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Tag Archive: MASH


Review by C.J. Bunce

TV historian and Star Trek expert Marc Cushman has returned with his next volume in the history of the creators of Star Trek, the 1960s television series, the hardcover book These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 1 (1970-75).  At a massive 763 pages, Cushman uses his trademark style of sifting through every available source to collect details about Hollywood, executives, writers, actors, and everyone in between to provide a history of television via the extensive use of contemporary, primary source materials.  The book includes dozens of black and white photographs, screen shots, marketing images, and behind the scenes photographs.

Fans of Star Trek: The Animated Series and the tie-in novels that began with author James Blish should take note: Much of the book is about Star Trek: The Animated Series, the marketing of Star Trek by Roddenberry’s company Lincoln Enterprises, and several studio tie-ins during the 1970s, including the Gold Key comics, and Blish’s famous run of novels–all which kept Trek fans engaged for a decade without a live-action presence.  The rest is devoted to Roddenberry’s personal projects before and after The Animated Series.

Many themes are brought to light as Cushman tracks Roddenberry’s career and efforts to revive Star Trek after the 1960s series cancellation.  Roddenberry’s in-your-face nature with studio executives didn’t help him any, yet his persistence kept him in the business.  William Shatner was able to rely on his past success as an actor to easily move ahead with his career and lay the groundwork to become the icon he is known as today.  Leonard Nimoy benefited the most directly from Star Trek–he became a sex symbol, and moved from a music career to becoming co-star of the original Mission: Impossible.  He also didn’t miss a beat continuing his acting with major stage productions.  The rest of the cast was type-cast, having more difficulty finding work, especially Walter Koenig, who was even denied a voice-acting role on The Animated Series.  But The Animated Series would prove several things: Every member of the cast was ready to jump at the chance of returning to Star Trek despite their other projects.  Nimoy was at first hesitant, but when seeing the rest of the cast join up he seemed to not want to be left behind.  This included the writers for the original series–everyone asked to provide a script for The Animated Series wanted to return to the unique science fiction material–and did.

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Netflix is now carrying a new documentary television series that delves into the creators behind some of our favorite toys from the recent, and not so recent past.  The Toys That Made Us features four episodes in its first season of streaming, each focused on a toy line that should bring in a good cross-section of fandom.  The choices for the first shows include Kenner’s vintage Star Wars action figures and playsets, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, with an emphasis on the 3 3/4″ line of action figures, Mattel’s Barbie, and the Mattel’s Masters of the Universe No doubt Barbie and G.I. Joe should pull in the older crowd, while the latter half of G.I. Joe and Star Wars will pull in the kids of the 1970s and early 1980s, and Masters of the Universe the kids of the 1980s.

Not a show for kids and not another show about toy collectors, the series devotes plenty of each hour to interviews with designers, marketing, other businessmen discussing the nuts and bolts of negotiating deals, like the lawyer for Kenner discussing the greatest toy deal negotiation ever, and the later not-so-great negotiation because of a loose-lipped CEO.  The Barbie episode features a Barbie expert continually bashing the character as a “hooker” as if she has some sort of love-hate relationship with the doll.  But the politics of toymaking is interesting fodder for the right audience.  Should it be a surprise that toymakers have the same ugly corporate politics, the downsizing, the layoffs, and the takeovers, like every other company?  Prepare yourself for several CEOs and designers as they tiptoe, or not, around decisions and employers they wrestled with in the past as toys and brands came and went.  The creators look back both with nostalgia and anger at the former toy companies that eventually terminated their employment.  So look for an unusual take on these toys and these companies.

The next four episodes will be launched on Netflix later this year, and include Hello Kitty, Transformers, Star Trek, and LEGO.  Sometimes what the show chooses to tell is as interesting as how the show tells it.  The eight toy lines chosen no doubt came from the producer’s own focus groups, like the ideas behind some of the toys they discuss.  If The Toys That Made Us really is a one-time thing, someone else should come along and continue the idea with all the other major brands and influences.

