Sadly, for those of us who go around getting screencaps to illustrate our silly blogs, there’s a huge missed opportunity here. Bruce Campbell is back as Autolycus, and one of the other guest stars is Angela Dotchin. Two years later, they’d star together in the silly and delightful Jack of All Trades but they are never in the same two-shot together.
The episode is a Xena take on The Poseidon Adventure, only with a much smaller boat turned upside down and thrown underwater after Mount Etna erupts and causes a massive tidal wave. What happens is Disaster Movie 101, with a collection of people who need to be taken down a notch, and have their courage built up, and have their rocky relationship reaffirmed. Our son wasn’t too wild about it; the title of the episode had him ready for the tsunami and acted like he’d figured out a great big secret when the tidal wave capsizes the ship. But like Poseidon, the disaster happens very early, and the kid was restless after that.
I never want to linger on special effects when they’re unconvincing. It’s particularly unfair to hold a low-budget show like Xena‘s occasionally dated computer-generated effects against it. I believe that you should praise a show that does the best it can with what it has to work with, and with that in mind, this episode is actually extremely impressive. The tsunami and the underwater miniature work was a huge undertaking for this series, and it only looks dated, never really bad. You can tell exactly what they were trying to do in each individual shot. And doing about half of the episode in an upside-down water-filled set can’t have been easy. My hat’s off to the director and the crew of this one. The script may not have broken any new ground, but it must have been a massive headache to make, and they did an excellent job with the resources they had available.
Jack of All Trades wrapped up with another cringe-inducing episode which really isn’t suitable for nine year-olds to watch in the company of their folks, so let’s just take a minute to celebrate that amazing opening sequence. I think it’s such a shame these have gone by the wayside over the years. It was nominated for an Emmy, back when there were enough opening sequences to warrant giving an Emmy to one of them, and features a fantastically catchy little march sung by a band of hard-drinking fellers in a tavern. Our son says it’s the best TV opening ever – “even better than Thunderbirds!” – and while I wouldn’t put it in my own top five personally, it’s certainly up there. And what is my top five? Why, it’s:
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Man in a Suitcase
The show got cancelled before it could get any smuttier. Apparently some stations complained that they’d rather have one series on for one hour instead of two sharing the Back 2 Back Action Pack slot. Jack‘s companion series, Cleopatra 2525, was more easily adapted to one-hour adventures so it got the nod to continue, and then production on it ended just two months later. That put an end to Renaissance Pictures’ cycle of TV shows produced in New Zealand for a while. Seven years later, they made another program there called Legend of the Seeker which I’d never heard of, but in the modern world of streaming, there’s really not much call for direct-to-syndication programming anymore, is there?
My son and my wife groaned when they realized this was an amnesia episode; my wife then grumbled when Jack decides to take advantage of Emilia’s amnesia by telling her that she’s a prank-loving party animal. But the joke is on him, because she hears “sociopathic wild child” and decides to raise more hell in pursuit of a missing deed than Jack can babysit.
Trying to follow a clue about hogs, they end up at the Drunken Pig. Emilia starts a bar fight that our hero can’t risk trying to win, so he gets clobbered and smacked and has a chair broken across his back. It’s a delightful scene that reminded me of how Bruce Campbell had spent most of the 1980s getting the stuffing knocked out of him because Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert couldn’t afford a stuntman. Later, he goes face-first in the mud. You just know there was a double on set quietly telling the director “I can do that, you know,” but it’s okay, Bruce can handle anything.
So the kid loved it and laughed a lot, but we’ve been watching a Looney Tunes short or two a couple of times a week and tonight one of them was the star attraction. Most of these are good for a few chuckles (although some have aged rather better than the ones Robert McKimson directed), but tonight, the legendary “Rabbit Fire” came up. Our buddies Kelley and Matt showed him this a while back and it’s one of his favorites. His eyes lit up when he saw the title card and he shouted “duck season, wabbit season!” He usually likes the main feature more than the pre-show cartoon, but while he loved Jack losing the bar fight, “Rabbit Fire” is in a class by itself.
