Tag Archive | NBC

Unsolicited Harry T. Stonein’ On “Night Court” Season One

– 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

Unsolicited Laddy Bubby On “Legends Of The Superheroes”

– 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 pop 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

Pow! Bam! Zok! An Unsolicited And Sadly Thorough Review Of “Batman ’66” Season Three

Did you miss the recaps of season one and two? Click here and here.

The final season of “Batman” is notoriously bonkers. Sagging ratings inspired the arrival of Batgirl, a third costumed crime-fighter who cooperates with the Dynamic Duo but remains her own independent entity. Sadly for Batgirl and her alter ego Barbara Gordon (played by the unflappable Yvonne Craig), the average adventure length is sliced in half from the previous seasons, leaving thirty minutes to pivot between Batman, Bruce Wayne, Batgirl, Barbara, the villain, and those beleaguered dopes at police headquarters. Suddenly a lot of vital stuff is happening offscreen.

And yet, as the blocking grows jerkier and each caper more outlandish, this concluding batch does a good job stressing the severe difficulties Batman, Robin, and Batgirl have in trying to protect their secret identities. Turns out it’s not so easy explaining away every little inconsistency, especially if you’re a millionaire playboy, the ward of said playboy, or the police chief’s kid.

Other pre-episodic breakdown observations:

I. There are two interesting musical developments in the third season, the first being a distinct and furious surf rock sting that is employed whenever Batman and Robin start tusslin’ with hoods. Very Dick Dale, it gets the blood pumping. Meanwhile, Batgirl has her own theme, a brassy sway with some vocal accompaniment (“Batgirrrrrrl!” the female chorus lilts, “who’s baby are you?”). Neither piece is commercially available on any of the soundtrack releases I know of from this bat era.

II. Cesar Romero’s Joker hair seems to go a brighter shade of green with each passing episode. Obviously they were having some budgetary and/or quality control problems by this point but I like to believe that perhaps the Joker—who looks the way he does because he fell into a vat of chemicals—has to deal with flare ups and weird allergies just like the rest of us. Imagine how toxic waste might exacerbate a rash or a thyroid problem. Then again, this idiot is pretty slap happy most of the time. Maybe prolonged exposure to toxic waste can result in a never ending orgasm.

III. If you think that lizard person in the program’s animated introduction is Killer Croc, you are wrong. Killer Croc was not introduced into the Batman universe until 1983. This strange figure is just a generic lizard person, a nondescript reptile freak who may / may not be associated with the Gorn.

IV. The Batman series will always hold a place in my heart but the biggest bang this franchise can give for your buck, peso, or ruble is the theatrical film the crew produced between the first two seasons. Simply known as Batman (sometimes stylized as Batman: The Movie), it’s 104 minutes of breathless bat movement, four times as madcap thanks to four arch criminals (Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, teamed up to conquer the world), capturing everything that’s boffo about this property. Also, as much as I cherish the beloved tv intro, the opening credits of Batman: The Movie are a pop noir jewel, Nelson Riddle’s orchestration included.

Alright, atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed. Ready to move out.

1. “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin”

The lightning strike of season three. Feels like we’re peering into pulpy pages as that dastardly Penguin tries to weasel his way into Gotham’s police force by attempting to kidnap and wed Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. What better time for Babs to make her debut as the Batgirl? This is the first time in the history of the series that the ending rhubarb looks real. The Caped Crusaders are really clobberin’ the baddies (and vice versa).

2. “Ring Around The Riddler”

The Riddler may be an intellectual but he’s not above climbing into a boxing ring to whoop up on Batman, which he does in this episode. Of course, there is some subterfuge—Riddler is posing as a boxer from the Middle East called Mushi Nebuchadnezzar. Thankfully, Gorshin forgoes brown face. The final bout lacks the drama of Rocky but there is something breathtaking about seeing Adam West in the Batsuit and enormous boxing gloves.

