98) Steve Martin (The Muppet Show)

The truth is, I could have put almost any episode of the Muppet Show here and felt justified, because the Muppets deserve their recognition and should not have fallen to the wayside to the extent they did after the death of their creator. And here’s a loving tribute to that man:

I’m hoping that I don’t have to tell any of you what the Muppets are, but, in case you did not have a happy life, allow me to give you a quick run-down. The Muppets were created by Jim Henson, who decided that puppets, while good for entertaining children, could still be used for more mature audiences as well. After helping start Sesame Street, and giving it a run with “The Land of Gorch” on SNL, Henson finally found the balance of adult and child humor that he was looking for with “The Muppet Show.” The main characters are all puppets, and they interact with regular people, usually their “special guest.” It was a variety sketch show, and often managed to grab some famous actors at the time. Many of these guests provided memorable performances or character moments, however, I chose this episode for a reason.

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All that hot Scooter action?
Steve Martin
Pictured: Comedy Genius

Steve Martin is everything: A comedian, singer, banjo player, magician, dancer, and brilliant writer. The Muppets are the Muppets, which is the most awesome tautology ever. These two elements just put together on screen should be excellent, but it is their other synergistic element that made them really work: Both Steve Martin and the Muppets excel at performances that seem entertaining to children but contain enough subtle adult elements to allow parents to laugh alongside their spawn. They both portray an innocence that masks their absolute debauched nature, and seem to be genuinely having the time of their lives doing it, which always makes for better TV. Even the cold open is Scooter telling Martin that, after seeing his routine, he’s going to fit right in on the show. Since one of the sketches is him doing balloon animals from balloons he stole from “balloon farms” without inflating them, resulting in him being attacked by the “parent balloons,” it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

The “plot” of the episode is that the show is being cancelled, so all of the sketches are supposedly being performed for almost no one, which helps sell the idea that Martin is just an entertainer, who is here for the fun of it and not for the money. Martin also interacts with the Muppets as if they are no less real than his usual human co-stars, which helps the audience to become more engaged in the episode. As the episode progresses, this creates an atmosphere in the episode that everyone really is enjoying the performance, which always helps with a comedy show. Throughout the sketches, you can actually hear the puppeteers laughing themselves silly, because they were having such a good time.

If you ever just want to feel like a kid and an adult at the same time, watch this episode. If you just want a sample, enjoy Martin being his own musical act.

PREVIOUS – 99: Quantum Leap

NEXT – 97: Maverick

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.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

99) Mirror Image (Quantum Leap)

Quantum Leap is not just a cult show. Quantum Leap is Scott Bakula’s cult show. Sam Beckett (Bakula), a scientist, gets caught up in his experimental time machine and keeps leaping throughout time and space, occupying the body of a person at a pivotal moment in history, allowing him to change the past to make a better present. He is helped by a hologram of his best friend Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), who usually informs Beckett about the current time period with the help of the supercomputer Ziggy (Deborah Pratt), and what he likely had to do to move history onto the right path, which would allow him to “leap” to another time period. Each time, he hoped, that the next leap would finally take him home.

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One time, it took him to a better show.

Throughout the entire show, this premise had a few flaws. 1) How did he always end up in the body of someone who needed help if he was jumping at random? 2) If he invented the machine, wouldn’t someone in the further future be able to jump back as well? 3) How come he never jumped back to the Inquisition or something, as those would be times where more significant change could be leveraged? 4) If he built the machine to go back in time and “set right what once went wrong,” why does he even want to go home?

Rather than just tell the audience that “it doesn’t matter, just enjoy the show,” the writers of Quantum Leap decided to use the last episode of the show to answer pretty much all of the questions in the craziest way they could think of:

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Okay, maybe the second craziest

GOD DID IT.

No, really. God is directing the jumps through time of not just Sam Beckett, but all the people who will be jumpers in the future, and the reason he hasn’t jumped to an even harder time is because the entire series is just Sam’s “warm up.” And the craziest thing of all is, it kind of makes sense, and it lets the audience nod in assent and say “well, at least now I know.” The structure of the episode, just having Sam outside of what is actually considered “time,” which resembles a bar, is so different from the other episodes of the series, that it also makes the audience feel more unfamiliar, making way for the big reveal. You have to at least respect the sheer chutzpah it takes to drop that on screen as a farewell.

Previous – 100: Family Ties

Next- 98: The Muppet Show

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

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

100) The Real Thing (Family Ties)

Family Ties was about how family values are cyclical. Sometimes it was hard to tell what opinions the creators held about the conservative movements of the 1980s, but they definitely embraced the generation gap that arose from it as a source of conflict. The Keatons (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter) were hippies. Find a liberal cause, they probably fought for it. Name a social revolutionary, they probably smoked pot with them.

