90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 2

I am not a “prisoner of the moment” kind of guy. I’m 45 years old so I’m not an old fogey, but neither am I hip, cool, woke, with it, or worried about keeping up with the crowd. Oftentimes I am late to the party when it comes to movies, music, television, books, & various pop culture trends. Perhaps I’m a bit close-minded and stuck in my ways, but generally I like what I like and that’s just fine with me. It isn’t unusual for me to pass over something that has the masses excited, only to decide months or even years later to give it a whirl. I suppose I figure that if people are still talking about something after all that time then maybe it’s legit. At any rate, if you’re new to 90’s Film Frenzy everything you’ve missed is available in The Vault, including second round action in the Dope Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Apollo 13

Release:    6/30/95

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris

Directed By:        Ron Howard (Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood)

 

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

 

Quotes

I had a Polack friend once. She was incredibly stupid. She was the stupidest woman that I ever knew. She believed that black cows squirted chocolate milk!

 

Oh… sorry… but I just got lucky in there with a girl. Not in that way… she does everybody in there… not in that way.

 

Odds & Ends

Maureen O’Hara initially refused to sign the movie contract…though she loved the script…until she met co-star John Candy. Fortunately the two of them instantly created a strong rapport.

 

Producer John Hughes insisted that Ally Sheedy be cast as Theresa because he wanted to have a member of his Brat Pack be romantically involved with a star of his later adult features on-screen. It represents two different generations of Hughes regulars.

 

Chris Columbus wrote the script with Maureen O’Hara in mind for the role of the mother. Once casting had begun, he insisted on having O’Hara play the role, and began a search for her. What he didn’t know, was that she had long since retired, and was living on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Columbus contacted her brother and had a script sent.

 

This was Maureen O’Hara’s first feature film role since Big Jake in 1971.

 

O’Hara told John Candy that he reminded her of Charles Laughton and said that underneath the clown character existed a powerful, complicated actor. O’Hara told Candy to trust his talent as an actor and not always play the clown.

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June of 1995 was a rough month for me (I’ll spare you the details), so I didn’t see Apollo 13 on the big screen, but oh how I wish I would have because I’m sure it was even more impressive. However, in the years since I have watched it dozens of times, and it just seems to get better with age. I am too young to remember the real life Apollo 13 disaster, but I have developed an interest in reading about the space program and don’t think that knowing how the story ends detracts from one’s enjoyment of the movie. I have no idea what is in the job description of a film director, but it feels like Ron Howard made a lot of correct decisions, starting with the outstanding cast. Apollo 13 was the third highest grossing film of the year, behind only Toy Story & Batman Forever and ahead of Jumanji & Waterworld. It holds a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the NY Daily News predicting that “Tom Hanks is on his way to becoming the American Everyman…an exemplar of boyish goodwill and quiet moral force”, People Magazine opining that “tense as the best murder mysteries and as kinetic as the most exciting action films…this space adventure is as thrilling as movies get”, and the Washington Post observing that the movie “lifts off with a payload of the right stuff: courage, can-do, grace under pressure, & other qualities derided as machismo by some but applauded as old-fashioned values by others”.  Apollo 13 was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two. Only the Lonely is an underrated gem. I’m a big John Candy fan, and seeing Maureen O’Hara onscreen in her twilight years nearly a half century after her turn in Miracle on 34th St. is a real treat for aficionados of that Christmas classic, even though she portrays an entirely different kind of character. At first glance this seems like an odd potpourri of talent, and amongst the more well-known work of all involved it kind of gets lost in the shuffle, but it’s definitely not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

 

The Verdict:       Apollo 13. I have nothing bad to say about Only the Lonely and would encourage anyone who’s never seen it to give it a whirl, but the competition is overwhelming. 

 

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Good Will Hunting

Release:    12/5/97

Starring:     Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams

Directed By:                 Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho)

 

vs.

 

Big Daddy

 

Quotes

Having a son is great… As long as his eyes are closed, and he’s not moving or talking.

 

Dented cans are half-price. Microsoft went down 3 points. We gotta save some money.

 

Do you want a Happy Meal? Can I get you one of those Happy Meals? You got a Happy Meal? Can we get a Happy Meal? WILL SOMEBODY GET THE KID A HAPPY MEAL?!

 

The boy just won’t quit peeing and throwing up. He’s like a cocker spaniel!

 

Odds & Ends

Allen Covert has appeared in 25 Adam Sandler films.

 

This is the most successful live action movie of Adam Sandler’s career, making over $163 million domestically. His 2015 animated sequel Hotel Transylvania 2 made over $169 million.

 

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In the past two decades Damon & Affleck have become ubiquitous in Hollywood, starring in everything from thrillers & rom-coms to action flicks & superhero franchises. No one will ever list them among the finest actors of their generation, but kudos must be given for carving out solid, lasting, & somewhat impactful careers for themselves. Back in the mid-90’s they were barely blips on the radar, with Damon having a pivotal yet small role as the titular character in Saving Private Ryan, and Affleck best known as part of Kevin Smith’s ensembles in Dazed & Confused and Mallrats. But then the two best buddies co-wrote a screenplay about a troubled genius working as a janitor at MIT, and that film received nine Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), winning two of them (Best Supporting Actor for Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Damon & Affleck). The rest is history. Good Will Hunting was the 7th highest grossing film of 1997 and holds an extraordinary 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. USA Today thought that Damon “delivers the year’s No. 1 breakthrough performance”, while our old pal Ebert said that “the outcome is fairly predictable; so is the whole story, really” but added “it’s the individual moments, not the payoff, that make it so effective”. Big Daddy bested Basic Instinct in the first round because when Sandler is funny he’s more entertaining than ice picks & Sharon Stone’s lady parts. When you watch some of the movies that Sandler has starred in during the past decade Big Daddy looks like Citizen Kane in comparison. I understand that his comedy is an acquired taste, but I think this is a film that probably has a slightly broader appeal than most of his other stuff.

 

The Verdict:       Good Will Hunting. Affleck & Damon strike me as being real douchenozzles, but I’ll be darned if they haven’t made some entertaining films, and I can’t overlook a movie that got my guy Robin Williams his one & only Academy Award. Mostly known as a manic comedian, Williams was also a brilliant dramatic actor, and his talent is on full display in this movie. Big Daddy is fun to watch on a lazy rainy day, but in this case it’s bologna going up against filet mignon.

 

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American Pie

Release:    7/9/99

Starring:              Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Sean William Scott, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eugene Levy, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Jennifer Coolidge, Eddie Kaye Thomas

Directed By:        Paul & Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Little Fockers)

 

vs.

 

Armageddon

 

Quotes

Damage? Total, sir. It’s what we call a global killer. The end of mankind. Doesn’t matter where it hits, nothing would survive, not even bacteria.

 

I know the president’s chief scientific advisor. We were at MIT together and, in a situation like this you really don’t wanna take advice from a man who got a C- in astrophysics. The president’s advisors are wrong and I’m right.

 

The United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody wanna say no?

 

You know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

 

We spend 250 billion dollars a year on defense. And here we are. The fate of the planet is in the hands of a bunch of retards I wouldn’t trust with a potato gun.

 

Yeah, one more thing, um…none of them wanna pay taxes again. Ever.

 

You go take care of my little girl now. That’s your job. Always thought of you as a son. Always.

 

For the next 11 days the Earth’s in a shooting gallery. Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it’s still hitting land. It will slam into the ocean bedrock. Now if it’s a Pacific Ocean impact, which we think it will be, it will create a tidal wave about three miles high, flash boil millions of gallons of sea water. It will hit the West Coast and wash up in Denver. Japan is gone, Australia is wiped out. Half of the Earth’s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, the rest will freeze to death in a nuclear winter. Basically the worst parts of the Bible.

 

Odds & Ends

NASA shows this film during their management training program. New managers are given the task of trying to spot as many errors as possible. At least 168 have been found. Many of the errors found in the film were acknowledged by the director and known even during filming & production and were left in deliberately. Michael Bay said, “It’s a movie and not many people know about it”, so they were kept in for entertainment value. Bay has also stated that Armageddon is his worst film, saying “I will apologize for Armageddon because we had to do the whole movie in sixteen weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could.”

 

When asked why he did this film, Steve Buscemi replied, “I wanted a bigger house”. Billy Bob Thornton also admitted to doing the film for the money and often jokes about acting in it. He has, however, called it “not THAT bad”. Ben Affleck has practically disowned the movie, even repeatedly making fun of it on the commentary.

 

Because of the patriotic nature of the script, and the success of using Top Gun as recruitment material, the producers persuaded NASA to allow Director Michael Bay and company to shoot in the normally restricted space agency. This included the neutral buoyancy lab, a 65 million gallon, 40 ft. deep pool used to train astronauts for weightlessness, and the use of two $10 million space suits. Parts of the movie were filmed at Edwards Air Force Base in California and the crew was allowed to shoot in a launch pad with an actual space shuttle docked to it. The only condition was that they not step into the shuttle itself. Ben Affleck admitted to stepping inside the orbiter for a brief moment, before NASA technicians ordered him out of the spacecraft.

 

After Rockhound gets space dementia, the shuttle crew wraps him in duct tape, which is, in fact, NASA protocol for immobilizing a crazed crew member.

 

Bruce Willis has said that he did not care for Michael Bay’s directing style, and he refuses to work with him again.

 

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Teen sex comedies are a tried & true movie trope, with some being funnier & more memorable than others. It seems like every generation has one such film that they claim as their own. American Pie finds a group of high school seniors making a pact to get laid on prom night. Of course the group of teens has personalities of varying quirks & levels of hilarity and finds themselves in amusing situations. It was a surprise hit in the summer of ’99, ending the year as the 20th highest grossing film. It made stars out of most of its young cast and spawned several sequels, none of which lived up to the mirth & freshness of the original. Rotten Tomatoes gives American Pie a decent score of 60%. The Cincinnati Enquirer called it “cheap soft-core porn masquerading as comedy”, the L.A. Times complimented its “unusual ability to mix bodily functions humor with a sincere & unlooked-for sense of decency”, our pal Ebert called it “cheerful, hard-working, & sometimes funny”, and USA Today compared it to “the C student who later makes a bundle then comes back to endow the school”. I assume that was meant as a compliment. Armageddon got past Clerks in Round 1, which I’m sure would tick off erudite film aficionados who think Kevin Smith is  freakin’ genius.

 

The Verdict:       American Pie. The cast & crew of Armageddon made this decision easier than I anticipated, because if they’re going to insult & ridicule their own movie then why should I support it?? I chuckle at people who complain about scientific accuracy in such films since those folks completely miss the point of sitting down with a bucket of popcorn, a vat of soda, & a box of candy and escaping from reality for a couple of hours. No one will ever accuse Armageddon of being good, but it is entertaining enough with a charming cast and impressive special effects. American Pie is undoubtedly a cultural touchstone for 90’s kids. I was a 27 year old college graduate in 1999 so I don’t claim it as such, but it has more than a few funny moments and does a great job of mixing gross-out humor with a certain level of sentimentality.

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You’ve Got Mail

Release:    12/18/98

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:        Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle)

 

vs.

 

The Firm

 

Quotes

I’m a federal agent! You know what that means, you lowlife? It means you’ve got no rights, your life is mine! I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank them out your asshole, and I’m not even violating your civil rights!

 

You want to know something funny? I discovered the law again. You actually made me think about it. I managed to go through three years of law school without doing that.

 

Let me get this straight: you want me to steal files from the firm, turn them over to the FBI, send my colleagues to jail, breach attorney-client privilege, thus getting myself disbarred for life, then testify in open court against the Mafia?? Are you out of your mind?

 

Odds & Ends

Holly Hunter is on screen for a total of 5 minutes and 59 seconds; one of shortest performances ever nominated for an Oscar. She is in twenty scenes, for an average of eighteen seconds per scene.

 

Except for the sporadic soundtrack songs the entire movie score is created solely on a piano, as played by its composer Dave Grusin. As a means of expanding the tonal range of his piano’s percussive properties, he simulated harp-like passages by stroking the naked strings of his grand and rapping the wooden frame for effects, as a drummer might beat his drums.

 

The cast includes two Oscar winners: Gene Hackman & Holly Hunter; and five Oscar nominees: Tom Cruise, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Gary Busey, and Ed Harris.

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You’ve Got Mail was the third & (thus far) final Hanks/Ryan collaboration. It is very loosely based on the 1940 Jimmy Stewart rom-com The Shop Around the Corner, taking the premise of two people who can’t stand each other in “real life” but have fallen in love thru anonymous correspondence and updating it to the 20th century. Ryan is the proprietor of a quaint little children’s book store in NY City whose business goes under when a big box chain bookstore moves into the neighborhood. What she doesn’t realize is that the owner of the evil chain store is also the man that she met in an online chat room and has been having an ongoing e-mail “relationship” with for several months. Hanks & Ryan are obviously charming, but kudos to a supporting cast that includes Jean Stapleton (All in the Family’s Edith Bunker), Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn, Heather Burns, & Dave Chappelle. You’ve Got Mail was the 14th highest grossing film of 1998 and holds a 69% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert observed that “Ryan and Hanks have more winning smiles than most people have expressions”, the Dallas Morning News said that it “provides a perfectly cuddly night at the movies”, and Variety called it a “winning romantic comedy and great date movie”. The Firm defeated My Best Friend’s Wedding in Round 1. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 76% rating, with Newsweek crediting it for “restoring faith in Hollywood professionalism”, Variety saying that it is “a smooth adaptation of John Grisham’s giant bestseller”, and Rolling Stone observing that “the book moved at turbo speed…at two and a half hours, the movie crawls”.

 

The Verdict:       You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks. Meg Ryan. Bookstores. Internet romance. What’s not to love?? Rolling Stone was right about The Firm…it’s good, but the book is better.

 

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Aladdin

Release:    11/25/92

Starring:              Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried

Directed By:        Ron Clements & John Musker (The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid)

 

vs.

 

Patch Adams

 

Quotes

All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.

 

You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.

 

What’s wrong with death, sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.

 

Our job is to rigorously and ruthlessly train the humanity out of you and make you into something better. We’re gonna make doctors out of you.

 

Odds & Ends

During filming Robin Williams and the rest of the cast & crew worked closely with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to fulfill the fantasies of several children who were at the time undergoing cancer treatment. The children appeared with Williams in scenes at the pediatric ward.

 

One of the film’s producers was Mike Farrell, who met the real Patch Adams when Adams served as an advisor to the TV series MAS*H, in which Farrell played Dr. B.J. Hunnicutt.

 

In real life, Patch Adams’ close friend who was murdered was a man, not a female love interest. Carin is a fictional character.

 

This was the fifth time Robin Williams portrayed a doctor in the space of nine years: Awakenings (1990), Nine Months (1995), Good Will Hunting (1997), What Dreams May Come (1998).

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It’s Robin Williams vs. Robin Williams!! Patch Adams got by Black Sheep in Round 1. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1998, ahead of Mulan and The Truman Show but behind Rush Hour and Godzilla. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a hideous 23% rating, with Ebert opining that “it extracts tears individually by liposuction, without anesthesia”, Entertainment Weekly calling it “offensive and deeply false ‘inspirational!’”, and CNN dubbed it a “blubbering ass-kiss of a movie”. It is my opinion that such reviews are a bit excessive, but then again I am one who tends to enjoy what others derisively accuse of being sentimental. It is tempting nowadays for Robin Williams fans to deify the man and his career, but the truth is that his movies were hit & miss. I don’t think Patch Adams is as bad as the critics seem to believe, especially with a charming supporting cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Jeter, & the lovely Monica Potter, but when the real life subject of the film doesn’t particularly like his own biopic it is an indication that some poor decisions may have been made along the way. Aladdin is another big screen animated classic from Disney, which seems to specialize in such movies. It is based on one of the stories from the classic One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. Aladdin is a young homeless boy who falls in love with Princess Jasmine, comes into possession of a magic lamp, and is granted three wishes by The Genie that is released from the lamp. It’s a familiar story to most of us, but is told with particular panache in this adaptation, especially with Williams giving voice (and loads of personality) to The Genie.

 

The Verdict:       Aladdin. It really isn’t even a fair fight.

 

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Groundhog Day

Release:    2/12/93

Starring:     Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell

Directed By:        Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation)

 

vs.

 

Clueless

 

Quotes

Wasn’t my mom a Betty? She died when I was just a baby. A fluke accident during a routine liposuction.

 

So, okay. I don’t wanna be a traitor to my generation and all, but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, c’mon, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants, and take their greasy hair…ew!…and cover it up with a backwards cap and, like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so!

 

Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

 

As if!

 

Like, right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, “What about the strain on our resources?” But it’s like, when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday, right? I said RSVP because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that, like, did not RSVP, so I was, like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day, it was, like, the more the merrier. And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians.

 

I so need lessons from you on how to be cool. Tell me that part about Kenny G again?

 

Odds & Ends

The film’s writers sat in classes at Beverly Hills High to get the flavor of the students.

 

The band playing during the party scene is the Boston-based Ska band the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

 

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Clueless got past Empire Records in the first round based largely on its pop culture cache back in the day. If this competition was only about which film represents the 1990’s best I’d have to say that Clueless would be a prohibitive favorite. It was a surprise hit in the summer of 1995, and inspired trends in fashion & slang. Entertainment Weekly said of the main character Cher that “there’s such a gaping discontinuity between her physical beauty and her vacant, gum-snapping personality that she’s like a walking advertisement for everything that’s right & wrong with America”, something that I could say about numerous women I have encountered in my own life. Variety called it “a fresh, disarmingly bright, and at times explosively funny comedy” and the San Francisco Chronicle observed that “by the time you skip out of the theater you’ve had a great time but can’t remember a single reason why”. The story is loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 book Emma, but I must admit that’s one classic novel that I’ve never read so I cannot properly compare the two. Much like Scrooged it took me awhile to give Groundhog Day a whirl because for the longest time I just didn’t get the whole Bill Murray thing, but rest assured I most certainly do now. On its surface Groundhog Day is a simple comedy about a misanthropic weatherman who keeps waking up on the same day (February 2…hence the title) over & over & over again. But it’s so much more than that. Groundhog Day was the 13th highest grossing film of 1993, just ahead of Grumpy Old Men and behind Philadelphia (which won Tom Hanks his first Oscar). It has an incredible 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, with People Magazine calling it “surprisingly inventive”, Empire Magazine saying it is “comic perfection”, and Ebert opining that it is “lovable and sweet”. All of those comments are accurate, but I’d be interested in digging thru all of the reviews to see if any critic actually “got it”, to find out if anyone truly understands the movie on a deeper level.

 

The Verdict:       Groundhog Day. I am busting at the seams to say everything I want to say about Groundhog Day, but I’ll save it until next time. For now allow me to give you a homework assignment: watch this movie. You may be able to catch it on TV somewhere, but if not then stream it on Netflix or whatever service you prefer. You will not regret it. With all due respect to Clueless, my apologies, but this is like comparing fast food to a five star dining experience.

 

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Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Release:    2/4/94

Starring:     Jim Carrey, Sean Young, Tone Loc, Dan Marino

Directed By:        Tom Shadyac

 

vs.

 

The Mask

 

Quotes

Hold on, sugar! Daddy’s got a sweet tooth tonight!

 

Sssomebody stop me!

 

Hold me closer, Ed, it’s getting dark…tell Auntie Em to let Old Yeller out…tell Tiny Tim I won’t be coming home this Christmas…tell Scarlett I do give a damn!

 

Odds & Ends

A lot of moments, particularly ones involving the dog, were ad-libbed on set. The scene where Milo won’t let go of the Frisbee as Ipkiss tries to stash the money in his closet wasn’t planned, and Jim Carrey ad-libbed Ipkiss’ frustrated reaction to Milo not being able to run up the wall.

 

Prior to Cameron Diaz landing the role of Tina Carlyle, the producers had originally suggested Anna Nicole Smith for the role. This was Diaz’s first acting role.

 

Based on a Dark Horse comic book series of the same name which consisted of dark horror stories abiut how the mask would murder people with cartoon antics. Chuck Russell has said that the movie script started off in that tone before being transformed as a vehicle for Jim Carrey’s unique comedy.

 

This was the first Jim Carrey movie to reach $100 million at the box office.

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It’s Jim Carrey vs. Jim Carrey!! Before Ace Ventura hit theaters in February of 1994 Carrey was primarily known as a stand-up comic and one of the stars of Fox’s hit variety show In Living Color. But that all changed with this strangely hilarious tale about a detective specializing in animal cases taking on the task of finding the missing mascot for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. It was 16th highest grossing film of the year, behind Maverick, The Client, & Disclosure but ahead of Legends of the Fall and D2: The Mighty Ducks. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 46%, which isn’t surprising since it is precisely the sort of goofy comedy that pompous critics just don’t get. Entertainment Weekly compared Carrey’s performance to “an escaped mental patient impersonating a game-show host”. The NY Times said that the movie “has the metabolism, logic, & attention span of a peevish 6-year-old”. Roger Ebert said that he viewed the film as “a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot”. Real folks look at Ace Ventura and see rapper Ton Loc (Funky Cold Medina) as a police detective and NFL quarterback Dan Marino in his acting debut and understand that this is a silly farce intended to make folks laugh, something at which it succeeds. The Mask defeated PCU in the first round based mostly on its cultural impact. Critics like it a lot more than Ace Ventura, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a score of 77%. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “an amazing fusion of physical comedy and state-of-the- art cinema illusion”. The L.A. Times said Carrey “has a bright and likable screen presence, a lost puppy quality that is surprisingly endearing”. Variety thought the film was “adroitly directed…viscerally & visually dynamic and just plain fun”. Both of these films received sequels, but neither Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Son of the Mask (which had neither Carrey nor Diaz in its cast) failed to live up to their predecessors.

