This article debuted in February on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were doing bad stuff.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was that rarest of things — a high quality tv show that actually made money, consistently and over a lengthy span of time. Seven seasons went by and figureheads could brag that “TNG” remained “extremely profitable.” They knew the ride couldn’t last forever, though, so the series concluded and the characters graduated to feature films. There was little wait for the “Trek” devoted; as soon as the masterpiece series finale “All Good Things…” wrapped production “TNG” began work on its theatrical debut, Star Trek: Generations. The movie was released just six months after “All Good Things…” aired in 1994.
Generations didn’t need any gimmicks tying it to the previous dynasty of Trek cinema, but they insisted on two big ones anyway. The film begins 78 years in the past where we witness the death of Captain James T. Kirk as he heroically rescues the Enterprise-B from a mysterious and lethal anomaly. That same anomaly, known in universe as the Nexus, brings Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard together at the end of Generations. Together they must thwart an evil scientist named Saron who is trying to bend the Nexus to his whims at the expense of several nearby planets.
It’s explained that if a person manages to get inside the Nexus it will allow them to experience their dream life. That’s what Saron wants, and Picard, whose emotions are brittle in Generations following personal tragedy, will eventually find himself seduced by what the realm might provide. This has all the makings of a classic Star Trek, and a lot of it is quite entertaining, but Generations has trouble striking the right cinematic tone. Like an oversized coat, some of it fits and some of it is lost to exaggeration.
Director David Carson had never helmed a feature film prior to Generations and he only made a handful afterwards. Yes, the scale gets away from him at times and the movie’s lighting is periodically insane, but Carson deserves credit where it’s due. He gives Klingon antagonists the Duras sisters a compelling sendoff. That sequence is perfect and will make you holler whatever the Klingon word is for “oh snap!”
So what does William Shatner’s rug look like in Star Trek: Generations? It’s pretty good. A fine rug to wear the day you die. And through all that running around and all those fisticuffs, it never slips once, boldly staying where real hair used to grow before.
Cinematographer László Kovács purposely shot the original Ghostbusters like a drama, avoiding the bright tones that usually signal comedy, so every element would feel credible. This is why the movie’s frights are so frightening and why so many people today view Ghostbusters not as a comedy but as a supernatural adventure with a handful of jokes.
The marketing for forthcoming third chapter Ghostbusters: Afterlife is playing to that crowd by emphasizing a solemn cadence. A new trailer debuted last week that reiterates the narrative threads we’ve been given about wayward teenagers slowly unearthing the truth about what is now an unspoken legend of yore, the Ghostbusters. It’s very Force Awakens. Well, why not? The Force Awakens made $2 billion worldwide in 2015, revitalizing Star Wars after a generation in the weeds. Not a bad template to copy.
Whatever Ghostbusters: Afterlife actually is (laugh riot? creep show? rural youth dramedy with paranormal elements?) the commercials make it look interesting. I’d like to see it. My enthusiasm is tempered by the fact Afterlife has become an avatar for our impatience with COVID.
Experts were saying pretty early on that even in the best of circumstances the pandemic might last until 2025. Everyone else wanted to measure this crisis in monthly increments. Afterlife’s release has been delayed three times in the past year and a half. The filmmakers insist it must be experienced on the big screen. Of course; a strictly theatrical release generates the most profit. Will life “return to normal” by November? Skimming headlines about the Delta variant and all the children who are getting sick now because half the country still believes wearing a mask and getting vaccinated is a matter of personal liberty, I’d say no.
Maybe if everything had shut down last year until our daily COVID infection and death rates dropped down to zero, we would have seen Ghostbusters: Afterlife already. Can you imagine a world where we’re already intimately familiar with Muncher?
Well, here’s some news.
Lyons Press has contracted me to write a book about the long, storied history of the Ghostbusters films. All of ’em — the old ones, the new ones, the ones they never even made. It probably won’t be published until 2021. Friends of the blog know I tried to get this off the ground a few years ago. The fact that it’s a reality now…well, my back teeth are swimming in excitement. I can’t wait for everyone to read it.
