Friday, February 29, 2008

WKRP Episode: "Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide"

Another episode requested in comments: a one-hour episode from the third season. Johnny takes on a new persona, "Rip Tide," when he's forced to sell out and host a TV disco show, and he finds himself enjoying the sellout life so much that his new persona starts to take over all the time. The plot flirts briefly with the idea that this is some kind of actual split-personality problem, but primarily it's about a familiar character selling out to become the embodiments of everything that was bad in circa-1980 culture and being talked out of it when he realizes that his friends -- and he himself -- can't stand his new persona. It's like a music-business version of Taxi's Vic Ferrari (who first appeared a few weeks after this episode).

Unlike the other two-parters I think this one probably would have worked better as a half-hour, since it really doesn't give the other characters much to do and therefore feels padded in spots. But Hesseman is great and there are some good sequences, especially the ending (which was ruined in the '90s syndication version when the Little Richard music was removed).

This is also an example of how shows have to move fast if they want to be topical. The episode aired early in 1981 but the story was almost certainly conceived in 1980 (it might have been done earlier if the season hadn't been delayed by an actors' strike). In 1980, disco and the anti-disco backlash were very big and the story was topical. By the time the episode went into production, disco had collapsed; Johnny gets a line about how disco is dead, but the story would have made more sense if it hadn't come out after disco ceased to be popular. In a way the story works better now because it feels like a late-'70s period piece whereas at the time it was already a period piece.

Oh, and the late Mary Frann, who had previously appeared as an attractive woman who turns out to be an evil bitch on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, here returns to the MTM lot to play an attractive woman who turns out to be an evil bitch. In case you're wondering why she always seemed miscast as the loving wife on Newhart.

This being an episode about music on TV and radio, it's filled with music, including but not limited to: "Land of 1000 Dances" by Wilson Pickett; Xanadu" by Olivia Newton-John; "Sympathy For the Devil" by the Rolling Stones; "Le Freak" by Chic; "I Love the Nightlife" by Alicia Bridges; "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" by The Police; "Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins; and "Ready Teddy" by Little Richard.

Cold Opening:

Act 1:

Act 2:

Act 3:

Act 4:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bees! Bees! Millions of Bees!

Do you realize that this year is the 30th anniversary of Irwin Allen's The Swarm?

The Swarm is probably the worst movie of the '70s if not ever, and since it has a huge all-star cast of distinctive actors who are all embarrassing themselves, it's one of the easiest movies to mock. There's something terrible not just in every scene but in every moment. But since a big-studio movie like this wasn't available to the MST3K guys, the most detailed Swarm mockeries have appeared online.

I used to think that the biggest and longest Swarm-o-phobic piece was Ken Begg's epic scene-by-scene summary.

But later I came upon another review which may be even longer: This gigantic, rant-tastic piece by someone calling himself "Trick Lobster."

I actually enjoyed the zonked-out, stream-of-consciousness approach in the "Trick Lobster" piece more than Ken Begg's more sober-minded, even serious analysis. Of course it's an acquired taste but I can't pass up a review that includes lines like this:

Under the trees with the bees comes Paul, a kid with a Dorothy Hamill bowl cut whose parents call him "Paul" in every sentence so that we know he's important.

There hasn't been a sweaty person for a whole 2 minutes, and if we have learned anything about The Swarm, it's that there's always a bee around the corner and a sweaty guy screaming.

THAT'S what you get for messing with the SATANIC BEE POWERS of FRED MACMURRAY, you little bastard!

Look At Hon and Dearie!

Since I called attention to that terrible Herbie theme song with the terrible "nyah-nyah-nyah" theme, I should note that one of my favorite musical-theatre songs also uses that motif at the beginning (and runs it in counterpoint through the whole number). But when composer/lyricist Harold Rome wrote "Certain Individuals" for the musical Wish You Were Here, he actually had a point in doing that: the song has the secondary female lead, Sheila Bond, and the female chorus making fun of the heroine (Patricia Marand) for being so obviously in love.

Rome is a very underrated figure in musical theatre history. Most of the great Broadway songwriters were urban and Jewish, but they rarely wrote songs, let alone whole shows, about the urban Jewish experience. Rome, whose first hit was the union-sponsored revue Pins and Needles, wrote a lot of songs about urban life and New Deal politics (one of his biggest hit songs was called "Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones"), and worked a lot of "ethnic" expressions into his lyrics. And while he wrote musicals that followed the post-Rodgers-and-Hammerstein fashion for shows set in the past (like Fanny, based on Marcel Pagnol's films, and Destry Rides Again, a musical Western), his best scores were for shows about New York Jewish characters: I Can Get It For You Wholesale, which introduced Barbra Streisand, and Wish You Were Here, based on Arthur Kober's play about a singles' resort in the Catskills.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Belated Tex Thoughts

Tex Avery was, in an odd way, a living contradiction of the idea that funny cartoons are all about funny drawings. Avery's cartoons rarely had the most advanced animation or the most expressive drawings and poses. Except Preston Blair's contributions, I rarely find the animation in his cartoons to be all that distinctive (Michael Lah, one of his animators in the later years at MGM, told Leonard Maltin that they found that too many drawings distracted from the comedy and that they found it was better to keep the animation closer to the "pose reels," or what we'd now call an animatic). Even his famous "wild takes" can be a little drab as pure drawings. He wasn't bad at funny drawings, but that is not what makes him great.

What makes Tex Avery one of the greatest figures in animated comedy is his incredible expansion of the range of gags available to cartoons, what we might call the vocabulary of gags. He was not the first to take advantage of the potential of animation for re-shaping characters' bodies, defying the laws of physics, or breaking the fourth wall, but he made that the primary basis of an animated cartoon. Before Avery, a cartoon was basically a comedy short with gags inspired by silent comedy or comic strips, plus some gags that took off into an alternate cartoon reality. Avery, particularly after arriving at MGM, switched it around: instead of that kind of gag being a special effect, it became the kind of thing that happened all the time. At a time when Disney was pushing cartoons closer and closer toward a heightened version of real life, Avery found an alternate path: why not make cartoons where everything that happens could not possibly happen in real life?

