The Wonder Case

It’s been a blast going back to school with you all. This week, we’re finishing up Back-to-school September with a very special episode about a very special TV series and its pilot episode. On March 15th, 1988, the world met Kevin Arnold, a 12-year-old suburban boy growing up in the 1960s. Guided by the voice of Daniel Stern, The Wonder Years took audiences back in time to an era of change and uncertainty and reminded them what it was like to be a kid again. 

Throughout its 5 seasons, The Wonder Years connected with audiences in the late 1980s and early 90s, but many of its themes are timeless. It also made its star, Fred Savage, a household name, and forever made a mark on American pop culture. 

This week, we’re discussing the history of The Wonder Years, with a focus on the pilot episode of the show. Because the show starts with the main character going back to school, we thought it would be the perfect topic to close out our series of school-related episodes! 

Before we go into the events of the episode, let’s talk a little about the historical context of the show. 

THE FIRST TELEVISED WAR

  • The late 1960s was a turbulent time. The war in Vietnam forever changed and destroyed the lives of countless people, including those that lived in stucco houses, nestled safely in American suburbia. Between 1964 and 1973, over 2 million American men were drafted to fight in the war. 
  • When America entered the Vietnam war in 1965, it had been less than 20 years since the end of the second world war, and a little over 10 years since the Korean War. The American people were familiar with the pain, anxieties, and struggle of war. Back then, it was common for people to get updates on the conflict through newspapers and newsreels at the local theater. But by the 1960s, a new medium existed to reach wider audiences: TV. 
  • For the first time, the bleak and disturbing realities of war and the names of dead American sons were broadcast daily to audiences across the country. This new exposure further enlightened many to the horror of war, experiencing it for the first time in their living rooms.
  • This and the other major events of the 1960s, like the civil rights movement, the counterculture movement, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr, John F Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, defined a generation. It was an era of immense turmoil and great change. 
  • Because The Wonder Years begins in this decade, the backdrop of the war is important to the storyline, showing the effect it had on American families directly. The show began less than 20 years after the end of the war, meaning that there were writers, crew members, and even actors that had either fought in the war or knew someone that did. 

MAKING OF

  • Shortly after creating the sitcom Growing Pains in the mid-1980s, Neal Marlens felt like he was done with TV for a while. After working on a film with his wife Carol Black, the two of them decided to make another movie told from the perspective of a little boy. The more they discussed the idea, they realized it would be better suited as a TV show. They wrote the first episode in about two weeks. 
    • Marlens and Black understood that what they were creating was unorthodox compared to the usual TV sitcom, as it would feature a single camera and narration. So, they decided to write the script before pitching the idea, so that the producers would have a better understanding of what they were going for.
    • Using their own childhood experiences for inspiration, the couple set the show in the late 1960s. Carol Black said in an interview that she started her childhood watching shows like “Leave it to Beaver,” but as she grew up, the entire country changed. 
    • Since the beginning of the writing process, the creators were certain they wanted an adult narration driving the story forward, so they could avoid writing unnatural dialogue for the child actors. The narrator also made the show work for adult audiences, so it became a show for all ages. 
    • The show was not autobiographical, but it touched on shared experiences of many Americans, and because of that, it felt very authentic. 
  • The house in the pilot episode was a real house on a street in Burbank, California. It was perfect for the show because all of the trees looked young, just like the trees in the recently built suburban neighborhoods of the 1960s. 
  • Daniel Stern received the script so he could audition for the role of the narrator, and showed it to his brother, Dave. Dave then wrote a spec script for the show, and became the first writer hired by Carol and Neal! Just as the show was starting, there was a writer’s strike, so this script was helpful. 
    • All the auditions for the narrator were blind, meaning that the creators did not know anyone’s name or face. They chose actor Daniel Stern solely on his voice and ability to connect with the character. 
    • The showrunners would talk to the kids and sometimes put stories or lines in the script based on their ideas. 
  • When Carol Black and Neal Marlens were interviewing casting directors, almost all of them told them that no matter what they do, they should audition this child actor named Fred Savage. They saw some footage of his work and mailed him a pilot script. Later on, Savage would say that it was his parents that decided that it was worth it to fly to California for an audition. Fred got the part and became one of the biggest child stars of the 90s. 
  • The creators searched for a month to find someone to play Winnie Cooper, the lead female character opposite Fred Savage. Danica McKellar and her sister Crystal were both finalists for the role. For them, acting was just a hobby and not a career, and their mother would normally not allow them to audition for a pilot episode of a show for that reason. However, the role at this stage in development was actually a one-off, so their mother allowed them to audition. Both girls were equally talented, and the role eventually went to Danica, because she had dark hair that matched Fred Savage’s hair. The writers created another character for her sister to play, as well. 
  • When they were writing the parents, Carol and Neal considered the generational divide that was happening between parents and their kids in the 1960s. It’s something that occurs with every generation, but there had been so much radical change throughout the decade, this issue really affected the family dynamic.
    • For Jack Arnold, Kevin’s father, they cast Dan Lauria. The creators were looking for someone who had an “everyman” feeling, a working-class person that audiences would connect to. Jack is meant to embody the classic 1960s father, a man that had sacrificed everything for his family, and just wants quiet at the end of the day. 
    • Alley Mills was cast as Norma Arnold, the peace-keeping matriarch of the Arnold family. The relationship dynamics between men and women had changed so much since the 1960s, many actresses that auditioned for the role played the character “too modern.” Mills understood that her role wasn’t to win the arguments with her male counterpart but to keep the harmony of the household. Mills also had great chemistry with Olivia d’Abo, who was cast as her teenage daughter. 
  • The Pilot episode was directed by Steve Miner with some scenes filmed at John Burroughs High School in California. 

MUSIC

  • W.G. “Snuffy” Walden composed the music for the show, notably the theme for Winnie Cooper. The music for the show is usually acoustic, giving it a more personal feeling. 

STARS

  • Narrated by Daniel Stern as the grown-up Kevin Arnold
    • According to Daniel Stern, he was hired to narrate the show but got fired after recording the pilot episode. Apparently, the show was concerned that Stern’s film career would make him unavailable to record. In his place, the show hired actor Arye Gross and his narration was heard in the pilot that aired on January 31st. Shortly after the pilot aired, the show asked Stern to return as the narrator.
  • Fred Savage as young Kevin Arnold
    • Fred is an actor and director that you may remember as the little boy in The Princess Bride.
  • Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper
    • Danica has since done several Hallmark movies but is also a mathematician who has written several children’s books about math.
  • Josh Saviano as Kevin’s best friend Paul Pfeiffer
    • Josh no longer acts and is now a lawyer.
  • Dan Lauria as his father Jack Arnold
    • Dan is an actor that has been in many things such as the tv show Sullivan and Son.
  • Alley Mills as his mother Norma Arnold
    • Alley is an actress and has most recently had a recurring role on The Bold and the Beautiful since 2006.  
  • Olivia d’Abo as his sister Karen Arnold
    • Olivia is an actress that was in Conan the Destroyer as Princess Jehnna.
  • Jason Harvey as his brother Wayne Arnold
    • Jason is an actor and tv producer. He was also in Back to the Future.


THE EPISODE

The pilot episode of The Wonder Years aired on January 31st, 1988, after the Super Bowl. It opened with the song, “A Little Help from my Friends,” sung by Joe Cocker. The show creators felt the song’s combination of vulnerability and levity was perfect for the show. Because they were unable to license anything by the Beatles, they went with the Joe Cocker version. They also felt that Cocker’s version was more emotionally raw. 

  • We see the actors through the silent home movies of the era, introducing the family dynamic and playing on the nostalgia of the 1960s. After the opening credits, we hear, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds. Music is often a tool for transporting audiences to specific decades, and that technique is used often in The Wonder Years. For the first time, we hear the narration by Daniel Stern, who introduces the main conflict of the episode: Kevin Arnold’s first day of middle school. He refers to the late 1960s as a golden age for kids. 
  • Eventually, we meet Kevin Arnold, as he plays football on the street with some friends. We’re introduced to Winnie Cooper, the neighbor girl that used to be close with Kevin, and of course, we meet Kevin’s older brother Wayne. In this scene, we also meet Paul, Kevin’s best friend that’s allergic to everything. Paul was based on a real friend of co-creator Neal Marlens!
  • Wayne and Kevin get into a fight, and as Wayne is beating up his younger brother, Winnie Cooper’s older brother, Brian, yells for him to stop. The narration introduces Brian’s character as the epitome of cool, a 19-year-old that never stopped working on his El Camino. Even after he was drafted to fight in Vietnam, the car still sat out on blocks, as a reminder of “who really ran things.” Brian was played by Robert Mitchum’s grandson, Bentley Mitchum.  
  • In the next scene, we see Kevin and Paul eating dinner while we get a glimpse of the news coverage of the war on their TV. We meet Kevin’s mom, who pleads with Kevin not to make his father upset when he comes home from work. Kevin’s dad, Jack, walks in shortly after, exhausted from a long day. Soon we see all of the family at the table, including Kevin’s sister, Karen, and brother, Wayne. Norma, Kevin’s mother, hands his father a vodka tonic as the entire family starts to eat. 
    • Karen breaks the tense silence at the table by announcing that she, a teenager in 1968, is getting birth control pills, and the scene ends with the entire family arguing. 
  • The next scene opens with the song, “Both Sides, Now,” by Joni Mitchell, as we see a montage of Kevin’s summer memories, the last summer of his childhood. The next few scenes focus on Kevin and Paul as they prepare for the first day of school; looking over a copy of, “Our bodies, ourselves,” (while listening to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells) and Kevin attempting to wear the latest styles to the bus stop. Just after, Kevin and Paul encounter Winnie Cooper without her signature braids and glasses, with hot-ironed hair and stylish clothes, and going by the name Gwendolyn. 
  • As Kevin and Paul head into the school, the narrator tells us that the school had recently been renamed Robert F Kennedy High School, as many schools had been rebranded to honor the recently assassinated politician. 
  • Kevin’s first day of school isn’t going very well. In homeroom, a teacher recognizes him as Wayne’s brother, which essentially puts a target on his back. In the hall, a bully tosses a knife and some drugs in Kevin’s locker, threatening him in the process. And of course, his first class was phys ed. 
    • Robert Picardo, a brilliant physical comedian, played Kevin’s gym teacher, Coach Cutlip. He had “the biggest inferiority complex since Napoleon.” 
    • Kevin gets called on to explain the jockstrap, as we hear the sound of a plane crashing in Kevin’s mind. 
  • It’s lunchtime, and Kevin and Paul are sitting together when Winnie Cooper comes to join them. Kevin’s nerves start to calm when his brother Wayne spots him and begins to make fun of him and Winnie. Kevin, angry and annoyed, grabs the apple off his tray and heads out of the cafeteria, when the vice principal stops him. He tells Kevin that if he leaves with the apple, he will get detention. When the vice principal stops him again, Kevin considers what Brian Cooper, Winnie’s older brother, would do in this situation. So, Kevin throws the apple into the cafeteria, landing him in deep trouble. 
  • In the next scene, we see Kevin in the vice principal’s office with his mother. It’s clear that he’s in trouble, but he has a hard time explaining why he did what he did. It isn’t until the end of the scene that we find out that Kevin’s father, Jack, is also in the room. Jack cracks his knuckles and says, “I’d like to take him home, now.” 
  • As Kevin rides home with his parents, he considers the fact that a physical punishment is in his near future, and he resolves to imagine that he’s his brother as his dad inevitably hits him for what he did. 
  • When the family arrives home, Karen and Wayne come out the front door to greet Kevin and their parents, looking distraught. There’s a long pause before Karen says the words, “Brian Cooper was killed.” The family stands in a moment of shocked silence, and Kevin’s father, who moments earlier was considering Kevin’s punishment, firmly places his hand on Kevin’s shoulder. 
  • Kevin decides to go for a walk at dusk, and as he heads to the woods, he comes across Winnie, sitting alone on a big rock. Kevin sat down and told her he was sorry. He pulls off his jacket and places it around her shoulders as the song “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge begins to play. Kevin and Winnie then share a kiss and a hug as the camera zooms out. The episode ends with the narration: “Whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs, or the mindlessness of the TV generation, because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes with its Dodge parked out front, and its white bread on the table, and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder.” 
    • It was the first kiss for the characters and the actors. They were both incredibly nervous, and they had to do six different takes. Someone on the set clapped when the kids kissed, which made them feel even more self-conscious. Danica McKellar says that they used the 6th take because it was the only take when Kevin gently stroked Winnie’s hair. 
    • Fred also noted that he was so nervous that he was picking at the fake rock they sat on for the kiss.

HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • The very first episode aired after Super Bowl XXII on January 31st, 1988.
  • The show was so well-received that even more people tuned in the next week to watch the second episode! In 1988 The Wonder Years won an Emmy for best comedy series, and it had only released six episodes. The first episode was so well written that the network wanted to order 13 episodes, but the creators knew they could only handle six. 

THE NEW REBOOT ANNOUNCEMENT

  • In August, ABC released a trailer and officially announced that The Wonder Years was getting a reboot! The reboot is heavily influenced by the original series and takes place in the 1960s. However, the main difference is that the show centers around a black middle-class family in Montgomery, Alabama, and their 12-year-old son Dean. It has Don Cheadle as the narrator and also stars Dulé Hill. It will be released shortly on September 22nd.

Over thirty years later, The Wonder Years continues to connect with audiences. When the show aired in 1988, parents watched it with their children, and today those children are sharing it with their kids. Every actor in the show has expressed nothing but affection for their time on the sitcom, especially Fred Savage, who feels lucky to have been part of something that is so special to so many people. 

