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Freaks and Geeks

The credited main cast of Freaks and Geeks (left to right): James Franco, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogan, John Francis Daley, Martin Starr, Samm Levine

I can remember hanging out with some of my friends at another friend’s house back when I was in high school. I think it was 2001, and we were just riffing on some music when one of my other friends entered the room and remarked that we reminded him of some characters from the show Freaks and Geeks. It was the first time I had ever heard of the show, and I can’t even recall which characters he referenced (probably the geeks). We then all watched Galaxy Quest and had a shared infatuation with Sigourney Weaver’s blond wig.

I never would seek out Freaks and Geeks, even though I valued the opinion of my friend when he said it was a good show. It was short-lived though, which implied that it wasn’t very good, and I was at an age where I was spending most of my time playing video games and not watching TV. If I was going to watch something, it was going to be something animated or maybe Jackass or a CKY video. Over the years though, I would hear more good things about Freaks and Geeks, especially as the cast started to find success in film. I don’t think I ever really talked about the show with anyone in-person and most of the chatter was just all online. I was quite curious about it, but by the time the DVD set came out I was less interested. It was also expensive since it included a lot of licensed music and I didn’t want to get invested in a show that was going to end after 18 episodes. I was late to the streaming platforms, and this was a show that I just never would make time for. Recently, Hulu added it and they got the broadcast cut with all of the licensed music in place (I believe some prior streaming options omitted it), and being that it’s winter and COVID is still a thing, I found myself with plenty of time to finally get to know the characters of Freaks and Geeks.

Lindsay is looking to make some new friends and Daniel is her gateway to just that.

Freaks and Geeks is a sitcom set in the school year of 1980-1981 that aired from 1999-2000. It was created by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Ghostbusters (2016)) and executive-produced by Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People). It was the success of Apatow directed films that really brought posthumous attention to Freaks and Geeks, for the show had a relatively short existence. It’s a show about teenagers and school life with a young, mostly unknown at the time, cast that found itself in primetime on a broadcast network. Network shows set in high school weren’t unheard of in the 90s, but they were usually relegated to the Fox Network which prided itself on being different from the big three of ABC, CBS, and NBC. That network’s hit teenaged show was Beverly Hills 90210, which was more of a soap opera than a sitcom and starred a bunch of beautiful people who looked way too old to be in high school. Freaks and Geeks was set in an unremarkable suburb of Detroit and featured quite young-looking actors (for the most part) in much more of a grounded, real world, setting. It also found itself on NBC and in the unusual position of being a primetime sitcom that was an hour long. I don’t know how Feig and Apatow were able to convince NBC to give them an hour on television in 1999, but they did it somehow. Unfortunately, there was a changing of the guard at NBC in between the show being picked-up and it going to air, and the new boss wasn’t a fan. The show was a critical darling, but it wasn’t a huge ratings hit in terms of 1999 numbers and it was cancelled after 12 episodes. Fans actually had to petition the network to get the remaining 6 of 18 episodes aired, which did happen over the summer in 2000, but on cable.

Since leaving the airwaves of NBC, it would seem Freaks and Geeks has garnered nothing but praise from both critics and viewers, alike. It’s young cast which would have quickly aged out of high school meant that the show was probably never destined for a long run, but it certainly deserved a second season and it would have been a treat to see where Feig and Apatow took things, especially considering that the show was really hitting its stride at the end of its lone season. I suspected that would be the case as I went into the show and it was one of the reasons I resisted it for so long as it always sucks to get into a show when there’s no hope of seeing what would have come next. It’s basically a slice of life type of show so there really was no way for it to ever have a truly satisfying conclusion, but it certainly would have been nice to at least see the cast graduate from high school or something.

Freaks and Geeks may have wound up on the radar of many a comedy fan thanks to Apatow, but it’s the cast that will keep viewers around for 18 episodes. It stars Linda Cardellini as Lindsay Weir who is a high school junior that has always been a gifted student. Academics come easy to her, but when the show begins we find out she recently lost her grandmother and it’s brought on a change in attitude. She has stopped socializing with some of her childhood friends and dropped off of the Mathletes program, a competitive math team. She’s also taken to wearing an old, olive, army jacket and has her sights set on making some new friends. She’s basically been living a life devoted to pleasing the adults in her sphere and setting herself up for the ideal future most parents want for their kids and is now likely having some regrets. She wants to have other experiences while she’s young, and she looks to the so-called “freaks” of her school for that kind of fulfillment.

Busy Philipps (front left) is not part of the opening credits but her character, Kim Kelly, is very much a major player on the show.

Cardellini has gone on to have a successful career in Hollywood, but it’s her co-stars that make up the freaks that have become household names. The freaks are basically just the slackers and kids who have no real academic ambition and just have their sights set on enjoying themselves and one day getting out of their small town. The first one we’re introduced to is Daniel Desario played by a young James Franco. Daniel is Lindsay’s gateway into his circle of friends, which all seem to at least know her from the start, but aren’t close with her. The most eager of Daniel’s friends to get to know Lindsay is Nick, played by Jason Segel. Nick is clearly attracted to Lindsay from the start and plays the nice guy routine. He’s an aspiring drummer and idolizes the likes of Jon Bonham and Neal Peart. Seth Rogan plays Ken, who is more of a sarcastic wallflower at the start of the series who gradually becomes more involved as the show progresses. Daniel’s girlfriend, Kim (Busy Philipps), is the only one who takes a combative posture towards Lindsay’s associating with their crowd. She presents a problem at first as she doesn’t understand why Lindsay suddenly wants to associate with them and finds the girl boring.

