HOLLYWOOD - The Aquabats! Super Show! might be the only show on kid’s TV that’s perfectly fine to watch as an adult without child guidance. The series is a semi-spin-off from the demented Yo Gabba Gabba where the costumed band would pop up from time to time. But with their own series, the band can get a little bit more wild. The Aquabats! Super Show! is the best band comedy show since The Monkees. They’re even more active and frantic than the pre-fab four. The five members of the Aquabats race around in their Battle Tram fighting a wide variety of monsters.
Shout! Factory has just released The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One on DVD which includes all 13 episodes and the original pilot. The new season of The Aquabats! Super Show! starts June 1 on the Hub. The Party Favors had a chance to have an all too brief phone interview with The M.C. Bat Commander’s secret identity Christian Jacobs. Besides being the lead singer of the Aquabats, Jacobs was co-creator of Yo Gabba Gabba. My first question is how does he decide if a song fits better for Yo Gabba Gabba, The Aquabats or for the band when not on TV.
“I think that happens more when we are making Yo Gabba. ‘This would be a great song for the Aquabats.’ Yo Gabba Gabba being a preschool has a specific, more simplistic way of doing things,” Jacobs said. “I think the last couple years on Gabba, we’ve been pushing outward creatively and maybe overstepping our bounds a little bit. Writing sophisticated songs or things that are a little bit more heady musically. I think that stuff works better on The Aquabats for sure.
“The Aquabats is so fly by the seat of your pants, there’s really no time to sit and contemplate, ‘Is this going to work?’ With season one of The Aquabats, we were writing songs the night before, recording them at midnight and shooting them the next morning. It’s a crazy process with The Aquabats. Yo Gabba Gabba is so much like a preschool itself. Everyone shows up with their lunches and looks nice. It’s such a fun simple thing. Whereas The Aquabats is your first day at junior high school and bullies are chasing you all day. It’s terror to shoot the show, but it’s really fun. We have definitely have written songs for Yo Gabba Gabba and said, “These would better for The Aquabats.”
Does the whirlwind process of making The Aquabats make him relate to the tales of The Monkees?
“I think so,” Jacobs said. “Not to disparage those guys, I’m a huge fan of The Monkees, but they were on vacation and complaining about it all. We’re in a foxhole shooting the show. Our director Jason Devilliers got this crazy anxiety thing when we got an order for more shows for a second season. He called me and was like, ‘Dude, my hands are shaking just thinking about doing more shows.’ Not excited - terrified. It’s been fun, but production wise it’s definitely the hardest thing we’ve ever done.”
The shows mix of live action, special effects, animation and concert footage. It’s easy to see how putting together an episode can be a scheduling challenge. But the production time gets even tighter.
“Some of the shows we only had three days to shoot them,” Jacobs confided. “It’s enough to put you as a producer, writer or director into the funny farm. How are we going to pull this off? There was so much stuff going on behind the scenes in making the show, I think we can put the Monkees biographies to shame.”
The Aquabats rely on their time together as a band to thrive on the production demands. These are men who are used to be crammed in a van for long periods of time. They aren’t merely five actors cast at the last minute. This history gives them a healthy attitude during a long shoot.
“If we hadn’t had been through grueling tours and a lot of stuff together, I definitely think the experience of making the show would have been hard on everyone,” Jacobs said. “It would have resulted in a lot of fighting and arguing about things. Comparatively they was such a unified feeling on the set, like were doing this and we’re all together. It also helped keep the mood a little light. The fact that we’ve been a band and been touring for almost twenty years now, the fact that we’re making a TV show is so meta in itself, funny…ironic. We’re just cracking jokes the whole time. We’re waiting for lights to fall on us. We’re waiting for lightening to hit us in the eye and explode our heads. It’s so cool that we get to make a show. We’ve been trying for so long that it feels so surreal. There’s an ironic sarcasm that glazes over everything that happens on the show. I think that helps keep the mood light when things are tough and we’ve been working for 15 hours and “alright, it’s time to keep going. We have another hour of shooting.’ It keeps things fun even though conditions are comparatively intense.”
One of the coolest parts of the show is that instead of having a headquarters, the Aquabats cruise around in a giant Battle Tram. What happens to the Battle Tram when they’re not shooting?
“We have to hide it so that parts and pieces don’t get taken off of it. We upgraded the Battle Tram for season two. We did stash it at some guy’s insulation factory. It’s at a warehouse somewhere,” Jacobs said without giving a decent enough hint.
