It’s Easy to Love Chris Pratt

The Humble Beginnings of the future Star-Lord

Before there was Andy Dwyer and before there was Peter Quill, there was Bright Abbott.

I watched Everwood religiously from 2002 to 2006. A guilty pleasure for sure. As far as a person with a Christian worldview can be over a TV show, I was devastated when it was cancelled. I had just moved to Chicago and was dealing with girl problems, so I saw myself in Ephraim since he dealt with the same things. But in my watching I could not help but love Bright as well. He wasn’t funny or intelligent or the star of the show. He was just likeable.

So why did I like him? At the time I wasn’t sure. But a few years later the man I knew as Bright and whose real name I may have sort of known at the time, appeared on my TV screen in a trailer for Zero Dark Thirty. It seemed obvious to me that he didn’t have a big part, but just his one-line speaking role in the trailer made the movie almost as appealing as the the actual story.

And I watched it. And later I watched Moneyball. And “Bright Abbott” continued to make me smile and remained close to the top of my Hollywood conscious.

 

Johnny Karate’s Greatest Hit

Then a few years ago the guys from REO were championing a modern sitcom called Parks and Rec and eventually I realized that I needed to watch it. And voilà! There he was again! And for the million reasons Parks and Rec worked as a sitcom and landed at the number 3 spot on our list of Top Ten Sitcoms of all-time, Andy was a huge one.

I doubt anyone in sitcom history has a higher laugh-per-line ratio to me than Andy Dwyer. Even George Costanza. George is still the best to me because he makes me laugh and applaud the hardest, but nearly everything Andy says is funny. Playing the role of the clueless doofus has been popular in sitcom history, like Joey Tribbiani on Friends. But no one has done it like Chris Pratt. It’s a wonder to behold. My wife and I just finished Parks and Rec for the second time, and Andy has caused pools of tears in laughter. See this scene for a classic example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4KIm9y6Rss

 

It’s not hyperbole to me to say that Chris Pratt is a comedic genius. Some of it is innate, which can be seen if you watch PnR outtakes (caution: they have cursing) and Pratt just shoots from the hip without a script and has all of his co-workers on the floor laughing. But some of it is just him understanding what is truly funny and having the courage to do what would embarrass 99% of people.

Summer Blockbuster Cool

Somewhere in all that I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. By accident. Even though Chris Pratt was that guy I liked I apparently didn’t know enough about this movie to know he was in it. But one August night in 2014 I went to see the new Ninja Turtle movie and got the showtime wrong. I watched Guardians instead. Needless to say, by the end of that movie Chris Pratt rocketed to the top of my “I want to see it because he’s in it” list.

So when it was announced a few years ago that he was going to be in the new Jurassic Park movie I was bonkers. I already love the franchise, even the oft-disparaged second and third volumes, so his involvement in Jurassic World made it an opening weekend viewing for me. So I was there opening Friday night front and center to experience what would surely be amazing American cinema. I didn’t think it was a great movie but I was not disappointed even one iota in Chris Pratt. Star-Lord and Owen prove that he’s not lovable just because he’s funny. He has something special that goes beyond that. These movies sell themselves on many things, but I don’t think it’s an accident that Pratt has been in three of the top 50 domestic grossing of movies of all-time all in the last three years (Guardians 2 being the other).

Everwood Was His Bosom Buddies

In the book Blink by Malcom Gladwell, he talks about the first time Brian Grazer met Tom Hanks. Grazer says, “He came in and read for the movie Splash, and right there, in the moment, I can tell you just what I saw. We read hundreds of people for that part, and other people were funnier than him. But they weren’t as likable as him. I felt like I could live inside of him. I felt like his problems were problems I could relate to.”

I think Chris Pratt has the same thing Hanks does. I have never met him and doubt I ever will. But if I ever saw him I would feel like I was meeting a buddy from high school. It would probably be surreal since he is famous, but almost paradoxically I think it would feel so familiar. Because Pratt just comes across that way. Recently he was caught in the middle of a typical American controversy that some thought would offend the deaf community. And Pratt’s response it–by signing an apology in sign language–was as touching and real as anything you’ll see from Hollywood off screen.

 

We’ll follow your lead, Star-Lord

In the Season 6 Parks and Rec episode “New Slogan” Andy is trying to find bands to play for a unity concert and by accident he discovers that Ron is Duke Silver. This is a unique episode because Andy ditches, for the most part, the dim-witted persona. When he talks to Ron, he’s more of an adult. In sharp contrast to “ambling down the street naked on crutches” Andy, this Andy is smooth. And cool. And bears semblance to Pratt’s other roles. I am not sure why he’s like this for one episode but I realize as I’m watching that it’s not the shtick or the writing that makes Andy great. It’s the man behind the character.

And I have little doubt his white hot career arc is just getting warmed up. Because he will bring this undefinable Tom Hanks-like personality to whatever he does. And on his 38th birthday, we celebrate the privilege of seeing his career unfold in real time.

 

 




Five Classic Curmudgeons of TV and Film

Movie and Television history is profuse with amazing and unforgettable crusty old men. Mean, cranky, ancient, eccentric – got to love those aged dudes and their disdain of all these hippies (everyone under 50) and newfangled contraptions. In our adoration of these wise, gray-haired, ne’er-do-wells, we have decided to highlight five iconic crusty old curmudgeons from either film or TV lore. Note: This is not necessarily a “best-of” list. These are simply the five cantankerous old coots that we have chosen to write about. – Ben Plunkett

 

Arthur Spooner – The King of Queens
by Gowdy Cannon

Frank Costanza could go from 0 to outrageously psychotic in two seconds. Arthur Spooner could get there, just a bit more slowly. And sometimes that was actually funnier. Arthur was Carrie’s dad, but it was his interactions with son-in-law Doug that showed how uninhibited Jerry Stiller was as a comedic actor and that caused me to cry tears from laughter. From the simple way he called him “Douglas” to their insane, petty, over-the-top, roll-on-the-floor-laughing showdowns in the kitchen, Arthur Spooner was just different enough from Frank, yet just enough the same. My favorite moments:

–Arthur tries some of Doug’s kids breakfast cereal and gets the prize 3D glasses. Doug is clearly upset because the cereal is his but he tries to be an adult about it. But he can’t because Arthur won’t stop acting juvenile. So Doug acts childish in return and the back and forth ends with Arthur ripping up the glasses and Doug destroying the still-full box of his own cereal as Carrie walks in.

–Arthur asks Doug how many stamps he needs for tickets he is mailing. Arthur doesn’t like Doug’s answer so Doug insults Arthur’s mooching off his family. It ends with Arthur destroying Doug’s sandwich and Doug destroying Arthur’s mail.

–Arthur asks Doug to pass the “catsup”. Doug won’t until he says “ketchup”. Arthur refuses so Doug pours an insane amount of ketchup on Arthur’s burger, demanding that Arthur call it “ketchup” as both yell back and forth until Arthur cedes. “And that’s how we learn”.

(And my personal favorite)

–Doug is answering a political survey over the phone when Arthur comes in and tries to make a phone call on the same line. He realizes what Doug is doing, insults his answers and this begins an exchange of severe putdowns between the two (including “Why don’t you tell him you’re enormous?” and “Why don’t you tell him you live in our basement?”) that ends with Doug asking “Why don’t you tell him your total salary last year was $12?” To which Arthur replies: “That was after taxes!” I don’t know why that Arthur line is so funny. Maybe the look on his face. Or the volume of the conversation. Or how inane the comment is. But I hurt from laughing at it and I’ve seen it several times.

