Category Archives: Television

The Good Life With Good Neighbors

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Tom Good had a midlife crisis at age 40 and decided to drop out of society, if not the neighborhood. Tom wanted to work at the job of life itself and leave the 9-to-5 drudgery and consumerism behind. So he, along with his understanding wife Barbara, turned their middle-class home and yard into a suburban farm. He was determined to be as damn near self-sufficient as possible.

I’m talking about the wildly successful British sit-com The Good Life (1975 – 1980). It was called Good Neighbors in the United States when it premiered on PBS in the early 80s. There had been an American sit-com with the same name a few years earlier and the presenters wanted to avoid confusion.

I remember seeing ads on PBS at the time, touting a new “Brit-Com” that would be debuting soon. It had a scene from the second episode, I believe, showing Barbara (Felicity Kendal) smashing the glass out of their greenhouse so Tom (Richard Briers) could convert it to a chicken coop. (Yep, they were going to keep chickens, too. And pigs. And a goat.) She was wearing a scuba mask to prevent glass shards getting in her eyes. Tom told her she looked utterly ridiculous and she called him “Honey Tongue.”

I think it was my mom that convinced me to start watching the show. Before long I was smitten. Sure, Barbara was cute as a button and awfully sexy at the same time, so that helped peak my interest. But, I wasn’t just smitten with Barbara. The show had wended its way into my heart. (If you tell people I said I have a heart, I’ll deny it!)

The Goods lived next door to the Leadbetters: Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry (Paul Eddington). Tom and Jerry (that sounds familiar) had both worked for the same plastics company that manufactured toys for breakfast cereals. They both started on the same day eight years previous. Tom was more talented, but Jerry knew how to play the game. Jerry rose to the executive level while Tom languished working with younger men, who would soon rise to the executive level as well.

Margo Leadbetter plays the lovable foil. She’s prim and proper. Very conservative. She has difficulty understanding why something is funny. She’s a snob, but she truly cares for Tom and Barbara. Well, Barbara. She tolerates Tom.

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The two couples represent different ends of the economic spectrum. The Leadbetters are affluent and love their luxuries. The Goods are damned poor, but they love their life and their freedom from the trappings of middle class society. Despite these differences, they are friends. Fast friends. In fact, although Tom likes to think he and Barbara are self-sufficient, the Leadbetters come in very handy from time to time. Margo and Jerry come through for their friends even while being embarrassed by them. And, on more than one occasion, Jerry reminds Tom of the reality of dealing with society, not matter how dropped out they think they are.

The show is also genuinely funny. Particularly the episode titled The Wind-Break War, in which Margo’s new wind-break for her backyard keeps ending up in the wrong place for the Goods. A frustrated tradesman finds himself trapped in this battle of miscommunications between neighbors. The viewers are sympathetic to his plight, but we’re still laughing. Cooler heads prevail and the homemade wine pours. Innocent flirtations between couples come close to not being so innocent. And Margo gets the last laugh.

28 episodes plus two specials (one a command performance for the Queen) are all that there is. In the old days of American television that would be one season. But through those episodes the audience comes to know and love four very real characters. We struggle right along with Tom and Barbara, through a difficult harvest to a roof with a hole in it to the runt of the pig litter and to not having anything worth stealing. And we feel pride when the Goods brush themselves off and push on.

The Goods (and the Leadbetters) live the good life.

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In Search Of…Good Evidence

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In 1973, television producer Alan Landsburg made an hour long TV documentary called In Search Of Ancient Astronauts. It was based on the highly popular yet poorly evidenced book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken. Von Daniken was convinced ancient humans were just too dumb and unskilled to be able to build and erect the massive structures and statues they left behind. How could those primitive peoples have done it without the help of space aliens?

Not long after the release of von Daniken’s tome of pseudoscience and pseudohistory, PBS’s program Nova examined his ideas. Nova presented much more logical and consistent with the evidence explanations. You can watch the entire program here. The video quality isn’t great, but the science is.

