Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why do books change?

In my long (long LONG long) stint as a book reviewer, I reviewed well over 300 titles for the likes of the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Stampede and Victoria's Secret. When I got to the end of it, I was so tired I wanted to die.

"Don't you miss reviewing?" a former cohort (I've forgotten his name now) asked me. "Miss who?" I said.

A lot of people don't "get" reviewing. They ask if I just send in reviews of things I like (even if they came out ten years ago). Others, quite a few in fact, do not even know what I mean by a "review" and ask me to explain it, as if I had just told them I am a geophysicist.

But when you write for a publication, you don't get to read things you like. I was either handed a book, with a deadline, or presented with three or four books and allowed to choose one or two (a great concession, my editors believed). If these were not read, reviewed and published within two weeks, they'd be "killed" because they were already too stale and irrelevant. The kill fee amounted to ten per cent of the normal, paltry amount. Take it or leave it.

It became a mill. It really did. I've re-read some of them (just now, in fact) and I was surprised to find my reviews are generally quite well-written and cover the material to a depth I didn't expect. But I didn't get into this to write badly, did I? (When a writer says anything remotely positive about her own work, she is immediately branded a "narcissist"). 

And I remember how I sweated over these, and how they nearly ruined my unbridled joy in reading.

But a funny thing happened on the way to retirement.

The books changed.

Some of them changed so much that when I revisited some of my favourites, I couldn't get through them. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, one of my top-forever titles, fizzled out on page 36. I'm sorry, Junot Diaz, it just did. I had raved about it to "whoever", the Edmonton Journal I think. I don't know what happened to it, but something did.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt similarly fell like a failed souffle. Have I become a lot more critical in my literary dotage, or what?

And then there's food critic Ruth Reichl's memoir Comfort Me with Apples. I almost raved about it way-back-when, but now I find the story of her rise from waitress to editor of Gourmet Magazine almost tedious, not to mention full of purple prose. She doesn't just taste food; it "explodes" in her mouth. She tastes a cayenne-laced soup: "My head flew off." She goes to Paris, and "I felt as if I had all of France in my mouth".

First time around, that was OK. This time it's beyond lavender: it's deep purple, and as we all know, purple isn't good writing. It's writing that calls attention to itself.

When did these books change?

Movies, too. Few of my early favorites hold up. Midnight Cowboy makes me want to commit suicide. Easy Rider? Blecccchh. Even some of my beloved old black-and-white faves have gotten a bit tattered around the edges. Though I keep watching Now, Voyager whenever it comes on Turner ClassicsI wonder honestly if I "like" it any more, particularly now that I fully realize what a total bastard Jerry is, keeping Charlotte on the hook like that in perpetual spinsterhood while he has a girl in every port. Too "noble" to divorce his wife? Not bloody likely!

Some classics do hold up, but does that say something about me, or the movies? Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is still a guilty pleasure: watching Bette Davis savagely kick Joan Crawford's head in or serve her a rat for lunch still sends shivers of delight down my sadistic spine. When it comes on TCM about once a month, I always get lassooed by Gone with the Wind, whether I want to or not, and basically it's pretty sound in its storytelling, though except for that incredible "I'll never be hungry again" scene (which never fails to make me weep), the acting is mostly workmanlike. Everyone looks so good, even in the throes of antebellum famine, that they all manage to get by (and Hattie McDaniel is the glue holding the whole glorious mess together).

I've seen Taxi Driver innumerable times, and its queasy-making portrait of a sociopath's evolution from antisocial jerk to lionized murderer is gripping: but I mainly watch it for that incredible Bernard Hermann score. The first time I heard it, I kept getting goosebumps on my arms. It was just so unexpected. Those harp-glisses were like having acid thrown in your face. I still come back to it, step into the trap, knowing I am in for a disturbing time and not wanting to get away from it.

I've tried to figure it out. No doubt some movies just become dated. I've really tried, I mean it, to like Charlie Chaplin, and I don't, I just don't. I still adore Harold Lloyd, but with his nerdy Everyman persona (which he nails like no one else, making comics like Woody Allen possible) he somehow stays contemporary, even fresh. Chaplin is a dustbin character, shambling around with a cane, his eyes too made-up to be convincing. In fact, his Little Tramp persona is more creepy than loveable. 

