Well, this was a bad idea.
At one point last year, I thought it might be interesting to watch through the entirety of Bronson Pinchot’s post-Perfect Strangers career and see what, if any, impact the show had on his life as an actor, or even as a person. And since then, more questions have arisen.
Joel Zwick’s memories of directing Bronson in his book (discussed in the Season 7 review) left us with the very real possibility that Bronson can be funny–can flourish, even–in the hands of a restraining force that understands what size and shape his brand of comedy can take. The Trouble With Larry left us (thank God it’s left us) with the certainty that removing those elements resulted in something unairable, unfilmable, undirectable, and ultimately unwatchable.
Bronson was incredibly lucky, twice over. First, he benefited from a last-minute cast change on Perfect Strangers: Mark Linn-Baker had the skills and knowledge (and one must assume patience) to direct Bronson’s energy and creativity, to maintain between actor and show the same balance between the Cousins. And second, CBS handed him a show where he had an outsize amount of creative control.
The CBS contract, I think, helped Bronson’s hubris rise during season 8 of Perfect Strangers. Perfect Strangers experienced a sudden downturn, and Trouble with Larry got cancelled, because Bronson sprawled his limbs across the stories, getting his feet on everything.
Those opportunities–good direction, increased creative input–come rarely in any C-list actor’s career. So the new question arises: where in the world would Bronson Pinchot’s particular brand of acting and humor fit once he squandered both? Are there roles that suit him?
So, for the past year, when I wasn’t watching Balki, I was watching Bronson. I sat through ~100 hours of film and television for this. With the exception of maybe 6 hours’ worth of things I can’t get ahold of, I’ve seen everything he’s done since 1993.
Someone writes me guest posts so I can take a two-week break, and I choose to spend it writing this. I’m not a well man.
She’s Having a Baby (1988)
Character: He ain’t in it
This movie’s from during the timespan of Perfect Strangers, but it’s worth mentioning here. Bronson’s not in it. I’ve watched every frame of this movie twenty times, I had 200 different animators recreate scenes from it, and I even got the ghost of John Hughes to possess me and sign an affidavit that Bronson isn’t in this. But somehow this isn’t proof enough for IMDB to take the credit off of his page.
The credits on this movie do feature a series of soundbytes from well-known, uncredited actors and comedians. Some industrious person took on the task of figuring out who they all were and thought that this guy was Bronson:
This isn’t the first time someone has had to clean up Bronson’s IMDB page; he used to be listed as part of the cast for Bachelor Party (1984), likely because of the Perfect Strangers episode of the same name. And it won’t be the last time I have to update the page, either. A lack of care or consensus on what Bronson was even in isn’t exactly an auspicious start.
Verdict: Watch it.
Laurel & Hardy: a Tribute to “The Boys” (April 1992)
This made-for-TV All Star Cast “tribute” for Laurel & Hardy is essentially nothing more than an hour-and-a-half commercial for the colorized versions of their films that Larry Harmon had just dumped money into.
Bronson’s in it for about a minute to talk about how quickly characters recover (physically and emotionally) from pain in slapstick. I can believe that host Dom DeLuise actually loved Laurel and Hardy, but Bronson was in Harmon’s Rolodex and they needed one more soundbyte.
Verdict: Buy that $3 VHS copy on eBay and in 30 years your grandkids will think it’s part of your porn collection.
Disney’s Christmas Fantasy on Ice (19 December 1992)
Character: Jack Frost
I’ve never been much of a Disney fan. Aside from the fashion-saturated Totally Minnie, I can’t think of a single Disney production that I ever wanted to re-watch as a kid. (The point at which my lack of interest turned into animosity was when they bought Doug and ruined it.) If I saw commercials for Disney on Ice coming through Atlanta, I’m sure I didn’t care even if it wouldn’t have been too expensive for my family.
I’m sure that bringing the experience to television was a way to advertise it, and for kids like me to actually get to see what the big deal was. Evidently it’s a bunch of ice skaters who didn’t make it professionally, but whom I admire all the more for being able to skate for any length of time wearing a heavy Roger Rabbit head.
I don’t get, though, why it felt it needed to have two layers of bookend story. It starts off with Michael Eisner introducing the program, and then another introduction where Bronson has evidently kidnapped the child actress ABC kept on hand in case one of the kids from Full House croaked.
She calls him “Uncle Bronnie”.
*takes a three-minute break to let body stop shuddering*
Uncle Bronnie tells this girl the story of the time the main Disney characters paused every two minutes to watch an ice-skating performance. Mickey, Minnie, Snow White, Dopey, Goofy, Roger Rabbit, a mutated-to-people-sized Chip and Dale, Belle, Beast, and Donald (Duck) seek out Jack Frost because they want some snow, which is not at all a metaphor for hitting up your dealer for coke.
Inside the Country Bears house with some snow on it Jack Frost’s house, Jack acts out ice jokes like eating “cold cuts” and using icicles as buttplugs. His dialogue is littered with all 10 of the ice/cold/snow words the writers could come up with. They even put an effect on his voice, which doesn’t always line up with the duration of him talking. It’s a nice little role for Bronson, because the character doesn’t need to be anything more than a walking, talking Laffy Taffy wrapper. Also you don’t see that much of him.
He sends the characters on a quest to find pieces of a magical snowflake. They watch Brian Boitano, an as-yet unbruised Nancy Kerrigan, little kids, and even the Seven Dwarfs skate.
Most of the characters are paired with skaters who are dressed like them, or characters from the movies they were in… with the exception of the Little Mermaid sequence.
I found myself on the verge of guessing that Roger Rabbit and Goofy were picked for the Little Mermaid sequence because of the lack of walking characters, but then I remembered that was THE POINT OF THE WHOLE MOVIE so what the fuck even.
If this is supposed to show off how great the Disney parks are, it sure does rely on everything but the costumed characters to get that point across. It’s so proud of how handily it stole the concept of The Thief and the Cobbler before Richard Williams could release it that, mid-sequence, it takes the camera off the ice skaters and shows you the “A Whole New World” part of Aladdin instead.
Jack makes it snow or some shit, store-brand Penn and Teller show up, and dear God I’ll never finish this post at this rate.
