BENTONVILLE, AR - Ever end a long conversation with the thought, “Why can’t I have that person sit next to me on a cross country plane flight? That’s what happened when I had the chance to talk to David Mirkin about his time as creator, producer, director and writer on Get A Life. The absurdist sitcom featured Chris Elliott as a 30 year old paperboy living above his parents’ garage. It turned out to be a vision of the 21st century with a generation of men-children dead ending themselves. However Chris looked good at it. There’s a review of the boxset deeper in the column. Let’s just focus on David Mirkin - the founder of Mirkinvision.
He started his career attempting to write for The Ropers. His spec script was rejected, but in a good twist, he ended up writing for Three’s Company. He was hanging with Don Knotts. Eventually this led to him working on Newhart, It’s Garry Shandling Show, The Larry Sanders Show and The Simpsons. He moved into filmmaking with Heartbreakers and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. His current project is a Richard Branson biopic. He sees it as The Aviator without the jars of bodily fluid, but all the excitement. He’s also been making videos of James Taylor’s guitar lessons. Here’s how to play “Fire and Rain.”
During this part of the interview, I tell the story of the night I wouldn’t let James Taylor’s mom backstage at a concert. Contrary to the internet rumor, I did not say, “If your son loved you, he’d give you a laminated pass for Mother’s Day.”
Our conversation also delves into his working with Jackie Earle Haley on his attempt to Americanize The Young Ones. There’s plenty of weirdness to geek out on including an explanation of the Ediflex system, reuniting Damnation Alley and speculation of why Chris Elliott didn’t appear in any of the bonus features. Here’s the audio of a conversation that makes me wish it ended with a pilot saying, “Now ends the safest part of your day” and a fight for the overhead compartment bins.
SEVEN SECRETS FOR A GREAT JOB
My book is here! The reviews are out of control. “The Bleakest Business Book Ever Written.” “The Only Thing Between You and a Suicide Note.” “My Retirement Plan Between the Covers.”
What book could it possibly be that I’ve written to such raves? The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters is the tome of this critical times. What are the Seven Secrets? I’m not going to tell you for free. Donald Trump doesn’t get rich by letting you drink his vodka for free. I will assure you that these are real secrets for not only landing a job as a People Greeter, but survival skills for not letting the job destroy you.
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And now the commercial:
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If I only had one holiday wish, it would be for all the children of the Earth join together in song. If I could scrape up a second wish, it’d be for all the episodes of Get A Life to come out on DVD. If somehow a third wish was possible, then I’d beg for all the TV specials Steve Martin made back when he was really funny. If I can only get two wishes, let’s skip the kids and get those DVDs. But I don’t need to wish anymore because Shout! Factory made my shiny disc dreams come true. Guess the kids can get back to singing after they watch these boxsets.
Get A Life: The Complete Series, Non-Special Non-Anniversary Edition is extremely special boxset. After being teased by 8 of the 35 episodes coming out on DVD a decade ago, all the weirdness is here. The episodes have the original music including R.E.M.’s “Stand” theme song. There’s no excuse for fans of the show not snatching up this collection since the show was cut on video so there won’t be a 1080p Blu-ray anytime soon. Chris Elliott perfect the doughy slacker guy as Chris Peterson. He lives above his parents’ garage. His job is paperboy. He’s a major goofball. The show completely plays off his inability to see the world in reality. “Paperboy 2000″ has him face off with the Landmaster from Damnation Alley (also available through Shout! Factory). He even faces off against Jackie Earle Haley (Damnation Alley and Watchmen) in “Chris Vs. Donald.” Why doesn’t Jackie get to really work his comedy chops in a sitcom where he manages a Hooters? “The Prettiest Week of My Life” puts Chris into the Handsome Boy Modeling School. He learns the ugly truth of the modeling game. “Chris Wins a Celebrity” makes Martin Mull the prize. America’s TV Princess