70) The Wrong Trousers (Wallace and Gromit)

Cards on the table, this is technically a short film. That being said, it is usually run as part of a set of TV specials, which includes shorts, and I didn’t really think about the distinction until I had already finished the list. It didn’t stand out because the British are always weird about their episode ordering and number per season, and Wallace and Gromit is so British that it makes Harry Potter look like Malcolm X.

WallaceGromitMalcolmX
This exists, and now you have to know that.

SUMMARY

WallaceGromitWallace.jpgWallace (Peter Sallis) is a tinkerer with weird teeth whose inventions often backfire or are borderline ridiculous solutions to simple problems, such as “using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut” (which actually does happen in another short film). Rube Goldberg is assumed to be one of his ancestors, and whoever Rube ended up mating with to make him clearly lacked the “common sense” gene. Wallace lives in Wigan, England, at 62 West Wallaby Way. He reads the Morning, Afternoon, and Evening Post. His meals are generally made up of crackers, cheese, and tea. If he were any more British, he’d fart “God Save the Queen” after Elevenses.

WallaceGromitGromit.jpg
He’s British. Of course he makes tea.

Gromit is his dog, who, despite being anthropomorphic and generally much more intelligent than his owner, does not talk. His facial expressions, however, speak volumes and are one of the more impressive visual accomplishments in Claymation. Actually, almost anything in this show is an impressive accomplishment in Claymation. Anyone who has ever had a dog has said “my dog is looking at me like Gromit.” He has an engineering degree from Dogwarts University. He enjoys knitting, playing chess, and cooking. His mute nature allows him to be one of the greatest straight-men on film, which perfectly contrasts with Wallace’s eccentricities.

“The Wrong Trousers” is the best Wallace and Gromit because it is both the most accessible, and, in some ways, the most ludicrous. Wallace buys a pair of “techno-trousers” (pants that walk automatically via remote panel) off of NASA in order to allow Gromit to go for walks without him. Wallace, however, fails to get them to work properly. Gromit instead ends up using them to paint the ceiling after reading the instruction manual, which Wallace forgot about.

WallaceGromitTrousersCeiling.jpg

Next, enter the villain: A cruel, merciless beast known as “Feathers the Penguin.” Because he’s a penguin. A penguin who rents a room from Wallace in order to commit a jewel heist while putting a rubber glove on his head so that he looks like a chicken, because why the hell not? Wallace ends up trapped in the techno-trousers by the penguin, and is sent on a Buster Keaton-esque test-drive around town. For people who like British humour, this sequence is hilarious. To Americans, it’s still pretty good. The final sequence of animated slapstick that takes place during and after the heist is equally amazing, from start to finish.

WallaceGromitFeathers.jpg
Master of Disguise

END SUMMARY

Wallace and Gromit sometimes takes crap for not being particularly sophisticated or complicated humor, but I actually would argue that’s what makes it amazing. By having minimal dialogue, and working mostly through physical comedy and expressions, the show is universally funny to those who like slapstick. And if you like slapstick at all, you will love The Wrong Trousers.

Also, I’m pretty sure part of Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-man was based on this sequence:

PREVIOUS – 71: Angel

NEXT – 69: Rome

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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71) I Will Remember You (Angel)

Joss Whedon properties are found in a lot of slots on this list, because I love Joss Whedon. Oh, and because he’s a genius when it comes to the craft of balancing writing, directing, and producing. Of all of the episodes on the list from Whedon shows, however, this is the only one that Joss Whedon didn’t personally write or direct. It was part of the first season of Angel, the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and was the first episode to feature an appearance by Buffy, the woman Angel loves so much he chooses to leave her behind. This is because Angel (David Boreanaz) is a vampire cursed with a soul that will leave if he ever experiences perfect happiness (which, horrifyingly, happens when he has sex with Buffy). Without his soul, he is among the greatest evils the world has ever seen, so he chooses to avoid being with Buffy for the sake of both her and the world.

AngelCast
Also, great cast photos.

Some people believe in soul-mates: that one person out there is the true happiness and completion that you’ve been looking for. TV has spent a long time telling us it’s true, even if life sometimes decides to tell you that you might love the idea of your partner more than you love their reality. Joss Whedon probably doesn’t believe in soul-mates (as he tends to kill them off once they’re together in his shows), but Sarah Michelle Gellar, the woman who played Buffy, does. She has an unwavering belief that Buffy and Angel belong together, which is why this episode broke her heart and Buffy’s.

