Tag Archives: Television

SUPERGIRL: THE HIPPEST DAMNED SUPERHERO SHOW ON TELEVISION

Melissa Benoist is indisputably the most perfect actor embodying the role of a comic-based character since Christopher Reeve donned the red and blue for Superman in 1978. Given all the competition since then, such a statement might prove controversial… to constipated Trump Toon comic geeks. But their opinion is as worthless as their Craven Cantaloupe Christ who currently resides at 1600 Penn Avenue (or rather, the golf course). Too, I need to alter the title a tad; it’s not only the hippest damned superhero show on TV, it’s hipper than any of the comic-inspired productions being offered in cinema, and the hippest genre series since the 1960s Adam West “Batman.”

Yet, Supergirl is also among the favorites of alt-right fanboys—favorite targets that is, joining the esteemed company of 2017’s Star Wars, The Last Jedi (how dare Rey—a girl–earn the role of a Jedi through work as opposed to being fathered in? Kinda the antithesis of President Oompa Loompa) and 2018’s Black Panther (for obvious reasons, despite the fact that the comic book on which it’s based is over 50 years old).

Let’s first address fanboy complaints from the yawn-inducing Goebbels Operational Playbook. Why? because it’s so damned fun to out them as the 19th century bigots and Neanderthals that they are. Naturally, they’re as predictable as a paint-by-number set; amusing in their ethical timidity and in the ease by which they are offended.

Complaint One: “GASP! Jimmy Olsen is black! That’s PC BS! “

Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen SupergirlNever mind that to complain about political correctness is politically correct in itself. In some of the complaints seen on various social media outlets, the mentally and ethically challenged alt-right don’t often come right out and say it’s because he’s “black.”  Rather, they say “Olsen is supposed to be a geeky redhead with freckles and Mehcad Brooks plays Olsen like a GQ model!”

Let’s call this lame BS spin-doctoring for what it is. No one complained when a freckle-less Olsen had black hair in “Lois and Clark.” They didn’t complain when Hack Snyder killed Olsen off in a war zone. No, this is just a smokescreen to mask the inherent bigotry of the Trump Toons.

Why? Because these are comic book fundamentalists. They have the same mindset as religious fundamentalists. Comic book characters are essentially gods to Trump Toons, and even though the fanboys know the characters to be fictional (we hope), they still attack literal portrayals of deities who wear underwear outside of their pants-WHEN it’s convenient for them to do so (like bible fundies, they pick and choose).

In the comics, Superman doesn’t kill. Trump Toons didn’t protest one bit about that deviation from this long-held tradition in the execrable Man of Steel (2013). Superman had a curl in his hairdo. Henry Continue reading SUPERGIRL: THE HIPPEST DAMNED SUPERHERO SHOW ON TELEVISION

CAPSULE: TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (2017)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Miguel Ferrer, Chrysta Bell, James Belushi, Robert Knepper, , , , , , Al Strobel, Carel Struycken, , David Lynch

PLOT: Picking up twenty-five years after the events of “Twin Peaks” and Fire Walk with Me, life has continued for most of the small town’s residents; but things are afoot which once again will involve the FBI and Agent Cooper and a mystery involving “the strange forces of existence.”

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As noted in the earlier capsule on Twin Peaks, “it’s a TV series“. However, I’d like to put forth the case that the entire Twin Peaks universe—the original 90’s series, the feature Fire Walk With Me, and “The Return”—should be treated as one whole project instead of as separate entities and as such, should be considered as a contender for the List.

COMMENTS: In uncertain times, audiences and institutions like to choose the familiar, which may account for the numerous remakes and “reboots” of successful material from the past (witness the return of “X-Files” and “Will & Grace,” to name just a couple). Most of these are obvious cash grabs, empty and unrepentant. When it was announced in late 2014 that David Lynch and Mark Frost would be bringing “Twin Peaks” back to television, however, speculation was wild and expectation high on what that result would be, especially as it went from a proposed nine episodes to an eighteen-hour “feature film” and Showtime gave Lynch and Frost complete creative control.

