On September 12th, 1966 a debate ignited that continues even to this day. It wasn't on whether or not we should stay in Vietnam, or if there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll, or who was the cutest Beatle. No, the age old debate begun on this date was: did the Monkees actually play their own instruments?
Well, they did, but that doesn't matter right now. What does matter is that the debate was initiated this particular evening because it was the night that The Monkees television show premiered on the NBC fall schedule. For the next two seasons, fifty-eight episodes, nine albums, one television special, and one major motion picture, Monkeemania swept America and the world.
Comedy Central has had more than a few game shows, but few of them, with the exception of Win Ben Stein's Money, ever really caught on. In the late 90s comedian Greg Proops, best known for his work on both the British and American versions of Who's Line Is It Anyway? hosted a game show called VS. that pitted two groups against one another in a quiz show kind of format. The groups were supposed to be polar opposites, so for example they might have "cops vs. hippies," or, a personal favorite of mine, "cowboys vs. Indians" (in which the "Indians" were literally people from India). The show was played in three rounds, and the basic gist was that if you answered questions tailored to your group, you won some money, and if you answered questions tailored to the other group, you won even more money. If the show seemed familiar to some people, it's because another game show, called Clash!, also aired on Comedy Central years earlier and used essentially the same format. All I can recall about Clash!, however, is the episode where Superman fans went up against Batman fans. Don't ask me who won, though. While VS. wasn't a terrible show, and Proops was actually quite witty as a host, it came along when Win Ben Stein's Money was still going strong, and it seems viewers were happy with just one goofy game show.
Can golf be funny? Well, Caddyshack proved that it could. At least, it proved you could use a golf course as a kind of stage for great comedic performances. In The Sweet Spot, Bill Murray returned to the game that birthed his famous Caddyshack character, this time taking three of his brothers (Brian Doyle-Murray, Joel Murray, and John Murray) along for a faux-reality series in which the siblings compete on different golf courses for bragging rights.
The show could be best be described as really bad, but charming. Bill is clearly the most recognizable of the siblings, but Joel and Brian have had plenty of great roles in both television and movies. John, also a producer for the show, has been in front of the lens before, but not to any significant degree. It's fun to see them all together, but even with the gags, skits, and fantasy segments, it still felt like watching home movies that were more entertaining to the people making them than the people watching. Somewhere in Hollywood someone must have an idea for a really great show that could bring these brothers together, but The Sweet Spot just wasn't it.
I've lamented on this blog numerous times the absence of "classic" cartoons on television. I would even love to see Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, Terrytoons, and selections from the Tex Avery library as part of Adult Swim. Heck, bury them at one o'clock in the morning away from the newer offerings, that'd be just fine with me as long as they were there and accessible. These days, however, the only "Looney Tunes" one can usually see are Baby Looney Tunes or Loonatics Unleashed, modified and updated versions that are just dandy for younger kids who might not know the history behind those characters, but not so great for older folk with a greater appreciation for animation history.
In the late 90s, Cartoon Network did offer something to those of us who like to delve a bit deeper into animation. The show was called Toonheads, and each episode would focus on a specific director, animator, voiceover artists, era, or whatever. One episode might be dedicated to voice actor Daws Butler while another would plot the evolution of Tom and Jerry as different directors took over the cat and mouse duo. Every cartoon would be separated by brief snippets about the work and the people behind it. The episodes weren't exactly rife with information, but it was nice to know there was a series that actually took these old cartoons seriously, rather than just slapping them into various timeslots as a means to fill up airtime.
Roger Ramjet, a very funny cartoon that originally aired in 1965, could be mistaken for a Jay Ward creation, as its aesthetic, pop cultural references, and "too smart for the little kids watching it" sense of humor bear a striking resemblance to Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle. While I was born about eleven years too late to catch Roger Ramjet when it first aired, I did catch occasional episodes on Cartoon Network while I was in college, and actually found it much funnier than Rocky and Bullwinkle (again, a show it had no connection with). Luckily, you can catch a bunch of episodes on YouTube, and I highly recommend that you do. The series featured Gary Owens (Laugh-In announcer and original voice of Space Ghost) as Roger Ramjet, the leader of a group of spunky cadets known as the American Eagles. Ramjet would often try to save the day, but ultimately he was more interested in saving his own skin. The show, as I said, sampled from the same well of humor as Rocky and Bullwinkle, but was much tighter, and much more rapid fire with its gags. Rocky and Bullwinkle's gags were constructed in such a way that one could clearly see the set up, and the punchline that followed. As funny as that show was, its pacing was actually very methodical. Roger Ramjet, by contrast, would overload every line with several gags, sometimes eschewing its limited animation and instead simply having the characters' words flash onto the screen. There was never any lesson learned in any of the episodes, at least none parent's would want kids to remember. It was, essentially, a satire of so-called heroism, the story of a man who wants to save the day, but is really only interested in looking out for his best interests.
And what the heck, because I like you all so much I stuck a three-minute episode in after the jump. Happy viewing.
Farina starred as Buddy Faro, a famous private eye who disappeared in 1978 and is found twenty years later by Faro buff and fellow P.I. Bob Jones (Frank Whaley). It's hard to describe the plot (plots aren't that important anyway, as long as the cast and writing is good) except to say that the two team up to solve cases, and Faro tries to get by as a Rat Pack-type old school guy in an Internet world. To top off the casting, Allison Smith (Kate and Allie, The West Wing) played an actress who helped the duo, and Charles Robinson (Night Court) played a character named "El Jefe."
