Larryoke 2 Announcement

Well, I’m nowhere near done with my final Bronsonpalooza post. It will run next week.

In the meantime:

commercial4.png

Saturday, May 4, at 7PM EST, I’m doing Larryoke again!

There will be a few more posts after Larryoke, but this is essentially the going away party for Perfect Strangers Reviewed. It will really hurt my feelings if you don’t come.

On the day of Larryoke, I’ll post a link to the stream both here and on the Facebook event page. The stream will be separate from the chat, but that’s the way it is when you’re doing things on the cheap. The chat will be through Discord, and it’s already up! You can head there now if you want to be the first to say Hongi Bongi.

The episodes will be family-friendly, but the chat and the songs won’t. Before I get further into the contents of the stream, I want to tell you about the Frank Aid fundraiser.

053

Frank, if you’ll remember, appeared in Season 3, episode 11, “The Break In”; a man so disturbed by the bottomless criminal element in Chicago that he no longer wanted to live.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. There were 1.4 million suicide attempts in 2017, over 40,000 of them successful. I’ve felt like killing myself before, but I’ve been lucky: I can go see a therapist, or call a friend who understands, any time I want. All Frank had was Balki and Larry, who begrudged him their help.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention does important work to improve both suicide interventions and getting those interventions to people who need them. Larryoke will include a fundraiser for AFSP, and I hope you can find a few bucks to send their way.

It never felt right to try to make money from this blog, and a result I’ve never tried to come up with merchandise to sell you. I thought about doing some artwork for a special poster, but to be honest finishing up the writing for this whole thing takes up all my free time. (Maybe some day.)

But I do have a couple of incentives if you donate to Frank Aid.

$10 Level (20 spots) – Quick pencil sketch of one Perfect Strangers character in a compromising situation. You name the character and the situation; trust me, you’ll be sorry if you leave it up to me.

$30 level – I’ll get exactly two T-shirts printed, one with the Chicago Chronicle logo, and one with the Fat Marsha’s Burgers logo. I’ll never make more of either one, except just for me. Me and you, shirt buddies.

fatmarshashirt

I’ll pick two names at random, and then I’ll email you to get your size, address, and gender! (Evidently shirts are made differently for people with breasts. Who knew?) Donation amount is not tied to number of chances. One person, one chance.

All the donations go to AFSP; I’m paying for the shirts.

I’ll post the link to the fundraiser the day of Larryoke 2, as well as a non-intrusive number of times during the stream.

So what in the larryokeing fuck is Larryoke, you ask?

Larryoke is a livestream consisting of 7 episodes of Perfect Strangers, plus one or two special surprises. They are very special surprises. Have a bedpan prepared, they’re so special.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL

Not even hardly!

As of this writing, there will also be 14 Larryoke songs, and I’m trying to get a few more lined up. No idea what a Larryoke song is? So basically what I do is write Perfect Strangers-themed parody lyrics for popular songs, and then I guilt-trip my best friends into recording themselves singing them. Thankfully, they’re all better singers than I am. Here are the songs from the first Larryoke:

The stream will last around 5 hours, but it’s going to be so stimulating, and you’re the kind of red-blooded Americans who will watch anything (I said… anything), so I know you’ll stick around until midnight when all the horns blow and Balki’s balls finally drop.

I know you’re excited because all the ditties will get you upset, and I’m sure you’re dying to know what the songs are, as internet culture has ruined surprises for us all. I won’t tell you which songs Larryoke 2 features, but I will tell you all of the Larryoke songs I didn’t use.  Sunburn fetishist Philip J Reed and I developed this list of unused Larryoke song titles, and by deductive reasoning you should be able to figure out the ones that got recorded.

Kiss Me Gorpley – Lita Ford

Sweet Myposian – Aerosmith

Save a Horse (Ride a Gorpley) – Big & Rich

Gorpley Up Buttercup – The Foundations

Jungle Gorpley – Kool and the Gang

The Wreck of the Samuel Fitzgorpley – Gordon Lightfoot

Gorps Up Side Your Head – The Gap Band

Ma Gorpley Amour – Stevie Wonder

The Master(ohgod)plan – Oasis

Sammy Gorpley PTA – Jeannie C. Riley

The Greatest Cuz of All – Whitney Houston

Will Meego Round in Circles – Billy Preston

Who Put the Gorp (In the Gorp, Gorp, Gorp) – Barry Mann

That’s A-Gorpley – Dean Martin

Every Gorpley Plays the Fool – The Main Ingredient

Long Cool Gorpley in a Black Dress – The Hollies

Tiptoe Through Bronson’s Lips – Tiny Tim

(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Gorpley  – KC and the Sunshine Band

You Don’t Mess Around with Sam – Jim Croce

Mustang Gorpley – Wilson Pickett

Cousins in the City – The Lovin’ Spoonful

Ferdinando – ABBA

(Is This The Way To) Write a Good Show – Tony Christie

Boochi Boochi Man – Muddy Waters

Proud Gorpley – Ike & Tina

Thank You (Falettinme Be Rid Dick You Lus Agin) – Sly and the Family Stone

Meego No. 5 – Lou Bega

Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Gorp’s – Stevie Wonder

Gorpley in a Bottle – Christina Aguilera

Jump (For My Cuz) – Pointer Sisters

Do You Really Want to Gorpley – Culture Club

Sammy Gorpley – Alan Jackson

Mama Myposian – Culture Club

Frank’n’ Roll Suicide – Bowie

Myposian Rhapsody – Queen

Please Touch Larry’s Hole – Joan Jett

Killing Frank Softly With This Song – Lori Lieberman

Bridge Over Babasticky – Simon & Garfunkel

Single Larries (Put a Ding on it) – Beyoncé

Lydia the Re-Used Lady – Groucho Marx

Here Comes Balki Claus – Gene Autry

I Do, You Do?, I Do, You Do?, I Do – ABBA

Medley: Bartokomous/Let the Cousin In – The 5th Dimension

The Caldwell Street Discount  Song (Feelin’ Ritzy) – Simon & Garfunkel

Da Ya Think I’m Twinkie? – Rod Stewart

Mama Don’t Screech – Madonna

Berman for You – Blue Öyster Cult

Gorpleytown – Lipps, Inc.

Have Yourself a Larry Little Christmas – Judy Garland

Shepherd’s Pie – Warrant

Lamb on the Run – Wings

Clap for the Sheepman – The Guess Who

Bird I Sold – Freda Payne

Santa Balki – Eartha Kitt

He Works Hard for the Gorpley – Donna Summer

Walking in Mypos – Marc Cohn

Suite: Balki Good Lips – Crosby, Stills & Nash

Long Tall Gorpley – Little Richard

Closer to Hole (I’m Your Cousin) – Grand Funk Railroad

Black Hole Co-Sun – Soundgarden

C.O.U.S.I.N – Rythm Syndicate

My Cuz Runneth Over – Ed Ames

Balki’s Theme (That’s the Best He Can Do?) – Christopher Cross

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Gorpley – U2

It’s De-Gorpley – Cole Porter

If I Said You Had a Beautiful Gorpley Would You Hold It Against Me – The Bellamy Brothers

Gorpleys are Doin’ It For Themselves – Eurythmics & Aretha Franklin

The Night the Lights Went Out on Gorpley – Vicki Lawrence

New Gorp State of Mind – Billy Joel

Tuxedo Sunburn – Eagles

I Just Started Hatin’ Christmas Songs Today – Moe Bandy

Gorp Vibrations – The Beach Boys

Baba O’Gorpley – The Who

Gorpzilla – Blue Öyster Cult

Lawyers, Guns and Gorpley – Warren Zevon

Gorpley Two Shoes – Adam Ant

Sam Gorpley’s Fire (Man in Office) – John Parr

Knocking on Heaven’s Gorp – Bob Dylan

Gorpley’s Got a Gun – Aerosmith

Every Gorpley Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears

Abracagorpley – Steve Miller Band

Shepherd’s Delight – Sugarhill Gang

Gorpley/Long Time – Boston

Every Gorpley was Kung-Fu Fighting – Carl Douglas

It’s My Gorpley – Lesley Gore

Yes Sir That’s My Gorpley – Margaret Young

Sloop Sam G –  The Beach Boys

Cousin Larry – The Who

Eight Gorps a Week – The Beatles

Hey Sam – The Leaves

Angels We Have Bronson High – James Chadwick

Sunday Gorpley Sunday – U2

Gorpley Seems to Be the Hardest Word – Elton John

Love Her Gorpley – The Doors

This One Gorps Out to the One I Love – R.E.M.

Front Page of the Chronicle – Dr. Hook

Gorple Rain – Prince

Samfool (Say That You Gorpley) – The Cardigans

Gorp Sharona – The Knack

Gorp Only Knows – The Beach Boys

Dirty Deeds Done With Sheep – AC/DC

I’m Too Gorpley – Right Said Fred

I Gorpley That Emotion – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

Red Roses for a Dead Biki – Vic Dana

Gorp! (There It Is) – Tag Team

Total Gorplipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler

Gorpling on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves

Gorp Up the Jam – Technotronic

Gorp it On Home to Me – Sam Cooke

A Taste of Honeymooners – Billy Dee Williams

Gorpual Healing – Marvin Gaye

Sexual Gorping – Marvin Gaye

Oh My Lord – George Harrison

Mr. Gorpjangles – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

The Gorpley-Motion – Little Eva

Saturday Night’s Alright For Gorpley – Elton John

Shiny Gorpley People – R.E.M.

Balki Then Nothing – Jen Trynin

Hang on Gorpley – The McCoys

Slapstick Tonight – Eagles

Gorpley – The Association

Mr. Gorpley – Ernie

Subterranean Workplace Blues – Bob Dylan

If I Were Your Cousin – Gladys Knight

Please Mr. Gorpman – The Marvelettes

Gazebo – Van Morrison

West End Gorps – Pet Shop Boys

Riders on the Gorp – The Doors

Everybalki Hurts – R.E.M.

Gorpley in the Sky with Demands – The Beatles

I Wanna Dance With Sam Gorpley (Who Loathes Me) – Whitney Houston

Sam Gorpley to Love – Jefferson Airplane

Cigarettes and Balkihol – Oasis

Gorpley Wonderland – Earth, Wind & Fire with The Emtions

Pour Sam Gorpley on Me – Def Leppard

My Cousin (Never Gonna Get It) – En Vogue

Advertisements

The All New Adventures of Laurel and Hardy in “For Love or Mummy”

How I Spent the Rest of My Career, part 3

I was going to open this review by saying I might be the least qualified person to review a Laurel and Hardy film.

After all, I didn’t grow up watching Laurel & Hardy; the only awareness I had of them was through the odd caricature appearance in Looney Tunes. I couldn’t have distinguished them from Abbott & Costello as a kid. I watched a few of their shorts for my review of the Perfect Strangers episode “The Gazebo”, but nothing in those grabbed me enough to watch others. I’ll never be a Laurel & Hardy fan.

But then I realized I’m only the third person to have ever watched this film. Since the other two are wearing straitjackets, I technically am the most qualified.

Released on home video in August 1999 to negative reviews (well, review, anyway), The All New Adventures of Laurel & Hardy in “For Love or Mummy” represents at least four years of effort on the part of Larry Harmon to shake a few more dollars out of the Laurel & Hardy brand. According to a 1998 USA Today article*, Jim Carrey and Chris Farley had been approached to star in the film in 1995. But finally, over the course of five weeks in early 1998, TANAoL&Hi”FLoM” was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa. It would be more than a year before the film’s VHS would start showing up in Wal-Mart bargain bins around the country.

Can you believe it even got released on DVD a few years after that? Only a film so utterly forgettable could find its way into stores twice. Since there seems to be a dearth of high-resolution images of the front of the DVD, I scanned it in at 1200 dpi.

mummy111

Philip J Reed bought me this, likely as revenge for making him watch The Trouble with Larry. Every fetid second of this film is one I brought down on my own head.

I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you: this is a shambles of a movie in almost every respect, even down to the semi-literate person who stayed up late one night copying the DVDs.

dvd

Now, I can convince some of you of the movie’s quality by telling you that it was directed by John Cherry III, who directed (and helped write) every single Ernest film. But I’m a diehard Ernest fan, so if anything this made me more interested to see it. For me, the worry set in when I saw that it was written by Jeffrey Pillars and Joseph Dattore. Their only other writing credits are for Ernest in the Army, the very last Ernest film, and the only one in the series I’ve never wanted to rewatch. John Cherry III is the only director I’ve ever watched whose work got worse over time, and this movie makes it quickly and painfully obvious that Jim Varney was about the only thing elevating the uninspired material Cherry oversaw. That Cherry spent over 15 years directing some of my favorite movies and evidently learned nothing about what made them work makes this one doubly disappointing.

It’s very likely, though, that many of you reading this have watched neither Ernest Goes to Seed nor the original Laurel & Hardy films; so it’s my job to venture into this unholy crypt and report back on what I find.

000

We open in Egypt, 3,000 years ago. You know, there’s really a lot of ancient technology that’s been completely lost to time. For instance, according to this shot, ancient Egyptians were the first to cruise around the dunes on their four-wheelers.

001

The New Announcer of Laurel and Hardy tells us that Pharaoh Houtah let some demon shack up in his soul and wreak terror across the land. And then Houtah died before he could marry, which is important because this demon couldn’t wreak quite as much terror as he wanted to unless his peepee was getting touched on the regular. But then Houtah died before he could find a woman who had been born under a specific astrological combination. “When the Belt of Orion smacks Isis’s ass” or something like that.

002003

Plus part of the mythology is about snakes, and since that used up the writers’ knowledge of ancient Egypt, the backstory is over.

004005

I don’t believe in karma, but naming something in a way that says it’s the first of many films (or books, or trading card series) appears to be the best way to guarantee it won’t be.

006007

It takes three screens to get the whole title out! I’m going to be a grammar snob here and say that they’re technically saying that the New Adventures themselves will be appearing in this story. I know, I’m niggling, but they had at least four years to come up with a title.

008009010

Are these things that happened in ancient Egypt? Are they things we’ll see? It’ll be another 8 minutes before the movie actually gets out of the credits, so I’ll go ahead and tell you the answer is “no” to both questions.

Even without a history of watching Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy knock each other about, my main expectations going into this around in regards to their personalities & dynamic, and that they’ll get into physical comedy with props.

011

Our introduction to the characters establishes the former pretty deftly. Laurel is worried that they’re going to be kicked out of the library, and Hardy responds brashly and with promises of success. Sounds about right, but I guess I wasn’t aware that Laurel spouted malapropisms every third word. I’m not too embarrassed by this lack of knowledge. The original Stan Laurel didn’t know either.

012

I’ll give the writers credit in trying to be inventive in how to turn an everyday object into something funny. Hardy is using a photocopier to take headshots of himself for campaign flyers. Sure, and why not? Part of the reason the original duo were constantly taking on various jobs is that they were broke; and they were broke because they were screw-ups.

As for the physical comedy, though, it’s a failure right out of the gate.

Hardy cycles through a number of poses and facial expressions, his head a foot away from the photocopier’s platen, yet every single sheet of paper it shoots out is the same thing:

013

He’s running for Grand Poobob of the Eternal Order of the Nile, by the way.

A note on physical comedy involving setting-based props. Pipes can actually spray water if they’re not attached correctly, but they won’t start suddenly spraying hot coffee. You can launch a rake handle at your face by stepping on its tines, but it’s not going to kiss you Roger-Rabbit style when it gets there. Sometimes a frying pan takes on facial features post-impact; but the physics are clear. Unless breaking an object’s function is the joke, it serves no purpose. When you cheat, how you cheat, and how often you cheat determines the overall tone of a piece. But this isn’t man vs. machine, this is necessity breeding invention. Hardy’s face eventually gets smashed on the glass, so there’s no reason to show it printing that until it happens.

015

Unless the bit is there just for me to make a meta-commentary joke on how this whole movie is an attempt at reproducing Laurel & Hardy’s image, and it coming out completely wrong. If that’s the case I should send John Cherry III some flowers.

They’re also trying to hide from the librarian (Christine Weir, Death Force). The way this plays out is that she sees them–

016

–she sees them again–

014

–walks away–

017

–sees them a third time–

018

–and only gets upset when she finds that these obviously homeless men have left an IOU in the honor-system photocopier’s money box. Do I have to point out that photocopiers–or libraries who care about reimbursement–have never once worked this way? It feels petty of me to call attention to the fact that Ernest writers have never been inside a library.

019020

She swears vengeance. I’m a librarian, and this kind of portrayal doesn’t bother me. No one ever saw this. I’m fine with a minor villain chasing these guys down for money, but why not start out at Kinko’s, instead of at an institution widely known for providing free services?

021

Farouk Bin Abdullah (Philip Godawa, The Fairy King of Ar), has gathered a bunch of swarthy goons in bar-hopping clothes in his storage space to tell them that he finally tracked down a woman who met all of those astrological requirements they said at the beginning of the movie. I’m still awake enough at this point in the movie to know that he must have the mummy somewhere in the room, but…

022

Have you ever heard the one about prisoners telling each other jokes? These prisoners have been in regular and long enough enough contact each other, and they have long since determined the exact finite number of jokes they now collectively know is low enough that, subsequent dozens of retellings, they can be enumerated and referred to by number. They need only call out “Number 8!” or “34!” to tell a joke. A new inmate matriculates and, in an attempt to fit in, calls out “Number 15!”. No one laughs, and another prisoner mutters “Some people just can’t tell a joke”.

For a bad guy introduction, this is the equivalent of a #15. John Cherry III has been filming and writing these kinds of scenes for so long that he’s doing them in shorthand. He’s forgotten to establish important details like what this bad guy hopes to gain (he makes vague reference to politics), how he relates to his underlings, why he’s in a position to know or do anything about this mummy, where he is, or who this bride-to-be is.

023

Also, why is it we need this particular Houtah full of bones? Is the demon that possessed him trapped in that body?

Sorry for belaboring so much of this at the outset, but I really want to convey to you the level of quality we’re dealing with here. The height of the script’s competence is ironic foreshadowing, like archaeologist Leslie Covington (South African actress Susan Danford, Dazzle) saying to a TJ Maxx mannequin “Ready for the pharaoh! Maybe if I wear your outfit to the reception I might find my own Pharaoh, mm?”

024025

Then her dad, Henry Covington (F. Murray Abraham, Muppets from Space), walks in asking her why she’s spending all this time on history when she could be out getting pregnant. Compared to the storage space scene’s poverty, there’s an economy of story here. Their upcoming museum display will showcase his own find–Houtah’s tomb–but Henry suggests the whole thing is worthless. Abraham feels like he belongs in a much better film: he convinces you there’s more than what’s in the script simply by telling you with his posture and pauses that he’s not saying the half of what’s on his mind. He’s letting on just a little that he’s tired and doesn’t want his daughter to miss out on life like–we assume now–he must have. This may be his last chance to encourage Leslie, or it could be entirely something else. Some of his lines are at odds with this characterization, but Abraham does his best to make them feel like Henry’s idea of a joke.

026

Whoa! I completely didn’t put it together earlier that The Boys are in an Egyptian-themed fraternal order! It’s almost like these 2.5 stories were fated to meet!

027

This movie feels like an Ernest movie. I’m having trouble articulating all the reasons why that is, but I think a lot is the familiarity of Cherry’s sense of pacing and composition, as well as minor things like film stock and budget. But making Laurel and Hardy essentially Shriners is the first definite thing I can point to that would be right at home in an Ernest film.

028

Now, yes, Laurel and Hardy were in the film Sons of the Desert as members of a lodge of the same name. There’s even a Laurel and Hardy fan society that borrows the name. So, sure, it’s an homage to the characters’ history. I mean, in terms of who Laurel and Hardy are, is there much else to say? They’re malleable depending on a story’s needs; in one film they’re wandering bums, in another they’re married. Each of those is at odds with the other, but lodge membership is orthogonal to both. It’s true whether they’re fixing a house or waiting tables or in the Army.

But so why not call this lodge Sons of the Desert? I think it’s equally likely that this movie began life as an Ernest script–Ernest Goes to Egypt, I imagine–and hadn’t begun filming when Larry Harmon reached out to John Cherry. (The final two Ernest films were also shot overseas, and I have to wonder if Ernest Went to Africa simply because it was cheaper to film there.) This movie features a very Ernest setting, with a very Ernest goal.

