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.

The Complicated Legacy

I had mixed feelings when Kirstie Alley passed away in December.

She was one of my birthday buddies and our first names are similar, something my mother loved to point out. I was never a big fan of Cheers, though I did watch it when I was younger, and I only watched Veronica’s Closet a little bit. When I think of her, I tend to think of her movie work first, primarily Look Who’s Talking and Summer School because we watched those flicks an ungodly number of times when I was a kid. I always enjoyed her whenever she showed up in something. I liked her.

But.

In the last several years of her life, I didn’t like her, at least not on a Twitter level. Social media exposed her as the sort of person I did not care to know. Not just the scientology, but some of her personal and political opinions were just, well, garbage.

So, it was strange for me when she passed away because while I did respect her work, I didn’t really respect her all that much as a person anymore. I was sad, but not? Somewhere closer to unaffected. Like I should have been sadder than I was given that I used to be quite fond of her. Something like that. It’s hard to explain. It was even further complicated when the people who knew her mourned her as being so kind to them and then trying to reconcile that with some of the hateful shit she said online. I realize humans are complex creatures, but damn. I shouldn’t be this twisted up about someone I only experienced, but never knew.

I think those conflicted feelings are not uncommon when it comes to actors, particularly those who play roles that we like so well, but the person playing them turns out to be not so great. There are some people who can separate the artist from the art, but for others, it’s not so simple. The revelation that the actor is some kind of nasty less-than cannot be bested by the suspension of disbelief.

The actor doesn’t have to die for that conflict to kick in either.

Take Stephen Collins for example.

I’ve talked about how good he was in Tales of the Gold Monkey. And he spent multiple seasons playing the perfect father on 7th Heaven. But the reality is that the guy is garbage of the inappropriate touching variety. I can’t speak for 7th Heaven fans, but in my own experience watching Tales of the Gold Monkey, that legacy hangs over the whole show. It’s not something I can just forget about while I’m watching.

Nor should I.

There’s is nothing wrong with me not being able to separate the art from the artist, particularly if the artist is someone who has done something so despicable. I have conflicted feelings about enjoying Tales of the Gold Monkey because of Stephen Collins’s role in the show. How I deal with that is up to me to work out.

There are some people I will never give money or attention to again because of their actions (the wizarding TERF comes to mind). Those are the easy ones. It’s the ones like Kirstie Alley that are a little more difficult for me to reconcile.

People are complicated and so are their legacies.

And, yeah, that affects their art.

Rerun Junkie Characters–Calleigh Duquense

When I watched CSI: Miami first run, I liked Calleigh Duquense, but it wasn’t until I watched the series again more recently that I really came to appreciate her. She’s a fascinating character played exquisitely by Emily Proctor and her evolution across 10 seasons of the show is equally interesting.

Calleigh Duquense is a CSI with a ballistics specialty which is a gilded invitation to a “strong woman” stereotype. A woman with the nickname “Bullet Girl” would be expected to be something of a tomboy, someone who’s stern and unemotionally tough, who eschews the “girly” things and wears a lot of denim and camo. Instead, we’re treated to a different kind of “strong woman”, one who’s bubbly and sunny and embraces the feminine and isn’t afraid to show emotions, but at the same time has excellent control over them. She’s tough without question, but she’s not what I’d call hard.

She shows up in the first episode of the series with braided pigtails and a sunny determination in the middle of a plane crash. It’s a beautiful introduction to the character. At one point in the second season, Speed says that Calleigh is entirely too cheerful. And he’s not wrong. “Cheerful” is a different direction when it comes to characters on cop dramas. They might be funny, but that humor is typically used to mask some sort of past trauma or toll the job takes on them. Everybody has a past and many times on shows like this, the characters end up leaning into the melancholy of it in order to give them depth. Calleigh doesn’t do that. She doesn’t have to.

This isn’t to say that she’s had a painless life and that she’s immune to trauma. She actually endures quite a bit during the show’s ten season run. And that does take its toll.