Elinor Donahue discusses with Bob Elliott how to eliminate Mull from their house when he overstays his welcome. The second season moves Chris into Brian Doyle-Murray’s garage. The episodes get even more outrageous. “SPEWEY and Me” reworks E.T. if the alien wasn’t so sweet and had body fluid issues. “1977-2000″ gives a Life on Mars vibe as Chris time travels to 1977 to keep Brian from taking a piss on the police captain. Chris learns the evils of changing the timeline. The bonus features lets most of the cast and crew to talk about the show. Chris Elliot didn’t participate although it’s hard to think if he could add much to the stories. This is brilliant TV that under normal TV circumstances would have been axed in the pilot script stage. This is the third “Show We Swore Would Never Get a Proper DVD Release” put out by Shout! Factory after The Larry Sanders Show and Max Headroom. But there’s also a fourth title for that list after this break:
Steve Martin: The Television Stuff brings together all the classic TV moments that made Steve Martin a legend. These were made in the era before normal folks owned VCRs. You were cool if you could stay up and watch Steve’s hour long specials. You bought his albums, Cruel Shoes book and “Best Fishes” poster, but the TV specials were only memories - except for the “Homage to Steve” concert VHS. Now they’re finally out on DVD. First up is the HBO comedy special from Halloween night back in 1976. Launched himself as mega-star that night. The weekend before he’d been the host on Saturday Night Live back when hosts didn’t have to be promoting a movie. The audience is into his comedy and banjo fun. The Fonz had a VIP table for the action. A lot of these routines found themselves on Let’s Get Small” and “Wild And Crazy Guy comedy records. What’s amazing is seeing how so many of the jokes were visual. For decades, it seemed like the audience was just high and laughing at silence. Steve Martin found a way to sell recordings of comedy juggling. “Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy” was his first primetime special on a network. The special isn’t complete since they removed his live comedy bits from the sketches. Don’t panic. The comedy bits are part of the complete Live at the Universal Amphitheatre. Steve rides a giant turtle and presents his version of a variety show. “Comedy Isn’t Pretty” is funnier than the album. We used to re-enact his Olympic diving sketch at the pool. “All Commercials” has him spoof the sponsors. Huggy Bear and Pee Wee Herman are part of the cast. There’s no commercial interruption for this airing. “The Best Show Ever” brings together many of the Not Ready For Primetime Players after they had quit SNL. The Festrunk Brother s strut their stuff at an art gallery. Steve taps with Gregory Hines. Bill Murray treats Steve as the Elephant Guy. I had confused this in my mind as a SNL episode. There are plenty of bonus bits that remind us that Steve isn’t always the guy cranking out Cheaper By the Pink Panther movies. Here are his best SNL routines from the post First Five era. The times he busted up Johnny Carson still are hilarious. He has a gay time with David Letterman. The only thing missing in the boxset are his 8 legendary hosting gigs during the first five seasons of Saturday Night Live. You can buy those separately. Steve Martin: The Television Stuff makes me want to put on bunny ears and make balloon animals. The specials are as glorious as I remember.
G.I. Joe Renegades: The Complete First Season captures all 26 episodes about a world gone weird. Cobra is now considered the good guys since they’ve invested their evil profits in legitimate corporations. They provide all the products we enjoy. But G.I. Joe team knows there’s something evil about Cobra Industries. They sneak into Cobra Pharmaceuticals to get evidence. But the mission goes wrong and the government disowns the renegade Joes. Duke, Snake Eyes, Roadblock, Tunnel Rat and Ripcord now must battle both Cobra and the US Government. The only thing that can set them free is proof that Cobra is still out to dominate the world and not just at the supermarket. But can the Joes be trusted with the media turning against them? The show is a fine reworking of the GI Joe story with a touch of A-Team. This appears to be the only season. There is a bit of resolution in the final episode so you won’t feel like you’re completely hanging. The extra resolution of the 1080p Blu-ray brings out the details of the frame.
