall on Cheers thus far: when Carla’s original dance partner, a legendary hoofer, falls down the stairs outside the Cheers front door. We do get to see him carried away in a stretcher, but I think it would have been funnier for him to remain anonymous.

Cold open: Woody wants some pointers on how to converse with a woman from Diane, who drives him away with boredom when she rambles ad infinitum about herself.

Norm’s opener: Woody: “How’s life, Mr. Peterson?” Norm: “I look at it every once in a while when I’m on the john.”

Wonder Woman 3.11: Pot of Gold

Airdate: 12/22/78

A British financier named Thackeray plans to smuggle counterfeit plates into the U.S., to exchange for gold from a two-bit hood named Bonelli. The source of the gold? A eccentric, stubborn old man who bears more than a close resemblance, in appearance and behavior, to a leprechaun! When he is robbed of his glistening plot, he goes after (as leprechauns are wont to do), and with Wonder Woman’s help (of which he’s not entirely grateful) tracks down Bonelli. The exchange is all set to go down when Thackeray dishonors his end of the deal and attempts to fly back to Britain with the gold. WW stops him, of course.

Pretty dull outing with the standard sub-par WW cops and robbers byplay. Character actor Dick O’Neill is charmingly irascible in his role, although the airing of this episode would be better suited for St. Patrick’s Day.  But the best performance may very well be the bad guy’s dog, who’s holding the counterfeit plates in his vest and barks viciously in its defense!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cheers 4:19 “Dark Imaginings”

Airdate: 2/20/86

Sam’s new date is a bit on the young side, and with his back turned she plans a racquetball date with Woody. More than a little insecure about his age, Sam challenges the 20-years-his-junior bartender to a friendly game of racquetball themselves, and, jazzed by his renewed vigor, plans an athletic skiing trip, only to be hospitalized with a hernia from the ensuing strain. Diane drops by to cheer him up, as does the entire Cheers gang a bit later, but nothing can quite chase away those getting-older blues, especially for a man perpetually in the prime of his life.

Simple story, especially the second act, but highly meditative. Sam reveals himself to be quite vulnerable, once you peel away the layers of bravado, machismo and savoir-faire. Final shot, completely joke-free, is among the best endings in the series’ history. But I’d sure like to know where that hospital, rife with beautiful nurses, is located!

Cold open: Norm satisfies his lifelong dream to sing in a barbershop quartet when one happens by, conveniently needing a bass. When they offer him the job, he declines – he already realized his dream.

Wonder Woman 3.10: Stolen Faces

Airdate: 12/15/78

Edgar Percy, a fashion maestro and prosthetic makeup wiz, is planning the heists to end all heists: a benefit saltute to the ‘20s, attended by Washington millionaires, in which the models rob the audience. So they don’t call the cops, Percy has also made a fake Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman part of the show, pretending to nab the thieves and take back all their stolen wares. During rehearsal for this extravaganza, Nancy, the girl playing WW, saves a child from a hit and run, and when she is knocked unconscious, her exploits make all the papers. While in the hospital, Diana, and a male admirer of Nancy’s, stop an attempt on her life, leading them down a trail of bread crumbs that help them stop the
pernicious production.

Another moderately interesting story, but the writers must be wracking theirbrains trying to come up with unique and colorful villainous plots, since those are the stars of he show (no real development among the heroes of this series). Once conceived, the formulas are simple – reveal only a little at a time (starting with the piquant but cryptic cold open), until it snowballs into the big climax, peppering it with WW appearances along the way. This is pretty much business as usual for the show at this point, although gaps in logic pop up here and there – e.g.: why does Percy need to be such as makeup expert too? Couldn’t just being an expert director of shows be enough. (No one really knows what Trevor looks like anyway, and since his voice doesn’t match what’s the point?) Oh, and by the way, whenever there’s a security guard appointed to guard someone on the show, they are always, 100% ineffective! (In this case, a sheriff is distracted by a phone call!!!)

