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Festive Rewind: Grey’s Anatomy “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”

24 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

In our last of the Festive Rewind, Andrew Kendall discusses Grey’s Anatomy and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Thanks to everyone who has taken part in the series and to all who have been reading. Have a very happy holidays!

5It’s considered passé to speak about Grey’s Anatomy these days, let alone admit affection for it. Alas for me, I’ve never known to keep in vogue. In its tenth season, the show is not quite the well-oiled machine it used to be, although it still provides its pleasure. Even if there’s argument on the true quality of its current output, I think it’s fair to call the behemoth sized 27 episode (!!!) season two one of the finest seasons of dramatic television in the last decade. Packed Seattle Grace always has much happening and frayed nerves lead to confusion and awkward humour, and it’s that same overreliance on too many people with varying emotions being forced to inhabit the space together. Which is, incidentally, an excellent description of what the holidays is like for some of us….

“Ironically, it’s that family togetherness that’s thought to be the reason depression rates do spike at the holidays.”

6Every day at Seattle Grace Hospital takes the closeness of work relationships to operatic levels is like Christmas when you’re living out of everyone else’s back pockets. The five original interns – Cristina, George, Izzie, Meredith and Alex – have grown to become a unit themselves, so in a way this is family closeness added to work relationships’ closeness making everything especially volatile. What’s impressive about Grey’s Anatomy’s incorporation of holiday themes in their shows is always the way the holidays end up being a non-event, in “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” in particular like the thanksgiving episode that season the holiday is incidental to the usual madness which comes with life. No one has the time to stop living because it’s Christmas. Executive producer and writer Krista Vernoff is familiar with the show’s beats and exploits them in a way that makes the holiday asides grow organically from the story. It’s not so much a Christmas episode of Grey’s Anatomy as it is a regular episode with a burgeoning realisation that, oh yes, it’s Christmas too. Much is happening, but there are two main aspects that demand focus in relation to the festivity of the season.

7The necessary Christmas spirit is being dispended via Izzie. Heigl’s turn as the well-meaning, kind Isobel Stevens has always been impressive for me and season 2 was her best season. She’s getting over her breakup with Alex and using Christmas as a tool to make her happy. The other interns are less than enthused, but they allow her these peculiarities in the spirit of the season. Meredith, though, is moved to sympathise with Alex when she realises he’s failed his Medical Boards Exams and needs help studying. Soon Cristina gets roped into it, then George and as we expect Izzie ends up finding out. Character beats mean that Justin Chambers isn’t a part of the scene (the most underrated of the five interns) but the scene in the hallway with the original four is a classic example of Grey’s at its best with the great image of Cristina lugging that Christmas tree reminding you what time of year it is.

“He CHEATED on me with George’s skanky syph Nurse!” Izzie screams driven to outrage. And Meredith responds with significant sagacity.

“We know he cheated on you. That’s why we let you turn the living room into Santa’s freaking village! We’re not big on holidays, you know that! But we’re trying to be supportive because you’re having a hard time, just like Alex is having a hard time […] I have a mother who doesn’t recognize me. As far as family goes, this hospital, you guys are it. So, I know you’re pissed at Alex but maybe you could try and help him anyway. Sorta like in the spirit of this holiday you keep shoving down everybody’s throats.”

2And, sure, like dark and twisty season 2 Meredith it’s somewhat cloying but it gets home the point of the season in fine form. It also leads to the perfect example of Grey’s thriving on tragedy and comedy when a few scenes later, Izzie puts her resent aside and does help Alex with his studying.

He’s confused about this apparent Christmas miracle. “Why are you helping me after what I did?” he asks.

And there’s a beat on Heigl’s face where you think the show is going to get steeped in sentiment until you realise what you’re dealing with. I say season 2 of the show is one of the finest for a drama, but Grey’s Anatomy more than most of its contemporaries has honed the mix of comedy to drama in an excellent way, and this scene is an example of that as Izzie she screams at him.

“BECAUSE IT’S WHAT JESUS WHAT FREAKIN’ DO!”

8And it’s a line that works on multiple levels, as earnest and well-meaning as it is funny but in stark contrast to elsewhere in the hospital where atheistic Cristina who clashes with boyfriend Burke over a patient whose mother is overly devoted to Christmas. Vernoff does not ask us to choose sides. Christmas may be happening but life is happening, too. And in the midst of festivity, work must go on. The Cristina arc is one of my favorite representations of atheists dealing with Christmas on a network show, because she does not get a change of heart and she does not get hit with the Christmas spirit as she watches this boy reject the donor heart he’s been given. Instead she delivers a speech completely without sentiment beginning with a line that is a fine estimation of her character.

“You know I don’t believe in Santa either Justin or God. I believe in medicine. And it’s a medical miracle you’re alive.”

The “Festive” season means different things for different people. For Meredith it’s about appreciating the people you call family – blood related or not, for Dr Bailey stuck at the hospital it’s about seeing all the crazy injuries that come with the season while dealing with her pregnancy, for Izzie it’s about god and festivities. And it’s fine that they don’t all see it as one singular thing. Sure, Christmas root are religious but it’s hard to argue that for a non-religious holiday the season has become about more than just Christmas or religion. In all the pieces we’ve covered in this Festive Rewind the question of how the season influences character relationships has come up because with its end of year placement December becomes a time to share with those close to you, in whatever zany way you choose. It’s why Meredith’s closing monologue is about family and finding your tribe. The world of Seattle Grace has always been one full of the hustle and bustle and the festive season does not change that, but it does shine a brighter light on the importance of things like grace and belief systems.

