Friday, January 31, 2020

"Oscar Takes A Holiday" 2020 is here!

Regular readers of this blog will recall that during February of last year, we presented reviews of holiday programming that included contributions by Academy Award winners.  Since our blog stats show us it was well-received, we thought we'd do the same thing in 2020.

This year, the Oscars are being handed out on February 9, which is fifteen days earlier than last year.  We're taking our cue from Turner Classic Movies (one of our favorite networks!).  TCM's "31 Days Of Oscars" runs from February 1 through March 1.  During that stretch, we'll be posting Oscar-themed reviews of holiday movies, TV specials and episodes.

So please stop by tomorrow, February 1 for our first review of this year's edition of "Oscar Takes A Holiday!"

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Night Court: "Santa Goes Downtown"

Premiered January 11, 1984.

It's another typical evening, shortly after Christmas at the New York City night court, the honorable Harold T. Stone (Harry Anderson) presiding.  That is, until a defendant identifying himself as Santa Claus (Jeff Corey) comes before the court on charges of trespassing.   He was found sleeping in a department store after hours in possession of half a bottle of gin.   The man is firm in his belief that he is the "real, true Santa Claus" and the court is in a holding pattern waiting to see if they can get more info on his true identity.

The next case on the docket concerns two troubled teens (Michael J. Fox and Olivia Barash), who were caught shoplifting.  They're runaways and are unwilling to give their real names.  They're also quite sarcastic, causing prosecutor Dan Fielding (John Laroquette) to voice an interest in smacking them around.

Eventually, it's revealed that the teens' first names are Eddie and Mary and they feel that no one cares about them.   This leads our alleged Santa as well as other members of the court to want to prove to them that someone DOES care about them.

Could it be that this is, in fact, the real Santa?  Can he help Harry get the teenagers to know they're loved?

RigbyMel says: 

This is the second episode of Night Court ever produced and it's quite a good one.   The whole "is this or isn't it Santa" plot is hardly original, but it's well executed here.

It's interesting seeing Michael J. Fox in a role other than Alex P. Keaton of Family Ties (which was airing concurrently, also on NBC) and he does a great job as a snarky, angsty teen, who according to our alleged Santa isn't really bad, he's just a bit frustrated. 

The humor in this episode is balanced with seriousness and a touch of pathos.  "Santa" does seem to know a fair bit about each member of the cast adding to the "is he or isn't he" angle in a smart way.

And even though the cast undergoes some changes between this and subsequent seasons, the workplace family vibe is always believable so we get the sense that these people care about each other and the people who come to the court despite their flaws and quirks.

Night Court was one of my favorite sitcoms in the 80s, and it's nice to see that they got this Christmas-y (despite not happening at Christmas precisely) episode right so early in their run. 

This episode is recommended in or out of the Christmas season.

RigbyMel's rating: 


3 and a half candy canes.

J.A. Morris says: 
This is an enjoyable holiday episode of a good series.  Like my co-blogger, I was a regular viewer of Night Court.  I watched "Santa Goes Downtown" when it first aired.  I  remember being pleasantly surprised to see a "Christmas" episode premier in January.

The plot of "Santa Goes Downtown" owes a big debt to Miracle On 34th Street, but that's not a bad thing.  While the belief in Santa's existence is part of the story, the most important point is that the troubled teens need someone to believe in them, and Santa and Harry seem to be the only adults who do.

Santa is portrayed by character actor Jeff Corey.  He's more disheveled than most TV and movie Santa Clauses, but he conveys genuine warmth and empathy towards Eddie and Mary.  It's a funny and touching performance.

I wasn't familiar with Corey.  My research on him shows he had an amazing career as an actor and acting teacher.  Corey's acting career stalled in the 1950s when he was Blacklisted during the Red Scare, which led him to focusing on teaching.  His acting students included Jane Fonda, Leonard Nimoy and Jack Nicholson.  When McCarthyism faded, Corey acted in such films as Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, True Grit, The Cincinnati Kid and appeared in TV shows like Star Trek and The Outer Limits.

"Santa Goes Downtown" is an enjoyable episode and was a pleasant way for me to revisit old sitcom "friends" from my childhood.  It's post-Christmas setting makes for nice "after-Christmas" viewing.

A surprise visitor comes to Night Court!

J.A. Morris' rating: 

3 candy canes

Friday, January 3, 2020

The New Scooby Doo Mysteries: "Nutcracker Scoob"

Premiered December 1, 1984.