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Revolutionaries… right…

However, much as the baby boomers were largely people rejecting the behavior and values of their “conservative” families, the Keaton children represented the counter-rebellion to the ’60s upheaval. Rather than taking after his generous, bleeding heart father, Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) was a greedy, ambitious, get-rich-quick scheming go-go ’80s guy in training. His sister, Mallory (Justine Batemen), was a fashion conscious and materialistic “girly girl” that constantly argued with her feminist mother. The youngest Keaton, Jennifer (Tina Yothers), was a tomboy, which gave her more in common with her parents than her siblings, but that’s also how families are sometimes. Basically, the Keaton children were an example of the values that led America to have coke parties in business suits that cost more than a small African nation.

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And listen to Huey Lewis and the News, apparently.

In “The Real Thing” (a two-parter), Alex decides to find “Ms. Right,” the conservative, gorgeous, upstanding woman of his dreams. After posing as a member of the sophomore committee, he succeeds in finding Tricia (Suzanne Snyder), a rich, WASP girl from a good family. However, he soon realizes that she’s boring, due to their similarities. As someone who identifies family love as including conflict and exchange of views, Tricia doesn’t stimulate him intellectually… and not enough physically to compensate. Soon, he meets her roommate Ellen (Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox’s future wife), a feminist, activist, art student, and general leftist that sizes him up immediately. After a few bouts of repartee and general flirting, Alex can’t handle himself and kisses Ellen, only to find out that she’s engaged, and about to leave to be with her fiancé.

The episode shows how a person’s image of the perfect match for them can be completely inaccurate, and how much of what we look for in a partner is shaped by our family, for better or for worse. And the chemistry between the two leads… well, they’re married now, what do you think?

Also, without Alex P. Keaton to jump-start his career, Michael J. Fox would not be Marty McFly. The world owes Family Ties.

NEXT – 99: Quantum Leap

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.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Why the Greatest Television Episodes of All Time?

Five years ago, I thought I was going to die. I wanted to write something profound to leave behind that would perhaps serve as a legacy, even if only a small one. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent to do that, especially given the mental toll that comes from chemotherapy. So, instead, I watched television in the hospital bed. But, after watching enough television, I started to realize that sometimes instead of just being the “idiot box,” television can tell stories that can enrich lives and bring joy. So, I decided to start compiling a list of the greatest television episodes of all time.

There were over 500 nominated episodes by the time I was done listing. Some series had basically every episode on the list. The Twilight Zone alone had a few dozen. Then, I decided to start watching, and rating, to see what really struck me. My original plan was to do the top 25. Then the top 50. Unfortunately for you, dear readers, there were still some episodes I absolutely wanted people to know about, so I settled on 100, much like TV Guide.

I managed to write the first 40 or so while dealing with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, it turns out that being on drugs isn’t exactly great for producing quality writing, despite what Hunter S. Thompson promised me. Eventually, I lost interest, and, despite multiple attempts to finish it, I never had the willpower to try again. Then, I turned 30, and decided that this would be a good way to close out the last chapter of my life. As such, this is timed so that the last post will be on the day before my 31st Birthday.

For those interested in this kind of thing, here’s the metric I used:

Originality – How much have I seen this kind of thing before? This takes a little bit of research, because some things that were original back in 1950 might now be completely cliché. So, points to being the first to do something.

Writing – This is the backbone of television. Is the dialogue natural? Does it have a distinct style? Is it pulling me in?

Directing – In addition to directing, this includes things like cinematography, lighting, score, sound editing, and all those other things they have Oscars for that no one ever remembers.

Acting – Am I watching a person on screen playing a character, or am I just watching the character? How much has the performance reduced the distance? For animated series, I have to ask how effectively the emotions are conveyed by the voice actors.

Cultural Impact – This one had to be toned down a little bit in some ways, because it overwhelmingly favored old shows. That’s not to say that it wasn’t fair, of course. The older episodes are only remembered because they stood out as being better, which made this a useful category for narrowing down episodes. The more episodes that ripped off this one, the better the original scores.

Emotional Impact – Part of watching television, at least good television, is that it has to touch you. You need it to make you feel something. Happy, sad, uncomfortable. Anything counts, but the stronger it moves you, the higher it went on the list.

Message – I wanted episodes that had something to teach. I didn’t just want to feel like I had a good time, though sometimes that was enough for this list, I wanted to believe that I ended up a better person when I was done with the episode than when I started. That doesn’t mean it had to have a preachy moralizing moment, in fact that usually counted against the episode, but when I went back I wanted to be able to figure out what I learned from watching it.

Fit within the Show – I didn’t want episodes that were just part of a good series. I wanted episodes that, even within the series, managed to stand out on their own.

Miscellaneous – Was there a good song? Was there a line that stands out enough that I just can’t stop laughing at it days later? Is there a background image that brought the show a little closer to home? Did the episode end with me wanting to go and find out something outside of the show? These are the bonus points that can put something over the top.

Starting with number 100 -> Family Ties