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The Duchess of Duke Street (1976)
Something from the Golden Age of the Miniseries
Yup, it was the seventies that was the golden age of the miniseries, and it was the British who ruled, with PBS acting as as kind of Prince Regent, offering up such televisual feasts as Upstairs Downstairs, Poldark, and the Duchess of Duke Street.
To people over a certain age, Gemma Jones will be forever remembered as Louisa Trotter, the plucky lower middle class girl, practically sold into service by her selfish mother, who works her way up in the world to become the proprietress of the best gentle-person's hotel in London, the lover of the Prince of Wales, and a legend in her own time.
The Duchess of Duke Street is an artifact of a crossroads of two very special times - the 1960's, when there was a serious interest in the not-too-distant past (the Belle Epoque, the Edwardian Period, the Roaring Twenties, etc.), and the 1980's when the interest in the past had more to do with escapism and romanticism and produced some of the most beautiful visuals in film history. Because of this, The Dutchess is a treat, full of historical detail, with wonderful fictionalizations of Edwardian fact (Prince Edwards practice of taking mistresses for example).
The series paved the way for some of the great miniseries to come - including Brideshead Revisited, the 1980's production of Love in a Cold Climate, Flickers, and To Serve Them All My Days - and ensured that a certain segment of television viewers had grand images of Edwardian London and Art Nouveau imprinted in its memory.
Me Without You (2001)
Charming, and deeper than some might think
Me Without You is a charming movie with considerable depth. It explores the pathology of long-term friendships, when people grow apart, and one of the friends is forced to become the giver, peacemaker, bearer of burdens caused by conflict and divergent ideals.
Friel and Williams are compelling as two friends who, even as children, had little in common. As they become adults their differences turn into jealously, suspicion, and inevitable confrontation. Their lives completely entwined by the time they realize that their differences are often unbearable irritants, the two eventually reach a kind of strained truce.
The story is a distinctly female one; men are far less likely to have such long-term or intimate friendships, and not at all likely to remain friends with someone after betrayals and unrestrained confrontation. However, this should not stop men from viewing the film. It is full of insight about women, relationships, and family dynamics. And if none of that interests you, it offers some great depictions of the 1970's and 80's (the club scenes and wardrobe from the university years, are nice contrasts to American depictions of the New Wave era).
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Proof that the movie need not be faithful to the novel
With both the novel and the movie so popular, one need not go into great detail regarding the plot, or differences in the story lines. The fact is that both were great works and wonderfully of their time. And those involved in the movie exploited the fact that film is a visual medium, and piled on the styling, adding to Updike's tale and perfectly catching the over-stylized, romantic feel of the mid-to-late eighties. The movie and book are a pairing though, and I believe that one should really not experience one and not the other. Certainly one should not just see the movie, as it does lack the depth and significance of the novel. But then that is usually the case with an adaption.
Gilmore Girls (2000)
Another Guy Who Loved This Show
Yup, I am yet another guy who loved this show. I was in my mid-thirties when it premiered, and I took to it instantly. One of the main reasons for this was the wit, dialog and repartee, which was quite unusual for American television, particularly drama or dramedy series. I liked hearing zippy and smart conversations between people - Rory and Lorelei, Lorelei and Luke, etc. - who were all reading off the same page in terms of culture, pop culture, etc.
Yes, in some ways the appeal of The Gilmore Girls was the fantasy aspect of it. You had a wonderful charming small town filled with quirky but harmless characters, and a collection of main characters who were smart, ethical and caring. And generally the conflicts, though serious, were real and dealt with in a mature and earnest manner.
toward the end of the run the show threatened to derail. The writers started to move into night-time soap territory with story-lines about infidelity, and over-the-top plot twists (Rory's relationship with her rich boyfriend was grating at times, as was Paris' neuroses). However, the show managed to stay on track to the end, delivering a very satisfying conclusion to the Gilmore tale.
The Mother (2003)
Just like Broccoli: Good and Good for You, But You May Not Like It
The Mother is one of those films that you know is good, maybe even great, but it is like eating vegetables or doing math homework is to a kid - too much work and a whole lot of pain to get invested in.
