TV Comedy


REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE ADVENTURES OF HIRAM HOLLIDAY. California National Presentations, filmed for NBC, 1956-57. Based on the stories by Paul Gallico. Cast: Wally Cox as Hiram Holliday and Ainslie Pryor as Joel Smith. Produced by Philip Rapp.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

    The Adventures of Hiram Holliday is an amusing action spoof. The plots leaned to the absurd such as when Hiram stopped some foreign spies from turning Pearl Harbor to ice (“Hawaiian Humzah”). The humor was gentle and often based on misunderstanding or the odd image of Wally Cox as an action hero to rival Errol Flynn.

   The screen credit and announcer tells us the series was “based on stories by Paul Gallico.” Which is odd since The Adventures of Hiram Holliday was published as a book in 1939. More confusing is Billboard (May 12, 1956), reported the TV series was based on stories from the Saturday Evening Post. Paul Gallico was writing stories for that magazine during the fifties, so perhaps Hiram appeared as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post.

   Hiram Holliday was the copy editor for the newspaper New York Chronicle. Hiram catches an error that could have bankrupted the paper in libel charges. The grateful publisher Harrison Prentice sends Hiram on a trip around the world accompanied by reporter Joel Smith. On the way Hiram and Joel share one strange adventure after another with Hiram always the hero in the end and Joel failing for one reason or another to get the story published.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

   Wally Cox carried the show with his ability to make the absurd character of Hiram believable. It is Cox that makes the series funny and worth watching. He underplays the character, reacting to danger with a confident calmness. In one episode Hiram enters his room to find the femme fatale waiting for him. The room had been trashed and thoroughly searched. She tells Hiram she had been waiting for him. Hiram looked around and calmly replied he was glad she found something to do while waiting.

   The rest of the cast were limited by one-note characters of dubious logic and were played by actors of various talents, from Sebastian Cabot to Thor Johnson (aka Tor Johnson). Publisher Prentice (Thurston Hall) existed to scream at Joel. The mastermind would make mistake after mistake while blaming it all on his henchman or femme fatale. The femme fatales existed to seduce Hiram.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

   Each episode would begin with Hiram and Joel entering a new country. Hiram’s interest was always in scientific and academic challenges. In Hawaii, he wanted to visit a Professor to study a lost consonant of the language. In Hong Kong, Hiram’s quest was for the rare sea cucumber.

   Quickly, Hiram would stumble into an adventure while Joel was usually off somewhere eating. For reasons unexplained the misused laugh track thought Joel eating was hilarious, making it a bad running gag.

   Villains arrive, usually made up of a mastermind, femme fatale, and a henchman. Through comedic misunderstanding the bad guys believe they have to get rid of Hiram. Hiram innocence and complete honesty is disbelieved and he has to turn into an action hero, from fighting atop a speeding train to performing some feat such as a carnival high dive act that he had never done before but had read about.

   Ainslie Pryor failed to rise over the thankless role of Hiram’s traveling companion and best friend, Joel Smith who at times broke the fourth wall to talk to us. It was a difficult role. His character spent much of the time clueless and existed for Hiram to rescue or to take the brunt of the blame from the authorities for many of the misunderstanding that revolved around Hiram. In “Wrong Rembrandt.” Hiram had painted such a perfect copy of a Rembrandt the French police arrested Joel for art theft.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

   Production values were fine considering the era. Philip Rapp produced the series and wrote and directed many of the episodes. The show was funny but after a few episodes the situations became repetitive and the humor grew tired. How often can you laugh at Hiram winning swordfights with his umbrella?

   The series followed Wally Cox’s successful turn as Mr.Peepers. But that success didn’t carry over to Hiram Holliday. General Foods was the sponsor of The Adventures of Hiram Holliday and quickly regretted it.

    Hiram Holliday premiered October 3, 1956 on Wednesday at 8-8:30pm (Eastern). In Billboard (October 13,1956), according to rating service Trendex, NBC’s Hiram received a 11.4 compared to ABC’s Disneyland with 19.2 and CBS’s >Arthur Godfrey Show with 14.2.

