Friday, December 31, 2010

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

I am obsessed with this incredible remix of the Ella Fitzgerald chestnut by djs Mangini vs. Pallin. One listen and you will be too.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Tensploitation: TV

To prove to my readers (and critics) that I don't only like stuff from before 1985, here's the first of my 2010 Top Ten lists...

1) MAD MEN (AMC) - A stellar fourth season that was full of surprises, excellent acting and amazing production design, and just when I thought this show couldn't get any better Randee Heller came along as Ida Blankenship. The best primetime drama ever. Hands down.

2) MOGULS AND MOVIE STARS (TCM) - This ambitious seven-part documentary tells the story of Hollywood's formative years. While some of the history covered is well-known, other lesser known subplots are fascinating and surprisingly riveting. A must-see for any fan of the art of filmmaking.

3) COMMUNITY (NBC) - This under-appreciated Thursday night workhorse has proved itself worthy of its timeslot. With a likable ensemble cast and plotlines that range from the silly to the ridiculous, the show somehow manages to make me laugh out loud every single week. Unfortunately CBS's THE BIG BANG THEORY (which peaked creatively about two years ago) is kicking it's ass in the ratings, but hopefully the gang at Greendale will be around for a few more years.

4) IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (FX) - It's taken me six years to catch up with this show, but now that I have I'm so glad I did. This SEINFELD-inspired gang comedy goes places that other shows only think about going. With no boundaries, the comedy sometimes is painful to watch but almost always side-splitting. Plus the guys are pretty easy on the eyes, except for Danny Devito.

5) BETTER OFF TED (ABC) - A truly inventive and original comedy that was on the wrong network and at the wrong time. This show will be rediscovered one day, much like Lisa Kudrow's brilliant THE COMEBACK.

6) NURSE JACKIE (Showtime) - I can't stand medical shows, but NURSE JACKIE is different. The writing may be a bit heavy-handed and predictable at times, but the pitch-perfect cast makes it all work.
Edie Falco takes a flawed character and really makes us love her.

7) WEEDS (Showtime) - I almost gave up on this frustrating show last year - but somehow it has managed to redeem and reinvent itself as a "road movie" with top-notch turns by the talented cast.

8) HOT IN CLEVELAND (TV Land) - This old-school sitcom had every reason to turn out a mess, but yet all the ingredients came together to form a show that is both a throwback and a fresh, dirty laughfest. Not sure the quality will keep up, but I'm hoping it will.

9) ARCHER (FX) - It's THE VENTURE BROS. meets JAMES BOND meets MAD MEN. This animated spy spoof is raw, raunchy and randy - but anything with Jessica Walter is worth a look - even it's only her voice.

10) CLIP SHOWS (E!, Style, Current, Comedy Central) - I really hate "reality" TV, but thanks to the folks at THE SOUP, THE DISH, INFOMANIA, TOSH.0, CHELSEA LATELY and FASHION POLICE I don't need to watch that crap to know what's happening or what they are wearing. While the source material may be excruciating and maddening on its own, the hosts and commentators on these shows make it all palatable and entertaining.

So there you have it, let me know if you you agree (or not). I contemplated a "worst 10" list but there wouldn't be enough slots and I'd hate to give those shows the publicity.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Even More Dougsploitation Holiday Decor

As promised, here are some new additions to my holiday decor. All purchased cheaply or acquired for free!
Santa & Mrs. Claus candle holders. These cuties were from my childhood. I "rescued" them from the cold, dark garage on my last visit back home. I think they are much happier in my home than they were collecting dust in New York.
These imports came to me via Whacko/Soap Plant in Los Feliz - $6 for the pair. Not sure what anime characters they are based on, but they are a welcome addition to my collection.
I found this little creepy Santa in a random box in the old garage. It's not from my childhood, but I thought he needed a good home anyways.
I bought this candle duo for my Mom back in the swingin' 70s at the local Hallmark card store. They managed to survive over 30 years and not melt! Glad to finally have them among my treasures.
This pathetic little guy not only lost his nose, but he seems red with embarrassment over the situation. Certainly a misfit decoration if there ever was one.
This plastic garland of bells was part of my childhood, and makes quite a statement hanging over my new Jaclyn Smith Collection drapes from K-Mart!
The candle and base are brand new from Ikea - but the plastic wreath is from the family garage. The perfect blend of new & vintage.
Here's another plastic garland - this one has musical instruments hanging from it. I loved this as a kid - and still do!
And finally, I've added a few dozen new glass ornaments to my white tree. Many are from my family's collection and a few a recently acquired from local thrift shoppes. The blend of old, new, borrowed and found makes for a wonderful Christmas story, and the perfect way to continue the best holiday traditions. I hope your decorating is as fun and meaningful to you as mine is to me. Happy Holidays, Dougsploitation readers!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Steve Landesberg 1945-2010

The Network That Slept Through Christmas...