It took three or four tries for me to watch The Great Dictator all the way through (though I think I did make it through Modern Times, enjoying the automatic eating machine). I only broke through after seeing a superb documentary by Kevin Brownlow (and Kevin Brownlow was THE ONLY person who was nice to me through the whole wretched, soul-destroying process of trying to get The Glass Character noticed). It was called The Tramp and the Dictator, and I am sure it far surpasses the original movie which had the usual overblown quality of the Chaplin talkies.

But then I gave it one more chance, and at some point - maybe where Jack Oakie as Mussolini began to rant and rave in faux Italian - I began to laugh. Had the movie changed? I didn't exactly cry by the end, but I was moved. Maybe you've heard the speech at the end, a plea for mercy and sanity in the midst of a global meltdown. The speech is sentimental and antiquated to the point of being almost laughable - but not quite.

Now that I sit here, however, I realize something both surprising and not-surprising: Charlie Chaplin was the first silent film star I ever saw. There was a half-hour Charlie Chaplin TV show on Friday nights when I was ten. Just enough time for a couple of his early two-reelers. The kids at school actually talked about this show, though it was on the same night as The Addams Family. That must have meant something.

When books change, when movies change, they often seem to change for the worse - unless, rarely, like The Great Dictator, they redeem themselves. And actors. It happens to them, too. Robert Redford was just a pretty face (granted, pretty gorgeous) until I recently saw him in something called The Candidate. The way he conveyed cynicism hiding behind an ingratiating mask, the way that cynicism retreated and the mask ultimately became who he was - it was, if not masterful, then extremely subtle and worth watching. He gave himself to the character and then disappeared.

Is it possible some of these movies get better on television? The big screen maybe pumps up some actors to the point of explosion. If they're too histrionic to begin with - Chaplin? But Lloyd works either way, and so does Keaton with his more mechanistic, emotionally shut-down style. (Keaton, by the way, was the second silent film star I really spent time with. Once again, it was Kevin Brownlow who opened the door for me with his superb documentary, A Tough Act to Follow. Would it be an exaggeration to say Kevin IS silent film history, living and breathing and walking around? No, I don't think so.)

I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it! Or I hope I am: what all this says about me. Me, yes, the person sitting here eating Greek yogurt with apricot preserves, crushed walnuts, and fresh blueberries, which explode in my mouth. The secret is not to chop the nuts but to crush them in your fingers: it somehow presses out the oil and makes them tastier. But I digress.

The cliched way of looking at it is, "Well, now you've grown up and matured and your taste in books/films is different." Is this why my precious all-time favourite novel, Margaret Laurence's The Diviners, now seems almost trite, or (much worse) gimmicky? I first read it in 1973, when I was 19 years old and just getting married. (Yes.) But it isn't just that. Maybe I've gone sour on some stuff. Maybe I AM more critical. I shone the spotlight on too many titles, and it got too bright, glaring. Did I lose the ability to truly enjoy a book?

I wonder, I wonder.

I just re-read Keith Maillard's The Clarinet Polka, another book I reviewed years ago, and kept thinking, "How does he do that?" The character was an alcoholic who treated women shabbily, and there was no way he could be called likeable. Yet we liked him. It's just that he wanted something better. He had this shining, idealistic crush on a girl so young he had to wait three years even to make a move on her - then he married her! Shouldn't we have groaned? Well, I did, but I still liked him, and her, and (needless to say) the novel.

But the point of fiction isn't to make us "like" characters, or even (necessarily) identify when them. We must see something real in them, something that rings true and human. A novel could be about Hitler, and I'd want to read it and give it a good review IF the author provided a convincing portrait. Chaplin leaves me cold (or cold-ish: when I finally got through The Great Dictator on about the fifth try, I said to myself, "I'm glad I watched it all at last"), but that's because he isn't real. Surrealism is great, but it has to hit closer to home. The sight of Mr. Everyman struggling to hold on to the hands of a clock 30 stories up still feels real to us. His terror feels real. So does his desire to please, which embarrasses us a little bit, because that's like us, too.