Part of Ernest’s magic is that Jim Varney had developed an all-purpose “rural” character. His commercials ran in regions all across the United States because he really could be your next-door neighbor, the happy-go-lucky guy who was always trying to find an opportunity to better himself. This extended to the movies. Ernest never shot for the stars, just for the first rung on the nearest ladder. He wants to rise from maintenance man to camp counselor, from golf-ball collector to Army Reserve member… or from lodge member to potentate. Ernest’s world (like much of the 1990s South) felt stuck, still kicking around the rural lifestyle of, say, 1975-1985, where something like this was still important. By 1999, I’m sure fewer kids were aware that Shriners even existed. Ernest, too, was becoming a relic, so a lodge (in Florida!) would slot right into his universe and you wouldn’t blink.

Not that it doesn’t here, but: if this is a movie for kids in 1999 (and it’s certainly not for anyone else, in any other year), having your two leads in clothing from the 1930s is already stretching things. Why have them as members of an organization generally associated with old men driving the tiny cars in the parade? If this movie is interested in the idea of how Laurel & Hardy would fare in the modern world, it’s getting further away from that by the minute.

029030031

Here’s a question to ask yourself as we move forward: what, other than taking away Laurel, would you need to change for this to be Ernest Goes to Egypt? All Laurel does in this scene is throw a hat and wetly chew some Bubble Tape. Bronson finally found a way to make me wish he were doing a terrible accent instead.

032033034

After Kowalski (Rick Rogers, The Sexy Girls), whom we’re asked to believe is some kind of pompous ass, wins the election, he introduces Dollar-Tree Tim Curry, Farouk. Farouk is a member of the lodge’s “sister fraternal order in Cairo, Egypt”. How in the world would you sell the Brotherhood of the Nile to Egyptians? Would you join “The Order of the All-American Apple Pie Cowboys”?

035

He asks the lodge brothers if anyone would volunteer to help move his ancient artifacts, including the mummy of Pharaoh Houtah, to the museum that night. Laurel offers his and Hardy’s help–but uh-oh!–thanks to that Bubble Tape Laurel spit out, the seat of the chair is now stuck to…

036

…Hardy’s back. Okay.

186.jpg

Now we’re on a ship. Was that storage space in Egypt? Also, I’ve never had to move a mummy, but I’m damn sure you don’t ship them upright like Real Dolls.

037

Pharaoh Houtah thinks about his bride-to-be and astrally projects a boner.

038

If Farouk is the bad guy, the movie’s not doing a good job of convincing me of it. We know he’s got money! He has a bunch of healthy-looking hired goons, plus he’s got this swank travel bag for the sarcophagus, emblazoned with a custom-designed “Treasures of King Houtah” patch, and it’s likely he financed shipping all this stuff to the States. Going out of your way to make a bunch of Floridians you’ve never met feel useful is a true charitable act. And if all Farouk needs is two guys to move some boxes, essentially he needs no guys and an extra hour.

Why hadn’t the Covingtons, or the museum, arranged for transport before this looming exhibit opening? Somewhere, a frantic museum director is on her 30th cigarette of the day. Museums and libraries wouldn’t be in such dire financial straits if people just paid the damn nickel for a photocopy!

039

Twelve minutes in, we finally get some actual physical comedy.

040041

It’s fine.

042

It’s competent, even! But now that we’re here, why did it take so long?

I haven’t seen enough of the original films to know how much story there typically was or wasn’t, but placing this story in the 1990s messes with what I thought was the basic formula. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of infrastructure in the United States of the 1930s, and Laurel and Hardy could walk around a town and end up hired to fix a house, transport a corpse, or move a piano. But we’re here now, so I guess I should try to enj–

*sigh*

043

nevermind, here’s Bronson’s ballsack. It’s not like I prefer to have fun while watching a comedy movie or anything.

044

We cut to a scene of Farouk and Yesman Arafat climbing up the museum steps. Farouk’s line is ADR, which usually means a scene was cut, or a plothole filled in; but all the line conveys is “I hope they don’t break the mummy”. Someone, please give these writers a gold star for remembering the textbook definition of dramatic irony!

045

Farouk meets Leslie and Henry, and mentions that he’s very familiar with Henry’s work. You’d assume so, right? Since Henry found Houtah’s fucking tomb? Farouk introduces himself to Leslie by asking if her hymen’s intact.

Now I have no idea which scene to trust, or even how much I’m supposed to assume Henry is supposed to know about Houtah’s ring, now on Farouk’s finger.

046047

Then the Brotherhood of the Nile show up in a parade about the length of a tractor-trailer. Maybe it’s supposed to read as them being self-important, but I’d like to think the joke is that a parade float is the only vehicle they have big enough to transport a sarcophagus. It’s a very thoughtful touch.

048

So here’s where the film’s location budget and John Cherry’s bad decisions collide. We’re shown that the parade float is maybe 200 yards from the museum steps, based on where the Grand Poobob is standing. He’s shouting at them over a walkie talkie to slow down, but Laurel and Hardy aren’t listening to him: they’re too busy having a five-minute conversation about absolutely nothing.

The parade float’s oars break off. Hardy falls over. Who cares.

Hardy falls instantly in love with Leslie, and imagines the same “meadow run” scene you’ve seen a thousand times.

049050

After paying for Farouk’s actor to get that nice tan, there wasn’t enough money in the budget to pay for the rights to pay for the Overture from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet.

051

Someone was so eager to make a joke about Hardy “accidentally” slugging a woman in the face that they forgot that this was a fantasy sequence.

052

While Hardy presumably fantasizes landing some body blows, Laurel says their full names: Stanley Thinnius Laurel and Oliver Fatteus Hardy. This is a fitting moment to mention that these two are meant to be the great-nephews of the original Laurel & Hardy. I was about to say that raises more questions than it answers, but most of the questions I came up with I realized I don’t give a shit about.

This movie has some strange priorities. Does it feel like it’s legitimizing itself by trying to force more continuity than the original films ever bothered with? Is it an attempt to head off criticism that these actors don’t have the same chops? There will be new Scooby-Doo cartoons until the rapture, and probably even after that; I don’t expect them to tell me how they fit into the Scoobyverse. I also feel that a grand Zelda chronology adds nothing to my experience of the games.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask that, if a comedy wishes to address some real-world concern, it make a joke out of it. The 1993 Super Mario Bros. film had two options for dealing with Mario’s full name. Instead of just ignoring it, the filmmakers decided to lean into the silliness that there was a real-ass guy was walking around Brooklyn with a name like Mario Mario.**

053

Leslie asks The Boys if there’s anything she can do to repay them, the camera wanders off to Farouk fiddling with his ring, and then there’s a slam-bang cut to Leslie standing in front of Houtah, so entranced she almost opens the sarcophagus.

054055

I honestly thought for a second that Farouk, sensing a rival in Hardy, was making Leslie hallucinate. Turns out it’s just the worst edit I’ve ever seen.

Henry stops her from opening it. Not because it would expose the mummy to oxygen, or because it would fall on her, but because of the dark archaeological past these two shared. We learn that Leslie may have blocked out memories of childhood digs, and Henry’s happy about this.

056

You all wanted to see where Laurel and Hardy take a shit, didn’t you?

Apparently, what got cut from the end of two scenes ago is that Leslie invited The Boys to a party at the museum that evening. The funniest thing in this scene to me is that Laurel and Hardy’s idea of dressing up for an event is to wear the exact same clothes, but even without that, this is a nice moment. Getting to see the two of them relate to each other and mess around with shoe polish is a relief after the last few minutes of stapled-together story.

057058

Since we’ve only seen her in her work clothes, the movie has to tell us explicitly that Leslie has dressed up special for this occasion. It does this by having Henry comment on it… so did they not come there together? Does she live in the museum?

059181

Farouk offers a thank-you gift to Leslie, you know, for working so hard to organize a museum exhibit to showcase his archaeological findings. What an asshole, this guy!

060

Dad and Hardy bemoan the fact that Hardy won’t get to put his dick in her. Hardy suggests he’s willing to consider any sort of violence towards Farouk.

062

Meanwhile, the mummy gets restless. I feel you, man, I’m not sure I can take any more of this setup either.

061replace063

I’m so proud of this movie, choosing for its hero a silent, sweaty Nice Guy who stands and stares at the object of his affection for hours instead of talking to her. Finally some representation!

064

Laurel kicks a serving cart, which launches Hardy into Farouk. This is an odd choice. We just saw Hardy say he wanted Farouk out of the picture, but instead of exploring what he come up with, the movie decides to just have an accident happen. I’m not saying that this movie should be anywhere near so competent as to make this an opportunity for Hardy to realize fate has shown him how terrible the consequences would have been if he’d carried out an actual plan; but I am saying that there are ways to have that accident happen during some gambit to neutralize Farouk.

The Grand Poobob gets so angry at how clumsy they are that he tells them to go stand near all the really expensive shit in the exhibit.

065

Laurel gets his hand stuck in a pot. He throws his hat, it topples a row of display cases, and the scene is over.

066

All I can think about is how Ernest would have mistaken a scarab amulet for a live one, tried to kill it with a pharaonic flail, gotten the flail caught on his vest, used a papyrus to wipe dust off his face, joked that Anubis could play fetch with himself, and opened up a canopic jar and said “Ewwwww” before he’d even get to the display cases.

067

Houtah, tired of waiting for someone to hilariously knock him over, gets out of his box all on his own and leaves in search of a better movie.

068

Everyone finds The Boys and accuse them of having a third partner who made the mummy disappear. The Grand Poobob, revealed to be a police lieutenant, throws them in jail, knowing full well these two have no other friends.

069070

They’re sharing the cell with Barney the Biker, who’s played by Jeffrey Pillars, one of the writers. He appears to be wearing about five different outfits all at once. Bikers have been so regularly used as the cavalry in kids’ comedies that it’s hard to even be remotely worried for Laurel & Hardy’s safety right now.

Actually, it was already hard to be worried for them, or care about whether Hardy gets the girl. We’ve been given no reason to actually like these two at all.

I mean that as a compliment! This movie is very close to achieving a balance between the audience wanting to see them get banged up a litte, but still cheering for them.

What keeps it from getting there completely is that Laurel & Hardy are a little too removed from the world around them. In the 1930s, their clothing and mannerisms were only a little out of date, something that became more exaggerated over time. When we watch Charlie Chaplin or Groucho Marx, those aspects of their characters aren’t as obvious. Chaplin’s Tramp, I must assume, could only get ahold of fancy clothes that had long been thrown out. Groucho’s walk was an exaggeration of an upper-class American fad from the 1890s; when he first started performing in Vaudeville, it would have been as recognizable–and as funny–as, say, if someone today put on Hammer pants.

Here, Laurel and Hardy appear almost a century out-of-date. Ernest’s outfit, on the other hand, never looked terribly out of place. He may have occupied his own off-kilter world, but he still had a foothold in ours. He wanted to fit in, and he was just enough like you, or like someone you pitied in real life, that you would feel his pain. Ernest was a brave, ambitious soul trapped inside an idiot, and it was a tragedy that he understood enough of the world to want more and never have it.

ernest.jpg

Somewhere out there was a woman for Ernest. But it would be another 10 years or so before a hipster might mistake Hardy for a kindred spirit. I’m not saying that reviving Laurel & Hardy could only ever be a non-starter, no matter how well this movie makes that argument. It’s just that Harmon & Cherry put an obstacle in their own way, telling you that The Boys have no idea what it is that makes others hate them.

071

Some time later, Henry is studying photographs of the mummy’s footprints, at most a few hundred yards from where the actual footprints are. He’s not learning anything here that he didn’t instantly understand the moment he stood in the exhibit hall. And we’re not learning anything new about what Henry knows: F. Murray already made a face about the footprints in the earlier scene.

072

I have no idea where this is taking place now. It could be the museum’s 3rd floor restroom for all I know.

You can see some cardboard boxes in the background of this scene, which might indicate that we’re back in the storage space. Which, by the way, the movie didn’t bother to give us a location for; so maybe it was in Florida to begin with. Should I be impressed that this giant snake-headed fireplace (?) survived in Houtah’s tomb, or that they managed to excavate it and ship it and get it into an Uncle Bob’s Storage all in one piece.

I mean, that has to be the case, because there’s no way that the prop was built for an earlier draft of the script that took place in Egypt. John Cherry III wouldn’t stand for that kind of slapdash production. The mummy just kind of wanders around until–

073

Farouk: I don’t think so, Tim.

074

Farouk sends Houtah off to kill Hardy–

076

–wait, sorry, let’s stop so we can see the end of Barney and Laurel’s heart-to-heart about the great puppies they’ve known and loved. I think it’s funny, but I’m more struck by how surreal it is that two of my worlds are together. We’ve got Bronson Pinchot, so upper-class he’d strangle a cashier for asking how he’d like his change, in a movie that he thought could be the pinnacle of his career***, sitting right next to an Ernest writer, both of them wrapped up in Larry Harmon’s wish that kids would love the same stuff he did.

Houtah thunk it?

075

Anyway so like Farouk let this thing out of his sight to go wander around downtown Tampa**** or wherever with only a low-quality photo of Hardy’s deformed face. I’m not going to question Farouk sending the mummy to neutralize a rival who, if left unchecked, might throw a pie at him. It makes sense to test out your control over a demon before letting it have sex and becoming more powerful. But even if Farouk didn’t know that Poobob Kowalski had jailed The Boys, he could follow the damned thing (little undead humor there for you), see it was headed towards a jail, and and then ditch that part of the plan.

182077078

You know, not alert the entirety of the police to your scheme and give them something to follow right back to you.

080

Endless cuts back and forth between three grown men working themselves into a laughing frenzy and a mummy murdering peace officers is the kind of discordant material I’d only ever trust in the hands of someone like David Lynch or Todd Solondz.*****

079

Cherry, on the other hand, thinks he needs to confirm for you that the bullets did indeed enter the mummy but did not hurt it.

081

Houtah begins the ancient Egyptian death rite of putting your arm around someone’s shoulders and walking in a tight circle. Laurel keeps trying to hit the mummy with the various weapons lying around the jail cell. Florida was really committed to those stand-your-ground principles even back then, huh?

082083

Laurel and Hardy make their escape by stealing a police car that was sitting, parked, with its flashers on. I can’t really blame Cherry for making everything five times as obvious as it needs to be; after 10 years doing Ernest flicks he knew exactly how much help his audience needed.

084085

Was this like the most expensive prop? One-tenth of the movie is this shots of this thing.

086

Now Houtah is on the back of a firetruck which is keeping pace with this lights-activated police car. I have no idea, folks.

087088

Now Houtah is on top of the police car and Laurel and Hardy bounce up and down in their seats. They drive straight into Bozo World and into a haunted house.

Something which I think can be a sticking point in newer entries in franchises with a long history is when the type of humor seems mismatched. For instance, this is the second time that Hardy smells the mummy and blames Laurel for letting a toot uncommon. Now, I love a (good) fart joke, but they can be jarring when it’s clear someone else’s voice is coming through a beloved character’s mouth. I was going to mention Fozzie’s fart shoes in The Muppets (2011) as an example that struck me as misplaced, only to then find out that the Muppets boast a long history of similar gags. (Really what threw me was hearing a Muppet say “fart”, I think.) Sure, the original Laurel and Hardy probably never made a fart joke in their life; but I’d bet they would if they had been a 90s comedy team.

The reasoning I’m even bothering to mention this is not to put down the fart joke. The gag registers as discordant because Bronson Pinchot and Gailard Sartain are actually doing an admirable job of portraying Laurel and Hardy. I wouldn’t have believed farts were even part of their world. A lot of Hardy’s movements are in his hands, and Sartain embodies that physicality in a way that makes Mark Linn-Baker look like he wasn’t even trying in “The Gazebo”. I think Sartain is overdoing it, but that’s appropriate to the increased overall level of what’s going on visually and aurally. Bronson was already losing some of his muscle mass over the course of Meego (and wearing untucked shirts towards the end to cover, I think, some fat gain), and dropped enough of it to look like Laurel. More on Bronson a little later.

090

(Scene transitions continue to be edited by a trained chimp, by the way. One earlier cut off the end of a music sting; and this one–where The Boys run through the wall of the haunted house–isn’t allowed to hang on the house’s paintings long enough for you to register that they’ve run right through their monster counterparts.)

091092

So Laurel and Hardy got caught by the mummy at the haunted house–and then they show up like a minute later at the museum. Glad we went all that way just for ten seconds of a highly-conceptual joke of a real mummy in the same room as a fake mummy.

You know, for a man with a tortured archaeological past, a man we assume must be the one guy who’s aware of the exact dangers involved in everything going on, Henry Covington sure is just sitting on his ass. When he learns (a third time) that the mummy is alive based on The Boys’ story, he informs them that there’s a curse.

The mummy was already a Pharaoh who got possessed by a demon, and the Pharaoh’s specific penis was evidently so great that the demon was willing to stick around thousands of years until that very penis touched a very specific vagina (may I mention also that 3,000 years is enough time to throw off constellations?), willing to spend millennia in a box waiting for someone else to come along to find him a bride… all this shit going on and now there’s a curse too?

093

Or, actually, no–now Farouk is talking directly to the demon, so why the fuck do we need a mummy? Is this one of those schoolyard thought exercises where you decide if having a dog’s head would be worth being a billionaire? Is the curse that you can rule over everyone else on the planet but you have to live with an ancient pile of rags that smells like shit?

Akhenatendure much more of this. I’m doing thutmost to make this movie make sense, since I know I’m neferefre watching it again. Sorry. I’m done trying to ramses puns into places they don’t really fit.

094

F. Mummy Abraham tells the story of how he and his wife and daughter found the tomb of King Houtah, and mostly I’m amazed that they appear to have found it without any digging or even standing out in the hot sun. Henry opens the sarcophagus, somehow misses the giant snake that slithers out, and then he and his wife leave their kid unsupervised. The mummy stirs and grabs Leslie.

095096097

A curse is when unforeseen death befalls graverobbers. I’m pretty sure a corpse trying to fuck your kid is a different category altogether.

They close the casket, a snake bites Mom, Mom dies. Somehow Henry’s flashback includes Farouk taking the mummy’s hand (and ring) right after he left. He says that everyone he told the story to thought he was crazy. I’m also having trouble believing that thirty years passed with no other Egyptologist wandering into the open tomb, or anyone stealing anything from it.

Henry picks the only solution to this dilemma that involves letting him continue to sit around and do jack shit: he tells Laurel & Hardy to go check up on Leslie at her house.

If you pressed me on the question, I’d probably say that my favorite Ernest movie is Ernest Scared Stupid, despite the fact that it’s one of the less grounded ones. (If you’ve never seen it, it’s about Ernest fighting a troll.) The All New Hundred-Word Film Title of Laurel and Hardy is borrowing that film’s structure here as far as Henry’s character goes.

eartha

In Ernest Scared Stupid, Eartha Kitt plays the cranky old recluse who turns out to have the ancient knowledge that’s the key to saving the day. Basically a form of Joseph Campbell’s “Mentor” archetype. She had a run-in with the troll as a child, and knows where the troll was buried. But her backstory, and the knowledge she possesses for how to fight the returned evil, doesn’t have any reason to come into play until the moment she has a reason to believe the troll has returned, which is when Ernest tells her.

Henry Covington fills that same role, and gets those same beats, but he knows everything before Laurel and Hardy tell him. I’m beginning to believe Henry’s the live-in custodian, or else he would have done everything in his power to keep the museum from showcasing the very mummy that killed his wife.

And speaking of how much different characters know, it’s not like Farouk had some vague notion that he’d find Houtah a wife in Florida. The movie’s now established that he was in the tomb and saw Henry and Leslie there. He’s likely spent thousands on transporting the entire contents of Houtah’s tomb across an ocean when he could have just kidnapped Leslie and brought her to Egypt.

098

Seriously, each piece of this movie contradicts another. Henry now tells them that the only way to stop Houtah is to get him back in the sarcophagus, when we all saw Houtah get out of it all on his own.

