Reader Bonus: Reefer Madness!! (The not-musical, no Rifftrax)

Much like Birdemic, I had never seen this without RiffTrax providing some form of commentary. Fortunately, like Birdemic, this is the kind of beautiful trainwreck that doesn’t really hurt much to watch without comedians giving commentary.

Bless you all.

During my review of other bad movies, I’ve said the key to making a “so bad, it’s good” movie is that everyone doing the movie has to believe they’re doing a good movie. That way, nobody comes off as second-guessing or lacking dedication. This movie definitely nailed that. I believe that everyone involved in this movie was totally on board. Maybe not with the message the movie was sending, but they believed that they were doing a worthwhile film. I therefore dedicate to their memory this review, which will largely consist of belittling their sad, misguided efforts.

Okay, so, some background notes on this movie:

ReeferBWPoster.jpgReefer Madness is an anti-cannabis (or, as they spell it in the movie, marihuana) film which was originally designed to be shown to parents to warn them about the dangers of pot. And yes, it was absolutely serious. However, while the original movie was just an educational film with an embedded morality play, it was bought by another filmmaker who specialized in exploitation films, who apparently inserted a bunch of the other, racier (by 1930s standards) shots into the movie and gave it wider distribution. Since nobody involved actually cared that much about the movie’s longevity, it wasn’t copyrighted properly, and lapsed into the public domain.

ReeferBW19It apparently became popular in the 1970s when people used it as a way to drum-up funding and support for the California Marijuana Initiative (which failed). But, because it’s so gloriously awful, it started to gain a cult following, and eventually got a musical adaptation and a ton of humorous commentaries. In 2004, someone colorized it, and since that version was the first one to come up on my Amazon search, that’s the one I watched.


The beginning of the movie is a text crawl warning people of the approaching threat of marihuana in the US, which is called a “violent narcotic” and “the real public enemy number one!” I guess Frank Nitti just really wasn’t holding up Capone’s legacy.

ReeferBWScroll.jpgIt describes the effects of pot: Uncontrollable laughter, then dangerous hallucinations where time slows down, then “conjuring up massive extravagances,” emotional disturbances, the inability to think, leading to acts of violence, and, finally, INCURABLE INSANITY. The movie then explains that it’s totally based on scientific research into pot addiction, and begs you to do something, because “the dread marihuana may be reaching forth next for your son or daughter… or yours… or YOURS!” Yes, they typed that out, as if you read as multiple people.

ReeferBWLectureSo, the movie’s frame tale is a lecture given at a PTA meeting by a high school principal (Josef Forte). This guy is glorious. He says everything like he’s preaching a sermon while a pit to hell opens around him. It’s so serious, so urgent, and so blindly, obviously, wrong. He tells the audience that morphine and heroin are less dangerous than marijuana. Also, he tells them that he’s going to inform all of them of the places where you can find/buy drugs, which was definitely not the normal path to take at an anti-drug meeting. That’s like telling MADD where all the good bars are.

The rest of the movie is supposedly a story that happened in the town where the PTA meeting is taking place, which seems really weird, because the events in the movie are either A) not something he could know about or B) so bizarre and huge they would have been the talk of the town and he wouldn’t need to tell anyone. But, it’s the 1930s, so I guess no one had anything better to do than listen to this guy and try not to get polio.

Such subtle performances

So, the main story starts with Jack and Mae (Carleton Young and Thelma White), an (*gasp*) unmarried couple living together in sin selling marijuana to make ends meet (and apparently buy Jack’s super snazzy suits). Mae doesn’t want to sell drugs to kids, but Jack figures it’s easier than finding adults. He’s helped by Ralph and Blanche (Dave O’Brien and Lillian Miles). Ralph is a college student who is clearly insane (though, they say that’s because he smokes pot) and Blanche is… I think a prostitute, but money never appears to change hands on screen.

Ralph and Blanche invite two students, Jimmy and Billy (Warren McCollum and Kenneth Craig), to come back to Jack and Mae’s. Bill warns Jimmy against it. We then find out that Bill is dating Jimmy’s sister Mary (Dorothy Short). Their romance scenes are corny, even by 1930s standards, but it’s made even weirder by the fact that Mary’s mom pervs on the couple when they’re kissing (no, really, she’s clearly really into watching them make out). After Bill leaves the Lannister household (really Lane, so close), Jimmy talks him into going to Jack’s house.

Oh, and despite the fact that Jimmy and Billy are supposed to be portrayed as kids, they are both clearly in their 20s or 30s. Actually, one of them is older than the “adult” actresses.

Let us go and get a malted milk shake, fellow adolescent who definitely isn’t 32!

So, they go to the “Reefer Den,” and, I gotta tell you, this seems like a fun place. Everyone’s laughing, smiling, hugging, kissing, and, oh yeah, they suck at playing music. Also, they make the pot smoke multicolor, which… doesn’t seem like something pot does. Oh, and 420 flashes onscreen at one point.

Hit and run… no consequences

While at Jack’s place, Jack runs out of pot, so Jimmy, who has borrowed his sister’s car, drives Jack to get more. When they stop at Jack’s dealing boss, Jimmy asks Jack for a cigarette (which, by the way, everyone is smoking in the movie, including the “underage,” since some states sold cigarettes to minors in the 1930s). Jack then gives Jimmy a joint, which leads Jimmy to drive recklessly (he almost goes 50!) and run over a pedestrian without stopping. Jack then talks to Jimmy again and tells Jimmy that the guy died (he didn’t), but that he’ll keep Jimmy out of trouble if he never tells anyone about Jack’s business. AND THEN JIMMY IS OUT OF THE MOVIE. Seriously, Jimmy gets high, runs a guy over, and then disappears.

The movie then cuts to the Principal talking to an expert about pot, and he lists a number of pot-related incidents, including a guy murdering his family with an ax, and a woman sleeping with five men at the same time. These are treated as equally bad.

