Is There a Trick to Stringing Cranberry Sauce?

When I was a kid and watching a lot of Nickelodeon, Nick-at-Nite originally really miffed me. I didn’t want to watch tired old black and white shows or shows where everybody wore way too much polyester for anybody’s good; I wanted to watch more Rocko’s Modern Life, Ren & Stimpy, and You Can’t Do That on Television. I’m not sure when it happened, but I eventually calmed down enough to sit through reruns of classic I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched episodes. Soon I was also watching The Dick van Dyke Show and a host of other classic 60’s and 70’s sitcoms.

Somewhere in there Nick-at-Nite started airing a 70’s sitcom called The Bob Newhart Show. I’d always been a bit precocious and I’m sure my parents will tell you that my sense of humor almost always leaned toward the dry and sarcastic side, but I don’t know what made me actually sit down and watch it. Whatever the reason, when I did I was hooked.

Bob Newhart is, without question, my favorite comedian ever. I enjoy a good angry comedian (Lewis Black is particularly hilarious) and energetic comedians are usually pretty fun (Robin Williams killed me with his 2002 live stand up album) but I’ll almost always take dry wit and sarcasm when given a choice. There’s just something about deadpan delivery that sends me into hysterics. Bob Newhart can only be described as the god of deadpan delivery.

Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart) is a Chicago-area psychologist with a private practice, a wife (Emily), and a bachelor for a best friend (Jerry). He’s also got goofy patients (Mr. Carlin being the most notable; I’ll talk about him later), a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with his parents, and a neighbor that spends more time in their apartment than his own (Howard). Unlike most other sitcoms featuring a married couple, there were no children in the picture, though Bob and Emily did talk about the family they would eventually have.

If I had to pick the perfect TV husband-wife combo, it would be the Hartleys. Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette had a genuine affection and respect for each other that translated incredibly well to the screen. I don’t care how good an actor is, if the chemistry isn’t there, the camera picks up on it. In this case, Newhart and Pleshette were a fantastic team and it showed. The relationship between Bob and Emily is interesting and it feels real to those watching, even 30+ years later.

One particular aspect of their relationship is especially refreshing to see: Bob is not a moron and Emily is not his savior. He doesn’t play clueless rube to Emily’s witty housewife/career woman. The norm nowadays is a Homer Simpson-type that looks and acts like a neanderthal but somehow has a sexy, independent, intelligent wife who has to bail him out of whatever stupid situation he’s gotten himself into. Don’t get me wrong, I love Homer Simpson – he’s my favorite Simpsons character – but he’s not meant to be a template for every male character on TV. I’ve had my share of thoughts regarding the stupidity of the male half of humanity (sorry guys), but I know they’re really not all un-evolved, posturing, alpha-male-mentality apes. Bob is an intelligent, responsible guy who has his moments, but those moments don’t last for 22 minutes broken up only by the occasional commercial break.

Oddly enough, if you do happen to run across an intelligent male character in any of the more recent sitcoms you will be watching a boring, one-dimensional character. The egghead types inevitably reject every typically male interest or pursuit. They don’t drink beer, they drink wine. They don’t watch football, they watch the History Channel, if they watch TV at all. They eschew action movies, instead preferring slower-paced intellectual films. Bob Hartley is an intelligent guy, but he’s three-dimensional. He drinks beer, watches football, and goes to basketball games. In other words, he’s a guy.

Bob’s wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), on the other hand, is definitely a woman. She takes her duties in the home seriously, taking care of Bob, keeping the apartment clean, and cooking but she also has a life outside the home. She’s a substitute teacher who eventually goes back to school in order to become a teacher full time. And she also went after what she wanted from Bob, which in itself was another area of the show that was brilliant.

The Bob Newhart Show was one of the first to acknowledge that married couples do more than fight, eat, and talk. The brilliant part: it did so without blatantly throwing sex in the viewers’ faces. It was innuendo, but it was never lewd. Parents could let their kids watch the show and not cringe at what was said; most of it would have gone right over the kids’ heads and by the time they were old enough to understand they’d have already stopped asking embarrassing questions in public anyway.

