Video Fridays: The Odd Couple

odd_coupleTwo weeks ago, as a Video Fridays installment, I took a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane, writing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

In writing that post, I decided to do a separate Video Fridays installment for each of these shows, and I chose The Honeymooners to start off with.

This week, it’s The Odd Couple, and what a fantastic show it was!

That it was based on Neil Simon‘s play and movie of the same name highlights common ground between two of the other shows from the lineup. M*A*S*H was based on the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman of the same name, and Star Trek, created for TV, went the opposite direction, spawning numerous movies and spin-off TV series.

There were SO many things about The Odd Couple that I loved: the basic premise of two mismatched divorced men living together, one an anal-retentive neat freak and the other a manchild slob; the wonderful New York City humor; the groovy 70s clothing and decor; the goofy supporting characters; and consistently great writing over five seasons.

And yet, similar to The Honeymooners, the best things about the show were it’s primary actors, Tony Randall as Felix Unger, and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison. To fully appreciate these two, consider the monumentally big shoes they had to fill. Neil Simon’s play opened on Broadway with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney (who, as mentioned two weeks ago, played Ed Norton in The Honeymooners) as Felix, and in the movie Matthau again played Oscar, while Jack Lemmon played Felix.

I never saw the original Broadway show — I was just shy of 3-years old when it closed — and I didn’t see the movie until I had already been watching the TV show for years. So, for me, Jack and Tony are the Oscar and Felix I always think of first, which really is a testament to how well they took over these roles, established as they had already been by other great, great actors.

Of course, the heart of the show is the clash of opposites in the pressure cooker situation of having to share an apartment. And so, as I tried to pick just one episode to include here, I searched for one that really highlighted their domicile. But, this search paralyzed me with indecision, as there are SO many greats to choose from.

Finally, thanks to my longtime buddies from New Jersey, Mike and Keith, mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles (one case in point), our collective effort yielded the perfect choice!

So, here’s episode 69, the 22nd episode of the 3rd season, it’s titled Take My Furniture, Please, and it revolves around Felix’s efforts to redecorate their apartment, despite Oscar’s protestations, and while Oscar tries to work on a book he’s writing. Naturally, hilarity ensues.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Has TalkingPointsMemo.com Jumped The Shark, Or Am I Not Reading It Correctly?

When I first discovered Talking Points Memo (TPM), sometime around 2001, it was solely the political blog of Josh Marshall, and it looked like this:

TPM-screenshot-old

One blogger, one very narrow column with blog posts, an even narrower sidebar with some navigation, a call for donations, book recommendations, and a short list of links to other recommended sites.

That’s it, I loved it, and it would be one of my primary inspirations for becoming a blogger several years later, in 2004, at my now-defunct first blog Transcendental Floss. (No relation to any currently existing websites using that name.)

Now TPM is called TPM Media, it has a full staff of writers, two bureaus, in New York City and Washington, D.C. respectively, 13 sections of their website, and it looks like this:

TPM-screenshot-new

This transformation took place gradually over the past 10 years or so, and for the most part I enjoyed the growth, as it allowed for broader coverage of the political topics I was most interested in.

More recently, over the past few years, with the rise in popularity of political comedy TV shows — The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher, etc. — along with the sad new reality that these were some of the only shows on television adequately sounding the alarm on the deplorable things our government and politicians do on a regular basis, TPM, like most other political blogs/websites, began posting clips from these shows.

This, too, was ok with me. I don’t have TV at home, and so having these clips cherry picked for me and handily available on a website I already visited on a regular basis was welcome.

Enter The Slice, the newest section, rolled out two weeks ago, and described thusly:

Think of it as TPM’s magazine—deeper takes, more crafted writing. The Slice gets to the thorny, human, gut level of a broader range of issues than TPM has tackled before. We’ll be exploring everything from money and sex to identity and pop culture, from politics and family to those harbingers of modern life you keep noticing but can’t quite parse out.

When I first read that, I didn’t have any immediate negative reaction to it.

Then, today, I saw this on the TPM home page:

TPM-screenshot-slice

I’ll give you a moment to spot the story from The Slice

Yeah, jarring isn’t it? It’s like one of those “which one doesn’t belong” activities for school children.

