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: The Love Boat 1.23 “Musical Cabins”


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!

Let’s hear it for life’s sweetest reward!

Episode 1.23 “Musical Cabins”

(Dir by Allen Baron, originally aired on May 6th, 1978)

This week’s episode of The Love Boat opened with …. a commercial!

Actually, if you’re watching the show on Paramount Plus like me, every episode opens with a commercial and occasionally the commercial freezes and you have to start all over again.  This week, though, was significant because it was a new commercial from Pfizer.  The commercial opened with P!nk holding a rubber germ.

“If I was holding COVID-19,” P!nk says, “I would be in trouble …. because I have asthma.”

Plus, she would be in trouble because that’s the biggest goddamn germ I’ve ever seen.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have asthma too and I am more than aware of the dangers of getting an aggressive respiratory illness.  But I’m just not sure that having a bunch of celebrities passing around a big rubber germ is the best way to advertise the vaccine.  As soon as P!nk threw the germ at Michael Phelps and ?uestlove, the commercial started to lose me.  It felt cheap, like one of those ICDC commercials that Master P forced Romeo Miller to do.  Don’t throw germs at your friends.

Speaking of which, this week’s episode of The Love Boat is all about friendships and relationships.  Ms. O’Roarke (Marica Wallace) is a gossip reporter who has heard that the Pacific Princess is a notorious hotbed of lust and hedonism on the high seas.  She books a ticket and then sneaks around the boat with her notepad, watching as people go in and out of different cabins.  She thinks that she’s uncovering evidence of an orgy on the high seas but actually, she’s just witnessing a bunch of misunderstandings.

For instance, Didi (Barbara Rhoades) is so disgusted by Curt (Dick Gautier), her chauvinistic boyfriend, that she refuses to stay in their cabin.  When Gopher informs her that the cruise is sold out and there are no other cabins available, Doc immediately volunteers his cabin.  Judging from the look on Gopher’s face, he’s just about had it with Doc hitting on every single passenger on the boat.  An HR report is about to be filed.

Doc, for his part, assumes that Didi is looking for more than just a place to sleep.  Being the swinger that he is, Doc slips into his pajamas and offers to help Didi unwind.

Didi is scandalized and kicks Doc out of his own cabin.  Doc ends up asking Julie if he can crash in her cabin.  Julie agrees but then wonders why Doc has never tried to hit on her.  Doc replies that he thinks of Julie as being a “kid sister.”

Wrong answer, Doc!

Fortunately, Julie is soon approached by Nelson Hoag (Paul Williams), who has been asking every woman on the cruise if she’ll consider marrying him.  Everyone turns Nelson down but what they don’t know is that Nelson is going to inherit a good deal of money but only if he gets married before his next birthday!

Julie and Nelson spend the night talking and Julie is actually charmed by Nelson.  However, just as she learns in to kiss him, Gopher shows up and puts the kibosh on it.  Gopher is going to have a lot of HR reports to write.

Since Doc is sleeping in her cabin, Julie ends up staying in Nelson’s cabin.  Meanwhile, Nelson meets Irene (Michele Lee), a widow who is pretending to be an heiress.  Irene allows Nelson to stay in her cabin and then she spends some time with an entirely smitten Captain Stubing.  Is anyone on the boat actually doing their job?

Eventually, as O’Roarke hides behind the corner and takes notes, everyone meets in one cabin to work out their feelings.  Curt wants Didi back but Didi actually prefers the company of the gentle Nelson.  For her part, Irene likes men who take what they want and say whatever pops into their mind and that certainly describes Curt.  By the end of the cruise, Julie and Doc are friends again, Didi is married to Nelson, and Irene is dating Curt.  And O’Roarke realizes that she doesn’t have a story so she tears up all of her notes.

Usually, I can’t stand shows (or movies) where the plot hinges on a series of misunderstandings that could all easily be cleared up by people just not being stupid but I actually found this episode of The Love Boat to be rather charming, as the show made good use of the cast’s natural chemistry and the guest stars actually brought some much needed emotional depth to characters who were otherwise rather thinly written.  Yes, Nelson was a little weirdo but, oddly, he and Didi made for a really sweet couple.  Add to that Michele Lee brought a sense of genuine sadness to her role as the lonely widow.  Watching the show, I found myself hoping that things would work out for her and they did!

Yay!

I hope next week is this good!

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.

Retro Television Reviews: The Brady Bunch Hour 1.2


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!

Following the rating success of the pilot for the Brady Bunch Variety Hour, ABC decided to bite the bullet and the Bradys returned to the airwaves!

*Deep sigh*

Okay, let’s do this….

Episode 1.2 

(Originally aired on January 23, 1977, Dir by Jack Regas)

I’ve discovered that the dancers who performed on each episode of The Brady Bunch Hour were known as the Kroftettes.  (The show as produced by Sid and Marty Kroft and there is definitely nothing creepy about naming your performers after yourself.)  The second episode of the Brady Bunch Hour opened with the Kroftettes dressed in red, white, and blue and carrying small drums.  It would be a perfect look for the 4th of July but this episode aired in January.