Much of the first several episodes are spent on Lindsay trying to fit in with her new group of friends while they try to figure out what she brings to the table. Other forces in Lindsay’s life try to pull her back towards academics or the Mathletes. She struggles to find her place as she’s rather open to discussion and being introspective while her new friends almost all avoid any form of conflict. The only one who doesn’t is Kim, but the others just seem to brush off anything she does or says while Lindsay can’t help but take things personally. As viewers, it’s hard to find much to like about Daniel and Kim early on. They seem eager to take advantage of Lindsay, who has had a more privileged upbringing and access to more of everything, while they come from troubled backgrounds and broken homes. Much of the Lindsay/Kim dynamic gets settled in the fourth episode “Kim Kelly is My Friend.” It begins a bit too familiar with Kim seemingly using Lindsay to her advantage as she wants her mother to see she has made a wholesome friend, or someone her mom will approve of. By the end of the episode they seem to find a new understanding and the title of the episode feels like a true a statement. Plenty of the remaining 14 episodes demonstrate a deepening of the relationship between Kim and Lindsay as Lindsay begins to find her own place. Other episodes, like the following “Tests and Breasts,” put the focus on Lindsay and her relationship with another member of her circle of friends, such as Daniel. Just about every character gets a spotlight of sorts early leaving the rest of the episodes to examine other aspects of school life, relationships, and the like.

Left to right: Bill, Sam, and Neal comprise the geeks portion of the show.

As the title of the show implies, there are two social groups the show focuses one. We’ve discussed the freaks, now lets talk about the geeks. The geeks are, as you probably could have guessed, a more nerdy group who are a bit outside the popular crowd like the freaks, but for different reasons. The group begins the series as a trio and includes Lindsay’s younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley), Neal (Samm Levine), and Bill (Martin Starr). All three are freshmen and in that awkward stage where their shared interests are being forced to compete with the onset of puberty. They’ve always been comfortable with who and what they are, but now are beginning to doubt themselves and all to a different degree. Sam is the most conflicted and confused by everything. He’s a sweet boy who likes the comedy of Steve Martin and Bill Murray and also enjoys Star Wars and playing Dungeons & Dragons. He’s also sweet on Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnik), but she’s a cheerleader unlikely to ever view him as a romantic possibility. Sam questions if his enjoyment of the nerdier things in life are keeping him from attracting someone like Cindy, causing him to contemplate rejecting them. Meanwhile, Neal is the Jewish son of a dentist obsessed with comedy, but also is very much interested in women. Given his background, it’s not hard to imagine both Feig and Apatow seeing a bit of themselves in Neal and his uncompromising attitude towards finding what’s most funny about a situation or joke, He’s also probably overconfident in his ability to be a real Casanova. Even though he has no luck attracting women, he’s fairly certain that he’ll grow up into someone who is not challenged by such at all. Bill is the most secure in his nerdy ways. He’s not that interested in popularity, and while he likes girls, they’re definitely not a priority at this stage of his life.

The two cliques cross paths at times in the show, but for the most part their stories are self contained. Sam and his friends have their problems to deal with, while Lindsay and her friends have their own. They’re both able to be quite relatable, though this is coming from someone with a bit of a freak and geek background myself, so maybe this show plays differently for someone who was a jock in high school. There are a lot of ongoing plots that the show is willing to just let simmer in the background like Sam’s pursuit of Cindy and some problems at home for both Neal and Bill. For Lindsay, there’s a bit of a “will they or won’t they?” towards her relationship with Nick. She gets caught in a relationship quite quickly with him as a result of her feeling pity for him, but she keeps up appearances by convincing herself that since he’s a nice guy he’s worthy of being her boyfriend, and that’s never a healthy way to begin a relationship. It gets called off after a few episodes and tension is allowed to play out for the rest of the season. It’s definitely something that would have continued into a second season, though at the same time, it’s not exactly a Ross and Rachel situation as I don’t get a sense that the audience is rooting for things to go one way or not. Then again, I was never into Friends and I get the sense most people dislike Ross so maybe it is the same? Nick is at least likable, but it’s reasonable to doubt if he’s right for Lindsay.

I love Tom Wilson on this show. I would have been very interested in seeing how he was utilized in a second season.