The Wonder Years ran for five seasons, but the pilot episode is one of the show’s most iconic moments. The show found a way to appeal to every generation, not just the people that remember the 1960s. All of us can watch The Wonder Years and remember that confusing, magical, strange, and painful time in our lives; when we realized that the world just doesn’t make sense sometimes. We all know what it’s like to grow up, and when we watch The Wonder Years, we’re reminded that we didn’t have to grow up alone. 


SOURCES:

The Case of Adventure Time

This week we are continuing Adventure August with a special guest: Robin’s sister, Becky! This week, we’re covering a show that is near and dear to Becky’s heart, and we thought she might enjoy geeking out with us. 

The late 2000’s was not the brightest spot in Cartoon Network’s history. The channel had begun to branch out, incorporating live-action shows into its programming in an attempt to compete with other kids’ networks. By July of 2009, this endeavor appeared fruitless, as almost none of the live-action shows proved to have any staying power. The network scrapped their block of live-action and started looking for new ideas. 

In April of 2010, Cartoon Network premiered a new animated series that would quickly become one of their most prominent properties. It followed the adventures of two best friends/brothers, a human named Finn and a dog named Jake. Together, they explored the magical land of Ooo, rescuing princesses, making friends, and going on various adventures. 

Adventure Time was strange and refreshing. Its world was rich with indescribably odd characters and yet completely relatable. Its themes were complex and sometimes dark, with a brightly colored coat of paint and enough humor to appeal to all audiences. It was a show that took the world by storm, knocking down barriers and opening doors for other off-beat animation for years to come. 

So this week, we’re meeting up with Finn and Jake in the Land of Ooo. Come on, grab your friends…because we all know what time it is! It’s Adventure Time! 

SUMMARY

  • Adventure Time centers around Jake the Dog and Finn the Human who, as the title suggests, go on adventures together. In these post apocalyptic adventures they fight evil, protect their friends, make new friends, and learn lessons. 

MEET THE CREATOR

  • Pendleton Ward has always been an introvert. In a 2014 Rolling Stone article, he detailed his experiences as an awkward, overweight child with a bowl cut. He never knew his dad but was raised by his mother, an artist that nurtured Ward’s creativity. 
  • Because he had difficulty understanding people, young Ward would take notes on the people he knew, trying to make sense of the characters around him. He loved Dungeons and Dragons and would roller-skate down to the comic shop. He felt like an outcast among outcasts.
  • When Ward attended CalArts, one of the top animation schools in the country, he found a group of peers that would become friends and collaborators. One of these friends was Adam Muto, a classmate and fellow artist who would join Ward on the biggest project of his lifetime. 
  • In the mid-2000’s, CalArts accepted one of Ward’s animated shorts into an end-of-the-year show called “The Producers Show.” Frederator, an independent animation studio that created TV shows like “The Fairly Odd Parents” and “My Life as a Teenage Robot,” was impressed by Ward’s work. At the time, the studio was accepting pitches for short films. They needed ideas to fill a Nickelodeon block of animated shorts, and they were taking pitches from anyone–even animators without experience or representation. 
  • Ward threw together a storyboard for a 7-minute short called “Adventure Time,” which followed the characters Pen and Jake, a human and dog that were best friends. The short made its way to Nickelodeon in 2007, which later broadcasted it in 2008 on the anthology show “Random! Cartoons.” Watch part of it here: Adventure Time Pilot (Nicktoons)
    • It was directed by Larry Leichliter, Hugo Morales, and Pendleton Ward. Adventure Time (2008) starred a group of actors that would eventually be replaced, except for John DiMaggio as Jake the Dog. John Kassir played the Ice King, and we might remember him as the voice of the Crypt Keeper. 
  • Initially, the short didn’t make a considerable impact commercially, but it earned a nomination for Best Animated Short Subject at the Annie Awards! Because of this, the short had to be available to watch online and was published on YouTube. Although the animated short didn’t win the Annie, something else incredible happened: it went viral.

As the video racked up over 3 million views online, it became clear that it had a far-reaching appeal. Frederator Studios decided to start pitching the show. Pendleton Ward found all of this exciting, but as he told Rolling Stone, “If the show hadn’t been picked up, I would have moved to the Midwest and gotten a cheap apartment. I would have been that guy with a telescope watching my neighbors, getting pizza and putting a sign on the door that says ‘Leave the pizza outside.'”

THE TROUBLESOME BEGINNINGS AND MAKING OF ADVENTURE TIME

  • After creating the original Adventure Time short, Pendleton Ward spent a year writing and creating storyboards for a Cartoon Network show called, “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.” Years later, he would credit this experience with teaching him how to run an animated series. 
  • Ward and Frederator pitched a full Adventure Time series to Nicktoons, and were reportedly rejected 5 times. Once Nickelodeon no longer had the rights to produce the series, Frederator producer Frank Seibert brought the concept to Cartoon Network.
    • As Ward admitted in an interview with Fastcompany.com, it’s a huge risk for a network to put money behind an original idea. Usually, studios like to pick up established properties that have proven to do well, and Adventure Time was a hard-sell in general. In a sense, the show was very open-ended. It was simply about two best friends just having adventures, and there wasn’t much of a hook.  
  • Luckily for Seibert and Ward, Cartoon Network was interested in producing a full series. However, they would only commit to a deal if Ward could prove the short “wasn’t a one-hit wonder”. Cartoon Network asked Ward to submit a sample script for their consideration, but the vice president of Frederator, Eric Homan, convinced Ward to play to his strengths, and create a storyboard instead. 
  • Ward turned to his friends Patrick McHale and Adam Muto, and they began developing ideas. For years after, Ward would explain that the characters he and his co-writers created weren’t just characters. Finn, Jake, and all the others were extensions of the writers themselves, and the people that Ward chose to work with were the heart and soul of the show. 
    • The group’s first storyboard featured Finn and Princess Bubblegum going on a spaghetti-supper date, but Cartoon Network was disinterested in the idea. It was clear that Ward and his team needed to recreate the magic of the original short. So Ward, McHale, and Muto created a storyboard for the episode “The Enchiridion!”, which was their attempt to consciously emulate the style of the original “Adventure Time.” This tactic proved successful, and Cartoon Network approved the first season in September 2008, with “The Enchiridion!” as the first episode to enter into production. 
  • Just as Ward and his team began storyboarding more episodes, Cartoon Network once again became concerned about the direction of the series. Because Adventure Time was one of the only new animated shows on the network, they needed to ensure its success. Compared to other animators, Ward and his colleagues were fairly inexperienced, and production became a little hectic. One issue was finding the right team of animators to work in Ward’s unique and simplistic style. Also, the writers still hadn’t landed on a clear vision of the show.
  • Cartoon Network put production on hold, and hired three veteran animators who had worked on SpongeBob SquarePants. Derek Drymon, who served as executive producer for the first season of Adventure Time, Merriwether Williams, who served as head story editor for the show’s first and second seasons, and Nick Jennings who became the series’ long-serving art director. The team added artists like Phil Rydna and Dan “Ghostshrimp” Bandit, two animators that were instrumental in getting the show off the ground as they were able to draw in Ward’s style. Derek Dryman was able to help the production team storyboard a new episode called “Prisoners of Love,” that would finally ease the anxieties of the network. Four long years after the original short, the show finally premiered on Cartoon Network on April 5, 2010.

SHOW PRODUCTION

  • Growing up, Ward was a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons and The Simpsons. He was able to combine the two to make Adventure Time. Ward told The A.V. Club that the show’s writing process usually began with the writers telling each other what they had done the previous week to find something to build on. He has compared the writing process to creating D & D characters, and playing them in that universe. To Ward and the other writers, they were just animating the campaigns of their assigned characters each week. 
  • Adventure Time was produced using hand-drawn animation. Because each episode took roughly eight to nine months to complete, multiple episodes were worked on at the same time. After the crew got a storyboard approved by Cartoon Network, the board was then worked into a script for the voice actors. The recorded dialogue was then placed under the polished storyboard panels, making a rough cut for the episode that the animators could follow. Then, character and prop designers would meet to see what needed to be designed for the episode. After the design phase, the animation was outsourced to South Korea. The animation was largely hand-drawn, and then scanned into the computer. Once it was completed, the American team looked over the episode for errors, sometimes making minor changes at the last second. 
  • Pen Ward kept an open mind as the showrunner. He would often let his team contribute their own ideas and stories while keeping control of the show overall. 
  • After four and a half successful seasons, Ward decided it was time to step down as showrunner. Although he stayed to contribute every now and then or look over stories, he felt it best for his personal health and wellbeing to step away. The pressures of controlling a massively popular show became too much for his introverted personality. He handed the reins to Adam Muto, his college buddy that helped him develop the show.
    • When Muto took over, the show went in a different direction. Although the show never lost its sense of whimsy, the tone shifted to be more introspective. There were more series’ of episodes, rather than one-off adventures, and the plots became even more complex. 
  • In an article for the LA Times Rebecca Sugar talked about what it was like working on the show, especially the finale. She said, “I wrote a song for the finale called “Time Adventure.” I wanted to write about how even if something ends, it continues to exist in the past, nothing ever really goes away, you only feel like it does because our mind has to process information one moment at a time in order for us to function as humans. I’m so nostalgic for the time that I spent working on “Adventure Time” and I find it comforting to think that I still exist in that office with Adam, working on those stories. I would be so happy to come to work and brainstorm with him and sit down and draw on paper and pitch these stories with Post-its tacked up to the wall, just like they did in the 1930s with the stick and the song and the dance, the most traditional way of doing cartoons.”

CAST

  • In order to create dialogue that would naturally flow between the characters, Adventure Time preferred recording as a group under the direction of Kent Osbourne. 
  • Hynden Walch, who voices Princess Bubblegum, said in a Comic Con interview that, “It’s just like doing a play reading—a really, really out there play.”
  • In order to bring some variety into the voice acting, the team has employed many actors for small roles within the show. Some actors were reached out to but others were fans of the show and asked to be a part of it! In an interview at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con Adam Muto and Kent Osborne remarked that they had a strange goal of getting all the actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Office to voice recurring and minor roles. Kent made it clear though that when someone like Rainn Wilson had asked to guest star, they did not immediately put him in. They have a list of actors that have contacted them and when a character arises that would fit their voice they are brought in.

STARRING

Voice actors typically voice more than one character and so we will mention the main character that the actors voices but know that they voiced several others throughout the series.

  • John DiMaggio as Jake 
    • He is also known as Bender in Futurama.
    • In Paul Thomas’ “Exploring the Land of Ooo,” John DiMaggio is quoted saying, “I was trying to figure out from the beginning what the big deal was. I was like, ‘I’m not sure I understand what’s going on here.’ … You just had these lines that said whatever, and it was like, ‘I don’t get it.’ I said to Tom Kenny once, I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t get this show at all. I have no idea.’ And he was like, ‘Listen, man. Just trust me. This is this generation’s Yellow Submarine. Just leave it at that.’ And he was right. The art direction on the show, the whole world is great—the Land of Ooo is just weird. … It’s just a weird thing, you know. I love doing the show. It’s fun as hell.”
  • Jeremy Shada as Finn 
    • Jeremy is Reggie in Julie and the Phantoms!
    • The character of Finn was originally inspired by another animation by Pen Ward called Bueno the Bear. You can easily see how the style carried over to Adventure Time.
    • Bueno the Bear
    • Jeremy’s older brother Zach was the original voice of Finn
  • Tom Kenny as Ice King 
    • We all of course know Tom Kenny but in case you are not aware he is Spongebob!
  • Hynden Walch as Princess Bubblegum 
    • Hynden often voices Starfire in the Teen Titans shows.
    • Bubblegum was one of the first characters created for the show and was originally named Bettie after Ward’s mother. 
  • Olivia Olson as Marceline the Vampire Queen
    • She has been voices in other shows such as Phineas and Ferb, also played Joanna Anderson in “Love Actually”,  but is best known for Adventure Time
    • Ward got the idea for Marceline from a childhood friend!
  • Nikki Yang as BMO 
    • She also voices Candy Chiu in Gravity Falls.
  • Pendleton Ward as Lumpy Space Princess
    • He works on many Cartoon Network Studios projects as a screenwriter, animator, voice actor, etc.

RUNNING JOKES/ GAGS

  • Snail in every episode
    • Excluding the very first episode and a few others, the snail can be found within each episode. His appearance becomes a running gag as the seasons go on. He is even possessed by The Lich in a few episodes and can be seen with green eyes and an evil appearing expression.
  • Ice King kidnapping princesses
    • Many Fans believe that the Ice King is obsessed with Princesses because his human form, (Simon Petrikov) before becoming the ice king, had a fiancee named Betty. He would often call her princess. This leads those to believe that he is trying to find his princess or at least replace the love that he has lost.
  • Squirrel that hates Jake
    • His most famous words to Jake, “You son of a Bleep, Blop!”
  • Shelby the worm that lives in Jake’s viola 
    • His voice is created by altering Pen Ward’s! He is also specifically labeled as a male earthworm even though earthworms are in fact hermaphrodites. 
  • Finn being able to sing with auto-tune
    • We do not get to see in the show how Finn is able to sing auto-tune, but he says that when he was younger he swallowed a little computer.
  • Peppermint Butler being secretly evil
    • Peppermint Butler is Princess Bubblegum’s trusted butler, advisor, and friend. Throughout the series many instances show how he may have a dark side and past that is unbeknownst to the citizens of the candy kingdom. With this dark side he never turns on Princess Bubblegum and stays by her side making sure she is safe. 
  • The hints at Ooo being in a post apocalypse (Business Time)
    • Adventure Time is set in The Land of Ooo. The land of Ooo began as just a magical land but in the first season it quickly began to have a history emerge. This history does not become the main focus but rather a background to the main characters and their stories.
    • In a USA Today article Ward said, “I never planned it – I just saw this world as a magical place. The show developed organically – someone would add an element to the world, and it would stick. At some point, we did an episode about businessmen rising up from an iceberg at the bottom of a lake (“Business Time”) and that made the world post-apocalyptic, and we just ran with it.”