Verdict: If you find yourself in a The Road-type situation with your son, and the only working electronics you find is my hard drive full of Bronson media, why would you make things worse by watching this?
The Trouble With Larry (25 August-8 September 1993)
Character: Larry Burton
You’d really have to be some kind of idiot to let someone trick you into watching this show.
Now, Philip didn’t have to watch or review this show, and neither did I. Audiences had the chance to change the channel. But TV reviewers did have to watch it, and I feel for them the most.
Actually, scratch that. According to the Orange County TV Register, “At a recent press conference to introduce “Larry,” Pinchot gave an energetic reading of the then-unfilmed pilot script, altering his voice and body language to reflect each of the characters”. Whoever had to see that gets my deepest sympathies. The article’s pretty explicit about the fact that Bronson was looking for something that would let him “adopt a multitude of traits and identities”, and there’s even a quote from Bronson about how hard that kind of platform is to find.
I wonder why.
In that same article, two of the other “leads”, Shanna Reed and Perry King, are basically putting a polite face on the fact that they’re hoping to make money off of just standing in the background while Bronson goofs around for a few years. They also have very different opinions on whether Bronson was improvising on Trouble with Larry; which either means that he was, or they didn’t realize how much direction he provided the writers, or they didn’t bother to read a script page that didn’t have their character on it anyway.
With a lone exception in the Los Angeles Times, the critics all predicted its swift cancellation. People and TV Guide didn’t even get to publish their predictions before it happened. The best things anyone had to say about the show at all was that the dialogue was sometimes “batty”, Bronson was “wiggy”, and that they could imagine young viewers wishing they had a “wacky dad” like Larry. One review was so negative it got its own Linda disclaimer.
Can you believe this show underwent so much retooling they even ditched its original logo by the time it aired?
If you felt that some of Philip’s guesses over the past two weeks were any sort of hyperbole, let me go on record: Bronson absolutely felt the show was his to do whatever he wanted with. And maybe he had a right to feel that way. Bronson was initially in talks with for a children’s show, I assume à la Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. He was mentally anchored at a point of what he (I think) assumed must be total control over a show. My best guess is that, when CBS found out (*gasp*) that he wasn’t exactly something either kids or CBS executives warmed up to, they handed him a bottom-tier sitcom scenario to ruin all on his own so they could get out of the contract.
In interviews the week or so before its premiere, Bronson’s ego was back in full force. Balki’s accent was all his creation, he said, and if he got it from anywhere, it was his high-powered Mentat-grade subconscious. Bronson can refer to Balki as being asexual and not having any idea how to make a baby almost in the same breath that he vehemently denies that the character in any way puts down any foreigners. (By the way, you’re all invited to my 100% racism-free one-man show where I play an enslaved idiot minstrel from the continent of Gaffrika.) On his Arsenio Hall appearance, he gets carried onto the stage–shoeless–by a group of women he knows from the Venica, CA Gold’s Gym. We’re seeing 12-year-old Bronson’s idea of success.
In a Hollywood Insider interview, Bronson refers to The Trouble with Larry as “so much close to my sense of humor than anything I’ve ever done that I don’t see it as a challenge.” He implies that he was constantly, desperately asking ABC for a chance to do anything other than the innocent, sweet Balki. So why the fuck did you sign up for an eighth season, man? Further, on CBS This Morning, the day of the premiere:
Bronson: [Larry] doesn’t think before he speaks, and is a little oversexed, and needs attention; therefore it isn’t hard for me to just come to work and be him.
As far as Bronson was concerned, Larry was just Bronson delivering fat joke after bald joke after British joke. I was going to say that some of those lines felt they’d be at home on Married… With Children, but that show was giving you lowest-common-denominator jokes for a reason. Bronson was either just improvising on stage or in the writer’s room. To Tom Snyder, he admits “The premise is not the show. The premise is a reason to get this guy–this wonderful character that these two writers–Andrew Nicholls and Darrell Vickers thought up… He’s this kind of Groucho Marx for the 90s.”
It’s a fair comparison; Groucho Marx was also six feet under in 1993. Going back to the CBS This Morning interview, he also admits that he hadn’t yet figured out who Larry was. So let me see if I have this right: I’m an endless well of creativity, ABC wasn’t giving me outlets for that creativity, I don’t know who this character that two other people created but who I created, because it’s me, really is. Got it.
Not once in any interview does Bronson even bother to mention any of the co-stars; the only time he does is when Tom Snyder brings up Marianne Mullerleile (mu-ler-lie-luh), and even then Bronson only talks about her character’s role. Mullerleile, by the way, relayed to Total TV magazine that Bronson would try to direct her, much to the upset of Linda Day (one of six directors on Trouble With Larry; that’s one way to make sure no one else puts their stamp on it).
Verdict: It’s impossible to remove The Trouble With Larry from Earth completely; if you’re able to maintain belief in a higher power knowing that, you’re a better person than I.
(P.S. The Tom Snyder interview is worth checking out if you want to hear Tampa, FL radio personality and future QAnon conspiracy-theorist Lionel call in and insult Bronson and Tom.)
True Romance (8 September 1993)
Character: Elliot Blitzer
Bronson’s audition for this role consisted of gifting Tarantino with a used pair of Manolos he filched from Courteney Cox’s dressing room.
For a movie that’s “co-starring” Bronson Pinchot, he’s sure as fuck not in it for the first half of the movie. I think he’s got more lines than anyone besides Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, but why risk letting audiences know that one minute into a movie?
True Romance follows the story of two lovers who set out for a new life, leaving a trail of pissed-off mobsters in their wake. Elliot Blitzer (an actor) agrees to help Christian and Patricia sell some cocaine they stole to a movie producer. His role gets complicated after the police catch him with it and force him to go undercover with a wire.
Elliot Blitzer’s character is essentially a hapless actor who stumbled into the wrong role that’s way too real and might need better chops than he has. He gives up his story quickly to the cops, but then manages to parlay his real fear of death into an opportunity to get near the drug deal.
Verdict: There’s admittedly a certain joy in seeing Bronson as an emotional punching bag after eight years of playing World’s Smuggest Angel; and even those of you who like him will enjoy seeing him get a chance to play a Larry Appleton-type for once. It’s also surprisingly saccharine for a Quentin Tarantino film.
