A Seinfeld Fan Gives Friends Its Due

Since Rambling Ever On’s inception in December of 2015, I have written about Seinfeld every five to six months. This is by design. It’s easily my favorite TV show of any genre and its fanaticism rages on two decades later. That is worth a regular turn in our rotation of topics.

Today, I want to give one of my Seinfeld slots to its younger sibling of 90s American Sitcoms: Friends. In a lot of ways it rivaled Seinfeldit was about New Yorkers, its mammoth popularity allowed it to take over the 9 PM Thursday Night slot on NBC, and it has lived on in well after its finish. It was never quite as popular but it was still a very iconic show with a dedicated, rabid fanbase that can have entire conversations in show quotes. In other ways it was quite different: the characters were attractive, relationships worked out and it could get very dramatic.

Nevertheless, I have never considered these shows to be competitive rivals. They were in a great sense on the same team. If Seinfeld was Jordan, Friends was Pippen. And for that reason, I do not understand the hate that Seinfeld fans throw at this show, even to the present day.

I have not bashed Friends, not much at least, but I haven’t defended it either. It is a show I’d seen most of when I was single and found enjoyable but not worth publicly lauding. After years of being married to Kayla, who will binge-watch this show and then start it over immediately, I have secondhand watched the whole series several times. And I have to confess, there are things that are worth defending. It is not a show for everyone, but for what it set out to do, it prospered for a full decade. Today I celebrate some of those things.


The LOL Quotes

This is the essence of what makes a sitcom great to me. If I want a deep story I will watch a drama like LOST or Stranger Things or Friday Night Lights. For comedy I want someone to say or do something that causes me to cry-laugh or, even better, to literally roll on the floor. Friends offers no shortage of these. Here are a few of my favorites (Spoiler: They are all Chandler and Joey):

“No, Eddie, this isn’t out of the blue. This is SMACK. DAB. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BLUE.”
(Chandler, to his psycho roommate who wouldn’t leave)

“No, we only kissed.”
“Kissed? That’s even worse!”
“How is that worse?”
“I don’t know but it’s the same!”
(Chandler and Joey, hashing out how Chandler betrayed Joey)

“Custard good…Jam good…meat GOOD.”
(Joey, eating Rachel’s revolting trifle)

“Alright, listen. I have to go to the bathroom, but if the place with the big fish comes up again, I’d like to know whether that’s several big fish or just one big fish.”
(Chandler, on Phoebe’s fish story)

“IT’S JRANICE.”
(Chandler, when accompanying Joey on a double date/blind date, when he realizes his date is his many times over ex-girlfriend)

“Monday…One Day. Tuesday…Two Day. Wednesday…When Huh What Day?” “Thursday…THE THIRD DAY.”
(Joey, explaining how to remember what day he wanted the audition)

“Stretchy Pants!! You should wear those every day every day.”
(Chandler)


The Other Memorable Catchphrases

There are many repeated quotes that were not necessarily LOL funny to me over and over but were still very amusing and were so well written and delivered they have become timeless with the American sitcom vernacular. Like Ross’s “Pi-vot!” Or Chandler using any sentence with “Could” and “be” and “any more…?” that was constantly made fun of and parodied (Joey’s “Could I be wearing any more clothes?” while vindictively donning Chandler’s entire wardrobe is probably the best version of that.) Or Joey’s “How you doin’?” Or Phoebe’s endless use of “Phalange”.

A mark of a successful sitcom to me is how easy and fun it is to quote, even 15 years after its end. Friends hits this mark easily.


The Acting

Sitcom acting coming out of the 80s could be horrendous, even on the good shows, and the 90s ushered in a period of TV shows landing fantastic actors who had good comedic timing and not just mediocre actors who were naturally funny. Friends was like a drama so they needed six people who could really land the nuances of human emotion. They succeeded in my opinion, especially David Schwimmer, who pulled off a wide range of performances and nailed them all. Yet if you want a 0.5 second example of what I’m talking about, watch closely when the camera cuts to pregnant Phoebe in New York when Ross says Rachel’s name instead of Emily’s at his wedding in London. Moments like that are remarkable television to me.


The Chill Bump Moments 

I confess my goosebumps shatter when “She got off the plane.” And when Chandler and Monica propose to each other. And when Rachel flies all the way to London and then changes her mind and congratulates Ross. And when Chandler loses the face-off to Phoebe and confesses he loves Monica. And so many more get me. Every. Single. Time.


“The One With the Jellyfish”

Few scenes in very few sitcoms have gotten to me the way the final two scenes do in the Season 4 premiere. This is the episode where they come back from the beach after Ross has broken up with bald Christine Taylor to get back together with Rachel.

The first scene is when Joey, Chandler and Monica finally break down and tell the other three what happened out at the beach that traumatized them so badly that they would not talk about it. Two moments cause me to lose it: First, when Joey says, “That’s right! I stepped up!” The night my son was born my wife was in too much pain to change his diaper and I had never changed one. But, awkwardly as it was, I did it. And every time that story gets told I quote Joey very loudly. Secondly, when Joey admits he got stage fright he says they had to turn to Chandler who tries to go hide, screaming into his covered face.

The second scene is the classic, “WE WERE ON A BREAK” scene, but there is so much more to it than that oft-repeated Ross rationalization. Nearly every line in this 2-3 minutes makes me laugh hard, no matter how many times we’ve watched them. “18 Pages. FRONT AND BACK!” “You fell asleeep?” “EH UH EH FINE BY ME!!” And the greatest Chandler quote of all time: “I KNEW IT!!!”

This was the peak of the show to me.


The Creative Storylines and Cliffhangers

I liked Friends when it first came on for how it ended seasons causing me to die waiting three months for closure to a season finale. But I also admire how the storylines were kept fresh for ten seasons and you never knew what was coming most of the time. Episodes like the “What would have happened if…?” (where Rachel marries Barry, Joey is still on Days of Our Lives, etc.) were unprecedented at the time and really opened up new ways of sitcom storytelling that I think others have followed and even improved upon. Additionally, I truly appreciated how at the end, they didn’t follow any trite formula for how the six characters ended up. Two were married with children, two just started dating again, one married outside of the group and one was still single. Finally, I loved how they used Phoebe, the oddball character, to move away from the romantic subplots and bring in her messed up family to give us some phenomenal poignant moments.


The Notable Guest Stars

Having mega-super stars like Bruce Willis terrorize Ross and Brad Pitt terrorize Rachel was A+ comedy, but even lower rung stars like Jon Lovitz and Giovanni Ribisi were hilarious in their spots. A third group I adore in hindsight are people who went on to star in TV after Friends, notably Hugh Laurie (“I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with your friend Pheebs” with his fantastic English accent) and Jim Rash, who eventually became the Dean on Community, who forever gets the glory of being the one who led the charge off of the plane in the finale because it didn’t have a left phalange.


That Inimitable Opening Theme

It wasn’t just the song, as perfect as it was in complimenting the show, but also how they used quickly clips from the episodes to superbly match the music and lyrics. And they constantly updated these clips, even midseason, to keep it fresh. It was always extremely well done, so much so that those cheesy dancing-in-the-water-fountain shots before the show even began couldn’t detract from it.


