Five TV Tropes I Love

Since I already ran off at the mouth about five tropes I hate (with the promise of more), it’s only fair that I give the tropes I love the same treatment. As with the hated tropes, these are in no particular order because you can’t rank love.

Elaborate Schemes- If you’ve ever listened to Book ’em, Danno, you already know this. I adore elaborate schemes, the wilder the better. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to be practical. They just have to be bold. That’s why Wo Fat is one of my favorite villains. The man has a gift for theatrics. I’ve raved about his long-game frame job. But Hawaii Five-O is full of great plans and grand schemes. Elaborate plans to rob banks and steal diamonds and commit murders. There are times they border on ridiculous and unnecessary. There are times they absolutely cross that line. Sometimes they end up an absolute mess and don’t make much sense at all. None of that matters to me. A for effort. Get complicated. Get weird. I’m in.

Doppelgangers- That Wo Fat frame up included a doppelganger and that is also my joy. A doppelganger plot, regardless of what kind of show it’s on, is going to be ridiculous. Sitcoms frequently use the Prince and the Pauper set-up, sometimes literally. Davy took the place of a shy prince in order to win him the girl. Ginger’s doppelganger Eva Grub ended up on the island with the castaways and after a make-over, went back to civilization to take over Ginger’s career. Gilligan also came face to face with a spy with his face. And Mr. Howell had his own dealings with an imposter bearing his likeness. In retrospect, there were a lot of doppelgangers on Gilligan’s Island. Of course, it’s said that everyone has one. Naturally occurring doppelgangers are great; created doppelgangers are better. These happen a lot on dramas. People impossibly surgically altered to look like someone else for nefarious purposes. It’s absolutely unlikely and totally ridiculous, which makes it that much better.

Improbable Countdowns- You know the drill. There’s five minutes, two minutes, thirty seconds left before the big terrible thing happens but somehow our heroes are able to beat the clock despite the fact that they ran out of time three times over easy and we all know it. Rarely are shows able to do what needs to be done in the allotted time and that’s fine. We’re not expecting 100% accuracy here. But there are times when it’s so egregious it’s laughable and those are the one I love the most. There’s an episode of Baywatch Nights in which Mitch, Ryan, and guest character Claire have to get off a rig that’s going to explode in 90 seconds and they use half of that time sitting and dialoguing. There’s no way they got to the railing in the time they had, but thanks to the law of TV countdowns, they had time to spare. And I’m not mad about it.

It Was All a Dream- I admit this is a controversial love, but stick with me here. There’s an episode of The Golden Girls where Blanche’s husband George appears to have faked his death, meanwhile, Sonny Bono and Lyle Waggoner are pursuing Dorothy relentlessly, straight up fighting over her. It’s a wacky episode and funny as hell. And it’s not until the end that’s it’s revealed that it’s all a dream, a recurring one that Blanche has which is rooted in some unresolved feelings she has surrounding her husband’s sudden death. It’s quite bittersweet when she reveals that this dream was different because she finally got to hug her husband as she usually wakes up before then, suggesting that she’s come to terms with an aspect of her grief. So, there are times in which those dreams episodes can be well done. But they don’t have to be for me to enjoy them. Saying an entire season of Dallas was a dream just to get Patrick Duffy back on the show and therefore fucking up canon across that universe is amazing for the chaos alone and I’ll ride with it. Also, St. Elsewhere‘s series finale? Come on. Some dreams are legendary.

The Rashomon Effect- Quick refresher: this is the device of telling the same story from the viewpoint of different characters and because people tend to interpret and remember their realities differently for various reasons, it can get pretty entertaining and messy. One of my favorite instances of this is in a Mama’s Family episode actually called “Rashomama”. Thelma ends up in the hospital thanks to a cookpot to the head and Ellen, Naomi, and Eunice all give their versions of what happened, which naturally paints each teller as a saint without fault. We never do learn exactly what happened and who put Thelma in the hospital. Gilligan’s Island uses the Rashomon Effect to retell the events of an episode we’ve already seen, painting each teller as the hero when we all know that Gilligan was the one who saved them, which is a pretty unique spin. CSI: Miami did a fun version of this having Ryan, Calleigh, and Eric investigate the same murder, each coming to a different conclusion from their evidence. Naturally, Horatio straightens things out and the correct killer is caught in the end. So, give me all of the viewpoints. I won’t get bored.

I admit that my love of some of these tropes is rooted purely in my love of the ridiculous and there’s no doubt that all of these have the potential to go off the rails. But I never said they were necessarily good or that they could be (and probably are) overused. I said that I loved them.

And I do.

Rerun Junkie Guest Star–George Murdock

I mentioned George Murdock when I wrote about Don Calfa and Oliver Clark on Barney Miller. He is one of those faces that I love to see show up in my reruns because given the kind of reruns I watch, I’m pretty sure I know who he’s going to be in the context of the episode. Mr. Murdock has a knack for playing insufferable, arrogant men of authority. Obviously, he didn’t always play these sorts of characters (and it throws me off when I he doesn’t), but I’d be lying if I said that this isn’t when I like him best.

For all of his 200+ credits on IMDB, he only had a few regular or minor recurring roles on TV. He was Captain Krupnik on No Time for Sergeants; Frank Devon on It Takes a Thief; Cavanaugh on Banacek; Dr. Salik on Battlestar Galactica; Laslo Gaboy on What a Country; The 2nd Elder on The X-Files; Judge Andrew Walker on 14 episodes of Days of Our Lives (a mere blink in soap time, but I think it’s still worth a mention); and he was Lt. Ben Scanlon on Barney Miller.

