comedy

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Brave N00b World”

AMERICAN DAD – “Brave N00b World” (Episode 4, season 17)

Chinese ice cream can save the world.  That’s the message of this episode of American Dad.

CIA agent Stan Smith has a new assignment.  A North Korean general is expected to be in China for an Overwatch video game competition.  Stan and his team must enter the contest and progress through the rounds to assassinate the general, but first he will need his son Steve’s help playing the game and looking like a millennial.  Jackson better learn to vape if he wants to fool anyone into thinking he’s young and into Overwatch!  If the team can get some Chinese ice cream while there, so much the better.

Unfortunately for Stan and his team (and the world), his attention is split between his son and his assignment.  He wasn’t totally honest with Steve, who thinks this is more a father-son trip than a kill-a-North-Korean-general trip.  As Stan is learning, focus is key.  So how can he split his focus between assignment and son?

Since it’s Stan Smith we’re talking about, you can safely assume he screws it up and the mission goes wrong as usual.  But this time, he didn’t just screw it up Stan style.  He didn’t even stop at full Sledge Hammer.  This time, Stan goes all the to way maximum Rick and Morty, and destroys the entire world.

 

Smith misses his shot, botching the assassination.  China launches their nukes.  America retaliates.  Mutually assured destruction.

Fortunately, China saved mementos of their heritage in a culture pod, including a cone of delicious Chinese ice cream.  So America launches an eagle-headed missile adorned with truck-nuts and blaring “Kickstart My Heart”, and the culture pod is destroyed.  Before you can say “Kee-stah-ma-hah”, there is nothing left of the Earth.  Nothing but rubble, dust, and ash…and a single scoop of Chinese ice cream, floating in space, past Mars, past the asteroid belt, and into the void.

For one million years, the ice cream floats through the cosmos undisturbed until finally an alien ship happens upon it.  What an incredible taste!  They must have more.  Scans show that Earth suffered an “extinction event”.  The only way to get more ice cream is to re-create the Earth and let time do the rest.

The world has a second chance.  Will Stan do it differently this time?  Will anyone discover the truth of this new reconstructed existence?  Will Bill Nye show up at the end to throw cold water all over “Ice Cream-ulation Theory”?  You’ll have to watch to find out.

In the B-story, the entire rest of the family gets their heads stuck in the banister, which basically puts Roger, Francine, Hayley and Jeff out of action.  The best instalments are usually Roger-centric, but not this time.  Perhaps American Dad needed to catch up with Rick and Morty, or perhaps it should try harder to live up to the promise of old episodes like “Lost in Space” or the saga of the Golden Turd.  At first it appeared this episode was going to a gamer-based comedy.  Then it evolved into something more existential.  It can be stated firmly that “Brave N00b World” returns the show to a high point like the good old Mike Barker days.

5/5 stars

#832: This Is Spinal Tap

GETTING MORE TALE #832: This Is Spinal Tap

I can admit it.  I was only 13 years old, and I thought Spinal Tap were a real band.

How was I to know?  A lot of media surrounding Spinal Tap took them seriously.  When MuchMusic’s J.D. Roberts interviewed Ronnie James Dio about the Hear N’ Aid project in 1986, he played it straight.  David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap appear on the track “Stars”, which Ronnie produced.

Roberts:  “I think that one of the great coups of Hear N’ Aid, and I think you’ll have to agree with me, was having David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap enter the project.”

Dio:  “Yeah that was a real special moment. I must tell you that there was a little consternation on the part of some of the people who did not turn up, who were asked to take part in ‘Stars’, that the inclusion of those two people, or anyone from Spinal Tap, made this project a laughing stock.  I’d like to be able to reply to anyone who thinks that’s a valid point.  Again, we are human beings.  And part of human nature is to laugh.  Probably the nicest part of human nature is to laugh.  And these are two wonderful people who made us laugh, not only in this project, but in Spinal Tap.”

Even though Dio actually broke the wall for a moment and entered the “real” world with his answer, Roberts shot right back into the fictional world with his followup question.  Dio played along this time.

Roberts:  “It’s a good thing, as Derek says, that you didn’t let them do the lead vocal, because they would have blown everybody away.”

Dio:  “Well they did a lot of singing when the tape wasn’t rolling, and they were better than all of us.  And they happen to both be the best guitar players I’ve ever heard too.”