It’s not really an episode ABOUT the holidays, but it’s sort of why the title of “Grandma Got run over by a Reindeer” makes so much sense. During all the festivities, there’s still a lot of dark pragmatism to deal with. Like the man who tries gift wrapping a 75 inch television for his wife and ends up with a hernia. Or the good day who falls off the roof while hanging “Hanumas”. Life drama doesn’t disappear at Christmas. It only gets augmented. And, yet, when that final shot of Izzie, George and Meredith under the tree looking up comes even if Christmas is not your season Vernoff makes me agree, friends are ALWAYS in season. And, being close to people you care about is ultimately what being festive is about, right?

Months after leaving University Andrew Kendall is still trying to solve the answer to that infamous question – what do you do with a B.A. in English? In the meantime he spends his days as an editorial assistant at a local magazine in Guyana and spends his nights watching too much film and TV, being provoked and provoking others on the internet. If you feel like provoking check him out on Twitter, where he spends too much time.

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Festive Rewind: Happy Endings “No-Ho-Ho”

24 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

Switching things up and Yashoda Sampath brings us some sitcom joy (and sadness thanks to cancellation) with Happy Endings and “No-Ho-Ho.”

Happy EndingsI’m going to take this space to celebrate the most tragic television loss of the year. If you missed out on the superlative third season of Happy Endings (and judging by the ratings, most of you did) then now’s the time to reflect on what you missed (and enjoy a Christmas-time marathon).

Happy Endings’ fatal flaw is that its humor is so perfectly off-the-cuff, and so often visually based, that it’s nearly impossible to write about. (Believe it or not, people aren’t usually evangelized by, ‘hey dude, you’ve just gotta see it. you’ve just gotta see it.’). But the Christmas episode, “No-ho-ho”, is not only one of the funniest episodes of the series, it also serves perfectly well as an introduction to our zany group of friends.

The premise, like most things of genius, is shockingly simple. Jane has been hiding the fact that she’s a Christmas baby for most of her life, and naturally the gang finds out. (In a perfect character detail, even her insanely blinkered younger sister, Alex, has forgotten the secret of Jane’s birthday).

So the engines are set in motion: the gang makes a promise to Jane that they’ll completely block out the invasive presence of Christmas just for this one day, so that she can celebrate her birthday on the actual day of her birthday.

But, this being no ordinary set of friends, each one has a particularly bizarre Christmas fetish that threatens the scheme throughout. Max (Adam Pally, who’s earning recognition as a variant of the same character on The Mindy Project), struggles to fight his addiction to eggnog, while Alex struggles against a need so strange that I don’t even want to spoil it (Elisha Cuthbert is an absolute comedy genius, for those of you who’ve only seen her wasted in dramatic roles).

Brad equally gets his moment, as he majestically overreacts to the weaknesses of his friends. Let’s just say that kitchen sink water-boarding is involved.

What makes the episode work, apart from the wonderful A-plot, is how well it uses the characters themselves to drive the humor. Max, the least gay gay man ever portrayed on television, provides the perfect counterbalance to Brad, the exuberant metrosexual, while Jane’s dictatorial tendencies work perfectly against Alex’s outer-space flightiness. Also, three words (possibly five depending how you see it): Hip-hop Santa Dance-off.

The show really found itself in season 2, but in season 3 it takes the ensemble to new heights of hilarity.  Do yourself a favor this Christmas: spend an hour or two with our merry Chicago psychopaths.

Yashoda Sampath is a digital strategist who blogs whenever she has the time, and often when she doesn’t. She firmly believes that 16 months is more than enough time to describe herself as a Brooklyn native, and consequently annoys others by teaching them how to pronounce Long Island like a local (Lorne Guyland).

Festive Rewind: Gilmore Girls “Forgiveness and Stuff”

24 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

Today is a bumper Festive Rewind day (it is Christmas Eve after all) and Kari Peperkorn Marlowe talks us through the Gilmore Girls episode “Forgiveness and Stuff.”

Gilmore Girls

‘Twas the weeks before Christmas and all through the town,

Bright reds and greens filled the square – and Taylor’s sweater, it was brown.

The Christmas pageant – a mess; Jesus missing his arm,

And the smell of sweet apple tarts, like fresh from the farm.

Christmas parties, so merry – Richard adjusting his tie,

Before dessert was served, he dropped like a… fly.

Okay, it’s official.  I can’t pull together a full synopsis of Gilmore Girls’ season one, ‘Forgiveness and Stuff’ to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas without getting callus and corny (which, by the way, sounds like a disgusting combination in itself).  It’s not that I didn’t try, believe me. I just got stuck with rhyming ‘Santa burger’ and felt it would be better for all concerned if I took a more traditional route.  Hey, if it was good enough for the Three Wise Men, it’s good enough for me.

Here’s the scene:

Rory and Lorelai aren’t talking; Lorelai and Emily aren’t talking and Dean is busy lurking outside the Gilmore residence since that whole, ‘we fell asleep at Miss Patti’s after the dance, but nothing happened’ situation. Despite knowing Rory is a good kid – a great kid, really (and we’re still far from season five’s rebellion) – Lorelai is forced to don her ‘Mom hat’ (maybe in this case, more accurately, her Mom jeans, as this was December 2000 and high-waisted pants seemed more of thing).  With Emily mad at Lorelai over letting Rory gallivant about town, the annual Gilmore Christmas party invitation is quickly reneged and Lorelai is left to dream of Emily’s famous apple tarts while eating salad from a bag.  While I’m unsure why Lorelai had bagged salad on hand in the first place, it’s clearly a last resort as she makes an attempt to order pizza, but to little avail.  That’s the problem with a small town.  If dude’s brother has the delivery van, all bets are off.  With starvation imminent, Lorelai puts on her winter coat and heads to town by foot.  First stop?  Luke’s Diner for some festive cheer and an especially good cup of nutmeg-infused coffee.