The story is potentially distasteful in many ways: the death of a character within the first half hour, the December-May romance, the idea of a man cheating on his wife and then cheating on his lover with her mother, the collection of weak and rather unpleasant thirty-something characters, the apparent indifference of the adults to the children in their lives. This movie was made in the 2002 or 2003, but is a throw back to a collection of British (usually made-for-TV) movies from the late 1980's - it has a moral severity that never lets up, which produces an enveloping throbbing angst.
The Mother is flawless, but that is in part the problem; if a film dealing with so many sensitive issues has some flaws - inconsistencies of script, some lesser actors - it takes the edge off, but if such a film is so pitch perfect, the experience of watching it is raw and painful. Even the technical qualities - lighting, editing, etc. - make the viewer ache; the London in this movie is bright and open, filled with harsh, cutting light.
If you are tough as nails, or are one of those super-sensitive people who likes to torture themselves with gut-wrenching sad movies or novels, then you will enjoy The Mother. Anyone in between, give it a miss, or be prepared to squirm. And be warned: as tough as the movie is from beginning to near-end, the worst is to come.
Toward the end of the movie, the mother asks her daughter what she can do to make up for it (for having slept with her boyfriend), and the daughter calmly says that she has thought about it and would like to hit her. The mother agrees to this, they both stand up, and - instead of a well primed slap - the daughter clenches her fist and delivers a boxer's blow. Argh!!!
A Hidden Gem
I discovered this film tucked away in the DVD rental shop. I cannot say why I bothered to rent it - I am not a sports fan, and have no knowledge of soccer. I suppose I thought, hey, it is British, and Carlyle is in it, so it cannot be all bad. Once I sat down and watched it, I was blown away.
This film is one of those hidden gems, a movie with a great script, a talented cast, a wonderfully unique setting, but no buzz. My feelings about such films are mixed. On the one hand I am elated to have stumbled upon such a treat. On the other, I am deeply saddened to think of all the people out there who may have loved such a movie, but will never see it. And it depresses me to think that there are many more films out there that I will miss.
I would urge anyone reading these reviews, who has not seen Jimmy Grimble, to rent or buy it ASAP, and anyone who has only seen it once to see it at least one more time. And spread the word about this, and other great, but largely-ignored, movies. Haven't we had enough of movie adaptations of bad sitcoms and comic books, films inspired by "lifestyle", and terrible movie franchises? Aren't we tired of clichés and feature-length commercials. Fight for quality with your viewing habits, and word of mouth.
Rich Kids (1979)
Watch This Film for Its Intelligence and Sensitivity, and to See Trini Alvarado at Her Best
Rich Kids is a wonderful movie, in so many ways. It depicts a time (the late 70's), a class, New York City, and divorce (which was then becoming a social phenomena) perfectly. However, the main reason to watch this film may very well be to see the then adolescent Trini Alvarado at her best.
The Cast is full of great actors, including John Lithgow and Canada's own Roberta Maxwell, but the standout is Alvarado. Her guileless and tender performance is so brilliant that one is almost hypnotized. Alvarado plays Franny as your typical adolescent girl - curious, too smart for her own good, a little daring - but lets her own qualities poke through, and makes her Franny seem somewhat frail, potentially tragic.
There is always a sense that Franny will crumble under the weight of bad news (like the announcement of her parents divorce), and in some scenes this sense fills the room. The other actors are electrified by this, and give wonderful performances. The scene in the Chinese restaurant - when Franny's parents finally break the news - is heart-breaking...and a little funny.
This is one of two Alvarado movies that are absolute Must See's. The other is Times Square, in which Alvarado once again plays a variation of the seemingly-emotionally-frail poor little rich girl. Once one sees both these movies, one realizes what a rare quality Alvarado had at the time. The only actress to compare is a young Sarah Jessica Parker, but by the time Parker was an adolescent she was too much of a board-trodding, song-belting, Broadway-trouper type to be able to let go and open herself up the way Alvarado could.