ReeferBWRape.JPGIt then cuts back to another pot party where Bill sleeps with Blanche. At the same time, Mary comes over to the pot house looking for Bill (but not her brother). She sits with Ralph, who then proceeds to get stoned and TRY TO RAPE HER. And yes, this is portrayed as being a result of cannabis. The rape scene has a lot of weird cuts in it, which might be from not being able to film it in one take, or from inserting extra frames of the violent attempt to force Mary into sex, or holy shit, this movie stopped being funny. Also, I found out later that Mary and Ralph were married in real life, and I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.

ReeferBWPress.jpgSo, Bill finishes having sex with Blanche and comes out to find Ralph trying to force himself onto Mary, but Bill then hallucinates that Mary is stripping down to seduce Ralph, despite Mary loudly screaming “NO.” Bill fights Ralph (again, not over raping, but over the thought that he’s being seduced by her, because what the hell 1930s?), and Jack intervenes, which… results in Jack pulling out a gun which goes off while pointed at the floor, but apparently ricochets to instantly (and bloodlessly) kill Mary. Jack then knocks Bill out and plants the gun in his hand, leading Bill to be charged with her murder.

The trial scene is great, because it’s pretty much entirely about pot, and almost all of it is so wildly inappropriate for trial that the one objection that’s made is memorable for being about 2 minutes after the improper testimony concludes. The jurors basically decide to convict him not over whether or not he murdered Mary, but over whether or not he smokes pot which… is probably one of the most accurate jury rooms in film. Bill is convicted of killing Mary and sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, Ralph, who apparently actually shot Mary, is feeling guilty and wants to confess. Jack is told by his boss to kill Ralph. While waiting at Jack’s place, unaware, Ralph keeps telling Blanche to play the piano faster. No, really, that’s it. He just keeps telling her to play it faster and laughing. It’s apparently supposed to indicate that he’s now incurably insane. Jack shows up, but Ralph’s new pot-senses tingle that danger is near and Ralph beats him to death.

ReeferBWCops.jpgBlanche then tells the cops that Jack or Ralph actually killed Mary, not Bill, signs a statement, then kills herself. Ralph is then committed to an asylum forever. Bill is released based on the statement Blanche made right before her suicide. So, Jimmy and Bill both commit various crimes and get off scot-free, but Mary’s dead.

The Principal finishes the lecture, and tells everyone they need to work to thwart the menace of marijuana, or it could come after “your son or daughter… or yours… or YOURS!” See, this time, he’s pointing at people, including, finally, the audience, which actually makes sense. Then the words “TELL YOUR CHILDREN” appear on screen.



It’s not the worst movie ever, not by a long shot, but Reefer Madness is still really bad. Looking at it as a cautionary tale, it’s almost worse, because the pot house is huge, there are always people there having a good time, and Bill and Jimmy both avoid any real punishment, despite the fact that they commit multiple crimes including what one of them thinks is vehicular manslaughter. In retrospect, it’s even a little worse, because alcohol and cigarettes are portrayed as being perfectly fine, and heroin and morphine are presented as less harmful than marijuana, which… is wrong. Like, super wrong. Also, pot making you a rapist and murderer should have been ridiculous even in the era of playing with mercury.

I don’t even know what to say about the acting. I’d say it’s terrible, but I think they were all doing exactly what they were told. How would any actor realistically respond to the command “crazily tell someone to play the piano faster?” Or “have a criminal amount of fun?” I mean, they’re over the top, but they’re such ridiculous characters that there’s no other way to play them. However, the exception is Jack. Jack is bad regardless of direction. Jack mangles his lines hilariously about a quarter of the time.

It’s campy, it’s ridiculous, it’s based on a premise so insane that it could only have been conceived of by a Southern Church Group (and was). The RiffTrax was much better, so I recommend going straight to that, but the movie is pretty fun on its own. Or go to the musical… tomorrow.

Link to the Archives.

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Here’s the full film:


Preliminary notes: Sober. Angry. If I smoked pot, I would definitely be smoking it right now. Let’s kick this pig.

6:15 – Okay, so I could only find the colorized version without having to look harder than the first result. The opening credits are therefore in a very weed-friendly green color. Also, I really hate that they spell it “marihuana” in the opening crawl.

6:17 – I refuse to believe this many people showed up to parent-teacher conferences even back in the 1930s, when there was nothing better to do. Suit game is on point, though.

6:18 – Guy basically just said “I think it would be helpful for all of you to know how to get drugs into the country, and where to find them.” Mixed messages here…

6:20 – The movie is literally comparing morphine, heroin, and marihuana as if they’re equally harmful drugs. Again, this was designed to be serious.

6:23 – I’ll admit, I love the suits. And Mae looks pretty good, for blurry film.

6:24 – I know this was re-colored, and now I desperately want to know if the lime-green suit was actually what the guy was wearing.

6:26 – “Better not go with him, he’s a little too old for us.” Says the actor who is clearly in his 30s about another actor in his 30s.

6:27 – Okay, so, everyone smoking regular cigarettes apparently aren’t doing anything wrong. Way to lose credibility, nineteen thirties.

6:28 – Everyone has two straws, just in case one of them breaks down (I miss Mitch Hedburg, who also liked weed).

6:29 – The guy who played the parody version of Ralph was more realistic than the original. Impressive. Also, the pot smoke being green might make it a bit easier to convince parents that you’re just smoking tobacco in real life. Thanks, movie! (update: Sadly, wasn’t colorized until 2004).

6:31 – The mom is kinda perving on her daughter kissing Billy. That’s more than a little creepy. Also, even the kid at home is wearing a sportscoat. Man, the 30s were a lot of effort.

6:34 – Ah, Jazz during its “let’s just strangle some cats” period.

6:35 – The number 240 just flashed big and neon on the screen. Weird. (Update: Apparently it was 4 and then 20)

6:37 – Okay, the smoke from weed just comes out in any technicolor shade. Purple, pink, green, yellow, blue. Man, this makes me really want to try pot.


6:39 – And vehicular manslaughter is apparently the first sign of pot use.