I’ll let Nova cover the skeptical angle, while I reminisce about a favorite TV series of my youth.

Landsburg produced two more hour long pseudoscience programs in 1975: In Search of Ancient Mysteries and The Outer Space Connection. All three programs featured Rod Serling as narrator and were popular enough to lead to the syndicated program: In Search Of…

Serling was set to be the narrator and host, but his death made his availability questionable, so Leonard Nimoy stepped in. I can’t think of a better second choice. Nimoy’s voice, look, and demeanor were perfect. He gave the show a sense of dramatic gravitas that few other actors could. Serling might have done well, but I think good ole Mr Spock was lightning in a bottle.

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It was April 1977 when In Search Of… first aired and for the next five years, Landsburg and Nimoy would set the template for the many, many pseudoscience promoting programs that followed. The writing style, the tone of narration, and the kind of music featured on the show became that template. The topics covered were the typical mysteries: Bigfoot, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, psychic powers, etc. Everything was presented with as little regard to science as possible, while dressing it up as though there was science being done. The mysteries must be preserved.

And I loved it!

Yes, I was a kid then and pretty naive. I believed it all. The show thrilled and scared me. I thought ghosts might visit me in the night. If I was walking through the woods, I was certain bigfoot was following me. Right there! See it? Oh, that’s just a dead tree. No! Behind the dead tree!! Ahhhh! Run!

Ahem. Sorry.

Not all of the shows were paranormal in theme. There were shows about Jack the Ripper, DB Cooper, Carlos the Jackal, Vincent van Gogh, Eva Braun, and Jim Jones. The Jim Jones show was actually a pretty good little documentary covering Jones’ rise and fall. The show was produced less than three years after the murders and mass suicide that brought Jonestown to an end. There were interviews with people who had been involved in Jones’ cult. They gave an inside account of how his church had started with such promise, but its leader’s paranoia and God complex became too much to sustain. There were even people interviewed who were living in the camp and escaped the day of the tragedy in November 1978. It’s well done and truly fascinating.

In 2012, the entire series was made available on DVD. I splurged and bought it. The set includes the three shows with Rod Serling and the brief reboot series from 2002 featuring Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files’ Assistant Director Skinner). I’ve rewatched the entire original series and I watched the Serling shows. I haven’t watched the 2002 reboot. No offense to Pileggi, but he’s no Rod Serling or Leonard Nimoy.

Since the show had gone off the air, I have become a skeptic. I no longer believe many of the things I did as a kid. I recognize the evidence presented on In Search Of… was very flimsy. As I watched the shows again, I kept reacting skeptically to what was being presented. “Oh, come on! Atlantis didn’t exist! Plato made it up!” “Yeah, great anecdote. Where’s the evidence?” “That’s a device to talk to ghosts? It looks an old phonograph with some surplus electronic doo-dads and some Christmas lights tied to it.”

I have plenty of favorite moments, but I’ll only lay one on ya.

In the second episode of season two, the show profiles the 18th century gentleman Count of Saint-Germain or, the more ominously named, the “man who would not die.” You see, this Count was a worldly gentleman, clearly an educated man who was said to speak several languages, each so well he fooled natives. He would tell stories of historic events that were so intimate and detailed people believed he was there. How could he have been? He looks to be only 40 years old, but could he actually be hundreds of years old? How could he tell such detailed stories, if he hadn’t been involved? (Geez, had those people never read fiction? “Oh, my! Hogwarts is described with such detail. JK Rowling must have been there! The wizarding world is real!”)

The Count also never said where he was from. This led to an awesome Leonard Nimoy moment. In all seriousness, with no hint of a snicker, but with that Spock eyebrow lift at the appropriate moment, Nimoy speculated, “But where was he actually from? Portugal? Egypt? (Cue eyebrow!) Atlantis?”

Sure. Atlantis. Why not? Why not Asgard? Frostbite Falls, MN? Ceti Alpha V??