We want to see an episode on Marx toys, including little toy soldiers and the 12-inch action figure series.  We also want to see a history of the broad Mego line of figures, Hot Wheels, Stretch Armstrong, and Big Jim.  How about companies like Fisher Price, Playskool, Playmobil, and Radio Flyer?  A series like this needs to cover more “recent” but still classic toy lines, too, like My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, and figure out a way to capture famous classic toys like Spirograph, Tinker Toys, Play-Doh, Etch-A-Sketch, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and the ultimate multi-license toy, Viewmaster.  How about a tour of the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers factories of the past?  Who put out more great board games than these companies?  It’s easy to imagine entire episodes on the history of games like Clue/Cluedo and Monopoly.  And how about featuring a current game company that’s been around for decades, like Wizards of the Coast?

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night court

More than fifty years ago Newton Minow, the first FCC commissioner, called television a vast wasteland.  The prospect of 500 channels available and nothing to watch was forecast back in the 1970s and today it sometimes seems like it’s a truism more often than not.  But if you get tired of new programming–and make no mistake plenty of great television shows are airing this year–a few recently added channels to your local line-up may remind fans of classic TV why they jumped onboard in the first place.

Three channels: MeTV, COZI TV and LAFF, are a destination for those who just want to pop in now and then for a dose of the past.  Even pay channel Starz has begun broadcasting classic television series.  No doubt much of the programming may not hold up to current audiences.  Clothes, hairstyles, and stale, formulaic half-hour and hour plots may not keep your 21st century attention.  Yet many shows seem to hold up quite well.  As time goes on two of my favorites, Simon & Simon and Magnum, P.I., seem to drift farther and farther away, yet the comedy of Night Court and Cybill remains laugh-out-loud funny.

Simon & Simon

Classic TV gold, like The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, may be a bit much in big doses.  Only a diehard fan would stream these beginning to end.  Yet, try popping in once in a while and it’s like visiting an old friend.  M*A*S*H and The A-Team hold up quite well.  In particular, the formula established by The A-Team, no doubt based on decades of series that came before it, can be found continuing on to this day in series like Leverage and Burn Notice.  Even series like Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels can be fun, if you don’t take their 1970s approach to TV too seriously.  And you may find yourself engrossed in Quantum Leap all over again.

So what’s playing, where, and when?

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How I Married Your Mother finale

It always pays to be wary of grandiose statements and definitive pronouncements.  When I first watched Forrest Gump in the theater, one-third of the way through the movie it occurred to me I might be watching the greatest production of all time, and walking out of the theater I carried that thought with me.  But time changes things.  Now I see it as a fun film, but it’s not at the top of any of my “best of” lists.  Professor Schofield advised that you can’t really objectively analyze something, an art movement, a political figure, a fad–anything worth analyzing–unless several years had transpired and you could have the value of time and distance, contemplation and reflection, to look back with.

So it is with a bit of reservation that I am asserting that the series finale to How I Met Your Mother that aired Monday night should top any list of great finales.  The writers, producers, and actors simply got it just right.  Exactly right.  Airing the first episode of season one just before the finale aired really showcased how this ending was exactly what viewers deserved after nine seasons of sticking with the show.  Consider all the series finales that were promoted over the years, and despite the biggest of viewing audiences, you might find that most last hoorahs miss the mark, try too hard, or just do something that didn’t reflect the best of the series.

Trek TNG All Good Things

The granddaddy of all finales was the 1983 M*A*S*H extended episode “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”  Although some elements were right, like a bounty of typical and appropriate sad goodbyes, Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, (one of the best characters of all time) after more than a decade of using laughter to beat the odds and help his unit survive the Korean War, cracks at the very end.  NBC’s comedy spy series Chuck made a similar mistake, wiping the memory of Chuck’s hard-earned love interest Sarah after we cheered him on all those years, requiring the story to basically start over from scratch in some far off place after the series wrapped.  Another less than satisfying but at least appropriate-to-the-series finale was the end of the monumental 20th year of the original Law & Order.  We basically got to see a fairly typical episode of the series, which certainly fit the seriousness of the show’s drama.  But we also got a goodbye scene and were left on a positive note with “Lieut’s” good news about her hard-fought illness.

