Total recall

On several occasions, my co-workers have complimented me on my good memory. They’ve praised me for conjuring up the names of people, places, and things seemingly on demand.

But this ability has nothing to do with a good memory and everything to do with good notes. Indeed, I don’t have a good memory at all. I can meet someone on Friday and re-introduce myself on Monday as if we were strangers. On most weeks, I’ve forgotten the topic of my column less than 72 hours after I’ve written it.

Sometimes, however, my memory amazes me.

That’s what happened a couple weekends ago at my mom’s. As we discussed the practice of renting out the first floor of your house, my oldest sister expressed confusion. Needing a way to help her understand, I said, “Remember the show, ‘Too Close for Comfort?’ It’s like that.”

That cleared up the matter for her, but our mom and other sister didn’t remember the show, which ran from 1980-87 and starred Ted Knight, of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” fame, as a cartoonist. He and his wife – and, later, their young son – live in their house’s second floor while their grown daughters live on the first floor.

As we tried to jog their memories, my oldest sister said, “Ted Baxter and Georgia Engel were in it.”

“No,” I corrected her, “Ted Baxter was Ted Knight’s character on ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ and Georgia Engel played his wife on that show.”

“So who was his wife on ‘Too Close for Comfort’?” she asked.

“Nancy Dussault,” I answered.

This dialogue had not triggered any memory of the show for Mom and my other sister, so I added, “They had two daughters. The one with dark hair was Jackie and the blonde was –”

That’s where my memory failed. I could not remember the blonde daughter’s name. I could remember her friend Monroe, who was played by Jim J. Bullock. I could remember that her real-life name was Lydia, but her character’s name was not forthcoming.

Although my family started talking about something else, my thoughts remained on the blonde daughter. Finally, several minutes later, I shouted, “Sara.”

When my startled family turned their curious eyes on me, I said, “Sara. The blonde daughter’s name was Sara.”

Having already moved on and having not cared much anyway, they expressed no interest.

Although I was pleased that the name came to me relatively quickly and, thus, prevented me from consulting the Internets for an answer, I don’t know how I’ve remembered so much about a TV show I have not watched in more than 30 years. What’s more, it was never a favorite of mine. I watched it only because it was on during a time when we had to make do with five channels.

I also recall having one of my baby teeth pulled during an episode of the show and coveting the bowl of candy bars that Jackie and Sara kept in their apartment.

Wonder how much more I would remember if I had kept notes?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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The Homecoming: A Christmas Story

For the most part, I think people who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s can be divided into two camps – those who prefer Little House on the Prairie and those who prefer The Waltons.

I’m definitely in the Waltons camp, so every holiday season I watch The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

Broadcast on Dec. 19, 1971, The Homecoming opens with snowy scenes of seven children – and a cow – marching in single file across a field. The narrator – author Earl Hamner Jr. – explains that the Depression has forced family patriarch John Walton to find work miles from his home, nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. On this day, Christmas Eve 1933, John has yet to make his way home. Later that night, when family matriarch Olivia Walton learns the icy roads have resulted in a bus crash and the death of an unidentified person, she sends her son, John Boy, out to find his daddy.

The Homecoming was so popular that CBS ordered a full season of the series that would become The Waltons. The only actors who would reprise their roles on the show, however, are the ones who played the children, including Richard Thomas as John Boy, and Grandma Walton.

Kentucky native and Oscar winner Patricia Neal plays Olivia in The Homecoming. Her interpretation of Olivia is harsher than the warmer version Michael Learned would make famous through her award-winning performance on the series.

Neal’s Olivia frequently unleashes her fury at John Boy. She yells at him when the young’uns misbehave and accuses him of smoking cigarettes and bringing bootleg whisky into her home. (The Waltons love pronouns. It’s never just Daddy or Mama or the children, but always my Daddy, your Mama, my children.)

Anyway, when confronted with the truth, Olivia shows a softer, supportive side. She loves her children, but she’s basically a single mother managing a house full of seven young’uns in the dark days of the Depression. It’s no wonder she derives such pleasure in simple things like finding her Christmas cactus and making applesauce cake.

Olivia’s characterization isn’t the only difference between the movie and the series. The movie is much more realistic in general. I love The Waltons, but as much as they carry on about never having any money, I don’t buy what they’re selling. Maybe it’s because, in the depths of their struggles, they invariably find an antique in the attic or a job with some stranger who happens to wander into Ike’s store.