It’s evident now that “Twin Peaks: The Return” (Showtime’s marketing title; Lynch and Frost have made it clear that they consider this “Season 3”) was in every way the Major Event that fans and critics had hoped it would be—but it was in no way what anyone expected. As the head of Showtime, David Nevins, told the press in early 2017, it was the “pure heroin version of David Lynch.” We had no idea.

Unfettered by the constraints of network television, instead of bringing fuzzy warm nostalgic memories of the original 90’s show to the forefront, Lynch and Frost opted for a true continuation, and also made it very contemporary to the current times (there is a small amount of nostalgia indulged in as things converge at the end, but it’s very brief). Going even further than he did with Fire Walk With Me, “The Return” is a culmination of tropes Lynch has employed throughout his career, but with an emphasis on his aesthetic post-Lost Highway/Mulholland Drive. Those who were expecting a straight return to the world of “damn good coffee” and doughnuts were thrown immediately, and it drove almost everyone watching from May to September crazy in attempts to “figure out” where the show was heading.

It’s twenty-five years later and characters have aged, and changed. Continue reading CAPSULE: TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (2017)

CAPSULE: “DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY,” SEASON 1 (2016)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Dean Parisot, Michael Patrick Jann, Tamra Davis, Paco Cabezas

FEATURING: , Samuel Barnett, Jade Eshete, Hannah Marks, Michael Eklund, Fiona Dourif, Mpho Kaoho, Dustin Milligan

PLOT: A financially-distressed bellboy finds himself caught up in a mystery of metaphysical proportions when over-eager “holistic detective” Dirk Gently climbs though his apartment window and proclaims him his assistant.

Still from Dirk Gently's Holisitc Detective Agency, Season 1 (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Wrong category: episodic television. It’s still something you want to be aware of if you have an interest in strange dramatics, though.

COMMENTS: “You didn’t see anything weird this morning, did you, Mr. Brotzman?”

“Have you noticed an acceleration of strangeness in your life as of late?”

The 45-minute opening episode of “Dirk Gently” includes the following plot elements: a missing girl. A double murder in a hotel room, with bite marks on the ceiling. A kidnapped hacker.  A woman tied to a bed in the apartment directly above the protagonist.  An accidental suicide. A doppelganger. A wandering dog who shows up everywhere. A lottery ticket. Two policeman surveilling the protagonist. Two unspecified military types surveilling the protagonist. Two FBI agents surveilling the protagonist. A character who hallucinates that she’s being sliced by knives. A van of punks who roam around smashing things (and people) with baseball bats, and sucking energy from their victims. Bald alien-types with crossbow tasers. A holistic detective, hunted by a holistic assassin.

That last item—sorry, the second to last item—is Dirk Gently, first seen climbing in hapless Todd Brotzman’s window, proclaiming him his assistant. By the end of the episode the police will be designating poor Todd a “person of interest” in two separate killings. True to Dirk Gently’s mantra, the holistic faith in “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things,” all of the above elements will eventually merge into a coherent (if fantastical) plot—although it takes more than a couple of episodes before the first puzzle piece actually clicks into place. (We haven’t even encountered the woman who seems to believe she’s a dog yet, or the man who may be a cult leader who’s keeping her as a pet). What keeps us watching through the extremely disorienting early episodes is the absurd humor, which contrasts with a sense of mystery and genuine menace (the violence gets fairly extreme). The increasingly incredulous Todd (Wood, perfect for the role of the beleaguered everyman) and the outrageously blasé but bumbling Dirk (Brit newcomer Samuel Barnett, earnestly insistent in a tie and mustard-colored dime store leather jacket) make for a classic comedy dynamic. (Dirk: “While searching your apartment, I found a very compelling piece of evidence.” A curious Todd: “What did you find?” Dirk [portentously]: “Nothing.”) Their relationship, naturally, deepens and complicates as Todd is unwittingly, despite his best efforts, drawn deeper into the investigation. By the end, it’s a perfectly synchronized mystery, with action sequences, astounding science fantasy conceits, and a comic tone that often gets dark (but not too dark). Highly entertaining, even after the apparent surrealism of the first few episodes gets (pseudo)-rationally resolved.

