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Letterman Late NIght bumper 2

by Robert Hornak

“It’s a late night world…”

To acknowledge the importance of NBC’s Late Night with David Letterman is to counter the propulsively simple engine of the show. Nobody wants to declare with seriousness that a man in an outfit made of Alka Seltzer being lowered into a huge vat of water, or wearing a suit of Rice Krispies and getting dunked into a giant bowl of milk is groundbreaking television. Indeed it wasn’t groundbreaking, as Steve Allen (an early Letterman hero) had done similar stunts, like dressing as a “human tea bag” and a “human kite”, as far back as his iteration of The Tonight Show in the mid-’50s, at that time just called Tonight. Even earlier than that, acts like Martin & Lewis on the Colgate Comedy Hour of the early ’50s were trading heavily in a parody of the medium and doing very Lettermany things like calling attention to bad writing right in the middle of a bit and fourth-gearing poorly-received material and real-time staging snafus for the benefit of a savvy live audience.

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Dino Risi’s 1962 “Il Sorpasso”

by Sam Juliano

R.I.P horror film legend Tobe Hooper passed away on Saturday at age 74.  His terrifying Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of the most influential films ever made, and Poltergeist has likewise earned his classic status.  The last few months has been sadly tough on horror icons

Labor Day is only one week into the future, so the summer respites being enjoyed are reaching their conclusion.  Weather-wise it doesn’t seem like autumn is close at hand, but at this time of the year anything can change fast.  Halloween decorations and back-to-school displays are all the rage.  Interesting films are beginning to show up at the art houses, and serious film buffs are beginning to take note of the films they think will be in the running for year-end awards.  But this may be jumping the gun as we have four culturally rich months ahead, that we need to nurture not rush.

As to the ongoing Top 80 Television Countdown, all is going extraordinarily well.  Solid essays, active comment threads, impressive page view totals point to a successful project as we approach the final 30 leading up to the late September unveiling of the Top 5.  Plans have been finalized for Part 2, which is even more massive than the one we doing at present.  Additions have been made numerous times, and the currect number is 141 shows for Part 2, meaning a grand total of 221 when the currently-running 80 is added on.  The tentative starting date for the second part will be around December 21, and it will run everyday until sometime around May 9th or 10th.  To say it the most massive and auspicious project in the history of the site would be an understatement.  As always, ace writer Jim Clark has been and will continue to post his great essays every third week.

Writing and viewing for the Television Countdown has prevented me from seeing more films in theaters, but I am determined to reverse that this coming week.  My son Danny, a friend Tony Lucibello and I did attend a great double feature of Italian black and white masterpieces at the Film Forum – Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso and Mario Monicelli’s The Passionate Thief in gorgeous restored prints: (more…)

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32. Frasier (1993-2004)

Frasier1

By Patricia Perry

As Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all mailman from Cheers might say: “Here’s a little-known fact:” Kelsey’s Grammer’s Frasier Crane enjoyed the longest unbroken run of any comedic character in television history – a full two decades, to be exact. Expand that distinction to include all genres, and only Marshall Matthew Dillon (portrayed by James Arness on the very long-running Gunsmoke) can match Grammer’s impressive longevity.

It would have been hard to see that run coming based on Grammer’s first appearance on Cheers in 1984. (And here, I’m going to assume that readers are already familiar with that series.) In the Season 3 opener, Frasier was mostly seen in the background and around the edges of the barroom scenes. He’d easily be mistaken for an extra until the final few minutes where he’s revealed to be a psychiatrist brought in by former waitress, Diane Chambers, to help Sam overcome a drinking problem.  He’s also revealed to be Diane’s new beau.