Doris Lessing once said (and I bailed on re-reading my former favorite Love, Again when it, too, went and changed on me) "a real book reads you". What we choose to step into, spend our time with, is certainly revealing. As the clock ticks away in my own life, I realize a lot of people my age are dying because they are considered "elderly". If I spend time reading a book, I am giving my time to it. Which means I am NOT giving my time to other things, like eating, sleeping, dancing, or playing on a swing. It's an introverted thing, isn't it? Movies aren't much better. Though I have no qualms about singing along with "Springtime for Hitler" for the twenty-seventh time, I wonder why, sometimes, I try to force myself to give up two hours of my life, one hundred and twenty minutes I can never have back, for something that isn't likely to make me happy. 

And sometimes, I admit, it is a kind of selling out. Come on, Margaret. Everyone raves about this movie! Like it, won't you? Or at least watch it. Then I watch it, feel dull and drained afterwards, and realize - or maybe I'm realizing just this minute - that the time I spent on it is gone and behind me and is two hours crossed off the total hours of my life. Whatever that total might be.

POST-POST. In looking around for images to illustrate this post, I wanted to try to convey the idea that memories change as our minds slip and slide and try to come to terms with "what was". 

When I tried to google terms that might bring up something interesting, I got one thing, and one thing only (though with many sappy backgrounds):




I honestly thought there would be some acknowledgement that "memory" is a slippery concept at best, a malleable thing, and that how we remember things changes with maturity and experience and shifting perception and even the time-altered, gradual slowing down of the brain.

But no.

Nowhere could I find any of that. Just sappy memes telling us (and who is "us" exactly?) to "never regret the past, because you can't change it! You can only change the future."

But you can't do that either. Can you?

Why don't people get it, or am I the crazy one (as I have often been told)? For no doubt, most of these people are far more successful in the eyes of the world than I. I guess total lack of imagination is a big help. Their imagination was sucked out of them by the school system, after which they breathed a great sigh of relief and got on with the business of exploiting as many people as possible.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

It's cartoon time! The crazy world of Hieronymus Bosch

Galloping into oblivion

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster

Puget Sound, near the city of Tacoma, Washington, USA

November 7, 1940


The original Tacoma Narrows Bridge was known as "Galloping Gertie" because of its rolling, undulating behavior. It had a length of 5,939 feet (1,980 metres approx) and was opened to traffic on July 1, 1940 linking Tacoma and Gig Harbor by road.

The bridge was an unusually light design, and, as engineers discovered, peculiarly sensitive to high winds. Rather than resist them, as most modern bridges do, the Tacoma Narrows tended to sway and vibrate. This progressively worsened due to harmonic phenomena.

Four months after the opening of this bridge, there was a 42-mile-per-hour (70+km/h) wind storm around the bridge area on November 7, 1940. The wind caused the bridge to sway violently from side to side, and it finally tore the bridge apart. This incident happened because of the structure of the bridge itself which caught the wind instead of let the wind pass through. The combined force of the winds and internal stress was too great for the bridge, and it self-destructed.

No one was killed, as the bridge had been closed because of previous swaying. This is one of the best-known and most closely studied engineering failures, thanks in large part to the film and photographs that were taken to record the collapse.

The Tacoma Narrows has to rate as my all-time-favorite bridge collapse. Certainly, none has been more spectacular. That sucker just snapped like a twig, went down like a pile of kindling. It's possible to find immensely long and boring web sites devoted strictly to the reasons why this happened. We won't go there, because I have ideas of my own. It's my blog, and I'll surmise if I want to.

The original design for a standard, four-square, virtually-indestructible bridge was just too expensive. America had not yet entered the war, but it was getting close, and things like steel and whatever-else-they-make-bridges-out-of were expensive as they rode out the end of the Depression. Then someone stepped forward (Moisseiff, I think his name was - anyway, his name was mud after this) who claimed to be able to build it at a fraction of the cost.

Bad idea.

It maddens me that this is never mentioned as a reason for the bridge's collapse. It's always some sort of fancy laws-of-physics thing that goes on for pages and pages. Often one web site contradicts another, humiliating the person who wrote the competing theory as an idiot and a know-nothing. All part of the fun of the bridge-building world, I guess. Or perhaps it's the mean-spiritedness of physicists everywhere. 

But this bridge was only 39 feet wide! By bridge standards, it was a skipping rope. While it was being built, the men working on it were laying bets as to how long it would last. Most said less than six months.

Those guys were right.

