29 November 2016

The Bob Newhart Show: Season 3

The Sophisticated Comedy continues for The Bob Newhart Show Season Three
by Kristin Battestella

The Bob Newhart Show rolls into its 1974-75 Third Year with more sophisticated wit, progressive topics, and at home or at work humor for Dr. Robert Hartley and his wife Emily, navigator neighbor – and potential brother-in-law – Howard Borden, receptionist Carol Kester, and orthodontist Jerry Robinson.

Family, work, patients, and sisters collide to start the season as ensemble episodes and the notion of unmarried couples moving in together provide innovative head spinning. The Bob Newhart Show even tackles healthcare in “The Great Rimpau Medical Arts Co-op Experiment” when Bob objects to being charged for a wart removal after counseling another doctor. Who's services are more valuable than others are? Jerry decides the building needs a plan to treat each other for free, but it only takes a week for the gynecology double entendres, group sessions, and taking advantage grandmothers to clash amid bantering oomph, crisp writing, and natural, every man conversations. Bob's busy with patients in “The Separation Story,” but it's Emily's taking courses for her master's degree that puts the dent into their home schedule. It won't be easy and Emily debates quitting, but the couple agrees to make sacrifices. Bob insists she stay in the dorm for a full time push while he's at a hotel for work – a great compromise decided on together with respect for what each needs. This is another ahead of its time episode of The Bob Newhart Show giving the pair time to miss each other while everyone else ironically takes the separation for marital trouble. Likewise, “The Grey Flannel Shrink” has Bob reluctant to use a collection agency for his unpaid patients so he becomes the staff psychologist at an insurance company. The money is too much to pass up – not to mention a luxury office and Mercedes with a driver. Unfortunately, Bob helps the employees too much, and happy, well-adjusted salespeople don't worry about their quotas. Visual jokes accent another progressive half hour, and considering the welfare of one's workers is something we still don't quite have a handle on yet. Poor Bob struggles with kitchen simplicities and girdle free, au natural “sisters” in “We Love You... Good-bye” when Emily takes over his women's therapy group. The ladies are tired of being unappreciated and want a break from their household grind, but can The Hartley's perfect marriage stand up to the test? A wife not meant to serve her husband? What a provocative notion! Bob thinks he views women as equals with a couple's duties shared, however a little women's lib flummoxes his set in his ways nitpicking. Fortunately, Emily's glad their marriage averages out – she is able to do her own things while Bob gets the ladies their coffee.

The annual Rimpau Urology charity tennis tournament comes around again in “Serve for Daylight.” Carol was Bob's bad partner last year, but this time he's stuck with twelve lessons and she still can't serve Emily. Superstitious Bob wants to win, polishes the waiting trophy, and goes all out with sweatbands and a yellow blazer. Look at those old rackets! Thirty-four double faults for Emily, but nooo, competitive Bob wasn't keeping track. His hypocritical calls for sportsmanship when he was not playing just for fun lead to a right proper little marital rift, but Emily supports Bob in running for the school board elections in “Think Smartly – Vote Hartley.” Can Bob a smart psychologist with no political experience run for school office? He hopes to do some good, but his unqualified run gets out of hand thanks to humorous advice, put on personalities, rhetoric speeches missing details on the issues, terrible debates with screeching microphones, and woefully premature bumper stickers. The Bob Newhart Show shrewdly puts the politics in the safety of the classroom while winking at then silly political ads – and it's all the more hysterical now in light of our recent elections. After all, who knew Bob was such a smooth operator and romanced another woman up until the week before he married Emily? “The Way We Weren't” spills the beans on Bob's past, leaving him pointing fingers at Emily's past to cover his tracks. Howard's happy to know there is something to be had on Bob for a change, but our usually so put together doctor flubs left, right, and center in another wonderfully ahead of its time episode. Does dishonesty then or how serious previous relationships were matter in a five years strong marriage now? Naturally, the men and women have different perspectives on the answer. It all comes crashing down – literally – in the Season Three finale “The Ceiling Hits Bob” when the ceiling caves in on Bob's office. After trying his sessions in Jerry's dental chair, Bob tries appointments at home, leaving everything happening at once on top of multiple storylines coming to a head. Chicken Little Bob, thankfully, is able to put his foot down so he and his patients can play Monopoly.

Our titular The Bob Newhart Show straight man gets tossed in the den when his sister comes to stay, leaving him not entirely objective about her relationship with Howard. Between his cranky Over Sixty therapy group, trouble hiring a temp receptionist, and new $390 curtains cut too short – the messes are too much in “Dr. Ryan's Express.” Bob is supposed to be the decision maker who fixes everything but he's had it with people who won't do anything for themselves. If a smooth psychologist can snap over so many mundane things, what hope is there for the rest of us? He gets obsessed with a giant new camera in “Brutally Yours, Bob Hartley” – taking inopportune snaps with obnoxious flashes much to Emily's dismay. Bob has no problem intruding with his gadget, however his patients' call for total honesty makes the try hard, new in town school teacher couple over for dinner too much to bare. People trying to be polite then with hypocritical fakery or two faced with the best intentions makes for an interesting perspective on today's social media – where virtual presentations don't always reflect reality. Bob take the upfront too far, but gets it on the chin when his twenty page chapter in a newly published psychology collection is cut in “Ship of Shrinks.” Emily wanting a shocking new bikini for the celebratory conference in Hawaii can't even lift Bob over his now two page “The Importance of Office Furniture in Psychology.” Psychological needs never stop but Bob's business lulls in “My Business Is Shrinking.” He doesn't have an appointment until “Day after tomorrow, at three,” and debates on whether the seventies were crazier than the fifties and times being too tight for patients to pursue therapy make for intriguing new retrospectives. Bob, meanwhile, is home reading cereal box labels, watching game shows, and oh my word calling the operator for the correct time. Though a slight retread on earlier workforce episodes, Bob humorously addresses his professional ability to communicate with people in need – a provocative angle leading the shrink to get shrunk. Today we have numerous shows centered on quirky neuroses, but The Bob Newhart Show allows its male star to doubt, get depressed, and admit it. Of course, Bob's advice to Emily's friend in “Bob Hits the Ceiling” leads to her leaving her husband before Novocaine lisps, hunky gym teachers, mistaken identity, and macho I love yous cure all.