FAVORITE EPISODES

  • Wizard – Season 1, Episode 11
  • Dungeon – Season 1, Episode 18
  • Rainy Day Daydream – Season 1, Episode 23
  • The Other Tarts – Season 2, Episode 9
  • “What was Missing” Season 3, Episode 10
    • It is the genuine band episode
    • This episode is famous for deepening the relationship between Bubblegum and Marceline. After reading the episode, storyboard artist Rebecca Sugar suggested to Adam Muto that Bubblegum and Marceline had been in a romantic relationship that had gone south, which explains their complicated interactions and the cryptic lines of Marceline’s song. The show liked the idea, but knew that they had to approach it in a very subtextual way. Still, audiences understood what the writers were going for, and the episode sparked some controversy among the fanbase. 
    • Several seasons later in 2018, Cartoon Network aired the final episode which confirmed the relationship. 
  • Jake vs. Me-Mow – Season 3, Episode 16
    • This is a fan favorite because people love Me-Mow.
  • I Remember You – Season 4, Episode 25
  • The Lich – Season 4 finale
    • A big turning point for the show and first appearance of Prismo.

AWARDS/ RECEPTION

  • Although on first look Adventure Time seems to be for children, it has garnered an audience from a wide range of ages. Many teenagers and even adults relate to its offbeat humor and characters. This has caused some of its episodes to obtain over three million views! It paved the way for Cartoon Network after its failed attempts to compete with live action shows. 
  • Adventure Time has won several awards which include eight Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, three Annie Awards, two British Academy Children’s Awards, two Behind the Voice Actors Awards, a Motion Picture Sound Editors Award, and a Kerrang! Award. It has been nominated for many others as well. 
  • The series was so popular that lots of merch has been made which includes books, video games, clothing, and more.
  • The original series ended in 2018 but with it’s popularity still big, HBO brought it back in 2020. Adventure Time: Distant Lands has three episodes with a fourth on the way. The 42 minute specials explore new and distant worlds based on the universe that Pendleton Ward created.

INDUSTRY IMPACT

  • One example of Adventure Time’s positive impact is the continued careers and success of its crew. Many of the people that worked on the show went on to produce their own shows which include Over the Garden Wall, Steven Universe, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, and City of Ghosts. 
  • Adventure Time brought in a new era for cartoons where artists could come together and create a series without holding back. It has inspired countless shows after it with its storyline and animation style. Adventure Time demonstrated that independent artists could not only animate but create interesting and successful stories. 
  • Finn and Jake are so big that they are also now included in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

In the late 2000s, Cartoon Network took a big risk, and boy did it pay off. In a world already overwhelmed with remakes and revivals, they decided to take a different path; a unique path; a weird path. Adventure Time is one of the most important animated shows of the 2010s. It not only gained an unbelievable cult following, it ushered in a new era of animation for Cartoon Network and even some other animation giants. But putting the needs of big studios aside, it’s a show that likely inspired other animators, proving that success isn’t out of reach–even for the weirdos. Adventure Time is out there, and that’s what makes it special. Its humor is off-beat, and not everyone will understand it all the time, but every moment is understood by someone. So, if you’re in the mood for an adventure, go check out the land of Ooo. The fun never ends. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

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The Case of Parks and Rec

Well, as we celebrated women’s history this month, we decided it was time to talk about one of the strongest female characters to ever grace our TV sets: Leslie Knope. That’s right, cassettes, this week we’re taking a trip to Pawnee, the greatest city in Indiana, probably the greatest city in America, possibly the greatest city in the world! 

In 2009, Parks and Recreation aired on NBC. It was a mockumentary-style show, similar to the intensely popular sitcom, The Office. It followed the parks department in the city of Pawnee over the course of seven seasons. Audiences fell in love with the remarkable ensemble cast, led by SNL veteran Amy Poehler, and featuring breakout stars like Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, and Aziz Ansari. 

This week, we’re diving into the history of this wonderfully heartwarming and hilarious show that birthed countless internet memes and made its mark as one of the greatest American television shows of all time. So it’s time to raise a glass of Snake Juice and “get on your feet,” because Parks and Rec is on. 

THE MOCKUMENTARY

  • Parks and Rec is a government satire mockumentary-style show. The idea of satire is not new, as it dates back to the Roman Empire. It’s a powerful tool that can paint some of the most mundane or troubling occurrences as something completely ridiculous. Satire can change minds, lift moods, and of course be entertaining as hell. 
  • The idea of presenting fiction as reality for entertainment purposes (ie. the mockumentary) is a far more recent occurrence. Some would consider Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast as one of the first mockumentaries, although it incited panic instead of laughs. Still, the concept of false news articles was on the rise. By the 1960’s, the rock documentary “A Hard Day’s Night” broke ground as it ventured into mockumentary territory with its coverage of Beatles hysteria. 
  • This film led to the king of all mock docs, Rob Reiner and Christopher Guests’ “This is Spinal Tap” in 1984. The genre has evolved since then, however this film is one of the most famous and will likely never be topped. 
  • In 2001, the UK sitcom “The Office” revolutionized the format and showed how it could work for TV. Of course, show creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant signed off on an American version, with Greg Daniels. The American Office took off, gaining an intense fan following and lasting 9 seasons. The characters addressed the camera directly, with interesting asides and funny glances. The format was based on the idea that there was an in-universe film crew creating a documentary about the employees of a Pennsylvania paper company. 
  • After a few incredibly successful seasons, NBC asked Greg Daniels to create another show, and gave him the creative freedom to do whatever he wanted. 

HOW THE SHOW GOT STARTED

  • When NBC asked Greg Daniels to produce another show, he turned to Michael Schur for help. Schur was a co-executive producer on The Office with Daniels, and had worked as a producer on SNL. 
    • Together, the two men created a pitch for a show that followed a dedicated person in local government, working with a group of apathetic people. One of their first ideas was to play on the format of The Office, creating a fictionalized version of a work setting. While The Office took place in the private sector, this show would follow characters in the public sector. 
    • They imagined the show as a comedy version of The West Wing. Instead of the high stakes of a federal government drama, this comedy would follow the low stakes and bureaucratic nonsense of local government. 
      • The show would specifically depict how people are affected by the actions of people in local government. 
    • They created a character named Leslie Knope, a strong, intelligent woman who is passionate about local government, but with no political know-how. At first, the audience didn’t receive the character the way the creators intended. Craig Daniels told The Guardian in 2019, “We didn’t do a great job at first. Instead of coming off as a smart, driven person with no political acumen, Leslie came off as a buffoon[…] We were blowing it because we were writing her as a stuffy politician and not a three-dimensional human being.” 
    • According to Greg Daniels, people had described her as a “bimbo.” He said, “That word was actually used, which was so horrifying because we pitched the show to NBC as like, this is a show about a strong willed, capable, feminist sort of forward thinking woman and her best friend who she makes in the pilot, […] and to hear the word “bimbo” applied to that character, it was–it was awful. It was truly awful.”
      • The creators made adjustments, altering the way other characters reacted to Leslie. Instead of rolling their eyes, everyone would agree that she was the best at what she did. Characters would keep their own agendas to create some conflicts, but they would all ultimately listen to Leslie in the end. 
      • The changes made an incredible difference. Leslie went from an awkward, yet well-meaning buffoon to a capable and strong female leader. 
    • Both creators knew that their main character needed to embody the essence of the show, and they needed a comedian with the chops to carry the role. Mike Schur had worked with Amy Poehler on SNL, and she seemed like a great choice for the lead.
      • NBC was on board, and they wanted to premiere the show after the Super Bowl. But, Poehler was 9 months pregnant and due to give birth when they would have had to film the pilot. They were so certain that Poehler was the only person that could nail the role, so they passed on one of the best time slots in TV to wait until after she gave birth.
    • The creators adopted the belief early on that relationships and characters are more important than premise. Michael Schur said “If you design a show around the idea, what happens often I think, is it makes for an amazing pilot. Because the pilot is a movie that has an incredible high premise and you get a great cliffhanger and whatever. And then the premises burns off and you’re left with not a lot of stuff because you haven’t made room for small, intimate character dynamics that are the things that are slow burning logs that keep the flame going for a long time.”
    • They wanted viewers to have an emotional connection to Parks and Rec. Schur and the other writers weren’t afraid to have moments where the show wasn’t “funny,” and show moments where characters acted to real-world emotion.

SYNOPSIS

Meet Leslie Knope. She’s the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, IN. Ms. Knope may seem like just another civil servant, held back by red tape, but under her bubbly exterior there is a fierce woman, capable of anything. Leslie faces many challenges, some brought on by her Libertarian boss, Ron Swanson and the other apathetic or incompetant members of her department. Ultimately, her passion for government and the people of Pawnee inspires everyone around her. 

PRODUCTION

  • Parks and Rec had a long list of writers, including Greg Daniels, Michael Schur, Harris Wittels, Kate Dippold, and Amy Poehler. 
    • During the 100th episode Feature, Amy Poehler revealed that they had written 3300 pages of script by 31 writers. 
  • The show was shot by a crew of about 22 people each episode. The show had almost 40 different directors throughout its run, with producer Dean Holland directing the most episodes, according to IMDB. 
  • The crew would run through each scene at least twice. In the first run-through, actors would stick to the script. Then, they shot a “fun run” where the actors were encouraged to have fun with the scene and improvise lines. Because of this, hilarious improvisations are speckled all throughout the show, like when Rob Lowe stared intensely into the mirror and said, “Stop. Pooping” during the “Flu Season” episode. 
  • Amy Poehler said of production, “I love the way we shoot. We do seven, eight pages a day. There are a lot of quick setups. We do a lot of takes and get to improvise a lot. Her situations suggest things that we can try on the fly. Certainly, the form lends itself to that.” 
  • Each episode was about 23 minutes long. For some of their episodes, producers created an extended cut. When the show streamed on Netflix, the producer’s cuts were available to viewers. 
    • Michael Schur believed that the time constraints brought a better final result because the episodes were not bloated and had good pacing. One thing that really helped with that was having to work around commercials. This forced the writers to break the show into acts, allowing characters to have their own adventures and come together during a universal event. He believed network tv saved him from his worst instincts, and helped everyone tell a better story.
  • Location
    • Over the course of filming, Parks and Rec used hundreds of sets. The exterior shot of Pawnee’s city hall is actually Pasadena, California’s City Hall. Throughout the series only tight shots of the building were used since Pawnee is meant to be a small town. In the finale episode however the building was shown in all its magnificence. The interior of the building was located on a soundstage, including the “outside” courtyard shots. The crew would make it appear as if it were raining outside the offices along the courtyard, and would bring in pigeons to make it appear as if they were outside. 
      • Many of the other buildings used were also located within California. As of the 100th episode, the show had been filmed in 8 different cities across two continents. 
      • The infamous pit that is featured heavily in the first seasons, had to be created by the production crew. It was located on the Southeast corner of Hazeltine Avenue and Collins Street, in Van Nuys California. It did stay an empty lot for a long time but finally in 2015 construction began and it now is fully developed and no longer recognizable as Parks and Rec. Sadly it is not a park.
        • When they were getting ready to film, the showrunners visited the people that lived along the lot and asked them what they wanted it to be. They were all very accommodating people, especially the people that owned Ann’s house, which was used frequently in the first few seasons. 