Another f’rinstance: the police are now answering a call about the property damage at Bozo World. They stand around wondering what in the world could have caused it, and Kowalski’s sure it’s Laurel and Hardy. Not, you know, the seven-foot-tall guy who killed eleven officers the night before.

099

The owner of Bozo World, by the way, is played by Larry Harmon himself.

The Firesign Theatre once referred to Benjamin Franklin as “the only President of the United States who was never President of the United States”. Larry Harmon was the only Bozo the Clown who was never Bozo the Clown.******

I’m overstating it, but only by a little. Larry Harmon was one of the original performers hired to make personal appearances around the country as Bozo the Clown. Harmon saw the licensing potential for the character, bought the rights, and started rolling out local TV shows in multiple markets. If Harmon was ever on one of those shows, the best I can tell is that it wasn’t for very long. Buck Wolf looked into Harmon’s decades of claims of being Bozo’s creator or “the original Bozo” around the same time as this film came out. (I can’t find that 1999 article, but Wolf wrote on the matter a couple of times more for ABC.) Wolf’s work appears to have led, in 2004, to the International Clown Hall of Fame revoking the lifetime achievement award it had given Harmon in 1990.

Appearances by old performers in films is generally a nice surprise–Lou Ferrigno in Hulk (2003) or Bill Murray in Ghostbusters (2016)–but Harmon is the producer of Laurel and Hardy Love an All New Mummy. He’s using that practice to once again sell the idea that he was the original Bozo, metaphorically whipping out his dick, boasting simultaneously his ownership of these two properties.

I’m not going to argue that Bozo’s creation should be credited to any given performer as some testament to their individual genius; the clown was created as part of a work-for-hire assignment for Capitol Records. But Laurel and Hardy are a different story. I don’t think there’s doubt in anyone’s mind that the characters are the direct creation of their original performers. Harmon secured the rights to Laurel and Hardy from Stan Laurel himself, when Stan was on his deathbed. Harmon claimed that Stan Laurel said to him “Listen, lad, you’re going to walk in my shoes now. Don’t hurt them or let anybody hurt us or our widows.”

Maybe so, but people on deathbeds have been known to say similar things to nurses and oxygen tanks. And maybe Harmon did truly watch and love Laurel and Hardy films in his youth. But the fact that Harmon brought the same entrepreneurial tactics to both properties (cartoon series, merchandising, C&D lawsuits) says otherwise. Any deathbed transfer of ownership instantly opens itself up to criticism and suspicion, and those looking for ammunition for an argument against Harmon’s goal of protecting the Laurel and Hardy name need look no further than this film.

100

It’s fascinating to me that, in the same year that Harmon was revealed as a jerk for stealing others’ legacies, he was providing proof of exactly that type of behavior with this movie.

Remember how that mummy was able to track down Hardy in a jail? Well, John Cherry didn’t, because The Boys have slept all night out in the open.

101102

A bird shits in Hardy’s mouth and he chokes on it. (Or maybe it’s meant to be a pecan? There’s no bird visible, just a sound effect. I have no fucking clue, and I kind of doubt the writers did either. At any rate some sort of brown bolus goes down his throat.)

103

Laurel gives him the “hemlock manure” and the shit ricochets and smacks the Librarian upside the head.

104105

They discover Farouk leading Leslie out of her house and discussing having dinner later that night. So did they sleep together or what?

Laurel and Hardy hail a taxi–instantly–in this recently-constructed residential neighborhood.

106

Yeah, I wouldn’t have picked them up either.

107108

Henry Covington, after “learning” of Farouk’s dastardly plot, has spent the past twelve hours reading his favorite translation of the bible so he’ll be too tired to help. He says “Leslie” as though something’s just been revealed to him. I guess he finally realized the little girl in the flashback was also his daughter.

109

And now it’s evening again as Farouk leads Leslie into a restaurant. Did Laurel and Hardy chase this taxi 10 hours up the Florida coast?

110

I think, at this point, I can stop harping on the fact that there’s no reason for Farouk to have made these choices, or for the story to go this direction. But as bad as all that is, the movie now takes the cake for the worst scene I’ve ever watched.

Every single choice it makes is the wrong one.

111

Farouk drugs Leslie’s drink. On one hand, fine, it’s the setup for a drink-switching scene: this is a cartoon tactic. But Farouk is doing this in public, with potential witnesses, and he’s going to have to carry a drugged woman to another location to carry out his plan. All that’s minor, though: drink switching is always, always to knock out the hero. But this is all in the context of a mummy wanting a bride. Drugging a woman’s drink to make this happen takes this children’s movie directly into rape territory. Farouk clubbing her and dragging her off would be less jarring.

112

Hardy disguises himself a sweaty Italian waiter so he can take away Leslie’s drink, and encourages both of them to watch the restaurant’s stage show, which Laurel somehow made start right that moment. And no: you point out the show and switch the drinks, and then you’re done.

113

Laurel dances on stage with some store-brand Fly Girls and sings along to Billy Preston’s “Nothing From Nothing”; and Farouk drugs Leslie’s replacement drink. The dancers do some Egyptian poses because I don’t fucking know.

114115

Hardy shows back up as a slobby photographer, dropping his flashbulb in Leslie’s drink. (I had to watch this three times to even figure out that’s what happened.)

Farouk drugs Leslie’s drink a third time, and Hardy switches the drinks in full view of Farouk. I’m baffled by this. It’s a strange choice to begin with to have your hero fail at a drink-switching gambit. If the joke is that Hardy is too dumb to pull off a Bugs Bunny trick, that could lead to a decent trope subversion, but Hardy’s competence–and everyone else’s intelligence–is vacillating by the second. He can fool people with a cheap disguise, and dropping a flashbulb into a drink takes a high amount of coordination, but he can’t wait until someone is looking away.

183.jpg

Now he and Farouk just openly trade the glasses’ places while maintaining eye contact, except for one switch where Hardy deliberately looks away, because the writers had no idea how else to have him fail.

And finally, when Farouk rips off Hardy’s fake mustache, Laurel shows up and drinks the drugged drink. Hardy tells Leslie about the drug, demands Farouk drink the one he thinks is drugged.

Farouk drinks, Laurel passes out, and Leslie still agrees to Farouk’s request to have another drink with him, at this very restaurant, despite full evidence that someone has drugged an unknown number of drinks. Leslie drinks, Leslie passes out.

117

Pharaoh Houtah shows up and starts throwing people around. It’s a good thing the mummy got there by complete coincidence at that very moment, since the writers hadn’t devised any way at all for Farouk to control its behavior and plan something like this.

118

Like 20 seconds after everyone in the restaurant starts screaming, Farouk finally notices Houtah coming toward him, and uses his ring again. So if he’s having to tell it that it’s supposed to chase Laurel and Hardy now, why did it show up here at the restaurant?

119

Those must be some really thick doors for the kitchen staff not to have heard fifty people evacuating the place. Houtah slips on some cooking oil and slides into the freezer.

120121

Laurel and Hardy return to the museum, where there’s absolutely no one working security…

122123

…except for deep inside, in the Houtah exhibit. Somewhere, I assume, M. Furry Abraham is drawing circles on a map and shouting “Of course! Egypt!”

Poobob Kowalski was waiting for Laurel & Hardy to show back up and try to steal the sarcophagus. The dialogue here is supposed to amuse us because Kowalski is too biased against them to hear them saying that they know exactly where the mummy is. He’s taking them in solely on suspicion and not, you know, on actual charges of breaking out of jail.

It’s possible these are the last two police officers in all of Florida, because word of what happened at the restaurant hasn’t gotten to Kowalski yet.

124

A mix of physical comedy and OSHA non-compliance frees The Boys from Kowalski, and they take the suddenly-too-heavy-but-if-I-remember-correctly-actually-lighter-now sarcophagus.

126127

Hardy pushes it off a ledge and it lands on Laurel’s hands.

125

Meanwhile, Houtah bangs on the freezer door.

128

The Boys steal the museum’s pickup truck and determine that the only way to get to do a physical comedy bit where one of them is in the sarcophagus is to pretend that you can’t just lean a sarcophagus in a truck’s bed, or use bungee cords to tie it down. (Seriously, steal any pickup truck in Florida, and I promise you’ll find bungee cords somewhere in or on it.) One of them has to weigh it down, and Hardy gets in.

Meanwhile, Leslie wakes up in the storage space.

129

If I weren’t deliberately pausing every 30 seconds to get screenshots, I never would have seen the Farouk Industries logo on the boxes. Now the whole movie makes sense!

Leslie: My father’ll save me! He’ll realize what’s going on!

In all honesty, most comedy films don’t make me laugh as hard as that one line did.

130

Now it’s noon again, and Laurel has fixed a flat tire. Then they’re at the docks again. This movie must take place along the entirety of Florida’s eastern coast.

132131

Hoo-hoo, Stanley, says Hardy, ho-ho, there’s a spider, let me out of here Stanley. Tell US customs agents to do their jobs, Stanley, hoo hoo.

133134

The spider makes its escape. Leslie makes her escape. I’m stuck with this movie for another twenty minutes.

135

Hardy walks around in the sarcophagus, promising his friend physical pain.

136

I could re-watch this tiny sequence a thousand times and I’d still never be able to figure out how a passing forklift launches the sarcophardy into the air.

While the movie works out its own private trigonometry of moving these pieces around the geography of noncontiguous Florida, let’s talk about Bronson’s performance. That’s the whole reason I came here in the first place, so I might as well, before the movie’s over.

It’s obvious he had some respect for Laurel and Hardy, possibly even a great deal of respect. From–where else–the 1997/1998 interview with Michelle Erica green of www.littlereview.com:

…Pinchot was ecstatic to win the role of legendary comedian Stan Laurel. “The Laurel and Hardy thing is worth having stuck it out in show business all these years,” he says. “If Perfect Strangers was the gulag, this is like walking back into St. Petersburg. It is simply the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Ironically, Perfect Strangers was the genesis of the actor’s involvement with Laurel and Hardy. “You know how, towards the end of every sitcom, they do fantasy episodes – everybody fantasizes that they’re Elvis, because they run out of ideas? We fantasized that we were Laurel and Hardy. The guy who owns the rights to the characters, who’s the original Bozo the Clown, said that if I needed any pointers, he knew Stan and he would happily spend some time with me. So I went over to his house and he was so pleased, because he cared so much about Stan – he actually lent me Stan’s shoes, which fit exactly, I should have known as soon as the ruby slippers were on.”

If you can ignore the possibility that Harmon stole those shoes off of Laurel’s feet seconds after his death, it’s actually the most wholesome story about Bronson and shoes we’ve ever seen.

But with his “deep-set eyes and Al Pacino nose,” Pinchot did not exactly look the part – nor had his recent workouts, which gave him muscular legs and a broader chest, made him any easier to costume as the bandy-legged [sic], “There are a lot of people with little tiny rabbit eyes and turned-up noses who would have photographed a little bit more like him,” the actor admits. “It was a wonderful, terrible shock to get it. But once I was in character, everybody started to say I was a dead ringer, even though of course I’m not. I was trained to do it without realizing I was trained to do it.”

Do you mean you didn’t realize you had studied, trained for and played the part six years earlier, Bronson? “Trained” almost seems like a feint towards humility from Bronson, like he’s still trying to send the message that these things come preternaturally to him.

Even so, this may be the most ego-free performance I’ve seen from Bronson since early Perfect Strangers, where he’s focussed almost entirely on the character and not on taking attention away from anyone else. Given his track record of sitcom characters who mix up their words, it’s not out of the question that the one most jarring aspect of the film’s interpretation of Laurel–his constant malapropisms–was at Bronson’s request. But that doesn’t exactly feel right. Given that Larry Harmon wouldn’t even let Bob Bell (arguably the most famous and influential Bozo performer) wear the clown suit for his (Bell’s) induction into the International Clown Hall of Fame, it’s hard to imagine him putting up with an ego of any size during production.

Laurel’s dialogue I’m willing to ignore as just a strange choice on the part of the writers, or perhaps even one of necessity, if it were the case that he was added to what started life as an Ernest script. Aside from that, Bronson has the mannerisms down–the hair-scratching, the walk, the faces, the crying. Bronson is most like Laurel when he’s crying and mewling, face- and sound-wise. If I can find any major points of contrast with the original Stan Laurel, it’s that Bronson’s interpretation involves doing all of these things almost constantly, and that completely gone is Laurel’s untroubled, quiet smile. Stan Laurel himself was certainly subtler, more nuanced in when and how he’d exaggerate a motion. His act was a reserve that would eventually reveal itself as idiotic bliss, giving way to clumsiness and inadequate verbal expression; unlike Oliver Hardy, who would give away his own boorishness the moment he loudly claimed the opposite. (If I’m off-base here, remember I’ve only watched like three of their films.)

But watch an old Laurel & Hardy film–or any 1930s film–and ask yourself what decisions directors and writers had to make, what wasn’t available to them in terms of camera & film technology or theories of cinematography, what they understood in terms of audience tastes. Any movie in 1999 would need to simply have more going on, visually and aurally and dialogue-wise than any movie in 1939, just to be able to compete for attention. Bronson’s interpretation is a different, very talky one, but it’s not out of line with other trajectories involved here.

Even with Bronson doing his best, his performance doesn’t save the film, or even recommend it. Gailard Sartain is the second-most capable actor from the Ernest regulars*******, and his Oliver Hardy is the most fully-realized interpretation in the whole film. Ultimately, Laurel’s part feels tacked on to a story about a bumbling Floridian would-be hero, and whether that’s because Hardy (being the more verbose) was always the driving force of the stories, or because this was originally an Ernest movie, feels like a toss-up.

It’s disappointing that these two actors were giving their all in a movie that was made so incompetently you can visualize distribution executives scrunching their noses in disgust as they turned Larry Harmon down.

137

So here’s Laurel, crying about how fat and dead Hardy is, until he sees the sarcophagain.

Henry Covington’s grand plan to save Leslie is not to, like, try to retrace the steps of Laurel and Hardy and go to her house, or visit the now-empty police station. He just calls her house and shrugs when she doesn’t pick up.

138139

Leslie rushes in, telling him that Farouk kidnapped her. “Farouk,” he says, “I should have known.” Yeah, no shit.

140

The movie fails to escalate the joke when the Librarian pulls up on her scooter. It also just plain fails to make a joke–she advances on Laurel, Laurel jumps onto the sarcophagus.

141

Back at the Covington home–

142143

At this point in the movie–after his kidnappee escapes–Farouk should be escalating his attempts to secure Leslie. But he could have sent Houtah to kidnap Leslie at literally any point before. But this movie’s so concerned with showing F. Murray Abraham read a book in a dark room that there’s no time left to think how someone would actually use power over the undead to accomplish their goals.

Actually, now that I think about it, a character in an Ernest film doing something that makes sense does count as escalation.

144

We’ve finally gotten to the scene in the movie the DVD cover promised us, but–

mummy111

–the luggage is another indication that some earlier draft was meant to take place in Egypt. For as little as the scenery gives you any indication whatsoever that this is Florida (seriously, half of the external shots take place dockside anyway), I wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t just say that Cape Town was Cairo.

145

Barney the Biker shows up to tow The Boys the 10 yards back to shore.

146147148149

Meanwhile, Farouk pops a boner over whatever it is he thinks he’s getting out of this whole deal with Houtah, or the demon, or whatever it is on this page of the script.

Laurel and Hardy start fighting because… well, you’d expect that a final-reel fight between buddies in a buddy movie would be because, oh, idunno, one of them was acting in his own self-interest trying to win the heart of a woman, threatening the duo’s relationship. But really it’s just because it’s been a few minutes since the last time they squabbled.

John Cherry understands enough about filmmaking and story structure to know that you can heighten a movie’s stakes by letting the audience know that time is short for saving the day; and he knows you can achieve this by cutting back and forth between the impending doom, and the hero’s struggle to get there. This section of the movie spends maybe 20 seconds on each set of characters before switching back to the other. But there’s no true sense of urgency. All of the scenes with Laurel and Hardy are just Hardy saying “we need to get there to save Leslie!”; and all the scenes with Farouk and Leslie are preparations for who fucking knows what.

A suspense story has to let you in on exactly what’s going to happen if the hero doesn’t use their knowledge or skills in time. But can you tell me what’s going to happen? Will Farouk be made vizier to Pharaoh Houtah? Will the mummy be restored to life? Will he smell as much like a fart as he did before?

Is there even any hope left for containing the mummy in the sarcophagus?

150

“The F is for Fantastic” Murray Abraham finds Lieutenant Grand Poobob Kowalski in the exhibit hall. Who can possibly care about either of these characters at this point?

151152153

Laurel and Hardy charge the mummy with a lance, skewering it. Houtah tells them a possible path to take to reach the Silver Monkey, and to beware of the Temple Guards who protect three specific rooms.

154155

Wait, Farouk is going to marry Leslie and be possessed by the demon? So remind me why we needed a mummy? Was it just part of some supernatural contingency plan, only there to fight off people who might stop the demon?

156157

Multiple takes of the same hallway-doors sequence are left in. Hardy knocks Houtah down with a statue.

184185

We see the mummy getting up, and then Farouk points his ring and demands the mummy get up. If you were only getting paid in Ernest Rides Again  posters, would you have put forth any more effort than this editor did?

158159

Somehow this getup makes Farouk look even more like a middle-school principal. He excitedly asks the demon to do his thing while Laurel and Hardy scramble up a ladder to escape Houtah.

160161162

Houtah falls into the *ahem* OPEN *ahem* sarcophagus and is rendered immobile. I’ve never seen a movie set up so many rules for how things work and ignore every single one. It’s tedious to have to bring it up this many times. But you know what really pisses me off?

We saw Laurel chewing Bubble Tape at the beginning of the movie and it never once comes into play here. The writers had no clue they had hit on the perfect mummy-bandage surrogate.

163

Farouk begs a cobra to kill Leslie (that was the fucking plan???), and she wakes up and pushes him into the cobra’s strike range. Farouk dies. What the fuck is any of this.

164165166

Henry and Lt. G. Pb. Kowalski show up, and then a giant CG snake flies out of Houtah’s body. This movie is fully committed at every step along the way to making sure you know that everything that came before was pointless.

167

Laurel works out a Rube Goldbergian way of shutting the sarcophagus, and throws his hat at an oversized candle. It doesn’t work–but then Houtah shaking the building makes the candle fall over. It’s obvious it would have happened without the hat.

168169170

A winch pulley knocks the sarcophagus’s lid shut, and you see that the demon can, um, no longer get out of the box with giant holes in it. Which the demon-powered mummy got out of all on his own when its seal wasn’t compromised.

171

I can’t believe I’ve managed to go this long without saying I hate this movie. I hate it. It could have been simply a lackluster entry in the early-90s reboot canon alongside Little Rascals, Brian Donors, Dennis the Menace, The Brady Bunch Movie, Casper, The Addams Family, and The Beverly Hillbillies. But the consummate ineptness of storytelling (encompassing rising/falling action, editing, internal logic, geography, timeline, cause/effect, and motivation) makes this movie feel like a double punch of finding a toddler drawing on your walls, and then realizing they’re using their own shit instead of crayons.

Bronson was brought on board this movie in late 1997, and the movie was filmed in April 1998, both prior to Larry Harmon losing whatever social cachet he had left when his Bozo claims were contested. Harmon’s choices of director, actors, and cheap filming locations were ones of desperation even before everyone realized what a jerk he was. I love Ernest Goes to Jail, but even I’ll admit you’re in trouble when its director is the only person that will return your calls. Sartain likely came on board as a result of Cherry directing (or vice versa), and it certainly doesn’t sound like Bronson went through any sort of audition process.******** In retrospect, the statement in the USA Today article that Jim Carrey and Chris Farley were approached sounds like nothing more than Harmon’s boasts.

Maybe Harmon waited a few years too long to make a new Laurel & Hardy picture, or maybe karma was finally catching up with a man who had spent 50 years wringing money out of funnier people’s work.

172

Leslie makes a promise to have dinner with Hardy after she returns the artifacts to Egypt. I don’t know why Farouk’s company doesn’t come pick them up. I also don’t know why I’m wasting my time asking more questions about this movie.

173

Then they walk outside, and Leslie makes a promise to have dinner with Hardy after she returns the artifacts to Egypt. You read that right.

