April Fools 2014: Alex Raphael

My contribution to Cara’s very awesome site. Enjoy 🙂

Silver Screen Serenade

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I may be on a plane to New York, but while I’m away, the April Fools are out to play! I have several fantastic guest lists lined up, including today’s list from Alex Raphael! Alex’s site is a whole mix of awesome stuff–movie reviews, quizzes, quotes, pictures, and more. Check it out fo sho! Anyway, let’s see Alex’s favorite idiots, shall we? 🙂

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The Acrostic Name Game

Sort of inspired by the very funky film fan Drama Llama and her Alphabetical Movie Meme, I wanted to create something that reflected my website a bit and could be just as easily adapted by others. I came up with an acrostic of my site name linking it with an explanation of my favourite TV show with that letter. So feel free to take on the challenge yourself, either with TV shows, or films, albums, singers, celebrities, recipes, cities or whatever else suits your blog.

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Iconic TV Shows: Tales of the Unexpected

Tales of the Unexpected main picture

The writing magician that was Roald Dahl always had the ability to captivate, so it’s no surprise that a show based on adapations of his short stories fully brought us into his dark, riveting and mysterious world.

Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, (which later became Tales of the Unexpected when the show was expanded to include other writers), was not the first show to develop short stories into a 30 minute TV adaptation. Dahl himself set up Way Out in 1961, a short-lived show focusing which showcased the best ways of trying to kill off your spouse and avoid detection (though most were written purely for TV). He later contributed six stories to the more similar Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Beginning in 1979 and running until 1988, Tales of the Unexpected adapted a short story and brought it to life with a sharp script, mostly well-known actors and more often than not, a shrewd, sharp and cunning twist. And these were no ordinary stories. Whether about killing off a spouse, making money quickly, getting revenge or dealing with an incredible discovery, at its best the show was able to capture the intrigue and suspense of people put into an extreme and often, unenviable position.

Roald Dahl reading

When the show hit its creative peak, it was a joy. ‘Run, Rabbit, Run’, about a American stationed in Paris during the resistance who goes back years later to get material for a book, slowly unravels to reveal an eerie aspect of the human condition. ‘A Harmless Vanity’ and ‘Youth from Vienna’ are both more than a clever ending; they capture how our appearance both reflects and affects our personality and the consequences it has on us and those around us.

Roald Dahl stories also tended to stand out. ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ with its ingenious and untraceable method of murder, ‘The Way up to Heaven’ with its delicious sense of karmic revenge, and the psychologically disturbing ‘Georgie Porgie’ are Dahl at his best. The earlier series’ even had an introduction by Dahl which frequently gave a useful insight into his inspiration and intention for the story.

Curiously though, the greatest episode of the show was neither by a well known writer, starred high profile actors or followed any of the common themes. ‘The Flypaper’ by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one) was far more sinister and terrifying than any of the other 111 episodes. Beginning with the police searching for the body of a young girl in a rural town, we soon see an unhappy orphan forced to take piano lessons by her uncaring and critical grandmother. She notices the interest of a creepy older man on her way back but her fears are ignored by her grandmother. Aware that the body of the girl was found, and police are on the lookout for her killer, she notices the same man stalking her a week later and has to try and outsmart him.

Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected

As with any show where each episode brought a new set of characters, weaker episodes were betrayed by an uninspired premise that even quality actors could not save. ‘Mr Botibol’s Finest Performance’, of a wealthy lonely man and his love of classical music, is nothing more than a tedious example of how pathetic failure can be. It is arguably Dahl’s worst story and a bewildering decision to adapt. ‘The Party’ highlights the problem critics would have had with the show. An unimaginative storyline, of a boring long-time employee believing he is undervalued, an unlikely set of reactions and a ‘twist’ seen the proverbial mile away.

But what the series strived for, and largely succeeded in, was capturing the creativity of talented short writers such as Robert Bloch, Ruth Rendell and John Collier, as well as Dahl himself, and bringing it to a wider audience. Actors of the calibre of John Mills, Janet Leigh, Joseph Cotton, Derek Jacobi and John Gielgud also elevated it, especially as most stories were dominated by two or three main characters.

While it is easy to mock the low budget of the programme, short stories rarely gain the limelight its literary genre relatives, and few shows have managed it better. Tales of the Unexpected may have lacked the morbid flair of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, or the imaginative sense of surreal like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, but for the most part it was brilliant at reminding us the glory in the unexpected.

Years: 1979 -1988
Created by: Roald Dahl
Number of series: 9
Number of episodes: 112

Iconic TV Shows: Ed

Ed main page

With the high amount of quality legal dramas focusing on catching and prosecuting killers, it’s easy to forget there is a legal world outside of capital punishment and the other sinister sides of human nature.

Launched on 8 October 2000, Ed set out to capture the life of a small town community with little knowledge or interest in the legal world. As its title suggests, the show was not a glamorous, slick, high budget production but instead concentrated on the seemingly trivial problems local people had with colleagues, schoolmates, friends, lovers, and even random strangers.

The show begins when the eponymous Ed Stevens is fired after misplacing a comma and costing his prestigious law firm $1.5bn. His life continues to unravel when he comes home to find his wife in bed with the milkman and so decides to head back to his home town (fictional town Stuckeyville in Ohio) for a bit to get his life together. Meeting up with his old friends and realising he is desperate to win back his high school crush Carol Vessey, he decides to stay and buys a failing bowling alley and set up a small legal firm.

It’s this setting that allows the show its depth and structured storyline continuance. Interlinking with storylines involving Ed and Carol, there are also issues with Ed’s best friend Michael Burton who aspires to succeed his boss and take over the GP practice and Molly Hudson, a teaching colleague and long-time best friend of Carol. At the school in which they teach, Warren Cheswick is the geeky kid who resembles how Ed was at his age, particularly in his lack of widespread popularity and obsessive crush on the hottest girl at the school, Jessica.