Before that, you might have seen the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Nick at Nite or other classic rerun network if you weren’t old enough to catch it in its initial run.  The TV network that was the subject of the series fires everyone including Mary at the end, except Ted Knight’s character Ted Baxter.  The annoying guy that we loved for being annoying gets to stay.  A funny series with a funny end, as well as the requisite bittersweet goodbye scene.  A similarly funny sitcom, Psych, wrapped its eighth and final season last month, tying up all its remaining loose ends.  Psych took a different path, taking its angst-inducing character, Detective-then-Chief Lassiter, and with a redemption of sorts, switched up his role in the last two seasons to become a guy viewers could cheer on.

Newhart finale

Another comedy, Newhart, gave us a completely bizarre ending for an otherwise enjoyable comedy series.  Yet it was saved literally in the last two minutes by a brilliantly concocted stunt–bring back Bob’s wife from his original series, The Bob Newhart Show, the lovely Suzanne Pleshette, revealing the whole series was just a dream.  It’s a gimmick that didn’t work for a series like the original Dallas (recall Bobby Ewing died then came back to life with a “poof”), but for a comedy wrap-up, it couldn’t have been better timed.

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Martin Freeman in Fargo

Did you hear the one about the British actor who played a guy from Minnesooootah?

Following in the footsteps of the dark 1970 Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould comedy flick M*A*S*H, the Coen Brothers are taking their Oscar-winning script from their movie Fargo to the small screen, turning the setting into a new series on the FX Network.  An all-star cast will make TV viewers who might not have liked the Coen Brothers humor in the film give the idea another chance.

With an all-new “true crime” story with a new case and new characters, and that far-North Central U.S. accent that drifts from Wisconsin to Minnesota, The Hobbit and Sherlock star Martin Freeman will play a put-upon local who encounters a troublemaking outsider played by Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade).  Orange County star Colin Hanks plays a Duluth police deputy.  Other cast includes Allison Tolman, Oliver Platt (A Time to Kill, Beethoven), Keith Carradine (The Long Riders), Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Nebraska), Brian Markinson (Arrow, Continuum), Kate Walsh (The Drew Carey Show), and Adam Goldberg (Dazed and Confused, Zodiac).

Here’s the first seven minutes of the new series, Fargo:

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By C.J. Bunce

Yesterday we started in on what makes a great character, and who and how we determine our favorites, mentioning dozens of  favorites from different genres and different media.  The challenge?  Come up with your top 5 favorite fictional characters from anything.  When I was finished selecting them, I was surprised what they all have in common: a desire to protect others and defend the good against the bad.  I went through a ton of characters to whittle it down to five.  Most of my favorites I see as having some trait I want for myself, or guys I want to be like.  Along the way I carved away Boba Fett, the obscure but coolest of the “men with no name” anti-hero Western archetypes, and opted instead for another Star Wars character.  I lost Steve McQueen’s too cool cop Lieutenant Frank Bullitt for another cop that made the list and had to cut the other coolest guy (other than The Fonz), the no-named drifter from They Live.  I lost Thomas Magnum, the TV show private investigator, that, along with Batman, is up there at the top of my Sherlock Holmes influenced characters.  I cut big life-long heroes like the Six Million Dollar Man, Luke Skywalker, Tron, and even the awesome A.A. Milne creation Eeyore.  No room for Will Riker and Captain Dathon from Star Trek.  I love Dana Andrews’ noir detective Mark McPherson in Otto Preminger’s Laura.  Fred Gailey, who defended Santa Claus (successfully!) in court in Miracle on 34th Street, hung to the list almost to the end.  A top 10 list would have been far easier!

After a lot of soul searching–and this is not an easy exercise (try it for yourself!)–here is where I finally ended up.