In the comments section for this Slice piece with the clickbait title What I Learned From Going to the Adult Film Oscars With the King of Porn, two TPM readers echoed my exact immediate thoughts:

Commenter # 1: Am I at the Huffington Post?

Commenter # 2: Or Salon?

I have a love-hate relationship with both The Huffington Post and Salon for this very reason. Both sites have excellent coverage of news and politics, and both offer this jarring mix of content, with articles of substance on important matters posted side-by-side with trivialities.

From just a brief scan of the two home pages just now, I found these annoyingly incongruent headlines:

Huffington Post

Hezbollah Launches Deadliest Attack On Israel Since ’06
The Common Cooking Mistake That Ruins Everything

Salon

White Virginia politician calls African American reporter “boy”
“Ghostbusters” reboot: Let’s weigh the pros and cons of the new cast

So, I was all ready to declare, as the title of my post suggests, that TPM, the self-described “premier digital native political news organization in the United States”, the 2007 winner of the prestigious George Polk award for Journalism, had jumped the shark, but…

…before I could write a word I imagined what Josh Marshall would likely say in response: “We’re not the problem. You are!”

And, arguably he’d be right.

You see, I don’t HAVE to see the content that I don’t want to see. If what I’m looking for is news and politics, then all I really have to do is change my browser bookmarks so that the TPM bookmark takes me to the Editor’s Blog, which aggregates the best news and politics posts from the various other sections. Likewise, at Huffington Post and Salon, I could go directly to their news and politics sections.

I happen to work with a team of web developers, and they have a saying that they use to guide them in developing user-focused software and websites, a saying that reminds them to factor into their work a variety of different user-types in order to make their products as user-friendly possible:

As a [user type], I need to [action], so that I can [goal].

In this case, it could easily be argued that, while the TPM home page does not work well for me [user type], the fact that I have the option to navigate directly [action] to the sections that I want to read [goal] would indicate that their design is still user-friendly by definition.

Now, excuse my while I go and edit my bookmarks.

Goodnight

lightpost

Tweet of the Day: #juno2015

While I’m trying to simply enjoy the unseasonably warm weather here in Bellingham today:

weather

…without thinking too much about global warming, my thoughts also go out to my friends and family in the Northeast, who are facing this instead:

Video Fridays: A “Morning Dew” Extravaganza

morning-dewI often think of myself as a pretty decent pop music historian, because in conversations with music geeks and non-geeks alike I very regularly can reference what others consider to be obscure music factoids.

And yet, paradoxically, I regularly learn something new that takes me totally by surprise.

Yesterday was one such occasion, thanks to a friend who, on Facebook, posted a YouTube clip, not only of a British band from the mid-1960s that I’d never heard of, Episode Six, but of Episode Six covering a song I’d only ever heard before as performed by the Grateful Dead: Morning Dew.

I’d known that the song predated the Grateful Dead, but I never noticed that the song was written by Canadian folksinger Bonnie Dobson, and I certainly had no idea, until I did my research, just how many artists and bands covered the song, nor how wacky a variety of artists and bands it has been.

As I commented on my friend’s Facebook post, “Any song that can be covered by the Grateful Dead, Jeff Beck, Lulu, and Devo, just to name a few, is one helluva song!” And, perhaps it’s the song’s heavy subject matter that has inspired so many to interpret it.

Per Wikipedia:

The song is a dialogue between the last man and woman left alive following an apocalyptic catastrophe: Dobson has stated that the initial inspiration for “Morning Dew” was the film On the Beach which is focused on the survivors of virtual global annihilation by nuclear holocaust.

Appropriately then, for this week’s Video Fridays installment, I’ve selected a handful of versions of Morning Dew to best capture this wacky variety, starting with the wackiest I could find.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: The first is a fan-made video, and the second is audio-only, as there were no live performance videos available for these two.)

Wacky, because Devo:

The songwriter’s own recording:

Nazareth, because hair and tank tops:

Jeff Beck Group, because soul, funky bass, and general awesomeness:

Lulu, because campy earnestness:

And finally, magical, because, as I wrote two weeks ago, 1977 Grateful Dead:

Headline of the Day: Fun With Airtravel

From the name of the band that this guy is a member of, to the vivid image of his behavior in the airport, this headline is like a scene from This Is Spinal Tap.

