Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

Filtering by Category: Humour

Barbarella--An Introduction

A few weeks ago, Erin Fraser and Matt Bowes asked me to co-curate their screening of Barbarella - Queen of the Galaxy, which was to be the 3rd film of the 3rd season of their Graphic Content series, devoted to comic book cinema.

My duties would be two-fold. First, I would have to write an essay about the film, which would appear on the website, and, second, I would have to join them as they introduced the film at the screening.

Because I am not the sort to half-ass these things, I decided not to attempt to pull an extemporaneous intro out of my butt and instead wrote what amounted to a second, shorter, essay. And since I quite like it a lot and it seemed to get the desired response, I thought I would post it here for your entertainment.


There are certain films that are timeless—made with a sophistication that feels as right and relevant today as it did when the work was originally created.

Barbarella is NOT one of those films.

In fact, Barbarella is so much a product of a specific era that there was really only like an 8-month span in the entire 20th Century where it could have ever been created. And it is to our good fortune that the universe aligned in such a way that it did in fact actually happen.

Barbarella is not just dated. It is transcendently dated—to the point that it actually ends up lapping itself and achieves its own special kind of timelessness. It’s like an ancient mosquito frozen in amber, but in such a way that if you tried harvesting DNA from the blood in its belly, you wouldn’t be able to recreate anything, because nature can’t find a way if there was never anything natural to begin with.

This film is a monument to the artificial, in a way that the 1970s auteurist wave tried its best to make sure never happened again. And it mostly succeeded, because even though there are examples of films that have tried to rise up to this level, almost none of them get beyond the point of homage and pastiche. Barbarella, though, is the real deal.

It is the genuine fake article.

And how did this happen? Was it planned or a glorious accident? The answer, of course, is that it was both and that is what truly makes it wonderful—the synthesis of the canny and the campy. You are going to laugh watching this film, because it is very funny, but sometimes you are going to laugh with it and sometimes you are going to laugh at it and often you’re going to find it difficult to determine which you are doing at any given time.

Now, traditionally, we would assume that the director Roger Vadim was responsible for all this, but the problem is that there’s a very good reason why he is best remembered today as a dude who hooked up with some of the most beautiful women in the world and not as an amazing filmmaker and that’s because he was not an amazing filmmaker. In fact, there are signs that he wasn’t even a good filmmaker. His best films are saved by two basic factors—interesting screenplays written mostly by other people and really, really beautiful women.

In the case of Barbarella, that screenplay had as many as 8 people who worked on it, but the most important of these is the only one who is actually credited on-screen with Vadim—Terry Southern. Now, Terry Southern was one of the defining comic voices of that era, best know for his work with Stanley Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove. It’s safe to say that every time you find yourself laughing with Barbarella, he’s the one responsible.

And it is interesting to note that prior to working on Barbarella, Southern once co-wrote a novel called Candy that was a parody of Voltaire’s Candide. It was about a young beautiful innocent who meets a series of strange men, who she proceeds to have lots and lots of sex with. A famously terrible film version of that novel was made the same year as Barbarella and Southern did not write the screenplay for it—Buck Henry did. So it may be a coincidence that Barbarella is also about a young beautiful innocent who meets a series of strange men, who she proceeds to have lots and lots of sex with, but I personally like to think of it as a kind of cinematic FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOU!

In the piece I wrote for the Graphic Content website, I specifically mention the behinds the scenes folks primarily responsible for the aspects of Barbarella that make it a work of both deliberate and accidental genius—but I only have 90 seconds left to talk, so I’m now going to focus on how hot Jane Fonda was in 1968.

Jane Fonda was REALLY HOT IN 1968. She would have been 30 when this movie was filmed and when it was being made no one could have any idea that she would go on to become one of the most culturally significant figures of the past 50 years. More than just a movie star, she has managed to successfully ride in the middle of the zeitgeist throughout every decade of her fame.

And you would think that because of this she might look back with shame at a film as strange and silly as Barbarella, but Jane Fonda is too awesome for that. When she’s asked about it in interviews you can see a special twinkle in her eye. She doesn’t back down or shy away from it. Instead she tells her interlocutor about how many men over the past years have come up to her and said how much of an impact their posters of Barbarella had on them during their adolescence.



And that hotness has been captured here forever in a silly, wonderful film that will stand the tests of time, because it is so utterly of its time. This movie is a snapshot of a moment that never really existed—a history that never was. There wasn’t a single second in recorded time when this movie wasn’t ridiculous and because of this it is special in a way so few films are.

More Old Lacey

An Excerpt from 1957s Lacey Frill and the Quiz Show Scandal by Stoney M. Badess (as Drake A. Hardman)


The camera closed in on Lacey’s face as beads of sweat began to form on her furrowed brow.

“Augustus Klieman Von Rowendreich?” she finally guessed just before the timeout buzzer went off.

“That’s right!” the show’s enthusiastic host announced to the applause of the studio audience—none of whom knew that the stakes for this particular contestant were so much higher than just losing a significant amount of cash.

As focused as she was on each question, she still could not forget what the show's diabolical producers had told her once she had stepped into the soundbooth.

 "This booth is airtight you nosy little girl and all it would take to replace the oxygen we're pumping into it with cyanide gas is one simple flip of the switch.. To save yourself a gruesome death, all you have to do is correctly answer every single question Howard asks you in the 30 seconds allotted. And if you even attempt to say a single word about your predicament to the television viewing public who are watching live right this very moment, an armed thug named Roosevelt has orders to kill your photographer friend, Cedric, in the most painful way he can image."

