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Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review (2015) - SPOILERS!!!

WARNING!
AS STATED IN THE TITLE THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!!!!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015;
Marvel Studios)
Going into the Avengers: Age of Ultron I had high hopes.  I think everyone did.  I made a point to not check out information on the movie.  I stayed away from online sources containing anything about the film and its cast and went in entirely objectively and unspoiled.  I begin the movie wanting to know two things: How did they pull of the Ultron storyline and how badass was Scarlet Witch?  I essentially satisfied in both respects.  That does not, however, mean Age of Ultron is a perfect movie.

The problem with making a sequel to a movie as big as the Avengers is it will be very hard to top it.  Initially, I was unsure about what they were going to do, but by the beginning of the third act, I was pretty certain I had guessed at exactly what was going to unfold by the film’s conclusion with around 60% accuracy.  The movie steps things up by having the swarms of enemies that were certainly meant to be more menacing than the Chitauri, and is successful in that… kind of.  Early in the movie, a struggle breaks out with a group of Stark’s automaton sentries that come off as would-be cannon fodder but there is a sense of menace with the team battling just a handful of Stark’s creations.  However, by the end we see the Avengers decimating hundreds of them with little-to-no effort.  Did they discover their weak points?

This is a recurring problem in Age of Ultron, too.  Action scenes are built up and are, for the most part, concluded and only briefly addressed until we get to the end and the lead characters find themselves facing off against Ultron’s hoards in the climactic battle.  However, each scene that has a strong start is often cut into with momentary lapses in tension.  A key character is killed and we get a few moments of sadness, followed by more explosions, then he’s never really addressed again.  A major event will occur, and will be negated or disregarded almost as quickly as it began.  This goes most notably for the film’s anti-climax.  It ends exactly how you expect it would by the start of the third act and it just sort of peters out.  It literally ends with a bang but hits like a shot from a Nerf gun, really.  Honestly, it feels like a step down from the New York set piece in the first movie.  This isn’t helped by the fact that it uses one of the most cliched and most often-horribly done evil-plan cliches and does it well, but only as well as this goofy, overused premise can be done.

Other major problems occur in the characters.  The first Avengers had a small team of characters and we are able to get a lot of characterization in their interactions.  However, Age of Ultron goes the sequel route of adding so many characters (nearly doubling the size of the team by the end of the movie) that most of their little moments end up lost in the shuffle.  I appreciate the attempts to flesh out some of the more overshadowed characters from the first movie (like Hawkeye, for instance) but this is still the Robert Downey, Jr. Show.  I do not blame Whedon for this, though.  RDJ’s magnetism is on full display, driving up the arrogance and intellectualism of Tony Stark much more than the first movie.  He’s still a wise-ass, but he comes off as more of the brilliant character he is in this outing.  Yet, the problem with having such a big cast and only a few characters dominating the foreground is you have a lot of questions, and a lot of characters that really just feel pointless.  Quicksilver suffers this in many respects, as he is mostly just relegated to “clean-up duty” while his much more prominent sister, Scarlet Witch is elevated to full-on goddess (even though, in-canon she is significantly more-powerful than almost all of the other Avengers).  She gets her big moment.  Quicksilver doesn’t.  Don Cheadle makes his appearance as War Machine which is welcome, but he is also given next to nothing to do, and just feels like a pointless addition in the end.

Now, with all of the negatives aside, this is still a good movie.  It isn’t complex.  It will not wreck your brain-area with convoluted exposition and over-blown pseudoscience.  It gives you just enough to lay the foundation for some truly well-done action scenes.  Like in the first film, Joss Whedon lines up wonderful moments of kineticism with smart, interspersed, and occasionally funny dialogue.  Sure, some of the action scenes go on a little long, but they never drift into Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich-Level CGI Porn.  Instead, each scene is clearly-lit, everything is vivid and easily discernable (with a few brief exceptions) and the layout of each scene is solid.  Whedon also employs his trademark single, long tracking shots that flow to each character nearly-seamlessly multiple times and it’s always a welcome technique, never coming off as exploited or poorly done here.

Acting is good all-around.  The only truly weak performance comes from Linda Cardellini, who I liked in ER and loved in Freaks and Geeks, but here, she just plays Worried Pregnant Housewife #2.  Despite having a direct association with one of the MAIN characters, she’s wasted.  We cut back to the occasional worried-wife-shot then back to the action.  The editing in that one cut to her is awkward, too.  It just felt… off.  That said, James Spader was immensely entertaining as the ultimate super-intelligence, Ultron, though his reasoning does fall squarely into Final Fantasy villain territory.  Aside from that, there really was no reason to have a big supporting cast.  This is the Avengers’ show and do you know what?  That’s okay.  That is exactly what we all went to see, and Joss Whedon seems to recognize that.  He didn’t flood the movie with too many pointless subplots (there are a few, but they aren’t too awfully intrusive) and, thanking all that is holy, no obnoxious comic relief characters that are so endemic in action movies these days.  

Now I’m going to touch on Ultron a little more as a villain here.  As I said, James Spader is awesome and I do not think I’ve ever disliked a performance from him.  Even when he’s in a bad movie, Spader still busts his butt to craft a memorable character for the audience.  His inflections work very well in the role as his subtle, personal touches on Ultron’s voice gives the entity life.  Lesser writers would have just made it a cold super-T-800-style-villain-bot.  However, Whedon knows how to write characters and its dialogue, mixed with Spader’s performance makes a nice blend.  That said, in all of his efforts, I think Whedon failed to really build Ultron up to be the force it really is.  Ultron’s a powerful dude here, for sure.  Is it menacing?  Yes.  Yet, by the end of the movie, one of the most powerful figures in comic book lore is dispatched in an anti-climax that has it fade away quicker than it appeared.  With the rest of the action scenes in this movie lasting in the 10-20 minute range, the fact that the final showdown that leads to the villain’s end lasts only about two minutes in total was just a big letdown.  Note that I’m only referring to the machine Ultron built for himself, disregarding his consciousness in the rest of the sentry bots because… well, so does the movie.  This was all an obvious hint at Ultron’s return.  Which, it seems, will certainly happen.