STARRING

  • Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope
    • Amy Poehler is a comedy legend and founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, one of the most well-known improv comedy troupes in America. She has acted in films like Moxie, Baby Mama, and Inside Out.
    • Poehler wrote 5 episodes of Parks and Rec, and directed 3 episodes. 
    • Her favorite scene from the show was in the pilot episode, as Leslie stares out the window at the rain, thinking about the park project that starts the series. 
    • When asked in 2009 what she liked most about the character she said “There’s nothing cool about her. It’s fun to play someone who’s well-intentioned but doesn’t know the game. I enjoy competent but misguided characters. She’s an open-faced sandwich, and because of that, she doesn’t have anything savvy about her.”
  • Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins
    • She has been in Angie Tribecca, The Office, Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Social Network, and I Love You Man.
    • Amy Poehler loved the idea of a strong female friendship at the forefront of the show. That friendship was easy to act with Rashida Jones, as the two of them had already been friends for years. 
    • In an interview Amy and Rashida had this exchange:
      • Amy Poeler-Do you hate being asked what it is like being a woman in comedy?
      • Rashida Jones- Yes.
      • Amy-Is there an answer you wish you could say that you’ve never been able to?
      • Rashida- Ask me something else… That’s not stupid.
  • Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson
    • He has been in The Founder, Fargo, and Nick Offerman: American Ham (which is a live taping of one of his standups.)
    • Nick Offerman auditioned for The Office. Even though he was not cast, Mike Schur kept his name and called him for Parks and Rec. Originally he was thought of for a love interest role to Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins. They felt the role of Leslie’s boss made more sense. 
    • While they were doing research for the show, Daniels and Schur actually came across a woman who was in government and a libertarian. This was an inspiration for Ron. 
    • Michael Schur said that some of his favorite scenes to write were the ones between Ron and Leslie because they work so well together. Leslie always reminds Ron that these people are his friends and Ron helps to keep Leslie grounded.
  • Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate
    • She has been in Safety Not Guaranteed, Dirty Grandpa, and Ingrid Goes West.
    • The character of April Ludgate was written for Aubrey because the casting director thought she was the weirdest person. When she went into an interview with Michael Schur she made him feel incredibly uncomfortable and old, mostly because she didn’t talk. After the meeting he immediately wrote a scene where Leslie is hiring a young intern and the intern makes her feel the exact same way.
    • Plaza is friends with Amy Poehler, and once greeted her at the airport dressed as an alien, to cheer her up during her divorce. 
    • During the 100th episode feature, she insisted on being interviewed in a tree, and refused to answer the questions. As you can see, many of these actors fit their characters super well.
  • Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer
    • He is of course Starlord in the Marvel Universe, Owen in Jurassic World, and Emmet in The Lego Movie. 
    • Andy was not intended to be a regular character of the show. Showrunners planned for his arc to end after season 1, but they liked Pratt so much in the role that they brought him back.
    • His favorite Parks moment was when April and Andy drove to the Grand Canyon. He had not seen the Grand Canyon before, so his reaction was genuine. He felt it was just a very nice moment for April and Andy. 
    • In the season 2 episode, “Kaboom” Chris Pratt showed up to Ann’s house naked. He was supposed to wear nude underwear for the scene, but took them off to get a better reaction from Amy Poehler. He got an official reprimand for the stunt, which he reportedly framed. 
  • Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford
    • He has been in Master of None, Epic, 30 Minutes or Less, and Darryl in Bob’s Burgers.
    • A talented stand-up comedian, Aziz improvised a lot of lines as Tom Haverford. Tom was a breakout character on the show, and was heavily influenced by Aziz.
    • Aziz said that his favorite thing about the show was the news anchor Perd Hapley.
  • Jim O’heir as Jerry Gergich
    • He has been in Smothered by Mothers, Bad Times at the El Royale, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
    • O’heir actually auditioned for Ron Swanson, but the creators loved him so much, they made sure to find the right character for him to play. 
    • It’s a long running gag in the show that Jerry/Gary/Larry is hated by the department. This is especially funny to the showrunners because Jim O’heir is universally loved. 
  • Retta as Donna Meagle
    • Retta has been in Fracture, Good Boys, To the Bone, and her voice in the new Ducktales as Magic Harp.
    • Retta is a talented comedian and trained opera singer! She sings in the episode, “Leslie and Ben” as they get married in the office. 
    • Her favorite Parks moment was from season 2, when Chris Pratt fights a possum. She said that she saved it on her DVR for two years!
  • Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt
    • He has been in Step Brothers, Friends With Kids, and Torque.
    • He loved the episode “Media Blitz” where the show explores Ben’s past as a boy mayor. 
  • Rob Lowe literally as Chris Traeger
    • He was literally in St. Elmo’s Fire, The Outsiders, Tommy Boy, and Wayne’s World.
    • Rob had just bought into the Miramax Library when meeting with Michael Schur for the first time. When Schur asked him how he came about doing that, Rob began his story with Chris Traeger’s now well known catchphrase of “literally.” 
  • Paul Schnieder as Mark Brandanawicz
    • He has been in Lars and the Real Girl, Chance, and American Murderer
    • Paul Schnieder left the show after the second season, opening the door for the Ben and Chris characters. He later said he left because of creative differences. It was mostly because the show shifted its emotional focus after the first season, which worked for the other characters but didn’t seem to work as well for Mark. 
  • Jay Jackson as Perd Hapley
    • He was in Fast Five, Battleship, and Scandal. 
    • Perd Hapley always over-explains in the best way possible.
  • Ben Schwartz as Jean-Ralphio
    • He has been in Space Force, Sonic The Hedgehog (2020), and the new Ducktales.
    • When Ben Schwartz auditioned, he originally tried for the character Dave, a cop that Leslie has a relationship with. Because he felt too young to play that character, Louis CK won the role instead. Michael Schur liked Shwartz so much, he wrote another character for him to play, Jean-Ralphio. 
    • The character was meant to only have a couple lines, but was received so well, he went on to appear in 21 episodes of the show! 
  • Jenny Slate as Mona-Lisa
    • She has been in Obvious Child, Zootopia, Gifted, and Bob’s Burgers.
  • Billy Eichner as Craig Middlebrooks
    • He was in Billy on the Street, The Angry Birds Movie, and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. 
  • Harris Wittels as Harris
    • Michael Schur’s time on The Office and SNL inspired him to bring writers into the show as actors (a popular practice for both of the aforementioned shows). Many of the Parks writers appeared in the show, sometimes as recurring characters. Writer Harris Wittles appeared frequently as a stoned animal control worker. As co-executive producer, Wittles wrote 12 episodes of the show, making a profound impact on its success. 
    • Wittels was an incredibly gifted comedian that started writing for shows in his early 20’s. In January of 2015, Wittles passed away suddenly at the age of 30. The final frame of the Parks and Rec finale showed the word, “We love you, Harris.” 

RECEPTION/ IMPACT

  • When the show was on the air for the first year in 2009 the Parks and Recreation publication had an article about how those who worked in the field felt about the mockumentary. While there were varying thoughts, many agreed that it was humurous.
    • Jim Dumont from Walla Walla, Washington said ”As a politician once said, ‘ I don’t care what you report as long as you spell my name correctly.’ It sort of holds true here,..it does give our profession exposure. I am not really sure if it helps us or hurts us, but I am not really concerned about it because it is a sitcom and I hope those who watch it understand that (even though some of the stuff we deal with is pretty funny).”
  • In June 2015 it was People Magazine’s number three pick for what to see, hear, read, or download for the week.
  • The show was nominated for several emmys, but never won. It was also nominated three times for the Golden Globes and never won. Amy Poehler did win a Golden Globe for her performance as Leslie Knope. 
  • The 2020 reunion special aired last March and was a welcome relief during the ongoing pandemic. 

RUNNING GAGS/JOKES/ ETC.

  • Treat Yo’ Self
    • This was one of Aziz Ansari’s favorite bits on the show
  • Awkward run-ins with Councilman Howser
  • Jerry’s name change
  • Tom’s crazy ideas for businesses
  • Leslie’s amazing compliments towards her best friend Ann
  • A lot seemed to deal with food…
    • Leslie’s waffle obsession
    • Ben’s love of Calzones
    • Ron’s need for breakfast foods

FAVORITE EPISODES 

  • The Pilot
  • Ron and Tammy
    • Nick Offerman said this was his most memorable episode, as he got to work with his wife, performing ridiculous animalistic sexual behavior
  • Galentine’s Day
  • Telethon
  • The Master Plan
  • Flu Season
    • “You could have network connectivity problems” – Adam Scott referred to this improvised line as one of the best lines in comedy 
  • The Harvest Festival
  • April and Andy’s Fancy Party
  • The Fight
    • A peak Jean-Ralphio episode!
  • The Comeback Kid
  • Halloween Surprise
    • Michael Schur wrote the proposal scene just after finding out that the show wasn’t nominated for an emmy. Amy Poehler said it was one of her favorite show moments and they didn’t make any changes to his initial scene. 

Parks and Recreation is a comedic masterpiece. It holds one of the greatest ensemble casts American television has ever seen. It’s incredible that all of this talent somehow met together at the exact right time to make this show. 

It’s a perfect blend of heartwarming and hilarious, as comedic storylines always pause at the exact right moment to let the characters be *almost* real people. It’s a show about friendship, love, service, and respect. Leslie Knope is powerful. She inspires the other characters, and the people watching. She’s a goddess, a glorious female warrior; and she makes us all feel like we can do anything if we just make enough binders. 

So with that, I’m Robin HAPP-ley, and the thing about this case is…it’s closed! 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, and Linda.


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The Case of Psych!

When the Santa Barbara Police Department has trouble solving their strangest mysteries, they call in Shawn Spencer and Burton (Gus) Guster. Following Shawn’s special psychic ability, he and Gus lead the team of detectives to clues, solving murders and closing cases on a regular basis. Despite the non-believers in the department, Shawn consistently proves himself. The only problem? Shawn isn’t Psychic at all. 

In the summer of 2006, 6.1 million people tuned into the pilot episode of Psych, a comedy mystery show about a man who uses his incredible observational skills to fool detectives into thinking he’s psychic. In a time when TV was swarmed with various versions of CSI and other crime dramas, Psych dared to be different. Although the show followed the basic formula of a detective show, it centered on the chemistry between its two leads, and the comedic situations they often found themselves in. 

For eight seasons, Psych focused on the relationships of the characters, from the strong life-long friendship of Shawn and Gus, to the bond between Shawn and his (often) disapproving father. The show was packed with clever references and parodies of other shows and films, with witty dialog and hilarious running gags, making it the absolute perfect show for a movie and TV podcast to cover. 

So Cassettes, for our finale, we’ve decided to cover this hilarious show and Psych you out in the end!

SUMMARY

  • Henry Spencer always dreamed that his son Shawn would one day be a police detective just like him. So, he trained his son to be hyper-observant of his surroundings. However, Shawn was different from his father in almost every way, and he did not follow in his footsteps.
  • Fast-forward to 2006, and Shawn is 30 years old. He still seems to lack direction in his life, until the day that the Santa Barbara Police Department mistakes him for a criminal, when he reveals details about a case. In order to prove his innocence, Shawn claims that he is psychic. He impresses the chief of the department enough that she decides to hire him to consult on cases. 
  • Shawn sets up a detective agency with his life-long friend Gus, a foil to Shawn’s silly antics. Gus is a nerdy, kind-natured friend who begrudgingly helps Shawn solve cases.

PSYCH ORIGINS

  • As a young boy, Steve Franks would invent television shows and then draw up a schedule where they would be pitted against each other. He would then try to predict the ratings that these “shows” would receive. Then finally, he would extend or cancel them. Eventually his passion for TV would lead him to create the TV show Psych!
  • When Franks developed Shawn Spencer, he based aspects of the character on himself. 
    • Franks’ father was an officer that worked for the LAPD for 20 years and was what he liked to call, a “trained observer.” 
    • Much like Shawn’s father in the show, he would quiz Franks about the details in his surroundings. 
    • This often happened when the two of them would go out to eat. Franks even wrote this into the very first episode when Henry and young Shawn Spencer are in a diner. In order to receive dessert, Shawn must close his eyes and recall how many hats are in the room.
      • The relationship between Steve Franks and his father was a clear influence for the relationship between Shawn and Henry. Franks’ father wanted Steve to be a police officer, but he instead became a screenwriter. Shawn’s father Henry illustrates the disappointment that Steve’s father showed toward this decision.
      • Steve Franks later said that his dad came to terms with his son’s career, and is even a fan of the show! 
        • Franks said of his father after the show premiered, “He loved the pilot and is now calling me every other day with story pitches.”
    • In 1999, Steve Franks successfully sold the script for the film “Big Daddy” to Columbia. The Adam Sandler comedy was a big hit, and Columbia wanted Franks to pitch more ideas. 
    • Among the ones that he gave was the idea for Psych. When they turned it down, he kept the idea and a few years later pitched it to producer Kelly Kulchak. She thought it was brilliant and helped him pitch it to ABC, CBS, and NBC. They all turned it down. Finally, their last pitch was to the USA Network who thought it would be perfect for their programming where they boast, “Characters Welcome.”
    • Steve Franks is also part of a band called The Friendly Indians that has released three albums; Tiny Badness, Greetings…From Lake Dolores, and Pure Genius. The other members are Tim Meltreger, Jason Barrett, and Gizzy Jackson. They are most known however for the Psych Theme Song! 
      • The song was called, “The Best Man Lies,” and was actually a song from one of their previous albums, shortened by two verses
        • One of the best parts about this theme song is that for special episodes there is a themed version of the song. For example Boyz II Men recorded a version that was used for the episodes High Top Fade-Out and Let’s Doo-Wop it Again. In Lights, Camera…Homicidio and No Country for Two Old Men the theme was sung in Spanish. 
      • Steve Franks was a huge fan of Moonlighting (1985) and Remington Steele (1982) and they heavily influenced the idea and tone of Psych
        • He was even able to score one of the actresses from Moonlighting, Cybill Shepherd, to play Shawn’s mother. They named her Madeleine as a tribute to her Moonlighting character Madeleine ‘Maddie’ Hayes.
          • When Franks was 16, his father had another job as security and ended up taking Steve to the set of Moonlighting. This was pivotal for Franks, because it showed him that it would be possible to have a career in movies and television

MAKING OF THE SHOW

Production

  • When Franks was on his honeymoon in Santa Barbara, he was already thinking of the idea for Psych. He liked that the beachy town didn’t have the feeling of a huge city, and he thought its beautiful setting would be perfect for Psych
    • Originally Franks thought that production would happen in Santa Barbara, but this proved to be a problem because not a lot of crewmembers work in that area, and many of them would have to stay in hotels for the entire length of filming
    • So, the show settled on filming on stages in Vancouver, where there were many more available crewmembers to work. The outside shots were done in the town of White Rock, which was close to Santa Barbara, but still very different
      • In order to make the sets look like Santa Barbara, they were filled with warm colors and extras wearing shorts and holding beach towels. The prop department also contacted The Santa Barbara Sun, an actual local newspaper, so characters could be reading a real newspaper in the show
        • Production would often use designs that had a distinct California style, especially for sets like the police department
        • There was an entire greenery department that would insert trees and flowers to make the set look as warm and tropical as possible
      • One of the challenges of filming in Canada is buying American props and food. For example, all the food products in Canada have different measurements and American audiences would likely notice. One food the characters are always looking for is Churros, something that is very difficult to find in Canada and the show had to order in advance
  • Writers
    • Although Steve Franks had originally wanted to write the show alone, a team was hired to help him. This team included: 
      • Carlos Jacott
        • He was a producer, writer, and executive storyboard editor for the show. He also made the occasional appearance as an actor as well.
      • Andy Berman
        • He was a writer and producer for the show. He helped to co-write 24 episodes and the second Psych movie. You may also know him as the voice of Dib in Invader Zim.
      • Anupam Nigam
        • He came on as producer, writer, and storyboard editor. He helped write 10 episodes. 
      • Saladin K. Patterson
        • He was a producer, writer, and director of the show. He helped write 17 episodes.
      • Tim Meltreger
        • You may remember we mentioned Tim earlier in the episode as he is a member of the band The Friendly Indians, he is their guitar player. He is also a major player as one of the lead story editors. He wrote 9 episodes.
      • Bill Callahan
        • He was a writer and co-producer of the show, writing 10 episodes. He has also written for Scrubs, 8 SImple Rules, and Spin City.
      • James Roday Rodriguez
        • He is of course one of the main stars but has also co-wrote many of the episodes and directed as well.

