…but what have we learned?

Something remarkably strange and surprising happened yesterday morning. Our son came down for school, I asked him how he slept, and, blearily and with a lower lip trembling, he told me that he had a very hard time getting to sleep, because “I don’t want you to stop the blog.” He wouldn’t say more.

A co-worker – I’ve been working from home for almost two years and have a running chat with my colleagues – suggested that he thought I was giving up something that I love and he couldn’t understand why I would do that. She was right! He and I had a good talk about how I’m looking forward to watching as many more hours of TV and movies with him as he’ll allow, and that yes, I do love this blog, but I decided a long time ago that we’d go this far, and no farther.

Why? Well, for starters, the overwhelming majority of blogs – including the six or seven I’ve written previously – don’t get to an end, they just peter out, and I’ve never liked that. Good stories should have an ending. This isn’t much of one, true, but a couple of thousand words looking back on this experience will do. I also knew, in 2015, that this would one day stop being a pleasure and turn into work. It always does with me, it’s just a question of when. And of course, there will come a day, and I hope it’s such a long way away, when the kid will conclude that he’s too busy and we’re too old and square and we’ll ask him if he’d like to watch something with us, and he will say “Not really.” And I don’t want to tell my small audience that our favorite four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten year-old critic has grown up to the point where he has broken my heart.

And so I knew that I would start probably start itching to end this in seven years, and age ten would be a good time, and so this day would always come, and that I’d enjoy looking back at what I’ve enjoyed about this project.

Actually, an interesting discovery is learning that two chestnuts thrown around by various cultural critics are completely wrong. First of these is the claim that children today don’t have the patience or understanding to enjoy old movies and TV. That’s always been wrong and my kid’s living proof. And the related one is that children today don’t know what they’re missing, that the media we enjoy was somehow better in the old days, and that today’s kids are stuck with a diet of pablum.

Let’s talk about the first one. Sure, we watched some shows and a couple of movies that our son really didn’t enjoy at all. Yesterday he singled out The Feathered Serpent and Danger Man. What he really hated even more were Barbary Coast and King of the Castle. Not everything’s going to register, and I don’t fault him for not enjoying some of what we sampled. But the key is you have to introduce a young audience to so much of that long-lost world of the past as you go. It’s no good to just say “I loved this old show, here it is!” and expect adulation. Children have their own cultural heroes, but children are also fascinated in what their mommies and daddies love, or once loved, as well. You start a kid with something old, and tell them about it, and tell them why you liked it, and you help them understand the cultural touchstones that just don’t make sense anymore, and they will often make the effort to love what you loved. There’s a possibility of a connection, but you have to take the effort to make it. I think lots of people don’t. And you have to start early! That’s so important!

Even then, these looks into the past will often reveal more changes in society than a modern audience is perhaps ready to explore. If I ever get the craving to watch some more Twilight Zone, I’m going to ask somebody who knows it inside and out to curate it for me. When Zone was on fire – “The After Hours,” “Night Call,” “Jess-Belle,” anything with John Dehner – it was better than sliced bread. When it was showing us the hideous romantic relationships of the 1950s, it’s terrifying in a way I doubt its creators intended.

It’s funny, because I’ve read that Rod Serling had one of the happiest and most successful marriages anybody could wish for, but he and Richard Matheson and everybody else on that show must have seen a lot of misery around them to create the hellworlds that they did… and that’s the way it was! I’m not sure which was worse, the constant parade of lovesick young women hopelessly besotted with mediocre white men who can’t shut up about the way things used to be, or the lovebirds in horrors like “Time Enough at Last” or “Pamela’s Voice” on Night Gallery who clearly never should have married in the first place. Serling wrote in a day when society didn’t want you to get divorced, but society didn’t want you to get to know any potential partners before you made a cataclysmic mistake either. What a rotten society that was.

So no, you can’t just expect younger people to just jump in to Zone or absolutely anything like it, because they don’t understand the way society worked back then. They probably don’t understand hitchhiking. They certainly don’t understand answering the telephone in the middle of the night. They’ve also had all the classic twists spoiled, no matter how hard you try to beat them to it. The past was a different country. Kids don’t want to visit without a tour guide.

But were Zone and all the shows that followed somehow better than what’s available for modern viewers? Oh, sure, you’ll often find things that are untouchably good in media from the past, but that doesn’t mean that the people working on media today are slacking. The kid has plenty of modern favorites on Netflix and Disney+. He really enjoys ongoing documentaries like Draining the Oceans and River Monsters and some of his favorite fictional shows include Garfield, Jurassic Park: Camp Cretaceous, and several of the Star Wars series, particularly The Clone Wars. These are all really good programs. I’d rather watch a half-hour of any of them with my kid than revisit a bad-marriage Zone.

