Saturday, December 2, 2017

American Housewife : "Krampus Katie"

Premiered December 13, 2016

Anna-Kat: Viv is just like Santa. She gives gifts, she volunteers, she even wears the hat.
Katie: No, I'm like Santa. We both have the same body-type, and we make lists of people who've pissed us off.
Anna Kat: You're more like Krampus.
Katie: Who's Krampus?

Christmas is coming, but Katie Otto (Katy Mixon) is fed up with the materialism displayed by residents of Westport, Connecticut.  She doesn't want her kids to get caught up in the "shallowness" of the rich.

Katie's spirits are further dampened when her annoying neighbor Viv (Leslie Bibb) arrives unannounced and gifts Katie with a new Fit Bit.  After critiquing the Ottos' Christmas decorations, Viv tells them she's chairing the school holiday concert.  She needs help setting up and assumes Katie will volunteer to help.

Santa Viv brings Katie "the gift of potential" -- a Fitbit.  Katie does not appreciate the implications of this gift.
Anna-Kat (Julia Butters) says Viv is just like Santa, since she brings gifts, volunteers and wears the Santa hat.  She compares her mother to Krampus, the "half-goat, half-demon who punishes children during the holidays."

Anna-Kat worries their Elf on the Mantle (it's half the price of the one you're thinking of) is watching and will tell Santa that Katie is acting like Krampus. 

Of course, this would also mean no gifts for the entire family.    To make matters worse,  Katie accidentally sets the elf on fire and Anna-Kat witnesses it.

 Not wanting to be seen as a Krampus, Katie agrees to help Viv decorate for the concert, hoping it will make things right with the elf and Anna-Kat.

The older kids Taylor (Meg Donnelly) and Oliver (David DiMaggio)  find unwrapped gifts and tell their parents they're not satisfied with their presents.

Their father Greg (Diedrich Bader) decides to teach them a lesson by taking them to visit lonely senior citizens at a nursing home.  Unfortunately, the kids learn the wrong lesson when a woman mistakes them for her grand kids and gives them $100 cash.

Katie goes to the school to help Viv decorate for the concert.  Viv is even more obnoxious than usual and is driving Katie crazy.

Viv deems Katie's present wrapping skills to be sub-par
She wonders if Viv and the other housewives are as happy as they appear.  Her friends Doris (Ali Wong) and Angela (Carly Hughes) think the other housewives are creepy and tell Katie acting happy is against her nature.

Will Katie survive the festive season or will Krampus get the better of her?

J.A. Morris says:
This is a solid episode of American Housewife.  We see the Otto family grappling with difficulties many of us face during the holiday season.  Most of us would like to think of ourselves as being more like Santa than Krampus.  And I would like to think few of are like Krampus.  However, as Katie says, sometimes you have to be Krampus to get through the holiday season. 

Leslie Bibb gives a good performance here as "Santa Viv."  She makes Viv's over-the-top manic happiness believable.

Some notes about the actors:

This is the second time this blog has featured a Christmas episode that includes Deidrich Bader.  We reviewed the fantastic holiday episode of Batman:The Brave and The Bold a few Christmases ago.  Bader provided the voice of Batman in that episode.

Also, during the nursing home scenes, Greg meets a resident named Mr. Montez.  He's played by Hal Linden, who many will remember from his years playing the title role on Barney Miller.

This episode is available to watch on Amazon streaming and on iTunes.

"Krampus Katie" is very funny and also manages to make some points about consumerism and how we often feel the need to fake a cheerful attitude during the holiday season.  I won't call it a classic, but it's recommended.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and a half candy canes

RigbyMel says: 

I enjoy the American Housewife series quite a bit and "Krampus Katie" is a fun holiday themed episode.   I find it interesting that the long standing European tradition surrounding Krampus -- who accompanies St. Nick and traditionally punishes bad children, seems to be gaining traction in the U.S.  of late to the point that a mainstream ABC sitcom references it.

Santa Viv is excited to "get her hands on" Katie.  Katie is ... less enthused.
As J.A. Morris points out, the difficulties faced by Katie and her family are recognizable ones that many of us face during the Christmas season.  The fact that the Ottos live in a wealthy suburb of Connecticut, but are not wealthy themselves is a regular feature of the show, and the holidays have a way of bringing these sorts of disparities to a head, and the show does a good job of highlighting the humor inherent in some of the more materialistic aspects of the season. 