Each show had the following disclaimer:

“This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.”

My skepticism has led me to giving that a little rewrite:

“This series presents information based mainly on guesses and lots and lots of conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some improbable explanations, but not necessarily the actual ones, to the mysteries we will monger.”

But, I still love it!

Packing Peanuts!

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An Unexpected Rabbit Hole

In January, the world was saddened by the news that Mary Tyler Moore had died. Lots of us had grown up watching her on TV, first as Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) and then as Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). And over the years she further impressed us with her many acting roles in television and in film. Most memorable for me was her performance as the cold and controlling, yet deeply wounded, mother and wife in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (1980).

Her death has generated numerous tributes to her as a person and to her life and her work. And that’s what led me to a rabbit hole that took me on a rather interesting and, at times, frustrating journey of discovery. Not the discovery of my inning self and my emotions. I don’t have any of those.

No, it was a journey to discover just what is that line in the lyrics of Love Is All Around, the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show?!

For all these years, I had thought the lyrics to the chorus were:

“Love is all around, no need to waste it.
You can have this town, why don’t you take it?
You’re gonna make it after all.”

But last Friday morning, in the Bulletin Board (an online forum in which regular folks can tell stories, jokes, make observations, share pictures,etc) a contributor noted that a recent Nancy comic strip’s tribute to Mary had quoted, according this fellow, the lyrics wrong.

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The incorrect line was: “You can have a town, why don’t you take it?”

According to this Bulletin Boarder, the actual line is: “You can never tell, why don’t you take it?”

The person rather snarkily noted that people whose hearing was intact back then, and even now, could be certain it was “never tell,” not some line about having a (or in my case, this) town. In fact, the person noted, “I wish I’d kept track of how many tributes I’ve seen with the misheard version.”

Nearly 47 years and now this revelation? I was stunned!

However, I’m a skeptic, so I thought I better do some digging to see if I could verify this “never tell” claim. Thus began the journey of discovery.

You should be aware of a phenomenon known as priming. Priming can happen when a person is told what they should be able to hear when they listen to poor quality audio or even audio played backwards. Once you are told what to hear, it’s rather difficult, maybe even impossible, to not hear it. That’s priming.

And I found out that knowing about priming doesn’t protect you from falling victim to it.

In my search to determine the true lyrics, my first step was to look up the lyrics online. I found conflicting information. A couple websites had the “never tell” line, while others had versions of the “town” line. Hmm. However, one of the websites with the “never tell” line was the Boston Globe. They are a well-respected news source, so I started thinking I had been wrong about the “town” line. Or was I being primed?

Next I found several versions of the song on YouTube. The song was written and recorded by Sonny Curtis (not Paul Williams as some people have thought), who was a member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets and had been previously best known for writing the Bobby Fuller Four hit – I Fought The Law. Several of the versions I found were recorded by Curtis. There were two versions for the show: One for the first season and one for the rest of the series with some changed lyrics, but both versions retained the “never tell/town” line. Curtis also recorded two additional versions, which he released as singles, one in 1970 and the other in 1980. They still had the same lyrics to the disputed line, even though the instrumentation of the songs was different.

There are also several cover versions of the song. Sammy Davis Jr, Joan Jett, and, 80s punk band from St. Paul, Husker Du have all covered it. It’s not quite clear if it’s “never tell” or “town” on Sammy’s and Joan’s versions, but Husker Du clearly say “town.” In fact, they even sing it the way I’ve heard it as “this town” not “the town” or “a town.”

I was beginning to lean toward “never tell,” because I had put my faith in the Boston Globe‘s journalistic prowess, but I still wasn’t sure. It’s really hard to determine just what is the line.

Then it hit me! Sonny Curtis is still alive! At least according to Google. I found that he has a Facebook page and an official website. I couldn’t be certain he would get my messages, but I sent messages to both sources. I pleaded to him for an answer.