“That puts you just one question away from our grand prize of $76,500!” Howard informed her and everyone watching. “As you know, the $76,500 question is always chosen randomly from our barrel of postcards sent in by our viewers. Your fate, Miss Frill, now depends on the kindness of a stranger. Will your question be impossibly obscure or childishly simple?” he paused as he let the audience ponder this question. “Well, let’s find out! Judy, it’s time to roll out the barrel!”

A voluptuous blond in a very tight evening gown appeared on the stage, rolling an actual barrel towards the booth. When she reached Howard, he lifted up a small door on its side and pulled out a postcard of the Empire State Building.

“Mr. Eugene Wolper from New York, New York,” Howard read from the back of the card, “wants you to answer this question for your $76,500 grand prize: Can you recite pi up to the 20th decimal?”

The crowd simultaneously gasped and laughed at this nearly impossible question. There was no way the pretty redhead in the booth—as lucky as she had been before—was smart enough to get this one right.

“3.14—” Lacey began, knowing that she only had 30 seconds to provide the correct answer. But despite the presence of a figurative Sword of Damocles hovering above her head, she allowed herself the indulgence of a brief remembrance of her time spent with Oliver Fry, the brilliant and handsome dean of mathematics at Oxford University. It had been a lazy Sunday morning and the two of them had found it impossible to leave his large comfortable bed and start the day.

“Shall we attempt to go for the record?” she had suggested seductively as he held her in his arms.

“The spirit,” he smiled at her, “is oh-so-very-willing, but alas the flesh is equally weak. I’m afraid I shall have to spend the next week reviving myself with various tonics to provide you with this kind of entertainment again. In the meantime, why don’t I teach you something useful?”

“Like what?”

“How about the first 100 digits of pi?”

“How would that be useful?” 

“You never know,” he shrugged. “Someday it might just save your life....”

“—159…5…..89793…238..4…6,” she finished just before the timeout buzzer sounded. 

“That’s correct!” Howard exclaimed as the audience cheered with shock and approval for what she had just done.

“Can I get out of here now?” she asked Howard. 

“Certainly, Miss Frill,” he smiled at her—the artificial shape of his grin proving to her that he had been fully aware of the danger she had been in the entire time.

B-TV Part Four-B - Another Pink Repost

(By "I will probably repost soon" I actually meant "I'm going to repost immediately. I apologize for the uneven font, but I made the executive decision not to spend four hours correcting Blog-City's dubious code.)

Okay folks, the time has come for me to compose the second of the six posts I bound myself to write when I decided to accept the (totally self-imposed) HOUSE OF GLIB CHALLENGE.  

That’s right….

 It’s Pink Lady time!

 Can you FEEL the pinkness!
Today’s episode is interesting, because on the one hand it manages to be even more awful and difficult to watch than its predecessor, while also containing three moments that legitimately made me laugh out loud with appreciative glee rather than mocking derision.  In one case this was a result of an obvious ad-lib, while the remaining two came about as a result of the sheer talent of two poor, beleaguered professionals whose need to make a living denied them the chance to be elsewhere the days this episode was put to videotape.  

This second episode also serves to highlight what I’m afraid might become a recurring problem in the four following episodes—an issue that brings to bear the tricky subject of race and my own peculiar fascination with the tortured lives of those poor folks stuck in the background.

With that prefaced, let us get to it!

Episode Two
“It Continues….”

Guest Stars:

Once again the show starts with a short monologue from co-host Jeff Altman and once again the laughter we hear him receive has absolutely nothing in common with the size of the in-studio audience or the actual hilarity of his material.  This time, however, the disparity is that much more disturbing, since we are actually allowed to see the audience in many shots.  Throughout the show one cannot help but feel punk’d by the sound of spontaneous applause occurring over an image of an audience who are clearly not clapping or in anyway amused.
During his brief monologue, Altman’s only notable joke comes from a reference he makes to Pink Lady’s Friday timeslot competition The Dukes of Hazzard (upon which he once appeared as Boss Hogg’s even more unscrupulous nephew).  The reason it’s worthy of mentioning is because his joke comes at the expense of Hazzard’s lack of refinement and notorious use of T&A, but only serves to remind the viewer that as terrible as The Dukes of Hazzard was (and even under the thick veil of nostalgia, it sucked pretty damn hard) it never reached this level of artistic atrocity.  
Fortunately his comedicizing comes to a quick end, as he stops to introduce his titular co-hosts, Mie (who throughout my previous entry I kept mistakenly referring to as Mei) and Kei, who—just as they did in the previous episode—appear in traditional kimonos, which they then remove in order to perform an agonizingly soulless rendition of The Wiz’s “Ease On Down the Road”—a song that was pretty darn awful when Diana Ross sang it, but is ten times more excruciating when performed by two young Japanese girls who have no clue what they are saying.  And as was the case with the previous episode, the haphazard nature of the production becomes most evident when one watches the backup dancers, who are clearly under-rehearsed and struggle to stay in time with both the music and each other.
The number ends and its now time for what is—for me—the most painful part of any variety show—the scripted banter segment.  But with Pink Lady, of course, these sequences take on an added dimension of horror, since the only thing worse than a performer being forced to deliver a stale joke given to them by a writer so lazy one presumes it has been ten years since they were physically able to leave their house, is when that performer is a clueless Japanese girl who has no idea what she is actually saying.  Watching poor Kei have to ask Jeff how he got off the wedding cake (in reference to his tuxedo) it’s all one can do not to vow to find any man who was even near a typewriter in that studio and give them a wedgie they would never forget, especially since it’s in service of another mildly racist primer on Japanese culture—in this case, a look at various ceremonial robes, which culminates in Jeff being attacked by a supposed samurai in kabuki style makeup.  While he’s being chased around, the girls reintroduce that week’s list of guest stars and we are treated to the admittedly adorable spectacle of Kei saying the name “Teddy Pendergrass.”

