Monday, September 30th, 2013
I watched too much television growing up. My dad always warned us that if we didn’t stop, we’d turn into one giant eye — like the CBS logo. And he was right. TV is a drug, a powerful narcotic, and I was an addict. I wasted many many hours on really stupid shows, hours that I wish I had back now to waste on something important.
That said, there was one thing I loved about television, and that was the strange modern custom American networks developed around the launch of the fall season. The TV Guide preview, the annual handicapping of new shows, the ritual sacrifice of the first cancellation. Even if I didn’t watch all the shows (and you couldn’t back then), I loved looking at the programming grid.
Head over to wikipedia and check out the grids for every TV season back to 1946: it is a fascinating time capsule, especially when it comes to shows, concepts and entire networks you’ve probably never heard of (Rhumba dancing in prime time! Something called the DuMont Network!)
It wasn’t just me — there were actually several different board games in the ’60s and early ’70s where players would compete against each other in creating successful programming lineups for fictional networks.
While I generally agree with Marshall McLuhan’s famous assessment of TV, there are a few shows I could watch again (and again in summer repeats) that I have fond memories of, or are just truly great on a literary, cultural or entertaining level. So with that in mind, I give you the perfect Fall Schedule for JPTV.
[click on grid to enbiggen]
Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Comedy #3: “The Producers” (1968)
Comedians are like athletes (and, arguably musicians) in that they do their biggest, boldest and best work when they’re young. Physical comedy needs strength and endurance, natch, but there is also a certain kill-your-gods snarkiness when you’re younger that lends itself perfectly to satire. With a background in Vaudeville and Broadway, Mel Brooks became the boss of genre spoofs in 1965 when he created the ultimate spy send-up “Get Smart”* — which, like it’s absurdist cousin Green Acres —has aged particularly well thanks to the reliability of all bureaucracies to remain perpetually bat-shit inane.
Brooks would go on to make over a dozen big screen comedies, all but a few big hits, but none funnier than his first, “The Producers.” As he did with the Western in “Blazing Saddles!,” Mel Brooks lovingly destroys the Broadway musical, while mocking Nazis, ’60s counterculture and Hollywood with perfect pitch. It is (still) politically incorrect, broadly outrageous and really damn funny. Plus, like any great Broadway musical, you always leave the theater whistling the theme.
The Nazis in Busby Berkley-style chorus line (the overhead swastika is a particularly inspired touch) is just one of its many bold transgressions. Now considered “a gold standard for all in-your-face comedies that pile on more ‘tasteless’ scenes than you could shake a shtick at,” Roger Ebert once said that being there when it first came out in 1968 was to “witness audacity so liberating that not even There’s Something About Mary rivals it.” Still does.
*Other than Star Trek, “Get Smart” was our favorite show when we were kids, and to this day my Dad still calls my brother and I “chief” a la Don Adams