Thursday, November 24, 2011

Saturday Night Live's Tradition Of Thanksgiving Songs

Hi again everyone,
We're big fans of Saturday Night Live, especially of the show's classic eras.

SNL has never had a "Thanksgiving episode", but the show has featured quite a few Thanksgiving-themed musical numbers over the years.

In 1976, host Paul Simon opened the show by singing "Still Crazy After All These Years"...in a turkey costume:


Sorry I couldn't find any video of this online. Simon stops in the middle of the performance and calls it "one of the most humiliating experiences of my life!"

Perhaps the most famous Thanksgiving song in the show's history was performed on November 21, 1992. Adam Sandler introduced "The Thanksgiving Song", a new song he'd written about eating turkey. It also contains a plethora 90s pop culture references that have nothing to do with Thanksgiving:


A year later (November 20,1993 to be exact), Sandler did an excellent impression of Bruce Springsteen performing a Thanksgiving song.
Here's a Springsteen Thanksgiving:



In 1996, we got a sketch featuring multiple singers auditioning new Thanksgiving songs for a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. This sketch includes the debut of Cinder Calhoun, played by Ana Gasteyer. "Cinder" would become a recurring character on the show for several years. Tim Meadows also stands out in this sketch performing a sultry, soulful and innuendo-filled Thanksgiving ballad.
Watch "Thanksgiving Song Auditions" here:



And speaking of Cinder Calhoun, she showed up the next year on Weekend Update to perform another Thanksgiving song. The song condemns the killing of turkeys on Thanksgiving and compares Butterball to Hitler and Stalin! She was joined by musical guest Sarah McLachlan on "Basted In Blood:
Here it is, from 11/22/97:




And just last year, current cast member Jay Pharoh appeared on Weekend Update and wondered what a Thanksgiving rap written by Jay-Z or Biggie Smalls would sound like. Pharoh proceeded to rap about Thanksgiving and it's trappings, from November 20, 2010:



So maybe if you're musically inclined, you'll find yourself leading your family in a singalong of one of these songs tonight after you've finished all the pumpkin pie. Okay, that probably won't happen (considering some of these songs contain outdated references George Wendt and Darryl Strawberry), but these songs are still lots of fun.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

J.A. Morris and Rigbymel

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Bob Newhart Show: "An American Family"


Premiered November 23, 1974

Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart) and his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) are preparing for Thanksgiving. Bob's parents Martha and Herb (Martha Scott and Barnard Hughes) are spending Thanksgiving with them for the first time in five years.  Martha is a control freak and has strict ideas about how a turkey should be prepared, what pies should be served, how table seating should be arranged, etc.  Bob's sister Ellen (Pat Finley) and her fiance Howard (Bill Daily) will also be there.  Howard is very nervous about meeting Ellen's parents for the first time.  Bob's office mate Jerry (Peter Bonerz) and his receptionist Carol (Marcia Wallace) will also be joining them for Thanksgiving dinner, so there will be eight dinner guests all together.

Emily's parents, Junior and Aggie Harrison (John Randolph and Ann Rutherford) show up unannounced, they've flown in with a 35-pound turkey and intend to celebrate the holiday with Bob and Emily.  Martha doesn't like this, as she has planned to cook a turkey.  Plus she and Junior have never gotten along, they start sniping at each other immediately.  So the Hartleys will now have ten guests at Thanksgiving dinner, Jerry agrees to bring extra chairs.  Bob and Emily agree to try to keep the peace between Martha and Junior.

On Thanksgiving Day, Junior and Martha make up flimsy excuses so they can skip dinner and avoid each other.  Emily invites her parents for dessert, and Bob does the same, as a way of forcing them to act like adults.  Can Martha and Junior finish their pie without ruining Thanksgiving?


J.A. Morris says:

This is a great Thanksgiving episode because most of us can relate to the plot. I've been in holiday scenarios where I had to keep peace between relatives for one reason or another. Bob and Emily were often the sanest characters on the show, this time the "crazies" they have to deal with are their own parents.

I hadn't watched The Bob Newhart show in years, but it's still a very funny series. It featured a great ensemble cast, every character had at least two laugh lines in "An American Family."  Barnard Hughes (one of the best character actors of his era) stands out as Herb.  He gets to deliver a great speech about families uniting around what they have in common during holiday gatherings.