Episode highlight: Diana transforms into WW, as she falls from a building!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cheers 4:18 “The Peterson Principle”

Airdate: 2/13/86

Norm is up for a big promotion at work, and a coworker drops by the bar to tell him his rival is having an affair with the boss’s wife. Thinking that leaking this secret will give him an edge, Norm has second thoughts when everyone, save Cliff, is against the idea. Staying true to principle becomes even more difficult when the boss himself comes in to tell Norm he didn’t get the promotion, and that the contest was as close as it possibly could be, but Norm sticks it out – and sticks it to his boss when he learns he was edged out because Vera didn’t fit in with the other company wives. “Great, I’m unemployed again,” Norm tells Woody, who offers his consolation. “No, I mean GREAT! I’m unemployed again!”

Infidelity once again is the topic in another Norm-centered episode, and once again the end result is the further strengthening of his marriage to Vera. (Well, of course it has to be, otherwise the lame-wife wisecracks wouldn’t work.) Another ethical dilemma, another right thing done, and all is right with the world, or at least the bar. Quasi-subplot involves Frasier showing slides of his ill-fated European vacation with Diane, and displaying his complete lack of success in getting over his breakup with her.

Cold open: Carla interviews the boy who is taking his daughter out on her first date, and it quickly turns into the Spanish Inquisition!

Norm’s opener: Sam: “How’s it going, Norm?” Norm: “It’s a dog eat dog world, Sam, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.” (This may be his most famous opener.)

Wonder Woman 3.9: The Deadly Dolphin

Airdate: 12/1/78

A devious land-grabber has some plans for primo coastal property, which he plans to devalue by causing an oil spill. How? He’s also behind the kidnapping of a dolphin named Bluebeard from a marine park, and plans on using the aquatic prodigy to attach a magnetized bomb to the hull of a huge tanker. Bluebeard’s trainers use another dolphin, Gladys, and the help of Diana/WW (a.ka. “Aqua Woman”) to save Bluebeard from its nefarious agenda.

So-so episode benefits from some lush, oceanic scenery, and a plot that isn’t too farfetched, although one could argue there must be easier ways to explode an oil tanker. Character actors abound her, particularly prolific soap opera star Nicolas Coaster as Silas the head baddie. Lots of stock footage, too, the most noticeable being shots of an undersea “Aqua Woman” from the other episode in which she appears. Lovely score is above-average. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cheers 4:17 “Second Time Around”

Airdate: 2/6/86

After a disastrous date with a fellow psychologist, Dr. Lilith Sternin, Frasier rebounds with a floozy set up by Sam. The ditzy girl, named Candi (with an “i” so she’s taken more seriously, like Gandhi), gets off to a rocky start with the mopey analyst, but things turn very quickly. So quickly that the next day Frasier, or rather “Fraize,” announces their engagement, with the wedding to occur at the bar.. within hours. Everyone seems excited about the impending nuptials, except Diane who’s so convinced that it’s a mismatch she halts the wedding for a serious talk in the backroom. Saner heads force the headshrinker to review his recent actions, and avert a mistake that could’ve landed him in the same boat as…. well, you get the picture.

Another great psychology-driven episode (my favorite), notable mainly for the debut of Dr. Lillith Sternin, a humorless pedant who overanalyzes everything so much she makes Diane look like Sam. She practically steals her scene (she’s in only one), and leaves one wonderless that she returns for future appearances. In second place: Jennifer Tilly, superb as Candi, and now that we know her as a person we can see that it isn’t really acting. The latest in a series of last-minute wedding cancellations – a story idea that Cheers does quite often, and well.

Cold open: Cliff brings in his mom’s homemade, and rock-hard, pretzels (also the subplot). 