Please enjoy this rerun from Christmas 2008. When I think of the classic Christmas TV specials of my youth, I usually associate most of the classics with CBS. RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964), FROSTY THE SNOWMAN (1969), HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966) and A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (1965) all aired on CBS for most of the 1970s and 80s, even though ABC now airs THE GRINCH and CHARLIE BROWN. (How could the suits at CBS let those go???). ABC had it's own stable of regulars back then including the RUDOLPH'S SHINY NEW YEAR and FROSTY'S WINTER WONDERLAND (both 1976) sequels, the SANTA CLAUS double-header (1970's ...IS COMING TO TOWN and 1974's THE YEAR WITHOUT A...) and other cool stuff like Chuck Jones' A VERY MERRY CRICKET (1973).NBC, on the other hand had THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY (Books 1 and 2-1968 and 1976, respectively) and, um...
THE BEAR WHO SLEPT THROUGH CHRISTMAS (1973)! I remember watching this - and loving it, after all I was 9 years old.
But why did it fade away like so many other NBC holiday specials? I know that RUDOLPH actually premiered on NBC, but found a home on CBS. My all-time favorite MISTER MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1962) also first aired on NBC, but it found a lasting legacy as a syndicated special. This is one of my favorite scenes:

Some of the other NBC "lost classics" include THE TINY TREE (premiered on NBC in 1975 - then rerun on ABC and CBS!), B.C.: A SPECIAL CHRISTMAS (1971), THE FAMILY CIRCUS CHRISTMAS (1979) and THE LITTLE RASCALS CHRISTMAS (1979). Most of these aired once or twice and then disappeared forever.Some others like JACK FROST (1979), THE STINGIEST MAN IN TOWN (1978), A FLINTSTONES CHRISTMAS (1977) eventually made it to cable and home video. So where is the vault that holds all these great animated shows - and how do we get it to open??? Yes - aside from the few that are now avialable on dvd (Notably the Rankin-Bass productions) - where have all the others gone? And so, now you know the sad tale of The Network That Slept Through Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Benji's Very Own Christmas

After starring in a string of family-friendly hits, but before co-starring with Chevy Chase in OH HEAVENLY DOG, Benji starred in his very own Christmas special on ABC. Cazn't tell you much about it because I've never seen it - but I did watch the original BENJI film back in 2007.

The first BENJI film was a childhood favorite.
I was ten years old when I first saw Joe Camp's kiddie classic BENJI (1974), and I remember loving it because it didn't look or feel like a kid's movie. Watching it again MANY years later (on Turner Movie Classics no less!), I can see why I thought that. The film is shot mainly from the dog's point of view, and most of the human characters are "grown up", making it feel like a movie for big people.

The movie opens as we see what looks like a haunted house - only it's not haunted (too bad) - it's Benji's house! Next we witness what appears to be the little dog's daily activities - as gets his breakfast from a friendly, but guarded, housekeeper named Mary and receives affection from two annoying kids named Paul and Cindy. The kids love Benji, but their MD dad has a problem with dogs be cause his brother was bit by one - once. After hiding Benji and his food bowl under the table (and on her lap) - Mary sends the dog off for his daily scuffle with THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW's Aunt Bea and her cat. After that he stops by the park for some romantic advice from a cop and finally swings by Bill's Café to wake up Bill (slow Uncle Joe from PETTICOAT JUNCTION) for his daily bone. So to speak. Each day apparently ends with a trip back to his house- which is abandoned and filled with antiques! We see Benji go through the routine at least four times - I think even as a kid I thought that was too much.

So Benji has it pretty damn good. Until one day, when things begin to change. A foursome of dopey troublemakers named Riley, Henry, Linda and Mitch break into his house with two bags of groceries (including pudding cups!) and declare it as a base of operations for their planned evildoings. Two of the guys think the house is haunted cause their pudding cups keep disappearing. Meanwhile, Benji meets up with a little white bitch named Tiffany, who becomes his domestic partner. Tiffany soon joins him on all is daily visits and is welcomed by the townsfolk as well. Mary even gives Tiffany a little makeover!

Meanwhile, back at the house: the plan is that the four villains are gonna kidnap Paul and Cindy and hold them for ransom. It's up to Benji to foil the plan, which is not easy considering he can't talk and Cesar Milan is not around to translate his constant barking. When Benji tries to help out, one of the bad guys kicks Tiffany - and we are thought to believe that she's dead. Of course, Benji eventually figures out how to communicate to the cops and townsfolk who close in on the bad guys and rescue the young hostages. There's a great scene near the climax between Mary and bad girl Linda (Deborah Walley of GIDGET and THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW fame). In the end, Tiffany just has a broken leg and the kids' dad changes his tune and lets Benji AND Tiffany move in with the family. Yay!

