Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Simpsons: "Bart Vs. Thanksgiving"

First aired November 22, 1990

"I hope you're happy, Bart! You ruined Thanksgiving!"
-Marge Simpson

It's Thanksgiving in Springfield.  Marge (Julie Kavner) is prepping the Turkey. Homer (Dan Castellaneta) is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.  Bart (Nancy Cartwright) is watching the parade too, he asks Homer who Underdog and Bullwinkle are and why they have balloons.

"If you build a balloon for every flash in the pan cartoon character, you'll turn the parade into a farce."
Lisa (Yeardley Smith) has made a Thanksgiving centerpiece that celebrates the contributions women (such as Georgia O'Keefe and Susan B. Anthony) have made to American society.

Homer picks up his father Abe (Castellaneta) at the Springfield Retirement Castle.  Marge's sisters Patty and Selma (both voiced by Kavner) arrive, they've angered Marge by bringing additional food (because some people say that Marge's turkey is dry and might enjoy an alternative).

Everyone has something to do except for Bart.  He pesters his mother, wanting to help her prepare the meal, but he just ends up getting in the way.

"Ah...Cranberry Sauce A La Bart."
Marge's mother Jacqueline (Kavner, yet again!) finally shows up, and the family is ready for the Thanksgiving feast.  Lisa brings out her centerpiece, which impresses the whole family.

A minute later, Bart brings out the turkey.  He has no place to put it, so he tells Lisa to "move it or lose it".
Bart tries to remove the centerpiece from the table and Lisa tries to take it from him.

They have a tug of war over the centerpiece and it ends getting flung into the fireplace, burning to ashes in seconds.

Lisa attacks Bart, slamming him into the table, spilling food and drink on the tablecloth.  Lisa is heartbroken over the destruction of her centerpiece.  Homer sends Bart to his room with no food.  Marge is furious and tells her son that he's ruined Thanksgiving.

Marge attempts to console her daughter. Lisa wonders why things like this always happen to her.  Marge says Bart can come to dinner when he's ready to apologize.  He sees no need to apologize and refuses.  Bart then sneaks out of the house just as the family dog, Santa's Little Helper gets thrown out for stealing turkey.

They go on an adventure that takes them all over town, from Mr. Burns' (Harry Shearer) mansion to the local Rescue Mission on skid row.  Local news anchor Kent Brockman (Shearer again) is doing a story at the mission about the way society treats the homeless.  Brockman interviews Bart and his family sees him on television.  Homer, Marge and even Lisa are worried for Bart's safety.

J.A. Morris says:

A good Holiday episode from one of the Simpsons' best seasons.  Season 2 is an interesting season to look back on.  Dan Castlenetta's voice for Homer is somewhere between his "Walter Matthau impression" and the one we know and love today.  The writers still gave us glimpses of Homer as a good father (like we see at the end of "Bart Vs. Thanksgiving") that we've rarely seen since.

Hello, operator! Give me the number for 911!
No matter how many times I see it, I still get a bit sad when I see Lisa's centerpiece go up in flames.  We all probably had a moment (or moments) like that when we were kids.  And the criticism Marge receives from her sisters and mother (Jacqueline tells Marge "You never do anything right") is something family members do every year on Thanksgiving.

"  I have laryngitis. It hurts to talk. So I'll just say one thing... You never do anything right."

The scene at the end featuring Bart and Lisa is one of the best in Simpsons history.  When asked why he wrecked her centerpiece, he struggles to answer, saying he doesn't know why he did it or why he enjoyed it.  A lesser series would have simply had him apologize and roll the credits.  But in this case, Bart is forced to look into himself and think about why he was wrong.

"Alright!  Twelve bucks and free grub to boot! Viva skid row!"
The combination of family drama and culinary issues makes "Bart Vs. Thanksgiving" a holiday classic that I've watched every year since its premiere.

J.A. Morris' rating:
4 Pumpkin Pies.

RigbyMel says: 

I am in agreement with what J.A. Morris has to say above.  This is an extremely funny and well-written episode.  I remember watching it when it first aired twenty-two years ago (!!!!)  and it still makes me laugh.   It addresses Thanksgiving tropes like family squabbling, someone ruining the meal, the Macy's parade and even Thanksgiving football games (and accompanying halftime shows) with wit & aplomb.

"Oh, we have lots of names for these people. Bums, deadbeats, losers, scums of the earth, we'd like to sweep these people into the gutter, or if already in the gutter, to some other out of the way place. Oh we have our reasons. They're depressing, their ragged clothes, they're crazy, they smell bad. So every year on one conscience salving day, we toss these people, a bone. A turkey bone. And that's supposed to make it all better."
Bart's experiences on skid row are pointed and clever,  as are many of the lines delivered by other characters, like Grandpa Simpson's declaration that he has to be back at the nursing home by 9pm so the home won't declare him legally dead and collect his insurance. 

