Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tonight: 4 Decades of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson

Sifting through the elaborate contents of this box set revealed something important about Johnny Carson: he never changed. Onscreen, Carson was the same guy in the ‘60s that he was when he retired in the ‘90s. You need look no further than this set to see what David Letterman (who makes several appearances on here) was like back in the ‘80s – quirky and amiable – versus the grumpy old man he is today. Some have claimed that Carson wasn’t a particularly nice man when he wasn’t in front of a camera, but you’d never guess that watching him on TV, which is why it’s probably a difficult notion for many people to swallow. Carson was a reliably relaxed presence that people could unwind with at the end of a long, tiring day. He came out on that stage, sat behind that desk, and made his job look so damn easy – and America loved him for it.

None of this is to say that his act was perfect. Another thing that quickly becomes apparent after watching a few of these episodes – most of his jokes were really corny and haven’t aged well. But I don’t think that’s something to hold against him or this set. Anybody who watches any amount of current late night talk shows (most of which owe a huge debt to Carson) knows that these programs are created to exist in the moment. To go back and criticize this kind of material 30 years after the fact does it a grave disservice and really kind of misses the point of what it’s all about. While much of his written material may not stand the test of time, what still works today are the moments in which he’s forced to improvise, usually due to situations involving guests or animals or whatever. In those moments, he shines brighter than just about any talk show host to have ever resided inside the boob tube.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Californication: The Third Season

In the past, I’ve struggled with Californication. Not over its quality, as much as the fact that I didn’t find it particularly funny, even though it was clearly aiming for laughs. Nor did I find David Duchovny’s Hank Moody to be terribly engaging as a central character. So it was only out of a sense of duty, or maybe habit, that I agreed to review Season Three of this depraved ongoing tapestry. Imagine my surprise to discover that the season amused the hell out of me, and Duchovny came across as more charming than he had in the previous seasons. Is the show actually getting better, or has it worn me down to the point where I’m just going along with it? I don’t have the answer to that, but the fact that I sped through the entire season over two afternoons, and found myself looking forward to checking out the upcoming fourth season (which kicks off in January), must be worth something.

Season Three kicks off with Hank doing the single dad routine with his daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin), since Karen (Natascha McElhone) moved away to New York at the close of Season Two. His daughter is starting to spread her wings and get into trouble, thanks mostly to her intense adoration of a new best friend, Chelsea Koons (Ellen Woglom). Soon enough, Hank finds himself over at the Koons’ homestead for a dinner party. Mother Felicia (Embeth Davidtz) naturally warms to him; father Stacy (Peter Gallagher), not so much. Both parents work at the local university where Stacy is the Dean (yes, he is Dean Koons), and Felicia needs someone to teach a writing class, so of course Hank ends up in a classroom.

Soon enough Hank has to either fend off or submit to the sexual desires of his teaching assistant Jill (Diane Farr), a student named Jackie (Eva Amurri), who’s also a stripper when she isn’t engaged in higher learning, as well as Felicia herself. Jeezus, this guy barely has to get out of bed in the morning to get some pussy.

Read the rest of this review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

thirtysomething: The Complete Fourth and Final Season

It’s always a little sad when you come to the end of the road for a series you’ve been watching via TV on DVD. Probably less sad than the end of a series you’ve been dedicated to over the years on broadcast TV, because the amount of time and thought invested isn’t quite the same, but sad nevertheless. For me, thirtysomething has been one of the great pleasures of the last year and a half, and that certainly isn’t something I thought I’d say when I agreed to watch and review the first season back in August of ’09. But the good news is that thirtysomething ends right and proper, and the creators and producers knew halfway through the season that the end was nigh, so they were able to craft a fitting end to the series that doesn’t leave viewers hanging.

So much TV is so jaded and cynical today, which is understandable, because we’re a jaded and cynical society (and probably with good reason). thirtysomething has brief moments of cynicism, but it’s 20 years old, and comes from a time when those sorts of feeling weren’t cranked to the max, 24/7. This is a show about life, and I think it may be nearer to the real deal than most of what we see on television today. There are real feelings and moments being negotiated on this show that don’t always require a punch line at the end in order to leave audiences feeling as though there’s some joke they need to be in on, so they don’t feel so uncomfortable about feeling something. You know what? I’m a human being. I like to feel. It’s what reminds me I’m alive.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.