AngelBuffyAngel.jpg

SUMMARY

While Buffy is visiting, Angel gets attacked by a demon, and, during the fight, is infected with the demon’s blood, which unexpectedly makes him human. Finally being able to be with Buffy freely, the two have a perfect day together, staying in each other’s arms for the first time without worry.

AngelSex.jpgFor Buffy, who has never been able to have a normal day since she was 15 and told she had to save the world from evil, and Angel, who has never loved anyone in 200 years, this is a dream made real. But later, upon trying to finish off the demon who made him mortal, Angel realizes that he can’t be as strong of a force for good without his vampire superpowers. So, he asks the Powers That Be, the beings that govern the forces of good in the world, to allow him to go back in time and stop himself from becoming human.

AngelAngelBuffyThe thing that sets this episode apart is when Angel tells Buffy what he’s done. Not only will they not be together, but in a few minutes, she won’t even be able to remember that they ever were. Sarah Michelle Gellar delivers a performance that is tough to duplicate, because she believes, as Buffy would, that any sacrifice would be worth it to be with the one she loves. But, deep down, she knows Angel has made the decision he thinks is right. The breakdown you see on screen is actually somewhat real, and you can even hear David Boreanaz say “Sarah” when he tries to comfort her.

END SUMMARY

Some people choose to sacrifice for a cause rather than enjoy their own happiness. Sometimes, that’s what defines a hero. Other times, it’s what defines a fool or a person who has resigned himself to being fate’s whipping boy. Angel, at his best, is all three.

PREVIOUS – 72: Burns and Allen

NEXT – 70: Wallace and Gromit

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Enjoy some emotions:

72) Columbia Pictures doing the Burns and Allen Story (Burns and Allen)

George Burns was a funny man, but even he knew that he lucked out when he met Gracie Allen. Actually, it was especially lucky, considering she was applying to be partner with a different comic, and only asked George because of a mix-up. Burns would often say he’d only found one truly funny thing in his career, but fortunately, he was married to her for thirty-eight years.

BurnsAndAllenBurnsAllen

BurnsAndAllenPresidency
Ahead of its time

After being a hit as a Vaudeville act on stage, on film, and on the radio, Burns and Allen got a show on T.V. Not much was different for them, as the act was pretty simple. George was the straight man, Gracie (the character) was the dumbest woman who ever managed to stand upright and, on some occasions, she couldn’t even pull that off too well. Despite this, she ran for President as a marketing stunt in 1940… and got a lot more write-in votes than many of your grandparents will ever admit (close to 100,000). I guess even a woman who claimed that she was “so smart that her teacher was in her class 5 times in a row” isn’t completely unqualified for office. Then again, she also wrote “A platform is what politicians stand for and voters fall for,” so maybe she should have won. (Update: Wrote that in 2012. It now has become obvious that we wouldn’t consider her too unqualified to be president). But, she didn’t, so they gave her and her husband a show.

BurnsAndAllenCast.jpgThe show had an ensemble cast that was pretty typical of its time. The neighbors who were constantly trying to get in on the couple’s schemes and adventures, the people in the building and on the block who would constantly remark on the eccentricities of the couple. Not to say they weren’t excellent supporting roles, but the truth is that Burns and Allen had two things that set it apart, and those were… Burns and Allen. More specifically, it was that Burns was allowed to do whatever he felt like, as long as it was funny. George would routinely break the fourth wall for the sake of comedy, including, during a casting change, stopping the scene, saying bye to one actor, and bringing in another to take his place. Allen, of course, just tried to say whatever would make Burns laugh.

SUMMARY

BurnsAndAllenColumbiaPictures.jpgThe “Columbia Pictures” episode features the best of both of these traits. The opening to the episode features Gracie being her typically illogically-logical dumb blonde. This episode always highlighted the key to Gracie’s character: She never takes anything within context. When she tells a writer “[she] and [her] siblings used to run through every room in the house,” the writer asks what their names were. She responds “parlor, kitchen, bedroom, and bath.” Since she ignores the context of the question, she assumes the “their” refers to the last possible plural noun… which is how the English language was designed to work, if we ignored contextual clues. Thus, illogically logical. The episode then switches to George telling the audience what he wants the studio to do with his “life’s story,” which mostly consists of his usual self-deprecating monologue. He tells the story of his life so far, which leads him to eventually point out that all of the women he’s ever pursued in his youth left him for Joe Bogio… which is why George plans on asking why they aren’t doing the Joe Bogio story. He eventually concludes that it’s because nobody likes a winner, so they’ll love him.