Suzanne Pleshette's Emily often sides with Bob's sister Ellen this season, taking her in and mothering her by trying to make her life nice and perfect. Emily also tries to make Bob's office more homey by replacing his diplomas on the wall with a picture of him fishing. While her hair seems to change from her shorter pixie to a growing out fullness from episode to episode – probably due to shows airing out of production order – Emily remains business stylish with sophisticated pantsuits and still in vogue coats. Although her Hartley chemistry anchors many episodes of The Bob Newhart Show and there are several more Bob and Emily two-handers, sadly, it seems like Emily doesn't really have a solo spotlight episode in this year of martial ebb and flow. Fortunately, another one of my favorite episodes “The New Look” has Emily's redecorating efforts compromising Bob's comforts. He says he doesn't want to see samples and leaves it to her to design as she wants – but Bob gets stuck lugging a clunking grandfather clock and isn't exactly happy with the resulting furniture. It definitely puts a halt in his “Honey, I'm home!” Is the house the wife's domain and the man an uncomfortable guest rather than king of the castle? Or should the husband put his foot down and demand his cozy chair? Pizzazz and physical comedy add to the debate – good thing all their stuff is merely a step away in Howard's apartment! Emily doesn't want to be separated from Bob for summer vacation in “Emily Hits the Ceiling,” but her summer camp job conflicts with his busy July season. Bob tries to reschedule his calendar so he can also be a camp counselor, however the planning for the camp goes overboard and into the mud. Emily's good intentions can't overcome the lack of finances much less the pathetic, humorous absurdities.

The charming Pat Finely joins The Bob Newhart Show on a recurring basis as Bob's sister Ellen in a season long arc romancing Bill Daily's golly gee navigator Howard Borden. Another young, educated female pushing the workplace or relationship envelope and Howard having more to do seems like a fine storyline. However, I'm not sure where the series intended to go with this back and forth pairing – what seems like it should be resolved in several episodes limps through the year and lingers into next season. Ellen asks Bob's permission to move in with Howard in the “Big Brother Is Watching” premiere, leaving him caught in the middle with the taboo idea before Ellen finds her own place. Howard continues to have his bungling individual moments, and he's still seen mooching of the Hartleys, dining alone, or flirting with no mention of Ellen during the Christmas episode. He has mice and a bare tree as if her character is already written off yet Howard also becomes stifling and desperate not to make the same mistakes of his first marriage in “Sorry, Wrong Mother.” Little Howie meets Ellen, but they don't really like each other and a wild ice cream shop adds to awkward situation – using quality comedy and serious interference to create more cracks for the are they/aren't they betrothed. Although previous antique businesses and newspaper work are tossed in for Ellen, she never seems like a fully developed character, relying rather on Howard connections and childhood references with Bob. This uneven treatment makes her potentially likable plot seem worse than it is, noticeably not as on the ball as the rest of The Bob Newhart Show. With dark hair and a similar name, at times Ellen feel like an unnecessary Emily clone. It's odd to have her conflicted over two men when her ruggedly suave ex-fiance Fred Willard (Best in Show) tries to win Ellen again in “Tobin's Back in Town” when the season finale leaves them right back where they started. Thankfully, a little competition makes room for Howard's sophisticated aviation hysterics.

Co-star and director Peter Bonerz's orthodontist Jerry Robinson isn't going to sit on his laurels – he wants to write a kids' dental book called Tooth or Consequences. He also dates a Swedish girl who doesn't speak English before his world traveling ex Gail Strickland (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) makes him question his dull, comfortable life in “Jerry Robinson Crusoe.” She's taken ten years to see the world in alphabetical order and invites Jerry along to Tahiti, but also insists he does important work that helps people when he doubts his plastic bubble. It's an interesting episode addressing a contented working life versus adventurous, free spirited risks, and Jerry chooses to sell everything and take to the traveling whim. Sure, mentions of it being a month later have him returned by the next episode, but it's neat to see a character really go somewhere, do something, and take a chance on a dream rather than remain stagnant or in the background where he is most of the season. Of course, Jerry has a selfish reset when he loses stock money in “A Pound of Flesh” and wants Bob to loan him a hefty $1500 for a motorcycle. He suspects Bob must ask Emily if it is okay, an intriguing equality instead of breadwinner macho – and Bob does indeed ask her opinion on declining Jerry rather than putting a price on their friendship. Besides, Howard loaning the money to Jerry costs him $1600. Marcia Wallace's receptionist Carol Kester has one zany apartment, too – complete with a barking dog doorbell and bean bag chairs. She takes a cooking class and ponders another job offer until she gets a proper raise, but Carol also seems to wear the same clothes several episodes in a row. Fortunately, she does get some sparkling denim “boss threads” and considers a marriage proposal from her on/off selfish writer boyfriend in “Life Is a Hamburger.” Nobody else, however, is all that thrilled, but a saloon themed restaurant and some really bad poetry add to the awkward conversation and the potential romantic conflict between Jerry and Carol. Instead of romantic retreads, Carol dreads her plane ticket home to family in Iowa for “Home Is Where the Hurt Is” and on Christmas Eve unloads some relatable complaints about her family's back-handed ways.

In addition to familiar guest star faces such as John Ritter, Squiggy David Lander, and Mr. Rhoda Richard Schaal, Larry Gelman returns as Dr. Tupperman alongside Howard Platt as Dr. Phil Newman, Shirley O'Hara as flaky temp Debbie, and Bob Newhart's own father-in-law Bill Quinn as Eddie the Mailman. The timeless, totally accurate Thanksgiving episode “An American Family” also puts Bob's dinner perfectionist mother Martha Scott up against Emily's intruding fun loving dad John Randolph – leaving Emily's quiet mom Ann Rutherford and Bob's no nonsense father Barnard Hughes caught between the obsessive cleaning, tight scheduling, and petty food insults. No, this isn't a good holiday for Howard to meet his future in-laws! Likewise, regular patients Jack Riley as Elliot Carlin, Renee Lippin as Michelle, John Fiedler as Mr. Peterson, and Rhoda Gemignani as Mrs. Rossi have it out with Lucien Scott's Mr. Vickers and Oliver Clark's Mr. Herd for “The Battle of the Groups.” Despite Bob's fear of rushing into an explosive confrontation, his rival therapy groups go on a weekend marathon session together – and then Emily wants to go, too. The bickering starts before the teams even get to the cabin, and the crabbiness spreads to the couple as Mr. Carlin gets naked and in touch with nature. It's a wild episode matched only by Merie Earle as feisty old Mrs. Loomis and Howard Hesseman's struggling television writer Craig Plager's bad ideas. Reality show producers today would totally love his game show where celebrities play tug of war across state lines!