There's also some nice interplay between Greg's generally more positive outlook on the season and his well meaning attempts to teach his entitled older kids a Christmas lesson -- which of course backfires spectacularly and keeps backfiring. 

The Krampus connection here makes a good counterpoint to the competitive materialism on show around Westport.   When Viv designates Katie to take some presents to "less fortunate" neighbors,  Katie agrees in hopes of getting on Anna-Kat's (and the Elf on the Mantle's) good side and the whole family goes to discover that the "less fortunate" family is only unfortunate in that they've had their overseas assets frozen and can only afford to go on vacation in ... Hawaii.   That might bring out the Krampus in anyone.

The older Otto kids' takeaway from the "less fortunate family" experience is that "No matter how rich you are, expensive gifts still make a difference."   Yikes! 
We also get a great climactic scene involving Anna-Kat's school concert  -- with over the top Santa's Workshop decorations by Viv,  who is using the volunteer task as a way to gain points with the  Westport elite.

The humor of the series lies somewhat in its snark.  Fun comedy relies on exaggeration and the unexpected and "Krampus Katie" serves up some good stuff in this regard -- I particularly appreciate the trampling of the Elf on the Mantle  (I am not a fan of the surveillance elf, sorry, it is creepy) and that Katie's ultimate Christmas lesson of the episode is summed up as "Identify morons and yell at them."  The holidays are rife with potential for frustration and disappointment and being able to laugh about our foibles as exaggerated in a sitcom provides a nice bit of Yuletide catharsis  -   which is probably part of why holiday episodes are such a popular TV trope.

Anna-Kat checks in with the (scorched) elf
"Krampus Katie" is a fun episode of an enjoyable series.  Although maybe not quite a classic, it's well worth seeking out if you need a laugh or two this holiday season.

RigbyMel's rating: 

3 candy canes

a half-goat, half-demon who punishes children during the holidays, and sometimes eats their hands and butts.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: “My First Thanksgiving With Josh!”

Premiered November 15, 2015

"It's the holidays, Paula.  People don't always get what they want." - Rebecca Nora Bunch

Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) has recently re-located to West Covina, California to stalk Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III).  She met Josh had relationship ten years earlier during summer camp.

Thanksgiving is approaching and Rebecca isn't looking forward to spending turkey day with her mother in New York.  She runs into Josh and hears that his entire family is coming to town for Thanksgiving.  Rebecca is envious and wishes she was spending the holiday with Josh and his family.

However, Josh is in a relationship with mean girl Valencia Perez (Gabrielle Ruiz), his girlfriend since high school.  Valencia doesn't get along with Josh's family because they think she's "dumb."  Every time she visits the Chan family, Valencia and Josh almost break up.

Rebecca's friend from work, Paula (Donna Lynn Champlin) sees the tension between Valencia and the Chan family as a "boulder" they can use to crush Valencia and Josh's romance.

As Thanksgiving approaches, Paula arranges for Rebecca to literally bump into Josh's mother Lourdes (Amy Hill) at a grocery store.  Rebecca and Paula tell Josh's mom that Rebecca  has no where to go for Thanksgiving dinner.  They mention Rebecca's Ivy League education and Lourdes invites Rebecca to dinner.

Before leaving for the Chans' house, Paula outfits Rebecca with an owl broach.  It contains a video camera and microphone that will allow Paula to remotely watch Rebecca's triumph.

At Thanksgiving dinner, everyone enjoys Rebecca's presence, she's the life of the party. 

As she sings in one of the show's musical numbers,  Rebecca "Gives Good Parent."  Josh even comments that she's making his father smile, something that rarely occurs.

The exception is Valencia, who sees right through the charade and accuses Rebecca of sucking up.  Valencia tells Rebecca that she should forget about ever getting back together with Josh.

Meanwhile, Rebecca's maybe/maybe not other love interest/Josh's friend Greg (Santino Fontana) plans to quit his bar tending job and go back to business school, but a family emergency may well get in the way.

How will the Thanksgiving festivities pan out?   Will Rebecca and Paula succeed in pushing Valencia out of Josh's heart?

J.A. Morris says:
For those who haven't seen it, I should mention Crazy Ex-Girlfriend features elaborate song-and-dance numbers in every episode.