Beverly Hills Cop III (25 May 1994)
To me, the first Beverly Hills Cop was a surprisingly good vehicle for Eddie Murphy. I don’t care much for action movies, even the ones that lean toward the comic, but Eddie showing up a lazy white police force was a delight. That concept worked so well that Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) managed to make a story that even Batman comic writers would have thrown out worthwhile (there’s a possibility that BHC II didn’t even start life as a BHC movie). By 1994, The Nineties had taken over the action film genre, dousing everything in bright gray, cheesy one-liners, and cutesy/hip-hop versions of existing theme music.
Bronson claims to have “adamantly” refused a role in Beverly Hills Cop II, which if you ask me is total bullshit. It’s like I was saying about sitcoms existing in the same universe: there has to be a two-way acknowledgment of the crossover, and Bronson’s side is the only side I can find for this story.
Anyway in Beverly Hills Cop III Bronson returns as Serge, the gay art guy, except now he’s selling high-powered weaponry. I like the twist on the James Bond formula–that the scientist showing the secret agent all the high-tech gizmos is operating out of a booth at a trade show.
Unfortunately the scene is taken up by Serge introducing a commercial they all have to stand there and watch. The filmmakers pretty clearly just stuck him in an existing role that only needed to introduce that commercial, and gave him a couple of minutes to come up with some classic Serge humor like talking about his recent colonic irrigation.
I can’t find it now and I’m not going to look for it, but in some interview Bronson said that he ended up doing a few takes without Murphy there, and the number of over-the-shoulder shots for both of them really sticks out. In the seconds where Eddie is there, he looks bored–but then that’s true of much of the movie.
Verdict: You’ve gone your whole life without seeing this movie. Why mess up a good thing?
1994 (c. June 1994)
Two-man stage show with Roger Kabler
Within a discussion of Serge, Balki, and Elliot from True Romance:
“There’s bittersweet pleasure in having people stroke me for playing these little comic creations,” he says in the modulated voice of a classically trained actor. “You’re like the champagne bubbles that have nothing to do with the grape. I haven’t done close to what I can do.”
Gee, it’s too bad he never got his own sitcom that was close to his own sense of humor so we could see what he can do. Just for timeline’s sake, at this point Bronson and Wren split up at least a year and a half ago, and he was now with director Amy Heckerling.
Verdict: Roger Kabler does Robin Williams impersonations now that Robin Williams is dead. I’ll let you decide what that means to you.
Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman
“The Prankster” (9 October 1994) / “Return of the Prankster” (26 February 1995)
Character: The Prankster
I started getting into monthly comics right around the time Superman “died” at the hands of Doomsday. So maybe I’m not into the character simply because a corpse wasn’t quite able to convey what the character was all about. I’m more into wacky villains in the Batman vein, and as much as the Prankster is an obvious milquetoast Joker, I think I still would have enjoyed the comics version.
I guess Rip Taylor was too expensive for ABC. I never watched Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman because every advertisement I saw for it made it look like a drama and about 100 times blander than you’d imagine a Superman comic to be. I mentioned that I watched some of these things about a year ago, and looking at the sparseness of my notes, these two episodes didn’t make much of an impression on me even then. You could put a gun to my head and I couldn’t tell you what they were about, other than that the Prankster stole some diamonds using a Pavarotti jack-in-the-box.
I get that, since LaC:tNAoS was going the more serious route, the Prankster couldn’t be a broadly-comic cheap-gag purveyor like he was in the comics. But I don’t understand why his antics don’t involve pranks at all. The jack-in-the-box comes kind of close, but otherwise, he’s a tech-savvy burglar who utilizes time bombs and stun-ray cameras.
It’s the kind of empty role that fails or succeeds on the strength of the actor. Bronson’s game for it, and he slots nicely into the role of a man laughing behind his serious, high-class facade at a joke everyone else is too slow to get. His habit of slipping into funny voices all the time works the same way that the antagonist of the Leprechaun movies talking in rhyme does, or Freddy Krueger taunting helpless kids does. Bronson thinks he’s smarter and funnier than anyone else, and so does this character; it’s a good fit, even if it’s not something you’ll remember five minutes later.
Even if you find Bronson’s voices charming, you’ll still be disappointed that, for a lot of his screentime, he’s doing Three Stooges bits with the bumbling assistant character the show stuck him with.
I mean, what else could the writers do? It wasn’t like they could make the whole show about villains actually fighting Superman. Who would watch that?
Verdict: A good fit for Bronson, but even John Cleese’s Superman: True Brit has more personality than this show.
Intermission 1 – January/May 1995
During a Q&A clip on Nickelodeon’s U-2-U program, Bronson sticks his foot in his mouth, unprompted.
In an interview with David Letterman, Bronson discusses his hair loss as well as coloring his hair to cover up all but one sexy curl of grey in the front. He also makes sure to mention that he has privileged access to Amy Heckerling’s body parts.
Stephen King’s The Langoliers (14 & 15 May 1995)
Character: Craig Toomy
Hey, I know this anchor from a meme!
I went through a Stephen King phase in middle and high school, and that extended to watching whatever film versions I could find at Rockmart, GA’s two video rental businesses. This may be hard to believe, but I was a pedantic little asshole back then, and I typically got caught up in what story details were changed from the books. I remember being mildly interested in the fact that Balki was in this, and disappointed that his Craig Toomy wasn’t quite as unhinged as the one in the novella.
A proper full review of this 3-hour TV movie would necessitate that I have read “The Langoliers” sometime in the past decade. I can go ahead and tell you the essential problem with many Stephen King adaptations, though: they don’t convey the rich mental lives of his characters. King studied psychology in college, and a deep understanding of psychoses pervades, and forms the central question, of his early works: are damaged psyches more susceptible to supernatural forces? Stephen King’s The Langoliers retains all 500 or so characters from the novella without a good way to retain the nuance I’m sure was there in the original.