It really was a product of it’s time. Women’s lib was in full swing and social mores were in flux. This was visible through Carol’s dilemma in the first season regarding whether or not she should move in with her boyfriend. Howard and Jerry were both bachelors with revolving doors on their apartments as far as women were concerned. Still, it wasn’t shoved in your face like in so many of the current shows. Again, there’s nothing in this show that demands explaining to children (aside from why psychologist is spelled so funny 😉 ).

Speaking of Jerry and Howard, both are bachelors popular with the ladies, but the similarity ends there. Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz) is an orthodontist with an office in the same building as Bob. He is constantly visiting Bob in his office or near Carol’s desk just outside it. Over the course of the show we learn he was adopted and that he had a younger brother who was also adopted. He loves sports and is often either at Bob’s house to watch football or on his way to a game – if he wasn’t on a date, of course. As far as women are concerned, he always seems to have a really hard time figuring out his place in the world. He’s a serial dater clearly unhappy with being a serial dater, but whenever he hits upon that realization he dismisses it off-hand, often remarking that that couldn’t be the problem and wondering why anybody would give up the bachelor life.

Howard Borden (Bill Daily) is a divorced airline navigator with a son that periodically visits him. Howard is a mystery: he is not what you could call intelligent, in fact he is quite simple-minded, but he still manages to somehow get through life – with plenty of lady-friends. And in stark contrast to the male characters today, his bumbling idiocy is actually endearing, not annoying. You really can’t help but laugh when he just gets in from navigating a flight out of Tokyo or Paris and then gets lost in the streets of Chicago. His mannerisms alone are bizarre and absolutely hilarious.

More friend than co-worker, secretary Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace) is often to be seen in Bob’s office asking for advice on what she should do to solve a myriad of problems. Everything from the office coffeemaker to her love life is in bounds as far as she’s concerned, no matter how much Bob doesn’t want anything to do with it. If she doesn’t get the answer she wants from Bob, she’ll make a beeline to Emily, hoping to get a different answer. (This occasionally results in problems for Bob, as when Carol was unhappy with her job and Emily unwittingly agreed that maybe Carol should quit.)

Bob’s patients are the weirdest, most neurotic, funniest bunch of people on the show. Particularly Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley). Mr. Carlin belongs to every single one of Bob’s groups, including the unemployed group and the over 60 group. He’s neither unemployed nor over 60. The reason he’s in those groups: he has a hard time relating to people of all ages and employment states. Mr. Carlin is a successful businessman with a knack for finding all the worst in life. He has a hairpiece (it was actually Jack Riley’s real hair, which made the whole thing funnier than it already was), he wears lifts because he feels short, and he’s constantly criticizing everybody around him, often telling them their actions are making him feel like they aren’t respecting him, even if what they’re doing has nothing to do with him. I’d have to say, of all the TV characters I’ve loved, he’s probably my favorite. It might have something to do with the fact that he can say things in perfect deadpan that any other person would most likely laugh or cry while expressing. As the TV Land website says:

Elliot Carlin is probably Bob’s most notable patient. He is a financially successful, morally bankrupt bundle of neuroses. He appears to suffer from both low self-esteem and narcissism simultaneously—no small feat for a man in a toupee and elevator shoes.

Aside from Mr. Carlin, Bob’s patients include Mr. Gianelli, a man who has a host of problems and is constantly putting down Mr. Peterson, a small high-voiced man who was, unbelievably, once a Marine. Michelle Nardo is a woman in her 20’s with severe father issues (mostly the fact that he won’t listen to her and let her spread her wings). And Mrs. Bakerman spends most of her time in group knitting and saying “Isn’t that nice” whenever anybody else talks about their problems.

I’m sure by now you can tell I love pretty much everything about this show, but one of my very favorite things about it is the theme song, “Home to Emily” by Lorenzo and Henrietta Music. Normally I skip past the opening themes of shows but with The Bob Newhart Show I don’t mind sitting through it. It’s upbeat and I love the drums. You’re more than welcome to take a listen below.