The main cast of teens and young adults is great. They absolutely are capable of carrying the show, but thankfully they also don’t have to. Making up the rest of the cast is an assortment of utility players. Lindsay and Sam’s parents Jean (Becky Ann Baker) and Harold (Joe Flaherty) are excellent as parents that try to be supportive and keep their kids on the straight and narrow, but also stumble. Flaherty is particularly terrific in his portrayal as Lindsay’s father as he tends to get frustrated with trying to relate to his daughter quickly so he just makes demands that are only partially effective. He changes as much as the kids as the episodes roll along and anytime an episode lingers on him it’s for the better. It’s reasonable to wonder if he would have followed in the footsteps of other TV dads and taken on a bigger role had the show continued. Dave “Gruber” Allen is also perfectly cast in his role as counselor Mr. Ross. He spends a lot of time trying to keep Lindsay on the path she was on before the show began, but unlike some of his fellow teachers, he doesn’t exactly discourage her from hanging out with her new friends. He doesn’t consider them lost causes and tries his best to be a positive influence on their lives. He’s just a great character because most people can probably remember someone like him from their adolescence. Possibly my favorite member of the recurring characters is Tom Wilson’s Ben Fredericks, the coach and PE teacher the geeks tend to find conflict with. It’s just great to see Wilson outside of the Back to the Future franchise even if he’s playing a Biff-adjacent type of character as it’s not hard to imagine Biff becoming a hard-ass of a gym teacher. He gets a lot opportunity to show his range though leading to some really nice scenes with both Sam and Bill.

As I alluded to at the start of this post, the music licensed for the show plays a substantial role in evoking the spirit of 1980. Every episode begins with Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” as the main cast is shuffled quickly through a picture day setting at school. Over the course of the first 5 or 6 episodes we’re exposed to the entire self-titled Van Halen debut album, which must have been pricey on its own. There’s also numerous other cuts along the way, some that come as expected while others are a bit of a surprise. It’s mostly era appropriate too, though as a former punk rocker back in the day I feel obliged to point out that Daniel at one point ends up with a copy of Black Flag’s Damaged several months before it was actually released. Music plays a large role in the lives of the freaks as well since they start their own band playing mostly Cream covers. They all have an appreciation for Led Zeppelin and in the last episode Lindsay discovers The Grateful Dead. In an era where televisions only had a few channels and video games hadn’t quite taken over, music was a huge past time for kids and it’s great to see that reflected in the show.

There’s a lot of loose ends when the credits roll on season one, like where Lindsay and Nick’s relationship is heading, but sadly we’ll never get to see how that stuff would have resolved itself.

Freaks and Geeks consists of a simple premise, but one that is frequently hard to execute. It’s difficult to find kids and young adults who can actually act, and while few members of the cast were actually high school age at the time of shooting, they were all close enough. And they’re all really good! It’s not surprising so many have received bigger roles in the years since the show came to an end, some of which were roles from Apatow, but also many found their own way through the entertainment industry. The show is funny, but also captivating. It’s not afraid to be honest with its characters and it tackles some pretty interesting subjects. The only one that I felt stumbled a bit was the requisite drug episode when Lindsay is worried Nick is addicted to pot, which seems kind of ridiculous, but they are kids, I suppose. There are issues of parental infidelity as experienced by a kid and also the issue of one’s mother dating an adult her child is familiar with and not exactly a fan of. Like a lot of Apatow’s movies, the show is rather adept at putting its characters into uncomfortable and awkward situations, for both them and the audience, and we have to see how they untangle the knots. Mostly though, it’s just enjoyable to watch these characters, and the show, grow over its 18 episodes. Some of that growth is intentional and some of it is just the natural progression of a show discovering itself and coming to a greater understanding of what it is, who inhabits its world, and where everything is going. The show was cut down too soon, but the final episode does at least have a touch of finality to it, especially for what I consider the two main characters of Lindsay and Sam. I wish there was more, but I’m happy I finally took the time to watch what we have.


The Christmas Spot Returns for 2020!

Reindeer and fast food can only mean one thing…

Tomorrow is December 1st, and it’s that time of year when this blog goes Christmas! Yes, 2020 has been a horrendously shitty year so Christmas can’t come soon enough. Of course, it’s a Christmas tinged with disease this year as we’re almost certainly going to be asked to quarantine for another holiday as the world waits for a vaccine for Covid-19. I suppose that makes it a Christmas guaranteed to be memorable, though for mostly bad reasons.

Well, if we’re going to be stuck inside for much of December then we’re really going to need to dust off some Christmas specials. As in years past, each day of December leading up to and including Christmas will be met with a blog post about a Christmas special. Some are obscure, while some should be fairly popular, but all are definitely Christmas-related. And if one special per day just isn’t enough, there’s years worth of content to go through! Just refer to the official Christmas Spot index page to find the specials of holidays past.

The good news about 2020 is that there are a ton of streaming options available to the average consumer and thus a plethora of Christmas specials are just a click away! Between Netflix, YouTube, Prime, Hulu, HBO, and Disney+ you should have little trouble finding some holiday specials. Though I did want to take this moment to a pick a few bones with these networks, because some specials are still hard to come by that really shouldn’t be.

And yeah, I am so ready for Christmas this year!

Now, I really don’t have too many bones to pick with Netflix or YouTube, since they’re pretty new to content creation. And I can’t say anything about HBO since I don’t currently subscribe. With Hulu though, I got a problem! The entire series of The Venture Bros. (RIP) is available to stream on Hulu, with one exception – The Christmas Special! Why oh why is that not included? It’s a mere 15 minutes and the only episode of the show that’s a short. Hulu even has the pilot episode of the show, but not this Christmas special. And with HBO looking to get all of the Adult Swim content under its umbrella, it’s unlikely Hulu can go back and get more content without paying big bucks so if you want to watch it, get the DVD, I guess.

