29 November 2018

Bramwell Seasons 3 and 4

Sadly Bramwell Series 3 and 4 Go Downhill Fast
by Kristin Battestella

Doctor Eleanor Bramwell (Jemma Redgrave) continues to run the Thrift Street Infirmary with anesthetist Joseph Marsham (Kevin McMonagle) in the uneven 1997 ten episode Season Three of Bramwell. Despite personal tragedies and household upheavals, Doctor Robert Bramwell (David Calder) courts the wealthy Alice Costigan (Maureen Beattie), leaving Eleanor free for more romance as the series whimpers on with two faulty feature length episodes in Year Four. 
Already Bramwell is off on the wrong foot with “The Overnight Stay” as drunkards and burning accidents at the local brewery begat pain, shouting, hysterical mothers, and emergency hectic. If one didn't see the previous series, you wouldn't know what's happening, and all the screaming, poisoned patients, and alcoholism heavy handedness are forgotten once the romance returns for our eponymous lady doctor. The statements and forced melodrama remain uneven as the rekindled but over the top sappy drags on at the expense of everything else. Although it's immediately clear that ten hours is entirely too long a season, the second episode is much stronger and Bramwell improves greatly when focusing on the ensemble's personal and professional drama instead of this contrived, dead end love affair. Spending time without Eleanor in Episode Five ironically makes the show better, and it makes the audience wonder if she could have been written off or replaced as Year Three continues to fall apart with “The Beaten Wife.” Festive jubilee preparations contrast the downtrodden streets and shanty town house calls, however the severe split skulls and abusive bloody are cut short when the doctor once again ditches The Thrift for her boyfriend. Paralleling a truly terrible situation with her la dee da and the perceived problems of her subsequent break up is an embarrassing juxtaposition. Bramwell remembers it's medical premise with goiters, boils, infected abscesses, and dubious diagnosis in “The Faith Healer,” but patients are turning to religious healers and what the doctors call mumbo jumbo. Everyone is shouting, irrational, and angry at the perceived backward superstition against science. Sick patients who really need a doctor are walking out of the clinic, but Bramwell doesn't handle multiple medical issues per episode for most of this season, and the religious healing versus fatal fire and brimstone quackery never makes a stand either way in an aimless entry indicative of the season's unnecessary pains.

Jemma Redgrave's Doctor Eleanor Bramwell shouts at her staff and talks back to her father over her latest high horse cause, yet she's the one who isn't seeing to her patients because she's too busy getting some steamy. Our intelligent, hard working woman is once again ready to dump The Thrift for her marriage plans. Eleanor's angry at everyone else, but when she says another is strong in medicine but weak and foolish in the heart, we know she's talking about herself. The character shines much, much more as a woman and a doctor in a time ruled by men when only she is able to comfort an ill mother with a feminine gravitas. However, Bramwell spends most of its time with Eleanor moping, embarrassing herself in public, and threatening to close her clinic because a man didn't rescue her from being a spinster doctor. She runs away to stay with a friend for “The Mercenary Expecting,” but Eleanor isn't happy with any country idyllic or matchmaking and yells at the maid. Her friends are so, so tired of it, but she picks a fight with the local school and sick townsfolk, critical of lesser conditions and telling teachers how to handle ignorance and neglect. She accuses everyone high or low of being so smug, wrapping a situation that should be handled with forgiveness, food, and rest in a terribly uncomfortable attitude and over the top whining. Bramwell regresses its independent woman with nothing but mistakes, turning her into a bitter biddy who takes over The Thrift again only when it suits her – and when the clinic seemed to do better without her complaining. Eleanor calls her father selfish when he invests in his own practice rather than Thrift Street, and he counters that she needs to consider how other people have dreams and professional ambition beyond her little world. She also says it is for the best when things fall apart for him, which is totally rude, and it is obvious she's jealous of him getting remarried before she is wed. Bramwell becomes even more tone deaf when Eleanor says she's tired of reminding all the bleeding hearts around her of who they are and what they do, but she quickly realizes she is the one backed into a corner and dependent upon the nearest man. She even suggests she and Marsham marry because of how convenient it would be for her – out of her father's house and near East End with her own money – never considering his feelings for her when she steps out with yet another louse instead. Eleanor insists she is calm, able to deal, and not some silly girl, but we have seen every evidence to the contrary, and the character is completely unlikable by the end of the season. 
A newfound courting of a wealthy widow, however, has David Calder's Doctor Robert Bramwell recapturing his youthful adventurousness. Naturally, Eleanor's stubbornness and petty disapproval embarrasses him, and he rightfully tells her to catch some manners before giving her her mother's jewelry when she plots her ill-advised engagement. Robert still wants to be there and comfort her, but he's having his own awkwardness in “The Entrenched Rival” thanks to pompous competition and high society formalities when he's visiting his lady's country house. Robert doubts his walks in the moonlight will do, but he realizes it's worth vying for the lady. Ironically, dad does the courting right when his daughter falls for all the wrongs – it's almost as if he should be Bramwell's lead. Robert also does a risky surgery on an infant while Eleanor supports him, and he confesses how he lost his wife during an operation he performed on her. He takes new offices at a well to do address in “The Change of Life” and intends to ask Alice to marry him, but an infatuated young lady patient is making excuses with pains in delicate places. Robert remains professional, focusing on his charming proposal instead of the increasingly delusional hypochondriac. Who knew accusations, fanatical patients, and gunshots were exactly what Bramwell needed? Wedding announcements are in the newspaper by “The Short Chapter,” and Robert's laughing like he's twenty as The Thrift goes all out with a humble little party and sentimental gifts. Dad still worries about Eleanor in East End alone and wants her in the country with them, and Maureen Beattie as widowed brewery heiress Alice Costigan asks Eleanor to be her bridesmaid. She's a strong business woman supporting The Thrift, sticking to the rules without being cruel and helping her injured workers. Alice enjoys Robert's company and invites his simpler tastes into her world despite some haughty medical arguments – she is perhaps set in her ways and chooses the more eminent opinion instead of what's best for the patient. Alice gets knocked down from her social grandstanding, but admits when she is wrong, bringing Eleanor frocks and trying to suggest suitors or more help at the clinic. She's proud of Robert's work and happy to marry him but wishes he'd confide in her without worrying about money, status, or impressing anybody. She prefers mutual trust to doctor confidentiality and offers her finances to save his partnership in a tender, progressive equality again done better than her step-daughter's romances.