Scanlon is a great example of the kind of character that Mr. Murdock had a gift for playing. Scanlon worked for internal affairs. He was a cop, so he was technically a good guy, but he spent his time trying to get Barney and the men of the 12th in trouble, so he wasn’t THAT good. He was an insufferable, gruff, irritant and you love to see him get his comeuppance.

The curious thing is that his guest spot as Master Sgt. Reville in the “Group Home” episode which also guest starred Don Calfa came after he’d already played Scanlon in one episode in the previous season. He then proceeded to play Scanlon in every subsequent appearance, including the series finale.

Though Scanlon was a pretty unlikable character in his own way, George Murdock had a challenge in playing Sgt. Reville in “Group Home”. He comes in to report a bombing threat on the recruiting station and finds himself working with Nick. Reville, a WWII vet, isn’t shy about his prejudiced dislike towards the Japanese detective. This character has the potential to be deeply unpleasant, but Mr. Murdock is able to show Reville for the joke that he is. Reville asking why anyone would want to blow up an American military instillation and Nick replying with, “Nostalgia,” is one of my favorite jokes. This might be the first time Nick has dealt with Reville, but not the first time he’s encountered an anti-Japanese bigot.

As I mentioned in the Don Calfa and Oliver Clark post, most of Mr. Murdock’s time is spent building up to the entrance of Don Calfa’s character, particularly his rather disgusting cough. He lays the groundwork for the punchline of Calfa’s character and he does so well.

When Reville leaves, Nick informs him that he also served in the army as part of the Nisei Division, which was made up almost entirely of Japanese-American men who’d been put into interment camps by the US government. There’s no great Coming-to-God moment for Reville -this is a cop comedy after all- but the joke he makes about Nick not caring who won the war has much more friendly tones for the character to leave on than what he entered with. George Murdock runs that gamut beautifully.

One of his other memorable guest spots is in a Season 3 episode of Hawaii Five-O called “The Gunrunners”. Okay, full disclosure, it’s probably only memorable to me because he’s a bit gruff, but he’s not acting like a pompous ass. He’s actually the voice of reason! I went into the episode fully expecting him to be behind the shenanigans in some capacity and…he wasn’t. He wasn’t exactly what you might call a completely good guy -he and his partner (who was behind the shenanigans) were legal arms dealers- but he was pretty good in comparison.

It seems that George Murdock frequently played law enforcement characters, graduating to judges in later years, and therefore showed up on a lot of cop shows including Mod Squad, Adam-12 and The New Adam-12, Ironside (once a season except for the last, playing different characters each time), The FBI, Police Woman, Police Story, Lanigan’s Rabbi, The Streets of San Francisco, Hill Street Blues, T.J. Hooker, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, CHiPs, McCloud, Dragnet ’89, Law & Order, and CSI.

He also showed up in plenty of legal shows including The New Perry Mason, Night Court, Judging Amy, and Eli Stone.

He privately investigated on Banyon, Longstreet, Hec Ramsey, Mannix, 77 Sunset Strip, Harry O, The Rockford Files, The New Mike Hammer and Mike Hammer Private Eye, The Law and Harry McGraw, and Scarecrow and Mrs. King; got soapy on Dynasty and General Hospital; saddled up on Rawhide, Death Valley Days, The Wild Wild West, Cimarron Strip, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke; went to war on Combat! and went wild on Tarzan; got bold on The Bold Ones: The New Doctors and The Bold Ones: The Lawyers; checked in on Ben Casey, Trapper John MD, Chicago Hope, and ER; entertained talking cars on Knight Rider and Team Knight Rider; spied on I Spy and Search; tangled with extraordinary fellas on The Invisible Man and The Six Million Dollar Man; got laughs on Bosom Buddies, Seinfeld, Dave’s World, The Nanny, Malcolm & Eddie, The Gregory Hines Show, and Just Shoot Me!; got a little ESP on The Sixth Sense and The Dead Zone; tangled with wolves on Lucan, magic on The Magician, meddling kids on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, robots on Small Wonder, the Duke Boys on The Dukes of Hazzard, and Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote; went out of this world on The Twilight Zone, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Smallville, and Torchwood; spun off on spin-offs Fish, Benson, and Lou Grant; and he even got animated on Batman: The Animated Series.

George Murdock had a knack for playing a variety of characters, but that gruff voice and demeanor lent itself so well to playing a tough, arrogant irritant that it’s hard to imagine him playing anything else, and yet he does so well.

And we’re all better for it.

Rerun Junkie Confession–I Love a Good Frame

As someone with a fondness for police shows, I’m familiar with the tropes of the genre. And I admit that I love a frame job.

In reality, people getting framed for crimes is pretty unlikely. More often, the miscarriage of justice isn’t the result of some well-orchestrated, fiendish plot; it’s because law enforcement fixates on a theory and molds the evidence to fit it.

But on television…

Typically, people on TV are framed for murder, but theft is also a frequent frame. And some of these frames can be incredibly elaborate to the point of absolutely questionable. The stretch you’d need to consider it believable would kill your hamstrings. And frankly, I don’t care. I love it. Give me your outlandish, ridiculous frame-ups. I’m in.

To be clear, I’m talking about the deliberate setting up of someone to take a fall, not someone being wrongly accused of a crime someone else did and that person letting them take the wrap. I’m looking for detailed planning targeting a specific person for a specific crime for a specific reason.