Of course, The Bob Newhart Show has so much yellow or orange and patterns upon plaid – when everyone stands next to each other in their finest patchwork rainbow, it makes my eyes go wonky! Styles have progressed to wide shirt collars and flared suits with longer skirt hems, bigger bell bottoms, high-waisted pants, neckerchiefs, and bow ties yet all of it is plaid. Fortunately, the women have curves, hips rather than plastic stick figures, with realistic looks to hit home the funny realism. There's microfilm projectors, too, and an entire plot on what kind of clock to get for the office, you know, so everyone can look up and know what time it is. Linebacker therapy patients make a mere $100,000 a year, a tuxedo costs $26 to rent, and five people can go to the ice cream parlor for $20. Thankfully, The Hartleys have finally realized their wallpaper is ugly and upgrade with a different ugly wallpaper and new décor late in the season. I dare say I like the original, seemingly more recognizable as The Bob Newhart Show style better. I miss their bookshelves and the door railing seems in the way, but the blue stained cabinets and not one but two bright blue couches are, well, brighter. Removing the door to the bedroom hall is an improvement, but why do they need to get all new artwork? Wouldn't one, you know, keep your favorite paintings? There are episode commentaries and a ten minute chat with Bob Newhart amid the 3 discs of Season Three as part of the Complete Series box set, however the sound is once again poorly mixed. Future Cheers alum James Burrows joins The Bob Newhart Show this season alongside frequent directors Jay Sandrich, Alan Rafkin, and Michael Zinberg, and some of the production changes are apparent with varying credits. At times, shorter opening titles and a different “Home to Emily” theme is used – the phone gag is gone, and for three odd episodes, completely new credits featuring Emily on the go are used. Who knew?

The Bob Newhart Show shrewdly uses humor to address the ups and downs and every day struggles of its ensemble, tugging and pulling without earlier mid-century television restraint to test its stars with sophisticated, timely guffaws. The progressive wit of The Bob Newhart Show remains groundbreaking for adults today while Season Three continues to provide laughter for the whole family.

25 November 2016

Motown Soul Sweetness Volume 2!

Motown, Soul and Sweetness Volume 2!
by Kristin Battestella

I dare say everyone and anybody can name at least one song by the stars in this quartet. So go ahead and sing a long or stuff everyone's stocking with more of these timeless classics and divine essentials.

The Best of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles: 20th Century Masters Millennium Collection – Other than the somewhat tacked on “Just to See” and later day “Love Machine featuring Billie Griffith” included over the absent “Going to a Go-Go,” there's not much to dislike about this greatest hits compilation featuring “Tears of a Clown,” “Cruisin,” and every Motown hit in between. Distinctions between single versions, album editions, mono or single tracks, and various billings as The Miracles, Smokey Robinson, and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles may irk expert completists. However, the ever smooth “Ooo Baby Baby,” irresistible “Tracks of My Tears,” and my favorite “You Really Got a Hold on Me” more than make up for the series' lengthy title or other any other quibbling technicalities in this quick thirty-eight minutes. You simply don't hear catchy hits like “Shop Around” or “I Second That Emotion” and the grooving “Mickey's Monkey” or “More Love” on the radio anymore – sacrilege! Downsizing soul lovers may not have the room or equipment for poor sounding records, either, and these tracks certainly sound better than my scratchy 45s! This set is a great, affordable download for an old school newcomer's Motown education as well as the perfect nostalgic stocking stuffer for older, reminiscing relatives.

The Definitive Collection: Diana Ross and The Supremes – On one hand, the chronological order here belies The Supremes somewhat, as the incredibly catchy “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” and “Come See About Me” are intentionally orchestrated hits with similar rhythms and hooks. If you like one Supremes song, you will immediately recognize every other one, and that was the Motown plan. However, as this 2008 session progresses, the power of the group emerges with increasingly toe tapping and singing along staples like “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Back in My Arms Again,” “Nothing but Heartaches,” and “I Hear a Symphony.” Grand dame Diana Ross' vocals strengthen amid the hallmark harmonies of Mary and Flo in “My World is Empty without You,” “Love is Like an Itching in My Heart,” and the indispensable “You Can't Hurry Love.” It's quite fascinating to open with a packaged cookie cutter girl group and over an hour hear a decade's worth of musical growth becoming the bittersweet pinnacle of “You Keep Me Hangin' On” and “Love is Here and Now You're Gone.” Mature, psychedelic touches raise “Reflections” and the then saucy of “The Happening,” “Love Child,” and “I'm Living in Shame” – replacing the early happy go lucky beats with scandals and sophistication before the co - Temptations titan “I'm Gonna Make You Love Me” and my ironic finale favorite “Someday We'll Be Together.” This set is indeed a definitive, superb encapsulation of everything a new Supremes fan needs as well as the tunes for which longtime listeners yearn – because alas, sometimes one's Supremes A Go Go record just won't play anymore. And yes, I did have a cat named Baby Love, what of it?