Calleigh is arguably at her sunshine most in the first couple of seasons, but even then she was dealing with her alcoholic father. Kenwall “Duke” Duquense isn’t a rough drunk. He doesn’t get violent. He’s not abusive. He’s usually a happy drunk, but he can be a morose one, too. Either way, taking care of him falls on Calleigh. She’s the one who scoops him up from the bar and delivers him home safe. Most of the time. A drunk driving incident leaves her dad looking at a murder charge, but he’s eventually cleared. As relieved as Calleigh is, she also takes his keys. She can’t stop him from drinking -she’s been supportive of every trip he’s made on the wagon and wants nothing more for him to stay there, but he’s a grown man who has to make his own choices- so she stops him from driving. There’s no question that she loves her father, but the man is also a challenge. It’s a great storyline that shows a different side of our tough sunshine girl.

Some of Calleigh’s bubbly personality begins to recede in the third season, and it’s understandable. First Speed, her friend and colleague, dies in a shootout, a fear realized as she’d warned him to keep his gun clean. Then her father’s DUI incident. And then her former boyfriend John Hagen ends a difficult period in his life by shooting himself in front of her in the ballistics lab. The lingering impact of that final blow drives her out of ballistics and away from her identity as bullet girl. At least for a little while. She eventually finds that you can go home again, in a sense.

Over the rest of the series, we watch as Calleigh’s accumulated experience -including two close brushes with death- matures her in the sense that her sunshine dims a little bit. It doesn’t go away entirely. She still smiles and she still makes jokes, but not as much as she used to (her teasing Walter with an eyeball hits me almost as a glimpse of the old Calleigh in a way). She becomes much more serious over time. Even her wardrobe reflects the change. She goes from wearing brighter colors to a more muted palette. The later seasons almost make me sad given how much black she wears (I acknowledge that Emily Proctor was pregnant during Season 9 so the black was more strategic then). It makes me long for the vibrant Calleigh of the early seasons.

Despite this apparent dissipation in effervescence, her experiences do sharpen certain aspects of her character. Not one given to pettiness to begin with, she outpaces almost everyone except Horatio when it comes to reason and emotional control, particularly in regards to her coworkers. She rarely flies off the handle with any of them and when she does get angry with them, you totally understand it. And even then, she’s not one for dramatics or cheap shots. It might be heated, but it’s direct. She leaves no room for misinterpretation.

Her ability to remain in control when dealing with difficult coworkers, suspects, witnesses, and situations sets her apart from the rest. While Eric and Ryan are still pouting over the revelation that Natalia was the lab mole for the FBI and is now working as a CSI, Calleigh has already reconciled that betrayal and is ready to move on. When Ryan whines about going out on a case with Natalia, Calleigh lands on Natalia’s side, giving her a vote of confidence. And when Natalia makes a mistake on a case, Calleigh helps her fix it. She gives her the consideration that the pouty boys wouldn’t until they were forced. Calleigh lives in the present.

Another episode that illustrates this skill is when Calleigh is being investigated for an off-duty shooting in which it appears her actions lead to a woman’s death. She’s distraught by this, visibly upset as she talks with Eric in the ambulance after the fact. But it’s a different story when she’s dealing with Stetler and internal affairs. She takes his insinuations that she was inebriated during the incident and basically rams it down his throat; she can’t tell him what the remaining suspect looks like, but she can describe in detail the gun he stuck in her face. She’s pissed, but she doesn’t lose it.

She also doesn’t lose it when she’s taken hostage buy a couple of shitheads who want her to help them cover up a murder. Calleigh keeps her cool, does what she can to acquiesce to their demands in order to stay alive, while also leaving a trail for her fellow CSIs to find. Her faith in her team is unshakeable and so is she. Calleigh might be effected by the whole experience, but she doesn’t fall apart, at least not until she knows it’s safe. And even then, she doesn’t so much fall apart as she relaxes and allows herself to breathe a shaky sigh of relief.