This lead straight into my question of Battle Tram being inspired by the Saturday morning series Ark II and the Landmaster from Damnation Alley.
“I grew up right down the street from (the Landmaster). I was driving past it every day. I think that definitely played in the subconscious of the Aquabats traveling the highways and byways in a battle vehicle like that. And that movie is awesomely terrible, I love it,” Jacobs said.
The Landmaster for the longest time was parked in front of Dean Jeffries’ auto shop on Cahuenga Boulevard in North Hollywood. Jeffries created the Monkeemobile. The Landmaster would later appear on Get A Life. Both Damnation Alley and Get A Life are available from Shout! Factory.
We ended up talking about post-apocalyptic Ark II for a few seconds. “We have to have a talking monkey on our show just to honor Ark II” Jacobs insisted. So expect a new recurring hairy character in season three.
It appeared the two of us were raised on the same TV diet as kids. I had to ask if he was also into Ultraman?
“Totally,” he said. “My favorite show growing up as a kid was Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. That show came on the local channel once a week. You’d have to mess with the rabbit ears to get it. It’d be kinda grainy. But when giant Robot would shoot his missiles out of his fingers, fly and tackle giant monsters, that had a big influence on our show. From there Ultraman, Godzilla, Inframan and Shaw Brother movies. Also all the American ’70s weird stuff like Pufnstuf, Land and the Lost and Skatebirds.”
Has he had a chance to meet any of the people behind the Saturday morning mayhem that twisted a generation’s minds in the ’70s?
“When we were developing the show for Disney back in 1998, we met with a bunch of different people,” he said. “Having Sid and Marty Krofft pitch you on their vision of The Aquabats Show was so surreal and weird. That was a highlight of the career. It never went anywhere, but it was a cool experience none the less. Sid talking about how the Aquabats live in a giant house on top of a hill. They all hang upside down. The house talks including the furniture and the grandfather clock. And I’m like, “This is just like all your other shows. Awesome.” It didn’t go anywhere cause our option ran out.”
Let that be a lesson to you kids about how long it can take for a dream to blossom in Hollywood. While it seemed The Aquabats! Super Show! happened so quickly after Yo Gabba Gabba became a sensation, the band spent 14 years trying to get it on the air. As our time to talk wound down, I asked him if enjoys knowing The Aquabats! Super Show! is coming out on Shout! Factory since they put out so many shows we’d discussed including Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot and the upcoming Ultra Q.
“That’s why we’re so excited,” Jacobs said. “It feels like we’re at the right place for sure with Shout! Factory. I’m super stoked. I’m hoping the DVD sells well so I can call Shout! Factory and go, ‘Hey think I can get some of those DVDs - not the Aquabats, but the other stuff you have.’”
BRING ON THE LOCUSTS
I’m more anticipating Rapture-palooza since discovering that the other end of the world movie makes me fear a world dominated by James Franco. Instead we get another cast member of Freaks and Geeks battling Satan.
Rolling Thunder finally brings the film that Quentin Tarantino loves to Blu-ray. This is one of the great badass films of the ’70s that doesn’t get nearly the amount of hype it deserves. Paul Schrader wrote a film that perfectly bookends with his script for Taxi Driver. Major Charles Rane (Knots Landing’s William Devane) returns home after spending nearly 8 years as a P.O.W. in Vietnam. Joining him on the trip to freedom is Tommy Lee Jones, a fellow P.O.W. While his return home looks nice enough from the outside, things are off inside his San Antonio house. His wife has had a lover for quite a few years since she had needs. His son has no real clue about him since he was practically a baby when dad was shot down and captured. Rane isn’t angry since he’s trying to cope with how to adjust to not being tortured every day. The community wants to help, but their generosity backfires. He gets 2,556 silver dollars representing everyday he spent in the hell hole of North Vietnam. This public gift is noticed by the wrong guy. James Best (Dukes of Hazzard) shows up with a crew of goons wanting the money. Rane isn’t going to back down to the home invaders. Unfortunately Best doesn’t have the same reserve as a Viet Cong torturer. He has Rane’s hand shoved inside a garbage disposal. Best gets completely cold blooded with Rane’s wife and son. You’re not going to think of him a goofy Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane after watching Rolling Thunder. Rane isn’t going to cower with his hook hand. He wants revenge. He brings along Tommy Lee Jones to track down Best and his crew. The big finale shoot out is stunning. The bonus features include a documentary about making the film. William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones talk about their roles. Paul Schrader discusses how he didn’t like how the studio humanized his script by bringing in Heywood Gould. The film was still too intense for Fox to distribute so they passed it over to American International Pictures. For way too long Rolling Thunder wasn’t out on DVD. There was a DVD-R available, but you need this film on Blu-ray to absorb Devane’s performance.