174175

The Librarian drives a forklift into Laurel and Hardy, killing them. I’ve never been so proud of my profession.

Next week: we finish this series with Bronson’s roles from 1998 through 2019 (though there’s an even chance the post will run late)

______________________________________________________

*‘New Adventures’ rests on classic comedy laurels. (1998, April 24). USA Today.

**If I didn’t lose you with the Zelda criticism, the fact that an admitted live-action Super Mario Bros. fan doesn’t like this movie should say something.

***Bronson, from the same 1997/1998 interviews with Michelle Erica Green we discussed last week: “Literally within fourteen days after Meego was cancelled, I had the greatest part known to man.”

****Shriner headquarters

*****Though I would expect it from, say, Charles Band or Lloyd Kaufman, even they’d be telling you a different joke than Cherry is. I think what I’m trying to get at here is that Lynch would make the laughter uncomfortable; Solondz would make the laughter meaningless; for Charles Band and Lloyd Kaufman, the mummy would be the joke, and they’d have the mummy stomp through a strip club tearing off tops (Lloyd Kaufman would have added a giant bandaged dick).

******See also the Firesign Theatre’s spoken-word album I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus. It’s absolutely nothing to do with any of this, but maybe you’d like some actual comedy after reading about this failure.

*******Including Daniel Butler, Bill Byrge, Mac Bennett, Bruce Arntson, and the criminally-underused Jackie Welch. The best place to see all of these people in one spot is the Saturday morning Hey Vern! It’s Ernest program.

********There are a few sources online claiming that Jim Varney was slated to play Laurel, but each appears to have copied its text almost verbatim from each other. I can’t find an ur-source for the claim, and my messages to John Cherry III and Jeffrey Pillars have as of this writing not been answered. I have serious trouble believing this, though, given that Bronson appears to have been contacted in November 1997 about the role, and Varney said that his first indication of having cancer was a nosebleed while filming Treehouse Hostage in August 1998.

176

Meego

How I Spent the Rest of My Career, part 2

promo2

In 1997, CBS landed something of a coup. Not only did the network manage to steal TGIF mainstay Family Matters, it also snagged Step by Step and Bronson Pinchot from ABC.

I mean, if digging through ABC’s trash doesn’t count as a coup, does the word mean anything at all? If you ever wanted an example of Wikipedia’s bias through what makes it into articles, here’s one: it cites an LA Times article from 2000 for its claim that these moves to CBS caused an “audience fracture”, harming both itself and the TGIF programming block.

blockparty

Honey, no. If a network’s whole night failed because they lost half their audience, they fucking did it to themselves by not giving their viewers anything better. All four of the shows that CBS offered for the first year of their Friday night “Block Party” programming didn’t make it past the 1997/1998 season. Meego didn’t make it two months. CBS didn’t steal ABC’s audience, it just caught their attention long enough to make them realize they either needed to buy a cable box or risk having to actually take their family out bowling.

If you’re one of the 7.52 billion people who has never heard of Meego, let me fill you in. Bronson plays Meego, an alien stranded on Earth, who winds up as the nanny for three kids (Michelle Trachtenberg, Jonathan Lipnicki, Will Estes) whose father (Ed Begley, Jr.) is perpetually on call as a heart surgeon. Meego has to hide being an alien… from a father who’s literally never there to see any evidence that the hairless Caucasian biped who wears clothes isn’t a human. The concept has defeated itself before the show even gets started.

promo1

Luring Family Matters away from ABC I can understand, but this…. CBS needs some way to beat out Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World, and cable channels, so they bring back the guy who couldn’t be responsible with the first show they gave him?

When Amy Heckerling cast Bronson as a cameo in the first episode of Clueless, ABC had the good sense to ask for proof that he wasn’t homeless. Either CBS administration had undergone a 60% turnover in 3 years, or you and I and Philip are the only people who even know The Trouble with Larry aired at all.

blockparty4

Meego was created by Bronson Pinchot and Ross Brown (I’ll be posting an interview with the latter soon to back up my claims here) as a vehicle for Bronson to show off his “talents”. Brown had worked with Bronson Pinchot on season 6 of Step by Step, and was familiar with his work on Perfect Strangers. There were discussions on what the best framing story for Bronson to play different “characters” would be, and I’ve no doubt that Forever Young (the proposed Rip van Winkle-type sitcom mentioned in last week’s post) morphed into this show. Everything else about Meego, in other words having a family there at all, was secondary to Bronson playing the misunderstander once more. Adding a family after the concept can work–cf. Full House–but only if those additions come into their own.

Meego filmed 13 episodes, which back then was fairly standard for new shows; if sitcoms end up doing well in those first weeks, a network may order a “back nine” to bring it to a full season. Meego’s run was all in the can before airing in September of 1997, and we know this because the show got cancelled after six episodes. The remaining seven were aired in Europe (Wikipedia mentions the UK; the other countries are too embarrassed to admit it). When Meego disappeared from US television, CBS didn’t even replace it with another sitcom. In fact, they appear to have given up on the Friday 8-9 slot entirely until January 1998.

meegopromo

Perhaps they didn’t have a backup show in line, banking entirely on the appeal of Bronson Pinchot and Jonathan Lipnicki.

maggie

The only time I had ever heard of Meego before starting this blog was as a footnote on “sitcom aliens” listicles. But certainly I’ll like it! After all, it’s made from 100% recycled parts of classic comedies like ALF, Perfect Strangers, My Favorite Martian, The Nanny, Mork and Mindy, and Mrs. Doubtfire. It can’t miss!

trip

Meego is definitely deserving of analysis, but good grief we’ve still got 20 years of Bronson to go after this. My Perfect Strangers episode reviews have swelled to massive sizes lately, so I’ll do my best to keep these brief. My deepest condolences to anyone who feels they’re not getting enough screenshots of Bronson telling sex jokes and making the same face Bill Cosby did in every Jell-O commercial.

commercial

_________________________________

“Pilot” (19 September 1997)

001

If you’re wondering who in the world at CBS would give Bronson another chance after letting him ruin The Trouble with Larry, it’s obviously someone so out of the loop that they were also impressed by the five seconds a graphic designer spent using a distort tool on the logo.

002

Meego thankfully doesn’t start with Bronson, which is welcome. Dr. Edward Parker and his children, Trip, Maggie, and Alex, are interviewing Ms. Scrotenborer (IMDB lists her as Scrotenbuster), played by Marianne Muellerleile. What a fucking trooper, this woman, to keep taking roles where the other characters visibly hold back their vomit when they look at her.

003004005

Anyway, she’s German, so she thinks kids need discipline, and Dr. Parker agrees. The children, dressed like their favorite characters from the Sears catalog, sit patiently and quietly while their father makes important decisions. I wish the joke were that the dad doesn’t realize they don’t need any discipline, or that the children aren’t actively engaged in a decision that impacts them. But since Meego only understands that it needs children to react to Bronson, we’ve wasted valuable time that could have been spent on establishing their personalities.

006

An awkward scene transition has Trip and Alex wandering into the backyard, and here’s our first indication as to any personality. Alex (Jonathan Lipnicki) slurs out that he doesn’t want a nanny with a mustache. We’re about two minutes away from this kid getting rewarded for being an asshole by getting an alien nanny, when what he really needs is to be smacked. I’m sure Bronson figured he was the big draw for the show, but it has to have been Jonathan Lipnicki of Jerry Maguire fame (another steal from ABC). If Meego is laying the groundwork for this kid bonding with Bronson’s character, I guess they really couldn’t have picked a better way to do it than having him say how useless older, heavier single women were to society.

Trip–obviously old enough to handle the responsibility of cooking Hot Pockets for his siblings–uses a telescope to look at the neighbors’ nipples. He’s got the thing pointed high enough they must live next door to a high-rise. Alex shouts and points at a flaming UFO, but Trip is already navigating his y-fronts, so Alex and Barkley (a dog) go off in search of the charred alien corpse.

007008009

Are these people living next door to a skyscraper or is it woods for miles in any direction?

010011

Meego emerges, wearing a hoodie and a motorcycle helmet. One of my long-standing beefs with any sort of sci-fi is why in the hell everyone can speak English. Props to Meego for giving the alien the dialogue acknowledging it (“You speak English?” he asks). It’s a joke, but it isn’t telling us why it’s supposed to be funny. Was he headed for a different continent? Is he from a planet called Englabia?

Meego introduces himself and says he’s from the planet Marmazon 4.0. He delivers only the name of the planet in a robot voice. Bronson has made some faulty intuitive leap from aliens to futuristic to computers to software. Other than that, he speaks stiltedly in what’s almost an accent. It’s the same way you’d expect an android to talk if it had only moments before had the entirety of written English downloaded to its brain and maybe a few basic phoneme/morpheme rules. But Meego isn’t a robot and just implied this was his native language.

012

While the credits run, let me ask you: does anything at all recommend this show to you? It hasn’t established a sense of humor yet, and the only feature it feels like it needs to promote is that Bronson and Lipnicki will be on screen together, and that each thinks the other is “cool”. So glad I’m past the age where I automatically believed it if someone told me something was cool OH WAIT no one was ever that age.

013014015

Just so you’re not confused later, Erik Von Detten is only in the pilot. Just think how much money Tim Heidecker spends on a look that this kid achieves naturally.

016017

what the jesus shit have I gotten myself into

018

Meego and Alex return to the backyard, where Trip is seeing his very first midriff. This open window can’t be more than 10 yards away from this well-lit backyard, right? Will Meego teach Trip an important lesson about reducing glare on the focus lens, or about masturbating in your own room with the lights off?

This is now the opportunity to establish who Meego is. After delivering his backstory–he was vacationing and hit a meteor shower on the way back to Marmazon to 4.0–he wanders around the yard thinking every single inanimate object is alive.

019

Look, I don’t have the time or interest to find out how much control Bronson had over this show. There are 12 more of these episodes I have to get through. But whoever wrote this scene has no idea how to present a unified character. Balki’s original factory settings were to misunderstand any and everything; if he knew something, you were surprised, but not because it broke the character or was impossible. The surprise was that some piece of American pop culture made it all the way to sheepherders.

Meego tells us that he’s 9,250 years old, comes from Earth’s sister planet, that his people are intellectually advanced, and that he can shapeshift.

He demonstrates this by shapeshifting into various things humans would recognize.

020021022

But he can’t read sarcasm, he can’t distinguish stone or metal from flesh, he mistakes doghouses for people houses, and he chooses to walk around looking like Bronson Pinchot. Intellectually advanced my ass. Is the joke that alien knowledge of any other culture is incomplete? Is the joke that he’s boasting knowledge he doesn’t really have? Is he the stupidest person from his planet?

Whoever decided this was the way to introduce a character probably vamps on the first chorus of every song they sing at karaoke, because the joke is simply: “I’m X!”/He’s not X. It’s an attempt to create another Balki that doesn’t realize some things don’t scale, or that you shouldn’t start in on incongruity of character until a few episodes in.

Anyway I shouldn’t do more than 1,500 words per episode for my own sanity so let’s see what else this episode establishes.

Meego says he needs food, as he’s down to just one serving of “Antarean camel jerky”. Good to see that third Balki joke didn’t get lost in the move to another show. Trip tells him he’ll have to wait until morning, when their dad leaves for work. What kind of asshole can’t bring some Fig Newtons into the backyard? You’re hungry? That’s nice, how about you wait for 12 hours, this girl is about to take her top off. Good to see that the rich white family of shitwads was still going strong in 1997.

023024

The next morning, we come dangerously close to finding out what kind of personality Maggie has when Meego runs in the backdoor and begins eating their flowers without asking. Trip tries to convince Ed that Meego was sent by the nanny agency, and Ed ignores his daughter’s demand that they interview this guy who still reeks of engine fuel. Fine, rape and murder my children, he says, I’m due in the operating room.

025026

Evidently these kids have run off a dozen nannies. How? By dutifully being dressed and washed in time for breakfast every morning? By cleaning up after themselves? By watching PBS?

Meego says that he can only be their nanny for a couple of days because he has to leave for his aunt’s birthday party. Even if Ed believes his son’s story, shouldn’t it piss him off that an agency would send him someone who was completely useless? Ed leaves, desperate to deposit his paycheck before the show gets cancelled.

Soon, Alex gives Meego a pancake and says “Tyississyrup”–

027

I’m so glad Bronson finally got over his censure of child acting so he could finally find an audience that appreciated his unique brand of humor.

028

So all that’s just establishing the scenario: Meego is their nanny, and they have to hide this from dad and Maggie. We’ve got plenty of time left for some sort of conflict. Will Meego do a terrible job cleaning the *ahem* already immaculate *ahem* house? Will one of the kids get into serious trouble?

029

Alex: Girgunskooffme.

030031032

Meego dances to “She Works Hard for the Money” while rubber gloves and cleaning appliances fly around. Take that, Fantasia 2000!

033

Maggie comes in and announces that Alex got in trouble at school. Evidently he’s attached to Barkley because the neighbor’s dog got run over by a beer truck. I wouldn’t mention the beer truck part except for the fact that it’s the only “joke” in the whole episode not delivered by Bronson. Great, so let’s talk to Alex, and–

034035

Oh, okay, no, you’re right, this out-of-nowhere plot about Trip not making captain of the basketball team is much more interesting. Meego takes them back into the past to watch the basketball practice, and determines that Trip wasn’t being a good team player.

036037

Meego’s solution is to teach Trip a lesson by suspending him in midair in the backyard, at eye level with the neighbor girl’s window. I don’t expect greatness from any late-90s family sitcom, but this is a mess. This isn’t even an issue of the script needing another draft or two, because these writers don’t have the faintest notion of a family dynamic. Everyone’s issues happen completely separately from each other.

The lesson is supposed to be about Trip paying attention to what’s going on with other people, and this show has no idea how many opportunities there are for him to learn this. Alex wandered off to make friends with a space hobo because Trip was ogling the vague outline of a training bra; and now Alex is worried his dog will die, and his sister is insulting him for it, while Trip is hung up on not being recognized for his skill at basketball.

This family is at direct risk of an intergenerational pattern of being absent from each others’ lives. I’m grew up an only child, so I can’t speak to what roles oldest children should have to play for their siblings. Children shouldn’t be forced to act as parents to anybody before they’re ready, but Trip is 15 and can certainly be there for his kid brother. If these kids need anything in the face of having no parents, it’s being taught how to be compassionate to themselves and each other.

If Meego were as smart as this episode wants me to believe, and really wanted to leave for home soon, he’d play these two stories against each other. And if this show had anything to do with its own concept–hiding the alien from dad–his solutions would go haywire just enough to show that he had something to learn from Earthlings after all. But, as we’ll see in every episode, Meego fixes every problem either with his space wisdom, his space technology, his space magic, or his space ability to shapeshift into other characters Bronson can play.

038039

Aww, isn’t it cute no one told Jonathan Lipnicki how to pet a dog or how to distinguish between looking sad and looking tired? Meego says that no one his planet cries, except for the one time he cried when a friend left town. He tells Alex to ask whether the dog likes suffocating in his backpack. Meego says he’ll talk to the dog and shapeshifts into…

040

…himself. Fuck it, okay, yeah. Then when he’s big again, he keeps talking to the dog in barks and growls. So… why did he…? Whatever, fuck, okay. The dog says it wants privacy. It’s maybe the only part of the episode that comes close to working because it feels like the kind of thing a very quick-on-their feet childcare professional would come up with, and also because someone decided to make it look like Bronson is improvising when Barkley keeps licking his ear.

041

Again, though, is this interesting to any of y’all? Spending every three minutes introducing and resolving a problem with no character conflict at all? Is sitting through 20 minutes of Meego saying fake names and standing still while CGI happens worth it for the two minutes of Jonathan Lipnicki playing with a dog?

042

Oh, the Trip storyline got resolved? Okay. Maggie sums up everything in the episode that she wasn’t there for and Alex spills the beans.

Alex: He’s nommagishn heesspaceman fmmarmrzonnn frrhpointoh!

043

Erik Van Detten thanks Bronson for letting him ride his coattails, even if it was just for the pilot episode. Meego says goodbye to Alex, but then is so moved by the Earthlings’ open shows of emotion that he decides to grift this rich family for at least a few months. If the mention earlier of Marmazonians (Marmazon 4.0nians?) not crying was meant to make me feel for Meego, they should have left out the sob story of him losing a childhood friend. I’m supposed to think this is Meego learning from Earthlings, but all I see is an adult using a kid’s innocent love to take care of himself emotionally because his own parents didn’t.

044

I guess he fits right in after all. Isn’t it magical?

045

In the final scene, Ed comes home and Meego says he’ll stay. Couldn’t he at least try to look like a normal person and pretend to go to Canada for a few days for his aunt’s birthday, instead of looking like an asshole? There’s a joke where Ed bonds with Meego over refusing to speak to one’s relatives for “centuries”. It’s not a bad joke, purpose-wise: it establishes that whatever Meego lets slip about being an alien is interpreted as hyperbole. But did every single 80s/90s network family sitcom not realize the irony of making parent characters complete jerks?

Seinfeld had broken ground almost a decade before this by making it very obvious that its leads are supposed to be the worst people on earth, and family sitcoms still hadn’t realized the joke was long dead and buried.

046

Remember how they’re trying to keep Meego being an alien from Maggie? Meego and Alex fly up to her window, which was Trip’s window ten minutes ago.

047

“Love and Money” (26 September 1997)

048

The episode opens with Meego cleaning and he makes a rag pick his nose. I was going to ask whether the studio audience wouldn’t have seen the person wearing the bright green suit, but then I remembered laughtracks don’t have eyes. It’s not even a good quality laughtrack: I can hear the same person layered a few times in places. By the way, can we get a round of applause for Bronson’s wig? It’s really giving its all.

Sitcoms are fragile early on, and have to establish their situation pretty quickly and clearly right away, every week. So how does this scene establish Meego is an alien and a nanny, and not some guy who wandered into a house? With magic, and then again with magic, and then he talks to a kid.

049050

Man fuck this already. Alex mumbles and hands Meego something which turns out to be bubble gum. Meego makes a joke about dentist incomes, and seriously, how much about Earth is he supposed to know? Where does he sleep? I get that, on ALF, Willie Tanner had almost no choice but to let an alien live with his family and chance it walking in on his children when they were nude. But the implication here is that Ed Parker didn’t think twice about giving what appears to be an itinerant auto mechanic full access.

051052

Whoever came up with the idea of using CGI to keep Bronson from lounging over all the furniture deserved a fucking Emmy. He dances “like Elvis”.

053

There’s a different kid playing Trip now, and honestly I didn’t even notice the first time I watched these.

055054

He was dancing like Elvis, and now he’s pretending to be Jacques Cousteau. You know Jacques, the guy who was famous for cooking? If Bronson didn’t want to be Balki forever because Balki was too sweet, fine, whatever. If he had a low bar for what made two characters different from one another, it’s not my place to tell him otherwise. But if you’re going to be an alien who has to prepare a meal, joke that you can’t get a decent [insert alien word] on this planet, use the tools wrong, have the dish be glowing blue. Don’t just do the same Balki schtick of decades-old jokes about celebrities who were already dead by then. I almost want to say that Bronson sells himself short by thinking that this is the only thing he can do. He can’t possibly think that Trouble with Larry failed simply because people weren’t ready for his brand of prop comedy and insult humor, can he?

057

Meego starts doing a Julia Child voice while he dumps the yolks into the garbage and beats the shells.

*throws a stand mixer through the screen*

That is not what I meant! I only know it was a Julia Child voice because Dad Begley, Jr. tells me. You know the sound crows make? How it sounds like you’re actually hearing the gravel that they swallow to help them digest food? Bronson’s Julia Child impression is that sound if it were going through puberty.

I was so ready to praise how well Bronson had reined himself in in the pilot episode. But the second episode is already mostly ditching the premise of an alien solving a rudderless family’s problems, so why should he bother?

058

Ed Daddy, Jr. hands Meego a check for his first two weeks of work. Really? The first two weeks of children living with an alien were so entirely uneventful they weren’t worth showing? Wasn’t half this premise about hiding the truth from dad? How does the nanny agency get paid? What if dad were to praise Meego to the nanny agency?

