Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.9 “Return/The Toughest Man Alive”

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, Mr. Roarke falls in love!

Episode 2.9 “Return/The Toughest Man Alive”

(Dir by Earl Bellamy, originally aired on November 11th, 1978)

As usual, this episode of Fantasy Island starts out with a little Tattoo drama.  After announcing the arrival of the plane, Tattoo informs Mr. Roarke that someone has stolen Tattoo’s car.  Mr. Roarke has his doubts that anyone would steal a car on Fantasy Island but Tattoo points out that his designated parking space is empty.

Mr. Roarke informs Tattoo that he must be mistaken and that his car will eventually show up.  And yes, the car does eventually show up.  About halfway through the episode, two chimpanzees drive by in it.  It’s a bizarre little scene, one that is neither explained nor really resolved at the end of the episode.  I guess the chimpanzees just decided that they liked Tattoo’s car.  To be honest, this entire plotline made me feel bad for Herve Villechaize as the joke’s punch line seemed to be that Herve was so small that even a chimpanzee could drive his car.  From what I’ve read. Villechaize was often times not happy on the set of Fantasy Island and I imagine that jokes like that undoubtedly had something to do with it.

But enough about Tattoo’s car!  It’s time to learn who is having a fantasy this week!

Usually, the show’s fantasies are thematically connected but that’s not the case this week.  Indeed, neither one of the fantasies seems to go with the other and I actually found myself wondering if maybe the two fantasies had been meant for different episodes but, for whatever reason, were instead edited into this episode.

The first fantasy involves Samantha Eggar as a fashion designer who returns to Fantasy Island after having previously visited four years ago.  During her first visit, Eggar’s fantasy was to become a designer and to fall in love.  While she became a designer, she did not end up with the man of her dreams so Roarke is giving her a second chance.  The twist is that she’s in love with Mr. Roarke!  And Roarke is in love with her!  To Tattoo’s shock, the two of them plan to get married on the Island.  But then, the designer realizes that she has responsibilities in the real world and apparently, marrying Mr. Roarke means staying on the Island.  So, the marriage is called off.  Mr. Roarke’s heart is broken …. or is it?  As I watched the episode, I found myself wondering if Mr. Roarke really loved her or if he was just giving her a chance to have her fantasy.  Ricardo Montalban’s enigmatic performance kept things ambiguous.

One thing that bothered me about this fantasy is that Mr. Roarke potentially getting married felt like a pretty big plotline to be confined to just half of a one-hour show.  It seemed like this should have been a special episode with just one fantasy.  Instead, because there’s a second fantasy, there’s several odd scenes of Roarke taking a break from planning his wedding so that he can encourage Red Buttons to defeat a bunch of pirates.  Buttons is cast as an engineer who wants to be a hero in the style of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson.  Roarke gives him super-strength, which is not something that Eastwood or Bronson ever had.  But whatever!  Buttons is recruited to protect a bunch of islanders from some pirates.  But Roarke abruptly takes away Buttons’s super strength and, instead, Buttons has to use his engineering knowledge to defeat the pirates.  It’s kind of silly, to be honest.

This episode raised a lot of questions about the nature of the Island and Roarke himself.  Mr. Roarke rules over the island and apparently, he has to remain on the Island.  But, at the same time, he apparently can’t be bothered to stop a bunch of pirates from harassing the native’s inhabitants and instead, he gives temporary super strength to an otherwise meek engineer.  Maybe the engineer could have gotten Tattoo’s car away from those chimpanzees.  While all of this is going on, Roarke also ends up falling in love with a mortal who never stops to ask, “Hey, are you an angel or something?”  It’s an odd episode and a vaguely disappointing one, as neither one of the stories is that deeply explored.

Oh well!  There’s always next week!

Retro Television Reviews: Hang Time 3.17 “Mary Beth’s Parents” and 3.18 “The Laugh Riot”

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!

This week, Indiana’s greatest basketball team heads for the ski slopes!

Episode 3.17 “Mary Beth’s Parents”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 8th, 1997)

I did a double-take when this episode opened with shots of a snowy ski lodge.  It wasn’t so much that this episode was taking place outside of Indiana (as we did just go through the whole California thing) as much as I thought the show had already done a ski lodge episode, one in which a man dressed as a yeti was trying to keep Mary Beth’s father from developing the land.  However, once the episode began, I realized I was thinking of the episode of California Dreams where everyone is invited to Lorena’s father’s ski lodge.

(That said, I’m pretty sure it’s the same set that was used in not only California Dreams but also Saved By The Bell: The New Class.)