6:41 – Apparently, another sign is butchering your family with an ax. The next example is an orgy… which, seems like a very odd thing to pair with ax murder.

6:42 – Yeah, honestly, these pot parties seem more fun than a life where your big weekly event is playing doubles tennis. Dancing, music, spontaneous laughter, beautiful women pulling you into bedrooms. Pot truly is a menace.

6:43 – This guy’s directorial instructions clearly were “act like you really, really should have some pot.”

6:44 – I don’t know exactly what Bill and Blanche just did, but she appears to be having a stroke after it.

6:45 – There are a lot of frames missing in the rape scene, or they really couldn’t film it in one take. Also, this is a pretty awful rape scene. (Update: Holy shit, they’re married).

6:46 – So, you hallucinate that your girlfriend, who is literally screaming no, is consenting and stripping, and THAT is what makes you want to stop it? Man, Pot makes you the devil. Well played, movie.

6:47 – And now random gunshot aimed at floor instantly, and bloodlessly, kills Mary.

6:49 – Could you butcher that line harder, Jack? It might still have some words almost coherently expressed.

6:54 – Great objection, attorney. It was only about 2 minutes after he finished giving the improper testimony.

7:02 – Ralph wants to confess to murder, so they’re going to murder him so that people don’t blame pot. As opposed to the entire trial happening which is blaming pot. Gangsters are not smart in this movie.

7:08 – I’m frightened that the jury scene is accurate.

7:10 – Ralph was more likeable as a cannibal.

7:12 – This crazed maniac keeps asking a woman to play the piano faster. My god, pot is worse than I thought.

7:14 – “Okay, Blanche, you’re laughing and crying at the same time, so make your face look like neither of those things.”

7:15 – Alright, we’re going to just take her out of court, unsworn testimony as being sufficient evidence to overturn Bill’s conviction without any judicial action required. Man, the 30s knew how to work a justice system.

7:17 – “Kids, if you smoke pot and have sex, you should just kill yourself.” – This movie, apparently.

7:18 – For the record, Jimmy apparently is going completely unpunished for the hit-and-run that he ACTUALLY DID.

7:19 – Okay, they did actually bring a judge in to overturn Bill’s conviction. Based on a single statement by a now-dead witness who very easily could have been lying for multiple reasons. But, I’ll assume Ralph has confessed at this point and everyone just didn’t care anymore.

7:20 – Point at me… point at me… YES HE POINTED AT ME. I will tell my children, sir, of all the evils of marihuana.


16) Goodbye, Mr. Fish (The Cosby Show)

CosbySweatshirtBill Cosby is a rapist. Gonna say that up front. He did terrible things to women, hasn’t really shown any remorse for it, and, despite that, he spent most of his life pretending to be the moral center of American comedy (even after admitting to cheating on his wife). As Hannibal Buress put it “It’s even worse because Bill Cosby has the f*cking smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. ‘Pull your pants up, black people, I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches. ‘I don’t curse on stage.’ Well, yeah, you’re a rapist, so, I’ll take you sayin’ lots of motherf*ckers on Bill Cosby: Himself if you weren’t a rapist.” He may never be convicted, and I suppose there is a small chance that I am wrong, and that all these women have been falsely accusing him since the 1970s with similar stories that happen to match some partial admissions by him. But, I’m willing to bet otherwise.

Great Book. Crazy Author.

It’s difficult to separate the artist from the art. That makes writing this episode’s review more challenging, since I put it on the list before the accusations really came to light, but am writing it after his first trial (update: And publishing it before his second). But, ultimately, I’m going to keep it on here. The fact that Polanski is a pedophile doesn’t mean Chinatown isn’t brilliant, that Orson Scott Card has weird conspiracy theories about the “gay agenda” doesn’t mean that Ender’s Game isn’t a good book, or that [insert almost every poet from 1700-1980 here] being an anti-Semite doesn’t mean that their poetry isn’t good. You don’t have to support them, you don’t have to give money to them, but it’s also true that not everything that a bad person does is inherently bad, or even that a person who does a bad thing is a completely bad person (note: Cosby is a bad person, he’s an unrepentant rapist). In the end, trying to write off everything someone does as bad because they did something else horrible is just avoiding thinking about a complicated issue, and that benefits no one. So, with all that said, the rest of this review will be focused on this episode.

While finales are common on this list, so too are pilots, and second episodes. Why second? Because that’s often the first real episode of the show, because the pilot is often CosbyCastfilmed without fully forming the characters and the style of the series (in the case of The Cosby Show, they changed the style and even the number of children). Additionally, because most writers want to hook you early, they usually put the best script for the season into production first after the pilot is picked up. This is the second episode of this particular show, and it definitely was when they first managed to find the voice they wanted for the show. The idea behind the show was to show a positive, upper-middle-class portrayal of an African-American family. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable (Rapist) was a doctor and his wife Clair (Phylicia Rashad) was a successful attorney. They had five children: Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), who was in college in this episode; wild child Denise (Lisa Bonet); Middle-child and only son Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner); Nosy pre-teen Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe); and unbelievably cute youngest child Rudy (Keshia Knight “Googling me after watching me as a five-year-old will make you uncomfortable” Pulliam).

cosbyface.jpgThe show’s humor was based on Bill Cosby’s stand-up routines, which mostly focused on his own family life, and incorporated his trademark over-the-top facial reactions (which were often so elaborate that Jim Carrey studied them for the part of his career where he was funny). This episode focuses on two of the more complicated issues in parenting: Explaining death to your child, and dealing with the fact that your children can be jerks.