Hawaii Five-0: The Second Season is even more impressive than the freshman season. The show’s big focus remains the inner lives of the Five-0 force including the resolution of the cliffhanger when Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) is sent to prison for killing the governor in “Ha’I'ole.” He can’t sit around in a cell hoping that a bumbling cop will uncover that Wo Fat was the real gunman. He busts out which gets him in trouble, but he needs help of his disbanded team. His big help this season is Terry O’Quinn (Lost) as his main teacher in the Navy. He hasn’t lost faith in his student. Wo Fat is played by Mark Dacascos. His name might not seem familiar, but he’s really the chairman on Iron Chef. He could have gotten away with the crime if the main dish was Hawaiian politician. One of the big running plot lines involves Tom Sizemore as a cop with his old crooked partner behind bars. Are they really on the outs? “Mea Makamae” brings Peter Fonda to the island. Easy Rider hits the water along with Patty Duke. Chuck Liddell plays himself once more in “Ka Hakaka Maika’i.” Why can’t he play Tito Ortiz? Crack open the drinks when Jimmy Buffett touches down on “Ki’ilua.” He’s like Glenn Fry was on Miami Vice. James Caan joins his son Scott Caan although not as Danno’s dad. He’s an ex-cop trying to find out who killed a DJ. They still have DJs worth killing is the shocker. The big finale involves the dirty dealings of Tom Sizemore and William Baldwin. There’s plenty of cop carnage in “Ua Hala.” The second season gets better with Masi Oka (Heroes) as part of the team. He’s a one man CSI. The high definition image brings out the colors of the islands. The 1080p turns your TV into a window to a paradise that’s full of kidnappers, killers, drug dealers and surfers. The big bonus is both episodes of the SSSSNCIS: Los Angeles crossover. LL Cool J never looked so tropical.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Twelfth Season brings Ted Danson into the mix. The bartender from Cheers is now experiencing more than spilled Bloody Marys. He plays D.B. Russell taking over for Laurence Fishburne. “73 Seconds” gives him a hot case when a hotel tram gets turned into the OK Corral. “Bittersweet” turns an art exhibition into unmarked grave. “Maid Man” ironically whacks the old mayor of Las Vegas at the mobster museum. “Willows in the Wind” brings to an end Marg Helgenberger’s run as Cathrine Willows. “Tressed to Kill” has a serial killer that keeps giving his victims makeovers. “Seeing Red” brings in Elizabeth Shue to be the new Marg. “CSI Unplugged” blacks out Vegas, but the crew must find a missing child in the darkness. “Malice in Wonderland” turns a theme wedding into a yellow tape zone. “Homecoming” cliffhangs the season when the sheriff gets investigated for his wife’s murder. Ted Danson comes off well running the unit. He’s quickly got his on quirky style for checking out the crime scene.
CSI: Miami, The Final Season is a bit of a shock since the rumor had always been that CSI:NY was going to killed first. But in a wicked twist, after 10 seasons, Horatio Caine (David Caruso) had to pack up his sunglasses. At least nobody is going to call him a quitter this time. He stuck it out for a decade of crime in the Everglades. The big hint of the ending came when CBS cut the contract back to 19 episodes. “Stiff” finally has the crew investigate the life of a gigolo. “Blown Away” messes up a crime scene with a tornado touching down. “By the Book” might have a vampire killer on the loose. A killer pops out his victim’s eyes on “Dead Ringer.” They suspect “The Taunter” is back in town. “Crowned” tackles the world of Toddlers and Tiaras. “Terminal Velocity” kills a skydiver. Turns out the guy has over a 100 kids and yet no series on TLC. “At Risk” murders a tennis coach. Won’t spoil if the autopsy reveals fuzzy balls. There’s several bonus features for this wrap up season. Strange to think that Joel McHale can no longer do his sunglass impersonation of Caruso anymore.
CSI:NY, The Eighth Season is the season Det. Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) and Det. Jo Danville (Sela Ward) didn’t have to investigate their demise. They dodged the cancelation bullet that took out CSI: Miami. The did have their season reduced to 18 episodes. “Indelible” depresses Mac as he remembers the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Robert Forester (Jackie Brown) guest stars. “Keep It Real” exposed the dark side of dating a punk rock girl. It can hurt like a double piercing of your privates. “Get Me Out of Here” is the Halloween special. A frat prank goes seriously wrong. Why don’t people leave empty graves alone? “Clean Sweep” kills a cage fighter. “Brooklyn ‘Til I Die” has a game gone bad. “Kill Screen” lets a video game tourney go bad. Is anyone suggesting the King of Kong is behind it? “Near Death” makes Mac fight for his life after taking a bullet. Can the team find his attacker or are they too close to the case? The bonus features include pieces on the heroes of 9/11 and Halloween in NYC.
