Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Pickle Brothers/The Uncalled for Three (comedy)

Ron Prince, Michael Mislove, Peter Lee
Wikipedia Entry
IMDB Entry
History of the Pickle Brothers

Everyone remembers their first rock concert. Mine was the Beach Boys.

This was around 1967.  You have to remember that this was the low point of their careers. Brian Wilson stopped touring, their albums were getting poor reviews, and it was looking like they were washed up.The concert was outdoors at Nassau County Community College, and it was free.

They didn’t draw 100 people.

But I’m not writing about the Beach Boys.   I’m talking about their opening act, “The Uncalled For Three.” It consisted of three wild comedians, a mixture of slapstick, puns, sight gags, parody, vaudeville, and rapid-fire jokes.  I loved it.

The group formed at Hofstra University on Long Island and began to find a local following and started appearing in clubs like The Bitter End and The Hungry i.* Eventually, they changed the name of the act to “The Pickle Brothers.” and toured as an opening act for the Beach Boys.**

They started appearing on variety and talk shows. Here’s their act on The Ed Sullivan Show  in 1966.

It was typical of their comedy, which seems much like that of Laugh-In, though faster and more frenetic. You can also see the influence of the Marx Brothers very clearly..

The group started to get attention and then tried what many comedians tried: a TV show.

They did it first class. The script was written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, who as a team wrote for Get Smart and the Monkees.*** The director was William Friedkin, who later went on to make The French Connection. The show included Maureen Arthur, who was memorable as Hedy LaRue in the film version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

The result can be found on Youtube.

You can see the similarities in concept with The Monkees.and the result was able to keep up their anything goes style of comedy.

Alas, as you probably know, the show wasn’t picked up. The pilot was well received by audiences, but TV executives didn’t think they could keep up the quality for a full season.

The group broke up a year or so after the pilot. It’s probably difficult to keep a comedy act together once vaudeville wasn’t around. The three members went on to other things.

Peter Lee has published an ebook about their history.

*Neither are well known today, but they were the top venues for comedy and folk singing in the early 60s, breaking many stars. The Bitter End is still in operation.

**I happened to spot their act a few weeks ago on Sullivan show reruns. The name “The Pickle Brothers” meant nothing to me, but there was something very familiar about their style. A little Googling and I found out that they were, indeed, the Uncalled For Three I had seen as the Beach Boys’ opening act. It seems they kept the name “Uncalled for Three” for their touring.

****You can spot the similarities between The Monkees and the Pickle Brothers pilot. Gardner also originated the Who’s in Charge Here? series of books, which took pictures of political figures and added speech balloons. (For example, the cover of the first one showed JFK and Harry Truman, sitting together, with Truman saying “So the bathroom still leaks.”

Sunday, May 22, 2022

In the Dark (TV)

(2019- 22)
Created by
Corrine Kingsbury
Starring Perry Mattfeld, Brooke Markham, Morgan Krantz, Casey Diedrick, Rich Sommer, Nicki Micheaux, Calle Riley, Matt Murray
IMDB Entry

In the Dark
The CW has an audience in mind: fans of Superheroes and teen dramas.*  But there is an occasional show that breaks out of the mold and works as straight drama. And one of their best shows is In the Dark.

It’s the story of Murphy Mason (Perry Mattfeld), who went blind in her early teens. She has learned to cope with it, but is aimless, taking comfort in sarcasm and meaningless sex. When Tyson Bailey, a street kid who saved her from a mugging, and someone she had taking a liking to -- is murdered, she gets involved in the case, dragging in her friend Jess Damon (Brooke Markham) and co-worker Felix Bell (Morgan Krantz) into it. Dean Riley (Rich Sommer) is the cop investigating, and who doesn’t believe any crime was committed.  Dean, however, recruits her to help out with his daughter Chloe (Calle Walton), who is also blind.

The show is strongly plotted as things get unveiled and we learn about why Tyson was killed.

The real strength, though is Perry Matfield as Murphy. Murphy is not a good person – she’s manipulative, getting others to help her out, and is more than willing to betray them all to get what she wants.  At the same time, she’s very funny and sometimes clearly vulnerable, even if she is loath to admit it.

Another great character is Nia Bailey (Nicki Micheaux) as a drug lord who speaks softly but who manages to put subtle menace in everything she says. Brooke Markham is great as Murphy’s best friend who is both frustrated and loyal to her.

I loved the show when it first came out, but somehow missed the second season. I picked up the third and finally decided to see what I had missed. The quality of the writing was that there was a certain even that was referenced multiple times the third season, but when I actually saw it happened, I was still surprised.

The show will have a fourth and final
season starting next month, and I’m looking forward to it. It can be found on Netflix.

*Sometimes both at once.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover

The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover

Written and Directed by
Peter Greenaway
Starring Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Alan Howard.
IMDB Entry

Peter Greenaway is not for everyone.* Originally a painter, he brings an artist’s sensibility to the screen, very stylized. He’s also not afraid of taboo concepts, especially sex, violence, and cannibalism. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Is a fascinating portrayal of his interests.

Richard Borst’s (Richard Bohringer – the Cook) is a chef, whose restaurant is taken over by Albert Spica (Michael Gambon – The Thief), a wealthy and crude gangster who eats there each day. Spica is sadistic, cruel, and intimidating, especially to his wife Georgina (Helen Mirren), who, spotting Michael (Alan Howard – Her Lover) in the restaurant, starts a torrid affair with him in one of the restaurant’s rest rooms. Of course, Spica eventually learns of the affair and kills him in the most humiliating way possible. But Georgina gets revenge.

The story is visually sumptuous, with rich colors and everything staged like it was in a classical painting (sometimes specifically so). There is a theme of colors; as people walk from room to room, their clothing changes to match the color of the room.

Gambon is excellent as a man you want to hate – a crude bully who thinks he can get away with whatever he wants. Helen Mirren is always great and this role lets her show her as a woman who gets tired of her husband humiliating her and turns on him.

The movie is well regarded, and certainly a great one, but clearly not for everyone’s taste.

*A friend of mine once called Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract as the worst movie he’d ever seen.