31 December 2019

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Season 3

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Season Three Gets Bold
by Kristin Battestella

The twenty-four episodes of the 1972-73 Third Season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show go bold as associate news producer Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) tackles issues in the workplace alongside boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), and inept anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) as well as the topical at home with friends and neighbors Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman).

In the “The Good Time News” premiere, Mary discovers the man previously in her position was paid fifty dollars more than her and he didn't do as good a job. Weak claims that a family man deserves to be paid more than a single woman more competent immediately tackle equality in the workplace while the image conscious executives demand a fresh and entertaining news hour. This lighthearted approach divides the newsroom, for news isn't supposed to make people laugh for ratings – it's truth not fake. Yes, way back then The Mary Tyler Moore Show actually equates dishonest reporting and fake news with drinking from a dribble glass on the air for a fascinating new relevance today. However, when Mary accidentally tells the not so endearing Ted to shut up on the air, she earns a twenty-five dollar a week raise. Of course, Lou won't ask a saucy question over the phone when Mary walks in the room for “It's Whether You Win or Lose.” His trip to Vegas is canceled thanks to a Minnesota snowstorm, but once Lou sees how much cash Ted carries in his wallet, he invites him to an impromptu WJM poker game. Mary arranges Lou's scotch, water, and scotch and water; but the only table available is from the castle set in the kid's studio and Lou banishes Mary from the kingdom when she tries to break up the game with pizza. The zany character moments and well balanced plot see everyone humorously involved, and we would have loved to have seen more of Mary's parents Dottie and Walter Richards, too. However Nanette Fabray (One Day at a Time) only appears in two episodes while Bill Quinn (The Bob Newhart Show) appears in three, as the very nature of The Mary Tyler Moore Show doesn't allow for our progressive single gal to turn toward her parents to solve every sitcom dilemma even when they move to Minneapolis in “Just Around the Corner.” They all really get along well, but the close proximity is cramping Mary's style, cleaning her already clean apartment and dusting where she's already dusted. Dottie pulls up Mary's low cut blouse and tells her to be home before midnight, but when Mary's out all night, Walter calls incessantly until Mary insists it's her own business. She feels bad about telling them she isn't a baby anymore in a bemusingly tearful argument, but The Mary Tyler Moore Show takes a stand as Mary remains firm about living on her own. Her parents must simply accept that they won't know where she is and what's she's doing half the time!

During Dottie's birthday in “You've Got a Friend,” Walter feels left out, bored, and drives the ladies crazy, so Mary takes him to lunch with Lou for a delicious clashing between her two favorite men. Walter is up on all the latest healthy eating trends, but Lou doubles up his vodka martinis, and Mary's caught in the middle when her mom's left out now, too. As mentioned in My Favorite Television Shows list, the “Don't forget to take your pill” zinger here is one of The Mary Tyler Moore Show's best winks. When both Mary and her father answer “I won't,” it's a then shocking admission that doesn't have to say anything else regarding single swinging and birth control. However, it's terribly touching when Walter bandages his daughter's cut and asks if she ever gets lonely. Mary admits to cutting her fingers a lot but otherwise, she has a good life – not that it stops matchmaker Phyllis from going overboard in setting up Mary with her pianist brother in “My Brother's Keeper.” Unfortunately, much to Phyllis' horror, he instead strikes up a cozy friendship with Rhoda, who loves digging at her melodramatic “sis” Phyllis. One of Mary's disastrous parties leads to an uncomfortable gay outing that's played for a punchline, but the The Mary Tyler Moore Show even going there is quite modern for its day. Some people get married, some like being single, some people are gay but that doesn't mean we can't all have a good time together. If someone wants to know something they should just ask, and if one doesn't want to share their age, status, or orientation, that's groovy, too. Of course, Phyllis is just relieved this means her brother isn't marrying Rhoda, but the societal topsy turvy continues in “What Do You Say When the Boss Says 'I Love You'?” when there's a new female program director. Mary gloats while Lou claims to be unfazed by a lady boss who knows her business in great one on ones scenes and woman to woman chats. Obviously she falls in love with Lou, and granted, the scandalous notion is played for laughs, but it's a mature and ahead of its time tale nonetheless. Likewise, the penultimate standout “Put on a Happy Face” shows just how much crap women go through as one disaster after another ruins the annual Television Editors Awards for the nominated Mary. Being late, flat tires, spilled coffee, no date, work mistakes, dropped groceries, fevers, sprained ankles, ruined dresses, bad hair, rain – as much as we love Mary, there's something gleeful in her having one of those days with her name spelled wrong on the award. Mary also lends money to Rhoda in “Mary Richards and the Incredible Plant Lady” for a new boutique business and almost immediately regrets the $995 when another $300 is needed for “Rhoda's Dendron.” The friends have no problem loaning each other money when it's small bills, but banking technicalities, loan applications, and car repairs add to the commentary on women doing business, money, money between friends, and hideous yellow cars.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show almost makes it through Year Three without any sub par entries, but another double date and another guy intent on immediately marrying Mary becomes much too much in “Romeo and Mary.” Bad humor complete with racist jokes acerbates the insistent first date obsession, and Mary is rightfully infuriated when this creeper calls constantly, barges in, plans her entire schedule, and takes out a billboard in front of her workplace. Apparently we're supposed to enjoy the crazy boyfriend send up, but it's disturbing how the men in the office think her being handcuffed to him is funny. He's forced her to come with him to win her over, and all the men agree pressuring a woman is the way to get her. He insists his persistence will make her love him by a certain date, and this may be one of the series' worst episodes since it goes directly against all the forward women's ideals thanks to terrible male tropes designed to humiliate Mary. Inexplicably, it's also all made to be her fault for not wanting to hurt his feelings or make a scene. She cowers in her apartment afraid he's outside waiting to win her heart, but threats to punch him, pour water in his lap, or have some hot coco are supposed to make everything better? Another boyfriend who broke Mary's heart before the show returns in “Remembrance of Things Past,” and it's getting tough to keep track of all the boyfriends we've seen or haven't seen. This isn't the fiance that precipitated her big city move, but this one almost proposed, too. Mary initially avoids him because he pushes all her buttons before giving in to a terrific time – which seems to be all he wants from her when she wants more. This is a fine episode in and of itself, but we've seen Mary hold out for better and we've seen this plot too many times already. Had this entry come earlier in the season – before count 'em four similar dalliances this year – it would have been better. Unfortunately, we also only see John Amos as weatherman Gordy once in the premiere as the perfect candidate to co-anchor with Ted. He does a better job of course – sharp, relaxed, funny. However, he's more so there to be the brunt of the joke for getting upset that everyone blames him for the bad weather because it isn't like he can predict it or anything.

