Category Archives: Television

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.

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“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.

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One of my favorite things from the 1980s

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I am stuck in the 80s. Well, mostly my musical taste is stuck in that decade. I am a regular listener to and an occasional guest on the wildly popular podcast, Stuck in the 80s. SIT80s was the brainchild of Steve Spears who was the entertainment news editor working at the Tampa Bay Times when he had the idea to start a podcast dedicated to his favorite decade. Along with the podcast came a blog of the same name extolling the virtues of MTV, Phil Collins, The Breakfast Club, Deborah Foreman, and a whole lot more. There have been a few co-hosts, but Spearsy (as his friends call him and I hope I can consider myself a friend) has been the heart and soul of the show since it first dropped in 2005.

The podcast focuses on mainly the music, movies, and many other aspects of the pop culture of the 80s. Except one. Television. Not that television never comes up, there just isn’t a lot of talk about it. It is a whole untapped aspect of the decade that Spearsy has yet to mine. I often wonder why he hasn’t. My guess is that when a kid is coming of age, as Steve was in the 80s, there isn’t much time to watch television. I know I didn’t watch much in the 80s. Prime time television anyway.

There’s a whole blog I could write about Stuck in the 80s, and I’ll do that at some other time. I wanted to use this article to correct, at least slightly, the omission of television in the 80s talk on one of my favorite podcasts. And that correction is Late Night with David Letterman.

Well, not the entire show. No, there’s too much there for me to do in one blog post. Instead I want to talk about one of the best parts of those early years of Late Night: Chris Elliott. And more specifically his characters. And even more specifically his “Guy Under The Seats” character. Of his many, many characters; which included The Panicky Guy, The Conspiracy Guy, The Terminator Guy, along with his impressions of Marv Albert, Jay Leno, and Marlon Brando, the Guy Under The Seats was my absolute favorite.

Chris is the son of Bob Elliott, who was the Bob half of the comedy duo Bob & Ray. Bob & Ray’s style of comedy was about as dry as one can get in comedy. Their deadpan delivery while satirizing American society was sometimes taken seriously. They would often appear on the Tonight Show where the audiences could seem perplexed by these guys, but Johnny Carson loved them and would laugh hysterically.

Chris inherited his father’s deadpan delivery and love of oddball humor. Chris normally adopted an air of superiority when he would join Dave at the desk. He would often put down Dave’s show as a dog and pony kind of act, but as The Guy Under The Seats, he would routinely get downright insulted by the host’s lack of enthusiasm with the night’s bit. Chris would interrupt the show by popping up through a trapdoor in the bleachers, do some humorous bit and talk to Dave, Dave wouldn’t be too impressed, Chris would get offended and then he would threaten Dave. He would end most of the Guy’s appearances by slowly descending back under the seats while letting Dave know, “I’ll right here! Making your life a living hell! I’ll be watching you!”

I loved it!

There were lots of things I loved about Late Night, which I will write about in the future. Chris Elliott and his Guy Under The Seats are just where I decided to start. There’s an hour long video on YouTube featuring many (maybe all?) of these bits. Go here and love it, too!

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An Easy Company to Watch

band_of_brothersIt was 15 years ago this month when HBO premiered its World War II miniseries Band of Brothers, a ten part series focusing on the men of “Easy” Company, part of the 101st Airborne Division. The Airborne was a new concept in warfare in which men were trained as paratroopers with the intention of being dropped behind enemy lines. To be part of the Airborne you had to be the best as the training was among the most rigorous in all of American military. This series follows the company from basic training to D-Day to Bastogne and to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at the end of the war.

I never caught the show on HBO or anywhere else until I received the DVD set as a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law. He took a chance, thinking I might like it. I did. I do! I watch the entire series at least once a year. In fact, one time I had just finished watching it and I still had time before heading to bed when I thought, “What the hell?” I started watching the series again right there.