3. “The Wail Of The Siren”

Joan Collins arrives as ear-piercing foe the Siren. Her sonic hypnotism sounds so much like a modern fire alarm it is disconcerting. It’s music to the men she seduces and/or subdues; Commissioner Gordon is so transfixed he agrees to stow away in the trunk of the Batmobile for treasonous purposes. The panic grips Batman enough that he turns down a soda at one point because he might “find it too relaxing.” Dark Knight ain’t about that lean.

4. “The Sport Of Penguins” / 5. “A Horse Of Another Color”

The Penguin causes chaos at a horse race, but half the time this entry is just guest moll Ethel Merman stiffly pissing out exposition. For a brief moment we get to see Burt Ward dressed as a jockey and it’s everything you could ever hope or desire. Equally satisfying is Herbert Anderson as a flustered race track official who lays into Bruce Wayne about the chicanery he believes the millionaire himself is pulling.

6. “The Unkindest Tut Of All”

A landmark episode; King Tut stumbles upon the secret that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Of course, he can’t prove it after our Caped Crusader and Bruce are seen standing near each other (a weird bit of engineering involving a dummy in a Bat costume Bruce has at his ready). In a subplot, Barbara and Bruce attend an accordion recital where they hear “Lady Of Spain” eight times in a row. It’s unclear if this is irony or if people actually did this for kicks during the Johnson Administration.

7. “Louie, The Lilac”

“Batman” addresses the hippie phenomenon the only way it knows how: clumsily. Dandy gangster Louie The Lilac (a so-so Milton Berle) infiltrates Gotham’s radical youths through some noxious plant-based chemical. The police are wary of putting the Dynamic Duo on the job until Robin reassures them: “The flower children think we’re cool, man—like, we turn them on, you know?” If you think that’s ridiculous, hang in there for the climax where man-eating lilacs attempt to slowly devour our heroes.

8. “The Ogg And I” / 9. “How To Hatch A Dinosaur”

The money’s evaporated to the extent the series can’t even afford to hire a band of roving Cossacks; all we get are agog passersby on street corners as these alleged marauders ransack Gotham (with a brief glance at Egghead as he struggles to ride a mule). Returning guest star Anne Baxter is a delight as Cossack Queen Olga, a ginger firebrand investing in Egghead’s scheme to birth a dinosaur. For a minute, it appears this program might introduce some Jurassic Park style science. Don’t worry—DNA has yet to be discovered in 1960s Gotham, so we are spared anything plausible or thought-provoking.

10. “Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!”

The dizzying apex of this season’s lunacy. The Joker has a device that can transfer skills from one person to another; naturally he uses it on some local hodad so that he may become the clown prince of the surf circuit. Batman steps in, yellow trunks at the ready, to challenge the harlequin’s nefarious hang ten. Doing leg work for the Joker is a striking beach bunny spy named Undine (played by future “Gong Show” fixture Sivi Aberg). Undine strides in like a lethal Bond temptresses but immediately undercuts her power by talking into a radio shaped like a hot dog.

11. “The Londinium Larcenies” / 12. “The Foggiest Notion” / 13. “The Bloody Tower”

Rudy Vallée’s Lord Marmaduke Ffogg is an inventive and charming villain, a British nobleman who absconds with treasured loot amidst billowing clouds of smoke from his pipe. There was no need, however, to stretch Ffogg and his accomplice Lady Peasoup (Glynis Johns) across a three parter, nor was their reason to move the action to a London facsimile when the show clearly never left Los Angeles. Tedious, asinine, kinda boring. Lyn Peters shines, though, as a Ffogg protégé who radiates flavorful intensity—especially when she’s quietly rhapsodizing about Robin’s sex appeal.

14. “Catwoman’s Dressed To Kill”

Eartha Kitt’s wonderfully feral take on Catwoman arrives in a pretty bumpy exercise around the fashion industry. Still, you’ll probably thrill to Eartha menacing a bound Batgirl and you’ll probably guffaw when Burt Ward is forced to sell the line “Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!”