Thirty-two year old Mary Richards hates paperwork, meetings, and feeling like she has to represent all women as the lone female executive at WJM. She'd much rather just be her shorter haired herself but will stand up when she does better work but is paid less and wants to embrace format changes – although she still can't call Mr. Grant by his first name and has conflicts with Murray when she is temporarily in charge. Mary cross stitches and has some swanky records, but compulsively cleans, mops her entire floor over an ash tray spill, faithfully takes her car for a 3,000 mile check up, alphabetizes her medicine cabinet, and thinks she needs to diet at 120 pounds. O_o She doesn't think being the only woman in the newsroom is interesting enough to be interviewed in “What is Mary Richards Really Like?” and worries her dress is too sexy and a serious tweed suit is better. Murray thinks this masculine look is cute, but Lou realizes asking her not to wear pants in the office is a pig headed demand. Mary insists she can stand up for herself against a columnist looking to twist her words, but the business and pleasure mix with awkward dates, her taking short hand of her own interview, and scandalous questions about a man spending the night on a first date. Fortunately, Mary sticks to her convictions, impressing her suitor for not being an easy catch like all the other girls. However, divorcing friends in “Have I Found a Guy for You” upset Mary, as the once ideal couple puts her in the middle thanks to seemingly harmless banter about Mary being the girl he'd marry if not for his wife causes a kerfuffle in the post-divorce dating etiquette. Rhoda insists its impossible for them to all be friends, and the series again pushes taboo topics in unique ways. Divorce couldn't be mentioned in The Mary Tyler Moore Show premise but now women can speak freely of separations as common and being tired of being a mere housewife. Mary continues to hope there is such a thing as a good marriage until her journalism teacher boyfriend from Season Two's “Room 223” returns in “The Courtship of Mary's Father's Daughter.” Now he's engaged and inviting Mary to the festivities before realizing he wants to get together with her again. Her father's happy, everyone is happy in fact – except Mary. Just because the guy is in the mood, she doesn't have to go along with it, and the defiant Mary decides waiting to be head over heels in love is more important than settling. She is not scared to not be married, and if the perfect man isn't willing to wait then so be it.