My final thought is as a big, loud, packed action movie.  This one is a lot of fun.  It’s accessible, there’s nothing in it that’s too disturbing for younger audiences, nor does it feel like a cartoon.  It is a well-balanced movie overall.  I would say it’s probably the lesser of Whedon’s most recent film projects factoring in the first Avengers movie AND Cabin in the Woods (which he co-wrote), but it’s not obnoxious outside of being about thirty minutes too long, and it has enough fun action moments and entertaining dialogue that I would give a whole-hearted recommendation.  It won’t be topping any “greatest action movies” lists, but it’s definitely better than most of what we get from Hollywood these days.  Given the chance, I’d see this again.  It’s a balanced movie and though I feel Joss Whedon is a much, MUCH better character writer than he is an action film director, I respect his choice to make an accessible movie that cuts the fat and delivers exactly what fans want.  The Avengers: Age of Ultron a pretty fun movie.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Animation Therapy - Turbo Teen (1984)

Turbo Teen (1984; ABC Network)
Sometimes there’s a show that is both very easy to describe yet impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it.  That said, I cannot fathom a scenario where the people behind Turbo Teen weren’t met with either uproarious mocking laughter, or an irritated slap to the face.  A lot of the shows I really got into were from the late 80’s, so this was just shy of that period for me, and it was too big of a failure to really maintain any post-run momentum in syndication or home video that I recall.  Now, even as a kid I was very picky and didn’t like a lot of the shows my friends did either because of the way the characters looked, or because of the show’s pacing or tone (not that I really understood what that meant back then, but it’s a quality that is often recognized without definition).  So, I guess even then I was sort of a jerk when it comes to entertainment (wink).  That begs the question: Do I regret watching an episode now?  Nope!  Because this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life!

The awesomely stupid premise for Turbo Teen is as follows: Brett Matthews is a teen driving home from work in his sports car when a tree is struck by lightning, forcing him to swerve and sending him flying off the road, over a cliff and into the side of a secret lab where he crashes right into the path of a ray that merges the molecules of Brett’s body with those of the machine’s, giving the teen the power to transform into his car.  When exposed to heat (hot water, food, ect.) Brett uncontrollably takes the form of his car where cold then turns him back (Where have I heard a similar premise before..?)  Together with his friends Patti and Alex (who have skills of their own) and Comic-Relief-Dog, Brett goes on crime-fighting adventures against powerful enemies.  Yes!  This exists!!!  I am SO happy about this!

In the 80’s there was no absence of bad animated series.  Really, the quality spike didn’t peak until the late 80’s when Disney Animation Studios started hitting their stride and series like Transformers and G.I. Joe reached their pinnacle.  Things will stay good for a while until the airwaves became flooded with bad knockoffs and celebrity-themed animated shows like Wishkid (THAT damn show’s day is coming…).  Before that, there is this strange dead zone filled with bland animated tripe from Hanna-Barbera Productions (who were already starting to fade in quality by that point) and a few other companies like Dic, for instance.  Turbo Teen lands somewhere in-between debuting in 1984 and lasting just one season.  It never really gained an audience, probably because it is such a ludicrous premise that a kid may find it more stupid than anything.  It takes a few years (or decades) for a show like this to re-emerge and become a sort of cult favorite.  I think, from what I’ve seen, Turbo Teen is ripe for that sort of cult rebirth.

Now, as out-there as the show’s premise is, knowing the episode I saw as a jumping-off point will make things even more enticing.  The episode is entitled “Video Venger” and opens on the teens playing an arcade game but when Brett has a piece of pizza land on his face he transforms into his car right there in the Pizza parlor while playing the game.  Still wanting to beat Alex’s highscore, Brett has his friend plug him into the arcade cabinet via a universal cable in his dashboard so he can control the game as a car.  This causes a military insurgent group monitoring the game to unleash an army of robots onto the city resembling enemies from the game and only the Turbo Teen and his friends can save the day.  This episode ends with the group saving the President by having two ice-firing tanks crossfire into each other through some Turbo-Teen-Trickery right in the White House… driveway..?  Ultimately the President awards them with medals.  

Okay, so if I missed anything it could be that while watching this I was mesmerized by its existence and was also somewhat distracted with bouts of hysterical laughter.  There is so much stupid in that last paragraph that I can understand you wondering why I would recommend this to anyone.  All I will say is, if you’re a fan of over-the-top, so-bad-it’s-good entertainment, and are just in awe by really, really awesomely bad TV in-general, you will probably love this show.  If you go in with the right attitude, you may be surprised by how much enjoyment you get out of it.  I went in expecting it to be one of the worst shows of the decade by reputation.  It isn’t.  The worst animation from the 80’s-90’s is either boring, a cheap cash-in, or is MEANT to be funny but isn’t.  This is none of those things.  It’s too insane to be boring, there really isn’t much like it (unless you pick out parts from about six different shows), and it isn’t really meant to be a comedy.  It’s an action show.  Sure there are gags in it but for the most part it was played straight.  I love so-bad-it’s-good stuff and this is up there for me.  I enjoyed the Hell out of Turbo Teen!



























Watch Turbo Teen: Video Venger in Cartoon | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Generation Wars: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) vs. TMNT (2007)



Now, I know I’m not the first person to do this, but I would like to see how many of these classic series have evolved over the years and I decided to start this series with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  

Originally based on Mirage Comic’s violent cult series of the same name (created by the duo of Laird and Eastman), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made their mainstream debut in the late 80’s.  Now, it’s important to note that this was a time where a lot of major companies were seeing great success with animated series based on toy tie-ins.  The two biggest ones before TMNT were G.I. Joe and Transformers.  These two series drew huge fans to the stores to buy every toy for everything they saw on the 30 minute TV series.  The fact was, these shows really didn’t have much in terms of plot.  They were really just toy advertisements.  The same goes for a lot of hit series from the time, including The Real Ghostbusters and Thundercats.  Then came 1987…

‘87 was a bad, BAAAAD year for movies, but on TV, things were changing.  Some of the biggest shows ever made their debuts in this year.  Three notable entries were Star Trek: The Next Generation, Duck Tales and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The latter of the two did something very different.  Unlike a lot of their tie-in contemporaries, these two animated series attempted to craft short stories around existing characters with established relationships and arcs.  They weren’t Shakespeare, but they were smart, funny and entertaining.  These two shows were essentially responsible for the huge boom of Saturday Morning animation in the late-80’s and early 90’s, a genre that was starting to fade a little at the time.

