Glam Masters 

By Ed Garea

Glam Masters (Lifetime Network, 2018) – Host: Laverne Cox. Judges: Mario Dedivanovic, Kandee Johnson, Zanna Roberts Rassi. Color, 1 hr.

For a reality series to succeed, it needs contestants who are not only passionate about what they do, but also possess the creativity to pull it off. Now add fashionable and slightly wacky and we’re moving the needle forward.

Glam Masters follows in the footsteps not only of America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, but also Face Off on the Syfy Channel, which pits special effects artists against each other. With Glam Masters the competition revolves around fashion makeup. Hosted by Laverne Cox, it occupies a Wednesday night niche on Lifetime.     

In the premiere, we meet four makeup artists: Robin Shanael, Argenis Pinal, Taylor Steingold and Solange Nicole. Over the course of the episode they will face with three makeup challenges with one contestant eliminated after every challenge. The final contestant left will advance to the semifinals, with the ultimate prize being a collaboration with Kim Kardashian West on a makeup collection and a booth at BeautyCon.

In addition to hosting, Cox is one of the judges, along with Mario Dedivanovic (makeup artist to Kim Kardashian West), Kandee Johnson (a major makeup influence on YouTube) and Zanna Roberts Rassi (senior fashion editor at Marie Claire.) The stakes are high, as the contestants mention their number of Instagram followers. Some also discuss what makeup has meant to them – for instance, Shanael tells the judges that makeup saved her life.

In the first challenge the contestants are taken with creating a dramatic metallic drip look in one hour. Then they must take an Instagram-worthy selfie and have their makeup judged in-person by the judges.

In the second challenge they have and hour to create a look inspired by one of the seven deadly sins – the one they most identify with – on a model.

The final challenge, where the final two contestants go head to head, asks them to create makeup looks that turns their model into a living doll. a trends big on the internet.

During each challenge, drama unfolds as an artist can’t get the right lipgloss consistency to get a good drip or another sees the gold leaf applied continuing to fall off. And this is what makes the show so interesting: the level of unpredictability in their challenges draws us in and makes us feel as if they’re entirely worthy of our interest.

The judges provide technical critique along with snarky commentary. Dedivanovic is more or less the Simon Cowell of the group; Johnson and Cox play it nice and offer support.

Wearing both hats of host and judge Cox handles it superbly. She’s great at teasers such as the one after the drip challenge, when she asks,“Which of our contestants is dripping with talent, and who should be melted out of the competition?” But lest we write her off she also provides some spot-on insight. Seeing one look, Cox compares it to an Edvard Munch painting.

In the final analysis, Glam Masters entertains us with its bizarre challenges and provides the one thing a reality show needs to succeed: likable contestants and judges. I’m not a Kim Kardashian West fan, but I can’t help rooting for this show to succeed. 

Adam West: In Memoriam

By Ed Garea

Of all those who have donned the cape as Batman, none fit the role so well as Adam West. But what seemed like a blessing came to be a stranglehold, for he became so identified with the character that he ended up being horribly typecast, even though the show only lasted two and a half seasons.

West died on June 9 in Los Angeles at the age of 88. The cause was attributed to leukemia.

He was born William West Anderson on Sept. 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington. His father, Otto, was a wheat farmer; his mother, Audrey, nee Speer, was a pianist and opera singer. He moved to Seattle when he was 15 with his mother after his parents' divorced and his mother remarried.     

Graduating from Whitman College in Walla Walla with a major in English Literature, West served in the Army, where he worked as an announcer on American Forces Network television. Later he worked as the station manager at Stanford while a graduate student.  
He moved to Hawaii on the advice of a friend, where he co-hosted a two-hour live variety weekday show called The Kini Popo Show, One co-star was a diaper-wearing chimp named Peaches. While in Hawaii he got a bit part in the Boris Karloff B-horror, Voodoo Island (1957).    

In 1959, West moved with his wife and two children to Hollywood, where he took the stage name Adam West. In his autobiography, Back to the Batcave, he explains he chose "Adam" simply because he liked the way it looked and sounded with “West," his middle name.    

He landed a contract at Warner Bros., paying him a grand sum of $150 a week. He spent his time there as a guest star in such fare as the TV series Colt 45BroncoLawmanMaverickHawaiian Eye77 Sunset StripCheyenne, etc. He also appeared in two Warner Bros. movies (both in 1959): The Young Philadelphians (as Bill Lawrence) and The F.B.I. Story (uncredited). 

After years of this sort of knocking around he split from Warner Bros. and got a break when he was cast as Detective Sgt. Steve Nelson on Robert Taylor’s ABC/NBC series The Detectives (1959-62), joining the cast when the show expanded to one hour in color.

After The Detectives was canceled, West appeared in such  forgettable film fare as Geronimo (1962) starring Chuck Connors, Tammy and the Doctor (1963) with Sandra Dee, The Three Stooges film The Outlaws Is Coming (1965), and Mara of the Wilderness (1965), in which he had the lead with Lori Saunders (Bobbie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction). He also traveled to Italy to star in a spaghetti western called The Relentless Four (1965).

Back in the United States, his fortunes were about to change. Producer William Dozier spotted him in a commercial for Nestle’s Quik, playing Captain Quik, a James Bond-type character with a sailor’s cap. West returned to the States, where he read the pilot script for Batman and signed a contract on the spot, asking only that he be allowed to approve who would play his sidekick. He selected Burt Ward, who had a brown belt in karate, but no acting experience.    

Batman, which premiered on ABC in 1966, was based on the popular comic book character created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. He was the crime-fighting alias of Bruce Wayne, a bachelor millionaire in Gotham City, and was soon joined by a young sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder, aka Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne’s ward. 

The show was an immediate hit, quickly spawning such imitators as Mr. Terrific (CBS), Captain Nice (NBC) and even a Broadway musical titled It's a Bird...It’s a Plane...It's Superman. When West appeared in costume on the cover of Life magazine, it marked the highest tribute to national popularity at the time.    

The series, filmed in color in an era of black-and-white, featured a revolving cast of villains headed by the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), Joker (Cesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (Julie Newmar). As the show ran on, new guest villains were added. It aired twice a week; the opening episode, a cliffhanger episode, played Wednesday nights, with the cliffhanger resolved the next night. “Same Bat-time! Same Bat-channel!” the narrator intoned. It was originally planned as an hour-long show, but ABC split it up when it found it had two time slots available on its primetime schedule. The ratings attested to its popularity: the Thursday installment was No. 5 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1965-66 season, and the Wednesday edition was No. 10.     

Nominated for the Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series in its first year, it lost to CBS’ The Dick Van Dyke Show. To take advantage of its burgeoning popularity, 20th Century Fox commissioned a movie, directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Rushed into production, it played in theaters during the summer before season two kicked off in September 1966.

What made Batman so appealing was that it was a comedy disguised as a drama; it was essentially played as a farce. The show’s brightly-colored costumes and sets, along with off-kilter camera angles, superimposed ear-popping dialogue balloons for fight-scene sound effects, and the wealth of irresistibly wacky gadgets that would get them out of any situation were among the elements that would later lead it to be seen as high camp. Winks, nods and double entendre jokes are strewn throughout, but are played straight. Even its theme song, one that only offered a single word repeated by a chorus, was itself campy. 

Added to all this was a Batman who was extremely clean-cut, a milk-drinking, wholesome-living model citizen who might exclaim “Darn it!” at times of extreme stress. West underplayed his part, leaving the histrionics to Robin, and leaving the villains to supply most of the camp.

In an interview conducted almost 40 years after the end of the TV show for an article in The Independent of London, West said that he played Batman “for laughs, but in order to do [that], one had to never think it was funny. You just had to pull on that cowl and believe that no one would recognize you.” He continued, “What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it came to his interaction with the outside world. He actually believed nobody would recognize him on the phone when he was Bruce Wayne, even though he made no attempt to disguise his voice.”   

By 1968, however, the allure wore off, and the show began to tank in the ratings. Batman – despite adding Yvonne Craig as Batgirl in order to boost ratings – was canceled in March 1968 after 120 episodes.

Suddenly West found himself unemployed with no prospects in sight. As Robin might have said, “Holy typecasting, Batman!” For a time, he made a living doing personal appearances as Batman, including an appearance in the Memphis, Tennessee-based wrestling territory, where he engaged in a verbal feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler while dressed in the cowl and a track suit. As these dried up, he did the only thing he could do under the circumstances – swallow his ego. An actor acts. 

He moved his family from the plush Pacific Palisades to Ketchum, Idaho, and went back to the days of guest shots on television shows interspersed with forgettable movies such as The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971), The Specialist (1975), and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980). He even appeared in a softcore porn movie, Young Lady Chatterly II (1985), starring Harlee McBride, wife of actor/comedian Richard Belzer.    

He also lent his voice in such cartoons as The New Adventures of BatmanLegends of the Superheroes, and SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show. He also voiced Batman in an episode of The Simpsons. His contribution to the animated Redux Riding Hood (1997), helped it receive an Oscar nomination for best short film.

But despite his formidable array of guest shots, he was never able to parlay them into another hit series, as, for instance, William Shatner, who, after Star Trek, found stardom on T.J. Hooker and later, Boston Legal.       

His fortunes took a decided turn for the better after Tim Burton’s 1989 film starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader revived interest in the character. (West was considered to play the role of Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne's father, though originally, he wanted to play Batman.) Though he never appeared in any of the theatrically released Batman franchise motion pictures, West later had a recurring role as the voice of Mayor Grange in the WB animated series The Batman (2004). He also voiced Batman for the CGI-animated short film Batman: New Times (2005), co-starring with Mark Hamill, who voiced The Joker.

Throughout it all West continued to accept guest shots, movie parts and voice-overs. His voice-over work culminated in a long guest run (2000-17) on the animated series Family Guy playing Mayor Adam West, who could best be described as sadistic, corrupt, vacant, clueless, but utterly charming. In 2014, Warner Bros.’ DVD release of ABC’s Batman brought him back to his old fans and made him new ones. As late as last year he appeared in an episode of The Big Bang Theory playing himself. Hired to appear at a private birthday party where everything goes wrong, he utters the best line: “I still get paid, don’t I?”   

For his work, West received a few honors. In 1985, DC Comics honored West in their 50th-anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great for his work on the Batman series. And in the documentary Starring Adam West, the film ends with him receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.     

In 1994, with Jeff Rovin, West wrote his autobiography, Back to the Batcave, which was published by Berkeley Books.  

West married three times: to Billie Lou Yeager (1950-56), Ngahra Frisbee (1957-62), and Marcelle Tagand Lear in 1970, who he met when they posed for a publicity photo at Santa Monica Airport with him in his Batman costume. She survives him, along with their two children, Nina and Perrin West. He is also survived by two children from his second marriage, Jonelle and Hunter Anderson; two stepchildren; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.     

For better or worse, he remains for many the only Batman that ever mattered, permanently associated with the part in a way that others who played the role are not. That he came not only to realize this, but to accept and embrace it, is illustrated by a speech he gave at the 2014 ComicCon: “When Batman was canceled, “The only thing I thought is that it would be the end of me, and it was for a bit. But then I realized that what we created in the show...we created this zany, lovable world. I look around and I see the adults – I see you grew up with me, and you believe in the adventure. I never believed this would happen, that I would be up here with illustrious people like yourselves. I’m so grateful! I’m the luckiest actor in the world, folks, to have you still hanging around.”

Mary Tyler Moore: In Memoriam

You're Gonna Make It After All

By Ed Garea and Maureen Porcaro

Of all the television stars who graced our screens, none – none – was as influential as Mary Tyler Moore. In the ‘60s she was a fashion icon, and in the ‘70s she became a role model for young women, helping to create a new definition of American womanhood. And how many sitcom stars have been honored with their own statue in a downtown area of a major city?

Her combination of wholesomeness and sex appeal with precise comic timing reminded many of an updated ‘30s leading lady, such as Myrna Loy or Jean Arthur.

Mary Tyler Moore died on January 25 at the age of 80 in Greenwich, Conn. Her family attributed her death to cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia.

Her character of Mary Richards, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show became the epitome of the working woman long before the media discovered the concept. Mary Richards was single, over 30, professional, independent, and unlike other single female characters, not obsessed with getting married. She was a not an aggressive trailblazer, but more of a sisterly presence in the office, one who used ingenuity and humor, easing anxieties about the presence of woman in the work force, and at the same time providing a how-to manual in survival and sanity for women in a male-dominated office environment. 

The show came along at just the right time, as the large number of women entering the workforce began to spread a feminist consciousness across the country. And the show picked up on it, the issues it raised, and ran with it. Over the course of the show, Mary Richards faced such issues as equal pay, birth control and sexual independence in an era just about ready for them. 

Her influence can be seen in almost every female sitcom star that followed her. Tina Fey, for example, admitted in an interview that her acclaimed sitcom, 30 Rock, and her character of television writer Liz Lemon came from watching episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In addition, many real working women noted that Mary’s portrayal of a working woman facing everyday obstacles with compassion and vigor inspired their attitudes at work. It was noted that during the run of her television show the number of women who were studying journalism at college increased radically.

It was a long journey to success for Mary, who was born in Brooklyn Heights on December 29, 1936. Her father, George Tyler Moore, was a clerk, and her mother, Margery Hackett Moore, was a homemaker. Both parents were alcoholics. The eldest of three children, Mary would outlive both her siblings. Her household became so dysfunctional that, while still a child in Los Angeles, she arranged to live with an aunt, rarely seeing her parents.

Moore was 17 when she decided she wanted to be a dancer. She began her television career as a tiny caped elf named “Happy Hotpoint,” dancing on Hotpoint appliances in commercials that aired during the 1950s series Ozzie and Harriet.

In 1955, she married Richard Meeker, a salesman. That same year, she became pregnant, which compromised her effectiveness as an androgynous elf in a fitted costume. Hotpoint let her go after it became too difficult to conceal her pregnancy. After the birth of her son, Richard Jr., in 1956, Moore modeled anonymously on the covers of a number of record albums and danced on various television shows. Turning to acting she had small parts on series like Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset StripSteve Canyon and Hawaiian Eye. She attracted attention as Sam, the answering-service girl on Richard Diamond, Private Detective, for she was more heard than seen: the only glimpse viewers had of her character was only in sexy close-ups of parts of her body, including her mouth, her hands and her elegant legs.

She also auditioned for the role of Danny Thomas’s older daughter on his sitcom Make Room for Daddy. However, she was turned down. Thomas, who took pride in his exaggerated features, explained that no daughter of his could have such a little nose.

In 1961, Carl Reiner cast her as Laura Petrie, the wife of television comedy writer Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) in The Dick Van Dyke Show, a weekly sitcom based on Reiner’s own life as a writer for Sid Caesar’s variety series Your Show of Shows. The show was produced by Danny Thomas’s company, and it was Danny himself who recommended Mary for the role, having remembered her from her audition. The role made her popular, both here and abroad. As a comedy duo, Moore and Van Dyke complimented each other perfectly. Creator/producer Carl Reiner remarked that “the fact that Mary and Dick were dancers gave the program a grace that very few programs have. Moore’s portrayal of suburban housewife transformed the concept of the sitcom wife from that of a mere appendage of her husband to an intelligent domestic partner in her own right. In fact, she was the more level-headed of the two. And unlike Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy, Van Dyke’s character was not threatened by his wife’s intelligence or her talents. Along the way, she also became somewhat of a fashion icon when the tight-fitting capri slacks she wore on the program caught on with women all over. The series lasted from 1961 to 1966 and ended at the height of its popularity at the request of Van Dyke. It earned Moore two Emmys.

Moore’s marriage to Meeker ended in 1961, and she met Grant Tinker, an executive at 20th Century Fox, in 1962. They married in Las Vegas that same year. 

Now at large, Moore decided to concentrate on films. Before signing on The Dick Van Dyke Show she had a supporting part in 1961’s X-15, directed by Richard Donner, a drama about the development of the supersonic airplane. She signed an exclusive contact with Universal in 1967 and starred with Julie Andrews and Carol Channing in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), a musical comedy set in 1920’s New York. The film did good business, but her follow-ups, What’s so Bad About Feeling Good? with George Peppard, and Don’t Just Stand There! with Robert Wagner (both 1968) were commercial and artistic failures.

In 1969, she starred along with Elvis Presley and Barbara McNair in Change of Habit, a drama that saw Elvis portray a doctor working in the inner city and Mary and Barbara as two gorgeous and glamorous nuns. Also in the cast was future co-star Ed Asner. After the film received disappointing reviews and poor reception at the box office, Moore went back to television. She would not appear in another feature film until 1980.

In 1969, she and and Tinker formed MTM Enterprises, a production company with Moore as its star and Tinker as producer behind the scenes. In 1970, after having appeared earlier in a pivotal one-hour musical special called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman, she and Tinker pitched a show to CBS, created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, about a recently divorced woman who was living and working on her own. The network liked it, but insisted she change her marital status on the show from divorcee to a woman who had broken up with her long-time fiancé. Not only was the subject of divorce still taboo on television, but some CBS executives feared that, because the show was going to be shown on CBS, that viewers would assume that Laura Petrie had divorced Rob, an idea that was unthinkable. 

