The Comedy Vault – Malcolm In The Middle.

Malcolm In The Middle (Fox, 2000-2006)

This is another American sitcom that I must admit I haven’t watched a huge amount over the years, but I am definitely aware that this is considered to be one of the most popular (and indeed funniest) of its era. The main character is Malcolm (not to be confused with that weird puppet thing on that game show that I reviewed recently).

He is “in the middle” because he lives with his parents Hal and Lois, and two of his brothers, Reece is older than him, and Dewey is younger (his other older brother Francis is away). Malcolm is a rather bright boy, with an IQ that is well above-average, but he doesn’t always find school to be an easy experience. His only real friend is Stevie, who helps him along the way.

But despite is supposed cleverness, when he is at home, he squabbles with his brothers just as much as any other family does. His parents often have trouble keeping everything under control, including his short-tempered mother who works at a department store. Malcolm sometimes can’t help but wonder what life is all about, and reflects on his situations in pieces straight to camera.

As the series progressed, more attention is made to the aging of the children than there is in most sitcoms. Malcolm entered his teenage years, Francis got married, and Lois eventually gave birth once again, bringing a fifth son into the family. Malcolm didn’t consider his parents to be fairly odd though, because that was another show. This was definitely a step above the “everybody in my family is crazy”-type sitcoms that there have been so many of.

There were 151 episodes of Malcolm In The Middle in seven series, and they have all been released on DVD. This was first shown in this country on Sky One, but really took off when episodes were shown on BBC2, often shown after The Simpsons, to create a rather satisfying double-bill. In more recent years, there have been repeat runs on various other channels.

The theme music “Boss Of Me” was provided by They Might Be Giants, and this also became a hit single, making this the first time that they had been on the UK chart for over a decade. There was also a memorable parody in Family Guy, even accounting for the fact that they have now parodied just about every other show on TV, this one still managed to stand out. I’m talking to you!

More TV Memories – Grounded For Life.

Grounded For Life (Fox, 2001-2002, WB, 2002-2005)

This is an American sitcom that was shown in a late-night slot on ITV1 for a while (you barely see any home-made sitcoms on ITV now, never mind imported ones). Grounded For Life centred around the Finnerty family, who live in Staten Island, New York. Sean and Claudia got married when they were 18, and they now have three children, Lily, Jimmy, and Henry.

They are beginning to reach their awkward years, meaning that, despite only being in their early-30s themselves, they realise that their children are almost teenagers. The other main cast members are Sean’s younger brother Eddie, and his dad Walt, who often gives advice on how the family should be run, whether it’s asked for or not. Sean sees himself as a modern, easy-going dad, but parenting’s just as tough for him as anybody else.

The idea is that it is Sean and Claudia who feel like they are the ones who are grounded, not the children! Grounded For Life starred Donal Logue, who had previously been in the CBS sitcom Public Morals in 1996, which was so badly received that it was pulled from the schedule after only one episode (although all 13 that were made were shown in this country on ITV). This one did manage to do better though.

This was also another of those sitcoms which had a “my totally crazy dysfunctional family” feel (and according to the opening sequence, they all like to play basketball together), but this was all rather overshadowed by Malcolm In The Middle, which launched around the same time and tackled a similar idea with more energy and wit.

Just after the start of the third series, Grounded For Life was dropped by Fox, and continued on WB, running for a few more series. By the end, Claudia had gone and popped out a fourth child, to much excitement. There were 91 episodes in total, but I don’t think that the later ones were shown on ITV1, although there were some repeat runs on Trouble too. But the story doesn’t end there.

In 2011, BBC1 launched In With The Flynns, which was a British remake of Grounded For Life, and starred Will “Jambo” Mellor in the lead role as the equivalent of Sean Finnerty. There were two series, including some episodes written by Simon Nye. But the reviews were rather middling, arguing that after Outnumbered and the like had revolutionised the domestic sitcom in this country, this rather more traditional take on the idea came across as rather redundant.

