Rerun Junkie–Favorite Christmas Episodes

Bah humbug.

Yes, we’re all very aware that Christmas isn’t my favorite time of the year. Too many years working retail and running the holiday gauntlet have put a permanent crimp in my holiday spirit. And that goes for my reruns, too. I find most Christmas episodes to be too saccharine and overly-sentimental. They run that commercialized holly jolly through the society-approval filter and trim it with some moral lessons and it’s just enough to be nauseating.

However, there are a few episodes that have captured my heart, either because they forego these tropes, skewer them, or dress them in a silver pantsuit that’s absolutely to-die-for.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, The Golden Girls– The women are all planning on spending Christmas with their families. The bemoaning of the commercialization of Christmas leads them to exchanging homemade gifts, including Rose’s whittled maple syrup spigots and Blanche’s “Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” calendar, opened the night before they leave. On Christmas Eve, Blanche and Dorothy show up at the counseling center to pick up Rose, who is working a morning shift, only to be held up by a Santa (Terry Kiser), who demands they all celebrate Christmas together. Thanks to Sophia, they’re able to get out of that jam and to the airport, only to see their flights home cancelled. Later, at a diner, the women realize that they already are spending Christmas with family.

The ending is a bit sweet, what with it snowing in Miami and all, but Rose hitting “Surfin’ Safari” on the jukebox instead of a Christmas song saves it. Though I’ve always found it bizarre that they decorated the house, tree included, even though they wouldn’t be there for Christmas, I’m glad they did. They have some really lovely decorations and the tree is gorgeous. And Blanche’s pantsuit is fabulous.

“The Christmas Show”, The Monkees– The Monkees, in their forever pursuit of the next gig, end up getting hired to mind Melvin (Butch Patrick), a disgruntled forty-year old trapped in a twelve-year old’s body, while his aunt is away on a Christmas cruise. Turns out, Melvin isn’t much for Christmas. When the boys try to get him into the holiday spirit, they end up blowing through all of their money and aggravating Melvin to the point that he goes home. It’s only then that Mike realizes what’s been missing the whole time.

It could be a typical “lesson of Christmas” episode, but it’s The Monkees. They don’t do typical. Instead, they do madcap that involves them chopping down their own tree (while apparently stoned), Peter wrecking a department store while shopping for toys, Micky and Davy dressing as Santa and his elf and going down the chimney, a happy ending, and capping the whole thing off with an a capella version of “Riu Chiu”. It’s zany and sweet and the crew getting their time in front of the camera during the credits is a lovely gesture.

“Dear Sis”, M*A*S*H– In a letter home to his sister, Father Mulcahy expresses his frustration in not feeling very useful. Most everyone in camp has the holiday blues, but it seems that it’s hitting Father Mulcahy the hardest as nothing he does is really helpful. He even ends up decking a combative patient (who hit him first, so he had it coming). It’s only during the Christmas party in the mess tent that Father Mulcahy realizes that he has made something of a good impact, first when Charles thanks him for having his mother send him his old toboggan cap, and then later when Hawkeye singles him out during a toast.

M*A*S*H did several Christmas episodes during its eleven year run, but this one stands out to me for several reasons. One, it centers much of the episode on Father Mulcahy, which didn’t happen very often. Two, instead of singing a traditional Christmas song, Hawkeye leads everyone in singing a lovely version of “Dona Nobis Pacem”. And three, the episode ends with one of my favorite lines from the series. As the party is broken up by incoming casualties, the voiceover reading of Father Mulcahy’s letter to his sister says, “You know, sis, it doesn’t matter whether or not you feel useful when you’re moving from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.”

“The Christmas Story”, Dragnet– A local church’s baby Jesus has gone missing from its nativity scene and Friday and Gannon are on the case. The statue has little monetary value, but it’s sentimental value can’t be measured and the parishioners would be very sad to go a Christmas without it. Being diligent detectives, Friday and Gannon follow a tip provided by an altar boy (Barry Williams) that leads them to a suspect (Bobby Troup), but he only borrowed a friend’s car and got into a little fender bender; he didn’t take any baby Jesus. Dejected, Joe and Bill go to the church to let the padre know they didn’t find the baby Jesus, but they’d keep looking. Just as they start to leave, a little boy pulling baby Jesus in a wagon comes into the church. It turns out that he’d prayed to baby Jesus for a new wagon and promised Him that if he got it, he’d give Him the first ride.