Speaking of junk you can read, I do a zine now about bizarre tv. It’s called Idiot Time and you can subscribe for the low low price of just two dollars a month at patreon.com/idiot_time. Seven issues so far. The most recent is a tribute to Ted Knight. Hi, guy.
Also, I live in Texas now. The grocery stores are enormous.
– Hulu recently added “Perfect Strangers” to its streaming stable; my first question after spinning the episode wheel for about a week straight is, since Bronson Pinchot’s Balki is just a sanitized version of the brief but memorable role he plays in Beverly Hills Cop, do you think “Perfect Strangers” ever tried to get Eddie Murphy to make a guest appearance? Also, do you think anyone from Beverly Hills Cop chagrins Bronson Pinchot for spinning this character into television, even though legend tells us Pinchot himself improvised it while filming Beverly Hills Cop? Do you think they ever asked Judge Reinhold to be on “Perfect Strangers?”
– the chemistry between Pinchot’s affable, earnest Balki and Mark Linn-Baker’s cynical, beleaguered Cousin Larry is often utterly crackerjack; when the writing plays to their strengths the laughs flow like water and you can see how this goddamn thing ran for eight seasons; this is probably how “Perfect Strangers” survived so many supporting cast hiccups (the actress who plays Twinkacetti’s wife in the first two seasons returns in the third as an unrelated newspaper gossip columnist; very confusing if you’re watching “PS” totally out of order on a Tuesday night, face deep in kung pow chicken)
– yes, there is an episode of this program in which Balki is accidentally hypnotized into believing he is Elvis Presley the night before his tax audit; this is in season four, so it is plausible by this point that Balki might be paying some kind of income tax on his earnings from the newspaper’s mail room
– yes, there is an episode of this program in which Larry brings home 58 live turkeys just a few days before Thanksgiving because he’s convinced he can make a buck off last minute shoppers; there’s nothing funnier than imagining Larry and Balki succumbing to the will of 58 live turkeys in their kitchen and living room, and imagine it is what you have to do—the budget apparently only allotted for two to three birds at a time
– yes, there’s an episode where Balki claims to have met and befriended Carl Lewis after a showing of Benji: The Hunted; Balki’s enthusiasm for this film is very endearing
– over the course of “Perfect Strangers” Larry and Balki meet, awkwardly date, and fall in sitcom love with their upstairs neighbors, Jennifer and Mary Ann (their partners respectively); these parallel romances remains chaste for the most part, even when they all wind up living together, although every once in a while something truly ribald slips by—like the time Balki admits Mary Ann really knows how to “toss his salad”; this occurs in a much later season when all the Friday night heat was ostensibly on Urkel
– people forget “Family Matters,” the show which begat Urkel, is a spinoff of “Perfect Strangers” (before she was mother to Laura and Eddie, wife to Carl, Harriet Winslow was elevator operator to Larry and Balki at their newspaper job); though he pops up on several other ABC TGIF entries of this era, Urkel never came to pay his respects to the cousins, which is fucking nuts because “Perfect Strangers” is the only TGIF show that takes place in the same city as “Family Matters”; even stranger, Mark Linn-Baker crossed over to “Family Matters” in one of its later seasons, but not as Larry, as some other guy
– the episode where Balki takes on the persona of hip hop star Fresh Young Balki B is less incredible than memory; the several minute applause break I recalled for the introduction of Larry as MC Cousin does not occur
– in the seventh season the King of Mypos (Balki’s fictitious homeland) comes to visit and of course dies unexpectedly; this turns into a Weekend at Bernie’s type deal but you’ll be more amused by how many times the dead guy thinks he’s off camera and starts moving his face around