Kevin McMonagle's Doctor Joe Marsham remains the voice of reason on Bramwell despite saying he is rarely sober. He never seems to leave the clinic yet talks of taking a promotion with a real salary elsewhere. His wife, unfortunately, becomes ill in “The Diagnosis” and uses a fake name to see Eleanor by appointment. She has had miscarriages and they lost a child, but now there is swelling in her breast and she can't tell her husband. Marsham is angry his wife doesn't confide in him personally or professionally over such a serious illness, and the story balances the husband being unable to handle the severity and the timid woman in pain seen more as a specimen by an elitist specialist. Their choices for healthcare are impeded by his Scottish accent and cheap suit, and the entire Marsham family moves in with the Bramwells during the grim diagnosis for one of the series' finer episodes as the emotional ensemble shines amid grief, time wasted, and loneliness. Andrew Connolly, however, returns as Doctor Finn O'Neill in the Series Three premiere, still wooing Eleanor between lecture stops – dropping by to ruin her rep and she falls for it every time! Though ambitious, he wants assurance of her love before sounding like an abuser with excuses on why it is Eleanor's fault he returns from America with another bride. Everyone sees Finn coming – how can we believe he really loves Eleanor when all he's ever done is wrong her? It's a chore to watch “The Vaccination Experiment” late in the season when these same old moon eyes embarrass the Bramwells amidst would be provocative medical committees debating influenza and vaccinations. Eleanor justifies his work, too – dismissing his wife's ill health, letting the girl faint, and mistreating her out of romantic spite. Finn insists Eleanor knows he wouldn't experiment on people...but that's how they met!

She's terribly embarrassed by suggestive drunken ravings but Ruth Sheen's Nurse Carr sticks up for Eleanor against Finn's crap and isn't afraid to tell off a patient's abusive husband. Although a wonderful dancer tiring out all the men, she can still be found working in The Thrift at three in the morning and comes when the Bramwells call at home. She remains forgiving despite her priggish gruff, but when she tells the doctors she can't be in two places at once, they yell. Everyone's entitled to a bad day except her! Sadly Ethel's mother has begun wandering and stealing in “The Medical Hopeful” and both stubborn ladies refuse help even if Nurse Carr can't take care of her mother alone and won't think of putting her in an asylum. She steals opium from the clinic, spooning it to her mother to keep her calm before escalating to more upsetting elder abuse. The difficulties here are nobody's fault and that's the saddest part, but it's frustrating that the supporting tenderness is torn with severe personal troubles while the titular star has a sappy romance. Ben Brazier as young porter Sidney Bentley is barely there but for a quip or wisdom from the adults. He stands up for Nurse Carr when she teaches him to dance and says he's sorry for the way Finn treats Eleanor and he'd propose if he could. Keeley Gainey's maid Kate is also used for passing along exposition, an absent-minded girl sneaking out for stolen kisses and trying to use a typewriter. Thankfully, she stands up for herself against the jerks and accepts that she has no secretarial skills – humming, reciting poetry, and off to jubilee parties while remaining much needed kindly support.