That's why the most common type of Avery gag is one that takes a real-world object and changes its physical properties in some way. Characters appear in two places at once, cannons act like giant penises (Blitz Wolf), logs get peeled like bananas (Three Little Pups), a little duckling can pick up a boat with two hunters in it (Lucky Ducky). The more removed a gag was from our physical reality, the better Avery liked it. One gag he reportedly hated and considered hacky was the standard gag of a character crashing through a wall and leaving an outline of himself, and that happens to be a gag that is almost too close to what could happen in real life (I mean, it doesn't happen, but if the wall was thin enough... anyway we've seen a live-action character do that, Daniel Craig in Casino Royale). For Bob Clampett or Chuck Jones, in their different ways, animation was about funny drawings. For Tex Avery, it's more that animation was about funny things that are drawn, or, more specifically, funny things that can only be drawn. Even his wild takes are essentially jokes about body parts flying apart or changing shape or size. For Avery, it was always about how to do what can't be done in real life.

The insight Tex had was that the limitations of a short cartoon can be liberating. The limitations are clear: it's only seven minutes so there's no time for any real depth or complexity of storytelling, a short funny-animal cartoon is incapable of giving a direct, realistic representation of life, and it's the light entertainment before the feature so the audience isn't really all that involved. Avery turned these disadvantages to his advantage. Audiences didn't -- couldn't -- take a short cartoon as seriously as a feature, so Avery talked directly to the audiences, made light of the insignificance of short cartoons and (almost accidentally) got the audience more involved in the cartoon just by enjoying the little asides he threw in for them. And because short comedy cartoons are inherently unreal, he was able to invent gags that would never work in live-action, even the more surreal era of silent comedy that he and other Termite Terrace directors were influenced by. In live-action, if you try to defy the laws of physics with a gag, the audience may like it but they may also be distracted by trying to figure out how it was done. In animation, everything is fake, there are no real people, so no one will ask any questions if a character instantly comes back unharmed after his body falls apart.

Other animation people may have done more for the art of drawing but nobody did more to help create the rules of what we now think of as cartoon physics and cartoon violence. Before Avery, cartoon violence was basically Popeye and Bluto hitting each other a lot, or violence influenced by the Keystone Kops. After Avery, and the WB and Tom and Jerry cartoons that were influenced by his ways of using violence, cartoon violence had its own internal logic and became at once more gruesome and more fun to watch (because Avery's violence was so removed from the real-world effects of violence, even when characters did something realistic like shooting themselves). He defied the laws of nature and science and created his own rules for the universe. And we're happy to live in his universe.

Bob! Bob! Bob!

Randy Salas of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is one of the few journalists who is really knowledgeable about TV-on-DVD (I mean the business aspect of what gets released and what doesn't). So when the first season of Newhart was released on DVD, he was the only journalist to ask Bob Newhart the question that is on fans' minds: what about the final two seasons of his first show, which Fox has abandoned?

Apparently, Newhart is coming out now because online retailer Amazon told Fox Home Entertainment of all the requests it had received for the ’80s show... Ironically, he added, it’s his understanding that Amazon also has urged Fox to release Seasons 5 and 6 of the older show, too.

“The fifth and sixth seasons of The Bob Newhart Show are in limbo as far as I am concerned, as far as Fox’s attitude toward them,” Bob said. “I think Fox has an obligation to put something out and not quit after the fourth year.”

He said he feels bad for fans, many of whom have contacted him through his website to ask what’s up.

“I think it hurts because people don’t want to start collecting if they’re not sure they’re going to have the whole collection,” he said, adding with a laugh: “There were eight years of Newhart. Now, how many they are going to put out, I don’t know.”

Read the whole thing, which has more quotes from Newhart and more info about Fox's bizarre history with non-current catalogue titles.

Fox really, really needs to start licensing out its TV catalogue to someone, anyone. The current situation -- where they release the first season of Newhart and no one, not even Newhart himself, thinks we're likely to see the whole series -- is nuts.

I don't know if this would be practical or possible, but one thing that occurs to me is this: since these titles appear to sell better through Amazon than in regular stores (since Amazon has told Fox that they want these titles), shouldn't there at least be some consideration given to making these shows online-exclusive titles? It's probably not practical, but there's no doubt that these older shows are easier to market online -- where they will be bought by fans and by older viewers -- rather than to impulse buyers in stores.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tex Rex

Today is the centennial of Tex Avery's birth. It's like Christmas for animation fans.

Here are some celebrations of Tex that I've found online:

- The London Spectator blog post by Peter Hoskin

- An opinion piece from the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star in Virginia (score one for Fredericksburg over most other papers)

- "Avery Important Day" by Cashew Lou

- "Today is Tex Avery's 100th Birthday" by David Germain

- "Texcentennial" by Thad Komorowski

- "Happy 100th Birthday by Tex Avery" by J.E. Daniels

Update: Tribute and pictures from Kevin Langley.

(I wanted to write something myself but am going to have to wait until tomorrow. Sad, isn't it?)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Thank God For Movie Tie-Ins

Sony hardly ever releases TV shows on DVD any more, so we can be thankful for the Sex and the City movie (a phrase I didn't expect to utter), because their desperate search for Sarah Jessica Parker-related material has led them to announce a DVD release for SJP's cult flop series "Square Pegs".

This show used a bunch of music, which has been the hold-up on releasing it in the past. Sony has been better than most studios about not cutting or changing music (Paramount and Fox are the worst, while Warner Brothers seems to be the one that won't release any show if they can't clear the music), but we will have to wait and see if they've followed that policy with this release.

The lesson is clear: if you want any show to be released, you have to hope and pray that somebody on that show has a big movie or new TV series coming out. (For example, Paramount had pretty much written off the Cheers DVD releases until Ted Danson resurfaced in Damages.)

Square Pegs, created by SNL writer Anne Beatts -- who assembled a nearly all-female writing staff at a time when there were even fewer female sitcom writers than today -- was also one of two mid-'80s cult flop sitcoms that were shot one-camera, with a more movie-like look and fewer hard jokes than most sitcoms, but still had to use a laugh track. Buffalo Bill was the other. I don't mind laugh tracks for some shows but they did not work at all for these shows, and at a time when M*A*S*H had mostly dropped the laugh track, it was anachronistic.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Grudge Match: Fantasy Island vs. the Love Boat

"Da plane, boss! Da plane!"

"No, my little easily-condescended-to friend, that's not a plane, that's a boat," says Mr. Roarke.