STARRING

  • James Roday Rodriguez as Shawn Spencer
    • When he was starting his acting career, the actor who portrayed Shawn changed his name from James Rodriguez to James Roday. He recently added his true last name in honor of his family, and to speak out against type-casting based on race
    • When he auditioned for the role, it was clear that he was the only actor that truly understood Steve Franks’ comedic vision for the show
    • In the Psych All-Night event he revealed that his favorite episode was “Dual Spires.”
    • He currently stars in “A Million Little Things” as Gary Mendez
  • Dulé Hill as Burton Guster (Gus)
    • Dulé appeared in The West Wing, Suits, Black Monday, and the movie Holes.
    • He said that working on Psych was very different than when he worked on The West Wing. In The West Wing they would shoot only about three days a week and would record their lines exactly as written. While working on Psych he would work about every day and the atmosphere was more relaxed, as he had the ability to improvise his lines
    • He and James recounted the first times that they met. The first time was a read in front of creator Franks. The second time was amusing because since James already had the role he wanted to extend a nice gesture to Dulé Hill and offer to read over lines at his house. James did not expect him to live outside the city and ended up driving 45 minutes in order to form their friendship and practice lines.
  • Maggie Lawson as Juliet O’Hara
    • Juliet is a Detective for the Santa Barbara Police Department.  She is also the main love interest to Shawn Spencer.
    • Maggie Lawson made appearances in Party of 5, Two and a Half Men, The Ranch, and Santa Clarita Diet.
  • Timothy Omundson as Carlton Lassiter (Lassie)
    • Detective Lassiter is Juliet’s partner and is constantly doubting Shawn’s abilities and trying to have him and Gus removed from cases. 
    • We all know him of course from the awesome Disney Channel Original Luck of the Irish, as Seamus McTiernen! He has also been on Judging Amy, Galavant, and Supernatural. 
  • Kirsten Nelson as Chief Karen Vick
    • Chief Vick is the head of the Santa Barbara Police Department and the main reason that Shawn is allowed to work on any cases.
    • She has had small roles in a lot of different shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ally McBeal, Malcolm in the Middle, Ghost Whisperer, and Just Shoot Me!
  • Corbin Bernsen as Henry Spencer 
    • Henry Spencer, even though he wanted his son Shawn to follow in his footsteps, arrested him at 18. This gave Shawn the record that prohibits him from being a police officer. Shawn then becomes the two things that Henry hates, a Psychic and a Private Investigator. 
      • For the first five seasons of the show, the audience sees a flashback from Shawn’s life. This flashback usually involves Shawn’s father Henry or his best friend, Gus.
        • “It’s become my favorite part of writing the show,”  show creator Steve Franks said. “Now I realize I can tie it thematically, or tonally, or take a specific incident and re-create something in the past and see how it plays out in the future. Something I was using as a pitch is now a frame.” Besides, “it’s a chance to see Corbin Bernsen in a wig, which is always fun.”
    • Corbin Bernsen has been in a lot of different things but some of them are General Hospital, JAG, The Young and the Restless, and the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
  • Sage Brocklebank as Buzz McNab
    • Buzz McNab is the lovable cop that often will help get Shawn into crime scenes that normally would be difficult. 
    • He is known for the 2018 Predator movie, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, and Alien Trespass.
  • Kurt Fuller as Woody the Coroner
    • Woody shows up first in Season 4 as the goofy and quirky Coroner for the SBPD. He often agrees to the crazy antics that Shawn and Gus come up with.
    • He has been in a lot of well known things such as Wayne’s World, Anger Management, and Scary Movie.
  • Young Shawn Spencer 
    • Liam James
      • He played young Shawn from 2006-2010
      • As he got older they needed to replace him because they were not ready for a teenage Shawn Spencer.
      • Liam James went on to be in The Killing and the movies 2012 and The Way Way Back.
    • Skyler Gisondo
      • He replaced Liam James but was only one month younger. He did appear younger however which is what matters. He would play young Shawn until Season 6 when they abandoned the beginning flashbacks. 
      • He has done several small parts by now but most notably Santa Clarita Diet and the movie Booksmart. 

IMPACT & POP CULTURE

  • The show’s reception and influence
    • As we said before, 6.1 million viewers watched the first episode that aired in the summer of 2006. It was the best basic cable numbers for the network USA since 2004 when their show “The 4400” aired. It has since stayed in everyone’s hearts because even though the show ended in 2014, it has since had 2 made for television movies!
  • The characters Shawn and Gus are pop culture gurus, constantly making references to movies and shows. The show itself even makes these references, by having many parody episodes throughout its 8 season run! Here are a few of them: 
    • “Scary Sherry: Bianca’s Toast”- their first season finale was the first of many parodies. It was co-written by Steve Franks and James Roday
    • Dual Spires parody of Twin Peaks
      • Ray Wise guest stars
      • Julee Cruise who sings the Twin Peaks Theme also sang the Psych song for the beginning of this episode
    • High Noonish was a parody of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
    • Lassie Jerky was a parody of The Blair Witch Project
    • The Devil’s in the Details and the Upstairs Bedroom was a parody of The Exorcist
    • Last Night Gus parody of The Hangover
    • Tuesday the 17th parody of Friday the 13th
    • Let’s Get Hairy parody of An American Werewolf in London
      • David Naughton (who plays the lead in An American Werewolf in London) guest stars as Dr. Ken Tucker!
    • Heeeeere’s Lassie! parody of The Shining
      • Lassie is driven mad in his new condo and goes after Gus, just as Jack went after Wendy and Danny in The Shining.
    • The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Episode parody of Jaws
    • Mr. Yin Presents parody of the collection of Alfred Hitchcock movies
    • 100 Clues parody of Clue 
  • Notable guest stars
    • In the series every Breakfast Club member made an appearance except for Emilio Estevez who ended up being an alias that Shawn uses. Ally Sheedy is in the Yin-Yang episodes, Judd Nelson was in Death is in the Air, Molly Ringwald in Shawn Interrupted, and Anthony Michael Hall in No Trout About It.
    • Phylicia Rashad guested as Winnifred Guster (Gus’s mom.) This is especially funny because a running gag for the show, was that Gus played Bud on The Cosby Show
    • Curt Smith who is a part of Tears for Fears appears a few times within the show and even serenades the characters a few times.
    • Jimmi Simpson plays Mary Lightly who helps to crack the cases about Yang. His character is odd and yet entirely endearing whenever he shows up. You may know him now as William on Westworld or as Liam McPoyle in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. 
    • Tim Curry guest stars as Nigel St. Nigel in the episode “American Duos” which parodies the lovely American Idol format with Tim Curry being the equivalent to a Simon Cowell.
    • Cary Elwes (star of The Princess Bride!) brings the star power as the elusive Pierre Despereux, a famous art thief that Lassie despises. He appears in several episodes, and even though he is a thief, finds friendship with Shawn and Gus each time that he emerges. 

RUNNING GAGS

  • Pineapples
    • One of the most famous and prominent visual gags of the show, is that a pineapple appears in some form in every episode. Steve Franks said: “So, there was just a prop pineapple on top of the fridge and it was just tickling James to pick up the pineapple and say, “You want me to cut this up for the road?” He loved it so much that I, off of his enthusiasm, grew to love it as well because we’d done this scene 15 times in all of the different pieces of coverage and every time he got to that pineapple part, he sold it in such a way that it was the most acting he did the entire day. So, I felt the need to really put it in and it was so funny.”
    • Dulé Hill added to this by saying: “The simple thing of the pineapple, ‘You want me to cut this up for the road?’ started from the brilliance of Roday where he would just take what’s around him and go with it and having the freedom to do that, because that line wasn’t in the script. From there, we had this whole runner about pineapples. It was little things like that and getting happy when we thought that we solved the case. They stayed throughout the show and we were able to grow from there.”
    • The Prop department mostly takes care of this. It has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes Steve Franks has something to do with it, but most times after a while they did not even know where it was until they saw the episode.
    • There is a website dedicated to where all these pineapples are in each episode. Sometimes the pineapple was not even physical, the word Pineapple could just be said. 
    • It was also a contest to get fans involved. During commercial breaks, USA would remind the audience to keep an eye out for the hidden pineapple! 
  • Phrases
    • C’mon Son
      • This phrase that Gus and Shawn use often was actually coined by Ed Lover, an American Rapper.
    • “You know that’s right,” and “I’ve heard it both ways,” are both common phrases said by the characters, almost like catchphrases
  • Gus’s nicknames
    • One of Psych’s most popular gags came from James’s amazing ability to improvise. It began all the way back in Season 1 Episode 5 “Nine Lives” when James was introducing the characters Shawn and Gus. He introduced himself as Shawn Spencer and Gus as Gus ‘Sillypants’ Jackson. Dulé luckily did not break character, and the rest is history! Shawn Spencer introduces himself and then his partner with an insane pseudonym throughout the rest of the show
      • The reactions from Gus vary. There are times when he is surprised by the nickname, or disappointed, but a lot of the times he rolls with it and does something to confirm his nickname.
      • Some examples of these nicknames are… Peter Panic, Chocolate Columbo, Magic Head, Fearless Guster, Hollabackatcha, Jazz Hands, and Brutal Hustler.
      • Dulé has revealed however that his favorite was the first one Gus ‘Sillypants’ Jackson.

Psych started as a simple vision, and earned its place in pop culture history. After 8 seasons and two movies (and another on the way), it’s clear that this show is beloved by millions of fans. Its combination of relatable characters, funny gags, and clever (and sometimes self-aware) storytelling, made Psych stand-out among other crime shows of the time. Psych focused on its characters more than anything, portraying a strong friendship between its two leads that would make anyone want to go find their best friend and solve a crime. It was wholesome in that way. 

Psych also had major roles for women, with Juliet O’Hara as the young detective trying to prove herself next to the seasoned Detective Lasseter; and of course Karen, the no-nonsense Chief of the department. For a time, Dule Hill was the only black lead on USA’s network, which made the show important for more representation of black people in TV. 

Psych is a show you can watch again and again. Sure, there are moments where the show is dated, but overall the charm of it is timeless; and for a show about a man who is lying to almost everyone he knows, it’s oddly authentic. Psych is a classic, and I know that you know that I AM telling the truth. 


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Power Rangers

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In 1992, cartoons ruled children’s Prime time programming. This was especially true at Fox Kids, with shows like Batman: The Animated Series, and Bobby’s World. So, the head of Fox Children’s Network, Margaret Loesch, started looking for something a little sillier, a little campier than the regular toons. She took a meeting with a man named Haim Saban, a cartoon music producer and composer. Saban had an idea for a children’s show that he had been pitching to anyone who would listen for the last eight years. Loesch was the first person to take him seriously. 

The show was, “The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” and it would go on to become one of the most popular programs on the network. 

Today we are taking a look at the history of The Power Rangers, and the making of the original series that launched the franchise into a phenomenon. 

History

  • Haim Saban first got the idea for the show in 1984, while visiting Japan. While he was in his hotel room, he saw a show about teenagers that fought monsters. The show was “Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger,” and was the 16th installment of the Super Sentai Franchise.
  • Because the kids wore suits and masks, Saban realized that anyone could be fighting the monsters. He knew that action sequences are normally the most expensive part of shooting a show, and came up with the idea for a program that would use this footage and shoot the rest of the story-line in America
    • Saban not only thought that this would be a smart way to make a cheap show, he believed in the project. He knew that the show in Japan was incredibly popular, and that there had never been a similar live-action American show.
      • It must be said however that at the same time in 1984, an animated show had similar visuals and concepts, called Voltron.
    • Saban bought the show immediately and brought his concept back to the US to pitch to studios
    • As we said in the beginning, eight years went by before the head of Fox Kids, Margaret Loesch, saw something that no one else did. 
  • According to an LA Times Article from 1993, Loesch was the only person at Fox that thought The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was a good idea. Her colleagues even asked her what her plan was for damage control once the show would flop.
  • But, Margaret was struck by the similarities the show had to old-school Godzilla movies.
    • Up to that point, everyone that had turned Saban down explained that the show was too cheesy. But this was exactly why Loesch wanted it for Fox. She knew a lot of people loved the old movies with fake-looking monsters, obvious effects, and un-synced lip dubbing. There was something classic about the style that she knew would resonate with audiences and that children would latch onto.
  • After Saban screened a pilot episode for Loesch, she ordered the first season to premiere in 1993. They immediately started shooting 40 episodes for the first season.
  • As shooting began in the US for the live-action sequences of the rangers without their helmets, Saban was involved in every part of the process.
    • According to Saban, once the show had been produced, the CEO of Fox and its affiliates declared that the show was horrible and they weren’t going to air it.
    • So, Loesch decided to air the show in the summer for 8 weeks with 40 episodes (7:30 am time slot). 
    • The show premiered on August 28, 1993 and it was an instant success.
    • By week 2, it was beating Batman for views even though Batman was at the better time slot of 4:30 pm. So she switched it to a better time. 
  • For the 2-11 age group, there was almost no competition from other shows. At its peak, the show reached 4.3 million children, making it as popular at The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Making of

  • Saban wanted kids that other kids could relate to and see themselves in. They wanted an ethnically diverse group. At the end of all the casting calls, they ended up with two groups: One that was the taller model-esque group and the other which is the group they went with.
    • It was also important to Saban that the girls in the show were featured as much as the boys, and just as important character-wise.
    • He felt that young girls didn’t have a lot of action characters to look up to, and he was right .
  • When Fox announced that they were gonna back the show, they didn’t like the original name for the show, which was “Dino Rangers.” So, in 10 minutes, the crew came up with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. 
  • Every script had a theme based around the look of the monster in the stock footage for the week.  For example when the monster was a big pig monster that would eat everything the episode was about a bake-sale.
  • They shot about 4 episodes a week, so it was a very rigorous work week for everyone.
  • The guys would go in about 5 AM but the girls would go in even earlier for hair and makeup.
  • A lot of time was spent in the ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) room to redo audio because of wind, planes, etc.
  • The feel of the show was a Combination of Voltron and Saved by the Bell essentially, which were two of the most popular shows before Power Rangers came around.
  • The theme song was written by Ronald Aaron Wasserman, who also wrote songs for the series

Popularity

They did mall tours, TV shows, etc for publicity. They did lots of promotional materials and were even DARE ambassadors.  This was done in all in different countries too.