As far as cranky old curmudgeons, Arthur Sponer takes a backseat to no one.

 

Carl Fredricksen – Up
by Phill Lytle


Merriam Webster defines crotchety as: subject to whims, crankiness, or ill temper. Thesaurus.com gives us these synonyms for crotchety: Cantankerous, crusty, grouchy, grumpy, and ornery. When we first meet the older Carl Fredricksen, he is all these things and more. He has grown sour after the passing of his beloved Ellie. He is prone to outbursts of anger, is mean-spirited to Russell, a young “Wilderness Explorer.”, and doesn’t seem to enjoy much about his life anymore. In other words, every second he is on screen is a joy for the audience. His complaints are hilarious. His lack of patience with Russell, and anyone else for that matter, never ceases to amuse. Buried deep down in Carl is a noble, honest, and good man. It takes some time for the audience to find it, but the journey is no less enjoyable during the search.

Favorite moments and lines:

Already exasperated with Russell’s constant talking and enthusiasm, Carl says, “Hey, let’s play a game. It’s called “See Who Can Be Quiet the Longest”. The line is perfectly delivered by Ed Asner, one of the great curmugeonly actors of all time. But the response by Russell takes the joke to another level, one that makes us laugh, but also reveals a great deal about our main characters, “Cool! My mom loves that game!”

Once they have nearly reached their destination by air, they are forced to continue the rest of the way on foot. Carl, wanting things quiet delivers this little nugget of gold to Russell, “Now, we’re gonna walk to the falls quickly and quietly with no rap music or flashdancing.” I’ve always loved that the two things Carl mentions are rap music and flashdancing, as if those were obviously things Russell would be involved in.

Finally, early in the film, when the builders are trying to get Carl to leave his home, he spots one of the businessmen in the distance. The man is wearing a suit, looking distinguished and professional. Carl yells at him, “You in the suit! Yes, you! Take a bath, hippie!” I think that one speaks for itself.

 

 

Merlin – The Sword in the Stone
by Ben Plunkett and Phill Lytle

He is, perhaps, the progenitor of all curmudgeons. Merlin is both cranky yet full of vigor. Quick tempered yet a great teacher. Ornery yet kind and caring. The first time we meet this magical old hermit is right after young Arthur literally drops in on him and Merlin is literally waiting. Along with Merlin’s even more curmudgeonly pet talking owl, Archimedes, Arthur is prepared for his rightful place of king. Every kid I knew wanted to have a mentor like Merlin, someone who could transform us into a fish or a squirrel. Someone who could teach us about the world. Someone to take note of us and invest in our lives. Someone who would fly off the handle and disappear to Bermuda when he got angry…

Favorite moments and lines:

Merlin tries to explain the way of the world to young Arthur, telling him that everyone faces adversity, “Oh, bah! Everybody’s got problems. The world is full of problems.” Merlin gets his beard caught in the door and yells, “Oh, blast it all! There, now! You see what I mean?”

When Merlin transforms Arthur and himself into squirrels, an older, lady squirrel becomes quite enamored with Merlin. Growing every more frustrated, yelling “Madame!” at key points of discomfort, Merlin finally decides enough is enough, “By George! I’ve had enough of this nonsense! ALAKAZAM!” He transforms himself back into a human being, leaving the female squirrel confused and upset. “There! Now you see? I’m an ugly, horrible, grouchy old man!” Even Merlin recognizes that he belongs on this list.

While he could be a very grouchy curmudgeon, Merlin also had times of great wisdom, like when he taught Arthur the lesson of love during his very squirrely adventure: “Ah, you know, lad, that love business is a powerful thing,” said Merlin.
“Greater than gravity?” asked Arthur.
“Well, yes, boy. In its way, I’d, uh… Yes, I’d say it’s the greatest force on earth.”

 

 

Frank Costanza – Seinfeld
by Ben Plunkett


Ah, Frank Costanza. Prone to psychotic outbursts. Hilariously and boisterously confrontational. No wonder his son George is a mess (with the very capable assistance of the almost equally psychotic Estelle, of course). The senior Mr. Costanza was portrayed to perfection by Jerry Stiller, whose acting, I imagine, was key to making Frank one of the most iconic crusty old curmudgeon’s of all time. But like all of Seinfeld, there was seriously great, hilarious, and memorable writing going down. A handful (but not nearly all) of Frank’s most memorable quotes and moments:

– “Serenity Now!”

– In my mind the episode “The Strike” is the perfect Seinfeld episode in just about every way. It is in this episode that much to George’s chagrin, Frank’s creation, the alternative holiday Festivus, is revealed to the world.

– “This is Frank Costanza. You think you can keep us out of Florida? We’re moving in lock, stock and barrel. We’re gonna be in the pool. We’re gonna be in the clubhouse. We’re gonna be all over that shuffleboard court. And I dare you to keep us out!”

– Festivus wasn’t the only case of Frank thinking outside the box. In the episode “The Doorman” in another insane fit of invention Frank collaborates with Cosmo Kramer to invent the Bro/Mansierre to assist older fellas in holding up their increasingly sagging chests.

– “He stopped short. You think I don’t know what that’s about? That’s my old move! I used it on Estelle forty years ago! I told everybody about it! Everybody knows! (demonstrates the move) Mmm! I stopped short.”

 

Lt. Mark Rumsfield – The ‘Burbs
by Phill Lytle


I’ve long considered The ‘Burbs to be one of the Tom Hanks’ greatest films. I realize I am in the minority, but I am not alone. I’ve met many people that believe the film is wildly underrated. What makes the film work so well is not just the fantastic performance by Hanks, but the wonderful and eccentric supporting cast. No one steals more lines and earns more laughs than Bruce Dern as Lt. Mark Rumsfield. Rumsfield is a retired military man, yet still living in constant vigilance and readiness for war. He is opinionated, suspicious of everyone, and ready to jump to the worst conclusion possible at the drop of a hat.

Favorite moments and lines:

Unfortunately, most of his dialogue is salty, after years in the military, and I will not reprint it on REO. (The film is rated PG-13, so the saltiness is not as extreme as it could have been.) Just watch the movie and enjoy his well directed vitriol and sarcasm. But, for the sake of this article, here are a couple I can mention:

Rumsfield takes great pride in his yard. Unfortunately, he has a neighbor (Walter Seznick) down the block whose yard far surpasses his own. His reasoning why his yard can’t compete with Walter’s, “That old fart. He’s got the best lawn on the block. And you know why? Because he trains his dog to crap in my yard.” A bit coarse and rough around the edges, but straight to the point.

When a group of our main characters head over, uninvited, to the new neighbor’s house, Rumsfield does his best to make everyone uncomfortable with questions, poking around, and examining as much of the house as he can. His interaction with the new family, the Klopeks, is delightful in its boldness and rudeness. One particular exchange has always cracked me up. Introducing himself to the youngest of the Klopek family, “Rumsfield’s the name. Don’t think I caught yours, sonny?” Hans, responds nervously, “H-H-Hans.” Rumsfield responds in the most natural manner possible, “Hans! Oh-ho! A fine Christian name. Hans Christian Andersen! What are you, Catholic?”