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” is based on Douglas (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) Adams’ novels of the same name, although the plot involves an original case not found in the novels, the character of Todd does not appear in the books, and the setting has been Americanized. The seeds of a second season (which premiered in October 2017 and is still running at the time of this writing) were sown at the end of the first. It plays on the BBC America network (as a cord-cutter, it beats me where you can find the network, though Season 1 is available on Hulu). Other than the source material, this “Gently” is unrelated to the British BBC adaptation of the same property that ran for a single season in 2012.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…to appreciate it, you better like weird shows that seem uninterested in providing answers. ‘Dirk Gently’ doesn’t just set up weirdness and then explain it; it just keeps getting stranger and stranger as it goes.”–Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (pilot episode)

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 5-6 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, AND THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF SUPERMAN

Previous installments of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide : Season, 1, Part ISeason 1, Part II – Season 2 Seasons 3 & 4

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Peril in Paris (dir. George Blair) is an ignominious opener for the fifth season. Diamond thieves have plundered the City of Love in an episode which could have used Grace Kelly.

Tin Hero (dir. Blair) is a slow news day, but Daily Planet subscribers aren’t the only ones suffering from boredom.

The Town That Wasn’t (dir. Blair): Gangsters use a mobile town to catch unsuspecting motorists in speed traps. Crimes are perpetrated and the law is evaded until Superman sets things right.

Tomb of Zaharan (dir. Blair) is awfully dull going for an episode dealing with reincarnation and Egyptian queens. At least Perry White gets some enjoyment in seeing his ace reporters stripped down and humiliated.

The Man Who Made Dreams Come True (dir. Blair): Who would ever guess that superstition could be a channel to the monarchy? Lois gets gagged tied yet again, and manages to render that fetish dull.

Disappearing Lois (dir. Harry W. Gerstad): Lois goes undercover to oust Lefty the gangster in a fun episode. Spanish Fly meets French Maid.

Money to Burn (dir. Gerstad): Arsonists burn the Daily Planet. Perry White waxes suspicious before being abducted. A Super fireman comes to the rescue.  Superman with a fire hose… Ding! Turn the page! Can’t wait for the action figure set. Cool stuff.

Close Shave (dir. Gerstad): Crooked barbers. Lois gagged and tied. What more can you ask for?

The Phony Alibi (dir. Blair): Professor Pepperwinkle has invented another useless device straight out of Dr. Seuss. This one teleports people through telephone lines. Lois shows off her “come hither” pearl necklace.

The Prince Albert Coat (dir. Gerstad): Life savings accidentally given away in a coat pocket… stop the presses, this is a story! Actually, all turns out well, and we’re relieved.

The Stolen Elephant (dir. Gerstad): Poor Jimmy thinks he didn’t get anything for his birthday, but lo and behold, Mom placed an elephant in his shed. Sad to say, but bad kidnappers want the elephant too. Nail-biting suspense.

Still from "Mr. Zero" from "the Adventures of Superman"Mr. Zero (dir. Gerstad) is the nadir of the entire series, and quite possibly the most execrable thirty minutes to ever disgrace the idiot box. It’s a cardboard takeoff of a comic villain and a pain-inducing endurance test. If it borders on masochism for its viewers, one can only Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 5-6 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, AND THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF SUPERMAN

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 3-4 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

Previous installments of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide : Season, 1, Part ISeason 1, Part II – Season 2.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Under Kellogg’s sponsorship, the second season of “The Adventures of Superman” had already began steering away from an adult audience. By the third season, the show was aimed almost solely at the pubescent. It was also shot in color, which made it an expensive production, with less money allocated for actors or professional writers. Oddly, it was only aired in black and white, not having its color premier for another decade. In this, Kellogg’s was ahead of its time, realizing that color, being inevitable, would assure the series a long run in syndication.