Even as they worked on it, the span heaved and bucked, a feature which made it extremely popular after it opened. People came from all over the country just to ride the rollercoaster, which had become known as Galloping Gertie. And still, in a profound state of denial, the city kept the thing open, perhaps realizing what a boon it was for touristry.

It was sheer dumb luck that no one was killed (except for poor Tubby, a black cocker spaniel trapped in a car).  A few people had to run for their lives however, and barely made it. So why did it collapse? This thing was put together with spit. They should have known better! Never mind torsion and flutter and resonant frequencies. This thing was a piece of shit! They built it on the cheap, and look what happened. Though I can't find the account, I remember reading that after the disaster there was a huge war of words in the newspaper about "whose fault it was". The designer of the bridge never lived it down, but the worst abuse was saved for an engineer who tried to warn everyone during the building of the bridge, insisting and insisting it would never hold. Why was he abused? Because he didn't stop it? Because he tried to stop it? I think it was because he embarrassed everyone by being right.

Something similar happened with Challenger. The guy who had sounded the warning about the O-rings was a pariah for the rest of his career. Everyone hated him for being right. The nerve of that guy! It was just a random accident, wasn't it? It couldn't be helped. So what if he was right! He should have either stopped the disaster or (better yet) kept his mouth shut. Either way, didn't he cause it just by thinking it was possible?

Post-notes. My favorite gif is the guy running for his life as the bridge literally collapses behind him. It's one of the more nightmarish things I've ever seen. Reminds me of something out of a Popeye cartoon, where Popeye gallops along as a flimsy bridge falls away behind his footsteps. The "newsreel" isn't really a newsreel, though I am not sure who put it together. The music on the soundtrack sounds as if it was salvaged from an old Western. As devastating as the collapse was, this guy attempts to whip us into a frenzy over it. He talks about people running for their lives when they're merely walking away. One wonders why they aren't just standing there gawking, but this was a different era; people didn't feel the need to capture everything on video (or anything, for that matter - no one had movie cameras except professionals, and who could take a still picture of this thing?). One account spoke of the sickening noise this thing made as it twisted back and forth, grinding and screeching. If you've ever taken a wire and bent it back and forth a lot of times, first it gets hot, then it breaks in two. To me, that encompasses all the physics I can handle in one day.

An excerpt from Catastrophe to Triumph: Bridges of the Tacoma Narrows by Richard  S. Hobbs (who also composed an identical web site meant for student use, so I can quote whatever I like, see).

By 11:00 a.m. the extreme twisting waves of the roadway, magnified by the aerodynamic effect of wind on the sides of the bridge, began to rip the span. Huge chunks of concrete broke off "like popcorn" (in the words of one witness) and fell into the chilly waters far below. Massive steel girders twisted like rubber. Bolts sheered and flew into the wind. Six light poles on the east end broke off like matchsticks. Steel suspender cables snapped with a sound like gun shots, flying into the air "like fishing lines," as Farquharson said.

The strange sounds of the bridge's writhing filled the air. When the tie-down cables failed, the side spans began to work the main cables back and forth. The movement shifted the steel covers where the cables entered the anchorage, producing a metallic shrieking wail. By now, several hundred bystanders stood on the eastern shore of the Narrows. From the bluff, a workman on a pile driver repeatedly tooted his whistle to try to warn the approaching Coast Guard cutter, Atlanta, which passed under the bridge. The shrill whistle blasts mixed with the howl of gusting winds and the grinding and screeching of metal and concrete. The wild noises gave onlookers a sense of dread and impending calamity.

At 11:02, a 600-foot long section of roadway in the eastern half of the center span (the "Gig Harbor quarter point") of the heaving bridge broke free. With a thunderous roar, the massive section wrenched from its cables in a cloud of concrete dust, flipped over, and plummeted 195 feet into Puget Sound. A mighty geyser of foam and spray shot upward over 100 feet. Great sparks from shorting electric wires flew into the air.

Farquharson ran from the East Tower toward the Toll Plaza, covering the 1,100 feet of the side span length as fast as his legs could carry him. He followed the centerline, where he knew there was least motion. Twice, the roadway dropped 60 feet, faster than gravity, then bounced upward, finally settling into a 30-foot deep sag. Just in front of him Howard Clifford ran, fell, and scrambled up the roadway.

Successive deck sections rapidly fell out toward each tower.Coatsworth's car and Tubby followed the plunging roadway into the wind-swept Narrows.