This episode can be found on the third season dvd set of The Bob Newhart Show and is currently streaming on Hulu.

My rating:
3 and a half pumpkin pies



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cheers: "Thanksgiving Orphans"


Premiered November 27, 1986

Woody: "This is my first Thanksgiving away from home...unless you count last year."
Diane: "What could be more enjoyable than opening your heart this holiday season?"
Carla: "Opening yours with a can opener?"
It's the week of Thanksgiving, but Woody is already putting up Christmas decorations, including a paper Rudolph he made.  Sam says it seems like Christmas comes earlier every year. Frasier rants about the unhealthy messages for children inherent in the "Rudolph", he says the song "gives them a horribly distorted view of reality."

The gang is talking about their Thanksgiving plans: Sam has a date for the holiday (this episode takes place when Sam and Diane's relationship was "on again, off again" and they were often playing mind games); Norm says he’s(unhappily) spending it with his wife Vera and her mother; Diane is attending a recreation of the original Plymouth Thanksgiving feast at the home her literature professor.
Carla, Woody, Cliff & Frasier have no plans and it looks like they’ll be alone.  Diane suggests Carla host Thanksgiving for all those who have no family nearby.  Carla says yes, but insists it will be a pot-luck dinner.  She invites Sam and his date, Norm offers to bring a turkey and says he’ll talk Vera into joining the gang at Carla’s house too.
One by one, everyone arrives at Carla’s house and they sit down to watch football & the Macy's parade.  Norm brings a turkey that hasn’t been cooked yet, and also mentions that he and Vera had “the worst fight of our marriage” about their Thanksgiving plans.  Sam shows up without his date, his plans have fallen through too.

Diane also shows up unexpectedly, Carla initially slams the door (literally) in her face.  Diane’s professor only invited her so she could serve food, she is broken and humiliated.  Norm’s turkey is still being cooked while they watch football, much to Diane’s dismay.
Hours pass, the turkey (dubbed “Birdzilla” by Carla) is still not ready.  While waiting, Diane suggests everyone get up and tell what they’re thankful for.

After the “thankfuls” are over, the turkey is STILL not done, so they decide to eat the side dishes. Carla keeps ribbing Norm about the lack of turkey, Norm responds by throwing peas at her, then everyone joins in and we have a classic TV food fight!

J A Morris says:
Cheers is a show I literally grew up watching.  The first episode premiered when I was 11 years old, I was 21 when the series finale aired in 1993.  But this is the first episode I’d seen in a decade and it’s one of the best.  The Cheers workers & customers always acted as a support system for one another, so why not spend Thanksgiving together?   Frasier points out that families are "not necessarily limited to blood relations."  And like most “families”, there were always certain Cheers characters that were disliked by others, but in the end, they still come together to celebrate Thanksgiving...and have one of the greatest food fights in TV history!
After dinner, the gang is toasting absent friends and family members.  Sam proposes a toast to Coach, the Cheers bartender who died the previous year.  I always appreciate it when long-running shows mention departed characters.  Since the actor who played Coach, Nicholoas Colasanto had died in real life, this moment was especially poignant.
This is also an interesting Cheers episode because the bulk of the action takes place outside the bar.
"Thanksgiving Orphans" makes for great seasonal viewing.  It's available for streaming if you're a Netflix subscriber and is also available on the Cheers:Complete Fifth Season dvd set.
My rating:
4 pumpkin pies






RigbyMel says:
"Thanksgiving Orphans" is not a Cheers episode that I recall watching when it first aired, but even though I have come to it late, I have to say that this episode is a classic one.  The food fight alone makes it worthwhile, but Diane in pilgrim garb and the battle to cook Birdzilla the turkey are also wonderful moments.
This episode reminds me of the time I spent in the UK rounding up random British friends to celebrate the US holiday. (I spent 3 Thanksgivings across the pond.)  I had much better luck with the cooking aspects of the holiday, thanks in part to a little forward planning and overseas phone calls to my very patient mother. (I wound up making sweet potato pie rather than pumpkin pie as sweet potatoes were more readily available in Britain.)  I was very glad to have kind friends in Britain who were willing to help me celebrate, not unlike the way that the characters from Cheers banded together to help each other enjoy the holiday (although, my friends and I didn't have a food fight!).  So I find that this episode of Thanksgiving orphan-hood resonates with me in a very personal way.
Overall this is a great episode of a great series and one not to be missed.
RigbyMel's rating:
4 pumpkin pies


