The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)

Are you ready to spend fifty minutes checking your wristwatch? Then have I got a Halloween special for you! In 1976, the endlessly prissy Paul Lynde was a recurring guest on ABC’s Donny & Marie, when he wasn’t the center square on – is this right? – 828 episodes of Hollywood Squares. Apparently to give the Osmonds a week off, the production team taped a Halloween special with Lynde instead, with guest stars Florence Henderson, Tim Conway, and Roz Kelly, who had found an “I Didn’t Do It Kid” level of fleeting fame in the role of Pinky Tuscadero for three weeks on Happy Days and tried keeping it going here.

With musical guests Kiss, who made their national TV debut that October night, they made the least funny and most 1970s thing ever. Jokes, such as they are, are built around Baretta and The Legend of Billy Jack, at least when Lynde isn’t sneering about Kiss’s makeup and elevator shoes, because hey, moms in Peoria and Des Moines, these rock and roll stars are weird people. Within weeks, the horrifying rumor that Gene and the boys never took off their makeup had cemented. I have no idea why that was meant to be so frightening, but my folks were really bothered by it. Yours as well, I imagine.

We didn’t watch every minute of this monster. I asked to zoom through Peter Criss’s performance of “Beth,” because while I can smile through or ignore most of the Kiss catalog without incident, the only thing that song was good for was inspiring a funny Evan Dorkin comic strip about “the Kiss Navy.”

So why in creation did we watch this thing? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

Billie Hayes plays Witchiepoo and Margaret Hamilton plays the Wicked Witch of the West. The writers gave them some of the worst dialogue you’ve ever heard. Good grief, who was responsible for this mess? Bruce Vilanch, you say? Oh, yeah, he’s credited at least in part for The Star Wars Holiday Special and all nine – all nineBrady Bunch Hours. Good Lord. And the man writes for the Academy Awards these days. There’s a career arc.

I enjoyed prepping our son for this more than revisiting it. I asked him last week whether Witchiepoo or the Wicked Witch was worse. He had settled on Elphaba (for that’s her name, damn your eyes) before I reminded him that Witchiepoo actually made him cry once. Earlier this evening, serendipity was on our side. We went by a Halloween Express to buy him a Hulk costume and there was a welcome mat that read “I’ll Get You, My Pretties.” I had fun with that.

He giggled a bit through this, because this is television for six year-olds, and there’s great comedy for that age bracket when you’ve got Billy Barty biting Paul Lynde in the leg and a Peterbilt crashing through the wall of a diner. He really enjoyed the other two of Kiss’s songs, specifying that he likes “hard rocking music.” But the look on his face when Witchiepoo turned up was priceless.

And honestly, I’d sit through just about anything to hear the lovely Witchiepoo cackle. Just about anything. I don’t believe she’s in any Pink Lady & Jeffs, but if this family’s ever not nice to me, I’ll make them watch those.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ponyo (2008)

Marie asked whether we were going to show our son Ponyo. I said nah, let’s throw him in the Miyazaki deep end with Princess Mononoke.

I’m kidding, of course. If you want to start listing reasons why Hayao Miyazaki’s films are so beloved in the United States, then you could get a little cynical and grouchy, or you could note that there are Miyazaki movies for every age. He’s directed films for eleven-at-hearts and for older audiences, but he’s also made a few that are absolutely perfect for six year-olds. So here’s the first of a couple that we’re watching this fall. Ponyo was released in Japan in 2008 and came out in the US with a very wide release in multiplexes all across the country the following year. It did pretty respectable business for a cartoon without any merchandising, and while it wasn’t a blockbuster, it attracted crowds beyond anime fans, and I just can’t believe anybody left without a smile of curiosity and amusement. It’s just so darn cute.

Our kid was absolutely hypnotized by it. The movie hits on similar themes of life out of balance that Miyazaki has explored in other films, but the core for children is a simple adventure film centered on a five year-old boy named Sosuke and his very odd new companion, a little girl who was a small fish when he first met her. They have a safe, not-frightening, but visually dazzling experience of looking for his mother after the little girl, given the name Ponyo, throws the world off-kilter by abandoning an underwater life of magic in favor of humanity.