Touched By An Angel: The Sixth Season captures the inspirational series during its Top 10 salad days. The sweet Roma Downey plays an angel named Monica that gives guidance and God’s memos to characters all over the globe. Della Reese is Tess, the angel district manager. “The Last Day of the Rest of Your Life” has Monica sit in with a support group for people with terminal conditions. Included in the meeting is Lenny Clarke (Rescue Me), Nancy McKeon (The Facts of Life) and super model Kathy Ireland. If this was on Showtime, I could easily guess Lenny’s last wish before departing. “The Occupant” guest stars a really young Shia LaBeouf (Transformers). “Voice of an Angel” scores major voices with Charlotte Church when she was a wee one and nSync with the Fatone and Justin Timberlake. “Then Sings My Soul” unites Louie Anderson, Keb’ Mo’ and Greg Evigan (BJ and the Bear). “The Christmas Gift” reunites a tense family for the holidays. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee share time with Della Reese. “Millennium” frees Ann-Margret (Tommy) from a past love so she can enjoy the 21st Century. Break out the roasted chicken with Kenny Rogers in “Buy Me a Rose.” “Life Before Death” attempts to solve Ireland’s issues with an angel and Liam Neeson. “Here I Am” mixes Ed Asner (Lou Grant) with Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad). “Monica’s Bad Day” can be summed up with guest star Kathie Lee Gifford. At least she also has Howard Hessemen (WKRP and John Ratzenberger (Cheers) to level out the spunk. “Mother’s Day” reunites the Judds. “Pardora’s Box” packages Gary Cole and Evan Rachel Wood. “Touched By An Angel” was the kind of wholesome family fare that would run on TV before networks figured they could attract the same audience to karaoke competition shows.
The Lawless Years: The Complete Series is the east coast version of The Untouchables. These are the cases of legendary New York cop Barney Ruditsky who focused on busting gangsters around the Big Apple. The series started the same year as The Untouchables so it’s always lived in the shadow of Eliot Ness. If you’ve wondered what to watch after you’ve picked up all The Untouchables DVDs, this is it. The Lawless Years has the same era and mobster tone packed into a half an hour. What tightens up the story is that Ruditsky (James Gregory) recounts the cases. This allows him to compact the action and get to the good parts of the story. “The Nick Joseph Story” gives us another stellar performance by Vic Morrow (The Bad News Bears). Vic heads a small gang that includes Harry Dean Stanton and Richard Bakalyan. They get noticed by the big mob and are subcontracted to perform hits. A young Burt Reynolds guest villains in “The Payoff.” “Lucky Silva” stars Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible) battling Legs Diamond. Harry Dean Stanton (Big Love) scratches in “The Poison Ivy Story.” He’s a favorite guest mobster. Vic Morrow returns for “Little Augie.” The series only lasted 45 episodes over two seasons. The interesting thing is that the first season is a sepia tone while the transfer on the second season is black and white. Both work for making the show fit its era. Gregory is perfect as Ruditsky. His role of Inspector Luger on Barney Miller makes more sense watching these shows.
The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites is a 6 disc set from Time-Life’s Ultimate Carol Burnett Show. This contains 16 uncut episodes from the legendary variety show with major guest stars sharing stage time with Carol and her crew. “Show #1002″ contains the hilarious “Went With the Wind!” sketch that put Bob Mackie to the test as he reworked Scarlet O’Hara’s curtain dress. “Show #1121″ doubles up the guests with Betty White and Steve Martin. Steve performs comedy directed straight at dogs. Him and Carol spoof Close Encounters of the Third Kind on “As the Stomach Turns.” The big musical number is a tribute to the Beach Party films. Steve gets to do his best Frankie Avalon. The Jackson Five get funky on “Show #722.” See Michael Jackson with his original nose. There’s a double fright on “Show #814″ with Joan Rivers and Vincent Price. This will scare you. “Show #817″ teams Rock Hudson and Nancy Walker (director of Can’t Stop the Music) for the gags. Other guests on these episodes include Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), Phil Silvers (Sgt. Bilko), Ken Berry (F Troop), Pearl Bailey and Roddy McDowell. There are bonus features on this collection including a reunion of Carol with Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and Lyle Waggoner. There’s also another interview of Tim and Harvey Korman. This is a refreshing boxset that takes us back to a time when Saturday nights on network TV wasn’t reruns and college football games.
