Richard Kind

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

 

 

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DVD REVIEW: A Serious Man (2009)

“When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies…then what?” — Rabbi Marshak

 


 

Scan_20160215A SERIOUS MAN (2009 Alliance)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

A Serious Man is a black comedy about Larry Gopnik, a Jewish mathematics professor, age unspecified, who realizes one day that his life seems to be falling apart. The setting is a very convincing 1967 in Minnesota.

His brother is sleeping on the family’s couch and constantly nursing a monstrous (but never seen, thank God) cyst on his neck. Then he learns that his wife is leaving him for his friend Sy Ableman. His son Danny is smoking pot and signed up for the Columbia Record Club, under dad’s name.  Santana’s Abraxas was automatically mailed but no payments have been sent!  Danny’s selling the records for drug money, but he’s more worried about taking a beating from Mike Fagel (“a fucker”) over a $20 pot debt when he should be worried about Hebrew school and his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.  (“Studying Torah, asshole!”)   His daughter Sarah is always either washing her hair or out with her friends. Within this setting, innumerable irritants and stumbling blocks fall in his way, usually within the same scene. Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” is the opening and recurring music to a heap of problems the characters get in.  (Rock fans also take note: Jimi Hendrix shows up later.)

All that Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants is to make something of his life, and become “a serious man”. Expectations, demands and obligations seem to obstruct him at all times.  Confusing advice from Rabbis, a neighbor who seems to tease him by sunbathing topless, a South Korean exchange student offering him bribes, another neighbor seemingly encroaching on the property line, his card-counting brother, and his own faith seem to taunt him at every turn. It’s not a complex story: it is character driven, comedic, dramatic and nostalgic all at once. In other words, typical Coen fare.  I love the ironic but authentic touches like a doctor lighting up a cigarette in his office.

The recurring theme of the movie is (or isn’t) Shroedinger’s paradox.  Larry’s about to get tenure at work even though everything else is falling apart.  “Even I don’t understand the dead cat,” says Larry near the beginning of the film, but it is clear that actions do have consequences.  All Larry needs are answers, but they are not forthcoming.  He thinks that perhaps the reclusive Rabbi Marshak can help him, but he knows that the math says you can’t ever know anything with certainty.

As is par for the course with Coen films, special features are sparse. There is a brief bit explaining all the Jewish terminology in the film done as entertainingly as possible. There’s a great feature on how they made the neighborhood look exactly like 1967, and how they got the cars, costumes and locations. Finally there is a feature with the Coens and actors on the film itself, what it means, and what inspired it.

I particularly enjoyed the unconnected short story that opened the movie.  Jewish folklore and the vivid minds of Coens collided and this short story is the result. I think it’s designed to set a mood, but also to act something like an opening cartoon which used to precede movies in the 60’s.  This tale of the returned dybbuk is subtitled and presented in the old fullscreen format instead of wide.

Look for The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg in a small role as Rabbi Scott.

5/5 stars

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