It would be easy in light of these trials and traumas for Calleigh to lose her empathy and caring nature, but she doesn’t. She still has a way of connecting with victims and witnesses, sympathizing with them and supporting them through a terrible moment in their lives. And of course she has this softness for her friends and coworkers as well in big and little ways. It never fails to hit the mushiest part of me when a gazebo comes down on Dr. Tara Price’s head and Calleigh calls her “babe” while tending to her. It’s not a shipper thing, it’s just sweet. Calleigh it just sweet tea sweet with the people she cares about.

It’s part and parcel with her loyalty to them. She’s ride or die with Horatio and will come to the defense of every single one of her team members. Like with her father, Calleigh wants to be as supportive as possible of them. Even when they kinda don’t deserve it. Or you could understand if she didn’t. Let’s face it, nearly everyone she’s worked with and cared about have lied to her big time. It would be easy to hold that grudge, but she doesn’t. They may have to earn her trust again, but she forgives them. And she doesn’t give up on them. Like I said, Calleigh lives in the present.

Calleigh has her share of romantic relationships (none of those men are good enough for her, though, not even Eric; I will not be moved on this), and while you get the sense she’d like a happily ever after, it’s not a defining aspect of her life. Neither is having children. She’s at no point reduced to a walking biological clock. What’s interesting is that when Calleigh does show interest in having kids, it’s a specific brother and sister she encounters on a case. She doesn’t just want to have a baby or adopt a child; Calleigh wants those two specific children. She’s bonded with them (particularly the older boy) and she’s willing to alter her life for them. And does, successfully adopting them in what would be the final episode of the series. It would have been intriguing to watch how she coped as a working single mom of two, how that would have changed her character.

I have a feeling that it only would have made Calleigh better.

She’s already pretty great.

Rerun Junkie Confession–Gimme That Found Family Vibe

I’ve written before about how Gilligan’s Island was the first rerun that really made an impression on me, something that I totally fell in love with even though I was so young. It is most likely responsible for my love of reruns today.

It’s also one of the earliest indications that shows with a found family vibe were going to be in my wheelhouse.

Maybe it’s my own strong desire to belong somewhere, but those shows that feature a group of people coming together to form a family get me on a soul level.

Look at Gilligan’s Island. Seven people thrown together in an unlikely and extreme situation, forced to survive. Okay, that’s a dramatic explanation for a sitcom, but it’s not wrong. They have to come together as a family to survive. Sure, they bicker and quarrel and many times want to drown Gilligan after one of his fuck ups, but ultimately, they care about each other. This never would have happened if they hadn’t gotten shipwrecked. They’d have completed their 3 hour tour (with an unnecessary amount of luggage) and then gone their separate ways. Fate (and Sherwood Schwartz) threw them together and gave them a bond that even being rescued couldn’t break.

But it’s not just that extreme found family vibe I’m looking for. Chosen family is a kind of found family and that works for me, too.

Take for example another early love of mine, The Monkees. It’s a show about a band trying to make it. Obviously, these four guys came together to form a band, so they must have at least known and liked each other before they moved into a beach house together. It’s less fate and more struggling dream that has them scraping together rent and playing gigs. But they’re no different than four brothers, squabbling on occasion, but always having each other’s back. Just look at the episode “Success Story”. Davy’s grandfather is going to take him back to England and the fellas do everything they can to keep him in America. After all, they may not be blood, but they love each other like they were.

It’s this found family/chosen family vibe that could account for my love (at least in part) of cop shows. Be it partners, a team, or a whole squad room, you end up with people who come for the job and stay for the family.

Barney Miller is a great example of this. There’s a squad room of detectives who are paid to be there, but the nature of the job means that they have to have each other’s backs. It’s inevitable that this would eventually extend into their personal lives to an extent. When the final episode sees the precinct closed and everyone split up, you still get the sense that even if they aren’t working together, and maybe if they never see each other again, they all hold a very special place in each other’s lives. The way blood bonds family, they’re bonded by experience.

CSI: Miami not only has a similar vibe, but even has Ryan saying that they’re his family in the final episode.

