Category Archives: tv

QUANTUM LEAP Spells it Out in Black and White

By Tom Holste

Aug. 18, 2017

The tragic events of the past week have me repeatedly going back in my mind to the excellent Quantum Leap episode “Black on White on Fire,” originally aired on November 9, 1990. (Some spoilers follow.)

The episode is set during the riots in Watts, Los Angeles, in August of 1965. Honestly, I had never heard of the Watts riots in school, nor have I heard anyone discuss them at length outside of this program since then. But it seems worthwhile to remember the lessons of this event.

As viewers of the series know, the TV show (which ran from 1989-93) follows the adventures of Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula), a scientist whose time travel experiment goes wrong, and he winds up in the bodies of different people from the 1950s to the 1980s, setting right things that had gone wrong in their lives.

In this episode, he ends up in the body of an African-American man engaged to a white woman just as riots break out over a reported incident of police brutality. While his family members express understandable anger at the unfair treatment that they receive at the hands of authority figures because of their skin color, Sam must soon act to save his fiancee’s life when the town’s anger turns against her because of her skin color.QL-Black-on-White-on-Fire-1

The episode’s writer, Deborah Pratt (herself an African-American), does a beautiful, skillful balancing act with this story: She treats all of the characters with respect and human dignity while thoroughly condemning the irrational hatred and violence that spread from fear.

While the show frequently ended on an optimistic note, this story is one of the few to end tragically (although not in the way one might expect). Indeed, how could it not end tragically? When tensions get heightened and everyone starts pointing fingers, someone is bound to get unfairly caught in the crossfire.

I wonder if Pratt even knew that one episode of a TV show couldn’t change anything, and that’s why the episode ends on the sad note that it does. Still, in bleak times, what can one do but light a candle of hope and pray for peace and sanity? That, I think, is the goal of the episode.

This episode of Quantum Leap (along with the rest) is available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment and available on streaming from NBC.com:

https://www.nbc.com/classic-tv/quantum-leap/video/black-on-white-on-fire-august-11-1965/2924331

 

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Remembering Davy Jones

It’s been four years exactly since Davy Jones passed away. It’s an easy date to remember, since it was Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2012.

Davy wasn’t my favorite Monkee, as his ballads could be somewhat schmaltzy. But he was always friendly and good to the fans. Even when someone tried to catch him off guard with a bit of playful teasing (referencing an old embarrassing photo or an obscure song of his that flopped), Davy remained unflappable, willing to go along with the gag, and even share historical insights into that photo or sing the words to the obscure song verbatim.

That’s the Davy I admire, and the Davy I’ll remember.

(BTW, how strange is it that David Bowie — whose real last name was Jones, but who had to adopt a stage name to avoid confusion — died in the very next leap year?)

Here’s Davy’s most famous song, “Daydream Believer.” It was written by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio, his only contribution to the group.

The music video for this is one of several recorded during the summer of 1967 at a studio in Chicago, on a brightly colored set informally dubbed “the Rainbow Room.” (“Pleasant Valley Sunday” was among the other music videos recorded here.)

I love watching the guys clown around in this one, acknowledging that they’re performing to a prerecorded track by goofing off so much that they frequently aren’t playing their instruments.

Thanks for the fun memories, Davy!

‪#‎Monkees50th‬

Yabba-Dabba-Doo or Don’t?

Part 3 of my series “Everything Old is Old Again”

By Tom Holste

Feb. 17,2016

When talking about reboots the other day, I mentioned that DC Comics is planning on rebooting several Hanna-Barbera properties in their comics later this year. (Warner Bros. owns both DC Comics and the entire old Hanna-Barbera catalog.)

The new Scooby-Doo is set during a zombie apocalypse. (The new comics will not affect the continuity of DC’s other Scooby-Doo books that it currently produces, or the current TV series Be Cool, Scooby-Doo.) The Flinstones is being turned into a series with more realistic artwork. Wacky Races is getting a post-Mad Max apocalyptic makeover. And Johnny Quest and many C-list superhero characters from the H-B universe are being brought together Marvel’s Avengers-style for a series called Future Quest.

Scooby-Apocalypse

This is not a drill, people! This is also, apparently, not a joke.

 

Personally, I’m torn about the updates. On the one hand, several  friends have aptly described some of the updates as being very “DeviantArt.” For those not in the know, DeviantArt is a site where fans post their artwork that usually has a strange or unusual take for a character or fandom. It’s all considered to be in good fun, but not something that should be done on a serious professional level by the rights holders.

scooby_DeviantArt

An actual contribution on DeviantArt — and again, as far as I know, not a joke.