The Drifters Golden Hits – Glory! This compilation originally from 1968 has that elusive original songs by the original artists – an essential adherence when one is seeking the delicious strings of my favorite “There Goes My Baby,” the sweet “If You Cry True Love,” effortless “Dance with Me,” forever dynamite “This Magic Moment,” and perennial last call “Save the Last Dance for Me.” And that's not to mention “I Count the Tears,” “Up on the Roof,” and “On Broadway.” Hot diggity I'm running out of superlatives! Yippee “Under the Boardwalk” and its often overlooked sequel “I've Got Sand in My Shoes” round out the happy listening here alongside “Saturday Night at the Movies.” However, knowing The Drifters' penchant for revolving door membership do overs, “Some Kind of Wonderful” does sound like a CD reissue re-record, and there are other similarly named but inferior compilations to beware. Though already packing a musical education if there ever was one in just a half hour, I suppose you can't win them all as this set obviously lacks singles from the Clyde McPhatter era. “Please Stay” and “Sweets for My Sweets” are also missing, but fortunately, the original essentials of the Ben E. King, Rudy Lewis, and Johnny Moore leads are here. Did I say glory? Glory! When you need a quality Drifters release, this is the one to get. 

Sam Cooke Portrait of a Legend: 1951-1964 – This extensive, exceptional, much-lauded seventy-seven minute 2003 collection combines classic hits and soulful gospel tunes alongside a plethora of memorable Cooke gems including “You Send Me,” “Only Sixteen,” “Cupid,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Chain Gang,” “Another Saturday Night,” and “Having a Party.” Whew! There are quality cutting a rug hits, too, such as “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,” “Meet Me at Mary's Place,” “Good Times,” “Twistin' the Night Away,” and “Shake” amid ballads like “I'll Come Running Back to You,” “You Were Made for Me,” “Sad Mood,” “Nothing Can Change This Love,” “That's Where It's At,” and my impeccable fave “Bring It on Home to Me.” But wait, there's still more catchy romantic smooth and sway with “Lovable,” “Just for You,” “Win Your Love for Me,” “Sugar Dumpling,” and “(Aint' That) Good News.” Updated covers including “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” “Little Red Rooster,” “Summertime,” and “Tennessee Waltz” are peppered among the inspiring breezy “Touch the Hem of his Garment” and spiritual “Jesus Gave Me Water” before the humming “Soul” thirty second hidden track and the ever important posthumous “A Change is Gonna Come.” Indubitably, this is much more exhaustive than the shorter, now more elusive The Best of Sam Cooke – a fine set that was one of my first over-played and chewed up cassettes. From grooves to bittersweets and all the pop and balladry in between, this set is a jam-packed present with a little bit of everything one needs to love this tragic soul pioneer.

22 November 2016

A Shakespeare Trio, Thrice!

A Shakespeare Trio, Thrice!
By Kristin Battestella

Alas, who's still celebrating the Shakespeare 400th here at the year's end? Join in with this trio of Bard focused documentaries debating everything from if Shakespeare is really Shakespeare to where he's buried and if his skull is still there. Oh yes.

The Shakespeare Conspiracy Presented by Sir Derek Jacobi – Is the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere the true author of Shakespeare's works? Sir Derek narrates and appears on location to address the questionable Shakespeare facts – experts interviewed even pronounce the names of Willm Shakspere, gent wanted for tax evasion who left no mention of manuscripts in his will, and the famed ever living poet differently. Beyond basic records and tourism perks for Stratford-upon-Avon, the evidence doesn't seem to favor the former's leap from country business and acting on stage to the latter's literary glory. From the original tomb depiction of a bag of grain and the subsequent quill poised monument to the breakdown of the name William Shakespeare as a “poet playwright” pseudonym with a debatable hyphen, the case against The Bard is stacked with similarly named relatives, posthumous poetry references, and physical oddities in known Shakespeare portraits. Who had the scholarly and courtly characteristics needed to write such plays but had to hide behind the Elizabethan taboo of nobles not being able to write under their own names for the low end theater? Did de Vere with his aristocratic background meet the criteria to write Shakespeare as we know him? Dramatic play examples, early film footage postulating the Oxford theory, and references to the 1920 book Shakespeare Identified punctuate de Vere's biography, his surviving documents, and the mirroring of his turbulent life in some of Shakespeare's plots. While apparently new to video and streaming, this hour seems much older with poorly mixed dialogue drowned out by medieval music. Most of the experts are also dubbed into English, which is somewhat surprising when considering why this thoroughly English topic wouldn't go to their own local authorities first. Likewise the documentary name is generic enough that Sir Google gives you more information about the authorship question itself. At times, the rough, one-sided presentation is tough to follow with a convoluted and windblown focus on academic minutiae that's not shocking but now readily available information. I'd like to see Jacobi present his claims anew, but this is a neat place to start for those interested specifically in the Oxfordian case.

The Shakespeare Enigma – Pseudonym possibilities, persecution fears, and evidence not adding up anchor this hour long documentary focusing on Christopher Marlowe as a potential candidate in the Shakespeare authorship question. Background reenactments and Stratford-upon-Avon footage add Elizabethan flavor alongside the lack of Shakespeare documentation and the suspicious death of Marlowe giving rise to Shakespeare's success. From humble origins, sixteenth century civil records, and Catholic versus Protestant strife, the historical information explains the court intrigue of the time – setting the scene for the sometime actor and apprentice known as Shakespeare versus the well educated Marlowe excelling in the London theater scene when not employed in Sir Francis Walsingham's spy service. The gaps in Shakespeare's life and Marlowe's rebellious, even treasonous nature provide room for faked death supposition despite anything concrete to support the cover ups, pardons, and Italian exile. Did Shakespeare fill the tense court vacuum left by the late Marlowe with a comedic stage, theater patronages, new acting troops, and eventual Globe renown? Or was there a hidden collaboration between the two? The elaborate and somewhat preposterous subterfuge is presented here in a concise, fun manner with brief comments on De Vere's candidacy and behind the scenes moments from the recent film Anonymous. Why is there no mention of Shakespeare's manuscripts in his will? Have audiences been bemusingly subjected to the good business that is the big Bard fraud? Perhaps the more interesting question is whether who actually wrote what really matters, and expert interviews punctuate the friendly narration and paired down possibilities here. While not super academic or technical and simplistic to the well versed anti-Stratfordian, this presentation takes what can be a very difficult topic and offers a linear, basic overview on one angle in the case – making it perfect for classroom supposition or an introduction to the authorship debate.