That is my list. What were things you loved about the show? Comment below!




Five of Our Favorite “Mad Scientists” From Film and Television

What constitutes a “mad scientist”? Single-minded focus? Crazy, sometimes dangerous inventions? Wild and unruly hair? A white lab coat? If those are the qualifications, we think the five we came up with fit the bill almost perfectly. This is not a best-of list. (We give official REO Top Ten rankings when we post stuff like that.) No, these are simply some of our favorites that we felt would be fun to write about. We hope you enjoy the list and feel free to add some of your own favorites in the comment section below the article.


Doc Brown – The Back to the Future Trilogy

You know you belong in this group when actual dialogue from your movie describes you as “a crazy, wild-eyed old man who claims to be a scientist.” Michael J. Fox may have owned the 80s in some sense, but he would have just been an average teenager in these films without its other crucial piece, Doc Brown. He had some timeless catchphrases that my brothers and friends and I still quote today: “88 MILES PER HOUR!!!” and “ONE. POINT. TWENTY-ONE GIGAWATTS!!” He was, to me, the brightest star of these movies.

And we loved Christopher Lloyd for it. I was young and naive when Back to the Future was new and so I thought he looked just like Doc Brown. I remember reading in TV Guide that he was going to do a guest spot on Cheers once and I watched the episode and was stunned at how he looked. Because the crazy wild-eyed (and wild-haired) scientist was nowhere to be found. And that’s how he will always be to me, even though he had a great career outside of this trilogy. Doc Brown is an icon of the 80s and an absolute treasure of a role. (Gowdy Cannon)


Flint Lockwood – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Flint Lockwood is different. Always has been. His entire life he has cared about only one thing: inventing things that will help others. Most of the time, his inventions end up causing more problems than they fix, but that doesn’t deter him in the least. At a young age he invented spray-on shoes that unfortunately he was never able to take off. He also invented rat-birds for some unknown reason and they have harassed his home-town (home-island?) of Swallow Falls ever since.

When we meet him as an adult near the beginning of the movie, he is working on the greatest invention of his life – a machine that will convert water into food. Any kind of food imaginable. Through some happy accidents, his machine actually works and things start to look up for Flint. He meets a girl. The town loves him – a big change from their usual annoyance. Of course, being a movie, things go wrong, Flint has to save the day and learn a few important life lessons along the way.

What makes Flint Lockwood so memorable is that he is not at all like any other heroic lead I’ve ever seen in a film. He is weird. He has very few social skills. He narrates all of his actions in his laboratory as he performs them. He has a pet monkey named “Steve.” Flint is odd, funny, unpredictable, and full of unexpected humor and heart. He stacks up with the best of the mad scientists out there. (Phill Lytle)


Doc Heller – Mystery Men

Doc Heller fits right in with his clientele, the oddball wannabe superheroes on the 1999 superhero comedy, Mystery Men. Doc Heller has a genius mind which he uses for all manner of insane inventions for things such as aromatherapy, laser hair removal, carnival rides, and a chicken rental business. He’s also an inventor of non-lethal weaponry for The Mystery Men team. This includes things like Canned Tornado, the Blame Thrower, the Shrinker, the Hair Dryer, and Glue Grenades.

Heller first garners the patronage of the Mystery Men after they fail to stop the Red Eyes from robbing a nursing home. Fortunately, Doc Heller is there on the scene romancing a resident and witnesses the whole incident. It is then that he tells The Shoveler that he has the non-lethal weapons they need to come out on top. Good ol’ Doc for the win!

While Heller is never actually made an official part of the team, his mad scientist-ery is instrumental in the final defeat of the archvillain, Casanova Frankenstein. (Ben Plunkett)


Doctor Heinz Doofenshmirtz – Phineas and Ferb.

You could argue that the appropriately named Heinz Doofenshmirtz is only one of three “mad scientist” in this fantastic Disney television show. Both Phineas and Ferb are master scientists in their own right. I would not classify them as “mad” as they don’t seem to be consumed by their work. Heinz, on the other hand, is completely consumed. His tragic (and hilarious) backstory sheds some light on how he turned into the crazy and power hungry inventor we see in the show. His inventions (“inators” of various kinds) are always far too convoluted for their own good and his end-game goal of conquering the entire “tri-state area” is incredibly limited in scope, which only adds to his charm.

Doofenshmirtz is full of one-liners, comic pratfalls, and running gags. His epic fights with Perry the Platypus are a thing of legend. (Seriously, if this doesn’t qualify him for iconic status, I don’t know if anyone qualifies.) While his failures are numerous, he keeps on trying, giving all future mad scientists a perfect role model. There are very few TV characters that make me laugh more than Dr. Doofenshmirtz, and that is enough justification for including him in this list. (Phill Lytle)


Frederick Frankenstein – Young Frankenstein


Frederick is of this infamous Frankenstein family line. He is so ashamed of his mad scientist ancestry that he pronounces it Fronk-en-steen in order to hide this embarrassing fact. At the beginning of the movie, Young Frankenstein (directed by Mel Brooks), Frederick has successfully spent years in adamant denial of his mad scientist family lineage. All of this changes after he inherits the castle of his great-grandfather, Baron Beavort von Frankenstein, the father of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the even more infamous monster. (Many incorrectly know this monster by the name of Frankenstein when it was really Frankenstein’s Monster. Come on!)

In the end, Frederick (played to comedic perfection by Gene Wilder) returns to his family home, to his grandfather’s laboratory, and learns to embrace his inner mad scientist. With Wilder’s perfectly disheveled hair and mad eyes, one truly believes he has transformed into the mad scientist role. Verily, it is his destiny. He is assisted by the buffoonish yet well-meaning Igor (pronounced Eye-gore), a descendant of a long line of hunchbacks who have served the Frankenstein family; the beautiful Inga (Teri Garr) and Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), the Frankenstein castle housekeeper and possessor of a number of dark family secrets.

Frederick’s mad scientist antics do not end with the famous “It’s Alive!” moment. Oh no. Indeed, he is so obsessed with his creation, he loves it so deeply that he takes it to the stage where the two perform “Putting on the Ritz” for the masses. (Ben Plunkett)





Five Amazing Songs I First Heard On TV Episodes

It is a beautiful thing when I am watching a TV show and a song I don’t know plays behind a significant moment, especially a climax, and I am so blown away by it that I immediately look it up on the internet. It’s cool when music and TV scenes come together with marvelous synergy and it’s a song I already know. Yet when I do not know the song it is even better, as I love being introduced to new music. And when this collision of an unfamiliar song overlaying a TV moment rocks my world, the two will forever be linked in my mind. The song then becomes more than music and lyrics; it becomes part of TV lore.

This has happened dozens of times in my life. Here are five that rise to the top of the list.

[Note: There are major spoilers revealed in these scenes.]


“Not As We” (Alanis Morissette)
TV Episode: House M.D. 04:03 “97 Seconds”

This is my favorite House episode as it chronicles House’s argument against the idea of an afterlife. His mind is not changed after he goes to extreme lengths to find the truth but the fact Wilson cleverly and articulately pushes back against House is a huge part of why I loved this show.