Watch Rich Kids with this in mind: you are watching a brilliant, unencumbered, child actor at work. Pure acting from an adult is rare enough, but from a child actor, it is priceless.
Harry and Tonto (1974)
If This Movie Doesn't Make You Cry, or at least Tear up, Nothing Will
I generally dislike movies with animals in them, because, usually they are manipulative. Have the main character interact with a cuddly pet, and you make him instantly sympathetic. Pull at the audiences heart strings by putting the animal in peril, or, for a big bang, killing it off. It is very rare to find a movie that uses an animal properly as a real character in the story. Harry and Tonto is just such a film.
Art Carney plays Harry the widower who, even though his life is full of friends and neighbors, has one true devoted companion - Tonto his cat. And when a series of life changes prompts Harry to move out west, and take a road trip in the process, he naturally takes Tonto along.
Tonto tags along with Harry like a loyal dog, through a number of unusual situations. He is a constant presence of calm and stability, serving to accentuate Carney's portrayal of Harry as consistently noble. The cat speaks volumes about his owner. He walks on a lead, is almost never spooked, is affectionate and accepting of people, all this suggesting his owner to be solid, stable, patient.
As one watches the film, one cannot help but appreciate the work that went into training this cat, who is always calm and steady on camera. And one cannot help assume that the relationship Carney has with the cat is testimony to his professionalism and generosity.
This film is full of pure, touching moments, as Harry comes to terms with his life, reestablishes contact with his family, and lets himself be drawn into the lives of many wonderful characters. However, the most touching moment is the death of Tonto.
After reaching L.A. Tonto becomes sick and dies, or is (it is suggested) put to sleep. Harry and Tonto's parting is warm and sweet, but not at all maudlin. The scene when Harry sings to Tonto, then walks off, is pitch perfect. Harry loved his cat, is sad by his parting, but is an old-fashioned guy full of life experience, and he does not treat a cat's passing with the same seriousness with which he would have treated his wife's.
Harry and Tonto is one of those great films that is so organic that watching it is like breathing. Carney - best known as the loopy neighbor in the Honeymooners - deserved his Oscar, deserved two. And this film is probably one of 100 best films ever made.
All Rise for Julian Clary (1996)
A Good Laugh and a Great Distraction
I caught this show when it appeared on a Canadian specialty channel, and became an instant fan. Clary looked liked Nick Rhodes (of Duran Duran) and sounded like Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served? The concept was great - a twist on Judge Judy and similar courtroom shows - and the humor was panto-plus, with Clary never missing a chance to pounce on a double-entendre or insert some saucy innuendo. Clary could easily have carried the show on his own, but his supporting cast provided some well placed gags, asides and repartee.
All Rise is one of those shows that could only have happened in the 90's. It took advantage of all the ground-breaking that occurred in the 80's and made its mark before the shallowness and simple-mindedness that would define that 90's could take hold.
Anything But Love (1989)
Warm and Fuzzy
I agree with the other commentators, this was a really good series. It hearkened back to old Hollywood in so many ways - the repartee, the light touches of comedy, the modern sense of romance. It also seemed to tip its hat to the gentler, more genteel Britcoms of the late 70's. Jamie Lee Curtis was utterly charming, and Richard Lewis - with his neurosis and inability to let anything drop -was her perfect match. And the show really caught that feel of the turn of the decade, post-garish-80's, but pre-slacker-90's.
It says something when a TV show is so well constructed but all one initially remembers is a warm and fuzzy feeling. It means that the show has wormed its way into your heart. This is the case with Anything But Love.
I only have two complaints about the series. First, ABC treated it badly, first in not keeping it in a good time slot, permanently (this was the late 80's, early 90's, when the big three ruled, and a large contributor to a shows success was keeping it in the public's mind by delivering it regularly at a set time), and - having worn down its viewer-ship - canceling the show way too soon. Second, after the first or second season there was a reworking of the show. As with These Friends of Mine/Ellen, this destroyed much of the initial simple charm.
This is one American sitcom I would definitely get on DVD, for I know that I would watch the series over and over again.