By 11:10 a.m. it was over. The cold waters churned, eddied, and swirled. The heart of Galloping Gertie sank beneath whitecaps, coming to rest on the bottom of Puget Sound.

By this time, hundreds of cars bumper-to-bumper were driving to the bridge, making their way west on 6th Avenue from Tacoma and clogging side streets.

The most spectacular failure in bridge engineering history was over. The world's third largest suspension bridge, the latest and most advanced in its sleek design, was a twisted tangle of steel and broken concrete.


And this, which I'd call "why didn't they close the sucker before it opened?":

Even in a light breeze, the Narrows Bridge moved. Suspension bridges are supposed to move. But, this was different.

The roadway sometimes "bounced" or "rippled" in a wind of 3 or 4 miles per hour. Often, several waves of 2 to 3 feet (and on a few occasions up to 5 feet) would move from one end of the center span the other. There seemed to be no correlation between the wind speed and the size of the waves. Sometimes the span would "bounce" for a few moments then stop. Other times, the waves lasted for 6 or even 8 hours.

Thrill-seekers drove to the Narrows from miles around when the ripples started. Some motorists became "seasick" and avoided using the bridge. But, for adventurous spirits the bridge became an amusement ride. Drivers crossing the span at times saw a car in front of them suddenly disappear into the trough of a wave. Moments later it reappeared as the roadway rose. According to one report, a couple of times drivers experienced waves 10 feet high.

What was that motion? In the first weeks after the bridge opened, the newspapers referred to its movement as "the bounce" or "the ripple." Here are other terms used to describe the movement, used by a variety of locals, engineers, and other observers:
up and down
crests and troughs
peaks and valleys
rising and falling
like a roller coaster
vertical oscillation
vertical flexibility

How did she get her name? Only later, in the autumn of 1940 about the time of the collapse, did the nickname "Galloping Gertie" make it into the newspapers.

I am never linear, don't know how to be, so things leap into my head after the fact. This jumped into my head when I thought of the sea-serpentine heaves of the Tacoma bridge. Ribbon candy. It was disgusting stuff, but we had to pretend to like it, or at least tolerate it. We went to the Kiwanis Club Christmas party every year, we had no choice in the matter, and had an insipid turkey dinner (identical round grey slices of processed turkey with grey mush underneath them, purported to be dressing) which always began with a little glass dish of fruit cocktail. Then there would be a magician, a very bad one. Then - Christmas carols? I think not. THEN, finally, what we had come for: Santa. I don't think we had to sit on his knee - and really, can you think of anything worse for a small child than sitting on the knee of a complete stranger, not just any stranger but an old man who looks like a goon with a huge beard and a frightening booming way of talking? Or that muttering whiskery "tell me what you'd like, little girl" way of talking, which is even worse. Anyway, for enduring Santa without a shrieking fit we'd get a Christmas stocking that was made out of some kind  of netting, like the type you buy for your dog. In it were a few things, candy canes for sure, but I also remember a bag of nuts in the shell (nuts were always in the shell back then - shelled nuts were considered obscene). And pink or white almonds encased in a sort of creamy candy, "sugared almonds" they were called. And - hard candy, a big cellophane bag of hard candy which I hated. Humbugs. Square brown things all indented, like pillows with buttons in them. And the dreaded "horehound" (hound from hell!). And worst of all, ribbon candy.

Ribbon candy looked like - to me, it looked like a train wreck. It looked like the Loch Ness Monster. It looked like Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent.  It looked like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge before it collapsed, when it was "sound" and merely heaved up and down to a height/depth of ten feet! Did anyone eat this stuff? I tried to eat it. The ribbon candy was either pepperminty (I never liked peppermint candy and nearly fell over the first time I tasted a cinnamon candy cane), or horehoundy, that awful medicinal taste, worse than cough drops (which I sort of liked but which gave you a sore throat if you ate too many). The only thing I can compare it to is Pepsin Life Savers, which I don't think are made any more. Pepsin comes out of the stomach of a cow or something, and tastes like it. It has a sort of cigar ash/cemetary/Grandma's-old-trunk-that-used-to-store-dead-bodies taste.

So why all these tales from the crypt? I don't know, I'm tired, it's sort of late and things seem a bit pointless right now.

Ribbon candy. Do NOT DIY.

