Saturday, April 29, 2017

Doctor Who--"Thin Ice"

     Doctor Who does some fun period pieces. “Thin Ice' works well, not only by the re-creation of 1814 London, but the successful combination of Charles Dickens and Jules Vern to create a fun episode that still features of touch of Whovian quirk and darkness.
      The TARDIS inadvertently arrives in 1814 London/ The Doctor and Bill, now in period attire, go exploring. They fall for a con by a group of orphans to attend a frost fair to e pick pocketed in the crowd. One of the orphans swipes the sonic screwdriver and dashes off. When he crosses part of the frozen Thames, lights surround his feet and break a circle of ice around him. The doctor saves the sonic screwdriver, but not the boy.
     The Doctor discovers the orphans are being paid to lure people unto the fair and some disappear. The Doctor and Bill don some Verne-esque diving gear to discover a sea monster chained beneath the Thames. Upon further investigation, they learn the orphans are being paid by Lord Sutcliffe. His family has been exploiting the creature for generations becoming wealthy selling the creature's waste as an energy source. People who fall into the Thames are its food source. 
     Sutcliffe plans to dynamite the ice in order to hide hi secret, but the Doctor rearranges the explosives to free the creature while Bill and the orphans clear everyone to safety. Sutcliffe falls through the ice during the explosion. The creature swims safely out of London, and the Doctor arranges for the orphans to take over his mansion.
      Bill is beginning to see the doctor's darker side. She question why he has little reaction to the boy's death early in the episode. She asks how many people he has killed, but he declines to answer. Bill is not the first companion to become concerned by the growing body count in the Doctor's wake and his generally cold reaction to it. It is particularly interesting when he allows another person to die in order to recover the sonic screwdriver a second time. At least that guy was a villain.
    Let us get the obvious question out of the way---how did the Sutcliffe family chain a giant sea creature in the first place? The answer is lost to antiquity according to the current Sutcliffe. The how is not as important as the why, so I am just going to go with it. I enjoyed “Thin Ice” too much for the unsolved mystery to be a major problem.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monkees--"The Case of the Missing Monkee'

     The Monkees certainly run into an awful lot of gangsters and spies. They face off against the latter in "The Case of the Missing Monkee” and strike a blow for the good guys in the Cold War. At least I assume they do. It is not made obvious whether the ambiguously foreign villains are from the Communist bloc. They sound vaguely Eastern European, so I am going with them being dirty, rotten commies.
     The episode begins with the Monkees waiting to play for reception of scientists. Peter is compelled by the end of Professor Schmitzler's speech in which he declares “War is war., peace is peace, and science is science.” It is one of those phrases that ssounds deeply meaningful, but actually says nothing. Aybe ne needs to smoke pot in order to grasp it. Peter approaches Schmitzler to gush, but is passed a nte by the professr which warns he is about to be kidnapped to the Remington Clinic. Peter asses the note to ike, but he ignores it until after the kidnappers realize they need to take peter, too, now that he is onto the plan.
      Schitzler and Peter are spirited away to the Remington Clinic by the aforementioned ambiguously foreign spies who I am considering to be dirty, rotten commies from the Eastern Bloc,, Dr. Markovich and Bruno. After Mike finally reeads the note, the guys head to the clinic, but get no where the legitimate way. Nor are th police any help after narkovich and Bruno successfully cover their tracks. So the guys must gt in their own way. When posing Davy as a potntial patient fails, they just plain break in and all pose as patients and eventually doctor in order to find Peter. The Monkees commit enough criminal acts to put themselves away for decades.
      The antics involved in rescuing Peter and Schmitzler are more reminiscent of the Marx brothers than those featured in any previous episode. The guys goof around in the physical therapy gymnasium before posing as surgeons to sneak Schmitzler out of the operating room before he can be smuggled out via ambulance. It is interesting mike borrows Micky's usual shtick of pretending to have more authority than he does in order to pass himself off as a surgeon. After the musical romp, the bad guys are captured and Schmitzler is saved.
      There is only one musical romp in “The Case of the Missing Monkee” to make room for what passes for plot development in the midst of all the anarchy. The plot is more involved than usual without losing the sight gags and warped reality of the series. As a comic book geek, I appreciate the references to Batman and Captain Marvel. The Monkees earn the geek credentials here. The pattern of isolating peter from much of the action is repeated. I am more aware of it occurring now than when I watched the show in my younger days. Is Peter's lack of involvement a reflection of his general distaste for the silliness involved with his character and the Monkees in general?
     “The Case of the Missing Monkee” is a decent episode. The formula work by this point, but it is still a formula. There is not much here, including the gags, the show has not already done before and we are only on the seventeenth episode. The absurdity is still fun, but it is beginning to go stale already.
      Rating: *** out of 5)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Doctor Who--"Smile"