 

The Verdict:       The Mask. Jim Carrey is an acquired taste and I freely admit that he grew tedious for me a long long time ago. However, these movies were our first big screen exposure to his antics and they were fresh & humorous at the time. Nowadays Carrey seems to take himself way too seriously, but 25 years ago that wasn’t an issue and his performances were much more fun. As far as this particular head-to-head matchup it’s really a pick ‘em, but since The Mask did better critically & at the box office I’ll give it the nod.

 

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Release:    12/17/93

Starring:              Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio

Directed By:                 Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, A Dog’s Purpose)

 

vs.

 

Pretty Woman

Release:    3/23/90

Starring:     Julia Roberts, Richard Gere

Directed By:                 Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)

 

vs.

 

Batman Returns

 

Quotes

I wasn’t born in the sewer, you know. I want some respect…a recognition of my basic humanity. But most of all I wanna find out who I am by finding my parents, learning my human name. Simple stuff that the good people of Gotham take for granted!

 

You’re catnip to a girl like me. Handsome, dazed, and to die for.

 

Just relax. I’ll take care of the squealing, wretched, pinhead puppets of Gotham!

 

Odds & Ends

The production wanted to use King Penguins, and the only tame ones in captivity were at a bird sanctuary deep in the English countryside. The birds were flown over to the States in the refrigerated hold of a plane, given their own refrigerated trailer & swimming pool, a half a ton of fresh ice every day, and had fresh fish delivered daily straight from the docks. Even though the temperature outside frequently topped 100 degrees the entire set was refrigerated down to 35 degrees. The birds also had an around-the-clock bodyguard. Clearly the birds enjoyed the experience as, following their stint in Hollywood, most of them had mated and produced eggs, the sure sign of a contented penguin.

 

Annette Bening was originally cast as Catwoman, but was replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer when she became pregnant.

 

Singer David Bowie, who had been previously considered to play the Joker in 1989’as Batman, was the first choice for the part of Max Shreck, but he turned down the role in favor of one in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

 

Though it was it was lambasted as too grotesque & pessimistic it is the only one of the four Warner Brothers’ Batman films that doesn’t include a single reference to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.

 

Burgess Meredith, who had portrayed The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV show, was asked to play the Penguin’s father in the opening of the film, but illness prevented him from it.

 

Michelle Pfeiffer said that her costume was vacuum sealed once she was fitted into it for scenes, so she actually had only a short amount of time to perform before she would have to have it opened or she could become lightheaded and pass out. They went through 60 catsuits during the six month shoot, at a cost of $1000 each.

 

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In 1993 Leonardo DiCaprio was barely a blip on the pulp culture radar. He had joined the cast of television sitcom Growing Pains during its final season in 1991, and had bit parts in a few movies, but Gilbert Grape was his coming out party. The titular Gilbert is actually portrayed by Johnny Depp. What is eating at him is having to be the main caretaker of his morbidly obese mother, mentally challenged brother, & two sisters after his father had committed suicide a few years earlier. DiCaprio plays Arnie, the mentally challenged brother, and Arnie is a real handful for Gilbert. Complicating things further is a fetching young lady who arrives in town and catches Gilbert’s eye. Luckily she takes a shine to Arnie which makes things a bit easier. Gilbert Grape is a touching family drama chockful of great performances. It was only 111th highest grossing film of 1993, but it garnered an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and got DiCaprio his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Tommy Lee Jones for his role in The Fugitive). Newsweek complimented Depp’s performance, but predicted that it was DiCaprio who “will take your breath away”. Time summarized the premise as “true heroes are those people who day by day must tend to misfits, and do so with love, tenacity, and a determination not to go terminally sour in the process”. Ebert called it “one of the most enchanting movies of the year”. Julia Roberts’ coming out party was Pretty Woman, the story of a kindhearted & good-natured prostitute hired to be a wealthy businessman’s arm candy for a few days who turns out to be so bewitching that he falls in love with her. It was the 4th highest grossing film of 1990, behind Home Alone but ahead of Total Recall and Die Hard 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 62%, with the NY Times calling it “something special”, Ebert proclaiming it “the sweetest and most openhearted love fable since The Princess Bride”, and the Washington Post dubbing it “a slick, instantly & entertainingly digestible Cinderella fable”. Roberts was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress but lost to Kathy Bates for her role in Misery. Batman Returns easily beat Showgirls in Round 1. It was the third highest grossing film of 1992, behind only Aladdin and Home Alone 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 81%. The L.A. Times said that “Burton’s dark, melancholy vision is undeniably something to see…but it is a claustrophobic conception, not an expansive one, oppressive rather than exhilarating, and it strangles almost all the enjoyment out of this movie without half trying”. The Boston Globe called it “the rarest of Hollywood beasts…a sequel that’s better than the original”. People Magazine observed that the movie is “full of grim, Dostoyevskian undertones, not to mention a multitude of bloody, violent scenes”. Newsweek said that Burton “makes nightmares that taste like candy”.

 

The Verdict:       Batman Returns. I’m just not a Julia Roberts fan. I understand that she was one of the biggest stars of the 90’s and Pretty Woman is not only her signature role but also one of the defining movies of the decade, but repeat viewings just haven’t happened over the years, and if I’m channel surfing it is likely that I’d watch just about anything else. I’m not a huge DiCaprio guy either, but unlike his buddies Clooney and Affleck it isn’t because he seems like such an assclown in real life as much as it is the roles he has chosen over the years. I look at a lot of DiCaprio films…. The Man in the Iron Mask, Gangs of New York, The Departed, Inception…and immediately know that I’m just not interested. There are a few exceptions of course, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is probably his most underrated film. Having said that, there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a downer. I’d have to watch a silly comedy immediately afterward as a palate cleanser. Batman Returns is, as critics mentioned, dark, melancholy, grim, & a bit violent. But it’s a comic book movie, and with all of the films that have come out in that genre in the ensuing decades criticism of Batman Returns as being too gloomy feels misleading. We pretty much know what we’re getting with a Tim Burton movie, and all things considered that’s usually not a bad thing.

 

 

90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 1

Before we conclude Round 1 of 90’s Film Frenzy please go back and check out first round action in the Dope, Fly, and Phat divisions.

 

You have likely noticed that I consistently use two metrics in my evaluation…box office and critic reviews. I utilize Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics had to say, and I look at Box Office Mojo to see how the movie stacked up financially against its competition. When I was growing up we didn’t have The Internet and movie critics were a rare breed mostly confined to big city newspapers. The big dogs on the block were Siskel & Ebert because they actually had their own television show, so you’re seeing them referenced a lot, mostly out of nostalgia. I also tend to focus on reviews that were written at the time of a film’s release in the 1990s because it is rather bogus and a bit unfair to give credence to something written many years later by a critic who has suddenly jumped on the bandwagon of a cult film that has grown in stature thru the magic of home video. Having said that, neither the box office nor the critics are always an accurate measure of a movie, and something that has achieved cult status for whatever reason shouldn’t be overlooked just because it didn’t make much money or receive critical acclaim two+ decades ago. It’s a delicate balancing act…one I hope that I am doing well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost

Release:                       7/13/90

Starring:                        Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg

Directed By:                 Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, Ruthless People)

 

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Reality Bites

Release:                       2/18/94

Starring:                        Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Renée Zellweger, John Mahoney

Directed By:                 Ben Stiller (The Cable Guy, Zoolander, Tropic Thunder)

 

If there is one film in this competition that might qualify as “quintessential 90’s” I think Reality Bites fits the bill. It’s right there in the title…Reality Bites. Angst-ridden twenty-somethings try to find their footing in the post-graduate jungle that is life. That’s pretty much the idea. The cast is impressive, and the soundtrack is representative of its era, with songs from Crowded House, Lenny Kravitz, Julianna Hatfield, & The Posies. Not exactly mainstream, right?? I feel like the most enduring legacy of Reality Bites is the hit song Stay by quirky Lisa Loeb. This movie came out right after I graduated college and had entered the workforce, but at the time I was also still clinging to the old college life…hanging out with my friends and patronizing familiar watering holes ‘til 3am. Stay was in heavy rotation on the jukebox, and I have a vague recollection of a female acquaintance of mine dancing to the song and stripping down to her unmentionables right in the middle of the bar. Ghost was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two of them. When a banker is shot & killed by a mugger his ghost enlists the help of a shady psychic to warn his grieving girlfriend of impending danger. The enduring legacy of Ghost includes the zenith of Patrick Swayze’s solid career, Whoopi Goldberg when she was still funny and not a political hack, one of Demi Moore’s best performances, a renewed appreciation for The Righteous Brothers’ hit Unchained Melody, & a sudden interest in learning more about pottery.

 

The Verdict:       Ghost. I was precisely the target audience for Reality Bites and still found it dull. It was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1994, behind such stalwarts as Shaquille O’Neal’s Blue Chips, Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now, & Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Timecop. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 66%, with the Chicago Tribune calling it “a good example of an anti-establishment comedy crippled by a seeming desire to infatuate the establishment itself”, while The New Yorker observed that “when the movie is over you don’t feel as if you had shared the experience of a new generation…you feel puzzled and vaguely crummy”. Conversely, Ghost won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Goldberg). It was the second highest grossing film of 1990, behind only Home Alone, and holds a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Gene Siskel declared that “Moore has never been more fetching”, while his buddy Ebert said that the movie “occasionally succeeds in evoking the mysteries that it toys with”.

 

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Glengarry Glen Ross

Release:                       10/2/92

Starring:                        Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey

Directed By:                 James Foley (Reckless, The Chamber)

 

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Striking Distance

Release:                       9/17/93

Starring:                        Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina, John Mahoney

Directed By:                 Rowdy Herrington (Road House)

 

Just glancing at the cast of Glengarry Glen Ross elicits such high expectations that it’d be almost impossible for a film to live up to them. Based on a 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Mamet, the story shows us two days in the lives of aging real estate salesmen desperate to keep their jobs. The corporate office has announced that half of them will be fired in a week, so they must do whatever necessary to get the numbers needed to impress the boss. Lemmon, Arkin, Harris, & Pacino are powerful performers on an individual basis, and as an ensemble they are unmatched. Throw Spacey and a brief but memorable appearance by Baldwin into the mix and what you have is a movie in which the plot is secondary to the performances. In the hands of lesser actors it might be a total yawner, but what we end up with is a masterclass in how to make relatively mundane subject matter absolutely riveting. Bruce Willis was already a big movie star by 1993, with two Die Hards, two Look Who’s Talking films, & less appreciated fare like The Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk, & The Last Boy Scout on his resume. Striking Distance tells the story of a disgraced Pittsburgh homicide detective relegated to river rescue duty after opining that a serial killer might be a rogue cop. When someone begins stalking him the game is afoot and the only person he can trust is his fetching female partner…or so he thinks. Striking Distance isn’t fondly recalled as one of Willis’ best, but with a cast that includes Parker, Mahoney, & Farina and a Pittsburgh backdrop familiar to this West Virginian I believe it is better than many may recall.

 

The Verdict:       Glengarry Glen Ross. I’m not usually into murder mysteries or police dramas, but Striking Distance works for me in a way it doesn’t seem to for many others. It was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1993 (better than Rudy but behind Pauley Shore’s Son-in-Law) and has an abysmal 14% Rotten Tomatoes score. Entertainment Weekly called Willis “morose” and the movie a “flat, dankly lit, grindingly inept thriller”, while Ebert called it “an exhausted reassembly of bits & pieces from all the other movies that are more or less exactly like this one”. Conversely, Glengarry Glen Ross has a stellar Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%, with Ebert saying that “you can see the joy with which the actors get their teeth into these great lines” and ReelViews opining that “for anyone who loves sharp dialogue, compelling characters, and a stinging social rebuke, Glengarry Glen Ross is not to be missed”. It was only the 94th highest grossing movie of 1992, yet we must consider that it isn’t a big budget epic but rather a stage play put on film. The fact that one can still appreciate its prominence nearly three decades later outweighs any perceived box office shortcomings.

 

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The Big Lebowski

Release:                       3/6/98

Starring:                        Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed By:                 Joel & Ethan Coen (Raising Arizona, Fargo, No Country for Old Men)

 

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Ten Things I Hate About You

Release:                       3/31/99

Starring:                        Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik

Directed By:                 Gil Junger (Black Knight, If Only)

 

Ol’ William Shakespeare is still inspiring people 400 years after he left this mortal coil, and a big Hollywood trend the past few decades is to take the basic theme of a Shakespeare play and set it in modern times with young & hip movie stars. Ten Things I Hate About You turns Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew into a romantic dramedy about high school students. Stiles, Ledger, Gordon-Leavitt, & Oleynik star as two sisters and the guys attempting to woo them, and the cast also includes Andrew Keegan, David Krumholtz, Gabrielle Union, & Allison Janney. It was the 53rd highest grossing film of 1999 and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 62%, with Variety observing that it “doesn’t even seem certain which decade it’s set in”, the San Francisco Chronicle opining that the movie “wimped out by blanding down the story and the characters to the point where she isn’t really a shrew and he isn’t really a maniac”, and Ebert chiming in that high school films are “running out of new ideas and have taken to recycling classic literature”. The Big Lebowski has grown in stature & popularity in the two decades since its release when it was the 96th highest grossing movie of the year, behind immense competition like Half Baked, Simon Birch, & Bulworth. It is the very definition of a cult film, although with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 82% it seems like critics recognized its greatness long before the masses caught up. Jeffrey Lebowski is known by his friends and refers to himself simply as The Dude. He is the quintessential slacker who enjoys sitting around in his bathrobe, drinking white Russians, and bowling with his pals Walter & Donny. When two thugs assault him in his house demanding money that is owed to their boss it becomes clear that they have the wrong guy…they’re after the other Jeffrey Lebowski – an old, handicapped millionaire. The thugs leave The Dude in peace but take a wiz on his area rug first, which offends him tremendously because the rug “really tied the room together”. When The Dude seeks out the other Lebowski for recompense he ends up getting caught in a complex plot involving kidnapping, ransom, a porn magnate, & a high school kid named Larry. The Cincinnati Enquirer called The Big Lebowski “loopy, unfathomable, profane, & very funny”, while Ebert simply framed it as “weirdly engaging”. There is actually an annual event in Louisville, KY called Lewbowski Fest which, since 2002, has celebrated the film with bowling, trivia, & costume contests, and a “religion” called Dudeism that advocates & encourages “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, which does sound kind of awesome.

 

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. No contest. The Dude abides. But well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

 

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October Sky

Release:                       2/19/99

Starring:                        Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen

Directed By:                 Joe Johnston (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji)

 

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Four Weddings & A Funeral

Release:                       5/13/94

Starring:                        Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell

Directed By:                 Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

 

Hugh Grant first became a thing in the early 90’s mainly because of Four Weddings & A Funeral. The plot is pretty simple, as it follows a small group of people whose lives keep intersecting at various social engagements, specifically…you guessed it…four weddings and a funeral. Andi MacDowell is a charming actress who has been in a few films that I’ve really enjoyed but she mostly flies under the radar. I vaguely recall seeing Four Weddings & A Funeral back in college, and what I remember most is a cover of an old 60’s song Love Is All Around that would be co-opted again a decade later for the British Christmas rom-com Love Actually. I think others enjoyed the movie more than me, as Four Weddings & A Funeral was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, holds a 95% Rotten Tomatoes score, & was the 21st highest grossing film of 1994. Gene Siskel observed that it “couldn’t be more psychologically astute in its portrait of a man who defines himself by his bachelorhood”, while Entertainment Weekly raved that its “infectious charm and sunny goodwill can immediately buoy a soul”. Fellow West Virginian Homer Hickam is the subject of October Sky, which is based on his memoir Rocket Boys. We meet Homer as a high school student living amongst the economically and otherwise depressed coal fields of southern West Virginia in the 1950s. Homer and his pals dream of a better live outside of Appalachia, and the launch of Soviet satellite Sputnik into space inspires an interest in building rockets. Unfortunately dreams of success, happiness, & achievement are met with resistance from the redneck masses, and it’s up to the young lads to blaze their own trail and prove everyone wrong. The only person who seems to be in their corner is a kindhearted science teacher, but that’s enough. Homer Hickam went on to become a NASA engineer for nearly thirty years. October Sky was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1999 and holds a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert complimented the movie’s “deep values”, while CNN called it “a sensational character-driven story with a strong narrative and great visual style”.

 

The Verdict:       October Sky. In doing my prep work I was surprised to learn that Four Weddings & a Funeral had been nominated for Best Picture. Perhaps the timing is just off for me. Back then I was at the tail end of my collegiate existence and caught up in other things. I remember seeing it once, and in the ensuing decades I don’t think I’ve ever seen it again. I’m sure if I went back and watched it now I’d find it perfectly delightful, but obviously it didn’t really resonate with me for whatever reason. Conversely, I can identify with certain beats in October Sky that few outside of Appalachia could ever understand. This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s first starring role, and he & the rest of the cast are superb.

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Liar Liar

Release:                       3/21/97

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney

Directed By:                 Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams, Bruce Almighty)

 

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Doc Hollywood

Release:                       8/2/91

Starring:                        Michael J. Fox, Julie Warner, Woody Harrelson, Bridget Fonda, David Ogden Stiers, Barnard Hughes

Directed By:                 Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy)

 

Jim Carrey is a mixed bag for me. His shtick gets old really quick, and I tired of it fifteen years ago. However, between 1994 & 2003 he starred in a handful of memorable films, and Liar Liar might deserve a spot at the top of the list. Carrey plays a hotshot attorney whose focus on his career and deceitful ways have already ended his marriage and are on the verge of costing him his young son Max, who makes a wish on his birthday that his Dad not be able to lie at all for just one day. Max’s wish comes true and hilarity ensues. Liar Liar was the fourth highest grossing film of 1997 and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 81%. Variety called it “close to an ideal jumping-off point for Carrey”, the Hollywood Reporter opined that “Carrey has never been better, funnier, or more controlled”, and Ebert expressed trepidation that “I am gradually developing a suspicion that Jim Carrey is growing on me”. Doc Hollywood marked Michael J. Fox’s emergence from the Back to the Future niche that he’d been in for over five years, and the results aren’t too shabby. He plays a hotshot Washington DC doctor on his way to Los Angeles to make bank as a plastic surgeon. But when he crashes his classic Porsche in a rural South Carolina town he finds himself marooned for awhile and forced to serve as the local physician for a quirky group of townsfolk. Gradually he starts to mellow and grow fond of his new neighbors, and of course there is a fetching young lady with which he becomes smitten. Doc Hollywood is kind of predictable, but enchantingly so, with a great cast and fun characters. It was the 24th highest grossing movie of 1991, ahead of Bugsy, Thelma & Louise, and Point Break. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 71%, with Newsweek saying that it “oversells its whimsy and fits its quirkiness into a sitcom formula”, while Ebert called it “a sweetheart of a movie”.

 

The Verdict:       Doc Hollywood. There is a scene in Doc Hollywood involving the exquisite Julie Warner emerging from a lake that rivals Phoebe Cates infamously exiting a swimming pool a decade earlier in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I can’t get that scene out of my head when pondering the film. I’m a sucker for stories involving big city types being beguiled by easygoing small town life, and the cast pulls this version of the formula off to my satisfaction. I am not swayed by the box office for Liar Liar and like Fox better than Carrey.