Bramwell has plenty of turn of the century Victorian bustle with all the balloon sleeves, bonnets, feathers, and frocks needed for proper British formality. Bicycles, carriages, fancy manors, and period clutter set off the candles, crystal, cameos, pearls, and newfangled electric lights while medical gruesome, surgery knives, and blood provide gritty. Our faithful must make their jubilee flags themselves, but they play instruments, sing, and dance to make their own music, too. Be it funeral decorum or church wedding, the Gibson Girl hats and big plumes are ready – leaving the gowns and shining gems reserved for the evening parties amid marble ballrooms, fine china, and English gardens. Rain and blue lighting accent scandalous rendezvous, and overhead shots or point of view editing mirror emergencies with vintage microscopes, period medical equipment, big needles, and huge IV tubes. Bramwell shows the bloody burns and sores upon the breast in bitter contrast to the often quaint atmosphere. However, every time there is a hysterical shock, foul insult, or any kind of upset, ever – someone always inevitably suggests they have a cup of tea! Of course, stateside we would have called Bramwell canceled after Season Three and named the two 100 minute episodes following it television movie specials rather than a Series Four. New credits, military drums, black and white archive footage, absent characters – you would have no idea “The Brave Boys” is supposed to be about a lady doctor if you started here with redcoats and muckrakers shouting in the streets. The always delightful but barely there Jenny Agutter (Logan's Run) is shoehorned in amid busy back and forth editing trying to set the wartime scene, hectic camerawork, and poor outdoor cinematography. It's Eleanor Takes on the Army as sergeants object to her being a recruit doctor. Marsham says he isn't being paid by Her Majesty's Service, so he just lets his future wife do the grab and cough on all these ready and waiting bare butt soldiers instead? There is no sign of romantic affection between the colleagues, and if Robert Bramwell objected to his daughter being called a cunt by patients on Thrift Street, I wonder what he thinks of her military cajoling? Useless scenes and annoying music add to the confusion for anyone unfamiliar with the Boer Wars and Dutch prejudice, leaving characters to take surprisingly racist turns. Nobody's on the same side, and instead of tying up the loose ends from Year Three, this episode throws enemy patients and friendly barracks into the messy mix. Once again, Eleanor drops everything for a Major she doesn't even really like who gets her hot and bothered, because as independent as she claims to be, all the men are still telling her what to do. Apparently there's some kind of marriage and pregnancy scandal in the second feature “The Loose Women,” but I just can't go on anymore.

Bramwell shoots itself in the foot with squandered time on round and round romantic melodrama. Despite stronger stories yet to be told with other characters, plenty of period toils, and more medical possibilities, the series looses its way amid both too many episodes and bizarre format changes. There is still some fine Victorian drama from the tormented ensemble, but unfortunately Bramwell is best left after the Second Season thanks to an increasing unlikability untrue to its original premise.

17 November 2018

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season 1

The Frankenstein Chronicles Debut is a Hidden Gem
by Kristin Battestella

The 2015 British series The Frankenstein Chronicles follows Thames Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean) and his runner Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell) as a floater composed of other body parts leads the police to body snatchers, abducted children, street pimps, and even author Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin). Someone may be copying her novel Frankenstein, and the home secretary wants the case solved before pesky newspaper reporters like Boz (Ryan Sampson) print the sensational tale.

Capsizing dangers, muddy chases, vomiting police, and a stitched together body reassembled from at least seven children set the 1827 London dreary for “A World Without God.” Rumors of grave robbing abound and selling the dead to medical institutions is not a crime – this is a seller's market doing good business despite still superstitious folk fearing science, medicine, and what happens to body after death. Our inspector goes through several protocols and technicalities to research whether this butchery was done by a man of science or some layman out to prevent the new anatomy laws, invoking a mix of morose period noir with British lone detective angst. He's canvasing the dirty streets for a meat market kidnapper while parliament spins grandiose hot air on rights to autopsy versus personal penance. Cholera, prayers, shady men at the docks with carts full of stolen bodies – is someone murdering to procure fresh dead to sell? The hands of the deceased seem to move when touched in “Seeing Things,” and William Blake quotes, death bed whispers, and sing song visions wax on the beast with the face of a man. University hospital demonstrations on bio electricity show how to reanimate the nervous system, however those medical seminars and the subsequent Sunday sermons are not so different from each other. Higher up officials don't want to hear about god fearing motives and scientific suspicion coming together as unauthorized doctors run unapproved clinics with their own ideologies. Investigation leads cut too close to home, and a fireside reading with narrations from the Shelley text invoke a self-awareness meta. An open copy of Frankenstein laying on the desk steers our course as the linear tale expands into a more episodic style with incoming regular cast high and low aiding our inspector or rousing his suspicion. Ghostly winds, flickering candles, and blurry visions create eerie, a supernatural clarity that helps connect clues while books such as An Investigation into the Galvanic Response of Dead Tissue in “All the Lost Children” provide hand written sketches with blood in the margins. Religion versus science abominations, laws of God versus tyranny and oppression, and defiance of deities to defeat death layer dialogue from the author herself along with pregnant teens, abortion debates, and gory late stage patients who may as well be monsters with their deformities. Past baptisms, dead families, and uncanny nightmares escalate the inner turmoil while hymns, market chases, and back alley fights add to the well balanced mystery, life and death themes, precious innocence, and making amends.

