Tag Archives: television

Tuesday TV Testimonials #21…

Chicago Hope (1994 – 2000)

castMedical dramas are almost as much of a television staple as their legal counterparts. Chicago Hope had the dubious pleasure of debuting on the same day as that other medical juggernaut of the nineties, which was probably at least part of the reason that this one was cancelled after six seasons and the other one went on for a few more.

The writing on Chicago Hope was deep, but there was frequently a playful wink just below the surface – with a noir-inspired black and white episode, a musical episode, and one filmed as a celebrity style documentary, amongst other oddities. These diversions from the general week to week of surgery and the emergency room will come as no surprise once you understand the show is the brainchild of David E Kelley – the same guy who spawned Ally McBeal just a few years later.

The cast of Chicago Hope went through several transitions until, by the end of its run most of my favourites had fallen by the wayside, and there were only a couple of characters who had been there from the beginning. As the final season kicked in, although still good, the show’s glory days were a couple of years in the past, and its cancellation probably saved it from jumping the shark and kept its reputation intact.

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Tuesday TV Testimonials #18…

Alien Nation (1989 – 1990)

16ce8145892626b59a82e65548b1f588--movie-sequels-tv-movieFinancial difficulties for the network it was on ensured that Alien Nation – one of my favourite shows growing up – got the axe after only a single season of 22 episodes. Several years later five TV movies were produced, which continued the story, but it was never the same.

Alien Nation was set several years after an extra-terrestrial ship had crash-landed in the desert and these aliens had been integrated into society. It was another in the long line of California-based cop shows that proliferated TV at the time, but its unique selling point was its overarching sci-fi theme, and the fact that it offered a human and alien partnership in place of the usual mismatched cop premise.

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The Newcomers – as the alien race is called – have many quirks, which is the genesis of much of the show’s humour. They are bald with spotted or striped skulls; they have two hearts; they get drunk on sour milk; and the male of the species gives birth… after roughly four months.

Almost every episode of Alien Nation is a somewhat blatant social commentary on (usually) racism and (sometimes) sexism. It’s rarely subtle and never particularly clever, but these are such emotive subjects that sometimes obvious works just as well.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #10…

The Two Ronnies (1971 – 1987)

988350e77e6ef36374a6a79c9168b098The Two Ronnies (the television show) is a British institution, and the two Ronnies (Barker and Corbett) are held in high regard in their own right as well, each having appeared in and produced comedy gold sitcoms independently of the other.

But, no matter what else they did or who else they worked with in their long and storied careers, it is their joint partnership that they will be remembered for above all else. Whenever I saw them appear on screen alone, my initial thought was always to wonder when the other guy was going to show up.

The Two Ronnies was a comedy sketch show – a format that was very popular in the seventies and eighties, but that seems to have disappeared off the map completely in the last couple of generations. Whether Barker was finding humour in his love of wordplay; or Corbett was meandering his way through a simple joke in his comfortable chair; or they were both dressing up as women and singing, as at the end of many episodes, The Two Ronnies was a great example of light entertainment done right.

It’s easy to be cynical and think that they were simply thrust together because they shared a forename, but the truth is, it was obvious that they were great friends as well as partners. Their chemistry was transcendent and dare I say, very rare in the world of television. They are often compared to Morecambe and Wise – the other popular British double act of the seventies – but in my opinion Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett are the best comic team that Britain has ever produced. The Two Ronnies provided me with a lot of laughter growing up, and I miss their special kind of magic.

To end, here is one of their most well-known sketches.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #9…

My Secret Identity (1988 – 1991)

MSI03I think most people will have a fondness for certain TV shows from their younger days that they don’t really remember all that much about. It’s like a protected nostalgia. You know – shows where most of the details are gone, but there’s just something (for some reason) that your memory clings on to. My Secret Identity is one of those shows.

Other than its catchy (yet cheesy) theme, the basic premise of the show, who starred in it, and the fact that I distinctly remember enjoying my time with it, I couldn’t break down any episodes for you with any real degree of accuracy. Hell, it’s only recently that I found out it was Canadian. I could easily lie to you, hit Google, and tell you all about it, but you can do that yourself if you really want to, and besides, that would defeat the purpose.

It’s hard to believe Jerry O’Connell signed on for this kid’s show a couple of years after his turn in Stand By Me, yet here we are. He plays a teenager who trips down his basement stairs and into a photon beam which – in true comic book fashion – bestows him with super powers that he manages to find a use for in every episode.

