Tuesday, March 17, 2015

All In The Family: "Too Good Edith"

Premiered April 8, 1979.

Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) takes her niece Stephanie Mills (Danielle Brisbois) to see Dr. Sidney Shapiro (George Wyner) for an appointment.

Stephanie's health is fine, but Shapiro notices Edith is favoring her left leg.  After an examination he diagnoses Edith with phlebitis and tells her she needs to stay in bed and off her feet for a while. Edith is upset over this, because she planned to cook most of the feast for her husband Archie's (Carroll O'Connor) St. Patrick's Day party.  The party will be held at the bar Archie recently purchased.    

When Archie gets home, he's brought a ridiculous amount of corned beef and cabbage and expects Edith to cook it all.  She asks Archie if he can possibly have it catered.  He says no and Edith can't bring herself to tell him she's sick.  

Edith spends all day cooking, limping around the kitchen to the point where she can barely stand up. When she tells Archie, he says he needs Edith to serve the food at the bar.  She finally falls down and Dr. Shapiro comes to visit and sends her to bed. 

Will Archie understand that Edith is sick or will he be angry at her for not serving food at the St. Paddy's Day party?   

J.A. Morris says:
As a child of the 70s, All In The Family was a big part of my TV education and it's one of the greatest shows of all time.  But I don't recall seeing this episode before.  "Too Good Edith" was the last episode ever produced of this series.  It morphed into Archie Bunker's Place for the 1979-80 season and ran in that form until 1983.  

Even back in when I was a kid, I wasn't crazy about the show after the departure of Gloria and Michael (a "Shark-Jump" moment in my opinion), followed by the addition of Stephanie, but I kept watching.  

At the end of the episode, we get a touching scene where Archie comforts an ailing Edith, showing that in spite of all their arguments over the years, they truly love one another. 

St. Patrick's Day isn't always at the forefront of "Too Good Edith", but the holiday serves as the catalyst that drives the story here.  We've all been in scenarios when we didn't feel well enough to do something, but didn't want to let down a friend or family member.  So Edith's hiding of her illness is relatable.

A note about the cast:
Dr. Sidney Shapiro is played by George Wyner.  He's been a prolific character actor in film and TV over the last four decades.  

Wyner is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Irwin Bernstein on Hill Street Blues and as Colonel Sandurz in the movie Spaceballs.

Wyner as "Colonel Sandurz."
"Too Good Edith" can be found on the season 9 dvd set of All In The Family.

It's not a great episode and it doesn't have any of the political content that made All In The Family a groundbreaking series.  But "Too Good Edith" serves as a nice farewell episode for the series.  

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 Shamrocks. 

RigbyMel says:

There aren't that many St. Patrick's Day themed shows out there, and this final episode of the classic All In The Family series is a pretty good one.  

Too much corned beef and cabbage?
We get to see Archie all dressed up in green finery.   Edith heroically prepares an insane amount of corned beef and cabbage for the party at the bar in spite of her illness.   They don't wind up getting to attend their own party due to Edith collapsing, but we get a very heartfelt scene where Archie tells Edith that he wouldn't be anything without her, which really makes for a touching summation of the whole series.   

Edith relaxing --- in Archie's chair!! 
Even though this episode isn't as blatantly political as some episodes earlier in the run of All In The Family there is definitely some feminist subtext underpinning the proceedings.   Edith feels obliged to buck up and get the St. Patty's Day cooking done in spite of her illness because she loves Archie and also since Archie expects it.  Moreover, her upbringing has conditioned her to see her role in the relationship as the one who cooks and keeps the house.   

Exhausted Edith and silly hat
This episode also has a bit of inter-generational conflict, with young Dr. Shapiro getting picked on by Archie repeatedly because of his youth.   Dr. Shapiro yells at Archie for making Edith cook after her collapse, not realizing that she hadn't told Archie she was unwell.   Shapiro, who has know the Bunkers since he was a kid then has a brief reversion to being that kid apologizing, despite the fact that he himself is now a trained and competent doctor.  However, his assumptions based on Archie's general curmudgeonliness are understandable.  

The conflict is resolved with a very sweet exchange between Archie and Edith where they talk to each other and, in their own quirky ways, show how much they really love one another. 

The last shot of the series is an iris slow wipe showing Archie and Edith 
This is a solid, if not an outstanding episode and St, Patrick's Day drives the plot. 

RigbyMel's rating: 

3 shamrocks.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Stupid Cupid

Premiered November 25, 1944.

"Say, keep your arrows out of other people's businessesses... buster! You shot me last year, and look what happened. Tied down. No more fun. Now look at me. A has-been. A hen-pecked duck. A canvasback Cassanova. And it's your fault, you bare-backed bandit. So beat it, bub. Take a powder. Scram!"
-Daffy Duck

Cupid (Mel Blanc), who bears a striking resemblance to Elmer Fudd, is flying around, shooting his arrows at males of various species.