They drew a large crowd at Universal Studios filling the studio with about 35,000 people in one day. They were basically the “Beatles” of kids television. 

Toys

  • Bandai America released a series of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers toys to coincide with the new series. As Mighty Morphin’ was carried over from Zyuranger, the result was a mix of re-purposed items and new items.
  • The most popular being the 8” figures of the rangers and villains. They were later re-released during season two as “auto-morphin’” figures where the characters head would flip from their face to the helmet with the press of a button. 
  • The multiple Zords were also extremely popular and were by far the largest toys produced for the series. There are versions that are one piece and ones that come as their smaller form but can be combined to create the Megazord. 

Synopsis

  • The LA Times described the show as: a live-action superhero series that bears a distinct kinship to old, low-tech “Godzilla” movies: Cheesy alien costumes, mismatched lip movements and dialogue, and clumsy battles between the monster army of Rita Repulsa, Empress of Evil, and dinosaur robots controlled by the Power Rangers, who are teen-age karate experts in crayon-colored space suits.
  • Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is about five average teenagers (with attitude) who were chosen by an inter-dimensional being named Zordon to fight against the evils of the universe. The villainous Rita Repulsa has escaped a space dumpster on the moon, and intends to destroy the Earth with her horde of putty patrollers. 
  • As the show progresses, the rangers pass on their powers to new people, and meet more villains such as Lord Zedd.
  • In the original show, each ranger had their own “Dino Zord” and together it made up one Megazord.

Starring

Original Rangers:

  • Thuy (pronounced Twee) Trang (Yellow Ranger)- Trini
    • Her family came over to America to escape from the Vietnam war. She died at 27 from a car crash.
  • David Yost (Blue Ranger) – Billy
    • He was 24 at the time he was cast on the show, so he was the oldest ranger.
    • Years later he revealed that he was bullied on the set for being gay. 
  • Walter Emanuel Jones (Black Ranger) – Zach 
    • Originally cast as the Billy the blue ranger.
    • He is missing the middle finger on his left hand.
  • Austin St John (Red Ranger) – Jason
    • He was a regular high school student that taught martial arts on the side. Even though he disliked cameras and was uninterested in acting he was bet by a friend for $20 that he would not be wasting his time to try out.
  • Amy Jo Johnson (Pink Ranger) – Kimberly
    • After sharing the pilot with friends they said “Well, you know, your next job will be bigger or better.”
  • Jason David Frank (Green Ranger that came later) – Tommy 
    • The green ranger was originally meant to only be a temporary character, but became highly popular with audiences.
    • Tommy transitions to be the group leader and Jason David Frank ended up being on the show longer than any other ranger.
    • He also became the White Ranger.

Other characters

  • Paul Schrier as Bulk
  • Jason Narvy as Skull
  • David Fielding as Zordon
  • Richard Horvitz as Alpha 5- He loved playing evil Alpha
  • Machiko Soga as Rita Repulsa (and voiced by Barbara Goodson)
  • Ed Neil as a recurring Putty Patroller
  • Bryan Cranston
    • It’s worth noting that Bryan Cranston got a lot of voice work playing villains on Power Rangers before he made it big. This was why he was cast as Zordon in the 2017 reboot film 

Sources:

Avatar The Last Airbender

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Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, well, 15 years ago, Nickelodeon premiered a TV show that is still considered to be one of the best animated shows of all time: Avatar the Last Airbender. In the era of Spongebob, Fairly Odd Parents, and Drake and Josh, this show stood out for its animation style, intense storyline, and unique characters. 

Although it aired on a children’s network and is widely considered to be a children’s show, Avatar appeals to many different audiences and age groups. It’s a series of breathtaking animation and detail, funny quips, and heart-felt moments. 

 

How it came to be

  • In the early 2000s, Nickelodeon was shifting its focus to include shows that explored more mythical and legendary storylines. Eric Coleman, the Vice President of Animation Development approached Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and asked them for a show pitch. The men returned one month later with the early concepts that would become Avatar: The Last Airbender. 
  • The original Aang was a bald kid with no arrow, though he was drawn with a robot cyclops and and polar bear that both had arrows. The robot monkey was the first inspiration for Momo, while the polar bear became Appa. 
  • Inspired by documentaries about antarctic exploration, the team developed a show concept about nations of people, based on the four elements. One of the key pieces of the puzzle was how to create an action show without too much violence. So, they created the idea of bending elements instead of weaponry. They pitched the story to Eric Coleman two weeks later, and the team started working on a pilot. Bryan went to Korea for a few months to work with artists there on the initial eleven minute episode. 
  • The characters were complex, and animators would sometimes spend as much as 15 hours in the studio, trying to complete the pilot in time. Once the pilot tested well, the show was greenlit for 13 episodes!
  • The tricky part about the show being picked up meant that they now had more work to do with pretty much the same deadline. Bryan and Mike put together a large team of writers, animators, and musicians to get the job done. 

 

The Making of Avatar

  • The martial arts
    • The team was dedicated to learning traditional Chinese martial arts styles, so they sought out Sifu Kisu, a martial arts teacher who helped them develop the individual fighting styles of the four nations.
    • Another martial arts teacher, Sifu Manny, came in to help develop a different style for Toph. Because Toph is a blind character, her fighting style would be different than other characters in the show. Sifu Manny’s method was rumored to have been created by blind warriors on a remote island. 
      • The style worked for Toph because it could be achieved without having to look at an opponent. 
    • Brian and the director would take the script for each episode and choreograph the fight scenes with live actors as reference for the animators.
  • The Animation
    • The creators wanted an expansive view of the universe, with wide shots of beautiful landscapes.
    • The variety of imagery made the show much more dynamic than many other animated children’s shows at the time; with wide, medium, tight, and detail compositions that gave the viewer a strong sense of the universe
      • They wanted it to be cinematic.
  • The Music
    • Jeremy Zuckerman and Ben Wynn were the track team that created the music for the show.
  • The story
    • In a world of elemental magic, there are four elemental nations: The Northern and Southern Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. The Avatar, the one person who can control all elements, upholds the balance of the nations. The Avatar is reincarnated into a young boy named Aang, who is reawakened after being frozen in ice for 100 years, to embark on a dangerous journey to fulfill his destiny. With the help of friends he meets along the way, he will have to fight to bring peace to the world.
    • The success of the show came from how well it was made, but what truly connected with fans was the story and characters.
    • The story was meant from the beginning to have a finite ending, with three seasons and 61 episodes.
      • No matter how upset it made creators and fans, Bryan and Mike were consistently clear that the show would end, and building toward that ending was what made the story so solid.
    • Aang
      • Played by Zach Tyler, Aang is a young monk from 100 years in the past.
        • Michael and Bryan initially imagined Aang to be from 1000 years before the events of the show, from a more advanced civilization. In early drawings, he had a futuristic staff and robot sidekick.
        • The air nation, which Aang is from, was inspired by Buddhist and Tibetan societies. 
        • Aang is a cute, fun-loving 12-year-old kid that was thrust into an impossible situation with immense responsibility. He is a skilled martial artist, and as the Avatar he is the most powerful bender in the world. But, because of his nature and upbringing, he is hesitant to use that power to hurt others.
        • Aang goes through a lot of change in the series, though he never abandons his beliefs, even when everyone tells him he should.
    • Appa
      • Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, Appa is Aang’s best friend and flying bison. The artists were inspired by manatees and bison to draw Appa. His six legs were a direct reference to the Catbus in My Neighbor Totoro from Hayao Miyazaki.
      • Originally there were going to be 20 bison, which was broken down to just a small family of two adult bison and their calves. Eventually they settled on only one.
    • Momo
      • As we said before, Momo was originally a robot! But, his name was Momo-3. The show slowly became less sci-fi and the creators transformed a talking robot to a cross between a ring-tailed lemur and spotted bat.
      • Momo was almost dropped from the story, but instead Aang finds him at the deserted air temple as a symbol of hope for the future.
      • Momo was also voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.
    • Katara
      • Voiced by Mae Whitman, the creators considered Katara to be the heart of the show. In a parody episode called “The Ember Island Players,” the show jokes about Katara’s infatuation with hope. But, this was a big part of her character.
      • To the creators, it was important that there would be a strong female lead to appeal to young girls watching the show. The show itself was targeted to boys, but Bryan and Mike always knew that young girls would also be interested in an action-adventure epic as well.
      • Katara’s original name was Kya, but there was a video game character named Kya and it had to be changed. Her second name was Kanna before they settled on Katara. Kya is Katara’s mother’s name and Kanna is her Gran Gran.
    • Sokka
      • Played by Jack De Sena from the All That reboot, Sokka was very clearly the comic relief of the show. He was created with Katara to have a sibling rivalry, and was meant to appeal to the audience as an everyman.
      • Sokka has one of the best character arcs in the show, as he transforms from a brash kid that hides his insecurities with humor, to a confident leader of Team Avatar.
    • Toph
      • Voiced by Jessie Flower, Toph is the toughest character and one of the most powerful benders on the show. Toph comes from a rich, pampered background where she was forced to be someone she wasn’t. Although she was born blind, she learned earthbending from blind badger moles. 
      • Toph was originally a male character, until one of the head writers, Aaron Ehaz of Dragon Prince fame, suggested they make her female. Aaron argued for a long time until finally he won over the creators. The idea of taking such a huge, brash personality and placing it in a cute young girl really worked with the character.
      • Jessie Flower originally voiced a character in one episode of season one, and the creators liked her so much that they asked her back to play Toph.
      • Even though they thought including another female lead would connect to girls, the most comments about Toph came from young men who cited her as their favorite character.
        • Seugn Hyun Oh, a supervising director was quoted in saying, “She is blind, but I don’t know how to express in English, she just won.
    • Zuko
      • Voiced by Dante Bosco (Hook) Zuko is a fan favorite. He undergoes possibly the most change of any character in the show, and introduces the audience to the concept of a villain you can root for. Zuko has a complicated past that the show reveals over time, and acts with a sense of purpose. The show begins with him knowing exactly who he is, and we watch him become more and more unsure over time.
      • Originally, the show only had one villain: the Firelord. Zuko came about when Eric Coleman asked about a character that actively pursued the avatar and Zuko was born.
    • Uncle Iroh
      • Another fan favorite, Uncle Iroh was voiced by Mako and later Greg Baldwin. 
      • The creators initially thought Iroh would just be a teacher, but then they decided it would be more interesting if he were related. Aaron Ehaz described him as a man trying to enjoy his retirement but was forced to watch his nephew instead. It was Mako though, the original voice actor, who gave uncle the level of wisdom and personality that made fans fall in love with Iroh. 

 Also Starring

  • Jennie Kwan as Suki
  • Grey Griffin as Azula
    • Azula is one of the most complicated and layered characters in the show. She is a villain audiences loved to hate, and she shoots blue fire to stand out against Zuko’s orange fire. 
  • James Garrett as Avatar Roku
  • Mark Hamill as Fire Lord Ozai

The finale is a rare accomplishment, ennobling the characters and bringing a satisfying conclusion to both its world and Aang’s spiritual struggle between his beliefs and the violence the world wants from him as the Avatar.

Awards

  • Primetime-Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Animation in 2007
  • Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Cartoon in 2008
  • Peabody Award in 2009

Drink of the week:  The Jasmine Dragon

Here’s a link to the documentary:

Sources:

Pride and Prejudice

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This week we talk about a beloved BBC mini series, the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. There have been many different adaptations of Jane Austen’s books, but it seems as though this version has caught the hearts of many.  In this episode we have a very special guest, Em from Verbal Diorama!

We will begin with a little about Jane Austen, the history behind the BBC show, who it stars, and what it all means to us.  If we talk too much about Colin Firth, well it could not be helped!! 

History

The beloved Jane Austen book Pride and Prejudice was first drafted in 1797 and titled First Impressions.  The revised and final product, that is well known and enjoyed today, was released in 1813. All the books that she published while alive were done so anonymously, not by a pen name but simply by “a lady.” Or in the case of P&P “by the author of Sense and Sensibility”.

The four published were Sense and Sensibility, P&P, Mansfield Park, and Emma. Two were published posthumously and they were Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in Steventon, UK and died July 1870 in Winchester UK.  Surprisingly there is not a lot known about Jane Austen. The majority of what we do know was derived from the letters she sent her sister Cassandra.  The letters, however, we only have a select amount of because Cassandra burned many of them before her own death. A few things we do know about her family is that her mother and father (George and Cassandra) had 8 children and that her extended family consisted of people from rich landowners, clerics, an apprentice milliner, an alleged shoplifter, and a bankrupt banker. 