Based on historian Stephen Ambrose’s 1992 book of the same name and on interviews with surviving members of Easy, as well as diaries and other sources, the series attempts to be as faithful to the actual events as the production would allow. Some characters, all based on actual people, are shown having experiences that had actually happened to other paratroopers. That was done in order to keep an already large cast manageable. The story is still as accurate as can be possible in such a project.

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were both involved with the production of the series. Hanks even co-wrote the first installment Currahee and he directed episode five Crossroads. And we see plenty of familiar faces that weren’t as familiar in 2001. David Schwimmer would be the most recognizable at the time as he was in the middle of his wildly successful series Friends. He plays the company’s first commanding officer, Lt. Herbert Sobel. Sobel was a demanding, harsh, overbearing, mean, unfair, and cruel instructor who trains his men into one of the 101st’s best companies. Schwimmer’s mainly in just this one episode, but he does turn up at couple times as the series rolls on. And he gets just a little payback in his appearance in the final episode. It’s really satisfying.

Some of the other actors who were less known at the time include Ron Livingston, Damian Lewis, Simon Pegg, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, and Michael Fassbender. Notice something about those actors? Most of them aren’t American. It seems just about half of the cast are English, Scottish, even South African! But there’s a New Kid on the Block in the cast – Donnie Wahlberg! And he is pretty good. Backstreet’s back! All right!

The production is very well done. They had a budget of about $125 million for the series and they used it well. The settings were great. The battle scenes felt authentic. Those tracer bullets whizzing by, sometimes just inches away from soldiers on the move, were a particularly potent effect. Whenever my wife watches with me those tracers always make her flinch.

But what keeps me watching and re-watching this series are the men of Easy Company. I like these guys. The chemistry, the bond if you will, they have is heartwarming, even when they are surrounded by the terror of battle and then confronted by the horrors of genocide. These men have a camaraderie that few people could ever hope to have. This is the best aspect of the series. You can’t help but admire these guys.

Watching it as often as I have, I’ve noticed a few things. Little continuity glitches, such as in episode two Day of Days, during a battle to take out some heavy guns wreaking havoc on the beaches, Lt. Richard “Dick” Winters (Damian Lewis) uses a German hand grenade to disable one of the guns. But, although he tries, he doesn’t manage to actually pull the cord to activate the grenade. It goes by fast, but watch closely you’ll see it.

And there’s the character Pvt. David Webster (Eion Bailey). It is well established in the episode titled The Last Patrol that Webster is fluent in German. However, in the very next installment Why We Fight, when Webster is confronting an angry German baker in a town not far from a concentration camp, he seems to have forgotten the language. Another soldier tells him what the baker is saying. Webster is one of the company translators, why would he need someone else to translate?

Back in January of this year, I blogged about Hollywood’s overuse of characters’ names in film and on TV or HBO in this case. One of my examples comes from episode three Carentan, which focuses on Pvt. Albert Blithe (Marc Warren). That one show had multiple uses of the name Blithe. But, there’s another Hollywood dramatic trope that can bug me: The dramatic stare with an unanswered question hanging in the air. It especially bugs me when one character asks another a direct question and that person just stares. Sometimes the person asking the question will persist, which works better for me. But sometimes they just let the question hang out there, never to get an answer. The episode Bastogne has medic Eugene “Doc” Roe (Shane Taylor) having several dramatic stare moments in which he doesn’t answer questions.

These are small things. Little quibbles are a hazard when you watch a series as often as I watch this one. And if you’re as pedantic as I am.

Before I leave this week’s topic, I want to do a quick comparison of this series to HBO’s miniseries The Pacific (2010). The Pacific is sort of a sister series to Band of Brothers, but it’s like the much less attractive sister. Not because the production was bad or the writing or acting. I think it’s because of the nature of the warfare depicted in that series was so much more brutal and dehumanizing.