Fast forward to 1990.  A series as big as Ninja Turtles was not going to escape the Hollywood treatment, and on March 30th, fans of the series were treated to a hard-edge, energetic, fun and somewhat edgy action flick.  This was NOT a kids movie, in spite of its rating.  It had pacing, action, and the characters that were mostly known by everyone at that point were treated well in terms of their nature and relationships.  It must be said, that if you did not grow up in this period, you likely have no idea just how massive this series was.  Compare it to anything big today, and you may be close, but just short.  TMNT was a phenomenon, and it was everywhere.  So much so that it never actually went away.  The series lasted well into the 90’s, running for nearly a decade (that was HUGE for an animated series), and other animated shows, comics, games, movies (to a lesser extent) and other spin-offs continued to come out.  Still, the question is, does the 90’s movie hold up?

Well, not too long before writing this article I went back and watched it and was astonished by how good it still is.  No, seriously.  The action was good, the characters were spot on, they stayed true to the overall story and, thanks to help from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the Turtles themselves were amazing.  The movie hit the nail on the head, transporting the Turtles out of the realm of 2D and bringing them to life.  Naturally the movie was a big hit.  The sequels… not so good, though.  They didn’t hold up and tried too hard to be more kid-friendly, ultimately losing some of the momentum the first film built.  This was partially in-response to some backlash that the first film was “for kids” but was too violent and dark for a few parents to handle… Boy how times have changed.

As a sort of hiatus, the Turtles went back to the shadows and remained out of the mainstream for a short time until being revitalized in a new 2007 animated film.  TMNT debuted to mixed reviews.  It sits at a 37% on Rotten Tomatoes and was generally panned by critics.  Two things are wrong with this picture.  First, having watched the movie, it was not a bad film; not by any means.  It was certainly better than a 37%.  I have SEEN what a 37% looks like and it’s a Hell of a lot worse than this.  No, I think there was some backlash to the tone in some cases.  First, the new movie addresses some of the things that were just glossed over in the original film and series more directly, in-particularly, April O’Neil’s restlessness and Raphael’s rebelliousness.  The latter is a prominent plot point early in the movie as it is an established and ongoing trait of the character.  No complaints there.  

Another point of contention is the 2007 film’s plot.  The story revolves around an ancient immortal warrior who is able to resurrect his ancient generals when the stars align, and with the moment right, he can open a portal to conjure up monsters and take over the world.  It’s like something out of a Final Fantasy game, and it’s goofy, but it’s not the worst I’ve seen from that type of story.  The other subplots involve a barely glossed-over relationship between fellow-vigilante Casey Jones and April O’Neil and the returning theme of Raphael’s lone crime fighting ways.  What I liked about TMNT is how it addressed the latter.  Leonardo, who returns from a prolonged absence of self reflection, finds his family in disarray and is faced with bridging a severed relationship with Raph.  It turns out, another armored vigilante hero has been taking out thugs around New York and Leo, in an attempt to stop him, finds that this so-named Nightwatcher is actually Raphael.  This leads to the two brothers having a nearly-fatal brawl on the rooftop.  As a long-time fan of these characters, THIS was satisfying to me.  It was the obvious and inevitable result of their rough relationship and at that point I was sold.

As a standalone movie, TMNT is not a masterpiece, but it does what it set out to do: Make a fun and solid TMNT adventure.  The only real complaints I have about the movie is it has that odd, jagged CGI animation a lot of series do today, that has these 3D characters with Disney eyes that looks sort of odd in the high-detail world around them, and a few of the “chase” scenes are a little overlong and are basically just filler.  These long action scenes make the few more meaningful ones seem longer than necessary by association.  Lastly, the plot is nothing fresh or astonishing, but it sets the stage for some cool character design for the villains, and a few pretty solid fights.

Really, I do not see why this has such bad reviews.  It is NOT a bad movie.  It’s faithful, it was obviously made by people with a lot of love for the source material, it has a lot of quality animation (especially in the case of the Turtles) and the attention to detail in the production design is great.  I also like that they didn’t go overboard with references to the old series.  Sure they’re eating pizza, Splinter is watching soap operas and Casey Jones is donning his trademark hockey mask, but it isn’t abused and shoved in our faces like a lot of throwback remakes and reboots tend to try to do.  It’s respectful is what I’m saying.

So, which one is better.  Well, in this case it really isn’t a contest.  The 1990 film was engaging and had warmth as well as tension.  There is just something about seeing these characters in the “real world” that brings them to life.  Also, practical effects always look better than CGI and while at least the 2007 movie is entirely animated, the tangible Turtles from the earlier film are much more believable.  For anyone who didn’t grow up during Turtlemania, I would say watch the original movie.  It is not too dissimilar but definitely feels more real and, on the whole, is a much better movie.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Know" More Culture - The Way ‘The Day the Clown Cried’ Died

Jerry Lewis in 'The Day the Clown Cried' (1972;
src: notrecinema.com)
It was the 1970’s.  One-time A-lister Jerry Lewis was working in various capacities in Hollywood but really wanted to leave his mark, and the tone and style of film was changing rapidly, more or less leaving him behind.  Screenwriters Joan O’Brien and Charles Denton finished their script for the Day the Clown Cried and Lewis was approached to play the lead.  He was apprehensive to say the least.  Mostly known for screwball humor, Lewis feared he just wasn’t the right person for this sort of role.  Yet, ultimately, he came to the conclusion that it is an opportunity to star in something truly meaningful, and took up the reins as the lead character, the doomed clown named “Karl Schmidt”.

The film’s story is pretty straightforward.  Set during the start of the Holocaust, a clown who was once a top performer at a major circus falls hard after a career slump.  One day after being arrested by the Gestapo for mocking Hitler, he finds himself in a work camp.  At the lowest point in his life, during a chance encounter with some child prisoners, he realizes that he may still be able to at least bring joy to these young kids.  Performing the best he can, the broken man is heartened by the reactions of his young audience.  However, the Nazi leaders at the camp are not too thrilled by his bringing of joy and force him to be separated.  Ultimately, after he continues to defy their orders, he is commanded by pain of death to rally and escort the children to a train headed to the notorious death camp Auschwitz, but after a mistake finds he, himself, trapped in one of the cars, he is forced to accept fate.  Ultimately he is tasked with leading the children into the “showers”, and the film ends with him entertaining the children one last time before fading out.  Their fate was sealed.  