I also really love the fact that Lisa references Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" while writing in her journal about the incident. ("I saw the best meals of my generation destroyed by the madness of my brother. My soul carved in slices by spiky-haired demons.")   As the oldest of four children (and the only girl), I certainly can relate to how Lisa feels in this episode and remember similar arguments of a less extreme nature with my brothers.   

I also sympathize with Bart feeling like he has been unjustly picked on as well (that's an emotion that should be familiar to anyone who has ever been a kid).

This episode definitely captures some of what is important about family (and about Thanksgiving) without being saccharine about it. 

This is an episode I try to watch every year! 

RigbyMel's rating: 
4 pumpkin pies

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spectacular Spider-Man: "Nature Vs. Nurture"

First aired June 14, 2008.

"No,no,no, my yams!  I wonder if Romita's delivers turkey and fixings pizza?"
-Peter Parker

"I'm fine. Well, not fine, but alive. Just glad I started the turkey this morning, before the post-traumatic stress kicked in."
-Gwen Stacy

Peter Parker (Josh Keaton) is getting ready for Thanksgiving.  But it won't be an easy holiday.  His Aunt May (Deborah Strang) is in the hospital, having survived a heart attack. 

At Midtown High School, Peter's friends and acquaintances ask how Aunt May is feeling.  Even football star Flash Thompson (Joshua LeBar), who normally taunts Peter, is sympathetic to him.

Liz Allen (Alanna Ubach) asks Peter if he can help carry Midtown's Mustang mascot balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.  He politely declines, saying he may be taking care of his aunt on Thanksgiving.  Gwen Stacy (Lacey Chabert) offers to accompany Peter to the hospital to visit Aunt May.

Another friend of his, Mary Jane (Vanessa Marshall),  needs to talk to Peter.  His estranged friend Eddie Brock (Ben Diskin) went on a date with her simply to get back at Peter. 

Mary Jane wants a word with Peter.
Eddie holds a grudge against Peter for getting him fired from his job.  Eddie has been taken over by an alien symbiote costume and possesses powers identical to Spider-Man's and calls himself Venom. 

Peter talks to Eddie on the phone, not knowing Eddie has become Venom.
Peter and Gwen visit Aunt May in the hospital.  Her physician Doctor Bromwell (Dorian Harewood) says May is ready to go home.  She says she'll prepare the Thanksgiving feast, but Peter says he's got it covered.

Peter & Gwen visit Aunt May, Dr. Bromwell says she should be out by Thanksgiving.

However, it turns out that Peter is in over his head, he burns the yams and leaves the kitchen looking like a disaster area.  In the middle of this, Venom attacks Peter in his house.

"My yams!"

The symbiote has told Eddie/Venom that Parker and Spider-Man are one and the same.  They brawl outside the Parker house.  It ends when Venom webs Spidey to a fence.  He leaves him there, promising to make him suffer.  Since Venom is a combination of Eddie Brock and the symbiote, it refers to itself as "we".  As he swings away, Venom tells Spider-Man "we know who you are and everyone you care about!"

Spider-Man eventually frees himself and heads to Aunt May's hospital room, (correctly) anticipating that Venom will attack her.  They battle all over New York City.  Venom disappears in the middle of the fight, right after telling Spidey "we know who you love the most".

Venom leaves a "note" for Spidey.
Peter thinks Eddie is talking about Mary Jane.  He heads to the parade site and spots MJ talking to Flash.  Spider-Man realizes Venom is after Gwen. 

Eddie Brock approaches Gwen at the parade.

Spidey goes looking for Gwen (who is marching in the parade and playing sax with the Midtown Band), and eventually finds her tied to a King Kong balloon.  

Spider-Man tries to resuce Gwen, but Venom intervenes.  Spidey tries to reason with his old friend Eddie, asking him to stop fighting and endangering Gwen.  But the Venom symbiote has taken complete control over its host.

Venom pursues Spidey through a sea of balloons!

Venom and Spider-Man go toe-to-toe, turning the Macy's Parade into a battlefield, bouncing off the giant balloons. Mary Jane, Flash chip in too, trying to help rescue Gwen.

The Midtown High Mustang balloon.

Will Gwen be saved?  Can Spider-Man defeat Venom?  Will Peter's lack of culinary skills ruin Thanksgiving?

The crowd gathered for the parade gets ringside seats to a Spider-Brawl!

J.A. Morris says:

I'm a huge fan of Spider-Man, I grew up reading the comics.  And the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of my favorite parts of every Thanksgiving, so I love seeing Spider-Man and Venom crash the parade in this episode!  It's great to see them jumping over giant balloons and chasing each other through the streets and skies of New York City.