15. “The Ogg Couple”

In which Batgirl almost freezes to death in a giant vat of caviar. Egghead is of course the culprit, trying to set up a comfy life for himself and Olga, Queen of the Cossacks. They’re not really a good match; when it comes down to brass tacks, Egghead is a simpering idiot, while Olga seems to live for conflict. It sexually excites her. My kind of woman.

16. “The Funny Feline Felonies” / 17. “The Joke’s On Catwoman”

The Joker. Catwoman. A hidden trove of explosives. Joe E. Ross. Pierre Salinger. All the elements for a whip cracker and yet it remains a painful slog. The sets have become so minimalist it’s almost insulting. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Little Louie Groovy, the Phil Spector parody who gets caught in the villains’ crosshairs. Spector used to be a happenin’ guy in our culture. Then he became a crazed hermit who shot a woman point blank in the face.

18. “Louie’s Lethal Lilac Time”

Our favorite flower-obsessed gangster kidnaps Bruce and Dick, opening up the playing field for some major Batgirl heroics. How aggravating it is that the writers eat up her time with a pointless scene wherein Babs has to deceive a handyman into believing her secret Batgirl room is just a regular-ass secret room. By the way, the reason Louie swipes Bruce is because he needs the millionaire to extract some kind of scent from a muskrat. We never see the muskrat and I don’t think we hear it, either. It is just referred to as some mythical offscreen creature.

19. “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club”

Women’s rights activist Nora Clavicle tries to replace Gotham’s beat cops with her own squad of lady officers, but things don’t go according to plan. Hard to tell what’s worse here—the assertion that women could never hold positions of authority because they’re easily frightened and preoccupied with clothing or the grand finale where Batman and Robin thwart Nora (Barbara Rush) by skipping through the streets of Gotham City while tooting on flutes. Either way, this is “Batman’s” nadir. They didn’t even film the finale outdoors, and it’s supposed to take place near a large body of water.

20. “Penguin’s Clean Sweep”

That foulest of crooked fowls infects batches of Gotham currency with a foreign sleeping sickness but we’re the ones who feel drowsy. The Penguin’s moll in this one is played by Monique van Vooren, an actress who is in the Troy McClure league of incredibly-titled films. You may remember Monique from such classics as Tarzan & The She-Devil, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, Flesh For Frankenstein, and Tomorrow Is Too Late. She also attended NYU to study law on a Fulbright Scholarship. Holy accomplishment!

21. “The Great Escape” / 22. “The Great Train Robbery”

Shame returns, and amongst his posse is another cringe-inducing Native American stereotype named Chief Standing Pat. Balancing that out is Barry Dennen as the crony Fred, a erudite European gunslinger whose withering bon mots are all but lost on the titular baddie. An unexpected Jerry Mathers cameo ends with the kid getting bonked on the head, which is satisfying for all who feels his portrayal of Beaver Cleaver is less than endearing.

23. “I’ll Be A Mummy’s Uncle”

“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” Batman utters at one point, evoking the higher quality Bat outings that came decades later. This King Tut ep at least has a serious premise in Tut tunneling under Wayne Manor looking for some mineral and inadvertently drilling into the Batcave. Tut comes close to spilling the beans, but rather than give this show a new dynamic, rather than take a chance, they drop a boulder on the guy’s head and he’s back to his harmless professor alter ego, remembering nothing.

24. “The Joker’s Flying Saucer”

Giving the Joker a UFO to zoom around in is a neat idea but so much action is described instead of acted out that you lose investment and begin praying for the inevitable donnybrook you know will close these proceedings. Cesar Romero is game til the end, though, bragging as he’s about to rocket Batgirl into space that he’s “thrilled many a woman…but never sent one completely in orbit before.” Have fun imagining the Joker performing sex acts!

25. “The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra”

Id Lupino of High Sierra fame begins a crime spree with her awkward hipster husband, an easy feat thanks to their magical ability to become invisible. This one’s ambitious in that Cassandra sneaks into Gotham’s max security prison to release Catwoman, the Riddler, and the other MVPs of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Alas, it fails miserably when Kitt, Gorhsin et al do not reprise their roles. Instead we get scabs who are only seen from behind, uttering no honest dialogue. What a slap in the face.