Starsky & Hutch are akin to blood brothers given how many times one has been near death and the other has bailed him out. Adam-12 has a similar feel even though most of the series focused on the mundane aspects of the job. When you’re riding in a car with a guy for 8-12 hours a day, there’s only a couple of ways your relationship is going to go.

Emergency!, The A-Team, The Golden Girls, Stargate: Atlantis, F-Troop, Magnum PI…the one thing they have in common is that they all have a found family/chosen family vibe.

And I simply cannot get enough of it.

Rerun Junkie Guest Stars–Ron Masak

When Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) left Cabot Cove, there were some big law enforcement shoes to fill. Enter Ron Masak as Sheriff Mort Metzger.

Arguably the role he’s most recognized for, Ron Masak brought life to the New York City cop learning the ins and outs of a small town with a high murder rate on Murder, She Wrote. His interactions with the citizens of Cabot Cove while he tries to help Jessica Fletcher solve murders add a touch of humor to the rampant killings. And maybe it should be no surprise that he ended up fitting in so well. He had guest starred as two different law enforcement characters earlier in the series.

In addition to the role of Charlie Wilson on the short-lived series Love Thy Neighbor and a small recurring role of Woody on Webster, quite a few of Ron Masak’s 122 credits are on the small screen.

Mr. Masak has several memorable appearances on TV shows, sometimes in only a scene or two. One of my favorites is on Barney Miller. In the episode “Horse Thief”, a handsome cab owner has his horse stolen. In order not to lose any business, he steals a police horse. Mr. Masak plays the officer with the missing horse. The character is funny, odd, and maybe a little overzealous. In the end, he and the horse thief end up on the same side because as it turns out, the handsome cab owner took a different horse…which means another officer took his horse…and he uses spurs.

One of my other favorite guest spots is a second season episode of The Monkees called “Monstrous Monkee Mash” in which he plays The Count. Are the Monkees getting into shenanigans with horror characters like a Count Dracula-ish vampire, his niece, a mummy, and a wolfman? Absolutely. It’s a funny episode, bits of which have firmly implanted themselves into my brain. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the Monkees were a little more out of control during the second season, which could frustrate guest actors. However, Ron Masak kept up, kept his cool, and pulled off a fun and funny vampire. He would have made a fitting mentor for Vampire Davy Jones if he hadn’t been vanquished.

I will admit that his appearance blew my young mind when I realized it was him because until that moment, he’d always been Sheriff Metzger to me. Him appearing on a ’60s show didn’t seem possible to my young self.

Some other ’60s shows Ron Masak appeared on include The Flying Nun, Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and The Good Guys.

He spied on Mission: Impossible, took a trip to the Twilight Zone, and visited the Land of the Lost; privately investigated on The Rockford Files, Magnum PI, Longstreet, Barnaby Jones, Mannix, Remington Steele, and The Law and Harry McGraw (a Murder, She Wrote spin-off in which he played yet another cop character); checked in on Marcus Welby MD, Medical Center, and E/R; visited Mayberry RFD and rode the Supertrain; tangled with the law on Police Story, Police Woman, Ironside, The Feather and Father Gang, She’s the Sheriff, McMillan & Wife, and Columbo; lent his voice to The Real Ghostbusters; hung out with some names on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Quincy ME, and Alice; he had Good Times and Diff’rent Strokes; leapt into action on Emergency! and Wonder Woman; enjoyed some Love, American Style; and got unexpectedly soapy on The Yellow Rose, Falcon Crest, and The Bold and the Beautiful.

Ron Masak made an impression on every show he guested on, be it a recurring role or only one scene. He had a way of taking a character, making it memorable, and adding a bright spot to every episode he was in.

And we’re lucky to indulge in his shining light.

Five TV Tropes I Hate

During one of our Eventually Supertrain discussions, Dan suggested I write “10 TV tropes I Hate” and I decided to take his suggestion. However, I chose to cut the number in half. It felt a little aggressive to do ten.

I figure I can make a series out of this if I am so inclined.

And given how many tropes irritate me…

So, here they are in no particular order.