The Letter shocked me with the news that Winona Ryder is 40. How did this happen? Does this mean we’re all old? Remember when she was killing the Heathers, battling Beetlejuice and marrying Jerry Lee Lewis as a teen bride? Now she’s dealing with a nutty James Franco (Pineapple Express). She’s putting together a play staring her boyfriend Josh Hamilton (J. Edgar and not the Texas Rangers star). Among the cast is the freaky Franco. The man is out to mind freak the cast and crew. He wants to be the overly dramatic thespian that must push boundaries. He becomes her character or maybe she’s written him. It’s all freaking her out - almost as much as I’m freaking out thinking that she’s 40. The Letter shows that Winona can still hold a film and not perform supporting roles like in The Black Swan.
After Dusk They Come is another film that must be sponsored by the Travel Agents of America warning vacationers about going it alone. Instead of booking passage on a cruise ship, a bunch of folks charter a luxury yacht. Their plan is to get away from the tourists and visit an exotic island. They get taken off course, but find an island that seems suitable for their pleasure need. They can’t truly enjoy themselves since their rented boat wrecks. Things get even worse when they discover there are worse things than annoying tourists. Big nasty beasts roam the woods and they have no problem serving the vacationers as dinner. Can they get rescued before being served on the Captain’s Table? All this could have been prevented if they’d just gone with Royal Caribbean.
Whittle: The Jet Pioneer is an enthralling glimpse into the man who had to beat the Nazis in developing a working jet engine. Sir Frank Whittle had to work out all the parts so that the Allies didn’t merely fly up and quickly come down. He also had to battle the Royal Air Force to get them to accept the meaning of his invention. Even worse was his original patents for the jet engine wasn’t kept secret. The Nazis were using his research for the basis of their jet program. The documentary draws from an extensive interview with Whittle done before his death in 1996. He’s so charming recounting how things went down before his jet engine took off. The archival footage of the jet engine tests during World War II is thrilling. These were dangerous creations that needed to be tamed. The Nazis biggest problem was the engines failing after a few dozen hours in the air. The documentary shows how his early jet engines still work. The bonus features include 6 extra segments. A vintage educational film explains how Whittle’s engine works. There are even clips from a movie about Whittle made during the black and white era. This is a perfect gift for aviation enthusiast or just people who want to know how does my 737 get off the ground? This is the first DVD release from Shelter Island. They picked an extremely informative and entertaining title for their base.
Any Last Words? plays with the legend of Bat Masterson. Bat Masterson (Tom Lagleder) gets messed up bad during a battle with Indians. He’s taken on a spiritual journey of his life revisiting key moment in his past. He must decide to suck it up and get back in the fight or just give up the ghost. It’s kinda of a Western version of “A Christmas Carol?” except instead of being happy and buying a goose for Tiny Tim, Bat might get up and pump more led into attacking braves. Vaughn Taylor’s script and direction gives a gritty feel to the Old West setting.
The Revenant received a good buzz on the festival tour with its comic take on the undead turned vigilante crime fighters. David Anders (Vampire Diaries) gets killed while serving overseas in the military. They ship home his body for burial except he’s not ready to rest in peace. He rises from the grave to track down his buddy Chris Wylde. They conclude that he’s not a zombie, but a vampire. And he needs lots of blood to keep going. David learns the positive side of being undead is the inability to die. This makes him a bit of a superhero. Wylde doesn’t want to miss out on the fun. He gets turned into a creature of the night. But can the two remain pals in a soulless relationship? The bonus features include a commentary track from director Kerry Prior, deleted scenes and a documentary.
