The Single Greatest TV Spin-Off Idea Ever!

Having now listened to every Simpsons episode commentary to date, I can declare with absolute affirmation that the single greatest idea for a TV spinoff has apparently been completely passed without notice by everyone in Hollywood. A “Barney Miller” type show that takes place completely within the Simpsons writer room as they deal with guest stars, frazzled animators, weekly boycotts and complaints, interference from the hard right wing network execs (this would be invented since Fox has always taken a shockingly hands-off approach) and lots and lots and lots of “Diner” type hilarious digressive dialogue.

Absolutely required characters:

Conan O’Brien and his general weirdness

Jon Schwartzwelder and his reclusive fascist tendencies

Tom Gammill and his bizarrre, left-field observations.

Half the shows could be nothing more than transcripts of the commentaries and it would still one of the funniest shows in the history of TV.

Literary Allusions in The X-Files

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON ASSOCIATEDCONTENT.COM AUGUST 7, 2008

Perhaps no show in TV history contains such a dazzling array of literary allusions as The Simpsons. Except for maybe Mystery Science Theater 3000. The references come so fast and furious in both these series that it is practically impossible to recognize them all. The X-Files also contained a healthy dose of literary references and usually they were introduced with such a subtle touch that you might not recognize it until your second or third viewing.

The X-Files was a show that dealt with otherworldly and often supernatural subjects, of course, so it should come as little surprise that one of the key names in the history of the study of the occult should have been slipped in at some point. The X-Files usually managed to find bizarre titles for individual episodes and one of the strangest was an episode titled “Die Hand Die Verletzt.” This episode revolves students and faculty at Crowley High, which is a nod to Aleister Crowley, who was the foremost occultist in the world at the time he lived. In fact, he was known as the Wickedest Man in the World.

The X-Files episode about zoo animals being in contact with aliens is titled “Fearful Symmetry.” Any fan of William Blake will recognize those two words from what is perhaps his most famous poem “The Tyger.” Most X-Files fans know that agent Dana Scully and her father have a special relationship in which they called each other Ahab and Starbuck. In case you only know Starbuck as place at which to get ripped off for the same amount of coffee you could have gotten for less than half the price at the 7-Eleven, both those characters are central to Moby-Dick. Continuing the Moby-Dick allusion, Scully also adopts a dog named Queequeg, which is also the name of a harpooner in the novel.

The wonderful black & white episode that is a homage to the classic Universal Studios Frankenstein movies is titled “The Post-Modern Prometheus” and initiates a series of literary allusions. That title is a nod to the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein; Or the Modern Prometheus. The mad doctor in the episode is named Dr. Polidori in honor of John Polidori. Polidori was one of the guests that fateful night when a wager was made between Mary Shelley, Percy Shelly and Lord Byron over who could write the most horrific story since the Year Without a Summer made enjoying their Geneva getaway so difficult. Out of that wager came Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Byron’s Manfred and Dr. John Polidori’s less famous, but equally influential novel The Vampyre, which preceded Bram Stoker’s Dracula by almost 70 years. Another Frankenstein reference is the name of the episode’s Polidori’s wife, Elizabeth, which was also the name of Dr. Frankenstein’s wife.

In my favorite X-Files episode of all time “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” there is a bizarre little creature who comes not from outer space, but inner space. His name is Lord Kinbote and this is a reference to Charles Kinbote, the narrator of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire. Scully claims that Chung’s book The Caligarian Candidate is one of her favorite books of all time; the title is an interesting amalgam of the German Expressionist horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the novel based on John McCain The Manchurian Candidate. In “Arcadia” where Mulder and Scully go undercover as man and wife they assume the names Rob and Laura Petrie. This is, of course, a reference to The Dick Van Dyke Show. The name of the sheriff in the series’ most disturbing episode, “Home”, should be an obvious reference: Andy Taylor.

Why are There No Minorities on Bob Newhart's Sitcoms?

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I am a HUGE fan of Bob Newhart. I think he is just simply one of the funniest human beings on the planet. And I’ve been in a kind of binge thing lately where I put a Newhart sitcom on while I’m writing. (I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m one of those writers who can’t write in silence.) Anyway, I started by binging through the first season of “Bob” the show where he’s a comic book artist and which I personally think was the best first season of any of his shows. Then I went through a bunch of Newhart episodes on YouTube before Roku recently added a new channel that shows all the episodes from the old “Bob Newhart Show.” Three different shows, three different decades and three different production companies. And then yesterday I noticed something that I sincerely hope is just a coincidence because if not—if there were something more sinister at work—it would just kill off a little part of me.