The dancers eventually move off stage and the audience goes crazy as the announcer informs them that tonight’s episode not only stars the Bradys but also Lee Majors, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Rip Taylor, Ann B. Davis, and …. Kaptian Kool and the Kong!  Well, who wouldn’t be excited by the Kong?  The Kong was apparently a musical group.  With a name like that, you would hope they would at least have the decency to dress up like gorillas but instead, they appear to have just been a typical 70s prog rock outfit.

The Bradys come out on stage and start awkwardly singing a rock version of Yankee Doodle Dandy.  The YouTube screenshot below isn’t the best but I think it gives you some idea of what this performance is like:

“Yankee Doodle …. Keep it up!” the family chants as the Kroftettes splash about in the pool.  The audience loves it.

With the song completed, the Brady Bunch introduce themselves.  Greg spends too long talking about himself and is sharply reprimanded by Carol.  Cindy explains that it is now 1977.  Thanks, Cindy!  Fake Jan smiles and tries not to cry as she jokes around with her new family.  Mike Brady explains that the Bunch has a new house.  “We have a terrific new show!” Mike says.  Sure you do, Mike.  Carol explains that the show will only be airing once a month.  “We’re only a few minutes in and we’ve already been canceled!?” Mike says.

After a reprise of Yankee Doodle Dandy, the show mercifully breaks for commercial.  When the show returns, the Bradys are stepping into their new home and discovering that they have no furniture!  The movers ran off with it!  Luckily, Alice the Maid randomly shows up with a bunch of sleeping bags.

“Well, Mike,” Carol says, “what do we do now?”

“The only thing we can do,” Mike replies, “is hit the sack.”

Every member of the Bunch hits their sleeping bag.  9 minutes in and this show is already giving me a migraine.

Fortunately, the moving man shows up.  Unfortunately, the moving man is played by a very 70s comedian named Rip Taylor.

Rip Taylor is playing Mr, Merrill.  Merrill refuses to take any blame for being late with the furniture.  Carol suggests that Mr. Merrill come back tomorrow.  Do they want their furniture or not?  Well, it really doesn’t matter because it turns out that Mr. Merrill has some other family’s furniture in his truck and the Brady furniture is still missing.  Mr. Merrill promises to have their furniture tomorrow.  “Let’s hit the sack,” Mike says and everyone hits their sleep bag and ….. ARRRRRRRGHHHHH!

Where was I?

Anyway, the Bradys then sing Razzle Dazzle from Chicago, with all the skill of a small town community theater chorus.

Back at the Brady House, Alice scolds Marcia for hoarding all of her dolls.  Alice tells her that everyone is having to give things up.  Uhmmm …. they’re just dolls, Alice.  And really, why is Alice giving Marcia orders?  Marcia imagines Alice as the Wicked Witch of the West and then imagines herself as Dorothy and performing Car Wash with her brothers and Rip Taylor …. wait, what?  Just watch for yourself.

Hey, who doesn’t love cocaine?

Fake Jan and Peter appear and explain that the Bradys eventually got their furniture.  “Look at what happened!” Peter says.  We cut to the family watching Mike hang an ugly painting over the fireplace.  Mike orders everyone to go to bed at 8 pm.  Greg objects and Mike threatens to kill him.

Alice explains that Mike wants the kids to go to bed so that he and Carol can make love in the living room.  No sooner have the children (and the maid) left than Rip Taylor shows up again and explains that he’s also the Bunch’s landlord.  He says that a lovely couple is going to be staying with the Bradys over the weekend.  Enter Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett!  Lee is not amused to discover that Rip Taylor has double-booked the house. “Don’t hit me, you bionic bully!” Rip Taylor shouts.  When Lee explains that his other house is being fumigated, Carol says that Lee and Farrah are “welcome to stay here with us.”  RUN, LEE AND FARRAH!  RUN!

After a commercial break, Carol welcomes the audience back to the second half of the show.  Oh my God, there’s another 30 minutes of this?  “I like that we can show you the way we really are at home,” Carol says.

Back at home, the Brady kids are getting their breakfast and are stunned to discover Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett asleep on the living room couches.  (Yes, they have separate couches.)  When Farrah and Lee wake up, Greg awkwardly asks for an autograph.  “I don’t carry a pen in my pajamas,” Lee explains.  Alice comes in and is struck speechless.

Cut to Marcia, explaining that “one of the great things about having our own show is that we get to showcase the individual talents of our family.”  Marcia introduced Fake Jan, who performs Your Song.  It’s the highlight of the episode because Geri Reischl, not being an original Brady, can actually sing.

Fake Jan is followed by Carol who sings Send In The Clowns, which is the type of song that is perfectly designed to bring out the worst tendencies in even the most talented of singers.  That certainly happens to Florence Henderson, who has a great voice but who also totally overdoes the bathos in her performance.