30 Beats is a tag movie. The New York City based semi-comedy follows characters as they trade off somewhat romantic experience. Some are more about no-strings sex while others want more than a quickie on a summer day. The cast features a few of my favorite cable TV folks. Jennifer Tilly (Bound) takes time away from the Poker table to get mystical about her desires. Justin Kirk (Weeds) gets a romantic challenge from his partner. Can he go through with it? Lee Pace (The Hobbit) grows a Miami Vice beard and still gets lucky. The big star for me is Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire). This tornado of joy pushes her boundaries and exposes her desires without much prompting. The end of the film makes sure that the circle is a complete daisy chain. You can watch it as part of Youtube’s movie rental.
VR Troopers: Season One, Volume One became a computerized companion to Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Instead of high school kids, a trio of college age kids are given the powerful secret identity. Ryan is a martial arts master. J.B. is a computer programming geek. Kaitlin is a cub reporter. They all train at Tao’s Dojo. They hook up with a guy who tells them that virtual reality can take them into another dimension that has monsters. Turns out the monsters led by Grimlord wants to take over their dimension. The trio get cool fighting outfits for their battles with Grimlord and his minions. They kinda look like Ultraman’s cousins. The show took action scenes from the Japanese series Superhuman Machine Metalder, Dimensional Warrior Spielban and Space Sheriff Shaider. There’s plenty of early CGI for a show that aired in 1994. The boxset has the first 26 of the 92 episodes.
Big Bad BeetleBorgs: Season One, Volume One is another one of Saban’s shows that used the Power Rangers formula of success. This time they cast really much younger actors to be the superheroes. Drew, Jo and Roland are maybe in junior high. On a dare, they sneak into a haunted house that really does have ghosts and monsters lurking in the shadows. They free Flabber from a pipe organ. The ghost looks just like Jay Leno with his huge chin and haircut. As a favor for being released, Flabber gives them each a wish. Being little geeky kids, they beg to become a real life version of the Big Bad BeetleBorgs. That’s their favorite superhero team. He does it. But as a consequence of the wish, the BBB’s enemies from the comic books also enter the real world. The comic book creator Art Fortunes can create things on the page that happen to the Beetleborgs. “Convention Dimension” takes the trio to Comic-Con to meet Art. What they don’t know is that the evil Vexor will also be there. The evil one wants to kidnap Art so they can use him to wipe out the BeetleBorgs. The action scenes and costumes came from Japan’s Juukou B-Fighter. This boxset has 27 of the 88 episodes that ran back in 1996.
Transformer Rescue Bots: Roll to the Rescue is another new series featuring the robots that turn into cars. Heatwave, Boulder, Blades and Chase come to Griffin Rock, Maine to become part of the first response team. The show is more about teamwork and doing the right thing than just mindless battling of evil robots. This collection has the first five episodes along with the 7th. “Family of Heroes” brings the foursome to Earth. They must live with the Burns family. “Under Pressure” brings rival robots into the mix. “Hotshots” has two of the robots doing too much of the work and alienating the team. “Flobsters on Parade” thrills with giant lobsters attacking the town. “The Alien Invasion of Griffin Rock” almost exposes the Transformers. “Four Bots and a Baby” introduces a robot baby. The bonus is coloring book pages in pdf format. You can print out a coloring book for the kids.
An American Christmas Carol stars Henry Winkler in 1979 to show he can do more than wear a leather jacket, elbow jukeboxes to play free songs and give us a thumbs up. This isn’t a traditional version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He doesn’t perform it as the Fonz even though Happy Days did a variation at one point. This new holiday classic brings the action to depression era New England. Winkler’s Benedict Slade is more hardcore as Scrooge. He’s evicting people on the holidays along with firing his main employee. He’s a hardcore soul who needs to be visited by all three ghosts to get a change of heart. Winkler plays the elderly Slade along with a younger version. Winkler finally gets to show that he didn’t graduate from Yale’s drama school with only an MFA in being cool. He can act in more than one gear. This is a fine holiday special that ought to be mixed with A Christmas Story. Winkler provides an eight minute interview that explains how he got involved in the project. He talks about how he was intimidated by Alastair Sims’ version of Scrooge. The makeup took 6 hours to make him older. Now as an early Christmas treat, here’s the ABC introduction from when the movie originally aired. They included the original commercials.
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