The third season is an entirely different series than the first two and, with few exceptions, it’s a dreadful affair. The series’ decline continued until its final, sixth season. Although officially cancelled, “The Adventures of Superman” had been picked up for a seventh season with star coming in as director (he helmed three episodes late in season six) and, reportedly, more money was going to be spent on better scripts. However, Reeves’ premature death put an end to a series which began high and should have bowed out on a better note. Alas, like its star, it was not afforded a happy ending.

The cast still has charisma, but even they can’t save the worst episodes, many of which are excruciating and virtually unwatchable. Still, “The Adventures of Superman (along with I Love Lucy) was the longest running series of the fifties, and maintained its popularity for another three decades in syndication. This is remarkable given that its lead, who presented a Super Boy Scout image, had in fact been outed as quite the colorful character, engaged in a sordid affair when he was found dead, allegedly by his own hand.

Still from "Through the Time Barrier" from "Adventures of Superman"The third season opens with the godawful “Through the Time Barrier” (dir. Harry Gerstad). The “Daily Planet” staff (all four of them) are teleported to the Stone Age by Professor Twiddle (, in his last series appearance). The look on Reeves’ face speaks volumes.

“The Talking Clue” (dir. Gerstad) is marginally better. It’s about a bank robber named Muscles McGurk, and focuses primarily on Inspector Henderson. Robert Shayne enjoys the spotlight, and our enjoyment comes primarily from his.

“The Lucky Cat” (dir. Gerstad) is an engaging, silly story about an Anti-Superstition Society, with Jimmy (naturally) falling for all the Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 3-4 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 2 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

Part I of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide is here. Part II is here.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Five Minutes to Doom” (dir. Tommy Carr) is the introductory episode of season two of “The Adventures of Superman.” Already, it is a slicker product than the previous season and, as expected, there are gains and losses. It has lost none of its grit, even with a new, bourgeoisie Lois Lane.

“Five Minutes to Doom” is a noir cliffhanger with Clark Kent using his abilities as a human lie detector test (gauging the heartbeat of a convicted killer) to determine the man’s sincerity. Someone doesn’t want Kent and gal pal Lois Lane uncovering the truth behind a corrupt contract deal, and attempts to assassinate the cub reporters. Lane condescendingly praises Kent for his out-of-character bravery.

Reportedly, director Carr was hard on Noel Neill, the new Lois Lane, whom he found lacking compared to the much missed . defended Neill, and while that’s an admirable example of cast camaraderie, it’s difficult not to sympathize with Carr’s point of view. Neill claimed that she was merely playing herself, but that may be part of the problem with her portrayal of Lane, who often comes across as a Sarah Palin-styled Avon lady huffing and puffing her way through the newsroom, chastising Kent for not being man enough even though we never see his alleged cowardice. Occasionally offsetting this unattractive trait is a winning perky quality, which renders Neill’s Lane consistently uneven.

Surviving the elements, Superman saves the day at the last moment by breaking through a prison wall to halt an electric chair execution. Stylish and moving like quicksilver, this is a helluva opening to a legendary season, despite a fidgety debut from Neill.

“The Big Squeeze” (dir. Carr) is noir for the 1950s family. Dan Grayson has received a Citizen of the Year award from the Daily Planet. Alas, Dan has a past that comes to put the “big squeeze” on him. Kent is obsessively driven to right wrongs and find/allow redemption. (Obsession and redemption are key dual themes in season two).