When Spider-Man web's Venom's mouth shut, he sprouts another in his stomach.  Eeewww!

Another great thing about this episode is Venom's voice.  Since Venom is made up of both Eddie and the symbiote, his voice is double-tracked, making an inherently creepy villain even creepier! 

Venom hitches a ride on the giant cat balloon.
Spectacular Spider-Man was a great series and one of the coolest things about it was it gave us "a year in the life of Peter Parker/Spider-Man".  We got to celebrate most of the holidays with Peter and his supporting cast.  Superheroes + holidays=greatness!

Gwen & her father Capt. George Stacy see what Peter's "cooking" has done to the kitchen!

We got some of the usual Thanksgiving tropes here:Cooking disasters, obligatory shot of the family around the table,but how many Thanksgiving shows have the a super-villain show up in the middle of cooking the feast?

Gwen, Aunt May & George enjoy some pumpkin pie.
In addition to Thanksgiving and fighting Venom, this episode takes Gwen and Peter's relationship to a new place.

One note about the pull quote at the top:Peter asks if "Romita's delivers turkey and fixings pizza".  That's a reference to John Romita and his son John Romita, Jr., who both drew Spidey's comic book adventures. 

Spidey swings past a lion balloon.

This episode can be found on dvd on The Spectacular Spider-Man:Season One set and you can purchase it as an instant video on Amazon. 

"Nature Vs. Nurture" has become one of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes and is highly recommended.  It's the last episode of this season and it ends on a high note!

Dr. Bromwell joins the Parkers & Stacys for Thanksgiving dinner.

J.A. Morris' rating:
4 pumpkin pies!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Waltons: "The Thanksgiving Story"

First aired November 15, 1973

"Next to Christmas, I suppose you'd have to say that Thanksgiving was our favorite time of year.  We may have been poor in worldly possessions, but at Thanksgiving, more than any other time, I think we knew, really knew, how great was our abundance." 
-John Boy Walton

For those that don't know already,  The Waltons was a series about a large family living in the mountains of Virginia during the 1930s and 40s.   The series ran from 1972 to 1981.

In this movie-length episode from season 2 of the series, the residents of Walton's Mountain are getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Younger siblings Erin (Mary McDonough), Jim-Bob (David W. Harper) and Elizabeth (Kami Cotler) are gathering pumpkins.  Mary Ellen (Judy Norton), the oldest daughter, is auditioning to play Pocahontas in the school Thanksgiving pageant.

Jim-Bob, Elizabeth & Erin bring home pumpkins, accompanied by their trusty dog Reckless.
Oldest son John-Boy (Richard Thomas) is especially happy.  His girlfriend Jenny Pendleton (Sian Barbara Allen) is coming back to visit for Thanksgiving.  All the Walton family likes Jenny and are glad to hear this news.  John-Boy is also getting ready to take a test that will qualify him to apply for a college scholarship.

Grandpa & John work in the family sawmill.

Grandpa Zeb (Will Geer) and his son John Walton (Ralph Waite) are busy sawing wood for a big lumber order.  They're having a bit of trouble with the saw belt, but it seems to be working well enough to get the job done.  John-Boy joins them and suggests they can saw two planks at a time and get the job done twice as fast.  Unfortunately, the saw belt flies off, causing a plank to hit John-Boy in the face.  He says he's fine, but has to his head bandaged up.  Later, while John-Boy is composing a journal entry, he loses control of his hand, making him temporarily unable to write.

Jason (Jon Walmsley) pays a visit to the home of Mamie (Helen Kleeb) and Emily (Mary Jackson) Baldwin.  They've hired him to help in making new bottles of their "Papa's Recipe" (moonshine whiskey).  The Baldwin sisters will pay him to clean the still, mash corn, etc.  They intend to send some of this batch of The Recipe to President and Mrs. Roosevelt.   Jason is a little concerned that his teetotaling mother may not approve of this new money-making venture.

The Baldwin Sisters pay a visit to John & Olivia.
Middle brother Ben (Eric Scott) is feeling he has nothing to do and feels like he needs to grow up.  He wants to hunt for the family's Thanksgiving turkey.  Grandpa offers to help.

Grandpa helps Ben make a Turkey Yelper.

John-Boy heads to the Pendleton house to clean it up before Jenny arrives.  He stops and chats with his father on the way.  In the middle of their conversation John-Boy's vision grows blurry and his hearing seems to go out.

John-Boy's attempt to clean the chimney doesn't go so well!
After a somewhat comical reunion scene, John-Boy and Jenny are glad to see each other.  They talk about how they've both changed in the year since they last saw one another.  They are excited to be planning for their future together.

Jenny & John-Boy get re-acquainted over dinner.

When the times comes to take the scholarship exam, John-Boy's vision starts fading in and out again, meaning he's unable to read the test.  He asks for his parents to come get him and take him to the hospital. 

The doctor says due to the saw belt accident, John-Boy has "a blood clot, pushing against the visual center of the brain."  If he isn't treated soon he could wind up blind or paralyzed.   John-Boy's parents, John and Olivia (Michael Learned),  agree with the doctor that John-Boy needs an operation.  He undergoes surgery and stays in the hospital.  His father is distraught and feels guilty about not fixing the saw belt before the accident.

Jenny visits John-Boy and tries to help him to be optimistic.  She suggests he can re-take the test, but she's more concerned about him surviving the surgery.

Ben & Grandpa on a turkey hunt.
Meanwhile,  Grandpa Zeb and Ben are out hunting for a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.  They track a likely bird down, but Ben fires too soon, scaring away the turkey before they can catch it.  Ben is afraid he will come home empty-handed.

Will John-Boy pull through his surgery in time for Thanksgiving dinner?  Will he get another chance to take his scholarship exam?  Will Grandpa and Ben manage to bag a turkey?  Will Mary Ellen get to the part in the school pageant?

J.A. Morris says:

I watched The Waltons every week for most of my childhood, but this is the first episode I've watched in at least 20 years.  Tragedies often hit Walton's Mountain.  Off the top of my head, I can recall stories that centered on a house fire, a mine cave-in, and life-threatening diseases.  "The Thanksgiving Story" is no exception, with John-Boy's head injury threatening his college scholarship chances and his ability to see and walk.  The sub-plots that focus on Mary Ellen, Jason and Ben are less compelling, but entertaining nonetheless. The Baldwin sisters were always amusing as the local moonshiners with hearts of gold.  It also does a good job of showing that preparing a Thanksgiving feast was a lot tougher 70 years ago, no trips to the chain grocery store for the Waltons.  

Grandma Esther makes pumpkin pie, no canned pumpkin in rural 1930s Appalachia!

The storyline about John-Boy and Jenny was also handled well.  But (SPOILER ALERT) this episode marks the last appearance of Jenny on the series.  I looked up information on her portrayer, Sian Barbara Allen, who was dating Richard "John-Boy" Thomas when "The Thanksgiving Story" was filmed.  She appeared in one episode prior to this and received a Golden Globe nomination in 1973 as Most Promising New Actress.  But The Waltons seems to be her peak of fame, the rest of Allen's credits were one-shot guest appearances on various series in the 70s and 80s.  Allen retired from acting in 1990. 

Mary Ellen as Pochahantas in the school pageant.

As a longtime resident of Richmond, VA, I also appreciated the references to Richmond and other places in the state.

If there's anything about The Waltons that hasn't aged well, it's the background music.  The music is a bit over-the-top and melodramatic by today's standards.   

"The Thanksgiving Story" is a good episode of this series.  Since it's a double-length episode, it might not be the best "first episode" for new viewers, but Thanksgiving is a perfect occasion for a show that was all about a family that helped one another during tough times.

J.A. Morris' rating:
3.5 pumpkin pies.

Olivia visits John-Boy in the hospital.

RigbyMel says:

Oddly enough, I did NOT watch The Waltons in its initial run.  I was vaguely aware of the series, but at the time, if it didn't contain cartoons, superheroes or Muppets, little RigbyMel was not particularly interested.  So "The Thanksgiving Story" actually represents the first Waltons episode I ever saw in its entirety, and I only saw it in the past couple of years.    As someone not overly familiar with the series,  I can say that this episode works very well both from a holiday special point of view and as an introduction to the show.  Considering that there are so many characters to keep track of, the writers do a great job of giving everyone (with the possible exception of some younger siblings that don't really have a major role in the episode) well-defined personalities.  I especially liked  the portrayals of the older folks like the Baldwin sisters, Grandpa Zeb and Grandma Esther.  The 1930s Thanksgiving ambiance is well deployed without coming off as cloying.  As a Virginian,  I was also interested and amused at the subplot involving Mary Ellen's audition to play Pocahontas in the school pageant.

The family waits for news about John-Boy's surgery.

I do think the whole John-Boy head injury storyline feels overly melodramatic, seeing as I already knew enough about the series to know that John-Boy would be around for future episodes.  But there is enough lightness and fun in the episode to balance the melodrama.  I also suspect that a few of the costumes that we see in the episode look a bit more 1970s than 1930s stylistically,  but that's a relatively small criticism.

This episode of The Waltons is well worth a look.

RigbyMel's rating:
3 pumpkin pies (baked from scratch by Grandma Esther, in this case)