Saturday, 26 March 2016

Red Dwarf: "Tikka to Ride"

(This post is part of the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon)

One of the recurring questions appearing in works of science fiction is the question of what would have happened had President John F. Kennedy never been assassinated. Gregory Benford's 1980 novel Timescape dealt with this question by having a high school student inadvertently prevent the assassination. Reportedly Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry submitted scripts for the second, third, and fourth Star Trek movies in which the crew of the Enterprise must stop Klingons from changing the outcome of President Kennedy's assassination. On television the assassination of John F. Kennedy figured in both the 1985 Twilight Zone episode "Profile in Silver" and the 1992 Quantum Leap episode "Lee Harvey Oswald". More recently Stephen King's novel 11/22/63 was adapted as a TV series on the streaming service Hulu. Surprisingly, among the science fiction TV shows to deal with the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a British comedy. "Tikka to Ride" the first episode of the seventh series of Red Dwarf.

For those unfamiliar with Red Dwarf, it is a science fiction sitcom created by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor that debuted on BBC Two on February 15 1988. Red Dwarf centres on Dave Lister (played by Craig Charles), the last human in the universe. Dave Lister was a lowly third class technician aboard the mining vessel Red Dwarf who brought a pregnant cat aboard the ship. Although the cat was female, he named her "Frankenstein".  Having brought a quarantined animal on board,  Lister is punished by being put into suspended animation without pay for what was supposed to be 18 months. Frankenstein was locked safely away in the cargo hold. Unfortunately while Lister is in suspended animation there is a cadmium II leak that kills everyone on board except for Lister and Frankenstein. The ship's computer, Holly (initially played by Norman Lovett and later by Hattie Hayridge) then kept Lister in suspended animation for three million years--the amount of time it took for the radiation to die down. By that time all humanity (except for Lister) is extinct. For company Holly creates a hologram of Lister's old bunkmate and immediate superior Arnold Rimmer (played by Chris Barrie). There is only one other living being aboard Red Dwarf besides Lister: a humanoid feline simply called "Cat" whose species evolved from Frankenstein and her offspring. Like Lister, Cat is the last of his kind. Eventually Lister, Rimmer, and Cat were joined by the service mechanoid Kryten (played by Robert Llewellyn). 

Unlike other science fiction comedies (such as the late, lamented Quark), the comedy on Red Dwarf emerges entirely from the characters. The science fiction elements on Red Dwarf are treated entirely seriously. This allows the show to explore some very serious themes, including the existence (or lack) of freewill, the extinction of humanity, the fragility of time, mythology, and religion. The comedy emerges from a disparate group of characters (some of who don't like each other very much) who are a far cry from the traditional, stalwart heroes of space operas. 

Not only was "Tikka to Ride" the first episode of the seventh series of Red Dwarf, it was also the first episode after a three year hiatus. The hiatus was the result of several factors, among them co-creator Rob Grant's decision to leave the show. With Rob Grant gone, co-creator Doug Naylor was left with the decision of whether to go on with the show or not. Ultimately he decided to do so, as eight more episodes would give Red Dwarf 52 episodes in total, the bare minimum for international syndication. For fans this was a very good thing. Not only did it mean that there would be more episodes of Red Dwarf, but it would mean that the cliffhanger that had ended the sixth series would be resolved. "Tikka to Ride" also saw the return of director Ed Bye, who had directed the entirety of Red Dwarf from its beginning to the end of its fourth series.

Aside from the departure of co-creator Rob Grant, the seventh series of Red Dwarf would see other changes. Prior to the seventh series Red Dwarf had been shot in front of an audience with multiple cameras. With the seventh series Red Dwarf was videotaped with only a single camera, much more like a feature film. While this meant that it could no longer be shot in front of an audience, it meant that Red Dwarf would have over all better production values and better special effects. The improvement in the show's production values are readily apparent in "Tikka to Ride".

The sixth series of Red Dwarf had ended on a cliffhanger in which Lister, Rimmer, Kryten, and Cat apparently died in a battle with their future selves, who had travelled back in time by way of a "time drive". "Tikka to Ride" begins with Lister making a video in which he offers a very convoluted explanation of how they survived that battle. Unfortunately, in the battle it appears that all supplies of Indian food have been destroyed. Unhappy with the loss of the Indian food, Lister proposes that they use the time drive to go back in time to an Indian take-out and order 500 curries. Unfortunately for Lister, the rest of the crew are against the idea. When Kryten goes offline to discard old cache files, Lister swaps Kryten's head for a spare one from which he has removed its guilt chip. Without the guilt chip, Kryten not only smokes and drinks, but reassures Rimmer and Cat that it would be perfectly fine to go back in time to get curries. 

