Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White

This is not really a book review but more of a gift giving suggestion.

Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White is the story about the first interracial comedy team Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen. Tim & Tom started in Chicago nightclubs then went on the road for five years. They worked all over America at a time of racial unrest, riots and assassinations. They faced racist heckling, threats, and even violence (Tim had a cigarette put out in his face). As a team they never had the success that they would later have in their solo careers. They were just ahead of their time.

I just finished the book (written with Ron Rapoport) and it hit home... Literally. As some of you remember my wife Donna and I did a show (Guess Who's Coming To...) that we performed at Fringe Theatre Festivals in 2006.
I think we have come a long way but we still have a way to go and it is true that the more things change the more they stay the same... I just never had a cigarette put out in my face. You can imagine that we would like to have a chance to meet Tim & Tom when they appear somewhere not only to sign my book but also to get their thoughts about an interracial couple performing together.

If you or a friend like stories about, Comedy, The Civil Rights Movement, Race Relations, Television and all things Show Biz this is the book for you and it makes a great gift. Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White: Tim Reid, Tom Dreesen, Ron Rapoport: Books With people cutting back on holiday spending the book is reasonably priced. Please consider this recommendation before you hit the malls on Black Friday (No pun intended).

Happy Thanksgiving

Tony & Donna Figueroa

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Two words... Mission Accomplished

This Election Day I popped open my bottle of champagne, toasted with friends and know what HOPE taste like. The bottle of Jack Daniel’s will be re-gifted. I also had some Rolling Rock beer in honor of Tim Russert.

To President Elect Obama I want to quote Tim Russert, "Go get ‘em".

To the rest of us I want to quote Alan Brady (Carl Reiner on The Dick Van Dyke Show episode Coast-to- Coast Big Mouth), "Oh, happy days are here again!"

Stay Tuned and God bless America

Tony & Donna Figueroa

Election 2008.

This Election Day I want to pause for a moment and reflect on our last Election Day. Sherman set the Wayback machine to November 2nd 2004. The exit polls were optimistic. We invited some friends over to watch the returns. I bought a bottle of champagne and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Depending on who won the election, one of those bottles would be opened. Every time Ohio was mentioned on the news, everyone in the room gave my wife Donna (A Cincinnati girl) a dirty look. I could have started a drinking game where every time a pundit said Ohio, Battleground State or "Too close to call", we would have to take a shot.

The next day we were off to the Red State of Ohio to visit my wife’s family. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We’d leave the day after Election Day. How complicated could it be? A few days after I booked the flight online, we started hearing things like "Ohio is gonna be the next Florida". When we arrived in Ohio, I called my mom back in California who was devastated by the election results. She wanted to know if we were participating in the recount protests at the Cincinnati Board of Elections. This was the first we'd heard of any such protest. The local media (TV and print) had not mentioned anything about them. The newscasters sounded like they were in that Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life". It's very good that you made Bush win Anthony. Now wish the Democrats into the cornfield. (The story takes place in Peaksville, Ohio by the way)

On the first afternoon in Cincinnati, we were visited Donna’s Republican Stepford wife sister and her 2 boys, ages 3 and 5. Donna’s sister mentioned that her older boy Mathew had participated in a mock election in his kindergarten class. I asked him, "So Matthew who did you vote for?" Mathew said with pride, "I voted for George Bush!". His mother pointed out that John Kerry won in his class. So, I guess there is hope for America's youth. I was reading a newspaper when Matthew climbed into my lap. There was a photograph of George W in the paper, so I asked him who that was. "I don't know," said Mathew. I returned, "Well you voted for him silly." Mathew paused then said with pride, "George Bush". Then I pointed out another photo. "Who's that?" I said. Mathew said with pride, "George Bush". I said, "No", and had the boy look at the photo again. After studying the picture Mathew said, "I don't know". The man in the picture looks like an older version of Mathew. "His name is Barack Obama' I told him, "Maybe when you're old enough to vote in the real election, you'll be voting for him". Then Donna's sister chimed in with, "Well Matthew don't vote for him. He's a democrat". Donna erupted, "Excuse me?" She then backtracked with, "Oh ...uh Matthew ...Just vote your heart." So that was the problem, many people in OHIO voted with their hearts and not their brains!

A few days later on Veteran’s Day we were going to watch Saving Private Ryan, but the Cincinnati ABC affiliate refused to air the movie because the "F" word was used twice. The same channel whose newscasters presented the Bush victory as a great thing was now afraid to air Saving Private Ryan for fear of what the Bush appointed FCC chairman might do. This is crazy. If someone from my Blue State of California said something critical of the current war, someone from the Red State of Ohio would say, "YOU DON’T SUPPORT THE TROOPS!" But I think you insult our troops by not showing a great film that honors everyone who has ever served our country because the "F" word is used and our kids might hear it. This ABC affiliate seems to be okay with our kids seeing all the blood and guts. So instead we went to see Lewis Black in concert. It was like every freethinking liberal in Ohio was there. If you ever get to see Lewis Black Live in concert, go. He opened the show responding to the Cincinnati ABC affiliate not showing Saving Private Ryan with something like, "YOU PEOPLE ARE F***ING NUTS!" or was he responding to the way people in Cincinnati put chili on spaghetti? No one in the audience thought his language was indecent, given the context in which it was presented. We are entering very dangerous territory when we look at a great piece of filmmaking like Saving Private Ryan, or a brilliant comedian like Lewis Black and just take inventory of the words and not pay attention to the context.

