Posts Tagged ‘TV’

I get really easily and wildly obsessed with things.  Case in point: my current adoration for the TV show The Avengers.  There are few TV shows from the 1960s that so easily and effortlessly marry entertainment, feminism and badass spy-fi plots. So, because this is my blog and I do what I want, I’m gonna start posting brief reviews of episodes as I watch, or re-watch, them.

If you want to get a basic idea of the outline of the show, the Wikipedia page gives a great overview.

Let’s begin at the (kind of) beginning with the first episode to introduce Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), the first tough female partner of secret agent extraordinaire John Steed (Patrick Macnee).

MR. TEDDY BEAR (Episode 2-01, September 1962).

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Steed and Cathy face off against a villain known as Mr. Teddy Bear – and he’s not particularly soft or cuddly.  He’s an assassin for hire, murdering people with some pretty clever booby-traps.  The set-up? Cathy will pretend to take out a contract on Steed’s life in order to draw Mr. Bear out into the open.  The plan backfires and Steed ends up dead.  Kind of.  Not really.  He does get badly burnt, though.

For the first episode with Cathy – Steed had already been paired with a male partner for the entire first season, which is now lost to us except in script form – this one features some entertaining exchanges between the two.  From their first verbal sparring session as Steed debriefs Cathy, to their actual sparring sessions as Steed tries to debrief her in a different way, the set-up of the relationship of the two characters is what makes the episode pop.  And it needs a pop, because the camera work is low-budget and the sets quite obviously cardboard.  Already you can see where The Avengers exceeds many shows of its day – the quality of the actors is superb and the chemistry between Macnee and Blackman is sexual without quite crossing the line.  Steed’s established as a bit of a letch who nonetheless already has a dawning respect for his female partner. And Cathy … well, Cathy’s a badass, insulting her official superior, calling out an assassin, and generally expressing disapprobation when Steed survives the murder attempt.

So while the best part of this episode is Steed and Cathy, the writing is also quite excellent.  Mr. Teddy Bear is an admirable and creepy villain, while Steed’s posturing and overconfidence is nicely matched by Cathy’s quiet resolve.  If you must start somewhere with The Avengers, start here.

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Actually, especially Niles.  Ahem.

I did not used to be a big television watcher.  I blame this on my parents cruel denial of cable television from the time I was about six until I was eleven.  By the time we actually got massive numbers of channels, I was not exactly interested in watching TV shows religiously.  There were only a few during my teenage years that I took any interest in: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Friends.  And Frasier.  I loved Frasier.  And this year, I fell in love with it again.

Don’t ask me why, because I certainly don’t know.  It all began when a good friend of mine had to unexpectedly be taken to the hospital.  In order to distract him from some pretty excruciating kidney pain, Roxy and I began talking about anything we could think of.  We covered music, movies, and literature, and finally settled on television.  Every show we’d ever watched was discussed.  And it became clear that one of the shows we all wildly loved was, in fact, Frasier.

The best shows are the ones that make you happy to watch them, that have actual characters, story arcs, plot structure.  One of the things I always loved about Frasier, back when it was on the air and now, was how kind a show it actually was.  There were no acts of cruelty passed off as humor, no vicious back-stabbing, no jokes for the sake of offense.  The closest they came to being mean was when Daphne gained a lot of weight and fat jokes abounded.  But by that point, we had such affection for the characters, for Daphne herself, that a few bad puns (“It took three Cranes to lift you!”) did not turn the whole show into a mean-spirited farce.

I personally was a huge fan of the Niles/Daphne relationship (as are most people, I’ve come to realize).  Unlike the Ross/Rachel combination on Friends, Niles and Daphne’s romance matured, beginning as a puppy love crush and ending with marriage and children.  It was, in retrospect, an actual ADULT relationship between two adult people.  By the time they finally came to terms with their feelings for each other, poor Niles had had his heart broken several times and Daphne had fallen for him of her own accord.  It was handled with a kindness and, moreover, a seriousness that went far beyond its beginnings as a chance for double entendres.

Frasier opened the way for a combination of incredibly smart humor and excellent, old school physical comedy.  The best episodes are the ones that allow the entire cast to flex their muscles.  And the cast really did make it.  For all intents and purposes, it was a cast of five orbited by a few recurring characters.  The falling off of the last few seasons was mostly a result of lesser writing and too much emphasis on the subsidiary characters (we did not need Daphne’s mother complicating relationships, although I did enjoy Felicity Huffman’s brief stint as Julia).  And there were some weird plot twists: Maris commits a murder, Niles randomly gets a heart condition (a plot arc that ended suddenly and was never spoken of again), etc, etc.  But every great show jumps the shark at some point and, by the end of it, I think that Frasier came back around to what they did best: smart humor, physical comedy and real human emotion.

I’ve seen it written that the end of Frasier marked the end of the sitcom.  Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up for debate, but at least it was a show unembarrassed by its intellectual pretensions, which can sometimes be very difficult to come by.  All I really know is that when I quote it, at least two people laugh.

“She called my show bourgeois.  I said that anything with mass appeal can be called bourgeois.  Then she called my argument bourgeois.  Which I found to be rather jejune.”