But, in The Homecoming, when Olivia explains to John Boy that the scarves she’s knitted represent the only Santie Claus they’re going to have this year, I buy her every word.

Of course, it turns out that multiple variations of Santie Claus visit the Waltons that Christmas. The most disturbing is a missionary who hands out presents to children gathered at Ike’s store. This part both infuriates and confuses me. Although the missionary insists the children recite a quote from the Bible and also tells them their Sunday school teachers must be proud, she still refers to them as infidels. She comes across as a mixture of ignorance, stupidity, and condescension.

Although it’s clearly spelled out in the opening credits, I didn’t know The Homecoming was based on a separate Hamner novel until last month. I had always assumed the movie, like the series, was based on his book, Spencer’s Mountain. Thankfully, our awesome library district had a copy of The Homecoming, which is now in my possession.

I’ve never read any of Hamner’s work. On the other hand, I read the entire Little House series as a child. Maybe I’ll enjoy The Homecoming. Maybe I won’t. But at least I know I can keep coming home to the movie every Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Love is all around

My 2016 ended with a wonderful, life-changing surprise – I learned that SundanceTV is airing, in their words, “TV’s most iconic series” on weekday mornings. They’re broadcasting “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Although I enjoy all five shows, I’ve had access to “M*A*S*H” and “Andy Griffith” pretty much my entire life. Indeed, it’s my belief that if I turn on the TV at any time of the day, I can find an episode of “Andy Griffith.” (The same can be said of “Roseanne” and the “Law and Order” franchise as well, but that’s another column for another day.) And while “All in the Family” hasn’t always been readily available, it’s my least favorite of the five.

But I’m super excited about “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

In fact, one of my earliest memories involves watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”(Other early memories feature snippets of “Days of Our Lives.” Obviously, TV has always been important to me.)

Anyway, Mary, the producer of a TV newscast, is one of my fictional role models. When I moved into my first apartment, a friend compared me to Mary. I don’t think he realized how much I treasured that compliment.

Of course, Mary is much nicer than am I. It would take me about two minutes to tell that intrusive Sue Ann to get out of my face. I also question Mary’s decision to greet Murray at the door wearing only a towel. It would have been believable if the scene had contained romantic undertones. But the towel was barely acknowledged. The scene left me wondering if folks back in the 1970s frequently paraded around in towels in front of co-workers. Or if I just have a dirty mind.

I’m also a little confused by the episode where Ted turns down a substantial raise and a gig as the host of a game show to remain at WJM. But it featured a wonderful scene between Ted and Lou who, along with Rhoda, are my favorite of Mary’s supporting characters.

The only aspect of “Bob Newhart” that I’ve re-evaluated is Bob’s daft neighbor, Howard. According to my research, Howard works as a navigator for an airline. From the way he’s presented, however, he doesn’t have enough sense to navigate himself into and out of an elevator.

Otherwise, I have no complaints about the show. From low-key psychiatrist Bob to his sarcastic wife Emily (the criminally underappreciated Suzanne Pleshette) to Bob’s dern-near perfect receptionist, Carol, to his rude patient, Mr. Carlin, I love this show.

My feelings for both “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” go deeper than mere nostalgia, though. I frequently find myself laughing out loud whilst watching the shows. Or in the case of my morning routine, laughing out loud whilst listening to them as I get ready for work.

Unfortunately, I can’t sit in front of the TV all morning catching up on the shenanigans at WJM or the anxieties of Bob’s therapy group. So, I record one episode of each show every week. Spending time with Mary and Bob and their sidekicks can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

‘The Facts of Life’ revisited

“The Facts of Life” is now on TV Land.facts-of-life

That means I can spend time with Mrs. Garrett, Blair, Tootie, Natalie and Jo every evening. Of course, thanks to previous runs on the USA Network and Nick at Nite, I have stayed in touch with them over the years. Still, it’s interesting to view the ladies and their exploits through middle-aged eyes.

For instance, when I was younger, I never noticed that Natalie could be a pure witch. It’s apparent in the way she reacts when Tootie wins the lead role in “South Pacific,” when her grandmother makes a surprise visit, and when one of her countless crushes doesn’t dote on her. She’s more of a brat than Blair.