The only platform I take issue with is Disney+. The service has been around for a little over a year now and it’s been an okay debut. Some positives (The Mandalorian) mix with some negatives (stability is still an issue), but for the most part I would call Disney+ a success considering there is a lot of content and it’s one of the cheapest platforms around. However, I cannot overlook some glaring omissions in the area of Christmas.

Coming to Disney+ in 2020?

First off, the entire series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is missing. A lot of Disney Afternoon and Disney Afternoon adjacent shows are still missing, but this one stings a little because it’s the only series based on a Pixar property and it features a Christmas episode! And speaking of Pixar, Disney has yet to add Toy Story that Time Forgot, the sort-of Christmas special that gets aired annually on ABC, but this may be temporary. This year, Toy Story of Terror was added to Disney+ during the month of October so this one may yet surface in December.

One of the best Christmas specials Disney has ever lent its name to is curiously missing from its streaming platform.

A bigger omission and one that seems unlikely to be rectified, is the missing Mickey Mouse special Duck the Halls. Based on the new Mickey cartoons, this one is excellent though Disney has failed to give it a network timeslot because Disney doesn’t love its legacy characters as much as it should. And since the Halloween special from the same universe is still M.I.A., I have little faith in this one being added. Perhaps the bigger omission though, is the classic short Toy Tinkers starring Donald Duck and the duo Chip and Dale. I see no reason why Duck the Halls shouldn’t be added, but I’m guessing this one isn’t there because there’s some gunplay in the cartoon and in particular, Donald pointing a revolver right in the face of the chipmunks. I think every classic short needs to be added, so obviously I don’t think the presence of a gun should keep Toy Tinkers off of the streaming service. Just slap a disclaimer on it and move on! Also missing is the Silly Symphony short The Night Before Christmas and that’s due to a blackface gag. That one isn’t nearly as good as Toy Tinkers so it’s not a huge omission, but I felt like I should point it out.

Lastly, the one that puzzles me the most, is the missing Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas. This was essentially the series finale to Goof Troop. It was given a network timeslot in prime time for its initial airing and I guess it’s because of that airing that Disney doesn’t consider it part of Goof Troop? I don’t know, but I expected to find it with Goof Troop last year, but it wasn’t there and it’s still not there!

Give us The Reindeer Dance, Disney!

Anyway, don’t let these shortcomings with our streaming options get you down. There’s still a lot of Christmas content to consume out there, and as the days go by, I’ll do my best to point you towards the best place to view the specials. So get cozy, grab a festive beverage, and enjoy the ride! I’ll have more posts about toys and junk after Christmas has come and gone.


Dec. 15 – Animaniacs – “A Christmas Plotz”

a_christmas_plotz

Original air date December 6, 1993

It’s rare when you encounter a cartoon series that has back-to-back episodes dedicated to Christmas, but that happened with the first season of Animaniacs. If you’re not familiar with the show, Animaniacs is essentially the spiritual successor to Tiny Toon Adventures as another Steven Spielberg presented cartoon series. It, even more so than Tiny Toons, draws inspiration from the golden era of cartoons when guys like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Friz Freleng were making audiences laugh at the movie theater. The series is a cartoon variety show with the main characters consisting of the fictional Warner brothers and Warner sister:  Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. It paired them up with many other newcomers like Slappy Squirrel, The Goodfeathers, and perhaps most famously the duo of Pinky and the Brain.

 

Animaniacs premiered on the Fox Kids network in the fall of 1993 and anchored Fox’s weekday afternoon lineup. Perhaps that’s why the producers and writers felt like they had room for multiple Christmas episodes. They aired back-to-back with a week of reruns in between with this one airing on December 6, 1993 and they were the last new episodes of the show to debut in 1993. Reruns took the Warners and Co. the rest of the way with new episodes premiering in 1994. Like a lot of Fox programs, the initial season was a direct to syndication order of 65 episodes with supplemental seasons tacked on. The show ran until 1998, finishing up on Kids’ WB after 99 episodes, and was followed by a direct-to-video movie, Wakko’s Wish, which is coincidentally a Christmas affair. It seems odd that the show wasn’t given one additional episode to get it to 100, an achievement it certainly deserved, but maybe that’s why Wakko’s Wish exists.

animaniacs_xmas


Want to make an episode feel special? Just dress-up the opening credits a bit.

Animaniacs mixes a lot of slapstick humor with satire of celebrity culture. There’s numerous musical segments, honestly more than I remembered when I went back and watched it, and lots of micro segments which many fans probably recall fondly. I’m speaking of the Good Idea/Bad Idea stuff or that little kid who likes to talk about some other person named Randy. It also poked fun at broadcast standards via the Wheel of Morality and is also quite notable for slipping a few risqué jokes past the censors (Finger Prince?). It wasn’t a cheap show and often featured some of the best animation and musical numbers on television. It feels like a show that couldn’t exist today because of this, but Hulu is reportedly bringing the show back in 2020. It remains to be seen what the show will look and sound like, but most of the original cast is back onboard and it’s hard to imagine Amblin Entertainment allowing the show to look worse than it did 20 years ago.

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What’s better than dressing up the opening title sequence? Adding an homage to the old CBS Special Presentation bumper! Gets me every time.