Instead, in this episode, Mary Beth’s parents have invited the entire basketball team out to a ski lodge to help celebrate Mary Beth’s birthday.  That includes Coach Fuller, who is super excited about going ice fishing and catching a legendary bass.  Again, that’s not surprising.  In the world of Peter Engel-produced sitcoms, parents were always inviting and paying for their children’s friends to come vacation with them.  But you do have to wonder why only the basketball team has been invited.  Doesn’t Mary Beth have other friends that would have wanted to come?  Obviously, Mary Beth is close to Julie and Kristy and she and Vince have an unlikely flirtation going on.  But why invite Teddy and Michael, two people with whom she’s had next to nothing to do with over the course of the series?  And why invite Coach Fuller?  Fuller’s an adult.  Does he not have a life outside of his job?  Does no one find the idea of a man in his 40s going on vacation with a bunch of high school students to be a little bit creepy?

That said, even though he shouldn’t be there, Fuller is super-excited about ice fishing and the team is super-excited about watching him ice fish, which really doesn’t seem like something to get that excited about.  However, there’s more going on here than just Fuller trying to relive his fishing glory days.  Instead of going ice fishing, Vince stays back at the lodge and overhears Mary Beth’s parents talking about getting a divorce!  Vince can’t bring himself to tell Mary Beth about what he’s heard and, if we’re going to be perfectly honest, it’s not really his place to tell her because he’s not family.  However, when the rest of the team returns from Fuller’s fishing cabin, Vince tells them and then Mary Beth walks in right when Teddy is making the same point that I just made.  “If anyone is going to tell Mary Beth about her parents getting divorced, it should be Mary Beth’s parents!” Teddy says while a stunned Mary Beth stands behind him.

Now, let’s give the show some credit.  At first, Mary Beth is in denial about her parent’s getting divorced and then she moves into the anger phase and then the bargaining stage.  And, for me, it brought back a lot of memories of going through my own parent’s divorce and the show, at first, handled things with a lot more sensitivity than you would expect from a Peter Engel-produced sitcom.  But then, because this is a Peter Engel show, things get cartoonish as Mary Beth tries to save her parent’s marriage by recreating their honeymoon in Mexico, which means that Mary Beth speaks in an exaggerated Mexican accent while Vince puts on a sombrero and a fake mustache.  It doesn’t work but, fortunately, Mary Beth moves from anger to acceptance in record time.

Again, let’s give some credit where credit is due.  I’ve been pretty critical of the Vince/Mary Beth pairing but Megan Parlen and Michael Sullivan both have a lot of chemistry in this episode and Sullivan, in particular, is better here than he’s been in any of the previous episodes.  And even the ice fishing storyline pays off as the normally stiff Reggie Theus really gets into trash-talking a legendary giant bass.  Fuller catches the bass (which is obviously a fake, rubber fish) but then he tosses it back in the lake.  It would be a touching moment if the bass actually looked like real, living fish as opposed to a rubber toy.

Flaws and all, this was ultimately a pretty good episode.  Will the streak continue with our second ski lodge episode?

Episode 3.18 “The Laugh Riot”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 8th, 1997)

We’re still at the ski lodge!  Mary Beth’s parents are nowhere to be seen but we know that they’re still getting divorced because Vince gives Mary Beth an expensive ring to help her get over it.  Awwwwwww!  Unfortunately, Mary Beth loses the ring, which leads to her going through a lot of trouble to keep Danny from finding out.  But then she finds it in her pocket and everything’s okay.  Yay!  This whole storyline made me anxious.  I hate plots that could easily be resolved by one person just telling the truth about what happened.

Meanwhile, the Lodge is holding auditions for a new comedian to perform at their comedy club and Danny decides to audition, despite the fact that he’s only there on vacation and will presumably be going back to Indiana in a day or two.  I’m not sure that Danny has really thought this through.  When Danny gets get on stage, he suffers from stage fright and freezes.  Fortunately, Teddy joins him on stage and they become a comedy duo.  They’re both hired!  But Teddy eventually realizes that stand-up comedy is Danny’s dream and he allows Danny to perform the show alone.  It’s kind of pointless, as none of the jokes are particularly funny and it’s kind of a stretch to imagine a club full of wealthy adults going crazy over Danny joking about reading his girlfriend’s diary.

This episode features an extended sequence in which Danny imagines himself as being Jerry Seinfeld.  CRINGE!

Next week, the ski lodge adventure continues!

Retro Television Review: After The Promise (dir by David Greene)

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 1987’s After the Promise!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

Mark Harmon is, in many ways, the ideal television actor.  He’s handsome in a distinguished but not overwhelming sort of way.  He projects a pleasant personality.  He’s likably low-key.  He’s a talented actor but he’s also a bit of a safe and predictable actor.  It’s been said that the difference between a TV star and a movie star is that a movie star combines charisma with danger whereas a TV star combines a likable screen presence with reliability.  Mark Harmon’s been a reliable TV presence for longer than I’ve been alive.

In 1987’s After the Promise, Harmon plays Elmer Jackson, a carpenter who is just trying to survive day-to-day in Depression-era California.  Though his wife (who is implied to be a Christian Scientist) begs him not to take her to the hospital when she gets ill, Elmer goes against her wishes.  When he gets her to the hospital, he is treated rudely by the staff.  A cop approaches him in the waiting room and brusquely orders him to move his car.  When a doctor finally does approach Elmer, he calmly explains that Elmer’s wife has did of TB and that she should have been brought to the hospital weeks ago.