Never mind that Derek plays bass!

Shortly after the interview rolled, Much played the video for “Hell Hole” and I had a chance to hear Spinal Tap for myself.  Yeah, that blonde guy could sing.  It was a decent song.  I expected something heavier — more thrash like.  Maybe the reason I hadn’t heard of them was they were a thrash band?  If they were so highly praised by Ronnie James Dio, I couldn’t understand why I never heard of them.  I didn’t have much to go on either.

According to the Dio interview, there were some unnamed rock stars who felt that Spinal Tap would turn Hear N’ Aid into a “laughing stock”.  Why?  I turned various scenarios over in my head.  Were they satanic?  Well, they had a song called “Hell Hole” and there was a big demon skull head in the backdrop, but that didn’t make them satanists.  Just what was the story exactly with this Spinal Tap?

They did seem arrogant in the Hear N’ Aid “making of” video.

David St. Hubbins:  “They asked us to do the leads, but like I said before, I didn’t wanna blow these other blokes away, you know.  I’ve been doing this a lot longer than they have.  I’ve got pipes I haven’t used yet.  Haven’t located them yet.”

Derek Smalls:  “He could break the board in there.  It’s really an act of mercy to the engineers that he doesn’t sing lead.”

Arrogant yes, but…St. Hubbins has been doing this this a lot longer than they have?  Just why haven’t I heard of Spinal Tap before?  Analysing the video for “Hell Hole” revealed little.  Yes, there was a comedic slant to it, but the song actually rocked.  Other bands put comedy in their music videos too, like Twisted Sister.  There was no reason whatsoever to suspect the truth.

The only real clue that I had was when Dio briefly mentioned a film.  There, the trail went cold.  Never heard of it, never seen it, didn’t know anybody who did.  It was a couple more years before I eventually put the story together.  While continuing my education in KISStory, I learned that their film, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, was shown in a double bill with This Is Spinal Tap for a limited run.  This happened in England, a “Headbanging double feature”, around October 1984. I began to read names like “Michael McKean” and “Harry Shearer”.  Eventually a highschool friend named Andy recommended that I see the movie ASAP so I rented a copy from Steve’s TV.

The truth is, I did not like This In Spinal Tap the first time I saw it.  I didn’t laugh.  It certainly wasn’t a gleeful rock and roll comedy, as I watched the hard times roll out one after another.  But then the next day back at school, talking about it with Andy, I started to get the jokes.

“…and then when they’re stuck in those pods for ‘Rock and Roll Creation’ and the bassist can’t get out…they have to bring out a blowtorch…” said Andy.

“Oh yeah, that was pretty funny actually.  You know what part I did like, was when they were lost in the basement trying to find the stage.  Did you notice Billy Crystal was the mime?  Mime is money!”

I finally got it.  I rented it again, and this time I dubbed a copy for myself.  I understood Rob Reiner’s role in the concept and recognized the actors from other roles.  Christopher Guest, the other singer, was Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, only one of the greatest movies ever made.  Also directed by Rob Reiner!  I watched Spinal Tap again, and again.  I think I had a new favourite movie!

There’s no shame in admitting being fooled by Spinal Tap.  That was the whole point, wasn’t it?  Otherwise the band wouldn’t have continued doing interviews in character.  The idea was to always keep it believable enough that you can fool a small minority.

My dad used to say, “If that band is just a bunch of actors, then I guess it doesn’t take much talent to play rock and roll.”  But my dad missed something then, that he now understands.  Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest are actually excellent musicians on multiple instruments.  And that is why Spinal Tap was so believable.  When Nignel Tufnel rips a solo in the video for “Hell Hole”, it looks right because Christopher Guest performed that solo.  You know, maybe Spinal Tap should be considered a real band after all!

 

 

 

* Thank you Dale Sherman for that detail!

REVIEW: Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto (2018)

TENACIOUS D – Post-Apocalypto (2018 Sony)

I don’t know how this is supposed to work. Do you have to watch an animated series in order to “get” Post-Apocalypto?  I’m not doing that.  I’m listening to an album; I’m reviewing an album.