Shakespeare's Tomb – Helen Castor (She-Wolves) hosts this 400th anniversary PBS special taking an archaeological approach to The Bard's final resting place with on location cameras at the Holy Trinity Church and new technology scans contrasting the candlelit medieval mood. Recent excavations at Shakespeare's New Place and at the scene conversations with historians detail the odd burial facts, unusual curse epitaph, confusing tomb design, and how little we really know. Looking at Shakespeare's will shows interesting changes to his bequeaths, but how did he die – syphilis, fever, typhoid, murder? Praying for the sins of the dead and gruesome period background on overcrowded graveyards, digging up bones, and skulls stacked in Charnel Houses add to the possibility of later phrenology crazes being potentially responsible for the apparent disturbance of Billy's bones. Is Shakespeare really there? Why a burial at his local parish and not something more grand? Do the grave markers cover a hidden vault beneath? Why is William's stone different from the rest of his family? Are Victorian tales of his skull being stolen true? Despite the church's policy against evasive, intrusive investigations, radar experts can use innocuous GPR data to reveal the size, shapes, depth, and simplistic placement of the Shakespeare family graves. Instead of shovels and dirt, this almost futuristic archaeology scanning of the aged stones gives amazing answers alongside dusty medieval registrars – but these also raise more intriguing clues and possibilities. Stories of nearby vaults and rumors of reburied skulls behind hidden staircases and forgotten ossuaries invoke more mystery. It's a neat fantastic meets science mix, with tiptoeing amid family skeletons while trying to use modern laser scanning equipment in cramped crypts. Unfortunately, the church's restoration history, challenging 3D models, and detailed forensic reconstruction of the purported to be Shakespeare Beoley Skull may not give the answers this scientific endeavor wants. Naturally, we won't know the truth until Holy Trinity Church is willing to open the grave – and of course it is in their best interests to respect the dead. However, it is surprising this new information didn't make more news. This presentation has a fun, personal perspective with friendly layman explanations rather than super academia, making it pleasant for the classroom and older scholars alike.

15 November 2016

The Addams Family: Season 1

The Addams Family Debuts with Quips and Quirky Good Fun
by Kristin Battestella


Thirty-four half hour black and white episodes from the 1964-65 television season introduce audiences to The Addams Family – Charles Addams' lovable cartoons made flesh thanks to cigar loving Gomez (John Astin), his literally smoking wife Morticia (Carolyn Jones), their macabre children Wednesday (Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax), electric Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), spunky Grandmama (Blossom Rock), and deadpan butler Lurch (Ted Cassidy). Of course, that's not to mention Thing, Cousin Itt, Cleopatra, and many more quirky pets, relatives, and memorable circumstances brimming with quips, catchphrases, and ghastly good times. Snap your fingers now!

The Addams Family gets right to the spooky fun as Thing reaches from the mailbox in the “The Addams Family Goes to School” premiere. Truant officers knocking on the door are met with a roaring rug, a two headed tortoise statue, and more “we like it, it's so nice and gloomy” décor – providing the viewer a shrewd tour of who is who or what, as it were. Fortunately, The Addamses are the ones who find the freaked school board members “weird.” Initially, they encourage the idea of a regular school. However, The Addamses become appalled by the violent Grimm's Fairy Tales being read in the classroom and try to make the school officials see the light with a stretch on the rack to calm some nerves. While this macabre but wholesome charm is expected today, The Addams Family subtly makes its moral question of the establishment early in the series. The Addamses pick losing candidates like Adlai Stevenson, and Gomez goes overboard with family posters and campaign songs in “Gomez the Politician.” He's completely unaware the supposedly respectable nominee doesn't want their warped help, yet The Addamses are willing to tolerate their white picket fence neighbors in “The Addams Family Tree.” They assure the children remain modest, don't flaunt their wealth, and have tarantula gifts on hand when Wednesday and Pugsley attend a birthday party. The Addams Family may ponder them writing rebuttal letter or turning the other cheek, but make no mistake, this family is ready to defend their honor when called “kooks.” Rather than outsider plots taking over, it's more fun to see The Addams gang face normal confrontations or everyday worries with their own peculiar elan for the twist – with talk of duels, Aunt Blemish, Grandpa Slurp, Salem family history, and your otherwise average skulduggery.

Halloween with the Addams Family” brings the whole clan out with sharp pumpkin carving knives, bubbling potion punches, and worm cookies – even the kids are dressed in apparently normal costumes to “scare the wits out of people.” Of course, the innocent, bobbing for crabs family thinks that bank robbers are just getting money for trick or treat instead of apples. They are going all out for their favorite holiday, but The Addamses have never heard of hide and seek and find it too strange a game. Gomez and Morticia spa Pugsley's pet octopus in the bird bath and hope an outdoor introduction happens in “The New Neighbors Meet the Addams Family.” The newlyweds next door could be imaginative Addams folk thanks to their giant cedar chest, but when they turn out to be straight laced and high strung, The Addamses are still willing to be friendly. Inexplicably, that two headed turtle as a housewarming gift and Uncle Fester popping up from a trap door in the floor just to say hello don't go over too well, leaving our eponymous family once again confused as to why their good deeds and generous intentions go awry. Fortunately, Grandmama's love dust and Morticia's makeover do aide the jilted Cousin Melancholia in “Morticia the Matchmaker.” Rather than a fun name reference or preposterous ancestral quip, it's great to see another family member come to the welcoming Addamses for a little romantic help – a guest who's one of their own for Gomez to snag an unwitting business contact or reluctant local lawyer. Pugsley's super antenna and radio gizmos, however, attract the authorities for “The Addams Family Meets the Undercover Man” when overheard references to a roaring lion and a man eating houseplant are mistaken for suspicious code talk. Reluctant postman decoys and frightened undercover plumbers may seem cliché, but it's bemusing to see how the information on The Addams Family comes from listening to the radio or waiting for the snail mail. Each episode always ends with a post-Addams flown the coop letter or a gone crazy mention which the family always takes as a delightful vacation or adventure.