After a long day at work, Cliff just wants to relax, but Vanessa informs him that Rudy’s pet goldfish, Lamont, has passed away, but Rudy hasn’t figured it out yet. In fact, she continues to try to feed him. Being five, Rudy hasn’t really had to deal with the concept of death, and doesn’t understand it at first. Pulliam, despite her youth, really nails being both impossibly adorable and completely naïve while the family tries to get her to comprehend that Lamont is not going to get better. The older children don’t particularly treat it with any seriousness, but Cliff understands that Lamont is a special pet to Rudy. Rudy becomes sad CosbyFuneral.pngwhen she starts to realize the truth, which is not helped by the other kids’ constant jokes about Lamont’s death. Cliff decides to hold a funeral for Lamont, less to help Rudy than to punish his other children for their callousness. He makes the whole family dress up for the affair, and proceeds to deliver the most monotone, unenthusiastic, and somehow still hilarious eulogy imaginable. Before the eulogy is completed, however, Rudy decides to leave and watch TV, because she’s five. The other children depart shortly afterwards, and Clair points out the obvious that only Cliff actually thinks a funeral for a fish is doing anything. Cliff flushes the fish, then shortly afterwards Rudy returns. Cliff, triumphant, tries to show Clair that Rudy appreciates the funeral, only for Rudy to say that she just needs to use the bathroom.

The B-plot of the episode is Clair’s repeated attempts to tell members of the family about something that happened at work, which Cliff finally manages to listen to, but fails to react correctly. If you’ve ever had a significant other, you’ll think this scene is hilarious. If you haven’t, well, it’s still funny.


This episode shows what one of the biggest challenges in parenting is going to be: You aren’t your kids, you don’t know what they’re going to think at any time, and you’re going to project yourself onto them when you try to guess it. Unfortunately, you’re likely to project yourself as you think you were as a child, not as you actually were. Cliff thinks that Rudy has a deep connection with Lamont that will shape her childhood. Rudy, however, is five, and stops caring after her attention span wanes in a few hours. In the end, Cliff is the one dealing with the death of a goldfish that’s only a few months old in the most childish way. But, at least his heart was in the right place, which is what we should all aim for as parents.

PREVIOUS – 17: Scrubs

NEXT – 15: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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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17) My Finale (Scrubs)

Several episodes on this list are finales, either of seasons or of series. Never bothered to do an official count, might later, but it’s a bunch. It’s pretty natural for that to be the case, too, because a finale is supposed to be the culmination of the audience’s investment in ScrubsNarrativeStructure2the show. We’ve seen the story arc, we’ve felt the rising emotions, and we’re going to enjoy the hell out of the peak. While it’s better if you’ve enjoyed the journey, sometimes a strong climax can even make up for a mediocre build-up.

Nothing about the prior sentence was meant to be sexual in any way, and I resent any attempt to make it so. Of all the finales on this list, however, this one has the most absurdly strong climax that doesn’t rely on a subversion or a loss.


To those who would point out that Scrubs had another season after this, I say “It was called Med School, was clearly a spin-off, and you smell bad.”

Scrubs was a comedy-drama set at a hospital. The show’s usual narrator is John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff), who the audience has followed from being a medical intern up until the current episode where he is an attending physician in internal medicine and leaving the hospital to be the residency director at another hospital. J.D.’s most notable quality is that he is prone to daydreams, which are usually shown to the audience as short surreal cut-away sequences. While brilliant at medicine, he is also painfully immature through most of the series, until finally he resolves to change and become an adult throughout the season leading up to this, including taking a new job to be near his son.

ScrubsCastJ.D.’s best friend is surgeon Chris Turk (Donald “I deserve more work” Faison), with whom he shares an openly near-romantic bro-lationship. Turk is married to Carla (Judy Reyes), a Dominican nurse whose experience and knowledge often conflicts with the fact that most of the doctors in the hospital tend to dismiss her opinions for being a nurse. Carla’s best friend is J.D.’s love interest, and by this episode girlfriend, Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), a brilliant WASP-y doctor who also has issues with adulthood. The Hospital, Sacred Heart, was, for most of the series, run by Dr. Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), a stereotypical bureaucrat who later left his position and became much more normal and relaxed as a retiree. His replacement is J.D.’s mentor Dr. Percival Ulysses “Perry” Cox (John “You should be watching Stan Against Evil” McGinley), who is aptly described as “House without the limp.” Rounding out the regular cast is the unnamed Janitor (Neil Flynn), who basically does whatever he wants at any time, which is usually to torment J.D., and might be the most intelligent person in the hospital, despite likely also being insane.


ScrubsBannerAs this episode starts, it’s J.D.’s last day at work, and he attempts to get a grand apotheosis from all of the other characters. Dr. Kelso announces that he’s decided to resume being a doctor because he actually does like helping people, and will also be leaving Sacred Heart to do so. Kelso tells J.D. that nobody tends to make a big deal about it when someone leaves the hospital, but does offer him a handshake and best wishes. Dr. Cox, similarly, tells J.D. that it isn’t significant that he’s leaving, and refuses to show any sentiment or emotion about it.  J.D. is disappointed, but acknowledges that this is just who Dr. Cox is, and that he is still a great teacher. Carla and J.D. share a moment reflecting on their friendship and their mutual love of Turk, before admitting how much they’ll miss seeing each other every day.

It’s Glenn. He’s Glenn.

J.D. is confronted by the Janitor about an incident from J.D.’s first day at work in the Pilot, and J.D. finally admits that he did, in fact, stick a penny in the door of the hospital by accident. The Janitor reveals that he saw it, and it wasn’t the penny that led to him tormenting J.D., it was the fact that J.D. lied about it. The two finally share a small emotional moment as the Janitor finally tells J.D. his name.

Elliot tells J.D. that she is moving in with him, finally cementing their couple status in the show. Turk keeps trying to find grand gestures to celebrate J.D., but, ultimately, they just share a hug and acknowledge that, even apart, they’ll always be best friends.

J.D. then “tricks” Dr. Cox into telling an intern what he really thinks of J.D., namely that he was the best doctor that ever came through the hospital, that he was the most caring and brilliant doctor and human being that he knows, and that Dr. Cox will always consider him a friend. Now, technically, this happens with J.D. hiding behind Dr. Cox’s back, but Dr. Cox throughout the series has been acknowledged to have the uncanny ability to always know who is standing behind him, so, to the audience, this is a direct confession.

