Friday, February 29, 2008

41. WKRP in Cincinnati

Comedic law #1: Ensemble casts usually make the best comedies. I'm not sure why this is true, though it probably has something to do with the fact that if you don't like one character, if you wait a few minutes he'll be off the screen and another one will come along. Sort of the Chinese Buffet way of thinking: I don't like egg rolls, but I like the General Gau's chicken. And one of the best orders of General Gaus—I mean ensemble casts—was featured on the great “WKRP in Cincinnati”.

To my knowledge, none of the cast members were big stars before the show took CBS' airwaves in the late 1970s. Most played bit roles in television or movies and were known as character actors. That's why the show was so great, it wasn't built around a star or was a vehicle for one particular person—an aside: the show “Friends” was initial a vehicle for Courtney Cox and that's why a majority of the first season revolves around her character Monica, who may be the least interesting character of the six. If “Friends” stayed in this format, who knows if it would have been a monster hit in the ratings.

With “WKRP” the stories and the plots were the stars, and they were mostly character driven. Much like another MTM ensemble show (“The White Shadow”), to enjoy “WKRP” was to enjoy the characters. In other words, the hook of the show, a group of radio workers, isn't what made it beloved. It was the heart within these people. Yes, Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hessman) was a burn out who had nothing in common with slick sales man Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) or Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), but it was apparent that the cast cared for each other and that showed on the screen.

Every member of the cast worked very well with all of the other members, but there were certain pairings that were terrific and the writers often went to the well with these duos: Fever and Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid), Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump) and Andy Travis (Gary Sandy), Tarlek and Nessman. Even the woman, who seemed as if they had nothing in common; smarter-than-she-appears secretary Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) and industry new comer Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) had a great deal of chemistry. In each pairing, the latter was usually the straight guy, while the other character played off of him/her. This wasn't gospel and sometimes it changed up, however.

The Jennifer/Bailey debate among young men who grew up watching the show in syndication is that generation's version of the Ginger/Mary Ann debate from “Gilligan's Island”. While Jennifer was a knockout in every sense, there was something “sneaky hot” about Bailey that a lot of guys found intriguing. It was almost if Jennifer was the sure thing (good looking, brains, rich) but Bailey had something under the surface that could be better than Jennifer. The girl you picked probably had more to say about picker, than anything: did you lean towards the favorite or were you a champion of the under dog?

As stated before, while the acting was top notch, the plots were the engine that made this show run. Perhaps one of the greatest episodes in television history is when the station came up with the idea of a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway. Instead of simply going to a store or food shelter and handing out turkeys, the group decided to have station manager Mr. Carlson go up into a helicopter and drop turkeys to the people on the ground. The thought was that when the birds were released, the turkeys would fly down and land softly in the arms of the people. One problem: turkeys can't fly.

Instead of seeing the turkeys fall to earth, we are then shown program director Travis sitting in Carlson's office listening to the radio as the promotion that will put them on the map is underway. As he is listening to Nessman's description of the events (reminiscent of Herbert Morrison's description of the Hindenburg disaster), Travis realizes (too late) that turkeys can't fly. This led to one of the great lines in television history from Carlson, “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”

And the fact that the director left the scene of turkeys bombing down on Cincinnatians to the imagination of the audience makes the scene that much more funny.

Not all episodes were that slapstick-y, there was another episode when the gang had to play a softball game against their rival station and the only one who was excited about it was baseball fan, Nessman. The problem was he stunk at the game partly due to his mother's constant harping of him having to practice the violin while the other kids played ball. With the station clinging to a one-run lead, the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Nessman is stuck in deep right field. Suddenly the viewer hears the crack of the bat and it's obvious that the ball is coming his way. As the ball is coming, Nessman is day dreaming of his mother's shrill tone imploring him to practice. Suddenly he notices the ball, puts his glove up and ... the show ends.

While the nerdy guy making the decisive play in a baseball game isn't new territory, the juxtaposition of Nessman's enthusiasm coupled with the reason for him being so bad was a different way of telling the story. That is another reason why the show worked well. It never really broke a lot of new ground in the way it was filmed and most of the plots and characters could be consider either cliché or done already, but the writers often took different routes to those “places”.

And no show about a radio station would be complete without some music, and “WKRP” had a fine lineup of the day's biggest artists. The problem is, due to licensing money, you can't hear them any more. According to Wikipedia, when the show went into syndication the original music from artists like the Rolling Stones, KISS and the Doors were too expensive to pay, so they would have a band record generic rock and replace the well-known songs. These generic replacements followed the episodes to DVD and while there may be some loss, it is mostly incidental.

While not the first ensemble comedy, “WKRP in Cincinnati” showed that America can support a show with a lot of characters and smart plots. A direct influence on another off-beat, ensemble comedy about the radio business, “Newsradio”, “WKRP” was also responsible for a number of unique characters bringing the biggest laughs.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

42. The White Shadow

It's sounds like a corny premise for a show: former NBA player forced to retire because of bad knees comes back to his old high school and finds that everything has changed since he left. The principal of the school happens to be his former roommate at Boston College and talks him into taking the job of basketball coach at the alma mater. One problem, the principal says, the kids are tough and times (and kids) are different.

It's a story that has been told a million times, “Welcome Back Kotter” is one example, but “The White Shadow” was so much more than a Kotter copy. Produced by Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth's father) and MTM productions (the same folks who brought you “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Rhoda”), this wasn't the basketball version of the insanely popular WBK. It was something much different, much more serious. For the first time a prime time, network show was centered around teenagers (black and Hispanic teens to me more precise) that didn't reduce the characters into caricatures. Each character was fleshed out and was given a true personality, one that didn't just see in strict black and whites—they understood that there were gray areas in life too.

Ken Howard plays the Shadow, Coach Ken Reeves, who uses a lot of old-school logic and toughness to whip the Carver High School basketball team into city champions. Set in South Central Los Angeles, it would have been easy for the writers to go the Kotter route and make the kids lovable goofballs who might be tough on the outside, but are really nice and sweet on the inside. Quick aside: for all of the Sweathogs' tough talk, when did the audience ever see these guys get into a fight? Are we to believe that the toughest kids in a Brooklyn school all worshipped at the altar of their teacher—himself a second-rate Groucho Marx? There have been a lot of stupid things foisted on the American public, but “Welcome Back Kotter” has to be one of the dumbest.