Ultimately, a misunderstanding causes Gracie to cancel the project, which, in true sitcom fashion, returns everything back to normal.

END SUMMARY

The episode is composed of timeless humor, and was the peak for a show that used to fight with I Love Lucy for ratings. While it never got as good as Lucy (Update: As this list shows), this episode demonstrates that Burns and Allen could still hold their own.

PREVIOUS – 73: M*A*S*H

NEXT – 71: Angel

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Episode up:

 

73) The Interview (M*A*S*H)

M*A*S*H was a comedy about war. That’s a pretty dark place to start, and M*A*S*H was pretty famous for being able to bounce back and forth between off-the-wall humor and dark, maudlin drama. In fact, in an episode of Futurama, iHawk, a character based on Hawkeye (Alan Alda), has a switch that causes him to oscillate between irreverent humor and maudlin drinking. That was not an inaccurate portrayal of the characters on the show, especially Hawkeye.

Ihawk

In order to live on the battlefield and to treat the wounded, the crew of the M*A*S*H tent have to balance accepting the horrible reality in front of them with standing back and mocking life’s cruelties. It made M*A*S*H a show where the audience could not guess what the theme of the next show was going to be like.

mashedwardrmurrow.jpgSmall amount of background for this episode: During the Korean War, Edward R. Murrow, the legendary newsman, conducted a series of battlefield interviews with Marines. While other documentaries had been done between then and the airing of M*A*S*H, most people cite Murrow’s interviews as the inspiration for this episode. The content of the questions definitely seems to drive this comparison home.

SUMMARY

MASHCleteRoberts.jpgThe episode begins by saying that it’s going to be an interview by Clete Roberts (an actual war correspondent) of the members of the Medical Tent in the Korean War. He warns the viewer that they may hear some language that will be bleeped from the episode (note: M*A*S*H never used bleeps before now). And that’s where the “interviews at the frontline” theme ends. The episode isn’t really set-up to be a series of interviews with the characters in order for them to say the things that you’d normally hear during a conversation with soldiers. Instead, the show is an opportunity to allow the characters to answer questions that might never have come up in an actual episode. It allows for several different things to happen throughout the episode: 1) the characters are allowed to answer several questions the audience was begging for, 2) the characters were encouraged to openly speak about the nature of war, and 3) it allowed series creator Larry Gelbart to get a few things off his chest about what he considered to be the realities of the government’s involvement in Vietnam, even though the show was set in Korea (note: this was 1976. The answer on everybody’s minds was “bad decision”).

MASHAldaCleteTo Gelbart’s credit, he never said anything bad about the soldiers, only the nature of war. When asked if war could, or should, ever be glamorized, Hawkeye comments that he can’t even enjoy Hemingway anymore after all that he’s seen. He does, however, say that war may have a lasting value only because it produces men like those he works with, who are the finest kind of men out there. When B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farell, who had just replaced “Trapper John”) was asked if he’d ever be friends with his fellow members of the 4077 after the war, he tells the interviewer that he can’t know for sure. Part of him would love to know his friends forever, but another part of him would rather forget that part of his life. I’ve only known a handful of soldiers, some friends, some family, but I can say that this has been a sentiment I’ve seen carried by most of the ones in a war-zone.

END SUMMARY

M*A*S*H was able to both satisfy the audience’s love for the characters, while simultaneously showing how miserable they are. Quite a feat.

PREVIOUS – 74: The Prisoner

NEXT – 72: Burns and Allen

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Here’s the entire episode:

 

MASH – The Interview from Felin on Vimeo.