 

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Lethal Weapon 4

Release:                       7/10/98

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li

Directed By:                 Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, Scrooged)

 

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Can’t Hardly Wait

Release:                       6/12/98

Starring:                        Ethan Embry, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Charlie Korsmo, Jason Segel, Donald Faison, Selma Blair, Sara Rue, Jenna Elfman, Jerry O’Connell, Melissa Joan Hart, Breckin Meyer

Directed By:                 Deborah Kaplan (A Very Brady Sequel)

 

Fans of the Lethal Weapon series have been anxiously awaiting a fifth installment for twenty years, and though I’m usually a “never say never” kind of guy I believe at this point that it’s too little too late and I’m okay with that. The fourth & final Lethal Weapon finds Riggs reluctant to marry his very pregnant girlfriend Lorna, Murtaugh dealing with the pregnancy of his eldest daughter by a mystery man, and the long in the tooth duo investigating an illegal Chinese immigrant smuggling situation. Rock joins the cast as an overzealous detective who is more than he lets on, and of course Pesci is back as fast talking ex-con Leo. Lethal Weapon 4 was the 11th highest grossing film of 1998, though it was also the most expensive of the four films to produce. It holds a 52% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Time referring to it as “mindless, sadistic violence juxtaposed with rote sentimentality”, while the New York Times generously pronouncing that it “turns out to be one of the nicer blow-’em-ups around”. Can’t Hardly Wait is another Hindsight Film, full of young actors who have stuck around long enough to be known for other things. It is also a classic high school film, set at a conventional graduation party and deconstructing all of the requisite high school archetypes. It was the 74th highest grossing movie of the year, ahead of Rushmore and A Simple Plan but behind Bride of Chucky and A Night at the Roxbury. It holds a 40% Rotten Tomatoes rating, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “a high-spirited, synthetically raucous house-party comedy” and Ebert saying that it “lumbers ungracefully from romantic showdowns to deep conversations to bathroom humor”.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 4. Though rumors of one last movie persist I think 4 provides a fitting conclusion to a very entertaining series. Perhaps the powers-that-be could learn a lesson from Die Hard, a franchise that should have stopped after three installments but has subjected the masses to two additional films with a sixth one possibly on the way. Sometimes it’s better to end on a high note and leave the memories alone. Back in the days of Party of Five I had a huge celebrity crush on Jennifer Love Hewitt, so I’m all in on Can’t Hardly Wait. However, in a sub-genre that has produced so many memorable movies the past few decades it really doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

 

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Backdraft

Release:                       5/24/91

Starring:                        Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay

Directed By:                 Ron Howard

 

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That Thing You Do

Release:                       10/4/96

Starring:                        Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry

Directed By:                 Tom Hanks

 

Every uniformed profession…policemen, the military, doctors, lawyers (hey…a three piece suit is kind of a uniform)…seems to get their own movie or TV series eventually. After all, life or death situations provide plenty of theatre. Backdraft is an ode to firefighters that tells the story of a wave of suspicious fires in Chicago, with a little family drama, political intrigue, & romance thrown into the mix. Ron Howard is a terrific director and the all-star cast is impressive, helping to make it the 14th highest grossing film of 1991, just behind Fried Green Tomatoes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II but ahead of JFK and The Prince of Tides, and has a solid 74% Rotten Tomatoes score. Gene Siskel called it “a spectacle worth observing”, Ebert feebly praised it by saying “the scenes involving fire are so good they make me recommend the movie anyway, despite its brain-damaged screenplay”, and the Washington Post said “Backdraft is sure to do for fire what The Poseidon Adventure did for water”, which may have been meant as a compliment…possibly. That Thing You Do was written & directed by Hanks and tells the story of a small town band that quickly rises to fame in the early 60’s on the popularity of an infectious pop hit. Hanks plays a supporting role, while the real stars are the band along with a fetching young female groupie. As with many actual bands egos & personal agendas quickly get in the way and torpedo the group’s success, making the movie a more insightful than expected examination of why one hit wonders are what they are. It was the 60th highest grossing film of 1996 (better than Fargo and Sling Blade) and has a stellar 93% Rotten Tomatoes score. Variety calls it “a sweet, likeable tale”, the New York Times dubbed it “rock-and-roll nostalgia presented as pure fizz”, & Rolling Stone framed it as “a brightly entertaining blend of humor and heartbreak”.

 

The Verdict:       That Thing You Do. This matchup illustrates a few things. First of all, my personal tastes are on full display, with a breezy, lightweight, fun movie beating out an effects laden, action packed melodrama. Secondly, I think it points to the dichotomy that we see even more today than two decades ago when it comes to movies…the action film packed with explosions and A-List talent that inspires awe on the big screen versus the frivolous guilty pleasure that we watch over & over again on television years after its release. And finally, if the material is written well enough then sometimes it’s okay to cast a few under-the-radar performers and help them pull it off with catchy tunes and a good director. Tom Hanks also wrote & directed 2011’s Larry Crowne, so he isn’t infallible…but I’d be willing to give anything he wrote & directed a whirl based on That Thing You Do.

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A Time to Kill

Release:                       7/24/96

Starring:                        Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland

Directed By:                 Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, Falling Down, Batman Forever)

 

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The Blair Witch Project

Release:                       7/14/99

Starring:                        Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Directed By:                 Daniel Myrick (Believers, The Strand)

 

In 1999 The Internet was still in its infancy and “going viral” was a new concept. Social media wasn’t a thing yet, but that worked out well for The Blair Witch Project. The movie was highly anticipated before it even hit theaters because of its ingenuous marketing campaign. Reality television wasn’t on anyone’s radar yet either, so many folks were easily duped into believing that the movie was actual lost footage of a student documentary gone terribly awry. One kind of longs for those halcyon days when we weren’t so jaded & cynical. The movie itself follows three student filmmakers investigating an urban legend called The Blair Witch. I’m not a horror film aficionado, but I recall thinking that the movie isn’t really that scary, that it is more fascinating as an examination of the trio’s descent into madness. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1999, earning more than The Green Mile, Oscar winning Best Picture American Beauty, and the first American Pie movie. That feat is even more impressive when you know that The Blair Witch Project had a budget of only $60k and earned almost $250 million. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 87%, with the Associated Press pointing out that “the thought that it might just might be real makes it much scarier”, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune calling it “a no-excuses horror show with an emotional wallop like falling headlong into a bear trap”, and the Washington Post saying it is “not the goriest, the grossest, the weirdest, the eeriest, the sickest, the creepiest, or the slimiest movie…just flat out the scariest”. A Time to Kill might be John Grisham’s best book…even better than The Firm…maybe. The movie takes a few liberties in telling the story of a Mississippi lawyer attempting to defend a black man who murdered two white men that raped & beat his young daughter. McConaughey is superb as the stressed out attorney, and Jackson gives one of his most nuanced performances as the distraught & vengeful father. The main issue I have is that the part of the female law student helping the defense team is beefed up considerably from the book because Sandra Bullock was cast in the part, but I realize that probably only bothers fans of the novel. A Time to Kill was the tenth highest grossing film of 1996, ahead of Scream but behind The Nutty Professor. It has a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Rolling Stone called McConaughey “dynamite in a performance of smarts, sexiness, scrappy humor, and unmistakable star sizzle”, while Ebert thought the movie “a skillfully constructed morality play that pushes all the right buttons and arrives at all the right conclusions”.

 

The Verdict:       The Blair Witch Project. Wow, this is a very difficult decision. Neither film is the kind of breezy couch potato escapism to which I am typically drawn. However, evaluated on their own merits the choice becomes a bit clearer. I am not a big Sandra Bullock fan. There is just something about her that annoys me for no apparent reason. Given that fact, I was more irritated than usual when her character was magnified in the movie far more than she had been in the book. Secondly, while the novel A Time to Kill is probably a better book than The Firm I am not sure that is true when comparing the two movies. I am not at all into horror movies and probably won’t ever watch The Blair Witch Project again, but I cannot overlook its uniquely astounding success and the fact that it was most certainly a product of its time…probably a little ahead of it.

100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 3

 

Television is chewing gum for the eyes.  –  Frank Lloyd Wright

 

 

 

 

My father & I occasionally hearken back to the late February day 18 years ago when we laid my mother to rest. We always recall how blessed our family was with such a beautiful sunny day, because on top of our grief it would have been that much more difficult to go thru the whole process in the midst of rain, snow, & chilly temperatures. We’ve been fortunate to once again have had some unseasonably temperate days here in West Virginia lately, and since I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder and know I’ve had issues with Vitamin D deficiency in the past I have taken the opportunity to award myself some much needed sunshine therapy this week. Alas, now we are back to the cold & wet climate more typical of this time of year, but the good news is that means that we can move forward with this project. If you aren’t up to speed with previous entries then by all means check them out here, here, & here. After you are all caught up come back and enjoy what’s next with the rest of us.

 

 

 

 

50     Beavis & Butt-Head (Beavis and Butt-Head)

In my final year of college I finally escaped dorm life and got my first ever Bachelor Palace off campus. It just happened to be a few blocks away from our favorite watering hole(s), so oftentimes my buddies would stop by to hang out before we headed to those establishments. It was during this time that MTV premiered a crudely animated sitcom in which two dimwitted delinquents wander around their town causing chaos in between sitting on the couch commenting on music videos (which MTV still aired occasionally at that time). It’s a show with a narrow focus and I assume a very specific target audience, which explains why I wasn’t nearly as interested once I graduated and segued into adult life. However, I have really great (though a bit fuzzy) memories of that year. Some things are special because it is a shared experience, and I am so glad that Beavis & Butt-Head were a memorable part of that era in my life. A feature film was released in 1996 in which the moronic duo go on a quest to find their stolen TV and somehow end up at the White House hanging out with President Clinton. The movie is alright, but not great. A few years ago I got excited when a revival of the show was announced, but I must admit that I never watched the one season return.

 

49     Lenny & Squiggy (Laverne & Shirley)

Speaking of idiots…

Wacky neighbors are a dependable television trope, so while the titular twosome (who had been introduced on Happy Days) were the focus of the show and the ladies swooned over “The Big Ragu” Carmine Ragusa, oftentimes it was Lenny & Squiggy who got the laughs. Lenny Kosnowski & Andrew Squigman live in the apartment above Laverne & Shirley and are truck drivers for the same brewery at which the ladies are bottlecappers. They frequently pop in to annoy the gals, and fancy themselves as tough, cool, desirable 50’s greasers, when in truth they are just a couple of goofballs that don’t appeal to women at all.

 

48     Matt Foley (Saturday Night Live)

It is an inescapable fact that Chris Farley’s weight was used as part of the joke in most everything he did, from SNL to the films in which he appeared. But since Farley himself seemed to be okay with that I suppose no one else should be offended. By far his best SNL contribution was Matt Foley, a raucous motivational speaker who is “35 years old, eating a steady diet of government cheese, thrice divorced, and living in a van down by the river!”. Foley isn’t as much a motivator as a cautionary tale since he is unkempt, belligerent, rude, pessimistic, & apparently a failure, hence the humor, and he usually ended up somehow hilariously crashing thru a piece of furniture. The character was the perfect showcase for Farley’s unique brand of physical comedy, and it is unfortunate that he passed on before Matt Foley could be brought to the big screen.

 

47     Opie Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)

These days Ron Howard is best known as an award-winning director of films like Apollo 13, Splash, & A Beautiful Mind, and many affectionately recall his role as awkward teenager Richie Cunningham in the retro sitcom Happy Days. However, way back in the 1960’s little Ronny got his start portraying the precocious son of the local sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show. We literally get to watch Opie grow up from an adorable six year old to a young teenager. Father-son interactions provide some of the most uplifting moments on TAGS, but Opie has plenty of entertaining scenes with many other inhabitants of Mayberry as well. Two of my favorite TAGS episodes…Season 3’s Mr. McBeevee and Season 4’s Opie the Birdman…showcase Opie and give an indication of just how great of an actor Ron Howard could have been if that would have been his passion.

 

46         The Riddler (Batman)

Batman is my favorite superhero, and while his comic book origins are indeed dark…an aesthetic that most renditions of the story stick with…one notable exception is the beloved goofy 1960’s TV show. Episodic television allowed a different villain to invade Gotham City each week, including the already established “rogue’s gallery” of Batman baddies as well as some pretty hysterical adversaries created exclusively for the show. I’m a traditionalist, so I prefer the bad guys we all know & love to hate, and my favorite has to be The Riddler. Edward Nygma likes to tease The Caped Crusader with riddles that are clues to his location and/or the crime he is about to commit. Riddler wears a garish green costume peppered with question marks, and has an irritating laugh.

 

45     Balki Bartokomous (Perfect Strangers)

ABC had a penchant in the late 80’s into the 90’s for churning out silly sitcoms that, by any objective measure of quality, shouldn’t have made it more than a season or two, but somehow became cherished by the masses. It is an interesting lesson that modern television executives should learn. Not everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for the next gritty, studious, sanctimonious, ripped-from-the-headlines show. Sometimes we simply crave pointless escapism that tickles our funny bone. At any rate, Balki is a sheepherder from the Mediterranean island of Mypos. He comes to Chicago to stay with his tightly wound cousin Larry, and boom…you have a fish-out-of-water story that’s also an amusing take on the Odd Couple formula. Balki’s misunderstandings about American culture are comical, as are Larry’s exasperated attempts to clear up any confusion. When anything good happens the two engage in Balki’s Dance of Joy, which kind of looks like something folks do at a Greek wedding.

 

44     Frank Costanza (Seinfeld)

In addition to the hysterical main cast, Seinfeld also had a ton of memorable guest stars and several great recurring characters. Frank is the obnoxious father of George. He is a temperamental traveling salesman best remembered for inventing Festivus, a non-commercial Christmas alternative that features feats of strength & airing of grievances.

 

43     Daisy Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)

I went thru puberty while The Dukes of Hazzard was on the air, so yes…a sexy woman known for wearing super short jean shorts and who appeared in a skimpy bikini in the show’s opening credits every week for seven years definitely frosted my cupcake. Daisy is a hybrid…part sweet southern belle, part tough as nails tomboy. She is said to “drive like Richard Petty, shoot like Annie Oakley, & know the words to all of Dolly Parton’s songs.” She’s not above using her feminine gifts to distract anyone trying to go after her family, and most often does so with charmingly inept Deputy Enos Strate, who has always had a huge crush on her. In contrast to modern shows in which very little is left to the imagination even on network television, Daisy Duke seems like a quaint reminder of a more innocent time.

 

42     Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, & Sophia (The Golden Girls)

I just can’t choose one. The entire ensemble made The Golden Girls work, and even with two Emmys & three Golden Globes I still think it may have been an underrated program. Dorothy Zbornak is a Brooklyn born teacher who is divorced from philandering Stan. She is smart, acerbic, & perpetually exasperated by her roommates, though she thinks of them as family. Blanche Devereux is a well-to-do southern belle and a widow with a healthy libido. Rose Nyland is a naïve & simpleminded widow who is fond of telling pointless stories about her childhood in St. Olaf, MN. She’s really sweet & trusting, and prone to being taken advantage of by others. Sophia Petrillo is Dorothy’s elderly mother. She is sharp as a tack, fearful that Dorothy will send her back to Shady Pines retirement home, & loves to tell stories from her youth in Sicily, though there is a general vibe that most of those stories are poppycock. As opposed to many shows that tend to feature young & pretty people, The Golden Girls proved that “seasoned citizens” can be a lot of fun.

 

41     Otis Campbell (The Andy Griffith Show)

I love any episode of TAGS in which town drunk Otis appears. I suppose nowadays some people would get their knickers twisted about alcoholism being treated as a joke, but thankfully folks were much less politically correct back in the 60’s. Otis actually has a job & a wife, but every Saturday night he goes out and gets snockered on hooch, then locks himself up in the Mayberry jail. Did you know that Hal Smith…the actor who portrays Otis…was a well-known voice artist?? He most notably voiced Goofy in several Disney productions, including Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

 

40     President Jed Bartlet (The West Wing)

I’ve often asked myself if I would vote for Jed Bartlet in an election, but there is no conclusive answer because I don’t believe that anyone like him actually exists. He is a man of high ideals but realistic expectations. He is a Nobel Prize winning economist, but despite being brilliant he’s also empathetic & quite funny. President Bartlet…like everyone associated with the show…is a bleeding heart liberal, but somehow all involved are able to make that look like a good thing, which is probably one of the greatest magic tricks anyone has ever performed on television. Martin Sheen might be a crackpot in real life, but credit where credit is due…he is a brilliant actor. The President was originally intended to be a rarely seen supporting character, with plots revolving around various White House staff members. However, that plan quickly changed, which undoubtedly made for a better program.

 

39     Dr. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap (WKRP in Cincinnati)

When I was a kid I considered becoming a radio DJ when I grew up. Why?? Well, probably because Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap made the job seem so cool & fun. Johnny is a laid back pothead & former 60’s hippie whose career in radio had been successful before he fell on hard times. He had considered WKRP to be rock bottom, but when the station’s format changes from easy listening to rock n’ roll he is energized and becomes a very popular morning drive personality. Venus Flytrap (real name: Gordon Sims) is a Vietnam vet who is hired by his pal Andy Travis, WKRP’s new program director. It is Andy who suggests the pseudonym and also advises Sims to dress cool so he’ll act cool. Unlike Johnny, whose on-air persona is hyper & wild, Venus is tranquil & chill. He is rather conservative and oftentimes acts as an even-tempered voice of reason. These two dudes made being a disc jockey look like an attractive career option to a young boy in grade school back in the day, and it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that it’s actually a really low-paying & unstable gig.

 

38     Norm Peterson (Cheers)

Cheers is the bar where everybody knows your name, and that’s especially true of Norm, who is enthusiastically greeted by the crowd every time he walks thru the door. Norm is an accountant who frequently seems to be between jobs, so he ends up spending a lot of time sitting at the end of the bar drinking beer. He is married to Vera, who we never meet in eleven seasons. Norm doesn’t seem to be particularly unhappy or disdainful of Vera, but neither is he ever in a rush to go home. It’s pretty funny that in an entire decade of watching the guy do virtually nothing except drink beer we never see him even remotely intoxicated, and his huge unpaid bar tab is occasionally the subject of mockery.

 

37     Wayne & Garth (Saturday Night Live)

Party on!! Wayne Campbell & Garth Algar are the hosts of a public access TV show emanating from Wayne’s basement. They are two nerdy juveniles who think they’re cooler than they are because they like heavy metal music & hot women. The sketches introduced a ton of catchphrases that many of a certain age still utilize with some frequency, such as “Schwing!”, “That’s what she said”, “Not!”, “hurl” & “spew”, “Are you mental?”, and “We’re not worthy!”. In 1992 the duo took their act to the big screen in a surprisingly solid film that did well enough to get a sequel just a year & a half later.

 

36     Linus Van Pelt (Peanuts)

Peanuts is interesting. It never spawned a regular comic book or TV show, and creator Charles Shultz was content to simply produce his comic strip for a half century. However, he did allow the characters to be marketed, which resulted in a ton of merchandise that’s still being churned out nearly two decades after Schultz’s death. As I did when writing about my favorite cartoons I am taking advantage of a loophole of sorts in the fact that there have been a plethora of Peanuts animated television specials over the years, a couple of which many of us grew up watching and continue to enjoy annually. Linus is the youngest of the group, a blanket toting, thumb sucking boy who tends to be the most solicitous & sensible out of any of his friends. He’s a great listener and always gives good advice, although his self-absorbed pals continue to overlook & disrespect his insight.

 

35     Captain Hawkeye Pierce (MASH)

Dr. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce is the 4077th’s chief surgeon, a New England bred prankster who deals with the daily grind of being in a warzone by drinking copious amounts of martinis and flirting with every female in camp. He resents being drafted and definitely doesn’t conform to the Army way of life. Despite his irreverence it is Hawkeye that provides many of the series’ more somber moments after it segued into more of a dramedy during the second half of its run. In the series finale he suffers a breakdown and returns home to be a local country doctor after the war ends.

 

34     Bo & Luke Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)

The show’s theme song describes them as good ol’ boys that never mean any harm. Luke is the older cousin and is shown to be smarter & more level-headed. He’s a former Marine. Bo is the younger, more vain & flirtatious pretty boy. He almost always drives the General Lee. The Duke Boys are on probation after being caught unlawfully transporting moonshine, and aren’t legally allowed to own firearms or leave the county, although they frequently do so anyway. They are constant targets of law enforcement, and regularly foil Boss Hogg’s shady schemes.

 

33     Dr. Heathcliff & Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show)

While characters like Fred Sanford, JJ “Dynomite!” Evans, Arnold Jackson, & “Rerun” Stubbs are all entertaining on various levels, I don’t think there’s any way they could be held up as role models. Conversely, The Huxtables are undeniably so. Mom is a perceptive & resolute attorney, while Dad is a fun-loving & considerate physician. Both are educated and have high expectations for their five children. They are strict yet devoted parents, and their marriage is strong. They are affluent but not extravagant, and seem to have solid moral certitude. In other words, Cliff & Claire represent the vast majority of Americans, the sort of stable citizens & contributors to society that are often disregarded & ridiculed by the media & pop culture. The Cosby Show was popular and critically acclaimed, so I’m not sure why the formula hasn’t been duplicated a thousand times over. Of course I suppose any attempt to copy it would just be a poor imitation.

 

32     Fred Flintstone (The Flintstones)

Yabba dabba doo!! The Flintstones is a sneaky show. What do I mean by that?? Well, we tend to focus on the fact that it is animated, and that it is set in The Stone Age (the rock puns are always a treat). However, the truth is that it is simply a traditional sitcom about an average nuclear family and their friendly neighbors. Fred is an overbearing yet kindhearted crane operator. He’s short-tempered & irritable, but he’s devoted to his family & friends. He enjoys bowling, golf, & hanging out at the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos Lodge. When I was a kid I honestly thought that actor Jackie Gleason provided Fred’s voice, but I was wrong…sort of. Gleason may not have been directly involved with The Flintstones, but his Ralph Kramden character from 1950’s sitcom The Honeymooners heavily influenced how Fred was portrayed.