Applications (from Wikipedia)

Commercial pepsin is extracted from the glandular layer of hog stomachs. It is a component of rennet used to curdle milk during the manufacture of cheese. Pepsin is used for a variety of applications in food manufacturing: to modify and provide whipping qualities to soy protein and gelatin, to modify vegetable proteins for use in nondairy snack items, to make precooked cereals into instant hot cereals,and to prepare animal and vegetable protein hydrolysates for use in flavoring foods and beverages. It is used in the leather industry to remove hair and residual tissue from hides and in the recovery of silver from discarded photographic films by digesting the gelatin layer that holds the silver. Pepsin was historically an additive of Beemans gum brand chewing gum by Dr. Edward E. Beeman. It also gave name to Pepsi-Cola, originally formulated with pepsin and kola nuts.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Logomania: or, the eagle bites the bolt

Ancient TV logos are a happy obsession of mine, though some would say there are no happy obsessions (but there are, Blanche, there ARE!). I collect them as gifs, because, let's face it, the soundtracks to these things are never that stimulating. The only exception is the original NBC In Living Color peacock from the late '50s, which had the most doom-y sounding music behind it. I was only four, and I was terrified of it and would run and hide as soon as I saw that peacock.

These are two similar (but not identical) ABC logos from the early '50s. ABC was always the third runner-up in the network sweepstakes. I think it's still that way now.

These strike me as a little strange.  They feature apertures which open, and I guess it's supposed to look like a camera lens. To me, it's like a doorknob that says ABC on it, but what do I know of technology?

And yet, it's NBC which became so famous for its zoom-in "eye" logo with - yes, an aperture that opens! And then it closes again. It's creepy, is what it is, but all the best TV logos are creepy.

It does make you wonder, however, who got there first.

This may seem like a still picture - but look closely, and it isn't. It's quivering and jumping up and down ever so slightly. This is what I love about old technology - the way everything trembles (trembles, trembles). It's one of the simpler versions of an early '50s ABC logo featuring an eagle with lightning in its beak.

This is a more sophisticated, animated version of the same logo. But it still looks awfully militaristic. I was probably scared of this, too, when I was four. The poor framing and flickering are things I prize, and the expanding star is slightly explosive. Early TV ads often featured that same lunging-at-the-viewer effect, with the names of products jumping off the label to fill the whole screen. This was a visual ambush which no one was used to, so it may have intimidated people into buying the product.

While this one may look the same, it isn't. Note how filthy the screen is, with somebody's hair stuck at the top of the frame (and also at the bottom, for a second). These are the kinds of logos that make me turn cartwheels of joy. If you're old like me, you'll remember the sound that went along with these extremely scratchy bits of film. It's very hard to describe, but it's the auditory equivalent of all that scratchiness and quivering hair. My brother and I used to try to imitate it by going "Phhhhhhhhhhhh!"

This is a weirdie, and I have no idea who it is. Someone's face appears in the middle of the star! I don't know who this is, and if I didn't know better I'd say it was from the primitive universe of the Dumont Network. It has a Dumonty feel to it. But no, it isn't, it has to be ABC.

But this one is Simply The Best. The lightning-bolt lights up dramatically as it seems to spear through the eagle's beak, and the eagle is illuminated in a big dramatic sweep from below. And oh that scratchy stuff, it's in abundance here! It's likely on an old film that has taken a beating over the decades, so it's doubtful it would look this bad when it was first broadcast. But you never know. I particularly love kinescopes of old shows that had their credits written on a piece of cardboard that was manually dragged across the screen.

Watch at your own risk! I can hardly describe this music, with its dark and doomy gong-sound followed by menacing upward glissandos of low woodwinds, then (under a voice which seems to be announcing the end of the world as we know it) a few bars of a creepily dissonant, almost gamelan-like theme that might have been used for the entrance of a bloodthirsty emperor who ate little girls like me for breakfast.

The visuals are, however, stunning, far more dramatic than any other incarnation of the NBC peacock, which has now been reduced to a sad, flat thing resembling a vinyl tile in someone's bathroom. The bathroom of someone with no taste. But I love this, it's a piece of art,  which is why I use it as one of my "signature" gifs at the bottom of the post. (That IS why I do it. Didn't you realize? It's a way to call attention to the link to my Amazon Author Page, which - I won't say nobody looks at it, because frankly I don't know. But every once in a while, I do.)