21 tracks, half an hour.  Most of the tracks run a minute and a half.  So what’s the concept?  Humanity has destroyed the Earth in a nuclear holocaust.  Tenacious D survived, though their songwriting abilities did not.  Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Yo-Yo Ma have been saved, and now live on a space station.  Kyle Gass wasn’t good enough to make the cut and now has a two-headed dog named Hope to keep him company.  Unfortunately the KKK seems to have taken over security on what’s left of Earth.

Post-Apocalypto is part uninspired sketches, part uninspired songs.  Some are decent, or half-decent, like “Take Us Into Space” and “Woman Time”.  Most are too soft, light and forgettable, and the sketches are tired.  Jack Black’s “Arnold” accent isn’t bad, but the joke wears out.

Bottom line:  as stated by Uncle Meat, “18 minutes of music isn’t an album.”  Iron Tom adds, “Although I’ll listen to some tunes individually, I don’t see myself listening to it again as an entire album.”

1/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu”

AMERICAN DAD – “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu” (Episode 20, season 14)

Ever since the debut of Rogu earlier this season, American Dad fans have eagerly anticipated his next starring appearance.  This was saved for the season finale, “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu”.  Rogu, if you recall, is Roger’s homunculus, birthed from a tumor.  He has Roger’s ability to disguise himself as anyone he desires, but also has the temperament of a small child.  He needs to be watched and cared for like a child, despite his alien nature.

It’s Rogu’s childlike nature that makes him a perfect candidate for the schemes of Steve Smith.  Steve needs money, so he can afford the curly fries in the school cafeteria instead of the boring old straight kind.  The solution:  babysitting.  Mom doesn’t think he’s ready.  Roger, however, thinks he’s up to the task.  Roger leaves Steve to take care of Rogu, while he does one of his many jobs (a female prostitute).  If Steve does well, his mom will have to admit he’s ready to babysit.

Ominously, taking care of Rogu has three rules (shades of Gremlins):

  1. No candy.
  2. No screen time.
  3. Don’t let Rogu look at the ant farm.  (He won’t chip in for it, so he shouldn’t enjoy it.)

Predictably, within minutes, Rogu’s eaten some licorice.  When he starts barfing up little balls of Rogu that turn into fully-grown Rogus, Steve knows he’s in way over his head.  One turns into three, and three turns into dozens.  It only gets worse when Klaus the goldfish tries to contain the situation by giving the Rogus a little screen time….

Season 14 produced at least three exceptionally good American Dad episodes, and two of them centered around Rogu.  The bizarre alien offspring has quirks (a love of innocent jokes for example) and abilities far different from his father Roger.  American Dad felt rejuvenated this season and Rogu was a key part of that.

If you only watch two episodes this season, make ’em Rogus.

4.5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” (featuring Snoop Dogg)

AMERICAN DAD – “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” (Episode 5, season 14)

With a title like “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” , you should know what to expect automatically.  That’s right — this time, American Dad spoofed the Roald Dahl children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and made it totally not for children!

Tommie Tokes (Snoop Dogg) has opened his weed factory to the pubic for the first time!  All you (and a guest) have to do is discover a golden blunt wrap, only four in the world!  But the C.I.A. want in as well.  Director Bullock needs to get his hands on the “Everlasting Edible” in the never-ending war on drugs. Stan Smith is dispatched, the perfect agent for the job.  Stan is notoriously anti-drug.

“Why did the pothead cross the road?  He doesn’t remember!”

Meanwhile his stoner son-in-law Jeff is down in the dumps because Stan considers him a lazy and stupid pothead.  He’d sure like to find one of the golden wraps and take a tour of the fabulous weed factory.  Stores are sold out everywhere, and one by one, the news announces the names of the winners.  First is “Pube Face”, then Larry the Steely Dan fan, and Angie who smokes before every meal.

Jeff almost lights and smokes his own golden blunt wrap before the family stops him!  He is the fourth winner!  And the perfect pawn that Stan needs to get inside the factory and steal the Everlasting Edible.

At the gates of the weed factory, Tommie Tokes suddenly appears!  It’s basically Snoop Dogg dressed as Gene Wilder, because let’s face it, if you needed someone to play a character named Tommie Tokes, Snoop is already that character in real life.  First room on the tour:  the edibles!  As in the original source material, one by one the winners are eliminated.  Pube Face thinks a normal office desk and stapler are edibles, and dies.  And like in the source material, little colourful dwarves appear to sing whenever someone dies.  It’s the Snoopa Loompas!  “Don’t be dumb, and use your eyes, you can’t make weed into office supplies.”