Even though Entertainment Tonight gave him a goofin’-around spotlight in their feature on the movie, this is the first entry in this post where Bronson isn’t playing a character without any humor. Craig Toomy is haunted by dual monsters–his demanding father and the fictional monsters his father utilized to scare him into incessant punctuality–and has a psychotic break when his flight flies through a wormhole to the past, making him late for a meeting. As far as Stephen King TV adaptations go, Bronson as an unhinged murderer has more personality than just about everything around him; enough so that I wonder why in the world he’s in it.
If he sought out the role, I can see him relating to Toomy’s abusive father. If the filmmakers sought him out, it must have been for his self-styled “unpredictable” persona. Audiences may have come to expect that Bronson would constantly surprise them, even if 50% of the time that surprise was him doing the same Italian chef voice your five-year-old nephew can do. USA Today panned his performance, but the movie benefits from Bronson playing against type and trading on an aspect of his public persona. He’s the most Stephen King part of the whole thing.
You’ll be happy to know he gets eaten by CGI monsters.
Verdict: Watch Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye instead.
Dumb & Dumber: The Animated Series
“Otto’s Best Friend” (28 October 1995)
Character: Dempsey Dumbster
Bronson voices an announcer as well as the devious nebbish assistant of a rich car collector who wants to buy “Otto” the dog van. In the generation before mine and through a small portion of my youth, most of the prominent TV cartoons were voiced by a relatively small number of voice actors. I don’t know when the practice of screen actors voicing cartoons started, but let’s say “around this time, thanks to Disney” so I don’t have to research it. But this show doesn’t seem to be banking on the recognizability of the celebrities on hand. Quite the opposite: Matt Frewer is cast as Jim Carrey’s voice (and does it justice).
It’s easy to see how Bronson’s *ahem* acumen with voices could lead to voiceover work, though I can’t understand why him and not more established cartoon actors. You’ve got to start somewhere, I guess, and a cartoon with a mere 13-episode order can’t have had much money to spread around.
This is the second IMDB entry that I’ve had to correct–and IMDB won’t accept my changes. Bronson’s only in this one episode. If you disagree you have to prove it.
The Adventures of Hyperman
“Cosmo Not/The Brain Game” (2 December 1995)
Character: Valerie Knockisblokov
A cartoon show you’ve never heard of, based on the computer game you’ve never heard of either. I can’t find a copy of the episode, so here’s a photo from eBay of a Hyperman bendy action figure.
Verdict: This is the best one so far.
“Nip and Tuck” (15 January 1996)
Character: Arthur Zipkin
High Society was evidently the store-brand Absolutely Fabulous, which never appealed to me whenever I’d see it on Comedy Central at my grandmother’s house. I’ve never watched AbFab, but this episode of High Society feels to me like what you’d get if Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz went to a plastic surgeon.
Bronson plays the plastic surgeon, and that’s already more words than this entry is worth.
The copy of the episode I have has a little behind-the-scenes bit at the beginning where Bronson compares Jean Smart to someone in the background of a Wizard of Oz scene that only a diehard fan of the film would even have noticed.
Cut him some slack, though; I’m sure it was just the nicest way he could come up with to say Smart was wearing clown makeup.
Verdict: Bronson had been playing the role of a hip, superficial Hollywood elitist in interviews for 10 years at this point, so this role was likely no sweat. If you must watch it, skip to the halfway point and enjoy Sally Kellerman’s performance as a severely Teutonic nurse.
Intermission 2 – January 1996
In an interview on The Stephanie Miller Show, Bronson quickly establishes dominance before the first question by telling a woman in the audience to sit next to him and let him touch her. He announces that Amy Heckerling is “a little bit pregnant” and trips over himself to clarify that he didn’t actually put his dick inside her: they were doing artificial insemination. This interview is painful to watch.
What kind of insecure person goes on TV, grabs the first arm candy he can find, talks about his sperm count, starts grabbing at the host’s undergarments, brags about his dick size, and asks the host to stick her hand down his pants so she can “see how much weight he’s lost”?
Jesus Christ! It’s too much psychosexual dysfunction to process.
Some of you might be saying now “Bronson always plays the wild card and goofs around”. Maybe he’s in full control here, but ask yourself what it means that making women touch him is consistently, for years, what he thinks is funny.
It’s a full 7 minutes into a 9-minute interview that Stephanie Miller even gets to ask him a question. She asks is he working on new accents and again, he continues to imply they just come to him full-formed because he has such a perfect ear and delivery. He scolds the audience when they don’t like him cracking sex jokes about the woman he demanded join him on stage.
It’s as Bronson as Bronson gets, which we’ve learned means that he thinks he’s about to once again wow the entire world with his comic genius.
In fact, he was trying to get another vehicle for himself off the ground. Bronson had hitched himself to Amy Heckerling’s star, which was rising thanks to the success of Clueless the previous year (Heckerling wrote and directed the film). But thank God she didn’t have enough clout to get her boyfriend his own show, Forever Young, which would have featured Bronson as a Rip Van Winkle/Austin Powers type coming out of a 20-year coma. The only thing about that concept that would have worked is that Bronson’s emotional maturity was still that of a 16-year-old.
But even without that show, 1996 was something of a comeback for Bronson.
“A Room with a Bellevue” (17 February 1996)
Character: Dr. Henri Ducharme
Duckman was one of those shows I only ever saw in TV Guide, or through advertisements when I was at my grandparents’ house. I assumed that Duckman constantly swore and had sex since it wasn’t on Nickelodeon; but on the basis of this episode, I’m guessing it was more Rocko’s Modern Life for college kids. One of these days I’ll set aside some time to watch the whole series, but for right now, I’ve got 8,000 more Bronson appearances to sift through.
Duckman gets arrested for ranting and weasels out of jailtime by pleading insanity. He gets sent to a mental institution and winds up in the care of Drs. Ducharme and Morsink. Bronson’s the tall one. He does a French accent that occasionally shifts into German.
Verdict: Don’t let Bronson Pinchot stop you from watching Duckman.
3rd Rock From the Sun
“Ab-dick-ted” (4 March 1996)
Character: Roy Albright
Can someone please snark-review this show? I want to enjoy jokes about French Stewart looking like someone drew Kramer from memory, but I also don’t want to spend my time thinking them up.
Bronson plays the semi-estranged brother of Jane Curtin’s Mary Albright character, and his introduction is asking Jon Lithgow about teenage girls’ butts. It’s easy to see someone wanting Bronson for the role of the family embarrassment who says whatever lewd things are on his mind.