Now a widower, Elmer is determined to keep the last promise that he made to his wife and give his four sons the best life that he possibly can.  Unfortunately, the government is determined to keep Elmer from doing that.  When Elmer goes to the government to try to get temporary financial assistance, the government reacts by taking his children away from him and forcing them into foster care.  When Elmer, during one of his weekly visits, tries to take the children for a ride, the government bans him from having any contact with his children.  When Elmer’s sons try to escape from the foster home, they’re separated and sent to separate facilities.

Informed that he can only get his children back if he proves that he’s financially stable, Elmer becomes an itinerant worker.  It’s only after he meets and marries Anna (Diana Scarwid) that Elmer finally gets a chance to be reunited with his sons but, after years of abuse, his sons have their own traumas to deal with before they can accept Elmer as being their father.

This is a movie that really pulls at your heartstrings!  There’s nothing subtle about it but, at the same time, its portrait of bureaucrats without empathy is one that feels very real and contemporary.  Over the course of the film, Elmer learns that the rules are not being written to help out a blue collar worker who doesn’t have a lot of money and, watching the film, it’s hard not to consider that the rules haven’t really changed that much over the years.  Elmer isn’t just fighting to reunited his family.  His fighting to save them from a system that is designed to dehumanize.  It’s an ideal role for a television star like Mark Harmon, as Elmer isn’t a terribly complex man but he is a very determined one.  It’s a role that demands a lot of sincerity and Harmon certainly delivers.  For that matter, so does this simple but emotionally resonant film.

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 3.14 “Boyz R Us” and 3.15 “Junior Achievement”

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 California Dreams, which ran on NBC from 1992 to 1996.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

Let’s see what was happening in California back in 1994.

Episode 3.14 “Boyz R Us”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 17th, 1994)

When Tony’s old friend Darren comes to visit, it’s revealed that Tony and his family are apparently form South Central.  Over the course of nearly three seasons, this has never once been mentioned by Tony or anyone else on the show but, in this episode, everyone acts as if they’ve always known that Tony comes from the hood and that his family moved away to keep Tony from falling in with the wrong crowd.  In fact, it’s treated as being such common knowledge that it actually seems a little bit offensive, as if everyone just assumed that Tony grew up in a crime-ridden neighborhood because of the color of his skin.

Darren comes bearing grim news.  Their friend, JR, has fallen in with the gangs.  When JR is ordered to rob a liquor store, he refuses to do it.  The gang retaliates by beating him up and leaving JR with permanent brain damage.  (We don’t actually see JR.  Instead, Tony just spends the episode answering questions about how JR is doing.)  Tony thinks that he and Darren should go to the police.  Darren thinks a better solution would be to kill the guys who beat up JR.  Tony returns to South Central and literally stands in front of two gang members to keep Darren from shooting them.  The gang members say that they’re going to repay the favor by killing Tony and Darren.  But then a bunch of older people show up in the alley and announced that they’re taking their neighborhood back.  The gang members run off and apparently, that’s all it takes to deal with the gang problem.

I have no doubt that this episode was written, directed, and acted with the best of intentions but Peter Engel-produced sitcoms were always at their worst whenever they tried to deal with the issue of race.  The need to neatly wrap everything up in 22 minutes did not exactly lend itself to examining serious issues.  The whole episode felt a bit heavy-handed and I didn’t buy the episode’s conclusion for a second.  The episode suggested that the best way to deal with gangs was to just stand up to them as you would to any other group of bullies.  It worked in this episode but that’s because there was only two gang members and neither one of them was armed when they were confronted.

In the B-plot, the Dreams were broke so they got jobs delivering singing telegrams.  Lorena got a job as well because, even though she was rich, she wanted to see what it was like to be poor.  Lorena was so cool.

Episode 3.15 “Junior Achievement”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 24th, 1994)

For their Business class, the Dreams set up a corporation and attempt to make a profit.  Jake and Mark try to succeed by giving music lessons.  The rest of the group decides to exploit Sam’s cold remedy, which has apparently been in her family for centuries.  At first, Sam is reluctant to sell out her heritage but then she’s told that she could become a millionaire so….

If this sounds familiar, that’s because this is the same basic plot as the Saved By The Bell episode where Zack and the gang try to sell Screech’s Spaghetti Sauce.  For that matter, it also has a lot in common with the infamous “buddy band” episode.  Just as Zack did for the spaghetti sauce, The Dreams even air a commercial for the cold remedy on public access TV.  Tony directs the commercial.  Sly plays a cold germ.  Sam plays her grandmother.  The commercial seems like it runs way too long but whatever.  Jake and Mark make no money teaching music while the other Dreams initially make a fortune.  But then, in order to save on production costs, Sam cuts a few corners and the medicine goes from curing colds to causing hiccups.  Sam tells the teacher the truth about what happened and is praised for being ethical.