I’m not one for religion. I tend to cringe and shy away when people ram home the “Christ” in Christmas. But this episode is an exception and it’s all in the handling of the case and the ending. Our detectives are pursuing this matter seriously, as they usually do, but the justice is less nabbing a thief and more doing right for a congregation. The little boy who took the statue was fulfilling a promise, something that is more in tune with the holiday spirit than any of the sappy treacle that often gets splattered on the screen.

“Christmas with the Addam’s Family”, The Addam’s Family– It’s the common holiday problem that all sitcom parents face at one point or another: Santa. Pugsley and Wednesday are told by the Addams’s unkind neighbor that Santa doesn’t exist. The family bands together and elects Uncle Fester to play the role to restore the children’s faith. When he gets stuck in the chimney, each member of the clan takes it upon themselves to prove that there really is a Santa.

This could easily be a mediocre, overly-sweet episode, but this is the Addams family. This delightfully loving family is weird and wonderful and only they could pull off a Santa overload with such sincerity.

“Operation: Silent Night”, Magnum P.I.– While ferrying Magnum, Rick, and Higgins to their various destinations before he catches a flight home to New Orleans, T.C.’s chopper crashes on a deserted island that the Navy uses for target practice. Though Rick is convinced they’re all going to die, everyone else is pretty confident that they’ll get off the island soon enough. T.C. works on the chopper while Higgins forages for food and Rick and Magnum gather firewood for a signal fire. They end up discovering a downed Japanese WWII plane, which Higgins salvages to create a boat, which later sinks. Rick falls in a bog that he thinks is quicksand, which causes him to imagine his own funeral. T.C. despairs over his inability to fix the chopper and as such, he’ll miss his flight home. And Magnum, who was going to play Santa to some orphans, dons the outfit once again and provides the group with a Christmas tree to boost their spirits. All the while, the guys are unaware that off-shore, a Navy commander (Ed Lauter) with no Christmas spirit is about to bombard the island for practice.

What I love about this Christmas episode is how it’s so tangentially related to Christmas. There are obvious Christmas references and elements (Magnum dressed as Santa is hard to ignore), and there’s even a Scrooge in the form of the Navy commander insisting that his crew do drills on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. But the episode isn’t dressed up in garland and lights and bows. There’s no heavy-handed true Christmas spirit bashing us over our heads. It’s four friends coming together in a difficult situation not because of some of magical holiday emotion but because that’s just what they do. There’s also the nod to another December holiday celebration. In addition to Christmas, T.C. also celebrates Kwanzaa, which he educates Higgins (and the audience) about.

Okay, I might have gone on a little long, but don’t for a minute think that’s because I’m having a change of heart about Christmas or Christmas episodes.

Oh no. Does my heart look three sizes bigger to you?

Advertisements

Rerun Junkie–All of Your Favorites Are Problematic

One of my favorite episodes of The Monkees is called “Monkees Chow Mein”. The four guys inadvertently intercept a fortune cookie filled with top secret information at a Chinese restaurant. The CIA get involved. BJ Hunnicutt is there. Hijinks ensue.

And Joey Forman plays the head Chinese guy, Dragonman.

If you’re not familiar with Joey Forman let me assure you that he is a very funny man who is definitely not Chinese. His portrayal of Dragonman involved scotch-taped eyes and a stereotyped accent. It’s a somewhat less obnoxious version of yellow face, but there’s no doubt that it’s yellow face.

It’s problematic, to say the very least.

So, how can it be one of my favorite episodes? Two reasons. One, it’s funny and most of the humor in it could have been achieved just as successfully by Joey Forman (and his right hand man, Gene Dynarski) not doing yellow face. The lines and the antics would have been just as funny because it had nothing to do with the stereotype they were portraying.

Yes, I realize there’s a lot of privilege involved that it allows me to approach this episode from that angle.

And two, being a rerun junkie means that I’ve learned to accept that my favorites are going to be problematic.

It’s a simple matter of history, really. These shows are a product of their time, whatever their time is. That’s why you see a lot of racist casting (e.g. white people playing minorities) in the ’50s, ’60s, and even into the ’70s. The stereotypes continued all through the ’80s and beyond.  Misogyny and sexism has run rampant for decades, so it’s always available in reruns. To be fair, the shows can’t help it. And it’s far too late for them to change.

That’s not to say any of it is right, of course. These things might have been common then, but even at the time, folks had problems with it. Pernell Roberts reportedly objected to the racist stereotypes of the minorities on Bonanza. And Van Williams repeatedly tried to get Bruce Lee a bigger role on The Green Hornet, which the producers reportedly refused because they didn’t want to give too much focus to a non-white actor instead of the star.