But what’s set up as the situation of the episode–Dick feels that his alien team isn’t functioning well as a family, and is interested to learn how his colleague gets along with hers–that situation of picking the absolute worst example to learn from gets quickly ditched in favor of the main characters thinking Roy got abducted once and will disclose their secret identities.
The finale of the episode involves them taking him out to a cornfield to kill him. But then they find out he was lying and they don’t kill him.
Eight years Mark Linn-Baker had to put up with being called short.
Verdict: Bronson hugging unwilling women and making funny faces while he puffs up his own importance are portrayed exactly as annoying to humans as they are in real life, and only potentially fascinating to aliens. This is exactly the type of character you’d expect him to get typecast as after Perfect Strangers and The Trouble With Larry; luckily he’s reined in by the story and not allowed to dance on the tiny grave of the table draft.
It’s My Party (22 March 1996)
Character: Monty Tipton
Wikipedia offers up the useless bit of information that this was “one of the first feature films to address the topic of AIDS patients dying with dignity” (emphasis mine). If “one of the first” is the biggest claim to fame a film can make, I think that means you can skip it unless you’re writing a dissertation.
The story (an AIDS patient dies with dignity) serves as the backdrop against which various emotional reactions are shown and validated. For all that Bronson sometimes reads as gay (go look at the hairstyle he was sporting on Worst Cooks in America last year), it’s just as true that he was publicly dating women in the 1980s and 1990s; and the only male toes I’ve seen in his mouth were his own. So I’ll leave it up to you how problematic his role as a flamboyant Jewish New York homosexual was, and how much it stole roles from actual gay actors. His lines are alternately movie quotes and things Herr Lipp from The League of Gentlemen would say.
Verdict: I’m making this one sound more worthwhile than it is.
Courage Under Fire (12 July 1996)
This is another role that leaves me wondering why Bronson got it instead of just some unknown actor. I have to imagine that his relationship with Amy Heckerling either meant he was able to get a better agent, or just got into better/any parties where he could make important connections.
He plays a White House aide with some sort of role doing PR on military horrors. Bronson adds a touch of oiliness to the an otherwise muted performance, enough to remind you that that kind of cog in the government machine is a dishonest one at its core.
Verdict: Watch Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye instead.
Adventures from the Book of Virtues
“Work” (2 September 1996)
Character: The Man / The Dog
When I was a kid, the only Chick-Fil-A in Rome, GA, was at the newly-opened Mount Berry Square Mall. It was there, sometime in 1991 or 1992, that I got my very first piece of media from what appeared to be some pop culture alternate universe: a cassette tape story from the Adventures in Odyssey series.
I bet I listened to about 2 minutes of it. I bet it’s moldering away in my childhood home’s basement. It’s obvious to all of us now that Chick-Fil-A is Christian, and so is Focus on the Family, but I only picked up on the overt antiseptic moralizing as a kid. The production/distribution company behind Adventures from the Book of Virtues is PorchLight Entertainment, which tries really hard not to let on that they’re a Christian company. I don’t think I’ll sound like a conspiracy theorist when I point out that Virtues is based on a book series by Reagan’s secretary of education. Or that PorchLight also produced the Jay Jay the Jet Plane cartoons, and distributed them through Bible & educational publisher Thomas Nelson.
I actually had to spend money on this, and you know what? Bronson’s not fucking in it. He may have been in other episodes, but if he’s in this one, PorchLight’s sure not admitting to it.
Anyway I tried to make this entry as frustrating and boring for you to read as it was for me to watch and write it.
Verdict: Crowd-sourced online information repositories are ruining this country. The next time you want fried chicken, seek out a dive with a line around the block.
First Wives Club (20 September 1996)
Character: Duarto Feliz
Bronson works so well as these art-world elitist types that have no idea how incompetent they are, or how ridiculous they look to the rest of us, that it almost makes me wonder whether he deliberately added the former element to his public persona as a C-Lister.
Even if Bronson had mental barricades in place to protect him from realizing how minor his celebrity status was, many of his live-action characters are worn thinly enough that you can see how much he enjoyed being in on the joke. That winking attitude matched well with the character of the Prankster on Lois and Clark: These Superman Adventures are New, and it works here too.
Duarto Feliz, interior decorator for wealthy New York housewives, is flamboyishly self-important, but with one important aspect: he knows that this is his persona. When the First Wives need to steal some MacGuffin from an ex-husband’s house, Duarto helps them out by getting himself hired as the ex’s decorator so he can let them in. We see enough of him early in the film to know that his performance in that scene is deliberately turned up.
(Add Wikipedia to the places I had to correct the spelling of a character’s name as well as the description of the role.)
Verdict: One of the good convergences of Bronson’s bad acting habits and the demands of the character. It’s the type of character I’m more used to seeing Jon Lovitz play, but Lovitz would stick out a little too much for such a limited role. If you’re in need of a Bette Midler movie, though, check out Big Business (1988).
Clueless (TV show)
“Do We With Bad Haircuts Not Feel?” (11 October 1996) / “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” (Pilot episode, aired 1 November 1996)
Characters: Ka-feen / Mr. Pontormo
Dear God, we’re still in 1996! Why am I doing this to myself?
Fun fact: Amy Heckerling named the school Bronson Alcott High School in part because she was dating Bronson. Makes you want to take a Brillo pad to your treasured VHS copy, doesn’t it?
I have no idea how many shows one writer/director can handle simultaneously, but I’m sure that the Clueless television show would have won out over the Bronson Pinchot vehicle Forever Young if Heckerling had had to make the decision. There’s no information out there on why Heckerling and Pinchot broke up (apparently in 1997, though the original source for that information is long vanished from the Internet), and I’m glad there isn’t because it would be too tempting to use as ammo. Ignoring his Stephanie Miller Show appearance for the moment, we do have evidence that dating Amy Heckerling’s success was having an impact on his psyche.