Hawaii Five-O has many great frames, but I just covered a two part episode called “Ninety Second War” for Book ’em, Danno that has a magnificent one. This frame, orchestrated by Wo Fat, is designed to merely get Steve McGarrett out of the way for a little while so his government can proceed with the testing of a nuclear weapon delivery device, basically some kind of missile. Gotta consider it high praise when an entire government sees you alone as an obstacle to their whole weapons testing business.

Anyway, Wo Fat could have just kidnapped McGarrett, tucked him away for a few days, left Five-O scrambling to look for him, and while they were distracted, his government could get on with it. But Wo Fat is a beautifully theatrical man. Instead, he spends YEARS setting up a plan that involves a surgically created doppleganger, perfect handwriting imitations, regular bank deposits in a Swiss bank account totaling up to a couple million dollars that make it look like Steve is taking bribes, and then capping it all off by manufacturing a car accident that leaves Steve alive but injured in a car with a dead mobster. All to get him out of the way for a weapons test.

It’s just…perfect. It’s so elaborate and so meticulous and so long-game and it’s only to keep Steve out of their hair for a few days, maybe a week. If he’s indisposed with clearing his name longer, great. But the whole point is that it was done for this specific time. Just amazing.

And that wasn’t even framing him for murder!

Steve McGarrett did get framed for murder at least once that I remember right off the top of my head. He was set up for murdering his girlfriend and Five-O had to work to clear him despite all of the evidence pointing to Steve.

Now that I think about it, Horatio Caine was also framed for murder on CSI: Miami. He was also set up for murdering a woman he’d been dating. Clearly, their similarities are many.

It’s not only our heroes that are getting framed. The good guys are often going to great lengths to prove that innocent people are being framed. These plots are good, but never so good that they can’t be unraveled. And they rarely rival any that are concocted against the good guys.

But that’s okay.

I never get tired of a good frame.

Book ’em, Danno–Episode 45

Book 'em Danno Podcast

Five-O is once again tackling environmental issues in “Is This Any Way to Run a Paradise?” Mild trigger warning: we’ve got a bigoted character with strong anti-Asian feelings, so gird your loins accordingly.

This is your periodic reminder that I provide trigger warnings for things that I think might be upsetting to folks so they can be better educated about the episodes and be in the right mindset to watch/listen. I know I don’t get them all, but I at least try to get the obvious ones. And even if these thing might not be upsetting to you or you might consider minor, someone else might not. I’d rather have someone skip an episode that they might come back to later rather than stop listening all together.

In other, happier news, Lewis Avery Filer returns in “Odd Man In” which means that Daniel R. Budnik returns to talk about it. Yes, Dan usually only drops in for my favorite episode of the season (and he will later in the season), but since “Odd Man In” is a sequel to “Over Fifty? Steal”, which was my favorite episode of Season 3, I had to bring Dan back. We will be talking spoilers from about 1:07:40 to 1:24:17, so consider yourself warned.

With Dan, the episode is a little longer than normal. But we have fun.

Listen on Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.

When Lewis Avery Filer shows up, you never know who he’s going to be.

lewis avery filer dolled up

Five Favorite Couples

I probably should have said “couples” because despite the Valentine’s Day proximity of this post, I’m not speaking strictly romantically. Couples come in all varieties, you know. BFFs, coworkers, even frenemies can make for a good couple.

These are just the first five faves that came to my mind and they are listed in no particular order. Please note: These are my personal faves, not the couples I think are objectively the best ever. Just in case you want to die on any hills in the comments. Make your own list.

Magnum and Higgins, Magnum PI–Obviously, I’m talking about the original 1980 series and not the 2018 reboot as the heteronormative inevitability of romantically pairing Magnum and Higgins is one of the main reasons as to why I stopped watching the latter. I’ve also discussed in depth the unconventional bromance of the the 1980 Magnum and Higgins that I find so fascinating, so I won’t rehash too much here. But it’s no secret that their elevated frenemy relationship brought something special to the series. More than just adversaries, but not hang out together friends, the way Magnum and Higgins cared for and about each other even while driving each other up ever available wall at Robin’s Nest brings a unique emotional aspect to the show that was allowed to develop over the course of the series. Maybe they wouldn’t win a traditional Best Couple contest, but they are definitely in a category of their own.

Morticia and Gomez Addams, The Addams Family–Could I have a favorite couple list without Morticia and Gomez? No. I could not. Because when it comes to romantic relationships, they are goals. Here are two people who love each other unabashedly, are passionate about and with each other, and foster a loving household on top of it all. As a couple, they’re unstoppable, above the petty squabbles and nagging of other “normal” couples. They’re a united front against the problems that face them and their family. And on the rare occasion that Morticia and Gomez do spat, their disagreement withers in the face of their love. You cannot tell me that bickering couples who barely tolerate each other are the ideal when Morticia and Gomez Addams exist.

Walter and Ryan, CSI: Miami–This show actually features several of my favorite couples (Delko and Speed, Ryan and Natalia, Calleigh and Delko in a purely platonic fashion, Horatio and Tripp), but Walter and Ryan were the first to pop into my head and for good reason. Walter has the ability to bring out the best in Ryan, which is great because Ryan has a tendency to be a prat. I love him, but sometimes I want to push him down in a mud puddle. He can be too serious, angsty, and stubborn. Walter lightens Ryan up considerably, usually by tormenting him (the floating hat is one of my faves). They’re a fun couple. But also a dedicated one. They have each other’s backs to such an extent that even a tornado couldn’t break them up. Okay, maybe physically, but the friendship emerged from the rubble stronger than ever.