The song itself plays when House, after being told by a man who was legally dead for 97 seconds that there is something amazing on the other side, tries to replicate this experience by electrocuting himself in the hospital. Where he knows he will be revived quickly but not immediately. Honestly, the song lyrics do not match the scene to me and would play far better behind a person trying to move on after an intense break-up or a death. But the music does match the tone of the episode and I’m sure that is why they chose it.

The song reaches deep in its emotion and really pulls me in. Alanis Morissette did this for a lot of people many times over, especially women. This one time she got me as well. I’ve listened to it dozens of times.


“One October Song” (Nico Stai)
TV Episodes: Chuck 03.18 “Chuck vs. the Subway” and 04.07 “Chuck vs. the Fistfight”

Chuck is a sleeper show to me, one that doesn’t have a huge following in my circles but was surprisingly good and very versatile. An action-comedy at heart, it had plenty of romance and drama and heartstring-pulling. It also had some epic guest spots that gave tribute to the 80s, including Dolph Lundgren in a one-off and Linda Hamilton and Scott Bakula in recurring roles as Chuck’s parents.

Perhaps the most tear-jerking plot development in the series is when Stephen suddenly gets killed by Shaw at the end of Season 3. This song plays alongside that moment and enhances the emotion and has compelled me to listen to it over and over again. Which in turn lets me relive this Chuck episode. The song plays again at the end of a Season 4 episode and compliments it as well.


“Boston” (Augustana)
TV Episode: Scrubs 05:19 “His Story III”

The Janitor on Scrubs had a pretty simple role on the show: to give J.D. an extremely hard time and to make super weird off the cuff comments that bordered on disturbing. So when we got a chance to peel back the curtain a little and see him as a human being, as we do in this episode, it is special. Make no mistake–the ending moment with the song is set up by the Janitor kidnapping J.D. and making a bunch of random hilarious declarations to a man in the hospital who needed a computer to talk but could not for a while as his computer was broken.

Since no one else would talk to him and because everyone else was busy insulting the janitor for having a menial job, the janitor utilizes this man’s forced silence to vent to him. And, as a result, to bond with him. It’s very subtle and doesn’t really pay off until the very end the conversation when Dr. Cox comes in with the sick man’s new computer and the first thing the man says is “Thank you”. After Dr. Cox accepts his gratitude the man says, “I wasn’t talking to you,” before the camera pans to the Janitor mopping up the floor with a look of humble satisfaction at this small victory in his monotonous work life. At that very moment, the line from this song, “No one knows my name” is heard. Which is just perfect, since the Janitor’s name is never given in this show and since the whole point of this subplot was to highlight his invisible job in a place where the most important life or death jobs are on display.

Honorable mentions for Scrubs would include “Closer” by Joshua Radkin and “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” by Colin Hay. This show mastered music and climaxes so well I had my own “Scrubs” playlist on iTunes.


“I Go To The Barn Because I Like The” (Band of Horses)
TV Episode: Psych 04.16 “Mr. Yin Presents”

This is my favorite TV episode of all time, of any genre, and this song helps it achieve that lofty accolade.

The Yang trilogy is truly exceptional entertainment, from the heightened stakes, to the villain’s acumen, to Mary’s presence, to everything that Shawn and Gus say and do. And at the climax of the second part–the episode that honors film Part 2s like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II by being the apex of the series–we get a mind-blowing and goosebump-shattering cliffhanger. And the song that James Roday chose to play along with it was, in his words, the only song he could have chosen that would work for this ending.

It begins with Abigail telling Shawn that unless he can give up Psych and having psychopaths wanting to hurt the people he loves, she can no longer be with him. Then it cuts to a series of poignant scenes without words that melt my heart every time: Juliet finally breaks down in Lassiter’s arms after trying to hold it together after her traumatic experience, Henry cleans the paint off of the Psych office door that Yin used to taunt Shawn, Shawn and Gus attend Mary’s funeral dressed in full racquetball attire, Yang stares ahead from her padded cell and Yin comes home as the camera pans to a picture on his table of….Yang and young Shawn? WHAT???

Just a phenomenal three minutes of TV. It messed with my head for days. And I quickly found the song on iTunes, put it on my iPod Nano and listened to it 50 times the next few days.


“Easier to Lie” (Aqualung)
TV Episode: Lie to Me 01:01 “Pilot”

Lie To Me didn’t have the best series premiere of any show ever (Lost and Friday Night Lights would be shows on that short list) but it was still excellent. And after a twist ending where Cal lies to get a girl to tell the truth, this song helps close the episode over a montage of scenes that gave me chill bumps and let me know this was going to be my kind of show. I also love the added touch of Dr. Lightman telling Rita: “Believe what you want to believe. Everyone else does.” This has never been more obvious than in the social media age.


So that is my list. What are some of yours?





Five Very Cool Songs Written For TV Plots

Music and television go together like music and weddings, or music and long road trips, or music and…just about anything. Between TV opening themes, songs playing behind dramatic climaxes and the topic I’m covering today, TV has wowed me with music too many times to count.

One unique thing I’ve really come to appreciate from my thousands of hours of TV watching over 40 years is when a TV show doesn’t simply rely on an already popular song to help advance a plotline, but they actually write from scratch and perform it as part of the episodes’ plot. This organic approach makes TV more real to me. Today I want to discuss some of my favorites.

Just to set the criteria clearly, I am not speaking to the aforementioned TV theme songs, though there are dozens of those that are awesome and you can read our take on the Top 10 ever here. Also, I will be writing about songs that have lyrics, to help narrow it down (if I only did music and not lyrics, LOST would dominate this list). So without further ado, here are five amazing songs that were written especially for TV episode plots:


“The Pit” [Mouse Rat, Parks and Rec]

“Bye-Bye, Lil’ Sebastian (5,000 Candles in the Wind)” is probably the better song and the standard for all other songs in this odd category, but there is something special about this Andy Dwyer original. First, it’s quintessential Andy. Pure, unadulterated, lovable idiot Andy. Second, I think the fact it ties into a huge PnR storyline makes it memorable. Additionally, it’s lyrically simple but that is part of the appeal I think. Lastly, it got a huge bump in my mind when April played it for Andy as an apology for not respecting his band. But I can’t lie, a huge reason above all others that I love this song is because its guitar music takes me back to 1991. Back when I cared a lot more about music and riffs than lyrics and content. I could listen to this 90 seconds on repeat many days.


“If I Didn’t Have You (Bernadette’s Song)” [Howard Wolowitz, The Big Bang Theory]

Originally written by the modern comedic musical duo Garfunkel and Oates (both of whom you probably have seen in multiple TV shows or movies, including The Big Bang Theory), Simon Helberg used his real world talent to kill this scene as Howard playing and singing an A+ romantic number to his wife. It is perfectly written for the show’s quirky, nerdy-yet-cool personality, summing up the committed relationship between the two scientists by referencing everything from binary code to isotopes to Doctor Who and the TARDIS. And it has a line in Klingon! LOL. It is a song that touches the brain and the heart at the same time, supremely endearing and deeply emotive. BBT will never be my favorite sitcom but this original song is among the best ever on TV to me.