As for a more direct comparison, I might well have enjoyed Shazam! and Isis and CBS’s prime-time seventies superheroes like Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man when I was a kid, but not a week went by when I didn’t say that these shows would have been a hundred times more entertaining if they had Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind and Ares and the Abomination and the Rhino in them. Kids today get the shows we’d have killed for. They get crises on infinite earths. We got counterfeiters in turtlenecks and waiting half an hour after dinner before you swim.

Sure, there’s all kinds of great, great entertainment from the past. Like, you know, “The After Hours,” “Night Call,” “Jess-Belle,” and anything with John Dehner. I think television’s very best year might have been 1975. A few months ago, we watched two films from 1935 which were more entertaining than anything else I saw that month. But while many writers and directors today are stuck in the world of reboots and reworks and other corporations’ endless media franchises, like, you know, Garfield, Jurassic Park, and Star Wars, not only are many of them coming up with really clever and inventive television and movies within those confines, pushing borders that teevee writers fifty years ago couldn’t have imagined, there are scores and scores of incredibly interesting projects out there, really neat independent films and small-audience streaming shows that old fogeys shouldn’t dismiss. I just don’t have the hours or the energy, but I haven’t seen nearly enough of what’s out there that sounds so amazing. The Americans, Ozark, Bridgerton, anything with Donald Glover. The new Dalgliesh? I like it better than the eighties version. Kristen Bell in The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window? Sign me up.

As I keep telling people, you know why every single person in their fifties can name all six kids on The Brady Bunch and all the castaways on Gilligan’s Island? Because there was nothing better on, that’s why.

The beautiful thing about media is that there is always something worth watching, because there are always talented directors and writers who are hungry and making magic. Is there garbage? Of course there is, there always is, there always was. There’s this new Robert Pattinson Batman movie coming out, and if the last thirty-three years have taught me nothing else, they’ve taught me that the only Batman movie worth watching has Adam West in it.

But you know how you, the reader, at some point in your life quit buying new music by new artists because one day in your past, you had enough, and you only looked forward to reissues and the new release from somebody who thrilled you when you were nineteen? Do this. Turn to the left of the dial and listen to your town’s college radio station for a while. You won’t recognize it, but that’s what the kids are listening to, and the kids are all right. They’re championing it, they’re selling the merch, they’re seeing the shows, and from time to time some of them will discover Miles or McCartney or Brown or Bowie, and it’ll all be okay. The kids are all right.

(Remind me to tell you about the crummy college radio in Chattanooga one day, which is not all right.)

Films and television are the same way. For an hour in the evenings, we’ve looked back at what thrilled audiences before our son was born. Often, he’s been thrilled as well. Maybe when he gets older, he’ll want to revisit what we’ve watched. He doesn’t believe me, he can’t believe me, but I’m fully expecting him to outgrow Doctor Who and abandon it for girls and guitars in about six years. I hope he’ll see lots more Silver Scream Spook Shows before he decides against them. But when he’s an adult? Nothing lasts forever. Maybe he’ll ask to borrow Jason King, maybe he won’t. Maybe something we enjoyed will become some new weird streaming obsession in fifteen years, like Columbo did in the last couple of years.

And it’ll be okay, because he’s going to have a wild world of newer, weirder, groovier entertainment available in the 2030s and the 2040s. And maybe, just maybe, we’ve taught him enough about the strange way that television used to be made, about networks and affiliate stations and ratings and syndication and videotape interiors and 16mm film exteriors and VHSs that had two episodes and cost fifty bucks and all the old ITV franchises, and about the strange world of the past, about pay phones and International Rescue’s fear of cameras and men wearing suits and ties everywhere and people smoking like chimneys in restaurants and couples who really need to talk to a divorce lawyer, that he can sit back on his sofa with his pals or his partner or my grandkids and watch his new thing on his 50-inch holovision streaming 3-D eyeball interface and say…

“TV has never been better than it is right now.”

And he’ll know because he’s seen it.

As for me, friends, this has been a pleasure and an experience. Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time never became anybody’s top-ranked blog in Google SEO, so maybe I should’ve answered all of that spam I got promising it. No, of course I shouldn’t have. I did this for me, and for our son to maybe revisit sometime down the line. We kept a pretty steady 200-300 visits a day, sometimes a little more when MeTV reran a Buck Rogers that we’d watched.