Marty and Mr. Driscoll, Barney Miller–Given that these two gay characters existed in the ’70s/early 80s, it was never explicitly said if Marty and Mr. Driscoll were in a romantic relationship. It was kind of implied that they were, but Marty was also known to fall for other guys, so. Maybe they dated, but remained friends. Maybe they were friends with benefits. No matter the exact nature of their relationship, Marty and Mr. Driscoll go together like peanut butter and chocolate. A hilarious duo who can repel any of Wojo’s homophobia with a quick and witty barb, they added some rainbow charm to the 12th precinct when they stopped by. They did some heavy representation work back in the day and they did it in glorious fashion. Individually, they’re terrific (I’ve written about my love of Marty before), but as a couple, they’re dynamite.

Laverne and Shirley, Laverne and Shirley–It’s no secret that I love Lenny and Squiggy, but I wouldn’t have those two weirdos without Laverne and Shirley. Their friendship is amazing. They have two rather different personalities that both mesh and clash beautifully. These two are not above their squabbles, but they’re also each other’s biggest supporters. The hijinks can be wacky and the physical comedy hysterical, but what grounds the craziness is the emotional bond these two women share. They truly love and care about each other. Even at each other’s throats, there’s never a doubt that they’re going to kiss and make-up because the idea of one without the other doesn’t make sense. When it comes to best friends, this couple takes the cake. And probably throws it at Lenny and Squiggy.

These five favorite couples are a good start, but there are many more favorite couples to write about. And I will.

Pinky swear.

Rerun Junkie Guest Stars–Don Calfa and Oliver Clark on Barney Miller

I could (and probably should) write guest star posts about both Don Calfa and Oliver Clark, and maybe one day I will, but since it’s their work on Barney Miller that thrills me so, I figure that deserves its own post.

Don Calfa appeared on the show seven times; Oliver Clark appeared six times. Funnily enough, their paths only crossed on the show once, but it was a glorious meeting.

Don Calfa’s first appearance in Season 4 sort of set the tone for all of his appearances. He tended to play guys who were operating on their own level and as a result ended up in the 12th precinct. In “Group Home”, Mr. Calfa portrays a man who blames the military conducting experiments in the subway for his various illnesses, so he threatens to blow up a recruiting station. He’s only in the end of the episode for a few memorable moments, but considering George Murdock (who I should also write about) has spent most of the episode building up to his appearance, he makes the most of it. As explained to the police sketch artist, James Cromwell (talk about an all-star guest cast), the most memorable thing about him is his cough. And while his cough was spectacularly disgusting, truly the most memorable thing about him was his obsession with those old military experiments, including blaming them for him getting VD six times.

Another memorable arrest involves Mr. Calfa playing a formerly brilliant thief reduced to a bumbling amateur thanks to a lobotomy. While there are plenty of laughs, there’s an underlying sadness to his situation. He was made so “harmless” that he can barely function. As funny as Mr. Calfa is -and he is because his timing and delivery are impeccable- he never loses that particular thread.

A criminal inspired by the TV Guide…a robber in witness protection up to his old tricks…a displaced resident…an inventor who believes a company is stealing his inventions…Don Calfa portrayed a wide-range of oddities.

Oliver Clark’s appearances were a little more varied. He played a man swindled out of a ticket on a space shuttle (arrested for causing a disturbance when they wouldn’t honor his ticket) and a pharmaceutical employee who isn’t thrilled that the company he works for won’t market his cure for a disease because not many people are affected by it, holding the distinction of being one of the last people to be arrested by the detectives of the 12th in the series finale.

He also played a couple of sex pests, including a groping dentist and a flasher. The latter is one of my favorites of his guest spots. Mr. Clark’s character is a member of a flasher support group and he falls off the indecent exposure wagon with newest 12th precinct addition, Detective Batista (June Gable). His lawyer ends up being a fellow flasher played by Ron Feinberg, reprising his role as Mr. Farber, the flasher who attempted to kill himself via men’s room electrocution in “Snow Day”. He goes from being embarrassed about his lack of willpower to increasingly excited as the episode progresses, even going for a ride on the cell door when Battista opens it to allow him to use the men’s room. He ends up declaring that he’s going to come out of the bathroom nude, but ultimately emerges fully clothed –well as clothed as an overcoat dressed flasher can be– much to everyone’s relief and his own satisfaction. After all, wasn’t it exciting just talking about it? He’s the only one who thinks so. But it’s fun watching his almost Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde progression during the episode.

His first appearance on the show in the Season 2 episode “The Layoff” is very different from his other appearances. Mr. Clark tends to bring an almost nervous quality to most of the characters he plays on the show, however his turn as a fur thief shows him as one cool customer with an answer for everything. He’s so confident that he even makes a love connection with a fellow 12th precinct detainee played by Candy Azzara.

The one episode in which Don Calfa and Oliver Clark cross paths brings in the oddity of Mr. Calfa’s characters and the nervousness of most of Mr. Clark’s characters.

In the Season 4 episode “Hostage”, Don Calfa plays Leo Bedell, an armed robber looking at life for being a habitual criminal. He makes his one phone call to his brother Vern, played by Oliver Clark, who chooses to throw away his own life away in order to help Leo break out of the 12th precinct. Vern enters the squad room under the pretense of being Leo’s lawyer and when Leo gives the word, Vern shakily pulls a gun out of his bag. The two brothers then proceed to take everyone in the squad room, including Barney, the detectives, Levitt, Inspector Luger, a ventriloquist and his dummy, and the woman the dummy insulted, hostage, eventually locking them all in the cell.