There are no minorities in Newhart’s worlds.

Seriously. None of his three sitcoms features a non-white character as a regular or semi-regular or even occasionally recurring cast member. None of Dr. Hartley’s recurring patients are black. None of the insane people populating the Vermont town where Dick Loudon owns an inn is Hispanic. Not a single artist working to bring Mad Dog comic books to life is Asian.

What’s REALLY disturbing is that even the one-offs are minority-free. For instance, there is an episode where Dr. Hartley treats a member of the Chicago Bulls who is a narcissistic hotshot who hogs the ball and never shares the spotlight. The implication is that this guys is one of the ultimate superstars in the NBA. And he’s played by a white guy. Which is not to suggest that white guys can’t jump, but it is worth noting that during the entire run of “The Bob Newhart Show” the Chicago Bulls only sent three players to the NBA All-Star Game and they were all black. (In fairness, Dr. Hartley treats a black pitcher on the Chicago Cubs in an earlier episode, though that treatment turns out to be merely the set-up for a plot actually centered on a light-hitting pinch hitter who is white.) Admittedly, the second episode of season six does feature not just a Hispanic character, but no less than two–count them, two–African-American guest stars. All three minorities show up in the episode titled “Ex-Con Job” in which Dr. Hartley does some pro bono group therapy for inmates in a nearby prison as well as a sequel later in the season, “Son of Ex-Con Job.” Worth noting is that both black prisoners are indistinguishable from the two “jive talking” passengers on board the ill-fated flight in the big screen comedy Airplane!

Then there is the case of the one-shot guests who came to stay at the Stratford Inn owned by Dick and Joanna Loudon. Off the top of my head—and I’ve seen every episode at least three or four times—I can’t immediately recall a single guest who was a minority. I’m sure there must have been some that I simply don’t remember, but…it seems particularly telling that I don’t remember right off the top of my head. Nor, for that matter, can I recall any minorities who were guests on Dick Loudon’s TV show show “Vermont Today.”

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Bob Newhart is a racist in any way and let me reiterate that to discover that he was some sort of secret Trumpist proto-fascist racist xenophobe would be devastating because I am such a huge fan. But it just seems odd. I mean, I can recall seeing black people in Mayberry than in any of the cities in which Newhart’s sitcoms are based and throughout the entire run of The Andy Griffith Show there was one episode in which a black character ever spoke. I’ll grant you that maybe there weren’t a lot of blacks or Hispanics or Asian or even Native Americans either living in or passing through the quaint little village in Vermont where Dick Loudon wrote, ran his inn and hosted a TV show.

The idea that Chicago, Illinois and Mayberry, North Carolina both share the same percentage of African-American population, however.

Kinda hard to swallow that one.

Memorable Episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati

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WKRP in Cincinnati is a hard show to write about. I mean because you never know whether Cincinnati is spelled that way or this way: Cincinnati. There is no other reason why WKRP in Cincinnati is a tough show to write about. It was one of the most beloved sitcoms of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; one of that genre of workplace situated situation comedies ala Barney Miller in the police station or Taxi in the garage. WKRP was not quite in the same league as Barney Miller and didn’t rise to the occasional levels of brilliance of Taxi, but it did produce a fair share of truly memorable episodes, including one that has gone down in history, of course.

Turkeys Away

Like the Taxi episode where Reverend Jim takes his driving exam, the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP in Cincinnati is one of the most memorable episodes of any show in TV history. It is not my own pick as the best episode ever of WKRP, but there is no denying it is a classic for all time. When those live turkeys start falling from the sky, Les Nessman’s radio call is the stuff of comedic legend. It is this particular aspect of this WKRP episode that most people recall and rightly so. Unfortunately, the lead up is simply not that memorable. Still, from the point that the turkeys drop to the end of the episode American comedy from the 1970’s does not get much better. Watch the highlight of this episode by clicking here.

Fish Story

There are two things going on in this episode that make it one of WKRP in Cincinnati’s all time best. On the one hand you’ve got radio deejays Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap taking a sobriety test live on air. The only problem is that Dr. Johnny Fever’s reaction time actually seems to improve with each glass of alcohol. At the same time you’ve got WKRP’s sale executive Herb Tarlek dressed up in a full-body carp suit getting into a fight with the mascot from rival radio station WPIG who is dressed in a fully body pig costume. If that mere description is not enough to convince you this is comedy of great level, then perhaps watching a scene from here will.