Back from the first commercial break, Altman introduces Larry Hagman, who—one has to remember—was actually a huge star at that time.  Huge enough, in fact, to make one wonder what the hell someone had on him in order to get him to appear on this show.  Again, the scripted banter makes this sequence very difficult to sit through, but Hagman did manage to make me laugh once by quickly ad-libbing, “East Texas,” in response to the audience’s reaction to his use of the word ‘arigato.’  With those two words one glimpses the vast divide between fresh and canned entertainment—by being himself for just one second Hagman entertains more than he does during the entire rest of the show.

It’s now sketch time, which means Mie and Kei (whose names are considerately sewn onto their outfits) have to dance in front of big fake portable stereo, just like they did the week before.  This time, however, they only introduce two sketches.  The first marks the return of Altman’s preacher character and is only notable because Mie and Kei now have their names sewn onto completely different outfits.  
One gets the strange sensation that someone felt
it was difficult to tell them apart.
The second sketch is far more memorable since it marks the first appearance of a recurring cast member who will be instantly familiar to most folks of my generation.

Hey Vern (and Everyone Else), It’s Ernest!

Actually, it’s the late Jim Varney, an actor I always felt never got the credit he deserved largely because of his association with his most famous role.  During his brief appearance here he scores the show’s second genuine chuckle by announcing that Wednesday night at the Bland Ole’ Opry (yeah, I know….) will feature “Readings from Nietzsche.” The sketch then segues into a bland (hmmm….) poke at then-president Jimmy Carter and his kin.  Just like the last episode’s sole attempt at political satire, which was undermined by its strange unwillingness to take its premise to its logical conclusion, this sketch is undone by making the unusual size of Carter’s teeth the focal point of its comedy, even though no attempt has been made to exaggerate the size of Altman’s own choppers.  This sketch also marks the first appearance of the foxy 70s redhead I became infatuated with last episode, but who is never really allowed to be similarly foxy this go around.


Following some more painful banter (this time about how quickly Mie and Kei are learning English, which like the applause it generates bears no relation to any observable reality), we are now treated to a sketch featuring Sid Caesar that is a) culturally offensive, b) a total rip-off of Belushi’s samurai SNL sketches and c) easily the best thing in the entire show (and quite possible the entire series).  The success of the sketch comes entirely from the hands of Caesar, an old pro who could do crap like this in his sleep.  Unlike Altman, whose pseudo-Japanese invariably sounds contrived and insulting, Caesar has a special genius for faking languages in a way that makes them sound completely credible—to the point that one actually starts to believe that poor Mie and Kei can really understand what he is saying to them.  In truth, the sketch still isn’t very good, but the fact that it made me laugh once (when Caesar asks the girls—in what I suspect was another ad-lib—“You think you Bobby Soxers?”) is more than enough to make it the highlight of the episode.

The sketch then ends and we now come to the part of the episode I have truly been dreading:

I don’t know about you, but Mormons happen to be the nicest, most polite people who CHILL ME TO MY VERY SOUL (followed closely by Scientologists, natch) and—needless to say—the sight of an early 80s Donny Osmand fills me with more terror than any horror movie I’ve discussed on this blog, but for the sake of this challenge I faced my fear and kept watching.


Since medley’s are the apparent lifeblood of this show, Donny and the girls start off by singing a bland ditty I’d never heard before.  Donny is then given the spotlight, which he uses to perform an even blander ditty I’ve also never heard before,  Then the three of them reunite to perform an especially soulless rendition of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” that a) makes you completely forget that Donny was once able to fool people into thinking he was Michael Jackson when he sang “One Bad Apple” a decade earlier and b) makes you feel especially sorry for the quartet of African-American backup singers who are forced to pretend that they are enjoying their inclusion in this musical desecration.  
A digression:

I remember once when I was kid watching a New Kids On the Block video that was filmed at a live concert (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and being taken aback by a moment when a black bassist joined the “Kids” on stage and got funky with them.  The reason this struck me was because I had to wonder what kind of musician could not only get on a stage day after day and perform such patently manufactured music, but also manage to pretend like he enjoyed doing it.  Perhaps, I considered, he wasn’t pretending.  Maybe he did love playing bass for the New Kids and funking out with them on stage, but if that was the case, then how was it possible that he ever became talented enough to be put in that position in the first place?  It seemed to me that any potential musician who could take any joy out of playing “Hanging Tough” would automatically be disqualified from doing so, since the only possible explanation for their elation would be irreversible tone deafness.  

The only theory I could come up with to explain this situation was that in some cases it is possible for a performer to be so entranced by the mere act of performing that they are able to transcend the fact that what they are doing is terrible and enjoy the experience regardless of its merit.  And since it has become my habit to subject myself to projects as misbegotten as Pink Lady I have frequently tried to determine which of the myriad background players are simply pretending not to be in agony and which are actually caught in the grasp of the above condition (which I assume the German’s have named at some point).