Groundbreaking and Genius
There have been several high profile surveys in the last decade, determining the best sitcom ever made (of course what they mean is "in the English-speaking world"). Seinfeld is mentioned, as is Fawlty Towers, but, as far as I am concerned, the two greatest to date are The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Agony.
These were shows so in tune with the times, so forward thinking that they stunned viewers, and are probably still more shocking/surprising than most of what is on television (yes, even Sarah Silverman, The Family Guy, and the latest celebrated HBO or AMC series). A simple run-through of Agony's plots, plot twists or gags would prove this.
Most significantly, Agony featured a gay couple as regular characters, and showed them in bed together more than a few times. It also had the two declaring their love for each other. Compare this to Will & Grace, in which Will was never seen in the bedroom with a man to whom he was attracted. Even the Sarah Silverman Show skirts around the gay issue, choosing to have its resident gays behave like dorky frat boys who - we are invited to assume, depending on our comfort level - actually having sex at some time, somewhere...deep in the shadows. And here is the stunning fact: Agony is technically a 70's Britcom, having gone into production in 1979.
Agony's other plots/plot-twists/back-stories featured drug use, sex, birth control (including abortion), interracial relationships, pornography, censorship, swinging, etc, etc. It openly mocked government, the ruling classes, and religion, and the series only got more and more cutting as it evolves.
Even the production values of the series were remarkable. Val, Jane Lucas' secretary, was a New Romantic poster girl, appearing each time as a new glamorous space-aged persona. Diana, Jane's boss, was a Grande Dame fashionista who would make Anna Wintour look like a Gap employee with an inferiority complex. Vincent Fish, one of Jane's suitors, was a post-punk glamboy. The Lucas' apartment was decorated in a relaxed and slick way still found in lofts and city "pads". Andy Evol now seems to have been a template for many a 90's and noughties hipster-doofus.
Most importantly, Agony was funny, with the humor as slick and savvy as the clothes, sets and makeup. And Maureen Lipman, with her openness and earnestness, is primarily responsible for the shows success, though she also had a supporting cast there to back her up.
Agony still holds up today, and the only problem with a viewing, is that it is bound to make one dissatisfied with what is currently on television. Having a region 1 DVD set of this series is at the top of my Wish List. If only.
All you can say is "Wow!!!"
There is no shortage of excellent sitcoms - the U.S. gave us Seinfeld, and Soap, the Brits Good Neighbors, Fawlty Towers and Butterflies. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, rises above even these, and is a true masterpiece of television.
What makes The Fall and Rise so exceptional is its incredible depth. While other shows were content to earn certain points and then coast (e.g. Seinfeld acts as a catalog of ridiculously mutated and twisted social convention, but rarely moves beyond it) The Rise and Fall never lets up on its observations, criticisms and offering of wild and crazy solutions, providing a hero who sees everything wrong with the world and is desperate and willing to change as much as possible.
The absurdity of corporate culture, suburban monotony, flaky post-hippie child-rearing concepts, condescendingly manipulative advertising and marketing, sexism, racism, class conflict, are hung, drawn and quartered for laughs. And Leonard Rositter's posturing and snarking make it surreal. It is Voltaire, Brecht.
Of course, the hero's plans rarely turn out as he expected, and Perrin is constantly thrown off course as each of his absurd plots is met by an even more absurd response from the world. Rositter's Perrin reacts with even more absurdity, all the while stammering and mugging to underline the fact that, well, that's life.
The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, is a must to television viewing as Mozart is to music, Citizen Kane to cinema, and Dickens to reading. You will probably like it, but even if you don't, it will do you great good, and be the yardstick by which you judge all other related material.
Fresh Fields (1984)
Pedestrian at best
I never got this show. It has a tinny quality to it, and seemed to belong to the previous decade, fitting in better with such Britcoms as Father Dear Father and The Many Wives of Patrick, than with 80's fare like The Young Ones And the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Perhaps this was because the subject matter and main characters seemed so out of place for the time.