Real Families

You may think that reality TV began in the 1990’s, but it was actually a very popular form of entertainment in the 1970’s. On this episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, Herb Tarlek is followed day and night by a TV crew filming a show called Real Families. The comedy here is not just that of watching Herb attempt to paint a positive portrait of his miserable life, but it also stands as perhaps the earliest satire of the entire concept of a holiday in other people’s misery. The underlying dramatic tone to this episode is that the worse off Herb and his family are made to look, the higher the ratings will be for the reality show. WKRP was not the first to predict the future of American TV, but it may have been the first American show to do so.

Hotel Oceanview

This is my choice for the funniest WKRP in Cincinnati episode of all time. Mr. Carlson, Andy, and Herb Tarlek arrive in Dayton to meet a potential huge sponsor. Toss in a generally weird feeling that WKRP mastered, the fear of the Dayton Poisoner, and the fact that Herb falls for a girl who used to be a guy he knew in high school and what you’ve got here is pure magic, one of the funniest episodes in sitcom history.

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

There is nothing especially funny about this episode, but it is the epitome of the ability of the makers of WKRP to produce a show that felt like nothing else on TV. There is a disconnected feeling to this episode that very closely approaches the surreal. It is simply a series of extended conversations that take place between characters that have turned to the bottle to keep warm when the heat has gone off inside the building. Describing what makes this WKRP episode so great is an effort in futility. You just have to watch it.

Bah, Humbug: For awhile there it seemed as if every sitcom had to do a takeoff of A Christmas Carol. No TV show pulled it off better than WKRP in Cincinnati.

Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide

This two-part episode was a showcase for Howard Hesseman. Dr. Johnny Fever signs a binding contract to host a new TV show, only it turns out to be an American Bandstand meets Solid Gold show in which he is supposed to play disco songs, which he despises. (And rightly so.) In order to disguise himself from his fans he adopts a smarmy persona, but unfortunately that unctuous alter ego begins to take over Johnny and he develops a split personality. This is one of those kinds of episodes that sticks in your mind even if you only see it once.

The Best X-Files Monsters of the Week

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Tooms.

One of only a handful of X-Files villains worthy of getting his own sequel, Eugene Tooms is without question one of the creepiest of all and both his episodes rank in my own personal top twenty-five X-Files of all time. Tooms was this creature kind of like Stephen King’s It that slumbers for thirty years and then awakens to feast on bile to keep him alive. What makes Tooms so much creepier than X-Files monsters that may be more disgusting is that the actor who played him was brilliant, keeping him mysterious enough and frightening enough to make him memorable.

The Fluke Man.

There is one episode where Scully mentions to Mulder that despite all they’ve been through she’s never regretted a moment of their partnership…although she could have done with the Fluke Man. The Fluke Man is notorious among viewers of the X-Files for being probably the single most disgusting creature Scully and Mulder ever came up against. Let’s put it this way: a fluke is essentially a work and this worm was the size of a man. Ick.

The Peacocks.

Okay, so the Peacocks aren’t really monsters per se. They nevertheless win the title of the X-Files villain that most people consider the most disturbing and, let’s face it, they are more monster than human. So disturbing was the episode in which they appear, Home, that many years ago when the Sci-Fi Channel ran a countdown of the top ten X-Files episodes as voted on by viewers, Home was the last one shown despite the fact that it only came in at number 3. It was delayed until after prime time because its subject matter and certain scenes were deemed inappropriate for children. You got that right. The Peacocks are a bunch of inbred mongoloids that will go to any lengths to preserve their rather unique method of propagating their kind despite looking like Geico cavemen who’ve been bathed in acid. For years after this episode first aired, my wife and I would refer to anyone who did something idiotic as a Peacock.

Leonard.

I wish I could say more about Leonard from one of the absolute greatest X-Files episodes ever, Humbug. But to say much about this X-Files monster would be to give away too much. Let’s just put it this way: Humbug is the X-Files homage to carny movies, in particular Tod Browning’s Freaks. You must see this episode if you have any interest in the X-Files.

Eddie Blundt.