As a film, the story is simple and very slow-moving. The acting is mostly subpar, with Benji delivering the best performance. The music ranges from cute, to great to really, really annoying. On my scale, I'll give it a 6 just for old-times sake, but only watch it if you've had your proper daily caffeine intake. There are 3 sequels and numerous TV productions starring Benji as well. I think I'll pass on them, for now.

As social commentary, the parallels between BENJI and Lucille Ball's STONE PILLOW are staggering. Sure, Benji is a cute, sweet little doggie that works his way into the lives and hearts of a bunch of lazy Texans, much like Lucy's Flora character. They give him plenty of food (remember even Lucy gets old sandwiches, rotten veggies and cat food) and attention whenever the stops by their homes or workplaces, but they never address the bigger issue here - this dog is HOMELESS!!!

Getting on my soapbox for a minute: Just call me Bob Barker, but I think BENJI should now be re-purposed to help enforce mandatory spaying and neutering, micro-chipping and leash laws to help keep the stray animal population down and give homes to the millions of pound puppies in this country.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lost Christmas Specials

There's a whole bunch of animated holiday specials from the 1970s and 80s that seem to have vanished from the face of the earth. Here's a few of them:
A VERY MERRY CRICKET from the brilliant Chuck Jones is a sequel to A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE (both from 1973) that ran on ABC in the early 1970s and later entered syndication before turning up on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. I remember loving it as a kid, but have not seen in about 30 years. Wonder if holds up.
Like most Saturday-morning favorites, The Pink Panther came to prime-time for the holiday season in a brand new special called A PINK CHRISTMAS in 1978. In this show for some reason the Panther has been time-displaced in the 1890s and is homeless and desperately trying to find food and shelter. The ABC marketing department decided that this depressing scenario is "the funniest yuletide" ever. Hmmm...
Talk about depressing, THE TINY TREE (from 1975) told the story of a sad, lonely, handicapped girl who spends christmas in the park with a bunch of animals and a tiny tree. After NBC reran the show in '76, it showed up on ABC in '77 before finishing up on CBS in for a few years. The show has not been seen again since, and that truly saddens me.
Not to be confused with the film of the same title, A CHRISTMAS STORY is a Hanna-Barbera confection from 1972 that told the story of Goober and Gumdrop's efforts to deliver Timmy's letter to Santa. Out of circulation for over 20 years, this one turned up on TNT and Cartoon Network in the 1990s. I don't think I've ever seen it, but hopefully one day I shall. This is just a small sampling of the many holiday treats that are lost to today's audiences, I may uncover more in the next few days if you are all good.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blake Edwards 1922-2010

45 Years of A Charlie Brown Christmas

There's been so much written about this award-winning classic already (both online and in the "real" world), that there's not much of anything I can say that hasn't already been said.
I could go on about the characters, the sad little tree, the commercialism of Christmas or the wonderful Vince Guaraldi soundtrack. But I won't.

I could also comment on the religious aspect of the show - since it's one of the rare instances of Christian propaganda that seems to be accepted and tolerated by even the most ardent believers in separation of church and entertainment. But I won't go there either, even though I just did. ;)

I could trace it's broadcast history and talk about how it's been edited (or some say "censored") over the years, but you can get all that on Wikipedia. I just wanna share some great old TV Guide ads and thank the late great Charles Schulz, Bill Melendez and the aforementioned Mr. Guaraldi for creating a simple, wonderful half-hour of animation that has defined how people think about Christmas for the past 45 years. In the words of Lucy Van Pelt, "Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree".

Monday, December 13, 2010

More Dougsploit-decorating for the Holidays

Here's some more snapshots of my Holiday decorating from last year
It's taken me a long time to finally get the white tree I've always wanted, so here it is, all lit up!

It's even quite attractive when not lit up, if I do say so.

Here's my infamous "LP wall" (and the retro lamp I bought at the PASSIONS prop sale in 2008). Notice Sing with Marcy on the lower left. She's be on the wall again this year because nothing says Christmas like a creepy ventriloquist dummy.

This is weird little ornament I found at a local shoppe in Burbank. Santa is darn lucky that house has a raised roof!

A vintage table centerpiece I found cheaply in '08.

This ceramic Santa was a favorite in my New York house as a kid. I shipped him to myself cross country last summer, and now he's proudly displayed in my California home.

Here's a vintage Jewel Brite ornament I got for a buck.

And one in a series of cute diaramas that I found in the Jewel Brite tradition.

I got this vintage Lil Susie Snowflake figurine last fall in Arizona for a few bucks, she has now joined my tchotchke set-up by the kitchen window.

Also by the kitchen window are these wacky elves from my friend Laura's garage. Three in red...

And three in green. My mix of vintage and retro ornaments and decorations has made my budget-conscious Christmas a merry! Additionally this year I've added more stuff from my parent's garage and a few other places - all free and/or real cheap. I hope to have some pix of those as well very shortly.