Meego–the 9,250-year-old alien–does not understand what money is, having agreed to take on the job with only the promise of hugs from little boys as payment. I’d be more willing to believe that Balki had never encountered anything but a barter system before he came to the US. But a middle-aged alien who has his own spaceship? Who has watched enough 1997 television to know who Elvis is? Get the fuck out of here with that shit.

The first thing Meego says he wants to buy is love and happiness, but just last week he told Alex that his parents never let him experience any emotions. Do they have these concepts on Marmazon 4.0? Seriously, please collect the shit and leave the premises with it in tow.

Meego is the result of someone wanting to give Bronson a show, going down the list of scenarios where a main character could misunderstand everything, settling on alien. Bronson thanks them by forgetting that scenario entirely. Just having Meego in a T-shirt with I’M AN ALIEN on the front would convey the concept better than any single joke in these two episodes.

059

Bronson does one of those Trouble with Larry-style monologues where each sentence is its own punchline with very little relation to the previous one and Trip says he has to go not be in this scene anymore. I like this kid.

060

There’s three kids on this show and Bronson thinks it’s funnier to just talk to the dog.

061

I love how sitcom characters always try to study in the most trafficked part of a house. Meego chides Maggie for being rude to him about how important her math test is. I wonder what it was like for Michelle Trachtenberg to go from The Adventures of Pete and Pete, one of the most accurate takes on the complexities of the emotional landscape of children, to a show where the script tells her she has to have an orgasm the moment she sees a kid who looks like this.

062063

Is this boy (Kyle) supposed to be cute? He looks like a girl on her way to a Peter Pan audition. A second ago Meego was scolding her for taking out her stress on him, but now her stress is gone because she’s discovered there’s more to life than school. What a dilemma! This looks like a job for–

064

Yeah, talking to the dog again, exactly what I was going to say. 50 scenes of this and they couldn’t trade out one for a line of dialogue about Meego’s planet not having money.

065066

Now Meego and Trip are at the bank. So is Trip laying out of school or are the other two kids at home unsupervised? Meego makes fun of a black lady’s hair.

067

I’m afraid we may have reached the high point for Meego. This bank teller can speak clearly and has a personality well enough defined that we know how she’s reacting to a situation: she’s cranky because her employer is forcing a slogan-branded customer service campaign (“I’m your friend!”) onto interactions she’d been doing just fine for years, thank you. Adilah Barnes is the first character on this show to be able to convey a single emotion, and I doubt we’ll get anything this good again.

Here’s Meego’s last name: Zpl-yap-yap-δε-[circle with four lines through it]-[a triangle the size of a human head]. Sometimes I, too, forget what joke I’m making when it takes five minutes to get to the punchline. Adilah asks what kinds of assets Meego has, and–

068

Dear reader, I love you, I truly do; but if you have ever in your life giggled at the word “assets” all on its own, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

Later, Maggie is still swooning over–

069

Oh, no, wait. She’s studying harder than she was in the previous scene. Or is she hoping some more androgynous kids will run through the house?

070

Alex: Thicekeymanisdondustee, cniffffycents?

071

Meego hands Alex a check to give to the producers so they can buy an ice cream truck sound effect. Trip turns on the television and Maggie turns it off and they fight, and then Trip’s friends show up.

072073

The David Froud fairy asks if Maggie wants to watch them play hockey so she leaves to watch them play hockey. Well, that was a nice moment spent on the premise of the show, back to Meego spouting outdated pop culture references Alex knows he’s supposed to laugh at.

074

Now we’re back to chewing bubblegum. Were the writers that stumped for story beats that they had to fill up a whole minute with the sound of Meego chewing?

075

The same audience that clapped for Colonel Hogan claps when Jonathan Lipnicki blows a bubble.

076

Let’s talk about Maggie, here in the 30 seconds they let her stay on screen in this scene. She’s not the Sports One, and she’s not the Little One, which gives her double-duty as the Smart One and the Girl One. We’ve gotten two tiny windows into her personality: she told her dad last week that they don’t need a nanny, and she studies. She’s catastrophizing the B she got on her test. How would an alien who apparently was raised in an empty room think about this?

He might ask himself: does this test have special significance? What are the educational standards on this planet? How, and at what point, are a child’s vocational opportunities determined? Does math have special meaning to Maggie? Is being perfect an ambition of hers? Does her social status rest on a test’s outcome? Does she catastrophize everything? Does everyone catastrophize math test scores?

077

Oh well, here’s Meego watching a giant TV. He’s watching a talk show where a woman claims that aliens had sex with her and Meego says she’s too ugly to fuck. He also bought a mountain bike and a home gym and a car and a horse and now the repossessors are here.

078

The repossessor is overweight, so Meego makes a joke about this. (By the way, it’s Travis McKenna, whom we last saw in “Disorderly Orderlies”; I mention this solely in hopes of getting that rando commenter to come back and talk about McKenna farting.)

It’s not bad enough Bronson’s reproducing Balki, now the writers are lifting whole scenes from The Trouble with Larry.

Anyway who cares it’s Urkel.

079

It’s Urkel, everybody.

080

There’s Urkel, it’s him.

081

Two seconds after finding out that Maggie doesn’t want to talk to Kyle, Meego decides it’s a problem and starts telling her that if she doesn’t get some dick soon, all the good guys will be taken. It’s the kind of moment where we really should be questioning what the hell Meego knows about it. Meego is trying to split the two aspects of Balki’s personality across an A and a B story: he doesn’t know the weird details of how Earth works, but he knows how to have relationships.

And if the first episode had made any efforts to establish either of those aspects of his character, I could cut this one a little slack for assuming we knew it. But this constant Roger-Rabbiting* of Meego gives the overall impression that he’s either obfuscating or has only 4.0 brain cells.

But if Meego is supposed to be filling a Balki-type role, shouldn’t he be learning something, too? Maggie is saying that she wants to wait until she’s graduated and has a good stable job before she *ahem* spends her time on having fun with boys; Meego spent more than he had on having fun and–

082083

OH WHAT THE FUCK

084

NO

085

Haha look y’all it’s the Three Of Meegos.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it ruins the “lesson” Meego is trying to give. If the lesson is that you can have different aspects of your own personality in harmony with each other, why are Meego’s fighting?

086087088

The alien’s 1980s US surfer persona asks if he can bum four bucks and didn’t I just watch a scene five years ago where this alien doesn’t know what money is?

089090091092093

I hope Jonathan Lipnicki’s parents sued CBS.

“The Truth About Cars and Dogs” (October 3, 1997)

095

Meego reads Alex a story about knights and dragons without having to once ask what either one is.

096097

Oh fuck me. It’s not enough he magics a knight’s armor onto him, he has to do a gameshow host voice on top of it

098

If, through gross child neglect, there was a kid who actually watched Meego for three weeks straight, they would understand instantly that Maggie now knows Meego is an alien. And, after three minutes of Jonathan Lipsticki shouting at empty air, the show finally acknowledges that this is the plot of the episode.

099100

Maggie runs off to call dad and trips over the stairs because the show can’t afford reshoots, having spent all its money on animation that makes The Langoliers look realistic. Meego says that maybe they should have read Cat in the Hat instead, and… really? Of all the children’s books in the world you could have picked for that punchline, you say that the safer choice would have been a story about a maniacal cat who makes a total mess of a house? Is this confused meta-commentary?

I’d really like to know if Bronson even remembered any details of this premise from moment to moment. We’re told that Ed “Big Daddy” Parker is gone for days at a time, so Meego lives there. Meego cleans and cooks. At this point, God only knows how long after his arrival, he knows every square inch of the house. So why in the honking fuck does Meego act surprised that there is a ceramic duck on the table?

101

Why does he think it’s alive?

Alex: Meego, dimagguhtooda thayrralienet?

So… Maggie didn’t call her dad? We’re just told she fell asleep before he got home. Meego wonders why it’s such a big deal that he’s an alien, and Trip explains that the government murders every single person who claims to be an alien. I was going to say that it’s more likely that Ed would believe Meego just has some mental problems, but then he is fine letting a man dressed like Michael Myers watch his kids.

102

Maggie tells Ed that Meego is an alien, and Ed says she’s just adjusting to the new nanny. You know, the one who’s been there for a month now. (N.b. episodes 2 and 3 were aired out of order. No one at CBS was willing to watch this show either.) Maggie says she’ll prove Meego is an alien.

103

That’s really the least of her concerns.

Later, Maggie tries to kill Meego.

104105

It doesn’t work. She takes a hair sample to send to NASA.

*does a quick Google search*

Yeah, you know, Weekly World News still existed in 1997. Who picks the slowest possible way to blow an alien’s cover? Anyway, back to the real plot of the episode: Meego talking to this duck.

106107

Alex: Meego! Muwoochuchoossavva pinewood derby!

After all that fucking around with plots that went nowhere, this is the story?

Alex asks Meego to help him, but then Mr. Ed runs in and he somehow found out about the derby separately from his sons.

It’s obvious that Alex prefers Meego to his dad, but hey, how about this duck, y’all. Isn’t this funny?

108

By the way, I feel like I should point out the shiny patch that’s on the left arm of anything Meego wears. No one ever brings it up, so we have no idea if it means anything, but visually it signifies some kind of rank.

insignia

Someone realized that nothing about the character’s appearance indicated that he was an alien and thought sewing a doctor’s head mirror onto a shirt worked. But I lived through late 90s fashions, so the thing barely looks out of place on a windbreaker. Maybe it was there so wardrobe would know which things to burn after the show ended?

109

Here’s Connie, the next-door neighbor who we will never, ever see again. She runs a dating service and Ed hates her because she’s constantly trying to get him to fuck her ugly friends. Connie is played by Andrea Martin. You’re more likely to recognize her voice than her face, I think: she was Queen Slug-for-a-butt on Earthworm Jim.

I know I’m down on Bronson’s acting abilities a lot, but there are moments where his physical acting conveys a lot of information. For instance, I can tell that Connie is meant to be unattractive because Meego isn’t humping her leg.

110

She interviews Meego about his dating preferences, and because she uses the phrase “there goes” a single time, Meego looks around like she meant something was somewhere, going. So how does the entire English language develop independently on another planet and have no idiom or metaphor?

Connie says they’ll go on a practice date that Friday and we never see her again. Remember, this show is being filmed in front of a live studio security guard, so it’s not as though some audience didn’t like Connie. If CBS did show Meego to focus groups, the fact that it actually aired the show is proof enough they didn’t get any intelligent feedback. Any audience that’s willing to watch three Bronsons stand around and talk to each other isn’t going to ditch this show because a story or an actor isn’t up to their standards. All these years of Bronson trying to find another actor to keep pace with him, and he finds it. Ed Begley, Jr. plays Ed Parker as eternally distracted, and he deadpans his joking acceptance of anything weird Meego says. Connie busts out laughing at everything Meego says and even enjoys the jokey pushing that Balki Meego does.

111

So far, the entirety of Meego’s backstory is that he is from another planet, and that one time he wasn’t on his planet, which resulted in him crashing on Earth. We only know what he didn’t have on his planet, like love or money. There have been a few jokes about Meego having dated other alien species, so why introduce a plotline that would show what he knows about something, just to throw it away?

If someone told Andrea Martin to hit the bricks, it was Bronson. It’s either that or she just didn’t show up for her second scene; I’m sure they both realized she was the more capable and funny of the two of them. Connie either thinks Meego is funny, or she’s trying desperately to be likeable. Either way, she’s an actual positive character who could add something to the show.

Well, now that I’ve put it that way, it makes sense. Who the fuck would want a character like that? Who cares about an alien’s experience when we’ve got this 1950s-era pinewood derby story?

112113

I’m delighted by Ed’s nonsensical “X+Y=Z …NOT!” shirt. A character previously having had a love of both Wayne’s World and math is more personality or backstory than any of these characters has gotten so far.

Alex mussitates a request that Meego add rockets to the car, and Meego says this would be cheating. Trip comes in to deliver the exposition that another child is cheating.

114

Alex: Nawanegunwin.

In the next scene, Meego decides to use magic to help Alex win the race, and Maggie gets her proof that Meego is an alien.

115

Nah, I’m just messing with you, Meego talks to the dog. They discuss the date that will never happen. Meego has previously made about five jokes about sex, but as soon as he finds out that people have sex, he calls Connie to cancel the date. Someone decided that a dog yapping was better than a second scene with Andrea Martin. Fuck’s sake Bronson.

Meego comes to Alex’s messy room and cleans it up with magic. What a great way to demonstrate the value of not cheating!

116117118

Maggie catches him doing it and is convinced now that he’s from outer space. Meego apologizes for not being honest to her, and he appeals to Earth values of letting a grown-ass man enjoy the pure love of someone else’s son. Seriously, that’s the only reason: let me stay because I get to have a friend.

Meego has been so thoroughly a carbon copy of every other early 90s family sitcom that I’m honestly shocked there hasn’t been a single effort to hide something from any character, especially since THAT’S THE FUCKING PREMISE YA KNOBS

119

Just a whole world of unsupervised children here in Chicago in 1997.

120

Does this guy just always wear this hat? This guy could just be sitting in a waiting room staring reading People and he’d be more intriguing than anything else in this show.

121122

The cheating dad mocks the Parkers… and then Ed just walks away from his son!

Meego gives another speech about cheating.

123

This man is Urkel.

124

Urkel is here.

125

Do the Urkel dance.

It’s so not fucking Urkel, by the way. CBS realized it needed something other than the 10,000th pinewood derby story to hold people’s attention, and Jaleel White was willing to show up on the condition that he not have to talk to Bronson. For now, my edits to Wikipedia and IMDB are holding, but for how long?

126127

Cheatdad wins. Meego uses his wristwatch to freeze time, and some fucker painted frost on everybody because this was a brand new concept and needed all the help it could get to be clear. Meego shoots a beam into the guy’s head, and when he unfreezes he tells the truth about cheating.

128129130

Cheating dad even admits to stealing toilet paper from work. His son won’t return his high five because now everyone knows they’re poor.

What a great way to teach Alex how to be resilient in the face of other people not getting what they deserve. I finally realize that I turned out to be such a terrible adult because I didn’t have someone like Meego in my life.

132

…why is it still going?

“It’s Good to Be King” (10 October 1997)

133

Meego and the kids have cleaned out the garage. My family never once did this in my entire life, so evidently cleaning out the garage means just throwing all your shit onto the lawn.

134

Meego thinks that Ed fucks the bowling ball and asks if there is a second bowling ball he can fuck. All this setup of a plot we won’t explore just for this one joke? I’d honestly prefer a full episode of Meego asking whether every single item in the house is alive to having this same joke every five minutes.

Ed leaves for some sort of “medical conference”. I assume it’s like a library conference but with top shelf drugs.

135

Was this guy their dad or something? I forget.

136

Later, or earlier, perhaps even concurrently with the previous scene, Trip and Maggie both have history and science tests to study for and try to bolt from the kitchen before Meego can start a comedy routine with the light fixtures. For all I know Alex said he had a test too.

The past few episodes, we’ve seen Trip smoothly hide Meego’s origins from dad, explain to Meego how banks and checks work, and explain to Meego that the US government is more scared than friendly when it comes to aliens. This week, he’s the dumb one because he wants to watch 30 minutes of television before he sits down to study. Trip assumes he won’t flunk because the history teacher is also his basketball coach.

I feel like most sitcoms would play out this scene by having the nanny character quiz the youngster on US history, but since Meego doesn’t know–

137

god dammit

138

Psychology sidebar: aside from whatever relationship he had with Amy Heckerling’s daughter Mollie (b. 1985), I doubt Bronson has much experience talking to kids. Meego’s not mean, exactly. But if this guy were on Full House and talked to a child with this tone of voice, he’d have to eat his words by the end of the episode. You’d think I’d be qualified to psychoanalyze about how Bronson’s father was violent and absent, based on the grand total of six psychology courses I took 15 years ago, but I can only point out what signifies to me. Whenever he’s delivering a moral message to Jonathan Dropkicki, he holds him by the arms; and whenever he talks to Trip or Maggie, he’s just short of being authoritarian. The first year I worked with kids at a summer camp, we were given information on how to be an “un-authority” with kids. I’ve forgotten a lot of it, but it’s essentially that you take the kid’s perspective before trying to influence their behavior. It’s about drawing out of them who they are and aspire to be. Meego’s role is to offer his beautiful space wisdom to the Parker children, and he does that, but it’s always coming after him very sternly telling them about how wrong they are and how little they meet his standards.

139140

Meego, how can you act high and mighty when someone doesn’t want to know more about the world? You haven’t actively sought out information for four weeks running now. If I were Trip, I’d just draw a pair of eyes on the coffee pot and run away while Meego tries to seduce it.

141

There we go, the nanny is physically assaulting the kids, I knew it was just a matter of time.

142143

The next day Meego just walks right into Coach Morgan’s office and–oh no!–he’s lying to someone on the phone! We’ve seen Meego interact with both checks and pastries and he thinks that the bagel Coach Morgan is holding is a check. I don’t think I’m asking for much to say an alien should be able to pick up on context clues.

144

This is the same coach that was ensuring his players understood that values like teamwork were more important than scoring points, but this week Meego needs to lecture at him about motivating kids, so he’s wrong. Nothing is said about whether Meego’s opinions are based on the ideals (or failures) on Marmazon 4.0. He didn’t give a shit about education until this very moment because no one–least of all Bronson–wasted their precious time on deciding who any of these people are. Meego’s just a busybody.

I used to be like Meego when I was a teenager. The moment I decided that something other people do constituted some social ill, I let them know about it. Certainly they would instantly see the error of their ways and thank me. Any other response meant they were beyond hope. It took more years than I wish for me to learn that, as soon as you start accusing others of doing wrong with “you” statements, they throw up instant mental barriers.

145146147

Who thinks trophies weigh 80 pounds? (And, no, this isn’t related to the bowling ball joke.)

Obviously Americans would be better off if we all followed the example of this man who barges into buildings, insults people, and steals their belongings. I guess we just weren’t ready for this radical message of love and peace in 1997.

148

Alex is fishing in a swimming pool in the backyard. Meego offers him a cookie: he takes it and then immediately puts it down and forgets it. This is exactly how I’d respond if Bronson handed me food.

149

I think Alex is telling Meego how to fish?

150

Meego casts over the fence and hooks Mrs. Murphy’s eyeball.

Dr. Parker comes home and they all urgently ask him to help the injured neigh–

151

No? Alright.

Ed plans to spend the next day fishing with Alex.

Alex: Hemagge meannadr goafsshimorrow!

But then Ed gets a phone call from the hospital, because they remembered he’s the only surgeon in the whole city.

How will Meego solve these two problems that are out of anyone’s control?

152

In the previous episode, Meego thought he killed the ceramic duck; so now there’s a ceramic turkey. The only actual bit continuity in the entirety of the season, and it’s for this shit.

154

Meego comes back to Coach Morgan’s office. Why? Absolutely nothing has changed since the last time! In fact, what is the timeline for this episode? When Trip was supposed to be studying, the test was the very next day. The same day, I assume, when Meego came to the school. So that test is already failed and gone. The trophy gag was so great they split this scene into two parts?

153

Meego demands to teach Trip’s class and fuck you, you asshole. How is this not a show about an alien getting shot because he refuses to learn Earth customs? How does this episode not realize the irony of Meego not even trying to learn before you claim expertise?

Meego: You could see that, if properly motivated, kids actually enjoy learning.

155

Meego then shrinks Coach Morgan, ensuring that he will never actually see whatever the hell “proper motivation” is. Wasn’t there a whole plotline about how Alex couldn’t even make it into the school with a concealed dog?

156157158

There are 9 more episodes of this.

While Barkley is currently shaking Coach Morgan around to ensure he’s dead, a bunch of teenagers are confused as to why the janitor’s here in the middle of the day.

159160

Gotta spend five minutes convincing Maggie to not let the government pickle your body parts, but no problem telling a room full of strangers your alien name.

Meego doesn’t even bother to ask these kids’ names before he starts quizzing them.

161

Perry Pubescent: The answer is “fuck you”.

162

Teena Bopper: I’m obviously 25.

Meego steps out of the room briefly and–

163

Just when you think Meego doesn’t care about anything at all, it reminds you just how much it hates you.

