Daily Archives: 2010/01/25

Muppet Monday: Take Me Down to ‘Dog City’

A couple weeks ago I decided to check out the Paley Center here in LA (formerly known as the Museum of TV & Radio).  I assumed it would be basically the same as its NY brother (and my assumption proved mostly correct, as the West Coast branch actually has a little less to offer), but with The Muppets at Disney World scheduled to screen at 4pm I figured it would be worth a trip.  Except that when I arrived I realized that I had been looking at the NY schedule, and the most attractive screening option was an old episode of the Carol Burnett Show.  So I decided to try my luck with the video archives.

With the Muppets still on the brain I resolved to see what kind of treasures the library might offer, knowing that the Museum had put together several special Jim Henson events.  Indeed, I found a series of compilations celebrating the life and work of Henson.  Amongst these was an episode of The Jim Henson Hour that featured a short film I had heard of but never seen: Dog City.

Now the Paley Center has been rendered almost obsolete by YouTube; the web offers a wider selection videos, often better in quality, on demand, and with the added benefit of being viewable from your home computer instead of on an old NTSC monitor at a video carrel in an eerily quiet and sterile media room.  Not to mention you don’t have to wear ratty, flaking headphones that have already been used by innumerable strangers (that must be a health hazard).  But there are a few items, a couple rare gems that you can’t find on YouTube or even weird Polish websites.  Dog City is one of these such rarities.

Dog City is Jim Henson’s take on film noir, but in this scenario it’s classic hard-boiled crime drama inspired by paintings of dogs playing poker.  And with main characters named Ace Yu and Bugsy them, it has no shortage of corny, Abbott and Costello style jokes.  Except that, with Henson’s Muppet alter-ego Rowlf the Dog playing the piano and breaking the fourth wall as our narrator, the jokes are delivered with a full-on wink at the audience and they actually work.  I usually get bored during musical numbers in Muppet productions, and this was no exception, but I found the rest of the movie quite enjoyable, even with the VHS quality picture and its sometimes cranky tracking.  Since the movie is almost exclusively available at the Paley Center, the best we can do here is present the trailer:

Three years later Henson would turn Dog City into a Saturday morning cartoon, “Jim Henson’s Dog City” changing Ace Yu into Ace Hart, a more standard noir detective.  Luckily, the show still offered some traditional “real world” Muppets, as Dog City is animated by Eliot, a Muppet German Shepherd, and his friends and neighbors serve as inspiration for the animated canines.

So while the Paley Center has become a bit of a ghost town, made nearly irrelevant by the Internet, it can still be worth a visit, if only for that one special show.

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Filed under Local Flavor, Muppet Mondays, Muppets, Nostalgia Corner

Monday Friday Nostalgia Corner: Hanx For the Memories

I wasn’t able to post to Nostalgia Corner last Friday because my day was just NUTS (okay, so my mom was visiting and I spent my scant free time writing about The Office clip show)!  So here’s a belated but still relevant edition.

As we all know (and have probably watched) by now Conan O’Brien closed out his tenure as host of the Tonight Show last Friday with guests Will Ferrell, Neil Young and Tom Hanks.  Vulture already noted that Hanks, a frequent late night visitor and guest on Conan’s second Tonight Show, also holds the distinction of appearing on David Letterman’s last show as host of Late Night. But I would like to focus less on Hanks’ propensity for appearing on sign-offs, but rather on his relationship with Conan O’Brien.  Conan often still seems like the young guy, the gawky, redheaded kid, but the truth his he’s being holding court in late night for 17 years, and he’s actually known Hanks for over 20 years, as O’Brien was a writer on SNL in the late 80s when Hanks was the go-to host (hosting five times in five years, on pace at the time to shatter all hosting records).  They even discussed this on the show last Friday, with Hanks revealing that he called Conan and his fellow writers Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel the “boiler-room boys.”  And the two sketches that Hanks is probably most associated with – “Mr. Short-Term Memory” & the “Girl Watchers” – were written by O’Brien, and Conan even appears in Hanks’ most memorable monologue “The Five Timer’s Club” (although Conan identifies himself as “Sean”).  But, for today, we’re going to highlight Hanks’ monologue from his third hosting stint in October of 1988, a bit that includes Conan’s first appearance on SNL (in denim vest!).  The ties that bind:

It’s true, Tom Hanks is the nicest guy in Hollywood.  Maybe in any wood.  And possibly the funniest.  Chris Rock once said that if Hanks had “grown up with less education, he’d be the greatest comedian who ever lived,” and I believe it.  I think it’s high that time Hanks attached himself to a straight-up comedy and showed these kids how it’s done (Bosom Buddies: The Movie???).