That should give you a good idea what to expect from Lt. Mark Rumsfield and an indication why he made our list.




In Defense of the Seinfeld Finale

“I got so much grief from the Seinfeld finale, which a lot of people intensely disliked…” (Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld)

 

If you want to start an argument among Seinfeld fans my advice is to ask this simple question: “What did you think of the finale?”

I’ve been talking with Seinfeld fanatics since before Kramer had a first name and I have seen firsthand how volatile conversations about Seinfeld can be. This is perhaps the biggest time bomb.

Let me preface my defense of the finale by saying that it was nowhere near the funniest episode or even as funny as an average episode. Out of 180 total episodes, I doubt it would crack the Top 100 for laugh out loud moments. I can easily support that critique. Similarly, if someone wanted to be introduced to the show there is no way I would want them to see the Finale totally aside from the nature of a finale not being an episode to watch first. It was a different beast from episodes like The Comeback and The Marine Biologist.

But even with all this, I loved the way the show ended.  Here are five reasons why:

 

1. Larry David came back. 

I for one do not think the show fell off a cliff the post Larry David seasons since probably half of my favorite moments came in Seasons 7-9. But there is no Seinfeld without Larry David. And to bring him back to recreate the magic of Seinfeld’s origins–everything from Jerry doing stand up to open to the very last conversation bringing the show full circle–made the finale worth remembering. From writing to producing to championing the show with such passion he would argue with NBC executives, Larry David was as important to mainstreaming and popularizing Seinfeld as anyone.

 

2. They found a creative, clever way to bring back the best one-off characters from the show’s history. 

Who didn’t enjoy experiencing the Bubble Boy testify, railing against George about the Moors again? Or watching Babu wag his finger one more time? Or seeing the Soup Nazi refuse to spell his name and demand the next question?

This was what made Larry David so proud of the finale and I have to agree with him. Finales should be a trip down memory lane in some sense and they found a truly unique way to recall inimitable characters and jokes that were defining moments for this award winning series.

 

3. This scene with Newman:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIiplTlZNTI

 

Newman, the character who appeared the most outside of the main four[1. I you don’t count Ruthie Cohen, and I don’t] and who Jerry cannot explain his hatred for, had his moments. He even stole some scenes. But they saved the pinnacle Newman meltdown for last. Either this or Frank Costanza interrupting the trial to yell at George Steinbrenner is the biggest laugh of the Finale to me. And this is definitely a “Gowdy stands up to clap” moment.

 

4. The characters gave us 45 final, glorious minutes of what made them great.

Not to contradict myself above but if someone did want to know what Seinfeld was like and they only had 60 seconds to do so, I absolutely would show them the comments the New York Four made on Kramer’s video while the fat tub was getting robbed. Anyone who didn’t smile and nod when George complained about no catsup–while in jail–probably missed most of the show’s run to that point. Jackie Chiles’ rants; Frank yelling about Hideki Arabu; Puddy’s utter indifference to Elaine going to jail complete with the Puddy stare and the Puddy voice-tone reply of “Alright” to Elaine’s “Don’t wait for me”…the finale unquestionably reminded us of why we became addicted to the show in the first place. Not all of these moments were boisterously laugh funny, but they were all quintessential Seinfeld.

 

5. The conclusion was absolutely true to the nature of the show.

I wish I had kept better files back in 1998 when this episode aired because I cannot remember who it was or where I read it but someone perfectly captured the ending by pointing out that the characters in the show didn’t care about anyone else and the show’s ending showed they didn’t care about us either. No good vibes. No sappy ending. Just the standard “Everyone loses” Seinfeld climax. There is something so real about that I can’t help but love it.

And the verdict: Four completely self-absorbed narcissists who left countless lives worse than how they found them, going to jail for a year. Poetic Justice in inane form. And the crime could not have been any more fulfilling–breaking a law based on a story from Jesus, a man who was perfectly contrary to them. The moment that “guilty” verdict is read, my goosebumps shatter as though I were watching a walk-off grand slam Cubs win. What an ending! It all, indeed, came crumbling down. And Newman was there. In all his glory.

As Larry David has said, everyone writes their own finale in their head[2. Anyone who wanted Elaine and Jerry to get together needs to get bonked upside the head with a marble rye.] and it is impossible for a show as popular as Seinfeld to make everyone happy in an episode like this. But I respect it because they did exactly what they wanted to do the way they wanted to do it. And they did not care about anyone else. The same man who yelled at NBC reps for not liking his Chinese restaurant episode idea, and got his way (and eventual great acclaim for the idea), went out the only way he could. And I cannot dog that. It worked.

 

I’m but one voice, yet 19 years ago I walked away from the TV longing for more new Seinfeld. Nevertheless, I was still completely satisfied by its ending. Two decades later I feel the same. The greatest show of all time went out on top. No critiques of the finale can change that.

 

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know below!

 

 




“I’m Offended!” What Biblical Offense Is (And Isn’t) In 21st Century America

Be careful, there are some people out there who are ‘professional weaker brethren.’
[Chuck Swindoll]

 

Language is not like math.

That’s what I tell my ESL students often when they ask me about translation and pronunciation rules. Not much we learn in this realm is quite like “2+2=4”. For example, if you ask me how to say “lose” in Spanish, I’d need to hear it in a sentence. I know of at least five ways to translate it and having a limited knowledge of the language, there are probably many I’m not aware of.

Very few words mean only one thing. “Offensive” and all of its forms is a very good example. Something can “offend” me in the sense that it annoys me. It can offend me in the sense that it hurts me. Even in the Bible it can mean that someone is aware of their sin because of Jesus Christ, and angry as a result. And many nuances exist within each of these meanings.

But there is one special meaning of the word in the Bible I think gets confused with other definitions and causes confusion and even at times misuse of the Bible as a result. In 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15, the discussion of what Christians are free to do should cause us to think of “offense” being at times the idea of causing another Christian to stumble morally and fall back into a sin with which they used to struggle.

The concept is not that difficult to get. Paul says it is understandable to have convictions in the sense that you are “fully convinced in your own mind” that you should avoid certain things or that you should do certain things. The examples he gives are things like not eating certain foods or believing that some days should be observed to worship and not others. Convictions often are formed based on weaknesses in our faith, based on temptations that can easily cause us to sin.

He is absolutely clear that you should not force your convictions on other people. One person believes they should not eat meat, since during that time it could lead to struggling with a former life of idolatry. Another believes all food is okay to eat because he has no struggle. Both can be right if they are fully convinced in their own minds what is best for them.  Convictions are not absolute truths, which are true for all people everywhere and for all time. The Bible has many of those (Jesus is the only way to God, etc.), but much of Christianity is figuring out how to live in the way that is most pleasing to God and that will not look the same for all people.

But Paul also goes as far to say that if your liberty to do certain things causes offense to other Christians, you should avoid doing them.  An example that is easy to think of in our culture today is that if I’m with a Christian friend who used to struggle with alcohol and I do not struggle with it, then I would not be acting in love if I drank in front of him or her. (For the record, I choose not to drink for a variety of reasons.)

Sadly, this is the starting point for the aforementioned confusion and misuse of the Bible. It my opinion, based on my lifetime experience dealing with churches and Christians, that people often try to say “this offends me” as if to say you shouldn’t do it because of what taught about not casting a stumbling block. But in reality, they are not offended in that way. They are not really even harmed. They are merely annoyed. Which is a totally different type of offense. Many Christians would not be even a little tempted to drink if another Christian drank in their presence. So are they “offended”? Not in a 1 Corinthians 8-10 or Romans 14-15 manner.

I’ll be frank–I am not overly concerned most of the time with annoying people. I am not acting in love if I annoy people on purpose, generally speaking. But if the fact that I watch a movie or TV show or do something similar that merely annoys people, then I do not have a biblical mandate to not do it based on causing anyone to stumble.

To really practice what Paul was talking about with 21st century American entertainment, I could easily envision a scenario where a friend of mine watches a TV show with more sexual content that I can handle and even though he is not tempted to lust by it, he chooses not to watch or discuss it around me. My conviction is to avoid the show.

Much of entertainment does not cause me any offense. I can certainly make it into something harmful by taking in so much it wastes my time I could doing other things that are better for the kingdom of God. But generally speaking, this isn’t about that. It’s about me being fully convinced in my own mind that I am free to do things others may feel they cannot. And far more often than not, the word “offense” comes up in these discussions meaning “I’m annoyed” and not “I may fall back into sin”.

I recognize this treatment of the issue doesn’t deal with parenting. As a non-Parent I’ll let others speak to that aspect of it. But in my personal life, I want to be careful how I use words, especially words in the Bible, and how I teach them. “I’m offended” may be something serious or it may be something not all that significant. May God grant us the wisdom to know the difference.




500 Words or Less Reviews: Avatar – The Last Airbender

500 words is not enough for me to do justice to this show. It’s the best family cartoon series I have ever seen. I just finished watching the series with my boys for the second time and it’s the first time I’ve watched it with my youngest son, though he has seen episodes here and there. Originally released on Nickelodeon from 2005 through 2008, Avatar – The Last Airbender tells the story of a world divided by war and conflict. The world is split up into four kingdoms, and intended to be a place where they work together and live in peace. The Fire Nation changed all of that when they attacked and destroyed the Air Nation. Each nation (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) has citizens with the ability to control and manipulate the element of their nation. There is one person that has the ability to control all four elements – the Avatar. Unfortunately, the Avatar has been missing for 100 years. The series tells the story of the new Avatar, the friends he meets in his journey, and his quest to bring balance and peace to the world.

That’s the plot in a nutshell. And that would be enough on its own, but the show is so much more. Most grown up shows should study the way this series handles character development, emotional payoffs, and rich thematic content. For a show created to appeal to six to eight year olds, it’s amazing how much depth they were able to pack in without making things overly complicated. The main characters all go through dramatic transformations. Motivations evolve and mature. Allegiances are tested. Enemies become friends. Friends become enemies. It’s all there.

At its most basic, the show is fun, exciting and full of laughs and adventure. Seeing my kids belly laugh as we watched this show is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. The animation is well done, blending various different influences from Anime to more American styles. The voice acting is impressive, using a mix of adults and children to bring the characters to life. The music is engaging but rarely manipulative or pandering. And when the show requires a gigantic payoff, it hits it out of the park every single time.

If you have children between 6 and 15, they will most likely enjoy this show. They will fall in love with Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Toph, Iroh, Appa, and Momo. There are elements of Eastern mysticism, and reincarnation plays a pretty big role in the story. But instead of hiding from it, those plot points gave my family a good opportunity to discuss what we believe and how that differs from what the show presents. The show also gives you chances to talk about love, hope, selflessness, sacrifice, and friendship. What more could you ask for?

It’s available on Amazon for free if you are a Prime Member.




The Five Funniest Women of Television

Introduction by Phill Lytle

On January 25, 2017, we lost Mary Tyler Moore. Immediately after her death, the REO staff wanted to do something in her honor. After some thought, we chose to honor her as well as a handful of other iconic and hilarious women of television. As opposed to our Top Ten lists, this list was not voted on or deliberated for months. We settled on the first four very quickly – you should be able to guess which ones they are. We finally landed on the final name and then started writing. On a personal note, I wanted to write for Mary Tyler Moore but Ben Plunkett beat me to it. I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show with my grandparents and I was a little bit in love with Laura Petrie. I guess it’s better for all involved that Ben got that one. We hope you enjoy this celebration of five very funny ladies.

 

Lucille Ball by Ben Plunkett

Lucille Ball is almost universally accepted as one of the funniest women in T.V. history. And after watching most of the episodes of I Love Lucy (my sister and I are one the sixth and final season via Hulu Plus), she deserves that status for I Love Lucy alone. In fact, if this list were about the funniest women of all time, she would most likely still be on it. She is primarily known as the star of I Love Lucy, which she co-created and starred in along with her then husband, Desi Arnaz. In doing so, the two became the inventors of the modern situational comedy. Their characters were joined in their wild escapades (mainly Lucy inspired) by their neighbors and best friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz, portrayed by real life arch-enemies Walter Farley and Vivian Vance. Her three costars highlighted her funniness. That Lucy, she was the embodiment of funny in New York, Hollywood, Europe, and Florida. Ball went on to do several other shows, but she will always be known as one of the funniest women on TV mainly thanks to her stint on I Love Lucy.

P.S. – Quick shout out to Vivian Vance. She was a perfect comedic sidekick for Lucy, being dragged into most of Lucy’s mad schemes.  In my opinion she is only slightly less funny than Ball and very, very underrated.

 

Amy Poehler by Mike Lytle

Amy Poehler first rose to national prominence on Saturday Night Live. She was one of the few female performers in the history of the show who would get as many sketches written for her as many of the top male cast members. The writers found her to be funny and versatile enough to trust her with much of their best material. Not only that, but she co-hosted the Weekend Update segment for several of its strongest years and more than held her own, first opposite Tina Fey and later Seth Meyers. Her movie career has been hit and miss, but I have a special place in my heart for her roles in Baby Mamma and Blades of Glory. What we will remember Poehler most for is her role as Leslie Knope on the third greatest sitcom of all time Park and Recreation. She took a character that was originally written to be a female version of Michael Scott from The Office and made it so much more than that. She wasn’t always the funniest character on Parks and Rec, but there was never any doubt that she WAS the show. Leslie Knope’s unbridled optimism is the defining characteristic of the show and I have to believe that much of that came from Amy Poehler herself.

 

Mary Tyler Moore by Ben Plunkett

The recently deceased comedic icon is known in pop culture history as a primary ingredient of two unforgettable sitcoms: The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I am coming from the point of view of someone who has only mostly seen the former. (I have watched various episodes of The Mary Tyler Moor Show.) My sister and I just had the honor of watching the show on Netflix, finishing last month. The Dick Van Dyke Show started in 1961. I imagine they had planned Laurie Petrie to be a relatively minor side character, showing up every other episode or so for two or three minutes. She was almost not cast on the show at all. From what I have read, it sounds like she almost missed out on a role of a lifetime. In fact, the entire cast did. The pilot of the show was called Head of the Family and starred an entirely different cast, including creator Carl Reiner as Rob Petrie. But in the revised version, everyone obviously expected Van Dyke to take the house down. After all, he had already become known on radio, TV, and stage and had even won a Tony. Moore smashed all their low expectations to smithereens. She ended up being the show’s secret weapon, not only matching Dyke’s comedic finesse, not only doing pretty well, but perfectly matching her TV show husband in comedic time, acting, dancing, and just flat out amazing, all-around talent. I don’t think TV history has ever seen two actors with better chemistry. The show finalized in 1966, but Moore wasn’t finished yet. She went on to be the main of star of one of the most famous shows ever, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

One last thing: Moore would still be on this list if we were doing the five best looking funny women. At least, I would fight hard for it. That Laura Petrie, one great looking gal, she was.

 

Carol Burnett by Phill Lytle

Actress and comedienne, Carol Burnett is best known for The Carol Burnett Show, which ran from 1967 through 1978. Needless to say, I did not watch the show as it aired, seeing as how it ended its run a few months after my birth. I did get to see the show on reruns with my grandparents though, and I was always impressed and entertained. Watching her perform with her costars, it was clear how gifted, tireless and committed she was to making the show as funny as possible. She was also incredibly graceful in her ability to allow one of her costars to get the biggest laughs in a skit, or to take center stage if their performance warranted it. That kind of generosity of spirit is as rare today as it was then. But most of all, she was funny.

A few years ago, I was watching an awards show and either she was being honored or she was presenting an award – my memory fails me on that count. Regardless what her specific role was, she got up on stage and she talked and made a few jokes and had the crowd laughing – genuinely laughing. Not the feigned laughter you see at many of those shows when a legend is speaking. She was surprising and sharp and funny. It was great to watch and it only solidified in my mind how singular of a talent she has always been.

 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus by Gowdy Cannon

I’ve watched a lot of Seinfeld over the last 25 years but I am not so pompous to think I can’t see new things and change my mind on opinions about it. Just last summer as my wife and I went through it I was, more than ever, blown away by how much Elaine added to the show. Performing next to a comedic legend superstar and two of probably the Top 5 greatest sitcom characters ever, I am sure I had not appreciated her as she deserved. She had her moments:  “You want germs? I’ll give you germs.”  “We don’t have to name names…or point fingers…or name names!”   “YOU’RE BALD!”  Her GET OUT push is as iconic as anything in the show’s pantheon of icon.  But until this last time through I am sure I didn’t see her the way I saw the other three. I do now. With time I can see how Elaine wasn’t eclipsed even slightly by the legends around her because she was far too bright.  She was audacious in a way TV women often weren’t and it was hilarious. In hindsight it’s hard to believe Jerry and Larry David didn’t have a woman written in at first and NBC had to demand it.  She could not have fit in better in the well oiled comedy machine that was Seinfeld.

She continued her success with The New Adventures of Old Christine, adding another Emmy to the one she won in Seinfeld. And while I have not seen it, she continues to rack up the awards in her new series Veep as well. But she’ll always be Elaine to me. The woman who cedes ground to no man. The woman who dropped Frank Costanza like a bag of dirt, who went toe to toe with the Soup Nazi and scored a KO, who dominated karate champ Kramer . It took a special actress to share a screen with Alexander, Richards and Seinfeld. She is their equal and that may be the highest compliment I can pay her.

 

So, what do you think? Does our list meet your approval? Let us know what you think in the comment section below. We would love to talk about these and other hilarious women of television.

 




Five Lies Gilmore Girls Tells You

For the record, I like the show.  But it lies to you.  Lies so hard.  Here are five examples.


1. If you eat enormous amounts of junk food, do not cook much on your own, and hate exercising, you will still be healthy and look fabulous.

It’s the life we all want, but we can’t have. And please tell me there will be French fries in heaven. And coffee.

 

2. Your wish for your studious, “good” teenage daughter to have moments of rebellion by participating in destructive behavior has no actual effect on her decisions.

Were these longings for her teenager’s rebellion due to parental boredom?  Did Lorelai want to purchase the alcohol for Rory’s underage drinking orgies? Was she disappointed in her daughter for striving to get into an Ivy League instead? Darn, I hate it when kids make correct choices.

 

3. Being a single mother with one income will lead to talk of not having money, but there will never be any actual financial sacrifices.

You can eat out as much as you want, actually eat out most every meal. You can own your own very large home in the Northeast. Your daughter can buy books all the time. You can wear whatever you like and find fashionable.[1. Time agrees.  Read this if you don’t believe me.] Ok, so Rory didn’t buy enough skirts for her private school. Lorelai insisted that was not necessary. (True. Private school skirts are indestructible.) And Lorelai had to make Rory’s dress for prom. Real homemade clothes (when you’re too poor to buy clothes) look nothing like Rory’s designer “home-sewn” beauty. Believe me.

 

4. You can know all the things about all things.

Not only can you do lots of fun things and involve yourself in all the town’s events, you can know everything about most everything: literature, movies, music, history, celebrity gossip, and more. There is such a wealth of knowledge, that you can have entire conversations filled with allusions. You’ll end up like The Little Match Girl by the time you figure them all out.

 

5. If you do all this cool stuff, and if you are witty, and if you have a permissive parenting style, your daughter will be your best friend. Not just your best friend when she is older, wiser, and has had time to mature, but your best friend during each of the awkward stages of development, including pre-pubescence and adolescence.

I’m sure this show is how my friends pictured mothering teenage girls before they actually had a teenage girl.

Then they had a daughter. And now they’re like, “Ain’t no way we are having coffee as besties. I’m ‘bout to lose it on you, and you only in elementary.”

And I can’t even share what my friends who have middle school daughters are thinking. That’s confidential. (And these friends of mine who parent daughters are great mothers. This is just venting, people. Calm down.)


So there you have it. Lies. Netflix is releasing sequels to the series—four episodes, one for each season, titled “A Year in the Life.” The day after Thanksgiving, I will be curling up with sisters, eating junk food, laughing, binge watching, and listening to more lies.

It will be great.

 




“He’s The All-Time Best Seller”: How George Costanza Became the Greatest Character in TV History

You know you really need some help. A regular psychiatrist couldn’t even help you. You need to go to like Vienna or something. You know what I mean? You need to get involved at the university level. Like where Freud studied and have all those people looking at you and checking up on you. That’s the kind of help you need. Not the once a week for eighty bucks. No. You need a team. A team of psychiatrists working around the clock thinking about you, having conferences, observing you, like the way they did with the Elephant Man. That’s what I’m talking about because that’s the only way you’re going to get better.

[Jerry, to George]

 

And You Want to Be My Latex Salesman

Confession: when I find out someone is a Seinfeld fan, I silently judge them based on who their favorite character is. For my wife it’s Elaine and I get that. She’s a woman and Elaine is THE woman on this show. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stood next to three entertainment icons for nine years and held her own. So no judgment. But generally speaking, any answer other than the right one earns secret scorn from me, which I know is totally unfair.  

When Seinfeld went off the air on May 14, 1998 there was no doubt to me who was the best character. It was Kramer. He was why my brother Ashley started watching the show, and why he influenced me and my friends to start watching around Season 3 when the show was new. In the beginning we watched every week to see what Kramer would do or say next. His hair, antics, physical comedy, randomness and high energy one-liners made for a legion of fall on the floor laughing moments. In Season 5’s “The Fire” when he explains how he saved a pinky toe while on a hijacked bus that was “out of control!!,” that may be the hardest I’ve laughed watching TV.

 

Ruth.  Mantle.  Gehrig.  Costanza?  

But something clearly happened in the next few years as I continued to watch on syndication and through a set of old VHS tapes my friend Joel Riley gave me. I still laughed at Kramer. But I really laughed at George. There were scenes that I was seeing for the 10th time where at the end I was so blown away by whatever George did–be it a diatribe or a lie or a rationalization–I would stand up and clap. The genius of George Costanza could only be appreciated with time.

I’ll say it this way: if the average sitcom fan watched Seinfeld for the first time, I think they would be much more likely to laugh at Kramer and find George supremely annoying.  I would understand that. It’s why the brilliance of George’s character flew under the radar (at least for fans like me) the whole original run. To find George funny–to get George–you have to know him. And that means you need to see the episodes more than once. George is a culture unto himself and he, like Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, takes a little time to fully appreciate. This is probably why I judge people for thinking Kramer is the best; it makes me wonder if they have seen the show repeated times.

 

This Pear Shaped Loser

So George’s meteoric rise to the top of the Greatest TV Character list in the years after the series ended still strikes me as incredible since the show is probably as popular now as it was 20 years ago. George, unlike Kramer or Jerry, would not be funny in real life. He is (pardon the reference) the opposite of what anyone would find attractive or appealing or entertaining. He’s short, bald, slow-witted, petty, and the most neurotic person in real life or fiction maybe ever. These adjectives come easily for a fan of the show since they are straight from its dialogue and it seems Seinfeld went out of its way to let us know how uncool he was and what a loser he was[1. According to the “Notes About Nothing” on the Seinfeld DVDs, the wardrobe department was told to dress George in a way to make him as uncool as possible]. He went seasons without a job. He lived with his parents as a man in his 40s. If the Seinfeld main cast was in a race to see who could be the most narcissistic, George won by a mile. Or at least several hundred feet.

 

“I’m disturbed. I’m depressed. I’m inadequate.  I got it all!”

So why is he funny, even all these years later? I can’t answer that question with any confidence. Just as with Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother Where Art Thou? they took some of the most repugnant traits real humans have and made it funny. It’s like a magic trick to me. Why is it one of the funniest, most memorable TV subplots ever when George battles with Kip/Ned/Moe over the Twix? Why do I say that George’s impassioned speech about having to be the first out of the fire is the best scene in the series? Why did I once spend $12 to buy a salad at Tom’s Restaurant in New York City simply because George once said, “You had to order the BIIIG salad!!!”?

Even though I can’t be sure, I can guess. At least part of it is the acting. Jason Alexander deserves every award he won for this role times a thousand. It’s a marvel to see him in real life because he is nothing like George, at least based on his interviews. He’s soft spoken, jovial and oozes humility. So I can appreciate what talent it takes to act out the scene where George explains why his worlds cannot collide: because it’s an impeccable transformation to a boisterous, angry megalomaniac. It was, and is, something special to watch this mild-mannered man in real life be the exact opposite of himself numerous hours a week for several months each year over nine years. Anyone else in the role of George hurts the show significantly. I would die to meet Jason Alexander–and I rarely get excited about celebrities. But George is my guy.

 

A low rumple. A metallic ‘squink.’ A ‘glonk.’ Someone crying out…”Dear God!”

As with any good entertainment, you have to credit the writing and hair-brained storylines as well. I mean, TV shows just don’t have dialogue quite like George’s Marine Biologist beached whale story. God bless the mind that put “The sea was angry that day…like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli” to paper. Or whoever thought up everything George says and does after a guy at work zings him while eating shrimp.  If you want to see the most glorious collision of acting and writing, go watch “The Comeback” from Season 8 of Seinfeld[2. My analysis of George’s Jerk Store comeback: It’s smart. It’s a smart line. And a smart audience would appreciate it. And HE’S NOT GOING TO DUMB IT DOWN FOR SOME BONEHEAD MASS AUDIENCE.]. Never have neurotic and petty been so entertaining. The writers even made George’s answering machine funny[3. Which you can see here.].

 

You’re Stuck On Some Clown From the 60s!!!

And believe it or not, almost paradoxically, the legacy of George is also tremendously enhanced when he’s mixing it up with other characters and (sort of) blending in instead of–as he so often did–dominating the scene. I’ll forever be amazed by Jon Favreau’s performance as Eric the Clown in “The Fire” because he went toe-to-toe with the greatest TV legend ever and did not back down under the weight of George’s idiotic obsession with Bozo. Watching the two men go back and forth over clowns is one of the Top three greatest Seinfeld moments ever to me. Similarly when George and Jerry talk about their new sitcom “Jerry” being a show about nothing. It’s just two guys having an incredibly funny conversation. George doesn’t upstage Jerry; they play off of each other with perfect timing and execution. Like watching Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in a half court set for the Boston Celtics in the 80s.

 

If you take everything he accomplished in his life and condense it down to one day, it looks decent

When you start discussing “greatest” anything you open up debate and critique and I welcome it all. But I’ll defend my choice of George Costanza with all the inane logic of “Remember Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it.” It took years and countless repeat viewings to appreciate what Jason Alexander accomplished with such a unique yet utterly repulsive character. I doubt it will ever be topped. It’ll take someone being as funny or funnier during the 25th viewing of their antics as the first or second. Because Costanza is. He’s been the bad date, the bad house guest, the bad employee and the bad tipper. But he somehow turned all of that into a great character. Indeed, the Greatest of All Time.

 

Who is the best Seinfeld character of the main four?

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Dealing With the Ramons In Your Life

Do you know anyone like this?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMRKOxtdlfw

 

I do. I know lots of people like this. But it wasn’t until a conversation I had with my brother that I really began thinking about these people.

I remember it was 10 years ago, around this time. Ashley and I were talking on the phone (which is odd to think about since we only text these days) about the College Football BCS Championship and whether Florida deserved to play against Ohio St. more than Michigan or Southern Cal. And after talking about this for a while Ashley says out of nowhere: “Do you know what someone should preach a sermon on? Dealing with the Ramons in your life.”

I knew exactly what he was referring to since we both speak Seinlanguage. He was referring to the Seinfeld episode, “The Pool Guy,” from the clip above. If you cannot gather it from this 30-second scene, Ramon was extremely annoying and had very low social intelligence. In a prior scene he bumps into Jerry and Kramer at the movies and awkwardly takes the seat between them even although they very obviously did not want him to do so. In a later scene he follows Jerry around all afternoon before Jerry finally tells him they can’t be friends. Ashley was telling me in a way I could understand the clearest that he struggled with annoying people in his daily life.

That conversation really got me thinking. I thought about the Ramons I had in high school. I thought about the ones I had in college. I thought about the ones I’ve had in Chicago. It seems no matter where I’ve been there have always been people that have irritated me greatly. Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Life calls these ‘EGR’ people: “Extra Grace Required”[1. Please know that I have little doubt that I am and have been a Ramon to other people. I know some people do not like the way I laugh. Some do not like the way I preach. Back in Bible college my youth ministry professor, James Evans, told us that there would be those people that would be hard to deal with in our future ministries. But he added that to someone else, we might be that person. That is important to remember for me.].

My personal Ramons have all been the same story. I always think I’m cooler than Ramon. I think I am smarter. I think I am better at life. And that is basically why I treat Ramon the way that I do, which is the exact opposite of how the Bible says to treat him.

I listened to Ashley’s idea and about nine months later I preached a sermon about it, when I finally found passages that I felt convinced fit the topic, Romans 15:1-7 and Ephesians 4:1-6. I’ve preached it at my church another time since then and at several youth camps and retreats. Here is what I learned by studying these two chapters from Paul:

 

I need to spend time around Ramon

Here’s some honesty: my greatest temptation with the Ramons in my life is not to insult them or gossip about them or mistreat them. It’s to ignore them completely. To act like they are not there. To avoid their gaze at church, walk on the other side of the room to avoid their path or turn the other way in public.

But Paul writes in both of these passages that we are to bear with others in love, to build them up, and not just please ourselves. You cannot bear with someone if you avoid them. You cannot build them up from a distance. I am also convinced Paul had at least a Ramon type idea in mind as he wrote some of these verses because of the verbs he used. You don’t “bear with” people you get along with, at least not generally. You do not need to be told to be humble and gentle unless you are tempted not to be. Ramon is the greatest application of these verses to my life. Because my attitude toward Ramon, better than just about anything else, shows how prideful I truly am and badly I can treat others.

I remember a time in my past when a guy who desperately needed the interaction of a male mentor asked me to go fishing with him. The morning we were supposed to go, I overslept because I didn’t care enough to set my alarm. I remember another time being on a bus for a middle school field trip that I was helping chaperone as a volunteer. The only seat left on the bus when I got on was next to the loudest, most obnoxious kid in the class. It was no coincidence that he was alone. I sat next to him. He tried to make conversation but I was curt with him. Finally, I turned my back on him to talk to the cooler kids in other seats.

The amount of times I’ve ignored the Ramons in my life is astronomical. This is quite often a sin of disobedience.

 

How I treat Ramon is an issue of Christian Unity 

This has overlap with the previous point. In Ephesians 4 Paul uses the word “one” over and over to describe Christian unity: one Father and Lord, one faith, one baptism. In Romans 15 he says we glorify God with “one heart and voice.”

Yet we find every possible way we can to divide the church in the U.S. We divide by race and ethnicity. We divide by music preference. We divide based on things–and people–we find annoying.

Even within the church we divide ourselves from the Ramons. I recall several years ago taking 13 people from our church on a mission trip to Mexico. Before our trip, we drove up to Wisconsin to have a team-building retreat. During one exercise I had them randomly line up on a three-inch wooden beam. Then, I told them to rearrange themselves in order of their birthdays without leaving the beam or touching the ground in any way. After many hours, they did it. We then met and discussed what we had learned. One person said the exercise forced her to talk to people in the group she never talks to. That hit me like a hammer. Here we were a group from a church of 75-100 people, only 13 of which were going on this trip…and yet some people never had never talked to each other.

Jesus prayed against Christian division in John 17. He died to unite the church according to Ephesians 2:11-22.  He died so that Ramon’s would never be ostracized.  Yet, they often are.

 

What if to Jesus, I am Ramon?

After clamoring for us to love those in the church who are weaker than we are and making pleas for us to be completely unified in mind and voice, Paul in Romans 15 nails the point as hard as he can with these words: “Accept each other, then, just the way Christ has accepted you.”

Christ accepted me when I was a failure of a student and person my sophomore year at USC, taking sleeping pills every night because my life was so messed up. Christ accepted me even though I was hooked on pornography. He accepted me even though I was lazy and selfish. He accepted me even though I lived as though God didn’t matter at all. I’m sure at least in some manner of speaking, to God, I was Ramon.

So why don’t I accept Ramon with that kind of grace? Why do I judge him so much? Why do I treat him as though he were invisible and meaningless instead of a wonderful being created in the image of God?

I think the key resides in how much I forget how much Jesus loves me.

Leading up to the command that we need to “bear with one another in love” in Ephesians 4, in the first chapter of Ephesians Paul says that In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” Then in chapter 2, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in your sins…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And in Chapter 3: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

THAT is the context leading us to Paul writing in chapter 4, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  If there is a reason I do not love Ramon, it is because I have completely taken for granted the way God loves me. These two things are absolutely connected.

Sometimes I think about the people I love in my life. Do I love my wife?  Absolutely. Do I love people of other races? I think I do. Do I love people with different political and  worldviews than me?  I certainly try.

Do I love Ramon?

I have never been able to answer this question the way I know God wants me to. And no matter how often I preach it, it never gets easier.

It will not get easier until I completely grasp Romans 15:7. Everything about being humble and bearing with each other and being of one mind and voice hinges on knowing how much I am loved and accepted. It truly is the source of everything I do.  The New Testament says to forgive others because Christ forgave you.  It says to lay down your life for others because Christ laid down his life for you.  It says to accept the Ramons because Jesus accepted you, at your most annoying, your most sinful.

So I ask my REO readers today to think about the Ramons in your life. Do you love them? Or, like me, do you often avoid them? I encourage all of us today to let the truth of Romans 15 and Ephesians 4 help us answer that question.

Because, unlike on Seinfeld, it is not funny at all to treat Ramon the way Jerry did.

 




Five Doctor Who Episodes My Wife and I Are Watching For Halloween

Just binge-watch, baby

Just before my wife and I got married we made a pact that our TV watching would be alternating shows that we like and introducing each other to our favorites through the magic of things like DVDs, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Like a gentleman, I let my wife go first and her first pick was a recently rebooted BBC series called Doctor Who.

Boy did I fall in love with this show.

I love that it’s family friendly. I can’t not love the Doctor, especially the Tennant and Smith regenerations. I love The TARDIS (which, you may have noticed, is bigger on the inside). I love being connected to fascinating, exceptionally developed characters whose British accents make me irrationally giddy. I love the opening music. I love the plots twists that feel like stomach punches…the ones that hurt and the ones that just blow your mind.

 

 

I’m glad I made it to the one with Rose’s father…

To be honest, I thought the first few episodes were hokey, but once I got past about the first six and the farting aliens, I was hooked. Season 2 really takes off.  By Season 4 I was comparing this show to the Seinfeld version of the science-fiction genre. That’s how good it gets sometimes.

One final thing that I adore about this show is its amazing versatility. I’m a fan of how one episode will be a war on another planet between humans and invented creatures and then next will be a whodunit with a giant wasp, that one episode will be in 1913 England and the next in some other galaxy in the year 4126.  Also, I don’t just get science-fiction time travel and highly imaginative fantasy but also superb comedy, riveting romantic drama, and unpredictable action-adventure.   This show is exploding with personality, invests me in even the minor characters and episode-to-episode changes genres on a dime.  It is why I keep watching.

 

Don’t Blink, Don’t Even Blink 

But there is another genre that they execute extraordinarily well: suspense and horror. They do it without gore, but instead by scaring you the old fashioned way: with great story telling and terrifying monster villains. Since my wife and I like to be scared but not grossed out, watching some of Doctor Who for Halloween is a perfect match. Today we discuss five of the episodes we are watching.

(Note that I count two-parters as one episode. Note as well that I will tell you where each episode runs so as not to spoil anything if you are currently watching for the first time. There will be spoilers for sure):

 

s1_09_aud_02

1. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances  (Series 1, Episodes 9-10)

This was like something out of Alfred Hitchcock. It stars a kid with a gas mask. So spooky. So creepy. So good. “Mummy? Are you my mummy?” The supporting cast includes adults with masks who appear dead–until they sit up in their beds. Chill bumps!! That is scary.  You can have your ghosts and boogeymen and vampires and werewolves and chainsaws. I’ll take the frightening unknown of a mysterious child with a gas mask every time.