Digression ends.

With this song selection, one does see a disconcerting pattern forming.  In the first episode Mie and Kei were compelled to perform “Boogie Wonderland” and “Knock On Wood”, while in this one they are saddled with “Ease On Down the Road” and “We Are Family”, all of which are songs one does not traditionally associate with Japanese performers—for good reason.  Famed more for their dancing than their singing, Mie and Kei have what can be charitably described as slight voices, so this determined focus on bombastic soul hits is clearly another in the growing multitude of bad choices that defined this series.  This is made most evident by the appearance of the show’s last guest performer.


But before we get to that, Altman and Hagman return in an Art Nuvo sketch that isn’t worth the effort it would take to describe it.  This is followed by an equally unworthy sketch based on Russian ballet star Alexander Godunov’s then-recent defection, in which Sid Caesar abuses all of the good will he earned in the previous sketch.

We now cut to Teddy Pendergrass, who is referred to as the show’s “musical guest” even though he eventually does less singing than Osmand.  His performance is notable because he’s joined by the same backing singers we saw earlier, only this time their enthusiasm seems a lot more genuine than it did before and also because it ends with a laughably raunchy number in which he explains to a presumed lover that he “…just want[s them] to do [him]” and which climaxes with about a dozen women rushing the stage.  All of these women are black, which one queasily senses was a choice deliberately made not to offend the kinds of folks to whom the thought of a white woman showing open admiration for a black man was a capital offense.

For the last ten minutes of the show, everyone is thrown together in a musical/comedy montage similar to the tribute to Hollywood that aired the week before.  This time the theme is New York, where Mie and Kei (again wearing clothing with their names stitched on it) are the tourists and their guest stars are the assholes they meet during their travels.  Donny sings “42 Street”, Teddy sings “On Broadway” and Sid and Larry embarrass themselves in a sketch whose entire premise is “Guys Sure Do Like Them Strippers”.

With that the show comes to a merciful end and we are yet again treated to the sight of Mie and Kei in skimpy bikinis dragging Jeff into a hot tub, which this time is not filled with a naked sumo wrestler, but all of our co-stars save Mr. Osmand (who—one suspects—wussed out for specious religious reasons).
I'll let you enjoy this last moment for yourself:
So that brings us to the end of this second of the six HOUSE OF GLIB CHALLENGES.  I hope it was a lot less painful for you than it was for me.  Please join us sometime in the unspecified future when we'll reach the halfway point of the challenge and come face to face with this:
Oddly enough, I'm kinda lookin' forward to it....
(But you shouldn't because it's never going to be written!)

B-TV Part Four - Pink Repost

(This was one of my favourite pieces I ever wrote for the old House of Glib and I thought I'd repost it rather than write whatever lame bullshit I'd come up with in the 3 hours before I have to go to work. At the end there's the promise of future updates in the series. There's one more I did write that I probably will repost soon, but don't wait for anymore after that. Ain't gonna happen.)