This a great episode of one of my favorite current series.  In Thanksgiving episodes, it's common for characters to dread the holiday and the family gathering. However, in "My First Thanksgiving With Josh," Rebecca goes out of her way to weasel an invitation and has a good time, until...well, I won't spoil the ending.  Let's just say that after charming the Chans, Rebecca's Thanksgiving takes a turn for the worse.

The high point is Rachel Bloom's performance of the song "I Give Good Parent."  Bloom dances in a turkey costume with "Pilgrim" back up dancers!  It's a sight to behold.

I also appreciated the jokes that centered on the National Dog Show, which has become a Thanksgiving television tradition.  Rebecca mentions that she normally spends the holiday with her mother "body shaming dogs."

If there's anything wrong with this episode, it's that the subplot that focuses on Rebecca's on-again/off-again boyfriend Greg takes time away from the Thanksgiving portion.

I don't know that I'll watch this episode every November, but it's fun and worth watching at least once.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and a half pumpkin pies.

RigbyMel says:
This is a fun episode of an excellent series.   As tends to happen in real life, holidays like Thanksgiving often tend to kick interpersonal drama up a notch.    In this episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,  we get to see that Turkey Day doesn't turn out so well for any of its main characters.   Rebecca horns into the object of her affection Josh's family celebration  in an attempt to break up his relationship with Valencia but things do not go quite as planned.     Her on-again-off-again friend/love interest Greg also experiences a rough Thanksgiving of being stuck at work and caring for his sick father.   Paula is vicariously joining in on Rebecca's adventures (with the aid of an owl shaped brooch that also happens to be a camera) rather than engage with her own family and disappointments.

So there are THREE Thanksgiving celebrations at play here as well as songs ... and poop jokes.  Many shows struggle to make an A story and a  B story work well without throwing in musical numbers, so kudos to the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend writers for pulling off an impressive balancing act.

As in any good musical,  the original songs in this episode are well written and tell us something about the characters and/or plot.    Rebecca's "I Give Good Parent" song is VERY funny, but also tells us a lot about Rebecca and her plans to kiss up to Josh's family with her authentic Filipino dish with an eye to destroying Josh and Valencia's relationship.   The song is all about what she visualizes as happening and bears only a limited resemblance to what actually happens.

This notion of what we visualize for ourselves vs. what actually happens in life is mirrored in Greg's solo song "What'll It Be"  is both a clever take on "Piano Man" AND an expression of Greg's frustration at feeling trapped in a dead-end job and not being able to do what he feels he needs to do to get on with his life.   

That being said,  neither song would work if we didn't have well-written, flawed and interesting characters making their way through good, thoughtful stories surrounding them.   

"My First Thanksgiving With Josh!" is a good holiday episode that both adheres to and slightly subverts Thanksgiving tropes (such as uncomfortable times with family and/or friends and cooking).  Fans of the series will definitely enjoy this episode -- if you're new to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend though, I'd suggest starting from the beginning so you can get your bearings.  Trust me, you'll be glad you did!

RigbyMel's rating:

3 pumpkin pies

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Star Trek: "Catspaw"

Premiered October 27, 1967

McCoy: Three witches ... what appears to be a castle, and a black cat.
Kirk:  If we weren't missing two officers and a third one dead, I'd say someone was playing an elaborate trick-or-treat on us. 
Spock:  Trick or treat, captain? 
Kirk:  Yes, Mr. Spock.  You'd be a natural.

The starship Enterprise is orbiting a planet.  A landing party has not checked in, this worries the ship's captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).  A crewman named Jackson beams up from the planet and dies upon arrival.  An eerie voice emanates from Jackson's mouth, telling the captain that the entire crew of the Enterprise will die if they don't turn back.

Kirk departs for the planet's surface to investigate the matter.  He's accompanied by Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Doctor "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelly).

Kirk and the others detect no lifeforms on the planet, but suddenly, three witches appear in front of them, telling the men to turn back and "remember the curse!"  Spock determines that the witches aren't real, so they proceed, eventually discovering a castle.

Upon entering the castle, they encounter a black cat wearing a crystal pendant.  They follow the cat, but the floor collapses underneath them and our heroes are knocked out due to the fall.  When they come to, they find themselves in irons in a spooky dungeon complete with skeleton.

"Bones?  Doc?"
Missing crew members Scott (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei) appear.  They're alive, but somewhat zombiefied, apparently under the control of some outside force.    Kirk, Spock and McCoy try to snap their friends out of their catatonic state, but find themselves teleported to another room in the castle where they meet a man in mysterious wizard robes calling himself Korob (Theodore Marcuse) and see the black cat again.

