Reader Bonus: Door Jam (Frasier)

This was a reader request, which brings the total number of Frasier spots up to 4. Granted, this isn’t actually one of the 100 episodes, but it’s still solid.

FrasierDoorJam-1Cast.jpg

SUMMARY

So, this episode focuses on Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and their inability to be content with anything. It starts when Frasier gets a piece of mail that was sent to his upstairs neighbor, the equally snooty Cam Winston (Brian Stokes Mitchell). The letter is an announcement of the opening of “La Porte d’Argent.” For those of you who don’t speak French, this means “The Silver Door.”

FrasierDoorJam-2Cam.jpg
They have an 8 hour negotiation session over bath balm recipes.

The letter contains no information about what “La Porte d’Argent” is, so the pair are anxiously trying to figure out schemes to uncover the secret, until their father, Martin (John Mahoney), points out that they could just go down to the location on the letter and ask. They discover that it’s a very exclusive health spa, which they con their way into, by having Niles pretend to be Cam Winston (who, for the record, has an extremely deep Baritone voice, leading Niles to have to speak like what I imagine Barry White sounded like as a child). The pair are completely satisfied by the unbelievable level of treatment that they receive at the spa… until they see a Senator going into a Gold Door in the spa. They try to follow him, but are stopped by the staff. The Gold Door is for the Gold Level, and they are but Silver.

FrasierDoorJam-3Spa.jpg
They do get stalks of wheat for some reason.

The pair then begin to obsess over getting into the Gold Level at the spa, to the annoyance of everyone else. Finally, Roz (Peri Gilpin), confronts them about why they even care, when the Silver Level is already an unbelievable spa experience. Niles responds “Gold is better.” Roz points out that the Gold might not be the end of it. There could be even more levels beyond that, and the only reason they want them is that they can’t have them. However, she also reveals that she could get them into the Gold Level, because she had an affair with the Senator… and also saved his life from a mid-coital heart attack.

FrasierDoorJam-4Roz.jpg
Can’t imagine what gave him that…

So, Frasier and Niles get into the Gold Level. Frasier is given a color therapy, which partially color-blinds him, and Niles is coated in an orange honey-butter mask and wrapped in seaweed, which renders him both blind and mostly immobile. They are put into a luxurious grotto to relax… at which point Frasier sees a Platinum door. He tries to open it, but is stopped by the staff, making them both anxious to see inside. Together, they stumble/hop through the door into the bright sunlight… of a dumpster-filled alley. The door was for the trash, and they are chased off by a beehive.

FrasierDoorJam-5Outside.jpg
Irony is sometimes easy to get

The B plot concerns Daphne (Jane Leeves) and Martin watching old TV shows so that the English Daphne can catch up on American culture. While watching, Daphne keeps comparing Martin to the elderly characters on the shows, such as Rockford’s Dad on The Rockford Files and Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. Eventually, she just pretends she was confused on the character names and identifies Martin as younger actors just so he’ll stop complaining.

FrasierDoorJam-6Potter.gif
Hey, it’s a compliment to be Col. Potter.

END SUMMARY

The theme for the episode is pretty straightforward. So straightforward that they have more than 3 characters in the episode comment on it directly. Niles and Frasier want what they can’t have, so they’re never happy with what they do. Each time they reach what they perceive is the pinnacle of society, they seem happy with what they’re getting. After the first spa treatment, before they find the Gold Door, they’re both commenting that they’ve never felt better. After the second in the Gold Room, they think the same thing, until they find the “Platinum Door.” It’s a pretty normal theme, and one that’s fairly universal, but it applies more to people like Niles and Frasier, who are fabulously wealthy off of dream jobs, than to normal people like Roz or Daphne. Frasier and Niles live at one of the highest rungs of society. They should be content, but instead they’re even more focused on advancement than other people. Rich people will argue that their refusal to be content is why they achieved so much, and sometimes that’s true, but Niles and Frasier didn’t really. Niles married rich, and Frasier lucked into a cushy job that he hardly works at. Ultimately, it’s just a “grass is always greener” story. Still, few things are funnier than Niles hopping in a seaweed wrap. David Hyde Pierce knows physical comedy.

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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Best Groundhog Day Episodes

You know that movie Groundhog Day? If you don’t, please go watch it now.  Then watch it tomorrow, if you get there.