From the ship, through a megaphone, comes the voice of Captain Stubing: "We claim this island in the name of Pacific Cruise Lines! Surrender or prepare to be invaded! We have mobilized the entire crew as well as our celebrity passengers to destroy you!"

"On the contrary, you Minneapolis fugitive, your ship is now mine, since it is on Faaaantasy Island property. Tattoo, arm the staff and the guests to repel these invaders!"

Who wins the most brutal war of all time, as The Love Boat invades Fantasy Island? Which guests will have funny or heartwarming adventures? And will the breeze from the Pacific Princess cause unexpected love matches among Fantasy Island and Love Boat staff members?

Note: This is Fantasy Island from the series, not the pilot or the remake. (The evil, omnipotent Roarke from the pilot would turn Julie into a coke fiend and transform all the other Love Boat crew members into has-beens. Not that that could ever happen.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

WKRP Episode: "Baby, It's Cold Inside"

This is a great episode from the third season, the first episode to focus on Mama Carlson (Carol Bruce) and flesh out her backstory, her personality, and her interactions with the series regulars. (The story requires her son, the one person whose relationship with her is a known quantity, to be absent for most of the episode, so the writers can figure out how the other characters interact with her.) The late Carol Bruce is really great in this episode and some of the ideas introduced here became the basis for later stories, especially her advances to Andy.

Unfortunately this is another one where the missing-in-syndications scenes had to be edited in from a low-quality tape, but, again, it's better than being without the scenes that were cut in syndication, like Jennifer's drunk scene. (You know this already, but the difference between Loni Anderson and other late '70s sex symbols like Suzanne Somers and Farrah Fawcett is that Anderson was actually extremely talented, especially at comedy.) If anyone has a better-quality version of this episode, please contact me and we can work out a trade.

Music includes "Rough Boys" by Pete Townshend, "Hungry Heart" by Bruce Springsteen, "Duke of Earl" by Gene Chandler and "Someone To Watch Over Me" sung by Bruce. (I'm not sure about the song that's playing just before that.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Donald Westlake's Masterpiece?

I knew (thanks to Sarah introducing me to his work) about the writer Donald E. Westlake, of the Dortmunder series. And I knew about the legendary flop Supertrain -- a Fred Silverman NBC show set on a massively expensive train that tried to combine The Love Boat with thriller plots.

I did not realize until just now that Supertrain was co-created by.... Donald E. Westlake!?!?

Somebody should really ask the guy about his involvement in one of the most fabled flops of all time, a show so bad that it was notorious even among Silverman's unmatched late '70s crop of flops. Hello Larry and Pink Lady and Jeff were at least somewhat cheap to make. This was advertised as one of the most expensive TV productions of the era -- mostly because of the train, certainly not because of the B-list cast (I never thought I'd see a cast list that made Bernie Kopell look like a superstar by comparison) -- and it bombed completely and totally.

It looks fascinatingly horrible, though. Traditionally, trains are the setting for mystery/suspense plots; unlike cruise ships, they don't suggest glamour and romance, but the confined spaces and limited number of hiding places make it perfect for anything involving murder (which is why Alfred Hitchcock's movies have a zillion train scenes). So they apparently tried to fit the train setting by doing train-appropriate plots, except this meant they wound up doing plots like this:

Or this:

So nobody who watched The Love Boat would want to watch that, yet nobody who wanted actual good television would watch it either. Proving again that, though it's hard to admire Aaron Spelling, you've got to at least respect the guy: he knew how to create a winning formula and his imitators really didn't.

Oh, and I got through this post without using the term "trainwreck" to describe Supertrain. Good for me.

Archer (Not to Be Confused With Sagittarius)

Animation director Wes Archer -- creator of the cult classic "Jac Mac and Rad Boy Go!," one of the original directors of The Simpsons and supervising director of King of the Hill has set up a website for his work, including a page with lots of artwork and information from his years on The Simpsons.

And here again is "Jac Mac," which was an acknowledged influence on "Beavis and Butt-head" and much else:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Who is the One With the Zing in His Chassis?

Add another one to the list of terrible theme songs: the song for the short-lived TV version of "Herbie the Love Bug." (Dean Jones deserved a better song to sing and a better show to be in.) Why didn't they just use George Bruns's theme music from the original movie?

Monday, February 18, 2008

When Foreign Films Were Cool

If you want to read more about one of my favourite movie-related subjects -- the creative collapse of the American film industry in the '60s -- you should read Mark Harris's book Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, which I read over the weekend. Harris's subject is just about perfect: he looks at a single year, 1967, one of the most important years in movie history (though not necessarily one of the best), and focuses in particular on the five movies that were nominated for Best Picture that year.

These five movies provide a perfect cross-section of the movie industry at the time: two movies that represented what Hollywood had been doing through most of the '60s, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (well-intentioned but stodgy message picture) and Dr. Dolittle (hugely expensive roadshow film), two "New Hollywood" movies heavily influenced by the European movies that kicked the Americans' asses creatively in that decade (Bonnie and Clyde, written by two New Wave-obsessed guys who wanted Francois Truffaut to direct it, and The Graduate, a mish-mash of every movie Mike Nichols had ever seen in the past five years), and one movie that was sort of in-between and turned out to be the "safe" choice for the Academy that year (In the Heat of the Night). By mostly talking about those five movies, how they were made, how they were marketed, and how they were received, the book is able to convey an idea of how the American film industry was on the verge of huge changes, both in a business sense and a creative sense. And there are plenty of anecdotes to be found along the way; I never liked Stanley Kramer's movies much, but I do feel a bit of sympathy for him on reading about his disappointment and bitterness on realizing that nobody took his movies seriously any more. And of course he talks about Fox's ability to use its industry clout (and its large roster of people under contract) to literally buy Best Picture nominations for movies that nobody liked, like Dolittle and, later, Hello, Dolly!

