90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 1

So what exactly are we trying to accomplish here?? Are we seeking the best movie of the 1990s?? Not really. Are we looking for my favorite movie?? Well, yes and no. Is this about zeroing in on the signature film of the 90’s that most represents the decade?? That would be ideal but I’m not sure it’s possible. I suppose I am ultimately looking to “have my cake and eat it too”. It has always fascinated me that movies that make a ton of money are oftentimes loud, obnoxious, unintelligible games of chicken in which studios spend mind blowing amounts of cash and directors have fun with impressive technological toys all to tell a story that makes no sense, has no intellectual or emotional resonance, & people rush to theaters to see but forget about ten minutes after it’s over. Meanwhile, critics like to heap praise on erudite, pretentious snoozefests that Joe Sixpack in flyover country has no interest in seeing. Can a movie be successful critically AND commercially?? The 1970’s produced several such films: Jaws, The Godfather, Star Wars, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Apocalypse Now, All the President’s Men, & Young Frankenstein all spring to mind as being both popular and acclaimed. I’m okay with liking “bad” films…we all have our guilty pleasures. However, for the purposes of this competition what we are hoping to find are good movies that normal folks like you & me actually enjoy.

 

If you have not checked out first round action in the Fly and Phat divisions please do so, but for now we move forward. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Swingers

Release:                       10/18/96

Starring:                        Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn

Directed By:                 Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

vs.

Batman & Robin

Release:                       6/20/97

Starring:                        George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone

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

 

One may make an assumption that Batman & Robin is included in this competition for the same reason films like Showgirls & Very Bad Things have been thrown a bone…because they are so dreadful that their sheer awfulness prompted a level of negative buzz that warrants discussion (kind of like how Cabbage Patch Dolls were considered so ugly they’re cute). That is partially true. However, as a huge fan of all things Batman I must also opine that it’s not really as bad of a movie as many seem to think. In 1995 Joel Schumacher took the reins of the franchise after Tim Burton was asked to step back from the director’s chair because the studio wasn’t happy with the box office for Batman Returns in 1992. Schumacher had already done St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, & the John Grisham adaptation The Client, so there was reason to believe that he wasn’t a decent choice, and 1995’s Batman Forever did little to dissuade that notion. But then, after Val Kilmer decided not to reprise his one stint as The Caped Crusader for various reasons, George Clooney got the job. Clooney was still doing the TV show ER but had begun his movie career as well. Schumacher wanted to pay homage to the kitschy 1960’s Batman television show, so he decided the tone of his films would be more colorful & humorous than its predecessors, and though no one seemed to have much of an issue with the more cartoonish vibe of Batman Forever, it seems to be a point of contention when it comes to Batman & Robin. On paper the cast is top notch…Clooney, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, Silverstone…but critically it bombed & commercially didn’t fare as well as the previous films in the series. I remember seeing it in the theater with my best buddy Greg and thinking that it was aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses. However, when watching Batman & Robin on video…in the comfort of one’s own home where you can control the volume & the lighting…it’s much more palatable. In hindsight the movie suffered from comparisons with its forerunners, and as the fourth film in a series with two directors and three leading men there was a lack of stability that fans found unsettling. In a game of “One of These Things Isn’t Like the Others” it sticks out like a sore thumb…but on its own merits it is harmless cinematic fluff that is acceptably entertaining. Swingers was written by Jon Favreau, and was the first starring role for both he & Vaughn. The plot isn’t necessarily as important as the vibe, with the story revolving around a group of underemployed actors in 1990’s Los Angeles, a period when 60’s era swing music was experiencing a revival. The soundtrack is top notch, with tunes from the likes of Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bobby Darin, & Sammy Davis Jr. There is a portion of the film that takes place in Las Vegas, and y’all know that tickles my fancy. Swingers isn’t a thought-provoking masterpiece that will cause one to ponder deep & philosophical questions of life, but it oozes cool and is quite quotable. Critic Roger Ebert called it “sweet, funny, observant, & goofy”, and I concur.

 

The Verdict:       Swingers. Batman & Robin has a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was the 12th highest grossing film of 1997, although it must be noted that it is the least successful of any Batman film ever produced. When compared to 1989’s Batman ($250 million), 1992’s Batman Returns ($163 million), and 1995’s Batman Forever ($184 million), Batman & Robin’s $107 million is the very definition of The Law of Diminishing Returns. The franchise probably should have been given a rest after Forever, especially when faced with casting & creative changes. The viewing public obviously had Gotham City fatigue, and the absolute mauling given to the film by critics certainly didn’t help. Swingers has an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score, and ranked 155th at the box office in 1996. However, given the fact that it made $4.5 million on a $200k budget and its cast was a bunch of unknowns at the time the financial situation is relative. The film has become a cult favorite and its cast all went on to varying degrees of fame & success. It is a simple case of expectations vs. reality. Hollywood continues to make the mistake of giving huge budgets to movies with mega stars, dazzling effects, & over-the-top plots, when oftentimes it is a small budget, obscure but talented performers, & a well-written story that stands the test of time.

 

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Father of the Bride Part II

Release:                       12/8/95

Starring:                        Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, Kimberly Williams

Directed By:                 Charles Shyer (Baby Boom,          I Love Trouble)

vs.

What About Bob?

Release:                       5/17/91

Starring:                        Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss

Directed By:                 Frank Oz (The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

 

FotB 2 is a remake of a sequel from 1951 called Father’s Little Dividend starring Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor, and a sequel to 1991’s Father of the Bride. Martin returns as the titular father who must deal with the concurrent pregnancies of his daughter and middle-aged wife. Martin Short is given a bigger role in the sequel after an amusing turn as an eccentric wedding planner in the first film. FotB 2 ranked 17th at the box office in 1995, ahead of some well-regarded movies like Braveheart, Clueless, Casino, Dead Man Walking, The Usual Suspects, & Leaving Las Vegas. It holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critic Roger Ebert opining “movies like this butter us up so well that we’d feel like a grouch criticizing them”, adding that the movie is “warm & fuzzy, and has some good laughs & a lot of sweetness” before concluding that “I had the unmistakable feeling, toward the end of this film, that they may be reaching the end of this particular road and that there may be new horizons to investigate”. Other critics said things like “Short is trotted back out for more of his mincing shtick…a pretty feeble way to keep his character in the story”, “starts off weak but finishes strong…wacky & weepy, silly & sweet”, and “the strengths of these films are not so much laughs as sincerity & heart”. What About Bob? is a dark comedy about a psychiatric patient who stalks his therapist on vacation and befriends the doctor’s family, which upsets the arrogant shrink to the point that he becomes unhinged & ends up in a catatonic state. Bill Murray apparently doesn’t work & play well with others in real life, and nearly two decades after the film was released Richard Dreyfuss said of Murray “Terribly unpleasant experience. We didn’t get along, me and Bill Murray, but I’ve got to give it to him…I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.”, which kind of sums up my feelings about Murray. I’m not a huge fan, but I give credit where it is due in that he is a talented actor who has been in some memorable movies. I’m just not sure that What About Bob? is one of them. It was the 19th highest grossing film of 1991 and holds an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Washington Post  proclaiming it “one comic session strung to feature-length breaking point”, while Entertainment Weekly states that it “begins as a rambunctious satire…but turns into little more than a pleasant one-joke movie.”

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride Part II. Several years ago I had a co-worker who enjoyed sour candies like Skittles, Lemon Heads, & Sweet Tarts, while I am all about chocolate. I am reminded of that comparison now because some folks like edgy, dark, cynical entertainment, while others…like yours truly…prefer what I call “comfort food cinema” that leans heavily toward sentiment, a few good laughs, a pleasant cast, & a low-key vibe. I suppose it also comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of Murray, Dreyfuss, Martin, or Short. I gravitate toward the latter duo.

 

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Lethal Weapon 3

Release:                       5/15/92

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joes Pesci, Rene Russo

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

vs.

Airheads

Release:                       8/5/94

Starring:                        Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Joe Mantegna

Directed By:                 Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk)

 

The only issue I have with the Lethal Weapon series is that it is easy to get the plots confused. They all star Mel Gibson & Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched cops fighting nefarious criminals, with the latter two films adding Rene Russo as a love interest for Gibson and 2, 3, & 4 having Joe Pesci as an annoying reformed criminal. In the third installment Riggs & Murtaugh track down a dirty cop who has become an arms dealer. A subplot involves the budding romance between Riggs and internal affairs officer Lorna Cole. LW3 was the fourth highest grossing film of 1992 and had the best box office of any film in the series. It has a 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert opining that “we miss the sense of invention that brightened the earlier movies…this one falls back on experience & craftsmanship”, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling the film “mediocrity wielded by experts”. Those are fair assessments in that we don’t necessarily keep going back to series like Lethal Weapon for innovative storytelling or fresh ideas…we have developed a deep fondness for familiar characters and the actors who portray them. Airheads is an example of the earlier work of guys like Sandler, Buscemi, Fraser, & Mantegna. It is a mildly entertaining tale about an unsuccessful garage band who takes an L.A. radio station hostage in an effort to get their demo tape played. It has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and ranked 138th at the box office in 1994, which was atleast better than something called Spanking the Monkey.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 3. I’m not usually a buddy/cop movie kinda guy, but I adore the Lethal Weapon series. Airheads is a fun little movie, but there’s really no competition here.