But, there have been a ton of TV episodes that have used the set-up of repeating the same series of events over and over again, and I’ve decided to list my 5 favorites.

Runner Up: Same Time Last Week (Angry Beavers)

This one has the premise that one of the Beaver Brothers, Norbert, can get so upset that he literally knocks his brother Daggett into last week, restarting the loop. Daggett tries to game the system, but is ultimately too stupid to pull it off. He finally breaks the loop by being so annoying that Norbert is angry enough to “bop him back to the dawn of time” so he meets his own cave-beaver ancestors.

Runner Up: Cause and Effect (Star Trek: TNG)

Space Explosion sends everyone back in time just enough to ensure that they cause another space explosion. This one is pretty standard, although it takes them a while to realize they’re in a time-loop. The main reason I love it is that the first time it was broadcast, a bunch of stations re-used the same promos during each commercial break. I didn’t catch that one, but I did catch it a few years later when a local station used the same gimmick on Groundhog’s Day.

5) Mystery Spot (Supernatural)

This one is hilarious and brutal. It just contains Dean Winchester dying in a number of increasingly ridiculous ways so that a trickster god can teach Sam a lesson about how to move on when Dean dies. After the loop is broken, however, Dean dies permanently, and the audience is shown that Sam does the opposite of get over it, he instead becomes a ruthless monster-slaughtering psychopath. Fortunately, they get one last loop for old time’s sake.

4) Been there, Done That (Xena: Warrior Princess)

This one is caused by a pair of doomed lovers praying for someone to stop their warring families. Aphrodite grants their wish by forcing Xena to re-live the day over and over again until she solves all of the families’ problems. Hilariously, she finds out that the loop starts only about 3 minutes before most of the stuff she’s supposed to prevent happens, so she spends several loops doing the math on how to solve it. The answer, as is usually true with Xena, is “throw a chakram really, really hard.”

3) Judgement Night (The Twilight Zone)

This isn’t a funny one. Not even close. Instead, this one is told from the perspective of a man on a passenger boat in the Atlantic in 1942 who knows that the boat is going to be sunk by a U-Boat, because he’s lived through it sinking before. However, unlike many examples of Groundhog Day episodes, he can’t effect any meaningful change on the events. It’s revealed in the end that he will relive this awful day for eternity, because he was the captain of the Nazi sub that sank it.

2) Heaven Sent (Doctor Who)

Also not funny, but by far the longest loop in any of these shows. The Doctor is stuck in a prison, and for most of the episode, is just trying to figure his way out, until he finally finds the exit… behind a wall of “a substance 400 times harder than diamond” that’s 20 feet thick. Unfortunately, it’s only then that he realizes he’s in a time-loop. Realizing that he has to die to restart the loop, but that the wall is the only thing that doesn’t re-set, he punches it a few times, then re-starts the loop. However, it takes him 4.5 Billion Years to punch his way through the diamond wall to freedom. One of my favorite Doctor Who episodes.

1) Window of Opportunity (Stargate SG-1)

This isn’t just my favorite time-loop episode, it’s also my favorite episode of Stargate SG-1. It has everything. First, it has the loopers, Colonel O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and Teal’c (Christopher Judge), trying to figure out what is going on, then it has them trying to solve it, then it has them learning a bunch of useful skills to help solve it, and it has them taking a few loops just to goof off, including the scene of the pair hitting drives through the Stargate, messing with some random people around the base, and O’Neill finally kissing Carter (Amanda Tapping) after resigning from the army for 14 seconds. It even has a decent villain scheme causing the whole thing. Really, the perfect Groundhog Day episode.

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Netflix Review: 13 Demons

Update: This is now on Netflix, and I have to warn the people.

Compared to Iconoclast, this was a masterpiece, but I’m not 100% sure exactly what this movie was by any other measure. On its IMDB page, it appears I’m not alone, since a ton of the reviews are super low, and others are fairly high.

SUMMARY

The plot starts in medias res with 2 guys being accused of murder in a police station. They’re being held and interviewed separately, but delivering similar answers, claiming that they’re both demon-slaying paladins with fanciful names “Torkul of Darkhaven” (Stephen Grey) and “Abelsworth of the High Wind.” (Michael Cunningham) I braced myself at this point. It then flashes back to their origin.