They all turn into love-struck Romeos.

Cupid eventually tracks down Daffy Duck (Blanc).

But Daffy had enough of Cupid's arrow last year.  He was shot, got married, had a bunch of kids and is "tied down".

But Cupid nails him again, prompting Daffy to fall for a chicken.  She's not interested, but Daffy chases her around the coop.

In the middle of the chase, her husband, a muscle-bound rooster shows up and is out for blood.

J.A. Morris says:
This is a great Looney Tunes short.  I'm a huge fan of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, but this is one I haven't seen many times.

It was directed by Frank Tashlin, who later went on to helm live action films like The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?  Tashlin was a master of sight-gags, and this cartoon is full of them, as these screen caps indicate.

Check out this sequence below.  A bluebird is shot by Cupid's arrow.

We see him morph into an airplane.

Great stuff.


There are some aspects of this toon that haven't aged well.  We try not to judge works of the past by today's standards, but these aspects keep me from giving it a higher rating.  My co-blogger goes into this in more detail below.
The animation in The Stupid Cupid is outstanding and Stupid Cupid is must-see for Daffy fans and all fans of classic cartoons.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 Valentine Hearts.

RigbyMel says:

This is great classic Looney Tunes, as J.A. Morris says.    The animation is top-notch and the gags (mostly) still play well.

Cupid takes aim at Daffy
That being said, I have two issues with it, both of which stem from it having been produced in the 1940s when cultural mores were a little different than they are in the early 21st century.  

Bulldog struck by Cupid's arrow whilst chomping on cat
First, there is a gag involving a dog chasing a cat.   The dog gets shot with one of Cupid's arrows and wishes to be amorous with the cat in a very Pepe Le Pew fashion.   The cat's reaction is to pull out a gun and shoot himself in the head nine times (thus, taking out all nine lives).    This feels very uncomfortable on a number of levels.

Secondly,  I feel kind of bad for Mrs. Daffy and the chicken who is the recipient of Daffy's new amorous attentions.  They didn't do anything wrong.  I guess we can blame that on Cupid's arrows?   Love is strange.

That being said,  this is a fun, silly cartoon and worth checking out if you're a fan of classic Warner Brothers animation.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 1/2 Valentine Hearts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An appeal to Disney and The Henson Company

We spent this Christmas season blogging about Muppets holiday programming.  Tonight is Twelth Night, so we bid farewell to Christmas with an appeal to the owners of the Muppets to release some other specials that are not currently available on dvd.  In fact, they've never been officially released domestically on home video in any format.

The ownership of the Muppets and the various Muppet specials, movies and series is complicated.  For example, Kermit and the other characters from The Muppet Show are owned by Disney, but the Jim Henson Company owns other characters, such as the fraggles.  Song rights are also preventing some specials from being released in their original form, without major edits.  There are unauthorized copies of these specials floating around and clips on the internet.  But it would be nice to see them officially released.  

The Great Santa Claus Switch features a great assortment of Muppet monsters and elves, with Art Carney playing both Santa and the villain Cosmo Scam.  It was hosted by Ed Sullivan and is considered an episode of Sullivan's classic variety show.

Art Carney as Santa Claus.
The Ed Sullivan Show is owned by SOFA Entertainment, which adds yet another wrinkle to why we haven't seen it released on home video.  But it's a very good Christmas special, you can see Henson trying out ideas that would be used in later Muppet productions.

Cosmo Scam (Art Carney again) plots with his monster minions.
John Denver And The Muppets:A Christmas Together is also unavailable due to music rights. This is covered in detail in an excellent post at Christmas TV History.

John Denver leads the Muppets in a performance of "Silent Night."
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree aired in 1995 and is an adaptation of a book by Robert Barry.  In addition to Muppets, it features a great cast of humans, with Robert Downey Jr., Stockard Channing and Leslie Nielsen in starring roles.

Mr. Willowby and friends.
Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) hosts and narrates the special, which features both Mr. Willowby (Downey) and a family of mice seeking the perfect Christmas tree.  It's a short but nice story, with new Christmas songs.  Downey gets to sing here, something you don't see him do in recent films like Iron Man 3.  There are also some beautiful and intricate puppets created by the Henson Workshop,  the owls are especially stunning.

We know it's unlikely that these specials will get a legitimate release.  But that's what they used to say about the 1960s Batman series. That show was produced by Fox, with characters owned by Warner Bros..  But Batman was finally released in 2014, so why not these rarely seen Muppet specials?  These shows are part of TV history as well as the legacy of one of our greatest performing artists, Jim Henson.  They deserve to be available to a wider audience.

J.A. & RigbyMel

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fraggle Rock - "The Bells of Fraggle Rock"

Premiered December 24, 1984

The fraggles are preparing for their annual holiday that takes place around the Winter Solstice.  They call it the "Festival of the Bells" and believe that by ringing bells and doing the dance of the Weebabeast, they can keep the Rock from slowing down & stopping thus allowing time to continue as usual.