By the end of that Friday’s tumble down the rabbit hole, I received an email from the man himself. (Well, the email claimed it was him. I don’t want to go down another rabbit hole, so I’ll just accept that it was him.)

I’ll allow Mr Curtis to settle this once and for all.

“Hi Jim,

Thanks for your interest in the Mary Tyler Moore Theme.  Below with my compliments are the lyrics.

Mary Tyler Moore Theme
Words and Music by Sonny Curtis

Who can turn the world on with her smile
Who can take a nothing day and suddenly
make it all seem worthwhile

Well it’s you girl and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement
you show it

Chorus:

Love is all around no need to waste it
You can have the town why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all

Published by Sony/ATV Music

Hope this is helpful.

All the best,
Sonny Curtis”

Very helpful! Thank you, Mr Curtis!

Oh! And, in your face! Mr Bulletin Boarder who thinks his hearing is so good!

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Pods Looking Back: A List of My Favorite Nostalgic Podcasts

You know, I’m no different than anybody else. I start each day and I end each night. (10 points if you get this reference.) And like most everybody else, I listen to podcasts. Comedy podcasts, science podcasts, podcasts on skepticism, podcasts about movies. I even do my own podcast (Dimland Radio – look for it on iTunes) that has a little of all those things and more.

Well, I thought I’d recommend a few of my favorite podcasts that are nostalgic in nature and content. Are you game?

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Just One More Thing: A Podcast About Columbo Hosts Jon Morris and RJ White invite a guest to each show to help them examine an episode of the world’s favorite TV detective: Lt. Columbo. They give their impressions of each show, including the original episodes from the 1970s and the more recent ones from when the rumpled detective returned in 1989 and ran through 2003.

The show is funny and the hosts give plenty of production and background information of this classic murder mystery-solving program. They speculate about the existence of Mrs. Columbo (they’ve even done a review of an episode of the short-lived Mrs. Columbo series), they try to pin-point the moment Columbo catches onto who the murderer is, and they marvel at how the detective out-thinks his suspects as they constantly underestimate him.

RJ tends to excitedly blurt out interruptions of the others during the podcast, but it is part of his charm. The only other drawback I can think of is they actually liked Last Salute To The Commodore.

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Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast & Gilbert and Frank’s Colossal Obsessions Each show, comic genius Gilbert Gottfried is joined by Frank Santopadre as they alternate between the main show and the mini episodes. The main show features a guest, often with one foot in the grave, to talk about the old days of entertainment. The stories get very bawdy and we frequently hear of the strange sexual practices of celebrities of yore, as well as plenty of discussion of the size of Milton Berle’s naughty bit.

The mini episodes have Gilbert and Frank talking about a particular obsession with old movies, TV shows, songs, etc.

Be warned! Gilbert sings on virtually every show. Otherwise, the podcasts are thoroughly entertaining.

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The Greatest Generation No, it’s not about Tom Brokaw’s favorite generation. This podcast is hosted by Benjamin Harrison and Adam Pranica, who admit they are both a little bit embarrassed to be doing a podcast about Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s silly and it’s fun with plenty of dick and fart jokes thrown in.

The hosts watch an episode, going in order, and try to figure out if it was a good show or not. They have running jokes about an inappropriate relationship between Capt. Picard and young Wesley Crusher (the boy?), Cmdr. Riker’s absolute need for sexual consent and his lascivious use of the holodeck, and how Data is way too dangerous to be allowed to remain in Star Fleet. And each host has their pick of a “Drunk Shimoda.” You’ll have to listen to learn what that is.

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You Must Remember This Host Karina Longworth takes listeners on a journey through the “secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.” Not as funny as the other podcasts on this list, but this show is well-researched and is endlessly fascinating. The production is very good with Longworth and other voice talent playing parts of the producers, writers, actors, and moguls of old Hollywood.

If you are a fan of old Hollywood and are interested in its history, this should go to the top of your list.

Each of these suggested podcasts use adult language and themes, so they may not be suitable for all listeners. All are available through iTunes.