On the show, Moore was Mary Richards, a woman who came to Minneapolis and got a job as an associate news producer at WJM, a small television station in Minneapolis. Ed Asner was cast as her boss, Lou Grant, a man tough on the outside, but tenderhearted inside. Gavin MacLeod was Murray Slaughter, the news writer who led a boring life, and Ted Knight was Ted Baxter, the vain, dimwitted anchorman of WJM’s six o’clock newscast.

The show’s female characters were as carefully conceived as the men. Valerie Harper was Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary’s single neighbor who lived upstairs. Cloris Leachman was Mary’s eccentric landlady, Phyliss Lindstrom. As the show progressed, Georgia Engel was brought on as Georgia Franklin, Ted’s girlfriend, and later his wife. Betty White was signed as Sue Ann Nivens, the hostess of “The Happy Homemaker Show.”  

At first, the show focused on the relationship between Mary and Rhoda, single women trying to find Mr. Right. But as her office mates became stronger characters, and as Rhoda’s character was spun-off into her own sitcom, the episodes began to revolve more and more around Mary’s life at WJM.

The secret of the show’s success was in its ensemble casting, as it eschewed the rapid-gag format in favor of character-driven humor. Although Moore was the star, not everything exclusively revolved around her. The other characters were strong identities in their own right, and much of the humor capitalized on Mary’s naiveté and timidity. Like Jack Benny, who used his miserliness and vanity as the crux of the honor going on about him, Moore was more often than not the innocent victim caught in situations that arose when her naiveté mixed with enthusiasm. 

The best episodes were those that saw Mary often hoisted on her own petard, as in the classic episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” in which Chuckles the Clown, the station’s popular kiddie show host, met his end during a parade in which, dressed as a peanut, he was shucked to death by a rogue elephant. Her co-workers take great delight in the circumstances of his death, cracking terrible jokes that amuse everyone but Mary, who is appalled that they could find his death so humorous. They try to explain that it’s a reaction to those horrible circumstances, but she will have none of it. Later, at Chuckles’s funeral, it’s Mary who can’t suppress her giggling, as all her repressed feelings burst forth when the reverend reviews the life of Chuckles, especially when he quotes the late clown’s motto: “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.” Her performance was a comic tour de force that won the episode’s writer, David Lloyd, an Emmy, one of the 29 the show won over its lifetime, a record that was only broken in 2002 when NBC’s sitcom Frasier won its 30th Emmy. 

Death wasn’t the only subject the show tackled with its intelligent humor. Other issues included equal pay for women, divorce, infidelity, homosexuality, premarital sex, and infertility. Mary Richards even breaks an addiction to sleeping pills in one show. 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show won the Emmy for comedy show three years in a row, was named as one of the most influential TV shows of all time on numerous lists. In 1977, after the series had run its course, Moore returned in a short-lived variety series, Mary, notable only for having David Letterman and Michael Keaton in its cast. She tried other vehicles, including The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, Annie McGuire and New York News, but she could not duplicate the success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In the meantime, besides RhodaThe Mary Tyler Moore Show also spun off the sitcom Phyllis and a newspaper drama, Lou Grant. MTM Enterprises, which was overseen almost exclusively by Tinker, expanded into an industry giant, producing not only the above-mentioned spinoffs, but other such critical and popular hits as The Bob Newhart ShowNewhartWKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street BluesSt. ElsewhereThe White ShadowRemington Steele and Rescue 911. (On Broadway, the company produced such plays as Noises Off, The Octette Bridge ClubJoe EggBenefactors and Safe Sex.) The logo at the end of each show featured its mascot, a meowing kitten (Moore’s cat Mimsie), an image that brought to mind, and gently satirized, MGM’s roaring lion.

In 1980, Robert Redford approached her about co-starring in his directorial debut, Ordinary People. He told her he thought about casting her after seeing her walking alone on the beach and realized that she also had a serious side. Her beautifully nuanced performance as the cold, guilt-ridden matriarch Beth Jarrett, living a life of denial after the death of her favorite son, won her a Golden Globe award as well as an Oscar nomination.

In the same year, she won a Tony Award for her Broadway performance as a quadriplegic who wanted to die in Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

On the big screen, she starred with Dudley Moore in Six Weeks (1982), and had roles in Just Between Friends (1986); Flirting With Disaster (1996), playing the embarrassing adoptive mother of Ben Stiller’s character (At one point in the film she lifts her shirt to show her son’s girlfriend how a bra should fit.); Keys to Tulsa (1997); Labor Pains (2000); Cheats (2002); and Against the Current (2009). 

Moore returned to television in a number of TV movies, including First You Cry (1978), playing great cancer survivor and reporter Betty Rollin; the mini-series Lincoln (1988), where she played Mary Todd Lincoln; The Last Best Year (1990); Thanksgiving Day (1990); Stolen Babies (1993, in which her role as Georgia Tann, the cruel director of an orphanage, won her a sixth Emmy); and Blessings (2003). In 2001, she served as executive producer and star of a macabre television movie, Like Mother Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes. Her turn as the sociopathic killer mom couldn’t have been farther from Laura Petrie and Mary Richards.

She reunited with old co-star Dick Van Dyke in a couple of TV projects: a PBS adaptation of the Broadway hit The Gin Game (2003), and a reprise as Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited (2004).

Van Dyke wasn’t the only old co-star she reunited with on television. In 2000, she and Valerie Harper starred in Mary and Rhoda (ABC), which finds the pair meeting in New York. We learn that Mary Richards-Cronin, who recently lost her husband, went on to work for ABC news and Rhoda Morgenstern-Rousseau went on to become an art photographer in Paris, where she lived with her husband. Mary put her career on hold to raise daughter Rose, who now intends to drop out of school to do stand-up, while Rhoda has just gone through a nasty divorce. In a piece of irony, Rhoda has become her old mother, Ida, constantly butting in on daughter Meredith’s life. The movie was intended as a pilot for a new series, but the ratings nixed any ideas in the bud.

Moore also went on to make several guest appearances in such shows as The Naked Truth (1997) as star Tea Leoni’s mother; The Ellen Show (2001); That ’70s Show (2006) as a TV host; and an episode of Hot in Cleveland (2013), where she reunited with cast members White, Engel and Harper.

She also wrote two memoirs. The first, After All (1995), acknowledged her alcoholism. The second, Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes (2009) centers on her life with diabetes. She had developed Type 1 diabetes in her 30s, which was discovered via a blood test after she had miscarried during her marriage to Tinker.

Besides her Oscar nomination, seven Emmy Awards, three Golden Globes and one Tony, the Screen Actors Guild awarded a lifetime achievement award, which was presented to her by old friend Dick Van Dyke. In 1986, she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. In 1992, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

On May 8, 2002, Moore was in attendance when cable station TV Land unveiled a statue in downtown Minneapolis’s Nicollet Mall depicting the moment in the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which she throws her tam o’shanter in the air. (The statue now resides at the city's visitor center pending the completion of mall renovations later in 2017.)

Offscreen, she was a campaigner for diabetes research. She was chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and spoke openly about her own struggle with the disease. In 2007, in honor of her support, the JDRF created the “Forever Moore” research initiative that will concentrate on adapting basic research advances into new treatments and technologies for those living with type 1 diabetes.

In her personal life Moore faced more than her share of private sorrow. Her only child, Richard Jr., born in 1956, died at the age of 24 on October 14, 1980, after a sawed-off shotgun with a hair trigger went off in his hands. (The gun model was later taken off the market.)

Her almost 20-year marriage to Tinker came to an end in 1981, although they remained friends. In 1993, she married physician Dr. S. Robert Levine, who she met while he treated her mother in a New York City hospital. The couple shared homes in Manhattan and a farm in upstate New York.

In 1984, Moore entered the Betty Ford Clinic to treat her alcoholism, which began while she was working on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In 2011, she underwent brain surgery to remove a benign tumor. In 2014, friends reported that she was suffering from heart and kidney problems and was nearly blind.

Her only immediate survivor is husband Dr. S. Robert Levine. Former husband Grant Tinker passed away of November 28, 2016.

Alan Young: In Memoriam


By Ed Garea

Alan Young, the multi-talented actor-comedian most famous as the straight man for a talking horse in the ‘60s, died May 19 at the Motion Picture & Television Home in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 96.

He was born Angus Young on Nov. 19, 1919, of Scottish parents in North Shields, Northumberland, England, near the Scottish border. His father was a tap dancer and his mother a singer. The family moved to Edinburgh when he was a child, where his father worked in the mines, and then to a community outside Vancouver, Canada.

In an aside, Young said the reason he legally changed his first name to Alan (as mentioned in his 2007 autobiography Mister Ed and Me and More!) was because Americans always made unflattering comments about it and often mispronounced it as “Agnes.”

As a youth, Young was frequently bedridden with asthma, spending his days listening to the radio, where he kept track of jokes and began writing his own comedy sketches. He began entertaining in Vancouver when he was 13. He got a job as an office boy at a local radio station. After slipping in a part for himself on a drama show when he was typing up the script, he became an actor. 

By the time he graduated from high school, he had his own radio program, Stag Party, on the CBC network, but left to serve in the Canadian navy during World War II. While living in Toronto after his discharge from the service, Young was contacted by agent Frank Cooper – who also was instrumental in the careers of Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore – after Cooper accidentally picked up Young’s show through the static on his radio. 

Cooper brought Young to New York to tell jokes on the Philco Radio Hall of Fame radio program in 1944, which led to Young being hired as a summer replacement on The Eddie Cantor Show. (The host was one of his heroes.) This led to his own show, The Alan Young Show on ABC radio, where his amiable, low-key style attracted a wide U.S. audience. 

He also drew attention from Hollywood, with roles in such films as Margie (1946), Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949), and Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952), but they fared poorly at the box office and confined him to a television career. CBS brought the radio show to television as variety show, where his gentle comedic style, in contrast to the slapstick and old vaudeville of other variety shows, led TV Guide to name him “the Charlie Chaplin of television” in 1950. The fledgling Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Emmys to Young as best actor and to the show as best variety series. 

In 1952, Howard Hughes, who had seen Young on TV, hired him for the lead in a film version of George Bernard Shaw’s comedy, Androcles and the Lion. When it opened in theaters, however, it was met with stony silence, so Hughes withdrew the movie and shot two weeks of new sequences to spice things up. "He put in girls with gauze and a real lion, and it became a blood-and-guts film," Young recalled in 1987.

In 1960, he was approached by director Arthur Lubin, who was readying a new television show based on a loose adaptation of his Francis the Talking Mule series for Universal in the ‘50s. He would play Wilbur Post, a befuddled architect who lives in a nice home in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, Carol (Connie Hines). Behind the house is a barn, where the talkative Mister Ed, a golden palomino, resides – however, only Wilbur can hear him speak. (Mr. Ed only talked to Wilbur because, in his judgment, Wilbur was the only person worth talking to.)

How Young got the role of Wilbur is not exactly known. Young said he initially turned down the part because “I don’t want to work with anybody who doesn’t clean up after himself.” But it was said that George Burns, who had done an earlier, unsuccessful Mister Ed pilot with another actor, convinced Young to play Wilbur Post, telling Young: “You look like the sort of fellow a horse would talk to.” Young took that as a compliment and agreed to star. He wanted the show named Mr. Ed instead of The Alan Young Show as two earlier shows by that name had flopped. 

Based on a series of magazine short stories by Walter Brooks (not only did the horse talk, he also got drunk), the show was produced by Filmways and began life on CBS as a syndicated show on about 100 stations sponsored by Studebaker. Response was so popular that, after 26 episodes, CBS bought the show from the sponsor, which aired until February 1966. 

The voice of Ed was supplied by Allan “Rocky” Lane, a star of several Western B movies. Lane got the part through sheer luck. At the time, he was flat broke and sleeping on the couch of a friend, the horse trainer Les Hilton. Supposedly, the producers heard Lane asking where the coffee was kept while auditioning and hired him as Ed’s voice on the spot. However, the actor was never recognized in the credits, which noted that Mr. Ed was played by “himself.”

Hilton trained Mr. Ed to “talk” by placing a soft nylon strip between his gums and upper lip. Eventually, Young said Hilton removed the strip after the horse learned to move his lips only after Young had finished his lines. “Ed was very smart,” Young was quoted in interviews. “He actually learned to move his lips on cue when the trainer touched his hoof.”

Because producers didn’t want anyone to know the secret of Mr. Ed’s “talking,” Young made up a story about putting peanut butter in the horse’s mouth, which the animal then would try to lick off. 

The show was known for its bouncy theme song and the coining by Mr. Ed of the phrase: “Willllburrrrr.” It attracted a wide group of celebrity guest stars, ranging from Clint Eastwood to Mae West to baseball great Sandy Koufax.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1990, Young described Wilbur as “naive and bumbling,”and “Ed as the wily one.” Young added, “I think it’s the same chemistry that made Laurel and Hardy, and Jackie Gleason and Art Carney: It’s the one guy making a fool of the other guy.”

When the show finally went off the air it won new fans in later decades through constant cable TV syndication and video releases with Young right there for the ride. He owned a portion of the show and made a fortune off the royalties.

Young also appeared in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), Tom Thumb (1958), The Time Machine (1960, and its 2002 remake), The Cat From Outer Space (1978), and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). He also lent his voice to a number of animated productions, including the voice of Scrooge McDuck in Duck Tales, The Ren and Stimpy Show, The Smurfs, and The Great Mouse Detective. A Christian Scientist from his teen years, he took a brief sabbatical from Hollywood during the mid-1960s, spending three years establishing a film and broadcasting center, then touring the country for two years as a Christian Science lecturer. But disillusioned by the church bureaucracy, he returned to Hollywood in 1976. 

His marriages to Mary Anne Grimes, Virginia McCurdy and Mary Chipman ended in divorce.

Contributions in Young's name may be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund and to Y.E.S. The Arc, a residential program in Arizona for people with special needs.


He once went on a date with Norma Jean Baker, who later became Marilyn Monroe. 

He's the only actor to appear in both The Time Machine (1960) and The Time Machine (2002).

Was 40 years old when he played the 18-year-old James Filby in The Time Machine (1960).

Repeated the role of Filby for a mini-sequel of the original movie The Time Machine (1960) in 1992.

Young was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Radio at 6927 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

Depending on the source, the horse that played Mr. Ed is said to have died in 1979 at the age of 30, 33 or 34. Other reputable sources give the date of death as 1968, 1973 and 1974.

Mr. Ed and Walt Disney's canine film star Big Red won Patsy awards, presented by the American Humane Society, as the top animal performers of 1962.

William Schallert: In Memoriam

By Ed Garea

Actor William Schallert, best known as Martin Lane, the father on The Patty Duke Show and for his troubles with tribbles, passed away May 8 at the age of 93 at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Schallert was the epitome of the working actor, with nearly 400 credits in a career that began in 1947. 

Besides his work on The Patty Duke Show, Schallert was also known for his role as Nilz Baris, the Federation Undersecretary of Agricultural Affairs who discovered the batch of furry grain-devouring aliens who multiplied faster than rabbits in “The Trouble With Tribbles,” the classic December 1967 episode of NBC’s Star Trek

Born July 6, 1922, in Los Angeles, he was the son of Edwin and Elza Schallert. Edwin was a reviewer, columnist and drama editor of the Los Angeles Times from 1919 to 1958. Elza handled publicity for Sid Grauman, had her own radio show, and wrote for movie fan magazines. In interviews, he said that his parents’ connections got him into birthday parties for child star Shirley Temple on the Fox lot.

Schallert enrolled in UCLA with the goal of becoming a composer, but when America entered World War II he left to serve as an Army fighter pilot. He returned to college and graduated in 1946, then studied theater for a year in England on a Fulbright scholarship. Returning to Los Angeles, he joined The Circle Theatre, an intimate group that performed in the round in a former drugstore.

Among the Circle actors were Charlie Chaplin’s children Charles Chaplin Jr. and Sydney Chaplin. Father Charlie directed Schallert and June Havoc in a 1948 production of Somerset Maugham’s Rain. Over the next three or four years, Schallert appeared in about 25 plays. Also among the Circle players was actress Leah Waggner (born Rosemarie Diann Waggner). She married Schallert in 1949, with the marriage lasting until her death in 2015.

In 1947, he made his film debut in The Foxes of Harrow, starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara, for 20th Century Fox. Cast in the uncredited role of “Philadelphia Banker,” he was paid $75 per day for three days. His first credited role was as “George Brant” in producer Jerry Fairbanks’ 1947 drama Doctor Jim, starring Stuart Erwin as a country doctor.