Underground tunnels and unscrupulous business transactions in “The Fortunes of War” would have young girls sold at thirty five guineas for 'company,' and the disturbing abuses create frightening silhouettes and threatening villains even as the uncaring uppity argue over chapter and verse regarding bastards and police refuse extra men on a sting gone awry. Screams, gaseous brick houses, and skeletons lead to arrests that unfortunately don't solve the initial case butchery – only will out one small piece of a larger twisted picture. The aristocracy is shocked at the Frankenstein life imitating art scandal as fact and fiction strike the press, politics, police, and the author herself for “The Frankenstein Murders.” Drunken mad science, candlelit pacts, and monstrous machines bring the eponymous inspirations full circle as blackmail and the triumphant anatomy act provide a free supply of corpses for those who will now do whatever they wish. Threats, revelations, and suspicions swept under the rug keep the underbelly dark while disastrous scientific pursuits go awry. Blue currents and electricity experiments try to conquer death as the noose tightens. Red herrings and key pieces of the mystery come together as the audience completes the puzzle along with our constables thanks to erotic clues, nasty denials, ill pleasures, and warped dissections. The detectives must use one crook to catch another with cons, betrayals, and confessions that seemingly resolve the brothel raids, set ups, and scandals. Prophetic calendars, apparent suicides, and emergency parliament sessions make room for plenty of dreadful hyperbole – grotesque body snatchers have used murder to procure and defile corpses and the dubious press thinks it's all thanks to popular fiction! This public medicine reform may banish the body trade, but lingering questions remain in “Lost and Found.” Constables need proof that the deceased aren't staying dead and buried, and someone has known it all along. Conflict among friends and lies will out reveal the hitherto unseen beastly in plain sight as underground discoveries, powder misfires, and final entrapments lead to tearful trials. No one's left to believe the truth thanks to corruption and condemnation blurring the fine line between genius and blasphemy. Last rights go unadministered when one is guilty of much but denies the crime at hand, and The Frankenstein Chronicles escalates to full on horror with frightfully successful dark science abominations.

Producer Sean Bean's former soldier turned inspector John Marlott doesn't like crooked police and his lack of fear is said to aide his quality undercover work. His gruff silhouette contrasts the posh officials, for they dislike his methods, deduction, and research on tides or time of death – questioning where others do not think to look makes him a somewhat progressive investigator even if he doesn't care for books, poetry, or famous names of the day. Marlott has no problem with instructions, but feigns stupidity and says his conscious is his own, playing into people's sympathy or religion as needed despite privately lighting candles to his deceased family and carrying sentimental lockets. The Frankenstein Chronicles is up front on Marlott's past, telling us how his syphilis caused his wife and baby's deaths – he knows what it is to grieve and the prescribed mercury tonics add disturbing visions to his prayers. He's uncomfortable at white glove luncheons as well as church services and cries over his past, perpetually tormented by his late loved ones while this barbaric case puts more burdens on his shoulders. He crosses himself at seeing these ghastly sights, recoiling from the morbid even as his own sores worsen. Marlott's reluctant to use a dead boy's body as bait to catch grave robbers and gets rough in the alley brawls when he must, acting tough on the outside and going off the book with his investigation after he steps on powerful figures who would manipulate him for their own political gain. Despite his own fatal mistakes, Marlott is a moral man in his own way, dejected that making the city safer tomorrow doesn't help the children already dead. Now certainly, I love me some Sharpe, and in the back of my mind I chuckled on how The Frankenstein Chronicles could be what really happened to Sharpe post-retirement. So, when Marlott says he was in the 95th rifles and fought Bonaparte at Waterloo, wears the same boots, and dons the damn rifle green uniform in a flashback funeral, I squeed! Marlott's not afraid of death and ready to meet his family, not stopping even when the case is officially closed – ultimately breaking out that old Sharpe sword when it really comes to it!