The most viewed article at this site? You won’t believe me, but it’s the story about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which gets between 20 and 30 visits every single day, mostly from a link at IMDB. (Similarly strange, over at our food blog, the # 2 story is, of all things, the one about Bell’s Hamburgers in Toccoa GA, because various Toccoa Facebook groups have posted dozens and dozens of links to it.)

But views and SEO were never important to me in this. I’m glad that my stories entertained so many people, and honestly, a good 99% of the few comments that I’ve received have been really entertaining to read. My favorite is probably the fellow who wrote in very upset about the possible lingering psychological threat still posed by the Fembots in The Bionic Woman, though. About the only things I didn’t like were writing obituaries, and when some jerkwad other blogger started pilfering my screencaps without credit or a link. I hope somebody does that to his books one day.

But because I’m obsessive and a little ADD, I decided when our boy was born that I would one day devote a little time each evening to watching something with him as a family. Most of the time, it worked fabulously. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes, even a show that he otherwise really enjoyed, like SG-1, up and betrayed him with an hour full of ravenous cockroaches. So I kept a spreadsheet, and adjusted and reworked things as interesting new possibilities came open. Various sources, most especially all the great people at Roobarb’s Forum but also those devilish minds behind Scarred For Life, got my thrill-circuits buzzing, so we added quite a few older and very entertaining series that I’d never seen to the lineup, including Catweazle, Sky, The Clifton House Mystery and The Ghosts of Motley Hall. And The Feathered Serpent and King of the Castle, which our son hated, but they can’t all be winners.

Of course, I’m pleased beyond words that the kid loves Doctor Who as much as he does. He’s amassed a pretty nice army of action figures, and has rewatched several stories on his own. Mostly the ones with Daleks, of course. He knows the show inside and out and doesn’t see a quality difference between the original run and the modern stories. If anybody spills the beans in front of him on who may or may not be leaving or returning to the show, I will bloody your nose.

The kid didn’t enjoy Barbary Coast at all, but that’s a purchase I’m really glad I made. It’s completely forgotten, except as a punch line when people feel like making fun of William Shatner, and I wouldn’t call it great, but you can see the seeds of a potentially very fun series there, Mission: Impossible in the old west. Not bad at all, and it’s a shame it didn’t last long enough to get better.

Logan’s Run was another interesting surprise. Again, certainly not great, but better than I had led myself to believe a long time ago, with a good cast, and that episode that David Gerrold wrote and took his name off was a lot better than you’d think from an episode that annoyed its writer enough to erase his name from it. And speaking of leading myself to believe the worst in something, I’m still amazed that the Gary Coleman episode of Buck Rogers was so good, easily among the best installments of that series.

I was also pleased to learn that Tales of the Gold Monkey was better than I ever knew, and that, from time to time, the much-mocked MacGyver was really a perfectly entertaining and charming show. It could also be utterly unbearable sometimes, so there’s an example of something being worse than I expected. And then of course The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh just blew my mind with its greatness this month, so this whole experience has honestly been even more satisfying for me than I’d hoped. Maybe one of these days we’ll finally have time to check out The Americans, Ozark, Bridgerton, and anything with Donald Glover. (Us grownups are slowly working our way through Burn Notice and Elementary though, with lots and lots of episodes ahead of us. I’d also like to see True Blood one of these days. Never enough time.)

And of course, it’s always a pleasure to revisit old favorites like The Avengers and Eerie Indiana, and to take a deeper look into old shows like Randall and Hopkirk I’d never seen in full before. I gave the color Mrs. Peels another spin afternoons after work in October and November. Those never disappoint.

Probably the best blog decision I made was investing in Worzel Gummidge. I was so afraid of reviews that said the picture quality was really poor that I didn’t want to risk it. It certainly didn’t look great, and it could use a magician like Mark Ayres to do something about the sound, but that show could be so screamingly funny that it could have looked and sounded half as good and still have been worth it.

In films, 1962’s The Fabulous Baron Munchausen was an amazing surprise. We all had a ball with that, and we’re going to watch another Karel Zeman movie in a couple of months. As for unhappy surprises, I was disappointed in most of the Lupin III films, which were all over the map in quality. Somebody needs tighter oversight on those, I think. I remain a little amazed that the kid didn’t enjoy Creature From the Black Lagoon, but that’s okay, because he liked Spirited Away enough for the both of us.