In Jen Chaney’s 2015 book, As If!: The Oral History of Clueless as told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew, Heckerling recounts:
“Somebody told [the red carpet photographer] that I was the one who made the movie…. Then they were going, ‘Oh, Amy: over here! Oh, Amy: over here! Bronson, can you move out of the way?’ And this is basically stupid, showbiz stuff, but Bronson’s quite a sensitive person. I had to deal with the effect that that had on his psyche for a while.”
So maybe that’s why Heckerling wrote a bunch of teenage girls soaking their shorts over him in the pilot episode.
Bronson was surprised and incensed when ABC was hesitant to let Heckerling use him in the pilot without their approval. Yeah, what was up with that? All he did was wipe his ass with one of their guaranteed money-makers, how is that a big deal?
In the other episode, he plays a gay hairdresser who fucks up people’s hair. He does the Serge voice in a lower register. Is Bronson any good in either episode? As if! (That is a catchphrase from Clueless.)
Verdict: For Wallace Shawn completists only.
Bruno the Kid
“Take Me Out to Bomb Game” (14 October 1996) / “Virus” (19 May 1997)
Character: General Armando Castrato
If the key to comedy is timing, its absence is sometimes more easily seen in cheaply-made cartoons like Bruno the Kid. Directors for live action–or even voicework–can get multiple takes that can be chosen from later on; and a good editor can manipulate existing footage to get timing perfect. With animation, editors don’t have multiple takes of the action at their disposal.
It’s something you don’t think about until it’s not there and you suddenly have to do the mental work to see how a gag should have landed. Invader Zim also suffered from this.
I’m not qualified to talk about whether or where Bruno the Kid fits into Bruce Willis’s Bruno Radolini mythology, and I don’t care enough to research it. But Willis makes fucking sure you know it’s him voicing the main character.
If I were a voice actor for this role, I would have assumed they’d want a high-pitched voice, but Bronson knows better. He does his French accent but turns all the “y” sounds into “j”.
I had to fix the IMDB listings on these, too. There was no Bruno the Kid movie–it was a VHS tape anthology with a few episodes plus a handful of various scenes. Not sure if Bronson’s in it. Also, IMDB had Bronson in other episodes than just these two. Whoever uploaded these had gotten ahold of Italian-subbed rips, and whatever Italian TV station did these just used the credits from one episode on multiple others.
Verdict: Kids who saw Bruno the Kid were more concerned with where the remote had disappeared to than they were with how good an accent was. Skip it unless Bruce Willis’s voice is the only thing that helps you reach orgasm.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters
“Amulet of Enfarg” (9 November 1996) / “The Lips Have It” (20 September 1997)
Character: Dietrich DuChamp
IMDB refuses to let me change the two different spellings: Dietrich Duchump and Dietrich Dunlap. Why does IMDB think I’m vandalizing minor voice roles on a latecomer to the original Nicktoons block? At least Wikipedia has the good sense to only block open edits on important pages.
Dietrich DuChamp is an over-the-top fussy and demanding fashion designer from “abroad”. Bronson’s accent is all over the place, and it works for the energy of a character who is visually just as confusing. It’s easy to deride his accents as simply driving in the tire tracks of much better impressionists, but I will credit Bronson with being so un-nuanced that he manages here to find a voice that is equidistant from German, French, and British. He’s either created–or stumbled into–a “European” voice.
I’m beginning to see that voicework is maybe the best outlet for Bronson, because it allows him to go nuts with everything but the script and what the characters do physically. There’s very little–if any–opportunity to improvise lines and he was likely getting direct feedback from experts who knew exactly how the lines needed to be delivered. I don’t think of cartoon voicework as being high-stakes, but I can imagine voice directors having no compunction about firing you if you don’t take their direction and produce usable material. Hell, Tom Kenny and Rob Paulsen were likely on speed dial. Voicing a cartoon character also meant that there was 1) no camera/audience to mug to, 2) no other actors around he could try to throw off-balance, and 3) no opportunity to say “You know, what this character really should be doing in this scene is hugging a woman against her will.”
Verdict: Whenever I see the title of this show written out, I think it’s an English guy expressing relief and pride at the size of the stools he just passed.
“Show Me the Money” (13 March 1997)
Character: Matt Shukat
For every one of these so far, I’ve watched the entirety of the film or television episode so I can get a sense of Bronson’s parts in relation to their wholes. But I’m not about to drop another $33 on these posts, so I’m left with just the four-minute clip Linda uploaded.
Bronson plays an aggressive fast-talking sports talent agent, and also a lawyer. These two roles have nothing to do with each other, and–if this was the entirety of his appearance–nothing to do with the rest of the episode either.
Verdict: I got what I paid for.
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child
“Thumbelina” (20 April 1997) / “The Snow Queen” (18 April 2000)
Characters: Sonny the Toad / Killer Whale & Reindeer
Here are the entirety of the notes I took for these episodes about a year ago:
Harvey Fierstein plays Mrs. Leaperman and Bronson plays her son, Sonny, a nasally gross malformed frog
Reindeer – weird voice – squeaky British voice
I missed the killer whale?
Verdict: It costs Amazon picodollars to deliver these episodes through Prime Video. They’re overpaying.
Step by Step
Season 6 (7 March 1997 – 25 August 1997)
Character: Jean-Luc Rieupeyroux
N.b. Don’t believe IMDB: Bronson was only in 23 of the 24 episodes.
For the whole of Season 6 of ABC sitcom Step by Step, Bronson portrayed French hairstylist Jean-Luc Rieupeyroux. He’s introduced as a business partner opening a new salon with Carol Lambert (Suzanne Somers)… and already I’m getting ahead of myself. In a strange twist of incompetence, the season premiere including Jean-Luc’s introduction was aired as the season finale. It’s easy to understand the mistake, since forcing anyone but the cast and crew to watch Step by Step would have opened ABC up to lawsuits over unsafe working conditions. Besides, the intended premiere was titled “Bonjour Jean-Luc”. Who the hell knows what that’s supposed to mean in English?
It was confusing to watch the season opener “Crazy Love” without knowing all of that, but I did laugh over the fact that that episode’s main story is how tired Carol and Frank (Patrick Duffy) already are of Jean-Luc hanging around all the time.