26. “Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires”

At long last we get to see Adam West completely shirtless when he visits the spa of the enchanting Minerva (Zsa Zsa Gabor). Little does he know Minerva uses some kind of mind control device to extract the secrets of the rich and richer. Somehow this does not result in Minerva learning Bruce’s clandestine hobby. Instead, there’s rigamarole over one of his bank vaults. In the end Minerva goes quietly, but only after she’s grappled with Batgirl a la Greco-Roman. Your heart will jump in some direction.

There you have it, bat fans. What a ride. The show runners had the sets destroyed once it was clear ABC would not be picking “Batman” up for a fourth season. A shame only because NBC later expressed interest in hosting another round of bat-sanity. Oh, what might have been.

Guess there’s nothing left to do but visit the grave of every “Batman” actor who has now passed. Finally, as excuse to traverse Bavaria (the final resting place of Clock King Walter Slezak).

Until then, stay golden, my little bat freaks.

Twenty Years In The Cone Zone

On this date in 1993, Conan O’Brien made his debut as host of NBC’s “Late Night,” a program many people didn’t think could or should continue without gap-toothed treasure David Letterman. Unlike “The Tonight Show,” which passed through a few sets of hands before it found Johnny Carson, “Late Night” at this juncture had only seen Letterman. The eleven year old outing was soaked in Dave’s DNA, seen by most as an extension of the sarcastic Indiana-bred genius himself. How could “Late Night with David Letterman” have a replacement? How could that replacement be an unknown entity named Conan?

As a fourteen year old Letterman stan at the time, these thoughts certainly swept through my noggin. Conan hooked me from the get-go, though, with that brilliant “Good Luck, Lotta Pressure!” cold open on his first “Late Night.” Talk about a perfect response to the avalanche of criticism and uncertainty the guy was facing. The execution is flawless, too. More importantly, “Lotta Pressure!” set the tone for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” This guy wasn’t trying to project Dave’s oddball detachment. If Letterman was your older brother, the guy who for all his charm you knew would never really let you inside, Conan arrived as your chipper school chum, a kid at your level who wanted to make you laugh so neither of you felt alone and weird anymore.

And such was “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Though it debuetd at a time when basic cable comedy was entering a golden age, most nights you’d be hard-pressed to beat the clubhouse atmosphere coming from NBC’s 12:30 slot. This is the show that centered itself around a shit-talking dog puppet for a stretch, a Rickles clone that seemed too bizarre/amateurish to make any kind of cultural dent. Yet this puppet feuded with Eminem, this puppet was sued by a dot com, this puppet released an album. There’s another Conan/Dave difference. If Letterman were ten years younger he’d be the one bickering with rappers and getting in Internet entanglements. Conan has always seemed more than happy to let his inmates run the asylum.

That said, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend I wasn’t crushed when “Late Night” sold more ad time and could no longer allow Conan to just riff for a few minutes at his desk after the monologue but before the first comedy bit. Some of the funniest stuff he ever said and did was in that pocket. To wit: the Chocolate Lucky Charms spiel from 2005. “They took Lucky Charms, the most decadent horrible cereal of all time, and they made it CHAK-LET!”

This will probably sound stupid and crazy considering all the real problems going on in our world, but watching Conan get chewed up and spit out by NBC is 2010 really wounded me. It was the ball going through Buckner’s legs in Game Six. Sure, Conan rebounded, his TBS show is often as good as anything he did at 30 Rock, but it’s not the same. Turning on the tv that seven months he had “Tonight,” it just felt like victory. They didn’t chase this guy off to another channel. Conan O’Brien had graduated. To watch it go down in flames like it did…well, it wasn’t fun or funny like it usually is to watch something go down in flames. A shitty Stooges album I can handle. This, not so much.

On the other hand, seven months is such a small sliver of a two decade span. The positive far outweighs the negative. And who knows how far Conan will go into the future? I’m not a big routine type of person but I’m happy to imagine Conan popping up on whatever dumb gadget we’re watching tv on in ten years. I imagine it’ll need regular tire rotations and some sort of gravity-defying liquid to keep it “alive.”