The thing about being in last place is that it allows you to take risks you would never even consider if you were winning the race.  After all, what do you have to lose?  If your risk succeeds, then you've made yourself a winner, and if it fails, you're no worse off than you were in the first place.
In 1980 Fred Silverman had been the president of the last place National Broadcasting Company (NBC) for two years--a position he had earned thanks to his reputation as a man who could work miracles for any network he worked for.  During his tenure at the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), he had moved the network away from its core of rural comedies (Mayberry R.F.D, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Hee-Haw) and transformed it into the home of much more sophisticated comedies such as  All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and M*A*S*H.  At the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) he inherited an ailing Happy Days and not only turned it into a top-rated hit, but built on its success with the popular spin-offs Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy.  He also gave the greenlight to such future hits as Barney Miller, Fantasy Island. Three's Company and Charlie's Angels, taking the network from last to first place.
Now it was his turn to revive NBC, but unfortunately the magic he once seemed to have possessed appeared to have finally run out.  Instead of putting out hits, he gave the world Supertrain, B.J. and the Bear and Hello Larry.  Apart from such nominal successes such as Diff'rent Strokes and its spin-off The Facts of Life, the Peacock network's schedule was such a black hole that it had taken to airing Saturday Night Live reruns on Friday nights in place of original programming.  If this wasn't the time to start taking some risks, then what was?
Enter the duo of two Canadian-born Greek brothers who had a contractual commitment to deliver a new variety show to Silverman's network.  Sid and Marty Krofft had made their fortune as the creators of a series of imaginative Saturday morning TV shows that took full advantage of their background in puppetry.  After beginning their producing careers with the cult classic H.R. Pufnstuf in 1969, they spent the first part of the decade entertaining children before finally deciding to move on to prime time fare with the Osmand siblings' 1976 variety show, Donny and Marie.  Unfortunately they followed this success with one of TV's most infamous debacles, 1977s The Brady Bunch Hour--a legendary flop in which the fictional Brady family moved away from their suburban home to Hollywood, so they could host their own truly terrible variety show.  Not quite as infamous, but equally lamentable was their attempt to turn a group of Scottish one hit wonders into TV stars with 1978s The Bay City Rollers Show--a series derailed by a) the group's utter lack of comedic (and musical) talent, b) accents so thick they made their poorly delivered punchlines completely unintelligible and c) its being filmed after the highly-acrimonious group had essentially split up and were no longer speaking to each other.   Despite these failures, the Krofft's were determined to hold onto their new variety show niche and in 1980 they delivered to NBC not one, but two such efforts.
(Now, those of you who have some clue where I'm going with this already know I'm not about to start talking about Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters....)
In the beginning, the Krofft's considered Hee-Haw's Roy Clark as a potential host and then very briefly considered The Village People, before being told that NBC had made a deal with a Japanese company involving the cross-promotion of their various entertainment projects.  As part of that deal, NBC was obligated to air six hours of content featuring a property owned by the Japanese company.  Among these potential properties was a megasuccessful female singing duo who had sold over 100,000,000 albums in Japan since 1976 and who had just made their first attempt to break into the North American market with the minor hit single  "Kiss in the Dark" (which peaked at #37 on the Billboard Top 40).
Silverman and his fellow executives were too beaten to care how they met their Japanese obligation and their foreign counterparts desperately wanted to counteract the duo's waning popularity at home by making them superstars in North America, so the Krofft's were told that they could meet their final commitment to the beleaguered network by producing six episodes of a variety show starring the duo and the two brothers--happy to have the difficult decision taken out of their hands--agreed.
And thus Pink Lady was born.
To direct the series' "comedy" segments, the Kroffts hired frequent Mel Brooks collaborator Rudy De Luca, who would later go on to write and direct Transylvania 6-5000, a 1985 horror movie satire only remembered today because it featured a young Geena Davis in an ultra-fetching vampiress costume three years before she won the Oscar for The Accidental Tourist.  To handle the writing of the show, they turned to Mark Evanier, who had worked on the lamentable Bay City Rollers show and who would go on to earn comic book immortality thanks to his collaborative efforts with Sergio Aragones on Groo the Wanderer.
Knowing that they would need a western face to absorb the potential culture shock of a network show hosted by two Japanese woman, they hired a 29 year-old comedian who had a development contract with NBC at that time--Jeff Altman.  In later interviews, Altman would (only half-jokingly) suggest that he got the job because his last name started with an "A" and was therefore at the top of the list of comedians who had similar deals with the network.
Unfortunately for the behind the scenes talent, the extremely tight schedule of their foreign stars did not allow them to meet or rehearse with the duo until the day before the pilot episode was scheduled to be shot.  It was only then that they learned the two details that ensured the entire project had been doomed from conception.  Despite the constant assurances to the contrary, Mitsuyo Nemoto (aka Mie) and Keiko Masuda (aka Kei) were not fluent in English.  Though they could engage in extremely limited conversation, they definitely did not speak the language well enough to host a North American TV show.  To make matters worse, it was clear that neither one of them wanted to have anything to do with the show and were doing it out of contractual obligation rather than professional desire.