The Bedell brothers then spend the episode trying to figure out how to escape the mess they’ve made as there are 137 uniforms downstairs. Both men are jumpy as hell, but where Leo is committed to the plan, Vern’s dedication wanes (“If you’re going to lose your enthusiasm, give me the gun.”). Ultimately, Vern decides that it’s hopeless and gives the gun to Barney (“Wrong person!”). Oliver Clark and Don Calfa don’t look very much alike, but with their interactions and their chemistry, you totally buy that they are two brothers of the non-criminal mastermind variety. They play off of each other beautifully, working that chemistry to the very end. It’s really a shame that the two men weren’t in more episodes together.

But the combined twelve episodes Don Calfa and Oliver Clark appeared in on Barney Miller are pretty good compensation.

It’s Okay! They’re the Good Guys!

It’s a common scene in a cop show.

The cops arrest someone and maybe it’s during the arrest, maybe during the interrogation, one of our guys loses his cool and gets a little rough with the suspect. And, you know what? We’re fine with that! Punk had it coming.

It’s yet another way that copaganda inures us to questionable police conduct.

We are firmly on our good guys’ side. We understand their frustration when a suspect won’t give up information or if they run and have to be chased down. These are bad guys after all. We’d lose our cool, too. Especially when some punk won’t talk and there’s a bomb about to go off or some kidnapped person’s minutes are ticking away. If our guys get a little aggressive in the pursuit of justice, it’s all good. After all…they’re the good guys. Sometimes a choke hold is necessary.

The shows are great at normalizing this. It makes sense that our cops would get a little rough while arresting a suspect, especially if they ran or were resisting. It makes sense that our cops might need to utilize a little physical persuasion during an interrogation. Lives are on the line. And besides, these are the BAD guys. Who cares if they get a little roughed up?

Except how often do we watch those arrests and those interrogations and the suspect in question turns out to NOT be the bad guy of the episode? Pretty often considering the first person arrested is seldom the culprit in an hour long police procedural. You can argue that it’s all in the pursuit of justice, but that argument doesn’t hold up against a person’s rights.

Ah, yes, those pesky rights that apply to everyone, not just the good guys. How our cops often lament how they’re forced to observe a suspect’s rights when they’d really rather smack them around.

And how often they ignore those rights and go right ahead.

We all know how much I love Horatio Caine, but the man crosses lines like he’s running a touchdown. Given that his line-crossing increases as the seasons progress, I could argue that his increasing disregard to the rights of suspects is a response to traumas he suffers over the years, but that’s a post for another day. The point is that Horatio has no problem threatening physical violence or getting outright physical with a suspect. In one episode, it’s insinuated that he beats the shit out of a pedophile for “resisting arrest”. Another insinuates he does the same to a guy who abused his girlfriend, but at that point, he was no longer even a suspect in her death. And in yet another episode, Horatio and Boa Vista get a guy in the backseat of one of the Hummers and it’s implied that they inflict some pain in order to extract information.

These three incidents are presented without any question to Horatio’s actions. Because we sympathize with him and in fact, identify with him. We’d beat the shit out of a grown man preying on teenage girls. We’d beat the shit out of a guy who was fond of DV. We’d do a little painful persuasion to get crucial information from someone already in custody.

However, we are not law enforcement. And there are very good reasons why law enforcement is not allowed to do such things.

But this is the standard for these shows. There’s no real attention brought to this sort of police violence other than mild warnings as a means of twisting the tension and providing a barrier to our good guys saving the day.

Unless they happen to be falsely accused of police brutality.

In a third season episode of CSI: Miami, Horatio is accused of police brutality and Calleigh has to clear him, which she does, of course, because in this instance Horatio hasn’t done the violence that he’s accused of.

It seems like every cop gets falsely accused at least once. Ponch and Jon. Starsky and Hutch. Reed and Malloy. It’s a rite of passage for a TV cop, like a police involved shooting. The focus of these episodes is always the same: the injustice and unfairness of our heroes being accused of brutality and how easy it is for people to make those claims. These people are only saying these things because they have an agenda. They hate the police. They’re petty. They’re either seeking retribution for getting caught committing their own illegal transgressions or trying to detract from them. Because only bad cops engage in brutality and our heroes are never bad cops.

Inevitably, like Horatio Caine, they’re cleared of any wrongdoing.

And then right back at manhandling the next week.

One cop show that didn’t really normalize police violence was Barney Miller. First of all, we didn’t see any of the arrests. We were told that the suspect had to be chased or that the suspect resisted, but it was understood that no violence ensued during these apprehensions. At least there was no apparent evidence or mention. Second of all, a preponderance of the criminals the 12th precinct dealt with where, well, harmless. There were some armed robbers and assaulters and the like, but this is a comedy. Most of the perps that the detectives arrested were of the nature of blind shoplifters and women throwing toilet seats out of the window because their husbands locked them in the bathroom and sugar addicts who fall off the wagon in hilarious fashion.

When the subject of police brutality came up in conversation, Wojo was usually the detective mentioned, particularly in the early seasons. He had a tendency to be aggressive in his arrests and it got him into trouble more than once. Inspector Luger was a great champion of police violence as that’s how things were done back in his heyday. He was painted as out of touch and his methods antiquated. The policing techniques of the 12th didn’t require rubber hoses or anyone “falling down” the stairs. Policing had evolved beyond that.

Which wasn’t an accurate reflection of reality, but it was a decent attempt at providing a counter thought to plant into people’s heads.