One subject that I don't think anybody has written about at length, but which I would like to read about -- I don't know enough about it myself -- is how the '60s was in some ways the last hurrah for European movies. Not that there haven't been great movies that came out of Europe after the '60s, but in the '60s, as I've said many times before, many European countries had better technicians, stars and studio facilities than the Americans, and were not only leading the world creatively but had at least a chance to overtake the Americans in popular entertainments. France, Italy, England and other countries didn't really keep this up after the '60s, and it's not really a question of individual filmmakers losing their touch (though I do think there were an strangely large number of French and Italian filmmakers who did all their best work before 1969 or so) but these countries' producers didn't really seem to build on their '60s success to create a stable, well-functioning movie business, and so by the '70s they were right back to the old ways, where their audiences mostly wanted American imports and home-grown movies couldn't support a movie industry. (Again, I'm mostly talking about the Europeans here; there are plenty of other countries that do have fully-functioning movie industries.) I think there have been some books about the implosion of the British film industry, but other countries ran into similar problems around the same time.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bob vs. Chuck

I was reading Milt Gray's oral history of the Bob Clampett vs. Chuck Jones wars. Read the article for the story, though keep in mind that it is from the point of view of an admitted Clampett partisan whose experiences with Chuck Jones weren't very pleasant. But the gist of it was that in the '70s, Clampett started telling stories in an interview with Gray and Mike Barrier, and the 1975 documentary "Bugs Bunny Superstar," where he maybe tried a little too hard to portray himself as the guy who invented everything good at Warners. Jones was a man who held grudges easily -- that's not an anti-Jones comment; that's just something everybody, including Jones' greatest admirers, agreed upon; if he had a bad experience with someone, like Leon Schlesinger, he'd bad-mouth that person forever -- and he struck back with an angry letter and, finally, leaving Clampett out of the Warners "hall of fame" as seen in his Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie.

What interests me is not so much the Clampett vs. Jones question in itself (Clampett vs. Jones arguments are usually only of interest to people who love both men's cartoons, and the general public just loves the cartoons without worrying about who made which one) as the fact that in the early '70s, the issue of credit for the Warners cartoons -- and the other theatrical cartoons turned out in the studio era -- became so important to the people who made them.

Remember, Clampett himself wasn't always so enthusiastic about his Warners work. When he was doing the "Beany and Cecil" cartoons, he took credit only for creating Tweety (the one character of which he really was the sole creator) and had a somewhat ambiguous attitude toward his theatrical cartoons, talking about them almost as an artist would talk about his early, immature work. That was entirely normal. Most of the WB people, in their rare interviews in the '60s, did not talk as though they had been working on masterpieces or that their work in TV was a come-down. Many of them seemed quite enthusiastic about limited animation and the more specifically kid-centric nature of TV cartoons. Cartoon directors who had gone on to bigger things, like Frank Tashlin, rarely talked about their cartoon work at all; until the late '60s it was common to read that Tashlin had worked for Disney but no other studio.

This wasn't only because the non-Disney theatrical shorts hadn't really been re-evaluated and given the respect they get today. I think it was also a sign that the collapse of theatrical cartoons and the coming of limited TV animation was a big opportunity for some of these veterans, and in some cases an opportunity that paid off. The very obvious thing about their work on theatrical shorts is that for decades, they had been helping to create popular characters, who would then be merchandised like crazy by the studios (Eddie Selzer, in his only published interview about being the producer of WB cartoons, talked more about new merchandising for Bugs Bunny than his new cartoons), and cartoons that were being issued and re-issued and sold to television... and they weren't getting anything for all of that. They had gotten a screen credit -- sometimes -- and a good but not great salary, but their work had made other people very rich while they themselves were not rich or famous.

TV cartoons, popping up in a time when many shows were owned by their own producers, suggested the possibility that cartoonists might finally be able to create characters that they would actually own. Bob Clampett did it with Beany and Cecil, getting not only better money than he would have made from Warners cartoons but better recognition (which was the point of incorporating his name into the theme song). The threatened death of full animation bothered some people -- it certainly bothered Chuck Jones, who stuck to full animation and, as Gray says, was considered "the last shred of hope for quality that a lot of people had." But I would think that some cartoon directors/producers preferred the promise of real autonomy in limited animation to their past lives as faceless drones working to enrich a big Hollywood corporation.

Then it all collapsed. Networks exerted stricter control over TV cartoons and put most of them on Saturday mornings; production companies like Filmation popped up to do animation too cheap and fast even for those who had made their peace with limted animation; and the possibility of individual cartoonists getting rich and famous in TV became very remote. Everybody in the business seemed to have a sad understanding that their best work was behind them; Hanna and Barbera were pretty blunt about the fact that their new shows were not as good as their early ones. By 1970, Bob Clampett was no longer the famous creator of Beany, and it was increasingly unlikely that he was ever going to create another hit in any format.

At a time like that, with animation looking very much like a dying art form, it may have become more important to cartoon veterans to worry about their reputations, as opposed to taking advantages of opportunities for new cartoons (opportunities that really didn't exist any more). And around that time, critics and fans started becoming more aware of the greatness of the old theatrical cartoons and wanting to know more about the people who made them -- an extension of the increased interest in classic American movie directors, which gave new attention to people like Howard Hawks, Frank Capra and John Ford in their last years. So you get Frank Tashlin admitting, not long before he died, that the new interest in cartoons has made him think that maybe there was more to these short cartoons than he thought at the time, or you get Bill Melendez, once dismissive of his work at Warners, becoming increasingly willing to talk about the fun of working there.

What I see in Bob Clampett's '70s interviews is not so much a credit hog -- though I do think he was, a bit, and I think Gray's account severely understates Clampett's attempts to spin cartoon history his way -- but a man who is coming to appreciate what he didn't fully appreciate before, that his work in the '30s and '40s was really, really great, that he was part of something extraordinary, and that at this point in his life, it's important for him to secure his place in animation history. I see the same thing with Chuck Jones, for different reasons; Jones was the one who didn't "sell out" to limited animation, but his attempt to preserve quality animation never fully worked out (except for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," he spent many years producing cartoons that looked good but weren't really all that good), and he probably was coming to terms with the fact that he, too, would be remembered for the work-for-hire he did in the '40s and '50s.

From our point of view, the story has a happy ending because these guys did in fact find secure places in animation history, along with their contemporaries. For these guys, well, whether they felt their reputations were secure is something only they could know. But the story itself is kind of the story of animation in the '70s: animation hits a brick wall as an art form and suddenly the stuff that got churned out in previous decades starts to look really good, even to the people who created it.

Of course, if they did feel like they should have gotten more recognition and compensation for creating these cartoons... well, they were right.

Poor Pierrot

Interesting that the new Criterion DVD of Godard's Pierrot Le Fou adds color filters to the party scene early in the movie, including a green filter for the famous cameo by Samuel Fuller. As the DVD Beaver comparison shows, other DVD versions don't have this filter and it doesn't seem to be in the actual negative. The cinematographer supervised the new release and some people online report having seen it filtered this way in theatres, so I guess it must be authentic, but I'm not sure why, if they wanted the scene tinted, they wouldn't have just added it in the lab.