But I digress. Thanks for all the yuks, O’Brien. The pressure’s off. Have a good show tonight.

Unsolicited Project: ALF Review

Project: ALF
Starring: William O’Leary, Jensen Daggett, Martin Sheen, ALF
Directed by Dick Lowry
1996

The most redeeming aspect of NBC’s “ALF,” the 1980s sitcom centered around a wise-cracking alien and the California family he imposes upon, has to be the interplay between puppeteer/series creator Paul Fusco and Max Wright. As beleaguered patriarch Willie Tanner, Wright’s reactions to and subsequent verbal damnations of ALF’s shenanigans are at times a laugh goldmine on par with such perpetually miffed legends as Oliver Hardy and Bud Abbott. Willie Tanner’s pain is so visceral, and why not? The idea of alien races as cultured, classy beings shattered by this repugnant wart hog bearing all the worst aspects of Uncle Buck—wouldn’t you burst all your blood vessels as well? Thus, the cardinal sin of Project: ALF, the 1996 made-for-tv movie that attempts to pick up where the original series left off six years earlier, is the complete absence of Wright.

It’s no secret that over the course of four seasons Max Wright grew to hate working on “ALF.” Specifically, the actor resented spending long laborious hours in an audience-free vacuum where week after week he watched the puppet get all the best lines. The odds that Project: ALF’s creators reached out to Wright are about 50/50 in my estimation; the fact they continued without him underscores Paul Fusco’s hubristic belief that ALF could be a barrel of yuks with any given reasonably talented straight man.

Thus, Project: ALF lines ’em up for the orange rug to knock down: Ed Begley, Charles Robinson, Miguel Ferrer, and Ray Walston all pop up to match frustrated wits with ALF as the film takes our hero from a secret military base (where he lives in pronounced luxury) to suburban wilds and eventually the hands of a shady former NASA employee (Ferrer). None of the aforementioned greats lives up to the ALF challenge, if that’s what you want to call it. The magic just isn’t there. Even the consistently underrated William O’Leary can’t serve acceptable Max Wright substitute, though he does mine the most laughs out of ALF’s assorted nonsense. O’Leary plays a good-hearted lieutenant who, along with his superior officer/token love interest (Jensen Daggett), is trying to save Melmac’s last son from certain extinction at the hands of Martin Sheen’s evil colonel character.

Yes, Martin Sheen took a turn in the “ALF” comeback movie. A year later, Sheen played one of the most controversial roles in TV history, voicing the “real” Seymour Skinner on hot button “Simpsons” episode “The Principal and the Pauper” (nerds are still riled up about that story line, trust me). We can only assume Martin was having serious personal problems during this time period and work of any kind was his only respite.

The most frustrating aspect of Project: ALF is that with a little more work it could have been great. There are a handful of sharp jokes and fun little set-ups throughout the film. Unfortunately, an err toward laziness—mostly in shot blocking and editing, but also in the arsenal of dated one-liners ALF tosses off about ’90s-specific events/figures—stalls Project: ALF miles away from existing as a tight, quirky epilogue to the beloved NBC series (“ALF’s” producers, verbally promised a fifth season, ended season four in 1990 with an “ALF gives himself up to the government” cliffhanger; sagging ratings convinced NBC to renege on their deal). You know you’re in trouble when you’ve got Miguel Ferrer and he appears to be dying of boredom.

A couple times ALF looks the same way—bored beyond recognition. Perhaps the puppet became sentient during production and that’s why we have yet to see Project: ALF 2: Melmackian Boogaloo. Maybe even the swath of carpet knows it ain’t really ALF without the opportunity to shout, “Hey, Willie!”

FINAL SCORE: One and a half Gordon Shumways (out of four).