So, in other words, there’s no actual consequences for anything that Sam may have done wrong.  That’s the advantage of being one of the main characters, I suppose.

This wasn’t a bad episode as much as it was just a totally silly one.  The storyline was predictable but the cast certainly seemed to be having fun.  This is one of those episodes that worked almost entirely due to chemistry between the actors.  Though the episode focuses on Jennie Kwan, Michael Cade also gets his share of good lines.  Any episode that features Sly being totally immoral and greedy is usually a good one.

Next week, Tiffani gets hooked on steroids!

Retro Television Reviews: The Brady Bunch Hour 1.3

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 Brady Bunch Hour, which ran on ABC from 1976 to 1977.  All nine episodes can be found on YouTube!

Join me as I watched episode 3 of …. *shudder* …. The Brady Bunch Hour!

Episode 1.3

(Dir by Jack Regas, originally aired on February 27th, 1977)

As always, the episode opens with pictures of the Bradys being flashed across a screen as the announcer shouts out everyone’s names.  One thing I immediately notice is that Christopher Knight is now referred to as being “Chris Knight,” which sounds less like the name of the actor who played Peter Brady and more like the secret of identity of a cheesy super hero.  The crowd goes crazy for each Brady but they really go nuts when the announcer reveals that tonight’s special guest star will be Milton Berle.

That’s right, Milton Berle.  I honestly have to imagine that, even in the 70s, Milton Berle probably seemed like a rather quaint guest star.  The Bradys were hardly on the cutting edge of …. well, anything.  But, even for them, Milton Berle feels a little bit past his prime.

The Bradys come out and sing Hooray for Hollywood, which I’m sure was the song that all the kids were listening to in 1977.

Having finished singing, the Bradys banter.  Everyone gets super excited when Carol says that their special guest is the “one and only Milton Berle!”  And then it’s time for the family to once again sing Hooray for Hollywood.  Hollywood may be a great thing but another great thing is being able to carry a tune and, unfortunately, that’s something that half of the Bradys apparently never managed to master.

(It’s okay, I can’t sing either.)

Obviously looking to punish the viewers even further, Hooray for Hollywood is followed by Mike, Carol, Greg, Marcia, and Pete singing Make ‘Em Laugh.  Is tonight’s theme Broadway songs that are largely adored by people who have never actually seen a Broadway show?  Alice and Rip Taylor — who I guess is still playing the Bradys landlord, Jackie Merrill — come out on stage after the performance and sing their own version of Make ‘Em Laugh.  From the start of the performance, it’s pretty clear that Ann B. Davis would rather be anywhere other than sharing a stage with Rip Taylor.  It’s actually painful to watch as two mismatched performers, neither one of whom appears to like the other, sing a song about making the audience laugh.

Mercifully, we then cut to Peter Brady.  Because of the way the scene is lit, my first thought upon seeing Peter is that he’s going to confess to killing a bunch of co-eds.

Instead, Peter explains that it’s time for him to do a song but no one in his family wants to introduce him.  Wow, Peter!  Your family sucks!  Fortunately, a weird little puppet shows up and duets with Peter on Sing.  It’s weird, dude.

We cut to Bobby, who complains that his family doesn’t know what’s funny.  “This is funny,” Bobby says, before getting hit in the face with a pie.  The audience agrees.  Personally, I hate the whole pie-smashing thing because I know it’s probably a mess to clean up afterwards.

We go to the Brady House, where Alice is talking on a CB radio that has been set up in the kitchen.  Mr. Merrill is in the kitchen for some reason.  Carol, Mike, and Bobby come into the kitchen.  Bobby thinks that the show isn’t funny enough.  Mike and Carol think that Bobby is being a brat.  “Compared to us,” Bobby says, “Donnie and Marie are Cheech and Chong!”  Mike argues that they do more than comedy but he says that he’ll consider Bobby’s suggestions.  Who died and made Mike the producer of the show?

After Carol, Alice, and Mike leave, the CB radio comes to life.  It’s Milton Berle looking for someone to talk to!  Bobby and Mr. Merrill talk to Berle.  Berle insults Bobby, saying that he sounds like he belongs on Sesame Street.  Bobby tells Berle that he’s funny and asks him if he wants to be a on a TV show.  “A TV show?  WHERE!?  WHERE!?”  Berle shouts in reply and I’ll admit that I actually did kind of laugh at that.

We go to commercial and, when we return, Rip Taylor welcomes us to the second half of the show.  We then cut to Bobby and the Brady kids waiting for Milton Berle to show up at the house.  They wonder why he’s late.  “Maybe he’s watching The Partridge Family,” says Cindy.  “Maybe he saw our show!” Bobby replies.  When did Bobby become the smartest member of the family?

Anyway, Milton eventually rings the doorbell and enters the house, smoking a cigar.