Into the next room, Tommie Tokes unveils a machine that can scan your mind and produce your own personal ideal strain of weed.  Angie wants to try it, but Tommie noticed that Stan didn’t eat anything in the edibles room.  He orders Stan into the scanner.  “If you don’t, I’m gonna think you a Narc.”  Not wanting to blow his cover, Stan is scanned.  His ideal strain?  “C-High-A”.  Angie, however, is not so lucky and gets zapped when she rushes in before the scanner is recharged.  Finally Larry the Steely Dan fan has his face blown off by Tokes’ insane sound system.  Larry, at least, died how he wanted.  But Jeff and Stan have wandered off on their own…one of them with ulterior motives!

“Why did I even have this dumb factory tour?” asks Tokes.  “I had very little to gain from a business perspective!”

Will Stan steal the Everlasting Edible, or will he get too stoned first?

There was no B-story this time, so not much Roger or anyone else.  The best episodes usually involve Roger and his personas.  “The Dank Ass Weed Factory” isn’t a top ten or top twenty episode, but Snoop fans or connoisseurs of weed humour need to check it out.

3.5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Rabbit Ears”

AMERICAN DAD – “Rabbit Ears” (Episode 4, season 14)

It has been an exciting week for American Dad fans, as they devoured one of the weirdest episodes of the entire series, “Rabbit Ears”.  This is a series that did an entire episode in the form of a stage play.  Another was styled like an indi film and featured Zooey Dechanel as an overtly stated “manic pixie dream girl”.  This time, American Dad took off for The Outer Limits and ended up in the Twilight Zone.

There is no hint of the episode’s bizarre setting in the standard opening.  Stan, always up to something stupid, goes garbage picking on “big items” week, when people throw out large appliances.  He brings home a mattress infested with bed bugs and a giant, ancient television.  The Smith family are not amused, especially when Roger steals their attention as his latest persona:  a non-verbal newborn baby.  Then it gets weirder.

Sequestered in the basement with his mattress and television set, Stan sets up the antenna and gets nothing but static.  Then suddenly, Stan is woken from his slumber by the sweet sound of jazz, as a show finally comes in: “Nighthawks Hideaway”.

“Nighthawks Hideaway” intro with Alistair Covax

“Weclome Nighthawks, we’ve been expecting you.  The hour is late but the party is just getting started.  I’m Alistair Covax, your host for a sophistical little soirée with jazz, stimulating conversation, beautiful ladies…and more jazz.”

“What IS this show?” asks Stan.  It’s in black and white and clearly from the 1960s.

“Charlie, play some of those notes you know I like,” says Alistair to the jazz pianist.

Nothing on Google.  No record of the host Alistair Covax (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine) either.  Even TV Guide magazine says the show does never existed…but they know of a support group for people who claim to have seen Nighthawks Hideaway!  A show that does not exist…but multiple people have seen it.  Shades of Shazam/Kazaam!

Investigating the support group, Stan finds only one other attendee:  neighbour Al Tuttle (Richard Kind).

“There used to be more people, but one by one, they stopped coming,” explains Tuttle.

But what about the show?  “There’s only one episode!  And it re-runs over and over and over on channel 36!”

It’s even stranger than that.  “There’s only one episode…but it changes!  Little…differences in the show!  I keep track of them!”

That night, Stan notices something different on Nighthawks Hideaway.  Tuttle is in the show!  Not believeing his eyes, he knows further investigation is required.  Tuttle’s house is empty, but Stan finds his TV and notebook.  Here, Tuttle tracked differences from night to night.  The last page has the ominous note “I MUST GO IN.”

Stan studies the book and tracks the changes, night after night, in the basement on the old TV and finally discovers what happened to Al Tuttle.  And that’s when things get really Twilight Zone, and to go further would get into spoiler territory.

This episode “Rabbit Ears” was a truly fresh spin on a classic science fiction / horror theme.  Perhaps this style of storytelling is coming back into vogue.  There is a rebooted Twilight Zone now, hosted by Jordan Peele.  Regardless of trends, American Dad are still the masters of a specific type of surreal animated comedy.  The show is its own genre now, and “Rabbit Ears” is a clear indicator that its potential remains wide open.  Keep ’em coming.