Verne Troyer’s final appearance as Napoleon is the Thanksgiving episode – it originally aired in most US markets the week of November 18, 2000 – and it’s as anachronistic as ever. One of the Thanksgiving traditions is a football game. There was a Detroit in 1801 – the city celebrated its centennial that year – but the Lions were still 129 years in the future. The kid adored the football game and laughed throughout it. It is, after all, just a few minutes of silly stunts. In the real world, he likes the Titans because all his pals do, but he can’t make three quarters without losing interest completely.
Much earlier in the blog, I’d planned to show our son Planet of the Apes, but I thought better of it; he’s not as gentle as he was anymore – he’s a big NINE YEAR-OLD now – but when I had it penciled in back in 2017, he would have hated it. It is a pretty rough movie in places. I punted it down to later this year, and he’s certain to enjoy it more than he would have then. But sadly, I sailed it right past the one yard line where it would have been perfect. I wish we’d have seen it a couple of weeks ago instead of Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, because there’s a delicious little Apes callback right at the end, with Verne Troyer in the Charlton Heston role. Ah, well, we will look at Apes later this year and he’ll get the gag.
I said to myself, “Wow, I really hope tonight’s episode isn’t as inappropriate as some of the others,” and the very first shot is a close-up of guest star Ingrid Park’s cleavage. The almost funny thing is that – probably because we’re missing the Silver Scream Spook Show, which has been postponed for several more weeks – I had a fancy the other day to introduce him to Elvira’s Movie Macabre. This is while knowing perfectly well that, as amusing as I find her, eight-going-on-nine is far too young for some of her comedy. Then I said “Hey, what about that Mistress of the Dark movie she made”… and then I remembered the boobs-n-tassles finale of that movie. So no.
So the episode opened with that shot and the devil opened up a very special cell for me for when I get done with this mortal coil forty or fifty years from now, but then the gods of inappropriate comedy smiled on me and said that was enough for one half hour, and the rest of the show was perfectly kid-acceptable. At one point, the Daring Dragoon smacks a prison guard face-first into an alarm bell several times. Finishing with him, our hero says “That’s using your head,” and the kid couldn’t see straight for laughing so hard.
Verne Troyer returns as Napoleon in this one, which is back to being pretty inappropriate, but oh well. This time he schemes to rule the world by way of a wine with a powerful hypnotizing drug. One bottle of this as a goodwill gift to Thomas Jefferson and the White House’ll be Bonaparte’s new summer home! Also, Napoleon has a Gatling gun and the Daring Dragoon has a bulletproof cape and Jack and Emilia wake up naked in bed together without any memory of the night before. Wince, wait for a swordfight, repeat.
This one begins with a Raiders of the Lost Ark parody, and no sooner do our heroes get back with the priceless treasure that George III commanded they steal than Jack gets a message from Thomas Jefferson commanding him to steal it from Emilia. Wacky hijinks ensue, but even though the physical comedy and slapstick are both first-rate, I believe our son was most taken with Jack calling himself “the human pincushion” after getting several ancient tribal darts in the rear. He was still quietly chuckling that line under his breath in the second half of the episode.
Last night, we were watching a cerebral look at causality and time, an innovative and considered hour that inspired hundreds of later adventures. Tonight, we watched fart jokes. To our son’s enormous pleasure, Hori Ahipene returned to scream, yell, and bellow as that firebreathing, farting foe of the Seven Seas, the most vulgar of all villains, Blackbeard.
I thought this kid was going to explode waiting for Blackbeard to explode. During the critical “make the other villain spill all the beans” scene, Blackbeard is just about ready to let rip with one of his inferno burps. The kid was already crying from laughter, and then he pops a cork in his mouth. I don’t know that the kid remembered anything after that. Michael Hurst, who played Iolaus in most of Hercules, plays the other villain, Nardo da Vinci.
Sadly, the end of the episode shows Blackbeard and Nardo getting away together. I’m sure they must have been planning a rematch, but the show’s unexpected cancellation put paid to that. Still, they made two half-hours with a bad guy that every elementary school-aged boy is sure to rank among the greats. Say what you might about Davros, Loki, or the Hood, but none of those also-rans can give a hot-air balloon a spark by way of nuclear toots.