It quickly becomes obvious that Milton Berle doesn’t know who the Bradys are and the Brady kids aren’t sure who Milton is.  Fortunately, Carol and Mike return home and Carol explains that Milton Berle is a television pioneer and “the funniest man in the world.”

“Mr. Berle,” Mike says, “why are you here?”

“Bad luck, I guess,” Berle replies and again, I will admit that I laughed because Berle obviously meant every word.

Bobby says that Milton can make the show funnier.  When Mike says that they don’t need the show to be funnier, Milton gets angry and says that he’s going to write for the show just to make Mike look bad.  I’m really starting to like Milton Berle.  Milton agrees to take over but he says that the family has to understand that they are to do everything that he says.  He’s in charge now, not Mike.  It’s about time!

Milton’s first act is to try to teach Peter how to enunciate.  When Peter struggles, Milton Berle SLAPS him.  Then he attempts to show Greg how to walk like a television star.

We cut to commercial.  When we return, the announcer tells us that we are now watching “The Milton Berle Brady Bunch Hour, created by Milton Berle, produced by Milton Berle, written by Milton Berle….” You get the idea.  The Bradys, who are now all wearing silly costumes, come out and sing Hooray for Hollywood again.  Mike is not happy with his outfit.

Milton comes out on stage and yells at the Bradys to “sell the comedy.”  The kids tells a few old vaudeville jokes.  Milton runs out on stage with a fake plant and refers to Carol as being “Mrs. Bunch.”  Mike complains about having to wear makeup.  “What do you do when you and your wife have a fight?” Milton asks.  “We make up,” Mike says, which leads to him being attacked by a makeup artist.  Realizing that things aren’t going well, Milton resigns and apologizes.  Okay, I guess that’s the end of that.  It’s typical of this show that the one successful skit ends on a totally random note.

We go to commercial and when we return, Greg and Peter are standing next to the pool.  Greg says that Peter is nervous because this is the part of the show where he always gets shoved into the pool.  Considering the fact that Peter could die if he hits the water the wrong way, he has every right to be nervous.  Greg says that, this week, he’ll let Peter push him in.  Peter doesn’t believe him and jumps in the pool to escape his cruel older brother.

This is followed by Tina Turner who …. wait.  What?  The stupid pool gag is followed by TINA TURNER!?  What a weird show!  Needless to say, Tina’s great but it’s still hard not to feel that the Bradys shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near her.  As a general rule, if you’re a singer who can’t carry a tune and who can’t dance and who is visibly uncomfortable performing on stage, don’t put yourself in a position to be compared directly to Tina Turner.

After Tina performs, we cut to more Brady nonsense as Carol, Mike, and Bobby inform Milton Berle that he’s been fired from the show.  Wait a minute?  What?  I thought Milton made a big deal about stepping down as producer?  I guess I must have misinterpreted that previous scene but honestly, I refuse to go back and rewatch it.  If the show’s writers and performers couldn’t make this stuff clear, that’s on them.

“You’re giving me the pink slip?” Milton asks.

“We’re giving you all the costumes back,” Bobby says.  The audiences goes nuts.

(By the way, I’m wearing a pink slip right now.)

With Milton gone (again), Carol comes out and sings Evergreen, the theme from A Star is Born.  It’s a good song for her voice and I actually enjoyed listening to her version.

It’s time for the big finale!  All the songs are about stars.  I can’t even begin to describe it.  Just watch, if you dare.

To my surprise, this episode was not terrible.  Milton Berle’s obvious disdain for the family generated some laughs and Tina Turner’s performance was a definite highlight.  Even Florence Henderson’s musical performance was effective.  It was hardly perfect and both the opening and the finale reminded me of how tone deaf most of the Bradys were but still, this episode was probably about as good as anyone could expect from The Brady Bunch Hour.

God knows what’s waiting for us next week.

Retro Television Reviews: City Guys 3.11 “El-Train In The Sky With Geena” and 3.12 “Miracle 134th Street and Lexington Avenue”

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 Tubi!

Are the neat guys still smart and streetwise?  Were they ever?  Let’s find out!

Episode 3.11 “El-Train In The Sky With Geena”

(dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on November 27th, 1999)

Jamal is still dating Ashley (Trina McGee), the manipulative girl with the thick Southern accent.  However, Jamal is concerned when her ex-boyfriend Roger comes to visit “from the South.”  After lying to Roger about Ashley having to serve detention, Jamal and Chris take Roger on a tour of New York City, one that is meant to make him hate the city so much that he’ll never want to return.  At one point, they take him to — cringe! — the Twin Towers and make him walk all the way to the top, via the stairs.  They tell him to think of World Trade Center as being a “Stairmaster with a gift shop on the top floor.”  UGH!

Now, in all fairness, the creative team behind City Guys had no idea what would happen 20 months in the future.  At the time this episode aired, the World Trade Center was a popular New York tourist attraction and it made sense that Jamal and Chris would take a visitor to see it.  Still, watching this scene today is all sorts of cringey.  “Why do we have to take the stairs?” Roger asks.  “Because the elevators are broken,” is the reply.