Fresh Fields was about rather conventional forty-somethings at a time when the lives of the young and unconventional were being portrayed. At about this time there were, had been, enough Britcoms about the older generation (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Butterflies, A Fine Romance) but they always had a very unique spin to them. Hester Fields was a cookie-cutter kooky housewife, with a long-suffering husband and a scolding child or two, and the episode plots were variations on the kind found in old and middling American sitcoms.
Bell Book and Candle (1958)
One of the movies that launched a thousand concepts, and a great Xmas movie alternative to boot
Bell, Book and Candle was one of the great pop culture phenomena of the mid-twentieth century, very similar to the phenoms we see today (back in the 70's - more than ten years later - there were still endless references to this film). It made Novak a huge star, put a nice item on Jack Lemon's resume, cast new light on Jimmy Stewart, and gave Lancaster and Gingold new avenues to explore in their careers (both went on to continue to play witches and other curious "old bats", in film and television).
Along with the 40s movie I Married a Witch (which helped to make Veronica Lake an icon), Bell, Book and Candle inspired the grand film and TV fascination with all things witchy that began with Bewitched and has continued through Practical Magic, Worst Witch and Harry Potter.
What I rarely see noted is that the movie is also a rather interesting alternative Xmas movie. The story takes place over the Christmas holidays, and, despite the fact that it is superficially about witchcraft, actually embodies a great deal of Xmas spirit (giving, love, family, self-sacrifice, etc).
I will always watch this movie (have seen it several times since my first viewing in the early 90's) particularly if it is shown around or just after the holiday season. It has style, substance, a great cast, and terrific production values. And like Adam's Rib, it casually expresses ideas that were rather radical for its time, are radical even now (in both movies the female character is guileless and powerful), and so always seems ahead of the times.
Love, Sidney (1981)
A show that was as good as it could be, for its time
This series popped into my head this evening, and I checked out IMDb. I have read the other comments, and would like to add my two-cents worth.
One fact that I have not seen mentioned is this: Sidney is miserable and friendless because he is bitter over the loss of his lover, which he seems incapable of getting over. If I remember correctly, his boyfriend had died, and - with the great reluctance to explore that relationship on the show - it is easy to assume in retrospect that the boyfriend was a victim of one of the big issues - gay bashing? AIDS? ...Anyway....
The whole message of the show, as sugary sweet as it was, is that everyone needs someone to share his life with, and, while the ideal is to have a lover (whatever your sexual persuasion), good platonic friends can be a pretty good substitute. Families are made, not born.
The great achievement of the show was that it shattered stereotypes - that was the whole point of Sidney being neither a disco-dwelling, toy-boy hunting sugar daddy, nor a camp, shrieking queen. The show also captured an ennui that was soon to swamp the gay community, and those who saw it as a pop-culture touchstone, as AIDS took a greater and greater toll.
Love, Sidney was soulful and complex, and is owed much by all involved with, and fans of, such shows as Will and Grace.
The "Croupier" Earns Its Neo Noir Title
I stumbled upon this movie while channel surfing late one Saturday evening, and was hooked from the first scene I saw.
I had never been that impressed by Clive Owen - thought the best thing he did was his cameo on the Extras Christmas special/series finale - but from the moment I saw him on the screen in The Croupier I was captivated. Of course, it may be because of the shock of his appearance; the film was made more than ten years ago, and Owen was youthfully slim, and had bleached out hair. However, Owen did not rely on the superficial to create his character, Jack.
Jack is a cold, distant, and - as we discover by the end of the film - amoral. Is this genetic, inherited from his father? Is it because of he is a writer, and he is driven to create something on the one hand derived from his life, but on the other unique and separate? Or, is it that the most significant thing about Jack is his amorality? It is the undercurrent of amorality, or, some might choose to believe, immorality that drove Film Noir, and this is why "The Croupier" was referred to as Neo-Noir. There is an eerie coldness and bleakness to the story, the characters, sets, lighting, etc. And the amorality tale is told with precision and relish by all involved. This is a great movie if only for the fact that it was so unusual for its time.
Owen's performance is not the only one of note. The whole cast is excellent, with Genna McKee a standout as Jack's very moral girlfriend and the one true and tragic victim.