Monday, November 14, 2011

Tower Heist


Premiered November 4, 2011

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the building manager of the Tower, a high rise apartment in New York's Columbus Circle.  (New Yorkers may recognize the building as the actual Trump Tower.) Josh is friendly with tycoon and Tower penthouse resident Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda).  The Tower's staff consists of a large and multi-ethnic crew including: Lester (Stephen Henderson), the doorman, Charlie the concierge (Casey Affleck), Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), a hotel maid, and Enrique (Michael Pena), a new elevator operator.

We also briefly meet a few other wealthy residents of the Tower all of whom have idiosyncratic and exacting expectations of the staff.

Josh's boss, Mr. Simon (Judd Hirsch) tells him to take care of an eviction that needs to take place discreetly.  The evictee is Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a Wall Street trader who has lost everything in the recent stock market crash.  Josh doesn't have the heart to toss Fitzhugh out on the street and finds a way to delay the eviction.

The next day, Arthur Shaw gets arrested by the FBI for running a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. As it turns out, Josh had given all the staff pension funds to Shaw for investments, so the entire staff is now without retirement money.

Josh realizes that Shaw is hiding missing funds in his penthouse without the knowledge of the FBI investigators.  He tries to confront Shaw, with disastrous results, and gets himself (as well as Charlie and Enrique) fired.  In disgust, and with a view towards making use of insider knowledge of the Tower's daily routines, Josh devises a Robin Hood-esque scheme to try and get the pension money back.  He enlists the aid of Charlie and Enrique as well as Mr. Fitzhugh - they make an unlikely team. Josh also brings in an outsider -- Slide (Eddie Murphy), a fast talking small time con artist from Queens -- to supply the criminal knowledge that he and his colleagues blatantly lack.

Our band of miscreants chooses Thanksgiving Day to pull off their master plan due to the complicating factor of the Macy's Parade passing right by the Tower, thereby making police intervention much more difficult.  Will our unlikely heroes pull off the heist and give Shaw his comeuppance? Or will they wind up in prison while Shaw goes free?  Will they all get entanlged in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon?   Watch and find out!

RigbyMel says:

As is typical in this sort of caper film, nothing quite goes according to plan, which is part of the fun. The prominent role of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade makes this a memorable holiday film. Although I tend to find Ben Stiller a bit bland as the lead in movies, his character is likeable enough. That being said, the performances by the supporting cast are what makes this film "pop."  Eddie Murphy's Slide is hilarious and reminiscent of some of his earlier work from the 1980s.  Sadly, I feel Slide is a bit under-used in terms of the overall plot.  Gabourey Sidibe's safe-cracking Jamaican maid, Odessa is also a great addition to the cast.  It is nice to see Sidibe displaying her comedic abilities.
There are a few plot holes one could drive a 1963 Ferrari through if you think about them too hard, but this movie is about light-hearted caper-tastic fun rather than tight plotting.  It is worth a look, but may not be one for annual November viewing.

My rating:
2 1/2 pumpkin pies






J.A. Morris says:
We're in general agreement about this movie, and the work of the actors.  I'll add that Alan Alda is great as White Collar criminal Arthur Shaw.  But the real star of this movie is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, it's a "character" just as much as any of the human characters in Tower Heist.  And this movie is a reminder that the parade is just as uniquely (North) American as Thanksgiving Day itself.
My rating:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jem And The Holograms: "Trick Or Techrat"


Premiered October 30,1987

Jem and her band mates are hanging out Starlight House (the home for foster girls Jem operates) watching a scary vampire movie.  Suddenly, two girls run in wearing Halloween masks, scaring everyone.


Most of them laugh it off, but Terri (one of the girls who is in foster care) is more scared than anyone else.  She is absolutely terrified and takes a few minutes to calm down after realizing the "monsters" are just kids like her.

The Holograms' manager Rio shows up late at night and takes them for a ride to an old opera house. He tells them it is being threatened with demolition, but could be saved if the Holograms play a benefit concert.