5/5 stars

 

 

DVD REVIEW: Grandma’s Boy (Unrated 2006)

GRANDMA’S BOY (2006 20th Century Fox Unrated Edition DVD)

Allen Covert finally got to step out from Adam Sandler’s sizable shadow in Grandma’s Boy, one of the best, most re-watchable weed comedies this side of Half Baked. Covert can’t really do an entire comedy on his own so expect to see Sandler’s other reliable sidemen:  Peter Dante, David Spade, Kevin Nealon and Rob Schneider.  Joel Moore (Avatar) and Linda Cardelini (Freaks & Geeks, Captain America: Civil War) are on hand, but check out a super young Jonah Hill!

The setup is pretty simple. Allen Covert has been evicted from his apartment (not his fault!) and decides to go live with some new “roomates” — his grandma and her two friends. But he can’t let his co-workers at a video game company know that he’s not throwing it down with hotties every night, so he keeps it on the downlow. Covert has the best job for his lifestyle — he tests video games all day. If you like video games, this movie is for you.

Things come to a head when Linda Cardelini shows up to get the delayed game back on its release schedule, The head designer J.P. (Moore dressed up like Neo) seems a little jealous of his teammates. During the course of the movie, copious amounts of the herb are consumed before the action packed video gaming climax.  Even Grandma might partake…accidentally of course.

If you like those Happy Madison movies, but are sad they don’t make ’em like they used to anymore, give Grandma’s Boy a visit.

3/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Persona Assistant”

AMERICAN DAD – “Persona Assistant” (Episode 16, season 13)

For fans of Roger the alien, the13th season of American Dad really delivered this time.  It was a special episode:  #250 of the long-running animated series.  The best episodes usually focus on Roger and his many personas.  This instalment was one of them.

We get a glimpse of Roger’s daily life.  He’s busy for an alien.  He has so many personas to live, and only 24 hours in a day.  The workload must be getting to him.  He’s feeling sickly and has a strange lump growing on his ample forehead.

Roger is resistant but the Smith family take him to see Dr. Kalgary, the show’s resident master of the dark sciences.  Kalgary removes the lump, a large tumour, and Roger is sent for rest and rehabilitation.  Taking a jar with his tumour sealed inside, Roger goes on vacation.  So who will handle all his personas while he’s away?

Stan steps up for the recovering Roger, only to find that living the lives of his all personas is hard work!  Of course he mucks it all up.  To his shock, Roger’s personas were so important that their absences causes the city to descend into chaos and anarchy.  When Roger finally returns, he is not alone.  It turns out that his species have a way of handling stress.  That tumour was not a tumour at all, but a little homunculus named Rogu!  With Rogu’s help, Roger can fix the damage that Stan has done.  But not before the return of one of American Dad’s most requested personas:  Ricky Spanish!  The most hated man in town!  Only Rogu can stop him.

When I saw Rogu, I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.  The same thing happened the next day when I watched again.  For whatever reason, Rogu has tickled my funnybone in a serious way.  Roger has, over time, become almost a normal character.  There’s little he can do that surprises you anymore.  Rogu?  That’s a whole new ballgame.  The show can get even weirder now.  (Rogu is absolutely certain to return, considering an upcoming episode is called “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu“.)

In the second storyline, Steve’s joined the jazz club at school.  Playing on the old stereotype of drugged out jazzbos, Steve takes performance enhancing drugs to take his scat singing to the next level!  The finals are coming, and Steve brings his scatting to the extreme.  Only morphine can stop him.

Fuck yeah, American Dad.  I thought maybe the best years were behind.  Apparently not.  Carry on!

5/5 Rogus

DVD REVIEW: The Orville – The Complete First Season (2018)

THE ORVILLE – The Complete First Season (2018 20th Century Fox 2 DVD set)

We like Star Trek: Discovery, we really do.  At the same time, we wonder, “Why do studios insist the only way to do Star Trek today is to modernise it into a gritty action drama?”  Does it have to be so?  Is Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future somehow outdated?

Though CBS Paramount seem terrified of anything “too Trekky”, others have not been timid.  Sensing the wide-open void for something styled in the old spirit of Trek, Seth MacFarlane (of all people) made his move with The Orville.