Lucky for Lorelai, her sadness over the lack of apple tarts prompted Luke to boost her spirits in the form of a Santa burger.  “No one has ever made me something quite this disgusting before,” she says with love and thankfulness in her voice.  The mayonnaise beard is, admittedly, an inspiring and artery-clogging addition to any holiday feast and now I can’t celebrate Christmas without whipping up my own culinary masterpiece.  Or at least watching this episode to remember how it was done.

Gilmore Girls

Before Lorelai can dig into her bearded burger, she gets a message from Rory saying the party has been cut short and Richard has been taken to the hospital.  While Lorelai was trudging through town in her parka and mittens in search of food, the Gilmores were sitting down for their holiday feast.  During dinner, Richard began complaining he was too warm and had to loosen his Burberry bowtie.  This act caused a look of extreme disapproval from Emily who must have been equally toasty as she was sporting a fur-trimmed suit jacket – a piece we thankfully never saw her wear again… but I digress.  It isn’t long before Richard collapses and is taken to the hospital where, believe it or not, Jane Lynch is working as a nurse.  Fortunately, this is in the pre-Sue Sylvester of Glee days, so her demeanor is as even-tempered as one could expect with Emily yelling for puffier pillows and crazy things like ‘answers’ and ‘updates.’

In the end, Richard fends off a bout of angina, Emily and Lorelai make up, Rory and Lorelai repair their relationship, Lorelai and Luke become a little closer and Taylor gets his free hot chocolate.

Looking back on this episode, I can’t help but reflect on the wonderful foreshadowing that was done in such a clever way.  Christmas or other such holiday episodes can often be put on the shelf and filed under ‘filler’ as they don’t necessarily contribute in an active way to a show’s story arch.  That’s not the case with ‘Forgiveness and Stuff’ though.  In fact, there were three great moments that provided flashes into the show’s future:

1)      It’s all about Harvard: Leaning through Rory’s open bedroom window, Dean tells Lorelai that he wants Rory to follow her dream and go to Harvard, and that if she doesn’t, it won’t be because of him.  Of course, by season four, Rory’s new dream is to go to Yale and Dean never stood in her way.

2)      The Dating Game: After driving Lorelai to the hospital, Luke finds himself in the waiting area.  Sitting down next to him, Emily tells Luke he’s an idiot and that he should have been on a date with Lorelai.  Even in this 10th episode I think the world agreed, but their relationship wouldn’t turn into something more until the end of season four.

3)      Father Knows Best:  Richard did the best for his family and provided in the ways he thought he should.  Lorelai tells Luke that unlike her father, she thinks he would be a good ‘Barbie-buying’ Dad.  While Luke seems vaguely open to the idea of being a father – or at least to this discussion – he said he would give his daughter the money to buy what she wanted and would wait outside.  Of course, by season six, Luke’s daughter, April, had joined the show and it turned out that Luke loved being a hands-on father.  He would pick out the Barbie’s, or in April’s case, a cat-themed vanity bathroom set, complete with toothbrush holder.

The one thing that I love most about Stars Hollow, holidays or not, is that despite the fact this was the first Christmas we experienced in the town, it felt like we’d been there forever.  Maybe a few seasons, or maybe a lifetime.  It’s as though we’d heard Luke explain that he doesn’t have a holiday menu *again* this year and we know that he’s turned Taylor down in his plea for free hot chocolate before.  It’s a warm a cozy place – like coming home in December and sitting down with a giant cup of eggnog (with or without rum, no judgment) in one hand and a minty candy cane in the other.  It’s a place I came to love for 154 glorious episodes.  And it’s a place I feel comfortable saying, “But there’s food, and there’s people and there’s a burger with a face.”  It’s family… and in the end, that’s what “Forgiveness and Stuff” and Gilmore Girls is all about.

With a passion for theatrics and a flair for the dramatic, Kari is a self-proclaimed TV fanatic and someone who’s not afraid of getting zealously immersed in the fictional lives of her favourite characters.  If the world was a different place, Kari would most likely be found running Stars Hollow’s Dragonfly Inn or climbing her way to the top at Lockhart Gardner or Florrick Agos and Associates. Kari writes all about The Good Wife over at Lockhart Gardner

Festive Rewind: The West Wing “In Excelsis Deo”

24 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

I’m going to be chatting about The West Wing’s first Christmas episode “In Excelsis Deo” in relation to catching up with a show long after it has finished. The Christmas narrative reveals a whole lot more about these characters to the audience and for me personally, it shaped my feelings towards one particular pairing.

The West Wing Donna2013 is the year I finally sat down and watched all of The West Wing, prior to this the only Sorkin show I had seen more than a handful of episodes of was The Newsroom (I know). Marathoning a show this long after it has been on air and one that has a large fanbase means there are plenty of people who are willing to chat with you about this watching endeavor. While this isn’t the same as seeing something as it airs for the first time, it does still lend itself to the notion of a shared experience even if most of these chats occur with people who have already seen the episodes you are watching for the first time. “In Excelsis Deo” was mentioned by several different people as being a favorite West Wing episodes and it’s one that shows off a variety of strengths from character to story.

As you have probably gathered from this Festive Rewind series I like holiday themed episodes because they give shows a chance to do something different even if they are often variations of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life. Leo points out “In Excelsis Deo” that the country doesn’t shut down just because it’s Christmas Eve and while there are no visits from ghosts or angels these characters are faced with life changing events both big and small.