 

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Man on the Moon

Release:                       12/22/99

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti

Directed By:                 Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus)

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

Release:                       7/9/93

Starring:                        Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Wolfgang Petersen (The NeverEnding Story, The Perfect Storm)

 

I love a good biopic. Let’s face it…if a movie is being made about a person’s life story it is a fair assumption that the person & their life was noteworthy and/or interesting. Whether the movie tickles one’s fancy largely depends on the level of curiosity about the subject, and I am old enough to have some degree of fascination with Andy Kaufmann. I am not a big Jim Carrey fan, but do recognize that he has a fair amount of talent when given the right material. Man on the Moon derives its title from a 1992 song by alt-rock band REM that was written as a tribute to Kaufman. The movie follows Kaufman’s rise from struggling night club act to infamous sitcom star thru his death from cancer at age 35. There are some questionable decisions made (like the cast of the sitcom Taxi portraying their 1970’s selves fifteen years later) that negatively impact one’s overall impression of the film, but praise for Carrey’s performance as Kaufman is nearly universal, to the point that he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the Line of Fire is a criminally underappreciated movie about a guilt ridden Secret Service agent whose failure to save JFK’s life has messed with him for three decades. The agent gets another chance when a deranged former CIA assassin threatens the current President. The conclusion is somewhat predictable, but the ride getting there is lots of fun. I’ve never been a bigtime Eastwood fan simply because he typically stars in westerns & cop films that aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but for some reason I find this particular movie compelling.

 

The Verdict:       In the Line of Fire. Rotten Tomatoes scores Man on the Moon at 63% and it was the 58th highest grossing film of 1999, which seems far too low for an Andy Kaufman biopic starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time. Movies like Stuart Little, the god awful Wild Wild West with Will Smith, & Deuce Bigelow: Male Jiggolo did better at the box office. In the Line of Fire was the 7th highest grossing film of 1993 and has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t help but wonder if Man on the Moon was a huge missed opportunity that might have fared better with a better script and a different director.

 

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Grumpier Old Men

Release:                       12/22/95

Starring:                        Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Sophia Loren, Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ann Margret

Directed By:                 Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful)

vs.

Fools Rush In

Release:                       2/14/97

Starring:                        Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek

Directed By:                 Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch)

 

I think we’ve established the fact that I have a type. If I am in vegg mode and doing some couch potatoing on a lazy afternoon I gravitate toward breezy comedies with pleasant characters and a charming plot. That’s my jam and I’m not sorry. Grumpier Old Men is a follow-up to the 1993 original and finds our two favorite cantankerous geezers resuming hostilities in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. Things have calmed down between John Gustafson & Max Goldman, with John now happily married to Ariel (who moved into the neighborhood in the first film) and the two men’s offspring…Gustafson’s daughter Melanie and Goldman’s son Jacob…set to get married. But an alluring Italian divorcee moves into the neighborhood and all hell hilariously breaks loose once again. The cast is terrific, proof that not everyone has to be a gorgeous 20something for a movie to be good. Old-timer Burgess Meredith is the unsung hero once again, stealing the show at 87 years of age. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1995 but only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. By 1997 hit TV show Friends was only in its fourth season (not even halfway thru its decade long run) but the cast was already beginning feature film careers. Matthew Perry’s first leading man role was Fools Rush In, about a NY City architect who has a one night stand in Vegas while he is there supervising the construction of a night club. The vivacious young lady shows up at his door a few months later with a bun in the oven, and simply wants to introduce him to her close-knit & very traditional Mexican family so that when she breaks the news about her pregnancy she’ll be able to tell them they’ve met the baby’s father. The city boy is enchanted by the beautiful woman and her family ties, and in short order the two have a quickie wedding and move in together. Of course the culture clash is inevitable, especially when his snooty parents show up, and as tends to happen in rom-coms the couple fight, break up, & eventually reunite just in time to welcome their child into the world. It’s all very sweet & predictable, but I’m okay with that. Fools Rush In was the 70th highest grossing film of 1997 and has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

The Verdict:       Grumpier Old Men. This is a tough choice because I really like both movies, even though critics didn’t. Our old pal Ebert called Grumpier Old Men “a big-screen sitcom”, opining that “I would love to see this material transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs”. I am intrigued by that insightful comment, because of course two+ decades later isn’t that what eventually happens to a lot of movies anyway?? Think about it. We go to the local cineplex to watch loud, visually stimulating, effects laden action flicks that provide us with a momentary jolt of adrenaline…but decades later when we’re chillin’ out & flipping thru the channels what kinds of movies stand the test of time and provide a measure of jovial comfort on dreary & tedious days when we need that sort of cozy contentment?? Oftentimes it is exactly the kind of “big screen sitcom” that Ebert describes that has been “transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs” just as he suggested. He was a man ahead of his time. Of Fools Rush In Ebert said “it is a sweet, entertaining retread of an ancient formula, in which opposites attract despite all the forces arrayed to push them apart”, and “Yes, the movie is a cornball romance. Yes, it manufactures a lot of standard plot twists. But there is also a level of observation and human comedy”. It feels wrong that either film has to be eliminated at this point, but Grumpier Old Men has the edge in repeat viewings & legendary movie stars.

 

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Galaxy Quest

Release:                       12/25/99

Starring:                        Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman

Directed By:                 Dean Parisot (Home Fries, Red 2)

vs.

The Bodyguard

Release:                       11/25/92

Starring:                        Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner

Directed By:                 Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Volcano)

 

Galaxy Quest works on multiple levels. It’s a comedy. It’s a sci-fi adventure. And it is a spoof. Allen, Weaver, Rickman, et al portray the cast of a Star Trek-esque TV show that was cancelled long ago but still has a community of hardcore fans that hold conventions & such, many of which the actors attend because they’ve been typecast and aren’t able to make any kind of money otherwise. The “captain” still basks in the glow of his small slice of fame, but the rest of the crew is really just over the whole deal. But then a strange thing happens…they find themselves caught up in an actual outer space adventure when a well-meaning group of aliens mistakenly believes the TV show to be real life and thinks the crew can save their species…or something like that. I suspect that Trekkies & other sci-fi nerds are the only audience that can truly appreciate everything Galaxy Quest has to offer, but perhaps those who just enjoy good popcorn cinema are entertained by it as well. The Bodyguard was a big deal back in 1992 because Whitney Houston was at the top of the music charts and was transitioning into acting with her first film role. Houston portrays a famous singer (not much of a stretch) who gains a former Secret Service agent as a bodyguard after being nominated for an Academy Award and being sent death threats by a mysterious stalker. Unsurprisingly the singer & the bodyguard fall for each other, and naturally the audience loves it because of the undeniable charm and chemistry of Houston & Costner. The Bodyguard has a little something for everyone…mystery, suspense, action, romance, drama…and gave us what…to my knowledge…is still the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.

 

The Verdict:       Galaxy Quest. This one is tricky. Ideally I’d put it up for a vote from The Manoverse, but that doesn’t seem to work for me so I’ll make the tough choice. The Bodyguard was the 7th highest grossing film of 1992, behind the likes of Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of competition such as Wayne’s World, Unforgiven, & White Men Can’t Jump. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with our old pal Roger Ebert opining “the basic situation is intriguing enough to sustain a film all by itself”, but adding that he “felt a little cheated by the outcome”. Other critics were less generous. TV Guide called it “a dreary, turgid melodrama”, while Entertainment Weekly said “it is an outrageous piece of saccharine kitsch…or, atleast it might have been had the movie seemed fully awake.” Ouch. Galaxy Quest was the 30th highest grossing film of 1999, beating out notables like The Thomas Crown Affair, Eyes Wide Shut, Varsity Blues, & Fight Club. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at an impressive 90%, with the Associated Press calling it “alot of wacky fun” and Entertainment Weekly saying it is “a fast, loose, & very funny parody that pulls off the not-so-simple feat of tweaking Trekkies and honoring them, ribbing long-in-the-tooth actors and applauding them, bringing together Star Trek savants and those who couldn’t give a squat about dilithium crystals, and saying ‘See, there’s room on the final frontier for everyone.’” So what this boils down to is one movie that made a bunch of money but generally isn’t viewed as being very good versus a movie that didn’t make as much money but is well-regarded as being good at what it is supposed to be. All too often Hollywood seems to believe that they can take any old schlock and sell it to the masses as long as a big star or two or three is attached. And sadly much of the time they are right. I feel like The Bodyguard was successful because Whitney Houston was such an awesome singer and everybody likes Kevin Costner. That soundtrack that made a ton of money is mostly songs by Houston and probably would have been about as successful if it were just another one of her albums with no film attached, so I don’t think it should factor into the equation. As always I ask myself what I would watch if I were flipping thru the channels, and since I probably haven’t watched The Bodyguard since I saw it at the theater the answer is pretty clear.

 

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Speed

Release:                       6/10/94

Starring:                        Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Twister)

vs.

Dazed & Confused

Release:                       9/24/93

Starring:                        Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey

Directed By:                 Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Fast Food Nation)

 

Keanu Reeves first came into our pop culture consciousness in the late 1980’s as Valley Boy slacker Theodore Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But since one can’t portray dimwitted high schoolers forever he moved on to more serious roles in Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. And then came Speed. The thriller about a bus rigged with a bomb programmed to explode if it slows down below 50 mph thrust Reeves into superstardom and also introduced the world to Sandra Bullock. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1994 and has an exceptional 94% Rotten Tomatoes score. Dazed & Confused is a Hindsight Film, meaning that it has remained relevant in large part based on what several of its young stars went on to become…especially McConaughey & Affleck. The movie itself is a slice of life look at the last day of school for a bunch of high schoolers in Austin, TX. It is set in 1976 so there is a lot of pot smoking, cruising, & hazing of younger students…things that wouldn’t fly in our modern PC purgatory, and had even diminished by the late 80’s when I was in high school. Dazed & Confused isn’t as much about a particular plot as it is about capturing a mood and painting a picture of an era, which it does really well. The cast is…obviously…stellar, and the soundtrack (featuring songs by Foghat, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, & Black Sabbath) is terrific. It was only the 121st highest grossing film of 1993 but has become a cult classic in the ensuing years. It has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert referring to it as “art crossed with anthropology” and Rolling Stone calling it “the ultimate party movie…loud, crude, socially irresponsible, & totally irresistible”.