The YouTube Files – Double Dare USA.

Double Dare (Nickelodeon, 1986-1987, 1990-1993, Fox, 1988)

This is the original version of the rather ridiculous game show that came to this country as part of CBBC’s Saturday Morning show Going Live! in 1987. Double Dare launched in America a year earlier in 1986, and helped to establish a game show element in the schedule of the increasingly popular at the time children’s channel Nickelodeon.

This version was hosted by Marc Summers, who had a lot of enthusiasm, but unlike our dear friend the award-winning Peter Simon who hosted the UK version, he also had the gift of being able to walk properly. Two teams of two took part, although there were a few differences to what happened in the UK. Firstly, the teams had names, and they began with a game to get control, cheered on by an overexcited studio audience. On your marks, get set, go! vlcsnap-00074

Questions were then asked (which also appeared on the screen) such as “which president got stuck in the bathtub?”, and they were worth money rather than points. If you don’t know the answer though, you can dare your opponents to have a try, but beware, because they could double dare it back! If still no-one knows, it’s time to play a physical challenge. vlcsnap-00075

This was where the team had to complete a challenge, usually in around 20 or 30 seconds, so make sure that you’ve got your kneepads on. There are usually about two of three of these played per show, so lots of money could be won. Watch out for when the hooter goes though, because that’s the end of part one, and going into the second part, the money values are all doubled! vlcsnap-00076

When the second hooter goes, it’s the end of the game. The losing team take away some consolation prizes though including a bag of Skittles, but the winners progress to play the obstacle course! In the final, there are eight obstacles, that all contain a flag. They have to find all eight of them in 60 seconds, to win some really big prizes. Now it can be done, and it ends up with a big mess everywhere. Repeat for years. vlcsnap-00078

There were also various spin-off series that were shown on a few other channels along with Nickelodeon in America. These included Family Double Dare, Super Sloppy Double Dare, and Double Dare 2000, along with a computer game too. In more recent years there have also been further revivals, along with a stage show that Summers was also involved with.

The Comedy Vault – New Girl.

New Girl (Fox, 2011-2018)

This is another American sitcom that caught my attention. I am not that hugely interested in films, but I have enjoyed some of the work of Zooey Deschanel, who has put in some amusing and quirky performances in various films including (500) Days Of Summer and Yes Man. So when I discovered that Zooey was going to feature in a TV sitcom I was definitely interested.

Three young men anticipate the arrival of a new flatmate, presuming that it will be somebody else who is rather like them, but it turns out that it’s a woman?! Well, it’s fair to say that they definitely weren’t expecting this and it turns their macho world upside-down. New Girl (avoiding the obvious thought “how can they still be a new girl after the first episode?”) starred Deschanel as Jessica, a teacher, and words used to describe her were often around the area of bubbly, offbeat, and quirky. vlcsnap-00905

The men were Nick, Winston, and Schmidt (keeping up a sitcom tradition of a character who is only known by their surname), who have had various jobs, including being a basketball player for a short while, and also featuring is Jessica’s childhood friend Cece. What an ensemble they are. Of course, as the episodes progress, their love lives have plenty of changes, and there were breakups, weddings, and everything inbetween. vlcsnap-00926

New Girl could be considered to be a little too cute and rather heavy on the hugging when compared to the average UK sitcom, but there was still plenty to enjoy, and Deschanel definitely adapted herself well and gained lots of laughs. There were also plenty of guest stars, and there was much surprise when Prince, who never usually did that kind of thing, made a special appearance. Let’s hope that he spoke up. vlcsnap-00910

Trying to get into New Girl was rather difficult because of the way it was scheduled in the UK. It originally started in a primetime slot on Channel 4, which I was pleased about because I felt that it deserved that level of exposure, but unsurprisingly it was moved rather quickly to E4, before it was seemingly increasingly neglected, featuring in various daytime slots, before it vanished altogether. vlcsnap-00936

There were 146 episodes of New Girl in seven series, but the final three series haven’t been released on DVD in this country, unlike America where they have all been released, which is rather frustrating too. I don’t know why they stopped, but the ones that are available feature a decent amount of extras including deleted scenes. Overall it was an enjoyable sitcom, and I look forward to seeing more of Deschanel soon.