164165

King George wanders around the room shouting at the students. I guess they really do need to know about the American Revolution if they’re this willing to comply with the demands of any escaped mental patient they just met. Meego is trying to convey how important the Constitution was by demonstrating how ridiculous and selfish a king’s demands could be. I’m glad to see he’s using the “terrorize first, teach second” style of pedagogy endorsed by John Dewey, Howard Gardner, and Marva Collins.

Was there a chapter in that history book about Tiger Beat magazine? Because Meego sure knows all about it and nothing about fishing.

In the hands of the right teacher, a radical departure from lecture could work; but that teacher would at least wink to know she has a purpose in mind. And the right actor–say, one who had ever once spoken to a teenager–would know this.

But as bad as this is, and as long as this takes, it’s still the best Bronson showcase scene we’ve gotten because it’s actually trying to advance the plot. Also him not rubbing his crotch on anybody’s feet helps. It’s really too bad that other channels existed that night, because that makes me the only person who knows this.

166

Meego steals a kid’s shoe. Bronson had to hand in his 90-day chip, but I think we can all agree the gag was worth it.

167

This bit goes on forever. This is why there’s no time for Dad to take Alex fishing. Trip finally demands his rights and Meego starts talking gibberish.

169

GOD STOP

170

Jesus, how long does this scene need to go on before all the kids realize how rad and hip and slammin’ jammin’ the Constitution really is?

80 years, evidently.

168

Meego: I see your tedious little Bill of Rights is going to ruin all the King’s fun, so I hope you’ve all learned why it is still frightfully important today.

You know, I do remember news articles from back then about how the Queen was just waiting for Americans to drop their guard.

171

Later, Maggie has made herself breakfast. Isn’t this like a third of Meego’s job?

Niplicky stumbles down the stairs, guilt-tripping his dad hard about how many important rites of passage he’s missing out on.

172

Alex: Assayooshave and I thought we cusstardoonigether.

You didn’t think to ask when you saw him shaving? Dad tells Alex that’s cute, and to go away.

173

I can’t believe it. Maggie just delivered the lesson about spending time with your kids in the B-plot. And dad finally mentions their dead mom! Four episodes in and the dad finally spends more than 30 seconds with one of his kids. Someone had the good sense to realize that if you give one character five minutes to themselves, you should balance it out with the others. This is still one of the shoddiest sitcoms I’ve ever seen, but for a brief moment, we get to see the show Meego never got a chance to be. Enjoy it while it lasts, none of these things is likely to happen again.

174

Anyway, fuck you, the Trip and Maggie don’t watch Meego play Twister. There’s two sentences about a magazine article on Coach Morgan claiming to have been attacked by aliens. Trip’s delivered the exposition for like 30 things he wouldn’t know so far and we have to hear about one of his teachers getting institutionalized through a magazine that was printed like a month after the previous scene?

175

“Fatal Attraction” (17 October 1997)

176

Alex pours out an entire box of DiP cereal so he can find the toy whistle.

177

Meego ate it. It wasn’t bothering him or making any noise until right after he says that he ate it. Since this show’s scripts were written by playing reruns of Family Ties into a contemporary speech-to-text program, the real draw was the actors. Viewers were promised in the credits that they’d get to see something cute: Bronson Pinchot would make a funny face or say “Burt Reynolds” and Jonathan Lipnicki would laugh. In this scene the mask is ripped away as Alex laughs at Meego doing nothing because the whistle effect had to be added in post.

178179

Dr. Parker must be having an unheard-of number of days off, and he asks Meego if he’d like to join in a poker game that weekend. Hey, yeah, there’s a great question. What happens when Dr. Parker’s actually home? What happens when Meego has a day off and can’t lounge on the couch using telekinesis to make a candlestick scratch his balls?

Anyway, nevermind, Trip has bought cologne for his very first attempt at getting a girl to let him touch her breast. Meego is confused. 9,000 years old, has met beings of every shape and size, and he’s never once encountered the concept of any animal trying to game mating practices.

180

Alex says Trip is in love and makes a kissy face. I don’t know which is weirder: that Jonathan Lipsmacki has never seen another person pretend to kiss, or that the script obviously calls for Barkley to start wildly humping Trip’s leg but just stands there. If you can’t make the joke, don’t make the joke.

181182

Later, Trip and Maggie are sitting on the couch, reading. The poker game is supposed to happen on the weekend, so this must be Saturday or Sunday, right? These kids–who I seem to remember hated the idea of discipline–aren’t actively acting out because their dad is absent and their mom is dead, aren’t experimenting with anything not listed in the index of Emily Post’s Etiquette, don’t go outside, and have literally no reason to quarrel with each other because they were added as an afterthought. If you want to know who’s an alien in this sitcom, it’s not the guy spewing punchlines: it’s this old married couple in kids’ bodies.

Isn’t it the job of the director to make sure that these characters look like more than just actors waiting for Bronson to deliver his next monologue? Even the staunchest textual purist would have a fit over this.

Anyway Meego made a cologne out of trash. Didn’t Meego fire a secondary character just because he was so upset by the idea of having sex?

183

Judith the postal worker comes in and stands right up next to Bronson. Is the joke that she can’t smell the awful cologne we just spent the last minute hearing about? Have any of you ever in your life had a postal worker come into your house, McFeely-style?

Maybe it’s the writers who are aliens because they assume that postal workers just hand-deliver loose, unmarked “free sample” bottles of hygiene products. I don’t…

184

just why is this joke

185186

Judith hands Meego a carton of SMOOTH cigarettes and demands Meego not give them back no matter how she begs. Maggie explains the dangers of smoking to Meego and then Judith runs back in demanding her cigarettes.

187

She picks up Meego and shakes him and this is the best development this show’s come up with so far.

188

Meego hypnotizes her into not wanting cigarettes (biopsychology sidebar: wouldn’t that just be a total mindfuck for your brain and body to want something and your mind not be able to translate that into thought?) and also to shave her legs because incompletely-feminine women are reviled throughout the universe. Sex with humans grosses Meego out, we learned in the second episode; why would cosmetic differences in human bodies even register to him as existing on a spectrum of preference? See, this is why you can’t have the unswervingly upright and *AHEM* sexless main character deliver every joke. Perfect Strangers and Family Matters at least had some sense when it came to Balki and Urkel in this regard. Isn’t this guy these kids’ nanny or something? Do I have that right?

189

Trip steals Meego’s watch because it’s cheaper than roofies (how did he steal it? fuck you is how) and uses it to freeze Brooke, who doesn’t want to date him. (What the hell is the timeline on this show?) Trip tells her that she wants him, that she needs him, and that she’ll start wearing skimpy outfits. That’s the most anticlimactic rule of three I’ve ever heard. Almost as if this sitcom wanted to make a sex joke and then had to pretend that Trip meant “wanting and needing” in only an emotional sense.

190191192

Is it true that the jokes we tell the most are the ones we like the most? If so, Bronson’s #1 joke is grabbing a woman from behind so he can feel her ass. But since there’s absolutely no sex on this show, we learn that talking to objects that by definition can’t get lines of dialogue is his second favorite.

193194

Meego has programmed the microwave to loudly orgasm when he presses the buttons. Just a few more episodes and we won’t need any other characters, will we?

195196

Meego just programmed a machine to love him, and now Brooke is calling Trip a love god because he hypnotized her. This show has been so poorly put together up to this point that I figured it must be the problems (borked timeline, no room for characterization to happen) inherent in having one character be the lead in both the A and B plots. With the exception of the King George scene, and Andrea Martin getting written off the show before she even got to the craft services table, Meego hasn’t felt like Bronson was actively taking time away from other things the writers came up with.

But it would be impossible to not see the two layers of irony this story has and to guess that Meego is going to realize he’s an awful role model. This show is only about an alien when Bronson needs to be the funniest person in the room; it’s about a nanny when Bronson needs to be the smartest person in the room.

I really hadn’t planned on writing this much about these episodes, the number and type of problems Meego has is fascinating. Every bad sitcom family is bad in its own way.

Instead of calling Trip on stealing the watch, Meego asks him if he knows anything about it; I’ve never met a single child in my life and even I know that this is telling the kid that lying is an option. Who sets a trap for a person they love? Sorry, this is the busybody in me, but… still, right?

This show is working so hard to not want anything to do with the fact that it’s dealing with alien technology. Something that should be absolutely mind-blowing to this kid is turned into something with cartoon powers–suddenly it can overheat when Meego claps, simply because Trip has it in his pocket. But then… well, I guess that’s a very human thing to do, isn’t it? Sorry for the second high horse in a row here, but I think we (in general) approach technology in by asking first what it can do for us, and only fourth or fifth what it means for our souls/psyches.

Technology happens within specific cultural and moral milieux, and Meego’s is supposed to be tens of thousands of years ahead of ours. Marmazonians trust themselves to only use this type of terrible power when absolutely necessary. Meego should at the very least be telling us when it’s proper to use it, or to only use it for good.

197198

Instead, he claps his hands while Trip jumps around and sprays water on his own crotch instead of taking the damn thing out of his pocket. Meego shames him with a schoolyard taunt because Trip is a liar and took something that wasn’t his. Meego wants me to think that there are shades of grey in taking away someone’s free will, but ultimately Meego’s morality is no different in essence from Trip’s. He might as well just be an out-of-touch inventor for as much as his planet’s culture comes into play.

199200

Meego flicks off the microwave until it orgasms and the scene ends. I hate this show.

201

The next day? at school, Brooke fawns all over Trip and their classmates start hooting at them to start rutting.

202

The teacher separates them and tells them to be quiet, but Brooke keeps talking. Is this scene supposed to establish that Trip’s decision has gotten out of control? How embarrassing! This kid’s life is ruined because 12 of his classmates–and a teacher!–know that a girl likes him. He’ll never live this down!

Trip runs into the kitchen asking for help fixing his problem, and Meego asks if he’s learned his lesson.

203

Trip: Yes! I will never use your mind-control device again, because the people I use it on might inconvenience me.

But Trip isn’t moral enough yet so Meego yells at him and walks away. I guess I had a good mother after all.

Meanwhile, in the timeline where it’s the weekend, Meego lets in all the poker doctors (all two of them) and jesus this episode is two hours long.

204

In an earlier scene, Maggie agreed to get Meego some books on poker from the local library. In this scene, Meego says that he’s read 57 books on poker. Now, I’ve never cheated on a partner, but the way I understand it, what you do is you go out and find the poorest, ugliest and most vengeful person you can to have a weekend fling with in the sewer. You’re welcome to disagree, but it’s sound logic, just like a show cheating by throwing away its own continuity for something that’s neither a joke (unless the joke is the library had that many books on poker?) nor does it impact how the scene plays out.

The Poker Brothers tell Meego they have to play poorly and laugh at Pokerparker’s jokes to stay in his good graces since he’s their boss.

Does this tie into Meego’s concept? Meego doesn’t say he knows any alien games, he doesn’t have an alien approach to competition, he doesn’t have an alien approach to interacting with superiors, and we don’t even find out whether having a pokerface would be a novel to this character who has only ever interacted with alien species that look like chairs. So no.

Does this tie into Meego’s purpose as a showcase for Bronson’s talents? He’s neither utilizing CGI to explore his new inflation fetish, he’s not doing a character, he’s not doing a voice, he’s not telling dirty jokes to the dog, and he’s not even saying any punchlines.

Either Les Moonves demanded every sitcom contract require a poker episode, or Meego got tired of its concept at the exact same time its viewers did.

Dad finds out they’re all kissing his ass and tells his assistant surgeons that they won’t lose their job if they play poker well. Thank GOD the show didn’t leave me hanging with these guys’ story.

205

Meego comes to Trip’s room to say absolutely nothing of import and then Brooke climbs in Trip’s window. Brooke has to tell Trip she’s wearing the tube top he asked her to wear, since they couldn’t show it. Trip calls for help from Meego. Dude, don’t do that! Meego’s just going to kill your sex ed teacher and fill in wearing a penis suit.

206207

Meego pauses her and then he explains what Trip did because honesty is the best policy brainwashes her again. He also gets in a dig about how she looks like Alicia Silverstone, and since we know Bronson’s improvising all his jokes, that’s definitely a dig at Amy Heckerling. Certainly she was watching, right?

Ed makes the microwave orgasm. Meego blames it on Trip, calls the microwave a slut and threatens to fuck the spice rack as revenge.

208

What the fuck was going on at CBS in 1997 that Bronson only had to pretend to espouse family values for four episodes before falling back on his “signature” brand of humor?

N.b. Maggie Lawson, who played Brooke, was also on an episode of Step by Step season 6, also playing a girl who was smitten with one of the son characters. I find it a little unsettling to think that someone working on Meego remembered how convincingly horny this 16-year-old was and brought her in for this episode.

“Halloween” (24 October 1997)

“Halloween” was the last episode of Meego to air in the United States. Going off the production order, it looks like it was meant to air on Halloween, after “Saturday Night Fever”. But someone at CBS had the good sense to realize that Meego might not make it that long. The show needed a shot in the arm, and Halloween episodes have a slightly lower bar to clear. Just put your characters in costumes that are either obvious extensions of, or at odds with, their… um…  personalities.

yeah nevermind this show was fucked

209

Meego wants to hand out orthopedic insoles and mushrooms to trick-or-treaters and they forgot to tell Jonathan Lipnicki that this was a joke he was supposed to laugh at.

Alex opens the front door.

210

Did no one explain Halloween to this kid at any point in the past 6 years?

211

Meego: Trip, how dare you celebrate this holiday in the agreed-upon way?

Since scaring people is such a bad thing, Meego scares Trip by turning the couch into a monster.

212

You know, I actually recognize this script; I had the exact same edition of Mad Libs in third grade.

The next– wait.

213

Are we already done with Halloween?

214

The dog wants Cajun food but Meego doesn’t want to clean up its shit. Here I was saying nothing could save this show, but yeah, I’d watch that.

215216

Maggie got a letter from a secret admirer praising her beauty. After she reads it out loud, Meego tells her–straight-faced–she’s not pretty enough to receive love letters. I wish like hell I was kidding. Three years interacting with Amy Heckerling’s daughter and he still has no clue that little girls are people too.

217

Meego uses his watch so he can find out who the boy is… and then makes a joke about Woody Allen lusting after prepubescent girls. I just want to clarify: anytime I say that these shows make me want to kill myself, I’m expressing a desire to not have to exist on the same plane as someone who makes a joke about statutory rape to a child. I’d prefer a whole hour of jokes about bedwetting over any line Bronson writes on his own.

218

Last week, Trip’s room was spotless because a girl needed to walk around it. This week it’s a mess because, just like real humans, these kids can only exhibit half a personality trait at a time.

219

Meego tells Trip he’s lower than dirt for not cleaning his room. Maybe if you didn’t show off every day how it takes you two seconds to clean the entire house, Trip would pitch in? But more than that: maybe if Meego were a decent nanny he’d see the root problem is a family one: Dad hires  a nanny instead of asking his 20-year-old son to take any responsibility. All Meego knows that he told Trip to do something, and Trip didn’t do it. To Meego, every interaction exists in a vacuum (because he’s from outer space 🙂 ) and this means he gets to berate a child.

220

Trip opens his closet to find Jonathan Littlenicky.

lildebbul

Trip says Meego will have to work harder to scare him. Maybe Meego should say Will Estes wouldn’t get another part for two years, that might do it.

221

There’s absolutely no distinction anymore between Meego not knowing things because he’s an alien and Meego making pop culture jokes because Meego is the funny character. He makes a joke about a skeleton prop being as thin as Kate Moss and calls it “bubby”, which is a thing Jewish mothers are known for saying.

222

Maggie enters in a Poison Ivy costume. It’s too bad viewers didn’t stick around long enough to find out that Maggie saw a movie once. She setups a punchline: her secret admirer is coming to the party they’re throwing dressed as a Man in Black, from the movie Men in Black, which is a movie about aliens, so Meego says a thing about the movie.

Meego: I had some problems with that movie…

Which is a line you’d only come up with if you had only watched the first twenty seconds of its trailer. Or maybe Meego was planning to destroy Earth?

And now he says he’s been to New York City! When? Why is he still trying to fuck the drapes then? CBS must have told him on day one that titling this show “Genius Makes Tired References to Willing Listeners” wouldn’t bring in viewers. Bronson decided to just trick people by putting a weird name on it and sticking a spaceship in the opening credits.

223

Meego opens the door and six kids dressed as Men in Black come in. This is far and away the cleverest, smartest joke in these whole six episodes. It’s funny enough to excuse the fact that they all just keep walking off the other side of the stage without saying hello to their hosts.

224

Alex comes in from the kitchen asking for help with his fake vampire fangs, and when they go to the kitchen, Dad enters wearing the same vampire costume. I assume that Dad helped Alex… you know what fuck it the observation isn’t worth the time I’d spend on it.

225

Somebody actually put a little bit of effort into this episode! Even I think that’s cute, and I hate everything.

226

Dad and Alex leave to go trick-or-treating. Well, that’s stupid of them. How is Meego going to save the day in their C-plot if they’re not there? Oh well, I guess that gives us more time to find out what an alien thinks of Halloween. He’ll (ha) he’ll probably think that some (haha) some of these (ohhoho) these kids are aliens because (HA) because of their costumes!

227

Maggie tells Meego to find out which of the six boys in the living room wants to rail her. After five minutes of anticking, Meego finally leaves the kitchen to do just that.

228

Bronson talks to a kid who turns out to be an idiot. He’s been trying to count his teeth with his tongue for a week and… I’m sorry, but that’s hilarious.

You’ve all watched sitcoms, right? We’re at the halfway point. The problem is clarified, and the main characters have figured out a way to tackle it. But something has to complicate this plot so it’s not just a series of Meego and Maggie talking to kids individually. So what’s the second twist Meego has up its sleeve?

229

It’s the exact same twist!

230

Or… is this the twist? Is Maggie going to accidentally tongue-kiss her brother?

231

Meego tries to scare Trip by having a monster pull him into a garbage can. And then, after trip leaves, Meego gets pulled in the can. A house full of children is minutes away from finding Dad’s liquor stash, but at least Meego’s having a great time pantomiming for absolutely no one.

232

(That sentence works on two levels, you see, because no one was watching Meego. Thanks.)

Meego comes in the living room and dances and sings.

233234235

Ed and Alex come back. This show can’t make up its mind about which characters it wants to tell a story with, what might happen with characters absent, what that might mean to one character that another is absent, or whether it wants to tell a story at all. Aside from the two inspired jokes so far, it feels like they handed script-writing duties over to Jonathan Lipnicki this week. First Trip scares me on Halloween and then Meego scares Trip and the couch is a MONSTER and then Maggie gets a letter and she can’t find out who it is and I’m a vampire and the dog is a vampire and there were FIFTY mans in black and I try to scare Trip and Meego makes the trash move and I got CANDY.

236

Gordon, the kid who’s obviously the secret admirer comes up and talks to Maggie but she’s too busy staring at all the mesomorph boys she was on record as disliking in another episode.

Meego was all about Trip learning that it’s better for people to like you for your own qualities, but this week he tells this kid how to talk completely differently from his own style when trying to pick up girls. Even in this scene where Meego is trying to honestly buck up a kid and help him step out of his comfort zone, the tone of voice Bronson uses still makes him sound like he’s one of those adults that has a trap waiting for you.

237

Meego physically foists Maggie onto Gordon. When the sparks don’t fly between them, Meego tries plan B: asking the props if they want to screw.

238239

After the party, Meego tries one last time to get Maggie to talk to Gordon, and for Christ’s sake! Shouldn’t this nanny be on the side of the kids he cares about so much? Why is he trying to push Maggie into a relationship she doesn’t want? If one kid doesn’t feel sparks and the other can’t muster the nerve to ask her out, guess what, spaceman: one of the greatest human thinkers realized 2,500 years ago that the most prominent truth about life is that it’s wall-to-wall suffering.

Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, Meego is suffering.

Meego spends about five minutes not telling Maggie it was Gordon, and then he reveals he magically stole his Gordon’s wallet.

240

Oh fuck you.

You were just lambasting Trip for stealing something to force a girl to talk to him! Neither of them wants to talk to the other, so Meego hypnotizes them and tells Maggie she likes Gordon.

