Monday, February 15, 2016

A Charlie Brown Valentine

Premiered February 14, 2002.

Valentine's Day is approaching and Charlie Brown can't get his mind off one of his classmates known only as "the little red-haired girl."  He wants to ask her to go to the Valentine's Day dance, but is too shy to talk to her.  Chuck goes through all sorts of dramatic methods just to get her to notice him.

He "winks" at the little red-haired girl, which gets him sent to the school nurse when his teacher thinks something is wrong with his eye.  Chuck thinks walking around the room will get him noticed. Unfortunately, this leads to his shirt getting caught in the pencil sharpener.

Linus suggests that Charlie Brown should just get her phone number, call her up and invite her to the dance.  He calls the wrong number and winds up accidentally asks Peppermint Patty to the dance.

At the same time, Charlie Brown's sister Sally is trying to find a way get Linus' no avail.

Linus reminds Sally that he's not her "Sweet Baboo!"
And Lucy is pestering Schroeder as usual.

Plus, Snoopy tries to break into the Valentine card-writing business.

Snoopy also tries to help Chuck practice what he will say to the little red-haired girl. 
Can Charlie Brown summon up the courage to talk to little red-haired girl?  Will the Valentine Dance be a disaster for everyone?

Will Sally get a Valentine from her Sweet Baboo?

J.A. Morris says:

This is one of the first Charlie Brown specials produced after the death of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.  When he died, the creative team relied on plots from comic strips (and to a lesser extent, earlier animated specials) to create stories for new specials.  So it's not surprising that A Charlie Brown Valentine feels more like a series of vignettes than a cohesive story.  But it's fun to watch Chuck, Sally and the gang fret over Valentine's Day once again.

Charlie Brown's efforts to gain the attention of the little red-haired girl are all pretty funny.  We feel sorry for Chuck most of the time, he's often his own worst enemy.  However, he's relate-able, since most of us have been overcome by shyness at some time or another.

Some of the best scenes from Peanuts specials involve the interaction of Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty, and A Charlie Brown Valentine is no exception.  Adding Marcie to the mix makes it even more fun.  We get a funny scene where Marcie asks Chuck if he likes her, all he can say is "do I what?," much to Marcie's consternation.  Unlike Peppermint Patty, Marcie is able to articulate her feelings for Charlie Brown, even if doesn't accomplish anything.

Charlie Brown waits for Valentines to arrive.
Linus seems pretty mean in this special.  When he overhears Sally talking about what he'll give her for Valentine's Day, he says the only thing she'll receive from him is "a big zero."  On the hand, Linus has never encouraged Sally's crush, so his somewhat cruel behavior isn't surprising.

Eudora makes a brief cameo.
As some of you know, I run another blog dedicated to Charlie Brown specials.  I always find it interesting when specials feature obscure Peanuts characters.  Eudora, who appeared in 1970s and 80s comic strips makes a brief appearance here, accompanying Sally on her quest for Valentine presents.

Snoopy's attempts at writing Valentine cards are all pretty funny too.  He types up expressions of love such as "your eyes are like two supper dishes."  Very romantic if you're a beagle.

For the soundtrack, this special features new recordings of various Vince Guaraldi tunes.  This makes A Charlie Brown Valentine feel like an "old school" Peanuts special, even though it was produced in 2002.

Some trivia:the phrase "little red-haired girl" is spoken 27 times in this 22 minute special!

This special has been released twice on DVD and is usually re-run around Valentine's Day on ABC.

Linus, Chuck and Snoopy, dressed up for the big dance.
A Charlie Brown Valentine isn't the best Peanuts holiday special, but it's a lot of fun and it another special that shows that Valentine's Day isn't easy for lots of people.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 Valentine Hearts

RigbyMel says:

This is a cute special, but is a little too "bitty" to be a great one in my estimation.

As J.A. Morris says above,  there are lots of funny and enjoyable scenes.

Lucy switches from Psychatric help to Valentine purveyor for the holiday. 
Lucy's "super-potent" Valentine that requires a five day waiting period and Snoopy's Valentine writing efforts are highlights.    Poor Charlie Brown getting his shirt caught in the pencil sharpener is also pretty amusing, if somewhat improbable.

The Peanuts gang are, as always, sweetly relatable and it is very nice to hear David Benoit's takes on classic Vince Guaraldi themes.  The child voice actors in the special are pretty good as well.

Practice makes perfect, Chuck ... 
A Charlie Brown Valentine is an enjoyable special, but not quite a classic one.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 and half Valentine hearts

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friends: "The One With The Candy Hearts"

Premiered February 9, 1995

Monica: Roger wants to take her out tomorrow night.
Rachel: No! Phoebes! Don't you remember why you dumped the guy?
Phoebe: 'Cause he was creepy, and mean, and a little frightening... alright, still, it's nice to have a date on Valentine's Day!
Monica: But Phoebe, you can go out with a creepy guy any night of the year. I know I do.

