Retro Television Reviews: Hang Time 5.3 “Chicken Run” and 5.4 “Papa Please”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Thursdays, I will be reviewing City Guys, which ran on NBC from 1997 to 2001.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

This week’s episode of City Guys finds Chris getting stabbed and the neat guys failing to get vengeance.

Episode 5.3 “Chicken Run”

(Dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on September 22, 2001)

Here’s the plot of this episode of City Guys, according to Wikipedia:

Jamal is labeled a chicken when he refuses to fight a gang member. Wanting to get rid of his reputation, he fights the gang member. The gang member pulls out a knife and stabs Chris, who was trying to save Jamal.

I’m giving you the Wikipedia description because this is one of the episodes of City Guys that is not currently available on YouTube.  I actually watched this episode on Tubi, several months before I started this Retro Television Reviews feature.  What I remember is that Chris was stabbed while trying to protect Jamal but it wasn’t a fatal wound.  He did end up in the hospital, where Jamal swore that he would never fight again.  So, I guess Jamal was willing to fight to protect his reputation but he wasn’t willing to fight to avenge Chris.  What a jerk.

Let’s move on …. though I will say that if someone ever stabbed me, I would totally expect all of my friends and family to track that person down and enact some Biblical justice …. but whatever.  Let’s move on….


Okay, seriously, let’s move on….

Episode 5.4 “Papa Please”

(Dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on September 22, 2001)

Fresh from not being avenged, Chris proves himself to be the world’s biggest idiot when he meets Cassidy’s father for the first time.  Consider that Chris and Cassidy have been friends for five season and they’ve been dating off-and-on for years but this is his first time to meet Cassidy’s father.

And perhaps that was a good thing because Chris totally blows it when he finally does meet Cassidy’s father.  First, Chris gets into an argument with him about whether or not Chris had the right away while crossing the street.  (Apparently, Cassidy’s father nearly ran him over.)  Then, once they get a booth at the Manhattan Diner (why not just meet on the roof of the school?), Chris says that he’s dating Cassidy because she’s hot and then he compares his radio show to Howard Stern despite having been specifically told not to mention Stern.

In other words, Chris is an idiot.

Cassidy’s dad forbids Cassidy to date Chris so Cassidy decides to pretend that she’s dating L-Train so that Chris will look better in comparison.  Cassidy’s dad takes an immediate liking to L-Train and soon, the two of them are golf buddies.  Good for L-Train.  He deserves a friend to play golf with.

While all this is going on, Al and Dawn are scandalized to discover that Ms. Noble is a smoker!  They force her to sit through a lecture in which Al dresses up like a giant cigarette.  I know I’ve said this before but …. MS. NOBLE IS THE PRINCIPAL!  SHE’S AN ADULT!  WHO CARES IF SHE SMOKES!?  It’s none of their business if she smokes!

Anyway, this leads to a dumb conclusion.  Chris is upset to learn that Cassidy has been pretending to date L-Train.  Cassidy’s Dad is upset that Cassidy has still been dating Chris.  “You never lied to me before,” says Cassidy’s Dad.  Really, never?  In the end, Chris convinces Cassidy’s Dad that he didn’t give him a fair chance by volunteering to stop seeing Cassidy if it’s causing trouble.  Cassidy’s Dad is so moved that he gives Chris permission to date his daughter.  Meanwhile, Dawn and Al convince several other students to pretend to smoke in order to show Ms. Noble that she’s a bad role model.

“It’s not easy watching someone you care about kill themselves,” Dawn says.


I hope Ms. Noble smoked every day for the rest of her life.

Retro Television Reviews: The Love Boat 2.17 “Second Chance / Don’t Push Me / Like Father, Like Son”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Wednesdays, I will be reviewing the original Love Boat, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986!  The series can be streamed on Paramount Plus!

This week’s episode of The Love Boat is all about second chances!

Episode 2.17 “Second Chance / Don’t Push Me / Like Father, Like Son”

(Dir by Allen Baron, originally aired on January 27th, 1979)

As usual, this week’s episode presents us with three different stories involving people on the cruise.  Two of them aren’t that interesting and I’m going to deal with them first.

Fred Beery (Roddy McDowall) is a nerdy guy who is sailing on The Love Boat to get away from his clingy, marriage-obsessed girlfriend, Christine (Tammy Grimes).  However, Christine shows up at the last minute and boards the boat with Fred.  Fred suddenly starts sneezing.  When Christine asks Fred to marry her, he sneezes and, for some reason, she assumes that was his way of saying yes.  Fred goes to Doc Bricker and wonders if he could be allergic to Christine.  Doc says that people can be allergic to one another.  Fred is excited because this gives him an excuse not to marry Christine.  But then Fred changes his mind and discovers that he’s no longer allergic to Christine.  However, Christine now finds Fred to be too clingy and doesn’t want to marry him and …. well, that’s pretty much the storyline.