The hour long format (with ads) meant that it was common for there to be three or more storylines and, before shows like Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives came along, showed it was possible to blend drama and comedy. Central to the comedic elements were the 10 dollar challenges, where Ed and Michael alternate between ridiculous challenges that usually involved approaching strangers and carrying out a ridiculous request.

Ed bowling pic

But what gives the show its real distinction is the thought-provoking legal stories that prop up in each episode. With Phil Stubbs, always with a new madcap but impractical business idea, painfully shy Shirley Pifko and gentle giant Kenny Sandusky (later Eli Cartwright), mainly handling the bowling side of things, it leaves Ed largely free to focus on his legal activities. And it’s the distinct dilemmas Ed faces which give the show its reflective edge and separate it from other shows set in small towns with largely moral and sympathetic main characters.

Examples include a rival magician giving the secrets away of his oldest competitor (The World of Possibility), three guys who tricked their friend into thinking he had won $20m in the lottery (Losing Streak) and a pastor facing the sack for not increasing his congregation (Valentine’s Day). But there are two examples of what Ed was really about.

In the episode entitled “Window of Opportunity”, an extremely overweight man named James walks into Ed’s office and explains that his brother has been damaging his stuff in escalating levels of violence. The reason is that James was told by his doctor that if he doesn’t change his diet he will die and thus made a deal with his brother that any time he ate badly, his brother could do something drastic. Now however it has all got out of control. Turns out though there is a contract signed by both allowing his brother to carry out the stuff legally. Though the judge sides with James and Ed, his brother continues to find ways to mock his brother in the aim of getting him to stop overeating, raising all kinds of questions about how far a sibling can go if someone does not want to help themselves.

Carol and Ed

The other was ‘Exceptions’. Carol’s star student Clark Salinger fears he will lose his scholarship if he doesn’t get better than an F at gym, and with most of the grade made up of a fitness test, he will most likely fail. Carol rages at his gym teacher, Frank Kerwin, though he refuses to budge. Salinger’s parents threaten to sue, resulting in Kerwin going to Ed saying if he doesn’t promise to change the grade he will be sacked. Despite the pressure, he feels he is right and wants to make a stand. As well as being complicated as he will be going up against Carol, things get more uncomfortable when Ed finds out the gym teacher once had a star basketball player who was refused to play in a match watched by scouts as he had failed Carol’s English class. What, argues Kerwin, is the difference between a student who tries his best in English or maths but isn’t bright enough to understand, and a kid who is naturally no good at sport? Though things are soon amended for Salinger, it is far too late for the basketball star, Sean Ellis who missed his big break and works at a dead end job. Carol goes to apologise, but sometimes apologies will never be enough.

And no, the show wasn’t perfect.

Changing its theme tune from Foo Fighters’ ‘New Year’ to Clem Snide’s ‘Moment in the Sun’, only to change back to its original choice hinted at a lack of structure, especially as outside the US the latter choice continued to be used.  Due to the expense of musical copywrite, it is still unavailable to buy on DVD.

Josh Randall (Mike) though he clicks perfectly with Ed (Tom Cavanagh) as long time buddies, is a far from a convincing doctor. His dull wife’s character Nancy was never really given any depth of a personality and Ed’s ineffectiveness in courting a date with Carol gets tiring sometimes. Though nominated, it didn’t win any Emmys or Golden Globes, won’t end up on any polls and was kicked off the air for poor ratings, finishing after only four series.

But in capturing a small town community, for capturing the eccentricities of life, for making us root for a Jimmy Stewart kind of good guy, and for reminding us of how there are always possibilities to change without losing who we are, it had it nailed. With a final episode entitled ‘Happily ever after’ you can guess how it all ends, but as with some things in life, it was the journey that was the fun bit.

Ed group picture

Memorable Quotes

Carol: Oh, God, this is gonna sound so stupid. All right. Nick and I were having breakfast at my house.
Ed: Came over for breakfast. Gotcha.
Carol: No, Ed. He did not come over. He was there. He slept there.
Ed: Crashed on your couch. Gotcha.
Carol: No, Ed. He slept with me.
Ed: You sleep with Nick? Eeeeewwwwwwwwwww!

Ed: I was wondering, how much power does the prom queen actually wield? Could you have like, say, bombed Belgium?

Molly: Mr. Nowell, your son is a geek. He’s smart and he’s witty and he’s sensitive. All rare and wonderful qualities to have, but when you’re 15 they get you duct taped to a locker.

Ed: The first time I ever laid eyes on you was ninth grade. Mr. O’Roarke’s Biology class. I looked across the room and you were pouring water into a test tube. You were wearing a blue shirt with white criss-crossed strings right down the sides. And the moment I saw you… I just went…
[breathes deeply]:
Carol, from the day I came back here to Stuckeyville and I walked into your classroom to ask you out, and all the other times I asked you out, it seemed you just kept telling me the same thing over and over and over again. That I didn’t fall in love with you, but rather some high school kid’s fixated version of you. And I went and I thought about it… and I thought about it and I thought about it and I thought about it and I thought about it. And I decided… you’re right. I didn’t fall in love with you. I fell in love with that girl wearing that blue shirt with the white criss-crossed strings down the side that I never said a single word to in high school. So I decided to be with Frankie. So I went to look for you, I went to look for you to tell you. I looked all over. I looked at the Smiling Goat, I looked at your high school, I looked at your house, I looked all over, all over. And a funny thing happened. Everywhere I went… I saw us. Laughing, crying, arguing. And I realized, yeah, maybe I fell in love with that girl wearing the blue shirt with the white criss-crossed strings down the sides in high school. But now… now… I love you. I love you; I love every part of you. And we have to be together.