Eddie has a fantastic power: he can transform himself to look like anybody else. This makes for another of the top ten X-Files episodes ever and David Duchovny’s greatest performance. What makes Eddie and Small Potatoes so great, in fact, is Duchovny’s brilliant evocation of a loser playing Mulder and getting right to the elements of the FBI’s agent life that many would say makes him a loser as well.

Texas Vampires.

No, not George W. Bush and the gang that couldn’t think straight. In the comedic episode of the X-Files titled Bad Blood, Mulder and Scully visit a small Texas town that is home to a community of vampires who simply want to leave normal lives. Unfortunately, there is always at least one teenager in every town who is intent on screwing it up for everybody. Another top ten X-Files episode.

The Zombie Bug Monster.

The episode is titled Folie a Deux and there is a monster that only certain people can see. As for the rest of the denizens of this X-Files episode, a call to the boss’ office results in a trip back to your cubicle looking like you just saw Joan Rivers naked. What do you do when nobody believes your claims that your boss is a big bug who can turn people into zombies? Ask Scott McClellan.

The Hurricane Monster.

Another X-Files monster that wasn’t given a name, this one shows up in the episode Agua Mala. Whatever it is, it lives in the water and what could be better for such a creature than Florida during hurricane season? I’ll tell you one thing about this X-Files episode and this X-Files monster: you’ll never go to the bathroom during a rainstorm again without thinking twice.

The Arcadia Garbage Monster.

Mulder and Scully go undercover as a married couple named Rob and Laura Petrie! This gated community seems just a little too perfect unless you aren’t totally anal retentive and can’t help but rebel against insane authority. I wouldn’t have lasted two days and neither does Mulder who is soon rebelling against some pretty arbitrary rules. Unfortunately, there is a beast living in Arcadia that doesn’t quite approve of bust light bulbs on street lights, mailbox posts that are askew, and basketball courts on the driveway.

The Giant Mushroom.

In the X-Files episode Field Trip things are simply not what they seem. To say more is to rip from you the delight of the slow revelations about what is taking place. But when I claim that a giant mushroom is one of the most memorable X-Files monsters of the week, you can bet I’m being serious.

Rob Roberts.

Yeah, sure, Rob Roberts doesn’t have nearly the exciting potential as The Giant Mushroom the X-Files episode Hungry will have you reconsidering that quick trip down to the nearest fast food joint. Rob is a memorable X-Files monster in part because, like Tooms, the performance is so creepy. Add in some genuinely disturbing murders and you’ve got X-Files monster gold.

The Cops Monster.

What is so memorable about the X-Files episode X-Cops is that you never see him. Not only that, but it is described differently by everybody who sees it. In a way this is the perfect monster of the week for the X-Files because it essentially pure fear. This X-Files episode is also notable for the fact that it was shot on video with handheld cameras in the style of the show Cops, complete with the Mulder and Scully occasionally directly addressing the camera.

Atomic Submarine: Inspiration for Kang and Kodos

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Kang and Kodos are the two aliens who debuted on “The Simpsons” Halloween special and have been an annual special guest on the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes ever since. Kang and Kodos are two of the most instantly recognizable minor characters on “The Simpsons” and officially achieved legend status with an appearance on the cover of the Season 14 DVD.

The big head monsters with the cyclopean eye, multiple tentacles and slobbering mouth are relatively unique in the world of alien creatures. The names were chosen in homage to characters who appeared on the original “Star Trek” series. Kang was a Klingon and Kodos was known as the Executioner, a title that would come back to describe the Simpsons doppelganger.

“Relatively unique” is the proper way to describe Kang and Kodos. These aliens who call Rigel VII their home may appear to be completely original in their physical attributes, but fans of cheesy 1950s science fiction movies will eventually come across a movie that features an alien that cannot help but remind them of Kang and Kodos.

That movie is “The Atomic Submarine” and although hardly a masterpiece, it is certainly no worse than any other 1950’s sci-fi movie…or any entry in the “Lord of the Rings” series. Melodrama, romance and questionable science make up the bulk of the movie’s running time that is for the most part instantly forgettable. About 70 minutes or so into the movie, however, things suddenly become very interesting as the humans finally get their look at the alien threat.

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Anyone unfamiliar with Kang and Kodos from “The Simpsons” will become much more interested in “The Atomic Submarine” at this point because the alien is much more fascinating than the humans. Those who are familiar with the “The Simpsons” will feel the hair stand up on the back of their neck and a tingling sensation of deja vu shoot through their nervous system. The alien–given the name Cyclops–sports a large head of which the most prominent feature is the single eye. At the bottom of Cyclops are large tentacles. The alien is even covered with a slime that reminds you of the drool which constantly issues from from Kang and Kodos.