At this point, we watch J.D. as he delivers his final monologue, and it is one of best, and maybe even the best, in the show’s run. J.D. remarks at how, despite maybe not getting everything he wanted out of the day, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we’re all really the most important thing in other people’s lives. We should just cherish the times when we are able to make another person feel even a little bit better, whether they appreciate it or not. And, as he reflects on this, he thinks of all the people he’s shared experiences with, scrubshallway.pngand, as he does so, he rounds a corner and dozens of people who have been on the show all appear in the hallway, reprising their characters. As J.D. literally walks out of the building surrounded and heralded by the past people that, for better or worse, he’s shared pieces of his life with, he finally exits the building, speculating upon the future. And that’s where the show does something that is incredibly difficult to pull off: It shows us the happy ending, and it doesn’t seem cheesy.

scrubsprojector.jpgJ.D. stands in front of a banner wishing him farewell, and an old projection plays upon it like a home movie, while Peter Gabriel sings “The Book of Love” by the Magnetic Fields. The projection is of J.D.’s hopes for the future: Marrying Elliot, having a child with her, holidays with Turk, Carla, and Dr. Cox’s family, his son marrying Turk’s daughter. And, rather than just ending with these projections, we’re instead shown images of the characters just hugging each other, maintaining their love and friendship long after the show is over. As J.D. finally walks off-screen, he remarks that his fantasies may come true “just this once.”


This episode is everything the show built to. It’s the culmination of every relationship and friendship that has been won through the dramatic losses and victories that the characters have shared. This show left nothing behind, and gave everyone the emotional moment they deserved. More than that, it showed the audience that everything paid off. We spent time with these people. We invested ourselves in these characters. Despite the fact that they’re fictional, we have a real connection that manages to make us feel something outside ourselves, and maybe that will even make us more willing to be happier with the connections we make in real life. That’s what makes a dream, or a show, worthwhile: When the fantasy can make your reality better.

PREVIOUS – 18: The Twilight Zone

NEXT – 16: The Cosby 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 (, follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Here are two videos that make up the ending, one of the past, one of the future:

18) The Obsolete Man (The Twilight Zone)

Okay, so, this is the last Twilight Zone, and most people will probably never agree with me on this one as being the best episode of the show, but I think it’s mostly that this episode hardly ever gets replayed because it’s an extremely uncomfortable episode.

Unlike “The Fever” which is uncomfortably bad

You might remember that I pointed out in an earlier Twilight Zone review that Rod Serling had a strong set of opinions about fascism. Specifically, he hated it more than you’ve ever hated anything in your life.

Imagine if you will, my foot in Hitler’s ass

He believed that totalitarianism of any kind inevitably led towards the suppression of the inherent rights of a human being, and the 1950s had not done anything to convince him that this belief was wrong. Instead, it had convinced him that any government, at any time, was at the risk of becoming totalitarian, as long as people were not willing to stand up to it. Moreover, he’d realized that, while people usually associated totalitarianism prior to the 16th or 17th Century with religious zealotry, such as the Pharaohs, Popes, or the kings who wielded Divine Right, there was now emerging a totalitarian mindset claiming “utilitarianism” and “science” as its support. It took many faces: Eugenics, corruptions of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, Immigration restrictionists, “the Negro’s Place in Nature,” White Man’s Burden, etc.


Remember, the Nazis, while they definitely had some Christian support and structure at the beginning, also justified many of their actions through a belief in the cold logic of “science.” In retrospect, it wasn’t actual science so much as propaganda posing as logic, but they still used it as support. At the same time, Mengele was mutilating and torturing children in the name of scientific progress and Unit 731 of the Japanese Army did things that humanity should not even have words for in the name of advancing biological warfare. So great was the scientific value of the latter that the US granted them immunity in exchange for the data. Serling might not have been aware of that (it wasn’t confirmed to the public until long after this episode), but he would definitely have been aware of the US granting sanctuary to Nazi Rocket Scientist Wernher von Braun and his associates, who, likewise, claimed that their actions were only in the name of advancing science.


Then, under Eisenhower, the US started to define ourselves strongly as a religious country in opposition to the “Godless Soviets,” but at the same time the McCarthy hearings had provided an obvious element of government persecution within the US itself. Calls for banning of books and films containing “Socialist propaganda” and “Anti-American Sentiment” ran throughout parts of the country. Also, George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949. These factors all seemed to come together in the writing of this episode.


The episode only has two real characters in it. The first is introduced as Romney Wordsworth, a Christian librarian played by Burgess Meredith. The second is the unnamed Chancellor, played by Fritz Weaver. The episode begins in a large room containing a single table and a high podium. I cannot describe the setting better than Serling himself did:

“You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace.”


Romney Wordsworth enters, and is put on “trial” for being obsolete. His profession, librarian, is unnecessary, as the state has banned all books, and unnecessary things are to be terminated. Additionally, he is a Christian, which is a capital crime since the State has proven that God does not exist. He is immediately found guilty by the Chancellor, whom Weaver portrays as being simultaneously an obvious showman and also an unrepentant merciless narcissist. Wordsworth accepts his fate, but asks for two things: 1) That he be allowed to choose the method of his execution in secret, and 2) That his death be televised. The Chancellor acquiesces to the first, on the condition that Wordsworth arrange to die within 48 hours, and proudly agrees to the second, saying that it is the desire of the State to show the weakness and fear on the faces of the State’s opponents as they die. Wordsworth states that he will die at Midnight the next day. During this exchange, both men portray themselves as believing they have the upper hand.

The next day, at 11:16 PM, Wordsworth requests the Chancellor’s presence before he is to die. The Chancellor shows up, telling Wordsworth that he came only to prove that the State is unafraid of anything he would say or do. Wordsworth responds that it must truly be a burden on the State to prove that it isn’t afraid of an unarmed librarian the hour before he is to be executed. The two begin to discuss the nature of the State and the human will, with the Chancellor sure that Wordsworth is only moments from breaking. The Chancellor even points out that the State has learned from the errors of all of the former dictators, understanding that it needs to eliminate literally any undesirables, because any person who is not directly part of the State will begin to plot against the State. They are the true totalitarian government.


The Chancellor gloats at Wordsworth as he leaves, only to find the door locked, and Wordsworth being the only one who knows how to open it. Moreover, Wordsworth reveals that the manner of his execution will be by an extremely powerful bomb that will destroy everything in the room (explaining why his books have been left there). The Chancellor asks for help, but Wordsworth points out that the State would be embarrassed if it had to rescue someone from something so foolish as being locked in a room by a condemned man. Wordsworth suggests that the Chancellor accept his fate, and then proceeds to read various Psalms calmly (23, 59, 14, and 130), while the Chancellor is clearly struggling not to panic at the thought of his death while looking at the camera broadcasting the scene. Finally, with a minute left, the Chancellor breaks and says “Let me out, in the name of God, let me out.” Wordsworth responds “Yes, Chancellor, in the name of God, I will let you out,” and hands him the key. Wordsworth then happily dies in the explosion as the Chancellor escapes. The episode ends with the Chancellor now on trial as being obsolete. As he cries out that he is not obsolete, the masses of the State swarm him. Rod Serling closes the episode with the monologue:

“Any state, entity, or ideology becomes obsolete when it stockpiles the wrong weapons: when it captures territories, but not minds; when it enslaves millions, but convinces nobody. When it is naked, yet puts on armor and calls it faith, while in the Eyes of God it has no faith at all. Any state, any entity, any ideology which fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man… that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for “Mankind.”


SerlingThe last statement, that any state is obsolete which fails to recognize the worth of Man, resembles the sentiment of Immanuel Kant in his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” A State cannot act as if people are a disposable resource to sustain itself, it should only act as if the preservation of the people are the end itself. The State that this episode presents does not have a set leader they form behind, only the State itself, which shows itself as truly being the end goal when the Chancellor is executed at the end.

People have criticized the episode sometimes for being overtly pro-religion, but I actually am going to say that you could replace Wordsworth’s Christian beliefs with almost any moral or ethical belief, whether religious or philosophical. The key is that he has something upon which he can rely to deal with the inevitability of death, whereas the members of the State have nothing, because their existence has no meaning beyond sustaining the State itself. Similarly, the fact that the Chancellor refers consistently to the State’s reliance on science to justify its policies are not meant to be a negative on science, it’s only to say that if one puts science ahead of morality or philosophy, then any cold fact can be used to justify an action. Science does not see an inherent worth in an individual over any other, only abstract equalities, highlighted in the episode with the exchange:

“I’m a Human Being.”

“You’re a librarian, Mr. Wordsworth.”

More than that, when you allow the state to control science, then even the nature of fact is now going to be brought into question, because the state controls what research is being done and how. This episode is stating straightforwardly that putting science ahead of all other forms of knowledge can, and has, led to the same dehumanizing effect as religion did to non-believers, only now it can affect anyone outside of the formula set by the State. It’s easy to rely on science as being an absolute truth that overcomes all others; unlike religion or philosophy, science is based on being able to independently and reliably prove a hypothesis. But, science cannot provide moral guidance, and cannot be used to excuse moral failings. Millions of people were saved by the data provided by Nazi and Japanese data following WWII, but saying that the ends of saving those lives excuses the means of obtaining them, vivisection and torture, is something that humanity cannot allow. People are not a means to an end, and we should not divorce ourselves of empathy to the point that we can treat them as such absent urgent necessity. This is true not only in The Twilight Zone, but in the real world, too.

PREVIOUS – 19: Fawlty Towers

NEXT – 17: Scrubs

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The Obsolete Man from Ryan Sebo on Vimeo.

19) Basil the Rat (Fawlty Towers)

There are 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers. Desert island comedies generally make at least three times that many. Two of those made it on to this list. I had two more nominated. Even if I’m a biased judge and, since I made the list, I inherently am, that is an incredibly high hit percentage. The show truly ended up choosing quality over quantity, something that most shows would never even consider.

We lost some cast members. So what?

I introduced Fawlty Towers earlier, but I’ll repeat the gist. 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, Sibyl (Prunella Scales) to the extent that her physical pain brings him happiness, and is prone to 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.”

Basil and Sibyl run the hotel, and their staff consists of smart, aspiring artist Polly Sherman (Connie Booth, who by this episode was now Cleese’s Ex-wife) and easily-confused Spaniard Manuel (Andrew Sachs), as well as a few background characters. One of the only recurring guests is the Major (Ballard Berkeley), a senile soldier from the Great War.



The overarching theme for this episode was addressed in prior episodes. Something is happening that could kill Basil’s dream of becoming the owner of an upscale, fancy hotel, allowing him to finally achieve the rise in class standing he craves. In this case, it’s the health inspection. After looking over the kitchen at the beginning of the episode, the FawltyTowersRat.pnginspector, Mr. Carnegie (John Quarmby), declares that Fawlty Towers is below the health code standard, owing in no small part to the fact that he found two dead pigeons in the water tank. He gives the staff 24 hours to fix the problem or the inn will have to close. They immediately go about trying to save the hotel. Basil goes to alert Manuel of the emergency, only to find that Manuel has been keeping a pet rat whom he has named Basil. Manuel insists that it was sold to him as a “Siberian Hamster,” despite the fact that those are dwarf hamsters and this is a large rat, but I guess Google Image spoils us. Basil tries to get rid of it, but Manuel threatens to quit if he cannot keep the rat. Basil, not able to clean the hotel up without Manuel, agrees to let the rat stay with a friend of Polly’s, only for Polly to decide to let Manuel keep it in the shed. Manuel then decides to “let Basil get some exercise,” which, of course, results in the rat running into the hotel, setting up the rest of the episode.

What follows is a comedy of errors that manages to feel like it’s several hours long, despite only being around 20 minutes. Part of it is that the show immediately ratchets up the tension by having Basil the human attempt to poison Basil the rat by poisoning a veal cutlet and placing it on the floor, only for a plate of veal cutlets to thereafter fall on the floor, putting the poisoned one into circulation. And, of course, everyone in the restaurant orders the veal, including the health inspector when he returns. The pacing of this episode makes it basically impossible to list every single gag that happens here, but the escalation throughout the episode feels natural, until it finally peaks with a series of quick rat-exchanges that end with Basil the human passing out off-screen from exhaustion, and Sybil trying to distract the health inspector with small-talk. I say without hesitation that the final few minutes are among the best physical comedy on this list.

Who knew this guy could do physical humor?


The reason why this episode stands out despite being the same generic plot as several others within the series is two-fold:

FawltyTowersCatFirst, unlike other episodes where the potential danger is looming, this episode starts in the middle of the danger, and it only gets greater throughout the episode. There is a tangible problem that has to be solved by the cast, not a future problem which may arise. It creates a more frantic atmosphere, something which can only benefit a well-done physical comedy. The panic makes some of the more far-fetched coincidences or misunderstandings feel more organic. It’s probably why a lot of modern shows tend to adopt this structure when trying to do physical-focused episodes. The escalation is also necessary. It starts off just with the potential closure of the kitchen, then soon becomes a matter of actual life-and-death, and one that the cast tries to handle without alerting the clientele. Every time it appears that a problem has been solved, another occurs, and in solving that, the original is brought back into play, creating a disorienting effect that puts us in the same mindset as Basil Fawlty until his inevitable collapse.

FawltyTowersCracker.pngSecond, at the end of the episode, we have no idea if they pulled it off. The health inspector himself appears uncertain of exactly what he’s been witness to, seeming to sit in stunned silence at the end of the episode. And that’s how the series itself ends. We don’t know if the hotel closed down due to rats, or if Basil and company managed to pull off the most absurd performance outside of Criss Angel filing unemployment. The show ends with lingering uncertainty, and it really feels appropriate for a show like this. We don’t know if Basil ever gets his higher-class status, or if this dooms him forever, and we should love it that way.

PREVIOUS – 20: Chappelle’s Show

NEXT – 18: The Twilight Zone

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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20) Rick James (Chappelle’s Show)

There are moments in time when you find yourself witnessing something so strange, but so monumental, that anytime you are reminded of it, it pulls you back into the state where you first experienced it. And one of those moments for me was hearing “I’m Rick James.”

No you’re not, I am. And you know nothing of my work.

Chappelle’s Show was amazing, partially because Dave Chappelle is a hilarious comedian, and partially because he walked away after two seasons, giving up millions of dollars, but saving us the inevitable decline in quality. The comedy was usually poignant, socially aware, and funny as hell. He invented Clayton Bigsby, the black White Supremacist. He got the Wu Tang Clan to open an investment bank. He created the show Trading Spouses. That one’s not even a joke, that became a show after Chappelle did the sketch. Oh, and he made Wayne Brady look less like Bryant Gumbel and more like Malcolm X. All of these moments would not have worked on any other show and, if not done as well as Chappelle did them, would have accomplished the opposite of what Chappelle hoped.

And he made us aware of the plight of the hearing-impaired rapper.

In 2004, when this episode aired, internet video was still in its infancy. If you wanted to steal a song, that was now possible, but pirating movies would take you a month. Streaming was barely off the ground. YouTube didn’t even exist yet. However, the short clips from this episode, containing some of the iconic phrases within it, managed to be the exact length that people could host on their own web pages, allowing this to be one of the first videos to truly go viral. To put in perspective, YouTube’s founders had difficulty finding the SuperBowl Halftime video of Janet Jackson, leading them to decide to create a video hosting site. This was 10 days later, and the clips from this episode were hosted an estimated 1 million times that year. It was just the right thing of the right size at the right time to cement viral video. So, that’s a big cultural contribution right there. But, in addition to that, this episode is also freaking hilarious.


There are a total of two real sketches in this episode. The first is the “Love Contract,” which is funny, because hey, it’s a contract to avoid sex scandals and also to preserve your reputation when your lovin’ just ain’t up to par. That’s pretty amusing.

This is now a real product

The second, however, is “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.” Charlie Murphy is Eddie Murphy’s brother, and, supposedly, has been witness to some truly hilarious Hollywood events. One involved the late, great, Prince beating him mercilessly at basketball. This one was never verified. The other was this episode, depicting multiple interactions between the Murphy brothers, mostly Charlie, and legendary, also deceased, superfreak Rick James.

“Burned Out” is a reaction, right?

 This one is about as confirmed as it gets, because Rick James himself agreed to appear in the episode. He also appeared to have been high while filming his parts of the episode. Or perhaps after his years of substance abuse, some level of buzzed was just his default state. Whatever the reason, it made the show all the better to see Rick James’s reactions to his own past.

chappellesshowrick.jpgSo, the stories are basically about times when Rick James (played by Dave Chappelle) would do something crazy, like come over and wreck Eddie Murphy’s couch, and then Eddie and Charlie Murphy would beat the crap out of him in retaliation. Then, usually, Rick James would realize he’d gone too far and apologize, at least once by convincing several women to have sex with Charlie Murphy. When asked why he did these things, the real Rick James could only deliver the singular truth, “cocaine is a hell of a drug.”


Part of the beauty of this episode is that, by intercutting Dave Chappelle playing Rick James with the real Rick James, it really sells that all the over-the-top crazy that Dave throws down is true, even if much of it was comically exaggerated. It manages to present the old adage, that truth is stranger than fiction.

PREVIOUS – 22a: Adventure Time

NEXT – 19: Fawlty Towers

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The whole episode is on Comedy Central if you have a provider that lets you watch it, or here are some parts:

Reader/Author Bonus: Battle of the Bastards (Game of Thrones)

Alright, so, I will freely say that I actually like the episode of Game of Thrones that made the list more than this one. But, I also can’t object to this being on the list. Since several people have asked if this was going on the list, and I was on the fence about just adding it myself, it’s getting an entry.