The wizard appears to consult the cat for advice and then admits that he is not native to this world in response to Spock's questions.  Korob then attempts to ply our heroes with food, drink and gems -- all to get them to leave and not ask any questions. 

Kirk informs the wizard that he's done his research badly if he thinks they will leave without getting to the bottom of things.   Korob changes his tune and says that he wanted to test the crew and that they've proven themselves to be loyal, brave and incorruptible.

Sylvia performs some sympathetic magic on the Enterprise
The black cat leaves the room and shortly thereafter an alluring sorceress calling herself Sylvia (Antoinette Bower) appears.  She is wearing a pendant identical to the cat's. When Kirk demands that his men be released, she dangles a miniature of the Enterprise above a lit candle,  and the crew on the ship reports a rapid inexplicable rise in hull temperature!  Kirk reluctantly agrees to cooperate to save his crew.

Sylvia finds that she likes these new (to her) human sensations,  but her tastes seem to trend a bit toward the sadistic and beyond the bounds of the original mission.  She and Korob argue about this.

Sylvia takes an interest in Kirk and tells him that she and Korob are visitors from another galaxy.

They can read and control human minds using something called a transmuter.   She then realizes that Kirk has been using her to get information and transforms herself into a giant cat. 

Hell hath no fury ... 
Will Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise survive this Halloween encounter?

RigbyMel says:

Even though it's not one of the best in the original series, "Catspaw" is a fun episode of Star Trek.  I've heard quite a few people try to fault Star Trek: TOS on its relatively low-tech and definitely low budget special effects, but I think they're part of what makes the series extra fun in general.  The story for "Catspaw" takes some abrupt turns which make it not quite as great as it could have been, but it's still quite enjoyable.

I really quite like the way the aliens of the week tap into the human collective unconscious in an attempt to frighten the Enterprise crew -- that's one of the important elements of Halloween, after all, isn't it?  Additionally, Korob and Sylvia have donned costumes in celebration of the spookiest of human holidays.
Korob and Sylvia in their natural forms ... that of somewhat unconvincing marionettes! 

The title of the episode "Catspaw" refers to a person used unwittingly or unwillingly by another and is a reference to a La Fontaine fairy tale.   Scotty and Sulu are used as catspaws to lure more crew members to the planet.    Moreover the transmuter serves as sort of a pseudo-scientific technological catspaw that allows Korob and Sylvia to attempt to bend the Enterprise crew to their will.

This episode was written by Robert Bloch who also wrote the novel upon which the classic horror film Psycho was based.  In addition to writing a couple of other episodes of Star Trek: TOS,  Bloch was a big fan of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and also contributed to various pulp magazines such as Weird Tales.

Robert Bloch
This episode is also notable because it marks the first filmed appearance of Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) -- they hadn't quite gotten his hair right.  The episode was the first one shot for season 2, but did not air until around Halloween in 1967.

Observe Chekov's rather over-the-top wig on the left! 
I remember watching this episode with fascination when I was eight or nine and it was being shown in re-runs.   Little me found it fun/creepy and older/wiser me still enjoys it.

If you're a fan of Star Trek: TOS and Halloween hi-jinks,  "Catspaw" is definitely a good addition to your spooky seasonal viewing!

RigbyMel's rating:

3 jack o lanterns

J.A. Morris says:

I'll note that Catspaw does NOT take place during Halloween.  However, the fact it was intentionally aired on NBC close to All Hallows' Eve and contains lots of skeletons, witches and black cats (plus multiple mentions of trick-or-treating), it was obviously intended to be a holiday episode.


I've been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can recall.  This is basically a typical "Enterprise encounters alien of the week" episode...with the addition of Halloween trappings.  It's a fun episode and it's become part of my seasonal viewing.

"Catspaw" featured the final appearance of the character DeSalle, the Enterprise's assistant engineer.  It's the third appearance of the character and the only time DeSalle gets to sit in the captain's chair.  Shortly after this episode, Michael Barrier, who played DeSalle quit acting a became a lawyer for the U.S. Coast Guard. 

DeSalle takes command of Enterprise.
"Catspaw" is lots of fun and should be added to the list of Halloween viewing for every Trekker and will likely be enjoyed by everyone who enjoys Halloween episodes.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 jack o' lanterns.