– the final season of “Perfect Strangers” is inexplicably only six episodes, but don’t worry, they cram in pregnancy, a sporting good store, a Myposian death curse, a game show, and a two parter in a hot air balloon
– the only reason they should reboot this show is so we can learn if Bronson and Mark can still execute the Dance of Joy; it was foretold they would not be able to at this advanced age in the season three episode “Future Shock”; surely this is one of the top betting pools in Vegas
– whenever anyone starts talking about how this program gets strange in its later years, remind them the first episode produced after the pilot consists of guest star Michael J. Fox arguing with Santa Claus until the judge literally smothers him in a hug
– “Night Court” is the 1980s sitcom that took an actor best known for playing a Boston area con man and had him play a New York judge so virtuous they had to balance his morality with a wacky persona (this guy isn’t all nobility; he plays with chattering teeth and whoopee cushions at his bench!); it’s possible Harry Anderson’s “Cheers” character Harry The Hat and Judge Harry Stone are the same individual, a dual personality torn between two cities and two very different codes of honor; then again, no other characters from “Cheers” ever materialize on “Night Court,” and “Cheers” had a crossover with every other fuckin’ show on NBC at some point (even “St. Elsewhere”); don’t worry, a shared universe exists between “Night Court” and one other Must See TV sitcom—the Paul Reiser vehicle “My Two Dads”
– in this first season, Paula Kelly plays savvy public defender Liz Williams, a perfect adversary for John Larroquette’s ego-driven prosecutor Dan Fielding; unfortunately, they don’t give Kelly enough to do and these end up being her only 13 episodes; Karen Austin chews more as clerk Lana Wagner, trying her best to parse Judge Harry’s odd mechanisms while stemming what might be an eruption of attraction on her part; Austin is fun and charismatic in this role but she also did not make it to round two (she was cut loose by “Night Court” producers after developing Bell’s palsy); it’s disappointing these talents were shortchanged but the good news is they had careers long before and after these legal hijinks (and Austin quickly recovered from her malady)
– “Night Court” takes place in New York City thirty years ago but they dress all the bums and lowlifes who wander in and out of the gallery like they’re in a train yard seventy years ago; it’s like the classic hobo review and follies
– Yakov Smirnoff guest stars in one of these episodes; somehow he makes it all the way through without saying, “What a country!”
– call me a cynic but it’s difficult to believe these people are all so chummy after hours; if someone had abandoned a baby with one of the bailiffs at the O.J. trial would Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, and Judge Ito have gone over to the bailiff’s house to help out?
– generally the humor of “Night Court” is timeless but every once in a while the writers slip in the topical, like a Pia Zadora reference (1984 audiences were very ready to laugh at her expense)
– as a wee tyke I’d watch this program and dream about visiting a New York City municipal court; in 2011 I got to live my fantasy after receiving a citation for being in Prospect Park after sundown; to my dismay, it was nothing like on the tv—the judge did not do any magic tricks, the attorneys did not crack any jokes, and overall the experience was vaguely depressing; based on this I am wary of befriending any sheep herders from Mypos
– if “Night Court” was just John Larroquette and Richard Moll’s bailiff Bull Shannon trading insults for thirty minutes each week it still probably could have lasted for nine seasons (the dudes is funny)
– excuse my dissidence but it is frankly disgusting that the “Night Court” theme song has not become our country’s national anthem
SPOILER ALERT: there might be spoilers in this.