Instead of goony antics, over-the-top camera mugging and worn-out catchphrases, “The White Shadow” brought a gritty realness to prime time television and showed the viewers that a. modern teenagers don't live carefree lives and b. kids living in the ghetto are constantly bombarded with negative influences. From gangs to point shavings to drugs to high school prostitutes to even a member of the team getting gunned down in a liquor store before the city championship, if you were a Carver High graduate, you've pretty much seen the entire gambit of human misery. And it would've been easy for the writers to go the complete opposite way of the Kotter kids and make each episode a weekly “After School Special” about the danger du jour. They didn't do that either.

What made “The White Shadow” so perfect was that there was a nice combination between the serious and the funny. The team members constantly busted each others' balls, got together after games to party and had traverse the troubles of the classroom. In other words, it was about as close to real life as you were going to get in the late 1970s. And another important thing: the kids at Carver High actually looked like they could play basketball. Nothing takes a viewer out of a TV show than an actor trying to do something that he simply can't do. One of the worst parts of “Teen Wolf” was watching Michael J. Fox try and dribble a basketball without watching what he was doing. I could buy the lycanthropy, I can buy car surfing, I can even buy the whole town rallying around a werewolf, but I can't buy Fox playing hoop.

For former “high school heroes” or if you played sports at any level, one of the reasons why this show worked is because you might be able to see your team or members of your team in the Carver High bunch. Like I said before, nostalgia sells. But this wasn't to say that the squad was a big happy family, like most teams there were disagreements and some people didn't like other people for a variety of reason. Abner Goldstein, who was the only Jewish guy who played hoop and often felt ostracized from his teammates who were mostly black. The issue was eventually cleared up and most of the guys treated him as a teammate, but it wasn't a one and done event. I believe that his awkwardness around the team lasted most of the first season. There were a lot of racial aspects explored in the show, but mostly the racial stuff was either not talked about or was dealt with separate from the team—in one episode three players were held in suspicion of mugging an old lady, simply because they were black.

The one goofy portion of the show were the shower scenes. I'm not sure why the producers did this, but they decided to focus on the singing ability of the team. Worse than that, the “Shower of Power” (what the group was called) would often sing rock and R&B songs from the 1950s and early 60s. For a program that was built on the cornerstone of being “real” this was a transcendence into absurdity which never worked because of two reasons. One, most high school basketball players aren't singers and if they are, they aren't doing it in the shower. Two, if we buy the premise that these kids love to sing, they aren't going to sing a bunch of tunes that even the nerdiest of them would consider lame.

As the show progressed cast members left and were added, as the mainstays of Thorpe, Coolidge and Salami stayed constant. By far the team's best player, Coolidge was also the player Reeves was most close to and was seen to be the one where basketball was not just a game, but a life's occupation. However, in a brilliant piece of casting, Coolidge ends up on another MTM show—“St. Elsewhere” as an orderly.

Despite some players leaving for graduation, often times they would return to visit their coach and update him on what they were doing: Haywood worked for a law firm, Goldstein joined the Marines and Reese drove a cab while simultaneously pursuing his dream of becoming a singer. These little vignettes allowed the viewer to catch up cast members who left, which is something that most shows don't do. Once you leave the set, the character is usually forgotten for good. This was proof that the writers cared about their characters.

The show did well, but never caught fire like CBS intended it to and was cancelled after three seasons. For awhile it reran on Nick At Nite and ESPN Classic, but has since left the airwaves, which is a shame because while the basketball shorts are really short and no one posts up in Chuck Taylors anymore, well-crafted stories never go out of style.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Spring Training Thoughts

Here's a couple of thoughts that I've had during the only time that I wish I was in Florida:

+ Coco vs. Jacoby, who do you choose? Last year Jacoby Ellsbury came up to the bigs and made the most of his time. He hit for average (though no power), ran like crazy (though the Sox don't like to do that too much) and played a pretty good centerfield (thouhg not better than Coco Crisp). He played in 33 games, had 114 plate appearances (not including the playoffs) and posted these numbers: .353/.394/.509. Make no mistake about it, those are some terrific statistics, but he amassed them in essentially a month's worth of work. One has to wonder, was this just a fluky streak?

On the other hand, Crisp has posted back to back years of .264/.317/.385 in 105 games and .268/.330/.382 in 145 games, which are numbers much lower than anything he did in Cleveland. Though he does have sensational defense and probably should have won the Gold Glove this year. The numbers are pedestrian, but Crisp has maintained that he's been injured for the last two years. One has to wonder, is he serious?

If you're Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, what do you do? Do you trade the veteran and cross your fingers that the rookie does well? Do you keep the veteran and send the rookie back to AAA for more seasoning? Here's what we do know, Ellsbury isn't going to hit .350 for the entire year and he is going to go through a slump. But where is he going to level off at? .310? .290? .270? He's probably not going to hit for much power, but how many homeruns will he have? 10? 15? 20?

While he hasn't been the answer to Johnny Damon, Crisp has been consistent in Boston and you know what you have in him. Ellsbury is the wild card, he could be terrific, he could be Crisp, he could be worse. Depending on whether you're an optimist or a pessimist depends on who you keep. If you trade Crisp now, you're getting 50 cents on the dollar. Trading Ellsbury at his peek value, you're getting $1.50 on a dollar.

One thing not to consider is the fans' love of Ellsbury. There are some people who wouldn't trade him straight up for former Twin Johan Santana. These are the same fans who will boo the crap out of him if he's batting .197 for April.

+ Curt Schilling dishes it out, but he can't seem to take it. I am a media yenta; I care about the feuds between the press and the players. I find the behind-the-scenes dealings between the two factions fascinating, especially considering each camp (for the most part) can't stand one another. That's why the little slap fight between Schilling and Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy cracks me up.

On Sunday, Shaughnessy wrote a scathing column pretty much calling Schilling a lying fat ass when it came to his injury. Up until Monday, Schilling hasn't said anything about the injury to the press, but decides to give an impromptu press conference that morning, only he didn't invite anyone from the Globe. This is a complete BS move.

Shaughnessy probably wasn't going to cover the press conference, he's notorious for his hit-and-run style of writing a hatchet job and not showing his face in the clubhouse/locker room for weeks. The people which were going to be hurt by this snub are Sox beat writers Gordon Edes and Amelie Benjamin. I have no idea whether Benjamin or Edes have done anything to piss Schilling off other than have the gall to work at the same paper that Shaughnessy works at. Anyway, Edes was forced to write the story while watching the live feed from NESN.

