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Oh Liza, Poor Liza!
Musical television special from November 1965, apparently broadcast live by ABC (and with very little rehearsal), is a coy, nutty take on the "Little Red Riding Hood" tale, with music by "Funny Girl" composers Bob Merrill and Jule Styne (who also served as executive producers!). Young Liza Minnelli is Lillian (a.k.a. Red Riding Hood) who fends off the friendship of a lonely, debonair, Shakespeare-quoting forest wolf; when he realizes he's lost her to a singing woodchopper, he decides to have her for dinner (literally). Despite some interesting camera-work (for its time) and good, clear sound, this black-and-white relic isn't very memorable. I'm sure Styne and Merrill left some of these songs off their resume, particularly the Lillian-Wolf duet "Ding-A-Ling". Cyril Ritchard is very confident as the suave wolf (he glides through this unsure production as if he didn't have a nerve in his body), but Minnelli is a different matter. This certainly wasn't Liza's first time in the spotlight (TV or otherwise), but she attacks her moments on camera with the overt eagerness of a brassy, bustling newcomer. Even her quiet solo, "I'm Naive", is jazzed up by Liza's over-emphatic delivery and kinetic body language. Minnelli-buffs will undoubtedly want to take a look, but the story and the songs don't really go together, and the Christmas theme is practically irrelevant.
A frisky episode for Marlo's Ann Marie...
One of the better-written episodes from "That Girl"'s second season (by Jim Brooks, of all people) has perky-but-scatterbrained Ann Marie getting a bit part in a stage revival of "Gypsy" starring Ethel Merman. Ann simply cannot contain her enthusiasm for Ms. Merman and nearly makes an unprofessional pest out of herself. Luckily, Merman (doing a fantastic comedic turn) is just a regular, down-to-Earth kinda gal and soon winds up in Ann's kitchen cooking dinner! I have always had a few nitpicks about this show, starting with Ann's name. 'Ann-Marie' is great as a first name, but it always sounded strange to me hearing her father introduce himself as 'Mr. Marie'. Why couldn't their surname be Murray--Ann could be 'Ann-Marie Murray'? Another problem is with the casting of 'Mr. Marie': Lew Parker continually played this role on the verge of mental exasperation (and he was certainly exasperating!); no one ever gets to put the man in his place (when he's wrong, he just looks pig-headed, yet nobody calls him on it). Ann was another frustrating writers' creation: sparkly, flirtatious, but constantly silly-acting, she's the lovable klutz--a throwback to the gals of screwball comedy. If Ann had been conceived as somewhat more savvy, she might have been a great pre-feminist character. As such, she's a well-groomed imp, a little girl playing dress-up, and one waits patiently for her to turn that patented spunk into some street-smarts.
Family Affair: The Inheritance (1970)
Terrific episode with a subtle lesson about greed and generosity...
Often criticized by viewers as being 'too good to be true', the Davis twins Buffy and Jody actually get to exhibit a bit of uncommon bad behavior in this episode where they come into a combined inheritance of some fifty-four dollars. Seems an elderly pigeon-feeder in the park took a liking to the kids and remembered them in his will, all of which leads the kids to the nearest toy store to spend their loot. Despite the fact the shelves are loaded with mouth-watering goodies (like a Disneyland See 'n Say, which is now worth a good $300), Buffy wants a dollhouse (yawn) and Jody wants a telescope. Both items cannot be purchased with their one check, so Uncle Bill tosses a coin. Predictably (but happily), the kids learn a lesson about greed and giving, and everyone ends up satisfied (with the possible exception of the clerk in the toy shop!). Somewhat similar to the famous "Brady Bunch" episode where the gang squabbled over their trading stamps, this one doesn't have a house-of-cards sequence, instead putting character development over situation.
Family Affair: Mr. Osaki's Tree (1970)
Normally a weak year for any sitcom, this 4th season episode is awfully familiar...
I'm hard-pressed to criticize a loving and gentle show like "Family Affair", but sometimes the writers pushed the kids' neuroses a little too far. This is especially true in the case of Johnnie Whitaker's Jody, who continually attaches himself to fantasies, delusions, and guest stars as if they were going to abandon him forever. Here, Buffy and Jody visit an elderly Japanese friend for the last time--he's dying and wants to return to his homeland--and get as a gift a Bonsai tree. Despite a reasonable argument from Uncle Bill, Jody has it in his head that the old man and the tree are spiritually connected, and when the tree starts to die under his care, he's convinced his friend is expiring too. Mr. Osaki already told the kids he didn't have long to live, yet Jody is adamant that the tree mustn't die (to the point where I thought a little psychotherapy was in order). It certainly isn't strange to see the twins (Jody in particular) becoming frantic over a separation (they are orphans after all), but here the writers are crazy enough to side with Jody, ending with a "miraculous" happy ending which I found difficult to swallow.