– the nightmare never really ends, time is anything it wants to be, reality may be actively working against you; these are the sentiments I take away from season three of “Twin Peaks,” an eighteen hour tapestry that’s as frustrating as it is arresting and interesting; if you agree life is more about the journey than the destination, hop in, because we might end up at the DMV
– ask me why the original “Twin Peaks” strikes a chord with so many viewers and I’ll theorize it lies in the even braiding of various fascinating strands: the inherent kitsch of Anytown, U.S.A., the seamy underbelly of Anytown, U.S.A., the Pacific Northwest’s foggy weirdness, a police procedural, and a bevy of legitimately intriguing townies; “Peaks ’17” skews that balance as scores of principle characters and their stories are pushed aside for jaunts with new cast members, lengthy views into unsettling paranormal screen savers, or bizarre non-moments; the art to be found in the sequence where Robert Forster makes a 15 minute Skype call in real time is the lack of art
– David Lynch is critic-proof, of course; perhaps the only way his fans would cry foul is if he’d done anything conventional for the new “Twin Peaks”; that said, the decision to bury our hero, Agent Dale Cooper, in a doppelgänger story line wherein he is not himself at all for the majority of the season while relegating our other beloved icon Audrey Horne to a handful of similarly out-of-character sequences comes across in some ways as cruel (especially if this is in fact the last “Peaks” ever, as Lynch has suggested); it feels like maybe we’re being punished for enjoying these people too much
– don’t worry, we spent plenty of time with Lucy and Andy; you’ll be happy to know they’ve somehow become even stupider
– the game is afoot from the first episode, after a character declares that very unpopular “Peaks” staple James Hurley has “always been cool”; David Lynch has seen your “fuck James Hurley” memes
– when fans say “Twin Peaks: The Return” is unlike anything on television, they’re correct; it trusts its audience implicitly, assuming from them a specific brand of loyalty and intelligence; also, many of the aforementioned journeys into unexplained realms are uniquely hypnotic; the program may vex you but it’s rarely boring to look at, even when a guy is just sweeping a floor
– the remark has been made that, thanks to his role in this, Jim is now the Belushi with the more revered body of work; this is only because season three of “Twin Peaks” is longer than all of John Belushi’s films combined
– the final two episodes introduce a few wonderful and brilliantly conclusive ideas, only to pull them back and present something else; Lynch is as Lynch does, and that itself may be the true point of this coffee soaked exercise
– there are some wigs in this thing, hoo boy; Spirit Halloween shoulda been thanked in the credits; to be fair, I don’t know how to make a wig (I also don’t know how to make prestige television)
– at eighteen hours you’d think they would have found room to throw in Bill Pullman wailin’ on a saxophone but no such luck; at least we get (the) Nine Inch Nails and Edward Louis Vedder Severson
– the reputation of this two episode “event” from 1979 precedes it: it’s the Justice League of America as another cheap and witless variety show, the first entry bouncing flimsy adventure between two or three sets and a thicket of curdled jokes while the second is a roast of the superheroes hosted by Ed McMahon; serious comic heads treat “Legends” like the bubonic plague but it doesn’t reach the scalding hell of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” or “The Chevy Chase Show” (then again, maybe this reviewer has spent too much time entrenched in dreadful horse vomit and is now numb to true pain)
– with the rights to Superman and Wonder Woman tied up in much better properties, this Justice League is lead by Batman; Adam West returns to the cowl and proves time cannot weather his intoxicating dopiness; at his side is Burt Ward’s Robin, who also has no problem getting back on the horse (and his comedic chops feel like they’ve improved since 1968); another “Batman” reprise comes via Frank Gorshin as that maniac the Riddler; though Gorshin isn’t in command of the baddies he’s certainly in command of all the acting talent; that said, Jeff Altman is devilishly charming as Weather Wizard and you can see why they later paired him with Pink Lady
– for Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, the Flash, and Hawkman, NBC called in rent-a-hunks, deliciously sculpted figures with high watt smiles and heroic-seeming dispositions; alas, none of these guys were in danger of sweeping the Emmys, though perhaps Bill Nuckols should have received an honorary award for not dying of embarrassment while wearing the helmet “Legends of The Superheroes” shit out for Hawkman (the mask might be nothing more than construction paper); by the way, these shows aren’t the only peacock droppings Nuckols has on his résumé: he’s also Wally on “Supertrain”
– there are women in “Legends of The Superheroes” but not very many and they aren’t given much to do; in fact, famed rogue the Huntress doesn’t even speak in the first episode; hard to believe a series that introduces an African American character named Ghetto Man would marginalize women like that
– yes, the enormously problematic Ghetto Man debuts in the latter episode to clown his fellow do-gooders and shout his magic catch phrase, “Kareem!”; on a more positive note, future “Night Court” star Marsha Warfield pops up in the first entry and is deftly funny as a flabbergasted woman lingering in a phone booth as our heroes grapple with Solomon Grundy; Warfield goes uncredited but let’s choose to believe the comedienne was savvy enough to have her name removed from this not A+ production
– Batman calls Robin “laddy bubby” at one point, which might be the clearest indicator there’s more going on in the Batcave than previously figured
– a big surprise in “Legends” is that the wizard Mordru, undisputed master of black magic and various other nefarious sorceries, prefers to travel by jet ski
– Adam West, god rest his beautiful soul, refuses to tuck his cowl into the Bat costume for the duration of these programs and it is slightly infuriating how lazy and drunk it makes the Caped Crusader appear
– Hawkman’s mother shows up in episode two and get this…she’s not a hawk, falcon, or bird of any kind
– Ruth Buzzi is also present as Aunt Minerva, a nemesis of Captain Marvel who inexplicably wants to marry him; guess she didn’t get the memo that he’s secretly a ten year old boy
– judging by the reactions of the heroes during the roast episode they didn’t screen the jokes ahead of time; what looks like genuine amusement breaks out across all their faces after each playful barb (Captain Marvel Garrett Craig in particular is having a real hootenanny of a good time)
– in addition to jet skiing, the wizard Mordru (here portrayed by Dead End Kid Gabriel Dell) treats us to a ghoulish rendition of “That’s Entertainment” which concludes with the Dark Nobleman taking a cream pie to the face; no better proof exists that wasting food is hilarious
– Warner Bros released “Legends of The Superheroes” on DVD in 2010 but because this thing was shot on video it still looks like a greasy shit sandwich; didn’t they realize ding dongs in the future would feast on this as meaty irony and crave it in the highest of definitions?