Seriously, let’s just move on to the A-plot of this episode.

The students have raised $200 to buy Ms. Nobel a gift.  (What is the deal with these people and their pathological obsession with their principal?)  They give the money to L-Train, the class president.  Unfortunately, L-Train has a new girlfriend named Geena and Geena is hooked on …. MARIJUANA!  She’s so addicted that she even lights up at the movies.  She’s so addicted that, when she finds out L-Train has $200 in his locker, she steals it so that she can buy more weed.  She promises to pay L-Train back but the next time that L-Train sees her, she’s staring at her hand and talking about how she can’t feel her face.  What exactly has she been smoking?

Anyway, L-Train is forced to buy a cheap chair for Ms. Nobel’s gift.  Ms. Nobel is disappointed in him.  JUST BE GRATEFUL YOUR KISS-ASS STUDENTS GOT YOU A GIFT!  Anyway, Ms. Nobel encourages L-Train to give Geena a second chance and to get her in drug rehab.

Anyway, this was a dumb episode.  It turns out that Roger and Ashley only dated in the 2nd grade and Geena agrees to get help.  And I guess Ms. Nobel eventually gets a better chair.  Steven Daniel gave a typically empathetic performance but everyone else was definitely an autopilot.

Let’s move on!

Episode 3.12 “Miraclce on 134th Street and Lexington Avenue)

(dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on November 27th, 1999)

It’s a Christmas episode!

The gang is still working at the New York Toy Company, where Al and Jamal try to make extra money and from which Chris and Dawn are regularly delivering toys to the local community center.  After discovering that Allison, one of the kids at the center, wants to meet her father for the first time, Chris and Dawn track him down and reunite the family.  Ms. Nobel praised everyone for doing a good job.  No one mentions anything about the fact that Chris, Jamal, Dawn, Cassidy, Al, and L-Train would rather spend their holidays with Ms. Nobel instead of their own families.  Seriously, high school only lasts four years.  How are these people going to survive adulthood without having Ms. Nobel around 24/7?

Usually, I like Christmas episodes but this one didn’t really work for me.  I hate to say this but the performers playing Allison, her mother, and her father weren’t particularly believable in their roles.  Plus, it didn’t seem to occur to anyone that maybe there was a good reason why Allison’s father no longer had any contact with his family.  Instead, Dawn and Chris just took it upon themselves to tell him where Allison and her mother could be found.  I mean, they could have at least done a background check.

The neat guys did not impress me this week.  Hopefully, next week will be a bit better.

Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.7 “Let the Good Times Roll/Nightmare/The Tiger”

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, we’ve got a special, 90-minute episode of Fantasy Island!

Episode 2.7 “Let the Good Times Roll/Nightmare/The Tiger”

(Dir by George McCowan, originally aired on November 4th, 1978)

This week’s supersized episode of Fantasy Island begins with Tattoo revealing that he’s come up with a new way to annoy Mr. Roarke.

Mr, Roarke rolls his eyes and dramatically sighs, especially when Tattoo makes the mistake of assuming that Roarke is a Pisces.  (“I am a Sagittarius!” Roarke snaps.)  For once, Mr. Roarke is right to be annoyed.  There’s no time for this foolishness this week!  We’ve got three fantasies to deal with!

For instance, Duke Manducci (Paul Sand) and Ernie “Smooth” Kowalski (Peter Isacksen) want to go back to the 1960s and relive their youth.  Duke was once known as the King of the Strip because he could outrace anyone.  Now, years later, Duke is just a guy working in a garage.  Roarke leads them to an exact recreation of the Strip.  The Strip is so perfectly recreated that even Donny Bonaduce shows up to make trouble.

Uh-oh, it turns out that Mr. Roarke has also invited all of Duke’s old friends to come take part in Duke’s fantasy.  Except, of course, none of them know that Duke is still working at the same gas station that he worked at as a teenager.  Duke ends up telling a lot of lies in order to convince them that he’s made a success of himself.   But when he falls for Sheila Crane (Mary Ann Mobley), he realizes that it’s time to be honest.  And when Bonaduce challenges him to a race, Duke eventually realizes that his racing days are over and it’s time for him to be a grown-up.  Duke not only learns an important lesson but he’s also offered a job working on a NASCAR pit crew.  Yay!

Meanwhile, Janine Sanford (Pamela Franklin) is haunted by a recurring nightmare.  She always has the dream at midnight and she’s never made it to the end of the dream without waking up.  She travels to Fantasy Island with her husband (Brett Halsey, who later starred in Fulci’s Touch of Death) and her father (Ray Milland).  Her fantasy is see how her nightmare ends.  Mr. Roarke takes her to what he calls the Nightmare House.

And, oh my God, this nightmare is seriously freaky!  We see it twice.  It involves Janine watching as all of her childhood toys catch on fire.  There’s even a clown that comes to life and go crazy at one point.