Schilling routinely calls Shaughnessy CHB (which stands for Curly Haired Boyfriend, which is a nickname the great Carl Everett gave to him when he was flipping out on Edes one day) and has not hid his intense dislike for the writer. In his blogs and on message boards he's given Shaughnessy a tough time, and that's fine. I'm not defending Shank (another nickname), but if Schilling is going to rip Shaughnessy, he has to expect to get ripped back.

And taking his revenge out on his innocent colleagues isn't the way to settle the score. Schilling is one of the first people to admonish someone for painting all ballplayers with the same brush. He should listen to himself.

+ Pedro Martinez showed up at Mets camp with a gigantic smile and told everyone that he has been clean, steroid free and essentially that proves he's been the best pitcher of the generation.

I have to agree.

From 1997 through 2003, his highest ERA was 2.82. The league's minimum ERA was in the mid 4's. Take a peek at his numbers, they are eye-popping:

Pedro's Stats

Add in the fact that he's had to deal with Bunyon-esque sluggers, a tighter baseball and smaller ball parks and it can be argued that these seven seasons are the greatest seasons ever.

There was a lot of off-field baggage that came with Pedro Martinez, he was petulant and often felt that he was the target of an imagined snub or turned small differences into bigger molehills, but the Red Sox and Major League Baseball will never see a pitcher like Pedro Martinez ever again. His 1999 17 strikeout, one-hit (a homer by the immortal Chili Davis) game against the New York Yankees was the best and most dominant game that I've ever seen pitched.

As we get further and further from the steroid era, Pedro Martinez will get the proper accolades that he deserves and will one day be seen as the right-handed Dominican Sandy Kofax.

He was that good.

+ Andy Pettitte cheated, sort of came clean, then came “all the way” clean and is now a paragon of integrity. Roger Clemens cheated and lied about it and he's (to quote another infamous HGH abuser Debbie Clemens) “been treated worse than Hitler.”

What does that say about America? We're suckers for apologies and Roger Clemens is an idiot for not realizing this. I pretty much feel the same way that most of America feels, Clemens is a dirt bag who tried to throw everyone in the world (his wife, his mother, his best friend and his agents) under the bus in order to make himself look innocent. It's not working and if it wasn't such a disgusting act of cowardice, I'd almost feel sorry for the dumb Texan.

Aside from that, my take on this entire mess is that it sucks for baseball that the best hitter (Barry Bonds) and one of the best pitchers (Roger Clemens) were doped up. And it sucks more for baseball that their plan for fighting this was a two-pronged attack of ignoring the problem and then denying the problem existed. Once again, the fans (the real guardians of the game) are the ones who end up getting screwed in the end all in the name of greed.

The good news is that Bud Selig has recently signed a contract that will allow him to stay the commissioner of baseball through 2011. This is after he renegged on his promise that he was going to step down after his contract finishes up at the end of the 2008 season. Once a car salesman, always a car salesman.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

43. Action

This is going to be the shortest entry on a show that I'll be doing. The reason is not because I don't like the show “Action” because I do, it's because I don't remember much about the particulars of each episode. In fact, I was toying with taking it off the list but as I was researching the program yesterday, I started to remember that there were a lot of things that I liked about the show and how it has a strong influence on shows that I love now.

To begin with, this was another one of those “risky” FOX shows that makes FOX look awesome to TV geeks like me when they send out press releases about the new “daring” show that takes “a lot of risks” and is “edgy”. The ultimate problem with these types of shows is that FOX usually doesn't have the balls to stand behind it and face the inevitable low ratings or backlash from the flyover state viewers that don't particularly like or understand the program. And before I'm besieged with emails and comments telling me that I don't get the TV business, I do. Shows are only on television to get ratings which in turn make money for the network. Basically, they're the filler around all of the advertisements.

If a show flounders, you're finished. I understand that. It's just that FOX had to know that most of America wouldn't take to Peter Dragon at all. Dragon is the main character of “Action”, played by Jay Mohr who did his best job of acting for his whole career with this role. He's a slimy, douchey producer that got his start writing scripts for gay porn movies and may or may not be a homosexual himself. The second lead is a former child star who ends up with a major coke problem and is a high-class bisexual hooker—though she does have that heart of gold. By the way, Illeana Douglas is fantastic in this role too.

Forget the gay stuff, most Americans don't like to watch a show where the main character is a jerk and the other main character is a hooker with a drug problem.

Look at a show like “Big Brother”, know why it's not a gigantic hit here in the United States (unlike in Europe)? Because when it comes time to vote the cast members out, Americans always knock out the biggest asshole in the house. These people are usually the ones that you want to see on television, they're the ones who make the show interesting. The good people are the ones who make the show boring and flavorless. I firmly believe that if “The Sopranos” were on network TV, it wouldn't have lasted a season for this one reason.

But it's been ingrained in our heads since we able to watch television, you can not root for the bad guy. When Henry Hill introduces Jimmy to the audience in “Goodfellas” he said that “Jimmy is the type of guy who wants the bad guys to win in the movies.” For most, that's a gigantic character flaw.

So the main character is a jerk. That's one strike. The show is about the inner workings and the gross underbelly of Hollywood—a lot of the plots were taken almost verbatim from stories told to creator Chris Thompson and producer Joel Silver. Like I wrote about in my entry on “Grosse Pointe” many people don't care about the goings-on behind the Hollywood sign. They are simply not interested in seeing how the sausage is made. The show has to have some other kind of dynamic to hook the audience in, otherwise it's finished. “Action” didn't have another dynamic. That's strike two.

Strike three was its time slot: it was on Thursday nights after “Family Guy” at 9:30. Since the mid-80s, NBC has pretty much owned Thursday nights, so the audience that FOX was looking for: young, urban, up on pop culture was probably watching “Friends”, “Frasier”, “ER” and whatever garbage that NBC threw in between the three shows. Furthermore the lead-in to “Action” was “Family Guy”. Which is a decent show, but the same audience that watches “Family Guy” isn't going to appreciate “Action”. They are simply too different and appeal to vastly different audiences. And “Family Guy” wasn't the hit for FOX that it is now. It bounced all over the place and never won a strong audience until it was rerun on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Then it was brought back to FOX and turned into ratings gold. In 1999, it was just another “Simpsons” clone that never caught on.