CITV Memories – Beetlejuice.

Beetlejuice (ABC, 1989-1991, Fox, 1991)

Here’s a look back at another cartoon that was on CITV rather regularly in the early-90s, there really were a lot of them, weren’t there. Having been interested in rather spooky shows over the years, it seems fairly obvious that I would take an interest in this one. In 1988, comedy horror film Beetlejuice starring Michael Keaton was released, and it was a big success.

Because of this, there was determination to do some more. A sequel never happened though, instead it was turned into a children’s cartoon, under the watch of the film’s director Tim Burton. The format was changed a little, but the basic idea was the same. I must admit I’m more familiar with the cartoon version than the film. Beetlejuice was a ghost, who wore a striped suit, had a purple face, and bright green teeth. He could also change shape, his head often span round, and he liked to eat bugs. He also liked to play pranks on people. vlcsnap-00781

One day he befriends Lydia Deetz, a girl who is in her early-teens and likes the spookier things in life. Lydia would say Beetlejuice’s name three times, at which point he was summoned and they would go on their adventures. Together they like to explore the Neitherworld, which contains all kinds of strange things, including ghosts, monsters, and zombies. The show is set in the fictional town Peaceful Pines. vlcsnap-00784

Lydia’s parents Charles and Delia can’t really believe what she has caught herself up in. And neither can their long-suffering cat Percy. We also meet some of Lydia’s friends that attend Miss Shannon’s School For Girls, who include Bertha and Prudence. She definitely wasn’t fond of Claire though, who thought she was rather marvellous. This was a cartoon that was packed with lots of quirky ideas. vlcsnap-00780

There were 94 episodes of Beetlejuice containing 109 segments. The fourth and final series which moved from ABC to Fox ran for a whopping 65 episodes, they just couldn’t stop themselves, and some later episodes included parodies of other films. There were lots of episodes released on VHS and DVD throughout the years, and plenty of books and computer games were also released based on the show. vlcsnap-00785

Beetlejuice was first shown in this country in 1991 as part of the Saturday Morning show Motormouth, and by 1992 it had moved to the main CITV afternoon strand. I also remember that around this time when the show was on CITV, there was a big poster on the wall behind Tommy Boyd in the studio, and as you should know by now, any show that got Tommy’s endorsement was definitely worth watching. bj1


Tommy loves a bit of Beetlejuice action!

More TV Memories – The Cleveland Show.

The Cleveland Show (Fox, 2009-2013)

By the late-2000s, Family Guy become one of the most successful animated sitcoms for older viewers. Despite being cancelled twice, it constantly came back and eventually established itself. By this point, the show had been running for a decade, and the characters had become very familiar, so why not launch a spin-off series? Along with this and American Dad, Seth Macfarlane would now have three comedy cartoons on the go. Which cast member would it feature though?

Would it be Glen “Giggity” Quagmire? Or maybe it could be Joe Swanson? Well actually it was neither of them. Cleveland Brown was probably not the first choice viewers would pick for a spin-off series. He was in Peter Griffin’s circle of friends, and originally he was a delicatessen owner, who was married to Loretta, and had one son who was Cleveland Jr. tcs1

He was rather dour though, and he would say things in a rather boring voice (although he didn’t have the most boring voice that I’ve ever heard in a sitcom) including “ooh, that’s nasty”, seemingly an early attempt at a catchphrase. Apart from a running gag where he fell out of the bath in every other episode, it was clear that he would need to have a little more excitement in his life to make it work.