TobyFor Toby we get to see a softer, compassionate side as he becomes involved with the very real issue of homeless vets. CJ deals with another heartbreaking situation with the death of a teenage boy and the reason why he was murdered stirs up emotions. We see just how far Josh and Sam will go for Leo (something Leo does for Josh in the season 2 Christmas episode “Noël”), even if they go about it in the wrong way. Mrs Landingham reveals a heartbreaking piece of her past and why Christmas has the potential to make people feel sorrow as well as joy. The final sequences which cuts between the funeral and the carol singing at the White House brings the tears; “Little Drummer Boy” is the perfect rousing and misty eye inducing festive song.

West Wing groupIt’s not all despair and this brings me to the Donna and Josh of it all. Here’s the other thing about marathoning a show; you don’t have to wait seven years to see the couple you want to hookup finally make the move and get together. “In Excelsis Deo” is the episode in which the Donna/Josh stuff clicks for me; from Donna imploring Josh to do something for Leo and telling him “It was my regular face Josh, I wasn’t trying to guilt you” to the back and forth banter about what Josh is going to get Donna for Christmas. The scene that had me jumping on board this good ship is when Josh eventually gives Donna her gift – Heimlich Beckengruber on The Art and Artistry of Alpine Skiing.

It’s not the book but what’s written on the inside that counts (something that remains between Josh and Donna alone) and it’s the combination of the hug, Josh’s “I meant it” and the sneaky look back and smile that shows the intimacy between this pair long before they sleep together.

Festive Rewind: Boy Meets World “A Very Topanga Christmas”

23 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

More ’90s treats and Whitney McIntosh discusses Boy Meets World and “A Very Topanga Christmas.”

topanga“A Very Topanga Christmas” isn’t the worst episode of Boy Meets World by a long shot; I wouldn’t even classify it as a particularly bad episode when taken as a whole. The problems I had with the episode are few, but any fan of BMW would be able to tell immediately that a few characters seem off in their mannerisms and reactions to certain things. Which is unfortunate, because I really think this show is one of the TGIF programs that could pull off a holiday episode seamlessly and without it feeling like a “very special episode” every time.

The episode, which originally aired around halfway through Season 5, centers on Topanga spending the holidays at the Matthews’ home because her parents are away and she didn’t want to spend the holiday season alone. That is where the premise starts and end, no more details needed than that simple set up. Shenanigans are obviously bound to ensue, but the way everything unfolds is fake seeming and almost feels like someone wrote a spec script and the producers decided to film the episode without reading it first.

Instead of acclimating herself to the Matthews traditions and participating in a family Christmas, as anyone who has ever watched an episode where Topanga speaks could tell you she would be likely to do, she instead decides to be uncomfortable with other people’s traditions and pressures the Matthews to change their holiday to make her feel at home. It’s a false feeling storyline to start with, and only becomes increasingly so when this division between the way the holiday is celebrated is then used to cause a divide between Cory and Topanga and cast a shadow on Cory’s feelings for his girlfriend of many years.

Most of the episode centers on these “issues”, but still manages to be funny. Topanga making them drive all the way to Vermont from outside Philadelphia just to get a real tree may be unrealistic, yes, but the subsequent cut shots to show the passing of time were well done and Topanga not letting Cory have maple syrup on his pancakes when they just drove all that way to get it definitely made me laugh. Of course the two make up at the end of the episode and give each other the promise rings they bought for each other (cue the awwwws from the audience), but I just didn’t feel the need for manufactured drama when so much of the joys of Boy Meets World come from the way we know each character inside and out and how they interact in their tight knit group of friends and family.

The appearance of Mr. Feeny as the annual reader of A Christmas Carol to the Matthews family was a welcome one, if not exactly surprising. His annoyance at being told the tradition had changed was classic, as was the decision to have Cory dream he was in the Christmas Carol situation of being visited by a ghost. Having this only be a brief part of the episode is a nice nod to the cliché of Christmas episodes using it as a framing device, and I liked the creative decision not to suffocate the episode with it. The joke of Topanga being married to Jack in the future was there, it was funny, and they didn’t ruin it by beating it into the ground for more than 2 or 3 minutes.

The Shawn and Jack part of the episode feels a little shoehorned, but not enough that it should have been cut completely. Since most of the later seasons took place in their apartment and treated them as brothers who get along for the most part, it’s always interesting to go back to when they were first introduced and see how far the relationship came from these early days. For most of the main plot both of them served as the peanut gallery for everyone else’s issues, but what else are you going to hire a Lawrence brother for if not that reason exactly?

The best part of “A Very Topanga Christmas” is that even with all the useless drama, the story wraps up with not only Cory and Topanga recommitting to a healthy and happy relationship for many years to come but also with Alan giving Cory some fatherly advice. Once Cory grew out of the early high school years that relationship didn’t get as much screen time and the advice between father and son aspect of it was mostly phased out. Which is true to life, as fathers and sons only share so much in conversation after a certain point, and this was a nice moment between the two.  The episode ends with everyone being happy together as a family, having fallen asleep to the sound of Mr. Feeny reading Dickens aloud. Even Morgan gets some face time this episode, although I’m pretty sure she didn’t actually get a line. All in all, it isn’t the best holiday episode I’ve ever seen, but it does reinforce familial relationships (as you would expect an ABC show to do during this era) and supply a lot of laughs in what feels like a short 20 minutes.

Whitney McIntosh is a marketing professional/sports and television lover who blogs in her spare time. She is currently in the process of moving to New York after living in Boston all her life, which can only end in interesting ways. You can read more of her writing at her blog MyTVSangtoMe.

   

Festive Rewind: “A Mom for Christmas”

23 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

Kerensa Cadenas is treating us to something a little different for the Festive Rewind series with the 1990 TV movie “A Mom for Christmas” (I’ll be wrapping my gifts while watching this beauty later).

