Thursday, May 6, 2021

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 16

It's been a while since I've viewed any episodes of the Carol Burnett Show on the various DVD collections received as Christmas or birthday gifts or on the various platforms that display chopped-up 22 min. versions of the originals. A few weeks ago, I attempted to view missing material at the Paley Center in Manhattan, but it's still closed for COVID. In the first 15 installments of this series, I just went after episodes that contained sketches that interested me, such as all of Carol's brilliant movie parodies or segments from the first five seasons previously unavailable. So, until the Paley Center re-opens, my only option is to go back to my DVDs and online and analyze the episodes I haven't gotten to yet, perhaps in chronological order. Maybe I'll find unexpected gems.

Season One
Sept. 11, 1967: Jim Nabors
Carol with Jim Nabors during 
one of his many appearances on the show

Carol's very first show in its entirety is contained on both the Best Of and Lost Episodes collections. There's nothing particularly outstanding here, expect, obviously, for a bunch of firsts. The debut of Jim Nabors' annual premiere appearance of each season, the first Carol and Sis sketch, the first Q&A with the audience, Carol's first awkward drooling over Lyle, etc. During the opening, we learn the show is on opposite I Spy and The Big Valley and Carol jokes that she might have Pearl Bailey on so they can do a take-off on I Spy's interracial casting. (This idea was done later with Carol and Barbara McNair.) Carol does the first of many VIPs mock interviews with Harvey as a newscaster. Here she is Shirley Dimple and there are gag references to the foray into politics of the real-life Shirley Temple and other show-biz has-beens like George Murphy and Ronald Reagen. The most interesting and revealing bit comes during Carol's Broadway duet with Jim. After partnering on songs from West Side Story, How to Succeed, and Annie Get Your Gun (with Carol imitating Merman), they switch gender roles and Carol warbles Billy Bigelow's Soliloquy from Carousel. Naturally, this leads to Jim holding his hands primly and intoning "When I Marry Mr. Snow." The audience laughs at the absurdity of big, tall Jim acting like a coy girl. But Nabors' gay sexuality makes the joke doubly significant. Especially when Carol then asks "What about Rex Harrison?" 

"Well, I guess he'll do if I can't have Mr. Snow," Jim replies. Were Carol and Jim winking at the audience and having a laugh between themselves about Jim Nabors' really wanting a Mr. Snow of his own? 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

B'way Update: Diana, Game of Thrones, etc.

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be waning with vaccinations increasing, but we're still not out of the woods. Variant strains of the virus are on the rise and Republican governors are dropping mask mandates and restrictions too quickly. This could mean more infections and deaths. In any case, the re-opening of Broadway is still a long way off with fall 2021 as the earliest possible date. Hamilton had announced July 4 as a target re-opening, but that appears unlikely. While movie theaters are re-opening at reduced capacity, Broadway producers have stated they cannot make a profit with less than full houses. (On the other hand, London theaters can play with reduced seating and still get by because of lower expenses.) We will have the non-profit Shakespeare in the Park with one production this summer and a few shows including MJ, the Michael Jackson musical, Lackawanna Blues, Caroline or Change and Trouble in Mind have previously announced vague fall opening dates.

Jeanna de Waal in Diana: The Musical
Credit: Evan Zimmerman/

But the musical Diana has just become the first Broadway production to set a specific opening date for 2021. The musical about the troubled late Princess of Wales was to have opened on March 31, 2020 at the Longacre, but all the theaters were shut down on March 12 because of the pandemic. The production was captured on film in an empty theater and the results will now be shown on Netflix starting Oct. 1 in advances of its live opening on Dec. 16 with previews commencing Dec. 1. This is the first time a complete Broadway show will be available to the viewing public before it debuts on stage. The question is will audiences be willing to pluck down the big bucks for a property already available to stream into their living rooms? The show's producers are banking on the Netflix airing to drum up interest in Diana. The Netflix series The Crown and Oprah Winfrey's ratings-shattering interview with Diana's son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan should also contribute to the box office buzz. The book and lyrics are by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics are by David Bryan. They previously collaborated on Memphis and won Tonys for their efforts.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 15: Who's Afraid of Virginia Robot?

Sid Caesar as Mr. Spook, Carol as Virginia Robot, 
Harvey as Capt. Quirk 
Season One: Sept. 18, 1967: Sid Caesar, Liza Minnelli
While scrolling through YouTube during an idle moment, I came across a long-missing sketch from the first season of the The Carol Burnett Show. It's a parody of Star Trek which was a brand new show at the time. The voice of Lyle Waggoner announces we are in for another thrilling episode of Space Trip in which the starship Intrepid boldly searches the galaxy for a higher TV rating. Harvey enters dressed in a bright red tunic with a lighting bolt across his chest as Captain Quirk. (He doesn't attempt a William Shatner imitation, probably because the actor's annoying mannerisms and weird pauses have not solidified as of yet with the viewing public.) Guest star Sid Caesar enters as Mr. Spook and the audience laughs at his freakishly huge ears. There is comic business as Spook attempts to tune in to a vital message from earth. The communication relays that a dangerous bomb in the form of a robot is floating around in space, so don't pick up any hitchhikers. At the moment, Carol floats by dressed alluringly in metallic fashion thumbing for a ride. Spook unwittingly brings her on board and she seduces him in order to blow up the ship. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Saturday Morning Super-Heroes, Pt. I

The Biden administration is not the only great new thing in 2021. MeTV has revived the tradition of Saturday morning cartoons with a three-hour block of Popeye, Tom and Jerry, and Bugs Bunny. The nostalgic network also has a Monday-through-Friday one hour show called Toon In with Me featuring animated shorts from all three buckets spanning several decades. There's a host (Bill the cartoon curator) and a puppet (Toonie the Tuna) as well as two supporting players performing bits in between the cartoons. 

The series evoked memories of my childhood Saturday mornings when the three broadcast networks ran cartoon programming from 7AM to 1PM. Of course, we watched every moment in our pajamas starting with Bugs Bunny reruns on ABC until the horrible Kukla, Fran and Ollie live-action foreign film festival on CBS at about 1PM. Then we had to do our homework or get out of the house, one or the other. This was in the late 1960s. The shows and their schedules have overlapped in my memory, but the clearest ones were the super-heroes. This was the era of the cultural dominance of the prime-time Batman series so there were a slew of super-powered good guys, often satirically portrayed. Here's a rundown of my favorite shows of this genre:

Frankenstein Jr and The Impossibles

I've written about this series in previous blogs, but it still remains a favorite. Combining the superhero craze of the late 60s with the pop-rock fad, the Impossibles were a mop-top teen singing trio who are also secretly super-heroes--Fluid Man, Multi Man and Coil Man. Though how they acquired their powers and their real identities are never explained, it hardly matters. Every episode featured the guys at a gig being interrupted by their chief, Big D, giving them a crimefighting assignment. The main joy was the insane super villains they encountered each week such as Mother Gruesome, Televisitron, The Twister, The Spinner, Smogula, Dr. Futuro, Crunella Critch the Creepy Witch, etc. 
Frankenstein Jr. was a giant robot invented by annoyingly precocious boy scientist Buzz Conroy. Together the duo faced a similar slew of diabolical law breakers. I always preferred the Impossibles who got two episodes per week to Frankie and Buzz's one. But I have grown to appreciate the futuristic background of the latter series.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Impeachment as Therapy

The night before he was inaugurated, President-Elect Joseph Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris held a beautiful, touching memorial service for those lost to COVID. That's something Trump never did because he didn't want to recognize the national trauma the pandemic caused. If he did, he would have to admit it was a trauma which occurred on his watch and that his inaction contributed to it. Similarly, the events on Jan. 6, 2021 were a national trauma provoked by Trump's failure as a president and national healer. The insurrection was an assault on all of America by a crazed, bloodthirsty mob. I remember feeling as if I had been attacked and brutalized, even though I wasn't there. (I remember thinking, "I am living in a third-world country or a nation about to be taken over by the Nazis?") My congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke of surviving a sexual assault and how the events of that day triggered her feelings of danger and violation. That's what Trump's mob did to us and the impeachment trial in the Senate, even though it resulted in a second acquittal of the Orange Menace, was important so we can acknowledge that trauma and deal with it. Just like Biden's COVID memorial was a step towards healing, the House Managers' presentation were a vital move towards coming together.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Impeachment Vs. Censure