Police violence isn’t normal and we shouldn’t accept it as such.

Not even from our law enforcement faves.

Book ’em, Danno–Episode 44

Book 'em Danno Podcast

We’re getting mobbed in this episode! In “A Matter of Mutual Concern” there’s a mob war a’ brewin’. And in “Nine, Ten, You’re Dead”, a man uses mob resources to avenge his injured fighter.

If you watch the episodes, either before or after you listen to me ramble on about them, then be advised of a couple of minor trigger warnings. “A Matter of Mutual Concern” features some racial slurs against Asians as one of the mob bosses is particularly bigoted against them. And there is a scene in “Nine, Ten, You’re Dead” which features cockfighting. It’s brief, but it’s still there and could be upsetting for some viewers. I know I didn’t like it.

Listen on Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Here’s the message that was sent to Big Uncle in Miami. Think he gets it?

french mccoy staked

Rerun Junkie Guest Star: Vito Scotti

When it comes to talking about guest stars, you can’t have that conversation without talking about Vito Scotti. Honestly, it’s a crime that it’s taken me this long to write about him. There was a period of time in which it felt like he popped up in everything. And given how many of his 253 IMDB credits are TV guest spots, he kind of did.

For all of his TV work, he didn’t have many regular or recurring roles. He was Geppetto on the short-lived Geppetto’s Workshop and Luigi Basco on Life with Luigi in six episodes of the short-lived series, having replaced J. Carroll Naish. He also had recurring roles as Gino Mancini on To Rome with Love; Mr. Velasquez on Barefoot in the Park; and he was Captain Dominic Lopez on the first season of The Flying Nun and Captain Gaspar Formento on the second.

Being of Italian descent and working at a time when racist casting was all the rage, Mr. Scotti found himself often playing “ethnic” roles. Italians, of course, but also Latinos, Russians, Middle Easterners, Native Americans, and yes, even Asians, the most glaring example being that of the Japanese soldier who thought World War II was still raging in not one, but two episodes of Gilligan’s Island (the Rashomon episode brought him back for everyone’s versions of what happened the first time he was there). Not only is Mr. Scotti in yellow face for the role, but the character is so embarrassingly stereotypical that it’s really kind of cringe-worthy.

Thankfully, Mr. Scotti appeared in two more Gilligan’s Island episodes as a different, less offensive, more fun character better suited for his talents. Dr. Boris Balenkoff popped up in Season 2 in “The Friendly Physician” and then returned in the Season 3 episode “Ring Around Gilligan”. In the first episode, Dr. Balenkoff seems like the castaways’ savior. He transports them to his own private island, apparently rescuing them. However, Dr. Balenkoff has other plans. It seems he’s what one might consider a mad scientist and the island is his lair and he’s keen on swapping around the minds of the castaways (for example, the Skipper ends up in Mrs. Howell’s body and vice versa). The castaways are able to get away thanks to Ginger and Igor swapping selves and the Professor (in Mary Ann’s body) getting everybody back to where they belong. When the castaways leave the island, Dr. Balenkoff and Igor have been swapped into the bodies of a cat and dog.

Dr. Balenkoff obviously recovers because he’s very much himself the next time he visits the castaways. In this episode, he uses his latest machine to turn the castaways into robots in order to train them to rob a bank. Of course, since Gilligan is involved, this does not go as well as Dr. Balenkoff hopes.

One of my other favorite Vito Scotti guest spots has him playing a doctor yet again, this time of the medical variety, but still with questionable intentions. In The Monkees episode “Case of the Missing Monkee”, Peter stumbles upon a plot to kidnap a scientist, which causes Peter himself to be kidnapped. Naturally, the other three Monkees going looking for their friend at the hospital where he’s being held by Dr. Markovich and Bruno. Dr. Markovich wipes Peter’s memory so he can’t reveal the plot (I guess you can’t take the mad scientist entirely out of the man), but the remaining Monkees rescue Peter, restore his memory, and thwart Dr. Markovich’s evil scheme. It’s an all around fun and funny episode. Vito Scotti would later have a small role in The Monkees movie Head.

Mr. Scotti did manage to play other roles besides mad scientists and doctors. He appeared in Westerns like Sugarfoot, Laramie, Cheyenne, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Rifleman, Laredo, The Virginian, Daniel Boone, and Gunsmoke; got family friendly on Bachelor Father, The Real McCoys, Lassie, My Favorite Martian, Bewitched, Happy Days, Who’s the Boss, and Charles in Charge; stopped by Miami to visit The Golden Girls and its spin-off Empty Nest; hit up the big names on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, The Donna Reed Show, and The Andy Griffith Show; laughed it up on The Odd Couple and Mad About You; enlisted with Hogan’s Heroes and CPO Sharkey; privately investigated on Mike Hammer, Peter Gunn, Surfside 6, Shaft, Charlie’s Angels, Vega$, and Hart to Hart; popped up on Make Room for Daddy and Make Room for Granddaddy; checked in on Dr. Kildare and Trapper John, MD (okay so he couldn’t entirely escape doctors); found adventure with The Bionic Woman and BJ and the Bear; tangled with the law on CHiPs, Police Woman, Adam-12, Get Christie Love, and Baretta; traveled to Fantasy Island and got some Northern Exposure; hung out with Jack Lord on Stoney Burke and Hawaii Five-O, Raymond Burr on Perry Mason and Ironside, and Ross Martin on Mr. Lucky and The Wild Wild West; spied on Get Smart, The Man from UNCLE, and The Girl from UNCLE; met icons Zorro and Batman; got creepy on Thriller and The Twilight Zone; got kooky on The Addam’s Family and The Munsters; pestered Columbo six times; and his final role was on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that I’ve probably seen an unhealthy number of times.