Dating also isn't going so well for the late Valerie Harper's Rhoda Morgenstern – who wants Mary to lend her her body when she also lends her her clothes. She drinks Mary's bad coffee because it's delicious and wakes her up at 5:45 a.m. for shrewd chats about being un-sexed in a long time, needing batteries, and how two men and a rope will solve anything. Rhoda exercises in baggy sweats and remains a pace behind in their ballet exercises but will run upstairs and call Mary to give her a phone out when Phyllis is bothering them. Once again The Mary Tyler Moore Show makes Rhoda a little unnecessarily pathetic – she only takes her car out of the shop for accidents – but her beaded curtain is always open with offerings of bad Jewish wine from her mother and throwaway mentions of siblings that will be retconned away on Rhoda. Overloaded outlets and dimming the lights with her heated blanket controller give her a sense of power, and doing a Santa workshop display window at work is her crowning achievement. Unfortunately the home problems come to the workplace in “Enter Rhoda's Parents” when Harold Gould (The Golden Girls) joins Nancy Walker's Ida as Rhoda's dad Martin for a disruptive tour of the newsroom. Everyone loves Martin, but Ida fears she's getting old while he gets the Cary Grant compliments. She suspects he's fooling around – she's a modern woman who knows the score – but everything plays out in Mary's apartment because they think it's nicer there compared to Rhoda's bean bag. Thankfully, it all an over reaction leading to a vow renewal so Rhoda can catch the bouquet before our ugly duckling wins her department store's Miss Hempel's beauty contest in “Rhoda the Beautiful.” She and Murray join a calorie cutter club and Rhoda loses twenty pounds, but she isn't happy after having expected to look better at last. She still dresses baggy, but admits she looks okay – refusing to believe she is a great looking girl until Lou of all people has to point out her success. It's weird everyone makes such a fuss because Harper was always beautiful, but it's a superb launch getting the character out of the titular star's shadow so she can ultimately move to her own spin-off, a notion tested with “Rhoda Morgenstern: Minneapolis to New York.” Rhoda visits home and is offered a window dressing job at Bloomingdale's, saying yes even though she'll miss Mary too much and impulsively buys a pet goldfish. Mary doesn't believe she will really move, finally taking it to heart at their farewell dinner where both get too emotional. Our two women spend most of the time here talking about their friendship in a great twofer with bemusingly backward talking of not not leaving and going away parties for staying.

Boss Lou Grant stumps Mary when he can but admits she does a great job even if he balks at the thought of faking the news to make it entertaining. He drinks at the morning meeting, hates anyone who hates television, and insists they can't disagree properly if they say how much they love each other in the argument. Lou's glad to be proven right when he is but doesn't want people to know how much he drinks and won't let any guy get fresh with Mary – even daring to enter the ladies room to see if she's alright. When Lou's promoted to program manager for “Who's in Charge Here?” he enjoys the money but is unhappy with his mod looking desk and no place to keep his scotch. Stuffy suits, upright chairs, and visual gags accent the out of place reversals – our social hierarchy insists men are bosses and women are homemakers, but Lou has to name his replacement in a fun little episode on a man versus woman's ability in the workplace. Of course, Lou claims he's going on vacation in “Operation: Lou” when he's really in the hospital to have old shrapnel removed. Again he thinks Mary can be put in charge with no fuss, but Ted brings him scotch and a television so they can watch the news together. This subtle straight man versus slap stick sardonic is better than Mary's previous hospital stay in “Hi” thanks to the opposites bonding, superb characterization, and the simplest of gags. Lou almost turns over a new leaf as a result – until Ted bamboozles a late breaking bulletin on the air. Lou spends his savings to buy his favorite local bar after the owner dies in “Lou's Place,” but he's still $1500 short of the $10k purchase and only Ted has the funds to join him. He insists their friends pay for their eighty-five cent shots, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show adds another dimension with this not so buddy relationship as cheap Ted wants his money out of this depressing bar once Lou realizes he doesn't have the charm for this kind of business. He's content with everyone being afraid of him – leading to an embarrassingly awkward sing along as he tries to to get friendly and know everyone's name in an episode that almost feels like the inspiration for Cheers.

Six sugars in his coffee Ted Baxter may walk off at the thought of having to share anchorman duties, but he runs right back to the camera at the possibility of someone else being better. When he accidentally leaves the news six minutes early, Ted thinks all the commotion was merely people showing they liked his show. Compliments on his new jacket placate him, but Ted ruins a serious news story to prove his wit when told he isn't funny and it never occurs to him that what he says insults people. Of course, he won't apologize for disliking newspapers – they are the competition and get ink on his hands. Ted claims to be hip by sleeping in the raw and getting a Beatle bowl haircut ten years too late but takes notes during poker and somehow wins $375. He pays Mary one dollar a page to type his autobiography, which he wants to call The Greatest Story Ever Told, and dresses like a bum to go to the free clinic before complaining about the wait just to be told he doesn't have a social disease. It's a surprising throwaway punchline tossed into The Mary Tyler Moore Show among Ted's watching reruns of Ozzie and Harriet for life advice and his making a paperweight out of his supposed best friend Lou's shrapnel. Ted has five goals in life – own a restaurant, replace Walter Cronkite, marry Marlo Thomas, make a million dollars, and learn how to swim – but his fan club is just old ladies who make cookies in the shape of his face in “Farmer Ted and the News.” Ted holds out on his contract over a clause forbidding him from other work like movies or Broadway, but when the nonexclusive statement is removed, the newsroom isn't laughing when Ted ends up doing commercials, pitching slicers, barking like a dog, and advertising a “woman's product” that Lou doesn't even know what it is. Fortunately, Lou's threats about newsman dignity set Ted straight. Fittingly, The Mary Tyler Moore Show introduces Georgia Engel (Everybody Loves Raymond) as Georgette Franklin in “Rhoda Morgenstern: Minneapolis to New York” since the quiet, seemingly dim witted but sweet girl who also works at Hempel's but later sells door to door cosmetics would be a soft replacement for the soon to be spun-off Rhoda. She flirts with Ted but drives away before he can make a night of it as he intends and brings Mary homemade gifts to say thank you, always helping and being polite so she's never a bother. By her third appearance in “The Georgette Story” she's already dating and being taken advantage of by Ted – doing his laundry and grocery shopping, making dinner and coffee. He won't kiss her in public, ditches her, and pretends he has other lady friends before taking out his jealously on the air when Mary sets up Georgette on other dates. It's fascinating to see how a new person changes the tight knit character dynamics as Rhoda and Mary help Georgette realize that even if she really likes Ted, she deserves respect. She understands that she's a damn nice person but Ted's going to hear about it in between their pillow fights and them talking about him. She isn't his baby or cookie, just Georgette, and rather than leaving Ted as a one trick anchorman, her introduction makes him grow up and become able to say he loves her because she wants to say it back.