This was a bit of an annoying storyline.  Even with Roddy McDowall in the role, Fred was not particularly likable.  Fred’s refusal to get married and his sudden “allergy” was played for laughs but, when seen today, it’s hard not to feel that Fred is basically deep in denial.  If this episode were made today, it would end with Fred finding the courage to come out and Christine realizing the real reason why he didn’t want to marry her.  But, since it was made in the 70s, it ends with Fred begging Christine to give him a second chance.

The second storyline featured Robert Mandan and Randolph Mantooth as a father and a son who were both in love with the same woman (Cathy Lee Crosby).  Crosby, however, was far more attracted to the older Mandan than the younger (and, it seemed, alcoholic) Mantooth.  In the end, Mantooth made peace with the idea of the woman he loved becoming his stepmother.  It sounds like the premise of a Lifetime movie.

But enough about those stories.  The story that actually worked featured Debbi Morgan as Stephanie Jackson, a recent parolee who Isaac convinced the Captain to hire to work in the gift shop.   When some pearl earrings go missing, Stephanie is the number one suspect because she was previously arrested for shoplifting.  Isaac has to figure out if Stephanie stole the jewelry or if she still deserves her second chance.  Eventually, it is revealed that Stephanie did steal the earrings but she also returned them hours later, locking them up in the gift shop’s safe.  Stephanie nearly returned to her criminal ways but had a change of heart.  After hearing her confession, the Captain tells Stephanie that she did the right thing and that she will continue to work at the gift shop.

I actually liked this storyline.  Some of that was because Debbi Morgan gave a good performance as Stephanie.  But also I liked the fact that The Love Boat was highlighting the importance of helping out the formerly incarcerated.  Too often, when people get out of prison, they find themselves without any opportunities.  Most businesses and stores will always find an excuse not to hire someone with a criminal record and, as a result, those recently released are not left with many options beyond returning to a life of crime.  If we’re going to insist that prison is about rehabilitation than we have to be willing to give the formerly incarcerated a chance to prove that they’ve been rehabilitated.  The Love Boat may have been a rather silly show but, with this episode, it sailed with an important message.

Next week: The Love Boat hosts a high school reunion!

Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.25 “Amusement Park/Rock Stars”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

This week, season 2 comes to a close as we take another trip to the other side of the island!

Episode 2.25 “Amusement Park/Rock Stars”

(Dir by Cliff Bole, originally aired on May 13th, 1979)

Oh crap, it’s another Fantasy Island Sunday Special!

Apparently, in 1979, Aaron Spelling wanted to do a Fantasy Island spin-off for children, one that would have aired on Sunday nights.  The spin-off would have taken place on “the other side of the Island,” which was apparently designed to be very family-friendly.  The previous Sunday Special featured Kimberly Beck as Mr. Roarke’s assistant on the other side of the island.  In the second Sunday Special, Kimberly Beck is nowhere to be seen and the hosting duties are handled by Roarke and Tattoo.

As usual, Tattoo starts the episode by revealing his latest scheme.  He’s read a book on Sherlock Holmes and has decided that he wants to be a master of disguise.  He begins the show by disguising himself as Sherlock Holmes.

Later, he sneaks into Mr. Roarke’s office while disguised as a one-eyed, hook-handed pirate.

By the end of the episode, Tattoo has been reduced to dressing up like a chicken.

Mr. Roarke sees through all the disguises and, as usual, he comes across as being more annoyed than amused by his assistant.  It’s often been said that Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize could not stand working together on Fantasy Island and, having spent nearly a year watching this show, I can say that it’s pretty obvious that was the case.  Even while trading jokes, there’s an undercurrent of hostility to all of their interactions.

But what about the fantasies?  Well, they’re a bit childish but let’s get to them.  As with the previous Sunday Special, the children arrive via hot air balloon.  No, Tattoo does not yell, “The balloon!  The balloon!”  In fact, the whole thing with the balloon seems to be silly and incredibly impractical.  I mean, where is the balloon taking off from?

Departing from the balloon are the Collins Family.  Robbie (Scott Baio), Willie (Jimmy Baio), Scooter (Keith Coogan), and Jodie (Jill Whelan) have come to the Island because Robbie has a fantasy about all of them becoming rock stars.  Upon arrival, Mr. Roarke tells them that he has already taken the demo that they sent him and turned it into an album.  They’re a big hit in the UK and on Fantasy Island.  But can they impress the American record executive that Mr. Roarke has invited to hear them?

It’s going to be difficult because, as Robbie discovers, the album features a remastered version of their demo, one that makes them sound like better musicians than they actually are.  Robbie panics.  “How are we going to sound like that?”  Mr. Roarke tells them to figure it out.  Robbie’s solution is to just lip-sync to the album.

Now, to be honest, this seems like not only a practical solution but it’s also what a lot of bands do in real life.  But Mr. Roarke is scandalized to discover that the kids paid Tattoo ten dollars to play the album back stage while they pretended to perform.  Robbie’s conscience gets the better of him and he confesses his crime to the record exec.  The record exec doesn’t care.  He hires the kids on a songwriters, because who wouldn’t want a bunch of pre-teen songwriters on the payroll?