Near-perfect mixture of comedy and sentiment
Allowed to walk home from school by themselves for the very first time, Buffy and Jody come across an extraordinarily quiet little girl who has been transplanted to New York from Puerto Rico. Buffy can't seem to get the kid to open up, so she asks Uncle Bill to teach her a little Spanish. This doesn't work either, and we soon find out why--the youngster is deaf and mute. Just about the perfect example of "Family Affair"'s ability to blend childhood whimsy with sentimental drama, and Brian Keith is especially good here once Buffy gets him involved. The Davis twins were forever bringing home misfit kids (and stray animals!), but a nice lesson is always learned, and here it is handled with great skill and taste. The child actress playing little Juanita is very natural and convincing, and Anissa Jones and Johnnie Whitaker both do wonderful work.
Mama's Family: What a Dump (1989)
Fair episode with one good sight-gag
Beverly Archer (a.k.a. Iola Boylen) wrote this pretty funny episode concerning the history of Mama's house. Mayor Tuttweiler has decided to turn Mama's street into the site for the new city dump, giving Mama and all the other residents $30K to find new houses before the month's end. Everyone seems surprisingly happy about moving except Mama, who wants to keep her showplace, but Bubba's history paper about Raytown founder James A. Ray may save the day! Ends with a great sight-gag involving Vicki Lawrence riding a wrecking ball. Archer does a good job at giving everyone a slice of the pie, although this script seems a little mean-spirited and is curiously low on big laughs.
Family Affair: Flower Power (1969)
Cissy wants to be a Weekend Hippy!
Cissy's clean-cut (i.e., square) date takes her to "The East Village" where he suddenly turns into a rather awkward hippie (complete with Beatle wig!); Cissy is unsure of the kids there, but by night's end she's starting to open up to their peace-and-love lifestyle. Uncle Bill isn't crazy about it, but he goes with Cissy to the pad to check things out and, aside from one disturbance (Jamie Farr in kooky clothes demanding a hammer), he allows Cissy to spend the weekend there away from home. The hippies come to pick Cissy up and love Mr. French's beard ("we're home!"), but wise-but-friendly Buffy sees right through them (she quickly sets Cissy straight without being the least bit precocious). A wonderful episode from the show's fantastic third season, featuring lovely Veronica Cartwright as one of the 'Raggedy Anns'.
Sympathetic, flabby plot saved by good music and cast
John Astin guest-stars as a disguise-laden, reclusive millionaire named Sydney Rose who is apparently a big fan of The Partridge Family and brings them to his isolated private resort for a concert and dinner. Naturally, Shirley and company bring out the sympathetic side to this friendless man (who made a mint in Melba toast!) and help him to turn his sad life around. Strange episode with heavy pathos features a perplexing sequence wherein a television crew suddenly shows up at the house to interview the Partridges while Sydney Rose is there dressed like a TV repairman (why Rose doesn't hide out in the kitchen isn't explained...and neither is the fact the TV news-people somehow recognize Rose and feature him in their story!). The happy ending is highly contrived, but as usual the music and the bright personalities carry the day. Final song, "One Night Stand", is excitingly photographed, with keenly visual lighting cues and a sexy performance from David Cassidy as Keith.
Even with Jodie Foster guesting, it's a lackluster love affair
Shirley's semi-boyfriend Richard Lawrence brings his pre-teen daughter over to meet the Partridges, and the precocious blonde tyke gets a crush on...Danny? One of the weakest episodes of the otherwise first-rate third season has Jodie Foster guest-starring, yet the script gives her no sharp lines and the director doesn't utilize her inherent smarts or charm. One would think a romantic-minded little girl might swoon over pop-idol Keith instead of Danny, and pudgy Danny Bonaduce is an ill-fitting screen-match with small-stature Foster, who was ten when this was filmed but looks about eight. Not even Women's Lib-minded Laurie bothers to say anything when Foster's Julie turns down her favorite vegetable because Danny hates carrots. The episode smacks of writing done by someone who probably never even watched the show, and the only lively sequence is when Keith and the family launch into "Walking in the Rain" at an unnamed outdoor venue.
Happy Days: Richie Almost Dies (1978)
One of the better 'sentimental' episodes of "Happy Days"
"Happy Days" did attempt some serious shows once in awhile, but usually they were cringe-worthy. Possibly in an attempt to let break-out star Henry Winkler stretch his acting muscles, they actually let his character Fonzie go blind in one episode. Although tragedy strikes Richie in this fifth-season show (via a motorcycle accident), once again it is pal Fonzie who gets to do all the emoting--praying and grieving at Richie's hospital bedside. The sequence which worked for me was a montage of happy family memories set to a tune sang and played on the piano by Leather Tuscadero (Suzi Quatro). The song was not listed in the credits for this episode, nor did it end up on any of real-life rocker Quatro's records, but it is hauntingly sung and, when coupled with the clips, very emotional. But, not to worry, the episode ends happily, with a rather unsubtle warning to kids that cycles can be dangerous...if you're not Arthur Fonzerelli, that is.