    With the fear of the rising influence of artificial intelligence fresh I the minds of your average geeks and nerds, it is only logical Doctor who would air an episode n the topic. I am not so certain the episode should feature cute robots that utilize emojis, but here it is. I work with what the Whovian creative teams gives me, folks.
     The Doctor and bill travel to a seemingly empty Earth colony in the far future. Only tiny robots called Vandy roam about. Thy offer the Doctor and Bill patches which reflect their moods. Te Doctor surmises the colonists are still en route, but thinks it is odd there is no advanced crew waiting for them. Things become disturbing when the Doctor discovers human remains are being used as fertilizer. So there was an advance crew. Upon realizing any show of sane or distress will prompt the Vandy to kill whoever is experiencing the emotion, the doctor decides to destroy the colony before its future inhabitants arrive.
     It is not that simple as Bill discovers the colonists are actually in hibernation. He also discovers the explanation for what went wrong. One of the flight crew died. The others grieved. The Vandy had no idea what grief was and interpreted it as an illness. Anyone who felt sad was killed. The deaths caused a wave a sadness, so a large number of people were killed. When the colonists come out of hibernation and discover their friends and family dead at the hands of the Vandy, they want to fight. They are no match for the Vandy, so the doctor saves the day by turning the Vandy off and on again to wipe their memory.
   I suppose the solution is clever, but it is also underwhelming considering the story's conflict. Why would the doctor do something as drastic as destroy the colony when he could have simply turned the Vandy off? The resolution would have made for a boring episode, but it would have been a more logical one.
    Doctor Who often suffers a sophomore slump after a strong start to a new series. While “Smile” edges out some other examples I could name, it has some flaws that are difficult to overlook. The story runs lowly for a long time with reams of exposition only to run through the climax at break neck speed. Some aspects of the Vandy, such as understanding human emotion through the use of emoji, are downright silly. But “Smile” is saved largely by the growing relationship between the Doctor and Bill. They are a fun pair to watch. More fun than mot of “Smile.”
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Monkees--"Son of a Gypsy"

      Did every television series in the '60's do an episode featuring gypsies? It certainly seem like it. Every episode is complete with the standard stereotypes: a group of sadistic, nomadic thieves dressed with bandannas and earrings. “Son of a Gypsy" is no exception. Nor is it particularly exceptional as an episode in general. See what I did there?
      For some odd reason, the Monkees are auditioning against a band of gypsies in order to play a high society party. One wonders if the Three Stooges will be catering. The Monkees win out. To show there are no hard feelings—although there clearly are—the gypsies invite the guys to visit their camp tomorrow. For no god reason, the guys accept the invite. At camp the next day, they are incapacitated and persuaded to pull off the gypsies' original plan to steal the Maltese Vulture during the upcoming party. As insurance, the gypsies will hold peter hostage while Marco, one of their own, replaces him.
      Do I even need to mention they successfully pull off the caper, save Peter, and during the musical romp recover the Maltese Vulture and apprehend the gypsies? Because I figure all that goes without saying. It also goes without saying peter is again taken out the picture early on The poor guy has little more than a glorified cameo. It is funny when he disappears as the final joke, Micky asks if he might have gone solo. Peter would be the first to leave the Monkees, and who could blame him? Davy even steals his Harpo Marx shtick by using a bag of never ending and impossibly large items to break open the Maltese Vulture's safe.
      Logical plotting is not this series' strong point and that is usually intentional. But you are asked to make some serious leaps here. Why would a part of high society old people want the Monkees to play their party. These folks look like more the Lawrence Welk crowd Why would the guys go to the gypsies' camp when they felt threatened even before being invited? There are a few funny moments to make up for the absurdities, but I am still nagged by these two implausible plot points more than I probably should be.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Doctor Who--"The Pilot"