The end result was an infamous trainwreck that is rightfully considered one of the worst TV shows of all time; one that remains as perhaps the best example of a "What Were They Thinking?" failure that era ever produced.
Six episodes were filmed in total, all of which are available on DVD (the show's lamentable reputation having grown large enough over the years for it to become a desirable collectible for all lovers of show business kitsch) and all of which I now have in my possession.  For reasons I still don't quite yet understand myself, I have decided to review each one of these six episodes--a task that will no doubt require a Herculian amount of will and endurance.  Enough so that I have chosen to name the endeavor the very first:
House of Glib Challange!
Today I shall begin with the pilot episode mentioned above.  Having just watched it and listened to this Realaudio interview with Mark Evanier, in which he implies that it rose to a level of success the others could not meet, I truly understand what a painful and agonizing task I have set for myself.  I sincerely hope that the end results justify whatever pain I will surely experience.
Episode One
"It Begins...."

Guest Stars:
Sherman Hemsley
Bert Parks
The credits begin with shots of a stadium full of people, all of them presumably there to worship our lovely young hosts.  Mie and Kei are shown waving to their hoards of adoring fans as they drive to their stage in the backs of separate convertibles (because sharing one would be so gauche!)--pink chyrons informing us who these presumably famous women actually are.  This is followed by a credit shot for Altman and then, oddly, another one for our titular hosts--a move that essentially gives them both first and third billing.  My guess is that they did this to remind the less capable viewers who weren't paying attention five seconds earlier that the two Japanese girls actually are supposed to be the stars of the show.  The credits continue, giving us a chilling look at the next 46 minutes of our lives.
Altman comes out alone--the ovation he receives baring no possible relation to the amount of people sitting in the theater.  Despite there being at most 100 people hijacked tourists annoyed that they couldn't get in to see a good show surrounding the stage (and I'm being generous with that figure) the sound we hear is equivalent to the applause and cheers of a packed auditorium.  The same aural disconnect is evident as Altman begins his monologue and is met by laughter that is far too powerful for both that amount of people and the actual quality of the jokes.  As a stand-up, Altman has always been more of a character comedian--relying on impressions and funny voices for his laughs--so he seems visibly uncomfortable as he tells a series of sub-sub-Carson one liners and only seems happy after pulling off an out-of-place pratfall.  Following his slapschtick, he goes on to introduce his co-hosts, explaining to the audience that despite their relative anonymity in North America, they are HUGE in Japan.  He proves it by showing the exact same stadium footage we were treated to in the credits three and a half minutes earlier.  The subtext might as well be text--THESE GIRLS ARE SUPERFAMOUS, so it doesn't really matter if you have no fucking clue who they are.  Altman informs us that Mie and Kei are going to begin the show by performing "...what I've been told is a traditional Japanese number," and the two of them come out in ornate kimonos, which--following a brief Japanese-language intro--they tear off to reveal glittery pink gowns as they begin singing their version of Earth, Wind and Fire's disco classic "Boogie Wonderland".
Now is as good time as any to discuss Pink Lady's musical abilities--they're not terrible, but one cannot help but assume that they're much, much better when performing in their own language.  Though their version lacks the funky beauty of the original, it is fun in a goofy karaoke kind of way.  Unfortunately the same could not be said for the dancing that accompanies it.
In his interview, Evanier tells us that the only time the ultra-professional duo ever got mad during the whole ordeal was when they felt they weren't given enough time to perfect their dance moves.  Having much more pride in their dancing ability than their singing, they worried that the scant rehearsal time they were given was making them look bad and they had a point.  Not only do their movements seem under-rehearsed, but so do those of their back-up chorus, whose out-of-sync mistakes the camera completely fails not to highlight at every opportunity.
Their first number having come to its inevitable conclusion, it's finally time to see how Pink Lady fare in the non-lip-syncing portion of the show.  It's at this point that you actually start feeling some empathy and affection for our embattled heroines as you imagine how you would do if you were asked to attempt to get laughs via a phonetically memorized script written in a language you don't understand that's filled with specific cultural references and attitudes that bear no relation to your life experience.  By that standard, Mie and Kei actually do an admirable job, although it certainly helps that they are both far more adorable than you or I will ever be (no offense, but it's totally true).  From the very beginning it becomes clear that the writers are following the mold of past variety hits such as The Sonny and Cher Show and Donny and Marie, by attempting to give each host their own distinctive personality.  Mie is the polite, hospitable one, Altman is the stooge who's constantly trying to make himself seem more successful than he actually is and Kei is the sarcastic bee-yotch who isn't afraid to put her male co-host in his proper place.