Verdict: A. Even though I’m in my late 20’s and had to learn about The Bob Newhart Show through Nick-at-Nite, it is one of my top 10 TV series of all time. The writing was great and watching Bob do his signature telephone conversations sometimes has me close to tears from laughing so hard. Bill Daily is an expert at playing the somewhat clueless friend; I realized that while watching I Dream of Jeannie and this show just solidified that realization. My one major hope is that 20th Century Fox finally gets around to releasing the final two seasons on DVD so that I can enjoy the whole series together.

I’m officially giving The Bob Newhart Show the “Ultimate Fix” award.

On a more morose note, I’d like to express my sadness at Suzanne Pleshette’s death in January this year. While I’ve never seen her in anything but The Bob Newhart Show I truly enjoyed her wit and sense of humor. She definitely deserved all the accolades she got as Emily Hartley and with at least the first four seasons of the show on DVD I’m deeply grateful that I get to see her shine even though she has passed on.

You Can Handle the Truth! The X-Files: The Complete Collector’s Edition Review

When I was in middle school many years ago I discovered a little show called The X-Files. It was the show that made me want to be a forensic pathologist for the FBI. Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) was everything I wanted to be: smart, tough, and her job required her to carry a gun. And I don’t know any girl that didn’t think Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) was a babe. Alas, my dream of becoming a forensic pathologist has since faded, but I still can’t get enough of this show… and I still think David Duchovny is a babe.

Click on thumbnails for larger images.

The Show

Agents Scully and Mulder are, to me at least, the quintessential example of what partners in a TV series should be. Alien abduction, angry spirits, and government conspiracy – and the arguments they caused between the partners – were all in a day’s work for these two. They each had the other’s back, but they also disagreed with each other, sometimes vehemently. It was apparent that they cared for and had a great deal of respect for each other. My love for this show is, I’m quite certain, what inspired my love of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a show that has a very similar vibe as far as the interaction between the leads goes (and which I will also review at a later date.)

Given that The X-Files did start over 10 years ago, the technology seems dated, at best. For many shows this could, quite literally, make it unwatchable. Not so with The X-Files. At most the technology plays a peripheral role. The real draw behind the show was always the plot line, which involved a healthy mix of stand-alone and so-called “Mytharc” episodes.

The “Mytharc” episodes followed Agent Mulder’s search for the truth behind his younger sister’s disappearance when they were both children. Many episodes that seemed to have nothing to do with the “Mytharc” at the beginning would, by the end, fit somewhere in the puzzle. In my opinion, the “Mytharc” episodes also gave more insight into the characters themselves, which made it very easy to feel like they were real, complex people that did take time to get to know.

The stand-alone episodes fell along a “monster-of-the-week” format, exposing us to the supernatural, the occult, and the downright weird. These are great episodes to watch if all you want to do is get a feel for the series without feeling like you’ll have to commit. The first season is particularly good in this respect since almost every episode can stand-alone without inducing mass confusion.

Between seasons five and six the movie The X-Files: Fight the Future was released. It was written so as to play into the series while still being accessible to those who had never seen an episode. The fact that they’ve included this in the set with the actual series has given me warm tinglies all over. This movie was probably the height of my summer vacation in 1998, and deservedly so. While fans of other shows were anxiously awaiting the season premieres of their favorites, I was fully enjoying approximately two episodes worth of new The X-Files material in the middle of summer. And it wasn’t a lame cop-out, either. It fit in perfectly with the series and never felt like a cheap ploy to make more money. You can’t beat that with a stick.

Past season seven you will find heated debate as to whether it should have ended or not. In my experience, most hardcore fans of the series thought it really went downhill when Duchovny sort of left the show at the end of the seventh season and was replaced by Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 fame.

For my own part I can’t bring myself to hate the last two seasons. I’m not sure if it’s because I like Robert Patrick as an actor – and it helps that his brother is the lead singer of the bands Filter and Army of Anyone – or if I’m just so adaptable to change in what I view. There were times that I thought the character of Agent John Doggett was a real jerk, but then he’d do something to completely change that opinion. I really don’t think he got a fair shake from the viewers, but I have to admit it is understandable given how much the fans adored the Mulder/Scully dynamic.