A Mom for ChristmasI don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first watched A Mom For Christmas but I do remember that it was via the free preview of the Disney Channel–me and my sister’s favorite tri-annual happening. For whatever reason, the made for TV movie starring Olivia Newton-John  became a holiday staple for Jillian and I, although there was a dark period while teens/early adults where our favorite couldn’t be found.

Made in 1990, A Mom For Christmas falls into the grand tradition of made for TV Christmas movies–formulaic, cheesy, weirdly lit and completely and terribly enjoyable. Jess is an angsty 11 year old who haunts the aisles of Milliman’s–a local department store. Unlike other girls her age, she’s not there to pour over sterling handled brushes, scrunchies, leggings or other 90s fashion staples–she’s there to people watch–mainly the mother/daughter pairs holiday shopping. Jess’s mom died at three, so it’s just her and her workaholic but SUPER hot dad. Jess has fixated on a pair of mannequins–a little girl and Olivia Newton-John esque looking woman–mainly because they represent what she’s been longing for. With a little holiday magic and early 90s sorcery (which seemed to permeate kids/teen things), her favorite mannequin comes to life! The bond between Amy and Jess is immediate–as Jess gets to experience life/holidays with a mother figure and learns about the secret lives of mannequins (I know). Amy has to acclimate to being a human beyond what she can read in books and deal with falling for Jess’s foxy dad.

It’s an absurd premise (and one directly stolen from Mannequin) but it’s packed with mannequin hijinks, tween angst, hazy montages, and the BEST 90s fashions–including many off the shoulder silk blouses. Did I mention there’s music? There’s definitely a montage set to a tearful Olivia Newton-John ballad. In case you are worried, things work out pretty well for all involved. Objectively, it’s a terrible mess–steeped in equal parts holiday loneliness and 90s cheesiness with a hint of a movie of the week. But it’s a relic of that nostalgia–laughing over Olivia Newton-John’s long lace skirt paired with a baggy sweater or Jess’s pink hued nightstand lamp. As an adult, I’ll watch and catch all the mistakes or weird references: the cop who has been investigating the missing mannequin is trying to establish himself as a hard-nosed noir types cop, Amy says she’s 28, my current age, which seemed so grown up and now feels anything but. And even after seeing it so many times the ending will never make any sense.

Above all else, for me, it’s a family relic. Something my sister and I would watch while shaking presents and as we got older laugh about how awful it was. The best thing about A Mom For Christmas is that it is my holiday constant–it never changes. As everything else around me changes–my age, who I watch the movie with (2013: Crafting aunt and napping grandmother) and where what holiday sadness lies (2013: a grandfather shaped gap) it’ll remain my holiday comfort. Olivia’s wide eyed gaze, Jess’s messy braid and the hot dad’s graying temples never change.

Kerensa Cadenas is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is a staff writer for Women and Hollywood. She also writes for This Was TelevisionForever Young Adult, and Bitch magazine. She was the Research Editor for Tomorrow magazine. You can follow her on Twitter and read her ridiculous thoughts about teen television at her website.

Festive Rewind: Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Amends”

21 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

In today’s guest post Ian Austin talks about the season 3 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Amends.”

amends-pic-21So when I heard this site was doing Christmas rewinds, it took me less than a second to figure out the show I’d focus on. And the episode took a half-second less. Buffy The Vampire Slayer brought the world in the season 3 episode “Amends” and like every truly memorable Buffy episode decided to do something different from the norm. Instead of a happy, fun Christmas episode, they gave us an episode that is among the saddest and most adult episodes that the show ever produced. Which is fascinating, given the same show brought us “The Gift,” “Lie to Me,” and something called “Passion” which I can’t even get started from…

The basic gist of the episode is that when Angel died in S2, he spent a near-eternity in a Hell dimension suffering for his sins. His re-emergence from Hell wasn’t explained, and the show did a (sometimes subtle, sometimes not so) decent job of bringing him back into the fold while ensuring that there were lasting repercussions. Prior to this episode there was tension between Buffy and Angel, and the sense that Angel didn’t come back quite right. When the Scooby Gang find out Angel is alive they, remembering he went evil in Season 2, were suspicious. After all, Angel (as Angelus) did have a tendency to go for the hurt rather than the pain; who’s to say he wasn’t pulling a long-con to destroy Buffy mentally and physically.

And that wasn’t a basic gist at all, and didn’t even get to this episode. I’ll try again.

So “Amends” focuses on Angel’s psyche, presenting us with flashbacks to his days as an evil, drunken, lecherous vampire through to his present as a broody, sober, striving to be asexual and failing vampire. He’s taunted by The First, a Dickensian concept if ever there was one in the form of an ancient being who – like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol – taunts Angel with his past, present (and future) failings, forcing him to relive the terrible things he’s done, is doing in the present, and wants to do in the future; the last being ‘bite Buffy.’ Buffy never strived away from pointing out the correlation between Angel’s soul and a rehab mindset, and in this episode they go for the jugular in the ‘Christmas is a horrible time for addicts’ sweepstakes.

After all, Christmas is a time for excess. Which is hard enough for anyone, but for someone like Angel who is constantly teetering on the wagon it’s torture. In this context, pig’s blood can be seen as an allusion to non-alcoholic beer; the cravings have to be transferred, they can’t be removed entirely. At this point it’s worth noting that The First appearing as Jenny isn’t a clever twist on the work of Dickens, as Scrooge is shown the importance of family via Tiny Tim, a being who will die because of greed, while Angel is shown that Jenny died because of him and – as a result – Giles is never going to have the family. The concept of a stolen life resonates with Angel, tying in with how Darla turning him into a vampire removed his potential for rising above his laddish attitude.