Unfortunately, things aren't so rosy when Morticia and Fester think Gomez's business has gone belly up in “Morticia, the Breadwinner.” Grandmama strikes out working at a beauty salon, the children's “Henbane on the Rocks” drink stand gets sued, and Fester shockingly becomes an escort for rich widows. Morticia tries to give tango and fencing lessons without any students, and Thing pitches in selling pencils for five cents a piece – accumulating a whopping $1.30 wages among them. Naturally, the local bazaar fears receiving shrunken heads and headless dolls in “Morticia's Favorite Charity.” However, the titular clan finds it tough to part with their treasures, and Fester's reluctance versus Morticia's enthusiasm make for some interesting debates. They want to give something important rather than get rid of things, but their sentiments backfire in an ironic bidding war for their beloved donations. Upside down gags accent the pros and cons as Gomez dictates a harsh letter, Morticia tries for diplomacy, and Fester threatens voodoo doll violence when the city evicts them to build a freeway in “Progress and the Addams Family.” There's no caves, swamps, or quicksand on the new lot where the family intends to move their entire house, but they agree to be fair neighbors regardless of who those next door are. Of course, it is the city commissioner who's willing to have the freeway rerouted if it means The Addamses won't be his new neighbors. Fester also fears the worst when a magazine article in “Winning of Morticia Addams” says that couples who are too happy must really be miserable – so he enlists the entire family to make the couple fight “for their own good.” The Addams Family should have had more Grandmama and Uncle Fester led episodes, but this opposite focus with duels and dilemmas is a fun bonus to end the season.

Though much beloved, The Addams Family is of its time and may not always be friendly for any super young impressionable viewers thanks to talk of dynamite, hangings, cannons, and gunfire as games. The adults smoke a hookah and use inappropriate terms such as spook and midget alongside gypsy masquerades, American Indian racism, and Eskimo giver jokes mentioning a totem pole gift from Cousin Nanook. The Addams Family meanders in the first half of the season with run of the mill misunderstandings, leaving the you've seen one, you've seen them all plots over-reliant on The Addamses quirky chemistry. So many cool name dropped family members and cartoon references get lost amid conflicting anecdotes and too many clichés in a row, and derivative sitcom plots or thin television stock tropes clutter the family charm. Instead of the local ladies invited to tea clutching their pearls at haunted house compliments, “Morticia Joins the Ladies League” wastes time over a gorilla on the loose. Pedestrian clichés and put on Eastern European accents in “The Addams Family Meets the VIPs” hamper the zany Addams display, and “The Addams Family Meets a Beatnik” looses its cool between The Addamses being unfamiliar with the dated slang and serious moments about yet another misunderstood stranger kindly accepted. You expect offbeat humor with The Addams Family, but the interesting lessons on gambling versus investing in “The Addams Family Splurges,” are riddled with off-putting talk of going to the dark side of the moon, using a super computer named Wizzo to beat the system, and casual mentions of suicide or shooting oneself. Likewise, trite insurance scams in “Crisis in the Addams Family” dampen quality Uncle Fester mentions of hearty Buzzard broth and gopherloaf. I'd like to have seen those!

John Astin (Night Court) receives second billing on The Addams Family as the cigar smoking, suavely dressed, head of the house, sword swallower, stock ticker extraordinaire Gomez Addams. This Zen yogi society member often stands on his head to read the paper and the born with a mustache, fiery Castilian loves crashing his train sets – but he'll lay down the law with his wild eyed crazy when he must. His ultimate business dream would be to invent something costing ten cents to make, sells for a dollar, and is habit forming. Gomez's favorite lunch may be broiled eye of newt but he's revolted by daisies and fears his frightening effect on women. Despite sword play and whip practice, Gomez still carries his wife Morticia across the threshold. They had their honeymoon in a cave under Niagara Falls and can't resist a good tune – pacing quickly turns to dancing thanks to every Spanish quip or French reference. In “Green-Eyed Gomez,” he's happy the guest room has a homey mace hanging on the sconce and a hardwood mattress for a visiting former suitor but hires a frumpy maid to woo the rival away from their money. Of course, the most endearing part of The Addams Family is the then-surprising innuendo between Gomez and his “Tish.” This was still television's separate beds infancy yet everything from her touching his cheek to helping put on his coat sets horny old Gomez aflame. It's amazing the series got away with what they did – such as actually saying “make love” in this era of whoopee. While all lovably innocent querida now, the banter remains sophisticated and witty rather than today's crass. Unfortunately, this husband and wife never kiss onscreen the entire season, and poor Gomez is always put off until “later, dear, later.” No wonder he is so crazy eyed and standing on his head! Then again, when Gomez hits his head in “Amnesia in the Addams Family,” he forgets Morticia is his wife, doesn't want her wearing all black, and thinks their home is a depressing, condemned museum with Lurch as its gargoyle. It's delightful to see one of their own be normal for a little while, and the entire family pitches in to get Gomez back on the rack.

Top billed Carolyn Jones (King Creole) wears a tight black dress and shimmies with her arms crossed as Morticia Addams – née Frump. There's a black handkerchief up her sleeve and she won't stand for bloodshed in her living room yet Morticia insists black curtains are cheerful and that “friend” looks better without the “r.” Whether it is in the playroom knitting three armed sweaters or the conservatory chopping the roses off the vase of thorns and feeding strangling plants, Morticia's wicker peacock chair is always nearby for her to opine on the matters at hand – everything from her hemlock drooping because it needs more moonlight to reminding her family “a watched cauldron never bubbles.” The maverick Morticia paints, uses baking powder make up on her face, and wants to build an unwanted bats haven, but she always makes sure her children have clean, sharp nails as well as love and family time instead of harsh discipline. In addition to her renowned dwarf's hair cobbler or eye of tadpole and yak casserole, Morticia's giant black ring is filled with poison and her wolfsbane tea comes with salt, pepper, or cyanide. Fortunately, her delightful larks, deadpan delivery, and wholesome zingers are so sincere you simply must concur. She can light candles with her fingertips and has absolutely stunning eyes to contrast her demure voice of reason – Morticia always asks if anyone minds if she smokes and then...smokes. Although previously engaged to the beady eyed, curled lipped, long fingernailed Rupert Styx, Morticia says being married to Gomez makes her the world's most fortunate woman. She gifts her husband with his and hers beds of nails and does animal imitations that send him a flutter. Morticia finds it impossible that blondes have more fun, and tells her “bubele” Gomez that every night is Halloween when they're together. While her name appears in many of the somewhat misleading The Addams Family's episode titles, not many storylines are truly Morticia-centric. However, this matriarch remains the star of every episode nonetheless, anchoring each dilemma or misunderstanding with a morose, moral core.