Monica Reyes is a little harder for me to place. I don’t dislike her by any means, but I’m not sure if I really related to her as much as I would have liked to. She only really spent one full season on the show, which didn’t give me enough time to see what made her tick. Mulder was always my favorite character (helloooo, David Duchovny) but over the course of the series Scully really gave him a run for his money precisely because her character was interesting and I could see a definite change between seasons one and nine. There wasn’t time to see that with Agent Reyes.

Now, I have to mention the Mulder/Scully relationship because I know there has been a lot of debate as to whether their increased closeness started interfering with the show. In my own mind: No, but if it had been handled any other way it very well could have.

What I liked about this particular relationship is that even when it became apparent that there was more going on than meets the eye, they still treated each other with the same respect they had always shown. There were glances and flirting (both subtle and not-so-subtle) between the two, but it never descended into the realm of gooey schmoopiness that so often happens when a series finally breaks the sexual tension. Whatever they were outside of work, when they were on the case they were all business.

Which leads us to the end of the series. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the series finale. On the one hand it was left wide open, which generally doesn’t sit well with me. I like the hint of the possibility it might continue, not a full-blown second conspiracy that needs to be stopped. That said, I like the idea that the series could be continued on the big screen with a big explosive storyline. My only hope is that if they decide to revisit the conspiracy plotline they don’t throw in some random deus ex machina to help solve the problem in two hours. If a movie can’t contain the story I’d much rather they spend their resources on a miniseries, the path that should have been taken with Battlefield Earth.

Verdict: A. Being one of the most influential shows of the 1990’s, a cult classic that became an international sensation, and spawning another movie six years after the series ended and 10 years after the last movie is a pretty good indicator that this show was more than just a cult hit on a fledgling network. Where many thought it dropped off during the last two seasons, I have to disagree. It changed, and whenever that happens there will always be angry people, particularly when one is dealing with a show that is as beloved as The X-Files. It was – and still very much is – a pop culture phenomenon.

The Movie

The X-Files: Fight the Future was a first in that no other TV show spawned a movie during its original TV run. Another unique move it managed to pull off was the fact that it was able to play to those who were ignorant of the show while simultaneously pushing forward the “Mytharc” of the series from where it left off in season five into season six.

I saw this movie when it premiered in my hometown and owned it on VHS when it was finally released to that medium. I’ve watched it a few times since, but until this collection came out I haven’t been able to truly see the genius behind it. If there is one piece of advice I would give you now, it would be that I highly recommend watching seasons one through five before watching the movie. Especially if you’ve never seen it before. Like Firefly and its accompanying movie Serenity, The X-Files: Fight the Future has depths that only truly make sense if you know the full story within the series. It is a very good movie by itself, but watched within the context of the series makes it, in my opinion, extraordinary viewing.

Verdict: B+. There is one slight problem I have with this movie and that is the video transfer. It is not what I have come to expect from the DVD medium and it unfortunately shows when you are watching it on an HDTV. But that is my only complaint. Having watched the film within the context of the series just recently I was very much taken back to that mind-blowing summer night 10 years ago when I saw this movie premiere. I can honestly say that there are extremely few movies that do that to me.

The Set

The outside of the set.The box is a very attractive black with some blue, white, and silver graphics on each side. The graphics are all from important episodes of the show and are very minimalist in nature, which keeps the box from feeling too busy.

Open box shot.When you open the lid you are confronted with the sight of all nine seasons plus the movie in their own cases. I’m not fond of the fact that the cases are all cardboard books with cardboard sleeves and have absolutely no protection for the back of the disc, but in my case that is a small complaint; I never leave my discs in their original cases as I have a filing system involving CD books (a method I highly recommend for anybody who collects DVDs for ease of transport and the space it saves on cramped shelves.)

The drawer.The extra swag.On the front of the box you will notice a small drawer that includes an episode guide that covers every single episode in the series plus the movie, an X-Files comic book, a The X-Files: Fight the Future poster, collector’s cards for each episode in the first season, and a coupon for $5 off one of The X-Files graphic novels.