However, the Collins Family has another problem.  It turns out that they’re runaways!  After their parents were lost at sea, the Collins kids were sent to four different orphanages.  The kids escaped to Fantasy Island but now, Mrs. Ridges (Joanna Barnes) has come to the Island and is planning on taking the kids back.  Fortunately, Mr. Roarke explains that he is the ruler of Fantasy Island and that the law doesn’t apply in his domain.  Even more fortunately, a telegram suddenly arrives, informing the kids that their parents did not drown but instead washed up on an isolated beach in Mexico.  Their parents have been rescued and the kids are no longer wards of the state!  Yay!

(That’s some incredible Dues ex Machina there, no?)

While this is going on, Darius (Jarrod Johnson) wants to run the Fantasy Island Amusement Park.

Wait …. Fantasy Island has an amusement park?

Yep, and it’s kind of a dump.  Seriously, the park looks like it reeks of spilled beer, stale weed, and lost dreams.  It’s a true nightmare alley.

Darius’s main reason for wanting to run the park is so he can give his dad, motorcycle stunt driver The Great Scott (Ted Lange), a job.  The Great Scott is hired to jump over the Fantasy Island lagoon but, when he sees Darius nearly fall off the Ferris wheel, he realizes that it’s more important to be there for his son than to risk his life.  (That said, The Great Scott does risk his life by climbing up the Ferris wheel to save Darius.)  Mr. Roarke then offers The Great Scott a new job, as the manager of the amusement park.  Of course, I watched this whole fantasy thinking to myself that The Great Scott already had a great job, working as a bartender on the Love Boat.

That said, let’s give some credit to Ted Lange, who actually gives a pretty emotional and kind of touching performance as The Great Scott.  Lange may be best known for playing Isaac but he’s also a graduate of London’s Royal Academy and I’ve heard that he was a wonderful Othello on stage.  My point is that, even if he is best known for the way he would point at people while serving drinks, Ted Lange can act and this episode certainly proves that.

Overall, this episode was clearly meant to appeal to kids and, as a result, it felt a bit childish.  This was not only the last episode of season 2 but it was also the last of the Sunday Specials and that’s probably a good thing.

Next week, we start season 3!

Retro Television Reviews: Hang Time 4.25 “Christmas In New York” and 4.26 “Waiting For Mary Beth”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Mondays, I will be reviewing Hang Time, which ran on NBC from 1995 to 2000.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

The fourth season finally comes to a close!  Seriously, things have been moving so slowly for the Tornadoes that I feel like I’ve spent that last several years trapped in this season.

Episode 4.25 “Christmas In New York”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, Originally aired on December 5th, 1998)

The team is in New York City, celebrating Christmas away from home.  Kristy, who is not actually on the team, is with them and feeling homesick.  Instead of telling her, “Well, go home since you’re not actually on the team,” Silk and Michael promise Kristy that they’re going to have a “real Indiana Christmas” right there in New York.

(So, I guess everyone’s parents are okay with their children celebrating the holidays in New York.  Seriously, this whole New York plotline doesn’t make a single bit of sense.  If I was the state of Indiana, I would be offended by how eager Hang Time was to find any excuse to get away from me.)

Kristy comes up with the idea of the team celebrating Christmas by doing “Secret Santa.”  Everyone thinks that this is a great idea, except for Mary Beth who points out that Secret Santa means that everyone will only get one gift.  “Everyone’s stressing about what to get everyone!” Hammer says, as if somehow mandating that everyone can only buy one gift will make it even less stressful to try to find the perfect one.  I’m on Mary Beth’s side here.  Add to that, Secret Santa comes with a limit on how much can be spent on each person.  Each gift has to cost under $10.  What the Hell!?  Seriously, I’d rather cancel Christmas than accept a gift that cost under $10.

If Kristy is missing her family, Rico is dreading meeting his.  As Rico explains it, his grandfather, Sonny, is a former stand-up comedian who always goes out of his way to embarrass Rico.  After meeting Rico and the rest of the team, Sonny decides to move into the hotel and stay with them.  Sonny explains that Rico doesn’t want his grandson spending his Christmas without his family.  And really, Sonny’s right.  SERIOUSLY, WHY ARE THEY IN NEW YORK ON CHRISTMAS!?

Anyway, Secret Santa goes awry when Julie and Mary Beth sneak into the boys’s hotel room and discovers that Michael and Hammer bought them cheap scarves.  Mary Beth is so offended that she declares that they’re going to have to buy really cheap gifts for the boys.

“How do I do that?” Mary Beth asks Julie.

“Are you saying I’m cheap!?”  Julie yells.

Oh, Julie, everyone knows you’re cheap.

Of course, what they don’t know is that, while Julie and Mary Beth are sneaking around the hotel room, Michael and Hammer are buying expensive gifts at Tiffany’s.

Meanwhile, Rico lies to his grandfather to keep him from coming to the Christmas Party.  This leads to Coach K. suddenly declaring himself to be the Ghost of Christmas Future and showing Rico that his future is going to feature his grandchildren abandoning him for the holidays.  Rico learns the true meaning of Christmas and he spends the holiday with his grandfather after all.  The rest of the team spends the holidays without their families but no one cares because they’re all a bunch of heathens, I guess.  I don’t know.  As I said before, this whole New York thing is way too weird.