Still from "The Man Who Could Read Minds" from "The Adventures of Superman"“The Man Who Could Read Minds” (dir. Carr): Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lane attend a nightclub act that features a phony mind-reading swami. It leads them to a phantom burglar. The writing is straight out of the 1940s radio drama program tradition. It’s a well-paced, well-acted, and a stylishly suspenseful entry. Reeves steps Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 2 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS (PART TWO)

Part two in a series. Part one of “The Adventures of Superman” episode guide is here.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

“Rescue” is a season one episode in which narrative purpose overrides attachment to character history or bullet points. Prospector Pop has been working his coal mine for a decade, despite warnings that it’s a death trap. Refusing to heed the warnings, Pop gets trapped after a cave-in. Enter Lois Lane, who discovers Pop’s predicament and attempts a rescue. Naturally, being Lois Lane, she too refuses to heed the warnings and attempts a lone wolf rescue, getting stuck herself. A series of near-misses follows in which Kent barely misses hearing news of the mine avalanche. Naturally, Kent being Superman, he would have super hearing. But not if it gets in the way of the plot. Thus, Kent, revving his faulty engine, fails to hear the radio broadcast of Lane’s current troubles.

Kent finally gets wind of the explosion which now seems to have sealed the fate of Pop and Lane. Naturally, our favorite boy scout saves the day, which inspires Lane to quip, “Clark, Superman finally took me out.” “Rescue” is a welcome change of pace, well-directed by Timothy Carr, and crams a lot of plot into twenty minutes.

Carr returns to helmThe Secret of Superman.” Jimmy Olsen’s mom calls Kent in the early A.M., worrying that little Jimmy has not come home. This looks like a job for… Clark Kent, who finds Olsen in a trance-like state at the Daily Planet office after hours. A file is missing, but not just any file! It is the file on Superman! As Kent suspects, dastardly gangster types are trying to find out the secret identity of the Man of Steel.

Next up is Perry White, who gets slipped a mickey in his coffee. White doesn’t know Superman’s identity either, and proves to be of little use to the bad fellas. Inspector Henderson, being the Sherlock he is, finds that both Olson and White were under the influence of sodium amathol and orders round-the-clock police protection for the Daily Planet staff.  A little gunplay follows, but we’re still no closer to wrapping up this episode.

Kent, pretending to be fired in an attempt to smoke out the gangsters, drinks from the same cup as White. Of course, Kent fakes a stupor but Lane is more susceptible and is asked the question:  “Could Superman have the ultimate disguise? Could he be … a woman?” “Superman—a woman? Nah, but Clark…. well, maybe,” the drugged Lane suggests. Performed with commendable straight faces, the cast deserves credit for convincingly guiding us through 50s naiveté. The world’s greatest mystery gets solved: Kent is Superman behind those horn rims. The henchman who figures it out gets wasted, however, and Lane conveniently forgets her drugged-induced sleuth work. Kent sighs in relief. No wonder he’s so charmingly smug.

Still from "No Holds Barred" from "The Adventures of Superman" The Lee Sholem-directed “No Holds Barred” has been a stapled fan favorite. Wrestler “Bad Luck Brannigan” has sent several opponents to the hospital after using the “paralyzer” move on them. With super-hearing now intact, Kent becomes privy to ringside conspiracies and locker room Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS (PART TWO)

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS (PART ONE)

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at Alfred Eaker’s The Blue Mahler.

Today, few seem to pay mind to the artists, writers or creators of comic book characters. When Denny Stephens and I walked into Denny White’s comic book shop as Indiana adolescents, we immediately knew—without looking at the credits—if a book was penciled by Jack Kirby, Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, Steve Ditko,  Mike Ploog, Curt Swan or Wayne Boring. In their place now, a bland homogeneity permeates both the world of comics and the shops which market them. One book looks the same as the next, blending without seams, shorn of rough edges, entry points, atmosphere, originality, color, or inherent personality. One could say the same regarding the recent spate of films based on DC characters (not so with their television work, including animation where they rule their Marvel rivals. On the big screen, Marvel does it better). While the 1950s Television Superman was nowhere near as imaginative as stories being cranked out by Otto Binder in Superman Magazines (TV didn’t have the budget or, still in its infancy, the know how) the first season of The Adventures of Superman is something of a silver age within itself.