Incidentally, the influence isn't mentioned at all in the DVD booklet or in the extras I've seen so far, but I find Pierrot Le Fou to be Godard's "cartoon" movie. Godard was a huge fan of Frank Tashlin as a critic -- probably the critic who did the most to help establish Tashlin's reputation in France -- and the vivid colors are his tribute to painting but just as much, I think, to the in-your-face color in movies like Artists and Models and The Girl Can't Help It. The fourth-wall breaking (Anna Karina asks Jean-Paul Belmondo who he's talking to; he says "the audience") and absurd interludes are very Tashlinesque too.

And of course the final scene is really kind of a Wile E. Coyote gag in live action. It really does seem like the animated cartoon was a big inspiration for this movie, and that Godard turned what started out to be another neo-noir idea into a bizarre live-action cartoon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Grudge Match: Skippy vs. Screech

Who wins a knock-down, drag-out brawl between two characters who are more used to getting knocked down and dragged out: Irwin "Skippy" Handelman (Marc Price, Family Ties), a socially-awkward idiot constantly made fun of by his cooler, cuter friends, vs. Samuel "Screech" Powers (Dustin Diamond, Saved By the Bell), a socially-awkward idiot constantly made fun of by his cooler, cuter friends?

I would specify that neither of these guys can ask their friends for help, but, really, their so-called friends aren't going to help them anyway. (Well, Alex and Mallory sometimes helped Skippy, but they would be worse than useless in a fight.)

And while it might seem that the obvious grudge match is Urkel vs. Screech, the problem with that matchup is that it's no matchup at all: Urkel is a scientific genius, a walking weapon of mass destruction, and has the ability to transform himself into Bruce Lee. At least Screech has a fighting chance against Skippy.

WKRP Episode: "The Americanization of Ivan"

By request, an episode from the second season where a Ukrainian hog expert (Michael Pataki) wants to defect and seeks asylum at the station. Hugh Wilson directed and wrote the outline; the script was credited to the team of Dan Guntzelman and Steve Marshall. (They later created the quite good family sitcom "Just the Ten of Us.") This is also one of the few WKRP episodes that has big scene-stealing roles for guest stars; because the cast was so huge, most episodes did not have room for much guest work, but this episode is more or less dominated by Pataki as the defector and Sam Anderson as the sad-faced immigration officer.

Weirdly enough, The White Shadow, which was produced by the same company and aired on the same network on the same night, also did a Russian defector episode which aired the week before or after this one.

Of course the most infamous thing about this episode is that in the recent syndication package, the running gag involving Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" was not only eliminated, but redubbed with lines like "Hold my order, terrible dresser." This version here has all the "Tiny Dancer" references intact. (As Bailey mentions, the basis for this joke is that Elton John had then-recently toured the Soviet Union.)

Cold opening and act 1:

Act 2:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Does a Mother Duck?

I would not recommend the final season of "Riptide" (1985-6_, a show that followed the usual pattern of Stephen J. Cannell's pre-Wiseguy self-produced shows: promising first season, everything goes to hell in the 1984-85 season, '85-6 season a bit better but not good enough to keep it from being canceled. This is one show that seriously shows the limitations of Cannell's attempt to produce shows without studio resources; it's trying to be Magnum P.I. except that they don't have the money for decent locations, or (for the most part) really attractive guest stars. (You can tell that they want to surround the heroes with gorgeous guest babes, but instead they usually settle for craggy-faced mob guys, who are much cheaper to cast.) Instead Cannell spent all the money on stunts, which are sometimes kind of cool but there are only so many helicopter chases you can watch before they all seem the same. I think in general a TV show, even an "action" show, probably does better to emphasize production values over stunt work; if the show looks drab, people aren't going to stick around waiting for the chase scenes.

Anyway, this was the season that produced this show's most famous episode, "If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em." Riptide was about to be canceled because it was being trounced in the ratings by Moonlighting, which had suddenly raised the bar for lighthearted detective shows -- particularly when it came to production values. (Mooonlighting had its share of stunts but poured much more of its big budget into elaborate sets, classical Hollywood-style photography, costumes, and so on, and kind of established the principle that a show could get away with being mostly talk, little action, if it was really cool to look at.) Needing to produce a clip show to offset going over budget on stunts that season, showrunner Babs Greyhosky decided to build the clip show around the Riptide characters going to the set of a new show that was exactly like Moonlighting in every way, right down to the fact that the leading lady is always photographed through a soft filter. It's an odd parody because it's fairly clear that not only are the writers big fans of the show they're parodying, but as the title implies, they're tacitly admitting that they think this new show is better than theirs (which it was).

There's a webpage for the Moonlighting parody episode with quotes from the script and interviews with the writers of the episode. It actually reads better than it plays, which isn't uncommon with these '80s action shows and especially the ones from the Cannell stable: these shows were shot so fast and played so broadly that the funny moments in the script never seem as funny as they could onscreen. (I remember reading the pilot script of The A-Team and thinking that the script doesn't even need re-writing to make a better show; it's a great pilot script that just wasn't fully implemented in the shooting.) But the guy they got to be Bruce Willis, Richard Greene (not to be confused with Robin Hood) is really dead-on. I don't know what happened to him after that.

Oh, and like most of the releases of Cannell's own shows starting with his unforgiveable butchery of Wiseguy, this set has some very obvious and wince-inducing music substitutions (I don't know what songs were there originally, but whatever they were, they sure weren't this generic library stuff).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I Could Never Be a Hit

As a gigantic Clueless fan I was hoping that Amy Heckerling's I Could Never Be Your Woman, with a number of Clueless folk including Paul Rudd, would turn out to be closer to Clueless than Loser on the Heckerling rom-com scale. I waited and waited for it to come out and finally it went direct to DVD -- never a good sign. But Nathan Rabin's review suggests that it may at least be better than Loser, if certainly no Clueless or Fast Times. I'll have to check it out.

