A Visit to Where Everybody Knows Your Name

29-Oct-10 3:10 PM by
Filed under Potpourri, Television; 3 comments.

The comedic television show Cheers left a legacy of not just 28 Emmy Awards but also of a place "where everybody knows your name": a simple bar in Boston, populated by a variety of memorable characters and their antics. When founding cast member Shelley Long first stepped foot on the show's set, she found herself transported to a bar she'd visited in Boston. Sure enough, the faux bar was modeled after an actual one: the Bull & Finch at 84 Beacon Street, on the north border of the Boston Common.

The pub rechristened itself Cheers in 2001, to capitalize on the success of the show. Its owner opened another location in nearby Faneuil Hall, built to closely resemble the television's set, as most Bostonians know by now that the original Bull & Finch has a dramatically different layout from its more popular fictional sibling. Fortunately, my guests for lunch were not like most Bostonians: with four Cheers fans from Melbourne, Australia, and my Missourian girlfriend who'd never seen the show, I figured the pub would be a good place for a quick bite to eat en route to the airport.

Cheers Boston

This sign, seen at the opening of every episode of Cheers, greets visitors to the former Bull & Finch.

We arrived around 12:30 PM on a beautiful Saturday in early October, expecting a long wait for a table at this busy tourist destination. Buzzer in hand, we milled about the top of the stairs that led to the rathskeller, taking turns posing in front of the exterior used in the show's opening shot. After only 15 minutes — half the time the maitre'd had estimated — we were directed to make our way to the rear of the restaurant to the "Back Room." My traveling companions had several unwieldy suitcases with them that made this navigation a chore, but though they surprised our server, she quickly collected herself and showed us to a staff room where the bags could be left while we ate.

Like the layout, the bar's atmosphere was also unique from that of the show. Our corner booth had intimate lighting, but the noisy atmosphere of other diners close enough to touch and several widescreen televisions sometimes made it difficult to be heard. The room was decorated with local mementos, referencing everything from pilgrims to Celtics but with few appearances by Sam Malone, Coach, or its other televised employees.


Frances Reid, of Days of Our Lives, Passes Way

08-Feb-10 2:49 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on Frances Reid, of Days of Our Lives, Passes Way

It is with no small degree of sadness that I report the passing of Frances Reid, the last remaining original cast member of the daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives.

I was a Days fan for almost twenty years and enjoyed the continuity of familiar names and faces it provided. None were as constant a presence as Alice and Tom Horton, placed by Frances Reid and Macdonald Carey. It's hard for me to say I grew up with Days of Our Lives, given the rapid aging that so many of its younger characters underwent, but Tom and Alice always seemed so innocent compared to their dark and mysterious neighbors. Sure, there was that time it turned out their marriage was illegitimate, and in indignation, she banished her ersatz husband to the couch — but that was no result of scheming on either spouse's part. They always did their best to be kind and helpful to each other and their loved ones, weathering the storms of the Kiriakis and DiMera families, age, and fate. Even after Mrs. Reid suffered a real-life stroke twenty years ago, she recovered and insisted on returning to the show.

When Macdonald Carey passed away in 1994, his voiceover continued to be heard in the show's opening, maintaining a sense of the duo's involvement in the continuing complications of life in Salem. Although Frances Reid last appeared on the show in 2007, her passing marks the end of an era for the beleaguered show. Though perhaps sentimental, I'd like to share this tribute to Frances Reid, one of several uploaded to YouTube in the past week:

Days of Our Lives' cast members have also offered their own remembrances of this starring lady, in which Deidre Hall (Marlena Evans) offers a different side to the grandmotherly one seen above.

(Hat tips to Dead or Alive? and Nawal A.J.)

Heroes Redux

12-Oct-08 11:23 AM by
Filed under Television; 2 comments.