THE ADVENTURES OF HIMAN HOLLIDAY

   Billboard (January 1, 1956) discussed some of the TV series in trouble. Shows the sponsors were unhappy with but had given a 26 episodes or 52 episodes commitment. This included General Food and Adventures of Hiram Holliday.

   January 28, 1957 issue of Broadcasting reported, “General Foods, N.Y. will drop its sponsorship of Hiram Holiday (sic) on NBC-TV, Wed. 8-8:30pm, and will become instead the alternate week sponsor of Wells Fargo (Monday, 8:30-9pm) effective March 18th.”

   On February 27, 1957, the twentieth episode of the series to air was the last on NBC. Reportedly, three more episodes were showed in England during syndication, leaving 23 episodes apparently filmed.

   Various episodes of the Adventures of Hiram Holliday are available on low budget DVD.

   And on You Tube, at the moment, is the episode, “Moroccan Hawk Moth.”

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK


ANDY BARKER PI

ANDY BARKER, P.I. NBC. Red Pulley Production. Conaco, NBC-Universal. Cast: Andy Richter as Andy Barker, Clea Lewis as Jenny Barker, Harve Presnell as Lew Staziak, Tony Hale as Simon, Marshall Manesh as Wally. Created by Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff. Music by Adam Cohen. Directed by Jason Ensler.

   Episodes are available on DVD and downloading sites, as well as at Hulu.com where they can be watched for free.

   While Barney Miller remains the greatest ever TV detective comedy, Andy Barker, P.I. may hold that title for TV PIs. But then consider the competition. Generally PI comedies featured a lucky idiot PI (The Michael Richards Show), parodies (Ace Crawford, Private Eye) or gimmicks (Small & Frye, with a six inch PI). What made Andy Barker different was he was a good and dedicated professional at both jobs, CPA and PI.

ANDY BARKER PI

   Andy lives in a nice middle class home in Fair Oaks, California, with his happy supportive wife and young children. He is a kind, well-mannered, nice guy with a natural talent for solving murders and tax forms. Richter is near perfect as he played his typical role of an average man quick to accept and deal with any strange thing happening around him.

   Andy opened his new accounting business in a local outdoor mall. His first client is a femme fatale looking for help from the office’s former occupant, PI Lew Staziak. Out of boredom and with no other clients, Andy checks out her story. He visits Lew who has retired to a rest home. But after Andy solves the case, Lew decides to keep working as a PI and will from then on take for granted Andy’s help. Lew is as nuts as he is violent.

ANDY BARKER PI

   Andy’s new business neighbors are not much more stable. Under Andy’s second floor office is “Video Riot”, a video store run by film buff Simon who thinks of himself as Andy’s PI partner. The mall’s restaurant is “Afghan Kebabs” run by Wally an immigrant who, after 9/11, changed his name and covered his restaurant in patriotic American décor with his surveillance camera hidden in the head of a Richard Nixon bust.

   The writing uses the contrast between the fictional PI lifestyle versus reality as a basis for some delightful off beat humor. For example, the cliché plot device of a time limit such as a bomb set to go off at midnight. In “Dial M For Laptop,” Andy has only until midnight to find his stolen laptop with his father-in-law’s tax return or miss the tax deadline (trust me, it’s visually funnier than it reads).

   This was a bad time for NBC. The network had reached new heights in its ability to keep any possible success away from any of their series. Andy Barker, P.I. was too quirky to attract a large audience, but to set it up against events such as NCAA Final Four tournament, and very popular series such as CSI and Grey’s Anatomy was one of NBC’s dumber moves.

         EPISODE INDEX:

ANDY BARKER PI

“Pilot” (3/22/07, Thursday 9:30-10pm) Written by Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff. Guest Cast: Vanessa Branch, Gary Anthony Williams, Steve Cell, and Nicole Randall Johnson

   Andy Barker, CPA, opens his new business office in a small outdoor mall, but he finds himself helping a client who mistakes him for the office’s former occupant, a hardboiled PI.