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Beyond awful: two more shitcoms that never should have existed

This is the only epsisode of Heil Honey I'm Home ever aired. No one knows how many were made. The rest were buried in a concrete bunker, or set on fire, or ran away to Argentina. It was a sort of I Married Adolf thing that reeked of bad. The disclaimer at the beginning insists this was a great work of art and tragically misunderstood. I am not against Hitler parody. I kind of like SOME of the Downfall parodies, though somebody decided to beat it to death and it's no longer funny. Mel Brooks took it to sublime heights in The Producers, one of my all-time favorite movies which I still laugh at after watching it at least 27 times. But this. . .

This is Hitler as Archie Bunker. I bailed partway through. And you will, too!

And this is Woops.When I heard about the idea for this show, I groaned but disbelieved it. This was during the height or depth of the nuclear panic in the mid-1980s, and everything teetered on the point of a pin as Reagan's doddering finger fumbled around for the button. He probably thought he was ringing for the nurse. Meanwhile, I just dismissed it as somebody's sick idea of a prank.

And then. . .

Anyway, Woops (strangely misspelled)  is a comedy about the last survivors of a global nuclear war. To get a more accurate picture, watch The Day After, Testament, or Threads. Anyone involved with this appalling, jaw-dropping crime against humanity should be tied to a chair and forced to watch Threads in its entirely. I coudn't. I was sobbing too much.

Some things, believe it or not, just ain't funny. The end of civilization? Hitler in a sitcom? Television, get your head out of your ass.

Shit stew: the lows and lows of '70s TV

It's dead-summer, like dead-sure or deadbeat. So here's something lightly borrowed from ME-TV, which steals everything (with link right at the top!). If I only paste a link, no one will read it.

So what was I doing from 1977-1978? Gaaaaaah. I had two babies! I had my first baby in 1975, and my second baby in 1977. I was 21 and 23 years old respectively, and had never held a baby, let alone taken care of one. For the most part, I was alone, as my husband frequently travelled. I had no friends to speak of, and no family support. I don't know how I made it. I think everyone thought I'd go under from postpartum depression, but I didn't. If I had spaced my two children out more, it would have been much more enjoyable (or less stressful), but that's what happened, Shannon (the "baby", now nearing 40) was in a hurry to get here.

TV? I don't even remember! At some point I became addicted to Upstairs Downstairs, though when I recently attempted to watch some of them on YouTube, they seemed dreadfully mannered and even dull. For an awful interval, I watched Another World, but refused to get into it and become One of Those Women.  I do remember a few of these clinkers however. Sanford Arms, Man from Atlantis, Operation Petticoat. . . no one really had time to get attached to them.

MASH came along about that time, didn't it? And the first season of MASH was utterly horrible: trite, silly, completely unrealistic and a travesty of the quirky, legendary movie. And it went on to be, not just classic, but landmark. So what happened? It had really good people in it, better than their material; and as the show wore on, the material got better and the two elements melded. Groundbreaking TV comedy-drama was the result. (And my favorite character was Charles Winchester, the one nobody liked, because he could act rings around everyone else. His character evolved to a greater depth than any of the others, which is no mean feat when you're playing someone unlikeable.)

Would any of these shows have made it if they'd been given the chance to evolve? They wouldn't have been classics or legends or anything like that. Mulligan's Stew ran for six episodes - stew, indeed - SHIT stew!! The dog one reminds me of that Tom Hanks movie with the disgusting dog in it - I don't want to look it up, and as with 90% of things now, I don't remember the name of it.

I couldn't remember: Minions; Pikachu; and Pusheen. I got the first syllable of Minions, but it came out Minchkins. It's awful.

(Oh. Six episodes of Mulliganw's Stew were made. They didn't say how many were shown. I used to relish the unsold pilots that were inexplicably aired back then. I mean - why? Most of them were appalling, but then there's the failed pilot for Star Trek that was retooled, recast and became another TV touchstone. The same thing happened with Mr. Ed. The horse was the same, but not Wilbur.)


Half of the television schedule, scrapped. By May 15, 1978, a whopping 45 of 96 shows had made the canceled list — and more cancelations were on the horizon. The casualties were reported in a syndicated news story that proclaimed, "TV's Worst Season Slowly Nearing an End." The TV listings were littered with sitcom corpses and dud dramas. Even celebrity vehicles like The Betty White Show, The Ted Knight Show and The Richard Pryor Show failed at the start.