Reprimanded and insulted by superiors, Richie Campbell's (Liar) Joseph Nightingale is assigned to Marlott because they don't really care about him or the investigation. The character is initially just a sounding board, however Marlott confides in him, laying out the procedural methods in lieu of today's police evidence montages. Nightingale does leg work for the proof needed, following a tip and getting roughed up when tailing a body snatcher. He argues with Marlott, too, countering his witness protection strategy before earning Marlott's apology and his blessing to marry. Sadly, both share different angers when plans go wrong and people get hurt. The Frankenstein Chronicles offers a fine ensemble of familiar names and faces also including Anna Maxwell Martin (Bleak House) as Mary Shelley – a sassy, outspoken writer who says outwardly genteel appearances can be deceiving. She tells Marlott her book came from a nightmare, however she knows more than she admits. Shelley is well-informed at a time when women weren't permitted to be as cosmopolitan as their male peers, and great one on one scenes make her an interesting antithesis to Marlott. Ryan Sampson's (Plebs) hyper young Boz is likewise a persistent little reporter who won't give up his own sources but wants the police scoop. He circumvents Marlott, working all the angles and exposing the bodies found. Boz belittles him for not knowing Frankenstein was all the rage but he is on Marlott's side in bringing the truth to light – so long as it's a fantastic story. By contrast, Charlie Creed Miles (Essex Boys) and his mutton chops match the Burke and Hare-esque thuggery. This body snatching businessman keeps track of his livelihood, for it's just honest supply and demand. Pritty's reluctant to snitch, but Marlott's blackmail forces him into helping, becoming a useful, if crooked character. Vanessa Kirby's (The Crown) initially snotty Lady Hervey comes to find Marlott is surprisingly honorable, confiding in him about her family's title but little wealth even as she wonders if he is playing her for a fool. Jemima grows closer to him yet remains committed to a loveless marriage for money if it helps her brother's charity hospital. Unfortunately, Lady Hervey is a woman of god who is sorely mistaken when she puts her trust in all these men of science. Ed Stoppard (Upstairs, Downstairs) as Daniel Hervey speaks out against early medical laws and technicalities with disturbingly contemporary theories when not performing abortions behind his sister's back. Being a starving, homeless prostitute burdened with a child is not life, he reasons, only more suffering. He scoffs at charlatan surgeons and the home secretary's grandstanding but offers Marlott a new medicinal spore for his syphilis instead of the harmful mercury, doing what he can for those less fortunate whether the Anatomy Act would ruin him or not.

Rain, thunder, fog, river boats, marshes, and bogs set the chilly, bleak tone for The Frankenstein Chronicles amid period lantern light, overcoats, and muskets. Eerie artwork and beastly designs in the opening credits parallel the gory sights with separated body parts, arms and legs upon the table, bowls of entrails, and stuck pigs contrasting the organ music, ladies frocks, bonnets, and courtly wigs. It's bowler hats, simple crates, and bare rooms with peeling wall plaster for lower men but parasols, pocket watches, top hats, carriages, luggage, and grand estates for the upper echelon. Stonework and authentic buildings accent the blustery outdoor scenery, cobblestone streets, and humble cemeteries. Sunlight and bright visions are few and far between amid the candlelit patinas and small pocket portraits – the only available likeness of the deceased – however reflections, deformed glances in the mirror, and filming through the window panes accent the man versus monster themes. Wooden coffins, baby sized caskets, plain burial shrouds, simple crosses, body bags, and tanks containing deformed fetuses create more monsters and morose amid sophisticated libraries, early medical gear, handwritten letters, signets, and wax seals. Bones, blood, electricity, ruined abbeys, and hazy, dreamlike overlays combine with late Bach cues for final horrors, but it is bemusing to see the same title page on that open copy of Frankenstein over and over again – as if we could forget our eponymous literary source! Although many scenes happen on the move, enough information is given with time for dialogue in reasonable length conversations, balancing the visual pace and investigation exposition rather than resorting to in your face editing and transitions. All six, forty-eight minute episodes in Series One are directed by Benjamin Ross (Poppy Shakespeare), teaming with writer Barry Langford (Guilty Hearts) for one cohesive tone on this ITV hidden gem now of course branded as a Netflix Original.

While some elements may be obvious, my theory on the new spins in The Frankenstein Chronicles was totally wrong, and I again wish there were more gothic, sophisticated series like this and Penny Dreadful. The Frankenstein Chronicles isn't outright horror – the macabre drama, dreary case, and disturbing mystery are not designed as a scare to frighten even as choice gore keeps the ghastly at hand for this easy to marathon harbinger. Instead the British gravitas meets mad science combines for a Poe-esque caper with literary fantastics peppering the intertwined crimes and Frankenstein what ifs. 


15 November 2018

Comfort Food Shows - 60s Edition!

Comfort Food Show Binges – The 60's Edition!
By Kristin Battestella

It's time for more nostalgic snacking with these mid-century calorie free treats. As with my first Comfort Food Shows Binge list, these aren't shows for full length, season by season review concentration, just timeless edibles to press play and enjoy!