Puddle of Mudd Singer Arrested for Riding Baggage Carousel

Rolling Stone

That he was bailed out by a fan is the icing on the comedy cake. LOL!

Good Morning

good-morning-1

Seattle Seahawks vs. The Anti-Football Narrative

kearseIt should be noted that I am no ordinary sports fan, by which I mean that most ordinary sports fans would say that I’m no fan at all.

I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I’m a fan of hanging out with friends, drinking beer, and occasionally watching games together, and yet you could easily replace a game with a movie or a concert and I’d be happy.

It should also be noted that I’m deeply conflicted about football in particular, for reasons best summed up in this Huffington Post review of a book by Steve Almond titled “Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto”, which asks:

Is it immoral to consume violent entertainment that can result in dire, even deadly consequences for its participants? Is it immoral to cheer for a dazzling show knowing it could cause its stars to develop dementia or memory loss or depression?

That is to say, is it immoral to watch football?

That’s a powerful indictment, to be sure.

And yet, is it possible that the Seattle Seahawks, in their mind-boggling comeback victory in the NFC Championship game against the Green Packers this past Sunday, in any way transcended the debate over the morality of football? Can a team that had been counted out of the running when they were 3-3 and 6-4, despite having won the Super Bowl the previous year in an utterly dominating performance and a final score of 43-8, serve up valuable lessons in grit, perseverance, team chemistry and loyalty that offer some redeeming value?

The Story

  • The Seahawks, having been dominated by the Packers for the vast majority of the game, played so badly that they were lucky the score was only 16-0 at halftime.
  • Midway through the third quarter, the Seahawks showed signs of life. With their quarterback, Russell Wilson, having thrown more complete passes (three) to the Packers, than to his own receivers, Head Coach Pete Carroll, out of no small degree of desperation, but based on research he’d done on the Packers field goal defense, called a fake field goal play, punter Jon Ryan took the snap, and instead of setting the ball up for the field goal by Steven Hauschka, he took the ball, scrambled left and lobbed it to rookie tackle Garry Gilliam in the end zone for a touchdown, bringing the score to 16-7.
  • Alas, hopes seemed dashed once again, when the Packers began the fourth quarter with a drive and a 48-yard field goal, bringing the score to 19-7, and then, with 5:14 left, Russell Wilson threw his fourth interception of the game.
  • With about four minutes left, Russell Wilson threw 26 yards to Marshawn Lynch, who took it in for a touchdown, only to have the touchdown reversed, when a review of the replay determined Lynch had stepped out of bounds before the end zone. That would be the last of the Seahawks bad luck.
  • Russell Wilson, not having much luck throwing the football, ran the ball in from the one yard line for a touchdown, and with the extra point, the score was now 19-14 with 2:13 remaining.
  • With so little time left, the Seahawks had no option but to try an onside kick, a play that is only successful 26% of the time, the play WAS successful.
  • In the ensuing possession, Russell Wilson handed off to Marshawn Lynch who ran for 24 yards and a touchdown, incredibly taking the lead 20-19, and then, having decidedly recovered his passing mojo, Russell tossed to Luke Willson for the 2-point conversion, bringing the score to 22-19.
  • The Packers, showing their own grit and determination, took the ball from the kickoff and with admirable economy managed to tie up the game with a field goal with only 0:19 remaining, resulting in overtime.
  • After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, Russell Wilson showed off more of his newly reclaimed passing mojo, throwing for two consecutive 35-yard gains, first to Doug Baldwin, who had fumbled on a key kickoff return in the first half that could have helped halt the Packers momentum, and the second to Jermaine Kearse, who had been Wilson’s target for all four of his interceptions, but who this time miraculously pulled the ball out of the air at the goal line, with a defender who was all over him (see photo above), game over, Seahawks win 28-22.

Thanks to the number crunchers and graphic artists at USA Today, we can see a visual representation of this historic comeback in an infographic that concludes the Seahawks had only a 1% chance of winning the game at the point when there was 3:19 left to play (click on image to enlarge):

Seahawks-improbable

Now, there are thousands of articles all over the interwebs recounting the highlights of the game, and so you might ask why I bothered.

Well, somehow I think I needed to, because a part of me still can’t accept that it actually happened, and I think I felt I somehow owed it to the Seahawks, who had fought so hard for this improbable victory, for my entertainment.

