Category Archives: review of television

I’m a Kangaroo Kid

Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, would not like my title.  He wanted them to be referred to as “children” not “kids”.  The reasons were obvious.  “Kid” refers to a baby goat.  It’s all about the words.  It’s all about respect and propriety.

4e087cfa232cf.image But Bob Keeshan, though a TV personality, was much more of a teacher than anything else.  His show went on air before I was born, and I don’t remember a moment in my childhood that he wasn’t a part of it.  He was like Mr. Rogers, but came into our lives even before Fred Rogers appeared on the scene.  I watched the show in the mornings before school started, at a time when I walked all the way across our little Iowa farm town to get to school.  He taught me important early lessons in life that were just as impactful as the math and language and social skills I was getting later in the day.  Of course, I had to leave home for school before the show ended at 8:00 a,m. But just like school, watching and participating in any part of it was capable of teaching you something good.

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A lot of what I was able to do successfully as a teacher is a result of how Captain Kangaroo taught me.  He taught me to deliver information in small bites that a young learner with a short attention span could fully digest.  He taught me how to capture attention.  He did it with puppets, a moose, a bunny, and a dancing bear all thanks to Cosmo Allegretti, a versatile and multi-talented performer.  He could focus attention by letting Mr. Moose drop ping pong balls on his head.  Whatever came next after the moment of mirth was something I paid attention to.

He also helped us learn science.  Mr. Greenjeans in his low-key, deadpan way would teach us about eating vegetables, how farmers cultivate plants, and how to handle various small animals like kittens, rabbits, and even ferrets.  Mr. Greenjeans got seriously bitten by a lion cub on camera.  He simply stuck his bleeding finger in his pocket and went on with the show.  Yes, the man was a veteran in more ways than one.  (He was a Marine in WWII.)

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And Captain Kangaroo taught me how to share a book.  I became very good at reading aloud to students because Bob Keeshan and the crew that worked for him showed me how to read with expression, separate dialogue from narration, and build the excitement with pace and voice modulation.  They were experts at reading aloud.

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So, I say this with no disrespect, only veneration.  “I am a Kangaroo kid.”  I watched the show and internalized it.  I developed deep pockets like the ones in Bob Keeshan’s jacket that gave him the name Captain Kangaroo, and I stored many treasures from the Treasure House there that I would later share with my students.

 

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Arrivaderci, Bozo

No, I am not saying goodbye to anyone that is leaving the Trump administration.  Frank Avruch has passed away.

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Who is that, you may ask?

Well, from 1959 to 1970, he was Bozo the Clown.  The first Bozo.  The best Bozo.

And we will miss him, those of us who knew him from childhood, watching a colorful clown on black and white TV.

He did charity work for UNICEF.  We collected dimes in covered coffee cans for Bozo because Bozo needed them for UNICEF.  What the heck is UNICEF, you ask?  Don’t you know how to use Google and Wikipedia?

So, this is a clown who inspired poetry.  What?  He didn’t inspire poetry in you?  Well he did with me.  Let me show you.

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Immortality

They say a clown can never die,

And at the table has a place,

And here’s a little reason why,

It’s all about his face.

When one clown stops the life of laughter,

And stops running the human race,

Another clown can pick up after,

And keep wearing clown one’s face.

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Do Not Fear The Bozo Squad

It is really, truly, very clear,

You should not fear a clown, I hear,

Identities disguised in paint,

Malevolent of thought they ain’t.

A clown is meant to make you laugh,

And I can show you with a graph,

That silliness saturates their very sheath,

And rarely hides evil underneath.

  • Sleep Soundly, Sweet Bozo
  •          Silly songs sound in synchrony
  •                  As the symphony sounds softly
  •                            Sincerely saying in sweet song
  •                                     “Sing angel songs, sweet Bozo
  •                                                Your spin-off will last long.”

 

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Our Cartoon President

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I may have expressed this sentiment once or twice before, but I am really tired of Donald Trump.  His march toward fascist dictatorship and becoming a really incompetent Hitler 2.0 has only made me learn new bad words to shout at the TV news that I never knew I already knew before.

So, I am not going to complain about him in this essay.  Instead, I am going to praise another group of artists for complaining about him in a really well-done manner.  Yes, I am about to laud Stephen Colbert’s new Showtime Cartoon Show, Our Cartoon President.