Between 8 PM Friday night and 1 AM Sunday morning, I watched the entire second season of Heroes. The writers' strike abbreviated this season to only 11 episodes, down 23 from the show's launch — otherwise my marathon would've been far more demanding. Though I liked both seasons, I can see why some fans were disappointed with the follow-up to the blockbuster debut season. Here are my thoughts (and spoilers)…

Carry On Wayward Man

27-Dec-07 7:00 PM by
Filed under Television; Comments Off on Carry On Wayward Man

My siblings and I don't have many television viewing habits in common — and not only because I cancelled my service eight years ago. So I was surprised recently to receive this email from my oldest brother:

I know you don't watch TV per se, but you might find this past Monday night's NBC show Journeyman quite interesting. You can log onto NBC.com and watch previous episodes, commercial free

I don't know if perhaps he was familiar with my taste for Quantum Leap, but I agreed that Journeyman, along with Pushing Daisies and Reaper, would be shows I'd be watching this season, if I were able. (NBC.com's quality doesn't compare to a 36" TV with 5.1 surround sound!) But since I get all my shows, like Heroes (another interest we discovered we share), on DVD, it'll be awhile yet before I can watch this variation on The Time Traveler's Wife (coming soon to a theater near you).

Unfortunately, I was the one to break the bad news when I quoted to him from Wikipedia:

The initial order from the network was for 13 episodes, all of which were produced prior to the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike by screenwriters. However, the series suffered from low ratings, and NBC allowed its option for a full season order to lapse by the 2007-12-11 deadline for renewal. According to trade reports, such an action effectively means a series has been cancelled. The final episode of Journeyman aired on Wednesday, 2007-12-19.

But I was quick to point out the variety of precedents that suggest no show's death is final. Family Guy was cancelled twice but came back based on strong DVD sales. Sliders and Buffy switched networks, with the latter written to a series conclusion, should the show not survive the transition to a new network. Firefly came back as the feature-length Serenity, while Futurama and ReBoot both received direct-to-DVD movies.

So though Journeyman's travels appear over for now, there's always hope for the future… but should this truly be the end, at least picking up the complete series on DVD ought to be a cheap affair. In the meantime, we have the time-travel series Life on Mars to look forward to, along with news that Early Edition is finally coming to DVD. Good things come to those who wait!

Heroes for One Season

17-Oct-07 5:37 PM by
Filed under Television; 6 comments.

In the course of the last six days, I watched all 23 episodes composing the first season of Heroes. It was a perfect application of the DVD medium: uninterrupted, commercial-free broadcast of a continuous narrative with no waiting. It was difficult for me to ever turn the television off, as the story never disengaged its audience long enough to warrant such a break.

It's true that perhaps this series about ordinary people who discover they can do extraordinary things may be unoriginal; in comic book format, we've see similar powers in the X-Men, and on television, it's been done by The 4400. I'm not familiar enough with those efforts to say how Heroes stacks up, but I definitely enjoyed this particular take. I appreciated that it was set in a modern, everyday world, free of aliens and mysticism, while still incorporating the staples of science fiction, such as genetics, time travel, and samurai.

Having engorged myself on a half-year of story in less than a week, it's almost dizzying all the details and character development I've witnessed. (I usually hate it when bad guys turn good, as it leaves me with undirected angst — but they handled this one well.) Though I didn't find the depth and breadth hard to follow, I did think it unlikely that all these disparate threads would weave together. I'm willing to chalk it up to the "destiny" they were always talking about — even if all the secrets and misunderstandings between the characters sometimes made it seem like a soap opera.

There were so many characters that I felt their specialness was diminished by the frequency with which they met people like them; what are the odds that everyone in the Petrelli and Sanders families would empowered? (Must be genetic.) Yet I'll contradict myself by saying Mohinder was the least interesting character. Except as "guardian of the list", I don't feel he played a very important role in bringing the characters together or providing them with vital information. Though an interesting person, he was, in more ways than one, underpowered.