Cast and Awards

Tom Cavanagh…. as Ed Stevens
Julie Bowen…..as Carol Vessey
Josh Randall…. as Michael Burton
Jana Marie Hupp…. as Nancy Burton
Lesley Boone…. as Molly Hudson
Justin Long…. as Warren Cheswick
Michael Ian Black…. as Phil Stubbs
Rachel Cronin…. as Shirley Pifko
Mike Starr…. as Kenny Sandusky (45 episodes)
Daryl Mitchell…. as Eli Goggins (39 episodes)

Years: 2000 – 2004
Created by: Jon Beckerman and Rob Burnett
Number of series: 4
Number of episodes: 83

Emmys: 0 from 3
Golden Globes: 0 from 1

Iconic TV Shows: Inspector Morse

Inspector Morse main pic

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then self-replication must be its ultimate. Six years after Morse met his demise, his faithful sidekick Lewis got his own show (2006 – present) with Morse himself coming back into prequel form with Endeavour (2012 – present). In fact, the idea and execution of a younger Morse was so popular it was extended for four episodes and more are being made.

But highly regarded though the spin offs have been, there is really only one Inspector Morse.  Played with understated relish by the incomparable John Thaw, the eponymous star was the antithesis of the swaggering renegade cop, the all action star with various ex wives and a colourful addiction or two. Instead we had the articulate, cultured, unmarried (and largely romantic failure) older lead, with his passion for opera, complex crosswords and Latin, who would drive around in a vintage Jaguar. His passions weren’t just character quirks, but helped maintain a detective style that was instrumental in dealing with suspects as well as solving crimes.

Morse and Lewis

But though the distinct character was tour de force, this was far more than a one man vehicle. Ably supported by the younger, working class family man Lewis (Kevin Whately) with whom Morse acted as a sort of father-figure, and a complex and thought-provoking script that brought the erudite town of Oxford and its residents to life, this was high-end quality two hour drama.

Based on Colin Dexter’s novels (who had cameos in all but three of the episodes), it took only slight changes to ensure its success for the small screen, most notably giving Morse his Jaguar and making Lewis a younger and non-boxing Geordie rather than having Welsh roots. Morse’s unhappy childhood, high-class pursuits and endearing awkwardness around women are kept, and despite his gruff nature is a sensitive and honourable man. Unlike more traditional sleuths, Morse is far from infallible and sometimes takes too long to get to the right culprit. However, the well-intentioned Morse creates enemies by his refusal to conform, one of the factors that prevents him from obtaining a higher position. The fact Morse’s death relates to his long history of drinking and ignoring any warning signs over his health, when he is smart enough to know better, all but confirms his tragic hero status.

Oxford

If you only see one episode of this superlative detective drama, it should be ‘Deadly Slumber’. The opening episode of series 7 deals with a married doctor who seemingly decides to end his life by leaving the fumes on while staying in the car in his garage. Morse is immediately suspicious as to why a doctor with a thriving practice would decide to kill himself, let alone on his own property when he is surrounded by all kinds of medical drugs at work. The coroner confirms Morse’s suspicions and the initial suspect is the father of a teenage girl killed after a minor procedure to remove a mole goes wrong and she dies. Stricken with grief, the devastated father, who had unsuccessfully sued the clinic and divorced from his wife, has a strong motive, a shaky alibi and plenty of money to spare from his lucrative betting business. Rather than just being an episode with all kinds of red herrings and cunning plot twists, it moves beyond that as Morse befriends the millionaire suspect and is desperate to find evidence that proves he wasn’t the killer. Perceptive, thought-provoking and ultimately, incredibly moving, it sums up what the show was always about.

They make try and make them like they used to, but traces rarely end up as good as the original.

Memorable Quotes

Detective Sergeant Lewis: I liked that, it was good. What was it?
Chief Inspector Morse: That, Lewis, was Maria Callas.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Was it from “Cats”?
Chief Inspector Morse: No it most certainly was not.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: The wife wants to go to “Cats”. Dunno why, she’s allergic to them.

Chief Inspector Morse: Restored of course – look at that window.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: All that stonework, must take months to do the pointing.
Chief Inspector Morse: You’re not a bloody mason, are you?
Detective Sergeant Lewis: No such luck – I might have been a Chief Inspector by now if I was.
Chief Inspector Morse: “Were”, Lewis, if you “were”. You’ll never get on if you can’t master your subjunctives. Keep touching your forelock, we may be back in Oxford before lunch.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Shouldn’t that be “might”?

Paul Eirl: We’ve got a very important corpse on our hands.
Chief Inspector Morse: Yes, I preferred him as a suspect.
Claudio Battisti: In prison he came to know himself, to forgive himself, and then to reconstruct himself.
Chief Inspector Morse: Self, self, self – that’s Clark all right!

Adele Cecil: This anagram: “Around Eve”? I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but all I can come up with is “Endeavour”. And no-one’s called Endeavour. Surely?
Chief Inspector Morse: I told you, my mother was a Quaker. And Quakers sometimes call their children names like Hope and Patience. My father was obsessed with Captain Cook, and his ship was called Endeavour. Why aren’t you both laughing?
Detective Sergeant Lewis: You poor sod.
Adele Cecil: I’m not calling you “Endeavour”.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Call him “Sir”. He likes that.
Adele Cecil: Oh no. No, I’ll stick to “Morse” – like everyone else.

Detective Sergeant Lewis: This could take us half the night! I’ve been on the go since eight o’clock this morning.
Chief Inspector Morse: So have I, Sergeant.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Yeah, but I haven’t spent the last two weeks lying on a beach in Italy, have I?
Chief Inspector Morse: I spent my holiday engaged in cultural pursuits, Lewis, not lying on the beach.