Doesn’t that sound like fun?!  No.  This was the reaction of just about everyone who saw the film during its limited screenings in 1972.  The film was described in the nicest terms as “misguided” and “confused” and at worst “a catastrophe”.  The question is, what really happened?  Well, Lewis himself had always been rather secretive about the project, but other sources indicate that during filming and post, he took over as director and began making a plethora of changes to the script to make the lead character more sympathetic.  The clown was meant to have a redemption arc, but instead he was written as a man who was simply broken and needed that last moment of inspiration to feel redeemed, as opposed to being a complete dirtbag at the start.  On top of that, Lewis attempted to inject more of his personality into the character.  He renamed the protagonist to Helmut Doork and added several moments of schtick to the screenplay.  The days leading up the film’s initial screenings led Lewis to believe he was making something important, and his notorious arrogance shined through, not only during the production but during the pitches and press bytes.  The movie showed, and his time as a leading man was marked as “over”.  Sure, Lewis continued performing, but this movie was a demarcation point in his career.  To this day, with all of his legacy aside, The Day the Clown Cried is the single piece of ephemera that has boundlessly captivated film historians, students and fans.

Becoming something of a legend these days, The Day the Clown Cried has been the subject of discussions in terms of remakes, documentaries and just plain fascination in Hollywood for over twenty years.  A number of performers, including Robin Williams, have been considered for a remake, adapting the film’s original screenplay, but nothing ever came about.  This movie has such a legendary stigma to it that it has become somewhat untouchable, while at the same time remaining a holy grail among cinema fanatics.  It’s very, very difficult to find footage of the movie and very few people have actually seen it in its entirety, in its original cut.  Every few years or so, footage of the film will leak onto the Internet but will often be removed.  This is largely due to the fact that the only official print of the movie is in Lewis’ own possession, as he continues to demand the film never be released or seen by anyone.  It has also been tied up in litigation for decades, with various involved parties fighting over control of the finished product, but the stalwart Lewis has never stopped fighting to prevent it from coming to light.  

By all accounts, the lore and history behind the Day the Clown Cried is far more captivating than the film itself.  I’ve only seen glimpses of the finished product, getting the rest of my knowledge of the plot from various sources online.  From what I saw, it’s a dreary and honestly kind of ugly film visually, with very low-lighting and lots of walls and backdrops that are dirty or aged.  The scenes I’ve seen that are a little brighter looking are overshadowed by the film’s tone.  It doesn’t help going in knowing what the movie is actually about.  All of the fluff at the start seems that much more meaningless.  

I have always wondered what the ultimate intention was for The Day the Clown Cried.  I am of the mind that any story can be told, and any story told well, no matter what the subject, can be appreciated.  However, from all I’ve heard, this is one big hot mess.  Any time footage leaks onto the Internet, there is a brief period of buzz followed by a sudden silence.  Almost as though everyone who was ever excited about seeing it actually really regrets their decision afterward. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Faces Behind the Camera - Bryan Fuller

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Bryan Fuller (source: IMDB)
You know “that guy”?  Yeah!  Him!  Everybody has that one actor in film and TV that just pops up everywhere but you never know his name or remember what you saw him in.  Now, what if “that guy” was not an actor but a television creator, writer and producer?  Now, imagine that the same individual was responsible for some of the best television shows of the last fifteen years.  Yeah.  That’s Bryan Fuller.

The closest point of comparison to Fuller I can make is a somewhat more whimsical version of Joss Whedon, the creator of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and, most recently, the director of Marvel’s The Avengers movies.  Like Whedon, Fuller has a knack for writing captivating characters in unique situations and he excels at dialogue.  For a big-budget Hollywood movie, sometimes just dangling keys is enough to be entertaining, but having to operate on a limited budget for a TV show spanning a broader length in terms of story is much more difficult, especially when you are trying to sell an audience something so strange as to be occasionally unsettling.

A characteristic of Bryan Fuller’s series that I actually kind of like is his somewhat light approach to the dark topic of death.  Almost all of his shows have some darker undertone superimposed on bright or humorous backdrop.  This goes especially for his “big four” as I like to call them, but we’ll get to those in a moment.  First, it is important to know that Fuller does not have many credits to his name, and that is often a positive sign… No, really.  Granted, he has only been active in the industry since the late 90’s, so it stands to reason his career thus far would be barely impactful… right..?

Well, it really starts in 2000 with his work as a writer and producer on the spinoff series Star Trek Voyager.  I am not really a Star Trek fan, per se.  I have recently gotten into The Next Generation, watching episodes here and there, and liked what I’ve seen so far, but I have not watched Voyager, so I cannot really give any personal opinion on that one show, still, for an up-and-comer, landing such a position on such a storied franchise is very, very impressive.  The question is: Does he prove himself worthy of gaining such a credit early on in his career?

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Dead Like Me (Showtime; source: Pintrest)
The first of the “Big Four” is 2001’s Dead Like Me, one of my favorite shows of all time and one of the most criminally short-lived shows in the history of television (both will be running themes here).  The series follows an apathetic teenager who died suddenly in an accident on her first day of work, only to be kicked back from the afterlife to the undead, tasked with becoming a Reaper.  She is then forced in with a crew of fellow veterans of the Reaper title who seemed to be trapped in limbo as she carries out her duties, ferrying souls to the afterlife.  It’s definitely a dark series but, in spite of its themes, it’s a comedy, and a damn-funny one at that.  It’s defined by its uniquely sardonic take on death, while still dealing honestly with the effects of loss, especially on the family and how they are unwittingly watched over by a daughter who only felt unappreciated before her passing.  It’s comically-grim, yet occasionally moving, and if you haven’t seen it, I give it my strongest recommendation.

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Wonderfalls (2004; Fox)
Now, on that note, “Big Four” entry numero dos is Wonderfalls.  This is the first show that would really begin to highlight Fuller’s curse as a producer of hitting the right note but never maintaining a series beyond a few seasons.  This series ALSO followed an apathetic young lead, this time a worker at a gift shop for a Niagara Falls tourist trap.  The cyclical girl begins to have strange hallucinations of anthropomorphic objects (sculptures and the like) around her place of employment appearing to come to life, giving her one-word clues to… something.  When she discovers what that ‘something’ is, it becomes clear that as insignificant as she may have felt at first, she really does serve a greater purpose.  Wonderfalls is a strange show filled with many of the quirks that made Dead Like Me so damn enjoyable.  The writing is good, the characters are fleshed out naturally and never feel superfluous and the performances are all excellent.  Sadly, this great series lasted only a handful of episodes before its ultimate cancellation, and I have only the simplest explanation as to why it didn’t really last: bad timing.  It came up against the NBA games for the first third of its run, then Fox did what they do best, stopping the show dead in its tracks in favor of American Idol.  After only four episodes, the show was forced into a three month hiatus, followed by another Fall hiatus that same year.  The entire season (which was only 13 episodes) took ten-and-a-half months to complete.  It never stood a chance.