News writer Murray L. Slaughter keeps track of the one hundred and fourteen times Ted has bothered him and drinks scotch while watching the news with Lou – until the scotch runs out and they switch to bourbon. Although he dislikes Mary checking his copy because he messes up his I before E except after C, Murray is totally dejected to learn how much less he makes then Ted, who he thinks is a one hundred and sixty five pound vegetable doing their news when a turnip would do better. At times he doesn't have a lot to do beyond writing Ted memos telling him to turn the page over for the rest of the news, but Murray provides some sweet shade – a little seated commentary in the corner of the frame beside Ted, who he says is still upset over the cancellation of My Mother the Car, the much reviled series also from Mary Tyler Moore creators Allan Burns and James L. Brooks. Once a compulsive gambler, Murray promises Joyce Bulifant as his wife Marie he's given it up, but when he finds out Ted doesn't know what “a kind” is, Murray can't resist a hand. Fortunately, he has a bag of nickels handy to pay back what he owes Ted and fairs better playing chess with Mary during lunch. In his usual late season spotlight “Murray Faces Life,” Murray falls into a deep depression after a schoolmate wins a Pulitzer prize. He ditches work and goes to the movies and feels unneeded – forty years old with nothing to show for it but terrible work, poor pay, and a boring home. Frank conversations address why it's okay to be in a funk as his concerned friends keep the awkwardness lighthearted thanks to a night on the town with Ted and his fluffy puppet. Housewife neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom also lives veraciously through single, working Mary, thinking any affront to Mary is an affront to all womankind. She insists Mary is obligated as a woman to take any advancement or opportunity that comes her way so she can go to the next plateau with her. Phyllis takes creative moment classes with birth of a flower and ode to spring meditations and remains a progressive parent – letting her daughter have supposedly boy racing toys rather than dolls or kitchen sets because there's no difference except girl toys' intentions to prepare women to be housewives. Ecology is also more important than vanity, however she does miss her admittedly fake fur coat. Of course, landlord Phyllis doesn't bother with flickering electric or no firewood during a snowstorm, and Leachman is referred to more than seen with only four appearances this season. Though she's excited for Rhoda's transformation, Phyllis still brings some insults, bragging about her own beauty contest win and performing her song and dance talent. Sadly, Phyllis didn't go to her own prom, but told her parents she did – dressing up and sending herself a corsage before going to the movies and crying herself to sleep. It's a tender moment providing brief insight into why Phyllis is the way she is, and it's delivered perfectly by Leachman. Lisa Gerritsen is growing up as her daughter Bess, and her teen boyfriend is crushing on Mary in “It Was Fascination, I Know.” He's a seemingly well mannered boy claiming to be interested in news and the school paper, but a day at WJM is just an excuse to shadow Mary before breaking up with Bess via a twenty questions game. She's not that upset, but this cute little episode perhaps should have focused more on her wondering about dating and a girl in school who has big...sweaters...alongside some more risque innuendo.