 

The Verdict:       Speed. I am hesitant to reward a film based largely on the fact that its casting director did a superb job of finding young unknowns who eventually became famous. Matthew McConaughey’s next project would be starring in A Time to Kill two years later and EdTV (a film ahead of its time) in 1999. Ben Affleck did a few decent films after Dazed & Confused, but in 1997 cemented his status by winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after writing Good Will Hunting with his pal Matt Damon. Dazed & Confused is a fun flick that does an excellent job of creating a snapshot of not just a moment in time but a time in life that just about everyone fondly remembers even if the details vary. Having said that, I cannot overlook the cultural impact of Speed. It was a surprise phenomenon that dominated the summer box office in 1994. Bullock had previously been in a couple of decent films (Love Potion No. 9 and Demolition Man), but Speed made her a star and she’s still making movies two decades later.

 

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The Addams Family

Release:                       11/22/91

Starring:                        Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci

Directed By:                 Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black, Wild Wild West)

vs.

 

Saving Private Ryan

Release:                       7/24/98

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston

Directed By:                 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)

 

The Addams Family made their debut in a series of cartoons published in The New Yorker beginning in 1938. In the 1960’s the kooky clan came to television for two seasons, and although the show was cancelled due to poor ratings it lived on in syndication, to the point that I was watching it as a kid growing up in the 80’s. The Addams Family finally came to the big screen in 1991 in a tale that finds a greedy lawyer & a con artist scheming to get ahold of the Addams fortune that is hidden deep in the bowels of their creepy mansion. The con artist’s son just happens to look like Gomez Addams’ brother Uncle Fester who has been MIA for 25 years, so there’s your plot. Hijinks ensue and of course the evil plan goes off the rails, all in the midst of the oddball family’s usual weirdness. The cast is superb, the movie is entertaining enough, and critics didn’t completely hate it. The Addams Family was the 7th high grossing film of 1991 and its Rotten Tomatoes score of 63% is fairly solid. The New York Times said that its “aimlessness & repetitiveness eventually become draining”, Variety opined that “despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures as a major disappointment”, and Ebert observed that “there are a lot of little smiles and many chuckles & grins, but they don’t add up to much”. Conversely, the Austin Chronicle gushed that “it’s hard to imagine a better screen adaptation of this queer household….Charles Addams would have been proud”, while the BBC complimented the cast, saying that it “elevates this film from flimsy to sheer delight”. Saving Private Ryan is a totally different kind of movie from its competition. It is a gritty & unflinching look at D-Day and its aftermath when a team of U.S. Army rangers are given the task of finding & rescuing Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have all been killed in the war making him the only son remaining. The mission isn’t easy and there is violence & death along the way. This is not a romantic, sanitized, family friendly war movie, though I don’t feel like it is gratuitous either…it’s just very very candid. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is poignant & impactful. Saving Private Ryan was the highest grossing film of 1998, has an amazing Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, & was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won five of those Oscars, including Spielberg’s second Best Director award. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Shakespeare in Love, which in retrospect might be the biggest travesty in award show history.

 

The Verdict:       Saving Private Ryan. I’ve got to be honest…I only watched Saving Private Ryan once twenty years ago and don’t have the desire to ever watch it again. That’s not because it’s a bad move (obviously), it’s just that on a lazy day of couch potatoing violent war films aren’t my thing. Having said that, I cannot in good conscience overlook it, not simply because of its pedigree but out of respect for the historical events that inspired the story. It goes without saying that Spielberg is terrific, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better or deeper cast in the entirety of cinema. It is a story that needed to be told, and thankfully it was told really well. The Addams Family is an innocuous & engaging comedy that actually got a sequel a few years later, though I must admit that I’ve never seen it. I am intrigued by an animated Addams movie set to be released in 2019, but all in all I am inclined to stick with reruns of the old TV show.

100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 2

I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.  –  Orson Welles

 

 

 

Welcome back!! If you haven’t checked out Part 1 yet please do. I think you’ll enjoy it.

As I’ve been working on this project I’ve been amazed just how varied & wide-ranging my television watching habits have been, and the span of time we are covering. I certainly have a preference for comedy and am an undeniable child of the 80’s, but have been fortunate to have been exposed to a wide variety of things in my lifetime. Syndication has helped me to appreciate programs that I may have otherwise been too young to have seen, and I can’t help but think about how kids growing up today have the advantage of streaming, which is cool on many levels. At any rate, we reach the halfway point today. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

75     The Castaways (Gilligan’s Island)

Gilligan’s Island is probably best remembered these days for its catchy theme song, but a funny show has to have more than that, right?? However, that tune does do a great job of introducing us to the group of folks who are aboard the SS Minnow for “a three hour tour” when they become shipwrecked on a remote Pacific island after a tropical storm. The eponymous Gilligan is the ship’s first mate, a bumbling screw-up (FYI…remember Jerry Van Dyke?? He also turned down the role of Gilligan. Oops.). Captain Jonas Grumby…simply known as The Skipper…served in the Navy with Gilligan, who once saved his life. The Skipper often becomes exasperated with the other castaways, especially Gilligan, but he’s also a good friend and big brother figure who affectionately calls Gilligan “Little Buddy”. Thurston Howell III & his wife Lovey are eccentric millionaires who hilariously try to retain their affluent lifestyle despite being stranded on an island. Ginger Grant is a famous movie star clearly based atleast somewhat on Marilyn Monroe. She insists on wearing expensive gowns at all times. Mary Ann Summers is a beautiful Kansas farm girl who won her “three hour tour” in a contest. She is the classic girl-next-door, much more practical & less haughty than Ginger. Professor Roy Hinkley…referred to as The Professor by the others…is a high school science teacher who joined the “three hour tour” to do research for a book about botany. He has a list of college degrees a mile long, and uses bamboo & coconuts to construct all kinds of creature comforts for the group…but can never come up with a way to get them rescued.

 

74     Denny Crane & Alan Shore (Boston Legal)

Boston Legal is an underrated dramedy that aired on ABC more than a decade ago. It was a spinoff of The Practice, which was another overlooked show. Two of the attorneys on Boston Legal are Denny Crane & Alan Shore. This was William Shatner’s big TV comeback after the 80’s cop show TJ Hooker, and James Spader’s initial foray into television after a mildly successful film career that included 80’s classics Pretty in Pink, Mannequin, Less Than Zero, Wall Street, and Sex, Lies, & Videotape. Denny Crane is a senior partner and a self-proclaimed legend in the legal profession. He’s also nuttier than a damn fruitcake, which he attributes to mad cow disease. He has questionable ethics, enjoys shooting a pistol in his office, and loves to say his own name. Alan Shore is a brilliant legal mind who, like his colleague, also has dubious ethical standards. He is neurotic and routinely finds himself in hot water for his unconventional courtroom antics. At the end of each episode Alan & Denny relax on the balcony outside of Denny’s office smoking cigars, drinking scotch, & discussing the events of the day. Alan & Denny are one of the most peculiar duos in television history, but despite the show winning its fair share of awards it never got great ratings and only lasted five seasons. That’s a shame, because even to this day I’d enjoy seeing more of Alan & Denny.

 

73     Jack & Rebecca Pearson (This Is Us)

I am violating my own rule. Usually, when compiling a list such as this, I refrain from being a prisoner of the moment. I typically opine that greatness takes time and we shouldn’t assign hyperbolic superlatives to something that is still in the present, that hasn’t had time to percolate and be viewed thru the unforgiving prism of time. However, if you aren’t watching NBC’s This Is Us…only in its second season…then you are missing out on one of the finest television programs of its generation. The premise is brilliant, the performances reside in their own stratosphere, & the writing is superb. Jack & Rebecca are the parents of three children that we get to know both as children & adults. The show time jumps between different intervals from 1980 thru the present…and on occasion even provides a glimpse of the future. We know that Jack is dead in the present, but in the past he is seen as an ideal husband & father. Yes he does battle alcoholism, but seems to successfully tackle the problem when faced with the prospect of losing his family. Rebecca in the present is reserved & tough, while in the past she is extroverted & approachable. Viewers are just beginning to understand her evolution, which is kind of the point of the whole show. Why are we the way we are?? How do events…big & small…in our childhood/youth/young adulthood shape who we become later in life?? Jack & Rebecca aren’t extraordinary. They aren’t wealthy. They don’t have cool & exciting jobs. They are average middle class parents from Pittsburgh who adore their children and do the best they can navigating the obstacles of life. And that’s exactly why we love them.

 

72     Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)

HIMYM and I suffered a bad break-up. Many fans were angered & felt misled after the series finale in 2014. I vowed to never watch a rerun and have abided by that, which is a damn shame because it was a cool show up until that horrific dénouement. Having said that, I will reluctantly give proper credit. Viewers of a certain age may remember Neil Patrick Harris for his early 1990s portrayal of Doogie Howser, a prodigious 16 year old doctor, but Barney is no Doogie. He is a thirtysomething bank executive in a clear state of arrested development, described by his best buddy as a high functioning sociopath. He’s a suit wearing, catchphrase spewing, manipulative & self-absorbed ladies’ man who fancies himself an expert on women. In reality most people would hate a guy like Barney, and within the context of the show even his friends aren’t too sure about him. However, as a sitcom character his outlandish shtick is entertaining, and NPH’s performance is all the more remarkable given the fact that he is actually a flaming homosexual in real life.