Dead Like Me (2003)
A Ubiquitous Success
Dead Like Me is one of those pop culture phenomena that while not a all-out success in its first run, proved ubiquitous, influencing pop culture in many different ways.
The concept of the show made a vague reference to Six Feet Under, and other predecessors, but was original; its take on death and the hereafter, and the way this was visualized was remarkable. The show was not a great success, surviving only a few seasons, but has gone on to prove incredibly influential.
Imitations of Dead Like Me's theme music, fashions, special effects, etc, have since appeared everywhere. And while one could argue that Dead Like Me drew some concepts from Six Feet Under, one could not claim that Medium and Ghost Whisperer were not created primarily to exploit the buzz created by Dead Like Me.
The Dead Like Me phenomena is extremely unique in America, for, while the entertainment industries of the UK, Australia, and certainly Canada, are OK with a singer, film or TV show going sub-culture, the American entertainment industry is more pragmatic, and wants to see the money roll in ASAP. Dead Like Me was a fantastic anomaly.
So, as Dead Like Me becomes legend for its great concept, excellent cast, and ubiquitous style, I hope it also becomes noteworthy for its very unique place in television history.
The Fast Show (1994)
The Fast Show: Laugh In of the 90s
It is more than ten years since the debut of The Fast Show, and attention spans are greatly reduced. So it is hard to believe that the show was born of what at the time was a rather unique concept - keep the laughs coming by keeping comedy sketches as short as possible, firing them out one after another, and being as precise as possible with barbs and gags.
If you are familiar with the British alternative comedy crowd - French and Saunder, Lenny Henry, Ben Elton, Rick Mayall - you understand why the notion of brevity and precision was somewhat revolutionary. The alt-com crowd had a tendency to squeeze every possible laugh or chuckle out of an idea, to - in short - end up flogging a dead horse. Arguably, the reason for such a habit was that making your point was more important than getting easy laughs. The Fast Show turned this around, asking, what was the point of comedy if you were not getting a stream of laughs that never let up?
The Fast Show featured a collection of talented comedians - all relatively young, with their own appeal, but who were also great character actors and impressionists - twisting the mundane into the absurd. Family dinners, foreign news programs, the country-house set, all became fodder for laughs. And, over the half hour of the show, sketches flew by.
Over the course of The Fast Show's run, certain characters became extremely popular, and there were numerous concepts that could have been rolled into sitcoms or movies. However, the greatest success of The Fast Show is that it reintroduced a certain slickness to sketch comedy, something that had existed with shows like Not the Nine O'clock News, and previously had been toyed with by Monty Python's Flying Circus, but had been largely banished by the alt-com crowd.
The Fast Show bears, in an interesting way, a resemblance to Laugh In, the American variety show from the 60s/70s. Both shows were frivolous, sharp, often silly, and zippy. The difference is this: The Fast Show, relying more on character comedy, and drawing it characters from the stable of English and European "types", will never seem as dated as Laugh In.
Keen Eddie (2003)
A Great Series, and Both Its Appearance and Cancellation Were a Sure Sign That Fox Had Lost the Plot
Remember when Fox started up? Remember the classy stuff in the early days - Tracy Ullman, Duet? Keen Eddie is a throw back to that time, and so begs the question "What was Fox thinking?".
It is not that Fox has not produced some good stuff since its early days. Married with Children and The Family Guy are examples of what we now think of as typical good Fox product - they are smart, well produced but are harsh and crass in their humor, constantly moving the bar that separates good and bad taste. So, why did Fox put Keen Eddie on TV in 2003 when its mission statement and the tastes of the American viewer were already acutely defined?
Keen Eddie had more in common with British series such as Class Act - it was slick, smart, witty, open and breezy - than with anything that has ever come out of Hollywood. Fox must have been trying something new, but then lost its nerve, and was not willing to stand by the series while a fan base developed. Too bad.