Of course that aforementioned no divorce series premise means we never get to see Dick Van Dyke on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but his brother Jerry Van Dyke visits as a writer for Chuckles the Clown in “But Seriously, Folks.” After being fired by Chuckles for his latest ideas and his own aspirations as a comedian, a lighter side news audition also turns disastrous and further complicates a budding romance with Mary. It's a singular performance by Van Dyke with bad luck and an embarrassing stand up comedy routine in a bowling alley, however we have some likewise exceptional performances from our regulars complete with riotous rest room tears only made better by the follow up episode in Season Four. Despite occasional older credits, syndication cuts, or episodes perhaps being out of production order, new clips in the opening credits help bring Year Three into the seventies vogue alongside long skirts, empire dresses, turtlenecks, wide collars, fancy belts, flared pants, and long vests. Corduroy, capes, pocket squares, ugly ties – the colorful red, orange, and yellow is a bit much when the stripes, plaid, paisley, tie dye, and gingham mix together. Painstaking coffee makers and guest apartments tricked out with green, brown, and ferns add to the old seventies bar sets with red lights and wood paneling, for locations are still somewhat defined as the feminine at home and the leather man's place. Women wear scarves to cover their hairdos and operators break into the phone calls while simplistic maps, big cameras, hefty monitors, old tape recorders, and giant microphones dress the station. We also get a glimpse of the apartment house stairs as well as that elusive fourth wall in Mary's apartment. She may not understand that seats behind second base are really center field and not that good, but hey they were $12, and she knows what a woman is expected to do if she wants to get comp tickets from the WJM sportscaster. Pencils, clipboards, typewriters, and the Rolodex complete the nostalgia alongside other slider viewers and newsroom thingamajigs. I love the long nightgowns and ruffles as they remain somewhat fashionable, but going to the record to store to listen to the records but not buy them is probably a joke lost on today's viewers. That new car has air conditioning and a newfangled cassette deck, too!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Season Three is thoroughly seventies in style, innocence, and nostalgia. However, the award winning, sophisticated single lady comedy is as progressive, fresh, and modern as it is wholesome for the today's family. The Mary Tyler Moore Show makes you feel wiser in our Minneapolis time well spent thanks to intertwining characters and groundbreaking dilemmas that raise the bar for sitcom standards.

22 December 2019

Religious Discourse and Documentaries

Religious Discourse and Documentaries
by Kristin Battestella

These documentaries and series provide friendly starting points on broad biblical subjects as well as high concept theology and religious supposition.

Beasts of the Bible – This 2010 documentary starts off with unnecessary ominous and eerie foreshadowing alongside laughable CGI and animated critters crawling across the screen. An endearing host, animals, or zoo locations would have been better than the redundant prologue and slithering titles padding the run time. Fortunately, expert demonstrations, aquariums, and specimens in jars are more fun amid the medieval bestiaries, alternate scriptures, and scholars debating if the tempting serpent in the Garden of Eden had legs. Modern animal authorities showing lizards, boa constrictors, and monitors are far better than fake visuals as poison salamanders, prehistoric predators, skeletal evidence, and evolutionary changes make the reptilian connections. Moses' staff may have been a snake, too, however his brother Aaron's rod is describe as turning into a “tannin”– Biblical shade taking digs at Pharaoh, Egyptian gods, and the Nile crocodile. Archaeology and ancient ruins help investigate crocodile mummies stuffed with relics while Hebrew scholars compare Greek translations and original etymology to clarify the insects featured in the Ten Plagues. Frogs and locust, sure, but also gnats and mosquitoes rather than lice, dangerous swarms instead of just flies, and potentially killer bacteria like anthrax causing those infamous boils. The science does jump the fantastic shark with mermaid talk when suggesting Philistine temples to Dagon and half-man, half-fish gods were just manatees, seals, or sea lions conflated with myths and mistranslation. Was Jonah and the Whale really a mega mouth shark or merely metaphors for maritime constellations? Some of these Old Testament animal tales are more famous than others, but intriguing creatures such as unicorns, griffons, satryrs, and giants are missing. There's no mention of Noah's Ark, and the hippopotamus as the behemoth or oar fish as sea monsters and leviathan feel tacked on in the final twenty minutes before abruptly ending with cherubs, eagles, and Ezekial visions. The hyperbolic voiceover often negates the interesting theories presented, and embellishments or dated visuals waste precious minutes – every encounter has to have some kind of secret, shocking revelation. This Animal Planet presentation ends on unknown horrors and “Here be dragons” winks when the subject matter is entertaining enough to be a longer series. Fortunately, although the live feeding snakes may scare younger viewers, this eye catching style can be fun for kids who like creepy crawlies.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Voices from the Desert – There are so many old Dead Sea Scrolls documentaries streaming that I had to make sure this wasn't the same one I reviewed previously. Though dated 2016, this hour is obviously older, too, thanks to large computers, then new database analysis, and sharing the high resolution photographs or documentation on CD – recent academic strides nonetheless after decades of painstaking restoration work and study opportunities only open to a select few. Vintage newsreels of the discovery reiterate the history alongside fears and conspiracies that always seem to come in Dead Sea Scrolls discourse, and aerial views of the Qumran ruins and on location cave scientists better explain how the harsh climate helped preserve the documents. Carbon 14 proof pinpoints the first century when but not why as interviews with both Hebrew and Catholic scholars dissect the language, scriptures, and incomplete text. Varying language, penmanship, and reconstruction is not without controversy, however, as touching up the text or attaching fragments requires interpretative decisions. NASA imaging replacing infared mid-century photographs and new satellite technology reveal an elaborate Dead Sea complex while DNA sampling can help match texts from the same hide. Rather than the back and forth discovery history, the second half here improves with recent publications and academia studies detailing the Scrolls' contents – Community Rule for the Sons of Light, scriptorium organization, and obsessions with purification in spirit, ritual baths, and precious desert water. Special clay jars, sundials, and hasty construction suggests the Essenes knew what they were doing was for posterity even if their excessive military preparation failed at Roman hands – leaving no one to tell us about the wither tos and why fors. Although this doesn't really share anything new to those familiar with the Scrolls and doesn't have time to get in depth with all the angles it presents, this hour remains a good introductory piece or classroom starter and springboard to individual research.

