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The Endless Feast (2007)
The Pretentious Feast
As a foodie, shows like this make me realize why the term has become a pejorative. The concept here may sound simple, yet the execution manages to be both complicated and tedious. A group of pseudo-young people who have escaped a J-Crew photo shoot, travel to farms, wineries, etc in various parts of the country, while they "oversee" a grand dinner hosted by a chef, where the dinner guests appear to be of the "people with money" variety.
Prior to the meal we see variety of tasks, yet none of it seems to accomplish much. During a typical episode, our intrepid hosts visit farms, farmers markets, cheeseries, wineries, etc, to yield ingredients, techniques, and more importantly, speeches, soliloquies, and "wisdom". For an alleged cooking show, there is a lot of talking going on here. When we finally see this meal come to fruition, it's almost an afterthought. Tables are set up, wine is poured, we see the chef chop up a few vegetables and sear some meat, there are a couple of brief shots of people trying the dishes and....credits roll! For a show called The Endless Feast, the feast lasts all of 3 minutes.
This show suffers from one fundamental problem: It has a major identity crisis. Is it a cooking show? Food porn? A "message" show? I imagine it it thinks it's all of these things, and more. Let's just be clear, this is NOT a cooking show. For the record, very little actual cooking and preparation is shown on The Endless Feast. Looking for recipes? Don't hold your breath. Scratch food porn too. That is unless you consider watching a well-to-do woman with a $2000 handbag ohhh and ahhh over a glass of wine and a rack of lamb. "Message" show....I think we have a winner, sort of. But even the most ardent foodies will want to pull their hair out with all the insufferable prattle about organic, farm-to-fork, sustainability, blah blah blah.
When it's all said and done, The Endless Feast is talky, pretentious, overly earnest, and has absolutely NO sense of humor. PBS is known for it's array of quality cooking/food shows. This is not one of them.
Fay Grim (2006)
Not Bad, Not Great
I recently rented Fay Grim for two specific reasons: 1) I simply adore Parker Posey as an actor & 2) I had heard good stuff about Hal Hartley and his style of film. I must admit though that after my viewing I was slightly disappointed. When I first heard about the film it was described as an "action satire", something which sounded very intriguing. For the record though the "action" in the film is rather limited. Also for the record I am not very familiar with Harley as a filmmaker, I have never seen any of his stuff, that includes Henry Fool.
To start off with I really enjoyed the films quirky style, from the bizarre camera work to the odd reiteration of certain jokes. The films writing is quite good, it's sharp, funny and witty without at all being pretentious. As usual Posey does an excellent job here. Her performance is understated yet still very funny and she plays off the other actors quite well. Jeff Goldblum is also noteworthy as a CIA operative who draws Poseys character into a world of secrets and spies.
The films theme is definitely a left-of-center satirization of the world of spies & terrorists. And although the film is quite funny there are a couple of injections of seriousness which just seem to throw the proceedings off. The films characters and plot lines are often extremely confusing. This is of course done on purpose to convey the absurdity of the world of espionage, but even I found the overflow of information kind of annoying.
I have to admit I didn't care for the ending. The viewer basically spends the majority of the film waiting for Fay & Henry to finally come face to face, this unfortunately never truly happens. I suspect that this may be a hint at yet another sequel. Overall I found the movie fairly enjoyable, but it definitely isn't for everyone.
The Golden Girls (1985)
Forever A Classic
This show remains to date one of the funniest sitcoms ever made. The entire production was top-notch and had all the elements of a perfect package:writing, directing, acting and beautiful chemistry between the cast. Everything locked into place from Day 1, a rare feat for a sitcom. The show was also a true trailblazer. NBC took the risk of creating a show that revolved around four older women, something that had never been attempted before. Amazingly enough this format proved popular not only to it's older target audience, but also crossed generational lines and proved that the show had broad appeal to all age groups.
The casting of the shows leads in particular seem almost like destiny. Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, Betty White....a group of some of the most talented performers to grace us in the last 50 years. It almost seems that these ladies were born to play their respective characters. First there was Dorothy Zbornak, a substitute high school teacher originally from Brooklyn. Dorothy is a practical yet modern day thinker with a very dry sense of humor who comes to Florida after her philandering husband brings their 38 year marriage to a halt. Second is Blanche Devereaux, a widow and Atlanta native who has spent most of her adult life in Miami. Blanche, (Who owns the home the ladies live in) is known for her pervasive sexual appetite and also for being somewhat self-absorbed. Rose Nylund is a sheltered, doe-eyed farm girl who has spent most of her life in the rural community of St Olaf, Minnesota. Rose is part simpleton, part ditz and all crazy. Finally we have the matriarchal Sophia Petrillo, who is the elderly mother of Dorothy. Sophia is feisty, wise and a little nuts due to a stroke which "has rendered her a complete burden", according to her daughter.