Before you scoff, let’s not forget that MacFarlane clearly knows his Star Trek.  1) Patrick Stewart regularly appears on his shows.  2) He reunited the entire Next Generation cast for the first time on an episode of Family Guy.  3) He cast Michael Dorn in Ted 2 and dressed him up as Worf.  It should surprise no one that The Orville is closest in spirit to Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  In fact, not even Deep Space Nine or Voyager are this close.  From the gentle pastel sets including conference rooms, hallways and holodecks, to the techno-babble, to the minimal use of violence, The Orville is the NEXT Next Generation.  It is the Enterprise D, but if Captain Picard allowed the crew to crack wise when opportunity knocked.

It would take only the slightest nudge to turn The Orville into Trek canon.  Change some names and terminology, tone down the humour slightly, and you’re there.  Humour on a starship?  Yes, of course, but The Orville is not a comedy.  It is first and foremost science fiction, and indeed some of the best science fiction on television since Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled.  The episodes are generally commentary on modern society, much like Star Trek has always been.  Change the setting to outer space and suddenly it’s parable.  Topics covered include the “court of public opinion” seen in social media today, gender reassignment, underachievers, religion in society, and making the most difficult decisions.  The biggest difference between the voyages of the Orville and the Enterprise isn’t even that big:  on the Orville, there are no transporter beams.

The crew of The Orville is obsessed with Earth culture circa 1980-present, but that is to be expected given Seth MacFarlane’s own interests.  References to movies and TV shows of today are rampant.  Jokes are toned down from the usual modern fare, but the pilot episode sets up a comedic premise.  Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) catches his wife, Commander Kelly Grayson, in bed with a blue alien (Rob Lowe).  When Grayson is assigned as his first officer on the Union ship the Orville, the entire crew learns of their marriage issues.  Captain Mercer’s best friend (and best pilot in the fleet) is Lt. Gordon Malloy played by Scott Grimes of American Dad.  Seth’s buddy Norm MacDonald also shows up as Lt. Yaphit, a gelatinous yellow blob based on Odo from Deep Space Nine, but played for comedy relief.

Too much science fiction today has flimsy barely-there characters.  The Orville’s crew are more fully formed than the usual, with a few receiving interesting story arcs.  They are all new versions of classic archetypes.  The robot Isaac (Mark Jackson) is the twist on Data.  He is still immensely curious about humans, but knows he is vastly superior and considers everyone on the Orville his inferior.  Bortus (Peter Macon) is your “Worf”, a deep voiced, strong alien species with head ridges.  His unique trait is that his race is single-gendered, and much of his character development is in tandem with his partner Klyden (Chad L. Coleman).  Halston Sage plays the inexperienced security chief Alara Kitan, a young alien from a planet with such high gravity, that their species have evolved tremendous physical strength.  Though small she can easily throw a punch to send Bortus flying, or re-shape a cube of titanium with her hands!  Yet she lacks the confidence that her crewmates have in her.

More casting genius:  Penny Johnson Jerald, Deep Space Nine‘s Kassidy Yates, as ship’s doctor Claire Finn.  In cameos or recurring roles are Ron Canada (Next Generation), Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West), Victor Garber (Titanic), Mike Henry (Family Guy), Robert Picardo (Voyager‘s Doctor), and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development).  One has to respect both the sheer talent involved, and the willingness of Star Trek actors to participate.

As the show grows during its first season, comedy takes a back seat to science fiction.  In the bonus features, MacFarlane states that he paid attention to fan feedback, and he noted that fans were discussing the legitimate characters and science fiction tales.  Episodes feature a new twist on classic sci-fi (and even Star Trek) themes:  living in a simulation, a space zoo, Flatland, a civilisation living in a generation ship without its own knowledge, interference with space-time and developing cultures, and many planets with Earth-like societies that act as a mirror for us to view our own.  Ray guns are rarely used, and monsters are usually misunderstood.

It’s remarkable but not untrue to say that The Orville is Star Trek, but without infringing any copyrights.  Dig a little further in the credits and you’ll have a better understanding of how they managed to play The Orville so close to classic Trek.  In the director’s chair:  Jonathan Frakes, AKA Riker, and director of Trek on both TV and in cinemas.  Also directing:  Robert Duncan McNeill, AKA Tom Paris and also director of many Voyager episodes.  Behind the scenes is Brannon Braga, a producer on The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise, Cosmos…and The Orville.  Jon Favreau even directed the pilot episode.  With a team like this in place, MacFarlane and friends were more than capable of making a show truly within the optimistic Roddenberry philosophy.  Guys like Braga, Frakes and McNeill spent years living in that universe.