This was dumb.  Let’s move on.

Episode 4.26 “Waiting For Mary Beth”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, Originally aired on December 5th, 1998)

After a long season that featured a new coach, three new players, and trips to Texas and New York, the fourth season of Hang Time comes to a close with …. a clip show.

The Tornadoes are celebrating New Years Eve in New York City because why would they want to spend any of their holidays with their friends and family back in Indiana.  The entire team is gathered at a fancy restaurant overlooking Times Square.  But where’s Mary Beth!?  Mary Beth, it turns out, is refusing to leave her room because her appointment with a world famous hair stylist did not go well.  Luckily, everyone has a memory to share that provides Mary Beth with the courage to celebrate the New Year.

Eh.  It’s a clip show.  Clip shows are the worst of the worst.

Next week, Season 5 begins!

Retro Television Reviews: What She Doesn’t Know (dir by Kevin James Dobson)

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay.  Today’s film is 1992’s What She Doesn’t Know!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

Molly Kilcolin (Valerie Bertinelli) has graduated from law school!

In fact, she’s not only graduated from law school but she’s graduated from Harvard Law School, the most prestigious and most expensive law school out there.  And she’s graduated at the top of her class.  She’s the one who gets to give the speech at graduation, where she says that everything she knows about justice she learned from her father.

It’s really quite an accomplishment when you consider that Molly isn’t even from a rich family.  She’s from a family of blue collar, New York City cops.  Her father, Jack Kilcoin (George Dzundza), certainly never had a chance to go to Harvard.  How did Molly even afford to go to Harvard?  Apparently, her tuition was paid out of a trust fund that her aunt set up for her when she was a child.  Seriously, that must have been a helluva trust fund because Harvard is not cheap or easy to get into.

Unfortunately, Molly disappoints her father when she tells him that she will not be accepting a job with a high class law firm but instead, she plans to work for the District Attorney’s office.  Her fellow prosecutors are skeptical of her as well.  Why does she want to go from Harvard to making next to no money in the trenches?  Someone asks her if she has political ambitions but no, Molly just wants to do the right thing.  She grew up in the neighborhood, don’t you know.  She knows the people who are getting caught up in the Mafia’s schemes.

After Molly convinces a young mobster named Joey Mastinelli (Peter Dobson) to testify against his boss, she is shocked to discover that over half of the NYPD is on the Mob’s payroll.  She is even more shocked to discover that her father is one of those dirty cops.  For years, her father has been taking bribes and hiding the money away in Molly’s trust fund.  Molly’s Harvard education was paid for by the Mafia!

As you can probably guess, family dinners are about to get awkward!

I usually enjoy films like What She Doesn’t Know because I’m always interested in the Mafia and there was a time when I briefly thought it might be fun to grow up and go to law school.  I don’t know if I would have wanted to become a prosecutor, of course.  Unlike Molly, I probably would have taken that ritzy law firm offer.  The idea behind What She Doesn’t Know had potential but it was let down by the execution.  Valerie Bertinelli tries hard but she’s just not convincing as a tough-as-nails Harvard grad.  George Dzundza is a bit more believable as an aging New York cop but he’s still a bit on the dull side.  (It would have been nice if this film could have been made a few years later, with Mira and Paul Sorvino in the lead roles.)

The film’s biggest flaw is that it portrays Molly as being so totally clueless about her father’s activities that it makes her seem to be impossibly naïve.  I mean, did she never wonder how she could possibly afford to go to Harvard?

Seriously, Harvard’s expensive!

Retro Television Reviews: Welcome Back, Kotter 1.1 “The Great Debate” and 1.2 “Basket Case”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Saturdays, I will be reviewing Welcome Back Kotter, which ran on ABC  from 1975 to 1979.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

Well, I don’t have anyone but myself to blame.

Ever since I started doing these retro television reviews, people have been suggesting that I should review an old 70s sitcom called Welcome Back, Kotter.  I only knew a few things about Welcome Back, Kotter.  I knew that it was the show that made John Travolta a star.  I knew that it was Marcia’s favorite show on The Brady Bunch Hour.  I knew that Gabe Kaplan played Gabe Kotter, a teacher who returned to his old Brooklyn neighborhood to teach a bunch of students known as the “Sweathogs.”  (Bleh!  What an unappealing nickname.)  It didn’t sound like something I wanted to watch but, being the polite person that I am, I always said, “If it’s ever streaming somewhere, I will.”  The unspoken assumption, of course, was that the show would never be streaming anywhere.

Then, one day, I looked at Tubi and….

Again, I have no one to blame but myself.

As for the show, it was based on the stand-up routines of its star, Gabe Kaplan.  It followed former Sweathog Gabe Kotter (played, of course, by Kaplan) as he tried to teach a new generation of Sweathogs at James Buchanan High in Brooklyn.  Gabe was married to Julie (Marica Strassman).  They lived in a small Brooklyn apartment and Gabe was constantly forcing his wife to listen to corny jokes about his family.  At the school, Gabe’s principal was Mr. Woodman (John Sylvester White), a former history teacher who disliked the Sweathogs.

