Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spectacularly Bad TV: Episode #2

There is TV, and there is bad TV, and then there is spectacularly bad TV. Sometimes this is TV that is so spectacularly bad, that it has come full circle, and is actually good again. Other times, it's just plain bad. Spectacularly bad. Well, it is this spectacularly bad TV for which we are here today. This is the first in a series that will explore the worst of broadcast history, the most mind-blowingly ridiculous and utterly unexplainable in all of television programming. In each episode we will take a look at five random TV shows that will most certainly make you wonder what the hell they were thinking. So, without further ado, on with the show.

Cavemen - Let's make a TV sit-com! Step one: let's take a series of witty commercials for an insurance company, and turn them into a half hour situation comedy. Intriguing, and possibly rather daring as well, but would it ever work? Let's move on to the next step and find out (as if you haven't already figured out how this is going to end). Let's see, step two: let's not make the show even remotely funny. Not one bit. Um, I think one of these steps is off. Seriously though, this ABC series did have an interesting premise - placing unevolved cavemen in with the rest of modern society. Yeah, it came from a TV commercial, but really, I do think under better circumstances, it could have been a smart and funny show. There was more than ample room for social satire here - a very promising premise indeed. Sadly enough though, this is one of the most unfunny shows I have ever seen. It's not that the thing was bad. At least not bad in the sense of Joanie Loves Chachi bad. It certainly wasn't Small Wonder bad, or ALF bad. It definitely wasn't Homeboys in Outer Space bad. It wasn't bad so much as it was just boring. Damn boring. Granted there are a handful of humourous moments in the six episodes which aired (another seven episodes went unaired after cancellation) but these moments are way too few and way too far between, for anyone's good. And to think, the series was the brainchild of Joe Lawson, who would go on to be a writer and producer on Modern Family, one of the best and wittiest sit-coms in television history.

Overall, Cavemen suffered the same fate as many an SNL sketch-turned-motion picture. Yeah, on Saturday Night Live, a five to seven minute sketch may be damn funny, but when one tries to stretch those five to seven minutes out to an hour and  a half or more, we get things like The Coneheads movie or A Night at the Roxbury. Yeah, I know there are successes coming from SNL as well (Blues Brothers, Wayne's World) but these are the oh so vast minority. Most of these sketch-turned-movies, even the ones that are funny in short spurts, are disasters on the big screen. So, just like Stuart Saves His Family or Ladies Man, even though they were funny in sketch form, were just godawful in long form, Cavemen were funny in their short commercial spots, but in their half hour run...alas, not so much. And I haven't even mentioned the anger of the supposed racism in the never-aired pilot episode (cavemen being used as cheap metaphor for the African American in modern society, yada yada) and the writers and producers rushing to change the show enough for their actual TV debut. But to steer away from the terribleness of it all, there is one interesting bit of trivia that goes along with this show - and you know you love some bits of trivia. Comedienne Stephanie Courtney had a small role on the show. Miss Courtney is better known these days as Flo, the commercial spokesperson for Progressive Insurance, a competitor of the Cavemen's own Geico. But enough of this, let's move on to a show that is truly spectacularly bad...and quite spectacularly good as well.

Cop Rock - This is one of those shows that are so so soooo bad, that they are actually quite a lot of fun. This Steven Bochco created musical cop drama, which aired for eleven weeks in 1990, was terrifically terrible, awesomely awful, brilliantly bad. I gotta admit, I liked the show, but since it is so panned (nearly universally banned actually) and is as hated and despised as a gay couple at a Tea Party picnic, I have included it in this episode of Spectacularly Bad TV. But oh oh oh, it is so so sooo spectacularly good - or at least spectacularly what-the-hell-were-they-thinking fun. Getting down to basics, Cop Rock is Hill Street Blues done as a musical. Bochco, who also created Hill Street Blues by the by (and would go on to give us NYPD Blue a few years after this), must have decided there just wasn't enough singing and dancing in his hit cop show. And let's face facts, there really wasn't enough singing and dancing in Hill Street Blues. So, Bochco took his tough guy cop show and blended it with Fame, and came up with this ill-fated show. I think the best part of it all (other than the actual singing and dancing, of course) is how the show is set up. This isn't your typical musical. This is a serious cop drama, with all the typical procedural cop show tricks and tropes, and all the expected guts and gore, and disturbing crime scene scenarios, only now we add in singing and dancing as well. Great stuff. So bad, it is so so good. So good, it's a shame to include it here. Hey, and we get a still unknown Sheryl Crow popping up in the final episode as well. Howzabout that!?