Speaking of Blair, in spite of the spoiled little rich girl narrative, she’s the most level-headed of the girls. And even when the wings in her hair remind me of Sally Field’s “Flying Nun” headdress, she still looks like a Breck girl.

On the other hand, I want to grab a pair of scissors and cut Jo’s bangs. I don’t understand what happened. When she came to Eastland, she wore her long hair down her shoulders and kept her bangs under control. A couple seasons into the show, however, she pulled her hair back into a ponytail and kept it there for years. For a girl who allegedly didn’t care about her appearance, from the looks of those bangs, she spent some serious time with a curling iron.

Jo does get points for wearing a powdered blue sweat suit in the episode where the girls stay up all night studying. Although the girls fret so much about their finals that you’d think they were cramming for law school, that’s always been one of my favorite episodes. For all the talk about needing to study, they spend more time eating, arguing and (accidentally) sleeping than they do studying. And I’m still wondering if the girls reimbursed Mrs. Garrett for that 2 a.m. pizza delivery.

It pains me, though, to admit that another episode I used to enjoy – the one where Blair and Jo spend a weekend with their respective neighborhood friends – doesn’t hold up. When I was in elementary school, NBC aired “FOL” in syndication. If I happened to notice in the “TV Guide” that this particular episode was airing, I’d develop a mysterious stomachache so I could stay home and watch it. Taking in the episode now, I fail to understand what held my interest. It’s a half hour of Blair’s snooty friend talking smack about tuna salad and hired help and Jo’s obnoxious friend hassling immigrants and old people.

But my all-time favorite “FOL” episode – the one where Tootie becomes obsessed with Jermaine Jackson – has stood the test of time. This is hands-down the best of “FOL’s” very special episodes. I know, that’s saying a lot about a series that covered suicide, abortion, rape, and the death of Natalie’s dad. But the Jermaine Jackson episode remains the most thought-provoking for raising such questions as why is Tootie obsessed with Jermaine Jackson?

Somehow, I missed the episode’s original airing early in 1982 and didn’t catch it until a couple years later. I remember the sunny summer morning I watched it for the first time. And I remember asking then as I do now, “Jermaine? Jackson?”

I would be right there with Tootie if she had created a paper mache bust of Michael Jackson and forced the other members of the Eastland chapter of the Jermaine Jackson fan club to put their hands over their hearts and pledge their devotion to MJ. But Jermaine?

I don’t get it, and I think that represents part of the episode’s appeal. Well, that and Jo badgering Tootie to make scarves for a fair and Mrs. Garrett once again imparting the wisest words of wisdom this side of Yoda.

If you haven’t heard Tootie scream her head off about Jermaine Jackson, do yourself a favor and check it out. You also don’t want to miss the one where a pimp tries to lure Tootie into teenage prostitution or the one where Blair learns her beloved grandfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan or the one…

The end justifies the means

justified_2Here’s the good news – the season premiere of “Justified” airs tomorrow night at ten o’clock on FX. Now for the bad news – it’s the show’s last season.

For those of you unfamiliar with “Justified,” it’s set in eastern Kentucky’s very own Harlan County and concerns Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, his itchy trigger finger and his nemesis/man crush, Boyd Crowder. As last season ended, Raylan had arranged for Boyd’s fiancé (and Raylan’s ex), Ava, to receive a not-so-free get out of jail card in exchange for her agreeing to inform against Boyd.

This turn of events sets up what promises to be a final showdown between the lawman Raylan and the outlaw Boyd.

Just so everyone knows where I stand, if I had to choose for only one of the men to leave Harlan alive, it would be Boyd. Yes, I’m picking the heroin-dealing, prostitute-running dude who ordered hits on sweet little Ellen May and a sick old man who wanted nothing more than to pass his lonely, last days in a nursing home.

But what can I say? Raylan might be better looking and more law abiding than Boyd, but he’s also more sanctimonious and boring than Boyd. Indeed, Boyd possesses a level of self-awareness that’s usually only attained by meditating monks and he’s got a way with words that would make Shakespeare jealous. As Boyd would tell you himself, he might be many things, but inarticulate ain’t one of them.