The DVD includes your traditional special features, the best of which is a Q&A session with the cast and creators of the show.  Another interesting featurette is about the physical model of the Orville spaceship, used for those slow “beauty shots”.

The Orville is the show that Trek fans have wanted for years now, at least since JJ Abrams brought it back to movie screens.  The true Trek on TV is not Discovery.  It’s not Short Treks.  It is The Orville.  If that pisses off CBS Paramount, then too bad.  If they won’t make the Trek that fans want, then someone else will — and did.

5/5 stars

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987 Paramount)

Directed by John Hughes

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of my top ten favorite films ever made. It’s in pretty good company with 12 Angry Men (the one from the ‘50s), Blue Velvet, Die Hard, The Godfather, Lethal Weapon, The Unforgiven, etc. On the surface it may seem absurd to place what seems like a goofy road comedy from the ‘80s on a list containing films of that stature, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable at all. This film is the best road film ever made, and I have no reservations about calling it one of the greatest movies ever made. There’s no glowing pretension or aspirations to reach Citizen Kane levels of movie making, or bids for narrative complexity. It is a heartfelt holiday classic about a stubborn irate man just trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving. That man is ad executive Neal Page portrayed by Steve Martin, who is helped out in his travels by the loquacious shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith played by John Candy. The two men are polar opposites that learn to care for each other under the extreme circumstances that impede their journey home. By the end of the film, both men have learned to let down their emotional guards and trust each other, a necessary step for the two of them to arrive at their destination.

It’s not a complicated plot, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s something about these characters and situations that seems to demonstrate real life in such a direct way. It’s not a puzzle, everything is clear cut. Not to say that the movie is all surface level, there’s plenty of stuff to dive into here between the two men, particularly through multiple viewings after you know Del’s secret. The level of character depth in these two men is particularly compelling to watch on screen, as seeing the psyche of two opposites gravitate towards each other giving each other strength is both stimulating and moving. Part of that depth comes from the fact that this film was perfectly cast. John Candy and Steve Martin don’t even seem to be playing characters, but amplified versions of themselves. The dialogue, the movements, the actions are all totally natural, and the responses appear to have weight behind them that suggest the character’s past experiences. Guest appearances from Kevin Bacon, Michael McKean, and Edie McClurg all appear in hilarious supporting roles as well, but I wouldn’t dare spoil them here. Well, maybe one.

Steve Martin plays Neal as an impatient cynical grouch who is dying to get out of the sales meeting he’s stuck in so that he can find a cab and get to the airport on time. Del plays the happy go lucky salesman that accidentally steals Neal’s cab during rush hour in New York City. Fate keeps these two characters together as they meet by chance at the airport again. Neal confronts Del about stealing the cab, and Del feels genuine remorse. He tries to be as affable as possible, offering up Neal a beer and a hot dog. Neal being a bit prudish rejects the peace offering with a snarky type of politeness. Of course, Del doesn’t immediately pick up on or at least chooses to ignore Neal’s hostility. All he wants is to get home in a timely manner to see his family for the holiday. A snowstorm prevents their plane from landing in Illinois, causing the flight to divert all the way to Kansas.

The two men book a hotel room together as the hotels fill up. It is at this point that the exposition ends and Neal lets out all the resentment he has towards Del.  The set up is complete and now the emotional core of the movie really begins to develop. Neal states in no uncertain terms every problem that he has with Del, not holding back any vitriol. Martin’s performance is so wonderful that it actually gets the audience to laugh along with all his complaints, even as John Candy’s face starts to sink. Martin plays it as a man who has seriously contemplated every perceivable flaw in Del’s character, and is eager to list out every mundane detail. When he says he could listen to the most boring insurance seminar for days on end “because I’ve been with Del Griffith!” his vocal inflections are so comically annoyed that the audience can’t help but laugh. The scene isn’t a joke, it’s clear that the man has been pushed to his limit, but the audience laughs because they understand his frustration. However, the way Neal starts and stops seems to suggest that it’s against his better judgement to be so mean. It all just seems to be slipping out, as one complaint leads into the next until he’s too far to back down. When Neal finally finishes venting, John Hughes hits us with the first emotional blast in the movie.