Wonder Woman 3.8: Skateboard Wiz

Airdate: 11/24/78

Diana takes a much-deserved vacation in Santa Corona, California, but, of course, her R&R turns into an assignment when she discovers a mysteriously set fire, and then is accosted by two men who attempt to drown her. Meanwhile a skateboarding teenage girl with a photographic memory is goaded into playing a few hands of blackjack my a man recently ejected from a secret casino – a casino owned by the same nefarious thug, Donalsen, trying to run down-on-their luck businesses out of town so he can extend his gambling empire. The girl, who knows a bit too much, is now a prime target, but with “Wonder Skateboarder” on the hunt, Donalsen and his boys don’t stand a chance.

Fun episode functions fitfully as a great timepiece episode, what with all the1979 video games and depiction of the nascent 80s skateboarding craze. Atlantic City had recently legalized gambling, opening the door up, for better or worse depending on whom you ask, for a billion dollar casino industry – so there’s definitely topicality here. Cynthia Eilbacher, who up until now was best known as bitchy Martha Rose on The Waltons, is absolutely beguiling here (even if she’s not doing her own skateboarding). And of course, WW gets to try on a new outfit, although I’m not sure of its necessity, given that she’s a fast enough runner to chase down cars anyway.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cheers 4:16 “Cliffie’s Big Score”

Airdate: 1/30/86

Cliff is voted “Postman of the Year” (along with 267 others) and needs an escort to attend the ceremony. After Diane declines his invite (she has a cheese party to go to), he asks Carla, who accepts only after he promises to buy her a VCR. When Diane reconsiders after getting guilted by Sam, Cliff has to find a away of retracting his offer to Carla, which he only successfully accomplishes after more bribery – in the form of a big-screen TV this time. The double date goes well, until the ride home, when Carla, offended after learning she was sloppy seconds, tricks Cliff into making a pass at Diane. Needless to say, his overtures are not returned, and poor Cliffie is ejected from his car and left to hoof it home.

Funny episode deals with the classic “two date” formula – the twist is that we’re not talking Don Juan here, and that one of the dates hates him with a passion – cubed! Funny moments peppered throughout but the show is handily stolen by the character of Lucas (Carla’s date), a man so used to talking to himself he’s completely incomprehensible. Easily on my list of favorite supporting characters.

Diane's verrrry slow turn (see picture) when Cliff touches her arm is one of her very best reactions. 

Cold open: Sam calms down one of his girls on the phone, navigating a bumpy, linguistic road back from calling her the wrong name.

Wonder Woman 3.7: Time Bomb

Airdate: 11/10/78

Cassandra, a beautiful woman from the year 2150, arrives at 1978, and plans to use her historical knowledge of the yet-unmined radioactive ore Cadmium 235 in order to make billions of dollars in energy profits. Another time-traveler, Adam, goes after he and enlists the IADC’s help to try and stop her. He and Diana grow fond of each other (as does Cassandra and her male accomplice), and the two realize Cassandra’s nefarious plans when he discovers he needs Cadmium to transport himself back from whence he came. It takes WW to halt the evil schemes and stop the resulting toxic cloud from exploding over Phoenix, potentially killing thousands.

WW’s first foray into time-travel is an intriguing concept, tautly executed, andwith the added bonus of seeing actors Ted Shackleford and Joan Van Arc together a full year before they would star together in the long running Knots Landing (perhaps this was their “screen test”). Shakleford (returning for his second WW episode, after “Knockout”) is as plausibly heroic as Van Arc is a dastardly b***ch, but one can also certainly see the two as a married couple on TV’s most famous cull de sac. Stock footage at the beginning is from Space 1999.

Also some allegorical touches here, as Cadmium is clearly meant to represent uranium, and the “toxic cloud” a fallout cloud. A hot topic for the “No Nukes” decade,  which would become even hotter the following March in a little place called Three Mile Island.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cheers 4:14 “Triangle”

Airdate: 1/23/86

"I don't let other men touch my head."
Recently unemployed Frasier is down in the mouth, and down on life, until Diane gets Sam to fake depression and sexual dysfunction so Frasier can diagnose him and find meaning in life again. The diagnosis: Sam is still is love with Diane, and until he admits it to himself and to her he other symptoms will continue. To continue the ruse, Sam and Diane make up a fake scenario is which the mutually proclaim their love for one another, but the ruse becomes all too real when they reveal their bedroom pet peeves about one another, changing the tone from clinical to emotionally charged. Frasier walks right in on the “denial fest,” and flatly tells them their mutual but suppressed love for one another has made their lives a self-loathing hell. Stunned and silent, they can’t exactly disagree – and that means they agree with each other!