The US Senate during
Trump's first impeachment trial 
(I didn't want to put an picture of
Trump here. He's had enough 
The trial of Donald Trump on charges of inciting an insurrection is scheduled to be held in a little over a week. In a recent procedural vote only five Republican Senators voted to go ahead with the trial, indicating there is very little likelihood the event will result in a conviction which requires 17 Republican ayes. Mr. Congeniality Rand Paul who brought the motion and other GOP toadies contend the trial is unconstitutional since Trump is out of office. "Let's just forget that he brought an angry mob to our Capitol and almost got us all killed," seems to be his message and the majority of his GOP colleagues are fine with that. But there is precedent for impeachment after a federal official has left office (US Grant's corrupt Secy. of War William Bellknap, see the previous blog post) and there are several reasons for going ahead with the trial. 

1) The nation needs to see and hear all the evidence indicting Trumpy for lying to the American public about his loss to Joe Biden.

2) There has to be some consequences for his rabble-rousing and lying.

3) There needs to be a public record of Republicans approving or condemning a leader who puts his own personal political fortunes above the good of the country by scheming and plotting to vacate a free and fair election with spurious and fabricated evidence.

4) If convicted, there can be a vote to bar Trump from ever holding office again. (That's the main reason.)

Andrew Jackson

With conviction a remote possibility, there is some movement for censure rather than an impeachment conviction. Tim Kaine of Virginia and reportedly Susan Collins of Maine are working on a censure resolution. Censure is not as extreme as impeachment. In essence it's a statement of condemnation. Probably the most famous Senate censure was of Joseph McCarthy, the rabid anti-Communist witch-hunter. Only one president has ever been censured--Andrew Jackson, probably the only president Trump has admired because of his populist stances. In 1834, the Whig-controlled Senate voted to censure Jackson, a member of the opposing Democratic Party, for withholding documents pertaining to his closing down the Bank of the United States. The censure was later reversed. It's not clear if such a censure of Trump would also contain language to forbid from running again. A Google search turned up several headlines with conflicts statements. Some said a censure would prevent a future Trump presidency and some said not.

So I called Tim Kaine's Senate office and actually got a live staff member on the phone. I asked her would the Senator's censure resolution stop Trump from regaining the White House or would it just be a slap on the wrist for being a naughty boy. The staffer told me the resolution was not public yet and that she couldn't say. But she did say that it would require only 60 votes as opposed to the 67 needed for conviction in impeachment. The staffer went on to say Kaine was focused on COVID relief and she couldn't give me any more information.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Inauguration and Insurrection

On Inauguration Day, when Brian Williams called him "President Biden" instead of "President-Elect Biden" for the first time, I nearly wept with joy. I was similarly close to tears during the singing of the National Anthem by Lady Gaga. As she got to the line "Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there," she turned to the flag waving behind her and gestured towards it as if acknowledging that two weeks ago, a mob of right-wing thugs stormed the very building where she was standing and attempted to take over our democratic government in the name of a huge, brazen lie. But the flag and our country as we know it was still there. 

We have replaced a drunken uncle (Trump) with a compassionate grandfather (Biden). Yes, I know Trump does not drink alcohol but he was drunk with power, pouring gasoline on our government after covering it with the dry tinder of Twitter and fake news. Then on the morning of Jan. 6 in front of the crowd he had called to Washington and stirred up in a frenzy, he struck the match of incitement and threw it on the pile. His demurs of innocence afterwards are disingenuous at best and downright evil at worst. "Oh I didn't know this match would start a fire. I'm not a scientist." Hours into the siege he made a video and said he loved the rioters and called them "special people." His daughter called them patriots on Twitter, but quickly took that post down.