After eight episodes shown over four months (FOX does another stupid thing by premiering their shows in September and then having an October hiatus for the World Series, it's a gigantic momentum killer) the show was out and “Action” bid adieu.

Here's the thing though, I think that “Action” had a bigger impact than most people give it credit for. Without this show, HBO's hit “Entourage” doesn't exist. Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold is essentially the agent's version of Peter Dragon only without the sexual confusion. He's loud, abrasive, obnoxious—he's a dick. But the good thing for Piven (and the crappy thing for Mohr) is that Piven is on HBO where they have a string of shows where the main character is a jerk. From “The Sopranos” (the aforementioned Tony Soprano) to “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (Larry David) to “The Wire” (Jimmy McNulty), none of these people are men that you'd like to see your daughter date. But, they are among the best created characters of the last 15 years.

The show also set the scene for some of “Arrested Developments” funniest gags as “Action” was among the first to have the characters curse, but the offensive word is bleeped out, though the audience understands the message being conveyed. And it was among the pioneers of uncomfortable humor that makes shows like “The Office” or “Ali G” work so well.

All 13 episodes of the show are available on a DVD set, and most times it can be found pretty cheaply. Do yourself a favor and watch one of the shows responsible for the genesis of the more edgy and uncomfortable brand of humor that shows up from time to time on network and cable TV. It's well worth your time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

44.Buffy the Vampire Slayer

For a movie that was essentially done to capitalize on the popularity of Luke Perry, the television version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” did pretty well for itself both ratings-wise and artistically. I'm not going to delve into the mythology of the show nor the debates about creator Joss Whedon being a genius because frankly, the people who endlessly debate those topics scare me more than any vampire ever did.

Here's what I liked about the show: the season story arcs were intricately done and were well-plotted out. Much like a show that aired on the UPN/CW after “Buffy” was gone (“Veronica Mars”), Whedon was able to keep a nine-month story going without getting bogged down in the episode-to-episode adventures. The main villain of the season (called the “Big Bad” by fans) was usually established in the first or second episode. During this time, Buffy or her buddies would also begin going through an adolescent upheaval that had nothing to do with the Big Bad, with both plots would closely mirroring each other.

At about the season's one-quarter post, the Big Bad would make him/herself known and the Buffy gang would have to begin coming up with a solution for getting Sunnydale back to “normal”. At midseason, the first solution wouldn't pan out, and they were back to square one often licking their wounds. By the final few weeks, the Big Bad would plan something drastic causing Buffy and her friends to get back on the horse and go hell-bent-for-leather (what a set of weird clichés I decided to use, by the way) to finally get rid of the Big Bad.

The trick for Whedon and his writers wasn't the overall story arc—if I had to guess that was probably the easiest part of the job—but how to keep the arc fresh in the minds of the viewers while it lurked in the background of the “day-to-day” events. I may be wrong, but I can't seem to remember many action shows doing that before Buffy, and if they did so, it was done poorly.

Another thing that Whedon did well is present his view that traversing through the high school years, and adolescence in general, can be pure hell for everyone. In this case he skipped the metaphor entirely and went for the subtle approach of putting the gates to hell on the grounds of the local high school. Despite every thing you may have seen up until the late 1990s, for many people high school sucked and the disenfranchised were finally getting their say with shows like this and “Freaks and Geeks”. Buffy wasn't particularly popular and aside from Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) none of her friends were either.

Speaking of which, from Carpenter to Alyson Hannigan (Willow) to Eliza Dushku (Faith) to Buffy herself (Sarah Michelle Gellar) the girls of Sunnydale High School were knockouts. In fact, despite the daily threats of vampires, werewolves or other supernatural entities; Sunnydale High School is the one place that I'd like to matriculate if given the choice. The WB knew what they were doing when they casted this crew. Though I have to admit that there is a lot of things that I bought on this show (vampires, witches, etc.) but Hanngian being cast as the “ugly” chick? I'm not so sure about that.

Like I said, I never immersed myself in the whole Buffy mythology, but for the most part, I felt that this was a tremendously fun show and a decent way to escape the real world every hour. Like most shows set in high school, it began to lose some steam once the gang graduated and they all attended college together (which was conveniently located in the same town) and the whole Buffy/Angel angle was played to death and then there were the few seasons where Buffy had a sister.

Seriously, that was pretty much the final straw for me.

There's a lot of things that I can deal with on a TV show (Phil Hartman being replaced by Jon Lovitz on “Newsradio” for one thing), but Cousin Olivering a show that really didn't need it, is not one of them. It seems as if the character of Dawn, the name of Buffy's sister, was added because they wanted to put a little spice back into the characters' lives. Which is fine, I can deal with that. But after the season where she was integral to the defeat of the Big Bad, Dawn became more of a nuisance to both the characters and the writers themselves. Unlike the other characters, she wasn't allowed to grow, she sort of hung around and tagged along—mostly because Buffy would remember that she had to care for her younger sister. When this happened the normal cliches occurred, “The vampire kidnapped Dawn, what do we do?” or “Everyone made it out of the volcano alive, we're so lucky! Wait a minute, where's Dawn? She's still back in there!” That's hacky, boring stuff.

But what made Dawn so bad is what made the rest of the show so good. All of the characters seemed to grow and mature at a normal rate. The only “regular” guy Xander went from uber-geek to a confident dude, who was dating Cordelia. Willow went from a timid nerd to a legit hottie witch. Even Buffy grew and changed through out the series run. Yes, change is a normal aspect of a character's growth, but the care that Whedon had while making his changes never felt forced or rushed. Anything that happened to one of them usually had a lasting consequence that weren't usually belabored, but often remembered and felt later.

Aside from some worn-out fashions, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” will probably still feel fresh when viewed in 10, 20 or even 30 years from now. High school is still going to suck, vampires are still going to scare and well-written stories with snappy dialogue will always have their place.

Friday, February 15, 2008

45.Magnum P.I.

Why “Magnum P.I.”? When a show can force you to blow off a half day of work in the “Biggest Little City in the World”, you know it's a good one.