Captain America: Collector’s Edition (1990) was also only given a DVD-R release a few years back when Captain America: The First Avenger arrived in theaters. This low budget telling of the Marvel Superhero was produced by Menahem Golan of Cannon Films fame. The movie does its best to tell how Captain America and the Red Skull were created during the World War II rush to develop Super soldiers. Steve Rogers goes from a 98 pound weakling suffering from polio to Captain America thanks to a serum. However a terrorist act makes him the only successful participant in the program. He eventually has to battle Red Skull to keep a Nazi rocket from hitting a valuable target in America. This eventually leads Captain America (Matt Salinger) being stuck in ice for a few decades. When he’s defrosted, the world has changed quite a bit. But one thing is consistent: Red Skull wants to take over the world. Captain America must once more stop the guy. The movie semi-reunites two stars of Deliverance with Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty getting tangled in the patriotic action. The coolest thing is how the film predicts that Billy Mumy (Lost In Space) will grow up to be Darren McGavin (Kolchak). The film is even better to watch on Blu-ray since you can watch the production budget vanish as the story progresses. This ever shrinking budget is covered in a documentary featuring director Albert Pyun and Matt Salinger. Both seem amazed that a complete film came out at the end of the production. While this doesn’t come close to the latest mega-budget superhero flicks, it’s fun to watch. Here’s your major trivia of the day: Matt Salinger is J.D. Salinger’s son. That’s right, The Catcher in the Rye is connected to Captain America.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown was a classic drive-in flick since it dealt with the true story of a small rural town that was victimized by a serial killer. Charles B. Pierce had hit box office gold with his Legend of Boggy Creek. That film was G-rated. This time he went for a harder edge. We’re brought back to that simple time in a town that could be mistaken for Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. But instead of sweet lovable Otis stumbling around the town, we’re treated to a homicidal maniac wearing a pillowcase with eyeholes. Texarkana called him the Phantom Killer. He’s so mean that he’s willing to attack Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island). It’s up to Ben Johnson (The Last Picture Show) to stop the violence. It’s been a while since the movie was put out on VHS. Now you can finally take in the whole cinemascope image with this 1080p transfer. The commentary track features a guy who wrote a book on the real killings so you’ll get your True Detective tales. Dawn Wells gets interviewed about her brief work on the film. Actor Andrew Prine remembers his time with Charles Pierce. Cinematographer Jim Roberson recounts his time capturing the scary scenes in the deep South. In a strange sense this Blu-ray/DVD package revives the Midnite Movies Double Feature series since the DVD also includes a second Pierce production.
The Evictors is the perfect Pierce double feature with The Town That Dreaded Sundown. He’s back down South with a Louisiana location. Michael Parks (Django Unchained) and Jessica Harper (Susperia) are a couple who unwittingly move into a house with a very bad history. Turns out that there’s been a few murders on the property. They should have known something was up when the real estate agent was Vic Morrow (The Bad News Bears). Trouble seems to be coming to them faster than the Welcome Wagon. It’s a fun chilly flick that was supposedly the last movie distributed by American International Pictures before Sam Arkoff sold to Filmways (who put out The Burning). This is a fine bonus feature even if they didn’t put it on the Blu-ray.