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I Didn’t Like Curious George

Note: This is another post pulled from my blog at dimland.com. It has been updated, revised, and corrected. And, yes, I know George is a chimpanzee. It’s just more fun to say monkey.
Back before my 13 year-old son had attained school age, like most parents, I ended up watching plenty of children’s programming with him. Programming I would otherwise never watch. I know it’s for kids. And I know anything is possible in cartoonland, but some of the stuff he watched really drove me crazy.
My wife and I had our son watch the children’s’ programming available on PBS and a few of the shows were pretty good. I liked Fetch, Arthur, and, especially, Word Girl. Word Girl was particularly good because the producers realized that adults would be watching with their kids, so why not entertain them, too?
There was one program, however, that consistently got under my skin. It was Curious George. What world does this monkey live in? Believe me, I would try to suspend my disbelief, but it got so difficult when George caused so much damage. He flooded the apartment building he lived in, he stole the other tenants’ recyclable containers before the items had even been used, he splashed paint all over an empty apartment. And he never got in trouble! The Man in the Yellow Hat, George’s owner, must have been worth millions or had quite the insurance policy to cover all the damage his monkey did.

In the show, people don’t realize George is a monkey. Well, they do, but they treat him as though he is human. In one rather excruciating episode, George finds himself in a department store that has a candy counter run by an incredibly stupid woman. Naturally, she and George hit it off.

By the way, Mr. Yellow Hat is constantly leaving George on his own, even though he should know that any time George is left alone, mayhem ensues.

Well, the candy counter owner realizes that she’s running low on inventory, so she leaves George (a monkey!) in charge and traipses off, in the middle of the day, to get more candy. Shouldn’t she have realized she was running low on inventory earlier? Can’t she temporarily close the candy counter? Can’t she have the candy delivered?

Nope, she leaves the monkey in charge.

What had been a slow day at the candy counter suddenly becomes very busy, now that the human has left. Do any of the customers find it unusual that there is a monkey waiting on them? Do any of them consider that the monkey, being a monkey, may have difficulty comprehending their orders? Of course not!

George makes a huge mess of the candy counter and ends up giving away almost all the candy. Somehow the moronic humans thought he was giving away free samples. But what was George to do? He’s a monkey.

The numbskull candy seller finally returns. She sees her station in shambles and realizes that George (a monkey!) had given away so many free samples that, even if she sells all that is left, she won’t be able to afford new inventory. She’ll have to go out of business.

George is sorry and says something in monkey language. I think it translates to, “What did you expect, dumbass? You left your business in the care of a monkey!”

This is PBS cartoonland, after all, so nothing really bad happens. Somehow, despite her certainty of bankruptcy, she gets so many new customers, because of George giving away all those free samples, that she stays in business. I don’t know how she managed that. She said she wouldn’t be able to stay in business even if she sold all of the candy, so what gives? Were her new customers big tippers? Talk about voodoo economics.

Thinking back on those cartoons, one of the biggest problems I had with the PBS kids’ shows was the fact that no one ever really gets in trouble. With the exception of Arthur, on which the kids get grounded or some other consequence for carelessness or bad behavior, PBS cartoon characters are always just forgiven when they say they’re sorry. “Oh, that’s OK. It was an accident.”

My wife said that she thought PBS was more concerned that kids understand they should apologize for mistakes or bad behavior. I agree that is important, but it’s also important that kids learn that careless or bad behavior may result in loss of privileges or trust. Why adjust your behavior if all you have to do is say sorry and all is forgiven?

But, in Curious George’s case, what can you do? He’s a monkey!

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How Did Star Trek: TNG Survive That First Season?

Note: Much of the following was pulled from my blog at dimland.com. It has been updated, revised, and corrected.