Silent film pioneer Jackie Coogan's Uncle Fester likes to remind everyone that looks, charm, and personality aren't everything when compared to carrying 110 volts or blinking a light bulb in your mouth. Fester plays cards and cooks with Grandmama, has a tree house where he likes to view the lightning, and enjoys cracking the family safe just to make something mundane an adventure. Though too proud to beg, too lazy to work, and extremely trigger happy and ready to shoot anyone in the back, he's generous in spoiling the children with fresh Gila monsters. Green tongued Uncle Fester prefers science and electricity to mumbo jumbo, but he can chill a thermometer with his temperature and uses spray preservatives “just to keep.” Once, he fell asleep on a park bench and the police carried him to the morgue, but he prefers his homey bed of spikes. The Addams Family under utilizes Uncle Fester's comic relief to start, reserving him for third wheel foil to Gomez and Morticia or standard illness and romantic plots as in “Uncle Fester's Toupee.” Fester has been a little misleading in his letters to his French pen pal visiting from Paris, Illinois with embellishments about Cary Grant hair and athleticism necessitating a series of trial and error wigs for the wooing. While this is a very simple, stock sitcom premise, there's enough charm, character personality, and even a whiff of scandalous as Fester adopts Gomez's arm kissing flair. When Fester objects to the idea that his electric power is run down in “Fester's Punctured Romance,” he mistakes the Avon lady as an answer to his personal ad and gets carried away with the potential for cobras and shrunken heads as wedding gifts. Gomez must call an electrician to fix a “devolting” in “Uncle Fester's Illness.” Fester feels rejected for not being able to go neon or light his light bulb, and sour milk diets or inhaling smog are to no avail. Fortunately, this is another solid episode with the whole family getting in on the retro bathing suits, sunglasses at night, and mercury for the cure – because “a good moonbath is just the tonic you need.”

The song says “petite” but Ted Cassidy's Lurch is difficult to refuse thanks to his imposing height and somber appearance. The Addamses' butler drives their car, carries the kids, catches guest when they faint, and uses a mace to tenderize the meat for the sword shish kabobs. When not relaxing on the rack, he plays the harpsichord while Thing turns his pages. Lurch may only speak a line or two beyond his usual “You rang?” however his playing of the theme tune and incidental musics creates offbeat diegetic scene transitions. The family wants wallflower Lurch to accept his annual butler's ball invitation for “Lurch Learns to Dance” and call on the local dance studio before Gomez teaches Lurch in some wonderful physical comedy moments. Pep talks from little Wednesday and some goofy ballet twirls exemplify how every family member helps each other in their own special way, making this one of the best episodes of The Addams Family. Lurch has written to his mother that he is head of the manor, setting up another most memorable entry in “Mother Lurch Visits the Addams Family.” The Addamses want him to be happy, and debate on Lurch playing dead or electrocuting his mother with the doorbell before ultimately pretending to be his servants for a charming, running the staff ragged role reversal. They also give themselves two “maybe three” days to build a replacement harpsichord after Lurch threatens to quit over his 1503 Krupnik being donated to a fishy museum curator in “Lurch and His Harpsichord.” He prefers Mozart to Fester's up tempo requests, and emotional pantomiming and attempts at other instruments invoke more laughs until recording contracts and screaming crowds go to his head in the terrific “Lurch the Teenage Idol.” The normally shy Lurch gets really into his singing and harpsichord grooves while Wednesday does the Watusi!

Well versed in art, bagpipes, ballet, the occult, and arm wrestling Thing, Blossom Rock's (Dr. Kildare) Grandmama Addams tutors Wednesday and Pugsley, plays darts, and sharpens her ax for when the taxman comes. She crochets a tea cozy from the hair off one of her shrunken heads, too. Unfortunately, this potentially richly storied character who voted in 1906 pre-sufferagettes because no women allowed wasn't going to stop her is often referred to but seen the least on The Addams Family. If not for their original cartoon appearances, one could dare say Grandmama and one of the children aren't even needed on the television series – Fester is already the zany relative and Lurch a child-like figure for sitcom lessons. Thankfully, Grandmama is happy to make candied porcupine but won't get dish hands for anyone, and Fester thinks she's getting selfish in her old age because she hogs the stocks in the dungeon when she wants to relax. She's mentioned as off visiting relatives such as Grandpa Squint and Aunt Vendetta or being on spider hunts, and the children help her sort the toadstools from the mushrooms for her toadstool souffle. Grandmama also sets up a fortune telling scheme while the family is themselves away bat hunting in “The Addams Family in Court,” and her carnival tent in the living room complete with incense, hidden foot pedal tricks, a crystal ball taken from the chandelier, and $84 in tips leads to jail time and some courtroom antics from her son, Gomez “Loophole” Addams. When she needs help with her unique brand of painting in “Art and the Addams Family,” Grandmama calls their ancestral Spain to find Picasso – descendant Sam Picasso, a babysitting gigolo gardener with an unfortunately stereotypical, limp wristed gay inflection. This somewhat flawed entry ends up more about their guest than Grandmama, saved only by her bemusing Addams notion on how the torture room and suffering for one's art are one and the same.