The Burning ought to be renamed George Costanza Goes to Camp. Sure this is an ’80s teens get slaughtered at a campground movie, but it features Jason Alexander doing an early version of his Seinfeld character. He’s not the only famous face that might not survive the countryside. There’s Oscar winners Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens. The Rat from Fast Times At Ridgemont High is extremely scared of his time around the campfire. Who is chasing them around? Well it’s Cropsy. Turns out five years before at a nearby camp, a pack of mean boys decided to play a prank on the groundskeeper. They stuck a burning skull next to his bed. This led to a chain of events that set the guy on fire. His burns can’t be fixed in New York City. His disfigurement blinds him with anger so much that he goes back up to take revenge at the wrong camp. Or does he sense that there’s one person at that camp connected to his past? His tool of trade is a pair of huge garden shears that he uses to lop off parts of the kids. Ouch. The movie features the rare writing talent of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the founders of Miramax. They’re joined by current Paramount head Brad Gray on the script. This proves they were real filmmakers and not merely distributors. The movie is reminiscent of Friday the 13th and why not? They both feature the major star: special effects genius Tom Savini. He does a gruesomely great job of goring up the screen. The major bonus feature is Savini remembering his work on the movie. He’s got a few good tales of setting himself on fire and stabbing kids. There’s the raw video of his firewalk. The interview with Lou David makes him sound ready to do another Cropsy film. Director Tony Maylam recounts his battles with the MPAA to get an R. This would be a recurring theme in Harvey Weinstein’s life. There’s an interview with editor Jack Shoulder that speaks of the birth of Harvey Scissorhands. He basically cut Maylam out of the editing room. It’s just a shame that Harvey
Beetlejuice: The Complete Series captures all the glory of the last Saturday morning cartoon I cared to watch while recovering from Friday night. The animated cartoon adapted Tim Burton’s film in a variation that looks like the end of the film turned out differently. The TV Beetlejuice (voiced by Steven Ouimette of Slings and Arrows) is now Lydia’s friend who needs a little guidance to be a better person. He’s no longer a creepy, horny spirit. It’s almost like they did get married in the movie and now he’s just a goofball husband. None of the ghostly spirits are as depressing as in the movie. Nobody smokes. It’s just a chipper series about spooky things aimed at kids. There’s a French skeleton named Jacques LaLean. Ginger is a tap dancing spider. The Monster Across the Street and his dog Poopsie are always good targets for Beetlejuice’s mischief. There’s also the sandworms causing a little bit of havoc on the other side. Lydia’s dad remains clueless and his mother can’t be bothered to notice. Neither seem to care that their young daughter is hanging out with a dead guy’s spirit. Most of the stories involved Beetlejuice trying to pull a fast one on people with bogus claims. “Critter Sitters” has him attempt babysitting when he can’t take care of himself. “A Dandy Handy Man” proves he learned his plumbing skills from the Three Stooges. He nearly destroys Lydia’s kitchen. The show started experimenting with CGI in short bits when such animation was uncommon and rather expensive. What’s interesting about Beetlejuice is that the first three seasons had it as a conventional Saturday morning run with only 29 episodes made for ABC. The “fourth season” had on Fox Kids where they ordered 65 episodes since it aired Monday to Friday in the afternoon. The thing is the third season was still running on ABC every Saturday. The show is still good to watch when you’re talking it slow on a Saturday morning.
Laverne & Shirley: The Sixth Season takes the girls from cold Milwaukee to warm Hollywood. How did they escape their normal life? “Not Quite New York” brings big changes to the Shotz Brewery. A new bottle capping machine is being installed and there’s no need for inspectors. Laverne (Penny Marshall) and Shirley (Cindy Williams) get offered a new job at the plant, but decide to head west to work with Frank DeFazio (Phil Foster) and his wife Edna out in Los Angeles. The show doesn’t get completely turned upside down. Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David L. Lander) join them on the big move. Even Carmine “The Big Ragoo” brings his dancing and boxing talents West. Basically it’s the same cast except they can now get tans. There was a lot of talk about how they’d treat the girl’s apartment which features a massive poster of The Beatles. Somehow the DVD got clearance for the image of John, Paul, George and Ringo. “Welcome to Burbank” has them survive their first massive earthquake. There’s a lot of shaking on the set. “Studio City” gets the girls hired as stuntwomen on a film. They get to meet Troy Donahue. “Dating Game” has Lenny and Squiggy go on the legendary show. Who will get picked? “Born Too Late” has Lenny and Squiggy imagine they’re silent movie stars. They never sounded better. Making a bit part is Sarah Kennedy from The Telephone Book. “I Do, I Do” has the girls about to marry Eric Idle (Monty Python) and Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits). “High Priced Dates” proves that executive producer Garry Marshall didn’t care about historical accuracy. Laverne keeps going on about watching Star Trek and the Klingons. Trouble is that the calendar on the wall reads 1965. Star Trek didn’t go on the air until the fall of 1966 and the Klingons didn’t show up until 1967. Didn’t anyone pay attention to historical accuracy? “Out, Out, Damned Plot” has Vicki Lawrence (Mama’s Family) hide out with the girls. “Child’s Play” has a Shirley take over a play to the point that all the parts must be played by her and Laverne. The big bonus for the boxset is a gag reel that includes the girls kissing.