“That’s An Adventure” (Main Cast, Community)

In all of Community’s outrageous episode premises, having a muppet episode did my heart good, having been a huge fan of Kermit, Miss Piggy, et. al growing up, and feeling a deep kinship to Gonzo especially. Even to adulthood.

But what really brought this episode home was that it was, like the Jim Henson Muppet movies, a musical. And the magnum opus of the cast was a jolly, joyful jaunt of a tune called “That’s An Adventure,” that I affectionately refer to as “The Hot Air Balloon Song”. My wife can testify that no song originally written for a TV has gotten to me like this one.

The gang feels like they’re in a rut and they need something original to do together to shake up the doldrums. They need an expedition. They go through some ideas that they disagree about as the song begins before Annie satisfies all of their criteria by suggesting a hot air balloon ride. “Yes! That’s an adventure!” And so one of the most lyrically hilarious, musically magical songs I’ve ever heard takes off.

I’ve actually listened to this song many times while working out and I doubt I have gone more than a month of time without listening to it since I first heard it in August 2017. That’s how much I love this song. It never, ever fails to put me in a good mood.


“White Lie” (Eli Loker, Lie To Me)

Unlike the rest of the songs on this list, this one was from a drama and not a comedy. Yet the song is amusing and compliments the show extremely well.

Loker had to take care of some visiting kids during a crisis at the Lightman Group HQ and he entertains them with a song that goes along with what his company is about yet is suitable for children: white lies. It’s quite charming and always brings a smile to my face.

I confess I liked this show and was disappointed that FOX cancelled it after three seasons and that it never got picked up elsewhere. This simple song is just a small piece of evidence of its originality that I enjoyed.


“Semi-Weirdo” (Gonzo, Muppet Babies)

The Muppets in their various variations dealt frequently with Gonzo’s uniqueness. The movie Muppets from Space chronicles Gonzo trying to get in touch with his kind, who are from another planet. A book called “What’s a Gonzo?” deals with Gonzo’s confusion over not being a regular animal like Kermit or Piggy and trying to figure out what he is, and ends with him realizing ‘You’re a Gonzo” and “Isn’t that enough?”. They always dealt with this in a clever and healthy way.

This Muppet Babies episode is no different. They did plenty of musical type episodes and characters would break into song frequently. Here, Gonzo bemoans the fact he’s odd with a contemplative song that starts melancholy but ends upbeat and, well, weird. It’s a perfect way for Gonzo to express himself, starting off with self-doubt and ending with self-realization. If you think I’m reaching too deep with that, you’re probably not a Gonzo.

So there is my list. Do you have any you like? Please share below!




Lucy Hosts a Dinner Party

Lucy Hosts a Dinner Party

The setting is Ricky Ricardo’s Club Babalu. Lucy has invited three book club friends and one guest of these friends to join her, Ricky, and their besties the Mertzes for dinner. The nine gathered dinner guests include Lucy, Ethel and Fred Mertz; Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine Benes; Lucille and Gob Bluth; Kate Austin and Jack Shephard. Prior to their arrival Ricky has just finished performing his favorite song. All except his wife, Lucy, silently rejoice at this since they all unanimously hate it with every fiber of their being. Gob is sure that act can be vastly improved with a bit of magic…and candy. Now they impatiently and hungrily await Ricky while he changes backstage. (The waiters have been instructed not to begin dinner until he arrives.) Like a gracious host, Lucy breaks the ice.

Lucy: Early this afternoon Ethel and I were really bored and I just looked at Ethel and said, “You know what we ought to do? You know what we ought to do?! You want to go downtown and have dinner with the boys tonight?” And she said…tell them what you said, Ethel.



Ethel
: I said, “yes!…What boys?”


Lucy: And I said, “Fred and Ricky, silly.” And then she said, “Oh yeah.” Just like that “Oh yeah,” and she obviously wasn’t at all excited about it. So I suggested we invite some of our book club friends and their significant other.


Ethel: Or a friend.



Jerry
: Or mortal enemies (He looks meaningfully at Elaine).


Lucy: Good times! Now, all we need is Ricky.



Jack Shepherd:
 Shouldn’t he already be here?


Lucy: Hold your horses. And, say, won’t he be delighted to see you all.


Ethel: You mean he doesn’t even know yet?


Lucy: Well, he knows the three of us are.



Mrs. Bluth
: GAAAH! Why am I even here? Gob!…


Jerry: And why haven’t we given our orders yet?


Lucy: We’re waiting for Ricky. He has to tell the waiters when we’re ready.



Elaine
: I’m ready.


Jerry: I thought we had reservations.


Lucy: We did. I made them. 


Jerry: Did you? Do you even know how reservations work?


Lucy: Yes, I know how reservations work, Jerry, thank you very much.


Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, we’d be eating.

(He looks at Fred). Am I wrong?



Fred
: Don’t look at me, I’m just here to for the chow.



Elaine
: (scoffs) Lucy.


Lucy: Excuse me…Have we met?


Elaine: No, but I’ve heard of your show. “Murphy Brown”, right? I’m writing a script for it.


Lucy: What? I’m on “I Love Lucy.”



Elaine: Yeah, whatever, I don’t care.


Jerry: Let me get this straight, you haven’t even seen the show and your writing a script for it?


Elaine: (Ignores Jerry and looks at the food on the other tables). GAAAH, I am so hungry!


Lucy: Now listen, Ethel, when Ricky gets here and sees everyone you distract him with something that will make him forget about being mad at me.


Ethel: Huh? How?


Lucy: Dance with him, talk, sing…That’s it! Ask Ricky to sing.



Ethel
: Sing?! You know he won’t!


Lucy: Oh, WON’T he! There is nothing he would rather do, ever!


Jerry: My but isn’t it great to see such familial love and trust in action.


Elaine: What’s the point of waiting for this guy. Let’s eat!


Lucy: “This guy”? I’ll have you know—


Kate: Just a little plate of chocolates. Is that too much to ask? Just one plate. 



Gob
: Oh come on! She just wants some chocolate. Garkon! Garkon! A plato ofo chocolatos for the senioraitos and the seniorettees.


Lucy: No! No, never mind, Sam. No chocolates.


Fred: You just had to ask for chocolates. Ethel and Lucy have had it with chocolate since that time they scarfed down all those chocolates at the chocolate factory.


Lucy: Well…that was all your fault.


Fred: My fault?


Lucy: Yes. Yelling all those crazy things.


Fred: That was dinner talk.


Lucy: Yeah well…you scared me!


Ethel: My sentiments exactly, Lucy. (scowls at Fred)


Lucy: Thank you, Ethel.


Jack: I got to tell you ladies, if you don’t learn to get along with your husbands…you’re going to eat alone.



Kate
: (turns to Gob) He always says stuff like that.


Jack: Yeah, well. I love you.



Kate
: I love you more.


Jack: No, I love you more.


Kate: Okay.


Gob: That’s the Christmas Spirit.


Jack: Back on the island we didn’t celebrate Christmas at all and liked it.


Kate: (To Gob) He loves talking about the island.


Jack: The island told me to.


Gob: (Pulls out a deck of cards and shows the top card) Hey Kate, see this King of Diamonds?


Kate: Sure.


Gob: That’s me. You’re the queen who the king of diamonds showers with diamonds. (pulls a queen of clubs from the deck)…I mean Clubs…Club sauce! He showers her with club sauce!!!