“Battle of the Bastards” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV. The sheer scale of the episode is almost beyond belief. While it does almost nothing in terms of dialogue or several of the metrics I usually use to weight episodes here, it doesn’t matter, I still have to concede this is one of the greatest episodes of television of all time based almost entirely on its incredible acting, challenging cinematography, and enormous scope.

BACKGROUND (Reduced beyond the point of usefulness)

… It’s Game of Thrones. Do you really expect me to explain 5 huge books and a full season or two of TV just to give you the background for this? Oh, sure. Here you go:

A Place

There’s a place called Westeros. The King gets killed. His wife’s family tries to take over. A bunch of people oppose that. All of them die. Most of the wife’s family dies. The main family, the Starks, all get separated when their home, Winterfell, gets taken over by a later-dickless traitor, then taken over again by a giant festering wankstain named Ramsay “the Bastard of” Bolton (Iwan Rheon). Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), a Stark bastard son, dies, gets brought back to life, goes home to the North with an army to take it back. Jon’s sister Sansa (Sophie Turner) requests the help of some guy named Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) who wants to bang her super badly. In the meantime, some naked chick does stuff with dragons over on another continent and some zombies are walking down from the North Pole, having presumably killed Santa. Also, there’s Peter Dinklage, who is a treasure.


Okay, so, I’ll separate this into the two locations. Esteros and Westeros. Guess which one is to the East?

So, in Esteros, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter “I’m basically changing Hollywood through sheer force of awesome” Dinklage) are dealing with a large group of slavers that they recently pissed off who have brought a fleet to block her from sailing to Westeros. She brings the heads of the fleet before them, where they tell her what terms they’d accept. She responds by reminding them what happens when you have dragons and nobody else does: Dragon. Beats. Everything. (for another season).


It really isn’t even much of a contest. Dragons can breathe fire (which, given the level of heat displayed, should be a blue or just contains a ton of sodium, because it’s clearly above 3000°F) at a greater distance than even much of the ballista available at the science level of Esteros, can fly at speeds that appear to be in excess of 100-200 MPH, are immune to most other kinds of attack, and are capable of lifting weights in the tons. It’s basically a high-speed flying tank with a never-ending flamethrower against people who don’t have guns. She proceeds to burn the entire fleet in a matter of minutes, kills most of the slavers, and pretty much massacres everyone else who has been challenging her by the end of the day. Then, the pair procures another fleet to bring them to Westeros. And, I assume, go to the spa to get matching mani/pedis to relax.

You know Tyrion likes the pumice stone. Dany’s into hot rocks.

Which brings us to Westeros, where the meat of the episode happens. Not to say that the Dragons Gone Wild scenes weren’t awesome, they absolutely were, but Winterfell is where it’s at. So, the important characters on Jon Snow’s side meet with Ramsay “I made Joffrey look good, and he was basically Hitler’s wet dream” Bolton. Ramsay offers to “pardon” Jon if Jon hands over Sansa Stark (Jon’s not-quite sister). Jon offers to fight one-on-one, Ramsay rebuffs him and says that he has Jon’s youngest not-quite brother, Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson), as a captive. Sansa tell Ramsay, her rapist and ex-husband, that the next day they’ll attack and Ramsay will die. Ramsay says that he’s been starving his hounds in anticipation of feeding Jon to them, because he’s the worst.

GameOfThrones Rickon.gifThe armies meet up the next morning, and Ramsay brings out Rickon. Ramsay tells him to run to Jon and starts to shoot arrows at him. Just before he reaches Jon, Rickon is struck by one of Ramsay’s arrows and dies.  Jon then gets angry at the whole “dead brother in my arms” thing, and starts to charge, and the army follows shortly.

The battle scene that follows is almost incomprehensibly huge. I recommend watching the entire episode to really get the feel of it, but what’s amazing is that it manages to also GameOfThronesJonbe so intense and personal when it focuses on the important characters. The sad realistic elements are also there, such as where there are literal mountains of corpses formed from the fighting. At one point, Jon Snow is almost buried by a poorly-timed movement of his own forces, and the show really manages to convey the suffocation he’s experiencing from nothing more than a giant, writing mass of panicking warriors. You won’t even realize that you stopped breathing until Jon pulls himself out. Finally, as Jon’s forces are surrounded and it appears they’ve lost, Littlefinger arrives bringing the cavalry with him, literally.

Ramsay retreats, and Jon follows into Winterfell, his ancestral home. Ramsay kills off Wun Wun (Ian Whyte), a giant in Jon’s army, and Jon squares off against him. Ramsay attempts to kill Jon with an arrow, but Jon blocks it and proceeds to attempt to beat Ramsay to death, only stopping when he sees Sansa. However, this is quickly revealed to not be any form of mercy, as Sansa meets with Ramsay in his own kennel. Ramsay tells her that his hounds will never harm him, even though he hasn’t fed them in a week, because “they’re loyal beasts.” Sansa reminds him of the truth: “They were. Now they’re starving.” She summons the dogs, who proceed to brutally devour their master face-first. Sansa walks away, smiling.

It’s the little things in life.


GameOfThronesRamsaySo, thematically, this episode is pretty weak, and, honestly, since almost everyone that dies in it is a character that had a tragic flaw which led to it, that makes this more of a traditional tragedy than Game of Thrones usually has. However, I’ll be damned if almost everything in it isn’t fun to watch. Dragons finally truly kicking the amount of ass that the show had promised for 6 seasons, a battle whose scale exceeds almost any movie taking place in the middle ages, intense, personal shots of the chaos of a battlefield, unbelievably powerful moments of the leads, and Sansa Stark, the most shit-upon character in Game of Thrones, finally gets to take brutal vengeance upon the greatest monster the show has ever had (and I’m including the Night King).

It’s not an episode that teaches any real kind of lesson or reveals any deep truths to the viewer, but a lot of episodes on this list don’t do that, even high-ranking ones. Sometimes, television is just about showing you something that you can’t see anywhere else, and this episode is all of that and more.

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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