Hotel Receptionist: Has something happened?
Chief Inspector Morse: Not much. Only theft, murder and quite possibly a suicide

Chief Inspector Morse: People crossing the river here, hundreds, thousands of years, thousands probably.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Gotta cross somewhere

CAST AND AWARDS

The BRITISH ACADEMY of FILM and TELEVISION ARTS AWARDS in 1990

John Thaw….. as Chief Inspector Morse
Kevin Whately…. as Sergeant Detective Lewis

Number of Series  – 7 (1987 to 1993) + 5 specials (1995-2000)
Number of Episodes  – 33
Years – 1987 – 2000

Baftas – 6 (out of 15)

Iconic TV Shows: Columbo

Columbo main pic

Always rummaging around in the pockets of his trademark mac, holding a cigar and with his uncombed messy hair, it’s just as well Lieutenant Columbo never committed a crime. Too many people would have recognised him. If ever a character’s appearance reflected his lifestyle it was our most dogged of detectives.As has been copywrited into tv eternity, nearly every episode of Columbo began with the murder and its motives. And these were no street hoodlums with criminals record and interest in petty crime and small change. Instead we were introduced to the insight and ambitions of the wealthy elite, who were determined to reach or remain at the top by a carefully and ingeniously planned cold blooded murder.

And boy, were they clever. In The Sky High IQ case, the suspect caused the door to slam just after a gunshot sound was triggered, thereby seemingly giving him an alibi for when the murder supposedly took place. In Double Exposure, Columbo struggles to work out how the murder took place before using the murderer’s ingenious against him. In A Stitch in Crime, a twin electrocutes his uncle, before taking the body to an exercise room and making it look as though the death was from a coronary.And so the game of cat and mouse chess begins as Columbo soon works out who the murderer is, but it all comes down to the nuts and bolts of proving it. It is not long before the manners and charm of the murderers have their patience tested by our tenacious sleuth. He soon begins to tear down their alibi and work out their motives, as the murderer usually realises too late they have been underestimating the rumpled detective.

Columbo and car pic

Nearly all iconic characters have a catchphrase, and Columbo’s was the perfect reflection of his seemingly chaotic style. After all manner of flattery, usually referencing his long time wife, he would head towards the door before asking one final and perceptive question, aimed at catching the perpetrator completely off guard. It was no surprise Peter Falk’s autobiography was called “Just one more thing”.And although the late Falk had a decorated acting career both in tv, film and stage, it will be for the working class Columbo he will be best remembered. After auditioning for Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures, he was cruelly told by the movie mogul that he could “afford to get an actor with two eyes”, a malicious reference to the glass eye used by Falk after suffering retinoblastoma as a baby.

And Falk was not even first choice. Eight years after the character had first appeared in a television-anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, it was ready for television. Its creators suggested the lead should be Lee J. Cobb or Bing Crosby. Cobb was unavailable and Crosby turned it down because he felt it “would have taken too much time away from his golf game”. Falk, though at 40 was a lot younger than they had in mind, was suggested by director Richard Irving.

Falk noted his astonishment for the fame of the character: “I’ve been to little villages in Africa with maybe one TV set, and little kids will run up to me shouting: ‘Columbo, Columbo!”

And Columbo was far from the classic detective. As well as his rugged appearance, there was his fear of flying, seasickness, love of cheap diners and his refusal to carry a gun. Driving around in his battered Peugeot 403 Convertible, sometimes with his basset hound named “Dog”, he had a wife who he regularly talked about, but we never see, her first name was as elusive as his.

Columbo and dog

But more than just his appearances or accessories, it was his nature that will live just as long. His refusal to become violent or aggressive even when threatened, and the fact that on various memorable episodes, such as in Johnny Cash’s “Swan Song” or Ruth Gordon’s “Try and Catch me”, he really did sympathise with the killers.

“We had no intention of dealing with the realities of actual police procedures” explained its creators Levinson and Link. “Instead, we wanted to pay our respects to the classic mystery fiction of our youth, the works of the Carrs, the Queens, and the Christies. Our show would be a fantasy, and as such it would avoid the harsher aspects of a true policeman’s life: the drug busts, the street murders, the prostitutes, and the back-alley shootouts.”This side of LA was a one unrecognisable to future riots. “We would create a mythical Los Angeles and populate it with affluent men and women living in the stately homes of the British mystery novel…” they further described. “We even decided never to show him at police headquarters or at home; it seemed to us much more effective if he drifted into our stories from limbo.” Falk may no longer be with us, succumbing to cardiorespiratory arres at the age of 83, but as long as there is television, and as long as there are audiences, there will always be Columbo.

Memorable Quotes

Dr. Ray Flemming: They expect me to be on call at all hours.
Columbo: Same with me, Doctor.

Columbo: So far, sir, we don’t have a thing.
Nelson Hayward: Well, that’s heartening.
Columbo: Officially, that is.
Nelson Hayward: And unofficially?
Columbo: Unofficially, we don’t have anything either.

Columbo: My wife is a big fan of yours. She’s the first to put in her order at the library whenever your book comes out.

Columbo: My ears pop in an elevator. As a matter if fact, I don’t even like being this tall.

Col. Lyle C. Rumford: Do you have a first name?
Columbo: I do. My wife is about the only one that uses it.

Columbo: You know, sir, it’s a funny thing. All my life I kept running into smart people. I don’t just mean smart like you and the people in this house. You know what I mean. In school, there were lots of smarter kids. And when I first joined the force, sir, they had some very clever people there. And I could tell right away that it wasn’t gonna be easy making detective as long as they were around. But I figured, if I worked harder than they did, put in more time, read the books, kept my eyes open, maybe I could make it happen. And I did. And I really love my work, sir.

Paul Gerard: When did you first suspect me?
Columbo: As it happens, sir… about two minutes after I met you.
Paul Gerard: That can’t be possible.
Columbo: Oh, you made it perfectly clear, sir, the very first night when you decided to come to the restaurant directly after you were informed that Vittorio was poisoned.
Paul Gerard: I was instructed to come here by the police.
Columbo: And you came, sir.
Paul Gerard: Yes.
Columbo: After eating dinner with a man that had been poisoned. You didn’t go to a doctor. You came because the police instructed you. You didn’t go to a hospital. You didn’t even ask to have your stomach pumped. Mr. Gerard, that’s the damnedest example of good citizenship I’ve ever seen.