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The Pacific focuses on several Marines, who were actual people, much like in Band of Brothers. However, the harsh conditions: Tropical heat and humidity, insects, mud and malaria, and an enemy who was far more likely to keep fighting even when the fight was clearly lost, made that campaign seem so much more demoralizing. The Japanese soldier was trained, in some cases since childhood, that to surrender was shameful and dishonorable. Death was preferred by most. If I have my numbers correct, one of the islands the American Navy and Marines fought so hard to get was defended by about 3,000 Japanese troops. When the battle was finally won by the Americans, there were 18 Japanese soldiers left alive.

In the Band of Brothers series, the men of Easy Company seemed to hold onto their humanity better. After all, the German soldier, fierce and well-trained as they were, would be much more likely to surrender when they realized the battle was lost than their Japanese counterparts. Easy’s humanity made it much easier to watch, while The Pacific was too psychologically difficult. It was still a good series, but I’ve only watched it once.

There was a scene in The Pacific that really spells out the difference between the two theaters of war. I might get the wrong character if I try to name him, so I won’t, but I do remember the scene. Late in the series, possibly the last episode Home, one of the Marines is getting a cab ride. The cabbie also served in the war and had been home for a while. The Marine goes to pay for his ride and the cabbie refuses. He tells the Marine to keep his money. He says that he may have fought, too, but he fought in Europe and got take leave in Paris. The cabbie knew the hell his passenger had lived through, so there was no fare.

I’m amazed each time I watch Band of Brothers. What those men did is beyond my comprehension. I don’t know that I could do what they’ve done and what the men and women in our military do now. I’m glad there are those who can.

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Best & worst of Columbo

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I’ve been watching Columbo on the Netflix almost every night for the last few weeks. I’ve seen all those original episodes from the 70s several times; so I pretty much put them on, get comfy on the couch, and fall asleep to Peter Falk’s most beloved character. Most of the episodes are entertaining and very much of the 1970s. Lots of bad fashion, weird interior design, and smoking. Everybody smoked back then. At least, that’s how it seems.

Well, you might imagine that I’ve gotten to know those shows pretty well, and I have. You might also imagine I have favorites and not favorites, and I have. So, I thought I’d list the top three and the bottom three. This is, of course, just my opinion. Your results may vary.

My top three episode picks:

3) The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case – Original air date May 22, 1977

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In this episode, Lt. Columbo investigates a murder at a Mensa-type meeting house, where people with very high IQs gather to talk smart stuff. One of the members, Oliver Brandt, played by Theodore Bikel, knows his accounting partner and fellow club member, Bertie (Sorrell Booke), has discovered his embezzling of their clients’ funds. Brandt has concocted a brilliant plan to murder Bertie, using a gun with a silencer, then join the meeting of the minds, and make it sound as though the murder is taking place while he is with the group.

Bikel is excellent as the genius troubled by his spendthrift, but gorgeous, wife (Samantha Eggar) and bored by the idiot geniuses he is surrounded by at the club. Columbo, ever the polite, rumpled, non-threatening detective, demonstrates that he might be eligible to join the group as he masterfully gets the murderer to show us how he did it. And Bikel’s momentary joy as he shows the detective his ingenious scheme is terrific.

2) Short Fuse – Original air date January 19, 1972

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Roddy McDowell plays a none-too-serious, spoiled rich kid who is being blackmailed by his uncle into allowing the uncle to sell the family business to a huge conglomerate. “Junior”, as McDowell’s character is called, is a brilliant chemist and he rigs a cigar box to explode, killing his uncle. Junior then takes control of the company.

As always, Columbo politely investigates, appearing to be clueless, all the while innocently maneuvering the murderer into admitting his crime. In fact, the reveal that takes place on a mountain sky car has McDowell very convincingly losing his cool believing something awful is about to happen.

