12 Mai 2007

JTS Commentary, Part V (Family Affair)

Insufferable and unbearably insipid, this show was always one of those I ended up watching despite myself--chalk it up to the hypnotic nature inherent in the tube's technology. I remember coming home from elementary school on smoggy L.A. afternoons in the early 1970s and hating Buffy, Jody, and the pseudo-british Mr. French as I was watching, yet I couldn't tear myself away. Obviously, the former child stars couldn't live with themselves after what their treacly performances had inflicted on the viewing public.

11 Mai 2007

JTS Commentary, Part IV (The Honeymooners)

Raw, gritty, real people, none of the plastic, contrived qualities so rife during the Fifties. Ralph wasn't a "civil servant"; he was a simple bus driver, struggling to get by in New York (albeit "Bensonhoist") on $62.00 per week--approximately $500 in today's money. Pure, unadulterated New York humor that is lost on many of the doltish fools populating Middle America. Some of the best lines: "Alice, your mother doesn't mean to be mean, she was just born that way." Norton, after Ralph pulls the "heads I win, tails you lose" trick: "Hey, Ralphie boy, I saw that. Gimme back my cern." Norton to Ralph, when the Great One gets stuck between the basement steam pipes while moonlighting as maintenance man: "I think this is a case where the spirit is willing but the flesh is just too much." After the counterfeit money debacle: "Are you finished? Are you finished with all the lectures, Carrie Nation? . . .I was a millionaire for a couple of days! That's more than anybody else in this dump can say! For two days I had it and I went with it too! It came easy and it went just-as-fast! And that's the way I'd be if I had it--easy come, easy go. If anyone found out that I had it, they could have it. It's my nature to spend. . .except I never have anything to spend." Unbeatable. And for all you feminist ranters, don't forget: a) Alice goes to work when Ralph is out of work and tells him to "ahh, shaddup." b) Ralph doesn't dare send Alice to the moon, he merely has impotent fantasies about it. May that moon always rise over beautiful Brooklyn, the "garden spot of the woild."

JTS Commentary, Part III (Three's Company)

As a hopelessly nerdy but horny prepubescent lad in the late 1970s, I loved Three's Company. Lusting after Chrissy, Jenilee Harrison and the various other beauties who appeared from time to time, I harbored fantasies of what would await me in a few years. (Little did I know that AIDS would hit. Or that my social skills would remain incorrigibly dreadful.) It didn't matter that the sight gags were recycled or as old as the hills, because the cast had excellent timing. And, at least until things got serious with Jack's opening his own restaurant, TC's overall tone was light-hearted and carefree. The advent of the restaurant disrupted this chemistry principally because that Mr. Antolino was so unpleasant. The Ropers were absolutely hilarious; Norman Fell's deadpanning was priceless, and Mrs. Roper's sexual frustration seemed entirely believable. Don Knotts' arrival did not weaken the ensemble. Certainly his character was different from those of the Ropers, but Mr. Furley's bravado and blustering were also entertaining, in their own way. John Ritter displayed quite a knack for true physical humor. I especially remember an episode in which Jack is trying to flex his wrist after suffering some kind of injury. Roper walks in at just the right moment and intones, "You guys have to practice that?" No way could you get away with that in today's humorless PC world. So what if the writing wasn't the wittiest? This was, for the most part, a sweet, charming and entertaining show.

JTS Commentary, Part II (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea)

This is beyond dreadful. All of the bad qualities of the original Star Trek, which was its contemporary, with none of the positive aspects. Mindless plots, rubber-suited aliens who have to be slugged into submission, and acting that cannot be described as anything short of excruciatingly bad make this junk impossible to watch even at 7:30 a.m., when I am eating breakfast and still half-asleep before going to work. What is a middle-aged admiral doing commanding a single vessel at sea? If Basehart is so wonderful, he should take a demotion and spare the superfluous Captain the humiliation of being useless for anything except having aliens control his mind. Perhaps, just perhaps, the show's only redeeming feature was its music.

09 Mai 2007

JTS commentary, Part I (Perry Mason)

As a sitcom-and-drama addict from way back, I have occasionally indulged myself over the past couple of years and contributed comments to Jump the Shark. The next few posts here will bring you my gesammelte Werke.

In the last couple of seasons, Burr switched from a swept-back pompadour to a comb-across style, presumably to look a bit less fifties-like. Maybe so, but the pompadour flattered his rotund, corpulent corpus a lot better. To me, the shift in hairstyle signaled the appearance of fins--as a show with a late fifties/early sixties look and sensibility (much like Alfred Hitchcock Presents), PM by 1965/66 had a discordant ring to it. Still, eminently watchable and well-done, contrived plots notwithstanding.

Proof positive of the quality of the scripting, dialogue and plotting is the remarkable ease with which PM translates into foreign languages. I lived in Germany for two years and taught myself an astonishingly large amount of formal, official and bureaucratic German ("Amtssprache," it's called) by watching dubbed PM episodes. The characters, Mason in particular, speak with such precision and formality, always using complete sentences, that the dubbed version served as an excellent teaching tool for me. Also, it so happened that the German voice-over actors who stood in for Burr, Hale, Talman, and the rest did a superb job. The German PM sounds like PM, and this success testifies (!) to the overall quality of the show's writing, plotting and acting.

Of course, as noted, it was contrived and thus free of the more revolting aspects of real-world criminal law. Mason always tries his cases in impeccably decorated, and decorous, courtrooms with plenty of space. You never see grubby dirtballs shuffling around the courthouse, jammed into waiting rooms with their lawyers waiting for their cases to be called on the docket so that they can enter their pathetic plea bargains. Nor do you ever see Mason having to wheedle money out of some lowlife. (In the books, he's always astounding well-heeled and quite profligate, too.) Incidentally, at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, where I got an LL.M. in tax and business law ten years ago, the library has a collection of Burr memorabilia, including his copies of the show's scripts, all of which he donated. Evidently, Burr was an avid reader and something of an intellectual; one of the photos, as I recall, depicts him in his personal library, which was filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves--and from the asymmetric appearance you could tell that they were real books, too, not the fake ones some people buy to impress visitors. Well done, Ironsides!

07 Mai 2007

Die Welt rutscht hinab, wahrhaft

Staggering gas price increases and the concomitant long-term truth we all deny; recrudescent Cold War; Al-Quaida, GWT; 6.5 billion and counting (6 billion just seven years ago, folks); vanishing bees; global warming (or something, at any rate); poor Tasmanian devils; immigration; health care; inflation; China; Eurabia; a populace ill-read and untutored; children loaded up on pharmacocktails; crank. . .and those are just the ones I can think of right away, after a day spent soaking my carpets with what is undoubtedly an environmentally hostile, carcinogenic cleaner--that also, sad to say, works like a charm in getting rid of dust, mold and mildew and leaves a very nice, nonspecific-fresh scent.

06 Mai 2007

Nicht alles was glänzt, ist Gold

Die grossen Unternehmensverbände vertreten unsere Interessen. . .und wenn Sie an diese lächerliche Lüge glauben, also, wenn meine Grossmutter Räder gehabt hätte, wäre sie ein Bus gewesen. Einfach so.