I’ve talked before about citation tracking as an information science tool: as a rule of thumb, the more citations a peer-reviewed journal article gets, the more important that article was to its field. I’d like to propose another rule of thumb: if a sitcom season doesn’t premiere in the fall, it’s not considered crucial to the network’s ratings. Step by Step season 6 didn’t premiere until 7 months into the 1996/1997 season, and ran straight through the summer. ABC figured it wasn’t as strong as Clueless would be in the Friday 9PM spot, and that it was better than repeats during the following summer.
A second rule of thumb: you can gauge the level of fan love there is for a show by how how many different VHS tapes a full season rip on The Pirate Bay consists of.
I remember watching at least the first season of Step by Step when it aired, though all I remember is that there was a girl named Al, and that there was a scene where Cody poured milk and chocolate syrup into his mouth and shook his head around. (I think the joke was that it saved time.) I also was aware enough at the time to recognize it as a Brady Bunch clone.
Watching this season has allowed me build up a large store of pity for any doomed soul who chooses to snark-review Step by Step. I have no idea how strong this show was to begin with, or what it might have morphed into over five years, but if this season is anything to go by, it’s obvious that it needed a shot in the arm. Sasha Mitchell, actor for the aforementioned Cody, was booted from the show when it came out that he beat his wife.
They must have been giving Mitchell scads of screentime because at least two or three of the kid characters get fuckall to do. Family sitcoms are supposed to be able to keep themselves fresh just by dint of child actors growing: once they hit certain ages, you can put them in new story scenarios. The risk is repeating yourself, but wouldn’t that be better than it looking like three homeless kids wandered into the background of some shots?
But many network sitcoms’ primary goal back then wasn’t to be a vessel for good ideas, it was simply to get viewers to stick around long enough to see a Colgate ad or two. From the looks of it, Step by Step had already cloned Michelle Tanner with the character of Lilly Foster-Lambert and had decided years previous that actor Jason Marsden (playing Rich, a friend of JT Lambert) was worth more than half the cast.
These episodes of Step by Step resemble in no way what I remember the show being. What was a blended-family scenario seemed now to focus almost entirely on JT (Brandon Call) and Rich, either on double-dates with their girlfriends, or in Perfect Strangers/Family Matters-style two-man physical comedy.
Step by Step had leaned so far into what it could tell viewers liked that it lost its premise, but still that wasn’t enough to keep it viable.
ABC, look, if things ever get bad enough that you’re thinking of asking Bronson Pinchot to help out, that means the show was effectively dead two years ago.
Adding an actor to an established sitcom, especially like this, when his contract has him down for almost every episode, means the world has to contort itself to make room. Jean-Luc is introduced as Carol’s business partner, and he’s not living with the Foster-Lambert clan, so the show has to work out ways of giving him connections to other characters. The (intended) season premiere’s way of establishing Jean-Luc’s essentiality is that he teaches JT how to dance.
Jean-Luc does have a kind of loose arc across the season, if you can manage to put the episodes in the right order.
(Right, I forgot to mention: multiple episodes are in the wrong places. I believe episode 23 was meant to be episode 2, and episode 22 meant to be episode 3.)
When we’re introduced to him, we learn that his wife divorced him and has custody of his daughter, Dani. He’s supposed to be a fairly well-known figure in the hairstylist world, his services sought out by various global luminaries. But we quickly learn that he hasn’t cut hair for years–he just give his clients a happy-ending massage. Then he cuts hair again and everything’s fine.
That’s it. That’s his whole story. They do explore the daughter aspect a little, at least. Jean-Luc starts spoiling Lilly, the youngest kid on the show, and the only way they figure out how to make him quit is for Carol to go and kidnap his daughter from France. And he also fills an important plot role that only Bronson could truly pull off: JT Lambert moves in with him for a whole episode.
Other than that, Jean-Luc is just a quickly-weakening French accent across the whole season. He likes to say his own name a lot: the episodes present many opportunities for other characters to say his name, and for him to correct him. I’m torn on whether both Bronson and everyone else pronouncing it exactly the same is meant to be the joke.
Many of Jean-Luc’s lines are essentially Balki lines where he misapplies language or pop culture references. The former works fine, especially when it’s a joke involving sex terminology; Jean-Luc is meant to be sexy. The latter doesn’t work at all, in part because Jean-Luc is a cosmopolitan person, but primarily because he’s not intended to be brain damaged.
He gets to dress up in different outfits so he can say different voices. Even when he’s not wearing something funny, there is no consistent look for the character. His hair is constantly changing length and he loses and gains facial hair between episodes.
Oh, look, he’s a cowboy again, in a fantasy episode this time. Nothing pulls back the curtain on a network sitcom’s mercenary approach to story quite like a fantasy episode. I feel like I’d be insulted if I were an actor called in for 23 episodes, only to find out no one had even bothered to come up with a third story for my character.
And he plays with the props, because Bronson has learned over the years that most other actors will just stare blankly when he starts improvising. A Dirt Devil, on the other hand, is always up for any bit.
Most disturbing, though, is a scene where Jean-Luc–wearing a sock puppet on his hand–is encouraging five-year-old Lilly to relax for the vaccine shot she’s going to get by telling her about how he relaxes: masturbating to the Victoria’s Secret catalog.
At what point will people realize that Bronson’s “strength” involves ignoring everything that’s in the script that has to do with story, consistent characterization, or the family-friendly tone a show is trying to achieve?
It would be wrong to say that Bronson is the worst part of this season of Step by Step. Aside from the numerous problems associated with the show’s scope creep and numerous dream sequences, some stories, like salt-and-pepper haired Frank Lambert worrying about his first grey hair, make me wonder if the writers even bothered to look at a photo of any of the cast members.
No, the worst part is the fucking music videos at the end of some episodes.
Verdict: It’s not even worth me going back to get more screenshots of Bronson making a funny face.
Cow and Chicken
“I Are Big Star” – I Am Weasel Segment (12 August 1997)
Characters: Oscar Winner/Guard/Old Wardrobe Man
I remember when Cow and Chicken premiered in 1997, but not much of the context that I saw it in. Just about all the cartoons that I had “grown up with” had ended or were getting tired by the time I was 12/13. I remember thinking that maybe this comparatively tame Ren & Stimpy clone had managed to find its own unique voice, and I enjoyed the conceit of the Red Guy taking on various personas to torment the main characters. I’m sure I was still watching Cartoon Network in 1997, but the day after this episode aired, I watched the South Park premiere and my standards for edginess shifted.