So by the time The Cleveland Show launched, things had changed a little. He had divorced Loretta, and then he moved away to live with his new family in the small town of Stoolbend (how amusing!), meaning that he would no longer appear regularly in Family Guy. By this point he had married his old High School sweetheart Donna, and he still had Cleveland Jr (although he didn’t seem to be the original Cleveland Jr, and he now looked a lot like Peter).

There were also Donna’s children from a previous marriage, the teenage daughter Roberta, and the son Rallo, who was about five-years-old but had something of an attitude. Cleveland also makes a new group of friends, including Terry, Lester, and Holt, and for some reason his next-door neighbours are a family of talking bears. We also meet Cleveland’s parents for the first time, the joke seeming to be that he looks more like his mother than his father.

Episodes featured things such as Cleveland at work in his new job at a cable installation company, and what the children got up to at school. Cleveland would also meet lots of people including the rapper Kenny West. The Cleveland Show was first shown in this country on E4, and then it moved to ITV2 when Family Guy and American Dad did, where is it still repeated rather frequently in a late-night slot.

There were four series of The Cleveland Show, and when it came to an end after 88 episodes in 2013, Cleveland had little option but to move back with his family to Quahog, which led to several in-jokes about his show flopping by comparison to the long-running original, and you can imagine how well he took that. Rather frustratingly, only the first two series have been released on DVD, but they do contain lots of extras including deleted scenes. I would definitely buy the other two if they were ever released.

More TV Memories – King Of The Hill.

King Of The Hill (Fox, 1997-2010)

Here’s yet another cartoon that was aimed at older viewers. In the mid-90s, another animated show that caused a stir was Beavis And Butt-Head (and I plan to review that one soon too), which was created by Mike Judge, who also voiced the main characters. After this was a success, it led to the just about a spin-off series Daria which was very enjoyable, and Judge then went on to create another much-acclaimed show.

King Of The Hill was set in Texas and featured Hank Hill and his family. Hank (voiced by Judge) had some steady work as an assistant manager of a propane company, something that he was very proud of. “I have a narrow urethra” was his popular catchphrase. There is also his wife Peggy who is a substitute teacher, and they have one child, their 12-year-old son Bobby, who is rather “husky” (to use the show’s phrasing). koth1

We also meet a few other family members, including Hank’s dad Cotton who fought in the war, and Peggy’s rather short-tempered niece Luanne, who often argues with Hank. They also have a rather grumpy dog called Ladybird. Among the other regular characters were Hank’s boss Buck Strickland and his neighbour Kahn, and we also meet his circle of friends.

These include Dale who always wore a hat, he is rather into his conspiracy theories, and he has a son who almost certainly isn’t his, Bill who used to be an army Sergeant and is divorced, and most memorably there is Boomhauer who constantly mumbles and they all find his views interesting even though they never know what he is talking about. The four of them often stand together and have a beer whilst pondering the ins and outs of life.

Plenty of things were covered that were rather amusing, as Hank tries to understand life in America in the late-90s. Memorable moments included Peggy’s attempts to play Boggle, Luanne’s puppet show The Manger Babies, Bobby causing trouble at school, Hank wanting to watch the Superbowl on TV, Boomhauer dating Luanne, and much more. Unsurprisingly, the show quickly began to win plenty of awards, and several celebrities including Country singers provided the voices of guest characters.

There would be a memorable quote from the episode played again over the production credit. What is also noticeable about the show is the animation style, where the characters looked much more like actual people than most other cartoons around at the time, there were no yellow heads or big eyes here. It was another one that was a long-running success, and Hank also made an appearance in the other animated Fox shows The Simpsons and Family Guy

As for scheduling, I think that King Of The Hill was shown on Sky One, and then it was shown on Channel 4 on Friday evenings along with plenty of hype. But then it was moved further and further into a late-night slot. 1am, 2am, even 3am sometimes. I know that they have to show something at that time, but it was a waste and rather disappointing seeing the show slowly fall out of favour as the years went by.