This is how much interest I had in one of my previous jobs; I was at a convention in Reno, NV when I woke up in a hotel room and struggled to start the day. Whenever I'm on the road, I usually flip on the tube and keep it going for background noise. Normally I don't pay much attention to what's going on as it's usually the local news or SportsCenter, but for some reason the channel was tuned to A&E. As I was getting into the shower, I heard the familiar guitar strum of the “Magnum PI” opening theme. I jumped out of the bathroom, got back into bed, ordered some room service and watched two hours of “Magnum P.I.” while the conference went on without me.

In the 70s and 80s there were a lot of detective shows and most of them had some sort of twist: old lady solves crimes (“Murder She Wrote”), married couple solves crimes (“Hart to Hart”), homeless guy solves crimes (“Columbo”). But there was always the tried and true genre of: handsome-guy-solves-crimes. To the uninitiated, “Magnum P.I.” would seem to fall into that category, however that wouldn't be giving the show the credit that it so richly deserves.

For obvious reasons, this show was popular with women and it was popular with men with not so obvious reasons. Thomas Magnum (played by Tom Selleck) lived in Hawai'i on a unseen millionaire author's estate (the mysterious Robin Masters). Magnum had the life: he resided in paradise, only drove a Ferrari, hung around and worked with his buddies, drank a ton of beer, watched sports all day and bedded beautiful women. For most men, this would be heaven. The only drawback was the person he had to share the house with Higgins—but he was only a minor hindrance as Higgins was more bark than bite. The most compelling subplots of the show's run was whether Higgins was Robin Masters, and though hinted that this may be true it was never confirmed. *

* I love when television shows and movies do stuff like this. It's so much better to end a show with a couple of unanswered questions hanging over the audience's head. BTW, doesn't Higgins look like an absolute jerk in the above picture? Man, I could see why he drove Magnum nuts.

Each show was usually a self-containing adventure as Magnum would either be hired by a damsel in distress or stumble into a mystery. Like many detective shows, there would be the obvious red herring thrown into the first few minutes of the plot, followed by a twist, followed by a chase before finally finishing with the solution. More times than usual, Magnum figured out the mystery (it was his show, after all), but unlike other detective series there were episodes where Higgins or even Magnum's friends, TC and Rick would bust the perp.

For eight years the writers did a terrific job of crafting the backstory of Thomas Magnum as there were only rare episodes where on episode didn't fit the established time line of older episodes. This makes “Magnum PI” somewhat of a exception to many serial shows that run over five years—especially ones that were written before the 1990s.

In a number of programs that have long broadcasting lives, the original writers (who have the strongest sense of what the characters are about) normally leave the show for greener pastures after a few years. The ones that leave are replaced by writers who may not have the same grasp on the characters' background as the original writers had and begin to script shows that run counter to the established history of the main or ancillary characters. The tweaking of a character's past does not just occur with writers new to an established project, sometimes writers that have been writing about one character year after year grow bored or burnt out with the lives that they've created. To keep things fresh, they begin to reimagine their character's past which can contradict with what the audience knows to be true.

Both examples can cause audiences to turn away from shows in droves, normally with the same reason cited: the characters aren't familiar to me any more. Also these inconsistencies can simply confuse the audience, causing them to wonder if they are remembering events properly. There are a number of examples of this problem, with the most famous being the curious case of Chuck Cunningham. Cunningham was the older brother of Richie and Joanie on “Happy Davis” and for two seasons, three different actors (which is already confusing enough) played the role of Chuck. Then he was never seen again—written off by writers who felt he was superfluous. And they were right as the character of Fonzi became more popular, he began to dispense advice to Richie that could be seen as big brotherly. While this did not have a detrimental effect on the popularity of the show, Chuck—no matter who played him—was never instrumental to the program, though it did cause some confusion among “Happy Days” fans.

It should've been easy for the writers to make Magnum, a no-nonsense Remington Steele/James Bond-meets-Hawai'i type of character, serious in all respects. But they didn't, he was funny and self effacing in show dialogue and in the narration that accompanied most shows. He often found himself on the wrong end of pranks and household situations and this lent the character a degree of everyman. Most of can't relate to living in paradise, driving around in a Ferrari or always getting the most beautiful girl in the world. But most of us have day-to-day annoyances (such as Higgins) and simple things don't always work out the way we planned. That's why Magnum was so relatable.

Another reason was that while most of the plots came from Mystery 101, they never insulted the audience's intelligence. There were also a few serious episodes where Magnum was forced to deal with some of the horrors from his three tours of duty in Vietnam and the most famous episode was the main character was left to die in the middle of the ocean.

From the requisite Hawai'ian shirt to the Detroit Tigers baseball cap, “Magnum P.I.” was a terrific show that is worth missing a half day's work.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Not a lot of Cohesion

Aside from the Patriots loss in Super Bowl XLII (more on that later) there isn't a hell of a lot of big things going on right now in sports. There are a couple of small things and I'll try to touch them all in this odds-and-ends edition of 19 Thoughts.

+ Curt Schilling is out for at least half the year, maybe more. There have been some conflicting reports as to how long Schilling is going to be sitting on the bench. Some people (including Schilling and the Red Sox) say that he'll be back right after the All-Star break, while Schilling's own doctor thinks that he might be gone for the entire year. Either way you look at it, it's a blow to the Red Sox.

It's now up to the kids (Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz specifically) to anchor the back end of the staff, which may be a bit ahead of schedule. Josh Beckett should be his normal dominant self and after a year in the Major Leagues, I'm expecting Daisuke Matsuzaka to pitch lights-out this year. I assumed that Tim Wakefield was going to miss some time and that Buchholz would make a spot start or two after spending some time in AAA. However, this is going to change, barring a trade for a starter.

How will having two young pitchers in the rotation work for the Sox? Will Lester be on a strict pitch count (it's assumed that Buchholz will be)? Does Julian Tavarez make some appearances for the Red Sox, and if so will how awkward is it for Terry Francona since Tavarez was left off last year's postseason roster?

And when is Francona going to get his contract extended?

+ Speaking of questions: what the hell is up with these trades? After months of speculation Johan Santana was sent to the New York Mets for a quartet of prospects that were decent, but not great. Erik Bedard was sent from Baltimore to the Seattle Mariners, and the Orioles got centerfield prospect Adam Jones. The preeminent Seattle Mariners blog The USS Mariner feels that their team got royally screwed.

