Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Jem: "Mardi Gras"

Premiered November 4, 1987.

Jem (Samantha Newark) and her rock band the Holograms have been booked to perform at New Orleans' annual Mardi Gras festivities.  

They learn that they have been chosen to wear jewelry owned by legendary NOLA pirate Jean Lafitte that haven't been seen since 1814.   He intended to give the jewels to legendary singer Lily LaRose, his unrequited love.    

The band meets their local contact Pierre L'Arquette.  He is quickly smitten with Holograms' bassist Shana (Cindy McGee), but she informs him that she already has a boyfriend.  

Shana is also accosted by a mysterious old woman known as Mama Lou who warns her to "Beware of zombies on Fat Tuesday!"  

When Jem and friends arrive at Maison Fleur, an old mansion where they will stay.  They meet their hostess Mademoiselle Yvette and her butler Maurice, and are told the story of Lafitte's forbidden love affair with Lily LaRose.  It turns out that  Lily happens to bear a striking resemblance to Shana!  Moreover,  Lafitte's ghost is said to haunt the area, protecting the jewels. 

The Holograms' rival band the Misfits are also in New Orleans and are scheming to take the glory and the jewels with the help of a group called the Zomboys!  

Will Lafitte's ghost show up?   Will Jem and the Holograms get to perform or will the Misfits steal their thunder?  

RigbyMel says :

I remember watching the Jem cartoon show intermittently during the 1980s, but definitely did not remember that there was a Mardi Gras themed episode!   

The plot of this episode is mainly an excuse to string together some tropes relating to the celebration of Mardi Gras in NOLA -- but in family friendly fashion (no women exposing themselves to get beads tossed from parade floats here -- although, I wouldn't put it past the Misfits.)    We get a riverboat cruise, music, masks, floats, costumes, parades, cod French-Cajun-ish accents, stories of pirates, ghosts and a creepy old house for good measure.  

They missed out on opportunities to include alligators and/or swamp boats, but as it's only a 22 minute episode,  I guess they didn't want to over-do it.  

As was typical of the series (and as it's appropriate for Mardi Gras),  we get several songs.   The Holograms sing 2 songs  "Let Me Take You To The Mardi Gras" and "Everybody Wears A Mask" while the Misfits sing "Surprise, Surprise" while wrecking havoc on a street car.    The songs are kind of laughably silly 1980s artifacts,  but are also ear worms, so beware if you watch this one.  

Overall, the episode is ... not great, but it probably did serve as an introduction to Mardi Gras for some children of the 1980s, which is worthwhile, I suppose. 

RigbyMel's rating:

2 king cakes

J.A. Morris says:
I don't have a lot to add here, this is a silly episode but I thought it was entertaining.

I wouldn't call this episode "educational," I appreciated the inclusion of Jean Lafitte, who was a real-life pirate who fought in the Battle Of New Orleans.  There's even a line that mentions that Lafitte was a slave trader, so it doesn't sugar-coat his history.

There aren't many Mardi Gras-themed episodes or specials out there, so I'll give this one some credit for originality.

"Mardi Gras" isn't a classic, but if you're in the mood for some clean entertainment on Fat Tuesday, it's an 80s-tastic way to entertain yourself for a little while.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half king cakes.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Michael J. Fox Show: "Christmas"

Premiered December 12, 2013.

For those who missed it, The Michael J. Fox Show ran for 14 episodes during the 2013-14 TV season. It focused on the life of newscaster Mike Henry, and his family.  Mike has recently returned to the news biz after taking time off to deal with Parkinson's disease. 

On their first Christmas together, Mike Henry (Michael J. Fox) and his wife Annie (Betsy Brandt) were too poor to buy each other Christmas presents.  Now, they every Christmas they try to out-do each other, in order to see who can give the gift with the most "wow factor."   Mike has gotten Annie a gold turtle necklace, since "turtle" is his nickname for her, since she is "resilient but vulnerable." Since Mike is a huge fan of Sting's music, Annie has hired Sting to perform in their home. 