 

31     Dr. Niles Crane (Frasier)

Niles is the neurotic & effete younger brother of the show’s eponymous radio show host. Like his big brother Niles is also a psychiatrist. He’s the kind of pretentious nerd who loves opera, expensive wine, classical music, French food, & theater but knows absolutely zero about sports or pop culture. Niles is definitely a hypochondriac & a bit OCD, and tends to be overzealous in attempts to ingratiate himself into the perceived proper social circles. When we first meet Niles he is married to Maris, who we never see (much like Vera in Cheers), but his descriptions of her are horribly hysterical. They eventually divorce and he ends up marrying his father’s caregiver Daphne, who he’d been infatuated with since the day they met. I absolutely love Niles, and would have really enjoyed a Niles & Daphne spinoff, but sadly that never happened.

 

30     Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)

Andy Griffith was a brilliant actor. Take some time to watch the 1958 film No Time for Sergeants, in which he plays country bumpkin Will Stockdale, who hilariously clashes with his superiors when he is drafted into the Air Force (sounds like a great idea for a sitcom). After that watch 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, in which Griffith portrays drifter Lonesome Rhodes, who turns a random appearance on a radio show into fame & fortune on television then becomes an egotistical bully before his star falls as quickly as it rose. Griffith based Sheriff Taylor largely on Will Stockdale, atleast initially. After the first season of TAGS he figured out that other characters in Mayberry should be the source of humor while he played the bemused straight man, and so he toned down the hillbilly simpleton persona considerably. Sheriff Taylor is the kind of lawman we’d all love to encounter but probably doesn’t exist in reality…not anymore anyway. He doesn’t even carry a gun!! He’s a good friend, a pleasant neighbor, and the type of father all men should aspire to be. Check out the Season 1 episode A Feud is a Feud in which Andy explains Romeo & Juliet to Opie, or the Season 3 episode Andy Discovers America, in which he gives a unique history lesson to a group of boys. Andy is constantly doing everything he can to boost his deputy’s fragile ego, and is usually the voice of reason in the midst of idiocy. In the last few seasons Sheriff Taylor becomes a little too serious, frequently becoming aggravated by the antics of others, which is just one of the reasons that the first five years of TAGS are the best.

 

29     Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Show)   

When The Muppets won the Sammy Award for Favorite Movie in 2011 I said that “Honestly, toward the end when Kermit breaks out into Rainbow Connection I became so swelled with happiness & emotion that if I could have jumped out of my wheelchair and given a standing ovation I swear to God I would have”. It was in that moment that I realized just what kind of impact The Muppets had on my childhood. In his other popular song It’s Not Easy Being Green Kermit laments that “it seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things, and people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky”, which I have always taken as a perceptive nod to the marginalized in society who often feel ignored, disrespected, & taken for granted. I bet you didn’t realize Kermit was so profound.

 

28     Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

There are only two starship captains in the Trek universe that matter. Captain Picard is an alleged Frenchman with singularly British proclivities (“Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!). He is cultured, judicious, & somewhat aloof, though he does care deeply for his crew. He prefers diplomacy over battle, but ultimately does what needs to be done. He is fascinated with archaeology, enjoys fencing, is quite knowledgeable about physics & literature, and loves horses. Captain Picard is a true Renaissance man, even though he was born about 600 years after that period ended.

 

27         Stefano DiMera (Days of Our Lives)

I’ve been watching DOOL since I was about ten years old, and during that time no supervillain in any entertainment genre has been as evil as Stefano DiMera. He came to Salem in 1982 professing to simply be a European business tycoon, but it soon became apparent that he was more of a crime boss. Stefano has a longstanding vendetta against the blue collar Brady family and makes their lives a living hell for the biggest part of three decades. He dies about a dozen times, but is inevitably revealed to be alive, which explains why he calls himself The Phoenix. The actor who portrayed Stefano actually did pass away a few years ago, but the way the storyline was constructed on the show left things open ended, as though The Phoenix could rise again someday.

 

26     Charlie Brown (Peanuts)

Charlie Brown is essentially the animated personification of his creator Charles Shultz. He is the classic loveable loser, always being insulted & ignored by his friends. He’s a shy & mild-mannered kid with a bundle of neuroses bubbling up inside. But as unsuccessful as he tends to be Charlie Brown rarely gives up. He may not be confident about the result (with good reason), but he keeps trying. In the underrated 2006 sequel Rocky Balboa the aging boxer tells his son that “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” That’s a great lesson for all of us, and Charlie Brown embodies exactly that attitude.

 

 

 

Okay ladies & gentlemen…let’s take another break. We’ll return for the exciting conclusion in a couple of days.

TAGS Episode Guide: Ranking (Not Quite) Every Episode of One of America’s Most Beloved TV Shows…The Top Ten

tags2Well, it took almost six months, but we’ve finally reached the summit. The cream of the crop. The best of the best. Out of 159 episodes covering the first five seasons of The Andy Griffith Show these are…in my humble opinion…the ten best. Your mileage may vary, but I don’t think I’d be venturing too far out on a limb to guess that amongst hardcore Griffith fans these ten would rank near the top of most every list. To any fellow TAGS loyalists I thank you for sticking with me thru this project and I hope I have echoed your high opinion & good feelings about the show. And for anyone who has perused these entries even though they aren’t that familiar with TAGS…well, it’s not too late. Contrary to what y’all might assume I haven’t relied completely on my memory in writing about the show. Every episode of every season is available on Netflix and I have gone back and re-watched many episodes while I have been working on all of this. It has been an immense pleasure for me, and I would enthusiastically encourage anyone to follow suit. So many television programs today wallow in what my brother The Owl calls “the spirit of the age”…dark, ungodly, arrogant, cynical, & sinful. The Andy Griffith Show is a throwback to a simpler time. It never tried to be somber social commentary or rip its subject matter from the headlines. Though it aired during tags15a rather tumultuous decade the powers-that-be never allowed that gloom & doom into their storylines, and that’s just dandy with this guy. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll keep on saying it for the rest of my life…I wish a place like Mayberry actually existed. If it were a real place I would’ve fled there many years ago. Regrettably…to my knowledge…there is no such town in our real world, which is why watching TAGS is such a welcome respite. Thank you Andy Griffith for creating such an oasis. You did good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10     Andy on Trial (S2E29)

Andy gives a speeding ticket a wealthy publisher but lets him go on the condition that he pay the fine within two weeks. After that time passes and the fine hasn’t been a1paid Andy travels to wherever the guy’s office is (Mt. Pilot?? Raleigh??) to arrest him. Angry over being hassled for a $15 ticket the spiteful businessman enlists the help of a lovely reporter, who goes to Mayberry posing as a college student to get dirt on the sheriff. A smitten Barney unknowingly obliges, trying to make himself look good by talking about how Andy doesn’t run a tight ship. A hearing is scheduled by whatever state authority Andy has to answer to and a stunned Barney is called as a witness. Realizing that he has been duped, Barney…in quite the dramatic scene for an episode of TAGS…passionately defends Andy, explaining just what he means to the entire town. I love this episode, mostly because of that scene of Barney sticking up for his friend. Barney, as we all know, sees himself as a by-the-book law & order man, but in this situation it seems like he has a sudden revelation that Andy’s casual, approachable, outside-the-box methods are actually a better methodology…atleast in a place like Mayberry.

 

 

9       Convicts-at-Large (S3E11)

While on a fishing trip Barney & Floyd are taken hostage by three female escaped convicts. They take refuge in Charlie O’Malley’s cabin just outside of Mayberry. Floyd a2& one of the escapees go to town for some food, and Andy thinks they’re having a party up at the cabin…until he runs into O’Malley and figures out what’s going on. Andy & O’Malley head to the woods to rescue the incompetent deputy & the equally inept barber. The scenes between the convicts and Floyd & Barney (who is hilariously referred to as Al multiple times) are comedy genius. Fantastic writing and great performances. One of the lady convicts famously portrayed another TAGS character…one of the notorious Fun Girls, while another would return the following season playing Barney’s voice coach Eleanora Poultice. After this episode Howard McNear, who played Floyd the barber, wouldn’t return to TAGS for over a year due to suffering a stroke in real life.

 

 

8       Mr. McBeevee   (S3E1)

Andy’s misguided lack of faith in Opie roars its ugly head once more when the sheriff thinks a friend that Opie has described is imaginary. The boy says that this man a3“walks in the treetops, wears a silver hat, has twelve extra hands, blows smoke from his ears, and jingles when he walks”. Of course the audience is in on the fact that Mr. McBeevee is a telephone repairman and Opie’s depiction makes total sense, but Andy doesn’t know that. When Mr. McBeevee gives Opie a quarter Andy thinks the boy might have stolen it. At the end of the episode Andy runs into Mr. McBeevee and realizes how wrong he has been. I love Opie/Andy-centric episodes.

 

 

7       The Inspector (S1E26)

Andy is expecting a friendly state police inspector who he normally takes fishing, but is instead taken aback when a strict taskmaster arrives instead. The new inspector a4is equally stunned by the lackadaisical way things are done in Mayberry and cites Andy for multiple violations in his assessment of the jailhouse. Andy doesn’t take the situation seriously which further enrages the inspector, who calls his supervisor to come to Mayberry and fire Andy. In the meantime, moonshiner Luke Ranier has gone nuts and is indiscriminately shooting at people. When Andy & Barney head to Luke’s place to handle the issue the uptight inspector flips out calling for backup. The supervisor arrives just in time to witness Andy neutralize Luke without even drawing his own weapon. Great stuff from Barney & Otis in this episode, as well as the second appearance of actor Jack Prince, who would return to portray a different character…Rafe Hollister…a few times. Andy’s practical approach versus doing things by the book is a recurring TAGS premise and is always entertaining.

 

 

6       Alcohol and Old Lace (S1E17)

Who doesn’t love sweet little old ladies?? In this episode we meet the Morrison sisters, who appear to be two pleasant spinsters innocently growing flowers in theira5 greenhouse. They also clandestinely tip off Andy & Barney about moonshiners in Mayberry, leading our favorite cops to believe they’ve finally succeeded in eliminating illegal booze from the town. However, as it turns out, the dainty senior citizens are hiding a secret…a still of their own. They’ve amusingly convinced themselves that they are only selling “elixir” to help folks celebrate special occasions, but people like Otis shrewdly invent new holidays for the gullible sisters. Oddly enough it is Opie who leads Andy & Barney to discover the covert operation. Overly eager Barney is all too happy to take an axe and “POW POW POW” the still, although Andy generously decides not to arrest Clarabelle & Jennifer Morrison. The aforementioned Jack Prince makes his first TAGS appearance playing farmer Ben Sewell, and this is the first time we see Barney inadvertently become intoxicated, a really funny gag repeated a few times. The title of the episode is a riff on a 1944 Frank Capra film called Arsenic & Old Lace, which is based on a 1939 play that features two homicidal old maids. Since we often see Otis snockered out of his mind throughout the remainder of the series the lawlessness obviously continues after the Morrison sisters are caught.

 

 

5       Aunt Bea the Warden (S2E23)

With the courthouse full of moonshiners Andy comes up with the unique idea of having a drunken Otis serve his weekly sentence at the Taylor house. Unfortunately for a6our favorite lush Aunt Bea is a harsh taskmaster and has no intention of letting Otis just chill out & do nothing. She puts him to work doing various chores, which displeases & quickly exhausts the slothful souse. He tries multiple times to escape, but Aunt Bea is too smart. Part of the magic of TAGS is the different combinations of characters that drive the story in various episodes. This is why the later color seasons don’t work as well, because Howard Sprague, Goober Pyle, & Emmett Clark aren’t nearly as fun as Barney Fife, Gomer Pyle, Mayors Pike & Stoner, and The Darlings. Aunt Bea & Otis are hilarious adversaries, and this is a really well done episode.

 

 

4       The Bed Jacket (S3E12)

Aunt Bea’s birthday is coming up and unbeknownst to Andy she really wants a bed jacket she spotted in a store window (a bed jacket is a short, lightweight, cape-like a7piece of clothing worn to cover the chest, shoulders, & arms and was popular back in the 1930’s). She gets excited when she sees Andy in the store and thinks he’s buying her the bed jacket, but he’s actually been sent there by the mayor to purchase the item for Mrs. Stoner. When Andy’s gift turns out to be some canning jars and a salt & pepper shaker set Aunt Bea is obviously disappointed. After Clara Edwards inadvertently reveals to Andy what Aunt Bea really wanted he convinces Mayor Stoner to give him the bed jacket in exchange for his beloved fishing pole, which the mayor had been trying to buy from him earlier. This episode has always reminded me of O. Henry’s famous short story The Gift of the Magi because of Andy’s sacrifice to make Aunt Bea happy. It is subtly sentimental without being mawkish.

 

 

3       The Pickle Story (S2E11)

Aunt Bea is usually portrayed as a great cook, but in this episode we learn her weakness…pickles. Whereas Clara Edwards has won multiple awards for her homemade a8pickles, Aunt Bea’s pickles taste like kerosene. Andy, Barney, & Opie don’t want to hurt her feelings so they’ve never been honest about the horrible pickles, but after she cooks up a big batch they just can’t stomach eating them anymore and clandestinely replace them with store bought pickles. Regrettably their timing is really bad though, as the county fair is coming up and Aunt Bea decides to enter her pickles into competition. Andy, Barney, & Opie race to consume eight quarts of store bought pickles so she’ll have to make a new batch because they’re all about honesty & equality. Aunt Bea’s pickles are so terrible that when a fly lands on one it dies lol!! This is THE quintessential TAGS episode, and always ranks among most peoples’ favorites. The one thing that has always bothered me is that it is mentioned that Aunt Bea has lost the pickle competition at the fair 11 years straight to Clara Edwards. However, this is the second season of the show, and in the first episode of Season 1 Aunt Bea returns to Mayberry after being out of town for several years. Continuity is a bit of an issue with TAGS, and this is the most egregious example, which is unfortunate for such a beloved story.

 

 

2       Opie the Birdman      (S4E1)

After Opie accidentally kills a mother bird with his new sling shot Andy makes him realize that his mistake has left three baby birds without a mother, a message that a9certainly resonates with the young boy. He decides to take care of the little birdies himself, feeding & caring for them on a daily basis. Of course the time comes when they are ready to escape the cage and fly out into the world, at which time Andy opines that though the cage is empty the trees now seem nice & full. This is a very sweet story full of the poignant father/son moments that are always a TAGS highlight. Lots of sitcoms do “very special episodes” that are a departure from their standard comedic recipe, and oftentimes it is easy to roll our eyes & be dismissive of such efforts, but TAGS had a way of telling these kinds of tales with great writing, solid performances, & just enough humor (usually from Barney) so that we happily accept it into the canon of the series. This is probably the best acting that Ron Howard has ever done.

 

 

1       Barney’s First Car      (S3E27)

This is it. This is my very favorite TAGS episode ever!! If it’s on I stop whatever I am doing and watch. Barney makes the decision to take his entire life savings ($300) out of a10the bank and purchase a vehicle. He runs across an ad in the paper for a car that seems to be perfect and makes the call. Mrs. Lesh, the widow of the owner, brings the car to Andy’s house to complete the transaction. She tells Barney that her late husband’s name was also Bernard and that the car has only been driven to church on Sundays. Despite Andy’s misgivings Barney can’t hand the cash over to Mrs. Lesh fast enough. It is only after she leaves…indicating that she is going to stop by the church down the street to pray before her son picks her up to take her home to Mount Pilot…that we find out that the sweet little old lady is actually the tough leader of a chop shop that sells junk cars to chumps like Barney. We then see Barney hilariously gather Andy, Aunt Bea, Opie, Gomer, & Thelma Lou for the inaugural Sunday drive in his new machine. It is during this pleasurable journey that things go awry very quickly, with the car literally falling apart right before our very eyes. After a thorough examination of the car by Gomer it becomes obvious that Barney fell victim to a scam, so Andy & Barney decide to take the clunker back to where it came from. Despite breaking down again along the way Andy & Barney end up where they were headed and confront the old lady, who almost manages to fool Barney again. This episode is perfect in every way. Each scene is flawless. The organ music accompanying Mrs. Lesh is spot on. Barney meticulously organizing the Sunday drive is hysterical. The look on Thelma Lou’s face as the steering column pops out is stupendous. Barney despondently sitting in the broken down car while Aunt Bea helps Andy & Gomer push it is a nice touch. Mrs. Lesh is portrayed by Ellen Corby, who would go on to play Grandma on The Waltons, and character actor Allan Melvin makes his 4th of eight TAGS appearances playing one of the henchmen. Can you believe that Barney’s life savings was $300…and that he is able to purchase a car with that?? My how times have changed.

TAGS Episode Guide: Ranking (Not Quite) Every Episode of One of America’s Most Beloved TV Shows…Part 5

tags2Annnnd we’re back. I apologize for the nearly three month hiatus. I suppose I got caught up in focusing on football & the holidays and just kind of put this project on the backburner. If you need to catch up go to Part 4 and you’ll find links to Parts 1-3. At any rate, I ran some numbers. I was curious about the relative popularity/success of each of the first five seasons of The Andy Griffith Show, atleast thru the prism of these rankings.

*It turns out that Season 3 is the tops, with an average ranking of 67.13, including nine episodes in the Top 25 (four of those in the Top 10). The best three episodes in that season have an average ranking of 4.33, while my least favorite three episodes average a 141.33 ranking.

*The first season is next, with an average ranking of 74.06, including six Top 25 episodes (two in the Top 10). My favorite three episodes in Season 1 score an average ranking of 10.33, while the worst three average a 148 ranking.

*Third place…by a very narrow margin…goes to Season 4 with an average ranking of 74.81, including five episodes in the Top 25 (one in the Top 10). The best three episodes in that season have an average ranking of 9, while the bottom three episodes average a ranking of 150.66.

*Next is Season 2, with an average ranking of 83.13, including four Top 25 episodes (three in the Top 10). My favorite three episodes in that season average a ranking of 6, while the three least favorite episodes average out to a ranking of 153.66. Season 2 seems to be really inconsistent.

*And driving the proverbial caboose is Season 5, with an average ranking of 99.84. It only has one Top 25 episode and none in the Top 10. The best three episodes have an average ranking of 29, and the worst have an average ranking of 153.

andygriffithTAGS produced about 32 episodes per season (only 31 were made in season 2, and the final three seasons…which we aren’t dealing with here…produced only 30 each year), and I discovered a couple of interesting things. First of all, two season openers rank in my Top 10, and three other episodes which were either the 2nd or 3rd episodes of their respective seasons rank in my Top 25. I guess the folks in Mayberry came back from their summer vacation on top of their game. Also, three episodes that were the 11th show of the season rank in my Top 25 (two of those in the Top 10). I have no idea what kind of significance should be assigned to that, but I find it fascinating.

 

 

 

 

50     High Noon in Mayberry (S3E17)

Andy receives a vague letter from a man who he sent to prison, saying that he’s out of jail & coming to Mayberry. As usual Barney completely overreacts, enlisting mayberry1Gomer & Otis to help him guard Andy 24/7. As it turns out, the ex-con isn’t out for revenge…he actually wants to thank Andy for helping turn his life around. The triple threat combo of Barney, Gomer, & Otis is really funny.

 

49     Andy’s Vacation        (S4E22)

Andy is stressed out and decides to take a staycation at home. Unfortunately the good people of Mayberry won’t stop pesteringmayberry2 him, so he goes camping. But that doesn’t work either, as Barney & Gomer continually hunt Andy down seeking help with problems that arise. And then Andy meets up with & captures an escaped convict, basically rendering his vacation useless. I’ve said it before and I have to reiterate…Barney is funny, Gomer is funny, but Barney & Gomer together are comedy gold.

 

48     The Keeper of the Flame (S2E14)

Opie & his pals start a secret society and he is made “Keeper of the Flame”, which means he is in charge of the candle used at each meeting. When the barn the boys mayberry3have been gathering in burns down Opie is accused of starting the fire. Andy is prepared to pay the farmer damages, but Barney hilariously discovers…by accidentally getting snockered…that the farmer has been making moonshine and inadvertently burned down his own barn. Interesting trivia – the actor portraying the farmer wrote the lyrics to The Fishin’ Hole, which is the title of the TAGS theme song. Yes, there are lyrics!!

 

47     Andy Saves Gomer            (S4E23)

When Gomer falls asleep at the filling station a barrel of oily rags catches fire. Andy drops by and puts out the blaze, and Gomer mayberry4blows the whole thing up into Andy saving his life. Gomer dedicates his life to repaying his debt to Andy but ends up driving the entire Taylor family crazy. Of course the sheriff is smarter than anybody else in Mayberry and eventually discovers a way to convince Gomer that they are even. This episode features the return of Floyd the Barber, who hadn’t been seen in about a year after actor Howard McNear had suffered a stroke. Keen fans can pretty easily spot the differences in the character before & after the unfortunate health crisis.