Ironically, the first Addams we meet is the well behaved, mannerly, and sweet little Lisa Loring as Wednesday Friday Addams. She cries when the knight in shining armor kills the dragon and looses her front tooth but loves spiders and gets spunky, punching a bigger boy who insults the family honor. Wednesday has no time for anyone getting sissy and plays autopsy with headless dolls. The character is very mature for her age, at times breaking the fourth wall to shrug at the audience or sitting in the tree to great visitors with strange little questions – fully aware of the twisted humor and demented quips at work. Wednesday has a tiny black tutu for ballet, plays chess with Thing, and Lurch teaches her piano. She may also have a boyfriend, but he's the Invisible Man's son Woodrow. When forbidden to play with her spider Homer in “Wednesday Leaves Home,” she runs away by hiding in Pugsley's room so she can still be nearby and watch her parents suffer. It sounds diabolic but the delivery among the children is so cute you can't help but chuckle. Her mother fears she will end up with the Brownies and a crabby police officer plot hampers the kids' storyline, but Wednesday ultimately caves when a social worker promises to give her apple pie and read her fairy tales. Both children seem to alternate or appear in one scene each per episode more times then they are together, but they are always there for a lesson on not lying and knowing right from wrong. Dear Ken Weatherwax's ten year old Pugsley fixes his sister's doll by chopping off its head, and the baby vultures painted on his bedroom door match his dungeon-style playroom. His piggy bank is shockingly somehow a real pig that squeals away when it is time to retrieve money, and though smart with an awareness for parental psychology, Pugsley experiments with regular kid things – much to his parents chagrin. There's little focus on the children, and The Addams Family has Pugsley go normal too soon in the second episode “Morticia and the Psychiatrist.” His parents wonder if they've pampered and spoiled him with too many readings of The Raven when Pugsley join the Boy Scouts, carries a baseball bat, and plays with a puppy in the sunshine. “My Son the Chimp” likewise ends up being more about everyone else than Pugsley. Thanks to one too many primates and a magical snafu, the family spends a convoluted, trite episode trying to fix what isn't broken while Pugsley is actually content in a secret room reading comic books.

Billed as “Itself,” Thing T. Thing actually seems to appear more than some of the full bodied family thanks to its getting the mail, serving tea, turning down the volume on the television, and answering the phone. Despite the “Beware of the Thing” sign and a sometimes temperamental, tattle tale disposition; Gomez says it keeps the whole house together. When not traveling in the glove compartment of the car, Thing writes with a quill, uses Morse Code to talk, types for Gomez, and apparently loves music – it plays finger cymbals, tambourine, and flips the record yet isn't interested in holding hands with anyone and is more than happy to hand guests their hats to leave. The Addamses realize how much they can't do without Thing passing the salt in “Thing Is Missing,” leading to some finger pointing accusations and an ad in the paper seeking “their Thing.” Though a famed Addams character, Felix Silla's (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) all hair, derby wearing, pip squeaking Cousin Itt doesn't appear until more than halfway through the season in “Cousin Itt Visits the Addams Family.” He's a layman magician who likes to play the field but knows how to turn a colorful phrase, for “It's not the joke, it's the way he tells it.” Itt stays in a tiny attic room when seeking a new job in “Cousin Itt and the Vocational Counselor,” but his IQ of 320 and attempt at being a marriage counselor lands Gomez on the courting chair alone. While the rest of family moonbathes, Itt is also mistaken for a martian in “The Addams Family and the Spacemen.” The fifties G-men are somewhat trite, but The Addamses otherworldly oddness is surmised here with witty, tongue in cheek fun. Despite numerous guests, incidental coppers, and typical crooks, it feels like there are less famous guest stars visiting The Addams Family this season save for comedian Don Rickles as a bumbling robber and the wonderful Grandma Walton Ellen Corby as Lurch's sassy little mother – who should have been a regular grumpy antagonist perpetually under the impression that her “sonny” is head of the house. Though oft mentioned, pets such as Aristotle the octopus, Kitty Kat the lion, Zelda the vulture, Homer the spider, Lucifer the lizard, and Tristan and Isolde the piranha couple are perhaps understandably more often unseen than the burger eating Cleopatra strangler plant – although anyone who doesn't love an octopus is inhuman, and Kitty Kat dislikes the taste of people.

Now you know you know the song, whether the lyrics really rhyme or not, and the famous finger snapping rhythm sets The Addams Family's quirky mood immediately. Lighthearted family clips anchor the opening titles, but only Jones and Astin receive star billing while the rest of the cast comes in the closing credits. The episode titles also never appear alongside cartoon creator Charles Addams, developer David Levy (Sarge), oft director Sidney Lanfield (McHale's Navy) or regular writers Harry Winkler (The George Gobel Show) and Hannibal Coons and Phil Leslie (Dennis the Menace). Although sped up action or rewind speed are used sparingly in the twenty-six minute runtime, there is an occasional, stilted, slow motion effect. The canned laughter is totally unnecessary, and bells or whistle sounds are overused as if the audience wouldn't notice any slight of hand or sight gags without an accompanying noise. Bemusing incidental music, a roaring cuckoo clock, a growling rug named Bruno, the foghorn doorbell, and the house rattling gong/bell pull noose are more whimsically in tune, and The Addams Family is better when less reliant on special effects and spectacles overtaking the offbeat charisma. We only see the Addams car a few times and the repeat footage of the live piggy bank is tiresome alongside gorilla circus hams, but the reused lion tape is understandable and more fun. Candlestick and sultan phones, retro pop cameras, the giant stuffed bear, suits of armor, and Gothic decor make 0001 Cemetery Lane look more old fashioned upscale than haunted house. Despite the self opening gate, the bedrooms and briefly seen kitchen are surprisingly normal. It does, however, seem like we see too little of what should be a vast house, not to mention that shabby Tudor in the backyard that's big enough for the whole family yet is referred to as a “play cottage.” So what if they wear top hats and tiaras to the concert – with $10 court fees and $18 for the plumber, they can afford it!

At times watching too many of The Addams Family episodes in a row becomes annoying thanks to derivative sitcom fodder. It takes half the season for the series to hit its stride, however the family-centric bottle episodes get better as the debut progresses. Parents may need to warn partial young viewers about the fantastic violence not for imitation yet the fun atmosphere and overall innocent macabre is perfect for a spooky sleepover marathon. Bonus cheeky charm for adults, quirky cartoon carryovers, and memorable personalities make up for any dated humor or standard mid century trappings with built in nostalgic parody. For all their morbid veneer, this is a sentimental family treating everyone with kindness whether they are received in turn or belittled for their kooky style – reminding us that we can and should all be a bit more ooky with the first season of The Addams Family.