The similarity between the Cyclops of “The Atomic Submarine” and the Rigel VII aliens who occasionally pop in for a visit to Springfield even extends to the deep, commanding voice that is tinged with just enough self-satisfied superiority to make it even more unwelcome and threatening. If the perennial Halloween special guest stars Kang and Kodos were not based at least unconsciously on Cyclops, then it has to be one of the most amazing coincidences in history.

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Ozzie and Harriet: The First Postmodern TV Series

Typically, uninformed critics too lazy to do the research lump The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in with such shows as Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best as examples of conformist 50’s television designed to further inculcate the patriarchal ideology that lies at the heart of the political design of American society. In these shows the father is always wise and benevolent, the mother dresses up to do housework and the kids, while not perfect, always learn their lesson in the end. These shows are ripe for parody and satire. The difference is that Ozzie and Harriet was already satirizing it at the time.

There is a fundamental postmodern strain at work in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet that is clear from its opening titles and the very concept of the show itself. Ozzie Nelson was already a famous bandleader and Harriet Nelson a famous singer when the family was offered a chance for their own radio show. The radio show was essentially moved intact to television in 1952 and lasted until 1966, in the process becoming the longest running sitcom in television history until The Simpsons recently broke the record. The postmodern element at play in the credits is that each family member is announced as playing the character on the show. In other words, “Ozzie as Ozzie Nelson, Harriet as Harriet Nelson, David as David Nelson, and the irrepressible Ricky as Ricky Nelson.” What the show was really selling was this bizarre idea that this famous family was in reality an average suburban post-war family. They were playing themselves, in other words, but their characters had absolutely no relation to real life. It was like reality twice removed. Reality once removed is exemplified by Jerry Seinfeld playing a fictionalized version of himself; twice removed would be as if Jerry Seinfeld hadn’t been playing a comedian named Jerry Seinfeld, but a bank teller named Jerry Seinfeld who still hung out with characters based on his life. And, of course, that brings up another postmodern concern of the show.

Ozzie Nelson the character’s job has often been a source of jokes. Despite lasting over a decade, it was never revealed what Ozzie’s actual job was. In fact, he seemed able to hang around the house all day long. The unspoken idea is that he was, in fact, a musician who worked when he had a gig, but there was never even a reference to that. The postmodern idea is that Ozzie was satirizing the whole concept of this kind of show, where the father would go off to his job in an office, deal with the stress of making money and then come home to dole out kisses on the cheek to his wife and advice to his children. But Ozzie’s advice very often didn’t work out too well. He was never really prone to the “special episode” type dramatic lecture that fathers in shows like Leave it to Beaver or the Brady Bunch engaged in weekly. Often Ozzie appeared to be just as confused by societal concerns as Ricky or David. Sometimes he would even seek counsel from his next door neighbor “Thorny” (whose son—that gosh-darn Will Thornberry—was a consistent thorn in the side of Ricky), only to come away with truly awful advice that he would try out with disastrous results. In fact, Ozzie Nelson was just as likely to get himself into trouble as his boys.

Media critics are fond of pointing to how the Norman Lear revolution of the 70’s did away with the comfortable bubble of 1950’s sitcoms in which the world was presented as orderly and uncomplicated. That is somewhat true, but it’s a mistake to lump Ozzie and Harriet in there; the world of the Nelsons was fractured and convoluted. The plots in those other shows were predictable: Beaver killed a guy and feels sorry about it and tries to hide with Wally’s help but gets found out and so must receive a lecture on not killing people from his dad so he promises he’ll never kill again. You never saw Beaver’s dad or Kitten’s dad go sliding across a freshly waxed floor the way Ozzie Nelson memorably does in one episode. (Nor will you find any plot revolving around one of those kids wanting to paint his car heliotrope!) You never saw those guys going to great lengths to hide the consequences of their bad advice from their wives. Those guys were paragons of 1950’s Eisenhower-style infallibility. They never made mistakes in judgment that got them into ridiculous situations. On the other hand Ozzie Nelson often found himself drifting into situations just as laughably horrific as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. The difference, of course, being that Kramden and Norton were working class New Yorkers without kids.