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet – This long running television – and radio! – 1952-66 sitcom with homemaker Harriet, sons David and Ricky, and dad Ozzie who seemingly didn't have a job but loved his tutti frutti ice cream was meta before meta was Kardashian. However, December wouldn't be the same without Rick trying to sell ugly shirts during the holiday rush or singing so everyone will buy their Christmas trees. The tone of the series obviously changes from teen idol plots with excuses for Rick to rock and roll before marriages for both sons assure the wholesome image remained onscreen. At times, such carefully controlled manufacturing from writer and director Ozzie is apparent, yet the program was also an unprecedented production grounding the early days of television. Of course, despite numerous streaming episodes in the public domain and various essential or best of collections, the entire series of a whopping four hundred and thirty five episodes isn't available. Then again, if you've seen the Here Come the Nelsons debut feature and any episode, you've really seen them all. By the end, it's also clear that the boys and their wives were over playing these Stepford versions of themselves stuck in a fifties heyday when America was clearly a different place by the mid-sixties. Fortunately, that same breezy, golly gee sentimental is perfect for some de-stressing nostalgia – whether it's fawning over how young the boys were, how handsome they turned out to be, or looking up how much the Nelson set house actually looked like their real home.

The Dick Van Dyke Show – This 1961-66 Emmy winning black and white comedy shrewdly stayed away from any of the time turbulent or pop culture references that would date the wholesome hi jinks of Van Dyke's stressed television writer dad Rob Petrie, his then shocking capri pants wearing wife Mary Tyler Moore, and their precocious son Ritchie Rosebud aka Robert Oscar Sam Edward Benjamin Ulysses David. Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie complete the at work comedy team as fellow writers of series creator Carl Reiner's The Alan Brady Show. This internal, life imitating art variety sketch show allows for a myriad of song, dance, and themed episodes for one and all while winking at the behind the scenes onscreen with those same mid-century perks. Sure, sometimes the theme song gets stuck in my head when I don't want it to, some of the musical half hours get silly, and after 158 episodes, the opening trip or not to trip over the ottoman gag can get tiring. Thankfully, the mix of earlier fifties homemaker comfort and sixties workplace tongue and cheek turn the mirror on television's adolescence – creating then progressive yet continually nostalgic pleasantries for the whole family. Except for that ottoman, those pesky neighbors, suspect “Artanis” artwork, if your son was switched at birth, and whether your marriage is legal in Connecticut; viewers don't have to worry about anything here.

I Dream of Jeannie – Do do, do do do do, do do...Finding two thousand year old genie in a bottle Barbara Eden actually caused a lot of problems for astronaut Larry Hangman and his best friend Bill Daily in this 1965-70 fantasy sitcom. Exotic time travel blinks, boinks to the moon, experimental military blunders, and dinner mishaps happen every time our hapless gal gets a little jealous – and that's not to mention the scary Blue Djinn; the even more pesky, dark haired, bad girl Jeannie; musical guest stars like the now notorious Phil Spector, and Sammy Davis Jr., too. Boss General Peterson thinks our Majors are loons thanks to all their clever close calls, and perpetually duped military psychologist Dr. Bellows is out to prove something is afoot. Look carefully and you'll see Dr. and Mrs. Bellows also live in the home of that other magical sixties sitcom Bewitched. More importantly, however, is that it is absolutely clear that Jeannie sleeps in her swanky Jim Beam bottle – no naughty perks until she's married to her master in the final season! Naturally the entire premise and all the retcons and storyline changes are ridiculous today; servitude, subservience, stereotypes, and saucy harem pantaloons included. Fortunately, the shout at the television zany and spot the smoke and mirrors special effects remains magical, whimsical fun for the whole family despite that shocking, must be banned navel.

Mister Ed – Most of this 1961-66 show is pretty preposterous – least of all the titular talking horse. Wives, friends, and neighbors only seem to mind star Alan Young spending time in his clearly drafty and dirty office/barn with a horse if it suits the plot, and at some point, surely somebody, anybody would have caught on to all the Wilbur throwing his voice cover ups or the incognito palomino answering the phone ruses. There's a fifty/fifty chance that the horse causes the trouble or saves the day, too. It's amazing the show lasted as long as it did with such a, well, one trick pony, as it were. That said, there's something instantly relaxing about catching an early morning or late night rerun regardless of which of the 143 episodes it may be – an excuse to nestle in and spot all then advanced production and special effects that made the mischievous equine action possible. Double snuggle if it's the “Clint Eastwood meets Mr. Ed” half hour. You know you know the theme song, too, don't lie. 