An apocalyptic Scooby-Doo and Wacky Races both indeed come off as very DeviantArt, and not in a good way. The new Flinstones art is kind of creepy-looking. Future Quest looks the most promising to the fans of the classic material, but even at that, did the world really need the return of such characters as Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles?

Flintstones-new

It never USED to bother me that Barney didn’t have pupils…

Often attempts to update classic characters feel very forced and awkward, and look very dated within a decade. “Hey, let’s bring back some beloved cartoon characters, only this time they’re all babies / teenagers / skateboarders / ninjas!”

However, having said all of that…

When it comes to Hanna-Barbera, many of the productions weren’t artistic masterpieces to begin with. I have nostaglic fondness for them as much as anybody else, but are they really untouchable works of art? In fact, many of them were cheap, formulaic knockoffs of other, more popular things in the culture at the time.

For instance, it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that The Flintstones (an excellent series) was a knockoff of The Honeymooners, and when other fads came along, the creators were more than happy to jump on the latest trend. And I’m not even talking about the bizarre spinoffs featuring the Thing from The Fantastic Four or the Shmoo from Li’l Abner. Within the classic original 6-year run, there was a Bewitched-centered episode, an Addams Family takeoff, and a recurring alien character called The Great Gazoo that might have been based on My Favorite Martian.

Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix.Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix.

Great-Gazoo

Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to add an extraterrestrial to the mix.

Again, though, everybody already knows about The Flintstones. But did you know that Scooby-Doo was a combination of an old radio show called I Love Mystery and the sitcom The Dobie Gillis Show? That’s right, Freddie was based on Dobie, and Shaggy was a copy of Bob Denver’s beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebbs.

Dobie_and_Maynard

Now that you’ve seen it, you’ll never be able to unsee it.

Dobie Gillis itself has largely fallen out of the public eye; does the current version of its imitation still need to follow in those footsteps? If a supernatural series for youngsters were indeed being designed from scratch today, wouldn’t its more likely inspiration be The Walking Dead and other zombie movies and TV shows?

As for The Flintstones, drawing them in a more realistic style (however uncanny it is) at least made me recognize some of the wonderful absurdity of the show all over again (“So that’s what it would look like if somebody actually had a pet dinosaur”). This franchise has been languishing since the terrible live-action movies of 1994 and 2000; an ill-conceived direct-to-video animated movie inexplicably featuring WWE wrestlers failed to ignite any interest last year. This new project may not be what The Flintstones needs, but these characters clearly need some kind of a fresh approach.

I had a bigger problem with Loonatics Unleashed from a few years ago, which bafflingly reimagined the Looney Tunes characters as futuristic superheroes. In the first place, the original Looney Tunes are brilliant and still hold up as high-water marks in animation and comedy. So there was no need to change the premise so radically. In the second place, while I can see at least a tenous connection between Scooby-Doo and modern spooky shows like The Walking Dead, there is nothing at all about Looney Tunes that makes me say, “These characters need to be fighting aliens.”

So there’s at least potential for some of these projects to turn out really good. It’s not a definitive truth, of course, but I’m going to keep an open mind. After all, Frankenstein Jr.’s phone hasn’t rung for a while. I think he’s probably happy just to be working again.

 

SUPERGIRL is Usually Pretty Super

By Tom Holste

Feb. 13, 2016

Anyone else in the blogosphere really enjoying this series?

I’m liking it quite a bit. In particular, I think Lisa Benoit is terrific in the title role, and Callista Flockhart’s character Cat Cora is an interesting mix of mentor and antagonist. I’m also liking the bits and pieces of DC Comics history that are interwoven into the show.

Supergirl

“I can handle any villain you throw at me…but please, don’t make me watch SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE!”

The problem with Supergirl as a character that’s plagued her since her inception is that she’s always in Superman’s shadow. It’s great to have female heroes, but she wasn’t an original character created from scratch; she’s “Superman, but this time it’s a girl.” Audiences have always been more interested in Superman stories overall. And previous TV and movie adaptations have not been able to overcome this problem.

So the producers wisely built this conflict directly into the show itself. The whole series is about Kara trying to prove to herself and to others that she has value, too, and that she contributes significantly to the universe she lives in. And the series is showing us that she indeed does.

The show isn’t perfect, certainly. The love triangle is kind of cliched, and considering that Winn is handsome, charismatic and available, Kara’s rejection of him makes little to no sense. He should have at least some flaw to explain her lack of interest.

Also… (Major SPOILERS follow.)

 

 

Still with me? Okay.