Their daughter Eve (Juliette Goglia) is questioning her spiritual identity.  She recently attended a Hanukkah party and is highly critical of the material side of Christmas.  Eve has taken an interest in Judaism and begins to sprinkle her conversations with Yiddish slang. 

When their older son Ian (Conor Romero) tries to get his younger brother Graham to participate in holiday traditions (like making cookies and writing a letter to Santa), Graham (Jack Gore) acts disinterested.  This makes Ian worry that Graham has stopped believing in "the magic of Christmas" and is determined to make sure his younger brother retains his Yuletide spirit.  Graham wants a toy called Spacefish, so Ian is determined to scour the city to find the present.

Plans begin to go awry when Mike's assistant Kay (Ana Nogueira) gives him an expensive personalized brief case.  Since Mike is worried his gift for Kay (a Starbucks gift card) isn't good enough, he gives Kay the turtle necklace.  Mike now has nothing for Annie and sends Eve in search of another necklace.  Making matters worse, Kay dumps her fiance Kevin (Vandit Bhatt) because his gift was far inferior.

Sting arrives at the Henry's apartment.  Unfortunately, Mike is delayed due to being stranded at the news bureau by a snowstorm.  Annie is forced the hang out alone with Sting.  During their conversations, it becomes obvious that she knows nothing about Sting's music, since she was "more of a hair band girl."  This appears to disappoint Sting and their interactions are extremely awkward.

Ian's attempts to find a Spacefish come up empty, since it's Christmas Eve and all the stores are sold out.  His aunt Leigh (Katie Finneran) tells him not to worry, she knows a guy who sells things that "fall off trucks."  Ian is desperate enough to accept Leigh's offer.  Ian is directed to visit a diner and ask for  a man named Chris (J.B. Adams).  It turns out that "Chris" bears a striking resemblance to a certain resident of the North Pole.

Will the Henry family's Christmas plans work out?

J.A. Morris says:
I enjoyed The Michael J. Fox Show during its brief run and I think this is a solid Christmas episode.  I'm not sure why the show failed, but I'd guess that viewers in 2013 were tired of shows that used the "fake documentary" format of characters speaking to an unseen interviewer.

Mike and Annie's Christmas tradition of one-upping each other sounds materialistic but in context is actually very sweet.

I particularly liked Ian's concern over Graham losing the Christmas spirit.  Older siblings are often seen bullying younger ones in TV comedies or ruining Santa for them, so this represents a nice change of pace.

Eve's "spiritual crisis" is mostly played for laughs, but the commercialization of Christmas is sometimes enough to make even the most faithful observers question the point of Christmas.

Fans of Wendell Pierce's work in dramas like Treme and The Wire may be surprised to see Pierce act in a comedy series.  Pierce, as Mike's boss Harris Green, has some of the funniest lines in "Christmas."

Sting is a good sport here, acting let down when Annie ignorant about his music.

"Christmas" features a story that's both funny and touching, something that's difficult to pull off.  If you've never seen this series, I think it's a good "starter" episode.

J.A. Morris's rating:


3 and a half candy canes.

RigbyMel says: 

"Christmas" is a solid episode of a sweet sitcom that was still finding its feet and was not allowed to do so due to its cancellation.

Yes, the storylines are a bit predictable, but holiday entertainment tends to fall into this "comfort food" sort of category and there is much to enjoy here.

Competitive gifting is a trope in holiday shows because it occurs in real life - this episode invites us to laugh at Mike and Annie's attempts while also showing that their gifting comes from really caring about each other.   Side note:  if someone wanted to get Sting to come to my house as a Christmas present,  I would certainly not object!!!

We also get a time honored "getting stuck at the office" at Christmas segment, which harks back to similar instances of TV holiday celebrations -- most notably an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which also takes place in a newsroom.

Teen daughter Eve comes off as well intentioned but a bit clueless with her flirtation with Chhh-anukkah (as she pronounces it) and Judaism.   There's a great scene where a Jewish cab driver gives her food for thought about what's good about the holidays.

As J.A. Morris says, the B-plot with Ian trying to keep Christmas magical for his little brother Graham is adorable and a bit unusual for sitcom sibling relationships at the holidays.