Jane Austen was a fan of flirtations and for a time flirted with a young man named Thomas Lefroy.  His family expected him to marry wealthy and so they went their separate ways. This prompted the movie “Becoming Jane” which is an interesting take on what may have happened.  Like “Becoming Jane” many people dream of what Jane was actually like. It is not hard to do when the only thing we have to hint about her is a selection of letters. We do know that she herself had a marriage proposal in life to a man that she was good friends with his sisters.  She had said yes but then the next morning informed him that she had changed her mind (probably after discussing it with her sister.) She did stay friends with his sisters and he (Harris Big-Wither) ended up marrying two years later and had 10 children. We know of course that Jane never married and passed away in 1817 at just 41 years of age.

Making of the Show

  • The BBC has adapted P&P 6 times with this version being the most popular!
  • Premiered on September 24, 1995 and sold 100,000 box sets of it before it was even taken off the air.  The final episode was seen by 10 million people.
  • It was directed by Simon Langton.
  • It was produced by Sue Birtwistle.
  • Adapted by Andrew Davies into a 6 episode mini-series.
    • Davies wanted to portray the immense things that he believed was what Jane Austen wanted to get across such as love, sex, money, and betrayal. 
    • He also helped to take a 1996 book by Helen Fielding, which is a modern day retelling of P&P, into a 2001 movie.  A nice touch was that Colin Firth played the Romantic lead, Mark Darcy, in this one as well!  
  • Costumes done by Dinah Collin.  She created them in such a way as to keep it accurate for the time but also kept in mind how the 1995 viewer would perceive them.
    • Even the make-up designer did a lot of research in order to get things correct.

Starring

  • Colin Firth/Mr. Darcy
    • We have producer Sue Birtwistle to thank for her choice in wanting Firth as Darcy and helping to convince him to take the part
  • Jennifer Ehle/Elizabeth Bennet
    • Best actress 1996 BAFTA winner
  • Susannah Harker/Jane Bennet
    • The eldest sister
  • Lucy Briers/Mary Bennet
  • Polly Maberly/Kitty Bennet
    • Second to youngest but tends to follow the youngest around a lot
  • Julia Sawaha/Lydia Bennet
    • The youngest Bennet sister
  • Alison Steadman/Mrs. Bennet
    • Oh! Her nerves!
  • Benjamin Whitrow/Mr Bennet
  • Crispin Bonham-Carter/Mr Bingley
    • Best friends with Mr. Darcy and Jane Bennet’s love interest
  • David Bamber/Mr Collins
  • Lucy Scott/Charlotte Lucas
  • Barbara Leigh-Hunt/ Lady Catherine de Bourgh
  • Adrian Lucas/ Wickham

“Hidden” meanings within the book/movie

  • Feminist thoughts
  • Class/social status/income
    • Why Charlotte has to marry someone like Mr Collins to just be comfortable in life
  • Love in a marriage
  • Opinions of outsiders on who you should marry
    • ex. Lady Catherine de Bourgh

COLIN FREAKING FIRTH

  • She is tolerable I suppose but not handsome enough to tempt me!
  • The famous scene where he went for a swim
    • He does not actually jump in, they spray his hair a little with a spray bottle of water and then he jumps onto a blue mat while his stunt double does the actual jump in.  The underwater sequence was shot on a different day in a special water tank.

  • The change in his whole attitude when Lizzie first comes to Pemberley.

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/historyofthebbc/anniversaries/september/pride-and-prejudice

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112130/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6d9hbk

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pride-and-Prejudice

http://writersinspire.org/content/anonymous-jane-austen

https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2013/januaryfebruary/feature/the-mysterious-miss-austen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ef3TSkQxBIM

-Jane Austen: Her Life, Her Times, Her Novels by Janet Todd

The Case of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Picture it: You’re in second grade, coming off a rigorous school week. You open your eyes to a quiet house on a Saturday morning, and sneak downstairs. No one else is awake, and the TV is all yours. You have a seat with a bowl of cereal and turn on your favorite Saturday Morning Cartoon…

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If you grew up in the 1960s, maybe you watched Magilla Gorilla, the Flintstones, or Johnny Quest. If you were a 90s kid, maybe you watched Captain Planet, Recess, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No matter the programming, Saturday Morning Cartoons was a tradition that spanned nearly 6 decades. It’s a shared experience had by children of multiple generations, which makes it pretty special. Today, we will discuss the history of the Saturday Morning Cartoon, and highlight some of our favorites from our childhood. We will not be able to cover many shows from other decades, but maybe we will do another episode down the line!

What do we mean by Saturday Morning Cartoon? Pretty self explanatory. Cartoons that aired on Saturday mornings, usually during time slot of 8am to 12pm. This tradition would flourish from the late 1950’s to the late 1990’s. There are still a few remaining cartoon shows on the major networks on Saturday mornings, but not many.

 

History:

  • The first cartoon produced for television aired in 1950 and was called Crusader Rabbit. It consisted of 5 minute long episodes and ran for three seasons. Created by Alexander Anderson and Jay Ward, its main characters were Crusader Rabbit and his sidekick Ragland T. Tiger, or “Rags”
    • In the late 1940’s, a producer named Jerry Fairbanks sold NBC on a new concept: a TV show meant solely for TV. Networks were looking for kid-friendly content to show on Saturday mornings, but no cartoons had been created specifically for this purpose
    • Since the days of radio broadcasts, the peak time for children to tune in, was between 10am and noon on Saturdays.
    • Even though Crusader Rabbit was moderately successful, many networks stuck with kid-friendly live-action programs instead.

  • The success of Crusader Rabbit inspired many more television cartoon character packages. And Jay Ward would even go on to produce The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
  • Until the late 1960s, a number of Saturday-morning cartoons were reruns of animated series originally made for prime time. The first true “Saturday morning cartoon” was Mighty Mouse Playhouse. We all know who Mighty Mouse is, a cartoon version of Super Man (was even originally called Super Mouse)
    • Mighty Mouse was a gamble for CBS back when they brought it to their Saturday Morning line-up in 1955, but it was the incredible success of this show that ushered in a new era of made-for-TV cartoons.
  • The character first appeared in 1942 in many theatrical films, however,  what really brought the character into the mainstream was television. Mighty Mouse Playhouse ran on CBS for 12 very successful seasons.

In order to cut costs, animators made sure to use cost-cutting techniques that would also save a lot of time. Hanna-Barbara was well-known for these techniques. They would often use similar character models for shows.  They designed characters with wide collars so they could easily animate them turning their heads, would only move characters’ mouths when they were talking and nothing else in the frame, and so on. The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Johnny Quest all come to mind when we think about these techniques. 

Where animation might have been lacking, the shows would make up for with wit! The shows were well-written with some adult humor to appeal to the whole family. 

The Shows:

  • Pepper Ann (ABC, 1997-2001)
    • Created by Sue Rose and aired on Disney’s One Saturday Morning on ABC. New episodes ran until 2000 and reruns ran for another year after.
    • Pepper Ann was the very first animated television series for Disney to be created by a woman and would be until 2015!!
    • Tom Warburton served as lead character designer for the series. He would later go one to create Codename: Kids Next Door.
    • The show is a comedy about a 12-year-old Pepper Ann who manages to put other kids off by her slightly-nerdy behavior, constant bad timing, and insistence on trying to be cool. And to make matters worse, she’s just started middle school. Which we all know is a nightmare!
      • Pepper Ann voiced by Kathleen Wilhoite.
        • Twin Peaks
        • Family Guy
        • 24
        • Gilmore Girls
  • Recess (ABC, 1997-2001)
    • The show was created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.
    • Recess premiered in 1997 on ABC, as part of the One Saturday Morning block, and ran for 6 seasons. The show was successful enough to be syndicated to other channels including Toon Disney (now Disney XD) and the Disney Channel.
    • Recess follows the lives of six fourth graders, Theodore Jasper “T.J.” Detweiler, Vince LaSalle, Ashley Spinelli, Mikey Blumberg, Gretchen Grundler, and Gus Griswald, as they go about their days at Third Street Elementary School.
      • TJ voiced by Andrew Lawrence
      • Vince voiced by Rickey D’Shon Collins         
      • Spinelli voiced by Pamela Adlon
      • Mikey voiced by Jason Davis
      • Gretchen voiced by Ashley Johnson
      • Gus voiced by Courtland Mead
    • A major point of the show is that the students at school represent a microcosm of our society complete with its own government, class system, and even a monarchy. They are ruled by a sixth grader named King Bob, and the society has a long list of rigid values and social norms.
  • Animaniacs (Fox, 1993-1995; The WB, 1995-1999)
    • Animaniacs was created by Tom Ruegger. It is the second animated series produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Animation, after Tiny Toon Adventures.
    • The show first aired on Fox as part of its Fox Kids before moving to The WB. It initially ran a total of 99 episodes and one movie.
    • Most episodes were composed of three short mini-episodes, each starring a different set of characters. (Think Saturday Night Live style).
    • Hallmarks of the series included its music, memorable catchphrases, celebrity caricatures, and humor directed at an adult audience.
    • A reboot of the series was announced by Hulu in January 2018, with two seasons to be produced and are expected to air starting in 2020.
      • Yakko voiced by Rob Paulsen
      • Wakko voiced by Jess Harnell
      • Dot voiced by  Tress MacNeille
  • The Bugs Bunny Show (CBS, 1978-1985) AKA Looney Tunes
    • This went by many names over the years
      • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour
      • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show
      • The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes Comedy Hour
      • The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show
    • The show was originally broadcast as a primetime half-hour on ABC in 1960, featuring theatrical Looney Tunes cartoons with new linking sequences hosted by Bugs Bunny, produced by Warner Bros.
    • After two seasons, The Bugs Bunny Show moved to Saturday mornings, where it remained for nearly forty years.
    • In 2000, the series at the time (The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show) was canceled after the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies television rights became exclusive to Cartoon Network.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (syndication, 1987-1990; CBS, 1987-1996)
    • The initial motivation behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series came from wanting to make toys based on the characters. However, because the comic-book characters only had a small following, the company Playmates Toys was uneasy about moving forward. They requested that a television deal be acquired first, and after the initial five-episode series debuted, the toy company released their first series of Ninja Turtles action figures 1988.
    • The show was in Saturday morning syndication from 1988 to 1989 and became an instant hit. The show was expanded to five days a week and aired weekday afternoons until 1991. Starting in 1990 (with a different opening sequence), the show began its secondary run on CBS’s Saturday morning lineup. The full series ran until 1996, when it aired its final episode.
    • The show helped skyrocket the characters into the mainstream and became one of the most popular animated series in television history. By 1990, the cartoon series was being shown daily on more than 125 television stations, and the comic books sold 125,000 copies a month.
  • Captain Planet (TBS 1990)
    • Captain Planet and the Planeteers is an animated television program created by Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle that focuses on friendship and environmentalism. 
    • The show aired on TBS in 1990 and ran for two years, then came back under the title, “The New Adventures of Captain Planet”. This version aired from 1993 to 1996. 
    • Pyle cites that the inspiration for the five Planeteers came from real people that she met during the show’s pre-production. 
    • The show’s intro theme was composed by Tom Worrall. “Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero!”
    • The show may have only lasted 6 years, but the impact it had on society has lasted much longer. The Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was founded in 1991, when series producer Barbara Pyle negotiated a percentage of the show’s merchandising revenue to empower young people.
      • Captain Planet voiced by David Coburn
      • Kwame voiced by LeVar Burton (earth)
      • Wheeler voiced by Joey Dedio (fire)
      • Linka voiced by Kath Soucie (wind)
      • Gi voiced by Janice Kawaye
      • Ma-Ti voiced by Scott Menville

Honorable Mentions:

Proud Family

Little Bear

Babar

Berenstain Bears- Michael Cera voiced Brother bear

Voltron

Sources:

IMDB

History of Saturday Morning Cartoons

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/30/saturday-morning-cartoons-are-no-more/

https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/the-greatest-saturday-morning-cartoons/

Hey Arnold Christmas

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to The Christmas Case Diaries 😉 Today is an extra exciting  episode because not only are we continuing with our theme or Christmas TV specials, we are also joined by a VERY special guest: Brett Wilson!

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(The beautiful art done by none other than Brett Wilson for this episode!)

Brett is an incredibly talented artist, and somewhat of an expert on classic Nickelodeon. So, we called him in to help us this week as we discuss the 1996 Hey Arnold holiday special: Arnold’s Christmas!

Tune in as we talk the brief history of Hey Arnold and why this special still brings tears to our eyes every Christmas. 

Hey Arnold History

  • The character Arnold was created by Craig Bartlett in the late 1980’s, first as a stop-motion character made from Plasticine (a clay-like material)
  • He and his wife Lisa Groening came up with the name together, and Lisa helped with other concepts of the show as well.
    • If the name Groening sounds familiar, Lisa’s brother is Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons.
  • Bartlett created three shorts in this medium, one was called, “Arnold Rides a Chair” which aired on Sesame Street! 
  • After these shorts and a run of comics in Simpson’s Illustrated magazine, Bartlett was able to sell the idea of an animated TV show about Arnold and his friends to Nickelodeon.
  • In October of 1996, Hey Arnold premiered on Nickelodeon.
    • The original pilot was a short that aired in theaters before the movie, “Harriet the Spy” and was later reworked into an episode called “24 Hours to Live” 
    • The show focused on Arnold, a 9-year-old boy growing up in the city of Hillwood, a nondescript urban setting that was a conglomerate of Seattle, Portland, and Brooklyn.
    • Arnold lives in a boarding house filled with unique and hilarious tenants, including his two loving grandparents Phil and Gertie. Arnold is a loving soul who sees the best in everyone, even his constant bully Helga Pataki. He navigates problems of everyday life with his best friend Gerald at his side, along with a cast of wonderfully strange characters. 
    • The show was a perfect blend of the relatable and the surreal; with realistic issues and settings mixed with cartoonish action and characters.
  • Later that year, the first half hour episode of the show came in the form of a holiday special called, “Arnold’s Christmas.”
    • Before the special aired, the show tended to be more light-hearted. This episode covered serious concepts that brought a new level of emotion for the show. 