I won’t say there’s a ton here for adults to really embrace beyond the beautiful animation. While the movie never drags and never annoys – given the unspeakable awfulness of modern American cartoons, that alone is a massive recommendation – the lack of any real struggle or danger keeps me from embracing the characters or situation. This is a movie to be shared with children, who will almost certainly be as charmed and captivated as ours was. Put another way, watched without a kid, then Ponyo is a treat for the eyes from a visionary director, but so lacking in meat and fire that it’s mostly forgettable. With a kid, this is exploring a vibrant and exciting little world. If you don’t have children of your own, sit down with somebody else’s and prepare for two incredibly satisfying hours.

Leave a comment

Filed under movies

Catweazle 1.3 – The Curse of Rapkyn

Hey, it’s Peter Sallis! I wasn’t expecting to run into many guest stars that I recognize in this show. It’s always nice to see Peter Sallis. He was such a great talent. He plays a museum curator in this one.

In this one, Carrot wonders whether the farm’s ongoing financial problems might be a real, honest-to-badness curse on the land. If he can find out that there is one, then Catweazle might be able to lift it, right? And indeed it turns out that a witch named Rapkyn did curse the land and then hid away two cursed stones on the property to keep the bad luck going. But how can they find the stones?

We thought this one was just hilarious. On the down side, the sound quality on these episodes is pretty fair at best; I guess they didn’t have a good sound recordist to place the microphones on location. But the concentration pays off, because Catweazle’s yelping and fumbling is really amusing, and the physical comedy is just great. Our son and I really enjoyed what happens when Catweazle finds the head of a stag mounted on a wall. The old wizard’s never seen anything like that before!

Leave a comment

Filed under catweazle

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.2 – Finding Sigmund

Last summer, I sat down with our son to watch the pilot (episode 1.1) of the remake of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and we crossed our fingers that Amazon would pick it up. The first season of six episodes launched last week, and tonight, we bade my long-suffering spouse to watch the pilot with us (“There isn’t going to be any singing, is there?”) and then we watched the second episode.

It’s absolutely lovely. My son and I laughed all the way through both episodes, and I even caught an occasional chuckle from the grown-up who sat between us. It’s still the greatest thing in the universe when Scott asks “What’s a net?”

There’s an interesting inversion in the setup for this version of the series. In the original, the Ooze family threw Sigmund out, largely because Sigmund was unable to scare anybody, and spent the show trying to get him back. Here, it looks like Sigmund will still live with his family because these sea monsters are afraid of humans and afraid of being captured. While David Arquette’s character, Captain Barnabas, is mocked by everybody in Dead Man’s Point, the Oozes think that he’s a dangerous monster hunter.

I also found it interesting that Sweet Mama appears to be a single mother, raising all three monsters by herself. She seems to be a more generic sitcom mom, and not an impersonation of Bea Arthur like the Sweet Mama from the original show. On the other hand, I haven’t actually watched any sitcoms since Friends; she could be a direct impersonation of anybody on TV in the last (wow) fourteen years and I wouldn’t have a clue!

Anyway, click the image above to start streaming the series from Amazon Prime yourself. We’ll be watching the show over the next couple of weeks and you should definitely join us!

1 Comment

Filed under sigmund and the sea monsters

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (part four)

Our son clarified that while he was no longer excited about this story after the betrayal of the bad fight with the ugly pig-faced man, he is “attached” to Doctor Who and wants to see what will happen next. Fortunately, the mad Omega banishes the pig-faced man almost instantly as this episode opens, and he enjoyed this part much, much more.

Honestly, we all grade “The Three Doctors” on a curve because we love the idea of multi-Doctor adventures and we love Patrick Troughton. This isn’t as good as it could be. My biggest aggravation is actor Stephen Thorne’s one-note bellowing, but in his defense, he lets out a seriously painful and agonized howl when he realizes that his body has been completely disintegrated, and that’s my second biggest aggravation: it’s the emotional climax of the story and it takes place six minutes into part four.