How Jesus Became God – This 2014 twenty-four episode Great Courses lecture presented by the University of North Carolina's Bart D. Ehrman posits whether Jesus was divine or merely a dissonant rabbi prophet against Rome teaching to love god and your neighbor as yourself. The historical versus theological questions begin with earlier godly and human relationships – Roman gods, humans becoming revered in Greece, and elevations in Ancient Judaism alongside other miraculous births, Appollonius of Tyana, Nephilim, immortals, and mortals with magical children. From gods becoming human or coming down in the garden to call Adam and others elected as deified like Romulus or Julius Caesar to angels and Satan; the Old Testament is also rampant with all manner of intermingling between man and gods. While some lectures are broad, others are specifically focused on Genesis, Job, and the pyramid of divine hierarchy – a demimonde of saintly or fallen movement with which pagans were accustomed. “Son of God” and “Sons of God” were ironically common phrasing in early Jewish texts, and onscreen notations break down Jesus' ministry, his disciples, and the gentile spread thanks to the polytheistic ease in believing a man made god. Not believing in his resurrection means the Jesus movement would have remained a small sect of Judaism, so the question isn't necessarily whether he was or was not God but how early Christians themselves perceived Jesus. Paul's letters vary amid Trinity confusion and one god separating his divine partiality thanks to hypostatis and the personification of God's Wisdom or Word. Jesus' own ministry was about preparing for God's coming kingdom, not his own divinity, and the reverence came from others bowing down to a suffering messiah created after the fact. Crucifixion would seem to be a failure if not for the resurrection – whether he rose from the dead or not is almost beside the point because the spread of the belief in Christ's resurrection and the visions after his death are what spurred the Jesus movement to change history. The discourse, however, does get redundant in the middle – how many times can one say denominations bend the scripture to fit their beliefs? – and debating the fifty years plus between the crucifixion and the gospel writings is more interesting, combing Acts and Romans for earlier quotes and possible Q references common in the early movement but distorted like a game of telephone by time the New Testament was gathered. Exhalations of Jesus as the Son of God were adopted at the resurrection, but later ideologies move his divinity backward – his baptism, at birth, all eternity, existence at the beginning with God. Which is the truth when the gospels themselves present multiple cases? Docetism, Ignatius, non-canonical books, and disparate texts in the first and second centuries allowed for multiple points of view including Marcion ideas on the appearance of Jesus as a human rather than a bodily being and Gnosticism versus sacrifice. Despite Christianity originally being much more diverse, orthodox worship was ultimately dominated by Rome and the founding of the Catholic church, leading to persecutions for different beliefs before Constantine's conversion and Council of Nicea declarations creating today's somewhat more harmonious tradition. Had he not been raised from the dead, Jesus would have been a historical footnote about a prophet who's predictions failed, and at times the narrative favors Josephus and history over the spiritual, but our professor also admits that history is woefully inaccurate. Although confusing for a new believer and the deeply religious may balk at the idea of examining Jesus' divinity, this is nothing to be threatened by thanks to detailed timelines and texts breaking down fascinating first century sources. Should proving theories, scholars, or miracles one way or the other change what you believe? No, and this series remains a provocative supplement recounting historical facts as well as theological ideologies past and present for the faithful scholar or a higher education study.


Who Wrote the New Testament? – This 2016 two hours plus doesn't need opening re-enactments, scripture quotes, and famous lines montages bloating the time; the viewer is already here for the Word of God analysis, who collected the Twenty-Seven New Testament works, and the conflicts over which letters, gospels, and accounts to include. Why is there no definitive account of Christ? Why do no original manuscripts remain – just copies of copies written decades later in Greek? Despite the tantalizing opportunities, this documentary is all over the place to start with Mount Sinai monasteries, stolen documents, and arid preservation setting the scene with great on location tours and rituals but showing precious little on site researchers, modern cataloging, digital opportunities, and fellow academics. Non-canon texts such as Epistles from Barnabas and Clement or Thomas and Mary gospels help reveal the risk of following Jesus, his inevitable outcome in standing up to Rome, and the danger in following him to record his ministry – leaving oral traditions to carry the story when so many were illiterate. It takes over twenty minutes for all this background before we get to discrepancies and enigmas in Mark and how easy it is for later scribes making choices or transcription mistakes to change locations or verses. Matthew's account bridges the Jewish history of early Christianity while prolific Luke's Gospel and Acts of the Apostles take up a quarter of the New Testament to spread the Jesus Movement to the gentiles. Rumors of Luke's decapitation and burial in Padua are tested with exhumed bones, DNA analysis, and matching the skull to the body – fascinating stuff that is bizarrely tossed in here with less time spent on the purported Q source gospel and parchment pieces from John's Gospel. Odd editing makes it seem as if this was part of a larger series now condensed into one special, for the narrative is terribly haphazard in postulating one generic, problematic, or science related aspect to the scripture before dropping it in favor of Hitler's disturbing Bible translations. I was not expecting to see Holocaust footage when I tuned in nor Protestant Reformation scandals or Mary Magdalene gossip. The fast moving meandeing can't cover its own topic – lumping the New Testament Letters together for a few moments before splitting hairs over the controversies within them instead. James and Jude earn a mention before going back to Paul amid circumcision, pagans, and a throwaway line wondering which epistles Paul really penned or not. All this is thrown at the screen in the first hour alone, and I zoned out after that. If you are studying a particular part of the New Testament, this is really only worth the matching sampling if you can find it, for this is a thematic mess that ultimately never does what it says on the tin.