Schallert received his first significant screen time as the scheming Dr. Mears opposite Margaret Field, the mother of actress Sally Field, in Edgar G. Ulmer’s low budget classic The Man From Planet X (1951). 

Many film buffs know Schallert for his work in sci-fi films like Captive Women (1952), Them! (1954), Gog (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). But he also worked in such films as Red Badge of Courage (1951), Singin’ in the Rain (1952, though his scene was left on the cutting room floor), The High and the Mighty (1954), Written on the Wind (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Pillow Talk (1959).

And who can forget his turn as unfortunate Oracle, Texas Marshal Scott Hood, whose assassination in the opening of Roger Corman’s Gunslinger (1956) left his widow Rose (Beverly Garland) to take his badge and finish the job of cleaning up the town? He also played Walter Matthau's mild-mannered deputy in the Kirk Douglas film Lonely Are the Brave (1962, a role he later said was his favorite), small-town Mississippi Mayor Webb Schubert in the Oscar-winning best picture In the Heat of the Night (1967), a down-and-out ex-racer with Elvis Presley in 1968’s Speedway, a professor in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), and a sheriff in Charley Varrick (1973) with Matthau.

Joe Dante, long a fan of Schallert’s sci-fi appearances, cast him in such films as Gremlins (1984) as Father Bartlett, Innerspace (1987) as Dr. Greenbush, and the cult favorite Matinee (1993), where he played Dr. Grabow in the trailer for Mant, about a man who becomes an ant.

Realizing that being a supporting actor in movies wasn’t enough to pay the bills, Schallert turned to television, where he cranked out an impressive resume. In 1956, he starred in the very first installment of the famed live CBS anthology series Playhouse 90, directed by John Frankenheimer. 

Over the years, he guest starred on such TV series as The Lone RangerGunsmokeThe George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowFather Knows BestDeath Valley Days, MaverickThe Twilight ZoneThe Jack Benny ShowPeter GunnThe Red Skelton Hour, One Step Beyond77 Sunset Strip, Have Gun Will Travel, The Donna Reed ShowPerry MasonWanted: Dead or AliveWagon Train, Zane Grey Theater, The Andy Griffith Show, The Rifleman, The Dick Van Dyke ShowBonanza, Dr. Kildare, Here Come the BridesMaudeLou GrantStar Trek: Deep Space NineDesperate Housewives, How I Met Your Mother, and 2 Broke Girls.

He’s also had recurring roles on Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (Ted Richards), The Adventures of Jim Bowie (Justinian Tibbs), Steve Canyon (Maj. Karl Richmond), Philip Marlowe (Lt. Manny Harris), The Nancy Walker Show (Teddy Futterman), The Waltons (Stanley Perkins), and The New Gidget (Russell Lawrence). 

In a 1960 interview with The Milwaukee Journal, Schallert praised the number and variety of available television parts: “In the past year, for instance, I have appeared as an old, feuding hillbilly; a vicious prosecuting attorney; an intelligent psychiatrist; a submarine commander; a blind ex-tennis player; a priest; a bartender; a hard-bitten Civil War major; an acidulous high-school teacher; a Bowery bum; and now a police lieutenant.”

Some of the recurring roles brought him a bit of fame, such as his portrayal of English teacher Leander Pomfritt, who was perpetually perplexed by students Dobie (Dwayne Hickman) and his beatnik buddy Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver), to whom he often asked, “You ready, my young barbarians?” on CBS’ The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, (1959-63).

After Dobie Gillis was canceled, he won the role of Martin Lane, the warm-hearted father of impetuous teenager Patty Lane and uncle to her sophisticated and level-headed twin cousin Cathy on The Patty Duke Show (1963-66). The memories of the show were still strong enough that in 2004 Schallert placed No. 39 on the list of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Dads.

Other well-known Schallert roles were on Get Smart as Admiral Hargrade, the brittle founder of CONTROL; The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries as Carson Drew, Nancy Drew’s (Pamela Sue Martin) father; Agent Frank Harper on The Wild, Wild West (stepping in after Ross Martin was sidelined after suffering a heart attack); Wesley Hodges, the elderly boarder in The Torkelsons who lives on Martin Lane (get it?); and Mayor Norris on True Blood

Schallert performed in numerous miniseries, including 1979’s Blind Ambition (as Nixon adviser Herbert Kalmbach), 1986’s North and South, Book II (as Robert E. Lee), 1988-89’s War and Remembrance (as Harry Hopkins), and 2011’s Bag of Bones (as Harry Devore).

Schallert even lent his voice to animated shows These Are the Days (1974), David and Goliath (1986), Sparky’s Magic Piano (1987), Dinosaurs (1992), and What’s New, Scooby Doo? (2003-2005). He did voiceover work for numerous television and radio commercials over the years, including a long-running role as the voice of Milton the Toaster, the spokesman for Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts.

But perhaps there was no better example of the trials and tribulations of being a supporting actor than Schallert experienced in 1964, when he was chosen for the lead in Philbert, an innovative TV pilot for ABC that combined live action camera work with animation. The series, created by Warner Bros. animator Friz Freleng and directed by Richard Donner, cast Schallert as a cartoonist whose creation, Philbert, comes to life. But when the producers told ABC the series would cost $75,000 per episode, the station wanted a top name in the lead to bring in viewers. At this point, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the series, although the completed pilot was later released in theaters as a short subject. In an interview, Schallert said, “It was a hard pill to swallow.”

Offstage, Schallert was elected president of the 46,000-member Screen Actors Guild in 1979. The next year, he led the union in a 13-week strike over issues including actors’ pay for films made for the then-new cable television industry. During his tenure, he founded the Committee for Performers With Disabilities. In 1993, Schallert received the Ralph Morgan Award for service to the guild.

The settlement the union reached to end the strike was widely criticized by many in the union, and in 1981, Schallert was succeeded by Ed Asner. Asner, in turn, was succeeded in 1985 by none other than Mr. Schallert’s former screen daughter, Duke. 

For years Schallert kept working despite suffering from peripheral neuropathy, which required him to wear braces on his legs, a secret he finally divulged in a 2014 interview. 

Schallert is survived by sons Edwin, Joseph, Mark and Brendan and seven grandchildren.

Fuller House

Whatever Happened to Predictability?

By Jon Gallagher

Fuller House (Netflix, 2016) – Creator: Jeff Franklin. Stars: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campion, Elias Harger, Soni Bringas, Dashiell Messitt, Fox Messitt, John Brotherton, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Scott Weinger, & Ashley Liao. TV-G.

I should confess that during the eight-year run of Full House on ABC, I never saw a single show. While it was on from 1987 till 1995, I was working a second-shift job at a local factory and didn’t see much prime time TV (even though we had a VCR, no one at home could figure out how to make it record one show while they watched another). To be honest, I wasn’t real interested in seeing a saccharinely-sweet show about a widower and his three daughters.

After I got laid off from the factory, I went back to school full time at a private, liberal arts college and homework combined with obligations to the family combined to keep me away from the TV.

It wasn’t until the show went off the air and Nickelodeon picked it up that I began watching it with my youngest daughter who was born in 2004.

I actually enjoyed the show. It was a nice, family-friendly program that had very distinct characters with easily recognizable personalities. Sure, the plots ran thin, and everything always worked out by the end of the show (unless it was continued to the next week). Yes, I got sick of cute little Michelle saying “How rude!” (and for that matter, all the catch phrases on the show). Yes, I couldn’t understand how Uncle Jesse and Joey could go from jobless to overnight success almost every week. But it was still fun to watch.

Eight seasons was enough for network executives. The expenses of producing a weekly show with so many stars is staggering, and as the kids grew up, the innocence of their teenage years were about to transform into more than the family-friendly series was going to be able to handle.

The stars went on about their ways. Bob Saget and Dave Coulier both continued with their stand-up comedy routines, something they’d brought with them to the series when it began. Jodie Sweetin (Stephanie) developed an addiction to meth, got married three times, but finally straightened her life out in 2008. Both Candace Cameron Bure and Lori Laughlin continued to find work in Hollywood, both doing guest shots on various TV series and starring in made-for-TV movies.

Andrea Barber (next door neighbor Kimmy Gibler) quit acting and went to school, staying in close contact with her former castmates. 

The three biggest stars continue to have success. John Stamos has gone on to find fame in other TV series, guesting on some and playing a lead role in others. He’s been known to produce some projects as well, including Fuller House.

The Olsen Twins, Mary Kate and Ashley, who played a single role on Full House, became a mega-million-dollar marketing enterprise. Their faces were plastered on everything from lunch boxes to backpacks to notebooks as the cash rolled in. They made a few movies that were written especially for them, starred in their own TV series, and then dropped out of Hollywood once their cuteness wore off. Mary Kate continued to act on occasion, most notably on the the HBO series Weeds, while Ashley did mostly cameos and uncredited appearances. In the past 10 years, they’ve done little in the way of film or TV, concentrating on a fashion empire they’ve been building instead.

The cast still managed to stay in touch. Saget told Stephen Colbert on the latter’s talk show that the cast had become a real family and they often saw each other socially. In fact, Bure was the matron of honor at one of Sweetin’s three weddings.

A reunion had been talked about for years. Since the show has been off the air for 20 years (but still around because of reruns on Nickelodeon), an entire generation had been introduced to the Tanner household, my own 11-year-old daughter included. Stamos acted as producer, got together with Jeff Franklin, who created the original series, sold the idea to Netflix, an internet-only based broadcast entity, and filming began several months ago.

Fuller House takes a look at the same Tanner house that we last saw two decades ago. The kids are grown and have kids of their own. In the pilot for the new series, DJ (Bure) has just lost her fire-fighting husband and is set to raise three sons on her own. Danny (Saget) and his wife are getting ready to move to Los Angeles where he and Rebecca (Laughlin) will begin hosting a nationally syndicated morning show just like the one they’ve been doing in San Francisco for the past 25 years. Uncle Jesse (Stamos) is also beginning a new job as the musical director for his favorite soap General Hospital (where Stamos got his acting start as Blackie Parrish). Joey is doing standup comedy at the Venetian in Vegas several times a week.

The whole family is gathering for a going away party for Danny. Stephanie (Sweetin) shows up fresh from her gig in England as a DJ. Even Kimmy Gibler (Barber) crashes the breakfast and reveals that she’s in charge of planning the party.

The only cast member missing is Michelle (the Olsen twins) who Danny explains is “busy running her fashion empire in New York.” As soon as he says that, the entire cast breaks the fourth wall, and stares into the camera with a “seriously?” look on their faces. It got the biggest laugh from the live studio audience.

Even Jesse and Rebecca’s twins return, and are all grown up, trying to graduate from college, sometime in the next decade. It appears that they’ve spent the last several years double majoring in partying and surfing, not necessarily in that order. 

Steve, DJ’s high school boyfriend, makes an appearance, raiding the refrigerator (nothing has changed) and lamenting the fact that he and DJ never got married.

Among the newcomers are DJ’s three sons, Kimmy’s teenage daughter, and Kimmy’s smooth-talking, lady-killing, Latino ex-husband. The oldest boy, Jackson, is somewhat of con artist with his younger brother Max being the victim (Max has to do what Jackson has told him because Jackson put a small device in Max’s head that could make it explode at any second). The youngest son is still an infant.

Kimmy’s daughter is about the same age as Jackson and is the perfect foil for him. Either some serious fireworks, or some adolescent romance, could be afoot here, possibly both.

In the pilot, DJ is struggling on the day of the going away party and she confesses to Tommy (the baby) that she’s not sure how she will handle it as a single mom once everyone leaves. As luck would have it, the baby monitor is on as she laments her troubles as the entire family listens in on the remote device in the kitchen.

Stephanie decides she’ll cancel her upcoming gigs and move in with DJ to help with the kids. Kimmy, who has always wanted to live in the Tanner house anyway, also decides to move in and help.

The pilot was exceptionally well done and I found myself smiling broadly throughout most of it, and even getting a little moist around the eyes from time to time. The jokes were good, the one liners were spot on, the fourth wall was broken just enough to keep things interesting, and the cast looked like they were having the time of their lives.

Within a week of debuting the new series, Netflix announced that it had ordered a second season. It was unprecedented to happen so quickly and Netflix may live to regret the decision.

I gave the pilot a solid A, probably out of pure nostalgia. If you enjoyed the original series, then you’ll enjoy this. If you didn’t enjoy the original series, then you have no hope of remotely liking this. 

And therein lies one of the problems in making this a regular series, rather than just doing a one-time reunion show.

In order to enjoy the new series, you almost had to be a fan of the old series. Sure, there are new characters and new situations, but more than half of the gags, jokes, and personality disorders are based on the old show and if you aren’t familiar with the original, then you’re going to have a lot of catching up to do to understand the new series, a task you might not find worth the effort.

The new show seems to lack the magic that the original had. Maybe the kids aren't as cute. Maybe the adults aren’t interesting enough. Maybe I’m just sick of seeing cute kids trying to steal the show.

The point is, the new show seems to have a bunch of characters who are all determined to outdo one another with one liners. One character will recite their one liner, then wait for the appropriate audience response. Then the next character will take their turn delivering a one liner, and then wait. The live audience reaction is what gives the actors their timing, and it seems a little awkward at times. Maybe the director is filling in some of the less-well-received jokes with canned laughter; I’m not sure.

At any rate, the subsequent shows aren’t nearly as fun and crisp as the pilot which is too bad. Since they aren’t under the same restrictions as a network shows, they can run longer – much longer as a matter of fact – than the 22 minutes allotted to a half-hour sitcom on network TV (the pilot ran 35 minutes without commercials). They should find a way to use this to their advantage and do some storytelling rather than just delivering punchline after punchline.

The same critique can be applied to each and every episode I’ve seen. After binge-watching a few episodes, they all seemed to blend together, but that can happen with any show.

I’ve given the pilot a solid A, but the regular series is disappointing and ends up with a C-. Those who never watched the original show may not be so kind.

The Twilight Zone: 10 Best Episodes

There’s a Signpost Up Ahead

By Steve Herte

Few television shows about the strange and the macabre were as successful or as memorable as The Twilight Zone. Just play the opening theme and people recall their most chilling episode. It took some doing, but I’ve managed to list the 10 that I would rate the highest, those that stayed in my head and were worthy of several viewings. There’s no particular order or ranking because, to me, they are all equally good for one reason or another. See what you think.

Time Enough at Last – (Nov. 20, 1959 - Season 1)

With an hour-and-a-half commute I get a lot of reading done and I enjoy it. I can identify with Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis in that circumstance. The difference is, I read for relaxation and pleasure (and sometimes out of compulsion). For Henry, reading is a passion, a lifestyle, to the exclusion of everything else.

Frankly, if I were married to an unrelenting harpy who constantly reminded me of my worthlessness and complete dependency on her, I don’t think I would be as tractable as Henry (especially when Helen – Jacqueline deWitt – crossed out all the words in a book of poetry and then proceeded to tear out the pages). Hopefully, I wouldn’t have married her in the first place. In a way though, she’s a tongue-in-cheek character. We hear her call “Hen-Ree!” before we meet her. Radiophiles remember that call from the Henry Aldrich comedy series and Warner cartoon fans will have heard it as well in Book Revue.

Mr. Carsville (Vaughn Taylor), Henry’s boss, is definitely not a motivator. He reinforces Henry’s wife opinion that reading is trivial. The only thing important to him is the job – not necessarily the customer. Unfortunately, even his customers are too busy (or just not interested) to hear anything Henry says. But for Henry, it’s a living.

As the story unfolds in this episode it’s perfectly obvious that nobody cares, or wants to know about reading. It’s no wonder that Henry wishes to be left alone.

This tale was told during America’s Cold War with Russia, when both countries were building stockpiles of nuclear weapons. No one knew when some crazy person would “push the button” and global annihilation would surely follow. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and how terrified I was, knowing how easily the end could come. But scientific accuracy doesn’t apply in Time Enough at Last. 

Henry steals off to the bank vault to read when the (supposedly) atom bomb is dropped (we only hear one explosion).

He exits the vault and, strangely enough, though some damage has been done to his bank building, he’s able to climb the stairs and get to the street level. One has to assume that all the people have been vaporized because there are no bodies lying around. The air is miraculously breathable and the food is edible – not a trace of radiation anywhere (this was way before the concept of a neutron bomb).

Still, Meredith does a stellar performance as he weighs the pros and cons. There’s nobody to bother or harass him, but, there’s also nobody to talk to or share in his love of the printed page. Just as the loneliness gets oppressive enough that he considers suicide he discovers the only other building standing, the library.

But inaccuracies aside, The Twilight Zone twist is what makes this episode memorable. When Henry reaches for something, his glasses fall off his head and break. “It’s not fair! It’s just not fair!” You can’t always get what you want and be careful what you wish for could be lessons taught here.