 

46     Crime-Free Mayberry (S2E7)

Mayberry’s sterling reputation is always a doubled-edged sword. Criminals assuming the small town is an easy score is a recurring theme mayberry5over the years. In this instance Mayberry has been recognized & rewarded for having the lowest crime rate in the country. Two crooks posing as an FBI agent & a reporter show up looking to take advantage of the situation and rob the bank. There is some really funny stuff with Barney & Otis, and Andy is able to outsmart the bad guys as usual.

 

45     Andy and Opie’s Pal (S4E14)

When Andy befriends Opie’s pal Trey it doesn’t sit well with the younger Taylor, who becomes mayberry6jealous & petulant…definitely not a good look for the cute little tyke. The sheriff then decides to use Barney to teach the boy a lesson. Episodes that focus on the father/son relationship between Andy & Opie are some of my favorites.

 

44     Opie and the Bully (S2E1)

Andy must decide what to do when he discovers a bully is repeatedly taking Opie’s lunch money. Opie is too embarrassed mayberry7to tell him about it and Barney wants to intervene, but the sheriff believes it’d be better for Opie to handle it himself. Of course he gives the boy a nudge in the right direction by relating a story about being bullied when he was a kid. Opie eventually stands up to the bully, getting a black eye in the process, but ultimately ending the ongoing battle.

 

43     Aunt Bea’s Medicine Man  (S3E24)

A traveling “medicine” man peddling miracle elixir grabs Aunt Bea’s attention. mayberry8Of course he’s not really selling any kind of miracle…he’s getting folks snockered on hooch. Aunt Bea gooned out of her mind and singing her sweet little heart out while tickling the ivories is one of the funniest things one will ever see on TAGS. She even gets her lady friends from church smashed and Andy tosses them all in jail!! The sheriff figures out the scam pretty quickly and eventually arrests the shyster, but not before hilarity ensues.

 

42     The Bookie Barber (S2E28)

A stranger wanders in and entices Floyd with the idea of having a two chair barber shop. Since he’s been busier than usual lately Floyd jumps on the idea. However, we mayberry9soon find out that the new barber is a bookie using Floyd’s establishment as a front for his gambling operation. Andy puts bits & pieces together and realizes what is going on, but he has to go out of town and assures Barney that they’ll take care of the problem when he gets back to Mayberry. Of course the well-intentioned but ham-fisted deputy decides to take matters into his own hands…by going into the shop incognito as a little old lady. Fortunately Andy arrives just in time to save Barney’s bacon. Barney dresses in drag multiple times over the years and it’s always hilarious.

 

41     Opie’s Charity (S1E8)

Andy is disappointed in Opie for giving so little to a charity drive…until he learns the reason. It turns out that the youngster is saving mayberry10money to buy a needy friend a coat. In an amusing subplot Andy runs into a man everyone thinks is dead but it turns out that he just left his wife because she’s an irritating nag. Andy underestimating Opie happens multiple times thru the series, and it’s always heartwarming to see the sheriff humbled when he realizes he’s wrong. We’ve all been there, right??

 

40     The Sermon for Today                 (S4E4)

Mayberry wouldn’t seem to be a town in need of a sermon about relaxing & enjoying life, butmayberry11 when a visiting preacher delivers that message it turns out that it is indeed a lesson the townsfolk need to learn. An effort to put the minister’s words into effect takes a wrong turn, evolving into everyone rushing around trying to put together a band concert. Fans of the soap opera General Hospital might recognize the preacher, portrayed by actor David Lewis, who played wealthy patriarch Edward Quartermaine on GH from 1978-93.

 

39     If I Had a Quarter Million Dollars          (S5E22)

Barney finds $250,000 from a recent bank robbery. Andy calls the FBI, who indicates that they’ll send an agent to retrieve the money. Of course Barney is Barney and mayberry12he decides to launch an investigation and try to draw out the thief. So you have a potential appearance by a thief and an FBI agent coming to town, with dimwitted & overzealous Barney in the middle of the action. We know where this is headed, right??

 

38     Wedding Bells for Aunt Bea (S2E26)

After busybody Clara convinces Aunt Bea that Andy can’t move on with his life and get remarried until Bea finds a husband mayberry13our favorite old maid reluctantly responds to the flirtations of slovenly dry cleaner Fred Goss. For some reason finding Aunt Bea & Andy spouses is an obsession in TAGS, and in this episode Andy is talking about Aunt Bea getting hitched to Mr. Goss really soon after they begin dating. Of course Aunt Bea isn’t interested in Goss at all, a fact that Andy eventually realizes. Fred Goss is a quirky minor character, the kind that really fleshes out our fond impression of Mayberry. Also worth noting is the second & last ever mention of Opie’s deceased mother, and the fact that we learn that Otis has his own key to the courthouse.

 

37     TV or Not TV               (S5E23)

Andy gains some widespread notoriety after a magazine article about him, entitled Sheriff Without a Gun, is published. Three strangers come to town saying they are mayberry14Hollywood producers interested in doing a television show based on Andy, which gets Barney all excited. Not all is as it seems though, and Andy eventually discovers that the threesome are thieves who think Mayberry’s bank is an easy target (an assumption others made during TAGS’ run). The Sheriff Without a Gun story would be the launching point for a four episode arc in Season 6 in which the Taylors visit Hollywood where a movie based on the magazine article is being made. An interesting fact: Gavin MacCleod, who would go on to fame in the 70’s & 80’s as Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Captain Stubing on The Love Boat, made two TAGS appearances. The first was in this episode as one of the crooks, and the second was in one of the Hollywood episodes as the actor portraying Andy in the Sheriff Without a Gun film.

 

36     Opie’s Rival (S3E10)

I’ve gone on record with my opinion that county nurse Peggy McMillan, who appeared in four episodes, is one of my favorites amongst Andy’s girlfriends. Here, in whatmayberry15 would be her final appearance, Opie becomes jealous of all the time Andy is spending with Peggy and makes efforts to torpedo the relationship. Of course deep down Opie is a good kid and ultimately tells Andy the truth. Andy doesn’t get angry but has a very empathetic conversation with the boy. I read somewhere that the powers-that-be dropped Peggy because they believed the actor and/or character was too glamorous, which would explain why the dowdy & decidedly unappealing Helen Crump eventually settled in as Andy’s permanent significant other.

 

35     The Beauty Contest (S1E16)

Founder’s Day is a big deal in Mayberry. The townsfolk celebrate it more during the run of the show than Christmas!! In this case Andy is tapped to judge a pageant as mayberry16part of the celebration and feels pressured to make multiple people…from Mayor Pike to his own son Opie…happy by picking their particular candidate. His girlfriend…Ellie Walker…is even entered in the competition. Though Andy stresses out about the situation he eventually makes the right decision, choosing an elderly lady who did a lot of work organizing the event. Episodes like this showcase the quirky but loveable community that has made Mayberry one of the most beloved of all fictional towns.

 

34     Barney’s Physical     (S5E2)

The state sets up new rules concerning the physical requirements to be a law enforcement officer. Barney is too short & thin, and thus believes he is about to lose his mayberry17job. However, Aunt Bea decides that she can fatten him up a bit and Andy comes up with a uniquely funny way to stretch him out to the proper height. Alas, at zero hour Barney hasn’t gained enough weight…until Andy figures out a hilarious loophole. The length of Barney’s law enforcement career varies throughout the series, but in this episode he is said to have been the deputy for five years (meaning he was brand new to the job when the show began).

 

33     Andy Saves Barney’s Morale (S1E20)

I feel like the title of this episode could have been used about a dozen times in the first five seasons since Andy propping up mayberry18Barney’s fragile ego is a recurring theme. In this instance Andy leaves the deputy in charge while he goes out of town for the day (Andy sure does take a lot of day trips). Upon returning Andy is pleased to find the streets of Mayberry even quieter than usual…until he discovers that it is because Barney has arrested practically the entire town, including Mayor Pike and Aunt Bea, for various lame reasons. After Andy dismisses every case Barney becomes a laughingstock and decides to quit (also a recurring theme), but Andy uses reverse psychology to get citizens to rally around the despondent deputy so he’ll get back on the job.

 

32     Opie and His Merry Men    (S4E12)

While playing Robin Hood in the woods just outside of town Opie and his pals befriend a hobo and begin stealing food from their houses to feed the poor guy. As it mayberry19turns out the man is a slothful con artist taking advantage of the children’s naiveté, using their innocent understanding of Robin Hood to encourage them to steal and paint Andy as a villainous sheriff. Andy has to trick the bum into revealing his deception in order to convince the boys of the truth.

 

31     Those Gossipin’ Men (S1E15)

When Barney cuts himself cleaning his gun Aunt Bea, Clara, & Emma Watson start gossiping and somehow the story mayberry20spreads thru town that Barney got shot. Andy teases the ladies about gossip so they decide to teach him the lesson that mean are as guilty of it as women. She sneakily gets Andy to believe in & proliferate the idea that a downtrodden shoe salesmen visiting Mayberry is a talent scout for a TV show. Multiple townsfolk show up at the poor guy’s hotel room to “order shoes” and clandestinely audition. It is only as the man is leaving that Andy realizes that he really is a shoe salesman and that the joke is on him. This episode is a shining example of what makes Mayberry such a treasured place, full of peculiar characters and wholesome charm.

 

30     Barney and the Governor  (S3E15)

While in full law & order mode Barney tickets a limo that parks in a No Parking zone. It turns out that it’s the governor’s vehicle, so Barney becomes convinced he’s mayberry21about to lose his job, especially when the governor himself tells Andy & a stressed out Mayor Stoner that he’s coming to Mayberry. In reality the governor just wants to praise Barney for upholding the law, but in true TAGS fashion the blundering deputy doesn’t know that. Things are further complicated when both Barney & the mayor inadvertently become intoxicated before the governor’s visit. The uptight Mayor Stoner is a great addition, and it’s a shame he was only around during Season 3. Drunk Barney is always a fun gag. One thing I have never understood about this episode is why the governor’s chauffer (portrayed by Ron Howard’s father Rance) was driving thru Mayberry without the governor in the first place.

 

29     Ellie Saves a Female (S1E27)

After local tomboy Frankie Flint comes into Walker’s Drug Store and looks longingly at some cosmetics Ellie becomes hellbent & determined to give her some products mayberry22for a makeover. Andy tries to talk her out of it knowing the idea won’t go over at all with her brusque father, but Ellie won’t give up even after an initial rejection by Mr. Flint. She enlists Barney’s help in covertly bringing Frankie back to town to get all dolled up. When Andy takes the young lady back home after she’s been beautified the farmer doesn’t even recognize her. Andy proceeds to use his infamous Jedi mind tricks to convince the man that it’d be more practical for his daughter to use her female charms to attract a husband. All’s well that ends well.

 

28     Barney and the Cave Rescue    (S4E13)

Andy, Helen, Barney, & Thelma Lou go on a picnic. Barney is bummed out after being teased all over town for mistakenlymayberry23 trying to arrest the bank president for breaking into the bank, so he decides to sulk with Thelma Lou by his side while Andy & Helen go exploring in a nearby cave. When Andy & Helen become trapped inside the cave Barney rallies the townsfolk for a search & rescue mission. Things don’t go exactly as planned, but Andy finds a way to make Barney look like a hero anyway.

 

27     The Horse Trader (S1E14)

The town council assigns Andy & Barney the task of selling an old worn out Civil War cannon, but they can’t even give it mayberry24away. When an antiques dealer rolls thru town Andy sees a great opportunity and…embellishes…the history of the cannon. Ellie & Barney are horrified by Andy’s dishonesty, and when Opie emulates his father’s tactics to score a pair of roller skates the sheriff sees the error of his ways. The father/son interaction is perfect as always, and both Barney & Ellie have some funny moments.

 

26     Gomer the House Guest             (S4E6)

Gomer gets fired from Wally’s Filling Station because he likes to talk too much instead of actually working (we’ve all known mayberry25people like that). The bigger issue is that he lived in a room attached to the station so now he’s homeless. Andy graciously offers to let Gomer stay at the Taylor house until he can find something more permanent, but that turns out to be a hysterical mistake. Gomer is used to living alone, which means he stays up late & does noisy chores at odd hours, and since he’s no longer at the station customers pop by late at night wanting him to diagnose what’s wrong with their vehicle. Andy, Aunt Bea, & Opie grow weary and don’t get enough sleep so they begin to turn on each other. Sheriff Taylor finally becomes fed up and decides to talk to Wally, convincing him that Gomer’s personality helps the station be successful. Wally rehires Gomer & all is well. There’s no Barney, and the continuity is a bit off since Gomer had previously been shown to know nothing about automobiles except how to pump gas, but those are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent episode.

TAGS Episode Guide: Ranking (Not Quite) Every Episode of One of America’s Most Beloved TV Shows…Part 4

Welcome back!! If you haven’t already done so please go back and check out Parts 1, 2, & 3.

 

barnthelI want to take a moment to address an elephant in the room. Obviously with this project we are ranking only episodes in the first five seasons of floydTAGS. It’s not that I don’t enjoy some things from the last few years of the show. There are quite a few entertaining episodes, such as Malcolm at the Crossroads when Englishman Malcolm Merriweather tangles with Ernest T. Bass. Or Aunt Bea on TV, when Aunt Bea wins a bunch of prizes on a game show and becomes a bit too haughty about it. And how about The Battle of Mayberry, when Opie researches a famous Revolutionary War skirmish & exposes the hidden truth, or Opie’s Piano Lesson, when the boy has to decide between piano lessons & football. There are also a few return  gp2visits from Barney Fife, episodes that snagged Don Knotts two additional Emmy Awards. Having said all that, it is undeniable that TAGS lost a otis4lot of its magic when Knotts departed his regular role and the show switched to color technology, events that happened to coincide. When I am channel surfing and run across a black & white episode I almost always stop and watch. If it’s a color episode?? Well…then it’s a tossup. Maybe I’ll watch, maybe I won’t. Your mileage may vary and that’s okay.

 

 

 

 

 

75     Back to Nature  (S4E31)

Andy, Barney, & Gomer take Opie and some other boys on a camping trip. Opie wanders off to pick some berries and Andy goes to find him. Instead of staying with the btnother youngsters Barney & Gomer also go looking for Opie and manage to get themselves lost. Andy then goes in search of them, and as in numerous other situations, finds a way to spare Barney’s fragile ego and make him look like much more of a rugged outdoorsman than he really is. Really funny stuff from Gomer & Barney.

 

 

74     Mountain Wedding             (S3E31)

Charlene Darling is set to wed Dud Walsh, but wild man Ernest T. Bass has taken a shine to Charlene and wants her for himself. Andy & Barney are recruited to help  mtnwedddeal with Bass, who keeps throwing rocks thru the Darlings’ windows. Andy devises a ruse in which Ernest T. thinks he’s kidnapping Charlene, but it is actually Barney in drag. This is the first appearance of Ernest T. and the only episode in which he & the Darlings appear together. It’s always funny when Barney dresses up like a woman.

 

 

73     Runaway Kid (S1E6)

After Opie tattles on his friends for a practical joke they played on Andy the sheriff proceeds to teach the lad about the importance of keeping one’s word. However that lesson backfires when Opie befriends a young runaway and declines to reveal the boy’s real name so Andy can call his parents. All’s well that ends well though, as Andy gets the info when the case is reported by another police department. I adore father/son stuff with Andy & Opie, and Barney is pretty amusing as well.

 

 

72     Lawman Barney (S3E7)

Two farmers illegally selling produce on the side of the road ignore Barney’s orders to cease & desist. This blatant disrespect brings Barney down, and it’s up to Andy to lawmanbhelp him regain confidence. But after the two farmers learn that Andy’s tale about Barney being a badass is completely false they again defy the deputy’s orders. After a pep talk from Andy the deputy confronts the men a third time with genuine confidence and they respect his authority. Character actor Allen Melvin makes the third of eight TAGS appearances, this time as one of the quarrelsome farmers.

 

 

71     Andy the Matchmaker (S1E7)

At a crossroads in his life Barney tells Andy he is resigning from the police force. He feels bored & useless since there’s never any crime in Mayberry. In an effort to prop up Barney’s self-esteem so that he won’t quit and maybe even ask out a woman he’s sweet on Andy & Ellie make up a story about Walker’s Drug Store being robbed. However, much to their surprise the deputy actually arrests a stranger he suspects of the “robbery”. In a twist of fate the suspect, though obviously not guilty of the fake crime, is actually a wanted man in back in Chattanooga. Andy covertly doing things to boost Barney’s fragile ego is a tried & true TAGS staple.

 

 

70     Rafe Hollister Sings (S3E20)

As Barney is prepping for a tryout to represent Mayberry in some kind of regional choral concert farmer Rafe Hollister comes into the courthouse. It turns out that rafe5Hollister has a beautiful singing voice, and Andy encourages him to attend the auditions. Choir director John Masters chooses Rafe for a solo, but Mayor Stoner isn’t happy because the farmer’s appearance is rather unkempt & dingy. Andy tries to save the day by buying Rafe some new clothes, but they are way too small & tight. He ends up singing in his overalls but is nevertheless a fine representative of Mayberry at the concert. This is the final series appearance for both Mayor Stoner & Rafe Hollister.

 

 

69     Cyrano Andy (S1E22)

In the inaugural appearance of the lovely Thelma Lou things are a bit shaky because Barney, who we normally see exude a boastful cool with the ladies, is really uneasy around her and doesn’t know what to say or how to act. When Andy tries to help Barney misinterprets his actions and Thelma Lou decides to use the situation to make Barney jealous. Barney then hysterically hits on Ellie, and she plots to scare him away by actually responding to his advances. Andy tries the same tactic with Thelma Lou. Of course the ploy works and Barney & Thelma Lou find their way back to each other. This is a great episode that makes me sad that Ellie Walker didn’t stick around Mayberry for the long haul.

 

 

68     Three Wishes for Opie (S5E14)

Barney buys a fortune-telling game, and after the first two of the three wishes he grants Opie actually come true he mistakenly thinks Opie’s third wish is for Andy & Helen to wed. Of course the deputy gets overexcited and the rumor that Andy & Helen are getting married quickly spreads thru Mayberry, much to the chagrin of the sheriff. Floyd & Goober are also around to provide a laugh or two.

 

 

67     Mayberry on Record (S1E19)

A record producer comes to town looking to make a folk music album featuring local artists. As always the citizens get overly excited and agree to invest in the project. However, Andy thinks the guy may be a swindler. Eventually he is able to convince the others of this, but just as they are ready to hunt down the producer he returns with news that he has sold the record and made everybody who invested a nice profit. Future bluegrass stars The Kentucky Colonels appear in this episode.

 

 

66     Andy and Helen Have Their Day         (S5E13)

Andy & Helen want to have a nice, peaceful Saturday at Myers Lake. Unfortunately Barney keeps showing up to be a nuisance. When Andy is arrested by the gameah warden for fishing without a license he tries to call Barney to have him bring money for the fine, but Goober gets the call instead. Goober totally screws up the message Andy gives him, and Barney jumps to the conclusion that Andy & Helen are getting hitched…a mistake Barney makes often. This basic idea would be utilized again a couple of years later when Deputy Warren Ferguson & Goober keep interrupting Andy & Helen’s date at the lake.

 

 

65      Hot Rod Otis     (S4E19)

Andy & Barney become concerned when Otis buys a car. They come up with a hilarious ploy to fool Otis into thinking he died after he goes on one of his frequent benders and wakes up in jail. As it turns out Otis had come to his senses before he ever got drunk and actually sold the car. No one else besides Andy, Barney, & Otis are seen in this episode.

 

 

64     The Darling Baby (S5E12)

Charlene Darling & Dud Wash have had their first baby, a girl they name Andelina. Briscoe, Charlene, & the boys come to Mayberry seeking a future husband for the darlingbabynewborn, which is hysterically funny in a creepy sort of way. While jamming a bit with Andy at the Taylor homestead Briscoe gets the idea that Opie would make a great future husband for his granddaughter. Andy disagrees strongly, and Barney is around getting accidently snockered on hooch again. Andy eventually fools Mr. Darling by having Opie sign the betrothal “contract” with a disappearing ink pen, which the old man looks at as some kind of voodoo so he & his family leave as quick as they can. I have always thought that the 1986 TV movie Return to Mayberry missed out on a really cool nod to this episode by having Opie’s wife be a grown-up Andelina instead of some random woman the audience has no reason to care about.

 

 

63     A Plaque for Mayberry (S1E25)

The Women’s Historical Society deduces that a descendant of a Revolutionary War hero is living in Mayberry and want to present that person with an award. Much to the horror of Andy, Barney, & Mayor Pike the family member to be awarded turns out to be Otis Campbell. However Otis surprises them all when he shows up to the ceremony stone cold sober and all cleaned up. Otis decides to donate the award to the town, rightfully noting that just because a person’s ancestor was a hero doesn’t make them one, which is the most logical point of the entire plot.