Mrs. Bluth
: Ugh, I hate club sauce. If I wanted my sauces touched, I’d eat the inside of your ear!


Gob: What does that even mean?!


Lucy: Okay, okay, okay, everyone. While we wait for Ricky, let’s play “Going On a Picnic.”


Jerry: Yeah, cause we really need to work up an appetite right now.


Ethel: Really?


Jerry: No.



Mrs. Bluth:
Lucy, dear, I don’t like these games and I won’t respond to them.


Lucy: I’m sorry you don’t enjoy these games more. I guess you are just a heathen who doesn’t “get” what fun is all about.


(Lucy and Ethel enthusiastically begin the game but Fred refuses to continue and everyone else is good with that. Except for Gob)

Gob: I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking an artichoke, a bacon sandwich, and….a Chimpanzee with a cup of cold coffee…and an illlluuuusion.


Elaine: (Says quietly to Jerry) Ya know, we shouldn’t have to wait for her husband to eat. I feel like just going over there and taking some food off somebody’s plate.


Jerry: I’ll tell you what, there’s 50 bucks in it for you if you do it.


Elaine: What do you mean?


Jerry: You walk over that table, you pick up an empanada, you don’t say anything, you eat it, say ‘thank you very much’, wipe your mouth, walk away. I give you 50 bucks.


Elaine: 50 bucks, you’ll give me 50 bucks?


Jerry: 50 bucks. That table over there, the three couples.


Elaine: OK, I don’t wanna go over there and do it, and then come back here and find out there was some little loophole like I didn’t put mustard on it or something…


Jerry: No, no tricks.


Elaine: Should I do it, Lucy?


Mrs. Bluth: (applying lipstick) Its Lucille. Don’t mistake me for that red-headed bimbo over there.


Lucy: I’m right here.


Mrs. Bluth: (Ignores Lucy) Sure, why not. It’s your grave. Frankly, I don’t trust anything served in this place.


Jerry: True. You also notice most of the waitresses are really ugly. Totally undateable!


Elaine: Just when I think you’re the shallowest man I’ve ever met, you somehow manage to drain a little more out of the pool.


Mrs. Bluth: (ignoring Elaine) I noticed that. The male waiters are pretty hideous as well….That settles it. (She gets up and leaves without telling Gob who just said he is taking a lovely lava-lamp on a picnic).


Elaine: (Leans over to Gob). Hey buddy, your ride’s leaving.


Gob: What?…come on! (He gets on his Segway which is beside his chair and quickly exits).


Lucy: Oh, don’t leave you two! Ooooh!


Jerry: (He turns to Elaine) So?


Elaine: So, what?


Jerry: The bet?


Elaine: On one condition. That you follow me and that having completed the task, we immediately leave and go get something to eat.


Jerry: Yeah, whatever. (Leans across the table) Hey Lu, we got to go.


Lucy: Oh no. Not you two too.


Jerry: Yeah, we gotta go.


Lucy: Ohhh, why?


Jerry: Yeah, its Elaine, uhhh…she’s like really frightened and has to go home.


Jack: Frightened?


Jerry: Yeah, she has what the doctors call a condition, it comes and goes and if she doesn’t go home soon she could die. DIE!



Jack
: Let me tell you something about being frightened. On the island–


Kate: Comes and goes?


Jerry: Mm…it comes…and it goes, it comes and goes.


(Elaine takes a bite of an empenada from another table after which she and Jerry leave. At the same time Gob reenters on his Segway and approaches Kate)



Gob
: So mon senioritaria, can I get a ride home. I have candyyyyyy…in a piniata.


Kate: Why don’t you just go on that thing?


Gob: Are you insane?! That’s like an hour on this baby. An hour!


Narrator: 15 minutes.

Kate: (Thinks) And you say you have candy.


Gob: And an Xbox. And more…oh, so much more.


Kate: I’m sold, let’s go. Later Jack.


Jack: What? Kate, we go home together, or you’re going to die alone.


Kate: (smiles) Oh honey. I love you, but seriously, I’m with Gob now. He has candy! (exits with Gob on his Segway).


Ethel: I wonder why he didn’t offer us any candy.


Jack: I have to go back!


Lucy: No, oh, don’t go!


Jack: I have to go back! (Exits)


Fred: We might as well go to, Ethel.


Ethel: Fred!


Fred: Well I’ve had it. I’m hungry. (Exits)


Ethel: (Turns to an increasingly distressed Lucy.) Oh!


Lucy: Just go ahead, Ethel. I’ll be okay here all alone.


Ethel: Oh! Say, now you and Ricky can have a real nice romantic dinner. See you later, dear. Love you. Ooooh! (Exits)


(Lucy sobs)

(Ricky enters. Kisses Lucy)

Ricky: Hello honey. What’s the matter?


Lucy: Don’t you honey me!


Ricky: What happened!


(Lucy gives him the evil eye)

Narrator: It was then that Ricky discovered he’d made a huge mistake.

Ricky: Cometí un gran error.





500 Words or Less Review: Watership Down (Netflix/BBC)

Watership Down, the novel written by Richard Adams, is one of my favorite books of all time. When I try to explain why I love it so much, words tend to fail me. It is a book about rabbits, after all. How could a book about rabbits be something an adult man would love? Easy. Think of it less as a book about rabbits and more as an epic story about friendship, survival, and hope. The ties that bind these heroic rabbits are easily identifiable and relatable.

That’s the book. The new Netflix/BBC series is a different thing. Fortunately, it’s not different enough to significantly lessen its impact. A few caveats about the new series: First, the animation is not up to the big-budget Pixar or DreamWorks standards. That might be a deal-breaker for some. Trust me and be patient with it. The story is worth it. Second, if you are a book purist, try to set that aside as much as possible when watching this series. Stuff gets changed. Know that going in and it might save you some frustration.

There is good news, though! While liberties are taken the filmmakers prove they have a deep love for the source material and do their best to maintain the spirit and the tone of the book. The series is divided into four 51 minutes sections – each with their own title and focus. I loved this format because it gave the filmmakers a chance to really dig into the story – more time than a two-hour film – but not too much time which would have tempted them to really mess with the key dynamics. It’s a good balance and makes for a mostly focused story.

For my money, the two standouts in this version are the voice actors and the music. The cast does great work in bringing these wonderful characters to life. We get to know Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Kehaar, General Woundwort, and the rest. James McAvoy and John Boyega are particularly good in their key roles. And the original score by Federico Jusid is in turns epic, subdued, and poignant.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that while these characters are relatable, they also operate on very non-human levels – driven more by instinct and need. For the most part, the series gets this right. There are attempts to shoehorn in a few modern points of view, but they wisely avoid making those things the focal point.

I highly recommend this new series by Netflix and the BBC. It is entertaining and moving. There is a beautiful melancholy that hangs over most of the series, which is also true for the book, and that made my heart very happy indeed. A word of warning: neither the book or series are intended for young audiences, even though they are about rabbits. Older children should be fine but be aware that the story goes to dark places and there is some bloodshed as these brave rabbits fight for their futures.