Five TV Tropes I Hate.

  1. The Bickering Couple -Blame the societal standard that het couples should detest each other. Married or dating or unresolved sexual tension, this seems to be the go-to way to show that two people are meant to be. Look at how they bicker with each other! Sure, couples bicker. They give each other shit. But if this is their sole way of communicating, it’s fucking annoying. I complained about this during the discussion of the Tales of the Gold Monkey episode that inspired this post. Jake and former-lover-turned-nun Bridget spent most of their conversations bickering, to the extent that if one of them said the sky was blue, the other one would disagree. That’s not chemistry. That’s grating. It’s hard to enjoy an episode when you’re irritated the entire time.
  2. Will They or Won’t They? -I don’t care. I don’t care about the arbitrary obstacles thrown in the couple’s way to prevent them from coming together and drag out the unresolved sexual tension as long as possible. I don’t care how they’re obviously meant for each other and any other human they interact with is an agent of the devil sent to prevent this holy union. It’s boring and takes up valuable screen time that could be spent on something more interesting, including getting these two characters together in a more creative way.
  3. A Good Ol’ Miscommunication -You know what I’m talking about. If one person would just talk to another person, it would all be worked out. Granted, the episode would only be about four minutes long, but still. I wouldn’t be subjected to all of the justifications of why this simple solution hasn’t happened yet. Same with seeing two characters interacting from a distance and then jumping to a conclusion. If this person is supposed to be close with one or both, wouldn’t they just ask? Yeah, they would. Because assuming makes asses of us all.
  4. Secretively Bratty Children -I’ve already discussed how I’m not big on children in TV shows to begin with. I feel they’re written so poorly. But of all of the TV children I despise, the secretly bratty kids make me wish it were possible to reach through the TV and slap someone. I’m not talking about the Eddie Haskells, who are shit to their fellow young people, but kiss asses to the adults. Nor am I talking about the spoiled kids whose parents will always defend them. I’m talking about the kids who are shitty to one adult in particular and then an angel to every other adult, making those adults doubt the other adult. Yes, this is a very specific hate. This sort of trope is usually played for laughs, but I’m not amused. My blood pressure is elevated just writing about it. I don’t advocate violence against children, but seriously, throw those kids in the trash. You think they’re cute now, but they’re going to grow up to be your least favorite coworker.
  5. No Sunglasses When It’s Sunny -This is less of a trope and more of a petty hill I will die on, but I think it’s absolutely ludicrous that you stick characters in sunshiny locations and then deprive them of the appropriate eyewear. Especially when they’re driving. I don’t want to share the road with these people who are squinting so hard to see that they’re giving me a headache. I realize that the justification of this is so we can properly see the actors emote, but I will counter that argument with Darth Vader and the Mandolorian. They don’t seem to have a problem. Y’all make fun of Horatio Caine for rocking his sunnies, but you don’t see him squinting, now do you? No.

Are all of these dislikes a little petty? Yes. Will listing them out like this change the course of television writing? No. Writers are going to continue to execute these tropes to their dullest and I’m going to continue to roll my eyes and pine for the rare instances when writers choose to subvert or even all together avoid them.

Hope springs eternal and these tropes will no doubt last forever.

Rerun Junkie Guest Star–Joyce Van Patten

“I didn’t know Dick Van Patten had a sister,” my roommate said.

Now I could take that two ways. One, my roommate didn’t know who Joyce Van Patten was or two, she knew who Joyce Van Patten was, but just didn’t realize that she was Dick Van Patten’s sister.

It turns out it was the latter and that stands to reason. Joyce Van Patten has had quite the solid career, built upon her own fantastic talents. A little nepotism really wasn’t necessary in her case.

She was Claudia Gramus on The Good Guys, Iris Chapman on The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, and Maureen Slattery on Unhappily Ever After. And she has a slew of guest credits on a wide variety of TV shows.

Two of my favorite guest appearances of hers happened to be on the same show, Hawaii Five-O.