Frasier Crane was meant to be a temporary character, appearing for only a few episodes  to stir up some jealous rivalry between Sam and Diane.  But the producers loved Grammer and kept his character around for all of the third season – and then for the entire remaining run of the series. After Diane left him at the altar, Frasier became a fixture at the titular tavern, eventually meeting and falling for a frosty fellow psychiatrist, Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth). If you look at Grammer’s first season on Cheers, you can understand why he became an integral part of the show’s illustrious history. Both Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers and Grammer’s Frasier Crane were pompous and pretentious, meant to be fish-out-of-water amid the lowbrow bonhomie of the Cheers bar. But where Long’s fussy, mannered performance always kept her palpably aloof her from the rest of the cast,  Grammer projected a more sympathetic, vulnerable, quality – even while blathering away about Freud and Jung.  It’s instructive that the gang at the bar take a liking to Frasier fairly quickly and even laugh at most of his jokes. He fits comfortably into that estimable comic ensemble almost from the get-go.

When Cheers ended in 1993, the creative team of David Lee, David Angell and Peter Casey originally conceived an entirely different show for Grammer, in which he would play a paraplegic billionaire with a sharp-witted live-in nurse. When that idea didn’t pan out, they determined to do a spin-off show for the Frasier Crane character, but with significant changes to differentiate it from Cheers.  To start, Frasier and Lilith were understood to have divorced off-screen, with Lilith retaining custody of their son. The setting was moved from Boston to the character’s hometown of Seattle. For local flavor, the series established a coffeehouse – Café Nervosa, typical of the burgeoning  gourmet coffee scene in Seattle  – as the characters’ gathering place. And the idea of having Dr. Crane working in private practice was rejected as being too similar to the beloved Bob Newhart Show, so Frasier was given a radio call-in show to host instead. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The 2017-2018 school year is just two weeks from commencement, and those of us in the profession are wondering where all the time has gone.  It only seemed like yesterday when we were cleaning out our offices and desks and preparing for a protracted summer season, but in the end the eternal lament about time disappearing is again ruling the roost.  In any event we must face reality and and face the coming autumn season, which for me anyway is the most exciting time of the year in a cultural sense.

The Greatest Television Top 80 Countdown Part 1 has been moving forward successfully, and by all barometer of measurement has been an artistic and statistical smash.  As always the writers and those joining in the comment sections derserve all the credit, but to those registering likes and propeling the page view totals, I extend our deepest gratitude.  We have now officially eclipsed the half-way point, what with today’s posting of Allan’s review of the British documentary masterpiece Civilisation, which has checked in at Number 38.  The project will continue until late September, when the Number 1 essay, courtesy of Robert Hornak will be published.  But the excitement and artistic prowess will hardly conclude, as our much more grandiose Part 2, which will showcase the television works that finished from Numbers 81 through 218 is coming.  That much longer part will begin on Tuesday, December 24  and conclude on Thursday May 10th. (no post on Christmas Day).  Needless to say this massive consideration of television, to the staggering tune of 217 works (arthouse, aspiring arthouse, cult and guilty pleasures, brining together classic sitcoms, fantasy/science fiction/horror, contemporary masterpieces, British landmarks and documentaries and foreign language milestones is easily the most auspicious undertaking in the history of Wonders in the Dark, and what with your ertswhile curator set to turn 63 years old this month (the 26th for those wishing to send me imaginary bouquets) it will be the final enterprise of this magnitude at these hallowed halls.  This Top 218 (the off-kilter number total was reached by way of incessant additions, arrived at by repeated return to the point totals) is meant to set this enterprise aside from others.  Where pray tell can anyone find another Top 218 Greatest Television Shows on-line or anywhere else?  Ha!  And enough revisions have been made to make anyone dizzy, though by simply moving up the proceedings a bit in January, this obssessive pursuit was made possible.  I can only imagine what my friend Pierre de Plume is thinking now?! (more…)

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by David Schleicher

“A Soapy Game”

Can we all just finally admit that the mass appeal of HBO’s on-going (and seemingly never-ending) Game of Thrones (itself an adaptation of massive tomes still unfinished by the merry fantasy maker George R. R. Martin – none of which, I have to tell you, have I ever, nor ever intend to read, for fear they would bore me to death in their dense-fantasy-laden length) is that it’s a cliff-hanging soap opera on steroids? As such, for all its faults and glories, it’s just a drug…it’s addicting…we need to see…who dies next, who is sleeping with who, how can they shock us now, who will win that damned Iron Throne?