 

Animated cast of OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT. Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

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The idea for this show began on Stephen Colbert’s Late Night on CBS talk show.  He did extremely popular segments there where he interviewed Donald Trump as a cartoon character.  Colbert’s show is on TV past my bedtime, so I only manage to catch these segments on YouTube.  But I sincerely appreciate every single one I watched on computer when it made me late for wherever else I was really supposed to be and do.  It gave me chuckles and smiles about some the darkest, dirtiest things the human cartoon has done to disrupt my life in retirement.

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The characterizations as well as the cartoon caricatures couldn’t be more spot on.  The series really nails Ted Cruz as the Zodiac Killer invading the White House to steal toothpaste and use the President’s toothbrush.  Eric Trump is portrayed with a disturbing amount of politically incorrect accuracy.  The pilot episode, offered online for free, captures the killer clowns of the Trump administration so well, you really begin to wish it were these cartoon people running the country instead of the real collection of Bond villains, peanut-heads, and malevolent mooks we actually have.

 

Now, the bad news is… I can’t afford Showtime.  So the chances of watching this show are limited to watching whatever snippets get illegally uploaded on YouTube.  But I intend to appreciate the heck out of this cartoon show, and watch the free episode 1 many times.

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Sequel + Mania = Sequelania

I hate to spring another portmanteau word on you so soon after the atrocity that was “Hypocrasisyphus”, but I have been seriously putting things together that do not belong together.  For example, I have been binge-watching two Netflix series; Stranger Things 2 and The Punisher.   Stranger Things 2 is the sequel to the Duffer Brothers’ hit last year, Stranger Things, and The Punisher is the return of a surprise breakout role for Jon Bernthal as the violent vigilante anti-hero, Punisher, from Daredevil, Season 2.   ST2-Final_poster

I love the 80’s monster movie thing that is called Stranger Things mostly because of the kids.  I mean, the most important protagonists in the story are the gang of Dragon’s Lair-playing kids that are so like the gang of kids I taught and played games with in the 80’s.  They have the same cohesion and feel as the kids gangs in Steven Spielberg movies like the Goonies and E.T.   They are the real heroes of the story who actually do the most to defeat the monsters they face from a looming evil dimension on the verge of taking over our world after taking over the body and soul of my relative, Will Byers, one of the gang.

 

I won’t spend much more effort describing that one, since I wrote about Stranger Things 2 in a previous post.  Instead, I want to connect it to my most recent binge, The Punisher.  As I said before, these two series have absolutely no relationship to each other beyond one nutty retired school teacher bingeing on and loving them both.

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The Punisher is about war, violence, the trauma that those things create, and putting the shattered pieces of lives, families, and psyches back together again in a way that resembles making scrambled eggs from Humpty Dumpty.

The main character, Frank Castle, has been a special forces soldier with a talent for violence and a reasonable code of honor developed to combat unreasonable malevolence.

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He has come home from war after having been a part of a covert, CIA assassination squad that has done terrible things, in fact, things more terrible than even the soldiers themselves realize.

The result being, somewhere along the way, a toxic secret has gotten out.  Castle’s wife and two children are targeted and killed while Castle himself survives.  He seeks to put himself back together like the King’s men attempt to do with Humpty Dumpty, through revenge, and killing the people who killed his family, and the people who were part of the plot behind it.  Through two series he murders, assassinates, and otherwise exterminates bad guys, drug dealers, rogue agents, and others who have betrayed him in multiple ways.

But as mind-numbing and stomach-turning as the violence is, the story is about family.  The family that Castle lost.  And the family of the Edward Snowden-like character, Micro, who are still alive, but only because the NSA spook Micro is thought to be dead when he actually is alive and working against the same villains who killed Castle’s family.

And there are just enough scenes with family and guitar-playing moments of insight to convince us that Castle would’ve been a pretty great dad, if only he had been given the chance, thus amplifying the tragedy a hundred fold.  Aha!  There’s the unlikely link.  The two things are both about the struggle to raise kids in a dark and dangerous world.  I knew if I just twisted the puzzle pieces hard enough, I could make them fit together.

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Stranger Things Too

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I admit it.  I binge-watched Stranger Things 2 this weekend, just like everyone else who fell in love with the original.

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The monster is bigger and scarier this time.  It uses new versions of last year’s monster for minions.  The characters are growing and changing and falling in love.  If anything, I love the characters as people even more than last time.