1) Murder By The Book – Original air date September 15, 1971

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This is the premiere episode of the Columbo series and it stars Jack Cassidy as the bad guy. Cassidy, who rivals Robert Culp as the best murderer of the series, (both actors have played the murderer three times) plays the less productive half of the writing team of the very successful Mrs. Melville mystery novels. He decides to murder his writing partner (Martin Milner) instead of letting him go off and write on his own. Later, he kills a woman (Barbara Colby) who was blackmailing him, because she knew what he did.

Right from the beginning of the series, Cassidy set the template on how the suspects would treat Columbo. He would pretend to help, but would soon become dismissive of our disheveled detective, even annoyed. In fact, he would become angry that Columbo just kept popping up to ask one more question.

This episode was directed by Steven Spielberg and you can see some Spielberg touches throughout the show, especially in the final scene as Cassidy angrily walks off the elevator and heads to his office. There are a few police officers around and, as Cassidy passes them and goes off camera, a cop steps into frame to keep a watchful eye. Pure Spielberg.

My bottom three picks:

3) Fade In To Murder – Original air date October 10, 1976

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William Shatner plays the murderer this time. His character an actor who plays Detective Lucerne on a wildly popular television series. Columbo acts a bit starstruck as he allows Shatner to pretend he is the TV detective helping a real detective solve a murder. The murder was of the producer (Lola Albright) of the Detective Lucerne program. She was blackmailing the actor by threatening to expose the fact that he had deserted the Korean War.

The idea is that Shatner plays a sympathetic murderer. And he kind of is, but it’s Shatner and his acting is a bit Shatner-y. The show does acknowledge that it is silly for Columbo to play into the fantasy that the actor is actually the character he plays, which helps. A little.

But what gets under my skin is how often Columbo calls the murderer “sir”. It’s a lot! I counted and I got, at least, 150 uses of the pronoun. It drove my wife crazy when we watched this episode together once. “Stop saying sir!” she shouted at the TV.

It seems the over-abundant “sirs” were intentional. Columbo always called men “sir” through the series, but this show ramped it up so that Shatner could, once he had been busted, tell Columbo to stop calling him “sir”.

Even if it was intentional, it was very annoying.

2) Dagger Of The Mind – Original air date November 26, 1972

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Columbo takes his show on the road. He heads to London to check out investigation techniques at Scotland Yard and ends up solving a murder. Two aging actors of the theat-AR (husband and wife characters played by Richard Basehart and Honor Blackman) have tricked a wealthy aristocrat (John Williams) into financing a production of Macbeth. He had wised up to the scheme and confronted the couple and was accidentally murdered by them. They attempt to cover it up, but that pesky American police detective figures it out.

The problem with this episode is Basehart and Blackman and their chewing of the scenery. If you ever wanted an example of overacting, watch these two. From what I know, they are generally decent actors in other productions; but, for some reason, they needed to act for the back row of a theater a thousand miles away from their stage.

It is so over the top!

1) Last Salute To The Commodore – Original air date May 2, 1976

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And then there was this disaster. It’s horrible. I think it’s meant to be played for laughs, but it just fails so miserably.

This complete misfire was directed by Patrick McGoohan, who had himself acted in the series, playing the murderer on two episodes. McGoohan was largely responsible for the very bizarre, but very intriguing The Prisoner series in which he played the title role. I’m not sure if he brought that bizarreness to this episode, so I won’t placed the blame on him. Not entirely.

I don’t know why, but for this show it was decided to make it an actual mystery. The audience does not know whodunit, which is not the way the series goes. All the other Columbo episodes let us know who the killer is at the beginning and then we are entertained by watching how Columbo catches them. We don’t get that with this show.

The characters are all silly, Columbo is not quite right (there are no “uh, just one more thing” or “oh, I almost forgot” moments), and there are ham-handed attempts at slapstick comedy throughout. What the hell were the producers thinking?!

I recommend you watch it once to see how bad it is and then never, ever watch it again.

Believe me, it’s awful.

Packing Peanuts!

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