Unfortunately the crew makes a miscalculation with regards to time travel and they arrive at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas on November 22 1963. Ultimately they prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President John F. Kennedy and as a result alter the timeline, a fact they learn when they jump forward in time to 1966. Lister, Rimmer, Cat, and Kryten must then figure out a way to restore the timeline.

On the surface a comedy that touches upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy would appear to be in very poor taste, but fortunately co-creator and writer Doug Naylor presents a reverent, but at the same time balanced view of John F. Kennedy and his legacy. As is typical of Red Dwarf, the humour comes entirely from its main characters.  As might be expected, producers Doug Naylor and Ed Bye were concerned about how the episode would play in Dallas when it aired on PBS. They contacted KERA, the PBS station in Dallas, to see if there were any complaints. KERA informed the producers that the only complaints arose from a gag unrelated to the JFK storyline.

Red Dwarf is known for its pop culture references and "Tikka to Ride" is no different. The title is a pun taken from The Beatles' song "Ticket to Ride". When Kryten mentions he wants to discard old cache files he states that the "Ability to sing the Bay City Rollers' greatest hits is no longer a priority." The entire episode can be considered a very loose parody of the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever", which also concerned changing history through the fate of a single individual. There are a few other pop culture references in the episode, but they really cannot be revealed without spoiling the plot!

While Red Dwarf fans have long debated the quality of the later series, I think "Tikka to Ride" demonstrates that the show was still capable of good episodes later in its run. Red Dwarf takes an idea that had not yet been touched upon frequently on science fiction TV shows. At the same time it treats its subject with the sensitivity necessary to avoid offending many, while at the same time remaining very funny. "Tikka to Ride" also deals with time travel in a way that is much more serious and deeper than many sci-fi dramas. While arguably there are better episodes of Red Dwarf, "Tikka to Ride" remains my favourite.


Friday, 25 March 2016

The 2nd Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon



It's here! The 2nd Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon has arrived. This year we have a very good line up, with entries covering episodes of TV shows from the Fifties to the Nineties.

For those of you who are participating in the blogathon, I ask that you link to this page. I will updating this page with links to the various blog posts that are part of this blogathon throughout the weekend. If you want a graphic for your post, I have several on the announcement page here.

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the blog posts!

Serendipitous Anachronisms:  "Are You Being Served? –Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon"

MovieMovieBlogBlog: "Date with the Angels (1957) – A Betty White Christmas"

 Defiant Success: "The Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon: Star Trek "The Trouble with Tribbles"

Dell on Movies: "Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon - 'The $99,000 Answer'"

Cinematic Scribblings: "The Twilight Zone: 'It’s a Good Life' (1961)"

Love Letters to Old Hollywood: "I Love Lucy: 'The Young Fans'"

Love Letters to Old Hollywood: "Remington Steele: 'In the Steele of the Night'"

CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH: "THE TWILIGHT ZONE: 'WALKING DISTANCE' ( 1959 )"

The Second Sentence: "Favorite TV Episode Blogathon: The Virginian, "Old Cowboy'

Caftan Woman: "The Favourite Television Episode Blogathon: Maverick--'Shady Deal at Sunny Acres' (1958)"

Hamlette's Soliloquy: "'Court Martial' -- My Favorite Star Trek Episode"

The Midnite Drive-In: "TV Show Favorites" 

wolffian classics movies digest: "The Tomb of the Cybermen"

Old Hollywood Films: "The Conflict Episode of The Waltons"

The Horn Section: "Favourite TV Episode Blogathon II: BILKO in "Hollywood"

Just Way Too Boss: "Recap ~ Green Hornet,'The Preying Mantis'"

coffee, classics, & craziness: "combat! episode analysis: “the hostages”

A Shroud of Thoughts: "Red Dwarf: 'Tikka to Ride"

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "Simon Templar’s Golden Journey"

The Flaming Nose: "The Outer Limits 'The Architects of Fear'"

 Moon in Gemini: "F Troop: 'The Courtship of Wrangler Jane'"

Once Upon a Screen: "On The Mary Tyler Moore Show 'It’s Whether You Win or Lose'"

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: "Bewitched: Favorite Episode Blogathon"

Doesn't She Ramble: "The Bionic Woman – Black Magic S2 E7"


Thursday, 24 March 2016

Godspeed Peter Brown

Peter Brown, who played deputy Johnny McKay on Lawman and Texas Ranger Chad Cooper on Laredo, died on March 21 2016 at the age of 80. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

Peter Brown was born Pierre Lind de Lappe in New York City on October 5 1935.  His mother, Mina Reaume, was a stage actress who was the voice of the Dragon Lady on the radio show Terry & the Pirates. Peter Brown Anglicised his first name to "Peter" and took the surname of his stepfather Albert Brown.