Incidentally, the Christmas Carol contrast is fascinating in regards to Darla. Belle left Scrooge and broke his heart; Darla chose Liam and stole his humanity. In retrospect that flashback would work brilliantly here, but that’s hindsight for you.

Back to the episode… and we see Angel’s passivity (it’s clear The First is using the truth, or Angel’s perceived truth, as a weapon) is rooted in his desire to die. Not showing us what happened to him in Hell is a clever way of getting around some of the logic flaws here; the show can play the post traumatic stress disorder angle without it feeling patronising. The combination of his addiction and PTSD combine to make Angel suicidal, which is a brave concept for a Christmas episode now, but back then was pretty damn huge. Events build until a fantastic scene between Angel and Giles, where Giles raises the obvious question of whether Angel thinks he deserves to be saved.

One of the flaws of Buffy’s second season was that, after “Passion,” they mostly dropped the Angel-Giles issues. I mean it makes sense conceptually, with Buffy punching Giles and begging her to let it go after “Passion,” but at the same time it cuts back on dramatic material for Anthony Stewart Head. In this episode, we get some great and subtle acting from him, as you can visibly see his demeanor go from ‘I don’t trust you and would kill you if you turned evil, regardless of Buffy’ to ‘I trust Buffy.’ The show doesn’t make a big thing of it, it’s just that the narrative complexity fascinates me; Giles isn’t offering holiday cheer, he’s choosing to believe in Buffy generally and this is heartwarming.

Indeed, there’s only three bits of holiday cheer in the episode. The first is Xander helping research The First using Christmas as an excuse and… well, we won’t get into the horribleness of Xander’s ‘camp out at Christmas’ tradition because the show has never established whether vampires inability to enter a home means they can’t climb a fence, and it’s unpleasant to think of how abusive the Harris household is.

The second bit is more a subversion than anything as Buffy tackles the ‘virginity’ concept with Willow. She’s just gotten back with Oz after the events of “Lovers Walk,” where she cheated on him with Xander. It was a thing. Anyway, the episode triumphs because Oz – who has had sex before – and Willow don’t have sex because he’s not ready. Yeah, ‘HE’S NOT READY.’ Again, it’s a pretty big thing for a show nowadays to point out that guys don’t want sex 24/7, and this was another sweet moment in one of the nicest relationships in TV history. You could read the scene as Oz sensing Willow wasn’t ready and taking the pressure off of her, but I think an equally valid reading is that Oz just wasn’t used to the idea of sex with someone he cared about. Which gives the scene a slightly more intense undertone, book-ending “Lovers Walk” nicely as that episode was about how obsessive love can be bad, whereas here it’s more selfless: love where characters don’t take advantage of each other just because they can. I think Willow realising Oz wasn’t that guy was probably the best Christmas gift she could have ever gotten. Even if she’s Jewish and doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Which brings us to the third and final ‘Christmas Spirit’ moment. Namely the end of the episode, where Angel’s given up and has walked out in the throes of a rising sun to end it all. It’s a very powerful moment and a very sad moment; the idea of this character feeling he has nothing to live for, and is a bane on the existence of everyone around him. Buffy’s pleas with him to not do this don’t work because, sadly, suicidal people already know all of the ‘don’t do it’ arguments. They think about them constantly, and the disease can still win. Seeing Buffy breakdown is brutal stuff for a Christmas episode, knowing that in the end she’s powerless to stop this. And then, a miracle happens…

It starts to snow.

Now lots of people have debated the meaning of this, as to whether some sentient force brings the snow to spare Angel’s life. And maybe there is an explanation there (given the prophecy from Angel’s self-named TV show), but for me I think in the end it’s just snow. The importance is not the event, rather what it does for Angel. It doesn’t solve his problems (indeed, those continue into his own show, and are the reason he leaves Sunnydale), they just give him a stay of execution. And he walks off with Buffy into the unknown, a Christmas Day where – for once – while there isn’t a happy ending, there’s a moment where things can’t possibly get any worse for the characters.

I know this wasn’t the most cheerful episode to do a Christmas retrospective on, but I think it’s important to note during the holidays that lots of people are in real-life situations of pain and suffering. And while they can’t be fixed easily, or in some cases at all, to me the true meaning of Christmas should be letting people know they’re not alone. Whether it’s donating to charity, sending a ‘merry Christmas’ message to someone you used to know, or just letting your loved ones know you care about them, stepping outside of presents and commercialization sometimes brings more joy than anything else.

Oh, and go watch “Amends” again. It’s a tough episode to sit through, but one of the true underrated gems from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Having written in the past for TV OvermindCult Den and Haddonfield Horror, Ian Austin will soon be debuting on Inter-comics with an article on Firestorm (of DC Comics infamy.) Until this occurs, his fan-fiction scripts for a Daredevil series can be found on BZN. If you want to tell him The Avengers is a good film and get into a long-winded debate, you can follow him on twitter @https://twitter.com/I_A_Austin.

Festive Rewind: Frasier “Merry Christmas Mrs. Moskowitz”

20 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

Today’s guest post comes from Noel Kirkpatrick as he discusses Frasier’s take on different faiths celebrating the holidays.

FrasierMoskowitzIt’s a Chanukah miracle! Andrew Rabin discussed Rugats and its lackluster take on Chanukah earlier in the feature, and now I present you with “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz” from Frasier. If Andrew “A Rugats Chanukah” credited with at least exposing kids to a non-mainstream holiday even while still sort of abandoning it, then “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz” demonstrates why it might’ve been helpful for those who celebrate in Christmas — even if it’s in a more secular than religious way (something else this episode touches on) — to be aware of other religions and traditions other than our own. The episode is classic Frasier farce, complete with mistaken identities, hiding people and things from unsuspecting guests, near-constant lying, and it all culminates in the big reveal that brings all the chaos down a single big punchline. In this case, it’s Niles dressed up as Jesus, hiding in the bathroom with a Christmas tree.