One area that I got completely wrong was that comparatively very little of what we saw really frightened our son, and what did upset him was forgotten as though it never existed. I dunno how anybody could possibly forget the Child-Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but even after all those tears, this kid sure did. He never once came to us with media-induced nightmares, never once wanted to sleep in our bed. Witchiepoo and the Sleestak and the Mad Hatter all unnerved him in their day, but by the time we got to Return to Oz at age seven, I was the one more unnerved by what was happening onscreen.

I mention this because when the kid was four and I started all my planning and manipulating and scheming, I was expecting a lot more frights and freakouts than we got. And I planned, then, to end on a high note, and something guaranteed to knock him over and really upset him. I no longer believe that will be the case. So while this is the end of the blog, it is not quite the final chapter. There is one last post that I wanted to make, one to end it on, even if I’m sure now that it isn’t going to have anywhere near the impact that I thought it would.

I’d like to thank you all so much for reading, and I hope that my silly and egotistical nostalgia-fest has amused you and maybe encouraged you to get yerselves Region 2/B-capable players in order to see all the wonderful shows that we have enjoyed. Thank you for your time, thank you for your comments, and I hope that you’ll come back Sunday afternoon to see what I’d been saving for last as our final post.

Happy viewing, stay tuned, good night, and pleasant dreams.

Interview With the Audience

As our blog is wrapping up, our son waves goodbye to all you readers who’ve been following along. I actually took this photo in June 2016, when we were watching Electra Woman & Dyna Girl, Land of the Lost, and Shazam!, for him to wave goodbye to my former employer, but I’ve always liked it and thought you might like to wave back.

Our kid is not really a very nostalgic type, as the occasional strangeness of his memory suggests, but I asked him to sit down with me for a moment and reflect on some things that he enjoyed, didn’t enjoy, and might surprise us a bit.

On movies, I asked whether he stands by his statement that Ghostbusters is one of his three favorite films, and whether he’d like to share what the other two are yet: “Yes, Ghostbusters is amazing. My other two favorite movies are It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

But wait a minute, you hadn’t seen Mad World yet when you told me that. What movie did it knock out of the top three? “The Doctor Who movie.”

Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD? You walked out on that! “No, I mean the other one, the one with the Eighth Doctor.”

On which Doctor might be his favorite: “Uhhhh, I’d have to break my brain to tell you that.”

On his favorite companion: “Probably Sarah Jane Smith, and Rose.”

On whether he prefers recurring villains or new ones: “I like it when older monsters come back!”

On whether he has a favorite or a least favorite ITC series: “I don’t know which one I liked best, but the one that I didn’t like was Danger Man.”

On what we’re going to rewatch in evening rotation over the next couple of months: “MacGyver and The Ghosts of Motley Hall. I was so upset when that one ended, because I loved that one.”

On which scarecrow is the best: “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is not as good as Worzel Gummidge.”

On other TV series that he particularly enjoyed: “I loved The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man. I really didn’t like The Feathered Serpent. I don’t remember Into the Labyrinth. I liked about 64% of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Thunderbirds and Thunderbirds are Go, yes, yes, a million times yes. I know that we watched Pippi Longstocking but I don’t remember much about it.”

I was telling him that if he’d like to see Pippi again, we’d have to track it down, because those came from the library when he interrup–: “SILVER SCREAM SPOOK SHOW! YES!!! I LOVE THE SILVER SCREAM SPOOK SHOW!”

We’re certainly hoping that they’ll announce another one soon. Any of these Disney films ring a bell for you? “I liked Tron and Mary Poppins Returns. I don’t really remember the original. I like Star Wars but not the Star Wars cash-ins.

What about The Black Hole? That was Disney’s Star Wars cash-in. “Oh yeah, that one I did like.”

Other things I showed him pictures of that he did not remember: Dr. Shrinker and Napoleon and Samantha

On Hayao Miyazaki: “I liked Spirited Away best, and I really like all the food. Also Howl’s Moving Castle and Nausicaa.”

I’m glad you like Miyazaki, because we’re going to start watching Future Boy Conan Sunday night. “Coooool.”

We’ll be continuing to watch TV for many, many months to come. Tomorrow, I’ll have a few closing thoughts of my own.

Doctor Who: Flux and Eve of the Daleks

The plan had been to rewatch each episode of “Flux” – without BBC America’s ads if possible – and give each one their own post, but the kid and Marie were less than enthusiastic about the idea. I liked chunks of it – the first four episodes had some fine moments, and as much as I’d have liked a TARDIS without any men in it for a while, I think John Bishop’s Dan is great fun – but there was more grumbling around this parish than cheering. Then, in the way that most things Who go, it all fell completely apart at the end. Parts five and six were terrible. I mean, yay that we may be getting Lungbarrow on television, but that’s about it.