13Demons-1Interrogation.png
If you’re being interrogated while covered in blood, you may as well claim insanity.

It’s the 90s, the 2 guys are stoned gaming roommates, and a third guy (Daniel Falicki) brings home a board game called “13 Daemons” (no idea why they changed the spelling for the title) which had previously been banned because it caused people to go on murder sprees. The game immediately does the Jumanji “must be magnets or something” gimmick with the pieces, which one of the characters literally calls “Jumanji shit.” There’s then a 10-minute-long montage of these guys playing a roleplaying game… and it is boring. It’s just pot smoking, reading from the lore book, complaining about the smell of the game, and rolling the dice once. It’s like watching people play DnD but without the banter or coherence. Finally, one of the players gets to challenge a demon, and the movie then moves into this weird rotoscoping-style sequence that looks like either Tron or the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings. I admit, despite looking cheap and goofy, I kind of liked the sequence. It just has the player, Torkul, see an animated demon and then stab it to death.

13Demons-2Rotoscoping.png

The characters wake up in different positions with a murder reporting on the TV, bloody upside-down crosses painted in the room, and everyone in completely different positions. But, they keep playing anyway, and now, they start to descend into madness where their characters overtake them. This is represented by them reading the manual in slightly more serious tones and different voices. The acting is… well, they’re playing the “stoned” and “paladin” personas as very over the top and different, but I guess they’re supposed to be playing it that way. I’m not going to pretend this is a triumph of acting, but the director and writer (who is actor number 3) obviously knew they weren’t great, so he kept them at least somewhat in the right range for their skills.

13Demons-3TV.png
“Did you paint that in blood?” “No, did you?” “No… let’s get stoned and keep playing.”

The second player does another one of the animated sequences fighting his demon, and then comes what is undoubtedly the best sequence in the movie. The third guy is supposed to fight his demon, but instead of the animated hallucination, we see what is actually happening: He’s putting on pots and pans for armor and carrying a rubber mallet. It is done in a hilariously serious manner in the film. He then tries to slay a demon that is actually a mechanic with a tire iron, and, as would probably happen, the mechanic just beats him over the head with the tire iron. It’s genuinely an entertaining sequence.

13Demons-4RealHammer.png
Now is the time of the Hammer.

The movie then loses steam in a very sad way. The rest is a montage of the two remaining players descending into madness while arguing over which one of them is the “purest” paladin. They basically challenge each other to a death match, then sit back down to roll the dice. It starts to flash between these scenes and the police station, where it’s revealed that they’ve been murdering random people who they thought were demons, including small children. And now, both of them believe that the last demon is the other one. The movie then ends with both of them in police custody, being charged with murder, insisting that it’s not “just a game.” It ends with literally no resolution or explanation of what’s happened.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, I’m torn on this film. On the one hand, the concept is… well, not new, it’s kind of a combination of “Mazes and Monsters” and “Jumanji” if you watched both on pot. But, it was at least kind of interesting. The acting is over-the-top and ridiculous, but, since the characters are always either stoned or possessed by a board game, that doesn’t really make it unbearable. The special effects are cheap and cheesy, but they know they’re cheap and cheesy, so, again, it doesn’t really make upset me. The sequence of the guy in pots and pans armor is nothing short of hilarious, but the rest of the movie doesn’t really come off as humorous, so it kind of gives you tonal whiplash.

Which brings me to the thing that most pisses me off in the movie: It completely lacks any climax, either emotional or narrative. If it were a comedy, or some form of alternative film where that made sense, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s literally a quest film. It needs an ending of some sort, but instead, it just ends with the question over whether or not the game was causing the problem or if these guys are just crazy… which makes no sense because WE KNOW THE GAME IS THE PROBLEM. Even the cops should know the game is the problem. Hell, if I was their attorney, I’d point out that the game has a history of causing murder sprees, and it’s a decent defense to raise, which makes the ending argument really, really dumb.

13Demons-5Necronomicon.jpg
Is the book made of human skin evil? We’ll tell you at 11.