I am convinced that, if Keen Eddie had been given the treatment given most television projects years earlier(remember the initial low rating for Cheers?) it would have become iconic, and may very well have drastically changed American television. It would also have put Fox on the map for something other than gross-out gags and nut-ball right-wing news personalities.
Dressing for Breakfast (1995)
A Nice Little GenX Comedy
Wow, some of the other comments are rather harsh. While I agree that this Britcom is neither a Seinfeld nor an AbFab, I think it is notable.
Most notable is the fact that the series is a good, honest representation of Generation X (and, no, not as defined by the media or corporate world, the real GenX).
On the one hand you have the main character, Louise, a craftswoman/artist, struggling to make ends meet. On the other, in contrast, you have Carla, a Banker on the way up the corporate ladder. The two, friends since childhood, remain close, despite their very different career choices and financial circumstances. The relationship, and related details, allows one a view into what was actually a very anarchical time.
Louise is struggling financially, and career-wise, and is usually either depressed or stunned by having stumbled upon yet another Mr. Wrong. And to rub salt into the wounds is the hovering presence of Louise's mother, a therapist with a lifestyle worthy of color-supplement coverage. She is the archetypal boomer, or pre-boomer, full of self-importance and a sense of entitlement that only having lived through the good time cans bestow.
Carla is nothing but supportive, Louise's mother endlessly irritating, and Louise charming in her frustration and bemusement. Additional characters - usually men who spend some time in the lives of the three woman - provide additional laughs and insight. And, although this is obviously a show by\about\for women, the male characters are three-dimensional.
The nineties may very well have been the last decade with any real substance, and this series is an interesting artifact of that time.
The Gathering (1977)
The Gathering Represents a Very Special Time
This TV movie represents a very special time, and no, I do not mean Christmas. Yes it is one of the best Christmas movies. However, the film is most valuable as an artifact of all the good aspects of the very liberal 1970s.
One of the other commentators - who is obviously a conservative Republican - commented on Ed Asner's politics, but suggests that the movie, and Asner's work in it, rises above such things. I would argue otherwise. I can see why the very liberal, socially conscious Asner was attracted to this vehicle. It reflects the very pure values of love, forgiveness and generosity that were distilled by the end of the late-seventies.
By 1977 we in North America were feeling - at every level - the full effects of social changes created by the civil rights movement, the feminist revolution, hippie culture and (primarily, but not only for, Catholics) Vatican II. There was a sense of practical responsibility, justice and morality pervading every aspect of life, even, or particularly, pop culture (movies, television, etc).
Everything about The Gathering references this fact, from the pig-headed dad and husband desperate to make amends to his family, to the issues raised by the presence of the draft-dodger son. Family is everything, love is all that matters, and these things will not be brought down by politics or minor conflict. And to wrap up all this sincere warm-and-fuzzy feeling is the very powerful message that, while one must accept change (as drastic and dizzying as it may be) one need not trash the past and tradition.
Butterflies could be the best Britcom ever
This series could very well be the best Britcom ever, and that is saying a great deal, considering the competitors (Fawlty Towers, Good Neighbours, to name just two).
What made Butterflies so superior, even to the best of the best, is that it did not just exemplify great, classic, classy and intelligent comedy, but it also expanded horizons, reflecting - flawlessly, gently, and at every detail - the great social change that was occurring in Britain at the time.
I remember watching this show as a teenager and being in awe of everything about it. The lifestyle depicted was remarkable in itself. This was the first time I saw real people using cordless phones. And the wardrobe of all the characters was far removed from the goofy seventies attire still seen in North America at the time. Then there were the decors, shop fronts, cars. These people - even the layabout sons, with their philosophical approach to life and epigrammatic humor - were sophisticated. They were examples of the "New Europeans" that would come to have an impact on life and style throughout the world in the coming decade (1980s).
Of course, the premise was strange and fantastic. The idea that someone who was living the suburban dream could be so discontent and restless was revolutionary, particularly to North Americans for whom happiness was always defined as money and things (sure the situation was depicted in American movies and TV, but not with the intensity of Butterflies or the movie Montenegro). And, if the premise was not surprising enough, the means by which it was expressed took it to the extreme. A potential affair that was not really about sex, or even romance? Butterflies dazzled many, but it must have left some people smacking their foreheads in disbelief... at the time anyway.