It should be no surprise that many of the shows I listed featured Mr. Scotti more than once in various roles. They knew a good thing when they saw it and he was very much a good thing.

Vito Scotti was a frequent flyer when it came to TV guest roles and as such, it’s no trouble to catch him in one of his many appearances. His brilliant talent is always a spectacular addition to any show.

Rerun Junkie Show–The Middleman

the middle man

When Dan and I were spitballing about doing another short-lived show for Eventually Supertrain, I suggested The Middleman.

You see, back in the long long ago of the 2000s, I was LiveJournal friends with Javier Grillo-Marxuach (he was super cool and friended lots of people; I was not special), who’d been a writer on Lost, and at the time he was working on his own show based on a graphic novel he’d done with Les McClaine. Fast forward to the present day and I recently rediscovered my old LiveJournal friend on Twitter (turns out he’s still super cool and follows lots of people; I continue to be not special), which reminded me of the show.

Now, I’m pretty open about not being the biggest comic book/graphic novel fan. Not that I think they’re lesser forms of literature or anything, it’s just that for the most part, they’re not my bag. And that’s cool. But I watched The Middleman during its run mostly because I wanted to support my internet friend.

Turns out I loved it. Sadly, like most things I love, it only lasted twelve episodes. But they were twelve fabulous episodes.

The Middleman is about, well, the Middleman (Matt Keeslar), his Middle Apprentice Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales), and sassy and surly robot Ida (Mary Pat Gleason), who are all employed by a super secret organization intent on keeping the world safe from the bizarre, comic book-type evils that the general public know nothing about. To this end, Wendy keeps her job secret from her best friend and roommate Lacey Thornfield (Brit Morgan), her eventual boyfriend Tyler Ford (Brendan Hines), friend Noser (Jake Smollett), enemy Pip (Drew Tyler Bell), and fellow building resident and mostly friend even though he has a weird fixation with phallic sculpture Joe 90 (Sean Davis). The Middleman and Wendy are occasionally helped by Roxy Wasserman (Elaine Hendrix), a reformed succubus who runs a half-way house for other succubi under the guise of a fashion house, and Wendy’s boyfriend Tyler later gets a job from Manservant Neville (Mark Sheppard), the CEO of Fatboy Industries, whose logo is all over the show and which I feel would have been a bigger deal had the show continued.

The pilot episode wastes no time introducing us to the characters and the world they live in. Wendy, an artist, is making the ends meet through various temp jobs. It’s at one of these temp jobs as a receptionist for some sort of science lab that Wendy is introduced to the Middleman, who comes to save the day when one of the science experiments goes rogue. He notes how Wendy holds her own against the creature, which leads to her recruitment as the Middle Apprentice.

Obviously, Wendy can’t go into details about this temp job, which leads to some tension with her confrontational spoken word performance artists roommate/bestie Lacey. Lacey also has a different kind of tension with Wendy’s boss, one of the romantic variety. Meanwhile, Wendy apparently meets her soulmate in musician Tyler, who we find out was also considered for the job of Middle Apprentice. It looks like they’re destined to be star-crossed when Tyler gets two day amnesia, forgetting Wendy exists, but in his pursuit of regaining his memory, they’re reunited. He’s an improvement over Wendy’s initial boyfriend, who videotapes himself dumping her for his film class and whom the Middleman accurately calls a doorknob.

It’s very much a bad guy of the week show, typically with a personal life B-story. However, the two things I love about this show is that a) the bad guys are so specifically shitty and their plans are elegant in their sheer simplicity and b) something from the B story almost always plays into the A story. As I said multiple times while discussing the show with Dan, nothing is wasted.

For example, in the episode “The Manacoid Teleportation Conundrum”, Lacey urges Wendy to deal with her feelings about ex-boyfriend Ben, who’s just landed a movie deal thanks to his break-up video going viral. Much of Lacey’s advice comes from a television therapist, who later plays into the main story in a big way. And the villain in the episode? His whole motivation is to avenge his father, who died because of his own stupidity. Like I said. Specifically shitty.

The show’s universe is also rich in history and pop culture references. The Middleman is just one in a long line of Middlemen and as a result, has acquired much in the way of intel, a wide variety of weapons, and all sorts of random items. But with all of that inherited experience and an android that’s been there for generations, not even Ida knows who the Middleman works for. The mysterious organization is referred to by Middleman and Ida as O2STK…Organization Too Secret To Know.

As for the pop culture references, there are so many, it’s a challenge to catch them all. “The Clothorian Contamination Protocol” is filled with Die Hard references; “The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation” features several Ghostbusters references; “The Cursed Tuba Contingency” features a mix of references to the Titanic and to Westerns; Noser is a wealth of song lyrics; and there are Dr. Who references throughout which I never would have known if I didn’t cover this show with Dan.

With only twelve episode, the show doesn’t have a long list of guest stars, but it did land some stellar talent including Alan Smyth, Vincent M. Ward, Lance Barber; former Growing Pains and current Critical Role star Ashley Johnson; Todd Stashwick, Michael Oosterum, Stephen Sowan; 24 alum Mary Lynn Rajskub; Joey Kern, Jer Adrianne Lelliot, James Hsu; Stargate fave Eric Avari and Stargate: Atlantis fave Mark Dacascos; Cassandra Jean Amell, Gideon Emery, Lorena Gale; Eden Sher who would go on to star in another middle show, The Middle; Rob Nagle, Leland Crook; (in an unfortunate case of a terrible person being perfect in a role) Hercules vet Kevin Sorbo; Heidi Marnhout, Steve Valentine; and future Big Bang Theory regular Kevin Sussman.