As for the Sweathogs themselves, there were several but only four were really important.

Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta) was the handsome but dumb one.

Freddie Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) was the cool basketball player who would often say, “Hi, there” in a very deep voice.

Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) was the one most likely to kill someone.

Arnold Horseshack (Ron Pallilo) was the nerdy one with the high-pitched voice.  In Kaplan’s original stand-up routine, his nickname was Arnold Horseshit but I doubt that was ever mentioned on the show.

And, of course, there was the theme song.  Welcome Back, Kotter was written and performed by John Sebastian, whose previous claim to fame was appearing on the stage at Woodstock while stoned out of his mind.

Okay, let’s do this thing.

Episode 1.1 “The Great Debate”

(Dir by Bob LaHendro, originally aired on September 9th, 1975)

The very first episode of Welcome Back, Kotter opens with teacher Gabe Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) making out with his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman), on the couch in their little Brooklyn apartment.  Kotter suddenly stops kissing his wife so that he can tell her a joke about the time his uncle slept in the same bed as his secretary and told her that if she wanted to be “Mrs. Kotter for the night,” then she should get out of bed and close the bedroom window herself.  Julie laughs.  Personally, if my romantic partner stopped kissing me specifically so he could tell an adultery joke, I don’t know if I would laugh.  I’d probably be more like, “What are you trying to tell me with that?”

Fortunately, the theme song starts up and rescues the audience from that awkward moment.

The next day, Gabe goes to work at James Buchanan High School.  He teaches the remedial class, which is populated by underachieving students who have been nicknamed “the Sweathogs.”  Gabe discovers that the Sweathogs have painted a rather garish mural on the wall of the classroom.

Vinne Barbarino (John Travolta) gets up and explains what the mural’s about.

Gabe is impressed by the fact that young John Travolta is a hundred times better looking and charismatic than anyone else in the school.  But Gabe still insists that the Sweathogs wash off the mural.  The Sweathogs agree, before revealing that they also painted the top of Gabe’s desk.

In the teacher’s lounge, Alex (James Woods) makes fun of Gabe’s stupid students.  Gabe make fun of Alex for writing plays with names like “Fiddler On My Sister.”  Alex says that his debate class can defeat Gabe’s class.  Gabe accepts the challenge and….

Wait a minute!  JAMES WOODS!?

Yes, that is indeed a youngish James Woods playing Alex, the school’s pretentious drama teacher.  Woods is okay in the role.  There’s not a whole lot to be done with the character as he’s pretty much just an uptight strawman who is there to be humiliated by Kotter and his class.

As for the debate itself, the resolution is that “Humans are naturally aggressive.”  Alex’s class argues in the negative while Kotter’s class argues in the positive.  Alex’s class is uptight and wears sweaters.  The Sweathogs show up in garish costumes.  With the help of Epstein (Robert Hegyes), Barbarino argues that Jack the Ripper and Atilla the Hun prove that people are naturally aggressive.  When Mr, Woodman (John Sylvester White), who is moderating the debate, says that they need a timekeeper, Sweathog Arnold Horschack (Ron Pallilo) enthusiastically volunteers.

“Can he tell time, Mr. Kotter?” a flustered Woodman asks and I’ll admit that I did laugh.  John Sylvester White delivered the line perfectly.

Sweathog Freddie Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) then makes his case but, because his only experience with public speaking is in church, he gives a sermon.  “He isn’t following the rules!” one of Alex’s students shouts.

While Alex’s star debater makes his case, the Sweathogs heckle him so aggressively that the student has a nervous breakdown and starts screaming, “SHUT UP!” at them.  As Kotter points out, this proves that humans are naturally aggressive.  Woodman announces that “This debate is called on account of dumbness.”

Back at the apartment, Gabe tells Julie a joke about Larry and his pet toad.

I have to admit that I enjoyed this episode quite a bit more than I was expecting to.  Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, John Travolta, Ron Pallilo, and Robert Hegyes had a lot of comedic chemistry as the main Sweathogs and Gabe Kaplan did a good job of projecting a much needed sincerity in the role of Mr. Kotter.  He seemed to truly care about his students.  This was definitely a good episode to start the series off with.

Episode 1.2 “Basket Case”

(Dir by Bob LaHendro, originally aired on September 16th, 1975)

At the apartment, Gabe tells Julie a joke about how his childhood bully beat up his father.

At school, it’s time for the Sweathogs to take a history exam.  Barbarino has all the answers written on his arm but, fortunately, Gabe shows up with water and a paper towel.  Horseshack tries to distribute the tests in another classroom but Gabe stops him.  Epstein shows up with a note excusing him from the exam because of his bursitis but Gabe tosses the note away as soon as he notices that it is signed “Epstein’s Mother.”  Freddie, meanwhile, doesn’t think that grades matter because he’s made the basketball team.  In fact, he draws a picture of himself as “Stilt Man” on his test paper.