When it was good, though… “War of the Sontarans” was smashing, despite a weak ending, and “Village of the Angels” was the best thing done with those villains since series three. One day, someone’s going to get to do a deep dive into this season’s production, and unearth where these stories might have fit before COVID screwed with Chris Chibnall’s plans. Fitting these stories into the larger scale of “Flux” was awkward, and showed how the overall theme was a disappointment. That’s despite a couple of very interesting new villains in Swarm and Azure. I don’t think that they lived up to their promise. Events moved too weirdly and clumsily for that.

The biggest flaw is that “Flux” had quite enough villains already with Swarm and Azure, the Sontaran master plan, and Tecteun. Using the Angels as a side distraction worked to a point, but crowding the narrative with the Grand Serpent and UNIT just wrecked the flimsy premise. Suddenly, nothing in “Flux” had room to breathe, because some other random diabolical mastermind needed space. These were screen minutes that badly needed to be given over to make Tecteun a believable character with motives something other than what I’d expect from the Marvel movies, but instead we spend forever watching this guy set up a Sontaran invasion over the course of decades.

(Even worse, none of his material makes any sense, and I’m not talking about Chibnall’s frankly idiotic assertion that Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart was ever a corporal. The Sontaran invasion of 2021 requires Earth to not have a UNIT, so this guy goes back to the 1950s and builds one, to ensure that it is disassembled and scattered sixty-odd years later? The only thing about which we can agree is that we can thank God this fellow didn’t turn out to be the Master, which he probably was in an earlier draft of this balderdash.)

I guess the biggest disappointment is that the biggest Who story since “Trial” does the biggest job ever in ignoring what just happened in it. Okay, so Doctor Who always ignores the amazing consequences of the story it just told. That’s nothing new. “Logopolis” wiped out huge chunks of the universe and it hasn’t mattered once in the next forty years of storytelling. The British PM murdered the president and Anglo-American relations have not been shown to suffer. But the flaw, historically, has been that the show moves on and never acknowledges these wild dramatic change in future stories; the individual story that we are watching does feel the impact of the drama. This time, we seem to see two Sontaran invasions inside a week, along with the planet’s whole population rescued by single-person-and-dog spaceships, along with an alternate history where there never was a Russia, and a universe-snuffing extinction event, and at the end of it, that awesome museum in Liverpool is back open with business as usual instead of staying closed during the planet-wide “what the hell just happened” societal meltdown that this sort of thing surely should have prompted.

So I suppose there was another reset button of some kind along with the Flux destroying – slash – not destroying everything? It would help explain “Eve of the Daleks,” which we all enjoyed much more, because literally one year ago, a different British PM was exterminated on live TV by some Daleks, and the guest stars in this story act like they’ve never seen their like before. “Eve of the Daleks” was very entertaining for a lower-budget studio adventure, although, as time loops go, it was certainly no “Window of Opportunity”. I really liked the quiet stuff in this story: the mother who thinks cell phone lines will be busy at midnight, the storage units full of useless junk, Dan as the women’s wingman. I think it’s one of Chris Chibnall’s very best stories, and “Village of the Angels” right behind it.

But I am so glad that he’s going.

I think it might be Tecteun that’s been the final nail for me. I don’t believe there was really that much promise or possibility in the Division / Timeless Child idea, because it all still seems so incredibly unnecessary and complicated. It did give us the potential mileage of villains that the Doctor does not remember, but Swarm and Azure are gone already. They had promise, and “Flux” squandered it.

And Tecteun could have had a really unique perspective and point of view – and, in Barbara Flynn, they found a fantastic actress for her – but her motives didn’t make sense to me and her revelations of a multiverse just felt like jumping onto Marvel’s coattails. How much more interesting could this have been if the extremely rare parallel worlds in Who – “Inferno,” “The Age of Steel” – remained extremely rare and something that our players couldn’t put on a map and chart evacuation plans into?

Put another way, did anything about the Division that was revealed in this story surprise anybody watching this, or were we all able to understand the situation precisely because every other comic book and sci-fi media franchise has done stories so similar that this just seemed like business as usual?

I am so glad that Chibnall’s going, but I hope he does something really wild and completely unexpected before he goes.