Anyway if you just like to watch nutty kids’ cartoons go for it I guess. Bronson does a vague European accent again for movie director Oscar Winner, and the Old Wardrobe Man whistles and grumbles. The guard gets one line.
Verdict: Twinkacetti’s voice echoes through the years… “you finally found a task worthy of your talents.”
Napoleon (10 October 1997)
Character: Birdo Lucci
Kids go wild for funny names referencing Italian dramatic film directors, don’t they?
This is one of the worst fucking films I’ve ever seen. It’s also the worst fucking Australian film I’ve ever seen, which is even more disappointing because usually you can depend on Aussies to make something unique. Even Barry Humphries is completely phoning it in with his Dame Edna voice for the character of the kangaroo, putting forth zero effort to sound like he’s jumping around.
Bronson wasn’t in the original, but was brought on for the US release. Why the fuck did they hire American voice actors to dub a film already in English? Why would you spend a single dime more to get the poor man’s Milo and Otis distributed in another country? Were Joan Rivers, Wallace Shawn, and Carol Kane the missing pieces that made this marketable, or were they brought in so the parents would stay awake enough to keep their kids from choking on Sour Patch Kids?
Verdict: The only edification you can get from watching a terrible film like this is realizing how much you already implicitly knew about good cinematography. Even I know that you don’t use a wide, composition-agnostic panning shot set to a random snippet of royalty-free music to show how sad a character is.
Babes in Toyland (14 October 1997)
Look, The Nightmare Before Christmas got away with an October release, but for anything else–even a home video release like this–it’s baffling. The late 1990s are kind of a dark ages for me in terms of large swathes of mainstream pop culture, thanks to finally getting access to cable; but I think it’s fair to say no one saw this, ever, before I watched it. I’ve never heard or seen a single person make mention of it, and I believe that the presence of a Wikipedia summary is all the proof we need that the government is hiding fully-realized AI from us.
Bronson plays Rodrigo, a hook-handed pirate who terrorizes little kids for money, giving him a voice that can’t decide if it’s Italian, New Yorker, or Serge on helium. He’s paired with Jim Belushi (Gonzargo) and, yeah, I’d say Bronson has just about found his celebrity level here on a movie too broke to afford established voice actors.
One hour into Babes in Toyland and chill and he give you this look:
In the end, he gets cooked alive by goblins.
Verdict: Bronson sings in this movie.
The Angry Beavers
“House Broken” (18 October 1997)
Character: Truman Goode / Brat
Bronson plays a clean-cut 50s-style dad. Imagine the voice of someone who hates children and thinks they should be spoken to like pets, a voice that’s a total parody of trying to convey to a kid that they’re special to you. If there’s a character named “Brat”, I couldn’t find it. It’s certainly not the daughter, “Tanya”. I suspect a deleted scene.
Verdict: For years, I thought Nick Bakay was actually Thomas Lennon.
Merry Christmas, George Bailey (25 December 1997)
Character: Mr. Charlie Carter
I grew up never seeing It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), only the punchline it had become on shows like The Critic and Saturday Night Live. Part of that joke was that it would play constantly on television around Christmastime, and I never grasped the irony there until just now.
The only time I’ve ever seen the film–if this vague memory is correct–was when a middle- or high-school teacher decided they wanted to skip coming up with a lesson plan that close to the holiday break. It’s equally likely that I created false memories by imagining what It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie would have looked like in black-and-white.
I’ve never taken an interest in seeking it out. Maybe the rest of you know this, but I had no idea until after watching this that there was a 1947 radio play version of the film which also starred Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
I had initially thought that Merry Christmas, George Bailey was someone’s great idea in 1997 to film a live reading of a brand-new inferior version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Instead I now know it was much worse: it was someone’s great idea to film a live reading of a version of It’s a Wonderful Life that history had long decided was worthless.
I guess I’m cornered into saying that, technically, I’ve never had a better time watching some of my favorite actors stand in place and look down.
Bronson gets four lines total, in one of them, he adds emphasis to one word to make it “funny”.
Intermission 3 (1997)
40 hours down, 60 to go
I’m doing things a bit out of order here because we’ve hit a good stopping point, thematically and narratively. I wanted to clear away the minor 1997 roles before we get to the largest one.
I think The Trouble With Larry could easily have been an end to Bronson’s live-action career until a 15- or 20-year nostalgia cycle brought him back. I’m doing a lot of work to fill in the gaps, so I’m sure I’m both over- and understating things to say that dating a competent rising star like Amy Heckerling provided some sort of safety net for Bronson. He managed to stay solidly on the C-List, and even took a run at another hollowed-out sitcom vehicle. The latter was certainly thanks to Heckerling, and I suspect her connections facilitated the former.
And amidst all the forgettable dreck he appeared in, he showed some surprising promise for an actor who was working on a habit of wrecking sitcoms. Perfect Strangers’s final season and The Trouble With Larry both failed in large part because Bronson thought no one was smart enough to direct him except for maybe Joel Zwick or Mark Linn-Baker. But somewhere between 1993 and 1997, he found some directors or agents or friends who pulled something else out of him, or who directed him towards roles that fit his public persona. And when Bronson wasn’t allowed to put on a whole costume along with his various funny voices, he was more able to disappear into them.
That said, these roles probably did more for Bronson than Bronson did for them. The closest he’s come to elevating parts were as Craig Toomy in Stephen King’s The Langoliers, The Prankster on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Dietrich DuChamp in Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, but otherwise he’s simply serviceable. Perfect Strangers let him develop some very bad habits over the years, and I’d like to think that he learned something from some of these roles.
But if Amy Heckerling were some sort of safety net, it disappeared at this point. She didn’t have that baby. As of March 1997, Bronson and Amy had plans to wed. By the end of the year, they were apart. I have no idea what impact that had on him emotionally, and I honestly don’t care; the main thread we’ve followed so far is his ego levels based on whether he’s getting hired for things that give him a chance to be funny all on his own. Can you imagine how big it must have gotten when CBS gave him another sitcom all to himself?