 

71     Coach Ernie Pantuso & Woody Boyd (Cheers)

Cheers had a true ensemble cast so it is difficult to choose some characters over others. However, each is so different that it seems natural that fans would have their favorites. One of the cool things about the show is that even when there were departures new arrivals plugged right in and kept the laughs coming for 11 seasons, making Cheers one of the longest running sitcoms of all time. Coach is an original cast member. He is a former baseball coach & current bartender who is an amusing blend of senile & naïve. Nicholas Colasanto passed away after Season 3, therefore Coach also died and was replaced with the equally simpleminded Woody, an Indiana country boy whose charming innocence is in direct contrast to the neurotic cynicism of his colleagues. Whether intentional or not casting directors pulled off a neat trick. They filled the void left by Coach’s death with a character who is by no means a carbon copy but nevertheless retains many of the quirky traits that fans loved about his predecessor.

 

70     Dan Fielding (Night Court)

Smarmy. That’s the word that comes to mind about Dan Fielding, the night shift prosecutor for Manhattan’s criminal court. Dan is a greedy, narcissistic horndog who looks at his colleagues & the criminals they all encounter on a nightly basis with contempt. Dan is always quick with an insult and constantly seeking opportunities to make easy money or score with easy women. He’s the kind of guy few would want to deal with in real life, but as a sitcom character he adds a layer of joviality to what is obviously meant to be good old-fashioned slapstick.

 

69     The Church Lady (Saturday Night Live)

Her name is Enid Strict. Did you know that?? Dana Carvey’s interpretation of an elderly, sanctimonious, pejorative congregant has its basis…like all of the best impersonations…in truth, or atleast our preconceived notions of it. Thankfully most churchgoers I’ve known in my life aren’t quite as harsh as The Church Lady, but one can choose to see the character as a cautionary tale. The sketch…in which Enid hosts a show called Church Chat…also serves as a vehicle to poke fun at various celebrities with dubious scruples & the assorted scandals they find themselves in. I’m a little surprised that there was never a Church Lady movie, but that’s probably just as well. Too many SNL based films have proven that a little bit goes a long way, and I’m glad the legacy of this particular character wasn’t besmirched that way.

 

68     Toby Ziegler (The West Wing)

Toby is the Communications Director in the Jed Bartlet White House. He is a soft-spoken, morose, idealistic, prickly man with a profound sense of morality and extremely high standards. He is one of the President’s most trusted advisors and rarely backs down from an argument. I’m not sure I could be friends with Toby because we would likely clash over contrasting bedrock principles and he’s way too tightly wound for my taste, but he’s the kind of person one can’t help but deeply respect.

 

67     John Walton Jr. (The Waltons)

One of the cooler aspects of The Waltons that many might forget is its framing device. The series is essentially a reflection of the past by John Walton Jr….aka John Boy…whose older incarnation does a rather lyrical opening & closing narration for each episode. Depression Era John Boy is who we see onscreen, and he is the eldest of six siblings that live with their parents & grandparents at the foot of a mountain in rural Virginia. John Boy is quietly ambitious and eventually leaves Walton’s Mountain to pursue a career in writing. Amongst the most endearing traditions in television is the end of each episode when all of the various family members lay in their beds in the darkness and tell each other goodnight. To contrast wholesome, sentimental shows like The Waltons with much of what passes for entertainment nowadays is like comparing filet mignon to scrapple. Goodnight John Boy…thanks for the memories.

 

66     Arnold Horshack (Welcome Back Kotter)

Who remembers Welcome Back Kotter??

Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh!! I do!!

Horshack is the nerdiest Sweathog, the class clown always ready with the perfect one-liner. In contrast to the others, who like to believe they’re way cool & above it all, he is kind of whiny and not really a hallmark of machismo, but that’s okay because he’s seems genuine and, rather than beat him up like tough guys usually do nerds in high school stories, at James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, NY Horshack is just one of the guys.

 

65     Howard Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory)

I suppose I’m going against my own philosophy again, but since TBBT is in its 11th season I think it’s fair to say that we have a big enough sample size for a knowledgeable analysis of the character. Out of everyone on the show Howard is the one who has undergone the greatest amount of growth, evolving from a clueless lecher, mama’s boy, & wannabe ladies’ man to a devoted husband & father. Oh sure he still has quirks (I don’t understand why any man would voluntarily wear a dickey) and he’s still one of the most idiosyncratic & comical parts of the ensemble, but I like the fact that he has developed & matured instead of playing the kind of oblivious buffoon that never grows up. With TBBT certainly in its last couple of seasons I would be all in on a Wolowitz spinoff.

 

64     The General Lee (The Dukes of Hazzard)

Yes, I know…it’s a car. Yet I submit to you that The General Lee is just about as important as any other character on The Dukes of Hazzard. I was part of one of the key demographics…pre-teen boys…that made the show successful back in the early 80’s because guys love fast cars, especially ones that can leap over things like Superman. Plus it had that really cool horn!! And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s the car and only the car that has made the show “controversial” the past few years, decades after its original run. There is absolutely nothing else that anyone can point to about The Dukes of Hazzard as being “offensive” since it is about the least provocative television program ever produced. I read somewhere that 300+ General Lees were used in the course of seven seasons, and that only about 17 still exist. PGA golfer Bubba Watson owns one of the 17, but during the “controversy” a few years ago he indicated that he was going to paint the American flag over the Confederate flag. I don’t know if he actually followed thru or was just saying the politically correct thing in the midst of the storm, but either way he’s a moron that I haven’t cheered for since and never will again.

 

63     Dwayne Schneider (One Day at a Time)

One Day at a Time was a preachy sitcom…sporadically funny, but the kind of show that took itself way too seriously, an afterschool special with a laugh track about a single mother starting over in the big city with bratty teenage daughters. Of course I was in grade school when it was on, so it’d be reasonable to assume that I just didn’t “get it”. At any rate, levity (and testosterone) was provided by building super Schneider, whose pornstache & tool belt make him look like the love child of Clark Gable & Batman. He’s an affable windbag, the kind of neighbor that can be annoying but you miss him when he’s not around.

 

62     Felix Unger & Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple)

The Odd Couple is a 1968 Neil Simon play that begat a 1968 feature film starring the incomparable Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau. The concept came to television for five seasons beginning in 1970, with Tony Randall & Jack Klugman in the lead roles. Though its original run ended before my 3rd birthday the magic of syndication allowed me to appreciate Felix & Oscar throughout my childhood. Felix is a persnickety fussbudget who works as a professional photographer. Oscar is a laid-back disheveled sportswriter. When Felix gets tossed out by his wife he shows up at Oscar’s door needing a place to live. The two are oil & water…they couldn’t be more different. The word sitcom is short for situation comedy, meaning that the laughs are theoretically generated by the situation, but it is clear to anyone who’s ever watched much TV that characters matter more than the situations they are put in, and The Odd Couple is a prime example. The legacy of Felix & Oscar is a formula that screenwriters for television & movies have been trying to copy for decades, but it really is difficult to measure up to the original.

 

61     Sam Malone (Cheers)

The foundation of Cheers is bar owner Sam, a former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher and recovering alcoholic. He is supposed to embody the dumb jock stereotype, but doesn’t appear to be all that unintelligent. He’s a somewhat vain ladies’ man who uses his fading celebrity to score with women. The first five seasons of the show focused largely on Sam’s antagonistic romance with erudite waitress Diane Chambers, and her departure freed him up to grown ever so slightly in the latter half of Cheers’ decade+ on the air. In hindsight one may choose to look at the show’s regulars as kind of sad…losers who waste away hours of their hollow & futile existence in a bar. Sam is their pack leader, a lonely man desperately holding on to remnants of past glory and trading in alcohol for sex to satisfy an unhealthy addiction. However, since I was a teenager the majority of the years Cheers was on I remember it as a funny, well-written show and recall Sam Malone as a cool & amusing guy who is good to a group of friends with whom he engages in humorous hijinks.

 

60     Larry, Darryl, & Darryl (Newhart)

Vermont isn’t typically the first place that comes to mind when one ponders rednecks, but three of the funniest to ever appear on television lived there…and two of them never uttered a word in 8 seasons (until the legendary series finale). They always introduce themselves the same way…”Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.” I believe the characters were supposed to be a one shot deal, but were such a hit with the audience that they became a regular part of the cast, even running the neighborhood café. They remind me a little bit of The Darling Family, who guest starred in several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show back in the 1960’s.

 

59     Major Frank Burns (MASH)

Frank Burns was originally portrayed by Robert Duvall in the 1970 film, but I think the character is actually funnier on the TV series. Frank is an uptight & inept surgeon who doesn’t appreciate the sophomoric antics of some of his colleagues, and he is on the receiving end of a lot of insults & practical jokes. He carries on an allegedly secret affair with Hot Lips Houlihan that pretty much everyone at the 4077th knows all about. When she gets married to another soldier Frank has a nervous breakdown and is discharged from the army, eventually landing an administrative gig at a veteran’s hospital in Indiana. After Frank’s departure at the end of Season 5 I feel like MASH lost much of its wit and became a little more sanctimonious than originally intended.

 

58     Vinnie Barbarino (Welcome Back Kotter)

It is really easy to blur the lines between character and actor, especially when that actor is a megastar. Kotter is responsible for launching John Travolta’s career into the stratosphere. His role in the show led to being cast in Saturday Night Fever, which of course led to Grease. The rest is history. Vinnie is the apparent leader of the Sweathogs. He’s cool, good looking, confident, popular with the ladies…and dumb as a box of rocks. After Travolta’s film career took off he didn’t completely leave the show, but was only in about a third of the final season’s episodes. High school shows are tenuous anyway because eventually the characters are no longer credible as teenagers, but many such programs have found a way to evolve. However, losing Travolta meant losing Vinnie, and Kotter couldn’t survive without him.