The Eye of The Beholder – (Nov. 11, 1960 - Season 2)

Patient 307, Janet Tyler (Maxine Stuart in the beginning, Donna Douglas after the bandages are removed) is born “horribly disfigured” and checks into a hospital to have her looks corrected to be socially acceptable. Her head is totally swathed in bandages. She can’t tell if it’s day or night. This is her 11th (and final – by law, no more funding will be provided after this) attempt at the “injections.” “When I was a little girl, people turned away when they looked at me…Who makes all the rules? The state is not God!” she laments.

As the bandages are removed, in three dramatic stages, we see the “Leader” is making a speech on television – echoing conspicuously a Hitler tirade – praising “our glorious conformity.” But the operation fails and she’s exiled forever to be with beautiful people like herself. The story pokes at prejudice and segregation for any reason.

The artistry in this episode is in the camera angles. The Doctor (William D. Gordon), Nurse (Jennifer Howard), and other cast members are shot either from the neck down, or in shadow, or from the back. The audience never sees their faces until the end. That’s The Twilight Zone twist.

To Serve Man – (Mar. 2, 1962 - Season 3)

The nine-foot tall Kanamits arrive on Earth and one (Richard Kiel) presents a book (the title is that of the episode) to the United Nations. The Kanamits are bald, bulbous-headed and dressed in floor-length one-piece tunics with a weird collar off-set to one side. They speak only mentally and look bored or dull-witted. The best minds on Earth, Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner) and his assistant Patty (Susan Cummings) attempt the translation of the strange symbols.

After passing the lie detector tests (to determine that they are not here to invade or exterminate mankind), the aliens give Earth cures for hunger (a nitrate that makes soil super-productive), war (a protective shield impervious to bombs) and a nuclear power source to supply energy to entire countries. At one point, we hear the line spoken to the military, “I guess that puts us out of business.” But the Earthmen fail to ask the right questions.

People are delighted and eternally grateful, and are eager to visit the aliens’ planet. No one is suspicious except Mr. Chambers. After he’s weighed on an old-fashioned standing scale (even for 1962) under the decidedly hungry watchful eye of a Kanamit (he’s grinning like a wolf) and about to board the spaceship, Chambers hears Patty’s revelation that To Serve Man is a cookbook. It’s as hilarious as it is horrific.

I noticed one strange inaccuracy as I re-viewed and still enjoyed this episode. The story begins and ends with Michael Chambers in a small room on the alien saucer. One of the Kanamits brings a tray of food. My question is why would an intelligent race of people who know they are nine feet tall construct a spaceship with doorways they have to duck under to pass through?

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet – (Oct. 11, 1963 - Season 5)

This is one of William Shatner’s best performances. After having been treated for a nervous breakdown and being a fearful flyer (I can identify with that), Bob Wilson (Shatner) boards a plane for home with his wife Julia (Christine White). It doesn’t help calm him when he’s seated by the “auxiliary exit.” Added to that is a violent thunderstorm the entire flight.

Bob’s the only one who sees the “Gremlin” (actually Nick Cravat in a bad gorilla suit wearing a mask from Eye of the Beholder) attacking the engine on the wing his window faces. No one believes him because the creature conveniently flies out of view when anyone else looks. Seriously, I laugh now, but when this episode aired I was terrified.

The suspense mounts until Bob notices a gun in a holster draped carelessly over the arm of a seat in the rear of the plane. (Really?) It’s also almost funny how Shatner nonchalantly (even for him) pretends to drop something so that no one will see him swipe the gun.

Mind you, this plane is not a jet. It’s propeller driven. Still the scene where he pops open the door and is nearly sucked out by the depressurization is exciting as he struggles to shoot the gremlin.

On a gurney being loaded into an ambulance at the end Bob says, “No one will know but me.” Just as the audience wonders whether it was a mirage or whether he saved the day, the camera pans back in a classic Twilight Zone twist to reveal the torn cowling on the plane’s engine. Beautiful.

The Midnight Sun – (Nov. 17, 1961 - Season 3)

Things are heating up as it is discovered that the Earth is slowly getting closer to the sun. Norma (Lois Nettleton) is an artist who is good friends with her landlady, Mrs. Bronson (Betty Garde), but even she cannot stand to see anymore paintings featuring the sun. Obligingly, Norma paints a refreshing waterfall. Psychologically, I guess this helps.

Mr. Shuster (Jason Wingreen) and his wife (Juney Ellis) are the last tenants to leave the building for the temporary relief of moving to Canada. Really? Getting off the Earth would be my priority, if it were possible.

Tempers are flaring and social mores break down with the increasing Fahrenheit when an intruder (Tom Reese) forces his way into the apartment, drinks the last of their water and makes threatening gestures, but later breaks down in shame and embarrassment at what he’s become.

This episode has the definitive convoluted ending. Norma awakens from her fever dream and it’s snowing outside. The Earth has actually broken out of its orbit and is heading away from the sun.

I thought the acting in this chapter was especially well done. I was nearly sweating just watching it.

The Invaders – (Jan. 27, 1961 - Season 2)

A tour-de-force performance by Agnes Moorehead as an old woman living alone in a simple farm house in the countryside, no electricity, no neighbors, and no telephone. Suddenly a crash is heard in her attic. It’s a flying saucer and she finds herself beset by toy-like aliens who appear all over her house and fire weapons at her and stab her in the foot with one of her own kitchen knives.

Wordlessly, she gasps, grunts, and groans her way through the episode fighting off her tormentors and ultimately destroying the saucer with an ax. The last thing we, the audience, hear is a distress call (and the only words in the episode) from an American spaceship to mission control about a “race of giants!” 

We are the aliens in this one. It’s an elegant turn-around on who’s invading who, reminding me of a story recently on the news about an new Earth-like planet discovered several light-years away. The news reporter suggested it as a “new home?” Not if Agnes Moorehead is already living there.

The Howling Man – (Nov. 4, 1960 - Season 2)

David Ellington (H.M. Wynant) is on a walking trip in Central Europe and lost, seeks shelter from a violent storm (which conveniently stops for the dialogue and then resumes) at a monastery and he hears a strange howling (much like a dog’s) behind a locked door (Robin Hughes). Brother Jerome (John Carradine) tries to get David to leave, but when David collapses on the floor, he agrees to let him stay for the night.

The inmate convinces David that the monks, especially Brother Jerome are mad and that they imprisoned him for kissing a girl after beating him. Even after Brother Jerome reveals that his prisoner is the Devil himself. David is totally taken in by the howling man and opens the door.

The frightening metamorphosis occurs and once again the Devil is set loose upon the world. It’s now David’s task to recapture him, and he does, until a woman whom he strictly warns about opening the door lifts the bar sealing it anyway. The best line in this episode is from Brother Jerome, “No MAN has ever been imprisoned in the hermitage.” He’s referring of course to the Devil as not being a mere man.

Nowadays, we tend to dismiss the Devil, I guess because he’s not in fashion. Or we dress up in his “costume” at Halloween because it’s a jazzy way to wear red. This episode reveals him as not in the least jazzy, not in the least fashionable and never to be trusted.

A Stop at Willoughby – (May 6, 1960 - Season 1)

James Daly is Gart Williams, a harried man in a job where his boss, Mr. Misrell (Howard Smith), is constantly on his back urging him to “Push, push, push!” His work-a-day life makes him long for a simpler time. It’s November in Connecticut and on his train home (possibly the Metro-North?), he falls asleep and has realistic dreams of Willoughby, a peaceful, small town in a warm July of 1888. He wakes up disappointed back in his seat on his train as the snow is falling outside.

His wife Janie (Patricia Donahue) berates him about it, “You were born too late…I married a man whose big dream is to be Huck Finn!” All Gart wants is a job where he can be himself and not some drone endlessly being pushed and unrecognized. After a second dream (always occurring near Stamford) and return to Willoughby and a subsequent near nervous breakdown at the office, he’s determined to get off the train in Willoughby the next time he stops there.

He accomplishes this and everyone he meets is pleasant, as is the weather in Willoughby, and he’s perfectly happy to be there. But the reality (The Twilight Zone twist) is he’s not in Willoughby. He’s in a snowstorm in Connecticut and freezes to death outside. To add to the sad irony, he’s picked up by the Willoughby & Sons Funeral Home.

I enjoyed this episode because I can relate to someone who would really rather be somewhere pleasant than in a stressful situation. I’ve experienced this many times in my life and was caught more than once daydreaming in school. I identified with Gart, but I wouldn’t want to share his fate.

A Most Unusual Camera – (Dec. 16, 1960 - Season 2)

Chester and Paula Dietrich (Fred Clark and Jean Carson) are two-bit criminals who robbed a curio shop. To their amazement, among the stolen loot is a strange box camera that acts like a Polaroid camera with instant photos. Though they cannot figure out how to put film in it nor open it to do so, and cannot read the French writing on the outside, Chester takes a picture of Paula posing by the window.

Nothing happens for a little while and they figure the camera’s broken when “bing!” the picture pops out. It’s a perfect photo of Paula except that she’s wearing a fur coat. Chester figures it’s one of those carnival things, but when Paula discovers a fur coat in a suitcase from their stash and strikes the same pose by the window, Chester starts to wonder.

Paula pooh-poohs him and takes his picture. But the photo is of her brother Woodward (Adam Williams) coming through the door. Five minutes later, Woodward arrives (newly escaped from jail). Chester thinks it’s voodoo or some demonic thing. None of these three characters are the sharpest crayon in the box, but they figure out that the camera takes pictures of events that will happen five minutes in the future. They decide to take the camera to the racetrack and photograph the winners’ board. Knowing the horse that will win the last six races gets them a huge sum of cash.

They think they’re on Easy Street until Pierre, the hotel waiter (Marcel Hillaire), translates the French for them when he comes up and notices the camera, “Dix à la propriétaire - ten to an owner.” Chester does some quick calculations (which isn’t easy for him) of how many pictures they’ve taken and how many are left and concludes that they have to conserve the last two. Woodward and he argue and in the tussle a picture is taken of Paula screaming.

The two men continue to fight and both fall out the open window. Paula screams. But it doesn’t take her too long before she realizes that all the money is now hers. Her grief is short and she takes the final photo of the two men on the ground below. Cue the nasty Pierre, who takes the cash threatening to call the police. He also notes that there are more than two bodies in the photo.

Paula goes to look, trips and falls out herself. Standing by the window, Pierre counts bodies in the picture, “One, two, three, four?” and, shocked, falls out the window as well. The camera lands on the floor.

This episode has more of a comedic side to it than a moralistic one. Sure, crime doesn’t pay (obviously) but the characters are so bizarrely played that one can laugh at their mishaps. My favorite line is from Chester, “What has humanity ever done for us?”

Living Doll – (Nov. 1, 1963 - Season 5)

Telly Savalas is Erich Streator, stepfather to Christie (Tracy Stratford) and husband to Annabelle (Mary LaRoche). The girls come home with a new doll for Chrissie, a “Talking Tina” doll. “She doesn’t need another doll!” says he. At first, all Tina (voiced by June Foray, famed for the voice of Witch Hazel in Warner Brothers cartoons) says is, “My name is Talking Tina and I love you very much!”

But out of sight and earshot of the wife and child she changes her tune and ranges from “…and I don’t think I like you.” to “I’m beginning to hate you.” to “I’m going to kill you.” Eric tries to dispose of the doll in the garbage and she quotes Daffy Duck, “You wouldn’t dare.” (Chuck Jones, Drip-Along Daffy, 1951)

But when Tina calls him on the phone, it’s the last straw. He tries to cut her head off with a power saw (and fails), puts her head in a vice (she giggles), and tries to burn her with a blow torch (which repeatedly gets blown out – another Daffy Duck reference: Holiday for Drumsticks, 1949). He gives up.

Then one night. Eric hears something and gets out of bed to investigate. As he starts to descend the stairs, Tina is lying on the second step; he trips and falls to the bottom. Annabelle hears the noise and is horrified, not just by his (we assume) fatal fall (though you can see, he’s still breathing), but by the doll’s last line, “My name is Talking Tina and you’d better be nice to me.”

Eric is not really the evil stepfather so much as the inadequate husband. He repeatedly accuses Annabelle and Chrissie of being in league against him because he and Annabelle can’t have any children of their own. Savalas is used to playing a tough guy but nobody wins against a savvy doll (remember Chuckie?).

I found this episode to be one of the creepier ones and worthy, as such, of being one of my favorites.

You may have your own “top 10.” It’s not easy to whittle them down to that amount. Try it, you’ll see. There are so many to choose from, but these are mine. The memories are bittersweet for all the actors who are not with us anymore as well as the marvelous Rod Serling, who passed 40 years ago, and script writers Richard Matheson (2013) and Charles Beaumont (1967) who brought the stories to us and made the unbelievable believable.

What better way to end a top 10 favorite compilation than with a quote from Rod Serling: There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”


By Steve Herte

What’s it like to witness the gunning down of both your parents and suddenly find you’re the wealthiest orphan in the big city? Ask young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). How do you play two powerful gangster Dons against each other while trying to take over the night club belonging to a deadly, power-hungry Harpy? Ask Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). When you’re the most brilliant mind in the entire corrupt Gotham police department and the only girl you love thinks you’re creepy, what do you do? Ask Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). If you’re a young girl surviving on her instincts in the street and you’re the only witness to the Wayne murders, where do you go? Ask Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). And if you’re the only honest cop in a lawless town run by mobsters and you have to buck the system daily just to keep your ideals and perform your duty, how do you maintain your optimism? Ask Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie).

Gotham is one of the most innovative, creative and fascinating series ever. It’s the prequel to end all prequels. Batman is decades in Wayne’s future. Robin and Batgirl aren’t even born yet. Catwoman is a child herself, as is “Poison” Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley). The Penguin is a boot-kissing lackey honing his criminal skills, the Riddler is an overlooked police department employee and Commissioner Gordon is a zealous detective trying to clean up his beloved Gotham. There is so much evil even the sky is never blue. Between Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Sal Maroni (David Zayas), the town is carved up into territories and the mayor and police commissioner are both in their pockets. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is just as ruthless as the two Dons and thinks it’s her time to take over.

Meanwhile, back at stately Wayne Manor, faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) finds himself a single parent to a young boy obsessed with solving his parents’ murders.

But crime never rests in Gotham. An inmate at Arkham Sanitorium escapes and uses electro-shock treatment to create a blindly loyal henchman to help him on his evil spree. A member of a support group for people with phobias starts murdering them one by one using their specific fears against them. An unknown vigilante kills people he deems as corrupt by attaching them to weather balloons. Even Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) waivers between his love for Fish Mooney and what’s left of his righteousness.

Not only does Gotham hint at really being New York, it uses New York landmarks and then adds buildings via computer to fool the savvy viewer. It looks like New York, but it’s not. From moment one you’re caught up in the dire situation of a big city gone horribly wrong and line up behind Detective Gordon in his Sisyphean task of righting it. The woman he loves, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) leaves him when he seriously neglects her for the pressures of his job. When he tries to expose top level misdoings, he gets demoted to security cop at Arkham Sanitorium where he meets his current fascination, Doctor Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin). Where this will go is anyone’s guess.

The series is totally addictive. The acting is excellent – baddies are believably nasty and the good are few and far between, but recognizable. So far there have been 15 different directors and 24 writers creating engaging episodes that make you look forward to the next Monday evening at 8:00 pm on Fox. I know I do.

MasterChef Junior

By Jack Webster

MasterChef Junior (Fox Network, 2013-Present)  Cast: Joe Bastianich, Graham Elliot, & Gordon Ramsay.

I admit it. I’m a sucker for reality shows. Yeah, I know they’re not real, but there’s still something fascinating about them that makes it near impossible for me to turn away.

Right now one of my current favorites is MasterChef Junior. The last season wrapped up December 16, and this eight-episode season's finale is February 24. The show, as you already know, is a spinoff of MasterChef; only the contestants are kids from ages 8 to 13. And, of course, they’re all cute and such, as they interact with Gordon, Graham and Joe (who is leaving the show). Actually, I’m not used to Gordon speaking without dropping f-bombs all over the place, so for me this is something out of Fantasy Land.

The show also appears to be some thing that can play on Nickelodeon, with the hosts resembling kiddie show hosts. Last season, in a pancake-cooking contest, the winners were allowed to pour huge vats of syrup on the hosts, and this season all got to hit the hosts with lemon meringue pies. To me, the real contest seem to be who can be cuter, the kids or the hosts.

But one important distinction between this show and the adult MasterChef is that while the contestants on MasterChef are a mean and bitchy lot, rooting on camera for the others to fall on their faces, the kids on the junior edition are nice and supportive of each other. They’re still competitive, of course, but this is a gentler, kinder version.

I’m also amazed at how well some of them can cook, and skeptical, also. When I was their age, I was lucky if I could make a peanut-and-jelly sandwich. These kids can cook steak several different ways, break down a salmon, and use technologically advanced equipment. Who has liquid nitrogen just hanging around in the kitchen? I find it hard to believe that 11- and 12-year olds can cook the salmon he just broke down using advanced methods and add two or three side dishes within an hour time limit. There was this one kid last season who was using sriracha foam. At his age, he should be playing with his Mr. Destructo junior chemistry set and blowing the neighborhood to smithereens. I noticed on one episode with a cupcake-making challenge that they were clearly pouring pre-measured amounts of flour and other ingredients into the bowls.