Peter Brown served in the United States Army with the 2nd Infantry Division. Afterwards he studied drama at the University of California, Los Angeles. He appeared in plays in the Los Angeles area and even on NBC's afternoon anthology series NBC Matinee Theatre. He supported himself by pumping gas at a filling station on the Sunset Strip. It was there that studio head Jack Warner met him and offered him a screen test with the studio. Peter Brown then signed with Warner Bros.

Peter Brown made his prime time, television debut on an episode of West Point. He made his film debut that same year in an uncredited part in the film The Story of Esther Costello. The next few years he made guest appearances on the shows Colt .45 and Maverick. He appeared in such films as Darby's Rangers (1958), Too Much, Too Soon (1958), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), and Violent Road (1958). It was in 1958 that he first appeared as Deputy Johnny McKay on the TV Western Lawman. Lawman proved to be a hit and ran four seasons. Ultimately it was cancelled only because ABC wanted to make room on the schedule for a Sunday night movie anthology. He made guest appearances as Johnny McKay on two other Warner Bros. Westerns, Maverick and Sugarfoot.

In the Sixties Johnny McKay starred as Texas Ranger Chad Cooper on Laredo. The show ran for two seasons on NBC. He guest starred on the TV shows Hawaiian Eye, Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Redigo, Wagon Train, The Virginian, and The Mod Squad. He starred in the 1962 propaganda short subject "Red Nightmare" and had a major role in the 1963 film Summer Magic. He appeared in the films Merrill's Marauders (1962), A Tiger Walks (1964), Ride the Wild Surf (1964), Kitten with a Whip (1964), and Attack at Dawn (1970).

For much of the Seventies Peter Brown had a recurring role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. He guest starred on such shows as My Three Sons, Dan August, Mission: Impossible, Medical Centre, The Bob Newhart Show, The Magician, Police Story, Marcus Welby M.D., Police Woman, Quincy M.E., Wonder Woman, Charlie's Angels, and The Dukes of Hazzard. He appeared in the films Chrome and Hot Leather (1971), Piranha (1972), Foxy Brown (1974), Memory of Us (1974), Act of Vengeance (1974), and Sunburst (1975).

In the Eighties Peter Brown guest starred on such shows as Fantasy Island, Dallas, Magnum P.I., Hart to Hart, T.J. Hooker, The Fall Guy, Knight Rider, Simon & Simon, Airwolf, The A-Team, and Baywatch. Late in the decade he had a recurring role on the soap opera The Young & the Restless. He appeared in the films The Concrete Jungle (1982), The Aurora Encounter (1986), The Messenger (1986), and Demonstone (1990).

In the early Nineties Peter Brown had a recurring role on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. He guest starred on such shows as Wings, Babylon 5, and JAG. He appeared in the films Fists of Iron (1995), Asylum (1997), and Wasteland Justice (1999). In the Naughts he appeared in the films The Wedding Planner (2001), Big Chuck, Little Chuck (2004), Y.M.I. (2004), Land of the Free? (2004), Three Bad Men (2005), and Hell to Pay (2005).

I rather suspect that when most people think of Peter Brown it is of the stalwart Deputy Johnny McKay on Lawman or the upright Texas Ranger Chad Cooper on Laredo. Others might think of him as Tom Hamilton in the film Summer Magic or one of his roles on various soap operas. That having been said, Peter Brown did have some versatility. In Foxy Brown he played a thoroughly unsavoury mobster. He also played a thoroughly detestable character in the exploitation film Act of Vengeance. While Peter Brown was arguably at his best playing the heroic types for which he was best known, he could easily play villains as well.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Larry Drake R.I.P.