So, when it comes to reruns, it’s a matter of acknowledging that at the time this was the practice. They’re time capsules of cringe-worthiness, syndicated reminders of our sketchy, shady, seedy TV past.

Even shows that did their best to be socially conscious (for their time) still stumbled. For example, Barney Miller often tackled topical 1970’s issues, some of which are still relevant today. And it largely succeeded in addressing those issues, at least in an illuminating sort of way. But there are some episodes that missed the mark and as a result have aged terribly. The episode “Rape” attempted to address the laws (or lack of laws) pertaining to marital rape. However, done in the confines of a 30-minute comedy…yeah. The tone-deafness only rings clearer as the years go by.

These are the landmines you risk as a rerun junkie. It can make for uncomfortable viewing and in some cases all of the logical rationale can’t save you from the oogy feelings. There are now episodes of my favorite shows that I avoid because I just can’t.

Retaining perspective is the key. It’s a good thing that these issues are noticed and that they cause discomfort. It’s a sign that things have progressed (somewhat) and that the old status quo has long spoiled.

Ideally, I’d like to do in-depth posts about the different issues that crop while rerun-watching.

But for now, I continue to come to terms with my problematic favorites.

Charity Money

thumbs upIf you’ve been present in my social media world in the past week or so, then you know that I’ve been doing some linking to a few different things that are raising money for a couple of different causes (a teacher friend has a campaign to raise money for some hands-on math supplies for her high-poverty students at DonorsChoose.Org; The Davy Jones Equine Memorial Fund is having an auction; Davy’s Angels are selling t-shirts with the proceeds also benefiting DJEMF). In addition to trying to raise some awareness for these activities, I’ve also donated to my friend’s campaign, bought a t-shirt, and have been getting outbid left, right, and center on the nifty memorabilia at the auction.

I like to put my money where my mouth is when I can. And I try to work it so I always have money for my mouth (thought I will have no trouble running my mouth for various charities and organizations when I can’t afford to donate; that is the very least I can do).

So, I feel I should make a full-disclosure about my charity money, the money I earmark to donate to various causes, charities, organizations, and whatnot because that money might involve you, too.

My charity money is the money I make garage sale-ing my life.

That’s right. If you buy any of my crap on eBay (stuffed animals will be going up in the next month or so, BTW) or any of the stuff I’ve made and put in my Etsy shop (new bracelets should be in the shop in the next few weeks), then the money you pay me will probably go to one of my chosen organizations.

Now, it didn’t always work like this. For the longest time, that money went to pay my bills. And then, when I started making enough money through my various day jobs and a little from writing, I started saving it up. It’s never been a big cash flow. More like a nickel trickle. And last year I came to a point where I decided to put those nickels to some good use.

Why am I telling you this? Because some people like to tell other people how to spend their charity money. Even if they have absolutely no connection to that person’s charity money, they still feel the need to tell them that there are other, more deserving organizations than whatever one they chose to donate to, oh, and by the way, there’s no need to tell people that you donated to any charity because they do it all the time without needing to mention it, you unhumble jerk.

I am telling people this so they don’t make the grave mistake of buying something from me (except my books; that’s bill-paying money and I’m fairly sure folks are cool with me paying my bills) only to then have me take the hard-earned money they gave to me in exchange for goods and give it to some organization that they don’t feel is deserving and would rather I not ever mention.

I am also telling people this so I can tell the people that don’t even buy my stuff, but still have a problem with the organizations I give to, that they can just shut the fuck right up, turn right around, and give to the organizations they think are more deserving. Don’t like me talking about my organizations? Then you talk about yours louder than I talk about mine. Or don’t tell anyone at all and just mute/unfriend/hide me. Whatever trips your trigger, floats your boat, and/or tickles your fancy.

But for the love of all that is unholy, just in general, STOP TELLING PEOPLE THAT THEIR GIVING PRACTICES/AWARENESS RAISING IS WRONG. Sweet mercy, you fucking buzzkills. Shaming people because their giving/awarness-ing isn’t to your liking is just a dick move and you’re a terrible person and you should feel bad. No, really. You need to analyze your need to belittle someone trying to do something good. Because that seems like a serious hang-up to me. Major personality flaw. Also, not a good look.

(For clarity’s sake and to cut off an argument before it starts, I’m not talking about valid criticism of an organization because not all of them act on behalf of the greater good. I’m talking about people shitting on a reputable organization and/or fundraising/awareness attempts because of blah blah bullshit bitchcakes. You know what I’m talking about.)