, , Jack Larson, John Hamilton, Robert Shane, Tommy Carr and each put an stamp on the characters and episodes, a personalized milieu and individuality that today is alien to an audience whose primary concern towards character tends to Biblical fidelity and adulation.

For many, George Reeves remains the quintessential portrayal of Clark Kent and his alter ego, Superman. It’s not out of nostalgia, or because he was the first actor to portray the pulp character. In fact, he wasn’t the first at all. That honor belongs to Kirk Alyn who starred in the serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950). Alyn, who interpreted Kent as a kind of bumbling Jimmy Stewart character, simply doesn’t inspire. That lack of inspiration isn’t just limited by the serial’s quality: certainly, many of the later television and big screen incarnations were equally poor in their writing and execution. Rather, it’s due to Alyn’s Kent, who set the blueprint for the later Christopher Reeve performance. Kent really isn’t Kent. He’s Superman, and the newspaper paper reporter is just a façade.

Adventures of Superman (TV Series, 1952-2958) It’s hardly a secret that George Reeves had no love for playing a role that later actors would kill for. For Reeves, this was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Not only was he playing a little boy’s pulp comic book character who wore underwear outside of his pants, but he had been reduced to television. Like many actors of his time, including Alyn, who had refused to repeat the role for TV, Reeves was suspicious of the new medium. It was called small screen for a reason, Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN STARRING GEORGE REEVES: SEASON 1 EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS (PART ONE)

CAPSULE: GINGER AND FRED (1986)

Ginger e Fred

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Giulietta Masina,

PLOT: Retired Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers impersonators return for a guest spot on a television spectacular.

Still from Ginger and Fred (1986)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: One ten-teated cow does not a weird movie make. In Ginger and Fred, Fellini’s once-aggressive surrealism mellows into bemused quirkiness. Fans will find plenty to appreciate in the colorful, chaotic oddity on display, but this is a conventional comedy, by the maestro’s standards.

COMMENTS: Ginger and Fred is not a “Felliniesque” movie per se. It’s more of a roadmap for how Fellini’s vision might be channeled into something nostalgic and whimsical: Fellini for grandpas and grandmas. It’s a pleasing elegy for grand old entertainment, mixed with an unsubtle but effective satire of television. It features Fellini’s muse (Masina) and alter-ego (Mastroianni) working together for the first and only time, a pairing that in and of itself would make Ginger and Fred noteworthy. Fortunately, it’s also a good movie, with excellent performances from both stars. Masina’s Ginger is likeable and dignified, bemused by modernity without being overwhelmed or embittered. Mastroianni’s Fred hides his growing feebleness under a mask of rakishness, quick with a wolf whistle and a drink order. The scene where Fred repeatedly lifts Ginger while her eyes cross and they both start breathing heavily is as amusing a proxy for geriatric intercourse as I ever want to see on film.

Ginger and Fred‘s unseen network executives assemble a collection of human oddities for their Christmas spectacular variety show, with whom the elegant and put-upon Ginger is forced to share a hotel and a stage. There’s a transvestite with a divine calling to visit prisoners, Kafka and Proust impersonators (!), a troupe of bolero-dancing dwarfs, a mutant cow, a couple who tape-record ghost voices, and a throng of supplemental weirdos: extras wander around dressed like video game characters and decapitated geishas. There is some inherent irony in the way Ginger and Fred trots out its freakshow parade as a criticism of television, given the fact that Fellini himself was famous and celebrated for populating his films with odd-looking people and carnivalesque performers. The distinction, of course, is that Fellini isn’t criticizing television’s reliance on the grotesque, but the shallowness of its fascination, of the spectacle format in which every story is cut to fit in as short a slot as possible and not explored beyond its surface. His satirical circus is something stranger and more curious than television could ever accomplish (except, of course, when Fellini worked in the medium). He spends time exploring Ginger and Fred in-depth, making them three-dimensional characters inhabiting a two-dimensional world.