Larry Drake, perhaps best known for playing the developmentally challenged character  Benny Stulwicz on L. A. Law and the villainous Robert G. Durant in the movie Darkman died on March 17 2016 at the age of 67. A cause of death has not been reported, although he was known to have issues with his health.

Larry Drake was born on February 21 1949 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Oklahoma. For a time he performed in dinner theatre in the South and Texas before moving to Los Angles in the late Seventies.

Larry Drake made his film debut in This Stuff'll Kill Ya! in 1971. In the Seventies he appeared in such films as Trucker's Woman (1975), Date with a Kidnapper (1976), The Electric Chair (1976), The Seniors (1978), and Battle Creek Brawl (1980).

He made his television debut in a production of Skin of Our Teeth on an edition of American Playhouse. In the Eighties he guest starred on the TV shows Hardcastle and McCormick, Code of Vengeance, and Hunter before being cast as Benny Stulwicz on L. A. Law. He appeared on the show from 1987 until the end of its run in 1994. He also guest starred on Werewolf and Tales from the Crypt. It was in 1990 that he appeared as mobster Robert Durant in the movie Darkman. He also appeared in the films The White Lions (1981), The Karate Kid (1984), The Ladies Club (1986), and For Keeps? (1988).

In the Nineties Larry Drake appeared in the films Dr. Giggles (1992), Blind Geronimo and His Brother (1992), The Journey of August King (1995), Bean (1997), Overnight Delivery (1998), Paranoia (1998), The Treat (1998), Inferno (1999), Durango Kids (1999), and Timequest (2000). He reprised his role as Robert Durant in Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995). On television he starred in the show Prey. He guest starred on The Outer Limits, The Naked Truth, Dead Man's Gun, Spy Game, Fantasy Island, and Star Trek: Voyager. He provided guest voices on the animated TV shows The Legend of Prince Valiant, Superman, and Batman Beyond.

In the Naughts Mr. Drake guest starred on such TV shows as Thieves, Six Feet Under, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Firefly, Crossing Jordan, 7th Heaven, and Boston Legal. He was the voice of Pops on the animated series Johnny Bravo. He provided guest voices on the animated shows Justice League and What's New, Scooby Doo?. He reprised his role as Benny on the TV reunion movie L.A. Law: The Movie. He appeared in the films Dark Asylum (2001), Jenny Says (2005), I Will Avenge You, Iago! (2005), Living the Dream (2006), Love Hollywood Style (2006), Attack of the Gryphon (2007), and Dead Air (2009). His last work was the voice of Kazdan Paratus in the video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - Ultimate Sith Edition in 2009.

In later years he taught acting. 

Larry Drake was an extremely talented actor. When he was playing Benny on L. A. Law there were many in the general public who were convinced that he was actually developmentally challenged. His performance in the role was simply that convincing. What is more, he could play a wide variety of roles. Ruthless mobseter Robert Durant in Darkman may be his second best known role and it is as far from the gentle Benny as one can get. Over the years Mr. Drake played everything from scientists to priests to rednecks to J. Edgar Hoover, and he did all of them well.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Twitter Turns 10

My very first tweet
It was ten years ago today, on March 21 2006, that Twitter was launched. The social media and microblogging service has since become the second largest social media service in the world. It has also become an important source of news and entertainment for its millions of users. In 2015 it ranked at no. 10 in Alexa's list of the Top 500 sites on the web.

Twitter grew out of Odeo, a directory and website that allowed users to create and share podcasts. It was during a brainstorming session held by Odeo's board members that Jack Dorsey, then an undergraduate attending New York University, came up with the idea of a service that would use short SMS messages to communicate with people. At the time the domain name "twitter.com" was already being used, so the project was originally called "twttr". The name "twttr" is usually credited to software developer Noah Glass (who was also one of Odeo's founders).  Work on twttr began on March 21 2016 when Jack Dorsey sent the very first tweet, "just setting up my twttr." It would be six months after twttr launched that they bought the domain "twitter.com" and the service was officially renamed "Twitter". It was in October 2006 that Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, and others from Odeo, formed Obvious Corporation and bought both Odeo and Twitter. In April 2007 Twitter became its own company.

Twitter grew rather rapidly. In 2007 it averaged 400,000 tweets for each quarter of the year. By 2008 it was up to 100 million tweets posted for each quarter of the year. By February 2010 Twitter was averaging 50 million tweets per day. As of January 2016 Twitter boasts 332 million active users.