The very first segment of the first Christmas themed episode is the one we’re looking at today:  A Christmas Plotz. Plotz refers to the name of the fictional CEO of the Warner Bros. Company Thaddeus Plotz (Frank Welker). He is ostensibly the one responsible for ordering the Warners be locked away in their tower, as detailed during the show’s infectious opening. He’s a miserable old miser, so you can probably see where this is going. Can Animaniacs do a worthwhile parody of A Christmas Carol, or is this yet another forgettable retread? Let’s find out.

warner_lot_xmas


Warner Studios all ready for Christmas.

The episode begins with the fake news reel explaining the origins of the Warner Bros. Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell) and their sister Dot (Tress MacNeille) were classic cartoon characters deemed too zany and crazy to exist. Their cartoons were blacklisted and they were sealed away, along with the Warners themselves, in the studio’s water tower. This news reel begins many episodes of the show, but this time it’s presented with snowflakes falling all around. These snowflakes carry over into the opening title sequence and I do love when shows dress-up their opening credits for Christmas! The Steven Spielberg cartoons were frequent contributors to such.

ralph_fired


Thaddeus Plotz is a man in need of some Christmas spirit.

When that business concludes, we begin the show. It’s Christmas time at the Warner Studios lot and some carolers are cheerily singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” In his office, Thaddeus Plotz is not enjoying the festive singing. He opens his window to scream at them and fling fruit cake as well. It seems his subordinates all give him fruit cake at this time of year, even though he hates it (doesn’t everybody?). As he returns to his desk, his security guard Ralph (Welker) enters the office. Plotz instructs him not to sit down as this won’t take long, but Ralph interrupts him by going into a little prepared speech. It seems he expects this meeting to end with him receiving his Christmas bonus, and he thanks Mr. Plotz for letting him work there and presents him with yet another fruit cake. Ralph is the classic dumb guy cartoon archetype. He frequently starts sentences with “Ahh,” or “Duhh,” and adds random plurals onto certain words thus making him immediately sympathetic, which is important for what follows.

sad_ralph


This image makes me feel genuinely crushed.

When Ralph finishes his little speech and presents Plotz with the fruit cake the old man is able to put on a happy face briefly despite his disgust. He then holds up a line graph which apparently details rising costs directly tied to the damage caused by the Warners. It’s Ralph’s job to keep them in line, and he’s failed miserably. Plotz fires him on the spot, then wishes him a sincere-sounding Merry Christmas. As Ralph’s eyes well-up with tears, he slumps his shoulders and walks out.

ghost_slappy


This one features a Slappy cameo, but sadly she’s the only one.

That night, Plotz is still busy in his office with budgetary matters. He’s recording a voice memo in which he mentions that in order to cut costs employees will soon be expected to provide their own toilet paper. As he finishes up, an apparition appears before him. It’s Slappy Squirrel (Sherri Stoner) in the Jacob Marley role. She’s mostly transparent and blueish with chains draped over her and isn’t particularly happy to be there. When a frightened Plotz demands to know why she’s here, she pulls out a notebook and reads her lines about him being visited by three ghosts. When he asks why, she tells him she doesn’t know as she lost the rest of the script. She then marches out of there grumbling about how she’s doing this for scale and remarks that she needs a new agent.

wakko_past


Bring on the ghosts! First up is Wakko as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

With Slappy gone, Plotz thinks he hallucinated her due to working too hard. He drinks some water and then the phone on his desk begins to ring. He answers it and a spectral Wakko pops out of the receiver. He’s mostly blue save for his red nose and hat. He’s also dressed in a manner similar to the classic interpretation of Tiny Tim and immediately goes into a little musical number about taking a trip back to the past to see how Plotz got here. He sets up a little movie theater for the two and finishes his song with a kiss. The reel-to-reel projector is fired up as Wakko enjoys some popcorn and we’re taken to our first scene of the past.

baby_plotz


This is a pretty on-brand way for Wakko to present the past to Plotz.

It’s the birth of Thaddeus Plotz! His mother (Nancy Linari) is resting comfortably and seems quite content with her new babe, but then the doctor brings her the bill and little Thaddeus jumps up in anger. He’s still ticked about the whole spanking of the bum thing by the doc and informs him that he’ll be hearing from his lawyers. We’re then shown a five-year-old Plotz as he confronts a mall Santa surrounded by said attorneys to make his annual demands of St. Nick. He expects many gifts, including a horse, and Santa seems bewildered. The Plotz of the present then informs us he was gifted a pony that year and he still seems ticked off by it. Plotz demands this farce end, but Wakko then shows him another vision of the past, one he promises is the worst. This time he’s an adult and seated behind his current desk. He’s telling an old man (Maurice LaMarche) his services are no longer needed, despite him begging to be allowed to keep his job. That old man was his dad, and Plotz still sees nothing wrong with usurping the company from his old man as he allowed him to keep his medical benefits.

dot_present


You just knew they would utilize the present pun. Dot even feels the need to draw attention to it by pointing it out.