Maj. Gen. Martin Hollister: You know, lieutenant, I don’t see how a man with the name of Columbo… shouldn’t he be more at home on a boat?
Columbo: Must’ve been another branch of the family,General.

Columbo award

Cast and Awards

Peter Falk…. as Lieutenant Columbo

Years: 1968 – 2003
Created by: Richard Levinson and William Link
Series: 11 (plus various specials)
Number of episodes: 69
Emmys: 13 out of 39
Golden Globes: 2 out of 15

Iconic TV Shows Review: Law and Order

Law and order

Trigger And that’s what I’ve done. Maintained it for 20 years. This old brooms had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.
Sid How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?
Trigger There’s the picture. What more proof do you need?

Running for 20 years, 456 episodes (and numerous spin offs), and featuring 27 different main actors (no original cast of whom were there by the second half of its run), legal drama Law and Order does indeed bring to mind Trigger’s memorable line from Only Fools and Horses.

But while it may have seemed that it chopped its star players more often than it needed, there were various lengthy stints within and each character usually added a fresh impetus, being more than just an identikit character or cardboard cut-out personality. Viewers would have their own favourite. Whether that be the wry-writted old hand Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach), the sensitive young heart throb Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt), the impassioned and renegade Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), the no-nonsense and forceful Anita van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson), or even the cynical, world-weary and media-sensitive District Attorney Aaron Schiff (Steven Hill), there was someone for everyone.

Lennie and Ray

This was an intense and provocative drama with strong personalities with even stronger opinions, dealing with controversial issues such as rape, race, abortion, homosexuality, religion and political influence. Starting with that iconic two beat scene sound introduction, played at the start of every scene, the show would usually start with the discovery of the corpse by passers by. The two detectives would then delve into the frequently grim world of sinister motives of the New York inhabitants before wading through the red herrings and lies and using their instincts and intimidating personalities to ensure they found the perpetrator(s). The second half of the show would switch to dealing with the political battle of the courtroom between the defendant’s free counsel or expensive lawyer trying to weasel out by finding all manner of loopholes, and the District Attorney’s side, aiming for the strongest sentences and being prepared to legally use any aspect of the law.

Jack McCoy

This was a show where the city itself was more than just a background set. Covering all kinds of characters a 24 hour city like New York provides, Law and Order was a tour guide which let you see within the skyscrapers, into the ghettos and diners and back alleys to see the downtrodden, the high fliers, the career criminals, the cads, addicts, activists and social climbers.

And what a superb level of acting. While the main cast will get the main recognition, the standard of actors who would frequently be used for only one episode was all kinds of superlative. Dealing with the guilt, rage, shock, relief, fear, confusion and even indifference in reaction to the crime on someone they knew, actors coming in fully prepared to display any range of emotions. It’s no surprise to find that more than a few ended up starring in leading roles in shows such as The Sopranos, Dexter, The Wire or even end up in Hollywood.

It may have started off slow, limited and raw with its opening episodes, as it struggled to find the necessary slickness fully evident from series 3 onwards, but it never shied away from the ugly part of human nature. While justice normally came through, sometimes the villains won, sometimes the sentence seemed too lenient or too harsh, and sometimes the criminal was a more sympathetic character than the victim. For a show that wanted to reflect city and legal life, it had it just about right.

Law and Order cast

Memorable Quotes

Narrator: In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

Logan: How would you like to be in one of these (porn) movies?
Briscoe: You kidding? I don’t even like to look at my own x-rays.

Schiff: Wonderful. We’ve got a truckload of evidence against an innocent man, and for the guilty one we got zip.

Curtis: Motive?
Briscoe: He was married wasn’t he?

Det. Lennie Briscoe: I specifically asked for him to be put on suicide watch. Apparently here at Riker’s that mean that they watch you commit suicide.

McCoy: I remember how hard it was when I realized my father was a son of a bitch. I can’t imagine what it must be like when you realize you raised one.

Schiff: I LOVE cases where a homicidal gun dealer is our best witness

Briscoe: Boy, I’d hate for somebody to trace me by what I read.
Curtis: You read, Lennie?

Schiff: Started with a murder, ends with an execution. You got what you wanted. Take the rest of the week off.
McCoy: It’s Friday, Adam.
Schiff: So it is. See you on Monday.

Jack McCoy: Your grief might seem a little more real had you not just admitted you cut off your wife’s head.

Law and order spin offs

Cast and Awards

27 main actors

Years: 1990 – 2010
Created by: Dick Wolf
Number of series 20
Episodes: 456

Emmys:  6 from 51
Golden Globes:  0 from 6

Years: 1990 – 2010
Created by: Dick Wolf

The Simpsons – Iconic TV Shows

The Simpsons

For a show so groundbreaking, iconic and influential, and the ultimate in social, cultural and political satire, it can be easy to forget just how humble the beginnings of Springfield’s finest dysfunctional family were.

This was no long and thought out process or a culmination of a life’s dream. What was to become America’s longest ever scripted tv show came about from a hurried idea of Matt Groening while waiting for a meeting with The Tracy Ulman Show’s producer James L. Brooks. Suddenly realising his original idea would require the rescinding of publication rights for his ‘Life is Hell’ Comic series, Groening instead came up with the idea of Homer and Marge, and their three children, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.

And the rest, after three series making up 48 short animated sketches, was history.

Homer getting stuck

‘The Simpsons’ fully launched on 17 December 1989 with its first episode, ‘Simpsons roasting on an open fire’. Its ugly, crude animation could not betray a touching storyline about Homer struggling to afford to buy presents for the family after his work bonus is taken away. As Hunter Phillips pointed out in his shortly lived bloghttp://500daysofhomer.wordpress.com/, it was pretty rare for a sitcom at that time to focus on the financial struggles of a regular family. This was a cartoon that even at the very beginning was always going to be different and would reinvent the cartoon wheel.