241242

OH FUCK YOU

Moral double standards are pretty scary, so good job on your Halloween episode, Meego.

Bronson has never had to hold two thoughts in his mind at once, has he? All he knows is that Meego has a convenient deus ex machina to use when people won’t do what he says. I guess I should be thankful he didn’t use CGI to turn into a half-naked Cupid.

Later–

243244245246

yeah you know what we’re gonna skip this scene

In the final scene, Meego has a sugar rush and runs around. He knocks over some trash cans.

247

P.S. How did they manage to not title this episode “Trip or Treat”?

____________________________________________________

Intermission 4

For American viewers, that was it. Meego, literally and metaphorically, ran itself right into the garbage.

We’ll never know all the causes of Meego getting yanked. That it cobbled together a few character elements to put around Bronson, and then ceased having much real interest in them, betrays the sitcom’s mercenary nature; so the clearest answer is that a mere 5-share of the audience wasn’t enough for CBS to please its advertisers.

familymatters

I’m sure Meego being advertised by an obviously-distracted Bronson during the end credits of Family Matters didn’t help keep viewers around. There were commercials for Meego, of course, but the initial advertising campaign for the Block Party leaves me wondering what the hell they’re trying to tell me the show is about. Urkel we know, Gregory Hines is himself, and Bronson eats a hotdog.

blockpart2

If that’s enough to sell you on watching Meego… I was about to insult you, but now I’m honestly worried that you’re in an undiagnosed coma.

I’m so glad there’s just one interview I have to watch this time around, because they’re so exhausting. For all that this appears to have been Bronson’s big comeback, he can’t get out of his own way to advertise it. He went on the Regis & Kathie Lee show the morning of October 24, 1997 (the date of the final aired episode, “Halloween”), and based on all of his past behavior, I don’t think Bronson knew the show would be cancelled. When he’s successful, he’s playing around; and when things fail he’s self-critical.

regis2

He comes out with his own set of cue cards that he honestly thought they were going to let him make a 5-minute bit out of. He gets through two of them, which have nonsensical (that’s my nice way of saying “unfunny”) questions for the hosts. He takes up 70% of his interview with bringing attention to a meta-aspect of live morning talkshows, and it’s clear that Bronson thinks it’s one of the most annoying things he has to put up with. He talks as though it’s these demonic cue-card holders who keep him from telling his stories, when he’s now consistently showing up for interviews and making sure he won’t get started on one until a minute before the thing’s over.

regis4

It’s a strange tactic to place the blame on someone else for your own distractibility, I imagine even moreso for the immediate audience who figured out how to not let the cards distract them five minutes into the show’s taping.

regis3regis

The other 30% is making a woman in the audience self-conscious about her glasses and grabbing at Kathie Lee’s belt, which she takes off as it’s now permanently fouled.

regis5

If Bronson’s best moments are where he’s throwing someone off, congratulations, because even Regis Philbin has no idea what to do with jokes that have no basis on a shared understanding of the running-joke world of Regis & Kathie Lee, or even on a shared understanding of celebrating the crucial people who work their asses off to make the hosts look good. I have never seen Regis check out like this before.

regis6

Before the commercial, you can catch a quick exchange between Regis and Kathie Lee where she asks if they’re going to come back with Bronson after the commercial, and Regis’s hand-shrug makes him my casting choice for Pontius Pilate.

They don’t even talk about Meego; they barely even mention Jonathan Lipnicki. Sorry for getting so caught up in Bronson’s interview behavior. Train wreck, can’t look away, etc.

regis7

If I believed in karma or cosmic forces, I’d say they decided that, if Bronson’s new show wasn’t that important to him, it was fine to remove it from existence.

I’ll never know the exact points in the above episodes that might have lost Meego viewers. It’s tempting to say that Boy Meets World drew viewers away, the whole “audience fracture” thing, but Meego’s ratings (the percentage of total households that tuned in) went up the night of the former’s season premiere (two weeks after Meego’s premiere), and held roughly steady until the end. Whoever was into Meego stayed into Meego, but we’re still talking a full percentage point down from 1996 audiences and Everybody Loves Raymond.

But maybe–just maybe–it wasn’t a good show?

I feel utterly betrayed by this review from Tom Shales (last seen on this blog ripping into season 1 Perfect Strangers), who refers to Meego as “utterly irresistible”. I guess I can forgive him on the basis that he wrote his glowing review on the basis of just one episode. And maybe I can find solace in the fact that even somebody from Utah thought Bronson’s “mugging and overacting are weird beyond belief.” I’m cracking up over Total TV magazine referring to Meego as a “frothy comedy”. If you’re not sure what that’s supposed to mean, ask yourself how you’d feel if someone referred to what you thought your best work was as “frothy”.

You know me, though, I like to go the more cerebral route for explanations. Just as Bronson seems to have been trying to catch lightning once again with the same general type of character as Balki, CBS’s Block Party feels like a last-ditch effort to try one more time with the 80s/90s brand of sitcom. CBS wanted to recapture former glories, to seize control of a sinking ship (a viewership lol) with exactly the same things they’d been peddling for a decade by then.

I suspect that the mid-90s (say, 1995-1997) represent some grander shifts in American pop culture that I’m not at all qualified to speak to. Every time I see a list of “90s” things, I’m always surprised at some of the things that rate, like Pokemon, Tamagotchi, AOL, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, The Matrix, Scream, cell phones; and I wonder how many other people roughly my age feel this same disconnect.  I saw so much media from 1990-1992 make explicit the fact that “it’s the 90s now” that only those things are tied to the decade. Everything after 1995 or so still feels new because I (I was 10) felt like I’d finally gotten a handle on what to expect from media, and then everything started changing.

The groundbreaking TV shows of the 80s/90s (Roseanne, Married… With Children, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Weinerville) had done their work of changing the landscape and were either ending or becoming shadows of their former selves by 1997. New shows were just beginning that would leave their own mark on TV for decades to come: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, South Park, The View, Survivor, and Cartoon Cartoons. The shift was definitely in the direction of cable programming by then. Who cared about one more teenager learning to drive, one more dad struggling to balance work and family, one more mom entering the workplace?

The major networks weren’t without their hits, but evidently–according to this very insightful November 1997 Los Angeles Times story–the sitcom development world was high-stakes and high-stress. For a writer to sell their sitcom pitch, they either had to have the next great Seinfeld-quality premise, or they had to attach themselves to a celebrity who wanted a sitcom; and they had to do this all on their own, outside of the writers’ room situation where good ideas happen. I’m reading between the lines here, but it sounds like network sitcom writers had less of a steady job by 1997; they could either develop their own show or end up risking just getting spot work as “consultants”, polishing up existing scripts.

Maybe, had cable and the Internet not taken off around this time, Meego might have gotten to air all 13 of its episodes. But I still think that’s all it would have gotten. It serially ignored its own premise and characters, and it let Bronson improvise shit like King George shouting at kids. There was maybe a 5% chance you’d land on CBS at the exact moment Meego was advancing a plot.

In a minute here, you’ll see that Meego was barely even interested in the possibility of getting other sitcom stars to help out.

“Mommy ‘n’ Meego” (unaired in the US)

248

Meego delivers the news that Ed’s mother is coming to visit. The family scrambles to haul out all the shit she’s given them over the years, such as “Regis & Kathie Lee placemats”.

I too remember when I was five and a page in an activity book let me think I was making a joke by picking nouns from Column A and Column B. (Look at those placemats, by the way. Is that Bronson and Amy Heckerling?)

249

Also Nana commissioned a portrait of herself and gifted to them.

What an absolute terror, this woman. Every other joke has been Meego hitting on any object with a face or holes, how does a painting not confuse him?

251

Okay, that sweater vest is a good gag, but aside from that, every line of dialogue is the kids asking why people are allowed to live after they get old and ugly. Dad warns Meego that Nana will hate him.

252

Nana is played by Peggy Rea, and I’m so glad for her sake no one she knew personally ever got to see this episode.

253

Meego hugs her and even though we just established she talked to him on the phone, she doesn’t know who he is. Meego introduces himself and tells her the name means “He who can smell cat food on a passing comet”. Is this something unique to his culture? Is this an aspirational name?

254

Haha just messing with you “cat food” is from Column B. Nana tells Maggie that, thanks to the “Parker genes”, she’s going to sprout giant tits any minute now. Well, knowing that this family has a history of inbreeding sure explains a lot.

255

There’s some bit that goes on too long where Meego keeps bringing Nana different kinds of tea and she rejects every one. Meego gets upset and dumps a cup of tea right on the floor in front of them. This is a joke you’d make in a story about a waiter serving the world’s worst diner, not a show about a nanny who has to prove his likeability.

256

We’re six minutes in now and the only thing that’s been established is that nobody likes this old woman they have to be in the same room as. The whole premise of this show is that Ed is so overworked that he can’t be there for his kids, right? So is Ed going to be a part of this episode? Will Meego learn about families and honesty?

This scene isn’t interested in telling us anything, but even so I’m glad… well, it’s good to–no… it’s interesting to see… shoot, how can I put this?

It doesn’t give me any new ulcers that this scene lets Meego know directly from Ed that Nana is impossible to please. Ed could have just run out the door wishing Meego luck, but this scene prevents the alternative, which would have been Meego insulting her all on his own.

257

Barkley and Meego enter the kitchen and they talk about how they just fought other dogs.

258

It goes on for a while. Nana walks in on them, and seriously? This is how she finds out he’s an alien?

Well, yeah, I guess so, it is all he does all day. No need to cook for the kids while they’re in a vegetative state on the couch. Somehow Meego thinks that simply barking at a dog has given away his whole secret, and that’s a huge damn leap for this character.

Meego really has no interest in exploring the dynamics it sets up between its characters. In the first episode, Meego’s identity had to be kept a secret from Maggie; a week later he wasn’t even trying to hide it from her; two weeks after that he walked into a school and attacked a teacher with alien technology.

It’s not that there have been any stories yet about hiding things from the dad, but even I’m willing to give this show the benefit of the doubt since dad’s not there very often. That doesn’t bother me: I can take that as just part of the premise if it’s willing to explore other interesting things. But we spent six minutes establishing that the kids don’t like Nana, and Nana doesn’t like Meego. Couldn’t they at least be here to complicate the dynamic past a series of questions about Meego’s past?

Bronson thinks that having Meego say “Marmazon 4.0” in a completely different voice from anything else he says is the funniest shit ever:

So, to him, that’s worth Meego giving away his biggest secret two seconds into a scene like this. Their dialogue, by the way, is just an interminable series of Balki jokes. Bronson gives us a selection of his own greatest hits, name-dropping Goobers and stealing a Balki joke about a “police record”. By the end of it, Bronson has found a way to just dance and sing a Village People song.

We’re again seeing Bronson as a textbook example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is what happens when incompetence is compounded by the person having no idea how incompetent they are. He understands that an alien needs to hide, that another character does not like Meego, and that Meego hilariously misunderstands things people say because they are references to things he doesn’t know yet. Unfortunately he forgets every single one of these things the moment he sits down to start writing jokes. My sperm count drops by half every time I transcribe one of these, but I’m doing in the hopes that you’ll understand.

Nana: How do you feel about corporal punishment?

Meego: Corporal punishment?

Nana: You know, spanking.

Meego: I suppose if he’s been a very naughty corporal… (makes spanking motions)

Nana: I suspect you’re hiding something. You don’t have a police record, do you?

Meego: No! I do not have a Police record. However I do have a really groovy CD by the Village People.  Macho, macho, macho man…

259

Balki equating record with music and not “criminal history” makes sense; Perfect Strangers gave us a good enough idea of Mypos’s connection to the world so we’d know he would have heard of American bands. But Meego, if anything, should misunderstand the specific, not the general. Perfect Strangers finally had to retroactively say Balki had attention span problems. Meego forgets the age and galactic knowledge of its lead any time Meego isn’t talking about it.

Later…

260

I guess Meego did move in with them. So glad they clarified that seven weeks in. Maggie comes in, asking for help with something, and then sees the giant radio prop and realizes Meego’s getting both A- and B-plots all to himself this week.

261

Meego tells Maggie what utter filth her grandmother is. What a wholesome role model!

It’s really just as well that they switched the order of this episode and “Halloween”, because the latter at least had the kids on-screen with the adult long enough that distracted parents could tell themselves this show probably had a moral. Every fifty lines or so, the episode remembers to tell me that Meego needs to keep his identity hidden from Nana.

The very first thing he does after finding out she’s onto him is build a radio that lets him contact his home planet. He tries to call his mom.

262

Oh. Oh no.

263264

There are no words. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry everybody. Please, have any children leave the room. These images are violent and disturbing.

265266

I think it’s hilarious that no prominent celebrities were willing to actually talk to Bronson directly. Some of the cast of Gilligan’s Island were willing to appear on screen with ALF in 1987. It looks like they learned their lesson.

267

Mary Ann: If you’re gonna rescue us can you please bring along some moisturizer? I’ve been wearing this top since the mid-60s and my midriff is turning into shoe leather.

Okay, everybody, we found the single nugget of humor in this whole sitcom. Go ahead and delete the masters.

268

There’s a brief scene with Ed and Nana. They–

269

Oh, okay, nevermind, here’s Meego talking to truckers about anal sex. Trip runs in to warn Meego that one of the script writers is actually trying to follow through on a plot downstairs.

270

They watch as Nana calls up Canada. (By the way, Meego keeps referring to butts as “tater craters”. Seriously, destroy those masters.)

Do the scales fall from Meego’s eyes as he realizes he’s done this to himself? Does he vow to actually look at a map of Canada and pick a town he could pretend to be from?

271

No: he magics into some winter clothes so he can say “take off”, “hosehead”, and “ahoy” (“ahoy”??????) over the phone through his headset. The headset he magicked into existence. Right after we saw him putting together a radio.

Is Ed Begley, Jr. addicted to really cheap drugs or something? He’s been in damn near everything for the past 45 years. I just had the home video of my first birthday party digitized and fucker was there eating my cake! It’s not like this was heavy lifting for him**, but then that seems to be true of most of what I’ve seen him in. I have to hand it to him, though: Ed’s one of the few sitcom dads I’ve ever seen deliver a put-down line to another character that feels like he’s just cracking a joke to show that he loves them.

272

Anyway, after the writers got through 16 pages of script, they finally hit on a good way for Nana to organically discover that Meego is an alien. Her presence alone made Meego miss his mom and want to call her (can’t he call from his spaceship?), and now she overhears him trying to reach another planet.

273274

Nana comes downstairs and reveals she’s going to tell Ed about Meego’s secret when he gets home. The children discuss what to they should do. Now, don’t get me wrong: if the statute of limitations hadn’t long run out, Meego would be susceptible to a class action suit from anyone who watched it. But I do think it’s slightly unfortunate for viewers that Jonathan Dipsticki only learned to enunciate halfway through this batch of episodes.

Maggie comes up with the idea of gaslighting Nana and the other kids agree. You know, I came *this* close to writing a joke about how making Gilligan (and the rest) appear on this show constituted elder abuse, and decided I wouldn’t be able to sleep well for a week if I did. But now that I see that everything’s fair game. Meego gives a microwave a handjob, he dresses up as Ed and jizzes on the kids, and next week I’m sure he’ll club a baby seal to death with The Club.

275

The kids gaslight Nana by walking through the room multiple times and saying the exact same things. It’s really nice to see when sitcom writers find a story that they’re particularly suited for.

Meego rushes in and freezes Nana. How the hell did he know anything was going on?

276277

He scolds the kids for making her think she’s crazy and FUCK YOUR DOUBLE-STANDARD ASS.

You did the same fucking thing to her over the phone! You told the kids they were right to hate old people! You rudely dumped out the tea she wanted right in front of her!

What the hell is this show? Michelle Tanner may have been nothing put a pouting ego***, but at least she had a few cute catchphrases!

After the kids apologize for trying to get Nana to check herself into a rest home, Ed comes home. He rushed home from a heart surgery because she left him 18 messages. I guess Meego was right to talk about “Every Breath You Take”, because cops must not exist in this world at all.

278

There’s a sliver of possibility that this episode will get a half-decent resolution because Ed’s angry and tells his mother that she can’t meddle in his life anymore, for god’s sake they’re both in their seventies.

279

But then Meego hypnotizes her and makes her forget he’s an alien. If I tell you how I feel I’ll hit my swear word quota for this post. They obviously made all these episodes before airing them. How hard would it have been to go back and add these same animated effects in the previous episodes? Or even “Halloween” which was filmed later ARRRRGGGHHH

280

Under the credits, Meego calls his mom again because it’s his last chance for another 70 years. Dude should be thanking Nana that she made him think about it at exactly the right time.

“Magic Parker” (unaired in the US)

281

Ed pours some milk into a glass and calls everyone downstairs to watch’s Alex magic show. What (ha) what’s he gonna (haha) gonna do, make (hoho) make half his (HA) consonants disappear?

Meego tells Trip and Maggie that they outlawed magic on Marmazon 4.0. Are you seriously telling me that every single thing you’ve done in this house–in front of children–would get you arrested on your home planet?

282

Meego answers the door for a little kid named Marcus.

283284

The Amazing Wavesticki pours milk into his top hat and makes Trip wear it. The milk disappears until the moment after Trip puts on the hat. The timing makes it read like that’s supposed to be the actual trick, but maybe the hat is defective?

285

Anyway, “thing in hat” is all that the writers could come up with for a magic trick to not work, and Alex is now sad that he’s bad at magic. The only trash can in the whole house is in the kitchen, which means Meego sees him throwing away all three pieces of his whole show.

286

Meego tells Alex to get back to practicing. This week’s celebrity (Column A) reference: John Tesh (already a repeat reference from a prior episode).

Maggie has been scanning the personal ads for potential dating partners for dad. Meego asks her how in the hell this premise is supposed to survive if they add a mom character.

Ed has already missed out on his kids’ first attempted rape, first time being demoralized by a teacher, first brainwashing, and first time wandering off into the woods to meet strange men in jumpsuits. Evidently Chicago has the highest per capita rate people waiting for heart transplants (and, we can assume, of patients experiencing brain death), so there’s no way he’d be able to spend time with a woman.

Meego and Maggie try to write an ad about Ed and all they can come up with to say about him is his impressive height his high income his commitment to family a mother-in-law they’ve brainwashed nothing.

287

Ed comes in stoked about his subscription to the Mustard of the Month club. That’s supposed to sound boring but I’d be into that. Meego suggests they hire a prostitute to play with dad’s begleys.

Anyway, I’m so glad they got rid of that dating service woman from next door, though. Her honest laughter at Meego’s jokes was just so grating.

288

Now we’re at Alex’s karate class. What? I would have written Meego having to convince Alex to not give up karate, but once these writers get to the end of the script, they do not go back to change a thing.

289

Meego tries to recruit the other nannies to be fondled by Ed. One of the nannies says she’s an illegal alien, and Meego takes her aside to let her know they’re only allowed to be aliens at the 18-minute mark to resolve the plots. Then he finds out both women are aliens and instead of a plot Meego starts in on his tight five of Seinfeldian jokes about being space travel.

That this part of the episode establishes two things at once for both plots is, by Meego standards, impressive. Meego meets women, and Alex and Marcus get to interact. I would hate to be in the position of having to tell a little kid to speak really, really black.

290

Marcus gets his yellow belt, Alex doesn’t, Marcus rubs it in.

Alex: So? Mbednyuuvverstuff!

291

Marcus says the magic show sucked ass too and Alex starts boasting that he’s so great he can even beat Marcus at a black sport like basketball.

Meego tells Alex he’ll get his yellow belt soon. I don’t know a lot about Karate but I’m pretty sure  they don’t hand out belts for kicking people in the nuts when they neither deserve it nor expect it.

292

Later, Alex is practicing free throws or whatever when Marcus pops up behind the fence to talk some more shit. So it was Marcus’s mom who got a face full of fishhook?

293294295

Alex says he’ll go get his “dunking shoes” to prove to man I really don’t care about this plot.

296

Nice try, Bronson. We know it’s a wig

Alex asks if Meego can help him demoralize a black kid. Meego says he doesn’t approve of lying, and then in the time it takes to hit the return key, that’s forgotten and Meego turns Jonathan Slapsticki into one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen.