Sting performs "August Winds", a song from his album The Last Ship which was released a couple of months before this episode aired.  It's a pretty song,  but I think in the context of a holiday themed episode, I'd prefer to have seen him do something a bit more Chirstmas-y -  there are several previous holiday recordings he could choose from.   That being said,  he's a very good sport playing along with the running gag about Annie professing not to know his music at all and Aunt Leigh's confusing him with Billy Joel.

This may not be a classic holiday episode per se,  but it's worth checking out if you have the inclination.

RigbyMel's rating :


2 and a half candy canes

Monday, December 18, 2017

TV Funhouse: "Christmas Day"

Premiered December 20, 2000.

TV Funhouse host Doug (Doug Dale) is filled with Christmas cheer.  He tells his talking animal friends the AniPals that Santa Claus spreads it around everywhere during the holiday season.

Doug says it gives him a "ring, ding tingly feeling you have up your spine."  This gives the AniPals an idea.  If they can extract the cheer via spinal tap, they can sell it as a drug and also use it to get themselves high.

They go to the home of Chicky the rooster (Dino Stamatopoulos) so they can figure out the best way to "drop" the Christmas cheer.  The AniPals get Chicky's son Devin to convert the cheer to powder using his chemistry set.  They all freebase it and wind up high on cheer!

The AniPals hit the streets of New York City, running amok, accosting passersby with obnoxious overly-enthusiastic caroling and they build a giant snowman.

They end their night at a wild Christmas party hosted by Hank the lobster (Tommy Blacha).  Their friend Larry the sheep overdoses on cheer, which jeopardizes his job, playing Santa at Macy's.

Jeffy the duck (Doug Dale) freaks out when he realizes he's running late for church, where his son is playing one of the three wise men in a Christmas pageant.  He arrives at the church, but his "cheer-high" threatens to ruin the pageant.

At the same time, Doug's friend Xabu the German Shepherd (Robert Smigel) is busy trying to catch his own tail.  He resorts to new Yuletide-based methods to lull his tail into a false sense of security.

Will Jeffy's cheer-high ruin the Christmas pageant?  Can Larry make it through his Santa-shift without freaking out?  Can Zabu figure out a way to catch his tail?
Plus, Doug plays two short films:

Jingles, the Christmas Tension!  The story and song about the elf who sprinkles "tension dust" that causes family arguments and holiday disappointment.

And "Where To Look For Christmas Presents!"

J.A. Morris says:
I should mention before I go any further that TV Funhouse is NOT something you want to watch in front of kids.  It  ran for only eight episodes a and was a parody of local kids shows.   TV Funhouse featured humor that earned it a TV-14 rating.  It was created by writer/actor/puppeteer Robert Smigel, best known for performing Triumph The Insult Comic Dog.  If you enjoy Triumph, chances are you'll enjoy this holiday episode.

I watched this episode when it first aired and I still enjoy it today.  Its humor is certainly crude, but the material is made funnier by the fact that it's spoken by realistic looking animal puppets.

Host Doug Dale does a great job as the only human member of the cast.  Dale manages to play it straight while having his spine tapped by the AniPals.  Dale is also good as the voice of Jeffy, especially when Jeffy freaks out during the Nativity play!

Smigel and the other puppeteers and voice actors make the antics of the AniPals hilarious from start to finish.  Dino Stamatopoulous is particularly funny portraying Chickie the rooster.  Chickie gets some of the best lines of "Christmas Day."

The "Tingles" stop-motion cartoon short is very dark, but (sadly) accurate in its depiction of how many suffer from depression during the holiday season.  "Tingles" is a parody of a 1950s cartoon called "Hardrock, Coco and Joe."  Both toons feature a song with an identical melody, but with different lyrics.

This episode is available on a DVD.  Be forewarned that the curse words are not bleeped on the DVD.

"Christmas Day" is very funny.  It's not part of my annual viewing, but it's recommended for those who need a break from the sometimes-treacly sentiments expressed in holiday programming.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 candy canes.