Honestly, this is almost a decent movie, it just doesn’t go anywhere. They just stretched a joke premise into 80 minutes, like Boss Baby, but it wasn’t funny… like Boss Baby. I really wish it had been either better or worse, because it really comes out as quality-pH 7. It also is never explained how they actually managed to kill this many people, since it’s revealed that one of them was using a stick. Not a large stick, just a stick. I mean, one guy got killed for trying to use a rubber mallet in his assault, and that’s significantly more lethal than the stick. Also, at the end, the police mention that the game was, indeed, banned because it caused people to go on killing sprees, which makes it more confusing that these guys tried the game in the first place, because that’s not a rumor, that’s a Federal law. Also, is it magic? Or is it chemical? I mean, they complain that the game smells, so, it’s possible that it’s just a hallucinogen. Also, the game clearly took like 12 hours of playing to start possessing them, so… how many people really could have had the dedication to play this game to the point of murderous rage?

This movie had some entertaining sequences, but the ending just felt like they ran out of budget, and the fact that about 30 minutes of it is just people reading a book and rolling dice really didn’t help. The movie wasn’t self-aware enough to be Chucky-sequel entertaining, wasn’t bad enough to be The Room level entertaining, and wasn’t good enough to be… good. But, I’ll be damned if the pots and pans armor wasn’t funny.

Skip this movie, unless you’ve really got a lot of alcohol and have run out of other bad movies.

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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Trailer:

Notes:

Preliminary: Sober, slightly ill, and bracing myself. I’ve been told this is better than Iconoclast, but that bar is basically saying “less crazy than Manson.” Hopefully, this one will at least keep my interest.

7:45 – Movie starts with a quote by William Howard Taft that I’m 90% sure is not actually by William Howard Taft. A cursory Google during the credits indicates that it’s unsourced and just being repeated on the internet. Auspicious start.

7:46 – Film quality is significantly better than Iconoclast, but not much above Birdemic. Starts off in police interrogation in medias res.

7:47 – Main character introduces himself as Torkul of Darkhaven, and I’m already slightly worried about the writing. The acting of the other characters in the scene is… I’m gonna have to go with The Room level, but without the dedication.

7:53 – Flashback begins. Oh my God, it’s Jumanji meets DnD. The TV is a tube tv and they’re playing the Dragon’s Lair NES Port, so I’m guessing it’s either the 90s, or they’re poor.

7:55 – And the main characters just said that it’s “Jumanji shit.” At least they know what they’re ripping off. If this ends up just being like that Tom Hanks movie “Mazes and Monsters,” and it’s just in their heads, I might applaud.

8:07 – After a 10-minute montage of 3 stoned guys trying to play this RPG (amounting to 1/8 of the total runtime) and complaining about how bad the game smells, we finally get to the magic shit. The magic effects look like the rotoscoping from Tron and the Bakshi Lord of the Rings. This movie came out in 2016, so that’s dated, but… eh, fuck, I love Tron and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, so it’s working for me.

8:12 – Okay, so they woke up in completely different positions around the room to hear about a murder, the game has changed, and they decide to just keep playing. Yeah, I get nuts about finishing games too.

8:19 – I think the writers greatly overestimated how much audiences would enjoy having rulebooks and lore read to them onscreen for large amounts of time by guys who either are stoned, or play it very well.

8:21 – I get that they’re supposed to be descending into Madness and stuff, but they’re either overselling it or underselling it by just repeating the same lines 5 times.

8:22 – Okay, more rotoscoping-style stuff. Again they wake up in different positions to hear about a murder, and they go back to playing. It’s now been at least 2 full days of playing. This cursed game really takes its time. Jumanji started stuff on roll 1.

8:26 – These guys are not good actors. It was not a great decision to focus most of the movie on them just talking and reading a book aloud.

8:29 – “Roll a 3, take the Right Path. Roll a 4, take the Left.” Okay, but… it’s a 6-sided die. What do they do with the other numbers? I NEED ANSWERS!!!!

8:31 – Alright, rather than the magic this time, they’re just putting on Pots and pans as armor. I might love this movie.

8:36 – “Go back to oblivion to suck on your mother’s teat” might be my new favorite way to call someone out. But now the crazy gamer has a rubber mallet, and the other guy is a mechanic with a tire iron. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t win.

8:37 – To the movie’s credit, he didn’t win.