Nancy was a great character. I wish she could have been recurring one. I didn’t really like the Rose and Captain Jack side plot very much because I wanted more of the Empty Child’s story and more Nancy. Their story feels like a Halloween story. It is absolutely perfect for this time of year.

 

devil_5944

2. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (Series 2, Episodes 8-9)

The Episode gets biblical. There can be no mistaking terms like “Hell” and “the Beast.”

So much terror in this one. It features my personal favorite fictional species: the Ood. With their Admiral Ackbar-type appearance and robotic way of speaking, the Ood get your attention.  They start out so docile and servant-minded, like house elves in Harry Potter…and then turn murderous under the Beast’s control. The scene where they stand in formation with their reading at Basic 30, before chanting “YOU WILL WORSHIP HIM” is horror at its foreshadowing finest.  (Their return in Series four’s “Planet of the Ood” is almost as good because it features more them, their background, and extreme changes in behavior.  The Ood: “Let me serve you…before I fry your face and kill you…”)  The Ood have given me more nightmares than anything else on DW.

But the Ood are the sideshow in this scarefest. The Beast is the true antagonist. The way he possesses Toby, coming from behind (“Toby…Don’t turn around. Don’t look at me. If you look at me you will die…”) is about as terrifying a situation as can be. The image of Toby’s face after being possessed, with those markings and red eyes and demonic smile is something I will never be able to get out of my memory.

The climactic scene is the Doctor at his clever best. But the scares come earlier. And they come fast and frightening.

 

5x04_time_of_the_angels_174

3. Blink (Series 3, Episode 10)

I loved it. Every second. First, it had time plot elements that had my head spinning, but the main plot and acting and everything else was so good, I didn’t mind being overwhelmed and confused.  It was overwhelming and confusing in the best way possible.  The Doctor doing the video knowing what Sally would say from 40 years in the future was awesome, even though I will never get how it works.  I don’t understand how time is “wibbly wobbly” and the similarities to the time turner in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban when Sally ‘starts’ the events of the episode at the very end of the episode could not be missed.  But TV is different than reading.  When I read, I am interacting much more intellectually. I can pause and think and reread.  TV isn’t like that.  It’s more emotional and reactive for me.  So the fact that my brain got turned upside down by the “rules” of time (especially it not being linear) did not bother me.  I was just sucked in along for the ride.

I loved Sally Sparrow.  She was real and sympathetic and smart.  Well casted. Well written.

I loved the mysterious puzzle-like approach and unraveling.  It starts unlike any other episode and from second one you know you are in for a piece by piece revealing.  I was literally on the edge of my seat and trying not to figure it out as not to ruin it, and there is no way I could ever have figured it out.

The Weeping Angels were epic.  Just epic.  Spooky.  Subtle yet terrifying.  The way they “attack” is about as bone-chilling as anything.

I loved the story of the guy who got sent back and then got to see the ‘hot girl’ the day he died.  It was sad and endearing.  Just a great touch.

This episode, at least as of last December, had the highest rating among fans votes on IMDB.com, a 9.8 out of 10 rating.  Every Doctor fan I know rates this one high.

 

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4. Midnight (Series 4, Episode 10)

I was blown away by this 45 minutes.  It was absolutely perfectly done.  An immaculate mixture of terror and suspense.  The only thing I don’t like is that I can’t watch it again and not know how it ends.

If the Empty Child episode was Hitchcockian, this was very M. Night Shyamalan, when he is at his best.  The movie “Devil” was like 6 people, freaked out by something unknown and unseen yet obviously evil, and took place almost entirely trapped in an elevator[2. Shyamalan did not direct Devil or even do the screenplay but it was based on his story and definitely had his earmarks on it as far as tone, pacing and setting.].  This was like that.  The whole thing took place as one long scene, one long conversation – but the pacing and intensity were so captivating the episode flies by.  It was like the horror version of Seinfeld’s comedy in the Chinese Restaurant.  TV relies too much on breaks and scene changes because of short attention spans.  This blew that lazy trick out of the water.

The dialogue will haunt my dreams for weeks.  The way they turned on the Doctor to kill him so quickly, the way the conversation never stops but they don’t talk over each other, impeccable timing of the lines delievered …the writing deserves some kind of medal.

The actors were like Oscar and Wallace from the Office and Hurley form LOST in that I almost could believe they were real people who got dropped into this and did not know it was fiction.  Jethro unnerved me. Biff creeped me out to the max.  Yet the unnamed bus hostess may have been the freakiest of all.  The reactions of the people were so real to life; they were scared out of their minds the point of irrational boldness.  Just like unreasoning animals fighting for survival.  Outstanding acting.

The doctor was completely out of control and had no idea what to do.  This almost never happens.  He was trying the most basic, rudimentary things, like a child would and his cleverness was useless and his leadership was humbled, not only by the mutiny against him but by the way it ended.

Probably the most petrifying subplot is the way Sky repeats everyone’s words, then is right on the timing of what they were saying, then to being ahead of the Doctor’s speech.  Like something from the Twilight Zone.  It have more chill bumps just thinking about it.

Since I was 16 I have firmly believed that the noise in the dark is scarier than what makes it.  Almost every time.  Good horror or terror or suspense comes (to me) from tipping your hand slightly but not showing it, or waiting til the last second to show it[3. As Shyamalan did superbly in Signs.]. The unknown truly frightens people. This was the best execution of that I think I have ever seen.  They did not ever truly show us what was there.  I think I like this one more than “Blink”.  That may not be popular opinion but it’s how I feel.

 

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5. Time Heist (Series 8, Episode 5)

This one qualifies more as thriller than horror but its breakneck pace, series of do-or-die consequences and magical plot twists earn it its spot on this list to me.

The Capaldi version of The Doctor was taking time to grow on me, and this episode catapulted him into the “This guy really is the Doctor” stratosphere.

I have to confess: I love the “People waking up in a room with complete strangers and short term amnesia put there by someone unknown and to accomplish some goal with cryptically given instructions” trope[4. I will never ever watch any of the Saw series again, having only seen the first two, because it’s too gory for me.  But the one redeeming quality of the two I watched was how it accomplished this.]. There is something psychologically torturous about it that entertains me in a disturbed way (I may have issues).  Regardless, from the first 3 minutes I knew this was going to be good.

They seem up against impossible odds, which always adds to the psychological warfare. But they are all there for a reason and finding out those reasons is part of what makes the journey such great TV.

And The Teller.  Wow.  Bless the minds of the creators of this show for never ever ceasing to amaze me with what they come up with for monsters and villains.  You could run a legit 16 entry tournament on “Scariest/Freakiest Doctor Who antagonist” easily.  The Teller would be a high seed to me.

The twists and turns and piece by piece unraveling (similar to “Blink” but quite different in important ways) are on par with the other entries here.  It offers uber-intensity from start to finish and has one of the most satisfying conclusions of the series to me.

 


 

So there it is.  There’s the list.  Since I wanted to make this an REO 5 to keep it from being long, I’ll add that my wife and I also have watched “The Planet of the Ood,” and “Human Nature/The Family of Blood” and if space permitted I would write about those as well.  Maybe next year!  Happy Halloween from the Rambling Ever On staff!!