When we first meet Uncle Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, played by Sir Alec Guinness in the original Star Wars, he was an old man.  A miser living out beyond the Dune Sea.  Luke thought he was long dead.  Then he comes out of nowhere in the desert at just the right time to barely save our story’s hero.  Ben doesn’t remember the droids he supposedly owned a few decades ago.  Is he a bit absent minded?  Has the desert gotten to him?   Without Uncle Ben, Luke Skywalker would be dead, and he saves Luke’s life six times: first, from the Tusken Raiders in the desert, second, from an alien in the cantina’s hive of scum and villainy, third, from the Empire by getting Luke out of Mos Eisley, fourth, by releasing the Millenium Falcon in the Death Star, fifth, by guiding Luke from afar to destroy the Death Star in his X-Wing Fighter, and sixth, by keeping him alive after he is mugged by a snow beast on the frozen planet of Hoth.  Kenobi was part samurai warrior, part medieval wizard, part mystic, a monk, a veteran of the last battle of the Jedi.  And later we’d learn he was the reason Luke and his sister survived at all: he’d saved Luke as an infant by bringing him to the remote planet with twin suns.  He doesn’t have much time to mentor Luke, but what he does counts for a lot.  Kenobi proves nothing is more powerful than wisdom and experience.  Ultimately he sacrifices everything to save the galaxy by using his knowledge of the force to convert into a spirit, the only time this ever happens in the original Star Wars trilogy, so he can assist Luke along the rest of his journey.  Later on Ewan McGregor put a very nice spin on the character for the prequels, but the original played by Guinness can never be beaten and Guinness received the only acting nod from the Academy for all the great actors of the series.

DCI Gene Hunt was a cop, a cop played by actor Philip Glenister.  A good cop that blurred some of the rules of British law enforcement, but who was a product of his times, which was 1973 in the BBC TV series Life on Mars, and 1982 in the series Ashes to Ashes.  He is brash, rude, and mouthy.  He is kind.  He is crude and speaks in local colloquialisms that make non-natives have to rewind and view the closed captioning to understand what the heck he just said, and sometimes you still can’t tell.  He protects his team.  More than anything, this guy has angst.  Yet he wants to help others.  He wants to do the right thing.  He believes in justice.  He believes that sometimes a cop has to break the rules to get to the right result.  To find the criminal.  To protect the innocent.  He’s willing to stop and help a woman having an emergency birth.  He falls for a co-worker who herself is a mess and desperately lost.  He tolerates his bizarre group of subordinates, as he prefers them to everyone else, and he’ll join them for a drink at any time of day.  And he always drives a cool car.  He’s like a British version of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, but with more layers and a lot more problems.  He becomes so involved in everyone else’s affairs that he ultimately forgets who he is.  I have seen Philip Glenister in little else, and wonder whether I like Gene, or I like Gene because Glenister played him.  Either way, nothing is as it seems in Manchester and Salford police departments.  And that leaves Gene to rise above it all and become the best cop in the best cop series ever made.

In the western movie Silverado, at the beginning of the film, Paden is dead.  At least he is left for dead, like real-life Beck Weathers in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  Paden is played by Kevin Kline.  You can’t start much worse off than Paden, prior to being rescued by Scott Glenn’s character, Emmett.  All Paden has to his name is his 1800s long underwear.  He was trusting, befriended some cowboys who turned on him, stole his horse, his saddle, his hat, his ivory-handled Colt.  The whole rig.  But he really missed the bay horse the most.  They were laughing when they left him.  Thought it was real funny.  He walked for a little while but there was no use, so he gave it up.  Figured it was just bad luck.  He lies down to die.  And he gets a second chance.  But he’s not so much about revenge as looking out for the little dog one of his fellow riders mistreats.  He’s trying to find his place in the world, which just so happens to be managing the affairs of a saloon.  And you never know what Paden will care about.  Even if that means he must stop looking the other way.  He is a hero so he must act.  If that means risking his footing in a new town to defend a man against a racist saloon operator, so be it.  And if that means killing the men who run Silverado and the sheriff himself, his old friend, well then so be it.  Kline plays Paden as funny, serious, smart.  Sometimes warm, as when he is taking care of new friends, sometimes cold, as when he has to shoot a man.  Sometimes puzzling, like when he flirts with a woman the night her husband is shot dead.  Sheriff Cobb is using Stella to get to Paden.  “I don’t want you to get hurt,” Paden says.  Stella responds: “He can’t hurt me… if he’s dead.”  Paden is a complex guy who changes his luck in a time when getting by was good enough.