74) Fall Out (The Prisoner)

PrisonerChessBoardThe Prisoner was messed up. It probably had some brilliant underlying theme about the nature of reality and how we’re all really prisoners to the superego of society as well as our own nature when we refuse to confront it, but it might also just have been about pie. I don’t know for sure. I’ve been told it’s about the nature of individualism vs collectivism, but I think that’s only one facet. The show’s conclusion is either brilliant or stupid, and, after reading through forty-five years of reviews and analysis of the episode, the only thing I know for sure is that I’m not the only one who isn’t sure if this is madness or genius. But, that kind of thought provoking ambiguity definitely is a merit in itself.

PrisonerNo6.jpg
Number 6

The show’s premise is that there is an island prison which houses people from all areas of society in “the Village.” It’s never outright stated, but it is implied that each person on the island is there because they have some key piece of information which has to be hidden from the rest of the world. Every person in the Village is known not by their name, but by their number. The protagonist is a former secret agent known only as Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan). The beginning of the series features his abrupt resignation from the service, and throughout the series the nefarious “Number 2” (Leo McKern) is constantly trying to find out the reason Number 6 quit. Throughout most of the series, Number 6 is focused on attempting to escape from the Village, but, in the penultimate episode, he decides instead to try and destroy the machinations of the Village’s leaders, and nearly kills Number 2. That’s how the last episode starts, and that’s the last thing that makes sense in the show, unless you love allegory.

SUMMARY

PrisonerTrialThe last episode was written by Patrick McGoohan, and was apparently what he dreamed up while taking as much acid and reading as much Kafka as he possibly could. Basically, after taking out Number 2, Number 6 asks to be taken to Number 1. Instead, he’s led to a chamber containing a parliament of delegates who preside over different areas of social institutions, like “education, anarchists, nationalists, pacifists,” etc. They bring in Number 48 (a random Mod) and a revived Number 2 as two examples of dangerous revolts, one of youth rebelling against that which it doesn’t understand, and the other of a servant biting the hand that feeds it. Number 6, now referred to as The Man, is then informed that, because of his revolutionary actions, Number 6 will be allowed to be an individual, instead of part of a collective. Additionally, he is given the option to lead the parliament, or leave the island. Insisting that he meet Number 1, he discovers that Number 1 is a man with his exact appearance. Number 1 flees, The Man escapes the island and returns to London, which is revealed to the audience to potentially just be another part of the Village.

PrisonerNo1
No. 1 is No One? Or a gorilla. Or he’s you. Are you no one? My head hurts.

END SUMMARY

This episode is not at all literal. The point of the episode is that society ultimately acts as a prison to everyone, and it is run by Number 1, society’s expectations of the individual. It is only when we defy what society wants us to do in the name of our own desires that we are truly individuals. Or, it’s about pie. Really, I’m not sure.

PREVIOUS – 75: Fawlty Towers

NEXT – 73: M*A*S*H

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Enjoy the show’s great opening:

75) The Germans (Fawlty Towers)

FawltyTowersCleeseBoothe.jpgFawlty Towers redefined British Comedy. John Cleese and his then-wife Connie Booth decided to collaborate to write it, and that’s essentially the moment that chocolate got in peanut butter.  Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Ricky Gervais have all openly cited this show as inspirational in both its humour and its format. It constantly combined fast-paced dialogue, high-brow humour, low-brow physicality, and a dynamic cast that could handle it all. The pacing on the show has rarely been replicated, because Cleese and Booth originally wrote it to be an hour-long show and didn’t cut much of the dialogue when they were told episodes could only be 30 minutes. They just spoke faster. In other words, there’s mathematically more humour in most of the episodes than other television shows. And yes, I spelled humor the “British” way in that paragraph in their honour.

Basil Fawlty (Cleese) is a misanthrope of the highest caliber, and is obsessed with class standings to a level that even the British consider a bit overboard. He seems to hate his wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales), to the extent that her physical pain brings him happiness. However, because of his natural incompetence, he is constantly suffering her wrath. He’s prone to excited outbursts, jumping to wild conclusions, physically abusing his staff, and lying poorly. One of his most famous quirks is that he gets nominal aphasia when he tries to come up with a lie on the spot, saying such things as “I pain my wife. I never want her to be in love.”

FawltyTowersCast.jpg

Basil runs Fawlty Towers, a hotel in the fictional town of Torquay.  The hotel staff includes the chambermaid Polly (Connie Booth) and the Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs). The plots generally involve a relatively simple problem which gets elevated to catastrophic proportions, either due to Polly’s disinterest, Manuel’s inability to understand the English language , or Basil’s general scheming and incompetence. This episode is no exception, except in its exceptionalism.