Wakko and his accessories then vanish as Plotz returns to his desk once again questioning if what he just saw was real or not. He sits down at his desk and blames his vision on bad cocktail weenies (because that food was considered inherently funny in the 90s, like cheese) when he notices a large present on his desk. He thinks it’s going to be another fruitcake, but a spectral Dot pops out dressed in old-timey clothes and demands to know who he’s calling a fruitcake. She also points out the pun of her being the Ghost of Christmas Present and popping out of a present. She too has a little song to sing, and as she kicks away the nameplate on Plotz’s desk we can see his own name was misspelled on it (Thadius), though I don’t think that’s a joke just an animation goof.

turkey_jello


Well, at least they’re happy.

Dot takes Plotz to a trailer park, and I bet you can guess who lives here. It’s the home of the recently fired Ralph who is seated in an easy chair trying to calm his son (Paulsen) who is irate with Plotz for firing his dad. He assures the boy that everything will be okay. The pair are summoned to dinner and we get to meet Mrs. Ralph who inexplicably looks and sounds exactly like her husband. Their kid seems well-adjusted and perfectly fine though, so he apparently hasn’t been ravaged by his incestuous origin. Mrs. Ralph is serving what they can afford for Christmas dinner:  Turkey Jell-O. It looks pretty terrible, but Ralph is excited to eat it while little Ralph Jr. is decidedly not happy about this current situation. He claims to the camera he’s adopted, and we believe him, and vows to get even with Mr. Plotz some day.

yakko_future


And Yakko makes three.

Plotz is a bit unnerved by Ralph Jr’s hatred of him and wants out. He soon finds himself back in his office. He’s apparently accepted the reality of this evening as he’s now concerned about the arrival of the third ghost. The clock striking midnight and a thunderstorm brewing outside seem to spook him as he tries to call for security, forgetting momentarily that Ralph was security. He then tries to leave, but finds the door locked. Turning around, he screams when he sees the third ghost. A being resembling the Grim Reaper approaches, sickle and all. It pins him to the door and says his name in a deep, hollow, voice as it extends a boney finger towards Plotz’s throat.

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Yakko’s song and dance number is certainly elaborate, but is it funny? Eh…

Yakko then emerges from the robes to announce he’s the Ghost of Christmas Future. He ditches the spooky stuff and sports a tuxedo as he goes into an elaborate song and dance routine announcing his arrival and intentions. It’s complete with female dancers (voiced by Carol Lombard, Kimberly Fligsten, Brianne Lepon, and Sara Ford) which Yakko hits on mercilessly while Plotz is dragged around and forced to keep pace. Yakko slips in insults here and there while Plotz drops his fear for a minute to just get angry and annoyed. The presence of the women allow Yakko to work in his “Hello, nurse” catchphrase, and the whole thing ends with Yakko tossing Plotz off of the magical stairs that appeared to land in an armchair. I do not know if this song is a direct parody of anything, but Yakko does go into a brief Groucho bit for a moment.

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I wonder who that guy could be?

With both Yakko and Plotz seated comfortably, Plotz looks around and realizes they’re still in his office. Only now it’s not his office. Yakko directs Plotz’s attention to the new man in charge, an angry guy with a huge, bald, head. He’s yelling about Urkel looking ridiculous with his pants pulled up so high at his age as he’s on the phone with someone. He slams it down and returns to his work and Yakko points out to Plotz that this man is actually Ralph Jr. all grown up. It seems he did get his revenge on Plotz, as we soon find out his fate. Unlike Scrooge, Plotz is still alive in this future, but he has suffered a fate worse than death. He’s been made the new Ralph and tasked with keeping the Warners in line. He looks mostly the same, only he has an unkempt mane of gray hair and his eyes are a bit sunken looking.

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Old man Plotz is forced to try and keep pace with the Warners. It’s actually pretty impressive a man of his age can do this much.

Plotz is horrified by the sight, and it only gets worse. The Warners then show up to taunt him, and as he chases after them with a net Ralph Jr. emerges from his window to call down to him. He admonishes him for not catching them, and when Plotz informs Ralph that they’re too fast, he unceremoniously fires the old man punctuating it with a cheerful “Merry Christmas,” just as he did to his father years ago. The future Plotz walks away disheartened, while present Plotz begins to pout and cry.

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The ghosts may be done, but the Warners still have a role to play.

Plotz soon realizes he’s back in his office. It’s Christmas morning, and now he has his chance for atonement. He kisses his desk when he realizes where he is and races over to the window. He goes into the usual routine as he calls out to some kids asking what day it is. It’s the Warners in their holiday threads, only now they’re not blue ghosts. They tell him it’s Christmas Day, and Dot remarks to the camera how he’s not too bright. Plotz then throws down a sack of money and tells them to go buy the biggest fruit cake they can find and deliver it to Ralph’s house. He even tells them to keep the change. Wakko declares that they’re rich and the trio grab the money and run.

 

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Plotz never really atones for his mistake, he just tries to cover it up.

At Ralph’s trailer, the whole place is bouncing up and down with Christmas cheer. The family is singing around their 8″ tall tree when a knock at the door disturbs their celebration. Ralph Jr. answers it to find it’s Plotz armed with a stack of presents. He barges in and demands to know why he’s hearing that Ralph left the studio. A confused Ralph points out that he fired him, but Plotz corrects him by saying he inspires him! He then charms Mrs. Ralph, before turning his attention to Ralph Jr. He begs the boy not to take over the studio, and then tries to bribe him with a pony. The kid demands a horse instead and Plotz makes an expression that basically says, “I deserved that.”