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh 1.3

There’s a really strange moment early in episode three where it just repeats a scene from episode one. It’s very curious, almost as though they might have done a “previously on…” but they didn’t want to make anybody who missed either of the first two installments on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color think that they really needed to have seen them to follow the narrative. I guess that speaks to producers’ and networks’ estimation of their audience’s intelligence in 1964.

Our son enjoyed the third part more than the second, and I did as well. It’s a really tense story where the Scarecrow has to put a very complex plan together very quickly to free two prisoners from the general, and he has to rely on making a bet on one man’s better nature for it to succeed. Superbly directed and acted, just like the other two, this was a real treat.

I’ll go to my grave grumbling that Disney didn’t make a full season of these. The story comes to a reasonable stopping point, but there’s a lot more that they could have done with this premise. Nevertheless, what we got was even better than I had been hoping for over the last thirty years. This is up there with 20,000 Leagues as one of the most entertaining things that Disney did back in its classic period. Get yourself a Disney Movie Club subscription and see for yourself.

Stargate SG-1 9.20 – Camelot / 10.1 – Flesh and Blood

Despite a few good episodes to come, including the hilarious “200” and my all-time favorite, “Unending,” plus Claudia Black every week, Stargate SG-1 ended its run with the season I like the least since its first, and the cliffhanger season finale / season premiere resolution kind of demonstrates why. Season nine suffered a little because the evil Ori and their Priors were so humorless and awful. Season ten just ramps it up and makes them too powerful. We kind of nailed it down with our son, who normally would have enjoyed a series of big space battles like this one gives us, but not when the heroes are on the losing side. It all gets way too tedious and dispiriting. Mitchell says toward the end that he’s tired of them getting their butts kicked, and so is the audience. You need some wins, not just last-minute escapes when something else fails to work.

Even worse, there’s the lamest ongoing plot this series ever embraced. I asked the kid whether he remembered Gabrielle in Xena having a demon baby who grows into an evil adult and says “Hello, mother” all the time. Even casting Morena Baccarin won’t fix this one. But I’ll enjoy seeing “200” and “Unending” again, along with “The Pegasus Project” and “Bounty” and the times that Ba’al shows up. The disappointing Ark of Truth movie put this storyline out of its misery; the wonderful Continuum ended the series triumphantly.

When SG-1 was first broadcast, I was only vaguely aware that it was on at all. As I recounted back when I started writing about this series two years ago, if a show’s built around the military and machine guns, then I’m probably going to be either ambivalent about it or actively repelled unless there’s a lot of fun to pull me in. So I didn’t pay any attention to SG-1 or Atlantis, apart from skimming past the listings in Lee Whiteside’s old weekly Usenet updates about what was on TV that week.

SG-1 was finally cancelled in August 2006. A couple of weeks later, some girl took me to Atlanta’s DragonCon, which is held every Labor Day, and there was a fellow in military fatigues carrying a sign reading SAVE STARGATE SG-1. I remembered that the show had to have premiered before my older son was born in the spring of ’97, so surely ten years was a long enough run, and I have to stand by that. The show did well to adapt and bring in new characters, but it never really recovered from Richard Dean Anderson retiring, and a decade’s enough for a show like this. It was, then, the longest-running American fantasy show, although both Smallville and Supernatural would surpass it. Atlantis ended with five, which was at least one too few. I really wanted to see how they were going to resolve the great big change that its hundredth episode provided. Universe was an ugly waste of time. We gave up on that after eight or nine episodes. A guest appearance by Janelle Monáe was the only thing about it I care to remember.

Amazon owns the show now, since they bought MGM. Maybe one day we’ll see a six episode run on Amazon Prime one day, and no Blu-ray release, which is how Prime programs seem to work. We’ll probably tune in, unless it’s a hard reboot, in which case I won’t bother.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

How do you prep a kid in the modern age for this film? One of the radical differences in the way we consume entertainment today than how we did from the sixties through the eighties is that it’s perfectly understandable that a kid could reach the age of ten without knowing who anybody in this silly and hilarious epic is. I think I must have been about twelve when I first saw It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on HBO around 1983. My dad saw it in the monthly program book and cancelled all potential plans; we were watching that movie. And then, I remember being amazed because I knew who so many of the actors were. Him! Her and him! That guy! Milton Berle! The millionaire from Gilligan’s Island! Mearth from Mork & Mindy! The mechanic from The Love Bug!