Some of the best bits are the brief parodies of television programming. There’s an absurd puppet show version of Dante’s “Inferno,” spot-on recreations of MTV music videos, a commercial with sexy French maid pouring olive oil on a huge lobster, a game show where housewives shovel pasta into their mouths from sinks, with the sauce delivered from the faucet. Televisions are everywhere in Ginger and Fred; in the hotel lobby, on the studio’s buses. Modern audiences will identify with the way the characters are always looking at screens rather than people—only back then, it was television that was the distraction. The screen has changed, but the message is the same.

In a strange footnote, Ginger Rogers unsuccessfully (and foolishly) sued Ginger and Fred‘s producers for trademark infringement and defamation.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a hysterical send-up of Italian television, which looks like an LSD-induced vision of ours 30 years ago – a combination of Morey Amsterdam’s ‘Broadway Open House,’ ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ Alistair Cooke’s ‘Omnibus’ and the Irv Kupcinet show… One longs for fewer midgets and bizarre misfits and for more of Miss Masina and Mr. Mastroianni.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

“WE’VE GOT MOVIE SIGN”: THE FILMS OF MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, SEASON 11

For better or worse, the snark-meisters at “ are responsible for blowing the dust off a lot of truly unusual motion pictures, exposing these cinematic curiosities to a far greater and (relatively) more mainstream audience than they ever accrued in their unheckled forms. Only the most dedicated and tolerant moviegoers would have even heard of the legendary trainwreck that is Manos: The Hands of Fate had it not been immortalized at the peak of MST3K’s popularity, and a handful of the show’s other targets—Robot Monster, The Beast of Yucca Flats, Horrors of Spider Islandhave also been honored with inclusion on this website’s eponymous list. (The show’s own movie adaptation was not similarly recognized). After ten seasons of plumbing the depths of movie misses, the last new episode was transmitted in 1999, and while audiences have had other sources for high-octane movie riffing (including efforts from the show’s stars), the special combination of comic commentary and curated curiosities provided by the original series has been unavailable.

Still from Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 11

Thanks to one of the biggest Kickstarter campaigns ever undertaken, that void has now been filled. Show creator Joel Hodgson has shepherded the show back onto the small screen (and the very, very small screen, as the show is available for binge-watching courtesy of Netflix), with a new cast of riffers, some higher-grade mad scientists, some even higher-grade cameo appearances, and a few tweaks to the host segment formula. It’s all in service, though, of the same basic low-fi approach to movie-watching: man and robots watch bad movie, man and robots make fun of said movie.

I don’t want to use this space to review the show itself (full disclosure: I’m an acquaintance of the actress who voices Gypsy and two Bonehead assistants in this iteration), except to say that it accomplishes the most critical and challenging task: it feels like Mystery Science Theater 3000. Instead, I’d like to recap the films selected to re-christen the Satellite of Love and consider their place within the canon of Weirdness.

Right out of the gate, the producers hit upon a solid formula: monster movies from other lands. The show’s original run set a high standard for making fun of giant monsters with five Gamera movies on the bill. The new season’s debut, Reptilicus (1961), riffs upon an especially funny logline: a giant lizard attacks Denmark. The notion of a ridiculous monster terrorizing the land of Hans Christian Andersen is so delightfully absurd that it inspires the instant-classic host singspiel, “Every Country Has a Monster.” There is much to enjoy, including poorly assembled rear-projection monster attacks, outstandingly negligent scientists, and interminable “comedy” from Danish clown Dirch Passer. It’s as endearing as you would expect a continental kaiju to be, and a solid hit right out of the box.

Monsters figure large this season, and one of the best is the low-rent Bigfoot at the center of Cry Wilderness (1987). Somehow, the legendary Sasquatch has taken off its gloves (literally) and befriended an obnoxious grade-schooler, and together they romp through a disconnected assembly of attractive California forest locales while befriending a number of wild creatures who should really be left alone. Continue reading “WE’VE GOT MOVIE SIGN”: THE FILMS OF MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, SEASON 11