This was a big problem in the mid-2000’s.  The culture-killing Writers Strike of 2001 left many producers cold and bitter and what came out of that was an unfortunate and disastrous takeover of reality television.  Since these shows were cheap to produce, required zero support from the Writer’s Guild of America and proved to be quite successful, most shows that ran in the early 2000’s were just cut off in favor of the cheaper alternative.  This is why there was this massive sudden influx of dreadful reality TV that lasted for nearly a decade, with most networks only coming out of this Hellish slump in the last five-to-six years.  During this period, Fox’s American Idol was an audience-stealer and, as a result of this, the network would preempt entire series in favor of this one show, airing it as much as five nights a week in some periods, during which they rarely offered any show alternatives.  It was because of this decision that many cable networks began to rise up with their own original primetime programming, eventually taking over a majority of the prime time slots ever since.  I’m sure, at this point, in-spite of Idol’s success, Fox is sort of kicking themselves for driving out their audience.  Dead Like Me, Firefly and the excellent Freaks and Geeks were just a handful of shows killed by the WGA strike, the latter two of the three’s demise being helped along oh-so-handily by Fox executives..

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Pushing Daisies (2007; ABC)
However, even after the unfortunate passing of Wonderfalls, Fuller was not deterred.  In 2007, Pushing Daisies premiered, this time on ABC.  This was a strange show.  It was honestly unlike anything else on television.  It had this whimsical tone, filled with wide-angle lenses, Douglas Adams-esque narration, odd undertones of death and sex and the occasional musical number, all set to a super-polished Americana theme peppered with very bright colors.  The series followed the Piemaker, Ned, who discovered as a boy that he had the power to bring the dead back to life with a touch, but only for a few seconds.  He learned tragically that if he did not touch the resurrected again, something (or someone) nearby will die in their stead.  So naturally, as an adult, an intrepid P.I. is there to exploit his powers to talk to the dead to solve mysteries.  Nope.  Not kidding.  They go on adventures and everything, and as funny as that sounds, there is a strong sense of tragedy surrounding the entire show.  His best friend, the love of his life, and one of his few true friends dies and his choice to raise her from the dead for good leads to more than a few complications.  Aside from someone else dying for her to live, there is the sad reality that he can never touch her.  There is a heartbreaking poetry in this idea, and it is presented nearly flawlessly in Pushing Daisies.  Also, like much of his work to this point, this series revolved heavily around death.  

Pushing Daisies is, by-far, Fuller’s most successful series.  It lasted two seasons but, unlike his previous shows that ended far too soon, I think it was enough.  It ran its course, plots were addressed and resolved and any more would have just been turning the wheels.  Instead of keeping this alive, Fuller and ABC did the right thing and touched it a second time, to put it down for good.  Yet, during its run, it won numerous awards and was nominated multiple times.  Lee Pace and Chi McBride were both great as always, but the show-stealer here was the then-mostly-unknown Kristin Chenoweth (unknown, at least, outside of the theatre scene).  At the time of the show’s production, Chenoweth was already a beloved Broadway star and it shows in her performance.  Her energy and vocal talents take over, especially in the second season, where she goes from being a supporting character to a more driving force in the overarching story.  Every show has the one character that people remember the most coming out, and for me, Chenoweth’s Olive WAS this show.

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This brings us to today.  Bryan Fuller’s current notable project is the series Hannibal, a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs in which we see a younger Hannibal Lecter in his prime.  I’ve watched the first few episodes of the series myself and I… didn’t really like it.  Not to say that it was bad by any stretch.  It certainly stands out in terms of quality compared to most shows on network television today, but I think knowing it was Fuller’s work going in left me a little jarred.  It is so unlike his other efforts as to be sort of off-putting for me as a long-time fan.  I wanted there to be a hint of the charm found in his previous works, but what I saw of Hannibal is far too serious.  Now, I plan to go back and rewatch the first season, just so as not to dismiss it entirely because I may have missed something.  I want to like Hannibal, I really do, but I will require a lot of convincing.  

So, you have a talented young writer/producer who is notable for working on a few of the most criminally short-lived television series of all time.  This is a running theme, largely because TV executives are forced to look at short-term gain through ratings rather than long-term popularity.  It also doesn’t help that most of these shows were shoved into the fray against insurmountable odds.  Still, they have their fans; and justifiably-so.  Bryan Fuller is a tremendous talent and I as his career progresses on, I foresee him having a long string of successes and fan favorites.  His vision and style is just unlike anyone else in the industry today, despite a few imitators.  If you have not seen any of the series listed in this article, I strongly recommend checking them out, they are all good in their own distinct ways and have much wider appeal than their short runs might have you believe.

Monday, March 9, 2015

"Know" More Pop-Culture- The Grindhouse

Just before the market crash of 1929 known now as Black Tuesday, movie theatres were opening like mad to accommodate the massive demand for a growing pop culture phenomenon dubbed the motion picture.  Films were being churned out in numbers that are inconceivable by today’s standards, but shorter silent films were often inexpensive to produce and required little in terms of quality.  So, the result was a pretty wide range of film ideas, some good and some… not so good.  A not-so-well-known fact about the early days of cinema is “nudie” films were extremely common.  Even in the 19th Century nickelodeons, a short film featuring a topless dancer was far more common than one might imagine.  As films took to the big screen, and the Hays Code took over in the 1930’s, most of these sorts of films were driven out.  Given their reputation and poor storage, most of these movies have suffered the tragic fate shared by so many films of the early 20th Century: degradation through disintegration.  This was a consequence of the celluloid used for years to print film media.  Since it was now “illegal” to show nudity and other banned content in theatres, an underground was formed.