21 December 2019

Natalie Cole's Holly & Ivy

Natalie Cole's Holly & Ivy is Ritzy and Sophisticated
by Kristin Battestella

Family songstress Natalie Cole's 1994 first holiday release Holly & Ivy mixes old and new thanks to swanky touches and paternal homages as Jingle Bells makes an entrance with a jazzy, night club, swinging rendition. Fun accents, brass, winks, and groove make this usually kiddie reduced tune now cool and suave for the adults to cut a rug. Caroling, Caroling, however, is deliberately reminiscent of beloved dad Nat King Cole with a sweeter, breezy pace and children's choirs so the whole family can sing along with the pleasantries. The nostalgia continues with the reverent The First Noel. Slow and tender verses make room for Natalie's big notes whilst remaining humble alongside the gentle orchestration. This track may be too slow or under produced for some expecting bang on crescendos, but there's nothing wrong with just a familiar melody and the voice to carry the spirit of the season.

It's not surprising that the opening bars of No More Blue Christmas sound like “The Greatest Love of All” thanks to songwriters Goffin and Masser also having worked extensively with Whitney Houston. Although pleasant and unoffensive, the sentimental lyrics and power ballad pacing sound like every other nineties love song. The seemingly louder exaggeration and enunciation on the word 'Christmas' feel as if a few words were changed to make this a holiday song, and the contemporary push is out of place compared to the rest of the throwback traditionals on Holly & Ivy. The Jingle Bell Rock, Winter Wonderland, Little Drummer Boy, I'll Be Home for Christmas medley is the longest track on Holly & Ivy at six minutes, but it's an odd mix where each could have been their own tune. The minute plus Jingle Bell Rock is in the same style as Jingle Bells – making the case that the whole album should have been such a la Ella swing. The casual Winter Wonderland is likewise martinis smooth, but the shorter, sightly synth Little Drummer Boy doesn't belong with the melancholy, brooding, vocal toppers of I'll Be Home for Christmas, which is almost two minutes and practically its own song anyway.

Merry Christmas Baby continues the December blues, taking its time with groove, beats, guitar strings, and sass. More please! Holly & Ivy feels seemingly obligated to include carols, and Joy to the World is the shortest single track of the four carols here. Fortunately, the rock out choir echos, organ, and clapping put an amen to it – fitting in to the overall swanky here. The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot would also seem to add brass, smooth, and earlier thirties sway, however, this is one depressing little Depression ode. It's quite understandable why this isn't an oft recorded holiday tune. A Song for Christmas is a new composition that better captures the season in mid-century style. Nevertheless, it is a little too sweet, generic even, and going through the motions when there are better holiday songs fitting this jazzy theme deserving a spin with Natalie's big notes such as “Christmas Baby Please Come Home” or even the kitschy “Santa Baby.” Sometimes it's just nice to hear someone who can, you know, sing, rather than having to bend the carol to her own compromising orchestration, and Holly & Ivy's longest stand alone track Silent Night brings all the creche necessary. So many singers make the somber echoes and poignant notes too soft, but Cole keeps the tender while holding every pitch. It should have been the final track, but otherwise, the repose is excellent.

Of course, after their 1991 duet of “Unforgettable,” one may expect The Christmas Song to break out in a similar remix. Fortunately, the already famous reminder of Nat King Cole stands on its own with penultimate breezy and warmth and doesn't go for any kind of album single stunt – which does come later on Natalie's The Magic of Christmas. Although it's the titular song, The Holly and The Ivy should have come before the medley – the old fashioned end of Side A record break – leaving the previous two stellar songs as the big finish. This rendition is slower than usual, which gives Natalie time to make the reverent lyrics clear, but it misrepresents the album somewhat. This eponymous track is sweet and tame in comparison to the overall ritzy session, ending in a whimper when the opener took it to the next level. Holly & Ivy has a few out of place, problematic, or slightly inferior tracks straying from the ritzy. Today, thankfully, these can be skipped in favor of an otherwise sweet and sophisticated listen for an older audience. Holly & Ivy is perfect for a night in candlelit dinner for two to reminisce or make holiday memories anew.