Ozzie Nelson was a suburban dad who was supposed to know better and set a good example. What may truly separate Ozzie and Harriet from the pack of seemingly similar shows is that the true boss of the family was clearly the mother, Harriet Nelson. This was, of course, a quite accurate reflection of 1950’s life where the father did his part as the breadwinner and the mother ran the household and essentially raised the family. The fathers of most other shows seemed to be the ultimate boss, with the wife subservient to his wishes, which was more a reflection of the patriarchal fantasy that the Eisenhower era wanted to sell so as to get Rosie the Riveter back inside the house where she couldn’t be exposed to dangerous ideas like feminism or civil rights.

Another vital element of the postmodernism inherent in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is the acute awareness of the fact that the family are characters within a show. The tempo and rhythm of most episodes is significantly looser than most television shows, often seeming as though the actors are almost improvising half the time. Conversations are punctuated by unusual pauses and moments where the actors seem to be reacting not as the character but as themselves. Nowhere is this made plainer than in the “commercials” that often precede the actual program. Often presented as what we would call a “teaser,” that short opening scene that rarely has any connection to the actual plot of the episode but exists to present a comforting joke, the commercial adds yet another level to the already complicated structure of the show. These commercial teasers were quite common during the 50s, but Ozzie and Harriet lifted it beyond the norm. The commercial, as such, would appear to be part of the show, taking place on the set. A good example is the one where the irrepressible Ricky enters the kitchen and announces to Harriet that he sure hates homework. Being the good mom, she tells him everyone hates homework but he still must do it. He tells her he is supposed to come up with a compound sentence and this is it: “My mother likes to cook, and especially likes to cook on our new Hotpoint stove.” He then asks if that’s a good example and Harriet replies it is. And that point Ricky, still apparently in character, goes on to ask “It’s also a good commercial, huh?” Harriet responds by taking a beat to consider it as if it were an honest inquiry before tilting her head, nodding and making an almost noncommittal “mmmm” sound. The levels at work in this simple scene are so complex that one could write a research paper on it alone.

Breaking the fourth wall is one of the key elements associated with postmodern performance art. The show made it a staple of their comedy as well. One of the best of many examples occurs right before the commercial break in an episode in which Harriet has buried some gold doubloons in the backyard as a sneaky way to trick Ozzie into digging up the back yard for a garden. Ricky is the first to come across one of the coins when he’s digging for worms for a planned fishing trip. In just a matter of minutes Ricky has infected his father and brother with gold fever that reaches a hilarious comic pitch of fast-paced dialogue.

Ozzie: This is unbelievable!

David: This is fantastic!

Ricky: This is terrific!

Ozzie: (Turning to face camera): This is the end of the first act.

This same kind of self-awareness of a family of actors playing a family of characters based on themselves, but not actually themselves is often handed to Ricky in the early seasons when he is still the irrepressible kid mentioned in the introduction. Ricky probably breaks the fourth wall in the first three or four seasons than all the rest of the family combined will afterward, but it would still remain a viable source for postmodern humor through the rest of the show’s long run.

If you do an internet search on Ozzie and Harriet or read any critical analysis you will almost always find Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver mentioned in close proximity. Aside from the fact that Ozzie and Harriet is far funnier than either of those shows or their lesser known clones, the show different significantly in the self-awareness of its own detachment from reality. Whereas most other family-centered shows of the 50’s and 60’s struggled mightily to pretend they were presenting a realistic portrayal Eisenhower American dream of creating enough happy smiles in sunny climes that nobody would want to upset the apple cart, Ozzie and Harriet always seem to be in on the joke. Watching Ozzie and Harriet is kind of watching a subtle satire of 1950’s sitcom life.


Memorable Post-Episode Stingers in TV History

Stinger can be used to describe the nasty bit of anatomy on an insect that can cause you to hurt like you were forced to watch a 24-hour marathon of Family Guy.” Stinger is also an alcoholic drink that, when you’ve had too many, can cause you to think Family Guy is actually funny. Stinger is also used to describe a little bonus that appears after the closing credits of a TV show. Some stingers are more memorable than others, and these are among the best.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

The stinger first began appearing at the end of MST3K early in the second season. Almost all episodes of MST3K featured a stinger in the form of a clip from the movie that was just riffed and ragged upon by the robots and humans aboard the Satellite of Love. Looking for any rhyme or reason to the collective entity known as the MST3K stinger is an exercise in futility. Usually, the clip features a particularly bizarre moment from the movie in question, but the quality of bizarre ranges wildly from a silent shot of a contemplative Gene Hackman as an astronaut to a Bigfoot hunter softly saying “I saw the little creature” to a teenage caveman running into a tree limb.