Bonus viewing: Conan lauding Hanks on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

Bonus social networking: follow Hanx on Twitter.

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Filed under Buffy & Hildegarde, Nostalgia Corner, Saturday Night Live, Talkies

Michael Ian Black Does Understand

If there was one comedian/mid-level celebrity whose career I’d like to emulate it would probably be Michael Ian Black (okay, there’s a laundry list of comedian/mid-level celebrities who careers I’d like to emulate, and an even longer list of A-list celebrities whose resumes I wouldn’t mind having.  But there are few people out there who I admire and appreciate at the level of Michael Ian Black.  One of the reasons I like Mr. Black so much is because, obviously, he’s as funny and smart as anyone else out there (if his work in I ♥ the [Insert Decade] didn’t convince you of that, check out his stand-up album I Am A Wonderful Man, an excellent performance from someone who is not known as a stand-up comedian).  But, beyond his humor, I especially appreciate the fact that he has the courage to say or write just about anything, the best examples of which are found on his Twitter feed, where he makes fun of everyone and everything from Asians to his kids to his wife cutting off the tip of her finger to himself.  Often times I’ll find myself wanting to tweet something potentially offensive, and I don’t do so because I fear that not everyone will get the joke; sarcasm and satire sometimes don’t play so well in less than 140 characters.  But Black has been able to pull that off, so much so that he’s participated in several Twitter fundraisers in which for a small donation he’ll make fun of you mercilessly, usually mocking your Twitter name or criticizing your photo.  He has created this persona of being an arrogant, insensitive asshole (again, refer to the name of his comedy album), which is a weird achievement to want to replicate, but it seems clear to me that it’s just a put-on.  It might be an extension of the real Michael Ian Black, but, if so, it’s a huge exaggeration.  I mean, he lives in Connecticut with his wife and kids (who he appears to loathe, if his tweets are to be believed), so how terrible can he really be?

Amidst this backdrop of bombastic, often crude, tweets and blog posts it was surprising that Black received the most backlash for a tweet he composed on Friday night to commemorate Conan O’Brien’s last night as host of The Tonight Show:

Typical trenchant, insightful, slightly dickish Michael Ian Black commentary.  But out of all his tweets this one caused the most commotion (although, as you can see, it was retweeted 100+ followers, so I guess not everyone was outraged).  It was a joke, but like many of his jokes, he had a point, a good point.  Which is another aspect of MIB I appreciate: his candor.  He’s a fan of Conan too, but the truth is Conan fans didn’t turn out in droves until these last two weeks, when it didn’t matter anymore.

So, to clarify his point, Black knew he needed more words than Twitter would allow, so he took to his blog (and spared us from a full on tweet procession), and exemplified another quality I admire: intelligence.  He composed his actual, and, as he noted, “unfunny” thoughts on the Conan situation, comparing Conan to Sally Fields in Norma Rae and asking “how did a Harvard-educated, multi-millionaire late night talk show host magically transmogrify into a guy who got laid off at the local car plant?”  Now I’ve basically been glued to the computer the last two weeks reading every update on the late night wars and watching every relevant monologue the night before, and I’ve even contributed my own thoughts, but Black does have a point.  In the end, it’s just millionaires playing in the sandbox, and Conan doesn’t really represent the oppressed, jobless masses.  In his essay, Black puts aside the sarcasm and the deadpan humor, presenting refreshing clarity about the whole thing.  I’m not sure I’ve read a better breakdown on the skirmish.  Despite the working title of his latest TV show, Michael Ian Black does understand.  A lot better than most of us.

Bonus: How I once gave Michael Ian Black unsolicited career advice. Sorry!

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Filed under Interweb, Other people's stuff, Talkies, The State