Outstandingly written, conversation-driven episode unpeels the layers of the Sam/Diane relationship and adds arbiter Frasier to give it a psychological perspective. Kelsey Grammar finally gets a chance to shine and show the world a character that more closely resembles the Frasier of his own self-titled show, which was still seven years away. It’s his best Cheers to date, and one of the best overall.

Cold open: Cliff invites Norm to help paint the house, along with a bunch of other guys; Norm declines but ultimately agrees, although he wants no mention of it to Vera, since he never finished painting their house. “How far did you get,” asks Cliff, to which Norm responds, “I got one of those little hats.”

Norm’s opener: Woody: “What can I do for you, Mr. Peterson?” Norm: “Elope with my wife.”

Norm’s second opener: Sam: “What can I get you?’ Norm: “Clifford Clavin’s head on a platter!” (Norm was the only one who showed up to pain the house.)

Wonder Woman 3.6: Formicida

Airdate: 11/3/78

Buildings owned by a pesticide manufacturing magnate, Harcourt, are being mysteriously destroyed, and all clues appear to lead to a vampy villainess named Formidica, who seems to have a particular fondness for carpenter ants. She kidnaps an informer for Diane, and we learn, through her mousy alter ego, that they had both developed a pesticide but that he sold it too soon to Harcourt, who is now mass marketing it with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment. Formidica’s crusade is to destroy all the chemical tycoon’s plants and offices with the help of her genetically-altered six-legged friends, but Wonder Woman, with the help of Rover (who was programmed by IRAC to communicate with the bugs), stops her in her tracks – she’ll now get the chance to defend her actions in the court of law.

Fun but surely whacked-out episode features popular-for-15 minutes 70s starLorene Yarnell in the title role – fans of the disco decade should remember as one-half of the mime duo Shields and Yarnell, who had their own show for one season. Here she’s a real howl as the ant-worshipping vixen, and it’s great to see WW fsce-off against another campy super-villain, much like 
Batman did in his TV series ten years 

This episode also mines two veins of the era – one pop-cultural, the big “insect-invasion” subgenre of the 70s – and the other political, the controversial fallout from the publication of Rachael Carson’s 60’s book Silent Spring, opposing the use of DDT to kill mosquitoes, and everything else in the food chain. References, implicit and explicit, are made regarding that classic tome.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cheers 4:14 “Suspicion”

Airdate: 1/16/86

A strange man is sitting at Cheers, watching, taking notes, and looking verrry suspicious. It doesn’t take long for paranoia to spread, rendering everyone at the bar a distrustful, finger-pointing bundle of insecurity. Sam finally asks the man his business; he turns out to be psychology student and friend of Diane, who was conducting an experiment, and not faces a possible come-uppance from her not-particularly-amused co-workers. Now its Diane’s turn to be paranoid, thinking any little thing could be a retaliatory practical joke. She thinks she’s found it – in the form of a TV crew who wants her to recite personal poetry – and so she mocks the request by cackling like a chicken. It turns out to be real – she’s now on TV with her poultry performance, and she’s not sure which hurts more: making a spectacle of herself or not getting payback, and thus, being an outsider. Her fears are allayed when she steps into Sam’s office, and triggers a pail of water to be dumped on her head.

Funny episode owes a dept to the classic M*A*S*H “The Joker Is Wild” episode in which Hawkeye makes a bet that he can’t be “got” by B.J. within 24 hours, and his paranoia becomes worse than any joke he could have played on him. It’s one of those episodes that has two different stories as acts, but ultimately they fit well together. Classic trope turned on its ear a bit, Cheers-style.

