Monday, April 27, 2009

Bea Arthur dies

The very funny lady died at 86 on Saturday. She was probably best known for her role in The Golden Girls, but I remember her as Archie Bunkers' liberal cousin Maude in the old All In the Family TV series. We first saw her in the episode when she came to take care of the Bunkers when everyone was sick with the flu:

She was such a hit in All In the Family that she got her own spinoff sitcom out of it, simply called Maude, which took place in the Manhattan suburb of Tuckahoe, NY (where I lived until last August. I never bumped into Maude.). Then, of course, she went on to The Golden Girls which also starred Betty White and Rue McClanahan.

Friday, April 17, 2009

11 years and the finale still sucks

Fox 5, which runs Seinfeld repeats in New York at 7:30 weeknights, last night once again aired the final episode. I caught part of it, but really, I can't watch this episode anymore for a couple of reasons: 1) they play it too often, 2) it still sucks.

Originally aired by NBC on May 14, 1998 (the day Frank Sinatra died), the episode was watched by 76 million viewers (58 percent of all viewers that night), and was the third most watched finale in TV history behind M*A*S*H (don't even get me started on that finale. It took me 20 years to get over that fiasco. Guess I have another 9 years to go for Seinfeld) and Cheers.

The challenge of writing a finale is, How do you make it good? If a show has been on a long time, you've basically milked it dry of ideas. It's not as good anymore. Writers, producers, directors, even actors have come and gone. The show is running on fumes. How do you recapture the original spark, get the edge back? Sadly, most shows can't. For a show as great and groundbreaking as Seinfeld, it was even more of a challenge. That's what co-creator Larry David faced when he sat down to write the final episode.

The finale's basic plot has the four central characters on a private NBC jet headed for Paris. Kramer, who has water in his ear, hops up and down to get it out, which somehow causes engine trouble, forcing the plane to make an unexpected stop in a small town in Massachusetts. While the plane is being repaired, the four take to the streets, and witness an obese man getting carjacked. Instead of helping him, they make jokes and video tape the crime. They are then arrested for violating a Good Samaritan law, and soon are put on trial. The joke being that they were charged for "doing nothing," when that was the whole idea of the show, a sitcom about "nothing." Sound funny yet?

During the trial, seemingly every minor character from throughout the series takes the stand to testify how horrible and self-centered the four are. Each character repeats his/her signature catch phrase ("You are a very bad man") as they recap how the four did them wrong. Now does it sound funny? There are also little inside jokes, like the judge being named Arthur Vandelay (a nod to Art Vandelay, George's architect alter ego). But the jokes aren't funny, and come off flat.

The trial ends with them found guilty, and sentenced to a year in jail. While they are all sitting in the jail cell together, Jerry and George have a conversation about shirt buttons, which is the way the series' first episode began.

For me, the road to the final episode was long. I was a fan of Jerry Seinfeld before the sitcom that beared his name, back when he used to appear regularly on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. When NBC gave Seinfeld a series (first called the Seinfeld Chronicles) I couldn't wait to watch it. Then in the early days of Seinfeld I saw him perform at Carnegie Hall. So I was a big fan right from the get-go.

Which all leads to the anticipation I felt for the finale. What would they do? How would it end? Would Larry David totally reinvent the concept of series finales? To my horror, I wasn't laughing, and as the clock ticked I kept hoping against hope that somehow it would turn around. I was waiting for it to get funny, or that in the very least, the end would be so fantastic and original, that the first horrible hour wouldn't matter.

I'm still waiting.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Aye Carumba! Simpsons Stamps!

Twenty years ago, a bratty little scamp named Bart and his disfunctional family saved the fledgling Fox network and made them legit. And believe it or not, the show is still going strong, and is still a cash cow for Fox.

Now it's time for The Simpsons, the longest-running primetime comedy in television history, to save the United States Post Office, who are low on cash and considering reducing their delivery days from six a week to five.

On May 7, the USPS releases their new Simpsons Stamps nationwide. They are also offering framed art of the stamps. I'm no stamp collector, but I'll be all over these. I'm going to order some of the framed art, too.

“We are emotionally moved by the Postal Service selecting us rather than making the lazy choice of someone who has benefited society,” said James L. Brooks, executive producer of The Simpsons. The USPS receives around 50,000 suggestions for stamp subjects each year, and selects around 20. My guess is they chose the Simpsons with hopes that they would generate a lot of extra revenue.

UPDATE: I just ordered the 11x22 inch framed giclée print of all five stamps. The post office is now $71.90 richer.