Around the Table: Five of Our Favorite TV Dinner Scenes

Both of our dinner scenes of film Fives have gone over well (to varying degrees). But in recent days it has come to our attention that television felt left out, cast into the cold and trodden underneath our calloused feet, as it were. For our part, we are aghast that it has taken us this long to highlight some great dinner scenes depicted on TV. Hysterical, awkward, heartfelt, masterfully orchestrated, these are a few of our favorites:


The IT Crowd – “The Dinner Party” (Phill Lytle)

I did not love The IT Crowd immediately. In fact, my first attempt to watch the show ended after the second episode of the first season, much to the dismay and consternation of a few of my fellow REO contributors. It just didn’t work for me. I gave up after those two episodes and figured I would never come back to it.

A few years later, I changed my mind and decided to give it another chance. Some of the REO braintrust, Nathan Patton, Gowdy Cannon, and Benjamin Plunkett, were huge fans, and as I value their opinions on most things, I knew that I had to stick it out.

I’m so glad I did.

Now, it did not work right off the bat, even the second time through. I still found some things in those early episodes that annoyed me, but slowly, I started to appreciate the humor and the characters. For the uninitiated, The IT Crowd follows two socially dysfunctional men (Roy and Moss) who work for the IT department of a large company. In the first episode, we are introduced to the woman (Jen) who somehow manages to be placed in their department as some sort of manager though she has no IT or computer expertise. It’s a match made in heaven. Of course, there are many side characters that add a lot of humor and charm to the show – characters like Denholm Reynholm, his son Douglas, and most importantly, Richmond Avenal, a reclusive gothic weirdo who hides/lives/works in the basement of the building.

In the second season (Series Two for the Brits) Jen is having a dinner party with her new boyfriend. At the last minute, the men she had invited are unable to attend, so she is forced to invite a few of her coworkers – Roy, Moss, and Richmond. I doubt I have laughed more at any other scene in the series as I did during the dinner party that ensues. From the three men and their inability to be remotely normal – their efforts to look normal kill me every time I watch it – to their absolute lack of self-awareness when it comes to conversation and social etiquette. Jen is beside herself in embarrassment but we as the audience are all better off having seen the insanity on display. This was the episode that convinced me that the show had greatness in it. It made every episode around it better due to how perfectly every aspect of this dinner party was deployed.

I’ll leave you with the classic, “look normal” pose.


Psych – “American Duos” (Gowdy Cannon)

Psych was about Shawn and Gus but in this episode, Tim Curry steals the show. Guest starring as Nigel St. Nigel, the lead judge on the fictional American Duos, Curry plays a parody of Simon Cowell. Except if Cowell were about 100X funnier. Wielding an acerbic wit and his natural and phenomenal British accent, he trash-talks everyone with whom he comes in contact with clever and side-splitting material. As when he claims Lassiter’s hair looks like it’s been poured out of a cake mold.

So naturally he has enemies and the main plot is that someone is trying to kill him. He is seemingly not safe anywhere so they eventually put him at Henry’s house, where the competent ex-cop can keep an eye on him. And as Henry, Nigel, Shawn and Gus sit down to steaks that Henry has evenly marinated, the fun begins.

Nigel has helped himself to Henry’s bathrobe. He calls Henry “Horace”.  He asks who decorated the place, “Kris Kristofferson?”  Henry tries to keep up in the putdown war but he’s clearly outmatched as if he brought a fork to a gun fight. Nigel has an endless arsenal of insults and they are all hilarious. Shawn and Gus are not to be completely ignored, however, as Gus procures three full ears of corn from the fridge and continuously and violently slaps Shawn’s hand away when he tries to have some. The seriousness and tenacity with which Gus denies Shawn his corn (“Keep playing, Shawn! Go ahead!) is evidence of why Gus is one of the great TV characters ever to me.

The scene ends with Nigel claiming that while wearing Henry’s plush robe, “I feel like an angel baby, swaddled in a cocoon of cloud candy,” just before Shawn takes a timeout with Henry in the next room where Henry declares that Nigel has violated “basic robe code”. But not before it leaves a wake of tear-inducing laughter behind. It was the first scene in this show’s run that caused me to think “This show can be ROTFL funny.”


The Office – “The Dinner Party” (Ben Plunkett)

The Office is famous for being hilarious yet so awkward it’s almost hard to watch. This episode is a prime example of that. In fact, it would not surprise me one bit if this were officially awarded The Most Awkward Dinner Party in TV History. It definitely deserves an awkward award. Again, it is hilariously so. The evening begins simply enough for Jim and Pam, albeit with a small glimpse into Michael and Jan’s decidedly dysfunctional relationship in their clearly Jan-centric home. After they are joined by Andy and Angela, the evening slowly continues to escalate to ever more horribly awkward levels. At one point Jim tells the camera, “Michael and Jan seem to be playing their own separate game, and it’s called, ‘let’s see how uncomfortable we can make our guests.’ And they’re both winning.” About three hours later Dwight arrives uninvited with a date (his former babysitter), and his own glasses and food (beet salad, of course.) For the rest of the evening he is gloriously oblivious to the mounting tension in the room (either that or in his own Dwightly way he just doesn’t care). But he is only too delighted to take his bosom pal Michael home with him following a huge Jan and Michael blowout that brings the police to their door, serving as the awkward evening’s grand finale.

I feel compelled to add at this point that it is in this episode that Michael describes a wine as having “an oaky afterbirth.” And, really, that describes Michael and Jan’s dinner party, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? It had some sort of awesome oaky, hokey afterbirth.

Jim: “What was that?”


Parenthood (Phill Lytle)

For some time, I have wanted to write about the importance of sitting around a table and eating with friends or family.[1. I finally have written this article! Read it here.] There is a sacredness to breaking bread together – something that feels almost divinely designed. One of my favorite shows of the last 10 years, Parenthood, used dinner scenes as a way to explore family bonds and unity. There are too many dinner scenes in the six-season run of the show to only focus on one, so I won’t even try.

Parenthood follows the Braverman family. They are a close-knit group, to say the least. The whole family tree is included, from the patriarch and matriarch to the grown siblings – two boys and two girls, and all their respective families. They are passionate and deeply protective of each other. They fight, they argue, and yet they always find their ways back to each other. A key dynamic in all this passion and familial color is the dinner table. The opening credits even reinforce this idea of what it says about a family that eats together. They are united in all the ways that count. The dialogue in each dinner scene is real – avoiding feeble attempts at plot building, instead opting for character and relationship development. The scenes feel real because they remind us of all those times we’ve sat at a table with our families and friends, with all the accompanying shouts, laughs, and noise. It’s beautiful and sacred stuff and we need more of it in our lives.


Seinfeld – “The Strike” (Gowdy Cannon)

Seinfeld has flooded our culture with so much that is now iconic you can’t escape it. From the Puffy Shirt in the Smithsonian, to Patrick Warburton painting his face in real life for a New Jersey Devils playoff game, to nearly everyone having invoked some version of “No soup for you!”

But at the very top of the list is the Festivus episode, named “The Strike” for Kramer’s subplot. But there is one big reason everyone remembers this episode: the introduction and celebration of Festivus. It’s so popular that a few years ago Jason Alexander said it was the most common thing shouted to him in public, which is saying something. And perhaps no scene in the episode is more memorable and lasting than when a motley crew of nine people–The Big 4, the Costanzas, Kruger and two random mega-creepy guys from the horse track–gather to celebrate this ridiculous made-up holiday.