Star Trek – Granted, “Spock's Brain” and those far out space hippies in “The Way to Eden” don't stand the test of time. Some of the acting is over the top and the special effects can be hokey amid all the technobabble from William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and company. Thankfully, that's all the negative that can be said for this original 1966-69 Gene Roddenberry franchise maker that thrust science fiction from its early television kid's show realm into provocative concepts for adults looking for something more in the turbulent late sixties. Even if you've seen all seventy-nine episodes uncut in production order – or haven't and pretend you have because Star Trek is an inescapable part of our pop lexicon – only seen the Original Crew movies, or like other franchise incarnations, viewers young and old can always return to the ground breaking, mirror to nature storytelling here thanks to the likes of my favorite “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” the original “The Cage” pilot, the spooky fun of “Catspaw,” or the still emotive “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Now iconic episodes such as “The Enemy Within” featuring a good versus evil Kirk and famous tales like “Mirror, Mirror” and “The Trouble with Tribbles” always feel like time well spent whether you are chuckling at the early pushing the envelope or pondering the what ifs anew. The remastered editions look pretty darn sweet, too. I'd be down for a new Gary Seven series, but what is with the Klingons and Shakespeare?

Don't forget to check out our Classic TV label for yet more nostalgia with The Munsters, The Addams Family, The Bob Newhart Show, and more or visit My Top Ten Favorite TV Shows


02 November 2018

Horrible Moms!

Horrible Moms!
By Kristin Battestella

These moms and grans be they retro or recent turn to the ax and knife or kidnappings and other horrors to show their undying, demented love.

Funeral Home – A teen helps turn her grandmother's mortuary into a bed and breakfast in this 1980 Canadian spooky with eerie silhouettes, broken down trucks, and black cats on the bridge. The country quaint seems pleasant – a fine manor, mom's old room with dolls, floral wallpaper, and nostalgia – but the family must let out the home to keep it since our undertaker grandfather apparently abandoned the parlor several years prior. A not very bright handyman, bumbling police, and a car owned by a reported missing realtor create suspicion among the cows, hay bales, and hick farmers as more snobby guests and hillbilly suspects populate the house. Stormy nights, hissing cats, and voyeurs at the window pane have everyone on edge amid downstairs whispers and a basement full of unused coffins and hidden rooms. Kooky old ladies, spooky barns, a disused Hearst, and mysterious necklaces invoke more mood as the gothic interiors and funeral home décor lingers – the slumber room, organs, artificial flower arraignments. The introductions happen quickly, but the mystery sags until skimpy swimming, saucy goading, night time cruising, quarry cliffs, and vehicular disasters. Grandma won't have anyone immoral or sinful staying at her house, but no one takes the hometown cop seriously amid the eavesdropping, gossip, and guest fatalities. Gross jars, cobwebs, and cemeteries set off freaky child funeral flashbacks with memories of kids locked in with the dead bodies by her nasty embalmer husband. Forbidden areas and talk of the undertaker actually running off with another woman lead to flashlights, bludgeonings, and dumping the victim inside another freshly dug plot. More red herrings, plastic sheeting, and violence rush to the final basement surprise, which, though derivative, remains sad and disturbing. Although the pace is uneven and the poor VHS print is difficult to see thanks to some rough day for night coloring and dark photography, this is fun and atmospheric for a late night marathon.

Serial Mom – Kathleen Turner (War of the Roses) stars in writer and director John Waters' (Hairspray) 1994 Susie Homemaker satire with based on a true story winks, angelic credits, birds chirping, and an idyllic kitchen where fruit salad is the snack of choice. Chewing gum is obscene compared to the fifties-esque golly gee with a dentist husband, a son named Chip, and a daughter in college who enjoys swap meets. Mom's holding the cereal in product placement position but a fly in the butter, its bloody splat, and the tightly wound sadistic contrast the breakfast perfection, floral wallpaper, sunshine, sewing baskets, and PTA fruitcakes. Retro button up styles, Betty Page saucy, and older Victorian décor add to the eighties nostalgia with gear shifts on the steering column, corded telephones, cassettes, VHS, vintage porn, and a Joan Rivers talk show on the big boob tube. 9:37 a.m. and it's time for foul mouthed split screen prank calls to the local parking spot stealing divorcee before gruesome accidents running over a school teacher complete with an innocent music montage and a trip to the car wash. After baking cookies, prayers, and tame pillow talk, there's newfound moaning excitement, but dental emergencies and ruined bird watching plans lead to spying with binoculars and killer scissors impalements intercut with teen masturbation. Nosy detectives, a filthy neighbor who doesn't recycle and thus contributes to the annual deficit, and drinking with the trash men to gain their allegiance layer the parodies on family, generational clashes, films being a bad influence, and life's little naughtiness. Eating sweets against doctor's orders, changing the price tags at the market, selling overpriced damaged goods, bathroom graffiti, glory holes, stabbing a philander with a fire poker and getting his liver stuck on the end – where's the line between innocent slights and a fatal bludgeoning with a burned rack of lamb? Our classy lady isn't exactly good at covering her tracks, leaving bloody weapons, fingerprints, and witnesses on top of her killer scrapbook under the mattress. Grace before dinner and pearls for church begat killing an old lady watching Annie just because she didn't rewind, and singing along during station wagon chases anchor debates on whether the Mrs. needs a lawyer or an agent. The slighted causes, pursued victims, and twisted kills are filmed with horror suspense, yet there's a certain bemusing to the no wearing white shoes after Labor Day sinister, a sensational, celebrity likability. It's a razzle dazzle trial like Chicago says – our daughter is selling t-shirts at the court house, Chip sold the TV movie rights to Suzanne Summers, the cheering crowd admits they'd like to kill a few people themselves, and, well, Patty Hearst is one of the jurors. The dark wit, social exposés, and cheeky performances here take multiple viewings, and the humorously horrible satire remains relevant in reflecting our love of making true crime famous.