Is there anything more basic…more of “television” as a serialized-story-delivering medium than that feverish compulsion to want to tune in next week to see what’s next? This stuff was made for TV! And the fact that it brings to the table cinematic production values of a feature film combined with the bawdy appeal of adult entertainment (with as many nubile unclothed bodies as there are dead ones)…well, heck, that’s just the bloody icing on the cake that we all gorge from!

Being naturally skeptical of anything medieval-fantasy-tinged, I was a reluctant watcher of the premier episode (what seems like decades ago now). But it was just stylish and intriguing enough to hold my interest…  and then, they got me! At the end of the first episode, the young boy, Brandon Stark, I was made to believe to be one of the main characters and they had so endeared to us (aww look at ‘im holding them little wolves, and look at ‘im climbing those walls to get a peek at…oh, what the hell?!), gets shoved out a window! WOW! This show had balls! Had I read the source material I would’ve known, as so many people instantly spoiled on lit-up internet message boards and social media which has grown in its power over the people in parallel to this show custom-made for social media hype, that kid would live to see another day (and apparently, the future and the past, as well as be able to worg into the minds of animals and dimwitted large people…you know, typical magical paraplegic stuff).

To this day, while I’ve both grumbled and been in awe of every manipulatively placed shock and plot twist over the years, I’m still hopelessly hooked. Even as the shocks get bigger and bolder each year (the Red Wedding! Cersei blowing up the Sept!) it’s that initial shock from that first season and that first devilishly deceptive little twist that still sticks with me most. We all loved watching Joffrey get poisoned, while his former bride-to-be Margery Tyrell biting the dust literally brought down the house (our poor dear sweet Margery!). We marvel at young Ayra’s capacity for revenge as much as we do the wheeling-and-dealing of Tyrion, Varys and Baelish. Meanwhile, Cersei’s ability to survive (and at the start of this season, at least, sit atop the throne), and Daenrys’s ability to cover ground on her march over land and sea (along with her dragons) to reclaim that very throne are as Shakespearian as they are monumentally mythically annoying. But nothing really tops that kid getting shoved out a window.

Between every season (that seems like an endless thousand-year winter) I naturally forget most of what happened only to be re-hyped by the time they finally deliver the new episodes for us to grumble over, debate, decry, praise, rejoice, spoil and be shocked by yet again.

It’s like that “dun dun, DUN-DUN DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN DUN-DUN, dun-dun dun-dun-dun-dun,” theme from Ramin Djawadi is the trigger at the start of each episode to work us up into salivating addicts looking to get that fix.

But it all does seem to be building to something, like the action is taking place on a massive chessboard across Westeros leading to that inevitable (but still yet to be seen) check mate. And that hope that the epic Fire & Ice showdown and ultimate crowning of a winner in this Game will eventually happen is what sustains us through the pain of having to sit through so much dirt and blood, fantasy nonsense, over-ripe political maneuvering, questionable performances, Samwell Tarly (seriously, the worst character ever) and soap. Winter finally came at the end of last season…it had been coming forever. But eventually, this to, shall end (apparently after this seventh season and then the eighth). And if that end delivers the epic showdown we’ve all been waiting for (along with some requisite twists and shocks), Game of Thrones will have earned its rightful spot in the grand pantheon of greatest serialized epics.