8:40 – Okay, so they killed a ton of people, including a child. I’m very intrigued as to how this works out. I want it to turn out that all of these people actually were possessed, but I think we’re going the straight route.

8:50 – And now they’re challenging each other to a fight, but then they still have to play the rest of the game by dice rolling. I… Don’t know what the rules are here.

8:57 – “It’s a game.” “It’s not a game.” X 20 is apparently the dialogue now.

8:58 – WHAT? THAT’S THE END? THAT’S NOT AN ENDING!!!

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Best Groundhog Day Episodes

You know that movie Groundhog Day? If you don’t, please go watch it now.  Then watch it tomorrow, if you get there.

But, there have been a ton of TV episodes that have used the set-up of repeating the same series of events over and over again, and I’ve decided to list my 5 favorites.

Runner Up: Same Time Last Week (Angry Beavers)

This one has the premise that one of the Beaver Brothers, Norbert, can get so upset that he literally knocks his brother Daggett into last week, restarting the loop. Daggett tries to game the system, but is ultimately too stupid to pull it off. He finally breaks the loop by being so annoying that Norbert is angry enough to “bop him back to the dawn of time” so he meets his own cave-beaver ancestors.

Runner Up: Cause and Effect (Star Trek: TNG)

Space Explosion sends everyone back in time just enough to ensure that they cause another space explosion. This one is pretty standard, although it takes them a while to realize they’re in a time-loop. The main reason I love it is that the first time it was broadcast, a bunch of stations re-used the same promos during each commercial break. I didn’t catch that one, but I did catch it a few years later when a local station used the same gimmick on Groundhog’s Day.

5) Mystery Spot (Supernatural)

This one is hilarious and brutal. It just contains Dean Winchester dying in a number of increasingly ridiculous ways so that a trickster god can teach Sam a lesson about how to move on when Dean dies. After the loop is broken, however, Dean dies permanently, and the audience is shown that Sam does the opposite of get over it, he instead becomes a ruthless monster-slaughtering psychopath. Fortunately, they get one last loop for old time’s sake.

4) Been there, Done That (Xena: Warrior Princess)

This one is caused by a pair of doomed lovers praying for someone to stop their warring families. Aphrodite grants their wish by forcing Xena to re-live the day over and over again until she solves all of the families’ problems. Hilariously, she finds out that the loop starts only about 3 minutes before most of the stuff she’s supposed to prevent happens, so she spends several loops doing the math on how to solve it. The answer, as is usually true with Xena, is “throw a chakram really, really hard.”

3) Judgement Night (The Twilight Zone)

This isn’t a funny one. Not even close. Instead, this one is told from the perspective of a man on a passenger boat in the Atlantic in 1942 who knows that the boat is going to be sunk by a U-Boat, because he’s lived through it sinking before. However, unlike many examples of Groundhog Day episodes, he can’t effect any meaningful change on the events. It’s revealed in the end that he will relive this awful day for eternity, because he was the captain of the Nazi sub that sank it.

2) Heaven Sent (Doctor Who)

Also not funny, but by far the longest loop in any of these shows. The Doctor is stuck in a prison, and for most of the episode, is just trying to figure his way out, until he finally finds the exit… behind a wall of “a substance 400 times harder than diamond” that’s 20 feet thick. Unfortunately, it’s only then that he realizes he’s in a time-loop. Realizing that he has to die to restart the loop, but that the wall is the only thing that doesn’t re-set, he punches it a few times, then re-starts the loop. However, it takes him 4.5 Billion Years to punch his way through the diamond wall to freedom. One of my favorite Doctor Who episodes.

1) Window of Opportunity (Stargate SG-1)

This isn’t just my favorite time-loop episode, it’s also my favorite episode of Stargate SG-1. It has everything. First, it has the loopers, Colonel O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and Teal’c (Christopher Judge), trying to figure out what is going on, then it has them trying to solve it, then it has them learning a bunch of useful skills to help solve it, and it has them taking a few loops just to goof off, including the scene of the pair hitting drives through the Stargate, messing with some random people around the base, and O’Neill finally kissing Carter (Amanda Tapping) after resigning from the army for 14 seconds. It even has a decent villain scheme causing the whole thing. Really, the perfect Groundhog Day episode.

Link to the Archives.