In the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers aquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for essentially Kwame Brown and a couple of draft picks. Not to be outdone, the Phoenix Suns traded Shawn Marion and the rotting corpse of Marcus Banks to the Miami Heat for the Big Aristotle himself, Shaquille O'Neal.

Two of these trades look like outright steals for one of the teams, one looks like it could be a steal and the other doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. The Mets and the Lakers made out very well for themselves, as New York didn't have to give up their best prospect in exchange for the best American League pitcher over the last five years and they didn't have to pay him as much as was expected. Imagine being fleeced by Omar Minaya. The Lakers gave up on a stiff and two low first-round picks for a guy that will work really well with Kobe Bryant. And when Andrew Bynum comes back, watch out for Los Angeles in a tough Western Conference.

I'm not sure that I completely agree with the USS Mariner, as I think that Bedard is a special pitcher and will do well in Safeco. However, I do agree with their assertion that the Mariners were not really an 88-win team last year. According to the runs scored/runs allowed metric, the M's scored a bunch less than their opponent. This means they were lucky to have won as many games as they did and probably should have won between 82 and 85. Getting Bedard for your top prospect to augment a .500 team is not a good idea, especially if Seattle regresses. Mariners GM Bill Bavasi better hope that Jones sucks, or he's going to be the Lou Gorman of the next century. This is a toss-up, especially if the Mariners don't sign Bedard to a long-term deal.

As for the Sun/Heat deal, it's a head scratcher. Phoenix loves to push the ball up the court. Shaq can't run any more. What style is going to shake out in the end? This could either be a brilliant trade that allows Amare Stoudemire to play his more natural power forward or this could completely destroy this team during the stretch run. Like Bavasi, GM Steve Kerr has a lot riding on this trade and news out of Phoenix was that Shaq was winded during his first practice. Of course, Shaq hasn't played in Miami in awhile because he's been injured. We'll have to wait and see.

+ The Patriots lost the Super Bowl. I'm not going to write too much about this because it's done and there's nothing that can be done about it. The New York Giants upset the Pats, despite giving New England at least five chances to win it at the end. You know the old adage, “Give a good team five chances on one final drive and it will come back to bite you in the ass.”

I'm not saying that the Giants suck. They played a perfect game and controlled the tempo while the Pats played like crap. They had no answers for the Giants' defensive line, for some reason the offense never really got going until two minutes left in the final quarter and I still have no idea why Coach Bill Belichick went for it on 4th and 13 instead of kicking a 48-yard field goal.

And looking on the bright side, the Patriots went to four Super Bowls within seven years and won three of them. That's pretty awesome. Look at the Minnesota Vikings or the Buffalo Bills, they went to the Super Bowl four times and came away empty handed. You think that those fans (especially the Bills, who are on the verge of losing their team to Toronto) wouldn't trade places with New England fans?

There's a thought that New England fans were being greedy but the thing that's so disappointing about this loss was that the Patriots blew a chance to make history. They blew a chance to get rid of the 1972 Dolphins forever—the most arrogant, pretentious collection of assholes ever. Do football fans have to wait another 35 years to see a team come close to perfection? By that time I'll be 68-years-old. Jesus. I'll just about be dead. My three-month old will be older than I am now. That's so damn depressing, I think that I might go drink a bottle of Jack Daniels.

+ The Bruins. Who cares about them? 68-years-old. Gah.

+ The New York papers are claiming that the Yankees are going to keep Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen, instead of turning him into a starter. In addition there is going to be a strict 140 inning count for the entire year. That's bad news for Red Sox fans, as long as there weren't any bugs around, Chamberlain was nasty last year. I thought that the Yankees were making a big mistake by putting him in the starting rotation. Seems as if they realized their mistake early. Or perhaps they have a deal cooking for a starting pitcher? C.C. Sabathia or Joe Blanton, maybe?

+ Well at least I'm not Roger Clemens. Tomorrow the seven-time Cy Young Award winner faces his toughest opponent ever, the United States government. He's getting dragged in front of Congress to testify under oath about his involvement with steroids. His former trainer, Brian McNamee was an instrumental part of the Mitchell Report, which fingered a bunch of current and former major leaguers as steroid abusers and cheats. Clemens was one of the players in that report.

Most of those named have come clean with some sort of lame excuse like, “I was just trying to get better after an injury” or “I only did it once”. However Clemens has been steadfast in holding his ground and says that McNamee is a lying liar who lies. From his awkward interview with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes” to his press conference where he played a tape of a phone call he had with McNamee that didn't prove anything, Clemens has gone out of his way to try and prove that this is all a gigantic falsehood.

The problem is, no one is believing him. Clemens' best buddy Andy Pettitte was named in the same report and has pretty much gone along with everything that McNamee has said. McNamee has old syringes, bloody gauze pads and other evidence that he claims is from Clemens. This could get real messy for the Clemens kin as McNamee even claims that he shot the Rocket's wife up with HGH before the two posed for a swimsuit picture for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.*

* Two things, one what could be more horrible than walking to the mailbox and getting the swimsuit issue and finding out that your mom is posing in it? That's a terrible image. And does anyone really care about the swimsuit issue any more? Isn't this just a relic from a more pedestrian past? If I want to see half-naked models there are a million places I can go. And if I want to see naked chicks, there's even more places to find them. Being naked or nearly nude does not care a stigma any more. For all of the talk that America is a conservative place now, the reality is; it isn't.

Whatever happens tomorrow, and there are whispers that if Clemens screws this up he can be going to jail for perjury, the court of public opinion has already rendered its opinion on him: guilty. And while I don't have a lot of love for Roger Clemens any more (give me an hour and I'll tell you why), he was the first baseball player that I idolized. I can remember getting his poster for Christmas after he his first great year—it was one of those old Sports Illustrated ones, with the clunky white borders, the san sarif type font, an action shot and that was it. So it is with a bit of melancholy that I'm going to watch him hang himself in front of the world.

Because as he's proved time and time again, Roger Clemens can pitch; he just can't speak.

Friday, February 08, 2008

46.Andy Richter Controls the Universe

It occurred to me that the problem with my last entry was that I spent way too much time focusing on why the show (“Grosse Pointe”) didn't work, rather than the purpose of the Blog: why a particular show works for me. After all, this is my Blog, my list on my favorite shows, who cares why it didn't work for the rest of the TV-watching world? (Jesus, that last sentence had more “my's” than a Johnny Gill song). That being said, at first blush, the title of this show, “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” could be considered among the worst titles ever imagined for a sitcom.

But look again.

Unless you were a fan of “Late Night with Conan O'Brien”, the name Andy Richter probably meant nothing to you. If you were a fan, you might have been saying to yourself, “Sure, Richter is funny, but he can't star in a television show, much less control the universe.” And that may have been the exact point the producer was trying to make about the show and life in general. Andy Richter (the character on the show has the same name as the actor) was just normal guys who worked from 9-5 at a place he didn't like because it paid the bills. Despite never realizing his dream of becoming a writer, Richter still controlled the universe in his mind. The show was sort of an updated version of the classic short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber.

The premise of the show was simple and a bit mundane: Richter got into a sticky mess and 30 minutes later he got out of it. Standard stuff.

But the genius wasn't how he got out of the mess per se, but like Mitty, it was the journey that he took to get out of the mess. Laced with dream sequences of how Andy really wanted things to go, talking to his company's 170-year-old (and dead) founder and using an omnipotent narrator (Richter) the show fooled with typical TV and story telling conventions. For example, the company's founder would often portray Andy's “bad” side and urge him to look at or solve problems in a less-than-PC way. Or Richter would dream of solving a problem in a most absurd or violent way, before ultimately deciding against it.

These solutions were often the funniest and more surreal bits of comedy on the show and despite an often absurd dream solution, grounded Richter as a nice guy who does the right thing.

ARCTU only ran for 19 episodes over two years and when the show originally aired, I vowed not to watch a second of it because it took the place of another favorite of mine, “Undeclared”. However, I broke down after the initial episode and found that it was both quirky and smart. Which meant that it was going to be cancelled soon. Fox pulled the show after a few weeks and aired it again as a mid-season replacement the following year before giving it the Old Yeller treatment at the end of the 2003 season.

Aside from Conan O'Brien, who guest starred in an episode late in the show's run, Fox never tried to use any sort of stunt casting that they would often do to spice up low-rated programs. For example, on the aforementioned “Undeclared” both Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell were key guest stars on different episodes and it was not an uncommon occurrence to see someone like Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron guest star on “Arrested Development”. This allowed for the cast and the writing to speak for itself. Unfortunately not a lot of people were listening.

As with the last show that I looked back on, Irene Molloy was the “hot one” in this show too. But unlike her character in “Grosse Pointe”, Molloy played a sweet, almost naïve girl who is the secretary that is new to the office. Andy is silently smitten with her, but she is unaware of his feelings as she is dating his best friend. Obviously this is vein that has been mined many times in many different sitcoms, however ARCTU put a new spin on it with some of the unconventional story telling methods listed above.

In spite of it's short run and relative obscure cast list, “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” was a fun, original television show. If you happen to catch the reruns or bump into the DVD (which hasn't been released yet—though there are rumors that say that it will be), do yourself a favor and watch it.

Richter is a terrific talent that was utilized well on the Conan O'Brien show and was excellent in his one appearance on “Arrested Development”, even his subsequent show “Andy Barker, PI” was decent too, though it lacked the originality of ARCTU. The problem isn't that he's a bad actor, he's great with the right roles, it may be that the public that knows him sees him a second banana (from his days on Conan) and the public that doesn't know him, don't find much in the way of his subtle comedy stylings. And that's a shame.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

47.Grosse Pointe

This entry is going to be about as long as the episode run of the series that I'm writing about: short. “Grosse Pointe” was a low-rated show on a little-watched network that started broadcasting in September 2000 and ended in February of 2001, lasting all of 17 episodes. If you're a fan of the show, you're a member of a small club that got to see a smart and subtle program that probably gave it's audience too much credit for their intelligence. The basic premise of the show was that it was centered on a group of actors who starred in a ripoff of “Beverly Hills 90210” and how they dealt with the Hollywood lifestyle and each other. Like “Entourage” or “30 Rock”, it was a show within a show.

Created by Darren Star, the guy behind “90210”, GP focused more on the behind-the-scenes stories that Star felt was way more interesting than anything that he was writing for 90210. You might remember that there was a little bit of controversy when this show first aired, as Star based one of the characters on Tori Spelling. Apparently, Aaron Spelling thought that this portrayal showed his daughter in a bad light (she was written as dumb as a post) and ordered Star to rewrite the character. Star complied and the Spelling character (named Marcy and played by Lindsay Sloan) turned out to be the defacto star of the show.

As an aside, I never bought into the hype and thought that Spelling was doing his old friend a favor by trying to get a little hype whipped up and it probably worked for an episode or two. The problem was any hype was short-lived and the ratings plummeted.

There were a multitude of reasons why this show failed. One was that the show wasn't clearly defined; is GP a drama? Is it a comedy? Is it both? This may have confused the WB core audience, which at the time were mostly teenage girls. During this time “Dawson's Creek” was a run away smash hit and “Seventh Heaven” was doing well for them too. Both of those shows were similar in their easy-to-follow story lines.

And how do you market a subtle satire aimed at a genre that they love? It would be like joining Sportscenter and ripping apart the sporting world while you were showing the highlights. Furthermore, the audience for teen dramas are teenagers. If you were going to make fun or show the behind-the-scenes action of a teen show how can you get people who don't like those programs to watch a program that is about them?

Despite these questions, the WB may have been emboldened with the modest success of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” which paired smart writing with good acting and thought that these two ideals will carry “Grosse Pointe”. I'm just making a broad assumption here, but with “Grosse Pointe”, the completely underrated cartoon “Mission Hill” (more on that show later) and the ironically titled “Popular” all launching around the same time, it seems to me that the WB gave their audience too much credit. All three had subtle plots that focused more on character development and wit rather than a bunch of pretty faces and recycled plots.

Also the problem with a BVS comparison is that Buffy has one defined genre: fantasy, that has a gigantic following. There is really no cross-over so that if you like fantasy-based shows, you watch Buffy; if you don't, you find something else. With a show like “Grosse Pointe” there was never a chance to grab the folks who like comedies or the people who like teen dramas because the former is too broad of a market and the latter is too narrow a market.

I enjoy shows that show the behind-the-scenes action of Hollywood, like “Entourage” or “30 Rock”, but this is a very narrow audience and those shows have something that “Grosse Pointe” didn't have: it never mixed messages and standout characters.