They meet Frederick Vincent, the nice but eccentric owner of the opera house.  Vincent is grateful for the Holograms offer to help the opera house, their benefit concert will be held on Halloween Eve.


Frederick Vincent greets the Holograms in a Dracula costume!

Later, Jem and the residents of Starlight House start preparing for Halloween.


Terri is carving a pumpkin when she is suddenly scared again by a Halloween mask.  This causes her to accidentally smash her pumpkin.


She cries and declares "I hate Halloween".  Jem consoles her, saying that it can be fun to be scared at Halloween, since it's all just pretend.

Terri gets scared by a mask

Terri accompanies the Holograms to the opera house.  She gets scared once again when she sees the venue's address is 1313.

Elsewhere, the Misfits (a rival band and the Holograms' arch nemesis) are angry and jealous when they learn that the Holograms are holding a benefit concert.  The Misfits' leader Pizzazz decides to stage their own concert billed as "The Misfits Present:Midnight Madness".

The Misfits,L-R:Jetta,Pizzazz,Roxy

Their manager Eric sends them to real estate mogul Terrence Landau.  Landau says he'll finance the Misfits concert.  He wants the opera house to close because it gets in the way of his "beautiful skyline". Landau will by the site of the opera house when it closes, then he plans to demolish it.

Pizzaz and Terrence Landau plot the destruction of the opera house

The Holograms are rehearsing for the concert. Their choreographer Danse is onstage, when suddenly a giant jack o'lantern falls on her.  She survives, but Terri is convinced the opera house is haunted. Vincent agrees with Terri and says the concert must be cancelled.

The Misfits call the local building inspector to the opera house, they tell him it's in violation of safety codes.  During the inspection, an arm reaches out from a cabinet, frightening the Misfits. They're also convinced the venue us haunted.

A black cat (it turns out to be Vincent's cat, named Phantom!) runs past Terri, she gets scared again. Right after that, a chandelier falls from the ceiling.  It nearly lands on Terri, but Jem saves her.



The night of the concert finally arrives. Jem & the Holograms are dressed in Halloween costumes, the Misfits have set up a tent across from the opera house to stage their show.

In the Holograms dressing room, a talking skeleton appears in the mirror and says if they take the stage, it will be their last concert. The skeleton disappears, then the mirror cracks. Jem is angry and sick of all these strange happenings, and she doesn't think the Misfits are capable creating these horrors.



Vincent tells them they must leave.  Jem is perplexed and wonders why Vincent wants them to leave, since they're trying to save the opera house.


The opera house starts shaking, the lights start flickering and evil laughter can be heard throughout the building.  Terri freaks out and says "it's the ghost!"  She runs away, falls through a trap-door and disappears.

Frederick Vincent,Terri(in a Raggedy Ann costume) and Phantom the Cat run from the bad guys!

Will Jem and the Holograms survive the haunted opera house?  Even if they do, can they save the opera house from demolition?   Will Terri survive long enough to overcome her chronic fear of everything?



J.A. Morris says:
I've never watched a full episode of Jem and the Holograms until now, but I remember when it was on the TV in the 1980s.
"Trick Or Techrat" succeeds in creating a nice seasonal atmosphere, with lots of jack o'lanterns and black cats popping up throughout.  And there's just something inherently funny about 80s cartoon glam rockers wearing Halloween costumes!.

But it's not something I see myself watching every year, nor do I see myself watching other episodes of Jem.  If you watched it as a kid, this episode might be a nice nostalgia trip to watch around Halloween.

My rating:
2 jack o'lanterns




Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Simpsons: "The Simpsons Halloween Special II"(A.K.A. "Treehouse Of Horror II")



 
Premiered October 31, 1991

Dammit, Smithers, this isn't rocket science, it's brain surgery!
- Mr. Burns

I wish for a turkey sandwich on rye bread with lettuce and mustard. And... and I don't want any zombie turkeys, I don't want to turn into a turkey myself, and I don't want any other weird surprises, you got it?
-Homer Simpson

We open with a special "warning" from Marge Simpson that the Halloween episode isn't suitable for younger viewers.