 

57     George & Weezie Jefferson (The Jeffersons)

The Jeffersons was a spinoff of All in the Family that approaches racial issues from a slightly different perspective. George is a prosperous businessman who owns a chain of dry cleaning stores, and his success allows he & his wife Weezie to move from their house in Queens to a swanky penthouse apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan. They even have a maid. George is a fast-talking smartass, while Weezie is the classic exasperated wife who understands her husband’s faults and is often irritated by his antics, but loves him anyway.

 

56     Gordon Shumway (ALF)

The titular Alien Life Form from the planet Melmac has a name…Gordon Shumway. The show is a unique fish-out-of-water story, and Gordon is a sardonic yet good-hearted jokester who looks like some sort of Dr. Seuss/Jim Henson mashup. He’d really like to eat the family cat, but of course never does, and is purportedly working on fixing his spaceship so he can return home, but that process takes the entirety of the show’s four seasons. In what ended up being the series finale we get a cliffhanger in which Gordon is captured by the government before he can escape to Melmac, which is a pretty crappy conclusion for a memorable character.

 

55     Johnny Drama (Entourage)

By far my favorite HBO series was Entourage, about a Queens, NY born actor and his buddies living the high life in Hollywood. The movie star in the show is loosely based on the life of Mark Wahlberg, aka early 90’s hip-hop rapper Marky Mark, who of course went on to star in movies like Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm, & The Departed. You may recall that Mark has an older brother named Donnie, who achieved success as part of 80’s boy band New Kids on the Block but then fell into relative obscurity before starring in the TV show Blue Bloods, which has been a modest hit at best. It is fair to say Mark’s stardom eclipsed that of his older brother long ago. The older brother on Entourage is Johnny Chase, aka Johnny Drama. He found success starring in a sci-fi fantasy show called Viking Quest, but then his career stalled as his little brother Vince’s star rose, and now he is ostensibly employed as Vince’s personal chef & bodyguard. Johnny outwardly displays bravado & confidence in his ability as an actor, but he is obviously insecure and all too aware that his brother is much more talented. He loves Vince and isn’t really jealous of his success, but hilariously seizes every opportunity to ride his coattails. Johnny, as my grandmother used to say, has more BS than a Christmas turkey, so while everybody likes him no one really takes him seriously.

 

54     Dick Loudon (Newhart) & Dr. Bob Hartley (The Bob Newhart Show)

How can anyone not love Bob Newhart?? He is quietly & subtly hilarious, as opposed to many loud & obnoxious comedians. He essentially played himself…or comparable versions of his stage persona…in two different sitcoms. In the 70’s he was Dr. Bob Hartley, a mild-mannered psychiatrist dealing with a zany group of patients & colleagues. In the 80’s he was Dick Loudon, a mild-mannered writer & innkeeper dealing with an entire town of eccentric oddballs. I think I like the second show a little more than its predecessor, but that’s probably because I was a little older when Newhart was on and remember it better.

 

53     Latka Gravas (Taxi)

Andy Kaufman was more of a performance artist than a stand-up comedian, and he definitely marched to a different drumbeat than everyone else. His most enduring creation is a character called Foreign Man, a staple of his comedy club act. That persona was the basis for Latka, a timid mechanic at the Sunshine Cab Company who has multiple personalities, a concept that allowed Kaufman to portray different characters. Kaufman was famously reluctant to sign on for Taxi and didn’t really enjoy playing Latka, but nevertheless created an enduring character that was a welcome addition to the ensemble.

 

52         Dawson Leery & Joey Potter (Dawson’s Creek)

I am not ashamed to admit that I loved Dawson’s Creek!! High school shows are a tried & true television staple, and occasionally they appeal to age groups other than teenagers. The early seasons of Dawson’s Creek overlapped with the final years of the ostensibly cooler and unquestionably glitzier Beverly Hills 90210, a program to which I never really became all that attached. The kids in Capeside, MA seemed much more relevant & grounded than their left coast counterparts, and the writing was crisp & astute. The eponymous Dawson is an aspiring filmmaker whose hero is Steven Spielberg. Joey (a female for those not in the know) is the beautiful yet shy & awkward girl next door. Their relationship is the cornerstone of the show, and it’s one of those on again/off again will they or won’t they deals. Ultimately Joe ends up with Dawson’s best friend Pacey (and boy did that relationship cause some angst), while Dawson finds happiness with his true love…a writing gig in Hollywood.

 

51     Jack Tripper (Three’s Company)

Could you imagine a show like Three’s Company in the 21st century?? It would never fly. First of all, a guy and a couple of women living together is something most people wouldn’t raise an eyebrow about these days. And secondly, the idea that Jack has to lie to his landlord and say that he is gay to be allowed to stay in the apartment wouldn’t be politically correct now, no to mention the reactions of Mr. Roper & later on Mr. Furley to Jack’s alleged orientation. But this was four decades ago and the world was a different place. At any rate, Jack is the comedic cornerstone, an aspiring chef who hangs out with his lascivious pal Larry down at The Regal Beagle (a local watering hole), but respects the boundaries set within his living arrangement with roomies Janet & Chrissy (and later Cindy then Terri). Jack is a clumsy screw-up whose pratfalls provide many of each episode’s laughs.

 

 

 

Let’s take a break. We’ll dive into Part 3 tomorrow. Or the next day *lol*.

100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 1

The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television…but then again television at its best is magnificent.  –  Steve Jobs

 

 

I’ve always believed in God’s perfect timing, and have to say that with everything that has occurred recently in the world in general and The Manoverse specifically I am thankful for the distraction and the opportunity for a bit of levity. A platform like this can be many things…informative, entertaining, provocative, cathartic…for the reader as well as yours truly. Some folks paint. Others play music. Those blessed with a healthy metabolism pour out their sweat at the gym. I write. Throughout the near decade of The Manofesto’s existence I have endeavored to strike a balance between profound & frivolous, but oftentimes feel unsuccessful in that mission. For the next few days we’re going to skew toward fun because I think we could all use some of that right now. If you haven’t read the intro please go back and do so now. Otherwise…enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

100   Sheriff Jack Carter (Eureka)

It is likely that you missed out on the quirky Eureka a few years ago, a SyFy series about a secret government project in which an entire community in the Pacific Northwest is populated by geniuses. The one exception?? Single father Jack Carter, who is chosen to be the sheriff of Eureka. But, though his IQ is just average, Sheriff Carter uses good old-fashioned horse sense to figure out the bizarre calamities that tend to befall the town on an unnervingly regular basis. Eureka lasted for five seasons from 2006-12, and I must admit that I lost track of it in the final year or two. It was a show just a little ahead of its time, as I could see it being pretty successful nowadays if it aired on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon. Sheriff Carter stands out because a) he is a regular guy amongst all of the eccentricity surrounding him, & b) despite lacking the intellect of the others he exhibits more warmth, personality, pragmatism, & sincerity than most of the brainiacs, making him relatable to viewers.

 

99     Cody Lambert (Step by Step)

Step by Step is a 90’s twist on The Brady Bunch starring Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing on Dallas) & Suzanne Somers (Chrissy on Three’s Company). Dad’s nephew pops in during the first season and sticks around, living in a van in the family’s driveway. Cody is a hippy dippy valley boy that no one seems to get, but he’s too oblivious to understand that. He is portrayed by Sasha Mitchell, who had previously played Duffy’s nephew…James Ewing…on Dallas. Though he may be quite versatile as an actor Mitchell was quietly booted from the show in its 4th season after being accused of domestic abuse (the charges were later dropped). As a show Step by Step was an amusing yet bland offering typical of the kind of kid-friendly sitcoms ABC churned out in the 90’s (Full House being the most famous example), and was meant to mark big TV comebacks for Duffy & Somers. However, it was Cody Lambert that stood out from the pack.

 

98     Hank Hill (King of the Hill)

You may be surprised to know that I could probably count on one hand the number of episodes that I have ever watched of three decades old animated sitcom The Simpsons, so you won’t be seeing Bart or Homer on this list. It’s been so long ago that I don’t even recall why High School Me never became interested in that show. However, its success gave rise to similar programs, one of which is this late 90’s program that lasted for an impressive 13 seasons (full disclosure…my interest faded about halfway thru that run for some reason). Hank Hill is the patriarch of a middle class Texas family and the assistant manager of a propane store. I like Hank because he’s just a regular guy, an old-fashioned conservative with a strict moral code who is befuddled by the craziness that surrounds him. Unlike so many sitcom Dads he isn’t a total fool with a wandering eye and poor parenting skills. He’s not buff & sexy, but his wife loves him anyway. Hank Hill is exactly the kind of citizen in “flyover country” that the socio-intellectual elites in certain cultural epicenters like to ridicule, but as Jimmy Stewart once said, such folks “do most of the working and paying and living and dying” in this country, and occasionally it’s nice to see pop culture acknowledge that fact.

 

97     Lowell Mather (Wings)

Wings is an underappreciated 90’s sitcom from the same folks who created Cheers and Frasier, about two brothers operating a small airline on Nantucket, a small island that is part of Massachusetts and is where that girl in all the dirty jokes hails from. One of the employees at Sandpiper Air is airplane mechanic Lowell. He is a dimwitted sad sack, especially after he discovered his wife cheating on him & his houseboat got sank, but he usually has the best one-liners. When the actor decided to leave the show during its 7th season Lowell is forced into witness protection after seeing a mob hit, a plot that only skillful sitcom writers could make funny.

 

96     Topanga Lawrence (Boy Meets World)

Okay, I’ll admit it…I’m a dirty old man that thought Topanga was kind of hot in the latter seasons of Boy Meets World. Aside from that though, she has a cool name (taken from a real life canyon between Los Angeles & Malibu), she’s got a hippie/New Age vibe that I’d find irritating in reality but works really well in a sitcom, & is the kind of girl that stays true to herself and doesn’t back down from a challenge. JK Rowling got the inspiration for Harry Potter in 1990 and published the first book in 1995. Boy Meets World premiered in 1993. Hermione Granger reminds me more than a little of Topanga Lawrence. It does make one wonder…..