Miss Van Patten made her first appearance in the Season 3 episode “The Payoff”. She plays a woman helping out an old friend that she’s sweet on. The only thing is that her old friend was involved in a kidnapping for ransom that ended in murder and now he’s been gut shot by one of his co-conspirators. She’s desperate in multiple ways –desperate to help Jace, desperate to have Jace feel for her what she feels for him, and desperate to evade the law. Unfortunately, none of it works out for her and the scene in Steve’s office where she spills her guts has you aching for her.

Her second appearance came in the Season 5 episode “I’m a Family Crook–Don’t Shoot!” I picked this as my favorite episode of that season and with good reason. Joyce Van Patten plays the matriarch of a swindling, thieving family with Andy Griffith as her husband. The family pulls their bump and grab routine on a mob bagman and lets just say that it doesn’t work out well for them. These crooks are obviously the lesser of the evils in this ep, and even though they are crooks, you can’t help but like them. The way that Miss Van Patten plays both outlaw and doting mother is a unique blend that feels real. She is all about her family, it’s just that the family business is illegal.

She also tangled with the law on episodes of The Untouchables, The Defenders, Perry Mason, Men at Law, The FBI, McCloud, The Streets of San Francisco, Amy Prentiss, Columbo, Law & Order, and NYPD Blue; worked with Jack Lord on Stoney Burke and Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show; checked in on Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare and Young Dr. Kildare, The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Medical Center, and Diagnosis Murder; got laughs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Odd Couple, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and Love, American Style; worked with Bob Newhart on The Bob Newhart Show and Bob; went west on Gunsmoke and The Virginian; went to jail on Oz and got in with mob on The Sopranos; privately investigated on Cannon and The Rockford Files; got spooky on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Twilight Zone, and the 1960s Outer Limits; was family oriented on Family, Sisters, Touched by an Angel, and Judging Amy; made headlines on Lou Grant and disappeared on Without a Trace; went back in time on Boardwalk Empire and Brooklyn Bridge; and got soapy for several episodes on All My Children.

Joyce Van Patten has a charm that shines across genres, no matter the role or the show. She’s eye-catching in a subtle way, and compelling whether she’s making you laugh or pulling at your heart strings. Her older brother may have been pretty great, but she holds her own. As the paraphrased saying goes…thank God for little sisters.

Rerun Junkie Episodes–“The Duke of Squigman”

In case it escaped your attention, I guested on an episode of Night After Night to talk about this episode as Squiggy is my favorite. During our discussion of the episode, I said I could write a blog post about the tag scene.

This is that blog post.

Because I feel that the tag scene of this episode is a perfect example of how reruns should be viewed in two different contexts.

If you haven’t seen “The Duke of Squigman” and/or listened to me, Lisa, and Chris discuss it (why the hell not? you’re missing out on some good shit), the quick synopsis of the episode is that Squiggy has been sleepwalking and when he does, he adopts the persona of -you guessed it- the Duke of Squigman. It turns out the reason that Squiggy is sleepwalking is because he can’t accept the fact that some people just don’t like him.

I know. I find that hard to believe as well.

The episode does a fabulous job of balancing the funny, the sweet, the absurd, and the emotional.

And then there’s the tag scene.

After the emotional conversation between Lenny and Squiggy about the psychological motivation of Squiggy’s sleepwalking, the boys are at the Pizza Bowl and Squiggy is attempting to hit on a woman sitting at a table. Naturally, she rejects him. Squiggy consults with Lenny about whether or not his feelings are hurt by this and Lenny affirms that they are. Squiggy acknowledges this and decides that he doesn’t care. He then proceeds to kiss the woman right on the mouth.

It should go without saying that this has aged poorly.

In the time this show was set (late ’50/early ’60s) and the time it was filmed (mid-late ’70s/early ’80s), this type of mild sexual assault was normalized and typically played for laughs. Of course it was. We don’t want to think of our favorites as sex pests.