Marge (dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein), Bart (an executioner), Lisa (a totem pole) and Maggie (a witch) have come home after night of trick or treating. Marge says they can have only one piece of candy, because eating candy late at night causes bad dreams. The kids (and Homer) ignore her, all the candy is gobbled up in seconds.



We get a series of vignettes, each representing one of their nightmares:

Lisa dreams that her family is vacationing in Marrakesh, Morocco, where Homer approaches a street vendor. He sees a monkey's paw and wants to buy it. The paw will grant its owner four wishes. The vendor cautions him, saying it will bring misfortune to the Simpsons.

Homer ignores the warning and buys the paw, they bring it home and they all take turns making wishes:Maggie wishes for a new pacifier and gets it. Bart wants wealth and fame for the Simpsons, the wish is granted. Suddenly, they have cash appearing all over the house and the Simpsons are best selling recording artists. They're given VIP treatment wherever they go, but many citizens of Springfield quickly get tired of hearing about the Simpsons. Lisa wishes for world peace and gets it. Soon, all nations are working together and all weapons are destroyed. This lack of weapons is noticed by Kang and Kodos, two aliens who are monitoring Earth. They decide that the lack of weapons makes Earth the perfect planet to conquer! The monkey's paw has doomed the world! But Homer has one more wish. Will he use it to save the world or waste it on something selfish?

In Bart's dream, a Rod Serling-esque narrator tells of an omnipotent being who rules Springfield and the world. The being turns out to be Bart Simpson! Bart can read their minds and everyone is forced to cater to his every whim, especially Marge and Homer. His parents finally tire of Bart's oppression and Homer tries to kill him. Before he can do so, Bart
transforms Homer into a jack-in-the-box. Marge decides Bart has gone too far and takes him to Psychiatrist Marvin Monroe. Dr. Monroe says the root of Bart's evil is Homer's failure to bond with his son. Can Homer be a better father as a jack-in-the-box than he was as a human being?

In Homer's dream,he's caught sleeping on the job. His boss Mr. Burns directs his toady Smithers to fire Homer immediately. Burns thinks Homer can be replaced with a robot he's been (secretly) constructing. But he needs a brain to place inside the robot body.
Desperate for work, Homer gets a job as a grave digger. After hours of digging, he falls asleep in the grave.



Burns and Smithers are out grave robbing and mistake Homer for a corpse. When they notice he isn't dead, Smithers bludgeons him to death with a hammer. They cut open Homer's head and place his brain inside the robot.


But Burns' plan backfires, the robot still retains all of Homer's bad habits, like laziness and an obsession with donuts. His robot is a failure, Burns decides to return the brain to Homer (who isn't dead) and kicks the robot...which has disastrous consequences!

J.A. Morris says:
In case anyone who reads this hasn't seen "The Simpsons Halloween Special II", I I didn't want to spoil the endings of any of the nightmares.
For two decades running, the Simpsons Halloween episodes have been highlights of the Fall TV season. Some of the best episodes of the series have been Halloween shows, this one is no exception. It's filled with nice homages to classic horror and scifi. Bart's nightmare is a parody of a "Twilight Zone" episode, as is Lisa's wish that all wars come to an end. Mr. Burns' screams "it's alive" when his robot moves, an obvious (but fun) reference to Universal's "Frankenstein" movie.
The fame and fortune followed by a public turning on the Simpsons (in Homer's nightmare) is a parody of the Simpsons mania of the early 90s (the Simpsons were "meta" before most of us knew what "meta" meant).
And the opening credits show the Peanuts gang in their "ghost" costumes from "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown".


But "The Simpsons Halloween Special II" is more than just a collection of pop culture references, it's a classic in its own right.

My rating:
4 jack o'lanterns





RigbyMel says:

One cannot possibly go wrong with a Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween episode at this, the spookiest time of the year.  I always enjoy each new installation of the "Treehouse of Horror" every year,  but I find that my favorite installations tend to come from the early years of the series, such as this one.  (Whether this preference is due to being younger and more impressionable when the earlier episodes first aired, I do not know.)  
I think my favorite vignette from this episode is Lisa's nightmare, which is based on "The Monkey's Paw", a famous horror story by W.W. Jacobs.   Huzzah for intelligent, spooky television fun!

My rating:
4 jack o'lanterns