 

95     Steve Urkel (Family Matters)

Trust me ladies & gentlemen, I debated whether or not to leave him out just on principle, because it’s probably a damning indictment of our culture that Urkel was ever a thing. But he was a thing, and I cannot in good conscience ignore it. Family Matters was supposed to be a spinoff of Perfect Strangers centering on the Winslow family…elevator operator Harriet, policeman Carl, Harriet’s sister & nephew, Carl’s elderly mother, and Carl & Harriet’s two kids Eddie & Laura. But during Season 1 nerdy next door neighbor Urkel popped over for a visit and the rest is history. The show lasted for nine seasons, but the truth is that without the inexplicable popularity of Urkel it probably wouldn’t have made it half as long.

 

94     Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, & Miranda (Sex & the City)

For the first fifteen years of the new millennium The Bachelor Palace had HBO, until I discovered that Netflix was less expensive and way cooler. During those years I enjoyed…to varying degrees…watching shows like Lucky Louie, Entourage, Six Feet Under, The Mind of the Married Man, & Big Love. And, while I skipped acclaimed mob drama The Sopranos, I somehow became enamored with Sex & the City. It doesn’t feel right to rank one character over another, as they have their individual charms. Writer Carrie Bradshaw is the centerpiece & narrator. She’s a somewhat vain fashionista, but can also be sensitive & thoughtful. Samantha Jones is an oversexed & outspoken PR executive. I definitely wouldn’t call her a role model for women, but I guess her confidence could be considered…inspirational. Charlotte York is a perky yet timid WASP who works at an art gallery. She’s much less shallow & jaded than her pals and eventually finds happiness with her Jewish divorce attorney. Miranda Hobbes is an uptight & cynical lawyer. She has an on again/off again relationship with a nerdy bartender named Steve, with whom she shares a child. There was a brief moment in time, at the height of the show’s popularity, when I felt like there were too many women watching this show and trying to emulate these four characters, with the issue being that they are a) so far away from reality it’s laughable, & b) not really the kind of people that anyone should ever model themselves after. Having said that, their influence cannot be denied and I can understand why they might be considered pop culture feminist icons.

 

93     Bill McNeal (NewsRadio)

Y’all know that I consider NewsRadio to be one of the more underrated sitcoms of the past couple of decades. Its biggest star was arguably SNL alum Phil Hartman, whose portrayal of a conceited blowhard news anchor is hilarious. Despite his arrogance Bill isn’t nearly as intelligent as he’d like people to believe, and he oftentimes treats his colleagues dismissively though he seems to think of them as close pals. Hartman’s tragic death in 1998 was also a fatal blow to NewsRadio, which had to fill the gap in the cast with Jon Lovitz in the fifth season, which…not surprisingly…was its last.

 

92     Flo Castleberry (Alice)

Kiss my grits!! That refrain from the most opinionated waitress at Mel’s Diner still has staying power forty years later. Flo left Alice halfway thru its run to star in a spinoff, but that show only lasted two seasons.

 

91     Mary Katherine Gallagher (Saturday Night Live)

Saturday Night Live has had a plethora of humorous recurring characters in its four+ decades, but only a few really stand the test of time. Mary Katherine is an apparently bipolar Catholic school girl with rage issues and poor social etiquette. She habitually puts her hands in her armpits then smells her fingers, recites Shakespeare-esque monologues quoting obscure movies & TV shows, crashes thru furniture, and then plays it all off by triumphantly declaring herself a “”Superstar!”. The character got its own standalone film in 1999, but I never saw it, and judging by its 32% Rotten Tomatoes score one can assume I’m not missing anything.

 

90     Al Bundy (Married with Children)

Married with Children began a wave of change in sitcoms as they evolved from the fairly wholesome & charming shows that I grew up with and began to embrace a more lewd, harsh, & cynical vibe. Even as a teenager I understood this transformation and didn’t particularly care for it, so I never became a fan of the show. However, thru the prism of time and after running across video clips here & there the past few years I have to give credit where credit is due…Al Bundy is pretty hysterical. A terrible husband?? Yes. An awful father?? Sure. A bad employee?? Obviously. Al certainly is no role model, but I get why fans of the show think he was really funny. If you see a dysfunctional family or poor parent on TV today they owe it all to Married with Children. Perhaps that’s not the most positive legacy…but it’s something.

 

89     Eric Matthews (Boy Meets World)

Feeny? Fa-fa-fa-fa-feeny! Feenay! Fee-hee-heenay!

In one hilarious instant The Feeny Call became legendary and Eric Matthews…the older brother of Cory & a supporting character no one expected much from…bellowed himself into television history. In another episode…set in a future where Cory & his pals have drifted apart…Eric shows up as a bearded hermit calling himself Plays With Squirrels who has figured out the secret of life, which is apparently “lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself”. I quickly lost interest in the sequel series Girl Meets World a few years ago (not that I was the target demo anyway), but perhaps if they’d done a spinoff featuring Eric it would have been more successful.

 

88     Dr. John Becker (Becker)

From 2006 to 2008 my life was pretty much put on hold due to an ulcer on my tailbone. I’ve spoken of it at other times here at The Manofesto so I’ll skip all the specifics now. At any rate, during that time I watched a lot of TV and discovered Becker, which had aired on CBS for six seasons from 1998-2004. I always enjoyed Ted Danson on Cheers, so I’m not sure how I missed his big television comeback, but atleast it was there for me in syndication a few years later. The titular character is a doctor who runs a small practice in The Bronx. Dr. Becker is a grumpy malcontent who is easily annoyed by just about everyone & everything, but underneath his constant state of irritability he’s a good guy who does whatever he can to help his patients & his friends. I’m not sure I’d actually get along with someone like Dr. Becker since he leans left and seems to be an atheist or atleast agnostic, but I’m all in on his bewilderment at the craziness & stupidity one seems to run across all too often nowadays.

 

87     Endora (Bewitched)

For various reasons I am a little hesitant to give any sort of kudos to a witch, but let’s be honest…Endora was pretty cool. She is a unique interpretation of the stereotypical mother-in-law, as her entire purpose on the show seems to be to disapprove of her daughter’s marriage to a mortal and make lame attempts to break up Samantha & Darrin (who she constantly insults & always calls Derwood). Of course her schemes hilariously backfire.

 

86     Mr. McMahon (WWE)

Let’s take an excursion off the beaten path. Yes I am aware that professional wrestling is pre-determined & choreographed. It is a soap opera for men. And I realize that everybody involved…wrestlers, announcers, managers, referees…is playing a character. But, though it would be a gargantuan task and detract from our mission to get into evaluating the merits of the dozens of unforgettable grapplers that have stepped inside the squared circle in my lifetime, we need to recognize the owner & CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. Vince McMahon bought the WWF from his father in 1982 and was known to most “marks” simply as a TV commentator. But in 1997 he inserted himself into storylines as a “heel”, basically portraying a larger-than-life version of the kind of evil boss that we’ve all had at one time or another. In the past two decades he’s been booed & cheered, gotten in the ring and mixed it up with wrestlers twice his size & half his age, and even battled his own family. These days wrestling fans often question Vince McMahon’s behind the scenes decisions, but Mr. McMahon can still get a good pop from the crowd, especially since his appearances are much more sporadic than they once were.

 

85     Charles Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie)

When I was a kid I loved Little House, although I’ve never read the books on which the show was based. The patriarch of the Ingalls clan is Charles, a hardworking farmer. Throughout the series Charles is portrayed as a solid husband & father who does his best to take care of his family and raise his children right. He is a generous, tranquil, vulnerable yet tough man of faith, the kind of person anyone would be happy to have as a friend, employee, & neighbor.

 

84     Elaine Benes (Seinfeld)

Jerry Seinfeld is a talented writer & comedian, but his acting chops are…less than impressive. However, though you will not be seeing Jerry’s interpretation of a fictionalized version of himself on this list you will see three of his buddies, starting with former girlfriend Elaine. NBC felt that the show, as originally constructed, was too guy centered and asked that a female be added to the cast. Elaine & Jerry had dated at some previous point in time but had settled on being “just friends”. She’s no shrinking violet, routinely standing up to the guys and literally pushing them around. We all know women like Elaine. They’re quite feminine & not tomboys by any means, but they just seem to mesh better with men and don’t really have many gal pals. Elaine is self-confident, brash, intelligent, & just as neurotic as her friends. Much like Jerry she is shallow and difficult to please, meaning she bounces in & out of relationships looking for something she’ll probably never find. She is educated and somewhat professionally successful, though she does have multiple jobs over the course of nine years. I’m not sure I would call Elaine a role model, but she was a welcome addition to the Seinfeld wolfpack and gave us many hilarious moments.

 

83     Gomez Addams (The Addams Family)

The Addams Family was based on cartoons originally published in The New Yorker in the mid-20th century. The family patriarch is Gomez, an eccentric & wealthy businessman who at one time was a lawyer. He enjoys fencing, smoking cigars, throwing knives, crashing toy trains, & being romantic with his wife. What many may not get about the family is that they are not monsters or any kind of supernatural beings…they are a human family who just happens to be really weird, and the fact that Gomez is supposed to be the normal one is hysterically funny. The TV show was on in syndication a lot in my childhood, and two rather entertaining feature films were produced in the early 1990’s.