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41) A Charlie Brown Christmas (Peanuts)

Some of you may bring up that this is more of a special than an episode of television. Some of you may point out that, in fact, Peanuts was not a TV show. That it was only a series of specials based on a comic strip found in the newspaper, and there weren’t even that many of them, really. Some of you may point out that many of them were made as promotions for events or companies, and thus this entry should be invalid.

Those of you who do that are Dirty Communists.

CharlieBrown-1Stalin
The mass-murder kind, not the healthcare and retirement kind.

Peanuts was never a show, true, but it had a huge impact on television, not to mention America, and this was the special that started it all. For the 2 people out there who don’t know Peanuts, here’s the premise: Charlie Brown is a loser. Actually, he’s THE loser. Even when things appear to be going his way, fate will find a way to knock him down. His “friends” often don’t help, as they tend to point out that he lacks any discernible talent. Sometimes they even sabotage him further. Lucy (Tracy Stratford), famously, even pulls the football out from under him every time he tries to kick it. Every. Single. Time. It was an annual gag from the 50s to the 90s. Despite this, though, he always has a strong moral center, never cheats, and always believes that, through time and effort, he can develop something that will make him have value in the eyes of others. While it rarely happens in the show, since Charlie Brown is based on his author Charles Schulz, we can believe that he does eventually make good. The strange dichotomy of Charlie Brown, however, is that while he’s often a loser, he’s also usually in charge of his gang of friends, which may say more about them than him. Maybe they just like failing while having someone to blame it on. Schadenfreude, thy name is Peanuts.

CharlieBrown-2Football.jpg
Hope springs eternal.

SUMMARY

In this special, Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) starts out by being depressed about the commercialization of Christmas. He laments to his best friend, Linus (Chris Shea), that he doesn’t particularly grasp the meaning of the season. His friends don’t help the matter: His sister, Sally (Kathy Steinberg), wants a huge number of gifts (though she’ll accept cash), his friend Lucy wants real estate, Linus chides him for just being moody and tells him to enjoy his presents, and even his dog, Snoopy (Bill Melendez), spends his time on a decorating contest. Charlie Brown is invited to direct the Christmas play to help lighten his mood, but none of his friends show any interest in cooperating.

CharlieBrown-3Wall.jpeg
Contemplative for an elementary-schooler.

Deciding that it would help to get a tree for the set, Charlie Brown goes to a tree lot. Despite being told to get a fake tree, he picks the only real tree on the lot – a scrawny sapling. Everyone proceeds to mock the tree as being insufficient to represent Christmas, leading an exasperated Charlie Brown to ask if anyone even knows what Christmas even is.

CharlieBrown-4Tree
This was my trivia team symbol for a while. I miss you, Peanuts Gang.

In response, Linus, the only one who didn’t laugh at the tree, recites the annunciation of the Shepherds from the Gospel of Luke, ending with “on Earth peace and goodwill towards men.” Charlie Brown takes his tree home to decorate, to show that, despite its appearance, it really can be what the show needs. It promptly bends over after having a single ornament placed on it. Despondent over killing the tree, Charlie Brown leaves, lamenting his perpetual failure. The rest of the gang then arrives, feeling guilty, and decorates the tree (somehow giving it more branches and needles at the same time). When Charlie Brown returns, he sees his friends singing around the now beautiful little tree.

CharlieBrown-5Singing.jpg
A happy ending for everyone. Even the loser.

END SUMMARY

Charlie Brown is a loser with a heart of gold. The thing that sets him apart is that he keeps trying, and that he treats his friends well, even when they treat him poorly. He always turns the other cheek. Because of that, in the end, his friends always come through for him, letting even the world’s born loser manage to pull off a win.

PREVIOUS – 42: Sesame Street

NEXT – 40: Supernatural

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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https://dailymotion.com/video/x2cgz0g

42) Farewell, Mr. Hooper – Episode 15.4 (Sesame Street)

Sesame Street, the show, is what happens when people love children enough to try and help them grow up into better people… if that person has puppetry skills that have reached the point where puppets are no longer creepy. Jim Henson did not technically create Sesame Street, but he’s the reason you know what it is. When asked, Henson was more than willing to support the goals of the show: To promote the education of children. In fact, Sesame Street was the first children’s show to actually study the effects of educational television programming, largely to reevaluate and reconstruct the show to increase the impact. In short, Sesame Street wanted to teach kids stuff, while entertaining them with Muppets. While some of the Muppets would also try to work in some more adult fare later, the Street remains for kids (though some of their recent parodies, while still innocent, are hilarious to adults).

SesameStreet-1Chairs.jpg
They did a Game of Thrones parody. That’s pretty adult.

One of the original human characters on the show was Mr. Harold Hooper (Will Lee), the owner of “Hooper’s Store.” Hooper’s store was one of the few places on the show where Muppets and humans were allowed to interact in-between cartoons and Muppet segments, which usually showcased the slightly more complex personalities of the humans in contrast to the childlike personalities of the Muppets. Unlike most of the human characters on the show, Mr. Hooper was capable of being in a bad mood. Of course, he was always still a good person deep down, because it’s Sesame Street. He was, however, one of the few people who would ever get mad at Big Bird (Carroll Spinney), mostly because Bird would never get his name right. Mr. Hooper was also a believer in continuing education, once telling the people on Sesame Street, and thus the audience and their parents, that it was never too late to go back to school, which he later proved by getting his G.E.D. He was one of the more “real” people on Sesame Street, in that he seemed to have a wider range of feelings, and that would sometimes make him the emotional core of an episode. Sadly, Mr. Hooper was pretty old when the show started and, 13 years later, Will Lee died of a heart attack.

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He didn’t like taking any of Ernie’s shenanigans.

At the time, the usual practice for such a development would be to either re-cast the character or to have Mr. Hooper “move away.” The writers of the show decided instead to take this tragedy as an opportunity to try something new, and chose to teach the kids about death. Fortunately, they didn’t take this responsibility lightly, and consulted experts in child psychology, child development, and even religion and spirituality to make sure they managed to get the message across without traumatizing the audience. On Thanksgiving Day, 1983, a full year after Mr. Hooper died in real life, the show decided to tell the kids about how death works. Thanksgiving wasn’t a coincidence, either. They chose that day to ensure that there would likely be adults around to help the kids if they got sad.

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R.I.P. you beautiful man.

SUMMARY

Most of the episode was perfectly normal, honestly. Cartoons, Kermit, the guest was Madeleine Kahn (I miss her, too) and the letter was J. The first few human/Muppet segments were designed specifically to set up for the big lesson in the episode. At the beginning, Muppet Forgetful Jones is helped by human Gordon (Roscoe Orman) to remember something that makes him happy, which counters forgetting something that makes you sad. In another segment, Big Bird walks backwards with his head between his legs. When asked why, he says “just because,” which is sometimes the only answer there is. Big Bird overhears the adults talking about a new baby that’ll be visiting the street, and Big Bird remarks that the thing about babies is that one day they aren’t here, then the next day they are. This was a clever, elaborate, but extremely subtle build up to the main segment.

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R.I.P. you beautiful woman.

The episode continues as normal, but the next time the scene shifts to the brownstones, Big Bird brings the adults drawings he made of all of them (actually drawn by the woman inside the bird). When he gets to Mr. Hooper’s drawing, Bird says that he’ll give it to Mr. Hooper when he gets back. The adults tell Big Bird that Mr. Hooper isn’t coming back. This is the moment in the show when the adults watching might notice that something is off. The adults then tell Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died, and can never come back. As they say this, they’re tearing up in the same way that they would when trying to explain it to a child. Bird naturally doesn’t understand at first, and is saddened by the news that Mr. Hooper won’t be around anymore.  The other adults make sure to tell Big Bird that they love him, and that they will help take care of him now that Mr. Hooper isn’t around (Hooper sold Bird his seed). Big Bird asks one of the hardest questions any child, or any person, would ever have about death: “Why does it have to be this way? Give me one good reason!” and receives the only response he can: “It has to be this way… just because.” Big Bird looks at Mr. Hooper’s picture and sadly says “I’m going to miss you, Mr. Looper.”

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If you aren’t crying, you aren’t human.

At the end of the episode, Bird hangs Mr. Hooper’s picture next to his nest and goes to see the new baby from before, ending the episode with death’s counter-point, life:

You know, the one thing is about new babies, one day they’re not here and next day, here they are!