Cold open: Sluggish Carla gets a second wind when Sam plays “Shout” on the jukebox.

Wonder Woman 3.5: Disco Devil

Airdate: 10/20/78

A nuclear engineer, after visiting DC discothèque, can’t remember a crucial code for stopping the detonation of a nuclear test bomb (fortunately Wonder Woman is there). The IADC suspects individuals with the power to telepathically steal information from people’s memory banks; one of whom, a luckless, socially introverted man named Dell Franklin, helps Diana track down the culprits: a “disco devil” named Nick Moreno with the same powers, and a woman named Angie, who runs the dance club with the intent of stealing classified info from government agents. After a series of break-ins, kidnappings and chases, it all comes down to the big silver ball, where Dell and his fellow mind-stealer cancel out each other’s powers, and all secrets are safe and sound.

Good story but oh-so-obviously shoehorned into a disco setting, a big deal atthe time but having nothing to do with mental telepathy (the disco dancer’s last name is Moreno, not - wink-wink, Manero, and the lead female is Angie, who also bears more than a slight resemblance to the titular Donna Pescow character). But harvesting current trends aside, it’s a clever conceit, and tautly executed. Look fast for Russell Johnson (Gilligan’s Professor) as an army colonel, and Wolfman Jack playing a… gasp… disco DJ (Wonder Woman gets to disarm him at the end, but with no joke to go with).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cheers 4:13 “Take My Shirt… Please”

Airdate: 1/9/86

Sam is persuaded to donate his Red Sox jersey to be auctioned off on a PBS fundraiser, but time elapses with no pledges, until Diane (volunteering as an operator) secretly puts one in herself.  Sam is grateful but convinced it can sell if given another shot, so back up on the block it goes, again with no offers. This time, Sam buys it back, disguising his voice as an old lady’s, but when Diane inadvertently kicks him when he’s down, he puts it back up. It looks like it’s headed for “Mr. Bobo’s Table” when anonymous buyer steps in – he comes to Cheers to have his new purchase autographed, only to reveal he took the item to put it out of its misery!

Sam’s halcyon days and his futile attempts to bring them back are the topics here. Insecurely believing that his star has not yet faded, he grasps for anything he can to prove he’s still a Beantown legend. Fun to watch the jersey get put up again and again (and again), but was secretly hoping we’d get to see Mr. Bobo, the chimp, pull a number out of the coconut to give the shirt away. I suppose mercy prevails.

Subplot: Norm’s efforts to get an accounting gig for couple running a dairy farm fall flat, not even rescued by siccing Cliff on them to talk their ears off.

Cold open: Diane is resentful she doesn’t get the choral welcome that greets Norm every day. When she gives Cheers crowd a second chance, they yell, “Norm!” As lame as it sounds.

Norm’s opener: Woody: “How’s life, Mr. Peterson?” Norm: “I’m waiting for the movie.”

Wonder Woman 3.4: The Fine Art of Crime

Airdate: 10/13/78

Artist Henry Roberts (Roddy McDowell), has a new exhibit: extremely lifelike statues of human beings in all variety of occupation/vocation. Harold Farnum (Ed Begley) returns as the over-eager, over-earnest college student writing a paper bout these statues and what makes them tick (or not, in this case). Concurrently, a wave of art theft is hitting he area hard, and Diana tracks it down to one of Roberts’ galleries, making a connection between him, his not-so-fake-after-all statues, and a mastermind thief by the name of Moreaux. It looks like the jig is up when Wonder Woman herself is “frozen” (like Farnum had been), but she outsmarts the fiendish freezers and hauls them all in for their misdeeds, and poor use of technology.