ABC was sitting pretty with the top three shows on television — Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days and Three's Company — neatly bunched together on a blockbuster Tuesday night. With Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Soap, ABC could also claim some of the hottest new series. CHiPs and The Incredible Hulk clicked for CBS. But elsewhere, the debuts fizzled at an alarming rate.

Looking over the list of premieres from the 1977-78 season, it's a real Who's Who of "Huh?" Here are 13 unlucky busts. Did you watch any of them?


NBC quickly called a mulligan on this shank, the lowest rated new show of the season. Lawrence Pressman, perhaps best known as the boss doctor on Doogie Howser, M.D., played the patriarch of a very Eight Is Enough–ish family. Just six episodes were produced.

Image: CBS Television Distribution


Jack Webb was a TV giant, bringing pioneering realism to police and rescue procedurals like Dragnet, Adam-12 and Emergency! However, the K-9 unit would prove to be his Achilles heel. Mark Harmon, who had also featured in the backdoor pilot for an Emergency! spin-off titled "905-Wild," starred alongside a cute Labrador retriever named Sam. Six episodes were produced, the last of which contained the final screen appearance of Vivian Vance.

Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution / markharmonfanwiki


Not long ago, we asked, "Do you remember the show San Pedro Beach Bums?" You answered with a resounding, "No." We can't blame you. The SoCal "bums" were an assorted handful of Sweathog-like characters — the tough guys, the ladies' man, the dweeb, etc. They were named Stuf, Dancer, Moose, Buddy and Boychick.

Top image: ABC / sitcomsonline


With Quark, Buck Henry looked to do to Star Trek and Star Wars what Get Smart did to the spy genre. (Mel Brooks would have far more success with Spaceballs.) The madcap adventures of a space garbageman, the sitcom featured sexy twins, a plant man, a disembodied head and a transgender engineer.

Image: Columbia Pictures Television


It's just like Sanford and Son! But without Sanford. And the son. Both Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson were nowhere to be found, as an old Army buddy of Fred Sanford takes over the property and runs a boarding house.

Image: Sony Pictures Television


It's hunky Patrick Duffy! As (not technically) Aquaman. Actually, the undersea hero was closer to Namor, the Marvel legend. Marvel published seven issues of a Man from Atlantis comic, which almost matched the 13 episodes aired. Duffy did have a nice butterfly kick, though.

Image: Warner Bros. Television Distribution


The educational computer game The Oregon Trail began to become a familiar school presence in 1974. What most children of the era will remember about the game is the familiar fate of "You have died of dysentery." That could explain why just six episodes of this Western aired on NBC. Or it could be because audiences had fallen out of love with Westerns.

Image: NBC / Universal Television


Further evidence that the era of the television Western had ended was this CBS flop, which only managed to air a meager four episodes. Rugged Renaissance man and karate black belt Rick Moses played the titular pioneer.

Image: 20th Century Fox Television


Imagine Dallas set on a tropical island. Perhaps people were expecting more Hawaii Five-O.

Image: MGM Worldwide Television


Patrick McGoohan was famously known as the Prisoner, but he truly felt trapped in this medical drama. "A disaster ... the most miserable job I've ever done in my life ... a total frustration from start to finish," the actor later reflected.

Image: CBS Television Distribution


The spin-off from the 1976 sci-fi film roped in D. C. Fontana and other vetern Star Trekwriters, yet schedule changes lost any potential audience. The show's failure forced the Mego toy company to cancel plans for Logan's Run action figures.

Image: MGM Television


Operation Petticoat was a hit comedy film in 1959 for Tony Curtis and Cary Grant, andPetticoat Junction was one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1960s. However, this was 1977, and the market was not hungry for more petticoats nor WWII humor. John Astin headlined, adding more nostalgic flair, while Tony's daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, offered a blood link to the original.

Image: ABC


Beverly Archer, who would go on to play neighbor Iola Boylen on Mama's Family, starred in this sitcom about a working couple. Other TV vets such as Tom Poston and Joan Van Ark could not compensate for plots like "Stuart tries to become a professional magician."

Image: MTM Enterprises / CBS