The thing that surprised me in looking over Heckerling's filmography is that except for Loser and the Look Who's Talking sequel, she hasn't really directed any movies I consider genuinely bad. (I didn't say European Vacation was great, just that it wasn't bad.) Even the first season of the Clueless TV series, which she produced and sometimes directed, was pretty good. I've always thought of her as a director who has had a very uneven career, but although she certainly hasn't always hit the heights of Fast Times and Clueless, it seems more like she just hasn't gotten many movies made. Rabin's review makes it sound like I Could Never Be Your Woman is in part a way of taking out her frustration over not working enough, which is another reason I probably should see it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Neil A. Sterbush

I haven't really been following the U.S. primaries very closely, but when Mitt Romney lost badly after spending a lot of his own money on his campaign, I was reminded of yet another Bob & Ray parody of the news media, the "Sore Loser" sketch -- because it starts with another disastrous self-financed campaign. Except it imagines the kind of concession speech that no losing candidate actually gives on election night. But the best part of this audio clip, from "Bob & Ray: The Two and Only," is a routine that's a parody of loquacious news commentators like David Brinkley and David Susskind, but still holds up as a parody of the way TV news pundits take a lot of time to sound "expert" while saying nothing we don't already know.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's Frankie! (Or Is It?)

A few months ago I wondered what was the first movie to license a musical recording. I thought it might be the recording of Rudy Vallee in Margie (1946). (Though I'm still not sure if they used a real '20s recording of Vallee or just had Vallee re-record the song. But still, it was an attempt to at least sound like they were playing a real '20s recording by a real recording artist of the era.)

But then I saw the goofy 1945 Arabian-nights parody movie A Thousand and One Nights -- a very silly but fun movie with Cornel Wilde as Aladdin, Phil Silvers as his sidekick, and Evelyn Keyes pre-dating Barbara Eden as a magic genie with a crush on her master. The movie, which is full of deliberately anachronistic references, ends with Keyes doing Silvers a favor by turning him into Frank Sinatra, singing "All Or Nothing At All" for a harem of bobby-soxers. (Yes, everybody did this gag in the '40s, even live-action films.) I don't have Sinatra's own recording of "All Or Nothing At All," his first big hit, so my questions are:

1) Is that Sinatra singing, or an imitator?
2) If it is Sinatra, is that his actual recording of "All or Nothing At All," or is it a re-recording?

Update: Via comments, the answer is # 2, a Sinatra re-recording made at Silvers' request.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Network ID's You're Nostalgic For

I was going through some old tapes of Freakazoid! I made when The Global Television Network showed the episodes late at night (kids weren't watching it on the Global "Kids TV" lineup, so they burned it off -- along with Animaniacs and other overly adult-oriented kids' shows -- in the late-night graveyard slot), and I was filled with a weird nostalgia at seeing the station identification that Global used in the late '90s. It had a kind of wistful sax theme that sounded like a cross between jazz and the "Miracle Whip" theme, and for some reason I always kind of liked it. Seeing it again took me back to an earlier time:

I should try and pick out more Global station IDs and promos from my old tapes. They always had a certain charm to them because despite Global's status as a fairly big (for Canada) network, they have always had low-tech, low-quality promos that look like they were put together by people who never watched the shows. (My favorite, which I've mentioned before, was their promo for a King of the Hill episode: "Someone's doing something on King of the Hill! Find out what -- next!")

Are there any network or station ID's you remember fondly?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cartoons Where Sylvester Wins?

(I think I need a reader-participation subject in an attempt to get the comments section humming -- or at least showing signs of life again. So...)

Someone once told me that Sylvester the Cat is the biggest loser in the cartoon universe, and I couldn't really argue with him. Sylvester appeared in so many different cartoons, including at least three popular series (Tweety, Speedy Gonzales and Hippety Hopper), and not only did he almost always lose, he almost always lost in the most humiliating way possible. And unlike most cartoon villains, who mostly lose when they're asking for it, Sylvester loses even when he's trying to be good. The ending of "A Mouse Divided" has taught generations of children a valuable lesson: don't learn to love those who are different from you, because if you do, you'll be kidnapped by a stork and adopted by mice.

So are there any cartoons where Sylvester actually wins in the end? Maybe "Kitty Kornered," though that cat isn't really fully Sylvester-like except for that one scene where he talks. In general some of the early Sylvester appearances, before his character was fully fleshed out, have him winning: "Catch as Cats Can," where he has the wrong voice but does win out over the Bing Crosby bird, and "Back Alley Oproar" (if you assume he didn't die at the end, which is by no means certain). But from about 1948-9 on, after Sylvester's character was truly established? Hard for me to think of an example. Chuck Jones couldn't even let him win at the end of "Scaredy Cat" without having it all ruined in the very last gag.

So what are some Sylvester victories, however small and fleeting, that come to mind? And is there another cartoon character with a worse track record?

WKRP Episode: "Frog Story"

One of my favorite episodes ever, from season 3, the one where Herb accidentally gets pink paint all over his daughter's pet frog Greenpeace, while Les (who by this time in the series had gone from a meek little guy to a borderline psycho) talks Johnny into believing he's dying of a rare illness. The episode was written by Bob Dolman, who later went on to be one of the writers for SCTV and wrote and directed some recent movies. Dolman said that George Lucas picked him to write the movie Willow based on having read and liked his WKRP script, but even though George Lucas liked it, it's a great script.

This was one of the episodes that the Comedy Network only had in the cut syndication version, so unfortunately I had to use a low-quality third-generation tape for the missing scenes. Sorry about that, but it's better than having the episode cut. (Of course if anyone has a better copy of this episode uncut, let me know at weinmanj at gmail dot com, and we can work out a trade.)

Music includes "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks and a song in the tag that I'm not sure about.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Your Casual Indifference Won't Save You Now

Anybody remember "Sam & Max: Freelance Police? To my surprise, I remember it; I watched some of the episodes during its first and only season on Fox Kids, and liked it -- not as much as similar shows of the era like The Tick, Freakazoid! and Earthworm Jim, but I liked it. Anyway I got a copy of the DVD release - with all 13 half-hour shows, plus some bonus material and an interview with creator Steve Purcell -- and my view is still the same: I like it, but I don't mourn its early demise as much as that of the three other shows I just mentioned.

The show was based on Purcell's comic books and computer games, and apparently didn't please much of anyone at the time: Sam & Max fans disliked the fact that the comic's anarchic, violent content was watered down for Saturday mornings, and they objected to the addition of a spunky genius girl sidekick, "The Geek." (Not being that big into the comics I have little problem with The Geek as a character; the problem is that her design is a standard Nelvana look that doesn't fit this world at all.) While kid viewers weren't really into these unattractive-looking and (even in the cartoon version) kind of not-very-nice.