– airing in January of ’79, “Legends of The Superheroes” pre-empted the Jack Webb series “Project U.F.O.” which suggests the government created these terrible comic book tv shows to keep a lid on extra terrestrial activities; assume Jimmy Carter will confirm or deny this before he dies
Star Wars celebrates 40 years of escapism, influence, and cultural currency today. The founding chapter of this now colossal property was released May 25, 1977, across a pittance of screens. Popularity ignited like a house on fire and before anyone could blink this thing was obliterating contemporaries like A Tale of Two Critters, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Viva Knievel!. Only Smokey And The Bandit gave Star Wars any kind of run for its money, and there’s still a gap of about $180 million in domestic gross between the two. Burt Reynolds just couldn’t charm his way around Chewbacca.
There’s a documentary feel to the 1977 Star Wars which helps it resonate deeply, a framing where the audience isn’t following narrative but observing environment; the awkward broth of fantasy exposition is dismissed and we’re allowed to ferret out details as we witness events in these alien realms. This is especially true of desert planet scenes where the robots fumble along, get swooped up by the junk dealers, and are unceremoniously dumped into Luke Skywalker’s life. This fly-on-the-wall style counters so many other sci-fi films that desperately want to impress upon you their grandiose, mythical nature. Star Wars just drops you in there and lets many fantastical moments unfold nonchalantly, because these characters see lasers and blue milk every day.
Pivoting on that point, one of the best decisions George Lucas ever made was to insist this beginning Star Wars is actually the fourth installment of a who-knows-how-long saga. That let our imaginations go purple trying to fill in the priors. As incredible as the visuals and characters in Star Wars are, they suggest much more with that context. On the other side of the ewok, one of the dumbest decisions George Lucas ever made was giving in to temptation and actually filming the first three chapters, bluntly extinguishing the dreams we spun for ourselves across several decades.
Star Wars numbers four and five came before one, two, and three; there are probably those who also believe the immediate sequels—1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of The Jedi—should have never been made, allowing the 1977 film to remain the purest of entities. Foolish mortals! Star Wars made so much fucking money it was never going to be singular. Let’s just count our blessings over the miracle of The Empire Strikes Back, that rare sequel which bests its founder in pulp, artistry, and thrill. Star Wars 6 and 7 (and Rogue One) are great too, but there’s just something about the dreamy nightmare of Empire that cannot be equaled.
Of course, Star Wars at 40 is more of a conglomerate than ever, absorbed by Disney so they can have Darth Vader roaming the halls of their luxury hotels with minimal overhead. Star Wars belongs to our entire planet but it’s a U.S. invention and there’s nothing more “American” than celebrating a successful business. So rats off to maximizing profits and creating a global brand. And thanks for being so lenient with the fans who have restored and distributed the theatrical versions of the ’77 movie and its two sequels; this must be an admission of guilt or disagreement regarding “the vision” George Lucas suddenly decided he had for the original trilogy in 1997.