The director seems to think the climax is all the guest stars walking up a fairground haunted house’s staircase into a column of smoke one at an endless and tedious time and saying their goodbyes to the Doctors, and it assuredly isn’t. This story badly needed to have one more draft: have the Doctors realize what is wrong without telling Omega, escape for a bit, get everybody home through the smoke column, and then explain to Omega that his body has been destroyed, let the villain give out that wretched and painful howl, and then annihilate the anti-matter universe. I try not to Monday-morning-quarterback old TV too much, but I insist that would have worked better.

So it’s entertaining if not necessarily all that good, and I enjoyed letting our son know that Doctors will occasionally meet each other in the future, and never really get along with each other. It’ll be a couple of years before he sees his next teamup, though!

We’ll be taking a short break from Doctor Who, but we’ll resume our look at the tenth season in early November. Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (part three)

Our son turned on this story in a big, bad way! Episode three ends with the third Doctor battling a weird, pig-faced man in a black void, the representation of the dark side of their enemy’s will. It doesn’t look like he’s winning this fight; in fact, Jon Pertwee and his stunt double are getting slammed all over the room.

And our son took this as a very, very grim turn of events. He loved the comedy stylings of the Brigadier earlier, bellowing at the Doctor for transporting UNIT headquarters to some “deserted beach,” and sat riveted to the story, but the Doctor losing this fight wasn’t fun. Hopefully he’ll make it out of this mess for the final episode!

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (part two)

There are people who really, really don’t like what they see as the deterioration of the Brigadier’s character into a disbelieving comedy stooge, and for them, the middle episodes of this story are the nadir. They’ve got a point – the guy in this story is a pompous military idiot, and the Brig in “Spearhead from Space” isn’t – but most people don’t complain too loudly because Nicholas Courtney is so darn fun in the face of escalating chaos, and because it’s nice to see him teamed up with Patrick Troughton again.

Our son is really enjoying this one, which is nice because the last two were pretty far from his favorites. He says that it’s weird, but weird in a really good way. The cliffhanger sees UNIT’s headquarters zapped away from Earth and into a black hole, which he loved. This will lead to the Brigadier’s line about Cromer next time, which I think is completely hilarious.

Meanwhile, Marie is getting accustomed to classic Who‘s tropes and cliches. The third Doctor and Jo wake up in the strange universe of anti-matter, which is “so strange.” “It’s another quarry,” she grumbled. Yeah, a few more of those are yet to come.

Incidentally, the notion that Time Lords can have different bodies is still not actually written into the text even at this stage. There is nothing onscreen yet to indicate that changing appearance is something that anybody other than the Doctor can do. This also emphatically states that William Hartnell’s character is the “earliest” of the Doctors. Three years later, a different production team will attempt to retcon this and show us eight Doctors prior to Hartnell’s character. It won’t take, but I do love the moxie.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (part one)

“I like the other Doctor, the one we haven’t seen in a while! The one with the dark hair!” Well, our son’s in luck, because this is the tenth anniversary adventure, and the first time that Doctor Who had brought back a previous incarnation, or two, of the hero. I enjoyed myself by not telling him the title, starting the episode midway through the credits, and letting him enjoy the surprise. Since this is one of the most celebrated stories of the series, I wonder whether many people have had the opportunity to see it without knowing that Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell were back in it.

Well, mostly. Conventional wisdom holds that the massive fun of Pertwee and Troughton squabbling patches over several pedestrian moments in a silly story, but the biggest shame is that Hartnell was just far too ill to participate much. He’s limited to some pre-filmed segments at Ealing Studios and played back in the studio, which remains a huge shame.

Anyway, the story is by Bob Baker and Dave Martin and it’s directed by Lennie Mayne, who brings in actor Rex Robinson for a supporting role for the first time. Mayne directed four Who serials and cast Robinson in three of them. He also used Robinson in an episode of The Onedin Line and a couple of installments of Warship. I love seeing how BBC directors in the seventies went back to trusted names.

Leave a comment

Filed under doctor who