Saturday, October 25, 2008

Never Judge A Show by It's Pilot: Kath & Kim

We in America have invented some of the greatest things in the world like the car, the telephone and the television. It seem that many of our creations have had good runs as an American made product often people in other countries take our ideas and make them better and cheaper. Still we are very good at the creative part. The American Sitcom had a great run in the 1950s & 60s (Thanks in great part to Desi Arnaz) and then things started to get stagnant. Really, how many times can you do and episode around a bad report card or the boss coming to dinner on short notice. In the 1970s we had a sitcom renascence thanks to people like Norman Lear, adding controversial issues to his sitcom All in the Family, that was based on Johnny Speight's British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. Then Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's British sitcom Steptoe and Son, was adapted for American Television as Sanford and Son and a few years later the sexy British sitcom Man About the House (Created by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke) was adapted for American television as Three's Company. Now we have a good track record in taking a foreign product and successfully make it our own. How did we do this? We killed all the sacred cows. We talked about social issues. We laughed at our faults. We were topical. We did what the creators of the British versions of these shows did and that was to take the attitude that nothing is sacred then laugh at themselves. In other words they were successful by not playing it safe.

What happened? Somehow the sacred cows are back and they are now on steroids. Today Archie Bunker would be accused of glamorizing bigotry. The Sweathogs (Welcome Back, Kotter) would be accused of glamorizing remedial education or mocking inner city youth. M*A*S*H today would be seen a product of liberal Hollywood elitists who don’t represent the real America and hate the troops. In other words we are playing it safe. The Office and Ugly Betty (Both Reveille Productions) seem to be the exception to the rule.

Kath & Kim is American adaptation of an popular Australian television series starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair and produced by Reveille Productions in association with Universal Media Studio. I saw the pilot. Molly Shannon is Kath Day the forty-something mother and Selma Blair is Kim her self-absorbed daughter. John Michael Higgins plays Kath’s boyfriend Phil Knight a sandwich shop owner, and Mikey Day plays Kim’s newly separated husband Craig, who works at the electronics store Circuit Surplus. The actors are great and they are doing the best they can with the material they have. I really like the characters and they would be perfect if they were in an eight minute sketch on Saturday Night Live. For a situation comedy the plot and the characters are not fully developed. Sometimes I see a character on a show and say, "I know that person" here I see the character’s and say, "I know that type". All four characters see them selves as big fish but don’t see that they are in a small bowl let alone a pond. Molly Shannon and Selma Blair are great at making entrances and exits. In my opinion they are both too pretty for these parts. You also really believe that these two think that reading People magazine and watching TMZ is keeping up on current events. Kim not only sees her self as a trophy wife but also think that being a trophy wife is something to aspire to. Again, you know the type.

One of the reasons I never judge a show by it’s pilot is that often the pilot has dedicated the entire episode to setting up the premise of the series. Here Kath is in love with Phil, while Kim gets separated from her husband of six weeks. When Kim decides to move back home, it hinders Kath's new romance and mayhem ensues... No wait, mayhem does not ensue and there lies the problem. I saw the next episode. Kath wants to promote her home salon business. Phil helps her out by standing up to the mall hierarchy and getting her a booth at the mall’s prom event. Kim, while working as Kath’s hair model, gets Craig fired from his job at Circuit Surplus. They talk about pop culture not social issues. We laughed (or didn’t laugh) at the faults of people we don’t identify with. The characters show their ignorance to anything topical and sadly I think viewers can identify with that and not get the joke. We did not do what the creators of the Australian versions of the show did, and that was to take the attitude that nothing is sacred then laugh at themselves. In other words this new American version has played it safe.

To quote Kim, "Well, I didn't sign up for cooking dinner or being interested in how somebody's day was. I'm a trophy wife! Like Miliana Trump and Mrs. Larry King Live."

Stay Tuned

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ron Howard's Call To Action

I love this for many reasons.

Stay Tuned & VOTE

Tony Figueroa

Ron Howard wants to talk about the election.
So does Andy Griffith and Henry Winkler.

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Friday, October 17, 2008

FALL 2007 Part II

Well it's fall again and normally I will write several articles dedicated to the basic idea that I never judge a show by it's pilot, but this fall is different. I don't feel like this is Fall 2008 but more like Fall 2007 part II. It is hard to believe that it was almost a year ago (Nov. 5th 2007) when the Writers Guild of America went on strike. From that point I decided to suspend reviewing any new shows out of a sense of fairness and solidarity. I felt that saying something critical about someone’s show during the strike was kicking someone when they were down. As my readers know, I love television the same way others love movies or music, and even though I was saddened to see the TV season cut short I stood by the writers. I felt that it was important to remind my readers that nothing happens in Hollywood until a writer types the words FADE IN.

The shows I didn't review last fall or Fall 2007 Part I were Life, Pushing Daisies and Samantha Who?. These three shows are all back this season and my favorite show from last fall or Fall 2007 Part I, Journeyman, was canceled but thanks to the strike at least every episode was aired.

Here is my

The Big Bang Theory. Still on the air.
I said, "Sweet characters and cleaver dialogue do not a sitcom make".

K-Ville. Off the air.
I said, "I think that it is great that eighty percent of the show’s crew is from the local talent pool. I am curious what the people of New Orleans and the New Orleans Police Department thinks of the show".