      Leave it to Doctor Who to take something as innocuous as a puddle of water and turn it in to something terrifying. The feat is even more impressive considering 'the Pilot' is a series premiere that must kick things up a notch beyond the average monster of the week episode. It does so splendidly by mixing the genres of horror and science fiction in with old and new elements, not the least of which is a new companion.
      The Doctor has been posing as a university professor for some time when he takes an interest in Bill. Bill works in the university's cafeteria. Even though she is not a student, she attends all the doctor's lectures. He asks her to his office to find out why and winds up making pearl his assistant. Things must go badly, of course, and thy do when pearl's friend heather becomes fascinated by a puddle of water that casts an odd reflection.
      The puddle does not actually cast a reflection, but mimics whoever peers into it. The puddle is an alien fluid that posses Heather. It turns her into the “pilot.” Fluid Heather stalks Bill with the intention of her being a “passenger.” There are some neat and creepy special effects as Pearl is chased first by living water, then Fluid Heather as a solid figure.
      Bill seeks sanctuary in the Doctor's office. At this point, she is unaware of his true nature. But when Fluid Heather confronts them, they escape in the TARDIS. Fluid Heather chases them through space and time as they travel from a vault at he university (foreshadowing, folks.), a yacht in Sydney harbor, an alien planet millions of years in the future, and a battle between the Daleks and Movellans. Bill convince Fluid heather not to take her as a passenger, and fluid heather dissolves herself. Upon returning to the university, the doctor intends to wipe bill's memory of recent events. He changes his mind, and offers Bill the chance to become his companion. She readily accepts.
      I was impressed with much of “The Pilot.” As mentioned above, it is cool when the show can take something as innocent looking as a peddle of water and turn it into something scary. The special effects for the living water flowing are great. Bill's introduction is also done well. She is a unique companion, she is more mature than usual. She is fascinated by the Doctor's intellect and does not seem likely to develop a puppy crush on him as past companions tend to do. 
     If there is a problem with the episode, it is that parts feel too gimmicky. The TARDIS travels to Australia for the sole purpose of featuring the Sydney Opera House as a backdrop. I did not see a reason to include the Daleks and Movellans other than as a wink to the past. Maybe I am picking nits, but it felt like an attempt to tug at viewer nostalgia rather than an effort to further the plot.
    The good outweighs the bad, though. I enjoyed the episode, and am intrigued enough y the series set up to return to see how it plays out. That is what the first episode of a new series is supposed to do.
      Rating; *** (out of 5)

Monkees--"Too Many Girls"