END SUMMARY

Just to ensure that they’d done their jobs, Children’s Television Workshop did a poll and found that almost ¾ of the children above age 3 who watched the show understood the basics of death and loss now. Yes, they managed to convey one of the hardest concepts to internalize for humanity at a rate higher than we currently are able to convey basic math at that age. Or maybe any age. If we had let these people write our school curriculum, we’d have created the Star Trek Federation by now.

PREVIOUS – 43: The Simpsons

NEXT – 41: Peanuts

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.

43) Marge vs. the Monorail (The Simpsons)

Okay, this is probably still my favorite Simpsons episode to re-watch. It’s also the episode that best defines the city of Springfield and the exact level of blind idiocy that permeates the town.  It was written by Conan O’Brien, who knows something about comedy, I’m told.

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And about contract negotiations.

Quick Recap: The main characters of the show are the fat, lazy, idiot father Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his wife who definitely could have done better Marge (Julie Kavner); his prankster (and later sociopath) son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); brainy daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); baby Maggie; and the city of Springfield (hundreds of characters at this point).

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This show will apparently never die.

SUMMARY

If you haven’t seen The Music Man, you should. If you don’t like musicals then just see this episode, because it’s almost as good and over 2 hours shorter. The setup for the episode is that Mr. Burns, the town’s leading plutocrat, is found dumping toxic waste into the Springfield children’s park (he had to stop dumping at the playground because of the bald children). For this, he is fined 3 million dollars. He pays with his pocket change, and also buys a statue of justice on the way out, because subtlety is for the weak. Because of this, Springfield suddenly has a surplus of funding, despite the mayor’s attempt to steal $1 million and hope no one noticed. At a town meeting, Marge rationally proposes fixing up Main Street, which has been destroyed by people leaving on their snow chains and carrying too much weight. Mostly Homer “Look at that pavement fly” Simpson. The crowd is about to be swayed when a man who sounds remarkably like Phil Hartman whistles from the corner. That man’s name is Lanley, Lyle Lanley, and he manages to convince the citizens of Springfield to spend the money on another project: a Monorail. Lanley convinces everyone in town that the monorail is a good idea, either through flim-flams, flattery or falsification. Best of all, he does it in a peppy song that includes lyrics so funny that I have 2 different people who randomly text them to me sometimes.

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He also helps open pudding cans. 

Homer hears about the opportunity to become a monorail conductor and goes to an intense three-week course (The total lessons: Mono = 1, Rail = Rail). At the end, he is randomly picked by Lanley to run the monorail, while Lanley takes most of the town’s money and runs. At the same time, Marge, who was angry at Lanley and the town for ignoring her idea, is now convinced that Lanley is up to something and investigates. Upon going to one of Lanley’s former marks, the town of North Haverbrook, she learns Lanley’s entire plan from Sebastian Cobb (Harry Shearer), the man who built the last monorail. Lanley’s cost cutting on the monorail is so devastating that the monorail is doomed to fail and kill everyone onboard, which, sadly, includes celebrity guest Leonard Nimoy (whom the mayor thinks was one of the little rascals). Marge and Cobb arrive too late, because Cobb stopped for a haircut, and the town citizens are stuck on an out of control monorail. At the last minute, Homer constructs an anchor which stops the monorail, saving the town. Marge ends the episode by saying that it was the only folly of the city of Springfield… except for the Popsicle stick skyscraper, the giant magnifying glass (which sets the stick skyscraper on fire), and the escalator to nowhere (which appears to kill about 1 person per second).

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They’re not a smart town.

END SUMMARY

The key to this episode is that, just like the Music Man’s River City, Springfield represents America. Even though we are usually rational, sometimes we can get caught up in a scam or a bad idea. We follow it until eventually it collapses on us, then we say we’re going to learn better and not get fooled again… until we are, just by a slightly different bad idea. We can even have memorials of our own bad ideas featured around us, and we fail to really learn from them. Because of this, Springfield itself comes off as just another character in the show, and almost 20 years later, it may be the best-developed one.

PREVIOUS – 44: The X-Files

NEXT – 42: Sesame Street

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.

If you have an FX account, here’s the show officially:

http://www.simpsonsworld.com/video/306386499796

And if not, here’s the hilarious opening with Burns:

And here’s the Music Man sequence: