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WHY "THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW" IS STILL HONESTLY, TRULY GREAT
TV
Posted on Sep 07 2009 by Greg

We've been introducing the kids to The Dick Van Dyke Show on DVD in the last few weeks. These are kids who love hip hop and the latest tween shows as well as Laurel & Hardy and Gene Kelly. The show is still one of the best-written and best-performed sitcoms of all time, but of course the song and dance is very much that of variety shows of the early 60s.

This morning, it hit me what, at least to me, is a phenomenally great thing about the show and what it was saying and continues to say. It was about optomism. Born of the Kennedy era, when space travel and beyond seemed probable and technology seemed like a friend you visited at Disneyland.

But it goes beyond that -- it was the optomism of human creativity. Sure, the Petries danced to what would seem to be dated music in their living room, but they were minorities in the mix. Yes, I know that the Latin couple seemed only there to entertain and never as regular friends and the Petries also briefly had a Latin maid and the couple who almost "switched babies" with Richie weren't regular dinner invitees. But this was also an era of hideous segregation and television back then just didn't depict even this much integration on sitcoms as a rule.

What strikes me is that Rob and his friends met nearly any kind of music and entertainment with a smile, wide eyes and a enthusiastic "great!" It could be an old vaudevillian or a rock singer (as "rock" as CBS could be then). It could be assumed that, even in this day, Rob Petrie would love to talk Mel Cooley into booking a great hip hop performer or offbeat comic onto "The Alan Brady Show," but only if they were good and in good taste.

Because this was a writer's show about writers, the characters solved problems often with their wits. Rob could even make things work out by putting a page into his typewriter and coming up with a sketch. Creativity, ingenuity, a passion for excellence (the real kind, not the tin-plated kind) -- these would see us through.

I don't know why, but it just gets me all choked up.











GIVING SONNY A CHANCE
TV
Posted on Sep 03 2009 by Greg



The young stars of Sonny with a Chance don't necessarily know the classic TV they are channeling -- The Dick Van Dyke Show, Your Show of Shows -- but perhaps the creatives behind the show do, because of all the Disney Channel shows, this is probably has the most appeal to all ages, including those who might not look twice at tween comedies.

Yes, it can be silly, but the silliness is inspired. As I learned when I interviewed several cast members, there's a chemistry between them and a junior Mary Tyler Moore/Jack Benny attitude evidenced by Demi Lovato's willingness to play the "straight man" and allow her costars to share the jokes.

The bonus episode, "Sonny in the Middle," is a good example, in which the two comic costars (Brandon Smith and Doug Brochu) have a fight and Demi's Sonny character replaces them as pals. it's the oldest gag in the book -- the sandwich chef is given gag names to call over the loudspeaker, but it's surefire and Lovato plays it with skillful timing.

This DVD contains four episodes, including the pilot, as well as Lovato's screen test. Apparently she was testing for this show and Camp Rock came along before she was given the series lead. Not surprising when you consider how many months Miley Cyrus had to test and re-test for Hannah Montana.

Sonny With a Chance is two "shows within a show:" the sketch comedy "So Random," and the wonderfully overwrought teen drama, "McKenzie Falls," starring the show's rival/love interest Stirling Knight, another young actor with comic skill beyond his years.

It will be interesting to see how this show develops over the next few seasons, between the three premises and the cast, which by the way, includes a Richard Deacon "Mel Cooley" type producer!







HEY HEY, WE'RE THE JONASES!
TV
Posted on Jul 08 2009 by Greg

I can't help it. I grew up when The Monkees were taking the world by storm for one brief shining moment and watching the footage in Jonas Brothers: The Concert Experience reminds me of the concert episode of their TV show, just as it reminds me of scenes from A Hard Day's Night with The Beatles, Hold On! with Herman's Hermits and so on. A generation back it would have been a footage of a Frank Sinatra concert.



Frenzied teeny boppers chasing their idols has become a pop culture tradition. Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas just happen to be the latest in the line, albeit real musician/songwriters that existed before they were packaged by the Disney happiness machine (and so were The Beatles, who were packaged for international fame by Brian Epstein). The Monkees were the first group cast to be such, with two musicians and two actors who started as a TV show and became a band of sorts. It's not fair to put the Jonas Brothers in that category, but the footage in this DVD (and especially the TV series) can't help but recall the Pre-Fab Four.

It's a first-class, pyrotechnic extravaganza much like last year's Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus film, in which the Jonases were the secondary act. In this case, up-and-coming Disney debutante Demi Lovato launches her concert persona and song lineup. Taylor Swift also performs, but to Jonas fans, she's the girl that the "cute-but-totally-thinks-he's-all-that" Joe dumped.

The DVD adds additional music and footage not seen in the theatrical version. You have to get the Blu-Ray package for a standard DVD of the 3-D version, I believe, because my DVD set is 2-D only with a second disc that is a digital copy.










THAT'S MY PRINCESS!
TV
Posted on Jul 07 2009 by Greg

Princess Protection Program doesn't really have to have a story, as long as there's a shopping scene set to hot music, a wacky mess scene, a mismatched pair that get to like each other and a not-too-hazardous denoument where girl power saves the day. Add the standard heroic, handsome dad (but only attractive in an "old people" way 'cause otherwise it would be ewwww), assorted mean girls and cute boys, shake well and you have a hit for the J-14 market. To paraphrase Carly Simon, nobody does it better than Disney Channel.



Sally Field-ish sprite Demi Lovato (please someone do a remake of The Flying Nun with this young star!) and snappy but not too caustic Selena Gomez stay true to the onscreen personas established by their respective TV series, though one wonders why they didn't mix things up a little by having Lovato play the eye-rolling American tween and Gomez play the affected princess, who doesn't use contractions much like Barbara Eden did on I Dream Of Jeannie ("Master, are you not pleased?" "Major Healey, do you not think my master would like me to blink an elephant into his office?")

It's still grand movie matinee fun that stretches logic and story sense with the same elán that The Monkey's Uncle did for Annette Funicello and Tommy Kirk. You never worry for a minute about anyone being in serious danger and the biggest hazard besides snarky rival girls is yogurt. My daughter loved it, so case closed.

The DVD does not include too much that we didn't see on Disney Channel interstitials, including the "aren't we the best of friends" segment that was brought to fever pitch on premiere night when the two BFFs hosted the movie and had oh-so-much fun.

Sort of like Gidget and LaRue.










HATCHING AND NAPPING -- TWO MOVIES IN ONE
TV
Posted on May 18 2009 by Greg

For those of us who remember, Disney used to piggyback movies a lot for theaters, especially in the 1970's, when you would see Lady and the Tramp with One Little Indian or Cinderella with One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing. It's kind of cool to have two recent wacky Disney Channel original comedies in the same package.



Dadnapped is the wackier of the two. It's almost a tween version of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World with an familiar cast of Disney Channel regulars in a zany caper.  Basically a young girl (Emily Osment) and her dad (George Newbern) bond because he, a popular kid's adventure series writer, is kidnapped. As is common with such comedies, the young characters are the most level headed and ultimately save the day, this time with trash, slime and dental floss for a gag-filled but nonviolent finale.

The actors are stars as far as frequent viewers of Disney Channel series are concerned. Most are given a chance to play roles outside the ones in which they are most frequently seen, particularly Jason Earles, who seems to be in more grown up role than on Hannah Montana, playing a character named, yes, Merv. Ooooooooo. When this movie was promoted on the channel, they drew attention to "Phill Lewis as you've never seen him before," so part of the attraction was clearly seeing these transformations, though David Henrie of Wizards of Waverly Place is probably still eager for an opportunity to play a non-nerd.

Dadnapped, being more or less a vehicle for the actors, is to my family a little less satisfying than Hatching Pete, which on the surface seems like a silly story about a teen who finds himself more popular in school from being inside a chicken suit at basketball games, but less popular as himself, is like the Spider-Man situation. There is an opportunity for some richness of character and relationships within the plot. Hatching Pete also benefits greatly from the boy-next-door appeal of Jason Dolley, who also scored well for Disney Channel as a lead in Minute Men.

As in Dadnapped, various Disney Channel actors (a sturdy stable not unlike that of the early Disney days) have roles in Hatching Pete, but in this film, the roles offer them a little more character range as well as changes of pace.

Both films offer some bonus material, though somewhat sparse. Dadnapped includes what amounts to a tag scene touted as an "extended ending" and a quite nice flash animated comic book style adventure featuring the character the Dadnapped dad created. Hatching Pete includes a short documentary about the mascot, which, according to my daughter, was not among the many interstitials from the Disney Channel.

Plus, an enclosed code allows you to unlock two music videos starring Emily Osment and Mitchel Musso -- again very much following a Disney tradition in promoting musical careers like Annette and Hayley Mills. It will be interesting to see where each of these performers go on their respective paths.









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