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Grovel, you swine!

Another knock at the door gets Plotz’s attention and he opens it to find the Warners. They tell him they brought the fruit cake and an excited Plotz races outside wanting to know where it is. They tell him they got the biggest they could find, and they weren’t kidding. A helicopter delivers a massive fruit cake, and drops the two-story monstrosity right on top of Plotz. His feet stick out from under it and all we can hear is unintelligible ranting. The Warners jump on top armed with spoons and assure him they can have him out by Easter. Wakko then wishes us all a merry Christmas as the sound of Christmas bells take us out of the segment.

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A fitting punishment for a lifetime of dickish behavior.

And that’s it for “A Christmas Plotz.” It’s followed by a musical number based on The Little Drummer Boy in which the Warners assume the role of the drummer and lead us through a fairly straight interpretation of the tale. It’s not particularly memorable, but if you like your Christmas with a side of Jesus then it’s probably right up your alley.

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The Warners get the last word, per usual.

“A Christmas Plotz” is pretty entertaining, as most cartoons starring the Warners tend to be. It’s a bit disappointing that a show as creative as Animaniacs went in this direction though as it didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the old story truncated to 12 minutes or so and punctuated with jokes. The jokes are fairly easy, but still humorous. It’s still fair to question whether or not we ever needed Animaniacs to go this route. An original Christmas story would have been preferable, but obviously more work. I suppose I’m glad the Warners were thrust into the ghost role as opposed to that of the Cratchits. Maybe another holiday parody would have worked better? The slapstick nature of Home Alone would have lent itself well to the show, or maybe just have the Warners run wild through Santa’s workshop? A Christmas Carol parody is the lowest rung on the holiday special ladder, and I just can’t help but feel that this show is better than this. At least this show looks great as this particular episode was entirely animated by the renowned TMS Entertainment. Episodes of this show really don’t come any better in terms of looks than what you’ll see here.

img_0461Thankfully, if you want to spend the holidays with the cast of Animaniacs you have other options. There’s the episode that follows this which is less cohesive, but pretty fun. There’s also a Christmas cartoon starring Slappy featured in the penultimate episode of the show that’s fodder for a future countdown. And there’s also the previously mentioned Wakko’s Wish if you want to spend an even longer amount of time with the gang at Christmas. That feature has the added appeal of making use of the full ensemble so it’s a bit like a celebration or grand finale for the show. If you’re really into the show though, you’ll probably just want to watch all of them. And if so, don’t forget the excellent Pinky and the Brain holiday special!

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This cartoon is fine, but the episode that follows makes better use of the entire cast making it my preferred Christmas episode of the two.

If you do indeed wish to invest some of your Christmas viewing time into Animaniacs then it’s pretty easy to do so. The entire show is available to purchase on physical media or through digital means. By far, the easiest way though is via Hulu which has the entire series plus the movie on it. It also has other Spielberg cartoons so you can really indulge in some 90s animation and basically all of them feature a Christmas special or two. There’s certainly room for Animaniacs at Christmas time, so hopefully you find an episode that works for you.


Disney+ Revealed

Disney+It was only a matter of time until big companies got into streaming. Netflix was allowed to practically monopolize the market for years before facing any sort of real challenge. Now we have Hulu, Prime Video, as well as numerous niche offerings like WWE Network and Crunchyroll which cater to a specific type of fan. Premium channels like HBO can now be subscribed to without a cable subscription as more consumers look to change how they watch television. With Warner Media announcing in November of 2018 that it intended to offer a streaming service, it only made sense that Disney would follow suit. Not only did Disney possess its own vast library of works, it had recently entered into an agreement to acquire 20th Century Fox adding even more volume. And given how much money Disney had paid to acquire Fox’s portfolio, it only makes sense that the media giant would want to find a way to monetize that investment sooner rather than later.

We’ve known for months that Disney+ was coming. We’ve also known it was going to feature the entirety of Disney’s film library. This was notable when announced because it likely means the long-vaulted film Song of the South will be readily available for the first time in decades. Song of the South is a live-action animated hybrid first released in 1946. At best, it’s content was deemed racially insensitive and at worst flat-out racist as it sought to portray a setting of happy plantation workers in a post Civil War setting. Most historians seem to agree that Walt Disney’s heart was in the right place when the movie was made, but also acknowledge it’s very problematic. Today, most fans will just recognize the animated characters from the popular Disney World and Disneyland attraction Splash Mountain. Disney has long sought to distance itself from this film and never released it on VHS or DVD in the west. It has been released in some parts of the world where the issue of American slavery is less thorny. It’s likely appearance on Disney+ will be the first time many Americans are exposed to the film outside of a bootleg.

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Disney+ will likely be how a lot of folks will first experience the controversial Song of the South.

A 70-year-old film that’s not very good wasn’t going to drive the success of Disney+ though. Song of the South will probably have high stream counts when the service launches and gradually fade away. The rest of the Disney film library will do a lot of the heavy-lifting, but how much was that going to be worth to consumers? Disney, more so than any other studio, has a pretty loyal following of fans that still buy its movies on physical media. While it’s certainly convenient to have films readily available on a streaming platform, what’s the value to Disney fans that already have most of these movies?