When Gabe fails Freddy, the basketball coach and Mr. Woodman ask him to reconsider.  The Sweathogs ask him to reconsider.  And Freddie tells Kotter that he’s not going to take a makeup exam.  Kotter challenges Freddie to a basketball game.  If Freddie win, he passes.  If Kotter, who was basketball star in high school, wins, Freddie retakes the test.  Freddie agrees and….

Well, it turns out that a game between a middle-aged, out-of-shape teacher and a high school star athlete goes about as well as you might expect.  We don’t see the game but we do see Mr. Woodman and the basketball coach carrying a delirious Kotter into the teacher’s lounge.  Freddie apparently destroyed Kotter on the court but he’s so impressed by Kotter’s determination that he agrees to retake the test anyway.

Back at the apartment, Kotter tells Julie a joke about why he never wears hats.  Apparently, he felt his head was too big.  Poor guy.

Again, this was not a bad episode.  I was worried that Kotter would somehow beat Freddie at basketball while the audience went wild but, instead, the episode got laughs by being honest.  There was no way Gabe was going to win that game.  Interestingly enough, this episode was as much about Gabe dealing with the fact that he was getting older than it was about getting Freddie to take his grades seriously.  Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs was particularly strong in this episode.  It may have been a comedy but Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs played it like a drama and, as a result, the stakes felt real.

So, the first two episodes of Welcome Back Kotter took me by surprise.  Will the rest of the show be this good?  We’ll find out over the weeks to come!

Retro Television Reviews: The Master 1.4 “Hostages”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Fridays, I will be reviewing The Master, which ran on NBC from January to August of 1984. The show can be found on Tubi!

This week, The Master teams up with an old enemy.

Episode 1.4 “Hostages”

(Dir by Ray Austin, originally aired on February 10th, 1984)

“Hi, I’m Max Keller….”

This episode of The Master opens with Max (Timothy Van Patten) flying high above California in a motorized hang glider.  Apparently, this is the latest part of Max’s ninja training, though I have to wonder where the hang glider came from and whether or not being able to use a hang glider is a specific ninja skill.  The more I think about it, the more it seems that McAllister (Lee Van Cleef) is just leading Max on for his own amusement.

Max spots a woman (Jennifer Runyon, who later took over the role of Marcia Brady in A Very Brady Christmas) who is sitting behind the wheel of an out-of-control car.  Apparently, the brakes have failed and the car will soon careen over the side of a cliff!  Max swoops down and rescues the woman, minute before her car crashes and explodes.

The woman is Alice Clayton, the extremely talkative daughter of U.S. Senator Sam Clayton (Robert Dowdell).  Don’t worry, no one was trying to kill her.  The brakes just failed on their own.  A grateful Alice invites Max and McAllister to come to a party that the senator is throwing at his hillside mansion.

Soon, Max and McAllister are wearing tuxedos and hanging out at the party.  A CIA agent named Malory (one-time Bond star, George Lazenby) recognizes McAllister and accuses him of running a “subversive ninja school.”  Meanwhile, by an amazing coincidence, Okasa (Sho Kosugi) — McAllister’s former student who has taken a vow to kill him — also happens to be at the party.  He even takes the time to throw a ninja star at McAllister.

But that’s not all!  The party is also crashed by a group of terrorists, lead by Serena (Randi Brooks) and Castile (David McCallum).  The terrorists kidnaps Alice, her father, and the wives of several European diplomats.  The head of the CIA (Monte Markham) orders McAllister and Malory to set aside their differences and to rescue the hostages.  Max also decides to help which means that the hang glider makes another appearance as Max soars above the terrorist compound.

Lee Van Cleef’s stunt double gets quite a workout in this episode of The Master.  Not only do Okasa and McAllister have a brief fight but McAllister also gets to take on an entire compound full of terrorists.  Of course, McAllister wears his full of ninja uniform while doing all of this, all the better to hopefully keep us from noticing that Lee Van Cleef isn’t the one doing all of the kicking and hitting.  And I will say that, in this episode, the fights were fairly well-done.  The plot was predictable but the fights were probably about as exciting as you could hope from a network television show that aired in the 80s.

Other than the fights, the best thing about this episode was the chance to see George Lazenby playing a character who was Bond in everything but the name.  Lazenby himself has said that one of the reasons he struggled with the role of James Bond was because he was too young when he starred in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  In this episode of The Master, Lazenby is older and a bit more weathered and he’s totally believable as a spy who is tough but who still enjoys the better things in life.  As well, David McCallum does a good job as the cynical terrorist, though his character isn’t really given much to do.

I actually kind of enjoyed this episode of The Master.  As opposed to the previous three episodes, it focused on the action and it didn’t really have any slow spots.  It was a fun episode.

Retro Television Reviews: City Guys 5.1 “This Old Nerd” and 5.2 “E-Breakup”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Thursdays, I will be reviewing City Guys, which ran on NBC from 1997 to 2001.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

It’s time to start the final season of City Guys!