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I recently discovered the podcast The Greatest Generation. No, it’s not about that generation of Americans of which Tom Brokaw is so fond. It’s a podcast focusing on the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series (1987 – 1994). It’s hosted by two fellows, Ben Harrison and Adam Pranica, who are a bit embarrassed to be doing a podcast about the greatest of all the Star Trek series. Yes, I’m including the original series. Oh, yeah. I went there.

I’ve been watching Star Trek: TNG on Netflix a lot lately and it’s really obvious that the series wasn’t very good when it started.  In fact, much of that first season wasn’t any better than the lousiest episodes of the original series. And that original series could get really lousy, see The Way To Eden, for example. I mean – space hippies? Seriously?! Was that Roddenberry’s idea to get the happening youth culture interested in the show?

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I’m sure this role was prominently placed on actor Charles Napier’s resume.

During most of the first season, the whole cast looked and sounded uncomfortable, especially when you compare them to how they seemed as the series progressed. By the third season, when I first started watching, the cast had better writers and a much better understanding of their characters. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) had grown a beard for season two (although he never lost that walking as if he had a board up his back), Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) became less bombastic, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) had his Klingon make-up improve, Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) finally got her hair under control, Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) had been killed off, and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) was less annoying and would, also, soon be written off the show. These were all among the character improvements.

Along with the acting, writing, and character development, many other aspects of the show improved as it became more popular and profitable. Some of those other improvements included better costumes and production values. I had heard that the cast wasn’t very happy with the costumes early on. Apparently, they were too tight and itchy. That may have contributed to the awkward acting in that first season. The set lighting was improved. And the surfaces of alien planets looked a lot less like the sound stages used in the original series.

Viewers of the first season were treated to some pretty awful storylines and dialogue. In an early episode we were introduced to Lore (Brent Spiner) , the evil “brother” of Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner). The producers wasted little time before using the evil twin cliché by having Lore behaving suspiciously and Data seeming conflicted. Lt. Yar, the Enterprise’s chief of security, asked Captain Picard if he could still trust Data. Picard said he could and then admonished the rest of the bridge crew about Yar’s question being a “perfectly legitimate security question.” Picard’s outburst seemed strange to me as I thought his senior bridge crew would already know that. Then Yar reacted like a blushing school girl. This rough and tumble, tough as nails Star Fleet officer was bashfully smiling and batting her eyes at Picard’s vote of confidence. Oh, brother.

In another episode, this one featuring Q (possibly the most interesting character of that first season) offering Riker the powers of the Q Continuum, a group of nearly omnipotent beings. John de Lancie, the actor who plays Q, still hadn’t quite gotten a handle on the character. He had moments of overacting, but he was still interesting. Anyway, he zapped a few members of the bridge crew to the surface of a sound stage where they were menaced by what Worf referred to as “savage animal things.” Really? “Savage animal things?” The writers couldn’t come up with something better than that?

Then there was Wesley Crusher, the 14 year-old son of the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). Wesley was probably the fans’ least favorite character. (He was mine anyway.) When Wesley wasn’t looking stupid or grinning ear-to-ear, he was saving the day. He must have saved the ship half a dozen times that first season alone.

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Lookin’ dumb there, Wes.

Wesley even suffered the not-now-I’m-too-busy-to-hear-your-vitally-important-information-because-you-are-only-a-child brush off on more than one occasion. This would happen despite Wesley’s track record of saving the day and the fact that a time traveling alien said Welsey was the next Newton/Einstein/Solock phenom. The phenom element, fortunately, was never fulfilled by the series for Wesley, although that alien did return a few seasons later.

There were a few interesting moments and developments in that first season, however. The Q and the android Data were interesting. Yar and Data having sex was… intriguing. And Patrick Stewart had some good moments of acting to balance out his more over-the-top moments. The episode with Q and the savage animal things had Picard verbally sparring with his godlike adversary, in which Star Trek‘s greatest captain delivered an impassioned speech quoting Hamlet. It’s a fine moment for both actors, but especially for Stewart. And that’s not surprising given his background as a Shakespearean actor. The scene was right in his wheelhouse.