42nd Street Grindhouses (Source: Soundonsight.org)
42nd St. in Manhattan is arguably the most famous theatre district in the world (not discounting Los Angeles’ famous Beverly Cinema), and many of the joints on this stretch of road were not ready to give up the profitability of sexuality.  There was just one problem: That damn Hays Production Code!  So, many theatres repurposed their floors to become burlesque theatres, performance theatres typically featuring women dancing seductively and singing songs riddled with innuendo.  Some of these clubs also became associated with New York’s Red Light District, though most were nothing more than very tame strip clubs.

(Source: listal.com)
As the decades rolled on, the theatres that continued to show movies often bought reels to cheap movies of poor quality, showing them several times throughout the day, as opposed to the one or two showings-per-film common at that time.  The rates would increase during the day, capping off around 6pm.  This set the tradition of the Matinee Price so common in theatres.  This trend continued through until the 70’s, when things began to change dramatically.  This process of repeated showings became known as “grinding” and became the namesake of the theatres that practiced this new profitable idea.  The existence of these “grindhouses” actually spurred a new market for cheap, quickly-produced films that in many ways were built to violate the already weakening Hays Code, featuring copious amounts of sex, graphic violence and other material that was, in that period, very controversial and some films are still shocking by today’s standards.

While these same grindhouses were showing films that would or could not be shown in other major theatres, they also did show many major releases, as well as a number of films that are widely regarded as modern classics.  Another fact is some entire genres owe their very existence to these theatres.  In-particular, slasher, spaghetti westerns, martial arts and blaxploitation films would likely have never caught on without help from the grindhouse districts.  However, as the 80’s came around,  the market for these films in theatres shrunk rapidly due to the proliferation of home video.  Within a few years, the theatre market would collapse all around; a consequence of the rapidly-growing video market and the advent of megaplexes, which were competing to be bigger-budget attempts to monopolize local theatre markets by offering more and more movies and showings at a time in a single location.

The exploitation genre continues on, though it’s subgenres have split off, with newer films being mostly inspired by the 70’s classics rather than trying to craft any real identity of their own.  However, in spite of the cinema collapse, the legacy of the grindhouse persists to this day directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are highly inspired by the films of the 70’s grindhouses and many modern action and horror movies draw a lot of inspiration from the grindhouses.  Also, many films from the grindhouses’ heyday have found a new market thanks to home video and digital distribution, garnering a new cult following and have themselves crafted a dedicated and unified fan culture.

The question is: Were the grindhouses disreputable garbage heaps throwing out nothing but gore and pornography?  Or, rather, were they inspirational and daring cultural hubs that would leave a lasting impression on future audiences?  I would say they are a little of both.  If they weren’t just a little controversial and didn’t do things differently from the norm, it is likely they would not even be talked about to this day.  It left quite an impression by defying the standards and refusing to accept the rules set by a paranoid and aggressive censorship bureau, instead embracing the strange and opening the gates to a new idea of film that was not only unknown to most, but was outwardly banned by major theatres.  The grindhouses paved the way for a new era of independent filmmakers and broke down barriers to artistic expression.  Modern film would likely not even exist in its current form if it weren’t for this film culture.  So, next time you scoff at an Italian sexsploitation flick, consider that many films you love may not have even been made if it weren’t for the theatre owners brave enough to show it in the first place.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

TV Pilot Hell: Bubsy (1993)

NOTE: When I wrote the first draft for this it was nine paragraphs and two-and-a-half pages long!  I did my best to edit it down as much as possible.

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The 90’s was a great decade for animation.  Batman, Animaniacs, Daria… The list goes on and on and honestly, even the laziest, stupidest series from that decade seem to have their fair share of fans.  However, there has always been one medium that has failed to create a real lasting success in animation: Video Games.  Sure, there were moderate successes like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and Sonic Sat. A.M., but these were mostly short-lived and more reflected the popularity of their source material than any actual objective quality.  So, given the (at best) mediocre standards of video games-to-animation, where does Bubsy fit on that scale?

Well, first, a little backstory: Bubsy was a mascot game created for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis in the early 90’s.  It was an effort by the fledgling studio Accolade to create a lasting series and, surprisingly, it kind of worked.  The few games in the series were spread across the SNES, Genesis, Jaguar and the Playstation and Bubsy 3D, released on Sony’s flagship console, is ranked among the worst video games ever made.  So, in a nutshell, Bubsy was an attempt by a B-studio to put out a game that will be their Mario or Sonic.  Accolade was banking so hard on this that they actually commissioned to have an animation group work on a tie-in for their game.  The company of choice was a small studio called Calico Creations.  Never heard of them?  Well, how couldn’t you!? I mean they are only the masters who brought us the majestic Denver the Last Dinosaur and Widget the World Watcher!  I mean, come on!  (No… Seriously, these guys were bad…. Very bad.)

On paper, there is one promising credit: Rob Paulsen, who did the voice for Bubsy in the games and is back for the TV show.  Paulsen is a tremendously-accomplished voice actor who worked on just about every animated series of note from the past thirty years.  He’s a highly-regarded talent and hearing his voice in this show is like if Peter O’Toole interrupted one of Michael Bay and Ehren Kruger's comic relief moments to give a resounding monologue.  They must have been desperate and paid him a ton in hopes that this series would catch on.  As with most animated tie-ins from its time, Bubsy was an attempt to expand name recognition and popularity.  It didn’t work… at all…

That was a lot of setup to cover and for that, I apologize.  Still, even knowing myself the ill fate of this franchise going in, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  The pilot for Bubsy is entitled “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” (Which was also the title character’s uninspired catch phrase), and follows Bubsy, his friend Arnold (voiced by another talented voice performer in Pat Fraley), and a couple of obnoxious twins as Bubsy volunteers to be the guinea pig for a powerful piece of technology created by doctor Virgil (...ugh) Reality.  The device is a helmet that can harness the imagination of its wearer and conjure it into reality.  So, essentially it’s Anthony from Twilight Zone: The Movie… except more overblown and stupid.  The rest of the episode involves all of the characters, and a team of villains led by a spoiled, fat, female cat, battling for control over the helmet.  It’s all a device to create a bunch of slapstick animated set pieces to sell the show, and boy does it fail.