     We are not even halfway through the first season and the series is already recycling plots. “Too any girls” is a double whammy. Not only dies it prominently feature the trope of Davy falling in love with every girl he meets, but the guys must prevent him from leaving the group as thy did a few episodes back in “Success Story” Not only are the plots used again, both are used poorly.
      The guys are having a difficult time rehearsing because girls keep pooping up out of nowhere distracting Davy. He seems to fall in love with every single on of them. Mrs. Badderly an overbearing mother, plans to use this to con Davy into helping her daughter, Fern, launch a career in show business. She lures the guys into her tea shop with the promise of reading their fortunes. She predicts Mike will get a flat tire, Peter will came down with a cold, and Davy will meet a girl and form a successful act. Fern secretly lets the air out of the Monkeemobile's tires and douses Peter's jacket with sneezing powder so the fist two predictions appear to become reality. The guys must keep Davy away fro any girls for the next 24 hours.
      Mrs. Badderly forces Fern into a few failed efforts. (Say that three times fast.) The guys finally resort to chaining Davy to a chair in from of the television Mrs Badderly arranges for Davy to supposedly judge a beauty contest, chain or no, Davy cannot resist. When he first eyes Fern, he falls madly in love. Davy agrees to form a duo for an amateur talent contest. The guys sabotage the act in order to expose the con job. In spite of the act turning out awful, Fern & Davy win—even beating out the Monkees themselves.
      Is the tired pot the real problem with “Too many Girls/' mostly, yes. At least the episode recognizes the issue as it self-references the problem for laughs. Nevertheless, it is not that amusing. There is no musical romp, either. It is a sorely missing element. If there is a saving race, it is Peter, Mike, and Micky performing terrible acts for the amateur talent show. Peter is y favorite fumbling through a magic act I think this is the most the show has given him to do thus far, and its great. Mike mumbles through his "Different Drum" a year before it became a hit for Linda Ronstadt. Micky does his James Cagney impression multiple times yet again. But none of their efforts save 'Too Many Girls” from mediocrity.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Monkees--"Dance, Monkee, Dance"

      It is not too often I cover an episode of television which inspired a minor internet meme. “Dance, Monkee, Dance” is used sardonically in reference to living a life when there is no meaning or purpose. An existential crisis, as it were. And you thought the Monkees meant nothing but prefabricated bubblegum pop for mass consumption. Well, they were. But the internet improves upon most everything.
    “Dance, Monkee, Dance” is one of the classics in the series. As with most of the bet episodes, the guys get themselves into a ridiculous situation with a goofy villain, then work together in order to extricate themselves. Add in fun musical romps that actually advance the plot and plenty of sight gags and you get a great episodes.
      The story begins with Peter winning a free dancing lesson before being duped into signing a lifetime contract to the dancing school. Micky, posing as Peter's lawyer, inadvertently signs a lifetime contract, too. Mike goes to the dance school in order to dissolve the contracts, but winds up singing a lifetime contract himself when seduced by the secretary, Miss Buntwell. Only Davy handles himself well when he gets a job as a dance instructor. The guys set out to destroy the dance school by alienating potential clients with their antics. The plan works when the school's owner, Reynaldo, agrees to tear up everyone's contract.
      In order to win the free dancing lesson, you theoretically needed to know the eighth president of the United States was Martin van Buren. Only two legitimately get the answer right. One is told she is wrong by Davy to save her from being scammed. The other I van Buren himself who shows up for his lesson. I am a history buff. The gag amused. Too answer the next obvious question, I did not know which number President van Buren was. Miss Buntwell would have given me the free lesson regardless.
    In addition to van Buren's appearance, there were two other bits that particularly amused me. The first features Micky, desperate for a brilliant idea, breaking the fourth wall and approaching the writing staff for a solution. The writing staff is a room full of elderly Chinese men. The gag might be a reference to the frustration the cast felt towards the weak scripts they were receiving. The problem would get worse as scripts rejected in the first season for being too bad were filmed in the second. The second is how Mike distracts Miss Buntwell by chasing her around the office professing his love while Davy convinces the latest group of free dancing lesson winners to reject their prize. It was a more innocent time when sexual harassment was a laugh line.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Monkees--"One Man Shy"