One episode late in that first season did something rather ballsy, I thought. One of the main characters was killed about 15 minutes into the show. It was Lt. Tascha Yar. Her death was unceremonious. She was part of an away team confronted by a powerful and malevolent entity who just killed her when she attempted to walk past him. The entity cast her aside and she was dead. Just like that. Cut to commercial.

The ballsiness was somewhat diminished when, at the end of that episode, the main bridge crew all gathered on the holodeck where they watched a prerecorded message from their fallen crewmate. It was her chance to say goodbye to each of the cast… er… crew members. But, why would she have made such a recording? Her character couldn’t have been more than 28 years-old and she’s making farewell holo-images for her crewmates? It would have been better to have the main characters gather on the bridge or in 10 Forward to talk about their lost comrade. But then Denise Crosby wouldn’t have had her big goodbye moment, something I’m sure the show’s producers had to do to get her agree to be killed off so early in the episode.

Still, I like the series. But I didn’t watch it until it was in its third season. For some reason, I wasn’t interested. When I finally did tune in, the series had really gotten rolling. Which is fortunate, because had I watched the series when it began, I might not have stayed with it for very long.

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“Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie!”

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Christmas is coming again, so I thought I’d reminisce a little about one of my favorite holiday movies: A Christmas Story (1983).

I didn’t see this movie until many, many years after it was released. It was in the mid to late 90s, when I was listening to a couple of talk radio show hosts praising this now holiday classic, that it first time it came to my attention. My curiosity peaked, I sought it out. Finding it wasn’t too difficult, because by that time television had turned it into a holiday programming staple.

“Oh, did you miss it? Change the channel. Someone else will be playing it.”

Television was great at taking modestly successfully theatrical releases and turning them into required viewing classics. It’s A Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz are two fine examples of television’s influence. A Christmas Story may be the most recent film to have television help it along in that way.

The story is set in pre-World War II Indiana and is viewed from young Ralphie Parker’s perspective as he attempts to influence his parents, terrifically portrayed by Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, into giving him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. But Mrs. Parker insists they are dangerous and that he’ll shoot his eye out. That’s a recurring phrase in the film. Adults were so worried about kids losing their eyes.

The movie is based on semi-autobiographical stories written by Jean Shepherd. Shepherd is the film’s narrator as the adult version of Ralphie relating this story of his youth. And he is wonderful. There’s a twinkle in the man’s eye, which you can clearly hear in his voice. The man can tell a story!

Although I grew up in a different era than what is shown in the film, the universality of the story – anticipating Christmas, coveted gift items, loving (if somewhat scary) parents, school, teachers, weird gifts from relatives, bullies, friends, and flagpoles –  appeals to my nostalgic feelings for my days as a kid. The way Ralphie feels about Christmas reflects the way I felt. And Ralphie’s fantasies, although silly and over-the-top, are good fun.

By far, my favorite character is Old Man Parker. He makes the film. McGavin is just so good as Ralphie’s furnace-fighting, foul-mouthed, major award-winning, gruff, but loving and lovable dad. Old Man Parker is the key to this movie, if he’s wrong the movie just doesn’t make it. And McGavin nails it.

His gruffness is all just bluster. He loves his wife and his boys. We see it in his reaction to the wife and kids bellowing out Jingle Bells on the drive home from getting their Christmas tree. Sure, he rolls his eyes, but there is love in there. We see it in Old Man Parker’s subtle smirk as he sends his oldest son back into the car after an unsuccessful attempt to help change a tire. An attempt that had young Ralphie accidentally drop an F bomb in front of his father for the first time. Hence the smirk. We also see it as the old man is almost as excited as Ralphie when… Oh, but that would be a spoiler.

old-man-admiring-major-award

“Oh, wow!”

And, of course, there is the leg lamp!

I just love this movie. I watch it every year and remember all those wonderful Christmases from my youth.

Hard to believe the director of this classic, Bob Clark, also directed Porky’s.

Packing Peanuts!

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