This was no simple one dimensional comedy. The writers fully exploited the possibilities a cartoon could develop, with its visual gags, outdoor settings and wide supporting cast. And in turn, reminded everyone that there are no age restrictions with cartoons. There were jokes about everything. About Homer’s laziness at work, his glutinous love of food and his general stupidity, Bart’s pranks and rebellious attitude and Lisa being the know it all, precocious child who struggles to fit in at school and even in her own family. Not to mention all the film references, government and religious hypocrisy and social comment on mob mentality and petty neighbourhood squabbles.

Setting itself in Springfield, a name represented in 22 different US states, was no coincidence. With such a common name, it wasn’t about creating a magical world where viewers had their own entry into Narnia, Wonderland or Neverland. This was about being in a place where we could all relate to, with characters we could all recognise. Jaded teachers, deceitful politicians, unmotivated cops and unfulfilling and underfunded environments.  It was all there.

Homer falling down

And boy, when the jokes started, it was always worth watching more than once to pick up on all the film references, social questioning and character gags.

It’s hard to watch Patten with a straight face after Abe Simpson parodies the famous scene of America’s legendary war general smacking a soldier suffering from nerve damage. “You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send them off to side one some godforsaken rock, but for some reason you can’t slap them.”

It’s spoof of Indecent Proposal is up there too. When Marge’s old boyfriend Artie Schiff tries to rub his wealth in Marge’s face, Homer replies: “I’ll bet you’d trade it all for one night with my wife.” When Artie admits he probably would, Homer starts to consider the deal.

And its use of celebrities, long before it became tedious and forced in later episodes, was amazing.

Homer and Marge

In the earlier series were countless notable examples. Dustin Hoffman playing Lisa’s ideal teacher and father figure Mr Bergstrom, Harvey Fierstein starring as the wonderful Karl alongside a hair-filled Homer (in the wonderfully titled Simpson and Delilah), Danny Devito playing millionaire and Homer’s half brother Herb Powell are just some of the more obvious ones. Not to mention the legendary Michael Jackson one. And there were examples of celebrities voicing more than just one, or like with Herb Powell, being brought back for another episode. The much missed Phil Hartman provided the voice for host Troy McClure, and the legendary ambulance chasing lawyer Lionel Hutz, who later becomes an estate agent as most of his clients “end up losing their house anyway”. Frasier legend Kelsey Grammer uses his sumptuous voice to star as the erudite but undervalued Sideshow Bob who aims to take down Krusty the Clown. Joe Mantegna stars as mob boss fat Tony, revealing the shadier side of Springfield, and the even more inept side of the local police.

And with the gags continuing, and the character development expanding, it wasn’t long before lazy careless idiot Homer, his sympathetic homemaker wife Marge, mischievous 10 year old Bart, precocious eight year old Lisa and baby Maggie took over the world.

Its blend of imagination, cynicism, realism and most of all humour, soon meant that we the viewer were brought into their world. Homer’s continuous struggle to motivate himself at the power plant, Marge having to worry, Lisa’s constant issues in being smarter than everyone else and Bart’s skills in being the class clown and trying to avoid getting beaten up by the school bully. Not to mention all their problems as a family and within the wider society.

Homer and hot dogs

Not that everyone saw that as a good thing. In a world where Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead and South Park were to follow, it’s amazing to think there were teachers and parents who fiercely campaigned against Bart’s influence.  Bart’s catchphrases like “Eat my shorts”, “Get bent”, and “Don’t have a cow man”, as well as his lack of respect for authority was seen to glamorise the rebellious lifestyle. And it wasn’t just sensitive parents.

In early 1992, then President George Bush (senior), made his famous comment of “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons”. The show’s creators got their own back with a changed intro to their next shown episode before getting their full revenge in “Two Bad neighbours”, where George Bush Senior incurs the full ire of Homer and Bart.

Of course, it could never stay as its peak. The wheels had faltered slightly in series 8, with episodes started to fall off and run out slightly of energy and ideas, but it noticeably went off track with its first real nadir, “The Principal and the Pauper”. The second episode from the ninth season brought headteacher Seymour Skinner to the fore, revealing that Skinner was not who we were lead to believe, but in fact was an imposter called Armin Tamzarian. Believing the actual Skinner to be dead, he assumed his identity and had happily got away with it for 20 years. By the end, it is all supposed to go back to normal as the town prefers to the fake Skinner and the genuine one who spent five years in a prison of war camp, and then in a Chinese Sweatshop, goes away. There’s supposed to be message in that probably.

Homer and family

While that may have been when the “show got stupid”, as Guardian critic Ian Jones noted, episodes would continue to falter, before season 11 when it all got consistently poor and with few to any saving graces. As the quality has dropped, so the number of celebrity voices has grown and animation become more computerised. The less said about later storylines about Marge’s boob job, Homer as a Kurt Cobain style grunge rocker, Ricky Gervais’ attempt to write a wife-swapping episode and a device that means lorries can drive themselves, the better. Joking about how bad an episode is (“Worst show ever” t-shirt”) was neither cute or clever and just insulting to a far too loyal audience.

Rather than focus on the celebrities desperate to get on a backwards moving carousel and how there are now more bad series than good ones, sometimes it is just about acknowledging the greatest don’t always know when to stop raging against the dying of the light.

And what a success it has been. Beyond its 27 primetime Emmy Awards, the Hollywood walk of fame star, the merchandising, D’oh and all the other catchphrases it spawned and its financial film success, and countless fan forums,  it can never be forgotten just how many great moments they have provided us with, and how it has inspired so many adult-oriented animated sitcoms.

For making Homer miss the canyon, getting both his arms stuck in vending machines, destroying a polygraph machine by his inept lying, and all the other incredible moments from Homer and co, thanks. Walt Disney may have said “A man should never exploit your family for business”, but when there is so much to exploit, it makes one heck of a show.