Another thing that raises flags is how well spoken these kids are at their age. Here are some of the quotes I wrote down during last season:

I think my palate’s pretty awesome.”
I’m a little jealous I’m not in the top three (of one challenge). I felt like my dish was really going to be the thing to propel me to great heights.”
This sense of euphoria and relief passes over me because I have redeemed myself and I’m going to be taken a lot more seriously now.”

And here’s the capper: When Gordon questions one of the contestants as to what he’s making, he replies, “It’s a five-spice marinated chicken wings with some lemongrass and cilantro rice, pickled vegetables, and sriracha foam.” Gordon is perplexed, “Why foam?” “Because I think it adds some textural interest to the plate.” (Textural? I had to ask my uncle what that meant. I still don’t know how it applies to his dish.) Gordon then asks, “Have you thought about reining it in a little bit and focusing on one or two things as opposed to five things?” To which our young contestant answers, “I think there’s enough brain capacity now to get everything done.”

These comments are not just precocious, but too precocious for kids their age. I think adults wrote these, especially when the show cuts away to a contestant, and the kids read them off cue cards. Some have written that the kids are actually actors chosen to pretend to cook, but I don’t believe that; it’s too easy to check out. I do think they take the more outgoing kids and focus on them.

Supposedly, the father of one of the contestants on the Australian version blew the whistle on how the show is done. Of course, he cannot be identified because of the confidentiality agreement he signed (suspicious), but he said that while the kiddies were talented, their skills were sharpened prior to the dishes being prepared. He also added that some of the contestants took professional cooking and acting lessons before the show started. He admitted he hired a private chef for three days a week over six weeks to teach his kid. The kids were informed in advance what they would be cooking, so that while the kids look surprised, they’ve all had the recipes for weeks beforehand. While everything looks spontaneous, the reality is that the kids have cooked their dishes over 50 times.

Food for thought  no pun intended. But do we reality show junkies really care? Do those who tune in care? No, we’re just interested in the contest. It’s like professional wrestling: we know it’s fixed, but the fun is in watching it take place.

Besides, the kids are cute.

Magic by the Numbers

By Ed Garea

Houdini (Lionsgate Television, 2014) - Director: Uli Edel. Writer: Nicholas Meyer. Cast: Adrien Brody, Kristen Connolly, Evan Jones, Tom Benedict Knight, Eszter Onodi, & Louis Mertens.

Harry Houdini is famed as being the world’s greatest escape artist, but there was one thing he couldn’t escape: the leaden script for this two-part miniseries on the History Channel.

To say that Houdini led an amazing life is an understatement. Born Erik Weicz in Budapest, he moved with his family to America at the age of four. He began his magic career in Brooklyn at the age of 17, as Harry Houdini, in honor of his favorite magician and idol, Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin. He teamed with brother Dash until meeting fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Rahner, whom he married in 1894. She replaced Dash in the act, acting as Houdini’s stage assistant for the rest of his life.

His magic act was built around his renowned abilities as an escape artist. When other performers began imitating him, Houdini upped the ante by expanding on his abilities to escape from almost any predicament: locked, water-filled milk cans, nailed packing crates, riveted boilers, locked mailbags, and in one case the belly of a beached whale in Boston.

He made films detailing his exploits and developed an interest in aviation. In the 1920s, Houdini turned his talents to exposing and debunking spiritualists, psychics, and mediums, demonstrating to the public how their acts were performed. As his debunking fame grew, Houdini took to wearing disguises when attending these sessions. His death from peritonitis resulting from a ruptured appendix was at first linked with Houdini taking a punch in the stomach before he could prepare. (As part of his act, Houdini advertised himself as the man with the strongest stomach, and would allow spectators to come forward to try their luck.). But soon rumors spread that jealous spiritualists poisoned him.

A most interesting life; too bad we get very little of it in the mini-series. Instead, director Edel and writer Meyer turn the famed magician into a mommy-obsessed performer driven by forces they never bother to take the time to explain. (Meyer based his screenplay on a novel titled Houdini: A Mind in Chains: A Psychoanalytic Portrait, by Bernard C. Meyer, who just happens to be the writer’s father. Nicholas Mayer also authored a novel titled The Seven Per-Cent Solution, wherein Sherlock Holmes goes to see Sigmund Freud for help.) Instead, what we get is a series of vignettes and locations with narration clumsily inserted to fill the voids. It’s even suggested that the young Houdini (Mertens) became intrigued with magic so he could bring home money for Mother (Onodi).

If he was over-attentive to Mommy, he was under-attentive to his wife, who at one point in the movie takes to self-medicating herself with marijuana, telling her husband that it’s Mexican tobacco. However, that’s as deep as it goes in this portrait. It’s why she becomes alienated and how she expresses it to her husband that’s of interest, but we never find out. Narration, and clichés dominate instead.

Every time something momentous is about to happen or Houdini receives terrible news, we cut to a special effects look of Houdini’s stomach and sinews taking a punch as the narration spews out such tiresome clichés as, “Some things hit you in the gut worse than any punch.” “Why was I so compelled to beat death? What was I trying to escape?”  And the clichés abound, contained in the increasingly annoying narration. Just what psychological forces were compelling Houdini to keep pushing himself with increasingly dangerous tricks?

Another interesting point in the film comes with Houdini’s tour of Europe. Beforehand, he is approached by a government bigwig and asked to spy on Kaiser Wilhelm for the good of the free world. In addition, he will meet and team with a man from MI5. With each country he visits, Houdini comes away with oh-so useful information to be passed on, with the capper coming on his return to London where, during a performance, he slips away to break into the German Embassy’s safe and steal secret plans. And just in case we don’t get it, the narration will drive the point home for us. We need not think or speculate - it’s all there for us. All we have to do is watch.

But is it true? Any of it? We don’t know. It’s been speculated that Houdini did some work for the Allies while in Europe, and it does make a fun story. Unfortunately, the director and writer try to make it into some sort of James Bond adventure; so secret that Houdini couldn’t even tell his wife where he went when he left for long periods of time, leading her to think he was seeing another woman.

Part 2 of the mini-series is devoted to Houdini’s debunking of spiritualists. Again, we are led to believe that the impetus for this comes with his mother’s death. Harry, distraught, wants to contact her after death and seeks out several mediums, but his magician’s training leads him to conclude that the so-called mediums are nothing more than charlatans who use ordinary tricks to deceive grieving people sincerely seeking help. Among those caught in his crosshairs is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife, who fancied herself a medium who used “automatic writing” to convey messages from the deceased. Houdini exposes her when he tells her afterward that while the messages were in English, she spoke only Yiddish. Also, the encounter took place on his birthday, and a mother would always wish her beloved son a happy birthday. Again, as to whether or not this actually happened, we are in the dark, but one thing we are not short of is the ponderous narration to drive each point home.

Even the punch that led to Houdini’s death is seen to be a deliberate act, taken before he was prepared; perhaps sent by the spiritualists to gain revenge? (One he exposed earlier threatened him with retribution.) As he lays dying in the hospital, Houdini tells his doctor that he’s been nothing but a fake, to which the doc replies that it simply isn’t the case, for he has brought joy and thrills to the multitudes that paid to see him perform. As the series closes we see his widow attending a séance. Perhaps she believes after all? What we are not told is that, after her husband’s death, she continued to expose spiritualists who told her they could contact her husband in the beyond. It seems that she and Houdini agreed upon a message he was to send her from the afterlife, and if that message wasn’t mentioned, the medium was a fake. Again, it’s what we’re not told that makes the difference between a good biopic and cliché-ridden melodrama.

As to the performances, Brody is masterful as Houdini, capturing his drive and inner conflicts. Connolly as Bess is nice to look at, but she’s given little to do, other than appear in a succession of reaction shots. There is also zero chemistry between Brody and Connolly. It comes back to the writing. Instead of meaningful conversation, we get nothing but cliché after cliché, such as when she tells him that he’s putting her into a box. Come on, who talks like that outside of bad movies? And on their wedding night, Houdini asks his new bride to step into a trunk. When she fits, he knows that she can replace his brother.

Jones, who plays Jim Collins, is also an empty suit. It is when Houdini meets Collins in Part 1 of the series that his career begins to take off, for Collins is the man that builds the apparatus Houdini uses to pull off his illusions. He gives us the feeling that worming for Houdini is a really fun way to spend one’s time, but other than that, there’s nothing to do. And I wanted to see more of Knight as Dash Houdini. There’s a lot of material about being Houdini’s brother, especially in regards to their relationship with their mother.

Not that the three-and-a-half series is all a drag. There are some very entertaining segments where Houdini explains his tricks. Watching it is like watching that series Breaking the Magician’s Code. And the scene where Houdini, visiting the Tsar and his family, astound everyone, including Rasputin, by making the Kremlin bells ring when they haven’t rung for years owing to the poor condition of the tower. Now that was a trick.

The trouble is that, between the tricks, there isn’t enough good drama to sustain the momentum. And here’s the kicker: there is clearly enough in Houdini’s life to sustain the momentum. If only it were written better. Oh well, at least it was more factual than the 1953 movie with Tony Curtis as Houdini. But what that film lacked in facts, it more than made up in cheesy charm. The miniseries should be so fortunate.

Houdini premiered on The History Channel, running on September 1 and 2. Expect History Channel to repeat the series later during the month and beyond.

It’s Not Easy Hosting a Late Night Show

By Jon Gallagher

Suddenly I feel like the TV critic around here. I’m sure there’s an off switch on it somewhere, but till I find it… And that would involve finding the remote.

I was a big fan of Johnny Carson. I loved his dry sense of humor and when a joke bombed, Johnny knew it and had no problem making fun of himself. He had a way of making his guests the star of the show rather than himself, but then again – that was his job. At the same time, he could be very, very funny. He groomed David Letterman to take over his spot, but Jay Leno instead took it over some 24 years ago.

Jay Leno left amidst a controversy as Conan O’Brien took over his show for a while. At the time, I made a prediction for the publication for which I wrote, that in nine months, we’d see a sharp rise in the number of newborn babies. I just didn’t find Conan funny, and actually took a co-worker’s challenge of getting through a week without laughing just one time.

Not only did I make it a week without laughing, I made it a week without even smiling. Jimmy Fallon took over Conan’s time slot and aimed his humor at a younger audience.

Meanwhile, babies only had about nine months to be conceived because that’s how long NBC realized Conan wasn’t funny either, and replaced him with, well, Jay. Jay unretired, Conan got mad and quit, and Jimmy Fallon kept Conan’s old timeslot.

This time around, the networks promise they’ve got it right. Jay has retired, Conan is over on a cable channel being not funny, Fallon moved into Jay’s spot, and Seth Meyers from Saturday Night Live’s weekend anchor has moved into the spot originally held by Conan, then Jimmy.

Confused yet?

After a couple of weeks of watching the new shows, the jury’s still out. Fallon is an unbelievably talented young man who does impressions, is gifted musically, and who is very funny. His interviewing skills have improved immensely since he started, but he hasn’t quite learned his place yet. The interviewer on shows like this are meant to be there to make the “star” or interviewee shine; Fallon still wants to show off his talent. 

He’s also very competitive and often plays games on his shows with his guests. Jimmy wants to win and makes a big deal out of it when he does. Guests may be harder to come by if he keeps that up.

Meyers, on the other hand, tackling his first talk show host gig, looks nervous. On Saturday Night Live, he’s a gem, taking a look at something from the week’s news and doing a one-liner on it. He does that now, but it’s on something that happened that day and he does it as part of a stand-up monologue. I understand they tried to get him to sit behind a desk to do it but he, along with network execs, didn’t want to tie him too closely to his SNL work.

Both hosts say they will continue to do bits that they originated and not reprise things from other hosts. I hope they change their mind. I always loved Carnac the Magnificent (Carson’s turban wearing psychic who would predict the answer to a question held in a sealed envelope). After all, if everyone tried not to copy, then there wouldn’t be any more monologues at all.

Man on the street interviews might not hurt either.

Seth’s first couple weeks has seen him with a shaky voice, and equally shaky knees. The first few nights, it looked like someone needed to be standing in back of him, just in case he keeled over. He’s got a bandleader who seems to be challenging Conan for the title of Least Funniest Person on the talk show circuit.

Letterman, on the other hand (wait, is that three hands???) still stands guard, and he doesn’t look nervous at all. And he’s still doing his top ten lists (which are a hit and miss on the humor scale).

Jimmy Kimmel also has a show on ABC and Arsenio Hall is back on Fox, both of which I've managed to miss. Maybe I’ll catch them online in the next few weeks.

The amazing thing that I found after watching all three programs nightly for two weeks is that most of them do the same jokes on the same topics. I know what they say about great minds thinking alike, but if I were in Meyers’ shoes, I’d have my writers doing a little reconnaissance work over so I didn’t get labeled as a copycat.

As long as TVs and networks survive in their present format, none of the current batch of hosts will ever come close to the longevity records and standards of excellence that were put in place by years ago by King Johnny.

Johnny Dearest

By Ed Garea

Johnny Carson By Henry Bushkin. Illustrated. 294 pages. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. $28.

A little over eight years since his death in 2005, Johnny Carson appears to be having a comeback of sorts. TCM has been running his interview segments hosted by Conan O’Brien, and now former BFF Henry Bushkin has released a memoir of his time with Carson.

We fans have always wanted to know the real Carson, if there was one. Johnny was an enigma; here was man who seemingly had no private life. His triumphs – and more importantly, his foibles – were spread over the tabloids for all to see. And Carson went with the flow, for he could always count on his adoring public. I remember when it was reported in the press that Johnny’s third wife Joanna made some outrageous financial demands in their divorce action. After everything was settled, Joanna came up with an apropos observation: she said it was a “no-win situation” because Johnny could always retreat to his public for his side of things, and no matter what, his public always sided with him. And Johnny did just that. On the night following her financial demands we were all waiting for Johnny’s monologue to get his take on things. And we weren’t disappointed. He opened with: “I just saw my cat’s lawyer. It seems he wants $2,500 a week to keep himself in Tender Vittles.” With that he was on a roll. He ended the monologue with this gem: “When I was growing up my idol was Jack Benny. Now it’s Henry the Eighth.” It was no wonder we wanted to know more about the man we so gladly invited into out living rooms (and our bedrooms) late every night.

However, those looking for answers to the enigma of Johnny Carson will find few, if any, answers in the self-aggrandizing memoir written by Bushkin. Gossipy stories, yes, lots of them, but real insights? Nary a one. According to Bushkin, he was Johnny’s “lawyer, counselor, partner, employee, business adviser, earpiece, mouthpiece, enforcer, running buddy, tennis pal, drinking and dining companion, and foil; and all this on Page 1. Henry was all those, and seemingly more, as he never tires of telling us. For if we didn’t get it the first time he gladly repeats his duties on Page 55, and later again on Page 82, where he is Johnny’s “Swiss Army Knife of a companion, attorney, manager, agent, henchman, crony, tennis pal, and corkscrew all in one.” What I got out of his oft-repeated self-description was that Bushkin was a sort of Prufrock, albeit without the intelligence. In the end, though, Henry found himself cast aside when King Johnny discovered Henry’s duplicity concerning a business deal.

Like millions of others that followed Carson night after night, I always believed that “Bombastic Bushkin,” the inept financial adviser referred to in Johnny’s monologues, was a figment of Carson’s imagination, like his “doctor,” Thumbs Hendelman. But no, the world and I later discovered there was a real Bombastic Bushkin and his name was Henry. We, of course, discovered this fact when the news that Carson had canned Henry hit the newswires. Now, with Johnny safely dead, Bushkin has come forth from the shadows to tell his side of the story, as it were; of his relationship with The King of Late Night, a relationship that followed the patterns of Carson’s other human relationships: rocky and stormy.

Knowing that memoirs such as this needs a big opening, Bushkin begins his story in the year 1979 at the home of Henry and Ginny Mancini, who are throwing a party to which Bushkin’s employer was specifically invited and promised to attend. But here it was, an hour later, and Ginny Mancini was badgering Bushkin as to Johnny’s whereabouts. Bushkin himself found it odd that Carson, who in the past was the epitome of punctuality, would be so late. Time continued to pass. No Johnny. The party itself wasn’t short on celebrities; Bushkin could look around and spot the likes of Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Tony Curtis munching canapés and washing them down with expensive hooch. But the subject on everyone’s minds and lips was “Where’s Johnny?” They asked Ginny Mancini repeatedly about when, or whether, Carson would show up.