UPDATE:  Apparently “entire film library” does not apply to the controversial ones as it is now being reported that Song of the South will indeed be excluded from Disney+ when it launches this fall. In addition to that, Dumbo will see the infamous Jim Crow scene annexed from its film. Song of the South is not a good film so it’s not much of a loss to not have it on the streaming service. In the spirit of not hiding from one’s past, I would have liked to have seen it included with a disclaimer or even an introduction added on, but I’m also not surprised. Removing an entire scene, a rather pivotal one at that, from Dumbo is more concerning. If they’re going to start chopping up their films to remove questionable content (and there’s more than just Dumbo) then I’d prefer they just not include them on the platform.

Disney was going to have to make Disney+ special, and on April 11th the company at long last laid out what it envisioned for the service. The most important detail, as always, is cost. The service will launch in November 2019 at a cost of $6.99 per month in the US, or $70 per year. Other regions will follow as the company likely looks to stagger the release to get a read on how much their servers will have to work. Presumably, the cost will be the same or roughly the same in other parts of the world. It’s an aggressive price point, not in that it’s too high, but in that Disney clearly looks like it’s trying to undercut Netflix, which just raised its prices. Disney owns a 60% stake in Hulu so it likely doesn’t want to undercut that too much. And with the confirmation that it will be ad-free, Disney+ already looks like one of the better bargains in the streaming world.

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A concept of what fans can expect to see when they login to the service.

Disney+ will also include not just Disney films, but Star Wars and Marvel as well. This isn’t much of a surprise, but there probably were some wondering if one, or both, of those big brands would be sent to Hulu instead. It was also touted that the launch of the service will feature the newly released Captain Marvel, currently airing in theaters at the time of this writing. It’s interesting that Captain Marvel was highlighted, but not Toy Story 4 which is set for release this June. At the time Disney+ launches, Toy Story 4 will likely be heading to home media and digital for the holidays. That film might be the first litmus test for what fans can expect between home video and streaming release. It would be understandable if Disney wants a gap between the two so as not to harm home media sales, but it also needs to make its streaming service attractive in regards to new releases.

Disney knows it will need some original content to compete with the likes of Netflix, and it announced a few new shows destined for its streaming service. The Mandalorian is a Star Wars themed show about a bounty hunter that looks like Boba Fett because that character is inexplicably popular. There will also be an animated show based on Marvel’s What If? line of comics and a live-action show called WandaVision focusing on Scarlet Witch and Vision. Some what of a surprise was the announcement that the “live-action” Lady and the Tramp is going to be a direct-to-streaming film on the service as opposed to a theatrically released film. I suppose Lady and the Tramp isn’t as popular as the likes of Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, but given how much money these live-action remakes have been making it’s still a bit of a surprise to see it bypass the theater.

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The Simpsons “welcome” their new corporate overlords.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was reserved for a non-Disney property:  The Simpsons. America’s favorite animated family is coming to Disney+ and all thirty seasons will be available on day one. I think most assumed that The Simpsons was destined for Hulu, but apparently Disney feels the brand is too valuable for that platform. It’s probably right, though this likely spells the end for The Simpsons World, the streaming portion of the FX Now app which currently is home to the entire series for anyone with a cable subscription. That app was limited, though it was still useful to have every episode on demand, with optional commentary no less. I assume the show will still air on FXX, assuming Disney keeps the channel around, but the on demand options to cable subscribers are probably about to decrease substantially.

What wasn’t touched on in as much detail as I would have liked is what is to come of the television properties Disney owns? Specifically, can we expect to see the entire Disney Afternoon collection of shows on this service? The announcement did make mention of Disney Channel programming so it’s expected all or most of the current programs will be there, but it wasn’t elaborated on. I also want to know if the classic theatrical shorts will show up, and if so, will they be remastered in HD? Some packages of shorts are currently available on Netflix, so it wouldn’t surprise me if those make it to Disney+ early on, but I’m really hoping all of the classic animation is included.

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Disney+ could be a place where television shows like The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, one that has been ignored by Disney since it ceased airing, could finally find a new home.

Given the amount of content and the low introductory price, I think it’s safe to say that Disney+ will have a pretty successful launch. My household will likely be a day one subscriber as my kids probably average one Disney movie per day and this will save ware and tear on my Blu Ray collection. I suspect the price-point to change much faster than Netflix changed its pricing. The most popular Netflix subscription just increased to $13 per month, nearly twice what Disney+ will cost in November. There’s no way Disney, a company that really loves money, will stay at the low-end for long. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressively the company raises that number, with it likely staying put for a year or so. Disney will probably try to incentivize consumers to subscribe to the service in a package with Hulu and ESPN.

What we’re also likely to discover in the coming years as well is just how large an appetite the consumer has for streaming content. Cutting the chord used to be a radical concept, but now is starting to become pretty normal. It was once a way to drastically reduce the cost of television in the average household, but with more streaming options showing up spreading things around it’s no longer the value it once was. My guess is that consumers will become less loyal to any one brand and will be constantly switching between services on a monthly basis. That is, until the content providers start forcing or aggressively incentivizing consumers to subscribe to deals that last for months, or even years. It’s even possible they’ll be forced to turn to contracts, and then we’ll basically be right back to where we were with cable companies. The cycle will repeat.


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