Split Decision

Amityville: The Awakening – Single mom Jennifer Jason Leigh (Single White Female) moves her three kids to 112 Ocean Avenue in this 2017 release co-starring Kurtwood Smith (That '70s Show) and Bella Thorne (Big Love). Contemporary hip music and a driving montage lead to the creepy abode with old furniture, creaking floorboards, a barking family dog, and a complaining emo teen. Her comatose twin brother is bound to a medical bed complete with hospital equipment, beeping monitors, injections, and life supporting tubes, but mom refuses to accept his vegetative state despite medical gear failures, distorted pulse rates, and a contorted, irrevocably twisted body. 1974 newspapers summarize the DeFeo murders, however the family has supposedly moved to the infamous home unaware – an unrealistic premise when there are literally twenty Amityville movies – and the focus here should be on the mother's will do anything dilemma rather than the of the moment teen cool, cheeky panties, and new friends who are essentially Amityville fans. When did every kid in school become goth? How was she not Zillow studying their new address before the move? Why does nobody have a cellphone? The first twenty minutes about people who don't know they are in a horror movie learning of the setting's real world horror is too disjointed, and the attempted meta borders on parody as those school kids provide the original DVD, explain the prequel follow up, and nix the remake before begging to watch The Amityville Horror in the very house at 3:15 a.m. – and yes, James Brolin makes an appearance on their big screen television. Windows opening by themselves, swarming flies, double take shadows, reflections, and peeling wallpaper with something bloody underneath build better simmer, but dream scare fake outs hurt the flickering power and silent door creeping because the plot is so within within the lore that the audience can predict all the contrivances. Rather than fully utilizing the more interesting mother, the misplaced chasing of the mainstream teen element backfires with watered down horror compromising what could be seriously good body twistedness, technological possessions, and medicine meets ouija board. It's chilling when a man's voice tells the little girl to come closer, but the viewer can't stay on edge amid some kind of brother defending against an ex posting nude pictures impetus and “Belle” Thorne doing little more than playing herself. Characters themselves say the magic circle tropes, bible quotes, and forty year anniversaries are stupid, and the hot sister angst is unnecessarily placed above the vegetative son in fear and their deluded mother. This was originally filmed in 2014, and behind the scenes turmoil, delayed releases, and probable bumfuck Harvey ass interference shows thanks to poor CGI late, PG-13 cutaways to the famous facade, and finale cheating with a wrap up newsreel. While the creaking contortions, red room healings, and shotgun horrors are watchable compared to other umpteenth Amityville movies, one has to have few expectations here, for this ultimately falls back on its franchise safety rather than embracing any potentially fresh aspects.

Didn't Finish It!

Emelie – A quaint street and asking for directions leads to abductions in this 2015 thriller starring Sarah Bolger (The Tudors). Short notice babysitter switches and rowdy kids aged eleven, nine, and four are both slow to meet the family and busy with assorted video games, handheld gizmos, computers, and Facebook talk. Although there's a bizarre lack of cell phones, our dad can pick up the teen babysitter and chat up his restored classic car in creepy conversations that don't go unnoticed by his wife. The eleven year old doesn't want to play little kid games anymore, and the parents talk to him about stepping up and being the big brother while the babysitter encourages them to play grown up pretend with mama bear and dead cub bedtime stories. She gives back toys that mom had taken away, and the opening kidnapping of the real babysitter being replaced by the titular weirdo isn't quite clear until this gets more warped. We thought this was going to be a scary movie, but the plot degrades into bloody tampons, sex tapes, sleeping pills, and terrorizing kids with dead pets. Rather than horror entertainment, this is just one off putting element after the next. No thanks.