Butterflies turned out to be - in so many ways - prophetic. It documented, ahead of its time - post-modern ennui, all-pervasive lifestyle, the notion of emotional infidelity, and generational disconnect and male discontent (portrayed perfectly by the strained father-son relationships). It is too bad this series has not been rediscovered in a big way, and all those involved given credit for creating a meaningful snapshot of a certain time and place, and foreseeing all the slickness and angst that was to come.
Just Shoot Me! (1997)
Mean, cruel, crude, and downright funny
In the early and mid-nineties, there was a rush to imitate the hit Britcom Absolutely Fabulous. Rosanne(Arnold, Barr, whatever) bought the American rights to the show, and CBS launched a clone - High Society - ASAP. Rosanne's plans came to nothing, and High Society failed almost immediately.
The problem was that America, and especially prime-time network television, was just not ready for the lewd, crude, cruel and politically incorrect comedy exemplified by Britcoms AbFab, Bottom and Men Behaving Badly, shows launched in Britain in the late-eighties or early-nineties. No, it would take several more years before the U.S. was anything close to ready.
First came Drew Carey, then, slowly, more, and more savage, shows began to appear. Just Shoot Me was one of the best of these; its setting - the New York office of a Cosmo-like magazine - made it possible to get down and dirty with the laughs, and great, naturally-wicked-humored actors (Spade and Segal) drove home every crude gag.
I greatly enjoyed this show for the six years it ran, and firmly believe that it was a victim (along with News Radio, 3rd Rock, and several others) of NBCs indifference to,and neglect of, its stable of great sitcoms. (I guess everything paled in comparison to Seinfeld, and no one at NBC had the sense to point out that Pretty Damn Good may not be Great, but still ain't half bad.)
I watch every episode of Just Shoot Me that appears in syndication, and encourage other TV addicts to do the same. The show is always good for a belly laugh, provided one is neither PC nor a prude.
Dave's World (1993)
Shucks, I thought this sitcom was pretty good
I am surprised by some of the other comments regarding Dave's World. I think the series was generally pretty good. It was an old-fashioned comedy, one with laughs and character observations, and NO social commentary or Emmy-targeted sob-story episodes.
I was a fan of Dave Barry in the early 90s - and forgive me any Barry fans - but I did not think that his columns were so remarkable that the TV show was an insult to his work. Barry generally seemed to write from an urban "aw, shucks!" hapless male perspective, and Dave's World reflected this.
And, apart from Seinfeld, and a few other comedies, I do not think there were all that many shows from that period that were better than Dave's World. The show did not get the recognition it deserved, primarily because it was not trendy. It did not showcase a bunch of 30-something actors playing 20-somethings, did not have a "cool" city or neighborhood as its setting (back then Florida was Golden Girls territory), and did not feature 90s lifestyle hot keys (grungy youth, coffee drinking, the IT world, emerging celebrity culture) in its plots.
When I get a chance, I shall pick up the DVDs and sit down to a good, healthy, ingenuous laugh.
The Holly and the Ivy (1952)
A Piece of Christmas and a Piece of History
For a while there, in Canada - in the eighties and nineties, when the television landscape was forever expanding - I could be guaranteed of seeing this movie; there was always some new station looking for filler, particularly during the Christmas season. What a treat!
This movie is not just a great film about the real meaning of Christmas, it is also a relic of a period that is not so long ago in terms of years, but is eons away in terms of social convention, manners, etc.
Even better, although the film was made in a gentler, more genteel time, serious issues (illegitimacy, alcoholism, reckless self-sacrifice) are explored with depth. If this had been a lesser movie, it would have come off as something to be shown in a religion class, but the extremely talented cast runs with the story and helps create a film that is magical and meaningful.
I have a tape of this somewhere, and am always on the lookout for a DVD version. I only hope The Holly and the Ivy makes it to digital transfer soon, and is rediscovered as the Christmas classic that it is.