297298

What this show considers humor is so awful that I’m having trouble recalibrating my assessments of it. What I thought was just the simple, honest mistake of never writing a second draft turns out to be a pun embedded in the episode title. Alex was doing magic, and now he’s Magic… er… Jordan? Meego thinks it’s being clever by putting together two things that use the word “magic” (magic and Magic Johnson), and really, it is the cleverest the show has ever tried to be.

Did any of y’all try to make jokes like this as a kid? I remember I would, constantly. I understood the structure of jokes, that you could play with double meanings, that you could make fun of celebrities… but I was flailing, trying over and over again to crack the code. (Maybe related: rather than try to figure out the right equation you’d need to use to solve algebra word problems, I would just plug in number after number until I got it right.) It’s a very solipsistic way of making jokes, because it relied entirely on what I–or Bronson–knew. There’s no effort to try to map someone else’s mind, to understand what knowledge is widely held. Meego doesn’t even have a procedure in place to have a second person take a look at details like “Magic Jordan”, or even whether video is flipped for a mirror.

299300

Anyway, Meego’s probably going to murder this kid for asking for help when he finds out it was for showing off.

301302

They go outside and Meego magics Alex up to the net. Marcus, who was hiding in the doghouse and heard them talking about magic, is somehow impressed with Alex’s skills.

303

(Something that’s really not worth mentioning, but when has that ever stopped me: Alex has adopted using the Marmazonian 4.0nian word for “shit”, graznok. I was waiting to see if the show really thought that’s what it meant, since it went through a couple of meanings early in the show. Isn’t it great that Meego was able to outdo Mork and Mindy by putting the swearword in a kid’s mouth? Also, christ, Bronson could even come up with a word that sounded at all different from Mork’s “shazbot”.)

(P.S. Not saying “shazbot” was something Tom Shales mentioned about Meego‘s efforts to differentiate itself from Mork & Mindy.)

304

The living room is full of women, but instead of interacting with them, Meego eats a sponge. If anyone can get a job as night watchman at the Warner Bros. archives, that would really help me get the masters so I can cut them up into confetti and have a little parade.

305

Another thing I’ll pause to mention: I think a lot of why we haven’t gotten more scenes like the King George one is because Joel Zwick directed a lot of these. (Rich Correll, a Miller-Boyett regular, directed the rest, including both this one and “It’s Good to Be King”.) We heard from Marianne Mullerleile that Bronson would try to take on the role of director and tell someone where their mark was, much to absolutely no one’s delight. Rich Correll had worked with him before, and probably knew him well enough to yell “Cut!” any time Bronson reached for anyone’s shoelaces.

306307

But right here, there’s an instance of Bronson passive-aggressively directing Michelle Trachtenberg to her mark. She enters, moves to stage left, and when Bronson follows her he gets in her personal space to make her back up a few paces. But even if she undershot her mark, unless CBS only gave them precisely enough filmstock for 13 episodes, there was absolutely no reason for Bronson to not just stop where she had stopped and reshoot if they had to.

Bronson seems to enjoy doing his scenes with the dog, and with Jonathan Lipnicki; but then one can’t disagree and the other genuinely liked him. But so much about his interactions with the older children make Bronson look like a bully.

308

The oldest woman there impatiently asks when they’re going to meet Dr. Parker because she’s going to die any moment. Meego tells her this won’t affect her chances because she already looks like a corpse.

Is this how women react if you have money? Even Married… with Children wasn’t this serious when it trotted out these retrograde tropes.

309310

Ed, begleying through the door, asks Meego what the hell’s going on and Meego blames it on Maggie. Is this the first time a sitcom has ever had an adult push the blame onto a kid without that meaning the adult is subhuman? Ed absolves Meego of any possible role that an adult could have in positively directing the behavior of a child whose behavior he’s being paid to monitor, and then chews out Maggie.

311

Maggie explains that she really needs a role model for when her vagina starts coming in. Credit where credit’s due: the dialogue in this scene is very close to what you’d get if you reversed the roles when the parent is trying to awkwardly broach the topic of puberty. But since the sound guy didn’t press the button on his laugh soundboard, I don’t think the show realizes this.

More credit to this episode: Meego doesn’t run in and shapeshift into the dead mom.

312

Later, Marcus has sold tickets to kids to come watch Alex play basketball. Certainly Meego will–

313

Oh, wait, no, Trip comes into the living room and asks about the personal ad Meego put in the newspaper. Why is this 15-year-old reading personal ads?

Meego has received 50 marriage proposals through the mail, and fuck me, I appreciated the joke that they’re all from Bellevue. This really should have been shoved under the credits since it has fuckall to do with anything else, but it’s not as terrible as everything else.

Alex asks for help and brings Meego out to the backyard. Meego discovers the other children because one of them is three years past when he should have been able to understand how hiding works.

314

(The episode misses a great potential joke in that all these kids could have been unsupervised because every one of their nannies was in the living room.)

Meego and Alex go back inside and Meego tells him to put on a magic show for the kids instead. There’s a cute exchange between them, something that we should have been getting at least twice a week: Meego tells Alex to call himself “Alex the Magnificent”, and Lipnicki can’t manage to say the word. It’s cute as hell and Lipnicki seems like a great sport about it. I’m surprised I’m enjoying so much of this one; it feels like the laziest episode of the show Meego thinks it is. It’s certainly the only one so far that felt like it was following regular sitcom beats.

315316

But–if the idea is that Alex has learned that it’s more meaningful to work hard at something and still not be great, than to be great by cheating–shouldn’t we have been any indication that this trick paid off because of effort and not because the hat cost $2.50?

317318

Alakazam! Marcus has disappeared from the Meego universe!

(Look how hopeful Warner Bros. were, putting ©1998 on these episodes.)

319

“Liar, Liar” (unaired in the US)

320

You know, if this show had bothered to give any of these kids a personality trait, they wouldn’t have to rely on this mess for the pre-credits scenes.

Earth and Marmazon 4.0 are sister planets, Meego’s 9,250 years old, he’s been to New York, we’re led to believe he watches television all day, but he doesn’t know what snow is and thinks “the sky is falling”. How? How?

321

He yells at the children to leave the house (why would that be any safer…?), and they tell him it’s just snow. Meego makes a joke about how he wants to stick his penis in the turkey jar.

322323

(Here’s something else that’s weird. Each opening sequence has two short clips from the same episode–but they’re never the same as the episode they precede. Since they aren’t randomized, it makes it look like a mistake. I’m only mentioning this because such details get lost in the larger fact that this whole show is a mistake.)

324

Meego and Trip go to a bookstore. Since Meego can read an entire book by shoving it through his head, what does he think of selling knowledge, or letting only a few individuals hoard it in their homes?

Meego…? Oh well. Trip pops a boner over a college girl and Meego wants to fuck an old lady’s walker. Then Meego ogles the college girl’s breasts.

325326

Trip chats up Amanda and lies, saying he owns a software company. (Just in case I don’t get to use this later in the episode: the girl dumps Trip when she finds out he’s only the CEO of Meegosoft.) Amanda’s so dumb she believes every lie Trip lays on her, like that he’s 21 years old.

327328

Maggie and Alex set up their plastic snowman and then they have a snowball fight. We should stop this episode right here and imagine that the rest of it was any good.

329

Ed: You know what else would be fun? Shopping for low-flow toilets!

Every now and then, freedom from characterization can lead to lines that are funny on their own. It’s a great way to write Zippy the Pinhead, but won’t get you very far in a sitcom. I’m overstating it a smidge: it’s made clear that dad wants to cut down on his water bill since, at any given moment, one of these five people is taking a shit somewhere in the house.

330

Jesus, give it up, Bronson!

331

Meego has made hot cocoa and cookies for Maggie and Alex and he must have no clue how heat works because he brings them outside. He wonders briefly where they are, and then ceases to care about his job duties. He brings the snowman inside (how? how?) and introduces it to some toys he stole from the Parker children. He turns on a heater and leaves the room. At least he’s consistent with how long he’s willing to stick around and monitor someone.

My favorite part of this snowman is how someone gave it a mouth, thought it didn’t read well, and then jammed some Skittles below the original mouth.

332333

Trip comes downstairs to find that nobody else is home. This turns out to be lucky for him, since he wants to practice for when Amanda comes over for their date. Hi, yes, I’m a 21-year-old genius who owns his own software company, but could you please drive all the way across Chicago so we can neck and eat Bagel Bites? Is he hoping she’ll think all this grandma furniture is the way a rich playboy lives?

334

Maggie walks in (what is the fucking timeline on this show?) and oh no! Trip’s been found out! Maybe if he didn’t plan to have his date in one of the three places all the other characters use? If only Amanda knew how dumb he truly was, she’d fall in love with him honestly.

They take a break from talking about Trip hiding things to crack jokes about how bad an actress Alicia Silverstone is. Does Bronson think he’s really sticking it to Amy Heckerling by criticizing someone else on a show neither one of them would ever even know exists? Who goes out of their way like this to show off how pathetically jilted they are?

Trip’s idea of being a distinguished older gentleman is to hold a pipe and walk like he’s run out of Osteo Bi-Flex.

335

Any time he’s alone, Meego proves himself unqualified to comment on anything that takes place on planet Earth; but since Trip is in the living room experimenting with what it actually takes to “get” a woman to like him, it sets off his alarm bells and he runs in to ruin everything.

336

Trip says that Meego is his butler, and you can see Bronson very briefly imagine what it would be like to do something someone else came up with.

Meego drags Trip into the kitchen and drags the story out of him (hey, maybe I could be a Meego writer if I’m this good at double-entendres!). Trip agrees to set things right, but before he can, Shitbricki comes in asking for his dad.

337

Who was watching this kid? Why can’t he have just been taking a nap upstairs?

Who? Why? How?

Amanda asks Trip why he didn’t mention his son, and props to whoever wrote Trip’s response, “Well, I haven’t had him all that long.” He pays Alex $5 to go along with the story; Alex bends him over a barrel and asks for $20.

Meego walks in the kitchen to find Alex eating some pudding (he came home because there was not pudding in the front yard, I guess), and asks Alex where he got $20. Meego treats the revelation that it was from Trip as though Trip had showed Alex the safest way to inject heroin.

After learning that Trip is worse than Stalin himself, Meego, au pair extraordinaire (hire me now before your rival network does!) uses the universally-agreed upon tactic of making a kid smoke the whole carton. He dresses up as a butler. Add Wonder Woman to the list of shows Meego stole from.

338339340341

You can probably play out how the rest of this type of scene should go, but I don’t expect a single other person to want to waste that much of their bandwidth on this show. So: Meego as a butler should be forcing Trip to agree to more and more outlandish lies about his wealth and status until alarm bells start going off in the splintered chunk of plywood Amanda calls a brain.

Amanda–who by the way is so dumb she’d try to drink pomade–points out that he looks and sounds nothing like he did five minutes ago. Look, man, if you have to make the idiot character ask the questions any normal person would, maybe don’t shove a one-man show into the scene.

Here’s another way that Meego differs from Trouble with Larry. In the latter, the entirety of the show was Bronson fucking around doing voices and saying punchlines and soaking his feet in a slow cooker or whatever the hell he thought was funny from one second to the next. No characters really got a chance for a story because Bronson was all there was. Meego gives its non-Bronson cast just enough time to get started on laying out the bare sketches of a sitcom plot template before deciding it’s time to lay waste to it. I’m not saying that Meego is worse than The Trouble with Larry. I’m saying that Meego wants to trick its viewers into missing enough of Boy Meets World that they won’t change channels.

342

Is Bronson playing the world’s most incompetent English butler worth breaking so many things? How (HOW?) does Meego not recognize snow, but he knows about English butlers well enough to subvert a century of stock character tropes? Who is the subversion for, exactly? Does Bronson get off on casting capable actresses just so he can steal scenes from them?

Is he completely unaware that he’s portraying his own comedy chops as tortuous to the very demographic he wants to watch this show? Seriously, if living the straight and narrow meant I never had to endure Meego again, the next time you saw me I’d be the Pope.

343

Nothing is worth this bit.

344

AACK!

345

GOD THIS ONE IS SCOTTISH

346347

why is this nanny beating up a child please stop

348349

Amanda tells Trip they’re very different people (what? how) and Trip tells her the truth. She slaps him and leaves.

350

Meego comes out of the kitchen all smug like he didn’t just terrorize Trip, and starts in on his condescending tone.

351

Finally, Meego finds that the snowman has melted. Meego slips on the floor, cracking his skull. He dies.

351b.jpg

He gives a eulogy. The kids fucking told him earlier snow was water. I hate Meego. I hate it. How.

352

“I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” (unaired in the US)

Four more of these and then I kidnap the CEO of Warner until they hand over the Meego masters.

Meego has abused me so thoroughly that I’m actually thankful he’s not talking to the damn cookie jar again. Meego is making cookies and misunderstands the directions.

353

When the directions say to “roll on flat surface” he hops up on the table. I’ve accused Meego of stealing from at least four different sitcoms, but I can at least give it credit for coming up with a way of making an alien misunderstand that even ALF and Perfect Strangers would have fired a writer for coming up with.

Here’s an example of the type of joke Bronson comes up with: after rolling around, he says “Now I know why Famous Amos is in such good shape.”

Have you ever once seen more of Famous Amos than his head and shoulders? Did I miss the 90s advertising campaign where Famous Amos bragged about his physique? How hard would it be to just say “Wow, Famous Amos must be in great shape”? But since Bronson is the genius, no one else dared bring up that Wally Amos hadn’t been in the public eye for most of the preceding decade.

Since this sitcom existed solely for Bronson Pinchot, everything else–characters, premise, a blackmailed cameraman–was added after the fact. His jokes really do come first, and reality has to contort itself around them no matter what. When the Parkers bring home a tree and say it’s for Christmas (they don’t specify it’s a holiday, mind you):

354

Meego: Is Christmas the holiday where we watch football games and stuff wet bread up a turkey’s butt?

Trip: No, that’s Thanksgiving.

Yeah, Thanksgiving, the holiday that you just lived through three weeks ago and had them explain to you. If you can explain to me any sort of context, mental or otherwise, where Meego’s question would be internally logical, I’d like to see what copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland you crawled out of.

Maggie explains that Christmas is meant to celebrate the birth of Earth’s most famous person and Meego doesn’t bother to ask any more about him. Putting a tree indoors he needs help understanding, but of course a global cult of ego makes perfect sense to him.

355

Have any of you ever driven a car any distance in the winter and not turned the heat on so it would defrost the windows? Sorry; I’m making the mistake of caring about things that aren’t jokes about prominent 90s celebrities like Telly Savalas.

356

Meego sends the car to the living room.

357358359

Is this episode finally going to acknowledge the premise that they have to hide his powers from dad?

360361

I also made the mistake of hoping. Meego says it’s just like the Festival of Atlantis on Marmazon 4.0 and shoots some fish onto the tree. Kind of makes you wonder how he can live on a planet with oceans but absolutely no water cycle that could result in rain or snow. “Kind of” is generous, I guess.

Seriously, where the fuck is Ed? Did he just run in and go straight to his room to masturbate into his dead wife’s lingerie?

362

This show’s version of the “oh no” music sting plays over Lipnicki laughing.

Meego walks into a kitchen full of characters and starts talking to the only one who’s taken fewer acting classes.

363

Ed says it’s time for their annual trip to the mall and Trip hands him his wishlist. Trip wants a car and since Ed works as a lowly heart surgeon, it’s not something he can afford.

364365

Maggie, who earlier criticized people turning Christmas into a grossly capitalist holiday, asks for money so she can “save the environment”. Dad tears up her envelope in this show’s only truly symbolic interplay. Meego asks Saintnicki what he wants for Christmas.

Alex: Cuzivonly wthigright are cat and hat and I don’t want those.

Alex wants a Survive-a-saur and Meego repeats the TV commercial.

headshaki

Ed’s beeper goes off, meaning he’s needed at the hospital and they’ll have to put off their shopping trip. The kids are all upset that that might mean they won’t get to open their presents on Christmas morning. Didn’t he just tell you crotchfruit you weren’t getting anything? I get that he’s the best surgeon and all, but everyone else at the hospital sure knows a lot more about saying they’re too busy to come in.

Meego explains to the children that it’s better to give than to receive, that their dad is just as upset about not doing their traditional holiday activities, and that ultimately it’s more important to do things as a family than on a deadline like Christmas mor–

366

Oh, no, wait, now they’re all at the mall. What was the fucking worry then?

Maggie says “mistletoe” and Meego responds to this twelve-year old girl with “rocket crotch”.

367

Alex explains sitting on Santa’s lap to Meego, and Meego says to this six-year-old boy that he saw Santa sexually molest some little kids in the park and then get arrested for it. I can’t even muster the energy to make light of this. What kind of person thinks a family sitcom is the right context for shock humor?

368

Maggie–bulwark against capitalism–is able to work out tax in her head and concludes that buying gifts for her family members will only leave her four bucks to buy something for Gordon. I would say the lesson here is to come up with multiple possibilities of what to get a person, but that she’s able to come up with anything appropriate at all for these cardboard cutouts is astonishing.

369

Trip buys a cologne called “Booty Hound” and notices the copywriting attesting to its use by members of the Dallas Cowboys. Yeah, uh, Trip, something I should tell you about men who are into backdoor pursuits…

He tells Maggie not to buy him a present. Why bring up all of these potential plot avenues just to dismiss them? Ed Begley, Jr. reading a list of algebra problems would have been more welcome than this.

370

Dad asks about buying a Survive-a-saur.

371

Whoever these two guys are: That tired old plot?

372

Man I hate this show.

373

Alex sits on Santa’s lap. Santa brings up Survive-a-saur just so he can tell Alex he won’t get one. Meego writers can’t imagine any person doing their job any better than they do theirs. Santa actually gets a good joke about how Tickle Me Elmos are being “used for landfill” now. I’ve never once heard “landfill” used in a sentence that way, but the joke is clear.

(N.b. in many shots in the house, both Alex and Maggie have Keroppi and Badtz-Maru toys; and there’s a Keroppi and a Hello Kitty in the background of this scene. I don’t remember them being that big in the US in the 90s; were they?)

374

Meego sits on Santa’s lap and asks for an end to suffering all over the universe; Santa says Meego is sitting on his balls. Does Bronson understand how balls work?

375

Early the next morning, Ed and Meego are waiting in line for the toy store to open. Who’s watching the kids?! The store owner tells the crowd they have 9 Survive-a-Saurs and that he’ll start personally shooting people if they fight.

This episode is a whole bunch of non-starters so far, but actually having one story and following it through makes it feel more like a family sitcom than it usually does. None of that makes it unique–in fact, I’d be shocked if any of you have seen fewer than ten versions of this same plot–but it does make it feel like it’s actually tied to the world around it.

Again, stuff I don’t have the time and space to research to the extent I’m curious about, but I think the 90s were the tipping point for three things: nation-wide information dissemination, a boom in the collectibles market, and a 50-year history of finely-tuning commercials to appeal to children. There were ~2 generations at that point that had grown up with television characters and merchandising, and they knew that anything they had held onto from their childhoods could be worth a mint to the right collector. Advertisers knew how to tell both parent and child that the kid would be unfulfilled without getting to participate in a pop culture moment.

Fighting over some stupid toy whose appeal was impenetrable to adults was a common experience in 1997, and props to the episode for not giving the viewer any way to understand its appeal as anything other than a slick commercial that we don’t get to see. Meego repeated the commercial, and that was a good marriage of withholding from the viewer and Bronson (briefly) doing a voice. It seems to indicate that Meego is meant to be a child, or himself hooked into advertising; the first goes against everything else the show thinks it’s told us about Meego, and exploring the second would go against the way this show works.

At any rate, it was a common enough experience then that I’m willing to overlook that this is derivative of Jingle All the Way. You could take the “scarce toy” story in a number of interesting directions before it was completely worn out. Meego doesn’t do anything new, but it also doesn’t give us a five-minute improv scene.

376377

When the doors are opened, Vangelis’s “Chariots of Fire” starts playing and the camera zooms in on this old woman. It may not sound like much, but that zoom the funniest joke in this whole episode.

378379