 

 

62     Jailbreak (S2E18)

The state police are in town hunting down a thief and they arrogantly request that the local force…Andy & Barney…just stay out of the way. When the crook is caught he is temporarily housed in the jail and Barney stupidly allows him to escape. Andy & Barney deduce that the criminal & his gal pal partner are holed up at the local trailer park, and it seems that they have kidnapped the bigheaded state cop. Barney actually captures a perp legitimately with his quick thinking instead of the dumb luck that usually leads to his particular brand of heroism. Character actor Allen Melvin makes the first of eight TAGS appearances in this episode, and we also meet dry cleaner Fred Goss.

 

 

61     Aunt Bea the Crusader      (S4E15)

Andy & Barney must reluctantly run Mr. Frisby off of his chicken farm because the county is going to build a new highway. Aunt Bea & her lady friends are bcrusadehorrified and organize a protest. However in the midst of the standoff it is discovered that Frisby has a moonshine still in his basement and of course the ladies become angry that they were fighting for a lawbreaker.

 

 

60     Sheriff Barney (S2E12)

A neighboring town in need of a sheriff offers the gig to Barney after seeing a flattering newspaper article. Andy knows that Barney isn’t prepared for the job because sheriffin’ is different than deputyin’, and in an effort to teach Barney that lesson the two switch jobs for a day. After Andy is able to easily solve a dispute that Barney couldn’t between two farmers Barney gets down in the dumps, but Andy is able to reassure him by making Barney believe he has captured the most wanted man in the county, bootlegger Rafe Hollister. Full of bravado again Barney turns down the new job because Maybery needs him. There is a really funny scene with Barney trying to extract information out of a sleeping Otis. The town drunkard jokingly gives the address of his liquor supplier and it takes Barney a second to realize it is HIS address. Did you know that the address given…411 Elm St….is the same as the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas?? Now that might seem like some kind of morbid joke…except for the fact that this episode aired almost two years BEFORE the Kennedy assassination!! This episode marks the first of three appearances by Rafe Hollister, although the actor had previously been on three other episodes portraying different characters.

 

 

59     Otis Sues the County         (S5E15)

After Otis slips & falls at the jail Barney makes him fill out an accident report, but when the notary public at the bank isn’t around Otis has to take the paperwork to Mt. Pilot to have it notarized by an attorney. That lawyer is a shyster who convinces Otis to sue the county, persuading him that he’d actually be doing Andy & Barney a favor by assuring that the courthouse would receive needed renovations. At the hearing Otis remembers that he actually tripped over his own coat. Floyd is particular obtuse in this episode, to great comedic effect. There is a really funny scene involving Otis & Barney wherein the clueless deputy accidentally becomes intoxicated, something tha happens a few times over the years. The actor portraying the shady lawyer had previously played a thief on the show a few years earlier.

 

 

58     The Darlings Are Coming  (S3E25)

The Darling family came down from the mountains to visit Mayberry about a half dozen times, and this was the first. They are meeting the bus that is bringing darlings2Charlene’s fiancée Dud home from military service. In the meantime though they keep sneaking into the hotel and disturbing the peace with their music. There’s a lot of good singing in this episode. I wouldn’t have minded more appearances by the Darlings.

 

 

57     The Pageant  (S5E11)

Aunt Bea takes over the lead role of Lady Mayberry in the Founder’s Day play after Clara Edwards has to go out of town, pageantbut it turns out she’s a terrible actress. Andy is given the task of telling her about her…lack of ability…but he is spared when Clara returns sooner than expected and Aunt Bea willingly steps aside. Founder’s Day is a big deal in Mayberry, as it is celebrated or mentioned a few times over the years. I’m sure some modern touchy-feely folks may get their knickers twisted about Andy & Barney’s portrayal of Indians, but political correctness wasn’t the cancer fifty years ago that it has become.

 

 

56     The Rumor  (S4E29)

Barney misinterprets a PDA between Andy & Helen that just so happens to occur in a jewelry store. He quickly convinces Thelma Lou & Aunt Bea that the couple are engaged, which of course they aren’t. Practically the whole town bucks up for a surprise party & gift, which in this case is a redecorated bedroom befitting a married couple. When Andy breaks the news that there is no engagement folks are disappointed but stick around for a party anyway. Barney trying to push Andy into marriage or jumping to the conclusion that he is about to get married is a storyline that is used multiple times throughout the show’s run, and it’s almost always sweet & funny.

 

 

55     Opie’s Fortune (S5E9)

After Opie finds a change purse containing $50 Andy tells the boy he can have the money…if no one has claimed it in one week. Immediately after the deadline a man comes forward claiming the lost loot, but Andy doesn’t have the heart to disappoint Opie. However Opie finds out anyway and, in one of those classic mix-ups between father & son, Andy thinks Opie is hurrying to spend the cash when in reality he is preparing to give it back to its rightful owner. Father/son stuff between Andy & Opie is always poignant, a stark contrast to so many of the dysfunctional relationships we see portrayed on television these days.

 

 

54     Up in Barney’s Room                   (S4E10)

Barney is evicted from Mrs. Mendelbright’s boarding house after he breaks her strict rule against cooking in his room. But when Andy & Barney hear that the landlady barnroomis about to sell everything and run off with a new beau they smell a rat. It turns out that the guy is a con man out to scam the old lady. They save her, Barney profusely apologizes for breaking the rules, and she agrees to take him back & maybe ease up just a little. This in the only episode with Mrs. Mendelbright, who was portrayed by the same actress who was the first to ever portray Tarzan’s Jane, in a 1918 silent film. Barney gets gooned on hard cider, and it’s always funny when Deputy Fife accidently becomes intoxicated.

 

 

53     A Feud Is a Feud (S1E9)

In a nod to Romeo & Juliet Andy tries to end a long running feud between two families who have offspring that want to get married. The feud has been going so long feudthat neither family patriarch even knows what they’re fighting about. Andy does his patented reverse psychology thing by trying to get the two old men to duel each other, but it turns out that both are spineless cowards and that no one in either family has ever been hurt or killed during the alleged feud. All’s well that ends well when the two youngsters tie the knot. Hearing Andy break down Shakespeare for Opie in his down-to-earth homespun way is one of the highlights of the entire series.

 

 

52     Man in the Middle      (S5E7)

Barney & Thelma Lou get into an argument & break up, only to reconcile the next day. But an offhand comment by Andy (that he didn’t even say) when trying to console Barney explodes into a mess of quarrels among Andy, Barney, Thelma Lou, & Helen. The foursome are the only characters in the episode, which is almost Shakespearean in the way that things get misconstrued & spiral out of control amongst the characters. The infamous night filter is used again, which thru the prism of modern technology looks really silly, although I’m sure 50 years ago few even noticed.

 

 

51     Ellie Comes to Town (S1E4)

When pharmacist Fred Walker falls ill his young niece Ellie arrives to run the drug store. She’s a bit uptight and doesn’t immediately get how things work in Mayberry, ellie3for example Andy having a key to the store and helping himself to what Aunt Bea needs. There’s also local hypochondriac Emma Brand (later Watson), who demands her pills sans prescription and requests Ellie’s arrest when she doesn’t acquiesce. Despite Ellie’s…rigidity…there is definitely a spark between her & Andy, and the two would go on to become a couple soon enough. She is one of my favorite Andy girlfriends. Emma is one of those delightfully quirky characters that only made a handful of appearances but makes an indelible impression. There’s also some adorableness from Opie here, and that’s always fun.

 

 

 

 

Let’s take a timeout. We’ll be back!!

TAGS Episode Guide: Ranking (Not Quite) Every Episode of One of America’s Most Beloved TV Shows…Part 3

Welcome back. If you haven’t done so please go back and peruse Parts 1 and 2.

 

bestLooking back TAGS had an impressive lineup of guests & bit players that would go on to have nicholsonnotable careers. That list includes James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on the Dukes of Hazzard), comedian Don Rickles, Jerry Van Dyke (Coach), Gavin MacCleod (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Love Boat), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie), Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard), Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk), legendary movie stars Jack Nicholson & George Kennedy, Jack Albertson (Chico & The Man), Morgan Brittany (Dallas), Richard Bull (Nels Oleson on Little House on the Prairie), William Christopher (Father Mulcahey on MASH), Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester on The Addams Family), Ellen Corby (The Waltons), Bob Denver (Gilligan’s Island, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), Buddy Ebsen be(Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies), Jamie Farr (Klinger on MASH), Ann Morgan Guilbert (The mccNanny, Grumpier Old Men), Pat Hingle (Batman), Alan Hale Jr. (The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island), Howard Hesseman (Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati), Larry Clovis (Hogan’s Heroes), Allan Melvin (Sam the Butcher on The Brady Bunch), actor/director Rob Reiner (Meathead on All in the Family), and Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly).

 

Now on with the countdown.

 

 

 

 

100   The New Housekeeper (S1E1)

Technically the concept for TAGS was introduced in a February 1960 episode of Make Room For Daddy, aka The Danny Thomas Show. However thishousekeeper is the first standalone episode of the show. The powers-that-be must’ve been on their game…the show premiered just 8 months after the pilot. We meet Sheriff Taylor and his son Opie as they are celebrating the wedding of their housekeeper Rose. Because Rose is moving out of town with her new husband Andy’s Aunt Bea comes back to Mayberry from Morgantown, WV (the real life hometown of Don Knotts) to take care of Andy & Opie. It is implied that Aunt Bea is from Mayberry but had spent a few years in West Virginia. Six year old Opie is very attached to Rose, who presumably took care of him since he was a baby, so he doesn’t quite warm up to Aunt Bea at first. However when Aunt Bea attempts to leave because she can see the boy is unhappy he begs her to stay. This is a great introduction to the core characters…Andy, Opie, Aunt Bea, & Barney…and it gets better from there.

 

 

 

99     The Rivals         (S3E28)

Opie has a crush on a classmate, but she just isn’t that into him. When Thelma Lou tries lift Opie’s spirits the boy starts crushing on her and Barney feels left out in the cold. Classic Barney, and great father/son stuff between Andy & Opie. A very sweet episode.

 

 

98     Aunt Bea’s Brief Encounter (S2E9)

Aunt Bea becomes enamored with Mr. Wheeler, an itinerant handyman who stops by to help her with some rosebushes. Upon finding out that the wheelerman lives in his truck Andy & Aunt Bea ask him to stay with them for a bit and do some work around the house, but he keeps weaseling out of doing any actual work. After a comment from the mailman about Mr. Wheeler’s soft hands Andy becomes suspicious and finds out the “handyman” is just a freeloader that takes advantage of kindhearted women like Aunt Bea. Andy manages to scare off the scoundrel and all is well.

 

 

97     Bringing Up Opie       (S1E32)

Concerned about negative influences on Opie’s behavior Aunt Bea talks Andy into restricting Opie’s visits to the jail. The boy quickly becomes bored in the afternoon hours after school and wanders off only to fall asleep in the back of a truck that drives off away from Mayberry. There are some heartwarming father/son moments between Andy & Opie, and that’s always a good thing.

 

 

96         Three’s a Crowd (S2E27)

Andy decides to court lovely county nurse Mary Simpson. However every time he is alone with her Barney shows up and obliviously interjects himself simpsoninto the situation. When Andy finally explains things to Barney (in a nicer way than anyone else in the world probably would) the overzealous deputy jumps to the conclusion that the sheriff is about to become engaged. Hilarity ensues. This is the second & final appearance of Nurse Mary. The actress is absolutely beautiful and it’s a shame she & the character disappeared without a trace just like a couple other ladies that Andy dated.

 

 

95     Divorce, Mountain Style    (S4E25)

Charlene Darling wanders down from the hills seeking to divorce her husband Dud. Of course with The Darlings nothing is ever simple or normal, so a barneyhorse1divorce in their world entails some sort of weird hillbilly ritual, which is really funny. In the midst of this craziness Charlene…who has been sweet on Andy since the moment she met him…decides she’s wants to marry the sheriff. Fortunately Andy & Barney find a way to “curse” the union and scare Charlene away. That curse involves Barney dressing in black and riding a horse at midnight…or something like that. It’s hysterically entertaining stuff. There’s no Opie or Aunt Bea in this episode, but that’s alright. Charlene is a real looker and might have been a good match for Andy, but that possibility was never seriously explored. Bob Denver portrays Dud, replacing the actor who’d played the character on two previous occasions. Denver had just spent four seasons playing beatnik Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and a few months later would begin a three year tour as the titular character on Gilligan’s Island.

 

 

94     Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor    (S5E10)

When Andy goes to Raleigh to interview for a detective job he makes Barney acting Sheriff. Barney deputizes Otis & Goober, and chaos quickly ensues. At the end of the day Barney realizes that “sheriffin’” is far different than “deputyin’”, and Andy decides to stay in Mayberry. Ironically at the end of the season it would be Barney moving to Raleigh to become a detective.

 

 

93     The Manicurist (S2E16)

A young & beautiful manicurist sets up a space in Floyd’s barber shop. The men of Mayberry are a little wary of her presence at first, but quickly warm edenup to her, upsetting their wives in the process. The manicurist is portrayed by Barbara Eden, who would begin her belly-baring gig on I Dream of Jeannie a few years later. This episode marks the final appearance of Mayor Pike, as the actor passed on before the show aired. It is also the last of a half dozen appearances by town hypochondriac Emma Watson.

 

 

92     One-Punch Opie (S3E14)

Opie figures out that the new kid in town is a menace who isn’t worth the trouble. When Opie stands up to him the bully runs off like a coward. The mixture of comedy from Barney and classic father/son stuff from Andy & Opie is the kind of balancing act that makes TAGS great.

 

 

91     Bailey’s Bad Boy (S2E15)

Why is it that people think they can speed thru Mayberry?? And why does everyone who gets caught doing so have to make things so difficult on poor bixbyAndy?? In this case the perp is a spoiled young man from an affluent family who arrogantly thinks his Daddy will come to his rescue. After Andy takes him fishing and to Sunday dinner at his house the young punk begins to soften a bit, especially after observing the sheriff do some parenting with Opie. There is some really funny stuff in this episode from Otis, and of course the father/son relationship between Andy & Opie is one of the foundations of the whole series. The arrogant speeder is portrayed by Bill Bixby, who would go on to sustained success in three different shows… My Favorite Martian, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, & The Incredible Hulk.

 

 

90     Andy and Opie – Bachelors       (S3E4)

Aunt Bea goes out of town to visit a relative. While she’s away Andy’s girlfriend Peggy McMillan steps up to take care of he & Opie. Peggy is a nurse just like a previous Andy paramour…Mary Simpson. Maybe Andy likes sponge baths or something. Anyway, Floyd gets into Andy’s head, convincing him that Peggy is trying to push her way into the Taylor household and trick Andy into proposing. Andy really seems to be afraid of commitment…perhaps because others are always trying to shove him into one. There’s a really sweet scene with Andy playing guitar & singing on the front porch with Peggy while Opie listens. We never saw Helen Crump do that. Poor little Opie seems to crave a mother’s attention. Darn shame Andy made him wait so long and passed up such splendid candidates.

 

 

89     Andy and Barney in the Big City (S2E25)

This episode is a rarity in that it is set almost entirely outside of Mayberry. Andy & Barney travel to Raleigh to try to get more funds for their bigcitydepartment. Barney proceeds to get involved in tracking down a jewel thief at the hotel. Of course being Barney he pegs the wrong guy (the house detective in fact) for the crime, and it’s up to Andy to set things right. Classic Barney. Hardcore purists might have an issue with the lack of Mayberry-ness, but I’m okay with it since it doesn’t occur often.

 

 

88     The Luck of Newton Munroe      (S5E29)

A fast-talking traveling salesman comes to Mayberry. Unfortunately everything he sells turns out to be a hunk of junk. Andy takes pity on the young ricklesman and asks him to paint his house, with hilarious results. The salesman is portrayed by comedian Don Rickles, who guest starred on a ton of TV shows in the 60’s, as well as doing movies like Kelly’s Heroes and several “Beach” films starring Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello, all while headlining shows in Vegas and hanging out with Frank Sinatra.

 

 

87     Class Reunion (S3E19)

Andy & Barney attend their 20 year high school reunion and Andy meets up with an old girlfriend. There is definite chemistry peggymccayandygbetween the two, but while Andy’s heart is in Mayberry his lady friend has left small town life in the rear view mirror, which proves to be an insurmountable obstacle. This episode aired in 1963, and it is indicated that Andy & Barney graduated in 1945, so the math doesn’t quite add up. Sharp eyed viewers of soap opera Days of Our Lives will recognize Andy’s gal pal as being portrayed by actress Peggy McCay. McCay has played matriarch Caroline Brady on DOOL for over three decades.

 

 

86     Barney Fife, Realtor (S5E16)

Barney takes on a second job as a real estate agent. He soon convinces Andy to look into purchasing a bigger house while concurrently selling his own. Opie hilariously spills the beans to prospective buyers about work that needs done on the Taylor homestead, because of course his Paw has taught him all about being honest. Similarly, the house that Andy is interested in has its own issues. At the end of the day everyone decides to stay put where they are, and Barney’s second career seems to end just as quickly as it began.

 

 

85     The Big House (S3E32)

Barney & Gomer are in charge of guarding two criminals while Andy is out catching the other two members of their gang. The twosome are inept on kennedyan individual basis, and together they are hysterically incompetent. The prisoners keep escaping, but Andy keeps bringing them back before they get too far. George Kennedy makes a brief appearance as a state police detective, four years before he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Cool Hand Luke.

 

 

84     Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bea  (S4E5)

Briscoe Darling becomes enamored of Aunt Bea, but when she resists his advances he kidnaps her. Andy comes up with the idea of Aunt Bea trying to force Briscoe to clean up his act and become more civilized. The ploy works, as he gets mad at Aunt Bea and promptly ends the “relationship”. This is the only time we see the Briscoes without Charlene.

 

 

83     Andy and the New Mayor  (S3E3)

Less than a year after the final appearance of Mayor Pike there’s a new head official in Mayberry. Mayor Roy Stoner is uptight & demanding, and he mayor12clashes with Andy because of the sheriff’s easygoing way of handling situations. In this case the mayor becomes angry when Andy temporarily releases a prisoner so that he can go tend to his farm, with the promise that he’ll return in three days. When the man doesn’t return on time Mayor Stoner goes in search of him, with the kind of hilarious conclusion only TAGS can provide.

 

 

82            Barney and Thelma Lou, Phfftt    (S4E30)

While giving Thelma Lou a ride to Mount Pilot Gomer lets slip an offhand comment that Barney made about having Thelma Lou “in my hip pocket”. Naturally this upsets Thelma Lou, who then decides to use clueless Gomer to make our favorite deputy jealous. Gomer enlists Andy’s help to extract himself from the situation, and as usual Sheriff Taylor straightens out the chaos. No Opie or Aunt Bea in this episode, but that’s okay.

 

 

81            Andy’s Rich Girlfriend (S3E2)

Andy Taylor had a few girlfriends in the first few seasons of TAGS, but by far my favorite is nurse Peggy McMillan. She was portrayed by actress joanna_moore_13Joanna Moore, who would go on to become the wife of Ryan O’Neal and the mother of Tatum O’Neal. In this episode we are introduced to Peggy as she & Andy go on a double date with Barney & Thelma Lou. When Andy finds out Peggy comes from a wealthy family Barney gets in his head and convinces him that Peggy is out of his league. Andy begins avoiding Peggy which leads to an argument. Thankfully the two eventually kiss & make up. Perhaps the relationship might have worked out if other people would’ve stopped sticking their nose where it didn’t belong.

 

 

80     Barney’s Sidecar       (S4E16)

Sensing a need for more patrols to catch speeders Barney buys a motorcycle…complete with sidecar…at an army surplus auction. Barney really gets sidecarinto it, even donning goggles & a leather jacket, but the townsfolk in Mayberry just laugh at him. He also overdoes it with the speed trap, pulling boxtrucks over for going only 5mph over the limit (flexibility they’ve always been given to get over a nearby hill), and ticks off everybody in town with his overzealous enthusiasm with his new toy. Andy cleverly figures out a way to convince Barney that the bike is an historic artifact and gets him to donate it to a museum.

 

 

79     The Mayberry Band (S3E8)

The Mayberry town band wants to go to Raleigh for a statewide competition. The only problem is they’re horrible. Mayor Stoner refuses to let the group participate and embarrass Mayberry, but with a little help from Freddy Fleet & His Band with a Beat Andy is able to convince the Mayor to fund the trip. Freddy Fleet was known as Bobby Fleet on two previous TAGS appearances, and writers affiliated with the show later admitted that the continuity error was simply a mistake. The character was portrayed by three different actors, adding to the confusion.

 

78     The Clubmen (S2E10)

Andy’s fishing buddy from Raleigh invites the sheriff up to the capitol city to hobnob with snooty members of The Esquire Club. Andy gets permission to bring Barney along. Unfortunately Barney tries a little too hard to make himself seem sophisticated, in the process coming across as a buffoon. A few days later Andy is extended an invitation for membership, but he politely turns it down when Barney is rejected. There is a really funny scene at the beginning when Andy catches Barney napping in the courthouse and Barney tries to play it off. Don Knotts always did some of his best acting with his expressive face and bulging eyes.