SUMMARY

FawltyTowersGoosestepThis episode is most remembered for the phrase, uttered throughout it, “don’t mention the war.” When a group of German tourists decides to visit Fawlty Towers, Basil, who hates the Germans on principle of them being German and him being English in the 70s, still tries to run his business while avoiding any discussion of WWII. Unfortunately, due to a recent concussion, Basil ends up making a reference in every single sentence, to the point of him goose stepping while giving himself the Hitler mustache in order to cheer up one of the guests. All while telling his employees “don’t mention the war.” The rest of the staff try to catch him, which results in him running through the hotel, only to be knocked unconscious by a moose head he had failed to properly hang on the wall throughout the episode. Having watched this entire display, the German leader can only say “How ever did they win?” The fact that he can ask that after seeing the physical prowess of Cleese leads me to conclude that Germany doesn’t get how tough pratfalling is. Take 2 minutes, and love this:

END SUMMARY

This really was the perfect timing for an episode like this. Europe was trying to move forward after the war, but tensions were understandably still running high. People were being encouraged to reconcile, but it wasn’t always easy, even if it was necessary for Europe’s economy to start catching up to the US’s dominant global market power. So, this episode is the culmination of those elements.

PREVIOUS – 76: The Andy Griffith Show

NEXT – 74: The Prisoner

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76) Opie the Birdman (The Andy Griffith Show)

AndyGriffithCastMayberry, the setting for The Andy Griffith Show, isn’t real, and no one ever wanted it to be. Andy Griffith wanted Mayberry to be better than the real world. A place where honesty is always rewarded, and where bad people are always punished. A place where a father can always trust that his son learns his lesson, even when it has dire consequences. Andy Griffith’s character, Sheriff Taylor, was always tough on his son, Opie (Ron Howard), but he was also perpetually loving and supportive. Andy Griffith didn’t just want to be the change he wanted to see in the world, he wanted to make sure everyone could see what that change should be.

To make sure that all of that didn’t make the show boring, however, they cast Don Knotts as Barney Fife, the ultimate example of “he’s not smart, but he means well.” Knotts could wring humor out of any scene or line. It’s not in this episode, but if you watch the clip of Barney reciting the Preamble to the US Constitution, it manages to make even that task hilarious.

SUMMARY

AndyGriffithOpieSlingshot.jpgIn this episode, Opie gets a slingshot. Because A Christmas Story wasn’t out yet, no one could see any obvious problems coming. Barney even demonstrates how dangerous it can be by attempting to show off his “expertise” with the weapon and busting open a cabinet by accident. However, Opie doesn’t shoot his eye out, but instead kills a bird. At first, he tries to pretend that he didn’t do it, and Andy believes that the bird was killed by the neighbor’s cat. After a few minutes of Opie having the poker face of a Shakespearean drop-out and running into his room, Andy confronts his son about what he’s done. As it happens, the bird Opie killed had 3 babies who now are doomed to die. Andy convinces Opie to raise them so that they don’t die. Opie names them Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod, because it’s the ’50s and he’s adorable.

AndyGriffithOpieBirdcage.jpgAfter a while of raising them, the birds start getting too big to keep in their cage, Andy tells Opie that he needs to release the three into the wild. Of course, just like any parent doesn’t enjoy the day that they have to let their children go off into the horizon for new, independent lives, Opie can’t bear the thought of letting go of his birds. In the end, though, Andy tells him that sometimes a parent has to let go, because that’s the natural order of the world, and it’s what keeps the world so bright and interesting. It’s clear that, while Andy is telling this to Opie, he’s really telling it to himself as well. When Opie finally releases the birds, he comments that the cage looks really empty now. Andy just smiles and says a line that only Griffith can pull off, “Yes, son, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full.”

END SUMMARY

It’s an episode that represents every parent’s experience. From the joy in watching children grow and learn to the sadness of watching them grow up and leave, as well as the harsh understanding that they’re going to have painful experiences as a natural part of life.  It’s sad, but beautiful.

PREVIOUS – 77: The Carol Burnett Show

NEXT – 75: Fawlty Towers

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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