Sam Elliott joins the cast this season and I’m not sure there’s enough room in Harlan for Body’s wild shock of hair, Wynn Duff’s eyebrows and Elliott’s moustache, and I’m anxious to see how the three characters interact with one another.

I’m also anxious for appearances by my two favorite recurring characters – Dickie Bennett and Dewey Crowe. I’m not sure if Dickie will show up, but I spotted Dewey in a trailer for the show and that makes me happier than Wynn Duffy at a women’s tennis match.

I need to find happiness where I can, because there’s a chance that neither Raylan nor Boyd will survive the season. In spite of my disappointment in the self-righteous Raylan, I want him to defeat his demons and ride into the Florida sunset with Winona and their baby.

Most of all, I want Ava to double cross Raylan and the feds and start a new life with Boyd somewhere where he’ll finally get that Dairy Queen franchise he’s always desired.

Veronica Mars and the mystery of the thousand dollar tan line

18209454I became familiar with “Veronica Mars” when CBS aired four episodes of the UPN series during the summer of 2005. In spite of my advancing age and my aversion to anything associated with UPN, I developed an addiction to the show, which starred Kristen Bell as a witty, smart and resourceful teen detective in southern California.

Although the show’s third season disappointed me, I mourned its cancellation. I missed Veronica and her supporting cast of characters, which included a biker and a hacker.

So, I was happy when I learned that, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, a “Veronica Mars” motion picture starring Kristen Bell herself was in the works. What’s more, series creator Rob Thomas and co-author Jennifer Graham were penning a two-book series of original Veronica Mars mysteries.

Of course, I just recently got around to reading the first book, “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line,” in that series. That might not sound like the actions of a marshmallow (it’s what we fans of the series call ourselves in a nod to the very first episode), but it picked up where the movie ended and, well, I didn’t get around to watching the movie until this fall. (Hey, I’ve been busy writing my own mysteries.)

While the movie wasn’t bad, it was just good enough to make me pine for the first two seasons of the show. Thankfully, the “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” captured the heart and humor of Veronica who, near movie’s end, turned her back on a potentially lucrative law career and returned to her private investigating roots in her corrupt hometown.

The book begins with Veronica taking the reins of Mars Investigations while her dad, Keith, recovers from injuries sustained in the book. Not that Veronica and her newly-hired IT expert, Mac, have much work to do. That changes after a coed goes missing at a spring break party and Veronica is hired to investigate her disappearance. In addition to keeping the lights on and paying Mac’s salary, Veronica’s investigation points to a dangerous drug cartel, puts her life in danger and brings a blast from her past back into her life.

Although the book leaves a few loose ends dangling, the mystery wrapped up to my satisfaction. But the mysteries didn’t make me keep tuning into “Veronica Mars” and the desire to learn the fates of the not one but two missing girls didn’t make me keep turning the pages. As is the case with most fiction, the characters make the story.

I was most interested in the way the book captured Veronica’s strong relationship with her devoted dad, who wants nothing more than for Veronica to leave Neptune – and the P.I. life –behind. He doesn’t understand why she won’t take the bar exam and, well, neither do I. Veronica doesn’t have to work for the swanky law firm that recruited her in the movie. In fact, that wouldn’t be a good fit for an outcast like Veronica. But that’s not her only option. She could take the bar in California and work as an attorney/detective for Mars Investigations. It makes no sense for Thomas and Graham to seemingly ignore this possibility. It’s as if they want us to believe it’s New York or bust for our feisty girl.

Other than that major point, I have no quibbles with “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.” We marshmallows get Skype sessions with the submarine-deployed Logan and best friend time with Wallace and there’s even a Weevil sighting.

I can’t wait to read the second book, “Mr. Kiss and Tell.” And this time, maybe I won’t wait quite so long.

Season three of ‘Justified’ starts with a bang

Ever since Mags Bennett drank poisoned apple pie moonshine during the second season finale of “Justified,” we fans have been twitching worse than our Stetson-wearing hero’s trigger finger. We’ve wondered if the show could sustain the creative high it achieved last season, if the new villains could fill Mags’ sensible shoes, and if Raylan and Boyd would continue their bromance.

We can relax. If the third season premiere was any indication, the greatest TV show ever set in eastern Kentucky has not diminished in quality, the new villains hold promise, and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins) are still engaging in foreplay, I mean fistfights. Continue reading