The show was considered quite controversial in it's day. Due to the uniqueness of it's older, all-female cast, it was able to get away with racy topics other shows would never dare touch. The show was often topical dealing with a host of modern day issues including homelessness, homosexuality, euthanasia, nuclear conflict, cancer, interracial marriage & HIV/AIDS, just to name a few. The show has the distinction of remaining fresh, funny, smart and relevant during it's ENTIRE 7 year run, avoiding pitfalls that might otherwise have had the show "Jump The Shark". The show was a Top 10 Nielsen draw for it's entire run and won dozens of various awards (Emmys, Golden Globes, etc) for it's cast and crew.
The shows creators and producers have often stated publicly that they had fully intended to continue the show beyond Season 7. But Bea Arthurs announcement that she would leave the show in it's 7th year, made that impossible. There has been much speculation among fans as to why Arthur left the show. Officially Arthur has said that despite her love of the show she just wanted to "move on". However many believe that her longtime rivalry with Betty White, prompted her departure. The show did continue into what many consider a pseudo 8th Season in the form of spin-off "The Golden Palace", minus Arthur of course. But the show was never the same without her, which is likely why The Golden Palace was such a flop.
We may never again see another show like The Golden Girls, particularly considering the current climate of network television. In my mind it will always remain one of the best shows ever made. Now, as I was saying, back in St Olaf......
Designing Women (1986)
Where to begin. Designing Women has always been one of my all-time favorite sitcoms. For the record I am also a huge fan of The Golden Girls. As many know these two shows have been heavily compared and contrasted for the longest time. The two shows do have striking similarities and many out there have accused Designing Women of ripping The Golden Girls off (And I do believe there is a hint of truth to that, but we'll save that for another time) but Designing Women stands completely on it's own. In many ways I think there is a sense of humanism & realism in Designing Women that is lacking in The Golden Girls, but enough about them.
I fell in love with the show straight from the Pilot. I was still in grade school but I thought it was hysterical. I enjoyed the great cast of characters and how beautifully they played off of one another. And the actresses who played those characters were amazing. Whether it was the kooky yet vulnerable Charlene (Jean Smart), the confidence and dry wit of Julia (Dixie Carter), the semi-neurotic girl next door Mary Jo (Annie Potts) or the over the top drama (And silliness) of Suzanne (Delta Burke), these characters made me laugh and laugh. They were all great performers but Delta Burke as Suzanne truly stood out as a one of a kind comedic talent. Burke surprised critics and viewers alike by showing she could bring a self absorbed former beauty queen (With a secret heart of gold) to new heights of hilarity. The show also benefited from the strong political sensibilities of it's creator/producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason as the show often took liberal political stances during a time when it was relatively taboo for sitcoms to do so. The show did struggle during it's last couple of seasons primarily due to a revolving door of cast changes. First, it was the very abrupt departure of Burke, which from a viewer stand-point was somewhat jarring. What I mean by that is that we had one of the strongest (And funniest) characters literally vanish in thin air without ANY explanation, it really kinda threw things off for awhile. After Burke departed we than saw Charlene leave. At least this time there was an explanation, her military husband had suddenly been permanently transferred to the UK. Next was the truly AWFUL casting of Julia Duffy as Sugarbaker cousin, Allison. Though I hold no ill-will towards the acting talent of Duffy, the character of Allison Sugarbaker was dreadful. She was completely unlikeable and had NO redeeming qualities. Someone must've thought the same thing as she too vanished without a trace after just 1 season. Let us also not forget the season 6 finale "Shades of Vanessa" which attempted to set up black comedienne Jackee' as a possible partner in the Sugarbaker firm for the upcoming 7th season. This idea never panned out, for whatever reason. Although it never "Jumped The Shark", the Allison character came pretty close to pushing it over that edge. I think Jan Hooks should get special mention as someone who continuously elevated the show. With a few years of Saturday Night Live experience under her belt she managed to create a funny, memorable character in that of Carlene Dawber, the sweet yet strange little sister of the departed Charlene. Eventually another character hopped on board, that of BJ (Played nicely by Judith Ivey) a wealthy widow who, in it's final season, became a partner to save the ailing Sugarbaker firm. I will always remember Designing Women as a genuinely funny show with quirky yet believable characters and great writing, despite some of it's messy cast changes. My all-time favorite episode is "Pearls of Wisdom", just for the laugh-til-you-cry hilarity of the salad bar scene.