It seemed an eternity to Bushkin, waiting for Johnny to make his entrance; being virtually ignored by the celebrity-studded crowd, except when those who knew him approached to ask where he could be. And all Bushkin could answer was that he didn’t know, though he had his suspicions: Johnny had recently split from third-wife Joanna and was living in a rented house. The split was distressing for Johnny, but Bushkin knew Johnny had been back home since early that morning reconciling with Joanna. It was Johnny who insisted Bushkin accompany him to the party, where Johnny would surprise everyone by arriving arm-in-arm with his newly-reconciled wife: “Great, I thought to myself. He wants me there in case there’s a mess that needs cleaning up.” After almost nine years, Bushkin fully understood his role vis-à-vis Carson. At last the Carsons arrived in a Rolls-Royce and immediately became the focus of the party: the women fussed and cooed over Joanna while the men stared admiringly at Johnny’s new blue cashmere jacket, backpatting and handshaking with him. The rest of the night saw Bushkin observing his employer to see everything was under control. When the Carsons went to leave, Johnny told Bushkin to come over the next day for a game of tennis. There was business to discuss, that of Carson refusing to sign a new contract with NBC unless the pot was sweetened considerably. Being Carson’s lawyer meant forever bring on call, for no other clients were allowed to matter in his world.

Perhaps it was Bushkin’s naiveté that led to his becoming involved with Carson. Here he was, a Bronx born, Vanderbilt Law educated youngster working for a small entertainment law firm in Manhattan when the call came through that none other than Johnny Carson needed a lawyer. It was 1970: Johnny was firmly settled into his role as the host of “The Tonight Show” and NBC’s Late Night Earnings Superstar, his show was most profitable on the NBC docket and would remain so for many years to come.

His friend, Arthur Kassel, a security expert/private eye/crime photographer/police groupie, had recommended Bushkin to Carson. Arthur explained that Carson was weathering a rough patch in his marriage and could use good legal advice. When Bushkin protested that Carson could have any high-priced matrimonial lawyer in the city, Kassel retorted that Carson doesn’t trust lawyers, but agreed to meet with Bushkin based on Arthur’s recommendation. Bushkin dutifully presented himself at Carson’s office for an interview, which to Bushkin was akin to being the last guest for the night on The Tonight Show. During the interview the item Johnny was most interested in was Bushkin’s tenure on the Vanderbilt tennis team, telling the young attorney that if he were hired, Carson would expect him to play tennis with him occasionally. Bushkin left the office feeling despondent; that he didn’t get the job and confided so to Arthur. But Kassel, who sat in on the interview, told him the exact opposite: that Johnny liked him very much and would be calling.

And Johnny called the next day, personally inviting Henry to meet him that evening at his apartment. With Johnny was his next-door neighbor, Sonny Werblin, an ex-agent for Lew Wasserman and MCA and former owner of the New York Jets. After an uncomfortable lull filled with small talk, Werblin got down to business, telling Bushkin, in front of Carson, to watch his step: “Johnny’s mood can go from up to down in milliseconds. The situation about to be discussed would be dangerous if word got out. Keep a tight lip.” After another silent period marked again only by small talk, Carson got to the heart of the matter, telling young Bushkin that he had reason to believe his second wife, Joanne, was cheating on him. And he also had a good idea of with whom she was cheating. Carson wanted Bushkin to accompany him and Arthur and some other guys when they break into Joanne’s apartment and gather the evidence. Though Bushkin professed to be appalled at first, Carson soothed him by explaining that Henry was along in case something happened. Even though everything was planned, there was always the possibility that things might go wrong and a lawyer is a handy person to have around. Bushkin said he proved his worth a few minutes later when he outlined a legal loophole that would protect the group in case something did happen.

The next evening, Johnny and his accomplices entered Joanne’s building and bribed the building manager to let them in. Once inside Joanne’s love nest, they were quickly able to gather the incriminating evidence. It was then Bushkin saw Carson lean against the wall and begin to weep. His raincoat had opened and Bushkin saw that Johnny was carrying a .38-caliber revolver in a holster on his hip. On the return to Johnny’s apartment, not a word was said. Carson thanked everyone and said he was tired and wanted to be alone.

If Bushkin thought that perhaps he had seen the last of Johnny, he couldn‘t have been more wrong. The next evening he was awakened from a sound sleep at two a.m. by an obviously sloshed Carson. Johnny said he was sitting in Jilly’s, a saloon famous for catering to celebrities, with Ed McMahon and needed Bushkin to come right away. Henry managed to catch a cab and arrived about an hour later to find Johnny nursing a drink, totally in his cups, bemoaning his marital situation with a certainty that only a drunk could have. Ed popped out of the men’s room and Johnny dismissed him for the night. It dawned on Bushkin that he was to take Ed’s place as the sounding board. Johnny ran the gamut of his troubles, from his failure as a husband to his failure as a father to what he saw as the root cause of his failures at marriage, his mother “She’s the toughest son of a bitch of them all. There is no goddamn way to please that woman. She’s Lady Macbeth! My marriages failed because she f***ed me up . . . If a doctor opened my chest right now, he couldn’t find a heart or any goddamn thing. Just a lot of misery. My mother made sure of that. She deprived us all of any real goddamn warmth. My dad, Homer, should get the f***ing Medal of Honor for endurance.” But then, according to Bushkin, the storm passed as quickly as it came, and Johnny saw a hot brunette enter the room. Henry was dismissed as Carson left with the woman.

The next morning, Carson called to ask what they talked about the night before. Bushkin was the soul of discretion, so much so that Carson invited him over to his place to begin the paperwork for divorce proceedings. If the past two nights were some sort of bizarre test, Bushkin passed with flying colors and became Carson’s attorney and everything that went with it, a position he would hold for the next two decades.

These three stories set the tone for the rest of the book, which becomes a gossipy, self-aggrandizing memoir of a bromance gone horribly wrong. It’s fun reading, almost as if one is eavesdropping at the clubhouse, but it adds practically nothing to the knowledge of Carson that we’ve already picked up before from other, more reliable sources. Anyone who has read through the plethora of material that appeared even before his death, knew Carson to be a complex mass of contradictions; a man who seemed so accessible in his role as host of The Tonight Show, whose quick wit and charm made for many memorable moments over the years supplemented by his oft times razor sharp monologues. But when the red light of the camera turned off, so did Carson. His preferred method for unwinding after a show was to retreat to a room in his home and play his drums alone for hours on end. In private, he was even more mercurial: gracious, witty, generous one moment; curt, aloof and nasty the next moment. As Bushkin puts it: “Never have I met a man possessed of a greater number of social gifts – intelligence, looks, manners, style, humor – and never have I met a man with less aptitude for or interest in maintaining real relationships.” There was no room in his innermost life for a wife or children; when his son, Rick, was hospitalized at New York’s Bellevue, Carson declined to pay him a visit, citing a media circus that would break out if he did visit, and sending Bushkin in his place.

Bushkin’s idea of insight into Carson’s personality is to tell lurid, unsubstantiated stories of his exploits. One story is credited to Bushkin’s one-time girlfriend, actress Joyce DeWitt, about how Jilly Rizzo, the owner of Jilly’s, told her about the time Carson was putting the moves on a hot blonde only to find not only was she not unattached, but that her boyfriend was a major underworld figure. He and several large associates removed Johnny from his bar stool and threw him down a flight of stairs, and, if not for Jilly’s intervention, Johnny would have received an even bigger beating to follow. Carson reacted to this social faux pas by holing up in his apartment and missing three shows. To set things right, NBC Network supposedly cut a deal with mobster Joseph Colombo to cover a rally by his Italian-American Civil Rights League on Columbus Day, 1970.

While all these stories make for fun reading, there is a rationale behind each and every one. In Bushkin’s world, there are two Johnnys: There is Good Johnny and Bad Johnny. Good Johnny was caring and giving, especially as concerned Bushkin – giving him down payments for homes and loans, taking him on vacation with him to Vegas, Wimbledon, and the rest of Europe. And, of course, taking Bushkin’s legal and financial advice, by which Carson made out pretty well. Bad Johnny, on the other hand, drank heavily and was nasty when drunk, was a compulsive cheater on all four of his wives, did not take Bushkin’s advice and sign a pre-nup with third wife Joanna, was emotionally cold, tried to steal at least one of Henry’s girlfriends, and worst of all, become financially contented, allowing side businesses such as his clothing line, to wither and die. According to Henry, Carson never really liked the business side of things. He just liked making money, and when he had enough money, that was that. Worst of all, in Henry’s view, was Carson’s indifference to his own company, Carson Productions. Like his other projects, he was initially enthused when it was starting up, but now he was bored by it all and wanted to sell. He set the price at a figure Bushkin thought unrealistic, so Bushkin did some negotiating of his own with the Tribune Company and when the news of this was leaked to Carson, he fired Bushkin, accusing him of trying to sell his company out from under him. They negotiated a handshake settlement – and Henry never saw Johnny again.

The following financial battle saw Bushkin sued for malpractice and held liable for Carson’s failed business deals. It took him, he said, four years of litigation to clear his name, which peaked in a lengthy trial in which the jury agreed with him and awarded him $17 million. Who was right? It’s hard to say, since we have only Bushkin’s view of what transpired between the two, suffice to say that Bushkin goes on an extended whine about how much time he devoted to his most important client in the past (And relentlessly reminding us that he thought they were friends. Johnny once joking referred to Henry as his consigliere during the day when The Godfather was all over the pop culture of the day.), throwing tennis games to keep him happy, being at his beck and call 24 hours a day, etc. He also retreats into another running theme throughout the book: that Johnny’s cold behavior was a result of having a cold, distant mother who he could never please. That Carson’s life was spent trying to gain recognition and love from a mother who was not prepared to give him any. Dimebook Freud, to be sure, but it does seem to resonate in some of Carson’s behavior, especially towards his wives and sons.

I would have liked insights on Johnny’s wives and sons, his relationships with Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen, both of whom are conspicuous by their absence. How about more on his relationship with Joan Rivers? Most of all I would have liked to have some real insights into Johnny himself, other than some pop psychology blaming his mother. Instead we are treated to what is really an autobiography by Bushkin, in which Johnny is the main supporting character. It seems that Johnny wasn’t the only one in their relationship with the Hollywood-sized ego.

Walker, Don't Run

By Jon Gallagher

If an episode of ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ has ever changed your life, you might be a redneck.” – Jeff Foxworthy

I never got the Jeff Foxworthy joke, mainly because I had never seen an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger starring Chuck Norris (who may come beat me up if I don’t say something nice about him, so somewhere in here, I’ll try). It was a TV show from the 90s and because I was completing my bachelor’s during the first part of the 90s, then teaching high school in the last half, I just never got around to watching a lot of TV during that decade.

The other day, I came home to a TV that I’d accidentally left on and an episode of Walker was on. I couldn’t find the remote right away, so I just left it on.

Now I understand the joke. Now I understand why I never bothered to try and find an episode of it to watch. There are not enough words in the English language to describe how bad this show was. Not only was it poorly acted (faces drawn on popsicle sticks could have done better), it was even more poorly written.

This particular episode had Walker and his crew trying to find a school bus full of kids along with his girlfriend or wife (or whatever she was) that had been kidnapped by a villain who was too bad of an actor to be a villain on the old Batman TV series. The bad guy buried the bus underground and Walker had to find them before they ran out of air. The villain sends them a videotape as proof of life.

In the videotape, despite them being buried underground, there is both lightning and thunder which leads Walker to figure out that the storm is right on top of the victims when the tape was made. I’m not sure how that lightning managed to get through the ground to show up on tape, but that’s not the most ridiculous thing we’ll see in this show.

Walker’s girlfriend gives him a clue as to what time the tape was made. This allows him to figure out where the tape was made because obviously the storm that produced the lightning and thunder wasn’t mobile. It had found a spot that it liked and decided to camp out right there. It must not have taken Walker long to get the tape, play it, make a deduction, find the storm and drive to the spot where the bus was buried because the storm was still waiting for them when they got there! Is that amazing police work or what?!!

But we’re not done yet!

Not only was that storm waiting for them, it was now producing (gasp!) tornadoes. On the horizon, there is a funnel cloud on the ground, just waiting. As soon as the funnel notices someone trying to rescue a bunch of kids, it heads straight for them.

It’s obvious at this point that no one who was on the writing, directing, editing, or production of this show has ever been near a tornado. Since the show is supposedly set in Texas, I would think that they might have had a little experience with tornadoes, but obviously not. A little bit of research might have prevented them from becoming a joke.

First of all, those of us in Illinois know that storm systems move. They may be slow, but they move.  They don’t hang around waiting to attack someone.

Second, when caught in a tornado, the best thing to do is head for a low spot. If you have a basement available, that’s the recommended spot. When the cops find the buried school bus, they rush to get the kids OUT of the bus and into an OPEN area. In other words, instead of getting in the bus themselves where everyone will be safe, they raced to get everyone into the path of the tornado! This may have been the stupidest two minutes of television I’ve ever seen.

After they get the kids (and an overweight bus driver) out, they head for a drainage culvert where they hide from the storm as it tries to suck them out and send them somewhere over the rainbow. If somebody – anybody – actors, crew members, vending machine filler-uppers – would have thought about this for just a second and a half, they might have realized that being safe underground was a much better place to be than out in the open.

But then they couldn’t have done the really stupid scene where the funnel headed straight for Chuck Norris and his buddy. Like anyone who has never been in a tornado, the writers assumed that the funnel was a real, physical thing with real sides. When you see a funnel on the ground, what you are seeing is a debris field or dust that is being swirled by the cyclonic winds. Those who haven’t been in a tornado tend to treat it like a car or van that just happens to drive by and that you can reach out and touch. I honestly thought for a moment that Chuck was going to hop out and karate chop the tornado into submission.

Alas, he did not, the bad guy was caught, and hopefully no one who ever watched this episode ever remembers it if they get caught in a tornado, because it could change their life, but certainly not in a positive way.

Oh wait. I still I have to say something nice about Norris or he might stop by and lay a beat down on me.

. . . uh . . . well….

I got nothing.

I’ll just take my chances.

Sleepy Hollow

By Steve Herte

Sleepy Hollow (20th Century Fox Television, 2013) – Creators: Alex Kurtzman, Philip Iscove, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman. Stars: Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Jim McKenny, Katia Winter, Jeremy Owens, Lyndie Greenwood, Clancy Brown. Mondays at 9:00 pm.

Even though deep into the story of this fascinating new twist on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” I’ve been promising a review since its inception. Far from the animated Walt Disney version where Ichabod Crane is a gangly, goofy coward, this Ichabod (Mison) is a handsome well-spoken soldier who fought beside George Washington (McKenny) in the revolutionary war after defecting from the English army. He meets his future wife Katrina (Winter) at a social party and they fall in love, but she’s betrothed to another. Not only that, she’s a witch with her own coven.

In a battle with the “Redcoats,” Ichabod is mortally slashed by the battleaxe of a seemingly invincible masked Hessian soldier (Owens) but with his last strength he beheads the Hessian with a might swipe of his sword. As he lay there on the battlefield Katrina casts a spell over him and later secrets his body to a burial place where no one will find him. Unfortunately, as she’s casting the spell, Ichabod’s blood is mingling with that of the headless Hessian and they become linked by blood in her spell and both awaken 250 years later just outside the town of Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Captain Frank Irving (Jones) of Sleepy Hollow (who deliberately transferred there thinking the duty would be lighter than in the big city, where he was losing touch with his family due to his constant absence) has no idea what to make of this man from the distant past or of the headless horseman that is suddenly making his life more complex. Only Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Beharie) seems to understand him and she gradually discovers that her path and Ichabod’s are linked in a terrible goal of preventing the Apocalypse.

We learn that the demon Moloch is orchestrating the Final Days through the headless horseman and has made him one of the famous biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the character “Death.” He has imprisoned Katrina in a mid-world purgatory and shown himself to the future lieutenant and her sister Jenny (Greenwood) while in their teens, resulting in one being institutionalized in an asylum (no one believes she saw the Devil) and the other estranging herself from her sister into a life of petty crime. But when Sheriff August Corbin (Brown) gives her a fatherly talking to at a diner over apple pie, she decides to change her ways and joins the police force. She later learns after the horseman beheads the sheriff that he had a file cabinet full of strange incidents occurring around town and was secretly investigating them.

Now her fate and Ichabod’s are deeply entwined as she is forced to accept the supernatural events that are happening and the two battle witches, ghoulies, a golem, Moloch himself and of course, the headless horseman in a continuing quest for the salvation of the world from an imminent End of Days.

The tale would have made Washington Irving proud. It is more terrifying than his original and is told with subtle wit to lighten the gravity of the situations. In the beginning episode a policeman is questioning Ichabod and asks, “You fought with George Washington?” “Oh, you know him?” asks Crane. With that the policeman produces a dollar bill with the picture of Washington face up. Ichabod is as mystified at his new surroundings as the residents of Sleepy Hollow are at his presence. All of the characters are believably portrayed and well acted. The sets, costumes and special effects are very well done for a television production. The musical background accentuates the tension in each scene and the cinematography brings chills to the spine. I find myself eager to be home on Mondays to see the next installment.