Frank dominates the gathering. He invented it, so he gets the mic. And he does not disappoint. He begins the airing of grievances (He’s got a lot of problems with those people) by trying to insult Kruger but gets disoriented: “You couldn’t smooth a silk sheet if you had a hot date with a babe—-I lost my train of thought.”  It’s so realistic I could totally believe Jerry Stiller really forgot his line.

Festivus is epic, and it’s never over until George pins Frank. So for that it makes our list.


Those are some of our favorites. What are yours? Let us know in the comment section below. And while we’re at it, spend some time around the dinner table with your family and friends. It’s good stuff.





500 Words or Less Reviews: Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10-part documentary “The Vietnam War”, highlighting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam through the mid-50s to mid-70s, is a profoundly well-made one. Nevertheless, some who lived during these times have criticized the two for skewing the material in various ways.

On the other hand, the miniseries has the approval of the nationally respected organization, Vietnam Veterans of America. In his review on behalf of the VVA, Marc Leepson, states they feared the worst of the miniseries, the making of which they were never consulted. But he says they were largely delighted with the well-presented production that lays out an accurate, balanced depiction of the events (You can view Leepson’s review here.)

The documentary begins things in 1898 at the beginning of the Vietnamese struggle against French colonialism, the French would lose control to the Japanese during World War II, followed by a failed attempt by France to take it back after the war.

The now independent Vietnam became steeped in a bitter civil war between communist northern Vietnam and increasingly politically corrupt southern Vietnam. In the U.S. fight against all faces of communism, the U.S. sided with South Vietnam. The nearly 20-year U.S. involvement in Vietnam was done under the authorization of five U.S. presidents and a host of other politicians who carried it out with a combination of pride, political ambition, and misunderstanding of the Vietnamese people. The official start date for our involvement is said to be 1955. After the U.S. fighting forces finally left in 1973, the now dependent South Vietnamese army was left to defend itself and failed miserably.

The 10-part, 17.5-hour miniseries is told via video clips; historic sound recordings; snapshots; the narration of Peter Coyote; and the first-hand commentary from many of the players involved. These commentators present an extremely heartfelt collage of the many facets of what went down during those many years. Included are both Vietnamese and U.S. individuals. Without exception, all of these commentators are very well spoken and articulate clearly their very strong feelings for this bloody chapter of world history. In the closing minutes of the final episode, many of the main commentators are today revealed to be writers of memoirs, poetry, and novels; counselors; historians; teachers; career military officers; doctors; and judges.

Each episode begins with a “Viewer Discretion Advised” warning, alerting viewers that the following episode contains mature content, strong language, and graphic violence. This is well deserved. Most of this material is expected because of the nature of the subject, but there is also a gratuitous, unnecessary topless Jane Fonda video clip (episode 9, from 1:26:25 to 1:27:02).

And then there is the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a moving tribute of the many thousands of U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam. Many who were very skeptical of such a memorial came to tears at the first sight of it, some collapsing in emotional exhaustion. This miniseries itself is a beautiful memorial and should be viewed by all Americans above the age of 13.




Streets Ahead: Five Community Episodes That Make It The Funniest Show Since Seinfeld

“If you have to ask, you’re streets behind.” (Pierce)

 

Seinfeld is the Jerry Rice/Godfather/Cinnamon Toast Crunch of sitcoms. It wins any “greatest” conversation to me (and won the REO staff’s tournament). But in my mind there hadn’t been a sitcom I had been willing to put in the same conversation with it.

Until now.

Let me be clear that I have thoroughly enjoyed several sitcoms this century. Arrested Development was exceptional from the first second of the first episode and brought the jokes at a rapid-fire pace. Scrubs could be right up my alley in how ridiculous and random it was and yet how it could pull the heartstrings like a well-done medical drama. Park and Rec had the biggest heart and best ensemble cast of maybe any sitcom ever.

Yet one show stands above the rest in terms of comedy, the most basic category for how we rank sitcoms: Community. I say this as purely my own opinion but I will say we have an objective way to measure humor—by how much we laugh and how hard we laugh. The previously mentioned sitcoms (and I’d even thrown in Psych, though it was an hour-long show) were probably better shows. But you can ask my wife; no show that we have watched together has caused me to laugh like Community. To me, no show I’ve watched in the last twenty years is funnier.

We binge-watched it a year ago and my laughter was so long and disruptive, often literally causing me to ROTFL, that my wife had to have the remote so she could pause it so we didn’t miss 5-10 minutes of the show. 

And after we finished it, I immediately watched it all the way through again and then asked for it for Christmas to have forever. 

It is probably the most creative show I’ve ever seen. And the most meta. It took something that Arrested Development and Scrubs did well (being self-aware, winking at the audience and parodying everything) and took it to the extreme. Yet comedy is laughter when broken down to its most existential form. Here are five episodes that made me laugh till I cried and started beating the floor, begging for mercy.

[Note that this isn’t necessarily a Top 5 list and that two of the best episodes–Contemporary American Poultry and Remedial Chaos Theory–are missing by design. Because I’ve honored them in other REO articles.]

 

Environmental Science (Season 1, Episode 10)

This was the first episode where I realized Chevy Chase was going to bring all of the magic that made Clark Griswald and Dusty Bottoms great to this role. When he teaches Shirley effective public speaking tips, including “hand them a sandwich,” and she uses them to get a roaring applause, his reactions while sitting in the audience are priceless. This, along with the other episode plots, happens as Abed and Troy sing “Somewhere Out There” as they search for Fivel. And there’s a lot of El Tigre Chino in this episode, making it even more riotous.

 

Paradigms in Human Memory (Season 2, Episode 21)

It was the climax of the second episode of season one when I realized this show had the ridiculous and random I love so much, when Jeff helped Pierce with his Spanish project and at one point they were waving huge Greek flags. It was the aforementioned Chicken Fingers episode late in season one when I realized just how hard this show could make me laugh. But it was this episode when I knew I was witnessing greatness.

Most sitcoms rely on the clip episode at some point and some shows have even made fun of how lazy that is. But Community is too outrageous to settle for that. Their “clip” show is from entirely made up episodes and in the show’s classic fashion, makes fun of itself by having Jeff bring it home at the end with an insane mashup of his speeches from these entirely made up episodes.

“These drug runners aren’t going to execute Pierce because he’s racist…

it’s a locomotive that runs on us

and the only sharks in that water…

are the emotional ghosts I like to call….

fear…

anchovies…

fear…

the dangers of ingesting mercury!

because the real bugs aren’t the ones in those beds!…”

And on and on he goes as the music builds and we are treated to images like Pierce having a gun to his head in Mexico and the entire group in straight jackets. Out of this world cleverness and tear-producing laughter.