In this episode from the first season of the series,  it's nearly Valentine's day.

Ross' ex-wife Carol has recently left him for another woman and his crush on Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) is unrequited.  At Central Perk, he spots Kristen (Heather Medway), a woman he likes who lives in his building.  Joey and Chandler tell him to ask her out, thinking he'll strike out.  to everyone's surprise, Kristen agrees to go out with Ross (David Schwimmer) on Valentine's Day.

Joey (Matt LeBlanc) has a Valentine's date set up...but his date Lorraine (Nancy Valen) says he needs to bring a friend for her friend.  So Chandler (Matthew Perry) will go to dinner with Lorraine's friend.  He's reluctant and says the friend sounds like a "pathetic mess."

Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Monica (Courtney Cox)  and Rachel who do not have Valentine dates, are discussing their recent relationship struggles.  Rachel wonders why good women like them always end up dating jerks.  Phoebe suggests a cleansing ritual to help them "break the bad boyfriend cycle."  They decide to make a bonfire out of gifts, love letters and other reminders of ex-boyfriends.

When they meet up later at a restaurant, Lorraine is excited to see Joey.

On the other hand, Chandler is shocked to learn he's been matched up with Janice (Maggie Wheeler), who he recently dumped (on New Year's Eve).

Oh. My. God!
Lorraine and Joey are hitting it off nicely.  At the same table,  Chandler and Janice are having a terrible time.

Things get worse when Joey and Lorraine decide to leave early.  Joey (stupidly) leaves them his credit card.  They order two bottles of expensive champagne...and wake up next to each other.

Now Chandler has a new problem: how can he dump Janice on Valentine's Day?

Ross and Kristen have dinner at a Japanese steakhouse.

Shortly into their date, Ross' ex-wife Carol shows up with her girlfriend Susan (Jessica Hecht).

Their presence distracts Ross and threatens to ruin his evening with Kristen.

Meanwhile, back at the boyfriend bonfire, things get a little bit out of hand...

...when Rachel dumps a bottle of (highly flammable!) grappa on the bonfire!

Will Chandler go through with his plans to dump Janice on Valentine's Day?  Can Ross salvage his evening with Kristen with his ex-wife sitting in front of him?  Will Monica, Rachel and Phoebe live to see February 15th?

J.A. Morris says:

I was never a regular viewer of Friends, but I've watched it occasionally over the years.  "The One With The Candy Hearts" is okay.   As usual, Phoebe and Chandler get the best lines of the episode.  I know a lot of people find Janice annoying, but I always found her amusing.  Maggie Wheeler gave her all every time she played the character.

When he sees his ex & her girlfriend, Ross tries to hide behind a menu.
Ross was never my favorite character on the show.  But he's sympathetic when he runs into Carol on Valentine's Day, even if he goes a bit too far.  The "cleansing ritual" scenes are all pretty funny.

I guess my biggest problem with "The One With The Candy Hearts" is that Chandler and Joey don't seem much better than the "jerks" who Phoebe, Rachel and Monica are cleansing from their lives.  Chandler talks about Janice like she's terrible, then spends the night with her, then (20 year old SPOILER ALERT) dumps her on Valentine's Day.  I guess we're supposed to be okay with it because Janice is annoying? 

If you were a Friends fan in the 90s, "The One With The Candy Hearts" will provide some nice, nostalgic Valentine's Day laughs.  But it's not exactly "essential" holiday viewing.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half Valentine Hearts.

RigbyMel says:

Unlike J.A. Morris, I was a pretty regular viewer of Friends, especially during the first couple of seasons.   Let us just say that it conjures warm memories of college for me up to a point.    (Wow!  The 1990s nostalgia is strong with this one!)

That being said, it's been a long while since I've watched many episodes of the series and I am older and (hopefully) a bit less naive nowadays.   So Ross -- who I thought was kind of sweet back in the day  (although I always preferred Chandler) -- now strikes me as being extremely whiny and irritating in the worst Nice Guy (tm) sort of way.  His interaction with Carol at the hibachi restaurant is supposed to endear him to us (if not to his date!),  but their little heart to heart about dating at the end of the episode just feels a bit hollow and pat to me.

Yeah, Ross, your date left ages ago ...  because you were paying more attention to your ex than to her.
I definitely remember relating rather strongly to Phoebe, Monica and Rachel's attempt to get rid of bad boyfriend vibes when this episode first aired.  And I love Phoebe's sort of hippie/Wicca ideas about how to accomplish this.   Their cleansing ritual attempt remains pretty funny after all these years.  
A classic "boyfriend bonfire"
I also remember feeling kind of bad for Janice.  Sure,  she is kind of annoying, but she can't help the way she speaks and Chandler is kind of mean with the whole on-again-off-again way he treats her in general.

