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Kay O'Brien (1986)
Grey's Anatomy for the 1980s
CBS had high hopes for this series. It was a drama about a group of young doctors dealing with their cases, their superiors, and each other in a busy large-city hospital. Starring Patricia Kalember, late of the soap opera Loving and before the prime-time soap opera Sisters, as the title character, the show had a by then de rigeur multicultural cast thrown together and the usual mixture of serious and amusing cases-of-the-week. If the elements of the show felt slapped together and the characters seemed more like a sampler of types rather than a realistic group of people, well, it wasn't the first time....shows like this had worked in the past and would work in the future. In fact, the entire description of the show (except for the star) sound exactly like Grey's Anatomy in 2005--and that show's a smash. It helps to have a good timeslot, I guess. Kay O'Brien, on the other hand, was gone before Thanksgiving (and 3 episodes never saw the light of day).
Wilby Wonderful (2004)
The best thing this has going for it is the mood. The quiet evocation of a small island/town is pretty much dead on, with the slightly shabby businesses, people with small-scale ambitions, and hidden strings connecting everyone and everything. There are also some excellent performances, especially Sandra Oh, Rebecca Jenkins, and Callum Keith Rennie (for once showing his awkward, charming side rather than playing another psychopath).
There's both too much and too little going on, if that's possible. The various plot threads wander around before finally getting to what turns out to be the main plot. By that time, there have been a few too many scenes of people walking around while the soundtrack music plays. Some of the characters take too long to register, as well. The one who might be the most important, Dan Jarvis (the suicidal, soon-to-be-outed video store owner), never really registers at all--he never amounts to much of anything besides vague melancholy.
I don't blame the actors, really.....the ones we don't know well enough simply haven't had enough dialogue to let us know them. Fewer subplots and a little less wistful scenery montage would have helped the through-line considerably.
Put most simply, this has too much atmosphere to be a Plot Film and too much plot to be an Atmosphere Film. Not that it would ever have a chance to happen, but I think Wilby would have worked much better as a series.
Numbthreers: Dumb title, decent show
I've liked the show so far, though I can see the Mathematics as a Crime-Solving Tool angle will get old pretty quick. I don't necessarily think that will be a crippling problem for this show, however, because it isn't a flat-out procedural like the CSIs are. It's really a more old-fashioned show than that, more like some of the dramas from the 70s and 80s. If Numbthreers were really another CSI clone, we wouldn't have all the back story about Charley and Don's mother's death, nor would their father be a regular character.
I'm particularly liking Krumholtz, who has turned out to be very different from what I would have expected. Most surprisingly of all, he turned out to be CUTE. He was a fairly stereotypically nerdy Jewish boy as a teenager, but the big-eyed, shaggy-haired socially awkward angelic genius role fits him like a glove. In another actor's hands, it would likely be pretty cloying, but Krumholtz underplays it nicely.
Rob Morrow and Judd Hirsch are more typical characters, with more workmanlike performances so far, but the chemistry between the three Eppeses is fine. The other characters will be developing as the show ages, so we'll see how they turn out.
As I said, I suspect they will have to leave aside the specific formula they've laid out for the show so far, because even if they manage to come up with dozens of plots which hinge on some permutation of mathematics, the theme is certain to quickly grow repetitive and even self-parodying before too long. Since they have supplied interesting characters, though, change-of-pace plots should be just as watchable as the ones done up to now.
Two things are missing
This misguided remake is missing two ingredients of the original: 1] The main character; and 2] Laughs. By casting Bea Arthur as the title character, and writing the character to gibe with her well-known-to-the-audience persona, they essentially had to eliminate the main character of the source material (Fawlty Towers). It could be said that the characters of Basil and Sybil Fawlty were combined to make Amanda--but if true....WHAT A STUPID MOVE! Since the primary conflict of FT was between Basil and Sybil, and whether she caught him "misbehaving," the only outlet for emulating that successful formula on Amanda's would have been for her to suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder.
I actually think Fawlty Towers itself is a tad overrated. I have loved watching many of the episodes, but from time to time, especially when watching more than one episode in succession, the frenetic pace and shouted dialog's gets to be too much. That said, Amanda's never even approaches the level of Fawlty Towers.
Complete Savages (2004)
Compendium of clichés
Every boy/man comedy cliché you can think of is folded into this sitcom, but the "all-male" concept is its primary selling point. Like every "big family" show ever made, each child is a high-concept "type" rather than a person (though of course this can change if a show has enough time to mature). In the interest of comprehensiveness, however, Complete Savages probably has at least 3 or maybe 4 too many characters. Keith Carradine isn't the same-old sitcom dad and brings a freshness to an old formula. The Uncle Jimmy character could fall in a well and not noticeably change the show.
As for the boys, they're all different (too different to all come from the same family, but that's probably a little too meta for a modern sitcom to worry about) and each has potential in his own way, but I think there's simply too many to develop in a half-hour show. I think I would have dropped the two youngest and concentrated on the high-school crowd. Chris is too stupid and Sam is too nerdy, but Jack is a fairly well-drawn character. Given time, they'll all smooth out. Most important is that the situation be allowed to evolve if the show is to last longer than a season or two.