The whole thing is very seriously set in 1984.  You know, the year of Ghostbusters as a summer blockbuster.  References to D & D, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and visual homages to Speilberg movies, gritty urban dramas like The Warriors, and the video game Dragon’s Lair  don’t merely set the scene, they are cultural references artfully used to weave the story together and move the plot, providing short-hand explications of science-fiction-y ideas and Steven King tropes.  There is story-telling mastery to be marveled at here.

And my favorite thing of all here is the satisfying collection of resolutions to ongoing issues.  Eleven re-connects with her past and separates herself from it again.  She finds a place for herself and someone to love her, in more ways than one.  Jonathan and Nancy and Steve work on their love triangle.  And Joyce and Hopper move closer together in spite of the tragedy that tears Joyce’s world apart.  (I can’t talk about Bob.  I identify with Bob. He is just like me in so many ways.  And what happens to Bob?  Ack!  There have to be horrors in horror movies.  And the best ones rattle the foundations that you live on.)

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I am the Uncritical Critic.  I only tell you about the things I love when it comes to movies, TV, books, and music.  And I definitely love this.

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The Iron Fist

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Comic books are not real life.  They are better than real life.  They allow you to go forward in your own story with the myth of the super power to bolster your courage.  You can face your daily devils and demons secure in the knowledge that, while no one is perfect, we can all at least imagine holding firm to an ideal in spite of the trials we face…  being true to a power and a goodness beyond ourselves… being a hero.

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I have followed Iron Fist’s adventures since the 1970’s.  It is true that I haven’t been as devoted to him and his heroics as I have been to Spiderman and the Avengers.  But I love the idea of a good guy in white standing up to the bad guys in black and beating the poop out of them with a good heart and a bare fist, not resorting to guns and bombs and gratuitous killings.  Danny Rand, the Iron Fist, has always been such a character to me.  Noble because he does not intentionally kill the enemy, like Batman, Superman, Captain America and so many other favorite super heroes.

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I admit it, this love-gush of a post is only happening because I finished binge-watching the new Iron Fist series on Netflix.    I depend on Netflix now to deliver to me effortlessly what I used to endlessly hunt and scrabble for in the way of idea fuel and motivational electricity.  And even though I am a notoriously uncritical critic, I have to say, it was not as heart-thumpingly good as either Daredevil or Luke Cage.  But it brought an old friend to life in a way that I never before believed could happen.  And I love the way it fit this puzzle piece into the overall jigsaw of the Marvel superhero stories on Netflix.  It used characters like the ER nurse Claire and the villainous Madam Gao to connect plotlines in Daredevil and Luke Cage, and the evil but helpful lawyer character from Jessica Jones.  Will I watch it again?  Definitely.  Will I need to draw Iron Fist for myself?  Probably.  But this is a hard experience to either explain or recapture.  Television using comic book heroes, sometimes, at its best, makes life better than it really is.

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A Pair of Pertwees

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When I was a teenager in high school, PBS began running episodes of the BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who.  And back then, the show had already gone through two doctors before I ever saw it.  So the first Dr. Who Doctor for me was Jon Pertwee.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the whole idea of Doctor Who, a time-travelling fixer of plot holes in history who goes about appropriating young women as companions and travelling through time and space and other dimensions by using a T.A.R.D.I.S. that manipulates “timey-wimey stuff”, I am afraid there is no hope for you here.  I am a Whovian and am not inclined to be a chief explainer  of all things Whovian to basically non-Whovians, and especially not never-will-be-Whovians.

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I was in college already by the time Jon Pertwee was no longer Dr. Who.  And though I also loved Tom Baker as the Doctor, I was forever caught by the heart with the first Doctor I watched and will forever hold in my heart the notion that Pertwee is the real Doctor.

And he was a gifted comedic actor that had a long career stretching back to Vaudeville and would also come to be identified with British comedies like Worzel Gummidge.

He had a prehensile face, capable of many comic contortions, and an ability with voices and characterizations that made you think “multiple personality disorder”.

Jon left us in 1996, but he has had a new life for me through his son, Sean Pertwee.  His little boy is practically a clone, though as far as I can tell, a very serious clone.  The comic DNA was apparently forgotten on the laboratory shelf.

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Sean Pertwee is now playing the ninja butler in the pre-Batman show on Fox called Gotham.  He has stepped into the role of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler, and it’s like having my first Doctor back again.

Now, I admit that this post is mostly just fan-gush about people and characters that are mostly forgotten now.  But Jon Pertwee lives on in me.  I saw him play the Doctor back when some things in life could still be absolutely perfect just as they were.

 

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