Today? The only reason any kid would know any of these jokers is if their parents are showing them entertainment from the past. Choices were so limited then that when we wanted to watch TV, we often settled. We were often pleasantly surprised and amused, but kids today get to watch whatever they want whenever they want – which is how it should be – while we grew up watching whatever we thought was the best of the eight or nine options available. So occasionally we’d run into Jerry Lewis or Mickey Rooney or Peter Falk or Sid Caesar or Edie Adams or Ethel Merman or Terry-Thomas or Jonathan Winters or Phil Silver and be happily entertained, but what we really wanted was for somebody to make TV shows where Spider-Man and the Hulk fought actual supervillains and had them on demand to watch whenever we wanted. Kids today have that. The comic heroes of the past will be lost to time. Nothing lasts forever.

(A question went around on Twitter yesterday, one with which we were sometimes confronted: The Andy Griffith Show or The Beverly Hillbillies? The answer, of course, is “the sweet, merciful embrace of death.”)

So what prep work was there for our son? Well, I told him that he saw Terry-Thomas as Cousin Archie in a Persuaders! we saw recently, and he was sure to remember Milton Berle being heckled offstage by Statler and Waldorf in one of the finest moments in all of The Muppet Show, and…

…and he’d just have to trust me, because one of the most amazing things about Mad World is just about every speaking part in the movie is played by somebody that audiences in 1963, 1973, 1983, probably 1993 knew. In 1983, my dad had forgotten that the two service station attendants who briefly bedevil Jonathan Winters were actors even he knew. I remember him saying “That’s Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan!”

The other bit of prep work that I could do was remind him of the Three Stooges. You never know how this kid’s memory works. I picked up the complete DVD set some time back, but we’ve only seen a few, and it’s been a while, so we sat down to “Three Little Beers,” the one with the press, press, pull gag, yesterday afternoon. He about lost his mind, and I reminded him that there is absolutely no situation that the Stooges cannot make far, far worse. Had to make sure to set up their brief appearance here.

I’m confident anybody reading this is familiar with the movie, though it’s possible you may not be aware of how much antipathy there is in the movie snob world about it. A few months ago, when I got interested in the Criterion Collection again, I read the World thread at their forum and was surprised to see it get so much hate. I think it’s absolute slapstick joy myself, and the kid, dying of laughter, completely agreed, but you see Dorothy Provine in the center of the top picture, finding this whole thing unamusing if not disgusting and ready to call the police to round up these greedy jackasses? That’s my wife, that is. She didn’t come back from the intermission.

Never mind the haters. Watch this movie with a kid. Prep them as best you can beforehand so they’ll know what pay phones are, and let it rip. They’ll probably miss a few of the gags, like Spencer Tracy making his decisions, or Berle’s face when Merman asks where she should stick a cactus, but Silvers’ car and Winters at the garage will have them howling. It’s a little dated, and I suppose it will one day be forgotten, but until then, it’s sure to make me laugh so hard that my left eye will still be hurting an hour later. You probably don’t need the five-disc version, but as Mark Evanier, one of the contributors to the commentary track, will tell you, the two Blu-ray Criterion will do you just fine. See you at the Big W.

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh 1.2

For thirty years, I was mildly annoyed that this program was so difficult for people to watch. Now I’m absolutely infuriated that Disney only made three episodes of it. I understand “we make three episodes, we can cut it into a movie.” That’s not good enough for me anymore. There should’ve been twenty-four of these, minimum. I’m sure Disney could do it now and do an acceptable, serviceable job, but I want twenty-four episodes with Patrick McGoohan and George Cole and all the guest stars of the day. This one features Patrick Wymark as a member of the Scarecrow’s gang. General Pugh figures out his haste in paying off old debts quite suddenly means that he must be a smuggler. So our hero has to make an example of the traitor before he can squeal.

So our son’s not enjoying this as much as I am. Nobody is, ever, probably. This time, he grumbled aloud that he was “ready for some Scarecrow action.” What he got was quite surprising. Wymark is put on trial before an assemblage of his masked fellows. I guessed how it would be resolved, but the rest of the hour was satisfyingly twisty and unpredictable, with Dr. Syn having to stay a step ahead of some very intelligent villains. The kid enjoyed the first episode more than this, with a footnote that its opening chase scene felt “like fluff,” and was therefore unnecessary, but he allowed that the two courtroom scenes this time – one in an official court and one for smugglers to judge their own – were pretty good.

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh 1.1

There was a little shouting around these parts a couple of months ago, the sort of all capital letters bellowing in which one engages when a lost media treasure shows up unexpectedly. Here, it was the thunderous revelation that Disney had released a no-frills but very nice collection of something I’ve wanted to see for more than thirty years: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. I read about it in that great, great old book of classic television Harry and Wally’s Favorite TV Shows, and only seen a clip and some pictures. In a truncated movie version, it showed in British movie theaters at Christmas 1963, and showed up in full form across three episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in February 1964, meaning Patrick McGoohan made it in between the half hour run and the hour-long seasons of Danger Man.