The problem with Bubsy as a character is, even in the video games, he was essentially a Sonic rip-off with greatly-inferior level design and there simply isn’t much you can do with this premise.  At least with Sonic going in there actual characters and a plot that felt like it could be fleshed out in some way, but Bubsy was never that interesting to begin with.  It would be like making Frogger into an animated series (Oh!  WAIT!!!  They actually DID that!)  A result of this lack of personality is a lead character that is forced and over-confident as to be completely stupid.  This has worked in the past with some characters (Bugs Bunny, for instance) but here, it just feels like Bubsy suffers from some sort of chemical imbalance that leaves him completely incapable of expressing any emotion outside of “Ohhhhh yeaaaah!”.

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Now, to talk about the actual quality of the episode.  A common problem with a lot of animated series is the writers and animators go in wanting their show to be for kids and simply try to make it as flashy and noisy as they can to keep their interest, forgetting that even silly shows like Animaniacs had a fair share of quieter character moments.  When the show is just noise and grunting from start to finish “exhausting” doesn’t even begin to describe it.  There is not one moment for the audience to breathe here.  Either Bubsy is fast-talking and spouting out his catch phrase for the tenth time or Arnold is grunting and growling after every line.  Every character has one joke that is driven in over and over for the entire episode and the animation is lackluster and lazy, with most scenes just showing the characters in one frame posing or falling on a moving background.  This show is scene-to-scene just noise and flashing lights.  It has no substance and not even one joke lands, it’s all wrong.

I find it interesting that Obvious Villain Cat character (I can’t be bothered to look her up name again) uses nails on a chalkboard to torture her minions because this show felt like someone was doing that for twenty minutes.  It’s loud, stupid, unfunny and really just boring.  As bad as this is, and as shocked as I was watching it, I will likely not even remember seeing this before too long.  It just was not interesting enough to care about and it doesn’t surprise me that it wasn’t picked up to series.  It was further proof that a show that is clumsily thrown together as an advertisement for a brand most people were already indifferent about just doesn’t work.  Still, that hasn’t kept studios from trying over and over again.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

TV Pilot (Heaven!) - Northern Exposure (1992)

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Northern Exposure (1990-1995; CBS)

Creators: Joshua Brand and Joe Falsey
Starring: Rob Morrow, Barry Corbin, Janie Turner

When I was a kid, there was a lot of hype surrounding Northern Exposure.  It aired as a mid-season replacement on CBS in the Summer of 1990.  After CBS’s 10pm timeslot opened up with that Spring’s finale of the beloved Newhart and the failure of The Dave Thomas Comedy Show, this little series came out of nowhere and become a winning and beloved titan in the eyes of millions.  

http://images2.fanpop.com/images/quiz/202000/202869_1241310853339_320_226.jpgRob Morrow plays Joel Fleischman, a New York doctor who is given an opportunity to work in lovely Anchorage, Alaska, but his big greeting to the city hospital does not go as planned.  He is informed his position was full and was redirected to the small, fictional town of Cicely, Alaska where he is greeted by a shrewd former astronaut who is consumed by his desire to turn his small hole-in-the-wall town into a booming resort.  Trapped in this strange place due to a legal contract, the breaking of which could result in a prison sentence, Joel opens a small practice with only the help of the awkward Marilyn.  Joel interacts with the locals, including a tomboyish pilot and a friendly young leather-clad bro-dude, and it all seems he has to make the best of it while he waits for his wife (who is still in the big city) to finally arrive in town.

Northern Exposure had a lot going for it; a funny premise, a smart and talented cast and a great team of writers, but the show had a troubled history behind the scenes.  After the first few seasons were extremely successful, CBS inexplicably cut the show mid-season to air new test programming during Sweeps.  This killed any momentum the show had for that running season.  Other issues, including actors demanding more pay and a failed list of new characters being introduced drive viewers away, resulting the in the show’s ultimate cancellation.  A lot of this could be traced back to some of its stars (Morrow in-particular), moving into film.  Morrow landed a major role in the critical darling Quiz Show, and as a result he began to seek either more compensation from CBS, or better film roles.  Sadly, his film career never really took off.  He’s a charismatic performer, good looking and was adaptable, able to play different types of characters, but ultimately his career landed him back in TV on the quality crime thriller Numb3rs after a decade of movie flops.

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This is an example of how a very simple premise, a likeable cast and a smart team of writers can create something special under very strenuous circumstances.  A midseason replacement always has a few things going against it.  First, it moves in to fill a time slot for a show that people just did not watch.  Reason then dictates they were watching something else.  DVR was not a thing, and while you could record a different channel on the VCR at the same time, it was still a toss-up battling two other networks’ existing programming (Fox did not have a slot past 10pm).  Secondly, there is the risk of the network experimenting with other new programming for the Fall season.  This is what happened in Northern Exposure in its last year, with CBS breaking the season up to test other new shows in its slot.  The final major obstacle for this series was the fact that it ran on Monday nights, meaning for several months out of the year it was competing with ABC’s Monday Night Football.  

All-in-all, Northern Exposure tenaciously triumphed over great adversity thanks to a devoted fanbase and the chops that come from being a multi-year Emmy and Golden Globe nominee.  The final season’s cast and crew changes did it in, but that happens all of the time with TV, and the fact that this show lasted for four seasons is quite the accomplishment because most shows do not make it that far, even some really good ones.  It’s a funny, well-written show with a lot of warmth (in spite of the climate) and lastly, I’m willing to bet the mooseburger is actually quite delicious.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Know" More Pop-Culture - What Happened With 'Turn-On'?

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Turn-On's TV Title Card (ABC Television; 1969)
In February of 1969, a notorious TV pilot would air that would shock many and become notorious as one of the biggest television disasters in history.  I mean, the events of that fateful night make the trainwreck that was Joanie Loves Chachi look like Cheers by comparison.  So, what happened?

ABC led up to Turn-On with a lot of promotional hype.  It was the brainchild of the previous year’s big hit Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s executive producer George Schlatter, and the network was ready to set it up for a full twelve-episode first season before the pilot even aired.  Turn-On premiered on February 5th, 1969 at the 8:30pm time slot.  All seemed innocuous enough on the surface and with popular McHale’s Navy-star Tim Conway guest-hosting, people tuned in to see what ABC had been selling them for months.