"The One With the Candy Hearts" is a fun, albeit slight episode of the series.   If you want to get your mid-90s nostalgia on, it's worth revisiting, but isn't particularly a classic holiday episode.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 and a half Valentine hearts

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fresh Off The Boat: "Year of the Rat"

Premiered February 2, 2016

Nancy: You guys have  your own New Year?
Louis:  Yeah,  we get together with family, have a big dinner,  there's decorations, dragon dances, fireworks ... I mean, you should see how crazy it gets in Chinatown,  if you can breathe properly the next day, you weren't there!

The Huang family is excited to be heading off to Washington, D.C. to see their family and celebrate Chinese New Year.   Unfortunately,  Louis (Randall Park) got the dates wrong on the plane tickets so the family stuck in Orlando and unable to make the trip to D.C.  

The Huangs search the phone book looking for other Chinese families in Orlando that they might be able to share the holiday with to no avail,  but Jessica (Constance Wu) discovers an organization called the Asian American Association Of Orlando or AAAOO that is having a Chinese New Year celebration.

This seems like good news, until the Huangs actually get to the AAAOO's celebration and find it to be disastrously unsuccessful.

There are no other Chinese people in attendance and precious few Asians at all.   The presumably well-intentioned white organizers have failed to do much research and the resulting celebration leave much to be desired.

The kids -  particularly Eddie (Hudson Yang) - are very concerned that they won't be getting traditional red envelopes full of  money and try to butter up their grandmother (Lucille Soong) in hopes that she will come through for them.

Mountain Dew and Combos, Grandma?
They enlist youngest child Evan (Ian Chen) to try to do some stand-up comedy for her, on the grounds that he is small, funny & cute, like Grandma Huang's favorite character Garfield, but it does not go well.

Louis also tries to lighten the mood with jelly donuts in lieu of pork buns.
After several unsuccessful attempts to raise the family's spirits,  Louis makes one last ditch effort to save Chinese New Year for the family with help from the staff at his restaurant the Cattleman's Ranch!

Can Chinese New Year be saved?

RigbyMel says:

This is, I think, the first sitcom episode centered on Chinese New Year that I've ever seen.

The episode was humorous while managing to make some interesting points about cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation.    It's funny but also quite telling that everyone seems to think the holiday the Huangs want to go to Washington to celebrate is President's Day.

NOT an authentic Chinese New Year tradition!
The AAAOO folks are curious and want to have a Chinese New Year celebration, but their lack of research about what that would actually entail winds up being rather painfully embarrassing (for the Huangs, anyway).   The AAAOOers are rather unaware of the awkwardness of their party.

For instance we meet some dudebros sporting tattoos with Chinese characters.  They think their tats mean "understanding,"  when neither actually says that.   Grandma Huang attempts to school them (one is a tic-tac-toe board and one says "toaster"), but as they do not understand Chinese, they miss the point.

The whole family feels pretty let down about missing out on the holiday, and even more let down by the lack of attention paid to important details about what Chinese New Year entails -- adding to their sense of isolation.

The AAAOO people plan to do a Times Square style "rat drop" as part of their celebration.   (While 1996 was the Year of the Rat per the Chinese zodiac,  this is rather a misunderstanding of the custom.)
Jessica is very disappointed that "Nobody cares enough to get it right!"  but Louis points out that it's more a case of not knowing than not caring about the Chinese New Year traditions.

Lion dance at the Cattleman's Ranch!
Louis manages to make up for his major screw-up with the plane tickets by surprising his family with a much more authentic Lunar New Year celebration at the family restaurant he owns  (with a little help from his staff and a few family friends.)     The end of the episode comes off as rather sweet and also educational in a fun way.   It's also funny to see Jessica at first delighted by her friends' questions about the traditions of the holiday and then increasingly annoyed as she doesn't really get a break from said questions.

Something I found off-putting was a bit of product placement involving Panda Express in the dialogue -- I don't think it was necessary nor was it as funny as the writers seemed to think.

This is definitely a fun episode of the show that has fun with its "fish out of water" premise.  It also manages to be informative about Chinese New Year and about cultural appropriation without being overly preachy or political.    This may not be the best of the Huang family's adventures,  but it is certainly an interesting one.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 bundles of red firecrackers

J.A. Morris says:
I generally enjoy Fresh Off The Boat  and this is a solid episode.  I generally agree with RigbyMel's take on "Year Of The Rat."  It's nice to see Chinese New Year celebrated in a sitcom.  If you've never seen this series, "Year Of The Rat" is a good "starter" episode.

Evan's "stand-up comedy"  routines are a highlight of the episode.

This episode premiered last week and is currently available for streaming at

"Year Of The Rat" is worth seeking out.  I don't usually celebrate Chinese New Year, but this episode was actually an education for me and I can see myself re-watching it in future Februaries.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 bundles of red firecrackers.