Over the years Twitter would evolve. In the early days many of these changes were introduced by users rather than Twitter itself. It was on November 2 2006 that Robert Andersen introduced the first @ reply (now called "mentions"), which has remained a part of Twitter ever since. Even before its use on Twitter, the @ symbol had a long history of use on the internet. It has always been used in email and was also used in everything from bulletin boards to chat rooms. Eric Rice introduced the idea of the retweet when he retweeted a reply he’d received from Jesse Malthus on April 17 2007. Before that time the term "retweet" had been used of repeating a tweet of one's own, not someone else's tweet.  It was Chris Messina (not the actor but an advocate for open source software) who introduced the hashtag on August 23 2007.  While it was Chris Messina who proposed organising related tweets by use of a hash symbol, it was writer Stowe Boyd who gave the idea its name "hash tags".

Over the years Twitter would introduce its own changes to Twitter, not all of them for the best. In 2010 Twitter introduced the "Who to Follow" feature, which offers recommendations of Twitter accounts that users might want to follow. In 2011 Twitter combined the tabs for retweets and mentions (which previously had their own tabs) into one tab labelled "@(username)". This tab would later be renamed "notifications". The year 2013 would see two major changes to Twitter. The way conversations between users was displayed was changed, leading to the complaint from some users that conversations were now harder to follow. They have refined it since then. That same year Twitter introduced inline images in the feed, something which also proved controversial with users. In 2015 Twitter introduced "While You Were Away", a feature that displays the top tweets while one was away from Twitter. This year Twitter introduced a feed sorted by an algorithm, something that brought forth howls of protests from users. Fortunately, one can keep one's feed sorted by reverse chronological order by going into settings on one's account.

While many of Twitter's changes over the years would be disliked by many of Twitter's users (I have hated many of them myself), the fact is that one does not have to use Twitter's interface unless he or she absolutely wants to. One of the advantages Twitter has over other social media sites is that it is open source, so that a number of Twitter clients have emerged over the years. If one does not like the Twitter interface, then he or she can simply use HootSuite (my client of choice), TweetDeck, Tween, or any number of others.

Over the years users have put Twitter to a number of users. Perhaps the most well known of these is the dissemination of news. Nearly every major news outlet has a Twitter account through which they will tweet links to the various news stories of the day. For many Twitter has replaced newspapers, television networks, and radio as their chief means of getting news. Twitter has also been used by its users as a chat client, with individuals holding entire conversations on the service. Indeed, more so than any other social media site except perhaps Google+, Twitter has become a haven for communities dedicated to specific interests. One can find easily find people with shared interests on Twitter, everything from movies to antiques.

Indeed, it is the communal aspect of Twitter that seems most noteworthy to me. I joined Twitter on March 9 2009 after hearing about it from my fellow classic film and TV bloggers. In fact, the first person I ever followed was my dear friend Raquel, who runs the blog Out of the Past. It was not long before I found other classic film and television fans on Twitter, many of who have become dear friends. Eventually a group of classic film buffs would create the TCMParty community, a group of people who live tweet movies aired on TCM using the hashtag #TCMParty. Many of the participants in the various TCMParties over the years have also become dear friends.

The fact is that I think I have found more new friends on Twitter than any other social media site except perhaps Google+. It also happens to be the social media site on which I have more followers than any other except Google+. It also seems to me to be the most active, even more so than, yes, Google+. Facebook might claim to have over a billion active users, but it seems to me that on the whole Twitter on any given day is much more active than Facebook is.

Given the communal nature of Twitter and just how active it is, it should be no surprise that Twitter has had an influence. Introduced on Twitter, the hashtag would be adopted by Google+, Instagram, and other social media sites as a means of sorting posts. Even Facebook would adopt hashtags, although very few seem to use them (perhaps because people as a whole don't make public posts to the site). Arguably both Instagram and Vine were heavily influenced by Twitter. In fact, Twitter bought the latter when it was only a few months old. In addition to its influence on the internet, Twitter has even had an impact on the real world. It has been used for everything from organising protests to an emergency communication system.

While I must admit that I have disliked many of the changes Twitter has made to its interface and I think its interface was at its best between the years 2009 and 2011, it remains one of my two default social media sites (the other is Google+). I use it more than any other social media site and it is one of the few social media sites to which I post a link to nearly every blog post I make. It is also where I interact with many of my friends on a daily bases. While the Wall Street types and the tech press sometimes express their doubts about Twitter's survival, I have a feeling it will be around for a long time to come.