…I was very happy when Cat found out Kara’s secret identity. Considering how smart Cat is supposed to be, she needed to figure it out quickly, and considering how often Kara misses work, I thought it would be useful if her boss understood the reasons. But, no, this great plot development got hand-waved away in the very next episode, which was extremely disappointing. And it was very convenient that he just happened to meet a shape-shifter right before she needed one (although the reveal of Martian Manhunter itself was pretty great).

There have also been a number of plot holes. For instance, in “Bizarro”: If Kryptonite made Bizarro stronger, why did she suddenly fly away from the fight she was winning? And when Kara’s words didn’t convince Bizarro that she was wrong, why did she apologize in the end after she was subdued?

Furthermore, as of “For the Girl Who Has Everything,” the DEO has now captured Maxwell Lord, someone who’s as famous as Donald Trump or Bill Gates. Cat runs a major news organization in the city where Lord lives. How is it that no one is covering the news that Maxwell Lord is suddenly missing? Even though they wouldn’t know about the DEO, his sudden disappearance should be generating massive headlines.

Also, how did Lord not have security cameras on his office so that someone could prevent potential kidnappers? And why didn’t Alex wear something to cover her face when she broke into the office so that no one could identify her?
Didn’t I say I liked this show? Yes, I do. It’s got a breezy, light tone that I thoroughly enjoy, while it builds up to a more epic storyline. I enjoy all the actors, and both the heroes and villains on this show are interesting to watch. It may not always fire on all cylinders, but when I does, I enjoy it more than Agents of SHIELD or Agent Carter, which is saying something.

I’m glad that the show is being brought into the larger DC television universe. I didn’t catch Flash or Arrow when they started, and now I’ve got a good reason for going back and watching them!

Supergirl-Flash-Arrow

“We should call ourselves the ‘Justice Club’! … How about the ‘Superpals’? … OK, we’ll work on it.”

Steven Moffat Exits the TARDIS

By Tom Holste

Jan. 28, 2016

Wow! A huge tremor in the Force … um … Whoniverse! Current head writer Steven Moffat announced he’s leaving Doctor Who; Chris Chibnall is taking over in that role; Moffat will still produce one more season before the transition; and there won’t be any new episodes until this year’s Christmas special.

http://comicbook.com/…/steven-moffat-leaving-doctor-who-aft…

I seem to like Moffat’s writing more than most people, but I’m OK with this. This show thrives on change, and it’s always interesting to see what a new showrunner will do with the mythology.

moffat-tardis-rt15-300x180

The soon-to-be-no-longer-current head writer Steven Moffat

In fact, ironically Moffat’s departure will probably make people like his writing more, since there’s always nostalgia for whatever version of the show goes away. There were a lot of fans harping on Russell T Davies’ run on the show from 2005-2009, who then promptly started ragging on Moffat as soon as he took over and asking why things couldn’t be more like they were in RTD’s day.

(Mind you, that’s not every fan. And certainly Moffat isn’t perfect. The 2011 season was pretty incoherent, and the non-50th anniversary episodes in 2013 were pretty dull. I’m not saying it’s never okay for one to say that they don’t like Moffat’s writing. I’m specifically thinking of people in forums I no longer visit, and on podcasts I no longer listen to, whose default position is that whatever is new is automatically bad.)

It was hard guessing who would ever take over if Moffat left. When RTD was in charge, Moffat was winning all the awards for writing on the show. Since Moffat took over, he’s still been the one winning all the awards. The exception was Neil Gaiman for “The Doctor’s Wife,” but no one liked his follow-up “Nightmare in Silver” nearly as much, and at any rate, Gaiman has no experience running a TV show.

Mark Gatiss has actually worked side by side with Moffat for years, co-producing Sherlock with him, but Gatiss’ DW episodes have not been among the best. His most recent, “Sleep No More,” is one of the lowest-rated episodes of the entire modern series.

I don’t see a whole lot of classics in the list of episodes that Chris Chibnall wrote, but there aren’t really a lot of clunkers either. I like most of them. Chibnall also was essentially the showrunner of the first two seasons of Torchwood; while I don’t like that show very much, he wrote some of my favorite stuff that was on it.

Also, he wrote the beautiful “P.S.,” which caps Rory and Amy’s time on the show, and is one of my favorite DW things ever.

And even though Chibnall hasn’t won any awards for DW writing, he has won awards for his police drama Broadchurch (which has featured many DW alumni). So that, plus his overall TV producing experience, plus the fact that he’s a lifelong Doctor Who fan — yeah, I’m on board with this.
I’m not so happy about having to wait another full stinkin’ year for new episodes, but hey, the BBC didn’t ask me. At least there’s the upcoming spinoff Class to look forward to, and I still have a lot of classic episodes that I can watch for the first time to help fill the void.