Pink Lady and Jeff - This 1980 variety show is a strange creature, indeed. It could actually be the strangest of all the variety shows. Not the dumbest or the worst, mind you - after all, The Brady Bunch Hour does exist - but very possibly the strangest. The premise is a show hosted by Japanese pop singing duo Pink Lady and very whitebread American comic, Jeff Altman. There would be music and comedy sketches and guest stars and all the typical variety show jazz. The strange thing is that neither of the Pink Ladies spoke any English. Perhaps the girls spoke a handful of words (though they did sing their songs in English, this was only memorization of the lyrics) but the running gag on the show was the fact that they knew only a modicum of broken English. Not that this gag ran all that long, since the show only lasted six episodes, the last of which never even aired. The show was produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, the minds behind such classic cheezy kid's programming as H.R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville, Dr. Shrinker, and Land of the Lost (anyone of my generation will fondly remember these and many more from their childhood), and as with their aforementioned Brady Bunch Hour variety show (yeah, they were behind that too), the final result was just a big ole steaming pile of weird. But I must admit, I actually do remember this show rather fondly as well. Granted, it only aired five times, but the show did have videos by the likes of Blondie and Cheap Trick (back when videos were still a very new thing), and guest stars such as Roy Orbison and Sid Ceasar and Jerry Lewis and Hugh Hefner and Florence Henderson - all paid extremely well in order to agree to appear on a dying genre like the variety show. At the end of each show, the bikini-clad Pink Ladies would pull co-host Jeff Altman, tuxedo-clad himself, into the stage hot tub. Maybe that's the reason Hugh Hefner did the show. I know my thirteen year old self sure enjoyed it.

The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer - One could look at this 1998 UPN series as the comedic companion piece to last year's Oscar winning slave drama, 12 Years a Slave. Yeah, okay...maybe not, but if this show were to air this season, it would most definitely be seen as a parody of the Oscar winner. There was a slew of controversy over this show though, and most of it due to this basically being a comedy about a black English nobleman who is kidnapped into slavery, before eventually becoming the house butler, a la Benson, in the White House of Abraham Lincoln. Before the show even aired, groups such as the NAACP protested its existence. These protests apparently worked, as the episode in question, a pilot seen by only a few (but apparently the correct few), was never aired, in it's place a less controversial episode was aired on October 5th. This episode, by the by, involved the titular Mr. Pfeiffer (and no, the P is not silent) and his humpbacked lackey searching for hidden treasure in the White House, while President Lincoln (played by Dann Florek between his gigs on Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) has an "on-line" affair via the telegraph. Much like the controversial Heil Honey, I'm Home (a 1950's-esque take on Hitler in suburbia), this show had great potential as social and political satire (there was an attempt to lampoon the Clinton Administration at the time), but said potential was wasted, mainly due to this being just an incredibly stupid, and incredibly stereotypical comedy. The show aired only four of the nine episodes that were filmed, before being fatefully pulled from the UPN line-up.

Blansky's Beauties - This show was just dumb dumb dumb, but it does intrigue many a TV scholar (myself included - and yeah, I just called myself a TV scholar) due to it's intertwining history with one TV's most beloved sit-coms, Happy Days. The ABC show, which ran for thirteen episodes as a midseason replacement in 1977, is about Nancy Blansky (played with the usual puckish aplomb by Nancy Walker), a Vegas showbiz vet and den mother to a bevy of Vegas showgirls. Now, technically, by the oh so slightest of margins, this is a spin-off of the aforementioned Happy Days. In a special anniversary clip show in season 4, Walker's Blansky guest starred as a cousin of Howard Cunningham. A week later Blansky's Beauties began. Not exactly the stuff spin-offs are made of, but there ya go. Now the strange thing was that the Happy Days episode she guested on was sent around 1957, while Blansky's Beauties took place in the then contemporary year of 1977, but there seems to be no real differentiation between the two decades.

In one episode, Roz Kelly guests as Pinky Tuscadero, Fonzie's on-again off-again girl on Happy Days, seemingly not aging a day in the twenty year gap between the show settings. Later, Pat Morita was added to the cast as Arnold, his character from Happy Days, and he too seems to have not aged even a day in the two decades since he was last seen running Arnold's Drive-In. Man, they must have had some pretty heady anti-aging cream back in the day. Have I mentioned this show is dumb dumb dumb? Anyhoo, other precarious tie-ins with Happy Days, include Eddie Mekka playing the younger cousin of his Big Ragoo character from Laverne & Shirley, a real spin-off of Happy Days (though another one that plays a bit fast and loose with it's continuity to it's parent show), as well as cast members Lynda Goodfriend and Scott Baio, both of whom would join the Happy Days cast shortly after the cancellation of Blansky's Beauties. So, other than these intriguing Happy Days tie-ins, Blansky's Beauties was a real D-U-D, dud. Well, that's enough of all this jazz. Next time I'll be back with some more spectacularly bad TV. Perhaps even taking a look at a ridiculously bad time travel show from the creator of Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. And maybe a look at some reality TV. I know, that genre is pretty much 99% bad, so which show would stand out enough to be the most spectacularly bad of the already spectacularly bad? I guess you'll just have to wait to find out. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, this was fun and interesting to read -- a recap of so many shows. The cavemen commercial turned TV show, I was never crazy about the idea, maybe just me. Enjoyed reading this. It dawned on me I don't watch nowhere near enough television.
    Silvia @
    SilviaWrites

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  2. Thanx for stopping by Miss Villalobos. Always nice to see new faces 'round these parts.

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