“Like, bah humbag, the Ghost of Christmas Past is coming to haunt me!”
-Shaggy, playing Ebenezer Scrooge

It’s Christmas Eve and Scooby Doo (Don Messick), his nephew Scrappy (Messick) and their mystery-solving pals are helping an orphanage produce their Christmas pageant, which will feature performances of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker ballet.

Mrs. Fezziwig, the owner of the home, is grateful for the gang’s help.  Tiny Tina, a resident of the orphanage, is excited when Fred (Frank Welker) helps her put the Nutcracker on top of the Christmas tree.

Their seasonal spirits are dampened when millionaire Winslow Nickelby (Welker) and his cat Snowball (Welker) arrive.  The orphanage used to belong to Nickelby and he intends to buy it back, which would leave the children with nowhere to live.

Mrs. Fezziwig refuses to sell, but Nickelby says he’ll take it over “one way or another.”  Fezziwig assures the kids she'll never sell their home to Nickelby.

Later, while Scooby and Shaggy (Casey Kasem) are rehearsing a scene from A Christmas Carol,  they’re interrupted by a “spirit” who calls itself the Ghost of Christmas Never!  The ghost chases the gang outside into the snow.

When they go back inside the orphanage, the gans discovers that the stage and all its holiday decor have been trashed.  Daphne (Heather North) finds a lapel pin in the wreckage that bears the inscription “WN.”  Everyone guesses that WN must stand for Winslow Nickelby and they decide to pay him a visit.

Scooby and friends overhear Nickelby say that his uncle left a valuable gem in the orphanage.  While Nickelby has no legal rights to the orphanage, he says that his “friend” will force the orphans to leave their home.  This leads Shaggy to believe Nickelby is “in cahoots” with the Ghost of Christmas Never.

The gang decides that the emerald is the key to discovering the identity of the ghost and saving the orphanage.  When they search for the emerald, they find the ghost instead!  The Ghost of Christmas Never disappears with the emerald, which makes solving the mystery at hand even more difficult.

Will Scooby and his friends solve the mystery and save Mrs. Fezziwig’s orphanage?  Is Nickelby connected to the Ghost of Christmas Never?  Will the ghost’s activities ruin the Christmas pageant?  Will Nickelby find the spirit of Christmas in his heart and let the children stay in the orphanage?

J.A. Morris says:

I mentioned in our recent review of this series’ Halloween episode that its regular cast only featured Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Daphne and Scrappy.  This episode includes Fred as a guest star, but not Velma.  So Velma fans, consider yourselves warned.

Just like the Halloween episode, “Nutcracker Scoob” is a typical episode of Scooby Doo, except that it takes place at Christmas.  Lots of Christmas episodes feature references to A Christmas Carol and music from The Nutcracker ballet.  This episode features both, you can't get much more Christas-y than that!

The stakes are upped a little bit too.  I don’t remember other Scooby villains who wanted to force orphans out of their home!  Perhaps that was added to make Winslow Nickelby even more Scrooge-ish.  Nickelby and the Ghost Of Christmas Never are good antagonists for the gang and the orphanage.

Speaking of Scrooge, this episode features lots of references to A Christmas Carol and other works by Charles Dickens. Fezziwig, the name of the orphanage’s owner, was young Scrooge’s mentor.  Tiny Tina is a good stand-in for Tiny Tim.   Nickelby takes his name from Nicholas Nickelby.  However, Nickelby does not get visited by three spirits, “Nutcracker Scoob” features only one ghost.

“Nutcracker Scoob” includes the usual Scooby Doo chase scenes, with the added fun of the Christmas setting.  That means the chases involve skis and horse-drawn sleighs!

I especially liked the sleigh that looks like the Mystery Machine.

Plus, the chases and other scenes are accompanied by holiday tunes like “Deck The Halls,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” and “Jingle Bells”

We try to avoid spoilers here, even for 35 year-old episodes.  I won’t spoil the detail the ending of “Nutcracker Scoob,” but since it was part of a Saturday morning animated series, and it’s a Christmas episode, I don’t think it’ll come as a shock that a happy holiday will be enjoyed by everyone before the episode is over.

It’s worth noting that this is the final episode of The New Scooby Doo Mysteries.  It’s also the last appearance of Fred (as a grownup) until 1998.

I enjoyed this Christmas episode, but I would’ve enjoyed it more if Velma had been around. Otherwise, “Nutcracker Scoob” has comedy, action, good villains and it should provide solid Yuletide entertainment for everyone.

 J.A. Morris’ rating:

3 candy canes.