17 December 2019

A Christmas Catch All

A Christmas Catch All
by Kristin Battestella

Music, vinyl, or specials – this holiday trio offers a little festive something for everyone!

Tennessee Ernie Ford: Christmas – Try and keep up, for although the rousing “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “What Child is This?,” and “Away in a Manger” repeat from Tennessee Ernie Ford's Christmas Special itself a double LP combining his previous Sing We Now of Christmas and O Come All Ye Faithful albums – this CD compilation is not the same album as any of those. Bellowing carols “O Holy Night,” “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” “Silent Night,” “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” and “Joy to the World” are also repeated from The Star Carol: Tennessee Ernie Ford Sings His Christmas Favorites, but this isn't that complete session gone digital, either. The download version, however, lists some of the songs herein as 1971 re-records, so unfortunately Ford fans looking to upgrade their scratched vinyl have to pick and choose individual tunes. Of these fifteen tracks, remaining songs that don't appear anywhere else include a lofty “The First Noel” before a jolly, family friend “Up on the House Top/ We Wish You a Merry Christmas” medley and the deep, somber “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” O Christmas Tree/ Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells” end the set with traditional festiveness for all, and while frustrating thanks to its confusing set list, this forty minute CD fits the bill for boomers nostalgic for a good old fashioned baritone Christmas.

A Very Terry Christmas – NBC invites viewers to Get Cozy with Terry Crews as the Brooklyn 99 sergeant embraces the ever lovable Bob Ross The Joy of Painting model with a fireside canvas and holiday brush strokes. Calming Christmas music accents the relaxing blue skies, and it's fascinating to see our burly, funny favorite's soft spoken delight over the two inch brush and his gentle satisfaction while equating mixing paints to playing in the mud. Breezy inspirations and lighthearted instruction create art therapy with no wrong moves. It's all good – paint over what you don't like because Terry's always wanted to say “Happy little trees.” For those who have never actually watched Bob Ross or only know of his recent resurgence in pop culture, this ode may be too unusual or boring. This presentation expects viewers to know the format and doesn't explain itself, for the wonderfully nostalgic and comforting recreation adds it's own spin, including Terry working left handed and portraits of co-star Andre Braugher's Captain Holt hanging beside the Christmas tree. Although this was originally a 2018 streaming event on a twenty four hour loop, now the one off forty minute special remains bemusing on its own, and I'd love to see Terry make more holiday painting appearances. The question isn't “Why should we watch a former football player paint a Christmas tree?” but “Why not?”

You Make the Call

Amy Grant: A Christmas Album – The Contemporary Christian flavor of this 1983 debut holiday hit gets to the country strings immediately with the snowy, sentimental, and slightly dated saccharin “Tennessee Christmas.” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” lets Grant's voice shine with an a cappella start before the choir and music swell for the big finish and the festive, instrumental “Preiset Dom Konig (Praise the King)” interlude. Though a chart topper in its day, the electronic sound, tech beats, and synthesizer mixing of “Emmanuel” now sounds more like it belongs over an eighties action movie montage than on a Christmas album. Some who like Christian Rock may still find this hip, but break dancing over the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace won't be for everyone. Several of the tracks segue into one another, and it's tough to tell where “Little Town (O Little Town of Bethlehem medley)” begins thanks to similar keyboard edge interfering with Grant's delivery. She can hold the big notes so the over produced orchestration is unnecessary on centuries old carols that have stood the test of time. “Christmas Hymn” is a much more heartfelt original, reverent with its choir echoes and crescendos while “Love Has Come” combines the family holiday with praise and worship verses in obligatory Contemporary Christian style. It's not that this is a bad song, in may ways there's nothing wrong with it. However, it reminds me exactly what I don't like about contemporary worship music – the need to make Jesus hip. Yeah! Rock on! Hold up the lighters for Christ! Fist bump! John 3:16! Why does it feel the need to make the Messiah cool as if he hasn't done enough already? o_O “Sleigh Ride” is much better, a familiar medley and jolly pace that showcases Grant's vocal alongside the long, lingering, mellow notes of “The Christmas Song,” which is arguably the best tune on the album. “Heirlooms” lays on more sentiment, starting off cozy and seemingly secular before switching to adoration – pretty, but thematically a little all over the place. Why would you equate Jesus to random trinkets? Again, the style tries to say something powerful but comes off forced when the orchestral prelude of “A Mighty Fortress/Angels We Have Heard on High” is stronger. This longest finale track brings down the house with traditional chorales and uplifting high notes peppered with classical accents. Though definitely dated with an of the moment, doing too much contemporary movement capitalization that will be off putting to some listeners, this thirty-seven minute brevity can be a fine accompaniment to baking cookies or wrapping presents.