And, man was the fight hard! Two members of the Seahawks’ famed Legion of Boom secondary squad, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, suffered painful injuries, a dislocated shoulder and a hyperextended elbow respectively, both refused to stop playing, and both have said since the game ended that NOTHING will keep them from playing in the Super Bowl in two weeks.

So, I suppose this brings us back to the question of morality, of whether or not humans should find a sport entertaining that can be so brutal to its participants, a sport that perpetuates outdated and even dangerous (e.g. high-profile domestic abuse) models of masculinity, a sport that gobbles up billions of dollars that could otherwise be spent on arguably more important things.

All I can say right now is that I’m listening, that I don’t have concrete answers, that I’m tempted to say that increasing consolidation of wealth amongst the 1%, perpetual war, and global climate change seem to be more pressing matters, but I AM listening.

For now, I think I’ll hang on to the positives I was able to glean, and I look forward to rejoining my friends for the Super Bowl, to cheer on our Seattle Seahawks.

GO HAWKS!!!

With Zuki at Lake Padden

zuki-padden

Video Fridays: The Honeymooners

honeymoonersOne of my fondest memories from growing up in New Jersey was the post-primetime lineup of reruns on Channel 11, WPIX TV from New York City.

It was epic.

Now, I wasn’t always able to watch the whole lineup every night, and I don’t think I’d have had much of a life if I had. I had a very small black & white TV in my bedroom, and despite my best efforts to keep the volume down, to sit dangerously close to the screen, and to cover myself and the TV with a blanket, I was regularly busted by the parental units, forced to shut it down and go to sleep. But, this lineup was the same for many years, and so the episodes kept cycling through, meaning I was able to see a LOT of them numerous times anyway.

There are a number of things that I loved about that lineup of shows, and I could go on and on about it, but it seems redundant, given a piece I found at ClassicFlix.com by Rick Brooks, professing his Love Affair With WPIX, and saying many of the things I would say myself.

Just a sample:

We would look forward to seeing a series not just because it was so good, but because we knew it held up to multiple viewings. Look at The Honeymooners, which ran weeknights continuously for over 30 years on the station. That staying power is staggering, particularly when you consider that, though eventually it added the “Lost Episodes” to the mix, channel 11 was running the same “Classic 39” episodes from that one legendary season (1955-56). I will say it again: 39 episodes ran continuously for decades, and fans loved them.

It would be impossible for me to pick one of these shows as my favorite, but I’d rather honor one of them at a time with a Video Fridays installment, and since I just shared Rick Brooks’ info on The Honeymooners, let’s start there.

For me, The Honeymooners was very special. It was the only TV show of that vintage that was actually still on the air, as far as I could tell, and it served as a time capsule to a bygone era. From the clothing to the furniture, the vernacular of the day to the acting styles, I found it utterly charming.

The biggest strengths of the show were three of the main actors and the writing.

Jackie Gleason, as bus driver Ralph Kramden, could be an insufferable loudmouth, by today’s standards verbally abusive to his wife, and yet when his hairbrained schemes crashed and burned, as they always did, Gleason somehow, almost magically, induced pathos.

Audrey Meadows, as Ralph’s wife, Alice, unlike other women leads of the time and beyond, didn’t hide her struggles with sexism behind an always cheerful veneer. You could see in her expression a weariness as she went about her domestic duties, and she could go toe-to-toe with Ralph in a way you’d rarely see a wife stand up to her husband on TV.

Art Carney, as friend and upstairs neighbor, Ed Norton, well, let’s just say, with his brilliant physical comedy prowess, specifically his grand, clown-like entrances into the Kramden apartment, there would absolutely be NO Kramer from Seinfeld without Art Carney’s Ed Norton. (Interestingly, nothing I could find online gives credit to Art Carney as a direct inspiration for Kramer, and that REALLY bugs me!)

As for the writing, the episodes are masterpieces, with consistently great story arcs, a wonderful mix of comedy and the aforementioned pathos, and it was one of the most quotable shows ever made. My friends and I could nearly recite entire episodes from memory, the jokes were so good.

Like I said, I could go on and on, and I guess I did!

To wrap up and get on with this week’s video selection, I chose an episode that seemed perfect for the occasion, a TV show about watching TV, containing one of my all-time favorite lines, “Official space helmet on, Captain Video!!!”

Happy Weekend, everyone!