Naturally, this instantly makes Kei our favourite.

Despite their best efforts, the trio's success is severely hampered by the quality of their material, which seems as though it would have appeared dated even when it first aired, much less 27 years later.  One of the more cringe-worthy elements of the show are the constant Japanese references, which err on the wrong side of insulting stereotype.  At the end of their banter, the girls introduce Altman to their "bodyguardo", a fat guy posing as a sumo wrestler wearing a much-more network-friendly version of the traditional mawashi.  
Click to Enlarge
After returning from what was presumably a much-welcome commercial break, Mie and Kei start singing a song in front of a set designed to look like a large portable stereo (with a blue-screened image of a real stereo used in the long shots).  It's hard to tell, but it appears the song has something to do with the kind of things you are likely to hear on the radio and is merely a ruse to connect together a series of random and universally unfunny blackout sketches, all of which seem to be designed to showcase Altman's character skills.  The first sketch has him portraying a radio evangelist, but any potential satire of such folks is dutifully avoided so as not to alienate the Southern folk who might not see the humour in such mockery.  The second features Leonard Moon, the punch-drunk boxer who regularly appeared in Altman's stand up work.  Beyond that it's only noteworthy for featuring a foxy 70s redhead in a slinky dress (for absolutely no discernible reason besides the fact that such creatures are admittedly fascinating to behold) and this itself is only noteworthy because when you search the credits to find out who the redhead is, you discover that none of the featured sketch performers are identified by name, which you suspect they were mad about when the show was made, but a lot less so when it actually aired. 
But it is the final sketch that disappoints the most, simply because it is the only one that actually had any potential.  In it Altman dances on stage doing his passable Nixon impression (which admittedly he's doing at a time when everyone--including the five year old version of me who was alive when the show was made--could do a passable Nixon impression) as the announcer--also Altman--tells us that the disgraced former president is traveling around the country as the lead singer of The Richard Nixon Soul Review.  Not a brilliant or particularly insightful concept to be sure, but still one that could be funny if done right.  Unfortunately the sketch ends just when it should begin, stopping short of actually showing us Tricky Dick giving us his Motown best.  That the show squanders the lone idea that actually might have been successful pretty much sums up the entire state of the whole enterprise.
Click to Enlarge
Now it's time for one of the promised guest stars to finally appear.  In this case it's the star of the TV classic The Jeffersons:
Sherman Hemsley! 
Actually I have to admit that I've developed a certain fascination with the actor ever since I saw him in one the more recent iterations of The Surreal Life.  Seldom as viewers have we ever gotten to see such a dramatic dichotomy between a performer and his most famous role.  An actor made famous playing a loud, obnoxious blowhard (a character who was in fact designed to be a--much more successful--black Archie Bunker), Hemsley proved himself to be an extremely shy, lonely man who was so softspoken that the few times he did say something, his nearly inaudible words had to be subtitled so we could appreciate them.  This has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I suspect I'm never going to mention him on this blog ever again, so I might as well document my observation while the opportunity presents itself.
Hemsley appears in aid of a one-joke sketch that imagines what a USO show would be like if women were drafted into the military.  According to the show's writers it would be exactly like a regular USO show except the comedians would be dames and the sex kittens would be dudes.  Not quite what I would call a dazzling expression of the depths of the human imagination.  The sketch is only significant because a) it's far longer than it has any right to be, b) it features the foxy 70s redhead mentioned above in the role of the female Bob Hope substitute and c) in it (at precisely 18 minutes and 56 seconds into its running time) we are subjected to the show's first sushi joke, which is delivered extremely awkwardly by Kei (it being obvious that both she and her partner are far better at banter than sketch-work).
Click to Enlarge
Back from another sadly nonexistent ad break (this being the rare TV DVD where the lack of commercial interruptions is a bad thing) Altman introduces the girls to their second "special" guest:
Bert Parks!
Actually, I'm enough of a show business trivia geek to know who Parks is, but--luckily for those folks my age and younger who've never heard of the dude--Altman explains who he is to the girls (he's the guy who hosted the Miss America pageant for 25 years--from 1954-1979).  To the girls' amazement, the elderly gentleman's obvious stunt double tumbles onto the stage with a series of flips before a not-very-cleverly-hidden edit allows Parks to reveal himself to the audience (whose reception is still far-greater than the sum of their numbers).  The necessary banter is exchanged and we cut to another sketch featuring Altman as a fast-talking "Crazy Eddie"-type shilling cultural knock-offs (who also introduces a very short and utterly inexplicable sketch featuring Altman doing a bad Marlon Perkins impression) while the foxy 70s redhead does her best busty showcase model acting in the background. 
Having seen the above screencap of the foxy 70s redhead I keep referring to, I suspect several of you are thinking "Dude, she's not that foxy--move on already!"  To which I can only respond by saying:
Too late!
I am already smitten
I cannot be unsmit!
It finally being time for us to see something that doesn't suck, the show cuts to a video of Blondie performing the fourth track "Shayla" from their 1979 album Eat to the Beat (and anyone who tells you that the only reason I know this is because I just spent the last ten minutes browsing through their catalog on iTunes is a dirty rotten stinking liar who should mind their own beeswax thank you very much!).  Based on a quick peak at the rest of the episodes, it appears as though any musical act that actually had the slightest bit of "heat" in 1980 made their appearances via pre-taped videos that spared them the indignity of interacting with the hosts.  In the case of Cheap Trick, their "appearance" in the third episode is actually just the music video they filmed for "Dream Police" (from the album of the same name).  My guess is that when Ms. Harry and her cohorts filmed the clip, they had no idea where or how it was going to be used.
Sucks to be them!
Click to Enlarge
Back to the actual show, Altman and the girls briefly assault us with a sketch called "The Adventure of the Pink Falcon", which one assumes is a reference to The Pink Panther series, but really only seems to exist to prove that a) Mie looks better in a vinyl jumpsuit than Kei does and b) Altman cannot do a proper Bogart impression to save his or anyone else's life. 
Fortunately the sketch is short and cuts to a longer piece in which Altman does a bad Carson impression and interviews the girls--thus allowing them to be identified via chyron for the third time this episode.  Somebody really wants to make sure that we know who these girls are!  Before the sketch ends with a joke whose sole premise is that a comedian performing in Japanese is hee-larious, we are exposed to what amounts to be the most entertaining 13 seconds of the entire show (and probably the entire series):
Click to Enlarge
The last desperate volley of sketches comes in the form of a tribute-of-sorts to Hollywood.  Despite his present-day obscurity, one does have to admit that Parks is an old pro and has far more talent than a show like this deserves--his introductory song and dance actually bordering on the right side of charming rather than the more likely cheesy and dated.  Hemsley makes his final appearance in a sketch that takes aim at overtly-political Oscar speeches (take THAT Vanessa Redgrave!) and sign-language captioning for the deaf (take THAT...uh...deaf people....), but that I'm only mentioning because it has foxy 70s redhead in it.  I'd describe the rest of the sketches but this post is already four times longer than I thought it would be, so I'll merely say that they suck harder than yo mama (take THAT yo mama!) and move on to the song and dance medley that ends the show.
A song and dance medley ends the show.
Following some banter involving Neil Diamond (in which he is not used as a punchline) the girls perform snippets of Carol King's "You've Got A Friend", Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" and Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood".  But don't take my word for it, see it for yourself:
Click to Enlarge
And--FINALLY!--we reach the end of the show, which Mie and Kei inform Altman means it's time to go into the hot tub!  Our American co-host protests, but the girls change out of their dresses into string bikinis and drag him--tuxedo and all--into the hot tub, where he still protests, but with far less enthusiasm and conviction.  Now would seem like a perfect time to reintroduce a forgotten character from the beginning of the show!
Oh, that "bodyguardo"!
He's so fat and naked!
And with that the credits role and I feel a shiver roll down my spine knowing that I have to do this five more times and next time I'll have to face this:
Pray for me!

50 Words or Less - Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama

For some the capsule review comes easy, but for me it’s an exercise in pure frustration. As a means of self-discipline I have decided to confront that which tortures me through this continuing feature—B-Movie Bullsh*t in 50 Words or Less.

A demon imp unleashes terrible magic on some nerds and sorority girls. Definitely the best film made by DeCoteau during his early period, Sorority Babes isn't much more than an excuse to see some hot scream queens in various stages of undress, but is that really such a BAD thing?

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Sixteen


“But what the holy heck did I do to get sent to Hell, Duke? I lived a mostly good life. I went to church. I tolerated my mother. Sure I was tangentially connected to a dozen or so “accidental” deaths, but no charges were ever made.”

“Everyone’s innocent down here, pardner.”

“But I don’t want to go to Hell! There must be something I can do to stay away from here if that ambulance makes it to the hospital in time.”

“There is, Drake. You’d have to give up being a stuntman.”


“And sleeping with teenage girls.”

“Fuck you!”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Fifteen


“If I die, Duke, does that mean I have to spend the rest of eternity in this beautiful fiery Heaven?”