Del’s reply is an often quoted moment from cinema history. It’s so perfect in its raw emotional simplicity. Whereas the cynical Neal has been stewing over his anger and letting it out almost uncontrollably, Del’s reply is a brief calm statement of emotional truth. It’s a tender “take me or leave me” moment, but Del is clearly hurt deeply by Neal’s words. Del’s trying just as hard to convince himself that he’s strong enough to take it because of the love he has from his wife and customers. Candy’s performance completely sells the speech, and makes the audience feel remorse for laughing at Martin mocking him just a few seconds ago. You can see in his face that this isn’t the first time that someone has gone off on him for his sometimes overzealous extroverted personality, and the hurt in his eyes betrays years of pain in the past. Despite all this pain, he can’t help the way he his. He will never fight back. When he says that he doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings, it makes the cynical viewers and Neal shameful for feeling any malice towards Del. The two men have been forced to share a bed, and they cozy up together for the night as Neal learns to be a little more accepting of other people.

This John Hughes road comedy distinguishes itself from a lot of his work in that it focuses on adult relationships instead of teenagers. The two main characters are middle aged men set in their own ways. These men learn to evolve the more that they learn about each other. This is similar to the plot of Hughes’ more popular The Breakfast Club, only in this film instead of the characters being locked together in one room, Page and Griffith can’t seem to shake each other as they both make their way from the streets of New York to Neal’s home in Illinois.

Every time that the two men try to separate they just end up in each other’s company again. Also every time that Del seems to be gaining Neal’s favor something ludicrous happens that screws it up. Del driving on the wrong side of the highway after falling asleep is one of these moments, particularly after the car is destroyed and lit on fire and it is revealed that Del used Neal’s credit card to rent it. Amazingly the machine is still able to run, and the two pull up to a motel for the night. All their money was stolen by robbers on the first night at the hotel in Kansas, and their cards were burnt up in the fire. Neal has to sell his watch to get a room, but Del cannot afford one at all. This is the climax of the film, as even after rendering Neal liable to the damage of an entire automobile, Neal finally decides to completely accept Del. He is forgiven. This acceptance materializes because Neal cannot stand the site of Del freezing outside in the burnt up car. Neal decides to throw out all his jaded cynicism and invite Del into his room. It is at this point that Neal is willing to forgive Del for anything, and accept him for who he is unconditionally. The journey the two men have been on together and the bond that has formed over just two days is so strong that Neal will never give up on Del again. The two men fall asleep drinking liquor and talking about how much they love their wives. Never again in the movie is Neal the grouch, he’s even a good sport about riding in the back of a refrigerated truck after their rental car is impounded for being too dangerous for the road.

They finally make it to LaSalle/Van Buren CTA station that will take Neal the rest of the way home. It is empty except the two of them now that it’s Thanksgiving day. This is where Del and Neal part ways for the holidays. That is until Neal begins to put the pieces together. Little scraps of what Del has said throughout the film finally begin to add up in Neal’s brain, and the ending scene that follows is one of the most heartwarming in any film ever. There’s no shame for any grown ass man to ball his eyes out watching it the first time. John Candy deserved an Oscar for the film closing smile he gives. For the sake of those that have never seen the movie, I won’t spoil the ending here.

Most comedies are not good movies. They simply exist to generate a few shallow laughs and leave no long term impression. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of the few comedies to transcend the limitations of its genre with genuine heart and characters that the audience can actually feel invested in. We want Neal and Del to succeed, as they seem like genuinely plausible people trapped in improbably unfortunate circumstances. They’re not one-note characters who simply exist for an endless barrage of sight gags to happen upon them, their choices are based on well established character traits, not just moving along because the plot needs them to. Anyone who has had to travel for the holidays feels the plight that these men are going through, even if they have never experienced it to the insanity that Neal and Del have. If you’ve never seen this movie because you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or some other reason, I implore you to seek it out and watch it today. This movie is a classic that stands up even if you don’t celebrate the holiday in the movie. As Neal puts it in the film, after the journey you’re, “a little wiser.”

5/5 Turkeys