Greg catches Peter flirting with a Kroftette.  Greg shoves Peter in the pool.  Kaptain Kool and the Kong come out and perform a song called Names.  It’s not a bad song but I have to admit that I’m more worried about the possibility of Peter breaking his neck the next time his older brother throws him in the pool without warning.

It’s time for the finale and Mike asks Carol why the stage is decorated with hearts.  “It’s not Valentine’s Day,” Mike says, as if he and his family didn’t open this show by celebrating Independence Day in January.  Carol explains that the theme of the finale is “Young and Old.”  “Young and Old hearts?” Mike asks.  DAMMIT, MIKE, JUST SHUT UP AND SING!

Anyway, much as with the Wizard of Oz/Car Wash thing, this is one of those things that can’t really be described.  But it can be watched:

And then, thank God, it ends!

A huge flaw with this show is that the Bradys keep telling us how much they love being a family but we know they’re not a family.  We know this because they brought in a substitute Jan.  As such, the sentimental moments fall flat.  “We’re so proud of our sister,” the kids say before Jan comes out to sing but seriously, we know that’s not Jan.  I would much rather listen to Geri Reischl sing than any other member of the Bunch but it doesn’t change the fact that we know that’s not their sister.

Another flaw is that there’s not really any point to the show, other than the Bradys have somehow managed to get their own variety show.  The whole thing with Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett is perfect example of this show’s approach to storytelling.  Lee and Farrah show up at the house unannounced but it’s fine because the Bradys live in a world with zero conflict.  Lee and Farrah show up.  The kids are shocked.  Alice is shocked.  And …. well, that’s it!  So much for that plotline.

Oh well.  Only 7 episodes left!

Retro Television Reviews: City Guys 3.17 “Angels of Harlem” and 3.18 “Rollin’ With The Homies”


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!

Roll with the city guys!

Episode 3.17 “Angels of Harlem”

(dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on November 20th, 1999)

Ms. Nobel’s church is celebrating its 100th birthday so, of course, her students are roped into helping to decorate because who cares about keeping the church out of school and all that other stuff.  It turns out that the church is going to be torn down by a real estate developer and that developer is …. CHRIS’S FATHER!

Chris and Dawn chain themselves to the church and …. well, look, this was a dumb episode and it featured way too much church stuff for my tastes.  Let’s move on.

Actually, before I move on, I guess I should mention that Jamal starts dating Ashley in this episode and, unlike Jamal’s other girlfriends, it appears that Angela is actually going to be featured in multiple episodes.  Ashely is played by Trina McGee, who also played Angela on Boy Meets World.  Oddly enough, Trina was already two years into Boy Meets World when she did City GuysBoy Meets World was also an ABC show whereas City Guys was an NBC show.  It’s just a bit odd to see her pop up on this show.

Episode 3.18 “Rollin’ With The Homies”

(dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on November 20th, 1999)

“Alright, alright, alright!” Jamal announces as he shows up at Manny High for another day of learning, “Only a few days to Christmas break!  A brother can’t wait for Christmas vacation!”  

Anyway, it’s time for the Winterfest Dance, which Cassidy explains is a dance on the roof in the middle of winter.  And since this is an episode of City Guys, it’s also time for Ms. Nobel to show up and tell everyone to get a Christmas job working at a toy store.  Did Ms. Nobel not have any other students to whom she could give these assignments?

The owner of the toy store informs Jamal, Chris, and L-Train that they’ll be working as delivery boys.  The first delivery is a bunch of video games to the owner’s house.  He explains that his son is home from boarding school and that the games are for him.  “Are you interested in adopting a young black child?” Jamal asks.

Al, Dawn, and Cassidy are assigned to be salespeople.  They get into a competition to see who can win the sales contest.  Yawn.  At least this episode acknowledges that Dawn and Al are now a couple.

Jamal, Chris, and L-Train make friends with the boss’s son, Tommy.  Tommy is in a wheelchair and his father is superprotective.  At first, Tommy is upset to discover that Jamal, Chris, and L-Train are getting paid extra to hang out with him but then Jamal makes it up to him by taking him out of the house without his Dad’s permission.  When Tommy’s Dad finds out, he fires Jamal, Chris, and L-Train.  Meanwhile, Tommy gets mad at everyone for treating him like he can’t take care of himself.

The next day, in school, Ms. Nobel decides to get involved because she doesn’t have a life outside of church and school.  She tells Jamal to treat Tommy like he would treat anyone.  Apparently, treating Tommy like everyone means throwing the Winterfest Dance in Tommy’s house.  Tommy gets a date with Cassidy.  Tommy’s father is a bit upset about the dance being moved to his house but Ms. Nobel talks him out of it.  Because Ms. Nobel can do anything.

I’m just being snarky.  By City Guys standards, this was actually a pretty good episode.  Al and Dawn are a cute couple and I’m glad Tommy had a good Christmas.