Seriously, I can’t believe that I’m nearly done with this stupid show.  This was the show that launched Retro Television Reviews and I’ve somehow managed to stick with it, despite the fact that Tubi dropped the show and I’m now having to watch it via crappy YouTube uploads.  That said, I’m ready to finish up City Guys and move on to a new show.

It may not take me that long to finish up the series because, as I previously mentioned, City Guys is no longer on Tubi.  Most of season 5 has been uploaded to YouTube but a few episodes are missing.  I will review what’s available.  The important thing is that the finale is available so we’ll get to see if the City Guys ever actually graduated from Manny High.

Episode 5.1 “This Old Nerd”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on September 8th, 2001)

Season 5 opens with the students of Manny High once again revealing how strangely obsessed they are with their principal.  It’s Ms. Noble’s birthday so L-Train, Chris, Cassidy, and Dawn decide to give her an expensive watch as a gift.  (These people are way too obsessed with their principal.)  L-Train buys a watch from a “bearded woman” that he meets on the street.  Ms. Noble is crazy about the watch, which she says looks just like a watch that was recently stolen from her favorite store.  (“It was stolen by a man with a beard,” Ms. Noble explains.)  Ms. Noble says that she’s going to go by the store to get it fitted for her wrist.  The kids freak out, convinced that this will somehow land them in prison.

Instead, it lands Ms. Noble in prison.  Ms. Noble is forced to call into Chris and Jamal’s stupid radio show (which is apparently still a thing).  Chris, Cassidy, and L-Train head down to the jail to …. what?  Bail her out?  Why is Ms. Noble wasting her one phone call on the radio show?  Why isn’t she calling her husband or a lawyer or a bail bondsman?

Meanwhile, Jamal and Al make a bet as to whether or not Jamal can transform his nerdy friend Vincent into one of the cool kids.  Jamal wins the bet but being cool goes to Vincent’s head.  Vincent not only wants to be called Vince but he also quits the debate team!  Eventually, though, Vince overhears Jamal and Al talking about the bet and he realizes that Jamal was just using him.  Jamal apologizes and tells Vince that, to truly be cool, he just has to be himself.  Nice message.  I bet we’ll never see Vince again.

Anyway, Vince rejoins the debate team and he and Dawn win the debate tournament which, of course, is held on the roof of Manny High.  Why does everything have to happen on that roof?  That seems like that would be a huge safety violation.  I climbed out onto the roof of my high school one time and I got yelled at so this is personal to me.

So yeah …. Season 5 is off to a stupid start!  Let’s see if things improve in the second episode.

Episode 5.2 “E-Breakup”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on September 8th, 2001)

Al and Dawn break-up yet again!  This time, it’s because Al discovered that Dawn was secretly talking to another guy online.  (That guy turns out to be L-Train.)  Personally, I think they should have broken up after they lost that stupid “best couple competition” to Billy and Ms. Noble at the end of season 4.  There are some things that a relationship just can’t survive!

Meanwhile, Chris and Cassidy are upset because Jamal is in a relationship slump and insists on being a third wheel on all of their dates.  They conspire to frame Jamal for vandalizing Ms, Noble’s office, which seems like a bit of an overreaction but whatever.  Jamal eventually starts dating someone.

I guess the theme of this episode was that everyone at Manny High was a terrible, shallow human being.  That sounds about right.

Retro Television Reviews: The Love Boat 2.16 “Gopher’s Opportunity / The Switch / Home Sweet Home”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Wednesdays, I will be reviewing the original Love Boat, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986!  The series can be streamed on Paramount Plus!

This week, The Love Boat sets sail for a thoroughly pleasant cruise.  Come on board, they’re expecting you!

Episode 2.16 “Gopher’s Opportunity / The Switch / Home Sweet Home”

(Directed by Roger Duchowny and Allen Baron, originally aired on January 20th, 1979)

I’ve been watching these old episodes of The Love Boat for a while now and I have to say that I’m still not totally sure what it is that Gopher actually does on the ship.  Merrill Stubing is the captain and is responsible for the safety of all of the passengers.  Julie McCoy is the cruise director and is responsible for making sure everyone is entertained.  Adam Bricker is the doctor and is probably responsible for the cruise line getting sued by every patient that he hits on.  Isaac Washington is the bartender and is responsible for getting everyone so drunk that they’ll go back to their cabin with the first person who asks.  But what does Gopher do?

I know that Gopher is the purser but the show has never really made clear what that means.  I know I could look it up on Wikipedia but that’s not really the point.  The point is that, while Fred Grandy was certainly likable in the role, the show often seemed to be unsure of what to do with Gopher.  His cabin was decorated with posters of old movies but Gopher rarely spoke of being a fan.  Instead, while the other crew members fell in love with passengers and got involved in each other’s lives, Gopher was often left as a mere observer.