This shows seems like a natural for DVD (a cult show, short-lived, you can fit the whole run in one set), so I hope we see it some day. There are actually several episodes that never even aired.
This isn't the first time that a series that spun off main characters from a popular series has fallen on its face. In fact, aside from Frasier and maybe Archie Bunker's Place, the "falling on face" outcome seems to happen more often than not.
(UPDATE: To clarify, I'm talking about a show spun off from a hit show AFTER the hit show ends. I'm thinking of shows like The Golden Palace, Three's A Crowd, etc. Sorry if I didn't make that clear.)
Take the case of AfterMASH. After M*A*S*H ended its long run in 1983, people were still clamoring for tales of the people from the 4077th; so when plans were announced to follow three characters -- Col. Potter, Father Mulcahy, and Max Klinger -- back to life in the U.S. after the end of the Korean War, fans were overjoyed. In fact, ratings for the first half-season or so, which aired in the same Monday at 9 timeslot as M*A*S*H, were so high, the show ended the calendar year 1983 in the #1 slot.
There was a little problem, though: the show was boring as hell.
Even if they had started the show about a year earlier to hook onto the peak of the Queer Eye buzz, I don't think the show would have lasted very long. Whereas the chemistry amongst the Fab Five from Straight Guy seemed organic, everything from Straight Girl seemed forced and annoying. They were trying too hard to fit the Queer Eye mold while breaking from the "general makeover show" mold at the same time. Plus, there were already loads of makeover shows for women already... We didn't need another one, and certainly not one as cheesy as this show was.
The only good that came from this show was that we finally learned the identity of the creepy, dancing, old guy from the Six Flags commercials. Some Internet sleuths did some digging and found out that Danny Teeson (the bald fellow on the left) was the one couldn't stop dancing to that irritatingly mind-numbing Venga Boys song.
Despite their long history in comedy, I've never found primates of any kind to be inherently funny. I don't care how human they act, how many cowboy hats you put on them, or how many props you give them, they're just not that humorous. Of course, now I must contradict myself by saying that pretty much anything can be funny if it's placed in the right context, which is why The Chimp Channel, a program which ran on TBS for one season in 1999 and whose cast consisted entirely of chimps, sometimes made me laugh, despite my aversion to the idea of monkeys being a kind of comedic Holy Grail whose mere presence brings comedy to any situation.
In a nutshell, The Chimp Channel was a sketch comedy show with chimps, spoofing the television shows and movies of the day. Based on that premise alone it's no wonder the show only lasted one season, but the writing was actually quite solid and funny, and they were able to get some great performances from the animals. The series was actually much better than it had any right to be. I don't see how a show consisting of an all-chimp cast could have lasted very long, no matter how funny they tried to make it, but the TV landscape has seen more than a few shows like this one that were just too outlandish to ever find a wide audience. If you're lucky enough to catch these types of shows when they're on, they provide a nice respite from the mundanity of "normal" television fare. Also, it helps if you like chimps pretending to be characters from Star Wars.
People forget about that, don't they? I mean, these days, Jason is playing the "good guy" roles in shows like Arrested Development and The Jake Effect (the pilot for that is now showing on BrilliantButCancelled.com). Granted, the roles have some wise-ass edge to them -- Michael Bluth's straight-faced diggs at his family were one of my favorite running jokes in AD -- but back in the eighties, Jason was known for playing the smooth-talking teenager who stopped at nothing to get his way. And his role as Matthew Burton in IYM went a long way towards establishing that persona.
Part of that early-nineties Sunday lineup was Flying Blind (1992-93), which starred (a very red-headed and very hot) Téa Leoni and Corey Parker as a mismatched couple making their way through the early days of their relationship. Leoni played the firery ingenue Alicia, full of life and adventurous as hell. Parker was nebbishy Neil, who seemed to fumble and stumble over every sentence but was devoted to Alicia. I mean, who wouldn't? She was just about perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I always wondered why she was ever with Neil to begin with.
The Simpsons will occasionally reference some obscure television show like The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo and Herman's Head. The latter is special to The Simpsons, however, because it featured two of the voice actors from the series, Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson) and Hank Azaria (Moe, Chief Wiggum, Apu, and countless others).
The show, which ran for three seasons on FOX in the early nineties, centered on Herman Brooks, played by William Ragsdale, fresh from his role in Mannequin 2: On the Move. Oh yes, everyone said no one could top the first Mannequin, that no one could embodied the lead like Andrew McCarthy, but he proved them wrong. Who's laughing now, huh? Actually, I never saw that movie. Anyway, Herman was an aspiring writer who worked as a fact checker for a magazine. Inside his head lived four beings who each represented a different part of his psyche: lust, fear; sensitivity (played by a woman, natch), and intellect. Smith played a secretary at Herman's office, while Azaria played his womanizing best friend. It was a rather cheesy premise, and the show, save for the odd premise, didn't venture too far from normal sitcom stuff. Still, it had a fun, kooky feel to it. And really, if it weren't for occasional reruns of The Simpsons tossing the show back into the public consciousness now and again, it would probably have been long forgotten.
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