You see, Frasier was buying his son, Freddie, a menorah (Lilith, Frasier ex-wife, is Jewish, which makes Freddie Jewish) and a woman overhears him. After helping Frasier pick out an appropriate sweater for Roz, Helen, the woman, asks Frasier to do a favor for her daughter: “A date with a nice, unattached doctor.” Frasier and Faye actually hit it off very well, but as Faye and Helen are about to head off to Florida, they decided to stop by Frasier’s apartment, which is in the processed of being decked out with a tasteful (horrid) Christmas, and here we learn that Faye and Helen are Jewish, and that Frasier not being Jewish may be a point of concern for Helen. So Frasier, Niles, and Martin pretend to be Jewish until Helen and Faye finally leave. Oh, and Niles is helping Daphne put on a Christmas revue that’s a combination of religious and secular songs.

As farcical episodes of the show go, “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowtiz” isn’t their best, though David Hyde Pierce dressed up as Jesus is still a total hoot. Much of the humor of the episode derives from the fact that for all their supposed learning and culture, Frasier and Niles are largely clueless about Judaism. When questioned about his bar mitzvah, Frasier mentions that the mohel was there, so not to show there were any hard feelings. Niles’s toast is a string of Jewish platitudes — “L’Chaim! Mazel tov! Next year in Jerusalem!” — and when Martin asks Niles “how to be Jewish,” Niles advises him to answer questions with a question.

The episode should be horrible since it trades in tired Jewish stereotypes — meddlesome mothers, massive amounts of guilt — but it trades more heavily in the fact that non-Jewish people know next to nothing about the traditions of Judaism. Not only are there the above examples, but Roz doesn’t know what a menorah is, and Frasier isn’t aware of how kosher wine is supposed to taste (apparently kosher wine has gotten tastier). The episode is funny because a) because people who don’t know anything about Judaism see their own cluelessness on display, and in a safe way and, more importantly, b) Jewish viewers get their experiences of dealing with gentiles distilled into one 22-minute episode, and, hopefully, get a good laugh at reliving the conversations when people ask about their faith and traditions.

Of course, if we were all a little more aware, then this wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place! This idea is complemented by Frasier and Martin’s battle over Christmas decorations in the apartment. Being aware of others’ needs and lifestyles is an important aspect of our lives, and it’s a one that is very much a part of the season.

Noel Kirkpatrick is the co-founder of Monsters of Television and This Was Television and he writes episodic criticism for TV.com. You can follow him on Twitter, if you like, as well.

Festive Rewind: Rugrats “A Rugrats Chanukah”

18 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

Andrew Rabin talks about “A Rugrats Chanukah” in today’s festive guest post.

Rugrats

If you Google “list of Chanukah episodes,” a surprising 16.8 million results pop up (interestingly, if you Google it with any other spelling of the holiday, only 520,000 results appear). The first link is a list of “The Top 8 Chanukah TV Episodes of All Time.” I do not know who wrote this list, but it is notable in two ways- only five of the eight listings are actually episodes of television, and only three of those five are actually Chanukah episodes.

The second link is the Wikipedia page for “A Rugrats Chanukah.”

Between June, 1994 and May, 1997, nearly a three year span, Nickelodeon aired only two new episodes of Rugrats; “Passover,” on April 15, 1995, and “A Rugrats Chanukah” on December 6, 1996. Most kids, me included, certainly did not realize that the episodes airing in between were all reruns. But I certainly noticed that these two episodes existed.

“A Rugrats Chanukah,” like its predecessor, does away with the two cartoon-per-episode format that existed for most of Rugrats run. It starts, again echoing the Passover episode, with Tommy and the babies playing the roles of the Chanukah story. Tommy even alters his catchphrase, pronouncing that “a Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do.”

The episode quickly shifts, however, to a modern day story centered on Grandpa Boris putting on a play at the local synagogue telling the meaning of Chanukah. When Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, and Lil hear this as the “meanie of Chanukah,” they decide he must be defeated. This leads to their entertaining, if standard, shenanigans, and a strange confrontation between Boris and his friend Shlomo, which concludes in the revelation that Shlomo could not have children. Even the most Chanukah-heavy episode gets derailed.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the episode is Angelica’s storyline. All Angelica wants to do is watch the Cynthia Christmas Special. Angelica is, as always the antagonist to Tommy’s protagonist. This puts the show in the position as having the one character who is interested in celebrating Christmas, even if it is just because of her love of Cynthia rather than some deep religious beliefs, on the “bad” side. It comes off, at least at some level, as portraying Christmas as less important than Chanukah, if not flat out worse.

“A Rugrats Chanukah” is not a great episode of television, or even a great episode of Rugrats. Heck, it’s not even the best Jewish-holiday themed Rugrats episode (and I’ll be happy to come back in the spring when you ask everyone to write about their favorite Easter episodes). But Rugrats was also willing to teach kids about the non-mainstream holiday, something even most adult shows avoid. It serves its purpose. And it’s what we’ve got.

Andrew Rabin is very nearly, but not officially, a lawyer. If you want to read more from him, check him out on Twitter @arrabin56. If you want to read less from him, his blog is almost never updated, so that seems like a good bet.

 

Festive Rewind: Community “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

17 Dec

It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.

Today we have Les Chappell talking about the ambitious Community festive outing “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”

Abeds_Uncontrollable_Christmas_1In 2011, Community established itself as something unlike anything else on television. What started out as a show about a group of dysfunctional individuals coming together in a third-rate community college turned into an omnibus of pop culture references, homages and stylistic variations, held together by a sharp understanding of just how much these people had come to depend on and mean to each other. This remarkable year was capped off with “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” an episode that’s the show’s most ambitious undertaking from an emotional and aesthetic standpoint. And, fittingly enough, it’s also one of the show’s very best efforts.