This episode is unique because it actually allows Gopher to do something.  When his old friends, Melody (Elayne Joyce) and Phil (Bobby Van), board the ship, they tell Gopher that they need a manager for their hotel and that they’re offering him the job.  Normally, Gopher would never think of leaving his friends on the Pacific Princess but this episode finds him getting on Stubing’s nerves by leaving too many suggestions in the suggestion box.  (One suggestion, which Stubing finds to be particularly egregious, is that the boat should have a designated “no smoking” area, which today just sounds like common sense,  Can you even smoke on a cruise ship anymore?)  Gopher, feeling underappreciated by the Captain, takes the hotel job.  But, after he realizes that there’s an attraction between him and Melody, Gopher decides to stay on the boat and instead, he encourages Phil to give the position to Melody.  It’s a pretty simple story but it does allow Fred Grandy to do something more than just make wisecracks in the corner.  To be honest, the main theme of this story seemed to be that Captain Stubing is an insensitive jerk who doesn’t really appreciate his crew until they threaten to quit.

While Gopher is trying to decide whether to pursue a new career, magician Al Breyer (Ron Palillo, co-star of the latest addition to Retro Television Reviews, Welcome Back, Kotter) comes to the ship as a last-minute replacement for his older brother, Ken (Michael Gregory).  Ken’s assistant, Maggie (Melinda Naud), is already on the boat and she’s disappointed when Al shows up instead of Ken.  It turns out that Maggie was more than just Ken’s assistant.  At first, she refuses to work with Al but she comes around when she discovers that Al is sensitive and nice and basically the opposite of Ken.  When Ken does finally show up on the ship, he’s such a sleazeball that you have to kind of wonder what Maggie ever saw in him to begin with.  Al responds to Ken’s arrival by locking him in a closet and then he and Maggie leave the boat, arm-in-arm.  Hopefully, someone found Ken before he suffocated because, otherwise, Al’s magic career might come to an abrupt end.

Meanwhile, Hetty Waterhouse (Nancy Walker) decides that she’s going to live on the ship.  She can do this because she’s a wealthy widow.  She books her cabin for the next five years.  Oddly, even though the audience has never seen or heard about her before, everyone else on the crew seems to know her and treats her like an old friend.  That always bothers me a little, when we’re told that a previously unknown character is apparently everyone’s best friend.  Anyway, the main reason that Hetty wants to live on the boat is because she’s in love with Charlie (Abe Vigoda), a cabin steward who has apparently been on the boat for years but who, again, the audience has never seen or hear about before.  Charlie is retiring but he wants to get an apartment on dry land.  He’s tired of the sea.  Hetty gives up her cabin so that she can move into Charlie’s apartment. Awwwww!

This was actually a pretty sweet episode.  Gopher finally felt appreciated by the captain.  Al and Maggie realized that they were both better than Ken.  Hetty and Tessio Charlie found late-in-life happiness together.  This was a perfectly charming cruise!

Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.24 “Bowling/Command Performance”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

This week, the Island plays hosts to both a bowling tournament and a circus reunion!

Episode 2.24 “Bowling/Command Performance”

(Dir by Michael Vejar, originally aired on May 12th, 1979)

This week, after spotting the approaching plane, Tattoo attempts to show off the new rocket fuel he’s invented.  Unfortunately, the fuel doesn’t work and the rocket doesn’t take off.  I guess that’s actually a good thing, considering that there’s a plane flying over the island.

“Let’s greet our guests,” a visibly annoyed Roarke says.

This week, Fantasy Island is playing host to two big events.  First, there’s the Fantasy Island Bowling Tournament, in which three of the world’s greatest bowlers will face off against Lou Fielding (Al Molinaro).  Lou is not a bowling champion.  In fact, he’s not even a very good bowler.  I don’t know much about bowling but even I know that the goal is not to get the ball in the gutter.  However, Lou’s fantasy is to win the championship.  Mr. Roarke plants stories in the local press that Lou has been causing a stir on the European bowling circuit and, at the tournament, Lou discovers that strikes are all that he can roll.  Unfortunately, Lou’s fantasy is due to end at midnight and, because of an electrical short, the championship game is delayed until the final morning.  Can Lou get the three strikes that he needs, even though he no longer has the benefit of the Island’s magic?

While this is going on, Naomi Gittings (Joan Blondell) is hosting a reunion of all of the people who used to perform in her circus.  That’s right …. the Island is crawling with acrobats, lion tamers, and clowns!  There’s especially a lot of clowns.  But I think most viewers will be more interested in Roddy McDowall, playing the role of a former tight-rope walker named Richard Simmons.  Richard used to be on the best but then he lost his balance, fell off his rope, and smashed his leg.  Now, he’s a drunk who walks with a limp and is forced to beg his old friends for money.  When members of the circus start to get murdered, Richard is the natural suspect.  But, as Mr. Roarke reveals, there’s more to this mystery than meets the eye….

I liked this episode.  Both of the stories were entertaining and, after last week’s children’s episode, it was kind of nice to once again be dealing with adults.  The bowling fantasy had the potential to be too silly for its own good but Al Molinaro and, in the role of his wife, Rue McClanahan played their roles with surprising conviction.  The highlight of the episode was Roddy McDowall, giving a serious performance as poor Richard.  All in all, this was a good trip to Fantasy Island.

Next week, the second season comes to an end with a second visit to …. ugh …. “the other side of the Island.”