The Muppet Show

Just before the fanfare dies down, the late great and totally lamented 1970’s syndicated brilliance of The Muppet Show would focus on the two old hecklers sitting high up in the theater. Statler and Waldorf always ended The Muppet Show with a sarcastic observation. The post-credits putdown wasn’t known as a stinger at the time; In fact, I’m not entirely sure when such a post-credits bonus became known as a stinger. What is for sure is that the final Statler and Waldorf heckle can now be seen as the prototype for the MST3K stinger and other examples.

King of the Hill
King the Hill did not start out featuring a post-credits resurrection of a great line from that night’s show, but it is now hard to remember when the show didn’t include a stinger. Just about every major character from “King of the Hill” got their opportunity to act as the coda for an episode, and it was difficult to tell while watching the show which particular line would be singled out for stinger immortality following the last chord of the closing theme music. Among my own personal favorites is Bill Dauterive saying “The monkeys must never find out.”

Xena: Warrior Princess
Xena offers a stinger of a different color. The stinger offered at the end of many, though not all, episodes of “Xena: Warrior Princess” are in the form of a crazy disclaimer credit. Examples include “No Dead Amazons lost their lives during the production of this motion picture” and “Although no great literary works of art were harmed or plagiarized, a few thespians stole some scenes during the production of this motion picture.”

Jeremy Brett: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

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Following the successful first season of Sherlock Holmes mysteries starring Jeremy Brett, a second season was inevitable. After all, the Arthur Conan Doyle wrote over fifty short stories and four novels featuring his famous detective and the first season only scratched the surface. The first season ended with the infamous story of The Final Problem, in which Sherlock Holmes appeared to have died along with his nemesis Professor Moriarty. The Return of Sherlock Holmes opens with The Empty House, in which it is revealed that all is not as it seemed.

The primary difference in this season from the first, of course, is that Dr. Watson appears to have undergone an even more radical change than Sherlock. That is because David Burke was replaced by Edward Hardwicke. Burke apparently wished to spend more time with his family and work on the stage, but it was he who recommended Hardwicke to take his place. Edward Hardwicke’s Dr. Watson is a little jarring at first; he appears to be older than Burke and carries more gravitas. He isn’t quite as comical as Burke, though he does occasionally provide some light relief. It’s difficult to choose a preference because both men provide substantially different but equally enjoyable interpretations.

Jeremy Brett, however, picks up right where he left off. His Sherlock Holmes is a performance of titanic proportions. If William Daniels’ performance as Dr. Craig on St. Elsewhere was unquestionably the greatest acting on American television during the 1980’s, then Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes was his British counterpart. Both Holmes and Dr. Craig share a great deal. They are both the best at what they do, they are both arrogant and proud, and they neither have much capacity for putting up with the confederacy of dunces with whom they must contend.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes starts off with the story behind what really happened when Holmes appeared to go over the falls with Moriarty. Next up is The Abbey Grange in which Sherlock must investigate the story of a woman who tells a story of murder that doesn’t sound quite right. The ending of this episode is an excellent example of how Sherlock Holmes is not the cold, calculating machine he is usually portrayed as. Watch as Jeremy Brett plays with the suspect and revel in the gamut of emotions he goes through, from manipulative detective to proud psychological profiler to bewildered judge and jury.

Among the other highlights of The Return of Sherlock Holmes is The Six Napoleons. The opening of this episode is unusually action-packed and violent, but effectively lays the foundation for an unusual Holmes mystery that involves the Italian Mafia. This episode is also worthwhile as an incisive illustration of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and police inspector Lestrade. Lestrade’s growing impatience with Holmes’ seemingly inexplicable fascination with the plaster busts so vital to the plot is worth a look alone.

One of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories is Silver Blaze, about the disappearance of a racehorse. It is mostly renowned for Holmes’ observation about the dog. Watch it and you’ll see why it’s such an interesting observation. The Devil’s Foot features one of the oddest stories in the Holmes canon, and one of the most infamous sequences in the television series’ history. Holmes has a drug-induced hallucination and it is truly a surreal little scene.