Ratings: 6 share versus ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (23), CBS’s NCAA Basketball tournament (10) and Fox’s rerun of Family Guy (5).

“Fairway My Lovely” (3/22/07, Thursday (9:30-10pm) Written by Alex Herschlag and Jane Espenson. Guest Cast: Peter Allen Vogt, Margaret Easley, and Nicole Randall Johnson

   When Andy’s gross and massively overweight client dies on a golf course, everyone assumes it was a heart attack, except the man’s wife who hires Andy to prove the man’s mistress killed him.

Ratings: 5 share versus ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (22), CBS’s NCAA Basketball tournament (13), and Fox’s American Dad (4).

“Three Days of the Chicken” (3/29/07, Thursday 9:30-10pm) Written by Gail Lerner. Guest Cast: Brian McNamara, Terry Rhoades, Ben Falcone, and Boogie.

   Andy helps Wally who is being shaken down by an evil Chicken cartel.

Ratings: 4 share versus CBS’s CSI (22), ABC’s rerun Grey’s Anatomy (10), and Fox’s rerun Family Guy (5).

“Dial M For Laptop” (4/5/07, Thursday 10-10:30pm) Written by Chuck Tatham. Guest Cast: David Huddleston, Traci Lords, and Frank Santorelli.

   Andy’s laptop is stolen when Lew’s plan to help a victim of blackmail leaves Andy unknowingly in the middle.

Ratings: 4 share versus CBS’s Shark (17) and ABC’s October Road (9).

“The Big No Sleep” (4/14/07, Saturday at 8-8:30pm) Written by Josh Bycel. Guest Cast: Jesse L. Martin, Nestor Carbonell, and Kim Coates.

   Lew expects Andy’s help in revealing a woman to be a fraud and adulteress, but Andy has trouble at home. His baby daughter refuses to sleep until he finds her missing stuffed toy, Snowball.

Ratings: 3 share versus CBS’s Cold Case rerun (9), Fox’s Cops (6), and ABC’S Saturday Night Movie (Shark, 2004) (6)

“The Lady Vanishes” (4/14/07, Saturday at 8:30-9pm) Written by Jon Ross. Guest Cast: Ed Asner, Amy Sedaris, and James Hong.

   Andy finds a decades old lost letter from Lew’s ex-lover claiming she was framed for the murder of her gangster lover. Andy looks into the case, leading to the return of Lew’s evil former partner, Mickey.

Ratings: 3 share versus (CBS’s Cold Case rerun (9), Fox’s second Cops (7), and ABC’S Saturday Night Movie (6).

Source for ratings: TVTango.com

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


DANGER MOUSE

DANGER MOUSE. Animated. Episodes of five to twenty five minutes each. UK: 1981 through 1992. US: Nickelodeon premiered June 4, 1984. Cosgrove Hall Films. Thames Television. Created by Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall.   Voice Cast: Danger Mouse (David Jason), Penfold (Terry Scott), Colonel K (Edward Kelsey), Baron Silas Greenback (Edward Kelsey), Stiletto (Brian Trueman), Isambard Sinclair (David Jason), Nero (David Jason’s voice sped up). Available on DVD.   Recommended: The shorter episodes on YouTube over the longer ones available on Hulu.com and IMDB.com.

DANGER MOUSE

    “He’s the greatest. – He’s fantastic. – Wherever there is danger he’ll be there. – He’s the Ace. – He’s amazing. – He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best! Danger Mouse…” (Theme sung by Sheila Gott.)

    This action hero/spy comedy will appeal to all ages. The animation is limited, cheap, and guilty of reusing too much stock footage, but it also has a visually pleasing look and adds enough visual gags to be forgiven for its shortcomings.

DANGER MOUSE

    The writing is top notch British silly, not unlike Monty Python. Parody and satire is common and not limited to the obvious targets of Bond and John Drake (Danger Man). Bad jokes and silly puns are there as well for the kid in all of us, though I guess children could watch this cartoon as well.

    The character are well defined and funny. The narrator Isambard Sinclair introduces the story, explains things to the audience to keep the action moving, and occasionally asks questions at the end spoofing the narrators of old serials.

    The good guys are lead by Danger Mouse. DM is a white mouse with an eye patch that goes well with his white jumpsuit that has DM monogrammed over his left breast. He is everything his theme song claims he is and more. His sidekick Penfold is a daft, but loyal hamster, codenamed “Jigsaw” because he always falls to pieces.

DANGER MOUSE

    Colonel K is head of a secret organization and gives Danger Mouse his assignments. There is some question over what animal Colonel K is, a chinchilla or walrus (like it matters).

    The villains are lead by DM’s archenemy Blofeld … oops, I mean … Baron Silas Greenback, the fiendish frog, the terrible toad, whose only wish is to take over the world or kill Danger Mouse so he can take over the world. Filling the role of insane villain’s pet is Nero a fluffy white caterpillar. Stiletto is a crow, an idiot, and the Baron’s top henchman.

DANGER MOUSE

    DM and Penfold live in a red pillar-box near Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street. As any proper spy of that era, Danger Mouse has a special car. The Mark III can do a variety of things including fly.

    The plots the Baron creates to take over the world illustrates the series’ absurdist humor. In “Who Stole the Bagpipes?” bagpipes are sheep-like creatures grazing in Scotland. The Baron rustles ten thousand bagpipes to build a sonic weapon capable of destroying cities.

    “Lord of the Bungle” has the Baron turning elephants into sugar cubes so when heads of state all over the world put the sugar cubes into their tea the elephant will reappear and squash the government leader.

DANGER MOUSE

    My favorite is “The Dream Machine” when Danger Mouse and Pedfold are trapped in the Baron’s dream machine where surreal is reality, the impossible possible, and Penfold’s thoughts turn into visual puns.

    If you are willing to overcome the misguided prejudice that cartoons are just for kids, give this a try. Or find some child to watch it with. Neither of you will regret it.

   SOURCES:

        Wikipedia
        Cosgrove Hall Ate My Brain
        DangerMouse.org

REVIEWED BY STAN BURNS:


SLINGS AND ARROWS

SLINGS AND ARROWS. Season One, 2003. Six episodes x 60m. Movie Central/The Movie Network, Canada; Sundance, US (2005). Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Stephen Ouimette, Susan Coyne, Don McKellar, Mark McKinney, Oliver Dennis.

   I have just finished the first of three series of these (six hour shows each series). Basically this is a comedy with dramatic elements that takes place during a Shakespeare festival in Canada, and deals with vain and backstabbing actors, corporate sponsorship (they want to dump Shakespeare and put on “uplifting” shows like Mama Mia!), commercialism, and all the other stuff that goes on in a small provincial acting company.

   At times I found them achingly funny, at sad moments compellingly moving. One of the characters is run over by a truck taking pigs to the slaughterhouse in the first episode (a hammy ex-actor whose is the festival’s artistic director).

SLINGS AND ARROWS

   His ghost (Banquo’s ghost?) comes back to haunt the new interim artistic director of the festivalan actor whose Hamlet is considered one of the finest ever presented on stage, but was only seen by a only few as he had a nervous breakdown during the fourth performance and hasn’t acted in six years.

   Considering how positive the reviews have been for Slings and Arrows, I am surprised I have never heard of it before. (In fact one of the reviews starts out this is the best series you have never heard of.) Produced for Canadian television, it was shown here only on the Sundance Channel, which I have never gotten.

   While it is a little slow to start (a lot of characters and background are introduced in the first episode), by the middle of the second episode this “play within a play” had me rolling on the floor.

SLINGS AND ARROWS

   The first series is terrific, and the reviews say the second and third are even better. I am standing by my mailbox waiting for the next installment.

   Terrific writing by people involved in Canadian theater, excellent acting – one of the stars is a young Rachael McAdams before she was “discovered” by Hollywood and went on to make Mean Girls and The Notebook in the next few years.

Series One rating: A.