Memorable Quotes

Mr Burns: If you’re not going to come in on Friday, don’t bother coming in on Monday
Homer: Woo hoo! Four day weekend

Homer: Lord help me, I’m just not that bright

Homer: Marge? Since I’m not talking to Lisa, would you please ask her to pass me the syrup?
Marge: Dear, please pass your father the syrup, Lisa.
Lisa:  Bart, tell Dad I will only pass the syrup if it won’t be used on any meat product.
Bart:  You dunkin’ your sausages in that syrup homeboy?
Homer: Marge, tell Bart I just want to drink a nice glass of syrup like I do every morning.
Marge:  Tell him yourself, you’re ignoring Lisa, not Bart.
Homer:  Bart, thank your mother for pointing that out.
Marge:: Homer, you’re not not-talking to me and secondly I heard what you said.
Homer: Lisa, tell your mother to get off my case.
Bart:  Uhhh, dad, Lisa’s the one you’re not talking to.
Homer: Bart, go to your room.

Homer: I think I got promoted because of my motivational skills.  People are always saying they have to work harder when I’m around.

Bart: Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa.

Marge: Homer, is this how you pictured married life?
Homer: Yeah, pretty much, except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.

Homer: So I said, “Look buddy, your car was upside-down when I got here. And as for your grandmother, she shouldn’t have mouthed off like that.”

Bart: Mr Hutz, when I grow up I want to be a lawyer just like you
Lionel: (sincerely) Good for you son, if there’s one thing America needs, it’s more lawyers

Homer: Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.

Bart: What’s really amazing is this is exactly what Dad said would happen!
Lisa: Yeah, Dad was right!
Homer: I know, kids, I’m scared too!

Ned: It’s times like this I used to turn to the bible, but even the good book can’t help me now.
Homer: Why not?
Ned: I sold it to you for 7 cents

Homer: It was one of the worst days of my life when I realised I could do most things better than my father. Bart had that feeling when he was 4.

Homer: Where do you want to go?
Lisa: Anywhere that isn’t hamburgers, pizza or fried chicken.
Homer: Fine! We’ll go to Mars!”

Marge: You will find her [Selma] a man!
Homer: All right.
Marge: And not just any man.
Homer: Okay!
Marge: He should be honest, and, and caring.  And well-off.  And handsome.
Homer: Hey! Why should she have a better husband than you do!?

Cast and Awards

Dan Castellaneta as (among others) Homer Simpson, Abe Simpson, Barney Gumble, Krusty
Julie Cavner as Marge Simpson, Patty and Selma
Nancy Cartwright as (among others) Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum
Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson
Hank Azaria as (among others) Moe Syzlak, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Carl
Harry Shearer as (among others) Mr Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Lenny

Years: 1989 –
Created by: Matt Groening
Number of Series: 24 (ongoing)
Number of Episodes: 522 (ongoing)
Emmys: 27 out of 74

Seinfeld

Seinfeld main pic

In a 90s era when great US sitcoms were being produced almost conveyor belt style, the comedy trailblazer that was Seinfeld, always had that ability to stand out from the crowd.

But even 15 years after it finished, the adventures of a New York comedian and his wacky group of friends are still regularly shown, showing that true genius never dates.

Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (who left after series seven and created Curb Your Enthusiasm) and released in 1990, it has real life comic Seinfeld playing a fictionalised version of himself who tries to avoid getting involved in the chaos that surrounds him. Alongside him are his neurotic, cynical and selfish schoolfriend George (based on Larry David), his ex-girlfriend, the assertive but superficial Elaine and his extremely eccentric neighbour Kramer.

Seinfeld - Merv Griffin Show

Famously described as a show about nothing, the clever storylines included such seemingly trivial things as waiting for a restaurant reservation, an old library book, a junior mint and finding your car in the parking garage.  But each episode was carefully plotted and lying not so beneath the surface was a cavalier and outright hysterical attitude to society’s most controversial subjects.  Seinfeld not only broke the rules but rewrote them as it tackled issues including masturbation, impotence, birth control, and even the Kennedy assassination.

The imaginative concepts broke through traditions and had an astonishing amount of energy.  In the episode entitled “The Invitations”, Jerry meets a woman with whom he has a freakish amount in common.  “Now I know what I’ve been looking for all these years…myself!  I’ve been waiting for me to come along and now I’ve swept myself off my feet!” In ‘The Opposite’ George realises that going against his instincts can radically transform his life.  In ‘The Merv Griffin Show’, Kramer sets up his apartment so that visitors have to act as though they are a talk show guest.

Seinfeld - Kramer and Jerry

And boy, weren’t there some great catchphrases along the way.  “My boys can swim”, “Master of his domain”, “spongeworthy”, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”, and “These pretzels are making me thirsty” are just some of the most recognised the show produced.

But for all Seinfeld’s edgy writing it was a show that revolved around its distinctive characters.  While they couldn’t be trusted, especially George, we revelled in their spectacular failures.  Right from the start the show kept to the “no hugging, no learning” rule, which meant that the characters would happily betray each other for personal gain, constantly avoiding any kind of sentimentality.  While they nearly always got what they deserved, they refused to change their selfish ways and the cycle continued.

Seinfeld - Elaine dancing

Any sign of maturity in the characters was quickly dismissed.  The brilliance comes in making us care for characters who have no respect for each other or society’s traditions. While most other sitcoms have some if not all of their characters in cosy relationships by the end, Seinfeld showed why it just couldn’t work for their characters. George’s decision to propose to an ex-girlfriend is impulsive and done as part of a deal with Jerry.  Elaine once ended a relationship over a guy’s limited use of exclamation marks.  “You gotta see the baby” is the remark that best sums up the gang’s attitude to having children.

Frasier may have set records by winning 37 Emmys, and Friends was always more popular amongst the younger demographic, but it was Seinfeld that really took comedy to new levels.  Never as popular in the UK for reasons including lack of promotion and poor time scheduling, it nevertheless remained popular worldwide. In American culture it still continued to amaze audiences, even after the show took a slightly more outlandish route in the last two series.