As far as the drawer goes I’ve read complaints online about the discs being so heavy it causes the bottom to sag into the drawer. Because I don’t keep my discs in the box I haven’t run across this issue, but you may want to be aware of it on the off chance you keep your discs in the box and this is a show you will be watching multiple times.

Case with discs.The discs themselves are all single-sided and feature a picture from one of the episodes contained on that disc. The names and numbers of the individual episodes are also printed on the discs, making it much easier to track down a particular episode without having to pull out the episode guide.

Verdict: A-. While it would have been better to make the disc sleeves from the usual protective material used in CD books, none of my discs came scratched. The heaviness of the discs and the tendency of cardboard to lose strength over time may make you want to consider moving to the kind of filing system I’ve developed for my own collection, though there’s no reason you can’t display the box and proudly declare yourself an X-Phile. It is extremely aesthetically pleasing, which makes me very happy that I held off on buying the individual sets. And you can’t complain too much when the movie is also included, giving you the chance to watch it between seasons five and six without spending more money to purchase it alone.

The front of the cases.The back of the cases.

Special Features

The special features included in this set are, from what I gather, the same special features that came with the original stand-alone season sets (the original ones, not the slimpaks). There are eight DVD-ROM games to enjoy and plenty of commentary tracks and deleted scenes. Each season also has its own “The Truth about Season [insert season number]” documentary. Other special features include promotional spots from the F/X network and character profiles. The movie’s case also contains a special disc dedicated to the “Mytharc”. On it there are four documentaries that lay out the nine season long story arc.

Verdict: A. I couldn’t spend the hours (quite possibly days) to get through all the special features, but all in all I’d have to say it’s a lot of bang for your buck. I usually don’t watch commentary tracks, but when I do it’s fun to hear what those involved had to say about certain things that happened in the episode. I’m confident enough to say that you will enjoy running through these special features, though I wouldn’t advise trying to do so after a marathon viewing of the entire series.

Video

The video is often grainy, though I can’t help but feel it is a part of the show. It also tends to be dark, which at times makes it hard to see exactly what is happening. While this can be annoying at times, it is hardly a deal-breaker.

Since the first four seasons of this show were shot before anybody even thought of shooting TV shows for widescreen TVs, it is in standard 4:3 format, which means you’ll have black bars on the sides of your screen if you own an LCD or plasma flat-panel TV. This should be nothing new to those people who own any older (and even some newer) shows on DVD. The remaining seasons, as well as the movie, are all shot in widescreen, which means that those of you who haven’t hopped aboard the flat-panel wagon will be seeing the black bars on the top and bottom of your screen.

Verdict: B. For me the darkness is the really the worst part of the video, though as I said it is by no means a deal-breaker. A little bit of tweaking of the various settings on your TV may help alleviate this particular problem.

Audio

This particular area is one that I unfortunately can’t really do justice to. Since the audio set-up I would like to get is over $500 and it seems rather silly to spend any amount of money on a cheaper system that won’t give me decent audio to judge anyway, I am sadly resigned to listening to my TV speakers. Not the most desirable, I know, but they get the job done.

What I can tell you is that the first two seasons are in stereo, while seasons three through nine are in Dolby Surround. The movie is, I believe, in Dolby Digital 5.1.

Verdict: N/A. Like I said, I don’t have the proper set-up to really give this an honest review. The audio works, is understandable, syncs with the video, and has a good overall balance between loud and soft. Unless you are very much an audio snob that absolutely must know the sound is pristine, I can’t see anybody complaining much given the fact that this is The X-Files.

Overall: A-. Given the amount of special features, the lovely box, and the fact that we’re talking about The X-Files here, there is no reason at all that you should feel badly about plunking down your hard earned change to pick this puppy up. Even if you absolutely hated the eighth and ninth seasons I would say it’s still worth it because of the extra goodies that come with it, as well as the movie. Family Guy has it’s “Freakin’ Party Pack”, The X-Files has the “Complete Collector’s Edition”. I fully admit I’m absolutely in love with this set.