But as Purcell says in the interview, his mandate was to keep the "weirdness" of the comic to compensate for the fact that he couldn't be as violent. So it's a weird, nonsensical cartoon, the kind of dada-ist, surreal stuff that abounded in the mid-'90s before networks realized that advertisers didn't want to buy time on "kids" shows that weren't actually comprehensible to kids.

The reason it's not in a class with the other weirdo cartoons of the time is that it's actually a little predictable: there's a weird situation and Sam and Max will stand around making smug jokes about it. It's really almost all talk. And since they don't take any situation even remotely seriously (whereas Freakazoid, Earthworm Jim, the Tick and others all sort of cared -- at least sometimes -- about defeating the bad guy), it's easy to lose interest before the 10 minute segments are over. In many ways the style is a lot like the 10-minute cartoons Adult Swim started doing soon after this show was canceled, and there's no doubt that the characters would have been a good fit for Adult Swim if they'd come along a little later.

Maybe not a first choice as a purchase, but interesting if you liked that era of crazy stuff on Saturday morning.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Importance of Being Ernst

DVD Beaver takes on the new Lubitsch Musicals set from Criterion/Eclipse.

I haven't seen the set yet but judging from the screenshots, the movies look about as good as they can considering their age. Fortunately The Smiling Lieutenant, the best of the four films and one of my favorite films of all time, looks very good. (It couldn't be reissued under the Hays Code, which probably explains why it's in good condition.)

I would urge you to try this set, even if you're not a fan of Maurice Chevalier, who is in three of the four movies (and in Monte Carlo, where he's replaced by Jack Buchanan, he is very much missed). I know his cartoonish persona, an over-the-top caricature of French stereotypes, gets on people's nerves, but Lubitsch had a way of making it work. In The Love Parade it works because he spends much of the movie being taken down a notch through his status as the Queen's powerless husband. In The Smiling Lieutenant it works because Chevalier's character is not intended to be all that sympathetic; he's a horny jerk who doesn't really deserve either of the wonderful female leads (Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins) and the movie doesn't pretend he does. And in The Merry Widow, which is not on this set because Warners owns it and hasn't released it yet, he's grown enough as an actor that he's actually able to make us like him.

The only one of these movies where Chevalier "goes too far" is One Hour With You, where he talks to the audience a little too often, smirks a little too much, and is allowed to get away with something he probably shouldn't have gotten away with so easily. Not to give too much away, but although One Hour With You is a remake -- often scene-for-scene -- of Lubitsch's The Marriage Circle, it's actually much more sexually suggestive than the earlier film and goes much farther than the original in what it allows the lead character to do. It's a reminder that the "Pre-Code" era wasn't only less inhibited than what came after, it was by and large more uninhibited than what came before. Which might explain the backlash against them, because when movies got so much naughtier so quickly, there was bound to be an equally quick backlash.

The Marriage Circle is actually a better movie than One Hour With You, despite the good songs and Samson Raphaelson dialogue in the remake, because in the original you can care about the characters whereas the remake pumps up the newly surreal, off-kilter humor that Lubitsch had become fond of in the sound era (lines like "Ah, monsieur, I did so want to see you in tights") with the result that the characters become unlikable and the story a little unpleasant at times. That was always the downside of the "Lubitsch touch," that the emphasis on unusual jokes -- and no one, before or since, has ever come up with more unique jokes in a motion picture -- can make the movies seem like they're about jokes rather than people. This is one reason, I think, why Lubitsch was particularly proud of The Shop Around the Corner and some of his other later movies, where he managed to create more three-dimensional characters.

But these early musicals are very special just for the way they balance all the modern and retro elements of Lubitsch's art: cutting-edge joke writing -- especially in The Smiling Lieutenant which was Lubitsch's first comedy with Raphaelson -- mixes with old-style Viennese operetta; modern (for the time) music butts up against operetta music; silent-movie visuals alternate with static sound scenes; old-fashioned morality ("girls who start with breakfast don't usually stay for supper") competes with early '30s sexual license.

Now if only Warners would bring out The Merry Widow, the end of an era in so many ways: Lubitsch's last completed musical (he started one last musical, That Lady In Ermine with Betty Grable, but didn't finish it); his last movie with Chevalier and MacDonald; his last pre-Code movie (it sustained some cuts when the Code came in, but thankfully the original version survived). If you watch her Lubitsch musicals in order, along with Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight, you can see MacDonald -- who had a great screen presence right from the beginning -- get just a little bit better every time until by The Merry Widow she is a full-fledged star, given equal billing with Chevalier and clearly dominating the movie. (Interestingly she was not the first choice for Merry Widow; MGM was thinking of Grace Moore.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Show With the Most Shark-Jumping Moments?

One of the reasons I write about Happy Days a lot is that I think that show had more "jump the shark" moments than any other show (apart, I mean, from the actual shark jumping), and therefore is a handy reference point for almost any bad TV trend I want to bring up. But that leads me to ask: is Happy Days the show that had the most moments like that -- moments that are typical of what shows do when they've lost their way -- or is there another show that beats it?

Other shows like Law and Order may have had more JTS moments in terms of sheer numbers, but most of them are the same kind of moments: cast changes. What I'm talking about is a show that meets the largest number of criteria for jumping the shark, that has many different moments that fans can point to as the big moment when it started to suck. Happy Days, because it had a) a long run and b) producers like Marshall, Miller, Milkis and Boyett who were willing to do anything to keep a show popular, seems to me to be the one that really incorporates every possible JTS moment, including but not limited to:

- Change in format (one-camera to multi-camera)
- Change in emphasis (Fonzie becomes the star)
- Show becomes completely ridiculous and implausible (the shark jump itself)
- Major cast members leave (including one of the stars, Ron Howard)
- Characters leave the show to do a failed spinoff (Joanie and Chachi)
- A character is forgotten and never spoken of again (Chuck)
- Terrible new characters are added (including Mr. JTS himself, Ted McGinley)
- A cute little girl is added to the cast (Heather O'Rourke)
- Characters start to dress anachronistically and the show forgets what time period it's supposed to be set in (a JTS moment for any show that is set in the past)
- Important characters are softened and eventually lose all edge at the behest of the network (Fonzie going from hoodlum to squeaky-clean role model)

And so on. There may be other shows that had almost as many JTS moments, but I can't think of any that had as many: All in the Family had many of these moments (characters leaving, characters getting spun off, cute little girl added, Archie loses his edge, show stopped using a live audience after Mike and Gloria left) but didn't go all the way into lunatic fantasy or promote a different character as the star.