So, in conclusion, if you buy something from me during the garage sale-ing of my life, that money will probably end up going to a organization that I dig. If that offends you, then you should not buy my stuff.

Except my books.

Always buy my books.

Rerun Junkie– My Top Five Theme Songs

Music

I like a good TV show theme song. It sets the tone, you know. There are some fabulous theme songs out there. There are some clear cut classics and everyone has their own preferences. And being a rerun junkie such that I am, you had to know that I would have my own list of the best.

This is a very subjective top 5 and it’s one that’s not in any particular order because I’m wobbly like that. But odds are if you ask me what my favorite theme song is on any given day, it will be one of these.

It’s the harmonica that really makes it.

Come on, who doesn’t love that killer opening?

That opening bass line…and then it just wails.

The military drum beat backing those horns. Perfection.

It tells you everything you need to know about the show. You can sing along AND dance to it. It’s gold.

Let’s Be Brave

“Let’s be brave” is my new motto. It’s advice I received from the most unlikely source.

A couple of weeks ago, I dreamed about Michael Nesmith of the Monkees. He appeared to me in this dream as he looked back in about 1966, with the wool hat and the denim jacket and the young face with great sideburns. And in this dream he suggested to me that we stage a 1950’s fashion show. I don’t know why he wanted to do that, but I loved the idea of it. And I told him so.

He told me that I shouldn’t love the idea, but that I should love that he was brave enough to have the idea and share the idea. Then he looked at me and smiled and said, “Let’s be brave.”

I woke up in love with that sentence. “Let’s be brave.”

Too many times I’ve found myself holding back because I was afraid. Afraid of how I might be judged for having an idea and putting that idea out into the world. I don’t want to be seen as a failure. I don’t want to be seen as stupid. I don’t want my ideas to be judged as stupid.

This fear of being judged is keeping me from being brave. I can’t get anywhere, doing anything, be anything if I don’t make some bold moves and give my ideas the respect they deserve. First of all, no one else will respect my ideas or support them if I don’t put them out there. And if people don’t respect or support my ideas, than I’m getting the same amount of respect and support I’d be getting if I didn’t tell them at all.

The point is to be brave enough to own and accept my ideas for all the world to see.

I’ve made small steps in doing that already. I posted a novel chapter on the blog for people to read. This is something I don’t do because I don’t like anyone to see what I’m working on. I don’t like talking about it. I don’t want anyone to know.

Well, that’s silly. I’m a writer. I write. Here’s what I’m writing. Enough with this chicken shit.

Enough with the yellow-streak down my back that’s effecting more of my life that just my writing. Yellow is a terrible color on me anyway.

Let’s be brave.

Monkees Music

The Best of The Monkees

In the weeks since Davy Jones passed away I’ve been listening to my Monkees albums and reading articles about him. What struck me was the music was typically discussed more than the show. Not to downplay the show at all (it did when an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and truly is pretty outstanding), but considering how critically derided the band was for being created and not playing the instruments on their first two albums that’s quite an accomplishment.

In listening to the albums I have from start to finish several times, I realized just how much good music The Monkees made, a credit not only to the studio musicians and songwriters they worked with, but also to The Monkees themselves. Remember, after the second album, they took over creative control of their music.

I’m also reminded how much of their music ISN’T played today. My local oldies station did a Monkees music weekend in honor of Davy Jones and they played so many songs that never get airtime. Good songs. It occurred to me that when people think of The Monkees, they think of “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Daydream Believer”, and “I’m a Believer” first. Then maybe they remember “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”, “Mary, Mary”, and “Valleri”. Maybe.

Not wanting to let good music go to waste, here are the songs (a few from each album) that I don’t think you should miss:

From The Monkees: “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day”, “Take a Giant Step”, “Papa Gene’s Blues”

From More of The Monkees: “Auntie Grizelda”, “Look Out” (Here Comes Tomorrow)”, “Sometime In the Morning”

From Headquarters: “You Told Me”, “Sunny Girlfriend”, “Randy Scouse Git”

From Pieces, Aquarius, Capricorn, Jones LTD: “Daily Nightly”, “Love Is Only Sleeping”, “Star Collector”

From The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees: “Auntie’s Municipal Court”, “PO Box 9847”, “Tapioca Tundra”

From Head Soundtrack: “Circle Sky”, “Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again”, “As We Go Along”