Seinfeld - George trying to look cool

When it was announced that the show would end after 180 episodes, it made the front page of all the national newspapers, including the cover of Time magazine.  In 2002 TV Guide voted it the greatest TV show of all time and Entertainment channel E voted it number 1 for why the 90s ruled.  Jerry Seinfeld himself made it into the Guinness Book of records by turning down a deal of $5m per episode to continue the show. To put that in perspective, Charlie Sheen, the lead star of the most viewed comedy at the time, Two and a Half Men, was offered $1.78m per episode when he left in 2010.

While later episodes of Friends and Frasier dropped in quality when allowing marriage to enter into the equation, Seinfeld went against the happy ending formula and finished before betraying its original set up.  For a show that was centred around a comedian, it knew all about perfect timing.

Memorable Quotes

Jerry: All right. How ’bout this one: let’s say you’re abducted by aliens.
George:  Fine.
Jerry: They haul you aboard the mother ship, take you back to their planet as a curiosity. Now: would you rather be in their zoo, or their circus?
George: I gotta go zoo. I feel like I could set more of my own schedule.
Jerry: But in the circus you get to ride around in the train, see the whole planet!
George:  I’m wearing a little hat, I’m jumping through fire… They’re putting their little alien heads in my mouth…
Jerry: At least it’s show business…
George: But in the zoo, you know, they might, put a woman in there with me to, uh… you know, get me to mate.
Jerry: What if she’s got no interest in you?
George: Then I’m pretty much where I am now. At least I got to take a ride on a spaceship.

Elaine: Kevin and his friends are nice people! They do good things. They read.
Jerry: I read.
Elaine: Books, Jerry.
Jerry: Oh.

Elaine: You know, men can sit through the most boring movie if there’s even the slightest possibility that a woman will take her top off.
George: So what’s your point?

George: I have a bad feeling that whenever a lesbian looks at me they think “That’s why I’m not a heterosexual.”

Jerry: Mom and pop aren’t even a mom and pop?
George: It was all an act, Jerry. They conned us, and they scored big-time!
Elaine: So, mom and pop’s plan was to move into the neighbourhood, establish trust… for 48 years, and then run off with Jerry’s sneakers?

Jerry: To a woman, sex is like the garbage man. You just take for granted the fact that any time you put some trash out on the street, a guy in a jumpsuit’s gonna come along and pick it up. But now, it’s like a garbage strike. The bags are piling up in your head. The sidewalk is blocked. Nothing’s getting through. You’re stupid.
Elaine: I don’t understand.
Jerry: Exactly.

Jerry: I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.
Priest:  And this offends you as a Jewish person?
Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian.

George: It became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat – it’s all been wrong.

Estelle Costanza: Well, I’m out there (dating).
George: No, you’re not.
Estelle Costanza: Yes I am.
George: No, you’re not! Because I’m out there, and if I see *you* out there, there’s not enough voltage in the universe to electroshock me back into coherence.

Elaine: Why don’t you park in a garage?
George: Parking at a garage is like going to a prostitute. Why pay for it when you can apply yourself, and then maybe you can get it for free.

Elaine: You know, just admitting that another man is attractive doesn’t necessarily make you a homosexual.
George: Doesn’t help.

Kramer: No, she was completely topless.
George: How good of a look did you get?
Jerry: What do you mean?
George: Say she was a criminal and you had to describe her to the police…
Jerry: They’d pick her up in about ten minutes.

Jerry: Why didn’t you tell her your code?
George: I can’t give away my code to her.
Jerry: George, you’re gonna marry this woman… probably.
George: No way. The bank clearly says “Don’t give away your code to anyone”.
Jerry: So, you’re taking relationship advice from “Chemical Bank” now?
George: Why does it always have to be “us”? Why can’t there be a little “me”? Is that so selfish?
Jerry: Actually, that’s the definition of selfish.

George: I gotta call Elaine.
Jerry: She’s out.
George: Oh, yeah. The blind date.
Jerry: They call it a setup now. I guess the blind people don’t like being associated with all those losers.

George: So I’m the bad boy. I’ve never been the bad boy before.
Jerry: Why not? You’ve been the bad employee, the bad son, the bad friend…
George: Yes, yes, yes…
Jerry: The bad fiancé, the bad dinner guest, the bad credit risk…
George: OK, the point is made.
Jerry: The bad date, the bad sport, the bad citizen…
(George leaves)
Jerry: The bad tipper.

Jerry: Well, I cashed the checks, the checks bounced, and now my Nana’s missing.
Cosmo Kramer: Well don’t look at me.
Jerry: It’s your fault.
Cosmo Kramer: My fault? Your Nana is missing because she’s been passing those bum checks all over town and she finally pissed off the wrong people.

Mr. Ross: I don’t think there’s any greater tragedy than when parents outlive their children.
George: Yes, I hope my parents die long before I do.

George: Maybe if he could see me with some of my black friends…
Jerry: That would be great except that you don’t really have any black friends.
(pauses)
Jerry: Outside of us, you don’t really have any white friends, either…

George: And as punishment, I should get to sleep with Elaine.
Jerry: That’s not punishing me, that’s punishing Elaine. And cruelly, I might add…

Kramer: I was returning some pants. I took a short cut in a subway tunnel and fell in some mud, ruining my pants. The very pants I was returning.
Elaine: I don’t understand – you were wearing the pants you were returning?
Kramer: Well, I guess I was.
Elaine: What were you going to wear home?
Kramer: Elaine, are you listening? I never even got there.

Elaine: Married women don’t “get together”. They have affairs.
George: Oh my God, an affair. That’s so adult. It’s like with stockings and martinis, and William Holden. On the other hand it probably wouldn’t cost me any money.

Cast and Awards

Jerry Seinfeld ……….. as  Jerry Seinfeld
Julia Luis Dreyfus ……….. as  Elaine Benis
Michael Richards ……….. as Cosmo Kramer
Jason Alexander ……….. as  George Costanza

Number of series: 9
Number of episodes: 180
Years: 1989 -1998

Emmys: 10 from 68
Golden Globes: 3 from 15