 

Competitive Ecology (Season 3, Episode 3)

This episode has the distinctive feature of one of the ROTFL moments coming from someone outside of the study group: the mild-mannered, quick-to-forgive punching bag Todd. He’s been paired up with Pierce because the class assignment calls for a partner and the study group is an odd number. And throughout the entire episode, they berate Todd with insults and end with “No offense” before he jovially replies “None taken.” When Pierce calls him petty for showing empathy because Pierce wanted to be with his friends, that was a fall on the floor laughing moment to me. But it was upstaged by Todd’s meltdown at the end, which he punctuates by exclaiming he’s finally going to go home and take his insulin shot. (And don’t miss Abed’s facial reaction to that statement.) It was a rant worthy of Clark Griswald, an appropriate comparison given the circumstances.

 

Pillows and Blankets (Season 3, Episode 14)

You really never knew what Community was going to do for episode premises. The study group could be video game characters, muppets, claymation, or in a G.I. Joe cartoon. There could be a paintball or a Halloween party with real zombies or a Dungeons and Dragons game. Jack Black could show up, there could be a bottle episode or they could fight Germans for the study room.

So it should be no surprise that truly one of the most special episodes is a brilliant parody of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. As the second half of a two-parter that has Troy and Abed go to battle over the exact thing the episode title says, it opens with noting that Shirley is “AKA Big Cheddar” (a callback to a previous episode where she made Jeff cry when they were kids). And it only gets funnier from there.

 

Cooperative Polygraphy (Season 5, Episode 4)

This episode holds the record for most times I laughed so hard that my side hurt. The fascinating thing is that most of it was at Pierce…and Chevy Chase wasn’t even in the episode. Mr. Stone (Walton Goggins) comes by after Pierce’s death to be executer of Pierce’s will. Nearly all of what he says is written by Pierce and it is delivered with stone-faced monotone. Yet because of the writing, Mr. Stone captures Pierce’s “voice” and presence perfectly and it’s over-the-top hilarious to me. Because Pierce was one of the greatest sitcom characters ever.

 

I could make this list 50 episodes if I wanted to. That’s how good this show was. Community overcame a significant amount of obstacles—Chevy Chase being a jerk in real life and departing, Donald Glover quickly realizing how huge of a star he could be to the point of leaving as well, Dan Harmon oddly getting axed for a season (though that season was still great)—to vault itself to the top of the Greatest Sitcom charts. The last half of Season 5 is passable and Season 6 was surprisingly pretty good, with the finale being outstanding. If Troy and Pierce had been present, it would have been the best ever.

But for 4.5 seasons it was white hot. And only Seinfeld beats it to me.

 

 

 

 




The Time Of Our Life: Remembering The Night Seinfeld Ended

“For the rest of our lives, when someone thinks of one of us, they’ll think of all four of us. I can’t think of three people I’d rather that be true of.

[Jerry Seinfeld, to Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, in the huddle before the finale]

 

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life

[Green Day]

 

During the 1997-98 school year I was a sophomore at the University of South Carolina. And every Thursday night at 9:00 I would gather with my brother Ashley, and our friends Shawn Simeral and Bryan Baxley to watch Seinfeld. It was our favorite show. For all of us. Occasionally others joined us and occasionally we would meet up at 8:00 to watch Friends as well, but there was no doubt the night was dedicated to Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. They were a huge part of our week and had been for several years.

Halfway through the year, we got the news that this was it for Seinfeld. This would be the last season. I remember Ashley collecting as many magazines as he could that had this news on the cover. It’s weird to think that back then we got news without Facebook or Twitter. But just the same, the TV show that defined our adolescence was going off the air.

 

 

So, of course, we, like millions of other Americans, had the big finale party. Since school was out for us on May 14, 1998, we had it at our parents’ house. The place was packed. I recall so many details. I was decked out in my black T-shirt that had Wayne Knight on the front saying “Hello, Jerry” and on the back in big block letters said HELLO NEWMAN. I wore it every Thursday back then. I remember sitting in my favorite chair, which was closest to the TV. I remember sneaking a peek at our church’s youth pastor, who was was among the invited guests, when Elaine and Puddy went at it over Hell in a scene during the clip show.

I remember the clip show (now called “The Chronicle”) being cut off short so that the finale could start early because it could not fit into a one-hour time slot. I remember one thing they didn’t cut was a brief, sentimental video with more serious video and photos, including stills of the main characters and empty shots of Jerry’s apartment and Monk’s. “Good Riddance” by Green Day played behind it, a song subtitled “The Time of Your Life”. I remember wanting to cry, which was completely unexpected because anyone who knows the show knows that it was anti-serious 99.99% of the time. They even mocked crying in one episode, with Jerry not understanding what “this salty discharge” was and in real production, the writers and cast adhered to a “No hugging, No learning” mantra at Larry David’s direction.

Yet in the huddle before the finale, we would later learn that Jerry, Jason and Julia all started crying. Because life cannot always imitate art. Michael, the method actor who hated mistakes during filming (which you can see on the outtakes), was the only hold out on emotion. Yet, the lyrics to the Green Day song overlapping those Seinfeld images struck a chord with me because in sitcom terms, Seinfeld did give us the time of our life. And just like Jerry, Jason and Julia, its ending hit me in the feels.

 

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 3: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander embrace on the set of the show “Seinfeld” during the last days of shooting, April 3, 1998 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

 

As far as the finale itself, I’ve written about it elsewhere and this isn’t even about that. It’s about the event. The night. The hype. The fact that copies of the script were shredded at the end of each day to ensure that it didn’t leak. That people gathered even by the millions in some cities, like St. Louis, to watch on huge screens. The photo below is at Times Square in New York. What an incredible image.

Seinfeld felt larger than life and so its finale absolutely was. TVland went completely off the air during it to honor it. I cannot imagine how badly it would break the internet if it happened today.


I remember after the New York Four were convicted and they had their last moment together in the prison, coming full circle by ending the show with the same conversation that it began with, that I could not laugh at the post-episode scene with Jerry doing his stand-up in an orange jumpsuit, complete with one more Larry David calling out from off-camera moment. It was setting in to me that it was over. After the credits rolled, NBC gave an immediate live thank you to Seinfeld with a picture of the Big Four. If not for the fact I’ve seen the finale many times, I’d probably remember the NBC thank you better than the jail comedy scene. Because it was my sentiment exactly.

 

My brother and I said goodbye to all our friends and I soon went to bed. I never took off my HELLO NEWMAN shirt, a symbolic non-gesture of someone refusing to let go. And as I laid there in the dark and the quiet, I finally did shed a tear. Somewhere between Green Day and NBC’s thank you and the fact that it was finally reality that there would be no new Seinfeld, I felt sad. It was oddly surreal.

In hindsight, I don’t regret feeling that way, but Seinfeld fans cannot truly feel sad these days. In the last 20 years we have gotten the 9-DVD set and its “Notes About Nothing” and other fun extras, continuous repeats of the 180 episodes on TBS, a reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Facebook pages dedicated to doing nothing but quoting the show, memes, gifs, etc. etc. etc. Those of us that have wanted Seinfeld to live on, have gotten that wish. Perhaps only rivaled by The Andy Griffith Show, Seinfeld has thrived after its end. It won’t die. It’s all over the American consciousness daily.

So for that one moment in time, a collision of emotions in reaction to nine seasons of sublime TV comedy occurred. I was there. I’ll never forget it. As far as TV goes, it has always been the time of my life.