From the first minute of the episode, it’s clear that Dan Harmon and the rest of the show’s creative team are prepared to do something special even by their standards. The familiar environments of Greendale Community College have been converted into stop-motion animation, emulating such classic Rankin-Bass Christmas specials as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without A Santa Claus. There’s a remarkable attention to detail, the puppet versions of the actors pairing seamlessly with the voice-overs, and all the little details of the study room and campus—right down to the Luis Guzman statue—are captured perfectly by the artists at 23D Films. It’s fantastical while at the same time being familiar, a sign of the holiday spirit permeating this world.

Abeds_Uncontrollable_Christmas_6But while the episode could have gotten away with simply being a standard episode of Community done in a unique visual style, Community (at least at its best) never creates these homages without a reason. It turns out this new perspective of the world is one only shared by Abed, the show’s walking pop culture lexicon, who’s convinced that seeing the world as a Christmas special means it’s going to be the best Christmas ever. Unfortunately for him, his friends view it as Abed finally breaking his tenuous grip on reality, his insistence on breaking into song and trying to spur everyone else to follow suit the last straw that may well get him kicked out of school. Professor Duncan, smelling an academic goldmine, offers to guide Abed through a group therapy session to get to the bottom of this issue.

And once Duncan—or rather, the “Christmas Wizard”—gives Abed free reign in his alternate reality, things enter a true world of Christmas spirit, going through time and space to a winter wonderland with such locations as Gumdrop Road and Carol Canyon. Abed’s mind recreates his friends as their own selection of misfit toys—Jeff-in-a-Box, Britta-Bot, Troy Soldier, Teddy Pierce, Baller-Annie and Baby Doll Shirley—and invites them on his journey. If the renditions of Greendale were remarkable for their accuracy, these are terrific for what they say about how the characters see each other and how Abed perceives them. (And some of them are forced out of the fantasy by those character traits: Shirley’s frozen out by being too possessive of her Christian interpretation of the holiday, while Jeff’s devoured by a pack of hum-bugs for his incurable cynicism.)

Abeds_Uncontrollable_Christmas_2However, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” isn’t about only showing off the joviality of Christmas, as Abed points out right before the saga begins: “A journey through winter wonderland tends to test your commitment to Christmas. So when I say test, I mean Wonka-style. I’m talking dark.” This episode understands that for a lot of people, Christmas cheer can be overwhelming—especially for those who don’t have much reason to have any—and the longer Abed’s fantasy world carries out the more cracks start to show. Abed once again practices his skill of destroying people without even realizing it, first manipulating Duncan into memories of his own miserable childhood Christmases and then ousting Britta for lying to him about group therapy. And the closer he gets to finding the meaning of Christmas, the more cracks seem to show in his holiday enthusiasm, repeating to himself that the date can’t be right since his mother hasn’t shown up for their annual screening of Rudolph.

His quest for the meaning of Christmas leads him to Santa’s workshop—accompanied only by Pierce at the end, the best moment the character’s had all year—where the meaning of Christmas turns out to be the first season of Lost. (“It’s a metaphor. It represents lack of payoff.”) Disappointment turns to devastation as Duncan crashes back into the fantasy with his revelation that Abed received a Christmas card from his mother that she wouldn’t be there this year, and had in fact started a new family. While this part strains credulity a bit—it’s almost too cold of a way to tell their son they’d remarried and had a second child—it’s certainly the most devastating news anyone could get around this time of year. It’s not so much a devotion to Christmas that’s caused Abed to create this world around him; it’s the gaping absence of what was the most important part of the holiday.

Abeds_Uncontrollable_Christmas_4However, while Community doesn’t shy away from representing the darker side of Christmas—any more than it does the way its characters are damaged people—it turns around and recaptures the holiday spirit. In this case, the absence of something important in Abed’s life means there’s room for something new to come into it. That replacement comes in the form of the rest of the study group, willingly returning to the fantasy to save their friend from his loneliness as they’ve come to their own realization about the importance of the holiday:

Jeff: The delusion you’re trying to cure is called Christmas, Duncan.

Annie: It’s the crazy notion that the longest, coldest, darkest nights can be the warmest and brightest.

Britta: Yeah! And when we all agree to support each other in that insanity, something even crazier happens…

Annie: It becomes true.

Troy: It happens every year. Like clockwork.

It’s a feeling that they’re willing to fight for—literally—and join in the singing Abed was trying to get them to do all day.

Once the Christmas warlock is dispatched by means of remote-controlled pterodactyl (as you do), Abed’s mind is finally shaken from its catatonic state, the sense of togetherness and completion finally restored to his life: “I get it. The meaning of Christmas… is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want.” The group leaves its holiday world, but stops just short of returning to the real world as Britta—of all people—suggests that they share this stop-motion perspective for the rest of the holidays, convening back in Abed’s dorm room to watch Rudolph together.

It leads to a terrifically beautiful ending to the episode, everyone united around an old holiday ritual turned into something new, this makeshift family brought together around the glow of the television, the tree and the menorah. (A menorah brought by Shirley, in the sweetest subtle moment of the episode.) In its own unique way, Community takes the tropes of the Christmas special and creates its own entry in the genre, something that reminds us there’s no limit to how we can interpret this time of the year. Thanks, Lost.

Les Chappell is a contributor to The A.V. Club’s TV Club and one of the founders of the classic TV website This Was Television. You can follow him on Twitter at @lesismore9o9 where he spends most of his time talking about whiskey, hats and obscure media.

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