Star-studded show (also including Gavin MacLeod, albeit a bit wasted in a verysmall role) has a clever conceit, reminiscent of the classic chiller House of Wax. Unfortunately, the villainous plot could easily be figured out as soon as Diana sees one of Roberts’ creations at the first scene of the crime – coincidence? I think not! But McDowell has a good time chewing the scenery and Begley is a likeable enough cohort for Diana. Interesting note: no Diana/WW transformation scenes. Are they getting lazy and/or cheap like they did with the Hulk’s final season?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cheers 4:12 “Fools and Their Money”

Airdate: 12/19/85

Woody is enjoying a winning streak, betting on underdog football teams, and wants to up the ante to the tune of $1,000. Sam paternalistically tries to talk him out of it, but Woody is adamant, and Sam relents. When Woody once again hits big, Sam confides to Diane that he never actually placed the bet. Both of them try to break the news to Woody gently, futilely, so Sam tells him point blank. Surprisingly, the neophyte Indianan is effusively grateful to his boss for the gesture, claiming it was the nicest thing anyone had done for him, but Sam is mad that Woody’s not mad; the two make peace with one of Coach’s old tricks -  singing “Home on the Range,” arm in arm, for 30 minutes. Subplot: Frasier, annoyed that Diane won’t go away with him, starts nitpicking her grammar, etiquette and overall knowledge.

Woody’s evolution is the focus here, and his naïveté and uber-politeness make for a surprising but true to character scene with Sam at the end. Again, money (and thirst for it) makes for a terrific McGuffin and overall theme – greed always begets chaos, the father figure influence and its effect as betterment, etc. Subplot abut Frasier is strangely unfinished – it seems as though the writers simply lost interest and decided instead to peruse the Woody story. In any case, good to see the erudite analyst after a several-episode absence.

Cold open: Carla and a customer trade innuendo-laden dialogue, until she asks him to whisper what he wants, and it’s a drink order.

“A Walton Easter”

Airdate: 3/31/97

Again, roughly the same cast reunites for one last trip to the Mountain. It is 1969, and John Boy and pregnant Janet return home (along with a pesky magazine reporter named Aurora) to help celebrate John and Livy’s 40th wedding anniversary. John-Boy is still a news anchor and currently working on another book, but the stirrings of home call to him, and he wonders if moving back to Virginia might not be such a bad idea. Of course city girl Janet objects, and becomes enraged when she finds out he had purchased a nearby cabin to use for weekend getaways. To help the lumber business, Drew takes to constructing furniture, but a deal with a local vendor turns out to be a bust – he’s already got an angry Elizabeth on his hands when he finds another girlfriend during Elizabeth’s globetrotting. Oh, it’s ok: Drew never lost his feelings for her, and asks her to marry him; she accepts.

New schoolteacher Olivia is trying to get through to a “slow” mountain boy. Hisparents think he’s slow and don’t want her to meddle, but she does. It pays off when the boy enters, and wins, the county spelling bee. The grand finale ends with the anniversary celebration, the family at a black Easter service(?), and the birth of… twins… to John Boy and Janet!

After 26 years, the Waltons saga concludes with this confluence of events that, in many ways, brings things full circle. 1969 is only 2 years before the 1971 TVM The Homecoming, the pilot for the show, and also the year I was born. In a few epilogue narrations, Earl Hamner mentions 1969 as the year his father died, but surely they wouldn’t have that happen in this movie! Less historical context here – the emphasis is on family history. I’m a bit sad for Jim-Bob, who now is the only never-married Walton child. (I knew he should’ve married Jennifer Jason Leigh when he had the chance!) Just as well, perhaps – only Janet and Toni, Jason’s wife, are present here.

BTW: the best orchestral rendition of the opening theme can be found at the opening here. Give it a listen.

Some bad math here – Johnn and Olivia celebrate 40 years as a married couple, meaning they would have been married in 1929. But they weren’t; they married in 1919, after John returned from WWI. Something’s fishy here!

Oh, well, peccadilloes aside, it’s nice to have all here together again, including grandma and the Baldwins (who officially pass down their “recipe” to the Waltons). Maybe other reunions in the future?  Who knows. But you know the Rocket will be back to blog about it.

Good night, everyone.

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