Janine’s father is convinced that the dream is linked to some sort of past trauma and he fears that Janine will be hurt if she relives it. 

It turns out the joke’s on him!  Janine’s nightmare is not about the past but the future.  It turns out that it was warning her that her father was going to be trapped in a fire.  When her father is indeed trapped in a fire, Janine is able to rescue him.  Yay!  What a great fantasy and I love a happy ending.  This fantasy is handled so well that it takes a while to realize that the show just kind of dropped the whole idea of Janine suffering from past trauma, despite the fact that her father seemed really worried about what she might end up remembering.  

Finally, for our third fantasy, Victor Duncan (Darren McGavin) is a Hemingwayesque writer who wants to go to India so he can hunt a legendary tiger.  How do you think that works out for him?

Yep, the tiger kills him.

Fear not, though!  Mr. Roarke explains to Tattoo that Victor was actually terminally ill and his fantasy was to die on Fantasy Island.  So, I guess that’s a happy ending.

I actually liked this episode, if just because it was throwback to season one when all of the fantasies were linked by a common theme.  Here the link is aging and growing up.  Duke and Victor both have to deal with the fact that they’re no longer young men.  Janine manages to put her nightmare behind her and move on.  These three fantasies all seemed to belong together, so there were none of the strange tonal shifts that I’ve noticed in some of the other episodes.  All in all, this was a good trip to Fantasy Island.

Retro Television Reviews: Hang Time 3.15 “Teen Mom” and 3.16 “Midnight Basketball”

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 saga of Indiana’s greatest basketball team continues.  I’ll always remember me and my friends at Hang Time….

Episode 3.15 “Teen Mom”

(Directed by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 1st, 1997)

Danny’s latest girlfriend, Sarah, is a teen mom!  Danny decides that, since he loves Sarah and he loves her son Max, he wants to marry her.  Sarah turns him down and Danny says that if she ever needs a babysitter, she knows who to call.  Then he leaves her house, alone.

Wow, what a depressing episode!  Give some credit to Chad Gabriel, who gives a good performance and who proves that he deserved to headline more episodes of this series than he did but still, this was definitely not a cheery episode.

Fortunately, there is a comedic B-plot, in which Kristy gets addicted to playing a video game called Killer Klown.  It  causes her to miss a photo shoot but … oh well!  KILLER KLOWN!

Episode 3.16 “Midnight Basketball”

(Directed by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 1st, 1997)

In a storyline that was used in not just one but three different episodes of Saved By The Bell, the school starts a teen line!

Coach Fuller takes charge of the teen line and, of course, the operators are the members of the basketball team.  Despite the fact that they went out on a date just two episodes ago, Michael is not sure that Julie likes him and Julie isn’t sure that Michael likes her.  They each call the teen line for advice.  Mary Beth tells Julie to throw herself at Michael.  Danny tells Michael to ignore Julie and “play hard to get.”  It’s terrible advice and it leads to a lot of confusion.  Eventually, Julie figures out why Michael has been ignoring her and they end up kissing while the audience goes wild.  Doesn’t anyone remember how badly all of Julie’s relationships tend to end?

Meanwhile, Teddy befriends a caller named Eric.  Eric keeps getting into fights because there’s nothing for him and his friends to do at night.  Breaking the rules of Teen Line (much as Zach Morris once did), Teddy meets with Eric.  Taking sympathy on Eric, Teddy arranges for a midnight basketball game at Deering High.  Eric and his friends are defeated and thoroughly humiliated by the Tornadoes.  Needless to say, Eric is not happy about that and he trashes the team’s locker room.  To be honest, I don’t blame Eric.  How are you going to invite people to your gym and then humiliate them in the middle of the night?

That said, after a heart-to-heart with Teddy, Eric returns to Deering to help clean up the locker room.  Teddy promises to mentor Eric.  We will probably never see Eric again.

I have to say that, even on a show like Hang Time, Anthony Anderson was already a good actor.  There’s a lot of heart and sincerity in his performance here and it makes the episode work even when it shouldn’t.

Retro Television Reviews: Hitchhike! (dir by Gordon Hessler)

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 1974’s Hitchhike!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

Claire Stevens (Cloris Leachman) is an emotionally vulnerable woman who is dealing with her loneliness and depression by driving to San Francisco to visit her sister.  As she’s driving, she spots a young man named Keith (Michael Brandon).  Keith is standing on the side of the road and holding out his thumb.  At first, Claire does the smart thing and she drives by him without stopping.  However, Claire starts to feel guilty so she turns around and — NO, CLAIRE!  WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!? — offers him a ride.  It turns out that he’s going to San Francisco as well!

At first, the drive is awkward.  Keith says that he doesn’t want to talk and he doesn’t appreciate it when Claire tries to make him listen to the classical music station.  But, as they drive, Keith starts to let down his defenses.  He says that he wishes that he could just sail away on the ocean.  He encourages Claire to embrace life and to just go for it.  They stop at a pier and have lunch.  Claire buys Keith a silly white hat and she places it on his head because, as she puts it, “it’s cute.”  Keith argues with her but he doesn’t take off the hat.  However, when Keith spots some cops, he immediately leads Claire away from them.