 

 

77     The Shoplifters          (S4E21)

When Ben Weaver reports that things have been coming up missing from his store Barney decides to investigate. In one hilarious scene Mr. Weaver shoplifterand Barney mistakenly hunt each other down late at night in the store while the security guard sleeps thru almost the whole thing. When that idea doesn’t work Barney decides to go undercover as a store mannequin, with hilarious results. In the end Barney does end up catching the perp…with an assist from Andy. A different, much younger, actor portrays Mr. Weaver due to the death of the performer who’d played the character in three previous episodes. A better writer would’ve specified the character here to be Ben Weaver Jr., but continuity wasn’t a strong suit of the folks in charge of TAGS.

 

 

76     Andy and Opie, Housekeepers (S1E23)

Aunt Bea jumps on Andy & Opie for being slobs, and then she is called way to help out a sick relative in Mt. Pilot for a few days. Andy & Opie are determined to keep the house tidy in Aunt Bea’s absence but fail miserably. They hurry to clean it up before she returns, but then Andy decides that Aunt Bea might feel unneeded so they mess it up again. However while the boys are on their way to pick up Aunt Bea at the bus station Clara Edwards (called Bertha Edwards in what is her inaugural appearance) decides to pop in and clean the house for them. When the Taylors return they’re all surprised at how clean the living room is, but Opie has enough time to mess up his room again and Andy trashes the kitchen to spare Aunt Bea’s feelings. When Aunt Bea says the house looked like a pigpen when she got home Miss Edwards is hilariously offended. Opie is adorable in this episode.

 

 

 

 

 

This seems like a good place for another break. Stay tuned.

TAGS Episode Guide: Ranking (Not Quite) Every Episode of One of America’s Most Beloved TV Shows…Part 2

Welcome back!! If you haven’t done so already please go check out Part 1.

 

All caught up?? Good.

 

otisBefore we continue allow me to offer a few random thoughts about TAGS. First of all, amongst widower Andy’s claralady friends during the run of the show my least favorite is the one he ended up marrying…school teacher Helen Crump. I much prefer druggist Ellie Walker, and would have liked to have seen more of nurses Peggy McMillan & Mary Simpson. Secondly, hardcore fans of the show are likely to notice multiple continuity errors (for example Bertha Johnson became Clara Johnson then Clara Edwards for no apparent reason). Back then the powers-that-be had no idea that we’d still be watching the show a half century later and asking silly questions about why certain things make no sense because something different was said a season or two before. They were just trying to make a fun TV show (they succeeded). Amongst prominent supporting characters I rather enjoy The Darlings, don’t much care for darlingsErnest T. Bass, and love almost any episode with andy_girlfriendstown drunk Otis Campbell. I understand that replacement deputy Warren Ferguson wasn’t well-received, but I wish he would have gotten a proper exit and others given a shot to wear the deputy uniform rather than leave Andy without any help for nearly 3 years.

 

Okay okay okay…I’ll stop babbling and get on with the countdown. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

130   The Lucky Letter       (S5E19)

Barney thinks he is suffering bad luck after throwing away a chain letter instead of forwarding it on. Andy tries to convince him that’s a bunch of tags12poppycock. Barney-centric episodes are almost always solidly funny.

 

 

129   The Great Filling Station Robbery                (S3E22)

Andy & Barney investigate a string of thefts at Wally’s Filling Station to find out whether or not a young employee is responsible. As always Barney is an inept yet comical crime solver, but even Andy doesn’t get the credit for getting to the bottom of this mystery. The accused man himself clears his name. Funny stuff from Barney & Gomer.

 

 

128   Banjo-Playing Deputy                  (S5E32)

The final two episodes of Season 5 take place at a carnival that is visiting Mayberry. Here we see Andy shut down a “risqué” harem dancer show that is tags13part of that carnival. He feels guilty when the show’s inept banjo player is left unemployed and hires the young man to do some stuff around the courthouse. There is some thought given to making him a temporary deputy, but it doesn’t materialize. In reality Jerry Van Dyke was offered a permanent role on TAGS and would have been a worthy replacement for Don Knotts, but he chose a starring role in My Mother the Car, a show that lasted only one season. What a huge missed opportunity for both TAGS and Van Dyke. Imagine the fun he would’ve brought to Mayberry those last few years!! This is also…sadly…the last episode of the show broadcast in black & white, and we all know how I feel about that.

 

 

127   The Farmer Takes a Wife   (S2E13)

A boorish farmer comes to Mayberry looking for a wife. To stop him from obnoxiously hitting on every farmerwoman that walks down the street Andy & Barney decide to help him out by cleaning him up and teaching him some manners. Unfortunately for Barney the farmer takes a shine to Thelma Lou. The farmer is portrayed by Alan Hale Jr., who a couple of years later would go on to star as The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island. He even calls Barney “Little Buddy”.

 

 

126   Prisoner of Love                  (S4E18)

A sexy female jewel thief attempts to seduce Andy & Barney in order to escape from the jail. This is a very sensual prisonerepisode (with the exception of an amusing scene involving the always funny Otis Campbell), and a rarity in that Andy falls under the same spell as Barney instead of being the sensible voice of reason. The actress who portrays the prisoner is probably better known for playing the green skinned Orion slave girl on a classic episode of Star Trek.

 

 

125   Andy Discovers America (S3E23)

Andy’s misinterpreted advice to Opie about the boy’s history homework gets him in hot water with new schoolteacher Helen Crump. Why Andy would find the overly emotional Miss Crump even remotely attractive remains a huge mystery. Good Lord is she terrifying. Most men would have run in the other direction after the initial meeting. Barney’s “explanation” of The Emancipation Proclamation is funny stuff, as is Andy’s folksy reverse psychology on Opie & his classmates about the importance of learning history.

 

 

124   Andy Forecloses       (S1E28)

Andy tries to help a financially challenged family keep their home despite being ordered to give them an eviction notice by their landlord, town malcontent Ben Weaver. This is the same family who Mr. Weaver had thrown in jail on Christmas Eve just a few months earlier, except they’re going by different names. Aunt Bea & Andy organize a rummage sale at the courthouse to raise the money the family owes, but in the end crusty ol’ Ben relents and allows the family to keep their house.

 

 

123   Ellie for Council                   (S1E10)

Ellie starts a battle of the sexes when she decides to run for a seat on the town council. Thru the prism of modern viewership & altered societal norms ellieit is hard to gauge whether this episode reflects the prejudices of an era or is a commentary on old-fashioned ideas during a time of social change. Either way it is reliably amusing, and I always liked Ellie Walker. It’s a shame the character didn’t stick around longer.

 

 

122   A Date for Gomer       (S4E9)

Thelma Lou convinces Barney to get a date for her very shy cousin to the annual Chamber of Commerce gomer2Dance. He gets Gomer to agree to the date, but at the dance Gomer suddenly disappears. It turns out he left to get the young lady a corsage. Barney & Thelma Lou and Andy & Helen find Gomer and his date dancing up a storm back at Thelma Lou’s house. A largely forgettable episode but worth it to see Gomer Pyle dancing. H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S.

 

 

121   A Wife for Andy                    (S3E29)

Barney tries to set up Andy with just about every eligible bachelorette in Mayberry, but Andy is sweet on Helen Crump. Of course anytime Barney tries to organize something it’s tremendously amusing. Interesting trivia: one of the single ladies that comes to Andy’s house is portrayed by an actress that had a more longstanding gig…as the voice of Judy Jetson on The Jetsons.

 

 

120   Aunt Bea’s Invisible Beau           (S5E27)

Clara plants the seed in Aunt Bea’s head that her presence is preventing Andy from gettin’ hitched, so Aunt Bea says she is dating the “butter & egg man”…but it turns out that he is married. Andy discovers the ruse and reassures Aunt Bea that she isn’t an unwanted third wheel. The same basic plotline was used a few years earlier during the second season.

 

 

119   Dogs, Dogs, Dogs     (S3E30)

Opie brings a pack of stray dogs into the courthouse just as a state official is visiting. Fortunately the suit is a dog lover. Eventually Barney & Andy find dogshomes for all the dogs, but then their true owner surfaces. All’s well that ends well. I’m a sucker for anything involving dogs, and there is some cute interaction between Opie & Barney.

 

 

118   The County Nurse     (S2E24)

County nurse Mary Simpson enlists Andy’s help in convincing hardheaded farmer Rafe Hollister to get his tetanus vaccination. Mary appeared on TAGS twice played by two different actresses. I prefer the other one. Rafe Hollister makes three appearances in Mayberry and would have been a solid addition to the main cast.

 

 

117   Barney’s Bloodhound                  (S5E6)

Barney attempts to train a stray dog to be a crime fighting bloodhound, and as usual when our favorite deputy is involved things don’t go as planned. When Barney inadvertently gets kidnapped at Meyers Lake by an escaped convict the mutt obeys the criminal more than Barney. Of course Andy saves the day because that’s kind of his thing.

 

 

116/115/114       Barney Mends A Broken Heart (S3E6) – The Fun Girls (S4E27) – The Arrest of the Fun Girls (S5E28)

fungirls1The Fun Girls are Skippy & Daphne, two blonde bimbos from Mount Pilot who like to party. They take a shine to Barney (who Skippy constantly refers to as Bernie) & Andy (who is always greeted by Daphne with a gravelly “Hello Doll”) and wreak havoc on their lives on a few occasions in Seasons 3, 4, & 5. In their first appearance Andy & Peggy have an argument and Barney unsuccessfully tries to fix Andy up with oddball Lydia Crosswaite, who has the personality of a rice cake (strangest line of the entire series: “I hate the outdoors. When I go out into the sun I get the herpes.”). Barney then tricks Andy into heading to a Mt. Pilot hot spot where they meet up with The Fun Girls. Unfortunately Daphne’s old boyfriend shows up and punches Andy in the face. The next day Andy & Peggy make up and all is well. Andy is kind of a jerk in this episode, becoming jealous of Mary’s male friend for no reason. A year later The Fun Girls pass thru Mayberry and hit on Andy & Barney, causing Helen & Thelma Lou to become jealous. This episode is notable for being the first appearance of Goober, and it is the only one with both Goober and Gomer Pyle. A year after that The Fun Girls fungirls2are back in Mayberry and get arrested. Andy & Barney try to hide their presence at the jail from Helen & Thelma Lou…to no avail. I really don’t see anything attractive about The Fun Girls, and there certainly isn’t a whole lot of amusement in the melodramatic distrust of Helen & Thelma Lou, but watching Barney rope Andy into uncomfortable situations and seeing them try to wiggle themselves out of trouble with their girlfriends is comic gold.

 

 

113   The New Doctor                   (S1E24)

Persuaded by Barney just a bit, Andy feels threatened by the new town doctor’s friendship with Ellie…so much so that he proposes. As it turns out the doc is engaged himself. Andy & Ellie mutually agree to take their relationship slow, which is good since a few months later Ellie disappears from Mayberry, never to be heard from again.

 

 

 

112   Opie’s Newspaper    (S5E26)

Opie & one of his buddies decide to publish their own little newspaper…a very enterprising idea for two young boys. Unfortunately they fill the thing opieup with town gossip that they overhear while going around spying on people. Not surprisingly several folks become quite upset and it’s up to Andy to set things straight. There is a bit of unintentional foreshadowing here, as in the 1986 TV reunion movie Return to Mayberry Opie Taylor is indeed the editor of the town newspaper.

 

 

 

111   Mayberry Goes Hollywood                   (S1E13)

Mayberry is chosen as the backdrop for an upcoming movie so the whole town gets carried away with all the glamour. But when the Hollywood producer returns to town with his crew he is horrified at how phony everything & everyone has become, explaining that Mayberry was chosen as a location because of its idyllic charm and simple way of life. This is the first appearance of Howard McNear as Floyd Lawson after the character had been played by a different actor in the previous episode. Here he is referred to as Floyd Colby, though his surname was changed back to Lawson thereafter. This isn’t the only time people in Mayberry get a little goofy & overzealous. Sometimes it’s odd, but on occasion it’s rather funny.

 

 

110   Deputy Otis       (S2E31)

Much to Barney’s chagrin Andy makes Otis a temporary deputy to fool his visiting brother & sister-in-law, who are under the mistaken impression otis2that Otis has been in law enforcement for awhile. As it turns out the brother that Otis wants to impress is also a drunkard. I really enjoy Otis-centric episodes.

 

 

109   Ernest T. Bass Joins the Army            (S4E3)

Ernest T. Bass wants to join the Army simply to get a uniform and impress women, but when he’s rejected (because he’s a nut) he goes on one of his rock throwing rampages. Character actor Allan Melvin, who is probably best known as Sam the butcher on The Brady Bunch, makes one of his eight TAGS appearances, this time as an Army recruiter. Did I mention that I’ve never quite understood the popularity of the Ernest T. Bass character??

 

 

108   Goober and the Art of Love                 (S5E20)

Andy & Barney try to find a girl for Goober so he doesn’t have to tag along on their dates. Unfortunately Goober is even more inept with women than gooberhe is in other aspects of life. Barney tries to be his love guru, but of course that’s the blind leading the blind. This is the second appearance of Thelma Lou’s friend Lydia Crosswaite, an amusing Debbie Downer who Goober is sweet on. One thing I always notice about this episode is how Andy & Barney wear their suits and their girlfriends have on nice dresses…just to go to the movies. Oh how times have changed.

 

 

107   Barney on the Rebound              (S2E5)

Barney is immediately smitten with a beautiful newcomer to Mayberry. After an argument he & a jealous Thelma Lou break up and he gets involved with the new girl. Unfortunately for Deputy Fife things aren’t what they seem. The young lady’s “father” is portrayed by Jackie Coogan, who would begin another gig a few years later…as Uncle Fester on The Addams Family.

 

 

106   The Rehabilitation of Otis (S5E18)

When Otis gets so snockered that he rides a cow thru town believing it to be a horse…twice…Barney tries using pop psychology to rehabilitate him.otis3 Otis gets ticked off and decides he’ll do his drinking & jail time in Mt. Pilot from now on. Andy & Barney go and beg him to come back to Mayberry. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot that makes sense here, but it’s always enjoyable when Otis gets drunk. It’s odd that this is the one & only time that the powers-that-be decided that Otis had a serious problem and tried to help him. If he were on TV today he’d be in a 12 step program by the end of his first appearance.

 

 

105   The Merchant of Mayberry (S2E22)

Bert Miller is a downtrodden traveling salesman who’s tired of traveling, so Andy helps him stay in business by allowing him to set up a temporary storefront in town. Predictably this doesn’t please crusty department store owner Ben Weaver. The actor portraying Bert is better known as the original voice for animated Winnie the Pooh. The cantankerous character of Ben Weaver made a half dozen appearances on TAGS played by three different actors. This is the third & final appearance of the actor who originated the role. He passed on a short time after the episode aired.

 

 

104   Barney’s Replacement       (S2E2)

Barney becomes convinced that an attorney who’s been sent to Mayberry for law enforcement training is there to replace him, so he quits and starts selling vacuum cleaners. Barney resigns his position in a huff multiple times throughout his run, but he always comes back. It is said that after Season 1 Andy Griffith realized that Barney was the real comedic centerpiece of the show and the sheriff should be more of a straight man. This is a great example of that shift.

 

 

103   Irresistible Andy                  (S1E5)

After Andy asks Ellie to the church picnic/dance he overthinks the situation, talking himself into the notion that she is trying to rope him into ellie2marriage. In an effort to divert her attention Andy talks some other men in Mayberry into hitting on Ellie. The plan backfires terribly and Ellie becomes quite upset with Andy before he charms his way out of her doghouse. Anyone who thinks this twosome lacked chemistry…romantic & comedic…is crazy. This episode marks the debut of Barney’s infamous suit…”the ol’ salt & pepper”.

 

 

102   Opie’s Hobo Friend   (S2E6)

After Opie & Andy run onto a friendly drifter while going fishing Barney arrests the man for being a vagrant. hoboAndy’s a nice guy though so he lets the man go, after which he bonds with Opie. Unfortunately he is a bad influence on the boy, making things like ditching school, dodging responsibility, & stealing food seem like fun. Andy has a chat with the man, who manages to make Opie realize that maybe his lifestyle isn’t the best way to get along before catching a train out of town. The drifter is portrayed by Buddy Ebsen, who a year later would begin a decade long run as Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies. This is a particularly well-written, borderline dramatic episode.

 

 

101   Quiet Sam                   (S1E29)

Barney is suspicious of farmer Sam Becker so he coaxes Andy into checking out the situation. It turns out that Mr. Becker’s wife is very very pregnant and that’s why the man had seemed a bit on edge. Andy gets stuck at the Becker farm during a rainstorm and ends up delivering the baby. Barney’s overactive imagination & misguided reactions to situations are classic bedrock elements of the show.

 

 

 

 

This seems like a good place for another break. Stay tuned.

TAGS Episode Guide: Ranking (Not Quite) Every Episode of One of America’s Most Beloved TV Shows…Part 1

tags2Citizens of The Manoverse may recall that a few years ago I rated The Andy Griffith Show as my 2nd favorite television show of all time. It lost out to Seinfeld by a thread only because Seinfeld actually aired its first run in my lifetime, whereas TAGS was off the air years before I was even born. It was broadcast on CBS from October 1960 to April 1968 on Monday nights on CBS and featured the small town adventures of Sheriff Andy Taylor, his young son Opie, blundering deputy Barney Fife, & Andy’s Aunt Bea, along with various residents of idyllic Mayberry, NC. Though original episodes ended decades ago TAGS has never truly been gone, as it has continuously aired in syndication. And of course nowadays, thru the magic of home video and streaming, it is even more readily available to fans. So awhile back I got an idea.

 

I have decided to rank 159 episodes of TAGS. Now you may saying “Wait…wait…weren’t there 249 episodes over 8 seasons??”, and you’d be right. andygriffithHowever, there is a definitive split in the history of the show. When Don Knotts signed on to play Barney Fife he was told by Andy Griffith that the plan was to do five seasons. After those five years were up Knotts signed a movie deal that he couldn’t get out of when Griffith decided to keep the TV program going for three additional seasons. Therefore, Deputy Fife was quietly written out, taking a “big city” job as a detective in Raleigh. Concurrent with that change the show also switched technology and was produced in color for seasons 6-8 as opposed to black & white. I’m sure back then this was seen as an advancement, but thru the nostalgic prism that we view TAGS today the shift diminishes its quaint charm. New writers were also brought in, and they replaced the comedic genius of Barney Fife with other players, mainly dimwitted mechanic Goober Pyle and uptight, socially inept county clerk Howard Sprague, characters that have never been among my favorites. It’s not that TAGS was a bad show in its final three seasons. I’d choose to watch any of those episodes over 95% of the drivel on television these days. But for the purposes of this exercise I am concentrating on the first five seasons, broadcast in delightful B&W and showcasing the lovely town of Mayberry, a place that I can only assume is a fictionalized representation of Heaven. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

159   A Black Day for Mayberry (S4E7)

$7 million in gold is clandestinely passing thru Mayberry on its way to Fort Knox, but when Barney accidentally spills the beans the whole town barney1eventually finds out and completely overreacts. Seriously…they throw a freakin’ parade for an armored car. I love the idiosyncrasies of small town life and Mayberry usually captures such minutia in an appealing & comical way, but this is just weird. Both Ron Howard’s father Rance and brother Clint appear in the episode. Rance made four TAGS appearances as various characters, and Clint appeared five times as little Leon who never says a word.

 

 

158   Mayberry Goes Bankrupt (S2E4)

Andy is forced to evict an eccentric old man for failing to pay back taxes, but when the man finds a century-old savings bond which has grown to a value of over $300K he appears to have the town over a barrel. This is the kind of story that couldn’t be told nowadays because of course the man would just lawyer up and get his money, but since it was written over fifty years ago the mayor & Andy simply explain that the town doesn’t have the money and the man is forced to accept several people pitching in to fix up his dilapidated house as an adequate substitute. Then right at the end of the episode it is said that the bond may have been issued with Confederate money after North Carolina seceded during The Civil War, making it worthless. The question is never really answered. Very odd entry into the TAGS canon.

 

.

157   Andy the Marriage Counselor    (S1E18)

Andy tries to mediate for a couple who frequently cause calls to the police due to their raucous domestic disputes. As always Sheriff Taylor finds a tags4unique solution to the problem. The episode is notable for a few reasons. First, we get to see Barney practicing judo, which is hilarious. Secondly, the actor portraying one half of the quarreling couple is Jesse White, who would go on to become the lonely Maytag repairman in a series of commercials for over two decades. And finally, one must understand that whenever it looks like its nighttime in Mayberry it’s really not. The show was filmed during the day and a special night filter was utilized on the camera. This is its inaugural use. Unfortunately, while many attitudes & ideals expressed on TAGS make us hearken back to a simpler time and yearn for an America that has slipped into the wistful mist of history, seen thru the prism of modern sensibilities domestic violence is strange fodder for comedy.