As funny as this show is (and it is laugh out loud), I love the heart it has as well. It’s not just straight action and one-liners (not that there’s anything wrong with that; I love that shit, too). There’s also an emotional depth to the show, particularly when it comes to the relationships between the characters.

Obviously the main relationship is between Wendy and the Middleman. They’re boss and employee, mentor and mentee, but that all evolves into a very strong friendship and platonic bond. In a refreshing twist, there’s nothing even hinted at being romantic between them (at least in these twelve episodes; who knows what they would have done to piss me off down the road). We don’t need them to be quietly pining to smooch each other to know that they care about each other deeply. No doubt accelerated by the life or death situations they find themselves in, the Middleman and Wendy develop this really lovely relationship that’s supportive and honest, but not without its issues because they are different people. The Middleman rarely swears, drinks milk, and resorts to violence only when necessary. Wendy is pretty much the opposite. Usually the friction in their relationship comes from the two of them approaching a problem from different directions. However, in one episode, we actually see the Middleman get jealous of Wendy because she had a better training session with the great Sensei Ping (Mark Dacascos), which is especially needling given the fact that Wendy and Sensei Ping not getting along when they first met led to a whole boatload of trouble with some luchadores. Trust me. It makes sense.

But amidst the good-natured bantering and occasional bickering, we’re also gifted incredibly sweet moments between the two characters, like Wendy telling the Middleman that he’s the closest thing she’s had to a father figure since her own father disappeared under as yet unexplained circumstances. They’re also very supportive of each other and even the Middleman was there to offer violence when Wendy’s art was plagiarized.

The show also provides a solid friendship between Wendy and Lacey. I fully admit that I found Lacey a little annoying in the first few episodes, but she quickly grew on me. She’s a staunch animal rights activist and uses her confrontational spoken word artistry to challenge the people and places who don’t take that seriously. Her drive has landed her in jail numerous times, leaving Wendy to bail her out like it’s no big deal. Trust me when I say I am completely on Wendy’s side with her annoyance here. But Lacey also proves to be a loyal and supportive friend who initially struggles with Wendy’s new job, mostly around her secretive nature about it considering she’s supposed to be a temp. She eventually comes to terms with it, explaining to Wendy as she struggles to handle Tyler’s new job at Fatboy Industries, that it’s not a change of person, just a change of circumstance.

Wendy and Lacey also have a little community in the building they live in. Noser is probably the girls’ closest friend in the building and when he goes missing in one episode, Lacey drops everything to find him because Wendy is worried and is busy at work. Naturally, like most of the B plots, it intersects with the A story in a bittersweet way, at least for Lacey and the Middleman.

It’s obvious from the first time Lacey meets the Middleman that she is attracted and it seems the Middleman is as well, just a little shyly. Their paths cross multiple times thanks to Wendy until they finally find themselves in the same movie theater to see the same flick. The only ones in the theater, they have a little date until the Middleman gets called away. Their first official “date” -watching the same movie again in the same spot, this time the Middleman bringing Lacey the vegan candy the theater didn’t have- ends the same way. It turns out that the Middleman has never seen the end of the movie, so Lacey promises to watch it for him. Their budding romance is cut short, however, by Wendy. Not out of jealousy, and not entirely because it would be weird to have her roommate and best friend dating her boss. Wendy is too aware of the dangers of the job. She doesn’t want to see Lacey get hurt, either because she’s caught in the crossfire or because something happens to the Middleman.

She relents on this position later when it becomes obvious thanks to a couple of vampire puppets (trust me) that Lacey and the Middleman are truly in love. However, the Middleman chooses -at least right then- to keep his distance from Lacey.

At least they appear to get together in an alternate universe.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend at least a paragraph or two talking about what is probably my favorite character and the center of my personality vision board, Ida.

She’s an android whose programming got stuck on snarky librarian (or grumpy schoolmarm) and she dresses like fashion is something that happens to other people. In other words, she’s glorious. Ida’s not only been around forever, but she also has the benefit of not having human emotions or frailties. What she does have is one-liners and insults, which are usually directed at Wendy, whom she’s convinced is a pot smoker and is fully capable of anything as long as it’s failure. Their back and forths in an already jam packed, fast talking show stand out. But don’t think Ida reserved all of her best lines for Wendy. The Middleman is frequently on the receiving end of her barbs.

Though the relationship between Ida and the humans might look entirely antagonistic, the Middleman and yes, even Wendy, are quite fond of her. When it looks like Ida will have to be sacrificed to save the world and they’ll have to continue on Ida-less, both the Middleman and Wendy pay their respects to her…before a new Ida arrives from O2STK with the same look, wardrobe, and personality.

We also get a glimpse of an inner Ida -literally- when Wendy is shrunk in order to get into Ida’s brain (just go with me). Inside, she finds a much more demure, fashionable Ida whose wit is still just as sharp, but overall, she’s just a little softer.

With the mix of humor, action, heart, and characters, this show should have lasted a whole lot longer than twelve episodes, but 2008 slept on it. It’s rare for the first season of a show, no matter how long, not to have a miss, and The Middleman didn’t. Every episode is a banger. Could it have kept that up? Odds are no. But we were robbed of that chance to find out.

The Middleman and Wendy deserved to save the world a whole lot more.