Best Friends (1982)
A hilarious movie trying to break out
The "based on real life" story of what happens when a carefree cohabiting pair of screenwriters decide to get married, Best Friends is a funny movie constrained by an annoying third act. After marrying, they go on a whirlwind tour for each to meet the other's families. And what families they have! The two families (hers in Buffalo, his in Virginia) are both very different and about equally as funny. If they'd left it at that and not tried to get serious with a breakup and lots of arguing, Best Friends would have been an unqualified success (at least so far as quality is concerned).
They didn't, though. The third act is tedious (as they confront their differences) and it weighs down the rest of the film. It doesn't ruin it, however--I still recommend it, especially for people who like Burt and Goldie, who have chemistry.
The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree
Though the setting and the story are different, this sitcom is very much like its parent series (One on One) in terms of laugh count and quality. Both shows are far from great, but better than the average show of this type (light comedy aimed at urban and African-American audiences). There are some good laughs in every episode (though they could use more), and the plots aren't entirely predictable.
The show is also a bit more ambitious than most of the shows you'll see it compared to, because the cast and setting aren't entirely African-American. On the debit side, the two main characters are the most boring. I'm much more interested in Walt, Ace, and Candy than I am with Kevin and Tiffany, but the same can't be said for the writers (so far). I think at least part of the blame for that has to rest with the actors--Marques Houston is prone to over-reliance on cheap laughs from urban/hip-hop clichés, while Shannon Elizabeth's character is a walking, talking stereotype.
My advice (assuming the show lasts) is to use the other characters more, and get out of the shop more. I'd especially like to see more of the neighborhood.
Slipshod but entertaining
This movie has an amateurish air to it, with more than its share of sloppy edits, plot dead-ends, and those little acting moments that take the viewer out of the story. The story and setting are so entertaining, however, that it manages to overcome its shortcomings and remain a memorable experience. The characters are realistic and fun, and the song choices are consistently good (especially "Turkey Lurkey Time" which is otherwise unavailable on film, far as I know). The original songs (from the people who brought you "Fame") are also good--occasionally terrific.
It's interesting to me that among a cast of newcomers and unknowns, the worst performances are from the adults--especially Don Dixon (Bert). The kids fare much better in general, and their musical performances are their real strengths (unsurprisingly). A surer hand on the direction and script could have tightened Camp up considerably, but even as messy as it is, it's still well worth seeing.
Trades in joy in favor of awe
As one would expect, this modern take on Roald Dahl's story benefits greatly from advances in special effects; the look of both the bleak town and the factory interior are spectacular. I feel a bit of "awe fatigue" at this point, though, since $200 million films routinely strive for surprising visuals (often to the detriment of more down-to-earth qualities) and there's only so many things we can be truly surprised by.
The most glaring shortcoming of this "Chocolate Factory" is the bizarre, off-putting performance of Johnny Depp. He is as badly miscast as Gene Wilder was in the earlier film (Willy Wonka was both very old and a dwarf), but Wilder was very likable. Depp is just strange.
This one isn't a musical, so I can't really criticize it for not having songs, but I will say this: it could use some songs (besides the Oompa-Loompa musical lectures). The "reimagined" children are disappointing (gum-chewing and TV-watching aren't interesting enough flaws anymore so now we get hyper-competitiveness and technological precocity in their place). Veruca Salt is still a spoiled rich girl, but now she's self-aware enough to be two-faced, instead of throwing tantrums. It all makes for a long, slow tour through the factory.
The Oompa-Loompas are better in some ways and not in others--their look and songs are different, but they're too "modern" and seem out of place. They also pull the punches--we're told before he's even gone that no harm will come to Augustus Gloop, despite his clearly deserving it. It's better that we're not sure (like in the 1970 version).
All in all, this Tim Burton Vision of Dahl's story is a big, fat disappointment. The best parts of the story (like when Charlie believes the 5th ticket has been found, then gets the double surprise of the revelation of the forgery and getting his own ticket) are almost entirely skipped here. It's as if Burton doesn't want us to enjoy the story. If so, he got his way (at least with me).
Probably about what you'd expect
I got this because I wanted to see what Reed Diamond was like as a child. With "classic" Afterschool Specials released on DVD, it was easy to get. The show was pretty much like I thought it'd be: earnest, low-key, with simple moral and minor tension. The lead character is an extremely annoying teenage girl (that is to say, pretty realistic), but the actress takes a while to find her footing. The appearance of The Brady Bunch's Peter and Jan was probably the big draw (his part is far more important than hers). After you get used to the amateurish acting (par for the course in these kind of shows), it's really not bad. The story avoids too much melodrama and the point it makes isn't anything too earth-shattering.
In case you were wondering--Reed was cute as a button, and very good for a younger child actor (better than many of the older actors), but there's really nothing too obvious which you can see and say "I recognize who that is!" I'd have to see more intervening performances to see a progression.