If you have never heard of it, or just want to remind yourself of its (admittedly eighties) charm, here’s the pilot episode. It actually holds up surprisingly well.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #8…

Chuck (2007 – 2012)

chuck-tv-series-wallpaper-05Chuck had a very chequered history, and as a result is a show that a lot of people missed on its original rotation, and it was even going to be cancelled after its third season until fans stepped in and made themselves heard. The noise gave them two more years, and the show ended in a manner more befitting its stellar run, but it is still destined to be one of the forgotten gems of the last decade.

Chuck was an action comedy show about a nerdy young guy (played by Zachary Levi) who works as a computer hardware support assistant. One day he becomes exposed to an email virus which implants in his brain a program that turns him into the world’s greatest spy. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Essentially it’s a superhero show without the cape, or James Bond for those who don’t really want everything shaken or stirred.

YvonneStrahovski_Chucks04e14hdtvOf course – as is often the case with these kind of things – there is a will-they-won’t-they romance running through the entire run, and yeah, Chuck (the show) was never the same once Chuck (the character) eventually got together with Sarah, the CIA agent who had been tasked with keeping him under control… but if you’ve seen Yvonne Strahovski, you’re probably wondering why it took him so many episodes to finally get his act together. I’d have made a fool of myself within the first forty-three minutes of the opening episode.

Chuck sometimes forgot the rules of its own premise, and it often replaced what was plausible for what was funny, but it was always a joy to watch, and the nature of the show meant that it was never predictable. The cast always looked like they were having blast, and it was infectious, and I was genuinely disappointed when it came to an end. Still, there are talks about a movie that may be in the works, and Chuck has the potential to be great on the big screen.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #7…

Noel’s House Party (1991 – 1999)

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Noel Edmonds and his sidekick…

Light entertainment shows are a bit scarce these days, and the genre has been all but forgotten in recent years. It won’t mean anything to anybody outside the UK, but in the nineties, if you weren’t out on a Saturday evening, you were in watching Noel’s House Party – probably the greatest show of its kind to come out of that decade. Yes, it was that good.

It’s a difficult show to describe, because there’s really nothing like it nowadays. Broadcast live, it was a semi-scripted show, set in an old mansion in the fictional village of Crinkley Bottom (yes, the ‘Carry On’ style humour was on full display – Noel’s House Party was as English as tea and crumpets). Each hour long episode would have regular segments, including short comedy skits, prize giveaways, pranks, phone in competitions, and of course, the ever popular gunge tank. I know, it sounds awful, but it had a singular charm that has not been replicated since. Noel Edmonds was the perfect host, and the format probably would have struggled under anyone else’s control.

In later years, Mr Blobby – the silly, pink and yellow polka dot character introduced in the second series in a supporting role – began to take up more and more space on the show, and the show began to steer south as a result. Blobby even had his own chart-topping single at one point, but the less said about that travesty the better.

With all the television reboots happening these days, I’m surprised nobody has brought this one back yet, but it’s a different audience now, and unfortunately I don’t think Noel’s House Party would work in 2017. Somewhere along the line, television forgot how to be fun. It’s true: they don’t make ’em like they used to.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #6…

Midnight Caller (1988 – 1991)

This is a somewhat overlooked classic from the late eighties that I don’t expect many of you to remember. I was barely a teenager when I started watching this, but I was hooked from the start… even though it was undoubtedly aimed at a more mature demographic. Maybe it was the seedy nature and inherent darkness of the show; or more immediately, it could have been the sexy blues and jazz inspired theme.¬†Either way, I remember it fondly, and it was one of my favourites growing up.

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Gary Cole has gone on to do a lot of television and movies since this (and he had done a lot before), but Midnight Caller is where he really cut his acting chops. He played ‘The Nighthawk’ Jack Killian, a former cop who has decided to try his hand as a talk radio host, while investigating his callers’ problems on the side. Trust me – before the internet took over the world, talk radio was becoming quite the thing. In that regard it was very much a product of its place in time, and it would probably be difficult to replicate in 2017.

At just over sixty episodes, Midnight Caller didn’t have a particularly long run, and it isn’t remembered fondly or even often in TV retrospectives, but – by tackling difficult and controversial subjects – it was quite a progressive show for the sometimes sterile and saccharine eighties, and one deserving of a little more love than it gets.

And with that, for the few Midnight Caller fans still out there who will appreciate the reference, good night America… wherever you are.