Red (Karen Prell), Boober (Dave Goelz) and Mokey (Kathryn Mullen) with a portion of the Weebabeast costume
In the land of the Silly Creatures, Doc (Gerry Parkes) and his dog Sprocket (Steve Whitmire) are excitedly getting ready for Christmas.  Doc decides that they will learn about other Winter Solstice traditions as a part of their celebration and brings home a pinata and other items.

Sprocket is ready for the holidays!
Everyone except Gobo (Jerry Nelson) is excited about the coming holiday.  Gobo isn't really feeling the holiday spirit, in fact, he's feeling like it's all a big waste of time.

Gobo is an unenthusiastic Weebabeast head
He has found an old map that shows many ancient tunnels and doesn't see the Great Bell that is said to be located "at the heart of the Rock."  His friend Wembley (Steve Whitmire again) notices a bell shaped cavern near the center of the map and wonders if that might be the great bell.  

Wembley and Gobo check out the map
A wise and mystical fraggle named Cantus (Jim Henson) arrives to kick off the festivities.

Cantus arrives
Much to the dismay of Red and the other fraggles,  Gobo announces that he is going to go find and bring back the Great Bell.

He asks that the fraggles wait to ring their bells and celebrate until he returns and Wembley rashly promises that they will all wait for him.

Gobo makes a cold and lonely journey in search of the Great Bell
Cantus tries to dissuade Gobo from searching for the Great Bell, saying that there is no need and that the tunnels will soon be too cold for anyone to travel safely.   Gobo doesn't want to listen and sets off on his quest.    Cantus offers to go bring him back.

Cantus talks to Gobo
Will Gobo be successful in his quest to find the Great Bell?   Will Sprocket ever break open the pinata? Will the Rock stop turning?    You'll have to watch to see!

RigbyMel says:

I am not sure that I saw "The Bells of Fraggle Rock" when it first aired, but I certainly remember watching and enjoying the Fraggle Rock program when it aired on HBO.    I probably did see this episode, but it would have been out of season and hence, it didn't make as big an impression on me the first time around.

Red, Mokey, Boober and Wembley trying to keep warm as the Rock slows down
Gobo's quest to find the Great Bell reminds me of children who are beginning to have questions about Santa Claus.    Cantus acts as a parental figure (albeit a mystically comedic one)  and tries to explain that the idea behind the Great Bell is just as important -- perhaps MORE important  -- as any physical manifestation.   But Cantus is also wise enough to allow Gobo to discover the truth about the Great Bell and the real "heart of the rock" in his own way.

The seasonal themes continue with  a Christmas Carol-esque hint of spooky when Gobo returns to find that his friends seem to have been frozen in time.   Fortunately,  the freezing proves reversible when Gobo -- like Scrooge --  manages to find his holiday spirit.

Gobo discovers a frozen Wembley
The Fraggles' story dovetails nicely with the interaction between Doc and Sprocket as they talk and learn (and teach viewers) about other Winter Solstice customs.

Doc explains how axial tilt creates the Winter Solstice
As is typical in most episodes of Fraggle Rock, we also get a postcard from Uncle Traveling Matt where he shares his perspectives on "Outer Space" and the "Silly Creatures"  (aka the viewers' everyday world) and more thoughts on different Solstice traditions.

Uncle Traveling Matt wonders why the "Silly Creatures" don't know about the Weebabeast
Although there is obviously a message being shared through these interlocking stories,  the warmth and tolerance of the storytelling give the message real resonance.    It also serves as a good introduction to various winter holiday traditions for younger audiences.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 candy canes

J.A. Morris says:
I can't add much to what RigbyMel said, but I have to mention that I enjoyed the original songs, written by Phil Balsam and Steve Whitmire.  "There's A Promise" is very catchy and festive.  Another song, "Weeba Weeba" performed by the young fraggles as they practice the Weebabeast dance, is amusing.  It consists of nothing but the words "Weeba Weeba" shouted over an 80s synthesizer accompaniment.  Not very complicated, but it is the sort of thing kids would sing and it's also a been stuck in my head since I watched "The Bells Of Fraggle Rock."

Wembley rings a bell at the festival.
Gobo's seasonal depression is something that adults and kids alike can relate to around the holidays.  His disillusionment with the festival also recalls Charlie Brown's attitude in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

This episode is available on dvd, in the season 3 set and on a standalone disc called A Merry Fraggle Holiday. It also streams on Amazon and iTunes.

"The Bells Of Fraggle Rock" is a good holiday episode that teaches a nice lesson about faith and also shows how different cultures celebrate Christmas and other Winter holidays.

Sprocket and Doc wish each other a Merry Christmas.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 candy canes.