From Instant Replay: “Teardrop City”, “Someday Man”, “I Won’t Be the Same Without Her”

From The Monkees Present: “Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye”, “French Song”, “Listen to the Band”

From Changes: “Oh My My”, “Ticket on a Ferry Ride”, “99 Pounds”

From Pool It: “Heart and Soul”, “She’s Movin’ in with Rico”, “Gettin’ In”

From Justus: “You and I”, “I Believe You”, “Unlucky Stars”

Bonus Tracks: The Rhino re-issue CDs feature some really good bonus tracks. Two of my favorites are the live version of “Circle Sky” on Head and an alternate take (with different lyrics) of “Mommy and Daddy” on The Monkees Present.

My further unsolicited advice: All of their albums deserve a listen (including Live ’67, which has my favorite version of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” ever, and Then and Now…Best of the Monkees, which features three new tracks, “That Was Then, This Is Now”, “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere”, and “Kicks”), but if you’re looking to start somewhere other than the beginning, start with Headquarters and then listen to Pieces, Aquarius,… as those two, I think, are two of their best.

You won’t regret it.

Words to Live By

Quotation marks

I like quotes. Real people, fictional people, doesn’t matter. I like a good, strong quote. I like a quote you can apply to your life. I’ve got my share of those. Here are a few of my favorite ones.

“Simple respect. I expect nothing more and I’ll accept nothing less.” -Margaret Houlihan, M*A*S*H

It’s the baseline for my life. I’m big on respect. I give basic level respect and I expect to get at least that in return. As I get to know you, the respect increases, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I keep in on that basic “You and I are both humans and I was raised with manners” level. And sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I decide you don’t deserve my respect, and I’m not going to give it to you. Period. End of story. I won’t treat you badly or disrespect you (unless I’m forced into that position); I just won’t deal with you at all. If you’re not worth my respect, then you’re not worth my time.

Likewise, I expect basic respect and I won’t take anything less. I won’t let you disrespect me. I won’t settle for it. I won’t stand for it. I got that sort of treatment more often than I should have when I worked in retail and I tell you what, I didn’t get paid enough to pretend it wasn’t a big deal. Customers were corrected, as nicely as possible at first, of course. Because I’m working a job that YOU think is lowly doesn’t mean you get to treat me that way. You will treat me with common courtesy and basic respect. Period. It’s up to me to earn anything more.

“My guts are not here for you to love.” -Margaret Houlihan, M*A*S*H

Another line that I apply to my general existence. You don’t have to like me. I wasn’t born for you to like me. I’m here for my own purpose and I act on my own reasons and I make my own decisions and you don’t have to like any of that. I’m not here to make you happy. I’m here to live my life and do my time and make the most out of what I’ve got and do it in my own way and if that doesn’t satisfy you, Scooter, then I don’t know what to tell you. Get used to disappointment, I suppose.

“I cannot sit here waiting for you to have an epiphany. I am losing the will to live.”Radek Zelenka, Stargate: Atlantis

I use this as a reminder because I have a tendency to do a lot of sitting and thinking and don’t always follow through on the action part. Problems are typically solved through action and granted, it’s good to attempt a solution after thinking one up, but there comes a point when you can only do so much thinking and then the doing has to start. I can’t sit around and wait for a better idea or a better option. I’ve got to run with what I’ve got and risk failure.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” -Samuel Beckett

If there was every a quote for writing, this is it. If there was ever a quote for LIFE, this is it. It does me no good to go through life afraid of failing and as a perfectionist, that’s sometimes difficult for me to grasp. This quote reminds me that failure is part of life and can be the best teacher.

“The power is inside you. Nobody can give it to you. Nobody can take it away. Now go play the harp.” Michael Nesmith, The Monkees

The ultimate self-esteem boost. I don’t need anyone’s permission to be great. I don’t need anyone’s approval to be great. I can be great if I want to be and no one can stop me. In the end, I’m the only one that rules over myself. No one else.

“They can’t yank a novelist like they can a pitcher. A novelist has to go the full nine even if it kills him.” -Ernest Hemingway

A writing reminder that can also be applied to life with a little revision. I’m in it to win it, baby. I’ve to be ready to throw a complete game every time I step on the mound. (And sometimes after a particularly rough writing jag, I feel like I just threw nine innings, too.)

“Hope for the best. Expect the worst. Life’s a play. We’re all unrehearsed.” -Mel Brooks

In the end, we’re all just muddling through the best we can. Might as well make the best of it.