Watching this scene in the context of the now, it’s not the laugh that it’s supposed to be. It’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t necessarily spoil the episode, but it definitely ends it on a sour note. As a woman, if a dude I had rejected forced a kiss on me, it wouldn’t be funny. It’d be a felony. ‘Cause I’d be going to jail. Living in a society in which there is a constant struggle in regards to the entitlement men believe to have to women’s bodies, in which violations of these boundaries are categorized and graded and the acceptable responses to them dictated by a certain script that ultimately makes them easier to dismiss, it’s kind of difficult to find the humor in the joke.

However.

In the context of the narrative, it makes complete sense.

Squiggy has confronted the issue that makes him sleepwalk. When presented with his next rejection, he checks in with Lenny, acknowledges that his feelings are hurt, and then soldiers on. That’s growth. Not a lot of growth, but it’s the growth that you’d expect to get from a character like Squiggy. At least he’s acknowledged that the woman has rejected him and that, yes, his feelings are hurt. But he ultimately decides that he doesn’t care. Now whether or not this is another form of denial is another story. But for Squiggy, just acknowledging it is progress.

Could this be accomplished without the forced kiss? Sure. No doubt that Squiggy could have showed his little bit of growth before insinuating himself into this woman’s space without forcing affections, and probably could have been done in such a way that would have garnered the same volume of laughs, with the added benefit of retaining much of those laughs in future viewings.

However, in the context of when the show was set and when it was written, it makes perfect sense that this would be the gag used to convey Squiggy’s limited growth, especially given the established behavior of the character being just a little bit slimy with the opposite sex sometimes.

In viewing the episode in these two contexts, I’m able to both acknowledge the problematic content without condemning the entire episode. I’m not absolving it of its offenses, but I am putting those offenses into proper perspective.

This approach allows me to have a more enjoyable viewing experience.

Rerun Junkie Confession–I’m Somehow Not Big on Horror TV Shows

If you asked me what my favorite TV horror is I’d say Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

If you asked me to name my top five, I’d have to strain to do it.

For a fan of horror movies and horror stories and a writer of horror stories, you’d think I’d be attracted immediately to any television show with a hint of horror and as it turns out…I’m not.

That’s right. For whatever reason, I’m not a big fan of TV horror.

Once again, this confession is not a slight on the quality of such programming. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to be my bag…and it should be. These are the kinds of shows that should be tailor-made for me, and yet I find myself to be rather meh on the idea of even watching them.

The list of horror TV shows that I found has some questionable entries, but to be fair, much of the horror TV ends up crossing over with other genres, quite often with Sci-Fi. And there are shows like that -namely the ’60s Twilight Zone and the ’60s The Outer Limits– that qualify as both Sci-Fi and horror and in that case, they’d make my top five list. Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents are good, but to me they’re more suspense than horror and that keeps them off of my list even though you could argue that suspense is integral to horror. Somehow The Munsters and The Addams Family made the list and I just can’t accept that. Yes, one is a family of classic monsters and the other is the antithesis of suburbia, but come on.

I will accept Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, though. Maybe it’s a cartoon mystery, but some of the fake whatsits those meddling kids were dealing with were terrifying to the right age group. Kids deserve their horror, too. Put that one on my list.

I don’t think my disinterest has to do with the heavier censoring involved in most television. As much as I love slashers, my horror doesn’t have to have gore. I like the quiet, unsettling, psychological horror, too. Hauntings are a low-key favorite of mine. But make it 42-55 minutes for 20-30 episodes and I’m less than enthused.

That’s my only guess for why I’m not drawn to TV horror more. I must prefer it in one large chunk, be it movie or book or short story, rather than be repeatedly exposed to it over a number of weeks.

And I know what you’re thinking. “Just binge it!” I totally could. I did that with the first season of Stranger Things, which I enjoyed. But that was also apparently enough. I’ve never felt compelled to watch any of the other seasons.

By no means am I completely writing off this TV genre. It will perhaps take me a little more effort to find the gems in it that I like since I’m not naturally drawn to it. But I will find them. Most likely by stumbling over them on some late night rerun schedule, like I did with Night Gallery. That one can go on my list, too.

Like I said, it took some work, but I made my top five.