At the time of this writing (June 07') a season-by-season DVD release is pending. Sony (The studio that will release DW on DVD) initially intended to release Season 1 in the summer of 06. However, a season-by-season release has been stalled due to music clearances. This is completely plausible considering the dozens (and dozens) of songs/pieces of music used throughout the series. Sony has stated that due to a market saturation of TV to DVD releases, the music industry is taking advantage of this by demanding big bucks for music licensing. Sony says that the music fees are so high that if they were to go ahead with the shows release it would mean a much higher than usual retail price for the sets. Sony has repeated that they are committed to releasing the show on DVD but want to keep the price point low so that casual fans and hardcore fans alike can enjoy the show without raping their wallets. And so we wait......
Nurses, a quasi-spin off of The Golden Girls & Empty Nest, was a mixed bag in the sitcom world. Created by Susan Harris (Who also created both Girls and Nest, among other shows) Nurses focused on a small staff of Nurses, with varying personalities, who worked on a particular floor in a large Miami hospital. Along with Girls & Nest, it was part of the "Miami Trilogy". All three shows shared characters and minor plot threads. Nurses was the last show to enter into the trilogy and was easily the most unsuccessful.
Nurses was definitely a mixed bag. Although most episodes would either fall into the decent or so-so category some were truly awful. The fairly good acting was unfortunately dragged down by mediocre writing and poor direction. The characters were pretty stock. From strong willed head nurse Annie Roland (Played by Arnetia Walker) to the ditsy and neurotic Julie Milbury (Mary Jo Keenan). The character of Julie was probably the shows funniest. She always reminded me of a younger crazier Rose (Of Golden Girls fame). It's also interesting to note that one of the characters, Nurse Sandy Miller (Stephanie Hodge) was actually the best friend to the character of Laverne (Park Overall) from Empty Nest.
Not surprisingly the various characters on Nurses are uncannily similar to many of the characters from both The Golden Girls and Empty Nest. This points to one of the major problems with the show. Since much of the shows creative team also worked on both The Golden Girls and Empty Nest it seemed the idea well was running a bit dry for all involved. Many of Nurses themes, characters, and plots all felt like they had been recycled from the other shows. In a last ditch effort the shows creators got Loni Anderson to portray Casey, the hospitals new "big boss". Although it created quite a bit of publicity (At the time she was in the national spotlight amidst a break-up with Burt Reynolds) it failed to jump-start the ratings. Although not completely out of the question I personally feel like DVD release for the show is unlikely. Considering it's relatively short run and lack of mainstream popularity I wouldn't hold your breath.
Empty Nest (1988)
Empty Nest was one of my favorite sitcoms growing up, I was exposed to Empty Nest as a preteen quite simply because I was a fan of The Golden Girls. Empty Nest was a sort of quasi-spin off of The Golden Girls. A little piece of trivia but you can actually see the original concept of Empty Nest during Season 2 of The Golden Girls in the episode "Empty Nest". The original concept had veteran character actors Rita Rudner and Paul Dooley playing a couple coping with their children all leaving home. Thank god they didn't go with this original concept as it was dreadful. After poor audience response they re-tooled the show as a showcase for Mulligan, a successful widower doctor with two very different daughters still living at home.
Late in Season 2 the character of Barbara (Kristy McNicol) was written off the show allegedly because McNicol was diagnosed with Severe Bipolar Disorder. Thankfully though we would be reunited with the character of Barbara in the shows series finale. Her departure however was rather unfortunate as she was a good counter to the character of Carol, who was a neurotic psychological mess. Park Overall was the true firecracker of the show. She was easily the funniest character and her scenes seemed to always elevate an episode.
Empty Nest was part of the infamous "Miami Trilogy" which aired for several years on NBC Saturday nights. Empty Nest, The Golden Girls, and Nurses (All shows created by Susan Harris by the way) were all part of the same "universe", so to speak. They all took place in the same Miami, various characters from the shows lived & worked near or with one another and guest spots among characters appearing on the other shows was not uncommon. Even Estelle Getty (The Golden Girls feisty elderly lady Sophia) joined the cast in it's final 2 seasons. However during these last two seasons the show "Jumped The Shark" when main character Dr. Harry Weston left his job at the hospital and started a free clinic in a "not-so-nice" neighborhood with fellow doctor, Marsha Warfield (Of Night Court fame). Empty Nest remains one of my favorite sitcoms from that era. I have heard mixed things about a possible DVD release. Despite the show lasting 7 seasons and consistently being in the Nielsen Top 10 a DVD release is probably unlikely any time in the near future considering the show has become all but forgotten. I won't forget though.