 

82     Carlton Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)

Believe it or not Will Smith isn’t the best part of his own television show. First we have to give a tip o’ the cap to the theme song. I don’t even like rap “music” but almost thirty years later I can still bust out the Fresh Prince theme. Secondly there is Will’s erudite & pompous cousin Carlton, who takes the uptight preppy stereotype to a whole new level. He’s such a nerd that as a high schooler he listens to Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, & Michael Bolton. To be honest that makes him rather cool in my eyes because I celebrate those guys’ entire catalogues, but I get the joke. We cannot escape the fact that even into the 1990’s black families tended to be portrayed a certain way in pop culture, and the Banks family…especially Carlton…turned those pre-conceived notions upside down. Carlton’s most enduring legacy is his love for 60’s pop crooner Tom Jones. Anytime Jones’ 1965 hit It’s Not Unusual comes on he breaks out into a hysterical dance that came to be known as The Carlton, and anyone who was ever a Fresh Prince fan can probably imitate it.

 

81     Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg (The Dukes of Hazzard)

In recent years The Dukes of Hazzard has inexplicably become a target of maniacal political correctness in connection with debates about racism, The Civil War, & the Confederate flag, but as a kid I always loved the show and continued to watch syndicated reruns up until they became virtually extinct a few years ago. The main “villain” in Hazzard County is Boss Hogg, the influential, wealthy, & corrupt county commissioner that pretty much owns & controls everything in town. He is greedy, with a voracious appetite for power, money, & food. He and Jesse Duke are former moonshiners & old frienemies. Boss is fixated with the idea of taking possession of the Duke farm, and equally as obsessed with putting Bo & Luke Duke in prison. In almost every episode Boss hatches some kind of shady scheme to put more money in his pockets, and if he can find a way to pin a crime on the Duke Boys in the process that’s fine too. Of course in Hazzard County even the bad guys aren’t truly evil, and despite Boss Hogg’s best efforts the good guys always win and we can’t really bring ourselves to hate him. There was a laughably bad Dukes of Hazzard feature film about a decade ago, and one of the many things they got wrong was casting Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg. Reynolds portrayed Boss as menacing & harsh…an actual bad guy, which missed the mark entirely.

 

80     Aunt Esther (Sanford & Son)

My Papaw Mano loved Sanford & Son. Whenever I’d visit my grandparents he’d watch reruns (the show’s original run ended when I was in kindergarten), which is how  I became a fan. The main antagonist is Aunt Esther, sister of long dead Elizabeth and aunt to Lamont. One of the funniest running gags of the show is Aunt Esther’s contentious relationship with her brother-in-law Fred, as the two continuously trade insults. Aunt Esther is a hardcore, Bible thumping church lady, the kind that gives churchgoers a bad image as she is constantly calling others heathens. She & Fred verbally spar in every episode in which she appears, and whenever he is confrontational with her she comes back with “Watch it Sucka!!”, sometimes swinging her purse at him in the process.

 

79     Herman Munster (The Munsters)

What do you get when you combine a wholesome family sitcom with the monster movies of the 1930’s?? The Munsters. Unlike The Addams Family, who are just normal human beings that happen to be really strange, The Munsters are actually monsters (obvious nods to Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, & Bride of Frankenstein), though they view themselves & live their lives as a typical middle class American family. The patriarch is Herman Munster, an archetypal sitcom Dad who is a good-natured, kindhearted, gentle, loveable goofball. He works at a funeral home (of course), has no concept of his own immense strength, & is clueless of the fact that he doesn’t physically look like a normal person. People routinely run screaming from Herman, frightened by his appearance, but he remains blissfully unaware that people are afraid of him.

 

78     Isaac, Doc, & Gopher (The Love Boat)

The real stars of The Love Boat were the passengers, typically portrayed by famous faces of the day, movie stars of yesteryear, & actors who would do big things in the future. However, we did have the pleasure of having (mostly) the same crew from week to week. Isaac is the bartender on the Pacific Princess, Doc is…obviously…the doctor, & Gopher is a yeoman purser. I spent a great deal of my childhood wondering exactly what in the heck a yeoman purser does, and eventually discovered that he is basically the ship’s treasurer. I’ve never been on a cruise, but I assume that the typical crew is much larger and that there are multiple bartenders, physicians, & business people among them, but for the purposes of The Love Boat this triumvirate worked really well. They interact with passengers, get involved with various storylines on a week to week basis, and are always good for a chuckle or two.

 

77     The Clampetts (The Beverly Hillbillies)

I just can’t choose one over the other. Patriarch Jed is a “poor mountaineer” from the Ozarks (either Tennessee, Arkansas, or Missouri…the show doesn’t specify) who finds oil on his land and receives a $25 million fortune for it. His elderly mother-in-law Granny is a spitfire who fancies herself an expert in home remedies. Jed’s daughter Ellie Mae is a smokin’ hot tomboy who loves animals (i.e. critters). Jethro Bodine is the dimwitted, girl crazy son of Jed’s cousin who comes along when the family moves to California. The Beverly Hillbillies is a classic rags-to-riches fish-out-of-water story made all the more entertaining by these well written characters. Being from West Virginia I have always been a bit sensitive about how “hillbillies”, “rednecks”, & “hicks” are portrayed in the media, but I am oddly unoffended by The Clampetts.

 

76     Luther Van Dam (Coach)

Not long ago we lost actor Jerry Van Dyke (brother of Dick), but thankfully we’ll always have Coach. Van Dyke had an opportunity to become part of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show when Don Knotts left, but instead chose to star in My Mother the Car, which has to secure him a place in the Bad Career Move Hall of Fame. At any rate, more than two decades later he was cast as Luther, the scatterbrained defensive coordinator for the fictional Minnesota St. Screaming Eagles. I have serious doubts about Luther’s football prowess, but he is perfect as the standard loyal sidekick/best friend, and usually has the funniest moments.

 

 

 

 

Let’s take a break. We’ll dive into Part 2 tomorrow. Or the next day *lol*.

80’s Movie Mania: Tubular Round 1

Welcome back to 80’s Movie Mania!! Unfortunately I’m still not getting the interactive response I’d hoped for, so I am forced to make decisions on the polls I posted for the first round of the Bodacious Division. To that end: Weekend at Bernie’s conquers Bachelor Party, Cocktail beats Stripes, and Iron Eagle defeats An Officer & A Gentleman. Now we move on to first round matchups in the Tubular Division. I am persistent so there will be more polls. Please vote. Enjoy!!

 

 

 

Tubular – Round 1

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure   vs.   History of the World Part I
btdThis is a matchup for all you history buffs!! Bill and Ted are two California stoners destined to do great History-of-the-World-Part-1-mel-brooksthings in the future…if only they can pass their high school history exam. To help them in their 1989 epic adventure George Carlin travels back in time in a phone booth and introduces the two mindless teens to historical figures like Billy the Kid, Napoleon Bonaparte, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Beethoven, & Abraham Lincoln. As you might imagine it’s a pretty funny trip thru the ol’ space-time continuum. A sequel came out a couple of years later but it lacks the magic of the original. The 1981 epic History of the World Part 1 is written, produced, & directed by the legendary Mel Brooks. It is comprised of short segments parodying events set in The Stone Age, The Old Testament Biblical era, The Roman Empire, The Spanish Inquisition, & The French Revolution and stars some pretty big names like Orson Welles (who narrates), Dom Deluise, Sid Caesar, Shecky Greene, Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, Cloris Leachman, & Brooks himself. The humor is kind of old school vaudeville mixed with Americanized Python-esque zaniness…and it works.

The Verdict: Okay Manoverse…I’m giving you another shot here. Can we get atleast 10 votes on this one??

 

 

 
WarGames   vs.   The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
wargamesWhat would happen if a precocious teenage computer hacker inadvertently started World War III?? best-little-whorehouse-texas-dolly1983’s WarGames addresses that idea. It was the first starring role for both Matthew Broderick & Ally Sheedy and is a fun, entertaining, vaguely conceivable, well written thrill ride. 1982’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is based on a Tony Award winning Broadway musical and stars Dolly Parton as the madam of a brothel whose…activities…are largely ignored because the madam is in a relationship with the local sheriff, portrayed by Burt Reynolds (still one of the biggest actors in the world at the time). Things get riotously complicated when a Springer-esque talk show host portrayed by Dom Deluise decides to expose the “chicken ranch”.

The Verdict: WarGames. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is an amusing yet forgettably frivolous comedy we recall only because of its above average cast. WarGames is really well done, taking a heavy subject and spinning it into enjoyable entertainment.

 

 

Scarface   vs.   License to Drive
scarface1Al Pacino is still one of the best actors in the world and has been for over four decades, with 1983’s coreysScarface being one of his most treasured films. Pacino stars as Cuban drug lord Tony Montana in a violent story about cocaine & organized crime that was written by the infamous Oliver Stone and helmed by heralded director Brian DePalma. License to Drive is a 1988 comedy starring The Coreys…Haim & Feldman…about a 16 year old kid who takes his grandfather’s vehicle out for some misadventures despite having failed his driving test. The cast also includes Carol Kane, Heather Graham, & One Day at a Time’s Richard Masur.

The Verdict: Scarface. It isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but considering the competition this is a no brainer. Even The Coreys made better movies than License to Drive.

 

 
Three Amigos!   vs.   European Vacation
Three-AmigosIt’s Chevy Chase vs. Chevy Chase!! In 1986’s Three Amigos! Chase co-stars with Steve Martin & Martin euroShort as dimwitted silent film actors in the early 20th century who inadvertently become involved in a battle against a bandito who is terrorizing a small Mexican village. They think they have been recruited to simply put on a show, but the young senorita who has enlisted their help mistakenly believes they are genuine heroes that can save her neighborhood. Hilarity ensues. Three Amigos! has never won any awards, but it is a quirky showcase for the inimitable talents of a trio of comedy legends. European Vacation is a 1985 follow-up to the original Vacation wherein the wacky Griswold clan wins an all-expenses paid tour of Europe on a goofy game show. As usual things go horribly yet hilariously wrong for Clark, Ellen, Rusty, & Audrey. It isn’t as funny as the first film or 1989’s Christmas Vacation, but European Vacation has its charms and upon further review is better than the first impression it might have left back in the day.

