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DVD REVIEW: Doc McStuffins - Mobile Clinic
Blog, TV
Posted on Mar 28 2014 by Greg
Doc McStuffins is one of those children's shows with such a clear-cut, logical premise that it makes one wonder why no one thought of it years ago. Kids love to play with their toys, kids love to pretend to take care of them, kids love to act like authority figures, yet they want to be reassured about fears, social issues, the unknown, facing pain and so on.

This series deals with so many of these things with such seamless skill, only a few of the messages seem less than subtle. Charm and warmth don't seem synthetic -- Doc has a loving, supportive family and wants to be a doctor like her mother. It's as if Marcella of the Raggedy Ann books was more of a mover and shaker, but in a nice way.

(Trivia note for Brady Bunch fans: the voice of Stuffy is Robbie Rist, who played the infamous, shark-jumping Cousin Oliver.)

This is a new collection of episodes from seasons one and two (the series has already been renewed for a third). Each half hour show contains two 11-minute stories:

Season 1 / Episode 2
Out of the Box / Run Down Race Car
March 23, 2012

Season 1 / Episode 9
Rescue Ronda, Ready for Takeoff / All Washed Up       
April 3, 2012

Season 2 / Episode 11
Rest Your Rotors, Ronda! / Keep on Truckin
April 5, 2012

Season 2 / Episode 27
Doc McStuffins Goes McMobile / Chip Off the Ol' Box
September 6, 2013

Season 2 / Episode 22
Doc to the Rescue / Don't Knock the Noggin
October 24, 2013

DVD REVIEW: Springtime with Roo & Recommendations
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, Music
Posted on Mar 21 2014 by Greg

While practically every cartoon character ever created has, at one time or another, saved Christmas, there are precious few animated specials or direct-to-videos with a springtime, Easter or even an Easter Bunny.

This made-for-TV Disney Winnie the Pooh animated feature is one of the few. It makes sense for spring to be a cherished part of life in the Hundred Acre Wood, with its rolling landscapes, shady trees and colorful flowers.

There is so much niceness among Pooh and his pals -- and this is a good thing in this age of "edgy" cynicism, even in children's entertainment -- we can still look to Eeyore for lovable, relatable gloom and to Rabbit for lovable, relatable angst and neuroses. In other words, they're for us adults in throws of life's drama.

Rabbit adopts a Scrooge-like role in this story, which features original songs and overall is a very attractive production. David Ogden Stiers is a marvelous narrator, by the way. Very Sebastian Cabot.

Only one extra feature is basically a song player -- I would have liked to see a few episodes from the Emmy-winning "New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" series.

Other recommendations for Springtime family viewing:
***** Here Comes Peter Cottontail - Danny Kaye (All-time fave)
***** It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown
***** Easter Parade - Judy Garland and Fred Astaire (MGM classic)
****   The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town
***     The First Easter Rabbit - Burl Ives, Robert Morse (Mad Men)
**       Yogi The Easter Bear - Hanna-Barbera

DVD REVIEW: The Red Skelton Show - The Lost Episodes
Blog, TV
Posted on Mar 13 2014 by Greg
Red Skelton is a giant of comedy. Like many comic masters who rose up from stage to movies to radio to television, he is among several greats who should be celebrated more today, instead of reducing a description to his idiosyncracies.

Many in the industry, including fellow comedians, believed that only Skelton could laugh during and sketch and make it work. Harvey Korman also made it work on The Carol Burnett Show in his sketches with Tim Conway. Most recently, both Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, now heading their own late night hits, were able to pull off laughing in sketches. When it's done correctly -- and often it is not -- the laughs draws the audience into the gag. And it saves cornball jokes.

Skelton was a master mime, as you can see in this collection, particularly in the monologues. These programs are edited because of music rights (the theme song, "Holiday for Strings," is not included) but the funny parts are there. Even if you've never seen Skelton's show, you will be drawn into his style within a few shows.

His characters have subtle differences, but they are indeed not all the same. George Appleby is a mild-mannered suburbanite drawn into Twilight Zone-style predicaments, his wife played by guest stars like Vivian Vance and Eve Arden, San Fernando Red is a dishonest Senator Claghorn (or Foghorn Leghorn). Clem Kadiddlehopper is a dimwit who finds himself in important positions. And his signature character, Freddie the Freeloader (based on his father's clown character) is a hobo who makes the best of life in surreal ways.

This is pure, silly, escapism. There are some tame political jabs (from the Kennedy era in these episodes) but overall the material is like a classic cartoon, complete with gags involving gadgets built into the sets.

Relax, chill out and chuckle. Everybody can use some silly old laughs.

DVD REVIEW: Minnie-Rella
Blog, TV
Posted on Feb 27 2014 by Greg
Well of course it had to happen eventually--Minnie Mouse doing the glass shoe thing. Actually, Minnie has played a princess before, like in the classic short "Brave Little Tailor." But this is the context of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, so Minnie and Mickey have to ask the viewer a lot of questions...then pause...the resume the story.

There's just no way this DVD can miss with kids who love princesses, especially fans of Sofia the First. It's a half-hour segment from Season Four, which is reportedly the last season of the series. Fortunately, it's uniformly well done, as is the rest of this high-quality preschool series.

Each of the episodes has something to do with fairy tales:
Minnie-Rella (February 14, 2014, Season Four)
Pluto's Tale (January 20, 2012, Season Three)
Mickey and the Enchanted Egg (November 20, 2009, Season Two)
Daisy's Pony Tale (April 15, 2013, Season Four)

In addition, there are ten short "interstitial" episodes from season 2 of "Minnie's Bow-Toons." Also, there is a nice little Castle play set to unfold and put together. They can't do that sort of thing enough.
I find "Daisy's Pony Tale" to be the most amusing thanks to the extra comedy provided by the dependable Professor Ludwig Von Drake, voiced by the extraordinary Corey Burton. The voice cast, by the way, is a Hollywood who's-who: Russi Taylor, April Winchell, Will Ryan, Bill Farmer and so many more.

As per the series' style, there is a lot of visual gimmickry through wacky contraptions, a fine balance of adventures so each character gets to shine, and of course all that interaction that kids do play along with (I've seen it and it's adorable).

DVD REVIEW: Hazel - The Bizarro Season (The Fifth & Final)
Blog, TV
Posted on Feb 13 2014 by Greg

TV's beloved version of Ted Key's newspaper gag cartoon, Hazel was one of those cozy shows that was just there for comfort, like a carton of ice cream or mom's leftover soup. It wasn't groundbreaking or earth-shaking, but is was better than it gets credit for, largely due to its gifted star, Shirley Booth.

Booth was an unlikely movie and Broadway superstar, winner of Oscars and Emmys (for Hazel) and the narrator of one of the all-time most loved Rankin/Bass holiday specials, The Year Without a Santa Claus. Short and plump with a voice like Betty Boop's, Booth was ideal in the lead role of her series. She reveled in its nuances (yes, Hazel had nuances).

For the first four years of the series, which was also a long-running hit in syndication, Hazel was the live-in maid to the affluent Baxter family. The dad was played by Don DeFore (who also starred in the wonderful Christmas B-movie It Happened on Fifth Avenue and also an owner of one of Disneyland's first restaurants). Mom was played by lovely Whitney Blake (mother of actress Meredith Baxter and co-creator of One Day at a Time). Bobby Buntrock played little Harold with the skill to tear your heart out when he cries about losing his dog or some such--the hallmark of a great child actor.

Season Five was bizarre-O because suddenly mom and dad moved to Saudi Arabia because dad had a business deal...? Harold was left behind to continue in school, to be cared for by dad's younger brother and his young wife. They also had a daughter, giving the lad someone with which to get into wacky adventures.

Hazel was still there for Harold (which seemed to suit him fine, since he always seemed most partial to her). She moved in to a somewhat fancier house with young Steve and Barbara. If you think this sounds convoluted, watch the first episode of season five and set your timer for how long it takes it all to be explained!

Anyway, Steve is sort of like a pre-perm Mike Brady, if he fell asleep at his drafting table and his face stayed pushed in. Barbara (Lynn Kellogg) is like Samantha's little sister with a sing-song voice but without magic powers. Adorable Susie is adorable (visit to download an exclusive interview with grown up Julia Benjamin, who played Susie). Also appearing regularly was Ann Jillian as Steve's teen secretary.

Hazel lost none of her crusty-but-benign common-sense nor her fresh-baked gumption. She was constantly butting into people's business and coming up with wacky schemes to help others or herself, always in a loving and sensible way. She was the mom we never had -- or the mom we did have minus all the baggage.

There are some great episodes in season five, including one in which she mistakes a great painter for the house painter; Hazel tries to overhaul a roadster; Hazel markets her homemade chili (a surefire sitcom staple); Steve tries to win a perfect boss contest; and my favorite of the season, in which the adults aim to get the boys to give up that surely-to-go-away "rock and roll fad" by dressing and acting like hippies and groovers (it's always fun to see how '60s sitcoms treated the youth movement).

By the time that episode was made, Ray Fulmer, who at first had lacked the charm and warmth of Don DeFore, had become more comfortable and loose in his role as Steve. The chemistry between Steve and Hazel was different; Hazel couldn't chide this thinner, younger man about his weight or his age. Film veteran DeFore never lost his charm, even when he was furious. Stage actor Fulmer, who later derided the Hazel show's writing, became a soap actor, for which his dour demeanor was better suited.

Steve and Barbara are like a sitcom version of Don and Betty Draper, a couple that looks like the top of a wedding cake, trying to ascend the ladder of what was defined as success in the Wonder Bread world of early sitcom suburbia.

The later shows in Season Five of Hazel are the strongest. The cast begins to connect and storylines are less about real estate and more about the people in and around the Baxter home, particularly sister-in-law Deirdre, a social shark played masterfully by TV and radio veteran Cathy Lewis (the original Jane on My Friend Irma). She's the perfect Margaret Dumont to Hazel's Groucho. Once familiar faces return, the season swings into gear.

There would have been a sixth season, since the series was still getting great ratings (this year it had moved to CBS's strong Monday night lineup), but Booth's ill health prevented it. Too bad, the world always needs its Hazels -- especially in the late '60s.

How would Hazel Burke have dealt with protestors? She'd probably pick up a sign, march with them, totally embarrass Mr. Steve, enrage Mr. Steve's stuffy business associates, then whip up some hot, juicy roast beef sandwiches and home-fried donuts (all the while claiming that "they ain't up to my usual") -- which would soften everyone's heart so much that all the troubles would go away.

Until next week.

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