Mel Brooks: Make A Noise just aired on PBS’s American Masters series and now you can bring it home. If you’re like me, you had a bit of withdrawal after finishing the massive The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy boxset. I wanted more Mel in my life. I’d set a place for him at the dinner table. Now there’s another 84 minutes of Mel with many of his friends joining in to tell even more stories about the man behind The Producers (coming on Blu-ray July 2 from Shout! Factory) and Young Frankenstein. Maybe what’s telling about Mel is how his friends are such great storytellers when it comes to tales of Mel. Richard Benjamin has a great tale of how Mel works. Also bearing witness to Mel is Carl Reiner, Joan Rivers, Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick. They all love the guy. The producer of the piece asks the one question Mel didn’t really answer on the mega-boxset. “When did you first become aware of Hitler?” Mel reflects on the evil that he has enjoyed spoofing in so many of his projects. Now I’m going to have to set another plate at the table for Mel for a few more weeks. There’s nearly 17 minutes of outtakes featuring more memories from Mel.
Swimming to Cambodia does the rare feat of making one man sitting at a desk reading a monologue an exciting piece of cinema. Spalding Gray played a minor character in the Oscar winning The Killing Fields back in 1984. But he was able to distill his experiences of shooing a movie about the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia into a story about love, acting, politics and Thai marijuana. Director Jonathan Demme doesn’t try to open up his performance on the stage of New York City’s Performing Garage. The do cut to a couple clips from The Killing Fields since currently the DVD is out of print. Gray is so captivating in his unspooling of his experiences related to the film. It’s like a watching a one man version of My Dinner With Andre. The film was made by Jonathan Demme in that time before Oprah destroyed him. He was on an ’80s hot streak with Stop Making Sense, Something Wild and Married to the Mob. He captures what made this one man show a must see event. Laurie Anderson’s score is properly understated so not to step on the emotions being projected by Gray. Swimming to Cambodia belongs to a slim collection of great art films from the ’80s. The ones that make you want to eat a Toblerone chocolate with a hint of clove cigarettes on the woman sitting in front of you. Since Spalding died in 2004, we get Jonathan Demme explaining how the film came together as the bonus feature. You should get a Toblerone before hitting play to truly enjoy Spalding’s oral journey.
Bearcats!: The Complete Series was another attempt to alter the Western genre so it could seem a touch modern over the traditional oater. In this case we get the not quite as wild west of 1914. Rod Taylor (The Birds) and Dennis Cole (Felony Squad) zipped across the desert roads in a Stutz Bearcat. “The Devil Wear Armor” has bank robbers using a stolen tank to bust into vaults. John Vernon (Animal House) is part of the heavy metal action. “Ground Loop at Spanish Wells” disguised Mexicans as American soldiers for border town attacks. “The Feathered Serpent” lets Henry Silva (Ocean’s Eleven) take over a town. “Hostages” has a very young Erin Moran (Happy Days). Bruce Glover (Diamonds Are Forever) gets to play a German in “Assault on San Saba.” “The Big Guns” lets Leslie Nielsen (Police Squad) be a semi-serious colonel gone wild. He’s out to be bad. The show unfortunately only lasted 13 episodes before CBS pulled the plug. It was stuck up against The Flip Wilson Show and Alias Smith and Jones. The Stutz Bearcat ran out of gas for Rod and Dennis. This is a fun show worth rediscovering when you’re eager for a Western that takes place nearly a century ago.
Red Widow: The Complete First Season is really the only season of the ABC series that started airing in March and just ended. The show has a great hook as a wife (Pitch Black’s Radha Mitchell) who seems to have the perfect marriage in Northern California. Things are going so well, she convinces her husband that he needs to quit working for the mob. This career change proves to be fatal. Even worse for her is that he owed a lot of money to the criminal element. This means she has to take over her husband’s position. Her main contact with the underworld is Nicholae Schiller (E.R.’s Goran Visnjic). The pilot was directed by Mark Pellington who made the Connells’ “‘74-’75″ video and Arlington Road. The eight episodes focus on Marta trying to be a mother and figure a way to extract herself from the gangsters without getting rubbed out like her husband. She wants to flee, but it seems her best bet is to figure out how to hit Schiller. The series should have done better since Radha does a fine job being a widow under way too much stress. The series is worth watching this summer. The boxset has a few bonus features to captivate fans who wanted more. “Red Widow: The Journey” is a nearly 14 minute featurette following executive producer Melissa Rosenberg. She meets with the writing staff to work on the season finale. She doesn’t know this is the series finale when she flies up to Vancouver to see the filming. There’s also deleted scenes and bloopers.
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