The viewer watches all of this with a sense of dread because the viewer knows what Claire doesn’t.  The viewer knows that Keith is the son of a wealthy man.  The viewer knows that Keith had been having an affair with his stepmother, who was only a few years older than Keith.  And the viewer knows that Keith murdered his stepmother with the same weapon that he’s currently carrying in his bag.  The police are looking for Keith and Keith is willing to do just about anything to stay free.

I have to admit that I yelled a little when Claire offered Keith a ride because it was such an obviously stupid thing to do.  Everyone knows that it’s never a good idea to pick up a hitchhiker.  And, if you’re a woman who is driving down an isolated road by yourself, the last thing you should ever do is offer a ride to some strange man standing on the side of the road.  Claire’s actions were foolish but, because she was played by Cloris Leachman, it was still hard not to sympathize with her.  Claire is someone who feels as if she’s been abandoned by the world and, quite obviously, she sees Keith as a kindred spirit.  Over the course of their journey, it becomes obvious that Claire is using Keith as a substitute for what she’s missing in her life.  He becomes both a son and a companion to her.  Unfortunately, Keith tends to go into a rage whenever he sense anyone getting too close to him.

Hitchhike! is a short movie and, for all the dramatic build-up, it ends on a rather anti-climatic note.  Cameron Mitchell shows up as a detective who is looking for Claire and Keith and he gives a mannered performance that is oddly over-the-top by even his generous standards.  That said, Michael Brandon has the blandly handsome look of a generic but charming serial killer while Cloris Leachman gives a credible and sympathetic performance as Claire.  If nothing else, this film can be watched with The Hitcher as a double feature.  Never stop your car for anyone!

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 3.12 “Harley and the Marlboro Man” and 3.13 “Rebel Without A Nerve”

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 California Dreams, which ran on NBC from 1992 to 1996.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

This week, it’s all about Jake trying to retain his cool.

Episode 3.12 “Harley and the Marlboro Man”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 3rd, 1994)

“You can’t hide your smoking behind tic tacs and old spice!”

Yes, it’s time for another TNBC anti-smoking episode.  In California Dreams, Jake Summers starts to smoke after he see his super cool Uncle Frank lighting a cigarette.  Soon, Jake is totally addicted.  He can’t stop!  It doesn’t matter how many times the members of the band make him look at a picture of a cancerous lung.  It doesn’t matter that Lorena won’t kiss him.  It doesn’t matter that no one wants to be a friend with a smoker.  After smoking for one week, Jake Summers is hopelessly addicted.  He’s got the nicotine monkey on his back!  But then Frank shows up and says, “I’m dying Jake.”

Good Lord, this was heavy-handed.  This is actually the second time that I’ve watched and written about this episode and my reaction to episode pretty much remains the same.  I simply cannot believe that Jake Summers, an aspiring rocker who has spent his entire life hanging out with motorcyclists, never smoked a cigarette until he saw his Uncle Frank light up.  The Dreams themselves acted as if smoking a cigarette was the most scandalous thing in the world.  So, I guess no one smoked weed in 1990s California?  No one did cocaine in 1990s California?  None of the other bands at the Battle of the Bands ducked behind Sharkey’s to have a cigarette?  Seriously, there’s a difference between not liking cigarettes and being unbelievably naïve.  At one point, Tiffani says that nicotine is more addictive than crack cocaine.  I’ve seen several David Simon-produced shows and I just don’t believe that.

Anyway, the Dreams deal with this problem in the same way that they deal with everything.  They throw a benefit concert at Sharkey’s.

Episode 3.13 “Rebel Without A Nerve”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 10th, 1994)

Jake Summers is afraid he’s losing his cool!

Not only is there a new kid at school who is talking about Jake behind his back but Jake has twice crashed his motorcycle!  With his confidence shaken, Jake decides that it would be safer to accept Principal Blumford’s offer to join the school safety patrol!  Just as he was in Budget Cuts, Blumford is played Earl Boen.  In this episode, there’s yet another shoutout to Boen’s role in the Terminator films when Boen tells a photographer that some people have mistaken him for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Anyway, Jake eventually realizes how dorky he looks wearing the safety monitor sash so he decides to challenge the new kid to racing the infamous “Coolman’s Curve,” which is apparently the most dangerous road in California.  The new kid backs down and Jake is once again proclaimed the coolest student at Pacific Coast High.  Yay!

This episode was incredibly silly but, in its way, it worked.  Jake continually crashing his bike made me laugh a little more than it should have.  What made the joke work was that all of the accidents were due to an inconvenient speed dump that had been put in the parking lot by the safety patrol.  Safety Week turned out to be the most dangerous week in California.

The important thing is that Jake did not lose his cool and, as a result, was allowed to continue living his California dream.