The Verdict: This one is in your hands too Manoverse. I’m counting on you!!

 

 

 
Three Men & A Baby   vs.   La Bamba
3menOnce again we have a trio of big name co-stars…in this case Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, & Steve Guttenberg. labambaThree Men & A Baby was the highest grossing film of 1987, beating out the likes of Fatal Attraction, Good Morning Vietnam, Moonstruck, The Untouchables, Dirty Dancing, Lethal Weapon, and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. The story finds three NY City bachelors suddenly tasked with taking care of an infant that one of them has fathered. The men have no clue what they are doing and therein lies the comedy. The film was directed by Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy and was followed a few years later by an unremarkable sequel. Word on the street is that a third film…three decades after the original…is in the works. La Bamba was also made in 1987 and is a biopic of Richie Valens, a Latino rocker in the 1950’s who had a few big hits before his life was cut short on The Day the Music Died in a plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. La Bamba has an awesome soundtrack and Lou Diamond Phillips is mesmerizing as Valens.

The Verdict: 1987 was a really good year in film!! I’m also leaving this one up to y’all. Let’s get those votes in!!

 

 

 

Porky’s   vs.   Mr. Mom
porkys1982’s Porky’s is the quintessential teen sex comedy. Actually it is a forefather to movies like Superbad, mrmomRoad Trip, & American Pie in a genre that keeps on keepin’ on with decidedly uneven results. Porky’s is set in the 1950’s and has a group of Florida high schoolers on the typical quest to lose their virginity, ticking off a local nightclub owner in the process. There are no big stars in the film, but it was directed by Bob Clark, who would use the success of Porky’s to launch his passion project…a little ditty called A Christmas Story. You may have heard of it. 1983’s Mr. Mom is amongst the early works of Michael Keaton, still one of the most underrated actors out there to this day. Keaton co-stars with the lovely Teri Garr as an engineer downsized from Ford Motor Company who becomes a stay-at-home Dad while Mom re-enters the work force at an ad agency. It is Keaton at his funniest.

The Verdict: Mr. Mom. The basic plot of Porky’s has been done better in other films. Meanwhile, Mr. Mom is an oft overlooked gem that really showcases Keaton’s comedic talent.

 

 

Moonstruck   vs.   Flashdance
moonstruckI have long opined that Cher is a much better actress than singer, and the 1987 rom-com Moonstruck is flashdanceone of her more memorable performances, earning her an Oscar for Best Actress. Olympia Dukakis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and the movie itself was nominated for Best Picture, losing out to The Last Emperor, which also beat out Broadcast News and Fatal Attraction…a prime example of the folly and apparent crack smoking prowess of Oscar voters. At any rate, the real gem in Moonstruck is Nicolas Cage as a man who falls head over heels in love with his soon-to-be sister-in-law. 1983’s Flashdance tells the story of a female steelworker/stripper in Pittsburgh who wants to be a professional dancer. She becomes romantically involved with her boss (from the steel mill…not the nudie bar) and has to overcome feelings of inadequacy to chase her dream.

The Verdict: Moonstruck. I feel like Flashdance is remembered more for its soundtrack than for the movie itself. Meanwhile, the pedigree of Moonstruck cannot be denied.

Introduction to My 50 Favorite TV Shows

Faithful citizens of The Manoverse might be surprised at what I am about to do. I’ve made quite a few disparaging remarks about television over the years, and I stand by everything I’ve said. As we’ve gotten more channels it seems as if the quality of the product has been watered down. Also, as my friend The Owl has stated, TV shows now reflect the “spirit of the age” and have become noticeably darker. The level of violence & sexuality, as well as the language that is shockingly acceptable now as opposed to when I was a kid, has, in my humble opinion, been amped up to the point that superior writing & acting are too often overshadowed. However, having said all that, I feel this decreased excellence makes it even more imperative to recognize what we have lost and give kudos to what was…and rarely is…good.

 

A few things that I need to cover before we dive in:

Just as is the case with my taste in movies, I prefer television shows that can put a smile on my face. Therefore you will not be seeing a lot of…if any…cop shows or medical dramas. They just don’t frost my cupcake. I’m more of a traditional 30 minute sitcom kind of guy. Also, I was born in the early 70’s, grew up in the 80’s, and went to college & entered “the real world” in the 90’s, so this list will be heavy with shows from around the late 70’s thru the 80’s. Reruns introduced me to a few entrants from before I was born that make the cut, but they are exceptional gems indeed. In some cases I have fond yet vague memories of shows that were on when I was a young child, meaning that had I been 5 or 10 years older they might be more highly rated…but I wasn’t so they aren’t. As a writer I notice good writing and did so…even if it was on a subconscious level…even as a youngster. With few exceptions I am not including shows still currently on the air. As much as I currently enjoy The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother I just can’t put them on an all-time type of list until I see how well they stand the test of time. In contrast to my 100 Favorite Movies list that was presented in groups of five, this endeavor encompasses only 50 shows and will be presented in five entries of 10 shows each, so the process won’t drag out nearly as long. There are just too many other things I want to spend my time writing about to expound excessive energy on one project. That doesn’t mean this venture won’t get proper attention & enthusiasm, just that I have learned to be more efficient.

 

I think a good way to begin, just as we did with the 100 Favorite Movies, is with a dozen honorable mentions (listed alphabetically) that, for one reason or another, didn’t quite make the cut:

 

Becker

I don’t think I ever watched Ted Danson’s post-Cheers comeback during its run on CBS from 1998-2004, but syndicated reruns sure kept me a lot of company during My Unfortunate Incarceration of 2006-08. I really like Danson’s irascibly misanthropic yet benevolent doctor character. For some reason he reminds me of someone.

 

The Brady Bunch

You’re singing the theme song right now, aren’t you?? Honestly, who hasn’t seen almost all 117 episodes of the classic 1969-74 sitcom in syndicated reruns?? Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a lot of errands to run: feed Tiger & Fluffy, see if I still fit into the Johnny Bravo suit, judge the cheerleading competition between Marcia, Jennifer, & Pat, pick up some meat from Sam the butcher, and find Cindy’s Kitty Carry-All. Thank God It’s A Sunshine Day. Groovy!!

 

Eight is Enough

For some reason I remember being so in love with middle daughter Susan and being so bummed when she married Merle. Of course I was only 7 years old. I think this one might have snuck into the Top 50 if I had been ten years older.

 

Gilligan’s Island

Just like The Brady Bunch, this show has one of the most memorable theme songs in television history. And just like the Bradys, this show came & went before I was even born but reruns were so ubiquitous in the 80’s that a whole new generation got to know the crew & passengers of the SS Minnow and join in the antics following their ill-fated 3 hour tour. You can keep your Lost and Survivor…I prefer to hang out with these castaways.

 

Gomer Pyle

Spun off from the incomparable Andy Griffith Show and originally aired in the late 60’s long before I was a gleam in my Daddy’s eye, this is one of those shows that benefited mightily from syndication and has been enjoyed by multiple generations. I always got a kick out of it when I was a kid. Goooollly…shazaam indeed.

 

The Jeffersons

I suppose a show about a well-to-do black family (they even had a maid!!) seemed edgy in 1975 when it was spun off from All in the Family. When I was watching it during the second half of its decade long run in the early 80’s it was just good solid fun.

 

Mork & Mindy

Any show that kickstarted the amazing career of the awesomely talented Robin Williams has to atleast be in this conversation, right?? Nanu nanu…Orson…come in Orson.

 

NewsRadio

Oh what might have been. This show was only on for 5 seasons during the late 90’s, but it had the potential to last so much longer and be so much better. Unfortunately NBC kept changing its time slot, which has a tendency to thwart the momentum of even the coolest shows. Then star Phil Hartman was tragically murdered, making the 5th (and final) season really odd to watch. It didn’t help that Jon Lovitz…who I’ve never found funny…was brought in to replace Hartman. At its best NewsRadio was reminiscent of another radio station based comedy, WKRP in Cincinnati. But throughout its run the writing was uneven and just never lived up to expectations.

 

NYPD Blue

As noted, I’m not really a huge fan of what they call police procedural dramas, but this one was pretty good. It was probably on the air atleast 2 or 3 years longer than it should have been and suffered from too many cast changes, but in its heyday during the mid-to-late 90’s it was good solid entertainment.

 

Perfect Strangers

A classic fish-out-of-water story about a wide-eyed innocent sheepherder from the small Mediterranean island of Mypos coming to live with his neurotic cousin in Chicago. This was a Friday night staple from 1986-93. Deep, meaningful television?? Maybe not. But it was good old-fashioned comedy comfort food.

 

Saved By the Bell

Corny?? Cheesy?? Poorly written with subpar acting?? An 80’s relic?? Yes to all of the above. But since I was never a big fan of cartoons I was always open to alternative programming on Saturday morning, and this was a perfectly digestible bit of fluffery when I was in college and usually hungover all weekend.

 

Sports Night

Writer/producer Aaron Sorkin is now an Oscar winner with numerous hit shows & movies to his credit, but 15 years ago his fast paced, rapier sharp dramedy about an ESPN-esque sports show was just too ahead of its time to be embraced by the masses and lasted just two seasons. If the ratings had been better and it had been on the air several more years I have no doubt it’d be in the Top 50.

 

Welcome Back Kotter

You live by the sword, you die by the sword. This tale of a group of Brooklyn high school degenerates helped launch John Travolta into superstardom. However, Travolta’s fame led to him moving on to films like Grease & Saturday Night Fever, which essentially killed the show. It originally aired in the late 70’s when I was just a bit too young to really appreciate the humor, but I’ve always enjoyed the reruns.