There are eleven episodes included on The Return of Sherlock Holmes and each of them are worthwhile additions to your bingeing queue. Stream them and decide for yourself who you prefer as Dr. Watson. One thing is guaranteed, however. After watching Jeremy Brett perform his magic, you’ll never fully accept anyone else as Sherlock Holmes.

The Greatest Legal Show in American TV History

Courtroom dramas have long been one of the most consistently popular of all genres on American television. From Perry Mason to the fifteen different varieties of Law & Order, Americans seem to love the legal system being played out on TV. (And that’s not even including the O.J. Simpson trial.) The only problem is that in the wild majority of cases, most legal dramas have an irritating quality of avoiding the complexities of ambiguity. While most legal dramas today are not nearly as cut and dried and black and white as Perry Mason, even Law & Order often devolves into predictability with dualistic divergence between the powers of good and evil.

Admittedly, Law & Order does try to introduce ambiguous elements, but ultimately the bad guy is almost always caught and punished and the reasons behind the crime are easily explained. There has really only been one show in American history that is deserving of being called the greatest legal drama in television history and that is precisely because Picket Fences chose to take the path less traveled by insisting upon its viewers radical idea that few things in life are quite what they appear to be.

From a strictly utilitarian point of view, an analysis of why Picket Fences is the greatest legal drama in American television history must begin with attorney Douglas Wambaugh, played by the great Fyvush Finkel. Wambaugh was, as he liked to point out, a character. He was larger than life and comedic. On any other show besides Picket Fences, Douglas Wambaugh would have been a target of satire, a lousy lawyer played for laughs. The twist that David E. Kelley, the creator of Picket Fences, gave was to have this object of scorn and laughter actually possess a far, far greater legal mind than Harriett Miers, the personal attorney of George W. Bush that he nominated to the Supreme Court. (Or even a far greater legal mind than Antonin Scalia, for that matter.) The juxtaposition of unexpected depths to a man who took himself far less seriously than he took the law was symbolic of the magnificent legal debates that were regular plotlines woven into Picket Fences.

I have never seen a legal drama on American television, or even British television, that so fully presented both sides to a controversial subject. The thing I miss most about Picket Fences, aside from the fact that this TV show actually pitted the amazing Don Cheadle against the amazing Fyvush Finkel in the courtroom, was how many controversial topics became fodder for the legal system. Everything from abortion to cryonics (prefiguring the Ted Williams debate by several years) to medical ethics (prefiguring George W. Bush’s inexplicable rejection of the concept of sparing human misery simply so he could gain the support of ultra-right wing maniacs who opposed stem cell research for no discernible reason) wound up debate in front of Judge Bone. And, unlike me, David E. Kelley and the other writers, but mostly Kelley, presented the other side of what may seem an obvious choice in such starkly intelligent terms that even when you fervently believe one way, you often found yourself coming to a fork in the road with a Gordian Knot hanging over a Sword of Damocles.

Remember the beloved Korean War show MASH? Well, I always had problems with calling MASH a great show because it was fervent in its desire to be one-sided. MASH came down basically to a single dichotomy: If you agreed with Hawkeye, you were smart; if you disagreed you were an idiot. Even now that I have come to agree with Hawkeye on almost all things, I still have a problem with that weighting of the issue. The amazing thing about the legal issues that came into the courtroom and were argued over by Finkel’s and Cheadle’s characters was that you really, truly never knew which way Judge Bone was going to rule and even if he ruled against your personal values, you would fully understand his reasoning. It was a show that pitted deeply held liberal and conservative values and found common ground. Try doing that in Congress or the White House. (Unless, of course, you are taking about making money, but that isn’t a value at all, is it?)

I remember with clarity throughout one particular episode of Picket Fences that presented a thorny social issue with only the barest minimum of courtroom scenes. And that aspect of taking the socio-legal concept out of the courtroom and into real life was also what makes this show the greatest legal show in American television history. The show was infamous for its rather bizarre crimes and in this case the criminal was a serial bather. He would break into the houses of people while they were gone and take a bath and masturbate into the panties of a young female member of the family. All signs pointed squarely at Frank the Potato Man, a weird outcast who lived in a shack and had a habit of loitering on the other side of the school fence while young females were around.

Picket Fences is sorely missed in this day and age when ambiguity and the destruction of the myths of good and evil and black and white are under constant assault by authoritarian leadership that thrives on create false assumptions engendered by polar opposites.