Roseanne might be a candidate, based mostly on the final season, but I think it was too consistent for most of its run to really count as a JTS champ. Other nominations?

Monday, February 04, 2008

"I'm Going To Forget That So-Called American Emancipated Woman Type of Independence..."

I finally got around to transferring my old VHS copy of The Geisha Boy to a DVD (since no commercial DVD release seems planned at the moment). This is my favorite of the six Jerry Lewis solo vehicles that Frank Tashlin directed; like all their movies, it's as much Lewis's movie as Tashlin's (Lewis produced them himself and had more say over the final edit than anybody), and is extremely sentimental, but the gags are pretty consistently good, and it's one of the cartooniest of their films together, with a Looney Tunes ending, a live-action version of a WB-style funny animal in "Harry Hare," and a throwaway reference to Bridge on the River Kwai. It also has a great title sequence with a "calling attention to the director's credit" gag that ranks up there with the famous one in The Wild Bunch.

(Incidentally, I don't think I've seen this mentioned elsewhere, but when Tashlin first signed to direct Martin & Lewis movies in 1955, his first project was announced as "Rock-a-Bye-Baby" -- the remake of Miracle of Morgan's Creek that eventually became his first movie with Lewis alone. Apparently the property was originally planned to be another in Martin & Lewis's long line of remakes of Paramount properties.)

The Geisha Boy was also the movie debut of the late Suzanne Pleshette. She looks great, of course, but has a rather thankless part as an army sergeant/glorified stewardess who seems to have some kind of unrequited crush on Lewis -- she doesn't get him, she doesn't get to do much of anything, and all she gets for a send-off is a rather appalling speech where she decides that the lesson of the story is that women should be totally submissive if they want to land a man.

I don't want to be too hard on that speech since that would take this post into "we're so much more enlightened than our elders" territory. Besides, I'm sure tons of stuff from 2008 will sound wince-worthy in 2058. What I was reminded of when I heard that speech, though, is that Frank Tashlin was a writer-director who was not really a great writer, at least not in the ways we usually judge screenwriting: pithy dialogue, characterization, plot. He wrote a lot of speeches that were worse than the one above (there are a few real clunkers in The Disorderly Orderly among others), his characters are all stock types and his plot construction is kind of ramshackle.

And yet I'm not saying that to put him down, because his scripts work very well when put on film, which is all that matters. Tashlin once told Peter Bogdanovich that he wrote his scripts very fast because "I hate to write"; and his best movies are a reminder that screenwriting isn't really an art form in itself -- a screenplay that satisfies none of the rules of good writing can actually be a better script than a more conventionally well-crafted comedy screenplay, because the best scripts are the ones that lend themselves to being good movies, not scripts that read well on the page.

Oh, and no post on sexist lines in movies could be complete without the line I've touted many times before, Glenn Ford's botched prophecy from The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963, directed by Vincente Minnelli and written by John Gay):

Friday, February 01, 2008


I got a review copy of the new Newhart season 1 DVD; I've only skimmed through the featurettes, which inevitably seem to gloss over the problem that the first season cast is so different from the cast most of us remember, but I've mostly checked for cuts. The good news is that none of the episodes are short syndication cuts. The bad news is that at least one episode appears to be cut: the episode where a washed-up comedian visits the hotel runs a minute shorter than the others, and has an abrupt cut just before his performance. I don't remember what happened in the episode, but I'm assuming that somebody played a song before he started his act and it's not there any more.

Still, most of the episodes appear to be uncut so it's worth picking up if you like the first season. I used to like it better than I do, but watching it again I found it rather dull. The scripts try to be low-key, realistic and with a certain amount of heart -- none of which really works with Bob Newhart's kind of humor. He works best in a more surreal atmosphere, which is why the two episodes with Larry, Darryl and Darryl are better than most of the others. It's odd, because Newhart's first show had started out more realistic and and gradually got better as it got weirder. Yet the writers of the new show seemed to make exactly the same mistake starting out, surrounding Newhart with mostly bland characters and bland situations and giving him very little to react to. (The exception was Steven Kampmann as Kirk, but while Kampmann was very funny he was, again, kind of a realistic and pathetic character, not the kind of weirdo who could make Newhart angry or bemused.) As the show went on they made the situations more bizarre and got Newhart angrier and angrier until by the end his seething repressed rage became the focal point of every episode.

Also, Bob Newhart was absolutely right to insist on the show switching from tape to film for its second (and much improved) season. He really doesn't come off well on tape. I don't know why, but it might be that tape seems to demand faster and louder comedy and film is better suited to Newhart's style.

I would like to recommend this as a down payment on the good re-tooled seasons, starting with season 2. But to be honest, I don't believe that we'll ever get the later seasons, given Fox's track record.

WKRP Episode: "Rumors"

Hey, I finally got a request to upload a particular episode! A reader asked for "Rumors," the fourth episode of the fourth season. Written by Toronto Second City and Osgoode Hall Law School graduate Peter Torokvei (now known as P.J. Torokvei), which explains the reference to the Toronto group The Ian Thomas Band.

This is an odd episode because it doesn't really have an ending to speak of, at least compared to most episodes. It sets up two connected stories -- office gossip about Bailey when Johnny is staying at her apartment; Johnny fears that Andy is plotting to replace him -- and it doesn't exactly leave them unresolved, but the resolution is very brief and the second act is very short. (Compare the similar episode Taxi did around the same time where Elaine stays with Bobby; that had more of a wrap-up scene.) I'm more used to this kind of non-resolution resolution now because that's how The Office wraps up most stories today. This is also part of the fourth-season story arc about the station being remodeled to fit its new success (Mama Carlson gave Andy the money to do this in the previous episode, "The Union," in exchange for working to keep the station from unionizing).

Music includes something by the Ian Thomas Band (see above) and the contemporary hit "Our Lips Are Sealed" by the Go-Gos. The guest is the ubiquitous Sam Anderson, the last of four different characters he played on the show.