I’ve read everything I could get my hands on related to Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, as re-developed in DC Comics’ silver age, from 1971 forward.  Queen was a billionaire who lost it all.  He became “everyman.”  He ended up fighting crime as a vigilante and donned the outfit of Errol Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood and took his bow and arrow as well to fight crime.  He’s a bit like Batman, a sleuth in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes.  He became a force for social change and fell in love with a beautiful woman, Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, and they ended up together in Seattle running a floral shop.  They were members of the Justice League and rubbed elbows with the best superheroes around.  Oliver always was outspoken, sometimes offending everyone around him, yet everyone around him always respected what he had to say and they often took his lead.  He always fought for the underdog.  My favorite incarnation is my first revisit to comic books, Green Arrow written and drawn by Mike Grell, but O’Neil and Adams’ version is a close second.  In his first scene of the modern era, he must convince Green Lantern that he needs to stop protecting a slumlord and instead protect the tenants.  With his on-again/off-again, fiery relationship with Dinah, he became part of the only crime-fighting superhero couple, together ridding the streets of every kind of baddie.

The only one of the five of my favorite characters listed here that never veered from my #1 spot is Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce.  As the leading character in the TV series M*A*S*H over the course of eleven seasons, Alan Alda became the best actor on any TV series, and soldier/doctor Pierce became my favorite character.  He is defined by triage.  Triage in his job as he must discriminate between who has a chance to live and who won’t live.  Triage is his circumstance as he must decide to make the best or worst of being stuck in a place no one, even the local Korean refugees, wants to be.  His tools consist of scalpels, forceps, alcohol, and humor.  He takes the most depressing of dramatic situations and makes everyone laugh, and when the brilliant writing team gives us a serious story, he leaves us silent.  He gives us gut-wrenching performances, via a simple salute to Radar O’Reilly as he leaves for home to take care of the farm, to his reaction to the death of Colonel Henry Blake, to his interview responses for Movietone news.  He makes us laugh at his unending supply of practical jokes, against Hot Lips, Frank, Winchester, or B.J.  He is a hero, he’ll save the life of a North Korean soldier without flinching, and at his worst he freaks-out, asking those questions everyone wants to ask in the middle of a war, but doesn’t.  Why can’t we all just get along, as bunkmates, as co-workers, as Americans, as humans?  And he is calm when he needs to be.  Even when he is being bombed while trying to save lives after hours without rest.   With more than a dose of inspiration from Groucho Marx, Alan Alda conducted a one-man band of chaos in the middle of a stellar cast of characters.  It’s hard to believe M*A*S*H was a 30-minute show.  Never before or since has anyone come close to packing so much emotion, drama, comedy, and energy in such a small period of time, for so many years.  Although the writing of his character bottomed out in the last episode, what came before is what matters, and it explains why the series finale was the most-watched show ever.

Editor’s note: Tomorrow… we will take a day away from our favorite characters and Jason McClain will run down his recommendations to the Academy for the Ten Best Picture nominees, who will be announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Tuesday, January 24.  Come on back Tuesday bright and early for Jason McClain’s top five favorite characters, followed by Art Schmidt on Wednesday and Elizabeth C. Bunce on Thursday.

The TV Land network and their addictive marathon of M*A*S*H holiday episodes sucked me in once again.

First of all, my all time favorite character in any TV show or movie is Major Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce, played by Alan Alda.  Hawkeye has the toughest job in the toughest place in the toughest time period.  He lives and breathes tough decisions and his job is triage, discriminating between life and death realities, between saving this guy’s life over that guy’s life.  Dealing every day with friendly and unfriendly comrades he is just stuck with.  And yet, except for the last episode of the series (which I pretend does not exist), Hawkeye brings humor and optimism into the equation whenever he can.  And thanks to some brilliant writing over the years (now decades ago) we got not only the best TV series ever, we got the best drama and comedy wrapped into one, and at that, each episode had only 20-some odd minutes to make us all become familiar with a war seemingly firsthand that we never otherwise would have had a personal affinity toward.