“Entourage” is a show about the movie business and Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold is a character that people talk about and want to watch. On “30 Rock” you're behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show. Previous to “30 Rock” the first time most of the public met Tina Fey, she was behind the news desk of “Saturday Night Live” and so it makes sense to all that she would be on a fake sketch show. Plus Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan who are among the best characters in prime time today. There were none of these things on “Grosse Pointe”, because while the characters were terrific, they weren't particularly memorable.

That's ok. As I alluded to earlier, it was well written and the cast did a good job of getting into their roles. The two standouts were Sloan and Irene Molloy who played the Shannen Doherty character with great aplomb. Since “90210” was a guilty pleasure, it was fun to watch “Grosse Pointe” and which characters were the doppelgangers of their 90210 counterparts. One of the funnier running jokes (and Star insists that this was a joke) was that character based on 90210 patriarch Jim Walsh was secretly gay and wanted his “son”.

While this isn't a top echelon show, it was a decent take on the behind the scenes shenanigans at a television show. Whether the mistakes of “Gross Pointe” completely shape the aforementioned hits of “Entourage” and “30 Rock”, I'm not sure. But I do think that it was a help. If you ever come across the DVDs in a cut out bin or see the show on reruns, give it a try. It's worth a few hours of your time.

Friday, February 01, 2008

48. Head of the Class

Edit: I think that making fun of a decade's fashion faux pas are about the hackiest thing one could do, but this picture is just awesome.

I purposely stayed away from 1980s sitcoms for one simple, reason: they mostly suck. It's a hard fact to grasp, especially if you grew up during that time and you revolved your TV-watching schedules around Arnold Jackson, Webster Long, Ricky Straton and Blair Warner like I did. But the truth is, if you get the opportunity to check these shows out now, there's really not much in terms of plot or laughs.

Actually the laugh track could be one of the worst inventions ever created for television. Why do you need canned laughter to let you know what's funny? Shouldn't this be a discovery you make on your own? Have you ever watched a show without a laugh track with people who depend on a laugh track? Whenever something hilarious happens they look around and wait to be prompted to guffaw. This is one of my least favorite inventions.

For example, on “Diff'rent Strokes” the entire show is one long build up to Arnold (Gary Coleman) busting out his catch phrase, “Watchotalkinbout Willis?” Each episode was so formulaic that oftentimes logic took a vacation in order to wrap the show up in 30 minutes. The writing is stilted, the acting is often wooden and there is no real substance at all.

One show was different and that was “Head of the Class” starring a post “WKRP in Cincinnati” Howard Hessman. Though he played a former hippie in this show as well, his character was a different beast than the iconic Dr. Johnny Fever. While Fever was the ultimate FM DJ, Hessman's Mr. Moore was the best teacher that a student could wish to have.

What made HotC different from its sitcom brothers and sisters? It's hard to say, because a lot of times the episodes were formulaic and the students were straight out of central casting (the fat one, the uber nerdy one, the conservative, the foreigner, the hippie, the artsy one, the bad ass, the precocious kid genius, the black one and the nice one—who was also black). However, there was a certain intelligence to the show that you weren't going to find on “Who's the Boss?”—and if that isn't the definition of a back handed compliment, then nothing is. None the less, it's true. The show didn't always take the easy way out, there are times where the main characters actually didn't succeed.

The writers also didn't always go for the simple joke or the “funniest” pun. Despite being archtypes, most of the show's jokes were based on the characters' different personalities. With ten students in the class, some characters were more developed than others, but I often thought that development was based on the actor rather than the character.

For example, Arvid was probably the most popular character because of the way he looked and acted. The guy who played him (Dan Frischman) never portrayed him as a “Revenge of the Nerds” type nerd; which would've been easy as the movie had just been released two years prior to this show and was fresh in the collective conscious of the American public. Frischman chose to portray him as a smart guy who happened to be different in his looks and his interests. In the world of the 1980s sitcom, that is “Hamlet”-like depth.

Most of the show's plots reflected the dichotomy that is the high school jungle: the kids who made up the cast of HotC were the brightest of the school (their class was the Independent Honors Program or IHP), yet they were perceived by their classmates as losers. Most of the student body never took them seriously and the class was either mocked or held in contempt. The class worked and studied hard because they had nothing else going for them. That is until Hessman's character, Charlie Moore began teaching them.

Originally a substitute teacher, Moore was only supposed to be in the class for a few days and move on with his life. For some reason, he took a liking to the class and began teaching them about the other side of history—the stuff that you can't find in books. He also made them try new things and to expand their horizons outside of the library. The kids learned a lot and to the dismay of the vice principal (Dr. Samuels, who saw this group of kids as a learning machine) Moore was named the permanent history teacher for the Honors program.

This is the most basic template for most high school-related television shows; teacher shows the kids something that they never know, kids learn something other than school work and teacher learns something too. The fact is, it's a template because it works. With “Head of the Class” there was a Jeter-like intangible that made this show better than all those other shows like “Welcome Back Kotter”.

Kotter was a loud and obnoxious show that was filled with lies and hammy actors all mugging for the camera. HotC had a sense of sincerity and it wasn't loud or relied on cheap jokes and catch phrases to get laugh. To the 12-year-old, it seemed like it could've been shot in any number of high school. “Head of the Class” was more honest than anything that I was watching on television at that point in my life.

Even when I was eight, I knew that “Diff'rent Strokes” and “Silver Spoons” were bullshit shows. They were enjoyable bullshit shows, but there was no way that any of the plots could happen. On HotC, there was a possibility that most of the plots were built around a kernel of truth. I wanted to know that there are teachers in the world who really care about their students and high school is filled maladjusted social retards looking to break out of their shells.

At least that's what I was hoping for.

At the time this show was popular, I was in the midst of three years in hell—otherwise known as junior high school. None of my teachers were as interested in their students' lives as Mr. Moore was (it was more of adversarial relationship—or at the very least a I-won't-bother-you-if-you-don't-bother-me truce) and being in the “smart classes” I had an affinity for what the students went through, especially because I felt I was a maladjusted, social retard. “Head of the Class” provided some sort of faint hope that going to high school was going to be a different ball game than being stuck in junior high without any hope for parole.

And while Amesbury High School wasn't anything like Millard Fillmore High School, it was a better place than Amesbury Middle School.