Trial by Fire

By Jack Webster

Hell’s Kitchen – Fox, Thursday, 8:00 pm

Whenever I get together with my friends over a pizza or two, we catch up and discuss everything under the sun. Sooner or later, television shows are discussed, and when I tell them I enjoy watching Hell’s Kitchen, they look at me as if I were sprouting rabbit ears. “What are you watching that piece of s*** for?” they ask. Well, I answer, why do people go to the zoo? Or stop and watch an auto accident? The answer is that the show is my guilty pleasure.

The premise of the show is simple: 20 contestants (victims?) compete for a chance at first prize, which is head chef at whatever new eatery the host, Gordon Ramsay, is opening this week. That is, if you can survive Ramsay. Ramsay is a world-famous chef and restaurateur, but he’s also a major piece of work, in desperate need of anger management therapy. Slip up and he’ll go nutzoid on you, throwing the food back at you, reaming you out in front of everyone else, and generally driving you insane. But sometimes I think he has every right to be wigged out: I wouldn’t trust these “chefs” to boil water, much less prepare a gourmet meal for customers. After watching the first three episodes of a season I always ask myself: where they find these people?

And then I realize that some of these “contestants” are chosen not for their ability, but because they’re plain nuts. For the past four years I’ve been watching the show with my uncle (he got me hooked, so blame him), we write down the first contestant to go, fold the paper and give it to each other. To date we have always agreed. It’s no great feat of deduction. There always seems to be someone so unqualified that they just beg for elimination. I think it’s all part of the game. Each season we see the same types: the cute blonde, the fat, sassy woman who’s street-wise and talks incessantly about her anatomy, as in her hoo-has, the self-important blowhard who couldn’t make a Caesars Salad if his life depended on it, the smooth guy with a foreign accent, the fat sloppy guy whose health inevitably breaks down during the season. And some of the men are so grungy you’d be very hesitant to let them cook your dinner. Some of them look as if in need of a good bath and shave. Yet, they’ve all come to be harangued, belittled and broken by Ramsay.

As I wrote, it’s not that I can blame him sometimes. By the fifth episode, a chef should at least know how to make a risotto or sea scallops, but not these bozos. This season, one of the contestants had trouble with cooking lamb. Not that she made it medium-well instead of medium-rare, but it was raw. And she did this not just once, but a couple of times. As is usually the case with this show, when Gordon assigns a chef to do something, like cook meat or fish, we cut to the chef, who tells us he or she is an expert at this. So what happens? Right, the fish, meat, appetizer, etc. has something wrong and Gordon takes the pan over to the table, slams it down and goes ape on everyone on the team. The cutaways must be inserted post-production, as I figure the chefs are paid for their time in competition. (Come on, what idiot would put up with all this abuse for nothing?)

And for what victims are the chefs cooking? If you’ve never witnessed this hour of carnage, the answer is that Hell’s Kitchen is a restaurant in Los Angeles. And it actually has customers, including a few D-list celebrities who are highlighted during the show. Given all the times Gordon cancels service because of the chefs’ slip-ups, the “customers” must be eating free; otherwise, why subject oneself to a possible case of food poisoning? But in the restaurant there is no closed-off kitchen, and when Ramsay is on a rampage, everyone in the restaurant hears it, including all the profanity. Gordon drops F-bombs in just about every sentence he utters. My uncle says it’s gotta be like listening to Hitler during his last days in the bunker. All I know is that, if I’m sitting there waiting for my dinner and ordered the chicken – if Ramsay starts yelling that the chicken he just received to be served is raw, I don’t care if it’s my order or not, I’m out of there.

Being a veteran viewer of the show, I can usually tell by Episode 5 who’s going to win. There’s a trick to winning the show: keep your mouth shut, listen, and do not screw up. This year two chefs have stood out: Ja’Nel and Jon. I predict they’ll be in the finals and Ja’Nel will win. I think I’ve been watching this show too long.

Fare-Thee-Well, Ian and Macca

By Ed Garea

Usually, ESPN manages to insult my intelligence, but this time it broke my heart, even though it’s not all the sports network’s fault.

Three years ago, on the back of the success they had broadcasting the World Cup, ESPN bought the rights to broadcast selected games of the English Premier League. Having been a fan of the English game since 1964 (Yes, 1964. Being a member of my school’s soccer team, I was also a Beatles fan, so guess what city’s team I rooted for?), I was eager to see what ESPN would do – or do to – the games. Expecting the worst, someone like Alexi Lalas doing the commentary for instance, I was very pleasantly surprised when they chose Ian Darke to do the play-by-play, and totally bowled over when they chose Steve “Macca” McManaman to provide the commentary.

Talk about hitting a grand slam. Darke is the best at play-by-play in the business. Think of a combination Vin Scully-Red Barber-Mel Allen at the microphone and you get an idea of Darke’s style. This concise style, added to an inner sense of when to turn the exuberance on and off and just how high to dial it, makes him a sheer joy to listen as he describes a game.

McManaman was quite possibly my favorite player. I loved watching him at work; his dribbling and running skills were the best in the game at the time. An attacking midfielder with Liverpool, and later Real Madrid, he was exciting to watch on the pitch. (I can still remember his two goals for Liverpool in the 1995 FA Cup final against Bolton, which won the game and later earned the match the title of “the McManaman final.”) Along with teammates Robbie Fowler, Jamie Redknapp, David James, and Jason McAteer, they caused havoc both on the pitch and off the pitch, where they were labeled “The Spice Boys” by the press for their antics. But proving he was more than just a dumb jock, McManaman wrote a football column for The Times of London, and after retirement, enjoyed a television career in England.

What, then, made them so special in my eyes? To start, while most commentators either simply go back and forth during a game, or have a conversation during the game, Ian and Macca had a conversation about the game. They went into the game assuming the viewer was sufficiently educated enough to the point where they needed not be spoon-fed about some of the game’s finer points. If a viewer didn’t know what’s going on, just listening to this duo describe the action was enough to prompt him or her to look up those finer points. But while they didn’t talk down to the viewer, they also do not talk above their viewers’ heads. Rather, they credited their audience with the intelligence to quickly surmise what’s going in. Their job was to enhance the viewing experience.

Ian and Macca simply stayed on point while discussing the action on the pitch. We didn’t hear, for instance, about, say, Ian’s new espresso machine, or the new gift Macca’s missus bought for him, or that his kid recently brought home straight A’s. Neither did we hear fawning remarks about the players, such as what this one wore to the game, or how many houses one other had, or just what a wonderful person he was. No, we heard about the players and their work during the game; where they were rumored to be going the next year – if that entered the conversation. They were so smooth that we knew they weren’t working from a list of talking points, but were rather like two guys talking about the game. Some of their exchanges were downright hilarious, such as the one during a period of rough play when one player stepped (I thought deliberately) on another’s foot:

Macca: Do you think there’s any history between these two?

Ian: There is now.

They also have to be lauded for keeping their objectivity, which I thought was difficult for McManaman as he put in so many years in a Liverpool kit. In fact, they were so good at this that I would read comments on various football blogs as to how awful they were; this always seemed to happen right after they took a team to task for particularly poor play. One Arsenal fan called them “Dumb and Dumber” after their criticism of the way the Gunners played after one disappointing match.

However, from this end they were definitely worth recording (their matches, live from the U.K., were often broadcast at the hours of 6:30 in the morning) and made me a happy viewer. They had a unique chemistry with one another. When Macca disappeared for two weeks during the close of this season, I didn’t know what to think. Craig Burley replaced him during his hiatus, and while a good commentator, Burley didn’t quite have the magic with Darke. When Macca came back to the booth and it was explained that he was in Singapore for a seniors’ football tournament, I was relieved – and I think Ian was as well. I remember McManaman putting his arm around Darke just before they went to commercial and saying with a smile, “Did you miss me?” While Darke replied with a somewhat embarrassed smile, we all knew the truth.

While they won’t disappear altogether, their time together will be drastically reduced. NBC outbid both Fox and ESPN for the new Premier League contract. While we could hope they’re astute enough to install Ian and Steve as their lead announcers, we know this won’t be the case. We do expect to see the duo reunite as ESPN has the rights to the 2014 World Cup, so we can only sit and wait, and hope something changes in the future.

All I know is that, while I love the English game, my enjoyment won’t be as great as when I could hear these two sterling professionals in action.

Killer Karaoke

By Jon Gallagher

According to television commercials hyping this series, The New York Times calls it the “greatest show in the history of television.”  To me, that means The New York Times reviewer is either kidding or has not been a reviewer very long and has only been exposed so far to episodes of Honey Boo-Boo and whatever show Snooki is on.

Killer Karaoke is an awful show and a complete waste of everyone’s time, whether you’re a viewer or participant.

Steve O, one of the guys from the Jackass series where masochistic friends try to do damage to themselves in the form of practical jokes and stunts, is the host. He brings the painful elements from that show to blend with bad auditions from American Idol. Basically, contestants have to sing a song they’ve learned while performing tasks that are going to be painful. Steve O tells them, “Whatever you do, don’t stop singing.”

Two contestants square off against each other in a preliminary round. The audience is allowed to vote on which did the better job. Each show has six contestants with three being chosen for the final round. Those three then face off at a chance to win up to $10,000.

Note that I said, “UP TO” in between “win” and “$10,000.”  That’s because of the last challenge that pits the three finalists against each other, which I’ll explain in a little bit.

Even if the winner did get to pocket ten grand, it ain’t nearly enough for what these poor schleps have to go through.

For example, a young lady is lashed onto a swing. She has to sing while the swing is lifted high in the air, then swung over a tank filled with cold water. Of course, she gets dunked as she tries to concentrate on the lyrics, but that’s just the start. She’s lifted out and they dump a big bucket full of (very bad word) SNAKES into the tank, then she is dunked again. She’s pulled out, more snakes are added, and down she goes again.

Snakes, being cold blooded, are attracted to warm things, especially when exposed to cold, and what better to wrap up next to than a human being who’s radiating almost 100 degrees of heat?

Other contestants get equally dangerous and/or humiliating assignments. One has to wear five shock collars (one on each appendage and another around their neck) while trying to serve a meal to the host. Another has on a balloon suit while trying to negotiate a path of cacti while wearing goggles that make him see things as a drunk would. Another wears thick padding to deliver “mail” while five dogs of increasing size are unleashed to attack. Still another has body hair (including one eyebrow) waxed.

Others have been made to reach blindly into boxes that contain things like striker snakes (what is it with these people and SNAKES?), scorpions, or an occasional teddy bear (which for some reason freaks out people more than the snakes). They’re also made to push their heads into boxes that contain skunks, or mice or pigeons where a $50 or $100 bill hangs. Grabbing the money in their teeth gives them a little bonus.

Several have had to walk a runway with five or six covered pits. They’re required to put both feet into the pit for a few seconds. Pits contain things like thousands of maggots, live snakes, ice water, crawfish, and even baby alligators.

I’m not sure if the contestants are told ahead of time what they’re going to have to do or not. I’m not sure how much of their reaction is acting and how much is genuine. I’m not even sure that the whole thing isn’t just another one of TruTV’s scripted shows.

What I do know is this: You expose me to any sort of (very bad word) SNAKE, especially without my prior knowledge, and someone is getting laid out with some industrial-sized dents in their face.

The end of the show features the three finalists on a spinning platform that tilts upward as a stopwatch ticks away in the background. If they stay on the platform for 90 seconds, then they win the $10,000. If not, they win whatever amount is on the stopwatch (it’s about $111 per second). In the few shows that I’ve seen, no one has won more than $5000.

Most of the contestants have been good-natured about their fate, but a couple have looked as if they were ready to do battle with whoever talked them into this.

Hopefully the show won’t be around long. I’d hate to think that there are enough idiots out to provide the numbers necessary to keep it on the air. Then again, the show is aimed primarily at young people and rednecks, so you never know.

Which makes me wonder… Court TV changed their name to TruTV. Given all the towing shows, swamp people shows, pawnshop shows, and other scripted crap, I wonder if the next incarnation of the network will be RedneckTV.

The grade on this one?  I dunno. Is there anything less than a zero?

Steve Herte Weighs In 

Besides being a perceptive food and film critic, Steve Herte is also one hell of a singer. He loves the art form of karaoke and can usually be found in a restaurant that features a “Karaoke Night.”

Holy cow, yet another black eye for the world of karaoke! It's not enough that karaoke's reputation with the general public is of some seriously drunken Japanese businessmen singing Sinatra badly and incoherently. Now someone has the imperially low taste to ridicule the innocent pastime (not to mention the singers) by mixing it with a dangerous form of Wipeout. I can't imagine the base opinion the creators of this tacky show have of karaoke. Further, it scares me that somebody else would get their jollies out of watching these poor misfortunate fools who allow themselves to be exploited in this way. This is carrying Schadenfreude to new depths.

Karaoke should be about having fun, not about necessarily being good at it. Yes, I do joke about people who couldn't hold a tune in a Glad stretch bag, but never at a karaoke session. The whole idea is encouragement and fun. People who always dreamed of getting up before an audience to sing get their chance to try it outside the safety of their shower curtain. That's an incredibly big step for some and whether they succeed or go down in flames, they still deserve applause for getting up there. That's what we do.

Granted, some need more "liquid encouragement" than others and some do credit to the general opinion, but there are a lot more singers who are good not only at reproducing the original vocals of a song but stylizing it as well. New York City has so many out-of-work singers that they are heard at karaoke bars regularly while they strive for their "big chance." Believe me, in my 20-plus years of singing karaoke I've witnessed some spectacular voices that made me think, "What's keeping them back?" These are people I wouldn't consider competing against because I know I couldn't win. And they surely don't need to be told, "You can't make it in the big time so you sing karaoke."

Still karaoke is about the average Joe or Jill who loves a particular song and, with a little help from their friends (and particularly the host), has that one moment of joy when they actually perform it and are appreciated by their peers. They don't need "Killer Karaoke" disparagement or downplaying by some irresponsible host (and several hosts have lost their gigs by being that way).

My hope is that the network airing this debasing show has the good sense to realize that it flies in the face of decency or that the viewing public wises up to the fact that people embarrassing themselves or hurting themselves (or being deliberately injured by others) is NOT funny.

Storage Wars: Fake?!

By Ed Garea

David Hester – best known to fans of the reality show Storage Wars for his trademark “Yuuuuuuup!” – has filed suit against the producers of the show, alleging the show is fake and that the producers fired him out of spite.

The show reportedly renewed Hester’s contract, then rescinded it for Season 4 after he raised a number of complaints to the producers and the A&E Network.

In his lawsuit, filed by top lawyer Marty Singer, Hester accuses the show not only of illegal activity, but also of an ongoing pattern of outrageous behavior to deceive the viewing public.

The specifics are:
  • Producers stage entire units and regularly enliste the cooperation of owners of storage facilities.
  • The show pays for lockers “won” by “weaker” cast members.
  • The show plants items in lockers after having their value appraised weeks before.
  • The show also obtains items for placement in the units from a business regularly featured on the show.
  • Bidding is rigged and scenes of the bidding are faked, as none of the auctions shown are open to the public. All interviews shown on the show are fake.
 Additionally, the producers paid for the breasts enhancement of one of the female cast members.

Hester also says that on September 6 he and some of the other cast members met with A&E Senior Vice President, Talent & Production, Neil Cohen, to air their concerns about the practices. Afterward, Hester and the cast members met with Cohen, Jeff Baumgartner, the series’ producer, and Ernest Avila, the production company’s executive vice president of business and legal affairs. Again the concerns about salting units were raised.

Then, on September 18, Hester’s entertainment attorney, Stephen Barnes, sent a letter to Avila requesting that Hester be indemnified by the show for any third-party claims regarding “the authenticity of the auction process and the series.” 

According to the suit, “Defendants’ response to this request was to fire Hester from the series.” Avila sent Hester a letter on October 1 nullifying the exercise of Hester’s option for Season 4, citing the September 12 letter.

Hester is seeking millions in damages for breach of contract, wrongful termination, and three other counts.

We can only quote Captain Renault in Casablanca: “”I’m shocked . . .shocked to find that gambling is going on in there."

Stakeout at the Steakhouse  

Note: Instead of doing our usual Dinner and a Movie, we are taking leave this time to present Dinner and a Television Show. We hope you enjoy this excursion off the road most traveled.

Restaurant Stakeout (The Jay and Tony Show/Food Network, 2012)

By Ed Garea

“Have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched?” – Bugs Bunny, Hair Raising Hare (WB, 1946)

The staffs of restaurants might well be asking themselves that very same question if they ever tune into this show. It answers the old question of “When the cat’s away, do the mice play?” Do they ever play! In fact, viewers will be asking themselves how these sorts of antics could be taking place.