     True confession time—Peter is my least favorite Monkeee. I do not feel too bad saying that. Peter Tork did not like portraying his television alter ego. Who could blame him/ Peter is the dumb one. When an actor ploys a dumb character, audiences tend to think the actor must be dumb, too. It is certainly not the case with Tork. He is a highly intelligent singer/songwriter. The patronizing must have gotten to him. He was the first one to leave the band. Peter is often relegated to sight gags and slapstick humor, so it is nice to see him be the focus of a quality episode. An Peter-centric episode I actually like!
      The Monkees are auditioning to play for wealthy Valerie’s birthday party. Peter is completely smitten with her from the beginning. He was good taste. Vallerie is the prettiest of the ladies we have seen so far, if you ask me. Ronnie, whose relationship with Valeria is not clear, detests everything about the Monkees—their long hair, music, culture. All of it. But Vallerie hires them anyway. The Monkees depart, but realize Peter has stolen the portrait of Valleries hanging over the fireplace. They speed away so as not to get caught with it.
      Let us focus on Ronnie a minute. At first glance, it might be assumed he is Vallerie's boyfriend, but I do not think so. There does not see to be a true bond between the two. Ronnie seems more like the son of family friends. The two wealthy families think the monied upper class must keep company with themselves. Valleries appears to like peter, too, but Ronnie spends all his time beating him and the other guys down with a snide, sarcastic attitude about their low standing. Hi contempt is two-fold. He does not like the rock and roll youth culture as it is a threat to his high society self and he does not want Vallerie to develop a fondness for it.
      Ronnie is a clear foil for the guys. They set out to make a fool of him in public by sabotaging some of his usual activities such as wine tasting and art appreciation. He becomes wise to their tactics and challenges them on his turf—lawn games. The guys fail hilarious at competing. Yet Vallerie invites peter to be her escort, anyway. The guys try to make him into a smooth operator with women. When hat does not work, they pretend to be Peter's stock broker, tailor, and yacht captain. Ronnie come down on it all, but Vallerie saves the day and Peter's heart by reassuring hi she likes him just as he is But for good measure, Peter defeats Ronnie at hopscotch, marbles, boxing, and a toy pistol duel for good measure during the final musical romp.
      “One Man Shy” I an amusing episode mostly because George Furth plays Ronnie as so hilariously evil. It is a touch sell to play the funny bully picking on the most childlike Monkee peter finally gets some character development, as well. From here on out, he has mojo when talking to girls. But we never see Vallerie again. I would not have been as quick to dump her as peter obviously was.
      Rating; *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Monkees--"I've Got a Little Song Here"