What M*A*S*H probably did best was remind us that even though we may have our own issues that approached or even sometimes surpassed the trials of the characters of this wartime mobile surgical hospital crew, more often than not you could be reminded that whatever you were going through was not really that bad–that things will get better if you can just keep your head up and march through it all.

Many main and supporting characters came and went over the years, from Major “Trapper” John MacIntyre to Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, to Colonel Henry Blake, to Major Frank Burns.  Some of these characters we were supposed to love and others we were supposed to hate.  Colonel Sherman T. Potter was one of the best of the cast, the elder traditional soldier with a sense of both nostalgia for the golden days and humor for his young medical staff.  Potter was played by Henry Morgan, who passed away two weeks ago at the awesome age of 96.  Some great acting can be found in his list of films and TV series, from The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) with Henry Fonda, to State Fair (1945) with Dana Andrews, to Yellow Sky (1948) with Gregory Peck, to Bend of the River (1952) with Jimmy Stewart, and High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper, to The Glenn Miller Story (1954) with Jimmy Stewart, to Strategic Air Command (1955) with Jimmy Stewart, to Inherit the Wind (1960) with Spencer Tracy, to How the West was Won (1962) with a who’s who of Hollywood, to his co-starring role as Officer Gannon with Jack Webb from 1967-1970 on the TV series Dragnet, and several supporting roles between and after, Morgan may not have been the leading man, but as a character actor he gave credibility to dozens of productions.

One of the often overlooked supporting characters of M*A*S*H was Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, played by David Ogden Stiers, who went on to be a guest character in hundreds of shows, including a guest role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a memorable role as Reverend Purdy in the TV series The Dead Zone.  A snooty doctor of a old-money wealth, Winchester was typically a foil for the show’s own dynamic duo of Hawkeye and B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell).  With a long run like M*A*S*H, which aired from 1972-1983, we were able to share a number of holidays, and holiday episodes, with the cast of M*A*S*H.  If you saw the series, you probably remember this key secondary plot from the ninth season’s Christmas episode “Death Takes a Holiday.”  If you haven’t or even if you have seen it, track down a copy from your library or video source.

The army outfit has invited local refugees to the 4077th for Christmas.  Turkey dinners are being transported in, but Colonel Potter learns that the trucks aren’t going to make it.  Each key character had received care packages from their loved ones, from fruitcake from Hawkeye’s aunt, to fudge from B.J.’s wife, to ham from the Colonel’s sister.  Nurse Margaret Houlihan steps forward first to say she will offer up her care package of cookies to the refugee children and soon everyone joins in to plan a big party.  Everyone except Winchester.  Winchester will only offer up a small sardine-sized can of oysters, saying “it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the price.”  Corporal Max Klinger points out that Winchester received several packages labeled “perishable” so the other officers ask “what gives?”  Winchester is Scrooge once again.

And then the change-up occurs, that illustrates why this series was so good.  Because it had a lot of heart–behind all the war drama and laugh out loud practical joke antics.  Actor Mike Farrell wrote this episode that some may brush off as simply sappy.

We see a dark night, and Winchester covertly approaches the orphanage with giant boxes of gifts, one labeled from a certain premium confectioner.  The man running the orphanage thanks him for the gifts and invites him inside so the children can thank him, which Winchester immediately says “no” to.  Winchester recounts that his family has a tradition, going back every year since he was a child, and it only matters if it is done anonymously.  Winchester shares with the man a story of waiting inside a running car with his sister in an earlier winter from far long ago, excited as they waited for his father to run back to the car to drive away after quietly, sneakily leaving gifts on some needy person’s doorstep.  From the seemingly greedy and abrasive fellow, came an act of kindness and charity.  A touching scene, that seems to affect even the actor as he tells the story.

Sappy?  Maybe just a little.  But great actors and great writing made for a great series, and a nice Christmas story.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com