What else is there to say? Nanu nanu, put more Greedos in Star Wars 8.
– Children of The Corn is a film about some kids possessed by another kid possessed by a nebulous farm demon; they’ve expunged every adult from their town and any grownup unlucky enough to cross their path winds up crucified on corn stalks; all of this is more plausible than the scene where two tykes break off from the cult to indulge in a game of Monopoly; an entire town at your disposal and you want to play a real estate simulator?
– the protagonists are Burt and Vicky, an adult-ish couple driving through Nebraska on the way to Burt’s medical internship; problems begin when they accidentally run their giant canary colored 1980s car into a child of the corn; Burt must be at the bottom of his class because he moves the kid from the scene of this accident, wrapping him up and tossing him in the trunk; slowly the child of the trunk is forgotten about as Burt and Vicky’s quest for a doctor gets weirder; by the time the end credits roll, the vehicular manslaughter that set all this shit into motion remains unresolved; the lesson: if you run over a child of the corn, just wait until help arrives or else you’ll wind up fending off gaggles of hollow-eyed baby Satanists with just your wits and a pocket knife
– the nebulous farm demon is never really seen or thoroughly explained, which is disappointing; a 1984 movie about otherworldly energy moving through cornfields and possessing children deserves a big crazy stalk monster that spits creamed corn and vaporizes chickens with laser eyes
– one of the production companies credited with bringing Children of The Corn to life is Hal Roach Studios, who of course also delivered us Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, and the rest of Our Gang; is that ironic or hilarious, and has anyone considered a dark reboot of Our Gang?
– this film is creepy and unsettling and they could have stopped at one but in the grand tradition of any marginally interesting 1980s horror film there have been seven Children of The Corn sequels and a remake
– if John Franklin’s portrayal of malevolent child preacher Isaac becomes too much to bear, calm yourself by remembering that Franklin also plays Cousin Itt in both Addams Family movies
“Space Ghost Coast to Coast” put me in absolute shock the first time I saw it. I couldn’t believe a tv show so fluently spoke to the cultural car crash in my head. A fusion of “Batman ’66” and Letterman and punk rock; a post-modern quasi-cartoon rewriting the rules of kitsch; a reverse Roger Rabbit where our dimension is the tiny portion of a surrealist animated landscape populated by exhausted and agitated characters who couldn’t give a tinker’s dam about what anyone else wants, let alone a human. A show about a retired super hero entering the late night wars with two sidekicks he’s imprisoned in his garish studio on an otherwise barren planet.
No other entertainment makes me laugh as hard as “Space Ghost.” It’s so elastic. Clever and cutting one moment, beautifully stupid and nonsensical the next. Long stretches of nothing, then dense clusters of joke upon joke upon joke, like a swarm of bees. Total reverence for a guest that quickly washes into contempt and sarcastic quips. And the full visual trip of live action celebrities being forced to interact with repurposed ’60s animation—what an addictively weird atmosphere.
An enormous piece of the show’s creative heart was animator and voice actor C. Martin Croker, who passed away last weekend. Croker brought to life the titular host’s enslaved sidekicks, band leader Zorak and producer Moltar, who as the show progresses transform from standoffish super villains into disgruntled everyman employees hilariously nonchalant in their burning hatred for Space Ghost. Zorak and Moltar savor each moment their captor stumbles and find themselves in a quiet pain when he succeeds. Naturally, these two have their own issues: Zorak is a pathological liar and cannibal while Moltar seems to be covering up an unsatisfying marriage.
How could I not be in awe of Croker? He drew this amazing show, voiced incredible foils for the main character, and his name’s stately as hell. This guy’s a legend. Everything I’ve read about him away from his work suggests he was cool, generally willing to share a laugh with admirers or do the Zorak and Moltar voices. It’s devastating that he’s gone at only 54 (cause of death currently undisclosed) but I’ll always be thankful for experiencing his talent. It affected me deeply to see that television as bizarre and lawless as “Space Ghost” could not only exist somewhere but thrive. That’s inspirational.
So thanks, Clay Martin. We’ll miss you.