Cane. Off the air.
I said, "The show should have a broad appeal. It has many of the classic elements of good story telling, man vs. man, brother vs. brother, father vs. son, all set in front of a Latin background. I am optimistic that the show won't resort to some of the stereotypical soap opera conventions like evil twins, people returning from the dead and whole seasons being dismissed as a dream".

Journeyman. Off the air.
I said, "The show has an appeal beyond the science fiction crowd. The only thing about the show that is predictable is that is unpredictable. Other new shows should take a lesson from Journeyman. Start with a good story and build on that".

Bionic Woman. Off the air.
There is one element to the show that I will freely admit to having mixed feelings about and that is the blurry line between who the good guys and the bad guys are. I like that the heroes have baggage. I'm sure that there are viewers that want to see the good guys wearing white hats and the bad guys wearing black hats (Toy companies like straight out good guys and bad guys when it comes to marketing action figures).

Reaper. Still on the air.
I said, "The best way to describe the show is Maynard G. Crebs from Dobie Gillis meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a hint of Ghost Busters".

Back to You. Off the air.
I said, "I was hoping for something more comparable to Murphy Brown or The Mary Tyler Moore Show but instead this reminded me more of Good Morning, Miami, especially the Latina character Montana Diaz Herrera (Ayda Field)".

Cavemen. Off the air.
I said, "I saw the pilot and I can hear my college television production teacher say, "What’s the point?" First you have to buy into the premise that cavemen have lived among us since the beginning of time. The opening credits features a montage of cavemen throughout history. Anything would be better than the chosen premise, time warp, thawed from an iceberg or cloned caveman DNA".

Chuck. Still on the air.
I said, "I watched the pilot. The episode opens on the night of Chuck’s birthday party. Chuck’s sister has invited lots of women for Chuck to meet but I don’t see this guy needing his sister’s help getting laid". And "Zachary Levi is a very talented actor. I liked him on Less Than Perfect, but I don’t see him as a good fit for this show".

As for Samantha Who?, Pushing Daisies and Life:

Samantha Who?
: I was quite surprised and impressed with the show. My first impression from the promotional material was this would be a female version of My Name Is Earl. In fact my first reaction was, "Why didn't they call it My name is Girl". Christina Applegate has incredible star power and is likable, cute and willing to fall on her face for a laugh.
Pushing Daisies: This is a fun macabre escape from reality. I use it as a mental sorbet after watching the news.

Life: Damien Lewis is one of the finest actors on TV today. He has created a character that viewers sympathize with but you don’t necessarily want to have a beer with him and at times you just want to smack him. I see an Emmy in Damien Lewis' future.

For Fall 2007 Part II there are only two shows that I really have an interest in checking out and reviewing. Strangely enough both are American versions of foreign shows. From England Life On Mars and from Australia Kath & Kim but most of my TV viewing is fall dedicated to watching 2008 Election coverage. As always I watch the pilot and the first episode following the pilot. My gut tells me that Life On Mars will have a following but I don't see Kath & Kim lasting past Christmas.

To quote Dennis Miller, "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Edie Adams

Edie Adams, the actress and singer and wife of comedian Ernie Kovacs, has died at the age of 81 from pneumonia and cancer. Ms. Adams won a Tony Award for playing Daisy Mae on Broadway in Li'l Abner.

She was born Elizabeth Edith Enke in 1927 in Kingston, Pa., and grew up in Tenafly, N.J. She first attracted notice on the TV show "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts." Kovacs was then performing his innovative comedy show on a Philadelphia TV station, and his director saw her and invited her to audition. With her innocent face and refreshing manner, Adams became the ideal partner for Kovacs' far-out humor. They eloped to Mexico City in 1954.

She and Kovacs moved to Hollywood in the late 1950s, and both became active in films.
In Billy Wilder's classic "The Apartment," the 1960 Oscar winner for best picture, Adams played the spurned secretary to philandering businessman Fred MacMurray.
Among her other movies were "Lover Come Back," "Call Me Bwana" (with Bob Hope), the all-star comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (as Sid Caesar's wife), "Under the Yum Yum Tree," "The Best Man" and "The Honey Pot."

Edie sings "That's All" in the episode, Lucy Meets the Moustache of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.

In early 1962 Kovacs crashed his car into a light pole, dying instantly. Adams now a widow was faced with debts of $520,000, trouble with the Internal Revenue Service and a nasty custody battle over Kovacs' daughters, Betty and Kippie, from his first marriage. She and Kovacs also had a daughter Mia, born in 1959 (Mia Kovacs was killed at 22 in a 1982 car accident). Milton Berle, Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin and other stars organized a TV special to raise money for her and her daughters.
"Adams said, "No, I can take care of my own children." For a solid year, she worked continuously. After her widowhood, she had two brief marriages to photographer Martin Mills and trumpeter Pete Candoli.

In the 1980s and 1990s, she made appearances on such TV shows as "Murder, She Wrote" and "Designing Women." She also played Tommy Chong's mother, Mrs. Tempest Stoner, in the first Cheech and Chong movie, "Up in Smoke," in 1978.

Over the years, she strove to keep Kovacs' comedic legacy alive by buying rights to his TV shows and repackaging them for television and videocassettes.

To quote Ms. Adams, "Here was this guy with the big mustache, the big cigar and the silly hat, I thought, `I don't know what this is, but it's for me."

I heard that Ernie used to have a light up sign outside his home office that said "NOT NOW!" So if anyone in heaven tonight sees a sign that says "NOT NOW!", please do not disturb the happy reunion.

Good Night Mr. & Mrs Kovacs.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

Edie Adams' - Archive of American Television Interview