Fortunately I Have The Key To Escape Reality

In conversation this weekend about beloved TV themes, I neglected to mention or even think about “Illegal Smile,” which was of course the theme to ABC’s 1974-75 dramedy “The Texas Wheelers.” Offering the one-two punch of Gary Busey and Mark Hamill, “The Texas Wheelers” told the story of a rural Texan family being raised by their less-than-reputable father. ABC axed the show just four episodes in—despite a solid premise, “Wheelers” had no game against NBC’s wildly popular time slot rival “The Rockford Files.”

The most outstanding aspect of “The Texas Wheelers” to me remains the wry but hopeful loser anthem “Illegal Smile,” a tune that woke me up to the genius of John Prine’s eponymous ’71 debut album. Look no further for concrete evidence that sarcasm often cuts deeper when accompanied by heartfelt acoustic guitar (it doesn’t hurt that Prine’s vocalization of his various laments is nearly flawless in its cadence / emotion). What a shame it took my unhealthy man-crush on Luke Skywalker to unearth such beauty.

Top Ten Album Covers Of 2011

The best part about music? Sometimes, it comes with really interesting pictures. Here now, the best pictures that came with music in the Year of Our Dog Twenty-Eleven. All images may be clicked for embiggening.

1. Artillery – My Blood

The grim specter of utter financial ruin cradles what’s left humankind’s hope for the future in a graveyard filled with former reality stars. This is one grim reaper who’ll never reveal how he got his whites so white, but if you’re nice he’ll probably give you that Publix coupon he’s been holding onto since the 23rd Century.

2. Burzum – Fallen

The naked lady’s anguish is meant to reflect our own disappointment with the current season of “Dexter.” She’s already invested so much, and she doesn’t have room in her life right now for another serialized drama on cable television. Can she cleanse herself with a bevvy of “Seinfeld” reruns on TNT?

3. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Lady Gaga’s not-so-subtle suggestion concerning the rebirth of Detroit’s long-dying automotive industry: Start fusing humans with machinery. Sure, it’ll make sex kind of awkward, but at least your sister will look pretty fierce cruising down Main Street with her face welded to the front of mom’s Toyota.

4. Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania

There is so much rich satire in this commentary on Marc Maron’s podcast that I really don’t think I need to say anything. Indeed, to affix a single word to this image would be to destroy it for ours and all future generations. I must move on now before I collapse into the weepiest of despairs.

5. Journey – Eclipse

Veteran classic rockers present their concept art for the next Batman movie, which they envision as a crossover with the “Tick” series. An interesting idea until you unfold the album and see the spaceship is in fact hovering over the puckered anus of an oblivious Patrick Warburton.

6. Skeletonwitch – Forever Abomination

If a tree sprouts human-like musculature in the woods, would it make a sound as it screams relentlessly without teeth? The ultimate ponderable. The green haze of swamp gas that surrounds our planty subject here represents this year’s oppressive marketing for The Muppets.

7. Korn – The Path Of Totality

The path of totality begins in the desert, where Korn hopes to rebrand themselves as the official soundtrack to Burning Man. Sadly, their sign is already in disrepair, and fundraising efforts have gone nowhere. We can only hope Korn somehow proves where there’s a dreadlocked will, there’s a Jnco’d way.

8. Stevie Nicks – In Your Dreams

Stevie’s expression says it all: We gambled on NBC’s superhero farce “The Cape” and we lost, big time. Then again, Ms. Nicks always seems at least slightly haunted, and that horse appears to know something the rest of us don’t. You’ll recognize the lens flare here from its dazzling cameo in Super 8.

9. Vanilla Ice – WTF

2011 will forever be remembered as the year Vanilla Ice lit himself on fire to protest the cancellation of NASA’s space shuttle program. His sacrifice will be remembered for decades, even after all copies of WTF have been rocketed into deep space alongside the charred remains of Ice’s gold ICP belt buckle.

10. Yuck – Yuck

Speaking of bravery, Joan Rivers made a bold choice to sit sans makeup for this portrait that ended up on Brit rock band Yuck’s debut. Finally, we know the real Joan, not just the cutting bitch who mocks celebrities with her chuckling daughter in tow. This image will adorn many t-shirts once Ms. Rivers finally passes.

RELATED: Last year’s list.