The tapestry of which he was a part was a rich one, and anyone looking to further explore its mythos need not look far. Many of the show's key people and places have their own Web sites, most notably Hiro's father documenting the legend of Tazeko Kensei. NBC has also produced nearly five dozen short comic books detailing the background and side events of the show, available for download as free PDFs. (Or pick them up as a single $30 hardcover this November 7th) I'll be consuming these shortly, as it probably won't be until this time next August that I'll get to watch season 2. That gives me a full year to contemplate the many questions with which the final episode left me:


From Zero to Heroes

12-Oct-07 5:07 PM by
Filed under Television; 3 comments.

Just a brief post to report I finally saw the first two episodes of Heroes last night. My first thoughts: OMG!!

I watch a lot of first episodes (Deadwood, Angel, Joan of Arcadia), just to get the feel for a series before dismissing it. Not the case here — nothing has ever hooked me like Heroes. I had actually seen the pilot on NBC.com back in January, so what I watched last night were the unaired pilot and deleted scenes; a fast-forward review of the actual pilot; and the second episode. It's fascinating to see all the different threads, both actual and deleted, all at this point unresolved. The characters and powers, and the reactions of former to latter, are intricate and diverse, and I can't wait to see what happens next. I almost wish I'd waited until tonight, so that I could stay up late and watch more! Fortunately, I can still do that. No spoilers, please!

See also:

Hung Ogre

30-May-07 4:40 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

I made my first trip to a "regular" (non-drive-in, non-IMAX) theater this weekend to see Shrek the Third. I'd seen each of the first two films only once (in English, anyway — don't ask) and was surprised at how well the second movie lived up to the standard of its predecessor. I thought the balance of kiddie and adult humor that creatively employed a variety of pop culture references created an attractive package for all audiences.

I guess Dreamworks was pushing their luck hoping for a three-peat. Oddly, I had exactly the opposite interpretation as David Ansen, who wrote, "It's a movie at war with itself: a kiddie movie that doesn't really want to be one." Though there were more than enough laughable moments for me to call this an enjoyable film, I felt it fell short of the Shrek and Shrek 2 by lacking a certain sophistication to its humor and a significance to its plot elements. For examples: in Shrek 2, Puss in Boots was introduced as a major character, and the connection between Prince Charming and the fairy godmother was developed slowly and naturally. In Shrek the Third, the character Merlin is almost trivial, as is the swapping of Puss and Donkey's bodies. And we get the gist of the plot far too soon, leaving no surprises for later.

But regardless of any story quibbles, Shrek the Third is a visual triumph. I've previously commented that CGI has become so commonplace that it's no longer a gimmick. That's not to say its quality is on par with hand-drawn animation; the two styles are distinctly unique, and I lament that the latter is falling by the wayside. But the level of detail possible in CGI is simply astounding. There were times I was marvelling not necessarily at the main action, but at Artie's hair, or Rapunzel's eyes. These minor elements don't add to the story, but they do make the the land of Far, Far Away seem not so distant.

Overall, an enjoyable film when taken on its own. Maybe films just don't stand up well to unplanned trilogies, as was the case with X-Men 3 and Terminator 3, both which fell far short of their earlier entries. Even earlier this month was Spider-Man 3, which was good but not great (though I hear Pirates 3 is better than its immediate predecessor). Leave it to Hollywood to try giving us too much of a good thing…

Nonetheless, if three films still isn't enough for you, fear not: our heroic party will be returning in a variety of formats. Look for the fourth film (possibly a prequel) in 2010 alongside a Puss spinoff, The Story of an Ogre Killer. And more immediately, the holiday special Shrek the Halls will be on TV this calendar year. You will believe donkeys can fly!

What Makes Heroes Tick?

06-May-07 5:48 PM by
Filed under Television; 12 comments.

Two great superhero shows are coming to DVD in August: on August 28th, Season 1 of Heroes; and on August 7th, Season 2 of The Tick.

I love The Tick (the cartoon, not the live series — ugh), finding its dry wit comparable to Earthworm Jim or Freakazoid, and thought the Season 1 DVD set was one of my best video purchases of 2006. Heroes I've seen only the pilot of on NBC's Web site (per an earlier comment on this blog) and was intrigued enough to warrant interest in the DVD's release.

It should be a great way to end the summer and segue into a new season of superhero television!

See also: