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.

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.