There were 13 series of King Of The Hill that had over 250 episodes, and they have all been released on DVD. They contain plenty of extras including deleted scenes. I’m fairly sure that some of the series I have were won in a competition in the local newspaper. They were always very enjoyable to watch and definitely one of the highlights of the late-90s animated sitcom boom.

More TV Memories – American Dad.

American Dad (Fox 2005-2014, TBS, 2014-present)

This is another animated sitcom that is aimed at the older viewer. A while ago, I reviewed Family Guy, and this piece has been rather successful, with about 500 views. That show was created by Seth Macfarlane, and after a short while it became a big success, so in 2005 Macfarlane went to co-create a new series that was in a similar outrageous style.

American Dad centred around the Smith family who lived in Virginia. The main character (also voiced by Macfarlane) was Stan Smith, who is a CIA agent who is rather patriotic. He would always make sure that no-one was a threat to America, and he seemed to be suspicious of everyone. If there isn’t trouble happening, he’ll cause it. Somehow his wife Francine puts up with all of this. The original opening sequence always featured a different headline on Stan’s newspaper. ad1

Stan also has two children. Daughter Hayley is at the different end of the political spectrum to her dad, and they often argue about the government’s policies. There is also son Steve, who is in his early-teens, and he is an example of being at that age where he is rather confused to put it mildly, as he is beginning to discover girls at school and is rather excited about it, although none of them are interested in him, and he often says things like “I almost touched a girl’s boobie!”.

There is also Roger the alien. Stan discovered him one day after he escaped from the CIA and decided to keep him in the house rather than send him back to his distant home planet. He has a rather flamboyant personality and likes to wear different outfits, and he also likes to enjoy wine and opens a bar in the attic. Klaus the goldfish has the brain of a German athlete, and often watches on rather bemused by all the rather unusual antics.

As the episodes go by, Steve befriends Roger and they form their own detective agency as Wheels And The Leg Man, Hayley meets and then gets married to the layout Jeff, and Stan’s long-lost one-eyed dad turns up. There weren’t that many other regular characters, but they included the two local news presenters who are also a couple, Stan’s boss Deputy Director Bullock, and Steve’s circle of rather nerdy friends included Snot (I was very disappointed when I discovered that wasn’t his real name), Toshi, and the rather rotund Barry.

Having enjoyed Family Guy over the years, I thought that I would give this one a go, and there have been many memorable moments and a lot of ambitious ideas, including alien abductions and film parodies. The show was originally shown in this country rather late at night on BBC2 and BBC3, usually in a double with Family Guy, and that continued when both shows moved to ITV2.

Lots of episodes of also been released on DVD, and there are plenty of extras including deleted scenes. There have now been 17 series of American Dad, with not far short of 300 episodes, and there seems to be no plans for it to end currently. I do wonder sometimes if the show’s only still going so they can think of more peculiar looks for Roger, but all these years on it still has plenty of energy.

More TV Memories – The New Addams Family.

The New Addams Family (Fox, 1998-1999)

You might remember a while ago when I looked back The Munsters Today, an amusingly ramshackle remake of the spooky sitcom that clogged up too many weekend afternoon schedules on ITV in the early-90s. Well of course there was another popular sitcom with a rather similar idea that also launched on American TV in the same week in 1964.

The Addams Family was created by Charles Addams and they first appeared in magazines before transferring to TV, with the show ending after 64 episodes in 1966. But there was another wave of interest in the early-90s when there were two successful films, along with a short-lived cartoon (that was also shown on CBBC) and plenty of computer games. So it was felt that the sitcom should be given another go too. vlcsnap-00538

The New Addams Family launched in 1998, and it was a Canadian production, shown on Fox in America. The show aimed to win a new generation of fans 35 years on from the original, but changing the famous opening theme music wouldn’t help them. The Addams lived in a big mansion, and featured husband-and-wife Gomez (Glenn Taranto) and Morticia (Ellie Harvie). vlcsnap-00576

Now if you’re a regular you’ll know that I have become rather fond of 80s pop stars who seem to have Morticia as their style icon which is one of the reasons I took an interest in this one. Also featuring are the children Pugsley and Wednesday, along with Uncle Fester, Grandmama, the servant Lurch, Thing the hand, and Cousin Itt, they were a rather unusual lot. vlcsnap-00540

Now it was clear that Gomez and “Tish” were rather fond of each other, and he always liked to kiss her arm, usually while the others were doing some rather creepy things that frightened the neighbours. These included using their supernatural powers accompanied by some fancy special effects. Also, in one reference to the original version, John Astin (who played Gomez in the 60s) made some occasional appearances as Grandpapa. vlcsnap-00553

Some of the original episodes were recycled for this version, which stretched to 65 episodes (one more than the original) that were shown in America in less than a year. In this country there were some episodes shown on ITV in a Saturday afternoon slot, just like The Munsters Today was about a decade earlier. I don’t think there was ever a VHS or DVD release though. vlcsnap-00577

It was always going to come off second-best to the original version though, and some thought that it was inferior by comparison, but at least they give it a go at bringing the show up to date. And another two decades on from this, there was yet another wave of interest when the family returned once again for another film, which this time was computer-animated.

The YouTube Files – That 80s Show.

That 80s Show (Fox, 2002)

The American sitcom That 70s Show was a big success for Fox. It ran for 200 episodes and eight series from 1998-2006 (and some episodes were also shown on Channel 5). The show was successful enough for there to be the British version Days Like These that launched in 1999 (it definitely wasn’t a decent 90s ITV sitcom though, especially when compared to the similar The Grimleys).

So clearly someone thought that it would be a good idea to launch a variation, the same idea, but this time set it in the 80s, it should be a success. It was an example of an “if you liked that, you’ll like this” show. That 80s Show wasn’t shown in the UK, but I have tracked it down on YouTube. The reason I was interested in seeing it was because if you’re a regular you’ll know that I’m interested in 80s pop culture, so I wondered how it would be represented here. vlcsnap-00807

That 80s Show was set in 1984 (remarkably, this year is now as far away as 1984 was in 2002 when this show was made, blimey) in San Diego, California. It centred around the lives of five people in their early-20s. The opening theme was “Eighties” by Killing Joke. Now I wondered if among other things the show would contain a punky-type woman in the cast because if you’ve some seen of my pieces on 80s pop music you’ll know I have become interested in all this. vlcsnap-00813

The main character is Corey Howard who is an aspiring musician. His sister is Katie, his best friend is Roger, and Sophia is his ex-girlfriend. RT is Corey and Katie’s dad who works at Videx, a company that sells mail order exercise equipment. Corey gets a job a Permanent Record, where they sell vinyl and everything. The boss is Margaret who is very fussy about customers’ tastes, and throws them out if they ask for any Kajagoogoo. Also working there is Tuesday, and wait a minute… vlcsnap-00785

…well would you believe it, indeed there was a punk-type character with a big attitude. How amusing. As the episodes progress, Corey and Tuesday begin to fall in love despite the culture clash. The cast also like to go to various nightclubs, that often seemed to be filled with yuppies and Madonna lookalikes. There were indeed lots of 80s pop culture references, and the show was soundtracked by songs from the time, including Heaven 17, Talking Heads, and many others. vlcsnap-00812

They also liked to watch these new-fangled music videos on MTV, have a bowl of Franken Berry, and randomly reference old TV shows (Scarecrow And Mrs King), all in silly clothes. There were also some guest appearances from people who found fame in the 80s, including chart-topping singers Tiffany, Pat Benatar and Debbie Gibson, along with that guy who used to be in Duran Duran. vlcsnap-00815

That 80s Show was a big flop with viewers, and it received a lot of bad reviews. Where That 70s Show had seemed to get the mix right, this one got it all wrong. It totally failed to duplicate the success of the original, and it quietly ended after 13 episodes and one series, never to be seen or referenced again. There hasn’t even been a DVD release (or a retro VHS one).