GAME OF THRONES

(USA/UK HBO 2011-2018) DVD/Blu-Ray

p. David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, George R. R. Martin, Guymon Cassidy, Frank Doelger, Vince Gerardis, Christopher Newman, Greg Spence, Carolyn Strauss, Oliver Butler, Bernadette Caulfield, Lisa McAttackney, Annick Wolkan, Erika Milutin, Bryan Cogman, Alan Frier, Snorri Porrison, Ralph Vicinanza   d. Alan Taylor, David nutter, Alex graves, Mark Mylod, Jeremy Podeswa, Daniel Minihan, Alik Sakharov, Michelle Mclaren, Miquel Sapochnik, Brian Kirk, Tim Van Patten, Neil Marshall, David Petrarca, Michael Slovis, Jack Bender, Daniel Sackheim, Matt Shakman   w. David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, George R. R. Martin, Bryan Cogman, David Hill, Vanessa Taylor, Jane Epenson  developed for TV. David Benioff, D. B. Weiss  ed. Katie Weiland, Frances Parker, Crispin Green, Tim Porter   ph. Anette Haellmigk, Jonathan Freeman, Robert McLachlan   m. Ramin Djawadi   art. Philip Elton, Paul Ghirardani, Hauke Richter

Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen, Lena Heady (Cersei Lannister), Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Isaac Hempstead Wright (Brandon Stark), Aiden Gillen (Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish), Conleth Hill (Varys), Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), Jerome Flynn (Bronn), Rory McCann (Sandor “The Hound” Clegane), Julian Glover (Grand Maester Pycelle), Carice Van Houten (Melisandre), Jacob Anderson (Greyworm), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark), Hannah Murray (Gilly), Kristian Nairn (Hodor), Richard Madden (Robb Stark), Finn Jones (Loras Tyrell), Iwan Rheon (Ramsey Snow-Bolton), Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton), Natalia Teena (Osha), Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed), Donald Sumpter (Maester Luwin), Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy), Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand), James Cosmo) Jeor Mormont), Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon), Thomas Brodie Sangster (Jojen Reed), Kerry Ingram (Shireen Baratheon)Paul Kaye (Thoros of Myre), Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon), Will Tudor (Olyvar), Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen), Kate Dickie (Lysa Arron), Pilou Asbaek (Euron Greyjoy), Bella Ramsay (Bella Mormont), Tom Wlaschiha (Jagen H’ghar), Dean-Charles Chapman (Tommen Baratheon), Joe Dempsie (Gendry), Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane), Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne), Ben Crompton (Eddison Tollett), Richard Dormer (Berric Dondarrion)

With guests:

Sean Bean (Ned Stark), Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister), Diana Rigg (Ollenna Tyrell), Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Jonathan Pryce (The High Sparrow), Peter Vaughan (Maester Amon), Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo), David Bradley (Walder Frey), Ciaran Hinds (Mance Rayder), Jim Broadbent (Archmaester Ebrose), Mark Gattis (Tycho Nestoris), Ian McShane (Septon Ray) and Max Von Sydow (The Three-Eyed Raven)

 

 

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by Sam Juliano

Our nine day trip to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, which also included a few trips over the state border to Myrtle Beach SC is now over, though Lucille is with her Florida cousins who picked her up by car on our day of deprature to escort her down to Atlantic Beach, a part of Jacksonville.  She will be taking a flight to Newark on this coming Wednesday, and we’ll all be there to greet her.  Though our trip included much more rain than we’d have liked it was still loads of fun.

The Top 80 Television Countdown resumed on Saturday with Marilyn Ferdinand’s essay on The Bob Newhart Show.  It will run unabated till late September.  Thanks to all who have made it the monster hit it is. (more…)

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He was a towering figure in music, a country singer extraordinaire whose music inspired generations.  A lifelong fan, my favorite by him is Jimmy Webb’s love ballad “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” which Sinatra considered “the best torch song ever written”, but not even Sinatra himself could touch Campbell with the song for a number of reasons.  Brian Wilson thought he had the greatest tenor voice, and in country music he was a titan.  He outsold the Beatles in 1968, but there are so many other incredible statistics connected to his work.  Though ailing for years with Alzheimer’s it was still such a shock to hear the news today.  R.I.P Glen, a bonafide, venerated superstar.

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