In defense of my wife's hometown and home state, there are many kind generous people there. Many wondered how Bush had carried Ohio. Something for us to remember. There are a lot of people in the red states who think like people in the blue states. In the airport gift shop, I saw a little stuffed winged pig with the motto, "Ohio... Where pigs fly." After gathering our luggage at LAX, we stepped outside to find a cab. I took a deep breath, and gagged. It was great to be home.

For this Election Day I’ve purchased a bottle of champagne and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Depending on who wins, one of those bottles will be opened. I will also be having some Rolling Rock beer in honor of Tim Russert.

To quote Tim Russert’s dad Big Russ, "Only in America".

Stay Tuned And

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Never Judge A Show by It's Pilot: Life On Mars

Last time I wrote about how and why we either hit or miss the mark when doing an American version of a foreign television show (Never Judge A Show by It's Pilot: Kath & Kim). This time we seemed to have gotten it right with Life On Mars. At least I hope we did.

This American version of Life On Mars (Based on the BBC Drama of the same name) is one of the few shows I wanted to see this FALL 2007 Part II season. In the interest of full disclosure I want to copy and paste what I wrote last year when I reviewed Journeyman, "Anyone who knows me knows that I love time travel stories. A couple of years ago I even attempted to write a pilot about a man who could travel through time. So when I heard about the new NBC drama Journeyman, a show about a man who has the ability to go back in time, I was there." I felt the same way when I heard about Life On Mars. To counter my time travel optimism I have to express concerns since there is a fifty-fifty chance that we Americans will screw this show up.

Prior to watching the pilot I watched the pilot of the BBC show on BBC America (BBC America provides subtitles with the broadcast when the accents get too thick). The show centers on Greater Manchester Police DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Sam Tyler (John Simm) who is hit by a car in 2006 and winds in 1973. The title of the show is taken from the David Bowie song Life on Mars? that is playing on the iPod in Sam's Jeep Grand Cherokee. After awaking in 1973 Sam hears the song playing on an 8-track tape in a Rover P6. There (or should it be then?) Sam works for Manchester and Salford Police CID (Criminal Investigation Department) as a DI (Detective Inspectors) under DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). Sam deals with culture shock working through the differences between his 2006 by the book approach to police work and the 1973 rouge methods of his new colleagues. Sam does get messages from his own time through electronic devices. On his down time Sam also investigates possibilities as to why he is in 1973 with the help of the only person who he can truly confide in WPC (Woman Police Constable) Annie Cartwright (Liz White). Sam is not sure if he is insane, in a coma, or if he really has traveled back in time. I liked the British pilot. There were elements from Back to the Future, Quantum Leap, Journeyman and Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

I watched the American version of the show (Out Here in the Fields) and it was true to the original. Jason O'Mara, is Detective Sam Tyler. Harvey Keitel plays Lieutenant Gene Hunt. Gretchen Mol plays Annie "No Nuts" Norris (not Cartwright) a member of the Policewomen's Bureau. Michael Imperioli plays Detective Ray Carling and Lisa Bonet is Tyler's 2008 girl friend, Maya Daniels. The sprit of the BBC version is alive and well here. I read that the show originally shot a pilot (Hit and Run ) set in Los Angeles but that pilot was scrapped in favor of New York. As a person who lived in Los Angeles in 1973 and as much as I would have loved the nostalgia factor, New York is the better location. New York is grittier. Having the show set in New York also allowed a more touching moment where Sam realizes that he is in 1973 when he sees the newly built World Trade Center. The same scene in the BBC version was a more humorous "I don’t think we’re in Kansas" moment. The detectives at the 125th precinct all have the same goal to clean the streets of criminals. Sam Tyler has professional ethics that fall somewhere between Joe Friday (Dragnet) and Barney Miller , in contrast to Lieutenant Gene Hunt and Detective Ray Carling who are more like Dirty Harry and don’t mind playing dirty while cleaning the streets. I liked the show but as you know by now I never judge a show by it’s pilot.

The next episode (The Real Adventures of the Unreal Sam Tyler) has the detectives at the 125th precinct in the middle of an investigation involving robbery-homicides at check-cashing stores. Later Sam, while at the 125, writes on a chalkboard every reason he can think of as to why he is in 1973. Sam feels that until he figures out why he is in 1973 he must do what he does best and that is to catch bad guys. I as a viewer know that I won’t have an answer to the time travel question for awhile but the case that Sam is currently working on does hold my interest. I believe the intent here is to have a show that will appeal to a large audience and not just science fiction fans. I liked the episode but remember I opened this article with, "This time we seemed to have gotten it right with Life On Mars. At least I hope we did.". I still have some concerns for the show's longevity. The BBC series ran for only 2 (English) seasons totaling 16 episodes (List of episodes) then a spun off Ashes to Ashes. We do up to 22 episodes in one of our seasons. Can the plot last that long? The audience will eventually want to know how and why Sam went back in time. Does the audience want to know the time travel logistics early on so they can follow the story? In today’s world of instant gratification, will the audience keep tuning in unless all is revealed? I guess only time will tell.

To quote Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel): If I'd wanted to be this bored, I'd go to Mass with the missus and her miserable mother.

Stay Tuned