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Turn-On Promo;
TV Guide Clipping
Reactions to the show were immediate and visceral.  The Cleveland, OH ABC affiliate refused to continue airing the show after the first commercial break and Denver’s local producers refused to air the show at all after the network screening.  The show was described as “crass” and “blue”, bombarding the sensitive 1969 American audience with fast and not-so-subtle sex jokes.  A second episode was recorded in full, but was never released, with only a few very brief scenes clipped in as part of a documentary for BBC Channel-4 in the UK.  It is incredibly difficult to find footage of this show, but the few scenes I have seen indicate this show’s cancellation was not a tragic loss by any stretch.

Most of the show had slapdash sketches and quick stingers filmed in front of a blank white stage backdrop.  There would be props and some set dressing for certain sketches, but it was all actually pretty plain.  This was likely an artistic choice as the very funny piece of TV psychedelia that was Laugh-In came from the same producers and it had more quality in its production design.  Some complained that the show was unwatchable due to the hyper-kinetic editing which, mixed with the white background, reportedly caused some viewers to become “physically ill”, though, I do not know how true this actually is.  In reality, Turn-On was likely just too much for the audiences of its time.  The sex references and the very direct jabs at public figures like Richard M. Nixon really put people off of the show.  A number of affiliates issued complaints their local customers made, and the show was killed for good a few days after its debut.  

The notorious pilot didn’t do much for the cast, either.  The lovely Teresa Graves would go on to join Laugh-In that year, but only for one season.  She would then appear in a few blaxploitation films (most notably the Fred Williamson vehicle That Man Bolt) and would get her own short-lived show Get Christie Love! in the mid 70’s.  She then would retire from acting shortly thereafter and would focus primarily on philanthropy.  Tim Conway kept doing his thing, and remained successful in-spite of this disaster.  He later spoke about it, not really showing any regrets.  In-fact, he was in good spirits about it, but Conway was already a TV veteran by 1969, so he’d seen the worst come and go.

By most accounts, Turn-On was simply ahead of its time.  It was too much for the period in which it aired and it would be more than six years before SNL would piss off half the country in 1975, but it just did it a lot better.  A large factor that arguably led to the show’s abrupt end was that it just wasn’t that funny.  It was all edge and no wit.  Carol Burnett put TV comedy over the edge in the 60’s and 70’s but inspite of all of her controversies in her time, she was a well-loved and respected woman, but most of all she was just very, very talented.  Not to discount Tim Conway in any respect, but even his chops weren’t enough to keep Turn-On… Turned on… (Sorry I couldn’t resist… it was too easy)

TV Pilot Hell - Turner & Hooch (1990)


The dreaded one-joke premise.  It’s a nearly guaranteed show-killer and here, we have an absolutely braindead TV sitcom based on a pretty bad police comedy.  Quality TV series based on movie franchises are extremely rare and this is an example of how to take a movie that was already pretty unfunny and drive its single joke right into the ground.  The first ten minutes of this TV series seems like an hour, and it doesn’t get any better.

In 1990, Tom Hanks was already too hot a commodity to appear in low-grade crap like this, so instead we get B-list actor Thomas F. Wilson as Det. Scott Turner, who most probably remember best as Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future movies, or as Coach Fredricks from Freaks & Geeks.  He’s not a bad performer when he’s playing off of better actors, but here he is just awful.  He is not leading-man-material, and he spends every scene struggling through his lines.  However, as much as I complain about Wilson’s performance, the supporting cast is far worse.  This film even goes so far as to add an obnoxious delinquent kid to the mix, making what is already a really lazy and dull comedy into something that is nothing short of unwatchable.  He is far, far worse than Kid from Dick Tracy, another legendarily bad child performance from around that time, and like Hooch, he has one character trait: He gets into trouble!  Oh… how zany…  To top it all off, this show ends with a pillow fight between the kid and Turner complete with period-appropriate sax solo and a freeze frame on Hooch.  I wish I were making this up…


The rest of the supporting cast includes Wendee Pratt as Mrs. Turner.  She had a few roles after this but is mostly known for her brief run on the soap opera One Life to Live.  The rest of the characters just show up then disappear, having no real effect on the show, existing only to set up the next scene.  Comic Relief Cop (his name is ‘Boney’... Because he’s fat..?) appears to tell Det. Turner what the next act of the show is and sends him on his way, and the show has a brief appearance by a lively chef who knows Turner, and I am assuming he is meant to be a recurring character but here he only exists to facilitate the introduction of that damn kid.


This show is written in cliches.  This is common in sitcoms, but here everything has been done over and over again and Turner & Hooch goes the extra mile by taking those cliches and just replaying them ad-nauseum during its 23 minute run.  The kid is a runaway thief who ends up in the care of the unwilling cop.  The wife is a goody-goody who wants to help the “misunderstood” kid, only existing in the entire show to make sure Turner is stuck with Hooch and an aggravating child actor (Det. Turner really needs to get a divorce).  There are no other cops of consequence and imagine my surprise when the titular cop wasn’t called in to get chewed out by his tightly-wound and heavily-caffeinated chief.

All of those complaints aside, the episode is just a mess.  Scenes bounce between each other so fast it is actually a little disorienting and I have a sinking feeling this was meant to be a one-hour block but was cut in half after producers saw the finished product.  I make that assumption based on the fact that it feels like chunks of the show are missing.  Character introductions are fast and short and never really establish any sort of relationship.  The marriage between Det. Turner and his wife feels more like the relationship between a homeowner and a maid.  The kid in the show is bad, sure, but he seems like he was born ready to wind up in the care of a cop, never showing any resistance or surprise about anything.  Ultimately, nothing comes together.  There are sections of the story that feel lost and there is zero, ZERO character development.  The only thing we get is Hooch running into things, knocking people over and simply just causing a ruckus so we can get a zany jazz solo followed by a soul-crushingly-bad reaction shot from Thomas Wilson, who acted like he just didn’t want to be there at all.

Turner & Hooch aired on NBC in the Summer of 1990.  A Summer premiere (especially pre-2000) is usually a bad sign anyway, but hoooo-boy!  1990 was a bad, BAAAAD year for television.  To give you an idea of how awful this year was, Turner & Hooch, as stillborn and bland as it is, is not the worst cop-with-a-dog comedy series of that Summer!  The problem with Turner & Hooch is it’s just boring and lazy.  Outside of some of the performances, there isn’t really anything painful about it, and I can honestly see myself forgetting this show even exists.  At least with famously bad shows like Small Wonder you remember why it was bad.  Less than an hour after sitting through this snore-fest I was only thinking about what I wanted for lunch.