So there it was, sitting in Disney’s subscription Movie Club, on Blu-ray since late 2019. They don’t draw much attention to these things, do they? Also on Blu-ray exclusive to this club, by the way, are a whole pile of good old live action films that we’ve watched for these pages: Return to Oz, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the only Witch Mountain movies that matter, Watcher in the Woods, even The Black Hole, which isn’t worth my dollars to upgrade, but the others certainly are. You may balk at joining a subscription club, but honestly, anybody who can’t get their money’s worth out of this thing isn’t trying very hard.

So anyway, a paycheck later – okay, not that much – I finally had this, along with all these long-sought treasures, which, back in 2018, I wrote about, figuring I’d have to resort to a bootleg to ever see it. Delightful timing. I made room on the schedule to watch it this month, and tonight, I enjoyed every minute of it. Patrick McGoohan plays the mild-mannered vicar Dr. Syn, who is, by night, the Robin Hood of the Dover Coasts. George Cole is his assistant, Jill Curzon has a tiny role, and Geoffrey Keen is the general who has been commanded by the king to bring in this smuggler by any means necessary. In episode one, he brings a Naval press gang to the area to round up all able-bodied men until someone confesses who is really running this smuggling ring.

I’ve said for years that Disney’s been foolish leaving money on the table by not making this more available, and now that I’ve seen part one, I stand by that. This is really, really good stuff. It’s fairly bloodless, with guns shot out of hands and blows thrown out of shot, but it’s exciting and intelligent. The general is ruthless but not dumb, and nothing’s played for laughs. Admittedly I watch a lot of old teevee, but this felt quite timeless, honestly. A remake’s director could film this script again tomorrow and not need to change very much. There’s perhaps more music than a modern production might employ, but you can hear Thurl Ravenscroft in the theme tune, and that’s never a bad thing.

Actually, while nothing is played for laughs, there is a knee-slapper at the beginning. Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was hosted by Unca Walt himself, who gave a little introduction to whatever the program was showing in any given week. This time, Walt bafflingly told audiences that the Scarecrow, Dr. Syn, was a real historical person, and that the locals still talk about him. I guess nobody told him that this is a fictional character who was created just fifty years previously. Thanks for green-lighting this great show, Walt, but we’ll skip what you have to say tomorrow evening, okay?

Stargate SG-1 9.19 – Crusade

Hooray, Vala’s back! said everybody other than our son. We’re pretty sure that he likes Vala, but he sure didn’t like this episode. It’s mainly a showcase for Claudia Black, who updates her SG-1 pals what she’s been up to since she vanished back in episode six, having an adventure on a redressed version of the medieval village set from the beginning of the season. It introduces a couple of characters who’ll show up a few more times in season ten and in one of the wrap-up movies, but our son was bored out of his skull, radiating waves of frustration. “You should have felt a tsunami,” he clarified.

Stargate SG-1 9.18 – Arthur’s Mantle

I decided to go ahead and quit writing about Atlantis. Enjoying this season very much, and even though the kid didn’t appreciate the smoochy stuff in episode sixteen’s body-swapping episode, it was still a fun one. Earlier in season two, somebody else was in McKay’s body, and Caldwell was host to a Goa’uld, but he got better. Now it’s Sheppard and Weir’s turn. But I bid farewell to writing about Atlantis here, though we’ll continue watching the show through its conclusion in the spring, probably.

I will continue writing about SG-1 over the next couple of weeks, though. “Arthur’s Mantle” is mostly a very fun runaround with some of our heroes out of dimensional phase and invisible, like what happened to Daniel back in season three’s “Crystal Skull”, but there’s a much more intense invisible B-plot. Tony Todd makes a final appearance as the leader of the Jaffa-gone-samurai who were introduced earlier in this season. The village is wiped out by an enemy using a cloaking device, so Teal’c gets another device and goes after him. It’s a little like Predator, with zombies.

Since he disliked the last episode so much, I’m glad that our son really liked this one, and laughed a lot as the problem somehow escalates. I’m surprised that I’d forgotten it, because it’s really hilarious. They had a lot of fun with the invisibility problem on the base, and using Bill Dow as comic relief is always a good idea; the guy has perfect timing. I probably won’t forget this one again; it’s a great one.