 

 

156   Opie Flunks Arithmetic      (S5E30)

When Helen informs Andy that Opie isn’t doing well in math he isn’t overly concerned. But when Barney butts in and gets Aunt Bea all worked up about the boy’s future Andy decides to crack the whip. That approach backfires. This is the final appearance of Barney Fife as a regular cast member, although he does visit a few times in later seasons. It’s funny how things have changed over the decades. Today when a star departs a TV show we know about it well in advance, the exodus is written into the script, and a big deal is made about the whole thing. But when Barney Fife…one of the most beloved characters in television history…left TAGS he was just there one day and gone the next, with nary a mention of where he went.

 

 

155   Floyd the Gay Deceiver    (S3E9)

Floyd has pretended to be a rich entrepreneur in letters to a wealthy widowed pen pal, but when she suddenly decides to visit Mayberry the lonely tags5barber has to live up to the ruse. For some reason Andy, normally a man of steadfast integrity, decides to help in the deception and as usual in these situations things don’t go smoothly. In an interesting twist it turns out that the woman is lying as well. Remember kids…honesty is the best policy.

 

 

154   Goober Takes a Car Apart          (S5E17)

Andy has to go out of town. Barney is out of town as well. Someone has to man the courthouse, and the only person available is Goober, who proceeds to inexplicably dismantle a car and reassemble it inside the building. Goober-centric episodes don’t usually frost my cupcake. There is a reason Gomer got a spinoff and Goober didn’t.

 

 

153   A Medal for Opie        (S2E19)

Opie signs up for the 50 yard dash at the annual Sheriff’s Day event and fantasizes about winning a medal, but when he comes in last he doesn’t take ittags6 well…at all. Opie is usually a cute, easygoing, good kid, but here he morphs into a petulant brat. Of course Andy steps in to teach the lad about good sportsmanship and being an honorable loser. There is some fun interaction between Opie and Barney, who volunteers to be a coach/trainer.

 

 

152   Stranger in Town       (S1E12)

Citizens of Mayberry become suspicious of a new arrival from NY City who seems to know everything about them. It turns out that he had an Army buddy from Mayberry and fell in love with it thru the stories he was told by that friend. When an angry mob confronts the stranger it is Andy who steps in and gives the situation a positive spin. We meet barber Floyd Lawson in this episode, although he is portrayed by a different actor than the one who would become synonymous with the character. It’s funny that even a half-century ago the stranger’s peculiar tactics of ingratiating himself into Mayberry were met with distrust. Heck, nowadays the dude might get beat up or worse.

 

 

151   My Fair Ernest T. Bass                (S4E17)

After wild & crazy Ernest T. Bass causes a disturbance at a social gathering Andy decides to turn him into a sophisticated gentleman and pass him off ernestt1as an out of town relative at the same weekly party he’d interrupted previously. This is where Ernest T. meets his sweet Romeena, the girl he would talk incessantly about in two later TAGS appearances. The episode is just fine, although regular characters like Opie, Aunt Bea, Floyd, Goober, & Otis are MIA. I don’t know…I can’t really articulate a reason, but Ernest T. Bass tends to annoy me rather than make me laugh.

 

 

150   Cousin Virgil     (S2E30)

Barney’s bumbling cousin Virgil from New Jersey visits Mayberry and inadvertently causes havoc at every turn. Of course it’s up to Andy to give a virgilboost to the young man’s confidence, something he does multiple times over the years for Barney. Amusing, yet for some reason I find Virgil to be one of the more annoying guests to ever visit Mayberry. I think it’s his perpetual creepy smile.

 

 

149   The Family Visit                  (S5E3)

Aunt Bea’s sister, obnoxious brother-in-law, & their bratty kids come for a visit. They annoy Andy tremendously until he finds a way to get them to leave. There’s no Barney in this episode, which is a shame. It’s a prime example of how easygoing, friendly, understanding Andy began to become more easily irritated in later seasons.

 

 

148   The Jinx   (S2E17)

Andy tries to help Mayberry resident Henry Bennett end his apparent bad luck and convince him that he is not hexed, as Barney, Floyd, & others jinxbelieve. Unfortunately plans backfire…twice. It’s up to Andy to talk Henry out of leaving town.

 

 

147   Barney Runs for Sheriff     (S5E21)

Andy is pretty sure he’s getting a big city corporate gig so he encourages Barney to file election papers to run for Sheriff while leaving his own name off the ballot. However, Andy’s job falls thru, so everyone agrees to support a write-in campaign for him. The problem is that Barney ends up feeling embarrassed & overlooked. Eventually all’s well that ends well, but for a bit things are a little testy between Andy & Barney, and that’s just not much fun. Politics & TAGS don’t mix well.

 

 

146   The Perfect Female   (S2E8)

Barney & Thelma Lou fix Andy up with Thelma Lou’s visiting cousin from Arkansas. The pair hit it off, but Barney screws things up with his big tags7mouth. The young lady, who unbeknownst to the guys is a champion shooter, decides to use her skills to prove a point to Andy. The rather old-fashioned sentiments espoused by Andy & Barney might come across as a bit misogynistic to modern viewers.

 

 

145   Opie and the Carnival                  (S5E31)

Opie tries to win a birthday present for Andy at a carnival, unaware that the shooting gallery is rigged. Andy figures out the deception and persuades the carnies that it’d be in their best interest if Opie wins the prize he desires. This is the first episode after the departure of Don Knotts as Barney, although his absence is never mentioned.

 

 

144   Guest of Honor                    (S2E21)

A pickpocket is ironically made the random “guest of honor” in Mayberry, a harebrained idea conceived as a way to celebrate Founder’s Day. They even have a parade and give the guy the key to the city. One of the great charms of TAGS is the kindhearted & guileless townsfolk of Mayberry, but sometimes they go a bit overboard and are portrayed as clueless rubes. There is a really funny scene where Barney is “training” a few emergency deputies (including Floyd the Barber). Anytime the word “mollycoddling” makes it into the script it’s a good thing.

 

 

143   Opie Loves Helen      (S5E1)

Unbeknownst to Andy or anyone else Opie develops a crush on Helen. Aunt Bea is nowhere around for some reason. I suppose it isn’t unusual for kidstags8 to crush on an adult. It’s probably even fairly common for students to crush on a teacher. But when that teacher is dating the child’s father and is the boy’s future stepmother it’s a little strange, especially when he gifts her a pair of pantyhose. There are some good interactions between Opie & Andy and Opie & Barney in this episode.

 

 

142   Bargain Day      (S4E24)

Aunt Bea buys a side of beef at a discount market but her back porch freezer is old & shaky. When it breaks down she is hesitant to call a repairman in Mount Pilot, despite repeated pleas from Andy to do so. Aunt Bea eventually has to go to her regular grocery store and sheepishly ask if the owner will store the meat until her freezer is repaired. Of course this being Mayberry the grocer happily helps her out. There’s some funny stuff here from Andy & Gomer.

 

 

141   Guest in the House   (S5E24)    

When a rather attractive family friend comes to visit the Taylors after a recent breakup Helen becomes jealous of the young lady. Andy eventually reunites his friend with her fiancée. Jealousy isn’t a good look for Helen Crump. No Barney in this episode. The actress who plays Gloria (the visiting friend) is absolutely beautiful. I’m surprised she never became a big star.

 

 

140   Opie and the Spoiled Kid  (S3E21)

Opie’s manipulative, spoiled, obnoxious, disrespectful pal Arnold convinces him that he shouldn’t have to work for his allowance. Unfortunately for tags9Opie the tricks Arnold teaches him don’t work at all on Andy.

 

 

139   Aunt Bea’s Romance                   (S5E5)

Aunt Bea rekindles her romance with an insufferable former flame who is passing thru Mayberry. He’s a know-it-all who rogerthinks he’s hilarious when in reality he’s not funny at all. Andy & Opie quickly tire of the dude’s shtick. When he hints that he needs money or else he might just marry Aunt Bea and move in Andy doesn’t fall for it and the guy leaves town. TAGS has a bit of an obsession with the idea of Aunt Bea as an eligible bachelorette just waiting for the right mate to come along, which is odd since she’s a frumpy old maid two or three decades past her prime. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.

 

 

138   The Education of Ernest T. Bass                  (S5E4)

Ernest T. Bass comes back to town seeking an education at the request of his sweet Romeena. Andy talks Helen into letting the crazy mountain man sit in on her classes, but he becomes a major nuisance. After Helen gets angry with him and smacks him with a ruler he falls in love with her…some kind of weird Oedipal thing. Andy devises a way to satisfy Ernest T. by having Helen administer a “test” that he’ll pass and then receive a “diploma”. Barney has some fun moments in this episode.

 

 

137  A Deal Is a Deal                    (S4E26)

Opie & his buddies get involved in a scam selling worthless “miracle” salve. Barney & Gomer head to Mount Pilot to check out the situation at the company that produces the stuff. Hilarity ensues. Barney & Gomer are obviously funny on an individual basis, but the two of them together is classic.

 

 

136    Andy and the Woman Speeder          (S2E3)

Andy gives a woman passing thru Mayberry a ticket for speeding. She refuses to pay the fine and is held in the jail pending trial. Female prisoners are tags10rare in Mayberry, and Andy indicates that by law a female prisoner must have a matron (a plot device used only this one time). Enter Aunt Bea. The episode is amusing, but it’s one that feels antiquated in its views on women.

 

 

135   The Christmas Story          (S1E11)

Storeowner Ben Weaver is the town Scrooge, forcing Andy to arrest Sam Muggins on Christmas Eve for tags11making moonshine. But Andy makes lemonade out of lemons and helps the entire Muggins family have a delightful holiday. Mr. Weaver has a Dickensian change of heart and joins in the merriment. Oddly enough this is the only Christmas themed episode in TAGS’ eight seasons.

 

 

134   Opie’s Ill-Gotten Gain                   (S4E8)

Everyone is pleasantly surprised when Opie gets straight A’s on his report card. Andy & Aunt Bea are beaming with pride and reward the boy with a brand new bicycle. Unfortunately the teacher…Miss Helen Crump…made a mistake when tallying the grades (another reason to dislike Helen). Opie actually earned an F in math!! Rather than disappoint his father the boy runs away from home, but he doesn’t get very far before Andy catches up to him and reassures him that he is proud of him no matter what. There’s a really funny scene where Barney claims to remember the preamble to The Constitution that he learned in grade school, but Andy has to hilariously walk him thru it word-by-word.

 

 

133   The Case of the Punch in the Nose    (S5E25)

While looking at old files Barney comes across an unsolved assault case from two decades earlier involving Floyd and a local grocer. Rather than let the matter rest Barney stirs the pot, causing the situation to escalate into a serious quarrel. Anytime Barney goes overboard…which is often…it’s pretty funny.

 

 

132   Andy and the Gentleman Crook         (S1E21)

An infamous con man being held temporarily in the Mayberry jail charms just about everyone but Andy. They all learn their lesson when the criminal takes advantage of their kindness and tries to escape. There is some fun interaction between Andy & Opie, Barney accidentally fires his gun in the courthouse (a joke repeated multiple times thru the series), & we learn that Barney’s gun usually has no bullets and he carries one single bullet in his shirt pocket.

 

 

131   Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.                  (S4E32)

In this backdoor pilot for a Gomer Pyle spinoff Gomer enlists in the Marines and Andy tags along to boot camp to help the transition go smoothly. It’s gomer1not that there isn’t some funny stuff here, it’s just that it doesn’t really feel like an episode of TAGS.

 

 

 

 

 

I think this might be a good place to pause for now. Stay tuned.

80’s Movie Mania: Radical Round 2

Today we finish up second round action for 80’s Movie Mania. Please feel free to go back and check out Round 2 results for the Gnarly, Tubular, & Bodacious Divisions. I haven’t been posting polls much lately because it seems like an exercise in futility. Maybe someday I’ll figure out what I’m doing wrong, but until then we’ll just forge ahead. As always feedback is appreciated. Tell your friends & family about the site. Let’s grow The Manoverse into a force to be reckoned with in the blogosphere!!

 

 

 

 

Radical 2

 

Rain Man   vs.     Night Shift

More Tom Cruise?? Yep, I’m afraid so. In 1988’s Rain Man Cruise plays Charlie, a down-on-his-luck NightShift-Still2shyster whose estranged father dies and leaves him nothing but an old car and some rose bushes. The old man left millions of dollars to an older brother that Charlie didn’t even know existed. That brother, Ray (in an Oscar winning performance by Dustin Hoffman), is an autistic savant residing in a mental institution. Charlie impulsively decides to take Ray away from the facility and get legal custody thereby gaining access to the inheritance. The ensuing road trip is full of fun & poignant moments as the two brothers bond and Charlie matures. Rain Man not only got Hoffman his second Oscar but also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Original Screenplay. Night Shift defeated Fletch in Round 1. It ranked 36th at the box office in 1982, behind clunkers that no one remembers like Things Are Tough All Over, Best Friends, & The Dark Crystal, but ahead of notable competition including The Thing, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Diner, & Grease 2. It might be an overstatement to say that Night Shift launched the careers of Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, & Shelley Long, but it definitely counts as a prominent catalyst for them, especially the directorial trajectory of Howard and Keaton’s stellar filmography. Winkler’s portrayal of a character that is the polar opposite of Happy Days’ Fonzie showed his range even if he never became a huge movie star.

 

The Verdict:       Rain Man. The pedigree cannot be denied, and unlike many Best Picture winners it is the kind of lighthearted popcorn flick one can enjoy anytime it may pop up on television.

 

 

 

 

This Is Spinal Tap       vs.     Flight of the Navigator

After receiving a first round bye the ultimate mockumentary makes its Mania debut. Presented as a faux documentary of a supposedly real rock band, 1984’s Spinal Tap is a satirical look inside the zany world of rock n’ roll. It stars Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley’s Lenny Kosnowski), Harry Shearer (the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, & others on The Simpsons), & Christopher Guest (the real life husband of Jamie Lee Curtis) as members of a goofy British band that sings songs like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, & Gimme Some Money. Written & directed by Rob Reiner, the movie features cameos & early screen appearances by stars like Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Fran Drescher, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer, & Anjelica Huston and contains many memorable scenes & quotable lines. Actual rock stars like Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, U2’s Edge, & Dave Grohl allegedly love the film and praise its accuracy. Flight of the Navigator upset The Goonies in Round 1. I can be a rebel on occasion. Navigator ranked a lowly 48th at the box office in 1986, behind idiocy like Friday the 13thnavigator Part 6, Wildcats, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, & The Golden Child (a film that nearly killed the career of Eddie Murphy). However it did fare better than decent flicks like Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Best of Times, 9 ½ Weeks, Highlander, & Maximum Overdrive. A quick look back reveals that Flight of the Navigator was released in early August of 1986 and faced stiff competition from summer blockbusters Aliens and The Fly as well as 80’s mainstay Stand By Me.

 

The Verdict:       This Is Spinal Tap. I adore the whole mockumentary genre, and this is the one that started it all. Great characters, well-written script, superb cast, fun cameos…there’s a whole lot to appreciate here.

 

 

 

 

Wall Street           vs.     Revenge of the Nerds

wallstreet2_560Michael Douglas, son of legendary 20th century actor Kirk Douglas, has had a fine career. He co-starred with Karl Malden in the 1970’s TV cop show The Streets of San Francisco. He won an Oscar for producing 1975 Best Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s starred in notable films like Basic Instinct, The China Syndrome, & Falling Down. But he reached the pinnacle in 1987 with his portrayal of Gordon Gekko, a dodgy business tycoon who famously opines that “greed is good”. Charlie Sheen is also along for the ride as an inexperienced but ambitious stockbroker who first admires Gekko before eventually turning against him. The world of stocks, bonds, & corporate raiding is a tricky one to translate to film, but Wall Street pulls it off, keeping things accessible to the viewer and creating a level of suspense, intrigue, & drama normally reserved for more action based movies. Revenge of the Nerds defeated Twins in the first round. It was the 16th highest grossing movie of 1984, behind hits like Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Footloose, & Thenerds2 Karate Kid, but besting pretty solid competition, stuff like The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, & Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Well okay, that last one sucked, but I had to sneak it in somewhere because thirty years later the title, as well as the concept of break dancing in general, cracks me up. The powers-that-be squeezed all they could out of Nerds, with three sequels in the course of the following decade. The original still pops up on TV occasionally and is always good for a few chuckles.

 

The Verdict:       Wall Street. Gordon Gekko may be one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of cinema. He has become the icon of a certain fragment in time, a symbol of arrogance, materialism, & yes…greed.

 

 

 

 

Splash       vs.     The Naked Gun

splashEveryone remembers Ron Howard when he was a little kid starring as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, and then as a teenager playing Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. However, Howard knew from an early age that he wanted to become a director. He left Happy Days after its 7th season to concentrate on directing and has strung together an impressive list of well-received & entertaining hits. One of his early triumphs is 1984’s Splash, about a NY City businessman who falls in love with a mermaid. The cast includes Tom Hanks (in his breakout role), Daryl Hannah, John Candy, & Eugene Levy. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1984 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. The Naked Gun beat out Dragnet in Round 1. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1988, behind really good films like Rain Man, Big, Coming to America, & Die Hard, but besting some pretty good flicks like Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Alright, I’m joking again about that last one, Anyway, as far as the parody/spoof genre goes The Naked Gun would be on its Mount Rushmore…if such a thing existed.

 

The Verdict:       The Naked Gun. I suppose this is kind of an upset. Splash is definitely the more critically acclaimed film, and with names like Howard, Hanks, & Candy its pedigree is indisputable. However, one of the benchmarks I hold in highest esteem is repeat viewings, and I don’t think I’ve seen Splash in atleast 20 years. It’s just not shown on television that much for some reason. And to be honest if it were on but The Naked Gun was also on at the same time I have a feeling I’d choose the latter. Splash is mostly remembered as a springboard for the careers of Howard & Hanks (who have both done better work in the ensuing years), not necessarily for the movie itself. Meanwhile, The Naked Gun epitomizes an entire category of films and is just plain old funny. Poor Tom Hanks…beaten by Leslie Nielsen & OJ Simpson two rounds in a row.

 

 

 

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial    vs.     Sixteen Candles

One of the earliest moviegoing experiences I remember is going to see Coal Miner’s Daughter at the sixteendrive-in with my parents & sister, which was likely sometime during the summer of 1980 or 81 when I was 8 or 9 years old. The other experience I remember is going to see E.T.. Our local mall opened in 1982, the same year that E.T. was in theaters, and it was there that I saw it. Produced & directed by the incomparable Steven Spielberg, E.T. tells the story of a cute, friendly little alien botanist who is inadvertently left behind by his compatriots when their peaceful mission to collect samples of Earth plant life is interrupted by government agents. E.T. is discovered by a 10 year old boy named Elliot, and eventually his younger sister Gertie (a 5 year old Drew Barrymore in one of her earliest roles) and older brother Michael. The kids decide to keep E.T.’s existence a secret from their mother and formulate a plan to help the alien get home to his own world. Drama ensues. E.T. quickly overtook Star Wars as the highest grossing film of all time and held that title for over a decade. To this day it is still in the Top 10 on that list when the numbers are adjusted for inflation. It won four Academy Awards, though it lost Best Picture to Gandhi. Sixteen Candles got the decision over Red Dawn in Round 1. It ranked a humble 44th at the box office in 1984, behind head scratchers like Cannonball Run II, City Heat, All of Me, & Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. But hey, it beat horror classic Children of the Corn, so that’s…something. I guess America hadn’t gotten the John Hughes/Brat Pack memo quite yet.

 

The Verdict:       E.T.. I’m going to contradict myself. It’s probably been even longer since I’ve watched E.T. than Splash. In that time I’ve seen Sixteen Candles plenty of times. I was initially prepared to hand Sixteen Candles the upset victory, but I just can’t pull the trigger. E.T. was the highest grossing movie OF ALL TIME for 11 years!! How do I overlook that?? This is a great example of why Manoverse participation would be helpful. I’d love to take the temperature of the masses, but I have no faith that delaying the decision with a poll would accomplish anything.

 

 

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High     vs.     Spaceballs

fast2Fast Times beat Brighton Beach Memoirs in Round 1. It was the 29th ranked film at the box office in 1982, space2behind classics like Poltergeist & First Blood as well as not so great movies like The Toy, Young Doctors in Love, and The Sword & The Sorcerer. The good news is that it did better than some impressive competition like Pink Floyd: The Wall and re-issues of The Empire Strikes Back, Bambi, & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fast Times isn’t the kind of movie that wins awards, but it meant something to those of a certain age. I’m not sure how modern teens view it…if it speaks to them on some level or seems completely lame & outdated. I really hope it is the former rather than the latter. Spaceballs won a tossup over Summer School in Round 1. It ranked 31st at the 1987 box office. One would think a Star Wars parody might do better, but atleast it bested solid competition like The Lost Boys, Can’t Buy Me Love, Raising Arizona, Some Kind of Wonderful, & Over the Top. A sequel would seem to write itself, but for some reason it just never happened.

 

The Verdict:       Fast Times. Easy call. Spaceballs is a great parody film, but it isn’t better than an archetypal 80’s film that helped define the decade and an entire generation.