“This is Hell, Drake.”

“Yeah, right. Good one, Duke.”

“Do you see that guy with that moustache over there?”

“You mean, the one who looks like Hitler?”

“That’s Hitler, Drake.”

“Why would Hitler get to go to Heaven? That‘s messed up.”

“This is Hell, Drake.”

“You’re hilarious, Duke. Don’t ever change.”

“Do you see that woman talking to Hitler?”

“The one who looks like Joan Crawford?”

“That is Joan Crawford, Drake.”

“Oh my god! This is Hell! What the fuck?!?!?”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Fourteen

"Race Against Time"

“What’s going on, Duke. Am I dead?”

“That depends, Drake.”

“On what?”

“How fast the ambulance you’re in gets to the damn hospital. Every second counts.”

“Wait, so my life is in the hands of some random ambulance hack?”

“That’s just it, Drake. The people in charge of these things are real cocksuckers when it comes to irony.”

“Don’t tell me. I slept with the driver’s daughter.”


“What then?”

“Do you remember working on Moonshine County Express?”

“Wait! You don’t mean—“


“I really should have said something when I noticed she had an Adam’s apple.”


The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Thirteen


“Howdy, Slick.”

“Who are you? Where am I?”

“Don’t you recognize me, Drake? You doubled for me on McQ in seventy-four.”

“Duke? Is that you? But you died 2 years ago. I know ‘cause I got thrown out of your memorial service for hitting on Tatum O’Neal. I mean, how was I supposed to know she was only 15?”

“It’s me, Drake.”

“Then does that mean what I think it means?”

“That depends on what you think it means.”

“Am I in Heaven?”

“Turn around and you tell me, pardner. What do you see?”

“Fire. Lots and lots of fire.”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Twelve

"Going Apeshit"

“Hey Jerry, have you seen Drake?”

“Hi Eddie. He’s up there with Bill and Bill on the scaffold waiting for the go ahead.”

“You put him with Bill? Is that a good idea?”

“Probably not.”

“You don’t look too concerned.”

“You may not know this, but I have a daughter too.”

“Gotcha. But, still, couldn’t you have waited? This production already has one death on the books.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Guilty, but it’s not going to make promoting this flick any easier.”

“People love those monkeys. They don’t care about dead stuntmen.”

“From your lips to God’s ears.”

50 Words or Less - Once Bitten

For some the capsule review comes easy, but for me it’s an exercise in pure frustration. As a means of self-discipline I have decided to confront that which tortures me through this continuing feature—B-Movie Bullsh*t in 50 Words or Less.

Carrey’s star debut, Once Bitten posits a world where he’s Los Angeles’ last virgin, which poses a problem for vampire Hutton, who needs his untainted blood to retain her beauty. Bizarrely Carrey plays the straight man, making the ungodly hot 42 year-old supermodel the only reason to check this out.

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Eleven

"Not What You Thought It Was"


“Yes, Drake?”

“I feel like you’re angry with me.”

“You could say that, Drake.”

“I didn’t know she was your daughter. I thought she was Bill’s daughter, and I knew he wouldn’t have a problem with it. Would you have, Bill?”

“I’m sorry, Drake, I wasn’t paying attention. What were you two talking about?”

“The time I took Bill’s daughter to that church service.”

“Are you still pissed about that, Bill?”

“She joined that cult!”

“The Catholic church is many things, Bill, but it isn’t a cult.”

“Shut up, Bill! This is between me and Drake! Goddamn pope-lover.”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Ten

“Bill Problems”

“So what’s the gag this morning, Jerry?”

“You, Bill and Bill are going to drop off that dangling scaffold.”

“Which Bills? Couch and Madden?”

“No, Madden and McIntosh.”

“And what are we doing this afternoon?”

“The shot where you guys land in the pool, but Bill has a prior commitment, so Bill will be filling in for him.”

 “Gotcha. I think Bill has it in for me.”

“Can you blame him?”

“I didn’t know she was his daughter.”

“Yes you did. I specifically told you, ‘That’s Bill’s daughter.’”

 “I thought you meant the other Bill.”

“Oh, that would explain it.”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Nine

"Arrested Development"

“Hello Drake.”

“Jessica! Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. I haven’t seen you since that TV movie in ’74.”

“It has been a long time.”

“Are you just here for a day part?”

“No, I’m playing Stacey’s mom.”

“Bullshit! You’re too young to play her mom! What are you, forty-five?”


“And you could easily pass for thirty-nine!”

“Thanks….I think. So, were you here when the accident happened?”


“What went wrong?”

“Oh, you know, same-old, same-old.”

“Eddie sabotaged it because you fucked one of his girlfriends?”


“Just like Mannix and Ironsides all over again.”


The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Eight

"Inspring Woody"

“Who’s that, Vic?”

“Are you kidding me, Drake? That’s Stacey. She’s playing the girlfriend. You were hitting on her when Stevie’s stunt went wrong.”

“I must have blocked it out. She has a killer rack.”

“You’re not her type.”

“Bullshit, I’m every woman’s type.”

“Ever see Manhatten?”

“Can you ever truly see Manhatten?”

“I’m talking about the Woody Allen movie.”


“The Mariel Hemingway part? The 17 year-old his character was sleeping with? That was based on her.”

“You’re kidding!”


“Did he ever cast her in anything?”


“And now she’s starring in an orangutan movie?”

The orangutan movie.”