And now back to 1801, or 2000, and the second season of Jack of All Trades, where history’s not as you remember it and every other line is a double entendre. In this world, Russia apparently has more than the one and a half ports it had in ours back then, because Katherine the Great has surrounded Pulau-Pulau with a massive fleet armed with remarkably accurate cannons. Our Catherine, with a C, died prior to 1801 as a much older woman than this episode depicts.
And why does Katherine the Great care about this tiny, insignificant island? Well, there’s a horse race going on, and you might as well let your mind go straight into the gutter, because that’s where this bawdy half-hour goes. If this kid of ours knew what the heck was going on, then good grief, it’d be inappropriate. Fortunately, there’s exciting horse racing and lots of stunts as the riders brawl from the saddle, and gambling, as Emilia loses everything she owns at the track. So even if our son knew what they were talking about, there were distractions.
Katherine the Great is played by Danielle Cormack, who played Ephiny in Xena. As we learned a couple of weeks ago, Ephiny married a centaur. There’s typecasting for you.
Perhaps as they finished the first season of Jack of All Trades, the producers asked themselves what elements of their show were working best with the under-tens and did them all again. Fight scenes, crazy slapstick physics, bad puns, even gross-out comedy with another visiting historical personage playing with his food. In a lovely followup to Blackbeard and all his screaming and burping at the dinner table in episode three, this installment introduces us to George III, who pratfalls, spits wine everywhere, and does everything with his mashed potatoes short of making a model of Devil’s Tower.
Ingrid Park’s Camille is back for more villainy, and this time she conspires with an actor to have George III assassinated at the opera. Maybe it’s because we watched the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon The Rabbit of Seville a couple of weeks ago, but I figured somebody on stage was going to get clobbered with a sandbag, and I was not wrong. This was an absolutely splendid, demented, and very funny half hour of television, and the kid’s sorry to see it head back to the shelf.
We’ll pick up Jack and Emilia’s adventures in season two of Jack of All Trades in mid-April. Stay tuned!
We asked our son whether he had heard of Lewis and Clark before. He asked “You mean Lois & Clark, the Superman show?” “No, no, the explorers,” I said. He hadn’t. The difficulty facing a kid in the 21st Century is that every year that passes brings more to find out and learn than ever before. He and his buddies have their own interests and obsessions, and the ever-changing school curriculum has, with big thumbs-up from me, been emphasizing more people, from diverse backgrounds and ethnicity, than the same core canon of the same three dozen American heroes that the generations before mine enshrined and sanctified. I’d much rather his teachers spend a few minutes on Katherine Johnson, who passed away last week, than Lewis and Clark.
Earlier today, we were in Nashville for a real quick day trip to visit Marie’s sister. She’s relocated to Arizona but was in town for a conference. She and her team had a couple of free hours before their flight home, so we went to see her and get some lunch and do some quick shopping. We’d visited Parnassus Books once before and left incredibly impressed. Today, our son and I found this remarkable series under the umbrella title Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, which presents “thrilling, daring, and downright gruesome stories from American history, in Graphic novel form.” I insisted that he bring Big Bad Ironclad home with him. He’s probably a bit too gentle for the one about the Donner Party, but he can get behind big 19th Century warships knocking the daylights out of each other.
Our kid’s not the biggest fan of sitting still and learning names and dates and facts and figures, but maybe if the material’s presented in an exciting or funny way, he might take a fact or two to bed with him. In tonight’s Jack of All Trades, Lewis and Clark show up in Pulau-Pulau thinking that George Washington is still the president and that the island is Oregon. It’s a screamingly funny episode with a hilarious accidental deathtrap and a magnetized suit of armor. He was howling with laughter, and with good reason. That bit where a volley of musket balls freeze in mid-air before changing direction is hysterical.
So not a bad day for our son. He learned about the Battle of Hampton Roads and he even met Sacajawea. Maybe he didn’t do it the traditional way, but he knows a thing or two he didn’t yesterday.