Starring: 

  • Lane Toran (credited as Toran Caudell) as Arnold
    • He is an actor and musician who also voiced King Bob in the TV show “Recess” 
    • He returned for the Hey Arnold Jungle movie as Che, a handsome young man that falls for Olga (Helga’s older sister). 
    • He is also directing and starring in an upcoming film called “Getaway Girls” 
  • Francesca Marie Smith as Helga
    • She also voiced characters in “Recess” including Ashley B, and did various voices for the VeggieTales TV series.
    • Francesca voiced Helga all the way through Hey Arnold’s initial run and even reprises her role in 2017 for The Jungle Movie.
  • Jamil Walker Smith as Gerald
    • After playing Gerald for the run of the show, he went on to have a recurring role in Stargate Universe. He has found steady work as an actor and will also be in the movie “Getaway Girls”
  • Tress MacNeille as Grandma Gertie
    • An incredibly talented voice actor, Tress MacNeille is known for playing Dot in the animaniacs, and has provided voices for The Simpsons and Futurama. She has a recurring role as Daisy Duck in many Disney projects.
  • Dan Castellaneta as Grandpa Phil 
    • Hey Arnold has a lot of ties to the Simpsons, and Dan Castellaneta is one of them. He has been voicing Homer Simpson since 1989
  • Baoan Coleman as Mr. Hyunh
    • He played Mr. Hyunh for 28 episodes of the show
    • He also had a supporting role in Rambo: First Blood Part II, but Hey Arnold was his last acting credit
    • According to IMDB, Baoan Coleman was at the actual fall of Saigon, which is depicted in the episode when Mr. Hyunh hands Mai to a soldier on a helicopter. I can’t find other sources to back this up, but I thought it was interesting to mention
  • Hiep Thi Le as Mai
    • She acted in a few things since Hey Arnold, including the TV movie “Cruel Intentions”
    • She was born in Vietnam and was separated from her family during the war, similar to her character Mai in the show.
  • Vincent Schiavelli as Mr. Bailey
    • A well-known and respected character actor, he also voiced Pigeon Man in another popular episode of Hey Arnold.
    • He played Lazarus in “Bride of Boogedy” which we talked about earlier this year, he was a teacher in the John Cusack movie, “Better of Dead” 

Arnold’s Christmas: The Story

  • The story for Arnold’s Christmas was created by Craig Bartlett, Steve Viksten, and Joe Ansolabehere. Steve Viksten wrote the episode.
  • After names have been drawn for the boarding house Secret Santa, Arnold is distraught to find that he has been given Mr. Hyunh, a member of the boarding house that he knows very little about
    • In this scene, Grandma wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving. This started the gag in the show that Grandma always mixes up the holidays. Watching this with Marci, it confused her about the timeline and made her think that the episode jumped ahead to Christmas shortly after.
  • Desperate to figure out the right gift, Arnold visits Mr. Hyunh and asks him about his life. Mr. Hyunh tells Arnold a harrowing tale about his life in another country, and a war that separated him and his infant daughter. Mr. Hyunh came to the US in search of her, but has yet to find her. 
    • This episode was the first of the show to feature a real life event: the Vietnam. They never explicitly say which war or Mr Hyunh is referring to, but images and key phrases would indicate Vietnam. For example, Mr Hyunh says, “there was a war in the north,” and we see images of him running past a ripped American flag. The war was between North and South Vietnam, and involved the US as we were a principal ally of south Vietnam. 
    • When Saigon fell, helicopters did in fact take refugees out of the city, just like in the show. The government wasn’t liberated until 1995, about 20 years later and Mr Hyunh says it took him 20 years to get out of the country. 
    • This episode is often lauded for “giving kids credit” and focusing on serious subject matter in a children’s TV show, and later on the show mentions Vietnam again when we find out that Gerald’s dad fought in the war as well.
  • Arnold is now inspired to make Mr. Hyunh’s dream of seeing his daughter a reality, and springs into action. Arnold heads to the federal office of information, and he and Gerald beg a man named Mr. Bailey to locate Mr Hyunh’s daughter. Mr. Bailey tells the boys that he would do so, if they finish his Christmas Eve shopping. So, the boys set out to get everything on the list.
    • Mr. Bailey is very likely a reference to George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the famous character played by Jimmy Stewart  
  • Somewhere else in Hillwood, we see Helga trying to find a gift for her secret crush: Arnold. She eavesdrops on the boys and discovers what they are trying to do. The last item on their list is a pair of incredibly rare Nancy Spumoni snow boots that Helga also wants for Christmas. 
    • In the Hey Arnold universe, there’s a character named Dino Spumoni who is their version of Frank Sinatra. In real life, Frank Sinatra had a daughter named Nancy who sang the song, “These Boots are Made for Walking.” The snow boots are an obvious reference to Nancy Sinatra. 
  • After Arnold and Gerald return to Mr. Bailey with all the items except the snow boots, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them (what a terrible person). The boys walk away, feeling dejected.
  • Helga heads home to her own family’s Christmas, and her mother gives her a Christmas gift. They are the Nancy Spumoni snow boots! Helga thanks her mom and runs out into the snow with joy and excitement. She dances around in happiness until she remembers that Arnold needs the snow boots as well. 
    • Up until this point in the episode, Helga has repeatedly said that Christmas is all about presents and that she hopes her parents “didn’t screw up” her gift. When her mom hands her the boots, she tells her that she stood in line for hours to get them. This is especially poignant because Helga has a troubled home life, with parents that are somewhat neglectful and much more caring toward her sister.
  • Helga brings Mr. Bailey the boots and begs him to stay and find Mai. She gives a speech about the true meaning of Christmas, and points out that not only would Mr Hyunh and his daughter not be reunited, but his actions would destroy Arnold’s faith in miracles.
  • On Christmas morning, Arnold is about to apologize to Mr Hyunh for not having a gift, when the doorbell rings and Grandpa lets in Mai. Arnold is blown away, confused as to how this happened and Gerald tells him it must’ve been a Christmas angel.
  • The episode ends with Helga, standing alone in the snow after leading Mai to the boarding house. The image drives home the concept of giving for the sake of giving, and the audience could never question how much Helga cares for Arnold. Never once in the show does she ever mention what she did for Arnold, Mr. Hyunh, and Mai. She thought Arnold was naive to believe in miracles, until she became the miracle herself. 

Questions/Opinions

  • Even though the subject matter is intense, the episode still makes room for laughs. What’s your favorite part of the special? 
  • This special deals with very serious subject matter for a children’s TV show. Do we think that a show today would cover something so intense? 
  • What do we think was the benefit of talking about these issues? 
  • This is an emotional episode for a lot of people! What part hits you in the feels the most?

Thank you Brett Wilson for joining us!  You can see some of his work here; https://www.instagram.com/brettwilsonart/?hl=en

https://www.redbubble.com/people/BrettWilsonArt

Sources

IMDB

How the Grinch(es) Stole the Case

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to the Christmas Case Diaries! This month we’re focusing on Christmas TV specials, but this episode is EXTRA special because we will be talking about movies as well. The 1960’s was a decade that brought us a lot of classic Christmas specials. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman (1969), and tonight’s topic: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)!

 

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The Origin of Grinch

  • Theodor Suess Geisel, AKA the beloved Dr Suess, first used the word Grinch to describe a bird in his 1953 book Scrambled Eggs Super! The bird was called a Beagle-Beaked-Bald-Headed Grinch.  
  • In 1955 he published a short 32 line illustrated poem in Redbook, which was a woman’s magazine at the time.  The poem was entitled “The Hoobub and the Grinch.” Although this poem does not contain the same Grinch we know and love it, brings about the same issue of commercialism. In the poem the Grinch is able to sell the Hoobub a simple green string by making it sound like it is needed and thus goes on to say that the Grinch is able to sell the Hoobub similar items every day.
  • Finally Suess used Grinch in his hit Christmas book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” which was released in 1957.

Many believe that the Grinch was Dr Suess’s alter ego, even Suess himself.  There were many reasons for this. In a 1957 interview with Redbook he stated “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noticed a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! So I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”

  • To add to this Suess was 53 when the book was released, the same age as the Grinch and he was also quirky and disliked large crowds.
  • And finally to show favor to the character he even had a Grinch vanity license plate!

Making of

The director of this special was Chuck Jones. You may know Jones because he is a famous  animator, filmmaker, cartoonist, author, artist, and screenwriter.  Most well known for his work in Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, and Tom and Jerry.  He and Suess knew each other due to working together during WWII on the animated propaganda called  Private Snafu. Suess was a writer and Jones an animator. Jones was the one to convince Suess into making an animated short for his How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

Story drawing by Irv Spector.

*During production however, Phil Roman (one of the animators) said that Suess was only there 3 or 4 times but that he had been there for the storyboard beforehand.

  • In the original book, there are only three colors: black, white, and pink/red. So, where did the iconic green Grinch color come from? Apparently Chuck Jones was inspired to use it after renting cars that were that color. 
  • Dr. Suess felt like the main character more closely resembled a Chuck Jones character than the original Grinch drawings.

Time magazine in 2013 named it one of the top 10 greatest Christmas specials from your childhood, along with a movie we just discussed last episode called A Charlie Brown Christmas from 1965. While both of these masterpieces took a lot of money to make, Charlie Brown pales in comparison. It took a little less than $100,000 to create Charlie Brown but Grinch was finally able to garner  $300,000 from an organization called The Foundation for Commercial Banks after pitching to companies such as Kellogg’s and Nestle.  

Not only did Grinch receive funding to make the 30 minute special happen, but CBS paid $315,000 for the right to air it twice on their network; once in 1966 and once in 1967.

The music for the special was done by Albert Hague.

  • Dr. Suess wrote the lyrics to all the songs, including “Fahoo Foraze” which was meant to sound like classical Latin. Apparently it tricked some viewers, and people called to find out the translation. It turns out it was just classic Suessical Gibberish 
  • When Hague later recalled his audition for being able to compose for the special he said, “Afterward, Seuss looked up and said, ‘Anyone who slides an octave on the word Grinch gets the job.’ The whole thing took three minutes,”

Voice Actors

  • Boris Karloff as the Narrator and the Grinch
    • Dr. Suess was concerned that casting Boris Karloff would make the character too scary. But, Chuck Jones chose him after hearing him narrate other works. 
    • Originally, there was no difference between the narration and the speaking voices in the special, so sound editors removed the higher pitches from his voice in post. That is why when The Grinch speaks, he sounds different from the narrator. 
  • June Foray (uncredited) as Cindy Lou Who
  • Dal McKennon (uncredited) as Max
  • Thurl Ravenscroft (uncredited) as the singer of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
    • AKA Tony the Tiger!
    • He was also the voice of Kirby in the Brave Little Toaster!
    • Dr. Suess attempted to fix the fact that he was uncredited by sending letters to every major columnist in America! Well, we know now. 

Grinch (2000)

  • The original special aired on December 15th, 1966! So, why did it take so long for it to get remade? Dr. Suess himself was reluctant to bring his works to the big screen. But after his death, the rights to his stories went to his widow. 
  • This was the first time a Dr. Suess story was turned into a full length feature film
  • Before she signed off on Jim Carrey playing the role of The Grinch, she had to visit him on the set of another movie to see if he was right for the part. 
    • The movie was “Man on the Moon” and Jim Carey was so deep into character that he had to do an impression of himself playing the Grinch
  • Directed by Ron Howard, he not only wanted it to be an adaptation of the book, but an adaptation of the original special as well. This is why he kept The Grinch’s green color, even though the character is white in the book. 
  • The movie did not receive a lot of critical acclaim, some believed the story and themes were too adult for a movie marketed to kids.
    • Jim Carey himself seemed to regret the amount of adult jokes in the script and wished that he had done more to stop them.
    • He maintains that all of his jokes were age-appropriate, and Ron Howard even removed some even raunchier jokes from the script.
  • What the critics did like was Jim Carey’s performance as The Grinch as well as the beautiful film score by the late James Horner.

Starring

This movie included many stars but here are just a few…

  • Jim Carrey as the Grinch
    • His costume was incredibly uncomfortable, including the yellow contacts that he was forced to wear. Apparently he even spoke with a former CIA agent about coping mechanisms for torture, as the suit was THAT uncomfortable and took an hour to take off.
    • He improvised a lot of lines in the movie, “Dinner with me, I can’t cancel that again!” 
  • Josh Ryan Evans as the young Grinch
  • Christine Baranski as Martha May
  • Jeffrey Tambor as Mayor Augustus Maywho
  • Molly Shannon as the mother Betty Lou Who
  • Bill Irwin as father Lou Lou Who
  • Taylor Momsen as the little girl Cindy Lou Who
  • With Anthony Hopkins as the Narrator

Grinch (2018)

Where the 2000 Grinch was too adult for children, the 2018 film fixed that issue. This movie is meant to appeal to children, with some older jokes and references. 

Voices of

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Grinch
  • Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who
  • Rashida Jones as Donna Who
  • Tristan O’Hare as Groopert
  • Keenan Thompson as Mr. Bricklebaum
  • Sam Lavagnino as Ozzy
  • Ramone Hamilton as Axl
  • Angela Lansbury as Mayor McGerkle
  • Scarlett Estevez as Izzy
  • With Pharrell Williams as the Narrator

Sources:

IMDB

https://magazine.uc.edu/famousalumni/tv/grinch.html

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/12/24/ccm-grad-wrote-iconic-music-grinch/2287627002/

http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/12/10-greatest-christmas-tv-specials-from-your-childhood/

This one has great pre-production and production artwork

https://www.cartoonbrew.com/classic/grinch-stole-christmas-50-years-old-today-still-great-146646.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvujUS8xfDk

https://seussblog.wordpress.com/tag/grinch-and-the-hoobub/

https://groovyhistory.com/story-behind-grinch-stole-christmas