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Fishism. Bygones. : My Thoughts on Ally McBeal

I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but I have started watching Ally McBeal on Netflix (to my husband’s chagrin). The first 15 episodes were basically amazeballs. Seriously. Peter MacNichol is stellar (and he remains so throughout the series).

And then the show fell into this weird ebb and flow of creativity, cringe-inducing moments, and oddness. In either case, I think this show is an interesting case study in how a showrunner’s point of view can clearly dominate, and evolve as a show goes on.

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I think I want to make comedies….

somewhere between this…

and this

Not that there really is “an in-between” for me. Just judging by these trailers, and what I’ve heard, I have to see these movies because they are essentially what I want to make. In fact, Bridesmaids is basically how I pitched the vision of my own production company last spring to my producing class: “comedies with Judd Apatow-like humor that actually understands women past a one-dimensional shrew or one-dimensional psycho.” Because as much as he’ll give a woman a funny line, his women are still pretty flat or succubus-ish.

Murphy Brown: Mary Tyler Moore, 20 Years Later

I watched the pilot and a few episodes of Murphy Brown, Season One. One of the first things to capture my attention was the (expensive!!) use of music in this show. Murphy Brown does not have theme music for its opening credits. Instead, each episode title is based on a Motown song, or the theme of the episode is based on the song, which acts as an opening theme. Like the episode where Corky and Murphy wear the same blue dress, the opening sequence is Corky getting ready for work as “Devil In A Blue Dress” plays, and then arriving to work wearing a rather cute blue dress that could actually work today. Murphy walks in wearing the same dress. The episode then launches into a situation where Murphy has to bring Corky along to work on an assignment with her; despite her dingbatty-ness, Corky ends up busting down the door on a big story.

I figure this is the reason why this show has not seen any syndication: licensing music can be pricey. I’m sure KTLA doesn’t feel like forking over millions of dollars each year just so Murphy Brown re-runs don’t start without music.

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M*I*S*M*A*S*H

I watched three episodes from Season 6 of M*A*S*H earlier today. I purchased a used copy of Sitcoms: The 101 Greatest Comedies of All Time a few weeks ago, so I read the entry on M*A*S*H right before watching. Unfortunately, I set up the DVR to record the episodes before reading the info. The book basically explains that after a couple of years, the show lost its oddball edge and sharper dialogue, pretty much with the exit of Larry Gelbart leading the writing staff. It became more heartfelt and sensitive (I probably would have rented season 1 instead of recording three random season 6 episodes off some random local station, had I known). I surmise that this degradation is linked to the loss of edge for the character, Major Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan. Apparently she was all business, with a sharp tongue, which I tend to appreciate in my female characters — an especially interesting trait, since she was an Army nurse during the Korean War of the 1950s, a time when most women had put their war-time riveters down and went back into the kitchen years beforehand. By the time season 6 rolls around, she’s one of the guys, more or less, but two of the three episodes I watched calls out her attitude:

– Season 6, Episode 19 “What’s Up Doc”: Houlihan has a pregnancy scare (which would lead to her being booted from the Army), so Hawkeye and Radar help her out to try to find out whether she’s expecting. They call her out for being more irate than usual in the OR, so that was an indicator to me that, at this point in the series, she was far more chummier than in the beginning. She also admits that she and her husband, who is stationed in Tokyo, are not doing too well, making her a more sympathetic character for the audience.

– Season 6, Episode 21 “Temporary Duty”: During a temporary assignment, Hawkeye is transferred to another unit in exchange for some annoying country bumpkin and a nurse, who happens to be an old friend of the major’s. When the old friend starts fooling around (barely) in the OR, Houlihan kicks her out and causes a ruckus. In a later confrontation, Houlihan says she was jealous that her old friend was still as carefree and fun as she used to be, before she was made the head nurse of her unit. The friend suggests she open up to the people in her unit and cut loose a little. The episode ends with her asking Hawkeye and BJ to coffee in the officer’s mess tent.

I watched M*A*S*H when I was a kid because there was nothing else on TV, but I didn’t really understand it, and I didn’t really pay attention to it. I just liked the fact that I could have a TV in my bedroom and watch it after the lights were supposed to go out. But I wish I watched this show, especially the early days. Just from what I saw today and what I’ve heard about the show, the best days were the earliest days. I wonder, why the change with Hotlips? Was it because the show lasted a heck of a lot longer than expected, so they had to do something with her character? Was it because they were tired of writing a shrill woman, and decided to add some dimension to her? Perhaps a little bit of both.

And then there was “Dr. Winchester and Mr Hyde,” a Very Special Episode, telling kids and surgeons not to take uppers, and don’t give uppers to mice in order to win a mouse race where money is on the line. It’s not only unethical, but it could darn-near kill the poor little fella.

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