Wille Degel, owner of the popular Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse and Jack’s Shack All-Natural Eatery in New York, is known for running a tight ship. And he’s also known for his world-class service. Degel’s philosophy is that all the good food in the world will not bring a customer back if the service is lousy. In his view, the customer is the king and should be treated as such if a restaurateur ever expects that customer to return. Degel ensures his good service by installing cameras in the premises of his establishments. He can see what’s going on every day, and more importantly, stop a problem before it grows into a bigger one that could lead to the loss of business.

So what Degel does is help out restaurants that aren’t doing as well as they should – or did in the past. His thinking is that when the owner’s away, the employees will play, a line of thought that is borne out in what his cameras catch them doing in those hours when they are unsupervised.

And is he ever right. If this were scripted, the employees couldn’t do a better job of screwing up. In their defense, most of them are young and immature. But still, even though it’s not a high-paying job, one should still have enough self-respect to do the best job possible, especially with some of the pushover owners they work for.

What Degel does is meet with the owner, get the keys, and have his team come into the place after closing and install cameras seemingly everywhere. He sets up HQ in a nearby location and shows the owner what’s happening when he or she is not there. Degel is there to supply the outrage while the owner supplies the necessary surprise. Degel also sends in actors to test the staff on certain points, giving each of them a role as fussy, allergic, wishing to book the place for a catered party, etc. The responses from the staff are oft times hilarious and sure to bring out groans in the audience. In one instance they captured a waitress throwing a napkin at an angry customer. In another they filmed one of the waiters having an impromptu wrestling match with one of the customers for the benefit of the assistant manager, who clearly should’ve known better.

The payoff comes when Degel has the owner hold an emergency meeting so he can make his entrance dispensing what he seems to excel in: tough love. He meets with some of the staff to temper their feelings and makes suggestions to the owner as who to fire immediately, whom to promote, etc. Oft times these days there are many talented people working in these places because they cannot find a job in their field. They could also be invaluable to the owner as an assistant manager or some other management position, which would take much of the load off the back of the owner. Degel seems to have a good eye for spotting these types.

Yet, while Restaurant Stakeout is certainly entertaining, the theme leaves little room for variety, and this could be a show viewers tire of quickly.

But in the meantime it is one great ride.

On the Food Network’s webpage, Degel lists his tips for an enjoyable restaurant experience:

     With the internet, it’s easy to be an educated customer. Know as much as you can before you walk in the door. (Editors’ note: And if you really want to know just how good a restaurant is, just read Steve’s column, or write us and give us the name of the restaurant you wish to visit. If he’s been there, and the odds are likely that he has, Steve will clue you in as to whether or not it’s worth your money.)

     Tell restaurants exactly what you want. The staff is not mind readers — if you want a specific table, ask for it. You need to be proactive, not reactive. You’re not hurting anyone’s feelings.

     How a restaurant maintains their storefront and represents their brand to the public is one of the most important things. Check the bathrooms. If the bathrooms are clean, you know the kitchens are clean as well.

     A good restaurant’s menu should be short and simple. You want to know what the product is. If the menu looks like a Bible, run away.

     Dining out with kids? Plan ahead. My daughter, has a little bag she takes. My son takes a book, he likes to read. We do all these little things to keep them active, which helps make the experience a little better.

     Order the kids’ food first. If we order an appetizer, we order the kids’ entrées at the same time. If we order dessert, we say “have the check ready for us” so we can make a quick exit if the kids get restless.
But . . . how good is Degel at following his own advice? We here at Celluloid Club were wondering, so we sent in our Galloping Gourmet, Steve Herte, to put Degel’s claims to the test. We’ll see just how valid are his claims. Following is his experience.

Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse
440 9th Avenue (34th Street), New York

By Steve Herte

When I chose the Ninth Avenue incarnation of Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse, it was partly on a recommendation from Ed and partly location. It was easy walking distance from the movie theater on 42nd Street.

The first impression was of a happy, homey, not too brightly lit, and visually appealing place where I could be comfortable dining. I like sitting near a window so that I can watch the street scene while enjoying my food. This was accommodated. I did not have to wait long for cocktail service and, when the order was placed, the drink arrived shortly after and did not taste watery as if it sat on the ice too long waiting to be poured.

I had no idea there were cameras in the restaurant, but when I return I’ll look for them. The service was indeed wonderful and timely. No course arrived at the same time as the previous one (or earlier, as I have experienced in other places), the portions were generous and perfectly cooked to my specifications (I like my steak one way only) and I never had to pour my own wine. When I waffled over side dishes, the waiter revealed that I could have a half-and-half side dish, which was the best of two worlds.

The only negative was I wish they had a handheld menu. The menu was on a chalkboard over the bar and was quite readable for me, but had my Mom been there, she could not have read it (macular degeneration). But I’m also sure that the serving staff would have compensated for just such an occasion.

Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse lives up to Wille Degel’s standards perfectly. In fact, it was so good that it replaced my benchmark steakhouse Ruth’s Chris in overall dining experience as well as steak preparation (the latter has been a favorite for over 20 years). On my next visit I’ll have to leave room for dessert.

In my compilation of 2,503 restaurants I have only been to one other establishment run as well as Uncle Jack’s and that would be City Hall Restaurant in downtown Manhattan. Chef Meen’s staff is similarly trained to not only serve courteously and timely but to make you feel at home, taking the time to address you by name, offer a newspaper if the timing of a dish requires a wait and greeting you as an old friend, welcoming you to City Hall. Again, like Uncle Jack’s, the food is consistently excellent, but it’s the staff that give you that “Aaah, I’m home!” feeling. I would say maybe 10 out of all of my restaurants gave me that feeling.

Once Upon a Time

By Steve Herte

(Kitsis/Horowitz & ABC Studios, 2011-present) ABC-TV, 8:00 pm Sunday

Having become an avid fan of this fantasy/drama over the course of its riveting first season, I am more than ready to find out what happens in the second, and Once Upon a Time is still delivering. However, one needs a scorecard to keep track of all the characters.

In the first season we learned that Regina, the Evil Queen in the Snow White story, obtained the means from a just-as-evil Rumplestiltskin to cast a spell over the entirety of fantasy land and banish all of the inhabitants to Storybrooke, a small town in Maine, USA (I wonder if Stephen King knows where this town is?). In Storybrooke everyone has new identities. They do not remember who they really are (except for Regina and Rumplestiltskin) and cannot leave the town limits. Also, the town clock has stopped forever and magic is unavailable. This is Regina’s attempt at achieving her own happy ending and depriving everyone else of theirs.

Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla) is mayor of Storybrooke and Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) is now Mr. Gold (since he could spin straw into gold, remember?) and runs the local antiques-cum-pawn shop in town. Snow White is now Mary Margaret Blanchard (Ginnifer Goodwin), a schoolteacher. Prince James (Charming) is now David Nolan (Josh Dallas). He is married to Kathryn Nolan (Anastasia Griffith), who was formerly betrothed to a man unfortunately turned to gold by King Midas (Alex Zahara).

Then it gets complicated.

Enter Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) who is just passing through from Boston and doesn’t know that she’s actually Snow White’s and Prince Charming’s daughter, and who was saved from the evil spell by a magic wardrobe carved by Geppetto (Tony Amendola) who is now Marco. She also doesn’t know that the son she gave up for adoption is Henry Mills (Jared Gilmore) who resides with Mayor Mills as her son – named after Regina’s father, Henry (Tony Perez) – who had to die by her hand so that the evil spell would work.

Henry has a big, illustrated storybook from which he figures out whom everyone in town really is, including Emma, and convinces her to stay because, “You’re the only one who can break the spell.” And indeed, at the end of the first season, she does exactly that, with the kiss of true love, to bring Henry back to life after he ate an apple turnover baked by Regina (Never eat apple products from the Evil Queen!), which was meant for Emma.

Over the course of the first season, Once Upon a Time gives explanations for various fairy tale characters and their outlook on life. Regina’s hatred of Snow White resulted from, while a child, Snow White (Bailee Madison) failed to keep the secret of Regina’s true love from her mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey) who uses magic to kill him.

Rumplestiltskin’s evil becomes his choice to gain power when he’s branded as a powerless coward and loses his son Baelfire (Dylan Schmidt) and his true love, Belle (Emilie de Ravin).

We meet the eight dwarves: Stealthy (Geoff Gustafson) is killed trying to escape King George’s (Alan Dale) castle with Snow White; Doc (David-Paul Grove), Sneezy (Gabe Khouth), Bashful (Mig Marcario), Happy (Mike Coleman), Sleepy (Faustino Di Bauda), Dopey (Jeffrey Kaiser), and Grumpy (Lee Arenberg). Grumpy’s doomed love affair with the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) is the reason he’s so grumpy and was an episode in itself.

The luckiest actor is Giancarlo Esposito, who falls in love with Regina as the genie from Aladdin’s lamp, is given one wish and chooses to be forever looking at her, becoming the Magic Mirror. In Storybrooke, he runs for sheriff against Emma as Sidney Glass, newspaper reporter. (The Daily Mirror – get it?) The position became open when Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), aka The Huntsman from the Snow White story, was killed by Regina when he falls in love with Emma.

There is no lack of special effects in Once Upon a Time. Prince Charming gets to kill a dragon. Emma also gets to battle and kill a dragon, but this time it’s really Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten), the evil fairy from the Sleeping Beauty story. Prince James and Snow White try to bargain with and eventually destroy a group of trolls guarding a bridge. Red Riding Hood, as well as Granny, is a werewolf, and so that story is explained neatly.

In the second season, everyone in Storybrooke knows who they are and Regina almost becomes the victim of a lynch mob. But, reunited with Belle, Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin) brings magic back to the already confused town and with it, a Soul-Sucker (Wraith), intended to kill Regina. However, Jefferson (Sebastian Stan) aka The Mad Hatter gets his magic hat working to open a portal into fantasy land that sucks the wraith out of Storybrooke.

Unfortunately, Emma is also sucked in and Snow White follows her, not wanting to lose her daughter a second time. They end up in a devastated land and join with the newly-awakened Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger), Asian female warrior, Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Lancelot of Camelot (Sinqua Walls) to fight an immense ogre. Lancelot turns out to be Cora in disguise and she wants to get to Storybrooke to create even more havoc.

Cora joins up with Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). He became Captain Hook after Rumplestiltskin sliced off his hand with a sword (Sure why not, Hook called him a crocodile.), and hopes to use the remains of the magic wardrobe to add two more villains to an already beleaguered town. Confused yet? I told you that you’d need a scorecard. This is without mentioning Pinocchio (Jakob Davies) or Jiminy Cricket (Raphael Sbarge) as the town psychiatrist, Doctor Archie Hopper.

Not only is this television show the most original concept in at least 20 years, it has excellent portrayals (Regina has my vote for most evil), great make-up jobs, costumes and sets, characters you can identify with and a well-written script. I can’t wait for next Sunday night to find out what happens next or who else will join the cast.

Beauty and the Beast Nothing More Than a Little Furball

By Steve Herte 

(CW Television Network, 2012) – D: Gary Fleder. Starring Kristin Kreuk, Jay Ryan, and Austin Basis

In the words of the J. Geils Band song “My blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold…” I recently tuned in to the newest version of the classic tale on WPIX television (Channel 11 here in New York) thinking it would be a re-run of the 1987-1990 series. What a surprise – and what a disappointment! Thinking I was once again going to see the story of a strong, silent and sensitive Lion/Man, Vincent (played by Ron Perlman) and the incredibly beautiful Assistant District Attorney Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton), I saw instead the marginally-talented Jay Ryan and the moderately-lovely Kristin Kreuk playing the roles in what looks like a spin-off of Vampire Diaries.

Instead of living with a man he calls “Father” (Roy Dotrice) in the mysterious underground world beneath New York City, Vincent now lives with J. T. Forbes (Austin Basis) – who appears closer to being an extra for The Big Bang Theory than a father figure - in a warehouse-sized loft. That might have been fine, except for reason unknown, the special effects are played down. In this day and age of CGI, there is good reason for Vincent to transform into a more “beastly” character, but he only does so when strong emotions like anger are stirred up. So the character is more like a wolf – but not quite so – with the same problem as The Hulk (but not as dramatic).

I can only hope that future episodes develop the characters into something closer to the sterling examples provided by the original actors and that the series becomes as popular as a result. However, I’m not encouraged by what I saw, for those are big shoes to fill, and I don’t know if the writers and the cast are anywhere near up to it.  It seems to be aimed at pre-teenage girls, and the plot is what could mercifully be described as “moronic.” But I can always hope, I guess.

By the way, for you trivia buffs and fans of the original series, you might be interested to know that the 1987 series has the unique honor of producing “The Most Stolen MTA Subway Poster,” a photo of Ron and Linda with the wind melding her flowing hair with his mane. I thought about removing it myself, but I just didn’t have the nerve. Besides, with my luck I could just see my face on the pages of the next day’s New York Post and Daily News with the headline “Man Nabbed Trying to Steal Subway Poster.” Wouldn’t that have gone down well at work!

See Ya, Harry!
By Jon Gallagher

I’d love to sit in on one of those discussions that TV execs have when discussing which shows to keep and which ones to dump. It’d be fascinating to see if there actually are people in the world as stupid as these morons lead us to believe they are.

Let’s take NBC for example. In 2011 they put together a mid-season replacement that attracted a lot of attention. Harry’s Law starred Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates as a 50-something patent lawyer who grew tired of the drudgery of corporate law and walked out of her world into one that she wasn’t aware existed.

She finds herself in one of Cincinnati’s rougher neighborhoods when someone falls out of the sky and lands on her.

You read that right. The guy was trying to commit suicide and had jumped off the roof of a building only to land on an awning which broke his fall, then propelled him onto Harriet “Harry” Korn. Both take it as a sign from God that she should open a law office right there.

As she’s scouting the neighborhood for a good location again, a driver careens out of control and rams into her which of course cements her decision to leave the world of corporate law behind for the satisfaction of practicing law out of a storefront. She opens up her law office in a former shoe store which still has an inventory of shoes on hand. Fortunately for Harry, her assistant who makes the move with her from corporate to storefront law just happens to be a fashion expert which leads to the opening of “Harry’s Law and Fine Shoes.”

The characters in Season One are wonderful on many levels. Paul McCrane, best remembered for his role as Dr. Robert Romono on ER, is assistant district attorney Josh Peyton who ends up going a little bonkers after being beaten by Harry in court once too often (he strips to his underwear during court while complaining about how the system strips him of his prosecutorial powers).

Damien Winslow III, played by Johnny Ray Gill, offers protection for the neighborhood with his special brand of insurance. Nate Corddry is the hyperactive driver of the car that hits Harry, who just happens to be a lawyer himself. 

It’s an interesting series, created by David E. Kelley (Boston LegalAlly McBealL.A. Law, and Doogie Howser M.D.) that, like a great cook, combines just the right amounts of what’s needed – in this case drama, comedy, interesting characters, and conflict – to produce a winning recipe.

When Harry’s Law was picked up for a second season, I was anxious to see where they were going with it and what could be done with a full season’s run.

Evidently, no one ever told them, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” because that’s exactly what happened.

Harry moved upstairs, leaving the shoe store far beneath her. Instead of having a small law office, she now had a major law firm with several lawyers working for her. Instead of representing the motley crew of characters from the ghetto setting, she was now taking on clients who could afford the exorbitant rates that she must now be charging.

Gone are most of the characters who added so much to Season One, replaced by, well, lawyerly types. Adam (Nate Corddry), who tried to run her over, is still with her, but it’s obvious that they’ve quadrupled his hourly dose of Ritalin. He’s had a complete personality transplant and seems to have found an inferiority complex that would fill psychological journals.

Tommy Jefferson (Christopher McDonald) is another holdover from the first season. He’s a flamboyant ambulance chaser who opposed Harry in the first season, yet has somehow moved into one of her vacant offices in the second. His role has increased, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The assistant DA from Season One, Josh Peyton, is also gone, but in his place is a lazy Susan of prosecutors, each of whom brings their own quirkiness to the courtroom. From the born-again Christian with a closet porn problem to the DA herself with a personal vendetta against Harry, the DA’s office appears to be the last refuge for lawyers who are on the fast track to a padded room. The trouble with this is that they’re TOO quirky, with writers trying to round out their characters quickly rather than letting them develop with just a problem or two.

Harry walked out of the high-priced corporate law setting into the storefront-law setting, then right back to criminal law without the store front. The journey that was so interesting became boring when she went from being a high-priced patent attorney to being a high-priced criminal attorney. She just changed her concentration, not her surroundings. That’s pretty boring. 

So why make the wholesale changes in an already successful show?

Producers of the series claim that Harry’s Law in its second season was NBC’s most watched scripted show, but that it didn’t do well with the 18-49 age demographic. According to NBC’s logic on this, those of us over the age of 50 have already purchased everything we need to purchase in our lives, so they have to aim their advertising at the 18-49 year old group who still have disposable income. The changes were made in order to appeal to the age group targeted by advertisers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work so those of us over the magical age of 50 will just have to find another show to get attached to. It also didn’t work for those between the ages of 18 and 49 as NBC canceled the show.

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