     “I've Got a Little Song Here” is one of favorite episodes of the series. In many ways, Mike is the heart of the show. He is the most normal character in spite of the beanie, so it feels more emotional when bad things happen to him. The guys really demonstrate their bond here, too, without sacrificing any of the laughs.
      The episode begins when Mike receives a Dear Occupant letter from a music publisher. Songwriting is a million dollar business, so naturally Mike wants in. He submits his song to publisher Bernie Class who loves it and thinks starlet Joannie Jans will use the song in her net film, but Mike needs $100 to cover publishing fees. Mike reluctantly agrees. This is his big shot at success. It is clear how excited he is as he immediately rushes to a payphone to call his mother, Micky, and a guy he randomly met on a bus five years ago. Mike has to pawn his guitar for the $100. It is not the money that is important to him. It is the idea he has made it as a success.
     All of which makes the obvious scam more brutal when mike discovers the hard way—he arrives on set to thank Joannie personally, but she has never heard of him—he has been fraudulently cheated out of his money. The situation reminded me of the ads I would see in newspapers and magazines for poetry contests that guaranteed publication in a hardbound book for the winners, but only if you bought the book. I am certain a poet was a shoo in winner if he had the cash.
    I like the sequence in which the guys each try to cheer mike up in their own way. Each offer to do something fun with him, but he refuses. Micky does his James Cagney impression for the umpteenth time. Peter reveals his mother thinks Mike has the best posture of anyone she knows. Mike genuinely laughs, but none of it cheers him up. Finally, the guys decide to run a scam of their own to get mike money back. It involves Micky posing as a big shot movie producer everyone at the studio is afraid to admit they have never heard of before. He requests a song for his latest film. Mike's fits the bill, so bernie sells it back for $200. In a nifty moment, Mike gives the other hundred to the old fellow who was also fitting in Bernie's office ready to sell his song.
      Mike Nesmith was a successful songwriter before being cast in the series. He wrote a number of Monkees songs early on as an appeasement for his clearly evident distaste for the bubblegum pop style of the band. Maybe that is why the song he “wrote” here is the goofy sounding “I'm Gonna Buy Me a Dog.” The song was actually written by Tommy Boyce and Buddy Hart, which explains the oddity of why Micky is the lead singer for a song Mike supposedly wrote. But really...why do the guys think it is so unusual for one of them to have written a song? Surely they are performing songs they wrote themselves.
    The Monkeemen costumes make their first appearance here when Micky, Davy, and Peter go off to secretly expose Bernie's scam while Mike is discovering the truth himself through Joannie. The idea of the Monkees as superheroes was probably a nod to the popularity of the Batman television series. Several more homage will pop up throughout the series.
      Like I said above, “I've Got a Little Song Here” is one of my favorite episodes of the seris. It is a bold statement for me. As a cat person, anything focused on something called “I'm Gonna Buy Me a Dog” suffers a strike or two against it coming out the gate. But the episode keeps the balance between comedy and hart just right. There are any episodes with a harsh turn of cynical humor. It is nice to see the rare gem in which it does not happen quite so brutally.
      Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees a la Carte"

      The Monkees have an unusual and dangerous habit of tangling with the mob. “Monkees a la Carte” is the second of at least four or five episodes featuring the plot. The band exists in the era when the small clubs they play still have mob ties, but it is surprising how often they get into hot water with the criminal element rather than quietly taking the money for performing while turning a blind eye to the shady stuff.
     The Monkees are enjoying not only a steady gig playing at Pop's Italian restaurant, but enjoying the free food when two gangsters straight out of eentral casting enter and muscle Pop into selling the place. The Monkees stand up to them and are promptly fired. Pp is one of the few older adults who I nice to the guys, so they decide to help him gt the restaurant back. They are hired back to serve as wait staff because they work cheap, but their incompetence on the job leads them to the police for help.
      The Monkees live in a warped reality in which the authorities use citizens to go undercover against spies and gangsters all alone, so the guys are assigned to gather evidence to incriminate the entire crime syndicate at an upcoming meeting. The Monkees pose as the recently incarcerated Purple Flower Gang to gather dirt n the syndicate. Mike, Micky, and Davy stall the meeting while Peter goes for the police. The syndicate winds up killing each other. The Monkees wind up arrested when mistaken for the real Purple Flower Gang, but things much get cleared up quickly. In the end, Pop owns the restaurant again with the Monkees back as the house band.
      What stands out most about “Monkees a l Carte' is the violence. It is the sort of no blood sort of violence from cartoons, but it is jarring when it happens here. The most unsettling is how often Peter is slapped around by the monsters, the police, and even in comedic fashion b Micky. Peter is the quiet, passive one of the group. His beating feel more like bullying than comedy shtick. It is also strange to watch the mobsters kill each other in a shoot out. It is all cops on a and robbers kid's game level, but yikes. The show can be violent, but we do not often see corpses.
      There is still much comedy in traditional Monkees style. The musical romp tie into the plot as the guys destroy the kitchen attempting to cook. There are many gangster tropes from old Hollywood films. My favorite gag is during the middle of the shoot out, icky calls for a ceasefire so a pretty girl wearing a fur coat can enter and flash the audience with her skimpy outfit before waling off. Micky notes the director thought the episode needed a pretty girl. I agree. The episode also needs a bit lighter tone. I could have use a few more laughs and less cringes.
      Rating; ** (out of 5)